Actions

Work Header

famous last words

Work Text:

Jude was on a date. Rather, he was supposed to be on a date – Lionel’s cousin’s friend’s brother, or something – but the guy was a no-show. Jude was almost relieved. He wasn’t really ready to go on a date. He’d only recently admitted to himself that he liked guys, and, more recently still, broke up with the first man, the first person, he’d ever been with. It was difficult to say no to Lionel, though, especially when she knew how much his heart was aching. It’s just . . . Zero was a tough act to follow.

Someone sat next to Jude at the bar and at first Jude thought he must be seeing things, but then Zero ordered a drink and, while he was waiting for it to be poured, he just looked at Jude. Jude frowned to hide the heat building beneath his suit. “What are you doing here?” he said sharply.

“Getting a drink,” Zero said.

“You just happen to be getting a drink here, where I’m supposed to be on a date,” Jude said skeptically.

“I like this place,” Zero said. He turned his attention back to the bartender as she set the drink in front of him.

Jude braced himself for the usual round of flirting, but it never materialized. Zero thanked her for the drink and then returned his focus to Jude. Jude took a sip of his own drink to hide his surprise.

“So where is he?” Zero said.

“Who?” Jude said, his brain not firing on all cylinders right now. Being the focus of Zero’s attention did that to him.

“Your date,” Zero said.

“Oh,” Jude said, then admitted, “He didn’t show.”

“Well,” Zero said, “he doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

The response was so un-Zero that Jude did a double-take. He studied Zero’s innocent expression. “You didn’t happen to see him outside and scare him off, did you?” Jude said.

“Would I do that?” Zero said with faux innocence.

“Yes,” Jude said.

Zero grinned. “I might, but I didn’t. Still, his loss is my gain.”

Jude gave a non-committal hum in response, trying not to let Zero’s comment get to him, and pulled out his phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Texting Lionel,” Jude said.

“He might still show,” Zero said, somehow managing to sound supportive and irritated at the same time.

Jude’s fingers paused in typing, then he started up again. He waited until he’d returned his phone to his pocket before speaking. “What makes you think I was texting Lionel about this?”

Zero raised an eyebrow as he popped a nut from the bowl in front of them into his mouth. “Lionel’s your bestie, you tell her everything.”

“Didn’t tell her about you,” Jude said, hating how much bitterness was in his tone. He shook his head; this night had been a disaster from beginning to end. Jude finished his drink and slid off the stool, very carefully not brushing any part of himself against any part of Zero. “I’m going home now. Enjoy your drink.”

“Or you could stay,” Zero said. “Have another drink. I’ll even buy.”

Jude hesitated, hating himself that part of him wanted to say yes. “That would be a very bad idea,” Jude forced himself to say. “Goodnight, Zero.”

Jude stopped in the restroom to empty his bladder before heading out. He was washing his hands when the sound of the door being pushed open caused Jude to raise his eyes to the mirror. He wished he could pretend to be surprised at the sight of Zero standing in the doorway.

Jude finished rinsing the foamy soap off his hands as if his stomach wasn’t doing flips at the sound of the lock being turned. He gripped the edge of the sink when Zero came up behind him, curled his fingers around Jude’s hips and brushed his lips across the tender skin of his neck. Jude clutched Zero’s shoulders with wet hands when Zero spun him around and pressed him back against the sink.

Zero didn’t ask for permission, and Jude didn’t even attempt to lie to himself that he would’ve said ‘no’ if he had. Zero claimed Jude’s lips in a kiss that was hard, hungry, as if he didn’t think he’d ever get the opportunity again so had to make the most of it. And god, Jude had missed this. Not just the kissing, or the sex, but being with Zero. Holding hands while watching a movie, stealing food off each other’s plates while they ate take out in front of ESPN, laughing at a shared joke.

Jude slid his hands up Zero’s neck, to the back of his head, as if he could pull Zero closer, deepen the kiss. Zero let one hand fall from Jude’s back to his hip, pushed forward until there wasn’t space between them for a breath. A needy sound escaped Jude’s throat as their hips moved together. He kissed Zero back angrily, biting his lips and sucking on his tongue as if that would make Zero forget the slip.

“Jude,” Zero groaned as they both gasped for breath. “I fucking missed you.”

I’ve missed you, too, Jude thought. What he said was, “This doesn’t change anything.”

