Jumbo chapter returns with a vengeance~!

I really have to say a massive thank you to Zombieee, RandomReviewer, novemberBaby (DFSGSD sorry it's late D': ) ficpressLover, HandsomeDevil and Garg for your lovely reviews, and a special thank you to midgetslove4never and Armenian Beauty Hayeren for being the gosh darnit tootin' bloody loveliest (It took me a while to find your PM Armie-Beau because they only go straight to my email for some reason, but I would like to inform you that YOU MAKE MY PANTMAN GROW and I puffed up like a proud goose when I read your kind words) and to Co0ki3 Mon5teR (you sexy beast), whose name makes my fingers tremble in delight as I seek out the challenging - yet gratifying - spelling on the keyboard.

That was a very long sentence.

Midgie has also brought to my attention that Jake smacks a bit of Mitch Hewer. The link to the homg-someone-has-just-reached-into-my-mind-and-plucked-him-out Jake look-alike is up on my profile now, for anyone who's interested, along with Andy and a few of the other characters I've found, but I may have to revise this in light of recent information. Maybe a conglomeration between English textbook Jake and pretty Skins actor is in order. Then again, I have never watched Skins, so if I ever get round to it I may end up hating him with a fiery passion of a thousand burning suns and refuse to use him as a visual reference. I may also get a massive boner for him and conglomerate him like I've never conglomerated someone before. I don't really like imagining my characters as famous people, but you've got a point with some of his poses Midge. I see sliiiiiight Jakeness.

Okay, so. To business. I'll edit this beast once I've stopped looking like I'm carrying three weeks of shopping bags under my eyes. Mnyehhh okay, I don't think that's ever going to happen. I'll edit it tomorrow.

I hope, very much, that you enjoy~


In which Jake makes a mistake, and Andrew makes one too.


Jake woke with a groan. A groan, because he had a crick in his neck the size of Australia and his hand appeared to have fallen asleep under him. He stretched his poor numb limb with a grunt and held up the blanket that was on top of him in confusion and a gut-winding sense of déjà vu. He'd fallen asleep on the sofa? The last thing he remembered doing was watching penguins treck through the Antarctic. That had made for a very surreal dream.

Andrew looked up from his position on the floor, elbows by Jake's feet, and raised an eyebrow. He turned back to the television and took a languid sip of his coffee. He was in his work clothes. Sunlight was streaming in through the open curtains. Jake sat up quickly, voice a sleepy croak.

"What time is it?"

Andrew crossed his ankles. "Seven twenty."

Thank god his body clock was permanently cocked up by college. Jake groaned in relief. He thought he'd missed half the day for a second. He rubbed his face in his hands and thunked the back of his head against the sofa, bunching his legs up in front of him. God, he hadn't slept in the living room for ages. The blanket was warm between his fingers, and he felt the warmth curdle in his stomach as he stared at Andrew's back, eyes falling to a sleepy half-mast. He'd gotten him the blanket again.

"Do I get to sit on my own sofa now?"

Jake blinked with a start. "Ugh. God, yeah. Sorry."

"Hm." Andrew stretched, his white shirt rippling tight against his shoulders, and threw his arms over the sofa cushion again. "The chick was making a racket, so I chucked some bread in there," he said, making no move to get up. "You need to clean up its shit."

"Erm? Oh." Right. Awake. Jake was awake. "Ngh. Yay."

"You brought it in."

"No, no. S'fine. I love cleaning shit up. This is what I get up for in life." Jake scrunched up his nose, grogginess pinching his eyes. He pulled sleep out the corners with his fingers and blinked blearily around the room. The TV swathed Andrew and the carpet in blue light as an advert for cereal flickered to a field of wheat, wide under a summer sky. Jake pushed himself to his feet, rubbing at the ache between his neck and his shoulder. He should get breakfast. "Have we got bread?"

Andrew sipped his liquefied addiction. "Unless you can eat an entire loaf in two days, it's in the breadbin."

Right. So that was a yes then.

"I'm gonna eat before my stomach starts throwing a tantrum." His feet made a valiant attempt at tripping him up as he negotiated Andrew's legs, asleep as they still were, but Jake caught himself on the sofa arm before he made his first stupid trip of the day. "Thanks for the blanket," he mumbled.

Jake flicked the oven on in the kitchen and fiddled about with the waistband of his boxers. Obviously he hadn't changed yesterday before expertly falling unconscious on the sofa, and knee-length shorts weren't exactly the most comfortable thing to sleep in. He tugged his shirt over his head and put some bread under the grill, padding to the utility room to dump his shirt on top of the washing machine and grab a red T-shirt from the bottom of the laundry pile.

Tuesday. What lessons did he have Tuesdays...all the sciences, wasn't it? Tuesday was usually his longest day, but he had a feeling he remembered Dan say he'd only be in for the first period of their Environmental Studies lesson today, so he should finish fairly early. Jake poured himself some orange juice in one of Andrew's pristine crystal glasses and broke up some granary bread (Andrew had yet to complain about Jake misappropriating it for the baby starling, so he took that as an all systems go) into crumbs on his plate, trying to remember whether his Biology revision booklet was still in his bag or if he'd put it in the drawer. Andrew still hadn't moved from the floor when his toast was done.

"You can sit on something that doesn't have a velvet cushion?" Jake mused, sitting down next to him and gathering the blanket over his shoulders now he was feeling more awake. The mornings hadn't lost their spring chill yet.

Andrew arched a perfect eyebrow. Then he caught sight of Jake's shirt, and his brow fell to an unimpressed scowl.

"...I hate that shirt."

Jake looked down at it with a blink. He washed his first bite of toast down with a gulp of orange juice, throat scratching. "You are so superstitious."

Admittedly, he did seem to have some culinary disaster every time he wore this T-shirt. The last time he'd worn it he'd cut his finger chopping vegetables, and he'd had to awkwardly hold it out in front of him while it bled profusely to ask Andrew if he had any spare plasters, because there weren't any in the bathroom. That hadn't been fun. Andrew had violently tugged him to the sink and forced him to hold it under the tap while he gritted his teeth so hard by his ear, Jake'd been sure he was going to bite him. He'd done the same when he'd worn it the night Tessa had stayed, and he'd burned his hand on the oven.

Andrew made a displeased noise in his throat as the Friend's theme tune trickled into the room. Jake heard Happy stir about in his box. He swallowed his bite of peanut butter-covered toast slowly, eyeing the television. "Is this on every morning?"

"And evening, and day." Andrew gave his T-shirt another look. "Channel four thinks we don't watch it enough, clearly."

"Meh. Longest running sitcom isn't it?"

"Hm."

