Thank-you to Shadowed Istar for reminding me about this one.

Chapter One

There were two signs in their relationship that signified that something was amiss; Jonathon lying on the couch drinking red wine from the bottle and listening to Moby or Jonathon lying on the couch drinking red wine from the bottle and listening to Coldplay.

On Thursday day night it was the latter. Mark walked in the front door to find his semi-inebriated, mostly naked thirty-three year old partner croaking along to Yellow, his voice filled with melancholy. It wouldn't have been so bad if he, himself, didn't carry the scent of another, but he did, and for this reason he couldn't do his normal, slinking, comforting, cuddle and so he walked past Jonathon, ruffling his hair and regretting his ninety minute sojourn with Marissa.

Jonathon was in bed by the time he was clean, his dark blue eyes closed to the world and his eyelashes casting dark shadows on his cheeks. The music had been killed, and Mark knew the wine would be sitting in the stainless steel fridge, left to acquire the disturbing flavours that wine placed alongside leftover Thai green curry inherited. The fridge was one of the few areas of their pristine, white and stainless steel decorated unit that was real. The fridge, along with the bottom of the laundry hamper and the outside shoe rack - where they stored sandals and sneakers and slides – were the three places that signified they were human. Everything else was sanitised, fashionable, new, expensive. Even their appearances were sterile; dark and professional and designed for power, and it took evenings like, where Jonathon gave into human emotion, for them to remember that they were more than pawns in the game of life.

'Jonnie,' he whispered, sliding, naked into bed. 'What's up?'


'Mmmph?' Mark retorted, rolling onto his lover's stomach. 'Open your eyes and talk to me.'

'Go away.'

Mark sighed and rolled off, pulling the cream coloured doona up to his chest. As he lay, staring up at the ceiling, he felt something inside of him die, leaving in it's place the bitter, empty, blackness of gaping loneliness and a desire to protect the man who he realised no longer wanted him.

'I'll go,' he offered.

Jonathon sat up, reaching for his cigarettes, and started to cry the awful, drunken cry of men who are telling their lovers to leave.

Mark swallowed the hard lump in his throat, reaching over, one last time, to touch his partner. 'Love you Jonnie.'

'Get out,' Jonathon choked.

In a blur, Mark rose and went to the cupboard, retrieving tomorrow's suit, dry-cleaned and in its protective, plastic covering, a shirt, underwear, tie and shoes. As something of an afterthought, he grabbed a few pairs of casual shorts and shirts, before making his way out of the unit, picking up his car keys and riding in the lift to the basement.

There was a sign that one of Mark's relationships was over; he drove to his parent's house in his Beemer, his heart breaking and his face emotionless.

He woke the next morning, temporarily confused until he realised that Jonnie wasn't lying alongside him for the simple reason that Jonnie no longer wanted him. A bitter taste filled his mouth and his soul closed in on itself, protecting its owner from further hurt.

'Sweetie?' his mother inquired anxiously from outside the bedroom door. 'It's seven o'clock. Are you going to be going to work today?'

Shit, yes, work. He had to go to work, had to bring in the bacon, to.... Actually, he wasn't entirely sure why it was he needed to bring in the bacon, seeing as he had adequate savings, and no living expenses so long as he lived with his mother. Last night he'd lain awake till the early hours of the morning, pondering why. Why didn't Jonathon want him? What on earth had he done?


'Yeah,' he croaked, sitting up, his head spinning. 'I'm getting up.'

He'd be going to work because.... Well, there was no reason, but it was the way things worked, that males were employed and earned money, to spend on either their girlfriends or boyfriends or wives or children and even though he had none of these, he had to keep earning until he did have someone to spend his money on. He showered, shaved, dressed, groomed and drove to work in a blur, trying to figure out what it was that had driven Jonathon away, what it was that drove all his boyfriends and girlfriends away. Everyone left. Everyone, he never ended a relationship - excluding Tyler, who'd had a heroin habit and a half - and he could never comprehend what he'd done when as far as he knew, he was playing by their rules; monogamy or polyamory, quiet nights in or wild nights out, passion or romance. Whatever they wanted, he did, and still, nobody stayed.

'Good morning Markie,' the receptionist greeted cheerfully.

'Good morning,' he replied in a faux-interested tone, although he neither liked nor disliked the woman. 'Any messages?'

She dutifully handed over a thick wad of notes, which he accepted with silent resignation and read on the way to his office. Watson & Sons had decided to accept voluntarily administration, Fyshrikers needed to know his tax file number and Janet - goddamn her, the stupid, talkative bitch - wanted to 'discuss her investments'. Flicking Janet's message to the bottom of the wad, he instead steeled himself for conversation with a near-bankrupt sixty year old, to be followed by a man who was living proof that money didn't buy brains and finally, the coup de grace, an hour long session with a bored, rich housewife who thought she understood diversified investment schemes better than any expert.

Mark scanned his emails with tired and cynical eyes, pain stabbing his heart as he realised that just five hours before he dumped him, Jonathon had forwarded to him a funny email. He read the joke, a small smile playing at the corners of his lips, before he deleted it, never wanted to see his ex-partner's name again. Pausing, he shut his eyes and thought back to this time yesterday, when he was happily ensconced in an open relationship with a man seven years his senior, a man he had all but worshipped, a man who had held his heart for nearly two years.


'What?' he snapped, incensed that his fantasy had been interrupted by a sixteen year old junior in a short skirt and platform heels.

She winced, holding out a box of fundraiser chocolates. 'My sister's school is raising money and...'

Without waiting for her to finish, he retrieved his wallet and removed a twenty, handing it over and collecting fistfuls of giant Freddo's in return.

'Thank-you,' she added cheerfully, although he could tell she was pissed. Big shit, she could go and have a big sook to Daddy, Daddy who just happened to be one of the firm partners, and a firm partner who'd never particularly liked him at that. Unfortunately, as much as Gareth Hawkins didn't like him, Mark's job was safe. He was too good at his work, too efficient, and their client's loved him. Getting rid of him meant getting rid of some very wealthy clients, who would be sure to follow him to whichever firm he went to next.

Or so he thought. At four thirty that afternoon, Mara, the human resources officer, called him into her office. He knew what it meant; the firm had lost three employees, in the past three weeks - one a week, the employee always leaving on a Friday afternoon - and the majority of the remaining eighty-four employees were smart enough to be worried. On the lighter side, they had started referring to Mara's office as 'The Bermuda', joking that they had in their midst a serial killer, whilst spending their nights lying awake and fretting. Mark hadn't worried, but now he realised he should have - his time was up.

'The firm's been sold,' Mara explained uncomfortably. 'I'm sorry Mark, but they're losing the small fry clients, and the existing staff will be taking over the one or two corporate clients you have.'

'Lucky them,' he remarked dryly. 'Can I have an idea of my severance pay?'

'Three months,' Mara replied, before falling silent, an uneasy look crossing her face. 'I'm sorry, but you can't go back to your office. Is there anything I can collect for you?'

'My Freddo's,' he smiled wryly. 'My briefcase, my jacket, my photos and, if you can find it, my ego.'

The last item betrayed his cool demeanour, revealing that the redundancy was affecting him far more than he let on. Mara didn't mind the slip at all, on the contrary she was grateful he wasn't crying, or demanding justice, or accusing her of being a two-faced bitch, the three responses she had faced, in varying combinations, during the three prior dismissals.

Mark sighed as she left her office to collect his belongings. His eyes strayed to the photo of her boyfriend, their two Maltese, and the brightly coloured stickers that decorated her monitor. Idly, he wondered if she'd be remaining, or if the firm was merely using her to do its dirty work before terminating her employment. It wouldn't surprise him in the least if this was the case, and a little sympathy welled in his heart as he waited for her.

'Here,' she offered, handing over his possessions. 'I didn't realise you liked chocolate so much.'

'You didn't realise a lot of things,' he replied enigmatically, although there was no enigma, they were just the first words that came to mind. 'Good luck.'

'Good luck Mark.'

As he rode down the lift for the last time, he fought back the urge to connect his fist with the mirrored panels of the steel cage. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Why now? Why did life have to kick him first to his knees, and then to his face? He walked to his car, remembering his thoughts that morning about the real need for a job. What arrogant thoughts; the condescending presumptions and opinions of a man who thought he still had some choice in life, some dignity.

He had no dignity. He had no job, no partner, no friends and he lived with his parents. All he had was three months severance and twenty giant Freddo frogs.

Chapter Two

Mark spent a week licking his wounds, collecting his belonging's from the apartment he had once shared with Jonathon, and watching more daytime television than was good for him. He sulked, he stewed, and on Friday afternoon, while watching the midday movie, he burst into tears, crying over a life that had taken a ridiculous, unexpected turn for the worst. Afterwards he'd felt remarkably better; fresh, somehow, and ready to face the world again.

Saturday morning found him browsing the 'net, searching the papers and ringing employment agencies, sending out his resume and oddly happy that he'd have a few weeks to go out shopping, to cafe's, and enjoying the first real break from work he'd had in over a year, while waiting for prospective employers to ring requesting interviews.

'Feeling better?' his mother asked comfortingly on Sunday afternoon.

'Yeah,' he smiled, genuinely at ease. 'I emailed my resume to maybe forty companies, I'm posting it to another ten or fifteen, I've requested application kits from more than I can remember and I've killed your phone budget ringing around.'

They laughed at the reference to his mother's phone bill, because with his father working offshore in Singapore, the bill was rarely under four hundred a month. Twenty or so local calls couldn't hope to make a difference.

'Your father called this morning,' his mother added. 'He received a nice bonus, and an annual salary increase. He wants me to take you out to dinner to celebrate.'

'Sounds good,' Mark replied, grateful that there'd be no cooking, nor washing-up, tonight.

'He also wanted to wish you luck,' she added. 'With two redundancy's to his name, he knows how you feel.'

'Mmm,' Mark agreed knowingly. There were times in his life that his parent's were priceless, and this was one of those times. Always, always, his parents were there for him, encouraging him, comforting him, and pushing him to do his best. 'Where did you want to go?'

'The Genghis Khan Mongolian Barbeque House,' his mother suggested. 'Interested?'

'Sure,' Mark grinned.

They showered and changed into going-out clothes, before heading out to enjoy a night of cheap Asian food. Over tea, he outlined his plan to enjoy his few weeks of unemployment, by shopping and sunbaking and doing not much of anything. His mother merely smiled and told him to enjoy the respite, because it was doubtless that he'd be thrust head-first into a busy role, one where stress levels climbed dangerously and a calm head was a necessity. Although he wondered how his mother - was hadn't ever held a job, being a woman who married directly after graduating from university and settling into wifehood - could possibly understand, he agreed nonetheless and after dinner they went to a quiet bar and had a few drinks.

It was late before they arrived home, but neither had any pressing engagements for the following day. His mother's week was taken up by charity meetings, lunches, bridge, shopping and aerobics, all of which could continue quite satisfactorily without her whilst her son was happily, temporarily unemployed. Mark slept late on Monday, waking only at lunchtime to find a note from his mother advising that she was with the Flaunder's, assisting with the organisation of their eldest daughter's wedding. Bored, he rang a few more employers, surprised when one of them called him in for an interview.

'When can you be here?' the man inquired.

'Two hours?' Mark suggested, regretting having phoned the company. The position was far beneath him, the pay a pittance, and the office was located in a suburb nearly an hour's drive from home.

'I'll see you at four,' the man replied easily. 'Bring your resume.'

