A/N - This is based on an AU that a friend of mine cooked up, in which Mortimer is a prostitute Forge rescues from some abusive would-be johns. This is the first night after Forge lets him stay at his place... not expecting the kind of reward Mort's accustomed to giving. Enjoy.

Payment

Sometimes when he was asleep, Forge felt like he was falling. Dropping right through his mattress, from a million miles above the earth. It was terrifying for a moment, and he usually started himself awake with a gasp. Then, it took him a minute to realize he was here on terra firma, safe in his bed littered with clothes and empty Dorito bags, and not plummeting through the air toward concrete.

But sometimes he liked it. Because once he could get past that initial shock of the sleep-paralysis illusion, the falling became flying. His grandfather might have called it "playing with the Eagle", going to that special place where you could meet your ancestors or spirit guide, someplace caught between heaven and earth. Hanging suspended on a thread from a blazing star, removed from the world and all its problems and fears. Safe from the people who hated him simply for something in his blood. So once that switch flipped, he could just stay in that special place in his head, and let himself soar.

And right now in these precious surreal hours, he was floating. Bathed in the light and warmth of the sun while sweet-scented breezes whispered around him like water, making tiny ripples through his spread fingertips and toes. The warmth and joy spread through his body like golden light or liquid, and suddenly everything was just okay. No matter how scary or cold the waking world might be, nothing could hurt him here. This was safe, this was wonderful, the closest to God – or maybe Nirvana, enlightenment, the Ancestors, whatever - he'd ever come.

But then he felt something else.

Something soft at first, barely a touch… a stroke that seemed to permeate his entire being to the core, flooding him with ecstasy and excitement like the golden light that surrounded him. And he was ascending now, forever, spinning slowly up to meet the galaxy in an ever-expanding spiral of rapture. And all of this was new, this part of the beautiful dream had never happened before…

And as his cloud 9 rose a little higher to meet the sun, he felt his physical lips curl into a still-sleeping smile, the only indication that his own personal heaven was only in his head.

"Yes, please…" he heard himself whisper from a million miles away. "Yes…"

But God, it was so real, so true and all-encompassing. Was this what they called an out-of-body experience, a spiritual epiphany? Like the sweat lodge he'd entered as a child –

But no, this pleasure ran deeper, faster, harder and hotter than anything like that, it slammed through his veins and made his breath quicken to eager little gasps. It wasn't the abstract, distanced joy of ritual – this was so strong and overwhelming, a shuddering wave of soul-screaming rhapsody that broke over him, made him arch his back and gasp for breath.

Then Heaven opened up. It fell down to meet him, crashed over him like a white-capped breaker on a rocky beach, enveloped him in an explosion of dizzying, soaring joy.

Forge screamed himself awake.

And then he fell.

Dropped right back out of his Heaven and down to Earth, slammed into his bed so hard he could swear he'd actually been floating above it. He gasped, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of him, or he'd just been trapped underwater, and fought his way to the surface.

He was drenched in a fine layer of sweat, his sheets clung to him, and he was uncomfortably hot. Now that he was awake and the ecstasy of that dream had worn off, it wasn't nearly as pleasant. He was hot and short of breath and sweaty and tangled in his sheets, they seemed to be trying to strangle and eat him. So he thrashed a little, trying to extricate himself from their damp grip –

And then he felt something else, and immediately came entirely awake. Because he wasn't alone. He wasn't alone in this room, he wasn't even alone in this bed. Someone was touching him, under the covers, stroking expertly at the inside of his thigh, and other places that still throbbed with the afterglow of that heaven.

"Bwaaagh!" Forge fairly shrieked. He gasped and drew back, mechanical arm flying up in a defensive reflex, ready to fight, or flee. But when he moved, they lurched backwards too, softly thumping into the wall. Forge struggled out of the covers, bringing his knees up and trying to get a better grip on his bed, just in case he had to –

But wait. Wait. The figure on the end of his bed was holding up his hands like he'd been caught in a police searchlight or gun barrel. And it looked like he was shaking, and stammering something.

"Woah, woah man!" The young man in his bed jabbered. "Cool it, don't – don't freak out, I didn't mean any -"

"What – what, who -" Forge was even less coherent… until he remembered. Everything that had happened in the past 24 hours.

The dark alley. The gang attacking the lone green mutant in the fetal position on the ground. Taking him home, treating the worst of his injuries… And him falling asleep on Forge's couch. Or so he'd thought.

"Mortimer…" Forge said slowly, taking a deep breath and willing himself to relax. Lowering his metal arm and trying to get his heart rate back to normal. "What are you doing in here?"

It wasn't an accusatory question, or even unkindly asked, but the greenish young man still seemed somehow guilty or… sulky was more like it. Somehow indignant, as he folded his arms and half-turned away, hunched in a little grumpy heap. He moved gingerly, though, definitely still hurting from the night before.

"Whatever, man." He grumbled, not really answering the question or even meeting Forge's eyes. "Seemed like you were enjoying it, anyway."

