Roy DeSoto had never been one for Valentine’s Day. He and Joanne had years ago settled into a routine of boxed chocolates and overpriced roses, nothing terribly romantic. Besides that, he wasn’t the most expressive of people. Though he’d say his emotions ran deep, he was a product of his surroundings. He was a son raised by a father who had told him when he was four and had fallen from a tree and broken his wrist that boys don’t. Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t hug. Boys don’t like other boys. All of these things were just how the world worked. The exceptions he made in his life were for Joanne, and then for his two beautiful kids. He could cry in front of his wife, safe from judgment behind closed doors. He could hug his kids. Everyone outside that perfect little circle he could have feelings for, but not demonstrate it so much.
Until Johnny Gage. The man got under his skin instantly, with his impetuous behavior and need to touch and gesticulate and be the complete, polar opposite of everything Roy had been raised to embody himself. Johnny was a mystery, a bright shining flame he hadn’t even known he needed even as he benefited from his crazy partner’s presence. It was only after Joanne’s accident that he truly realized what Johnny had become to him, for him. Suddenly he was all alone with a stressful job, two kids who struggled daily to come to terms with the loss of their mother, and his own issues to sort out regarding Joanne’s sudden and horrible death.
Eleven months, one week, five days and three hours wasn’t a lot of time to adjust to a new normal. He expected that in fifteen years, he’d still have those moments some random thing would remind him of his late wife and set him into a funk, but with each passing day it was getting a little better, her ghost a less vibrant presence. He would never lose that sadness, or the potential for it. That was part of who he was now. But things were coming along, finally, and it was in no small part due to his friend, partner and … well, he still wasn’t quite sure how to describe all that Johnny had become to him.
Sometimes he thought that he’d moved too fast in seeking comfort with Johnny, but he couldn’t deny that his emotional well-being had improved so much faster since taking that leap than in all the time before it. It was strange, this thing they were doing, the thing he couldn’t name but didn’t want to stop. Kissing Johnny on New Year’s Eve should have changed things between them, could have destroyed a friendship very dear to him. In some obvious ways, it definitely had. The kissing, the knowledge of them as a them always reflected in Johnny’s eyes when they looked at each other, and in the way Roy didn’t have to force himself out of bed in the morning anymore.
In other ways, their relationship was precisely the same. They still moved in tandem at work, barely needing any verbal communication while treating patients, or rescuing them from bizarre and sometimes horrifying circumstances. That he could kiss Johnny in the dark and quiet of their private lives and have it not interrupt their flow in the least, that meant something. Something amazing, he thought, and slightly dangerous. He doubted people would understand this strange new but not new relationship, if they knew.
Sometimes, too, he thought they were moving too slowly. Roy wanted to kiss Johnny all the time.
He knew this wasn’t a usual situation, that care had to be taken in so many more regards than if he were with a woman. It made sense to not rush, and he was grateful as hell to Johnny for not being his spontaneous self about it. Truly, he was, except he also thought he wanted some of that impulsiveness to reassert in Johnny. All the restraint was doing was increasing the thoughts of pressing Johnny against his locker door and kissing him senseless. Roy felt … itchy with it. He felt like he was ready for more, but at the same time like he was fifteen again, wanting so much but just not knowing how and being terrified as hell about it.
He’d loved Johnny for a long time, longer than he’d been able to admit to himself. A month ago, Roy hadn’t been sure where it would go when he’d kissed Johnny. Today, he was sure he’d always known but hadn’t been ready to admit it.
He frowned and polished the passenger side mirror of the squad for the fifth time. The busy work around the station kept him from doing something stupid like touching Johnny the wrong way in front of the others, but it left his mind wide open to spin circles and generally overthink. He thought maybe Johnny was rubbing off … oh, God, he wanted Johnny to rub off on him, literally. Roy thought that might feel great. He tossed the polishing cloth aside. The squad was as shiny as it was ever going to get, and he was about due for a cup of coffee. And if he let himself continue to stew in his own thoughts, he was going to have to spend some quality time in the latrine. Roy paused just outside the door when he heard the conversation being held in the kitchen.
