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my breath reaches for the back of your neck

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Kendall watches as the city lights skitter across the backseat window of his Maybach. They illuminate his tired face, the car droning monotonously over the road as Fikret chauffeurs him back to his townhouse. In other circumstances, the sound might tug Kendall towards sleep, but his frustration teems down on him like a cloudburst, keeping him awake.

The car passes 24-hour bodegas and overlit pharmacy signs, a bench plastered with the plasticky faces of the ATN nightly news team. Kendall pushes the image to the back of his mind while the notecards of his speech bristle in his jacket pocket. Childhood anecdotes unheard and careful praises undelivered. The sloppily written words sink through his starched white button-down to etch themselves against his ribs. He pictures them aligned in thick, red tally marks. They burn, then itch. The ballroom is awash in applause. Kendall reluctantly claps along with them.

His father is back. Better than ever, apparently, despite the chain of linked hands that cradled him as he shuffled offstage. Logan had stumbled anyways and Kendall had caught him, feeling the spiny back brace around his stomach beneath his shirt.    

It was instinctive. Kendall imagines the morning headlines that would have been printed if he had the foresight not to react. Grainy cell phone footage of Logan Roy falling forwards, a gasp rolling over the crowd, another stock crisis, the possibility that Kendall could look like the preferable choice. But Kendall did react, and his father had closed a hand around his wrist before pointedly shrugging him off. Even in his weakened state, he reminds Kendall that strength, whether real or feigned, is currency.

Kendall feels his phone vibrate in his left pocket. He scrolls through the jumble of notifications: emails, emails, more emails, a good luck text from Rava he pettily ignored, a push alert that Jess updated his calendar for the following week. He pauses on the text Stewy sent him 30 seconds ago, devoid of contents other than a link.

Kendall clicks it. It leads him to an article written by a non-Waystar publication, the headline blocky, oversized, clickbait ready and attention-grabbing. It hurts his eyes.

Logan Roy Announces Full-Time Return as Waystar Royco’s Acting CEO and Chair.

Beneath the headline is a photograph of his father, mid-speech, smiling tightly behind the podium. Kendall sees his name within the body of the article, then a fragment about “shareholder doubts.” His stomach sinks, betraying how prepared he thought he was for the fallout. He expects to feel a similar disappointment when Wall Street opens and the stock price rises. Kendall closes out of the article and another text message from Stewy pops up. 

[Stew:] Don’t invite me to family Thanksgiving this year.

Kendall rolls his eyes. Whether Stewy is genuinely annoyed at him for letting his father take control again or just teasing, Kendall can’t tell. Stewy sends him another message, this time a line of grimacing emojis. Kendall types out something embarrassingly unwitty, thinks on it, then deletes it. Instead, he taps on the handset icon beside Stewy’s name and brings his phone to his ear. 

Stewy answers immediately. “Yeah, Ken?”

“Uh, hey, dude. Fuck you.”

All bark, no bite, like things usually are with them. A text would have sufficed, but truthfully, Kendall needed to hear Stewy’s voice. 

Stewy audibly snorts in response. “What? I thought it was funny. I mean, I laughed, at least.” 

Kendall smirks, eased instantly by their effortless back-and-forth. “Yeah, well . . .” He trails off. “You left without saying anything, bro.”

“Yeah, sorry, man,” Stewy says. “I had to get out of there before the mouldy smell of old Caucasian money permanently stuck to my clothes. And I needed a proper drink. Nothing with pesto or parsley or whatever the fuck in it.”

Kendall feels his throat parch, picturing Stewy leaning over a bar with an iced glass of whiskey in one hand, his phone in the other, smile tugging at his lips. Kendall changes the subject. “Where are you?” 

“My apartment. Why?” 

“Are you, uh, alone?”

Kendall hears Stewy scoff on the other end of the line. “Alone? Is this a booty call? Are you booty calling me, Ken?” 

“No, I—”

“Or is this phone sex? Are you gonna ask me what I’m wearing?”

“—Stewy—” 

“—my tux still, for the most part. Jacket off, bowtie a bit rumpled, but, y’know, tasteful. I just got in.” 

Kendall laughs. He hears Stewy chuckle, breathy. 

“Yeah, Ken, I’m alone.” 

As promised, Stewy is still wearing his tux when he answers the door. He stands nonchalantly in socked feet, his polished dress shoes kicked off somewhere behind him. His button-down is still crisp, but his bowtie is slightly off-kilter around his neck. He looks as good as he did at the ball. Maybe even better, leaning against the door jamb with a glass of whiskey in his hand, relaxed and dressed down.

