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Nevermore

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Freddie's father always warned him that he was too kind to people. That one unfortunate day he will be used and see the true colors of the world.

His mother, ever the optimist, used to tell him that he was brave for carrying his heart on his sleeve and that his generosity would pave his way to Heaven.

With the parental advice engraved in his mind— Freddie passed his childhood giving.

As a kid he spend his weekly allowance on food for the stray cats in the dumpsters across the street. He took the blame for his sister for broken vases and shattered dishes. Once he got older he let people borrow money and never ask it back. He did the homework of any classmate with any lousy excuse. Not to mention how this later manifested into his guidable love life.

Looking back, Freddie admittedly had been too kind for his own good.

If only he was someone to learn from his mistakes.

★ ☆★

It was awfully sunny for an early November morning.

The beams of the sun shine through the bare branches of the tree. Freddie's boots kick at the fallen leaves on the pavement. Spreading them in every which way or crushing them under the weight of his sole. The birds have all flown south, which leaves the streets quiet, besides an odd car honk or clattering heels of a woman rushing to her work.

He likes to park two blocks away from the office so he can get two minutes of fresh air.

The air is thick with the prospect of winter. Promising a December of cold.

Freddie makes a mental note to bring his gloves with him tomorrow. His fingers are freezing around his little leather suitcase. Despite enjoying the quiet and fresh hair, he walks a little faster to get inside snd make himself a steaming cup of tea.

By the time he rounds the corner of the street his breaths cause cold damp clouds to come out of his nostrils. He pants for air and nearly misses the scene that plays out right before his eyes in his haste to open the door to the office.

"Hey— hey you!"

For a split second Freddie fears that the two policemen are yelling at him and are stomping in his direction.

But a second look at the nearly empty street before him shows that another young person is their target.

A skinny figure, leaning against a car door with an open window parked by the curb, chatting up whoever is inside— but drives off as soon as the policemen come rounding the corner of the street.

Frozen in place, Freddie watches the person stumble in an effort not to fall over when the mysterious car driver takes off without them.

Their back is turned to Freddie until they try to stagger away from the policemen.

"Stop right there! That's an order!"

They are not dressed appropriately for the biting cold of the early morning winds, in their knee length skirt and ratty sweater falling apart by the threads. Their entire body is shivering with either nerves or cold as another breeze hits and the policemen start running in his direction.

Their long blond hair covers most of their face. Preventing the from seeing where exactly they were going and promptly stumbling into Freddie's chest while he tries to escape.

"Oof!"

"Fuck! Sorry." With that, the stranger tries to pass by Freddie even though it is a lost cause. The policemen will have the poor person in their grip within the next second, while he is still gathering himself from his collision with Freddie.

Freddie— now realizes that this person is not only a prostitute, but also a man.

Common prostitutes still face up to 7 years in prison for practicing in public. Cross-dressing will certainly at least earn him a couple more. Homosexuality will cost the stranger even higher prosecutions.

In that moment Freddie has three choices.

1. Let the policemen do their work and arrest the man.
2. Let the man go and take his chances on how far his wobbly legs can carry him.

Or option number 3. The one that would have his father shake his head and his mother smile in gleeful pride.

"Darling! There you are."

Freddie has a steel grip on the mans thin arm. Forcing him still and preventing him from running, despite his obvious struggle to flee. Eyes wide and desperate as he tries to wrangle his arm free.

Not one to give up, Freddie pulls him in the direction of the office. Confusing both the police and the man.

"You were almost late for our appointment. Had looked all around the block for you."

He keeps his voice light and airy as he holds the door open for the blond man. Smiling down at him while his eyes scream for him to play along. Squeezing his arm in a way which Freddie hopes is reassuring.

"But I—" He blinks rapidly, and when Freddie tries a smile, the mans eyes slowly widen. "Oh! Right. Yes, sorry."

"No problem, dear. We should hurry inside now. It's freezing out!" Freddie chuckles tightly, watching Roger shuffle safely into the office, before looking up at the two policemen standing just outside the door to watch the scene suspiciously.

Not giving them time to rethink, Freddie gives them a nod. "Gentlemen." Before closing the door behind himself.

★ ☆★

Freddie has Roger ushered into the building without a question from the receptionist Greta. Who's always too occupied polishing her nails in between calls to pay attention to familiar faces.

It is pure chance that Freddie has no other appointments this morning. The waiting room is mostly empty besides Shirleys regular patient in the far corner reading a health and fitness magazine and the schizophrenic woman who drops in every other month when her medication needs adjusting.

When one of Freddie's colleagues waves at him from her own office, she doesn't suspect anything weird going on. Not even by the sight of the disheveled man trailing after Freddie like a lost puppy.

Together they make their way through the long brown hallway leading up to his office.

Freddie unlocks the office with the key. Waiting for the trembling man to walk in before him and take a seat wherever he feels the most comfortable.

Blue eyes scan over the office quickly. Lingering on the large window he could use to escape and the armchair he could use to shatter the glass.

Other than that. The office is plain white and brown with wood. A desk in the corner with a typewriter and Freddie's paperwork. A bookshelf with patients records. Two tiny couches and two armchairs. A simple houseplant made of plastic and a tea set in the far corner.

The man choses for the first piece of furniture before him, the brown leather sofa with cushions that make you sink in deep.

He watches Freddie close the door quietly and make his way over to the chair opposite of him.

Freddie lets himself be observed. Leaving his suitcase on the desk. Unzipping his coat and throwing it over the back of the chair, before taking place on it. Legs crossed comfortably.

The other man doesn't squirm when Freddie decides to observe him as well.

Taking in the tightness of his skin over his facial bones and the sunken darkness under his strikingly stunning eyes. His hair is grim and greasy from a lack of hygiene and his clothes seem unwashed as well.

Prostitute. Drug addict. Lost.

Freddie notes that, despite being inside, the man is still shivering and rubbing his palms together to generate some warmth.

"Here."

Freddie takes his thermos bottle from his suitcase. He unscrews the cap and gives it to his guest. "For the cold."

"Thank you."

It is the second time Freddie hears his voice. He wonders if it is always so raspy, or that it is the current state of being that has led his vocal cords to bruise.

He cradles the warm bottle between his palms. Breathing in the hot aroma of coffee curling into his nostrils.

"It's no big deal." Freddie says automatically.

The other man lets the corner of his lip quirk up in a half smile. "You might have just saved my life."

Over the brim of the drink and under his unkept fringe and grime, it is hard to make out most of the strangers facial features, but Freddie can't help imagine that this man was once breathtakingly beautiful.

He yawns. Wide and open without covering his mouth.

"Tired?" Freddie finds himself asking.

"Been out all night, mate." He replies after a long generous sip of coffee.

The smile is wiped off of Freddie's face as fast as it hard appeared.

"Right."

Eyes growing soft, the stranger gives Freddie another easy smile as he tries to convey the right words and the right amount of sincerity to speak up again in the air of the stuffy office.

"They could have arrested me for soliciting in public. They would have found drugs in my system and then the charges for homosexuality." The man sits back against the couch. Drawing his knees up to cross on the seat. "I wouldn't ever see the light of day again."

Freddie senses the relief combined with sorrow tighten the strangers throat. He leans forward, opening his palms to the stranger.

He blinks at the offered hands, before giving his own shaking hands to the man before him.

Freddie clasps his warm hands over his smaller ones. Cradling them delicately around the coffee cup.

"You are welcome."

"Thank you." He flashes a toothy grin. "I'm repeating myself— sorry."

"Nobody has to apologize for speaking in my office." Freddie assures without letting go of the cold mans hands until they are no longer sickly pale going on yellow.

The reminder of the setting has the mans eyes look away from Freddie's to dart around the room again. Blue orbs falling on the degrees on Freddie's wall behind the desk and the shelves with records close to the large window.

When his eyes land on Freddie once more, the coffee has done its work of waking him up.

"I can't afford therapy."

Freddie now allows a smile as well.

"Luckily, I'm not your therapist— I'm just Freddie. But we don't tell anyone here at the office."

"Would you be in trouble?" He asks carefully.

Freddie can't lie and nods, "I can't use this office for personal reasons and especially not during work hours. It'd be a violation of several rules in place of a professional healing environment." He is forced to watch the worry instantly fill the other mans already sunken eyes. Within a split second, the man is back on his feet, wobbling dangerously, he hands Freddie his bottle back before he staggers towards the door with a stuttered apology.

"Hey, where are you going, darling?" Freddie catches up on him because he is much faster on his feet.

The man turns around before he has manages to switch the doorknob.

His eyes are everywhere but on Freddie as he scans the room. Hands curling in the length of his skirt in an effort to stay calm.

"Don't want to get you in trouble. Don't want to get found."

"Nobody will find out."

Freddie approaches him like someone would approach a wounded animal who had curled itself in a corner.

Hands up in surrender and a smile on his already kind face.

"I promise you, nobody's gonna know. We can pretend you are a patient. I'll even add you to my patients list, we can just pretend."

He is shaking all over again. Back pressed tightly against the wooden door and his limbs are pressed stiffly against his sides.

Freddie decides to stop at an arms length. Not making an effort to touch the blond man.

"If you want to leave, you can go. The door is unlocked and I won't keep you against your will."

The words don't work to calm the man down again. It doesn't even earn Freddie a peek at those beautiful blue eyes now hidden by long dark blond hair and he is looking down at their shoes. Leather Clarks opposite worn, hole filled sneakers.

"If you decide to go, please take my coffee and some cash so you can get home safe. I don't have much on me, but I should have enough for a cab drive within London. If you need more, I'm just gonna need a moment to—"

"What do you want from me?really?"

"Nothing." Freddie promises. Letting out very exaggerated calm breaths in the hopes that the stranger might stop himself from hyperventilating. "Nothing, I mean it. But if you ever need help, I'm right here. Just try to make an appointment next time at the reception."

The stranger seems to pick up on Freddie's breathing pattern. He tries to adjust his panting.

Fingers clutch tight in his skirt, he explains what is stopping him. Freddie realizes that they are back to making eye contact. "I don't have insurance or an ID... Stuff like that."

Nonetheless, Freddie presses to him that he should return if he wants any help sorting out
whatever is going on with him.

The man doesn't look convinced.

"I'm not sure if you could handle me. Especially not without getting paid."

"Think about it. You look like you could use a hand." He gives the other man the steaming bottle of coffee back. "You know where my door is."

Bony fingers curl around the bottle. His freezing fingertips brush against Freddie's.

A smile tugs on the corner of the mans lips.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome..."

"Roger." The man supplies, clutching the bottle to his chest as if it were the most precious thing he owned. "That's my name."

"Roger, stay safe."

Then, Freddie watches the door open with a click and the other man let out a relieved sigh when he realizes he truly isn't kept there against his will.

"You too!" Roger calls over his shoulder when he pushes the door open and stalks into the hallway.

Freddie watches him go with a heavy heart and fears he'll never see him again.

★ ☆★

"Brian!"

Freddie beams when the glass doors of the hospital open and finally reveal a familiar face.

He comes jogging down the parking lot to the curb, where the nurse stops Brians wheelchair from rolling onto the street.

"Hi you."

Freddie crouches down and wraps his arms around Brians middle, trying very hard not squish him in his enthusiasm. The contact still causes Brian to grunt low in his throat and stiffen in Freddie's embrace.

"Sorry." Freddie cringes. He clutches his hands to his chest to smile sheepishly at Brian.

"Hey Fred."

His voice, just like himself has voice has grown thin from his time in the hospital. He is still unnaturally pale and his eyes are sunken, in a way that brings Freddie back to the man he had met that morning.

Freddie tries to shake off the thoughts of whatever trouble Roger might be getting himself into right this moment. With his big blue sorrowful eyes and his hole filtered sweater.

Freddie pushes these thoughts and the moo of messy blond hair to the back of his mind.

"How are you feeling, dear? Ready to come home?"

Brians cheeks are hollow out even further when he smiles. Flashing Freddie his sharp teeth. "Ready to go home."

"Good!"

Freddie takes over the wheelchair handles from the nurse. She bids Brian farewell and presses him to be careful during his recovery period.

Initially he has thought he has a good parking spot close to the hospital doors, but in hindsight, Freddie should have tries to find a closer space.

It is hard for him to steer with one hand so he can splay his free hand on Brians shoulder after weeks without intimacy. It becomes especially difficult on the gritty asphalt leading up to the car. Nearly causing the wheelchair to swirl and Brian to topple onto the floor if it weren't for Freddie clawing at his grey itchy hospital sweater.

"Ow. Fuck."

Brian bends forward and grits his teeth. His arm clutched around his middle.

"I'm sorry! Sorry." Freddie quickly attaches both hands back on the handles. "I'm too excited."

"It's okay." Brian grunts, seemingly still trying not to convulse in pain.

Freddie goes extra slow now. Inching the last steps to the car, before helping Brian into the shotgun seat with only a little strain. Brian has truly lost a large amount of weight even since before he was admitted to the hospital.

"Are you okay?"

Freddie arranges the seatbelt around Brian and huddles the spare blanket in the backseat over his frame.

Brian lets his eyes fall closed and nods with his head resting against the back of the seat.

"Still tender from the operation."

"I'll get you home quick and safe."

"Emphasis on safe." Brian grunts when Freddie slams the door shut, folds the wheelchair in the back and climbs into the drivers seat with a gleeful smile. If Brians eyes were open he would be blinded by the sheer happiness radiating off of him.

Before starting the gas, Freddie quickly scans his eyes over the mostly empty parking lot.

When he is mostly sure nobody is watching, he leans over to press a kiss against Brians slightly parted lips.

His eyes flutter back open. He smiles when Freddie's face is still close to his.

"I'm so happy to go home."

"I know." Freddie whispers, he eagerly pecks Brians lips again, before driving them away from the looming shadow of the hospital building.

★ ☆★

"Do you think you could hold down some soup?"

Freddie has Brian on the living room couch in less than a minute. Making quick work of getting him out of his hospital clothes and into his old pajamas, getting his feet wrapped in his warmest socks and a blanket thrown over his frame. Brians stomach is still healing from the failed operation of four days ago. He needs a body pillow to hold onto, preventing himself from rolling onto his stomach and waking up in agonizing pain.

He is barely awake anymore by the time Freddie has the blankets pulled up to his chin and Delilah cuddles in the crook of his elbow.

"Maybe. My tummy hurts."

"I'll make you some and you can decide if you want it tonight. Okay?"

"M'kay."

Freddie is on his knees by the side of the couch. He brushes his fingers gently through the hairs falling over Brians face. He coos, waiting for Brians eyes to close.

When he is sure Brian has fallen asleep, he kisses the smooth skin of his forehead and leaves a wet patch. Freddie gets to his feet to start with dinner with a smile on his face, not because he particularly likes cooking or is any good at it, but because his loved one is back home with him. Sleeping safe and soundly under the blankets.

He likes to let his mind wander while he cooks. The house is small and he can't have music playing in the kitchen without having the sound bleed into the living room.

It isn't wise for a horrid cook like him to be absent minded while he works. Nearly chopping off his thumb and then letting the chopped carrots tumble onto the tiles like a clown in a comedic sketch.

But Freddie can't help himself.

His gut tells him something is wrong. Something having to do with the stranger he had met that morning.

Roger. With his knee-length skirt and long eyelashes shadowing the bruises under his eyes.

Freddie loves his job for many reasons. Firstly because he gets to sit on his arse for most of the day and drink as much tea as he sees fit, but most importantly, he gets to help people and make positive changes in his patients lives.

That is why it broke his heart to know someone as frail as Roger is out in the world alone. On the run for the police and whatever else is hunting him.

Freddie has yet to meet a sex worker without a heart wrenching story.

He shouldn't be getting attached to someone he won't see again and will most likely end up in jail or dead with the peaking heights in crimes against prostitutes this year.

Roger is no different from the stray cats Freddie would feed when he was seven years old.

Their manes were most likely beautiful underneath the dumpster dirt and skinniness from the hunger. They would hiss at him when he would approach them to help and feed them a can of tuna taken from the back of the food cabinet.

Freddie would rarely see the same stray cats twice. At times finding the other cats munching on the remains of their deceased friend.

Foolish as it might be, Freddie doesn't learn from past mistakes and had indeed added Roger to his patient list.

Which is for the most part against the rules. And a little illegal.

"Fred?"

"Jesus!"

Freddie nearly sends his knife flying across the room, luckily it slips from his grip and clatters to the floor. Missing his bare feet just barely.

He clutches his hand to his chest where his heart tries to jump out.

"Jesus Christ, who let's you use sharp utensils in this house?" John asks while he steps into the kitchen with his work clothes still on and toolkit in his hand.

Freddie bends down to grab the knife.

"It was my husband, he makes me slave away in the kitchen."

"He sounds awful."

"The worst." Freddie smiles, waiting for John to close the distance between them.

The kiss is short, but still manages to make Freddie's toes curl on the cold tiles. For a moment he forgets about the droopy eyed blond and Brians illness. He simply enjoys the comforting warmth Johns lips offer and the clutch of his rough hand on his hip. Pinning him down and grounding Freddie in place.

"Welcome home." Freddie smiles when John breaks the kiss.

"Indeed." John puts his toolkit on the empty side of the counter and rests his forehead against Freddie's with a shoulder deflating sigh. "How was your day?"

"Better than yours, I think."

Freddie splays his fingers through Johns long hair. Combing from the root all the way down.

"T'was alright, just don't think I can handle the 11 hour shifts anymore."

"I'm sorry."

John has been picking up as many hours as he can at his job. Taking the early morning clients with emergencies that couldn't wait until 7 am.

They had to make up for the dent in their monthly income now that Brian can't work.

"It's not your fault." John manages to look up back at Freddie and drag himself back onto his own weight. "Hope things can go back to normal soon."

"I don't know... Brian still isn't looking too well."

Freddie finds his lip catching between his front teeth. He nibbles on the sensitive skin while he fiddles with the strings on his hoodie.

John must have noticed, wrapping his hands around Freddie's wrists to still his hands.

"What's going on? If you're worried about Brian, the doctors couldn't find anything during the operation. It means he might just be okay in a few weeks and we were all just—"

"I met someone today."

This seems to surprise John, who is stunned silent.

"Oh."

"Yes, he was trying to uh, prostitute himself to a man across the office."

John grimaces. "Jesus."

"The police saw him. The car he was trying to get in drove off and it left him stranded there, all alone. He could barely stand on his feet. He might have been on drugs, he hadn't slept for at least a good 24 hours. It was such a horrific sight to see him try to outrun the police, who were far quicker and more oriented than he was."

Expectedly, John crosses his arms across his chest and frowns at Freddie.

"What did you do?"

"Nothing!" He squeaks.

His resolve crumbles when Johns eyebrow cocks up into his fringe. Freddie desperately doesn't squirm under his no-bullshit stare.

"I mean, I couldn't just let him get arrested, right? What kind of person would I be?"

John can't help but huff out a good natured chuckle. "Not Freddie Mercury."

"Exactly."

Freddie beams again when John leans in for another kiss, this time using both hands to cradle Freddie flush against him.

★ ☆★

The bed finally doesn't feel as empty anymore now that Brian is back.

To celebrate his return, he sleeps in the middle tonight. Laying on his side, supported by his body pillow to prevent worsening his abdominal pain.

He is warmly wedged between Freddie John.

John has his arms around Brians waist and nuzzles against his neck with his cold nose.

Freddie has his back pressed against Brians body pillow. One of Brians legs is slung over Freddie and keeping him close.

Brians dreamy mumbles fill the silence of the bedroom. The red zooming numbers on the alarm clock are the only light source. The space smells exclusively of them.

It is all perfectly familiar and Freddie is more comfortable than he could ever be.

Still he finds himself unable to sleep. Looking at the far wall opposite of him, where they had hung a mirror. His reflection starting back at himself in the slightly red tainted lightening always creeps him out.

He thinks.

About the tired lines on Johns forehead. Brians unidentified disease. Rogers whereabouts and safety.

"Freddie?"

Freddie closes his eyes at the sound of Johns voice and drowns out the reflection of himself before he starts to shake.

"Yes?"

"Don't let them take advantage of you."

The words linger in the deafening quiet of the room. John doesn't speak again.

Freddie doesn't get much sleep that night.

★ ☆★

He shouldn't be disappointed when the day after Roger doesn't show up again.

Freddie walks into the waiting room a grand total of 36 times, before he decides he is pathetic for seriously expecting him to come back, after Roger had nearly been arrested at that exact location for practicing his job.

It wouldn't make sense anyway. This neighborhood is not a common whereabout for prostitutes. Roger had likely found his way here after coming back from another client.

That is no valid reason to come back.

Not even for Freddie.

★ ☆★

A week goes by before there is a hesitant knock on Freddie's office door.

To Freddie's amazement it is not Greta or his 1pm patient showing up, but Roger.

Roger, who had not once escaped Freddie's mind ever since that day on the street with the police. Roger, with his beautiful eyes and bones jutting out from under his skin.

The same Roger who is now shaking and obviously sweating though his thin layers of clothing when he enters Freddie's office.

Freddie knows then and there that Roger is in deep shit.

He drops his pen on his desk and climbs to his feet to get Roger a glass of water. His lips are chapped dry with dehydration as he offers Freddie a gruff hello.

"Roger." Freddie breathes. "I worried about you."

Roger can barely offer Freddie a weak smile.

He looks even worse than he did eight days ago. Today he is an outright mess, his clothes hang off his frame, he is still tremendously skinny for a man his size, there are bruises under his eyes also matching marks leading down his neck and disappearing under the line of his stained sweater. If Roger was shaking from the cold last time, he is now trembling in cold sweat.

Freddie shuffles closer to him and offers Roger the glass of water.

It is tap, but Roger doesn't seem to notice while he gulps the whole thing down his throat with a breathy sigh, before handing Freddie the empty glass back.

"Roger... I told you that you need to make an appointment if you want to come here. I'm not sure if—" Freddie starts weakly, trying to keep himself from sounding too enthusiastic about seeing the blond man before him again. In only a sweater and torn jeans this time.

It clearly wasn't the right move to make.

Roger turns back on his heel to leave immediately, muttering that this was a stupid in the first place.

In that moment, Freddie panics.

He can tell from the lack of basic care Roger can attain for himself that he needs immediate help. Letting him out into the world after coming all this way, from wherever he came from would not be wise.

"Wait- dear. Have a seat. I can squeeze you in during my lunch break."

Freddie restrains himself from grabbing onto the mans arm. Fearing that his skin there is also marked with worrisome bruises under his clothes.

Roger stops with his hand on the doorknob, slowly twisting his body to look at Freddie from under his lashes.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes!" Freddie beams.

He gestures towards the couch Roger had occupied the last time he was there.

"Please take a seat, you don't look too well right now."

"Bit peachy." Roger smirks.

Freddie sighs in relief when he begins staggering towards the couch once more, ignoring the helping hand Freddie offers to support him.

He is moving uneasily with whatever injuries are plaguing him under his clothes.

The clearness of eyes confirm he isn't high right now, but that doesn't deny possible use of drugs in the past.

He flops onto the couch with a long drawn out groan. Settling with his legs drawn up to his chest and his arms to wrap around his knees.

Freddie makes him another drink, before he takes place on the stool in front of Roger.

Roger is watching him with the same amount of interest as Freddie is studying him. As if they are two exotic zoo animals with cages right opposite one another. The tiger staring down the polar bear. The mutual interest and cutting edge of potential damger makes the air between them almost electric.

Freddie folds his hands in his lap. He keeps his eyes on Roger, instead of the yellow, purple fingermarks on his neck.

"So Roger,what made you decide to come back?"

Roger sighs and when he does, his entire body deflates with the motion. His bruised face is half hidden by the transparent glass of water.

"A few days ago,"

★ ☆★

Roger wakes up to agonizing pain shooting from his middle to the rest of his body.

The sound of his own hitched breaths ring through his ears.

When he opens his eyes he is met with a familiar sight. An unknown man, red in the face and greasy is grunting on top of him. Face uncomfortably close to Rogers while he forces himself in him.

Roger begins to panic.

His chest heaves with the effort to breathe. The pain so intense it paralyzes him underneath the weight of his assaulter.

Roger only remembers falling asleep last night, while he was high up in the clouds on a dream inducing high.

He doesn't know how the man got his way with him.

How he got into the apartment, how he had Rogers clothes discarded to the side and his legs forcibly held apart.

Roger is in the exact same spot he fell asleep in. He knows the rotten smell of the apartment and the pattern of the cracks in the ceiling over the mans shoulder. He is forced down to the worn mattress on the dirty floor. Arms pinned down by his head and preventing him from moving away— if he wasn't frozen in place, while he is being teared in two.

Humiliation washes over Roger. Listening to the man panting about how tight he is. How good he feels. How he is going to full him up.

"Mine. You're mine."

Roger attempts to push him away from him. But his benumbed body barely manages to keep on breathing. Let alone fight off a man twice Rogers weight.

All he manages to do is flex his fingers, numb from the blocked blood flow.

The down of a heroin high keeps him exhausted and subdued. His brain has barely recovered from the toxins and his body cannot function without the brain.

The shock of the pain convulsing through his body makes Roger lay completely still.

The man above him flashes him his yellow teeth when he realizes Rogers has woken up. Rupturing Rogers insides mercilessly. His penis dragging against Rogers raw inner walls.

"Someone has decided to join us." He grunts over his left shoulder in between thrusts that leave Roger gurgling on his own spit.

The other person in the room, is Richard, who scoffs.

"Don't expect much from him today. He isn't on anything right now."

The pain becomes unbearable the longer it drags on without the numbing of heroin in his bloodstream. Roger wonders if they had bothered to prep him at all before the ordeal, or that it is blood sticking between his legs.

He shifts his face away from the mans to pant shallow breaths into the ratty pillow.

His blurry eyes shift over to Richard before unconsciousness can overtake him. Richard is perched up on the stool next to the mattress, counting a stack of money on his lap.

"Richard." Roger whispers hoarsely. His voice barely carrying further than his own muddled brain. "Help. Help me."

When he takes notice of Rogers whimpers, he tuts.

He leans forward in his chair until he can press a kiss to Rogers sickly pale face, all the while he's still being held down and used like a rag doll.

"Be a good pretty boy for me and let him finish. Else you'll get no smack afterwards."

Roger isn't too proud to beg for heroin. The sweet relief he will need if he wants to survive the pain he is enduring now.

It is close to impossible to talk while he is thrusted into viciously, but when a large hand comes up to wrap around Rogers throat and block his windpipe, he is done for it.

He gags, gurgles and splutters.

One of his arms is now freed from the mans grip. But the pain, unbearable suffering tearing pain, prevents Roger from successfully clawing the hand around his neck away. Richard doesn't say a word, still counting the money he has. The only sound in the room is that of Roger struggling to breathe and that of the man on top of him grunting in his ear.

Roger lets his limbs fall flat against the mattress when the lack of oxygen makes his vision fuss black around the edges.

Just before the blissful darkness overtakes him, Roger realizes that he is in too deep.

Chapter Text

There are several telltale signs of drugs withdrawal.

Sweating, nausea, dilated pupils, insomnia, muscle aches, anxiety.

Before him sits Roger— worn to the bone in the same stiff position. His feet jitter on the couch cushions with tremendous anxious energy after telling Freddie what had brought him back to the office today.

He looks a little green around the edges, Freddie must admit the story made his own stomach twist as well.

"That was three days ago." Rogers elaborates. His chin rests on his knees and he avoids meeting Freddie's eyes. With his already mysteriously stained sweater, Roger wipes the thin layer of sweat from his forehead. "I just don't know what to do now."

"You're in withdrawal."

Roger seems to struggle keeping himself in an upright position. He slowly allows his head and knees to lean sideways against the armrest.

Freddie's hands twitch in his lap to keep himself from reaching out.

He just watches Roger and Roger in return watches him. Long eyelashes shadow the wide pupils surrounded by a ring of blue. His lips are chapped raw and nose is running.

"Freddie?"

Freddie offers a smile, despite feeling sick to his stomach. "Yes?"

"I've been sober for three days, but I don't know how much longer I can do it." Rogers voice comes out as a thin whisper. "I don't want to keep living like that."

It feels as if all of Freddie's training has gone out of the window.

It is hard for him to keep an emotional distance from Roger. Firstly because he is not a real patient and secondly because Roger looks one breath away from his death.

Freddie reaches for his cup of tea, wrapping his numb fingers around the heat of his cup.

It doesn't help.

"I'm not specialized in withdrawing from drugs, but I can help you find a different therapist, I can be here for you as a friend and we can find a support group together."

Roger blinks lazily. "A support group?"

"Yes." Freddie perks up. "You attend meetings every other day where you will meet people with similar addiction problems. It has proven to help people set goals for their sobriety and that it helps talking to people who understand what you yourself have gone through."

He climbs to his feet to find the pamphlets from the second drawer in his desk.

"It will help you set a routine for yourself. They will hold you accountable if you relapse or not show up."

The papers are neatly ordered underneath a stack of files. He turns back to Roger and shows him his four options in the area.

Roger scans over the pamphlets while he listens.

"If there is one you like, I will give them a call and sign you up. You won't need an ID or money, you just need to show up." Freddie explains hastily, before sitting back down in his chair to not crowd Roger.

Half lidded eyes move from left to the right on the colorful paper.

Roger holds up the purple advert for 'Together not Alone.' He shows it to Freddie. "This one any good?"

"It sure is, 3 times a week, they offer dinner during meetings and have many connections to rehab centers if you ever decide to take that road."

Roger seems doubtful of that, handing Freddie back his stack of pamphlets with a hesitant smile.

"Can you give them a call?"

"Of course, of course." Freddie puts the stack on his desk, he then scribbles the address of Together not Alone on a piece of paper for Roger. "I will give myself up as your confidant. That means that they will give me a call if you don't show up to one of the meetings."

"Okay."

"I'm also gonna ask you to keep seeing me regularly. Twice a week perhaps? So we can talk about your wellbeing."

"As my therapist?"

"As a friend."

That makes a smile quirk at the corner of Rogers lips. He takes the piece of paper Freddie offers and pockets it in his jeans.

He then cuddles back against the armrest with a sigh, looking more tired than before.

Freddie finds himself softening at the sight.

"Do you have a place to sleep?"

"Yes." Roger says without skipping a beat.

Freddie watches him closely. Taking in the rapidness of his breaths and the wriggling of his toes in his shoes through the thin fabric.

"Is it a safe place?"

"Are you gonna keep asking difficult questions?" Roger whispers without any heat behind the words.

Freddie snorts, nodding.

"Absolutely."

★ ☆★

"Look at you!"

Freddie laughs warmly as he comes strolling into the kitchen where Brian is preparing sandwiches.

He twists around at the sound of Freddie's voice, still sickly thin and quite sluggish from the painkillers pumped into his system to make his abdomen pain bearable.

"It's good to see you back on your feet."

"Barely." Brian says, demonstrating how he is leaning heavily against the counter.

Freddie quickly stalks over to wrap a supportive arm around his waist. Brian smiles and slings his own arm over Freddie shoulder.

He props his head on Freddie's. Smiling.

"Just making your and Johns lunch for tomorrow."

"Such a sweet housewife." Freddie grins up at him.

He watches Brian butter up the sandwiches laid out on the two plates before them. He gives them one layer of ham, cheese, mayonnaise, a tomato and a dash of iceberg lettuce. Four of the sandwiches are stacked into Johns lunch box. The remaining four in Freddie's package.

"Oh darling, I'm gonna need a bigger lunch tomorrow."

"Oh?" The two of them jump when suddenly John is standing in the doorway wet hair dripping on his bathrobe. Fresh out of the shower.

Freddie has a hand on his chest. Gasping. "You need to stop doing that!"

"Sorry."

They watch John roll his eyes, before they turn back to the counter where they continue tending to their sandwiches.

Freddie and Brian both begin working on fresh slices from the plastic breadsack.

John shuffles closer until he can look over their shoulders.

"So, what's the extra lunch for?"

"Roger." Freddie says simply.

John and Brian share a look. Freddie makes an effort to ignore their judgement by keeping his eyes strictly focused on the sandwich before him. His knife sliding smoothly through the airy dough and the

He makes a mental note to take a package of crisps with him as well.

"Fred."

Freddie pushes himself away from Brians side to rummage through the cabinet on the left under the sink. There he finds a stray pack of salty crisps and two Buenos.

"Freddie."

"What is it, dear?"

He straightens his back to look at John— who's got his arms crossed and his hip cocked out.

"You know what I'm going to say."

Freddie shrugs. He puts the snacks on the counter top. Brian packs them into his lunchbox without a word.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

John leans forward to press a kiss to Freddie's cheek. When he pulls away he smiles sadly.

"Just be careful."

It is Freddie's turn to roll his eyes, before he wraps an arm around Johns waist for a proper kiss.

★ ☆★

"What usually happens during real sessions?"

They are back in their usual seats. Roger on the couch, munching on the sandwich he had reluctantly accepted. Freddie is in the green armchair opposite of him.

It is nothing like real sessions with patients.

Freddie would have their file open on his desk and his notebook in his lap to scribble words down to type out later. He wouldn't be eating during a session either, wouldn't bring lunch for his patients or expect them to take their shoes off by the door to let them be more comfortable.

"Well," Freddie breaks his train of thoughts to reply. "I'd ask you to tell me something about yourself."

Roger smiles cheekily. "You first."

It has only been a few days since their last appointment, but Roger looks infinitely better.

Freddie can't help but smile at the sight of him. He is evidently more present and alert. The lazy far away look in his eyes has passed on with his slowly fading withdrawal symptoms. He doesn't look much cleaner or less skinny, but at least he is starting to look sober.

"I'm Freddie Mercury, I have five cats and two boyfriends whom I all love equally. I studied at the Imperial College. I'm now a psychologist and I like to paint in my spare time."

He points at the framed painting behind Roger, who flops over to stare at it.

"Whoa." Comes the amazed breathy smile.

Freddie looks up at it as well after he is done observing the knobs of Rogers spine through the thin fabric of his shirt.

The painting is that of a large landscape. The beach in the middle, overlapped by the cold North Sea and on the left the large white mountain ascending shadows over the sand.

Two figures walk the shore. Both long haired and holding hands. One tall and lanky, the other shorter and more build.

They are mere black figures, rather than recognizable people.

"You're an amazing painter."

Roger turns around and the twinkle in his eyes sing praises. Freddie feels his insides warm up at the mere sight of such simple adoration.

"Thank you, Roger."

"Are that your boyfriends? They look happy."

Freddie's eyes trail up at the painting again. He can almost still smell the salt of the water and feel the coarse sand between his toes. The brush gently held between his index finger and thumb, the sound of the waves crashing ashore alongside the calm strokes on his canvas.

"Yes. The one with all the hair is Brian on the left. The smaller one is John, he's a 68 year old trapped in the body of a young adult, I tell you."

Roger chuckles, hanging eagerly to every spoken word. Freddie lets him bask in the rare open acceptance that is hard to come by in public.

"John works as an engineer. He might be the most innovative and creative person I know. When he isn't at his day job, he's always fiddling around with something. Brian on the other hand has been quite sick for the past few months. The doctors don't know what it is, they even tried surgery and couldn't find anything. We look after him now, but he can't work. He made your sandwich today."

Roger stops chewing mid-bite, smiling behind the bread.

"Tell him he makes a lovely sammy."

"Will do." Freddie says solemnly. He watches Roger munch on the bread carefully, as if restraining himself from overeating. "If you can't finish it now, I can wrap them up so you can take them with you."

Roger gingerly puts the sandwich down once the words have left Freddie's lips.

"Thank you."

He puts a hand on his belly and rubs it as if having just finished a big Christmas dinner instead of half a sandwich.

"Absolutely no problem at all, Darling. Now," Freddie refills Rogers cup of tea with more hot water from the kettle. "It is your turn to tell me something about yourself."

Roger blinks at Freddie, reaches for his teacup, takes another second in which he blows the hot steam away, before he lets out a chest deflating sigh.

"Well, I'm Roger. I'm a prostitute."

Freddie's training finally comes in handy when he refrains himself from showing his shattered heart on his face.

He reaches out to lay a biscuit on Rogers little plate, alongside an encouraging smile.

"What else?"

"I don't know." Roger shrugs.

His physic tells he is closed off with his arms crossed over his chest and legs drawn to his chest.

Freddie hums, taking his own tea cup in his hands and stirring the sugar around with the tiny silver spoon. The clacking of his cup is the only notable sound in the room. Roger is taking  great interest in the dust balls on the carpet.

"C'mon, Darling. Tell me something about your life."

Roger still hesitates to answer, when he does he is talking into his cup rather than facing Freddie.

"My life is unbearable without smack."

"Smack?"

Rogers cheeks heat up for other reasons than the tea. "Heroin."

After nodding carefully, Freddie leans forward in his chair and reaches out to lay a hand on Rogers knee in reassurance. Offering a smile as well.

"I don't judge you, okay? You are here because you want to get better. I want the same for you. We are friends, right?"

Roger swallows down the lump in his throat with a large gulp of tea.

"Yes."

Freddie squeezes his knee and can't ignore the way Roger is trying very hard not to squirm at the touch. "Good." He retreats his hand as fast as it came. Rogers shoulders relax when he is given back his personal space. "So you have been going to the support group, you see people who are going through similar obstacles you are facing. Like them, you want to get better. Do you have a plan on how to achieve this?"

"Not really." Roger shakes his head once and looks slightly guilty about the fact.

All Freddie can offer is a reassuring smile.

He leans all the way back into his chair and keeps the calm on his face as to not alarm Roger with the seriousness of the topic he wants to tackle today.

Over their past three meetings Freddie has learned Roger is quite the conversationalist as long as they avoid the sticky issues at hand.

"Where do you live right now?"

"With Richard."

Freddie remembers the name from the memory Roger had shared the other day. The man who had counted the money he had earned from letting Roger get raped in front of him.

It makes Freddie's blood crawl.

If he had a notepad, he would write the name down and circle it in red.

"Richard. Right." He nods tightly at Roger who definitely isn't looking at him. Not after the air in the room has gone serious. "Does he know about your profession?"

The pauses Roger likes to drop mid conversation usually don't mean any good.

He taps his fingernails onto the side of his porcelain cup. The soft clicking seems to momentarily ground him and work through the shame flaming his cheeks bright red.

It is a dire pity to see someone so beautiful recoil in embarrassment of their own being.

Freddie almost takes mercy on him and stops prying, until Roger decides to open his mouth.

"Richard is my boyfriend."

Freddie frowns. "Oh!"

Roger hasn't finished, he clears his throat. "He is also my dealer and organizes a group of... us under his roof, we grew up as siblings."

"More prostitutes?" Freddie asks.

Roger doesn't seem to like the chilled tone Freddie's voice takes on and he scrambles to explain.

"No, look. He gives us shelter, food, safe drugs. Sometimes we go out of the house to find money, other times Richard has clients for us. You see, we give him money for our share of rent and the drugs. He looks after us and after me. He isn't a pimp."

Freddie has sick crawling up his throat, leaving an acid aftertaste from Rogers explanation.

He fears the worst about this Richard person.

"When did this arrangement start?"

"When I was 16." Roger carefully avoids Freddie's eyes so he doesn't have to see them nearly pop out of his skull. "When my mother passed away."

It is as if Freddie is putting together a puzzle and he doesn't have any of the outer pieces to make sense of the inner pieces he is slowly but surely gathering from these in depth conversations.

"How did you go from your mum passing away to finding yourself working for Richard as a prostitute?" He struggles to keep his tone neutral. Yet with the right amount of self restriction, Freddie manages.

Roger is naturally hesitant to share more. Freddie can tell from the way he is worrying his lip between his teeth and hiding half his face behind his cup.

Freddie can imagine Roger has never shared his story before. From experience he knows it is quite daunting to lay your whole history out to someone you barely know. Even though Freddie is not his actual therapist, even as so called 'friends' it is very confrontational to spell out where and why your problems started. As if peeling the layers off an union and finding the further you go, the more bitter tears prick at the corners of your eyes.

"Richard took me and my mum in when she ran from my father. He used to hurt her, so she sought her way out."

Rogers blue eyes are looking up at Freddie from under the curtain of eyelashes. As if waiting for a reaction.

Freddie calculates his every move. He keeps his breathing steady and doesn't tap his foot on the carpet like one would do when they are nervous. He wants to appear calm for Roger, non-judgmental and unbothered.

When no reaction comes, Roger dares to continue.

"I was quite young at the time, so I don't know how my mum found Richard, she couldn't afford anywhere else. We ran with the clothes on our back, y'know. One day she picked me up from school and we just didn't go home. She had packed nothing. All we had were the contents from her purse. I remember we went to my grandmothers house, but she told us to go immediately."

"Why?"

"She kept seeing my fathers car drive around the block. He would have killed her, you know? My mum I mean. He was possessive like that. We were afraid to go to family after that and my mum didn't have many friends, or a job for that matter. No education, nothing that could help her get on her own feet." Freddie observes the cool-closed-off tone of Rogers voice. Like he is keeping an emotional distance by pretending the story is not truly about him. "I don't know how she found Richard in the end. She never did tell me, but he offered refuge in his home for us. My mother would give him money for our share of the rent. We'd get food, a mattress to sleep on, there was always someone there to take me to school if my mum was busy working."

Freddie is recoils at the question that slips out from between his lips before he can reconsider it more carefully.

"Was she a prostitute too?"

"If she was, she never allowed me to see it."

Roger hums, he takes a long careful sip from his drink with a thoughtful frown.

It feels like he is back in university. Studying tapes of people's emotional reactions to long outbursts of conversations for research papers. Freddie had always felt slightly guilty watching those videos. As if he were prying knowledge off of them without their consent.

With Roger he feels no different.

Watching him pick at the hole in his sock, poke his pinky finger through it and wear it out further.

He is thinking, brow furrowing further each passing second.

"Everyone who lives with Richard prostitutes themselves for him. So I guess my mum was no different."

"I'm sorry." Is the only sincere thing Freddie could possibly think of saying.

Roger offers him a half smile. "It's not your fault."

"I feel like I have dimmed your mood."

"No, no that's not your fault." He continues to wedge a bigger hole into his striped sock. "It's just that I think that this is not what she would have wanted for me."

Freddie lowers his own tea cup.

His stomach is in too many knots to sufficiently keep anything down. "Would she be disappointed?"

Roger nods slowly. "She wanted what was best for me."

"I am sure that she would have understood the circumstances you are under. She passed away and you had to vent for yourself, so you did what you had to survive with the tools you had at the time."

"When mum suddenly died I was expected to pitch in and cover the rent she had paid for me while she was alive."

Roger lowers his tea cup to the coffee table between them. He shrugs.

"I quit school and did whatever was asked of me, because Richard always looked after us. He had always been fond of me, so I knew I was protected while I lived there."

The words are spoken so casually that they almost don't register with Freddie.

"Then he gave you drugs?"

"Everyone in the house does drugs. It was normal, I saw it every day and it made the job bearable... It made me forget how much I missed my mum." Roger holds his shoulders up, playing nonchalant.

So normal that he doesn't notice the damage it has caused already. Freddie thinks.

A moment of silence falls over them. Despite trying to keep the emotions out of the conversation, Roger struggles to regulate his breathing. His chest heaves quite rapidly and his hands are picking at the end of his already worn sweater.

Freddie doesn't want to make the afternoon any more exhausting for Roger.

He gets to his feet and ignores the shuddering flinch the sudden movement elects from Roger. He apologizes with a fleeting smile, before gathering their cups of tea to put them back in the tea corner to be cleaned later.

The aftermath of the conversation makes Freddie's limbs heavier. Or so it feels like when he drags himself across the office. Blue eyes burning holes in his back.

Freddie can't say anything about the staring.

He knows he has plucked Roger apart today, partly by accident and for some part on purpose.

It should go unsaid that the conversations concerning the root of Rogers addiction are essential to his recovery, but that doesn't make the talks any easier.

Freddie returns to his seat with another biscuit for Roger to put on top of the other one he didn't eat.

Roger has yet to find a regular breathing pattern again, yet he manages a grateful smile for the offered cookie.

"Thanks, Fred."

The nickname comes out smooth and so easily that he might have said it a hundred times before.

When he is in his own chair again, Freddie smiles back.

"Roger, you say Richard protects you and shelters you, right?"

"Right."

"Do you think Richard will help you get better? Even after he was the one to introduce you to drugs and prostitution."

The smile isn't completely wiped off of Rogers face, but only a shadow of it remains.

He takes a quick glance at the clock above Freddie's desk and he quickly climbs to his feet. "I think my time is up."

"Don't you think the only way you can change your life is to get away from that situation?" Before Freddie can convince him to stop, Roger is already by the door pushing his toes into his shoes in a desperate need to get away as fast as possible.

Instead of trying to force Roger to stay— which isn't truly an option, because he isn't a real patient and Roger is free to go whenever he wants to. Freddie decides to play along and ignore the 20 minutes he has left for Roger, to pack the remainders of their lunch for Roger to take home with him. It isn't much, half a sandwich, a package of crisps and the two biscuits. But at least Freddie knows that today Roger won't be out on an empty stomach.

When Roger has his shoes on and coat wrapped around his shoulders, he turns to Freddie.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be." Freddie reassures. He also gets to his feet to hand Roger his lunch package with a smile. "Be safe and don't forget your support group meeting tomorrow."

The package of food disappears deep inside Rogers coat.

Freddie wonders if Roger will be off to find a client somewhere downtown with his pirate smile and delicate features. The secrets of his body are hidden under his oversized coat, but his face is enough to allure many.

Be safe. Be safe. Be safe.

The horror stories in the papers and on the news of recent crimes against prostitutes replay in Freddie's mind. He thinks of one of the white linen covered bodies as Rogers.

"Just be careful, alright?"

"I always am." He chuckles. "Thank you, for the food and the everything. I'll find a way to repay you some time."

Roger then opens the door and steps out of the office into the long brown hallway, but Freddie doesn't let him go without yelling after him. "No need for that, silly!"

Before Rogers oversized trench disappears around the corner, he turns around to send him a playful wink.

Freddie pretends to chuckle, while he actually feels hollow inside.

★ ☆★

Ring Ring

"Who is it?"

Brian twists his head in the direction of the phone. John shushes him while stroking his hair away from his forehead.

"Probably for Freddie again, close your eyes babe."

He doesn't have to be told twice, Brian lets his eyes drift closed and he curls into himself again, while John pets the smooth skin from his skull.

Freddie has bounced his way to the phone to answer its ringing. Goliath cuddled against his chest.

He takes it as quietly as he can as to not disturb Brian.

"Freddie Mercury speaking."

"Mr Mercury? This is Together not Alone speaking, we would like to let you know that Roger Taylor has attended his support group today."

Freddie can't stop himself from beaming. "That's wonderful. Thank you."

He twirls the phone cord between his fingers and ignores Johns cocked up eyebrow from where he is sitting in front of the couch with his fingers tangled in Brians hair.

"That's no problem Mr Mercury. Roger has three new appointments booked for the next week, which he has gotten a schedule of— just for your own information. We wish you a good evening now, well wishes."

"Good evening madam, thank you again."

The phone is put back in the receiver with an echoing click.

The living room is quiet besides the low blues music coming the radio station John had picked earlier.

It's not quite winter, but the cold is creeping up on them faster than he was prepared for.

Freddie finds himself yearning for warmth. He falls back to his knees to haul himself against Johns side, Goliath runs off with a meow, Freddie tugs him close for a hug to steal his warmth.

John oof's.

But he smiles down at Freddie who only tries to snuggle closer and climbs into his lap. Johns smile switches into a grin. He wraps his free arm around Freddie's middle to keep him close.

This is arguably Freddie's favorite place in the world.

He lets his cold feet rest against Johns calve, who hisses. "Arse."

"Well, you love me."

John bites his lip, because he cannot deny such a thing.

Freddie finds Johns free hand— that is the one he isn't using to skillfully massage Brians soul out of his skull, to splay under Freddie's shirt. He splays his palm flat over the small of his back and rests his chin on top of Freddie's head.

It is easy to wrap his arms around Johns neck and pull himself impossibly closer. Freddie freely sniffs his cologne and the sweat he hadn't washed off after work yet. He soaks his nose against the most delicate part of Johns neck, feeling all his sorrows seep away.

He lets his mind shut down for the moment. Noting how Johns heartbeats easy rhythm slows his own down too.

"I love you." Freddie says.

John echoes his words back at him, even though Freddie cannot see his face from his position, he knows John is smiling. Slightly swaying him to the blues in the background.

"I love you too." Brian slurs out of the blue.

Freddie and John look up at him and chuckle, noting Brian hadn't even bothered lifting his head up, let alone open his eyes.

"Go back to sleep, you're sick." Freddie says.

He reaches out to stroke his palm over Brians pale cheek. His hand glides smoothly over the dry skin.

"You go 'sleep." Brian mumbles.

Freddie chuckles again, but this time it is cut short by a concerned frown coming from John.

"You do look tired, Fred. Is work wearing you out?"

His first instinct is to say no. Freddie knows for a fact that John does much harder work and makes much longer days. To compare the two would almost be insulting.

But John stops playing with Brians hair, which earns him a lazy grumble, to wrap two arms around Freddie's waist.

"Talk to me?" He asks.

Freddie leans forward to press one closed mouthed kiss to Johns lips.

There's no fireworks in the background or any of the corny American movie stuff, but Freddie feels warmth spread from his lips to his cheeks and butterflies flutter about in his stomach. Even after a million shared kisses.

When he pulls away, he smiles.

"You'll be mad."

"I won't be mad." John tangles his fingers in the roots of Freddie's hair, combing the thick mane back with his fingers.

"He might be mad." Brian comments flatly.

Freddie glares at him from over Johns shoulder. While he is still thinking of a clever response, John tugs on his hair and forces Freddie to look at him. Despite how young John is, he is worn and his eyes are too wise for his fragile age.

"It's about the hooker again, isn't it?"

Freddie could decide to deny it, but it would only take so long for John to sniff out his bullshit.

Pulling away slightly so that Freddie can actually look John in the eye, whilst still sitting perched on his lap, he nods.

"His name is Roger. And I worry about him."

"Why?" John asks, his fingers dance through the curls teasing at the tips of Freddie's hair.

"I don't know where to start."

Freddie tries not to squish John underneath him with his full weight, but he can't help but deflate with a long suffering sigh, that only seems to fuel the worry in Johns utterly beautiful eyes.

"Try me."

"We had this conversation in which I asked how he was going to maintain his sobriety, but he is making no plans to leave his boyfriend who has also been his dealer since he was sixteen— which by the way probably means they had at least a ten year age difference."

"Yikes." John grimaces.

"I know."

Freddie worries his lip between his front teeth. Bruising them even more than they already are.

"And it's like, Richard provides him shelter and 'protection', but he's told me disturbing things of what happen in that place, I feel too foul even repeating. And I see the bruises with my own eyes, they are all over him. He weighs no more than a 120 pounds (55 kilos) and he cannot stay sober if he sleeps with his drugs dealer under the same roof."

Brian seems to perk up a little, finding the strength to pull himself up enough to look at Freddie. "Sounds to me like he uses drugs to control Roger."

Freddie nods in agreement and he only realizes he had worked himself up again when John untangles one of his hands from Freddie's hair to tug his lip from between his teeth.

The concerned frown that always seems to set on Johns forehead will cause early wrinkles some day.

"You really shouldn't be taking your work home with you, there's only so much you can help people, Fred. You're not Jesus, or Gandhi or anyone in a position to safe the life of someone who doesn't really want to be saved."

"Roger wants to be saved." Freddie interjects curtly. "And he is not my patient."

"Don't say that too loud, if the office finds out you'll lose your job." Brian is only half joking as he says it.

Freddie groans.

He glances between his two boyfriends, desperately gesturing with his hands.

"They won't find out, Darlings. I wrote him on my patients list, I even faked an ID number and drafted a whole fake file for him, which sits unsuspectingly in my office."

The piece of information doesn't reassure the other two as Freddie had hoped, but instead makes Johns jaw drop to the floor. Even Brian is stunned silent for once in his short life.

Freddie grimaces as he braces himself for the yelp that follows.

"Freddie! That's fraud!" John shrieks. "You'll lose your license if you're lucky enough not to go to jail."

"You're all worried about the wrong things, darling." He pretends to brush off some dust from his shoulder, trying for the nonchalant stance Roger had taken that afternoon as well.

Just like that afternoon, it doesn't work.

A moment of blues filled silence passes between them, until Freddie catches himself in the reflection of Johns pupils.

"I'm worried about you."

"Oh Darling." Freddie cradles Johns cheeks between the warm palms of his hands and squishes him. "Worry about Brian, political tensions, your job and nuclear warfare."

John shakes his head with an airy chuckle, "That's for the weekends, Fred."

Freddie let's himself be pulled flush against his chest for another toe curling kiss.

They continue to make out on the floor under the blues tunes, until a sudden loud snore from Brian pulls them apart to muffle their laughter.

★ ☆★

Roger once thought he was a strong willed person.

He always demanded to know why. Why did he have to wear his uniform? Why couldn't he have two candy bars after dinner? Why wouldn't he be allowed to read another book before bed?

His mother used to suffer through hours of arguing. He always loved to challenge their dynamics and display his powerful stubbornness.

In the end he was proven wrong.

His mother had died unexpectedly. Leaving Roger with nothing in the claws of Richard Wright in his one bedroom apartment inhabited by six others.

The sudden lack of income had limited Rogers options.

With no contact with his family, no mother, no other place to stay and caught in the sticky strings of grief, he coerced into prostitution before he had even dared to question how and why he got there.

Many variables came to play in this.

He wanted more of the drugs Richard had let him try the weekend his mother passed away, so he could forget. So he could feel better. Now Roger craves more of the vein numbing, mind stopping, voices dimming euphoria. The urge for more has his heart pounding and his nails digging into the soft insides of his wrists.

The promise of more drugs from the only other person in the world he trusts made him lose sight of reality.

It made Roger blind to Richards motives. Who at the time was stronger, loomed over him like a predator that would stare down its prey. Waiting for the right moment to pounce.

"I don't know... Richard."

Roger has a hard time meeting Richards eyes, until the taller man pushes his chin up with his forefinger.

He smiles down at Roger. Warm and reassuring despite that Rogers blood had run cold.

"I'll be in the room the whole time. You have nothing to worry about— hey. Hey." He thumbs away the two tears threatening to fall from the corners of Rogers eyes. "When you're done I got something special for you. I'll give you some of my extra special stash."

Rogers heart is beating agonizingly hard. He can hear the client unclasping his belt around the corner and his chest begins to heave against Richards.

"But Richard..."

"Is there anything in the world I haven't done for you Roger? Can't you give me this one thing back? One simple thing."

Before Roger knows it he is crowded against the wall. Forced to shrink in on himself while Richard barks in his face. So close that their noses are nearly touching.

"You don't see Lora or Janice complaining. Do you? They do this every single day. They're grateful to work for me and live under my roof. Aren't you grateful?" He asks.

"Yes I am."

The grip on his arms tighten. "What are you grateful for?"

"For you." Roger breathes. "Your protection, your shelter, you care for me."

"So you will do it? No pouting, no whining, no crying."

Roger nods frantically. As if a switch has been flipped, Richards morbid face transforms into a smile. The heated tension between the two of them melts away and he releases the iron grip he had on Rogers forearm.

Roger nearly flinches when Richard bends down to kiss the crown of his head.

"That's why you're my favorite."

The client had apparently overheard part of the conversation. When Roger rounds the corner with Richards hand on the small of his back, he is pushed onto his knees as soon as he reaches the mattress the client has occupied.

Roger chest and face get pressed into the mattress.

Richard keeps Roger down, while the broad man takes place behind him and begins to undo his zipper.

"Don't worry, I don't mind if you cry a little."

Chapter Text

It is more usual for Freddie and Roger to sit inside during their appointment.

The late autumn makes it unpleasant to stay in the cold for too long, especially considering how poorly Roger dresses himself.

But occasionally they find themselves sitting in the windowsill, sharing a smoke and feet dangling over the brick wall of the first floor.

Today is one of those days.

"So tell me how Richard is doing."

Roger passes him the cigarette and huffs in what could be perceived as annoyance, but Freddie finds teetering on the edge of fondness. "Are we going to talk about this again?"

"Well, it is difficult to maintain sobriety with a drugs dealing boyfriend."

All Freddie earns is a shrug.

Their bodies sit flush against one another to fit in the small space of the window. It is quite uncomfortable to sit on the thin edge, but Freddie can't complain. Not with Roger half leaning against him to keep himself up.

"To be honest," Roger glances sideways at him. The shadows under his eyes are almost masked by the long overcast of his eyelashes. "I want to quit the drugs. I want to be normal, but I have nowhere else to go. Living under Richards roof means living under his rules."

The thick smoke curls into the depths of Freddie's lungs.

He exhales slowly.

The white clouds puff out of his nose and his slightly parted lips, before he hands the cigarette back to Roger.