“Come on, Johnny,” Chet Kelly said, voice needling. “If you had plans for Valentine’s Day, you’d be bragging about it nonstop.”
“Kelly, I do have plans and I do have a date,” Johnny said. “Why are you hassling me about this, anyway?”
The sound of a chair scraping against tile was loud, the footsteps that followed made it easy to imagine Johnny walking to the coffee pot, freshening his cup. Johnny had a way about him that left impressions, both good and bad. For Roy, even before he realized how much he needed John in his life as more than a good friend and excellent partner, those impressions had always been good. Sure, he might usually play the long-suffering partner to Johnny’s wacky ideas, but deep down, he loved every minute of it.
“It’s not hassling, babe. I am concerned for your happiness.”
“Aw, stuff it, Kelly. Your own happiness is all you’re concerned with. You’re just nosy with me.”
“He’s got you there, Chet. But Chet does have a point, too, Johnny,” Marco Lopez said. “You usually talk a big talk when it comes to the ladies.”
“Face it, pal,” Chet cut in. “We know you don’t have a date. It’s okay, man, there’s no shame in being alone and pathetic on the day you’re all but guaranteed to get some action.”
“Jeez,” Johnny said. “I don’t know why I let you wind me up, but for your information, I’ve been seeing someone for a while. I have a date, okay? I don’t need you hazing me or whatever you’re trying to do.”
“Huh. It’s just strange, that’s all, why you’re not bragging about how incredible this girl is or what over the top ridiculous plans you have for Valentine’s Day.”
“Maybe I don’t want to jinx it, you ever think of that?” Johnny’s voice was low, soft and serious now. He meant every word. “Maybe when I think it could be something really special, I don’t want to tarnish it by talking about it with you of all people.”
Roy blinked. He shouldn’t have been surprised by the realization Johnny was talking about him being special, yet he was. Pleasantly so. Warmth spread in his belly, then everywhere, and he wanted to go in there and tell Chet to knock it off. He hesitated at the last second, because if he rounded the corner and walked in there, what he was feeling was going to be broadcast out there for all to see. If he were going to be honest, he also hesitated because he’d been living with the surrealism of him and Johnny as Him and Johnny, hadn’t known for sure if what they were doing was actual, real.
Roy’s heart raced and he smiled to himself, before he schooled his face and entered the kitchen. As was common after Joanne’s accident, whenever he entered a room, it got quiet for a minute. Everyone at the station thought that Valentine’s Day might be rough on him, especially with the upcoming anniversary of Joanne’s death. For the last month or so, the amount of time he’d spent with Johnny as slightly more than good friends, the awkward silences had decreased but the clamming up sometimes still happened.
“Hey, guys,” Roy said. “Leave any coffee?”
He eyed the pot, which was in Marco’s hand and very much empty. Marco shrugged at him, set his cup down and busied himself making a fresh pot. Roy could have done it, but he’d grown used to the others needing to do busywork when he was around. Marco put a dash of cinnamon in with the grounds, which gave the beverage a warmer taste.
“Roy, we were just discussing why Gage here wasn’t being his effusive self about his date for Valentine’s Day,” Chet said.
“Effusive? Fancy word, Chet,” Roy said. He pulled a clean mug out of the drying rack, camped by the stove to wait for the coffee to percolate. “What’d you do, sift through the dictionary before you started this conversation?”
Johnny’s grin at him was radiant. Roy had to shift his legs, hunch and lean a little, because lately that did things to his body that it shouldn’t do in public. His partner came and stood next to him, arms crossed as he looked triumphantly at Chet and bumped Roy’s shoulder in silent thanks. There was no need. Roy loved the bickering between Chet and Johnny, but he would also always, always love taking either one of them down a peg if they got too unreasonable.
“Har har.” Chet scowled and chewed on his mustache. “I know stuff. Seriously, though, what do you know about this girl Gage claims to be seeing? Inquiring minds want to know.”
“I don’t know anything about a girl.” Roy slid Johnny a wry look. “I stay out of Johnny’s bedroom.”