Mark hung up scowling, wondering who the hell the bastard thought he was. Bring my resume indeed he snorted. What was he, an ignorant high school drop out? No, that wasn't right, even the stupidest of drop-outs understood the importance of the resume.

Still, his pride prevented him from dressing messily, and an hour and forty-five minutes later found him, resume in hand, inspecting the grimy office in which his interview was to take place. Bright red letters proclaimed 'Debt Consolidation' and inside he could see cheap, plastic, blue chairs sitting in front of the reception desk, where a young girl dressed in chain-store office clothing was busily typing.

He was too good for this. He had a Beemer and a two thousand dollar suit, Italian leather shoes and briefcase, good looks and a better upbringing. This was lower class, this was working class, and his gaze drifted to the streets where single mothers no older than he dragged hordes of screaming, dirty children, their bellies swollen with the evidence of further lust and their faces old before their time. There were men around, some without shoes, their feet cracked and dirty, and teenagers in scruffy school uniforms smoking and all but fucking each other.

Regretfully, he exited his car, noting the way the residents stared, as though it were some kind of goddamned alien creature, no doubt considering how difficult it would be to break into. Mark scowled, grateful of GPS tracking and his comprehensive insurance policy as he pushed open the shop door, a bell tinkling and alerting the receptionist to his presence.

Kerry glanced up, faintly amused at the arrival of the obviously well to do man. He was tall, around six foot, and as he approached, she noted his scent, something thick and rich and wanton. His brown hair was styled both professionally and fashionably, and his skin was clear, even, and in sharp contrast to his bright hazel eyes. It was only when he smiled, revealing capped teeth - a look she personally loathed - that she realised she was gaping.

'Hi,' she smiled. 'How can we help?'

'I'm here for an interview,' Mark replied uneasily, wondering why the girl was staring at his mouth. 'My name's Markus Romanov.'

'Oh,' Kerry replied, horrified at the thoughts that must be running through Mark's head, and trying to tear her gaze from his unnatural, capped teeth. 'I'll get Quentin.'

Quentin was forty-ish, overweight, and tried to dress better than he was. On his wrist was a gold-plated watch, the silver metal beneath the plating showing through in several places, and his office clothing could have come from nowhere more classy than Lowes. His shoes were scuffed, the soles wearing thin, but not so thin as the sparse grey-brown hairs that he had combed over his bald, sun-spotted pate. More grey-brown hair sprouted from his nose and ears.

They shook hands, Mark trying not to wince at the yellow fingernails, before Quentin led him to his small, stale-smelling office. For the millionth time, Mark wondered what the hell he was doing and why it was he'd felt the overwhelming urge to ring. Not that he was interviewed, Quentin seemed far more interested in boasting about the company's inevitable success and how skilled a businessman he was than Mark's work history. Finally, with a wave of his hand and a smile that revealed stained, gold-filled teeth, he closed his spiel with a request for Mark to show up for work tomorrow at eight-thirty.

Unable to politely refuse the offer, Mark smiled weakly and accepted the offer. If nothing else, he could quit at the end of the week, under the bullshit facade that he'd had a better job offer. And who knew, maybe he would have a better job offer by Friday.

By Friday morning, Mark felt as grimy and downtrodden as the clients he dealt with. Credit card debt, an inability to meet payments at the end of 'interest free' terms and poor budgeting, combined with low - or, in many cases, excluding welfare payments, no - income was crippling the area, leaving in it's wake destitution, desperation and anger at finance companies' ruthless targeting of those who could least afford their services. For the first time in his life, Mark realised that twenty-seven percent interest wasn't merely the bane of the late eighties, and the local twenty-five percent unemployment rate wasn't a joke.

Quentin didn't seem to give a shit. 'They got themselves into the mess,' he pointed out logically. 'It's our job to get them out. Don't feel guilty about commission, you're doing both them and us a favour.'

Truthfully, if so many of the clients weren't suffering the unfortunate combination of stupidity and poverty, Mark might have experienced a greater level of guilt, but the continual whinging, complaining and intimated threats if he didn't solve their financial woes was enough to keep his conscience in check. By Friday morning he was resigned to the position and vowed to give the job another week, seeing as he'd yet to hear from any of the other companies, save the receipt of two polite 'thanks, but no thanks' letters.

The tedium of the morning was broken at eleven when Eddie, a new client, arrived. Wearing a tight black muscle shirt, tight three-quarter length cargo shorts, his feet encased in leather slides and an American-style trucker cap pulled low over his brow, he strutted in and splayed himself out over the uncomfortable, resin chair.

Mark stared at the man, trying to figure out why it was so many straight men felt the urge to dress like rent boys, and where this man fit into the neighbourhood. During his lunchbreaks he'd seen the wealthier residents of the area, nicely dressed and with new cars - obviously those who had jobs, yet no knowledge of how much better other neighbourhoods were - but Eddie was utterly unlike everyone else he'd come across in this flea bitten district.

'Hey,' Eddie grinned, flicking his cap back to reveal thick, lustrous hair. 'I have a bit of a problem with credit card debt.'

'Okay,' Mark replied, forcing a smile and reaching into his drawers. 'If you fill this out, just briefly, we can get an idea of where you're at.'

As Eddie worked, Mark conducted his own, half-professional, half-sexually motivated, inspection of the man. He looked to be in his late twenties, slender of build, yet with broad shoulders and an innate sense of masculinity. His arms were leanly muscular, tanned a nut-brown, and a barbed wire tattoo encircled his left bicep. Almost as though he was aware of Mark's gaze, he glanced up, mission brown eyes sparkling with amusement.

'This is awful,' he remarked, laughing at himself. 'Guess I should quit with the shopping.'

Mark smiled, relieved that he finally had a client who wasn't passing the blame. At an early age, he'd recognised a hatred of people who couldn't take care of themselves, and continually needed others to prop up their failing sense of self esteem. 'Do you work in retail?'

Eddie glanced down at his attire and grinned, revealing slightly off-white, straight teeth. 'I didn't realise it was so obvious.'

Grateful that he finally had a client not only with a job, but what appeared to be a genuine desire to sort out his financial woes, Mark relaxed, fiddling with his pen as he waited for Eddie to complete the brief application. Minutes later, Eddie passed over the sheet, anxiety betraying his cool.

'That's not so bad,' Mark frowned, scanning the sheet. 'What sort of interest rate were you looking at?'

'Zero,' Eddie suggested hopefully. 'Although anything up to fifteen percent would be good.'

Mark nodded, doing a few, quick mental calculations and entering Eddie's details into his database. The search for potential lenders took a few minutes, during which Eddie chewed on his bottom lip and Mark pretended to not to notice.

'You're in luck,' Mark remarked. 'I can get you thirteen percent fixed. Payments of a hundred and thirty-seven a week will have your car loan, credit and store card debts cleared within five years.'

'Including the car loan?' Eddie replied, looking up in surprise. 'Sounds like you have a deal.'

'I'm afraid it's not that easy,' Mark continued. 'You'll need to bring in paperwork; the bank will only pay your creditors direct. Also, I'll need to run a credit check, and lodge an official application.'

Eddie winced. 'Can I come in Wednesday? I'm not too good with keeping track of my stuff.'

'No sweat,' Mark replied, grateful that he'd have an opportunity to feast his eyes on the luscious Eddie once more. 'How does ten-thirty suit?'

Ten-thirty suited Eddie just fine, and he left, promising to track down everything he needed. Pausing at the reception desk to pay his consultation fee, he discarded the innocence act. Handing over his money, he noted the receptionist's unease and leant over the counter, his head just inches from hers.

'That guy I spoke to looks well-heeled,' he offered, smiling at her as though he was flattered she found him attractive.

Kerry nodded, sharing the man's opinion. 'He is. The blue BMW out front is his.'

Eddie let out a long, low whistle as their gazes fell on the shiny new car. It was a nice piece of work, evidence if it was ever needed, that it's owner wasn't from this area.

'What was he doing before he came here?' he continued casually.

Kerry shrugged. 'Some big financial firm in the city. Ummm,' she paused, sorting through her tray of filing. 'Sorry, I hate filing. Uh, here it is, Yusil, Jae & Wetherby. Wow, it's in the Christie corporate centre.'

'Nice,' Eddie grinned. 'If I was a woman, I'd be down his pants in no time.'

Kerry giggled. 'He's a little old. Um,' she trailed off, picking up Mark's C.V. once more. 'He was born on 12 April 1976. Wow, that's old.'

Eddie merely smiled.

Chapter Three

'So, I'll be seeing you then,' Jonathon finished uneasily as his ex-lover collected the remainder of his belongings from the sterile, white apartment.

'Or not,' Mark argued tiredly, not interested in the 'let's be friends' façade. He glanced around the place he'd called home for fourteen months, his gaze settling on the black rubber coat thrown over the kitchen chair. It wasn't leather, or PVC or some other artificial mix of modern chemicals but rubber, old style, bought for Jonathon's pleasure. The man standing in front of him loved that coat, loved to wear it and nothing else, and lie on his partner's stomach, kissing, until the friction and the excitement bought him to orgasm.

Jonathon paused and considered his next move. 'I'm sorry,' he apologised. 'I didn't mean…it wasn't my intention…'

'I know,' Mark agreed, picking up the green plastic garbage bag that contained the last of his belongings. 'This has to be the last of my stuff, anyway. Thanks for letting me know.'

Jonathon shrugged helplessly, watching Mark walk out of his life. It was over with a capital 'O' and although he was mostly relieved, there was also the feeling of loss.

Mark caught the curious stares of the other tenants, hoping their curiosity was sated; he'd been kicked out, booted out of his lover's life, it was really as simple as that. Nonetheless, the hurt was fading and he hadn't experienced the same, shameful urge to plead for answers as he had during his last visit to collect belongings.

Arriving back home, he lugged his belongings into his bedroom and emptied the bag onto his bed. Books, clothing, knick knacks, socks, general bits and pieces that Jonathon had collected from around the house. He sifted through, smiling at the fluoro green jelly-feel dildo and tracing the shape, slowly, with a finger. The dildo, along with the reminder of Jonathon's fetishes, made him crave sex.

His mother was out, he was home alone, and he was horny. Rising and shutting the bedroom door, he shifted his belongings from his bed and lay on his back, rubbing the dildo against his jean-clad erection, pondering the various fantasies he regularly used. In his lust, he remembered Eddie. God, straight men who had no idea what a turn-on they were, and dressed like prostitutes seemingly unaware that the looks they drew were more lustful than admiring of whatever odd fashion trend they were following. The thought was utterly intoxicating and he slipped out of his clothing, mentally setting the scene.

He didn't fantasize about Eddie revealing his bi or homo sexuality, no, he was straight, straight, straight and discovering a few alternative pleasures for the first time, as Mark firmly rubbed his erection, picturing the rather sexy Eddie bent over Mark's work desk and pleading with him for more.

'Oh Jesus,' Mark mumbled, arching his back off the bed. 'Goddamn you Eddie, you've got a hell of a nice ass.'

His breath quickened in tune with his pulse and his desire, until he climaxed, biting down hard on his bottom lip as the sharp waves of pleasure emanated from his groin, sticky white semen landing on his stomach and chest.

Exhausted, he lay back on the pillows, idly reaching for tissues to clean off. That had been one satisfying wank, and he felt a little more fondly towards the retail assistant than he had beforehand. There really was something wanton in the way the man dressed, provocative and teasing, showing off a body that looked to be more than a little limber.

Sighing, he pushed Eddie from his mind, reminding himself that the more he fantasized, the harder it would be to hold a conversation with him during their next meeting.