Jake's chewing was loud in the silence that followed. He picked up the remote and upped the volume, uncomfortably conscious of the man beside him. Andrew returned to nursing his coffee. He was always a little more mild in the early morning, before the caffeine had fully kicked in. More...off guard. Jake kinda liked that. He felt like he wasn't going to get a sardonic shooting down for every little thing he said. Andrew was...Jake stared at his plate balanced between his chest and knees, licking his lips of crumbs. Something. Andrew was something. He was warm a small distance away from his shoulder, that's what he was.

And quick to over-react, Jake thought with a small smile. That had been strange yesterday. It was oddly comforting to know that if Jake was ever in a bad situation, Andrew would help him out just like that. Well. He already had obviously, but physically help him out. If he was in danger.

Jake glanced at the man over his orange juice. If anyone ever tried to...mug him, or stab him, or something ridiculous like that, Jake'd beat them up too. He would. He could just imagine Andrew pissing off some corporate mogul in a business deal with that taking-no-shit attitude of his and having the mafia sent after him. Though Andrew would probably kill them himself without a second thought (this worried Jake a little bit sometimes. Andrew let slip a hint of his temper occasionally, and words like 'kill' started to look a lot less like light suggestions), so it was doubtful Jake'd be of any help at all. But Jake would try. He would.

Andrew caught his eye as he lifted his coffee cup to his lips. Jake flicked his eyes back to the television and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"D'you want that rice and Bombay potato stuff tonight?"

Andrew nodded. Then he swallowed his coffee with a frown and shook his head. "No, I'm going out to dinner."

"Oh. Yeah." Jake fiddled with his empty glass. So he'd be eating in Andrew's house alone. "Alright, I'll leave you some for tomorrow."

"Fine."

Andrew stared at the television. Jake finished his toast in silence, thoughts sobering at the idea of eating someone else's food in someone else's house by himself, and brought Happy's box to him, smiling slightly when he found the starling pressing against one of the many holes in his box. He'd thought the bird had gone back to sleep or something. Then again, he was a bird, so he probably woke up early naturally and only went to sleep in the evening when the sun went down. Happy looked up at him and twittered. Jake noted as he gently reached his hand in that he had, indeed, processed his last meal and left the results in the corner of the box.

"Maybe he was joining in the dawn chorus earlier," Jake murmured, smiling uncontrollably as Happy hopped onto his finger and across his arm. "When you said he was being noisy." Andrew leaned against his hand, brown eyes following the bird.

"Probably. He was loud. You slept through it like an idiot."

Jake raised a cocky eyebrow at him, gut wheedling at the thought of Andrew being in the same room as him when he was asleep. "You watched me?"

Andrew snorted, a surprisingly amused smile pulling at his lips. "Oh, naturally. Videotaped you for my collection."

Jake grinned. He really should hide the coffee from Andrew so he was always like this. A sharp pinch on the soft skin of his forearm jerked his attention sharply down to Happy with a gasp.

"Ow! Whad'you peck me for?" The starling warbled and did it again and Jake hissed, rubbing his arm forlornly and watching the bird hop onto his thigh. "Not food," he muttered, nudging the bird's little tubby fluff of a stomach. "Bad Happy."

He was conscious of Andrew watching him as he put Happy back in his box and tipped in his toast crumbs and the granary bread. Jake glanced at him and fluffed up the back of his most likely bed-mussed hair. Sofa-mussed hair. Bad hair, in any case.

"What?"

Andrew regarded him evenly, moving his head in his hand so his long thumb supported his chin. He'd always managed to move with an annoying regal casualness. "How's your shoulder?"

Jake did a double take at that. "Huh?" As in was it numb because he'd fallen asleep in a weird position?

Andrew gave him a flat look. "Smacked against a door. Fucked it up in a fight. Shoulder. How is it."

"Oh." Jake blinked. Andrew being concerned always had done strange things to his stomach. "S'good."

"No, Rachel, wait. I'm telling you, ask anyone and they will tell you telling Ross you love him is a bad idea."

"But I just –"

Andrew nodded, eyes moving to the screen. Jake idly rubbed his shoulder.

"No! He's getting married! Promise me you'll wait."

"Why do I have to wait to tell a man I love him?"

Jake blew his cheeks out. Seven fifty, the little clock at the corner of Andrew's widescreen said. "Aight, I'm gonna get ready," he mumbled, pushing himself up and gathering up Happy's box and his glass and plate. Andrew looked up at him from under his flop of dark hair.

"Because he'll be confused!"

Jake held out his hand for Andrew's cup. He downed the last dregs of his coffee and handed it to him. Jake's finger slipped over his thumb.

"Just promise me you'll wait?"

"Thanks."

"...Okay."

-x-

Jake's day at college so far had been much the same as every day had been for the last four weeks: revising in lessons. Workshops in free periods. Watching Tim consult his neat revision timetable with little highlighted columns and time lengths in a sort of morbid fascination (how did the boy actually enjoy planning out his week like that?) and feeling obscenely lazy and disorganised in comparison. The only thing he'd done so far by way of revision was read his Chemistry textbook Sunday night in bed.

He sat on the row of wooden seating outside C block at break, staring at his phone with an unimpressed kinked eyebrow. Chrissy had triple English Language on Tuesdays and always spent break in avid discussion with her Shakespeare fanatics, so he usually flopped down on the seating and cloud-gazed for the fifteen minutes with Tim. Who had, helpfully, just texted him something about having to pick up some Business Studies mock papers with Daniel and that he'd see him at lunch. Not that Jake knew who Daniel was. He kicked his legs up on the bench next to the wooden seating and sighed. Bloody disappearing harpies. He'd have to wait until lunch to eat now. He and Tim always went halves on salt and vinegar French Fries at break.

The building doors were shoved open to his right and Jake absentmindedly glanced over, eyes trailing from a group of laughing Asian students walking past to one very short, very angry-looking brunette who was heading straight for him. Jake's mouth tugged down in surprise.

"Sarah?"

"Oh my god," she seethed, plopping down pertly next to him. Jake made room for her to dump her folders on the seat and raised an eyebrow, shoving his phone in his pocket.

"Whoa. What's up?"

"I just – I can't even – oh my god." Sarah flopped against the wall and looked at him, voice an irritated whisper. "There is the most annoying guy trying to get me to go with prom with him. It's like, do you not understand the word no? Argh!"

Jake blinked at that. Whoah, girls really could confide in just about anyone when they were pissed. He'd only had a proper conversation with this girl yesterday. He grinned awkwardly. "What, the guy asked you just now?"

"Yes," she hissed. "And this morning! And Monday! And Friday!"

"Oh. Wow." Jake watched her scrape the moss off the wooden planks with her nails, not quite sure what to say. "He sounds stubborn."

"Totally!"

"Well. Umm. I'm sure he'll get it eventually if you say it firmly?"

