Reflections of Summer Twilight Non-Canon Fanfic Contest - earned Judge's Choice :)
Pen Name: EdwardsMate4ever
Twitter handle: n/a
Facebook: Edwards Mateforever
Title: Adopt a Dog
Non-Canon Pairing: Seth/Emmett
Word Count: 5,620
Warnings (if necessary): No touchy subjects are covered, just boy love.
At the annual Pit Bull Adoption Fair, shy Seth is in charge of the older dogs, which are notoriously difficult to find homes for. When a hot guy takes an interest in his favorite dog, will Seth be bold enough to make a move?
The truth is, I hate puppies. I know, I know, I'm probably the only person in the world that can't stand them. Hyperactive, sloppy piss-buckets, that's what they are. Give me an old, faithful, reliable dog any day.
Trouble is, very few people share my opinion. That's why Alice's station with all the adorable baby pit bulls is a mob scene, and my station with all the displaced pit bulls over the age of six is practically deserted.
I try not to be discouraged, reminding myself that this is the way it goes every year. Our rescue organization acquires older pit bulls all the time, mostly because families move to a place that won't accept "bully" breeds, or, with the economic crisis, they can no longer keep up with the cost of owning a dog. Unfortunately, the general public has this idea that all older pit bulls in shelters must be mean dogs—former fighters or guard dogs—which couldn't be further from the truth. But the breed is vilified in the press, and the press informs the public, so every year on adoption day, my poor old dogs sit in my fenced-in area, looking longingly at the people passing them by without a second glance.
Most of my charges are males, which are even harder to place. They are used to being ignored by pretty much everyone except me, so they seem content to just bask in the late July sun, glad to be free of the kennels for a while.
As I watch the people pass us by from my little metal stool, which is warming up to an uncomfortable temperature as noon approaches, my favorite girl sidles up to me and rests her large head on my knee. I scratch her between the ears, and she whuffs with pleasure, closing her eyes and leaning into my touch, her tail wagging rapidly. Xena is a breeding female we rescued from a puppy mill, which means she was kept in a cramped cage almost constantly, forced over and over to carry and birth litter after litter. She has huge, tough nipples and a haggard look to her to prove it.
You would never know that she rarely had contact with humans from her disposition. She is just about the sweetest thing I've ever known, and she definitely occupies a soft spot in my heart that she makes herself cozy in. Unfortunately, her age makes her virtually unadoptable. At eight years old, she doesn't have much longer to live. Larger dogs rarely live past ten, twelve if they are really lucky. It is just the fact of dog life expectancy, but it still hurts to think about. There is nothing I want more than for Xena to know the love of a family and the comfort of a home before her life comes to a close.
I am pulled from my musings by a deep, booming voice, trying to get my attention.
There is a towering hulk of a man standing in front of me, waving a hand in front of my face to get my attention. I blink my eyes a few times and refocus on this person. I am struck by how attractive he is—dark, curly hair cropped close on his head, piercing ice-blue eyes, and a wide grin showing off perfectly straight teeth. His plain white t-shirt clings to his muscle-bound chest with sweat from the heat, his biceps pushing against the tight sleeves to the point of splitting. His torso narrows delightfully to taut hips and thighs encased in a pair of cargo shorts. He is an imposing figure, a dominating force. I break into a sweat as my cock twitches at the sight of him, and I'm suddenly grateful for the hot summer sun to act as a cover.
He leans in closer, examining my name tag. "Seth, is it?"
I gather myself together and try not to give myself away. "Yeah. Sorry, I was miles away."
"No kidding," he says with a laugh.
"The puppies are that way," I say, pointing over to Alice's station, where her dogs are playfully yipping and tumbling over each other.
He looks over and shakes his head. "Not interested in that."
I raise an eyebrow in disbelief. "Are you sure? I would've thought a guy like you would want a puppy."
He frowns slightly. "A guy like me?"
"Yeah, you know, so you can train it to guard your house or something."
His frown deepens. "What do I look like? Some kind of asshole?"
Oh shit, I've insulted him. Classic Seth foot-in-mouth disease. "No, uh, I…" I stammer.
He crosses his beefy arms over his broad chest. "Looks aren't everything, kid."
Now it's my turn to frown. "I'm not a kid. I'm twenty—I just look young for my age."
"My point exactly."
