“Champagne? Er, I, uh, ran across a bottle of Clicquot at the wine shop.”
Ethan flung the dishtowel over his shoulder and turned away from the sink. He raised an eyebrow. Rupert had his hands in his pockets, and he was stammering. Ran across? Ethan doubted it was accidental.
“Also, I thought we might, um, stay in.”
New Year’s Eve, and they hadn’t discussed going out to ring in the new year. Ethan made the deduction Rupert wanted him to, and understood what he could not say directly: tonight he wanted to try again.
Ethan’s heart leapt, but he kept his voice casual. “Sounds lovely. You’ll corrupt me, you know, with all these late nights.”
When Rupert’s back was turned, and he was head-and-shoulders deep in his cabinets looking for the flutes he swore he had, Ethan raised a hand over the bottle. He had a little charm in mind, nothing much, just a trifle of a lust spell, merely to help matters along. He was quite certain Rupert wouldn’t mind, would no doubt have assumed that Ethan would do the obvious. Or not. Ethan crooked a grin at Rupert, on tip-toe, reaching out with one hand, the other braced on the counter. Rupert’s backside made as inspiring a view as it always had, below the broad span of his back. His stiff, stubborn back.
Ethan let his hand drop, the charm uncast. Rupert would not, in fact, thank him. And it was too soon after his escapade with the vampire. Best not to push. He could indulge later. Much later, alas. He thrust his hands deep into his pockets and contemplated Rupert’s back, so effective a check on his behavior. And so maddeningly desirable.
Rupert emerged triumphant, two dusty delicate glasses in hand. Ethan rinsed them and shook them dry. Rupert untwisted the wire, and applied an expert thumb to the cork. The pop, and the vapors flowing over the lip of the bottle for a moment, then Rupert was pouring.
“To old acquaintance renewed.” Ethan held out his glass.
Rupert touched his glass to Ethan’s. “Old acquaintance.”
Delicious, a trifle dry, properly fizzy. Ethan did not let himself rush the first glass. Pacing was the secret. Let Rupert slowly absorb a glass, let the the alcohol have time to work its minor magic, and then he’d at last have what he wanted. They wandered from the kitchen to the couch in front of the fireplace. No fire burning tonight, but they had no need. Ethan toed off his shoes and flopped across the couch. Rupert hovered.
“Did you want to watch the ball drop? Or whatever nonsense it is they do at midnight?”
“Rupert, you utter berk, I loathe the telly and you know it. Put the light out and get over here. We’ll greet the New Year properly.”
The champagne tasted good on Rupert’s lips, too. Better, in Ethan’s opinion. He held his glass up for Rupert to drink from so he could explore this further. Rupert drank and smiled and allowed Ethan to do what he willed. It was good champagne. Ethan untangled himself from Rupert’s arms to refill their glasses and let himself catch his breath again. They touched glasses and drank, this time a silent toast to a mutual desire they knew too well for words. The expression on Rupert’s face as he gazed over the rim of his glass was almost too intense for Ethan, and he pulled away to fuss with the bottle.
“When’d we last drink bubbly together? Oh, I remember. Over a decade ago, now. That little cottage in Sussex you’d retreated to.”
Giles sipped and seemed to be searching his memory. “Right, right, that was rather–” Then his face darkened. “Oh, yes. A weekend of sex, conversation, and more sex, and I’m thinking perhaps we could patch things up, then I find out you’re using me. I’m just a place to hide until the local constabulary stop looking for the blokes who’ve done over all those banks.”
Ethan snorted. “You wildly exaggerate my role. I cast a clever thing to make all the guards so befuddled they couldn’t stand upright. It was pure farce, Ripper. Should have been there to see it.”
“You used me. Used me to avoid getting caught. I ought to–”
“Oh come now, Rupert, the account on that one’s settled. You blacked my eye and threw me into the street in my skivvies. In the dead of winter.”
“It was March.”
“A distinction without a difference. Bloody cold and wet. Nearly caught my death.” His clothes had followed him into the street, chased by the rest of his luggage. It had all landed in a great freezing puddle, of course. Rupert had likely aimed for the puddle.
“And yet, here you are. Drinking my champagne. I ought to have made you buy it. You and all your ill-gotten gains–”
Ethan kissed his mouth to shut him up. “There were no ill-gotten gains. The bombs in the moneybags went off and covered the wankers with day-glow green. Ten thousand five-pound notes, ruined. You should have seen their faces, Ripper. It was marvelous. Worth every moment of the beating.”
