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The Bark that's to Your Bite

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“That's not my contract,” Lambert snaps, shoving the hunk of human flesh that's landed on top of him off. Who the fuck has the nerve to tackle a bounty hunter running through an otherwise abandoned parking garage at quarter past fuck-all?

Another fucking bounty hunter, obviously, fuck.

“Oh shit,” the stranger practically squeaks, jumping up and running away before Lambert even has a chance to react.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Lambert is only twenty-eight, but his knees are already shot to shit. Getting up is more painful than it should be, and when he touches his fingers to the back of his scalp, there’s blood. But he can't lose sight of the guy. Wait, he can't lose sight of the contract. Or the client, some two-bit insurance agent fresh into bail bonds who has no idea how this fucking works.

Why, why does shit always go so fucking sideways?

At least he can hear multiple sets of footsteps up ahead, echoing off the concrete. The garage is almost empty, making the sound of shoes on the pavement even louder than normal. Lambert pushes himself hard to catch up, rounding one of the thick support pillars and getting a flash of the other hunter’s red windbreaker.

They're heading for the roof, because of course they are. No one involved in this mess has any fucking sense. Lambert should get out his taser while he can, but something at the base of his skull tells him to keep moving, or else.

Reaching the roof, Lambert smashes unceremoniously into the other hunter, nearly knocking them both over. Lambert curses. Why the fuck did he stop running? Then he looks up and realizes.

The bondsman is gone. And “the Ogre” looks out over the side of the roof towards the street below, shaking his head and swearing he didn't mean for the guy to fall.

“Fucking balls,” Lambert curses.

He's got to get out of this line of work.

--

“Rough night?” Geralt asks, grabbing a beer from the office fridge before hesitating and taking a second one out for Lambert. He cracks them both with the opener on his keychain before taking the seat across from Lambert at the rickety table against one wall.

Lambert holds the beer against his eye. The EMT said he's fine, but fuck what that guy said, his face hurts. The contract decked him in the face, while that other bounty hunter, Aiden, tried to hit him with the taser. After the client fell off the roof, the Ogre had tried to run.

That's not the worst of it. The worst of it is that the client is just a smear against the pavement now. Whatever he really wanted from that fucker, and Lambert suspects this was about more than just the money, he’s not getting it now. And the big guy is probably getting manslaughter charges. Though honestly, Lambert would say it was a mix of malice and bad luck.

Lambert fucking hates going to court. Maybe if he didn't, he would have tried to be a cop. Least you get a steady paycheck that way. None of this contract bullshit. But Lambert knows that really, he's not cut out for that discipline shit.

Taking a long swig of his beer, Lambert doesn't say a fucking thing. If Geralt wants to talk, he can talk. But that doesn't mean that Lambert has to reply. They end up drinking in silence, until Yen honks the car horn outside and Geralt gets up and leaves.

--

Lambert plans on sleeping for three days straight, even though he's come home without a paycheck and that means no groceries either. But he's got another eight days before rent is due, so he still thinks he can make it up, somehow. Once he's good and rested.

He fishes his keys out of his back pocket, grabbing his wallet and phone too. Once inside, he tosses everything onto the table against the wall before flopping, fully clothed, onto the bed.

His apartment is really just one big room, kitchenette against one wall and his bed on the middle of the open space. Makes it kind of rough to have people over, but mostly he doesn't have people to invite. The other guys at the agency are more than happy to have Lambert over to their apartments when the situation calls for it. He's the baby of the group after all. A distinction that he hates, but it still comes with advantages. And whatever one-night stand he manages to pick up at a local bar or a dating app usually is more than happy to take him back to her place.

Lambert manages to shimmy out of his clothing without having to stand up, kicking aside his jeans and tearing off his shirt. He could go for another beer but it's eight am and he's got to have some sort of standards, right? Besides, the fridge is a long way away. The compressor in the fridge kicks in right on cue. A loud roar that’s more a scream to be put out of its misery. But the landlord won't replace it.

He manages to sleep until two in the afternoon, at which point is stomach is protesting the lack of solid food. But there isn't anything worth eating in the fridge either, which means Lambert has to go out. Just one inconvenience stacked on top of the next.

Having still not showered, he's really not fit to be seen in public, but he's also too much of an asshole to care as he drags himself to the burger place down the block.

He's just stepping outside with a double cheeseburger, extra bacon, shoved halfway in his mouth when the strange car honks at him.

“Hey!” the driver shouts at him through the rolled down window, smiling brightly and waving with one hand. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Takes Lambert a second to realize it's the other hunter from last night. Aiden, Aiden Patel, with the same red jacket, and his hair tied up in a ridiculous topknot, that might make him look like a girl except for the thick 5 o'clock shadow and the shape of his jaw. A jaw that is honestly fucking unfair on any human, much less one as bothersome as Aiden.

“I can drive you home, if you want,” Aiden offers.

Lambert almost points out that he literally lives not even a block away when he realizes the truth of the situation. Aiden knows exactly where he lives. That's why Aiden is here.

“Fuck off,” Lambert curses, shoving the rest of his burger into his mouth all at once and chewing down. Shoving his hands in the pockets of his coat, he puts his head down and starts walking away.

Aiden follows after him, dragging along the car at what has to be two miles an hour at most. The vehicle gives out this awful yelp that makes Lambert’s teeth clatter together and Aiden says something that sounds suspiciously like “down, girl.”

“Why are you following me?” Lambert seethes, when he finally reaches his building and Aiden is still right fucking there.

Aiden frowns, his eyes slightly narrowed, “I thought we got along well, is all. I don't know, I'm lonely.”

Lambert can't fucking believe this. “You're lonely? And your solution to finding a friend is stalking some guy you met over a corpse?”

“Seems as good an icebreaker as any,” Aiden snaps back, “given our line of work.”

Lambert should just storm back upstairs, get that fucking shower he knows he needs and watch tv for a couple of hours. Maybe fall back asleep because now that his stomach has calmed down his head hurts like a bitch. But something, something about the weirdly vulnerable look in Aiden’s eyes gives him pause. The mere fact that Aiden is brave, or stupid enough just to admit that he's lonely.

Lonely.

Lambert has friends, kind of. Geralt and Eskel and Vesemir, they look out to him. And given the chance, Yen definitely tries to mother him, though she's only like, eight years or something older than him (and he only knows that because of some math he did in his head, that he knows Geralt is about ten years older than him, and Geralt and Yen have been on-again-off-again since high school, and some off-hand comment that Yen made about how they wouldn't let Geralt go to her prom because he was already 21 when she was a senior).

So, yeah, Lambert wouldn't say he's lonely, exactly. But there's something else. He understands what Aiden means on some weird other level he can barely access right now with the pressure in his head. “Fine, you want to come up, then?”

“Risky move, I like it,” Aiden replies, putting his car into park in front of Lambert’s building.

This is maybe the dumbest fucking move Lambert has made since last night. He's seen Aiden’s work with a taser, and no one lasts long in bounty hunting without some sort of basic defense training, Lambert thinks he's in better shape than most. Despite yesterday’s disaster, he's generally pretty good at his job. But the point is, Aiden is smaller than him. Not shorter, if anything, Aiden might be half an inch taller. But his shoulders are narrower and he has a lanky build all over, small wrists and thin fingers. Too easy to break.

“Swanky,” Aiden jokes once they're inside Lambert’s apartment, his eyes darting around the room. And Lambert is more sure than ever that Aiden is actually here to fleece him, or kill him, or something. Fuck. Is there someone who would want a hit on Lambert?

“You're the one who insisted on coming up,” Lambert retorts, grabbing the remote and switching on the tv. He doesn't have like, a couch or anything, normally he just stacks his pillows up into a sort of makeshift backrest and watches from the bed. He's got a chair, but only one. He offers it to Aiden, then offers him a beer. Aiden has the audacity of looking at his watch before agreeing.

They watch reruns of shitty sitcoms for an hour, Lambert on the bed and Aiden on the chair. They don't talk about much of anything and Aiden refuses the second beer, citing that he has to drive home.

