It hadn’t been terribly surprising that Greg wouldn’t let him back into the bedroom even after he’d scrubbed himself raw in a cold shower. Greg had commented on his hair, and Alex thought maybe taking care of that would help calm Greg down. He’d been cutting his own hair for years, and had got rather good at it using just cheap hair clippers. But even with showering after, all it meant was that Alex was forced to go to bed cold and itchy in his little cupboard. He hadn’t been made to sleep there for several months, and now getting used to the hard floor beneath the thin mattress was simply impossible. Every way he twisted and turned in the small space, some part of him pressed against the hard floor, just painfully enough to keep him from fully falling asleep.
After a few hours of it, Alex gave up. He was already in trouble for something he didn’t understand, and there was no point in trying to figure out what he’d done. He got up and quietly made his ways through empty halls, bare feet stinging on the cold floors. When he got to Greg’s bedroom door, Alex stood outside it for a long moment, staring at the grain in the wood as he tried to decide whether he was really going to do this. Then, with a tired sigh, he pushed the door open and crept inside. Greg slept heavily, and didn’t rouse as Alex dared to step closer. He had his little area beneath the foot of Greg’s bed, a big, soft dog bed where he usually slept. But that wasn’t his goal. He walked right past it and carefully, slowly pulled back the blankets next to Greg. Alex climbed into the bed, keeping a watchful eye on Greg to make sure he didn’t wake up, and settled in next to him. Greg’s bed was warm and soft, and Alex began to fall asleep immediately.
Greg rolled over suddenly, wrapping his arm around Alex’s chest and squeezing him so hard it was almost difficult to breathe. Alex hated when Greg did that, but he didn’t fight against it either, because he knew Greg didn’t mean for it to hurt. He was a big man, jealous and possessive, and he liked to keep Alex close when he could. It confused Alex, because he hated the close contact, but there was also a certain safety to it that part of him wanted to keep forever.
He didn’t get to keep it forever, though. He could feel the precise moment Greg woke; the quiet hitch in his breathing, and the sudden tenseness around Alex where he held him.
“Oh, you have some nerve,” Greg said, his voice a low grumble.
“Please,” Alex said.
Greg threw the blankets away and shoved Alex from the bed, knocking him awkwardly to the floor. Alex barely had the chance to right himself before Greg grabbed him by the back of the neck, his fingers digging deep into his flesh. Even as Greg started to drag him toward the door, all Alex could think of was the marks that would be left, visible to everyone who saw him. He tried to keep up with Greg’s long strides, but even getting his feet under him was difficult as he was dragged across the floor.
Alex managed to survive the stairs, only just, but it wasn’t a quick tumble that worried him. Greg took him all the way back to his cupboard like this, only letting go as he shoved Alex through the door. Before he could even right himself, Greg slammed the door shut between them. The scraping of a bolt locking on the other side was all Alex needed to hear to know that he wouldn’t be leaving until Greg allowed it. He listened to the sound of Greg’s stomping footsteps disappear back down the hall, and only once they had faded completely did Alex start trying to settle himself back in again. He didn’t know how long Greg would keep him locked up, but that didn’t matter. Greg was still angry with him, but at least now Alex had something he could properly beat himself up over, rather than having to guess.
The estate was bigger than Alex had expected it to be. He’d thought they’d all been hacked to bits and sold off by now, but it seemed there were still a few yet standing. The ad had seemed rather urgent, but now Alex wondered if he might be getting into something well beyond his skill set. Service wasn’t exactly the career he’d had in mind for himself, but it turned out there really wasn’t a lot of money or security in music. Especially when there were so many other people out there who were better than he was, and still struggling.
The ad had been for a personal assistant, but now that he saw the house and the extent of the grounds, he couldn’t help but feeling there may have been some error of communication. Surely, whoever lived in such a massive house would be looking for a butler or a valet or some antiquated thing like that. But he knew he wouldn’t find out for certain unless he went through with the interview. And the worst thing that would happen was he’d be turned away.
He expected some stuffy butler to open the door, but instead was greeted by the largest man he had ever seen. Alex suddenly felt very small beneath the man’s suspicious gaze, and from that came a whole new wave of discomfort. He hadn’t been made to feel small like that since he was in short trousers. As it slowly became apparent that he was expected to introduce himself, Alex realised he had been standing in a gawping silence for an embarrassing amount of time.
