Title: Trading Favors: How to Save a Life
Rating: (M)
Characters: Edward & Jasper; James & Seth
Word Count: 12,800
Tags: Romance/Humor/Dash of Angst/AU/AH/Slash

Prompt(s): A Valentine's Day Blind Date from Twilight No Stress Love Fest
Warnings: Language, Adult Situations, Some Snark, Lemons, M/M
Summary: When your high school boyfriend introduces you to your life partner, what can you offer in return? If you are Edward Cullen, ten years later you set up the macho, closeted firefighter on a blind date with a gorgeous young dog groomer.

Disclaimer: All Twilight characters belong to Stephenie Meyer, Little, Brown, et. al. No profit was made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: A feel good, humble little tale of love. Enjoy!

I hadn't intended to post this on FF as it was already read and reviewed on the Fest blogsite. However, with the sad events happening around the world, especially in Japan (REDCROSS to 90999 = $10 help,) if there's even a chance reading it would bring a smile to your face, that would make my day.


Uno: 2000-Summer. High School Friends: Edward and James

It was at Kirkland Public High School that sophomore Edward Cullen first crossed paths with one James Witherdale. His mother, Esme, would later blame all that came after on the friendship between the two boys, a friendship she claimed should never have been. Her son Edward had been accepted into Lakeview's Class of 2003, a tony, boy's prep school; sending him to Kirkland had been Carlisle's mistake, not hers.

She was correct on both counts.

But after his only son's disastrous joyride in dad's new Aston Martin one sunny June day cost him ten thousand in repairs, Carlisle decided Edward had been spoiled enough by his adoring mother. He needed a taste of the 'real life' from which he had been carefully shielded since birth. Perhaps a year spent amongst the less privileged, Carlisle reasoned, would make Edward more appreciative of the benefits and responsibilities expected of one born Cullen. And once settled on a course of action, Carlisle could not be dissuaded of his decision, his wife's shrill protests and son's stricken eyes be damned.

Lakeview School was out. Sixteen year old Edward would be matriculating at co-ed Kirkland High in the fall.


The sights, sounds, and sheer mass of bodies crowding Kirkland's halls were overwhelming to Edward. Never-the-less, he strode boldly through the building's maze of walkways and eventually found his homeroom. His heart might be in his throat, but Edward instinctively knew that to show fear would be to bare that throat to the bigger wolves.

And to give anyone here the idea that he was gay would probably lead to his…well, something awful.

That certain, if indistinct, knowledge led him to carefully survey the females in his homeroom. His eyes were drawn to a mousy brunette in a flannel shirt and new sneakers he was certain he could sway in his direction.

"Isabella Swan?" When her thin, little arm shot up in response to roll call, Edward at least had a name. Now, all he needed was the opportunity to speak with her.

His first chance came when the undernourished, dark-haired girl tripped over something on the floor Edward didn't see, and dropped her book bag, spilling the contents. He immediately rushed over to help her, realizing she wasn't quite as nondescript as he'd first thought. She had the eyes of an Arctic fox, he thought. And a pair of tits that could poke out an eye. He wondered if any of the other boys had noticed her yet.

Standing in the hallway outside homeroom, their conversation was desultory as they compared class schedules and discovered they shared many of the same teachers. A product of boys' schools, he still knew enough about girls to carry her bag for her, and was only mildly surprised when she suggested they eat lunch together every day in the school cafeteria. It appeared she didn't own a car, either, so he readily agreed.

Over the course of the first few weeks of school, he and Bella became fast friends, and aside from being bored by subjects he'd covered two years earlier, he began to fit in.

And yet, he was still uneasy. Much like a deer being tracked through the miles of hallways by a relentless hunter, Edward had a vague sense of being closely watched. Times when he and Bella were standing close together, he'd swear he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand fully erect. It was unnerving.

But hair was the only thing going fully erect in Bella's presence. If he'd ever doubted his preference for dick, spending so much time with a girl solidified it for him. When she purposely began brushing her hand over his arm, looking up at him from under her lashes, and other feminine tricks, he felt nothing.

At that point, he knew he had to tell her the truth; he wanted a BFF and camouflage. In return, he would offer his protection and help with any school subjects she chose.

It seemed a fair trade to Edward. He waited until after class one day to break the news to Bella, confident she would see the wisdom of his two-way deal.

But he only got as far as the wanting to stay friends portion, completely shocked when she burst into tears. He was still frozen to his spot of polished gymnasium flooring when she punched his arm, slapped his face, and wheeling away from him, left him standing alone.

There weren't many people around, so he crept over to some beanbags piled against a hallway wall and plopped into the nearest one, feeling defeated and confused.

Only to be hit from the side by a blur of motion, the force of the impact pushing him deeper into the bag as two fists began pummeling him. It stung, but couldn't distract him from the hurt inside.

"Stop." He commanded, pushing the smaller boy off. "Who the fuck are you?"

"James. James Witherdale. Why'd you make Isabella Swan cry?" The boy was sniffling now, especially as Edward had used his larger size to gain control of his assailant and punched him in the nose. It appeared James had a nose bleed.


"That's none of your business. Leave me the fuck alone." Edward was standing now, and fearful of being found fighting in the gym, and how Carlisle might react to the news, whirled and ran. He found Esme waiting in her car for him, the school day being officially over, and the two of them rode home in silence. Neither question nor comment passed his mother's lips about his unruly appearance or the missing buttons on his shirt.

For once, Edward was grateful for Esme's tact. He decided to keep his preference for dick to himself for now and renew his pursuit of Bella.

From that day forward, James struggled with Edward for Bella's attention and affection. It was a win-win thing for Bella. Two very aggressive males seemed to follow her everywhere and hang on her every word. Both boys, sophomores like herself, were solicitous to a fault. They fought and argued over who could buy her lunch, who could carry her books, who could sit next to her in class, who could take her to the latest school play, dance, or football game. It literally went on for months, well past Christmas break and deep into spring.

Until one day, Edward was mock-wrestling James, Bella watching with approval, when James shouted, "Stop," in a very frightened voice. "Let me up!"

"Why? What's wrong, James?" Edward was surprised at his own level of concern. Was James injured?

"Let him go, Edward. Now!" screeched Bella, who rushed over to James, determined to take him to the hospital. She had recently acquired a pathetic, ancient black flatbed Ford that rarely ran more than a week before repairs were again necessary and got no more than five miles to the gallon. Even on those rare days when it was running, she couldn't afford to drive it much.

"I'm fine," huffed James as he stood and sprinted away from Bella, nearly faster than the eye could follow. Edward took off running after him, confused and wanting an answer.

They easily outran Bella, who gave up quickly. When Edward caught up to James, he tackled him to the soft earth, always damp and spongy in rainy Seattle.

"Get off me, mother-fucker."

Edward was stunned; what had he done? He and James had been fighting for months over Bella, keeping both her and the school entertained with their fierce rivalry for the mousy little girl. She'd giddily consented to kissing them both back in November, and they'd both been rewarded with the occasional hand job from her since February.

That first time, he'd closed his eyes and pretended her dainty digits were those of a senior, a star basketball forward named Jasper Whitlock, and had cum easily. He'd then watched James get his reward from Bella, and there had been no closing of the eyes. To the contrary, James had been staring into Bella's eyes the entire time. It had just taken more than thirty minutes before he'd finally jizzed all over the back seat of Edward's Volvo. Edward hadn't complained about the mess; he was still the only one of the three who now had both a decent car and a license. (By Christmas, Carlisle had decided his well-behaved son being driven to school every day for four months by his controlling mother was punishment enough for his misdeed.)

