VERSE TWO Chapter Thirty-Two
It should be frantic. It should be desperate.
I've waited too long not to savour it.
To savour him.
My heart is beating so heavy, so hard, I can feel it pulse in my fingertips.
Amber light bathes him, warming his skin to gold. His hair splays across the pillowcase like a honey-coloured halo.
He blinds me.
I don't mind. If this is the last image I ever see, I couldn't have wished for a better one.
How can this slight, blond body make me want to weep tears of fucking joy?
I have no idea.
But it does.
I lean down to him. He still smells the same. I'm not talking about the cheap Coconut and Orchid shampoo he uses which makes him smell like a fucking Pine Collada – I mean him. Eau de Justin pheromones. Not the soap.
I bury my nose in the crook of his arm, where the scent is truest: healthy, clean, young. Like freshly mown grass or sun-warmed wood, or the spring wind. I draw it deep into my lungs, my heart, my soul; and it purges me: heals me. I feel the fucking buzz go through me, like I've taken a hit of ozone.
I press my mouth against his throat. My tongue registers salt and spice, sweetness and heat: exactly my favourite combination of flavours.
I think Justin probably tastes like Pekin Duck. Or Beef Satay. Or Black Bean Sauce. I lick and chew and suck him accordingly.
Fuck, now I know the reason I love Thai.
Outside the wind howls, throwing gusts of rain against the windows. Here, the only sounds are ours … and if I were ever right about words not being needed, it's now: because here, we don't need words. Here we communicate with sighs and moans, with gasps and grunts of pleasure or pain. With the slap of skin on skin, flushed and sweat-slicked. With hushed whimpers and muffled cries, with single words and whispered names. Our bodies need no instruction; instinct is everything.
My palms caress him, over and over, revelling in texture. The sleek skin of his chest, the downy fuzz of his arms and legs: the silken sweep of his hair: his wiry, curled pubes. My lips against his, tender, barely touching … or mashed against his teeth until I think they're going to split, my tongue twisting and twining with his. The friction of skin on skin. The heat of it. Our heat.
Love and lust, lust and love.
Pleasure so great that pain becomes indistinguishable from it.
Engulfed now, burning; everything burning – skin, breath, heart. Sweat pooling between us. Ragged breathing, ragged heartbeats. Bodies slipping, hands clutching, supporting, readjusting. So intense, so tight – don't know if it's him crying out, or me. Don't know anything anymore. Never want to.
Because this is only place I want to be. The only home I need.
I have no idea how long it lasts. Minutes or hours or days, I have no conception of time any more. I can only ride the sensations, possessed by them, drowning in them: locked into the rhythm of the oldest, sweetest dance of all. And when it finally ends, I'm blind, deaf, and dumb to everything except the coruscation flaring down every nerve fibre in my body … a release so exquisite it's agony … and then I'm falling, falling … sinking into warm, dark water; aware of nothing but the frenzied pounding of my heart, and Justin's sobbing breath against my cheek.
Dear God. We're sorry for all the times we fucked up. We've paid. I love him, and I believe he loves me. Please let this be right. Let us be right. Amen.
Later, once the world has come back and my body is my own again, I lie with my head pillowed on Brian's shoulder. "When did you change the lights?" I ask, gazing up at the new fittings.
Brian's lips twist, letting out a thin wisp of smoke. "After some asshole told me orange was hotter than blue."
"Well, it is."
"I thought I'd try for a new ambience. Don't you like it? I'll change it back if you want."
"No, it makes the Loft feel warmer. It was always so fucking cold before."
"If that means you won't need me to heat you up anymore, I'm definitely changing it back."
I grin and wriggle a little closer. This is what I've missed. I once thought I'd never feel this easy companionship again: that I'd never feel this comfortable again. I run my hand over the sheet.
"The bed feels kind of different, too."
Brian holds his cigarette to my lips so that I can take a draw. "It's not the bed, Sunshine. You know I'd rather lose a kidney than my bed. But I had to buy a new set of bedding to match the new décor; and then I figured, what the fuck, I may as well buy a new mattress too."
"More unwarranted Kinney excess?"