“Why do you do it?” Lambert finally asks, when the silence between them seems too much. The chatter of the television not enough.

“Do what?”

“Bounty hunting, it's a shitty job. Dangerous, unsteady income, it's awful.”

Aiden shrugs, “Guy who helped me out, he did it for a living. Guess he didn't know anything else he could teach me.”

“What about your parents?” Lambert winces, he should have known from Aiden’s previous answer that his parents were a sore spot. But the question is already out of his mouth.

Aiden, for what it's worth, doesn't look particularly put out, “I was a foster system kid. Didn't stay with anyone very long.”

It's not as if Lambert had a stunning homelife either. There was that time his dad tried to sell him for a gambling debt. And honestly, after the cops picked them up, it's a wonder Lambert didn't end up in the system himself. But his parents did keep custody. He should probably go see his mom sometime. But he also doesn't think he can face his old man.

“What about your family?” Aiden asks, as innocent as can be.

Lambert doesn't spill everything, right there and then, but he finds himself answering, outlining that he wasn't much wanted when his dad was drunk, and his mom didn't have the fortitude to fight him.

Aiden remains quiet, in a weirdly comforting sort of way. And after Lambert is done with his little monologue, he finds himself exhausted. Emotionally drained on top of the physical fatigue, Lambert just wants to pass out again. Aiden does a decent job of reading the room, mentioning that he should head home.

“Give me your phone,” Aiden holds out his hand, waiting for Lambert to comply.

“What,” Lambert starts reaching for his front pocket to pull out his phone, before realizing he was just going to give it up without explanation. “Why do you need my phone?”

“So I can put my number in it, idiot,” Aiden keeps his hand out.

Lambert has got to get his head checked, because he unlocks his phone and gives it to Aiden to punch in his number.

“Okay, so, it's up to you,” Aiden hands the phone back to Lambert, “Call me if you want to hang out again. Or text. But it's up to you, okay? I won't bother you if you don't want to.”

Lambert feels numb all over, as he watches Aiden leave.

--

The Ogre ends up pleading out, to get ‘accidental’ slapped in front of the ‘manslaughter’ charge. That's great fucking news for Lambert, because that means he's not gonna get called up to testify that he didn't even see anything. The insurance agent had already fallen by the time he reached the roof. But yeah, the Ogre all but admitted guilt.

It's been three days since that contract, and Lambert’s not dumb, he needs to take another, actually come home with some cash. Asking any of the guys at the agency to loan him money is a recipe for disaster, though he knows they’ll do it.

He manages to get himself to the agency, skipping the bus to just walk. When he’s out on a job, Vesemir let's him use one of his cars, so Lambert has never bothered to get one of his own.

Eskel’s the only one inside, greeting Lambert with a slap on the shoulder, trying to pry details out about his last bad job. Lambert brushes him off, asking if any new contracts have come in? Eskel says looking up contract details himself is free, Lambert should try it sometime.

--

Lambert manages to pull down 2k without getting his face smashed in, but it's going to take two days to get the check, that's cutting things close, but as long as the money clears, he should be able to stay afloat a little while longer.

Geralt comes into the office not long after that, Vesemir on his heels. They've both got reddened knuckles, like they've been punching the shit out of something, more likely someone. But they're both in good spirits.

Geralt demands that they all go out for drinks. Lambert isn't about to turn down an offer if someone else is paying, so once he knows it's going to be on Vesemir’s dime, he's more than happy to oblige.

The four of them head off towards the bar, Geralt furiously fat-finger texting Yen to meet them. From what Lambert catches, she's been working soul crushing hours at the state house this past week.

“Elections are coming up. It's like that for everyone,” Geralt tries to play it off, but Lambert can tell he misses her.

Eskel interjects, “I thought that bastard, Emhyr, was going to run for governor?”

“Yen thinks next election cycle. Still too early, polls aren't right. Fuck if I know,” Geralt shoves his phone back in his pocket.

After the first round of drinks, Yen does show up and Geralt’s mood brightens again. Vesemir and Eskel end up playing darts, which leaves Lambert all by his lonesome, nursing his second beer. He ends up fishing his phone out of his pocket and flipping through his contacts.

To say he hasn't thought about Aiden in the intervening days would be a lie. But he also hasn't stressed over the weird encounter. As far as he knows, Aiden doesn't have his number, leaving the decision to call or not in Lambert’s hands.

Now, he hovers over Aiden’s contact in his address book. There's no picture just a name. Aiden. Swallowing down his trepidation, and another swig of beer, Lambert texts Aiden, asking if he's busy.

After that, Eskel and Vesemir finish up their game, and end up hovering around Lambert instead. Vesemir tells them about today’s contract and they all try to ignore Geralt and Yen trying to suck each other’s faces off in the corner.

When Lambert finally does check his phone again, there's a message from Aiden. But all it says is he's out on a job. Lambert texts back, / k /, and Eskel asks him if he's talking to a woman.

“Nah,” Lambert admits. He's not going to give away the whole truth because it's embarrassing, but there's little reason to outright lie either. “That other bounty hunter, the one on the Ogre contract.”

Eskel mercifully just shrugs at that and doesn't press any further on why Lambert is texting Aiden.

“Wojewódka!” Geralt slaps Lambert on the shoulder.

Now he's certain that Geralt is sloshed. He only uses Lambert’s surname when he's drunk. And a fucking show-off because he seems to think that Lambert pronounces his own name wrong. Just fucking delights in his pronunciation, like it matters Geralt was born in Poland and Lambert here. Doesn't make any difference. Geralt couldn't even talk when his parents left Europe. Maybe he's just jealous that his dad went and changed their name to the easier to handle ‘Rivia.’

“Glad to see you bounced back, kid,” he rubs his hand in Lambert’s hair. Lambert tries to pull back, but there's nowhere to go if he doesn't want to fall off his barstool. So he has to just suffer Geralt’s ribbing. “Worried you weren't coming back.”

Lambert snorts, gives the same excuse he always does when he disappears from work for a couple of days, “What else would I even do? I'm not normal.”

“You're perfectly ordinary,” Eskel joins in on the teasing, “that's why you keep thinking about quitting.”

Lambert opens his mouth to protest. Thing is, he does think about leaving, all the time. But he’ll contest the accusation of being ordinary. If he were, he wouldn't have even started with this work.

“Yeah, yeah,” Lambert tries to play their concern off, “you need me as your inside man in society. Otherwise, brutes like you would never get into anywhere nice. Turned away from the door.” He raises his eyebrows in mock revelation, “that's why you always take me to bars. I'm your front.”

Vesemir gasps, “Kid is onto us.”

Lambert checks his phone, there's a text from Aiden: /another day?/

He should give it more thought, but he immediately texts back: /tomorrow after 7?/

Aiden is already typing: /sure/

/get your mark/

/not yet/

After that, Lambert puts away his phone.

--

The next day, Lambert doesn't get another contract, but Vesemir passes him an under the table deal. An easy one. Girl who just wants a tough guy to pick her up from campus after she gets out at 4. Lambert has taken jobs like this before, walk a woman from point a to point b, just so she's seen in the company of someone who could kick some ass. Sometimes the job turns out to be more than that, and Lambert ends up roughing the other guy up a little. Not enough to be assault or anything, but enough that he leaves her alone. He's not convinced of the efficacy of this approach, wouldn't getting a proper restraining order be better? But he also figures half the girls have probably tried that to no avail. Questioning their motives isn't his job. He just has to look like a beast.

Lambert hangs out in the office all day, throws jabs at Eskel when he gets back to pick up a second job. When 3:30 rolls around, Vesemir tosses Lambert the keys to the Civic. He's about to pout and ask for the BMW instead, but if he's supposed to be some college student’s guy, the Civic is probably the right choice.

He shows up to get her two minutes late, having already memorized her face from the selfie Vesmir gave him. Pretty blonde with green-brown eyes and a mole on her forehead, just below where her fringe reaches.

