Bruce was just awake enough to grab his phone off the nightstand and check the time. Given that it was his birthday, it was too early to be up.
April twenty-fifth was fraught now, equal parts joy and grief. Joy in that it was the day on which, a year ago, he’d first met Jeremiah. Grief in that he’d watched his lover-to-be mourn a hate-filled loss that they both wished they hadn’t so keenly felt.
As if the liminal space of sleep had let him sense Bruce’s unrest, Jeremiah slid an arm around Bruce’s waist and pulled him close. After the dreams he’d conquered, Bruce had begun to wonder just how far-reaching the effects of Jeremiah’s transformation were.
There was no reason to get out of bed, not since reconstruction-related board meetings were the first and fifteenth of each month. March’s sessions had been successful, as had the first of April.
“If you’re thinking about work,” Jeremiah murmured against Bruce’s ear, “stop it right now.”
“Fine,” Bruce said, relaxing against Jeremiah’s chest. “I was thinking about what day it is.”
“Heaven forbid you should get old along with the rest of us,” said Jeremiah, mock-pouting.
“Nineteen’s not old,” Bruce replied, savoring the splay of Jeremiah’s hand across his belly.
“Just about a month from now, I’ll have a full seven years on you,” Jeremiah reminded him.
Bruce shrugged squirming around to face Jeremiah without dislodging his arm. “So what.”
“Wanted to make sure you weren’t going to start in on superstition again,” Jeremiah said, letting his arms fall above his head, stark against the grey pillowcases, as Bruce rolled him onto his back. “My parentage is irrelevant. It’s our luck of the draw.”
Bruce touched their matching double-sided pendants—Joker on one side, Jack of Spades on the other—where they’d pooled at Jeremiah’s collarbone. He untangled them, smoothing the chains.
“I hope you didn’t order something extravagant,” Bruce warned, kissing him into the pillows.
“Only—” Jeremiah hummed, licking past Bruce’s teeth “—the roses I promised in February.”
“Maybe not the best idea,” Bruce mumbled, “given we don’t have anyone to answer the door.”
“Sent them to the office,” Jeremiah said, mussing Bruce’s hair. “Public declaration can’t hurt.”
“True. Guess they’ll keep till Monday,” Bruce agreed, basking in the attention. “What colors?”
“Lavender Provence roses to say my heart’s in flames,” Jeremiah replied. “Some Camelot White foxgloves to heal what harm’s come to yours.”
Bruce kissed him more insistently, satisfied at the whimper that caught in Jeremiah’s throat.
“Sounds perfect. I know Ivy didn’t grow them, but did you consult her on the meanings?”
Jeremiah shook his head. “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable was one of the books that got passed around Haly’s. I memorized a lot of it.”
Bruce pressed his mouth to Jeremiah’s cheek. “I wouldn’t say no to what we agreed on.”
Nodding, Jeremiah caught Bruce’s face in his hands. “As if I’d forget. Fair exchange?”
“I get to do whatever I want to you,” Bruce confirmed. “Then, next month, you get to do whatever you want to me.”
“Well, the stuff did come in,” Jeremiah said, comically businesslike, gently shoving Bruce off so he could roll away and hang over his side of the bed. He rummaged under the edge. “Hid it.”
Bruce got out of bed and went around to the other side, appreciating that both parcels had remained unopened. This hadn’t been without planning, not for either of them—but what each had ordered from the vendor they’d agreed on was an unknown variable to the other.
Jeremiah made an approving noise when Bruce took the one with his name on it and rolled back onto the mattress. “I’ll give you a minute.”
Bruce took a moment to appreciate how the sunlight glinted in Jeremiah’s copper hair, at the gravitas of his decision not to re-dye it even though he’d gotten it re-cut. Nothing permanent, he’d said, not anymore, but he’d keep boxes of temporary dark green instead. He’d like to have it for their occasional—extracurricular activities, that was the wording he’d chosen.
In the bathroom, Bruce cut open the box and removed the item’s plastic wrap. The soft, matte black silicone ring had enough give that Bruce could fit his hand through and wear it on his wrist.
“You can still veto,” he said a minute later, having washed and patted it dry, walking back into the bedroom with it extended. “Yes? No?”
Jeremiah sat up against the headboard and took it while Bruce climbed onto the bed. He performed the same test, stretching it over his hand.