He understood he was using Eddie as something to look forward to, some break in the tedium of his working week, and justification perhaps as to why he had accepted a wage that was one third of what he'd been earning previously. His mother failed to understand why he'd accepted the position in the first place, remarking, with unintentional cruelty, that he was lowering the family's reputation by taking the job. The dig hurt, but it also, oddly enough, made him dig his heels in. He felt like a teenager in his rebellion, a twenty-six year old teenager who hadn't been given the chance during adolescence to muck around. Mark had never been particularly popular, and with his father in Singapore there was always the implicit request for him to 'not cause his mother any trouble'. Now, though, he was an adult and he could work wherever he damn well pleased.

On Monday morning he arrived at eight-thirty to find Kerry sitting at the bus stop out front, smoking.

'Quentin's late,' she explained tiredly, shuffling over to make room. 'He's the only one with the keys.'

Mark perched on the bench carefully, keeping his legs away from the half-drunk bottles of beer that were left underneath the green seat. 'How late is he normally?'

Kerry shrugged, smiling sympathetically. 'Anything up to an hour. It's a bitch when he makes you stay back afterwards to make up your hours.'

Mark imagined it must be. Excluding Eddie, there was another bright point to his job; Kerry. The sixteen year old high school drop-out was surprisingly intelligent, friendly and her shyness around strangers was endearing. She was world's apart from the women he knew, and as he sat next to the young girl, he wondered what sort of men interested her. It wasn't that Mark himself lusted after her, she was too young, and – to be brutally honest - too poor, but she was one of the nicest women he'd encountered and he found himself enjoying her company more than he'd initially expected to. She didn't look too bad, either, although she was a little skinny, and her lips too thin, but her eyes were a bright blue and her brown hair looked soft and shiny. If she had the money for clothing and manicures and haircuts, she could be pretty, but she didn't, so she remained a rather average looking woman.

'Did you have a good weekend?' she inquired cheerfully, grinding out her cigarette.

'Well, two weeks ago I was rather unceremoniously dumped, so I had to go back and collect the last of my belongings,' he grinned, unwilling to reply 'I did absolutely nothing because I'm a pathetic loser with no life'.

'Yuck,' Kerry grinned. 'Was she nice about it?'

Mark paused. 'He. He, not she, although yes, he was fairly good about it.'

They stared at one another, the younger flushing red and trying to determine the 'correct' response.

'I'm sorry,' she replied eventually. 'I didn't mean to pry.'

Mark raised his eyebrows, pointedly, both amused and irritated at her reaction. 'Would you like me to talk like a proper little poof?' he lisped.

She laughed, reaching in her bag for her cigarettes and lighting another. Bumming one off her, Mark lit up and smoked along side her, wondering whether coming out was the right thing to do or not.

'I didn't realise you smoked,' she offered, eager to amend for her earlier uncertainty.

'Sometimes,' Mark smiled, realising he'd forgiven her. Hell, he'd been taken aback by the pronunciation of Maori names, incapable of understanding many of the people's accents and ignorant of the social pecking order, no doubt trampling on more than a few toes as he learnt his way around, so the last thing he could do was become all hypocritical.

'I'm sorry,' she apologised again. 'I was just…surprised. I've never known anyone who was gay.'

'Then you have a lot to learn,' he teased. 'Although if you want the honest truth, I don't much care for gender either way.'

'So long as they have sex with you,' Kerry added, giggling.

He smiled at the humour, wondering if she genuinely believed the only thing men were after was sex. Probably, she was sixteen, and when he was sixteen, he would have happily had relations with just about anything that moved. She was no doubt used to men doing everything they could to get down her pants.

Quentin showed up soon after, irritable and taking his temper out on Kerry. Guilty, Mark slunk into his office, aware that the only reason he escaped Quentin's wrath was his 'image', an image that assisted Quentin in believing he was far more important than he currently was. His annoyance with his employer increased tenfold, when at lunchtime he heard the man tell a client Mark's Beemer was a 'company car'. He scowled deeply and turned around, pretending not to hear and almost running into a harried Kerry.

'Shit,' he swore as the mug of coffee she was carrying spilt over her skirt.

'Fuck,' she muttered, heading to the kitchenette, handing Mark tea towels to clean up the mess in the hallway whilst dabbing furiously at her skirt.

She was still trying to remove the stain when he returned, bearing dirty tea towels and with an irritated employer following.

'Christ Kerry, was it really necessary to make a pigsty of the place?'

'Yes,' she retorted angrily. 'What do you think? That I intentionally spilt it all over myself?'

Taken aback by her response, Quentin tried a laugh and told her not to worry, before returning to his office. Kerry and Mark exchanged looks, the former sighing tiredly.

'I don't think that's going to come out,' Mark remarked gently. 'I can drive you back to your house, if you want, so you can get clean clothes.'

He was rewarded with a grin, Kerry throwing the tea towels into the sink carelessly. 'I'd love you for it,' she replied. 'I'll go tell Ye Master I'm actually taking my lunch break for once.'

Five minutes later they were driving to the granny flat Kerry rented from an elderly couple, relieved to have left the office, with it's painful air of desperation, behind.

'Shit it's funny seeing Quentin crawl up your ass,' Kerry remarked.

'Hmph,' he snorted. 'What's not funny is hearing him call my car the 'company car'.'

Kerry laughed, fidgeting with her stained skirt, obviously uncomfortable to be in such close proximity. Unsure of how to calm her down, Mark focused on driving, his mind instead focusing on how distant he was to the corporate world at this particular point in time. No city office, no city crowds, no city civilities and lack thereof, instead he was driving through a derelict suburb with a young, uneducated girl in cheap clothes while stewing over his employer's 'acquisition' of a BMW.

'Here it is,' Kerry announced, gesturing to a hardiplank two storey home. 'I'll be quick.'

'Take your time, there's no rush,' he replied, watching her race inside. She was so different to what he was accustomed to, so brash and coarse-mouthed and poor, and yet she also had an independence he wouldn't have dreamed of having at her age. Hard-won independence, given her brief story of having been kicked out of home at sixteen, but independence and pride all the same.

She reappeared minutes later in jeans, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. 'Thanks.'

'No problems,' he smiled, taking off. 'Now, if you don't mind humouring me, what's it like being your own boss at sixteen?'

'Shit,' she replied honestly. 'It's… difficult because you get used to looking after yourself, and then everyone – like Quentin, and my landlords – treat me like I'm a child. I know I'm stupid sometimes but it's, like, who isn't?'

She shrugged and glanced over at him, waiting for his response. Clearing his throat, Mark gave the best reply he could think of.

'I'm amazed you can survive,' he admitted.

Kerry smiled, leaning against the window and staring out. 'This is the first time I've been in a car in maybe six months,' she remarked. 'I'm glad it's a nice one.'


'Really. Whose car do you think I'd be travelling in?'

Mark shrugged. 'Your boyfriend's?'

'I don't have a boyfriend,' Kerry replied, shutting her eyes. 'I'm going to wait until I'm an adult and move to a better suburb, so I can find someone half decent.'

So she had standards. He couldn't blame her, excluding Eddie, and one or two workmen, there were few men he'd even consider a prospect. Truthfully, even the workmen weren't prospects, they were just eye candy, as were some of the luscious young, single, mothers.

'Mark?' Kerry started hesitantly. 'Can I ask you a question? I think it might be offensive, so if you don't even want me to ask, say so.'

Expecting the question to relate to his sexuality, Jonathon, or something similar, he mentally debated the issue before sighing and gesturing for her to go ahead. Better for him to at least know what she wanted than to spend the afternoon wondering.

Licking her lips nervously, Kerry began. 'When you date a guy… Um, in between meeting him and fucking him, how much time would have elapsed?'

Mark snorted, bemused. 'A lot less time than your average woman would wait.'

Kerry fell silent, considering his answer.

'Slut,' she teased eventually.

'I wish.'

Eddie came in on Wednesday, half an hour late, this time dressed in dark blue jeans and a blue singlet. The singlet was too tight, riding up above his belly-button, and his pants slightly too lose, with a silver and white belt dragging them down, rather than holding them up. The outfit afforded Mark a good view of Eddie's body, and he wondered how obvious he was in his admiration.

'Hey,' Eddie grinned, plonking himself down in the chair and pushing a sheaf of papers over the desk. 'I think this is it.'

'Thanks,' Mark replied, scanning the papers quickly. Everything looked to be in order, sans the car loan papers, and he briefly debated accepting the paperwork as is, before his business sense set in and he gave Eddie an apologetic look.

'I need more details on the car loan,' he explained. 'Have you got the original loan acceptance form?'

Eddie grimaced. 'Maybe. Somewhere. I've just moved house and everything's kind of a mess. Can't you sort of make what I've given you sufficient?'

'Sorry,' Mark apologised regretfully. 'I really need the paperwork.'

Eddie sighed dramatically and threw his head back. 'What if I ask you nicely?'

Stifling a smile, Mark shook his head. 'Sorry, can't do.'

A groan escaped his client's lips. 'You have no idea what a mess my flat is in,' he complained. 'Everything's all…messy. Can't you come over and find what you want?'

Mark laughed politely. 'I'm afraid that's not really…'

'…I'll feed you,' Eddie suggested, leaning over the table, looking interested. 'Please? I'll even order pizza, so you don't have to eat my cooking.'

Utterly lost for words, Matt stared at his companion, wondering firstly, how Eddie had pegged his sexuality, and secondly, whether or not the man was always so manipulative. Attractive as Eddie was, Mark wasn't entirely sure he appreciated the lack of responsibility in keeping track of his own damn paperwork, and the way he expected Mark – a complete stranger – to sort out his mess.

Almost as if he could read his companion's mind, Eddie sighed and shrugged. 'So I'm shameless,' he remarked, collecting his paperwork. 'Sorry. I know it wasn't…'

'…no,' Matt interrupted, stupefied the words were coming out of his mouth, even as he spoke them. 'That sounds fine.'

The two men stared at one another, neither entirely sure what was going on. Matt's gaze focused on Eddie's eyes, noting that the man was wearing mascara, and mascara that was slightly smudged at that. His gaze turned into a stare and Eddie frowned, unsure of why he was on the receiving end of such a critical inspection.

'What?' he asked, breaking the silence.

'You have mascara,' Mark paused, leaning over and touching Eddie's face. 'There.'

'Here?' Eddie asked, holding Mark's arm, while using his other hand to wipe away the smudge. He flushed slightly as he did so, because he preferred to keep his penchant for mascara secret until a month or two into a relationship, when he was less likely to be laughed at. A queen he was not, and besides, he enjoyed the compliments on his beautiful, 'natural', eyelashes.

'It's gone,' Mark replied, himself embarrassed and debating retrieving his arm from Eddie's grip. This was so far from proper businessman/client behaviour it was ridiculous, but the last week and a half had, admittedly, turned a lot of preconceptions on normal business practices upside down.

Glancing down at Mark's arm, Eddie wondered what on earth he was doing and how he could possibly let go of the man's hand without losing his cool. Slowly, he raised Mark's wrist, noting the smoothness of his palms, the neat, manicured nails, the expensive material of his shirt and, to cap it all off, the goddamn Rolex.

His mouth had never been near anything so expensive. Hesitating only briefly, he kissed half-Rolex and half-warm skin before gently laying Mark's arm on the table.

'What's your address?' Mark croaked.

'The same as on the papers,' Eddie replied, pleased he'd made an impact.

'No,' Mark replied, clearing his throat. 'You just moved didn't you? I need your new address.'