"Enjoying…?" Forge frowned. Then –

Oh, God.

He flushed, scrambling to grab some of those damp sheets and cover himself. Why the hell hadn't he realized what was going on before? That wasn't heaven, that wasn't some kind of metaphysical experience with God. That was arousal. And that wasn't enlightenment or spiritual ecstasy, that was a bodily function.

Which meant…

"Oh, Jesus, Mortimer." Forge said in something like horror. "What the hell were you doing?" Even though now he knew exactly what he'd been doing.

"I just…" Mort shrugged jerkily – then winced; he'd accidentally jostled a part of him that still hurt. "Well, you know. You just… let me stay here, fixed me up."

"Yeah? So?" Forge frowned. He didn't want to think about this anymore. He wanted to go back to sleep and pretend none of this had ever happened – for some reason he was embarrassed, even though he hadn't actually done anything. At least not on purpose.

"I had to pay you back," Mort said, matter-of-factly. Like it was nothing.

"What? No you didn't -"

"Come on, man." Mort looked him in the eye then, looking something between sarcastic and amused and accusatory. Leveling with him. "You did me one good turn, I… gave you another. It's what you wanted anyway, don't even lie."

"What?!" Forge almost yelped. "No I didn't! You think I brought you in here to -"

"Nobody gives something away for nothing." And now Mortimer's voice was somehow dead, eyes turning down. That crooked half-grin from a second before dropped off his face, and now he just looked… studiedly blank, but more than a little bitter. "Nobody."

Forge sighed, and settled down cross-legged. Rested one elbow on his knee, and rubbed at his forehead. "Listen… I know that it probably seems like that -"

Mort snorted, an ugly sound that tried to be a laugh but clearly wasn't.

"But just… that's not how it works here. Not with me."

"Bullshit." Mortimer said flatly. "Even if you think that now, you will. Everybody wants something from me. One thing. And nobody," he repeated, fixing Forge with his strange amphibian eyes. "Gives you something for nothing." He took a deep breath, like he was getting ready for a shot. "So come on, man. Just… take it, let me do my job, and we'll be even."

Forge was quiet for a long time. Just how much had this young man been hurt? How many times had he been left bleeding in the gutter, before Forge had happened by?

Then he shook his head, and quietly spoke.

"No."

"What?!" Mort jerked his head up, the word coming out sharp and shrill. "Then – what do you want, man? I'll do anything – and you know I mean that, anything! Just don't kick me out, don't -"

"Oh my God." Forge closed his eyes, fighting the urge to roll them, or maybe tear out a little bit of his own hair. "You think I'm going to kick you out on the street if I don't let you…?"

Mort didn't say anything. He was picking at his cracked fingertips, maybe a hangnail or callus. A nervous tic, definitely; his hands were never still.

"Okay. Okay, Mortimer." Forge said, still trying to wrap his sleepy mind around this insane situation. "Listen to me, here. I do not now… nor will I ever… want that in return for helping you out, or letting you stay here." He stifled a yawn; why was he talking like a legal document? "There is no 'even', there is no 'payment', do you hear me? I'm here, and you're here, and – and that's just enough, okay?"

There were a few very long moments of silence. Then Mortimer spoke in a very uncertain, very soft whisper.

"What… do you want from me?" he asked quietly, not daring to look up.

"I want," Forge said, a little smile spreading across his face. "You to go back to sleep. I want you to get better, and not get into any more dangerous situations in alleys. And…" He paused. "I want you to be here when I get back from work tomorrow."

Another long moment of silence.

Then Mortimer looked up slowly, something like a very fragile trust in his unnaturally large, protruding eyes.

"…I can do that."

"Good." Forge nodded. He took a deep breath and let it out, feeling the tension in his shoulders ease away; he hadn't even noticed how tense he'd gotten. "Now, do you need some help getting back to the couch, or…?"

"Nah, I'm good." For a moment, Forge thought he might just curl up right there his bed – and in that case, Forge would have been the one ending up on the couch. Not out of any kind of disgust or distrust - it was just too dangerous, too close to the sick 'payment' they'd just discussed.

But Mortimer slowly got to his feet and limped to the door under his own power. He leaned on the door frame and turned back after a moment.

"Hey, uh… thanks." He said haltingly. "I just, uh… yeah. Thanks." He gave an awkward little half-smile, showing some pointed yellow teeth. He might have been embarrassed or relieved or terrified or any combination of the three. The only thing Forge could see for sure was the gratitude.

"You're welcome. I'll leave some breakfast out in the morning," Forge said, mentally running through the contents of his refrigerator. "And see you in the afternoon. Okay?"

"Yeah. Okay. Yeah." Mort was still shaky, but he managed to give a little nod. "G'nite. See you then." He seemed like he wanted to say something else, wanted very badly to say or do something more… but he just gave Forge a last significant look, and slipped out the door.

Forge sighed deeply and flopped back onto his mattress.

Things were about to get complicated. He just knew it.