a/n: It's been forever but I'm finally getting around to the third part of the slash series. I'm taking a big risk and doing this one as a multi-chapter fic, and I'm absolutely certain that I'm writing myself into a corner so expect long waits between future chapters (as of posting this prologue I am done with chapter 1 and nearing completion of chapter 2, so at the very least you can expect to get at least one update before I bail out).

Despite the setting of the prologue, the story takes place after "Worse Than Marriage." I also strongly urge you to read "The Black Cat" before reading this one. The prologue is more of an explanatory bit and the plot is vaguely related to it, I assure you.

edit: the photo manip in the "cover" image was made by my friend Britt. There's a link to her blog on my profile page.

Thanks in advance for reading!


PROLOGUE

Sometimes at parties, when he had enough beers in him, Pete could be convinced to tell the story of when he was 24 years old and had made the mistake of falling in love with a married woman.

He'd met her one fateful day when she brought her car into the garage where he worked. At 24, he'd dropped out of college for the second time and found that working with his hands was far more satisfying than filling up blue books with musings about Nietzsche.

It had been the car that had first caught his attention instead of the woman. It was a brand new '56 convertible in candy-apple red, with a busted carburetor and a muffler that rattled when she took it over 60. The way he looked at that car must've been what interested her—a few moments of studying the broad-chested young man with his grease-stained jumpsuit zipped down far enough to reveal a clean white undershirt, and she must've wondered what it would take to get him to look at her that way, too.

When he'd popped the hood and began investigating the engine, she'd gotten up from her seat inside the air-conditioned lobby and leaned against the car's door, lowering her designer Parisian sunglasses and slowly drawling, "Hey, boy, my husband's overseas right now and I'd like to have some paneling installed in the living room to surprise him when he gets home."

"You'd better look somewhere else for a contractor, lady." As a young man, Pete had been a tremendous smart-aleck, and not even the finely dressed society woman with about fifteen years on him was immune to his sharp tongue.

"I was hoping I could hire you to do it for a discount," she responded dryly.

"How much of a discount?" the busted carburetor all but forgotten, Pete wiped his oily hands on the thighs of his jumpsuit and folded his arms across his chest.

"I'm willing to negotiate," she smiled. "I'm gonna need a ride home if you keep the car overnight. How about you give me that ride and come in and see if you're willing to do the job?"

A few hours later, she was sitting in the passengers' seat of his car, her custom-tailored linen suit looking out of place in the beat up hot rod. It took until they reached her neighborhood that their roles were switched and it was him that didn't fit in amongst the three-story houses with wrought iron fences and pools in the backyards. She led him through the double French doors of her home and sat him in the parlor with a glass of sherry, and left him to wait while she skipped off to the powder room, returning a minute later wearing nothing but a short satin bathrobe her husband had bought her.

"Um, excuse me, ma'am," he'd nearly choked on the sherry as he bolted out of his seat, absolutely certain that he should have been much more uncomfortable than he really was.

"Oh, I do like that," she breathed, leaning over the back of an antique chaise lounge. "Keep calling me ma'am, won't you?"

He'd read her name on the paperwork at the garage. He knew that the convertible belonged to Major and Mrs. Jeremy Stevens, and while he also knew that he should've said, "Have a nice day, Mrs. Stevens," instead he let loose the most charming smile he could muster and answered, "Yes, ma'am."

The affair lasted for several months. Major Stevens was stationed in Brussels for the duration of the year, and several times a week when he could get out of various other responsibilities, Pete would make his way to the east Hollywood estate, never once touching the mahogany paneling that was stacked neatly in the utility shed out back. Sex with Dot Stevens was the best he'd had yet, even with a broad, and perhaps out of some naive confusion he was certain that he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Dot, on the other hand, felt about Pete the same way any woman feels about a dishwasher or a garbage compactor. It was a useful object that made her life generally more pleasant, and this particular model just happened to be especially attractive. The hard-working, blue collar youth might have been out of place amongst her atomic-age television set and sparkling Formica countertops, but it drove her wild the way he'd meekly whisper "Yes, ma'am," when she'd shout "Fuck me harder, Pete!"