Lambert calls out the car window when he sees her, “Frankie!” and gets out to hug her and pull her close. He kisses her on the temple as a show of affection, hoping that wasn't too much.

Frankie throws her bag into the back of the car and gets into the passenger side to buckle up. Once they're moving she thanks him, saying, “You're really good at this.”

“Uh, thanks?” Lambert isn't sure how to take that.

“The guy at the agency said he had someone in mind for the job, you know. Someone young enough,” she scrunches up her nose. And when Lambert notices, he realizes he should keep his eyes on the road. “You're just perfect. And nice idea with the hug.”

“Friendly, but hopefully not so much as to make you uncomfortable,” Lambert explains his own reasoning. “Is your problem following us?”

Frankie turns around in her seat, looking out the back window, “No, I don't think so. He doesn't have a car. He usually follows me out of class, and onto the train. That's why I wanted a car home. You're the pleasant bonus.”

Lambert wonders about asking her if she’ll request again, but ends up holding back. That's her business, not his.

When they pull up to her building, she bounces out to grab her bag. If the guy isn't in pursuit, there isn't any reason for Lambert to keep up the act. She'd paid up-front with Vesemir for the ride. A line in the contract for additional payment for any trouble. But there's been none.

“Here,” she sticks her hand through Lambert’s open window. A piece of paper with her phone number scribbled down. “In case you want to do this again,” she chirps. Maybe a little oblivious to the kind of transaction this was. Still, the offer is kind of flattering.

“Hey,” Lambert asks before she goes, “how old are you?”

“Nineteen!” she says, opening the door to her building.

Lambert balls up the piece of paper and tosses it once he's out of the car.

--

Aiden texts him again at six, suggesting a bar down the street from his place. Punching away at his phone, Lambert tries to figure out how to get there with public transit. The route isn't too arduous, so he texts Aiden back that’ll work.

After showering, he looks up the bar to make sure that casual is okay. The bar doesn't have its own page, which is a good sign, so he uses street view to look at the outside. There's an Old Style placard and some Miller High Life neon in the window, so he figures he's in the clear.

Aiden is already waiting for him at the bar when he arrives, a draft of what is probably Blue Moon in front of him, has the orange slice and everything. From the looks of it, that's as fancy as beers get in the place. But Lambert is just fine with Miller Lite.

“You play pool?” Aiden asks, nodding towards the table.

Lambert is average at best, but it gives them something to do other than just sit around and talk. He's not sure what they'd talk about. Work, probably. That's why Aiden wanted to be friends, maybe, to have someone to trade stories with. Maybe he doesn't get along with the other guys at his agency.

Once they're three rounds in, curiosity gets the best of Lambert. “You know,” he starts, “the guys at my agency are pretty close. Don't you like, have friends from yours?”

Aiden looks at him like he's grown a second head, “Not really. We do everything through our phones now. I...don't really see them. I probably wouldn't even recognize them on sight.”

Lambert is about to ask Aiden who he works for. He's probably heard of it. But the way Aiden continues to frown, Lambert thinks better of it, bending down to take his next shot.

The bar starts to get pretty crowded after that and they end up relinquishing the pool table to new arrivals. Aiden gets them a round of drinks and they squeeze into one of the tiny tables against the back wall.

Aiden does start talking about his contracts after that. Had one two days ago that tried to lift him up over his head and break him like a board. Aiden claims he was able to twist away just in time, managed to deck the guy in the jaw. Lambert calls bullshit on that one and Aiden shakes his head, “They think I look like a pushover. It really works to my advantage.”

Lambert doesn't point out that he's seen Aiden in action, that his technique looks barely above that of your average guy on the street. But Aiden also moves fast, quick as fuck reflexes. So maybe there's something Lambert hasn't seen yet.

Lambert ends up telling him about the escort job, even though it was a side gig. He assumes Aiden’s agency does shit like that too. Little things for some extra cash. They're not bodyguards or anything, but showing up and looking tough has it's time and place. Lambert recounts the whole story, including throwing the girl’s number out.

The noise in the bar reaches a crescendo and Lambert can barely hear Aiden anymore. Not until Aiden leans across the tiny wooden table and asks directly in his ear, “Want to get out of here?”

Lambert nods, grabbing his leather jacket off the back of his chair and tugging it on. Aiden zips up his windbreaker and they head out into the night. It's only ten, and the buses run until two, so Lambert isn't in a rush.

Without explicitly saying where they're going, Aiden leads them back to his building. Even from the outside, Lambert can tell it's a nicer place than where he is.

“Quiet,” Aiden cautions, “a lot of families with little kids.”

They take the stairs up to the top floor, that looks like it only has two units. Aiden opens the door, letting Lambert through first.

Once the door is closed, everything changes.

Aiden’s hand drops to Lambert’s hip, too low and long and intimate. Aiden’s smiling bright, mouthing, “Hey,” quietly.

Lambert freezes, his jaw embarrassing slack and open. He watches as Aiden’s eyes go wide, pulling his hand back as if he's been burned.

“Oh, sorry, shit. Uh,” Aiden breaks into nervous laughter that doesn't stop. Just like Lambert froze, Aiden starts running on some sort of self-defensive adrenaline. “I just, shit. You're not gay…”

“Uhhhhh,” is all that Lambert manages to say. Real smooth there. Somehow he'd managed to be oblivious to, well, everything? He replays the handful of interactions he had with Aiden back in his mind, trying to look at them with a new lens. Nothing really stands out that Aiden was...coming onto him.

Aiden frowns, and Lambert doesn't like it. He realizes he doesn't like it because he's the one making Aiden frown, “I can get you a beer if you want to stick around. And we can pretend this never happened. Or you can go, if you'd be more comfortable. But, um, I meant it when I said I'd like to be friends. I'd still like to be friends, if you're cool.”

“Yeah, that beer,” at least gives Lambert something to say. On autopilot, he unzips his coat. Then takes off his boots.

They end up sitting in front of the tv in Aiden’s living room, because Aiden actually has a separate bedroom. And a couch. The couch is nice. And they watch some highlight show of today’s soccer matches. Aiden seems to know what’s going on. But even though Lambert knows how soccer works, he doesn't really follow it as like, a mode of entertainment.

Once Aiden figures out that Lambert doesn't follow, he actually gets really exciting about explaining things to Lambert, why he likes this team and hates that one, some long, protracted drama about a particular player being sold to a different team, right under the nose of the manager who never wanted to give him up. Lambert nods along, following the tale Aiden weaves. And he actually finds himself amused by all the drama in the end.

As Aiden wraps up the story, Lambert manages to find his voice again. “I'm not gay.”

At least this time, Aiden’s smiling back at him, “I figured, and I'm sorry. I guess I could have been more direct with you. I just, thought you knew. My bad.”

But there's something more he wants to say. Some explanation he never thought he'd have to actually spell out. Because Lambert likes women, a lot. He really does. And he figured, that's enough. That he didn't have to do anything about the fleeting thoughts he had about other men, but never acted on. He doesn't think about men nearly as much as he does women. So this never...became an issue. It doesn't have to be an issue now, because Aiden isn't pushing him towards anything. Aiden keeps giving him a way out.

Underneath the shock of Aiden’s hand on his hip, there was something else. Something Lambert is pretty sure he likes. But he doesn't know how to tell Aiden any of this.

“Wait,” he wants to at least try. Because then he gets this weird flash in his brain of Aiden, what he might look like underneath his dress shirt, and how he wants to know for sure. And then another image, of someone other than him, some faceless being, touching Aiden’s face. But Lambert still doesn't know what to do with all of these strange apparitions.

“What?” Aiden asks.

“Uh, one more beer, and then I'll head out,” he’ll figure out the words another time. Tell Aiden later. Yeah, that works.

“Sure thing,” Aiden gets up and heads towards the fridge.

--

Aiden has his number now, so Lambert shouldn't be surprised when he gets a text. What is surprising is the content of that text: /wanna take a job together?/

/what/: Lambert texts back. Sure, sometimes two hunters will work a mark, but always from the same agency. But then he thinks about Aiden’s face when Lambert brought up his coworkers. Maybe he doesn't have anyone else to call.

