Jey was smiling so widely that Roman knew what he was going to say before he even starting saying it. Roman’s heart shouldn’t have flipped over but that’s what it felt like it did. He kneaded the dough hard and shot Jey a warning look. Jey just held his hands up.
“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. But they’re here again and they’re definitely looking for you.”
Roman shaped the dough and carefully scooped it onto a tray. He brushed his tacky hands down his plain navy apron and shouldered past his cousin.
“Get that done,” he told Jey as he headed out of the kitchen.
It wasn’t a big place; a family-run bakery stocked with tasty pastries and bread, sweet and savory, and run by family. There was a lot of family to run it. It might have felt like an obligation to some but Roman had always enjoyed the work. His strong hands were really well suited to kneading and lifting heavy pans but they could handle delicate lattice work and elaborate frosting jobs too. He liked working beside his twin cousins, Jimmy and Jey and Jimmy’s wife Naomi and whoever else ended up taking a shift with him.
There were a couple of customers that he was always pleased to see too.
He emerged from the back and was immediately spotted by Dean and Seth. Dean was literally crouched on a chair, his legs folded up underneath him and his body jittering as usual. His hair was wet and curling and there was a bruise on his neck that he seemed happy to show off. Seth was sat opposite him, cellphone in hand and a fond wicked look on his face. They both wore all black and their gazes on Roman were way too greedy. Roman took a deep breath, they weren’t serious, they were playing a fucking stupid game – who could win the lion’s share of Roman’s attention probably. And they’d more than likely skipped breakfast.
“You been hiding, big guy?” asked Dean, way too loudly.
Roman gave him a quelling look and snapped on a pair of gloves so that he could scoop up a couple of cheese and tomato rolls to warm up for Seth. Dean and Seth’s gazes were intense, drawing him in, but they were always intense on each other too and he’d seen them argue, throw punches and make out all in one afternoon. He wasn’t anything like either of them so they couldn’t be serious, it was all just stupid fun to them.
Seth wandered over to the counter and paid for the food. His expression was warm now, “You always know what we want.”
Dean was leering and Roman still felt that pull towards them but he shook his head and told them to have a good day and to keep the noise down. Seth frowned and looked disappointed. Roman’s heart lurched but he refused to let himself lean forward like he wanted to smooth those frown lines away. Dean glowered but when Seth reached their table, he muttered something quietly which made Dean’s jaw loosen a fraction and his ankle tangle with Seth’s. Ignoring all pulls, Roman looked away.
The beginnings of this story went like this – Roman was reading the sports pages behind the counter one day when a scruffy tired-eyed but hypnotically-jittery figure plowed into the bakery, all leather, ripped jeans and monosyllabics. He ordered a very black coffee and a couple of slices of triple-chocolate cake and when Roman delivered them to his table, he started staring through his bangs. Roman met his gaze and then went back to his sports pages. The guy's eyes had been piercing though and something about his body language had drawn Roman’s stare. The guy grinned then, running a hand across his stubbled chin and smirked down at his cellphone, texting furiously.
He looked like the kind of guy who showed up on local news for robbing a convenience store. Roman had foiled more than one attempt at the bakery before so he was more than ready, but the guy just smiled through a mouthful of cake, slurped down his coffee and then swaggered over to the counter. Everything about him now seemed provocatively sinewy, how had he done that? He looked alert and sharp too dangerous, and Roman didn’t want to look away.
“Why aren’t you on the menu?” the guy demanded.
Roman snorted because he’d heard worse lines than that but not many. The guy – Dean, he revealed – looked pleased with himself and told Roman not to worry because he’d be back. Roman smiled for the rest of the day, freaking out his cousins. He frosted a batch of coffee cupcakes in shades of gray, black and white.
“Whoever it is, bag ‘em tomorrow,” Jimmy told him. “I ain’t takin’ no more of that creepy smile.”
“Scarin’ the customers, bro,” Jey agreed.
The next day, Seth walked in, purposeful and with a slow interested smile. His hat was ridiculous and his chunky-framed glasses were cute, he looked like a delinquent playing a nerd. Loud music blurred out of his earbuds and he leaned against the counter, asking what looked good. He was aiming for charming – and Roman could admit that he found himself charmed – but his eyes were calculating and maybe the criminal-part wasn’t so far off after all. Roman served him and Seth ate in, his eyes following Roman. Roman was even aware of them when he got back to working in the kitchen, plaiting dough strands for an elaborate bread to show off in the window.
Seth’s grin was catlike when Roman returned; he asked about Roman’s taste in music and movies, had he tried CrossFit? How long Roman had worked here, why wasn’t he running his own bakery yet?