“Hello, sorry,” Alex said, still struggling to find his wits. “I’ve come about an ad for an assistant.”
“Ah! You must be Horne,” the other man said. He stepped aside and gestured for Alex to go inside with him. “How soon can you start?”
No ‘how are you’ or ‘how was the travel’ or anything else that might make the situation less awkward. Alex struggled to keep up, both mentally with the bizarre lack of introduction, and with the pace of the man’s stride. Though now he understood why the ad had specified applicants must be taller than six foot. Alex felt like if he were any shorter, he’d be at risk of being trod on.
“I suppose immediately, but I’m not even sure what the job is,” Alex said.
From the outside, Alex might have almost thought the house was maintained by the Heritage, but as he was led through a long hall and into a dimly-lit sitting room, it quickly became clear that this was a private house. Paintings and photos gave Alex a few more clues about what he had wandered into, letting him get on a more even footing with the situation, but he wasn’t sure he liked it any better.
“You must be Lord Davies, I presume,” he said, taking the offered seat in a large armchair.
“Call me Greg, please,” the other said, sitting on a sofa.
He seemed to take up almost the entire thing on his own, and Alex wondered if using his first name was a way of making himself seem less intimidating. Until that moment, Alex had thought men of that size were exclusive to American basketball players.
Suddenly remembering what he was meant to be doing, Alex quickly handed over his CV. The telephone conversation he’d had the previous night had been brief, and served only to arrange the time of the interview. He’d assumed at the time he was speaking to some sort of representative, but he began to get the feeling the conversation had been with Greg himself. Alex watched as Greg flipped through the pages, feeling suddenly very itchy about the whole thing. Something felt off, but he couldn’t quite figure out what.
“Why’d you leave your previous post?” Greg asked.
That was a normal, expected question, and Alex nodded as he grappled with the edges of his comfort zone.
“Mr Evans’ health had declined to a point that someone with medical knowledge became more appropriate,” Alex said. “He left a good reference.”
Greg nodded, still reading over Alex’s CV. Then, he flipped through the pages to find the reference Alex had brought with him, and carefully read it over.
“You’re aware this position is live-in, yes?” Greg asked.
Alex shook his head. “I wasn’t, but that’s not a problem.”
“Good,” said Greg. “Because you’d be doing a bit of everything. I don’t like having a house full of people buzzing about like flies. Your days will be busy, but I can promise you won’t be bored.”
Greg looked at him over the pages, with a critical gaze that made Alex want to shrink into his seat.
“All right,” he said.
“I do mean that,” Greg said. “I’m a busy man, and I need a lot of help to get everything done. Being without someone this past week has got me behind as well.”
Alex couldn’t fight the small worry that began to build up in the back of his mind.
“Why did your previous man leave, if you don’t mind me asking?” he said.
“Goddamn tragedy, that,” Greg said. “He had an underlying condition. Dropped dead right at the dinner table.”
Somehow, it wasn’t the answer Alex expected. Hearing it made him feel like he’d just been slapped in the face.
“Bloody hell. I’m sorry to hear that,” he said.
“Not as sorry as I was,” Greg said. “So I need reassurances from you that you’re fit for the job.”
Alex nodded. “Yes. No problems here,” he said.
“Good,” said Greg. He slapped Alex’s CV on the side table and stood again. “Shall I show you around?”
Greg took Alex all through the house, explaining the small eccentricities of a 400-year-old house and how it would all relate to Alex’s job. Greg hadn’t been kidding about Alex needing to do a bit of everything, either. He wanted someone not only to run his errands and take care of his correspondence, but to cook and clean and do the mending, and anything else Greg didn’t trust to just anybody. The job was that of a personal assistant, a valet, a butler, and a cook, all rolled into one.
But one thing for certain was that Greg was right. Alex wouldn’t find himself bored very often.
Greg showed him around not just the house, but the garden as well, all perfectly manicured and arranged. Alex looked around it all, unable to tell where the estate ended.
“It’s a lot bigger than I would have thought,” he said without thinking.
To his surprise, Greg actually laughed.
“It’s maybe a quarter the size it was when it came to my granddad,” he said. “We used to own everything on both sides of the water. That all went after the war. My dad saved a lot of what was left with leases. We’ve got some housing and a football club out of it.”
He pointed it all out as he spoke, giving Alex a clearer view of what he would be getting himself into.
“Mostly, you’ll be in the house, or down at the retreat with my guests,” Greg went on. “But it wouldn’t hurt to get to know as much as you can.”
