Jude had been at a late meeting at the Arena, so he was surprised to see lights on inside his apartment when he strode up the sidewalk. Warmth bloomed in his chest when Jude realized that Zero had chosen to wait for him at his apartment instead of spending the night apart, and his tired steps quickened.
Jude was smiling with anticipation before he had the front door unlocked. “Hi,” Jude said when he pushed the door open and saw Zero sitting on the couch.
Zero scrubbed his hands over his face as if he’d just woken up when he heard the key in the lock. “Hey.”
The sound of Zero’s voice, rough with sleep, slid down Jude’s spine and coiled around the base. Jude set down his briefcase and crossed the room to give Zero a proper greeting. Zero muted the sound on the television he’d fallen asleep in front of, and stood to walk around the coffee table and meet Jude. Zero opened his arms and Jude walked into them, wrapping his own arms around Zero and bringing their lips together.
The kiss was brief, but it felt like home. After, Jude let himself be held, relaxing more fully into the hug as the tension eased out of his muscles.
“How was your meeting?” Zero said.
“Good,” Jude said. He reluctantly pulled out of Zero’s arms and headed for the bedroom so he could change out of his suit and into something more comfortable. “Long, but productive,” he added.
“I’m glad to be home, though.” Jude glanced over his shoulder at Zero, who’d followed him. “And I’m glad you’re here.”
Zero smirked, but it didn’t completely cover the pleased expression that crossed his face. “Are you?”
Jude smiled. “Yes.”
“Could I make you even happier?” Zero said suggestively as he came up behind Jude and wrapped his arms around him.
“I don’t know,” Jude said teasingly. “I’m pretty happy now.”
“A challenge, Jude?” Zero said.
Jude grinned. “Are you up for it?”
It turned out that Zero was up for it.
When they lay in bed together afterwards, Jude’s head resting on Zero’s shoulder, their legs tangled together, muscles loose and the scent of sex still in the air, Jude found his mind drifting.
“What’s going on in here?” Zero said, tapping a finger against Jude’s head.
Jude shook his head, and then turned it to bury his face in Zero’s shoulder. Zero ran his fingers through Jude’s hair, brushed the damp skin between his shoulder blades. The fact that Zero didn’t push, and that Jude didn’t have to look him in the face when he spoke, made it easier for Jude to confess the truth.
“At the meeting, people were talking about their plans for Valentine’s Day.”
“Ah,” Zero said. “Do you want to make plans for Valentine’s Day?”
“No,” Jude said, his voice muffled against Zero’s skin. “I mean, I don’t want to not make plans for Valentine’s Day, either.” He raised up and braced his forearm on Zero’s chest. “Listening to them, I realized that I didn’t know whether you wanted to do something special for Valentine’s Day. And then I started thinking that I didn’t know if I wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day.”
Jude lowered himself so that he was nestled up against Zero once more. “I’ve always told myself that Valentine’s Day was just a day for people to pay through the nose for cards, and chocolate, and flowers. But it was easy to think that when I wasn’t with anyone.”
“You’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day?” Zero said.
Jude shook his head.
“Then we should definitely celebrate.”
“It’s not too cliche?” Jude said.
“We’ll make it an un-cliched Valentine’s Day celebration,” Zero said.
Jude smiled. “Okay.”
They’d rock-scissor-paper’d to see who got to come up with an un-cliched version of chocolate, and who got flowers. Jude had ended up with flowers. He’d wracked his brain for something to represent flowers that wouldn’t be the cliched dozen red roses, even going so far as to consider a painting of flowers or a bowl of potpourri before discarding both of those ideas as ridiculous.
Jude set his purchase on the stoop and then brushed his suit off before putting his key in the lock. Something smelled amazing when Jude stepped into the apartment. “Zero?”
Zero stepped out of the kitchen and smiled at Jude. “Hey.”
Jude’s gaze moved over Zero, who was dressed in a pair of charcoal slacks and a plum colored dress shirt. There was a towel tucked into the waistband of the slacks. Zero snatched it out when he saw Jude’s smile and the direction of his gaze.
