A Hundred Different Troys

 

Troy followed the steady stream of passengers from his flight down a corridor toward the baggage carousel. He had a finger in his right ear, wiggling around, and he moved his jaw from side to side, trying to relieve the intense pressure that lingered from the flight. He tried swallowing, but that just made a clicking sound in his left ear from the congestion. On one side of his head, the world sounded muted, and the other was too loud and too real. Getting through customs had been agony, but what else was new? 

 

huh-huhEHTxxshh!” He tried to smother the sneeze in his sleeve and keep on walking as if nothing were wrong, but it threw him a little off balance.

 

He readjusted the carry on bag slung over his left shoulder as he approached an escalator and queued with the rest of the passengers. He was still a bit out of it from the transcontinental flight and was glad he had people to follow. Like most airports, Heathrow’s floorplan was a bit of a maze. And the fact that he had a monster of a head cold still stuffed in his head, a sore neck from the couple of hours of sleep he’d managed during the trip, and one blocked up ear certainly didn’t help him get his bearings. 

 

He shivered a little as he got onto a moving walkway, air rushing past him. Instinctively, he pulled his hands into the sleeves of the navy blue running club sweatshirt Lucas had insisted he take with him to remember them by. Feeling sentimental after leaving them, he’d changed back into it after they’d said their goodbyes at the hotel and before taking a cab to the airport. He’d been using the cuffs and sleeves to rub at his nose when it tickled and he wasn’t sure he’d get to the tissues in time. He’d been using it as a pillow, the hood bunched up. And he’d been using it as a way to feel connected to the men he’d just spent most of a weekend with, like they were still wrapped around him. He wasn’t stupid enough to kid himself that they’d all stay in touch for long. An ocean of distance between them was a pretty tough obstacle to overcome, especially if you were as hands-on with affection as David and Lucas were. But wearing the sweatshirt almost felt like they were still with him, hugging him, holding him, warming him, and trying to make him feel better.

 

If only they could do something about the goddamn pressure in his ear. He swallowed again, and in addition to the clicking sound in his left ear, his sore throat raised a protest. Troy thought about stopping at one of the little airport stores to buy a bottle of water or, better yet, a cup of tea. But he worried he’d be wandering the airport for hours trying to find his luggage if he lost track of his fellow flight passengers. So he tried to ignore the discomfort and soldier on, stumbling forward from one terminal to the next. He could always buy something to drink after he located his suitcase.

 

When he finally reached the baggage reclaim area, he checked the monitor that listed his flight and the carousel number, just to make certain he wasn’t blindly following the wrong passengers in the end. There were only two bags on the carousel, and the light wasn’t on yet, which meant he was right on time—early, really. Troy plunged his hand into the front pouch of the hoodie and pulled out a tissue. Folding it over his nose and closing his eyes, he gave a decent blow into it, wetter and fuller than it had sounded yesterday. He pinched his nose with it, gave a wipe, folded the tissue around the mess, and wiped again. Then he dropped it into a nearby bin and found a spot around the carousel to await the return of his bag. The sooner it came, the sooner he could head off to the arrivals pickup area. Then all he’d have to do was wait for Mick, and then he’d be on his way back home. 

 

As he waited, he pulled out his mobile, unlocking it with a loop-de-loop pattern. Out of habit, his finger immediately went to the text message app to check on any new ones. There weren’t any.

 

Not one single new message. The last text message listed was from David, wishing him a safe flight and advising him to get as much rest as possible. He’d read it far more times than he cared to admit while sitting at his departure gate. And while it had brought him some comfort then, the sight of it now made him feel uneasy. How had no one contacted him since then? None of his guys had been bothered to send even a single message? David and Lucas were well done with him already? He pulled the window down and released it to force a refresh, and there were still no new messages. Ow. That hurt.

 

There was, however, a little airplane icon at the top where the WiFi symbol was supposed to be. Oh, fuck airplane mode! He switched that off and his mobile immediately buzzed to alert him that there was a new message. Another. And another. His mobile continued to blow up, unread messages filling his app faster than he could see who had sent them, pushing the one before down to make room. His chest feeling lighter as relief flooded through him, he scrolled down to the first unread message. 

 

It was from Johnny, of course. He must have just missed it before boarding his flight.
Johnny: Can’t wait to have you back home. I’ll be at work when your plane lands, but Mick is still able to collect you from the airport. A second message read: Still fighting that cold?

 

Troy paused, considering his answer before responding: Just landed. Glad to be back in England. Excited to see you and Mick. But I do still have a touch of cold.

 

It was an understatement, he knew. But he couldn’t rant over text message about how perfectly lousy he felt. Even if he did, Johnny might think he was exaggerating to get sympathy. Better just to leave it at that. Besides, he might feel better by the time Johnny was home. Okay, that seemed highly unlikely, but a man could dream. He moved on to the next message.

 

Si: Hope the conference went well. Have a great flight, darlin’! 

 

Troy smiled and typed back. Cheers, luv. Glad to be home. Troy didn’t really want anyone else to know he was ill if he could help it, and Simon was definitely not the sort of bloke he’d confide in. It was easier to keep their exchanges light and casual.

 

The next was from Lucas, and contained a photo snapped of David in his seat on their plane, his mouth open, eyes closed, and head tilted forward. The message beneath the photo read Sleeping Beauty crashed before we even left the ground. As Troy laughed, he saw there was a second message beneath that, this one direct and to the point, exactly what he’d come to expect from Lucas: Miss you

 

Fuck. A pang of unexpected emotion hit Troy in the chest. He’d only known Lucas for a few days but, yeah, he missed him too. Both him and his husband.

