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tread where mortals have not trod

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When the initial hunger for getting assigned a good story and the subsequent satiation that comes with it wear off, Bernstein is left with a lingering annoyance.

Woodward is young and inexperienced. He’s been working at the Post for nine months. He should be scrappy and rough around the edges and still breaking a sweat every time Bradlee so much as thinks about him. Instead, he’s all golden retriever confidence and charm and somehow has an infuriating knack for turning a courtroom assignment into the story of the fucking century.

Of course, he can hardly write to save his life, which makes Bernstein feel better.

But only slightly.

So they start working together on this story that seems to be going everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s almost infuriating how much Woodward trusts that he’s figured out this godforsaken story, even when everyone they talk to is tight-lipped and scared and Woodward keeps basing his reporting off of what he thinks should be obvious instead of the facts (almost like he’s an amateur reporter who’s been working on this story for less than a year).

The Watergate break-in occupies Carl’s every waking moment - and, by extension, so does Woodward.

They spend days going through library records. They spend two fucking weeks going door-to-door looking to get someone from CREEP on the record and come up with nothing. Carl’s only in his apartment to shower and steal a couple hours of sleep, and yet somehow even his apartment ends up covered in documents and notes about the Watergate.

All in all, it takes a very short time before Carl’s entire life has become invaded by the break-in, and pretty soon his last thought before he falls asleep in the early hours of the morning and his first thought when he wakes up two hours later is something related to the story. Or something related to Woodward.

Slowly, Carl’s annoyance toward Woodward becomes begrudging acceptance, which then becomes something else entirely, and Carl is loathe to find that he begins to look forward to seeing Woodward.

Infuriatingly, Woodward fucking notices.

They’re sitting at another shitty burger place when Woodward smiles at him and says, “y’know, this is much easier, now that you like me.”

Bernstein almost chokes on his fries. “What - I don’t-”

“Are you really going to tell me you don’t like me?” Woodward asks, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms.

Bernstein sputters for a very undignified moment before finally saying, “I mean - I don’t not like you-”

Woodward laughs, a real hearty laugh where he throws his head back and everything, and Carl is struck again by how innocent and young he is. “Alright, Bernstein,” Woodward says through his laughter, “You don’t not like me. I’ll take it.”


Carl has never had someone he felt the urge to tell everything to. It’s strange, the way the compulsion to beckon Woodward to his desk every time he makes the smallest breakthrough comes so easily to him, feels so natural.

Well, technically he still doesn’t, because it’s not like he tells Woodward anything about his personal life, like what he ate for dinner last night or what time he finally fell asleep.

He doesn’t have to tell that to Woodward, though, because Woodward already knows.

They spend two sleepless nights in a row together, once, and by the morning after night two of not sleeping they can finish each other’s sentences. There’s something about it that feels intimate, the way they both know this case inside and out, like the back of their hands. Carl feels suspiciously like Woodward understands him better than anyone else has, even if they’re only talking about the case because of Carl’s own stubborn refusal to talk about anything personal. It worries him, slightly, the feeling of being known.

Woodward doesn’t know him, though, he only knows the case.

Bernstein tries to convince himself that he and the case are still separate things.

It’s starting to feel like Carl and Woodward and Watergate have all been tied together into a massive knot, and they aren’t really three separate entities at all.


Bradlee calls them Woodstein! and it feels fitting. Carl’s practically spending more time with Bob than he spends with himself by now, and any worry he used to have over the growing closeness has been mitigated by his stress over their next article. It’s become a fact of life, now, that Bob is around in some way from the moment he wakes up until the moment he falls asleep, and some nights they’ll spend the night at each other’s apartments when they’re too exhausted to drive, so Bob is with him even while he sleeps.


For America’s next top journalist, he really is quite unobservant when it comes to his own thoughts and feelings. It takes him months to realize how he feels about Woodward.

It’s 4:15 in the morning and they’ve only just decided to turn in for the night. Some time after the Post offices closed, they decided to go to Bob’s to finish sifting through the latest batch of documents they’ve gotten their hands on, and then all of a sudden it was three thirty in the morning and they were still hunched over papers sitting on Bob’s floor. Bob, upon realizing he had close to no food in his apartment, had made them eggs, and it was decided that Carl would crash on his couch for the night, mostly because Bob didn’t trust Carl’s ability to drive home, and Carl was too tired to argue anyway.

