Aiden had been pushed into a full sprint just to get out of the house, practically thrown into the back of a car, and they had driven off like they’d have an army after them any second, guns blazing, it all did feel like a jailbreak.

Aiden was still laughing from the thrill of it all when he jabbed his elbow blindly toward Peter’s voice. “You are insane!”

Peter wheezed behind him.

Aiden moved his arms and turned slightly mostly looking over his shoulder. Shoved between Aiden and the door, was Peter. That thing that had just kept him safe, was Peter. The white of his teeth made it obvious Peter was smiling in the gloom. Aiden looked from Peter around the car, to the driver, passenger, and then back to Peter, who was still grinning. “That was awesome!”

“Let us find you a better seat,” Peter said. Hands found his hips, one might have slid under his ass, and then his weight was slipped onto the actual seat of the car. Aiden kept scooting to the far side and buckled himself in out of habit. Now that it was moving like it was on a city street instead of a movie set, it was easy. So easy, after so long. He blinked, looked back at Peter, and moved to the middle, buckling in.

“I don’t have to be on the end,” he whispered.

Peter, still grinning, sorted himself out and buckled in too. “No, you do not.”

“And you did a damn fine job diving in here on instinct too,” offered the driver. Aiden blinked looking up front. The man wore a dark suit jacket. Streetlights flashed over red hair.

In the passenger seat, also in black, a woman turned and smiled at him. “He’s right. Next time though, get on the floor, not the seat. Better cover and you don’t get thrown around in turns. A+” She had short hair and dark skin.

“You should know better, Mr. Dane,” she said.

Peter’s face became arranged in something remorseful while he listened to her.

“I suppose I’ll give you credit. You got control of him and braced yourself between him and possible fire from pursuit. Still in the hole through. C-“

“You know I like being in holes, Melissa,” Peter said flatly. Aiden felt his face go red and just stared at his feet.

Melissa started laughing and Peter continued, “What? They can be good cover.” One corner of his mouth curled, “Fox holes.”

“Dude, seriously.” Aiden laughed, “Pick one way to talk. Also, making sex jokes is my shtick, so give it back. You suck at it.”

Peter made a point of getting straight faced. He mouthed to Aiden “I sucked on your shtick?”

“Ass.” But he was grinning. This is new.

A moment and against his ear he heard: “Is that where you desire I place the shtick that I am to return?”

He jumped and went scarlet, “You like fucking with me, don’t you?” he griped. The car was silent for a full 30 seconds. Aiden, burning again, just muttered, “Served myself up on a silver platter with that one, didn’t I?”

“Too easy…” Melissa snickered.

“That’s why you’re so popular, Melissa” said the driver.

Aiden felt a sympathetic dread for the guy. He’d had many times that he realized just a moment too late exactly what he said. The driver though didn’t seem to notice how she went still. Jerk…

Breathe. Think. Speak.

“Say, Melissa,” his voice light, he leaned forward, a hand on her seat. When he had her attention, he gave her a sleazy smile. “What are you doing next Friday?”

Her breath came out in a single huffing laugh “No. Just, no.” She said, she might have been blushing though.

Aiden shrugged at Peter. “She’s not easy at all.” His voice was pitched as if they were alone. “That’s false advertising at best, defamation of character at worst. She should sue, don’t you think?”

Beside him, Peter propped his chin on his hand and his elbow on the door. His head cocked one way and then the other, a clear pondering expression. “Sexual harassment would be much more easily proven. Less expense, internal House matter. Given the witnesses, it would be resolved quickly. Perhaps the night after any complaint is filed, if not sooner.”

The driver looked at Peter in the mirror, eyes wide and then turned to Melissa. “I crossed a line. Sorry Mel.”   He was making as much eye contact as driving would allow, at least.

Silence.

She was the first to laugh. Deep in her belly. Then Aiden. Peter laughed with him. Even the driver laughed. But there was something odd. When Melissa and he about had their laughter under control, Aiden noticed that the driver wasn’t actually smiling.

“Hey, Aiden, right? How old are you?” Melissa asked.

“Yeah, I’m 14.”

“You keep in touch. For now, we’ll set a tentative first date on February, 21, 200X, ok?”

Aiden closed his mouth and swallowed when she looked at him, then quietly: “Are you serious?”

Melissa sighed, “Life can be vicious. I appreciate someone who can make me laugh when I want to deck someone.”

“Uh. Thanks, Melissa.” He swallowed. “I’ll… I’ll do that. Keep in touch, I mean.” He leaned toward the driver. “Hey, uh..?

“Jacob,” Peter supplied.

“So, Jacob, help me out here.” When he saw the driver’s eyes meet his in the mirror, he deadpanned, “Do you have a pen? I gotta give a lady my number.”