Alex nodded. “Retreat?” he asked.
Greg pointed toward what Alex abruptly recognised as a golf course. “Little cottage down that way,” he said. “It’s been a few things through the years. I use it for entertaining guests.”
Alex couldn’t see it, but he assumed it was hidden out of the way somewhere. “And I’d be doing what, exactly?” he asked.
“Not a lot,” Greg said. “Mostly keeping an eye on things and making sure their visits go smoothly.”
That strange feeling was back, but Alex couldn’t point out what might have been causing it. Working for a lord would be quite a big step up from working for a retired old banker, so he pushed his apprehensions aside and followed Greg as he led him back into the house.
The room he’d been shown that would be his was a small room, near to Greg’s own bedroom. It wasn’t downstairs, with the rest of the staff, because Greg needed Alex to be closer to him at all times. Some of the previous man’s personal affects were still on the nightstand, making Alex suddenly aware of just how recently the man had died.
But the job itself seemed like a good fit. Living in would mean he’d be able to save up more easily, and move on to other, more fulfilling things when he got a bit older. He signed the contract with only a cursory glance over it, and agreed to start right away. He could move his few possessions in later in the week, during a time Greg would be in Wales for a few days. Until then, he even didn’t have to worry about his own clothes, because Greg provided the livery. Alex did inwardly cringe at that bit, but lucky for him it wasn’t something that would make him look like an overstuffed penguin. A simple black suit and trousers, and a white collared shirt, worn open without a tie. It felt almost casual compared to what he had expected.
Alex woke sharply at the sound of the bolt on the door sliding open. He sat up, flinching at the light as the door opened. Greg stood in the doorway, looking down at him on the floor, an imposing silhouette against the light. For a long moment, neither said anything. Alex wanted to apologise and beg forgiveness, but he held his tongue and waited for Greg to decide whether Alex had been adequately punished. Without a word, Greg stepped aside, and Alex took it as his cue to get up. He winced and hissed sharply as tense muscles and stiff joints that were too old for sleeping in small spaces stretched and popped. Greg grabbed a handful of Alex’s t-shirt and steered him out of the cupboard and down the hall. Alex avoided the gaze of a young man who worked at cleaning dust from the paintings as they walked past him. He could never stand the look on their faces, especially when Greg trotted him out like this; the looks that said they were sorry to have seen it, but wouldn’t do anything to step in to help. The looks that said he deserved it all, because he couldn’t follow a simple rule.
Greg took him to the sitting room, letting the door swing shut loudly once they were inside. Only then did Greg let go of him, and only then did Alex realise it was later in the day than he had thought. Greg was already dressed, and the morning paper sat open on the sofa, already half-read. Sun poured through the windows, and when Alex dared to look at the clock, he knew Greg wasn’t done with him. The day had worn into the early afternoon, and Alex was still in his pyjamas. Never a good sign. Greg sat down on the sofa, and Alex followed him, taking his usual spot on the floor by his feet. He still said nothing, quietly staring at the floor in front of him while he waited for whatever came next.
“I don’t take joy in hurting you,” Greg said, drawing his hand over the back of Alex’s neck.
Alex hissed quietly at the sudden sting where Greg’s fingers brushed over the same spots where he had grabbed Alex the night before.
“I wouldn’t have to if you didn’t set out to irritate me so damn much,” Greg said.
“Sorry,” Alex said lowly.
“You keep saying that, but you don’t stop doing it,” Greg said.
He moved his hand to Alex’s hair, and as he carded his fingers through it, Alex had to resist every urge he had to lean into the touch.
“And then you show me that you do know how to listen, and I wonder why you’re so selective about it,” Greg continued.
“I try to make you happy,” Alex said, knowing he sounded like a desperate fool. “I really do. I promise.”
“Yeah, but trying ain’t doing, is it?” Greg said.
Alex shook his head. “No, I suppose not.”
Greg let his hand fall down to Alex’s face, his thumb scratching against Alex’s beard. Alex gave up on resisting and leaned into the touch, moment by agonising moment becoming more confident that this time, it wasn’t a trick. He let himself believe that this time, Greg really meant it.
“No, it isn’t,” Greg said. “Because I have to keep telling you the same thing again and again, and you never learn.”
Alex knew this wasn’t just about what he’d done last night. Greg was still upset about the other thing, whatever the other thing even was.
