Jude was in the closet holding up two shirts next to the suit he was planning to wear that night, trying to determine which one looked better. He was getting ready to go with ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ when he heard Zero’s frustrated sigh behind him. Glad for the distraction, Jude turned around to see Zero standing beside the bed with his hands on his hips, staring at something on the mattress.
“Nothing. I just . . . .” He jerked his hand towards the bed in an aggravated gesture. “Neither one of these ties look good.”
Jude moved closer to the bed where Zero had laid out the dress shirt he was going to wear. Two ties were draped over it. Zero was correct; they didn’t look bad, they just didn’t look right. Jude narrowed his eyes as he studied the color of the shirt and did a mental inventory of his own ties.
“Wait a minute,” Jude said, moving back to the closet, grateful to have something else to think about. He hung up the two shirts and pulled out his tie rack. Jude flipped through the ties until he found the one he’d been looking for. He carefully slipped it off the rack and held it out to Zero.
Zero gave the tie a look and then draped it across the shirt. Jude thought it looked amazing, but he waited to hear what Zero thought.
“It looks great,” Zero said. “I can’t believe you just happened to have the perfect tie in your closet. Wait,” he said, “it’s you, so I can totally believe it.”
“Funny,” Jude said, but the word was cut off when Zero swooped in for a kiss.
“Thank you,” Zero said.
“You’re welcome,” Jude said, breathless even though the kiss had been quick. Sometimes Jude still couldn’t believe that he got to have this.
“What were you doing?” Zero said.
Jude had to shake away the daze Zero’s kiss could still throw him in so he could answer. “Trying to decide on a shirt.”
Jude returned the tie rack to the closet and retrieved the two shirts he’d been agonizing over to show Zero.
“That one,” Zero said immediately.
Jude raised his eyebrows and looked at the blueish grey shirt. “Why this one?”
“Makes your eyes look amazing,” Zero said without any self-consciousness.
Jude’s cheeks heated with pleasure, and he gave Zero a smile before turning away to hang that shirt with the suit and return the other to the closet. Clothes picked out, all they had to do now was shower and get dressed.
“You want to shower first?” Jude offered, knowing that Zero needed time to primp.
“We could save time by showering together,” Zero said with a straight face.
“That’s a myth,” Jude said. “They actually disproved it on Mythbusters.”
“I need someone to wash my back,” Zero said.
“Is that the only thing you want me to wash?”
“Something else might come up,” Zero said, unable to keep the grin off his face when Jude burst out laughing.
“That was awful,” Jude said between chuckles.
“Still not hearing a no,” Zero said, a gleam of delight in his eyes.
Jude couldn’t help just smiling at Zero; he loved when this playful side of Zero came out. Jude curled an arm around Zero’s shoulder when Zero came closer and dropped both hands on Jude’s hips. Zero lowered his head and nuzzled at the line of Jude’s jaw and down his neck. “So is that a yes?” he murmured into Jude’s skin.
Jude thought it might be too sappy to tell Zero that he wanted to say yes to everything with him, so Jude just touched Zero’s face and brought his head around. “Yes,” Jude said against Zero’s lips, and then he kissed him.
As he’d expected, Jude was dressed first. He left Zero to his beauty routine and went out to the living room. Jude hung his suit jacket over the back of a chair and turned on the television. The channel was already set to ESPN, so Jude left it there. He only needed it for background noise anyway. Now that they were nearly ready to leave, nerves had set in. This would be their first public date (that wasn’t a Devils basketball game or Zero’s coming out party) since the night Zero had kissed him on the court after the game.
Jude’s nerves dissipated when Zero stepped out of the bedroom fussing with the cuff at one wrist, suit jacket hanging from his fingers. Jude’s breath caught in his throat at the picture Zero presented. He must’ve made a sound because Zero glanced away from his task. Whatever expression he saw on Jude’s face earned a smirk.
“Like what you see?” Zero said.
“You look amazing,” Jude said, ignoring Zero’s teasing.
Zero gave Jude a look that said he always looked amazing, but he ran a self-conscious hand down the front of his shirt, as if he needed to smooth the tie, which drew Jude’s attention to it. His tie.
“You think so?” Zero said.
Jude crossed the room and stopped in front of Zero. He touched both hands to Zero’s chest on either side fo the tie, not quite touching it. When the temptation grew too great, Jude reached for the knot as if it needed adjusting, and then ran his hand down the tie as Zero had.
“I think so,” Jude said. He slid the hand not pressed against Zero’s chest around his neck.
“Don’t mess up my hair,” Zero said, only half joking.
Jude huffed a laugh. “I wouldn’t dream of it.” He pressed a lingering kiss to Zero’s lips. “Not until after Lionel’s party, anyway.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Zero said, voice going low and deep.
Jude shivered and stepped back so he didn’t close his fingers in Zero’s shirt and wrinkle him before the red carpet. Needing something to do with his hands, Jude took the jacket out of Zero’s fingers and helped him into it. Once Zero had the jacket settled on his shoulders and the cuffs the way he wanted them, he assisted Jude into his own jacket.