 

Troy took a deep breath to calm himself and regretted it almost instantly when it triggered a coughing fit. Now he really regretted not stopping for something to drink. He buried his face in his elbow, letting the thick sweatshirt material muffle the sound of his coughs. They sounded phelmy and worse than they had the day before, and he blamed all the sniffling and post nasal drip from the plane ride when he had tried to keep his nose blowing to an absolute minimum. Using the nasal spray he had on him wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without David, but he vowed to duck into a bathroom to do just that as soon as he retrieved his suitcase. 

 

Trying to take his mind off the tickle in his throat and the one starting up in his nose, he went back to reading his texts. 

 

Marcus: I hope you’re feeling better. Yeah. That was a not-so-subtle nudge for Troy to text him if ever there was one. Troy thought about replying immediately that he didn’t feel better. In fact, he felt like utter shite and needed his Netflix buddy to come make him Lemsip again right bloody now. But he didn’t know what he’d find when he got home, and he didn’t want to make anything awkward. Marcus was probably still at work anyway.

 

This time, it was his nose that bothered him. He rubbed his cuff against his nose, hoping that would drive the tickle away. That seemed to work about half the time, maybe a little more. But this time wasn’t one of those times. The tickle only intensified. His breath caught.

 

His mobile in one hand, he fished around in his pockets for a tissue. His front pocket had nothing, his jeans pockets had one used, balled-up tissue. Fuck. He set down his carry on bag, about to go through it for the one small, over-priced tissue pack he was pretty sure he still had left when the feeling got too strong. “huhh! HUH!” The sneeze wouldn’t wait for him to find a tissue. He buried his nose in the crook of his arm and let it out. “HahURTTshmmphh!” Sniffling, he rubbed his nose against his sleeve. It still tickled a fair bit, but this time the feeling backed off.

 

Troy gave it a second or two, just to make sure it didn’t come back, because sometimes that’s what his sneezes did. They seemed to be gone and then they returned even stronger and more urgent and impossible to hold back. But it seemed gone. So he sniffed and returned to his mobile, clicking on the next message, even though he was fairly certain he knew what it was going to say.

 

Rence: You back yet? When can we hook up? Troy was caught between an eye roll and a smile. Oh, Rence. Rence, Rence, Rence. Rence could wait. Waiting would be good for him.

 

Moving on, there were four messages from clients at the gym about missing or rescheduling their upcoming sessions with him. He didn’t feel like pulling up his calendar and working out the scheduling just now. Besides, he might be out another day or two from his cold. There was an automated reminder of an upcoming doctor’s appointment he’d forgotten about entirely; it was a week from now, though, so hopefully he’d be well rid of this cold by then. There were a few bill payment reminders that twisted his gut a little, though they were none of them surprises. With the training sessions he’d already missed from the trip and whatever ones he had to reschedule because he was ill, not to mention the trip expenses, this month was going to be tighter than most. 

 

He smiled at a name he hadn’t seen for a while on the message list, and his heart rate sped up a smidge. He touched the name, feeling a rush of anticipation as he did so. X2: We’ll be in town at the end of the month. 26-30. Would love to see you again for a night if you’ve got time for us. We’re flexible… but you knew that already. ;)

 

Troy paused a moment, thinking things through before letting his dick dictate his reply. I will make time for you two handsome gents. I’ll see what I can book and let you know the when and where. Did that sound too excited? He read it and reread it. There was a fine line between seduction and desperation, and he wasn’t so sure his reply was on the correct side of that line. But there were certain arrangements he had to make at particular sorts of establishments, and he appreciated the heads-up well in advance in order to get things sorted. And, honestly, ‘handsome’ was a lot more refined than some words he could have used to describe the Xes. So, in the end, he hit send and hoped for the best. 

 

Bags began appearing on the carousel, spaced out a bit, but definitely being claimed by fellow passengers on his flight. He looked ahead and, when he didn’t see his bag yet, turned back to his mobile. 

 

The last thing on the screen was an unread message from David. He hesitated only a second to read it. He knew he really should look out for his suitcase… but he couldn’t resist. When Troy tapped David’s name, it turned out there was actually a photo followed by a series of short messages. The photo was of Lucas, hands and tissue steepled over his nose and mouth, eyes tight shut, caught in the middle of what was unmistakably a sneeze. Troy’s heart didn’t race; the visual did nothing to him except make him feel a little bit guilty. He read David’s texts with some amount of caution. This won’t come as much of a surprise, but Lucas came down with your cold. He’s coughing and sneezing a lot already, but he’ll be fine. He’s in good hands. He begged me to send a photo of him like this. Took us a dozen tries to get the timing right LOL. He says thank you. For a hot minute, Troy suddenly wondered if Lucas really had been into sneezing or if it had all been an act so he could get closer to Troy and catch his cold and get David to smother him with care. But he remembered the way the man had squirmed with the need to come when Troy had sneezed on his dick, and Troy was absolutely certain that hadn’t been fake. Troy didn’t quite understand it as a fetish, but it was hardly the weirdest or grossest thing he’d ever done with a guy. In the end, he was glad to have been able to please him so thoroughly. Lucas had looked damn hot coming from being sneezed on, and he seemed pretty happy now with this cold. Troy wasn’t so sure David would be thrilled with this turn of events, however, so Troy read on with apprehension. Luckily, David didn’t leave him wondering: I want to thank you, too. Thank you for coming into our lives and giving yourself to us for a weekend. They’d done thank yous when they’d done goodbyes. Despite being used to this sort of hookup, Troy had actually shed a couple tears at their parting, though it was nothing compared to how weepy Lucas and David got. Americans, honestly. They were far too dramatic and free with their emotions. It was nice to get a couple thank yous in writing, though. These were texts he’d probably keep on his mobile for a while to reread whenever he needed a bit of a lift. There were a couple more text messages from David, sent a few hours later. Just wanted to make sure you got home okay, baby. If your ears are plugged up, try pinching your nose closed, closing your mouth, and blowing out as if you were blowing your nose into one of my tissues. If that doesn’t work, a warm compress against your ear for about five minutes might. If it is extremely painful, check with a doctor to make sure your eardrum hasn’t ruptured. Troy paused, evaluating the pain. The pressure hurt, sure, but it was more like a strong irritation, and it itched a little, even. A ruptured eardrum sounded a hell of a lot more painful. Thank goodness he didn’t have one of those. There was one final text. Feel better soon. God bless you, baby. Troy had pretty much known that was coming, but he still stared at the words for longer than he’d expected. He wanted to reply, but he didn’t have the right words just now to echo David’s perfection. Troy closed the messaging app when he felt a prickling behind his eyes. 

