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He eventually haggled Stanley down to eight consecutive hours, three guaranteed bathroom breaks, and a prohibition on anything that might reasonably result in hospitalization, legal prosecution, or death.

“I haven’t been in this dimension for thirty years,” he said, feeling as though that should have earned him more leniency than it had. “I thought it was appropriate.”

“Appropriate. Yeah, good job with that.” Stanley shoved the tie at him. “Way to be the least responsible adult in a house I live in.”

Ford refrained from pointing out that Stanley only lived in this house because of an increasingly reckless and insane series of poor decisions. He did, admittedly, feel a little guilty that the children had nearly been blown up during that whole election debacle. And about his role in last week’s apocalypse.

He put on the tie and considered it with dissatisfied frown. “It looks ridiculous with a turtleneck.”

You look ridiculous with a turtleneck.”

“I’m not going to take fashion advice from a man in a fez—”

His rejoinder broke off when Stanley took a step closer.

He shut his mouth, suddenly nose to nose with his brother. His body underwent the same confused malfunction that proximity to Stanley had been eliciting ever since his return to his home dimension. His right arm twitched, not so much with an instinct to push him away as with the thought that such an instinct should exist. He could feel Stanley’s body heat merging with his own. For a split second, sense memory took over and he was eighteen years old again, breathing in too much Ancient Sailor aftershave as his brother leaned in to kiss him.

He thought he saw a flicker of some small expression—

But no. Of course not. The invasion of his personal space lasted only two seconds, maybe three. Stanley straightened the tie for him and patted him patronizingly on the cheek before stepping back.

“So how’s this work?” Stanley asked, seemingly oblivious to the effect he’d just had on Ford. He didn’t wait for an answer, immediately looping the master tie around his neck and jabbing at the button. “I press this doohickey here?”

The sensation was disorienting, but Ford was braced for it. He had spent a great deal of time testing the tie on himself during the prototyping phase and had grown inured to the sudden drop of handing over the keys to his primary motor cortex. This wasn’t the numb and helpless out-of-body experience he associated with Bill and which he would happily live without repeating for the rest of his days. He was still in control of his basic physiological processes and, more importantly, his intellect. He was just very thoroughly tied up and leashed.

His mouth opened at the same time as Stanley’s, and the two of them belted out an off-key duet.

“I’m Stanford and I was wrong! I’m singing the Stan Wrong song! I’m a big dumb nerd with dumb sideburns and I can’t be trusted with children!”

He rolled his eyes in the song’s wake. Humiliation it was, then.

Fortunately, Stanley wasn’t as imaginative as he liked to think he was. The day proceeded much as Ford had expected, and he easily adjusted to the inconvenience of having his body periodically hijacked. He stayed indoors after he found himself making out with a tree and then proposing marriage to the mail carrier. He stayed out of the kitchen after Stanley forced him to eat an entire can of green beans for lunch—still the most loathsome foodstuff in the multiverse—followed by a shot of the remaining vegetable water. He likewise stayed out of the basement when all the random slapping, pinching, and dancing led him to knock over the experiment he was working on and start a small fire.

“You realize you’re hitting yourself too,” he pointed out as he stomped back into the house. “Voluntarily.”

“So?” Stanley asked, then pressed the button again and smacked them both on the back of the head.

“If you need me,” Ford said with as much dignity as he could muster when he was in control of his mouth again, “I’ll be in my room. And if you make me damage any of my books, we are going to have a problem.”

“You didn’t say anything about books when we were talking terms, Stanford.”

“And you didn’t specify that I needed to keep myself available for your amusement, Stanley.”

He went into his room and shut the door, then locked it from the inside and hoped Stanley could hear the clatter of his keys landing on a random spot on the floor.

“Aw, come on!” Stanley shouted from the hallway. “You saying you can’t take what I’m dishing out, Poindexter?”

There was just enough edge in his voice to make Ford wonder if he was going to try busting down the door. The lock wasn’t that strong, and Stanley’s shoulders were still battering rams. In hindsight, he really should have specified ‘No property damage’ during the negotiation process. After a long pause, however, he heard Stanley grumble something too low to be understood. His footsteps retreated, then returned overhead in the creaking of the stairs. He was probably going to his bedroom to sulk.

There. Problem solved, or at least mitigated. Playing with him wasn’t going to be much fun if Stanley couldn’t witness the fruits of his efforts. Ford grabbed a book at random off the shelf and lay down on the sofa. He vaguely remembered having started this one in college and never finishing it. He flipped through the pages, skimming until he found the last section that looked familiar, and settled in with the hopes of reading until dinner.