“Hey,” Jude said. “Something smells good.”
Zero looked both pleased and nervous. They embraced and kissed hello. In Zero’s arms Jude found it easy to let go of the stresses of the day. When they separated, Zero suggested that Jude get out of his suit jacket and tie.
Jude glanced around the living room and noticed that Zero had cleared the table and covered it with a red cloth. There were multi-colored forks on the table, wine glasses, napkins, and a pair of candles, but nothing to give Jude a clue as to what they were having for dinner. Zero waited for Jude to head for the bedroom before returning to the kitchen, as if he was afraid Jude would attempt to sneak a peek.
Jude forced himself to take the time to hang up his suit jacket and tie, and stopped in the bathroom to wash his hands. When he returned to the living room, the candles were lit and there was a fondue pot sitting on the table.
“Have a seat,” Zero said as he came out of the kitchen with a tray that held several bowls.
Jude moved over to the table, but he waited until Zero had set the tray on the table to seat himself. The fondue pot held melted cheese, and there was an array of dipping items on the tray – a baguette torn into chunks, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, pieces of beef and chicken, slices of pear, and grapes.
“This looks good,” Jude said, watching Zero pour wine into the glasses. He pretended not to see the expression that quickly crossed Zero’s face before disappearing, the one that made Jude want to hurt anyone who’d ever made Zero feel like he wasn’t good enough, that nothing he ever did would be good enough. Jude hid his reaction in leaning closer to the fondue pot to breathe in the mixed scent of melted cheeses and wine.
“I picked up those baguettes you like,” Zero pointed out.
“I see that,” Jude said. “I’m going to try that first.”
Jude speared a chunk of bread with a fork and dipped a corner of it into the melted cheese. He blew on it before placing it on his tongue, acutely aware that Zero was regarding him closely.
“Mmm,” Jude moaned at the first taste. “Oh my god, that is so good. What kind of cheese did you use?”
“It’s a secret,” Zero said, dipping a grape.
“Oh, I want to try a grape,” Jude said. “Secret, really?” he said as he carefully stabbed the fork into a grape before it rolled away.
Zero smiled around the grape he’d just popped into his mouth.
“Bet I can get it out of you,” Jude said, giving Zero a look as he ate his own grape.
Zero raised his eyebrow. “I look forward to you trying,” he said, sliding his eyes over Jude.
Jude suppressed a shiver at the heat in Zero’s gaze. “I’ll do more than try,” Jude said as he aggressively speared a piece of the beef.
Zero winced. “I hope that’s not a metaphor.”
Jude laughed. He leaned into Zero and kissed him. Zero tasted like cheese and the wine he’d just taken a sip of. Jude moved his chair closer to Zero’s and they took the bowls off the tray so they could reach them easier. Between sharing bites of food dipped in cheese with each other they talked about their day.
“Save room for dessert,” Zero said after he held his fork to Jude’s mouth with a chunk of cheese-covered pear.
“Dessert?” Jude said around the pear. He looked at the remaining food. “We can reheat the cheese for another day, right?”
“Yes, we can reheat the cheese, Jude,” Zero said, trying to hide his pleasure at Jude’s enjoyment of the meal.
“Alright, then, bring on dessert,” Jude said.
Zero grinned, but said, “No, you stay here,” when Jude moved to help him carry the tray or fondue pot to the kitchen. “No peeking.”
Jude poured more wine into their glasses while Zero made two trips to the kitchen.
“It’ll be just a couple minutes,” Zero said when he returned. “Whatever will we do while we wait?”
Jude let Zero pull him to his feet and against him, his arms going around Jude. “I can’t imagine,” he said, breathless with anticipation.
Zero nipped at Jude’s lips, and Jude slid a hand around the back of his neck to cradle his head, the longer strands of hair prickly with gel, the short hairs soft against his palm. Jude kissed a trail across Zero’s freshly shaved cheek and into the soft hairs along his jaw, and he breathed in the scent of the expensive cologne Zero used.
Jude pulled back as if he’d been shocked. “I forgot the flowers!”