Lionel had offered to send a limo to pick them up, but they’d chosen to drive themselves. Jude was glad they’d decided to take Zero’s Porsche because he didn’t think he would’ve gotten them there in one piece because, as much as he tried to keep them on the road and the passing scenery, his eyes kept drifting to Zero. More specifically, to the tie he’d borrowed from Jude.
Jude was relieved when they finally pulled up in front of the restaurant Lionel had booked for her charity event. They by-passed the line of limos waiting to disgorge their passengers and pulled up to the valet stand. Zero left the car running and gave the valet a fifty dollar tip (and the promise of another when the car was picked up) to make sure the got the Porsche back in as good condition as he left it.
Zero was buttoning his suit jacket as he came around the Porsche to meet Jude, and Jude had to drag his eyes away from the portion of tie showing above the button. There were other people on the red carpet and Jude and Zero slipped on as if they could sneak past. They almost made it to the entrance with just the click of cameras marking their passage, someone once in a while hollering out for them to pose together, before a reporter finished up an interview just in time to grab them.
The reporter called out Zero’s name, and Jude watched the fake smile Zero showed the public slip into place. It didn’t look to Jude like it fit that well anymore, and he liked to think it was because Zero had gotten used to not having to hide himself with Jude.
The reporter was from ET, though Jude didn’t catch her name. She was a huge basketball fan according to herself, so she asked Zero some questions related to the upcoming game and the rest of the Devils season before turning to more personal questions. Zero was a pro at deflecting and only letting reporters hear what they wanted to, so Jude was surprised when Zero dropped all pretense when the reporter asked Zero why he’d decided to go public with their relationship.
“Because Jude didn’t deserve to be anyone’s secret,” Zero said earnestly.
The reporter might’ve asked another question, but Jude didn’t hear it – he was too busy staring into Zero’s eyes and trying to tell him with a look just how much Jude loved him without giving the reporter a sound bite.
Zero grinned and leaned in close to Jude and whispered in his ear, “Me too, stupid.”
Jude couldn’t stop himself from grinning back at Zero, though he did stop short of kissing him right there on the red carpet. Barely.
That interview broke the ice, and when Jude and Zero were approached by other reporters, they didn’t try to escape and when one of the reporters asked Jude how he’d managed to snag Zero, he said, “Just lucky, I guess,” and Zero argued, “I’m the lucky one.”
They finally reached the entrance and escaped to the relative quiet of the restaurant. Zero led them directly to the bar and Jude didn’t argue. Once they both had drinks in hand, they went looking for Lionel.
“Jude!” Lionel said when she spotted them.
Jude got a hug, and then Lionel turned to a surprised Zero.
“Thank you both for coming,” Lionel said, absently straightening Jude’s jacket.
“We wouldn’t have missed it,” Jude assured her.
The three of them spoke for a few minutes before someone whose name Jude thought he should know approached Lionel. Jude looked around at the guests who’d arrived already and saw athletes, dancers, movie industry people, and politicians, and those were just the people he recognized.
Jude and Zero did one trip around the room, greeting people and shaking hands on Lionel’s behalf in an attempt to help loosen some wallets, then set up next to the bar. Lionel found them later with an actress in tow. Jude recognized her as someone who had also come out recently with a poignant speech at a Human Right’s Campaign event. Lionel introduced them, and then flitted off again. The three of them watched her go with varying levels of disbelief in their eyes.
“I guess the gays have to stick together,” Ellen Page said dryly.
“She means well,” Jude said.
Zero rolled his eyes, but Ellen laughed as if she was not offended by Lionel’s actions.
“I saw your speech,” Jude said. “At the HRC Time to Thrive Conference. It was very moving.”
“Thank you,” Ellen said.
“Is it appropriate to say congratulations?”
“On being my ‘authentic self’?” Ellen said.
Jude shrugged. “Yeah?”
“I think so,” Ellen said. “Congratulations to both of you, too. It’s not always easy.”
Jude smiled and leaned into Zero. It wasn’t always easy, but it was easier when you weren’t doing it alone.
Ellen excused herself when she saw someone she wanted to speak to. Jude and Zero were in and out of conversations as guests swirled around them, creating different designs as if they were all sand in a zen garden. They were approached jointly, and sometimes individually, but they never moved further apart than arms length.
Jude finished a conversation and turned to where Zero was speaking with a famous sports announcer. Jude felt a surge of warmth when he looked at Zero, his chest filling with love and pride. He took a sip of warm beer and let his gaze slide over Zero while he was otherwise occupied and unlikely to notice. Less likely to notice, Jude corrected when Zero glanced over at Jude before continuing his conversation.
When Zero turned his attention back to his conversation, Jude’s gaze fell once more to the tie. The warmth that had filled his chest settled low in his belly. Oh, Jude thought. He’d have laughed at himself if his blood wasn’t quickly heading south. He took another sip to give himself something else to do besides thinking of Zero wearing his tie and how that made him feel.
“You alright?” Zero said.
Jude startled, then realized that Zero was alone. “I’m fine,” Jude said. He stopped fighting his desire and reached out to curl his fingers around the tie. Jude tugged gently and Zero let himself be drawn into a kiss.
“I could be better,” Jude said. He reluctantly released the tie so he could drag his finger down the front of Zero’s body. He paused when he reached the waistband, and then deliberately dragged his finger lower.
