A/N: You've been waiting SO anxiously for it, and now, here it is at last: a sequel to "Should've, Could've, Would've." I'm sorry I've come into this fandom with little to contribute besides silly slash stories. I do intend to start writing something besides garbage like this; actually, the reason it's so damn long is because it was supposed to be two seperate stories but I wanted to just be done with it. Anyway, feel free to point out any glaring inaccuracies you stumble across, and thanks in advance for reading.

ALSO- As always, I'm sure we're all aware of the ratings situation for this fandom. My stories might have different themes than others for this fandom, but I expect the same tolerance you'd show for those who write het romance. This story contains two lemons (not too graphic, but I wouldn't recommend reading 'em to the Sunday school class), so if you don't want to read something like that, keep it in mind. Thanks!


The morning was brighter than ever. The feeling that came with knowing that he'd never again have to worry about Reed figuring him out was fantastic. It was almost impossible to suppress.

It went without saying that he'd been attracted to the 23-year-old greenie with a nervous smile and whitewalls behind his ears from the first day they were together. Initially, he told himself that it was everything he'd been going through in those difficult days messing with his mind, making him feel all sentimental about the guy because he was the first person he'd let himself get close to after his partner died. It was just a temporary thing and he'd forget it as soon as he got over his trauma.

But the days passed and turned into weeks and then months, and all those stupid, gushy feelings remained no matter how much he tried to ignore them. It was pathetic! An accidental touch would make him long to reach out and see what he'd think of an intentional one. Even worse were the times Reed would give him a long, lingering gaze full of respect and admiration as they'd finish handling even a simple call. The way his sweet smile would spread across his handsome face was almost too much for him to bear.

It was undeniable. He had the hots for Jim Reed, big time.

But that wasn't exactly the issue. There was more to it, really. So Reed was cute—okay, maybe drop-dead gorgeous was a better way to describe him—big deal! The hard part was trying to understand why seeing that wedding band on the probationer's hand made him want to punch a brick wall. He could handle being partnered with a good-looking younger guy; what bothered him were the dark thoughts that rolled through his mind the first time he met Reed's lovely wife. Peter Joseph Malloy was not a man who got jealous, especially over some doe-eyed kid with an underactive mind and an overactive mouth. So when he couldn't stop himself from falling harder every day for that dopey lout with a badge pinned to his chest, he knew it would be nothing but trouble.

That couldn't keep those stupid feelings from hanging around, though. When it had gone on too long and he'd had reason to think Reed was catching on to him, he'd told himself he needed to do something about it because there was no way they could work together with that sort of thing on their minds. After a call to Reed's wife to confirm his suspicions, he'd ask for a different patrol partner and be done with it. But that's not the way it happened. As it would turn out, Jean didn't tell him that her husband thought he was coming on too strong; instead, she told him he wasn't the only one with feelings he couldn't explain. It hadn't been the first time he'd wanted something he couldn't have, but in this case, that something wanted him back. So he'd gone ahead and taken it, pushing aside for just one afternoon his concerns about what would come of it. Now, it was time to think about what he'd done. And boy, there was an awful lot to think about.

And that was why the morning was so bright all of a sudden? Yeah, of course it was. Cynicism aside, what had he ever done to deserve such good luck? How was it even possible that Reed was into him, too? If it hadn't been for the unmistakable taste of him lingering in his mouth as he drove home after that first afternoon, it would almost be too much to believe.

Still, he knew better than to let his guard down. He knew he'd never be able to butt into a heated locker room discussion about Walters' wife or Sanchez's neighbor's poolgirl and say, "Let me tell you what, for all that muscle, Jim has the gentlest grip. Gets excited a little too quick, but he'll learn." Not that he'd want to say something like that. He didn't care much to elaborate on his intimate escapades with the other guys. It just bothered him to know that it wasn't safe to even think it most of the time. The risk of exposure was something he worried about a lot, not just with Reed but with men in general. Obviously, he knew the laws better than most people, and although he didn't personally consider himself a criminal or a mental case, he knew he couldn't count on the department to as well. It was easy enough to keep certain details of his personal life to himself, but now that he was involved with another patrol officer – his own partner—he couldn't quite forget that the consequences of being found out would not be pleasant.

And that was just dealing with other people. Reed himself wouldn't be much easier. Malloy had often been amused, if not somewhat perplexed, by Reed's bizarre devotion to family and domestication and all that namby-pamby stuff. He'd told himself that whatever Reed would want from him would be a small price to pay for being with him, but now that it was a reality, it seemed so daunting. For that reason alone, Malloy knew, he'd usually start to pull away before it got serious. No sense in getting attached to someone he was going to forget soon enough, anyway. When he slept with women, they'd start with the marriage spiel right away, and that's when he'd know it was time to break it off. With men it wasn't much different, even without that horrifying threat of parenthood. No matter who he went with, there was always that unavoidable part about commitment and relationships—sorts of things he didn't even want to think about. It wasn't that he didn't like the people he went with. It just seemed that the magic was always gone after that first time. Passion and romance were replaced with When will I see you again? or Let's get a joint bank account, or, if he was especially lucky, I think I want you to meet Mother.

With Reed it was entirely different. No lovin' and leavin' this time. Long before he even believed any of this could happen, he'd warned himself that it would be something to think consider. This would be no one-night-stand; if anything did happen, it would mark the beginning of something long-term and highly involved. But that's what was so confusing! He didn't want it to be an emotionally detached tryst that he'd forget by sunrise. On the other hand, the thought of getting into some dedicated affair with anyone, even a stud like Jim Reed, made his skin crawl. At least he didn't have to live with the guy… no, instead he had the luxury of spending eight hours of every day sitting right beside him, front row to every little thing that happened in his life. It was worse than being married, if that was even possible. Yet he'd gone ahead and done it, even with that in mind.

When he'd spoken to her, the lovely wife he'd been so jealous of had driven the point further home.

"I guess I can't blame you entirely," Jean had said on the phone. "You know as well as I do, you can't help who you fall in love with."

He'd scoffed and whispered, "I never said anything about love, Jean."

"That's real nice," she'd laughed, surprisingly less bitter than he expected her to be. "I've lost my husband to someone who only wants to go to bed with him."

"That's not it, either," he'd argued.

"I suppose I ought to warn you, then, Pete," she'd sighed. "Jim needs someone he can count on. I tried to be that person for him, but he only wants you. Don't disappoint him."

"Sounds ominous," he'd said.

She'd chuckled. "For a guy like you, maybe it is."

And she was right. As much as he wanted to, he wasn't sure he could give Reed whatever kind of devotion it was that he needed. Surely he knew that. He said he wouldn't resent him… but in the throes of passion, it was easy to make a promise and not mean it.

Suddenly the morning didn't seem so bright anymore.


As would be expected, Reed needed an awful lot of devotion.

"I can't wait to get back in 12 with you," Reed said, bringing Malloy his coffee a week after they slept together.

"I just want Wells out of my hair," Malloy replied. He sipped his coffee and noted that Reed remembered his cream and sugar, and said nothing about returning the dime.

"Yeah," Reed said, leaning back in his chair. "I'm glad I wasn't stuck with him. Sanchez is a really neat guy. It's nice to get to know him better. But I miss you. I can't stop thinking about you—about us— even when we're on a call." He punctuated it by placing a hand on Malloy's shoulder.

Malloy glanced around the break room and shook off the hand, wary of anyone noticing them. Woods and a lady officer were the only other occupants, and they sat far enough away they probably couldn't hear anything. Still, Reed should've known better than to be so open. Lowering his voice, he mumbled, "Tone it down a bit, okay?"

"Tone what down?" Reed asked, concerned.

Malloy inspected his cup. "You know what I mean," he added, softly.

"Oh." Reed said, straightening up and trying to compose himself as he finally caught on. "Sorry."

"Don't be. Just watch what you do when we're around here."

Reed nodded. "Hey," he said after a moment of thought, perking up. "You have any plans tonight?"

"No. Why?"

"Let's go out! Maybe get some dinner and catch a show."

"Jim, I'm not gonna take you on a date," he said, twisting his face in disgust at the mere thought, wondering if Reed had already forgotten what he'd just been told.

"Why not?" Reed pouted.

"Well, for one thing," he took another look at Woods' table and lowered his voice, "it's not like we can do all that much. We can't go dancing, for instance. At least not in any club I'd go into."

"So we skip the dancing. C'mon, don't you think it would be fun?" Reed pleaded.

Malloy tried to imagine it, and every way he looked at it, it just seemed ridiculous. Dating was something to do with a lady—not that there was anything wrong with it, but the thought of holding doors open for Reed, or ordering his dinner, or draping a jacket over his shoulders when he got chilly… it was all pretty dumb.

"Jim, guys don't go on dates with each other," he mumbled.

"Just dinner, then," Reed replied, completely incorrigible. "We don't have to call it a date."

"It doesn't matter what you call it," he said.

Reed stared at him, getting that touchy look on his face. "Just a stroll in the park after work, maybe?"

"No."

"...please?"

"No!"

"Afterwards, I'll… I'll return the favor," Reed offered.

Malloy sighed, reminding himself once again that this wasn't just a one-time hookup. They weren't just partners anymore, they were… well, something. 'Lovers' was too dramatic, like it belonged in a paperback novel from the drugstore. On the other hand, the sound of 'boyfriends' was enough to make him want to lose his breakfast right there on the break room table. Even if he couldn't think of a name for it, they had something going on between them now, and to a guy like Reed, that meant they went on dates.

"You got yourself into this, Pete," Malloy muttered out loud, wondering why he didn't wish he'd done things differently.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Reed asked.

"It means, I'll pick you up at six," he replied, saying it before he could talk some sense into himself.

Reed beamed. "Really?"

"Yes." He took another sip of his coffee, trying to finish it before roll call. "Don't get any funny ideas, okay?"