 

He sniffed and cleared his throat and looked up to realize he’d just missed his bag going ‘round on the carousel, and people were too closely packed in here for him to get to it. He’d just have to wait for it to come back to him.  

 

In the meantime, he decided to try David’s advice. He pinched his nose, not at all delighted at the squelchy sound it made when he did so or the bit of pain he felt when touching the much abused skin. He took in a deep breath, closed his eyes and mouth, and blew. His cheeks puffed, and there was a sort of white noise sound in his sinuses and his left ear. He felt the pressure in his blocked ear intensify but that was all. No little pop of relief as he’d hoped. Plus, his nose was running again. He let his breath out and dug around for another tissue. He blew his nose, feeling the pressure trying to give again. He opened and closed his mouth. He tried to yawn. Fuck, it was maddening when nothing seemed to work like it was supposed to. He’d have to wait until he got home to try that warm compress idea David had suggested. 

 

Glancing down the conveyor belt, he spotted his suitcase on its way toward him again. He adjusted the bag on his shoulder to make sure he had a proper range of motion available to him. As it moved closer, he leaned forward, indicating that he was going in to make a grab. But the woman to his left went for a bag at the same time and they collided, arms tangling. Off balance, Troy stumbled back and caught himself. But she fell forward with a bit of a shriek, making a grab just in time but going down face-first. The woman’s bag tumbled off the carousel, but Troy’s bag sailed on by. Damn it all! Before he could check to see if she was all right, the woman right popped up from the floor. She dragged her heavy bag a few inches back to where she’d been standing beside him. “Sorry. God, I’m such a spaz! Yours is the gray hard-sided one with the rainbow ribbon?” she asked in a thick Northern accent, dusting herself off.

 

He nodded and cleared his throat, about to reply properly. But by then she was off. He turned, startled and amazed, watching her bob and weave through the dense crowd standing around the carousel. She darted forward, chasing down his suitcase, plucking it off the carousel, and raising both fists in the air with a triumphant hop. Troy couldn’t help but chuckle. The woman pulled up the handle and rolled his suitcase around the crowd and over to him. She passed over the handle and then grabbed her own bag. 

 

Though his bag was unique enough, he double-checked the name on the tag, just to be sure. It was just his luck to wind up with the wrong one. But, no, this was definitely his. “Cheers. Above and beyond, really.” 

 

She waved her hand dismissively. “Honestly, it was my fault to begin with. Have a good one.” 

 

“You too.” That had been unexpected, sweet, and heartwarming. It didn’t single-handedly restore his faith in the human race, but that one little act did go as far as to remind him that the world wasn’t so bad. 

 

Then his mobile buzzed and he got a text that made him take that all back.
Mick: ur plane landed 45 mins ago Ive been circling so long getting dizzy where the hell are you

 

Troy sighed and typed back. Customs was a nightmare. Got my suitcase seconds ago. On my way to the door now. Sorry for making you wait. Knowing there wouldn’t be a reply, he stuffed his mobile in his back pocket and hurried to the arrivals pickup area. He almost passed right by the door, thinking it was for Ubers, but noticed a familiar lime green Ford Fiesta outside. Tired of never being able to find his car, Johnny had bought it specifically for the obnoxious color that made it stand out in the car park. It was a bit of an eyesore, but Troy was glad of its color today. He jogged over, making sure Mick saw him hurrying. His chest felt tight, and he knew he was in for one hell of a coughing fit the moment he flopped into the passenger seat, but it had to be done. 

 

The trunk popped open as he approached. Troy released the handle of the suitcase to retract it. Then he lifted the heavy thing into the trunk. He tucked his carry on bag in beside it, grabbing a fresh pack of tissues from it just in case. It was a long ride home. 

 

Already coughing into his sleeve, he closed the trunk and hopped into the passenger seat. He buckled his seatbelt, and as soon as that click sounded, the car lurched forward, pulling out, merging as far to the side as it could go to get away from the chaos at the gate. Eyes tearing up as the coughing grew more intense, Troy pulled another tissue out of his hoodie pocket and tried to calm the urge to cough for long enough to get a breath in so he could blow his nose. He coughed, interrupting the first attempt. But on his second attempt, his nose felt a little clearer and the coughing backed off. He leaned back against the seat, taking a calm, satisfied breath before turning to look at Mick.