Carl’s lying on the couch, one of Bob’s spare blankets draped over him, trying to will his mind to quiet down enough to allow him to sleep. It’s a familiar position by now. He’s on his side so he doesn’t fall off the couch, his head resting on a throw pillow that has gotten more comfortable as he’s gotten more used to it.

It takes a while for Carl to start to nod off, as it always does, now, because of his newfound paranoia. Somehow it’s worst at night when there’s no work to distract him and all he can think about is how many different ways this can go balls-up. He closes his eyes and turns his head into the pillow, like it’ll will him to sleep, and instead he accidentally inhales, and then everything smells like Bob. For a split second, every single part of him relaxes because suddenly he’s surrounded by Bob.

And then he panics.


Not much changes once he realizes he’s in love with Woodward. He hates himself for it, of course - fucking loathes himself for being such a typical predatory gay man that he falls for the first pretty boy he lands an assignment with - but by now he’s so good at pretending to be normal around straight guys that he doesn’t think it changes their dynamic much.

He survives the entire week. Woodward even sleeps in his apartment for one of the nights. All he needs to do is make it until he end of this string of stories, and then he and Woodward will go back to being normal coworkers. Hell, Woodward can become the most famous journalist in the world for all he cares, as long as he’s left out of it.

Honestly, he’s proud of himself.

He makes it to day eight.


On day eight, they’re sitting at another burger joint inhaling an absurd amount of extremely greasy food when Woodward fixes him with that look. Bernstein looks up at him, questioning.

“What’s gotten into you?” Woodward asks.

“What do you mean?”

Woodward wipes his fingers on a napkin and gestures up and down at Bernstein, who’s sitting across from him. “What do you mean, what do I mean? You’re acting all… different. You know you are, c’mon.”

Bernstein leans back in his chair and shakes his head.

“Goddammit, Bernstein, we are fucking investigative journalists. I’ve practically lived with you for the last few months. I think I’d know when you’re acting weird.”

“I’m acting normal.”

That’s the fucking problem, Carl! You were - we were - I don’t know, things were different. You liked me before. Things were different with me - with us, I guess - and now it’s like - now you’re like - the way you used to be. The way you treat everyone else.” He looks confused, but more than that he looks hurt, in a way that Bernstein hasn’t seen before, and it makes Carl feel stricken. Woodward had noticed.

It takes him a moment to regain his composure.

“You think that just because you’re Bob Woodward you get some kinda special treatment, huh?” Bernstein asks with a smirk.

Woodward rolls his eyes but smiles good-naturedly, and that’s enough for Bernstein to know the matter can be dropped for now.


Woodward doesn’t bring it up again after that, even as the weeks go by and Bernstein starts inevitably slipping up with his act, treating Woodward the way he had before he realized, and before he knows it he’s thrown caution to the wind enough to chase down Woodward’s car in the middle of the night.

It comes to a head when everything does, on the night when Deep Throat tells Bob they’re in danger.


It’s not surprising when Bob knocks on his door in the middle of the night, but the way he tries to angle himself inside through the slimmest crack of the door certainly is. Bob gets all up in his personal space and for a moment their faces are only inches apart, and Bob looks down at him and Carl can swear Bob’s looking at his fucking lips, but just as soon as the moment came it’s gone, the only evidence it happened being Carl’s increased heart rate.

And then Bob is acting different, pushing past him to turn on his record player of all things, turning it up to a volume that will probably get Carl a noise complaint from one of his neighbors.

He types furiously as Carl stands behind him, close enough to read over his shoulder but far away enough as to not attract suspicion.


Carl can’t even find it in himself to be surprised.

Carl takes Woodward’s seat at the typewriter and Woodward stands behind him, close enough to rest his chin on Carl’s shoulder if he wanted to, close enough that Carl can feel Bob’s breath on his neck. Even given the circumstances, Carl’s breath hitches.

As soon as Carl finishes typing about Haldeman, Bob is turning around again, storming out of the apartment and beckoning for Carl to follow him, leaving Vivaldi playing. Carl follows, because of course he does, and they’re silent until they both exit the building and they’re standing on the sidewalk outside.