"Sure," Reed said, grinning like he was full of them.


Wells was on particularly bad behavior during their last patrol together. All of his jokes seemed especially grating. Malloy wasn't sure he could bite his tongue for eight straight hours, and with the evening on his mind, it was harder than ever.

Luckily, the morning passed uneventfully with a few routine calls. One was about a bunch of teenagers loitering around some condemned buildings. They found the kids and escorted them off the lot, and when they laughed at all of Well's dumb jokes, he was on a roll for the rest of the day, telling all of his favorite stories, including the ones Malloy was sure he could recite from memory.

Finally as the day began to wind down, they got a call about a missing child. The search only took a few minutes and they found the kid hanging on a far branch of a neighbor's tree, which he leapt out of gracefully after Wells had climbed all the way up the trunk. Malloy considered it to be divine retribution for all the stories and he laughed remorselessly watching Wells try to fight off an offended squirrel on his way back to the ground. Then, they were out of commission for the rest of the afternoon, and he was stuck sitting in Central Receiving because Wells insisted he needed a rabies shot.

By the time they finally got back to the cruiser, day watch was over and they returned to the station. Although he wouldn't dream of admitting it, Malloy felt a little sympathetic and offered to start on the reports. Wells agreed and wandered off to do whatever it was that he did when he should've been working, and Malloy found a seat in the break room.

A few minutes after he'd settled in, the door swung open.

"Hi, Pete!" The voice's radiating enthusiasm hit him before he even knew who it belonged to.

"Just the face I want to see," he said, pushing his papers aside to make room for the ones Reed held under his arm. Reed sat in the chair next to him and leaned closer than he probably should've.

"So, uh, how was your day?" he asked, talking stiffly like he was trying desperately to contain himself.

"Well, it was alright," he said, wanting to relax after the long day, but tensing up even more when he remembered their little date. "How did yours go?"

Reed's shoulders tightened up and he grinned so big he bared his teeth. "It was all I could do not to think about tonight!" Apparently unable to stop himself, he slid a hand over Malloy's knee.

The door swung open again before Malloy could call him out for the risky behavior. Instead, he gave him the most serious look he could muster. Reed silently nodded and folded his hands on the table, looking back at the reports.

Wells, along with an entourage of anecdote-listeners, made their way to the occupied table.

"You mean to say, you didn't even get bit and you made 'em give you a shot anyway?" Woods' voice echoed in the hall.

"Don't they just rinse out your eyes and wash your face with really good soap?" Sanchez added. "You didn't have to go through all that over a little baby squirrel!"

"Baby? Are you kidding me? This thing musta weighed 30 pounds, at least!" Wells took one of the remaining seats at the table as he spoke. "Besides, I wanted to make sure Malloy here had enough time to flirt with all the nurses."

"You and your nurses," Reed said, sounding interested. He kept a straight face, but Malloy had learned to read him well enough to see a hint of jealousy.

"I never got a chance to look at 'em with this hypochondriac running me all over the whole hospital." Of course Reed would be the jealous type, he told himself, but he certainly didn't want to think about it with half of Central Division standing around him.

"Aw, come on, Pete, admit it," Wells snorted, trying not to laugh. "You're moving up in the world. Now you only flirt with the doctors!"

The room erupted in laughter.

"That's one way to get free check-ups!" Russo howled.

"Gives a whole new meaning to 'turn your head and cough!'" Walters added.

Malloy rolled his eyes at the typical banter. It occurred to him that Reed was the only other guy not laughing. In fact, he didn't seem the slightest bit amused.

"Would you guys cut it out?" he said suddenly. The laughter stopped. Even with all eyes on him, he didn't back down. "I mean, some people are really like that and… well, as weird as it is, that doesn't mean it's not our duty to protect them."

After a long pause, Wells said, "It was just a joke, Jim. Don't get uptight."

"It's not very funny, okay?"

Wells shrugged. "Who am I offending?"

Reed's eyes widened nervously as he realized the scene he was causing. Malloy sighed, knowing he couldn't just sit by and give everyone so much reason to be suspicious.

"He's just lookin' out for me, Ed," he made himself say, trying to lighten the mood. "He wants to make sure you guys know I prefer firemen."

"In case we wanna get you a calendar for Christmas?" Wells cooed in an effeminate voice, stirring up another wave of laughter.

"That's right," he said, forcing a dry laugh, knowing this couldn't end well.


"How can you just sit there and make fun of yourself?" Reed spat furiously, his voice low and dark as he slid into the passenger's seat five minutes after six.

"Here we go," Malloy sighed. The few hours they'd been apart had dragged on and on, and it was entirely because he'd spent them worrying about Reed saying or doing something that would reveal too much, especially with the added temptation of being back on patrol together. As far as he could tell, the incident would be forgotten by the next morning, but he wanted to make sure it was the last time something like it happened.

"I mean it, Pete! How can you look Wells right in the eye and go along with his stupid, mean jokes?"

"What am I supposed to do? I start giving speeches like yours and we're toast." He didn't like the harshness in his own voice, but he continued while they were alone and had the chance. "You ever stop to consider what would happen if we got caught?"

"…no." He sank into the seat a bit. "I never even thought about it. We'd be separated, wouldn't we?"

"Better than that," Malloy said. "We could kiss our jobs and our pensions goodbye."

"They wouldn't really fire us over this," Reed said, firmly. "Would they?"

"I don't know." He shrugged and started the engine. "It's not like they sit ya down at the academy and say, 'Here's what we're gonna do to you if we find out you've been blowing your patrol partner.' But look at the way they discourage us from fraternizing with the female officers. Just what do you think they'd do if they knew we were 'fraternizing' with each other? I'm not gonna ask Mac about it, I'll tell you that much."

Reed slowly nodded. "From now on, I'll be more careful," he said.

"Good," Malloy said, determined to hear the last of this. "We're back together tomorrow, but that doesn't mean anything's going to be different. We're gonna do our jobs like there's nothing else goin' on for us to think about, right?"

"Right!" Seeing Reed smile again was wonderful, despite the somber cloud that hovered over him. "So where do you plan on taking me?" he asked, changing the subject before Malloy could say anything else.

"I thought we'd split a root beer float at the drugstore," Malloy said, dryly. "Gee, maybe if I get up some real nerve I'll hold your hand when we do our homework together at the library."

"Oh, c'mon, Pete," Reed groaned at the sarcasm.

"You had something better in mind?"

Reed pursed his lips, thinking. "I'd like to try that new Italian place downtown."

"Really?" he tried to keep himself from grimacing. "You're an expensive date."

"I thought you said this wasn't a date," Reed teased.

"Don't remind me," Malloy replied, ignoring the amused grin on Reed's face.

After their dinner, which left a considerable dent in Malloy's wallet, Reed wanted to take a walk on the beach. Malloy refused at first, but Reed insisted, looking at him pleadingly with his big blue eyes, and he found himself giving in yet again. If he didn't watch it, he told himself, Reed would have him picking out wallpaper and table settings soon.

Nonetheless, he found himself strolling along the water's edge at Reed's side, pants rolled up and shoes in hand. The sand was still hot from the sun, and for a while, they walked in silence, watching the bronzed bodies soaking up the last bit of light before heading home for the evening.

Finally, Reed spoke up. He said, "You know, a couple of weeks ago, if you would've told me we'd be walking along the beach with the sun setting behind us, I wouldn't have believed it."

"Yeah, me neither," Malloy admitted.

"It still surprises me that you're, you know. Gay?" his voice softened as he said it, like he was afraid someone would hear. "You could've fooled me. It really seems like you dig women."

"I do," he said, fearing that this was the beginning of a really heavy conversation. "I like women a lot, actually. They can be a little high maintenance, but I know guys who are just as bad." He hoped Reed would pick up on the hint.

"But you can't go both ways, can you?" Reed asked, completely oblivious.

Malloy shook his head. "Sure you can."

"Then what does that make you?"

"A swinger?" he bristled at Reed's questioning. "I don't know. Don't you like women?"

Reed shrugged and kicked at the sand. "I like them plenty. I think most guys don't give women enough credit. It's not a matter of liking them or not liking them." He hesitated. Malloy waited for him to continue, forcing himself to be patient when he could see how much Reed struggled with it. "It's… the sex. I always felt different than everyone else about that sort of thing. I thought once I was with a woman I'd figure it out. But even the first time I was with Jean, I had to think about one of my Army buddies just to—," he shook his head. "I still feel awful about it."

Despite his irritation, Malloy knew how difficult it was, and he tried to empathize. "Have you ever been with a guy before me?"

"No. I've never been with anyone besides you and Jean." He laughed, awkwardly. "I must seem pretty inexperienced to an old tomcat like you."

"Old tomcat?" Malloy repeated, scoffing. "Sure, I suppose I've been around a bit."

"Yeah?" Reed asked, perking up. "Who was the first guy you were with?"

"You don't want to hear about all that," Malloy muttered, not liking the way Reed was twisting the conversation.

"Sure I do!" Reed grinned. "All of a sudden, it's like there's this whole new side of you that I never knew about."

"I'm the same person I always was," he said.

"I know. I just want to hear more about it."

"Alright." Malloy sighed, unused to thinking about it all at once. It was weird to tell someone about his experiences, and he wasn't sure he enjoyed it all that well. "I don't even know where to start."

"Try the beginning," Reed teased.

"Yeah, right," Malloy rolled his eyes. "Bear with me, okay?"

Reed smiled, waiting.

"The first guy was this friend I had in high school," he began. "I musta been 16 or 17, I don't remember. We didn't even know what the hell we were doing. We were so scared of getting caught, I don't think either of us had a very good time."

"Did you?" Reed prompted. "Get caught, that is."

"Not with him. But I did get busted a few years later with a different fella. His father didn't like me hanging around with him because he thought I was going after his sister. I was, at first, but that's not who I ended up with." He felt a little devious, thinking about it again after all the years. "His old man found us one afternoon. We thought he was supposed to be at work, but he came home early, and there we were."