Eddie mentally swore, kicking himself for not being able to keep pace with his own lies. 'It's the same address as on the statements,' he replied, praying his voice didn't sound too forced. 'You know what credit companies are like; never willing to let anyone out of their grasp.'

Mark smiled, although something here didn't quite make sense. 'What time? And when?'

'Friday?' Eddie suggested. 'Seven-ish?'

'That sounds fine,' Mark replied, collecting Eddie's paperwork and shuffling it uselessly.

'Sweet,' Eddie grinned. 'Well, I guess I'll see you then.'

Mark stared after the man, his eyes drawn to Eddie's butt, and the way his jeans were decent only by the smallest fraction. Damn he moved nicely, his walk natural and provocative and almost enough to make any normal observer's cock stir interestedly.

'I'm never gonna wash my hand again,' Mark mimicked sarcastically. ''Cause that's where Eddie kissed me.'

He stared at his computer screen, regretting the utter monotony of his position, and wondering how long it would be until he found a real job. A job that involved interesting work, a CBD location, business lunches and where he could wear his suits before they fell from fashion, rather than leaving his jackets in his cupboard and wearing slacks, shirt and a tie to work so that he wouldn't intimidate clients.

He'd heard Quentin complain, on more than one occasion, about the 'lack of employer loyalty' amongst the various staff he'd hired and having been in the position for nine whole days, Mark more than understood his predecessor's sentiments. Anything would be better than this and he vowed to apply to a minimum of ten new jobs over the weekend. Actually, why wait until the weekend? He had twenty minutes until his next client arrived, internet access and there was no reason why he shouldn't check online for new possibilities.

As his next client was arriving, Mark hurriedly sent off his resume to a prestigious accountancy firm, feeling more than a little relieved that he was doing something to change the God-awful predicament he was currently in. For heaven's sake, what had he been thinking in taking the position? What person with half an ounce of sense would date someone who worked in a dodgy debt consolidation company?

It was mid afternoon when the obvious struck him. Why on earth was Quentin garnering the business of only low and lower middle income people? Why not jump in and join the big boys, taking on corporate clients who were finding themselves in financial difficulty? Mark wasn't a CPA so he could sit there and work as a loan consultant, and he was fairly sure he understood basic marketing, so at five fifteen, when Quentin normally closed shop and Kerry left for home, he requested a conversation with his employer.

Not surprisingly, Quentin was delighted. His ego was stroked at the thought of having major league clients and his head was sufficiently inflated for Mark to obtain a thousand dollars for marketing and take Tuesday's off for the purposes of seeking new clients.

'I will want a fifty percent share of the profits,' Mark added, matter-of-factly. 'However, in order to protect my interests, and free some of your time, I'm willing to take over the bookwork.'

Quentin smiled disbelievingly. 'I think you're forgetting you're an employee,' he bumbled. 'I pay your wages.'

'I don't need your wages,' Mark replied coolly, disgusted at the elder man's attitude. 'And you'll need my…image,' he continued, choosing his word carefully and placing emphasis on it. 'If you want to play in the major leagues.'

Quentin considered the proposal. 'Thirty percent, and I do the books.'

'Fifty,' Mark argued. 'I do the books. I'll meet you half way with marketing costs, and I won't be charging you for fuel, parking or any associated costs I incur whilst out of this office.'

Sitting back whilst his employer considered the proposal, Mark debated whether he'd made the right move or not. On one hand, this could lead to a markedly increased income, on the other, he was tying himself to the company for an indefinite period of time.

'Fifty,' Quentin agreed. 'I'll put a grand towards marketing; you meet it. I'll need proof of expenditure, too. I'll keep control of the day to day bookwork, because I really don't see why it's any of your business, however I'll keep a spreadsheet of expenses attributed to the corporate clients, and you can check it and see if it's fair. The profit will then be divided, post sales and income tax, evenly.'

Mark smiled, pleased that he'd won the battle. What did he care if he was offered a better job next week? He could take it, and the only thing he'd be losing was a piddly one thousand dollars. Seeing as Quentin considered himself the businessman incarnate, he could figure out how to cope without his latest wonder child.

'Deal,' Mark agreed.

Quentin returned the smile, his teeth in considerably lesser condition than his counterparts. 'This calls for a celebration,' he condescended, standing up and adjusting his pants. 'A big man like you has to be a drinker, correct?'

Unsure of how to react to the unsettling compliment, Mark nodded. 'Yes, thanks.'

Accepting the cheap whisky offered, Mark started to wish he were just about anywhere else. His desire to leave grew exponentially when, having accepted and lit one of Quentin's cigarettes, his employer stared at the tube of tobacco thoughtfully before turning his gaze to Mark.

'Fags,' he remarked, belching. 'You're one, aren't you?'

Enraged that Kerry had given in to gossiping with the slimy old bastard, Mark struggled to keep a calm demeanour.

'Some of the time,' he replied coolly. 'Depends on who's around.'

'You sick little fuck,' Quentin smiled benevolently, leaning over the table, his stale breath unavoidable. 'Top or bottom?'

'I really don't see how this can be considered…,' Mark started, incensed.

'…settle,' Quentin interrupted, smirking. 'We're business partners now.'

The words turned Mark's stomach, and he laid down the dirty whisky glass, his manners and tolerance gone.

'I'll see you tomorrow,' he stated, standing up. 'I've got to be getting home.'

'Good man,' came the reply, the older man seemingly oblivious to the reaction he had invoked. 'Nice and early.'

Mark didn't condescend to reply, merely nodding and leaving the office, eager to return to 'normal' life, where men like Quentin didn't stand a chance and the whiskey wasn't the five dollar a litre sort. On the drive home, he wondered what the hell he'd got himself into.

Chapter Four

Reaching Eddie's duplex by seven involved racing home after work, showering, shaving, dressing and driving back out into the suburbs, without wasting a second. Nonetheless, at five minutes to seven, he was knocking on the door, wondering where the night was going to lead.

'Hi,' Eddie grinned, answering the door, dripping wet with an old blue towel slung low on his hips. 'Sorry, I need to get dressed.'

'Okay,' Mark agreed insipidly. Stepping inside, he handed over a bottle of red wine and glanced around one of the most cluttered, cosy places he'd ever seen. The duplex itself was on the old side, but the stained carpet was mostly covered with an old, maroon rug that was in itself several shades darker than the red couch. On the walls there were photos and paintings, some professional, most not, and every table and window sill held decorative knick knacks, home made - child made - pottery, small photos and a miscellany of junk. The coffee table was pushed against a wall and on it was a six foot tank filled with what looked to be only gravel, plants, plastic pipes, shells, rocks and a large blue-glazed jug that was lying on it's side.

Following his visitor's gaze, Eddie grinned and kneeled in front of the tank. 'That's King Henry,' he explained. 'My octopus.'

'I see,' Mark replied, not even bothering to hide his amusement. He'd never known anyone with a pet octopus and now that he knew there was one in the tank, he was determined to see it. He spotted a section of tentacle protruding from the blue jug and wondered if the creature would be making an appearance.

'He'll come out around ten,' Eddie explained, as though reading his companion's thoughts. 'Dinner time.'

As Eddie stood up, Mark wondered if this would be the first time in his life he wanted the sex to be delayed. It was strange the way he was so jealous of the man, of his obvious closeness to friends and family, the way his small home was inundated with markers of his loved ones and hobbies, and yet he didn't feel intimidated, even knowing he had so goddamn...little compared to him. He had money, a BMW, a degree and a 'good' family, but next to Eddie, he had so very little and all the same, he was comfortable here, as though the place welcomed him with open arms.

'I should get dressed,' Eddie remarked, glancing down at his towel. Winking, he added. 'I even bought new jeans for the occasion.'

Realising he was being baited, Mark rolled his eyes. He stopped the eye rolling and fixed his gaze the moment Eddie turned his back, idly picturing what was underneath the towel. He had a fairly good idea; Eddie's clothing left little to the imagination, but there was still enough mystery for his interest to continue.

Waiting for Eddie to return, he became aware of something pushing against his leg. Glancing down, he noticed an exceedingly fat, ugly, ginger cat rubbing against his legs.

'Hello,' he whispered, stroking it's back, half-expecting the stupid thing to scratch him. People's pets never liked him; always bit or scratched or barked at him for 'daring' to touch their owner. Not this cat, it was in for the scratch and his back was sore from leaning over before the cat was done with his attention.

'I wouldn't do that,' Eddie remarked, walking out dressed in spot bleached jeans and a tight white shirt. 'He'll get attached to you, and then you're just asking for it. Truly, he's not even my cat – he belonged to my ex, and when he moved out, he sort of 'gave' me Mango because I'd petted the damn thing too much.'

'I'll leave him alone,' Mark replied sincerely, standing up and wiping his hands on his jean clad hips. He hadn't been sure how to dress, relying on trusty jeans and a button down black shirt, but now he was grateful he'd made the right choice. Eddie seemed utterly uninclined to do anything about his thick, shaggy mess of damp, dark hair, and he was unshaven, but it would have looked silly if he preened himself when he wasn't stepping outside the door.

'That's a good idea,' Eddie grinned, picking up the bottle of wine and his feline friend, resting the latter over his shoulder as though the cat were a baby. 'Do you want a drink?'

'Sure, I guess.'

Mark sat at the kitchen table as directed, moving aside the piles of paper and magazines, responding to Eddie's chatter as the latter poured two glasses of red and bought them over.

'This tastes terribly classy,' Eddie remarked, placing his glass down and searching through the stack of papers. 'Now, watch me be a cheapskate and look for Pizza Hut vouchers.'

The 'date' of sorts was certainly turning out far differently to any of Mark's previous experiences. His 'usual' men and women weren't normally lower middle class fashionista's, with jobs in retail, pet octopuses, bad credit and so much natural happiness. His 'usuals' were corporate types, with money and respected families, sterile appearances, and the continual search for 'that something' that their lives were missing, whereas Eddie seemed perfectly content, as though he would be satisfied with wherever it was life took him.

Mango settled himself on his owner's lap as Eddie gathered a stack of vouchers and pushed them across the table.

'What sort of pizza?' he asked, stroking his cat's back.

'I'm not fussy,' Mark replied honestly.

Eddie snorted in disgust. 'I've just come back from the gym and I can assure you, we aren't sharing a pizza, so tell me what it is you want.'

'Supreme. Thank-you.'

'You're welcome,' Eddie teased, reaching for the phone and his wallet. Mark had to be the most careful person he'd ever come across; dressed 'correctly', bringing wine, showing up on time, and deferring to his host in the interest of manners. It was a weird change, but Mark wasn't here for play, he was here for work.

'So,' he continued, when he'd finished ordering. 'We've got a half hour wait ahead of us. Do you want to help me find my car loan papers?'

Startled, Mark shrugged. 'Sure.'

Eddie lead him to the spare room, opening the door to more mess. It took Mark just seconds to find the papers he was after, and the position they were in truly made him wonder whether they'd ever been lost, or if Eddie had just used it as an excuse to lure him over. Maybe, he thought, but he couldn't figure out why it was that someone had put so much effort into convincing him to come around. He wasn't really Eddie's type, and he was sure the man could have found someone more suitable.

'I'm busted, aren't I?' Eddie remarked, confirming Mark's suspicions.

'Yes,' Mark smiled. 'You could have at least hidden it properly.'

'It actually was hidden properly,' came the sheepish reply. 'I found it last night, when I was looking for something else, but I thought 'hey, who am I to give up a date'?'

'I don't mind.'