There is no reason for them to share a cigarette when they usually finish Freddie's pack anyway, but over the past weeks it has become somewhat of a tradition to pass the smoke between them until it is finished.

"Like," Roger leans his head against Freddie's shoulder. "It's fucking unbearable to sleep with all those people completely sober."

Freddie, suddenly feeling warmth spread from where Rogers hair brushes his neck, stays completely still in an attempt to make the touch last. He even takes another drag from the cigarette, instead of passing it to the other man.

His silence makes Roger squirm.

Freddie hadn't even noticed that he had been staring off into space for the last few minutes. There is a knot in his stomach that he can't seem to get rid of, not ever since meeting Roger and knowing the line of danger he is in.

Every conversation Freddie hopes to hear a miracle has occurred.

That Roger has left Richard and found a job at the local supermarket. Or something else mildly boring but tremendously safe.

"I know you're disappointed in me."

Freddie shifts to look at him and protest, but Roger brushes him off with a flick of his hand.

"I wish it was easy, but it's not. I can't just go. He's the only person who's always looked after me. Always had a place for me and loved me, no matter what."

"Roger, I am not disappointed in you."

Big blue eyes stare at him from under heavy lids. Freddie has never had the opportunity to look at Roger so closely. He can see the traces of faded youth freckles under his cheekbones. The specks of light in his eyes and each individual hair of his eyelashes.

Roger frowns, forcing the cigarette butt from Freddie's lips after he has been hogging it.

"You're not?"

"No." Freddie quirks a smile and reaches for his pack to grab another smoke, when Roger finishes his in one long drag. "I'm worried."

Roger throws the butt onto the street. Freddie doesn't have the heart to tell him off for littering. "Don't you have your own shit to be worried about?"

"I'm starting to believe you are part of my shit."

"Flattering." Roger fails to hide how flustered he has become. He silently takes the cigarette Freddie offers and cups his hands around the lighter when Freddie tries to flick it on for him.

When Freddie pulls away he mercifully doesn't mention the bright flush on Rogers cheeks.

Even though it contrasts the rest of his pale complex beautifully.

He no longer has Rogers head on his shoulders, but their bodies are still lined up against each other. Rogers feet sway while he smokes. Freddie decides to continue pushing the subject.

"Roger," He begins. "Is Richard really your boyfriend or do you two have a more business like agreement."

A long inhale later, Roger is not looking at Freddie anymore.

"What are you trying to say?"

"Are you one of his prostitutes or are you his boyfriend?"

Flicking away the excess ash, Roger blindly offers the cigarette back to Freddie. His eyes focused on a point between the trees across the empty streets below them.

Freddie takes the cigarette, but waits for Rogers reply to smoke it.

"He loves me."

"If he loved you, he wouldn't keep you subdued with drugs and force you into prostitution." Roger doesn't react at all. His face doesn't twitch and his legs don't break their easy swaying rhythm. Freddie would think Roger is stone cold if he didn't know that Rogers heart must be pounding in his chest.

He makes an effort to lay his words out carefully and keep his tone low to push reasonability. As if to knock some reason into Roger without sounding too challenging.

"Wouldn't your boyfriend let you stay at his home for free, without expecting prostitution in return?"

Because Freddie didn't take a drag from the cigarette, Roger nicks it back from him to stressfully huff around the butt. The only indication that he is being provoked by the conversation.

"He loves me because he's providing me with everything I need, even if those things I want are wrong."

"You want to be a sex worker?"

"Everyone in the house does it."

Talking with Roger is not quite like talking to a brick wall. It is more like talking to a brick wall with no self worth.

Freddie stares at him blankly, trying to mimic a look mastered by John.

Roger stares back at him.

"You're awful at glaring."

"Well! It is hard to get answers out of you." Freddie lets a small smile play on his lips at Rogers grins around his cigarette— as if he had just been paid a compliment.

Sighing, Roger inhales the smoke he blows out again, before handing it to Freddie.

"At this point I just want a roof over my head and something to eat at night."

"Stay here."

Freddie leaves a confused Roger on the windowsill and climbs back into his office.

He quickly makes his way over to his desk where he had left his bag this morning. With the cigarette dangling between his lips, Freddie rummages through the stack of papers and two lunch packages all wedged into his tiny case. It doesn't take long for him to find the folder of pamphlets with a small triumphant noise.

Roger watches him from over his shoulder. Neck twisted in an uncomfortable angle.

Despite his curiosity, he did as he was told and stayed put until Freddie's return.

Freddie wedges himself back in the window with the folder under his arm, he has to hold onto Rogers shoulder to keep his balance before he sits back down.

"Here."

Roger takes the stack of papers without hesitation. "What is it?"

Freddie knows that his sobriety won't stand a chance under all this stress. The withdrawal symptoms are fading, but the aching need for drugs will be there for a long time. Living with Richard will sooner or later proof to be too much of a temptation.

"Pamphlets for homeless shelters."

"No."

"—And a map with all the locations of the shelters flagged down."

Roger grimaces. Freddie puts a hand on his shoulder.

"I know it's not ideal. Nobody wants to live at a shelter, but it is not permanent. Anything is better than the house of your boyfriend who allows you to be raped in front of him in exchange for drugs."

It is not Freddie's hand that makes Roger flinch, but the words are.

As soon as the hurt flickers in Rogers eyes, he realizes he had gone one step too far this time.

Freddie curses under his breath and smacks his forehead.

"Fuck, darling—" He retreats his hand with a grimace. "I'm sorry. That wasn't okay. I shouldn't have—"

"I'll think about it."

"You—" Freddie is stunned silent. "Yes?"

Roger chuckles, before stealing the cigarette from Freddie's parted lips.

"Yeah."

★ ☆★

"Oh. Oh fuck."

Johns arm tightens around his waist to keep him from falling down the slippery tiles.

Freddie lets his forehead rest against the wall, while the hot water stream beats down his neck.

"Feels good?" John asks in a low husky voice. His lips tickle Freddie's ear with every word.

Freddie nods helplessly.

"Good." John leaves a wet kiss on Freddie's flushed cheek. "Fuck you're tight."

He purposely clenches around Johns cock. Humming happily when he picks up a faster rhythm and pounds Freddie restlessly against the wall.

Freddie scrambles to hold onto the pipe of the shower head.

He is aching hard between his thighs. His cock is heavy and begging to release all over himself and the wall.

John will have none of that.  He had ordered Freddie to keep his hands on the wall at all times. Playing games even though they had to be done fast to not raise suspicions with Brian.

"I missed this. I missed you."

The hand that is not wrapped around Freddie's waist is on his hip. His grip deliciously hard so it will bruise in the morning.

Freddie moans in his arm to muffle the sound.

Brian is asleep in the other room. They don't want him to feel left out because he isn't able to have sex yet.

It is hard for Freddie to stay quiet. He keeps forgetting he has to and John is hitting his prostate dead on. Causing stars to explode behind his eyelids on every well aimed thrust.

"Fuck, I'm close." John grunts.

Freddie keens at mindless rutting that follows. John always becomes more animalistic closer to his orgasm.

The heat and steam of shower sex always turns him on more. Having to do it secretly makes it more exciting than either of them would like to admit to.

The sex was much needed on Freddie's part. He has been too wrapped up in his job. He had taken on two new patients, one of which had recently gone through a divorce and the other lost two of her children in a car wreck. Then there is the upcoming doctors appointment for Brian to see if there is any information on what his condition might be. Not to mention Roger who is always a reason of worry. Then there is John—

"Fred," John grunts and pointedly shoves his hips harder against Freddie's to make him gasp. "Stop. Thinking. Now."

Each word is punctuated with a long thrust of Johns length.

For the moment, Freddie lets his eyes fall closed and his body tumble in the easy bliss of warm arousal.

He sighs, gasps and groans when John sucks kisses down his neck.

"That's it Fred. That's it. You're mine, fuck."

Freddie can feel John pulsing inside of him. It is the most erotic feeling in the world.

"Yes- Oh yes."

He tries to keep quiet as John grunts his way to his orgasm. Hips buckling and legs slightly bend as his hot seed fills Freddie up.

Freddie's stomach muscles tighten and he too cums untouched with a breathy sigh of Johns name.

John continues to thrust into him while his cock softens and the overstimulation makes Freddie's muscles twitch uncontrollably. When he finally pulls out, John still has to support a breathless Freddie in his arms.

"My limbs are like spaghetti now."

John chuckles and wraps Freddie close against his chest to take on his weight. He shifts them until the hot water beats down their faces almost equally.

Sighing, Freddie lets his head rest on Johns shoulder as they stand there. Skin cooling down from their exercise, sweat slowly washing away with the steaming water and cum running down his leg, until John reaches around him to clean him with a warm wash cloth.

Freddie's arms drape around Johns shoulders for additional support.

John cleans Freddie up thoroughly with gentle strokes and slow wipes. When he is positive Freddie is free from the sticky mess, he places a kiss on his wet forehead.

"I needed that."

Freddie presses his lips to Johns bare shoulder.

His worries for Rogers life are becoming more apparent every day. He is starting to doubt the future of his recovery.

He knows sooner or later that Roger will not be able to resist the temptation.

John pushes a strand of hair behind Freddie's ear when he looks up at John with a nearly believable smile.

"Me too."

★ ☆★

To Freddie's relief, Roger shows up to every appointment and every support group session.

Freddie viewed Rogers current position as a ticking time bomb. It would only be a matter of time before Roger would crumble under the pressure of Richards demands concerning prostitution. The free availability of drugs within hand reach would one day proof to be too tempting.

One day, Roger won't be showing up to his support group session. Freddie will get a phone call which would confirm his worries. He would toss and turn all night, hoping that Roger had a slip up or a client that kept him from showing up. But when Roger doesn't show up to their appointment either, Freddie would have to accept the fact that the temptation of drugs has outweighed Rogers ability to navigate through his road of recovery.

Or so Freddie fears.

Despite his concerns, Roger is never high when he comes in to their appointments. He looks more exhausted or worn around the edges, but his bruises fade and his withdrawal symptoms don't return.

Freddie finds himself growing more anxious every day. The two minutes just before their appointment are the most dreadful, each time he wonders if today is the day.

The day Roger stops showing up.

Freddie has to push his worries away, bottle them up and store them in the deepest caverns of his heart. He doesn't want to risk Roger knowing about Freddie's lack of faith in him.

They continue their arrangement. Freddie knows he will until the day Roger breaks it.

The two of them sit down, they chat, they smoke. Freddie prompts Roger to better his life and Roger finds silly ways to distract Freddie from asking him too many serious questions.

Every appointment Roger comes back a little more exhausted than the one before. The lack of sleep makes him appear fragile and a little agitated.

The dark shadows under Rogers eyes are a new growing concern.

Freddie barely dares to ask if he is getting any proper sleep. Afraid that a sleep deprived Roger will snap at him and worse, not return.

"How have you been, Dear?"

As per usual, Freddie is in his armchair and Roger opposite of him.

Not unlike a brainless zombie, Roger is slumped on the couch like a sack of potatoes and only manages to lift his head up from his chest after steadily sipping away Freddie's coffee.

Roger taps his fingers on the metal bottle. Freddie tries not to stare at the dirt under his nails.

The poor hygiene has been a recurring theme the past few days. The same goes for the outfit Roger hasn't changed in a notable time.

Freddie knows it is rude to ask about either and is therefor left to silently wonder.

Roger struggles to drag his eyes up to meet Freddie's across the coffee table.

His face is sunken in and pale. Every breath he takes seems to extract more energy than the oxygen provides.

"I haven't been to Richards in a few days."

"What?"

Freddie's eyes nearly fall our of their sockets and all the worry around his heavy heart melts away. "Roger— that's amazing news."

The sincere pride in his stammering voice makes Roger beam almost shyly.

Without a warning Freddie finds himself leaping up from his armchair to engulf Roger in a warm hug. He is across the room before he realizes what he is doing. With his arms almost around Rogers neck, he half expects to be pushed away or asked to back off.

To his surprise, Roger opens his arms to let him in.

His heart is beating hard against his ribcage and his grin makes his face cramp.

"I am so proud of you."

Freddie had his chin perched on top of Rogers head. He tries very hard not to put any weight on Roger, almost sure he would crush the thin man underneath him.

He pats Rogers back and keeps him close, despite the fact the unpleasant smell that clings to him.

It is all worth it.

"Thank you." Rogers smile can be heard through his voice even though his face is pushed against Freddie's shoulder. "I can choose my own clients now, he can't control what I'm eating or when I'm leaving the house, so I'm never late for my appointments. Most importantly I am away from the drugs— which sort of sucks but it's better this way."

Freddie pulls away enough to look Roger in the eye.

He keeps his hands on Rogers thin shoulders and gives him a tight squeeze.

"It's better this way."

Rogers lip quirks at the corner of his mouth and after a second he nods.

Freddie finds himself glowing with the newfound progress and has to restrain himself from leaning in to press a kiss to Rogers inviting rosy cheeks.

After that appointment, inevitably, Freddie has hope.

★ ☆★

"Hi Darlings, hello."

Freddie's ankles are circled by Romeo, Tiffany and Delilah when he comes shuffling through the door.

He bends down to pick them up. All three of them voluntarily leap into his arms and cuddle themselves against his chest. The sudden warmth of the house flushes Freddie's cheeks and his smile brightens impossibly more.

"You look happy."

Freddie looks up to see Brian coming down the stairs in his pajamas.

He might be taller than Freddie, but ever since getting sick he walks slightly bend by the waist to accommodate his pain. They easily close the distance between them for a chaste kiss on the lips.

"What's that grin for?" Brian asks, slowly following Freddie into the living room.

Freddie nuzzles his nose Romeo's fur to hide his smile.

"I am happy." He says. "Can't I just be happy?"

"Hm."

In the living room he finds John hasn't come home yet. He has the whole entire couch for himself.

He flops back onto it after toeing off his shoes. The cats scramble to get a comfortable place on his chest and have their bodies warmly covered by the length of Freddie's arm.

Brian catches up on him and sits down on the armrest by Freddie's head.

Freddie only has to wait two seconds before long fingers find his skull and begin scratching the same way Freddie is tending to Tiffany.

"Is this about the Roger guy?"

Freddie tips his head back to smile at Brian upside down.

"Everything just seems to be falling into place."

Brian continues to rake his fingers through the length of Freddie's mane, until his hair is sticking up in every which directions and the curls he had tried so hard to brush out, come swirling back into place.

But Freddie can't complain. Not with his kittens purring against his chest and Brians hands on him.

"It's good to see you happy, Fred. Just don't forget about the reality of addiction and domestic abuse."

"And that is?" Freddie asks, raising an eyebrow.

"That some people just can't be helped."

Brian holds his gaze for a long moment. His hands trail down to cradle Freddie's cheeks.

His hands are a cold contrast to Freddie's flushed face.

He blinks up at him and notes Brian is looking a lot better than he did last week. From his time in the hospital he has grown pale and lost a tremendous amount of weight. The sickly yellow color no longer lingers on his skin and he is taking to eating full meals again.

Brian is doing better. Roger is away from his abusive boyfriend and in half an hour John will be home to join the cuddle pile.

"Do you have to be so grim, darling?" Freddie asks with a grin.

"I'm just being real!"

The cats meow in protest when Freddie sits upright to pull Brian into a long sweet kiss to shut him up.

Freddie is pretty sure Brian rolls his eyes before giving in.

★ ☆★

It takes another four days before reality comes knocking on the door to demand its toll.

★ ☆★

"Freddie?"

Freddie nearly twits his neck because of how fast he turns to look up at the sound of Rogers voice.

Or a vague shadow of it.

"Roger? Dear what are you doing here?" Freddie is on his feet before his mind can actually catch up on the situation.

Roger struggles to keep himself upright and would have slumped to the floor if it weren't for Freddie wrapping his arms around him to keep him on his feet.

Roger is obviously high.

The sight of him makes Freddie's skin crawl. His cunning eyes are droopy and dull. His limbs are heavy and his neck flops back dangerously far when Freddie drags him over to the couch.

Roger makes no move to help him, but Freddie is positive Roger couldn't coordinate his legs even if he wanted to.

He falls back onto the cushions like a rag doll. Not moving a single muscle as he stares up at Freddie with a blank stare. It is up to Freddie to get his feet up on the couch and prop a pillow under his neck to keep him from pulling a muscle.

Up close, Roger looks remarkably more terrible than the days before.

After years of giving therapy Freddie never had tears springing in his eyes while in his office. Today marks the first time.

"Oh Darling."

The skin under Roger eyes is dark and bruised. His lips are cracked from the cold. His skin is a sickly pale color and shockingly freezing to touch. His breath comes out shallow and slow with a deep crackling wheeze from his lungs. There are substances in his hair and on his clothes, the same thin clothes he had worn for the past week.

He is an empty shell of Roger.

If Freddie hadn't seen him in his office, he might not even have recognized him.

"Fuck." He thinks. "Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What do I do? What do I do?"

Freddie rubs Rogers hands between his own, they are cold as ice and nearly unmovable. He tries to bring some warmth into them by blowing hot air onto him.

Blue eyes stare up at him blankly. His body too numb from the drugs to shiver from the cold.

It is frightening to see Roger laying so still. If it wasn't for his chest slowly falling and rising, Freddie would have thought he was dead.

"Darling, how did this happen? What happened?"

He tries to keep himself together and not give into the sobs crawling up his throat.

It seems impossible to transfer some heat to Roger.

Freddie quickly gets to his feet to turn up the central heating to the highest setting. He then unfolds the decorative blanket on the armchair to throw over Rogers still body.

"Freddie. Fred.... Nghh."

"Yes? Talk to me darling?" Freddie falls to his knees in front of the couch. He continues to clutch Rogers hands between his own.

When he tries to speak it is a muddled unidentifiable mess.

His lips are parting slowly, but not much sound comes out. He looks like a fish helplessly spluttering on dry land.

"I don't know what to do Rog. Fuck you're so cold."

"M' cold."

"Did you take heroin? Roger?"

Roger blinks at him slowly. His mind somewhere far away as he gives a loopy nod.

"Yea." His head lulls sideways onto the pillow by sheer gravity. "Sorry."

"Jesus."

Freddie can tell Roger is very weak and barely awake at this point.

The sun has set and office will close within the next twenty minutes according to the clock on the wall.

There is no way Roger can get up to be brought somewhere else. It is a miracle he made it to Freddie's office in the first place.

He is too high, too numb, cold and tired to leave.

"Roger, dear what happened?"

In his stress, Freddie reminds himself to check Rogers pulse to determine whether to bring him to the hospital and risk him being arrested for drug use, or to let him stay.

"Okay, I'm going to check your pulse now."

He doesn't get a reaction other than a deeply pained whimper coming from his underbelly.

Freddie rolls Rogers sleeve down to his elbow.

There he finds his wrist and slightly above it a glaring mark branded on his skin. Freddie had seen it before, but never up close.

He trails his index finger over the scarred tissue. The symbol is unknown to him.

The conversation hadn't come up yet wherein Roger could explain what it was.

But the sight makes Freddie's blood boil. Knowing that someone had branded Roger forever.

He pushes the thought away to put his fingers on Rogers pulse point.

Freddie holds his breath to feel his heart beating under his fingertips. The rhythm is notably sluggish, but strong.

Color seems to seep onto back Rogers face. His nose bright red from the temperature change.

"Fuck." Freddie slumps forward. "Thank God."

At least Roger doesn't need to be taken to the hospital.

"Sorry. F-feddie. 'M sorry." Roger slurs above him.

The sight of him is unbearable. His eyes seem slightly more alert, but extremely sad.

"It's okay, hey, it's okay."

Freddie sits upright and fakes a smile. "You're okay. Don't have anything to be sorry about okay?"

He wipes his tears away with his the back of his hands.

Roger sniffles, his nose running and eyes sad.

"Yes, you're okay. You're all fine." Freddie begins to cover Roger with the blanket completely. Covering him from the chin down to his feet.

When he notices Roger is still wearing his shoes, he carefully unlaces them to pull them off his feet. His toes look horrific, Freddie nearly doubles over at the sight of his bruised nails, open sores and dried blood.

He wants to cry.

Instead of falling apart he begins to undo his own shoes and take off his socks to put on Rogers bare feet.

They roll onto him easily.

Soon Freddie can finish tugging Roger snuggly under the blanket, he adjust Rogers position so that he is curled in himself, until only his nose and hair stick out.

"You're alright here. You're safe and warm."

Roger is barely awake anymore, but Freddie likes to voice his thoughts out loud.

"I'm getting you some food for when you wake up. I'm back in a moment, don't worry, okay? The office is probably empty by now, so nobody will know."

Before he gives Roger the chance to blink, Freddie rushes out of the room and into the hallway. He goes straight for the vending machine in the empty waiting room.

With the little amount of change in his pocket he buys every granola bar, two packages of crisps and a juice box.

Greta the receptionist doesn't look up when Freddie sprints back to his office with his arms full.

His heart is pounding by the time he closes the wooden door again and drops the snacks by the coffee table. When Roger wakes up tomorrow it will be the first thing he sees.

Freddie writes him a note saying he will be back by 8 am, which is the earliest the office opens.

Frantic back and forth of pacing his office while the minutes bleed by— a glance at the clock confirms the office will close in less than five.

He is forced to face the fact he will have to leave Roger here for the night.

"Oh Darling." For the final time that day, he takes a look at Roger and finds he has fallen asleep some time ago. He looks peaceful with his lips slightly parted and his eyelids fluttering as if he is having a frantic dream.

It is tempting to say fuck it, take off his coat and camp out for tonight with Roger.

But he knows Greta will take note that Freddie has not left the office and might use the emergency key to check on his office before she leaves for tonight.

He can't risk it.

"I'll be back, Rog." He promises, his lips close to Rogers ear. "It's all going to be okay."

As expected he does not get a reply.

Freddie continues to blink away his tears, while buttoning his coat up to his chin. He grabs his suitcase from the desk and goes straight for the door instead of trailing to Rogers sleeping form.

He leaves the office shaken and pale. Wearing no socks in his shoes and feeling an awful pit in his stomach. 

He locks the door behind himself with a silent click.

★ ☆★

Roger regrets taking a client on the other side of town so late at night.

He can barely read the map in the dark with his poor eyesight. The streets are dimly lit by stray lampposts that guide Roger through the dirty streets of London.

Without owning a watch he cannot know exactly how long he had walked to the nearest shelter Freddie had suggested, but he can feel sores and blisters forming on his feet from the many hours. The cold is biting at his skin. He can barely feel his fingers where they are clutching the crumbled paper.

He knows he cannot survive another night out on the streets. The bitter cold seeps through his clothes and the first droplets of rain fall on his hair.

It took a lot of psyching for Roger to decide to go to a homeless shelter.

After his session with his client that evening, he had hoped the man would let him sleep over for the night. Just one night.

But no such luck. Roger was kicked to the curb and the man had seethed about his wife finding out.

When that happened the sun was still up in the sky, now the moon has taken its place. Illuminating the grey pavement under Rogers worn soles.

His body is sore from the way the client had handled him. His hunger makes all his organs feel squished together because of how hollow he feels. The numbness of his face and toes are thanks to the early arrived winter.

He knows that if he doesn't sleep at the shelter tonight, he will die.

On the map it says the shelter is on the street right before him.

When Roger turns the corner, a big orange sign reads St Mary's Open Home.

The relief that washes over him nearly makes his feet give out under him. He stuffs the map back in the folder under his arm and he takes the last few steps to the entrance.

Roger pulls on the door handle, but it doesn't open.

He frowns. Tries to push instead of pull. Leans against it with his full body weight and then rattle it to see if it got stuck because of the cold.

But no.

It's locked.

"Hey!"

Roger slams on the glass part of the door. He sees one of the volunteer workers walk past on the other side, so he smacks it again.

"Please, let me in."

"We close at 4:30 PM pal, it's nearly nine. Better luck tomorrow."

Dread fills the hollowness inside Roger. Sadly it does nothing to eliminate the cold he is feeling.

He brings his hands up to the glass and slams his flat palm against it again when the volunteer turns his back on him to walk out of the hallway.

"No, no, no please! I can't stay out here."

Rogers voice pitches high with desperation, but he has long forgotten what it was to have dignity.

"Please, let me in. I'll do anything. Fuck. Please."

The man stops dead in tracks.

Roger steps closer to the door and practically presses his nose to the cold glass. His hands forming foggy marks on the door.

"Anything?" He says.

Without any money in his pockets or the energy for his feet to carrynhim anywhere else tonight, Roger nods. His fringe falling over his eyes.

The man, tall and broad without much hair left on his head steps closer to door.

If Roger had the option to choose whether to take this man as a client or not, he wouldn't have. He is physically stronger than Roger and easily overpowers him. He is relatively young and seemingly fit.

There is a glimmer in his eyes. One that makes Roger gulp.

"Anything?"

"Yes."

The door is opened and Roger gasps at the rush of warmth coming from inside.

He doesn't get much time to enjoy the blissful heat before he is pushed into the dark alleyway.

The strength the other man possesses is frightening, but not as much as it is how little strength Roger himself has.

He finds himself pushed against the brick wall of the shelter. Looking up at the volunteer.

"You one of the Bull Crew?"

Roger nods. He rolls down his sleeve despite the cold to show him his mark.

The man whistles, pressing himself closer to Roger and crowding him against the stone cold brick. "One of Richards."

"Yes."

"Looks like you've run off. A night at the shelter, a handjob. But I suspect you might not want Richard to find out about your whereabouts." Rogers hair is pushed behind his ear. The mans hot breath brushes over the shell of his ear and Roger has to stop himself from gagging. "If you want to buy my silence, it will cost you a blowjob."

Roger stares off at the space over the mans shoulder. He gives a nod without looking at the animalistic glister in the mans dead eyes.

"Okay." He agrees. Barely recognizing the weak whisper of his own voice.

His chin is tipped up for a last inspection of his face, before he is pushed to his knees.

★ ☆★

Inside it is so blissfully warm that Roger nearly sheds a tear.

His skin prickles as if a million little needles are penetrating him with the heat seeping back into his bones.

Once the man, who's name is Peter, had led Roger into the shelter he had told Roger he was too late to get a shower, but there is still a portion of dinner left for him.

It is the first hot meal Roger has had in days. The soup is watery and they are out of bread, but Roger finds himself smiling like an idiot when he burns the roof of his mouth in the little, eerily quiet cafeteria.

The meal is followed up by a trip to the bathroom. The queue is at least half an hour long and Rogers knees are ready to give in on him by the time it is his turn to relieve himself.

He finds that most homeless people keep to themselves. He had first found out the day he slept under the bridge and was offered a place by a fire without as much as a single word exchanged between anyone. Here at the shelter it is no different. People mind their own business and the only noise in the bathroom is that of toilets flushing and people coughing.

"They'll kick you out."

"What?" Roger freezes in place where he had begun stripping down his clothes to rinse his undergarments. He hasn't changed his clothes in over a week.

The woman's eyes are kind, but there is only bitterness in her voice. "You're not allowed to wash your underwear in the sink."

"Oh..." Roger says dumbly, before he pulls his pants back up.

There is no mirror to see what is left of him, but he tries to scrape the dirt from his hands and under his nails after that hd washes his hair and face in the hopes of redeeming some of his good looks.

The woman gives him one last look over, before they go their separate ways.

★ ☆★

The bathrooms and their rules aren't all that bad compared to the sleeping halls.

It reminds Roger of the gymnastics room back in secondary school. The ceilings are high, the lights are too white and it smells like sweat and other unpleasant body fluids.

There are hundreds of mattresses lined up for the people to sleep on.

The mattress itself is a thin cot that is less than five centimeters from the floor. Roger isn't all that tall, but he has to pull his legs in to fit.

Two feet away on either side of him lays another person.

The blanket he was given is paper thin and the high ceilings make the room cold.

He wraps his arms around himself and not for the first time wishes he had stolen Richards winter coat when he had left.

But despite all the hangups, Roger is much rather here than outside in the cold.

He certainly wouldn't have survived another day in the late autumn streets of London.

No. Here inside is much better than the day he spent under the bridge or in the abandoned car lot.

Or yesterday when he had kept walking around the city because he couldn't find a safe place to sleep. He had feared that if he would stop walking, he would freeze to death.

For tonight he is safe.

The reminder of his week of sleep deprivation and his stomach filled with warm food makes his eyelids heavy.

He falls asleep without a hitch.

The snores and occasional mumbles around him go unnoticed as blissful darkness overtakes Roger.

...

"Get up now."

Before Rogers brain comes back online, he is yanked to his feet.

He instinctively screams and trashes, but his mouth his covered by a hand and he is still too tired to put up an effective fight.

One heated glance confirms that it is the man from before. The volunteer.

Peter.

Roger knows this knowledge is not a reason to calm down. He is practically dragged through the pile of bodies to a tiny room in the far back. Once he is pushed into the dark room, the door of the dusty office is firmly locked.

He scrambles to his feet and tries to make a run for it, but broad arms find their way around his chest and keep him perfectly still.

Roger has no idea how long he had been sleeping, but the tiny window on the other side of the room confirms it is still dark out.

"See here,"

Peter grips Rogers chin and forces him to look around the pitch black room.

At first he doesn't see anything. Not until they step closer to him and form an ominous circle around his shaking body.

"These here are my friends. I told them all about our little hookup."

Roger closes his eyes firmly, but the hungry gazes of the tree men above him burn into his soul.

His heart pounds in his chest as Peter presses his hardness against his back. Roger is too afraid to breathe in that moment. Let alone try to move away when Peter breathes hot air in his ear.

Roger wishes he was someone else.

"Why don't you show them the little trick you did on me. Maybe I'll even got you some smack afterwards."

One of the men holds it up. A tiny plastic bag with white powder.

He flicks the sack with a smirk.

Roger feels dizzy. Caught between being thrown out to the streets or having to perform oral sex on four strange men. Who might even force him to do it anyway if he doesn't consent.

Then there is the prospect of getting drugs to numb his enduring agony.

He finds himself falling down to his knees and earning a round of wolf whistles that make his ears ring.

If he had any dignity left before finding St Mary's Open Home, it is all gone as soon as he opens his mouth when the sound of the first zipper fills the dusty air of the office.

★ ☆★

Snorting is not Rogers favorite way of taking heroin.

The effects are less severe and his nose keeps running for hours afterwards, which he often doesn't notice because the dope has made his nostrils numb.

With a needle, heroin is directly injected into the bloodstream. Snorted, the effects take longer to show up.

But Roger can't complain. He is splayed out on the floor of the office, his neck half resting on a plastic stool and his legs spread like a star before him.

His lips are still red and swollen from his dirty deed. His yaw is locked and bitterness scrapes at the back of his raw throat.

The men around him are sated. Playing a game of cards over Rogers head in their respective chairs. Their voices drown out into the background, once his job had been done, nobody had given him a second glance or offered as much as a tissue.

He finds himself gratefully sniffing up the contents of the little bag of smack.

It takes longer than he would like, but once the numbness begins to tingle at the tips of his fingers it is quick to spread to the rest of his body.

He welcomes the blissful quiet of his brain and makes peace with the fact that he will later hate himself for giving in.

No idea how much time later of Roger floating on his high and the men around him chatting, the lights are suddenly flipped on and the room is rushed with brightness that makes Roger groan and curl a heavy arm over his eyes.

Someone is yelling. Roger doesn't know about what, but he finds himself once again yanked to his feet.

He stumbles and crashes against the body that's handling him.

It doesn't register with him that they are going somewhere, not until the woman opens the door and a rush of cold hits Rogers body.

"Uh— wha?"

He stumbles onto the streets like a rag doll. His pants rip open at the knees and his palms chafe on the asphalt. The door slams behind him and Rogers heroin induced brain can't seem to muddle together that he is thrown out of the homeless shelter by the supervisor.

It takes a few minutes and judgmental glances of people passing around him in a large circle, before he manages to find his footing.

The world tilts sideways as he sways.

He does a poor job at steadying himself, but he has no other choice but to push forward and find a place where he is welcome.

He knows only two of such places.

Richards apartment only a few blocks from there and Freddie's office on the far South side of town.

Chapter Text

Brian knows something is terribly wrong the second Freddie comes shuffling into the living room pale as a blank sheet.

John pauses mid sentence where they had been amidst a meaningless discussion over the value of supporting a football team not related to the area you were born in, his finger is still up in the air pointing at Brians chest when he turns to face Freddie too.

Like Brian, worry overtakes his relaxed face.

"What happened?" He asks.

Freddie stands still in the door opening. He looks straight at John with a deeply haunted look in his eyes.

Brian struggles to get to his feet. John is faster and finds himself in front of Freddie before Brian has even found a way to balance himself on his socked feet.

"You're home late, what happened?"

It is frightening how numb Freddie reacts to John shaking his shoulders. He is stiff under his touch.

"Freddie..." Brian has to hold onto the back of the couch. Every organ inside his body seems to grind against the other like rough edged stones, the pain never truly goes away and always lives in the background. "What's wrong?"

John fails to get a reply out of Freddie, whose lip wobbles and he shakes his head violently.

"H-he-he. I tried. I did and n-nothing worked. Wasn't enough. I don't know. I don't know anymore."

Brian gently nudges John away and wraps his arms around Freddie's shoulders. It doesn't matter that he is hunched over, he still towers Freddie by far and easily guides him into an embrace.

John silently takes the suitcase from a stammering Freddie.

It doesn't take long for Brian to wrap his arms around Brians waist and then let his forehead fall onto Brians shoulder. Brian cannot hold Freddie's weight, but he manages with the support of the backrest of the couch.

He rubs Freddie's back, shushing him when he the first sniffle fills the quiet of the living room.

"Tell me happened. Slowly."

"He relapsed."

"Who?" Brian asks, even though he knows exactly who.

His shirt has a wet patch seeping onto his skin. He doesn't have the heart to comment on it.

"Roger." Freddie drawls the name out wetly. "He came into my office and he was high and he couldn't speak and— he was so cold. I thought he was going to die."

Johns eyes widen and Brian mimics his expression over Freddie's shoulder.

They exchange a curt glance, before Brian continues to prod.

"Where is he now? Fred?"

"In my office." Freddie sobs. "All alone."

Brian is admittedly relieved that he is not on the backseat of Freddie's car, which would not have surprised him either.

John is not as forgiving.

After leaving Freddie's bag on the couch he pulls on the strands of his hair in frustration.

"Freddie! Do you fucking want to get fired?"

Freddie begins to cry harder and Brian gives John the most disapproving glare he can muster.

"I'm being serious! You left a high drug addict at your work place by himself. A complete fucking stranger." He drags his hands down his face and he looks like he is about to scream. If he wants to, Brian would rather have him do it in the garden as to not upset the cats further— who are huddled in their corner behind the television. "Addicts are unpredictable and dangerous. You're so fired Freddie. Fucking hell!"

"Enough."

Brian is too late, because Freddie is starting to shake.

"I wanted him to get better so bad. He did everything I asked. He went to the support group, he kept coming to me, he stopped the drugs and left his boyfriend. I don't know what happened. What did I miss? I don't understand why."

He pulls away just far enough to look Brian in the eye. Freddie tries and fails to wipe away his tears before the roll down his cheeks. His eyes dart up to the ceiling and he fans his face, blinks rapidly, nothing works. The tears won't stop.

"I don't know what I did wrong. He was high and shaking and his pulse was weak."

It is an awfully helpless sight. Brian finds his stomach churning.

He wraps his hands around Freddie's wrists to stop his frantic hand movements. He pulls Freddie in close while he struggles to keep his own tears at bay.

"Are you okay?"

"He was shaking a-and his feet were torn open. I couldn't do anything I just— Fuck I didn't know what to do? I just left him there, I didn't know what else I could because he couldn't move and I-"

"No, Fred." Brian lowers Freddie's hands to his shoulders and wipes his face with his thumbs. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

Different emotions flash through Freddie's eyes. Sadness, remorse, fear and then indifference.

"He'd never hurt me."

"He was high!" John throws his arms in the air.

"He could barely stand, let alone hurt me! You have never met him, you don't know a fucking thing about him!" Freddie spits back. The sound so deliriously vile that all three of them are taken aback.

Brian swallows thickly. Freddie closes his eyes.

"Fuck. No, I'm sorry."

"It's fine." John is standing stiff some paces away from them.

Freddie covers his face with his hands and shakes his head frantically. "No no. I'm frustrated, but not at you. I'm sorry. I really am."

"It's fine, he said." Brian has his arms around Freddie's waist and pulls him flush against his chest. Freddie sighs behind his palms and Johns shoulders tense further when Freddie slumps in defeat.

John cautiously steps closer.

Brian gives him as much of a smile as he can muster and then he offers John a hand and all three of them are entangled in a hug.

The pressure on his stomach becomes nearly  too much. By the time Freddie puts his weight back to his own feet, Brian is nauseous with the rippling pain and he longs for a dosage of painkillers.

"Nobody saw me. I locked the door."

"That's good." John tries a smile too. He fails miserably, but makes an effort to brush the remaining tears away from Freddie's face with his thumbs. "It's important to protect yourself, Fred."

"I know."

"I'm not sure you do." John whispers, his palms delicately cupping Freddie's cheeks.

Freddie looks away.

Brian has long learned that there is something about the way Freddie is wired that makes him more inclined to take care of others rather than himself.

Situations such as these are not uncommon but always remain dangerous.

Some of his paleness has been replaced by blotchy red. John presses his lips to Freddie's lips.

Freddie sniffles, but stays perfectly still for a second peck.

"It's going to be okay, I swear. I'll fix it."

It is Brians turn for a kiss. He pushes his lips out and waits for Freddie's wet skin to brush over his. "It is not us you have to promise that. Only yourself."

"Right."

Freddie swallows thickly. Brian can see his Adams apple bopping under his grey turtleneck.

He pushes himself away from his boyfriends and is quick to walk out of the living room. He is still rubbing his face while he moves towards the stairs with an audible sniffle.

"I'll start dinner soon. Just need a moment."

John and Brian are left to stare at him, but neither decides to follow after him. John is fiddling with his fingers. Brian is worrying his lip between his front teeth.

"Fucking hell." He says as soon as Freddie slams the bathroom door upstairs.

John has his arms crossed and fumes.

"Whoever this person is, he is going to end him."

★☆★

That evening Brian finds himself in bed before the other two are. Over the past few weeks that has not been uncommon, neither is the pain tearing Brian apart from the inside out.

Laying on his side doesn't elevate the pain. He had hoped he would feel better after nothing was found during the operation, but the stitches are still fresh and his organs seem to be cramping taught against one another.

The pain shoots between his lungs and down to his intestines.

He wishes the painkillers would kick in already before John and Freddie find him muffling his groans in his pillow, but no such luck was grazed to him tonight.

"—I swear she rips and then eats all the carpet from the corner behind the—"

"Shhh."

Freddie shushes Johns complaints about Tiffany's antics and Brian can imagine him pointing at him laying on the bed.

"Bri's sleeping."

"Am not." He croaks, despite his eyes being tightly closed and his back turned to them.

Within the next minute he finds himself surrounded by his two loved ones. Since he'd come back home from his miserable time in the hospital, he had earned the spot in the middle of the bed.

John wraps his arms around Brians waist from behind him and presses his flat palm on his stomach.

"Does it hurt?"

"Yeah." The pain is intense and causes sweat to brea out from his forehead all the way to his fingertips. Freddie does't care though, he never does, and leans in to rest his forehead against Brians. "Painkillers are taking their time."

"Poor darling." Freddie says, splaying one cool palm on Brians cheek.

It is very hard to hold back a soft moan when John begins to rub circles over Brians belly. His palm flat and warm under Brians t-shirt and slightly pushing the waistband of his underwear down to reach.

He finds himself relaxing slightly against his sweat soaked pillow and his body sinks into the mattress.

It feels homely and even warmer than the hearth on Christmas morning.

Brian is so entranced by the moment that he nearly forgets that Freddie had a twenty minutes cry in the bathroom before dinner and had become victim to one of his patients taking advantage of his kindness by using Freddie's office as a place to crash.

It wouldn't be the first time Freddie's goodness was taken advantage of. It wouldn't be the last.

"You doing better Fred?"

"Yes, Love." Freddie's lips brush over Brians nose. Brian keeps his eyes closed. "There is nothing more I can do for him now. I'll go there in the morning and see how I can help then. All I can do for now is lay here and take all advantage of the love from my baby's."

"Just because you're the oldest—" John starts, but Brian shushes him by rubbing his cold foot against Johns. "Oi!"

Brian reaches down to blindly grasp one of Johns hands and give it a squeeze.

"Sorry." Brian says, voice soft.

John lets out a suffering sigh that tickles the back of Brians neck, before he cuddles himself flush against Brian. In a week or two the cold will force them to turn on the heater and keep the windows closed despite the cats, but now they make due with taking one another's warmth.

"I'll be grey before I'm 30 because of you two."

It's a joke, but really the element of truth leaves a bitterness in Brians mouth.

He lifts Johns hand up and kisses it. "I'm sorry."

"It was a joke."

There is a kiss on the back of his neck, followed by one on the first bump of his spine. "I'll gladly turn grey for you idiots."

Brians lips are still pressed to Johns hand. He keeps it there, just as the warm stream of the painkillers begin to course through his body.

The euphoric numbing of the pain in his abdomen nearly sends him to tears.

Freddie says something and John murmurs something back in an equally low voice, But Brian finds himself barely awake anymore by now. The exhaustion replaces the pain. His eyelids are heavy and so is Johns hand in his.

He slowly lets it fall onto the pillow next to his face.

John doesn't say anything and doesn't stop rubbing his stomach.

Before he can actually fall asleep, Freddie lets out a content sigh that ruffles Brians hair over his eyes. He wraps his arm around both John and Brian, forcing them to squish together to fit his arm length.

"Being around my men always lifts my spirits."

"I bet those secret blowjobs in the bathroom help too." Brian whispers.

He doesn't get to hear their spluttering reactions because blissful darkness overtakes him.

★☆★

"Bye Darlings!"

"Freddie? It's barely 7:30?"

Brian and John both watch Freddie rush past the kitchen door.

From the table they can only peek slightly into the hallway, where Freddie tries to simultaneously put on his shoes and coat. In his haste he mixes up what shoe goes on which foot and Brian doesn't dare to tell him his coat is on inside out too.

His hair is unbrushed and curled on the edges and his shirt is not ironed.

Normally Freddie wouldn't be up to leave until 8:30. Brian hasn't ever seen him walking about this energized in the morning without sipping his coffee for a good thirty minutes.

"I have to go to Roger of course!" Freddie calls over his shoulder while looking around for his suitcase.

"Of course..." John murmurs into his mug.

"See you tonight lovies!"

When he finds his bag, Freddie barely spares them a wave over his shoulder before he is out the door. Car keys jiggling between his fingers.

It was as if a hurricane had just stormed through their house and the cats are left meowing confused by the door why they did not get any attention from their owner.

Brian deflates back into the chair with a sigh as the slam of the front door echoes, his goodbye still on the tip of his tongue, but too late for Freddie to hear. He turns back to an equally confused and tired looking John.

Nothing they can do now.

John shrugs, before he continues where they had left off before the interruption.

"—So as I said, beside the bananas we need milk too, but other than that I think we are good... Fred might like some applesauce for the spinach tonight."

"I'll get those."

Brian scribbles the only four groceries down on the back of his wrist.

He can feel Johns eyes on him before his fingers find Brians hand on top of the wooden table.

It is 7:30 am, so Brian struggles to lift his eyes up to Johns across from him.

When he does manage, he instantly wishes he hadn't met his gaze. The pity in Johns eyes is not unexpected, but borders on condescending.

His unknown illness had changed his life and the way his boyfriends view him.

Last spring Brian would be the one working from 9 to 6 and assist Freddie with the chores in the garden. Now, late autumn, Brian finds himself on the thin thread of unemployment and the idea of physical strain makes him recoil.

"Brian, I understand if you don't feel like you can—"

He no longer has his self sufficiency or pride. No wonder John doubts whether or not Brian can handle a simple run to the local supermarket.

Brian swallows thickly and turns his hand over so he can lay his palm over Johns.

"You can at least trust me with an errand, John."

"Oh I know that!" John sputters over his nearly empty coffee mug. "That's not what I meant."

"What did you mean?"

There is no fight in his voice and it only weakens Brians case. The furrow between Johns brow wrinkles further and he caresses his thumb over the back of Brians hand.

"Don't go if you don't feel up for it. I can do it when I'm back from work, or Fred can."

"You work until seven and Fred has his favorite patient to look after."

John smiles, though it doesn't reach his eyes. "We always come first."

Brian doesn't voice his fear that he might never feel up to doing things again. Not with the way his stomach is churning because he had kept down his dry piece of toast or how the steaming coffee odor coming from Johns mug makes the back of his throat taste funny.

Instead, he lifts Johns hand up to kiss it. Not unlike the night before.

"You have to go to work." Brian whispers, "You're already running late."

"I know."

John sighs as he pushes his chair away from the table. He has to withdraw his hand, but not before bending down to peck Brian on the lips.

"Take it easy."

Brian presses his lips in a thin line. "I always do."

John slips into the kitchen to put his mug in the sink. Brian watches him work in his army green overalls. John rushes around the kitchen, empty his coffee in the sink, fill it with water, leave it in the corner, wash his hands, reach for his lunch in the fridge—

"Fuck."

Brian hadn't realized he had slumped forward until he was nearly flat on the table with his upper body, until he shoots up again. "What?"

John pulls Freddie's enormous lunch package from the fridge with a groan.

"Idiot was too hurried to remember to take his food with him."

Brian grimaces, "What are they going to eat than?"

"They might go out and buy something." John puts Freddie's food on the table before reaching for his own. He is running late and he has a client at 8.

"I don't think so." Brian spots Freddie's wallet at the corner of the table, which includes not only money, but also his drivers license and identification card. "Left his wallet too."

"You're joking?"

Johns eyes are on his watch and then he runs a frantic hand through his fringe.

"Fucking Christ I don't have time to bring that."

Brian can't stand the tension of Johns shoulders or the deep frown set on his forehead, making it seem like he is in his early forties, rather than early twenties.

"I can bring it after I do groceries." He says.

"I don't think that's a good idea," John has his lunch under his arm while he scrambles his way over to the hallway to shove on his heavy combat boots. "You haven't been out of the house by yourself, let alone driving all the way to Freddie's office."

Brian knows it isn't, but it feels like a challenge for his pride.

"It's not a bloody marathon I'll be running. It's a twenty minutes car drive." He leaves out the fact that he is secretly hoping Roger will still be at the office too. Brian has been curious who has been occupying Freddie so much over the past few weeks.

He wants to see for himself. Analyze and draw his own conclusions based on that, rather than Freddie's idealistic descriptions.

He knows he doesn't need Johns permission to go, but he wishes John would be more supportive of his idea, rather than sighing deeply, while he wiggles himself into his matching army green jacket.

"I have to go."

"I know." Brian tips his chin up to receive the kiss on his lips. It is brief and soft, but it makes Johns eyes sparkle and his shoulders relax slightly.

He straightens Brians pajama shirt with the smallest of all smiles for no reason other than to be close to him for one moment longer. "Be safe, don't overdo it. Freddie's doesn't die if he has to borrow someone's money for lunch."

"I'll bring it to him." Brian says determinedly. "See how he is doing."

"Fine. Just—"

"Be safe. I know, John. Now go!" Brian laughs and pushes Johns hands away.

John chuckles and blows him a kiss over his shoulder before he is out the door.

★☆★

Brian will never admit to John that he chooses to go to Freddie's office before he goes to get the groceries.

He hadn't even changed out of his pajamas other than pulling on a fresh pair of sweatpants and socks. The car is cold from the months of not being used and he wiggles his stiff toes in his sneakers. John had checked if everything was still working a couple of weeks ago, including the heater, but that doesn't mean the engine doesn't screech and splutter when Brian turns the gas on.

The seat belt digs into Brians hurting belly and he can't help but feel nauseous at the world rolling by the window as soon as he is out of the driveway.

Brian decides not to turn on the radio and enjoy the calm humming of the heater.

He knows the journey like the back of his hand. Before he got sick he would often drop Freddie off before work.

It is past 8 AM and rush hour in London.

Traffic slows him down a good 10 minutes and by the time he parks in front of the office, the waiting room is filled with five people, he is afraid he has missed Roger.

"Hi,"

The receptionist looks up from her nails to give him a brief smile. "Good morning, how can I help you?"

Brian leans against the desk to keep his balance. He can ignore the pain in his abdomen for now, but the pain killers are starting to wear out.

"I was just wondering where I could find Freddie Mercury's office."

"You can wait on one of the chairs until your name gets called."

Heat spreads over Brians cheeks and he clears his throat to get rid of the embarrassment for being mistaken for a mentally ill person. "I'm not uh... Not a patient. Freddie and I are roommates. He forgot his lunch."

"Oh! Of course."

Greta, as her nametag says, smiles and points towards the hallway to the left with her nail file.

"Take a left and walk down the hall, about the fourth door on the right. His name will be on it, so you can't miss it."

"Thank you."

Brian pushes away from the desk and offers stiff smile.

He stalks down the hall slightly hunched over in pain and is quick to find the door with Freddie's name on it. There are butterflies fluttering in his stomach at the idea of finally getting to meet the person central to Freddie's life right now. He is worried as much as he is curious, which is in the nature of a scientist.

Armed with the lunch packet under his arm and Freddie's wallet wedged in the back of his jeans, Brian knocks.

One moment and a "Come in" later, Brian finds himself face to face with Freddie.

"Darling! What are you doing here?"

He is wildly surprised to see Brian standing there. His eyes widen and his face splits into a grin.

Brian is pulled into a bone crushing hug that makes him grunt.

"You forgot your lunch and wallet. John was running late, so I thought I'd bring it over." He demonstrates him the lunch box as soon as Freddie grants him his personal space back.

Freddie looks much better than he did yesterday or this morning, the natural sparkle in his eyes has returned and he is glowing.

"How kind of you, dear, oh come on in."

Brian is pulled into the warm office by his arms after a chaste kiss and as soon as Freddie moves to the side, he sees blond hair sticking up from the couches backrest.

"Rog! We have a special guest."

"Joy."

He strains his neck to peek at Roger over Freddie's shoulder, but he can't quite look past him.

Curiosity nearly makes his toes curl in his shoes.

"We were just talking about what to get for breakfast, you came the right moment I tell you."

Freddie leads the way and gestures for Brian to sit down on the armchair opposite the couch. It takes core strength to get all the way down to the leather cushion, which Brian struggles with. Freddie offers him a hand and props up a pillow behind his back.

As soon as he sits comfortably, he gets a wink from Freddie, who finally moves aside.

"Brian, this is Roger, Roger darling, this is my boyfriend Brian."

There he meets Roger.

Roger, who hasn't showered in days and is withdrawing again, evident by the layer of sweat on his forehead and the shadows under his eyes, offers Brian a weak smile.

He isn't sitting upright and doesn't look like he could if he wanted to. Slumped on the armrest of the couch, propped up by his elbow with the bone jutting out nearly puncturing the skin.

The sight is sickening.

Most of his body is covered by a blanket, but his face shows signs of bruises and grime. His eyes are half lidded and his lips are cracked.

"Nice to meet you." He says. His voice thin and raw.

Brian tries for a smile too, but he finds his voice stuck in the tightness of his throat.

"Very nice to meet you too."

He earns a more earnest lopsided smile and Freddie clasps his hands together. "It's nice to see my men meeting one another, finally."

He sits down on the edge of Brians armchair and presses a kiss to his cheek.

Brian wraps an arm around his waist without looking away from Rogers dulled blue eyes. He finds Roger staring back at him with the same intensity and mirroring curiosity.

He wasn't sure what he had expected upon meeting Roger.

Perhaps someone more fitting of the junkie image. Someone with greasy hair, two missing front teeth and sporting a beard with bread crumbs in them.

The person opposite of him is ethereal and lithe in a way Brian hadn't ever seen before. Not even in his own boyfriends.

He might be bruised and pale, but underneath the grime, Roger is undeniably beautiful.

"I think I have to go."

"So soon, Darling?" Freddie shoots to his feet the moment Roger begins to untangle himself from his bundle of blankets.

He sways dangerously and Brian finds himself instinctively reaching out to offer a hand the same way Freddie does. Roger, finding his balance by putting his head in his hands and groaning, shrugs them off.

"I gotta go. Got places to be."

"Alright..."

Freddie seems reluctant to let him go. Brian can hardly blame him.

Rogers legs wobble on every step he takes and he nearly slides off the wall when he puts his shoes on. His eyes are barely open with how lidded they are.

If he slept through the night, it doesn't look like it.

While Roger is rushing to make his way out of the office, Freddie rushes to unpack Rogers part of the lunch box.

They finish in sync. Roger waits by the door while Freddie gives him his food.

"Don't forget your appointment tonight at the support group."

"I know, Freddie." He whispers.

The affection radiates between the two of them. Brian squirms in his chair.

They exchange a brief hug. Freddie whispers something in Rogers ear which Brian can't catch from the armchair. When Freddie pulls back, Roger gives a watery smile.

"I'll be fine."

"You better be." Freddie says. "Now off you go."

He gives Rogers shoulder one last squeeze before he opens the door for him.

Brian watches him leave with a heavy pit in his stomach.

Those wobbly legs won't carry him far. The drowsy cloudiness of his eyes won't steer him straight forward.

"See you around, Brian." Roger adds before he is out the door. Giving Brian no chance to reply back.

Freddie's face falls the moment the door clicks and it is closed. His shoulders are slumped and Brian wishes he had the strength to carry some of the weight for him.

He struggles to his feet and ignores the pain in his stomach, Brian closes the distance and hugs Freddie flush against him.

"Fucking hell." He rests his chin on Freddie's head. "Where do you think he's going?"

Freddie deflates against Brian. "Richard."

Brian tightens his arms around Freddie's shoulders. His mind reels with possibilities and doom scenarios with things that could happen to someone like Roger walking down the streets in his state of being.

Going home to his abuser.

The idea makes his stomach churn and the little amount of breakfast he had managed to keep down feels heavy as leed in the pit of his abdomen.

"I understand it now."

Freddie pulls away slightly. Just far enough to look Brian in the eye. "What?"

"Why you're so invested. I think I understand."

The eyes of his beloved soften. Brian finds it hard to breathe when Freddie's eyes water for the hundredth time these last 24 hours.

"What else can I do?" He asks.

His helplessness rubs off on Brian.

His heart is racing and his blood is rushing too fast through his body and increasing his pulse.

If John was here he would he yelling at the two of them for being incompetent. Brian would deserve it, because his instincts go against everything he has ever told Freddie about selflessness and putting yourself in dangerous situations.

"Take this."

Brian reaches for his back pocket and hands a frowning Freddie his wallet.

"What are you—"

"There is nothing you can do now, but I can." He pecks Freddie's lips, before rushing towards the door. "And I will."

★☆★

"Hey! Hey Roger?!"

Brian hasn't walked much in over two months, let alone jogged. He is out of breath and panting before he is even out of the office.

Lucky for him, Roger hasn't gotten far yet.

He stops midstep to look over his shoulder. Eyebrow raised.

"Yes?" He asks.

Brian stops running when Roger waits for him to catch up. By the time he stands before Roger, Brian is red in the face and out of breath.

Roger gives him an amused once over. Brian leans on his knees to regain composure.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah," He pants, struggling to form words. "Just, I was just wondering how- wow."

Taking pity on him, Roger lays a hand on his shoulder and rubs gently, neither of them has a bottle of water to help Brians wheezing, but Brian appreciates the gesture nonetheless.

"Should we get you back inside?" Roger asks and begins to pull Brians elbow in the direction of the office with a surprising amount of strength.

Brian shakes his head frantically and digs his heels into the pavement. "No. No. Actually," He slowly feels the blood in his face rush back down again. His lungs begin to open up at their own pace and he breathes a little easier. "I was wondering how you are getting home?"

Rogers eyebrows raise in surprise.

For other reasons than his poor condition Brian finds his cheeks heating up. He is painfully aware of Rogers hand on his arm.

"I'm walking." Roger says.

Brian really doesn't like that idea. Roger is all skin-and-bones, he looks like he hasn't slept in a week which might be the after effect of the heroin. He looks like the wind could blow him off his feet.

"Can I offer you a ride?"

"Me?" Roger removes his hand from Brians arm to cover his smile.

Brian blames the early morning beams of the sun for making it look like Roger is glowing and there is a halo around his head. He feels himself smile at the saintly sight.

"Yeah, it's quite cold out today." He rubs his hands together for demonstration purposes. "And I got a car."

There is a second of hesitation, but it doesn't last when the wind picks up and makes Roger shiver violently through his thin coat and ripped jeans.

He wraps his arms around himself and gives in.

"Do you live anywhere near Clifton Road?"

"Yeah." Brian lies with a smile. "My car is right over there, let's go before we freeze our bloody balls off."

Roger chuckles and the melodic sound rings through Brians ears for a long minute.

★☆★

"Don't you have anywhere else to be?"