"Sorry," I say with sincerity.
His face softens and the big smile returns. "Don't worry about it. So, what can you tell me about her?"
I fill him in on Xena's details as he gets down on his knees and offers his closed fist for her to sniff. She checks him out and immediately licks him. He chuckles and scratches her under the chin. She gets up and moves closer to him, her tail wagging so hard that it feels like a beating as it slaps against my leg. I'm forgotten as the two of them get to know each other.
I watch their interaction after I've told him her history. He gives her belly rubs and gets down on the ground with her. They rough house a bit, Xena mouthing his arm gently. Most people would be fearful of that, but this guy just laughs and wrestles with her. If he wants her, I know she would be happy with him. It's a bittersweet realization.
I turn to look at my other dogs to give them a bit of privacy. Eventually, he gets up and comes over to me, Xena following close behind.
"So, Seth, what do I have to do to take her home?"
"Are you sure? She's eight." I can't believe what I'm saying. I want Xena to have a home. Why am I sowing the seed of doubt in his mind?
"I don't care how old she is. She's a big lovebug. Every dog deserves a comfortable place to live."
I nod, smiling tightly, and will myself not to cry. I really love Xena and will hate to see her go, but at the same time, I'm happy for her. I reach over and grab a clipboard with an adoption form attached and hand it to him.
"Just fill this out and bring it over to the admin table. Our people will call you in a few days to vett you."
"Vett me?" he asks with a chuckle, looking up from the form through his lashes.
I smile more genuinely. "Yeah, just to make sure she'll be going to a safe place with plenty of space, things like that."
"Should I be worried?" He actually does look worried.
"Nah, you'll do great. I can tell you'll be a great pet parent."
He looks back down at the form as he completes it. I peek at his name. Emmett McCarty. It suits him. He stands up once the form is completed and gives Xena another pat on the head. I join him, scratching her chin the way she likes.
"I'll miss this old girl, though, so take good care of her, okay?" My voice wavers more than I would have liked it to.
Emmett looks in my eyes very seriously. I feel my knees weaken under the intensity of his gaze, and I'm glad I'm sitting down.
"I will. I promise."
With that, he kneels down and gives Xena a hug and a belly rub, then retreats to the admin tent, paperwork in hand. As soon as he is out of earshot, Alice is by my side, literally bouncing in place on the soles of her feet.
"Oh my God, Sethie! He is dreamy!"
"Yeah," I admit, my gaze still on his hulking form.
"Did you do anything? Give him your number?"
"No! Just helped him adopt my favorite girl."
She rolls her eyes and puts her hands on her hips. "You nerd. He was totally making eyes at you!"
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. "No way, Ali. You're crazy."
"Seth, I swear, you have no idea how adorable you are. That guy would've totally jumped your bones."
"Shut up," I whine, playfully shoving her jutting hip. "You know I'm not on the lookout for a date. I like things the way they are."
"Seth, you can't be alone forever."
"I'm not alone. You're constantly buzzing in my ear!"
She smirks, but stops needling me about dating. It's not that I don't want a boyfriend; I'm just really shy when it comes to talking to guys, and not at all confident in my self-worth. I've only had one boyfriend before, but that was in high school. While I lost my virginity to him and I thought I loved him, when he went off to college, he dropped me like I was old news. I was wary to get into something new when my heart was broken so badly only two years ago. I was just starting to feel like I was worthy of love again, and I didn't want to rush into anything. Besides, there's no way that man is gay; Alice had to be seeing what she wants to see, as was usual for her.
She leans down to hug me. "Sorry about Xena," she whispers in my ear.
"Don't be," I say, pulling back to look fondly at the dog. "I love her, but I'm happy she'll have a forever home now. She deserves it."
It has been a week since Xena left the shelter with Emmett. I made sure to take a personal day when she left—I knew I wouldn't be able to watch my favorite girl walk out of my life. The days that followed were painful as I walked by her empty cage, and I struggled to remind myself that she was happy now; she had a home with a caring owner. It was the best possible outcome for her, but my heart still ached.
When I came in today, Gianna, our phone operator, stopped me as soon as I walked in the door. "Seth, you got a call this morning."
"Who from?" I couldn't imagine who would call me there. My family lives several states away, and all of my friends work at the shelter.