"I haven't given up all my vices." He reaches over to stub out his cigarette and then puts both arms round me. "Justin. I told you, I want you to look on the Loft as your home, whether you live here or you don't. In which case this is our bed, and no-one else gets to use it but us."
"Wow. I don't know what to say." I really don't. "Does that mean you're getting a new table … and a couch … and rugs … and a shower?"
Brian sits up abruptly. "I have never fucked anyone else in the shower!"
"Really? Not ever?" I feel absurdly, incredibly pleased.
"No. Never." He actually looks insulted.
"Okay." I snuggle back into his arm.
"Obviously, I'm not going to gut the whole fucking Loft. I just thought the bed was more … I don't know, symbolic or something."
I bite the inside of my lip, hard. Resist, Justin, resist. You will not fucking laugh…
Unfortunately he feels me shaking. "Don't you snicker at me, you little shit!"
He pounces on me, which leads to tickling, to wrestling, to … well, you know.
Brian takes my right hand, spreads my fingers and lightly rubs his thumb across my tattoo. "The Loft isn't the only thing that's been decorated. What about this?"
I feel myself blushing. "I didn't think you'd noticed."
He snorts. "Sunshine, I know every inch of your body as well as my own. Of course I fucking noticed."
"It was something I felt I needed … something to ground me. I was so fucked up…"
"Hey, it's okay. Believe me, I understand the sentiment. And, on the whole, I approve of it. I just don't want it to be necessary between us any more." I feel his lips pressed to the top of my head. "Which is why we need to talk about establishing some new rules."
"Rules?" I must be hearing things. "You've got to be kidding! They didn't work too well last time. Not as far as I was concerned, anyway."
"That's because they were about the wrong things. And based on flawed expectations."
"And these aren't?"
"No, they're about what we can realistically expect from each other. Not so much rules, more like an agreement of what's acceptable behaviour. What we will do, as well as what we won't."
"Okay." I scoot up into the pillows so I'm level with him. "I'm up for it. You go first."
"Okay." He fidgets a little nervously, then takes my hand. "These are things I won't do. First of all, I won't ever make you a promise unless I know I can keep it. So for that reason I can't promise you monogamy, or to give up tricking. Maybe one day I'll be able to offer you that, but right now I can't. It's the same with marriage. I won't marry you, but not because I'm ashamed to, or because it's a dykey thing to do, or any of that shit … it's because I can't make vows to you I don't believe in. That would be a sham, and I don't want anything about us to be sham."
"I wouldn't ask you for any of that," I tell him truthfully. "And I agree about marriage … a vow isn't exactly binding when any cheap-skate lawyer can break it for you."
He grins. "You don't have any desire to be a Stepford Fag like Mikey?"
"Fuck no. I don't think I'd look good in a pinnie."
"No?" One of Brian's eyebrows hikes up and he reaches round to slide his hand lasciviously over my butt. "Not a white one?" he leers. "With frills? Nothing else?"
"Shut up, pervert. And stop that, before we get distracted again. Because, really, I haven't done this for a while, and I don't think I'm up to another round."
"Christ. You should have said." He takes my chin and turns my face up to his. His eyes are dark and worried. "Are you okay? Let me see."
"No, I'm fine. Better than fine. I feel fucking incredible."
He looks doubtful. Then suddenly his face clears. "So if you haven't been putting out on a regular basis, do I have to go through all the trouble of breaking you in again?" He sounds aggravated but his eyes are sparkling; he's pleased as fuck.
"Like that's always been such a chore," I grin, pinching his nipple.
"Brat," he winces, rubbing the tweaked skin.
"So, go on with your won'ts, poor baby." I'm enjoying this way too much.
He scowls at me, but gets back to business. "I won't promise never to fuck up again, or never to be an asshole. I've got thirty-one years of self-obsession to deal with. I expect sometimes you'll wish you'd never met me."
"Anyway, that's what I won't do. Now, here are the wills. I promise that if I do trick, it won't be in your face. This is our home, so I won't bring anyone back here. I expect you to do the same."
That was always given. "What if we want to bring someone back?" I can't help but tease.