 

A big and burley bear, he filled the driver’s seat entirely. The man always ran warm, so even though there was a chill in the air, he wore shorts and a short-sleeve shirt—today’s black and sporting a whiskey logo. For a moment, Troy wanted nothing else in the world but to crawl into Mick’s arms, lay his head on Mick’s chest, and feel those big hands touch him all over. A squeeze here. A spank there. Troy would close his eyes and nuzzle into his dark brown beard, exploring blindly until he found Mick’s lips to kiss.

 

Instead, he settled into the seat and tried to keep from coughing again. “Thanks for picking me up, luv.” 

 

“Dttt mhhnt.”

 

Troy stuck his finger in his ear again, as if jabbing at it would make it pop. Of course, it didn’t. “Sorry, my right ear’s all stuffed from the pressure. Can you talk louder? I didn’t catch that.”

 

Troy did, however, hear a sigh. “Don’t mention it,” Mick said again, though this time it sounded a little kinder, softer. That was Mick for you. Cold one moment and warm the next. “S’good to see you. We missed you.” Make that hot the next moment.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, I missed you guys… t-too… shite… sor-hehhh-sorry.” He dug another tissue out. “H-haveta-hehhh haveta sn-sn-sneh-hehhhh-eeze-ehhh-ehhhHIDDshhphhhh! HEHHPPPTchhphhhh!” He blew his nose as quietly as possible, feeling more than a bit embarrassed.

 

Mick glanced to the side. “You sound bloody awful, mate.” 

 

“It’s not so bad,” Troy straight up lied. “It’s just a cold.” 

 

“Didn’t you just have one of those?” 

 

Just? That had been almost two years ago now. And before that he hadn’t had a cold in twenty-something years. “Well, now I’ve got another. Trust me, I didn’t ask for it.” 

 

Mick sighed. “Yeah, all right. Fair enough. Just try to keep it to yourself, would you? I can’t afford to catch it from you.” 

 

That was code for ‘you’re sleeping on the couch tonight,’ and Troy knew it. He hunkered down in the passenger seat, snuffling into a tissue and trying not to cough. In all his haste to get out to the car, he’d forgotten to use the nasal spray. And he’d forgotten to pick up some water. The dry air on the plane had been murder on his throat, and now it felt sore and irritated and like mucus was dripping down and irritating it more. He couldn’t really blame Mick for not wanting to catch this. He felt miserable and sounded a right mess.

 

“Hey,” Mick glanced over again, looking concerned. He didn’t voice his concerns, however. He just said, “Tell me about your conference.”

 

Troy hadn’t expected that. “I, uh…” He coughed and quickly raised his arm, coughing into his sleeve again. It was phlemy and productive and utterly disgusting and completely embarrassing. He spat into a tissue and closed his eyes, wishing he were dead.

 

“Troy… mate… do you need me to pull over?”

 

Shaking his head. “Not gonna get sick. My stomach’s fine. It’s my head that’s the problem.” He coughed again and looked around, spotting a large-sized fast food drink in the cup holder. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the drink.

 

“About an hour ago, it was a coke. Now it’s just melted ice. You want it?”

 

Hell yes he did. Troy snatched it up, put the straw to his lips, and enjoyed the cool sensation of water against the hot roof of his mouth and back of his throat. It wasn’t nearly as good as David’s magical throat coating tea, but it would do in a pinch. He swallowed and relaxed. That was better. A lot better. His throat wasn’t quite so tickly, ready for a cough every time he took a breath or said a word. He vowed to never give Mick a hard time for stopping to get fast food again.

 

“You were going to tell me about the conference, I think?”

 

Troy nodded. “Yeah. Sniff! Cough!” An unpleasant rasp in his throat made him clear it. “Yeah.” Still there. He tried again and, this time, cleared his throat successfully. “There was this workout bench in the fitness club I really liked…” He talked about the fitness conference until his throat started to hurt and until he ran out of things that didn’t involve being intimate with Lucas and David. But he didn’t entirely avoid mentioning them either.

 

“The guys you had… what were they like?” Mick asked. He didn’t sound threatened or jealous, exactly. More just curious. And that made sense. Troy had a lot of guys. The guys all knew he had a lot of guys. But there were only two he’d shacked up with.

 

There wasn’t much Troy was willing to tell him about his time with Lucas and David, but this question he definitely had an answer to. “They were strong but kind and caring. They were exactly what I needed then.”

 

There was a pause. Mick changed lanes to pass a slow car. “And, ah, what do you need now?”

 

The obvious answer, of course, was that what he needed were Mick and Johnny. It was what Mick wanted to hear. Mick had driven all this way just to pick him up; of course Troy needed him for that. But for the rest… Troy couldn’t admit that he’d take David and Lucas in a second right now. David to help him breathe again and Lucas to hold onto him so tight and keep him safe. Instead, Troy said, “What I need is to get home. To have a decent cup of tea and a shower and a nap and more tissues than are in this tiny pack.” He held up the pack he’d taken from his bag. It was small but better than nothing.

 

Mick smiled. “We’ll be home in less than an hour. How about you try to get some rest now?”

 

Troy closed his eyes, taking that as an order and feeling, for the first time since leaving the hotel, a surge of pleasure stronger than the miserableness of his cold symptoms. “Yes, Sir.”

 

*

 

The second Troy got the front door unlocked and turned the handle, Mick shoved past him. “Sorry!” he called back, desperation making his voice go a little high-pitched. “Gotta fucking piss!” He headed straight for the bedroom and the adjacent bathroom. A few seconds later, there was a guttural groan. Troy assumed that meant he made it or, at least, the problem was solved one way or another.