"An Emmett McCarty. The one that adopted Xena? He's having trouble with her."
Immediately, my heart sank. He changed his mind; Xena would have to come back. As much as I would be glad to see her, sadness filled me at the thought of her coming back to the cold, lonely cell. "What sort of trouble?"
"He didn't know," Gianna said. "She just seems kind of listless, I guess. Mr. McCarty asked for someone to come to his house and check her out. He mentioned that you seemed to know her well."
So that is how I wound up standing on Emmett's front stoop. His house is small, one story, a classic ranch. His yard is fenced in and the back looks like it's probably pretty big. I smile, knowing that Xena has a lot of space to run free back there. I'm beside myself with excitement that I get to see for myself. And I can't deny that I'm excited to see Emmett again too. He makes my palms sweat, but in a good way. I wipe them on my shorts to dry them off before ringing the bell. I hold my breath as I hear footsteps approaching the door.
The door is thrown open, and Emmett greets me with a winning grin, his white wife beater drenched in sweat, clinging to his body. I catch a glimpse of his dark nipples beneath the fabric and swallow hard, praying that he doesn't notice my dick start to harden.
"Seth! I'm so glad you came! Come in," he greets me, stepping back from the doorway and motioning me inside. "Sorry I'm so gross. I'm building a doghouse for Xena out back."
"You keep her outside?" I ask incredulously.
"No, no, it's just so she can escape the elements when she's playing out there, that's all," he says quickly.
I nod in understanding. "So, what seems to be the problem with her?"
His brow crinkles and he frowns. He looks sincerely worried. I feel bad for thinking that he wanted to get rid of her; it's obvious to me now that he only wants the best for her.
"I'm not sure," he begins. "Ever since I brought her home, she just seems kind of…sad."
"Sad?" I prompt.
"Yeah. I mean, she eats and comes for cuddles, but her energy just seems off, like she's missing something, and I just don't know what to do for her."
"Okay, let me see if I can help."
"She's out back, follow me."
He leads the way to his backyard, where there are building supplies strewn about in a sort of organized chaos. A classic doghouse is half built—the foundation is up, but only two walls are in place at the moment. I catch sight of Xena, lying on her belly near a bowl of water, her head resting on her front paws. She does indeed look sad.
"Xena!" I call. She immediately lifts her head, her ears pointing in the direction of my voice before turning to look at me. As soon as our eyes meet, her lips pull back in a doggy grin. She picks herself up off the ground and lopes over to me, whuffing and wagging her tail, rubbing her muzzle against my leg.
"Hey, girl!" I say, scratching her chin. She drops on her side so I can rub her belly.
"Wow, that's the happiest I've seen her all week!"
"Really?" I ask.
"Yeah," Emmett confirms. His voice is awed. "She really loves you. I guess she misses you."
"I miss her too," I say fondly, gazing at her with a smile.
"Why didn't you just adopt her?" Emmett asks.
"Oh, I'm not allowed to have a pit in my building," I say sadly. "Otherwise, I would've taken her home a long time ago."
Emmett looks off into the distance as if he's thinking hard about something. I continue to lavish attention on Xena, her tongue flopping happily out of her mouth and her tail beating against the earth. Finally, Emmett speaks again.
"You know, I think you should come by and visit her on a regular basis."
"Really?" I sound a little too happy about this idea. I don't want to encroach on his time, even if he is nice to look at. "You'd want a complete stranger in your house?"
"You're not a stranger to Xena," he reasoned. "I think she's a pretty good judge of character, don't you?" He winks at me, and I can't help but grin in return.
"Yeah. Yeah, she is," I agree.
"All right, then. It's settled. You'll come over twice a week, and we'll do something fun with her, the three of us. Just till she gets used to being here. What do you say?"
I don't love that Emmett is putting an expiration date on my visits with Xena, even if it isn't a finite one. But I can't say no. My life has felt less whole since she's been gone, and obviously she feels the same. I admit to myself that it wouldn't be so bad getting to know this new guy either. It has been a long time since I'd spent time with another guy—most of my friends at the shelter are girls.
Over the next few weeks, we see each other as promised. Mainly, we take Xena on hikes and to the dog park. We share things about ourselves while we play with the dog; I learn that Emmett is twenty five and that he owns his own landscaping business, which is successful enough that he can afford a house.