"What happened?" Reed asked.

"Well, I can tell you one thing—he was just as touchy about his son as he was his daughter, even if he wasn't gonna end up with a buncha red-headed grandkids. I was lucky I got out of there before he found his shotgun." He sighed as the story came to an end. "Didn't see much of him after that. Tell you what, though, I sure figured out quick how important it is to be careful."

Reed nodded, listening intently. He had a sort of smile, but Malloy wasn't sure if he was amused or not.

Behind them, the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.

"Come on," he said. "They're gonna close the beach soon. Let's start heading back."

"Yeah," Reed said. They turned around and walked back up the waterfront. Apparently still thinking about Malloy's stories, he said, "You were really a troublemaker in your day, huh?"

"I had my moments," he looked at Reed and added, "Not all of us are squares in the prime years of our lives."

Reed rolled his eyes but said, "I guess you'll have to be my bad influence."

They made their way back to the parking lot and Reed laughed as they tried to brush all the wet sand off their feet. He was in such a fine mood, it was all Malloy could do to maintain his own bad attitude. As evening fell, they drove around town, making up for some of their lost time in the past week. Reed asked more questions about the guys Malloy had known, and they chatted until the lulls in their conversation started getting longer. Eventually, Malloy made his way back to his partner's house. He could see Reed's reluctance to leave as soon as he parked out front.

"See? A date's not that bad," Reed said, slowly.

"Yeah? You didn't have to pay for dinner," Malloy groused, knowing deep down inside that Reed was right, but vowing to never admit it.

"I'll buy our next meal," Reed offered. "That's how it works when there's two of us, right?"

"I guess so," he laughed.

Reed laughed, too, but his smile faded again. "So, uh, I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yep. We'll be back together. It'll be nice to hear you saying '1-Adam-12 day watch clear' again. Ed just can't do it right," Malloy knew what was coming next, and he waited, not wanting to push Reed too quickly.

More hesitation, and then finally, "Do you wanna come in for a few minutes?"

"I thought you'd never ask," he said. It had taken so long, he was surprised that Reed managed to say it at all. They got out of the car and he followed Reed up the walkway, watching him try to contain himself the whole way. He stood aside as he unlocked the door, and as Malloy stepped over the threshold he gave him a hard pinch on the backside.

Malloy stopped and turned to look over his shoulder. Reed tensed up and blushed at what he'd done, biting his lip and looking at his shoes.

"Well," Malloy said, tickled by the aggressive behavior, and not at all surprised by how quickly it dissipated as he raised an amused eyebrow.

"Do you, uh, want something to drink?" Reed asked, stiffly.

He smiled and tried to look assuring. "Nothing too hard. We both have to work tomorrow."

"Yeah," Reed smiled, too, and ducked into the kitchen. Malloy sat on the couch, making room beside him when Reed returned with two glasses of iced tea.

"It's all we have around here," he apologized, sitting gingerly on the edge of the cushion.

"This is fine," Malloy took his glass and drank, wondering if he should just go ahead and tell Reed that it wasn't thirst on his mind anyway. Surely he must've known what Malloy expected in return for buying him dinner. Or maybe he didn't know; maybe the nervous way he glanced at Malloy out of the corner of his eye was from intimidation more than desire, although it was unlikely considering that pinch. Before he did anything, Malloy let his gaze drift down to make sure it was fine, and could tell just by looking that he'd have no problem.

Wordlessly, he lifted the glass out of Reed's hands, setting it by his own on the end table before he slid his hands under Reed's shirt and kissed him. Reed sighed and parted his lips, running his fingers through Malloy's hair, giving in without encouragement. He was so hot and insistent, Malloy wondered if he hadn't been ready since they left the beach. It must've been the tales of his exploits; he didn't think his half-hearted story-telling was all that great, but he knew Reed often hung on his every word, and had probably been thinking about it ever since.

"Pete…" Reed whispered, his voice low and fervent.

"Hmm?" he brushed his lips over Reed's jaw and down his neck, and his hands made their way down his back. He held him by the waist and wondered about their conversation. Reed had revealed plenty, too. Had he really never been with another man? He felt himself becoming just as hot and insistent at the thought of how tight he must be. With a suddenly clouded mind, he envisioned Reed sprawled on his bed, his lips parted, his knees spread, and his eyes dreamy and half-closed, begging to be taken for the first time. Maybe Reed wasn't ready for that yet, but Malloy found himself hoping he would be soon.

Reed's arms were draped over his shoulders, pulling him close. Still kissing him, Malloy took hold of one of his wrists and brought his hand to where he needed it. Delicately at first, Reed fumbled with the zipper and pulled away from the kiss to look at him. His cheeks were rosy and pink and he smiled awkwardly as he slid off the couch, kneeling on the floor. He gazed adoringly up into Malloy's eyes. It sent a shiver down his spine.

"What do I do?" he asked, softly.

"Nothing to it. Just watch out for your teeth," Malloy told him. He rested a guiding hand on his shoulder, tightening his grasp at the first touch of Reed's tongue. His mouth was hard and nervous, and he gagged right away, shuddering and shaking his head.

"Sorry," he murmured.

"It's fine," Malloy said, trying to sound gentle and patient despite knowing that Reed's stomach was probably still touchy from dinner. "Remember to breathe."

Reed nodded, taking a breath and trying again. He was slow and unsure, but he did better this time. Malloy tried to be encouraging, making sure not to suppress a single grunt or moan that passed his lips. Starting to relax, Reed's pace increased, and Malloy found that he didn't have to think so hard to enjoy it. He got closer and closer, grabbing handfuls of Reed's hair, pushing too hard and making him cough.

Finally, he bucked his hips, finishing with a sharp groan. Reed gulped roughly, unused to the taste perhaps, but he did his best to keep it in. Turning away and resting his head on Malloy's knee, he swallowed and gasped for breath, only the slightest bit lingering on his chin. While he was still panting, Malloy grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back onto the couch. He wiped the dribble away with his thumb and kissed his flushed lips hard, tasting what was left in his mouth. His hands were shaking as he came down from that fleeting instant of pure delight, but he made himself unbutton Reed's pants and take hold of him, not wanting to leave him hanging. He'd been waiting so long it didn't take much—a few strokes of his skilled hand and Reed was digging his fingers into Malloy's arm and whimpering against his lips.

"Easy, Junior," he soothed, softly. Maybe it was dumb to turn it into a pet name, but he liked the way it sounded, and he really liked the way it seemed to do anything but soothe.

Unable to speak, Reed cried out wordlessly, trembling, and he was done a moment later. Leaning heavy on Malloy's shoulder, he struggled to catch his breath. For the next few minutes, he was silent, but finally he rolled his head to the side and smiled tiredly.

"How d'you feel?" Malloy asked him, surprised at the softness of his own voice.

Reed let his eyes close and his smile broaden. "Your hands are so rough," he muttered, taking Malloy's hand and making a mess, running his fingers over the palm. "It feels really good."

"Better than your own?" he teased, a little disconcerted by how cuddly Reed was. He could deal with it; it was just that the tender contact was so much more intimate, in a way, than what they'd just done. It was bizarre to just sit there and hold each other as they recovered, as if they were some kind of… couple. But a couple was precisely what they were. A couple of knuckleheads maybe, but a couple nonetheless.

He knew he should do something about it, maybe have a word with Reed about this business of going on little dates and such, but for now he was content to sit still and let himself be held, watching Reed touch his hands. After a few moments, he realized that there was something missing. He pondered it briefly and took hold of Reed's left hand, turning it over, inspecting it.

"When did you take your wedding band off?" he asked, pointing to the empty space on his ring finger.

"Before you picked me up," Reed said, indifferently. "I figured it would be strange to wear it while we were on a date."

Malloy hesitated before responding, unsure what to say to something like that.

"I mean, I know it wasn't a date," Reed added. "But I figured we'd be coming back here afterward and, well. You know."

"Yeah." At this point, he realized that he hadn't even considered where Jean was during all this. He wondered if he should ask, but something about the peaceful look on Reed's face told him that now wasn't the time. What time would be, though, he couldn't quite say.


The time came soon enough.

"Uh, I have a surprise for you. In honor of being back in 12," Reed announced over their coffee the next morning. The ring was still absent from his finger. Malloy wondered what he'd say if anybody noticed.

"Oh yeah?" he asked, surprisingly sated despite his nagging concern. "Let's have it, then."

Reed leaned forward in his seat. "Well? Don't you notice anything?"

"Uh…" he should've guessed. Apparently a date wasn't enough of that romantic crap—now Reed wanted to play this game. He knew he should say something about it, put an end to it before it got out of hand, but figured it wasn't important enough to start up another lecture. "I give up," he sighed.

"I got some new aftershave that I thought you might like." Reed rubbed his chin and neck. "What do you think?"

"Oh." He got close and sniffed heartily. It was not the loveliest smell in the world—far from it. "Yeah, it's real nice," he lied.

"So you like it?"

"Uh-huh."

"I hoped you would." Reed grinned. "I picked it out just for you."

The lounge door swung open and Brinkman poked his head in.

"You fellas want to snag some good seats before roll call?" he said.

Malloy glanced at his watch. "Wouldn't hurt to get there early," he sighed. They rose and followed Brinkman down the hall.

After a moment, Brinkman turned around. He looked at them and grimaced. "Alright, who stinks?"

Malloy chuckled and nodded to Reed.

"Jim, what the heck are you wearing?" He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"New aftershave," Reed said.

"You're gonna sit in the cruiser smellin' that all day, Pete?" Brinkman asked, sounding almost sincerely concerned. Almost. "I can't say I envy you."

Malloy glanced at Reed, noticing that he was beginning to look quite irate. After what had happened yesterday, another outburst from him would be too much.