Sarah's squeak of "Huh!" informed him that no, this was not the correct response. She waved her arms emphatically in the air, pulling an ugly face in imitation. "No, he's just like 'You're not going with anyone, are you? Just go with me' I mean, is he just stubborn or a total dickhead? It's just like, Jesus! When a girl says no, she means no!"

Jake made a noise of agreement, wondering what exactly you were supposed to do in these kind of situations and where the hell this situation had actually come from. Sarah really was looking at him like he was supposed to come up with some Godly advice any second now. Or flash his fairy godmother wand and chuck some glitter and sparkles in the air. Or something.

"Umm. Yeah, I guess you do get those guys who just can't get a message. Why don't you just say you're going with someone else?"

"I can't!" Sarah whined. "I just know he's gonna be all 'Well who is it then? I know you're totally not' and I can't say Bert or Adam 'cause Bert's going with Lilly and Adam's going with Jaz so then he'll suss me out and just ask me again pretending to be all casual, argh."

She kicked the bench. Jake had no idea who any of those people were. He smiled unsurely. This was reminiscent of times when Chrissy decided she was going to have a hump about something and shot down every suggestion he and Tim made to try and cheer her up.

"Umm. Make someone up...?"

"He'll know! He knows, like, everyone!"

"Oh. Right."

Sarah thunked her head against the wall and made an unhappy noise. Jake ruffled his hair. Ah, he really wasn't helping, was he? He wasn't good at this teenager stuff.

"Well you just need a name of someone who's actually real, right? You don't actually have to skip to prom hand in hand with them or anything. Just say you're going with me or something."

Sarah looked at him sharply, eyes wide and mascara-outlined. He wasn't sure at that moment why it looked like her lips were on the verge of a smile. "What?"

Jake shrugged. "Or Tim, he'd do it." He scrunched up his nose. "Ah wait, he's going with Chrissy. Well it doesn't matter who it is, right? I don't even think I'm going. If you see him there just say I stood you up like a dick or something."

Sarah's hands went to her hair, eyes still wide and smile finally pulling at her lips. "Seriously?"

"Umm." Jake looked at her in confusion. Was this a big deal? He didn't care if she used his name. He hadn't been planning on going to the dance celebration thing at all. "I don't mind."

"Seriously?" she repeated.

"Well, yeah? It's not like we'd actually be going. You can just use my name as a scapegoat."

"Oh no, yeah!" Sarah nodded vigorously, looking casually over to the Chinese students as one of them laughed loudly. "That could totally work. I'll try it if he asks again."

Jake nodded, not sure why Sarah suddenly seemed embarrassed. She dug out her phone from her jean skirt pocket and flicked it open, shutting it again quickly as if just looking at the time. "Just tell me if you wanna go with someone else," she said with a titter. "I'll like, tell him I'm a lesbian or something."

Jake grinned and that and Sarah giggled, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear. "Umm, okay, you could do that, but that might just make him more keen."

"Jake!" Sarah reprimanded with another giggle, and he was glad to see he'd cheered her up from her irritated state. She really was an open person, wasn't she? To just confide in him like that, and show concern on the bus yesterday when she barely knew him. That was...that was a cool quality to have. Jake couldn't do that. He'd be a hypocrite if he tried to get Andrew to, as well.

Jake wrinkled his nose at the sudden surge of people across campus and glanced at his watch, surprised to find break almost over. "Whoa." He dropped his feet off the bench. "I should probably get to Biology."

"Oh my god, really?" Sarah shot up from the seat and gathered her folders, flushed. "Oh god look at me, I've totally just come over and moaned at you all break. God, sorry. Yeah, I need to get to General Studies."

Jake shook his head with a wry grin. "Nah, s'fine. You forget I know Chrissy, Queen of Moan."

"Hehe! No way, is she? I should challenge her for the crown. So...what were you umm –" Sarah's nose wrinkled a little, head tilting to the slide slightly. "What were you doing out here, anyway? Waiting for Chrissy?"

"Err, no. I don't quote Shakespeare, so I'm not worthy on Tuesdays." Jake pushed himself to his feet and slung his bag over his shoulder, fiddling in his pocket to turn his phone on silent. Tim had texted him in his last Biology lesson and he didn't particularly want to repeat the experience of his teacher Alison giving him the evils in front of the entire class, especially today with the added decorations on his face. "I've been abandoned by Tim, see. I was about to break out into I'm So Lonely when you came stomping over."

Sarah held out an objecting hand, nails glinting pink in the sunshine. "Oh my god, I did not stomp!"

Jake did his best condescending Andrew face. "Uh-huh. Like an elephant. I thought you were gonna kill me."

"I'm totally not that scary," Sarah giggled, rolling her eyes a little. She hugged her folders to her chest. "Alright, I've really gotta go. Thanks for listening and stuff. Prom date," she added jokily. "See you after lunch!"

"See ya." Jake watched her disappear into the mass of students changing classes, feeling slightly nonplussed.

Huh. Now how did that happen?

-x-

Chrissy and Tim had the same mindset.

"You're going with Sarah?" Chrissy uttered in the queue for chips, disbelieving. Tim stared at the yoghurt pots. Jake wrinkled his nose and steered her forward as someone mumbled behind them about the line being held up.

"Umm, no, I'm not. She's just going to tell this guy who keeps asking her to go that she's going with me if he bugs her again." Why did that sound weird when he said it out loud? "I'm not actually going."

"You're not going?" Chrissy echoed in horror. The canteen lady looked at her impatiently.

"Yes?"

"Oh, chips please," Chrissy said distractedly, wheeling around to stab him in the chest with her little pointy finger. "And why the hell do you not wanna go?"

"Umm." Jake squinted one eye shut. Well. The 'prom' his school had held in July last year wasn't exactly weaved with good memories. Not that it was a prom at all, really; it was just a formal dinner to celebrate finishing their GCSEs, termed a prom by the teachers in an attempt to Americanise it and get the students excited. He had a feeling the college one would actually involve dancing this time. The idea of suits and ball gowns alone was making his chest ache. "I don't really like that kinda thing."

Chrissy drowned her chips in vinegar and made a noise of outrage. "How can you not like that kind of thing?"

"Why not?" Tim asked quietly, paying for his yoghurt.

Jake shrugged and followed them to their usual table by the window, far away from the jukebox speakers so they could actually hear each other. "I dunno. It's a bit stuffy and formal. I don't have anything that could remotely pass off as suit-like anyway, and it's not like I've got the money to rent one. I mean, I'm sure you guys will have fun though." He slid his fifty pence contribution across the table and popped one of Chrissy's chips in his mouth.

"It'd be more fun with you there," Tim muttered, taking a chip as well. His face slowly scrunched up. "Ewie, Chris. Let's lay off the vinegar next time shall we?"

"What? Oh shush, they're fantastical. Vinegar is good. Tim's right," Chrissy said, a definite pout on her lips. "Jakeycakes, I completely thought you were coming. You need to tell me before you opt out of these things so I can convince you to do them earlier."