'You'd better not,' Eddie agreed, standing up. 'Come on, I'll show you my other pet fish, if you want.'

The other fish were in his bedroom. There was another large tank, this one filled with gravel, weed and a school of damselfish, several Siamese Fighters scattered in small decorative glasses around the room and a tank of goldfish.

'I'm getting my Nemo tomorrow,' Eddie grinned, kneeling in front of the marine tank. 'An anemone, too.'


Eddie glanced over at his companion. 'You don't have any pets?'

'No,' Mark replied. 'Why would I?'

'So you have something to come home too,' Eddie replied simply. 'You don't have a special someone, do you?'

'No. Do you?'

'Nope,' Eddie replied, turning his gaze back to the marine tank. 'You're, what, bisexual? Gay?'

'Bi. You?'

'A hundred percent pure Australian poof,' Eddie grinned, sitting on the edge of his unmade bed. 'Sit here.'

Mark glanced at the rumpled blue sheets and doona, the stack of pillows and the attractive man in front of him, hesitating before moving closer. He yelped as he was pulled onto the bed, Eddie lying on his back with Mark on his stomach.

'Surprise,' Eddie grinned, pulling the man closer and locking lips. His eyes fell shut and he relaxed, savouring the feel of someone's lips on his. It'd been so long since he had a steady partner, almost a year in fact, and Mark's touch was intoxicating. Having the younger man's fingers run through his hair was a pleasure and to feel his erection bought a feeling of bubbly happiness to his stomach. This was so much better than a drunken pick-up, with worries about fears about performance and expectations and the morning after. Of course, everything with Mark had to be careful, and he had…other…reasons for being with him, but all the same, his company was a welcome change from lonely nights at home.

They shuffled to the top of the bed, exploring each other's bodies as they kissed. It wasn't particularly wild or desperate, rather it was arousing and enjoyable and neither were in a rush to get the other naked. His hands creeping under Mark's shirt and pushing under his singlet, Eddie stroked the soft skin, breaking the kiss to breathe in the Mark's scent and enjoy his body. His stomach was slightly pudgy, covered in soft, fine hair and his back was smooth, maybe showing evidence of a little too much meat, but it was nice all the same. No, not simply nice, it was distinctly attractive in it's own way and his fingers moved to the buttons, slipping them out as Mark smiled patiently at him.

'There,' he whispered, throwing Mark's black shirt onto the floor and pushing his singlet up. His hands moved to the button and fly of his jeans, but before he could do a thing, he was yanked up.

'Pizza man's here,' Mark explained regretfully, sliding off the bed and reaching for his recently discarded shirt. 'I'll get it if you want to stay here.'

Eddie nodded, flopping back onto the bed. He reached down, stroking his erection through his jeans and hoping that Mark wouldn't insist on dinner first. He'd been really getting into the kissing and eating dinner with a boner wasn't the most pleasant of experiences.

Mark smiled at the sight of Eddie, a wary expression in the man's dark eyes as he waited to see if he was going to be pleasured, or forced to eat. Tempting as it was to tease his client, Mark placed the pizza, garlic bread and Pepsi on the floor before straddling Eddie, unzipping his jeans and easing them off.

Smiling, satisfied, as he arched his hips off the bed helpfully, Eddie mentally pleaded for oral sex.Eddie chuckled under his breath as Mark settled himself in between his legs and gently nuzzled his thighs. With pillows propping him up and a good-looking man between his legs there really wasn't anything else he could do but appreciate what he was being given. Moans escaped as his lips and he absently played with Mark's hair, shifting his position as the man's tongue teased his entrance.

Closing his eyes, Eddie sunk into the pillows whilst Mark's mouth moved tauntingly around his groin, touching every inch of skin, but never long enough to satisfy him. As his sexual frustration mounted, he squirmed pointedly, guiding Mark's head into position with one hand, only to have him move away the second Eddie started to approach climax.

'Please,' he mumbled, surprised at how desperate he sounded. 'Christ you're a cruel man, just like a bloke come.'

Mark glanced up, surprised. 'I…' he began, pausing almost immediately as he spoke. He frowned, tilting his head in the direction of the floor, where Mango was busily eating the pizza. 'I would, but your cat's eating your pizza,' Mark finished eventually, laughing softly.

'Fucking cat,' Eddie muttered, manoeuvring himself out of Mark's grip. 'Come here Mango before I turn you into a fucking rug.'

Mark watched the pair leave, the feline running, it's owner hobbling after it. Smiling to himself, he picked up the second box of pizza and sat on the bed, eating Eddie's rapidly cooling meatlovers whilst Mango was locked in the bathroom for an unspecified length of time.

'Meal break?' Eddie sighed, jumping onto the bed and picking a slide.

'May as well,' Mark agreed. 'Otherwise it's just interruption after interruption.'

Sighing, Eddie leant against his companion, one hand resting between Mark's thighs. It was doubtful he was doing the right thing in seducing Mark, and all the interruptions tended to confirm his suspicions, but there was still something that made him believe that this was the only way to achieve his requirements. Not to mention that the guy wasn't that bad a person; he looked good, he was thoughtful and he gave damn good oral sex.

'Take your shirt off,' Mark whispered, pulling Eddie onto his lap. 'Arms up.'

Laying his slice back down on the tray, Eddie wriggled out of his shirt as Mark slipped off his own. It was oddly comfortable lying in Mark's arms, butt naked and eating pizza, as though sharing a greasy meal with a complete stranger, whilst sitting nude in his bed was the most ordinary activity one could undertake.

The moment the pizza was finished, Mark pushed Eddie aside and slid off the side of the bed. Gesturing for Eddie to sit with his legs over the edge of the bed, he shut his eyes and relaxed. When his eyes opened, they were just inches from the older man's erection and the thick, musky scent of Eddie's lust was unavoidable. Slowly he began to masturbate him, increasing the speed and pressure until Eddie was on the brink of orgasm, before suddenly stopping. Not pausing to listen to the man's groan, he took the head into his mouth, his tongue swirling around and diving into the weeping slit, tasting the first hints of his bitter liquid. They both remained almost motionless as Mark guided more and more of Eddie's arousal into his mouth, until there was only a centimetre of skin not enclosed in the slick warmth of his mouth.

Eddie's eyes closed at the sensation. He was a lover of fellatio by nature, both giving and receiving, but deep-throating was beyond him, not to mention a good percentage of the male population. And yet, here was this well groomed little rich boy with nearly six inches down his throat, preparing to finish off what had been a display of phenomenal skill. He could feel Mark's tongue ever so slightly moving against him, and the vibrations of his low hum were driving him over the edge.

'Mark,' he whimpered, his eyes closed and his hands gripping the side of the bed. 'I...' He tried to speak, but no words came out of his dry mouth, so he grit his teeth and braced himself for climax. Mark was starting to move, releasing a little of his hard-on before swallowing it once more, creating hot, wet stimulation and it was almost, almost more than he could bear. Reaching down, Eddie spread his legs a little further, stroking his sac while Mark worked his magic. He moaned as his hand was pushed up to his face and obediently sucked on his index finger before allowing Mark to guide his hand back between his legs. Entering himself, he quickly found his prostate, biting his tongue to prevent orgasm.

Slowly rubbing his sweet spot, he stared down at Mark, wondering how much longer he could hold off. The vibrations were increasing and his body was starting to shake, ever so slightly, and he leant back, resting himself on one arm. It was the movement, the extra friction that was caused as the head of his cock pressed against Mark's throat, that finished him. He could feel his eyes roll back, and a long, guttural cry left his lips as wave after wave of pleasure fired through his groin. Desperately trying not to thrust, he savoured each sharp, brilliant second of orgasm, his body covered in sweat and his cries ringing out in the night air. Never had orgasm been so powerful, and never had he experienced the exhilaration of having another person so skilfully control his release.

It couldn't have taken more than mere seconds, but the intense climax seemed to last a lifetime, and yet, at the same time, not nearly long enough. Eventually, when all his seed had been spilled and his body was limp with exhaustion, he sighed peacefully, contently, shivering with delight as Mark slowly released his still-hard cock.

He stared at the mix of saliva and semen on Mark's chin, eager to taste the mixture. Pulling him forward, Eddie forced him into a kiss, his tongue straying over the clean-shaven chin, tasting the oddly pleasant mix and trying to determine how on earth one mere human could be capable of giving such pleasure.

'You,' Eddie started, breaking the kiss. 'Are... I can't even explain it. The only thing I can say is that you'd better be warned I am nowhere near that good in bed.'

Mark flushed, embarrassed and knowing that his own orgasm couldn't be more than a few strokes away. He knew he was capable of bringing other's to orgasm, but when it came to delaying his own climax, he sometimes had a little trouble. Seeing and hearing his partner climax was such an incredible experience he was always more aroused than he should have been by the time it came to his own satisfaction.

'Hmmm,' Eddie sighed happily. 'Take off your clothes.'

Mark paused. 'You don't want to... wait a bit?'

'Nope,' Eddie grinned tiredly. 'I'm good to keep going.'

Slipping out of his clothing, Mark sat alongside Eddie on the bed, glancing down at his erection. He was leaking pre-cum everywhere, his circumcised cock resting against his stomach, and tinged with red around the head.

'Come here,' Eddie requested, manoeuvring Mark so that he was in between his legs. Well aware he couldn't hope to equal his partner's performance, he nonetheless started off slow, teasing Mark's erection with a hundred butterfly kisses.

Mark smiled at the sensation, running his hands through Eddie's dark hair and carefully watching his counterpart. He inhaled sharply as Eddie focused his attentions, trapping the man in between his legs and gripping tufts of hair.

There really was no such thing as bad oral.

Eddie sighed, brushing Mark's hair out of his face. Mark had fallen asleep in his arms, naked and satisfied, without a care in the world.

Watching the red numbers on the alarm clock tick over, he wondered what the younger man was dreaming of. Mark was certainly attractive, and he'd bet good money that in a stable relationship, he'd truly keep the subtle romance alive, but the fact remained that Eddie genuinely wasn't that interested. The guy didn't do anything, didn't seem to have any hobbies or friends, he was simply the sort of person who'd take on the habits of his lover's, and Eddie wasn't appreciative of the lack of independence. He liked men who knew who they were, and could amuse themselves, not ones who pottered around their homes, bored, waiting for the next relationship.

On the topic of hobbies, he realised King Henry needed to be fed. As did, he winced, Mango, who was still in the bathroom. As he tried to slip out of Mark's arms, his guest awoke, a guilty expression on his face.

'Sorry,' Mark apologized. 'I didn't mean to fall asleep on you.'

'It's cool,' Eddie whispered, kissing his forehead. 'My pets need food. Did you want to see King Henry?'

He may not have found Mark to be particularly interesting, but that didn't mean Eddie was intending to let him out of his grip. Regardless, he was rather fond of King Henry and wasn't opposed to showing him off.

Mark sat up groggily, regretting falling into repose. It was embarrassing more than anything else, and he gave Eddie a sheepish grin. 'Yeah, if you don't mind.'

'I don't mind,' Eddie grinned back, hopping out of bed, naked. Mark was kind of cute with his hair all messed up, and his embarrassment was endearing. Obviously the guy didn't have as much self control as he thought he did.

They both winced as the lights were flicked on, and they walked out to the kitchen, Eddie releasing a cranky Mango on his way out.

'I shouldn't be feeding you,' Eddie advised his cat. 'You ate my pizza.'

Mango stared at him, large, green eyes shining with anticipation as his owner picked up his purple cat bowl and cleaned out the remaining kibble. He pounced on the fresh meal the second it was laid on the floor, oblivious to Eddie's noise of irritated affection.