Zero’s eyes went wide. “Better’s . . . better,” he said, but Jude could forgive him for the lack of brain power because the same thing was happening to him.
Jude set the bottle aside and took Zero’s hand. They found Lionel to say their goodbyes, and then retrieved the Porsche from the valet and parted with another fifty as promised. Jude kept his hand on Zero’s leg just above his knee the whole ride home.
When they got inside the apartment, Jude removed his suit jacket and draped it over the back of the chair before reaching for Zero’s. With both jackets safely hanging off the back of the chair, Jude reached for the tie. He slid his hand down the length of it, then gave a gentle tug. Jude moved backwards towards the bedroom and used the tie to draw Zero with him.
Zero smirked. “The tie does it for you, Jude?”
“You do it for me,” Jude said.
Jude had thought the thing with the tie was a one-off. He saw Zero in a suit all the time, but he usually eschewed the tie, so of course Jude would get turned on when Zero did wear one. Then came a morning when the team had a day off and a late practice, and Jude had taken the morning off so he and Zero could sleep in together. Neither of them actually slept in because, even though they hadn’t set their alarms, they woke up at their usual time anyway. They took advantage of the free time to engage in a lot of kissing and mutual hand jobs.
They’d enjoyed a lazy post-coital snuggle, and then Jude’s stomach had grumbled. Zero chuckled, but he rolled out of bed, grabbed a pair of Jude’s sweat pants off the floor and slipped them on so he could go start the coffee maker. The sweats rode low on Zero’s hips even after he tied the string. Jude’s breath caught, and he thought his heart might’ve stopped. He had to catch himself so he didn’t follow Zero and go to his knees to lick the exposed dimples in his lower back.
Jude pulled on boxers and an undershirt and followed slowly, trying to collect himself. He took a t-shirt for Zero in hopes that covering all that exposed skin might help.
Zero raised his eyebrows when he saw the t-shirt in Jude’s hand. “What’s that for?”
“So you don’t get spattered with grease,” Jude said, which wasn’t a complete lie.
Zero took the t-shirt. “You can do the eggs, then, since you’re so worried about marring this beautiful skin. I’ll do the toast.” He dropped the shirt over the back of a chair and turned to get the bread out.
Jude turned his attention to the eggs sitting on the counter, more out of self-defense than his empty belly. He ended up scrambling the eggs because he broke the yolks when he cracked them, so he busied himself with getting out shredded cheese and some left over deli ham to toss in.
Zero had waited to put the bread down, so the toaster popped up just as Jude was giving the scramble a final stir. They ate at the small island in the kitchen, their knees bumping from sitting so close together. Jude did his best to keep his eyes on his plate, and to direct them at Zero’s face when he absolutely had to look at him.
Zero was oblivious to Jude’s distress. He played footsie with Jude’s bare feet and stood too close when he re-heated Jude’s coffee. Zero carried the plates to the sink when they were done eating. Jude took a deep breath and picked up their coffee cups. He set them on the counter within Zero’s reach.
Zero smiled at Jude and leaned towards him for a kiss while the dishpan filled. Jude touched his hand to Zero’s back, and dragged it down to the dip of his lower back and let it rest at the waistband for a moment before pulling back.
“I’ll just, um . . . .” Jude gestured towards the counter and busied himself putting away the bread and butter and wiping down the counter and island.
Jude stepped up behind Zero and reached around him to drop the cloth in the water. “Are you almost done?” Jude said, his voice surprisingly even.
“Yep,” Zero said. “Why?”
Jude rested one hand on Zero’s hip, and pressed a kiss to the flare of Zero’s shoulder blade.
Zero turned his head to look at Jude over his shoulder. “Really, Jude? You’re insatiable this morning.”
“Are you complaining?” Jude said, pressing a second kiss to the opposite shoulder blade.
“Nope,” Zero said. “It’s my own fault,” he added with a faked moroseness. “I’m too irresistible for my own good.”
“That must be it,” Jude said.
Zero twisted so he faced Jude, and Jude took a step back to give him room. He couldn’t control his gaze, which dropped to the front of the sweat pants.
Zero smirked. “These ratty old sweat pants do it for you, Jude?”
“You do it for me,” Jude said.
Jude had a disastrous afternoon and he was running later than usual. Something like that wouldn’t have bothered him before, but now he had Zero waiting for him at home and Jude hated to waste a moment of the time they could be spending together.
When Jude opened the front door, he noticed that most of the apartment was in darkness. The only light came from the tv, which was silently playing sports highlights, a grouping of three candles on the built in cabinet, and the soft glow from the gas fireplace Zero had lit to ward off the chill in the air.
Zero sat up from his sprawl on the couch when Jude shut the door behind himself. He blinked awake, and then smiled when he saw Jude. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Jude said softly. “Sorry I’m late.” He leaned his briefcase against the wall. “Were you asleep? I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Just resting my eyes,” Zero said. “How was your afternoon?”
“That bad, huh?” Zero commiserated. “I made supper if you’re hungry.”
Jude paused in the process of taking off his suit jacket and gave Zero a surprised look.