On one of our walks, Emmett nonchalantly slips in a story about an ex-boyfriend. When he is finished with the anecdote, he looks over at me expectantly. I assume this is his way of confirming my orientation, so I take the bait and tell him a little about my ex just as casually. Afterward, he looks away, but not before I catch him smiling to himself.
One muggy August day, we hang out in his backyard. Emmett has bought a plastic doggy pool for Xena, and we sit beside it in folding lawn chairs, bare-chested and drinking cold beers, even though I'm not quite legal drinking age. We laugh as Xena romps and splashes in the pool. Emmett grabs the hose and adjusts the nozzle to the shower setting, and chases Xena around the yard with it. She jumps at the stream, trying to catch it in her mouth. I laugh heartily, but I'm not really watching her—I can't take my eyes off of Emmett, his tanned torso glistening in the sunshine, rivulets of water from the spray streaming down his skin. His bike shorts leave very little to the imagination, and I wonder if he wears them on purpose in an attempt to titillate me. If he is, it is working. The smooth curve of his ass and the sheer size of his package are riveting. I try really hard not to stare, and I'm thankful that I wore roomy cargo shorts today.
Suddenly, there is a crash of thunder. Xena whimpers at the noise, and then the skies open up in a torrential summer rainstorm. We run inside laughing, while poor Xena burrows under a blanket in the corner. Poor thing is terrified of storms.
"Well, looks like you're stuck here for a while," Emmett says as he hands me a towel. "Do you want to watch something? I have streaming video, and I can make us some popcorn."
"That sounds great."
His face breaks out in his trademark wide, goofy grin, and he gets me situated in the living room, switching on the streaming video player and handing me the remote.
"Just scroll through and choose whatever you want. I'll be right back with the grub and some more brews."
Emmett leaves for the kitchen, and I pull my shirt back over my head before I click through his queue of movies he's bookmarked to watch later. I notice that there is a list of recently watched movies, and I can't help but snoop a bit. It is mostly action movies, a few classic films and some comedy TV shows. The most recent thing he'd been watching isn't something I've heard of before, though.
I guess I lost track of time while snooping because Emmett returned at that moment. He hasn't bothered to put a new shirt on, I notice. "What's this show? I've never heard of it," I wonder, hoping my question distracts him from the fact that I was being a bit sneaky.
"Oh, that's a British TV show. It's about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost who are roommates trying to pass themselves off as humans." He laughs. "You probably think I'm such a lame-ass."
"No! It sounds interesting," I offer sincerely.
"Really? Well, I only watched one episode so far. I'd be willing to rewatch it if you want to check it out."
I agree and he queues it up. I am sitting down in the middle of the couch, and Emmett opts to sit next to me, resting against the arm. He places the popcorn in the space between us and hands me a beer as the show begins. I think I might really enjoy the program, but it is hard to pay attention when our fingers brush every so often as we help ourselves to the popcorn. Every touch sends a shiver of excitement up my spine, and I drink more of my beer to calm myself.
I really like Emmett, and I get the feeling he might like me in return, but I don't feel confident enough to do anything about it. So far, everything that has happened has been innocent—his casual admission that he is gay, his tight bike shorts, sitting so close to me on the couch and repeatedly brushing my hand inside the popcorn bowl. These things can be construed as normal occurrences; I just can't believe he is actually trying to flirt with me.
Emmett is a big guy, and he has a proportionate appetite. The popcorn is gone quickly, and he picks his butt off the couch to rest the empty bowl on the coffee table. I down the rest of my beer and he takes the bottle from me, placing it next to the bowl, before doing the same with his own. When he sits back down, he is a lot closer to me, no longer leaning against the arm of the couch. I continue to keep my eyes on the screen, laughing lightly at appropriate moments, though I watch him in my periphery.
It looks like he is moving infinitesimally closer to me as the program wears on. At one point, he actually yawns and stretches his arm out on the couch behind me. I struggle to keep a straight face—it's an obvious and clichéd move, but I find it endearing. I pretend to be engrossed in the show, but all I can focus on is the heat radiating from his skin as he inches his way closer to me. When his thigh brushes mine, my cock jerks at the sudden contact, and I can't contain a gasp.
