Disclaimer: I own nothing etc etc

Warnings: Sexual situations, language, and SLASH.

Hired Help

Chapter 12 - A Clean Slate

Three weeks later and Matt was beginning to rebuild the shattered remains of his life. After spending a few days moping, bursting into tears at the slightest provocation, and eating a lot of ice-cream, he'd finally had the nerve to put his words to Sora into practise, and fix the utter mess he'd somehow managed to create for himself. He had a shower, got himself a haircut, and spring-cleaned his apartment, wanting above all else, to feel prepared for his fresh start.

Everything that was associated with his old life - with his prostitution - he deposed of. His clothes had been the first to go. He lit a fire in Sora's back-yard, ignoring her panicked screeching, and tossed his 'hooker clothes' on the flames with a somewhat evil (and hysterical) cackle, flinging anything that revealed more than two arms of skin. He kept his tight jeans, because they felt like a part of him - and despite what Sora said, they were sexy, not slutty - but tossed the ones with the deliberate holes in them, as they flashed pretty much all of his ass. Understandably, they had been a client favourite.

Next, he threw away his mobile. It was his connection to the escort world, how everyone contacted him, and he didn't want to be associated with them anymore. It took a great amount of coaxing from Sora, but he finally built the nerve to destroy it, throwing it against his bedroom wall with all the anger and frustration that had developed over the last few months, even years. It collided with a crack, and broke apart, littering parts all over his carpet.

But it didn't matter, because it was gone, and it would never be coming back. He was never going to reduce himself to escorting again - because as much as he protested, as much as he had denied it, it had made feel like less of a person. It had made him into someone he barely recognised anymore. Where had all his morals and beliefs gone? Or had he even had any?

Due to his increasingly dire financial situation, Matt also got a job at a local bar. It was shit money, long hours, and pretty much full of drunken idiots, but, it was better - at least for him. He could deal with the rowdy customers, and the unsubtle passes made at him, because if nothing else, escorting had given him fair share of experience in that area. Unfortunately, the pay was much less than he used to make, and he found himself cutting back on most of his luxuries, such as new skinny jeans and hair gel. But it was ok, because he didn't feel ashamed anymore. He could live.

But despite all the developments he'd made in his life, during the eerie silence in the middle of the night, his thoughts strayed back to one person - Taichi.

Since the whole 'incident' with Ikato in his apartment, there had been only one attempt at contact from Tai, two days into Matt's 'rehabilitation'. Apparently too scared to call Matt's mobile - because he might actually answer - Tai had called and left a rather vague message on his home answering machine, sounding tired, confused, and generally like shit.

The blond was really hoping that the strain in Tai's voice would make him feel better, when in fact, it actually made him feel worse. Despite everything that had happened, he still had feelings for Taichi, and he didn't actually want him to be upset - even though the whole thing with Ikato had hurt him, more than he could say.

The message had said: "Um, hi Matt, it's Tai. I just called to - well, check you were alright, I guess? I care about you and I - I don't know. About what happened…it was - I don't know. I'm just sorry. You didn't deserve that, and Ikato - he's not - we're not - together. I'm just confused. I used to really love him, and it all came rushing back…. I need to get my head clear - before I can - well, be in relationship… I hope you understand. I'm sorry. I'll speak to you soon, yeah? Well, bye."

He knew that he should probably delete it, and forget all about Taichi-period of his life, because he was supposed to be trying for a fresh start. But every time he tried, his finger hovering shakily over the erase button, he just couldn't bring himself to do it. He found himself crouched in front of his answering machine instead, listening to the message again, and again, and again, just for the soothing sound of Tai's voice. He missed his voice, his laughter, and his stupid jokes, and he just wished the brunette could see what he was trying to do with his life - to share it with him.