Aiden texts back: /the Griffin one, listed at 10 return/

Then a second text before Lambert even makes it to the computer: /I can get us 14 and we can split 7n7/

Lambert hasn't heard of anyone being able to up the percentage on an open bounty. Sure, it happens, but only when they get desperate to find the guy.

/bullshit/: Lambert texts back.

/nope you can even come watch me work/

Okay, so, Lambert has got to see this.

--

Lambert meets Aiden outside of the bonds office. He’s leaning against that beat-up car in his red windbreaker, his hair up in that high topknot. Waving at Lambert, Aiden says he’s been waiting, pushing off of his car and messing with his hair.

“Watch and learn,” Aiden says, untying his hair and letting it fall loose against his shoulders. There’s a slight curl to it, and it looks a little glossier than Lambert remembers, maybe just washed?

Pulling a few strands loose around his forehead, Aiden ties the rest back in a lower ponytail. With the loose tendrils framing his face, he looks a little softer, younger, and that’s when Lambert realizes he’s freshly shaved as well.

Lambert follows Aiden into the bonds office and Aiden greets the office manager with a little wave.

“I’ll ring Ada,” the office manager says, picking up the phone and punching in the extension.

Ada turns out to be a stout woman in her late forties, who quickly arrives and ushers Aiden into her office.

“Mind if Lambert comes too?” Aiden sticks his thumb back at Lambert.

“Oh, yes, that’s fine,” Ada seems taken off guard.

What transpires in Ada’s office is nothing short of a fucking miracle. Aiden lays out the information he already has about the Griffins case, giving her just enough crumbs that it sounds like he’s close to landing the elusive fucker, without giving so much away that another hunter, Lambert included, could clean up the job.

“But the thing is,” Aiden huffs, “We need to get him away from his girl, or we’re going to have an incident. She’s got something like a hundred k instagram followers. If she gets pictures, it’s going to be a scandal for everyone involved. And I know you guys want this clean.”

“So what are you saying, Aiden?” Ada asks, looking back and forth from her computer screen to Aiden.

Aiden smiles before explaining, “Lambert here can help me. But we need a little more for a two-person job.”

Ada raises her brow, and Lambert is convinced he’s going to watch Aiden fail spectacularly.

“Listen, if there’s a single picture, pay the ten percent. We keep the photos off social media? Just a little more?”

Exhaling, Ada looks back at her screen, types something out, looks back at Aiden, “I can do 15, but no pictures.”

“No pictures,” Aiden promises.

Son of a fucking…

--

Aiden says he’ll take care of the girl, while Lambert nabs Griffins. That sounds like a fair enough exchange. Sure, it puts the burden of physical harm on Lambert, but he’d rather that then come up with something to entertain some internet beauty queen or whoever the fuck Griffins’ girl actually is.

They spend the evening in Aiden’s car, watching the girl’s apartment. She and Griffins come down, leave for dinner. Lambert thinks they should follow. Aiden says to wait. Wake him up when they get home.

It’s half-past midnight before the couple gets back. Lambert wakes up Aiden, who quickly snaps a dozen pictures with a camera that looks way too expensive. “Okay, then. I’ll drive you home.”

“What about the mark?’ Lambert asks. He doesn’t want to waste fucking time.

“We promised no pictures. And I gotta wear something else. This will be easy tomorrow. She gets up and goes for coffee at 10:30. You can move on him then.”

Lambert grumbles, but Aiden seems to have an idea.

--

When Aiden picks him up at 9:30 in the morning, he looks like a different man. Lambert climbs into the car next to him and realizes he fucking smells different too. A little woodsy but also sweet? It’s weird and stings at Lambert’s nose.

“Yeah, yeah, not my preference either. But girls go for it.”

“What, you gonna seduce Griffins’ girl? What’s this act?”

Aiden rolls his eyes, “Setting aside the fact you couldn’t figure out I was gay until I was ready to stick my tongue down your throat. Do I look straight to you right now?” He looks at Lambert directly for just a second before turning his eyes back to the road.

Lambert realizes that Aiden has eyeliner on, and some sort of powder on his face. His hair is in the same messy topknot as usual, but it looks somehow more...purposeful. His slacks have this sort of subtle checkered print, and his shirt is tighter than normal, some big scarf curled around his neck instead of the sporty windbreaker. Okay, so, he has a point.

“It’s a low blow, I know,” he waves his hand dismissively, “but I have to work with what I've got.”

Aiden parks the car two blocks down from the girl’s apartment, handing Lambert the keys. “I'll text you when I got her. Text back when you've got him in the car,” Aiden closes the door and heads off on foot.

Lambert waits in the car for Aiden’s text. All he gets is a :) but that's probably his cue. Tracking to the apartment, Lambert knows he’ll find the front door to the building unlocked. Griffins should be in apartment three. Lambert braces himself and knocks.

The ensuing scuffle doesn't go so bad. Griffins is kind of a short dude, and gives it up once Lambert wraps his arms all the way around the fucker and holds him tight for a solid five minutes while he flails around. After that, he seems pretty tired and is willing to limp over to the car.

Once Lambert has him cuffed in the backseat, he sends a text back to Aiden, who replies that he's on his way. He's got to wait seven minutes for Aiden to get back.

“Took your sweet fucking time,” Lambert comments, refusing to get out of the driver's seat.

“Well, just be gentle with her,” Aiden responds, buckling into the passenger side.

Lambert smirks, “Her?”

“Violet,” Aiden strokes the dashboard, “she's my good girl.”

Lambert can't help but snicker. Of course Aiden named his car.

--

It's almost a week before he sees Aiden again. This time, it's Lambert who invites him over to a bar near his place. Somewhere that's sure to be deserted on a Tuesday. Aiden takes the bus, rather than driving Violet, and manages to arrive after Lambert.

They split a basket of greasy fries and watch the hockey game that the bartender gets absorbed in. Somehow, Aiden seems to know everything about hockey too. “What? Didn't take me for a jock?”

Lambert barely stops himself from blurting out that he has no idea what Aiden is anymore. That Aiden has him a little fucked up. Lambert’s not sure what he planned for tonight. But they watch the game and drink their beers and get another basket of fries and by the time the game finishes Lambert’s stomach is in knots.

Lambert at least manages to invite Aiden over. But Aiden turns him down. Says he's got an early lead in the morning. But even in the yellowed streetlights, Lambert can tell that Aiden is sort of blushing.

He's got to fucking say something.

But he doesn't. Lambert doesn't have the resolve. So he just lets Aiden go, leaving him to wait for the bus on his own.

Back in his apartment, he can't help but be frustrated with himself for having done nothing. But what could he have done?

He grabs his laptop off the table, taking it to bed. Stripping from his clothes, he climbs in, keeping the computer on his stomach.

Not bothering to make excuses for himself, he just fucking googles “gay porn” and hopes for the best. He could make something up about it being ‘educational’ or whatever, but the truth is, he just wants to fucking get off right now.

It's not as if he hasn't looked at two guys going at it before. Right after he left his parents’ place, when he was living with Keira and they had that on-again-off again thing, he would debate the morality of jerking it to dudes fucking each other, while she was at work. But hey, some healthy curiosity wasn't the demise of that relationship. If he told her, there was probably a fifty/fifty chance she would have been into it too.

He clicks through the first site, looking for something to catch his eye. A ‘I'll know it when I see it,” sort of thing as he scans through previews. Finding one that looks promising, nothing too weird, just a couple of relatively clean-cut guys in their mid-to-late twenties and enough body hair not to be strange, he clicks through to the video.

There's some warm up at the beginning that Lambert just skips, trying to get to the actual action. He lands somewhere in the blowjob scene with the more heavily bearded of the two on his knees sucking dick like his life depends on it. Dick-sucking-bearded guy looks up at dick-owning guy and his eyes are big and bright and blue and his lips are stretched wide around the head of that dick and yeah, yeah, this is about as good as Lambert remembers.

