|Smoking Was My Only Vice
Tick has to get a bigger flat when they get back to Sydney, because even if he's not quite sure what to do with a son, he knows he owes Benji something better than the shithole he'd been living in (and better than a traveling life in Priscilla, even if Tick's almost fond of the old beater). It takes him (and Adam, trailing after him for reasons unknown commenting derogatorily on every single bathroom) the better part of two weeks to find something that's worth paying through the nose for.
Then he and Benji carry all their stuff inside -- not much stuff, because neither of them has much stuff (except for Tick's wardrobe). Tick likes that in his son, the ability to get up and go without a lot of stuff. Adam carries all his stuff inside the flat, too, and he has twice as much stuff as both Tick and Benji combined.
Tick is only sort of surprised, and Benji simply looks at Adam and says, "Can you cook? Because my dad can't."
It started on the way back -- pulled off the road for the night, not the shortcut this time, but still the middle of the bloody Outback, nothing for miles around. Tick was almost asleep when Adam crawled into bed with him, pressing cold hands against Tick's stomach. "I'm cold," he said. "There's no heat."
Tick wriggled away grumbling, "There's no heat because Priscilla's not running. And there's a small boy in here with us, get your hands out of my pants."
"Come on," Adam had said.
Tick had thought about what it meant to raise a kid all by himself, thought about what a job Marion would have done, and thought about how bloody cold it was in Priscilla, and then he'd said, "Oh, all right, but get those freezing hands off my cock, you wanker."
Tick woke up to Adam's mouth pressed against his shoulder and Benji staring down at them. Benji said, "Is Adam your boyfriend?"
"Adam is a foul-mouthed little fuck," Tick said. "No."
Tick couldn't deny that Adam gives a hell of a blowjob, either. They were two days from Sydney, and Benji was asleep. Adam had crawled into Tick's bed every night a week straight, by then, and Tick had almost forgotten what it was like to have a warm body pressed against yours it was cold and dark, the middle of the night. Adam was poking the fire, leaning forward so his shirt rode up, and Tick was watching the curve of his back, highlighted in the firelight.
"So," Tick said, voice loud in the silence.
"Oh, for fuck's sake," Adam said. "That's why you don't get laid, you big queer. Less talking, more sucking."
The Earth didn't move and Tick didn't see stars, but afterwards they lay in the dirt half naked and Adam dozed off with his head against Tick's chest. It wasn't so bad at all.
He had turned into a fine little performer -- Tick hadn't lied to Bernadette about that. Coming home, Adam had cackled less, complained less, and entertained Benji more, and by the time they got back to Sydney, Tick was almost halfway to fond of him.
When Priscilla rattled to a halt in front of Adam's mum's house and he said to Tick, "You know, I'd rather stay with you lot."
"What, me and Benji?" Tick said.
"Yeah," Adam said, and the little fucker blushed when he'd said it, and then Adam's mum had leaned out a window and shouted, "Oi, Adam, bring your boyfriend in to meet me," so Tick had blushed, which made Adam cackle with glee.
Then Tick laughed, helpless in the face of a determined mother who still loved her son and just wanted him to be happy and didn't mind embarrassing him to get her way, and Adam had smiled brightly at him, hopping out of Priscilla. "Well, come on, then, she won't let me a minute to myself until she meets you."
Adam's mum cooed over Benji and offered them tea. Adam blushed, ducked his head, and spent most of the hour they were there hissing, "Mum," in increasingly distressed tones. Then he came home with them, which Tick realizes probably should have been the first sign.
Adam moves his things in, the same day Tick and Benji do, but he doesn't move himself in for nearly a month afterwards. He spends the evenings there, goes out to work from their flat, comes back to it after a shift or a show, but he crawls out of Tick's bed at 4 a.m. every night for three weeks straight and goes -- Tick doesn't know where. Home to his mum's, maybe, or else to someone else's couch, or maybe someone else's bed.
It bothers him, a little, just an itch at the back of his mind, but if Adam wants to act like a stray cat -- a cock obsessed stray cat with a fixation on sequins -- Tick isn't going to try and change him. It isn't until the end of the third week in the new place, when Benji says, "Why does Adam leave in the middle of the night?" that Tick thinks maybe he should ask Adam to stay.
"Does he wake you up?" he asks Benji.
Benji screws up his face comically, and says, "He trips over everything."
Tick tries not to laugh, and when Adam rolls away from him that night, Tick reaches out to grab Adam by the wrist. "Stay," he says.
Adam stays that night, and he stays every night after that.
Tick makes rules: not in front of the kid; stop baiting straight men; if you keep putting the sequins in the ice box, I'm going to serve them to you for dinner.
Adam breaks all of Tick's rules, and Tick just rolls his eyes, curls a hand around the back of Adam's neck, while Benji laughs hysterically at whatever Adam's done. It's never anger that Tick feels, anyway -- amusement, affection, other things like that, but never anger. So they make a go of it; one bathroom isn't enough and neither are two bedrooms, but Tick comes home from hocking cheap makeup and Adam comes home from waiting tables, it's nice that the place isn't empty.
Drag bars aren't any place for a 10 year old, but neither was a casino, and the time passes before Tick really notices. When he does, he's had Benji (and Adam) for nearly six months and everyone seems almost well adjusted.
As well adjusted as Adam ever gets; as well adjusted as Tick ever gets.
Benji is better adjusted than both of them, and Tick watches Benji set the table while Adam burns dinner. He thinks that it's all Marion's work -- he and Adam are just staying out of the way. He worried that Benji would take trouble at school, about him and Adam, and Benji does; one of his classmates says, "Your Dad's boyfriend is awfully pretty."