He regards Kendall with amusement. “That was quick.”

“I was like, uh, three blocks away,” Kendall says. He shoots Stewy a look. “Are you gonna let me in, bro?”

“Oh, by all means.” Stewy steps aside, waves him in, but points towards his feet. “But take your fucking shoes off, man. I don’t need you smearing the residuals of that philanthropic circle jerk across my floor. You realize the name of your charity is, like, a dick joke, right? Roy Endowment?” 

Kendall rolls his eyes, knowing Stewy probably made a similar comment in high school. RECNY ‘97 maybe. RECNY ‘98. If he lets him talk uninterrupted, Stewy will inevitably repeat himself. Kendall stoops down to untie his laces before slipping his shoes off. 

The door shuts, then locks. Kendall watches as Stewy downs the rest of his drink. He sets his glass on the console table. A vase of freshly-cut flowers conceals it, maybe deliberately. Kendall eyes it, looking away when Stewy coyly glances back at him, catching him. Stewy knows he cut out alcohol after his last slip-up a few months back—along with everything else—but he still expects Stewy to offer him a drink. His sobriety is a line Stewy likes to toe, sometimes nudging it, sometimes completely pulling back, sometimes stepping over it altogether.

Instead, Stewy takes his coat. He drapes it neatly over the chair, like he assumes Kendall’s visit will be brief. Stewy thinks he’s good at hiding his annoyance, but Kendall can still see it through his easy posture and slightly alcohol-flushed cheeks. It’s identifiable but dormant, just like it had been during his dad’s speech. 

“So, what happened to your date?” Stewy asks as Kendall follows him into the living room. “The, uh, fucking ATN ubermensch?” 

“Oh.” Kendall falters, feeling the guilt creep back in. He pushes it from his mind with both hands. “That—that was . . . I don’t know. It just didn’t work out. Not my type.”

It sounds unconvincing before it even leaves Kendall’s mouth. Stewy immediately makes a psh sound through his pursed lips. He looks over at Kendall as he plops himself down on the couch in front of the TV. Sports highlights are playing on mute: last week’s Sunday night football or something. Kendall absentmindedly—or maybe avoidantly—watches as a huddle of players moves across the screen. 

“Come on, man,” Stewy says. He raises his eyebrows accusatorily when Kendall looks at him again. “Everyone’s your type.” 

Kendall sucks at his teeth. He knows Stewy has caught him in a lie, but he also knows it won’t lead to anything. He hovers by the ottoman, eyeing the spot beside Stewy but hesitating to sit down. He’s not even sure why he came here. Maybe he needed Stewy to lay everything out for him in plain terms, a smarmy play-by-play that would make the events of the night that much easier to digest. Stewy has always been good at injecting humour into things Kendall usually doesn’t find funny. One of his many talents, Kendall supposes, something he expertly honed from fifth grade onwards when he realized he could make Waystar into a joke for them to laugh at.

Kendall chuckles dismissively. “Yeah, well—”

He’s partway through producing another justification when Stewy continues talking, never one to miss a beat or a place to butt in. “You could’ve asked me to set you up with someone, y’know, so you wouldn’t have to get your dick wet in the Waystar soup.” Stewy averts his gaze. “Although . . .”

Kendall narrows his eyes at him. “What?”

“Although, I guess I’m part of it now. Hot shit money, shit hot CEO,” Stewy says unenthusiastically, motioning between them. He returns his eyes to Kendall. His expression is weightier, like he’s purposely letting some of his annoyance peak through. “The fucking right-wing media borscht. Ready-made for mass consumption, just-add-water, as per daddy’s instructions.” 

Kendall scoffs. He puts his hands in his pockets, takes a step towards the couch. Stewy is sitting with his legs crossed, one over the other, left foot perched on the edge of the coffee table. Kendall’s eyes accidentally flirt into his lap, then travel back up to his face, following the pleats of his tuxedo bib.

“Yeah, uh-huh,” Kendall says. “Well, dude, as per my instructions, you bought in. You turned the shit soup into a shit stew, Stew.” 

“Very funny.” Stewy ha-has, smirking with the slightest flash of teeth. “I saved your ass.”

“Yeah, and it was my fucking idea.”

“And your dad fucking hates it.” A pause. Stewy shifts on the couch, stiffening slightly. “At least enough to retake the wheel a month after blowing his fucking brain out.”

There it is. 