So what was wrong with James? They were friends, right?

Just as Edward opened his mouth to kindly inquire once more into the nature of James' problem, the boy flipped onto his back underneath him. Belly-to-belly, Edward immediately discerned the problem. It was poking him in the region where his own hard-on raged, enraptured with the sensation of a James considerably taller and filled out after a growth spurt.

There was no one around, and after a moment's pause, Edward impulsively kissed James, a rough scraping of his lips over the other boy's pink, moistened pair. It was Edward's first kiss, and he never gave any thought to what would come next.

James kissed him back, several times, his arms tightening around Edward's waist as James' vibrant blue-green eyes, slightly down-turned at the corners, drifted closed. His tongue barely touched Edward's lower lip, but it immediately sent a tidal wave of desire rollicking through the willowy boy on top.

Instinctively, Edward's hands rose as one to caress James dark blonde strands, sweeping the hair from his forehead and twisting it between his fingers. Edward then adjusted both of them with a wriggle of his hips, carefully lining up their cocks for maximum enjoyment.

"Are you gay?" Edward had pulled off James' lips to turn his head and whisper into his ear.

"I think so. Are you?"

"Yes. I know I am." Edward continued whispering, not looking James in the eyes. "So why are you fighting me for Bella? Besides wrestling being a contact sport for us, do you like her, too?"

"I thought I did, until today."

"Is that why you ran? You got a stiffy?"

James chuckled, but then began coughing. The gloppy sound was rather unnerving to Edward; was he about to be covered in the other boy's snot?

"I've always liked you, Edward. Actually, I saw you before I saw Bella. But that day when you made her cry, it was just wrong." James was trying to cover, but he was snuffling now.

Edward didn't bother to reply; he was too busy kissing James' soft pink lips again after that confession. In fact, they stay locked together, tentatively moving their hips in tiny jerks and elaborate circles for another ten minutes before first James, and then Edward, released with very loud groans of happiness.

Edward waiting a bit before raising up on his hands and knees. He stood and then helped James stand. Both boys felt unpleasantly sticky and a little embarrassed. But thick jean material and other clothing served to cover their actions.

They waited until they were certain they could walk back to school unnoticed. Edward dropped James off at home before heading to the Cullen estate. He had a lot to think about.

Neither had given any thought to Bella, but she hadn't forgotten them. Between email, instant messaging, and their cell phones, they both understood that Bella was frustrated with them. Where were her two shadows?

After months of pampering, she wasn't prepared to be ignored.

However, it soon became apparent to everyone that James and Edward were no longer interested in fighting over Bella. Instead, they were now the best of friends, spending every minute together. Bella dropped them immediately, and began to focus her efforts on a senior boy named Mike Newton. He was stunningly dense, but very tall, and his family owned a sporting-goods chain.

Eventually, sometime during the summer months before junior year, Edward and James realized they were not suited for one another. Being gay had been a glue of sorts, as had their tentative explorations of another male body, but the strong attraction each had thought he felt wasn't enough. They were very different boys, one very cerebral, and the other not.

Edward finally confessed that he had long been harboring a crush on the former basketball star of the school, Jasper Whitlock. The revelation didn't bother James in the least; James even knew where the star player lived. He offered to take Edward by his house before Whitlock left for the University of Colorado Boulder in August. He'd been awarded a full four-year scholarship, and his parents had gratefully accepted what they could not provide for him.

Edward didn't know if he could handle the excitement and the strain of meeting Jasper, but James gently insisted. "When are you going to have another chance?" Jasper had been friends with James' older sister, Vicki, and he knew the god-like creature well-enough to get Edward inside. Plus, he suspected the very sexy and smart Jasper, who notoriously had never dated anyone in high school, just might like Edward.

Edward didn't want to miss his one opportunity to actually talk to Jasper, so he agreed, and the two boys made their way to the rather modest Whitlock dwelling. Modest, at least, compared to the Cullen estate.

It was one of the last things that the teenage James and Edward ever did together.

Carlisle, listening to Esme's repeated pleas for leniency for her son, had eventually relented about the necessity of further exposure of their only son to 'the other half.' Sometime in the spring of Edward's sophomore experience at Kirkland, he was reaccepted to Lakeview's upper school program. That fall, Edward started as a junior at Lakeview and in the manner of teenagers, left almost all that was Kirkland-related far behind.

He performed well during two years in the private, educational environment and naturally graduated at the top of his class.

His acceptance letter had come in from Harvard in April, 2003. Esme had only to direct Carlisle to formalize the financial arrangements for Edward's future to be secure.

It was then that Edward made his wishes known.


Due: 2010-Autumn. A Disaster of Epic Proportions: Edward meets Seth

"Jasper!" Edward was extremely impatient with his partner when missed deadlines threatened.

"Yes, dearest?" Jasper called charmingly, but unconvincingly from their bathroom. An unseasonably early snow was swirling outside the wall of windows of The Ice House, their leased third floor Lo-Do loft in Denver.

"We are going to miss the plane to Kalamazoo if you don't finish your packing."

"The plane is tomorrow afternoon, Edward. I'm mostly packed, and beginning to feel suffocated by a man I usually worship. I'm taking our baby for a walk." Jasper's tone was peeved, and would brook no argument.

Edward sniffed, recognizing he was on Jasper's last nerve, and choked back his warning about the snowstorm boiling up outside. He calculated that Jasper and their three year old Golden Retriever, Rosalie, would be out and back in approximately eight minutes when the flakes began flying. Rosie was far too prissy to enjoy getting her paws wet, and Jasper's shoulder-length curling locks, three inches longer than regulation for an assistant college basketball coach, would not hold up well to the humidity of an incoming storm.

It had never been discussed between the two of them, but Edward suspected Jasper's hair obsession to be a key factor in his partner's decision to remain in the usually very arid Mile High City after completing college. The difference in the texture of his golden locks compared to places like their former home in Seattle was startling.

In truth, as Edward's usual role was to smooth the life path of his partner, reminding Jasper of the deleterious effects of a drizzling snow on his hair would normally have been a natural element of his caring for his lover. He was the acknowledged business manager in their relationship.

But Edward had had enough of Jasper's usual travel procrastinations. He watched in silent resentment as the two people he loved best in the world took off, Rosie's leash delicately held between her jaws. She was very independent and bossed Jasper around unmercifully, even if she was a dog.

Edward sighed, and returned to carefully boxing up his photographic equipment for the flight. He had agreed to accompany Jasper on his scouting trip right before Thanksgiving, and then stay over the holiday weekend. Both of them wanted to spend the four days off in Michigan with Jasper's elderly parents, now in their seventies. His dad was suffering from Emphysema, and Jasper was worried about him.

The Whitlocks were the only set of parents who accepted their relationship.

Jasper's parents had left Seattle and returned to their Midwestern roots after seeing their son safely through his first two years of college. He and Edward had not officially come out as a couple until after Jasper's second year of college, when Edward announced he too would be attending CU, not Harvard. Both Whitlocks had generously welcomed Edward into their lives, and Edward cherished them for it.

Esme and Carlisle had not felt so similarly inclined. Edward's education and expenses had been paid for by a disappointed Carlisle, and that was the extent of his interactions with the couple he now referred to as the Cullens, other than the occasional letter.

Edward was humming contentedly now, irritation forgotten as he awaited the return of his true family. His thoughts were focused on what he would say when Jasper insisted on taking him snowshoeing, skating, cross-country skiing, and sledding around Kalamazoo. All were sports Jasper had enjoyed as a child in Michigan, and Edward was still slowly learning to enjoy them as well, in small doses.

