Right Here, Right Now Anthology – The Soldier Next Door – Early Download

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If you pre-ordered a copy of the “Right Here, Right Now” anthology, you should already have it! If you didn’t, you can run to Pride’s Website and download your copy now. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until October 3 to read my short story, “The Soldier Next Door” along with short stories from Lily Harlem, Samantha Cayto, Alexa Milne, Jon Keys, and Thom Collins.

Summary:

Sometimes, love is right next door.

All twenty-seven-year-old Travis Schultz is supposed to do is keep an eye on the kid next door for a few weeks while his parents are out of town. Eighteen-year-old Owen Wheeler has other plans. Newly graduated, with plans to enlist in the Army, Owen wants to get laid before he ships out and he’s had a crush on Travis for years.

The age difference and the responsibility he’s been entrusted with make Travis hesitant, but the attraction is too much to deny. When the casual one-night stand turns into something more, Travis has no idea how to tell Owen how he feels. He misses his opportunity before Owen leaves and is left at home with a broken heart when Owen cuts off all contact.

When they meet again years later, Owen is in the midst of recovery from being injured in the line of duty and Travis will have to decide if he can forgive Owen and try again.

Reader Advisory: This book contains brief mentions of PTSD and war-related injuries.

Excerpt:

Owen was still sleeping when Travis awoke. He was sprawled on the bed next to Travis, on his stomach. Travis’ fingertips itched with the need to touch him. He wanted to trace them down the long lines of Owen’s back.

It was morning now. Not so late he was worried he’d missed work, but late enough he knew he’d have to get up soon. For a moment, he contemplated calling in to work and staying in bed with Owen all day. But that had never been part of the deal.

The sex had been amazing. Phenomenal. But it was a one-off. Four—five—off, maybe? One night. He knew Owen didn’t want more. Of course this had to end, but that didn’t mean it had to end this second. Maybe he could convince Owen to take another shower with him, for a final soapy hand job or a quick, wet rim job. Travis had enjoyed himself too much to stop now.

“I’m heading to work,” he said forty-five minutes later. He’d sucked Owen off in the shower. Afterward, Owen had staggered back to bed and collapsed. He’d snored while Travis had gotten ready for work.

Owen squinted up at him. “Shit, I should leave.”

Travis shrugged. “If you want to go back to sleep, that’s fine. Just lock up behind you.”

“Cool, thanks.”

Travis leaned in to kiss him goodbye, then hesitated. Is that crossing a line?

Owen let out a small, annoyed-sounding grumble, looped an arm around Travis’ neck and pulled him down until their lips met.

What Travis had meant as a perfunctory goodbye became a lingering kiss. They were both panting by the time Travis tore himself away. “Damn.”

He stared down at Owen and shook his head. Funny, he’d warned Owen about the way feelings could get complicated and here he was the one having a hard time ending the night.

Flash Fiction Monday – Nudity and the Pug

“Two shirts, sandals, and no pants, huh?”

Amal jerked, then craned his neck to look at me. I’d been sitting there watching him cook for a while, but he hadn’t noticed.

“My feet get cold.”

“But your balls don’t?”

Thick lashes dipped down to shadow dark eyes and he gave me a sweet, half-smile.  “You could warm them. You’re very good with your tongue.”

Amal was an intriguing mix of shy and bold.

Our relationship had developed oddly.  He’d been studying at Universität Hamburg and in need of a place to live. I’d been left behind by a former partner who thought packing and moving without giving me notice was an appropriate way to end a relationship I’d thought would last a lifetime.

Given how sullen I was when Amal moved into the flat full of American and British exchange students—not to mention my less than handsome face—I still don’t know why he gave me a second glance. In truth, he probably wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the news reports of the endless bombings in Syria. He’d left before the worst of it began and his immediate family had relocated to a safer place since. It broke my heart to watch him grieve for his home country and fear for the distant relatives and friends unable or unwilling to leave.

One night, when the rest of our flat mates were out, we sat in the living room watching the news. I’m still not sure what made me lean against him so the sides of our bodies were pressed together. Maybe it was the big dark eyes swimming with tears or the way the need in them mirrored my own, but I leaned in and he let out this heavy, shuddering sigh that I felt down to my bones. I stayed glued to his side long after he’d switch from the news to a more upbeat movie, his hand heavy and warm against my skin.

I was disappointed when he stretched and yawned, then told me he was going to bed, thinking the night had been a fluke. When I turned to go into the room where my bed was located, he gave me a look that warmed me to my toes. “I thought you’d be sleeping with me.”

That’s the night I discovered Amal was a closet nudist and that licking his balls both made him giggle and sigh with pleasure.

We were an odd pair; no question about it. But our flatmates eventually grew used to the sight of us together. After the first night we spent together, he was naked as often he could manage—with curious flatmates and cold winter air around it wasn’t often—so after he graduated we moved into a smaller flat free from prying eyes. Or so we’d thought.

He twisted the dial to off and turned to face me. “What do you think of my idea?”

I smiled and pulled him close; our bare skin brushing together sent a pleasant tingle through my body. I’d stripped down the moment I got home. “It’s brilliant. But we’d better lock the dog out of the bedroom.”

Amal nodded and shot a glance at our new, canine roommate. “He watches us a lot. I swear I caught him staring at my bum earlier.”


 

Please visit the flash fic group on Facebook and check out the links to the other authors’ flash fics. We have quite a few contributions this week!

I look forward to seeing you next Monday!

Flash Fiction Monday – Flying

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Hollywood wasn’t good for much of anything, but Michael had to give it some credit. Over the years it had proven quite useful. History and legend had done much to confuse the world about the power of witches, but Hollywood had done even more. According to the movies and TV, witches were either ugly old hags or pretty young girls who wore a lot of black. No one knew the truth.

But they would, soon.

He glanced upward. It was mid-afternoon, but the sky was tinged an odd, sickly color. The sound of flapping wings filled the air and dark, winged creatures surged and drifted on the currents. In their midst, the solid bulk of Michael’s lover, Fermin, filled the air. It seemed to defy gravity and the laws of physics Michael had spent the better part of his life studying. That was how they’d met—Michael and Fermin—and while it hadn’t been love at first sight by any means, it was a solid thirty odd year relationship. And now Michael was terrified of what his research had uncovered.

Michael had delayed as long as possible, trying to stretch out the time as much as possible, but he was pretty sure his research team had a spy in its midst. The thought saddened him and he’d spent too many nice searching his memories for clues, but he still wasn’t sure who it was. It didn’t matter, in the end. His relationship with Fermin and the safety of every gay man was at risk. Because of what Michael had discovered.