He made it through all of half a chapter before the tie hijacked him again. The book fell from his hands, bouncing off his chest before hitting the carpet.

What now?

He was held perfectly still for several seconds, unable to do anything but modulate his breathing and his blinking. Then his right hand crept into his lap.

Ford processed this development. The first exasperated conclusion he could draw was that Stanley had hit the button on the tie by accident and now he was doomed to recreate some sort of embarrassing private scratching session. Except there was no scratching. Not even what could be called an adjustment, precisely. His fingers carefully curled around his cock, squeezing for just a second, then eased up and followed the line of his zipper from bottom to top.

A second conclusion: Stanley had hit the button by accident and was embarking on something more interesting than scratching.

This thought was dismissed almost as quickly when his hand kept climbing. He found himself stroking his chest through his sweater, fingers running lightly back and forth over his pectorals. It had been a long time, and people changed—he knew that better than anyone—but he still couldn’t imagine Stanley being this delicate with himself, even in private. Gung ho was the phrase that more readily sprang to mind when he thought of the things Stanley used to get up to on the bottom bunk. And on the top bunk. And on the bedroom floor, and in the Stan o’ War, and in the backseat of the El Diablo.

The things they used to do to each other…

All right, so this was deliberate. He watched with puzzled interest as his fingers plucked at his sweater and t-shirt until both could be pulled up over his stomach. The open air on his bare skin provoked a prickle of excitement, although he was as yet undecided whether the response was fight-or-flight or arousal. Fear and sex had always gone hand in hand when it came to his brother.

What were they doing? Why did it feel so good? What was that noise? Was someone downstairs? What if they were caught?

With the wisdom of age and experience, he knew that what they’d gotten up to as kids wasn’t unheard of. It wasn’t even particularly imaginative in the grand scheme of perversion. They were horny teenagers, fueled by hormones and thanking their lucky stars to have a sexual outlet right there in their own bedroom. Someone else’s hand. Someone else’s mouth. Someone leaving enthusiastic bruises on his hips, panting in his ear, wanting to try just one more thing he had read about in some girlie magazine, wanting to do it just one more time before Mom and Dad got home, every word from his lips sounding like the best idea in the world.

God, Stanley knew how to drive him absolutely crazy back then.

His fingers kept moving, drawing a wandering line up from his abdomen. Instinct spared him the worst of the tickle as his stomach reflexively sucked in. The caress continued under his t-shirt, skirting the crest of his ribs. He flashed on an image of Stanley’s chest—far hairier—and Stanley’s fingers—slightly blunter. The input caused a glitch, his brain attempting to parse the confusing feedback from his breastbone and fingertips as him touching Stanley and Stanley touching him.

He felt the definite stirrings of an erection.

His nipple hardened under the flick of a nail. His fingertips moved in slow, looping circles across his sternum, and then another flick made a matching set. His other hand drifted down his stomach and back to his cock. He frowned at the insufficient pressure, but trying to increase it was as useless as fighting the pull force on an N52 magnet. He couldn’t rub himself harder, or even press up into his own hand to get just a little more friction. All he could do was lie there, accepting the slow speed of his own motions as he fondled himself for several minutes before finally unbuttoning his pants.

His back rolled and his hips lifted. With one clumsy push, his pants and boxer shorts were around his thighs. He pictured what was undoubtedly a mirror image upstairs. Stanley on the bed, on his back with his shirt hiked up and cock exposed. Half a stranger’s body and half something that was permanently burned into Ford’s brain and DNA. Stanley with his eyes shut, licking his lips. Stanley picturing him in turn and reaching down....

Anticipation and the first direct touch to his bare cock had him stiffening up with surprising alacrity. The grip was wrong. No, the grip was Stanley’s. More fist than fingertips, more palm than wrist. It wasn’t the desperate squeeze-and-yank that had turned his knees to water when he was a teenager, but despite the fact that he was receiving every sensory impulse from his fingers uninterrupted, his brain tried to insist that it was Stanley’s hand on him.

Stanley, seventeen and damp with sweat. Breathing heavily against the back of his neck. “Sometimes when we’re...you know. Sometimes I lose track of whether I’m touching you or touching me. Is that weird or what?”

Each stroke was slow and lax, giving him just enough to get him excited and keep him there.

“It’s weird, yes. But it’s good-weird.”