Zero raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t sound like you.”
“No, I mean, I forgot to give them to you.” Jude took a step towards the door. “Can I . . . ?”
“Let me just check on the, uh, dessert,” Zero said. He disappeared into the kitchen and was back a moment later. “Okay, flowers.”
Jude was both pleased and anxious over the excitement on Zero’s face. “Non-cliche flowers, remember.”
“Yes, Jude, I remember,” Zero said.
Jude drew Zero to the door and opened it. They both stared at the item Jude had left sitting out there.
“I don’t know what to say, Jude,” Zero finally said. “You bought me a stick. In a pot of dirt.”
Jude slapped Zero’s arm, and Zero grinned at him. “It’s an orange tree. I thought, maybe one day we’d have a place of our own and we could plant it in the backyard, or something.”
Zero looked at Jude as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I can return it if . . . ,” Jude said uncertainly.
“No, I love it!” Zero took Jude’s hand. “Did you mean it? About getting a place together?”
“Yes, of course,” Jude said, squeezing Zero’s hand.
Zero laughed. “I can’t believe it.” He shook his head. “I want that, too. I’ve been thinking about it. Actually, I’ve done more than think about it.”
Zero pulled Jude out of the doorway and closed the door. He took a breath before speaking, and Jude held his.
“I was going to wait to tell you, but I bought the house, the one I grew up in. I put it under both our names. I figured we could renovate it, make that neighborhood the place to be. If you want.”
For a moment Jude couldn’t speak. His brain was spinning as he tried to make sense of what Zero had just said. He’d bought a house. For them. He was silent long enough for Zero to get a frown line in the middle of his brow, which jolted Jude out of his silence. “Of course I want, stupid,” Jude said, grinning happily.
Zero returned Jude’s grin, and then kissed it off his face. “You can do whatever you want to the place,” Zero said, breathless, then kissed Jude again.
“We,” Jude said when he could speak again. “It’s going to be our home.”
Zero looked overwhelmed at that comment, which Jude thought was ironic since Zero was the one who’d bought them a house. Jude had known that Zero wanted a long-term relationship with him when he’d kissed Jude in front of millions of people, but this was the icing on the cake. Zero trusted Jude enough to confide in him about his childhood, and now he’d bought them a house. He wanted more than a future with Jude, he wanted to build a home with him.
“You bought us a house,” Jude said, and they were both grinning when they kissed again.
Only when Zero pulled Jude away from the wall he’d been pressed up against did Jude realized that the bicycle tire had been digging into his calves, but he forgot about that when Zero’s fingers went to the button at his throat. Jude immediately started to help, unbuttoning his shirt from the bottom.
When the shirt was undone, Zero grabbed the sides and used them to draw Jude forward as he took a step back. “Take your shirt off,” Zero instructed, and then he turned and hurried to the kitchen.
“Wha–?” Jude said.
Zero was back almost immediately with a tray. “Your shirt’s not off,” Zero said. He set down the tray and disappeared again.
“What are you doing?” Jude absently pulled off the shirt as he stepped closer to the table. The tray held a variety of fruit – strawberries, cherries, pineapple, bananas, and raspberries.
Zero reappeared with the tiniest crock pot Jude had ever seen and set it on the table, as well. As soon as his hands were free, Zero took the shirt out of Jude’s unresisting fingers and hung it over the back of a chair before guiding Jude to the other and telling him to sit.
The moment Jude’s ass hit the seat, Zero straddled his legs and sat in his lap. Jude opened his mouth to ask Zero again what they were doing, but Zero stole the words with a kiss. It took Jude a few seconds to recover when Zero pulled back, and he watched Zero deliberate over the tray before he chose a cherry. He held it by the stem and gave Jude a wink before dipping it into the crock pot.
Jude laughed when Zero lifted the cherry and it was coated in chocolate. Only then did he recognize the scent of chocolate coming from the pot. “Chocolate,” Jude said.
“Non-cliche chocolate,” Zero clarified, and then held the cherry to Jude’s mouth.