“Well, I ordered supper and put it in the oven to keep warm,” Zero amended.
That sounded more likely. Jude smiled as he folded the jacket over the back of the nearest chair. “I could eat,” he said. “Thanks.”
Zero went the long way around the coffee table on his way to the kitchen so he could give Jude a kiss when he passed him. “You’re welcome.”
Jude felt a warmth bloom in his chest that had nothing to do with the fire as he watched Zero head into the kitchen. He smiled to himself and then followed. It wasn’t until Jude was watching Zero take a covered pan out of the oven and get plates down that he realized Zero was wearing a thick sweater and fuzzy socks.
Jude thought he recognized the sweater, but it wasn’t until Zero held out a plate to Jude and he saw the hole near one cuff that he was certain it was the sweater his great-aunt had knit for him. Jude kept it because his great-aunt would ask him once in a while if he still had it, and he didn’t want to lie when he assured her that he did.
“Is that my sweater?” Jude said as he closed fingers gone numb on the edge of the plate Zero handed him.
Zero glanced down at himself as if he’d forgotten what he was wearing. “Oh, yeah,” he said as he reached for the other plate. “I found it at the bottom of your sweater drawer and it looked cozy. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” Jude said quickly. “I just thought I recognized it.” He turned away so Zero didn’t see the heat that spread across his cheeks.
“Here,” Zero said. He shoved the second plate at Jude, and Jude reached for it blindly. “If you take the plates, I’ll get the drinks.”
“Oh yeah, thanks.” Jude had been so flustered by the realization that Zero was wearing his sweater that he’d forgotten about drinks.
Jude carried the plates into the living room and set them on the magazines Zero had already spread out for them to use as placemats. Jude took some deep breaths and let them out slowly in an attempt to calm himself before Zero returned with two glasses of wine instead of the beers Jude had expected.
Jude wiped his palms on his slacks before he took the glass Zero held out to him. He placed the glass to his lips to have something to do that wasn’t staring at Zero in a sweater that was too large for him because it was too large for even Jude.
They sat, and Jude shivered when he saw that Zero had rolled up the too-long sleeves so the cuffs wouldn’t get in the food. Zero noticed.
“Are you cold?”
Jude opened his mouth to deny it, but didn’t have any other explanation at the ready so he lied and said, “A little bit.”
“Switch sides with me so you’re closer to the fire,” Zero said. He rose to his feet and walked around the coffee table before Jude could refuse, so Jude slid down and busied himself trading glasses, leaving the plates since neither of them had started eating.
Jude took a drink as soon as he’d set down Zero’s glass, and then put more concentration into eating the food that Zero had thoughtfully ordered than was completely necessary so he didn’t make a fool out of himself.
When Jude set down his fork, Zero carried their empty plates out to the kitchen and returned with the wine bottle to refill their glasses. Jude leaned back into the couch and let his gaze slide over Zero. Zero caught the look and raised his eyebrows.
“This was nice,” Jude said, instead of telling Zero that he was having an inappropriate reaction to seeing him in Jude’s sweater.
“We’re not done yet,” Zero said, and Jude’s stomach did a little roll.
“No?” Jude said, trying to not sound like he wanted to drag Zero down onto the couch and ravish him.
“There’s dessert,” Zero said with a gleam in his eyes.
“Actual dessert, or metaphorical dessert?” Jude said, not entirely sure what he wanted the answer to be.
“Actual,” Zero said as he settled into the spot next to Jude and set the bottle on a magazine. “But there’s nothing saying we can’t have both.”
Jude giggled, and wondered if he’d already had too much wine to drink. He leaned forward to pick up the re-filled glass and take another sip anyway. “Good thinking.” Jude said as he set the glass back down.
When Zero leaned back, Jude twisted so he could snuggle into him. Zero raised his arm and draped it over Jude’s shoulder. Jude rested his head on Zero’s shoulder, and laid his hand on Zero’s stomach.
Jude rubbed his cheek against the sweater, and raised his hand to Zero’s chest, feeling the soft knit under his palm. They stayed like that until the coffee maker made the spitting noise that meant it was finished perking. Jude had smelled the coffee, but he’d been so intent on the sweater stretched across Zero’s chest that he hadn’t really registered it.
“You made coffee?” Jude said as Zero lifted his arm and slid forward so he could rise to his feet.
“Decaf,” Zero said. “Just half a pot. To go with dessert.”
“Do you need help?” Jude said as he reluctantly let his hand slide off of Zero’s hip as he stood.
“I’ve got it,” Zero assured him. “You stay there and relax.”
Jude watched Zero walk away from him, waiting until he’d disappeared into the kitchen before reaching down to squeeze himself through his slacks. He really needed to get a hold of himself. And not the way he was holding onto himself currenly. Jude listened to Zero moving around in the kitchen as he tugged at the knot at his throat and unbuttoned the collar of his dress shirt.
Jude’s heart dropped into his stomach when Zero returned with a tray holding two plates of Tiramisu and two coffee cups. The good ones, not the mugs they usually used for everyday. Jude ignored the flutters in his belly and moved their wine glasses so Zero could set the tray down.