Bob just rounds on Carl and looks at him. His chest is heaving and his breaths are far too labored to be just from the exertion of walking down the stairs, and the more Carl looks at him the more he’s certain that Bob’s about to collapse.

“Bob - uh, Woodward - c’mon, um. It’s okay,” Carl says lamely, holding out his hand halfway as if that might help in the event Bob actually did collapse. He doesn’t touch him quite yet. He doesn’t know if he’d be prepared to.

“What part of this says it’s okay to you?” Bob asks, breathless. “We’re being followed, we’re being listened to, Deep Throat says we’re in fucking danger, my God.”

He doesn’t quite collapse so much as he sinks down to the floor, head in his hands.

Carl sits down beside him, his hand hovering over Bob’s shoulder like there’s some kind of invisible barrier stopping him from actually touching him.

“I know,” Carl says. “I know.”

Carl can’t help but wonder what this must look like right now, the two of them outside like this in the middle of the night, one clearly having an emotional crisis, what it might look like if Carl gave in and actually touched him. Carl’s smart. He’s not stupid. He knows what others think about people like him, he knows which of his mannerisms give him away as the gay one, he knows what he can and can’t get away with in public. And, above all of that, there’s no way to prove that the committee’s people don’t have photographers stationed outside his apartment just waiting to get a picture of the second Carl slips up.

He stays still.

Bob starts gasping for breath, his face obscured, and Carl isn’t quite sure if Bob is crying or having a panic attack. Maybe both.

“Bob, Bob, shhh,” he says, before he can stop himself. “I know, I promise, I know, but we’re in public.”

Bob looks up at him, incredulous. “We’re going to die and all you can think about is appearances?

“Well, everyone dies, eventually.” Carl says, because he’s still trying to distract himself from how fucking terrified he is as well.

Bob scowls at him, his breathing still frantic.

“Look, let’s just go back inside, okay? You can leave Vivaldi on and we won’t talk, we’ll just use the typewriter, and we’ll go into work tomorrow and tell the rest of them and that’ll be that.”

Woodward opens his mouth to respond to Carl, but no words come out. He shakes his head vehemently. When he finally speaks, it’s not what Carl’s expecting. “Look, can you just, like, be Carl, right now? Not - not Bernstein, or the asshole who works at the Post, can you just - be my friend?”

“I am your friend.” Carl says softly, and it might just be the most intimate he’s ever been with anyone. But he understands where Bob is coming from. He breaks the invisible barrier and places his hand on Bob’s shoulder. “But, uh. I think I might be better at - at this if I wasn’t paranoid that someone was about to come out of nowhere and start taking pictures of us.”

Bob freezes, and only then does Carl realize he hadn’t even considered that before. Then he nods, and Carl helps him to his feet, and they go back inside. They can hear Vivaldi blasting before they even see Carl’s door, and somehow it’s comforting. When they get inside, Bob makes it even louder.

Carl follows Bob into the kitchen, where Bob immediately starts pacing.

“Hey - hey, c’mon,” Carl says, reaching out his hand to stop him, only to retract it when he makes contact with Bob’s shoulder.

“Why do you always do this?” Woodward whisper-shouts at him, “Every single fucking time, I - God, I can’t believe we’re being watched by the government and I’m still upset about this of all things.”

“What are you upset about?” Bernstein asks, like a child who’s been chastised.

Bob gestures sharply, like it should be obvious. “You,” he says. “The way you - God, Carl, fuck, the back-and-forth? It’s like you’re stringing me along and then at the last second you have to do something that reminds me you don’t care about me, like this-” he gestured back and forth between the two of them, “is all some fucking game-”

“Of course I care about you!” It’s Carl’s turn to whisper-shout, something he never quite imagined himself doing. “We spend every waking moment together - what part of that says I don’t care about you?”

This,” Bob says, touching his own shoulder, where Carl had laid his hand when they were outside. “You act like you’re going to burn yourself every time you touch me, I thought we were finally becoming friends and then all of a sudden you shut off again, and I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, what I’m doing to make you so disgusted-”

Carl laughs, but his voice is cold. “You’re the one who should be disgusted with me, Bob, I’m trying to fucking protect you!”

“From what?” Bob challenges him. “From the committee? The FBI? Nixon? Because, news flash, I think we’re already in it now!”

