When Elliot got back home, he sat around a lot, thinking about what to do next. He could travel around the world taking photos of landscapes and monuments against the night sky, but that was not his thing. There had to be a reason for photographs to be taken, and pretty pictures of pretty places were meaningless cosmetic work.

He was leafing through an anthology of Mapplethorpe's work and thinking about possible career changes when the photos started to catch his attention.

Yeah, it was all very daring and shit, but at the same time it was so polished, stylized, and pretentious. Like those times demanded, of course. It wasn't about sex, it was about artsy-fartsy lighting and men with ripped bodies and no hair, not even on their heads. Mapplethorpe could take pictures of a guy pissing in someone's mouth all he wanted, but it still came across to Elliot as a kind of weird scatology for sensitive souls.

He thought he could one up that. Photograph real people having real sex, no ropes, no leather, no fetishes, just close-ups of penetration, of tongues in places they shouldn't be, of legs spread in undignified positions. Actual gratuitous pornography. Just because he could.

He was already imagining a close-up of a blowjob, or rather, just a mouth curving around the head of a cock, and the man would preferably have fleshy lips like his. Perhaps he could do it himself, a self-portrait with a hired stranger's cock in his mouth. What better way to be eternalized…

For months Graham had the nudes he'd taken of Elliot spread out on one of the tables in his studio. Sometimes he'd sit and look at them, wondering if they were his best work or just his best subject. He went back and forth between wanting to publish them and keep them to himself, though he often thought of putting together a book and titling it This Is the Boy I'm Fucking. And that would be his definitive work.

Then Elliot arrived with a grin on his face, one of his once-a-year grins, and showed him the product of his first pornography session. Graham had thought anything that could get Elliot that excited was an excellent idea, but looking at those photos, he began to understand. At first glance, there was a kind of shocking matter-of-factness to the approach and simplicity to the technique. But after a few seconds, he found himself hypnotised and intrigued by how Elliot had been able to achieve that effect of effortless candidness.

One photo caught his attention and he stared at it, tilting his head to the side and furrowing his brow. "This is you…"

"What? Oh, yeah…"

"Whose cock is this?"

"One of the guys I hired. Why?"

Graham fixed his eyes on him with an indignant look. "What's wrong with my cock?"

"Nothing," he laughed. "What's wrong with this guy's cock?"

"Well, it should be obvious that if you're going to register yourself with someone's cock in your mouth for posterity, then it should be my cock, shouldn't it?"

Elliot's grin faded to a thoughtful smile as he watched Graham with scrutinizing eyes. "Why are you getting so worked up about this? It's just a photograph."

Graham pushed the folder away and leaned his elbows on the table, rubbing his forehead. "It's not about that."

"What's it about, then?" Elliot cast his eyes down and tapped his fingers on the edge of the table anxiously, the way he did when he sensed this sort of tension.

"This…us…it means nothing to you, does it?"

"It means a lot," he answered, sounding almost harsh. "You're my best friend and we have a good time together."

Graham let out a deep breath and nodded slowly. "Yeah…that's what I thought."

When Elliot got home, he went through his nightly rituals with a considerable amount of irritation directed at several inanimate objects. Then he couldn't sleep. He kept remembering how disheartened Graham sounded and felt guilty, even though he was determined not to want Graham, because after a certain night at a certain bar, Graham was moved to the list of things one should not want, right between cheap wine hangovers and exposure to lounge music.

He was monumentally annoyed when he got up, pulled on some clothes and left the house after banging the door behind him.

Elliot was standing in the hallway, hair sticking up every which way, a murderous look on his face, as if it were all Graham's fault that he was there rather than asleep in his bed. It was such an Elliot thing, but Graham knew better than to laugh, and in any case, it hit him then that Elliot had come back a few hours after having left, and he suddenly didn't think it was all that funny.

"What's going on?" he asked, not really expecting an answer.

Elliot stood in the middle of the room and put his hands on his hips, then rubbed his forehead and took a few steps toward the window.

With his back to Graham, he asked in a surprisingly soft tone. "What do you want from me?"

Graham didn't know where to start. Perhaps at the beginning would be a good idea, if only he knew where the beginning was. "I want you to forgive me. You were too young, Elliot. I would have fucked up your life. You know that."

"I don't care about that. I just want to know what you want now, because this feels like you think you're…granting a dying man's last wish."

