I supposed to invert the letters?” Leon asks as he starts preparing the
raises a questioning eyebrow at Ca
den. The question he’s asking isn’t whether the
letters should be reversed. He wants to know if Ca
what he’s doing here. All Ca
den has to do is prove that he does.
he says, his voice a little rough. “It’s not supposed to be read in a mirror.”
nods once. He doesn’t say the words aren’t for him, they’re for Ca
den. At this
point, he hardly needs to.
four words, direct and to the point very much like Eli himself is, but it seems
to take Leon an inordinate amount of time to trace the letters—not that Ca
den has any
idea how long this usually takes. Or maybe it just feels too long because Ca
like the way Eli’s mouth is pressed into a pale, thin line. He never did like
to see Eli in pain, physical or otherwise.
the middle of the afternoon when they get out of the shop. Ca
den can’t take
his eyes off Eli. He’s walking with his chest slightly puffed out and with a
satisfied smile. In the car on the way home, Ca
den manages to order his
thoughts just enough to ask, “Why?”
at a traffic light, Eli looks at him straight on.
you had the first one done on your arm, you said it would help you accept it as
truth, and I’ve never had to explain your diagnosis to you again. When you put
the ones on your chest, you said you did it because it’s something you should
never question. But you do. I don’t give a damn if anyone else questions why
I’m choosing to be with you, but I. Can’t. Stand it when you question it, too.
So you tell me. Do you believe now that I’ve thought about it, that I know what
I’m doing and have no intention of taking any of it back?”
eyes gleam with an intensity that steals Ca
den’s breath, and suddenly there’s nothing he wants
more than to kiss Eli again. So he does, and if it starts as gently as in the
hospital, it soon turns more heated. They only come apart when the car behind
them honks impatiently; the light is green. The engine roars when Eli presses
on the accelerator a bit too hard.
soon as they step into the
, before Ca
den even has a chance to shrug out of his coat, Eli is
pressing him against the wall and kissing him again and, oh
this isn’t how
imagined it would go, but it works, too. It works quite well. Eli’s body is one
strong, urgent line pressing along Ca
den’s, as insistent as his tongue slipping in to find a
mate to play with.
Calden smiles into the kiss, Eli feels the change and pulls back, giving him an
funny?” he asks, stepping back far enough that he can shrug out of his jacket.
den follows his
funny per se. Just… unexpected. I didn’t think you’d be so…”
on?” Eli suggests, demonstrating by putting said hands on Ca
den to remove
his suit jacket.
make it to the bedroom, leaving a trail of discarded clothes behind them.
this…” It’s surprisingly hard to think with Eli’s mouth at the crook of his
neck. “Is this how it always goes?”
push of Eli’s hands, and Ca
den lets himself fall back onto the bed, shifting his
hips to help when Eli tugs off his pants, then his underwear, after a light
squeeze to Ca
den’s hardened prick.
it matter?” Eli asks as he finishes to undress himself.
himself onto his elbows to watch him, forgetting to answer the question as he
takes in every inch of Eli’s body, from the way his cock juts out in front of
him, thick and flushed, to the pale scar line on his arm, to the square patch
of gauze on his chest hiding words that still echo in Calden’s mind.
could spend hours just watching you,” he breathes, and while he hadn’t meant to
voice the words, he’s not sorry when they bring a smile to Eli’s lips.
have,” Eli says as he climbs onto the bed, straddling Ca
“Hours upon hours. You’ve examined and touched and kissed every last bit of me.
And you’ll do it again, I’m sure.”
whole experience is eerie. From memories shelved long ago, Ca
den knows the
first time can be awkward as two bodies, two sets of hands get acquainted with
each other. He feels none of that, though. His hands are resting on Eli’s
thighs, immobile not because he doesn’t dare to do more but simply because that
much contact is already overwhelming. Eli’s weight is comfortable, anchoring
him. His fingers, when they take hold of Ca
den’s cock and press it against his own, never hesitate
and feel incredibly familiar.
feel of hot, hard flesh against equally hot, hard flesh sends sparks along Ca
den’s spine. He
moans quietly, his hips snapping up of their own accord, pushing his cock into Eli’s
hand and along his own prick. Eli gasps in reply, then lowers himself onto his
forearm so that their cocks are trapped between their bellies while his mouth
brushes against Ca
answer your question,” Eli says quietly, each word like a kiss, “no, it’s not
always like this.”
thrusts gently against Ca
den, their cocks moving against each other. Ca
den grabs his
hips, pulling him closer.
first time, we did this. Just this. And kissing. Lots and lots of kissing.”
demonstrates with a toe-curling kiss that makes Ca
den’s mind feel
light and his cock feel like it’s burning.
second time,” Eli continues, pressing a line of kisses along Ca
den’s jaw to
the sensitive spot beneath his ear, “you fucked me so hard, I swear I saw
punctuates that with a light bite. Ca
den’s eyes snap open—he’s not sure when they’d closed.