Kendall feels his stomach knot. Stewy watches his face carefully like he expects to see the sting, either to mollify it or catalogue it for later. They’re doing that thing they usually do: not really arguing but not really talking either. Their conversations exist in the push-and-pull between tension and play. Kendall feels Stewy tugging him forwards in a competitive bid for closeness, but he also feels Stewy nudging him away, elsewhere, something other than amusement motivating his words.

It reminds Kendall of when his dad had interrupted their conversation, misremembering who Stewy was, humiliating Kendall in front of him. It’s happened a million times before—in one form or another—since grade school, but never in the context of business. They used to keep their careers and their friendship mostly separate, but now the lines have noticeably blurred. Stewy has his sizable investment to worry about now. It means more than their coffee runs, more than playing hooky their respective lineup of meetings, more than their mutual business advice, valuable because it came from someone on the outside. It all feels muddled now, too messy to sort through.

Kendall thought all this would be manageable with Stewy by his side: taking the reins of Waystar, gracefully ushering his father into a comfortable position in the backseat. He thought it would be easier than this. He thought he had it under control. 

Kendall sighs shortly, ignoring the hurt. “Okay, Stewy, I get it,” he says, trying to make it sound like a non-issue, playing along. “But that—that was nothing. You know how my dad is. I . . . I can fix this. Seriously, dude.” 

Stewy looks at him, unconvinced. “Did you know?” 

“Did I know?” Kendall frowns. “Did I know what?” 

“Did you know he was gonna pull that shit?” Stewy says. “Blindside you from all fucking directions?”

“What? Of course not. He—I—” 

Kendall stumbles over his words. He means for them to be defusing, but he realizes he just proved Stewy’s point: he should have done something. He should have seen it coming. He should have prevented it. He thinks about earlier: Stewy’s disappointment, his father’s undermining, the piss on his fucking floor.

Who’s in charge right now?  

Eat or be eaten. Kill or be killed. Kendall recalls a dictionary of idioms hammered into his head from childhood about fucking someone first before they fuck you. Strength, power, the foresight to act. Kendall feels it all building up inside him and breaking down. His sadness turns to anger which turns to a desperate need to focus. The feeling is bordered closely by his resentment, murky but much easier to process than the hurt.

Kendall collects himself. “I can handle this, Stewy. I promise.”

“I mean, sure.” Stewy sighs. “Whatever you say.”

He gets up off the couch and walks to where the bar is on the other side of the room. He reaches over and grabs a bottle that already has the cap unscrewed. He looks over his shoulder. “I trust you, just . . . all I’m saying is, if you want to be the boss, Ken,”—he tips the bottle towards him—“be the boss.” 

Stewy pours a shot’s worth of whiskey into a fresh glass and knocks it back in one swig. Usually, Kendall would feel the craving right about now, but control is the only thing on his mind. He presses his tongue into his cheek, follows Stewy over to the bar. He leans up against it as Stewy sits down on the stool beside him. 

“This whole clusterfuck was a lot more fun when we were in our twenties,” Stewy says eventually, spinning his empty glass on the bar top. It’s a rare acknowledgement that they’ve both gotten older than they ever imagined themselves being. 

Kendall smiles slightly. “Yeah.”

Stewy looks over at him, his expression the softest it’s been all night. “Although your skinny tie is pretty 2010.” Stewy reaches over and bats it with his hand. It swishes back and forth across Kendall’s dress shirt like a silk pendulum. “You’re off-trend, bro.” 

Kendall chuckles. “Yeah, and what about you? Fucking, uh, Bobo the fucking Business Clown over here.”

He glances down at Stewy’s bowtie, but his eyes don’t stay there for long. They wander up to Stewy’s neck, his skin smooth and unmarked above the rigid edge of his wingtip collar. Kendall wets his lips. He feels the urge to press them beneath Stewy’s Adam’s apple, feel the vibration of his throat when Stewy hums pleasantly in response.

“Hey, fuck you. This look is timeless,” Stewy says. “I bet you already have those fucking press photos of me saved on your phone.” His hand stops fiddling with his glass to grip Kendall’s tie. He tugs ever so slightly this time, causing Kendall to lean in closer to where Stewy is perched on the barstool. “Who picked this out for you?” 

Kendall smirks. “I did, dude. I’m the boss, remember?”

Another tug. Stewy’s hand knots around the fabric a bit tighter. He tilts his head skeptically to the side, teeth pressing into his bottom lip. “No, sure, you’re the boss. Ken.”

