Lucian shoved aside prickly hedge branches and walked into a small clearing. A large oak stood on the far side, and the topiary blocked the breeze on three sides and opened onto a view of the golf course. A stone bench stood between the tree and Lucian, and Shea sat hunched forward on it, the amber light of a cigarette glowing between bare fingers.
Approaching carefully so he didn’t slip on the slick pavers, Lucian counted the handful of stars above the halogen glow of the lights over the fifteenth hole. He blew fog in a long sigh and sat next to Shea, who said nothing. Lucian shivered, the chill of the bench seeping through to numb ass and legs. He inched closer to Shea, who glanced at Lucian with the same unfamiliar, unreadable mask Lucian’d seen Shea don at Leaf.
“Thought you quit,” Lucian whispered, not wanting to disturb the peace with real volume. He plucked the cig from Shea’s grasp and sucked a sweet, deep drag of nicotine nirvana.
“Never knew you’d started,” Shea said, bemusement replacing the empty expression.
Smoke swirled, and Lucian crossed his legs toward Shea. Their shoulders brushed, and Lucian thrilled at how this casual touch out of a million others was different. “One does all sorts of things in the name of self-management.”
“Yup.” Shea stole the cigarette back, thick fingers brushing Lucian’s slender ones, and the coal glowed bright before he slumped, running one hand through his hair. “All kindsa things. Rubbin’ worry stones, chewin’ on pencil stubs, rerollin’ fag ends, drinkin’ tequila by the case, heck… studyin’ applied mathematics and game theory, somethin’ big enough to make my brain beg for mercy.”
Lucian nodded in the seconds it took to follow all the examples and find Shea’s train of thought. There were usually several running on tracks that didn’t necessarily converge. “Find anything that worked to keep you in line?” he asked.
“Buryin’ the thought six feet deep and runnin’ over the grave site with a John Deere 6D, but you… it’s… oh Lord.” Shea took another drag and ground the stub out under his heel. “You were nice to me in there. It’s fuckin’ frightenin’.”
“I hope it’s not such a change,” Lucian muttered, still deciphering Shea Speak. He didn’t dare hope that Shea’s nebulous references to needing distraction from something impossible that Shea wanted had anything to do with him. Lucian’s ego liked the idea, but his better sense and experience scoffed. After all, what in the world could Lucian provide that no one else could for Shea?
And he denied the calm voice in the back of his mind that pointed out that if Shea was Lucian’s reason for living, the reverse wasn’t entirely impossible. It also said something about the fact that if Lucian had kept his feelings to himself for years, the only other person alive who might be as skilled at doing that would be Shea. Lucian wished Shea hadn’t stubbed out the cigarette.
“You whispering to me is a helluva change,” Shea drawled. “Especially when we used to shout insults across the Debate Team floor, or get by Mr. Miller’s club restrictions with a low mutter of name calling while playing speed chess, or, I still remember the time we were in that fuckin’ City-wide Spelling Bee.” Lucian chuckled, and Shea joined in. “The looks during the final round when we had to screw up twice to be called out. We went eight rounds with all the other kids’ parents wantin’ to kill us both, and, God, how they screamed when you decided you weren’t going for State after you won. I’ll remember how to spell ‘promiscuous’ and ‘sacrilegious’ to the end of my days.”
Lucian laughed outright. “As will I.” His hand moved in slow motion, stroked the rough nap of Shea’s jacket sleeve. “As will I,” he repeated, so quietly that there was barely a tendril of breath as evidence.
Shea shivered. “You like this…” He shook his head in disbelief. “I’ve seen you pull this act with so many others, shining every lumen of your attention on them so that they catch fire for you and only you. It’s like watching a cold winter star gleaming bright, and everyone gathering to the miracle.”
Lucian didn’t answer, unsure of what to say or what any of this meant or if the meaning mattered as much as the saying. Shea didn’t sound beleaguered like he often did when recounting their childhood rivalries, and he didn’t sound accusatory like he usually did when talking about Lucian’s conquests. Irritated, exasperated, maybe a hint of jealous — those were all normal emotions in the course of this kind of conversation.
Instead, Shea sounded small, confused, maybe lost. Like a man who woke up from a dream in a stranger’s bed and was both terrified and thrilled to be there. Lucian wanted the good and none of the bad, and with his heart thudding in his chest, he shifted until he was pressed against Shea, thigh to shoulder. “Keep speaking like this, and I’m going to start thinking the idea of you and me isn’t new to you, either, sweet Shea.”
“And if you keep saying that damned nickname without the condescension, I’ll…” Shea swallowed.
“Let me touch you more than I am, perhaps?” Lucian asked in his lowest, silkiest voice. His cock stirred, and desire drowned most of his higher brain functions. Lucian leaned until he could smell Shea’s aftershave. “I can be slow for you.” Lucian paused. “I could be many things for you that I’m normally not.” The click of Shea’s throat was audible. “So maybe you’ll let me start with your hair?”
“M-my hair?” Shea stammered.
Lucian recognized the effort for equilibrium and enjoyed that Shea had to try and find it. “Yes. I’d love to know what it feels like.”
“Oh. I keep forgetting to cut it, and the boys give me shit about that, but…” Shea tilted toward Lucian. “Sure? Go ahead.”
“Thank you,” Lucian said and stood so fast that Shea started to tip and righted himself.
Lucian nudged Shea’s knees wider and stepped between them, his waist level with Shea’s head. When Shea started to draw away, Lucian chose that moment to slide all ten fingers from Shea’s cheeks to temples and into thick curls. Shea gasped, broad chest arching and eyes widening.
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