“Tell me one more time, so I don’t forget again,” Alex said.
“It’s not your place to be getting chummy with my guests, all right?” Greg said. His voice was calm and even, but there was a certain venom to it, highlighted by his grip tightening around Alex’s jaw. “They aren’t here so you can make friends and chat about me behind my back.”
Alex tried to nod, but Greg’s hold on him was too tight.
“What—what if they ask a question? Then what am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“If you’d done the rest of your job correctly, they wouldn’t need to ask questions, would they?” Greg said.
Alex tried to shake his head, but again Greg held him just a little too tightly to manage it properly.
“No, I suppose not,” he said.
“So why aren’t you doing your job correctly, then?” Greg asked. “I know what you’re like. Changing the words around so there’s something in it for you as well. You think I don’t notice?”
“No, I think you do notice,” Alex said.
Greg hummed and let go of Alex. “Go fix me my lunch,” he said. “Somebody wasn’t up in time for breakfast, and he’ll be punished for that as well.”
Alex quickly got to his feet and scurried out of the sitting room, but he didn’t go straight to the kitchen. He knew Greg would want his lunch quickly, but he also wouldn’t like it if Alex served him whist still wearing his pyjamas. He dressed quickly, pausing only when he noticed that every single pair of his socks had been reduced to half. He only had brightly-coloured socks in his drawer, and not a single one of them had a match. He knew which solution would annoy Greg more, and it was the option he liked the least. If Greg caught him wearing odd socks, there’d be no end to the bollocking he’d get over it. He couldn’t very well just wear one, either. So no socks it was. Alex slid into his shoes and needed only take a few steps before he knew he had made the decision Greg had wanted him to make. His shoes rubbed against his skin with each step, and had already begun to rub small patches raw by the time Alex made his way to the kitchen.
Greg didn’t usually have lunch, which rather threw a spanner into the works. There was no set routine for lunch, so Alex had to improvise. He settled on sandwiches and tea, and hoped it would be enough. He found Greg still in the sitting room, flipping through the paper with an attitude that was anything but casual. Alex set the tray down on the end table and took a step back, waiting for Greg to decide what came next. After a long moment of looking at what Alex had brought for him, Greg held out his hand. Without needing to be told, Alex pulled a small kitchen knife from inside his jacket and handed it over, letting Greg cut into the sandwich where he liked. He cut it diagonally across the corners, and then after another long pause, he pointed at the half that was furthest from him.
“That one,” he said.
He watched Alex’s face for any reaction that might give him away, but Alex knew there was nothing Greg needed to be worried about. Greg may not have believed him, but Alex would never do anything to harm him. With an easy nod, he picked up the half Greg had pointed to and took a small bite from it, letting Greg see there was nothing to worry about. Still, Greg regarded him with open suspicion even as he brought the plate to balance on his knee.
“No guests today, then?” Alex asked.
“No,” Greg said. He looked up at Alex for just a moment before returning his attention to his paper. “I’ve got other plans for you today. Starting with changing out my bedding. You got your scratchy, disgusting little hairs all over the place last night and I don’t want to sleep in it.”
Alex now fully understood what his punishment was, and he nodded. He made trips back and forth through the house to fetch the clean bedding, and put the old in with the washing. Then Greg decided that he wanted his study moved to the other wing, and Alex had to do countless more back and forth trips for that. Each step he took was like he had glass in his shoes, but he stayed quiet about it, because he had nobody to complain to anyway. By the time he was done moving Greg’s study, Greg wanted his dinner. Alex hadn’t got a single moment to sit, until he handed Greg his plate and once more proved he hadn’t put anything in it that might poison him.
Then, finally, Greg had him sit back on the floor by his feet. Alex tried to stay quiet even as the relief consumed him. He stretched his legs out, and for the first time saw the ring of red blisters round both ankles. Greg wanted him to hurt, and he wanted that hurt to linger far beyond the initial punishment, and Alex knew it. He knew it from endless experience. That was just how Greg worked, and yet Alex knew it could be worse. Alex knew Greg meant it when he said he didn’t enjoy causing him harm. And Alex knew that because for all of Greg’s menacing threats, he rarely did anything that directly caused harm. Alex knew he had pushed too far the night before, and Greg simply wasn’t awake and coherent enough to understand his own actions. Alex could have stayed in his cupboard, and nothing would have happened. But he went to Greg’s bed knowing it would make him angry. Part of him had almost wanted Greg to be properly angry with him, and in that Alex had got exactly what he wanted.