Not that Fermin blamed him—despite his gruff exterior he was a softy inside—but Michael had enough guilt for the both of them. He’d never dreamed that the gene associated with homosexuality also controlled the portion of the brain that involved flying. It turned out the only witches out there were gay men. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, lesbians had their own magic, but it didn’t involve flying. But Michael’s interests—personal or professional—had never included women.

Above him, Fermin whirled and soared with the birds, enjoying some final moments of freedom.

Flying wasn’t magic. Hell, witch was probably an entirely inaccurate word for the men who flew, but it was what most of them identified as. Michael’s discovery of the genetic component—and subsequent ties to homosexuality—left them vulnerable. Left his lover vulnerable. Any day now he’d have to turn over the final pieces of his research to the government and who knew what would happen after that for the witches. Internment camps? Torture disguised as research? Military conscription? A shudder worked its way up Michael’s spine.

He was so lost in his thoughts that Fermin’s arms wrapping around him startled him.

“Hey, it’s just me.” The low rumble of Fermin’s voice and the solid bulk of his body was reassuring. Michael sagged back and closed his eyes.

“I’m so sorry.”

“I told you, no more apologies. You had no idea until it was too late. And you had nothing but good intentions when you began your research.”

He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I’m afraid for you. For us. For all of us.” He wasn’t a witch himself. Witches were gay men, but not necessarily the other way around. The gene hadn’t expressed itself in him. But as the lover and long-term partner of one, he belonged to the community. The thought of how they’d view his betrayal sickened him.

“We still have options. Plans are being put into place. You gave us enough warning that we might still come out of this okay.” Michael didn’t see how, but Fermin had always been more optimistic. “Trust me,” Fermin coaxed.

Michael turned and buried his head in the crook of Fermin’s neck. “I trust you,” he whispered.

Fermin’s strong, solid arms wrapped around him and the feeling of peace that Fermin had always brought washed over him. He didn’t need to fly, not when he had Fermin to anchor him.

Whatever the coming weeks and months brought them, he’d have Fermin.


Please visit the flash fic group on Facebook and check out the links to the other authors’ flash fics! Helena has a wonder dark fic this week.

I look forward to seeing you next Monday!

Flash Fic Monday – Excitement

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On the path in front of him, Kurt stopped in his tracks and Victor’s feet slid on the dew-damp grass as he tried to do the same.  He cursed as he ran into the man in front of him, his hands curling around the thick biceps to get his balance.

“Damn,” Kurt whispered, his tone almost reverent.

You aren’t kidding, Victor thought.  Just being in such close proximity made his head spin.

“I didn’t know it would be like that. Your photos are going to be amazing.”

Victor chuckled internally and shook his head.  Right. The reason they’d been hacking their way through overgrown brush for three days was the photo shoot he’d been planning for six months.  Not the man he’d been lusting after for nearly as long.

Reluctantly, he let go of Kurt and stepped to the side. He blinked at the sight of the twisted steel forms rising from the trees, partially obscured by the fog.  The rusted metal looked almost sculptural in the heavy, early-morning air.  Victor’s hand went to the camera hanging around his neck.

“I just never dreamed it would be so …” Kurt let out a sigh and Victor nodded. It was incredible.  “How fast did they go?”

“Fast,” Victor replied as he took off the lens cap and brought the viewfinder to his face.  “It was absolutely exhilarating.”

After the collapse of the Western world, nothing even remotely like a rollercoaster remained.  Victor was old enough to remember them from his childhood, but Kurt had been born after.  Even now, although society was beginning to rebuild, engineers were focused on infrastructure, not amusement parks.  Victor’s day job was useful and productive—creative fields just weren’t necessary in this new world they lived in—but Victor had inherited his father’s ancient camera, and with some creative modifications, he made it work.  Now, Victor was trying to catalogue all the long-forgotten relics from the old society.  He didn’t know why, exactly, but something in his blood told him it was important.

Victor had hired Kurt to help him get to the old, closed-down amusement park.  It had been a pleasant—if strenuous—couple of days, and Victor felt a moment of remorse that tomorrow morning, they’d be heading back to the city. He only had one day to shoot; he had to make the most of it.

By the end of that day Victor’s feet hurt, his forearms were scratched from a patch of brambles he’d stumbled into, and even Kurt—rugged guide that he was—looked exhausted.  Now, Victor smiled at him over the crackling campfire they’d made at the base of one of the huge steel monsters.  “I really can’t thank you enough for doing this.”

Kurt shrugged, rubbing at his bearded jaw.  “Hey, this was great. I’ve always been curious to see them.  I never dreamed they’d be so big. I just wish I knew what it was like to ride one.”

Victor glanced up at the rusted metal far, far above them.  “It was pretty breathtaking,” he admitted, although his memories were from so long ago, he sometimes wondered if they were even remotely accurate.  He remembered the adrenaline and his heart slamming in his chest at the wild speed as the ‘coaster whipped around a curve.

“I can imagine.”

Victor jerked in surprise when Kurt’s voice came from far closer than a few moments before.  Kurt stood in front of him, expression strangely intense.  Victor’s heart seemed to echo his childhood memories, pounding far too fast as he got to his feet, compelled by the look in the other man’s eyes.

“Yeah.” Kurt’s voice was soft as he leaned closer.  “I imagine it’s a lot like being around you.”

Victor’s hand trembled as their lips pressed softly together.  This—being intimate with a man—was as looked down on as being an artist was.  Practicality ruled in this new society and a man who couldn’t rebuild the population or the world they lived in wasn’t thought highly of.

But, as their bodies pressed together from toe to forehead, Victor thought he might just be willing to take the risk.

Much like riding a roller coaster, the fear only added to the excitement.


Please visit the flash fic group on Facebook and check out the links to the other authors’ flash fics for this week! I really loved Theo’s and Helena’s this week.

I look forward to seeing you next Monday!

Flash Fiction Holiday Blog Hop

Although I’m the last person who wants to hurry the fall along–it’s my absolute favorite time of year and I like to savor it–it’s time to start thinking about the holidays.  I’m going to enjoy my Thanksgiving before I think about Christmas thankyouverymuch but when it comes to my writing, I like to think ahead.

Yesterday I signed up for a flash fiction holiday blog hop.  I’ll use the pic below to write a 500-3,000 word story (under 1,000 preferred) to write a holiday story that includes a winter holiday theme and a “bad boy” character.  In addition, I’ll be offering a prize (more on that to come)!

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All of the stories included in the blog hop will be posted sometime between Dec. 1 and 7, so keep an eye out for more information!

Eee! I am so excited to write this story.  Are you excited to read it?