Jude smiled, and Zero touched the cherry to Jude’s lips before he parted them to take the cherry on his tongue. Jude felt heat crawl up his chest as Zero watched him chew the chocolate-covered cherry.
Zero licked the smear of chocolate off Jude’s lips, and then licked into his mouth. “Mmm,” Zero said when he drew back. Zero chose a fork and speared half a strawberry. He dipped it, and then held it to Jude’s mouth.
Jude went hot under Zero’s intense scrutiny as he carefully took the strawberry off the tines. The hands he’d dropped onto Zero’s legs flexed, his fingers digging into the muscles. Zero leaned in again to kiss Jude, licking the taste of chocolate and strawberry out of his mouth.
This time when Zero drew back, Jude took the fork out of his fingers. “My turn. You should probably take your shirt off, too,” Jude said before he surveyed the fruit arrayed on the tray. Jude selected a raspberry, but waited until Zero had removed his shirt to dip it in the chocolate. Jude raised the berry to Zero’s mouth, touching it to Zero’s nipple before placing it at his lips.
“Oops,” Jude said.
Zero smirked, then took the raspberry between his teeth. He sucked in a breath when Jude leaned forward and licked the smear of chocolate off Zero’s nipple. Zero dragged Jude’s head up and shared the taste of chocolate and raspberry with him.
They continued to take turns feeding each other fruit dipped in chocolate, and sharing the flavors with each other. Zero moved his hips against Jude and the fork fell from his fingers, forgotten. One hand went to Zero’s hair, the other to his back, and Jude pulled him closer and opened to Zero’s tongue.
Zero drew back, panting, and reached for the waistband of his slacks. “Get your pants off,” Zero said, and Jude’s fingers fumbled with his own button and zipper.
Zero stood to push his slacks down his legs and kicked them off after toeing out of his shoes. Jude stood to shove his own pants down, and then sat with a huff of laughter when Zero pushed him back into the chair and knelt to drag the pants down his legs.
Zero was back on Jude’s lap, taking Jude’s moan into his mouth as he wrapped his hand around both of them. Jude clutched at Zero’s shoulders and pushed into his hand. He couldn’t hold back his moans as Zero’s palm slid over his cock, as Zero’s tongue swept his mouth. They kissed until they’d licked the taste of chocolate out of each other’s mouth, until the need to breathe became too great.
They kept their mouths pressed together and breathed in the air exhaled from the other’s lungs. The muscles in Jude’s thighs trembled and went taut, and he was helpless to do anything but bear the pleasure Zero was wringing from his body, increasing until it could no longer be contained. Jude felt more than heard Zero’s moan over the sound of his own when they came, Jude first, with Zero following close behind him.
They were stuck together with sweat and come, but even when Jude returned to himself enough to recognize the discomfort, he didn’t want to move. He tried to get even closer to Zero, and felt the tickle of his scruff against his neck.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Zero said, sounding winded and pleased with himself, and Jude could only hug him tighter.
“I love you,” Jude said.
“I love you, too,” Zero said. He pressed a kiss to Jude’s neck and added, “Stupid.”
Jude laughed and loosened his grip when Zero straightened. Zero carefully unwrapped his fingers from around them, and they slowly unstuck from each other (and the chair Jude was sitting on). They leaned against each other for support and made their way to the bathroom to clean up. After changing into comfortable sweat pants and t-shirts, Zero put the food away while Jude picked up their clothes and set up the movie he’d bought for the occasion.
Before Jude could offer to assist Zero, he appeared with a plate in his hand that he set on the coffee table. “In case we get hungry later,” Zero said. “Why don’t we finish up the wine?”
Jude glanced at the plate, which held a variety of fruit drizzled with the chocolate sauce, and then moved over to the table and emptied the wine bottle into their glasses. He carried the glasses over to the coffee table and stole a chunk of banana. Zero returned to the living room in time to see Jude licking chocolate off his fingers.
Zero grinned at Jude, then took his hand and spun him around. Jude laughed, and then lost his breath when Zero pulled him close and held him, his feet moving them in a small circle to music only he could hear. Jude returned the embrace and shuffled his feet along with Zero’s, enjoying the spontaneous moment.