February in Chicago wasn’t enough to stop the parking at the pier from being packed. So their arrival around 7 o’clock consisted of idling and unloading. Compared to getting in the pace was glacial. But it may have just seemed that way to Aiden because he didn’t move when Peter’s seat belt opened next to him.

“Seems we made it without bloodshed,” Peter said. “At your convenience, Mr. Desmond, we can move on to the next phase of the plan.” Melissa got out of the car and walked toward the back. She opened the door on the far side of Aiden and lifted out Peter’s backpack, then set it on the roof and Jacob popped the trunk.

Aiden flinched. “It’s in the trunk, isn’t it?” he whispered. “I wanted to leave it behind.”

Peter nodded. “It was a condition. I had to promise we would bring it.” Peter showed him another smile. “There’s no promise it would be unloaded. Consider it a contingency, available on request at any time. Now, or later.”

Behind them horns started. “Later.” And he scrambled out of the car.

“Your coat, Mr. Desmond.” Melissa, breath fogging, was holding it out, open. Come on… What did they want? He was already wearing two pairs of socks, boots, red flannel boxers, gray long thermals, black jeans, a red t-shirt, red dress shirt and a burnt orange medium jacket. The thing she was holding looked like a parka. Gray and white outside the inside was lined in something furry, black with scattered gray and white hairs. And were those…? Yep. Gloves hung hooked to the sleeves. It looked heavy. He gave it the evil eye.

“It’s already below freezing, and headed lower,” Melissa said smiling.

“She won’t move until you are wearing it. Jacob won’t move the car without her. Which may incite violence.” Punctuating Peter’s words, there was another horn somewhere behind them. He slipped into the damn coat while she held it. Felt himself blush again when she did up the zipper. Her hands had almost touched the front of his pants.

He looked over his shoulder and glowered at Peter. “Where’s your Eskimo coat?” He turned and tapped his foot. “We’re waiting here!” Peter gave him a blank look and then rolled his eyes. He pulled a black lump out the trunk and shook it out. When he put one arm in and swung it around him, it looked like a cape. Matte black and long, it went down to halfway below his knees. Peter elected to fasten two buttons rather than the zipper. When he smoothed the high collar, he saw the sleeves stopped perfectly at each wrist. It fit him like a glove, and it looked awesome. He grabbed the bag off the car, shrugging into it like it was empty. Peter started away from the curb.

After about five feet he turned back and, smirking, raised one brown eyebrow in an almost Vulcan level of inquiry. “Are you coming?”

Aiden started after him. When he caught up, they kept even. “If that was about to happen, you wouldn’t have to ask.”

Peter chuckled. “Put your gloves on and then we can get started.”

Aiden held up his arms and shook them sending matching gloves swinging. “Where are your gloves?” But he caught hold of the left glove and unclipped it shoved it in a pocket, unclipped the other, and put them both on. “I don’t see you with gloves on.”

Peter held his gaze and shrugged. Then he gave Aiden a perfect stubborn pout-face and shook his head. He should have laughed, but instead those pursed lips made him swallow.

“No glove, no love, Peter.” He laughed at himself, remembering too late what it really meant. “I feel like that kid from A Christmas Story. I feel ridiculous.”

“Well, I cannot allow that.” He took gloves out of his pocket.

They walked on in silence. It was weird. Peter seemed relaxed, exaggerating expressions, cracking jokes, sex jokes, even, and Peter had plenty of believable smiles for him. But… there had been those hints of something off, even wrong. Dr. Thompson warned him Peter would take convincing tonight, the question was, why? And he had a lot of others. Peter was here, they were alone, and he didn’t know where to start.

But then, this was Navy pier. Until he found what to say, he could find something to do. “Come on, Peter.” Besides, his questions weren’t the point. Not tonight. He took Peter’s brown glove in his, pulling him just a little as he picked up speed. “We’re free, let’s party!”

Choosing something proved harder than he thought. He hadn’t been here, or out on his own, in so long, he wanted to do it all. Everything was bright and loud and exciting, and he couldn’t stop smiling. The fact he was pulling Peter next to him was the only thing that kept him from just running everywhere. Like a kid at a carnival. Ugh. Remember some dignity, Dude… Calm, mature, cool… But damn, it was good to be free!

The only thing bugging him was that Peter kept paying. For everything. For both of them. He wasn’t Peter’s date or anything. He had some cash. He invited Peter. He wasn’t the kind of person to invite someone out and then expect them to pay for it. Peter just wouldn’t stop.

“Money isn’t something I obsess over, either,” Peter said when he called him on it after the third time. “People spend so much time trying to amass the biggest pile. Generally, it buys less each year, so they need a bigger pile. Money is only as good as what you get in exchange for it. It does better in their registers than my wallet.”

“Well…” he rallied some of his annoyance. “Doesn’t that mean I should spend my money when I want?”