Instead of falling to pieces, Benji apparently said, "Well, he's prettier than your mum," and then he'd punched the wanker right in the nose, which isn't something he'd learned from Tick or from Adam -- Marion, Tick thinks again, and he's pleased with the misguided choice he made once upon a time. He got Benji from that, and everything else is worth having Benji.
He worries, because it wasn't easy growing up and knowing that he was gay, and it isn't always easy now, and it has to be harder for Benji, who didn't make the choice to have a gay father and an admittedly very pretty gay step-something-or-other -- whatever it is that Adam is to Tick.
Six months after the night that Adam put his very cold hands down Tick's pants, they're lying in bed and Tick says, "Do you think he's all right?"
Which isn't the most romantic thing he could have said, but it's been six months, and it's what's on Tick's mind.
"Who, Benji?" Adam says. He's stretched out on the bed bare-arsed, moonlight striping across his back. Tick would think it was an affectation and kick Adam off to the sofa, but at this point, he knows it's just Adam. He doesn't mind, and he almost thinks it's charming. "He's fine. Sharper than both of us put together."
"Well, if you're involved, of course he's sharper than both of us," Tick says, and Adam rolls over and hits Tick with a pillow.
With the press of Adam's body against his, Tick forgets about the conversation until much later, and by the time he remembers, Adam seems to be there to stay and Benji seems not to mind that Adam is. Tick had forgotten how having someone to touch could ground you to a life -- he'd forgotten what it was like to have someone to come home to.
It's a year since they left Alice Springs, and Adam makes a cake for Benji's 11th birthday and buys new curtains without asking Tick about them. Adam's stopped waiting tables in between turns on stage and started tending bar, and Tick's started drawing customers to the club instead of sending them away (for no reason that he can understand, until Adam says, "Well, it's obviously that you look well shagged. That's a draw, you know.").
One day Tick looks at his savings and sees that he -- that they -- have enough to buy a share in one of the clubs where he's been performing.
Adam is in the kitchen, frying eggs and singing "Thank You For The Music", and Benji is doing his Maths homework at the table, when Tick gets home from the bank, just to make sure he didn't read the numbers wrong. Tick says, "I'm starting to feel like Bernadette."
Adam turns, flips an egg without looking at it, and winks at Tick. "What, like a washed-up old queer?"
"No," Tick says. "Enough with the bloody fucking ABBA."
"It's self-expression," Adam says.
"Express yourself some other way," Tick says. "There's enough ABBA on the stage of our club already."
"What club?" Adam says, and dumps all three eggs onto two slices of toast and sets them in front of Benji. Tick is amazed that they've managed to save any money at all, with Benji eating them out of house and home. Tick didn't know that 11-year-old boys ate that much, but it's only a drop in the pond compared to everything else that he didn't know.
He thinks he's learning pretty well -- Adam's stayed, and Benji loves him. Or maybe Adam loves him, and Benji hasn't demanded to go back to Marion. Benji and Adam both love him -- though Adam's more likely to say, "Oh, stuff it, you pretentious middle-aged cocksucker," which Tick knows means the same thing. Or maybe he loves both of them, and that's good enough.
"Patrick offered us a share in the club," Tick says. "I've been to the bank. If we invest the money, we can have a say in what goes on."
Adam frowns a little and cracks another egg into the pan. "I think I'd rather go back to Alice Springs," he says, and then he looks completely shocked that he's said this and accidentally crushes the eggshells in his hand, sprinkling bits into the pan and the sizzling egg.
"Really?" Tick says.
"Actually," Adam says, "yes."
"Benj?" Tick says.
"Okay," Benji says. "I miss Mum."
"Shall I buy a new bus?" Adam says. "Lars and Lars were back in the club last week."
"What happened to Lars?" Tick says, and Adam cackles with laughter, head back and spatula in hand, dripping grease onto the lino in the kitchen. Tick thinks of Adam wrapped in satin and sequins, dust and starlight -- of Adam in his kitchen frying eggs and Adam painting Priscilla pink in the middle of the country with no one else for miles. Of Marion smiling at him, and loving him, and trusting him with Benji -- of Benji, trusting him.
"I think he got deported," Adam says. "Well, what do you say?"
"A desert holiday," Tick says.
"Let's pack the drag away," Adam says.
"Isn't that the one that says, fuck off, you sil --" Benji says, and Adam slaps a greasy hand over Benji's mouth.
Adam says, "Not in front of your father."
"No shortcuts," Tick says, and Adam winks at him.
"We'll take the scenic route," Adam says. "Oi, Benj, can you drive?"
Benji says, through a mouthful of toast, says, "Not for a vintage Vera Wang."
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Tick says. He plays back what Benji's said and says, "Who'd you learn that from, you little punk?"
"Adam," Benji says, and swallows his toast. Adam flicks him in the ear, and Benji winces, says, "Felicia."
"Don't do that," Tick says.
"Let's call the new bus Bernadette," Adam says.
Tick says, "I won't protect you from her when we get to Alice Springs."
"So we're going?" Adam says.
"Yeah," Benji says. "Are we going?"
"I guess we are," Tick says. Adam flips the fried egg (with added shells) into the air and it lands on the floor with a splat. Tick thinks that it can't be worst than last time -- and it's got to be better, because he's got Benji, a sudden joyous surprise. He's inexplicably got Adam, who's not as surprising as he should be, and the whole of them -- all three, plus Marion, and probably Bernadette and Bob, too -- add up to a dysfunctional, flamboyant family.
Nothing's what he thought it would be when they climbed into Priscilla, and there's a fried egg on his floor, and that's okay.
author's notes: sid did beta duty, including helping me re-pace the entire first draft, and then wrangling my verb tenses and my tendency to string together immense sentences using only commas, the word "and", and a great deal of hope. t. provided the abba and the cheerleading. title from -- duh -- abba, "lay all your love on me".