Eventually Zero gave Jude a kiss and moved back, though he didn’t go far, and he kept one hand on Jude’s hip. Zero leaned down and picked up one of the wine glasses and took a sip. He offered the glass to Jude, and then they kissed, the taste of the wine a sweet counterpoint to the chocolate.
They started moving their feet again, and the next time Zero took a sip of wine and offered the glass to Jude, Jude skipped the glass and licked the taste of wine out of Zero’s mouth. After a few kisses they eschewed the wine altogether, and soon after that their feet stopped moving.
It was wonderful, but there was no way that Jude was going to be able to get another erection this soon. He pulled back from the kiss in time to rescue the wine glass, which was tilting dangerously, and drew Zero around the coffee table.
Jude sat and pulled Zero down onto the couch between his legs. He picked up the remote and started the movie. Zero snorted when he saw the title, ‘Valentine’s Day’.
“This isn’t the one with the serial killer, is it?”
“No!” Jude said. “I hope not.”
They sipped wine out of the glass Zero held, and Jude fed them chocolate covered fruit as they watched the various storylines play out on the screen. Halfway through the movie, when Jude held a strawberry to Zero’s lips, Zero took it, but kept hold of Jude’s hand until he’d finished chewing. He licked the chocolate sauce and strawberry juice off of Jude’s fingers, and then he guided Jude’s hand back to the plate.
Jude chose a piece of pineapple, but instead of placing it to Zero’s lips, Zero directed Jude’s hand to his own lips. Jude took the fruit into his mouth, then moaned around it when Zero once again licked chocolate and juice off his fingers, going so far as to slip the tips of Jude’s fingers into his mouth and suck on them.
Jude slid his free hand up the back of Zero’s head and tangled his fingers in the long strands of his hair so he could drag his head back and kiss him. The movie was forgotten as they kissed. Zero relinquished the wine glass and twisted around on the couch so he lay on Jude with their fronts pressed together. Jude wrapped one leg around Zero’s legs and rolled his hips as they kissed, feeling Zero’s answering hardness alongside his own.
“This time I want to fuck you,” Zero said.
Jude bit his bottom lip as he met Zero’s thrust. The heat coiling in his belly went up about a hundred degrees at Zero’s words. “Yes,” Jude said as his hips rose again. “Gideon, yes.”
They kissed some more, their hips moving lazily together, as if Zero was in no hurry to be inside Jude, and then Zero’s fingers tightened on the back of Jude’s thigh, and his teeth grazed Jude’s lips. “Fuck,” Zero said, his hips speeding up.
“I already said yes,” Jude said, startling a pained laugh out of Zero.
Zero went still, his cheek pressed to Jude’s, and he breathed deeply to regain control of himself. Zero pushed himself to his feet quickly, and then reached for Jude’s hands and helped him to stand. They kissed again, and again, as Zero guided them towards the bedroom, knocking a knee into the arm of the couch, pausing to press Jude up against the wall in the hallway, hitting an elbow on the doorframe when they finally reached the bedroom.
It was easier to get undressed this time, which was a good thing because, even though they’d already come once that evening, they were both frantic for it. For each other. Once Zero had him naked, Jude lay on the bed, the comforter cool against overheated skin. He reached down and touched himself as he watched Zero remove his clothes and get out the supplies from the night stand drawer.
Jude had to squeeze the base of his cock when Zero gave himself a lazy stroke. Zero smirked and climbed on the mattress. Jude reached out for Zero and pulled him down for another kiss. Zero managed to keep their lower bodies apart, which was frustrating, but Jude eagerly spread his legs when Zero touched the inside of his thigh.
Zero slowly, thoroughly opened Jude up while they kissed, only breaking apart when Jude needed to cry out as he fucked himself on Zero’s fingers. Zero grazed his teeth over Jude’s throat, then moved lower and sucked a mark onto his collarbone.
“Gideon, please,” Jude pleaded.