Zero pressed his teeth against Jude’s neck, then habit made him replace teeth with lips before he made a mark they couldn’t explain. Zero slid his hand around Jude’s hip and palmed his erection through his slacks. Jude pushed into Zero’s hand, biting his own lip to stifle the noises that wanted out of his throat. He dropped his hands to Zero’s waistband and began working on his belt.

Jude laughed as they both hurried to get the other’s pants undone as if this was a race, but his laughter dried up when Zero shoved his hands inside his slacks without sliding the zipper down all the way.

“You . . . fucking . . . cheated,” Jude gasped out as Zero stroked him.

“All’s fair,” Zero said.

Jude wanted to ask whether this was love or war, but he was distracted by Zero brushing his thumb across the tip of him, then pressing his thumb against the spot that always made Jude see stars. Jude finally managed to get his own hand inside Zero’s boxer briefs and was gratified when Zero’s smooth strokes stuttered at his touch. Jude muffled his moans in Zero’s skin as their hands moved. He’d have been embarrassed at how quickly he came with Zero’s hand on him if Zero didn’t follow a few clumsy, erratic strokes later.

Clean up was awkward. Jude kept his gaze trained on his hands and the stream of water washing away the evidence of what they’d just done. This had been a mistake because it reminded him of all the things he enjoyed about Zero, and made him question his resolve to hold out for the one thing he needed from a relationship and couldn’t have with him.

Jude dried his hands and fastened his pants. “We’re not doing this again,” he said, talking to his hands. He raised his face so he could look at Zero.

“Okay,” Zero said.

Jude told himself that it was not disappointment he felt at Zero’s easy capitulation.

~*~

“For a guy whose date was a no-show you look surprisingly relaxed,” Lionel said when Jude met her the next morning for brunch. She studied him. “And yet frustrated.” She gestured towards his everything. “Your body language is surprisingly hard to read right now.”

Jude debated telling Lionel what had happened, although not for long because it was really a choice between him voluntarily telling her, or her relentlessly digging until she got it out of him. “I ran into my ex last night after I texted you.”

“And?” Lionel said. When Jude remained silent, she shrieked. “You didn’t!”

Jude cheeks went hot. “I did.”

“Was it good?”

Jude gave Lionel a look. “That was never the issue.”

“So? Does that mean you’re . . . ?”

“No.” Jude shook his head, trying not to let the ache he still carried in his heart show on his face. “We still want very different things. I had a moment of weakness, but it’s not going to happen again.”

“Famous last words,” Lionel said sagely.

~*~*~*~

“Hey, Jude,” Zero said.

Jude glanced up from the papers in his hand when he heard Zero call his name. “Zero,” he said, his voice cracking in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“I had a meeting with Lionel.”

Jude nodded. Now that Zero mentioned it he remembered that Lionel had said something about setting up some player meetings, a fact he’d forgotten in the sheer amount of detail he was now responsible for. “How’d it go?”

“Good. How are you doing?” Zero indicated the papers Jude held. “Lionel mentioned your new role with the Devils.”

Jude had to glance down at his hand to remember where he’d been headed before he ran into Zero. “Good,” he said. “I mean, busy because the position was vacant for so long, but I think the transition has been smooth so far. I was just heading to see Lionel now.”

“Congratulations, by the way,” Zero said. “ EVP.” He gave Jude a considering look. “That’d make you my boss.”

Jude flushed under the searing look Zero gave him.

“That’s hot.”

Thankfully no one was in the corridor to see Jude’s reaction to Zero’s comment. Or to see Zero grab Jude’s arm and drag him into the locker room.

“What are you doing?” Jude said, glancing around furtively even though he knew no one was using the locker room during the off-season.

“Congratulatory blow job,” Zero said, his fingers already expertly undoing Jude’s belt.

“What?” Jude said, his voice squeaking. “That’s not even a thing.”

“It is if you make it one.” Zero smirked at Jude as he slowly drew the zipper down, giving Jude ample time to stop him.

“Fuck you, Zero,” Jude said, angry and turned on all at once. “Don’t spill anything on my suit.”

Zero’s eyes went dark. He kept them locked on Jude’s as he slid his hand inside Jude’s boxers and found him already stiffening. Zero gave him a couple of light strokes that only teased. Just as Jude opened his mouth to say something pithy regarding hand jobs versus blow jobs, Zero went to his knees.