Jake grinned. "Yeah, I don't think you can convince me." He rubbed his neck in embarrassment, dropping his elbow onto the table. "But thanks."

"I've probably got a suit you can borrow," Tim said softly.

"Or you could borrow one of my dad's."

Jake's stomach warmed stupidly at their perseverance. "Thanks," he mumbled, hiding his face behind his arm. "Maybe."

Chrissy tsked. "Oh whatever. You're coming. I'm listening to no objections. Lieutenant Timothy, turn on my selective hearing."

Tim flicked her in the ear and took another chip. "Selective hearing on, Colonel Chris."

Chrissy squinted a glare at him. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Perhaps a little less flick next time."

"Mhm. Perhaps a little less vinegar next time."

"Perhaps a little less medication-dodging next time," Jake mused. Tim chuckled softly.

"Stop laughing at the Infidel at once, Lieutenant," Chrissy huffed. "He is making fun of us."

Jake looked wistfully at the sun shining through the windows while Chrissy roped Tim into a conversation about how strange it was that lieutenant was pronounced leftenant but was spelled with about a million vowels. It really was too nice a day to stay indoors. Jake had never understood how people could spend so much time cooped up away from sunlight. "Hey, d'you wanna go outside?" he asked.

Tim pointed at the spoon on top of the yoghurt pot he had yet to open. "We can go after I've finished this, if you like. We're not allowed to take cutlery out of the canteen."

Jake groaned. "Tim, live a little." He snatched the spoon, stuffed it handle down into his jeans pocket, and picked up Tim's yoghurt with a grin. "Coming, ladies?"

Chrissy stared at him flatly. "...Did you just steal a spoon?" She picked up her chip packet and whistled. "God Tim, he's off the rails. Hide your wallet."

"Hide your kids," Tim agreed, sighing and standing too.

"Hide your wife."

"Hide your husband."

"'Cos they be rapin' everybody out here."

Jake grimaced. "Okay, I don't know you."

They spent the rest of lunch sprawled out on the grass while Tim tried a few of the experiments on the activity sheet Joanne had given them yesterday on passing students. Joanne wasn't kidding when she said some of the were 'fun', though that wouldn't exactly be Jake's definition of being herded to the Psychology room so Chrissy could warm her hand up on a radiator and press it to random parts of his body to see which were most sensitive to temperature. She'd spent five minutes hysterically laughing at how 'weird' his belly button was while Tim giggled and recorded it all in his notepad. Geez, it wasn't that small.

Sarah waved at him from her side of the room in Environmental Science after lunch, and shuffled up to him after Dan had dismissed them all and they were filing out the door.

"Ooh Jake, I forgot to ask earlier. How's Tim?"

Jake blinked at her and finished shoving his pen into his bag. "Umm. Good...?"

"I just mean, like. Y'know. With what happened with Ed." She hugged her folders to her and smiled. "But whew! That's good to hear."

"Oh." How was Tim? Tim was...Tim was good. And gay. Jake was getting over that bit. Well, he was thoroughly ignoring it, but that roughly equated the same thing. Jake grinned. Sarah really was sweet. "Umm, yeah, I think he's fine. Thanks for asking."

Sarah beamed. "Cool, cool. Just thought I would. Sooo!" she chirped, waving at a passing boy as they came out of the Sciences block. "You getting the three forty bus?"

Jake scrunched up his nose. "Ah. Nah, sorry. I've gotta go into town and do some stuff first." Like take his EMA out of his bank account so he could pay his guardian for breaking their door. Jake thought it best not to add that.

"Oh right," Sarah said, smile a little less chirpy. "Okay."

-x-

It was nearing half five by the time Jake got back to the house. He left the three ten-pound notes on the kitchen counter and put away the instant noodle packets he'd decided to buy in the cupboard, stacking them on top of the spaghetti tins they had yet to use. He couldn't eat one of those giant pizzas in the fridge to himself anyway, and he didn't feel like washing up two pans tonight from the rice and the Bombay potato mix if it was just going to be him eating it, so noodles were good. He closed the cupboards and regarded the neat kitchen.

Andrew would be back in ten minutes. Jake was pretty late back himself. Not that Andrew would notice. Ha. Jake was here when he left, and here when he got back: for all he knew Jake just wallowed around his house all day doing nothing. He didn't used to work so late; he used to work until four and if Jake ended up staying til half four at college Andrew would even be here when he got back, sitting on the sofa with a book. Now his work hours had been extended and he was coming back at quarter past six, the house was quite a lonely place to be for Jake after college.

He didn't hear the key turn in the lock. Jake came down from the bathroom carrying Happy's box after changing the toilet roll lining and Andrew was suddenly there in the hall, briefcase over his shoulder and pulling his John Lewises off by the heel, and the house started making sense again with its temperamental owner inside it.

"Hey," Jake said, stopping at the bottom of the stairs in surprise. Andrew looked up from under his hair and flicked his eyes over him for a split second before chucking his shoes on the shoe rack. He picked up a plastic bag by the door and held it out for him to take.

"Got them on the way back," he muttered, striding past him up the stairs to presumably dump his briefcase in his office. Jake scrunched up his nose and glanced from the man's disappearing back to the bag, shifting Happy's box in his arms so he could peek inside. Andrew had bought him something? What, roadkill? Oven gloves? Foundation to cover up the bruises?

...Oh.

Huh.

Chick peas.

-x-

Jake tapped his feet against the sofa arms, sprawled stomach-down as he was on the couch, and gave an exasperated huff. He'd been labouring away at a Psychology PI exam paper for an hour now, and had moved on to the practice data collection and analysis sheet Tim had been doing at lunch. He'd copied down the data Tim had gotten from him and the few girls from Chrissy's Art class she'd managed to rope into doing the test, and was now puzzling over the implications. What the hell would a 'correlational study showing the relationship between where on the body participants report feeling heat most significantly and their weight in mass' be relevant for in everyday life? The making of firefighter protection gear?

Jake stared blankly at the sheet. None of this was making any sense.

"...I hate you," he mumbled to it for the millionth time.

Andrew chose this moment to enter the living room mid-stretch, eyebrow arching at Jake's comment.

"...It's mutual?"

Jake blinked up at him in surprise. He broke out into a wary grin. No way. "That's not very nice." Was Andrew in his fatally rare mood of playful right now?

"You said it, not me." Andrew stopped in front of the couch and looked at him pointedly until he got the message and pushed himself to his knees, dragging his Psychology notes to his side of the couch to make space. Yes, they had sides. Andrew's was always firmly nearest to the door. Jake bunched his knees up and rested his paper pad between his legs and his stomach, tapping his pen against it and glancing sidelong at Andrew as the couch dipped and he rested his arms over the back of it, like he always did.

