Ernesto had gone out for coffee with some ginger-haired girl with big blue eyes named Ami.

Nelson watched Manny paint from the bed, the sheets draped over his hips and watching the thin Latino work on his abstract with a tired air. He yawned a little, noted the soreness in his backside as he shifted on the sheets, tilted his head to the side a bit and blinked slowly at the back of boyfriend's head.

Black-painted nails drug through messy curls that were now the brown they had been at his birth, though speckled with streaks that were, today, a vibrant emerald.

He could see the beach, almost, in Manny's painting. He could see the surf, the sun, the sand.

He could see himself, oddly enough. Them.

'Them' was an odd pronoun. He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to it.

"That stuff smells like ass," he mumbled, flopping onto his side. The sheets crept away from his hips a little. Manny—emerald-haired in the same shade as Nelson—grinned over his shoulder. There was paint on his cheek. His eyes darkened at the sight of Nelson sprawled over his pale sheets.

"Yeah. I'd work with something else, but oils do the best effect."


Manny opened the window without a second thought, and Nelson sighed a little, glad for the sudden breeze.

California was not quite what he had imagined. It was not the holiday movie-star state he had thought it. Traffic was a bitch, even without a car—he was getting killer legs from walking around when Manny was on an errand—and the air was rarely clear enough to see the blue of the sky. It was nothing like Virgina.

Nothing like home.

"Want something to eat?"

Manny was done painting for the moment. Nelson smiled lustfully, reaching out his arms for the young Latino, pulling him onto the bed and yanking him down by his arm for a hungry kiss. Manny giggled into the kiss, pulling back and rubbing a mirrored smudge from Nelson's cheek.

"I should shower."

"Can I help?"

Manny made him reckless, flighty, dependent. Jeremy hadn't done this to him. None of his crushes had.

He wondered if this was what Kyle and Jason had.

Manny kissed him, pulled him along to the bathroom down the 'hall', ignored Nelson's nakedness—they were the only ones there, and they were just going to get naked anyway, so there was no reason to bother with anything.

The bathroom steamed quickly, the benefit of a good water heater. Manny grinned as he climbed into the shower, tugging Nelson along with him. Cold tile bit into their backs as they kissed, tumbled between air and hot water that turned their skin pink and raw.

Manny giggled, running his fingers through Nelson's hair. Nelson grinned, letting the locks get tugged and pinned away from his face.

"You look good wet."

"Get me wet more often."

Manny had this thing he did, where he'd smile, so just the tips of his teeth would show, and then he'd run his tongue along his teeth and lip, just barely, teasingly. Nelson would watch, would be unable to stop himself from kissing his boyfriend, no matter where they were.

No matter where they were. Now, they were trapped under hot water and within swirls of steam that almost made Nelson's lungs ache.

He'd been without a cigarette for six weeks though; no reason to start now.

Not when he had this to look forward to.

Manny had this thing he did, when he wanted his way. He'd stand behind Nelson and drape his hands over his shoulders, grinding softly into Nelson's backside, kissing the nape of his neck. He didn't do that now. Now, he let Nelson pin him to the wall, biting his lip in a distracting manner.

Showers were harder than beds. Harder to figure out. Nelson didn't know: were there rules for how things were for sex off of a bed? Was there a set pattern to these things? A line he wasn't meant to cross? A certain position?

Manny knelt in front of him, took his breath away with fluttering kisses from his bellybutton, and down, down, down . . .

Nelson tried not to wonder if Kyle and Jason had ever done anything like that. It was an icky thought. Now was not a good time for icky thoughts.

Manny's mouth was hotter than the water, slick, mobile. Nelson groaned, felt like he was sinking into the bottom of the shower, into the wall, into Manny, the air on his every pore feeling different than any other time he'd been naked (different than when he'd striped in the desert and run from atop the hill to where the car was, laughing all the way).

Nelson wondered how Manny knew just what to do, what felt nice, just right there. He wondered if Manny had been watching him jacking off to know that touching him there would make him throw back his head and scream, tight fingers pulling at green hair.

He wondered if Manny had done this for any other boyfriends. That was an icky thought. He pushed it from his mind as quickly as it came, looking down at Manny's bobbing head, at how his pale fingers looked buried in those wet-dark locks—they were black from the water, glimmering, beautiful.

Someone walked through the front door, Nelson could hear them. He leaned against the wall heavily, a little worried. Manny grinned against—around—him, kept on his merry way; he had to hear the steps around the apartment, Ernesto's tinny voice, the voice of a girl who must have been Ami.

"Fuck," Nelson muttered. He tugged at Manny's hair, felt the scrape of teeth, cursed and moaned and banged his head painfully back against the tiles.

The water was just starting to cool.

Manny rose, licking whiteness from his lips pleasantly, from his chin, and that was perhaps too sexy to be possible. Nelson kissed him, tasting himself, tasting Manny's sweet flavor, grinning and groping at his boyfriend's crotch, tugging at his excitement until the sweet young Latino was moaning and writhing against the wall, until he was limp and pliable, staring at him through half-shuttered eyes with a wonderfully perverse grin on his face.

They washed off, taking away the smell of sweat and sex and turpentine from Manny's painting. They hurried back to Manny's room, giggling softly.

'They' was an odd pronoun. He could get used to that, along with 'Them' and 'We' and 'Us'.

He could get used to 'Us'.

He tumbled back onto the still unmade bed, tugging Manny with him by his waist, laughing and wrestling him into 'submission'. Manny grinned up at him, shivered in the light breeze from the window.

Ernesto knocked discretely on the door. He opened it, but didn't look at either of them, focusing instead on the painting across from the bed.

"Ami wants to know if you two want to come have dinner with us."

"Give us a minute," Manny managed, his breath fast and rattling with laughter and quiet moans. Ernesto nodded, and ducked back out; Manny giggled. "Do you think he knows?"

"We were being kinda loud," Nelson pointed out, grinning and kissing Manny.

He would never get tired of kissing Manny.

"We should get dressed if we're going out."

Nelson nodded.

It wasn't quite like home, but it was something spectacular instead.

He wondered if this was what Kyle and Jason had.