“This is family.”
Roman rested a hand on the countertop as he spoke. He never wanted to see this place, or his family's other bakeries, fall so here he was. Seth nodded thoughtfully, the light through the window dusted him with gold. He pretty much took Roman’s breath away.
Then he thought about Dean and felt immediately and bizarrely guilty. What the fuck? He barely knew either of them.
He knew then that he had a problem.
It was a problem that only increased when Roman looked up a couple of days later and witnessed Dean and Seth walking into the bakery side by side. Seth was shaking his head at Dean who was leering back with his tongue poking out of the side of his mouth. He palmed Seth’s ass and shot an almost expectant challenging look towards Roman.
Roman told them he charged extra for stalking and took their order, locking down any and all crazy wayward emotions. They were fucking with him, was this a competition? A bet? He shook his head. There was no way this was serious, no way. He'd met guys like Dean and Seth before; guys who were all swagger and slyness and sharp pretty looks, guys who mocked Roman's family values and personal idea of ambition and talked about the better service offered by Starbucks, guys who hit on Roman like he was a side-dish to be tried out never a main course, guys who laughed behind Roman's back and to his face. Yeah.
Halfway through eating their lunch, Dean threw a chunk of cheese at Seth. It bounced off his cheek, Seth clipped Dean’s ankle in retaliation. Jimmy, idling behind the counter beside Roman, looked like he was thinking of throwing them out. His parents, and Roman’s, liked their establishment to stay trouble and fight free. They didn’t want to get a reputation.
Roman arched a look at the pair and asked in a low rumble if they wanted to get blacklisted. Dean’s expression was all challenge and yearning and Seth’s was hot with interest. They both quietened down though and kept glancing at him, sending blazing tendrils of heat through Roman. Jimmy clapped him on the back.
“You’re fucked, man.”
Yeah, that was about the truth of it.
So Dean and Seth kept visiting the bakery, together and separately, both making eyes at Roman whenever they weren’t making eyes at each other. Roman felt like an arcade prize. Under the heat of being looked at so intensely by two attractive people who were making his skin thrum, Roman wasn’t exactly happy.
Seth loitered by the counter, stirring his coffee with a cinnamon stick, his hair long and loose for once. He looked up at Roman through his eyelashes, Roman’s stomach clenched and his jaw tensed.
“I don’t appreciate games,” he said, quiet but firm.
Seth arched disbelieving eyebrows. “Who says we’re playing any?”
Dean reacted similarly the next day, his hand making patterns in the brown and white sugar. He looked amused at the idea “Who the fuck's playing games?”
His gaze was fierce on Roman and Roman could feel questions and something hot and tender overflow inside of him. Well, fuck.
He stayed in the kitchen for a lot of shifts after that. The twins covered for him as did Naomi who treated Roman to an expression that said exactly what she thought of his behavior. Roman concentrated on shortcake and rainbow cookies and piped letters onto a cake that needed to go out to a party soon.
Who says we’re playing?
Who the fuck's playing games?
His fingers squeezed and the piping-bag squelched protestingly. Naomi was checking on cheesecakes and shook her head at him. She was wearing lime-green, it looked really good on her, and one of Jimmy’s jackets with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. She also looked like she was judging him.
Roman shoved a tray of red velvet cake into the oven and leaned back against the door, arms folded, tattoos telling their stories across his skin. Naomi closed the fridge and mirrored his body language.
“They’re both moping, it’s pathetic,” she told him.
The thought of Seth and Dean still visiting the bakery, still looking for him and moping...Roman twitched but didn’t leave the kitchen. Naomi’s brow wrinkled, she was still judging him.
“Seriously? When you all want the same thing?”
Roman shook his head even though his words felt hollow after Seth and Dean’s protests, “I’m not playing their game.”
Naomi’s look of disbelief was strong. “What game? You don’t have to choose, baby, you’ve never had to.”
Roman froze, shot through with all kinds of images, and Naomi smiled, patting his arm as she walked towards the door “The way those two combust, they need those strong shoulders of yours. Remember, it’s all about the negotiating.”
Now that the idea had been said out-loud in a way that he couldn't ignore, Roman thought about little else. He wasn’t a stranger to that kind of action but were they offering one night or something more long-term? Roman knew that both Seth and Dean had already crawled their way into his veins and sinew. The offer he wanted to bring to the table was definitely long-term, it felt like a decision he’d made without his own knowledge. It felt right. No games.
Negotiating. Clearly there was a lot that Naomi wasn’t telling him, just what had she negotiated relationship-wise?
He dreamed about two bodies moving with his. He lay on his bed, fisting his cock, heaving out noises that he wanted to see them react to. He came with an arched shudder and a rattling groan.