Brian grins at me. "Okay, if we want to bring someone back, that's different. As long as it's for the right reasons, and not just because you're afraid of me getting bored."
I grin back at him.
"And I promise that I won't trick for the sake of it. I won't go looking for it."
"Brian…" Christ, I know this is huge for him. I can't help but feel guilty, and uncomfortable. "I don't want you to feel you have to give anything up… not for me."
"It's not for you, twat. Well, not entirely. The truth is, your blond twink perfection has spoiled me. The other guys just don't cut it anymore."
I know how he feels. "Flattery will get you everywhere," I tell him.
"Don't I know it!" he smirks back.
"Yes, as it happens. I promise I'll talk to you. I promise I won't shut you out, or push you away. I promise that when I do fuck up, I'll never stop trying to fix it. And I promise I'll never, ever give up on us." His voice is quiet and serious, and so is his expression. "And I guess that covers everything."
When he leans down to press his lips to mine, it feels like a pledge. Because he'll never break a promise.
All the walls are gone; there's nothing between us now, I know it, and suddenly this isn't a game any more. Suddenly this feels like the most important thing that's ever happened to me in my life, and laughter is the furthest thing from my mind. I feel my eyes tearing up.
"Alright," I say, shifting to sit cross-legged facing him. "I promise the same thing; no tricks at home, unless it's by mutual consent. I promise not to try to turn us into Michael and Ben. I promise not to make any more assumptions based on past history. I promise to talk to you, too … if I'm not happy, I'll say so, and why. I expect you to do the same. And we'll work it out. I promise I won't run away any more. I promise I'll never give up on us either, no matter who fucks up. But." This is the hard bit. And perhaps the strongest test.
His eyebrows go up. "There had to be a but."
"I don't want to move back in."
Brian laughs. "Fucking right you don't. Not after all you went through to get your own little garret."
"It's a loft."
"Sunshine, trust me. This is a Loft; yours is a garret."
I whack him on the belly and he goes Ooof! and folds up dramatically.
"You really don't mind?" I ask once I've stopped giggling.
"What, you keeping your place? Of course not. You're not the same kid you were when you were living here … you've got your own way of doing things in your own space. You keep your independence, Sunshine, you worked hard enough to get it. Besides, from a purely practical point of view, it's not a good idea – I think even the Loft would be kind of cramped with that fucking trestle of yours in here. And I really don't think I'm ready to have Rage use my coffee table for a scratch post. Or have my Armani covered in pussy hair." He shudders.
"You know that pussy-thing is getting really old, right?"
"So what are you saying," I snap a little more angrily than I'd meant. "If I ever did decide I'd like to live with you again I'd have to choose between my art, my pet, and you?"
He rolls over and props himself on his elbow, looking down at me. "See, there you go, already breaking your promises." His voice is gently chiding but his smile is warm.
"How?" I demand.
Brian trails his fingertips down my cheek. "You promised not to assume things based on my past behaviour. Yet you're assuming now that I'm pissed and I'm going to either a: pretend that I don't give a shit; or b: imply that I don't want your shit around in the first place. In actual fact, I never expected you to want to come back here immediately, if at all, for the reasons I've already given you. … do you honestly believe I want you to drop everything and come running back here just because we're together again?" His fingers twist in my hair and he shakes my head gently. "Fuck, Justin, I've waited nearly a year for you … I'm fine about this. More than fine; I'm fucking incredible." He grins as he parrots my words back at me. "And if the time ever comes when you do want us to live together again … then we'll consider our options."
"Whether we move somewhere larger. Somewhere that suits both of us. Or whether you move back to the Loft anyway, paint, trestle, Rage and all. Either scenario sounds great to me."
I grab his face and lean up to kiss him, but he won't let me.
"But…" he drawls, smirking.
I know that tone.
"There had to be a but…" I sigh.
Brian sticks his tongue in his cheek. "You have to let me buy you a bed, too."
"Brian, my settee's fine…"
"For you, maybe, but not for me. I wouldn't fit on that thing if you cut me off at the knees."