Inspiration for “Sunburns and Sunsets”

As you know, this gif is what inspired the story.

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But I always love to find others to represent the characters and scenes in it.  This time, I went right to Red and asked for his help.  After asking some really great questions to get to know the characters physical description and personalities he found a treasure trove.  While the guys in photos may not look exactly like Kris and Eric, he did a great job getting as close as possible.  And there’s no denying he got the essence of their personalities and their interactions.  And I love all of the great camping photos.  Thanks, Red!

And I hope you all enjoyed getting a glimpse of Kris and Eric’s trip.

 

Inspiration for “Geeks, Nerds, and Cuddles”

I had a few pictures posted on my Geeks, Nerds, and Cuddles board on Pinterest but my friend Red absolutely fell in love with Isaac and Paul and sent me some really fabulous pictures to go along with the few I’d already found.

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The pictures are absolutely perfect for Paul and Isaac.  Come check them out!

Self Publishing – New Story – “Love in the Produce Aisle”

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I’ve never had a particular urge to self-publish.  The prospect of doing the research and starting was rather daunting and it seemed like my time might better be spent writing.  But in November I got together to celebrate Thanksgiving with some friends.  Someone I’d known from high school was there, having moved back to the state after living across the country.  It turns out he’s a writer too and has been self-publishing for a while.  When he offered to walk me through it, my first instinct was to say “no way” but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I wanted to give it a shot.

Although my goal is still to write and submit novels to publishers, I have a lot of short stories hanging around on my hard drive and often have little plot ideas pop into my head.  They aren’t necessarily something I want to turn into a full length story but they make great little shorts.  If I’m feeling stuck on a section of my novel, I can play around with something else for a while.  I’ve found that it helps me avoid writer’s block and keeps ideas flowing.

As I considered the idea more, I realized it was something worth trying.  If I could make even a little bit of money selling the short stories, that would help me toward my goal of being a full-time writer.  At the moment, I feel like I’m working two full time jobs, the one that pays the bills and writing–the one I really love.

So I got a short story and cover ready and my friend came over last night to walk me through the process.  While I wouldn’t call it easy exactly, it’s less difficult than I expected.  Still, he probably saved me a thousand hours by going through it step by step.  My husband and I took him out to dinner as a thank you.

Although I submitted it to six different sites, some will take longer than others to publish, so for now, here are the links to it on Amazon and Smashwords, and I’ll add the links to the other as soon as they are available.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H9WJ01M

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/387592

 

Happy Birthday, B

One of the very lovely people I’ve gotten to know in the last few years is B.  I’ll call her B since she isn’t overly fond of her first name, and the nickname she goes by online tends to be a little confusing.  Her birthday is a few days from now, on Halloween, but since she’s going to be out of town on Thursday, I thought I’d post a little early.  She’s a brilliant writer in her own right, and one of her stories will be published in the same anthology as mine.   She is also wicked with her red pen and a very good friend.   I hope you enjoy the story I wrote for you.  Happy Birthday, B!

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Better Late Than Never

With the kitchen window cracked open, Marc could smell the cool damp air.  It smelled like wet leaves, and as he glanced up, he saw that it was raining harder.  It had been misty all morning, but the rain was coming down steadily now; more than a drizzle but less than a full-out downpour.  Marc sighed and let out the breath he’d been holding, pushing his empty coffee cup away.  Fall made him melancholy.  It wasn’t just the shortening days or the gloomy weather.   It was the fact that it was his favorite season.

Marc’s heart clenched at the thought of John.

Cooler nights meant piling on more blankets, trying to replace the missing warmth in his bed.  It had been … six months, Marc thought hollowly.  Six months since he’d felt John’s arms around him, fallen asleep with John’s taste on his lips.  Half a year since half of his life was ripped away.

His friends were growing impatient with him.  They wanted him to be over it, for him to just move on.  But how could he move on?  How could he forget about the man he loved?  He let his chair rock back, balancing on the back two legs, and his lips curved up at the corners in a melancholy smile.  John had always yelled at him for that.  Of course, their little domestic squabbles had usually led to the two of them ending up in bed together.  Sometimes, he’d done it just to provoke John so he’d get drilled through the mattress.  He couldn’t imagine that with anyone else.

Sure, there had been a few interested men in the past six months, but he’d turned them down.  Even the blond with the ridiculously tight ass who looked just like the guy he’d lusted over in high school.  He felt his cock twitch in his shorts at the memory, and he sighed and let the chair fall forward again, the legs making a muted thud as they hit the floor.  He was being ridiculous and he needed to get out of this funk.  He needed to stop thinking about John; thinking about him wasn’t going to change anything.  Their life together was over and maybe his friends were right.  Even if he didn’t move on with another man, it was time for him to start living again.  Even if the idea of dating seemed unfathomable right now, it didn’t mean he had to be a hermit.

His head still felt muddled as he put away his breakfast dishes, and he decided to take a run.   Outside, dressed in lightweight running gear, the cold, damp late-October air was like a slap in the face.  It woke him from his lethargy, clearing the mingled depression and arousal from his mind.  By the time he’d finished the first mile, he was in the zone, his rhythm and stride easy and relaxed.  He focused on the familiar sights of his neighborhood, the carved pumpkins lining the front stoops, the splashes of color bright against the dreary greyness of the day.

The suburban sprawl disappeared as he headed into a wooded area.  Concrete sidewalks became a dirt path littered with brightly colored leaves.  He breathed deep, letting the earthy scent calm him.  This had always been his favorite running route.  He liked the cleaner, fresher air and the stillness of the woods.

John hated it, he preferred running on a treadmill.  Liked the absolute control it gave him.  But John had always liked being in control.  Marc had grown used to it in the twenty-odd years he’d known the other man.

Christ, hard to believe it had been so long. It made Marc feel old.

They’d met in college, working at a pizza joint and bonding over calculus homework and Nirvana CDs.  Life as a gay man in the early 90s wasn’t necessarily an easy one with the threat of AIDS looming over them and more than half the gay men he knew still in the closet.  Neither he nor John had been closeted, although they hadn’t been particularly out either.  It had taken them six months of hanging out at bars and studying together to finally broach the subject.  After that, they’d pretty much fallen into bed together.  They’d dated other people, drifting back to each other when they were both single.  They’d lost contact for a few years in their late twenties, caught up with work and their partners at the time.

After Marc’s father had died, John had been there for Marc.  And when Marc moved into the childhood home his father had left him, and John had been looking for a place to live, they moved in together.  Without real thought, they’d established a life together.  If it hadn’t been the life Marc had been looking for, it had been a good one, and John being gone left him feeling hollow and adrift.

