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Table of Contents

Chapter One: An Angel Falls Chapter Two: A New Nest Chapter Three: Twisted Feathers Chapter Four: Sunday Mass Chapter Five: The Artist in the Park Chapter Six: Family Dinners Chapter Seven: Talk Between Angels Chapter Eight: When In Rome Chapter Nine: Intimate Introductions Chapter Ten: A Heavy Splash Chapter Eleven: A Sanctified Tongue Chapter Twelve: Conditioned Response Chapter Thirteen: No Smoking Chapter Fourteen: Nicotine Cravings Chapter Fifteen: Discussing Murder Chapter Sixteen: Old Wine Chapter Seventeen: Fraternity Chapter Eighteen: To Spar Chapter Nineteen: Violent Dreams Chapter Twenty: Bloody Chapter Twenty-One: Bright Lights Chapter Twenty-Two: Carving Pumpkins Chapter Twenty-Three: Powder Chapter Twenty-Four: Being Held Chapter Twenty-Five: The Gallery Chapter Twenty-Six: Good For Him Chapter Twenty-Seven: Mémé Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Eye of the Storm Chapter Twenty-Nine: Homecoming Chapter Thirty: Resumed Service Chapter Thirty-One: New Belonging Chapter Thirty-Two: Christmas Presents Chapter Thirty-Three: Familial Conflict Chapter Thirty-Four: Pixie Lights Chapter Thirty-Five: A New Family Chapter Thirty-Six: The Coming New Year Chapter Thirty-Seven: DMC Chapter Thirty-Eight: To Be Frank Chapter Thirty-Nine: Tetanus Shot Chapter Forty: Introspection Chapter Forty-One: Angel Politics Chapter Forty-Two: Hot Steam Chapter Forty-Three: Powder and Feathers Chapter Forty-Four: Ambassadorship Chapter Forty-Five: Aftermath Chapter Forty-Six: Christmas Chapter Forty-Seven: The Nature of Liberty Chapter Forty-Eight: Love and Captivity Chapter Forty-Nine: Party Favour Chapter Fifty: Old Fears Cast of Characters

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Chapter Thirty-One: New Belonging

1994 0 0


Colm’s bedroom was an exercise in juxtaposition.

His single bed made Aimé think of Goldilocks and the three bears – Jean-Pierre’s bed had not just one but two mattress toppers, underneath several layered duvets and a few dozen blankets that oscillated throughout the week between being layered like something out of the fucking Princess and the Pea or being gathered into a nest that Jean-Pierre curled up in the middle of; Asmodeus’ bed had a mattress so hard Aimé suspected the springs inside it were made of wood, and he didn’t have a duvet at all – he had silk sheets, and while he had a few soft blankets that Aimé half-suspected were somehow thousands of years old, they were neatly folded on a shelf in his wardrobe, and Aimé didn’t know if Asmodeus ever got cold enough to sleep under them.

Colm’s bed, in contrast to the extremes of his brothers’, was normal.

The mattress wasn’t that different to Aimé’s own, yielding but not enough that you thought it was going to swallow you, and he had one medium tog duvet, and one fleece blanket or woollen quilt that was on his bed at any one time.

Jean-Pierre’s blankets had a variety of origins, but his favourites were quilted or knitted in the 1980s – Colm’s were older and more old-fashioned, and they were made of that thick, hairy fleece that was warm but slightly scratchy on the skin.

By no means did it strike Aimé as a normal bed – if he didn’t know that Colm was several centuries old and a little bitter about the coming and going of the 20th century, his bed would be able to communicate it for him – but of the three of them, it seemed the most well-adjusted.

Because of the aforementioned scratchy blanket, Aimé was not sitting on Colm’s bed: he was sprawled on the extremely battered, impossibly comfortable low sofa bed against one of the walls, which had an extra duvet and a less scratchy blanket, as well as a few stacked pillows, for when George slept over.

Colm’s bedroom was messy, but parts of it were impeccably organised: like Colm’s vegetables and the shelves in the cellar, all of his tools and seeds were very neatly organised. Colm wasn’t as anal as Asmodeus was – Aimé had had Jean-Pierre reach over instinctively to put the spice rack back into alphabetical order because Asmodeus got upset if you put them back wrong, apparently – and he didn’t handwrite little labels on his boxes, but his offcuts and screws and shit were all sorted by size in clear, sectioned boxes.