Without thinking, he bucks, pushes, presses up and to the side, and Eli is now
beneath him, their positions reversed as Ca
den’s hips jerk forward. A flash of pain on his face,
den remembers the fresh tattoo, and the sensitive skin he’s pressing
on. He pushes up, placing a small kiss on the bandage like an apology.
the time after that, you fucked me, didn’t you?” he guesses in a low, rumbling
voice, looking at Eli from beneath his eyelashes and bucking lightly against
Eli says with a half smile, cupping Ca
den’s face in his hand. “That time, I made love to
you. I took you apart until you couldn’t say anything other than my name.”
shiver runs through Ca
den. He can imagine that quite well.
the time after that,” Eli goes on, “I did fuck you. Your mouth first, and then
your ass, and I’m fairly certain you enjoyed yourself.”
laugh bubbles to Ca
den’s lips, and he turns his face to press it into Eli’s
of things we’ve done,” Eli murmurs. “Plenty more we’ve yet to try. So you tell
me. What do you want, Ca
den looks at
the man underneath him and remembers the declarations inscribed on his skin
like a truth that can’t, won’t ever be deleted, the answer comes easily. What
he wants is to make Eli happy. To give him however much he can, even if it’s
nowhere near enough. To never grow tired of him—and for this, certainly, his
illness will help, although Calden doubts he’d have ever become bored with Eli
even with his full mind’s cooperation.
he says in a shaky voice. “I want everything.”
grins up at him. “Good answer.”
den seethed all
the way home, getting out of the
and banging the door behind him before Eli had even
shut off the engine. Eli
and went after his ill-tempered companion.
behavior was not, as such, anything new. Every time he hit the
and Langton, at Eli’s request, sent him home, Calden grew
sullen. In those moments, he was most like the man he’d been after Riley’s
death, when he’d started stealing opiates from the hospital.
wanted to think Calden wouldn’t do anything like that now—not that he’d even have
the opportunity with Eli following his every step in the hospital. But his
anger at being
still made Eli deeply uneasy. He lingered on the
doorstep for a few seconds before taking a deep breath, steeling himself, and
notes banged on the piano greeted him. He looked warily toward the living room,
wondering whether it was worth going in there and talking to Calden.
though, he realized he was only delaying the inevitable. He hung his jacket on
in the entrance hallway and toed
off his shoes
before following the sounds
. He was hardly a saint, but his reserves of patience
had developed over the past months. He’d walked into this situation with his
eyes wide open about what he was in for, and complaining now wouldn’t change
himself before walking into the living room, the same way he used to do when
walking onto the battlefield. He expected to have to shout over the continued God-awful
den was pounding on his piano, but as soon as he stepped in Ca
den stopped and
pointed a finger toward him.
I’m not tired, and I’m not going
to sleep, and there’s nothing you can do to force
bit his tongue rather than saying that, yes, there actually was something he
could do. Calden himself had handed him that weapon. Eli had never used it to
date, nor did he plan to. Some threats simply should not be voiced.
right,” he said instead. “I can’t force you to do anything. But your
ther thinks she
can. If you step out of the
again before getting a few hours of sleep, I guess
we’ll see if she’s right.”
never needed to go that far, but Eli and Lana had discussed it after Calden’s
nine-day adventure in stupidity. If it took a hypodermic needle and a sedative
to get him to sleep when he needed it… well, Lana had no problem with tough
love, and Eli could agree to it if it meant Calden didn’t have to listen to
his sister again
look of pure outrage Ca
den gave him was almost comical. He stood and came
closer to Eli, glaring at him.
Lana to treat me like a child is one thing,” he said icily. “She’s never done
anything else. For Langton and Petters to do the same… well, they’re worried
about having a liability on their hands. But you? I thought you were my friend.
Are you really no more than my
wasn’t a new conversation. Eli sighed.
don’t need a
. And if you did, I wouldn’t have volunteered for the
job. You need someone who can remember what things are like when you go beyond
your limits. Do you want to know what happened last time?”
to glare, though he didn’t say anything.
time,” Eli went on evenly, “you had a psychotic break. You were having
hallucinations, both visual and auditory. You yelled at
came close to giving her a concussion. You climbed—” Eli’s voice started to
waver, and he struggled to firm it up again. “You climbed onto
roof, and I swear to God, Ca
den. For a moment I thought… I don’t want to go through
that again. If that means you’re going to get mad every time you get sent home,
frankly, I don’t care. I’d rather have you angry at me than psychotic.”
den’s gaze for a few more seconds, Eli nodded once then retreated to
the kitchen to
help himself to some food
. He never liked remembering that day, and how scared
you want some lasagna?” he asked without looking back, aware that Ca
den asked instead of answering. “Why not
to me the logic behind this arbitrary number.”
setting two plates of frozen lasagna in the microwave, Eli turned around and leaned
back against the counter, crossing his arms. Calden’s face was still pinched,
but he wasn’t shouting or glaring. That was at least something.
logic is simple,” Eli said. “
days is when the hallucinations start.”
den made a show of looking all around him. “No
mouth twisted into a bitter smile. “And you’d tell me if there was something,
of course,” he said with a thick layer of sarcasm. “You’d never, ever lie to me
about something like this. Or about anything else, really.”
last part came out with a little too much heat, and Eli snapped his mouth shut.