Wet leaves brushed against his bare arms as he navigated around a fallen branch and tried to ignore the ache in his chest.  He’d never thought of John as his soul mate, or his other half, but with him gone, it felt like a huge chunk of himself was missing.  Some fundamental part of who he was had disappeared and that was what he was struggling with.

Pondering the ways he could start to rebuild his life, the miles disappeared and the looped trail returned him back out into his neighborhood.  Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t see the runner headed into the woods until it was too late and pitched forward, slamming into the other man even as he tried to stop.  Off-balance, it was only the man’s strong arm that kept him from falling into the mud.  He felt the rumble of laughter against his chest as the other man laughed.

“Hmm, well I’d always hoped to sweep you off your feet and get you to fall for me, but this wasn’t really what I had in mind.”

Marc managed to right himself finally, but the arm didn’t release him.  He looked up into the smiling face of his neighbor who lived three doors down.  The one with the great ass who was way too young.   “Jason,” he gasped.

He felt Jason’s hand slide across his lower back and was surprised by the sudden rush it sent through him.  Had it been over ten years since he’d been with anyone but John?  The time had flown.

“How was your run?”

Marc shrugged, suddenly aware of the ache in his knees and the tightness in his calves.  “All right.  I think I pushed myself a little harder than I should have though.  I’m going to feel it tomorrow.”  He laughed ruefully to himself; Jason probably didn’t have that problem.  He was what, twenty-seven, twenty-eight maybe?  Too young to know what it felt like to be a runner over forty.

Jason’s blue eyes sparkled and his lips twisted into a smile.  Marc had never noticed before how full they were. “I’d really love to help you out with that.  I give a killer massage.”

Marc smiled despite himself, flattered by the younger man’s attention.  “Thanks for the offer.”

Jason shifted forward, closing the already narrow distance between their bodies until he was so close to Marc they could have kissed without any effort at all.  “But it’s still a no, isn’t it?”

“I …” He sighed.  “Yeah.  It’s a no.”

“Look, I understand you miss your partner, but you can’t close yourself off to everything forever, Marc,” Jason said gently.  “Do you want something casual at first?  I can do that.  Or if you want me to wine you and dine you, I will.  I just want a chance.  I like you, Marc, and I really think there’s something between us.”

Marc closed his eyes for a moment.  Jason’s tone was sincere, and his offer to go with whatever Marc felt comfortable with was generous, but as much as he’d tried to convince himself that he needed to move on from his life with John, he just wasn’t ready to take that step.  He shook his head and opened his eyes in time to see the other man’s disappointed expression.

Jason stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest.  “Is it the age thing, Marc?”

“That’s some of it, yeah,” Marc admitted, “but more than that, I’m just not in the right place mentally yet.”

“Does that mean you could change your mind someday?” Jason asked, flashing Marc a wide, hopeful smile.

“Let’s put it this way, when I’m ready to move on, you’ll be the first to know,” he promised, surprised to realize he was flirting a little.  And enjoying it.

“That’s fair,” Jason agreed with a crooked grin.  “Now, how about a kiss so you’ll have something to remind you of what you could have?”

He covered Marc’s mouth with his own before Marc could even think to protest.  Jason’s lips were warm, and the kiss was one of the best damn kisses he’d ever had.  It was brief but intense.  When Jason drew back with a self-satisfied little hum, Marc almost regretted not grabbing him and kissing him again, but he knew he wasn’t ready to move on.

Still, the kiss had been a great boost to the ego and Marc had needed that.  He let his hand linger against Jason’s firm chest for a moment and he smiled up at the other man.  “Thanks for that.”

“Just knock on my door any time you want a repeat,” Jason said, his voice dropping to a low, husky purr.  “Or anything more.”

“I will, Jason,” he promised, and he meant it.

He said his goodbyes to his neighbor and jogged home, only turning back once to stare at Jason’s ass.  He sighed and shook his head at himself before resolutely looking away.

The moment he got home he took a leisurely hot shower.  Long after he’d soaped his body and washed his hair, he was still thinking about Jason’s kiss and about all the man had offered him.  Half-hard, he stroked his dick, throwing his head back against the shower wall when a surge of pleasure raced through him.  Desire made his stomach clench but the ring of the doorbell was like a bucket of cold water, making him pause mid-stroke.  He tried to ignore it, closing his eyes and chasing that desperate need to come, but the person outside the door was insistent.  With a grunt of frustration he turned off the shower, yanked a towel from the rack, and wrapped it around his waist as he stalked toward the front door.

Not really wanting to flash the mailman, he peered through the peephole to see who was still impatiently ringing it.  His irritation melted away as he caught a glimpse of the man on the other side of the door as he turned his head to the side.  He opened the door with a laugh.  “Jason, I told you I’d let you know if I changed my mind about the date.  You’re certainly persistent, I’ll give you that …” his voice trailed off as the man on his front step turned to face him.

The blood drained from his face, his heart beating a sudden quick rhythm in his chest.  “J-John?”

His former lover’s eyes met his, and his tone was acidic.  “Who the hell is Jason?”

“What—” he swallowed hard— “what are you doing here, John?”

John didn’t answer, just stared at him, his eyes traversing Marc’s bare chest.  Marc shivered, but whether it was from the cool outside air blowing across his damp skin or the way John was looking at him, he wasn’t sure.

John stepped forward and Marc automatically took a step back, his heart racing and his breathing shallow and quick.  John’s gaze was so intense, so heated and hungry.  When John had walked out of his life, he’d never expected to see him again.  He struggled to grasp the idea that John was here, inside his house.  Inside the house they’d lived in together for the better part of ten years.

Marc let out a shaky breath, trying to put together the words he wanted to say, the questions he had for John.

He never had the chance to speak them.  With a few short strides John was in front of him, pinning Marc to the wall behind him.  Marc’s mouth opened to protest but John’s lips descended, and he forgot everything but the familiar taste of the man he still loved.  The man who had left him.

Anger flared in him but it mingled with the desire.  John’s hands were cold, but they still burned against his skin, made need crackle through him.  He panted into the kiss, his head swimming as his hands involuntarily reached for John.  His hand slid under John’s jacket, gripping his shirt.  John’s kisses were hard and needy.  He’d always been an aggressive lover, but Marc could feel his desperation in every touch.  John’s lips moved across Marc’s jaw and to his neck.  He bit down and the stinging pleasure made Marc moan.

Without another word, John pulled Marc away from the wall, walking him backward toward the bedroom, one hand in Marc’s hair and the other arm tight around his waist.  A part of Marc knew he should stop John, tell him they needed to talk, but all he could do was feel.