One typical summer evening, - this part was usually not included when the story was shared at parties- Pete was paying a usual visit to Dot when she'd sprung big news on him. After short, rough sex, while Pete lay tiredly on his back huffing and puffing, she'd sat up on her elbows and sighed, "I need to tell you something."

"Yeah?" he'd mumbled, too sleepy at first to hear the change in her voice.

"I saw a doctor yesterday," she said, softly. "I'm pregnant, Pete."

It hit him instantly, the realization of what it meant. Quickly he sat up, his heart racing, everything he'd felt for her in all this time bunching up together at once.

"It's mine, isn't it?" he'd sputtered helplessly.

"Who else's do you think it would be?" she snapped.

He could hardly catch his breath, his excitement was so overpowering. "Is it a boy or a girl?" he asked.

"It's not far enough along to tell," she replied.

"Gosh!" he spouted, softly laying a big, oil-stained hand over her small belly. "I can't believe it!"

Dot had no children of her own as her husband was sterile. She said nothing as Pete continued to revel in the unexpected news.

"Just think of it! A baby carriage in my little apartment. I'll have to get a bigger place, of course." He stopped for a moment as he realized what he was saying. "You'll— you'll leave your husband, won't you?" he asked, suddenly somber. "I mean, I can't buy you a big house like this but… I love you, Dot."

It was the first time he'd told her.

She took a long, deep breath and laid back on the bed. Not looking him in the eye, she asked, "How long until you're hard again?"

Pete squeezed himself in one hand, wishing she would've said something else. "A few minutes, I guess."

"From behind, this time," she instructed. "I don't feel like kissing."

With his head lowered, he answered, "Yes, ma'am."

It was several agonizing days before he saw her again. Unsure whether to call her, he waited for her to call him. When he didn't hear from her, he feared the worst, but finally after nearly a week, she called the garage mid-day and asked for him.

"Peter Malloy," he answered, coldly.

"Now that's the voice I've been waiting to hear," she growled into the phone. "You're covered with sweat and motor oil right about now, aren't you?"

"Sure am." Hearing her speak like that washed away every shred of doubt he'd had.

"Oh, I can't wait to have those big strong arms about me tonight," she breathed into the phone, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

"I'll-I'll be there," he promised as she hung up.

Tom Porter, another guy about his age who'd started working at the garage, grinned at him as he strutted out of the lobby.

"Gonna see that married gal again?" he asked.

"You bet!" Pete replied.

"Be careful," Tom warned, as he always did.

"Yeah," Pete laughed. "Right."

The following part of the story was really the only part that was shared in any sort of social situation.

That night, Dot threw herself upon him as soon as he snuck through the back door so as not to be seen by the neighbors. The bouquet he'd brought her was dropped carelessly on the floor as she ripped his shirt open, sending a button or two flying. Depending on exactly how many beers Pete had had at the party, the number of buttons changed in each rendition of the story, as did the particularly pulpy dialogue.

"You brute!" Dot snarled, "It's been so long, you must be ready to fuck me like the animal you are!"

"Grrr," he laughed, sweeping her up in his arms, carrying her up the stairs into the big master bedroom. He lowered her onto the bed and they tore off each other's clothes, and just as he started, holding her ankles high in the air, the bedroom door burst open.

Major Stevens, on leave paying his wife a surprise visit, stood in full dress uniform, holding a bouquet twice as big as Pete's.

To this day, Pete swears that it was Dot who let out the blood-curdling scream, although this is often debated amongst his colleagues. The second bouquet fell to the floor, and the surprisingly fit major leapt onto the young man, tearing him away from his adoring wife, holding a fistful of hair that had been much redder when Pete was young.