At that moment, there is a loud, booming crash of thunder, and the power cuts out. For a few moments, we just sit silently, bathed in darkness, the only sound coming from the rain pounding against the roof. I feel Emmett's body shift beside me, and suddenly his breath washes over my cheek. If I turn my head to face him, I know he is close enough that our lips will touch. So, I do.
I am immediately struck by how soft his lips feel as they mold to mine. The first contact is chaste, but the potential for more is palpable in the atmosphere. I run with it, increasing the pressure, and his hand moves to comb through my hair. His tongue peeks out and tastes my upper lip, causing me to part my mouth automatically, welcoming him in. My hands seek purchase as he explores my mouth—I find what I need in the feel of his bulky chest, the muscles beneath his skin rippling with his every movement. He tastes like beer and popcorn and something that is unique to him. I want more.
He breaks our kiss, and I whimper at the loss of his soft lips on mine. His breath comes in rapid pants, matching mine.
"I've wanted this for a long time, Seth," he whispers, and moves to pepper kisses beneath my ear.
I tip my head back to give him better access. "Me too."
He stops for a moment and pulls back. It's dark, but my eyes have adjusted enough to know he is searching my face. "Really? I've been flirting so hard all this time. You never really reacted."
I cup his face in my hands. "I did, on the inside. I guess I found it hard to believe you could be interested in me like that."
"You don't have a clear picture of yourself then. Let me make it clearer for you."
His mouth returns to mine, and he pours every ounce of his passion into me. His hands dip beneath the hem of my shirt, gliding up over my abs and chest, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. I lift my arms, and he breaks free of my lips to pull off the garment before taking up where he left off. He gently pushes my shoulders, and I lie back on the couch, letting his body cover mine. I relish in the feel of his weight upon me, the heat of his skin burning my flesh everywhere we touch. His cock is huge and hard against my hip, his bike shorts barely containing his erection. My own cock jerks at the sensations; it has been two years since someone has touched me this way. My hands caress and claw at his back as he consumes me, my hips undulating against him, instinctually seeking friction.
I want to feel more of him, so I slide my hands beneath the tight spandex fabric of his shorts, grasping his ass and pulling him harder against my groin. He groans loudly and shifts so that our cocks are touching through the fabric of our shorts, thrusting against me, making me cry out. Emmett lifts himself up and rests on one forearm, moving his free hand to the buttons on my shorts.
"Is this okay?"
With my permission, he deftly frees my aching erection and takes it in his large, calloused hand. He squeezes at the base before stroking upward, swiping his thumb over the head. My back arches at the sensation of his rough skin against my sensitive flesh, and I moan with abandon. He chuckles and strokes me with ardor, raining kisses over my neck and chest.
"Oh, Emmett, feels so good." I surprise myself with my words. I've never been so vocal before, always too shy to fully give myself over to pleasure. But Emmett makes me feel comfortable. He likes me just as I am, and it sets me free.
"Fuck," he mutters as he takes his hand off me. There is a rustle of clothing as he shimmies out of his shorts and takes mine the rest of the way off. Before I can miss his touch, his cock is flush with mine, his hand encasing us both, stroking us both simultaneously. My head falls back at the feel of his hard, smooth underside gliding against mine, his tough palm and thick fingers working us together. Grunts and groans make beautiful music in the quiet room, and I never want this to end.
Just as I think that, he slows down his movements, and I whine.
He whispers in my ear. "Have you done this before?"
I know what he means. "I'm not a virgin, if that's what you're asking," I reply breathlessly.
"Good," he murmurs, kissing me on the sensitive spot behind my ear, still stroking our cocks leisurely. "How do you like it?"
Did he always talk this much in the moment? "Um, I love it?"
He chuckles. "I mean, are you a top or a bottom?"
"Oh, er…" I blush furiously. "I haven't topped before."
His voice deepens, and he practically purrs his next words. "Do you want to?"
My cock strains at his implication. He wants me inside him. I think about that for a minute, how it would feel to bury myself inside his huge body. I almost laugh at the imagery—little old me fucking this huge jock of a man. As much as I want to know what it feels like, I start to get nervous at the same time. I worry that I won't know how to make it good for him. I decide I'd better stick with what I know for our first time together.
"Eventually," I finally reply.
"Good answer." I feel him grin against my neck before he moves to devour my mouth again.