 

“Okay, needed that,” Mick said, emerging from the hall a minute later with pillows, sheets, and blankets piled in his arms. The sliver of hope Troy had left that he might not have to sleep on the couch died a most painful death at the sight. Mick deposited the lot on the couch then took a couple steps back and checked his watch. “I’ve got... about six minutes until I have to turn around and head back out for a meeting. Is there anything I can do for you that won’t require me to actually touch you or, you know, enter your general vicinity?” He waved a hand at the imaginary bubble surrounding Troy that somehow was supposed to keep all his germs confined. 

 

Troy shook his head. He couldn’t think of anything. A head pat from Mick was what he craved, but that obviously involved touching. And a hug was completely out of the question. He could heat his own hot water for tea and take a shower alone. Not crawling into the bed he shared with Mick and Johnny after the shower would be the hardest part, but there was nothing Mick could do about that in the next few minutes. “I’ll be alright. Better take off, mate.”

 

Mick stared at him a moment, the corners of his mouth twitching. “You’re going to call that doctor friend of yours to come over to watch Star Battles, aren’t you?”

 

Star Battles sounded like some horrible new reality show involving celebrities with paint guns. “How do you not know Battlestar Galactica? Honestly!” Sometimes Troy thought he did this on purpose to get a rise out of him. “And, I dunno. He might not be free.” It was one thing for David to see him all sneezy and ill; David had never seen him any other way. But Troy worked hard to maintain that put-together, suave, almost untouchable persona at the gym. His clients needed someone perfect giving them something to work hard toward. They needed their instructor to be the ultimate specimen, god-like. He’d fucked up once and let Marcus in, because he’d been lost and confused to have a cold. Current ailment aside, he never got colds. And after just a couple sneezes, he’d been about ready to lose his shite.

 

He wasn’t sure if he was desperate enough for company to have Marcus see him all weak and helpless again.

 

“Just clean up after yourself if you do.”

 

“Of course… sniff!” He wished he sounded more genuine about that. But he was beat, and the idea of doing dishes and getting up to throw away every damn tissue was exhausting. His body wasn’t sure what time zone he was in, and frankly didn’t care as long as it got him to sneeze whenever it demanded that of him. “hehhh ehhhh-eh-HIJJshhhhhh!” He lifted his arm, sneezing into his shoulder.

 

Mick took a step back, putting more distance between the two of them, and looked at his watch again. “I’ve gotta run.” He started toward the door.

 

“Hey! Wait, are you really wearing that shirt to a meeting?”

 

Mick looked down at his chest and protruding belly, plucking at his shirt to get a better look at the design. “Oh fuck my life!” He headed straight for the bedroom to change. 

 

Troy’s throat was too tickly to risk laughing, but he smiled as he sank onto the couch and leaned into the pile of bedding. He was tempted to close his eyes and fall asleep right then and there, give into the jetlag and the head cold and just let his body rest when it wanted it. He turned his head, coughing into the pillow. 

 

When Mick returned a second later, shirtless, Troy’s smile turned into a grin. The sight of this man’s full, hairy chest always did such lovely things to his insides. “What, is it laundry day?” 

 

“It is for you,” Mick kicked at Troy’s suitcase full of dirty clothes. Troy groaned inwardly. Laundry was the last thing he felt like doing right now.

 

“Yeah, but I’m not sure going to the meeting without a shirt is the right approach either.” 

 

“Very funny.” He was holding a t-shirt in his far hand and flipped it up over his head, pulling it down into place over his belly. 

 

“Mmm. Liked you better without one.” This shirt was navy blue and featured a space shuttle launch. Troy had never known if that was supposed to be a metaphor of if the guy genuinely liked the space program; this wasn’t the time to ask. “But you look good, luv. Far more appropriate.” 

 

Mick snorted. ‘Fuck appropriate’ was one of his favorite sayings, but even Mick wouldn’t wear a shirt with a whiskey logo to an AA/NA meeting. “Catch you later.” He headed for the door, pausing in the doorway. “Troy?” 

 

The tone of his voice was instantly familiar and did something else to Troy’s insides. Immediately, Troy sat up and turned around, stretching his arm out across the back of the couch. “Yes, sir?”

 

Like he had in the car, Mick softened unexpectedly. “Really glad you had a good conference. But gladder that you’re home.” 

 

Troy ducked his head, a small, submissive gesture that always put a pleased smile on Mick’s face. “Glad to be home. Even if I only get as far as the couch for now.” 

 

*

 

As soon as Mick was gone, Troy opened up his suitcase—not to do laundry, but to get out the cough drops and tissue boxes he’d packed. He pulled a few tissues out, buried his nose in them, and let out a blow as loud and strong and full as he liked now that no one was there for him to disgust but himself. There were some benefits, he decided, to being alone. Few, but definitely some. 

 

Then he headed to the bathroom for a steamy shower. He stood in the shower for as long as it seemed to help, until he finally felt clean and relaxed, until the rasp in his cough seemed gone again, and then he stayed in even longer. His head felt clearer. His nose, too.

 

ehh-Hnxxxxshhhh! Hehhh-ENXXXXShhhhhh!” He sneezed, letting the shower spray rinse off the mess. He could feel the tension in his body loosening its hold. God, it was great to be home again. 

 

But the thing he was most concerned about still was the painful pressure still tormenting his right ear. He wet a facecloth and pressed it to his ear. He counted out the seconds, forcing himself not to rush through them. Around two hundred and forty, he pinched his nose close again, took a deep breath. He pretended to blow out, keeping his mouth closed, and the act caused a squealing sound in his ear for just a second. Then it felt as if something in his ear actually had popped. And, suddenly, he could hear again just like normal.