Colm’s floor, on the other hand, had clothes scattered over it, and his bed wasn’t made but loosely strewn over with his blanket and duvet, and his end table was absolutely stuffed with receipts, which Colm apparently kept, but didn’t do anything with until Asmodeus came home and collected them and filed them all away, which was apparently the only reason Colm kept them at all.

He didn’t have ornaments and knick-knacks and keepsakes like Jean-Pierre, and he didn’t have decoration on his furniture like Asmodeus – most of his furniture matched, and Aimé got the impression that Colm had made it all himself, but it was made of plain, solid wood with no decoration. He didn’t have any books, except for a handful of stacked manuals on one shelf corner…

But he had photographs, though.

Aimé had thought Pádraic had had a lot of photographs, but they were nothing like Colm’s collection – Pádraic had had them neatly framed in loose, imprecise rows, and Colm had one section of photos like this over his bed, but several other sections of the walls had hundreds of photos pinned directly to the wall, stacked all over each other to fit as many as he could in a small space.

Aimé was looking at them, lying back on the sofa with his feet up on the other arm.

Not all of them were even photos – some of them, the oldest ones, were sketches and little painted postcards – and they didn’t seem to be in any order or grouped by time or place. He saw photos of Colm smiling with miners and sailors and railway men and fishermen and engineers and other kinds of workmen, always just as smeared with oil or wearing the same battered clothes; he saw pictures of Colm with a little girl stupendously covered with freckles, bouncing her on his knee or carrying her on his shoulder or, in at least six, throwing her into the air; he saw pictures of Colm and Jean-Pierre, Colm and De, and what must have been hundreds of De and Jean-Pierre alone.

The newest ones were of George and Bedelia and Pádraic, but Aimé recognised other people, too, even if he didn’t know their names – Father O’Flaherty, and some people from around Dublin, people that worked on other gardening projects in the city, people from one of the community colleges, old people, homeless people, charity workers, drug dealers.

Aimé’s gaze fell to one photo of Asmodeus that he guessed was from the ‘80s, because Asmodeus was wearing legwarmers and wrist bands, a crop top that looked like his chest was going to rip it apart at any moment, and extremely short jogging shorts that left very little to the imagin—

Ow!” Aimé said, grabbing the sliotar Colm had thrown at his head and tossing it back, but it sailed past him and landed on a pair of discarded jeans. “This thing is fucking hard, Colm.”

“I’d rather the ball was hard than you,” Colm said, keeping his focus on his mushroom tank as he misted them with water. “You can wank over my brothers on your own time.”

“I was just looking.”

“You were thinking,” Colm said disgustedly. “It was bad enough the first time around. One of our neighbours had binoculars for when he went jogging. We barely even talked to her because she was a fucking Republican, but she bought him a Walkman for Christmas and offered to teach him stretches.”

Aimé started laughing.

“She couldn’t tell he was gay?”

“I think she thought there couldn’t possibly be more than one in one family,” Colm muttered. “Although back then a lot of them thought De was Farhad’s brother, not ours. I don’t think he looked anymore like Farhad than he looks like Jean or me, but a lot of Americans think the Middle East is one country where oil runs in rivers and speaks the same “Muslamic” language.”

Aimé looked at Colm’s back, turning his cheek on the cushion. “Isn’t it?” he asked mildly.

Colm leaned back from his mushroom tank, holding his spray bottle at his side and looking at him scathingly. “You want me to throw that ball at you again?”

“No thanks,” Aimé said cheerfully, and grinned when Colm clucked his tongue. “What kind of mushrooms are they?”

“These ones can go in a stir fry,” Colm said. “These three tanks. Oyster mushrooms here, these are maitake, and these ones are enoki.”

“What’s wrong with normal white ones?”

“Cremini? They’re fine,” Colm said, putting the lid back on the tank. He’d explained that mushrooms normally did best in the dark, but the four tanks he had in his room all had really dark, blue glass that stopped a lot of light from getting through, so you could look at them as they grew. Aimé could see the white spore trails moving through the soil in the tank, and he could see the layered mushrooms in each tank. “These just taste better, and Doris Keel, that American woman who works at the hardware shop grows those, so I just trade her for weed.”

Colm had a lot of bartering and trading agreements, a lot of them far more complicated than that one, and Aimé looked past him to his mushrooms again.

“And the fourth tank?”

“Well, you could put them in a stir fry,” Colm said. “Be a hell of a fucking dinner, though.”

“They for a special occasion?”

Colm gave him a sideways glance. “You eyeing up my mushrooms?”

“I’m politely asking when or if—”

“He takes my coke, he takes my—”

“You offered!”