“It’s nothing that’ll cause damage,” he remarked, sliding it off again, “but you might’ve found a more tactful way to remark on my lack of—”
“Stop,” Bruce said, shifting to straddle Jeremiah, taking the ring back as he kissed his neck. “It’s not about us being too quick for my liking, which we're not.” He switched to kissing the other side, pleased to feel Jeremiah relax. “It’s about how I can make you feel for longer, maybe.”
Jeremiah chewed the inside of his lip, and then nodded. “I might…manage more than twice?”
In spite of his fear that he might yet say the wrong thing in an effort to be clear, Bruce nodded.
“That’s part of it. You could even—” he nuzzled his way up to Jeremiah’s earlobe and bit down “—fuck me longer, if it’s not too overwhelming.”
Jeremiah helped Bruce to wrangle the ring onto him, but only as far down as the base. However many tutorials Bruce had watched in preparation, however many tutorials Jeremiah might have watched in anticipation, the chance this might have the opposite of the intended effect was high.
“Under the pillows,” Jeremiah said against Bruce’s mouth, correctly anticipating Bruce’s next action. “Felt it during the night, pushed it to your side.”
“Thanks for that,” Bruce muttered, sucking greedily at Jeremiah’s tongue. He pulled away when Jeremiah chased the contact, sweeping his hand beneath the pillows, barely snagging the tube.
Jeremiah didn’t seem to have much temperature preference, but Bruce warmed some lubricant between his palms before touching him anyway. He made as much noise as usual when Bruce used his fingers, stifling a sharp gasp once Bruce had coaxed him fully erect.
“Don’t,” Bruce said, running his left thumb along Jeremiah’s lower lip, still stroking him with his right hand. “I want to know if it’s…if it feels good.”
“Pressure, then…” Jeremiah gasped again, the sound breaking on a moan. “More sensitive.”
“Okay,” Bruce said, letting Jeremiah suck the tip of his thumb. “More sensitive than what?”
“Than usual,” said Jeremiah, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Bruce’s shoulder.
Bruce kissed his cheek, tightening his grasp on the next twist up to the tip. “You’re so hard.”
“You’ll also notice I’m not coming,” Jeremiah gasped, snapping his eyes shut, “which…”
“Yeah, shhh,” Bruce agreed, rocking into him slightly. “Which you would be, I know.”
“Bruce…” Jeremiah clawed at Bruce’s back, blunt nails digging in exquisitely. “I think…”
“How are you doing?” Bruce asked, bringing his hand to a standstill. “What do you need?”
Jeremiah pushed up against the steady resistance Bruce had been offering, the twitch of his cock against Bruce’s belly punctuated with a groan. If he’d just come, there was no other evidence.
“This,” he choked, eyes wide as he slumped back against the pillows again. “One.”
Bruce shifted his hips forward, pinning Jeremiah more securely in place. “Oh. Wow.”
Nodding fiercely, Jeremiah pushed at Bruce’s shoulders and leveraged himself lower.
Not so distracted by arousal that he couldn’t take a hint, Bruce went up on his knees until Jeremiah had scooted sufficient to lie down. Reading this particular signal wrong was impossible; Jeremiah preferred being on his back regardless who was penetrating whom.
They both liked the burn, so Bruce didn’t bother with much beyond re-slicking Jeremiah before he positioned himself and sank down on him.
Jeremiah arched off the bed, sobbing, clutching at Bruce’s thighs hard enough to bruise.
Angling himself so that Jeremiah’s next shudder drove him deeper, Bruce laughed. “Two?”
“Yes, what did you think,” Jeremiah hissed, shifting his grip up to Bruce’s hips.
“Jeremiah,” Bruce gasped, chasing the slow-burning clench low in his belly. “Jeremiah.”
“Dear heart,” Jeremiah sighed, tugging him down for a kiss, thrusting up eagerly. “One?”
“Maybe,” Bruce panted, too elated to feel any chagrin at how close he was. “Keep going.”
Holding off until Jeremiah’s third was easier said than done, and then not done at all given the sound Jeremiah made as he scrabbled helplessly at the sheets. From the feel of it, he’d ejaculated this time, which made Bruce’s sudden, intense climax seem flawlessly-timed.