Brian snorts and shakes his head.  "No. Not really."

They have hit the infamous London traffic and Brian has to push the breaks before he bumps into the car before him.

The radio is off and Roger has his hands hovering over the heater on the dashboard.

"Is it warm enough?"

"Yes, thank you." Roger twists his neck to him instead of looking out the window at the car lanes next to them. He scans Brian over, his sky blue eyes lingering on his shredded denim jacket, before meeting his eyes. "Freddie told me you were sick."

"Yes."

"Are you doing any better?"

Brian shrugs, he lets the car roll forward for half a meter before he pulls the brakes again. "There are good days and there are bad days."

"Tell me about it." Roger winks.

Brian wishes he could control the blush spreading over his cheeks and down his neck.

Roger is a sight to behold, curled up in the chair with his legs drawn up to his chest and his arms stretched out forward to bring some warmth back into his numb fingertips.

He is no longer shivering and under his shaggy hair, he is regaining some color.

Brian drums his fingers on the steering wheel and squirms to face Roger.

"It is quite nice to meet you finally. Freddie keeps talking about you at home, wondering if you're home safe, if you're eating enough, if you're okay. He never shuts up."

"You must be tired of me."

His tone is supposedly playful, but Brian can see through the act.

"Well," He says, "It made me wonder who stole my boyfriends heart."

Roger shifts his knees until they are pointing in Brians direction. "Are you jealous, Brian?"

"No." Brian smiles. "I think I get it now."

A smug grin tugs on the corner of Rogers lips. He rests his temple on the backseat and withdraws his hands to his chest.

"So he told you all my dirty secrets?"

"No, he'd never." Brian presses. "He came home last night, terribly upset. He told us you relapsed."

"I did."

The smile isn't wiped off of his face, but it is dimmed slightly. The cars move again and Brian is forced to break eye contact.

He hopes he isn't overstepping, he has excelled in containing his curiosity. "Are you feeling okay?"

Roger shoulder brushes against Brians when he shifts in the chair. "Bit peachy, very tired but that's to be expected— hey, do you have any tissues?"

"Left drawer in the dashboard."

Brian watches Roger from the corner of his eye fish out the package and hold the tissue to his running nose. "Thanks."

"No problem."

"For everything, that is." Roger pokes his arm playfully and the touch sends tingles to the rest of his body. "For bringing Freddie's lunch, looking after him and taking me home. I know you live nowhere near here, or at least I hope you don't."

The closer they got to Rogers neighborhood, the grimmer the environment around them becomes.

The flats are decaying, glass of the windows are smashed and trash lays abandoned on the pavement. The people look as grim as the streets they live on.

Homeless people are huddled on the floor, addicts are stumbling about and prostitutes are waving down the passing cars.

Brian tries not to look, but like a disastrous car crash he can't help himself.

"You don't have to thank me for anything, really."

His heart is pounding in his chest and his hand shakes dangerously when he lets it land on Rogers calf.

At first Roger doesn't react at all. He doesn't shrug Brian off, but his eyes dart down to examine the innocent touch warily. "I'm sure it'll win you some points with Freddie."

Brian chuckles warmly. "That too."

They continue on in comfortable silence. Brian only moves his hand when he needs it to drive, but it always returns to Roger, who leans into the touch further with every passing second and dirty street outside the window.

"Take a left. We're almost there."

The idea of Roger leaving disappoints Brian surprisingly much and he subconsciously slows down his driving in a last attempt at stalling the inevitable.

Roger asks him to stop in front of a rough looking apartment with blacked out windows and people hanging around the front. Brian doesn't like the idea of someone as frail and vulnerable as Roger walks around there, let alone live there.

"Want me to walk you to the door?" Brian asks.

Roger uncurls himself and settles his feet back onto the carpeted floor of the car with a sigh.

"No, Richard won't like that. Thank you for the ride though."

His smile is short lived and Brian can see it dissolve the moment Roger opens the door.

"Be safe." He calls after him, sounding smaller and more desperate than he had imagined in his head.

Roger walks with his head ducked and his shoulders slump further and further the closer he gets to the decaying stairs leading up to the front door. Before he raises his hand to ring the bell, he waves at him over his shoulder. Brian waves back.

What happens next is none of his business.

If Brian was a better person, he would put his car in reverse and drive off. Yet he cannot get his hands to stop gripping his steering wheel.

Roger does not have to wait long for the door to open. Brian doesn't expect a sparsely dressed woman with dark curled hair to rush out of the house and wrap her arms around Roger.

She looks as frail and thin as he is, but the hug is bone crushing. In their reunion, Roger smiles and she sways him in rejoice, talking a mile an hour with tears glistening in her eyes.

The moment is intimate and so private Brian feels shameful for watching the couple.

Just before his hand is on the stickhandle, the scene changes.

The girl is forcefully pulled back into the apartment and replaced by a much taller and broader figure than herself or Roger.

Richard.

Brian feels his stomach drop by the way Roger shrinks in on himself.

A broad hand comes up to grab Rogers chin and tilt it upwards for a kiss.

Sick crawls up Brians throat when Roger is forced to take the deepening of the kiss. An uncomfortable moment later, Roger is pulled inside the house by his wrist.

Richard looks around warily, as if sensing someone is watching him. His eyes don't linger on Brians car, but Brian still finds himself holding his breath until Richard slams the door closed behind himself.

Brian drives off with a pit in his stomach.

★☆★

"So, Freddie."

Freddie looks up at Brian from across the table with an easy smile.

Brian fiddles with the strings on his hoodie. From the corner of his eye he can see Johns eyebrow raising in curiosity.

"Yes Darling? Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Brian swallows, he takes a deep breath that levels his breathing out and decides to man up and say what had been on his mind all day. "What can you tell me about Roger?"

"Roger?"

Freddie's eyes widen and at the exact same moment John lets his fork clatter back onto the table.

"How come everyone is obsessed with this person after I told you, both of you, not to get involved with drug users?"

The tips of Brians ears flush and Freddie doesn't scramble to defend himself either.

They go back to their food in relative silence other than their utensils scraping over their plates while John gives them a disapproving once over. Brian knows he shouldn't , but he can't help it after what he had witnessed today.

Freddie is the first to speak up again, nudging Johns hand with his own.

"You'll understand after you meet him, Darling."

To which Brian admittedly nods in agreement.

★☆★

"Here you go."

Richards lips brush over Rogers forehead before he crawls into the bed next to him. Careful not to jostle Roger too much with the bowl of ice cream in his lap.

Before today Roger had never been in Richards bedroom.

It is nothing like the rest of the apartment. It is clean and tidy. There is a large bed with a frame and a big closet on the opposite wall, locked with three different sets of locks.

"Thank you." He says, voice thin.

An arm wraps around Rogers middle and he is pulled flush against Richards side under the blankets.

He rests his head on his shoulder, he sniffles.

"How are you feeling?" Richards broad hand combs through the mess that is Rogers hair. A permanent lump has been stuck in Rogers throat, he feels another wave of tears prickling behind his eyes.

He wipes his cheeks with his sleeve. He sniffles again.

"I miss her."

"Oh Roger." Richard tuts while he caresses the side of his blotchy face. "That's only understandable."

Helpless grief has hollowed the depths of his stomach and darkened the edges of the world.

The last three days have been a defeated blur wherein Roger hasn't felt like eating, sleeping, going to school or living, for that matter.

His mother is gone and this time for good.

Richard scoops up a spoonful of ice cream and offer it to Rogers lips.

"Have some."

Roger feels like he is four years old when shakes his head. "I'm not hungry."

He wonders how long it will take for Richard to grow tired of his behavior. When he will stop rewarding Rogers numb responses and support him at his most vulnerable.

When Roger doesn't move to comply,  Richard tilts his chin up and forces Rogers watery eyes to meet his.

Every organ inside of Roger has been in a knot ever since the news of her passing had come to him. He feels utterly helpless and his body weakens with both grief and a lack of nutrients.

"She wouldn't want you to starve, would she?"

"No." Roger says in a small voice.

"She is gone now, Roger. You need to realize she is no longer here to look after you and make sure you're okay. You are too young to take care of yourself now, you got no job, no diploma, no money for your own apartment." Richard speaks in a low projecting voice. His grip keeps Roger from breaking the intense eye contact. "That is why I am here to take care of you. Your responsibility falls on my shoulders now. Let me protect you, let me make sure you are okay. No matter what, you'll always have a home here."

Roger finds himself rapidly blinking his tears away and yet having some escape the curtain of his eyelashes.

Richard catches them before they fall. His fingers dig in the plushiness of Rogers round cheeks. He feels himself trembling uncontrollably with the prospect reminder of his vulnerability and that he has nowhere else to go.

He doesn't understand why Richard has been so keen to console him, but knows he would be nowhere without this man.

He wouldn't even have known his mother had passed on.

Roger lets out a suffering sigh, before he nods.

"Good."

Richard once again holds the tea spoon with melting vanilla ice slowly dripping down the sides in front of Rogers lips.

Roger opens his mouth and lets Richard feed him the ice cream until his tongue is numb from the cold and his crying has drained all of his energy. He lets his eyes drift closed and Richard wraps both his arms around him, until Roger is swaddled in his lap like an infant child.

Warmth and security help him lull into sleep and so does Richard whispering reassurances into the shell of his ear.

Chapter Text

Freddie isn't surprised to see the bruises have returned on Rogers body now that he is back living with Richard.

He makes no effort in hiding his fresh needles tracks littering the length of his arms. Freddie reminds himself not to let his eyes linger for too long on the scarring of his brand mark either.

Ever since Roger had returned to Richards he has grown more quiet, more hesitant to speak.

"Was he angry?"

Freddie knows that Richard had punished Roger for leaving, his abuse shows on the purple bruises on Rogers neck and the limp he sported when he came into Freddie's office today.

All Freddie can do is offer comfort when necessary and freely give the advice Roger doesn't seem keen to listen to.

It had given him hope that Roger had come to him after he had gotten high. They hadn't talked what happened previously to his relapse, but Freddie knows it wasn't pretty.

Not if Rogers unusual reservedness is anything to go by.

Roger huddles himself closer to Freddie. His knees are under his chin and he has his temple resting on Freddie's shoulder.

"Livid." Comes his mumbled reply. "Don't really want to talk about it."

Freddie strokes Rogers hair behind his ear. He hopes that Roger can't feel how fast his heart is pounding against his ribcage. Freddie is afraid to know what happened and equally frightened of Roger living with the burden alone. "That's fine dear, whatever you want."

Roger lets out a sigh and deflates against Freddie. His legs fall sideways into Freddie's lap, his face is covered by the back of his palm as if to block out the rest of the world for the time being.

His needle tracks are fresh and so are the bruises around his wrist.

To distract himself from the sight Freddie rakes another gentle hand through his hair.

"How is sobriety going for you?"

"Dunno."

He raises an eyebrow and even though Roger cannot see it, he knows he can sense Freddie's mood nonetheless. "You don't know?"

Roger removes his hand from his face and waves it in the air dismissively.

"It's on hold for now."

"Perhaps," Freddie starts knowing Roger won't like what he has to say. He keeps his tone light and non-confrontational. "Your sobriety would stand a better chance in a less stressful environment. I can imagine that now the heroin is quite appealing and easy to come by."

Roger blinks up at him and pushes his upper body away from Freddie. For the first time since they met, he wears an expression of distraught directed at Freddie.

"You could never imagine what I'm going through."

"Oh."

Freddie's hand stops moving through Rogers hair and he finds himself unable to breathe in the unfamiliar tension that suffocates the room.

Rogers face crumbles within the same second and he scrambles to take his words back. "Sorry. That's not fair—"

"No, don't, Roger."

He tries for a smile, but Roger still looks guilty and doesn't meet his eye. They are both painfully aware of the fact that if Freddie decides to end their relationship that Rogers life will he off much worse than it is now.

Freddie lets go of his tension and forces himself to exude calm.

"You don't have to apologize, Roger. I am painfully aware that you're correct and I don't know what you're going through." He takes no claim of the power hanging in the air. He tells himself Rogers fate is not in his hands, despite the uncomfortable shifting. "You're under more pressure than you're letting on, aren't you?"

He earns an indifferent shrug. Rogers eyes are nowhere near his.

Taking stronger measures, Freddie opens his arms wide and invites Roger for a hug.

Roger sighs again and falls into Freddie's embrace a millisecond too soon too desperate. He lets his head rest once more on Freddie's shoulders and his arms drape around his neck. They sway together and despite the open window, it's warm.

At least Roger smells better now that he is back with Richard. His hair is washed and a soapy smell clings to his skin.

Freddie rests his chin on top of the crown of Rogers head and takes a deep breath.

"Sorry I keep pushing you."

In return he gets a cold nose against his neck.

"Sorry I don't listen to your advice, even though I know you're right." Roger fiddles with the loose strings on Freddie's sweater. He picks at the wool and worries his lips between his front teeth. "I feel like I'm out of options."

"Darling," Freddie sighs with a sad smile and tips Rogers chin up. "There is always a choice."

★☆★

"Freddie?"

"Yes, Darling?"

The three of them are eating in the backyard close to the toolshed, most likely for the last time that year. The next three months will be too cold for outside dinners, perhaps tonight is too. Freddie had put several sausages on the grill and Brian had chopped up a salad.

Huddled around a homemade bonfire, they each hold their plates on their laps and sit in the plastic yard chairs.

Brian in particular is cold and has his feet wedged under Johns thighs on his chair. "I was wondering how Roger is doing?"

Freddie has to swallow down his mouthful before he can reply, but he has nothing good to report.

"Not too well I'm afraid." Freddie sighs, picking at his slightly burned sausages with his fork. His head feels heavy and he rests his forehead in his palm. "Today when he came in he had these horrific marks on his wrists, as if he had been held down. There were fresh needle tracks telling me he has permanently returned to drugs and there were fingerprints around his neck. He was held down and—"

John, not unlike the other day, throws his hands up in the air incredulously.

"Can't I just enjoy my dinner?"

"Jesus Christ." Brian curses, closing his eyes. "That's awful."

"I don't understand— why can't we talk about the football? The newest Dracula movie? How my mum is doing?"

Freddie turns to John and plasters a faux smile on his face. "How is your mum doing, John?"

"She is fine thank you." John smiles back, before shoveling half a sausage into his mouth. "Was that hard?"

"A little."

It isn't completely fair to John, who's exhausted to the bone and barely clings onto consciousness at 7 in the evening, if the shadows under his eyes are anything to go by. Freddie should go easy on him, despite the sensitivity of the subject.

There is no animosity in the air. John gives him a wink and Freddie offers him an air kiss.

From the corner of his eye, Freddie can see Brian rolling his eyes at their childishness, but he decides not to comment on it. Like Freddie his mind is occupied with the worries for Roger and whatever he is doing right now.

★☆★

Freddie rememberers a time when Brian was mortified walking the cats with him. The five of them are on leashes and eagerly snuffling their way forward. Brian holds two of the strings and doesn't complain when there are people staring at their parade.

They make their usual lap around the pond in the park close to their little home.

It is Freddie's rare moment of fresh air and even rarer moment alone with Brian, while John is at home passed out on the couch after his eleven hour shift today.

They walk all the way to the tallest tree of the park where Goliath likes to relieve himself and the couple decides to stop a few steps further to watch over the fish in the pond. Far away from the dogs running loose, but in close proximity of other people.

Freddie glances sideways at Brian after long staring at the cats playing in the grass behind them.

Brian had his cold hands shoved into his coat and his eyes are down at the golden fishes spluttering aimlessly in their confined spaces. One would notice Brian is unhealthily thin and oddly pale, but to Freddie he is improving much from the motionless person he was in the hospital bed only weeks ago.

There are people looking, so Freddie has to resist standing on the tips of his toes to plant a kiss on Brians slightly flushed cheek.

"You are looking good, Dear."

The corner of Brians lip quirks sideways and he nudges Freddie with his shoulder. "Are you flattering me?"

"Absolutely not!" Freddie chuckles, he pushes Brian back with a lot less power. He doesn't want to think of his boyfriend as fragile, but his current condition could only describe him so. "I'm just, happy I suppose. I want to be happy about the things that are going well."

Brian kicks at the damn dirt under the grass. He looks down at his muddy shoes.

"You're trying not to think of Roger?"

Freddie shakes his head and he shrugs. "Can you blame me?"

"No."

The cats tug on the leash and Freddie has to turn around to tut at them and be careful not to pull too hard and hurt their delicate necks.

He knows Brian finds it amusing when he speaks to the cats as if they were humans, bur it wouldn't be as funny if the cats didn't listen, calmed down and still looking at each other with narrowed eyes after a rough playfight. They rest at Freddie's feet, content to just lay in their backs or their bellies, curled into one another.

Freddie turns back to look at Brian, who has effectively ruined his shoes with the hole he is digging in the mud.

"Do you think Roger will be okay?"

Brians child like innocence will never seize to surprise Freddie. His tone is high and hopeful, as if he were asking his father if there is a monster under his bed. Or send a letter to the Queen mother asking if they may stop the annual fox hunts.

He knows he is often labeled as the guidable one by his two lovers, but Freddie can't help but think the same of them in other moments.

"He will be okay if he allows himself to be helped and you said so yourself, some people don't want to be helped."

For a moment Brians face falls and the crestfallen expression makes Freddie almost feel like it is his fault. He reaches out to link an arm with Brians arm, an innocent touch to a stranger, but the love in his eyes is undeniable.

"I won't stop trying, okay?"

Brian nods. "Okay."

"There is only so much we can do right now, but we will support him wherever he allows us to."

Brians head continues to bop almost too fast for Freddie to catch the tears threatening to fall over the brim of his sad eyes.

"Hey now." Freddie tugs on his arm warningly and gives him a warm smile which he hopes comes across more convincing than he actually feels in his own heart. "I've never met an addict who's not relapsed at least once during their recovery. It is a small setback and it means nothing in the long term."

Hesitant to accept this as an answer, Brian sighs deeply.

Besides being childlike at times, Brian is also the biggest pessimist Freddie has ever met.

"Why can't he just dump Richard and work at a local supermarket? What about that is so difficult for him to grasp?"

Freddie shakes his head and if he had an hand to spare he would pinch the bridge of his nose.

"That's unfair, Bri. Richard has been the only consisted factor in Rogers life. You can't blame him for needing that one thing to grasp onto, you really can't." He has stopped holding Brians arm to instead poke a finger against his chest.

Brian is surprised to be talked to in such a manner. His raised eyebrows make Freddie clear his throat and retreat his hand.

The taller man deflates with a sigh and the cats grow restless in their moment of silence.

They circle their ankles and tangle their leashes together.

Freddie and Brian are forced apart to untangle the mess before it becomes unsolvable. Freddie lifts both Tiffany and Delilah into his arms so Brian can help him step over the leashes and undo the quickly formed knots.

People really are looking now, but Freddie only has eye for his boyfriend.

When Brian is done freeing Freddie from the cats, he wishes he could beckon Brian close for a kiss, but not in public. Not with the strangers.

They exchange a brief smile.

Freddie silently lets Brian know he holds no resentment, Brian after securing Tiffany and Delilah back onto the grass, caresses Freddie's shoulder over his coat lovingly. The touch warms up his belly and he flushes. "Let's go home, see if John is up for a movie."

"Sounds like a plan."

Shoulder to shoulder with their hands brushing against one another with every step, Brian and Freddie walk the tired cats back home.

In the comfortable silence, Brian speaks up first.

"Will you tell him I said hi?"

Freddie's smile brightens. The telltale sparkle in Brians dark eyes reminds him of the day they met John.

"Sure."

★☆★

"You still mad at me?"

John tries not to smile, but Freddie can see the corner of his lip quirk in the darkness before he rolls over to look at him.

"No." He says in a quiet voice.

Brian is fast asleep between them. They have propped themselves up with their elbows to look over his tall shoulder. Freddie is tired, but an uneasy feeling has kept him from properly nodding off. Johns two hour nap messed up his sleep schedule as well.

Freddie takes the initiative and leans over Brian to lift up Johns chin for a kiss.

The familiarity makes Freddie smile and John let out a content sigh. Freddie slings his leg over Brians so he can touch John with his foot.

"I love you."

"I love you too." They have to be quiet and Freddie has the lousiest whispering voice amongst them. He tries to stay silent while they breathe the same air. John splays a warm hand around his neck to prompt him closer. "You have no idea how worried I am. Day in day out."

"For me?" John nods. Freddie gasps. "No need for that, Darling. I am perfectly fine."

There's a sad smile on Johns face, showing no teeth. "You're telling me not to worry about your crack addicted prostitute friend secretly hanging around your workplace? Taking all your spare money you should be using for shopping trips and a fix on your car."

Freddie lies without blinking. "I don't know what you're taking about."

It seems dangerous how far Johns eyes roll back into his skull before he leans forward to cradle Freddie's cheeks between the palms of his hands.

"You need to listen to me,"

"John—"

"No, listen." John squishes Freddie's cheeks with his hands. Freddie quiets down with a huff. "He will keep plucking your feathers until you're bald. He has you in the palm of his hand, you have a crush. He bats his eyelashes, you fawn."

Freddie's eyebrows narrow and he stiffens in Johns touch.

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"I don't?" John chuckles, but without a sign of amusement in his voice. The shrill sound echoes off the high ceiling. "It's painfully obvious. You have no idea how deep you are and frankly, I have no idea how to stop you from harming yourself." Again.

Abruptly Joh pulls away and rolls over to his other side so his back is facing his boyfriends.

"John." Freddie frowns.

He is the only one left to sit upright. "John, Darling. Don't be silly."

Freddie throws his arms up in the air in annoyance. John is ignoring him and stubbornly holding his breath so that not even his shoulders move.

Between them, Brian snorts out a loud snore, before unceremoniously rolling onto his back.

Fine.

Freddie feels like Spiderman, maneuvering his left leg over Brians waist followed by his left arm onto the headboard. He slings his right leg underneath him, until he bounces down on top of John— who lets out a surprised 'oof' at the sudden weight on top of him.

"What the hell are you doing!" He whisper yells.

Freddie chuckles, now straddling Johns lap. "Making you pay attention to me."

It takes a long suffering sigh before John wraps his arms around Freddie's waist and beckons him close against his bare chest.

John likes to sleep mostly bare. Brian is in a full matching pajama set and Freddie has his satin slip ons.

It gives Freddie the freedom to trail his fingers over the softness of Johns mostly bare chest. He will never grow tired of felling his heart beat under his palm or the warmth radiate off of him.

Freddie leans down and craves to kiss the center of his sternum.

Long fingers find their way into Freddie's hair, sweetly stroking it back behind his ear not unlike the way Freddie likes to caress Roger when he allows him to.

"I love you, Fred. You need to learn how to listen to me."

"You need to learn how to trust me." Freddie says, pecking Johns still parted lips. "Can you do that?"

John nods.

"I trust you. I just don't trust all those other people out there, out to exploit you."

"That's not Roger."

"So you say." John kisses him again. "So you say."

★☆★

"I don't think I can go to the support group anymore."

Freddie nearly cuts off the tip of his index finger as soon as the words have left Rogers mouth. The knife clatters to the floor and Freddie quickly sucks the finger with the small incision into his mouth.

Roger winces. "Sorry."

"What—? Why?" Freddie completely abandons their lunch to stare up at Roger with wide eyes.

It is hard to keep the disappointment and slight frustration out of his voice. Even when Roger hugs his knees closer to his chest out of self defense.

"Roger," Freddie closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. "What happened to recovery and getting better? What happened?"

Even though his eyes are closed Freddie knows Roger is shrugging, what he always does.

"Richard doesn't like it."

"You don't have to tell him."

"I didn't!" Roger cries out. "I tell him I'm with a client, but people won't cover for me forever and I don't make enough money to cover the hours that I am at the support group."

"I don't understand." Freddie says.

He is on his knees in front of the coffee table, previously cutting up cucumbers for their salad. He crawls closer to Roger on the sofa with his hands cradled to his chest.

"Roger, I don't understand. You need to explain it to me."

Roger is glaring up at the ceiling, utterly frustrated as he picks on the skin around his nails, before cursing under his breath.

He lets out a long suffering sigh, before he throws his arms up.

"Fine."

He shifts until he is facing Freddie and slinks down onto the floor opposite of him with his back against the edge of the couch and knees spread unceremoniously. Freddie prepares himself as well, crossing his legs and leaning in until their knees are touching.

Roger folds his arms over his lap. He stares at Freddie with an unreadable expression. Freddie gives him an encouraging nod in return.

"You've seen it before,"

Freddie raises his eyebrow, but before he can voice his question, Roger rolls up the sleeve of his shirt until he brandmark is visible.

The thick scar tissue makes Freddie shiver.

Roger trails his finger over the symbol. "I'm part of the Bull Crew, Richards branch falls under their authority."

"Okay?" Freddie drawls out, trying to make sense of it.

Roger lowers his sleeve once more and continues in a low voice, despite nobody else being in close proximity to hear them. "It's a gang that covers most of the north and east sides of London. Trying to infiltrate on the South now too."

Of course Roger is in a gang.

Freddie gulps. "Right."

"Richard sells drugs in his districts, but prostitution is his side business. He looks after us and has to give a percentage of his earnings to the Bull Crew leader, but the rest of the profit he can keep for himself."

Roger explains everything with vivid hand motions, going back and forth and making wide gestures. Freddie can only focus on the blue of his eyes and the tense set of his jaw.

"There are multiple Bull Crew members like Richard who hustle in prostitution in the North East sides of town and to fight competition amongst ourselves it is all coordinated by the same persons. These are the people that are on the streets watching if the prostitutes are working. Every time I take a client I have to show them the money I have earned, they write it down for administration. Let's say what if I disappeared for two hours and come back with no money? This gets written down." He explains, slowing down to clear his throat.

Freddie blindly reaches behind himself on the coffee table and grabs Rogers half empty cup of tea. He carries it over to him, Roger takes it gratefully even though it is no longer warm.

He sips. Bangs falling over his eyes.

If he was Brian or John, Freddie would have reached out to brush the hair away and plant a kiss to his forehead.

But he is not one of his boyfriends. He is Roger, with the brandmark, needle tracks and the specks universe in his eyes.

"Things happen, right?" He starts again with a throat less hoarse. "Sometimes you get beaten up and left with no money. Or you get threatened and told to leave without a payment. Those things happen occasionally, but me leaving every other evening for 3 hours, without making any money is suspicious. So much so that I have to pay the guy who coordinates the prostitutes to stay quiet."

Payment in Rogers world means something different than in Freddie's world. Freddie tries not to let his emotions show on his face, but Roger looks away nonetheless.

Avoiding further eye contact completely.

"Anything can go wrong. One day the coördinator will be someone who won't be attracted to men, what do I give as a payment? One day Richard will notice the money difference. One day is not far away." He says, his finger hooks under the elastic lining of his socks, which Freddie recognizes as his own, from the day Roger had relapsed. Roger fiddled with the hem to calm himself down.

Freddie looks up at his face and sees it mostly covered with the strands of his locks.

"But... Support group is only an hour and a half. Why would you be gone for over three hours?"

"I have to walk there for an hour if the busses aren't going." Roger worries his lip between his teeth when he peeks at Freddie from between his hair. Looking obscenely guilty. "Freddie... I don't think I can do this anymore."

Freddie's heart sinks. He dreads the words, so much so that he covers his own mouth with his hands.

He shakes his head frantically, heart pounding. Roger looks away.

"Don't say that, Darling."

"When he finds out I went to a drug support group or that I'm seeing you, I don't know what he'll do to me."

His voice is thin and he rubs on the yellowing bruises around his wrists. Freddie doesn't want to imagine what had happened to him and what the fears fueled by Richards threats are doing to him right now. Sitting on the floor with his eyes lowered in uncharacteristic meekness.

Tears spring into Freddie's eyes and he has to take a shuddering breath before he can reach out to wrap his hands around Rogers wrists delicately and cradle them against his own chest.

Rogers wrists are sickly thin and fit easily in Freddie's palms.

He ducks his neck down to search eye contact with those light blue eyes. There is no smile on his face, only stone cold determination.

"What can I do?"

"I don't know if I can keep coming here Freddie." Roger doesn't struggle against Freddie's touch, but he does flex his fingers until they rest flat on Freddie's chest. He looks sideways at the plastic plant in the corner of the office to avoid eye contact. "He'll find out. I'm in so much trouble if he finds out."

"Stop that,"

Freddie tugs gently on his wrists. Roger blinks up at him finally. "I don't want to hear that. Tell me what I can do to help?"

★☆★

Richard is a brutal man.

The day Roger returns he can tell things haven't changed.

The apartment is unusually busy at this hour of the day. The news of his return had spread amongst the others, some are sitting up on their mattresses, others are dead asleep from taking drugs.

When he enters the living room they all fall silent. He knows his appearance isn't what it used to be.

The looks in their eyes are unbearably sad and the worry weights heavy in the dusty air, they know what is awaiting Roger now that he is back. They don't speak or ask how he is faring.

Roger doesn't have much time to catch up with them. Or reassure them.

A broad hand wraps around his wrist and Roger is silently dragged back into the hallway in the direction of the bathroom by Richard.

"Clean up." He grunts. "You stink."

Roger is instantly tempted to walk out the front door. He could make a sprint for it, now that Richard is fiddling with unlocking the bathroom door with his masterkeys. The keys confining cupboards in the kitchen and the off limited rooms in the apartment.

His eyes linger on the keys and then back on the front door. Out there is cold and insecurity, but also opportunity as far as hope.

In that moment Roger can't breathe.

"I want you in the bedroom in five. Don't make me wait."

He is pushed into the bathroom and made to shower. Richard isn't actually there to assist him, but Roger knows from past experience what is expected of him.

The water is cold, Roger can't stand standing under the spray for longer than twelve seconds at a time, which isn't enough to wash himself down, clean his hair and open himself up.

It isn't asked of him to finger himself before he has to go to Richards room. He doesn't have to, but the last time he made the mistake not to prepare himself had been the most agonizing pain in his life.

There is no lube, that means that there is only so much he can do to comfortably stretch himself. He goes on to wash his face and get rid of the awful stench that's been clinging to his skin for the past week. Richard likes to humiliate him at times, but at least he has a bottle of soap balanced on the edge of the shower Roger can use to feel human again.

The water becomes so cold Roger feels his heart beat slow down.

He steps out onto the tiles, freezing and shivering. There is a towel laid out for him, which is still damp from when one of the other residents had used it today. In the mirror his lips are purple and his face is sunken.

It is better to stop looking. Roger makes quick work of wiping himself down efficiently.

The last thing he wants is to further irritate Richard and worsen the punishment already laid out for him.

The clothes he was wearing he leaves on the floor in the corner of the bathroom. Except for the socks he recognizes are Freddie's from the adorable kitten pattern on them. They make warmth bloom inside of him. He hides those in the back of the drawer with tampons and pads, where Richard wouldn't find them and others wouldn't look for clothes to wear.

Roger is terrified when he steps out of the bathroom completely bare except for the towel around his waist.

The door to Richards room is usually locked, now it is wide open with Richard nowhere in sight. That doesn't reassure Roger whatsoever. He still contemplates making his way out the front door, despite his nudity and the howling wind outside the rattling windows.

He knows not what exactly will be done to him, but he knows it won't be easy to endure.

Roger doesn't know how long he stands in the hallway against the bathroom door. His legs jump into action only when he hears creaking of the wooden floor under heavy feet coming from the kitchen. Roger all but leaps into Richards bedroom where nothing has changed.

The bed is made, the window is blacked out and the closet is still locked.

He falls face first onto the mattress. The towel pools around his waist to feign modesty.

The footsteps he heard were indeed Richards. He squeezes his eyes closed when the bedroom door clicks closed behind the other man.

Every nerve in his body is alert when Richard shuffles into the room.

Roger had hoped to get heroin before the inevitable punishment, but no such mercy is shown to him.

Not many words are exchanged between them that evening. The loudest sound in the room is that of his own muffled breaths.

The bed dips and Roger feels Richard hovering over him before he actually touches him. The smell of his cigarette burns through the fabric of the pillow. Roger holds his breath and silently begs for it all to be over soon.

Richards fingers wrap around Rogers neck and he squeezes.

His hand is broad enough to nearly cut off complete air circulation. Rogers eyes roll back into his skull and he chokes.

As much as he tries to stay still, Rogers body begins to thrash involuntarily.

His fingers curl into the duvet and his legs try to squirm his attacker off of him without success.

Roger counts the seconds into his head. Twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven—, he coughs and his lungs burn with a longing for oxygen. Spots appear on the black of his vision. Desperate tears seep into the pillow.

"Shut up." Richard grunts, holding Roger down with his weight. "I said shut up!"

Roger chokes out a cry when he feels the burn of the cigarette butt against his bare shoulder blade. It will cause a scar matching the ones already littering his skin.

His body thrashes harder to get away from the assault. If he had the breath to do it, Roger would sob.

Just before blissful unconsciousness creeps up on him and his legs stop kicking, Richard stops.

Roger doesn't get much time to catch his breath. He heaves and tries to sit upright, but the sound of Richards belt coming undone makes him try to get up, run, beg, fight, bur the first crack of the whip that comes down on his back makes him collapse back onto the bed like a rag doll.

"Take it. Shut up and take it."

The leather cuts into his skin and Roger is paralyzed.

It is a pain he had never experienced before.

The strength that goes into Richards beating is inhuman. Roger sees hot white upon every impact.

Struggling is useless. Richard has a knee on his back that keeps him down.

The shock takes over his fight instinct, his legs stop thrash’s and his hands shake uselessly. He lays face down on the mattress, body rigid under the white hot pain of the leather whip. The iron clasp causes immediate bruises upon impact. The belt makes Roger gasp into the pillow each time, sweat pours off his brow and the pain is almost too intense for him to feel anything at all.

Richard whips his back and shoulders, until he draws blood. Time is meaningless. Roger had no idea how long he is assaulted. When the belt is dropped unceremoniously onto the floor, Richard lowers his pants and fucks Roger. Quick and rapid like an animal.

Roger doesn’t remember much of that. He had floated off into space somewhere during his violent assault.

Richard pulls out as soon as he is finished and leans forward to whisper into Rogers earshell.

"You don't know what you have coming if I ever catch you disobeying me again."

Roger whimpers blearily for mercy when his arm his is grabbed and tilted up in the air. His entire body is sore and bruised, every small movement shoots hot stinging pain to his entire nerve system. He barely feels the small familiar prick of the needle at all, before cold fluid blissfully enters his bloodstream.

Roger is violently shaking in the aftermath. Tears blur the vision of the dark silhouette looming over him.

Richard lowers his arm and climbs into bed next to him. Roger is too weak to struggle against Richards embrace, even though the weight of the duvet on his bruises makes him sob. He is made to cry against Richards chest.

"Sleep." Richard orders. His lips brush against Rogers ear. "Sleep."

Chapter Text

The first thing Roger registers when he wakes up is the clock on the wall. It is hard to read in the darkness with his poor eyesight.

He has to squint before manages to see where the hands are pointed.

It reads 5:30 pm. Meaning he is late.

The second thing he notices is someone's elbow digging into his side. He politely rolls over— only to collapse against another sleeping body.

Roger mumbles an apology that falls on deaf ears. The old mattress gives in almost fully under his weight when he gets to his feet. The after effects of the heroin he took last night has now left him nauseous and dizzy. He nearly tumbles onto his nose when stumbles over someone, who groans.

"Sorry." He cringes.

There is currently eight of them out on the floor, spread out over the number of mattresses scattered across the living room. The windows are blacked out and he makes no effort to turn the lights on in consideration of everyone who is asleep and doesn't have to work.

Roger tip toes over to the kitchen. His bare feet catch stray crumbs off the floor and the durst in the air irritate his eyes.

The kitchen is in a similar state as the rest of the house, dirty and unkept. The fridge is predictably empty, other than Richards prohibited foreign beer bottles.

On the stove sits a carton box with chinese leftovers.

Roger finds a decently clean spoon in the back of the cutlery drawer and digs into the remains of rice and whatever meat he cannot identify. Richard hadn't left much, but it is enough to make Rogers stomach stop howling pathetically at its emptiness.

He leans against the counter and eats in silence. The only noise in the room is of breathing and stray snores.

The bodies strewn about high on drugs have been a normal sight for as long as he can remember living here. Once his mother was a part of them too. Because at the time he was a child, Richard had arranged a mattress underneath the largest window for just the two of them. They, unlike the other residents had pillows and a blanket.

When Winney died, Roger had kept the privilege of sleeping on his single mattress under the window, if he wasn't in Richards bedroom.

Such privileges have been lost since he has ran away. He had betrayed Richards trust and lost his status with the older man.

"Hi."

Roger startles, hand clutching his chest. "Jesus!" He whisper yells. "Can't sneak up to me like that."

"Sorry— hey. You okay?"

Imogen is much taller than he is. He has never met a woman quite so tall. Her thin skeleton like build made her seem even lankier. She looms over him like an aged tree, not older than 35, but people age badly in this environment. But never her soft green eyes.

They hadn't spoken since he returned. He hasn't talked much at all.

"As good as can be. Got anything for me?"

She nods. From her back pocket she presents him a small sack containing white powder. Imogen drops it into his palm. "He wants to see a rise in profit, it requires more energy."

"So coke it is." Roger doesn't like coke as much as dope. Heroin is an addiction, an extension of himself. Cocaine can be used as a means to give him an energy boost and keep him on his feet a moment longer. The lasting effects of heroin are catastrophic and if it weren't for an occasional hit of cocaine, Roger wouldn't be able to work at night.

Imogen lines the cocaine up on the counter with an expired credit card.

Gossip has it that she fell into prostitution after she had gone bankrupt three times over. The very cards she uses these days had supposedly gotten her here.

Roger snorts two lines.

All tonight requires is an energy boost. Nothing else.

Imogen takes the remaining three lines. Roger gathers the remaining powder on his finger and rubs it on his gums, leaving them blissfully numb.

"Come on, put on some clothes and get busy."

"Alright." He bops his head. His blood is already beginning to pump and his heart beat picks up dramatically.

The previous hunger and sleepiness drain away while they shuffle into the living room.

There they have a tall closet where they keep their collective clothes. None of them truly fit him, they're sink washed and old. Most of it is stolen, or picked up from charity shops.

Roger chooses the warmest sweater over his tank top and tightest jeans in the pile. Imogen is less lucky. Her legs are bare from the knees down in a dress and the coat she grabs is completely stained.

She doesn't complain, he doesn't comment on it.

Before they leave the flat, Roger makes a stop in the bathroom. Richard isn't in the house, but he still locks the door behind himself. In the bathroom he finds Freddie's socks in the back of the drawer, where he had left them.

He rolls them onto his feet, over his own socks which have holes in them.

Sitting on the toilet seat with his eyes closed, his legs drawn to his chin and rocking with nervous energy, Roger likes to imagine what Freddie might be doing now. He does it more and more often in quiet moments. Hopefully he is warm inside, at home, surrounded by his cats and given a homemade meal. Tomorrow is their next appointment and Roger looks forward to—

"Rog," A knock on the bathroom door. "Love, we're gonna be real late. Don't want to get in trouble."

Roger climbs to his feet and before he leaves the safety of the bathroom, wriggles his toes to see the cats on the socks dance.

"Coming."

★☆★

The Bull Crew got their monopoly on Menom Road long before Roger began working for Richard.

Menom Road is downtown Londons most booming prostitution district.

The cops don't want to get their hands dirty in the area, too much gang violence, too much crime they can't sink their teeth into. There is no competition anymore on this side of town, not from other gangs or the mafia. Clients are aware of their anonymity and safety of their crimes on this block.

The Bull Crew have successfully managed their terrain.

The working girls and a stray boy, like Roger, line up on the sidewalk, illuminated by the stale lighting of the lampposts. Each of them shiver in their skimpy clothes and drugs raddled bodies.

They wave or whistle at the cars that slow down for them, luring in their next client like sirens in open water.

There is a familiar green colored Ford Consul parked on the end of the street.

Imogen trails after him as Roger makes his way over to beaten up vehicle. Inside sits Andrei, much to Rogers relief. Andrei is tall and broad, which is to be expected from the men managing the prostitutes on Friday nights. He sits with the car door open, one foot in and one out of the car and the clipboard in his lap.

"Ladies." He looks up, a smile plays behind his scruff as he addresses Roger, "Haven't seen you in a wee bit."

"Well I'm back now."

There is never much chit chatter, but Andrei finds him easy on the eye.

Roger rolls his sleeve up to show his mark, a formality, because Andrei had seen it many times before and knows who he is, who he belongs to.

"Right, thank you."

Andrei uses the pen behind his ear to check the box behind Rogers on todays schedule. Officially clocking him in for his shift. He then reaches for the box in the passengers seat, when he shifts Roger can see the back of his gun sticking out of his pocket. He gives Roger a number of condoms, mints and a bottle of lube. Roger saves them in his backpocket. "No more funny tricks from you?" Andrei asks.

Roger smirks, he steps out of the way for Imogen to check in as well. He is already walking towards the sidewalk and stripping off of his unflattering hoodie.

"You know me, right?" He calls back— lining himself up behind the girls jiggling their breasts towards one of the cars.

Andrei shakes his head.

★☆★

Roger doesn't get to be too picky with his clients.

He has set certain boundaries for himself. He refuses bondage and sex with more than three people at once. He likes the illusion of control. He likes to think that if he isn't tied up, he can leave the client whenever he wants. He likes to believe he can fight off up to three people by himself.

If someone seems dangerous to him, he is trained to say no.

There is no profit in a dead prostitute after all.

Roger has never gotten pleasure out of sleeping with a client.

He might as well have been a lifeless doll for the men, no unlike this client now, who holds him down and have their way at him. Rogers face is sideways on the squeaking bed. He counts. Four hundred and eighty six. Four hundred and eighty seven. Four hundred and eighty eight. Clients don't tend to last long.

The mans iron grip on his hips will bruise, but they won't stand out.

Rogers breath hitches on a particular hard thrust. He squeezes his eyes closed. Hot shame washes over him. Shame. Shame. Shame..

"Yes," The man grunts. His hips stutter. "Do that again. I want to hear you."

Before, the nameless client had been a quiet one. Small, still in suit from work. He barely uttered a word after leading Roger into the motel room only a block away from Menom Road. Roger had taken the liberty to take off his own clothes and toss the man a condom, else they would still be staring at each other across the room. Not making any money.

Clumsy as he was, the man had barely caught the condom between his sweating palms.

Clients don't like wearing condoms, but Roger doesn't have time for a shower before he has to hop onto the next. They deal with it, a small price to pay for his services.

"Moan for me. Please." He sounds ashamed of himself for asking, even though his penis is repeatedly penetrating Roger.

Roger feels nothing but disgust for this man. No matter how clumsy or repressed homosexual he is. His stomach churns and anger makes Roger see red. He presses his lips together tightly and stays quiet in his last attempt to not completely submit himself.

The client speeds up his pace. He lets out shuddering breaths and uncontrollable groans when he fails to stifle them.

Roger claws his fingers into the duvet. Grinding his teeth.

No noise comes out of him, not when the client tumbles over the edge with a sorry excuse of a moan. Not when he pulls his limp penis out. Not when he disposes the condom in the bin.

"H-how much?"

That's when Roger tips his chin up and speaks.

"Twenty five." A usual price for anal sex would be closer to twenty pounds or fifteen, but Roger can tell this man isn't familiar with the rates. He had been stupid enough not to ask before they had begun.

The man scrambles for the bills stuffed in his wallet. He stands in the motel room naked, face scarlet red.

Roger takes the money and climbs off the bed unceremoniously. He is out of the motel within two minutes and onto the street once again, though twenty five quid richer.

Said motel is less than a five minute walk away from Menom Road.

While he walks back to his post to report to Andrei to hand over his money, the exhaustion is catching up on him. He could use another hit of cocaine, to have his heart pumping and his blood soaring.

As of now every muscle in his body seems to melt into the other. The lube between his thighs couldn't be sufficiently cleaned with the complimentary tissues and Roger feels disgusting as the substance sticks between his legs. If anything, Roger wants to be go home and have a hit to forget all about tonights encounters.

Just as Roger steps forth to cross the road, a familiar red car stops in front of him.

The window rolls down. Roger uses the last ounce of willpower within him not to roll his eyes at the old man that appears before him, instead, he leans against the door with a faux smile and ducks his neck.

"Mr Davids. Hi." He says, the man likes it when he plays coy and shy.

Davids is a 65 year old man with a cleft lip and two wives. He is a regular, but not usually on Fridays.

"Roger," His eager grin makes Roger shudder. Sometimes he circles the block for hours until he catches a moment with Roger. He is a creep. "Need a ride back?"

A ride includes a five pound blow job in the back of the car or a secret back-alley.

Roger nods hesitantly, only for the innocent act.

"Thank you Mr Davids."

He climbs in the car and they drive off. For five minutes they ride around the neighborhood. Davids talks. About his job, his golfing, his house and his kids. He doesn't like hearing Roger talk about his job, it ruins his fantasy.

When the excitement has built, Davids has tented in his pants simply from boosting to Roger about his own life, he finds them an empty alley.

Once outside and against the cold brick wall, Roger is pushed to his knees and made to act he doesn't understand what he has to do. Davids unclasps his own belt and 'guides' Roger through the whole process with a low condescending voice that turns Davids on more than Rogers lips around his cock ever could. They have done it a hundred times before, but when he ejaculates, Roger pretends to struggle. He whines and splutters. Davids shushes him and pets his hair back.

Davids thinks of himself as a good man, Roger hates him.

"You're such a good boy. Such a good boy for me, Roger."

Roger pulls off with a bop. His jaw stays clenched when he gets his money alongside a 2 pound tip. Almost half more than his total rate.

"Thank you Mr Davids."

The ordeal ends quickly after that. Davids drives him back to the Menom Road. Roger gets out of the car without a goodbye or a thank you. He knows Davids will come back.

With a grimace, Roger reports back to Andrei. He gives him the money he's made. Andrei notes it down alongside the timeframe.

Roger is send back to the sidewalk again.

★☆★

There's a church some blocks away from Menom street. The Gothic tower was built in the 14th century and spirals high into the clouds and disappears into the sky. Today is a misty say, Roger has to squint to read the lettering on the clock.

It's 8 pm. If he doesn't want to be late for support group he has to leave right now.

At the corner of the street, in his trusted green car Andrei is counting the money Janice had just brought in. He is momentarily distracted, not the best in mathematics. Roger takes the opportunity to slip away from the sidewalk and disappear in the darkness.

The hoodie around his waist goes back over his head, autumn is nearly finished and the winter creeps up on England like a predator closes in on its unsuspecting prey. Roger rushes over to the nearest bus stop, shivering, he can buy a ticket with the money he withheld from Davids tip, which is a million times better than walking all the way there.

The bus ride takes a good 20 minutes long, Roger drowses between stops, but jolts every time the bus' engine as much as stutters, up until his stop all the way across town.

Together Not Alone hires a classroom in a local primary school.

On the outside one wouldn't suspect ex addicts to be gathering in there in the late hours of the night, but it is true.

Roger hurries through the open school gates, past the playground and parking lot. By the large blue school doors he stops and rings the bell to be let into the building.

Their in-school meetings mean that they are seated behind sticky wooden tables and on wobbly seats. The walls are decorated with all sorts of art pieces, most of them are bad or simply unrecognizable, but one or two would stand out. Roger likes it to see them change every other week. He also enjoys to guess what assignments the kids had when they had to draw it. Last week it were dinosaurs, this week he isn't so sure of the theme.

"Roger?"

He had been staring off at the wall for too long. All the eyes are on him. "Yes?"

The woman who coordinates Together Not Alone is an ex prostitute herself. She is 57 now with sort grey hair and a motherly smile. Denise she called herself, but Roger suspects that might not be her real name.

"Would you like the soup today or the rice?"

They always serve one hot meal during the session. Denise makes them at home and brings them in large containers and serves them in plastic cups for them.

"The soup would be nice, thank you." He says, having had rice for breakfast already. "Sorry."

"That's alright."

His generous cup of soup is passed on in the circle until it meets him. Roger hadn't noticed his finger tips were numb from the cold until he wrapped his hands around the steaming cup.

A meal is always nice between clients. Roger hadn't managed to find Imogen to get another cocaine hit and his energy levels had gone extremely low. The healing that comes with a warm meal are close to miraculous if you'd ask him. Denise is not the best cook, if Roger still fondly remembers the times his mother would cook, but she provides for him and the other unfortunate souls in the room.

Once everyone has their meal they start the session.

By now he knows almost every person sitting around the circle in their cramped chairs, he knows their names, possible day jobs and their dirty secrets.

Not all of the secrets, like he wouldn't share that he is a sex worker, but they all know enough to ruin each others lives.

The potential danger is overshadowed by the safety of the space. Led by Denise.

Everyone is made to talk about their day and if they have experienced any setbacks. Leo talks about how he hasn't left the house for anything but the support group sessions. Jennifer admits to breaking down when her colleagues had insisted on her having a glass of celebration champagne. Lola has gone over her credit card limit again.

"Roger," Denise sits two chairs away from him. She gives him an encouraging smile, not unlike Freddie. "How have you been?"

"Uuh...."

He is painfully aware of the fact that they have eyes and that they can indeed tell he isn't doing okay. This morning he had hardly recognized himself in the mirror, pale, bruised and skinny as he has become.

Despite the rush of shame that comes over him, he has never seen anyone get insulted within the confined walls of the art classroom. 

He tells them about his relapse. He lies. Leaves out the gory details of the assault he experienced at the shelter, so that he can be left with a sense of dignity. He tells them he went back to living with his dealer. They don't judge him, most of them have relapsed at least once as well. Sometimes more than that.

"Thank you for sharing Roger. That's very brave of you."

Brave. Roger scoffs to himself and huddles into his hoodie to avoid more of Denise's intense eye contact.

If he were brave, he wouldn't be here.

★☆★

Roger is forced to walk back to Menom road after support group. The busses don't drive this late at night.

The way back is agonizing. The cold wind catches through his hoodie and his feet drag over the pavement in his efforts to keep his body from collapsing and curling up behind a couple of trashcans.

He is tempted several times to stop and take a nap. Nodding off while he is walking is not a pleasant side.

Bypassers think he is a drunk because of his swaying, but Roger is painfully sober.

The walk is an hour long.

Which means that he had left his post for more than three hours since going to Together Not Alone. He knows he'll have some explaining to do, when he has finally made it to the green beaten up car at the corner of Menom Road.

He greets Andrei with a knock on the already open window.

Andrei drags his eyes up from his Sudoku. At the sight of Roger leaning against his car with a lazy smile on his face and no money in his hands, the gang members purses his lips.

"Gone for," A glance at his watch. "Three hours again. What excuse do you have this time?"

"Someone tied me up and left me there without any money." Roger lies. Feigning innocence.

Andrei rolls his eyes, but he notes it down anyway.

It is a small victory, Roger bends down to offer the older man a kiss as reward. He is halfway through crawling into the car, when Andrei puts a hand to his chest to push him out again.

"I'm off my shift, but you owe me a handjob."

Roger steps away and nods, "Thank you." He says genuinely, with his hands on his heart.

Andrei has a soft spot for him even though the sturdy man doesn't like to admit it and promptly looks away— cheeks unmistakably pink.

"Fuck off and make some money."

"Sure, Andrei. I see you tomorrow."

He sighs and shakes his head at his Sudoku. "Be careful out there."

"Will do! Will do."

It is past rush hour, and even though most of the other prostitutes have gone, it takes a while before Roger finds a new client again. The streets are empty and eerily quiet, like the people next to him who are also anxious about the lack of money they are making.

He is relieved when an expensive looking car rolls to a halt right in front of him. The window slowly rolls down and reveals a young looking woman.

It is rare, but not uncommon.

She sticks her head out through the small opening. Her eyes rake over Roger with a comfortable confidence.

"How much?" She asks.

Roger steps closer and leans against the car door with a smile that barely twits the corners of his lips. The exhaustion filters down his already mediocre act.

"Depends on how much you want."

The door on the passenger side is pushed open and he is led into the car by her melodic voice, though that might just be his brain shutting off. He had to repeat the same cycle until it is 6 am and he uses whatever strength is left in his body to carry himself home. Though, he is half dragged down the streets by Janice. Who drops him onto the front steps of Richards apartment unceremoniously.

She didn't have to take clients until the early morning hours, but had come back to Menom Road out of concern.

"Here."

She offers him a smoke. They are nowhere near the quality of the cigarettes Freddie brings him, but anything is preferable over going inside the cursed flat. Even if that means Roger half dozes onto the cold stone steps with the cigarette dangling between his lips.

Janice sits down next to him and brushes the hair out of his face.

"You okay?"

"Yes." He lies with his eyes closed. He lays there with his head on the top step and his body splayed out over the rest of the front step. He feels lube between his thighs and the foul aftertaste of fluids at the back of his throat. He longs to scrape his insides raw to get rid of it.

"You?"

She nods and lights her own cigarette while they watch the first beams of the sun come up between the flats before them. "Fine."

★☆★

It is warm inside, but the atmosphere is ice cold.

He comes back into the home where Richard, as per usual after their shifts at the end of the month, is counting money in a chair and wooden folding table by the front door. Making it that nobody can escape his irregular evaluations.

Before Roger two others are in line waiting anxiously for their turn. The two girls tug their short dresses down their asses and one wobbles dangerously on the thin back of her worn heels. Richard handles their cases quickly, nothing abnormal is noted in their reports from the prostitute coordinators. Their schedules and income are consistent.

Roger has to lean against the hallways wall. Even then he falls asleep twice on his feet and nearly topples against the person in front of him.

Exhaustion meets new limits every day.

Once Richard gets to Roger he is not impressed by the lack of profit this month. He studies Rogers monthly income with a frown, his thick eyebrows are drawn together. Even though the attention is not on him, Roger still finds himself squirming.

Richard drops the papers onto the table and leans back with his arms folded.

"You losing your flare?"

Roger swallows. "I don't think—"

"You were out for nearly 12 hours today. I expect a lot more for someone who supposedly works 12 hour shifts. What are you doing out there?" His voice is low and has a dangerous edge to it.

Roger brain shortcuts and provides no adequate excuse.

"I'm sorry."

"Are you going to keep disappointing me?" Richard asks.

Roger frantically shakes his head. Even though he is the one standing, he feels much smaller than him. "You've been fucking rich these last few days. Disappearing for a week, then refusing to take my drugs. Not making as much money as you used to." Roger flinches when Richard bangs his fist onto the table, though his reflexes are too slow to jump away. "Wash yourself and go lay face down on the bed. I got a client for you to make it up."

Relief of not getting severely punished is short lived while he limps over to the bathroom.

He knows he has to hurry for the consequence not to turn into a punishment. In his haste, at 8 am on a meal he had twelve hours ago, Rogers body catches up on him.

He nearly faints while in the shower.

He is starved and exhausted. His bones grind together with every second he has to stand on his bruised feet. Black dots appear on his vision and Rogers legs tingle, before he completely loses the feeling of his toes. He slides down and curls into a ball in the corner of the tiled walls. He drawn his legs up to his chest and hides his face against his knees while cold water beats down on his back.

He thinks about anything but having to get up again.

The painting in Freddie's office. Tomorrows weather. His grandmothers spaghetti. The color of Freddie's eyes. The sound of birds the singing. The murmuring of Brians radio in the car. Denise's cheese sandwiches. The puppy he had as a child.

A loud knock on the door jolts him awake. "Dan is here. You better be ready!"

★☆★

"Thank you."

"You're okay, Roger. It's no problem." Imogen has to help him limp out of Richards room when the client is done with him nearly an hour later.

His doesn't have the strength to drag his own limbs to the living room.

"You're okay. I got you."

He is gracelessly dropped face first onto the mattress. He manages to roll onto his side to relieve his backside. Roger draws his knees to his chest to make himself small, he is completely bare in the unheated room.

Central heating as well as blankets are above their worth.

"Im'gen?." His tongue doesn't cooperate to form a coherent sentence. His hand twitches by his head, though he cannot do much else.

Through his slurring she must have recognized her own name and returns to his side moments later. She falls onto the last empty space of mattress next to him. His body bounces when she flops down, every single one of his muscles is stiff from the long day. His eyes are stinging with the need to rest.

Tears well up in the corners as a cold shiver makes him ache. Imogen shushes him again.

Roger only calms down when he feels her wrapping a shoelace around his upper arm. She then traces his arm to find a vein in the darkness.

"There you go, hey, it's okay. Go to sleep, it's done now."

The needle slides into his scar tissued skin with some difficulty, but he barely feels anything. Cool liquid shoots into his bloodstream moments later. Then Imogen pulls the needle out once again, disposing it somewhere Roger can't see.

The heroin sends a warm sensation over his entire body and all the pain will be numbed in less than a minute.

Roger cuddles himself closer to Imogen to find himself some body heat.

His eyes drift closed with the pull of the dope. He sinks deep into his own mind and everything else grows quiet. The breathing of his fellow prostitutes and his client leaving through the front door drown away.