Truth be told, it had been a while since he’d done anything like this. Not exactly this, obviously. He hadn’t masturbated with his brother in forty years, and he had never thought to put the tie to sexually dubious use. But it had been a while since he took his time with himself, and almost as long since he’d really enjoyed it. He couldn’t actually remember when he’d last had the luxury of focusing on sensation instead of rationing out the bare minimum of two minutes to get off and quell the distraction of biological urges.

His eyelids were just starting to droop when his other hand lifted. He opened his eyes in suspicion. Goddammit, if Stanley made him slap himself right now, he was going to—

But the descent proved slow and controlled. His mouth opened, and his thumb briefly slid inside. His lips closed around it as it pushed deep, and then it popped out with a wet sound that bordered on the obscene. Down went his hand again to draw a spit-wet spiral over his glans.

“Oh…” The moan lodged in his throat.

He couldn’t help but wonder if Stanley still leaked like a faucet. In an adolescence spent keenly comparing endowments, that had been the principal difference between them. Stanley would barely get hard before he was leaving a spot on the front of his briefs, or just as often, slick smears on Ford’s skin. He could remember the pang of arousal whenever he felt the stuff dribbling onto his stomach. The taste of it, surreptitiously sucked from his fingers or licked from his wrist when he thought Stanley wasn’t looking.

“Don’t worry, Sixer. I’ll get you good and wet too.” Stanley pushing him down on the bunk bed and taking him into his mouth for the first time.

The memory was gasoline on a slow-burning fire. Despite the slow, measured strokes, that long-buried thrill took him straight to the edge of climax. He felt the heated flush spreading from his abdomen, racing up his chest and neck and curling to the tips of ears. His breath caught at the tell-tale twinge of his testicles drawing up, and his mouth opened.

Almost there...almost there...

He was close enough to taste it when his fingers abruptly uncurled.

“Nn!”

Under other circumstances, his body would have twisted in frustration. As it was, his eyelid twitched and his breath left him in a quavering rush. His hands folded themselves primly on his stomach. He was willing to bet Stanley was laughing upstairs. His only consolation was that he couldn’t be the only one suffering from an uncomfortable throbbing.

It was twenty long, aching seconds before Stanley touched him—touched himself—made him touch himself again. His momentum had been lost, but he'd stayed rock-hard. He squeezed his eyes shut as Stanley—as he drew a single fingertip over the length of his cock. His thumb and forefinger circled around the head, tightening for an instant before letting go.

His lips parted again, this time for two fingers that dipped under his tongue and came out dripping. They disappeared up his shirt and started teasing his nipples. It had been a long time since those had warranted this much attention. They were a curiosity in most dimensions, but most beings lost interest when it became apparent that nothing came out of them and they only barely changed color.

Stanley had been the last person who couldn’t keep his hands off them, or his mouth. He would sneak a hand up Ford’s shirt whenever he could, making stupid sound effects when he managed to steal a tweak. He would pull on them, lick them, suck on them so hard and with so many little turned-on moans that Ford would worry Stanley was pretending he was a girl.

His face burning because he doesn’t care. It feels so good, raw and electric, and putting his shirt back on is going to hurt so bad...

The bright pleasure of a pinch shot along its neural pathways as his other hand curled around his cock. Another pinch, then a wet twist that made him gasp. Stroking faster now, pumping.

Almost...oh, almost…

Then nothing.

“Nn!”

Stanley let go again, leaving him on the precipice. He thrashed, or he tried to, his brain throwing out impulses that his body staunchly ignored. His heart was pounding, the tension in his groin settling into something almost painful as his blood flow tried to figure out if it was coming or going.

His tongue moved carefully in his mouth. The tip pressed to his alveolar ridge, and then he heard himself say: “Shh.”

“Shh, Sixer. I got you. Just gimme a sec, I got you…”

Fingertips ran lightly over his inner thigh. His other hand pressed flat to his chest. He was breathing more heavily than he’d thought. Was that him or was that Stanley? Pulmonary function, definitely him. Right. But he could picture Stanley’s chest rising and falling rapidly under his palm. Another hammering heartbeat. Stanley’s fingers drumming, fighting to keep still just as Ford was fighting to move. His teeth digging into his lip.

Thirty seconds this time, but it didn’t make a difference. The moment Stanley—when he touched—when there was a hand, a warm grip, a few pumps—that was it. His muscles had to steal the victory, tightening up as he reached for it, pushed for it, and came with a bark of triumphant surprise.