Johnny’s eyes widened and he swallowed. Twice. His gaze flicked to Roy’s mouth, then rapidly away. Anyone else who saw the red flush creeping up Johnny’s neck would assume it was because of Chet’s interrogation.
“I think that means cut it out, Chet,” Stoker said from behind the sports section of the newspaper he was reading. “I agree. It got old ten minutes ago. Leave John alone, or maybe you’d like to share with us the gory details of what you’re going to put your own Valentine through, if you have one.”
Mike Stoker didn’t speak much, but when he did – look out. Roy enjoyed that about the man. He smiled over at Mike, found the other man staring back at him and Johnny with a very ponderous expression. It was like he was searching for something, and made Roy a little nervous. Before he realized he was doing it, he pushed off the counter and turned away, focused his attention on pouring a cup of coffee.
“That’s a great point, Stoker,” Johnny said. He rubbed his hands together. “Tell us all about it, Chet.”
“Unlike you, Gage, I don’t ki…”
The clang of a call coming in killed Chet’s retort, and all five men scrambled for the bay as the engine and squad were both called to an unknown type rescue at an abandoned building in the industrial district. Roy barely had time to get situated when Cap handed him the slip of paper with the address on it, hat crooked and strap cutting awkwardly into his chin. He adjusted it before rolling the squad out of the station.
“So, you’re still coming over dinner on Valentine’s Day, right?” Roy asked with a smile.
“Wouldn’t miss it for my life, Roy,” Johnny said and reached out to give Roy’s thigh a brief squeeze. “Take a right.”
Roy paced a shaky line in the doctor’s lounge. He’d never been kicked out of a treatment room before, except for when X-rays were needed. His stomach swirled with dread and sickness. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be happening. He tried to take deep, calming breaths, but it was like he was in a black hole, no fresh oxygen. His body shook, reaction emotional and physical setting in like a million ice cold bees in his belly, his muscles. He looked down at his hands, the blood traces that were still on them.
“Sit,” someone said with a firm voice and an even firmer set of hands shoved him onto the sofa, stuffed his head between his legs. “Breathe. Just breathe through it.”
Dixie McCall, smelling of lavender and mint and cigarettes, eased next to him, her hands not leaving the back of his neck and his forearm. She squeezed arm, then rubbed it.
“Dix,” he said. “I don’t know why I…”
“Hey, he’s fine, okay? I promise you that.”
The tension in Roy’s body didn’t ease with Dixie’s reassurance. He was in panic mode and he knew it. He just couldn’t do much of anything to stop it. Several deep breaths did help clear things, settle his muscles into a faint quiver instead of feeling like they were going to rip apart.
“Most of the blood wasn’t his,” Dixie said. “You know that.”
“I know,” Roy said. “I do.”
“Then what’s going on in that head of yours, huh?”
What was going on was him realizing he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t be with Johnny. Roy pressed the butts of his hands into his eye sockets, to stop the warmth from turning into something he couldn’t contain. If this was how it was going to be, he could not handle it. He didn’t know why he’d ever thought he could. It was too much.
“Dix, it hasn’t been a year since I lost my wife.” Roy hated that his voice sounded so small, weak, everything it shouldn’t sound according to his father’s words in his head telling him to suck it up already. “I cannot … I don’t think I can lose anyone else.”
“Oh, Roy,” Dixie said, soft but without pity.
Dixie squeezed his arm again, before she stood and crossed the room to the coffeemaker. She poured two cups and returned to his side, nudging at his hands with one of the hot cups.
Roy pulled his head back and took the cup blindly, wrapped his hands around it and hoped like hell he wouldn’t shake so hard he sloshed coffee all over himself. He didn’t drink. Didn’t actually want any coffee, but the warmth was nice. It calmed him a little bit.
“This is the first time you guys have run into a tough spot since the accident, isn’t it?” Dixie asked. “As far as the job goes, you’ve had a pretty good string of luck. It’s completely reasonable to react strongly now. Johnny scared you.”
Roy nodded. He couldn’t stop seeing Johnny rushing toward him, pushing him away. Getting right in the way of a very large knife wielded by a very large, very high, very scary addict that had already attacked and killed one man. He couldn’t stop feeling that panic, the horror that he was going to lose Johnny right there in front of him. He couldn’t forget how hot Johnny’s blood was as Roy pressed his hand against the wound.