In the bedroom, John spun him around and bent him over the bed, his hands making deft work of Marc’s towel.  Marc shivered as John’s hands ran possessively over him before he stepped back to rummage in the side table for lube.  Marc hung his head, his hands curling into fists on the bed as John moved slick fingers between his cheeks, first one finger then two pushing into him.  He was shivering, shaking from the desperate need he had.  It had been six long months since John had been inside him and he held his breath as John sheathed his cock with a condom and positioned himself at Marc’s entrance.

He threw his head back and let out a deep, throaty moan at the feel of John filling him.  “Missed this,” he panted as John began a hard, almost punishing rhythm.

John’s arm slid under his, pulling him nearly upright.  John panted in his ear, his breath harsh and hot against Marc’s cheek.  Marc let John set the pace, his body tensing against his lover’s.

Pleasure gathered in his lower belly, his groin tightening as John wrapped a hand around his cock, jacking him hard.  Marc threw his head back against John’s shoulder, his body shaking and shuddering as he came.  He groaned, feeling like he would turn inside out from the toe-curling pleasure; John swiftly following behind him.

Marc’s knees gave out and John let him collapse onto the bed.  He rolled onto his back, staring up at the man in front of him.  Panting and shaking, John dropped to the bed beside him, burying his head in the crook of Marc’s neck.  The familiar whoosh of his breath and slide of his sweat-dampened skin made Marc’s head spin.  They were both silent for a long time.  Eventually, John sat up and turned away, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed.  Marc heard the wet splat of the condom landing in the trash and he shuddered.   John rested his balled-up fists on the mattress beside his hips, bowing his head.  It made his back curve, and Marc reached out tentatively, wanting to touch the smooth expanse of golden skin.  He hesitated though, fingers just millimeters from John’s body, so close he could feel the heat.  “Did we need the condom?” he asked roughly.  It wasn’t what he’d intended to say, but the words slipped out before he could stop them.

John stiffened.  “I don’t know, did we?”

“Not on my account,” Marc snapped.

“Because you’ve been careful?” John asked, his voice sounding thin and strained.

“Because I haven’t been with anyone else.”  The wounded tone in Marc’s voice surprised them both.

“Who the fuck is Jason?” He turned to stare at Marc, his blue eyes meeting Marc’s brown.

“Jason is the guy three houses over.  The one who asked me out today,” he snapped.  “But I turned him down, and no, I haven’t slept with him.”

John let out a long huff of frustration.  “I’m sorry, okay?”

Marc swallowed hard and fell back onto the bed, his arm coming up to rest over his eyes.  At the moment, he couldn’t even look at John.  “Sorry for what? For leaving without giving me a chance to follow you? For telling me I should fuck someone else because we were over?  Or for the fact that you’ve been with others?”

The mattress shifted under John’s weight, but Marc didn’t open his eyes, even when John finally replied.  “I am sorry for leaving.  At the time … I thought it was best.  We’ve never been …”

Marc’s jaw clenched.  John was right.  They had never been anything, really.  Friends, companions, roommates, lovers … but never official.  Never nailing down what they were to each other.  They’d never used the words boyfriends or partners.  Their prior exclusivity had been about their health, not about emotional commitment.  It wasn’t John’s fault that Marc wanted more.  That he’d always wanted more and had never had the guts to tell him.

Marc sighed and lowered his arm to the bed; when his eyes opened, they met John’s.  The blue eyes were worried, almost tender.  “I’m sorry, too,” Marc admitted.  “I was being unfair to you.”  He sighed heavily and his voice cracked when he spoke.  “I just can’t believe you went off to California for your job without ever asking me if I might want to follow you.”

“I … you have a home here, a career,” John protested, his forehead wrinkling in a frown.  “I didn’t think you would want to uproot your whole life.”

“You should have at least given me the chance,” Marc shouted, sitting upright.  “You told me you were being relocated and that you were leaving.  You told me that we should both move on.”

John sighed, his eyes dropping to the bed. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Didn’t know I cared? I loved you.”

John’s breath caught and the hurt in his eyes was palpable when he met Marc’s gaze again.  “Loved?  You don’t anymore?”

“Fuck, of course I still love you, John,” he said, reaching out to touch the other man’s cheek.

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” John asked, uncharacteristic vulnerability on his face.

“I … I didn’t know how you’d feel.  Didn’t know if you even wanted to hear it.  You’ve always been so strong, so solitary.  I thought if I told you that, you’d leave, that things between us would be over,” Marc replied quietly.

“I never meant for you to think that, I swear.”  John’s voice was rough and husky.  “I thought you knew how I felt.”

“How do you feel?” Marc asked, sitting up and wrapping one arm around his sheet-covered knee.

“Lost without you.  Like something’s … missing.” He sighed heavily.  “Lonely.  I thought my job was what mattered.  I thought it was what made me happy, but I was wrong, Marc.  I need you.”

The anger and hurt Marc had been struggling with for the past six months dissipated, wiped away by the words he’d been waiting so many years to hear.  He didn’t know when it was that he and John had gone from being friends and lovers to something more, or when he’d realized he needed to hear John say how much he needed him.

“I shouldn’t have left,” John continued.  “I love you, too, Marc.  I … I quit my job to come back here.”

“You what?” Marc breathed, shocked by both the declaration of the other man’s feelings and the gesture he’d made.

“I sure hope you want me back—” John laughed nervously “—because I’m homeless and jobless at the moment.”

Marc chuckled too, but he felt his chest tighten at what John had done in order to come back here to be with him.  “I think I might know of a place you could stay.”

John’s gaze was hopeful.  “You mean that?”

“Of course I do.”

John shifted onto his side and Marc lay down beside him, twining their legs together.  They kissed lazily for a long time, reacquainting themselves with each other.  When Marc pulled back, it was only far enough to look at the other man.

“I swear you’ve gone greyer since I left,” John said huskily, running his fingers through Marc’s salt and pepper hair.

“Fuck you,” Marc said with a snort.  “You’ve got more wrinkles.”

John shrugged.  “The California sun isn’t kind to a blue-eyed blond.  I’m better off here in Massachusetts.”

“You’re here to stay?” Marc asked more seriously.

“Yeah, I am,” John said huskily, his hand wrapping around the back of Marc’s neck.  “Or if I go anywhere, it’ll be with you.”

With those words, the last of the lingering hurt and anger was gone and Marc relaxed, leaning in for another slow, passionate kiss.

“I suppose it’s time I took you on a date, isn’t it?” John asked with a rueful smile when the kiss finally ended.  “Never have before, but it seems like it’s about time if we’re … dating.”

Marc tried to laugh but his throat felt tight with emotion.  “Only took us twenty years.”