"I don't know, Bob, I kinda like it," he said, hoping it would keep Reed happy.

"No hard feelings, but both of you guys have awful taste," Brinkman laughed. "It smells like some sleazy Tijuana nightclub. At least that's how I imagine it would smell."

Reed grumbled.

"It's not that bad, Jim, he's just teasing you," Malloy said. They stopped at the door, pausing before they went into the briefing room.

"Save me a seat, will you?" Reed said, sharply. "I'll be back in a minute." He stalked off in the direction of the washroom.

"Great," Malloy muttered when he was out of sight. "Now he's gonna be self-conscious all day."

"You don't really like that stuff, do you?" Brinkman asked.

"No, but I'm not gonna tell him that," he said. "If he likes it, let him wear it. We all like to feel good about ourselves."

Brinkman shook his head. "If he wants to wear something that strong, he should stay away from musky scents. He's much more of a floral type."

Malloy raised his eyebrows as they took their seats.

"It's a joke, Pete. The wife's real into that," Brinkman said, defensively. "Perfumes and stuff. You hear something long enough, you start to pick up on it, you know?"

"Sure. Nobody's calling you out, Bob," Malloy laughed.

"Yeah, yeah," Brinkman nodded toward the door. "But you know, if Reed's gonna be walking around smelling like that, it definitely won't be me getting called out."

"How do you figure?"

"Pete, really," Brinkman lowered his voice. "You're his regular partner. Surely you've noticed how weird he's been acting lately."

"What, that thing yesterday?" Malloy scoffed, getting worried, especially with Reed running around sans wedding band. "He just doesn't want anyone's feelings getting hurt."

"It's not only that," Brinkman said. "He keeps strutting around here like he owns the place. He's a happy guy, but it's like euphoria with him all of a sudden. Besides that, Sanchez told me that he kept wanting to talk about funny stuff while they were on patrol together."

"What kind of funny stuff?" Malloy asked.

"Real weird stuff, Pete. All those equal rights groups—queers, womyn's lib, that sorta thing."

It took him aback for a moment, but he kept himself composed. "That's in the news a lot these days, he's probably just trying to make conversation," he said. "What are you getting at, Bob?"

"I'm not getting at anything," Brinkman said with a shrug. "I'm just saying you might want to have a word with him. Those are some heavy things he's thinking about, you know? Some folks might take it the wrong way if they heard him talking about it."

"Yeah," Malloy said. He hated to imagine it. It was stressful to pussyfoot around the station, trying not to get caught, but he didn't think it was so bad that the other guys would notice. Of course, he didn't count on Reed going as far as talking to other people about this stuff. If he was so curious, Malloy was sure he could provide the answers. Maybe. But at least he probably knew more than Sanchez.

Just then, the door opened and Reed walked in stiffly, his face and neck bright red from having been scrubbed. Smelling now like the soap in the station bathrooms, he sat in the chair next to Malloy and waited quietly.

When they were briefed and dismissed, he remained wordless. Reed wasn't really that offended by Brinkman's comments, was he? If he was really as crazy as Brinkman thought, there was no way to know. Concerned, Malloy tried to make some small talk but Reed was quiet, only breaking his silence to clear them on the radio.

The stillness unnerved Malloy than he would've expected. He wasn't sure what to say, but he knew better than to let whatever it was hang over them when they were just beginning their patrol.

"Jim," he said. "What's on your mind?"

Reed sighed and made like he was picking his words carefully.

"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12," the radio said before he could answer Malloy's question. "A trespasser there now, at the construction site, handle Code 2..."

Malloy listened to the address and Reed picked up the receiver. "1-Adam-12 roger," he said. "I'll tell you about it later, Pete," he added as Malloy turned the car around.

Malloy nodded, hoping it meant he was going to keep it together while they handled the call.

They arrived at the construction site, getting out of the car and pushing the doors closed softly, making as little sound as possible to alert the trespasser of their presence. Reed approached the gate and tried to open it, turning his attention to the heavy padlock when it wouldn't budge.

"It's locked," he announced. "Do you think he climbed over, or cut a hole in the fence?"

Malloy eyed the wire at the top of the fence. "If he has any sense, he cut a hole. But if he's gonna break into a construction site in the middle of the day, he probably doesn't have any sense."

Reed nodded and lunged at the fence, scaling it with ease. Malloy watched him, dreading it. While Reed waited for him on the other side, Malloy made his way up, flipping over the top, gingerly trying to keep away from the sharp metal so dangerously close to where he least wanted a nice big gash. Finally he made it over, gazing around the site, trying to assess the scene. A storage shed stood on the other side of the lot. From what he knew, it was likely where they kept the valuables locked up, like tools and copper solder. The door was wide open. He nodded toward it.

"That's it," Reed said.

"We'll go around on either side, so we can cover the door, then we'll go in together," Malloy instructed.

Reed nodded, and they split up, readying their guns and circling the shed. Across the lot ran a long trench with boards stretched across every few yards as makeshift walkways. Reed crossed one of the boards with little effort, and Malloy managed to balance long enough to make it to the other side. They approached the shed and crept to the door, pressing themselves against the wall on either side of it. Malloy glanced at Reed, who was watching the doorway intently. He gave a short, silent nod when he was ready. In one swift movement, Malloy leapt into the doorway and thrust his gun into the shed.

"Police officers! Hold it right there!" he snarled. It didn't take more than a moment for him to determine that the shed was empty. With a final sweeping glance around the room, he lowered his gun and turned to Reed.

"He might've heard us drive up," Reed said.

Malloy sighed. "It's a big lot. He's probably still here."

"You think he's armed?" Reed asked.

"You never know." Malloy entered the shed, gesturing for Reed to follow. They crouched inside, using the metal walls as makeshift cover. They surveyed the site for another moment, and Reed pointed toward some stacked concrete pipes.

"There. That could make for a good hiding spot," he said.

Malloy continued to look around, thinking about it. There were a lot of good hiding places, and many of them had excellent vantage points. If the suspect was armed, wandering around looking for him could prove dangerous. They could try calling for backup, but now that they'd announced their presence, walking across the lot to the car would leave them vulnerable long enough for someone to mow them down. On the other hand, if they decided to hide out in the shed, the perp could scale the fence and be gone before they could catch up with him.

Weighing the options, he decided it was unlikely that someone looking to knock off some construction supplies would be armed, or would want to turn a burglary charge into a homicide. Still, he knew construction sites were dangerous places.

Almost as bad as warehouses.

"Alright, I want you to call for some backup," Malloy said, remaining calm despite the dark thoughts that suddenly forced their way into his mind. "Go over that trench and that fence again. Be quick—I'll be covering you, but don't waste any time getting over there.

"Right," Reed said.

Taking a breath before he said what came to mind next, he glanced at Reed's face. He'd thought about it hundreds of times, but now, he finally felt the need to say it.

"Don't wait up for me, okay? I'll be right behind you, but I'm not as fast as you."

"What do you mean?"

"If something happens to me…" Malloy paused. "I know things are different between us now, but we can't let that get in the way of any split-second decisions we need to make."

Reed frowned, understanding. "I'm gonna be fine, Pete."

"Just keep it in mind, okay?"

When they were both ready, Reed ducked out of the shed, staying low to the ground and running across the lot. He came to the trench first. Focusing on his balance, he stepped out onto one of the boards.

For a moment, everything seemed fine, but suddenly, the board crackled dryly and gave way before he could go anything. The way his arms flailed about would've almost been funny if not for the gravity of the situation. Hearing a yelp of pain as Reed hit the bottom, Malloy jumped up, his heart pounding, and his mind racing. He'd just finished warning Reed not to do anything rash, but something within him refused to let Reed lay there in the dark trench, likely hurt. Finally he decided that if it was serious Reed might not be able to defend himself, and he rushed out of the shed, crouching at the edge of the hole and peering over the side.

His uniform and face covered in dirt, Reed sat on the ground and clutched his ankle, looking like he was going to be sick.

"Jim!" Malloy hissed desperately, surprised by how much it upset him to see Reed in pain.

Reed bit his lip and gazed up at him, squinting at the light. His eyes widened suddenly. "Pete! Watch out!"

"Careful, buddy, don't get so close to the edge," a third voice said. "I don't need to pull two of you out of there."

Malloy looked up, a surge of adrenaline reminding him why he couldn't let his concern for Reed get in the way of his job. A man stood on the other side of the trench, clutching a board in his arms. Malloy sat up quickly and pointed his gun in front of him.

"Hold it right there!" he ordered. "Hands in the air where I can see 'em!"

The man glanced at the board and tossed it aside, and then raised his hands, not even mildly frightened. "Hey, don't shoot," he said, casually. "What are you guys doing here, anyway? Besides getting yourselves into trouble, that is."

"What are we doing here?" Malloy repeated. "I was about to ask you the same thing."

The man laughed. "Hey, I didn't mean to sneak up on you guys," he said. "My name's Johnson, Andy Johnson. I'm the head contractor for this job." He produced his wallet and held out a card. "Here's my license, 'case you need some identification. Job contract's in the shed. Boy, do I feel stupid right now."

Malloy hesitantly lowered his gun but kept his finger on the trigger. "Why's that, Johnson?"

"It's a long story."

"We've got time," Malloy said.

"Heh, I'm sure." Johnson chuckled. "Well, I left my toolbox here yesterday, which I usually do, but I made the mistake of leaving my keys inside. If they were just the keys to the fence it would've been fine, but there's also keys on that ring to all the equipment parked on this here lot. I figured, if someone got into the shed, they could take off with a lot more than some tools." At this point, Johnson sighed. "So I bet you're wondering why I had to climb over the fence and break into my own shed, right? Well, I'm wondering that, too. I'm wondering why my guys think it's okay to be late when they know it's my day off."

"You couldn't have given them a call and waited for them to show up?" Malloy asked.