He moves to sit with his back against the couch, pulling me into his lap. I sit astride his thighs and wrap my arms around his shoulders, pressing our chests together and trapping our cocks between our bodies. I gyrate against him, and he grunts as I rain kisses across his flesh, everywhere I can reach. He reaches to the side table, and I hear a drawer open, some rustling, and the click of a cap.
"Prepared much?" I tease.
"Only hoping this would happen. I stashed lube and condoms all over the place, hoping you would want me one day."
I respond with a searing kiss to his lips as he trails wet fingers down my crack. His index finger circles my hole lightly, and I shudder. He presses inside, and I sigh; I'd forgotten how good that feels. His finger glides in and out for a few strokes before he adds another, and I bear down on his hand, silently begging for him to touch my prostate, but he doesn't. When he adds a third finger, it burns, and I bite my lip. I feel a little flare up of panic. I've only had one cock inside me before, and it was an average size. Emmett is a big boy—I'm not sure I'll be able to fit him. My cock softens a bit, and Emmett notices. He takes me in his hand and strokes me firmly, taking the edge off the burning sensation.
When my cock is back to the point of bursting and my hips bear down on his hand once more, he is satisfied that I'm prepared and removes his fingers to roll a condom on. I watch him do it, staring at his length and girth. Once the rubber is in place, he holds onto the base with one hand, massaging my hip with the other.
"You drive this, Seth. Take your time, but don't take too much time, or you might kill me."
He gives me the sexiest little smirk. I chuckle, grateful for him lightening the mood with humor, and also for caring about my comfort. My heart beats faster as we lock eyes, and I can see how much he cares reflected back at me. Slowly, I raise my hips and position myself over his shaft, which he holds steady at the base. I part my cheeks, and my stretched hole makes contact with his tip. I take a deep breath and sink down. I can't help whimpering as his flared head breaches the tight ring of muscle. The stretch burns a lot, and I pause to collect myself. I inch down further, going really slow until he is fully encased inside me. I sit on his lap for a minute until my body gets used to the intrusion. I feel more full than I ever thought I could.
I focus on Emmett's labored breathing as he struggles to stay still, waiting until I say go. His hands grip my hips hard, and the hair on his balls tickle the sensitive flesh on the underside of my ass. Experimentally, I squeeze my inner muscles and Emmett shouts loudly, digging his nails into the skin of my hips. His head falls back against the back of the couch as he struggles to keep himself under control. His neck is exposed, and I pepper it with kisses, making him groan. Finally, I feel ready, and I swivel my hips a few times before lifting myself up and sitting back down, using Emmett's shoulders as my anchor.
Emmett's cock glides against my insides, and a fire reignites within me. I start out slow, but gain speed quickly, trying out different angles until his cock brushed against my sweet spot. I cry out as pleasure jolts through me in waves, and I repeat the movement over and over, Emmett thrusting up into me and meeting me at every stroke. Our gazes meet, and our eyes don't waver, even as our movements get more frantic. There is a cacophony of sound, and I can't tell who is making what noise, nor do I care. I can feel my orgasm building at the base of my spine, and when Emmett takes hold of my erection, I'm done for. I shout expletives as my cock erupts on his chest. He doesn't stop jerking me until he's milked me dry. The spasms of my muscles clenching around his length draws out his own release, and his deep voice grunts and groans as I feel his cock jerk within me.
All strength is gone and my limbs feel like jelly. I collapse on top of him and meld myself into the contours of his body, his arms holding me tight to him as we recover from our mutual high. I've almost caught my breath when something cold and wet presses into the sole of my foot, and I jump, turning my upper body to see what the hell touched me.
I lock eyes with Xena, grinning her happy doggy grin, tongue flopping out the side of her mouth, tail slapping hard against the floor as she wags it.
I scrub my face with my hand. "Shit, Xena!"
Emmett laughs loudly. "She got quite a show. Didn't cha, girl?"
I feel a blush blooming in my cheeks, and I turn to look at him. "Is it weird that I'm embarrassed that she saw us?" I ask sheepishly.
His face turns serious. "Don't be. I think this is what she wanted all along. Her two favorite guys, together."
Looking back at Xena—happy as a clam, the big, scary storm forgotten as she gazes at us—I can't agree more.
A/N: Special thanks to remylebeauishot for the beta! Please leave a review - I'm curious how you liked this pairing!