In fact, there wasn't much about Jasper that Edward didn't enjoy. Maybe nothing, really.

Jasper chose at that moment to come springing through the door, a look of abject misery on his face. "She's gone!" he blurted.

Edward knew immediately who he meant. He shrieked in terror and launched himself across the room, using his fists on his despondent partner as he gasped, "What? How? Where?"

"A huge truck, making a terrible rattling sound, swerved in front of us, right at the entrance to Union Station." Jasper was shaking now, and the tears were beginning to form in the corners of his upturned midnight-blue eyes. "She darted into the parking lot, and with all the cars, and the holiday travel confusion, I couldn't find her." The blond was short of breath, agitated, and ready to completely break down. Edward had to fix it, fast.

"Find her squeak toys. You know she can't resist the sound of Elmo. I'll get my coat, and we'll split up. She'll come back, I know she will." Edward was not 100% certain of his success, but right now, he couldn't share that with Jasper as he saw hope replace the previous despair in his lover's eyes.

"Grab your heavy coat, it's freezing out. Come on, and bring a blanket. She'll be soaked and dirty."

Edward gritted his teeth, knowing it would take a while to find Rosie. But both he and Jasper would search until they found their baby. Edward wasn't an expert tracker, but he could usually find someone when he put his mind to the task. And this was their Rosie, after all.

Several hours later, the storm tapering off after dumping a couple of inches on the ground, both Edward and Jasper were exhausted, frozen, wet, and no nearer to locating the Golden.

"Jasper, we have to give up for tonight. We'll start again in the morning. She'll be hungry. She's probably frightened and hiding somewhere warm and safe until she can come home to us."

"It's all my fault, isn't it? You blame me, don't you?"

Edward was tired, but he knew the warning signs of an impending argument when he heard one. He summoned his last ounces of reserve, and wrapping his partner in his sad, limp embrace, simply said, "Love, let's go home."

Neither Edward nor Jasper slept that night, especially as Rosie's usual presence at the foot of their bed was missing. Jasper had refused dinner, nibbling on cheese and crackers as he sat morosely in front of ESPN until Edward dragged him off to bed.

In the morning, Edward's calls to the pound and a local Golden Retriever rescue group drew blanks. Edward thought it was odd that with contact information on her tags, no one had given her shelter and alerted them she was safe. But Rosie was still out on the streets, alone, cold, and likely hungry.

Jasper filled the pockets of his ski jacket with dry dog chow, pulled his skull cap low over his ears in anticipation of the ten degree wind chill reported on the Weather Channel, and urged Edward to hurry.

Edward did hurry, but in the back of his mind, he was thinking if they didn't find her in the next four hours, he would have to cancel his flight and somehow persuade Jasper to board the plane, Rosie's fate unknown. And then he would have to stay and search on his own, likely admitting defeat at some point and probably unable to schedule another flight to Michigan, it being the weekend before Thanksgiving and flights sold-out. Jasper's hopes for one more Thanksgiving with all of his family together would be ruined.

He growled, both scared for his dog and worried for his partner's mental state. Jasper would never forgive himself for losing Rosie. It would hang like a rope over his head for years, possibly his entire life.

The two men took the elevator to the lobby in silence, and set off to search past the Union Station area along the creek that ran just west of it. Edward had an idea that Rosie might have sought shelter in the open parkland or beneath the concrete overpasses. If those sidewalks had been cleared, he was going to run back, get his street bike, and ride along the canal, scanning the vegetation for his dog sheltering from the traffic and bitter wind.

Instead, they found Rosalie sleeping beneath the first overpass they checked. A homeless man, wrapped in several dirty coats, had a string lead attached to her collar, and was using her big doggie body as a warm blanket. She saw or smelled them first, and her tail began thumping excitedly, her front paws stretched out in greeting.

The cry of relief from Jasper went straight to Edward's heart, and he followed on his heels as Jasper sped up. They skidded to a stop as the street dweller rose wearily and apologetically handed over the piece of pink packing nylon to Jasper.

"She's your dog, I guess." The voice was much younger than either of them anticipated from the man's unkempt appearance.

"Yes she is, and we are so glad to find her," Edward answered for Jasper, knowing his love would be unable to speak over the lump in his throat, his face buried in Rosie's filthy fur…sweet Jesus!

"Jasper," Edward hissed, "she needs a bath!"

After a few minutes of small talk about dogs, Edward was relieved to find his wallet in his jacket pocket. He'd stocked up on cash in anticipation of the trip, and was able to offer Sam four twenties for keeping Rosie safe for them. Sam had been looking reluctant to walk away from Rosie, but his eyes lit up at the sight of the bills, and he thanked them for his Thanksgiving present, his eyes bright.

Edward felt uncomfortable at so callously leaving Sam outside in the cold, but he and Jasper had a plane to catch later that afternoon, and with a filthy dog to care for, they had to go.

When they got back inside their nice, warm, and safe loft, Jasper weeping silently the entire walk home, Edward took stock of the situation. Jasper hadn't finished packing, and Rosie was a knotted, dripping mess. She had all sorts of debris and shrubbery tangled in her fur, including what appeared to be the remains of an Egg McMuffin wrapper. She looked up at him, as if she could hear his thoughts, and gave him a decidedly guilty look.

He'd have to save his lecture on her misbehavior for later. Getting his family organized was the work of moments for Edward. Hugging Jasper tightly, he reminded the taller man that all was well, and they had a wonderful trip planned. Kissing helped, too, and Jasper soon trotted off to finish his packing.

His next task was finding a groomer open early on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving to save his dog. Someone really talented, someone who could pull victory from the (literal) jaws of defeat, someone who could save Rosie's fur without shaving the knotted mess to the skin. It would take months for the fur to grow back in completely, and Jasper would be reminded of his mistake every single one of those days. Edward knew he could not stand that sort of wallowing around his house.

The Internet would save him. Edward immediately typed in 'dog disasters' on his IPhone 4, too impatient to wait for the laptop to boot up.


He tried various combinations of the words dog, grooming, Denver, shaving, Lo-Do, disasters, Goldens, knots, emergency, weekend, until he finally hit on the magic phrase. He didn't know which one he'd just used, but there it was: Weekend Grooming Emergencies Our Specialty. The phone number and address quickly popped up for "Dogs Are People, Too." It was in Cherry Creek, and Edward didn't dare take time to make a phone call; this was an emergency. The merchant could either do the trick, or Rosie would just have to be shaved. Jasper would suffer for it and take Edward with him.

The shop he sought, Rosie on a short lead beside him, was actually in North Cherry Creek, on one of the less fashionable streets that had yet to undergo the soulless big box facelift destroying the exclusive shopping district. The door stuck from the wintry dampness, and the lighting was a little harsh. A young Native American man darted from behind a curtain, scissors in hand, when Edward anxiously called out for assistance.

The groomer was proffering his hand in welcome when he first caught sight of Rosie and dropped his scissors in surprise. "What happened?" he demanded, ignoring the usual pleasantries.

"Rosie escaped, we just found her, Jasper is so relieved, she was out overnight in the snow, her coat's a mess, full of knots and trash, we have a plane to catch at three this afternoon… I'm Edward Cullen; we live in Lo-Do." Edward stopped, short of breath, hoping he had conveyed the full gravity of the situation.

"I'm Seth Clearwater. Let me examine your baby in the backroom. Lock the front door. I don't need any more emergencies this morning." Seth was authoritative and serene now, a General assuming his rightful command.