He was so fucking opposite to them but he couldn’t stop thinking about running his hands through their hair, pinning them down, putting them in their place. Fuck, was that up for negotiation too?
He did his work-out early that morning, sweating and wanting as he ran through his drills and weight-lifting. He thought about Seth doing CrossFit and Dean sparring furiously. Roman’s cock strained against his shorts. He took a very cold shower.
Seth and Dean were going to be a handful, he could tell, but that felt like part of the appeal. Roman had always reacted well to trouble.
Two days later, he did an all-morning shift in the kitchen, he sprinkled Pop Rocks onto lemon-drizzle cakes and thought of Seth, he upped the heat in a batch of chilli-chocolate cakes and thought of Dean. Jimmy and Jey asked why he didn’t ever make cakes with them in mind? They were family after all. He threw them both twisted cheese pastries.
“Definitely, something that pops.”
“I’ll pop you if you ruin my chocolate fruit rolls,” Naomi told them, swinging past with a full chilled tray.
She was wearing stilettos and had her hair in big cloudy waves. She was getting ready to meet Cameron for lunch and was not going to be delayed. Jimmy and Jey immediately made room for her.
Roman slipped out of the kitchen while they were all distracted and appeared behind the counter. A small group of kids were crowded round a couple of tables, muttering loudly but not causing mayhem. An older guy was reading a book, his dog curled up at his feet. And Seth and Dean were sat near the window, both their gazes fixed on Roman. He smiled, just a little, and watched as something relaxed in Seth and Dean’s postures. That felt good.
He began preparing their usual order, very aware of their eyes on him, and when neither of them ventured up to the counter, he loaded it all onto a tray and took it over to their table. Seth’s foot daringly touched Roman’s and then nudged a little at his ankle, playful and questioning, like he was testing the water. Maybe Roman wasn’t the only one who’d been confused by their encounters.
Dean just looked intent and guarded. Had Roman done that? Had he caused Dean to throw those barriers up? He handed Dean his coffee first and made sure to graze his fingers along Dean’s. The way Dean’s gaze heated made Roman’s mouth water.
It was time to stop risking mixed signals.
“You could have asked,” he pointed out.
“So could you,” Seth replied.
“You seemed nervy, man,” put in Dean with the kind of grin created to wound. “Trauma’s not our endgame, well, not here.”
Dean was looking jittery, without thinking about it Roman pressed a hand to Dean’s arm and watched as the jitters lessened. He leaned close so that he couldn’t be misunderstood.
“I don’t play games. You want to negotiate, I’m all ears.”
Seth tilted his head, “You’re fucking phenomenal in the kitchen – you have no idea how much cake I’ve been working off – you look good enough to eat and we like talking to you. We’re sold.”
“He’s cheaper than me.”
Dean’s grin was amused now, calling for attention. Roman slid a hand down Dean's arm to his hand and watched Dean’s expression slacken. He could sense Seth reacting behind him too, his foot twitching against Roman’s. He glanced back and didn’t see jealousy exactly on Seth’s face, it was more like envy and want and lust, like Seth liked the way that Roman and Dean looked together and just wanted to be part of it.
Now he thought about it, Roman couldn’t see them going through all of this apparent effort and pain just for one night. But assuming had already caused problems so he spoke quietly.
“Whatever's being sold, a one-time thing's not my style here.”
Seth’s smile was broad and relieved and jolting with even more want. Roman’s eyes darkened in response and he could feel Dean shift in Roman’s grip. It was good, Roman knew that instinctively.
“You sure?” Seth asked, breathing a little heavy.
Roman tipped him a sardonic eyebrow; did he look like the kind of person who jumped into these kinds of decisions? He was even surer now, how long could they have been doing this together? They needed to work on their miscommunication.
Roman couldn’t remember when he’d last felt this turned on. He licked his lips and felt Dean’s knee press against his.
“Fucking exhibitionist,” Dean ground out.
Right, they were in the bakery and the twins were probably watching by now. Roman released Dean, his other hand found Seth’s, encased in a leather glove. The possibilities really were endless, weren’t they?
Roman thought about cold cold showers and the fact that he was still stood in his family’s bakery.
He leaned down and spoke loud enough for only them to hear.
“We can negotiate that later.”
He walked away from the table without a backward glance because he had to concentrate on work. The door swung open and Cameron tottered in, full of bubbly greetings and stories of the latest song she’d recorded. Her boyfriend was going to come in later and was bound to make a big order. Roman thanked her as Naomi appeared from the back.