Zero rose over Jude and positioned himself between his legs. He squeezed more lube onto his fingers and slicked up his cock. Jude pulled his legs back in invitation and watched Zero’s eyes go even darker. Zero guided himself to Jude’s hole and pressed gently until he’d breached the ring of muscle.
Zero grabbed Jude’s hips, smearing lube on his skin, and held Jude so he could slide the rest of the way inside him. Jude wrapped both legs around Zero’s back and pulled him down for another kiss, forcing him deeper. They both moaned at the feeling of it, the sounds lost in their kiss.
Jude was carried away on the sensation of Zero moving inside him, filling him up so good; the taste of Zero on his tongue; the smell of cologne and sweat and chocolate. Each slide of Zero’s cock edged him closer and closer to the brink of release, and Jude felt the need to come build inside him like a physical presence.
Zero’s fingers dug into Jude’s skin, his hair brushed Jude’s cheek, and his breath tickled Jude’s neck. Each point of contact coalesced into a single sensation centered low in his belly, and when Zero, Gideon, said, “Come for me, Jude,” it expanded until it filled every part of Jude, until it was the only thing he knew, and then everything was bright.
“Fuck,” Jude groaned when Zero helped him lower his leg. He blinked open his eyes to find Zero smiling down at him.
“You back with me?”
“I think so,” Jude said. “That was . . .”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jude said. “You’re the best lover ever.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Zero said as he gently withdrew from Jude and climbed off the bed without jamming a knee into Jude. He disposed of the condom and returned with a warm cloth, and Jude realized that he was missing some time.
Jude lifted his hand off the mattress to take the cloth, but Zero easily batted his hand a way and did the work of cleaning him up. Jude didn’t argue because he didn’t think he had it in him to actually win a battle for the cloth. Zero returned the cloth to the bathroom, and Jude heard him moving around in the living room, saw the light dim when he turned off the television they’d left playing the movie.
When Zero returned he was licking chocolate off his fingers and chewing what Jude learned from the kiss they shared as Zero slipped back onto the mattress next to Jude, was a raspberry. Zero arranged them so they were on their sides, Jude’s back to Zero’s front. Jude let himself be held.
Jude stroked his fingers over the back of Zero’s hand. “We’re going to live together,” he said, unable to keep the smile off his face.
“We practically do now,” Zero pointed out.
Jude shook his head. “But this won’t be my apartment, or your condo, it’ll be ours.”
“Yes,” Zero said. It sounded like he might be laughing at Jude, but Jude knew Zero too well.
Jude twisted around in Zero’s arms so he could see his face, see the expression of love, the vulnerability that he only showed to Jude. “I can’t believe you bought me, us, a house.”
“Don’t make a thing out of it,” Zero said, though his tone belied the words. “I just wanted to lock you down before you realized that you got the short end of the stick with me,” he added.
Jude touched the side of Zero’s face. “I didn’t. You’re everything I never knew I needed.” He frowned. “Lock me down? It sounds like we’re getting married instead of moving in together.”
Jude realized how his words might be interpreted and hurried to say, “Not that I’m saying we should, or that I think you want to . . .”
“Do you?” Zero said. “Want to?”
Jude swallowed hard. “I want to spend forever with you, but I don’t need . . .”
Zero rolled away from Jude and turned on the lamp. He opened the night stand drawer again, and then rolled back to Jude with a small jeweler’s box in his hand.
“What . . . ?” Jude said.
Zero opened the box and Jude’s eyes went wide when he saw the two bands. “What . . . ?” he said again.
Jude blinked back the tears that suddenly stung his eyes, but not before Zero noticed. “You’re not ready . . . ,” he started, pulling his hand back.
“No!” Jude said, grabbing Zero’s hand. “You really want to marry me?”
“Of course I want, stupid,” Zero said. “Told you, need to lock you down.”
Jude gave a watery laugh.
“I only bought you a plant!” Jude said.
Zero smiled. “You have no idea what you’ve given me just by being you. You’ve given me a family, Jude.”
Jude kissed Zero. He pushed him back and climbed on top of him, and kissed him again.
“Is that a yes?” Zero said when Jude gave him a chance to breathe.