Edward handed over Rosie's lead to Seth, who gently coaxed her to the room behind the curtain as Edward secured the front door with the old-fashioned dead bolt. When he turned back to Seth, the curtain was still moving. He walked quickly into the grooming area, just in time to see Seth's head snap up, momentarily furious. "Please, wait outside. I'll be out in a minute with my answer." Edward backed out, apologizing, but inwardly surprised that Seth already had Rosie, who weighed a good sixty-five pounds, up on the grooming table.

Fidgeting aside, it was the most difficult 240 seconds of Edward's life. Would Seth Clearwater be able to work a miracle for them, or would Rosie be shorn, and gloom reign supreme in the Cullen-Whitlock household?

When Seth eventually emerged, he was smiling, and Edward had time to notice what a gorgeous beauty was Mr. Clearwater, his long black braid tucked into the pocket of the short lavender smock protecting his street clothes. The groomer wasn't a large man: probably no more than 5' 8" but his masculine features were softened by a high wattage smile both sweet and disarming. His body was slender, his arms toned, pants tight in all the right places. Edward estimated his age at 22 or 23.

Before Seth could speak, a small furry beast, snow white with very large chocolate brown ears, round pleading eyes, and spindly legs came bounding up to Seth. "Jakey, we have company. Edward, I'd like to introduce Jacob Black Clearwater, the other member of my tribe." Seth offered this as he scooped up Jake, a Papillion, and flashed a slow grin at Edward.

"Can you do it?" Edward was impatient, but he knew his audience. "And pleased to meet you, Jacob B. Clearwater. Would you like your chin scratched?"

Seth watched shrewdly as Edward advanced on his Jakey. Once Edward had passed Jake's critical evaluation, Seth visibly relaxed. "$300.00 and she'll be ready by Noon. No shaving, and she'll smell like a peach. I won't knock her out, either. That's inhumane. Are you giving her a sedative for the plane ride?"

"No, she's staying in town to watch over an elderly, housebound friend. Rosie refuses to fly." Seth nodded sagely. "Do you take credit cards?" Assured that he did, Edward continued answering all the mundane questions he could before grasping Seth's hand in his, pulling groomer and dog in closer for a guy hug and murmuring his heartfelt thanks. Jasper would be able to sleep tonight, and Edward could probably count on being laid in Kalamazoo.

Later on the plane, Jasper's fingers running lightly over his skin to soothe his usual airline travel-induced nerves, Edward decided he owed Seth a big favor. And deducing from the setup and a few stray remarks that the diminutive groomer was both gay and single, what better way to repay his kindness than to find a boyfriend for him? As a wilderness photographer who sold his work to the public, Edward knew a wide variety of people in the metro Denver area. He'd find the perfect man for Seth, even if he had to go to Aspen or Vail to do so.

In his opinion, dog groomers were entitled to just as much happiness as anyone else. Possibly more.

Especially the charming Seth Clearwater.

Edward's dick twitched in agreement before they both fell asleep, his head cradled into Jasper's warmth.


Tre: 2010-Winter. The Reunion of Edward & James

It was thus perfect timing that the week following Thanksgiving, after a decade-long absence, James should reappear in Edward's life.

He and fifteen other men had been handpicked from hundreds of City of Denver public employees for the annual calendar shoot to be orchestrated by Edward.

A Firefighters of Denver calendar shoot, to be exact: a celebration of flexing muscles, toned bodies, and the ultimate in macho gear. All to be captured in glorious high definition color, and all in the name of charity.

The release of the fourteen months calendar had become an eagerly anticipated City tradition. Sales of each subsequent calendar usually doubled the previous year's results, especially after notable eye candy and local photographer Edward Cullen volunteered his services. But this year was the first time that James Witherdale had been invited to participate in anything like it. James had always kept a low profile in his career, travelling from city-to-city almost every year since completing his training and induction into the International Association of Firefighters. He was a nomad of sorts.

A nomad, who, in spite of his (geographically) far-ranging job path, had begun to develop a reputation.

Point James towards a burning building, trapped inhabitants, and billowing smoke that disoriented everyone else and the quietly withdrawn man became a modern-day hero. No one could track the missing, the overcome, and the assumed lost souls better than James. He just wouldn't give up. He knew he could save everyone, given the chance. It wasn't reckless behavior, but it was close.

His Captains often wrote in performance reviews that he seemed to have an extraordinary sense of smell. There was a sameness about their reports, dry accounts unexpectedly larded with terms such as weakened timbers, heat furnace blasts, unstable floors, and raging infernos that defined his exploits.

In his estimation, his actions were carefully calculated decisions. He was just doing his job.

But others considered his gifts to be both miraculous and verging on the dangerous.

After several months of such unparalleled displays of courage, the other men in his company would start to avoid him, shifting their eyes when he would approach, conversations dying off when he tried to join in. It was a general, uncoordinated, unintentional shunning that hurt him to the quick.

It was why he had so many transfers to show over the last five years as he slowly made his way east.

Denver was the first city where he was not treated as a pariah after six months, instead being hailed as the genuine hero he had proven himself to be.

And all because he had saved the lives of several children and their minders at a high-profile Halloween party given by City employees. A party that nearly turned deadly when some decorations caught fire and exits were found to be illegally blocked.

James Witherdale's actions were written up extensively and resulted in a local media storm. Adding him to that year's Firefighters of Denver calendar line-up had not drawn a single protest.


Edward watched carefully as the 2012 calendar models assembled in the City and County of Denver's first floor auditorium. He was scanning his subjects when his eyes alighted on the quiet man already seated in the farthest corner of the room, instantly recognizing his friend and former lover he hadn't seen in a decade. The bio given to him for each of the firefighters had identified James Witherdale for his bravery, but until this moment, Edward hadn't made the connection.

Edward's contribution to the success of the calendar was in producing the eye-popping final photographs and the page proofs for publication. He had been donating his services for three years now. The visibility of the project in turn generated traffic to his website and increased his own bookings. He considered the calendar shoot his major charitable endeavor each year and happily allocated big blocks of time to it.

With the surprise appearance of James, the 2012 calendar promised to be even more fun than usual. Edward, with Jasper by his side, enjoyed attending the many summer follow-up promotional events designed to give the public a chance to mingle with the City's heroes. He'd always had an eye for a spectacular male physique, and the firefighters chosen by the City's panel were never less than primo.

Of course, James recognized Edward as soon as he was introduced to the crowded room. He gave a half-wave when his own name was called, and Edward cocked his head in acknowledgment. He couldn't wait to get James alone and tell him all about his life with Jasper. And now James would be yet another acquaintance to add to their growing group of friends.

James readily agreed when Edward suggested lunch after the meeting broke up, everyone else having departed after finalizing their appointments. He'd hung around until last, hoping Edward would want to catch up over lunch.

"Man, it was a shock to see you step to the front of that room." James had wanted to give Edward a hug, so happy was he to see his old friend, but he waited until they had reached their restaurant, Wahoo's Fish Taco. Edward enthusiastically returned the hug, and gave him a friendly buss on the cheek.

"Missed you too, old friend. I'd no idea you were in Denver. You're new here, right?"

"Moved here from Phoenix about seven months ago; kind of been progressively moving east. Maybe I was always wending my way to Denver, huh?"

Not sure if there was another meaning behind James' words, Edward thought it was time to enlighten him.

"Jasper Whitlock and I have been living here since graduation. We both enjoyed being near the mountains during college, and Jasper swung a good offer for assistant basketball coach from D.U. So we stayed." He thought James smile might have faltered a little, but he pressed on. "We'd love to have you come over for dinner, talk about Seattle. And you are quite the celebrity after your heroic save. I think you may own City Hall. You could probably take over Mayor Hickenlooper's old job, now that he's been elected Governor."