He skips ahead again, to the point the old-blue eyes there is bouncing on the dick he was just sucking. And maybe he should have plugged in headphones, because even though he's got the volume turned low, the guys on screen are really...moaning up a storm. The scene is hot, well, arousing at least. And Lambert starts to rub himself while watching. But he also feels strangely detached from it. That's kind of the way it always is with porn, though. Like, Lambert knows what he's watching is sort of ridiculous, but fuck, he really wants to see this guy get his ass fucking creamed.

He doesn't last all the way to the end, coming messily in his hand when the camera cuts to the face of the guy doing the fucking. And he just looks so blissed out and happy, but still kind of intense and aggressive. And blue-eyes lets out a moan at the same time, that's pretty much hotter than anything on screen. It's over, case closed.

After Lambert washes his hands, he plugs his laptop back in and resigns himself to sleep. In the morning, he’ll figure out what to say to Aiden.

--

Aiden texts him a few days later about another job, 10% a piece, but it will take a little legwork. Lambert is about ready to just trust Aiden on this one, when Vesemir pulls him aside.

“You taking another job with the kid from the other agency?” he asked.

Lambert should have anticipated that Vesemir wouldn't be happy with this arrangement, since it cuts him out of the agency’s percentage.

Sheepishly, Lambert admits yeah, he's going out to meet Aiden.

“You sure he isn't ripping you off?” Vesemir asks.

Lambert crosses his arms over his chest, “Got no reason to think he is. We get the requests, same as his agency. And last time I watched him drive up the commission first-hand. He paid out my half in full.”

Vesemir sighs, covering his forehead with his hand, “You know anything about the agency that boy works for?”

“No,” Lambert admits, “he said something about not really having a centralized office. That he gets everything through his phone. So he doesn't really know the other people who work there.”

“You know how we take under the table work? You know, I accept these things so you boys can make ends meet?”

“Yeah?” Lambert doesn't budge. He was expecting Vesemir to want his cut, not some long discussion about Aiden’s intentions.

“So you know I'm not inflexible, but that agency, Cat’s Cradle? Let's just say there have been rumors. They're dealing in more than just bounty hunting, bouncing, and walking scared girls home.”

Lambert doesn't have to be told explicitly what ‘other jobs’ someone who says they're a bounty hunter might take. “Aiden isn't like that, I'm sure.”

“I'm not accusing him of anything. Hell, I don't know him. But I've known others from his shop. And I don't want him dragging you down.”

“He won't,” Lambert snaps back, “I take it I'm free to go, then?”

Vesemir waves him off, telling Lambert to stay safe. And bring him three percent.

--

Step one is apparently taking a shit ton of photos of the guy’s apartment. He's hung up on some mid-level drug charges. Runs with the Drowners. Bail was particularly high because he's some linchpin in a bigger case. So even at ten percent a piece, Aiden and Lambert will both make bank.

Aiden drives them around, taking pictures of the guy’s apartment, his mom’s house out in the burbs, some of his local haunts. Lambert doesn't know what Aiden hopes to get out of the photographs, he's just along for the ride.

After that, they grab lunch at the closest greasy spoon. Lambert orders a burger and Aiden gets a tuna melt. Aiden doesn't do much more than pick at his fries as he scans through the photographs in the tiny little screen on the camera.

“What are you looking for?” Lambert asks. He's finished with his fries, so he takes two off of Aiden’s plate when he isn't looking.

“People who show up more than once. I'd already photographed all these places last week.”

“Last week, our guy hadn't skipped on his bail.”

Aiden shrugs, “Heard it from a little birdie that his one was likely to jump. Pays to be proactive.” This time he catches Lambert going for his fries and slaps his hand away. Putting aside the camera, he finally pays attention to his sandwich.

They finish up, and despite Lambert’s insistence, Aiden pays for both of them, “Lambert, I've seen how you live.” And, well, Lambert can't argue with that.

Aiden plans to spend the rest of the afternoon going through the photos, so he offers to drop Lambert off, either at his agency or at home. In either case, he’ll pick Lambert up at nine tomorrow, providing he gets a lead.

Lambert says that he can help go through the photos, but Aiden brushes him off, saying that there's really not much for him to do. But he appreciates the offer.

Aiden is trying to avoid having Lambert in his apartment, or coming over to Lambert’s. And yeah, Lambert kind of understands. Aiden thinks he got rejected. Hell, yeah, Lambert basically rejected him, but only because he couldn't figure out what to say. And Lambert keeps telling himself that he's going to figure it out. Work out what to tell Aiden to help him understand. But then he gets distracted with something else.

So after Aiden drops him off at home, Lambert actually sits down at his sorry little excuse for a table, pulls out his laptop, and starts writing.

Aiden. I'm bisexual.

He stares at the screen. And yeah, there's something weirdly liberating at sticking a name on what he's known since he was like...fourteen or some shit. Old enough to know that there were consequences to telling anyone that he thought about both boys and girls. Thought about kissing both. In the strange, abstract way kids do.

Taking a breath, he keeps going.

I've never been with a man, though. I'm twenty-eight, and I've never even tried. But I think I might like trying with you.

Maybe that's too patronizing? Or doesn't really convey with Lambert means. Because he doesn't want Aiden to think that he's some sort of phase or anything. Or an experiment. Lambert wants to make a go of it with Aiden, he thinks. But at the same time, he's kissed enough women and felt nothing, that he worries he might touch Aiden and still feel cold.

Yeah, okay, not fucking likely given how much he's already angsting over figuring out what to say.

Aiden, I'm bisexual. And I want to kiss you. A lot.

Lambert groans. He's getting nowhere.

--

“I think I know where he is,” Aiden says, first thing after Lambert clambers into Violet.

Lambert has two travel mugs of coffee, because at least that's something he can make at home. He hands one to Aiden, hoping he’ll appreciate the gesture. “Wasn't sure how you took it.”

“Oh,” Aiden eyes him, “thanks. Uh, cream, usually.”

Lambert fishes two creamers out of his coat pocket. He'd swiped them sometime last week and has been keeping them in his fridge.

Aiden empties both into the travel mug before putting the car in drive. On the way, he explains that there was a blue sedan at their target’s mother’s house the week before, then outside the guy’s house yesterday.

“A contact of mine traced the plates. So we’re going to visit the owner now. Another guy in with the Drowners, but his record is pretty clean. Just a kid.”

They pull up in front of a multi-unit and Aiden puts the car into park. “How do you want to handle this?” he asks, taking a sip of the coffee.

The question takes Lambert back. It's the first time Aiden has asked his opinion on something for a job. Normally, he seems to have everything planned out, A to Z, but this time he's asking Lambert.

“Why suddenly so keen on my perspective?” he gives Aiden a sideways glance.

Aiden shrugs, “Yeah, I got plans, ideas, but honestly, I think you're better at, you know, the actual apprehension. I'm not exactly asking you to tag along because I like splitting my money. But, you know. You have your uses.”

“I have my uses,” Lambert mocks, “fuck you.” But he doesn't really mean it, and Aiden knows. “You really are a scrawny ass, and you're looking for someone to be your muscle. I'm onto you.”

“May~be,” Aiden sing-songs. “But really, I don't have anyone else who takes my calls.” He's grinning from ear to ear.

“Do you think our man is in there? Or just his friend?”

“I think the friend knows exactly where he is.”

“And it's not in this building?”

Aiden frowns, “No, I don't think so.”

“And how old is the friend?”

Aiden responds, “Nineteen.”

“Let's just nab him.”

The kid folds easy, giving up the location of the contract. Unfortunately, it's a motel out in the fucking boonies. It's gonna take three hours just to drive out there. Almost isn't worth it, until Lambert remembers the fat check he’ll make if they bring him in.

“We should get gas,” Aiden stretches his arms over his head as they head out to the car, “probably a change of clothes, in case it takes more than one day.”