 

He left the warm compress there for a few more seconds. Then he lowered it and sighed with relief. The pain was entirely gone. He listened to the rush of water and his occasional coughs, promising to never take hearing for granted again.

 

When he was finally satisfied he was done, he turned off the water, stepped out, and toweled off. Troy hadn’t brought clean clothes into the bathroom on his way in, so he rubbed a towel at his hair as he wandered through the bedroom. He still sniffed a little, but the shower really had done a good job clearing him out, so he didn’t cough and sneeze on everything. He got socks, boxer briefs, sweatpants, and a t-shirt out his drawers of the dresser. But he hesitated, looking at the closet. He had some sweatshirts and jumpers there, but the truth was he didn’t want them.

 

Heading back into the bathroom, he picked up the navy blue running club hoodie Lucas and David had given him and slithered back into it. He stood in the still-steamy bathroom for another minute or so, basking in the warmth and comfort he hadn’t expected to feel now that he was alone. Troy was hardly ever alone by choice. And though the quiet felt peaceful, it also felt pretty fucking lonely.

 

He gathered up his clothes and headed back out to the living room before he could get tempted by the bed.

 

*

 

After spreading the sheets and pillows out just how he liked them, he settled in and picked up his mobile. He knew who he wanted to call, but he didn’t get past D when scrolling. He fired off a quick text message, not bothering to figure out what time it might be over there. Available to Facetime? He couldn’t remember if David even had an iPhone, but it didn’t hurt to ask. Before he could even switch apps, the request was coming through and there David’s face was on his screen.

 

“Hold on a second. Let me…” David grabbed a pillow and then the world went topsy-turvy. Troy had an excellent view of the ceiling and then the dark gray blanket on their bed and then the plaid flannel pants David was wearing. Finally the view stabilized and he saw David sitting up in bed with Lucas snuggled up to his side. “Hi, baby.”

 

“See?” Lucas said, poking David in the side. David jerked away, laughing, probably ticklish. “I told you he’d call.”

 

“Yes, you were right. Now blow your nose so he has a hope of understanding you.” David dropped the tissue box on Lucas’ lap and turned back to his phone. “It’s good to hear from you. Are you all right?”

 

Troy cleared his throat and nodded. “Thanks to your great advice, my ear finally popped. I think I would have gone mental if it had lasted much longer.”

 

Lucas quit blowing his nose and froze in place. Then he got that look about him, the one that said he was about to sneeze.  Troy couldn’t hear his breath hitching, but he saw Lucas’ chest rise and fall quickly a few times. Then the man snapped forward. “hahhh-AHTchhhh!

 

“God bless you, baby.”

 

Troy had to admit it was strange hearing David say that to someone else. But he loved seeing the way Lucas beamed with pleasure to have his husband bless him and wipe his nose dry for him. “I’m sorry I got you sick, mate.”

 

Lucas shook his head. “I’b dot. I get a few bore days off work to cuddle with David id bed. Add I get to have hib fuss over be add watch how habby that bakes hib.” He wiped his own nose with a tissue and dropped it onto the bed. Troy smiled to himself as he saw David’s hand sneak over, collect the tissue, and drop it over the side of the bed.

 

“Lucky. I’m all alone at home for the evening and banished to the couch until I kick this.”

 

“Wish you could be here.” Lucas ran his hands over the blanket. “We’ve got a kidg-sized bed. There would be bledty of roob for you.”

 

“Didn’t you hear just now? I finally got my ear to pop. No way am I ever getting back on an airplane when I’m congested.”

 

David rubbed Lucas’ back absentmindedly. “That’s fair. But if you ever find yourself in our neck of the woods, you’re always welcome in our bed. Consider this an open invitation.”

 

Troy added this one to the giant mental stack of open invites he had accumulated over the years. The stack was almost too tall to reach the top of, but the mere thought of it made him exceedingly happy.  “Thanks, mates.” He wasn’t sure what to say next, but he felt sleepy and Lucas looked like he might be getting ready to sneeze again. “I guess I had better go. I just wanted to call to thank you for the info about the cold compress and the ear-popping method of—”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

Troy was a bit taken aback. Even Lucas seemed surprised at David’s use of the word. “Excuse me?”

 

David explained. “That’s not why you called. If you just wanted to say thank you, you could have texted. You wanted something else.”

 

Troy shook his head. “No… I…”

 

At that moment, Lucas’ sneeze struck. “hahh… D-David… ahhh!” David had a tissue right up to his nose for him in the blink of an eye. “ahhhhHIHSHHhhhhhh!” David’s arm gave, following Lucas’ nose with the tissue even as Lucas pitched forward with the sneeze. It was amazing to see rather than feel this time. Fetish or not, David really was a spectacular care-giver. He missed that care.

 

“God bless you, baby.”

 

Sniff! Thanks. Sniff!

 

David pressed a kiss to Lucas’ forehead and turned back toward Troy. “Do you have someone there who can take care of you like this?”

 

Mick wouldn’t; that was for damn certain. But… Troy shrugged.

 

David tried again. “Baby, I think there’s someone you want to call, but it wasn’t us.”

 

Fuck. He felt a prickling behind his eyes again, and when he sniffed, it sounded wetter than it had in a while.

 

“Call him.” David insisted. He quickly added, “Or her.”

 

“Him,” Troy said, smiling, shaking his head. It was always a him. There were so, so many hims.

 

“Then call him.”

 

Troy took a big breath and nodded. He coughed as he let the breath out and raised a hand at his mobile, waving goodbye.