James laughed heartily at the idea of being the new Denver mayor. Edward joined in, and the merriment stayed with them through lunch. It carried over to Edward's invitation to attend an Open House party at their loft the week before Christmas, which James acted flattered to be invited to after such a brief reunion.

Plans for getting together again socially all set, James and Edward parted ways, fully expecting to see each other again for both the calendar photo shoot and the Open House.

James' photo shoot ten days later was a success. The elaborate ink designs on his hips and arms were pure win, and Edward knew how to highlight the work. And James' body, all wiry sinews, rippled six-pack, and glowing skin, hair, and eyes made him a knockout. Edward took countless shots of him with the international yellow overalls riding low on his hips, the bib straps unhooked and trailing around his ankles. James' hair, a burnished blond cut to showcase his chiseled features, was gelled to give him a daredevil look, replete with small 'horns.' He was a living Hephaestus, God of Fire, able to tame and manipulate the Destroyer of Life. His weapon of choice was an impressively large axe, his chariot a gleaming red and silver fire engine with very large nozzles.

Edward had been casually flirting with James throughout their hours together, as he naturally did with all his subjects. It was innocent and meant to loosen-up the model. No one had ever misinterpreted his gentle teasing and lavish praise.

But James was different, growing more subdued as the shoot wore on, and Edward's assistants continued to make demands on the professional firefighter.

When Edward had all the shots he was sure he could tease from his former friend, they shut down, and everyone but the two of them rapidly packed up and left.

And James then felt free to voice his confusion, catching Edward off-guard.

"Do you always flirt with models when your Partner is waiting at home for you?" It was a bitter remark, and James' easy smile was nowhere in sight.

Edward stumbled over a cord left unwound on the floor, and looked up in surprise. He'd had no clue James was so unhappy.

It took a few minutes, and some heated words, but James eventually came to understand that Edward wasn't hitting on him. And in turn, Edward realized that James had been single a long time, had some hard edges to be filed off, and was definitely in need of some fun in his life.

And from that belated realization, an idea was borne. Happy and satisfied with his own domestic bliss, Edward enjoyed playing the role of Cupid with his friends and acquaintances. And Jasper always encouraged his romantic partner to forge new bonds within their various social circles, both gay and straight.

Both thus agreed that James' scheduled appearance at Jasper and Edward's Open House in a week, no boyfriend in tow, just seethed with gay matchmaking opportunities. Jasper himself recommended the likely match as soon as Edward began laying out the facts for his devoted lover in bed that night.

Plus, they owed him one for setting them up. Without his introduction, there wasn't any reason to believe Edward and Jasper would have met, let alone ended up together.

And so, after Edward had developed James' photos, he stuck a few duplicates of the best ones into a large manila envelope and left to run errands. The last one had him stopping off at a tiny shop in North Cherry Creek to pick up a bottle of herbal canine shampoo. He casually set the unsealed envelope on the countertop before turning around to catch up with his favorite groomer, Seth Clearwater. Edward quickly confirmed his earlier suspicions that Seth was single, gay, and interested in seeing Rosie again and meeting her other daddy, Jasper. Both Seth and Jacob were soon invited over on the following Sunday to the Open House, and Edward's plan was effectively launched.

He knew if he found Seth attractive, and Rosie had liked him, James would be likely to follow suit.

What he hadn't planned on was a five-alarm warehouse blaze that called in every available firefighter within a three county region. James' extraordinary ability to track humans in such a situation was imperative to have on site. He performed admirably, saving lives yet again, and never had an opportunity to send his regrets.

He did call Edward the next day, sincerely sorry to have missed the Cullen-Whitlock holiday event. Since Jasper and Edward had both seen his photo online in their morning feed of the Denver Post, they already knew the reason for his absence. When Edward quizzed him about it, James downplayed his role in the operation, and changed the subject to a discussion of holiday travel plans. He would be going home to Seattle to see family, but would be back in town for the New Year's Eve celebrations.

The information gave Edward all kinds of ideas, for New Year's Eve was two weeks away. And not only had Seth not returned the envelope containing James' photos at the Open House, he hadn't even mentioned it. That knowledge alone gave both matchmakers a major thrill.

They began hatching a fresh plot for New Year's Eve with several couples invited over for a buffet and dancing. Seth agreed to come, and this time asked Edward if he personally knew the Denver firefighter, James Witherdale. When Edward acknowledged the connection and hinted that James would be in attendance at the party, Seth gave a small grunt of satisfaction.

It seemed like the perfect set-up.

Unfortunately, James once again had to bow out at the last minute, this time because of a monster winter snowstorm that rocked the City with three feet of snow and shut down DIA for two days. The City firefighters were put to all manner of good use in various highway rescue operations, and James was no exception, working a straight thirty-six hour shift.

Perhaps the Gods themselves had decided to foil his matchmaking plans, Edward thought sourly as he and Jasper stayed warm in front of their gas fireplace on New Year's Eve. They'd sent friends home early as the streets were very icy and were now snuggled up under a light wool blanket, listening to tunes on Jasper's IPod and eating leftover chocolate truffles.

Edward took another swallow of his wine, watching as Jasper played absently with one of Rosie's soft ears. "Should I give up, love? Turn in my golden arrows and gilded bow?" he spoke softly, the first to break their comfortable silence.

"If we are a happily unmarried couple," Jasper giggled at Edward's wince, "then why shouldn't everyone we know be corralled by you into the same situation? I barely remember James as a teenager, but his photos for the 2012 calendar are sizzle. He's a legitimate hero, and you're sure he's not out at work. He deserves some happiness, and now that I've spent time with Rosie's dazzling dog groomer, we have to find him a boyfriend, too. Why shouldn't it be James?"

Before Edward could answer, his reflexes a little slowed by the wine they'd consumed and their mood, Jasper continued. "Does James have a dog? Maybe you could arrange something along those lines? Tell him about Seth's shop, and let nature take its course?"

"No dog, I already checked."

"Maybe he could babysit for Rosie, and take her in for a make-over at Seth's?" They both looked fondly at their baby, her Christmas bone long gone, but several of her latest toys scattered around their loft.

"She'd play matchmaker for daddy, any time," Jasper cooed at her.

While hooking up their two friends had become of paramount importance to Edward, Jasper was in danger of drifting off on a puffy cloud of Vino. It was way past time for him to show Edward how he felt about the last decade with him. Narrow-minded Colorado legislators could go fuck themselves: Jasper wanted parity.

Jasper began with some gentle sucking, escalating the kisses they'd been exchanging all evening into a lengthy taste of his partner's strong column of a neck and angular jaw. Edward had shaved it clean that afternoon, and Jasper used the opportunity to suckle along the delicious ridge where bone met soft throat tissue. His partner's smell was all male: spicy, earthy, and dense. It travelled along his olfactory nerves, and his parasympathetic nervous system, getting wind of the treat, sent an immediate order for blood to begin flowing rapidly into his cock.

His hands found their natural home in untamable fiery bronze locks, and Jasper's erection grew in direct response to all the licking and sucking. He happily pressed the beast against Edward's hip, knowing Edward would understand just how much he wanted to fuck him. All very typical: Edward and Jasper were versatile when it came to topping, and both men were quite happy with their arrangement. Edward readily agreed. He moved to adjourn to their bed, and was only mildly surprised when he was prevented from standing, an eager Jasper climbing on top as he began unbuttoning his shirt, urging Edward, "Strip. Now, please!"