"Fatty."

Andrew crossed one foot over his knee. "Shut up."

Jake grinned and the television was turned on, Andrew zipping through the channels and throwing the remote on the cushion between them after settling on a Human Planet episode. Jake tried to focus back on his Psychology, but after twenty minutes he was fully absorbed in the bizarre courtship rituals of the Wodaabe tribe of West Africa and staring wide-eyed at their red earth and ochre-painted faces, teeth bared in dance. Christ, beauty as a concept really was different across the world, wasn't it? What was it here, a blonde in pink underwear with plastic breasts? It seemed so unadventurous compared to other cultures.

His stomach wormed in hunger as the Wodaabe man the cameras were following was denied a mate. He glanced at Andrew, who was following it all with a slightly scornful expression, and nudged his foot.

"Shouldn't you be getting ready for dinner, Andy?"

"Andrew," he corrected lethargically. "I'll do it in a bit."

Jake made a face at that (honestly, what was his problem? Andy sounded way better than Andrew. He never corrected Natalie when she said it) and felt his phone vibrate unexpectedly in his pocket. He shifted and dug it out, rearranging his feet so he was sitting cross-legged and flicking open his phone to find a message from Tim.

Ah. Who hadn't exactly texted him since Sunday. Since he'd...come out. That wouldn't be so strange to someone else, but Tim was a technology fanboy with a contract phone, and he usually texted him and Chrissy every day. Jake went to his inbox with some trepidation.

Lolol. Couldn't magic me up any more participants for this weird temp data collection could you? Elliot's not exactly obliging x

The image of Tim warming his hand up on a radiator and holding Elliot's cheek floated unbidden into Jake's mind. He snorted quietly as he started composing a reply. The idea of anyone trying to get Tim's brother to do anything was ridiculous. He was a stubborn prat at the best of times; Jake had felt like decking him on more than one occasion.

Andrew foot tapped on his knee in his peripheral vision, and Jake suddenly became aware that he was smiling stupidly at his phone and Andrew was looking at him. He flicked his eyes to him in surprise, and then he had to say something, because they were just staring at each other with Jake holding his phone and Andrew's chin in his palm and tribal music coming from the television.

"Umm - Tim," he explained lamely. And then suddenly that didn't sound so good and wasn't an explanation at all, and Andrew's eyes were a little sharper, and Jake didn't want them to be, and why the hell was Jake starting a conversation? They didn't have conversations that weren't transactional. Andrew didn't care. "We were doing these weird Psychology tests at lunch," he mumbled anyway, looking down at his phone in his lap and rubbing his bare foot.

"Weird?" Andrew drawled, and Jake couldn't tell if he was being condescending or just plain curious. He glanced up to find a pretty neutral raised eyebrow. Curious. Jake smiled.

"Umm, yeah," he said awkwardly, tapping his fingers on his phone. "Testing out where we feel heat the most and stuff. It's not like actual homework, but we didn't get enough participants to do anything with the data, so yeah. Tim's complaining."

"Hm," Andrew grunted, sounding pensive. Jake scratched his ear and finished tapping in a quick Haha, good luck getting El to do it, grinning at the thought of what face Andrew would make if he tried to get him to do it. He'd probably throw a cushion at his face.

"Fancy being a guinea pig?" he asked idly. He wasn't being serious. But then Andrew raised an eyebrow, and said something very unexpected.

"Alright."

Jake looked up at him sharply, fingers stilling on his phone. "Wha - yeah?"

Andrew lifted a lazy shoulder and carried on watching the men in the tribe dance. "As long as it doesn't take too long."

"Oh." Okay, who the hell was this passive man and what had he done with Andrew Bilvante? Jake ran his teeth along his top lip, eyebrows high, and finished tapping out his reply to Tim. "Umm. Nah. It won't take long."

I can get you a P x

Andrew looked at him with bored expectance. "So am I going to be psychoanalysed now?"

"Gah. No." Jake grimaced at the thought of the counselling sessions he'd had until he was seven and shoved his phone in his pocket. "It's just a stupid correlational study. Like a questionnaire. Well, an interview. I'm not gonna go all Freud on you."

"Hm. Good. He was a sex-obsessed freak."

"Yeah? I kinda think he was on to something with all that subconscious stuff." Andrew snorted. Trust him to be cynical. Jake puffed his cheeks out. "Okay he was a bit, I'll give you that. But yeah." Jake fluffed up the back of his hair, feeling a tinge of nervousness for some reason. It had been funny earlier watching Chrissy's friend shriek when she held a radiator-warmed hand to her palm. "Umm, you just have to tell me where you feel heat the most significantly. We'll just test your stomach, face and hand. That's all Tim recorded I think."

Then again, it may have only been funny because the whole idea of the investigation was absurd and Chrissy and her friend had started declaring "Oh, palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss!" and raising their joined hands in the air dramatically.

Andrew looked sceptical. "And how do you do this?"

"Umm. Chrissy warmed her hand on a radiator."

Andrew's brow promptly performed a complex operation whereby one eyebrow shot up in surprise and the other furrowed in scorn. "Okay," he said, tone unimpressed. Jake wrinkled his nose in embarrassment.

"I told you it was weird. We don't even have to do it as a practical, but Chrissy thought it'd be funny. The other ones make more sense."

"Hm. I bet."

Jake's phone buzzed in his pocket. He flipped it open to an 'Oh? Who? x' and decided not to waste his credit on a one-word answer just yet. Tim and his phone may be joined at the hip that Chrissy wasn't and he may be lightning-quick at texting back, but Jake had to be economic with his credit. He couldn't really afford spending all his EMA on his phone. He wormed it back into his jeans and tore of a bit of paper from his notepad.

"So how much do you weigh?"

Andrew gave him a pointed look. "This is relevant?"

Jake grinned awkwardly. "Umm. Yeah. It's what we're correlating." A strange thought that he could ask Andrew everything he didn't know about the man under the guise of a questionnaire flashed through his mind absently. He really didn't know a lot about the little things, like Andrew's favourite colour, or his height. Taller than Jake, at the least. Andrew frowned for a moment.

"165 pounds. Roughly."

Jake scribbled it down, clearing his throat pointedly. "Fatty," he commented again cheekily. Andrew was so far from fat it wasn't even funny. The man gave him a dry glare, amusement pulling at his lips.

"I'd call you a hypocrite, but you're practically a twig."

Jake found himself quite put out by that. "Hey hey, I've got guns!" he objected. "They're just not trying to burst out my bloody arms."

Andrew's tone dripped sarcasm. "Uhuh."