The last thing Roger registers before he nods ff is that he is still wearing Freddie's socks. The last part of his body to go numb are his toes.

He wriggles them, before the bliss of darkness swallows his consciousness.

Tomorrow he has to do it all over again.

★☆★

"Hey you? Hey— are you okay?"

Freddie blinks up through his clumped eyelashes when the rain is suddenly blocked by a bright blue umbrella, held by a man with an even brighter smile.

The rain had already done its work drenching Freddie, the umbrella had come too late. His soaked clothes already cling uncomfortably to his bones and he is shivering in the cold that comes with it.

The stranger is taller than anyone Freddie had ever met. Yet, he seems harmless enough.

"No." Freddie drawls, arms wrapped around himself. "I'm stranded in the bloody middle of nowhere! Rained absolutely wet."

The stranger has a warm melodic laugh. Freddie subconsciously inches closer to him.

"Maidenhead is hardly the middle of nowhere..." He grins, though takes no offense. "I could take you to the nearest bus station if you'd like. You won't catch a cab from here."

Admittedly, the stranger is handsome and Freddie finds himself slightly embarrassed to shyly reveal he doesn't have any money on him.

"Oh!" The stranger hums. "I'm sorry?"

"It's a long story. I just need to find my way back to campus before the—"

Freddie is cut off by the roaring of thunder in the distance. He grimaces at the sound and the grey clouds looming over them and the long rows of houses. The stranger mimics him.

"— Before the storm hits..."

"I wish I could offer you some money, but I've not got a penny to my name right now."

He seems to genuinely upset with himself for not having what Freddie needs. Though Freddie is concerned about how he going to get back to his dorms tonight, it is not worth worrying the handsome stranger over. He shivers further and manages a purple lipped smile for the man.

"That's perfectly alright. Don't let me hold you up on your way."

Freddie turns his back to the man and inches away from the umbrellas blissful protecting. He shoves his hands into his back pockets— finding that also wet.

"What are you going to do with no money or bus ticket?" Instead of taking the easy out Freddie had offered, the man walks around him and again holds the umbrella over him. "Can I take you to a friend in the area?"

"Aren't you the friendly giant." Freddie's grin diminishes a moment later. "I'm afraid I lost the friend I had around here, that's why I am not safely inside as was advised by the newscasters. He also had a car to take me home tomorrow..."

"Oh."

Freddie kicks the shoe against the curb. Even his bloody socks are damp.

Bradley breaking up with him was surprisingly not the worst part of his day, his toes going numb definitely tops it.

"Hey," Freddie nearly jumps when a warm hands lands on his shoulder.

The strangers frowns while he smiles, looking equally concerned as he does friendly in a way Freddie had never seen before.

"Don't look so gloomy. It's going to be okay."

"That's easy for you to say!" Freddie frowns, he has run out of patience and starts walking in what might be the direction to the highway, which he knows will lead to central London. He might also be walking further into the countryside for all he knows. His sense of direction isn't the best when rainwater seeps through his underwear.

"Where are you going?"

Tall legs easily keep up with him.

"If I stand still I'll freeze to death I'm afraid. Don't you have places to be?"

"No." He falls into step next to Freddie. For the third time the blue umbrella prevents more rain from beating down on him. "I'm Brian, by the way."

Freddie can't help his heart from fluttering when he looks up at the strange man to find him smiling.

His curly hair fizzes from the rain exposure and he is red in the face from the fast paced walking. A red home knitted scarf is wrapped around his neck and his eyes are a deep oak color.

"I'm Freddie."

"Freddie." Brian breathes, he pulls on his arm to bring him to a stop. "I got a flat only two blocks away from here, if you need a place to stay until the storm blows over."

He can hear his mothers voice in his head right now telling him he shouldn't be going into strangers homes in an unknown neighborhood.

His hesitation must have shown on his face, because Brian deflates on a heavy sigh.

"I swear I'm not a human trafficker or murderer."

Freddie bites his lip to keep himself from grinning. "Not a cannibal either?"

"No!" Brian exclaims.

The wind takes his umbrella when he throws his arms into the air. It nearly swoops Brian off his feet and claps the whole umbrella inside out. Effectively breaking it.

"Oh..." Freddie grimaces.

The rain starts beating down on Brian now too. He is only wearing a thin vest.

It is pouring and soon he will be in the same state as Freddie.

He glances sideways at Freddie, before looking back at his broken umbrella, then at Freddie. "Now we gotta hurry home before we get a bloody cold! Come on!"

Freddie doesn't expect his hand to be grabbed. Neither does he expect to be pulled to run in the opposite direction back into the suburban area. Together with Brian, giggling as the first lightening bolt casts across the sky. They find their way into the tiny flat above the apartment of the old lady who's Brians landlord.

She doesn't bat an eye when they come in holding hands. Or when Freddie stays the entire weekend.

Chapter Text

"Here we are." Freddie announces while he brings the car to a stop.

They are somewhere in Rogers neighborhood. He guesses about two blocks away from Richard actual flat, for secrecy reasons Roger likes the walk the rest of the way by himself. Im the hopes that Richard won't find him driving around with Freddie.

He uncrosses his legs from the seat and Freddie catches a glimpse of pink under his trousers.

"Thank you." Roger grabs his plastic bag from under the seat and on his way up he finally notices Freddie staring at him.

He smiles back in wonder. "What?"

"Nothing."

"What? Tell me." Roger drawls, nudging Freddie's shoulder with his own.

"It's nothing," Freddie laughs. "You're wearing my socks."

The smile doesn't disappear from Rogers face, but it is dimmed with uncharacteristic shyness. He tucks a strand of blond hair behind his ear and glances at his feet. "They're comfy."

Freddie turns the engine off to safe fuel. Now he is the one to nudge Roger.

"Keep them, I'll bring you more."

"You don't have to—"

"I want to." He insists. He rests his hand on Rogers shoulder and squeezes in a way he hopes is comforting.

There is a lot he doesn't have to, but wants to do for Roger.

They have just gotten back from the second support group session this week. They've fallen into a routine of Freddie bringing Roger up and downtown to safe money and travel time. It isn't easy to keep it a secret from John or Brian, it is more than suspicious to be out of the house until after ten. When Freddie is unavailable he gives Roger money for a taxi.

Roger likes to call it 'borrowing' money. Freddie doesn't expect to get it back. Neither is he keeping track of how much money he is losing.

"Thank you, for dropping me off."

"Anything my dear, Oh!" He reaches for his wallet in his back pocket and fishes out a pound. "For the cab ride on Saturday."

He knows Roger isn't comfortable keeping the money for himself. Freddie presses it into his palm and folds his hand closed.

"Take it." He insists.

Roger bites his lip before he accepts the money. His cheeks are slightly pink from the heat in the car and Freddie's soft gestures.

His blue eyes are perfectly illuminated by the streetlights. Roger admittedly looks much better now that he is back living at Richards. His cheeks aren't as sunken and he regularly cleans himself, yet that doesn't take away how thin he is. How tired he looks. How the heroin pales and scars him.

"I owe you so much, Freddie." Roger whispers.

He sounds thoughtful rather than regretful or worried. Freddie tries to laugh it off. "Don't be silly Dear. You're perfectly—"

"I owe you everything. I mean it Freddie, you're a good person. I'd be nowhere without you."

"Don't say that."

Freddie wraps his arms tightly around Rogers shoulders. They fall into a hug with Roger mostly hiding his face in Freddie's shoulder, stalling the inevitable of having to face his life with Richard.

He rubs his hand between Rogers shoulder blades and feels the bumps of his spine sticking out. Freddie sighs, it makes him sad to see Roger so dependent on him. He knows Roger thinks of himself as incapable, Freddie would do anything to take that away.

"Roger, your life is in your hands. You have taken initiative to change, you can take control."

"I don't know."

Freddie pinches his shoulder, Roger whines.

"That's not an answer, Darling, neither is it a solution." Roger pulls back slightly. The hug has ruffled his fringe, so Freddie takes the liberty to comb it back in order. "You decide you want to go to support group, you decide if you actively participate, you decide to come see me. That very first time it was you who took the reigns and asked for help. You're in control."

"I don't feel like I am." Roger admits.

Freddie can understand why. Parked a few streets away from his flat in fear of his boyfriend finding him in the car with another man, or other times in downtown London where Freddie drops him off while he knows Roger is forced to prostitute himself. Not to mention his dependency on hard drugs.

Helplessness is like blood for abusers. Richard is a shark.

"You are an intelligent, capable, adult. Life hasn't been fair to you and that's why you feel like you've lost grip, but I know. I know you're going to be okay."

Rogers eyes are wide in surprise. They stare right into Freddie's soul.

"What do you know that I don't? How are you so sure?"

"Because," Freddie smiles, finally letting go of Rogers shoulders. "I believe in you."

An emotion flickers through Rogers gaze which Freddie cannot interpret. It isn't pride and it isn't fondness, but something with a hint of both. Sprinkled with a little bit of hope.

He retreats and reaches for the door handle. "I have to go."

"Of course," Freddie blows him a kiss as he climbs out of the car. "Be safe."

Roger gives him a brief boyish smile. "Always."

"That's from Brian as well!"

Roger is pleasantly surprised by that. His eyebrows shoot up and a smile tugs on his lips as he pauses before he slams the door shut. "Oh... Give Brian a big thank you from me."

"I will."

★☆★

"I got something for you."

Freddie sneaks up to his lounging boyfriends on the couch. It is Sunday, John rarely gets called in to work on Sundays. He lays behind Brian with the older man resting against his chest, while they watch the television.

Well, until Freddie walks up to the set and turns the wildlife documentary off.

"What's this about?" Brian yawns. He seems not at all phased by Freddie's interruption, or when Freddie comes crawling up the couch on his hands and knees. Behind him, John begins to cart his fingers through the tresses of his curly hair.

Over Brians shoulder John gives Freddie a wink.

"Well, Darling," Freddie perches himself on his knees by the edge of the couch. John props Brian up slightly so that they can both sit upright.

Freddie is entranced by the manner John rubs the side of his face against Brians, kissing his cheek. He lets his arms slide from his hair down to his shoulders. Freddie follows in sync and moves his hands up Brians legs to rest heavily on his thighs.

"I think we owe you one."

Before Brian can open his mouth, Freddie is fiddling with the strings of his sweatpants and drags them down Brians ass. Just down his thighs.

He is wearing underwear, but Freddie can already see him growing hard. His breath hitches.

"N-now? Here?" Brian stammers.

John smiles gleefully and continues to rub Brians shoulders. "Do you want to wait even longer? When was the last time you've had a blow job, Bri?" His tone is low and torturously hot. Freddie can feel himself growing hard as well while he fumbles Brian through the thin fabric of his underwear. Brian— the poor man, moans quietly and rests his head back against Johns without answering.

"Say it," The youngest amongst them presses. "How long since you've been blown?"

"T-three months."

His cheeks are burned red and Freddie smirks. His palms slides over the packed semi-hardness. He wraps his fingers around the skin and gently squeezes, just to hear Brians breath catch and speed up.

John is looking at him with a dark lust in the dark of his eyes.

Freddie leans up and tips his chin for a kiss. John leans over Brians shoulder to seal it while neither of them stop their ministrations.

"Three months, can't tease him too long than." John comments against Freddie's lips.

Sandwhiched between them, Brian nods and subconsciously spreads his legs further to give Freddie some room.

"Our poor, Darling." Freddie tuts. He pulls away from Johns lips to instead find Brians in a chaste loving kiss. "Have we been neglecting you?"

"No—oh!" Brian sighs when Freddie gives his cock a strong pump, followed by another.

The simple touch has his thighs trembling. Freddie is afraid Brian possibly could come from this. In the meantime John spreads his legs wider for Brian to sit comfortably against his chest. Brian scoots back and his feet fall flat onto the floor.

Freddie ceases the opportunity to pull his underwear away from his ass.

With Johns help he lifts Brians hips up enough to slide them down his legs alongside his sweatpants. His cock springs free and hangs in the air more than semi-hard.

Brians stomach muscles contract. He groans uncomfortably.

"No, no, no, you lay back and relax babe." John tuts.

He keeps him down by his shoulders and kneads a little harder. He winks at Freddie before letting his lips ghost against Brians ear. "Let Freddie do all the work for you."

The sight of Brians full body shudder and his cock bopping up in interest makes Freddie's mouth water.

He eyes Brians impressive length. The tallest amongst the three of them.

Freddie wraps his hand around him. The weight familiar in his palm. He gently strokes him two, three times. Brian groans against Johns cheek. Freddie continues to pump his cock until it stands completely erect against his stomach.

Brians toes curl in the carpet when Freddie strokes down his foreskin to expose his sensitive head.

A beat of cum trickles from the slit.

"There we are." Freddie hums. He winks at Brian before he leans in to wrap his lips around the tip.

"Ah! Fuck, yes." Freddie scrambles to pin Brians hips down to keep him from buckling up into his mouth. John also tries to calm him and keep him down. "Freddie please. That's— fucking hell. That's good."

He had forgotten how good it felt to have Brian in his mouth. How rich he tasted. How sweet his body reacts under Freddie.

Freddie closes his eyes and inhales through his nose while he suckles on the tip.

"Ngghh. More." Brians hands fly to Freddie's hair.

They allow it because he keeps them there without applying any pressure.

Freddie lets his tongue swirl over the dip and against Brians slit. Licking up the first beats of precum that cannot be contained.

When Brians moans steadily become louder, he begins to trail wet kisses down his length to Brians balls.

He had always been extremely sensitive there.

Freddie steadies Brians thighs, before ducking his head to suckle on his balls. Sucking each of them into his mouth and closing his eyes to savior the taste and the loud groans coming from Brian. Johns soothing voice is the heaviest in the room, next to the wet sound of Freddie's ministrations.

Brian is inched closer to the edge than any of them expects. "Oh- s-stop! Slow down."

He scrambles to wrap a hand around the base of his cock to stop his orgasm.

Freddie immediately pulls off at the sound of distress. He looks up at Brian and his frown melts into a smile at the sight of his flustered pink face.

"Three months." Freddie chuckles, before kissing Brians red-still-wet-head.

Johns hands have trailed to Brians chest somewhere during Freddie's time down there. His fingers roll Brians erect nipples between them. Steadily arousing him more and causing soft whimpers to fall from Brians parted lips.

"Isn't he stunning?" John asks Freddie, pinching Brian even harder.

Freddie swallows thickly and nods. He pries Brians hands away from his cock. The poor man whines.

"Fred... I'm gonna cum."

"That's the point, Darling." He pushes Brians chest back so he rests firmly against John again. "Let it happen."

Brian complies and closes his eyes when Freddie leans in to take him back into his mouth again. He lets go of Brians hips to instead fondle with his balls.

"Fucking hell. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."

His cock pulses when Freddie swallows him down to the root. He relaxes his throat and hollows his cheeks, after a deep breath he moves up until only the head is left in his mouth, before taking Brian all the way in again. His head hitting the back of Freddie's throat.

Brian buckles his hips into his mouth. Freddie swallows around him and hums. He rolls his balls under his palm. Brian whimpers.

"Look at that. Look how good Freddie is taking you in. I can't believe you haven't given him your load yet. I'm almost bursting at the sheer sight of him."

Freddie bops his head up and down while Brian tries not to fuck back into his mouth too harshly.

"Look at him. His lips wrapped around your little cock like that, he loves it. You taste so good, Bri. That's why he's trying so hard. He wants to taste your seed."

Both Freddie and Brian moan at his dirty talk. Brians hips buckle up and Freddie lets the tears gather in the corners of his eyes gratefully.

"Be good for us, Bri. Wanna see you burst. Want to see Freddie suck you dry."

"Oh! Oh—" Brian sounds like he is sobbing, but Freddie can't tell other than his thighs shaking and his cock pulsing with need. "S-sorry. Sorry, Freddie. I w-won't last. Ah! Ahh!"

His chest heaves and John groans at the sight. "Don't be sorry Bri. Paint his mouth with your cum. Do it."

Freddie sucks harder. He slurps and gurgles around his length.

John clenches his jaw. "Do it."

"Oh! Ohhh."

Freddie feels Brians cock pulse between his lips, before hot cum splutters from the opening.

He swallows everything down, with the help of John who keeps Brian from accidentally kicking Freddie in the face, while he milks Brians cock and balls empty. Massaging both until whimpers in pain and tries to push Freddie off weakly.

Only when Freddie is sure he has had every drop of Brians cum, he pulls off of his spend cock with an obscene bop.

He sits back on his heels, and licks his lips.

"Wow."

John chuckles, his arms wrapped around Brians waist while the older man hides his face in the crook of his neck to regain his breath. "Wow indeed."

Freddie squeezes Brians thighs with the intend to be gentle, only to feel Brian tense under his hands. "You liked that Bri?"

It takes a moment before he gets a reply.

Eventually with a nudge from John and an encouraging squeeze from Freddie, Brian finds his bearings. "Loved it." He pants, a dopey smile plays on his lips.

Freddie leans in to press a loving kiss to his inner thigh.

That's his big thank you.

★☆★

Freddie has always known Roger is an intelligent person.

Despite lacking an academic background— Freddie suspects he might not even have finished high school, Freddie finds himself rarely not impressed by what Roger has to say.

Their conversations are long and they stray off topic. Roger doesn't seem very aware of what's going on in the world. Richard doesn't have a television set in the living room or a newspaper subscription for his prostitutes to keep up with world events. Yet Rogers presence is entertaining.

Then Freddie finds out Roger is good with words.

The first time he brought out the Scrabble box during one of their many sessions, Freddie had to explain the game throughout the first round. With some guidance Roger took to Freddie's favorite pastime easily.

Freddie rarely won after that first round.

They spend todays session sitting on the floor of Freddie's office, not caring that 1968 was the last time that carpet was vacuumed. The board is set up on the coffee table between them.

Roger isn't looking too well today. Freddie suspects he might have taken drugs not long ago. His cheeks is flushed pink, but at the same time he is white as a sheet around the edges. Ever since entering the office he has been holding a piece of tissue to his runny nose, he is loopy and reacts in slow sluggish movements.

Freddie knows he isn't suffering a common cold.

His pupils are constricted and his hands shake uncontrollably whenever he puts down a tile.

The sight of him is unpleasant.

Freddie holds his tongue for a whole twelve minutes, of which he is proud, then he asks, "Are you going to stop taking drugs?"

Across the table Roger uses Freddie's tiles for 'Rat' to make 'Rathskeller'. He sits back on his calfs and shrugs without actually looking up. The lack of eye contact is nothing new, Freddie knows how to prod.

"We talked about this, Rog. You're the one who's in control. Not he."

"He makes me take it." Roger says with conviction Freddie cannot contradict.

He drags his eyes up to meet Freddie's across from him, when Freddie insistently pokes him with his foot under the table. It seems to take a lot of energy for him to do so.

Going in and out of withdrawal is exhausting. The body lives in a constant limbo.

It isn't easy to be stern with Roger. Especially because it isn't Rogers fault that he is pressured to take heroin. Or became an addict in the first place. Yet, Freddie wants to understand what it's like, why it isn't an option to live without the substances.

Freddie abandons the tiles he was organizing to see what other word he could form with X, O, G and L to make his way over to Rogers side, who immediately hides his tiles in a pile under his hand to prevent Freddie from peaking at them.

"I'm not here for that!" Freddie exclaims in offense. "Just want to chat! Fuck the game."

Roger smiles behind his tissue when Freddie scoots even closer. He clenches his knees to his chest, but otherwise doesn't move. There will always be caution from Rogers side whenever Freddie initiates physical contact, but he allows Freddie to sit down flush against his side with a warm hand on Rogers knee.

There is always the risk of Roger leaving the room when Freddie starts to ask difficult questions.

Ever the optimist, he hopes today will be different.

Once he got his hip to his knee attached to Rogers', he asks, "Can you explain to me how? How does he force you to take drugs?"

Up close Roger is even more of a disaster. His eyes are sunken deep into his skull and the double bags under his sockets make him look much older than he could possibly be.

Roger rubs his eyes with his free hand when sleepiness clouds his gaze.

It doesn't help waking him up. Even though he has been endlessly showing up to his appointments, his fragility tells Freddie that he is one slip up away from Richard finding out, or an overdose and never returning again.

"I can't refuse it when he offers."

"Would he hurt you if you did?" Freddie asks in a cautious tone.

He fights the urge to steady Rogers trembling shoulder. It isn't fear that has his entire body spasming, but the muscle aches for drugs.

"Not at first," Roger says, his heavy eyes land on the abandoned board game. A predominant number of the tiles are his. He was winning. "If I am not already too passed out to voice my opinion in the first place, He keeps prompting. Prodding. Urging, until it doesn't feel like a choice to say no."

"What does he do?"

Roger doesn't seem keen on answering. His nose wrinkles and his lips press into a thin line. Freddie gives him a smile, he turns his palm over to offer it to him.

"You can tell me, Rog."

Blue eyes fall to the open palm, then back to Freddie's face. His resistance is short lived and Freddie finds his fingers interwoven with much colder ones.

Rogers hand is clammy with sweat. Freddie doesn't let Roger know it's uncomfortable.

"Right, so. He'll just ask, casually at first. 'Would you like some?' 'No thank you.' I say. I try to turn away and make myself sparse in the hopes he'll forget." He begins— then pauses to blow his nose into the tissue, which draws blood from the nostrils.

Freddie pretends not to notice.

"Bless you." He smiles tightly. Rogers eyes twinkle when Freddie brushes his thumb over the back of his hand.

"Sometimes he does forget and I'm lucky. No drugs, I can continue my sobriety and I don't relapse. But there are times he notices, he usually doesn't have to persuade us to use drugs. He normally has to swat us away like flies because there is never enough, y'know? When I don't really react to his first advances he begins to insist, affectionately so. He kisses my cheek and strokes my shoulder. 'How about some dope to get in the mood' ."

Freddie swallows thickly.

His stomach churns and he almost regrets asking what Richard does to Roger in such detail, if it means for Roger to live with the burdens of his traumas alone.

Rogers eyes are hard. They bore directly into Freddie's soul, unblinking. Eyes that have seen too much and at the same time so little of the real world.

"Then I am on thin ice, because if I refuse now? I refuse not only the drugs he offers, but also sex. I can't say no at this point. If I do, he will start asking questions I can't answer in a way that won't get me severely punished. 'Why not? Did you find a better dealer? My stuff isn't good enough for you? Wait until I let you go cold turkey. I will give you to my vilest dirtiest friend and make him ruin you, see if you still feel too good for my drugs. You will be begging at my feet.' He gets in my face and forces me against a wall or a bed or anything to crowd me. If I refuse beyond that, which is rare, he restores to brute force. I know that. So it doesn't make sense for me to keep pushing to the last stage just to get beaten up."

"He manipulates you."

Roger shrugs. "He's given me everything I have. The clothes on my back and the roof over my head. He took me back after I disappeared on him for a week— nobody just does that. He is taking care of me in the way that he knows best."

Yes, Roger is incredibly intelligent, but Freddie is flabbergasted by how convinced he sounds of the spoon fed words that Richard had implanted in him.

Freddie shakes his head and repeats himself slightly slower to emphasize each word.

"He manipulates you."

Rogers chest begins to heave with the burden of having to explain, he also retorts to shaking his head, he withdraws his hand from Freddie's with a sad excuse of a smile. "Can't have everything Fred."

"Think about it," Freddie can physically feel the frustration boiling in his stomach up to his throat. He struggles not to let it out on Roger.

He closes his eyes on a deep breath.

He lets the oxygen roll into his lungs and holds it there for three seconds, before pushing the air out again in five long seconds. He repeats the cycle until he feels his heartbeat slow down and the red around the edges of his vision disappears. Roger isn't the one he is upset with. It is Richards words in his mouth that put him on edge.

The whole time he feels Rogers eyes burning through him.

When he reopens his eyes he finds Roger looking extremely guilty. Freddie grimaces, "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Roger says in a quiet tone. While he nervously nibbles on the already raw bitten skin around his thumb.

Freddie sighs affectionately and scoots closer so that they are once more pressed together. He lays his hands on Rogers shoulders and feels the bones jutting out under his sweatshirt.

Rogers chin tilts up to look at him. Freddie stares back intently.

"He manipulates you and he uses the drugs and his emotional power over you to make you do whatever he wants. He uses you and he makes it seem like he is moving mountains for you while he barely provides the bare fucking minimum. You deserve better." 

Roger swallows thickly. He ducks his head in when Freddie had subconsciously raised his voice.

Even though Roger is growing increasingly more uncomfortable by being loaded with the truth, Freddie knows that deep inside, Roger already knows.

Roger is smart. He must see behind Richards facade.

Freddie squeezes his shoulders and gives him a hard shake that has Roger rattling.

"He is an abuser and he is such a good one that you don't even notice he is."

Then he lets go.

Roger lets out a shaky breath.

Freddie swallows down the rest of his irritation and slinks back to his side of the coffee table to give Roger some space to find his bearings. His breathing is labored and sweat rolls down his temple while he steadies himself.

The pile of tiles is exactly where Freddie had left them. He reaches for the G, X and O.

Roger presses the tissue back to his nose when fluids had started to flood out. He rests his chin on top of his knees while he watches Freddie arranging his tiles from under his eyelashes.

Freddie lays down 'Gox' and reaches across the table to brush his thumb over Rogers knuckles.

"Think about it."

"Okay." Roger blinks with a small smile. "Thank you,"

"Everything for you, Rog." Freddie grins back.

"—But I don't think Gox is a word."

Freddie is already reaching for the official Scrabble dictionary on the corner of the table before Roger has finished his sentence.

"We shall see about that!" Freddie exclaims, while Roger gleefully giggles.

That was the last time Roger showed up to Freddie's office.

★☆★

Freddie's words echo through Rogers mind and he finds himself unable to sleep.

It is past 8 AM. Richard is in his room and getting ready for the day while Roger and the other prostitutes are resting after their night shifts.

Roger lays flat on his back, staring up at the cracks in the ceiling.

However long he has been occupied with the uneven patterns has begun to irritate his eyes. The mattress underneath him is uncomfortable and the fabric has grown itchy. He's spend most the time he should be sleeping scratching every patch of skin he can reach, leaving him covered in long red nail marks.

The pain seeps through his skin into his bones. His bed provides only discomfort for the aches of his job.

Roger hasn't had a shut eye at all.

Fatigue is a recipe for disaster. Every nerve ending in his body is hyper sensitive to his surroundings. He can feel the springs in the mattress dig into his spine, the wind howling against the blacked windows and his heart thumps against his sore ribcage, nearly drowning out the surrounding sounds.

Roger wonders why.

When there is no reply and no sign that he will fall asleep soon, like he normally does when he lets his mind wander, the frustration boils further up to the surface. Almost without noticing his fingers scratch angrily at the scarred tissue on his arms, it hurts, it sends a satisfying burning sensation down to the rest him. It is a momentary distraction from the prickling of his bloodshot eyes, his nails scrape the hardened dried blood away until he draws new, fresh blood. Slowly trickling down the length of his palms.

It is lost to him how long ago he had his last shot of heroin, but none of its euphoric calm remains.

The pain does not help, but only frustrates him further. The blood seeps into his shirt and when he tries to bite his nails to keep himself quiet they taste like blood and dead skin.

Roger still wonders why.

His jaw is clenched and so are his fists when he climbs onto his feet. His poor sense of balance is something he has gotten used to. When his world tilts sideways, Roger simply puts his foot down more firmly. More angry.

The floor creaks loudly when he stomps. The sound echoes through the rest of the apartment. Yet he makes no effort to quiet himself down.

He stumbles into the hallway where he braces himself against the wall. Leaving a track of smeared blood.

He is barely breathing with how much adrenaline is coursing through his veins. It is not unlike the surreal sensation of a drug rush. His feet carry him across the home before his brain can catch up. He is out of control and his mind is racing, wondering and screaming while its other half begs Roger for sleep.

Why? Why? Why?.

His blood stained knuckles knock rapidly on the bedroom door.

Richard halts in his room. Roger can hear the footsteps inside go quiet before they turn towards the door.

The door is barely open and Roger sees red with anger.

"Do you love me?"

"What?" Richard fully opens the door and looks down at Roger with a confused frown. It only now registers with Roger that he has never initiated conversation with Richard like this. It has always been Richard who decided when it was time to talk, when it was time for affection or punishment, when they could have sex or take drugs.

Rogers nails dig into his palms with how hard he is clenching his wrists. Richards eyes dart down to his soiled arms.

He can't breathe.

"Why do you control me?"

"I control you, because I care about you." Richard says smoothly. Roger nearly believes him, yet the evidence stacks up against it. His bawled up firsts come up to his head and he slams against his own forehead until his arms are shaking and Richards forehead wrinkles into a frown.

Roger realizes he must be looking mental.

"If you care about me, why am I sleeping on the floor?!" He is yelling and bound to wake up to others.

Richard scowls— as if he is dealing with a child with a temper tantrum and drags Roger into his room by his arm.

He closes the door and pushes Roger against it. The back of his head smacks against the wood. Something cracks, likely his skull, but he doesn't get to recover from the dizzying impact before Richard has him grounded against the door hard.

His strong veined arms pin Roger still.

"Where would you be without me? Lying in a ditch. Dead and raped because you were desperate to take no-good drugs. You should fucking thank me." He speaks in a low threatening voice. Spit splutters from his lips with how vile he is sounding. "Every fucking day I take care of you. You can't be left to your own devices, it has been proven so over and over again."

Roger swallows thickly. There is nowhere to go and some of the fight leaves his body. "You let them rape me. You just let them."

"I did what?" Richard grinds his teeth.

Roger blinks away tears. "You-"

"I gave you a roof over your head, food in your stomach and drugs for your stupid fucking rotten brain. I never heard you say no to that. You know what happens when you are left to your own devices? You are out on the streets for a week, nearly dead, high on drugs from some idiot you don't even know. Coming back here on your hands and knees begging for me to take you back. And now I am the bad guy for trying control you? You ungrateful piece of shit. Really?"

He is pushed harder into the door. Rogers body is shaken completely with over-boiling anger. He cannot break free from Richard, but he can resist. He does resist.

"Why do you make me have sex with these men when I'm your boyfriend?" He pushes at Richards chest. Leaving bloody fingerprints on his shirt. "Huh? Why?!"

"You know that nothing can become between business. Don't be fucking stupid."

"Why did you convince me to work for you if I'm your boyfriend? Why do I have to pay to live here if you love me? Do you even? Do you love me?" His voice dies in his throat and Roger blinks away a fresh flood of tears. If there was ever an an ounce of love in Richards eyes, he has lost it now.

"You are doubting my love right now?" Richard has a low voice that rumbles through his chest.

Roger cowers despite himself. His face heats up.

"After I've taken care of you ever since your mother died? I let you cry on my shoulder, I spoon fed you. I let you sleep in my bed. You are doubting me? After you have betrayed me by disappearing for a week. As if I don't know you weren't trying to see if you could make it on your own, you realized just how much I did for you. You betrayed me, you ungrateful selfish whore." He pushes Roger against the door again to hear his skull crack again. "Fucking slut." And again. "I can't believe you, you fucking left me."

"You already punished me for that." Rogers tears are freely streaming down his face.

"You still haven't told my why. Why did you leave?" Richard asks. "Why?"

"Why do you treat me like this?"

"Why. Did. You. Leave?" Richard growls. His grip on Rogers arms hard as iron and it will bruise. His jaw is clenched and a thick veins pops on his forehead.

"Richard. Please stop."

He realizes this had been a mistake.

Roger slumps against the door when the energy seeps out of him. The only thing that stops his legs from giving out on him is Richard keeping him pinned down.

"You have to tell me. You come waltzing in here demanding answers, I gave them tonyou. Now I want to hear your secret."

His breath ghosts over Rogers face. He hasn't yet brushed his teeth.

"Tell me who has been putting these ideas in your head. Who has been feeding you the foolish idea you can make it on your own? You can't. You have shown to me and proven that you're an incapable child who needs someone to guide you, if not me, it is him. He determines what you think and what you do. You're so fucking gullible. You're like a street dog, every idiot who scratches behind your ear is your next savior. You listen to him, blindly believing whatever he has to say. You think that's any good? Any better than me? I've been keeping you alive since you were a teenager. Under their authority you ended up on the street, if you continue down this road it will happen again. Next time you do what they say and leave me, you won't be as lucky when you realize you need me again. You're on thin ice Roger. You let others play with your life while they don't know a single thing about you. If you keep letting them influence you, you will end up dead."

Richard lets go of his arms and steps away.

Roger gasps when his legs finally give in and he slide down the door until he is crouching on the floor.

"Think about that." Richard spits.

Chapter Text

Freddie has never been fond of personal meetings.

His dress shirt is buttoned all the way up to his neck. His Adams apple rubs against it uncomfortably every time he swallows. Around the tables all of his colleagues are equally freshly trimmed and primed for their boss.

Eric Hendrickson is a tall man with a ginger beard but no hair on top of his gleaming head.

He owns five private therapy clinics across the United Kingdom. Two of which are based in London. Eric is old money, wears a waistcoat every day, he likes precision and his coffee black.

His evaluations are unpopular amongst staff.

"Thank you everyone for meeting here at the end of the day, I know you all want to go home, but these things need to be done." Eric passes around a package of plain biscuits that are dry on their own. Nobody dares to refuse them or leave the room for a cup of tea.

The tension hangs into the room like a thick fog.

Next to Freddie his colleague Josh has bitten a dent into his pencil. Under the table several feet are tapping rapidly on the wooden floor.

"I have been struggling to get a good overview of what is going on in this branch, which I do not like." Erics eyes linger on all eight pairs of theirs individually around the table. Freddie sinks further into his seat when it is his turn to be stared down. "There needs to be more transparency on what we are doing."

It wouldn't be the first time he's fired someone over one of these meetings. He has a nose for sketchy business.

Freddie is sweating.

Eric reveals on the cart behind him a stack of files.

He places all of them onto the glass table in their makeshift conference room, normally the break room. He disappears behind the tall pile of files. "These are all our new patients, we will go over them and assess their cases."

It is Monday afternoon, 5:13 PM and everyone around the table stifles a groan.

Freddie's grows increasingly more alarmed. His shirt smothers him and his throat is dry with biscuit crumbs.

"See," Eric drags the first file off the stack and folds it open. "Case number 53271."

Next to the files he folds open his own folder with documents. At the top he finds the register, the sight of it makes Freddie's blood run cold. Roger won't be on it.

"That's Jermeys patient, Lara."

Jermey sits on the other end of the table. He stretches his neck out to acknowledge their boss. "Yes, uh, PTSD and night terror problems. We have currently prescribed her sleeping pills and she writes in a journal about her nightmares so we discuss during our session."

"Hm." Eric grunts.

Freddie can see Jeremy squirming under the lack of approval.

"But, uhm yes. She has been improving. Sleeping a lot better and feeling less helpless."

"So it says." Eric skims absently through the pages of her file. His eyes drag over the paper lazily, before he brings them back up. "Anyone got any suggestions for Jeremy?"

"I don't know whether this is relevant for your patient, but while I was helping mr Jameson last summer, his nightmares were more vivid after he had watched television. Or listened to soap series on the radio."

Juliette is the only woman working in the office as a therapist. Eric seems impressed by her input. "Do you have anything to note that down, Jeremy?"

Jeremy scrambles for a pen in his pocket. There is no available paper so he scribbles on his hand.

"Good." Eric places the file on the side to start a new pile. "Next."

Freddie holds his breath every time a new folder is opened and Erics eyes trail down the page with registered case numbers.

The sweat beats down Freddie's temple and he rubs his palms on his slacks. Everyone is nervous, but he knows his behavior is becoming rather suspicious. He needs to collect himself and builds up the courage to ask for a bathroom break nobody has yet dared to ask.

"Case numb—" Erics eyebrows shoot up to what once was his hairline. His brow creases and he squints at the page. "There is no case number listed."

"Who is it?" Someone from the right side asks.

"Roger Taylor. He is one of Freddie's."

The blood drains from Freddie's face. Erics and everyone else's eyes fall on him. "Why is your patient unregistered with me?"

His heart is thumping rapidly against his ribcage. Freddie's fingertips are numb where they clamp around his knees. He has no idea what he could say to explain the situation in a manner that will not get him fired.

"I— uh..."

The time it is taking him formulate a reply ks giving Eric the opportunity to read through Rogers makeshift file with an ever deepening frown.

The color drains from Freddie's face.

"Drug addiction is Gordons expertise. Why did you not hand his case over to him? Most importantly, why does he not exist in my system?"

Everything goes south very fast after that.

"That must have been a mistake." Freddie swallows when Eric holds the file up for everyone to see. "I don't know who that person is."

It's a stupid lie and it is debunked only two seconds later.

"Wait— I've seen him around." Robert comments. Juliette also squints at the picture from across the table before she can place the face.

"Yes, I've seem him around. In fact, he has what? Three appointments with you every week, Freddie. What kind of patient needs three therapy sessions? I don't understand."

Dread overfalls Freddie and be deeply regrets making the file all together with the included ID picture he himself had taken of Roger.

"I.., uh.. I don't..."

Lying to his boss will get him a warning, yes, but fraud can result into a prison sentence.

Eric slowly lets the file fall closed on the table. He doesn't put it back on either of the stacks, he sets Rogers false file apart. His eyes stay on Freddie's while he folds his arms over his chest.

Freddie's trembling and cold sweat breaks out on his forehead. His colleagues subtly lean away from him.

"Freddie, come to my office in Norwhich on Thursday at 8 AM." In front of the entire staff Eric lifts his finger in Freddie's face.

"Don't be late if you still want to have a job by noon."

★☆★

"You're quiet. Everything okay?"

Brian is barely audible from where he lays flat on his back on the couch. Freddie found him like that when he came into the home, fast asleep with a heat pillow on his belly and a cloth over his eyes. Sick.

When he had come home straight after work Freddie had felt slightly relieved to find the house completely quiet.

John is still working and Brian is mostly knocked out by his pain medication.

"I'm okay, Darling." He has been numb ever since leaving the meeting. He is experiencing a surreal out of body experience right now.

It doesn't feel like it is him who is caressing his fingers through Brians bush of curls. Or watching the blurred black and white spots resembling humans on the television. His voice doesn't sound like his own either and his lips move on autopilot.

"How are you feeling?"

"Foggy." Brian sighs behind the cloth, Freddie lays his palm over it to give just a little more pressure. It earns him a low appreciative moan. "S' nice."

"I know."

Freddie isn't sure if he still has a job and he has no clue how to fix his life. John will certainly yell at him when he finds out, he had warned Freddie not to make false papers or invite Roger at the office at all. Now their biggest fear comes true. They won't be able to make ends meet without their second source of income— if Freddie doesn't go to jail in the first place.

"Brian?"

"Hmm?" The other man slurs. Even though it is not a good idea, Freddie can't hell himself.

"What's the law against fraud?"

"Fraud?"

"Yeah." Freddie coughs. Brian hums again, Freddie is half convinced he is already in a drug induced sleep.

Yet Brian manages to drag the cloth away from his eyes to blearily stare up at Freddie upside down with a crease between his brows. "Uh... Maximum punishment for committing false accounting, maybe seven years."

Oh.

"Why?" Brian slurs.

Freddie carefully guides him back down to rest against the pillows and moves the cloth over his eyes again. To block out all the lights in the room that cause Brians head to pound. "Nothing, Bri. There's nothing. Focus on getting better."

In his current state Brian is helpless, but not any less stubborn.

Just as Brian is about to voice a weak protest and reach out to remove the cloth again— the phone rings on the wall next to the television set.

They both sigh, initially believing that it is John who's calling in to let them know he will be working overtime again, because another client has called up just before his time off.

Nothing new.

Freddie's shoes drag over the carpet. He only now notices that in all the hours he has been home he hasn't removed his shoes or coat.

He shuffles to the phone and takes it off the wall with a click. He cradles it between his shoulder and ear.

The line connects after two and a half seconds.

Instead of hearing the expected tired drag of Johns voice, it is a woman who answers.

"Good evening, is this Freddie Mercury?"

Freddie rubs his eyes in an effort to see past the bleariness that has been clouding his vision. It doesn't help much. He uses the support of the wall to stay upright. "Yeah, hello?"

There's a deep sigh on the other end. Followed by the woman clearing her throat.

"I'm afraid Roger Taylor didn't attend the support group session tonight."

Fuck.

★☆★

Over the 24 years Freddie has been alive he has gradually built up a life he found worth living.

He has figured out his sexuality, finished university, found a job within his field, moved in with two loving boyfriends in a large house and he feels joy to wake up and live tomorrow.

It hadn't been an easy journey, but Freddie is happy to have fought for what he loves.

When this foundation begins to crumble down around him, Freddie loses sanity. He feels himself transforming back into the little boy, who was living far away from his home at the all boys boarding school, missing his mothers hugs and the books his father used to read to him. He is transformed back into the boy who was relentlessly bullied and alone, holding onto the last thin thread of hope he still had.

It is the third time he has rearranged the coffee table.

He keeps debating whether it is tasteful to leave the fine woolen socks he has bought for Roger on to the table next to their large turkey sandwiches lunch, or to put them on the floor next to their feet. With the chance of forgetting about them all together.

It's Tuesday, 2:16 PM. Roger should have been here sixteen minutes ago.

"It's fine. All fine."

Freddie is already on edge from being at work after the staff meeting on Monday. He knows he has some balls for meeting Roger back to the office today. But the awful truth is that he has no way of contacting Roger to let him know his file has been found by Eric.

Freddie doesn't even know where Richards flat is exactly located.

Waiting is torture. The lettuce on the sandwich is browning and the clock on the wall keeps moving forth.

Freddie alters between pacing from wall to wall with his eye out on the doorknob, expecting it to twitch, turn and announce Rogers presence. Or he stands by the window to scan over the area outside and perhaps catch a glimpse of blond locks amongst the people passing the office.

He anxiously taps his foot on the carpet. In twice the speed of the clocks mocking ticking.

The quiet is disturbing the rhythm of his heartbeat.

He hadn't slept at all last night with Brian deadly sick beside him and John snoring obscenely loud. Freddie was kept up with his mind racing. He might he losing his job, might be going to jail, Roger might be in danger.

It pains him, but Freddie couldn't tell John.

Brian couldn't even remember his questions regarding fraud.

Two of his safe places have been taken from him. At home he is on edge. His work perhaps no longer his.

His colleagues had eyed with unease when he showed up today. He hadn't been told to stop taking patients until his talk with Eric. The talk. Freddie shudders at the thought and pushes away from the window with a heavy sigh.

The clock on the wall reads 2:36. Roger has never been that late before.

It takes a lot out of Freddie to keep his tears at bay. His pillow is the only witness of his crying last night, today Freddie is too drained to let himself give in once more to the temptation.

If he breaks down now, he won't be able to pick himself up again.

"Pull yourself together Fred. Could be a traffic jam. Could have overslept. Lost his bus ticket. Gotten a client." He carefully crouches down until he can safely land back onto his ass opposite the coffee table. The carpet is scratchy under his fingertips. Freddie keeps playing with a lose threads while his eyes follow the second hand of the clock. Slowly inching around the spiral every 60 seconds.

"He's okay. He'll come in any moment now."

Freddie decides. He drags his knees to his chest to rest his chin on them. He watches. He waits.

Nobody shows up.

★☆★

It's Wednesday, the third day Roger has gone missing and one day before Freddie has to face his boss about the false file.

Denise had given Freddie another phone call to let him know that Roger hadn't showed up to support group and that she is deeply concerned.

Freddie can't help but agree.

He had been waiting anxiously all day for her call to confirm Rogers whereabouts, with no luck. Freddie's fingers are bitten raw and his foot is cramping from how much he is tapping.

"What's going on?" John yawns.

Freddie has just gone off the phone with Denise. His body slumps against the wall and the phone dangles from its cord down the length of his body. He groans.

John shuffles closer to him, clad in his pajama shirt and boxer shorts.

He is taller and towers over Freddie with a careful smile. He sets the phone back into the holder. John presses Freddie against the wall, chest to chest.

"Roger hasn't shown up to any of his appointments for the last three days." Freddie says quietly, he blinks away his tears rapidly. Johns face blurs away behind the curtain of his clumped eyelashes. "He is gone without a trace and I don't know what to do."

"Is that why you've been looking so poorly?"

When Freddie looks away, John lets out a long suffering sigh. He leans in and wraps his heavy arms around Freddie.

Freddies head falls on Johns shoulder.

He presses his eyes against him until stars sparkle his black vision.

Johns hands move up his spine to cup Freddie's neck, cradling him close against his chest.

After days of barely seeing each other, stuck between Freddie and Johns job, looking after Brian and worrying over Roger, they barely spent a moment together. It is 11:47 PM. John has just gotten off his shift and out of the shower, while Brian has gone into a restless sleep after napping all afternoon. Freddie is left pacing the house, dreading his appointment with Eric tomorrow morning.

Wondering where Roger is.

"You know you can talk to me, right? I won't—" John sighs and presses his lips to Freddie's temple. "I will always support you Fred. No matter what. No matter who."

"Thank you."

Freddie's lazily slings his arms around Johns waist to pull him more flush against him. Molding them together into one.

There is a lovely sense of protection from John that Freddie gets from nobody else. He nuzzles his nose against the side of Freddie's face. He softly sways them from side to side.

He rests his cheek against Freddie.

"I need you to know, Fred, you did everything he could. He knows where to find you and support, he made the decision not to show up anymore."

There is a truth to Johns words, but also a problem.

If Freddie believed Roger had decided he wanted to take on Richard by himself or find a new therapist, Freddie could move on. Perhaps even one day forget about him.

But the cramped feeling in his underbelly fears that something much more sinister is going on.

"Fred," John nudges him again. Freddie brings himself to drag his face up from Johns shoulder. John presses his forehead against Freddie's, his breath ghosts over Freddie's lips. "Forget about him."

"I can't." Freddie whispers.

He squeezes his eyes closed and shakes his head once, causing his hair to brush into Johns face.

"I wish I could, but I can't. He isn't doing well. I just know."

"How could you possibly know that, Fred. C'mon." John carefully tucks the strand of hair behind Freddie's ear. His fingers brush over the sensitive skin.

The past few days Freddie has been walking around with an unease anxiety bubbling inside of him.

While some of it is because Brians health is deteriorating, John is walking around looking like a Zombie in overalls and Freddie is on the brink of losing his job—

It is mostly because he knows something is seriously wrong with Roger.

"I can tell. I can tell from the way my heart is beating and how my skin prickles when I think of him. He's in danger and there's nothing I can do."

He drops his head back against Johns forehead with a frustrated groan.

Johns hand travels down his spine and under the lose shirt Freddie likes to wear. He kneads his fingers into his lower back where his muscles have bunched up into stressed knots. He sighs again, this time more content and involuntarily melting against Johns body.

"You're right, there's nothing you can do." John murmurs, rolling his thumbs into the pulsing areas with some struggle.

Blissed relief surges from his back to the rest of his body. He has been holding a lot of tension. Too much tension.

John cleverly rubs his remaining fingers in the rest of his skin, circling the painful spots away.

"So, why don't you come to bed and have a good nights rest. Roger is somewhere you can't find out, you're dead on your feet and you have to work tomorrow." He is the youngest and yet Freddie finds himself comforted by his wise words. "Come on, Brian must be getting lonely up there."

Freddie's lip involuntarily quirks. Yet much to the disappointment showing on Johns face, he shakes his head.

"I don't think I can sleep now." He sighs.

He regretfully reaches out to wrap his hands around his wrists to stop him from continuing his massage. He kisses the delicate inner sides under his palm, before releasing him. "You might say I'm dead on my feet, but you look absolutely awful, dear. Don't wait up for me."

John manages a wrinkly eyed smile from behind the bags.

The sight of him is miserable. His skin is a sickly pale, his cheeks are hollowed and his bloodshot eyes are far sunken into his skull with exhaustion.

"I love you Fred."

They simultaneously lean in for a brief kiss in the kips. Johns are dry, Freddie's are slightly wet.

Its only a short kiss, soon Freddie pulls back to shove John in the direction of the stairs.

"I love you too. Now go, got a lot of sleep to catch up on."

"I love you," John says again while he staggers off, "But Fred, you need to learn how to listen to me."

With his last words hanging heavy in the kitchen between them, Freddie watches John disappear up the stairs slowly, back hunched, half dragging his feet behind him.

Sooner or later he will find out that Freddie had fucked up.

Sooner or later John will suffer the consequences of Freddie's actions.

"Jesus Christ I'm an idiot." Freddie whispers behind his own hand when he is sure John has shut the bedroom door upstairs. He still feels Johns lips on his own.

The wall isn't comfortable for his already aching body and Freddie pushes himself in the direction of the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. If he is not going to sleep, with his mind racing and his worry eating at him, he might as well make it easier for himself.

★☆★

"Hey— sorry."

Brian apologizes when Freddie jolts up at the sudden intrusion.

He has been sitting by the kitchen table the entire evening, waiting for the phone to ring or a miracle, since he has downed four cups of coffee. His leg is jittering with unconfined energy, his eyes rapidly bounce around the room, between the clock, Goliath asleep in the fruitbowl and the door.

There stands Brian, using the doorpost for support.

Freddie jumps to his feet to pull out a chair for Brian. However many pills Brian has consumed has left his slow and clumsy. Freddie offers an arm which Brian uses to lower himself into the chair with a quiet sigh.

They exchange a brief kiss in the darkness. The only light in the room comes from the candle in the middle of the table and Freddie only managed to aim for Brians bottom lip.

"Are you okay?" There is a frown in his voice.

Freddie slinks into the chair next to Brians. He puts his feet up so that he doesn't have to touch the cold floor. It is slightly embarrassing to admit, but Freddie shakes his head.

Brians eyes are foggy, but not enough for him to miss that.

He reaches out a hand for Freddie, who takes it. He wraps his fingers around Brians and lets their conjoined hands dangle between the chairs.

"Roger has gone missing."

Brian blinks. "What?"

"I haven't heard from him for days. He missed all three of his appointments and not made any contact at all." Freddie worries his lip between his front teeth, a nervous habit he has adopted and left his lips bruised and bloody. "God, Brian. I have no idea what happened."

The look on Brians face shifts from confused to mortified. Freddie desperately doesn't want to see it.

He can't afford getting told off by John for involving Brian on top of everything else.

Freddie hides his face in his elbow like a child who hides under the blanket, believing the monsters couldn’t get them there. It is hard to breathe and his eyes burn from how little sleep he’s gotten. The whole time he can feel Brians heavy gaze on him.

Brian stays quiet. They only sound in the room is each others breathing and the way Goliath is purring from kneading the kiwis.

Freddie swallows thickly. Waves of nausea and unease fall over him.

"I'm just thinking about the worst that could happen. You have met him, you saw his thin and sickly he is. Someone so poorly fed and addicted can easily overdose, with him, the years he's taken them, the amount of relapses he has had. Nothing is as dangerous as a heroin addict who keeps falling in and out of the habit. He could be dead in a ditch somewhere for all I know." He probably is.

Brian visible recoils too. In the dark Freddie catches him clenching his jaw and taking a shuddering breath.

He tugs on their connected arms until Freddie is forced to look up in his sad, determined eyes.

He leans into Freddie’s space until their noses brush and his breath ghosts over Freddie’s bruised lips.

"I know you're not even supposed to think about this, because you're his fake-therapist and your relationship should be nonexistent," Brian pauses and lowers his voice, as if someone might hear and stop them. "But he showed me where he lived a while back."

"I drive him too, he led me with into the neighborhood, but never the actual house—"

"I drove him to his front door, the day of his first relapse with you. I drove him there, right up to the front of his flat. I think I even saw Richard."

Freddie's eyebrows shoot into his fringe. "You never told me this."

"I was embarrassed, John told us not to." Brian admits quietly.

Freddie pretends to think about it, but the worry is so intense he can’t keep the act up for longer than half a second. The possibility of going to Rogers home simply to make sure he is still alive, is and opportunity Freddie cannot decline.

He climbs to his feet with a puffed out chest. The coffee makes his blood pump through his veins in a rapid pace.

"Grab your shoes." Freddie lends Brian a hand to get him on the move too. Brian eagerly climbs up, the spark in his eyes even visible in the complete darkness of the kitchen. "We gotta go before John notices we are gone."

★☆★

"Is that the one?"

"Yes."

Freddie swallows thickly.

The building looks gloomy and decayed in the foggy night. There are no stars, no moon. Not a single light is on in the flat, making it bland into the night. The windows of the flat are blacked out and despite the numerous bags of rubbish gathered around the place, it isn’t the worst on the block.

He has been in the area before. He has seen the people scattered on the pavement and shady figures dealing in the dark.

Yet parked right before Richards flat, Freddie feels the knots in his stomach tighten.

"Keep the engine running, I'll be in and out."

Brian peels his eyes away from the building to look at him. "I'm coming with you."

"You can barely stand darling, don't be silly." Freddie moves his hand from the gear shift to clutch Brians hand. His fingers are cold. "I just have to see if Roger is okay. That's all. I won't do anything dangerous."

Brians Adam's apple bops and his eyes shift to the ceiling. "Richard is in there."

"Maybe not."

"Are you just going to knock? It's—" Brian glances at his watch. "3 AM. Roger might be working."

Freddie leans in to peck Brians lips. The sudden kiss forces him to take a shuddering breath and close his eyes. Freddie cradles Brians cheeks between his hands. They are both shaking.

"It's going to be okay. Wait for me."

"If you don't come back in ten minutes I'm calling the police." Brian whispers against his lips.

"Fifteen."

"Ten." Brian says. When they pull away, Freddie gets s good look of the hesitation in Brians eyes. It only makes Freddie feel worse for putting him in this situation in the first place.

Freddie opens the car door and steps out into a puddle of rain water.

It adds to the depressive cold of the night. He shivers in the wind that catches and he firmly closes the door behind himself, the lights turn off so Brian won't stand out in the eery unpleasant neighborhood.

The air is still thick from the rain that had poured all afternoon.

While he walks Freddie shoves his fists into his coat. Underneath he only wears his blue striped pajamas.

There isn’t a soul walking on this side of the street. On the other side Freddie spots several homeless people curled up in sleeping bags, against trash bags. Freddie safely makes his way up the slippery stone steps. The painting on the front door is chipped and the wood underneath is rotting.

There is an eery air around the house. It isn't just the fog.

After a deep breath and a glance over his shoulder to see Brian leaning against the glass of the car to stare at him, Freddie puffs out his chest and rings the bell.

The zooming sound echoes through the street.

He tries to appear bigger than he is. He straightens his spine and lifts his chin.

In his mind Richard is a tall man, with sharp teeth, a split snakes tongue and red eyes. A monster rather than a man. Freddie can't envision anyone humane to treat Roger the way he does.

On the other side of the door there is the sound of key jiggling, knobs turning and metal grinding.

Blood rushes through Freddie's body like a river to the ocean.

He bawls his hands up in his pockets. More than prepared to fight his way inside. He used to be a boxer. He knows how to move, but lost practice over the years and would have to rely on muscle memory.

The door is slowly opened. Freddie inhales sharply.

"Hey."

A small man in a oversized denim jacket draped over his shoulders and a blue cloth over his left eye reveals himself before Freddie from behind the door.

Richard, Freddie thinks.

He looks nothing like Freddie would have imagined from Rogers stories, his one eye is light and his small sausage fingers don’t seem to fit around Rogers throat. At least if the little half blind man doesn’t have a weapon, Freddie could easily overtake him.

The yellow teethed smirk on his face sets Freddie on edge.

"Blondie is a bit out of it tonight. If you had an appointment you gotta reschedule with Rich."

Freddie's skin crawls at the words. He clenches his jaw and stands his ground.

"Blondie- you mean Roger?" The other man nods. "I need to see him."

He lets out a chocked chuckle that sends a shiver down Freddie's spine. The hallway behind the man is hardly lit. There is a staircase that leads to upper floors where Freddie guesses the prostitutes live. "Believe me when I say he's in no state for business."

"Richard and I had a deal." He is a terrible liar, yet he finds himself speaking in a low casual tone. He should have thought more about what would happen once he would actually arrive. "Is he in?"

"No, off with Alan again. Always something with them."

He sighs. As if it were a reoccurring theme Freddie would give a shit about. Then he turns his face up and opens the door wider. "You can go up and see Blondie for yourself. But I wouldn't start unzipping your pants already and don't say I didn't warn you."

With that he turns around and silently invites Freddie into the house.

Freddie refrains from looking back at Brian and follows the other man silently. He doesn't bother with cleaning his shoes on the shabby welcome rug on the floor. He doesn't bother removing his coat either.

They indeed go up the poorly lit spiral stairs. Freddie nearly slips twice before they make it to the top.

Whatever the mans name is had left the flat door unlocked when he came down to check who was at the front. He nudges it open for Freddie with his foot and gestures for Freddie to go in first.