“Best damn twenty years of my life,” John said more seriously.  “I’m only sorry it took me so long to figure this all out.  What the hell was wrong with me?”

“We were both a bit blind,” Marc admitted.  “But better late than never.”

Marc smiled to himself, suddenly remembering the thought he’d had when he’d caught a glimpse of John through the peephole.  It hadn’t been his high school crush Jason had reminded him of, it had been John.  He was such an idiot for never seeing that, never realizing that it had been John he’d wanted all along.

“Jason is going to be so disappointed,” Marc said with a wry smile.

John’s eyes narrowed.  “Maybe I’ll have to put a ring on your finger to show him you’re taken.”

Marc felt his heart stutter in his chest at the unexpected words.  “Are you serious … but we just—”

John stopped his words with a finger against his lips.  “Maybe not yet.  But someday.”

“You really go from nothing to everything, don’t you?”

“I suppose.  Might take me another twenty years though.”

“I can wait.”

Happy Birthday, Jordan

Of the people I’ve written short stories for, Jordan is the one I’ve known the least amount of time.  That being said, he’s been an incredibly inspiring person.  He’s passionate about equality and rights for the LBGT community and isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

I spoke with Les, one of his very close friends, and she helped me brainstorm some ideas for this story.  I googled a few things and found some inspiration pictures to use.  Two  men holding hands, a Ferris wheel, and a compass rose tattoo.

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The story wasn’t quite what I originally planned, but your outspokenness wove its way into the plot.  It took on a life of its own, like they do sometimes, but I sincerely hope you enjoy it, Jordan.

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Finding North

Danny wrapped his fingers around Ben’s narrow hips, pulling his boyfriend a little closer.  He rested his chin on Ben’s shoulder and sighed, impatient already.  He hated waiting in line, but Ben really wanted to go on the Ferris wheel and he couldn’t deny Ben anything when he pouted like that.

“I can feel you fidgeting,” Ben muttered.

Danny let out a huff of laughter. “Yeah.  You know me.”

“I do, baby.  You have the attention span of a squirrel on speed.”

“Asshole,” Danny countered.

Ben turned his head, his shaggy blond hair brushing Danny’s cheek.  “Your asshole.”

Danny snorted. “I feel like there’s a bad pun in there somewhere.”

“There always is.”

Just because he knew it drove Ben nuts, he leaned forward and licked his ear.  Ben shrieked and swatted at Danny, but he was laughing as he bent his head to the side and wiped his ear off on the soft flannel of his shirt.  “Gross,” he muttered.

Danny chuckled.  “C’mere, baby.”

Ben narrowed his blue eyes at Danny and shook his head, his lower lip sticking out in a bit of a pout.  “You’re kidding me.  You lick my ear and then you want to cuddle?”

Danny caught sight of a couple standing off to their right who were laughing at their antics, grateful that everyone around them seemed amused rather than disapproving.  Sometimes,  Danny forgot that the whole world wasn’t like their friends and his own parents. They’d had a few unpleasant reminders of that fact, but it seemed like tonight at least, they’d have some peace.   He grabbed Ben’s hand and tugged his boyfriend back against him.  “Come here. I promise I won’t lick your ear again.”

Ben huffed but wound his arms around Danny’s neck anyway, leaning in to speak in his ear. “I can think of somewhere better for you to lick.”  He ended that dirty little suggestion with a sharp stinging bite to the ear that made Danny shudder.

“Tease,” he grumbled.

Ben responded with a raised eyebrow and a cock of the chin that never failed to make Danny laugh.  Ben liked to tease, and when he was feeling especially good, he tended to adopt a playful, campy attitude.  He’d been a lot more reserved when they first met, the pain from his past dulling the real Ben.

Danny’s coming out had been easy enough.  His parents were initially surprised and slightly bewildered, but they were supportive.  His father had bought out the entire self-help section of Barnes and Noble aimed at heterosexual parents who wanted to support LGBT children, and his mother promptly joined PFLAG.  Although their support was often downright embarrassing—he could have lived his whole life never discussing rimming with either of his parents—he was grateful.  Ben hadn’t been so lucky when his parents found out he was gay.  They had been emotionally abusive to begin with and had broken his nose, arm, and leg when he came out to them.  The best thing they’d done for him was kick him out of the house.  He’d ended up moving across the country to stay with an older cousin who just happened to live in the same town as Danny.  They’d met shortly after that, and they had been inseparable since.

Now both twenty-three, they were living together in a little apartment.  Danny worked at a local radio station while he went to school for broadcasting, and Ben worked as a cook at a diner while he worked on his GED.  Their life together was certainly nothing like he’d imagined when they were both seventeen, nervous and awkward, fumbling in the backseat of Danny’s beat-up car.   They were just horny teenagers discovering sex together.  They never dreamed love was what they’d find.

The line moved forward again, and Ben and Danny found themselves at the front.  Fingers hooked together, they stood there in silence, mesmerized by the bright lights as they spun round and round.  Danny glanced over at Ben and frowned at the melancholy expression on his face.  “What’s wrong?” he murmured.

“Just reminded me of something from when I was little.”  A shadow crossed his face.  “Mom took me to the fair.”

Danny swallowed, his heart aching for the man beside him.  Ben might have moved forward, but there was always a small part of him that hadn’t quite healed from his parents’ horrible reaction to his coming out.  As far as Danny was concerned, they were monsters, but the pain lingered for Ben.

“One of the few good memories I have,” Ben said quietly.

Danny nodded.  “Well, let’s add some more tonight.  What else do you want to do after the Ferris wheel?”

Ben’s face brightened as he begged for a corn dog, a ride on one of the rides guaranteed to make Danny nauseous, and for Danny to win him a stuffed animal at one of the carnival games.  Danny groaned, he hated all three of those things, but the brilliant smile on Ben’s face was impossible to resist.  Ben lit up when he was happy, his eager enthusiasm pulling everyone along in his wake behind him. “Sure, baby,” Danny promised.

When their turn came, they settled into the gently swaying seats of the Ferris wheel, Danny’s arm closing around Ben’s shoulders as he snuggled close.

The wind ruffled Danny’s hair as the Ferris wheel rose.  The heat of the day had dissipated, and the cooler breeze felt nice.  When the wheel reached the top he could see out over the whole fair.  Lights glittered in the darkening night, the sunset a deep, red-purple, the edges bleeding into black.  He turned to look at Ben who was giving him the smile that always made Danny weak in the knees. “Thanks.”

“For what?” Danny leaned in, brushing his lips against Ben’s.  “Waiting in line so you could ride the Ferris wheel?”