'What do you feed your octopus?' Mark inquired, curious, as Eddie pulled two packs of frozen fish food from the freezer.

Eddie shrugged. 'Hermit crabs, goldfish, shrimps, some frozen stuff,' he explained. 'Tonight I'm being mercenary and giving it one of my damselfish. The tank's going to be a little more full than I like and King Henry will appreciate the change of diet.'

'One of those blue and yellow fish?' Mark asked doubtfully.

'Yep.' Eddie grinned, various blocks of frozen fish food resting in his hand as he made his way back to the bedroom. He dropped two chunks in with the goldfish and four with the damselfish, before making his way over to his fighter fish.

Mark was amusing himself watching all the fish eat, when Eddie removed the top of the marine tank, neatly scooping out a feeding fish with a small glass jar. Feeling rather sorry for the poor creature, he followed Eddie out to the lounge where King Henry had exited his jug and was moving around his tank, obviously anticipating tonight's meal.

The octopus captivated him, with it's smooth manner of gliding over the bottom of the tank and it's tentacles covered in little suction nodules. He was so caught up watching it move around, fascinated that this was Eddie's pet, that he forgot about the condemned damselfish until it was dropped in the tank.

Closing the lid to the tank, Eddie knelt down beside Mark, waiting for King Henry to make his move. It didn't take long; within a minute the fish was history and his companion laughing at the sight.

'That's it,' Eddie grinned, ruffling Mark's hair. 'Are you going to sit out here and watch him play or what?'

'Um,' Mark replied, guilty. 'I should be going.'

'Why?' Eddie queried, one eyebrow arched.

'Because…' Mark trailed off uncertainly. 'You probably don't want…'

'…I want,' came the reply. 'I don't appreciate men doing a midnight runner. Don't you get horny in the morning?'

Unable to help himself, Mark laughed and stood up, vaguely embarrassed of his nudity. Eddie grinned and walked over to the fridge, collecting cigarettes and a lighter.

'Cigarette?' he inquired.


They smoked in silence, each periodically glancing over at the other's nude form. The harsh fluorescent light did nothing for their looks, highlighting every flaw, and yet neither were disgusted by weight, scars, pores and the associated faults bodies accumulated. Instead it was oddly peaceful, both fed and sexually satisfied and relieved that the working week was over.

For Mark, this was about as exciting as his weekend was going to get, not that he particularly minded. He planned on reading, browsing the net, maybe going shopping or something, anything free of stress that would occupy his time. Eddie, on the other hand, more or less had plans, but that didn't prevent him from enjoying his Friday night. Tomorrow he'd be picking up his new fish and anemone, probably followed by an overdue cleaning of his duplex, and dinner with his family. It was one of his niece's birthdays, and he enjoyed his role as the fun, single, uncle. On Sunday he'd probably go into work for a few hours, before meeting up with Daniel, his best mate, and Daniel's wife, Rosie, for dinner. A trip to the gym would be squeezed in somewhere, and he'd wake up Monday morning content that his weekend had been fruitful.

Mark stubbed his cigarette out in the wet sink, before tossing it into the bin. Eddie followed suit, his earlier guilt apparently forgotten as he suggested they return to bed.

Lying underneath the covers, facing one another with their legs intertwined, neither felt particularly like sleeping, but nor did they have any urge to get up and do anything.

'So,' Eddie murmured, resting one hand on Mark's hip. 'Tell me about yourself?'

'What did you want to know?'

'I don't know,' Eddie shrugged. 'But you don't look like my usual victims. I mean, you went to a private school right?'

'Right,' Mark agreed.



'All boys?'


Eddie grinned. 'Interesting; you're a Catholic schoolboy who doesn't have a partner, but obviously has a lot of money, working in a dodgy little debt consolidation office.'

Mark smiled, stroking Eddie's arm. 'It's not that interesting. I was dumped on a Thursday night, made redundant on a Friday, and took my current job out of boredom.'

'Are you cut about it?'

'I beg your pardon?' Mark replied, puzzled.

'Upset. Are you upset about being dumped?' Eddie prodded.

Fairly sure this wasn't typical Friday night conversation, Mark frowned and tried to phrase his reply so it didn't sound either too artificial nor too emotional. 'Well, I loved him,' he admitted. 'I was with him for a long time, but it was an open relationship, so maybe it dragged on longer than it should have.'

'Did you have other lovers, or was it just him?' Eddie prodded, interested.

'Both of us,' Mark yawned. 'It was mostly with his friends; they were always sleeping with each other. I didn't mind, it was good to have variety without any guilt.'

Hesitating, Eddie considered his next answer. 'Don't you like monogamy?'

Mark laughed. 'I don't mind. You?'

'I prefer it,' Eddie admitted. 'I'm inherently very jealous when I'm in love.'

Mark merely smiled, and wondered what it would be like to be loved by the man beside him.

Mark woke early on Friday morning, restlessly climbing out of bed and doing the washing-up and feeding Mango before making himself a coffee and debating whether he should just leave, or wait for Eddie to wake up.

Eddie stumbled out at nine twenty, sleepy-eyed with messy hair and half an erection. It was only when he laid eyes on Mark, reading an old newspaper and drinking coffee that he remembered last night's date. More to the point, he remembered how skilled a lover he presently had in his duplex.

'Mmm,' he groaned, wrapping his arms around Mark's neck. 'What would I have to do for some more oral?'

'Get comfortable,' Mark whispered, burying his face in soft, dark hair. 'And return the favour.'

Eddie considered it to be a reasonable deal and dragged Mark over to the couch. With his legs spread, and his guest in between them, he prepared for the long, sensuous oral of the previous night.

What Mark gave instead was both terrifyingly fast-paced and mind-shatteringly good. The man seemed to have gauged every, vital pressure point and was stimulatingly them all at the same time, the pressure firm and unrelenting until Eddie was yelling out something unintelligible as he ejaculated.

'Holy shit,' he breathed, leaning back. 'Fuck mate, how on earth did you learn how to do that?'

'I've been in a lot of open relationships,' Mark explained with a shrug, his hand stroking his erection.

'Interesting,' Eddie remarked, watching his companion slowly start to masturbate himself. Gesturing to Mark's actions, he added. 'So is that. Is that a hint, or what gets you off?'

'Right now it's the latter,' Mark replied, shutting his eyes. 'You mind?'

'Not at all. Should I participate?'

Mark paused.

Eddie smiled evilly. 'What do you really want?'

Mark left forty minutes later, his butt sore and probably bright red from the spanking. Fetishes, he thought idly on the drive home. We all have something that gets us going, something that falls outside the boundaries of the norm. Not for the first time, he gave thanks that it was a firm slap on the butt that go him going, not animals, corpses, or, worse, children.

He yawned at every red light, tired and ready for a midday sleep, but too excited – childish as it sounded – at the results of his first date with Eddie to sleep. He really liked the guy, and the possibility of this developing into a relationship was fairly high. They'd already organized for another date, for Thursday night, and it gave him something to look forward to.

He slunk inside the spacious home his parents owned, the sheer space of the place a wonder after Eddie's cramped duplex. With the space, though, was emptiness, nothingness. There weren't any knick knacks or amateur artworks or bits and pieces displayed around the house, because his mother didn't appreciate 'clutter' and besides, there were no children in his family who made and gave gifts such as those Eddie obviously received.

Tiredly, he pondered whether or not he came across as boring as he was.

Chapter Five

Mark arrived at work on Monday morning relieved to find that Quentin had already opened the office, and resigned to the fact that he'd probably spend at least another week here.

Despite the fact that he was more than a little irritated with the gossiping Kerry, and his crude employer, he had spent Sunday researching marketing techniques and obtaining prices on high class business cards and brochures. He was nothing if not a person who liked to complete his job to the best of his ability.

The morning passed easily enough; brochures and business cards were ordered, using his designs, and the clients were more or less agreeable. He'd also dumped a four page contract on Quentin's desk, protecting his interests should Quentin find himself bankrupt, and allowing the man full ownership of any new clients should Markus leave the company. In all honestly, Mark genuinely expected to leave prior to any new clients actually being obtained. For this reason, Mark wasn't bothered with the fact that the contract was favourable to Quentin, and thus it was signed by both parties prior to lunch.

At one thirty he left the office for lunch, neither sharing Kerry's inclination to spend the break putting in extra work, nor wishing to spend any time around the big-mouthed teenager. She looked hurt at his refusal to speak to him, having realised over the past few working days that he wasn't interested in conversation, but that was the least of his worries.

Returning to work, his unusually good Monday mood was broken.

Quentin was sitting in Mark's office, in his chair to be precise, a hard expression on his face.

'Shut the door,' he requested.

Uneasy, Mark closed the door and sat at the 'client's' chair, waiting to hear where he'd gone wrong. He knew he'd made mistakes; simple as the job was, it was unreasonable for anyone to pick up a new skill without some errors, but to his knowledge, nothing had gone terribly awry. Quentin or Kerry had merely pointed out his mistakes, corrected them before shrugging the whole matter off. Now, judging by Quentin's expression and the closure of the office door, there were large problems at hand.

'Markus,' Quentin remarked.

'Yes?' he replied, neatly hiding his anxiety.

Quentin sighed heavily. 'Markus, Markus, Markus. I trusted you.'

Utterly confused, Mark gave his employer a blank look. As far as he knew, there had been no gross breaches of trust committed, and whatever Quentin was angry about was surely either some puerile little error, or a gross misunderstanding of the facts at hand.

'The internet,' Quentin elucidated. 'I don't mind if you spend your lunchtime browsing; I'm a fair boss, but I will not tolerate,' he bleated, banging his fists on the table, 'you using my property to job search.'

Mark mentally swore, regretting his decision to email resumes from work whilst fighting fury that Quentin had obviously been traipsing through his history files.

'I'm extremely disappointed,' Quentin continued, holding his employer's gaze. 'As I'm sure you can understand. I'm a businessman, Mark, I thought you could appreciate that. Obviously I've misjudged you.'

Not having a clue how to respond, Mark remained silent, wishing this meeting were over.


'I'm sorry.'

Quentin nodded thoughtfully. 'Respect, Mark. I respect you, and I expect respect in return.'

Mark nearly choked on his laughter. Respect? Since when was calling someone a 'sick little fuck' and asking their sexual position preferences a sign of respect?

'Okay,' he agreed, wishing the bastard would just fuck off out of his office. 'Respect.'

Pausing, Quentin inspected the man in front of him, wondering whether or not he'd made his point. He'd had such a good weekend, feeling secure in the knowledge that he finally had a capable employee, and now the capable employee in question was obviously looking at leaving. He nodded solemnly, easing his weight out of the office chair and adjusting his slacks.

'I won't tolerate nonsense,' he added, heading out the door. 'Any more, and you're gone.'

The second Quentin was out of his office, Mark shut his eyes and wished death to the old bastard. Granted, what he'd done was technically wrong, but for heaven's sake, it was unreasonable to expect someone as highly skilled and professional as himself to continue, willingly, working here. He stewed on the matter as he reclaimed his disturbingly warm chair, rueing the fact that he hadn't bought up, in response, Quentin's 'acquisition' of his Beemer. His brain never seemed to function correctly when required, a fact that ensured a career in accountancy rather than law.

'One more thing,' Quentin added, popping his head in the room. 'I really don't give a shit about your personal life mate, but I don't need your boyfriends hanging around.'

Puzzled, Mark tried a weak smile. 'I have to admit I have honestly no idea what you're talking about.'