Jake refrained from kicking him. He abandoned his Psychology notes on the sofa and got up to turn the radiator on under the window, slumping down with his back and hand to it to wait for it to warm up. They had some awkward eye contact when Andrew looked at him like the carpet was the pavement and he was a greasy hobo pulling at his shirttails, but it was always awkward, so there wasn't anything he could do about that. Jake grinned as cockily as he could, because he was pretty sure he was starting to feel nervous about pressing his hand against Andrew for a few seconds, and he was pretty sure that was weird.

"Soooo. Sure you wanna be a guinea pig?"

Andrew snorted. "Go ahead."

Jake set his teeth as the warmth in his hand started to sting. Why did they have to do such a stupid test in summer when it was hot already? "Err. Hand first then, I guess?" Andrew held his hand out palm up on his knee with a questioning look, and Jake nodded. "Yeah, like that. You just gotta umm, tell me where you can feel it the most."

"This isn't one of the most normal things I've done," Andrew commented dryly.

"It is kinda stupid," Jake agreed. "We just did it for fun." Which begged the question why, exactly, the hell he was trying it out on Andrew. He shifted when his palm was too hot and leaned forward quickly, pressing his hand down on Andrew's. Shocking warmth spread through Jake's palm and their eyes met for a very uncomfortable second.

"Hot?" Jake asked, just for something to say as he averted his eyes from their hands and counted five seconds in his head.

"Hm," Andrew grunted.

"Your hands are big."

Andrew flexed his fingers. "Or yours are small."

"Are not." Jake withdrew his hand quickly and pressed it back against the warm white ridges of the radiator. "Alright. Just, ah. Remember that feeling and try and compare it to the others."

Andrew looked down at his hand and opened and closed it slowly. "Where next?"

Jake stared at him. "Umm. Your face." Okay, he really hadn't thought this through. Pressing his hand to Andrew's cheek was probably not the greatest idea in the world. In fact, it really wasn't a great idea at all, because this was Andrew. Andrew who got a dangerous look in his eye when anyone started any unnecessary touching. Who only did physical contact on his own terms, and changed them like Chrissy changed her clothes. He nodded now though, seemingly unconcerned. Jake watched him warily, not sure if he trusted the longevity of Andrew's mood. He'd been chuckling one moment on Friday and getting pissy the next like a bipolar housecat. The man was frustratingly unpredictable.

"Don't hit me, yeah?"

He was, in all honestly, only half joking. Andrew smirked anyway. "I won't."

The heat bit into Jake's palm. He shuffled forward, and the moment he pressed his palm to Andrew's cheek, he knew he'd made a mistake. This was crossing a boundary. They never did this. Natalie did this. This was too much touching. Jake stared at the little frays Happy had made in the sofa cushions, conscious of the shape of Andrew's set jaw against his palm and his breath on his wrist. He pulled away after five seconds and sat back, hand pressed to the radiator and not quite looking at Andrew.

"Warmer?" he asked, and when had his bravado turned into something he'd had to feign?

"Hm." Andrew didn't look like he was so keen on doing this any more. Jake didn't blame him. This was a bit weird.

No, wait, it wasn't; it was fine with Chrissy and Tim and all the other girls who giggled at the absurdity of it. Why would this be weird? It would be stranger if they stopped. Jake pulled out a grin.

"Ready to flex for me?" Which was not the right thing to say. Andrew gave him a withering look. "Just...yeah, lift your shirt up or something – or you could just take it off," he finished awkwardly as Andrew simply pulled the T-shirt he'd changed into out of his work shirt over his back and dumped it on the sofa, running a hand through his hair.

"Remind me why your Psychology teacher is trying to get you to molest you participants again?"

Jake made a face. "She's not. It's about relative sensations or something. Just these little tests she made up for us to evaluate and shit –" Jake hissed through his teeth as the burn spread again. "Can you – can you stand up?"

Andrew raised an eyebrow and did so, and Jake shifted forward on his knees and pressed his palm flat against Andrew's stomach. The muscles tensed slightly as warmth spread from his fingers. Jake looked down between his knees and mentally counted as the bizarre sensation of simultaneously soft and hard skin sat tight under his palm. He blanched, eyes wide and disturbed on the carpet, as the phrase sexual power somehow made its way into his mind. Jesus Christ. How was Andrew so annoyingly toned? He didn't go out running. He didn't seem to have any weights in the house. There must be a gym in his office building. Jake pulled away a little quicker than he probably should have and sat with his legs crossed on the carpet, grabbing a pen and the scrap of paper, hand warm and fingers pulsing.

"So where d'you feel it most?"

Andrew sat back slowly on the couch and rested an arm over the back of it, the other firmly in his hair. "Cheek," he said, voice impassive. "Then stomach and then palm."

"Right, yeah. It's usually hands last. Thanks."

Jake scribbled it down and got out his phone, keying in his reply to Tim's text and trying not to ignore the stifling quiet.

Andy. 165lb, face, stomach, palm x

He waited for Tim to text back as lightning-quick as he always did, scrolling through his old texts so he wouldn't have to look at Andrew. His hand was still warm. Andrew was still silent.

"Here, in the arid Sahel, on the edge of the Sahara, around four hundred elephants are adapted a harsh desert life..."

Jake jerked his head up at the noise of a knock at the front door and met Andrew's eyes, who scowled and got up. Jake's eyes followed his bare back as he left the room. The noise of the door opening gave way to a female sigh.

"Andy," Natalie's voice lilted. "Darling. Now that's not exactly 'dressed up nice', is it? I did tell you eight sharp."

Right. Shit. They were going to dinner, weren't they? The click of heels was followed by the sound of the door closing.

"I was about to get changed."

"Mm, see, no. Just no. You should have been about to get changed half an hour ago. Honestly, you're like a little kid. Do I have to dress you myself?"

Jake wrinkled his nose. Okay, too much information. Natalie made a humming sound from the hall.

"Actually that's not a bad idea. Do you still have that black Lambretta suit?"

"Hm. Probably."

"Wonderful. I'm thinking Armani shirt, Burberry tie...whereabouts in this hovel are you keeping the good old apparel again?"

Heels thunked on the carpeted stairs. A male grunt followed. "I don't know Nat, in the bedroom maybe?"

Jake stared down at his phone, starting to feel uncomfortable. They were going to Andrew's room?

"Oh, naturally darling. But which one?"

Silence. Andrew did not sound amused. "Take a wild fucking guess." Natalie's laughter drifted down the hall, and then they were on the first floor and Jake could only hear murmurs. Jake put down his phone. If they were going to end up having a lover's quarrel and then a make-up fuck upstairs, he was leaving.

"Having walked for days, the elephants find relief in the mud and enough water to quench their thirst. But they must share this lake with the local herders..."

Jake closed his eyes and leaned against the sofa. His phone finally buzzed what must have been ten minutes later, and he flipped it open to find Tim's enthusiastic reply.

Oh. Thanks x

Jake scratched his nose. Huh.