Jude gave Zero a look when he picked up one of the coffee cups to take a sip. Zero gave Jude a look in return. The Tiramisu was delicious, and other than sounds of enjoyment that went directly to Jude’s groin, they ate their dessert in silence.
Zero groaned when he finished the dessert, flopping back onto the couch and rubbing his stomach. “I’m stuffed,” he said.
Jude used that as an excuse to reach over and run his own hand over Zero’s stomach. “Wow, yeah, that’s big,” he teased.
Zero trapped Jude’s hand against his stomach with his own and rolled his head against the back of the couch until his lips were close enough to kiss. One kiss turned into two, and then another. Zero lifted his hand off Jude’s hand and reached for him, sliding his hand up Jude’s arm and around his shoulder. Zero pulled Jude closer and Jude slid his own hand up to Zero’s chest and he moved nearer to Zero. The sweater was soft under Jude’s palm, and he rubbed his hand over Zero’s chest and back down to his stomach.
They paused in their attempt to lick the taste of coffee and rum out of each other’s mouths and Jude’s fingers slipped beneath the hem of the sweater. Zero made a sound deep in his throat when the tips of Jude’s fingers touched bare skin. Zero spread his legs and seemed to melt even more into the couch cushions.
“This sweater do it for you?” Zero said with a smirk that was cracked around the edges.
Jude slid his hand up until he could brush the pad of his thumb across a nipple. “You do it for me,” Jude said against Zero’s lips.
“We’re gonna be late!” Jude called.
“We’re not gonna be late,” Zero said calmly as he strolled out of the bedroom. “We’re just not gonna be a half hour early.”
“I calculated in time for . . . traffic,” Jude finished the thought automatically, his brain skipping when he saw the t-shirt Zero was wearing.
“Of course you did,” Zero said fondly. He stopped beside Jude to give him a kiss, then swiped one of the travel mugs out of his hand and took a sip.
“Is that . . . ?” Jude said.
Zero glanced down at himself. “I found it in the drawer. Do you mind?”
“No, I . . . No.” Jude minded. He minded a lot.
Zero smiled. He headed for the door, then looked back over his shoulder and said, “Chop, chop, Jude, we don’t want to be late,” when Jude hadn’t moved to follow him.
Jude finally unfroze his feet and got going. He made sure the door locked behind them and followed Zero to the car they’d rented because they’d needed something large enough to carry a mesh bag full of a dozen basketballs and a box of t-shirts.
Zero was already sitting in the driver’s seat when Jude reached the car, and Jude was thankful that he’d pulled a zip-up hoodie on over the t-shirt. That, along with the track pants made sure Zero was covered head-to-toe, but Jude could still see the t-shirt in his mind’s eye.
It wasn’t that the t-shirt was tight (though it was), or that it showed off every line of muscle (which it did). The problem Jude was having was that the t-shirt was Jude’s old UCLA t-shirt that he hadn’t had the heart to get rid of even when it had gotten just a little bit too tight to be comfortable.
“What?” Jude said, when he realized that Zero had spoken.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Zero repeated.
“You’re welcome,” Jude said automatically.
“And thanks for coming with me.”
The reflexive ‘you’re welcome’ died on Jude’s tongue. “I like coming with you, stupid,” he said instead.
Zero grinned and reached for Jude’s hand. “I know you do,” he said, raising Jude’s hand to his lips and pressing a kiss to the knuckles. “Stupid.”
Jude laughed. He thought about how excited and nervous Zero had been the first time they’d made this drive, and so Jude talked to him about anything and everything he could think of to take his mind off it. Jude even managed to take his own mind off the t-shirt hidden under Zero’s hoodie. At least, until they reached the Youth Center and Zero removed the hoodie.
Jude’s stomach did a little flip when they pulled into the parking lot behind the Youth Center. He loved to watch Zero with the kids, to see how much he enjoyed sharing his knowledge with them, teaching them, and how patient and kind he was with them. He also remembered how Zero’s hands had shook so much after the first class that Jude had to drive home, and hwo Jude had held Zero after he’d explained, “They’re not all going to make it out.”
These kids weren’t going to be as lucky as Zero, to escape the circumstances of their childhood, but that made moments like this even more important. At the first class there hadn’t been enough basketballs to go around, so Zero had bought some, which he was going to donate to the Youth Center once the class was over. Some of the kids had come to the class in clothes that were too big, or much too small, and so Zero had come up with the idea of team t-shirts so none of the kids felt out of place. As a bonus, they’d all have a souvenir from the class.
The kids were as excited to receive the t-shirts as Zero was to hand them out. Jude, who’d been labeled as Zero’s ‘assistant’ during the first class, noted the kids who received the t-shirts, and those who were absent. He frowned. The class itself was free, but even something that most people took for granted, like transportation, could make something like this impossible for some people. Jude wondered if he mentioned it, if Zero would suggest sending a van around to pick up the kids.
When Jude went to move the box, Zero took off his hoodie and handed it to Jude. He said, “Who remembers how to dribble?” and Jude pretended that his lower region hadn’t shown a twitch of interest when the muscles in Zero’s back bunched up as he dribbled one of the balls.