Graham covered his face and let out a sort of desperate laugh. "For fuck's sake, Elliot, you're not dying. You're not even sick, you don't need me for anything."

"So it was a coincidence that you decided this was okay right after I got sick?"

"No. It was perspective."

When Elliot turned around, Graham froze. He had both hands on his head, fingers grabbing tufts of hair that he seemed about to pull out, and there was something underneath that layer of exasperation, something Graham could only guess at.

"Fuck…I hate this, I hate perspective, you know? I don't want to re-evaluate my priorities, I don't want to learn to appreciate the little things because life is fragile and we must take chances, I just want to be the same fucking idiot I was before, with no perspective and no appreciation for stupid flowers or kittens in a fucking basket."

Graham was wrapping his arms around him in a flash, holding him while he dealt with three years' worth of denial. He rubbed Elliot's back and didn't say anything, and he wanted to smile because only Elliot could be bull-headed enough to turn the prelude to a breakdown into a misanthropic tour de force. God, he loved that boy so much.

But then Elliot laid his head on his shoulder and went limp, only a hand clutching his back. It seemed he was calming down, until he pressed their cheeks together and whispered, 'Graham…' , and he didn't have to say anything else – it was loaded with everything Graham wanted to hear from him, and he knew right then that was as close to an admission of surrender as he was likely to get.

*

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Do you need me to elaborate?"

"Well, no..."

"So that's my answer. Yes."

It didn't take more than a couple of days for Graham to clear up more space than Elliot would ever need and hire the movers.

There wasn't a single photograph in Elliot's pornography study that could be used in a show in any gallery that was not located in Amsterdam's red light district. Well, maybe one or two, but he definitely needed to come up with another theme, preferably a related one. All the ideas that occurred to him were dismissed instantly with an inward cringe (swordfights - now there's a sledgehammer metaphor if there ever was one). He'd photographed himself into a corner, apparently.

While he alternated between looking despondently at the photos spread out and pacing from the table to the window, he was aware of Graham glancing at him every few minutes. There was a countdown ticking faintly in his head – he didn't want suggestions, but Graham's input was inevitable.

"Why don't you just publish them?"

Elliot had thought he'd be ready to shoot him a death glare and a snide remark, but it only made him realise how much this lack of inspiration was chipping away at his confidence. It should have been obvious that art photography did not follow naturally from photojournalism or publicity. He was starting to feel ridiculous and that did not bode well for his portfolio's chances of surviving the sort of fuck-this-to-hell rage that was already building.

He took a seat again and said in a dejected tone that was surprising even to him, "Graham, the only way you can help me now is by giving me some time to figure this out on my own."

After a few seconds of perplexity, Graham swallowed and asked if he wanted some tea.

*

Elliot's mother leafed through the portfolio slowly, stopping to examine each photo carefully. Elliot thought she was about to show some reaction when she picked one up and tilted it a bit, scrunching her eyebrows. But she was obviously just a bit confused by the angle, and she put it down after a few moments, moving on to the next one.

"This is you…"

"Yes," he answered neutrally.

"Huh…"

Elliot lost the battle of wills and asked impatiently, "What?"

"Well…it's not that I don't…understand the concept, it's just…I'm wondering why you became so cavalier about sex."

"Then you clearly don't understand the concept. It's just sex, it's not a beautiful union of bodies in celebration of the love between two people. It's base by nature, that's all."

She examined him for a moment, then smiled wryly. "You're starting to sound a bit like Graham."

"Right," he scoffed. "Graham can talk about how we're nothing but apes all he wants, but you of all people should know how melodramatic he is about 'love' and all that crap."

"Point taken." She closed the portfolio and put it down. "Elliot…I may not be particularly fond of the theme, but this is obviously good photography. Actually, there's a refreshing naturalism here that I think you should explore. But you need to…branch out, I'm sure you'll agree."

Elliot snorted. "Nice euphemism. But yes, I have every intention of 'branching out'. Except I need money for that, unfortunately."

"Oh, how terribly unfortunate that you have to ask your parents for financial support."

Ever since Elliot became a teenager and developed a seemingly infinite capacity for disdain, he liked to engage his mother in quipping matches. She was a worthy adversary, but Elliot had always felt he came out victorious. "Well, I can always ask Graham, although, you know, that would officially make me his boy toy."

"I'm clutching my pearls here," she said as she opened her check book. If he were completely honest, there were times when Elliot was forced to declare the match a tie.