But he wasn't stupid. He knew Tai probably wouldn't ever be coming back - and he wasn't even sure he wanted him to. After all, did he really want to be in a relationship with someone who obviously still had feelings for a broken-nosed jerk? Did he really want to be Tai's second choice? No, he didn't. But that didn't change the way his heart fluttered every time he heard the timbre of Tai's voice, or caught a flash of messy brown hair in the street. He guessed it was just something he was going to have to be patient with, and wait for the feelings to fade.

Daisuke however, didn't seem too pleased with his plan of 'ignore feelings until they go away' when he called late in the week, attempting to convince Matt to try and talk to his best friend. From what he'd said, it seemed like Tai was deciding whether or not he should get back with Ikato, and Daisuke sounded as though he was in absolute despair. He hated the fucker almost as much as Matt did.

"What do you mean you're not going to call him?" he exclaimed, aghast, and Matt could practically picture his horrified expression from several miles away.

"What do you mean, what do I mean?" the blond replied, already tired and feeling like shit, even though the conversation had barely begun. Daisuke had a fair point though - how could Tai be thinking of getting back with Ikato after everything that had happened? Was he stupid? It hurt. It hurt that Tai could go back to Ikato so quickly. "I told you, I'm not going to call him."

Daisuke's reply was so loud and incredulous that Matt had to hold the phone away from his ear. "Why not?"

Matt took in a long deep breath, attempting to calm himself, because he was trying to be a better person, and that included being patient - even with Daisuke. "Because I'm trying to move on with my life," he explained, with such forced calm that he sounded slightly stoned. "If Tai wants to get back with Ikato, then, well, good luck to him."

"You don't mean that!" Daisuke argued, and Matt sighed, because he could tell it was going to be a long, frustrating conversation. "You're just upset about what happened! I know what Tai did to you was shit, but Ikato makes him act like a crazy person. He's been with Ikato since he was 16, and didn't work up the nerve to break up with him until a few months ago, a few weeks before he met you, despite Ikato cheating on him multiple times."

Matt rubbed a hand at his forehead, feeling tired, confused and aching. He hoped Tai wouldn't get back together with Ikato, because he deserved far better than that, but what was he supposed to do about it? Tai had already made his choice, and as much as it hurt to admit it, apparently it wasn't him. "Look, I know you're concerned for him," he replied, "but it's not really my problem anymore. He made that choice."

Daisuke let out a noise that was somewhere between a cry of frustration and a groan of exasperation. "He was being an idiot!" he exclaimed, so vehemently that Matt almost laughed. "You're the only person who can talk him out of this! He still has serious feelings for you!"

Matt's heart did a backwards sort of flip. He knew it was true, because Tai had made his feelings pretty clear the brief time they'd been together, but it still made him feel fluttery actually hearing it. He still wanted Tai to want him. "Maybe," he conceded, with a sigh, "but he's still got serious feelings for Ikato as well. And I can't be with someone who would rather be with someone else."

Daisuke sounded as though he wanted to rip his own hair out, and Matt was jolted by a strong surge of affection. He wished he'd spent more time with Daisuke - in a platonic way, of course - but now that he and Tai were finished, he guessed that he would never get the chance. Daisuke was loud, funny, cared about his friends, and actually seemed to like him; he needed people like that in his life. Sora was great and everything, but there were only so many things he could talk about with a girl.

"He wouldn't rather be with Ikato!" Daisuke exclaimed, jolting the blond from his musings. "Ikato made him miserable! But he just hasn't got over their break-up yet." There was a pause, and a rush of breath over the phone, and he added, much more softly, "Look, if you cared for him at all, you'd do this. You know Ikato is an ass."

Matt knew that Daisuke was trying to emotionally blackmail him, but dammit, it was working! He wanted to get Tai as far away from Ikato as humanly possible. "Want do you want me to do?" he croaked, sounding desperate now, "Beg him to get back together with me? Because I'm not sure that's what I want."

Daisuke sighed. "No, I just want you to talk. Maybe punch some sense into him." He laughed, apparently amused by the mental image, and whined, "Please? Pretty please?"