She smiled when she said goodbye to Roman with a look that said she knew her advice had helped and she was glad. Roman decided that he might work on a cupcake with lime-green frosting as a ‘thank you.’
Seth and Dean stayed there the whole afternoon; Seth worked on an iPad and Dean scrabbled through rough-looking handwritten notes. They argued and kissed and Dean offered Seth a bathroom blowjob a couple of times. Roman kept his distance but watched them. Now that he knew where the lines were, he looked forward to shading between them.
The twins teased him but offered firmed-up smiles that said they were happy for him. They offered to take on his shift so that he could get off early but Roman shook his head. He didn’t want to set a precedent and he got the feeling that giving Dean an inch would only encourage him to take a mile.
Later, once the sign was flipped to ‘closed’ on the bakery door and Jimmy and Jey had disappeared, hooting at Roman before talking about what they wanted to try off of the high dive later, Roman hung up his apron and found Dean and Seth waiting for him, side by side. Dean was slouched against Seth, Seth was kissing Dean's temple with clear affection as Roman caught sight of them. They really did look good together.
Having set the building alarm, Roman led them out of the bakery and locked it all up. He paused on the sidewalk and let them come close. He could feel their body heat and eager energy, it did him good. He got the feeling that there was a lot more good to come. They'd left the decision up to him in the end, hadn't they? They'd thrown him clues – which hadn't helped at all – and had waited for him to make a move. They hadn't wanted to push him away.
He slowly brushed a hand through Seth's hair, “Let's keep things clear, you want something, say it.”
“You too,” Dean added, like he was bargaining.
Roman rested a hand at the nape of Dean's neck and squeezed, which got him a shiver. He filed that information away for later, they were giving him so much ground, like they wanted him to take it. Would their next all-out advance come soon? It felt like it would, Roman didn't know how he knew that. He knew he was looking forward to it. Had they tried this with anyone else? Did they want to? Roman didn't like that thought at all.
He nodded and looked at them both intently, like they'd been looking at him for weeks now. Seth grinned, sharp and hungry, and leaned in to kiss Roman, it was only a taste but it felt devouring. Roman made a sound deep in his chest as Seth, staying close, grabbed a handful of Dean's shirt and twisted.
They walked back to Roman's apartment in a huddle, all frequently interconnected somehow. Dean used words like he was trying to figure more of Roman out, like the conversations they'd had before had only been a taster of his curiosity. Seth's words snapped against Dean's, sounding like old arguments. Roman answered honestly.
Yes, his family had been part of the city for years. Yes, a few of them were famous and well-respected but everyone was made to work hard and earn that kind of recognition in his family. People didn't always see that, they just saw a name that must have granted him the run of the city, a perspective that was so far from the truth. His family was important to him though, they just weren't all he was. He wished that more people got that.
Ambitions? To keep certain city factions off of his family's back. The city kept trying to dictate the direction the family-run chain of bakeries but that wasn't happening. And the family weren't giving up their recipes to anyone. Roman liked to invent new ones, he liked to play football, work out and hang out with his cousins.
Dean looked intent and thoughtful as he listened to Roman's answers. A lot of his responses were cutting but Roman reacted with steady looks, revealing why Dean needed to back off, and he didn't retreat. He saw how Dean didn't like hearing 'no' but he also saw that Dean did listen to explanations, filleting them and sneering at any excuses. Seth looped an arm around Roman's waist like it belonged there and rolled his eyes at some of Dean's replies. He talked about his gym job and how he was thinking of opening his own place. He tugged on Roman's beltloops and nudged his jaw against Roman's face, like a tease and a mark of intention.
Inside Roman's apartment, the lightbulbs weren't all that bright and the place needed to be vacuumed and aired but Dean and Seth were there and that was more than enough to focus on. It was here that Seth and Dean made their next advance.
Soon enough, Roman was laying back on the couch, gazing down at Dean licking at the marks that he'd made on Roman's thighs. Seth was almost on top of Roman, his hands and mouth exploring every inch that he could reach. When his hand got close to Roman's cock, Seth paused and flicked his gaze upwards, questioning and hungry and challenging and wanting. Dean's teeth dug deeper. The sight of them both like that, so physically different, their eyes dark and breaths heavy, but their purpose the same hardened Roman's cock. He nodded and growled and they shivered, even though the apartment was cloyingly warm. Roman already loved watching them like this, experiencing their advance, he wanted to hear, see and feel more of them. He'd make them waffles in the morning and finally find out what Dean did for a living and make some time to visit Seth's gym. Maybe he'd suck Seth off, Dean too or maybe Seth could do that. It might be too much to try and fit them all in the shower at once, it was worth a try though. Roman would definitely keep on negotiating.