Victory sits heavy on Freddie’s tongue as he steps over the doorstep into the flat. This has gone entirely too easy.

It almost feels like a trap.

He has never had any connections to gangs before or drug-lords. He once knew someone at his University who always had weed snd LSD to offer, but his place was nothing like this.

He enters a hallway with two doors on either side. Presumably a bedroom and a bath.

Further down the corridor leads to an open space.

Freddie's heart thumps against his ribcage. The apartment is smoky. Dust flakes sprinkle in the air, the only light in the room is a yellow bulb in the hallway. It takes a while for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.

What he finds sets a thick lump in his throat.

The walls are a washed out creme color. On his left he sees red smears of what is presumably dried blood. The wallpaper is rotting off and the cobwebs dangle down the low hanging ceiling. 

His pace doesn't falter until he makes it into the living room and accidentally steps on a used syringe, crushing it under the weight of his boot.

"Careful there. Don't exactly have a cleaning lady coming around."

The man with the cloth over his eye chuckles from somewhere behind him. Freddie is glad he cannot see his face.

Its hard to keep his shoulders straight when he sees the ratty mattresses spread out on the floor living room floor. Roger had told him about the living situation before, but the sight exceeds whatever horrors Freddie could have imagined. Where one might expect a couch or a table, lay rows of cheap molding mattresses with a motionless stick figures splayed out on them.

His heart hammers in his throat. It is dark. His eyes scan over the dull grey room two— three times before he can spot Roger.

"Jesus Christ."

On a mattress in a corner on the far left of the room he spots two pink socks sticking out from the mattress.

Freddie runs over and drops to his knees to Rogers side. His knees come in contact with the floor hard and his coat sticks to the grime on the dirty wood immediately, but Freddie cannot care about that now.

Roger lays motionless on his back. Poorly dressed and without a blanket and pillow, fast asleep.

Freddie tilts his chin sideways to examine his face, only to find his skin on fire.

"Hey, hey Rog." Freddie gives his bare shoulder a shake. "Wake up."

Though his entire body is shaken from side to side, Roger doesn't stir. His eyes are gently closed and he is breathing shallowly through his dry, cracked lips. His hair is matted to his forehead with sweat, his tank top is also drenched in it. There are bandages made of toilet paper wrapped around his arms. All the way from his elbows down to his wrists. The blood is seeping through the poorly done bandaids.

Alarm bells go off in his head. Freddie cradles Rogers neck under his head to lift him up slightly. "Come on. Wake up."

There is rustling on the mattress next to him. Suddenly, Roger is pulled away from Freddie.

A woman with greasy blond hair and a thin face curls her body around him. Her striking green eyes plead up at Freddie.

"Please," Her voice breaks. "Leave him alone. He can't do that right now."

"I-I'm not—"

At the sight of his tears the woman frowns. She lowers her eyes from Freddie's face to Rogers, then back to his again. Then recognition flashes across her face. Yet Freddie has never met her before.

"You're him."

Despite not being certain that he is, Freddie nods rapidly. He finds Rogers hand and presses it to his chest.

"What happened to him? He's burning up."

"I'm not sure." The blond woman cradles Roger closer against her chest. Freddie doesn't dare to take him from her even though he longs to. "I found him bleeding in the living room a few days ago. We patched his arms up in the bathroom together, while he was still conscious." She swallows thickly. "It seemed like minor scratches, some blood. But now he hasn't woken up in the days and he is rambling when he does. Then the other day he got a fever and Richard won't get him help. He says Roger will be fine but—"

Her talking has turned into a blubbering mess. Freddie wipes away his own spilled tears with his sleeve and he takes a shuddering breath.

"I told you Blondie wasn't up for it."

Freddie had all forgotten about the other man until now. He looms by the living room entrance, lighting a cigarette. Too far away to take in Freddie's tears or understand what their conversation is about.

Roger has not looked this bad since Freddie has met him.

If Freddie had to guess he is most likely suffers from an infection. A lot of heroin addicts get them.

"I tried, but he isn't getting better."

Freddie lets his eyes fall back onto the girl. She sniffles quietly into Rogers hair, her eyes set with sorrow.

He realizes he has no choice.

With a deep breath he steadies himself into a crouched position, before he manages to slide an arm under Rogers knees and one under his shoulders. He lifts him up bridal style, shocking both the girl and the on eyed-man. Rogers head lulls against his chest, but he otherwise doesn't move or stir.

Freddie pushes past both the small spluttering the man and the girl grabbing onto his ankle, nearly making him trip in her desperation. 

"Wait!" She cries. "Where are you taking him?!"

"The hospital." Freddie says, cooly.

★☆★

"Is he sleeping?"

"No." Winifred smiles, though her arms are tired and shake under the weight of her baby. Michael leans over the bed and watches her present their new born. "He's a curious guy."

Michael won't exactly fit on the bed with her. And the hospital staff wouldn't allow it.

Yet she finds herself scooting closer to his side. Their baby in the crook of her arm.

She wrestles him free from the white bundle of blankets. He snuffles and blinks. Lazily looking up at them from under his hooded eyelids.

"He looks just like you." Michael breathes.

Winifred smiles tiredly. She lets her neck fall back onto the pillows while they watch Roger examine them.

He flexes his little fingers from under the blanket. Michael offers him his own finger in return, Roger wraps his entire hand around it. He sighs and opens his mouth to suckle on the tip of Michaels finger.

"I think the little guy is confused." He grins.

"At least he knows who to trust to provide."

Michael manages to pry his eyes away from their new special someone. He gives his wife a blinding smile that reaches his twinkling eyes. She must be looking shitty, only a couple of days after the 26 hour birth, yet he doesn't seem to care about the dull state she is in.

With his unoccupied hand, he reaches out to caress her cheek.

"I'm proud of you Winney."

"He's 50% yours, Mike." She smiles despite herself.

"And 100% your work."

She feels heat spread from her cheeks to the tips of her ears. Even after being together for so long he still manages to fluster her.

When Michaels finger proofs not to give any milk, Roger becomes fussy.

"A smart one." Michael grins. He withdraws his finger so Winifred can readjust the little one against her chest. "He'll do great things one day."

"He's two days old. Don't put so much pressure on him already."

Roger takes to breastfeeding easily. His hands curl into fists against Winifreds breast and his eyes droop while he suckles soundly. Though it is more than painful to feed him, Winifred can't complain.

"He's a little genius, I can tell."

Michael likes to tease her. She gives him a nudge in the side with her elbow. "Of course he will be. In his own time."

Soft lips press to her temple. She can't help the smile from tugging on the corner of her lips. Michael leans over to also kiss Rogers smooth forehead. Roger barely recognizes the touch other than a brief gurgle.

"In his own time."

Chapter Text

"Where the fuck have you been?!"

Despite the harshness of his words, a rush of relief washes over John when he picks the phone off the wall and Freddie's voice floods through the receiver.

"I'm sorry."

Freddie sounds like he's shrunken in on himself on the other line. John clutches the phone tighter until his knuckles go white.

"Shut up!" He growls. "Tell me where you are? What's going on?"

There is a short silence. Then a deep breath.

"We need your help."

"What is going on?" John leans his forehead against the wall. He grits his teeth.

"We're in the hospital."

John pushes himself away from the wall again. Eyes wide. "Is Brian okay? Is he being helped? Do they know what to do? Why didn't you wake me up?!"

He can't wait until wireless phones are invented and he could rush out the door with Freddie still on the line. He had already put on his coat, shoes and grabbed his car keys as soon as he woke up to an empty house. Fearing and predicting the worst.

"We didn't go to the hospital for Brian..." Freddie swallows. "We came to bring Roger."

The lump that had been stuck at the back of his throat since he woke up without his arm around Brians middle dissolves. John throws his arm over his eyes and he groans, half in relief.

"Fucking hell."

"We picked Roger up from his flat and he was in a very poor condition, so we brought him to the A&E. But while we were waiting Brian might have passed out?" Freddie's voice sheepishly goes up an octave higher by the end of the last sentence.

"Fredde." John breathes heavily. "I've been awake and waiting to hear from you since 5 am. It's almost 7:30!"

"About that... Uh, I need you to come here to White Chapel Hospital so I can go to my bosses office and not lose my job? Please?"

One thing at a time. He mentally pushes everything that won't help bringing him to White Chapel as soon as possible away in a cluttered mental storage box full of unresolved childhood trauma and student loans. He takes a deep breath to force himself to stay rational.

His face is hot with anger and his fingers tug on his hair close to his scalp.

"You have so much explaining to do." He says, not giving Freddie time to reply before John puts the phone back into the stand on the wall and he rushes out the front door.

★☆★

The last time he went to the hospital he practically lived there.

When they first admitted Brian after he got sick they had not expected it to be a three months long affair. Both he and Freddie made camp by his bedside, keeping him company and holding his hand while the nurses weren't looking.

For him, John would do it all over again. Despite, like most people, John despises hospitals.

Hospitals are germ houses, despite the nauseating sterile smell that clings to the walls. Everyone in staff is always in a hurry or mourning and death roams the grey floored corridors.

Whilst the rooms are small, the halls are endless.

Even though John has spent more time than he would want in hospitals, he could never navigate his way through one. After parking the car in the first available spot he could find, John sprints through the front door looking around rapidly for—

Freddie, the smaller man is waiting for him in the main hall by the entrance. John sees him pacing , playing with his fingers, adjusting his coat.

As soon as he spots John running through the doors, he lifts his chin and opens his arms in greeting.

It doesn't matter that people are watching. John sighs in relief when he can wrap his arms around his beloved. Freddie obviously hasn't slept at all, looking slightly ridiculous in his pajama bottoms and long trench coat. In his arms, Freddie is shaking violently and when they pulls back there are deeply dark shadows under his eyes.

Even though John is extremely upset, the adrenaline rushes through his blood and his heart still thunders in his chest, John pulls Freddie in for another bone crushing hug.

"Where is he?" He asks.

"Room 46 floor 2, he is in a lot of pain and really needs someone by his side." Freddie clutches his hand when he pulls back, the desperation in his eyes makes Johns stomach churn. "I will be back as soon as I have all my appointments handled. I promise, and I'm sorry."

John nods, if they could kiss publicly, he would.

From the way Freddie's eyes trail down to his lips John can tell he feels the same.

He squeezes Freddie's hand, before pushing him in the direction of the large glass doors behind him.

"Go."

"I love you." Freddie whispers, though he mostly mouths.

John keeps his tears at bay so Freddie can't see them while he waves over his shoulder with a watery smile.

"You too." He mouths back.

He doesn't wait for Freddie to walk out the doors. John completely forgoes talking to receptionist to avoid being send away for not blood related to Brian. He takes the elevator straight across the corridor. The walls are a pale white and poorly masked by framed paintings by unknown local artists who would donate their art for free.

John presses the button 'up' five times. Accidentally hitting the button 'down' too.

When he steps inside the elevator is empty. It first brings him down one floor, before it goes to the second floor. He tries not to pace and get the elevator stuck. He also refrains from looking at his own miserable reflection in the mirror behind him. Leaving him with the only option to stare aimlessly at his feet. Hoping Brian is no longer in so much pain while he is alone.

The elevator stops on the second floor, John rushes out and nearly stumbles into a nurse.

Both of them are in a hurry and bustle off in separate directions after short muttered apologies. Her deodorant makes him nauseous.

John walks up to room 46 which is on the left only a couple of doors over. A deadly silence haunts the tall grey hallway and the sterile smell curls into Johns nostrils. These are all single rooms and there aren't people sitting outside, taking walks or chatting. Besides a family or four on the far right who are all silently sobbing in the waiting chairs outside the door.

John drags his eyes away from them to continue walking down the hall.

The door of room 46 is cracked open. It is dark inside. John peeks behind the corner to see if there are any nurses who could send him away, but all he sees is the back of a motionless figure laying in bed on his side. Besides that, the curtains are drawn and the room is sparsely decorated with a couple of chairs and an empty vase for flowers.

John slips inside without having to further open the door.

To keep himself from making a noise he holds his breath still in his lungs. The only sound in the room is that of heavy breathing from the bed and a steady heartbeat monitor, beeping echoes off the walls.

John hadn't ever seen a hospital room with the lights completely turned off. The only light that guides to the bed comes form the slit under the door.

He stretches his arms out until his fingertips brush over the beds railing. He wraps his hand around it to pull himself closer and lay a hand on Brians boney shoulder.

Except, it is not Brian he finds rolling onto his back with a groan, but a stranger laying in the bed.

For a moment he is afraid Freddie had given him the wrong room, John yanks his hand back to his chest as if burned. The person on the bed is a bandaged corpse, eyes closed and barely breathing. Johns eyes widen. And then it clicks.

"Fucking hell."

It's Roger.

★☆★

John rushes back down to the reception. His heart beats hard against his ribs and he is itching to see his Brian.

There is no line in front of the desk. He comes to a halt while gasping for breath, eyes bulging in his desperation. He tilts his chin up to acknowledge the woman at the same time she acknowledges him.

"Good morning, how—"

"Where can I find Brian May?" John blurts out in a single breath.

Without taking offense, the woman rolls her chair back to reach for one of the many files in her cabinet and starts to look under the letter M, her glasses nearly sliding off her nose. She skims the files in practice speed, her eyes rapidly crossing every page.

John swallows around his sandpaper dry throat. He licks his lips and drums his fingers on the desk while he watches her.

"He was admitted this morning, today. He passed out." He murmurs. Wondering if it helps. "He's had some stomach issues and a surgery recently."

"Right."

She hums without looking up from the files.

John doesn't normally show his impatience in public. Something his mother used to say, strangers are no responsible for your emotions, Honey. It is better to keep them to yourself, which she had uttered to him the first time he burst out crying in the class after his father had died. She had meant it well.

Nervous energy is hard to contain. His entire body is stiff with the tension traveling from his shoulders all the way down his spine.

He hadn't even noticed he'd stopped blinking until the receptionist turns back to him in her chair and sends him a funny look, in her hand she holds the golden file. Actually brown and labeled Brian Harold May.

"That's him." John utters.

He removes his hands from the desk when he takes a step back. His fingertips left sweaty imprints on the stone.

She gives him a tight smile, before asking, "Are you family?"

"Roommates."

Johns face falls before hers does. "I'm afraid I can't give you any further information, sir."

Damned Freddie. John grinds his jaw against his upper row of teeth until he feels his temples ache. Brian is somewhere in this hospital alone. Confused and likely hurting. John doesn't know where and he isn't charming like Freddie or stubborn like Brian to get the receptionist to bend anyway.

Defeated, John pushes himself away from the desk. Not acknowledging the sympathetic look in the woman's eyes before she puts Brians file back into the cabinets behind her.

John aimlessly stands in the middle of the entrance hall.

People pass him by each side. Some spare him a frown, most just push past him.

He doesn't have Freddie's offices phone number on him right now. He doesn't have access to Brians room. John already called in for a sick day when he found Freddie and Brian missing in the morning. He could wait in the car until he sees Freddie's car driving into the parking lot so they can find Brian together, but, for some reason, walking out the two glass doors make his stomach tighten.

Freddie had said that Roger was in pain and needed someone by his side.

John presses his palms into his closed eyes.

Fuck.

After taking a deep breath, he consciously picks up his shoulders, which had slumped on their own accord. He's in massive trouble, that knowledge settles a headache on either sides of his head just above the temples.

His feet drag him back towards the elevator doors before he can work himself over his guilt and wait in his car anyway.

Roger isn't someone he knows or has any obligations towards— Freddie on the other hand. John presses the elevator button up to the second floor again. He steps into the grey box, he find that he is once again alone and leans his head back against the metal wall.

John closes his eyes. The burn of his eyelids sliding over his dry iris sends soothing tears trickling down the corners of his eyes.

He brushes them away.

He wants to believe Brian is doing okay, if Freddie has neglected to mention his whereabouts. Brian should be a priority over Roger. John likes to believe he still is.

The elevator moves up quickly, the motion makes his churning stomach flip. He presses his thumbs a little harder into his eyes.

His arrival is announced with a 'ding'. John slinks out of the elevator and walks down the empty hall to room 46. The previously sobbing family, gone. He nudges the door open with his foot. The room is still dark and besides Roger on the bed, still empty.

Behind the drawn curtains the sun has come up. John closes the door behind himself and drowns out almost all light.

With his heart hammering in his throat, John steps further into the room.

"Hey." He starts. Entirely too loud for the deafening quiet.

There's some rustling on the bed, some shifting, some murmuring, but with his back against the door John can't make out any of it.

John clears his throat. "It's uh, me. John. Are you awake?"

He holds his breath for Roger to answer. John trails a hand up to splay over his chest and feel his heart beating rapidly against his palm. He keeps it there, hoping that it calms down somewhat.

His feet inch closer towards the bed. It is curiosity more than anything else that keeps him from rushing out the room again.

The first time he saw Rogers face he hadn't gotten a good look. All he saw was that he wasn't Brian.

His eyes adjust to the darkness after he blinks two, three times. The only lights in the room comes from under the slit of the curtains and the machines next to Rogers bedside. Showing green and blue charts John doesn't feel like deciphering.

Roger is no longer laying on his side.

John halts by the head of the bed. His breath so harsh and rapid it makes Rogers hair sweep away from his forehead.

Roger is— Roger.

Freddie's description don't quite live up to the sickening sight before him. Roger is thin, cheeks hallow and bones everywhere jutting out of his stretched skin. The skin itself is a sickly pale color in the lack of warm light. He is bruised and bandaged, around his head, his arms and whatever else is hidden under the blanket John cannot see or dare to reveal.

It would have been different if he lay still and peaceful, but he isn't. While Roger isn't awake he also isn't fully asleep.

His eyes roll behind his lids. He is murmuring, ailing. His hands twitch restlessly on the bed and his muscles spasm uncontrollably. Why he is laying alone unsupervised baffles John. He is wheezing with every breath and his heartbeat is shallow.

John has only seen people in such a state in movies and on pictures in history books.

Rogers eyes keep rolling and flickering behind his closed eyelids. With every twitch of his limbs he lets out a grunted pain. John takes the image in. He observes the disturbed rise and fall of his chest. The furrow between his brown whenever the heartbeat machine picks up and the tension in his neck every time he swallows.

John sinks into one of the chairs by the bedside before he realizes what he is doing. He couldn't tear his eyes away from him now, even if he wanted to.

Every time he blinks he is afraid that he has seen Roger takes his last fragile breath.

★☆★

Roger wakes up with a startle and a gasp.

"Freddie?"

Johns eyes dart up from the bedding to Rogers scrunched up face. He tries to stay calm for the both of them, despite the nerves tightening his own chest.

"Not here I'm afraid." It is the first time they speak yet Roger doesn't seem alarmed by a stranger sitting by his bedside whatsoever.

His eyes are only slightly open. They peer sideways at Johns.

"'T hurts."

His voice is barely above a whisper. John is still in his chair and cautiously leans closer.

"Hm?"

Without a warning Roger curls onto his side and convulses violently.

"Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck." Cursing under his breath, John leaps to his feet and scrambles for the trashcan next to the bed to hold under Rogers head. Roger is bend over by his waist, arms shaking dangerously for having to hold his own weight. Yet nothing comes out of him while he gags into the trashcan and chokes on his own spit.

Hot tears stream down Rogers eyes and John watches him crumble apart too fast for him to react adequately. Roger draws his knees to his chest and he weeps, loud and open like a child. His arms reach up to claw at his bandaged head.

He wails in agony. "My head. My head. My head."

Johns heart beats a mile per hour and his eyes might pop out of their sockets. He watches Roger while a wave of helplessness overwhelm his senses.

Roger doesn't stop shaking. John eyes the emergency button on the remote attached to the bed.

Against his better judgement, he turns away from it to instead wrap his hands around the part of Rogers wrists that aren't covered in bandages. "Stop." He orders, before he tears his hands away from his head before he can do any further damage.

It takes little to no strength to wrestle a sobbing Roger onto his bed.

John presses his upper body against Rogers to keep him still. It is not a pretty sight, he squirms and kicks, snot and tears stain his face and he cries with pain.

"Stop that." John struggles to speak while he struggles to keep them both still. "Roger, you need to stop that, or I'll have to call in the nurses and they'll throw me out. You'll be alone."

Roger hides half his face in his pillow— mainly to block out the sound of his own sobs.

"Do you hear me?" John feels a little bad for giving him a shake, just once, to get through to his rattled brain. "Roger?"

"It hurts." He drawls.

Fuck.

John eyes the IV attached to the rack next to the bed. The supposed sedatives aren't doing what they should.

While he keeps Roger pinned down by putting some pressure on his side and keeping his wrists together in one hand, John takes a better look at the IV drip.

The sack says morphine.

Normally a heavy sedative should numb the pain, but presumably the dosage is too low for Rogers tolerance for opiates.

Under him, Roger is still crying and trembling. "Ow," He hiccups. "Ow. Ow."

"Shh, it's okay."

John turns off every voice in his mind shouting no, when he reaches out to adjust the morphine drip. He can't listen to his ear piercing cries for a second longer— soon someone will hear Roger and it might get him in trouble.

The nurses wouldn't even know what to do with him without knowing about his drug problems.

John shrugs off the fact that he is feeding into Rogers addiction. After a tweak, the morphine drip quickens. John watches the droplets slide into the transparent tube down into Rogers vein in his wrist.

He drags his eyes back down to Roger, who isn't looking back. John breathes heavily and loosens his grip on his tender wrists.

"I hope that's okay. And that it won't kill you." He mutters, mostly to himself.

Rogers eyes roll back into his head. He digs his fingers into Johns hands as he groans. "Nhhhhhhggh. Hurts."

"What did they do to you?" John asks.

If he was meant to be playing nurse for Roger, he wishes Freddie would have told him what had happened to him.

"S'mthing my head. My brains'xloding."

"Your brain is exploding?" John translates in a low tone. Roger has gone back to whispering, his voice a quiet murmur in the darkness of the room.

His blue mournful eyes shift up until they meet Johns.

Then he peers up at John, a far away look in his foggy gaze. He has a vacant stare, not quite looking John in the eye. His face is red with fever, sweat has gathered around his neck and the roots of his hair.

"Roger?"

"Yeah." He tries to flex his fingers where John is pinning his wrists down. John gives him even more leeway now that he has exhausted himself too much to thrash about. "Hit my head."

John watches cautiously while Roger reaches out to splay his bandaged arm over his eyes.

He takes a shallow breath, before he continues to sob behind his arm. His muscles have yet to stop spasming from the pain. John debates higher the morphine dosage a little more so the tremors can stop.

"Don't want to be here."

"You and me both." John snorts. He had called in for a sick day at work— which he hasn't done since Brian stopped working.

He doesn't want to think about paying their bills that month.

Roger is still crying. John feels like an awkward shadow looming over Rogers bedside, utterly useless.

In moments like these, he thinks about what Freddie would do.

"Hey," He perks up. "Everyone always feels better after a glass of water."

John scrambles towards the sink before Roger can utter a reply. He fills the small paper cup next to the tap with water, which might taste a little like lime, but he doesn't expect Roger to complain.

The cup is too full and it spills down the sides in Johns haste to get back next to Roger.

Roger watches him move from under his heavy lids.

His stretched out hand is too shaky to hold the cup of water. John hands it to him, more water falls down the sides. "Shit." He curses.

Roger mumbles a weak apology.

John wraps his own hand around Rogers hand to steady him and help him lift the cup to his dehydrated lips.

"You're okay, it's fine." John mimics what he hopes sounds like Freddie's reassuring voice. "You can trust me."

While he is gulping down the water— Roger side eyes him suspiciously.

John straightens his spine and tries a smile.

"I'm John." He is usually reluctant about sharing his sexuality, but he doesn't think a heroin addicted prostitute will rat him out. He moves the cup from Rogers lips and puts it down on the tray next to the bed. "Freddie's boyfriend."

The mentioning of Freddie's name sets Roger at ease.

His brow relaxes slightly and he blinks up at John. "Everything hurts." He drawls.

The sight of him is miserable.

John hums, he is leaning on the railing of the bed, watching Roger watch him in an odd endless cycle. His heartbeat is slowing down in his chest. He remembers reading somewhere that people's heartbeats sync up when in close proximity.

Roger takes a deep breath. His face contorted with pain.

John rememberers looking down at Brian the same way. Though, then he had Freddie by his side to fill the gaps John couldn't. John would sign the forms and hold Brians hands. Freddie charmed the nurses and knew how to calm Brians flares down.

John picks his head up. Roger startles at the sudden movement.

"Maybe this helps, here." He learned the trick from Freddie. "Close your eyes, yes, thank you." He wets a wash cloth under the sink and presses it gently against Rogers closed eyes.

Roger is still sniffling, but his crying quiets down when the cold sensation seeps through his skin.

"There, I bet thats nice."

"Yes." Roger croaks.

"Good."

Roger breathes shallowly through his cracked lips. John can't count the times he has rubbed balm over Brians lips while he was in the hospital. He knows he still has a little pot at the bottom of his coat. "Don't have a fright."

"Hm?" Rogers forehead wrinkles when John gently smears the vaseline over his bruised lips.

"It should help the peeled skin heal a little better."

"You're— thank you."

John brushes his thumb clean on his pants. He falls back into his chair with a huff. He hadn't realized how tired he was until he allowed himself a breather. The hospital worn wooden chair suddenly feels heavenly. Blood rushes up his legs again and the tension melts from his shoulders. "Don't mention it."

"I get why Freddie's dating you."

Roger doesn't sound like he is quite conscious, yet John indulges him anyway. "Why's that?"

"You're sweet." He mumbles.

Thinking about all the crass names John has called Roger whenever his name was spoken in their house makes John blush. He sheepishly lays his hand back over the cloth and Rogers forehead. The skin is scorching hot, no wonder Roger is ailing rather than awake.

"I'm not that sweet."

"Feels sweet."

"Well, thank Freddie for that later." John says, absentmindedly brushing away a tear trailing agonizingly slow down Rogers jutted out cheekbone.

"He's coming?" Roger slurs, voice dying away.

He is falling asleep and John smiles at the childlike innocence behind the question.

"Yes, of course. Of course."

Roger sighs. Under the blankets his chest deflates and he sinks further into the bedding.

John keeps his hand there until he has drifted off and even then he doesn't pull away.

★☆★

"Knock knock."

Relief washes over John when Brian nudges the door open to walk into Rogers room.

He lets go of Rogers hand and climbs to his feet. He sighs and wraps his arms around Brians middle— now used to how much pressure he can apply without hurting him.

"Oh thank God." John breathes against Brians hospital dress clad chest.

Brian uses the IV rack to keep himself balanced, but wraps his free arm around John too. John should be offering him comfort, but for some reason Brian is more steady than he is.

"Are you okay?" John asks, voice muffled.

Brian rubs his hand between Johns shoulder blades and rests his chin on top of Johns head.

"Yeah."

John hadn't noticed he was shaking until Brian pulls back enough to steady a hand on his shoulder, face long with concern.

"Hey, I'm okay. It's okay."

John attempts to smile up at him, it doesn't work. A shuddering breath forces its way out of his lungs. Barbwire seems to be stuck at the back of his throat.

He hates crying in public.

"I have been trying to find you, but they wouldn't tell me where you were. I woke up this morning and you were gone. Freddie was gone. No note, no nothing." He blinks up at the ceiling rapidly. "Fucking hell. You guys can't do this to me."

Brian squeezes his shoulder in an attempt to get John to look at him, but if he would, he knew he's burst out in tears.

"You were doubled over in bed all day, Freddie might lose his job, Roger is— really attractive apparently and suddenly you were all gone. I'm always the last to know." John stomps his foot out of pure frustration. He digs his nails into his palms. "You're keeping things from me."

John can't see Brians face, but hears him swallow thickly.

"I know."

"That's not an apology." John breathes, though some of the tension melts away when Brian forces him into another hug. Against his chest John allows two single teardrops dissolve into the fabric of Brians dress.

He sniffles, Brian kisses the crown of his head.

"I'm sorry."

He combs his long fingers through Johns uncombed hair. Which he hadn't combed in the rush of the morning.

"Last night I found Freddie sulking in the kitchen and asked what's wrong, he told me about Roger being missing. I once drove Roger home—"

John tries to look up. "You did what—" But Brian forces his head down.

"So I knew where he lived. Freddie and I were just going to see if he was alive— which he was. Barely. We found him, drove him to the hospital and they brought Roger to his room. A lot was going on and I just collapsed in the hysteria. Freddie caught be before I hit the ground so no further injuries. I don't know, I got sedatives for the pain now."

John presses his mouth shut. He needs to have a firm word with Freddie, rather than Brian.

Before John can formulate a response, Brian is shuffling them to Rogers bedside, the wheels of his IV rack are squeaky.

"How is he doing?" Brian whispers, pointing his chin in Rogers direction.

"They've given him antibiotics for the infection. Apparently he had developed a blood cloth in his left arm, got a fever and some sort of head trauma. They had to pull out pieces of his scalp before they could damage internally." John clears his throat. "They aren't sure but most likely got a concussion, suffers from dehydration, notably underweight."

"Why don't you become a doctor?" Brian raises his eyebrows in surprise as John goes down the list.

A smile threatens to ghost on Johns lips. "I read it on his chart, next to the bed."

"Ruined the magic."

Brian unwraps his arm from Johns shoulder to tuck Rogers blanket under his chin where it had started to slip down. The blanket is pulled from Rogers feet, revealing a pair of pink cat socks John instantly recognizes as the ones he had given Freddie on his birthday two years ago.

"Hm, he looks a bit better already." Brian murmurs.

He sweeps a strand of hair away from Rogers forehead. Careful with the bandage. He smooths a hand over his cheek while he gives Rogers peaceful sleeping face a careful once over.

John swallows thickly. Glad his morphine trick had calmed Roger down and saved Brian from the sight.

"He sure does." John says, tucking Rogers feet under the blanket with a tight smile.

★☆★

"Does it hurt?"

Richard lays his hand over Rogers. Resting on his chest over the place where he can feel his heart beating.

"Yeah." Roger croaks.

Richard gives him a calculated once over. His eyes searching and calm.

"Do you want it to go away?"

There is no hesitation. He had been crying in Richards room all afternoon, unable to sleep without dreaming about her or close his eyes without seeing her before him. She haunts him without a means of actual contact. Roger feels trapped and helpless in Richards bedroom, knees drawn to his chest against the headboard. Shirt soaked with tears. He would do anything to take away the loss of his beloved mother. Suddenly ripped away from him without a warning.

Roger nods rapidly. "Yes."

He hadn't seen the tools before, but they must have been there the whole time as Richard splays them out on the bed between them.

A shoe lace. A syringe. A little glass pot with clear liquid.

"Give me your hand, it's okay. Trust me." He whispers.

Roger presents him his hand. Richard takes it and stretches it out with the palm up. He wraps the shoelace around Rogers upper arm. Roger isn't scared, he's seen people in the apartment do it every day. He isn't afraid. He isn't excited. Richard sets a tight knot in the string.

"It'll hurt for only just a second. Take a deep breath."

Roger sucks his bottom lip into his mouth. The shoelace around his bicep cuts off the blood circulation to the rest of his arm.

Richard trails his fingertips down his veins. He prepares the syringe.

He takes it out of the plastic package before testing the pump. When it works, he pumps up the contents of the transparent liquid in the tiny pot. Richard fills it up until the syringe is full.

Roger watches. Yet he cannot see thin needle through the blur of his tears.

Richard takes a hols of his hand again and outs it in the right position once more.

His breath hitches when the needle penetrates and slides under his skin. Richard keeps him still by squeezing his wrist. "Another deep breath."

Roger does.

Richard presses down the pump of the syringe. Cold liquid is rushes into Rogers bloodstream.

The effect is almost instantaneous. Heat spreads from his fingertips all the way to his ears. The world around becomes fussy around the edges, before it completely blacks out. The knot in his stomach uncurls and euphoria transits to the rest of his senses.

He can't help it, Roger lets out a soft moan.

His head becomes too heavy for his neck. Before Roger falls backwards onto the bed, Richard cradles his neck and slowly lowers him onto the mattress. Where he splays Roger out.

"Feels good." Roger breathes.

He lets his eyes blink closed. The pain numbs away and he feels happy, his limbs are lead and his head is weightless— the world stops revolving and his mind is for once quiet, blissfully so.

Richards fingertips are cold against his burning face. He caresses Rogers cheek while he floats off into space.

"I know." He smiles, voice quiet. "Don't get too used to it. There is nothing like your first high, yet everyone falls in the trap of trying to recreate it. Again. And again. And again."

Chapter Text

"Look at you— whoa!"

Roger beams up at Freddie. His fingernails dig into Freddie's arms for leverage. Despite the sting, Freddie smiles back.

He takes a careful step backwards so that Roger has to shuffle closer again.

His knees are wobbly and his eyes squint under the lights on the ceiling. He struggles to stay upright and Freddie steadily has to take more and more of Rogers weight while they exercise.

"That's a lot more than you could do yesterday."

This time Freddie doesn't move when Roger reaches him. For which Roger is grateful.

He drops his head on Freddie's chest and drapes his arms around his shoulders with a sigh. Freddie secures him by holding him close by his waist. There is only so much Rogers body can be pushed to do.

"There, there. That's really good. How is the head?" He asks quietly.

Roger rests his forehead on Freddie's sternum. His breath ghosts between the gaps of Freddie's striped button-up. He'd come to visit Roger during his break, to keep track of his well being. Roger has been recovering steadily during his short stay. Some injuries will take time to fade, but his fever has gone down and the infection is gone.

The main problem now is his head and his overall weak physique.

"Bit dizzy, but I'm okay."

"Good, dear." Rogers brave face is as wobbly as his legs and Freddie can tell he is suppressing a grimace. He hums, pushes a strand of hair away from Rogers forehead, before dragging him back to the bed by his waist. "Let's settle you down before your head starts hurting really bad again."

Roger has to hold onto the railing to stay upright while Freddie pushes the bedding back. He gives Roger a hand to hell him over the tricky railing.

Lifting himself into bed is nearly impossible with his shaking arms and twig like legs.

Freddie gives him a calculated push to roll over the side.

"Fuck." Rogers head falls onto the pillow. He grimaces sideways into the cotton.

Freddie doesn't comment on how rigid he has become. He quietly pulls the blankets back over Rogers body and tucks him in only after Roger curls his knees to his chest and his chin to his knees, until he is a sniffling ball.

"Oh Darling." Freddie sighs, once done. He lays a hand over Rogers ear to drown out the volume of his own voice.

Roger sighs. Eyes fluttering open to stare at up Freddie.

He gives him a smile, small, but warm.

His lips are no longer cracked and the bags under his eyes are gone. He is a sight to behold with his cleared eyes and the white dotted hospital gown against his pale skin. The transformation makes something warm bloom in Freddie's belly.

"I'm sorry."

"Not your fault." Roger croaks. He cannot sense at what volume he is speaking.

Freddie bends down so his ears are closer to Rogers lips. Roger blinks lazily, his fingers shift until they can wrap around Freddie's wrist to keep his hand over Rogers ear perfectly still.

"That's nice."

Another smile tugs on both corners of Freddie's lips. "I'll keep them there, dear until I have to leave."

Even though Roger closes his eyes he still manages to scrunch his face up and pout.

"Don't wanna be alone."

"Brian and John should be getting here for dinner, they'll bring you something nice. I'll make sure of that. You can always sleep until they come and wake you up." Freddie smiles, before he leans in to plant a kiss onto Rogers wrinkled forehead. "Don't look so sour."

"Don't think I like hospitals."

Freddie never minded them as much as others do. He hums, he hooks his foot around the leg of his chair to pull it closer to Rogers bedside. Without having to let go of Roger, Freddie settles down in the chair. Eyes at all times on the rise and fall of Rogers chest.

"I know. I understand."

Freddie much more fears what will happen after the hospital.

He has been calling local shelters if they offer special places for people who've just come out of intensive care, but no luck yet. Most shelters don't take regulars, they are only open during the night hours.

Or don't offer any special treatment of any nature.

Freddie much rather have Roger laying half awake half asleep in the hospital bed, than what Freddie has seen of Richards apartment.

The dreadful conditions are branded in Freddie's consciousness. The stench that clung on the walls still haunts him and the endless tangle of bodies will be engraved on his memory forever.

"You're still there?" Roger asks.

Freddie shakes himself out of his head and he forces out a chuckle. "Yes, yes. Sorry. My mind trailed off for a second."

Roger stays quiet. Freddie doesn't mind.

His free hand is about to reach out to trace the outline of Rogers nose. Simply because the curve interests him. Just as his finger hovers over the bridge, the door swings open and Rogers doctor comes walking into the room with a clipboard and a smile.

Freddie carefully lowers his hand to the pillow next to Rogers head. Rogers breath tickles his fingertips.

"Good afternoon fellas, hope all is well?"

The doctor speaks in a low whisper. Roger likely can't hear him while Freddie has his ear covered with his palm.

Freddie perks his chin up to address the older man.

"Quite well. We has a little walk around the room like nurse Cynthia recommended. Roger had some nibbles of bread and two glasses of water. All is good here, I think."

The doctor hums, assumably pleased.

It had been a bit of a battle at first to get the staff to allow the three of them in Rogers room. Only when after three days not a family member had reported back to Roger, they stopped fuzzing about their presence. Roger lit up whenever he saw them. Smiling and trying to eat along, be wrapped up in conversation and laughter.

They could hardly deny him that.

"Doc?"

The doctor had gone through Rogers chart next to the bed. They had taken him off morphine the day after he was admitted. The withdrawal had been short but brutal. The hospital stay was mostly drawn out because of that. The added symptoms prevented staff from fully comprehending whether he was good to leave or not.

"Yes?" He tips his chin up at Freddie.

"Is there an indication of when Roger can be discharged?"

The older man hums in a thoughtful manner. His pen catches between his lips while he re-checks Rogers papers on his clipboard.

Freddie follows his eyes. They both land on Roger at the same time. Unsure if he asleep or not.

"He's suffered some serious trauma and injuries. If he were to go home, he needed someone to look after him." The doctor says, voice low.

Freddie rubs his thumb over Rogers cheek insistingly until his eyes flutter open.

"Rog?"

"Yeah?" He murmurs.

Freddie brushes his thumb over the smooth curve of his cheekbones down to the corner of his lips. Roger in return, leans his face further into his touch.

"Did you hear Dr Walker? He thinks you're almost good to go home."

The smile is instantly wiped off Rogers face. Worry overtakes what should be relief.

Freddie pretends the doctor isn't still standing on the other side of Rogers bed. The doctor pretends to flip through his clipboard to feign privacy. "Don't worry," Freddie whispers. "We'll sort it out."

His words don't wash the sorrow away from Rogers face. He continues to frown even after Dr Walker has left the room with a murmured goodbye.

When the coast is clear, Freddie turns to face him once more. Tone low and serious.

"Rog, I've been calling homeless shelters, hostels, friends who owe me a favor, anyone who could help. I will do anything I can to give you a safe place. You can trust me. Have I not shown you?"

Though stiffly, Roger nods.

"See!" Freddie beams. "I will sort this out for you, you can trust me on that."

He only gets the shadow of the smile he had hoped for when he leans in until his temple is also resting on the pillow next to Roger. As if they are laying in bed together side by side.

Freddie still has one hand cupped over Rogers exposed ear. The world is loud and sounds soft and sharp can rattle through Rogers damaged skull for hours.

With his free hand he tips Rogers chin up. His eyes are sad.

"When have I ever let you down?"

Roger swallows. Expression unreadable. "Never."

"And if I can help it, I never will."

He leans in to press a kiss to the tip of his nose. Roger closes his eyes, savoring the feeling. When Freddie moves to pull away, Roger grips his hand to keep his face next to his.

Freddie doesn't question it. He stays still and listens quietly to the sound of Rogers breathing.

Now that they have exercised and the world has gone quiet. Roger falls asleep.

Freddie doesn't leave the room until his lips have gone slack and his forehead has smoothened out. His lips twitch when Freddie trails his finger tips over the bridge of his nose down to the tip. Freddie smiles back, even though his heart sits heavy in his chest.

Time is running out. He needs to find a place for Roger soon.

★☆★

"Just got off the phone with Whitechapel Mission." John stalks back into the kitchen and he rips the pamphlet in two.

He sinks into his seat with a defeated slump of his shoulders.

"They only take people between 4 PM until 7 AM in the morning, then they're kicked to the curb."

Freddie sighs.

He reaches for the notepad on the corner of the table. He crosses the name off the ever shrinking list.

Finding a shelter is harder than they had anticipated.

Roger will need constant care and rest after being released from the hospital.

He won't get that in these places.

"This is useless." John groans.

Freddie reaches across the table to lay a hand on Johns shoulder. Freddie rubs over the tense muscle with a gentle smile. "Hey, don't say that Dear. It's all gonna be fine."

John drops his forehead onto the table. Groaning again.

"He is not gonna live here Fred."

"If we can't find a place, John, we have to—"

"No." Their eyes meet. Johns deadly serious gaze bores directly into Freddie's soul. He is onto him, Freddie can tell by the way the corners of his lips turn down in disapproval. "Freddie, you can't be serious. We can barely pay the bill as it is. You almost lost your job over him."

"Almost." He says tightly.

"He can't live here." John wraps his hand around Freddie's wrist. His fingers are cold, but he doesn't push Freddie away. "I'm sorry, but he's enough trouble as it is."

"You've met him. He can't be left with that Richard, you saw what he did to you."

"That's why I'm helping." John promises. "I care, I do."

It isn't easy to keep himself from crumbling. Freddie feels tightness all around him and the oxygen seems to have been sucked out of the room. He is also afraid that they won't be able to pay their bills or find Roger a permanent place to rest. He fears it will all come down on them all, because of him.

He hadn't noticed the tears welling in his eyes until John reaches over and brushws them away.

Freddie's closes his eyes and lets his tears fall freely.

"I'm sorry." John swiftly moves out of his seat to take place in the stool next to Freddie. He wraps his arms around his him and guides Freddie against his warm inviting chest. Where his tears won't be seen or matter. "I don't mean to be harsh."

The fabric of Johns work clothes are worn and drenched in old sweat that could never be completely washed out.

It smells like him. Freddie rubs his nose against it.

"It's my fault, all of it."

Long fingers find its way into Freddie's hair.

John carefully brushes his fingers through the strands of Freddie's hair. It feels good. He works through a knot and flicks away a hair that had come loose. He drags his fingernails over Freddie's scalp and Freddie curls his fingers into Johns shirt with a sniffle.

"It's not your fault."

"Yes it is." He mumbles miserably. "I kidnapped Roger from his gangster boyfriend and brought him to the hospital without a plan. I am the idiot who promised him I'd fix it for him, not having any idea that the whole situation is incredibly unfixable. That's why it's my bloody fault."

"Hey."

Pain shoots sharply from his scalp where the roots of his hairs are yanked backwards. "Ow!"

John forces him to look him in the eye. His face has changed from its disapproving set it has been for days— since the day of the hospital. Instead, John gives him a soft smile that makes him look his actual age again.

He lets go of Freddie's hair to smooth it back.

"This is in your nature, this is why I love you." Freddie pushes his lips out for the expected kiss. John gives in, a chaste little peck that has Freddie's heart fluttering.

"This." John says with his hands cupping Freddie's face. "Makes you Freddie and me John."

"What's Brian?"

"Brian is something else all together. I don't even want to get into that." Johns eyes twinkle like starlight. For the first time since Roger had gone missing over a week ago, Freddie feels a knot in his stomach loosen.

"Alright, maybe next time."

"Maybe." John yawns.

He has just gotten off his shift. Freddie glances at the clock behind Johns outstretched arms. It is past dinnertime. None of them have had anything and he has an appointment to get to.

Freddie clasps Johns thighs, before he pushes his chair back to get to his feet.

"You off?"

"Yeah." He mumbles, closing his notepad and pocketing his pen. "Are you coming with?"

"Someone needs to stay with Brian." John says, as if Freddie has to be reminded.

Freddie refrains from telling him Brian is asleep and very capable of doing that alone, but Freddie keeps his mouth shut because he is still not off the hook for the hospital fiasco. He knows he is on thin ice with his youngest boyfriend.

With a sigh, he leans in for another kiss, this time slower and longer. Freddie lets his lips linger, John chases after him when he tries to  pull back.

"I'm okay, gotta see Roger." Freddie whispers.

Roger doesn't seem to like to be left alone. Freddie in return doesn't like to leave Roger unsupervised.

John gives him a smile. "Tell him I'll be with him for breakfast tomorrow."

It takes a lot of effort to keep the sappy smile from his face. Freddie barely manages.

"I will." He says. "I'm going now."

"Yes, go!" John shoos him off with a playful eye roll.

Freddie gracefully makes his way to the front door, after drying his face, putting on his shoes and coat he pokes his head back into the kitchen just before he decides to leave. He finds John bend over the previously closed notepad again, pen between his lips and pondering over where they can find a place for Roger to stay.

He leans against the frame and watches him for a moment.

"I love you."

John startles and drops the pen. "Oh fuck off!"

Freddie skips out of the front door with a giggle on the tip of his tongue. Even though nothing seems to be exactly right, he has his stable homefront once more.

★☆★

"Freddie?"

"Yes sorry Darling, I'm on my way, Tiffany peed on the carpet so I'm running a little late, but I should be there in—"

"No, Fred." On the other line John takes a shaky breath. "Roger is gone."

As soon as the words are carried over the crackling receiver, everything stops.

The phone slips between his fingers and clatters against the wall. He can distantly hear John calling his name.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Freddie's heart is racing. A tremor rides down his spine as he reaches for the phone again.

"—Reddie?! Are you there?"

"Y-yes." Freddie trails his hand down his face and presses his palms into his eyes. "Are you sure that he is gone?"

"The nurses didn't see him leaving, but he is not in his room or bathroom or hallway. Nurses say he was still here between 10:30 and 11. That's all they said."

"I'm driving to the hospital, I'll pick you up and we'll start looking."

"Freddie... Where can we even begin—"

"Please go outside and start looking. He can't be far." Freddie begs. Without letting John finish, he ends the call and rushes our the door. A sinking feeling forms deep in his stomach. Every fiber of his body stands stiff with tension while he rushes for his car. He struggles to work the keys into the tiny locks. By the time it finally works, nervous sweat is gathering at the back of his neck.

The car engine splutters before it starts. Freddie's fingers are shaking dangerously on the steering wheel.

He doesn't hit traffic at this time of the day. Yet the pouring rain makes the drivers in front of him drive under the speed limit and slow him down tremendously. Freddie tries to maneuver himself between them. The whole time he imagines Roger walking outside on the pavement in his thin gown in the cold wet rain that is clattering against his window. Alone, uncoordinated and weak.

"Fucking hell— Drive!"

The honk of his car blears over the rain droplets. The driver in the car next to him flinches before she makes room for him to pass. Any other day, Freddie would have felt guilty for his actions. Today, he hits the gas paddle harder than he's ever before and he doesn't look back until he sees the grey concrete of the hospital.

Freddie spots John standing under the hood of the main entrance, with his arms around his middle to keep himself warm. He comes jogging over with a red face and a frown as soon as he Freddie's car comes to a stop.

"He is gone. Took nothing with him, not even his own clothes. I walked around the block, but he isn't around here anymore." John swings the door open and jumps inside. Speaking a mile per minute. "Do you think he's going..."

Freddie reverses the car as soon as John is seated. Nodding stilly.

"Yes."

"Fuck." John slams his hand on the dashboard. Freddie is too focused on watching the sidewalk next to the road to flinch. "After everything we have gone through— after everything you had to go through. He just goes back to him?"

Freddie rememberers where Richard lives, but he isn't sure if Roger knows the walk back.

He takes a left where he imagines Roger would. Logically speaking, if he doesn't know the way he would try to get back downtown and go from there. Freddie takes a leap of faith and drives the car south down the road.

A woman with blond hair makes Freddie's breath catch in his throat. Yet her leather shoes and expensive coat tell that she is not Roger.

Freddie peels his eyes away from her and her drenched face.

"He doesn't know better." He murmurs back to John, too late.

"You've shown him better, Fred. Fuck. How often are you going to have to safe him?"

Freddie turns to John. He is at a loss of patience and words. His fingers grip the steering wheel hard. "As often as I have to!"

"Don't yell at me." John utters.

He sinks into his seat, he shifts his legs to rest against the door and he tips his chin to stare out the window.

Freddie sighs. He feels an awful barbwire sensation at the back of his throat. He can't swallows around it without tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He blinks them away so he can continue to stare at the people walking on the pavement. A lot of schoolchildren in uniforms, women with umbrellas and rushing men in suits. None of them are Roger.

John is looking too. Peering through the slits of his eyes.

"Fuck."

"I know." Freddie murmurs. "Sorry."

With a heavy sigh, John blindly reaches out to lay his hand over Freddie's thigh. "I know."

It isn't absolutely safe to drive well-under the speed limit close to the sidewalk. The cars behind Freddie are begging him to speed up and his wheel more than once bumps against the curb. Nearly swerving them off the road.

John is becoming increasingly more worried about Freddie's already infamous driving.

"I'm looking, Fred. You focus on the road."

"It's pouring out. You might miss him."

"My eyesight is better than yours. Just focus on not killing us, or someone else."

Freddie huffs. He knows John is technically right, as per usual, yet he still tries to peak at the street from the corner of his eye. John squeezes his thigh as a warning.

"I won't do anything John."

"Freddie I mean it. If something happens to us who's going to take care of Brian?"

"That's your biggest concern if you die?" Freddie murmurs, while trying to navigate the invisible road through the curtain of rain.

"Yes Freddie, maybe I— Freddie."

"I wasn't judging you, I'm just saying, I—"

"No!" In his burst of energy John slaps Freddie's thigh. Hard. "Stop the car. Freddie stop the car. Roger!"

Before Freddie spots Roger himself, he swerves the car half off the road, half on the street.

He stops the car and steps out without turning the engine off.

"Fucking hell!" He hears John shrieks distantly. "What the fuck?! What the fuck? Freddie what are you—"

Freddie slams the door shut before he can hear the rest of the sentence. As soon as he is outside, the rain begins to drench his coat and jeans. The cars rush by too close for his comfort. He presses himself against the door and shuffles off the road onto the safe sidewalk.

He wipes his eyes from the rain to clear his vision. It takes some vigorous blinking to get a clear view of the street.

Then— Freddie sees it.

Before him staggers a thin figure in a white gown and soggy pink socks. Soaked to the bone, blond hair sticking to his neck.

"Roger!"

Freddie nearly slips on the wet pavement in his effort to get to Roger.

Once he reaches him, by miracle without falling, he wraps his hand around his wrist and yanks Roger backwards. Who gasps and falls into his arms.

"Where are you going?"

Rogers face is deadly pale and wet with either rain or tears. His lips are purple from the cold.

"Home." Roger whispers. Broken.

He had improved so much after a few days of sleep and food. That progress seems to be lost once more, his fingertips are numb and his eyes are misty.

Freddie wraps his arms around Rogers waist. Roger, despite being stiff and uncooperative doesn't attempt to pull away.

"And where is that?" Freddie pushes a strand of wet hair away from Rogers face. "With that man who forces you into drugs and lets you be raped?"

Roger blinks up at him, shaking his still bandaged head.

"He doesn't force me to do anything. I'm an adult." He points at his chest. Which would have been more affective if he didn't look like someone who's just escaped from an asylum. "I am responsible for my own actions. I can't keep listening to everyone else, I need to stop pretending he made me do these things. I let him."

Roger pushes away from Freddie's to continue walking down the road leading up to Richards downtown. Then, Richards flat.

Freddie yanks him back before he can take another step.

He forces Roger to face him. Something snaps inside of Freddie, seeing Roger trembling and injured, sparsely clothed in the rain.

"Your brain stopped properly developing after you started taking drugs, Roger. He knows this, he knew that drugs could be used to keep you under control. Don't let me get started on how flawed your last statement was. You're wrong if you think going back to him is your best option. You're wrong if you think you are to blame for the things he has put you through."

John suddenly joins in too, Freddie had admittedly forgotten about his presence.

He suddenly grabs Rogers shoulders and blocks the way from his other side too.

"You deserve better."

Conflict flashes over Rogers face. He turns between John and Freddie, movement sluggish and slow. Freddie guesses that sheer adrenaline is the only reason why he is still on his feet.

Freddie doesn't know what to say. Luckily, he doesn't have to.

"Crash at our place for a few days." John gushes out. "Just until we find a way for you to get by without Richard."

The two of them make eye contact over Rogers shoulder.

John gives him a small smile. Freddie feels warmth spread from his underbelly to his cheeks. He blinks at John slowly, a silent thank you.

Roger violently shakes between them. His fingers curl into his gown. "That's impossible. Nobody will have me permanently if not with him. A-and I'm not going back to the homeless shelter. I can't do that again."

His voice grows high pitched and desperate. Both he and John can barely hear him over the rain.

"Just a few days. Please. Stay for a while until we got a plan." Freddie suggests.

When Roger doesn't make a move, he wraps his arm around Rogers waist to pull him flush against his chest and take his weight. Even though they are not far from the hospital, perhaps a good ten minutes, Roger has walked further than he has done all week combined. The journey seems to have taken its toll on Roger already. Freddie fears he would never even make it to Richards place alive if he had tried.

His clothes are soaked wet and it might freeze in a couple of hours, the cold would have killed him.

A long sigh makes Roger deflate against his chest. Roger looks like he is on the very brink of collapsing.

Freddie guesses might just give in out of sheer exhaustion.

"Why are you helping me?"

"I'm your friend." Freddie says, looking at John over Rogers body. He gives him a wry smile when John tips his chin in the direction of the car, signaling they should go. They have it parked in a very illegal, not to mention dangerous manner in the middle of the road.

John reaches out to open the backseat door of the car. He waits. The rain also making his fringe stick to his forehead.

"I want you to be better." Freddie says to Roger. "Come with me, please."

Rogers lip trembles in the cold.

The hesitation in his eyes is real. Freddie for a split second debates whether he should simply carry Roger back to the hospital against his will where he staff won't release him until he is out of danger. Winning Freddie some time.

Luckily, after a shaky breath and another shudder, Roger agrees.

As soon as he gives a stiff nod, Freddie sighs in relief and guides him towards the car. John is already waiting to help Roger into the backseat.

Roger, instead of sitting down, falls horizontally onto the leather seat miraculously without hitting his head.

He uses his arm as his pillow. His clothes are absolutely soaked, Freddie peels off his socks from his numb toes while John covers Roger in a spare blanket they keep in the back.

"Comfortable?" Freddie dares to ask, while John is on his hands and knees over Roger trying to tuck him in.

"Think he's sleeping..."

John covers Rogers feet as well as his body under the too small duvet. Freddie helps him manipulate Rogers limbs to curl him up so he can be comfortably bundled up. His car isn't particularly large. Both he and John are relieved to close the door without amputating Rogers feet.

By the time they are finished the two of them soaked to the bone. The rain has seeped through their coats and Freddie's nose is already starting to run.

The cars on the road have to drive around their parked car in a large bow, honking and hitting the brakes hard.

They should leave.

Before Freddie can begin to walk around the car back to the drivers seat, John tugs him back by his sleeve.

His quiet voice is barely audible over the rain.

"We're really taking him home?" John asks, even though he was the one who offered it.

"Yes."

John sucks his bottom lip into his mouth. His worry makes Freddie feel slightly less relieved.

"What if we get the maffia on our hands?"

"It's a gang," Freddie corrects. "And he has been missing for days. They still haven't found Roger yet. I think they've lost him."

"Fuck." John tries to dry his face with his coat.

Freddie pushes his arms away smooths his own hands over Johns face. Cold and wet. He cups his cheeks, not caring who sees it.

"It will be okay. This is good— we won't regret it."

"Gangs, Freddie. Prostitutes and gangs and drugs."

"I know."

"Fucking hell." John whispers, before they break away to climb into the car.

★☆★

"Hey sleepyhead. We're here."

Freddie feels slightly bad for nudging Roger out of his peaceful drowse. He blinks up at him, eyes bleary in confusion.

He realizes the car has stopped and he rubs his eyes.

"Where are we?"

"My house, and Johns and Brians." Freddie explains gently, whilst pulling Roger into a sitting position. Rogers head lulls sideways against the cushioned backrest.

"Oh."

"Yeah." Freddie smiles, before he drags Roger sideways to slide him out of the car. "Let's go inside before we all catch a bloody cold, Darling."

Roger wraps an arm around Freddie's shoulder while they climb out together.

"Me too?"

"Yeah." Freddie nudges the car door closed with his foot. John locks the car up with Freddie's keys, before racing to the front door to hold it open for the stumbling duo. Freddie practically drags Roger across the lawn to get him to move. His feet are bare on the cold wet stones leading up to the front of the porch.

Roger shivers. Freddie rubs his shoulder in a failed attempt to warm him up.

"Almost there, Dear. Are you okay?"

"Yes." Roger nods sluggishly, sounding more asleep than awake.