“From me.” Carl says, too exhausted to keep beating around this fucking bush, or maybe he’s beginning to accept his death at the hands of the American government and he just wants to get all of his affairs in order.

Bob looks confused, but more than that he looks concerned. “I don’t need to be protected from you. You’re my friend.

Carl wonders why the word still stings.

“That’s why, Bob. You deserve someone who can be your friend.”

“You don’t want to be my friend?” He sounds fucking crushed, like a middle schooler who’s just been told he isn’t invited to a birthday party.

Carl doesn’t even know what to say. “No,” he snaps, and Bob looks scolded.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be your friend,” Carl clarifies.

“Goddammit, Carl, just tell me what you want,” Bob says.

Carl is tired of running. Or maybe he doesn’t see a point in running when he’s already a dead man.

“I want you.” He hisses.

Bob’s face goes slack, and for a moment Carl thinks this is it, that their investigation is going to end here, not with any string of dead ends or the government killing them but with Woodward walking out on him because he had to open his stupid fucking mouth.

Carl takes a step back, ready to cede his apartment to Bob if that’s what Bob needs right now, ready to never speak to him again even if that’ll kill him inside, but by the time his body has recovered from the shock and is about to run, Bob moves.

Bob moves toward him, for some reason. Carl just blinks at him, somehow unable to move while Bob takes another step towards him and all of a sudden their faces are only inches apart. Bob glances down at his lips for a split second before closing the gap entirely by kissing him.

For a moment, everything stops.

Bob is gentle, cautious, like he’s afraid Carl will have some kind of adverse physical reaction to him, and maybe the old Carl would have. When he realizes Carl isn’t going anywhere, he reaches and places his hands on Carl’s neck, holding him there, pulling him closer. The initial shock of the kiss is overwhelming, but when he remembers how to exist Carl kisses him back. He rests his hand on Bob’s shoulder like he had before, but this time he’s more insistent, deliberate, like he wants it to be there. Because he does.

The kiss gets more desperate once they both realize the other isn’t running away from this. Bob tries to lick into his mouth and Carl lets him but meets him there, refusing to go down without a fight. It’s sloppy and rushed and Bob is grasping at Carl’s hair, running his fingers through it like he needs it, which makes Carl’s insides feel a certain way he’s never felt before. Carl, in turn, pulls Woodward closer, moving his arm to his waist to hold him there, their bodies pressed against each other.

When they break away, both of them are gasping. Bob smiles giddily, his lips red and wet. His eyes flick down to meet Carl’s.

“I want you, too,” he whispers.

Bernstein swallows. “Before I - before we do anything, I need you to tell me if this is real or not,” he whispers. “If this is some kind of ‘fuck it, the government wants me dead, might as well’ experiment, I’m out.”

Bob shakes his head. “No. God, no, Carl, I want you. I’ve wanted you for forever.”

“What do you want?” Bernstein asks, looking at Bob intently, as if he can stare into his soul to figure out if he’s being serious or not.

“I want you,” Bob repeats. It’s not what Carl is looking for him to say, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t love hearing it.

“What do you want from me tonight?” Carl rephrases, whispering, but now it’s more because due to the situation of Bob being only a few inches away from him than the fact that the government is actively surveilling them.

Fuck me,” Bob says, desperate.

Carl had been imagining what this would be like for months, but never once did he believe it could be a reality, Bob saying the words like that, his lips so close to Carl’s own, like there isn’t a single doubt in his mind that he wants this. It is a ridiculous, never-before-seen level of attractive.

“Yeah?” Carl smiles, reaches up to put his hand on the back of Bob’s head, entwining his fingers in Bob’s hair and bringing him closer, closer, until their lips are brushing against each other, but not quite kissing him.

Yes,” Bob whispers. “Please, Carl, yes.”

Carl closes the gap between them, kissing him hungrily. Bob makes a noise of surprise as he kisses back, immediately open-mouthed and wanton. Carl licks into his mouth and kisses him fast and rough and thorough, like he wants to memorize the inside of Bob’s mouth. Bob starts to back them up but pulls Carl with him, and they keep kissing as Bob leans against the wall. Carl presses him against it, kissing him even harder.