Zero started the kids on refresher drills and had them dribble while standing still, and then walking, and then jogging down the court. “Awesome!” he said after about five minutes. “Today we’re going to learn how to dribble around someone. Jude?”
Jude, who had been distracted watching Zero’s pecs beneath the skin-tight t-shirt as he squeezed the ball, looked up startled when he heard his name. “What?”
“Lend me a hand?” Zero said.
“Sure,” Jude said, and started walking onto the court before he knew what Zero wanted.
Zero planted Jude like a tree, and then dribbled the ball around him. Jude was forced to stare at Zero’s chest while he explained to the kids that they had to learn the basics before they could so anything fancy with them. Once all the kids had taken a turn being the tree so another kid could dribble around them, Zero added in some defense to make things more difficult. Once again he called on Jude so he could show the kids what he meant, and once more Jude could only stare at the cracked and faded bluce UCLA lettered across Zero’s chest.
Last week, Zero had ended the class with what Jude termed ‘walking lay-ups’ which gave the kids practice dribbling while letting them take shots at the basket. Today that drill was in the middle of the class, and then Zero planted another kid in the path to play defender. Zero came over to stand beside Jude on the sideline and they both watched the kids. Zero occasionally called out corrections and encouragement.
“You’re good at this,” Jude said after Zero blew the whistle he wore on a string around his neck and switched up the kids so someone stood defense.
“Maybe I’m just a big kid at heart,” Zero said, deflecting the compliment.
“Maybe you are,” Jude said, letting him get away with it.
For the rest of practice, Jude tried to keep his attention on the kids, on the way they blossomed under Zero’s attention. Sometimes Jude couldn’t help taking note of the patience in Zero’s voice when he explained something for the tenth time, or the gentle way he steered a kid through the correct motions for whatever he was teaching them at the time. And occasionally his gaze paused on the way his t-shirt fit across Zero’s shoulders.
Finally the two hours of torture were over. Zero gave the kids five minutes to shoot baskets without any structure, and then dismissed them. Some of the kids, those with parents waiting, departed immediately. Others hung around for a while and helped them retrieve the balls.
“Millicent, right?” Jude said to one such kid.
Her face twisted, and then she nodded, but it almost looked resigned.
“You don’t like Millicent?” Jude guessed. “Millie?”
Millicent gave Jude a look of horror.
“Not Millie,” he deduced.
“Nicknames are cool,” Zero said. He squatted in front of Millicent. “My real name’s not Zero.”
“Really?” Millicent said dryly, and then looked horribly embarrassed at having spoken that way to Zero.
“Ow,” Zero said, clutching his chest dramatically. “That sarcasm was so sharp, I think it cut me.”
“Sorry,” Millicent said quietly.
“No, that’s alright,” Zero said. “You reminded me of Jude just then.”
Millicent gave Jude a doubtful look.
“I know,” Zero said conspiratorially. “He looks all straight-laced and buttoned-up, especially in the suits he usually wears, which is why his sarcasm is such a surprise.” Zero glanced at Jude and gave him a soft smile.
Jude was extremely grateful that Zero had pulled on the hoodie, even if he hadn’t yet zipped it up, because he was already going to die from the cute.
“Did you have a nickname?” Millicent said, and it took Jude a second to realize she was talking to him.
“My name is Jude,” Jude said wryly. “Four letters, not much to make a nickname out of. I tried ‘J’ once, but my mom didn’t get why I needed a nickname and refused to call me anything but Jude.”
Millicent made a face, like she’d had a similar experience.
“But,” Zero said. “If you have a nickname you’d like us to use here, we’re happy to do it.”
“No pressure,” Zero said. “Just think about it.” Zero straightened up. “We need to get going. You good for a ride home?”
Millicent nodded. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” Zero said. “See you next week.”
Zero grabbed the bag of balls and Jude picked up the half-empty box that had his clipboard balanced on top. They headed out of the gym to let the Youth Center Director know they were clearing out before they departed. Just as they reached the door, Millicent said, “Miles.”
Jude and Zero both stopped and turned around. Millicent was staring at them, an almost defiant expression on her face barely covering the nerves.
“Miles,” Zero repeated neutrally, and Millicent, Miles’ chin went up. “It suits you.”
Miles visibly deflated, the tension easing out of her muscles.
“Is there anything else you want us to know?” Zero said cautiously.
“Like what?” Miles said.
“Pronouns?” Zero clarified.
“Oh,” Miles said, as if she hadn’t known that was a possibility. “No.”
“No because you’re good with the, uh, status quo pronouns, or no because . . . .” Here Zero paused and glanced around the gym, then gestured with his hand, indicating the Youth Center and the neighborhood it sat in.
“No because Miles is a good first step,” Miles said.
Zero nodded his acceptance of her decision. “Okay. Thank you for trusting us with your preferred name.”
Jude noticed that Zero hadn’t called it a ‘nick’ name.
Miles looked both scared and relieved.
“See you next week, Miles.”
Miles smiled. “See you.”
Jude remained silent while Zero checked in with the Director, and while he used the key fob to unlock the hatch so they could stow the balls and box in the back of the car. Jude waited until Zero closed the hatch to say, “Do you have any idea how much I want to kiss you right now?”