Peter shrugged. “I have more than you do. And I need very little of it to live.”

“What should I do with it, then?”

Peter turned away, voice going softer. “Save for college. You’ll be paying tuition sooner than you think, if you keep the pace you’ve set, Aiden Desmond,” he smiled back at him and added, voice normal. “A. D., M. D.”

He giggled. Not even Simon knew he wanted to go to Medical School, just Peter. He only trusted Peter with that aspiration. Peter didn’t make assumptions about his motive. Not like everyone else would. Aiden sighed. “Fine.”

Only once they were moving again, he frowned. There, again, had been another moment where there was something out of place. With Peter, the future was something positive. Especially Aiden’s. But then…

“What’s on your mind?” Peter asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he said.

“That’s never true, Aiden. You’re always thinking, and often much more deeply than you let people know.” Peter was walking backwards looking at him with the same ’We-both-know-there’s-more,-I’ll-listen-when-you’re ready’ expression that always drew him in eventually. He was opening the door. He sighed. Unloading was always easier when it was him talking and Peter asking the questions.

“What’s it like being…” No. Not that first! And not here. Don’t be an ass. “What do you think when you look at me?” No! That’s just as bad. Come on, this isn’t about you, Aiden… Oh, man… So many other things to know and he could only put the worst two into words? He could imagine Peter’s face, at some of them. Amused, shocked, scandalized, embarrassed, angry. And how would he feel about the answers? He could imagine Peter looking at him utterly crushed, even crying if he reacted badly. Wait, Peter Dane didn’t get angry. What he’d seen happen in January had been the closest thing since they met. Peter Dane didn’t cry, either. Except, maybe, when Aiden had gasped, and Peter looked up, and he knew Aiden had seen, he sometimes thought he thought there might have been tears in Peter’s eyes… He should be able to say anything to Peter. But what if one of those happened?

He only noticed Peter had stopped walking because he walked into him. Peter caught him and half carried him to a seat outside a food place.

“It’s alright, you’re alright.” Peter whispered, he put his hands on Aiden’s and gently took them out of his own hair. “Just breathe, Aiden. Get your focus back. Push the rest away until you have it.”

“Right,” he sighed, “Focus.” For the last three years they’d had him practicing mental exercises. It wasn’t about peace or clearing his mind. More… knowing what he was thinking and keeping it inside a space surrounded by a maze of mirrors that reflected everyone that wasn’t Aiden and every entrance only lead back out. Inside that space, he was alone. Inside that place he could think anything, without judgment from outside. Inside that space he had infinite time to think. Inside that space, he was free. And since January, he’d practiced intensely. Before then, it didn’t feel as necessary as it did now.

He could find that feeling quickly, and could keep it for longer. Almost without thinking about it. When he opened his eyes, Peter was looking at him with the oddest expression. “What?” he said, blushing again. Why couldn’t he stop doing that? Get a grip!

Peter’s eyes left his. “You’ve gotten a lot better.” Peter was sitting across from him, bag in his lap. He fussed with it and handed him a reusable water bottle.

He took it and opened it, drinking. It was full of cherry flavored Kool-Aid. He slugged some more back and grinned. He ran his tongue over his lips, hoping to spread the red. “How do I look?”

Peter chuckled. “Fiendish. I thought it might be fitting.”

He held it out. Peter shook his head. “You finish it, I’m not… thirsty.”

Crap! Uh… “Aww, be fiendish with me? If it’s ok…”

Peter took it and took a long drink. Aiden watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed. Peter stuck out his now much redder tongue and spread it around like he had.

Peter raised his eyebrows at Aiden. “It’s water, a lot of dye, and a little flavor.”

“Well, you always told me your stomach was sensitive. Even more than I knew. So…”

“Something like that is ok. Some hard candies. Stuff that melts away. A little, anyway.”

“Ok. Makes sense. The body basically runs on just glucose.” Body stuff? That’s what I start with? Ugh! “Anyway, I guess this makes us best ‘fiends’ forever.”

Peter looked startled. He put away the bottle, swung the bag onto his shoulder. Then he took some napkins and very slowly leaned toward him. Somehow Peter’s red mouth held his attention as it got closer.

He froze, felt his heart pick up.

Peter’s face was very very close.

Holding there, holding his gaze,

Peter smiled…

And then…

He wiped Aiden’s mouth off.

“That life wouldn’t suit you.” He looked serious, even sad, then broke into that smile. “But friends, yes. I’ll be yours forever.”

Aiden swallowed. “Peter, I-” Aiden started. Peter made him lose his thought.

Peter, still holding the napkin, covered his mouth, and then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. Slowly. About a dozen moments from cartoons and manga flashed through his mind.

An indirect kiss. W-w-with another boy…

 

Published August 15, 2018