Kendall can tell Stewy is still unimpressed with him, despite how teasing his tone is. Even now, Stewy is probably thinking in terms of numbers and dollar signs, whether the stock will drop or climb when the markets open on Monday morning. Guaranteed, everything Kendall doesn’t want to agonize over right now is at the forefront of Stewy’s mind: what their next move is, how they can navigate things now that Logan’s back, what all this means for the promise Kendall made in that bathroom while Stewy was doing lines off his phone.

Kendall wants to make it up to him, to reassure him that nothing’s changed. He still feels guilty about tonight—for dropping the ball, for losing hold of the company, for not taking control when he could have—and that guilt pushes him forward. Stewy is still gripping his tie when Kendall presses their mouths together. The fabric ribbons his fingers, knotting around his knuckles. He tugs Kendall closer, his other hand coming to rest on his hip, fingers searching for recourse. The kiss is a much-needed distraction from their shitty night, and Kendall immediately feels swathed in Stewy’s warmth, his familiarity, his want.

Kendall deepens the kiss, his eagerness worsening. Stewy moans softly into Kendall’s mouth as he slips his tongue past Stewy’s lips, slightly chapped—as they usually are—from worrying them between his teeth. Stewy tastes like the lingering piquancy of whiskey and Kendall absentmindedly wonders if this could count as his first real drink in months.

Kendall breaks the kiss to look at Stewy, admiring the fond creases around his eyes, his smile, the faintest flush dusting his cheeks. It makes Kendall feel warm all over, his arousal building like a hit to his system. A different kind of high, but a high nonetheless. He feels in control again, just like he wanted. He reaches out and brushes his thumb across Stewy’s bottom lip.

“Think I might have to trade in my sobriety chips,” Kendall says lowly, tasting whiskey again.

He presses his finger gently into Stewy’s mouth. Stewy holds his gaze, his tongue wetting his fingerprint. “Ken?” 

Kendall feels lost for a moment. “Nothing.” 

They kiss again, impatient, desperate. Kendall lets his hands wander to Stewy’s thighs. He presses his fingertips possessively into the flesh as Stewy steadies himself on the stool. Both of his hands are on Kendall’s hips now, tugging him closer. Another kiss, heady and wonted. Kendall’s fingers brush Stewy’s belt buckle, then wander lower to find the outline of his erection tenting the front of his dress pants. Kendall presses his palm against it and Stewy smirks into the kiss. He lets out a breath that falls lightly over Kendall’s teeth. Kendall returns his hands to Stewy’s belt buckle and fiddles uselessly with the clasp.

Stewy breaks the kiss. “Mm, not here,” he says. “Bedroom.”

“Hm, but I want you here.” Kendall grins, toothy, then kisses him again. “Or there,”—he looks over to the couch—“Or there,”—the floor—“Or. . .” He reaches behind Stewy and drums his fingers on the bar top. “. . . Come on, why not?”

Stewy shoots him a look. “Why not? Because I want to fuck on a King-sized mattress with high thread-count sheets, that’s why not,” he says, feigning annoyance, holding back laughter. “This bar top is granite, Ken. It’s fucking hard and fucking cold. Do you expect me to keep my boner when—”   

Kendall kisses him again, purposefully open-mouthed and clumsy. Their noses bump awkwardly, reminiscent of their first dozen kisses in high school before they really learned each other. Stewy kisses him back, tender and eager. Eventually, Kendall pulls away, smirking. Stewy rolls his eyes, reaches over and takes hold of Kendall’s tie again.

“You’re fucking gross.” He slips off the barstool, tugging Kendall along with him. “Bedroom.”

“Fine. Bedroom.”

Kendall follows Stewy upstairs. They make it partway through the unlit hallway before Kendall is on him again, like an overeager teenager. Closing a hand around his arm, he pulls Stewy closer, their lips meeting roughly. Kendall clumsily tries to usher Stewy through the bedroom door without looking as they half-kiss, half-laugh. 

“Dude, if we fucking trip and die and I split my head open—” Stewy begins to say, but Kendall cuts him off with another kiss.

Somehow, they stumble into the bedroom without incident, through the door and onto the bed. Kendall immediately straddles Stewy, working his bowtie loose, tossing it aside, then pulling at his buttons. Stewy does the same for him, unknotting his tie, forcing his suit jacket and dress shirt off his shoulders. As soon as Kendall sees the bare skin of Stewy’s bare chest, he hungrily presses his lips there, nips at it just to hear Stewy hum in response.

“I knew this is why you came over,” Stewy teases as Kendall drags his lips lower.