“He scared the shit out of me, Dix,” Roy said. “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Roy, I don’t want to sound callous, but it’s the job. It’s always been the job, and I think you know that. You’re just too raw right now to see it.”
Dixie was right. Roy knew she was, but she didn’t and couldn’t ever know the other reason why this incident had shaken him so badly. The thought of giving his heart to someone and having them go away was beyond terrifying. Three hours ago, he’d been ready to jump in feet first and blindfolded. Now he didn’t want to dip a toe in and the thought of blindfolds made him claustrophobic. He shouldn’t be able to turn on a dime like that.
“Maybe,” Roy said.
“Come on.” Dixie pulled the cup out of his hands, set it on the small table in front of the sofa. She took his left hand between hers. “I’m sure they’ve just about finished up with that partner of yours. I think you need to see for yourself that he’s going to be just fine.”
He followed her mutely. Roy did want to see Johnny, but at the same time he dreaded it because he was a damned coward. He saw beyond Dixie’s shoulder as she pushed the door of treatment room four open, the pile of bloody gauze on the floor, Johnny’s bare torso and feet that poked out from under a thin sheet. Relief overwhelmed the dread when he saw Johnny was awake. Sluggish, but awake and most definitely alive. The contradictions had set up shop, made him want to run to Johnny’s side and hug the man until he squeaked, and at the same time he wanted to flee.
“Hey, Roy,” Johnny said, a slight drawl in his voice. “You okay?”
“Me?” Roy said gently. He ignored the part of him that wanted to run. Johnny deserved a straight conversation. “You’re the one that got stabbed.”
“Nah, this was a slice. No big deal.”
“I wouldn’t say no big deal, but otherwise Johnny’s right, Roy,” Doctor Early said as he laid the last piece of tape against the large gauze patch on Johnny’s left side. Personal bandaging from a doctor was rare service. “It looked worse than it turned out to be. Granted, our intrepid hero is going to be out at least two shifts while the stitches do their work, I don’t see why he can’t take the rest of tonight off work and rest up at home.”
“Joe, if I could see you at the base station for a moment?” Dixie hinted. “Sharon, leave the mess. I’ll get it in a few minutes. Why don’t you go get Johnny a pair of scrubs to wear home?”
Bless Dixie McCall and curse her, too. She was clearing the room so Roy could have a moment alone with his partner. He didn’t know how this was going to go, and the dread started creeping back up as the relief relaxed from its immediate strength. Roy watched them troop out of the room. When he looked back around, Johnny was staring at him, eyes only slightly goofy from pain medication. That meant it really hadn’t been that bad. Johnny grabbed for his hand. Roy let him take it.
“Roy? Seriously, are you okay?”
“I can’t,” Roy said. Blurted, really. He stared at Johnny’s face, then at a spot on the gurney above his shoulder.
“You can’t … what?” Johnny asked, wary.
“I cannot watch you get hurt. I can’t watch you die. I just can’t do this.”
Johnny squeezed his hand convulsively, like it was a reflexive action more than anything. He went very still, quiet and finally let go of Roy’s hand like it was on fire, surging awkwardly upright with a hiss and a slight whine of pain. He clutched at his side briefly, but didn’t sag back down.
“You can’t … you. I cannot. You.” Johnny ran a hand through his unruly hair, apparently oblivious to the fact he was mostly naked as he slid off the gurney, stumbled for a second, then started moving. Slowly, carefully, but moving in true Johnny fashion. “No. No, you are not pulling that shit because of a stupid thing like this.”
“No. Do you hear me?”
Johnny stared at him, face pale as paper, eyes blazing bright and feverish. If he didn’t calm Johnny down, he’d work himself up into an overnight stay at Rampart. Roy opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He couldn’t stop looking at Johnny. The gauze bandage marred what was otherwise a very nice (if skinny) chest and stomach. He was built slender, wiry. Strong. Roy couldn’t stop from replaying the scene in his head again, and it made him weak in the knees. He leaned against the gurney.