Jeremiah held Bruce in place for another several minutes, shaking breathlessly with aftershocks.
“How was that?” Bruce asked earnestly, tipping forward to lie against him with a happy shiver.
“Good enough for jazz,” Jeremiah replied, squeezing him for the joy of it. “No, even better.”
* * *
May twenty-first had never been a day to take off work, especially not given that Jeremiah had always been able to work from home.
Bruce had left a note on the nightstand, the lipstick-print using Jeremiah’s darkest shade endearingly sentimental. Imagining what Bruce must’ve looked like applying it in the mirror was alluring. Imagining how Bruce would look in tasteful, smoky eyeliner made him shiver.
Jeremiah got out of bed and went to the master bathroom, shutting himself in a steaming shower before further digressions could lead him into temptation. Bruce didn’t need him turning up at the office on a day when there were no pressing design issues to be addressed.
The board emailed, insistent on reviewing unplanned expenses relating to the precinct overhaul, Bruce’s note read. I need to go in for a while, because Jim plans to attend. I’ll be home before dinner, promise. You can have me any way you want.
Rushed lack of endearments, true, but the impression of Bruce’s lips made up for it in spades.
Blowing a box of temporary hair dye on the day’s plans seemed worth the trouble, so he grabbed one from under the sink and returned to the shower. His eyes and skin, light-sensitive to a fault, didn’t react badly to the comfort of hot water or the harshness of cosmetics.
He went to the kitchen and ate while his hair dried, making sure he had a handle on the settings of his most crucial piece of kit.
Afterward, he brushed his teeth, shed his robe, and dressed in the same ensemble he’d worn the night of their dinner-date.
Bruce texted about thirty minutes after Jeremiah had finished remaking and turning down the bed, saying he’d be home in an hour. Jeremiah didn’t respond until he’d placed the piece of kit in question—well, half of it—next to the lone pillow he’d left on the bed.
Next to that, he left their habitual lubricant and the belt of the plaid robe he’d claimed as his.
Upstairs, he texted back, and then positioned himself in a side-chair next to the bed.
Bruce’s expression on entering the room was just as worth the wait as it had been the night he’d made sure Bruce would see him just as he saw him now. This time, Jeremiah saw dazed attraction flare in those stormy eyes without any obstruction.
“You forgot the wine,” Bruce said stupidly, before Jeremiah could even welcome him home.
Well, fine: Jeremiah could flip this script to an extreme he hadn’t previously planned on.
“Don’t just stand there,” he ordered, rising, gesturing at the four-poster. “Get on the bed.”
The brief, secondary flash of recognition in Bruce’s gaze carried a hint of visceral shame. He shed his blazer, collared shirt, trousers and underthings on his way there, defiantly attractive by the time he propped himself naked against the edge of the mattress.
“This is complicated for belated comeuppance,” Bruce sighed, “but we did say anything.”
Jeremiah stepped close to him, removing the remote control from his blazer pocket. He tapped Bruce’s neck with it, and then kissed Bruce thoroughly enough to feel his knees weaken.
“This isn’t revenge,” Jeremiah murmured. “This is another exercise in…creative rewriting.” He kissed the faint, lovely scar on Bruce’s right cheek. “Say the word, and I’ll stop.”
Bruce shook his head, chasing another kiss, his smile twisting when Jeremiah denied it. “No.”
“Then we’re on the same page,” Jeremiah said, indicating the toy and the tube of lubricant.
Nonchalantly as you please, Bruce got on the bed—such infuriating grace, so guileless it stung. He slicked the four-inch black silicone plug as if he had no consideration for anyone’s presence except his own, scarcely making a sound as he worked it inside himself.
Jeremiah put the remote control back in his pocket, beginning to regret the part of this that required him to remain immaculately dressed.
“Hands above your head,” said Jeremiah, careful to maintain a mild tone. “Bruce, now.”
There it was, the telltale hitch in Bruce’s breath. He crossed his wrists and set them against the headboard, eyes flicking to the plaid belt.
“Don’t you think you should use my tie?” he asked, nodding at the floor. “Better parallel.”
Suppressing a swell of fond irritation, Jeremiah kissed him more deeply this time, sweeping the flannel belt off the bed. He left Bruce panting against the sheets and fetched the silver-patterned black tie from the floor. As he lashed Bruce’s hands and adjusted the pillow, he couldn’t help but approve of how subtly the accessory matched the chain around Bruce’s neck.