As Greg ate his dinner, his hand fell back to Alex’s neck, trailing light circles over what Alex now knew were faint bruises. That was another reason Alex knew Greg hadn’t meant it. Greg didn’t like leaving visible marks on him. He thought it was sloppy and unprofessional, the same way he thought it was sloppy and unprofessional when Alex let his tattoos show. Now, with the chatter from the telly as the only noise between them, Alex let himself relax into Greg’s touch. To Greg, Alex was little more than an obnoxious pet, and Alex knew it. Still, in these little moments, he knew that Greg did care, in his own way. He had meted out his punishment, and now things would go back to normal. They always did.
“Some of my socks seem to have gone missing,” Alex said, hoping he hadn’t misjudged the situation.
“Have they?” Greg asked.
He dragged his nails over the back of Alex’s head in a way that almost felt like a warning.
“Well, we can’t have my assistant going around without socks, can we?” Greg said finally. “We’ll see to that in the morning.”
Alex nodded, not terribly surprised that the issue wouldn’t be addressed quickly. He wasn’t terribly bothered about it either, though. He was exhausted, and every part of him hurt, and he soon found himself fighting against drifting off to sleep right there on the floor while Greg petted his hair. Then, abruptly, Greg knocked him behind the ear, just hard enough to get his attention.
“Go prepare my bath, and then you can finish that off,” Greg said.
Alex looked up at him, taking a moment to process what was said to him. Then, he nodded and carefully made his way to his feet, hissing and wincing at the fresh pain he had almost managed to forget about. He tried to find a way to stand that didn’t rub his shoes against his ankles, but that didn’t work. As he took the plate back to the kitchen, each step was a brand new agony. He wondered if he could get away with taking off his shoes, but the fact that he had to wonder if it would be all right stopped him from acting on it. He drew Greg’s bath and got everything set up and ready, and retreated back to the kitchen before Greg even arrived. He ate quickly, any self-consciousness over eating Greg’s table scraps long eroded. If he didn’t eat what Greg gave him, he wouldn’t eat at all.
He rushed to tidy up the kitchen, not wanting to spend a moment longer on his feet than he needed to. Then, he returned to the bathroom to check on Greg, and make sure there was nothing else he needed. Greg was already in the bath, dripping water on the floor as he held a book over the edge. Alex hoped Greg wouldn’t want anything more from him, because he didn’t think he had the energy left for anything more strenuous than hanging the towels back up to dry.
“Look at you. You’re a mess,” Greg said.
Alex braced himself for another harsh reprimand. “Sorry,” he said.
To his surprise Greg nodded toward his bedroom. “Go dress for bed and wait for me in there,” he said.
It felt like a trap, but Alex nodded and turned to leave. He considered showering, but the thought of being under the cold water on top of all his other sores and pains made his stomach do a flip. Instead, he sat on his sad little bed and carefully pulled his shoes off. He didn’t even want to look at it. He didn’t need to to know that it was bad. The damage around his ankles was the worst, but it wasn’t all of it. There wasn’t a single spot on either of his feet that didn’t feel like they had been scoured to the bone. Even changing into his pyjamas was agony as the fabric slid over the worst of it. He wanted to roll over and go to sleep right then and there, but Greg had wanted him to wait upstairs. Alex had to fight his own body to get to his feet, and to take those steps, one at a time, through the halls. He’d thought having his shoes off might have helped, but it didn’t. Not in a way that mattered, anyway. When he made it up to Greg’s room, he realised there was still work to be done in there. The bed hadn’t been prepared the way Greg liked, so Alex distracted himself by doing that.
He knew Greg would take his time. Alex also knew that if he waited in silence, he would fall asleep. So after he was done with Greg’s bed, he walked all the way to the new study, and carried the typewriter and and all of its trappings with him back to the bedroom. There was a small desk in the corner of the room, and Alex set up there, typing up tasks and stacking them off to the side to be marked and sealed later. He got through about half the list by the time he heard Greg get out of the bath, but by then he simply did not have the energy left to jump up and tidy up the bathroom. He looked up at the door just as Greg stepped through it, towel hung loose around his waist.
“Look at you, getting caught up on your other chores,” Greg said.
He clearly meant it to be scathing and mocking, but Alex chose instead to take it as praise.
“Needed something to do,” he said, shrugging.