“You started it,” Kendall says in between sloppy, open-mouthed kisses he strings along Stewy’s collarbone, “by sending me that fucking article.”

Stewy laughs, bright and pleasant like a major chord has been strummed in his chest. A hand comes up to card through Kendall’s hair. Kendall’s neck twinges as Stewy tugs at his crew cut, gently digging his fingernails into his scalp. “Gotta keep the boss informed.”

“Fuck you,” Kendall mumbles against Stewy’s breastbone. 

Stewy laughs again. Kendall takes the opportunity to clumsily reach between them to undo Stewy’s belt, then tugs Stewy’s pants, along with his underwear, off his hips and down his legs. Kendall tosses them onto the floor beside the bed. He sits back on his heels to playfully pull Stewy’s socks off, tossing them to the floor as well.

Stewy shoves Kendall with the ball of his foot, then does the same for him, sitting up before Kendall can straddle him, still inequitably dressed. Kendall takes a moment to admire Stewy while his eyes are preoccupied with his zipper: his finger-loosened hair falling onto his forehead, his arms and shoulders, athletic but slim, his toned chest, smattered with dark hair that curls slightly inwards. Kendall’s eyes wander to the muscular thighs he used to drag his teeth across back in college when Stewy was sore from rugby practice, and then they travel to his cock, fully erect and pressing up against his stomach. 

Kendall feels desire sear inside him, like an impatient, untempered heat, and the careful and deliberate way Stewy is undressing him becomes almost aggravating. Stewy looks up from his ministrations as he drags Kendall’s pants and boxer-briefs over his hips, his unfastened belt clinking. Stewy meets his eyes, brow minutely furrowed. The slight smirk on his face indicates that he knew Kendall was looking at him. 

Unexpectedly, Kendall feels flooded by a thousand different emotions, stirred by the fact that Stewy sees him, that Stewy knows him, that Stewy is here despite the chaos or the questions about his leadership or the embarrassment that was tonight. Kendall tries not to think about his father, his family, or what any of this will mean for the company come morning, but Stewy knocks everything loose. He tends to do that, picking up all of his pieces just to knock them loose again.

Kendall’s chest tightens, an aching warmth interweaving his need with his want. He looks away, trying to collect himself, finding control, reaching for distraction, comfort, something else.

“Ken, you good?” Stewy asks, his hand coming up to rest beneath Kendall’s chin, urging him to look up.

Stewy’s concern borders on over-sentimentality, but they’re both vulnerable right now, tucked away from the world with the lights off. Touching Stewy is all too familiar, but it also feels like they make a pact each time they do this. None of this will exist past these four walls, at least, not in the same way. Stewy has never held anything against Kendall, and Kendall has never forgotten him for it. 

“Yeah.” Kendall nods. “Yeah, Stew.”

Kendall adjusts so Stewy can slide his pants and underwear off all the way, then his socks. The clothes fall into a messy heap beside the bed and Stewy finally pulls Kendall on top of him again. Their bodies settle together, flushed skin on feverish skin. Kendall feels like he might burn from the outside in. 

Their lips meet, Stewy needily gripping Kendall’s waist as they grind against each other. Kendall feels Stewy’s erection against his thigh. The heat of it contrasts with the feel of the soft, cool sheets beneath his knees. Stewy moves and Kendall’s cock drags against his stomach. Kendall could probably come from just this. This friction is almost enough, but he wants more than that. He always wants more.

“Want you,” Kendall breathes in between greedy kisses that makes his lips sting, “inside me.”

It’s been a while since they did this. Undressing all the way, taking their time with one another, fucking in private without work calls interrupting them or the pressure of a harsh club beat bleeding through a bathroom stall. It’s nice, nicer than either of them will ever admit, because admitting it would only reaffirm what they’re usually missing out on.

“Yeah, whatever you want, Ken,” Stewy says, then kisses Kendall again, smiling against his mouth. “The stuff is in the nightstand.” 

Kendall nods, pulling away and reaching over to yank open the drawer. He rifles around blindly until he feels the foiled edge of a condom wrapper prick his finger, then grabs a cylindrical tube of some flashily packaged, over-expensive lube. Stewy is gripping his thigh in anticipation when Kendall settles back into his lap. Kendall tosses the condom onto Stewy’s bare stomach, then opens the bottle of lube with a pop. He tips it towards him. 

“I want you to do it.” 

Stewy snorts. “Do I have to do everything?” he asks but takes the bottle anyway. 