“Should’ve told me to leave my shirt on,” said Bruce, a little breathily, as Jeremiah sat down.
“Hard pass,” Jeremiah said, scooting the chair closer to the bed as he removed the remote control from his pocket. Satisfied, he hit the power button and activated the lowest vibration setting.
Bruce jolted slightly, twisting to one side as his body adjusted to the sensation. “Your loss.”
Concealing his delight at the level of mouthing-off he’d already incited, Jeremiah crossed his legs and clicked the frequency up by two merciless notches. So much for a leisurely tease.
When Bruce jerked this time, his expression almost pained, he made sure to twist his body pointedly toward Jeremiah. Panting stubbornly, his cheeks flushed, he forced his eyes open.
“If I’d known you were going to do this, I would’ve picked something more complicated,” he admitted. “Back when it was my turn, I mean.”
At the sight of Bruce’s erection already stiff and damp, Jeremiah cleared his throat and took the vibration setting back down a notch. His gut clenched at Bruce’s frustrated huff.
“There was nothing wrong with what you chose,” he said, his voice uncontrollably rough. “We’ve gotten…excellent use out of it, haven’t we?”
Bruce laughed, somehow both impatient and sweet. “Why didn’t you make me put it on?”
“There are enough variables in play,” Jeremiah replied, clicking the setting back up to where it had been. He uncrossed his legs and shifted in his chair, wondering how long he could bear to watch without touching. “You’re breathtaking,” he sighed.
The look Bruce shot him was almost a glare. He yanked at his tie until it loosened enough for him to squirm onto his side, hooking his left foot over the side of the mattress to brace himself.
“Then maybe you should come here and, you know,” he said tersely, “end it right this time.”
Overcome with desire and weary impatience, Jeremiah got unsteadily to his feet and set the remote control on the nightstand. He undressed in the same kind of hurry that Bruce tended to use as a matter of course, fetching his knife from next to the alarm clock.
“This was never going to go on as long as I’d planned,” he said, flicking it open, and hesitated.
Bruce nodded against the pillow, straining with a desperate groan. “If you don’t do it, I’ll—”
“Shhh,” Jeremiah whispered, slicing through the tie without further delay. “Bruce.”
“I’m close,” Bruce panted, rubbing at his wrists, run irresistibly ragged. “I’m so. Fuck.”
Jeremiah climbed onto the mattress, folding Bruce against him even as Bruce reached out. He ran his palm down Bruce’s spine and dipped his hand lower, working the plug free with unsteady fingers. He flung it off the far side of the bed, tangling their legs.
Even if Jeremiah hadn’t gotten Bruce to scream, an orgasm that left him cursing and heaving for breath was the same thing. He whimpered and clung, all the fight gone out of him.
Jeremiah pressed Bruce onto his back against the wrecked sheets, finishing in a few taut thrusts.
Bruce quieted, kneading at the backs of Jeremiah's thighs while they trembled against each other.
“That thing’s…loud, isn’t it,” Jeremiah observed as soon as he could think again. “Where’s…”
Reaching toward the nightstand, Bruce swiped the remote control off the edge. He jammed every button repeatedly until the vibrating plug, wherever it had landed, fell silent.
“I want…” He cleared his throat, swallowing thickly. “Want to try that on you really soon.”
Jeremiah nodded, exhausted, leaving a lipstick-smudge against Bruce’s temple. “Of course.”
“I deserved that,” Bruce said, mouthing reverently at Jeremiah’s collarbone. “I love you.”
There it was again. Bruce had said it several times, so effortlessly that it put all of Jeremiah’s overwrought endearments to shame.
“I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything in this world,” Jeremiah said, “and I never have.”
“That’s not true,” Bruce protested, ruffling Jeremiah’s hair out of arrangement. “Your mother.”
Jeremiah shrugged. “I thought I did, but at most I think I cared about what happened to her.”
“Isn’t that part of it?” Bruce said. “Caring what happens to someone? Wanting them close?”
“I didn’t want her close,” Jeremiah said, “but I want you close like I’ve never, ever wanted—”
“I’m keeping you close,” Bruce replied, kissing him quiet, “and you know that I’m staying.”