“Yeah, that, but for the rest of it.  Being there for me when things got so hard.”  Ben rested his head on Danny’s shoulder, and Danny tightened his arm around his boyfriend.

Things had been hard for Ben.  He’d struggled with depression for years; some days it was so bad he could barely get out of bed.  Danny had stuck by him through it.  He wasn’t going to lie, it was hard.  There had been days he’d thought about walking away, but he couldn’t imagine his life without Ben.  Living without his sweet smile, without the familiar scent of the skin in the crook of his neck, without the sigh he always let out when Danny pushed inside him, was unimaginable.

His life might be easier without Ben in it, but it certainly wouldn’t be better.  Ben had been there for him as well.  When Nancy, Ben’s mother, had been in a car accident and Danny had been terrified he’d lose her, Ben had been there to support Danny and his father, Jack. Hell, Jack had cried on Ben’s shoulder, terrified he was going to lose his wife of twenty-seven years.  Ben had been there through her slow, painful rehabilitation and that following year had cemented their relationship.  Whatever rough times they’d had, they were both in it for the long haul now.

“I fucking love you, Benji,” Danny said hoarsely, pulling him closer and kissing the top of his head.

“You know I hate that nickname,” Ben muttered, but he snuggled closer to Danny anyway.

“Yeah, I know.”  Danny grabbed Ben’s chin and turned his head, capturing his lips in a kiss.  Ben still tasted like the elephant ear he’d devoured earlier, like cinnamon and sugar.  He pressed his forehead against Ben’s for a moment.  As much as he rolled his eyes at Ben’s child-like excitement about the fair, it was fun to see it through his eyes.  Danny never regretted indulging Ben’s whims.  And he couldn’t lie, kissing on top of a Ferris wheel was pretty damn romantic.  Up in the air it was quiet, far from the din of rides and games, the excited shrieks of children, and the chatter of the adults.  It felt private, like their own little glimpse of heaven.  He shivered and he wasn’t sure if it was from the cool breeze or the moment.

When the Ferris wheel stopped and they stepped out of the car, Ben pulled Danny along the midway.  Danny managed to convince Ben to go on the stomach-churning ride before they ate corn dogs, and gulped down a frozen Coke after, hoping the icy drink would keep him from yakking all over his boyfriend’s shoes.  They spent a while wandering through the animal barns, Ben cooing at every furry creature there.  Danny groaned, half-terrified they’d somehow end up with even more pets than they already had; two dogs and three cats was plenty, but Ben was a softy for injured and abandoned animals.  At least the ones at the fair were well-treated, so Ben didn’t have that as an excuse.

Eventually, they wound up at one of the ring toss booths.  Danny spent an obscene amount of money, but he finally managed to win Ben an obnoxiously large stuffed gorilla.

“Oh my God,” Ben gushed.  “I can’t believe you won this for me.  I am going to sleep with it every night.”  Danny laughed quietly and shook his head, knowing that Ben would end up shoving it off the bed every night like he did with his pillows.  Instead he’d clutch Danny in his sleep, narrow arms wrapped around him like he was terrified the other man would disappear in his sleep.  As much as Danny hated that Ben needed that kind of reassurance still, he loved that he could be there for him.  He’d grown used to the tight grip of Ben’s arms, the feel of his cheek pressed to Danny’s shoulder, and his breath warm against his neck.

Danny was just about to ask Ben if there was anything else he wanted to do before they went home when a loud voice shattered their peaceful night.  “Isn’t that sweet?  You won a big stuffed animal for your bitch.  Oh, wait, I’m sorry, is that your girlfriend?  I wouldn’t want to be politically incorrect.”

Danny gritted his teeth together, wrapped a protective arm around Ben, and turned to face the asshole who’d spoken.  There was a small crowd of people around, and the man who spoke appeared innocuous enough, he wasn’t the redneck in the John Deere cap, or the one who looked like he hadn’t bothered to bathe after mucking out a barn.  Just your average, ordinary asshole.

“I won this for my boyfriend, yeah.  And you owe him an apology,” Danny snarled.

The man was clearly trying to bait Danny.  Ben might carry himself a little more delicately, and he certainly had a slighter build than Danny did.  Sure, Danny’s square features, dark hair and eyes, and heavy stubble made him look older and tougher than Ben, but they were dressed similarly in jeans and flannels.  Nothing about Ben looked feminine.   No, the man just wanted to get a reaction from Danny, and damn it, he was having a hard time not giving the asshole one.

He heard a low growl from Ben, who shoved the gorilla at Danny and squared off with the guy, arms crossed over his chest.  Ben might be skinny, but he was a lot tougher than he looked.  “So, you think that because we’re a gay couple, one of us must be the bitch, right?  And clearly, you’ve decided that’s me.”

The man scoffed.  “Come on, like it isn’t obvious which one of you takes it up the ass?  Everyone knows you’re the woman.”

Ben arched a brow at him.  “First of all, I’d like to know what right you think you have to ever ask someone a question like that.  Do you see me inquiring about your sex life?  I don’t think so.  Besides, I’ve had my cock in his ass just as often.  I may not be your idea of what a man is, but trust me, he knows I’m all man.”

“I’m just saying it’s unnatural,” the man spat back.  “You should be praying to God you’ll see the truth before He punishes you.”

Ben’s face went white and his hands clenched into fists at his side.  “Do you know who the last person was who said something like that to me?”

Danny’s stomach lurched, knowing he was referring to his asshole of a father.  He clenched his jaw; it was a struggle not stepping in, but he held back, knowing Ben could handle himself and that he needed to let him fight his own battles.  He’d be there waiting though, if Ben needed him after.

The man sneered at him and Ben continued.  “It was my father.  Before he split my lip, broke my nose, and pushed me down the stairs. Before he made me crawl out the door with a broken leg and arm, making me swear I’d never come back.  He’s the one who deserves to be punished, not me.”

Ben yanked at the cuff of his flannel, ripping off the button in the process as he pulled it up his forearm and turned his hand so his palm was up.  Danny knew the man could clearly see the shiny white patch of scars covering his arm where surgeons had placed the pin to repair the break.  He cocked his head when he saw the white gauze covering Ben’s forearm.  That was new though.

“You think God is going to punish me for loving someone?” Ben continued.  “Just because he’s a man?  That man over there has loved me more than anyone else in my life ever has.  He’s stood by me through the kind of hell you can’t even imagine.”

Ben ripped away the taped-on gauze, not even flinching as it pulled at his skin and hair before coming away.  Danny stepped forward, gazing at the tattoo underneath.  It was red, clearly new, and Danny couldn’t believe Ben had kept it a secret from him.  Danny’s eyes traced the mark, the sight of the compass rose made his heart feel so full.  “Your north,” he whispered.  It was something Ben had called him for years.