Jude’s breaths, already fast, quickened even more. He let his head fall back against the end of the lockers as Zero pulled slacks and boxers down his thighs. Jude fisted his hand around the papers he held, uncaring of the wrinkles and tears that it might leave as Zero leaned forward, hot breath feathering over Jude. He ground his teeth together so he wouldn’t make a sound when Zero took him into his mouth.

Zero went down on him so slowly that Jude thought he might die from the anticipation of it. He took Jude into his throat and swallowed, then lifted off of him just as slowly, his tongue dancing along the entire length of Jude until his mouth popped off and he laved the tip with it. Zero gave Jude a look and started down again.

Jude shoved his other hand into the longer strands of Zero’s hair and tugged hard. Zero moaned around Jude, and Jude’s knees nearly buckled from the vibration of it. Zero caught Jude, his hands like bands of steel around the back of his legs, and heat pooled between his thighs.

Jude groaned Zero’s name, and Zero, as if he’d only been waiting for Jude to break, gave Jude everything he needed in that moment – the heat of his mouth, the relentless pressure of his tongue, the tight tunnel of his throat . . . The muscles in Jude’s legs trembled and he groaned softly at the sensation of pleasure-pain as his release spilled out of him and filled Zero’s mouth.

Zero suckled Jude through his climax, then held him in his mouth as he softened. He gently pulled back and licked his lips, looking terribly pleased with himself. Jude wanted to say something to wipe that expression off his face, but he was feeling too fuzzy around the edges to manage it.

Zero stood, not letting go of Jude, almost as if he was afraid Jude would be unable to yet hold himself up. He leaned in and kissed Jude, sharing the taste of Jude’s release on his tongue. Zero pulled back and just looked at Jude. He raised a hand and used his thumb to wipe saliva from their kiss from the corner of Jude’s mouth. Jude felt cold when Zero took a step back.

“You should pull those up before your meeting with Lionel,” Zero said, indicating Jude’s slacks and boxers.

Jude would’ve thought that Zero had never been there if it wasn’t for the ache in his muscles and the tenderness in his groin as he pulled up his pants.

~*~

“Did Zero find you?” Lionel said when Jude finally reached her office.

“What?” Jude said, feeling the flush begin beneath his shirt.

“Zero was just here for a meeting,” Lionel said. “He said he was going to look for you.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jude said. He gestured back towards the door with the crumpled papers he held. “I ran into him in the hall. Do you have time to go over these figures now?” he said, changing the subject.

~*~*~*~

“I’m surprised to see you here,” Zero said when he reached Jude’s side.

Jude’s attention had been diverted from the plastic umbrella he’d been playing with by the disturbance at the door that heralded Zero’s arrival. He’d forced his attention away from Zero – checked his watch to see if he could leave yet without looking rude, shredded a napkin into tiny pieces, not sure whether it was a stand-in for Zero, Derek, or Lionel – but Jude had known the moment Zero spotted him, had felt the heat of his gaze like a physical thing. He’d kept his head down, yet was able to track Zero’s progress through the club. Zero had been stopped by a few people, and although he’d paused to say hello, he’d continued unwaveringly to the bar where Jude sat.

“Lionel said we have to play nice,” Jude said in answer to Zero’s question. It was the only reason Jude was at Derek’s club for the party. The only reason Derek hadn’t thrown him out when he’d shown up.

Zero snorted. “Sounds like we all got the same speech.” He gestured towards the bartender and ordered a drink when he got close enough to hear Zero’s order.

Jude checked his watch again, but not surreptitiously enough because Zero spotted it.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Zero said.

“No I don’t what?”

“You’re not skipping out and leaving me here alone.”

“I’ve put in my time,” Jude said. “Besides, you wouldn’t be alone for long.”

Zero had to have heard Jude’s comment, but he didn’t react to the words or the bitter tone. He paid for the drink, left a hefty tip, and took a sip before turning back to Jude. Zero asked about Jude’s mom, the last time he’d been cycling, if he’d seen any of the movies they’d thought looked good . . .

Jude answered Zero’s questions, and wished he knew enough about Zero, about Gideon, to ask questions in return. Before Jude could dwell too deeply on it they were interrupted.

“Well, if it isn’t the Bobbsey Twins,” Derek said snidely.

“I’m not Zero’s agent anymore,” Jude said, as if that was Derek’s only problem with him, with them.

“You’re still driving that Porche, aren’t you?” Before Jude could respond to that Derek went on. “Tell Lionel we spoke, will you? Enjoy the rest of your evening.” The words were pleasant, but from his tone Jude was pretty sure Derek was actually thinking that they should both fuck off.