I don't realise my mouth is open until he laughs and reaches out to close it. "What, you'd sleep over at my place? Without a bathroom, and with all the paint, and a cat?"
"I'll come when I'm invited. And I already told you I don't have a problem with any of your shit." He puts on his serious face. "However, I do have one request - that you confine your furry friend to his crate while I'm fucking you. I don't want a set of claws buried in my backside when I'm about to come."
"I think that can be arranged," I laugh.
We kiss on it.
"So, no more fighting?" I ask.
"Oh, we'll fight. About what takeouts we want, and what film to watch, and whether you're going to stop over, and why you won't dress like a grown-up."
"Why you're such a label-queen! Why you won't eat carbs after seven!"
"Why you're so short!"
"I'm not when I'm lying down!" I shoot back, and he laughs.
"We'll have lots of fights, Sunshine. Lots and lots and lots. That's what happens when you have a Top and a would-be-in-any-other-situation Top in a relationship … sparks are gonna fly, thank God. That kind of fighting keeps things interesting. That, plus the incredibly hot make-up sex that comes afterwards."
As we subsequently prove again, broken in or not.
I clear my desk for the weekend and close my briefcase. Bob and Brad have fucked up their boards for Brown Athletic again, and I've spent most of the day sorting it out. I really should fire their incompetent asses, but somehow they don't get to me the way they used to.
I have better ways to spend my energy.
I put on my coat and head out of the door.
Cynthia glances up from her desk. "Good night, boss."
"No calls this weekend?" she asks, smirking.
"Not unless the fucking place catches fire. And even then, only if you can't reach Vance."
"Have a good time." She's got a big grin on her face now.
I'm pretty sure my own smile is just as large. "Oh, I intend to."
I stand in the elevator, marvelling at this strange, warm glow I seem to be carrying around all the time. It's not that ineptitude and stupidity don't piss me off anymore: they do. I still want my own agency one day, and when I get it I'll have only the best people working for me – loyal, talented, driven. No Bobbsy Twins, no fuck-wits. But I don't beat myself up about it anymore: I can wait. It's only time.
I have other things to look forward to.
Because I know that when I get home tonight, Justin will already be there; it's the Loft weekend. I'm more than ecstatic to spend two weekends a month at his place, but I still prefer it when we're at mine. My Loft has a shower.
Rage has a permanent sitter; the elderly Polish lady on the floor below Justin is a cat lover, and, having lost her own a few months back, is more than happy to have him stay with her while Justin's with me. She even pops in to feed the kitten while Justin's at college.
So twice a month he spends the weekend at the Loft, plus the occasional mid week tryst when the mood takes him.
I walk out of Vanguard and light up a cigarette. I rub my thumb over the Zippo's inscription, as I always do. I'm smiling again.
You can't expect someone who's been blind from birth to grasp the concept of sight. It's not possible. You have to possess something before you can miss it. It might have taken me thirty-one years, but I finally I know the name of it, this strange, warm glow – the thing I never believed in, because I'd never experienced it and I never believed I would.
I'm fucking happy.
One month later.
"Sh, go back to sleep."
"You were expecting someone else?"
"Uh … isn't it Wednesday?"
"I got cold and lonely."
"Mm. Ow! Fuck! You're freezing!"
"Your ass is like fucking ice."
"Did you walk back? Again?"
"Jesus Christ, Justin, I've told you a hundred times. If you want to come over late, call me or take a fucking cab! Ow!"
"Sorry, sorry. I'll keep my feet off you. See, I'll stay on my side."
"Stop saying sorry. Just shut up and come over here."
"Seriously, I don't want you walking around by yourself. I mean it, Sunshine."
"You're sooo worried about me."
"I just don't like having a fucking iceberg wake me up at two in the morning, that's all!"
"I only do it because it's so nice … warming up like this when I'm really cold."
"You're a fucking masochist, you know that?"
"You should know better than anyone."
"I'm glad your place hasn't got heating."
"I'm glad you got lonely."
"I still don't want you walking back, though."
Silence for a while.
"Why does you kissing me make my toes all warm and tingly?"
"Because you have incredibly sensitive, responsive feet."
"Yeah. Let me show you."