They stop by Lambert’s place first, and he runs upstairs to pack an overnight bag while Aiden pulls around the corner to fill up the tank. After that, they head to Aiden’s, and Aiden tells him to go ahead and wait in the car, he won't be more than a few minutes. While Aiden is gone, Lambert goes ahead and gets in the driver's seat. Aiden doesn't fight him when he gets back.

Using the gps in Aiden’s phone for navigation, they head out to the motel. Lambert finds himself asking dumb questions, but Aiden indulges him every time.

“So I mean, you didn't know your parents at all?”

“Nope,” Aiden confirms, “I was like, two when I ended up in the system. I'm pretty sure ‘Patel’ isn't really my name or anything. Just, you know, common. The family I was with the longest had Patel as their last name too. Weird coincidence. I liked them, too. The mom taught me how to cook and everything. But when they moved out of state...I don't know. They weren't interested in taking me with them. Or the adoption process was too hard, or something. I don't blame them, they had three kids of their own.”

“How long were you there?”

“Ages ten to fifteen, roughly.”

Lambert wants to ask if they were okay with Aiden being gay. Or if they even knew. If Aiden knew at that age, or not until later. But none of those questions seem appropriate, so instead he asks Aiden what he thinks about dogs.

“Is that sort of joke, Wolf?” there’s laughter in his voice. And Lambert didn't even consider the joke with his agency’s name. “I like them just fine,” he beams.

Even after they arrive at the motel, they don't get a let up, other than taking turns to go piss. On the way in, they'd stopped at a drive-thru for dinner. Lambert got a burger and Aiden a box of approximately a billion chicken nuggets. The whole car smells of grease and salt as they eat, keeping their eyes on the row of motel doors.

Around midnight, Aiden tells Lambert to go sleep in the back seat, they can switch places in a few hours. Lambert wants to protest, but honestly after the drive, he's beat. He's barely out an hour before Aiden wakes him. Their guy has shown his ugly face.

Lambert is wide awake at that, storming out of the car and tackling their contract to the ground. Aiden sweeps in behind him, cuffing the guy so Lambert can hoist him up.

“You know how much trouble we went through to find you?” Lambert asks, not expecting an answer.

They wrangle their guy into the car and Aiden takes the driver’s seat. It's a long way to go back into the city, and Lambert ends up sleeping in the passenger side.

--

There's a hard shove at Lambert’s shoulder, “Come on sleeping wolf, you're home.” Then another push.

Lambert starts awake, blinking his eyes open. Aiden must have dropped off their Drowner already, and Lambert slept through it.

“Here,” Aiden holds out a check, “your half. Check that your name is spelled right.”

Taking the check, Lambert glances at the number and his name before shoving it in his wallet. That's gonna last him a good long time. He can take a few days off. That's good. “We should celebrate,” he mumbles, still not going for the door handle.

“It's four in the morning, buddy. Maybe another time,” Aiden smiles.

Lambert is just dopey enough to manage to get something out, “Come upstairs with me.”

“Lambert…you're not…”

This isn't how he practiced at all. And maybe that's okay, “I'm bisexual. I'm pretty sure I am. And just,” he drags his hand down his face, “I just...never got to try it with a guy. Didn't come up or anything. But,” he huffs, “I think about your hand on my hip, that night. And I want it again.”

Aiden just stares at him. Like he's waiting for something else.

“Say something, man,” Lambert pleads. Because if he keeps talking, he'll make an even bigger fool of himself.

“Tell me that again, tomorrow. Okay? After you've gotten some rest. Okay?” Aiden swallows thickly.

“Okay, okay,” Lambert can see where Aiden is coming from. He’ll call, tomorrow.

--

Lambert doesn't wake up until a quarter past ten. But once he does, he rolls onto his side and grabs his phone out from the charger. Sending a text would be easier, but Aiden said they would talk, so Lambert calls.

The phone rings and rings, but Aiden doesn't pick up. The call ends up going to voicemail. Lambert just says, “hey, call me back,” and leaves it at that.

He eats some toast, takes a shower, spends entirely too much time staring at his phone, waiting for Aiden to call back. Gets so bad he starts to worry that he's really fucked up this time, with his big fucking mouth.

Finally the phone rings, Aiden’s name popping up on the screen. Answering, he hears Aiden on the other end, “Hey, sorry, I just got up.” Right, Aiden didn't get to nap on the drive back.

“Come over,” Lambert blurts out, “or let me come there. I'm already showered.”

“No, it's okay,” Aiden yawns, “you don't have a car. I can be there in like, forty-five?”

Lambert wants to fight him, but ends up giving in, “Okay, yeah.” He doesn't know what to do to kill time. Turning on the tv, he watches infomercials and waits.

Aiden knocks, eventually, though Lambert can hear him standing in front of his apartment door for a solid ninety seconds before he works up the courage. He looks freshly scrubbed and smiling, though it doesn't quite reach his eyes.

Out of habit, Lambert offers him a beer. Aiden declines, just sort of standing in the middle of Lambert’s studio apartment.

“So, about last night,” Lambert scratches the back of his neck. Now would not be the time to turn coward, “I meant it. I'm sorry I froze up before. I just...wasn't expecting it. It’s not something I think about a ton. Being with a man, I guess. It’s not something I’ve had to think about, I don’t know.”

Aiden just sort of smiles back at him dumbly, that sort of reserved, fake grin that Lambert can already tell he’s gonna hate if he sees it again. “It’s okay, Lambert. Really.”

“Ugh,” Lambert groans, “have I fucked this up beyond repair already? Shit, for all I know you’ve already moved on to someone else. Or maybe this all seems overblown, fuck.” It’s entirely possible that Aiden was just looking for a quick fuck, or a friends with benefits type situation. And Lambert’s getting dangerously close to some sort of strange confession. But there’s something inside him that is screaming that he’s going to regret this, if he doesn’t at least try to be upfront with Aiden.

“There isn’t anyone else,” Aiden laughs, “and you didn’t fuck this up. This is all...weirdly sweet.”

Lambert gets the distinct feeling he’s being mocked, but then Aiden steps in closer and puts his hand on Lambert’s hip again, the touch is just as electric as the last time, though they’ve probably touched each other a bunch of times since then. Those don’t count the way this counts, because now they’re operating in a different emotional register.

“So, last time I was gonna ask to kiss you. Should I do that now?” Aiden asks.

“Not if I ask first,” Lambert can’t help but retort.

This part is easy, easy, and neither actually gets the question out properly, both just cutting to the chase and leaning into the kiss they know is coming. Aiden’s lips are slightly chapstick-sticky, waxy and warm. Lambert can already tell that Aiden is a biter, from the way he sinks his teeth into Lambert’s bottom lip. It’s wet and messy and totally inappropriate for one in the afternoon, but fuck it. Fuck it, Lambert has wasted so much time already, when he could have had this.

(Not that he would want to take back these weeks of friendship. Those are pretty fucking good too.)

The only problem is that Lambert is used to partners shorter than him, these little petite women who try to climb him like a goddamn tree. With him and Aiden standing hip to hip, chest to chest, he’s not certain where to stick his hands. Aiden seems to realize this, laughing against Lambert’s jaw and grabbing his hands. He ends up sticking them on his hips, moving his own arms to drape around Lambert’s neck.

“Fucking novice,” Aiden teases, going back to occupy Lambert’s mouth.

They stay like that for a good long while, making out quietly in Lambert’s shitty one-room apartment. The tv is still on, but Lambert can barely hear it over the pounding of his heart.

When Aiden finally pulls away, he rests his forehead on Lambert’s shoulder and laughs, pushing his nose against Lambert’s clavicle. “I’m glad you came around,” he admits, “I had it bad, bad, bad.”

Without really thinking, Lambert places his hand at the back of Aiden’s neck. His hair is soft, softer than he expected. He wants to take it down, watch it fall in loose waves around Aiden’s shoulders, but the elastic he uses to tie it up is some sort of dexterity test Lambert is pretty sure he can’t pass.

“I should have told you sooner,” is all Lambert can manage at the moment.

Aiden mumbles back that it’s okay.