“Roy,” Johnny whispered. “I’d do it again, and I know you’d do the same. We’re partners. It’s what we do. This isn’t new. This part isn’t.”
Sharon chose that moment to enter the room with clothes for Johnny. She glanced at them nervously, eyes lingering on Johnny’s butt for a moment, and set the scrubs on the stool by the drug cabinet. She backed out of the room again without saying a word.
“You can’t tell me you wouldn’t do the exact same thing,” Johnny said, as if he hadn’t paused. “I saw that guy heading right for you, Roy, and I was the one who couldn’t watch it happen. So, no. No, you are not giving up on this. On us.”
Roy still couldn’t manage to bring words. He watched silently as Johnny moved with as much dignity as a mostly naked man could muster for the clothes. He couldn’t speak, all he could do was think about how right Johnny was. It didn’t make him less terrified. If anything, it terrified him more. Could he really move forward with Johnny, knowing the chances of one or both of them dying was significantly higher than the average person … than the chances had been of Joanne dying, and yet, she had died on him. Johnny gave a small grunt of pain as he struggled to get the pants on. Roy was at his side without even deciding to be there.
“Let me help,” he said, the answer to his own question and fear.
Johnny leaned on him heavily, as if the adrenaline from the last few minutes vanished in a snap. Roy didn’t mind if he had to hold Johnny up forever.
The kids were with Joanne’s parents for the weekend. It had been Roger and Loretta’s idea, and the first time Chris and Jenny had been away from him for an overnight visit in eleven months. He missed them, their now-much-more-subdued presence in the house and the air of life they managed to impart just by existing. He also didn’t miss them, which made him feel like a horrible parent, but he needed this time alone with Johnny. Roy checked his watch. Johnny should be there any second. He’d called before he left, said he’d pick up the beers.
Nothing said Valentine’s Day like a couple of steaks and a few beers with a friend. Or, more than a friend even if no one could know that.
The plan was to take it slow. Let it happen if it was going to happen. A few beers would help him loosen up, tell Johnny that he’d known since New Year’s what this was and that he was ready for it, for all of it. That he was in it, no more hesitations, no more minor panic attacks if Johnny got hurt on the job. Roy wasn’t going to beat himself up if he turned fifteen again, hands inching to touch what they wanted, but pulling back at the last second. The truth was, he really didn’t have any idea what he was doing.
Roy wandered to the deck to check the charcoal. It was almost ready, but he didn’t want to set the grill up until Johnny was there. He sat, leg twitching up and down, a sure sign Johnny was starting to influence him. He smiled. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.
“Hey, Roy?” Johnny’s voice floated through the house. “Roy?”
It only took a minute for Johnny to make it out to the deck. Roy turned to look at his partner. In his tight jeans, wide belt and well-fitted, simple white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up to his forearms and aviator sunglasses still perched on his nose even though the sun was almost down, Johnny looked … amazing. Johnny moved over to him and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed gently.
Roy forgot about the charcoal. He forgot about the steaks and the beer and the taking it slow. He grabbed Johnny’s hand with one of his, stood and snagged the six-pack of beer to set it on the chair he’d abandoned. He all but dragged Johnny to the privacy of the house, pressing Johnny against the wall just to the side of the patio doors. He pulled the sunglasses off, looked at Johnny.
Roy captured Johnny’s mouth with his, soft at first, but more demanding after giving Johnny a moment to catch on, open his lips to let Roy in. He snaked a hand around Johnny’s waist, careful of the still fresh knife wound and widened his stance as he drew them closer together. Johnny’s thigh brushed against him, and he went from half to fully hard. Johnny moaned as his own leg nudged against Johnny’s erection, and the kiss turned even more frantic, all tongue and teeth. Roy broke away after who knew and who cared how long.
“Oh,” Johnny said, breathless and smiling. “Oh.”
“I want,” Roy said. “I want this. I want you, but I’ve got no idea what I’m doing.”
“Don’t worry. Because I do.”
It was Johnny’s turn to lead Roy, and he did so only to the living room. He pushed Roy on the sofa, positioned him in a low sprawl and straddled him.