They both watched Derek walk away from them.

“I get the feeling he wants us to leave,” Zero said.

Jude had wanted nothing more than to do just that earlier, but now he felt contrary. “Buy me another drink,” he said.

Zero turned his head so that he was looking at Jude. Jude pushed his shoulders back and gave Zero a look that dared him to say anything. Zero smirked and signaled to the bartender.

A couple drinks later (Jude was having trouble remembering exactly how many) they were on the mezzanine looking down over the dance floor. They’d both been asked to dance (Zero more than Jude because despite being a Kinkade he was still a nobody in this town), but they’d both declined in favor of talking about the people they recognized in the club and speculating about who they were with or who they’d go home with.

After enough refusals of offers to dance or do coke they became invisible and the other party-goers ignored them. Jude liked that he didn’t have to compete for Zero’s attention (not that Zero had shown any interested in any of the offers) and had just enough liquor in him to not find that suspect. Zero was talking about someone he’d met before, but Jude zoned out as he stared at Zero’s mouth.

It took Jude a few moments to realize that Zero had stopped talking. He raised his gaze from Zero’s lips to his eyes. Zero was giving him a knowing look that made Jude’s belly flip. He straightened from where he’d been leaning on the railing. “This place have a coat room?”

Jude could tell that he’d surprised Zero. Hell, he’d surprised himself. Before he could second-guess himself, Zero pushed off the rail and said, “Let’s find out,” just loud enough for Jude’s ears.

Zero started pushing his way through the crowd on the mezzanine as he headed for the stairs. He looked back over his shoulder once and the look he gave Jude was so hot that Jude was surprised to find he hadn’t been lit on fire. All the heat went to Jude’s groin and his legs moved to follow Zero.

Zero stayed ahead of Jude, but Jude easily followed his bleach-blond head through the crowd. Zero disappeared behind a door and anticipation caused Jude to swell and press against the zipper of his slacks. Jude pushed the door open and stepped into the dark room beyond. Someone, Zero, grabbed Jude’s wrist and dragged him into the room, then closed the door behind him, cutting off the noise and light from the club.

Zero backed Jude up until Jude’s ass hit the desk. “I don’t think this is the coat room,” Jude said as Zero spread his legs and stepped between them.

“Derek’s office,” Zero said with an unholy amount of delight before he kissed Jude.

~*~

Fifteen minutes later Jude was standing alone in the alley behind the club. There were bruises forming on his hips from the edge of the desk and Zero’s fingers, and there was an unmistakable ache in his ass. He closed his eyes and recalled vividly how Zero had bent him over the desk and opened him up with his fingers while he sucked livid marks into the skin of Jude’s back, exposed by his rucked-up shirt.

Zero had pinned Jude’s wrists to the top of the desk with one hand and fucked him until his knees had wobbled and he’d come without being touched. Zero had tightened his grip on Jude’s hip and slammed into him, his body loose and pliant from his climax. Zero came a few thrusts later and Jude could still feel the sensation of Zero going taut behind him, his body covering Jude’s as his orgasm ripped through him.

They kissed after, and laughed during cleanup about the trace of spunk they were leaving on Derek’s desk. Zero asking which one of them should leave first was like a splash of cold water reminding Jude that this was all they were – coupling in the dark and sneaking around. He got mad, but it was mostly at himself, because he’d already known that when he let his resolve crumble.

He’d told Zero that they weren’t doing this again, and this time he meant it. He wanted Zero with a ferocity that wasn’t going away, but he couldn’t keep doing this to himself. Jude had left first, and Zero had let him go.

Jude let the memory fade and started walking down the alley. He was going in the opposite direction of where he’d parked his car, but that was for the best; he shouldn’t be behind the wheel right now. When he got to the street a couple of blocks down from the club Jude hailed a cab.

~*~*~*~

“You look like crap,” Lionel said as she shoved a cup of coffee in Jude’s face.

Jude raised his head from where he’d been cradling it in his hands. He looked at Lionel, his brain slow to catch up, then reached for the cup. He stayed hunched over, elbows on his knees, and sipped from the cup.

“Stop being pathetic and tell me what happened,” Lionel said.

“I slept with my ex again,” Jude said without any inflection.

“And? Did he hurt you?”