Zero raised an eyebrow. “What’s stopping you?”
Jude cupped the side of Zero’s face and leaned in to kiss you. “You’re amazing.”
Zero gave a pleased, embarrassed shrug. “Don’t make a thing out of it.”
Jude laughed, and kissed Zero again.
In the car they talked about the kids, and how the class had gone. Jude called for take-out which they picked up on the way home. He was almost able to forget about the t-shirt Zero wore, except Zero hadn’t zipped up the hoodie, and every time Jude glanced at him, he caught a glimpse of the light blue UCLA peaking out from beneath the sweat shirt.
At home they ate on the couch and Jude claimed it was his turn to clean up so he could get away from Zero, who’d taken off the hoodie as soon as they’d gotten inside the apartment. When Jude couldn’t find anything else to do in the kitchen, he returned to the living room. Zero had turned on the television and was flipping through the channels. He’d shifted so his back was against the arm of the couch, his legs stretched out in front of him.
Zero glanced away from the tv screen when Jude appeared. “Wanna find a movie to watch?”
“No,” Jude said. He crossed over to the couch and straddled Zero’s legs. He placed his hands flat on Zero’s chest and dragged them down to his stomach.
Zero reached out and placed the remote on the coffee table without taking his eyes off Jude. “Got something else in mind?” he said, sliding his hands across Jude’s back.
Jude didn’t respond in words; he leaned forward, hands braced on Zero’s chest, and kissed him. Zero cupped his hands around Jude’s ass and tugged him closer. Jude raised his hands to Zero’s shoulders so there was nothing between them. He curled his fingers over Zero’s shoulders and slid his hands down his back as they kissed.
They broke the kiss, and Jude couldn’t resist glancing down at the t-shirt pulled taut across Zero’s chest. When Jude raised his eyes, Zero was watching him with a raised eyebrow.
“Really, Jude? This t-shirt does it for you?”
“You do it . . . ,” Jude began, and then his eyes went wide with realization. “You asshole!”
“What?” Zero said, eyes laughing.
Jude poked Zero in the chest. “You knew . . . .!” He blushed. “You did this on purpose!”
Zero ran his hands up Jude’s back and didn’t bother denying it.
“There were children there!”
Zero raised an eyebrow again. “I was certain you’d have enough control not to jump me at the Youth Center, Jude,” Zero said.
“I’m rethinking jumping you now,” Jude said petulantly.
“No you’re not,” Zero said with too much confidence in his tone.
The hell of it was, Zero was right.
“No, I’m not,” Jude agreed. He dragged his hand up Zero’s back, cupping his palm around the nape of his neck and cradling the back of his head before tangling his fingers in the long strands of Zero’s hair. Jude gave a gentle tug and Zero allowed his head to be pulled back.
Jude bit at Zero’s lips and Zero’s hands tightened on Jude’s back. Jude teased kisses along Zero’s jaw and down the side of his neck as he moved his hand lower, sliding it over Zero’s chest and stomach until he felt the waistband of the track pants beneath his palm. Jude paused, his lips hovering over Zero’s, his gaze locked on Zero’s eyes, making Zero wait to see which way his hand would move.
Finally Jude continued the downward motion until his palm covered the swell of Zero’s thickening cock. Zero made a sound and pushed his hips up into Jude’s hand, so Jude gave him a little squeeze before releasing him. Jude ignored Zero’s groan of protest and slipped his fingers beneath the hem of the t-shirt. Zero’s stomach muscles went taut when Jude’s fingers touched bare skin.
Jude raised the t-shirt up as his hand moved higher, fingers trailing a path from Zero’s stomach to his chest. He could feel each warm breath as Zero exhaled, each catch in his throat when he started to say something before Jude’s fingers stole the words from him. Jude thumbed a nipple, brushed his fingers down Zero’s side, dipped them beneath the waistband before starting the journey back up.
The third time Jude kept going until his hand was buried beneath Zero’s track pants to the wrist, his fingers curled around Zero. This time a sound escaped Zero’s throat, but Jude captured it in his mouth and licked it back into Zero’s. Zero dropped his hands to Jude’s ass and squeezed as their tongues curled around one another.
Jude pulled back and climbed off the couch. He placed a hand on Zero’s chest when he made to follow him. “Stay.”
Zero raised an eyebrow at the command, but he stayed. Jude stood beside the couch and undressed. Zero’s eyes went dark when Jude pulled the Henley over his head and dropped his hands to the waistband of his jeans.
“No,” Jude said sharply when Zero moved a hand to touch himself. “No touching.”
Zero’s hand froze, and Jude could see the wheels turning in Zero’s head as he considered whether to obey this command before he slowly pulled his hand away from his groin and set it upon the back of the couch. Jude ducked his head so Zero couldn’t see the reaction he had to Zero’s obedience.
Jude’s fingers fumbled with the button and zipper, but he finally had them undone so he could slip jeans and briefs down his legs and step out of them. When he was just in socks, Jude reached for the waistband of Zero’s track pants. Zero stared at Jude intently, but he raised his hips without being asked. Jude pulled down track pants and boxers and left them tangled around Zero’s ankles. Zero gave Jude a look, but didn’t say anything.