"...should just live in your wardrobe like a built-in Dressing Elf, I'm telling you," Natalie's voice trailed down the hall. "Just look at you. I don't do myself justice. Shall I abandon dad and start up a modelling agency?"

"It's a suit," was Andrew's deadpan reply. Jake pushed himself up and sat on the couch, tucking his phone in his pocket and trying to train his ears to the narration of a herd of elephants' migration.

"It's gorgeous. Oh, I do like my men pretty."

"Nat, shutting the fuck up would be good right now."

"Don't talk dirty to me now, Andy. I might get aroused."

Andy came into the living room with a scowl set decidedly on his face, a tailored black suit fitting him annoyingly perfectly and contrasting sharply with a casually tucked in white shirt and black tie. He looked like a double-page spread in one of Chrissy's Vogue magazines she chopped up for Art, complete with black belt and naturally intense eyes. Jake had seen him in suits before, but it was always a bit of a shock to the system. Jake walked around in vests, shorts and sweat bands. Andrew looked like he'd just walked out of Loaded magazine.

"We're off," he said, standing in the doorway and looking at him. Jake stared back at him stupidly. He was actually saying goodbye? He never said goodbye.

"No, I am without you, unless you finish getting ready," Natalie said, steering Andrew into the living room with two perfectly manicured hands on his biceps and smiling brilliantly at Jake. "Hi Jake!" Her blonde curls were done up in an elaborate updo, black silk dress flowing off her figure and stilettos showing off her legs. Dangling golden earrings fell to her shoulders. She always had been beautiful.

"Hi," Jake replied awkwardly, feeling phenomenally underdressed in the presence of Mr and Mrs Monopoly.

"So, am I fantastic at making Andy look like a sex bomb or what?" Natalie asked with a wide smile, tapping Andrew's chest until he grabbed her wrist with a stony, "Nat."

Jake couldn't help himself. He had to grin a little, though that grip Andrew had on the woman was doing strange things to his gut. Did they really need to be so obvious? "You kinda look like James Bond."

Andrew looked at him, jaw working like he was trying to decide how to take that. He settled for an unhappy frown. "Don't you start."

Jake wrinkled his nose. He hadn't even meant it in a mocking way. Now he did. "A kinda prickish James Bond."

Natalie made an amused noise. Andrew gave him a withering look. "Does that make you the stupid villain that thinks he can win every time?"

"The very one. With an extensive collection of fat white cats." Jake bared his teeth accordingly. Natalie let out a tinkle of laughter and patted Andrew's shoulder.

"Right, come on. We'll be chattering all day with Jake. Christ, how have you managed to fuck up my handiwork in just two minutes?" She sighed and started tugging apart Andrew's tie like it was the most natural thing in the world, hands around his neck to slip it back under the collar of his shirt.

"What?" Andrew muttered, craning his neck to see. "How have I fucked it up? Stop being such a perfectionist."

Jake sat there on the sofa, feeling extremely out of place as he watched them. He wondered, suddenly, if Andrew and Natalie would talk about something else if he wasn't here; if they'd touch each other more, or if Andrew would have been ready earlier. Where would Jake be now if Andrew had never turned up at the door? Would he have never gone to the funeral? Never saw Tessa again, or said goodbye to Eilene? He could be saving up his EMA, deludedly optimistic that he could rent himself a flat. Sitting in a room shared with some foster parent's kid who could hate him. He might not have gone to college earlier. He may never have applied to Pridding at all.

Andrew sighed as Natalie petted his tie with an accomplished noise. "What am I bringing?"

Natalie looked down sceptically at his feet. "Shoes would be good."

"No shit. Does this guy want to see the electrics portfolio? Are we going all the way with this or what?"

"Mm. Might as well bring it."

"Hm."

Andrew turned on his heel and left the room, presumably to get his briefcase. Jake followed him with his eyes and sobering thoughts. It came out of his mouth before he could stop it.

"Why is he like that?"

"Hmm. The sarcasm? Moodiness? General all round rudeness?" Natalie smiled, and it came as a shock to Jake that she knew exactly what he was talking about. "Don't worry, he's just angry at the world. He was a grumpy little brat in the first place."

In the first place. Before his parents had...died. Jake knew it had happened when Andrew was eleven, but he didn't know how. Jake stared at the door. He would have been five. When Andrew was eleven, he would have been five. Telling mummy and daddy how well he'd done. Fucking hell, 1999 was a bad year. A quiet settled, and Jake realised with a start that Natalie was looking at him with a very odd smile on her face.

"Right. Oh," he stammered, moving his hand to his neck in an anxious habit that just wouldn't die.

"Hmm," Natalie hummed, smoothing down her dress absently. "So what are you watching?"

Jake glanced at the television. Rust-coloured dunes stretched out under cloudless skies. "Human Planet," he admitted, managing an awkward grin. "I kinda have a soft spot for nature documentaries."

"Oh, is that still going? I wanted to catch that tonight." Natalie sighed and twirled a lock of hair behind her ear. "The things I do for business, I swear. I honestly wouldn't go to any of these dinners if I had the chance. It's like extracurricular activites at school over again; it's like I don't have any more spare time with all these extended hours." She smiled as Andrew re-entered the room with his briefcase, wearing his shiniest black lace-ups. "And the master of the house returns! I don't know why you hang around the office all day when you get to finish at four."

Jake frowned in confusion and glanced at Andrew. "...What?" Hadn't Andrew said he finished work at half five? His hours were the same as Natalie's, weren't they?

Andrew clenched his jaw, closing the clips of his briefcase. He didn't say anything. He didn't look up.

Slowly, Jake's stomach whirled into a descent.

"You finish at four?"

What?

…Huh?

Why –

Why didn't he come back to the house then?

Silence.

Natalie glanced between them, comprehension that she may have just stuck her foot in it dawning slowly on her face.

"Oh."

Andrew didn't look at Jake. He grabbed Natalie by the arm and pulled her from the room. "We're going to be late."

"What? But you never care if we're late..."

The slam of the front door closing was final.

Jake blinked into empty space.

Andrew was waiting for over an hour before coming back? Was that – what, was that to do extra work or something? To see Natalie?

...To get away from Jake?

What...just what...what the hell?

He wanted him here, didn't he? He'd offered for Jake to stay at his house. It was spur of the moment, he knew that, but Andrew had still done it. And he'd followed through on it. He'd applied for short term custody. Long term custody.

He'd offered.

He'd offered.

Did he regret it?

Did he not want to come home and find Jake in his house anymore?

Jake stared unseeing at the empty living room.

"...And so the desert elephants and the herders of Mali survive the brutal dry season, until the rains, and pasture, returns..."


Natalie kept looking at him. She tapped the wheel, and then she sent him a sidelong glance.

"Andy –"

"Don't."