“Mhm,” Kendall mumbles. He leans forward, knees nudging apart on either side of Stewy’s hips as he lets his head rest in the crook of Stewy’s shoulder. “Please?” 

“Only because you asked so fucking nicely.”

Kendall chuckles. He breathes in the smell of Stewy’s skin, clean and pleasantly fragrant with cologne, begging to be reddened by his teeth. He listens to Stewy fiddling with the bottle of lube. A hand comes up to rest against the small of Kendall’s back, steadying him. 

Kendall shivers when Stewy sinks two lubricated fingers inside him. He lets out a muffled moan against Stewy’s shoulder. Stewy holds him close, working slowly, opening him up. Two fingers, more lube, then three.

“This okay, Ken? Feel good?”

“Yeah. Keep going.”

Kendall relaxes. He gives in to the feeling: the warmth of Stewy’s chest flush against his, the pads of Stewy’s fingers pressing into his skin, Stewy’s gentle breathing, his touch, his carefulness. Stewy brushes Kendall’s prostate and his cock twitches, heat thick in his stomach. Kendall half-moans, half-sighs. Stewy slows the rhythm of his fingers before Kendall can get too close to coming. 

“Was that to your satisfaction, or do you want to order me around some more?” Stewy teases, but his voice is painfully soft around the edges. 

Kendall feels his chest stir. “Uh, yeah, dude.” He smiles close-mouthed against Stewy’s neck. “I want you to, like, fuck me. Remember?”

With that, Stewy removes his fingers and Kendall reaches between them to take Stewy’s erection in his hand, stroking him back to full hardness. Stewy lets his eyes flutter closed for a moment, sighing into Kendall’s hair before he takes the condom out of its package and quickly puts it on. More lube, more fumbling, and then Kendall sinks onto him, just as Stewy gently catches his kiss-swollen lips between his own.

Kendall is immediately overwhelmed by the feeling of him, present and warm and so very there, filling him up, untightening him. Stewy lets Kendall set the pace. They take it slow, still kissing. He pants lightly into Stewy’s mouth as Stewy moves his hips to meet him, their rhythm gradually increasing. They kiss again before Kendall straightens to take all of Stewy, clumsily angling himself so Stewy’s cock hits the right place. He keeps his eyes closed, focused on the sensations that flood him. Stewy keeps his hands on Kendall’s thighs to help guide him. His grip is insistent but not hard enough to bruise.

“Oh, fuck.” Kendall nearly whimpers when he feels the intense, familiar pressure that washes over him in a wave. “Stewy—” 

“Right there?” Stewy asks, slightly out of breath but eager. 

Kendall can only nod, and he already feels close, close, closer. A sweat breaks out over his skin.

“Ken,” Stewy breathes, and Kendall can feel his eyes on him. “Hey, look at me.”

Stewy moves a hand up Kendall’s thigh to his stomach, then takes Kendall’s cock in his hand. It causes Kendall to open his eyes. They look at each other, not needing to say anything but wanting to. Somehow, silence means enough. It always has. Stewy strokes Kendall’s cock in time with the movement of his hips and Kendall moans, closing his eyes again. The pleasurable sensation clusters inside him, building and building, and then it fractures somewhere in his core, circuiting through his abdomen, his legs, spreading to his toes. His muscles contract and he comes into Stewy’s fist with a strained groan, making a mess of Stewy’s hand. He collapses against him, thighs shaking.

“I got you,” Stewy says. “I got you.”

Stewy strokes him through it, and Kendall feels drunk as his orgasm pulses and very gradually dulls. Even afterwards, he’s tingling, lost in a feeling that has him suspended somewhere between Stewy and nothing. As he collects himself, Stewy takes over, fucking up into him a bit rougher, hands digging possessively into his flesh, then his pace falters.  

“Ken—” A breath. “Kendall—” 

Stewy moans into the crook of Kendall’s neck as he comes too, arms tightening around Kendall’s body, pulling him closer even though they’re as close as they can get. Kendall turns his head and kisses Stewy, hungry and careless, and Stewy’s thrusts become sloppy, slow, then they stop altogether. A moment passes, and all Kendall can hear is their breathing, laboured and synchronous. 

Stewy loosens his grip, but his palm remains pressed reassuringly against Kendall’s back. He looks at Kendall, smiling, loopy. “Where did your tie go?”

Kendall frowns at him, the skin creasing between his eyebrows. “Uh, what, bro?” 

“Your tie.” Stewy smirks. “I need to wipe off my hand.” 

“Ugh.” 