Jude shook his head. “No. Not like that anyway. He just reminded me why we couldn’t be together in the first place.” Jude stared into the coffee as if it held all the answers.

Lionel sat on the couch beside him and put her arm across his shoulder. “Jude.”

“I thought I could to this, but . . . I’m so fucking in love with him and he . . . Our entire relationship was just sex to him and this just made it all the more clear. He doesn’t feel about me the way I feel about him.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Zero said behind them, and Jude froze.

“Zero,” Lionel said briskly, turning towards the door and protectively placing her body between him and Jude. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see Jude. I was told he was in here.”

Jude sat up straight. He resolutely stared at the cup he held between his hands so he wouldn’t turn to look at the door. Jude felt Lionel’s gaze on him.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Lionel said.

Jude leaned forward to set the cup down before he spilled its contents.

This is who you’ve been all twisted up over?”

“Fuck you, Lionel,” Zero said, the words just discernible over the closing of the door. “Like I don’t already know I’m not good enough for him? Do you really think I don’t have feelings for you?” he directed at Jude.

At least, Jude presumed that was the case since he still wasn’t looking at Zero.

“You have made it very clear that we’re not in a relationship,” Jude said. “At least, not one you want anyone to know about.”

“Wanting to keep us private instead of fodder for the paparazzi doesn’t mean I don’t care about you, care for you.”

“Last night,” Jude began resentfully.

“Last night we were in Derek Roman’s fucking club,” Zero said. “Everyone had cell phones. Do you have any idea what would’ve happened to my career – my contract with the Devils, my endorsements – if someone had posted pictures of us together?”

Jude felt the slightest bit off-kilter. He’d been so sure that he was right, that Zero didn’t share his feelings and that was the reason he didn’t want to go public, and hearing this side of the argument made the words he’d been having with Zero inside his head dry up before they could reach his tongue.

“What are you saying?” Jude said, unable to keep the hope out of his voice.

“I’m saying,” Zero said. “I’m saying that I love you.” Zero looked like he hadn’t quite expected to say that, then he repeated it. “I love you, stupid.”

Jude’s heart felt like it was being squeezed inside his chest. “I love you, too,” he said. “But love isn’t enough,” Jude forced himself to say, watching the hope die on Zero’s face.

“Why does it have to be all or nothing?” Zero said. “Look, I know you’ve got issues because Oscar was a crap father, and I’m probably a crap boyfriend . . .”

Jude’s heart thumped loudly in his ears when Zero said ‘boyfriend’. He shook his head and said, “No,” because everything about them had been good, except for the secrecy.

“. . . but I want to have you and my career. How do we do that?”

“Well, I’m not going to fire you,” Lionel said. “Unless you hurt him. Again,” she added.

“No offense, Lionel,” Zero said, “that’s a lovely sentiment, but you have board members who might feel differently if they find out I like to suck cock.”

Lionel raised her eyebrow at Zero’s attempt to shock her. She turned her attention to Jude, who was still staring at Zero, trying to figure out if he could do that, if he could be with Zero in secret now that he knew that Zero loved him. “Jude?”

Jude knew what she was asking, but he didn’t know; he hadn’t ever considered it. “Hey,” Jude said with a weak huff. “Lionel finally knows about us.”

“Great,” Zero said dryly. “And you, you can tell your mom. You can . . . just maybe not discuss our relationship with the paps.”

“Or Jelena,” Jude said, his brain stumbling over the fact that Zero had called what they had a relationship.

“Or Jelena,” Zero agreed.

Lionel clapped her hands. “Great! You’re not going to hurt Jude again, and you,” she pointed at Jude, “are going to stop moping pathetically.”

“I wasn’t . . . !” Jude said, cutting off and blushing when he saw Zero’s smirk.

“And in the meantime, we’ll work on minimizing the impact when you’re outed to the world.”

When?” Zero said dangerously, smirk replaced with hard lines.

“Oh, sweetie,” Lionel said. “Unless you stick with girls, it’s inevitable that someone’s going to find out. You’re too famous for them not to. So we get proactive.”

“How?” Zero said.

“For one thing, LGBT-friendly endorsements,” Lionel said. “Like Nike or Google. Also, you start shoring up your position on the team.”

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“You make nice with your teammates,” Lionel said. “You suck up to the board members.”

“Marcus Douglas already likes Zero,” Jude said. “And David Borley’s daughter is married to a woman.”

“Great,” Lionel said. “Start with those two.”