John wraps Rogers other arm around his shoulder so that they can carry him over the doorstep together. Rogers feet slip and his weight falls onto both Freddie and John.

"Sorry."

"Don't worry, we're here." Freddie strains to keep him upright when they finally close the door behind themselves and they fall into the house. The dripping of the rain is shut out with a click of the lock.

Roger groans brokenly before his knees completely give out.

He would have wobbled to the floor if it weren't for John and Freddie grasping for his hospital gown before he hits the carpet.

John pulls him up by his sleeves, face tomato red with the strain. "He's heavier than he looks."

"Don't be mean." Freddie grunts.

Together they carry Roger over to the kitchen. Freddie uses his free arm to push one of the chairs back to sit him down. John manipulates his arms while Freddie works on getting his legs to bend into a sitting position. It isn't easy and Roger almost immediately slides off again, if it weren't for Freddie crouching down to wrap his arms around his middle, positioning him back in place.

"Jesus."

John wipes the sweat and rain off of his forehead. He leans against the back of Rogers chair with a frown.

Freddie blinks up at him and their guest. "We did it. Good team work guys."

Before either of them gets the opportunity to catch their breath, a loud gasp from the kitchen entry alarms them.

"Roger?"

"Brian." Freddie half sighs, half smiles. He tips his chin up to see Brian standing stiff against the doorframe.

He looks like he had just woken up, even though it is late afternoon. His hair is a wild birds-nest and his pajamas have kinks in them. Brian shuffles further into the kitchen and comes to stand next to John, behind Roger.

He trails his hand over Rogers wet hair and bandage, then he glances sideways at John.

"You're okay with this?"

"It might surprise you that he was the one who invited Roger into the house." Freddie grins.

Heat creeps up on Johns cheeks. His brow creases further.

"He was walking outside in the rain, barefoot."

Brians arm snakes around Johns waist to pull him flush against him. The taller man has to lean in to kiss Johns blushing cheek. "You did the right thing." He says.

Freddie peels his eyes away from his boyfriends to look at Roger.

His neck has lulled against the back of the chair. His mouth is slightly agape while the water in his hair drips on his already soaked hospital gown.

Rogers entire body is trembling from the cold.

"He needs some food." Brian had followed Freddie's gaze and is now also looking uneasy at their half conscious guest.

Freddie shakes his head.

He hasn't seen Roger hold down a meal in a while, especially not when he is as exhausted as he is right now.

"He needs to rest."

"Not before he has a bath." John interjects. "Don't wanna go to the hospital again because someone got pneumonia."

The three of them stare at one another. First Freddie looks at John, then Brian. Then John is glaring at him again. None of them budge, so Freddie has to take the reigns for anything to get done.

"Why don't we make Roger some tea, give him a couple of painkillers and then we put him in bath. Hm?"

Brian nods curtly. He untangles himself from John to get the kettle going.

John, in return, bends down to give Freddie a kiss. "I'll start running the bath. Will you be able to get him upstairs?"

"Yeah." Freddie smiles, before pushing his chin up for another kiss. "I'll be quick."

"Good."

With that John makes his way out of the room. Freddie can see him getting out of his ruined shoes and soaked coat before he climbs up the stairs.

That reminds Freddie of his own besotted attire.

He toes off his shoes without unlacing them and hangs his coat over one of the kitchen chairs. The fur won't ever be the same again.

"Freddie."

Freddie turns to Roger, whose eyes are now open and less foggy than they were before.

He falls into the chair next to Roger, who's shivering so violently that Freddie fears he might shake himself onto the floor. To protect himself against the cold, Roger wraps his arms around himself and pulls his knees to his chest, then he rests his chin on his knees. His lips are an alarming shade of purple. Eyes hooded as he stares at Freddie through his clumped eyelashes.

"I'm cold."

"I can tell," Freddie says quietly. "John is filling the tub for you."

Rogers eyebrows shoot up. A ghost of a smile plays on his patsy white face.

"I haven't had a bath in years."

The sight of him makes Freddie shiver too. Without thinking, he reaches out to pull Rogers feet in his lap. When Roger doesn't jump or kick him off, Freddie takes a hold of one of his feet and wraps his hands around his sole.

His feet are cold as ice. Freddie tries to cover as much skin as he can as he rubs the warmth of his palms back into Rogers toes.

They wriggle under the attention. Rogers eyes are solely on Freddie. He can feel the burning gaze.

"What happened to my socks?" He asks.

"They were soaked with mud and rain water. I'll wash them and give them back to you." Freddie says quietly. His own hands are turning cold now, yet he doesn't stop the massage.

"Hey."

Roger tips his chin up to look at Brian, who's hovering by the table with Rogers tea in his hands. He smiles, eyes gentle and warm. "Hi."

"I made you some tea," He carefully hands Roger the cup to make sure nothing spills over the sides and burn his hands. Roger looks pleasantly surprised by the gesture. "I hope it's okay." Brian swallows.

Rogers upside down smile is blinding. His fingers cup the porcelain in the most gentle manner.

"Thank you."

Brians need for approval is met. His eyes lit up and he flashes the two other men in the room his sharp teeth.

Roger lower his chin to begin sipping from the edge of the cup while Freddie continues his ministrations on his feet. Brian takes a seat next to him. He hadn't bothered making tea for himself or asked Freddie and John if they wanted anything. He had been too focused on Rogers needs. The same way Freddie doesn't care that his jeans are soaked with rainwater and drying uncomfortably against his already numb legs. Or how his hair is sticking to his cheeks like an octopus's tentacles.

"Is it good?" Brian asks.

Roger nods once, he pulls away from the cup to blow away some of the steam. "Nice 'n warm."

"Good." Brian smiles tightly. "That's good."

Under the table, Freddie stretches his leg out to nudge Brians knee. Silently telling him to relax a little. If Roger noticed the shared looks between them, he doesn't mention it. In favor of sipping his tea while its still hot enough to burn his tongue.

In the meantime, Freddie switches feet. He lets go of Rogers left foot to grab his right one.

Roger, though not looking at Freddie, wedges his now free foot between Freddie's thighs to keep it warm.

Freddie swallows thickly, and circles his finger over Rogers ankle in silent approval.

"So uh, I'm staying here tonight?"

"Until we have found somewhere safe for you to live, you can stay with us." Freddie says.

Brians fingers twitch on the table, as if he is longing to touch Roger. Freddie bites his lip to keep himself from smiling at his boyish nervousness. "I agree. We want you to be safe. Here is now the safest you could possibly be."

Something unrecognizable washes over Rogers face. An emotion that Freddie had never seen in his eyes before.

His shoulders relax and for a blissful moment, his hands stop shaking.

He looks Freddie straight in the eye. No prompting, no nervousness, no sheepishness or shield of any kind. Freddie's heart pumps a little faster.

"Thank you." Roger says.

The words have never meant anything before, not compared to the quiet sincerity Roger expresses.

Freddie bows his neck slightly, eyes not once breaking away from Rogers.

"You're nothing but welcome." Freddie smiles, before he taps Rogers foot. "I think your bath is waiting for you."

A yawn forces Rogers lips away from his cup. He smiles.

"I'm bloody freezing."

"Nobody said it was a good idea to walk outside in the rain without a coat on bare beet, y'know." Freddie teases. He takes Rogers cup and places it on the table for him.

He climbs to his feet and offers Roger his hand. "Come on, crazy man."

A smile tugs on Rogers lips. He takes Freddie's hand and allows himself to be pulled up in a standing position. The moment he is on his own feet, his legs sway and his hands shoot up to the side of his bandaged head with a grimace.

Both Brian and Freddie jump in to help.

Freddie guides Roger into resting his forehead against his shoulder, whilst Brian splays a hand over his lower back. "Hey, take it easy."

"My head's bursting."

"John has some ibuprofen for you upstairs." Freddie says lowly, "After your bath I'll show you where you can sleep tonight. You'll get a good nights rest— you'll love it."

Roger doesn't move a muscle. His arms hang by his sides and his shoulders slump further.

"I could also, like, sleep on the table or somethin'."

Freddie snorts and begins to drag a very uncooperative Roger in the general direction of the stairs. "Yeah, maybe not."

He waves Brian goodbye over Rogers shoulder.

Brian is too star struck to react coherently, his shoulders jolt and he smiles back.

Freddie grins into Rogers hair. Trying not to tease Brian.

"How far is it?"

"Barely there." Freddie mumbles back at the blond. Before Roger can begin another series of protests, Freddie stands firmly on his heels and scoops Roger up in his arms bridal style.

Roger goes without as much as a gasp.

He wraps his arms around Freddie's neck and rests his forehead on his shoulder, almost as if he expected the treatment.

Like that, they make their way up the stairs. It isn't easy on Freddie's back or his arms, but it is much quicker than dragging Rogers body up the steps alone. The wood creaks under their combined weight, but the sound of the running water tap gives Freddie hope about getting closer.

By the time they have made their way to the upper floor, Roger had grown quiet once more.

Freddie glances down to see if he is asleep, which he is not.

He has a sad distant look in his eyes that makes it hard for Freddie to breathe. For a moment he is afraid he will drop Roger, only at the last moment he reminds himself what he is doing.

He soldiers through the last few steps to the bathroom.

John has left the door slightly open. Freddie nudges it open wider with his foot, before he stalks into the hot room.

"Hi."

"Hey." John mimics his quiet voice without questioning it. His eyes meet Freddie and he reads him instantly. The air around him turns warm and protective like the bath water steam. He helps Freddie lower Roger onto the toilet seat with his head bowed forward and his feet dangling without reaching the floor.

Roger covers his eyes to block out the light while Freddie crouches down.

"Roger?" He asks.

A croak of an affirmative noise comes from Rogers throat. Freddie doesn't mind.

He lays a hand over his rigid back, the tense muscles under his palm shift at the touch. "Do you want some help or rather go wash yourself alone right now?"

Roger bows his head further until his forehead rests on his knees and he is bend in a C.

Freddie keeps his hand where it is.

His entire body is shaking. The adrenaline has now truly left him and made place for something much more sinister to haunt the space between his skin and bones. Roger lets out a shallow breath.

"I can't do it alone."

Freddie brushes a damp strand of hair away from Rogers neck, behind his ear.

"That's okay, that's why I'm here."

He begins to undo the bandages around Rogers head. They are outdated and soaked from the rain. He pries the knots out of the fabric until it unwinds. The imprint is still visible on Rogers hair after Freddie throws it into the bin.

John watches them from the opposite wall. His eyes are misty and his fingers dig into his own arms.

Freddie guides Roger to sit upright. Even though it makes him sway slightly.

"Is it okay if I take off your gown? It's sodden."

Roger nods once, with a sniffle. "Yes, thank you."

"Good!"

Freddie reaches around Roger to pull on the individual straps keeping the knots in his gown closed. They are tight and well secured. It takes some tugging and prodding to get them to loosen until the thin stiffly fabric pools down to Rogers waist.

Roger is looking at him.

"Can he leave?" He whispers, purposefully not glancing at John behind them.

Freddie nods.

"Of course. Yes."

He twists his neck to smile at John, who perks up at being acknowledged. "Dear, could you get the pull out couch in the old office ready? I think Roger wants to go straight to bed after this. Don't you Darling?"

After a stiff nod from Roger, John pushes himself away from the wall.

"Of course." He says. Before he moves to leave the room he looks back at Roger with a warm smile.

"Would you like some more tea before bed? With your painkillers?"

Their eyes meet, Roger finds it within himself to force a smile.

"Yes that'd be lovely."

"Good." John says.

He looks as if he wants to say more. His mouth opens and closes as he hesitates to step over the doorstep. Freddie doesn't move an inch until John gives another nod, fingers twitching by his sides, he forces himself out of the room and close the door behind himself with a final click.

An audible relieved exhale leaves Rogers lips. Freddie turns to him and offers him a smile.

"We're alone now. It's okay."

Rogers neck is struggling to keep the weight of his head up. Freddie can tell he is on the verge of a breakdown by the way his lip is trembling and his eyes are misty. He tips Rogers chin up, making him look at him. "Rog. It's okay."

Rogers hands bunch up in his gown and his eyes drop again.

"I don't feel okay."

Freddie swallows around the lump in his throat that keeps his oxygen trapped in his chest. He hates seeing the wounded look in Rogers eyes. Both helpless and restless in equal proportions.

"Hey," He stays calm for the both of them and takes Rogers wrists away from his gown. "Let's get you into the bath, then your day is almost over."

"Okay."

Roger scoots to the edge of the seat until his toes touch the cold tiles.

Freddie makes sure not to look at his nether regions when he supports Roger into a standing position.

The gown falls to the floor. Roger steps over it.

"Careful now." Freddie mumbles.

Together they walk over to the edge of the tub. The water has nearly reached the top and as soon as Roger has safely stepped over the edge, Freddie reaches across to turn the hot tab off.

He busies himself choosing which one of their shampoos to use for Roger.

While he pretends to read the labels on the bottles, in the corner of his eye he can see Roger sink into the water followed by a long sigh.

As always he pulls his knees to his chest and wraps his arms around himself until he is a ball of skin and bones and blond hair.

Freddie picks up Johns shampoo, before he slinks onto his knees next to the tub. He rolls his sleeves up to his elbows and shakes his damp hair out of his face.

He grabs the shower head off the wall.

He sits on the edge of the bath with the shower head and shampoo in toe. Roger isn't looking good, but at least he isn't shivering anymore.

"I'm gonna wash your hair okay? It'll smell nice."

"Is it necessary?" Roger mumbles against his knees without looking up.

Freddie once more reaches for the tap and tugs on the metal pull-up that makes the water flow out of the shower instead.

"No." He smiles.

He waits until the water has turned warm before he holds the spray close to Rogers head so it doesn't splash all over the place.

The water rolls down Rogers face and back. He bows his neck and fixes on the water surface.

Freddie runs his fingers through Rogers hair, careful with the invisible staples in his skull left over from his procedure in the hospital. He moves the hair away and runs his fingers over the roots.

Grime and other things Freddie doesn't want to identify make its way into the water.

When Rogers hair is properly wet, Freddie drops the shower head into the tub and he screws the shampoo cap open.

He drops a generous amount in his palm, then Freddie spreads the liquid over Rogers scalp and bunches his hair to the coated roots. He massages the shampoo in until Roger sighs and the liquid becomes foamy.

"There we go," Freddie reaches for the shower head again. "That's nice isn't it?"

Roger nods once.

"Okay. Close your eyes so it doesn't sting."

Freddie waits until Roger complies before he holds the head over Rogers hair again. The foam is washed away, Freddie continues to run his fingers through Rogers hair to help all the dirt and shampoo wash away.

The odor that Freddie had gotten used to is replaced by Johns breezy coconut scent.

Roger sniffles. His forehead resting on his knees.

"My head hurts."

"I'm sorry, Rog." He continues to let the water beat down Rogers head. Mixing it with the tears he is failing to hide from Freddie.

Freddie almost reaches out to splay his hand over his back. Almost.

His heart nearly stops when he finally takes in the sight before him. He had been so focused on Rogers head and face that he missed the thick ugly scar tissue covering his naked back.

Where his spine isn't pocking through the skin, past marks of abuse litter criss cross across his hunched back.

Freddie closes his eyes.

His heart is beating too hard too fast. Cigarette burns, belt lashes and bruises old and fresh have burned into his memory. Purple, red, brown, white and green. Thick and thin. Roger is covered in them.

Heavy breathing has caused Roger to lift his head and twist to look at him.

He pushes the shower head away from his face. "Freddie?"

Self-consciousness swims alongside the tears in Rogers eyes. He pushes his knees closer to his chest, as if to hide himself.

He knows he was being stared at. One can feel that.

Freddie's heart beats in his throat.

Without meaning to he utters the words out between his teeth. "You're very beautiful Roger."

"Stop."

Before Roger can turn around again, Freddie cradles his chin. His face is hard when he says, "Darling, I'm serious."

Roger wipes his face with his arm.

"Can you help me out now?"

"Yeah." Freddie swallows. He rubs his thumb over Rogers cheek. "I will. A-are you okay? I didn't mean to—"

"I just don't feel like myself right now."

"I understand."

"I don't." Roger leans in to rest his chin on the edge of the bath. He looks up at Freddie with those large irresistible eyes. "I don't understand why you help me. I don't listen to your advice and then you have to safe me. Why do you keep caring?"

Freddie sighs.

He lowers his upper body until he too can put his chin on the edge of the tub. On the same eye level, Roger seems less intimidated and his face relaxes into a neutral smile.

Freddie reaches out to move a wet strand of hair away from Rogers face.

"Decision making might not be your forte, but I know you're trying. I care about you. Whether you make a mistake or two, I want you to be okay nonetheless."

Roger snorts. "You make no sense. I am repeatedly stupid and you keep helping me."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because," Freddie chuckles, "You deserve better."

The puzzled look doesn't leave Rogers face until a yawn forces his him to pull away from the tubs edge.

The bath water is rapidly cooling. The steam in the room is the only thing keeping the two of them warm.

Freddie pushes himself to his feet and offers Roger his arms for support.

"You need to go to bed. John is probably waiting for you with your tea and pills on a silver platter."

Roger rises to his feet and steps onto the tiles again with a shiver.

Freddie reaches behind himself for the pile of items John had left for them on the edge of the sink. He unfolds the fluffy towel on top and opens it wide for Roger with a smile.

"Come here."

He wraps it around Roger as fast as his arms can cooperate. Roger grins against his shoulder while Freddie rubs his hands over his body to sufficiently dry him down.

"I can do that myself, y'know." Roger whispers.

"What's the fun in that?"

The longer it takes to dry Roger down, the heavier he grows. Though his arms are cradled to his chest, Roger uses Freddie's upper body to support him until Freddie is certain he is starting to drowse.

"Darling?"

"Hm?"

"You're not quite in bed yet."

"Hm."

He settles Roger down on the toilet seat again to wriggle him into a shirt once owned by Brian, which Freddie hadn't seen in years. After Freddie manipulated his arms into the holes, Roger swims in it, comfortably. It reaches his thighs and hangs off his shoulders. Freddie doesn't bother with the boxers and bottoms John had also laid out for him. He doesn't think Roger is up for much more— with his closed eyes and his head against the wall.

Freddie decides to take mercy and for the third time in their relationship, scoops Roger into his arms to carry him out the door.

Both he and Roger grunt.

A serious twinge has formed in Freddie's lower back. He struggles to open the door whilst also holding Roger. By the time he manages to struggle his way into the corridor, his arms are shaking.

"Fred?"

"Yeah?" Around the corner comes John, with the tea cup and painkillers on a dish. He looks at Freddie, then Roger. Eyes worried.

"Is he sleeping?"

Freddie nods.

John holds the door leading to his office open. Freddie stumbles into the dusty room and dumps Roger onto the pulled out couch. John had already made the bed and pushed the duvet away.

Roger groans at the sudden contact. The couch also groans under his weight.

"Sorry." Freddie whispers.

He wraps the blanket around Rogers body. His eyes are still closed, but he shifts his arm to splay over his face, as if to block out the prickles flooding into his senses.

While he gets Roger comfortable, Freddie can feel John standing behind him.

He comes closer to lean on the armrest of the couch. Watching Freddie's fast handy work with mild fascination, the tea still clutched between his hands.

"How was he doing?"

"Okay." Freddie says. At the exact same time Roger mumbles, "Horrible."

Freddie finishes tucking Roger in and sits down on the edge of the bed. "So you're not sleeping huh. Johns tea won't go to waste."

He reaches for one of the discarded throw pillows to prop Rogers neck up.

Without a word, John hands him to cup. Freddie holds it to Rogers lips and nudges him awake with his knee.

"I'm not thirsty." Roger murmurs.

"For the painkillers, dear. Don't want you waking up in the middle of the night in crippling pain."

"Hm."

Despite the lack of enthusiasm, Roger parts his lips for Freddie to tip the cup back.

He then pops one of the pills in too. Roger swallows it down without a hitch. Assumably,
he has taken his fair share of pills over his life. Freddie smooths his hand over Rogers cheek, before taking the cup away again.

As soon as he is freed, Roger slides down with a groan until he lays flat the couch.

"That's all." Freddie grins. "Thank you."

"Hm, thank you too."

He boops Rogers nose as a goodbye. John reaches for his hand as soon as Freddie climbs to his feet to pull him into a kiss. Something about the way his lips catch onto Freddie's is desperate and his hand is clammy.

Freddie steers him singlehandedly out of the old office. Partly to give Roger some rest and partly to keep John from suffocating.

Together they stumble out of the room. Before he leaves, he switches the lights off.

He closes the door and pushes his boyfriend against it. Johns eyes are closed and his lips are parted, awaiting another kiss that doesn't come.

"Are you okay?"

John swallows thickly. "I don't know." He opens his eyes to peer back at Freddie. "He has a— presence."

"Yes."

"He is really living here now." His Adams apple bops nervously. His whole body is rigid with the same tense energy Freddie also feels coursing through his body.

Freddie leans down to kiss his neck. He lets his lips trail over the bridge of his apple down to the edge of his shirt.

There he places another loving kiss.

"Not permanently."

"So you say." John cradles Freddie's cheeks to make their lips meet again. "We shall see if you ever have the heart to make him leave."

★☆★

The pain in his back still stings when he hears footsteps outside his bedroom door.

For one second Roger fears that his father hasn't given him the final blow yet. The pain sends hot flares to the rest of his body. All the way to his thighs and his neck where a numb burning sensation stings. When his door creaks open and light from the hallway floods into his room, he pulls the blanket over his head the same way he would hide from the ghost who lives in his closet and likes to come out when Roger can't sleep.

Footsteps, too light to be his fathers, find their way to his bedside.

His mothers hands pry the edge of the blanket away from his tear stained face.

"Hi, sweetheart."

His own voice is stuck behind a ball of barbwire in his throat preventing him from replying. He just blinks at the round silhouette of her head. Even in the pitch black he can tell she is still in her work clothes and she smells like sweat.

"What happened?" She asks.

Roger can't manage his voice to work. Not even for her.

His silence speaks volumes. A sigh makes her chest deflate and opens her arms for him. Roger kicks the blanket away to fall into her warm familiar embrace.

His mothers hands are careful to avoid his back. She always knows.

He sniffles into her shirt and his arms wrap around her neck to pull her impossibly closer against him.

"I'm sorry, baby." She whispers into his hair. "I'm really sorry."

"Not your fault." He croaks out.

"It is." He can hear her heart beating rapidly in her chest against his ear. For a moment he is afraid it'll come flying out. "It's not okay."

The sound of his mother sniffling makes Rogers skin crawl.

He takes a shaky breath. "Don't cry mummy. I'm sorry."

"You don't have to be sorry Baby, I am sorry." She lets out a wet laugh, before pulling him away from her chest. He sees her tears through the blur of his own. He can't let go of her work shirt, afraid she will leave. "I love you."

"Are you gonna leave?"

His mother smooths her hand over his cheek. Her palm is warm against his cold face. "Do you want me to stay?"

Roger nods.

"Okay. I'll stay with you."

Roger is happy she is not going to dads room tonight. He scoots over to the far end of his bed against the wall and waits for her to take of her shoes and shake off her skirt. She leaves the items on the floor, before she crawls into bed with him.

Her small smile mirrors what Roger feels inside.

There is very little space. She opens her arms to him so he can climb into her arms to lay his head on her chest.

Before she wraps herself around him, she reaches down to cover them both with the duvet.

It is a relief to lay on his stomach so he doesn't put pressure on his stinging back. The hurting is blinding and teeth grinding. His mothers lips sooth some of the pain he is feeling, Roger curls himself closer against her body.

She is warm and sweet. The opposite his father.

"Go to sleep, Baby. Tomorrow is another day."

Sleep becomes overwhelming all of a sudden. He struggles to move his lips against her neck. He tugs a little harder on her shirt, letting her know he can tell if she leaves. "Love you mummy."

"I love you too, Rog."

Chapter Text

Brian is too prideful to admit his disappointment when Roger spends the first week in the house completely bedridden.

While John and Freddie are off to work during the day it is Brians duty to bring Roger his meals. Three times a day, he knocks on the door of Freddie's study, tray of food in his hands and often one of the cats following out of sheer curiosity. Nine times out of ten, Brian gets no reply and lets himself in. Only to find Roger still fast asleep on his side, drooling and occasionally snoring.

A short dialogue of, "Good morning, Sleepyhead." And "This is delicious, thank you." Is exchanged wherein Brian sits on the edge of the couch and props Roger up to have his meal.

He would have kept him company if Roger didn't nod off two minutes into a conversation.

After the fiasco that went down when he left the hospital in the rain his body has had a set back, beside the fact that he is still healing from his injuries. The fracture in his skull is tender, the headaches seem to be the culprit of his need to rest.

Therefor, after each meal, Brian would get up and silently leave the room with the tray in his hands.

Brian spends the rest of his day accompanying Roger to the toilet, cooking and waiting for his boyfriends to come home. Roger spends it horizontally on Freddie's old pull out couch.

The first time Roger comes peaking around the corner into the living room, Brian nearly bursts with excitement.

He lowers his book into his lap. He struggles to contain the smile on his face.

"Hey, you."

Roger yawns in his palm. Johns vest hangs off his shoulders and Freddie's socks are pulled all the way up to his knees. "Hi." He says in reply, voice hoarse from the lack of use.

There are enough seats in the living room for Roger to sit on, but Brian pulls his legs over the armrest and pats the cushion next to him, ignoring the dust that flies up at the assault. Roger complies and slinks into the couch beside him.

He keeps to himself, just enough space between the two of them so their shoulders don't touch.

Brian closes his book without caring to mark the page he was on. He leaves it by his feet without looking away from his guest. Roger is looking around the living room in his telltale childlike curiosity Freddie likes to talk about. The color has returned to his face and his cheeks are flush with newfound energy. He looks a lot better than before, despite the bedhead and the lazy drag of his gaze over their second hand furniture.

Brian struggles to find something to say. Something about Roger makes his stomach twist with butterflies and his palms go sweaty.

"You're looking a lot better than before."

"Thanks." Roger nudges Brian with his elbow and finally lets his eyes fall on him.

In the heat of Rogers eyes, Brians mouth goes dry. He struggles again to find something worthwhile to fill the silence in the room.

"I was just—"

"You don't have to be so nervous around me 'y'know. I don't bite."

Brian pauses.

Then a chuckle bubbles up from his lower belly to his throat. He traps his laughter behind his palm, still somewhat timid. "Sorry."

"Don't be. I don't want you to be uncomfortable in your own home."

"It's just—" Brian exhales and deflates against the back of the couch. "I'm usually alone during the day, waiting for the other two to come home. It's different to have someone here. Less lonely."

Rogers eyes gleam, his fingers dance over the cushion of the couch, following the flowery pattern.

"So you're excited?"

He hopes his face isn't as red as it feels hot. "Somewhat, yes." He chuckles.

"You're not working at all right now?"

"No, I can't. Freddie and John have to compensate for my lack of income." The reminder makes his stomach churn both in pain and grievance of his own shortcomings. Roger notices the shift in his face and the frown wrinkling his forehead.

His fingers are shorter than Brians, but they're thinner. The skin clings to the bone, making his knuckles jut out.

Roger reaches out to lay his hand over Brians on the couch. His palm is warm and dry.

"What did you do before that?"

Brian smiles at him sideways. "Teaching."

Rogers eyebrows shoot up and a mischievous grin takes over his face as he sits a little straighter. "What did you teach."

"Mostly maths. Sometimes if the school needed substitutes, I could do other subjects."

"What's 11 x 89?"

"979. That's an easy one." Brian laughs. Roger seems genuinely impressed and taps his chin while he thinks of another. Brians cheeks hurt from how far his grin splits across his face. His muscles, not used to the strain they are enduring now.

"Alright, Mr Brian, what is 66 x 49?"

"That's Mr May for you Mister Roger, and the answer is 3234."

He can't help the smug smile that spreads across his face when Rogers eyes twinkle brilliantly. "Alright," He laughs. "I believe you."

"Good."

He knows not what else to say. His lips fall shut on their own accord.

Rogers fingers are still tracing the embroidered flowers on the couch. His eyes fall from the small window to squinting at the television set. Brian likes to have it on in the background without any sound. It helps him from feeling as if the walls are closing in on him.

Whatever is playing doesn't interest either him or Roger.

The younger man curls his toes in the fluff of the carpet. His knee jitters as if he longs to be stretched and moved.

"How are you liking the house?"

"It's cozy." Roger replies easily. As if for him forming words comes naturally, like taking a breath or swallowing.

His easy going persona sets Brian at ease.

"I like the furniture and I've never slept on anything as comfortable as that couch."

"That's good." Brian cringes at his wording as soon as they have tumbled off his tongue. Roger, doesn't notice.

"Right? An upgrade."

"Yeah."

He longs to slap himself in the face. Or to have Freddie in the room with him to safe him from strangling himself with his own words and killing the conversation as he goes.

Brian jolts when suddenly Roger pushes himself into a standing position.

The vest he is wearing reaches his thighs. Underneath Brian suspects he might be wearing one of his underwear for Brian has the most to spare out of all three of them. Roger turns to him with an extended arm. "Would you give me a tour?"

"A tour?" Brian blinks.

"Yes, of the house. It's huge!"

"Oh!"

That's better than what Brian had in mind, which was nothing. He takes Rogers hand but doesn't actually allow Roger to pull up any of his weight. He instead uses his own strength and the back of he couch to climb to his feet.

Roger doesn't comment on his sweaty palm and doesn't reach to wipe it dry as soon as he lets go of Brians hand.

"Do you want a quick tour, or—"

"Show me what you got." Roger drawls out. "I've got nowhere else to be. Do you?"

"No."

Rogers smile is nothing short of sunshine and delight. His energy burst makes him outshine the brightest of beams peaking underneath the curtain by the window. One of the reasons why they fell in love with the house was because of its quantity of natural light.

Brian leads Roger into the hallway. Most of their decor is second hand or gifted by their parents.

They rent the house, monthly, from an elderly woman with grey hair and sharp wit. She also owns three of the houses attached to theirs. Roger listens carefully as Brian explains these things to him. Most people would not find it interesting where they found a vase shaped like a Cheshire cat, or who made the decision to make one of the walls of the living room vibrant yellow and the others blue.

"Try pleasing Freddie and than also John. The two almost never butt heads, but when they do..."

Roger giggles when Brian mimics to shoot himself in the head. Together they walk into the next room attached to the living room just outside the corridor.

"So this is the kitchen, you've seen it. Nothing fancy here actually, except for the pasta grinder John got me for Christmas last year."

"I like the kitchen."

Roger is on his feet, but not up and running. He lets his fingers drag over the wooden frame of the door. Brian forces himself to keep quiet over his fear that he might catch a splinter.

Their kitchen is small and crowded after they cramped the four legged dinner table in there too.

"You can always grab whatever you want from the fridge, but if you finish anything simply write it down so the next person to do groceries knows what to get."

A quick nod later, Brian smiles. "Good. What next... Hm."

The room opposite the kitchen and left from the living room is mostly unused. It takes a moment for Brian to rattle open, but when he does, dust filtered air prickles his eyes and the sunlight makes them all visible in the chilled space.

"Haven't been here for months."

"Who plays piano?" Roger squeezes himself past Brian into the room. Looking around with an expression Brian can't read in the fine lighting.

He wobbles over to the old untuned thing once gifted by some of Freddie's distant relatives. The case was left open and Roger lets his pinky finger trail over the tiles. He catches more dust, which he blows away with tutted lips. Brian leans against the door to safe his strength, feeling it seep away through his pores fast.

"Freddie." He says. Roger seems pleased with the answer. "He is really good. I bet if you ask him to play something, he will."

A promise for the future rewards Brian with another fussy smile. "Good."

The room otherwise storages two armchairs they can't find space for somewhere else in the house, but they can't part with them, Johns work equipment is here too and unmarked carton boxes with items Brian believes they never bothered to unpack ever since they started living together.

"Can you, play instruments?" He asks Roger.

"I can sing." Brian flicks off the light and they make their way back into the corridor to go upstairs. "Don't like it though, forced me to do it in secondary school. Got me a scholarship."

The steps upwards proofs as a challenge for both of them.

Roger takes a break halfway up. He twists around to sit down on the steps. His face red with extrusion and he pants after every other word. "Religious songs y'know. The creepy kind."

Brian leans against the wooden railing to regain his own breath. His lungs feel shriveled and dry. His stomach is in thick painful knots.

"Creepy?"

Roger nods once. "Latin chanting, 7 am practices, forcing children to wear gowns."

Despite the strain, Brian feels himself smiling. "That is creepy."

"Do you play? Or sing?"

Oxygen slowly begins to expand Brians lungs again. "I liked to play guitar for a while, in University. Singing is for my showerhead."

Roger smiles warmly. Brian clasps his hand and pulls him back to his feet.

Together they climb up to the first floor. Roger once more out of breath, stops in front of the master bedroom. His shoulders relax and there is a curious glimmer in his eyes.

Brian reaches around Roger to turn the doorknob and opens it wide for their guest.

"This is our bedroom."

Roger slips inside and his eyes fall on the bed. Sheets unmade and pillows piled by the headboard, Freddie's shirts are thrown over the back on armchair by the closet. Brian has a glass of water on the nightstand. John has a book.

"You all sleep together?" Roger asks.

Brian watches him stand in the middle of the room, arms wrapped around his waist. He can't be cold, because the room is pleasantly warm.

While he never bothered to turn the lights on, the sun still provides enough light to see the pink in Rogers face and the mirth in his eyes. Perfectly fixated on the pattern of the bedding as if he were imagining them in it.

Brian stays put in the door opening.

"Yes." He smiles.

Roger hums— but then in the dark he suddenly yelps in fear.

Brian jumps away from the door and reaches for Roger to calm him down. "What? What is it?" They have had spiders in the room and other tiny bugs that cause similar reactions from Freddie.

Roger erupts into laughter. He bends down to pick up a fluffy black feline.

"And this is Goliath." Brians heartbeat slows down when the shock wears off. Roger is smiling, holding a very unamused Goliath against his chest. Brian reaches out to stroke his fur. "He doesn't usually like strangers."

"I like cats."

Goliath shifts to rub his forehead against Rogers shirt. Looking more and more pleased with himself.

Roger presses his lips between his twitching ears.

"Freddie does too, we have five now. The maximum amount according to our rental agreement." Brian chuckles. He only now notices how close they are standing to each other. His arm is still around Rogers shoulder.

In a careful motion, he nudges Roger to the door once again.

"You've seen Freddie's old office and the bathroom. The last room is here,"

He opens the closet like space, with in the door a kitten pass. Roger gasps when he sees whats inside. The rest of the cat pack sits comfortably in their tiny den, covered in warm rugs, blankets and pillows. John has engineered a small parkour for the cats on the shelves. In the corner stands a littler box.

Oscar is the only cat who bothers to look up when the two of them enter the closet space. He meows, Roger to Brians amusement meows back.

"This is paradise."

"It sure is." Brian has to hold back a smile when Roger falls to his knees to scratch Tiffany behind her ears. "Their little sanctuary."

Roger crosses his legs and makes himself comfortable against the doorframe. Goliath slinks further into his lap, purring lazily while Roger uses his other hand to rub Tiffany's belly. She rolls onto her back, her tail curls in the leisure.

Oscar perks up further and plasters himself against Rogers side.

"I'll leave you here for a bit. I'll be downstairs making lunch."

Roger barely spares him a, thank you over his shoulder. He is too busy finding a way to pet four cats at once with only two hands. Brian leaves without closing the door behind him.

He goes downstairs to start on their omelettes. When he is finished, he calls for Roger, who doesn't answer.

Brian climbs his way upstairs again to check up on him. Only to find Roger curled up in the closet on the rugs and pillows with the cats against his stomach and sides, bathing in his warmth. All six of them fast asleep.

Brian doesn't have the heart to wake him up, for the first time in months he searches for his photocamera so he can snap a shot.

★☆★

"What kind of music do you like?"

"I don't know."

The next day Brian finds Roger coming down the stairs looking even better than the day before. The bruises on his face have turned yellow and purple. The bandages around his arms have been redressed by Freddie and Roger walks easier every day.

They are sat on carpet close to the record player.

Roger has a saddened look in his eyes in accordance to his lack of knowledge. His knees are bare under Johns old gym shorts and his thin arms stick out of Freddie's worn t-shirt. He sighs.

"I haven't really listened to music since 1964, when I dropped out."

"Oh." Brian couldn't imagine a world of silence. A five year gap in his discography. At the same time he feels stupid for not considering the frame of Rogers life and everything denied to him for so long. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I used to like the Beatles, You've Really Got a Hold On Me. They played them to death at my school."

"The Beatles."

Roger chuckles when Brian shoots up to crawl to the shelf of LP's stood next to the large red record player. He had sorted the albums himself, on alphabetical order and then chronologically. He owns everything the Beatles have done until now, 1970 with the latest Let it Be.

If Roger stopped having access since 1964, he missed nine album releases.

"Rubber Soul."

"Rubber Soul?" Roger asks.

Brian sits back on his heels while he reaches for the green cover album between all others. He extends his hand to Roger, effectively beckoning him closer. He takes the vinyl halfway out of its cover, he nudges Roger with his elbow. "Take it out."

"I've never done it before."

"Hold it by the outer edges, so the playing surface won't get damaged. Here,"

Roger is as careful as he is confident while he holds the black disk between his palms. Fingers spread. He looks up at Brian for guidance.

"I'll lift the needle for you." Brian does so, before lifting Rogers arm by the elbow and to the record player.

He lets the record slide in place. Smiling. "Now?"

"Lift the cueing lever onto the edge of the LP. Careful."

"Alright."

Roger nudges the lever down so the needles falls gently onto he vinyl. The familiar winding noise fills Brians senses and before Drive My Car can begin to blare out of the disk-table, he lets himself fall back onto the fluffy carpet underneath him. He can feel Rogers eyes on him, before he is followed.

Roger lays sideways so he faces Brian. His eyes are half closed and he draws his knees to his stomach.

They lay very close together. When the first tune of the guitar fills the room, he can feel Rogers breath ghosting on his face. His eyes stay on Brians and the tapping of his foot falls in line with the beat of the music.

Rogers fingers curl in the carpet fluff. He smiles.

"Do you like it?" He asks.

Roger grins wider before closes his eyes, leisurely spreading his arms onto the floor almost hitting Brian in the face.

"Shhh."

Brian presses his lips together obediently and forces himself to look away from Roger.

The sight of him makes his heart do a flip. He is glad Rogers eyes have closed so he misses Brians cheeks warming up. Roger brings an energy in the room, which is light and playful. Even when he shushes Brian, it is coy with a sense of calm that doesn't make Brian feel subconscious for talking over Paul McCartneys familiar voice.

He lays flat on his back and mimics Roger to spread his arms. The position strangely relieving the pressure in his stomach.

The album blends into the second song, softer and deeper in musical texture.

His fingers brush against Rogers.

Roger, without opening his eyes, laces his fingers together with Brians. Brians breath hitches in his chest and he prays Roger doesn't notice.

He closes his fingers around Rogers until his thumb rubs over his bony knuckles.

"She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn't a chair."

A squeeze. Roger shifts a little closer and he turns his face so his lips brush against Brians ear. "So you can sing."

Brian unlike Roger doesn't know how to whisper sensually, so he stays quiet the whole time until the album finished and the needle slips off the record with a thud.

Brian doesn't move when the music is gone. He waits for Roger to do so.

He gets to his knees and crawls over to the record shelf where he sits down, crossed legged. Through his shirt, Brian can see the bumps of his spine and the expansion of his ribs with every breath.

Rogers fingers trail over the spines of the album sleeves. He grabs another, older and worn.

"What's this?"

"Freddie's, Laughing on the Outside. Aretha Franklin."

"Never heard of her."

Roger is already carefully unfolding the album cover to free the vinyl. Brian watches him work. "Don't say with Freddie there. He breathes and lives Aretha."

"What kind of music does she make?"

"Black music."

"What does that mean?" Turning, Roger raises an eyebrow at him.

For some reason Brian feels incredibly stupid. "Uh, soul. Gospel and otherwise blues, funk and such."

His list doesn't seem to ring a bell with Roger. He turns back to slide the LP in place. Carefully putting Rubber Soul back in its own sleeve before he can begins Arethas third studio album. The same way Brians Beatle collection is complete, Freddie's Aretha collection is as well.

When Roger comes crawling back to the same spot as before, he takes Brians stretched out arm as an invitation for a hug.

Brian, not having the heart to deny Roger when the blond pulls himself flush against Brian on the floor so that their bodies are touching, wraps his arm around Roger to keep him close.

Together they listen to Arethas beloved angelic voice.

Their closeness keeps Brian warm in the winter cold biting at their poorly isolated windows. Rogers socked foot rubs up his calf. His fingers tapdance on his chest over his rapidly beating heart. If Roger hears the thundering pulse, he doesn't let it falter his pace.

They talk about which songs they like, which ones they don't. Brian tries to show Roger more than simply his own musical tastes, allowing Roger to form his own preferences. They find out he has more in common with Brian than with either John or Freddie. Roger is strangely surprised by the direction the Beatles took after She Loves You. He likes heavy music, his breath hitches on guitar riffs and his toes curl at punching drum sounds. Brian is in a trance watching him. His new companion in his solitude.

He is only shaken out when the front door creaks and heavy footsteps fall into the home.

A cheery, "Knock knock." Makes Brian sit up, leaning on his elbows.

The voice already gave away that it is Freddie, looking much more energetic than he normally would during a weekday after work. A glance on the wall tells Brian it is only 3 in the afternoon.

"You're home early." He says.

Freddie's smile doesn't betray anything, but his eyes do. The brown has a thin layer of sorrow behind his iris, it unsettles Brian. Even when Freddie stalks over and falls to his knees beside them. His hand goes for Rogers shoulder, who hadn't bothered moving even when Freddie had come in. He too has an odd expression on his face, more relaxed than before. Freddie smooths a hand over Rogers cheek, then he shifts to do the same for Brian.

"Wanted to see how my favorite boys were doing."

Brian leans into the touch his skin tingles where he is met with familiar affection. "Don't you have patients?"

"The only patients I care about are here." Freddie says smoothly. He crosses his legs and clasps his own knees with a broad smile.

"Don't you look so amazing already! Goodness, you're improving every second, Darling." His voice is full of warm praise. Roger soaks it up like a sponge that has been drying out on the edge of the sink.

He ducks his neck to his shoulders and on his face plays a sheepish smile.

"Thank you."

Brian watches the exchange before him. He has to refrain himself from frowning. He has no reason to feel threatened, it is him who gets a kiss from Freddie in greeting. It is him who wears Freddie's bracelet around his wrist. It is him who gets to crawl into bed with him at night.

"Come on, lets make some dinner for when John gets home."

Yet it is Roger who Freddie holds his hands out to and whom he guides into the kitchen with another hand on his lower back.

Brian isn't sure what makes him feel envious. Sharing Freddie's attention or sharing Rogers.

★☆★

Brian finds out that Roger likes to sleep during the day and read books during the night. Freddie doesn't want to reveal much, for Rogers privacy, but it could barely have been kept a secret. In the quiet of the night Roger suffers from nightmares, the kind that send a nervous energy over the rest of the house.

Brian hears him often. Whispering, whimpering, when he wakes up, wailing.

He sleeps during the day often in company of Brian or the cats. The white sound of the television or radio and being in the presence of another person puts him at ease. He sleeps in sunlight, the beams make the shadows under his eyes more prominent.

Brian doesn't have the heart to keep him up. He is content with Roger sleeping on his shoulder while Brian reads his book.

Freddie is not a fan of Rogers time management.

The second week of Rogers stay, a lot of his injuries have faded in severity. All there is left now are headaches and scars.

Freddie tries to bring some structure into Rogers life. He asks him to walk cats, do the laundry and help preparing dinner during the week. Brian much rather have them both hanging out all day, listening to music, doing nothing important.

But Roger doesn't complain about being included in household duties.

That's when Brian realizes Roger wants nothing more than to become better. And that he had not lived a life anything like Brians.

"Hey," Brian stops in the doorway of the bathroom. He finds Roger standing over the sink, filled with steaming water, seeping one of Freddie's beloved t-shirts in said water. Brians frown deepens when Roger turns to him with a smile and continues to rub the shirt under the surface. "What are you doing?"

"Freddie asked me to wash the clothes."

Rogers smile only falters when he sees the expression on Brians face. Brian wishes he could rid himself of his pity, but he can't. He feels it too deeply.

He only then notices the pile of clothes Roger had already washed with his bare hands and the block of soap.

"You don't— uh... We have a washing machine."

Pink skin flourishes over Rogers cheeks and neck until he is glowing like a tomato. He quickly withdraws his hands, wrinkly and raw from scrubbing and his jaw is set with embarrassment. Brian feels bad for ever opening his mouth.

"I'm sorry. Of course you have a washing machine. Fucking hell I—"

Roger had begun gathering the soaking wet clothes against himself, trying to put them back in the laundry basket with the remaining unwashed clothes.

Brian stops him. "Hey, hey. Calm down."

"I'm calm." Roger breathes heavily through his nose.

He is not.

Brian is fast to take the clothes from him and pile them back onto the closed toilet seat. Roger is left with empty hands, which he bawls up.

"You didn't know, which is fine. We can hang these onto our old washing rack and put the other half in the machine." He wraps his hands around Rogers wrists, he tries for a smile, he doesn't get one back. "I'll show you where it is and how ours work. Next time you'll be able to do it yourself without any trouble. It is a chore but it will cost a lot less energy that way. Freddie should not have assumed you knew we had a machine, many people don't."

Again he is feeling emotions crawl up his throat which he cannot explain.

The lost look in Rogers eyes was unsettling. The shame that followed was unbearable.

"Brian."

"Yeah?"

Roger looks up at their feet. He huffs until his deflated cheeks are hollowed out. "You don't have to try to make me feel better."

"But I want to." He says. Feeling much like a child when he does.

At least it brings a smile to Rogers face. "I don't need you to pity me." He says, his tone serious and his eyes hard despite the twitch of his lips. Brian knows he doesn't want to feel belittled, nobody does.

Brian nods once, giving Rogers wrists a squeeze. "Alright."

He pushes away the sadness he feels when he thinks of Roger washing his clothes in the sink all of his life. He must get used to the feeling, because in their companionship the more he finds out about Roger the more he feels his heart aching.

"Roger, Darling."

"Hm?" It is another day, Roger twists in his chair to look up at Freddie standing by the counter over the pot with boiling water. Freddie shows him the cutting board where Roger has left the carrots and potatoes he had prepared for dinner.

"All four of us are eating together tonight."

"I know." Roger says, though a frown wrinkles his brow now that he realizes something is wrong. "Why?"

"Well..."

Both Brian and Freddie look at the scarce number of potato slices on the cutting board. Barely enough to feed two, impossible to satisfy four grown men. Roger had sliced perhaps two medium sized potatoes and skinned three carrots into smaller pieces.

Brian is unsure how to approach the situation. Roger looks confused, Freddie mournful.

As always, Freddie pulls himself together with a sunny smile that puts even Roger at ease.

"You can use everything we have, no need to be frugal."

"Oh," Rogers face reddens and he shrinks in on himself ever so slightly. "It isn't enough."

Freddie lowers the heat on the stove and hands Roger the cutting board again. This time when he is given the vegetables, Brian moves over two chairs to show him the right proportions for a four persons meal. Together they skin the potatoes and cut the carrots into small slices. Brian can feel Freddie's eyes on his back, but that doesn't stop Brian from pressing his thigh against Rogers.

"Thank you Darlings."

"Thank you," Roger looks up, once at Freddie and then at Brian. In his eyes, Brian senses gratitude and tingly specks of gold. "Both of you. And John."

He feels for Roger, more than he feels for many others. He reaches out to lay a hand on his shoulder with no care for the potato juices he gets all over Johns old Christmas sweater. He wishes he could convey the care that he feels inside himself pouring out to Roger, but words fail him.

Roger smiles, small and contained, but Brian knows he knows.

With time Roger becomes familiar with housework and cooking in correct proportions. Indoor work goes splendid so Freddie sets him up for the next step in his recovery.

"Brian?"

The anxious drips off of Rogers words. He stands by the foot of the couch, chest heaving too fast too short.

He grips the leashes between his fingers until his knuckles have turned white.

Brian sits up on the couch. The aftertaste of his nap still fresh in his mouth and his eyes are bleary with sleep. Today is a bad day. Pain flares have kept him off his feet since the early morning and he hadn't seen much of Roger, who is content reading and cleaning around the house all day.

"Yeah?" Brian swallows.

"I— uh, Freddie asked me to walk the cats."

Brian nods slowly. Hiding his face behind his palm when he yawns. "M'kay?"

Roger rocks on his heels. Eyes everywhere but on Brian.

"Rog?"

"I don't feel okay going outside."

He uses the back of the couch to sit up straighter. His mind is still muddled from sleep. Roger stands over him, not really watching him but still giving Brian his full attention.

In a way it seems to calm him down. His breathing slows down and his face regains some of its color.

"Are you afraid he will be there?"

"Maybe."

"Do you think he might be looking for you? Following you?"

Again, Roger holds up his shoulders. "Maybe."

"Maybe?"

"I don't fucking know, Brian." Teeth clenched and eyes wide with pure fear, Roger looks much more like the day he first met him and drove him to Richards flat.

Brian is woken up now. His senses sharpen and he reaches out to take the cats leashes from Rogers grip.

"You don't have to do anything you don't feel ready for."

Roger swallows thickly and watches Brian set the items down on the couch next to him. His Adams Apple bops and his hair falls over his pale face, hiding his embarrassment.

"Freddie can walk the cats when he is back, no harm done. But I need you to calm down."

"Sorry."

Roger deflates and having been released of his duties, he finally lets all the oxygen out of his lungs. Unwinding his chest. He glances back up at the ceiling to blink away the mist in his eyes.

"He isn't coming after you. I doubt he would let you walk out the hospital and stay with us for weeks if he were following you. Right?"

"Right." Roger breathes shakily.

"I understand you're scared, after everything you've been through, Rog. You don't have to go anywhere you don't want to if it makes you uncomfortable. Freddie would agree with that, more than anyone."

The words are falling freely now. Brian opens his arms to pull Roger in for a hug around the waist.

He in return is reluctant to wrap his arms around Brians shoulders.

Even though Brian can't see his face because it is buried in the ratty sweater he is wearing, Brian can tell he is struggling to come up with the right words. His fingers play with the strands on the back of Brians neck. Roger smells uniquely like himself, yet, a new smell of home had mixed with it in the clothes he wears.

Roger exhales and inhales so deeply his entire body expands and shrinks.

Brian wraps him a little closer against his chest.

"He was obsessed with me."

"Richard?"

"Ever since I was a child. He would spend hours playing puzzles with me, begging my mum more than I even to extend my bedtime so we could play another round. He was obsessed with getting to know me and be on my good side." He breathes shakily. "He would reward me if I had good grades, candy, new clothes or a day off for my mother. He loved me and took care of me after so many men had not."

Bile claws its way up Brians throat. The nature of Roger and Richards relationship disgusts him more each passing day.

"I doubt that after everything we had been through, he would just let me go now without a hitch. Without trying."

It feels horrible to say, but Brian peeks up at him.

"Did he not leave you for dead while you were ailing with fever?"

"I have lost a huge part of me. My sense of self has completely disappeared, I don't know what I'm made off with these last pieces of heroin and Richard missing. I just don't know who I am."

Brian doesn't really know either.

Freddie has spent more time with Roger than he has. He understands Roger in a way Brian doesn't.

He had always been slow to puzzle people together, unlike his boyfriends.

He is unsure of what to say, so instead of speaking he pulls Roger even closer to mold them into one. The squeeze makes Roger huff. His arms also tighten around Brian.

"I don't know much about you," Brian whispers, "But I know that I like you."

Warmth spreads across Rogers cheeks.

He shakes his head and pushes himself away, thin fingers digging into Brians shoulders. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"Sure I do."

"No you don't." Roger is smiling again, Brian is happy the darkness has left the room. He makes his way to the record shelf again with in his eyes the now familiar glimmer of mirth.

Roger seems to like Brians company.

Brian likes his.

Roger reaches between the albums and pulls out the striking cover of The White Album. He holds it against his chest, seemingly forgotten about his anxiety and lack of self.

"Can we listen to the White Album again?"

Brian doesn't feel like it's his place to tell Roger this seems like an unhealthy way to cope.

He falls back onto the couch and drowns into the cushions. His body hurts too much for his brain to cope. He lets an easy smile match the one on Rogers face.

"Yes we can."

★☆★

They have taken to whispering because Roger is sleeping in the other room attached to theirs. Brian struggles to follow the conversation in their low hushed tones.

In fact, he was about to doze off until Johns fingers spider their way through his hair. Rousing him again.

"How has it been spending some time with Roger?"

"He's a lot of fun." Brian murmurs through the fog of his pain killers. Johns fingers rake through his strands and accidentally tangle in the curls. "Anxious about going out the house."

The bed dips on his other side and Brian is surrounded by warmth.

He feels Freddie before he speaks, his arm wraps around Brians waist and pulls him flush against him. Brian lets himself be manhandled with a content smile. Not once does John stop caressing his hair.

"Poor dear, just needs some nurturing and time to adjust."

"Roger is not a stray cat you can look after. He is not a project." John says in a tone calmer than his words.

It is too late for Freddie to engage in an argument, knowing him, he is sending John a smile over Brians body.

"I wasn't saying he was."

John sighs, his caressing hand trails down to rest on Brians cheek. His palm pleasantly warm.

"I hope he isn't too much for you, Bri."

Brian nuzzles his face against Johns hand. Johns thumb smooths over his cheek. "It's not. I like him."

"That's good to know." Freddie yawns. "I don't want him to go yet."

"Me neither."

"Jesus Christ." John groans. He slings his leg over Brians despite himself, drawing Brian in for a chaste kiss, before he reaches out to turn the lights off.

★☆★

"Please."

She had not used that tone of voice in a long time. Not since leaving Michael.

Richard had not reminded her of him until this moment. The animalistic look in his fiery dark eyes unsettles her severely. He stops to look at her, Roger is already in his bedroom. Waiting patiently. Winney's heart beats a little faster.

Richard does not want him to overhear. Not only does he close the bedroom door but he also drags her by the elbow into the bathroom. Locking the door.

She is slammed against the opposite wall, into the sink. Her spine collides hard with the porcelain.

Richard does not give her time to recover.

"After everything I've done for you." Hot breath fumes out of his nostrils against Winnifreds face. She puts her foot down even though her knees are shaking. "You question what I would do for that boy."

"It is not like that. I can see the way you look at him, I can see it Richard."

Her hands bawl up in her skirt and she is tired. So tired. She hasn't been able to sleep much between her night shifts. She fears leaving Roger out of sight for long periods time while both he and Richard are home.

The strange feeling in her gut had not betrayed her before.

She felt it when Michael lost his job and with her own father before she saw the bruises on her mother.

It scares her, because this time she is out of options.

"He is sixteen years old." She breathes. "He is my son and he is sixteen."

"Don't you dare use that tone on me. Don't you fucking dare. I have never put him in harms way, unlike you. I have made sure he has lunch for school, every day. I give him my bedroom for him to study quietly. I have given him and you shelter, comfortable sleeping places. How much do you pay for him to be here? How much?"

"I work my shifts, Richard."

"It barely fucking pays." His body is pressed against hers now, but not in the way he does with Roger. He is angry, his chest heaves and his face is red.

The gentleman has gone.

"You're a bad mother. You're trying to pin this on me, but you're a bad mother. You brought him into the world. You brought him here."

The words shouldn't hurt, but they do. More so than the pain in her wrists when Richard grips them between his large rough hands. She doesn't know what to say, her heart is pounding too loud for her to think properly.

"Remember you begged me to take you in? Do you remember that?!"

She doesn't want him to yell so she nods stiffly.

"You fucking begged me to take your son too. A whorehouse this is, but you begged me to let him stay here." He shakes his head once. They stand so close now, his nose nearly touching hers. She feels nothing but repulse for him where she once felt gratitude. "Now you beg me to leave him alone, after everything."

"He is a child." She says. Her voice sounds weaker than she had hoped.

Richard pushes her against the sink harder. Winnifred clenches her jaw to keep quiet.

"I have never done anything to him."

Even though her gut feeling had been present for a longer period, Richard had never done anything to directly blame him for anything. Her suspicions could be brushed off for something innocent, like when his eyes trailed over Roger when he spoke or the way he would hold him one second too long when they hugged.

Last night had been different.

After finishing his homework in Richards room, Roger had come crawling into the mattress with Winnifred.

She had been slightly irritated when he woke her up from her nap before work. But the look in his eyes told her not to voice such annoyance. Instead, she wrapped her arm around him and pulled him closer, asking her only child what was wrong.

"Something happened..."

"What is it, Baby?" Her voice thin. He might be tall now, but he is no less a child in her eyes. She lets her fingers dance on his cheek. Still soft and chubby with age. "You can tell me anything."