Colm laughed, absently scratching his belly as he put his spray bottle and dropped onto his bed, putting his hand in his hair and leaning his head on his palm as he looked at Aimé. “We’ll do mushrooms at Christmas. Most of them are for Benedictine to take home, ‘cause she’s not got the patience for growing them, but there’s enough for a party.”

Aimé leaned back on the cushion, looking up at the photos on the wall.

Benedictine Zetrenne was a tall woman – the same height as Jean, judging from the photos – with eyes that were so brown they were almost black. She had an oval shaped face and a broad, rounded nose, and a small mouth with very plump lips. In some of the little postcards she was wearing a dark blue jacket with gold braid and epaulettes, but in a lot of the photographs she was wearing loud, print t-shirts and sleekly tailored suits. In every photo, she had a different hairstyle – different kinds of braids or dreads, at different lengths, sometimes partly or entirely dyed.

“What kind of lawyer does mushrooms?”

“The kind that doesn’t like coke.”

“She’s a winged angel too?”

“Yeah, but she’s got a heavier diet than Pádraic and Jean – she eats more meat, and she has more of a stomach for starches and drink. She works hard and plays hard, chases up a fifty-hour work week with what she can. She’s not as bad as Jean is, but…”

Aimé felt his brow furrow.

Jean-Pierre was at some university society, had told Aimé he didn’t want him to come for the first few weeks (“So that all the men are more disappointed once they realise I’m not available, Aimé. Why are you making that face?”), and Aimé had painted for a good few hours before he’d come over to the angels’ house. It was nearly nine – once Jean was home, they were going out for dinner, because the university society really didn’t understand, according to Jean, the concept of someone with dietary requirements that might not allow for pizza.

“Is Jean that bad?”

“When he’s working? Yeah,” Colm murmured, and he ran a hand through his hair. “You won’t have to worry about that for a few years – I think sometimes he goes back to school ‘cause he’ll work himself to death, otherwise, but when he’s working, he gets a little obsessed. Death kind of freaks Jean out, you know – like, from illness and injury. He always takes it a little personally, has to help. When he’s in a job, at a hospital, he can easily put in sixty or seventy hours, and even after that, he’ll still come do jobs with me, come to church, volunteer…”

It was easier to picture than he would have expected. For all Jean-Pierre lounged and played music, he studied a good part of the day, and Aimé knew that just because he’d done it before didn’t mean he slacked in his classrooms – he always paid attention in his lectures, and he knew Jean-Pierre aimed for an A on every essay, and hadn’t gotten a lower grade yet.

Aimé didn’t know what to make of the look on Colm’s face. His hands were loosely folded over his belly, and he had fallen onto his back, was staring up at the ceiling, his lips parting and pressing together again.

“You worry about him?” Aimé asked, and Colm let out a low, half-laughed noise.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “Yeah, all the time. Benedictine and De can take care of themselves, you know, and if they get themselves into shit, they can get themselves out of it. Jean, he never fucking knows when to stop. Always starts fights he can’t finish.”

“Like with Myrddin?”

“Sure,” Colm murmured. “But if that was the only time, it’d not fuckin’ plague me. Sometimes I think he starts fights he can’t win just so one of us can prove we won’t abandon him to it.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Why don’t I,” Colm repeated tonelessly, with a slightly bitter smile. “You see Jean going up against a guy bigger than him, you’re not going to intervene?”

“Not sure size matters with Jean,” Aimé murmured, raising his eyebrows. “Can’t see him going up against someone he couldn’t take but I could. He’s way more lethal than I am.”

“It’s not about that, though,” Colm replied. “It’s about not being able to see him get hurt. De can do it. De can watch, sometimes, when Jean-Pierre gets himself into something bad – Hell, sometimes, De’ll fucking push him into it to teach him a lesson, and he’ll stop me from helping him until he’s decided Jean’s had enough. But I can’t do that. I see Jean hurt, and I hurt too. He’s my brother.”

“He’s De’s brother too.”

“De has more perspective than I do,” Colm said, almost under his breath. “Than any of us do. He can be neutral – I can’t.”

“I got the impression De was softer on Jean than you are,” Aimé said. “It’s what De seems to think.”

“Maybe he thinks that,” Colm said, and shrugged his shoulders. He was sitting cross-legged on his bed now, looking down at his fingernails, absently picking at them. “It’s not that he doesn’t love us – he does. He just… I feel like he sees the mechanisms that work us sometimes, the things that make us tick, but then he anticipates the things that’ll change us, too. I can’t do that.”