Jasper had intended to make a very public Proposal, securing the ring and memorizing a speech he would deliver at midnight in front of their friends. Instead, Mother Nature's snowstorm turned the event into a private moment in the aftermath of their frantic lovemaking, both feeling completely sated, flushed, and drowsy. One minute, Edward was certain they were going to drift off together on the leather couch and not awaken until 2011, and the next, Jasper had fished something from beneath the cushions and shoved the small round piece of metal into the palm of his hand.

"What's this, love?" he asked, stunned, as Jasper folded his fingers to wrap around Edward's.

"It's a token for the promise I'm making to keep you with me forever, if you'll have me. Shall we fly to Des Moines or Chicago this year and formally pledge our lives to one another? I love you now, and that's never going to change."

"Damn, you are proposing, right?" Edward's voice was husky with excitement.

At Jasper's emphatic nod, Edward gave him a very loving kiss, and mouthing the words against his lips, said "Stay right here; do not move an inch." He was careful to take his ring with him as he sprinted lopsidedly to the bathroom, presumably to retrieve a washcloth for their post coital clean-up.

Jasper had barely closed his eyes to wait before Edward reappeared, wearing his engagement ring, and dropped to both knees in front of Jasper.

Jasper raised an eyebrow in askance. Hadn't they just done that?

But in Edwards's extended open palm was a thin, bronze ring with an intricately cross-hatched design. Edward clearly meant it to be the symbol of his devotion, and he was offering it to his partner. Jasper sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes glittering blue diamonds.

"It might be a little late, sweetheart, but will you marry me, Jasper?"

Jasper fell on Edward, sweet laughter mixing with happy tears, as he rode his future husband to the floor.

Rosie watched disinterestedly as her two daddies once again celebrated their special night with tangled limbs, passionate kisses, and many sighs and loud moans of love and pleasure. She'd no idea how she got hooked up with such humping bunnies, but she adored managing their lives.


Quattro: 2011—(An early) Spring. A Blind Date on Valentine's Day: James and Seth

James carefully checked his watch one more time. It was ten after six and his date was late. He tapped his finger against the crystal face, taking some comfort from the treasured memento his father had given him when he turned thirteen, and his voice had changed. His father had been so proud of him for achieving that milestone, and James had sworn that day to always make his father proud. So far, he was satisfied with his own efforts, although his father was no longer with them. James felt the familiar tug, and went back to wondering if he was about to be stood up on a blind date. Now that would be humiliating.

A shadow fell over him, and he hesitantly rose to meet the man he'd let Edward talk him into taking to dinner, sight unseen. Edward had advised him only that Seth Clearwater wasn't tall, wasn't political, wasn't boring, and wasn't straight, adding later that he was definitely a bottom and very hot. James huffed; three seconds with the dude, and he'd already figured out all that by himself.

Still… James did admire his date's deeply-tanned skin and his thick, shiny braid that flashed around his shoulder when Seth twisted behind him to retrieve and lift something into his arms. His eyes were deep pools, drawing James in as he assessed Seth's expression after he straightened back up. Was his date pleased or disappointed after meeting him?

James hand was still held out for a shake when he caught sight of the small dog now comfortably tucked in the crook of Seth's arm, both of them staring at him with interest. The dog was wearing a dark blue suit with gold buttons. He lacked a tie, but was more formally dressed than his owner. The Native American had chosen to pair low-rise dark jeans that hugged his hips with a form-fitting deep pink shirt with pearl snap buttons and black embroidery on breast pockets, collar, and cuffs. James took a moment to admire the design on the final component, the black and white cowboy boots with two-inch stacked heels, before dragging his eyes back up to the other man's.

There was no denying Seth Clearwater was sleekly sexy, a confection of layered rich dark chocolate with a tart cherry filling. But with clothing that looked more like a costume than everyday wear and the dog accessory, James wondered just what he had gotten himself into.

So far, neither of them had spoken. James cleared his throat, unexpectedly nervous in the face of so much magnificence, both human and canine. His date was damnably attractive. He hoped Seth kissed on a first date. Shit, he hoped Seth fucked on a first date.

"I'm Seth, of course, and this is Jacob Black Clearwater. We go everywhere together. Have you been waiting long, James?" The megawatt smile, somehow hinting at both wish fulfillment and tortuous denial, was leveled at him, and sent him reeling. He quickly grasped the back of the chair he'd been warming, and mumbled a denial. Did the dog really go everywhere with him?

"Are you hungry? Your text message didn't indicate where we'd be eating, but since we are downtown, want to try for a table on the patio at Dixon's Grill? It's a rare event in February to be given seventy degree weather two days in a row. We Denverites are lucky that way."

Seth interpreted James' lack of protest as a 'yes' and continued with his one-sided chatter as they made their way to the downtown institution, James' contribution an occasional grunt or nod. They were quickly seated, the hostess selecting a good table by the wrought iron fence for them. Seth had wanted Jacob to have his own chair but the hostess insisted the dog be placed on the tiled floor and tied to an upright. She did allow Seth to scoot a chair cushion underneath him to protect his good suit. James had overheard Seth whisper to her that it had to be dry-cleaned, and she nodded in understanding, saying she had children, too.

It was too much. What did Edward imagine he would have in common with Seth besides a fuck? James gave a small moan of agony which Seth misinterpreted as sympathy for Jacob's being relegated to the restaurant's floor. He immediately sought to reassure both James and Jacob it was fine.

James just looked at him. But he wasn't naturally rude, far from it, and so resolved to eat quickly and then gracefully offer a reason to leave early.

A waitress arrived, bringing a bowl of water and some biscuits for the honored third member of their blind date. James watched in amazement as Seth carefully nibbled on a biscuit before allowing Jacob to enjoy.

"We don't have any Valentine's Day treats for our dog patrons, but we can give him some construction paper and a red crayon if you wish to draw some hearts for him?" The waitress was giving it her all. She and Seth had been admiring Jacob as he sat happily on his haunches when the sudden sound of James' barely muffled snort caused them both to jump.

"Are you okay, James?" Seth looked at him curiously, his hand moving to casually pat the arm of his heretofore very quiet companion.

James mood had shifted from disbelief at the bizarre antics of his date to one of deep embarrassment as he processed what he'd just learned. How had he managed to be wrangled into a blind date on February 14?

He was going to kill Edward, although…it wasn't really Edward's fault. James was the one who at the last-minute had changed the blind date from Sunday to Monday night. He hadn't paid any attention when he'd been asked to work the weekend night shift, and just now remembered the very long pause from Seth before his return text agreed to meet him one day later. Fuck all, how could he have been such an oblivious ass? Of course Jacob would be wearing a suit, he thought wildly. It was a special day for lovers.

"I'm sorry. Yes, I'm fine, if a little thirsty. Would you like a drink, Seth?"

Seth assaulted him with another smile that left James breathless, and promptly ordered a Pink Martini. James felt like he needed a beer, and still on edge, ordered a Flying Dog Pale Ale in honor of Jacob. Seth approved of his choice, and James relaxed just a little.

The waitress lingered to take their dinner orders, chatting with Seth before promising to return with a complimentary Valentine's Day appetizer. James rolled his eyes behind her back, sniggering at the prospect of "pigs in heart-shaped blankets" but Seth's small frown let him know he was on his own with the off-color allusions.

Into the gathering silence, James finally spoke about what was really bothering him.

"You should have said something when I asked you out on Valentine's Day. I'd no idea..." James voice trailed off. Why did everything out of his mouth sound so lame? He had a college degree. Was his brain already turning to mush at just a hint of interest from Seth?