“Ngggh,” Roy said into Johnny’s mouth and he tugged at Johnny’s shirt to loosen it from those tight jeans until he could get his hands on bare skin.
Johnny moved against him, his own hands tugging and pulling at Roy’s clothes and he was a damned good multitasker. Roy didn’t know how it happened, but he was shirtless and panting like a stupid dog in a matter of seconds, chasing Johnny’s mouth as it pulled from his. Johnny rested his forehead against Roy’s, breathing harshly. His hands stayed busy, running along Roy’s biceps and then chest.
“Are you sure?”
“Johnny,” Roy said and pivoted his hips up ever so slightly. He enjoyed the glazed look that produced. “Yes, very.”
Johnny kissed him quick before sliding backwards off of Roy’s lap, almost falling onto the floor but gaining his footing with a slight chuckle. He prodded Roy’s legs further apart and knelt between them. For a moment, he sat back on his haunches and just looked at Roy, eyes thoughtful as they roamed. Then he leaned forward and started kissing Roy’s neck, his chest, tongue wrapping around a nipple.
And holy hell how had Roy never known how good that felt? Roy’s nerve endings felt electrified, everything firing hot and cold and too much all at once. He barely registered Johnny tugging at his belt, undoing his jeans and pulling them down with no finesse but serious intent. Roy hiked his hips up, felt the roughness of the jeans scrape against his thighs. Johnny pulled his shoes off, then the jeans, then returned his attention to more important things. Johnny brushed the back of his hand against Roy’s still-clothed cock, then flipped it and rubbed gently. Roy’s hands scrabbled against the sofa, then he was helping Johnny shimmy himself out of his underwear.
“Roy,” Johnny whispered. “Oh.”
Roy looked down at Johnny and almost lost it. His partner still had every stitch of clothing on and was kneeling between Roy’s legs, just looking. His face. The expression was sweet and lecherous at the same time and Roy surged up, needing to kiss that mouth.
Johnny put up a hand, halted his movement and pushed him back. Then without further hesitation, he licked Roy from base to tip, where he swirled his tongue. Roy knew in that second he was not going to last long and he was going to be embarrassed as hell. He had no more time to think as Johnny took him further into his mouth. Roy watched, fascinated at the sight of Johnny’s mouth on him, around him. Johnny’s hand pressed against his stomach, and he began to fuck his mouth on Roy’s cock.
It was too much. The pleasure rolled through Roy like a tidal wave, and he couldn’t stop it. He reached out his hands, twined his fingers in Johnny’s hair and jerked his hips up a little. Johnny choked, but didn’t shy back, managed to pull him deeper in, his throat relaxed and that was it. Roy rode the wave, body shuddering with release while Johnny continued to suck and circle his tongue around Roy’s dick, letting it slip from his mouth after seeming to make certain every ounce of come was his.
Roy slid bonelessly to the side, felt Johnny lift his legs so he was in full recline on the sofa, then join him. It was stupid how erotic it was to him that Johnny was still wearing all of his clothes, lying next to his naked body. Johnny kissed him, slowly, sweetly and the taste of his own semen was both strange and wonderful.
“Johnny,” he breathed, after the kiss ended. “That was … you are … I love you.”
“Me too.” Johnny kissed his neck, stroked his fingers through the hair on his chest. “I have for a long time.”
After a while, probably way too long, Roy remembered Johnny had to be hurting by now. He reached for Johnny’s jeans, but was stopped by a hand around his wrist.
“But what about you?”
Johnny groaned, shifted and put his hands over his face. He muttered something, but it was undecipherable.
“I said I already … you know. When I was, watching you when you… Ah, jeez, it’s like I’m sixteen again, man.”
Oh. Oh. Roy smiled, hauled Johnny’s hands away from his face. He brought them down, kissed Johnny soundly.
“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s pretty … incredible.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Roy.”
Roy pulled Johnny close, got his hands under his shirt again, sliding his arms around Johnny’s smooth back. The denim of Johnny’s jeans, scratchy against his spent, sensitive cock, made him moan a little. He buried his face in Johnny’s neck. This was it. This was his new life, and Roy was going to cherish every minute of it.