Colm looked up, meeting Aimé’s gaze, and then nodded to the framed photos of Heidemarie on the wall. “Take my daughter, for instance. I was working as a groundskeeper, maintenance man, for this fancy house – it was a Nazi officer and his wife, a little ways into the war, and I was gathering a lot of intel while I was there, passing it on. It wasn’t the first time I’d posed as a servant, won’t be the last time, either – Jean-Pierre can never do that kind of work, because he can’t fucking hold his temper back, he always has to be a honeypot or something because he’s happier whoring himself out than—”

Aimé tried not to let his expression twist, but Colm must have felt his irritation, and he faltered, raised his hands in a “peace” gesture.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “Anyway, I’ve done that kind of work before, no trouble, and when it came time to kill them, that was fine – I’d done that before too, and they were fucking Nazis, so who gives a shit, right? We’d normally leave the kids alive and just take them into town to be found, but I knew if I left her there, she’d just grow up to be like her parents, you know? Taken in by some other rich murderer and made… And I’d talked to her. She’d still been a baby, you know, only four, couldn’t do complicated sentences yet, but she’d been so sweet, and I couldn’t stand the idea of just leaving her there…”

“So I took her. And I take her out to this place I had in Belgium, far away from anywhere, and I am… absolutely losing it. I’ve babysitted before – we had kids in the village where I Fell, and ‘cause of my…” He gestured to his himself vaguely, “you know, I’d help sometimes, when kids were feverish, or I’d… We didn’t have therapy back then, but kids knew they could talk to me if they were scared of something they couldn’t explain, nightmares and shit, ‘cause they knew I’d understand how it made them feel, you know? And so I’m feeding her, and I’m talking to her, and I’m fucking hitting myself ‘cause what the fuck have I done? I’ve just taken this wee girl, and I’m not equipped to be anyone’s da, I never had one myself, how am I gonna do this? What do I do with her?”

Colm laughed softly, slowly shaking his head, and went on, “And De shows up on my doorstep. Says, “I thought you might want to talk about this.” Picks Heidemarie up where she’d been sitting on the floor and bounces her in the air, has her laughing – he loves kids, De, he’s fucking amazing with them, better than anyone I’ve ever met – and we sit, we talk. I kinda just… blurt everything out, and he listens. But he doesn’t seem surprised, and I tell him that, and he says, no, I’m not surprised. As soon as you went into that house, and I saw they had that baby, I knew this would happen, when it came down to it. And I said, what, you saw it, you know, saw the future? And he says, no, it wasn’t a premonition. I could just see you.”

“He doesn’t give advice, does he?” Aimé asked. “Just listens.”

“Yeah,” Colm murmured. “He’s got this… This thing, about free will. He gives advice sometimes, it’s not that he never does, but when he does, he tends to sort of… Give you a few options, and he almost always gives you stuff you were already thinking of, not anything new. He takes doubts and he leans on them, but he pushes certainties, too, reminds you of them. He said, if you really want to give Heidemarie up, you know that I can get a good home for her, that we can sort that out, but I don’t think that that’s what you want. And he was right, too – I felt guilty for wanting to keep her, to raise her, I’d never fuckin’… I’d never thought of being a dad before, but suddenly, I couldn’t imagine not taking care of her. So I did. Raised her myself, told her what had happened to her parents, I was honest about it, and she…”

Trailing off, he sighed.

Colm rubbed his palm over his face, shaking his head again, and then he put his hands on his knees. He tended to move around a lot, Aimé knew – he wasn’t great at staying still, wasn’t like De, who could remain perfectly poised, or like Jean, who’d lounge around all day, sometimes.

“De was like that with me,” Aimé said quietly. “In Grenoble, about Jean.”

“He treated you like one of us from the fucking start,” Colm said. “Like you were one of us. And I just thought it was him being… You know, De, but it’s you. Something about you.”

Aimé swallowed at that, felt abruptly like the whole world had been dropped on his shoulders, but Colm laughed.

“No, it’s not… It’s not a bad thing, Aimé. I think he just saw you, the way he sees me, sees Jean, sees a lot of people. Saw the… I don’t know. The way the wind is blowing, I guess, with you and Jean.”

“I don’t even know what way the fucking wind is blowing with me and Jean.”

“You and me both,” Colm muttered.

Aimé’s phone vibrated, and he flicked it open. “He’s finishing up now. You ready to go?”