Johnson frowned. "That's why I feel stupid, officer. I shoulda done that, but I thought I could handle it myself. I'm just glad someone in the neighborhood gave you fellas a call. If there had really been a crook walking around here, it's nice to know that someone's gonna show up on time."

Malloy considered the story. Johnson could've easily run away if he wanted to. The fact that he'd not only come over to investigate, but was still hanging around made for a pretty good case. But not perfect.

"Alright," Malloy said. "So where were you when we looked in the shed?"

"You'll never guess," Johnson said. "That board that just broke? Well, I noticed the wood was getting weak, so I figured I'd replace it before it broke and someone fell into the trench." He laughed. "Guess I was too late. You okay down there, buddy? That's a pretty long fall you took. Eight feet straight down. "

Reed shifted on the floor of the trench. "I'm fine," he mustered, weakly. "Pete, do you believe his story?"

Malloy sighed, his concern quickly shifting back to his injured partner. "Yeah, I think I do."

"Looks pretty bad," Johnson let out a low whistle. "That ankle might be broke."

A knot formed in Malloy's gut when a horrified look crossed Reed's face. "Do think you can stand up?" he asked.

"Maybe," Reed said. He put on his hat and struggled to his feet, crying out as soon as he tried to stand on the ankle.

"Be careful," Malloy said, anxiously.

"I'm okay," Reed grunted, leaning on the wall, his face turning red. "I can move it a little bit. Just hurts to put weight on it."

"Better get him to a hospital," Johnson said, setting up the board and gesturing for Malloy to join him. "I'll help you pull him out of there."

"Thanks," Malloy said, crossing the trench ever so gingerly. They crouched by the hole, each grabbing hold of one of Reed's hands. With his good foot, Reed scrambled up the side and they heaved him over the edge. He fell into Malloy's arms and for a moment, Malloy held him tighter than he should've in front of someone else.

With Reed safe, Malloy relaxed and let Johnson lead him to the shed to inspect his contractor's license and job contract. When everything checked out, Johnson unlocked the gate and they helped Reed hobble out to the patrol car. Malloy finished taking notes for the report, and when everything was settled, Johnson eagerly shook both their hands.

"Thanks again for keeping an eye on the site," he said. "I'm glad you guys are looking out for us blue-collar workers."

"Yeah," Malloy said. "You might want to think about using something else on that trench, though."

Johnson shook his head. "Tell me about it. I don't need OSHA coming out here. Hey, uh…" he glanced at Reed's ankle. "You guys aren't gonna sue me, are you?"

"That's not our department," Malloy said.

"Great," Johnson sighed. "Guess I am at fault on this one, though. All because I forgot my stinkin' toolbox! Just wait till my wife finds out about this. I'll never hear the end of it. Women, right? Either of you guys married?"

"Uh," Reed gulped, suddenly. "Pete, I think we better get to the hospital."

"Oh, right," Johnson nodded. "Don't let me keep you. Thanks again, officers."

In the cruiser, Malloy reported them out of commission and then they headed to Central Receiving. Along the way, Reed shifted around, trying to find some way to sit without putting pressure on his ankle. Malloy could see that he was trying desperately not to let on to how bad it hurt, and he sympathized immensely, knowing he'd probably be doing the same thing. Finally, Reed's shifting got more vigorous and he said, "You mind if I take off my shoe?"

"Is it swelling?" Malloy asked, trying not to seem as worried as he really was.

"Yeah, real bad."

"I don't know, Jim, when's the last time you took a shower?" He hoped the humor would help, but it didn't.

"Pete," Reed's voice was high and strained.

"Okay, go ahead," he said, guessing how bad it really was. "You're not gonna be able to get it back on, though."

"I'll just untie it, then," he said, struggling to grab at the laces. Malloy continued to drive, but watched Reed from the corner of his eye, getting worried as a rough "dammit" slipped past his lips.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I can't reach it," he huffed, perspiration beading on his face.

"We're almost there," Malloy said. "Just wait."

"It hurts, Pete!" Reed snarled, starting to thrash as he tried harder to reach his shoe.

"Calm down or you're gonna make it worse," Malloy said, struggling to watch his partner and the road at the same time.

"I can't!"

Knowing that Reed was only going to aggravate the injury if he didn't stop twisting around, he pulled off to the side of the road, unbuckled his seatbelt and slid over in the seat, driving a shoulder into Reed's chest to keep him from moving about so much.

"Hold still!" he barked, bending down and latching onto the shoe, loosening the laces before Reed could tear his foot away.

Reed groaned in relief, but tensed up quick as Malloy sat up to peer at him. It showed clearly on his face that he was shocked by what Malloy had done, as he darn well should have been.

"You need to cool it," Malloy said, not wanting Reed to see how concerned he was, letting it manifest as anger instead. But it didn't stop just there. After all, he had a lot to be concerned about. Not thinking about the consequences, he let everything start to seep out all at once. "You've been acting ridiculous the past few days. I don't know what your problem is, but you need to cut it out starting right now."

Shrinking back, Reed said, "How have I been acting ridiculous?"

"How?" he tried to remember what Brinkman had told him, but his frustration got in the way. "We'll talk about it after we get you to Central Receiving," he said, hoping he could cool down by then.

"But Pete," Reed protested.

"Don't push it, Junior."

They rode in silence the rest of the way to the hospital, parking out front when they arrived.

"Let me help you," Malloy said when Reed started to get out.

"I don't need your help," Reed said, crying out again as he tried to stand up. With a look of defeat, he let Malloy wrap an arm around his waist and help him hobble inside.

"Back again, Pete?" one of the nurses said upon seeing them. "I see you've got a different partner today."

"Yeah, it's a real injury today, too," Malloy said.

"You're a jinx," the nurse said, taking his place, slinging Reed's arm over her shoulder. "Better get comfortable, we're busy today."

Watching them walk away, he settled into the waiting area, trying not to worry. He decided to fill his time and occupy his mind by starting the report as he waited, knowing it was going to be an especially difficult one. He snagged the papers he needed from the cruiser and returned to his seat, wondering if he should've handled the situation at the construction site differently.

He tried to write neatly and hoped he'd get off with no more than a wag of the finger from Mac. Getting stuck mid-sentence, he sighed and tapped his pen on the clipboard.

"Insurance paperwork?" a voice asked, breaking his focus.

He glanced up to see a young man in a white coat standing over him.

"No, but it's just as much fun," he said, not recognizing the doctor.

"Can I get you some coffee?" the guy said. "You're waiting for Officer Reed, right?"

"Yeah, I am. Coffee sounds great," he replied. "Thanks."

The man left and returned a moment later with a steaming paper cup. Malloy took the coffee and choked it down without his cream and sugar, watching the doctor take the seat next to him.

"Do you know how he's doing?" he asked. "My partner, that is."

"Oh, I think he'll live. He's in probably getting out of radiology right now."

"Probably?"

"I don't know," the man said. "It's my first day interning here, they don't tell me a lot of what's going on yet."

"Well, welcome to Central Receiving. From what I know, it's a great place to spend a day. If it's not cops with broken ankles, it's juveniles overdosing on narcotics," Malloy said, smiling cynically. "Maybe even some domestic violence victims, if you're real lucky."

The intern frowned. "It's not that bad, is it?" he asked.

"Not always. Sometimes it's just guys demanding rabies shots," he said.

"Hey, you know what? I heard there was a police officer in here just yesterday who made us give him a rabies shot," the intern said. "You know anything about that?"

"A little," he said. "I can personally guarantee that the squirrel was not as huge as he says it was."

"Were you with him?" the intern asked.

"Uh-huh," he said. "I was stuck with that psycho yesterday. Reed's my usual partner."

"I thought he might be. You were lookin' awful worried," the intern said. "You guys pretty close?"

Malloy nodded. "I was his training officer," he said, trying not to grin as he thought about how much closer they were than any of the other guys.

"Is it true that you cops are like brothers?" the intern asked. "I always hear on TV that your patrol partner is closer to you than your wife and kids."

What a thought. Something about it didn't sit right with him, but he tried not to think about it. Instead he said, "We have to be close. Our lives, and the public's lives, depend on it."

"It must be so difficult, then," the intern said, "to be so close to someone when you're risking your lives all the time. I'd be a nervous wreck every time some little thing happened to my partner."

"Yeah…" Malloy said. The guy was right, and he couldn't help but wonder if what he'd done at the construction site was part of that, or something else. Would he have been so concerned, so anxious, if it had been Brinkman or Woods falling into the trench? Yes, he told himself, it would've been difficult even to leave Wells defenseless (the guy couldn't even fight off a squirrel, for crying out loud). It was what went along with it that was different—that trapped, panicky feeling that surfaced each time he thought about what would happen if and when Reed took a bullet. When his last partner had been shot… well, it tore him up so much that if it hadn't been for Reed, he wouldn't even be on the force anymore. So what would he do if something serious happened to Reed? It had been a long time, maybe forever, since he'd felt so stinkin' gushy about another person. Would he be able to handle it?

"It's just part of the risk we have to take," he said finally, to himself more than to the intern. "If we couldn't handle it, we wouldn't be on patrol."

"Too bad doctors can't be like that. It's always a competition between us. Everyone has to be better than the next guy," the intern said, smiling again. "Maybe if I'm lucky I'll have nice policemen in here to talk to me more often."

"No offense, Doc, but a hospital is the last place a cop wants to spend his day," he said.

"Oh, right."

A few minutes later, a different nurse returned with Reed at her side, his arm over her shoulders. He didn't have a cast, but he still limped on the ankle.

"He got lucky. Just a sprain," the nurse said to Malloy. "We set it for him, but it's gonna bother him for a few days. Thinks he's a real tough guy and wouldn't let us give him any painkillers."

"I don't need pills," Reed said. "I just want to get out of here."