 

“Bye.” David was wrapping his arms around his husband as Troy ended the call. 

 

Even though his ear was fixed now, the silence that followed was deafening.

 

Before he could change his mind, Troy punched the video icon to start a Facetime call with Marcus. As he listened to it ring, he felt fairly certain Marcus would pick up, but he wasn’t at all certain about what he would say when that happened. How did you ask a guy you never wanted to even sneeze in front of to come over and take care of you and your head cold? As a wave of panic seized him, he moved his thumb over the button to end the call. David didn’t know what he was talking about. This had been such a mistake. 

 

Suddenly the call began and Marcus’ face appeared, damp and red-cheeked. “Don’t you dare believe a word Viktor said.” 

 

Troy blinked. “I’m sorry?” 

 

“He’s a damn liar, Troy. I did every single rep you left for me in your instructions and then some.”

 

He’d emailed detailed workout regimens to all his regular clients whose sessions he would miss when he was at the conference, Marcus included. And he’d asked some of the other personal trainers to keep an eye on them and answer any questions they might have or spot them if they needed it. “You’re at the gym right now?” 

 

“Well, yeah. Just finished.” Now that it was pointed out to him, Troy recognized that there was a row of lockers behind the man.

 

Huh. He was just about to explain that this was all a big coincidence. He was going to say he hadn’t heard a word from Viktor and this call was supposed to be about something else entirely when a text message alert popped up at the top of the screen with Viktor’s name on it. “Hang on a second.” He muted his side.

 

Quickly, Troy tapped the notification before the alert vanished. Viktor: Marcus did a great job tonight. He stuck to the plan you left and barely complained. Didn’t stop me from giving him a hard time, though, which pushed him to give just a little more.

 

Chuckling, coughing, and clearing his throat until he trusted it, he returned to the open call and unmuted himself. 

 

Marcus went on before Troy could say anything. “I even did a whole extra minute with the foam roller. An extra minute on each side. I bet he didn’t mention that.”   

 

“He didn’t.”

 

“See?” Marcus huffed and pulled the bottom of his shirt up, wiping it across his sweaty face. “I’m glad you’re back, though. Wasn’t as much fun working out without you. When… ah… did you get in?” Subtlety was certainly not his strong suit. 

 

“Only about an hour ago, maybe less. Just took the best shower and…” He trailed off, realizing too late that he shouldn’t have done.

 

 “Are you trying to tell me you spanked it? And, if so, why the random overshare?” 

 

“What? No! Fuck! No.” He turned his head and coughed into his shoulder. “Look, I… I don’t know if you have plans tonight, but I’m all alone here and could really use company.” He corrected himself. “I’d really like you to be that company.” Fuck, nothing was coming out quite the way he wanted. He was never this tongue-tied around a guy; it must be the exhaustion and illness. He coughed again and shook his head. “I’d just like to see you, yeah? As long as you don’t mind that I’m likely to sneeze or cough through whole scenes of BSG.” 

 

Marcus smiled. “So we’ll watch episodes we’ve seen already. Just give me about fifteen or twenty minutes to shower and get over to your place.” 

 

“The key’s under the doormat.” 

 

“I remember. See you soon” Marcus ended the call. 

 

And Troy sat staring at his mobile, wondering what he’d done and why he didn’t feel more embarrassed about it. He switched on the tele, navigated to Netflix, and started the series from episode one. He couldn’t remember how far in he and Marcus had made it together the last time he’d had a cold, so starting from the beginning felt safe. 

 

He readjusted the pillows so he could stretch out on his side, but turning his head sideways made the congestion in his head shift suddenly. The pressure in his sinuses throbbed and his nose filled with tickles. He grabbed for a tissue and realized he was nowhere near the box. “HAHH-IHXXshooo!” He pried his eyes open for a second, lunged to the right, and found the tissue box. But he didn’t get any to his nose in time. “HEPTshooo! hihEGGGGtshhhhhhh!” Rolling his eyes, he pulled tissues out and wiped his nose. It felt sore to the touch from all the rubbing and pinching and holding he’d done on the plane to try to keep from sneezing when the urge came on. But he gave a gentle blow into the tissues because he desperately needed to. At least he still had plenty of the fancy, soft tissues left. Lucas had bought him so many that last night.

 

He balled some up at his nose, sniffling, and tried to take his mind off his nose by watching the show.

 

*

 

Something touching his arm made him wake with a start, arm jerking to dislodge whatever it was. 

 

Marcus yanked his own arm back. “Easy. Hey, it’s just me. You called me, remember?” 

 

Troy blinked and coughed as he looked up at Marcus, hovering next to the couch. Right. That’s what he’d done. “Right. Cough! Sorry. Must’ve fallen asleep.” He didn’t remember getting sleepy. One second he was watching the show and the next Marcus was waking him up. 

 

“Jetlag’s the worst going in this direction. Plus you’re still fighting a cold. It’s perfectly all right if you just feel like sleeping. I can leave.” 

 

“No!” Troy struggled to sit up. He coughed again and pulled at the blankets, wanting to make some room on the couch for the man. “Stay?” he asked. “Please?”

 

With a nod, Marcus sat down on the other end of the couch. There was a steaming mug in his hands, which he handed over. 

 

“Tea?”

 

“Lemsip.” 

 

Troy grinned. “You’re officially the best.” He took a tentative sip. It was still too hot to drink, but the familiar taste that had gotten him through the worst of his last cold was a comfort. It really was great to be back home. 

 

Marcus turned his attention to the television. “The first season?” 

 

“Couldn’t remember where we stopped.” 