“You like dogs, Aimé?” Colm asked, still looking into the middle distance.

Aimé blinked. “Dogs? Uh, yeah, I guess. I never had one. I think I like the little ones better? The really big ones freak me out a bit.”

Colm sighed.

Aimé felt himself smile slightly, felt his lips quirk into a smile as he started to catch on. “You really think you’re losing the battle with Jean and another dog, huh?” Aimé asked dryly, and Colm gave him a flat look.

“Don’t know what you find so funny,” he muttered. “If we get one, you’ll be walking it as much as I will.”

Aimé thought about that, for a second, at being part of a dog’s schedule, walking the dog when Colm didn’t, helping feed it, living with it. That was… That was a weird thought.

He’d never imagined having a dog, or a cat, even in a vague way, even in a theoretical one – he’d patted a few dogs on Stephen’s Green when they came up to sniff at his legs or his paintings, and he’d fed Peadar now and then, dropped him a few titbits of fish or meat, but that was all. There’d been cats on his grandmother’s vineyard, but he’d never fed them or seen them fed, had just stroked them when they occasionally wandered up to him.

“I, uh,” Aimé said. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’d mind.”

Colm smiled a close-lipped smile. “Let’s make shapes,” he said, clapping his hands together, and – as he had been instructed – Aimé grabbed a thicker jumper for Jean from his chest of drawers before they went out to the car.

“You know,” Colm said as they pulled out of the drive, “I could feel how anxious you were about seeing Pádraic last night. I didn’t realise it was because you’d been picking up more ISL.”

Aimé shrugged his shoulders.

“It was nice,” he said, looking out of the window, and when Mrs Delaney waved at them as they drove by, Aimé raised his hand in a small wave back at the same time Colm did. “We used to eat like that on the vineyard some evenings, but there was no space inside – we’d put together tables and eat outside in the yard.”

Mémé had been pretty quiet during big dinners – she’d liked to listen to what everyone was saying, sit at the head of the table and survey all of it like a ship captain overlooking her crew, but Pádraic had talked a lot through dinner, mostly to Colm, his hands moving whenever he wasn’t eating. Colm and Pádraic had talked a lot, and Aimé hadn’t been able to follow a lot of the conversation, but he’d been able to get some of it – the two of them talking about some new initiative that was pissing Pádraic off at the school, something about how they’d fucked up the retrofit of one of the buildings for wheelchair access; Bedelia and Jean-Pierre had talked about Bedelia’s study methods, and the two of them had back-and-forthed for a long time about radiography, about different fields of medicine, about study methods…

George had turned to Aimé and asked what he had been painting recently, and it had been—

Well. No one had ever asked him that before, not in a sit-down setting. People asked it at parties, people had asked it as the museum, but that was a politeness thing – you gave a two word answer, and you asked the same kind of thing back. Jean and Colm never asked – Colm asked if he was enjoying what he was painting, which wasn’t the same thing at all; Jean-Pierre insisted Aimé didn’t tell him until he could look himself, and that was endearing in itself, the way Jean would come into Aimé’s flat after a week away and run immediately into his studio to peer at the canvases that were curing, and tell Aimé very loudly which his favourites were.

Faced with the question, so earnestly asked, with George’s eyes wide and focused on Aimé’s face as he picked at his fruit platter, Aimé almost didn’t know what to say.

“Um, I’m doing a lot of… A lot of uniforms recently. I did some soldiers a few months back, but I’ve been doing other stuff – I did one of an airline crew, of nurses and doctors, boat crews, I saw a line-up of a crew of a rescue boat with the RNLI, of the guys lined up in their lifeboat jackets. I like the way they look lined up, I like doing angles of their chests when they’re in a row.”

“Why?” George asked.

If it was asked by someone else – if it was his mother or father asking, someone in his class, it would have meant “what the fuck are you doing with your life?”, and Aimé would have taken it that way even if that wasn’t what was meant by it.

From George, it meant… Why?

“It shut me and Pádraic up last night,” Colm said in the passenger seat.

“What did?” Aimé asked, glancing over.

“You realised George had never seen any of your art, but he wanted you to tell him about it. Really realised it. Felt like a flash grenade had gone off in your chest.” Colm took one hand off the wheel and made an explosive motion, spreading his fingers out as he pulled his fist away from his chest.

Aimé shifted in his seat, embarrassed, felt the burn in his cheeks.

“Pádraic said you were a good lad,” Colm said.

“Like that makes me feel like less of a homo.”