They laugh, then Stewy gently pulls out. Kendall immediately mourns the loss, feeling sticky and empty without Stewy inside him. The lube between his thighs is cooling uncomfortably, the sweat on the back of his neck catching the draft. Stewy rolls out from underneath him and grabs a Kleenex box from the nightstand. He cleans himself up with a wad of tissues, then hands Kendall the box. Kendall does the same, sitting up, carefully inching to the edge of the bed. He feels sore from the friction. On the other side of the bed, Stewy tosses the condom into the wastebasket. Kendall finds his underwear in the heap of clothes on the floor. The rush he felt from his orgasm is quickly fading, some other feeling setting in. 

“Gonna take a shower,” Stewy says, getting up off the bed as Kendall tugs his boxer-briefs back on. 

He walks towards the en suite, still naked, then flicks the dimmer on the other side of the wall. He hovers in the doorway. The bathroom light halos him, accentuating his body just enough that Kendall forgets himself, his eyes lingering to memorize the curve of Stewy’s spine. It’s much too intimate in the aftermath of what they just did, and the control Kendall felt moments before yields to vulnerability.  

Kendall looks away, hoping to stem the bleeding before Stewy can realize there’s a wound. Something like shame or embarrassment curls in Kendall’s insides, but the feeling isn’t a product of being with Stewy. Being with him had suppressed it, allowing Kendall to ignore his inadequacies for a moment, to prove he could be worth something to someone. 

“You good or . . . ?” Stewy asks, looking over at him inquisitively, eyebrows raised.

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Kendall says, then reaches down to find his phone in the pocket of his discarded suit jacket. He clicks it on, eyes scanning the list of push notifications to make himself look busy. “Yeah, go ahead.”

A pause, then Stewy nods, knocking a knuckle against the wall. He leaves the bathroom door open: an uninterrupted invitation, like he expects Kendall to change his mind and follow after him anyways. Kendall hears the shower turn on. Soon enough, the bathroom is steaming. 

Kendall presses his teeth into his bottom lip and sets his phone down on the nightstand, having absorbed nothing from the jumbled email titles and calendar reminders. Maybe this is post-coital blues or whatever pop culture psychologists call it—the levelling out of endorphins, the depressive comedown from a euphoric high—but Kendall feels small again. Shrunken, like he did when his father singled him out in the crowd. It had been praise, but Kendall somehow found the disappointment sandwiched between his words.

Good job, Ken.

But not good enough. 

Then, the steady press of a palm against his back. He could count the pats. One, two, three, a squeeze of his shoulder, four. Nudging him, guiding him, grounding him.  

What are you gonna do, Ken? How are you going to fix this?  

Kendall listens to the shower run. He’s wary that Stewy will shut it off at any second and he’ll have to face him, still feeling inadequate and small. Kendall stands, walks into the bathroom, gently shuts the door. He shucks off his boxer-briefs, watching through foggy glass as Stewy runs soap-lathered fingers through his hair. In an attempt not to startle him, Kendall makes his footfall purposefully clunky when he yanks the shower door open, but Stewy already knows he’s coming. He probably knew before Kendall did.

A smirk tugs at Stewy’s lips as he looks over his shoulder, hands still lathering his hair. Kendall settles behind him beneath the oversized shower head that’s mounted on the ceiling. The spray is wide enough to comfortably drench the both of them, even standing a foot or so apart, but Kendall finds an excuse to close the space. He wraps his arms around Stewy’s stomach, pulling him closer until his groin gently presses against the swell of Stewy’s ass. Water runs down Kendall’s back, soothing his sore muscles, soaking his hair. 

“Finally wash that WASP stench off of you?” Kendall mumbles against Stewy’s droplet-freckled shoulder. 

The skin there is smooth, unblemished, clean. Stewy chuckles, ducking his head directly under the spray to rinse the shampoo out of his hair. It tousles his curls. They fall over his forehead, wet and shiny. Kendall pulls back to watch the soap bubbles leak down his spine, disappearing down the drain at their feet.

“Yeah,” Stewy says, running a hand over his head. “I think I finally got the smell of over-salted halibut and lukewarm lasagna out of my pubic hair.”

Kendall snorts. Once the bubbles clear, he presses his nose back into the nape of Stewy’s neck. Stewy smells like body wash, oaky and masculine, but he also smells faintly of lavender. Kendall resists the urge to press his tongue flat against Stewy’s shoulder blade, take the skin in his mouth and gently make a mark, something Stewy can’t wash away.

“Food not up to your standards, bro?” 