When she handed him the check, Elliot rolled his eyes. "I don't need all this money."

"Neither do I," she shrugged. "Use it, Elliot. It's not lack of talent that's making you unhappy, and I'm certainly not going to let it be lack of money."

Elliot tried to ignore everything that was left unsaid in that statement, because it never helped to think that he was on a mission to find peace of mind. "I'm not unhappy."

She nodded with a small smile.

"I'm not," he repeated quietly, because he really wasn't, come to think of it. Maybe you shouldn't rely on your own mother's judgement, but Elliot trusted she'd never withhold an honest opinion. He could feel a spark of confidence again, and the image of his own life didn't look like an amorphous blob anymore.

The flash of Graham's face that followed that thought, he wrote off as random association. Then he picked up his phone and called Graham to see if he wanted to grab some lunch at the bistro.

*

Elliot looked in the mirror again as he decided to apply the fourth layer of sun screen on his face and neck. He put on his hat and sighed when he looked at his hands. There was no way he was going to wear gloves. It was just this once and it couldn't possibly be true that he would disintegrate if he spent a little while out in the sun even a single time.

He wasn't even sure why he just had to go, but it had hypnotised him so completely that he'd had to stop his car and watch. There were workers drilling a hole in the ground right in front of a staple of modern architecture, blue tinted glass and shiny steel in clean, rounded lines. It turned out to be his favourite photo. It was a complete accident that one of the workers looked like a time traveller straight from the industrial revolution, and the photo came out a confusing scene of vintage-looking labour against a futuristic backdrop.

There were also images taken in a textile factory, a high speed needle blurred above the static fabric, other sewing machines stretching out in the background, smaller and smaller. He acquired a fascination for assembly lines, sat for hours watching the same objects come and go, the same people tightening the same screws while he struggled to identify what he was looking for in that place. In the final product, after hundreds of pictures, the workers' poses were almost perfectly synchronised – it looked like they were one with the conveyor belt, and Elliot was satisfied that that was as close as anyone could get to photographing actual, concrete, raw boredom.

Graham's suggestion for a title was Things in Holes, which Elliot would have known was characteristically literal if only he'd been aware of Graham's title dilemmas regarding his nudes. As it was, he didn't even dignify that with a response.

*

"You know what's going to happen? This is going to be turned into the Maynards' son trying to shock the world into acknowledging his existence."

"Yeah, that could happen. Or people might simply think your work is mediocre. Or they might love it. Or it might divide opinions and cause endless controversy. Or it might go down like a lead balloon and so on and so forth. I'm surprised you care, actually."

In the end, Elliot's work divided opinions and caused endless controversy, which was really the reaction he had always hoped for.

Graham lay on his back, one hand on the top of Elliot's head, fingertips brushing his scalp gently, the other sliding slowly up and down Elliot's arm. Elliot's hands were doing nothing as he lay immobile with his head on Graham's chest, arm flung across him, all blasé as if he were doing him a favour.

Sometimes Elliot fell asleep like that, and it just felt heavy and uncomfortable and not at all like what Graham had in mind when he'd insisted on more post-coital interaction. But Graham didn't complain, because, more often than not, he would be inspired, would come up with several pearls of wisdom from the Anthology of Grahamanian Philosophy, and Elliot would laugh and laugh until his eyes were watery, and he'd forget everything for a moment, bury his face in the crook of Graham's neck and mumble a corollary to one of his axioms, and then it'd be Graham's turn to laugh.

And on those occasions, Graham could wrap his arms around him and squeeze him until he made fake choking sounds, and he could marvel at how Elliot seemed like a completely different person when you could get him to relax and stop being so fucking cynical.

"You know what our problem is?"

Elliot's head was full of images of random things like orange cake and airline tickets and laundry, all parading along pleasantly as he drifted off, unconcerned about how on earth he got from one to the other. Graham and problem seemed to go together, however. He opened his eyes.

"I wasn't aware we had a problem."

"Our problem is that we think too much."

Elliot let out a lazy laugh. "Are you honestly saying you'd be better off thinking less?"

Graham replied dryly and with a hint of impatience. "Well, Elliot, I'm sure the quality of your thoughts is superior, but I can assure you there's a lot going on in my head."