Natalie clicked her tongue and looked at him again. Houses flew by in the night, ghostly rectangular beasts in the shadows. Why the fuck did no-one have porch lights anymore?

"I think this begs the question, what the hell –"

Andrew clenched his jaw. "Pay attention to the road."

Natalie bit her lip and looked forward quickly. "I am! I am."

Two. Two of them had porch lights out of three streets of the beasts. Andrew sucked in a breath.

"Drive slower."

They should have just gone in his car. God he hated this Audi. Why did no-one have porch lights anymore?

"I am, Andy. I am."

-x-

Andrew downed his red wine and stared across the table with a mild alcohol-induced disgust at the jolly, portly face of Father Christmas wannabe, Harold Chiderton. Toilet guy. He was in avid conversation with Natalie about the pros and the contras ("It's good to have a little Latin in the old brain, don't you think?" No, Andrew really didn't) of electric underfloor heating versus hydraulic underfloor heating in the children's play room. Electric, they concluded. More cost-effective.

"Well!" Harold clapped his meaty hands together as their food arrived and smiled generously at Andrew over a Portobello mushroom. Generously, considering Andrew hadn't smiled all evening and was beginning to hate the man and his attempts to drag him into numerous conversations that had absolutely nothing to do with the property whatsoever. "Have you got kids then, Andrew? You all seem to be starting so young these days."

And there he went again. Natalie smiled that awful smile where she was about to say something no-one but her would find funny.

"He's got a Jake."

And there she went.

Harold laughed heartily. "Oh, a little monster, eh? I feel your pain, I feel your pain! My Debbie's, what..." He popped a cut of Sirloin steak into his mouth and slapped his lips together loudly. "Six now? I swear, every time I look at these tsunamis on the news or hear those, umm – those –" Harold paused to pat his mouth with the napkin, clearing his throat with the noise of a bulldozer. "–excuse me, traffic accidents on the radio, I think, my God, you know? What would I do if that was my Debbie?"

"Mm," Natalie agreed, utterly rapt with fake attention and successfully ignoring Andrew's hostile glare. He's got a Jake? Funny Natalie. Real funny. Because Jake was some easy-to-deal-with toddler and not a firmly independent-minded teenage boy out to make his life a living stress ball.

"I mean," Harold continued, pointing at Andrew with his fork (the fuck did he think he was doing pointing at him with that thing?), oblivious to the fact that nobody cared, "Christ, they're just the world, aren't they? And you start thinking to yourself, what would I do if this happened? What would I do if that happened? I mean, what would you do if Jake was suddenly in a car crash?"

Andrew tried to remember how to breathe.

"Hahar, exactly! That's the face! It's just impossible to imagine, isn't it? Take my Debbie–"

Natalie inhaled sharply and quickly clapped her hands together. "Right! Well this is a suitably depressing conversation. Shall we get back to the matter at hand, Harold?" Her stiletto found Andrew's knee under the table, digging in softly and bringing him back to their stupid table in this stupid, stupid restaurant.

Harold balked at the interruption with a chortle. "My, my, you're quite the no-nonsense businesswoman Miss Wetherson!"

Natalie flashed him an unkind smile. "Yes. Well."

Andrew decided very quickly that he needed more wine, and he needed it now. He raised a hand for the waitress and she materialised almost instantaneously at his side with the house red they'd been drinking all night, a 2004 brew with a hint of sweet barley that Tessa would hate.

"Yes, sir?"

Andrew held up his glass. "Please."

"Of course." She bent down low to re-fill his glass, smiling prettily. Harold's eyes gravitated to her behind. Andrew clenched his jaw and raised a hand when it was half-full.

"Thank you."

"Yes, sir."

She retreated, and Andrew sent Natalie a pointed look over his glass. He was not doing this again. He was not doing this again. He didn't care if someone wanted to create an entire castle from scratch from his plans. He put down his glass after a long sip and pointed a finger at Harold.

"Immanissimum," he drawled, "Ac foedissimum monstrum."

"Hahar!" Harold resumed his abuse on his steak. "Is that Latin? Goodness me, what's that then?"

Natalie coughed a little and pulled her fork and speared lettuce away from her mouth. "Let's not bore Harold with James Hanks, shall we Andy?"

Andrew levelled her with glinting eyes. "Really? But it's so interesting." Never again, you hear me woman?

Natalie tried to murder him with hers. Are you trying to make me lose this guy? they practically screamed, sparking irritation. He's rich and stupid!

"So!" She set her fork down and clapped her hands together again, turning to Harold. "Let's talk bathrooms, shall we? His and Her sinks, or Individuals?"

-x-

Andrew decided on the drive back that the Armani shirt must be one of the ones Tessa had bought him for his twentieth. It had been feeling tight under his arms all night. Even with taking the tie off, he'd had to undo three buttons just to breathe.

Natalie kept her eyes firmly fixed on the road this time. It was a lot darker outside than when they'd left, and must be nearing some time around midnight. The melancholic trills of Vivaldi trickled from the radio.

"Andy," Natalie spoke up suddenly. "What's Jake to you?"

Andrew frowned out the window, wine warm in his system. Now where had that come from?

"Jake," he uttered, sounding the name on his tongue and watching his breath fog the car window. "Jake Pearton."

"No, Jake Gyllenhaal," Natalie said sarcastically, mistaking the name uttering as a question. "Yes Jake Pearton. Your Jake. What...what is he to you, exactly?"

His Jake?

"He's my –"

His?

His.

Andrew met his own brown eyes in his reflection. How did they look warmer? They didn't.

"He's my benefactor."


Happy chirped quietly at the tense, unhappy atmosphere of the house. Lovely raised an arm out of his bed and stroked his beak through the peep hole he'd spent a good afternoon pecking at to widen, and then his fingers jumped as a door slammed downstairs. Lovely pulled his arm back under the covers and stared into his pillow. A murmur of two voices could distantly be heard on the floor below them, and then heels were clacking down stairs and the door slammed again. Happy warbled tiredly. Didn't these humans know that when the sun went down, you were supposed to sleep?

The only reason Happy wasn't asleep yet was because Lovely had brought him to his nest, taken him out of his box and had been curled up in his bed staring into space for hours while Happy hopped over him and left a poo on the carpet, and it was all thoroughly exciting. He was back in his box with yummy raisins now though. Lovely knew the way to a starling's heart, alright.

A creak of a step had Lovely narrowing his eyes in confusion suddenly, and then with a second light noise they shot open in surprise and Lovely shot up in bed, staring at the door emanating disbelief. Happy cocked his head to the side and listened. Was Dark coming up to Lovely's nest? That was strange. The human never seemed to come up here.

The light noise paused. Silence reigned. The creaks sounded, further away, and a door shut. Happy watched a strange look pass over Lovely's face, before he curled back up under the blankets.

Happy warbled sadly. The tense, unhappy house slept.