Jude bent over and reached between the cushion and the back of the couch, fishing out the tube of lube he remembered leaving there. He waved it triumphantly at Zero who gave him a tight grin. Zero slid further down on the couch when Jude asked him to, and then Jude straddled his legs again.
Zero reached out a hand for the lube. Jude took Zero’s hand and pressed a kiss to the palm instead, then said, “Behind your head.”
Zero didn’t move for a moment. “Jude, what are you . . . ?”
Jude didn’t speak or move, and finally Zero withdrew his hand from Jude’s and placed it behind his head.
“The other one, too,” Jude said as he flipped open the cap of the tube with a snick.
Zero let out a slow breath and did as Jude asked. His eyes on Zero’s, Jude squeezed lube onto his fingers and reached back between his legs. He saw the moment realization hit, the tightening of the muscles in Zero’s arms as he forced himself to keep them raised behind his head.
Jude let his eyes close when he touched himself, his finger circling the entrance to his body before pressing inside. Zero made a sound, the muscles in his legs went tight beneath Jude, and Jude imagined the struggle Zero was having with himself, his desire to touch battling the need to obey Jude’s command.
Jude pressed in with a second finger and his face must’ve betrayed his body’s reaction to being stretched, because Zero groaned. “Jude, you’re fucking killing me here.”
Jude opened his eyes and met Zero’s desperate gaze, let them slide over flushed skin and taut muscles as Zero held himself in check. “Fair’s fair,” Jude said, breathless from desire and his body opening around two fingers.
“I’ll show you fucking fair,” Zero growled, though he didn’t move to act on the promise.
Jude shivered anyway. He withdrew his fingers and squeezed out another dollop of lube. Zero couldn’t hold back the noise he made when Jude wrapped slippery fingers around the head of his cock instead of sliding them back inside himself. Once Zero was slick, Jude crawled up his body until he was in position.
Jude reached back and guided the head of Zero’s cock to his hole. Zero’s eyes closed to slits when Jude pressed down. There was a moment of resistance before the head breached Jude’s hole, and they both let out soft sounds when it popped through. Jude’s thighs trembled as he sank lower onto Zero’s cock until he was sitting on his hips, the entire length of Zero inside him.
Jude held still, taking a moment to allow his body to adjust to the fullness. When he was ready to move, Jude realized that Zero’s hands had moved to grasp his hips. “Hands back above your head,” Jude said, his voice a dry rasp as he forced himself to wait until Zero complied.
Nostrils flaring with the effort it took not to dismiss Jude’s command, Zero did. Jude bit back the words ‘good boy’ and braced one hand on Zero’s chest, the cracked lettering of the print on the t-shirt scratching his palm, and raised himself up. All trace of defiance melted off of Zero’s face as Jude lowered himself back down.
Jude moved slowly at first, getting used to the feel of Zero inside him and setting up a steady rhythm, and then he moved faster, and faster still, until he was riding Zero’s cock with abandon. Zero didn’t touch, but Jude hadn’t told him not to move, and so the first time Zero raised his hips to meet Jude as he lowered himself on Zero’s cock shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Jude made a sound that would’ve been embarrassing if he’d had time to stop and think about it, but Zero didn’t let him. “Zero,” Jude gasped. “Gideon.”
“Can I . . . ?”
“Yes!” Jude said, breathless and desperate.
Zero’s hands clamped onto Jude’s hips like a vise. He bent his knees and planted his feet on the couch cushion to give himself more leverage, and then he moved his hips. Jude felt each thrust more keenly as he was impaled on Zero’s cock. With both hands on Zero’s chest, Jude fucked himself on Zero, meeting each of Zero’s thrusts with a force that made him feel like he was being torn in two. And it still wasn’t enough.
“More,” Jude pleaded.
Zero slid his hands back, cupped Jude’s ass, and spread his cheeks, as if was possible for him to get any deeper. He circled one finger around the skin stretched taut around Zero’s shaft and then teased his finger towards the center, as if he was going to press it inside Jude alongside his cock.
Jude made a mewling sound as he imagined what it would feel like, and it was what he’d needed to send him over the edge he’d been clinging to. Jude lost his rhythm as warmth spread through out his body, making his toes curl and every muscle clench. White lights went off behind Jude’s eyes, and waves of pleasure washed over Jude until it was everything.
Through the haze that had fallen over him, Jude realized that he’d collapsed onto Zero’s chest, and that Zero’s fingers were digging into Jude’s hips as he thrust into him, fucking Jude as he chased his own release. Jude felt the moment when Zero went over the precipice to join him, and he stretched to press a kiss to Zero’s throat as Zero mindlessly emptied himself inside Jude.
Jude didn’t know how long they stayed like that, but he didn’t have the energy to move, even when Zero softened and slipped out of him, and Jude felt the come dribble out in his wake. Jude shifted once, and every muscle ached in the way that reminded him, and would continue to remind him, of what they’d just done together.
“So,” Zero said. He had to clear his throat and start again. “The t-shirt really does it for you?”
Jude gave a breathless laugh and reached up to press his fingers against the side of Zero’s face. “You do it for me,” he said, and rubbed his cheek against the soft cotton of the t-shirt.