Sensing the conversation was not going to come to close until he actually agreed, and hating the image of Tai and Ikato back together again, kissing and curled around each other, Matt found himself replying, "Ok then. I'll speak to him," before he could stop himself.

Sometimes his mouth just didn't connect with his brain.

It was only after he'd hung up on a much cheerier sounding Daisuke, did Matt really understand what he had just agreed to. He had to talk to Tai, to see him, and convince him not to hook back up with a disgusting, two-faced jerk. He was going to sound like a desperate, jealous idiot. Which he was, of course, but Tai didn't need to know that.

Functioning completely on automatic, his mind in the clouds - or on his coming confrontation with Taichi - he had a long shower and dried his hair, before attempting to pick out an outfit that would look both casual and attractive. It's not like he wanted to get back together with Tai - well, ok, he did, he just wasn't going to act on it - but he did want to look his best. He wanted to show the brunette how he was doing better, and how he was actually rebuilding his life.

He chose a pair of dark skinny jeans (because they were pretty much all he owned), and a blue jumper, one that Tai had commented, 'brought out his eyes' - before styling his hair into his sex-head look. He gave himself a quick spritz of body spray, and admired himself in the mirror, tilting his head at all available angles. He looked good. A bit tired, a bit wane, but about as good as he was going to get without having a long vacation to Hawaii.

Taking in a deep breath and gathering what courage he had, he grabbed his keys, wallet, and phone, and high-tailed it out of the apartment, before he had a chance to change his mind. He figured it would be much easier to just get it over with, rather than dwell on everything, because otherwise he would just drive himself insane. All he had to do was talk to Taichi, remind him about what a raging lunatic Ikato was, and then move on with his life. He hoped it would be easier afterwards - maybe he'd finally have closure.

Shaking his head to clear it of his uncertainties, he got the bus from the end of the street, right to Taichi's apartment, and found himself stood on his door-step, ten minutes later. The door looked the same as it always did, boring and grey, but the fact that Tai might be on the other side of it filled him with terror. And he wasn't even sure why.

He raised his hand to knock, changed his mind a second later, turned on a heel, and walked straight into Mimi - Tai's pink-haired flatmate.

"Er, hello," he croaked, eyes wide and face flushing, because she had just caught his cowardice red-handed.

Mimi's eyebrows shot into her hairline, looking astonished, as she exclaimed, "Matt!" in a very loud high-pitched voice.

The blond cringed, because could she be any more unsubtle, and he cast a panicked glance at the door, hoping that Tai had not heard that, so he could flee to his apartment in peace. He was stupid for coming here; he was supposed to be moving on with his life, not hovering like a stalker on Tai's front door step.

"Hi Mimi," he said quickly, really hoping she would let him leave without argument, "Sorry about that, I didn't see you!" He gave her a friendly pat on the arm, and moved to dash past her, muttering, "I've got to go, but I'll see you later."

Talon like nails clutched at his arm, and he froze, his heart sinking through the floor. What had he been thinking? Of course she wasn't just going to let him leave.

"Wait!" she exclaimed, dragging him back in front of her, "What are you doing here? Are you here to see Tai? Because I can let you in if you want."

Matt was shaking his head before she'd even finished a sentence. "No, it's ok," he said hastily, cursing Daisuke for ever coming up with this stupid idea in the first place. What had he been thinking? Bad, bad idea. "I don't need to see him. I was just passing and - I don't need to see him."

Mimi's face fell and she made a little, "Oh," sound. "Why don't you want to talk to him?" she asked, shaking her head of pink hair. "I know he made some mistakes, but he's been really miserable without you. He really misses you. I think he'd be happy to see you."

Matt was surprised to hear that, considering the last he'd heard from Tai, the brunette had needed 'space'. "He said he needed time to think," he pointed out, hating himself for getting drawn into a conversation when he should be running in the opposite direction, but unable to stop himself. He was curious, he had to admit, and a little bit happy that Tai was missing him, just like he was missing Tai.

