This takes place sometime after Daily Grind, and serves as a bit of a check-in with Justin, Eli, Michael, and Sam. They guys are meeting to watch playoff hockey, but there’s more than just hockey going on. There are cookies.
A Hockey Night in Pittsburgh
(A Takeover Vignette)
Justin slid the last batch of chocolate chip cookies into the oven, closed the door, and started the timer on the stove. The whole house smelled like baking chocolate, meatballs, and barbecue, all of Justin’s favorite things. He set the oven mitt down on the counter and turned around. “Nearly done.”
Eli sat across the kitchen, perched on one of the breakfast bar stools, amusement tugging his lips into a sweet smile. “We could have just ordered pizza, you know.”
“Sure. But Michael baked that damn cake of his last time.” The one Eli had loved so much. Swooned over. He wasn’t about to live that down, even if it had been a fantastic cake.
A laugh from Eli. “Competitive baking. Who’d have thought?”
More like one-upmanship. He wasn’t about to let Michael win. Not this time, anyway. He’d pried out which cookies were Michael’s favorites from Sam, and set about making his point. When it came to baked goods, Eli was his.
Eli. God, Justin loved weekends. Unlike on a week day, Eli was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, a look that had taken Justin months to get used to even after he’d moved in. But he appreciated it so much especially since Eli’s jeans hugged Eli’s ass and legs in mouthwateringly sinful ways. Too many times, Eli had caught him leering—or maybe just the right amount of times, because most of the times that led to Justin upturned over those legs and spanked until they were both too turned on to make it upstairs.
Kitchen sex. Living room sex. It was all good.
Justin’s expression must have given him away because Eli’s smile slipped into a sly grin, and he beckoned Justin with a crooked finger.
He went, as he always did, but this time, Eli wrapped his arms tight around Justin and pressed his cheek against Justin’s chest. “Still, this is quite a bit for a hockey game.” Eli murmured. “It’s just Sam and Michael.”
Warm breath, even through Justin’s apron and tee, and a tender nuzzle. Justin leaned into the warmth and bushed a kiss against Eli’s hair. “Playoff hockey.” With their boss and his partner, who had been Eli’s lover once upon a time.
Okay, maybe he had a jealous streak going. Michael was an enigma to Justin, but Eli knew him so well.
“Oh, I see.” Eli held him tighter. “You know, if those cookies wouldn’t burn to hockey pucks, I’d show you exactly how much I appreciate your effort.” He pulled back a bit and peered past Justin. Probably checking the time on the microwave. “Also, Sam and Michael will be here soon.”
“Not like they haven’t seen us at Lyle’s” After all, they’d been to the parties, too.
Eli’s expression shifted, slipping into the raw emotion Justin was sure only he ever saw. “It’s different. That’s—we’re showing off there. Performing a bit. This is—us, here. Only us. No one else.”
Heat and light ran through Justin. Yes, that’s what he needed. Them, together and alone. Their own private heaven. He gazed down at Eli, his hands on Eli’s as Eli held him. “Later, then. After the game.” Once Michael and Sam had left and they could slip from hosts to husbands.
“I adore you,” Eli whispered. “Never forget that.”
As if Justin could. These moments drove that fact home over and over. The times when all of Eli’s barriers slipped away and the cool, controlled business man fell even past the relaxed husband into a man who needed and wanted and was loved.
It was joyous and erased all lingering resentment that Michael had known Eli so well. At this point, Justin knew Eli better than anyone in the world.
“Never will.” He leaned down and caught Eli’s lips with his own.
Eli gripped Justin’s waist and guided him down onto his lap. They tangled arms around one another another, kissing and tasting and breathing each other in. Hard to believe he’d been married to Eli for a couple years now. Felt like no time at all, like he might wake from a dream if he blinked too hard.
He’d catch Eli watching him as if Justin might vanish, too. They were both here, though. Sometimes—well all the time—it was nice to have a physical reminder of their love, their partnership.
The doorbell rang at exactly the same instant the timer on the stove went off.
Eli groaned, his lips pressed against Justin’s neck. “Of course that would happen.” He tilted his head up and shrugged. “But then it is a hockey night in Pittsburgh, isn’t it?”
“I’ll get the cookies, you get the door?”
A nod. Justin slid off Eli’s lap and headed for the oven.
If anyone had told him five years ago that he’d be married and making cookies, meatballs, and barbecue before hockey games, of all things, he’d have laughed so hard.
Now, he wouldn’t change it for the world.
Michael circled his thumb against the small of Sam’s back while they waited on Eli and Justin’s front porch. Always felt a little odd to come here, and Michael wondered if Eli had the same reaction when he and Justin came to his and Sam’s house.
Sam stepped closer, and Michael savored the contact. He envied both Justin and Eli from time to time—they shared Sam’s workday. Michael missed that sometimes, working alongside Sam. Watching him think and puzzle and work the office.
That was his job at Sundra now. Sam got to tinker in business elsewhere—with Eli.