Rogers voice is lower than a whisper. As if he were talking to himself.

They are nowhere near the others in the room. Richard had made sure they slept under the window on a decent mattress. Unlike the others they had a blanket to share, which Winnifred was grateful for and Roger never questioned. It is how he grew up.

"Richard asked me to stay."

Her heart dropped into her gut. Her face stays neutral. "Where?"

"In his bedroom, tonight."

"Hmm... What did you say?"

Roger isn't looking her in the eye. He often doesn't look at people when he speaks, which saddens her.

"I said I needed to think about it. I didn't know what you would say."

Her suspicions are confirmed, but she feels nothing but fear falling over her and her child. He is not concerned for his safety as much as he fears to be judged for his sexuality. Winnifred forces a smile to tug on the corner of her face. Her thumb smooths over Rogers frowning brow.

"I love you no matter what, Rog. No matter what. Nothing can drive me away from you."

"Not even—" He swallows, he can't even say it.

"Yes." She says. "Even if you're homosexual."

"Richard tried to kiss me. When I left the room." Roger speaks the words so fast and abrupt that Winnifred can barely understand them. She herself can't think of what to say before Roger continues to stammer. "I didn't expect it and it felt weird."

"You never have to do anything you don't want to. Did he force you to do anything?"

"No." Roger says. "He let me go, he was still smiling."

The tightening of Winnifreds throat comes too fast for her to keep her reaction at bay. Roger shrinks at the look in her face. He mirrors her insecurities. It is like looking at a reflection of herself.

"I'm sorry mummy. He didn't do anything, it was stupid for me to mention. I didn't mean to upset you. He was just too enthusiastic and I was caught by surprise."

"I'm not upset with you, Roger. Don't think that."

"Don't be upset with Richard either. I don't want to get him in trouble, please."

She hadn't promised him anything, knowing that her heart would race and her skin would prickle when the next day, Richard got home and stole a kiss on the cheek from Roger. Who stood completely motionless when it happened, then Richard had given him permission to use his room, but only in return for a kiss from Roger. He pointed at his cheek, face alight with power. Winnifred had felt her world shatter when Roger caved in.

"I forbid you to touch my son again." She says, in the bathroom. "I mean it, that's where I draw the line. He cannot become a part of your world Richard. If you care even a little bit about him you wouldn't let that happen."

The wheels are turning in Richards mind. She can see him thinking. Thinking hard.

"Please." She is shaking. "He is in school, he will do better for himself. No drugs, no prostitution, no gangs. None of this."

His eyes have grown vacant. She tugs her wrists out of his iron grip.

She stands straighter until her shoulders strain with the tension and her spine is stretched out. Richard does not move a muscle, keeping her pinned to the washing basin.

For Roger she would risk it all. For Roger she would stand her ground.

"Richard. I won't allow you to rob him of everything."

He stares at her for a moment longer, until he jaw unclenches and his fingers flex in freedom. Letting air breathe between them. His calm is her fear rooted deep in her heart, beating rapidly against her ribs.

There is no air left in the bathroom. Even when Richard pulls away to leave, she can't breathe.

"Very well, then."

Chapter Text

Roger wakes up in cold sweat and gasping for breath

He makes a long and low suffering noise in his pillow to drown out the sound in case anyone is standing outside the door.

The memory of his dream is burned fresh in his brain, leaving a dark cloud of sooted mist over reality. At least he doesn't cry anymore. The dampness on his pillow is stress transpiration and no longer tears.

It has been three weeks since he began living with Freddie and his boyfriends and Roger still shivers every time the floorboard creaks or the shrill call of the doorbell echoes through the house.

With a tight knot in his stomach he forces himself to climb to his feet.

The world tilts and Roger leans against the wall to find his way to the door in the darkness. Each morning after his round of nightmares his headache radiates across his forehead. Throbbing and pounding.

Anxiety is exhausting. So are the flashbacks.

The door to Freddie's old study doesn't have a lock, but during the night Roger barricades it with the wooden chair he found by the unused desk. After he pushes it aside and creaks open the door, he peeks his head around to corner to check if the coast is clear. Sunlight beams from the staircase into the empty hallway. The lights in the bathroom are off.

He tiptoes his way to the bathroom. Roger swiftly locks the door behind himself and ignores the cold tiles under his bare feet in favor of getting to the cabinets above the sink without having to turn on the lights.

Roger is too familiar with the location of Brians orange tubed painkillers.

He tries to be as quiet as he can be. His fingers are still shaking when he wraps his hands around the rattling bottle. Only when he knocks the pills back dry, without water, does his heart rate slow down. The thick oval shaped medicine scrapes down the raw tunnel of his throat to settle in his empty stomach. He lets himself slink down onto the floor with his eyes closed and the blood rushing away from his head to spread evenly over the rest of his body.

He breathes. Long and slow while the drugs finds its way into his system.

Everything calms down moments later.

Roger comes to himself, curled up against the side of the bath when his chest doesn't feel as tight anymore.

The first lungful of air he can take is the biggest relief of his life. The bathroom no longer spins, the medication dampens everything that is unbearably fast inside of him. His heart, the blood soaring through his ears and the black and white images behind his eyes.

Only then Roger finds it within himself to face the day.

With the medication in his bloodstream everything and himself moves sluggish and slow.

But years of heroin abuse have made it his expertise to present himself as sober. He must. Roger has only been there for three weeks, but the thought of leaving becomes more unbearable with the second. Still, the idea of Freddie finding out is nowhere near as bad as being thrown back onto the streets. He knows he has become too dependent on Freddie and his approval, but he doesn't know hie to pull away from it.

"Darling?"

"Hm?" Roger hadn't registered he had made it all the way down to the bottom of the stairs already. He tries to blink through the blissful fog of numbing medication, before he misses the conversation. He knows Freddie's lips are moving. He is aware of Freddie speaking, but he can't make much of it out.

The painkillers are not heroin, but they are opioids nonetheless. Dulling what he himself can't handle.

Freddie's face and smile come into focus with some difficulty.

Roger, in an attempt to make sense of the conversation, leans into him. "What were you saying?"

"Just that you've been looking so well, adjusting amazingly."

Freddie is struggling to contain his excitement. Roger can tell from the way he rocks on his heels and his fascial muscles twitch.

To avoid his shining eyes, Roger stares at their bare feet. He is standing on the first step of the stairs. Freddie is on the carpet and forced to tilt his chin to look at Roger.

"I don't know about that." Roger murmurs.

He vividly recalls his dream and Richards fingers around his throat. Roger swallows.

Freddie reaches for something in his pocket. Rogers heart begins to race when he reveals it's his wallet, out of which he takes a couple of bills out. He holds the crumpled money out to Roger, his smile is nothing but confident and trusting.

Roger suddenly can't breathe.

"Don't do that." He whispers.

His fist is tightly closed. Even when Freddie tugs on his wrist with a pleading smile. "Roger, don't talk down on yourself like that. I can trust you with the laundry, I trust you with cooking, I can trust you walking the cats, I can trust you looking after Brian every day. All I need now is for you to buy a carton of milk and some vegetables by choice for our soup tonight."

Roger in fact has not yet walked the cats since he has been in the home.

But he can't tell Freddie he has been lying. He can't.

It takes a lot of energy for Roger to pull his gaze from Freddie's wriggling toes to his hopeful eyes. Freddie's hand is still extended. Rogers is still closed.

"I don't believe I can, yet, I-"

"I trust you."

Roger squeezes his eyes closed. Freddie's undeserved approval is a knife to the gut.

"Let me do the laundry," He is close to begging and Freddie is beginning to sense his desperation also. "I will clean the toilets, I'll cook for the whole week, but I can't go outside."

Before the tears have a chance to well up, two arms are wrapped around him and Rogers face is stuffed in a thick woolen sweater.

"Darling, oh Rog." Freddie holds him close, Roger for the time being can breathe again.

There isn't a place on earth he would find more comforting than the space against Freddie's chest. His heart thumps against the shell of Rogers ear, much calmer than his own. He wonders if he should take four pills instead of three tomorrow.

"I think it's important for you that we keep your process going," A sure hand strokes through his hair. Roger leans into it like one of Freddie's lost kittens. "We need to show John that it is good for you to be here. That you are sufficiently recovering."

While Brian and Freddie seem to be convinced of Rogers improvement, John always seems onto him.

He knows that as the voice of reason, John makes the call for Roger to stay or to leave.

Roger hates that Johns suspicions are justified.

"Take it. I trust you."

This time Roger doesn't struggle when Freddie pries his palm open, but no heroin in the world could stop the numbing shame that falls over him as he does. He stiffly pockets the money and Freddie gives him a hard squeeze.

"The store is right around the corner, a five minute walk."

"Okay."

"Good!" Roger doesn't deserve the sloppy kiss he gets on his cheek. Neither does he deserve the breakfast Freddie had prepared for him before going off to work.

★☆★

Straight ahead. Two streets down, take a left towards the line of trees and road, then the store is across the sidewalk, which is a little to the left.

Brians voice echoes through Rogers mind along many others.

In case he forgot, he has the directions written on the back of the grocery list.

Dressed in Freddie's flared jeans and Johns layered turtleneck and red sweater, Roger shuffles his way down the street with houses identical to Freddie's.

Even though Roger is barely moving, all the senses simultaneously flooding in press onto his severely damaged ability to stay calm.

His skin prickles. From the tip of his nose to the ends of his toes.

He knows he is pale as a sheet. He feels drained and hollow as if the wind could pick him up if it blew too high.

Each car that passes by makes his heart jump. Roger has already given up and turned back to walk home four times already, before chickening out on having to explain to Brian how terrified he is of being exposed in the outside.

He walks as far from the road as the sidewalk will allow.

The image of a car door swinging open and someone dragging him inside is too vivid. Too real. He imagines each stranger that passes him to be a spy. Hiding their brands and gang tattoos behind their gloves and long coats.

Rogers heart is going haywire in his chest. Beating so rapidly he fears it will give out.

"Fuck. Fuck."

A brick wall attached to a house works as a sufficient surface to slide down against when his legs decide to give in.

The world is spinning and Roger is dizzy with the feeling of being watched.

He hides his eyes on his knees, drawn to his chest to make himself small and invisible. In reality it will only draw more attention to himself, but in the moment Rogers breathing won't regulate itself if he doesn't stop feeling as overwhelmed as he is now.

In moments like this he would prefer to be miserable.

Perhaps the reasoning is idiotic, but at least he doesn't have to fear the constant possibility of having everything taken away by force when he is already miserable.

He knows that eventually Freddie will find out. Richard will find him.

It isn't as comforting as it once was, going back to Richard does not feel like a blessing in disguise any longer, simply rock bottom. All he can find comfort in now is knowing he can't hit lower.

He wishes he had the balls to take Brians pills with him so he could pop another one.

The cold of the pavement seeps through his trousers and his spine hurts being pressed against the brick wall.

Roger struggles to get to his feet. He is panting. As if he had been running.

The unfamiliar is dreadful.

"Are you okay?"

Roger jumps. Out of instinct he jerks back against the wall, he positively won't make it out of his 20's without his heart giving out on him at this rate.

He struggles. His lungs cough up more oxygen than they can suck in. "No." He says.

The stranger is to his relief an elderly woman.

Roger hasn't seen her before in his life, chances are low that she is one of the Bull Crew. Her hand is strong when she jerks him into a standing position.

"You shouldn't be on the ground, weather forecast said it will be freezing today."

She assists in dusting him off. Roger is breathing through the gaps of his fingers that cover his lips.

Her gaze is nothing short from concern. Roger imagines she is a mother, perhaps of a son as well. The idea calms him slightly, even though he must look like an insane person to her, anxiety induced and sitting on the floor in baggy unfitted clothes. Her hand is strong around his arm.

"Is there anywhere I can bring you?"

Roger is still breathing behind his hands. Its dizzying and his mind goes fussy. Though it is no excuse.

"D'you know where I can find Brampton Vale?"

The woman hums, surprise obvious in her eyes. "By Menom Road?"

Roger nods once.

She only hesitates for a long inhale, before she clears her throat. "Take a right by the fourth corner. You can see the church tower from there, but the road will take you straight ahead for maybe half an hour. It's a long walk."

Roger is as skeptic about his ability to make it as she is, giving the tone of her voice.

He gives another jerky nod. "Thank you."

"Maybe you should go home, sir. You don't look too well."

She reaches out to touch him again. Roger doesn't let her. He falls into a much faster pace this time. He is charged with energy he didn't have before. The fear carries his feet across the pavement and away from the woman who is left with a baffled look on her face. Roger doesn't look back at her.

Afraid to confront the shadows he sees in the corner of his eye.

★☆★

"Roger?"

"Hi."

Roger squeezes himself past Kevin and the doorframe. He is greeted with a familiar pleasantly warm hallway. Even though he immediately begins to protest, Kevin closes the front door anyway. "You can't be here? Roger what are you doing?"

He has been here a handful of times before, but Roger had never taken in the apartment before. Today he doesn't either.

Roger discards Johns sweater with unsteady fingers.

He stumbles backwards into the one-room-apartment. Consequently the couch is the bed and the bed is the majority of the living room. Roger hits the frame with the back of his legs and he sinks down. He begins to struggle with the turtleneck and toe off his shoes. Kevin, tall and straight, long red hair still the same, is watching him, back glued against the door.

"Roger. Stop."

"I need some smack." He breathes. The tension in his jaw makes it hard to speak. "I need it now, or I'll fucking die. My heart is fucked up, Kevin. I need something to calm down."

"Go to the hospital."

"No."

The turtleneck is off and Roger begins to work on the belt. Kevin licks his lips.

"Please, I know you have some. You always do."

"That was a year ago, Rog. Stop being silly and put your clothes back on. I'm expecting people in half an hour."

"It's never taken you half an hour."

He pushes Freddie's jeans down his ass and is left standing in his own underwear. Kevin is predictable and thinks with the hardness between his legs rather than his brain. He isn't completely stupid, he is a business owner and investor, but he has needs. Unsatisfactory needs Roger knows more about that he truly wants to.

Today it might come to his benefit.

Kevin is shuffling closer to the couch, Roger spreads his legs slightly, offering himself.

"Roger, I stopped renting whores for a reason. I have a girlfriend now."

His words are spoken shallowly. Like he has to force himself to say them. Roger watches him from under his eyelashes, he hates this, having to convince them to use him. He always hated selling himself.

"Does she let you do whatever she wants? Does she let you put it up her ass until she cries?"

"She isn't a prostitute or a heroin addict."

The harshness is meaningless. One second later Roger is pushed onto his back and his thighs are spread apart by fingers digging into the flesh like claws.

"She doesn't leave after twenty minutes to hop onto the next dick."

The harsh fabric of Kevins jeans rub against his underwear. Roger isn't hard. Kevin doesn't care.

"You can't always have what you want, Roger. You think you can waltz in here and demand I take your services? You're fucking crazy. I'm not below you. You can't tell me what the fuck I have to do. So, maybe you're right. Maybe you should be put in your fucking place."

Rogers heart stops beating as rapidly as it did. It settles in a calm controlled pace.

The degradation stings, but the humiliation is familiar and safe.

Roger is rolled onto his stomach with a power not unknown to him. Kevins muscles flex under his tattoos. He bounces back on the mattress with the force. His underwear is dragged down and a heavy palm lands onto his ass. The slap burns, but it drowns out the voices in his head and the image of the yellow car following down the street just now. He forgets that the vehicle might be waiting for him to be done here and as soon as he comes outside Kevins door, he will be dragged in the back of the car and brought back to Richards to be a prostitute again.

"I want to hear you scream, Roger. Let me hear you scream and I'll give you your smack. You'll do anything for it, wouldn't you? You'd get the outline of my hand tattooed on your fucking ass if it meant one hit of coke or a shot of heroin? You're so fucking shameless, it's embarrassing."

Roger goes limp and closes his eyes.

He forces his mind to leave his body adrift. He is aware that he is crying out in pain. His chest is tight with sobs, drool gathers on the bedding by his face. He recognizes vaguely what is his voice and what is Kevins through the smacking sound in the air. He is being beaten. Severely so. Tomorrow his backside will be nothing but purple and blue.

Kevin never needs much warmup. Roger, after weeks of being unused, prepares for the worst.

It does hurt.

Kevin is unprepared for lube and uses what little vaseline he had left to jerkily jab Roger with his finger. He also doesn't have a condom. Roger wordlessly suspects that is a lie.

He lies motionless on the bed while he is fucked from behind. Whoever Kevins girlfriend is, she can't offer the power trip Kevin gets over controlling Roger. He keeps him pinned down. One hand on his hip and another on the back of his neck. Like a predator standing over its prey.

He bites. His teeth sink into Rogers flesh like he is nothing but a helpless piece of meat.

The mark will sting for a long time. The tiny dents of teeth in his shoulder never heal the way other injuries do. He remembers the humiliation. He remembers the possessive growls.

His usual boundaries and rules have all been thrown out of the window.

Through all the misery, through the humiliation, Roger doesn't panic. He doesn't think this would kill him, he has lived through worse, but if it did. If Kevin reached over and grabbed the gun Roger knows he leaves in the drawer next to his bed— as drug dealers do— Roger doesn't fear what's to come.

Death doesn't seem to be the most unpleasant outcome of his life right now.

He thinks about Brian, who's most likely wondering where he is. He thinks about what Freddie would say if he saw Roger being used like this. If he would still hold on to that it wasn't Rogers fault his life was shit. Or Johns disapproving, unavoidable, I told you so.

"Fuck. You're tight."

Roger ponders how bad he is bleeding. How bad the internal damage would be.

He doesn't fancy another round to the hospital. He can't have the others know he was out getting fucked for drugs by one of his past clients. He had something he couldn't lose. A home. People who trust him. Safety.

Things he did not deserve and does not know how to cherish.

Kevin comes with a long drawn out grunt. He harshly slaps his hips against Rogers for the final time. Agonizing pain shoots from his hole to the rest of his body through a thousand abused nerve endings. Kevin pulls out with a curse, muttering about blood and fucking whores while the world for Roger turns blissfully black.

★☆★

Roger stands in the shower until the water that flushes into the drain is no longer mixed with blood. After that he continues to scrub at his skin until he is rubbed raw and pink. The feeling of immense disgust is, to his regret, unwashable.

"Roger?"

There is a knock on the bathroom door. Roger has no idea how long he has been sitting in the corner of the shower letting the water beat down on him and his tainted body. The tiled wall is cool against his cheek and bruised ass. Roger could only survive off of these small reliefs.

"Roger? Are you okay?"

"Yeah."

His voice is barely audible over the water spray. The shadows of Brians feet are still outside the bathroom. Roger feels his upcoming doom coming dreadfully closer each passing second. He knows that this won't be easy to hide from the others. He is playing between two fires now, admitting his defeat and coming clean about his weakness with Kevin with the risk of being thrown out. Or risk not telling the boyfriends at all about his relapse and drug problem, risking he might never recover how he is supposed to.

He has no groceries to show. He failed to wash all the blood and semen out of his clothes.

He is lucky Brian slept through the morning and hadn't noticed Rogers long absence, let alone that he was gone for over three hours.

What he did notice was the lengthy shower Roger was taking now.

With a sigh, long and worried, does Roger turn off the water tap.

His legs are wobbly when he stands up.

Freddie always leaves his towel on the edge of the bath for him. Roger wraps himself up in it. White and fluffy. He forgoes rubbing himself dry, or getting new clothes. He feels cold and alone. The sound of Brians voice had stirred a deeper regret inside of him. Something that longed to be better and be accepted. If he doesn't come clean to them he won't ever be either of those things.

"I did something."

He opens the door and utters the words out without his own permission. Brian looks stunned at the sight of him, then, concerned.

"What?" Brian asks.

"I got drugs. I slept with someone and got drugs off them."

Roger turns around and digs into the pockets of Freddie's jeans he borrowed and left on the toilet. He feels like a child, dropping the plastic bag of powdered heroin in Brians awaiting palm. Rogers hands are shaking.

Brown eyes fall onto the item in his hand. Then he glances up once more.

"Roger..."

"I already took some. I couldn't help it, I really couldn't. I want nothing but to be better. That's why I told you. I want to be better and stay here." Roger bites onto his own tongue with how fast he is speaking. "I can't do it Bri. Everything hurts- my head hurts. He's everywhere."

"Richard?" Brian asks, Roger nods. Suddenly the walls are closing in on him again. He steps a little closer to Brian as a precaution.

"He follows me," Roger whispers. "He knows I'm here."

"Roger. Be rational with me here, come on."

Brian grabs Roger by the arms and squeezes him without hurting him. He looks worried and slightly sorry. "You have to tell Freddie."

"I can't. He'll put me on the street."

Roger gulps. Desperation closes like claws around his throat and Roger shakes his head. Making droplets of water splatter around.

"Brian..."

"I promise you." Brian gives him a squeeze, hard and tight. "I won't let him do that, never. He wouldn't want to let you go when you're vulnerable Roger. You know he wouldn't. I for a fact don't know how to deal with this stuff, but he does. Talk to him."

"Don't make me. Please, Brian. I don't want to disappoint him." He is too prideful to cry, but the tears stand so clearly in his eyes it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

His pleas fall on deaf ears.

Brians hands trail down until he can lace their fingers together. He gives Roger a smile.

"If not me, trust him."

★☆★

There is something about brown eyes that Roger can't resist.

Perhaps it is the never ending debt of darkness that lures him in and settles him down. Maybe it is something about the deep unknown. When he looks at his own reflection, he is stopped abruptly at the blue. But with Freddie he can sink in. Deep and far until he has forgotten that he was staring in the first place.

Freddie never minded his intense eye contact or the lack thereof.

Freddie is always understanding and warm. He asks questions but never questions Roger himself. The brown of his eyes is as safe as the warmth radiating from his gentle smile.

Roger doesn't want to give into him. Not before he has come clean.

"I did something stupid."

Brian is standing in the door opening, his gaze is heavy with something sad. Both Roger and Freddie are on the couch, with Roger scooted all the way to the opposite end.

"It's okay." Freddie says in the upmost careful tone. "You can tell me."

John isn't here, but still the two of them speak to him in calm hushed tones as if they are calming a feral animal.

It isn't far from what Roger feels. The drugs in his system had worn off before Freddie had come home. He feels strain in his heart, pain in his chest, not to mention how badly he is hurting over the rest of his body. He still hasn't managed to stop the bleeding completely. The pain he feels is humiliating. He rubs the back of his neck, where Kevin had sunken his teeth into him.

Through the slit of the curtains he feels like he is being watched. His heart thunders. He longs for more of the quiet he gets from one too many of Brians pills and the sweet warm numbing of heroin.

He shudders just thinking about it.

"I'm sorry. I know you've put a lot of trust into me. What I did was inexcusable."

"Nothing," Freddie presses. "Nothing in the world is inexcusable."

Behind them, Brian shifts. Roger draws a deep breath.

"I felt like I was being watched the whole way there. To the supermarket. You know that feeling, like there were eyes on me. The hairs on my neck stood up and I felt it so deep in my bones. I couldn't breathe anymore and my chest was too tight and all I could think about is how heroin could make everything quiet and unimportant again." Roger sucks in another intake of oxygen. He is pale, Freddie's face goes slack with realization. As if he couldn't have guessed what sort of trouble Roger would get into left to his own devices. Like Richard said. "I knew a guy, a client, who would always give me some smack in addition to payment. He deals low quantity drugs on university campuses. He was a regular for a few months so I remembered where he lived."

"Did you—"

When Freddie leaves it up to Roger to finish the sentence, Roger nods stiffly. "I let him."

Without going into further detail, he reaches for the pockets in his sweater and fishes out the money, giving it back to Freddie with his lips curled down.

"I couldn't do it. I told you I wasn't ready."

Freddie wordlessly takes the money from him again. Brian takes a deep shuddering breath, over Rogers shoulder they make eye contact.

He realizes, with a sinking heart, that this is it. He fucked it up. He got a chance to a second start and he let his addiction get to him. He should have put his foot down. He should have never taken Freddie's money. He should have turned around and gone home as soon as he felt the anxiety gnawing at the inside of his chest. He should not have asked how to walk to Menom Road. He should not have let Kevin sleep with him and hit him the way he finds so alluring. He should not have shot the heroin, even though it had felt like a treat. After weeks of pain and near death, misery and anxiety, it had felt like a reward to his endurance.

A tug on his arm brings him back to reality. He had been staring at Freddie, now Freddie is staring back.

"John can't know. If he finds out, you are out."

"He can't just do that. Roger needs us, we can't let him go over a misstep and let it ruin the rest of his life." Brian finally speaks up. Roger resists turning around to look at him. He is a bad liar, Freddie is a lot better at keeping his composure right now than Brian. Roger finds it much easier to face someone unphased. "This was a one time mistake, right Roger?"

"Yes." Roger breathes. "I slipped up. I'm so sorry."

Freddie squeezes his eyes closed when Rogers voice cracks. Shameful tears fill his eyes once more.

His heart is too heavy for his chest. It hurts how rapidly it poubds against his ribs.

"Recovery never goes in a straight line, no. There are always bumps on the road. We keep this to ourselves. Roger." Suddenly, even though he struggles against it, Rogers chin is tipped up by black manicured fingers. Freddie isn't smiling, but his eyes are sympathetic still. "This can't happen again."

"I know."

"Okay." They both simultaneously breathe. Though several tears accidentally slip down Rogers cheeks as he does. "And don't say a word to John, he won't be as forgiving."

"I'm sorry."

Freddie finally allows himself a smile again. He grasps for Rogers hand and kisses the back of it in the most delicate manner. His lips tingle on the skin where Roger not more than five hours ago had slipped in the needle. Freddie doesn't care about the scars. He never does.

Instead, Freddie brushes his thumb over his knuckles. He draws himself closer to Rogers huddled body. "Are you okay?"

Roger is done lying for today, so he shakes his head, just once. Freddie's smile threatens to falter, but before Roger can see it disappear be pulls him closer for a long warm hug, Freddie's strong arms around his back and his chin on his shoulder. Roger can cry now. He takes a heaving breath and cries. Feeling stupid and undeserving.

"I'm sorry." He says, starting a wet chant of "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. Freddie, I didn't mean to. I'm—"

"Shh."

Long fingers thread through his long shaggy hair. He feels Brians eyes on his back, they are comforting and warm. The chilling cold he feels coming from the window is a completely different sensation.

Freddie sways him in his arms. When he is done shushing Roger, Roger dares to whisper.

"I think I'm going crazy."

"No you're not, Darling. It was just one time. One unfortunate misstep. You're okay."

"Okay." Roger says. He rests his forehead against Freddie's neck until he is suffocating with the smell of him. The only way he wishes to die now. He lets his fingers curl into Freddie's sweater. Don't leave. Don't you dare. A warm hand on his lower back reassures him that Freddie indeed wouldn't.

Roger closes his eyes and silently promises himself to stop touching Brians painkiller stash. If he wants to stay, he needs to get his act together before John could notice.

Moments later, Brian has left the room to start dinner and Freddie clears his throat. 

"You need to rest, you look tired."

"Don't go." Roger whispers. He pulls Freddie closer against him. "Please. I know I fucked up, I make you lie to John. I don't deserve any of—"

"I won't go."

Roger is silenced by a finger against his lips. Shushing him.

When he is sufficiently silenced, Freddie wraps him close so that he again feels engulfed in warmth of Freddie's arms and chest. "I won't go. But don't say silly things, okay? Just close your eyes and try to rest."

Roger, unable to ever repay Freddie for his sacrifices for him, nods.

"Okay."

★☆★
"Frederick Mercury."

"Kevin."

Freddie greets him with his hand stretched out, but Kevin pushes it aside in favor of a short brotherly hug.

"Didn't expect to hear from you again, weren't you working in an asylum now?"

"I was a therapist, and no," Freddie dusts off his trousers. He is too dressed up for their urban location, but he has to leave the house at least looking like he is going into the office. "Got laid off a few weeks ago."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

With a jerk of his head Kevin directs them down the road. His red hair and brown leather coat catch the sun beams that struggle between the clouds. Freddie never felt completely comfortable with Kevin, in University he was always involved with people Freddie did not want to be involved with. Kevin himself seemed friendly enough and lived just down the hall from Freddie at the time. During parties and exam-period Kevin sold weed and LSD for low prices.

They both went their separate way.

Freddie became a therapist and Kevin, God knows how, owns some property now.

"Well, new year, new beginnings. Am I right?"

"Right."

They stop in front of a small, narrow door with chipped blue painting, the building is wedged between two larger ones and on top is a rental home. The windows of the shop are too dusty for Freddie to look inside, but he already knows it is not much more than a few square meters of space with low ceilings and unpredictable electricity.

Kevin radiates with pride when he hands the keys over to Freddie. Freddie takes the heavy bunch with a shuddering breath.

"Its small, but it's a stall. Stalls do really good here in Kensington Market."

"Good."

The dust that Freddie breathes in infiltrates his lungs and it burns. It takes a moment to push the wonky door fully open without breaking it off the stiff hinges. Freddie already regrets putting the last of his savings into the deposit. His heart hammers too fast in his chest, it takes a push from Kevin to stumble over the doorstep.

It is hot inside. Freddie rolls up his sleeve and covers his face. He turns to glance at Kevin, who is also covering his face from the dust.

At his questioning eyebrow, Kevin shrugs. "You could make it work. All it needs is a deep clean and some lights."

"Right."

"And something to sell."

"Indeed."

"Something to get peoples attention. Maybe a radio or a sign."

It all doesn't seem as simple as it felt before. Freddie's heart is is picking up and thumps against his ribs. He should have just told John he was fired. He should not have rented a shop behind his boyfriends backs without a business plan, experience or anything remotely resembling a backup.

He takes a long, deep breath. Lung diseases be damned.

If he doesn't make this work he has no other options. Brian is nowhere near on his feet yet and since Roger began living with them their money is running out a little faster than before.

Kensington Market is Freddie's plan D. The last one he has.

Maybe not the most constructive plan he has come up with, maybe not the wisest, but he has second hand clothes to get rid off. Art to sell and a hunger for this to work out.

Truly, what else would he need?

"Are you okay, Mate?"

Freddie turns to Kevin and his slightly narrowed eyes. He never truly trusted Kevin, so he nods, acting more confident than he feels.

"Yes. This will work."

"That's the spirit."

They shake hands again. The keys are still carefully clasped in Freddie's hands.

He will tell John and Brian, when everything is more settled. Eventually.

Kevin after a second lets go of his hand and Freddie turns to look at the stall once more. He squints. He tries to imagine a corner with drapes for a changing room, racks of clothes against the walls and a cash register too. He will buy a bell above the door, carpets, a radio and other decor to make it more homely. He will make a sign to hang outside and several clothes to lure clients in. He will come back tomorrow and begin deep cleaning the place, repaint the door.

"Yes." Freddie nods to himself. "This could work."

Chapter Text

Freddie never explicitly told him what happened to Roger the day which they now to refer to as 'the incident' but John can tell it wasn't pretty.

For his and Freddie's sake he doesn't question why Roger ultimately did not manage to get the groceries.

He also doesn't question why they don't let Roger go out without an escort.

"Can't I wait in the car?"

John turns to Roger with what he hopes is a sympathetic smile. He would have clasped his shoulder, bur he isn't comfortable touching Roger the way Brian and Freddie are. The other man looks much smaller than he truly is because of the baggy clothes he borrows and the way he is huddled against the door.

Without breaking eye contact, John turns off the engine and slips the key out of the ignition. "I promised Freddie you'd get some fresh air today."

"We can leave a window open."

He bites back an involuntary smile while he climbs out of the car. He is instantly surrounded by a thick blanket of cold. The fog stays heavy on the streets this morning. John huddles himself into his jacket whilst he makes his way around his car to Rogers side and forces the passengers door open with a gesture a doorman of a prestigious hotel would make.

Roger looks absolutely miserable at having to get out.

Even though Freddie had bundled him up in the fluffiest fur coat he owns, Roger begins to shiver as soon as he too breathes in the freezing December air.

After closing the door Roger has firmly pressed himself against the car. He takes a moment to scan his surroundings, while John observers him.

Deeply haunted blue eyes dart back and forth. Johns stomach flips with uneasiness

"Something wrong?" He dares to ask.

Underneath the turtleneck he is wearing, John can see Rogers Adams Apple bop soundly. "No."

His breathing comes short and ragged. John looks away in case he makes it worse.

John, before he crosses the road towards the high street, reaches around himself to clasp Rogers clammy hand in his. Though he can hear the surprised smack of lips, John doesn't turn around. With his strong grip he drags him across the road where there are people, many of them. Roger had been eyeing them uneasily the whole while. John feels sympathy for him, but also the slightest bit of impatience.

Roger doesn't dig his heels in the snow, but he shuffles and tugs Johns arm back. Slowing them down more the closer they get to the crowd.

Johns patience levels have been extremely low the last several months. It's the stress of his current life, he tells himself. It takes a bit more effort to swallow down knacks of annoyance he finds in the small things in life.

Pulling a stiff deadweight Roger behind him while the cold seeps through his four layers of clothing was not how he imagined to spend his one day off work.

They are lucky there are barely any cars out on the road today— they surely would have been hit by now. The snow has kept most vehicles at home.

But it is the weekend before Christmas, the snow under Johns boots doesn't crunch anymore after all the people that have stomped up and down the shopping lane before them.

John begins to loosen his grip on Rogers hand, but as soon as he tries to pull his arm away, Rogers fingers cling back onto his.

John twits around while he walks to address him in one too fast dizzying motion. Only to find Rogers face close to his, their noses nearly touching. Roger is white as a sheet of paper and his pupils are large and terrified. John slows down his pace.

"You have to tell me what's wrong." He murmurs.

Rogers face is scrunched up in obvious discomfort. John knows it has something to do with his anxiety to go out, but Rogers impatient eye darting suggests he isn't ready to discuss that with John. "I'm terrific." He says. "Can we please keep walking?"

They have come to a complete halt in the middle of the busiest shopping district and it takes only a second for someone to bump into Rogers shoulder, sending him in a tumble to the floor if it weren't for John scrambling for his coat. The older man who had knocked Roger nearly off his feet gives him a hard look over his shoulder.

"Hey!" Frustration that suddenly bubbles up his chest too fast sends John after the man, yelling. "Watch it you twat!"

He is one step away from reaching the mans red scarf to grasp him— but John is quickly yanked backwards and met with large blue eyes.

"Don't." Roger makes the sensible decision to pull him to the side of the street, where they are not in the way of the continues stream of people. "It's not worth it. I don't want to draw attention to myself."

He looks more and more awful with the second. Maybe John should have listened and left him in the car like Roger had asked. It surely would have saved them both a lot of trouble.

Roger watches him. John only notices that his hand is still in his when he gives a firm, cold, squeeze.

"I'm sorry."

"No, don't be." John utters.

"I'm being a pain. I can't help it. Here,"

John watches warily as Roger unzips his fur coat all the way down to his belly. He glances around himself cautiously the way Roger would, John isn't sure what they are doing. And so much for not drawing attention to themselves.

Then, Roger does something John really doesn't expect.

His hand is carefully cradled by two unsteady hands and brought up by Roger. His flat palm is gracefully settled over Rogers heart.

The exhausted organ is beating in a pace so fast so rapid that Johns eyes widen in surprise.

Roger, who has been watching his reactions cautiously, doesn't say anything. His heart doesn't slow down. John feels it pounding under his hand.

"Do you need to see a doctor?"

With a firm shake of the head, Roger breathes out. John finds himself copying the consciously slow pattern. "No. This began since I left Richard and the hospital. My body becomes stiff and tense when I'm in public. That time Freddie asked me to go to the supermarket I thought I was having a heart attack."

"But you're not?" John presses his palm more firmly against Rogers chest. He doesn't care about who is looking.

He doubts that the rapid pace doesn't pose a threat to Rogers health.

He can't remember his own heart over beating so fast.

"No." Roger shakes his head. He licks his cold trembling lips. "But I just need you to know that I can't help it, my body isn't working right now. I'm scared, constantly. I can't help it."

"I didn't say you could."

"Then why don't you like me?"

Johns eyebrows shoot up into his mushed up fringe. He keeps his hand perfectly still.

"What makes you think I don't like you?"

Roger feigns nonchalance with a shrug. "You're impatient with me and I can tell you're not really happy that I'm staying with you. You're doing everything you can not to spend time with me, that's why Freddie had to beg you to let me come with you. I know you're always tired and busy, but I know you don't like me. I can tell when people don't."

Finally John tugs his hand back to his own body.

He defeatedly breaks eye contact. The disappointment in Rogers eyes leaves a bitter aftertaste in Johns throat. He had tried to keep his reservations to himself, but clearly not well enough.

With his eyes down he finds their shoes  soaked with snow, but Roger will suffer more in his tacky worn converse versus John in his brown platforms. Roger is rocking back on his heel, always jittering. Always nervous.

It takes a moment for John to find the energy within himself to trail his eyes back up again.

He breathes. Long and final.

"You have nothing to apologize for. I'm not as much of a twat as I seem to be." 

The corner of Rogers mouth twitches. John can only count it as a victory. He holds his shoulders up and deflates with the last bit of oxygen that was left in his lungs.

"Brian has been sick, I have no clue what the hell is wrong with Fred. I haven't slept for more than nine hours combined since Monday. It's six days before Christmas and I haven't bought anyone anything yet." He throws his arms up in the air. People have long forsaken looking at the two lunatics having an intimate showoff on the edge of the curb. "Then you come into the mix. I promise you're very likable, but I can't say that your presence has been helping much with my overall stress reduction. Sorry."

John opens his mouth to utter another apology, he knows as soon as Roger tells Freddie about this he will be chewed out for this.

But John never gets the chance.

Suddenly two too thin arms are wrapped around his shoulders, drawing him in. His face disappears somewhere in Rogers messy, freshly cut hair (by Freddie). He breathes and smells his own shampoo on Roger. Without meaning to he melts into the hug, molding the two of them into one.

Roger for being a short underweight man takes his weight without as much as a hitch.

John struggles with bracing himself.

He lets himself enjoy the contact for a moment. He wraps his arms around Rogers waist in return. He continues to inhale and exhale through his nostrils. The cold makes his nose pleasantly numb the way only Englands winter could.

"That better?" Roger asks.

John nods. "Very much thank you."

"Good."

He expects Roger to pull away, but he doesn't. He waits for John to initiate the end of the hug, which John selfishly doesn't for a few moments longer. He savors the feeling of warmth pooling in his belly and closeness and something new.

It is not like he doesn't get held by Freddie or Brian, something about Roger is different and calming.

"We probably should get going before we get arrested for sexual offenses."

"Of course." Rogers words are empty. John is the one who finally pushes himself away from Roger. He holds him by the shoulders at arm length.

Their eyes find each other with more ease than before.

Maybe he had tried to keep Roger at a distance because he never considered his stay permanent. Not if his track record was anything to go by.

No. John never allowed himself to get close to people who wouldn't stay.

With a final squeeze, John lets go of him. "We really should get started on finding presents."

Roger blinks himself out of his own haze. He smiles. "Yes."

"I'm thinking something new and shiny for Freddie's wardrobe. For Brian we can find something more conventional. Socks or a book or something."

Together they wrangle their way back into the crowd. John taking the lead and Roger hot on his ankle, breathing down his neck as the steady present of a ghost.

"Sounds like a plan." He whispers.

★☆★

"With what can I help you boys?"

John doesn't jump at the sound of an elderly females voice, but the hand that falls onto Rogers shoulder is instantly shrugged off with a hitched intake of breath.

"Oh!" She is as surprised as Roger is, holding her hands up. "Didn't mean to give you a fright."

"That's alright." John says for Roger— who is still breathing too rapidly to form an adequate response. John turns back to the clothing rack with the shimmering flower patterned jacket that caught his eye. He holds it up to the woman with as much of a smile he can force himself after three unsuccessful hours of shopping.

"Do you have this in a larger size?"

"Hm..." She takes the hanger from him with a thoughtful hum. She scans it up and down, then glances at John to flash him a retail friendly smile. "I will check in the back for you, don't go anywhere."

"Thank you."

She and Freddie's potential present disappear in the sea of people.

It has began to snow outside, more and more people are dragging themselves into the tiny shop to pretend they are browsing, instead hiding from the heavy downfall.

Someone's kid nearly runs into Rogers legs. The mother mutters an apology just as another person rubs past their shoulders to get across the store. Rogers ragged breathing is becoming unbearable to listen to, John takes a moment to scan the shop over.

There is one empty corner wedged between the children's section and the mens, where nobody is taking up the space. He tugs Roger there before someone else can occupy the quiet place. Roger comes willingly. The shadows of strangers in he corners of his eyes make him clamp harder onto Johns hand.

He settles Roger against the wall. Shoulders straight and legs wobbling. John stands in front of him to shield him from potential prying eyes.

"You're okay." John says. "Take a deep breath, Rog. You're fine."

Roger closes his eyes and leans the back of his head against the door. His chest heaves up and down too fast on every breath. The panic has truly set in, John finds, cold sweat has broken out on Rogers forehead and his lips are bitten raw. He fiddles with something in the pickets of his coat.

"I'm not." He pants. "I'm not. He's here. He's somewhere. I can feel it, he's going to force me to come back. I don't want to go back."

"You," John leans forward to squeeze his forearms. Even though Roger refuses to open his eyes, John stares at him. "Never have to go back. I wouldn't let you. I've stopped you before and I'll stop you again."

"He won't be stopped, not even by you. I know him. He's dangerous."

John swallows.

The whole gang issue has been something he tried to keep out of his mind. The fear that drips off of Roger could be indoctrination. For years Richard has presented himself to Roger unchallengeable, but John knows the danger is more than psychological mind games. Richard owns prostitutes and sells hard drugs. He knows people. He likely owns guns. Roger has scars to proof that Richard doesn't stop at torture.

"He is not here, Roger."

"There's a hundred people here. He could be. Anyone could be his ally. I don't want to be here. I want to be home. I want to feel safe."

"Are you going to spend the rest of your life inside? Living in fear?"

John nudges him, forcing Rogers eyes to open and focus on him.

He is bitter looking. Eyes deeply narrowed.

"I've always lived my life in fear. Don't— you don't know me."

"I know Richard is not here. I know you enough to understand that you have been hurt so much that you're constantly afraid of reliving your trauma, but you're not getting better by hiding. It will continue to haunt you forever if you don't confront what you are fearing. It's good that you're out here, you need to adjust to normal living. To crowds. You can't do that inside our home with just me and Brian and Fred."

Roger opens his mouth to say something else, but John is tapped on the shoulder by the reappeared elderly woman.

She wears a triumphant smile on her face as she holds up the larger sized floral jacket.

"Looks like its your lucky day, Sir."

"Thank you."

John takes the hanger from her without attempting to smile. He turns to Roger to make sure he knows they are moving. Together they make their way to the cash register, operated by a young man too stressed with the flood of costumers to notice their lack of enthusiasm in their purchase. The whole time while John pays, Roger leans against his side. When they leave the store to find something for Brian, Roger doesn't say anything to John about their previous conversation, John doesn't expect him to and makes due with grateful smiles and a hand finding his when the sea of people makes their affection invisible.

★☆★

John notices many things.

He always applauded himself for his well found observations and well predicted perspectives. He lives with a lot of unshared knowledge held close to his heart. He keeps the information there until he might find it useful in the future.

Roger has his many secrets, but to John he is a book opened on a dark page, spoiled long by spilled ink. Perhaps some of it has soaked into some of the other pages, but much of him is unexplored, innocent in a way John finds hard not to feel drawn into. Those pages of his are waiting for the wind to catch and flip through, slowly revealing more of its other contents.

John watches. He gathers.

The four of them are huddled around the television. Channel 3 is showing a nonsense Christmas movie of Freddie's choice. John doesn't like it much, Brian is on the comforter reading a book instead and Roger is beginning to doze.

Even though the movie is bad and the candles Freddie is burning up smell like public toilet soap, John loves spending his weekends like this.

His body is sore from work. His hair is still damp from his shower. He has a good view of Brian who is too engrossed in his book to feel the eyes on him. Beside him lays Roger, eyes closed in sleep. The blond mans hair is being stroked back by Freddie, the three of them are wedged on the couch together. Roger in the middle.

John has his arm over the back of the couch so he can hold Freddie.

"Why does the boy have to decide what to give to Jesus? Is that in the bible?"

John twists his neck to smile at Freddie. "No its not."

Freddie hums. He stuffs his cheeks with chocolate but still manages to keep his voice down for Roger and Brian, who's still reading. "At least I like the singing."

Not a big fan of the singing himself, Johns eyes drift from Freddie down at Roger.

His eyes are gently closed, fluttering rapidly behind his lids as if he is dreaming vividly. There is a healthy flush to his cheeks. John is happy to see it, for the image of Roger nearly dead in the hospital is still hard to swallow. What is less pleasant are the bruises on his upper legs, between his thighs visible now that he is unguarded in his baggy shorts.

John doesn't know what they are from, but he knows Freddie must have seen them too.

One of Rogers knees is slung over Johns legs and his face is nuzzled against his sweater.

The first time the subconscious cuddling had occurred John had been surprised, while Freddie wore a gleeful smile. Insisting John would stay quiet so Roger could rest. By now, after the weeks they have spend together John has gotten used to it.

Usually when Roger falls asleep he starts on his side, facing Freddie, but he then tends to roll over and drift against Johns side.

He is a noisy sleeper too, breathing, snorting, snoring.

John doesn't mind, much.

Roger is endearing and easy on the eye, with his soft looks, pink lips and happy hums each time Freddie's fingers pet his hair back tenderly.

He continues to stare. His heart must tug on the vein that leads to his thumb, because out of instinct reaches out to move a strand of hair away from Rogers face. Maybe to see his delicate features better, maybe because Rogers nose twitches each time the hair tickles him.

"Is he okay?"

Freddie looks at him sideways and pauses his ministrations. "Hm?"

"Roger, I mean. He's been quiet since— what happened."

John can tell Freddie is squaring up his shoulders to tell a lie. The mystery around the incident that when Roger was send to the store by Freddie is a dark one, all John was told was that Roger got a panic attack and never made it to the supermarket.

It can't be the full story.

Not if the bruises have anything to do with it.

After a stiff nod Freddie continues to stroke Rogers unruly mop of hair. "He's fine, just a bit shaken. I think."

"I talked to him, while we were out shopping."

"I sure hope so." Freddie tries for a joke, but nobody laughs. Not even he himself.

From the corner of his eye John can see Brian has tensed up and his eyes have stopped scrolling across the pages of his book.

Johns hand has settled down on the knee Roger had slung over him in his sleep.

"He said going outside made him fear that Richard or someone else, would be there to kidnap him or kill him. Whatever." Brian stops pretending he is reading his book and puts it down on his lap to show he is listening. "This is serious. He is going to go into cardiac arrest with this constant stress. He is seeing things that aren't there."

"He has every right to be afraid, after what he has gone through." The defensiveness in Freddie's voice is unmistakable.

"Can we help him with this, Freddie? I mean seriously. I don't think I can, I don't know what to tell him when he says he sees people that aren't there and suspects someone to come and kill him. Were you trained for this?"

Brian has gone tense across the room. Freddie stiffens as well.

John can't say he doesn't feel awful saying it, but he doesn't knows how to handle someone with issues like Roger. Despite what everyone seems to think, he does care. He does want Rogers life to change for the better, but he doesn't know how to resolve heart numbing panic caused by years of trauma.

He squeezes Rogers knee. Roger snuffles.

"What else can we do?" Brian asks.

Freddie shrugs and looks at John from the corner of his eye. The lack of sleep he has been getting shows on Freddie's face. John hates seeing the pain in his sharp featured face when he speaks. "I can't abandon him. I was the one who insisted he'd go outside. He's been worse since and that's on me."

"It only proofs my point." John says quietly, making sure his words won't sting. "You thought what you did was best, but it wasn't what he needed."

"I will find a way to help him. He has only been here for a month, I know I can figure out a way—"

Brian straightens his spine to give his own two cents and Freddie is cut off mid sentence when they are interrupted by a low whimper.

When John looks down at Roger the serenity has been replaced by a wrinkled frown. Rogers fingers clench around air and his body tenses up in his sleep. John lets go of his leg when it begins to tremble. The muscle under his fingers tough and stiffened.

"What is it?"

Brian can't see Roger from his chair, Freddie runs his knuckles gracefully over Rogers cheeks.

"A nightmare."

"Another." John mutters. He hates seeing Roger like this. He feels helpless and useless.

The other three grow quiet. Brian is sitting upright in the comforter while Freddie has slid down to wrap himself around Roger. Arms loose so that he won't feel trapped. Rogers chest heaves and his panic comes increasingly closer to the surface. Pained whimpers call names John doesn't recognize but the one. Richard.

Freddie is whispering in the shell of Rogers ear. John can't hear what he is saying. Roger doesn't stop shaking.

John could never discredit Freddie as a therapist. He is good at his job and loves it more than anything he had done before in his life while he was in university. But John can't help but feel like they're unequipped when it comes to Roger.

He is thrashing and spasming in ways John has only seen in mediocre horror films. Freddie has to be careful when he leans against him.

This wouldn't be the first time he's tried to calm Roger during his terrors. He suffered accidental forehead collisions and slaps in the face with not as much as a hitch.

Rogers nightmares are extreme.

Each time John has to watch it he finds it harder to stomach.

"You're fine, you're okay." Those words he can make out. Freddie speaks lowly. John doubts Brian can hear him. "Roger, come back to me. You're home, with me and John and Brian. You're safe."

John watches, spine stiff against the armrest and hands curled into his sleeping shorts.

He doesn't fully understand why his heart does a flip when Freddie brushes his lips over Rogers forehead and Rogers brow smoothens out, momentarily pulled out of the darkness by Freddie's touch. A few moments and a kiss later, Roger wakes up with a jolt and a gasp. John looks away hastily, as if he hadn't been drinking in the details of Rogers face like a hawk.

Freddie distracts Roger, pulls him against his chest so they can cuddle.

"You had a nightmare." He says.

Roger is still mostly asleep, or so John gathers from the slur in his voice. "M' where are we?"

His patience is everlasting. Freddie talks about the movie they are supposed to be watching in a low voice. Brian finally gets to his feet to check on Roger too, having a tentative smile on his face while he tries to squish himself between John and Roger on the already cramped couch.

John takes his leave then. Under the disguise of washing the dishes from their dinner, nobody stops him, but Freddie side eyes him leaving.

John doesn't give his questioning looks any attention. He doesn't always want to pick fights.

As tempting as it is to snuggle up against Brian and Roger and offer him comfort, John doesn't let himself give into easy temptations. He has his reasons to keep his distance from Roger when he still has a resolve. To stay reserved in ways his boyfriends have failed to. Roger has issues and those will cause problems if not dealt with accordingly.

Their trip to the high street only confirmed that.

★☆★

John can tell when Brians pills are emptying faster than before.

Roger is lovely, yes. Roger is also a drug addict and a prostitute by profession. John trusts him about as far as he can throw him.

Because time doesn't make Roger feel better.

It is the Mobday before the holidays, the house is warmly lit in Christmas lights and candles, they have their Elvis Christmas Record on and only wear their ugly sweaters inside.

Christmas is joy, Roger apparently hasn't had Christmas in a long while. Freddie and Brian are fooled by the glister in Rogers eyes. John can see past the thin mask of excitement.

Roger tries his best to hide the paranoia from them, especially from John.

His anxiety keeps him tightly winded. His shoulders are tense and his neck is stiff with tension. The wisp of the wind against the window or a plate clattering into the sink sends him into a state of sudden shock and fright.

It goes as fast as it comes.

But John keeps his eyes open. He observes and he sees more than Freddie, who sometimes prefers turning a blind eye if it meant accommodating Rogers behavior.

Even now while they're playing scrabble and listen to music. Hendrix. On the floor around the coffee table the three of them sit. Brian appears to be winning, but only because Roger is distracted. His eyes keep darting to the window, where the snow is thumping against the glass. Outside there are children playing in their backgardens. Roger physically bristles under their piercing shouts and cries.

The panic flashes by too briefly for anyone to take note.

Except for John, who had been preparing dinner in the other room instead of playing along with his boyfriends and Roger. He had finished the soup and lets it simmer in the pot to check in on them. He feels like a ghost, quiet and invisible, when he stands in the door to watch them,

Roger flinches at the creak in the floorboard Johns weight causes on the old wood. Anyone else would not have seen it.

They're on the floor, the three of them, with scrabble board in the middle and the record behind them in the corner.

Rogers twists his neck slightly and lets his gaze fall on him. John sees nothing but a blue sea of shipwreck. Begging for rescue under the facade.

John knows they are all lying to themselves, Roger is not okay.

Like a ghost John walks back out of the living room. He can see Roger turning back this game, unsuspecting.

Nobody follows after him when he makes his way upstairs. He checks to make sure.

The house is dark but familiar. Johns fingertips graze the railing and then the wall to find his way to the bathroom without turning on the lights. His hand closes around the doorknob and he is inside. He closes the door before he turns the lights on. The whole time he stays alert for possible footsteps coming up the stairs after him. But they are all too engrossed in the game and each other.

The dynamics between the three of them are more than fascinating.

He himself doesn't suffer from jealousy.

But Brian does, his eyes narrow when Roger makes heart eyes at Freddie when he talks— which is always. Freddie drinks the attention up like he just finished running a marathon under the sun. He loves having someone looking up to him, sparkling eyes and boyish smiles.

John doesn't miss the times Freddie eyes Roger back.

That is different, because Roger lacked affection for most of his life and is now indulging it as much as he can. There is no similar reason for Freddie to want Rogers affection, he doesn't lack any.

No reason other than liking it.

"Fuck."

He almost forgot why he was here in the first place. His brain catches on when his hands find the orange tube in the bottom of the medicine cabinet behind the stack of paracetamol boxes and couch syrup.

The tube is nearly weightless in his palm.

Brian isn't due for a new receipt in another month.

John holds the bottle up against the light. A total of 4 pills are left, which is not enough to last Brian the week. Let alone another three.

His suspicions had already been there, but now that he was sure Johns blood runs cold. His veins feel taught, he stands there, frozen. Bottle up in the air in front of his eyes. The four final pills taunting him in their numbers.

I told you so. He tells himself with a pit in his stomach.

It all makes sense now.

The grocery incident. His heart to heart with Roger. The paranoia and nightmares.

When Brian began to take the pain medication he had been warned by his doctor about possible side effects.

While Brian had thankfully been mostly unaffected by the potential dangers, Roger appears not to be as lucky.

"Hm."

John closes the cabinet drawer after taking out all potential harmful medicine.

He gathers them against his chest and stalks off to the master bedroom, the one room Roger considers off-limit. John knows addiction lead to desperate measures. Rogers drug rattled brain would not be above searching their bedroom when both he and Freddie were gone for work and Brian is in the shower or sleeping.

Having made up his mind, John finds the chest he uses to store their cash and hides the medication in there. It is an ordinary looking box. Something that could contain a teenagers diary or jewelry. The key is rusty and John struggles to lock it properly.

Eventually he manages to close it with brute force. He drops to his knees after checking the door one last time. Making sure he is alone.

He leaves the box under the bed, shoved between his old university books and a pair of Freddie's winter boots.

With straight shoulders and a distant tug on his heart, John finds his way downstairs again.

He knows what he has to do.

In the kitchen the soup is heated on the hob. John doesn't bother to check on it. He goes straight down the hall to the living room. The boys are where he left them, unsuspecting and playing, it seems that Brian had indeed won this round.

When after another minute staring at Rogers back becomes boring, John clears his throat, ignoring the pit in his stomach.

He doesn't know how to help someone like Roger, but he knows what he can do.

"Roger."

"Hm?"

Bloodshot eyes, tired and pupils unnaturally large find his. John gestures towards the back door, ignoring both Freddie and Brians questioning looks.

"Let's go outside, have a smoke."

★☆★

"How have you been?"

"Okay."

Roger leans in for John to light the cig loosely held between his lips. They stand under the tiny roof over the terrace. Freddie's flowers have died and the grass is covered in snow, yet John enjoys the winter sight of their garden.

The cold bites at their clothes. Neither of them bothered with a coat or gloves.

John huddles a little closer to Roger. Roger stays still.

He takes a deep lungful of smoke. Marbelo. He waits for the thick heavy relief of the smoke to fill up the empty space in his lungs, before he exhales through his nostrils.

A few calculated puffs in, John glances sideways at Roger, cigarette held still in the corner of his lips. The cold is getting to him too, but as predicted, the nicotine calms his nerves and rapid foot tapping on the creaking wooden planks John swears are rotten with bugs.

"Really?" He murmurs.

Roger hesitates to lean against the side of the house. The brick will feel cold to touch.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just terrified someone is send to kill me."

He rolls up his sleeve, casually, and turns his arm over to show John his scarred mark.

"Gang and all that."

Bile crawls up Johns throat.