"Yeah, that was until Ikato reintroduced himself to the picture," Mimi said, sounding a little bit bitter. So she didn't like Ikato either? Hardly a surprise, but it was nice to know that none of Taichi's friends seemed to hate him with the same fiery passion.

Matt nodded. "I heard. Tai's an idiot for listening to him."

"Thank you!" Mimi exclaimed, clapping her hands together and rolling her eyes. "Another person with a brain! Want to lend Tai yours?"

Matt couldn't help but laugh. "Sorry, I probably need it," he replied, with a small shrug. He took in a long breath, shifted from foot to foot, and asked hesitantly, "He is ok though? He's doing alright?"

Mimi merely replied, "I think you should see him."

Before Matt could push her to elaborate, however, there was a creak, and the apartment door swung open. Tai was stood in the threshold, wearing a white top, a pair of sweatpants, and a very confused expression. His hair was even more disastrous than usual, but he looked warm, and comfy, and Matt suddenly felt a little bit delirious with want.

Tai turned his gaze to the blond a moment later, and inhaled loudly, his mouth opening in surprise. "Matt!" he cried, shaking his head slightly, "I recognised the voice - I thought I was hallucinating."

The blond opened his mouth and shut it again, before settling on a shaky laugh. "Um, nope," he replied, feeling and sounding a little bit faint. So much for his escape. He spread his arms, and added lamely, "Here I am."

Tai blinked at him. And then blinked some more, looking surprised, but actually sort of hopeful. "What are you doing here?" he asked, shifting uncomfortably and running a self-conscious hand through his hair.

Matt hesitated for a second, inwardly debating as to whether he should stay and probably end up throwing himself at Tai in desire, or flee the apartment with his dignity in tatters. But it was already too late - Tai knew he was here now. There was no point in lying. "I, um, wanted to speak to you actually."

Mimi beamed from beside him, but raised her eyebrows a moment later, as the two men stood surveying each other unblinkingly. "Well," she announced loudly, drawing their attention away from each other, "I'll leave you guys to it." She gave the blond a brief smile, and nodded a thankful, "Later Matt."

He watched her turn and disappear back down the corridor, calling, "Bye Mimi!" unsure as to whether he was relieved to be alone with Tai, or absolutely terrified. It sent a thrill of something down his spine, that was for sure.

"Do you want to come in?" Tai asked, after several seconds of stilted silence. He pushed open the door and disappeared inside, leaving Matt to follow him.

The blond contemplated one last dash for the exit, but was too overcome with relief, because Tai hadn't told him to just fuck off. That would have hurt more than he was willing to admit. So he shuffled inside, hands in pockets, and stood to face Tai in the entrance to the living room.

"So," the brunette said, looking almost as uncomfortable as Matt felt, "What's up?"

Matt shrugged, because sprouting off about Daisuke emotionally blackmailing him to come here didn't really seem like the best way to go. "I guess I just wanted to see how you are," he said instead. That sounded nice and neutral - not too desperate, and not too heartless.

"I'm ok." In a gesture of uncharacteristic shyness, he rocked backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet, and looked at the floor, glancing up at Matt through his eyelashes. "I just - I've wanted to speak to you," he said hesitantly, "but I didn't really know what to say. I didn't even know if you would speak to me."

Matt let out a bark of hollow laughter, because really, that was the lamest excuse he'd ever heard. If Tai didn't want to speak to him, fine - but he should at least be man enough to admit it. "You could have tried," he pointed out, before hearing the bite in his voice, and letting out a sigh. He didn't want to get drawn into an argument. "I'm not angry with you, ok? I just - I deserved closure, you know? You kissed Ikato, and left, and I've barely heard from you." He met Tai's direct gaze, and added, in voice slightly more bitter than he intended, "You could have at least dumped me to my face."