Bob moves his hands from Carl’s hair to his torso, rucking his shirt up and exploring Carl’s torso with his hands, his touch desperate but reverent. It feels like Bob’s fingers are lighting small fires everywhere they touch until Carl’s entire torso feels like it burns, the heat making its way to both his face and the pit of his stomach.

Carl places one of his legs between Bob’s and Bob gasps into the kiss. He can feel Bob already half-hard against his hips. When he shifts again to rub against it, Bob moans. It’s high-pitched and desperate and Carl is struck by how badly he wants to hear it again and again and again, bugging and surveillance be damned.

“Bed,” Carl whispers against Bob’s lips, and Bob nods.

Like the rest of his possessions, Carl’s bed is half covered in papers relating to the Watergate break-in. He swipes them out of the way, brushing them onto the floor unceremoniously. Bob stands in his doorway, looking thoroughly kissed. His hair is sticking up every which way, his lips are red and swollen, and his eyes seem slightly dazed.

“C’mere,” Carl gestures toward the bed, and Bob sits on it obediently, kicking off his shoes as he does so.

“I’ve never done this with a man before,” Bob says self-conciously, a blush creeping onto his face.

“That’s okay,” Carl says, “as long as you still want this, I’ve got you.”

Bob rolls his eyes.

“I have to make sure.” Carl says as he starts unbuttoning his shirt. “I don’t want you to have some kind of gay freakout the second we start-”

“Of course I’m sure,” Bob snaps, “stop thinking I’m not sure just because I haven’t done this.”

He has a point, and Carl knows it, but he doesn’t entirely blame himself for wanting to make sure: he’s a journalist, for starters, and he’s spent the last however many months wanting a man he had believed to be straight and absolutely averse to the idea of being even looked at suggestively by him.

“Okay,” Carl relents, “but tell me if you change your mind.”

Bob nods. “Scout’s honor,” he says, and Carl knows the infuriating Eagle Scout poster child means it.

Satisfied, Carl finishes unbuttoning his shirt and shucks it onto the floor, hands immediately moving to undo his belt. Bob doesn’t move from his position sitting on the bed, and Carl can feel Bob staring at him before he sees it.

“Do I have to do everything myself?” Carl asks, moving to straddle Bob on the bed. He sets about loosening Bob’s tie himself, pulling it off once he gets it untied, and then begins unbuttoning Bob’s shirt. Bob, for his part, doesn’t take his gaze off of Carl’s lips. “Oh, you want it bad,” Carl observes, capturing his lips in the kiss Bob is so clearly desperate for, though his hands continue unbuttoning.

Bob actually gasps at the sentiment, and Carl files that away for later. He thinks an archive of Bob’s bedroom preferences would be much nicer to think about than any of this other bullshit.

When Carl finishes unbuttoning Bob’s shirt he tries to remove it, but Bob is loathe to take his hands off of Carl’s bare chest. “Bob, c’mon,” Carl says into the kiss, “lemme get this off.”

Reluctantly, Bob leans back and takes his shirt off, letting it fall around him. Carl doesn’t try to stop himself from looking, from touching, and when he kisses him again Bob lies down on the bed, pulling Carl on top of him, any thoughts about how wrinkled Bob’s dress shirt is going to be in the morning forgotten.

Bob reaches up to pull Carl’s hair, which earns him a gasp. Carl pulls Bob’s bottom lip between his teeth, playing with it, and Bob moans into the kiss as he scrambles to pull Carl closer.

“‘S alright, baby,” Carl breathes, “‘M right here.”

He can feel Bob’s face get hot when he calls him baby but Bob doesn’t tell him not to say it, and in fact the way Bob kisses him harder after that makes Carl think he liked it.

Carl’s hands make their way to Bob’s belt. He’s so hard he’s tenting his fucking chinos, and Carl thinks he has to be sick for the thoughts flooding his mind of fucking Bob quick and dirty in his work clothes on one of their desks over at the Post offices.

“Can I take these off?” Carl asks, again leaving Bob plenty of space to back out if he wants to, to run for the hills while he still can.

“Yes, please, Carl,” Bob gasps.

And Christ, Carl wants to hear this for the rest of his life. Carl undoes Bob’s belt buckle, leaving Bob’s belt open but still attached to his pants as he undoes his fly and pulls Bob’s pants down until Bob is just lying there on his bed, so hard it looks painful, dick only constrained by his briefs. Carl exhales as he just stares at him.