"Don't hurt him, Jeremy," Dot said, half-heartedly, eager to see such a show of masculinity from her sterile husband.

Pete, to his credit, managed to squirm out from under the man's weight, snatching up most of his clothes and tearing out the door. With all his medals and ribbons flapping against his chest, Major Stevens followed Pete all the way down the stairs, three times around the antique chaise lounge, and out the back door into the alley, where he pounced on him again and held him down, his fists coming down on Pete's face like two big hammers.

When he'd beaten the young man severely enough that he stopped struggling, he rolled off of him and flicked a speck of blood off of a hand-polished medal.

Pete laid in the alley for several minutes until he willed himself to gather up his shredded clothes, put them on and limp to his car, where he leaned out the window and spat out a mouthful of nauseating orange saliva and most of a tooth. Then, somehow in his punch-drunk stupor, he drove himself to the garage and fainted.

Before the Black Cat raid when Pete and Tom Porter stopped going to parties together, Tom would often take over the telling of the story at this part, talking about finding Pete sleeping off the excitement in the garage lot, his face looking like a pound of wasted hamburger. Seeing the cheerful, freckled face bruised and mangled was something that he'd never forgotten, and he would spend several minutes describing it in vivid detail before concluding the tale with the way he'd dragged Pete out of his car and checked his face to make sure nothing was broken, helping him get cleaned up and changed into his jumpsuit, and watching him stagger and limp for the rest of the day. That was how come he'd gotten a lazy eye and a broken tooth, and the tale would end in hoots and hard pats on Pete's back for having had such an interesting life.

When the story was shared at parties, neither Pete nor Tom ever got drunk enough to include the real ending. After Tom had patched him up, Pete had stupidly stood in the lobby and called Dot one last time, perhaps thinking he could somehow convince her.

"You've got a lot of nerve, calling me after last night," she said when she answered.

"Dot," he tried. "Marry me, Dot."

She laughed long and hard into the receiver. "Why?" she finally asked.

"I couldn't stand it if that man raised my baby like it was his own," he replied, sternly.

There was a soft sigh, and then, "Pete, I'm not going to have a baby."

"Whaddaya mean, you're not gonna?" he spat.

"I went back to the doctor last week," she said. "I had a procedure. Do you understand?"

"You…" he couldn't say it. He couldn't even bear to think it.

"Anyway, do you honestly think a kid like you would've made a reasonable father for my child?" she laughed.

"I was a good lay at least, wasn't I?" he tried.

Another short pause, and then, "Goodbye, Pete."

It was Tom who found him again, sitting on the floor of the lobby, clutching the phone against his chest, biting his busted lip to keep from sobbing.

"Look, Pete," Tom snatched the phone away and put it on its base, crouching beside him and holding him firmly by the shoulders. "Who needs a broad like that? Women shouldn't manipulate you and control you with sex."

"I was happy," Pete shrugged.

Tom's brow furrowed. "Alright, you wanna get hung up on someone who made you call her 'ma'am,' go ahead."

"I didn't mind that," Pete said. "I loved her, you know? But I'm never gonna let myself love anyone never again."

Neither man, at 24, was much of a wordsmith, but Tom tried. "That's real stupid," he said. "One day you're gonna meet someone who'll love you the way you loved her." He did say someone, as he'd been around long enough and heard enough of their coworkers comment on Pete's sex life – a common phrase about him was, "He'll fuck anything with two legs, and maybe even an amputee,"—and he knew that Pete was decidedly ambiguous. "And when that happens, you'd better love that person back, or else you're no better than her."

"Maybe," Pete let Tom help him up and brush the floor's dirt off of his jumpsuit. "It's gonna take someone pretty special to make me fall in love again."

"Until then, let's be bachelors," Tom patted him hard on the back. "We'll love 'em and leave 'em and nobody's gonna tie us down. And when you do fall in love, Pete, you'll know it."

Pete smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I'll know it."