'Your little yuppie friend,' Quentin elucidated, deciding that Mark must be intentionally playing dumb. 'Keep him away. I don't need him coming around two or three times a week; it's bad for business.'

Mark frowned, grateful that Quentin seemed content to leave the conversation at that and was walking back to his own office. The only 'yuppie friend' he could think of was Eddie, but there was no reason for Eddie to be hanging around. No reason whatsoever, unless he was a little…weird. And Eddie hadn't come across at all weird. Sighing, he pushed the matter from his mind as the first of his afternoon clients arrived.

It was only at afternoon tea that he realised that if Quentin thought the mystery stalker was his boyfriend, then perhaps Kerry hadn't mentioned his sexuality, and thus he'd been ignoring her for no reason. He added this guilt to that of having used his work computer for personal uses and waited for the next problem to arise.

It arrived at four thirty, in the form a telephone call from one of the banks, advising him that his very first client had defaulted on their very first payment. Wanting to scream with frustration, he instead called the client, hating the excuses she was making and eventually snapping, taking his anger out on her in the form of a long stream of corrections, explaining to her that all she could expect for the future was a string of angry creditors and poverty.

'Wow,' Kerry remarked, standing at his office door as he hung up. 'You sound pissed.'

Shaking his head in disbelief at the way he'd lost his temper, Mark slowly smiled. 'I am. Was. I feel better now.'

Kerry grinned. 'Only forty-five minutes to go now.'

'Thank Christ,' he replied, guilt over his poor treatment of her overwhelming him. 'That gives me a little over an hour before I can have a decent coffee.'

Glancing down at the mug of Pablo instant in her hand, Kerry shrugged. 'It's drinkable. You poor baby,' she continued, teasing. 'What do you drink?'

'The sort that isn't instant,' Mark replied dryly. 'Give me an hour of your time, and I'll show you somewhere decent to have coffee.'

Kerry hesitated, unsure of whether to accept or decline. She wasn't entirely sure he was being serious, but nor did she want to refuse the one overture of kindness he'd made in a few days. She'd worried that maybe she'd offended or annoyed him somehow, and truly, she liked the guy. He may be rich, and he may be able to control Quentin in a way she'd never manage, but he was someone to talk to, and he was certainly nicer to her than his predecessors had been.

'Okay,' she agreed. 'I'm good with that.'

It was Mark's turn to pause, when he realised the offer - that he hadn't intended to be an offer - had been accepted. Asking himself whether or not he minded going out to a cafe with the young girl, he was surprised to find himself answering 'not at all'. It was only her age, and the fact that she really didn't dress that well, that bothered him and honestly, he told himself, it was time he quit being so bloody judgmental; he had no partner, no friends, and a cruddy job, the last thing he could do was look down on Kerry for having the same...faults.

'Good,' he grinned, oddly pleased. 'Should we improve our Mondays and go tonight?'

Kerry shrugged. 'I'm good with that.'

The conversation was dropped as Quentin's office door opened, Kerry heading back to reception whilst Mark waited for his last client of the day. Both left the office prior to Quentin, who was 'staying back to fix up miscellaneous errors'. Mark and Kerry scowled in unison the second they escaped the office's confines, irritated with their employer's continual efforts to demean them. For Kerry, it was a fact of life that Quentin was in prime position to lord over her, whereas for Mark, his behaviour was a sign of grossly unprofessional conduct and he began to worry how the man would react to corporate clients who expected high-quality service.

'Well?' Mark remarked, watching Kerry walk in the opposite direction to his car. 'Are you coming or not?'

'Are you sure?' Kerry inquired, waiting for her colleague's reply, having spent the last few minutes of the afternoon worrying that Mark didn't really intend to go out with her.

'Sure,' he shrugged, flicking the keyless entry button. 'It's pay day, right?'

The teenaged girl grinned and retrieved from her bag an unopened yellow envelope. As she approached the car, Mark realised that he was happy. He was genuinely looking forward to spending some time with her, because she could hold a conversation, she thought before she spoke, and, thank the lord, she wasn't a little homophobe or racist. Working with phobics annoyed the hell out of him, firstly because he couldn't see any issues with his sexuality, and secondly, because he didn't understand why anyone else would care enough about what others did with their genitals to spend time creating and using crass slurs.

'So who were you yelling at?' Kerry inquired as they drove.

'Some idiot who's already defaulted,' Mark admitted with a rueful smile. 'Guess my powers of perception aren't what I'd like them to be.'

Kerry snorted. 'It's not your problem if they default; it's the bank or credit union that leant them the money. You should have just ignored it. Who was it that gave the loan?'

Internally groaning as he realised Kerry was 100 correct, he supplied the answer.

'No wonder,' she remarked. 'They'd lend money to anyone. They always expect us to debt collect, but yet they keep pushing us to sell their services. Tell them where to shove it, and they'll learn who you are and stop bothering you.'

It was odd taking advice from someone over a decade his junior, but Mark wasn't one to spurn accurate information and hints, and he mulled over his stupidity as they made the drive to the valley. The silence didn't bother him, and Kerry didn't seem ill at ease either, almost as though they were old friends who didn't feel the need to keep up the constant chatter.

Two hours later, they were on their third or fourth coffees, exchanging snippets of their lives and laughing at the way life never turned out they way one expected. Amongst well dressed couples and groups of friends, they looked out of place and Kerry was experiencing difficulty disguising her interest in her surroundings, but Mark was unperturbed. Rather, he enjoyed her curiosity, revelling in being able to 'do' something for another person. Kerry may not be his 'usual' acquaintance, but she brought with her a different, amusingly cynical, outlook that made him want to cry with laughter.

It was dark before they left, and on the journey home, they continued their discourse, only pausing when they realised they were horrendously lost. By nine-thirty, they limped into the driveway of Kerry's granny flat, exhausted and satisfied.

'We should do this every payday,' Mark offered hesitantly, surprised that he was being so forward. He never made overtures of friendship, because he knew from bitter experience that real friends were indeed hard to find, and coupled with his unfortunate habit of reading too much into casual relationships, he'd been burned more than once. Not only that, but Kerry was hardly suitable friend material.

'That would be nice,' Kerry agreed, her fears mirroring Mark's.

They smiled, and with that, their Monday nights became 'taken'. Neither minded in the slightest.

'Hey,' Eddie grinned. 'Look, I'm early. Are you impressed?'

Mark returned the grin and took a seat. 'Do you make a habit of being late?'

'Not intentionally,' Eddie confessed, laughing at himself and handing over a menu. 'Things just tend to get in my way.'

Mark accepted the menu and browsed through the contents interestedly. Whilst a teenager, two or three nights a week would be taken up by his mother and he visiting restaurants and cafes. His mother loathed cooking, and his father had always been 'working offshore', thus eating out had become something of an escape. It didn't turn either of them into a gourmet; they'd anywhere and anything, always making trips out to distant suburbs, eating whatever they wished and not caring too much for quality.

'Do you have any brother's or sisters?' Mark inquired, curious about his date's childhood.

Eddie glanced up, startled. 'Yes,' he replied, taken aback. 'I've got three sisters, two older, one younger. Between them, they have five children, two girls and three boys. You?'

'No siblings,' Mark replied. 'Do you see your sisters a lot?'

'Mmhmm,' Eddie agreed vehemently. 'I love them to bits. Actually, my whole family's extremely close. Yours?'

'Lovingly distant,' Mark admitted truthfully. 'Although my parents and I are quite close.'

They returned their attentions to the menu of Thai food, browsing boredly until a waiter came to take their order. It wasn't a high class restaurant; on the contrary it was the sort of 'family' venue where children crawled and ran between adult's legs and conversations were paused whenever an infant's high pitched wail broke through the chatter. Nobody paid attention to anyone else, the carpet was old and stained and the food cheap and quick to arrive.

The restaurant hadn't been Mark's choice; it was Eddie's, although he couldn't fault his client's taste. The meal, when it arrived, was surprisingly good, although they settled for a Western dessert.

'Coffee?' a waiter inquired as he cleared the last of their dishes.

'No,' Eddie replied. 'Thank-you. Just the bill.'

They fought briefly over who was paying, before they settled on going Dutch. Arriving at Eddie's duplex in separate cars, Mark felt his heart beat faster in anticipation of the sex. Watching Eddie exit his car, in a pair of regular fit blue denim jeans and a tight maroon shirt, he could feel the stirrings of an erection and fought back the image of the older man bent over his kitchen table and begging for more.

Alas, it was not to be. Some twenty minutes later Mark found himself lying on the bed, stomach pressed into the sheets, with Eddie on his back. It was uninteresting sex; a let down after the standards experienced last Friday night, and were it not for the newness of the relationship, Mark admitted to himself that he probably would have been irritated.

Moreover, he was tender from the rough fucking and wanted someone to hold him, only Eddie was in the bathroom, showering. There'd been no invite for Mark to join him, and after he finished cleaning himself up, Mark took the used wipes to the kitchen, wincing at the pain a new, small, tear was causing.

Returning to bed, he pondered leaving, before remembering Eddie's dislike of men running off in the dead of the night. Besides, the neediness he currently felt was ridiculous; they were at the 'sex, sex, sex' stage of a relationship, not the 'lovemaking, cuddles, sleep' one. Curling himself underneath the blankets, he wondered if he and Eddie would ever reach the latter stage. He hoped so; he liked the man and although it hadn't been great tonight, they could doubtlessly pleasure each other with great skill once they settled down. In a few months, maybe, they would fall in love and perhaps start to think about moving in together.

As the bathroom door opened, and Eddie exited, Mark rolled his eyes at his overly romantic thoughts. He was getting hormonal in his old age, starting to think too much about love, and not enough about the practicalities of life. When Eddie slipped into bed, and started asking prying questions about his line of work, Mark answered truthfully, thinking nothing of the light interrogation. After all, how could one learn the skills and income earning capabilities of a potential partner without a few, direct, questions?

Chapter Six

Eddie ran his hands through Mark's soft hair, debating on whether leaving the man sleeping and going for a run would be considered the height of rudeness. Probably, he mentally sighed. Damn. Why the fuck had he eaten so much last night? By the time he'd finally had two minutes to himself to purge his system of the calories, it had probably been too late, and he could already feel the extra fat starting to weigh him down.

Not for the first time, he wondered how Mark could be so comfortable with the fact that he was a touch overweight when a little extra weight led to a fair bit of extra weight, and a fair bit of extra weight eventually led to obesity. And once a guy was obese, his life was effectively over. Mark, however, had seemed interested in his meal, choosing something that was probably the most fat-laden dish on the menu, and not thinking twice about eating it.

Of course the sex had then been crap, because Eddie had known his stomach was all bloated and the last thing he'd wanted was for it to be on display. Frustrated, he'd rolled Mark onto his stomach and fucked him, all the while berating himself for his stupidity in overeating. He'd have to make up for it this morning, otherwise he'd utterly lose Mark's interest, and that was the last thing he could afford right now.

First, though, he needed to exercise. Carefully slipping out of Mark's grip, he fumbled around in the dark room for his joggers and a pair of shorts. His hands closed around the items and he took them to the kitchen to dress, and carefully writing a quick note whilst stretching. Once he was out on his familiar route, with the cold wind burning his throat and sweat dripping liberally down his back, he began to worry. What if Mark woke up? Goddamnit he was ridiculous, waking up early on the morning of his second date, leaving a new lover in bed by himself. There was so much at stake, and all he could think about was getting fat. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. He needed to get a grip on himself, and quickly, before Mark slipped through his grip and he'd have to concede defeat. And there was nothing in the world that Eddie disliked more than failing.