He hadn’t meant to bring that up again, but judging from the guilty look that
crossed Calden’s features, he knew exactly what Eli meant.
den said quietly. “And you forgave me. Or were you
shook his head. “No. I wasn’t lying. I did forgive you. I’m sorry I said that.
But it is still true that you have lied to me before, about important things. About
being on drugs. About sleeping. About hallucinations. And you know damn well I
can never tell when you’re lying to me.”
microwave dinged. Eli popped it open and peered in. Satisfied that the food
looked hot enough, he retrieved the plates and set them on the table. Without a
word, Calden pulled forks and knives from a drawer and sat in front of one of
the plates while Eli filled two glasses with water before sitting across from
not lying,” Ca
den said after taking his first
bite of food
haven’t seen or heard anything whose existence was questionable. Do you believe
took a long drink
to give himself time to think. He hadn’t heard Ca
den mutter to
himself or seen him stare at empty spaces, and those were usually the first
believe you,” he said at last cautiously.
you will agree with me that the
-day rule, while prudent, is not always necessary. I
could have kept working and—”
time,” Eli cut in. “Maybe. But how long? Maybe in another couple hours you’d
stopped before saying
name and finished with a vague gesture instead. He
wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t want to tell Ca
den what the hallucinations he
knew about had been. He didn’t want to risk influencing what the next one might
I had, I would have told you.”
couldn’t help a light snort at that. “No, you wouldn’t have.”
good reason, I would. And if telling you when the hallucinations start was the
condition for having more time to work, it would be a good enough reason.”
say that now. Maybe you even mean it. But by the time the next
around, you won’t remember this.”
is what the diary is for.”
bounded to his feet. He
went to retrieve
the living room and returned with it
put in there that I must tell you about hallucinations as soon as they happen
and defer to your judgment,” he said, a pen already in hand. “And in exchange
you’ll lift the ridiculous
a second,” Eli said, alarmed. “I didn’t agree to that. I know you, if I give
you any leeway you’ll run with it.”
tightened to a thin line. He sat down again, one foot tapping impatiently.
all this, I sometimes went
up to six days
with no sleep when
I needed to
. I did it all the
time during my residency. I should get that much, barring hallucinations.”
all this,” Eli said, imitating his tone, “I’d have told you the same thing I’m
going to say now. As a doctor, that’s one of the most ridiculous things I’ve
heard you say. And as a doctor, you know I’m right. Besides, you didn’t go six
full days during your residency. You took catnaps every time you could. We all
den grimaced. “
days and my promise to always tell you about hallucinations even if
it’s right in the middle of surgery
should have known better. He even told himself he knew better. But Calden was looking
at him with such hope… It wasn’t often Eli got to make him happy. And if it
den truly told him about hallucinations when they happened…
said with a sigh. “But only if the hospital really needs you. The rest of the
time, you’re still at
he wouldn’t regret it, Eli nodded. “Four days. But no sharp instruments in your
hands beyond the second day. You’ll supervise, nothing more. Deal?”
could see the battle rage on in Calden’s eyes. On one hand, it was twice as
long as he had now. On the other, doing little more than watch and give his
advice during surgery wasn’t something he cared for, even if it was something
the hospital could use. In the end, Calden sighed and inclined his head.
the fact that neither of them was truly happy about this deal a good sign? Eli
certainly hoped so.
ahead, then. Write it in. And then off to bed you go.”
den muttered as he opened the notebook and started writing.
on, you really need to get some sleep,” Eli said as sternly as he could manage.
den didn’t even
acknowledge his words. Only after he’d finished scribbling and had closed the
notebook again did he look up, observing Eli closely.
do you get out of this?” he asked. “The diary says you moved in as soon as I
left the hospital. And that you separated from Bryce shortly before that. Was
moving in a way to escape
spoke, Eli’s body tensed, as though preparing for a blow. He didn’t like that
there was a page about him in the diary—and he liked even less not knowing what
was there exactly—but it wasn’t like he had a good reason to ask Ca
den not to
write anything about him.
I didn’t need an excuse to escape my marriage
,” he said grimly. “And
if I had, your illness wouldn’t have been it
. What I get out of it is to help my friend. Isn’t it
seen that look on Ca
den’s face before. He knew what it meant. And right
now, it terrified him. He didn’t want Ca
anything about his motives. They
couldn’t go there. Not ever. He’d realized as much early on, and he’d promised
himself not to follow that trail. It couldn’t possibly lead to anything good,
not with Ca
den’s mind being wiped away every few hours or days.