“What are you going to do?” Jude said, recognizing the expression on Lionel’s face.

“I’m also going to start with the board. Suggest that we show our commitment to diversity by hiring more people from the LGBT community, maybe hold a pride night. Make a statement that we don’t include same-sex relationships in the so-called morals clause. We’ll be holding all the cards when we need to play them.”

“And when they ask you why you’re doing this?” Zero said.

“I’ll tell them it’s because of my brother,” Lionel said, surprising Zero. “Now the two of you need to get out of here and make up.”

Jude stood up slowly from the couch, wiped his palms on the legs of his slacks.

“And if you have sex in Jude’s office, I don’t want to know about it.”

Jude blushed. The smirk returned to Zero’s face.

“Oh my god,” Lionel said, as if they were testing her patience. “You’ve already had sex in your office?”

“No!” Jude denied a little too emphatically.

“Not his office,” Zero added, grinning at the glare Jude shot his way.

“Out!” Lionel said.

~*~

Jude thought quickly. If they went to his office he was pretty sure they’d have sex. Not that Jude didn’t like sex with Zero. He liked it a lot, obviously. But he didn’t want to start (re-start) their relationship with sex being the first thing they did. Also, they needed to play it cool at the arena if Zero didn’t want anyone to find out about them.

“You have time to give me a ride to pick up my car?” Jude said.

“Where’s your car?”

“I left it at the club last night,” Jude said.

“Yeah, I can do that.”

“Thanks.”

They walked a few more steps before Zero spoke again. “Is this your way of keeping me out of your office?”

Jude fought back a blush. “Yes. But I really could use a ride.”

Zero gave Jude a look. “And I’m happy to give you one. Any time.”

Jude raised a hand to Pete. Zero said, “Hey, coach.” As soon as they’d passed him, Jude elbowed Zero in the side.

“What was that for?” Zero said, sounding innocent, but looking like the devil himself.

“You know what that was for.”

Zero hummed. “Have you had lunch?”

“I haven’t had breakfast,” Jude said, remembering how hung-over he’d felt when he woke up, and how much of that was from being all messed up over Zero.

“Let’s get something to eat while we’re out.”

“We can do things like that?” Jude said.

“You were my agent,” Zero said. “And now you’re my boss.” He gave Jude an up-and-down look. “They’ll think we’re talking business.”

“Is that what we’re going to be talking about?” Jude said.

“Sure,” Zero said. “That and movies and good restaurants. But that’s not what we’ll be thinking about.”

“What will we be thinking about?” Jude said.

“I’m going to be thinking about the way you moaned my name last night,” Zero said. He looked pleased at Jude’s reaction to that statement, then he got more serious. “Do you really think Lionel can pull this off?”

“I think we can pull this off,” Jude said.

Zero gave Jude a look that held gratitude and, now that he knew to look for it, love. They passed a player and his agent and both Zero and Jude offered greetings. When they were far enough away to not be overheard, Zero said, “Let’s get going so I can give you that ride.”

“To pick up my car,” Jude clarified.

Zero used the fob to unlock the car. He gave Jude another up-and-down look. “Sure,” he said.

Jude tried to hide how affected he was by that look. He got into the car and gave a lot of attention to fastening the seat belt. Jude didn’t say anything when Zero pulled out of the arena in the direction of Jude’s apartment instead of the club, or when Zero took his hand off the shift knob and settled it on Jude’s leg.

Jude took a deep breath and gave himself a moment to settle. His life had done a one-eighty and he still felt like he was spinning.

“You alright?” Zero said.

Jude nodded silently. He glanced at Zero as he settled his hand on top of Zero’s on his knee. “Yeah,” Jude said. “I’m very alright.”

Zero flipped over his hand beneath Jude’s and twined their fingers together. Jude felt his heart beat skip then settle, his breaths slow. It wasn’t a dream – they were really going to do this. For a moment Jude felt as if he was at the top of the roller coaster looking at the drop beneath him, then Zero squeezed his hand and Jude was coasting safely into the unloading platform.

“I’m happy,” Jude surprised himself by saying. “Surprised. Scared.”

“Ditto,” Zero said dryly.

“We’re really going to do this?” Jude said.

“You having second thoughts?”

“No! Just . . . making sure you’re not.”

“I’m not. We’re still a team, right?”

Jude gave a giddy laugh full of relief and possibility. “Abso-freaking-lutely.”

The End