"It's just another day, James. And I wanted to meet you; I was tired of waiting and missing you. Edward's been playing matchmaker for months and had nothing to show for his efforts."

"What do you mean?" He was so texting Edward when he got home.

"Weren't you invited to their Open House back in December?" At his nod, Seth confirmed he'd been invited as well. "And New Year's Eve, you and I were to be the two single guys at the couples' dance party they'd planned."

James was shocked by the revelation of Edward's underhanded nature.

"Then, when you and I were the only ones invited to their place for dinner two weeks ago, and you cancelled for the third time without any reasonable explanation, I decided we simply weren't meant to meet."

James didn't think he was in the wrong here, but he still felt guilty.

"I'm sorry, Seth, I didn't know. My cousin Laurent had a stopover at DIA. He called from the airport when his flight home to Juneau got cancelled. I drove out to pick him up, and he stayed overnight at my place. It wasn't planned. I just assumed the party was a big group, and no one would miss me. I would have tried to find a way to make it if I'd known…" He didn't finish his sentence.

"I missed you, even though Jasper and Edward were very gracious. We five had an excellent meal. Jasper made beef tenderloin for us, and I brought mashed potatoes and biscuits."


"I'm including Rosie and Jakey, of course. They made five, and you would have been the sixth. The biscuits were for them."

"Of course," James nodded, beginning to feel on firmer ground with how Seth's mind worked.

"Well, let's enjoy our dinner, but if you want to go to a club later, we'll have to take Jakey home. He doesn't like the loud music and the flashing lights at Boyztown on Broadway. He may also be a little jealous of the strippers." Both Seth and James automatically checked Jakey's expression for any hint of jealousy. James felt like pinching himself when he realized what he had done.

But Jakey looked pretty blasé about his supposed competitors. James wondered if the dog had a sailor's outfit tucked away in a closet somewhere, along with a miniature stripper pole. He somehow refrained from asking, and zeroed back in on Seth's very pleasant tenor voice.

"And sometimes they discriminate and make a fuss when I try to get him a table. I've had to leave early because he started howling, so now I mostly avoid smuggling him inside the club."

"Not a problem, Seth," James calmly stated. "I have my car with me and will escort Jakey back home before we go to Boyztown. I've never been." The shift in his attitude towards Seth had been imperceptible to James, but there was no denying the surge of interest he was feeling. Seth shirtless, slim hips making their own hot, sensual music was something James wanted to see.

"Best dance club in Denver, and decent bathrooms. I know the bouncers; we won't have to wait outside. But don't you have to work tomorrow?"

"No, I finished my work schedule last night. What about you?"

"I usually unlock at nine, but I switch the business line to ring to my cell when I close up. I live in the apartment above the shop, so I'm always on site for grooming emergencies." He suddenly blushed, and James wondered what he'd done to cause that reaction. "And that's how I met Edward. I saved Rosie when she escaped the lead just as Jasper and Edward were leaving town. One of my more memorable rescues," he finished, smiling modestly.

"You found her on the street and called them?"

"No, silly. I was standing in the back, trimming Jakey's ears, which he just hates, when the front door opened to Edward's shouts for help…"

Their drinks and the appetizer had arrived. In spite of himself, James found he was interested in Seth's story. He waited until the server was gone, then waved for Seth to continue as he quenched his thirst with the Dog.

Listening to Seth's tale, he was impressed at how efficiently Seth had planned and executed his strategy. It didn't seem to take long before Seth's pan-seared Salmon and his Aztec Chicken entrees were placed before them. They both dug in, their conversation turning to the Denver Nuggets' win/loss record, and then onto shared musical tastes. Both liked former locals The Fray, and Seth hummed a few bars of How to Save a Life. Seth opined that James needed to hear the band play at Red Rocks to really appreciate them. When James didn't respond, Seth let it drop and silence reigned as Seth concentrated on finishing his salmon.

James kept his head down after that, satisfied that Seth seemed to be enjoying his food. He worked out extensively to stay strong and healthy for his physically demanding job, and disliked men who refused to eat in front of him. Seth had no such qualms.

Seth also hadn't offered to share bites or tried to dip his fork into James dinner. That restraint earned him high points; James never wanted to share when he had something he liked.

James started to loosen up again when Seth pointedly began asking him questions about his work, and became caught up in telling his dinner companion technical details of the bigger fires he had witnessed. Recovered from the earlier awkward silence, they talked easily through the chocolate cake Seth ordered and split with him and all too soon, the waitress was bringing the check.

Feeling a sense of contentment with which he was unfamiliar, James settled their tab and suggested they drop off Jakey and go to the club. He offered his hand to Seth, was pleased when his companion accepted, and shortened his stride to match the smaller man's. The temperature had fallen after the sun set, and Seth crowded close to him as they walked the darkened blocks to retrieve his vehicle.

It had been so long since he'd been on a date with someone like Seth, he kept getting odd little emotional tremors. It was just the three of them, together, headed home to settle Jacob for the night before going out. He was tempted to drop a kiss on Seth's head in gratitude, but decided to wait until later, when they were off the street. He wasn't sure how he would react if he ran into one of his colleagues; he wasn't altogether ready for the awkward introductions to start just yet.

On the seven minute drive up Speer to the Cherry Creek district, James learned that Seth's aunt, Sue Black, owned the building in North Cherry Creek. Seth lived above the shop rent-free, which was how he could afford the prestigious address for his modest operation. Sue was his aunt by marriage, but she had embraced her husband's Native American relatives and helped everyone in his now deceased Uncle Harry's family as best she could. She was like a mother to him, his own mother having disappeared when he was twelve, and Harry and Sue had taken him in to raise. And, of course, Jakey had been named in her honor.

It was a lot of information, delivered much more randomly than James had summarized and stored away for later review. Before he could ask any questions, though, they had found a parking spot, and Seth invited him inside. As expected, Seth's apartment was sparsely but tastefully furnished, with several items referencing his Native heritage holding places of distinction in the main room. James walked around the room, admiring the carvings and pottery while Seth fussed over the dog. Once Seth felt confident in leaving Jakey on his own, he asked if James would like some coffee before they left.

James thought about the noise, and the flashing lights they'd likely encounter at Boyztown and unconsciously settled further down into the couch where he'd been waiting.

"Coffee sounds good, especially as I'm driving." He was realizing there were many things he'd like to know about Seth that going to a loud bar with the further distraction of young male strippers wouldn't answer.

While Seth began setting up the coffee maker and gathering cups and spoons, James mentally listed what he wanted to ask, starting with, "Umm, should I be helping, Seth?"

"No, but thanks. I bought some Starbucks Winter Blend, thinking you might be a coffee queen, being a Seattle native."

James was both touched and rather excited by this latest revelation of interest, but he was careful not to let those emotions color his reply. "I'll drink anything you have. Safeway's brand when it's on special works for me, too. But I do like their Winter grind; I've a full bag of it back at my apartment."

He closed his eyes as he listened to the familiar sounds, smiling when he heard Seth's humming start up again in the kitchen.

When the coffee was ready, Seth rejoined him and handed over a heavy mug, sitting further away than James expected. He was disappointed after their earlier closeness, but wasn't averse to working on gaining Seth's trust. He particularly wanted to hear his date's coming out story.

"So you and your Aunt get along well. Have you come out to your family?"

"Long time ago, and Aunt and Uncle were fine with it. My cousins had questions, even my older sister Leah did for a while, but my family has bigger issues to concern them. I have everyone's support, even if they don't understand it. Leah and Aunt Sue even joined me at Pride events last summer," he finished up with a question in his voice.