Rupert’s hand found the back of his head again, and Ethan judged himself forgiven. And then it was silence for a while, save for the occasional soft sound of pleasure from one or the other. Neither one of them was much for endearments. The idea of them when they’d been schoolboys had been absurd and they’d never developed the habit. At least not with each other. Ethan had no idea what Rupert was like when he was alone with women. With Ethan, Rupert was himself: sarcastic, clever, withdrawn, and prone to fits of bravado at the strangest moments.
“You’ll bloody well stay on the straight and narrow while you’re with me,” Rupert said, muttering into Ethan’s temple.
“You’ll keep me straight,” Ethan said, with quirked smile, and Rupert laughed.
But the both of them meant it. And why was it that it felt so good, knowing that somebody was there to tell him no and stop him? Best not examine that too closely. Best to let Rupert take command, lead him by the hand up to the loft where the bed lay ready for them, already turned down, candles already burning. Rupert had indeed planned this.
Ethan let Rupert set the pace. They’d become casual about this, in recent years. They’d known each other too long, been together too many times. Ethan knew what Rupert liked: struggle, a little loss of control, permission to leave his Watcher’s conscience off the hook. But now, this first time, Rupert needed control. They hadn’t talked about what the vampire had done, and Ethan would be shocked if Rupert ever did. But it was there to be seen, in what made Rupert flinch. No touches below the waist. No approaches from behind while Rupert was sitting: that was a restriction Ethan guessed would be long in fading. And it could be seen in what Rupert refrained from doing now. Ethan was nude at last, sprawled magnificently across the bed, and Rupert hadn’t yet taken a taste of him. Hadn’t touched him yet, never mind used that marvelous mouth on him. He wanted to, it was clear, but was still nervy.
Ethan sometimes wondered if Rupert had ever been with a man who wasn’t Ethan, but it didn’t matter. He’d always been a quick study. Ethan would wager the women enjoyed him just as much as Ethan did. Rupert, being Rupert, was all his now. No one else would be enjoying those attentions. And enjoy them he would.
Ethan smiled up at Rupert, who stood at the bedside fumbling with his shirt.
“What?” Rupert said.
“I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand.”
Rupert snorted. “You make a lovely Beatrice.”
He resumed work on his shirt buttons. Ethan lay back, passive, checking the impulse to rush things along, to undo Rupert’s trousers himself. He watched Rupert strip and for once leave everything in an untidy heap with Ethan’s on the floor. He leaned back against the headboard, finally magnificently nude himself. Ethan let his gaze linger. Softened by middle age and his desk job, but the athlete of their youth was visible in his chest and thighs. And of course what rose from between those thighs was as desirable as it had always been. Stiff, stubborn, maddeningly desirable Rupert.
“Yes, yes, of course.”
But Ethan could see that Rupert’s nerves were twitching. Distraction called for. Turn off the mind long enough to let the lust coursing through his blood carry him away. Time to show off his own talents with lips and tongue, his own well-honed skills, which had got their start with practice on this very body so long ago. Familiar body, familiar taste, familiar sounds of pleasure. Ah, he was far gone, he was. Ethan laughed at himself and then set it aside to concentrate on making Rupert forget whatever it was that had happened to him.
Rupert stopped him before he’d got properly started, but only so he could kiss Ethan some more. Bare skin against skin, bodies pressed tight together, sliding, kissing, working each other up. Ethan followed the cues he was given, and he didn’t mind how slowly Rupert was moving. He was now certain he was going to get what he wanted.
Rupert pulled away and sat up. He rummaged in the nightstand and turned back to Ethan holding a condom. He’d begun insisting on them some time in the eighties. Ethan had mocked him for an old woman at the time, but here they both were, alive and healthy. Another thing he’d never admit, his admiration for Rupert’s manic over-preparedness, his fussbudgety caution. Though when roused, Rupert was terrifyingly out of control. Unpredictable. Enormous fun.
He looked down at Ethan, and cleared his throat. He had a hand tangled in the sheets, gripping and releasing. “All right? I know it’s not your thing–”
Not Rupert’s thing either, usually, but pleasure was pleasure no matter how it came. Ethan rolled onto his stomach and writhed just enough to make it insulting instead of enticing. “Just get on with it, Ripper.”
“No. On your side.”