Suddenly it was as if Graham were the adult who got tired of humouring the spoiled child, and Elliot felt wildly uncomfortable and slightly afraid. It was pretty amazing how his brain switched gears and there was now a lot going on in there, everything neatly connected: his presumptuous attitude, the constant huffing and sighing and eyerolling, and the fact that Graham was much older than him, so it shouldn't really come as a shock that he might know a thing or two about life and all. For a moment, he clung to the thought that he could always brush it off and keep up appearances, but it wasn't really Graham who was the issue here.

He laid his hand lightly on Graham's arm. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."

*

The main problem about all this was dealing with Graham's moments. He liked to look at Elliot with starry eyes, and he liked to put his hand on the top of Elliot's head while they were watching football on TV and say, 'I love you', as though it were very important. Of course Graham loved him, Elliot knew that, and he loved Graham too: they'd known each other for over fifteen years, they were close friends, they were in a relationship (he still hadn't been able to come up with another word for it), but it went without saying, didn't it? So when Graham said it, Elliot kept his eyes on the TV and smiled briefly. 'I know,' he replied, and didn't worry about it.

They finished discussing whether the referee was right in annulling a goal, and went back to watching the game silently. After a few seconds, out of the blue, as was his style, Graham said, "What if I die?"

Elliot dropped the remote control on the sofa and tried really, really hard to keep his cool. He'd learned to avoid being generally dismissive of Graham's quirks after he discovered Graham could dish it out too, but this was a bit much.

"You will eventually, now, won't you? And probably many years after I die, so what the fuck are you talking about?"

"No, I'm twelve years older than you. And you should stop with that crap about dying young, it's not funny. And shit happens, you know? I could die tomorrow, and then you're going spend the rest of your life regretting not having said it. I don't want that to happen to you, so I think you should say it. For your own good."

Elliot tried to blink away his shock. He'd never thought of that, and now he was going to have to consider whether words made a difference. And he definitely didn't want to risk having to carry around a lifelong regret, in case his life did turn out to be long. Clenching his jaw, he looked at Graham and thought, 'Fuck it.'

"Okay. I love you." There. Problem solved.

Graham scoffed. "You're going to have to do better than that."

Elliot wanted to punch him in the face.

For all the reputation Graham had as a good fuck and a bit of a kinky bastard, Elliot thought he could be somewhat choosier than one would expect from such a sex fiend. Elliot had stopped caring a long time ago about what end of it he was on, but sometimes Graham made a face and Elliot didn't want to argue, he was always up for somebody's cock ending up in somebody's ass. Fingers and blowjobs and rutting against each other like horny teenagers were all well and good, but actual fucking was what really reverberated in his brain until there was nothing else there. And if they were face to face, he could always stick his tongue in Graham's mouth and shut him up.

But now Graham was sitting on his haunches between Elliot's legs, and Elliot was too tired to reach for him and pull him down. Graham, as usual, had things to say.

He stopped moving and ran a hand up Elliot's left thigh, eyes fixed on him. "Say it."

Elliot groaned as though he'd just missed his train. He was so close. "You think it will mean more if I say it while you're fucking me?"

"It'll mean more than it did that time."

"God, you're such a sap." He squirmed on the bed, trying to get things going himself. It didn't quite work and he let his head fall back on the pillow. "Move, Graham."

He complied, and Elliot reacted instantly, gripping his sides and hissing loudly. Graham moved to lean on his arms and plant several quick kisses on Elliot's mouth, being obviously careful not to let Elliot pull that old trick on him. "Say it," he repeated.

"It can wait, Graham, just…fuck, just don't stop." He dug his fingernails into Graham's arms hard enough to hurt.

"I don't know, I think I feel a heart attack coming on," he retorted, dead serious.

Elliot laughed helplessly, his hands flopping on the bed. Graham kept looking at him, a smile hinted by the glint in his eyes.

Elliot gave in and said it, trying not to sound too much like he was just humouring him. And then it did mean more. Not because Graham was fucking him, but because there was no TV, no books, no newspapers, nowhere else to look, and from that close, he could see the need on Graham's face. He went serious and said it again.

Graham leaned his forehead on Elliot's shoulder and didn't stop until Elliot was trembling beneath him.

*

Elliot lay on his back, thinking about what had just happened. After mulling it over, he was forced to admit – at least to himself – that Graham knew what he was doing. He had a plan and it worked.

And since Graham was asleep, Elliot was free to huff and sigh and roll his eyes as much as he wanted, cursing Graham and his sappiness in a *huge* fit of exasperation. And since he really did think too much, he eventually got tired of that and fell asleep.

The End