"My own story isn't as pretty. My announcement was a big disaster in my family. Dad had been in the military for twenty years before taking early retirement to teach at a community college in Seattle, where he was raised. We had a lot of family, first and second cousins scattered around the city. I was seventeen; it was just after Edward left for Lakeview School, and I was feeling very lonely. I got drunk and told everyone at our annual Labor Day party on Lake Washington. That night, I had to go stay at a cousin's house, my dad was so mad at me." James was rubbing the crystal face of his watch again, and Seth noticed that doing so calmed the other man.

James cut his account short with a wry grin, "But it all worked out in the end. My dad recovered, my mom stopped worrying about why I wasn't dating girls, and I finished high school and attended U.W. Graduated with a degree in Physical Sciences, and now I fight fires."

"Where does your dad teach, James?"

James cleared his throat; this was always the difficult part of his story. "He had a stroke three years ago. I was living in San Diego, and he was gone that fast," he mumbled, snapping his fingers. "No warning."

He hadn't been expecting it, but Seth moved closer and held him, resting his dark head against James' golden one. If James hadn't been feeling so unexpectedly shaky, he might have found Seth's mouth and tried for a kiss, but he was and he didn't. "Thanks," he whispered, swallowing hard and trying for some control.

Seth moved away before asking, "How is your mom?"

"She's okay; she remarried last year. I'm happy for her, but we don't speak often, and I see her less. Seeing my cousin Laurent after New Year's was a real treat."

Seth was an exceptional listener. He heard and understood the meaning behind the words, even if James did not realize what he had revealed.

"Didn't Jasper tell me you have an older sister named Vicki? Does she still live in Seattle?"

"Nominally, but she works overseas for a civilian contractor. I get the occasional email from her. She loves me unconditionally, but she left home after high school, and we only see her once a year for holidays. She's as nomadic as I am; probably the way we were raised when Dad was in the military."

James's voice stopped short, and Seth watched as the other man shifted uncomfortably before he slowly rose to his feet. "I'm sorry. I don't know how we got on this subject. I would like to know more about you, Seth, but all in good time. Why don't we clean up the cups and head over to the Boyztown club? You sure Jakey will be okay on his own?"

Seth flashed him a grateful smile for asking, and in minutes the clean cups were back on the shelves, and they were ready to leave.

"Seth, one more thing before you shut off the lights?"

"Sure, James."

"You are adorable," James whispered shyly. "I'm so glad you agreed to spend Valentine's Day with me; thank you for not giving up on me."

Seth was standing next to him, as they had both been ready to walk out the door. James gently tugged him forward by his belt loops just as Seth stretched to settle his wrists on the taller man's shoulders, warm hands locking in place and resting lightly on the bare skin of his neck.

"Thanks. Me, too, actually."

James' hands travelled up Seth's sides before finding and tracing the sharp shoulder blades and firm skin beneath the cotton shirt. Seth relaxed his tense back muscles as questing fingers closed on the thick, silky rope of hair hugging his spine. James popped open the hair clip, and Seth's soft mane began to flow freely beneath his fingers. He drew in a deep breath, reveling in the faint woodsy scent released as the warm tresses slowly unwound. Shampoo or just Seth? He wasn't sure, but the pure, clean smell went straight to his cock.

James hands drifted lower, sliding slowly down Seth's narrow back to grasp his firm, perfect ass. He squeezed the fleshy halves appreciatively before continuing to gently explore, the fire in Seth's eyes sparking a growing storm of want within him.

Focusing in on the pair of jet-black eyes, his face so near, James realized his companion's breathing had become a little ragged. The moment was ripe for a kiss, and Seth's gaze dropped to James lips.

"Maybe adorable isn't the right word. Does handsome sound better?" James' kiss was slow and deliberately included tongue. He worked Seth's sweet, lush lips, savoring the eager response of the younger male…who unexpectedly groaned and pulled away too quickly.

"That was good, but not so fast?" Seth's tone was pleading, and James felt bad for pushing him. Seth was just a few years past being a teenager; and James suddenly felt like a hoary, horny older man at twenty-six.

"God, I was just about to apologize again, Seth. I'm not usually so inept on a first date; I'd like to think I'm a little better at reading the signs." He swiveled his hips against his companion's as he spoke, making sure the younger man realized the effect he was having on him. "But you're right. Finish locking up and let's go. It's still early; maybe they'll be having a boy's wet t-shirt contest, and I'll get lucky after all," he teased, running his hands over the front of Seth's breast pockets, intent clear.

Enjoying the sweet sound of Seth's chuckling, he placed a loud, wet kiss on his forehead before the door closed behind them. Walking arm-in-arm to the stairs leading to the street, Seth stopped, poised at the very top of the stairs and pulled away. James watched in amusement as he grasped the banister, turned and stuck out his ass, taunting James to catch him if he could. The agile firefighter accepted the challenge, landing a sharp, stinging slap on the firm derriere before yanking the stunned beauty back against his chest. "Gorgeous," he breathed into his ear, gently turning the smooth chin to the side to capture the willing mouth once more.

Their kiss went on forever, and James didn't want it stop, didn't want to pull away from the heat and hard planes of the man who was igniting the flames. Holding Seth's back so close to his chest, his cock was framed in the warmth emanating from the tightly-clad cheeks, and voice husky with want, he couldn't refrain from praising all that he desired. Seth's soft murmur reminded him of his earlier promise, though, and it was his turn to groan as he released him and stepped back from temptation.

They stood for a moment, each assessing and not asking, before Seth shook like a young colt upon awakening, the stars in his eyes slowly dimming.

"Still want to go?" James asked with a grin.

"Think we better; Valentine's Day at Boyztown comes but once a year. Trust me, they go all out."

"Guess we'd better not miss it then. Wonder what Edward and Jasper are doing tonight; I'm so tempted to prank call them about one or so, suggest they join us."

"Prank call my benefactors?" Seth smirked at the idea, but shook his head. "Naw, they are getting married in a few months, so they are probably home asleep in bed by nine-thirty on a school night. Looks like I'm going to the wedding, though."

"How do you know?"

"Rosie is a bridesmaid, and I'm doing her hair and nails." As James stared at him, open-mouthed, Seth first grinned, and then began shaking with laughter. James made another lunge for him, but anticipating his reaction Seth had twisted away and took off running. The staccato sounds of his boot heels bounced off the walls as he clattered down the steep wooden stairs, shouting, "Race you to the car," his loose, dark hair a flying curtain behind him.

James waited a moment before following, his own whoops echoing in the sudden silence after Seth bolted through the shop door, too far ahead for James to win.

But catch him? He could do that, eager to try dancing and more with his slinky, teasing friend.

James heart sped up, thinking of how he would draw the younger man close against his body, his hands moving as if already guiding those twitchy hips to mimic the beat, naked chest to smooth, warm back. Undulating in tandem, his blazing hot cock hitched tight against Seth's equally hot ass, the two of them would lock lips until one or both caved in to the need for oxygen.

James sucked in a harsh breath, imagining the night Seth would finally let him push him flat against the sheets, wrestle his pants to his knees and taste the salty evidence of his desire for him on his tongue.

It was a compelling vision, but he started after Seth at a normal pace, knowing full well he'd just have to wait until his new friend was ready for him.

And although it might not be tonight, judging by Seth's responses to him, James didn't expect he'd have to wait too long. He grinned now, his steps picking up speed. He, James Witherdale, would make sure of it, and nearing the end of the stairwell, he effortlessly launched himself down the last three steps.


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