Ethan turned onto his side obediently, though he could still see the tension in Rupert’s hands. He raised a knee without needing to be told, and was rewarded by Rupert’s warm body snugging up behind.
Always a trifle awkward, always a trifle absurd, the act of making love. The position was indeed undignified, and more so with men than with women. Ethan judged the expense minimal, and he would argue with the Duke from now until kingdom come that even momentary pleasures were pleasure, and therefore worth pursuit. Though this pleasure was anything but momentary. Rupert was, it seemed, in a mood to move slowly, giving Ethan time to savor it.
Rupert draped himself over Ethan’s back and Ethan sighed. Languorous, that was the word for it, for this slow, slow lovemaking. Ethan enjoyed this particular activity more than Rupert, though what he truly enjoyed was variety. Something different every time. Rupert, if he had a preference, liked to use his mouth. A talented mouth, that could wrap itself around Latin, Greek, Sumerian, Ethan-- He was far-gone in fantasy and memory, and almost lost himself when Rupert’s hand brushed over him, grasped him, and stroked. Then went still.
“Talk to me?” Rupert’s voice in his ear was tentative.
Ethan reached down to grip Rupert’s hand with his own. “You usually say I talk too much.”
“There’s no pleasing you,” Ethan said, putting just enough grief into it to make it clear he was not grieved. “D’you remember our first time?”
Rupert made a soft sound against his shoulder. “Couldn’t ever forget it.”
“All clumsy hands and teeth banging. Over almost before we’d realized we’d started–”
“Though we did it again, straight away.”
“The joys of being a teenaged boy.”
Rupert began moving again, with another one of those soft wordless sounds. “It’s all slowed down, hasn’t it,” he said.
“Better this way, if you ask me. Slow build. Huge when it finally arrives.”
“Ethan Rayne, preaching the virtues of patience. What has the world come to?”
“You’re rather convincing on the topic. Janus, yes. Like that. Harder, you bastard.” Rupert’s teeth on his neck, biting just enough to tantalize, his hand insistent now, demanding that Ethan respond, and of course his body inside Ethan’s, hard and insistent and demanding in its own way. This was the Rupert he’d wished to find again, the spice of danger, of the man who’d earned the nickname Ripper. Ethan pushed backwards to meet him, to urge him deeper.
“Ah, this is what I wanted. A good old-fashioned fu–”
Ethan laughed, but obeyed as well as he could with that hand on him, that hard sex filling him, and Rupert’s husky voice in his ear. The slow build was over, and Rupert was nearly there. He knew that note in his voice well.
“Oh, God, Ethan, wanted this so much. Need you. Can’t trust you. Wish I could. Need to. Wish you would–”
Rupert apparently forgot how he’d intended to complete that sentence, because the only sound he made was a groan as he moved. His breath was coming faster, with that moan again with every exhalation. Rupert’s hand over his faltered, and stilled. A gasp, words Ethan couldn’t catch, and he’d reached completion. Ethan gripped hard over Rupert’s hand and got it moving again, fast and furious, finishing himself off while Rupert was still inside him, still breathing in deep gasps. He lost himself utterly when it happened, and came to aware that he’d been saying something over and over, he had no idea what.
Afterwards he lay heedless of the mess. If Rupert wanted to, let him clean up. But for once he seemed disinclined. He lay still wrapped around Ethan, hot and heavy and sweaty, completely comforting. Solid. Safe. Safe as houses on fire, his Rupert.
“Think it’ll be all right from here out,” the man himself said, breathing into Ethan’s ear. His voice was husky. “That was, that was-- mmm.”
“Don’t go all sentimental on me, Ripper.”
“You’re one to talk,” he said, and Ethan worried about what it was he’d said. It had affected Rupert, apparently, as he was nuzzling Ethan’s shoulder in a most uncharacteristic way. No matter. He’d probably meant it, whatever it was. He let it rest, without getting his own back. He felt too good to bother, here with Rupert’s arm over him.
Rupert sighed, and pulled him even closer. “Lord, I wish we were fifteen still.”
“Why on earth–”
“Wish we could go again right now.”
“Do you want it now? I can make it happen.” Ethan knew a spell that would have them at it all night. Rupert knew it as well; they’d used it together in more heedless days.
“No, not now,” Rupert said, still in that soft, husky voice. “No magic. Want you as you are.”
Any rejoinder he might have made stuck in Ethan’s tightening throat, for he knew, as surely as he’d ever known anything, that Rupert meant it.