Oh god, yes, there!

The pleasure crashed over him, wave after wave of release pulling him under. Semen spurted onto his stomach and ran down his fingers. He moaned, his eyes rolling back as he drowned.

He only realized his folly when the waves receded and his hand kept moving. Stanley wasn’t done yet. Stanley was only just getting there, stroking harder now, tightening his fist, scraping calluses over Ford’s sensitized skin until satisfaction became satiation.

“n-n-nn—”

It couldn’t be stopped. He had no choice but to follow, twitching and writhing inside as it was dragged out for the length of another agonizing minute. He choked on a whimper of protest and saw starbursts when Stanley’s hand finally squeezed.

He was lost to delirious over-stimulation by the time his back arched in the throes of Stanley’s orgasm. He was panting harshly, letting out an uncertain “oh!” from deep in his chest when his hand unclenched. His eyes were pressed tightly shut, and he was only barely aware of running his trembling fingers through half the semen on his stomach. At least until his mouth was opening and he was licking them clean.

His pulse drummed in his ears, his heart in his throat. He swallowed down the salty mess as his fingers withdrew from his mouth. His arm settled with an odd sort of tenderness across his stomach. The de-powering of the tie was almost lost amid the general resurfacing from post-coital oblivion, but he felt his muscles ease more abruptly than usual. He experimentally wiggled his toes and found they obeyed.

Despite being back in control of himself, it nevertheless took several seconds of lying still with his eyes shut before he could sit up. He swayed slightly upon achieving a vertical state. He plucked a few tissues from the box on the side table and cleaned up the rest of the mess. Then he tucked in his t-shirt, zipped up his pants, and let himself out of his room.

The upstairs bedroom door proved to be ajar. He pushed it open and stood on the threshold, looking in. Stanley was sitting up against the headboard, the set of his shoulders making it clear he expected a fight and the set of his chin indicating he would give as good as he got. He had pulled his pants up and fixed his shirt, but his placket was still open. The master tie was draped over the headboard.

“Well,” Ford said. “That happened.”

Stanley had the good grace to look aside and run a hand through his hair. “Yeah, well. Might have gotten a little carried away.”

“Yes. You’re still...good at that.” Ford looked down at his tie and frowned. He’d managed to come on it. That probably wasn’t washing off without some club soda.

“What, getting carried away?”

Ford cleared his throat. “Among other things.”

He wasn't sure exactly why that warranted such a smile from Stanley. He vaguely remembered some sort of argument before that stupid mayoral race. Something about being good at things. Light bulbs? He didn't see what being good at sex had to do with being good at engineering, but he was more than happy to concede that Stanley was still good at sex, and good at selling things, and good at assisting in halting the end of the world. He took off the tie and, based on an old college memory, hung it on the outside of the doorknob before shutting the door. He was aware of Stanley watching him warily out of the corner of his eye as he approached the bed.

“Move over.”

Stanley blinked in evident surprise, but he moved over. There was just enough room for Ford to lie down, his head next to Stanley’s hip. When he closed his eyes, he could smell the familiar, particular scent of Stanley’s unwashed sheets. Old sweat. Sex.

“This isn’t a barn,” Stanley said with a disbelieving laugh under his breath. “Take your boots off if you’re staying in my bed.”

“Make me.”

“I don’t want to make you. I’m asking.”

Ford considered that. He sat up with a heavy sigh and obligingly unlaced and unbuckled his boots. He set them on the floor along with his ankle holster and lay back down. After a moment, Stanley shuffled down to lie beside him. They were silent for a while, looking up at the ceiling.

“We could do that again,” Ford eventually said. “Without the tie. If this wasn’t just about proving a point.”

“Yeah?”

“Of course, we would need to set some ground rules,” he hastened to add.

Stanley snorted. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Bathroom breaks. Nothing that lands us either of us in the hospital, the pen, or the morgue. No messing up your dumb books.”

Ford socked him on the hip with a reluctant laugh. “Stanley...”

The mattress sagged in the middle when Stanley rolled over. His head came to rest on Ford’s shoulder, and his arm settled across Ford’s stomach. He was as heavy as ever, like a Rottweiler that wanted to sit in your lap, but he was warm and solid. While it occurred to Ford that he ought to have an instinct to shove him off, he really didn’t. In time, one of them was going to have to get up to make dinner, but for the moment he traced a few small circles on Stanley’s bicep, closed his eyes, and listened as their breathing fell into sync.