Ben glanced over at Danny and nodded once before he met the man’s gaze, unflinching.  “He’s pulled me out of hell and back.  He’s the love of my life and the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with.  He’s my north; without him, I’d be lost.”  He leaned in, his voice dropping.  “I suggest that the next time you feel the need to make bigoted comments about a gay couple, you think twice.  I’d happily be called his bitch any day of the week if it meant being with him, but you’re wrong.  We’re partners, equals.  You’re a bigoted asshole; I can’t change that, but don’t you dare tell me that my relationship isn’t every bit as important to me as yours is to you.  If I could marry this man today, I would, but people like you have stopped that from happening.”

Ben’s voice cracked.  “People like you are why so many gay kids are homeless, why I’ve lost friends to depression, drugs, and suicide; you’re why people have to hide who they are.  I hope you feel good about yourself.  All I wanted to do tonight was have a nice night with the person I love, is that too much to ask?”

He glanced around the crowd defiantly, and Danny stepped forward, wrapping an arm around Ben’s waist.  The man had the courtesy to look ashamed, and he slunk away without another word.  The crowd that had gathered around them was silent for a long moment, and then someone began to clap.  It was hesitant at first, a lone pair of hands applauding, but then it grew, the crowd joining in.

Ben turned his head into Danny’s neck.  He wasn’t embarrassed, but he wasn’t really used to that kind of attention either.  The applause died down after a few moments, but people stepped forward, quietly thanking Ben, or telling him how much his speech had affected them.  Danny felt a surge of pride for the quiet, timid boy he’d met six years prior who was now strong enough to stand up for what he believed in, to face down the bullies and haters, to proudly proclaim his love for Danny in front of a crowd of people.

Eventually, they escaped the crowd, hurrying toward their car, needing to be alone.  Ben was silent on the drive home, but he didn’t seem upset, mostly quiet and contemplative.  Danny threaded their fingers together and lifted their joined hands to his mouth, kissing the back of Ben’s hand.

Back at their apartment, Danny made love to Ben.  Stretched naked on the bed, Danny let his lips trail from Ben’s mouth and down over his collarbone.  Ben laughed, squirming as Danny licked his skin, and chuckled to himself; Ben was very ticklish.  Ben’s laughter turned into moans when Danny reached his very sensitive nipples and the moans grew loud when Danny’s mouth wrapped around his cock.  It was slow and teasing at first, and Ben continued to squirm under his touch.  Danny prepped Ben just as slowly, opening him up just as gently as he had the first time.  He brushed his cheek against Ben’s thigh, feeling the soft tickle of the hair there.  Danny sucked him more deeply when Ben’s fingers buried in Danny’s thick hair.

“Stop, stop,” Ben begged after a while.  He was panting and sweat coated his chest, his hair damp against his forehead.

Danny released Ben’s cock with a quiet, wet pop and walked his way up Ben’s body on his hands and knees.  Kneeling astride Ben’s thigh he slicked his cock and then leaned down for a kiss.  Ben’s lips and tongue kissed him back greedily, his hands grasping at Danny.

Danny smiled against Ben’s lip when Ben let out a familiar sigh as he pushed inside him.  “Love that sound you make,” he murmured, pushing all the way inside.  Ben grasped Danny’s body, pulling him even more tightly to him.  Danny felt the other man’s heels dig into the back of his thighs, and he gasped when he began to move.  He dropped his head, his temple pressing against Ben’s.  Danny could feel Ben’s breath against his cheek and the damp slide of their skin together.

Unable to hold out any longer, Danny urged Ben to come.  After a few deep, hard thrusts, Ben threw his head back, his shoulders and neck tensing with the pleasure.  Danny dropped to his elbows, burying his head against Ben’s neck, his entire body going rigid with pleasure as he came inside his lover.

The strength left his body, and he collapsed onto Ben.  Tangled together in a sweaty, messy heap of limbs on the soft blue sheets, they held each other tightly.

Danny gently traced the unmarked skin just under Ben’s fresh tattoo.  “I can’t believe you got this,” he said reverently.

“That wasn’t how I planned to show it to you.  I was going to do it tonight after we got home.  When we were alone.”  Ben frowned, clearly disappointed.

“It doesn’t matter,” Danny reassured him.  “I just can’t believe you got it.  What made you decide to do that?”

Ben shrugged.  “I wanted you inked onto me.  I realized I have all of these tattoos with meaning on me, but none that are specifically for you.”

Danny nodded.  Ben had amassed an impressive collection of ink in the last few years and he was honored that Ben would carry that mark around with him for the rest of his life.  “Why today?”

Ben blushed and it made Danny smile; he didn’t do it often.  “It’s dumb.”

“C’mon, tell me,” Danny coaxed.

“It’s the anniversary of the first time you kissed me.”

Danny shifted on the bed, pulling Ben closer.  “Oh, baby, I can’t believe you remembered the date.”  He laughed softly.  “I sure as hell didn’t.”

Ben shrugged.  “It was a big deal to me.  You were the first person who saw me.  Not the scars, not the fucked up kid I was, but the real me.  You kissed me, and I knew I’d found where I was supposed to go.  Who I was supposed to be.”

Danny blinked back tears.  It wasn’t the first time he’d cried in front of his boyfriend and it wouldn’t be the last.  “I’m so fucking proud of you for tonight.”

Ben shrugged.  “I was just doing what was right.  He probably won’t learn anything from it, but you heard some of the other people there, I changed some of their minds, made them see things differently.  It was worth it for that.”

“You’re amazing,” Danny insisted.

Ben flushed and turned over, brushing Danny’s hair out of his eyes.  “I think I want to get involved at the shelter, or with a group for gay teenagers or something.  I feel like I need to be a part of it.”

“Okay,” Danny agreed.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.  It’s important to you,” he said simply.  “Maybe I’ll come, too.”

“You’ve never been the joining type.”

Danny shrugged.  “Maybe not, but this is important.  Speaking up, getting involved, it’s the only way things are going to change.  We’re lucky, we have each other, but not everyone has that.  I don’t like the thought of what would have happened if it wasn’t for your cousin, if we’d never found each other.  I have nightmares about it sometimes, thinking of you alone on the streets.”

Ben squeezed him tighter.  “I know.”  He kissed Danny slowly and sweetly before sighing and touching his forehead to Danny’s.  “Love you.”

“I love you, too.”  Danny’s voice grew husky, wondering if he should get a matching compass tattoo.  “You know, you’re my north, too.  I’d be just as lost without you.”