Somehow they manage to sprawl out across Lambert’s mattress, still fully clothed but with so many more opportunities to touch and taste. Aiden’s hands tug at the hem of Lambert’s shirt, exposing his stomach to the air. He lays his hands at Lambert’s waist, warm touches skittering over already-flushed skin. He snakes his hands around to Lambert’s lower back, holding him in place as the pace of their kissing slows.

Light streams in through the window, casting harsh shadows over the bed. The frame of the window cuts across Aiden’s face, obscuring one eye, part of his lip. Lambert fists his hand in Aiden’s shirt, the texture of the fabric grounding him in the tangibility of the quiet moment. The compressor in the fridge kicks on. Too loud.

“We don't have to do anything else, right now,” Aiden soothes.

Lambert licks his lips, “But I want to.”

He pushes Aiden onto his back, leaving his shirt on but opening the fly of his jeans. Lifting his hips, Aiden lets Lambert tug off his pants and underwear in one go. His cock curves, dark and hard, against his stomach.

Lambert’s not going to pretend like he's going to be awesome at it. But he's had his dick sucked enough that he thinks he can do a decent job at doing the sucking. Wrapping his hand around the base, his heart skips when Aiden gasps.

“Fuck.”

Crouching between Aiden’s legs, Lambert leans forward, taking the wet head of Aiden’s cock into his mouth. He keeps Aiden’s foreskin back as he bobs his head, not trying to be a hero here. Doesn't bother with more than the first few inches, but tries to keep his mouth wet and soft.

Aiden curls his hand in Lambert’s hair, though there isn't that much to grab. He ends up carding his fingers through, over and over, petting Lambert encouragingly.

After a few minutes, Aiden tugs at Lambert’s shirt, telling him to get up here so they can kiss. Lambert doesn't know if he can refuse Aiden anything at this point.

“That was nice,” Aiden promises between kisses. “You look good with a cock in your mouth.”

Lambert rolls his eyes, “What a compliment.”

“I mean it,” Aiden teases, “you have such pretty eyes.”

Lambert doesn't think there's anything spectacular about his eyes. A sort of dull blue that matches his mother’s. But Aiden touches the pad of his finger just at the corner of Lambert’s left eye, and there's something familiar about the gesture. Worryingly sentimental for something this new.

“Let me finish, then,” Lambert says. He's never gonna be good at this if he doesn't try.

Aiden nods okay and lets Lambert crawl back down his body. This time, when he tries to wrap his hand around Aiden’s shaft, Aiden tells him not to. Either he can try and take more of it down his throat, or Aiden can work himself while Lambert focuses on the head. Lambert wants to try the first.

Aiden holds himself just at the base, giving Lambert the space he needs to sink down further on Aiden’s cock. Once he gets used to the stretch around his lips, he picks up the pace, sucking hard on each stroke. Aiden keeps on with murmurings that range from sweet to wickedly filthy. “So good to me,” “bet you want my come.”

“Lambert,” he rasps, “I'm going to come.”

He makes the decision to pull off. Maybe next time he’ll go for it. Aiden strokes himself through the last few beats before his orgasm, coming messily onto his stomach and shirt.

Aiden is still breathing heavily when Lambert comes up to kiss him, only a short one this time. Because he's hoping Aiden is going to, you know, return the favor. So when Aiden flips him over, Lambert doesn't even think about resisting.

“Take off your shirt,” Aiden demands, while he peeling Lambert out of his pants. “I want to see you.”

Lambert complies, stripping off his tee. Once his chest is bare, Aiden grins at him like the cat that ate the canary.

“What?” Lambert asks.

“I knew your body would be hot as fuck, is all.”

That's sort of weirdly embarrassing. Lambert is in shape enough. Part of the job, really. He has to be strong enough, able to defend himself, chase after marks and wrangle them until they give up. But he also has a shit diet, so there's a little fat that's started to cling to his sides. The older he gets, the more he realizes he can't just eat whatever he wants...still just eats whatever he wants, though.

“Unfair,” Lambert complains, “take yours off too.”

And Aiden, Aiden fucking winks at him, before taking off his shirt. And wow, okay, Lambert wasn't quite expecting that, even from what he was able to feel over Aiden’s clothes. He's all lean muscle and fine definition, dark hair across his chest and down the center of his abdomen towards his groin. Lambert was expecting scrawnier. He doesn't mind being wrong.

“Like what you see?” Aiden mocks. “You’ll like this better.”

That's conceited as fuck, but Lambert isn't going to call Aiden out on it, because once Aiden wraps his lips around Lambert’s dick, Lambert kind of loses all coherent thought. Aiden is quick and thorough and takes him so deep that Lambert knows it's going to be embarrassingly quick. Somehow, Aiden uses more teeth than should be good. Usually, the smallest nick has Lambert going soft. But Aiden’s got the transition down, sending a wave of panic to Lambert’s brain that no, sharp things near his cock are very bad, but then it's all soft and wet and good again. This is so fucking unfair.

“Aiden, Aiden, gonna,” but instead of pulling off, Aiden just goes for it, taking Lambert to the root. Lambert comes with a groan, that is actually way too high-pitched. But damn. Damn.

He's still lost in the murky haze of his orgasm when Aiden stands up and heads towards the kitchen. Lambert has no idea what's going on, until he hears Aiden spitting into the sink, rinsing his mouth with water. Within thirty seconds he's back on the mattress next to Lambert, explaining that cum on an empty stomach is the fucking worst.

“If you want me to swallow,” he jokes, “you gotta buy me dinner, first. Literally.”

Lambert laughs, saying that for head like that, he’ll fork out the cash for steak dinners seven nights a week.

“Good thing I don't eat beef, or you'd be fucking broke,” Aiden pauses, “broke-r than you are already.”

“Hey, fuck you.”

They lounge around a little longer, Lambert pulling the sheet over their cooling bodies. He starts asking questions he should have known the answer to already. Like how old Aiden actually is, when’s his birthday, his favorite food, if he actually likes beer or if he's just trying to keep up appearances?

“Thirty-two, December 12th, probably dal and rice, but it’s a lot of effort to make at home. Beer is good, why would you question if I like beer?”

At the talk of food, they realize they're both hungry, but going out seems an impossibility. Lambert grabs his phone, pulling up the menu for the local pizza place, but Aiden tells him just cheese is fine.

When the pizza comes, Lambert pulls on pants to get the door. Aiden just hides under the blankets as a suspicious lump until the delivery person is gone. They eat off the bed like fucking savages. And Lambert starts debating how long he has to wait before telling Aiden he's in love.

--

Lambert shows his face at the agency, turning over his three percent to Vesemir. Geralt is in the office, and immediately says Lambert looks different.

“Finally got some decent sleep,” he fails to mention that sleep was punctuated by sessions of frankly amazing oral sex.

Geralt stares at him, before responding, “that's not it.”

“Leave the kid alone,” Vesemir cautions, before passing a possible lead onto Lambert. “Unless you only take jobs with your boyfriend now.”

Lambert almost snaps that Aiden isn't his boyfriend. Except, now he probably is. And it's not that he wants to deny outright either. Just, it's none of their fucking business and Vesemir clearly means it as a joke. “I take jobs that pay,” he finally manages, before stalking from the office.

--

Aiden’s cooking for them. In his much nicer apartment with a decent kitchen and fully stocked fridge. Whatever it is smells kind of spicy but sort of sweet. The rice cooker bubbles on the counter and Aiden says all Lambert has to do is drink his beer and look pretty.

“Does it bother you?” Lambert asks.

“Use your words, Lambert,” Aiden responds. Only then does Lambert realize the rest of the conversation he's been having is with himself.

“That I haven't told my coworkers?”

Aiden scrapes at the metal wok, stirring the lentils so they’ll cook evenly. He puts the spoon down and leans against the fridge, turning to look at Lambert.

“It's fine if you want to be quiet about it right now. I mean, this is pretty new for us both. And I'm not going to force you ‘out of the closet,’” Aiden actually makes air quotes, “before you're ready. It's not as if I announce I'm gay to every passer-by either. But at the same time, I don't want to have to watch my behavior, if I ever meet them.”