 

“Neither can I. This works.” They watched for a minute. Maybe two or three. Then Marcus spoke again, trying to sound casual. “Soooo… are you comfortable?” And failing spectacularly.

 

“Mmm.” Troy nodded, sipping the hot drink and letting it soothe his throat as he slowly swallowed. 

 

“Because, if you wanted to… I mean, if you feel chilly after you finish that or whatever… I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to get a little closer.” 

 

For a moment, Troy thought about asking if Marcus had ever heard of a care-giving kink. But he couldn’t figure out how to say it without making it obvious that one of the Americans he’d just been with had one. So, instead, he smiled. “Yeah, I’d like that. But why wait?” It took a whole lot of moving things around, but eventually he came to be in Marcus’ arms, leaning back against the man. Blankets covered them from feet to halfway up their chests. And when Troy felt a sneeze or particularly strong cough about to hit, he could easily pass the mug to Marcus while he dealt with that. 

 

They made it through a few episodes. Troy nodded off a half dozen times but woke back up after a few seconds. As expected, Troy did drown out a few crucial lines of dialogue with a sneeze or miss entire scenes because he coughed through them. But Marcus just waited him out, rubbing his back lightly or pulling him back in a hug in to rest against him when the fits had passed, almost as if nothing had happened. Marcus was comfortable around him when he had a cold, maybe because he was around ill people all day at work or maybe because he fancied Troy and was happy for any excuse to be close to him. 

 

Ehh ehhhIHHTshhmmphhhh!” Troy sneezed into a tissue. He sniffed a few times and felt Marcus’ arm tighten over his chest in a hug. “Sorry. Sniff!” 

 

Shhh!” Marcus hushed him. “No need for apologies. I’m trying to watch a show here,” he laughed, gesturing toward the tele. Feeling a strange mix of bashful and grateful, Troy relaxed back into Marcus’ embrace. 

 

And that’s where he was when Mick returned. He usually reeked of coffee and tasted like donuts when he got home from a meeting, but Troy wasn’t in any position to be able to smell or taste well at the moment, and Mick wouldn’t have let him get close enough to do either anyway. “Hey,” he said as he closed the front door behind him and spotted the men on the couch. 

 

Marcus tensed and his heart rate sped up. “Um…” 

 

Troy intervened before it got awkward. “Hey, Mick. Have you had dinner yet? We were thinking of getting takeaway. Maybe curry? You want in?” 

 

The fastest way to Mick’s heart was his stomach, and Troy knew it. “Hell yeah. I’ll grab the menus.”

 

*

 

Waking from coughs in the middle of the night, Troy felt something solid weighing him down as he reached for his water bottle. He remembered saying goodnight to Marcus and walking him to the door before crashing on the couch for the night, but he was sure this wasn’t Mick come to snuggle with him. In the darkness, Troy reached down, getting a handful of sleek hair. He slid his hand to the side, feeling the soft buzzed hair there. Then his hand slid further down, resting on a bony shoulder. Johnny was home. 

 

“Mmm.” Johnny had been using Troy’s arse as a pillow and made no move to change that arrangement as he woke up. 

 

“Does—” Sounding raspy, Troy stopped and cleared his throat. “Does Mick know you’re out here?” 

 

“Nope. But I don’t need his permission. It’s been a week. I missed my boy.” On the short side and thin, Johnny was half Troy’s size, if that. In a wrestling match, Troy could probably pin him in about two seconds flat. But, yeah, he was Johnny’s boy. 

 

Not sure if he wanted the answer to be no or yes, he asked, “Do you want me on my knees?” 

 

Johnny chuckled. “I’m enjoying you just the way you are. Don’t you dare get up on my account.” He wrapped his arm around Troy’s lower legs, hugging them. 

 

“I missed you too, l-luv.” His breath hitched, and he tried to control it. After days of sneezing, he thought he really should be better at this, but the sneeze got away from him like it almost always did. Not knowing where the tissue box was, Troy lifted up the neck of his sweatshirt and covered his nose with it. “hahh-IHJXXshhooo!” 

 

He didn’t expect a ‘bless you’ and didn’t receive one. What he did receive was a grunt of displeasure at being jostled. His body had jerked with the forceful sneeze, disrupting Johnny’s comfortable spot. 

 

“S-sorry,” Troy said, the horror sinking in that he still had a strong tickle in his nose. “But I… I still hahhh-have to... to…” Hopefully, Johnny got the picture, because Troy couldn’t squeeze out another word. “HEPTshahhh! Hah-hah-HXXSHHHHH!” 

 

Johnny settled back into him, plumping his arsecheeks like a pillow. He reached up to pat Troy’s chest and froze. “Hey, where’d you get this?” He sniffed the bottom of it. “Doesn’t smell like you.” 

 

“It was Lucas’. I snotted all over my hoodie. It was getting gross.” Of course, this one wasn’t much better at this point, what with the recent sneezes and the abuse it had gone through from his runny nose on the plane and the ride home. 

 

“Take it off,” Johnny said, and Troy sat up, pulling it off without a protest. “Let me keep you warm instead.” Their couch had been carefully selected to be able to fit Mick comfortably, so Troy and Johnny fit fairly well pressed together. Troy lay on his side, the back of the couch behind him and Johnny in front of him. He hugged the man close but kept his head angled so that if he needed to sneeze or cough again, he could do that over Johnny’s shoulder. “So happy you’re home,” Johnny murmured.    

 

Troy smiled. His life was complicated. His relationships were unorthodox. He was a different Troy to a hundred different people. But, in this moment, there was peace and satisfaction at being loved for being this Troy.