The sick flavor is unwashable even with the smoke coming from his carefully parted lips. The scarred tissue engraved in Rogers skin is a symbol John recognizes from graffiti downtown and tattoos on people from rougher neighborhoods. Gang signs aren't something he had encountered before. Not on a person, not like that.

All thoughts about the pills, the chest and the keys in his pocket are forgotten.

His fingers hover over Rogers arm. He expects Roger to pull away or tense up, but he does neither. Roger keeps his arm perfectly still and stretched out to John, offering himself freely.

Johns fingertip traces over the rough skin as lightly as he can. It has colored brown in the harshest burned parts, but the outer lines are thin and white.

He follows the pattern with his thumb. It's almost too surreal to describe the thin skin under his fingers hooking to rough edge of burned flesh.

With his free hand he holds Rogers tender wrist. Grounding him.

He has long lost Rogers eyes. He is staring off into the garden. Breathing in the stale nicotine air and snow. The children aren't shouting anymore, all called in for dinner. The only sound John can hear is his heart fast and steady against his ribcage and Rogers ragged breathing.

The symbol is somewhat round with two symmetrical points swirling out.

He tilts Rogers hand up closer to his face. Examining the scar as closely as he can. His breath ghosts over the skin and Rogers arm becomes lit with goosebumps. It isn't ugly, necessarily, the thought is.

He can't stop looking, even if its rude to imagine what shameful experience lies behind it. Rogers cigarette has nearly burned out when John picks his eyes up again.

His own cigarette had a long trail of unflicked ash sticking to the butt. John taps the excess away.

He struggles not to show pity when he looks at Roger. Still he tries.

He drops Rogers hand until it slouches back against his side. Roger doesn't look at him, even when John trails his hand down Rogers wrist to give his fingers a firm squeeze.

"Freddie never told me that."

Johns tongue is drier than sandpaper when he speaks. His voice sounds nothing like his own.

After a long inhale, Roger turns to blow the smoke into Johns face, smiling with his lips curled but eyes dead as the night approaching them from from the east.

"My mother ran from my father when I was a child. He hit her." He adds, in case John hadn't been told. His eyes flicker between the garden and John when he speaks. He looks over the fence, checking if they are alone or not. "Our only option was to live with Richard, until she died. Then everything truly changed. If I wanted to stay at the place I knew as home, I had to make money. If I wanted to make money, I had to belong to the Bull Crew."

His sleeve had rolled back down on its own accord. John glances up at his face.

The cold has reddened the tip of Rogers nose. A snowflake has fallen onto his eyelash. John focuses on the small white dot when he speaks, hoping his words won't be as horrible as they sound in his own head.

"You're one prostitute, one of many as I reckon, why would he keep searching for you?"

"Because it's personal." Roger has nearly finished the cigarette with this inhale. "I'm fucking terrified of what he'll do when he finds me."

John clenches his jaw. Remembering the four pills left in Brians tube.

"You don't have to be scared."

"I can see him, everywhere." Roger mutters. His eyes dart over the garden again, back and forth, not unlike meerkat trying to identify nearby danger.

John turns to Roger and physically blocks the garden view from him. He puffs out his chest and stands his ground. It makes the other man frown up at him. John doesn't care about glares, he can handle temporary frustration. He can't handle enabling a drug addict in his home and assist him into an early grave.

He tries to keep his voice low and calm as well as his eyes. Not giving away anything.

"Isn't that your mind fabricating that?"

Rogers face hardens. "No." He says. Voice thin but clear.

It is frustrating having to stand there and pretend. John isn't oblivious like Brian. John isn't willing to brush the obsessive behavior under the rug like Freddie.

He wraps his hand around Rogers scarred arm and tugs until they're not more than an inch apart. The gesture isn't affectionate. Rogers eyes widen in panic. John keeps a tight hold of him.

"If Freddie finds out what you've been doing it will destroy him, that's why he pretends he can't see you're getting worse. Because you are. If he finds out why, he will not be okay and that will crush him. I can't allow that. You live under our roof, you're our responsibility now and I won't let you hurt Freddie or Brian."

"I—" All previous color has drained from Rogers face.

He goes completely rigid. John isn't significantly taller but in the moment he feels like he is towering over him. He doesn't have to yell for his words to boom and echo across the lawn.

He points a finger at Rogers chest. At his heart.

"There is nobody out there, Roger. There isn't anybody out there to hurt you. He lost you after you were brought to the hospital, the state you were in? He probably thinks you're dead. Those things you see are nothing but thin air and shadows. Those are hallucinations and you'll keep having them if you don't stop taking Brians medicine."

The next thing he knows, John is pushed backwards until he has landed with his ass onto the snow.

The air is knocked out of him and the movement was so unexpected his senses take a long moment to recover from the blow. He splutters, baffled by the strength that Roger suddenly possesses and regains his balance to yell after him. "Hey!"

Roger pushes past him and runs into the house after stomping onto the butt of his cigarette. He is faster than John has ever seen him move before and lets the door clatter closed behind him. The sound of his stomps echo through the quiet neighborhood.

John stares after him with his mouth hanging open.

His cigarette has long fallen from between his lips. He takes a long moment to gather himself, breathing the chilly air, before he claws his way back inside.

Just as John lifts his foot to step over the doorway, Freddie jumps into view, looking frazzled and confused, but instead of going after Roger he turns to John.

He blocks the door and he narrows his eyes.

"What did you say to him?"

John scowls and pushes past him with some forcs. He doesn't care that he comes across as cruel. He's protecting everyone and there isn't anything else he has interest in doing.

"John, John! Get back here!"

★☆★

"Can't sleep?"

Roger shakes his head.

"Me neither."

John had intended to go downstairs for a snack when the clock next to the bed read 3 am and he still hadn't gotten any shut eye. Brian had murmured sleepily when John untangled himself from him, but his boyfriends hadn't otherwise stirred. Clad in his sleep shirt and boxers, on his way to the stairs John had found light streaming out from under the door to the cat closet.

He found what he suspected to find, Roger crossed legged on the floor, Oscar pulled against his chest, purring while Roger cuddled him.

Roger looks up at him with red rimmed eyes. He has obviously been crying.

He hadn't come down for dinner after what happened in the garden. He barricaded himself in his room and didn't respond to Freddie's attempts to lure him out.

John doesn't mention it. He slides down the doorpost and tries for a smile, the closet is small and his knee brushes against Rogers when he lands on the floor. Roger looks down at it, seemingly not completely sure how to react.

He is dressed in one of Johns shirt. John wonders if he knows.

It reaches down Rogers thighs, underneath he might be wearing pants, but John can't tell. His long bare legs are white like the beaches in movies. His toes are socked, curling in on themselves and wriggling to keep warm.

John forces his eyes back to Rogers face. He sees the insecurity there, which he planted there himself.

"Are you kicking me out?"

The question is abrupt, John blinks. Then shakes his head once. "No."

Roger hoists Oscar higher. The cat meows pathetically at being moved, flexing it paws as a warning against Rogers chest. Roger rubs his chin between Oscars ears to shush him. "Did you tell Freddie?"

"No." Again. "I told you, I want to spare his feelings."

"Even if it meant you had to lie?"

"There is too much going on for him already. He doesn't— he cares so much about you, Roger. He is willfully ignorant to some of the things you have been doing. He knows about your traumas and how little you have been sleeping because of your nightmares. He must know that you can't live like that, not even mentioning the paranoia and things you see. He is a therapist, he has to know that under the pressure, at some point, you'd crack."

"I won't do it again." Roger promises.

John already made sure of that. If Roger wants drugs, he'll have to go outside the door from now on. There he would have to face his demons, John doubts he is capable of that even without the side effects of Brians medication.

To answer him, John hums.

Tiffany has strutted her way over and splayed herself across his lap. Pet me. Her tail curls in the air, John sighs and averts his eyes from Roger to brush his fingers through the cats thick mane. Carefully stroking it back the way he knows she loves.

A blissful moment of silence passes between them. Roger seems to have relaxed slightly now. He was worried John might put him on the streets, not taking into account John isn't a complete monster.

Besides, he likes having Roger around.

He likes his easy smiles, his horrible cooking and their conversations over breakfast. Roger is a quick reader and could recap the days paper while John is scrambling his eggs.

It makes his days a little more bearable.

Brian and Freddie adore him. John couldn't dare to take something precious to them, away.

"We're spending an awful lot of time together lately."

"I'm sorry." Roger murmurs with the hint of a smile.

Warm tingles burst from his underbelly to his fingertips. He sighs contently, "I actually owe you an apology, for coming off so strongly in the backyard. That was inappropriate."

"I understand." Roger says. "You want to protect who's dear to you. I have been quite destructive to your family."

Long shifts he spends bend over televisions and cars have made Johns back a mess of pained knots and creaks. Sitting up against the doorpost is uncomfortable. He wriggles away from the wall and closer to Roger. Who, swallows thickly.

John doesn't think that's true. At all. Roger has brought a light into the house that filled up a space John hadn't noticed they had to spare. He is loving and radiates warmth that melted the cold after a period of darkness befallen over then during Brians illness.

Roger comes with trouble, but he also comes with love.

"I don't like it when people don't like me."

John looks up to see Roger staring at him directly with clear sober eyes. He shouldn't have wandered off mid conversation. "I already told you—"

"Like me," Roger says pointedly. "like like me. Not 'tolerate my presence because your boyfriend thinks I'm cute' like me."

This is the Roger he likes.

A smile tugs on Johns face, he eyes Roger over again. His arms are bare in his t-shirt and he shivers with sleep. He looks as tired and restless as John feels. The lights in the cat closet are poor, but he can still tell various scars criss crossing over the length of Rogers arm.

John drops a very betrayed Tiffany onto the pillows, before he hoists himself to his feet.

He stretches his arm out to Roger with a smile. "Come with me."

Roger drops Oscar with a glimmer in his eyes usually only reserved for Freddie.

"Where are we going?"

★☆★

"Wow."

"Wow indeed."

The gun feels heavy but familiar in his palm. Roger sits down next to him, on the floor so their thighs are touching.

It hadn't taken much searching for John to find the tattoo kit he owned in University.

"I wasn't expecting this from you."

"Well," John opens the little tubes with ink. He has two black ones left. He hopes it will do. "I don't have any myself, but I used to put them on my friends for a couple of pennies."

"Are you any good?" Roger asks quietly.

He is leaning into his side, slouched and tired. John would feel bad for keeping him up if it weren't for the excited grin on Rogers face.

"No."

They chuckle. Rogers forehead falls onto his shoulder and John leans his head against him while he tries to find his old sanitary wipes im the box.

When he locates the three year old packages he takes the liberty of grabbing Rogers arm and stretching it out over the coffee table. He had set up the lamp from Freddie's office to give better lighting. Under the white glow Rogers scar is a little more terrifying. John resists touching it again, Roger is smiling now and he doesn't want it to die.

He shifts to glance at Roger, whose face is soft with mirth and a warm glow.

John feels himself relax against him too.

"What do you want on it?"

"W."

"W?"

Roger nods, John looks at him while he wipes the skin on an around the brand mark clean. "The first letter of my mums name." He elaborates.

John nods solemnly. He bins the wipes and snaps on the surgical gloves.

"I see."

They both fall into silence for a moment. John goes for the marker he left with his kit all those years ago. He carves the 'W' over the gang sign. He can't completely cover it, but he can hide the recognizability.

Rogers face lights up when John moves his hand away and shows him what it would look like.

His eyebrows shoot up, then his jaw goes slack.

"Can you do that?"

"The lines will be wonky and it will hurt over the tender scar tissue. I'm nowhere near a professional and you might get a nasty infection from my old homemade equipment."

Johns belly tightens when Roger nods. Eyes shining. "I want this." He breathes. "It's worth the risk."

A smile tugs on Johns lips and he reaches for the tattoo machine before Roger can catch on and realize how stupid this might be.

It drills in his hand a bit too roughly.

He grounds Rogers arm onto the table. He uses one hand to control the machine and the other to keep his weight onto Rogers arm and keep the skin taut. "Gonna hurt like a bitch."

Rogers lips brush against his ear. John nearly shoots out. "Do it."

So he does.

The first hiss of the needle against Rogers skin causes them both to hold their breath. Roger really shouldn't be pushing back against the tattoo artist while he is tattooing him, but John can't get himself to ask Roger to stop leaning his forehead against his arm. Using it as a shield and grit his teeth.

John tries to concentrate on the outer lines first. He traces the marker lines with all the precision he can muster.

Rogers hands curl into fists. Fighting a fight or flee reaction.

The moon shines through the window and not once has John seen Roger worried about the noise coming from low hanging branches of the tree ticking against the side of the window. Or the howling of two dogs across the street.

No. Roger is here with him. In the moment. Sober and experiencing the pure pain from the needle.

It is a small sacrifice to make, nothing as painful as John imagines it was to get the brand mark.

He smacks his lips open only when the W is fully traces around the outside. John has to grab another needle to fill the tattoo in. He barely has enough ink left, plus he fears it is out of date. He doesn't voice his concerns to Roger, who is breathing hard into Johns shoulder, somehow rubbing the side of his face against him whilst looking away from his arm on the table.

"My father died too, y'know. When I was young." John murmurs.

"I'm sorry."

He doesn't talk about it often, he doesn't like to remind himself more about it than his mind already forces him to. His mother always told him to keep those feelings close to his heart, usually it works.

"It still hurts. Even now."

"Yeah." Roger says. "How did he die?"

"Heart attack." He is aware of his own words, but he sounds like a robot drilling out a predetermined script. "Nobody saw it coming, he was fit and young. It was very sudden. How did your mum die?"

The sharp curve of the needle makes Roger hiss. John murmurs a half heartedly apology.

"Sudden too." Roger bites out. "A rival gang shot her."

"I'm sorry."

Another moment of silence passes them. There isn't a way for John to tell the time, but it stays comfortably quiet until he nearly finishes the tattoo. The scar tissue and his lack of skill has indeed caused some kinks and wobbles in what should be straight lines, but when John thickens each outer line of the 'W' it looks almost decent. He feels proud that he got to help Roger over this, even if its small. He has to start somewhere, like with the drugs. It wouldn't be a bad first step to take.

"I joined the Bull Crew for protection, for shelter and because I knew it. It was the only certainty I knew." Roger perches his chin onto Johns bicep. John gives him glances from the corner of his eye when he can. "But Richard promised me something too."

Turning off the drill, John drops it onto the table. Done.

"What?"

"He'd burn the people responsible for her death, to the ground." Roger doesn't blink, neither does John.

"Big promise."

"It impressed me, helped me through my sadness."

John hums thoughtfully. It's different to have your mother murdered in a senseless attack, rather than an out of control event. He applies the ointment to Rogers tattoo, the outer edges are reddening and John makes quick work of bandaging him up. Roger stays perfectly still, finally,  Roger watches him wrap the white cloth intently with large droopy eyes. The pain adrenaline seeps away quickly and John thinks he might have to leave Roger on the couch tonight instead of dragging him up the stairs.

"Did he?" He asks after a careful moment. "Find the person?"

Roger shakes his head. "No."

"I'm sorry." He says again, but Roger shakes his head, looking tired but also immensely happy when he cradles his bandaged arm to his chest. "I hope you like it."

"I will." Roger says solemnly, eyes hooded and sincere.

He sounds drunk with sleep. John smiles when Roger grows heavier against his side. He has to work tomorrow at 7. He doesn't even want to know what time it is now, but he fears he won't get more than an hour of sleep.

He wordlessly wraps Roger into his arms. Hand under his knees and shoulder to carry him bridal style.

Rogers face contorts with a yawn. One that John involuntary mirrors so intensely tears spring into his bleary eyes. When his face finally relaxes again he shakes the sleep off and finds Roger grinning up at him, looking content to be put down on the couch against the fluffy pillows.

John reaches for the blanket they keep under the couch for movie nights. Roger curls his knees to his chest before John covers him.

His own cheeks hurt from smiling. He doesn't want the moment to end yet.

"Stay." Roger whispers.

John swallows and drops to his knees next to the couch. His brain tells him to leave, but his heart feels tugs him closer to the couch.

The carpet tickles Johns bare legs and he leans onto the armrest with his arms, staring down at Roger in quiet. "I'm here."

He reaches under the blanket and carefully moves Rogers bandaged arm into the open air.

"You have to be careful with that." John murmurs, resting his hand on top of Rogers. "If it gets infected I'll have Freddie on my ass."

"We wouldn't want that." Roger whispers back.

His other hand comes snaking out from under the covers to take a hold of Johns hand. The blanket pools by his waist, leaving the focus on his copper hair and pearly arms.

It dawns on him how close they are when he can count the lashes adoring Rogers eyes and feel the heat radiating from his flushed skin.

John for the first time since meeting him feels free to openly admire him.

With the hand that Roger isn't clutching, he angles his chin up to have a better look at his face, softened with the weeks of food and no heroin. Roger reminds him of the tall pale figures in Renaissance paintings he had witnessed while in Rome with his mother as a child. He remembers staring up at them, hanging straight and high from the white museum ceilings.

Rogers subtle, ever ethereal beauty becomes harder to ignore each passing second spent in his glowing presence.

John has no idea how long he has held his breath, but his lungs burn in desperation for oxygen. Yet he cannot move.

Roger is staring back at him intently.

Hunger clouds in his eyes and John knows he needs to move away now, but he doesn't want it to stop. He doesn't mind where this is going.

Rogers breath comes out in slow careful puffs against Johns parted lips.

He blinks, as if sensing the unrest in Johns mind.

"What's on your mind?" Roger asks with a squeeze of his hand.

"You're beautiful." John murmurs dumbly, causing Roger to straighten up and giggle.

"Shut up."

Two hands cup his cheeks and keep him still. John freezes when Roger leans in and closes the space between them.

The touch is soft and feather like. John lets his eyes flutter closed and lets his hands rest on Rogers shoulders.

The kiss is slow and tentative. John inhales sharply while Roger leans in to press their lips together more firmly. Roger pecks his bottom lip between his own, no haste, no pressure. Rogers hair tickles his forehead and John finds himself pulling Roger in for more. Tingles bloom to the rest of Johns body and he shivers, struggling not to push Roger back against the couch and lick into his mouth no matter how he craves to do just that.

Roger makes a soft noise at the back of his throat. John moans, playing with the hair on the nape of Rogers neck.

"Hm." He tugs insistently on Rogers bottom lip with his teeth when the blond pulls away from the kiss. Roger laughs breathily at his desperation, not straying far.

John is hot all over, but can't get himself to be embarrassed.

Roger keeps his face at a distance. His cheeks are pink too and his eyes are shining.

"Thank you." He pants.

Johns lips are still tingling from where Rogers had touched his, he too struggles to regain his composure.

It is a lost cause. He closes his eyes and presses his forehead against Rogers. Sighing. "You're welcome."

★☆★

"Imogen, it's time."

Janice gives her a gentle yet insistent tug on her elbow to get her moving. It isn't often that they are permitted to go into Richards bedroom.

She is careful to keep the disdain from her face when she steps into the corridor. The door is open and she can hear the voices inside discussing things she wishes not to hear. The cloud that hangs over them reminds her of her own branding.

Janice waits for her to step into the room first. Imogen is grateful for secure the hand on her back.

The bedroom hasn't changed since the last time she saw it.

Janice and herself were the last to arrive.

The other girls stand in a circle pressed against the wall as far away from the scene as they can. The three men stand around the table in the middle of the room.

Imogens heart thunders in her chest at the familiar scene before her.

Roger lays flat on the table. Belly up and limbs tied to the extend of complete immobility. He is poorly gagged with a cloth half shoved down his throat. He bites on it and chews while his eyes frantically move around the room.

His eyes land on the man next to Richard, who is holding the infamous branding pole.

It glows orange with heat. Janice huddles closer to her to hide her own discomfort at the memory of it burning against her skin too.

Richard runs a hand over Rogers tear stained face. "It will be over soon." He says. "I promise."

The words hold no comfort. Roger is breathing harshly through his nose and a beat of sweat rolls down his temple. He looks Richard right in the eye, as if to beg him to stop this now. Isn't there another way?

Rogers sobs increase in volume when the heat of the iron hoovers over his skin. He shakes. Kicks his legs against the ropes, curling his toes. His nails dig into the wood of the table, causing them to break and scratches to dent the surface.

Imogen averts her eyes and looks around the room to see the other girls doing the same.

She closes her eyes when Richard gives a shallow nod.

Roy, Richards right hand man, angels the iron symbol to Rogers arm. Neither she or Janice are watching, but they don't need their eyes to know what is being done.

Roger bursts out into a silent scream when the iron comes in contact with his arm. The skin sizzles and the smell of burning flesh overwhelms the room.

Imogen covers his face with her hand against the smell and to wipe away her tears. 

Somewhere in the room someone hiccups on a sob, but it is swallowed by another blood curdling scream that forces her bones to rattle under her skin.

He screams and thrashes. Roy only pulls the iron away when Richard speaks up seconds later. "Enough."

Roger cries, heaving for air while Richard leans over his body to pet his hair away from his forehead. He is smiling over him. Imogen feels sick to her stomach, wondering how he can stand the stench of Rogers burned skin.

"See, it's over now. Wasn't all that bad."

Roger can't answer. Richard doesn't expect him to. He angles his chin up to force him to look at him while he cries. His nails dig into Rogers cheeks.

"You're mine now."

Chapter Text

"Hey sleepyhead."

"Hi."

Its ten past elven when Freddie decides Roger has had enough sleep. He is crouched on his feet next to the couch, he runs a hand through Rogers bed ruffled tresses. Roger, only half awake, ducks his head to lean into his touch. His skin is flush with sleep and his eyes blink closed again.

Laughter bubbles up Freddie's throat when Roger nods off again.

He trails his hand down to cup Rogers cheek, tapping it until Rogers nose twitches in annoyance and his eyes reopen.

"There he is."

"Is'early."

Freddie thumbs away the crusty sleep in the corner of Rogers eye. Roger stills under the touch, trusting. "It's eleven."

"So?" He yawns and Freddie once he flicks his hand clean, pulls the blanket away from Rogers body.

"No." He whines, arm pulled over his face.

Only now Freddie takes note of the bandage wrapped around it. He doesn't say anything for the time being, instead he bundles the blanket up and piles it under the couch. Roger has curled his bare legs to his chest. Dramatically shivering in the cold he can't be feeling, because Freddie had turned the heater on hours ago.

"Yes!" He smiles, "I made breakfast."

Roger lowers his arm to look at him. Suddenly interested. "What you got?"

Freddie had spend the morning preparing for Christmas, which is just around the corner. He has closed the stall for the day to do so, lied to John about having no clients on Monday. There is always a lot of preparation to do and this year it will be Freddie doing most of it himself. John is usually the one who prepares Christmas dinner, but he can't under the current circumstances with his job. Brian can't stand for so long and Roger has never made Christmas dinner himself. They agreed for Freddie to take care of it.

"Do you smell that?"

Roger pushes himself in a sitting position. Rubbing his face to wake up. "What?"

The living room is filled with the warm aroma of freshly baked goods. The smell is thick and unmistakable, Freddie's mouth has been watering ever since he took them out of the oven.

"I baked Christmas cookies." He frowns. "Can't you smell it?"

Roger shakes his head, slow and sheepish. "I lost most of my sense of smell years ago. I snorted too much."

His voice comes out indifferent and at peace. Freddie can tell he doesn't want to get into these details today. Not when they both have a faint smile on their face and the Christmas tree casts a homey shadow over the living room.

"Maybe," Freddie hastes his way into the kitchen and back. Returning to the living room with his freshly baked goods. "If you hold it up close you can."

He stands in front of Roger, who is still heavily leaning against the side of the couch with droopy eyes. Freddie lowers his arms and lets him sniff the cooling cookie tray.

Roger leans in with a raised eyebrow.

A bright smile takes over his face when he closes his eyes and inhales deeply. Eyes flickering up at Freddie.

"That's really good."

"Thank you." Freddie beams, half because Rogers is infectious and half because of the compliment. He prompts for Roger to take one and also takes one for himself.

They put the tray down on the coffee table which they sit opposite of on the floor.

Sleep is slowly fading from Rogers puffy eyes.

Whatever happened between him and John yesterday had been emotional, but necessary. Both of them had woken up in a good mood, Freddie assumed all is well. John didn't want to talk about what was said in the garden and why he was out of bed from 3 to 5 am last night.

Roger is still munching on his cookie, content in the quiet. His hair is sticking up to one side and his shirt is rumpled with sleep.

He is glancing sideways at Freddie, feeling observed.

"Hm?"

Freddie reaches out to comb down the unruly strands. Roger bows his head to give him more access, looking up at Freddie from between his fringe.

The weeks of using their hair products and regular showers have left Rogers hair soft and the natural color shining.

"Maybe you need another haircut." Freddie mumbles, brushing his hair down to find the natural parting in the middle.

"John told me not to let you near me with scissors again."

Freddie laughs, knowing he should be offended but even he had to admit he didn't cut a single strand straight when he cut Rogers hair the first week he came to the house. Sighing, he lets his hand fall onto Rogers knee instead, squeezing him to make him smile again too. Cheeks puffed with cookie crumbles.

For a long moment Freddie forgets about everything.

Kensington Market, his job, Brians illness, the bags under Johns eyes and Rogers echoing cries during his nightmares.

They're here now, the two of them. The Christmas tree is lit up and giving the room a fresh pine scent. The lights illuminate happy colors against the other furniture. They have cut up some wood for the hearth and purchased the newest released Christmas LP's.

They are exclusively wearing pajamas and Christmas sweaters now.

Roger looks as cozy in Johns shirt as Freddie feels in Brians. Both their feet covered by thick woolen socks.

Roger leans in to bump their shoulders together and steal another cookie.

"What are we doing today?"

Freddie grins and wriggles his eyebrows. Roger seems caught between chuckling and concern.

He reaches for the plastic shopping back he left next to the coffee table. He puts it between him and Roger, who helps him to lay the items out before them on the wooden surface. Clear tape, scissors, colorful paper and bows.

"Packing gifts!"

Rogers face lights up, then less than a second later it falls again. "I didn't get anyone anything."

"We only buy one gift for each of us, a collective gift." Freddie flicks his wrist, careful with his wording.

Rogers uneasiness doesn't completely vanish. "I didn't contribute to it."

"You're packing, arent you?"

All the gifts are prepared in unmarked carton boxes. The good news is that nobody is getting the same gift, so the names can be added on when wrapping up had finished. The box Freddie hands Roger now is ironically his own present. Freddie had found a pair of sparkling pink converse in the shopping district. It cost him an arm and a leg, but he knows Roger will love it.

Roger takes it and unsuspectingly
begins to wrap the red and white paper around the box.

Freddie waits for him to cut off the piece he needs before he can start wrapping the box he is holding. The shape tells him its a large book, Brians gift. He watches Roger from the corner of his eye while they both work on their respective pieces. It is easy to fall into a haze while watching Roger fold and tape the corners neatly. Almost unexpectedly perfect. Freddie messes up his own gift by paying too much attention to Roger, who is already reaching across the table to finish it up with a bow. Freddie's eyes drift to the bandage again, he worries, but shifts his gaze to his own wrapping paper once more.

He works in silence and feigns nonchalance when he murmurs, "So what's with your arm?"

A moment of silence passes.

He lifts his chin to look at Roger. He is surprised to see the pink blush on his cheeks and the grin tugging dangerously on the corner of his lips. He fails to resist its muscle power,

"What's that smile for?"

"Nothing."

"Don't lie to me." Freddie smirks, remembering hearing John leave the bed last night and two pairs of feet going down the stairs before Freddie fell back asleep. Two people.

He doesn't know what he and John had been up to, but it hasn't done much damage other than the wrapping around Rogers arm.

Freddie doesn't like being kept in the dark, but there are worst things to be kept from.

"I'm not lying, I'm just- FREDDIE!"

Freddie in the next moment wrestles Roger to the floor, careful not to let him fall backwards too hard, and presses his shoulders down to keep him flat.

Roger is giggling, cheeks dimpling and eyes shining.

Freddie expects to be pushed away when Roger reaches out to him— but instead he sticks a strip of tape to his nose and in Freddie's momentary distraction he rolls them over. With a grunt and a huff, Roger is on top and Freddie knows he completely deserves it when bony fingers begin to dance over his sides underneath his shirt.

Tickling Freddie into a spiral of smiles and giggles.

★☆★

"Ha—rk the herald-"

"Press the key on Herald, here."

Brian wraps his hand around Rogers wrist and nudges it to the right key. Roger has a large smile on his face, his cheeks flush when Brian presses himself more firmly against him on the tiny piano stool. "Try again."

"Okay, so this note and..." Rogers eyes scan the sheet before him. He squints and leans in before his pinky finger presses lightly over the right key. "This one."

Brian is watching Rogers hands intently, ready to interfere if necessary.

"Ha—rk the Herald angels sing," Roger has to cross and stretch his other arm out to reach the higher keys. "Glo—ry to the new b... Hm."

"This one."

"Born King."

Brian nods and reflects Rogers proud beam.
"You're really getting it, come on next line."

Before today Roger hadn't so much as touched a piano. Between their old Christmas records he found a pile of sheet music and he brought it over to the other room, dragging Brian along and demanding he would teach him a couple of songs for Christmas eve. False notes and giggles led Freddie into the doorway to watch the two, completely oblivious to him.

It is heart warming to see Roger openly happy and Brian so energetic.

He lingers against the doorpost, smiling at the couple. Amusement curling his own lips pleasantly and he wishes the moment never had to end.

Out of the blue, John comes to stand behind him and gives him a nudge.

"Don't you take pity?"

Freddie turns to him with a smile. He rocks onto his tiptoes to peck his lips, smiling. "I'm cozy here."

Roger messes up the second line again and Brian isn't being very effective by pushing Rogers wrist around. John chuckles and Freddie feels a calm warmth radiate from him that only appears around the holidays. "Go." John says, pushing Freddie towards the others.

"Hark the Ha— Hey."

Roger stops playing when Freddie approaches to look up at him.

Freddie smiles and wordlessly pulls Roger onto his feet. Then he motions for Roger to sit on his knees. Once he does, Freddie rests his palms on top of Rogers hands to guide his fingers across the keys on the keyboard. They begin careful and slow with Freddie taking the lead. Rogers brow is creased in concentration, Brian is smiling, watching them intently while John has left the room and returned with Brians photo camera to snap a shot.

They continue to play until Freddie's hands are slightly hovering over Rogers.

When Roger performs the whole song himself Freddie and Brian both lean in to give him a kiss on the cheek, Freddie's more lingering and sloppy. Brian shy and hesitant. Roger flushes under the praise and prompts for Freddie to teach him another one. Flipping the sheet to the next song. John turns on the heater in the corner of the room and brings the tray of cookies to keep them company. Freddie winks at John, who has taken to hanging onto the corner of the piano. The corner of Johns lip quirks, chewing on a cookie while humming along to Silent Night.

★☆★

Freddie has exactly twenty one minutes before the stalls opening hour. He jumps out of the bathroom, freshly showered and makes a b-line for the bedroom to kiss Brian on the cheek.

"See you tonight my Love."

Brian scrunches his nose and rolls to his side. Freddie bites back a smile and wraps the blanket tightly over his sleeping frame.

Another look around the room has Freddie pausing in front of the mirror. He loosens his tie so that it hangs more casual around his neck. When he gets to Kensington he changes into something more fashionable and fresh. Before the end of the work day he has to pick up his white collar and tie again, all to keep up his silly act.

A glance at his watch tells him he has 18 minutes now to get to work. The car drive alone is a good 15 if he doesn't hit traffic, which he will in central London.

Freddie tugs his shirt in his pants while he makes his way down the stairs.

Oscar follows him hot on his heels. Taking each step the same time Freddie does. Forgoing breakfast in regards to his haste, once Freddie makes it to the bottom he slips on his loafers by the door and scrambles for his keys in the coat he wore yesterday. Freddie reaches for the front door and turns the knob, when a sudden high pitched meow makes him freeze, Freddie instantly recognizes it as Oscars as it echoes through the ground floor. Followed by the screeches of the curtain railing being pulled aside too fast and the Christmas tree jiggling.

His first thought goes to Oscar hanging off the curtains with his claws and falling into the pine tree, like last year, but when Freddie pushes himself away from the front door and into the living room he finds a scene he did not expect.

"Roger?"

The sound of Freddie's voice made Roger jolt further into the corner of the room. He has made himself as small as possible, knees to his chest, arms over his head. He is shaking violently. Face pale as a sheet.

Freddie falls to his knees, heart pounding. Oscar has hidden himself under the couch.

He reaches carefully for Roger without making an attempt to touch him. He keeps his head ducked so he doesn't tower over Roger— overtaken with hyperventilating fear.

"What happened?" Freddie asks quietly. Unsure if Roger can hear him with his arms over his ears and his gasping breaths. "Roger—"

Teary eyes level to the floor. Roger rocks, back and forth. Like a neglected child.

"They found me. They found us— we aren't safe. They found us."

Freddie's throat closes up. The half open curtain and unlocked backdoor suddenly make him feel severely uneasy too. He stays calm for the both of them, eyes carefully hard.

"Who? What did you see?"

Roger hiccups, face red. "The car. I saw his car."

"Richards?"

"Andreis. He— he manages the prostitutes. It's the business car. They're coming to kill us, Freddie. I can't. I don't want to go back. I don't—"

Freddie bolts to his feet. His mind goes a mile per hour.

John is out there, at work. Are there two cars? Is one following him too? How will he reach Johns clients place to tell him the house is being surveillanced by Richard?

He thinks about the windows to close and doors to barricade. He hopes none of the cats are outside. They wouldn't usually in the snow, but—

"The car, what does it look like?"

He is whispering now, assuming that they might be listening. Roger takes a heaving breath. "It's Green. A Ford Consul. Its old and beaten and right across the street— I saw him inside. He was looking straight at the house. How long have they been here? They have been watching. They know I'm here. They're watching. What are they going to do with me Freddie? I don't want to find out. I don't want to—"

Freddie looks over his shoulder once to give him an encouraging nod, whilst crawling over to the window and peek over the sill.

He sits on his knees and carefully stretches his neck out to take a peak between the slits in the curtains. He squints his eyes against the sun catching in the snow. For a long moment he sees nothing but bright gold. His heart is beating rapidly against his chest and the only sound in the room is Rogers panicked mumbling.

When the world settles moments later, Freddie blinks and finds himself staring at the empty snow covered street.

He strains his neck further to look around the corner and in the distance, but the only car he spots is the old mini-cooper the lady next door owns and his own car amongst the whitened asphalt.

"I don't want to go back. I don't want to. I'll die. I can't—"

"Roger?"

Freddie's heart sinks into his gut. Unsettled. He turns his head to face him. He keeps his face calmly neutral, as his years as a therapist have taught him.

Roger has a haze over his eyes. Freddie can't read them behind the mist of tears. "I-is he in there? Anyone with him?"

Freddie slinks back to the floor. Maintaining strict eye contact.

"There is no car, Roger."

The way Rogers eyes dart between the window and the direction of the hallway is alarming. "It was there." He mutters. "It was there. I saw it. It was across the street, waiting for me."

Freddie hugs him close and doesn't say anything about how dilated his pupils are.

Roger lets himself be pulled into Freddie's lap while he is openly sobbing. Freddie rests his chin on his head, trying to sway him into sensibility.

"You're okay, come here. Come on."

"Don't leave." He weeps. "Please don't leave. I can't. He's outside he's going to hurt you. Please I can't lose you Freddie. J-John is in danger. We are all in danger."

"Oh darling, please." Desperate tears rapidly fill his own eyes. "Please don't cry. I cry if you cry."

Roger continues to blabber wetly. Rubbing his face onto Freddie's white collar. "I don't want him to hurt you. I saw the car. It was there, y- you have to believe me. You have to. We can't leave the house. It's too dangerous. They know where we are."

He wraps Roger into his arms a little tighter, giving him a firm squeeze.

Freddie lets his eyes drift up to the window and swallows thickly. Not once does he loosen his grip or stop rocking Roger in his arms while the daunting shadow falls over the two of them.

Maybe, Freddie fears, John is right.

★☆★

There are several causes for the pupils to dilate. The most common one is for the eyes to adjust to the dark. The living room had been bright with Christmas decoration and sunlight, Freddie knows that is not it.

The second more plausible reason why Rogers eyes were widened was because of fear and alertness.

If a person is scared, like Roger, their senses sharpen and the pupils dilate.

Freddie's heart is beating rapidly again. He is rummaging through the cabinets in the bathroom, but he can't find them. Brians medication.

That leaves one last reason for wide pupils, which is drugs.

He shoves another drawer closed. Feeling frustrated and stupid. He had gone to check Brians bedside drawer and even the rubbish bin. To no avail. Wherever Brians orange tube of medication has gone, it has been misplaced. He debates going into Rogers room to search for it there, but—

"Hey."

Freddie jumps, hand clutching his heart reflexively. "Jesus Christ— John. You're home early."

"The roads will be blocked tonight. I was sent home unless there's an emergency, family without gas or something." He leans in the doorway with a calculated expression. Freddie hasn't gotten his heaving chest or redness under control yet. He barely recognizes his disheveled self in the mirror over the sink. John must have noticed too. "What's going on?"

"Where are Brians pills?"

John raises his brow. "Why?"

Freddie clenches his jaw. After two hours of pulling the bathroom apart his patience had grown thin. "Because."

"Because?" John pushes.

"Because I think Roger might be taking them—" John doesn't flinch at the word. Doesn't seem sad or disappointed. He tips his chin and waits. Freddie's eyes widen. "You knew."

John nods stiffly, at least he had the decency to look slightly regretful. "I hid them, told Brian I hid them under the bed because the bathroom was too humid or whatever."

Freddie pushes away from the sink to step closer to John.

He doesn't understand, he never does when John decides to keep him in the dark about things.

They were supposed to be helping Roger get better. How long has John known? Why hasn't he kicked Roger out like Freddie had suspected he would? Why didn't he think it was important to share the truth with the rest of them?

Freddie swallows all the questions down. Keeping his mind on track.

"Why didn't you tell me you suspecting him—"

"I didn't suspect it." John interjects calmly. "He admitted to it when I confronted him, told me he wouldn't do it anymore."

Fuck.

"He must still be taking them, maybe he made a secret stash somewhere before you took them away." Freddie mumbles, stroking his chin thoughtfully.

Johns brow is creased when their eyes meet again. His lips are pressed in a thin line

"He promised me he would stop."

"Yes but..."

"But?" John asks, tightly. The strain in his voice is nothing short from betrayal.

Freddie doesn't know what happened between them during their evening together all those days ago, but John had began to put faith in Roger. Trust and respect. Freddie reaches for his hands, carefully he strokes his thumbs over the back of Johns hands. He stays quiet, Freddie holds his hands lightly in his and wants to make clear to him that decisions Roger makes in order to get drugs cannot be taken personal.

"His addiction can overwhelm reason... Today he saw a car on the street, belonging to one of Richards minions. He swore he saw it, he's been in a state of panic since."

"Did you see it?"

"No." Freddie swallows. He knows exactly where this is headed.

John shakes his head, squeezing their hands. "Brians medication causes hallucinations. You know that is it, but I hid it and when he said he wouldn't take it again I believed him. You know..." He twists his head to the door, painfully aware it's open and their voices can carry down the stairs. "What if it's not the drugs? What if it is all in his mind? That's a bigger problem, he might be psychotic."

"Don't use that word lightly."

"I'm not." John insists. Voice clipped with seriousness.

Freddie hates it but he knows it is true, if the drugs aren't what is driving Roger up the wall, Freddie has no idea where to begin fixing him.

"And what if it's real?" He asks, because everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.
Especially Roger. "What if the car was there?"

"In the store? On the high street? On the way to the supermarket? He barricades his bedroom door and has night terrors." John whisper yells. Their voices have grown nearly silent in their argument because of noises down the stairs. "It's a fabrication of his mind."

"You don't know that—"

He and John both jump Brian springs into the room, face tight and rubbing his arm. "Roger is crying and doesn't want me to touch him."

"Are you okay?"

The shock of Brians sudden appearance washes away fast. John turns to face him too. Also noticing he pained expression on his face while tenderly stroking his arm.

"Yes he just flinched away, is all. A slight push."

Brian stumbles over his words in his haste to explain. Freddie makes eye contact with John, John throws his arms up in the air in thinly veiled fear.

"This is what I mean. We don't know how to deal with this. We coddle him and let him believe things that aren't real."

"What?" Brian asks, brows knit together. John turns to elaborate.

"He saw a car outside the window. He thinks it was one of the gang members, but when Freddie came it was gone."

The more he thinks about it, the more it seems plausible. Richard has done things much more psychologically damaging to Roger. Deliberately inflicting mental discipline on him to keep under control and in check to his disposal. Freddie's stomach churns and he hates how he assumed Roger was seeing things rather than believing the possibility the car might have driven off.

"Maybe we should call the police?" He mumbles, but John stops him before he can take a step out of line.

"They will arrest him, homosexuality and prostitution."

"Doesn't his PTSD trigger hallucinations?"

Brians voice is small and careful. Freddie nods, yes. But he expected from Brian at least the littlest bits of doubt this wasn't made up in his mind.

"Are you saying you don't believe him either?"

"I'm saying—" Brian sighs, it's been a while since Freddie has heard his uptight argumentative voice. "We are providing him a roof over his head, bring him food- we feed into these fantasies, we don't condone it or tell him its idiocy—"

"We are enabling him, Fred." John silences Brian with a sharp look at Freddie. His voice wavers and his eyes show how little comfort he gets from his own words. "He won't get better like this."

Freddie squares his shoulders, giving him
A long tired look. "What do you suggest?"

"Rehab."

★☆★

That night after dinner, Roger had leaned over and quietly asked Freddie if he could sleep in his room tonight. He had witnessed seeing Roger in a permanent state of panic for most of the day, Freddie complied with an easy smile.

"I'm sorry."

After barricading the door with the wooden stool Roger crawls onto the bed with a sheepish frown. Freddie pulls the duvet back and opens his arm for him. Roger quietly curls himself against his side, Freddie pulls him flush against him, breathing in the scent of Johns shampoo in his hair.

It has been half a day since the incident happened downstairs. Roger insisted Freddie could not go to work or outside at all for that matter.

He still isn't back to being his normal self. Freddie trails a finger over Rogers bare shoulder. His face is carefully hidden in Freddie's chest. His fragility leaves Freddie uncertain of now much he understands Roger. Somewhere he had lost track of what was reality and what he wanted to see himself. He liked seeing Roger acclimate to living within their household, he let himself believe Roger could apply the same to the outside world.

The fright this afternoon says otherwise.

He has been taking Brians medication during his stay here. Freddie hadn't suspected him. He didn't want to.

Roger tightens his arm around Freddie. The silence makes him uncertain.

Freddie blinks his eyes open. The last thing Roger said was an apology, perhaps for his paranoia. Perhaps for much more than that. Freddie sighs, pushing a strand of sandy dark blond hair behind Rogers ear.

"Don't be."

"I told you I'm going crazy." Roger mumbles. The shame in his voice is mixed with conviction. "I saw what I saw, it was real." A pause. "To me it was."

Freddie would hate for Roger to think he does trust him.

"I believe you."

"John doesn't."

Roger melts against him with a heavy sigh, Freddie stares up the ceiling in his old office. "He is just worried about you."

They are both quiet for a long moment. Freddie would have thought Roger had fallen asleep if it wasn't for the tension in his shoulders. He is wearing one of Brians old tank tops. It hangs off his frame loosely for sleep. Freddie lets his fingers dance over his shoulder blade. Tracing the jutting bones while he listens to the snow thumping quietly against the window.

Roger turns his face further into Freddie's neck. He can feel Rogers lashes flutter against his skin.

"Don't leave me." He whispers. "I feel like I'm suffocating myself with those things. I feel them. I see them. My dreams are reality but when I wake up its not. But with the car, I can't seem to snap out of it." Roger pushes himself up on Freddie's chest. Freddie's arms pool around his slim waist. "It was there Fred, they're following us and none of us are safe."

Even in the dark Freddie can see the fear in his fiercely blue eyes.

He cringes and pulls Roger back against him.

"Shh..." He makes an effort not to comment on the topic Roger is trying to raise. Guilt is already gnawing at Freddie for considering Rogers panic over the car to be an illusion. He presses Roger tightly against him. Feeling sorry for both of them. "Don't worry, okay."

Roger lets out a shuddering breath. "You wouldn't say that if you knew what they would do to me."

"They won't get you, ever. I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you while you're with me."

"Don't leave me then."

Blue eyes peer up at him. Freddie even in his state of deep gutted guilt manages a small encouraging smile. He brushes his thumb over Rogers cheek, puffy from crying all afternoon.

"Not in a million years."

"I don't want to keep running, being send away, made to make somewhere my new home. I want to stay." Roger says. Freddie's eyes widen.

"With us?"

"I can find a job, I can help more around the house. I can make myself useful and—"

"Do you really want that?" Freddie interrupts.
"To stay with us?"

"Yes," He answers breathlessly. "I feel so at home."

Freddie's throat feels tight. He doesn't want Roger to see him cry when he is already doing poorly. He hugs Roger insistently against his chest, making him stay down and mold their bodies into one form on the old pull out couch. Freddie presses his lips to Rogers forehead. Smoothening it out.

"You are home."

★☆★

"What's going on?"

"Sit down Roger, we need to talk."

Roger eyes John uneasily. The three of them are all seated in the living rook, fully dressed and stiff. Rogers shoes are left by the foot of the couch and his coat clutched in Freddie's arms, ready to be handed it over.

He sits down. The subtle change in his expression doesn't go unnoticed by any of them.

Freddie is the first his eyes search for. His brow creases with concern.

"Are you sending me away?"

Freddie clears his throat, he looks at John to answer, who is looking at him to do the same. Brian keeps himself completely quiet in the corner. Freddie frowns and gets to his feet. "We have called the Bethlem Royal hospital and they have a place for you in their rehabilitation ward."

Rogers face goes slack. All the muscles lose tension in the initial shock. He stares at Freddie, frightened.

One second later, Roger crumbles.

Freddie had all night to prepare himself for this. Still Rogers reaction breaks his heart.

Fear overtakes his features. He curls in on himself. Glueing himself to the back of the couch in an effort to show he will not be removed. He presses his palms to his eyes, suppresses the tears already falling down his face.

"You're forcing me away. No. No. Please." He whispers. "Don't send me away. I'll be good. I'll do better. Please. Don't send me away."

Brian is looking at him. Expression lost. Freddie turns to John.

Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all—

John gets up as well and takes Rogers coat from Freddie's iron grip. He comes to stand by the couch opposite of Roger to lay a hand on his trembling shoulder.

"When you have finished the program you are welcome here again. Okay?"

John holds the coat out to him. He hoods it by the collar so that Roger could easily slid inside. But instead of complying, Roger curls himself further into the corner of the couch, face hidden in his knees.

He struggles when John pulls on his ankle to unhuddle him. Roger flinches and shakes his head violently.

"Please. I'll do anything. Don't kick me out. Please."

"Roger," John says in a stern controlled voice. "Enough of that. Put on your shoes and coat or we are leaving without them."

"I don't want to—"

"Fine."

It is like a knife is punched deep in his gut when Roger lets out a shrill cry and John tugs him towards the door. Brian and Freddie follow him wordlessly not attempting to interfere even when Roger scrambles. Grasping for doorposts and other furniture on his way out. John relentlessly gets him out of the front door and into the car, his two boyfriends trailing behind him with their heads bowed. Freddie gets the perfect view of Rogers socked feet in the snow.

Brian opens the door and John puts Roger inside.

The fight is beginning to be replaced by hopelessness. Roger is in the back, crying in his hands. Hysterical. Loudly asking why.

John closes the door after making sure Rogers feet were both on board, he turns to his boyfriends and the expression on his face is washed out and pale with trouble.

Brian is hugging himself with his arms. Eyes misty. "Are we still sure about this?

"Yes." John says in the cold. His words forming white clouds in the winter air.

Without another word of comfort, John turns around and reaches for the drivers door. In the spur of the moment Freddie reaches for John and tugs his arm back. He twists his neck, eyes hard again. "We need to get this over with, Fred. It was hard enough to get him a place as it was."

Yes. Apparently over the holidays many people attempt to try to admit their family members to rehabilitation centers. John had to make several phone calls before they found a place that could take Roger on such a short notice.

Freddie doesn't loosen his grip on Johns coat. He breathes heavily and against his better judgement he pulls John away from the door.

"I think I should take him."

John furrows his brow. "I don't know if I can trust you to go through with this."

"I have to do this." Freddie takes the keys from Johns grip. He smiles wryly. "He needs it. He needs me."'

John takes a glance at Roger in the back of the car, still crying and rambling to himself both out of fear of being outside the house and what is awaiting him once he is admitted to the hospital. Johns heavy gaze falls back on Freddie, his shoulders deflate and he steps away from the door for him.

"Take him there, and come home."

"Okay."

They don't share a kiss, but Freddie glances over at Brian to send him a reassuring quirk of his lips. "It will be fine." He tells his hopelessly sad boyfriend. Brian never took easy to goodbyes or seeing Roger suffer. "This is the right thing to do."

"I know."

Freddie waits for John to wrap his arm around Brian before he gets into the car. Its Johns, but Freddie doesn't have a hard time adjusting the seat and changing the radio station. He pulls out of the neighborhood as quickly as the speed limit allows. He can see John and Brian in the rearview mirror. They don't wave and Roger doesn't look.

Roger—

Freddie adjusts the mirror to look at him. He isn't wearing his seatbelt or sitting in the appropriate position. Roger is trying to make himself as small as possible. He is cold and scared. Freddie turns the radio down just enough to hear his hyperventilating breaths. Otherwise his crying had turned silent.

"There is a blanket under the passenger seat if you want it?" Freddie asks. "I don't want you to be cold."

Roger closes his eyes and sniffles.

"I thought you said I could stay with you. Last night, you said I was at home."

"I did say that." Freddie says firmly. "I meant it."

Roger pushes himself upright. Looking straight at Freddie through the mirror above the dashboard. "Then please don't send me away. I can't be away from you and Brian and John. I can't go back to living on the streets. Or with Richard. I can't do this."

"Roger. We don't know how to help you."

As true as it was, it hurts to say. Rogers face crumbles when the words have left Freddie's mouth. Freddie is barely watching the road anymore.

"I don't want to do this. I can't go, Fred. You can't send me away, please I'll be good. If you take me back home I'll be good for you." His voice turns low and dark. He grips the leather back of the drivers seat between his hands. Bile crawls up Freddie's throat at the suggestion. "I swear. I'll do anything Freddie. Anything, but please don't send me away."

Freddie shifts and takes a turn to avoid traffic. Maybe he should have let John do this after all.

"I don't want such things, Roger. You know what I want? What John wants? Brian?"

Roger sniffles, but doesn't answer.

"We want you to get better."

"I cannot get better without you. I need you. I've only ever changed because of you. Else I'd still be with Richard. I'd be dead." Roger clasps his hands into an intertwined prayer position. Tears are streaming down his sickly pale face. "You have helped me so much. A-and I shouldn't have panicked over the car. I can learn to control myself and my dreams and everything will improve. I always become better when I'm with you."

Freddie catches his eye. Roger presses his lips together regretfully.

Taking another left and the hospital will soon come in sight. Only a few minutes away from their home. He lets the car roll more slowly now and he is beginning to realize what he is putting on Roger. It is two days before Christmas and they were supposed to spend it together, Rogers first time since he was a small child. They have a present for him under the tree and he practiced five Christmas songs to play for them on the piano.

Freddie feels bad for holding him last night until he fell asleep. Luring Roger into a sense of security.

The guilt he feels must double as betrayal to Roger.

"If I could help you get rid of all the pain inflected on you, I would." He says quietly. "This is the only way I know how."

With those final words they stay quiet. Rogers breath catches in his throat when they eventually stop in front of the grey concrete hospital building. Freddie parks the car and waits for Roger to step out of the car after him. He managed to stop crying in the last few minutes, but it doesn't erase the evidence that he had cried. His face is red and puffy and he is poorly dressed in his pajamas without his shoes.

It is a shameful walk to the clear glass hospital doors. Roger is walking as slowly as humanly possible and Freddie refrains from touching him. His hand hovers behind his back in case he deicides to bolt.

"I don't want to go."

"I know." Freddie murmurs. They walk inside and are met with a creamy beige floor and a reception desk. There are no people waiting in line and all the room contains is closed metalic doors and waiting chairs. Freddie can't say he finds the atmosphere appealing. Then again, it is a drug rehabilitation ward.

Before they step up to reception, Roger pauses and firmly presses himself against Freddie. Shaking his head. "No. Freddie. Take me home."

"I promise you," Freddie breathes. "I promise that when you're done here that we will be waiting for you to return."

It isn't exactly what Roger wanted to hear, but it isn't destructive either.

The blond lets his hands rest over his face, hiding his lips and putting all focus on his deeply frightened eyes. Freddie waits no longer. He wraps an arm around Rogers shoulder and drags him with his socked feet on the slippery floor towards reception.

The man behind the protective glass smiles at them. Freddie wonders how often he sees scenes such as this on a daily basis.

"How can I help you today gentlemen?"

Freddie gives him a tight smile. "I've come to admit Roger. Roger Taylor."

A list with names is pulled from the corner of the receptionists desk. The man scans down and nods when he indeed finds Rogers name under the patient list.

"Very well."

He pulls out a form, a washed out blue color. Rogers name is written on it in bold typewriter lettering, alongside Freddie's name and phone number.

The receptionist slides the form and a pen over to Roger through the small opening in the glass cubicle.

"You have to sign yourself in."

Roger looks at the square box on the form that says 'signature', then he looks at Freddie.

"I want to go home."

Freddie hands him the pen. Eyes unblinking and serious. "Not right now."

As if the last ounce of hope has left him, Rogers shoulders slump and he crosses an X in the signature box. Dropping the pen back on the desk without looking at Freddie anymore. While Freddie had anticipated that Roger would be sad and angry at them for making him do this, but it is still gut wrenching to watch Roger being escorted away from the reception by a nurse with a kind smile and purple uniform. Roger goes with her without a fight, head bowed and arms slack.

He makes no attempt to say goodbye. The words die in Freddie's throat and before he manages to bring them out Roger is brought through two heavy metal doors and disappears out of sight.

Freddie closes his eyes and blinking away the tears he had spared Roger.

★☆★

"Mummy?"

The way to their house is to the left, not to the right. Roger frowns, suddenly realizing how tight the grip of her hand is on his arm. They walk to school and back every day. There is no reason for her to drag him along.

She looks down at him, her face set with worry. She gives him a tight smile. "Yes, sweetheart?"

"Where are we going?"

"Grandmas." She says, to which Roger frowns. "You like it at Grans house, right?"

Roger nods once. He does, but he can tell something is wrong. Why are they walking? Isn't grandmas house a million miles away? Why is his mother holding him so tight and scanning the streets as if someone was following them?

"Mummy..." He begins again. She suppresses a sigh. "Did I do something wrong?"

They are soon approaching neighborhood Roger had never walked in before. He stands a little closer against her body, feeling uncertain.

"No, Baby. I—"

She eyes the streets again. It's quiet and there aren't many cars driving during the mid afternoon.

Suddenly they stop. Roger halts when Winnifred drops into a crouch to look him right in the eye. She holds both his arms with a very serious look in her eyes. Roger knows to keep quiet and alert. He doesn't like it when his mother loses the kind smile she usually wears around him.

"I need you to listen to me very carefully now, Roger. Listen well."

"Okay." He says quietly, earning a brief kiss on the nose.

"We are not going home. You know what papa has been doing? Hurting you? We cannot stop him, so we have to go away without telling him, so he can't find us."

The sudden urge to cry overwhelms Roger. What his mother is saying makes sense, but there is a lot of change. A lot of why's and how's. That are going unanswered.

She rubs his shoulders to keep his tears at bay, she smiles a little more genuine now.

"I did not tell him, he won't find out until we are already at grandmas house. We will figure out what to do from there. She always knows what to do, right?" Roger nods. "Exactly. The important thing is that nobody will ever touch you like that again. No more pain, okay? I will protect you. No going back."

Roger sniffles. His vision blurs with unshed tears. "Okay, mum."

"Come here."

Roger lets himself be wrapped in her arms. He is tired. Last night he couldn't sleep after the discipline he had received for dropping a glass onto the floor. His eyes feel heavy and his body is sore when he melts into his mothers arms.

She doesn't push him away or make him get to his own feet. She instead tightens her arms around him more firmly so he can wrap his legs around  her waist. Winnifred pushes herself into a standing position and carries Roger in her arms.

He sighs, closing his eyes against her shoulder while she begins to walk in the direction of grandmothers house.

While she walks she strokes his back and kisses his forehead.

Her tenderness makes him forget the situation he is in now. He rubs his nose against her neck and allows himself to be rocked to sleep. They will go to grandmother and find a new home, she said and his mother had never broken a promise.