"I didn't want to dump you," Tai replied immediately, looking so earnest that Matt's heart did a somersault in his chest. "I figured that after what had happened, you wanted to dump me."

Matt threw his arms up in frustration. "Did I say that?"

Tai groaned slightly and rubbed at his temple, looking tired and very confused. "I'm sorry," he offered, with a small shrug. "I know I've been an idiot lately, but before I could talk to you, I needed to figure things out for myself."

"And have you?"

Tai laughed, but it wasn't a particularly happy sound. "Not really," he admitted, in a disbelieving tone. "If anything, I'm more confused." He stepped forwards slightly, until they were only a metre apart, and confessed, "I like you, Matt - I like you a lot -"


Both Matt and Tai jumped several feet, as his heartfelt confession was interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone, buzzing on the side of the coffee table. Tai cursed, looking flustered, and went to retrieve it, taking a quick glance at the screen. His expression shuttered, his eyebrows drawing down into a frown, and Matt instantly knew the identity of the caller.

"Ikato?" he guessed, trying to sound nonchalant, but just sounding pissed. Daisuke was right then - Tai was thinking of getting back with the fucker.

The brunette blinked at him, apparently missing the poison in his tone, and cancelled the call. "How'd you know?"

"Lucky guess."

"Yeah," Tai confirmed, at least having the decency to look guilty - not that it made Matt feel any better. "He said you broke his nose - it looks pretty bad."

Matt couldn't even pretend not to be happy about that. He gave his shoulders an unconcerned shrug, and said, "Can't say I'm sorry."

Tai actually laughed, a sound filled with amusement and genuine affection. "I don't blame you," he admitted, throwing the phone onto the couch with more force than was entirely necessary. "I know how infuriating he can be - especially over the last couple of weeks." He looked back at Matt closely, as though judging his reaction, and added, "He's been calling me."

"Why's that?" the blond asked, attempting to sound as clueless as possible, although he already knew the answer.

Tai shrugged, and crossed his arms, defensive, as though he expected the blond to attack him. "To get back together, I guess."

Matt watched him for a long moment, trying to work up the courage to voice what he wanted, while simultaneously fearing Tai's response. He kept trying to tell himself that it didn't matter to him, that he and Tai weren't together anymore, and that he needed to move on, but his feelings weren't quite cooperating. He didn't want Tai to be with anyone else - and not just Ikato.

He took in a breath, closed his eyes, and asked, "Do you want to get back together with him?"

"No!" Tai blurted immediately, but his expression was still pained, and still confused. "Well, I don't know. We were together for ages -"

Matt sincerely felt like slapping his hand to his forehead. "And he cheated on you!" he interrupted, before Tai could even finish his sentence. "Look, maybe this is none of my business, but you deserve better than that twat, Tai. I know I probably didn't treat you as well as I should have either, but it wasn't intentional. I had a lot of my own issues, and I'm sorry for dragging you into that."

Tai was staring at him, in a blank, bemused sort of way. "I don't understand. What are you saying? Are you trying to get back together with me?"

"No. I'm not," Matt replied honestly, because he may still have had feelings for Tai, but that didn't mean he could ignore everything that happened. "You obviously still have feelings for someone else, and I will not play second fiddle to Ikato." He let out a breathy laugh. "I just don't want you to make a stupid mistake."

"Why?" Tai asked, throwing up his arms, "Why should it matter to you, after everything?"

Matt gave him a look, because seriously, wasn't the answer obvious? "Because I care about you," he replied simply.


A/N Yay! An update that took less than several years, and it's long too! I've read back on everything I've done so far, and it annoys me now that I can see so many spelling/grammar mistakes in the previous chapters. I've been thinking about rewriting them ( for correction purposes only, the plot won't change at all!) but I think it will delete all the reviews :(

And thanks everyone, for the kind reviews for the last chapter! I was nervous that people were going to be annoyed about the long wait, so it was really great for people to say such nice things - it motivated me to get this chap out much faster ;) Please review and let me know what you think!