Bob squirms in embarrassment, and before Carl can stop himself he places his hand on Bob’s hip to stop him.

“‘S okay,” Carl breathes, “you’re beautiful.” It is far too honest, really, but Bob blushes a beautiful shade of crimson, which makes it mostly worth it.

“Fuck me, Carl, please,” Bob says, practically begs, and Carl cannot find it in himself to deny Bob anything, especially not when he looks like this. Carl pulls down Bob’s underwear and he’s met with the sight of Bob’s dick, already hard and wet with precome and Bob whines for contact so Carl reaches forward and touches him.

“Jesus Christ,” Bob swears.

Carl starts to move his hand, jerking Bob off slowly, still lightly nervous. Bob keens, moaning louder than Carl was expecting him to. Carl wonders if Bob has stopped caring about the fact that they’re being bugged or if he’s just so turned on he doesn’t care, or maybe if Bob just has a death wish now.

“Fuck, Carl,” Bob says, the words coming out breathy and deep. He sounds so wrecked already, just from this. It turns Carl on a practically shameful amount.

Bob gasps practically in time with the way Carl’s stroking him off. When Carl gets to his balls and decides to see if Bob likes being touched there, Bob whines so loud that Carl can’t help himself from Shh-ing him, and he follows it up hastily with, “are you okay?”

Yes,” Bob says, mostly a gasp.

“Alright, baby, I’ve got you,” Carl repeats, stroking him as he leans forward to kiss Bob again. Bob gasps and whines into the kiss in time with the movements of Carl’s hand, and Carl can’t believe he has Bob Woodward falling apart like this over just a couple of touches.

Carl does truthfully plan on pulling away at some point to actually fuck Bob, but at some point he gets so distracted by the noises Bob is making and the look on his face that he just starts moving his hand faster. Bob keeps gasping and then, too quickly, he’s gasping out Carl’s name. “I’m close,” he says, somewhere between a gasp and a moan.

“It’s alright, baby, I’ve got you,” Carl says softly, quickening his pace, and then Bob is coming on Carl’s hand and both of their chests, Carl’s name caught on his lips.

“Oh my god,” Bob says, his chest rising and falling rapidly.

“Just Carl is fine,” Carl says, a smirk crawling onto his lips.

Bob rolls his eyes, as his brain is not yet at the capacity to form complete sentences, and then his eyes catch on Carl’s cock, which is so hard it looks painful. “Can I - help?” he asks, color rising to his cheeks.

“Um,” Carl stutters. “I mean - uh. Yeah, if you - if it’s okay,” he says, fully aware that he sounds like a complete and absolute idiot.

“Can you show me?”

Carl thinks he’s going to spontaneously combust. “Uh. Yeah, baby, c’mere, give me your hand,” he says, covering Bob’s shaky hand with his own. He glances at Bob to make sure this is still okay, and Bob looks deadset on this, so he continues.

He places their hands on his cock and inhales sharply. Carl waits for a moment, because he wants to make this last as long as possible, before he starts guiding Bob’s hand as he jerks himself off. Bob practically moans in tandem with him and Carl can’t believe he’s enjoying this as much as Carl is, but Bob looks high on the feeling of Carl’s dick in his hand and Carl is certain that this is the most insane day he has ever had.

Carl does his very best and ends up lasting a valiant few minutes before he tries to remove Bob’s hand. “Okay, you can stop, I’m about to-” he says, trying to get Bob out of his way so he can finish.

He doubts Bob would want his hand to get messy, but Bob stays put, says “C’mon, I’m right here,” and moves faster. If Carl were in his right mind, he would check that Bob was sure, but as it stands he’s already operating on borrowed time, and he comes all over Bob’s hand.

Carl moans Bob’s name as he comes, and then there’s a pause, and the only sound is Carl’s labored breathing.

Bob looks like he’s thinking, considering, and then he raises his hand to his mouth and actually puts his come-covered fingers in his mouth. He sucks on his finger, only pulling it out once it’s clean, and Carl thinks that if the government doesn’t kill him, Bob certainly will.

They lie back on the bed, breathing, taking it in.

“Do you usually listen to Vivaldi when you have sex?” Carl asks.

Bob swats at him. “Fuck off.”