Eli and Sam had become fast friends, which he’d expected when he’d introduced them. That had been the point, after all. Sam had needed someone like Eli to get his business off the ground, and Eli needed someone like Sam to handle his—eccentricities.
It had worked out far better than any of them had expected, even when life had thrown Justin, the punk rock MBA star into the mix.
Seeing Eli always brought back memories, though. Some of them made Michael cringe. Neither of them were college undergrads scraping by in shitty apartments anymore. Those years were long gone, thank God.
All that remained was time past and their now-solid friendship. He’d missed Eli for years. Then, more or less, handed him to Sam, but that had allowed them both to move past…well, their past.
Sam shifted his weight against Michael. “I wonder if we’re interrupting them?”
“Wonder or hope?” Michael studied Sam’s face and tried to figure that out. The mutual friendships they all shared were odd, given the past—and the connections they had through Lyle.
“Wonder.” Sam gazed back and gave him a rueful grin. “I’m not that much of a pervert, you know.”
Oh, but sometimes Sam was. Then again, so was Michael, so who was he to judge? “Does it ever bother you?” That tangled web between all of them. They knew too much about each other.
Sam pondered the question for a second, and he probably heard the layers Michael had left there, then parted his lips to speak—right as Eli opened the door.
They must have looked startled, because Eli raised an eyebrow in that Eli way, and opened the screen door. “Were you not expecting me?”
Sam laughed and was all smile, which was probably the CEO in him. “You or Justin. It was a coin toss.”
Eli barked a laugh, one that Michael knew too well. Likely Sam did, too. Eli didn’t buy what Sam had said, but wasn’t going to make a fuss. “Come on in. Justin’s been cooking.”
That was an understatement, given the smells that hit Michael when he walked in. Smokey barbecue sauce, meat and—chocolate. God, the chocolate. “He’s still jealous you liked my cake, isn’t he?”
“No.” Speak of the devil… Justin appeared in the entry between the kitchen and the living room. He sported spiked purple hair and wore an apron that read SPANK THE COOK. “Not anymore.” Justin crossed his arms and grinned at Eli—who blushed. His smile was full and smitten. Dopey, even.
Michael looked away. He was so fucking happy Eli had found Justin, a man who could both stand up to Eli and get down on his knees for him. Michael’s own relationship with Eli hadn’t helped Eli at all. Likely made is worse all those years ago. Part of him wished he could go back and fix the mistakes he’d made.
He’d never told Eli that. No use in dredging up the past.
Sam knew, though. Sam knew him better than anyone—including Eli—which is the way it should be. Almost as if reading his mind, Sam took Michael’s hand and pulled him toward the couch. “Smells great, J. What did you make?”
“Pulled pork for Eli, those meatballs you like, and chocolate chip cookies for Michael.”
Damn. Justin had his number. And Sam’s too, from the gleeful look there. “Nothing for yourself?” he said.
“Oh, I love everything I made.” Justin untied his apron and pulled it over his head. “Plus there’s a chocolate stout in the fridge with my name on it. In fact…” He headed back into the kitchen.
“Beers for the rest of us, if you please,” Eli said, then joined Michael and Sam on the couch. He fetched the remote off the table. “He was completely jealous of the cake.” Eli spoke low and his grin was wicked. “The cookies are one hundred percent from scratch. If he could have churned the butter and made the chips himself, he would have.”
The grin Eli had reminded Michael so much of the kid he’d met in undergrad, on those rare occasions when Eli had been happy back then. That smile was there all the time now. Justin had unlocked what Michael had only glimpsed those years ago.
He should have been happy for it, but there was the fucking melancholy again.
A warm hand on his thigh. “Hey,” Sam said, concern in his voice. “You okay?”
Jesus, was he? Normally the answer was yes, but he did feel off-kilter, as if his mind were chewing on something. “Yeah. Just—thinking about the past for some reason.”
Eli stretched out his legs, both the good one and the not so good one. “It’s spring.”
“What about spring?” Justin rounded the couch and placed four assorted bottles of beer on the coffee table, and snatched one back—his coveted chocolate stout—before curling up next to Eli.
Michael leveled a look at Eli, who looked too damn smug. “Yes, E. What about spring?”
Both those dark eyebrows shot up. “You haven’t noticed? I bet Sam has.”
For his part, Sam raised both his hands, warding off the attention. “Hey now, I’m the new guy here.”
“I’m newer.” Justin took a swig of beer. “So, what about spring?”
“You’ve noticed, haven’t you?” Eli was still talking to Sam. “You’re too damn observant not to have.”
“E. What?” The Dom voice came out if Michael, which only made Eli smile wider. Always those little power games.
A sigh and Sam met Michael’s gaze, his smile was honest, if ever so slightly sad. “You always get moody this time of year.”
“I—” Did he? If Sam noticed, then yes, he did. Michael grunted.
“It’s almost Carnival,” Eli murmured. He claimed one of the beers.
Carnegie Mellon’s student-run Spring Carnival, but why would that— Oh.
