”Where does that leave us?”
The look on Zero’s face the moment after he said those words, the way he looked at Jude, broke Jude into a thousand more pieces than the shattered glass of Jelena’s portrait.
It was the look of faith lost.
That word repeated in Jude’s mind, wearing him raw as he drives around the city with no destination in mind in the car Zero gave him, listening to the station that Zero had picked, with one of Zero’s old, sweat-stained ballcaps half-jammed into the crease of the passenger seat.
Jude hopes that “us” is still possible.
He ends up at Zero’s place and rings the bell. He’s not sure how Zero would take it if he just let himself in with his key, and Jude’s not looking for any more confrontations tonight. When no one answers Jude waits another handful of minutes and then decides it might be best to head home. He has no desire to wait until Zero gets home from wherever it is he is -- most likely a bar, and more than likely a couple of shots and a few beers in. And alone. Jude feels a gut punch at that thought, of Zero brooding alone.
It strikes Jude as he’s on his way home that never once did it cross his mind that Zero could be looking for someone to take his mind off of anything and everything Jude-related. To drop to their knees or to pull him into an unused closet or stall or corner…
The image is an unwanted one but it flits out of Jude’s mind as quickly as it arrived.
Jude watched Zero’s heart break, but he knows without a doubt that Zero’s heart is still his.
Even with that unwavering belief, Jude is still utterly unprepared to find Zero in bed when he gets home.
“I went to your place. I didn’t think. . . I didn’t know you’d be here,” Jude says, standing in the doorway, looking at Zero, shirtless, bathed in the light from the bedside table.
“Where else would I be?” Zero asks, his voice razor thin, his jaw tight, his arms crossed around his chest.
Zero rolls his eyes and snuffs in what might be disbelief.
“I’m sorry.” Jude starts to say, still standing in the doorway, afraid that if he walks into the room Zero will vanish like a mirage. “I know I didn’t say what you wanted me to. I love you. I want to be with you. But for so long… I had to do so much on my own and I haven’t had people looking out for me. My mom did. Lionel does. And you. I’ve been the one who’s had to take care of things, I’m always thinking about others. What they think. What to do for them.”
Jude takes a step into the bedroom, and Zero is still there.
“It’s very difficult to think of what I want.”
“You’re an idiot,” Zero says, but the slight smile at the corner of his mouth softens his words. “An overly-clothed idiot. You deserve happiness. I deserve happiness. If you can’t think of yourself, think of me. Put me first.” Zero pulls back the covers. “Get over here.”
Jude loses his jacket and starts loosening his tie.
“I’ll take care of that. Lose the shoes and come here now.”
Jude can’t help the smile. He obeys, toeing off his shoes and crawling into bed and Zero’s waiting arms.
“I’m not going to lose you, dummy,” Zero says against the skin of Jude’s temple.
Jude slides his hands over Zero’s shoulders and up, sinking his fingers into Zero’s hair. “I’m not giving you up, either.”
“Good.” Zero’s smile shines in the light and he loosens Jude’s tie, pulling it off and throwing it to the side of the bed and then starting in on the buttons of Jude’s shirt.
They don’t hurry.
Jude’s skin is rubbed red and his shirt and pants are open, but not quite removed, when Zero rests his chin on Jude’s stomach.
“Can I?” He asks, cupping Jude through his trousers, his finger pressing against Jude’s ass.
“Please,” Jude answers, touching Zero’s jaw.
“You and me. That’s all that matters.” Jude cradles Zero’s face in his hands, holding him, keeping their eyes locked as Zero pushes inside. “Just us.”
“Us,” Zero says, exhaling.
They repeat that word, like a promise, as their bodies rock together, finding their rhythm.
The sound of Jude’s ringtone wakes him up sometime the next morning.
The cold light of day is blessedly not cold at all when Jude wakes up to Zero’s arm and leg thrown over him. When he moves toward the side of the bed with all intention of searching for his phone, Jude feels Zero’s muscles tense, holding him in place.
“Don’t. Not yet,” Zero says, pressing his face into the crook of Jude’s neck.
Jude willingly surrenders.
“Okay.” Jude traces a pattern across Zero’s shoulders. And, because he is who he is, and he’s already starting to plan, he says. “We’ll figure something out.”
“Yes. We will figure it out. Forget making it work for everyone else -- it’s gonna be something that works for you and me, for us.” Zero kisses the underside of Jude’s jaw.
“Later,” Jude says, sliding his fingers into Zero’s hair, tugging slightly. “We’ve got more pressing things to address first.”
Zero grins. “I like the sound of that,” he says, moving up and into Jude’s waiting kiss.