Arriving home half an hour later, he heard Mark call out.

'It's only me,' he replied, forcing himself to sound casual as he returned to the bedroom. 'I woke up early and didn't want to bother you so I decided to go for a run.'

The look Mark gave him was indescribable. It was obvious the guy thought he was nuts for waking up in the wee hours of a Friday morning and deciding to exercise, but Eddie was more relieved that Mark wasn't suspicious and merely smiled apologetically.

'Come here,' Mark whispered, rolling over and tugging on Eddie's hand. 'There's something sexy about all that sweat.'

Eddie allowed himself to be laid on his back, kicking off his shoes in the process. Mark's fingers were easing his shorts down, his mouth covering each newly revealed patch of skin. He grew hard, blood rushing to his groin and he arched himself off the bed helpfully as Mark stripped him.

'Wait,' he ordered, sitting up. 'I should have a shower. I've just been for a run; you don't want to put your mouth there.'

'Yes I do,' Mark grinned wolfishly. 'Lie down.'

Convinced, Eddie carefully laid back down, allowing his companion's mouth to please his lower regions. Appreciative moans escaped his lips and he spread his legs further and further apart as Mark's tongue pressed against his entrance. One hand moved to his cock and he began to masturbate himself, all the while thrusting into the younger man's face. He cried out as Mark pushed inside him, using his spare hand to grip the man's hair, ensuring he didn't pull away before Eddie had satisfied himself.

Mark mentally rolled his eyes and twisted out of Eddie's grasp, reaching for condoms and lubricant. Holding out his hand, he pulled Eddie to his feet, leading him to the kitchen. He'd kill for some rope, handcuffs, blindfold and gag, but truthfully, he didn't exactly have the time for a hour or two of slow, sensuous sex with a man who couldn't move, see or speak.

'Shit,' Eddie swore, catching sight of the time clock on the microwave. 'I need to get to work. Can we do this quickly?'

Mark paused, carefully appraising the man in front of him. Slowly, he sighed. The last thing he wanted was two batches of crappy sex in a row. 'Leave it,' he replied, disappointed. Cautiously, a smile spread across his face. 'I could finish it tonight, if you want.'

'Then I'd be horny for the whole…' Eddie trailed off, understanding. 'Oh. I'm not that good with self control.'

'Then you'll be missing out on a lot,' Mark argued smoothly. 'Besides, there's something nice about the thought of you serving people all day, trying not to touch yourself.'

Then hold the thought, Eddie mentally answered, because I'm not a retail assistant. Hell no, I haven't worked in retail for, what, four years? It's simply that I like to look good, to attract the men.

Clearing his thoughts and this throat, he instead replied 'You won't wank either?'

Mark rubbed his erection tauntingly. 'Nope. But I'm gonna want to fuck you stupid tonight.'

Eddie cocked his head, before reaching forward and reaching for Mark's erection. He rubbed his fingers over the head, smoothing Mark's first issue of liquid over the glans before raising his hand to the younger man's mouth. He smiled as Mark's tongue lapped up his own seed, wondering how the man had become such a connoisseur of sex. It didn't take a genius to realise that in a few weeks time, they'd probably be engaging in all manner of wild activities, ranging from the vanilla to the outrageously kinky. A part of him was worried that the guy would take things too far, but mostly he was exhilarated.

'Hmm, well, do you mind if I have a shower?' Mark added, pushing Eddie's hand away. 'I picked up my dry cleaning yesterday, so I've got my clothes in the car.'

'No, that's not a problem,' Eddie shrugged. 'Go and get your stuff, while I rinse off.'

An hour later, Mark was leaving for work. As he drove, he couldn't keep his mind off sex, and his aching cock was protesting the lack of satisfaction, something he noted with a smile.

There was a traffic jam, which slowed the flow of vehicles, delaying him slightly, but that only made his arousal more sweet. He revelled in the headiness of lust, knowing that he would be going back to Eddie's directly after work for a long, sensuous fuck that would more then satisfy his desires.

Mark arrived at work with only the slightest remains of his erection, five minutes late, and relieved it was finally Friday. Settling himself down with his first client, he gave his apologies and proceeded to untangle the web of debt they'd surrounded themselves in. Surprisingly, their financial difficulties were more complex than overwhelming and he shook his head in belief, wondering how two people could have five savings accounts, three jobs and ten debts between them. It took him all of ten minutes to realise their debts were actually minimal, and another ten to organise their personal loan.

He smiled as they left, no longer as bothered by his client's as he once had been. Admittedly, not all were too bad; on the contrary, some of them simply had no idea how to organise a budget and he was grateful he'd designed his own pro-forma budget for his clients. After all, the less frequently they defaulted, the more commission he received, which led to an overall more satisfactory result for all parties.

Already the commission he was earning was almost equal to his pay, and he wondered how long it would be before he could reach his old income. Quentin was sitting on a goldmine, he simply didn't know how to properly manage the business. Actually, he frowned, Quentin's management was bordering on sheer negligence; this was the only contingency debt reconciliation agency in the area, and already people were starting to ask for him by name. Perhaps he could convince Quentin to have personal cards designed for he and Kerry, to save all calls going through reception. That would free up Kerry's time and she could start working on selling loans herself. God alone knew the woman had the brains, she merely needed the opportunity to use them, rather than typing pointless letters and running Quentin's personal errands.

His bubble was burst at lunchtime, when Quentin decided to corner him over his late arrival. Frankly, Mark didn't see the problem; he was five minutes late, the traffic jam had been unforeseeable, and his work hadn't been delayed. Nonetheless, Quentin was determined to wrench an apology from Mark's throat, and when he received the said apology, wasn't satisfied with its sincerity.

The last straw was Quentin's proclamation that his commission was to be reduced by twenty percent. Unable to help himself, Mark inquired why in possibly the coldest tone he'd ever used.

'Well, you're doing so well,' Quentin argued. 'That there's no real reason to give you the full amount. Let's face it, if you were in my position, would you continue to pay full commission, knowing that by doing so, you reduce the incentive?'

'If I were in your position, I would say I was so damn lucky to have me that I'd shut the fuck up and stop acting like such a cunt.'

Where the hell did that come from, he wondered. He'd never lost it before, especially not with an employer, but he was just so frustrated. The man was a jackass, pure and simple, and he'd really been pushed too far.

'Consider this my resignation,' Mark added coldly. 'As of this very minute.'

The last thing he saw before turning his back was Quentin's shocked expression. The man literally had the audacity to be shocked that he'd lost an employee, as though his actions didn't merit the fury and indignation Mark was experiencing.

Incensed, he collected his belongings, regretting only that he'd be leaving Kerry behind. He'd miss her, more than he usually missed co-workers, and he felt sorry for her, being trapped with such a bloody patronising miser as an employer.

'I think we need to discuss this,' Quentin remarked, standing in the doorway. 'I mean, you can't just walk out like this.'

'Yes I can,' Mark retorted childishly. 'Your treatment of your employees goes beyond ridiculous. You want all the authority and none of the responsibility, you underpay Kerry, you try to further lower my pay, and you have no understanding the basics of business.'

Quentin fell silent. He loathed crawling – or 'persuasion' as he termed it - but that didn't mean he wasn't adept at it.

'Now listen,' he wheedled. 'I'm sure we can reach some sort of understanding.'

Mark paused, suddenly uncertain, but it was too early to show his hand. 'Proceed.'

Irritated that the young fag in his employ felt he had a right to instruct him, Quentin scowled. 'I'm willing to reconsider your commission,' he wheedled. 'If you work an extra five hours.'

Mark laughed aloud. 'You really don't get it, do you?'

'Look,' Quentin continued. 'Sit down. We'll discuss this, man to man.'

Again, Mark hesitated before slowly taking a seat. Quentin sat across from him, visibly breathing a sigh of relief. Things were going well; Mark was at least willing to negotiate.

'Full commission,' Quentin agreed. 'Unless you're late again. Then your pay will be docked two dollars a minute.'

'Unless I make up the hours,' Mark agreed, wondering why he'd suddenly caved. Regret smothered him, and he prayed that Quentin would refuse the offer.

'Agreed,' Quentin beamed. 'Now, let's forget this little mess. Let's say we go down to the pub for a drink, after work. My shout.'

Grateful that he had an excuse, Mark supplied it. 'That really isn't necessary. Besides, I have a social commitment.'

Mark bit back another twinge of irritation as Quentin blanched. Following the irritation was a smirk, threatening to erupt at the mental image of Quentin's reaction were Mark to disclose his exact plans for the night.

'Your boyfriend,' Quentin replied eventually.

Lasciviously, Mark cocked an eyebrow and allowed himself the guilty pleasure of a smirk. 'Yes. Sex.'

'Well,' Quentin agreed, hurriedly standing. 'I guess it's back to business.'

Watching his employer leave, Mark groaned, the smirk falling from his face. Why on earth had he agreed to stay? Pride, he answered himself, you're so goddamned arrogant you're determined to make this place a success, and rub Quentin's face in it. Only chances are, the bastard's so far up himself he won't even realise none of the credit belongs to anyone but himself.

By afternoon tea, he was more than regretting his decision to stay. The office weighed heavily on him, and he was tired of Quentin's sad little politicking. It wasn't as though his corporate employer's had been much better, more that with a larger number of employers, it was easier to duck any blows that came his way. Here, with just two employees, he was a prime target, more so now that he'd displayed his contempt.

He was just about to log into his private email account and retrieve his resume, with the intention of sending it to any interested companies, when he remembered Quentin's last foray into his internet history files. Bugger. Any attempts to find another job would surely be discovered by Quentin, and he was sick to death of apologising to the man.

'Unless,' he murmured. 'I delete the files straight away.'

Curious, he checked the history files, merely to see what was currently there. There were the details of the thirty or so credit unions and banks he used, google, sensis, and the other usual suspects, but there were also several he didn't recognise. Opening one, he frowned, puzzled and a little disgusted. Porn, and not that sort of porn that he browsed when he was alone and horny, but rather the sort that made coprophilia seem vanilla.

After killing the twenty million pop-ups the page had generated, he returned the history files, checking the 'last accessed' dates of several other unknown files. One of them turned out to be nothing more than a lender, whereas three more that had been accessed in the past fortnight were again porn. Swallowing the bitter tasting bile that filled his mouth, it dawned on him that somebody was using his work computer to access kiddie porn.

It didn't take him more than two seconds to realise that somebody was Quentin.

It all seemed so surreal. Honestly, Mark knew kinky, he'd met kinky, and he'd played kinky, but he sure as hell hadn't ventured even near children. That was simply….revolting. It wasn't even a turn-on, for Christsakes, they were fucking kids, not sexual beings capable of fully knowing and giving sexual pleasure. Unable to comprehend what he'd learned, Mark shook his head in disbelief and instead headed into the den of more reasonable adult pleasures. In other words, the local adult shop.

He left half an hour later with what he wanted, vaguely pondering whether bringing his own toys would revolt Eddie. Maybe, maybe not. The second time he'd dated Johnnie, the guy had pulled out his double-headed dildo and moved them both into position. They'd spent nearly an hour slowly getting fucked, before Mark lost control and came harder than he had in months.

The bulge that formed in his slacks cut his employer's bizarre penchants from his mind, and he mentally assembled how he planned on tackling his date. God Eddie was hot. Even now he could picture the guy, blindfolded, gagged, and tied down to his kitchen table, unable to pleasure himself, unable to even move.

The bulge increased.