"Me too," Malloy agreed, getting up to go sign whatever paperwork they needed. "C'mon, Junior, let's get you back to the station."

"Nice meeting you, Officer Malloy," the intern called after them.

"Same to you," he said, thinking nothing of it.

They got everything settled with the hospital and returned to the station. Not wanting to waste his time off, Reed agreed to finish the week riding a desk, switching places with Officer Miller. Miller, excited to be on patrol again, headed for the cruiser right away, but Malloy lingered as long as he could, disappointed that he'd be stuck with another guy yet again.

"Don't do anything strenuous," he said as he started to head out.

"Yes, Mom," Reed said. "Mac's gonna get on your case unless you get back on the road. I'll walk you out to the cruiser."

"You'll hobble me out to the cruiser," Malloy corrected. Reed was walking better already, but he wasn't in perfect shape.

"So," Reed said as they made their way out. "I take it Wells was right after all."

"Huh?"

"About you and doctors," he said.

Taking a moment to figure out what Reed was talking about, he said, "You're worried I'm flirting with doctors.

"There's no harm in flirting, Pete," Reed said. "I suppose he was pretty cute. Boy, and you tell me to tone it down."

"Jim, this is what I meant about you acting ridiculous," he said as they stood outside the station, hoping now he could keep his cool. "You keep doing and saying things that aren't normal, and people are starting to notice."

"Like who?" Reed asked.

"Sanchez, Brinkman, probably a lot of the other guys," Malloy said. "Brinkman talked to me about it this morning."

"Yeah, I overheard you guys," Reed said, sharply. "Pete, if you didn't like my aftershave, you should've just said so."

"I'm more concerned that you're really making these guys suspicious. Brink said that you've been talking Sanchez's ear off about gay stuff."

"That's not true. He wanted to hear about that cross-dresser we arrested, and I told him, and then afterward I just happened to ask him what he thinks about queers. I was really subtle."

"Not subtle enough, apparently." He tried to keep his voice from being too harsh. "You're not even trying to be careful."

"I am, too. I just can't keep my mind off of this stuff." He shook his head. "You don't understand. You've been sure of yourself for your whole life. I've never even touched a guy until a week ago."

"What makes you think I'm so sure of myself?" he asked. "I've been around, but that doesn't mean I don't worry, too."

Reed sighed. "It just seems like it doesn't bother you. You don't care when people say things."

"I care plenty! Don't you think it makes me angry to hear a guy like Wells making stupid jokes, and all I can do is play along?"

"Why don't you do something about it?" Reed asked.

He shrugged. "Because I can't. Neither of us can—that's part of what comes with our job."

"Our job is to protect and to serve. We're supposed to stand up for people who can't stand up for themselves," Reed said.

"And we stand up for ourselves just fine," Malloy replied.

"But think of all the people who can't! People like us—don't we deserve some dignity?"

"Dignity?" he repeated. "Jim, if it was only about dignity, it wouldn't be an issue. But that's not the way the world works, and you know as well as I do that the laws reflect that."

"Well… it isn't right!" Reed insisted.

"Jim," he sighed, "It's not our job to determine what's wrong and what's right. We uphold the laws, we don't make them."

"But how can you uphold laws that keep us from doing what anyone else can?"

"Like what? What do you want to do that we can't?" Malloy asked.

"We can't… we can't walk down the street holding hands. We can't go dancing. We can't get married." Reed said the last part softly.

Malloy didn't like the sound of that. "So? Who wants to get married?"

"All those times I teased you about settling down," Reed mumbled, "I really just wanted to be the one you settled down with."

"God damn it, I'm not gonna play 'house' with you," he snapped suddenly, with such ferocity that it surprised even himself. He hadn't expected to be so angry, but that word, that one word, made him uncomfortable enough to set him off. "All this business of going on dates and wearing special perfume and pretending to be jealous because God forbid I looked at another person—it's so stupid! And now you're playing this little game, saying you want to marry me?" He screwed up his face, hoping Reed could really see how idiotic he thought the whole thing was. "What are you trying to get from me? I don't do that sort of thing, understand?"

Sulking, Reed said, "Why do you even like me, then?"

Malloy rolled his eyes. "Really, Jim?"

"Really, Pete. If you think I'm so stupid, why do you even want to be around me?"

"I didn't say you're stupid, I said what you're doing is stupid," he said. "Don't put words in my mouth."

"Don't put words in my mouth, either. I never said I wanted to marry you, I meant other people who wanna get married." Reed replied.

"That's not what it sounded like to me."

"Well, it sounds to me like..." Reed sighed, hesitating, then added, "you don't even wanna be with me."

"Jim…"

"I bet you can't even think of one reason why you like me."

He struggled with what to say, so angry that Reed would question his sincerity, his thoughts didn't make any sense. "You're a good looking guy-," he prefaced, trying to bide his time.

"That's it?" Reed huffed, interrupting him before he could grapple for an explanation. "Jean said you only want to go to bed with me, but I told her you're better than that. Maybe she was right." With that, he turned and headed for the station door, hobbling on the sore ankle but still maintaining a sense of dignified embitterment.

"Jim!" Malloy growled. "Don't run away when I'm trying to talk to you. You already did this once and you had to wait a whole day before you figured it out."

"I've got it figured out, Pete," Reed muttered. Turning to glance over his shoulder one last time, he added, "By the way—it wasn't perfume, it was aftershave."

Malloy gave up, watching him limp away. His jaw was clenched so tightly he feared he might crack a tooth. It was so frustrating. Why was Reed being such a drama queen? Why couldn't things just go back to normal? Don't kid yourself, he thought. You know better than that. The moment he kissed you there was no turning back. But why couldn't Reed at least stop acting like this? It made sense that he'd been strange before, but now that they were together, everything should've been perfect.

In the cruiser, Miller leaned over and honked the horn, pointing at his watch and rolling his eyes. Malloy took a deep breath, trying to remain composed. If he couldn't keep himself calm, he couldn't do his job. That's what was important right now, he told himself. He could think about Reed again when day watch was over.

Getting back in the car, he tried to push the conversation out of his mind.

"What was that all about?" Miller asked after he cleared them.

"Nothing."

"Okay," Miller said, hesitantly. "Boy, it's nice to get away from that desk."

"I'm sure," Malloy said.

"Hah, I hope Reed doesn't mind all that paperwork I left him with," Miller added.

"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12," the radio said. "A neighbor dispute…"

Malloy listened to the address, looking forward to dealing with fighting neighbors for the first time in his whole career. Anything to keep himself from wondering if the ankle wasn't the only thing that was wrong with Reed.


The day was tedious, but it was over at last. As they handled their calls, his fury progressively faded and he knew he couldn't let Reed walk away again without hearing his explanation. Miller was quick at writing reports, and Malloy hoped it meant he'd have a chance to sneak over to the front desk and catch Reed before he grumpily scurried home, as he likely would.

With the reports under his arm, he strolled into Sgt. MacDonald's office and handed them over, waiting impatiently while the watch commander inspected them.

"I ought to send Miller out more often," he commented. "Unlike most of you guys, I can actually read his handwriting."

He wasn't in the mood to get into it with Mac, so he said, "Is Jim still around? I, uh, wanna know if his ankle is okay."

"You just missed him. He took off a few minutes ago," Mac said. "Actually, Pete, I'd like to have a word with you about that."

"About the ankle?" Malloy said, his conversation with Brinkman instantly coming to mind. He hoped that wasn't what Mac wanted to talk about. "Mac, I messed up today at the construction site, didn't I? I can't help but think I should've secured the area before I tried to help Jim."

"And left him to defend himself? That's a hostage situation waiting to happen." Mac shook his head.

"Probably shoulda called for backup before we went in, though," Malloy added.

"You did fine, Pete," Mac insisted. "That's not what I wanted to talk to you about."

"It's not?" He tried not to let his concern betray him.

"No. Jim's ankle is fine, but he isn't. I took my lunch with him today, and we had a long conversation." Mac folded his hands on his desk, furrowing his brow seriously. "He told me about what's been going on, Pete."

"He… told you." Malloy repeated it aloud, trying to confirm that he'd really heard it. When he was sure he had, he felt sick to his stomach. He could hardly believe it. After everything else, Reed had to go and tell Mac about what they'd been doing.

Suddenly, he found that he had a hard time looking into Mac's eyes. The somber expression on the watch commander's face was just too much. He couldn't imagine what was going through his mind. How could Mac have any respect for him now that he knew the truth? How could he be so professional and calm about this? Malloy considered trying to deny it, trying to say that Reed was crazy and didn't know what he was talking about, but he knew he couldn't do that. It was his own fault, not Reed's. If he only could've resisted the temptation of being with him, he could've saved both of them so much trouble.

Had it really been worth it? Yes, he decided, but now he needed to face the consequences of what he'd done.

"Pete?" Mac prompted.

"Mac, I don't know what to say," he sighed, staring at the floor. He couldn't say or do anything to make Mac understand how it was. All he could do was wait for whatever he had coming.

"Well, neither do I. That's why I wanted to talk to you about this. I can't give him advice like you can." Mac shrugged and continued. "I tried to be sympathetic. I told him that he's not alone, that it happens to a lot of guys. Sometimes stress makes us to things we regret. It's something that comes with the lifestyle this job brings us, and our families."

Malloy raised a hesitant eyebrow, not sure he understood what Mac was getting at. "It is?"

"Of course! You know that. I'm surprised Mary's forgiven me for some of the mistakes I've made," Mac said. "And I know it hasn't been easy for her, either."

"You don't mean, you…?" Malloy said, treading carefully. That couldn't be what Mac was saying, could it?

"He's told you about the divorce, hasn't he?" Mac said. "It really surprised me at first. I didn't think Jim was the kind of guy who'd have an affair. Or maybe Jean did it, I don't know. He just said they were filing on grounds of infidelity. I didn't want to push him."