Greg handed his towel off to Alex and pointed to the bathroom. He didn’t need to say anything, because Alex already knew what was wanted of him. He hung the towel up and mopped up all the water from the floor, before turning out the lights and locking the door. When he returned to the bedroom, Greg was already in his pyjamas and stretched out in bed and back in his book. Alex found himself standing stupidly in the doorway, having no idea what he was supposed to do. He looked at his spot beneath the foot of Greg’s bed, assuming he’d been allowed back to the bedroom for the night. He gingerly stepped forward, hating that he found himself second-guessing his every action.
“It’s supposed to be cold tonight. Why don’t you come up here with me?” Greg said.
Alex froze, uncertain he had heard correctly.
“Really?” he asked, aware of just how needy he sounded.
“I won’t offer again,” Greg said.
He didn’t need to. Alex made his way to the bed, careful to arrange the blankets over himself so nothing rubbed against his feet. Every little shift from either of them sent a shock straight through him though, and he knew that even in the warm bed, he wasn’t getting much sleep. As he tried to get comfortable, Greg pulled him closer, so Alex was snuggled up against his chest. It wasn’t a comfortable position, but it felt safe, so Alex stayed there. He wasn’t sure if he was allowed to go to sleep, so he fought against it as Greg absentmindedly played with his hair as he continued to read his book.
Alex fought the urge to drift off to sleep, wanting to stay and enjoy this for as long as possible. He watched as Greg got lost in his book, glasses slid halfway down his nose. Every time he needed to turn a page, Greg performed a tricky balancing act against his thigh, rather than taking his hand away from Alex. He didn’t have one of those fancy electronic books that seemed easier to use. Greg liked reading the old fashioned way, with words on paper that got dog-eared and and yellow over time. Even though the fancy electronic books would no doubt be easier to read with only one hand, Alex liked that he used the paper ones. Paper books had a smell that Alex had come to associate with a certain safety and security. Alex was only allowed in to fall asleep in Greg’s bed when Greg wanted to lie down and read for a few hours, and in those moments he wasn’t someone to be afraid of. In those moments, he became the person Alex wished he was all the time.
“You’re wonderful,” Alex said, unable to stop himself.
Greg thumped him in the face with his book. “Quiet,” he said.
Alex sighed and settled in a bit closer to Greg, letting his arm fall over Greg’s chest. Not long after, Greg pulled his hand away from Alex’s hair and shifted to get his arm around Alex. Alex couldn’t help the way he flinched when Greg found his way beneath Alex’s shirt to draw lazy lines up and down his side. Again, Alex knew that Greg never meant to cause any real harm, because there was a time when flinching like he did would have got him another thump on the face with Greg’s book. But as time wore on, Greg came to accept and expect these small moments of protest. As long as Alex didn’t try to stop him, or get away completely, Greg was willing to ignore it. By now, he knew Alex couldn’t help it even when he tried. Even now, after so much time together, he hated being touched like this. But he endured it because he knew this was Greg’s way of showing that he did care, in his own way, and there was a certain comfort in that. Once the initial shock wore off, Alex was able to shut off that part of his brain and relax once more.
He fell asleep like this, being held and petted by Greg. It didn’t take long to get there either. Every part of his body was sore and exhausted, and once he let his eyes drift shut, it was simply impossible to open them again.
Alex woke the next morning, crushed beneath Greg’s weight behind him. He knew he must have fallen asleep earlier than usual, because the light through the curtains wasn’t yet enough to properly light up the room. He could just about make out the pattern on the wallpaper, but it certainly wasn’t daylight by any means. Not that it mattered, because he couldn’t get up anyway. Greg held their bodies together, legs tangled up as he breathed heavily on the back of Alex’s neck. Now that he was awake, and his body stiff from being in bed so long and craving motion, Alex was acutely aware of every single way in which their bodies touched. He dared to try to at least get more comfortable, but Greg responded by only holding onto him that much tighter. He was trapped, and the feeling of safety that lulled him to sleep the night before was gone, replaced by a need to flee. But he couldn’t get away; not until Greg eventually rolled over and let him go. Sometimes if Alex squirmed enough, Greg would roll over quickly, and Alex could flee and get ready for his day. This time, it only seemed to draw Greg closer, so he forced himself to lie still and stare at the wall. The damask wallpaper had exactly 918 repeats on the wall directly across from Alex, but he counted the design again, just to be certain he hadn’t miscounted or misremembered.
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