All the pieces of his past clicked neatly into place. Yeah, that made sense. Damn Eli for realizing it first. Damn him for saying it, because the next question was obvious.
It was Justin who asked. “What happened at Carnival?”
What hadn’t happened? That weekend was always stressful. Too many parties, too little sleep. Michael scrubbed his face. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“No you didn’t.” Quiet words from Eli, the bastard.
Right. He’d just ignored it. For years. The coincidence. The upheaval at this time of year.
Sam laced his fingers with Michael’s and there was the thoughtful, listening man Michael had fallen in love with, over and over, every day since they’d first met—that had been in winter, not spring. But even with them, spring had held turmoil. Summer had solved that.
He lifted Sam’s hand and kissed his knuckles. “I’d say it’s nothing, but that would insult Eli.” He glanced at Eli and at Justin, then back at the man who shared his life and had his heart. “Partly, anyway. Two things happened. Two very different years. My senior year I broke up with Eli.”
“Ah.” Sam breathed the word out. “I see.” He squeezed Michael’s hand tighter, and didn’t look away, his eyes summer blue.
“It was mutual.” Eli almost managed to sound nonchalant.
“E…” They both knew it hadn’t been.
A huff. “Fine. It should have been mutual, but I was…” Eli trailed off and waved his beer around. “Young. I was very young.”
Nineteen to Michael’s twenty-one, and three years out from the accident that had shattered his life.
Justin poked Eli in the side. “You? Young? Never.”
Trust Justin to inject levity, even if there was an edge of protectiveness there. It hit him then, almost like a bolt of lightning. Justin’s earlier words: Not any more.
It wasn’t the cake Justin had been jealous of, it had been Michael.
Lord. As if he could pry Eli from Justin. As if he wanted to.
What he wanted was Sam.
And maybe for this tangled past he shared with Eli to not be so—well—tangled.
“And the other thing?” Sam said.
“Oh, it was just after Carnival when the whole shit thing with Rasheed and Susan happened.” Eli, or all people, had been the one to pull him out of the downward spiral after that. “No wonder I’m moody.”
“I have a suggestion.” Eli said.
Of course he did. Michael focused on Eli, but his hand didn’t leave Sam’s. “Oh?”
Justin snickered and Eli wasn’t too far behind, judging from the quirk of his mouth. “Make some new memories.” Eli’s gaze flicked to Sam—and then back before his smile deepened.
“I approve of this idea.” Sam’s words were warm and spoken very close to Michael’s ear.
A bolt of heat flew down Michael. Yeah, he owed Eli, both an apology and a pile of thanks for all the years, but also a hard punch in the arm for suggesting making memories three hours before Michael could actually implement it.
He wanted Sam, and judging by the not so subtle kiss on his neck, Sam had similar wants.
Pure Eli, that. In control and enjoying other’s suffering. “You gonna turn on the game, or we going to spend the night ruminating rather than yelling at the TV?”
“We’re going to drink beer and yell at the TV.” Eli pointed the remote at the screen and it came to life, all too many inches of high-definition. The local commentary guys were already speculating on the chances for the Penguins in between clips of past games. “Justin’s going to serve us food and cookies, and Sam’s going to sit there and look smug the entire night.”
Sam chuckled and the sound was deep and was wicked. Matched his smile.
“Are you going to be smug?” Michael pulled Sam closer and he came, nearly curling up like Justin had for Eli.
“Why not? I know who’s going to win tonight.” Sam’s eyes practically sparkled and damn he was overflowing with satisfaction. “That’s all that matters.
“Who’s gonna win?”
This time Sam’s lips were at Michael’s ear and he whispered one word so quietly, Michael knew only he heard it.
That took Michael’s breath away and stiffened his dick. He pulled Sam closer and kissed him as if they were alone, and not in Eli and Justin’s living room with sports announcers talking in the background.
New memories, huh? “I could see to it that that you don’t win, you know.”
“Oh,” Sam said, voice still soft and private. “But love, that would only make me win more.”
Maybe. Probably. Sam had his kinks, and Michael loved working every one of them.
The sound of glass clinking came from next to them. He didn’t need to look to know Eli and Justin were toasting them with their beer bottles. Instead, he kissed Sam again, and didn’t let up until just before the puck dropped.
Yes, they spent the night yelling at the TV and eating Justin’s food, including his damn cookies that were too fucking exquisite for words.
Justin won that round.
Through it all, Sam kept his smug smile, right up until they got back to their place and Michael pinned against the foyer wall. He bit Sam’s neck and whispered in his ear. “Define winning for me.” He pressed his thigh against the bulge in Sam’s pants.
Sam moaned and leaned his head against the wall. “Winning is having you, Michael. I win every fucking day. Have for years.”
Lightning struck a second time that night. It zipped though his body and scrambled his brain. “I love you.” He pulled Sam off the wall and repeated those words a dozen times before they hit the bed.
New memories. Better memories. They were his and Sam’s for the making.
Copyright © 2017 Anna Zabo
All rights reserved.