"Oh. Yeah." Malloy stifled a sigh of relief as he figured it out. That he'd almost accidentally revealed everything to Mac was a chilling thought. "He's been taking it pretty hard," he said, playing along, still trying to cope with what had almost happened.

"I could tell that. I heard about the perfume thing this morning," Mac sighed. "You need to keep an eye on him, Pete. I know you asked for that time apart to give him some breathing room, but I think what he really needs right now is your support. You have to be there for him. It's not in the manual, but that's part of what it means to be partners. And it's definitely what it means to be friends."


Mac didn't know how right he was, Malloy realized when he was finally dismissed. He had a responsibility to watch out for Reed, and Reed for him, and now that they were more than just patrol partners, that responsibility was even more important. For Reed, there was still a long series of issues ahead. He still had a marriage and a family to consider.

Malloy wondered if that didn't account for more than just the dumb behavior. If he had dates to go on and aftershave to buy, at least temporarily, he wouldn't have to think about the wife he was cheating on and the son he was leaving with her while he did. Everything he'd dealt with regarding this sort of thing, he realized, Reed had endured, too, and with all that other stuff on his mind to boot. That probably explained all the concern about laws and rights. He must've felt so guilty about his family that he was questioning his own motivations. If he could justify who he was, he wouldn't have to blame himself so much for tearing his marriage apart.

Brinkman was right about one thing, Malloy told himself—that was some heavy stuff on Reed's mind. Thinking about it as he headed home, Malloy was surprised that Reed hadn't been acting out more. It must've been so hard to keep it together at all. The least he deserved was to be taken out on a stupid date now and then, and what he really needed was someone to be there for him.

Malloy wished he could do something, but it all required so much commitment. He could offer to go with him when he had to go to court, for instance, although a man showing up on another man's behalf when the grounds for divorce were infidelity probably wouldn't look too good. Besides, before he could do anything as big as that, he needed to deal with the fact that Reed was still mad at him. He'd said some things that he hadn't meant, or at least should've said differently, and he had to make some kind of apology. But what? A gift, perhaps? Reed was the kind of guy who would appreciate that sort of gesture. Maybe flowers and chocolate would suffice?

"Why don't you just buy him some sparkly earrings, too?" he berated himself aloud once he got on the road. "What are you thinking?" It was such a stupid idea. But as he racked his brain, it started to seem like the only option. He drove until he passed a little drugstore, where he stopped and wandered in, looking around for anything that would be a nice treat. Grabbing a few different kinds of snackies, a car magazine and a six-pack, he made his way to the register.

"Afternoon," the clerk said to him. "Find everything you need?"

"Yeah, uh," he felt like an idiot, but forced himself to ask it, promising himself that he'd never show his face in this particular store again. "Do you carry... boxes of chocolates?"

The clerk nodded cheerfully. "Sure do. What'd you do to make her mad?"

"Huh?"

"Well, that's why you want a box of chocolates, right?" the clerk laughed, chattering away as he headed off to find the chocolates. "That's what it takes to make my wife glad again. What about your gal? Did you tell her that her favorite dress makes her look fat?"

"Not quite," he sighed, wishing the guy would just sell him his things and let him go.

"Well, I hope this helps," the clerk held the box in front of him as he returned. "But really, what was it? Did you tell her you don't like her new perfume?"

Malloy snorted. "You know, that was part of it."

"Been there. Too many times, buddy, too many times," the clerk said. "This stuff for her, too?"

"Yup."

"She ain't gonna like this," he said, authoritatively. "If I ever met a woman who's happy with beer and potato chips, I'd leave my wife so quick, you wouldn't believe it."

Not wanting to think about the poignant irony, Malloy just said, "I think this'll do."

"Alright, it's up to you," the clerk said. He picked up the magazine and tsked. "C'mon, really? She'll hate this. Tell you what, I'll sell you a Better Homes and Gardens instead. You'll thank me later."

"Fine." Malloy took a deep breath and told himself Reed would probably like interior design tips just as much as pictures of muscle cars. He paid for the stuff and hoped it would be okay.

"Well, good luck," the clerk said as he left. "You're gonna need it."

"Yeah," he mumbled.

He regretted the purchases almost immediately when he got back on the road. How was he going to explain a bagful of goodies and then expect Reed to take him seriously long enough for him to apologize? Now he was the one being ridiculous—it embarrassed him just thinking about handing over a stupid box of chocolates. He decided to just keep the stuff for himself and call Reed when he got home. Begging forgiveness over the phone was easier anyway.

By the time he parked in front of the apartments, he started to relax a little, trying to keep his mind on work. Reed would be on desk duty for the rest of the week. Having more time apart to cool down before their days off would do them both a lot of good. Reed could be alone to sort out his thoughts, and Malloy…

He sighed to himself as he unlocked his door. "Better give him a call. Get it over with," he told himself.

Setting the bag on his couch he wandered into the kitchen and stood by the phone. Hesitantly, he lifted the receiver. His fingers hovered over the buttons, unable to dial. He knew the number by heart, but something stopped him. Telling himself Reed probably needed some more time, he hung up the phone and walked back to the den, turning on the TV and parking himself on the couch.

By the time the news was over he'd opened one of the beers and drank half of it, leaving the rest to sit on the coffee table and go flat. Something about it just didn't taste good. He got up one more time to stare at the phone, and when for the second time, he couldn't make himself dial the number, he grumbled angrily at himself as he grabbed his keys, not caring at all if he disturbed his neighbors when he slammed his door on the way out.

He stormed through the parking lot and down the sidewalk, trying to sort out his thoughts and figure out why it was so difficult to think of something to say to Reed. Somehow, "sorry" didn't seem like enough. Every time he imagined the conversation, there was something else he wanted to say, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. All he knew was that the awful, heartbroken look Reed had given him in the station parking lot the afternoon before he'd made his feelings known kept coming to mind.

He sure hated this stuff—feelings and the like. It was so much easier to just pick someone up at a bar and leave 'em to find his or her own way home the morning after. He'd known it wasn't going to be like that with Reed. So what made him do it anyway?

Maybe he should've thought it over more before he said anything, as if he hadn't done enough thinking already. Everything just happened so fast. One day they were patrol partners and the next day they were swapping handjobs like a couple of creeps who met in a club. That wasn't what they were like—they'd known each other a long time and were closer, as the intern had said, than family. But it was such a difficult transition to make. He couldn't expect Reed not to get all hung up about it. Maybe he could with other guys, with gals even, but not Reed. The difference was that he was all hung up on this one, too.

Remembering that he still needed to make that darn phone call, he turned around and started to head for home. Just as the sun was starting to go down he crossed the parking lot and headed up the stairs, trying to think of something, anything to say.

"Just tell him you're sorry," he muttered. "Tell him you're gonna be there for him."

"Be there for who?" a voice replied.

Startled, he glanced up to see Reed standing in front of him at the top of the stairs.

"What are you doing here?" he blurted without thinking.

"I came to see you," he said, softly. "I saw your car out front and I thought you were home. When you wouldn't answer the door…" he shrugged.

"I went out for a walk," Malloy replied, unsure of what else to say. Looking into Reed's eyes, something prompted him to add, "Do you want to come in?"

"Yeah," Reed said. "I'd like that."

Malloy nodded and walked by him stiffly, unlocking the door and letting him in. Reed limped ahead of him, gingerly still on his ankle, and sat on the couch without being invited.

"What's in the bag?" Reed asked after a moment.

"I… got you some stuff." It sounded even stupider to say aloud. He glanced at it, feeling like a complete fool, and sat down beside Reed on the couch. "You might as well look at it."

Reed took the bag and reached in, pulling out the items one by one. He looked disinterested at first, but a smile spread across his face as he looked over each treat. Finally, he pulled out the magazine and laughed. "Look at that fantastic table runner…" he said, inspecting the cover. "You really got all this for me?"

"Yeah. I drank one of the beers, though."

"I didn't think they made five-packs."

Malloy gave a short laugh.

"You told me you don't do this sort of thing," Reed said after some thought.

"I know." He chose his next words carefully. "I wanted to apologize for what I said to you. I hope you don't really think I only want to sleep with you."

"I don't think that. And, uh, I'm sorry, too." He shrugged and said, "That's what I came to talk to you about. You were right, earlier. I should be more careful. I've been acting like an idiot."

"No, you haven't," Malloy said. "At least not any more than I'd be if I were in your shoes."

Reed looked at him, puzzled.

"Mac told me about you and Jean," he said. "Jim, I know what you're going through is difficult. But you can't keep it all in. It's gonna come out anyway, and when it does, you're not gonna have any control over it."

Reed nodded, beginning slowly. "She came by to pick up some clothes about an hour after we… well, after the first time we were together." He paused. "I hadn't even cleaned myself up. She knew what I'd done. What we'd done."

"Did she have Jimmy with her?"

"No. That was the only saving grace." He struggled with the next words. "She said, she knew it was gonna happen eventually, but nothing can ever prepare you for the way you feel when you first find out. She… she called you a homewrecker. I couldn't stand to hear her say that about you."

"It's true, isn't it?" he said. "Maybe that's why she hates a happy bachelor."

"It's not your fault, it's mine. I told her that but," at this point, a tiny laugh made its way out, "she said you had a lot of audacity to come over there and make me do it on her couch." Another laugh and then, "I got mad and said I wished we would've done it on the bed and messed up her sheets, too."

"That was uncalled for," Malloy said, trying to maintain a serious expression as he thought of Reed getting into a pissing match with his wife. "You know it's not easy for her, either."

"I know. I wish I could take it back," Reed said. "I can't imagine what it's like for her. And I know Jimmy's probably picking up on it, too."

Malloy nodded, not sure what else to say. Finally he tried, "So what happens next? When will you find out about going to court?"