Stewy shrugs. “It was just okay. Wouldn’t be my choice of menu.” 

“I hope you didn’t tell my brother that.” 

Stewy laughs, then turns to face Kendall. He swipes a stray cluster of bubbles from his forearm and smears it on Kendall’s chest. It washes away. “And what about you? Need me to scrub the fatherly disappointment off? Or is it too late?” 

Kendall scoffs, an unintended hurt stirring in his chest. He drops his gaze. “Dude—”

“Sorry,” Stewy says and his face immediately softens. He reaches over and squeezes Kendall’s arm. “I know, Ken. I know.”

Kendall nods. Stewy wordlessly reaches over to the collection of products on the shower rack. He picks up a tube of expensive-looking body wash, squirts some into his palm, then pulls Kendall close. Kendall melts into him, forehead falling to his shoulder, an arm wrapping around him while the other braces against the tiled wall. He closes his eyes as Stewy works the soap over his back, fingers kneading into his tense muscles, the knot at the base of his neck, before travelling over his chest. Stewy washes away the remaining mess on his stomach, then the cum and lube dried between his thighs. 

Kendall sighs, trying not to let his toes curl as the warmth from the streaming water envelops him and Stewy glides his soapy hands all over his body. He feels himself getting hard again, but not enough for Stewy to notice. The gesture remains blissfully innocent, reminiscent of how they would take baths together as children.

Stewy pauses his ministrations to let the soap rinse off. “Better?” 

“Mhm,” Kendall mumbles, eyes still closed.

He hears Stewy pop open the cap of another bottle, then feels Stewy’s fingers run over his scalp, blunt nails sudsing his hair. Kendall feels safe like this, pressed up against him, the water that’s meandering over his body pulling him from his thoughts and grounding him in Stewy’s embrace. For a moment, all he can feel is the friction of their damp skin, the taste of it when he opens his mouth and places a kiss on Stewy’s shoulder. Waystar feels far away, his father feels far away. Anything other than this is a pinprick in the distance, an immovable object that Kendall will reach eventually, but not right now.

Stewy is still washing his hair. It feels baptismal in a way, religious, like some sanctimonious rite Kendall doesn’t deserve but Stewy performs on him anyways.

“See any greys?” Kendall asks.

Stewy shrugs. “I think you scared them all off with this dye job,” he says. He tugs at a bristling strand with soapy fingers. “Who do you go to? Do they just lower you headfirst into a vat of Sharpie ink?”

Kendall smiles. “Hey, fuck off.”

Stewy snickers, massaging the shampoo into the nape of Kendall’s neck. It causes a tingle to snake down his spine. “Your hair was brown . . . When we were kids, I mean.” 

“Was it?” 

“Yeah, dude, I would remember.”

The soap washes away, then the conditioner Stewy insists on applying after it. When Stewy is finished, Kendall pulls back to look at him. “Thanks.”

Stewy grins. He goes to turn the shower off with pruney fingers, but Kendall reaches out and catches his hand before that can happen. Stewy looks at him, eyebrows furrowed with concern.

“Ken?”

“Sorry, I—”

Kendall falters. Before, he was terrified for the company, the stock, the press reaction, afraid what it would mean for the Roy legacy if his father embarrassed the whole family in a room full of investors. But now, more than anything, Kendall is terrified that this moment with Stewy will end, that he will be left with just the memory, that after all of this they will have to go back.

Kendall blinks and that pinprick grows into a blackhole, looming, drawing him in. Stewy looks at Kendall, then at their hands, which have instinctively interlocked together. Kendall swallows. His throat feels tight, and the words he finds are pushed out by desperation and nothing else. 

“Hey, uh, can we just—” Kendall lets out a shaky, awkward breath. “Can we just stay in here, for a little bit longer?”

Stewy meets his eyes. His gaze is heavy but unrevealing. “Yeah, Ken,” Stewy says and Kendall is nearly shattered by how easily he relents. “Yeah, come here.”

They fold into one another again. Stewy’s arms encircle Kendall’s back, Kendall’s head finding its rightful place in the crook of Stewy’s neck. Stewy traces the notches in Kendall’s spine with his thumb, clings to him, pulls him close.

“What am I going to do?” Kendall mumbles. His voice is barely audible beneath the sound of the streaming water. “What should I do?” 

Stewy brushes his lips against Kendall’s temple, nose settling in his wet hair. “Stay,” he says, but he already seems resigned to Kendall’s refusal.  

Kendall can’t stay. He never has, and they both know he never will.

The opportunity has long since passed.