“You’re already a fucking homo,” Colm said. “Being flattered George gives a shit about your paintings didn’t change that. Why do all the restaurants he picks have shit fucking parking?”

“Because all the restaurants he picks are in Dublin, where parking is shit,” Aimé said, and Colm groaned.

Twenty minutes later, they met Jean at the table, and Aimé noticed three things in succession.

First, Jean-Pierre was still wearing his coat over his shoulders because he’d worn a lighter jumper today when it had been warmer in the morning, and was obviously regretting it now, given that he’d also picked the closest table to the fire.

Second, Jean-Pierre had ordered for Colm and Aimé while he’d been waiting for them – there were two bread baskets on the table, one filled with a thick, nut-filled loaf Aimé knew Colm liked, and a white demi baguette for Aimé, as well as a jug of pear cider and a bottle of Spanish Mourvèdre for Aimé.

Third, when he saw Aimé, he beamed, the sun all but shining out of his face, and he rose from his seat without withdrawing his hands from where they were buried somewhere in the vicinity of his armpits, falling immediately against Aimé’s chest and burying his freezing cold nose against Aimé’s neck.

“God, you’re cold,” Aimé said, pressing his lips against the side of Jean-Pierre’s temple, feeling the cool of his skin against his mouth. “Were you shivering at that soc thing?”

“I sat on the radiator,” Jean-Pierre said miserably, and Aimé laughed. “Did you bring another jumper?”

“Will this disgusting mohair number do?”

“Oh, yes, this is my warmest, Aimé—” Jean-Pierre said gratefully as he took the jumper out of Aimé’s hands, and Aimé pulled the coat off of his shoulders, watching as Jean-Pierre pulled the jumper on over the one he was already wearing. It really was fucking ugly – the jumper was a kind of dark green like pond scum, and it was one of Jean-Pierre’s most recent wardrobe additions, something he’d bought in the witches’ market last month, and it was slightly shaggy, but impossibly – uncomfortably – silky where you touched it. “You know why I love this jumper?”

“Because you have no body fat and are about as well-insulated as a bus shelter?”

Undeterred, Jean-Pierre smiled sweetly, reaching up to cup Aimé’s cheek, stroking his thumb under his eye and leaning down toward him. “It’s the same colour as your eye,” he said breathlessly.

Too breathlessly, actually. It was very sweet – sugary sweet – and it made Aimé’s chest feel warm and full, but the breathlessness was too far.

“What did you do, sweetheart?” Aimé asked in a low murmur against Jean-Pierre’s mouth, and Jean-Pierre leaned back by half an inch, retaining the sweet expression but making it just a little more innocent, his lips parting, his eyes widening.

Aimé,” Jean-Pierre said, wounded. “I—”

“He wants to fuck a bodybuilder at his choral society who kept staring at him,” Colm said long-sufferingly as he poured himself a second glass of cider. “Let him and his roommates run a train on him.”

Jean-Pierre’s innocence evaporated like mist, and he scrunched up his face, mouth twisting as he turned to glare at the back of Colm’s head. He said something in Irish that Aimé didn’t entirely understand, but was fairly certain was a very foul idiom, and Colm made a vague, grumbling sound, waving a hand over his shoulder.

“Don’t fucking bitch at me, Jean, it’s not like he’s going to say no.”

Jean-Pierre looked back to Aimé, his eyes as wide as dinnerplates.

“How big is the bodybuilder?”

“Six foot four,” Jean-Pierre murmured, fingers stroking over Aimé’s chest. “He doesn’t fit in the desks with the desk that folds down.” Aimé felt his eyebrows raise, trying to imagine that. “He has this gangbang video saved on his phone, on his home screen, and it’s six men and a—”

“You pickpocket his phone?” Aimé asked.

The innocent look popped back up like Aimé had pressed a button. “… No?” Jean-Pierre answered experimentally.

Aimé kissed him, couldn’t stop himself, felt the warm feeling burst even bigger inside him, and he squeezed Jean-Pierre all the tighter, crushed Jean down against his chest and felt the way Jean-Pierre relaxed into it, as though he’d let Aimé hold him forever.

“He normally fuck guys?” Aimé asked against Jean’s mouth, and Jean-Pierre didn’t try the innocent look this time: he grinned, showed his pretty white teeth, and his eyes gleamed with a kind of mischief that made Aimé’s skin tingle.

“No,” he said, the breathlessness real this time.

“Excuse me,” Colm said desperately to a passing waiter. “Could I get a triple whiskey?”

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