"I don't know. There's so much stuff to take care of, so many people to talk to. I don't want to think about it anymore," he sighed, taking a shaky breath and looking away. "Not right now, at least."

Malloy set aside the bag and took hold of Reed's chin, turning his face up to look at him. His eyes were red and his lip quivered. He was fighting to keep it together.

"You should've told me sooner," Malloy said. "I wish could've been there for you."

"You're here now," Reed said. "I didn't think you'd want to be unless I came after you. I should've known better that you wouldn't care about that stuff. I really didn't mean it about getting married. Even asking you to go on a date was pretty dumb."

"It wasn't that bad," Malloy confessed. "I'll go on some more if you promise to tell me when something's bothering you."

"Sounds like a pretty good deal," Reed said, smiling. "Just the kind of thing you wanna do—we talk about my feelings, and then you buy me dinner."

"You're paying, unless we end up like we did last time," Malloy said. He smiled, too, but let it fade again, remembering that Reed was worried about his sincerity. It shouldn't have bothered him, but he knew he had to do something about it. "Hey, I know I'm not the most affectionate guy in the world…" he started.

Reed gazed into his eyes, prompting him to go on.

"But, I-," he couldn't say it. He couldn't even bring himself to think it. Not yet, maybe never. But he felt it. Needing to say something, he managed, "I want to be with you, Jim." It didn't even sound like his own voice, it was so forced and intentional. He prayed it would be enough.

Reed was too somber, too silent. Malloy feared his words hadn't meant anything after all. But a moment later, he was smiling, and then he was laughing.

Shocked, Malloy said, "What's so funny about that?"

Reed grabbed him suddenly, and pressed himself close, holding him tight so he couldn't wriggle away. "I love you, too, Pete."

"That's not what I said," he balked, bristling uneasily at the word.

Reed kissed him on the cheek, still grinning like he thought the whole thing was really funny. "It's what you meant."

"Don't push it, Jim. I'm not kidding around this time."

"Okay!" he loosened his death grip and said, "I want to be with you, too. Is that better?"

"Yes." He mustered his sternest glare. Reed's smile instantly disappeared.

"I do, though, Pete," he said, apologetically. "Even if you don't want to hear it."

"I don't want to hear it," Malloy warned. Seeing Reed sink further down, he sighed and added, "Just… give me some time, okay?"

The smile returned. "I can wait."

The kiss that followed was sweet and gentle. For a long time, they remained as they were, in each other's arms, reveling in the mutual affection.

Eventually, their embrace grew tighter, their kiss deeper. As much as he tried to stop it, the tenderness was pushed out of Malloy's mind and he let himself react to the tongue sliding past his lips and the hands holding him by the waist like they never wanted to let go. Cautiously, he snaked a hand past Reed's stomach to see if he wanted it, too. When he felt it, he loosened the button and slid his hand down the front of the shorts, letting his fingers rest where they seemed to belong so perfectly.

Reed shifted against him.

"Do you want to?" he asked, hoping he hadn't ruined the romantic moment.

"I want…" Reed shook his head, staring at him.

"Tell me." Malloy stared back, marveling at the way the dark lashes framed his sweet eyes.

"I want you."

Letting go of what he held, he stood and dragged Reed up with him. He wrapped an arm around his waist and helped him hobble down the hall into his bedroom. Reed sat on the bed and watched as Malloy started to pull off his holster and then his clothes.

"What are you waiting for?" he teased, kicking off his shoes.

Reed undressed as well, gingerly rolling his pants over the sprained ankle, never lifting his eyes from Malloy. Finally, they took in each other's full nudity for the first time.

Reed's body was stunning. Even when he was that young, Malloy supposed he'd never been so fit. Every muscle was tensed with anticipation; free from the tight jeans, he was hard and ready. Was it possible that this was the same guy who'd been on the verge of tears just a few minutes ago? That resiliency, even more than his pretty face and delectable body, was what Malloy admired so much about the young man… although his pouty lips, narrow waist and round butt weren't bad, either.

Malloy sat beside him and took him in his arms, kissing him on his neck and running a hand over his firm chest, brushing delicately over the soft, dark hair. When the touch elicited a shiver and a groan, he followed it with another, bending to let his lips replace his fingers. Reed's hands ran roughly over his shoulders, back and forth behind his neck.

"You lookin' at something?" he said, letting his tongue slip over the burning skin as he spoke.

"They go all the way down your back," Reed sighed.

"What?"

Gasping at what Malloy was doing to him, he stuttered, "Your… f-freckles."

"You like 'em?" he replied, chuckling softly at the thought.

"Yeah, I do," Reed said, punctuating it with a high yelp as Malloy took one of his nipples between his teeth. He dug his nails into Malloy's arm and fell back onto the bed, sighing and biting his lip when Malloy took hold of him and gave a deliberately slow stroke.

"You're not gonna last," Malloy teased.

"No way," Reed wheezed. "Not if you touch me like that."

Not sure if he could wait any longer, either, Malloy rolled off of him and centered himself on the bed, kicking away the covers. "In that drawer," he said, pointing to his nightstand.

Reed looked up at him, curious, and opened up the drawer to investigate. Pushing aside a stack of creased Penthouses and otherwise questionable muscle mags, he found what he was looking for.

"This?" He held up a pot of hand lotion.

"That's it." A concerned look crossed Reed's face. Telling himself that it was because Reed needed to feel some kind of stability and control, needed to feel good about who he was, Malloy laid back and parted his knees. Maybe if he couldn't say what he felt, he could show it.

Reed glanced at him, bearing a look that almost resembled shame. "You-," he stuttered, struggling to say it delicately. "I can't do that to you, Pete."

"I wouldn't let you if I didn't want to," he said, truthfully. "Don't turn down the chance while you have it." When Reed didn't reply, he added, "You can figure out what to do, can't you?"

Hesitantly at first, Reed nodded and took what was being offered. He opened the jar and settled between Malloy's knees, his hands shaking as he stirred the contents and prepared himself.

"Now?" he asked.

"No, you gotta take care of me, too," Malloy said, trying to sound assuring.

"Right." Looking at Malloy's face, for approval perhaps, he eased in the tip of a slick finger.

Malloy was reeling more than he'd expected. "Two," he grunted, holding up a hand to demonstrate the action. "Like this." He gasped at the feeling as Reed copied him, and with a nervous twist of the inexperienced hand, it was all he could do not to writhe.

"I can't stand it, Pete," Reed whispered, setting aside the jar. "I need you. Please."

Malloy nodded, his voice trapped in his chest. He brought up his knees and let his ankles cross behind Reed's legs, holding him by the waist to guide him, and in a moment the fingers were gone. The look of sheer determination on Reed's face was overwhelming. He steadied himself and sank in, whimpering at the sudden tightness.

Malloy winced and took himself in hand to numb the brief but sharp stinging. Above him, Reed's breath came in labored gasps, and his hair clung to his forehead. Arching his back, Malloy pressed against Reed's hips, letting out a low moan when Reed, pulsing and hot, filled him completely.

Reed braced himself on the bed, letting his arms support him. He lifted Malloy's hips, then pushed in deep, hitting the spot that made Malloy's eyes cross. Malloy swore, gritting his teeth and rocking back in time with Reed's steadily quickening movements. At each thrust, they both struggled not to shout in ecstasy.

"C'mon, Junior, that's it," Malloy growled somewhat nonsensically, forcing his eyes open to watch Reed's face as he tightened around him. "Harder!"

Reed obeyed, letting out a soft whine that drove Malloy crazy, even more than the way he plunged into him rougher each time. Knowing the moment was drawing nearer, he grabbed Reed by the shoulders, pulling him closer, kissing his open mouth and feeling the sweat on his chest and arms.

Reed was trembling all over and losing his rhythm as he neared completion. With a final thrust he threw back his head and cried out Malloy's name, and then was done. Malloy groaned at the white-hot surge flooding him, and he finished a moment later, coating their bellies.

Spent, his legs fell at Reed's sides. Reed's arms shuddered and gave way under him, and he collapsed onto Malloy, remaining there as they slowly recovered. Malloy held him in his arms, feeling the strong back grow less tense with each gasping breath. Finally, Reed grunted and pulled out, and they shifted on the bed until they were comfortable at each other's side.

Malloy folded his arms under his pillow and tried not to think about the bruises he could feel making themselves known already. Telling himself he was too damn old to let Reed take him, he decided it had definitely been worth it, and he let his eyes close, only opening them again when Reed snuggled next to him, resting his head in the crook of his neck.

"Pete," he sighed, trailing his fingers up and down Malloy's chest, tracing a line to his stomach, touching the cooling stickiness. "That was... amazing."

"The Strawberry Fox's still got it, huh?" Malloy mumbled tiredly.

"Uh-huh," he sighed dreamily, pinching the soft flesh on his belly. "You know, you get a roll when you're all bent up like that," When Malloy eyed him warily he added, "It's cute."

"I'm sure it's just adorable." He lazily let his hand come to rest on top of Reed's, his eyelids getting heavier by the second.

"Pete?"

"Mmhmm?"

"Will you-," Reed sighed. "Next time, I want you in me."

"Sure," he mumbled. "Thought I'd let you see what it's like both ways."

Reed cuddled closer, burying his face against Malloy's neck, kissing him under his jaw. After a while, Malloy thought he'd fallen asleep, but he piped up again soon enough.

"Pete?"

"Hmm."

"I'd say you owe me dinner now."

"Me?" he balked, waking up. "You owe me dinner. I'm the one who took it up the-…"

Reed silenced him with another kiss. He fought it at first, wanting more than anything to give Reed a piece of his mind, but after a while he gave up and accepted the lips against his own.

"You're pretty good to me, Pete," Reed said when he let him go.

"I have to be," he said, not even trying to contain his smile. "Who knows what kinda trouble you'd be giving me if I wasn't."


THE INCIDENTS YOU HAVE JUST READ… oh, whatever.