“Yes to what?” Jude said. “You haven’t asked me anything yet.”
“You’re gonna be like that, are you?” Zero said. He pushed Jude off of him and slid off the bed and onto his knees.
Jude’s breath caught. “Gideon.”
“Jude Kinkade,” Zero said, holding the open jewelry box in front of him. “I love you. You’re the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Will you spend the rest of your life with me; will you marry me?”
“Of course I will, stupid,” Jude said. He reached out and slung his arm around Zero’s neck and drew him into a kiss. “You’re the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, too, Gideon.”
Jude got another kiss for that, and when they broke apart he said, “Can we put ‘em on now, or do we have to wait?”
“Sure,” Zero said. “They can be our engagement rings, too.”
Jude laughed and took the ring Zero handed him.
“I got ‘em engraved,” Zero said, almost shyly.
Jude gave Zero a look. “You did?” He tipped the ring towards the light so he could see the inscription on the inside of the band. When he picked out the engraving, tears stung his eyes again. in this together
“How did I get this lucky?” Jude said.
“I’m the lucky one,” Zero argued.
Jude slipped the ring on his finger and held his hand up to study it. “We’re both pretty lucky. Let me see yours.”
Zero held out his left hand, the titanium band gleaming on the ring finger. Jude took his hand and gazed at the ring, stroked the band with his thumb. “Is yours engraved, too?”
“Yes; they both say the same thing.”
Jude placed his palm flat against Zero’s, and then entwined their fingers. He liked how the two rings looked on their joined hands.
“What’s wrong?” Zero said when Jude made a soft humming sound.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to beat this Valentine’s Day,” Jude said.
“I’m not sure this should count,” Zero said, squeezing Jude’s hand to indicate the rings.
Zero climbed back onto the mattress and Jude slid over to give him room so they could snuggle up together again. “Why not?” he asked.
“It’s kind of cliche, isn’t it?” Zero said, smiling.
“Oh, you’re right,” Jude said gravely. “That’s okay; I think we can make an exception just this once.”
“Can we,” Zero teased.
“I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” Jude said.
“Our little secret?”
“Mmm,” Jude said, pressing a kiss to Zero’s shoulder and closing his eyes.
Suddenly Jude’s eyes opened wide and he sat up.
“What?” Zero said.
“We have to plan a wedding!”
“Yes, but not tonight,” Zero said, drawing Jude back down and rearranging them so that Zero was the big spoon.
Jude lay in Zero’s arms, but he didn’t close his eyes. He couldn’t stop staring at the ring. Zero curled his arm around Jude and took his hand, let his thumb stroke the ring on Jude’s finger. He pressed his face against the back of Jude’s neck, so his voice was muffled when he spoke.
“I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day before, either,” Zero said.
“You didn’t?” Jude said, surprised.
“Not really,” Zero said. “Not with anyone who mattered. Everything I did was just for show. It was never real, not until you.”
“Gideon,” Jude said, trying to imbue that one word with all the emotions roiling inside him at Zero’s confession.
“Don’t make a thing out of it,” Zero said, which meant it was totally a thing.
Jude smiled to himself, not wanting Zero to see it, but Zero gave him a little pinch anyway. Jude felt cold when Zero pulled away to turn off the lamp, but then he was back, wrapping himself around Jude again. They were holding hands once more, Jude’s thumb playing with the ring on Zero’s finger this time.
Jude let out a deep breath and closed his eyes, letting the warmth of Zero around him, and the warmth surrounding his heart, lull him to sleep. He was almost under when he mumbled, “Lionel would probably help with the wedding plans.”
Zero squeezed Jude’s hand in acknowledgment, and said, “Go to sleep, Jude.”
Jude didn’t know how Zero expected him to just go to sleep after Zero had bought them a house and asked Jude to marry him. Jude wondered whether they’d be able to finish the renovations on the house in time to get married in the back yard of their new home, and whether Lionel would stand up with him, and whether it would be too cliche if he wore white.
Jude’s last thought was that they definitely needed to have one of those chocolate fountains at their reception.