Lambert takes a swig of his beer, “I'm not asking you to, it's just. I actually think I want to tell them. That I want someone to know. And they're really the only friends I have.” Lambert starts picking at the label on his beer, shredding the paper into fine confetti.

Aiden goes back to stirring. The rice cooker makes a popping noise as it finishes. “Do what feels right, Lambert. When it feels right for you. Like I said, it only really concerns me if I'm going to meet them. Otherwise, I can't really be bothered.” He turns off the stove, redirecting his attention to spooning out the rice. “Mrs. Patel always boiled rice on the stove. But this is just easier.”

They're halfway through their meal when Lambert declares, “I'm going to tell them. I want you to meet them.”

Aiden smiles around his fork, “Okay.”

--

But Lambert doesn't actually tell them right away. Because a week is too soon. Two weeks is too soon. But by week three, he's ready to burst. Because Vesemir says they're going out for drinks, and Lambert is one ‘send’ button away from inviting Aiden before he realizes he still hasn't gone about making the big reveal.

So, while the others are pulling on their coats, Lambert stands board-straight and silent in the center of the room. Finally blurting out, “Aiden is my friend.”

Eskel and Geralt turn, staring him down but saying nothing.

“We know that,” Vesemir says. “You talk enough about him. Making me kind of jealous, honestly.”

“Boy...friend,” fuck that sounds weird. They're both grown men. “We’re together.”

“Great,” Eskel says, “can we get to the bar now?”

Lambert is already on his phone, texting Aiden to see if he's free.

--

They're at the bar for twenty minutes before Yen arrives, ordering a gin and tonic and asking them all about their work. Lambert shifts from foot to foot with nervous energy. Aiden already texted back that he’ll come over. But he has some stuff to take care of first.

“We’re finally going to meet Lambert’s man-friend,” Geralt tells Yen. “If he's real.”

Lambert groans. It didn't have to be this way. He could have kept his mouth shut.

“Aiden?” Yen asks. And Lambert realizes that everyone has had their suspicions for a while now. Geralt can be kind of dense when it comes to people-stuff. But if he picked up on it enough to say something to Yen, well. Maybe Lambert hasn't been as subtle as he thought.

They've been drinking almost an hour before Aiden finally shows up, his hair neatly tied back and his windbreaker open in the front. He waves at Lambert from the doorway, hesitating slightly, rather than barreling in.

Lambert heads over to meet him, and he half-expects wolf-whistles from his friends. Mercifully, they're silent for now. Their group isn't the only people in the bar. But it's not exactly crowded either.

“Hey,” Lambert says, putting his hand on Aiden’s side. He leans in just close enough to peck chastely at Aiden’s lips. If Geralt and Yen can work on swallowing each other’s tongues in here, no one better fucking begrudge Lambert and Aiden this. “I apologize in advance for any of the dumb shit they're sure to say.”

Aiden beams, “I think I can handle it.”

And, for the most part, Aiden does. Ordering his beer, he introduces himself to each of Lambert’s co-workers, shaking their hands and playing nice. Geralt has no tact, so he outright says Aiden isn't what he expected. Yen pinches him in the side and chides him for never thinking before he speaks.

Lambert steps in next to Aiden, wedging himself back into the circle, with Eskel on his other side. He wraps his arm around Aiden’s waist, threading his index finger through the loop in Aiden’s jeans. Aiden stays a warm, solid pressure against his side for the rest of the evening, and Lambert can't remember ever feeling this grounded.

--

He’s over at Aiden’s again. This time Aiden is making chickpeas, instead of lentils. “Chana,” Aiden says. The dish has a stronger onion scent than the dal they had last time. They're going to eat it with flour tortillas from a package, because Aiden doesn't have the patience or the skill to make roti at home. “Takes all day, so sorry for the lack of authenticity.” As if Lambert minds.

They eat on the couch in front of the tv, because there's a soccer match that Aiden wants to watch. Lambert is starting to at least learn the players’ names, and roughly what their positions are.

When they're finished eating, Lambert gathers up the plates and does the washing. It's the least he can do after Aiden has gone through the trouble of cooking.

He plops back down on the couch and Aiden rearranges them both so he can sit halfway in Lambert’s lap, leaning back against his chest. The top of his head obscures the tv, but Lambert isn't that invested in the match anyway. Playing with Aiden’s hair as Aiden tries to swat Lambert’s hand away proves far more amusing.

After the match ends, they don't bother finding something else to watch. Just leaving the tv on. Lambert thinks this might be as good a time as any. Because he's through waiting on things he wants.

“Hey, Aiden?”

“Yeah?” he cranes his head back a little against Lambert’s shoulder, so he can look Lambert in the eyes.

And yeah. This is the right time. “I love you.”

“You realize you sound completely fucking unreasonable right now, right?” Aiden says. And Lambert’s heartbeat sticks in his chest. “We’ve been together for a month.”

Aiden climbs out of Lambert’s lap, leaving him cold. Heading towards the door, Aiden fiddles in his coat pocket, pulling something out and heading back towards the couch. Honestly, Lambert is too numb to move.

“Luckily,” Aiden holds out his hand. There are three keys in his hand on a silver ring. “I'm equally ridiculous. Outside door to the building, deadbolt, door handle. I think you should move in here. Your apartment is awful. And I'm seriously concerned for your health if you keep living there. That fridge is going to gain sentience and eat you.”

Lambert reaches out, taking the keys. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah,” Aiden confirms. “And I love you too.”

They should probably work through the details of what this means. If Lambert is seriously going to give up his apartment and move in here. But at the moment, it feels desperately important that they get out of their clothes and into bed.

Leaving the lights on, Aiden climbs on top of Lambert, pawing and kissing and promising to absolutely ruin him, given the chance. They're all warm skin-on-skin as Lambert spreads his legs and tells Aiden he wants to try fucking.

“You're going to be the fucking death of me,” Aiden growls, fisting both hands in Lambert’s hair and holding his head still so he can basically fuck Lambert’s mouth with his tongue. “Taken it in your ass before?” Aiden asks, letting go of Lambert and leaning over to rummage through the bedside drawer.

“No? But I've given it to women,” he admits.

Aiden rolls his eyes, “Well, same basic principle, I assume.”

The process of stretching Lambert open is less sexy than he imagined. But Aiden works with careful concentration, asking if the pressure is too much. If Lambert wants to slow down? If he thinks he can take another finger? Lambert doesn't think he has to be coddled so much. But as the blunt head of Aiden’s cock presses into him, Lambert considers he may not have been as thoughtful a lover as he previously assumed.

Because, despite Aiden’s deliberate preparations, Lambert tenses up, and it hurts. Aiden blankets his body over top of Lambert’s telling him it's okay. They're going slow. He's doing well. Once he manages to relax, Aiden is able to push the rest of the way in. Lambert just sort of lets go, as Aiden sets the pace.

“Fuck, you're tight,” Aiden praises, laughing sweetly. “Knew your ass would feel amazing.”

Lambert thinks he should figure out a snarky comeback, but Aiden wraps one hand around his cock and starts matching the steady rhythm of his thrusts and Lambert doesn't want to think about anything anymore. Except maybe how weirdly great it feels to be stretched around Aiden’s dick because, boy, for all his curiosity, Lambert still wasn't expecting to enjoy it this much.

He comes between their bodies, unabashed in his pleasure. Aiden swallows down his moans. Another dozen thrusts and Aiden empties into the condom, pulling out and flopping onto his back. He grabs a tissue off the bedside table to wrap the condom in. Clearly having little desire to move. Lambert doesn't want him to move. They should stay like this a little longer.

“Hey,” Lambert finally says, his mouth feeling full of cotton.

“Hey.”

“I have a question.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“You ass,” Lambert wants to slap him, but just ends up laying his hand on Aiden’s chest. “I get to do that to you too, right?”

Aiden laughs, “You'd better. Or I'm kicking the shit out of you.”

That sounds fucking great.