Eli stopped at the top of the stairs to wait for Zane and checked the text that’d come in during dinner.
Too busy for an old friend?
. Eli tapped out a reply.
Think you might have the wrong number. Who is this?
. He’d see what whoever-this-was made of that.
Eli breathed deep, savoring the unique bouquet of the city on a warm spring night. Diesel, humanity, and a faint hint of the Great Lakes. Granted, something of an acquired taste and not for those with overly weak stomachs, but to him it was manna all the way.
God, but he loved this city. Better still, his energy levels had risen into the red after exceeding the recommended daily dosage of starch and carbs. Not his usual sort of thing but not bad, not bad at all. He’d have to come back. Maybe make a regular thing of it--
Except they’d be off again as soon as they both proved hale enough to hit the jet stream on an airport tarmac. Didn’t seem to matter whether it was summer or fall--boarding tunnels were always cold.
But the travel made Zane happy, and Eli didn’t mind so much. Not enough to put on the brakes.
“Walk you home, Doctor?” Zane took the last three steps at a light, quick jog and grinned at Eli. Made him look ten years younger when he did that. Almost boyish, despite the growing number of silver threads in his hair. A passing pedestrian, one sporting a suit far more tailored than anything Eli could afford, took a second look at Zane and nearly walked into a flagpole.
Eli glared at him and at his polished shoes. Hands off.
Zane didn’t seem to notice. He never did, no matter how many admiring glances came his way, and the one time Eli had drawn his attention to it, Zane had asked how Eli knew the admirers weren’t watching him
instead. Eli had spent a week picking up the pieces of his blown mind after that one, and he didn’t care to repeat the experience.
Right now, at least, Zane’s eyes were all for Eli, and as far as Eli could tell, Zane liked what he saw. “Look at you, waiting like a gentleman. What’s the occasion?”
Gentleman, was it? Eli could do genteel if he put in the effort. He crooked his arm to offer Zane his elbow. “No occasion. Just escorting a friend home.”
Zane raised an eyebrow at the elbow. He shook his head, gave a quiet chuckle, and bumped shoulders with Eli instead. “You’re in a fine mood, Romeo. Care to stop for coffee on the way home in that little Greek place that does the good espresso?”
“I could do coffee. And, what? I shouldn’t be romantic?” Eli asked, though he’d have to admit to a small amount of relief Zane hadn’t taken him up on the offer. “Or would you rather the other way around?”
“Hmm. You could lean on me if you wanted. I wouldn’t say no.” Zane nudged Eli to start him walking away from the restaurant, pointed toward the elevated train station. “On the other hand, your color’s better. You’re certainly feeling well enough to eat like a racehorse in training.”
Eli ran one hand down his admittedly long, narrow face. “I feel as if I should take offense.”
Zane rolled his eyes. He knew how to tell the admittedly subtle difference between Eli’s teasing and his sober moments. One of the reasons they’d become friends in the first place, back in the day. “You don’t look like a horse to me. But if you were, I suppose that’d make me the jockey. It’s not inappropriate. I seem to remember you giving me one hell of a ride a few weeks back.”
“A few weeks?” Eli frowned. “It hasn’t been that long, has it?”
“And? Not complaining, Eli.” Zane turned to walk a few steps backward. He raised one shoulder in a casual shrug before turning again to match Eli’s pace side by side with him. Damned nimble
... Eli grumbled internally. His steps were starting to lag a hair more than he liked. “You were ill. I was more concerned with getting you back to fighting fit before I dragged the saddle and bridle out of storage.”
“I think you’re mixing your metaphors, there.” To pleasant mental effect, yes, but still.
“Am I? Blame it on the burgundy.” Zane gave a contented sigh. “Nice cellar they had on them. We should go back if we get the chance.” As quickly as he’d showed his pleasure, he shifted gears into a more serious mien. “So, Taye and Richie. I have to confess I didn’t see that coming. You?”
“Not as such,” Eli admitted. “Taye sounded like he had a game plan, though.”
“Maybe so, but I still wonder.” Zane had the look of a man lost in concerned thought. He reached for his pocket in the last remnant of his old smoking habit. Three years, and never a light. Eli couldn’t have been more pleased, although sometimes he wondered if he’d been fair to ask. Everyone should
have a vice to call their own. Kept them human. “You can’t tell me you’re not concerned.”
“I never said I wasn’t concerned,” Eli protested mildly. “Taye’s not the kind of guy who appreciates someone poking their nose in, that’s all. He’ll work it out, or he’ll come around looking for help in his own time. Best to let him do things the way he’s comfortable.”
“You think otherwise?”
“Maybe.” Zane tapped his pocket absently. He grinned at Eli. “If no one ever pushed anyone, where would you and I be? Hmm?”
Eli laughed. At best, his laughs were short and sharp, but Zane appreciated them well enough. “Fair point.”
“There you have it,” Zane said, content. He leaned briefly against Eli’s shoulder, as good as a kiss. “Eli?”
“You make a difference,” Zane said. “Just so you know.”
Warmth suffused Eli. Good old Zane, he thought. Then--
“Weeks, really?” Eli asked.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Eli tucked his hands in his pockets and held still a moment to study Zane while he ran backward through a calendar in his head. Be damned if Zane wasn’t right on the money. It’d been weeks. No wonder every move he made in the restaurant hit Eli where he lived.
Time to remedy that too.
When consolidating their assets four-odd years ago, Eli and Zane had wrangled it over and chosen to keep Eli’s old place when they’d bought the house, instead of liquidating as they had Zane’s condominium. Closer to the hospital and not too far from the university, it made for a decent crash pad on the nights when they’d rather sleep than ride the rails. Or do other things besides sleep, which Eli hoped Zane would remember.
Eli caught Zane by the wrist and held him there. “I’m not in the mood for coffee.”
“That’s a first.” Zane frowned at him. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Eli’s cheeks warmed. It was a hell of a thing, to be on the downhill slope to fifty and still fully capable of a blush. Zane brought out all manner of different sides to him and always had. Hopefully always would. “I feel fine. Cross my heart, so stop worrying.”
Which was, ever so slightly, an utter lie, but not for long.
Eli reached up to brush the backs of his knuckles against Zane’s cheekbone, feeling his heartbeat speed up. “More that I’d like to have you, and I’m not in the mood to wait.”
Zane’s eyes rounded, but his grin popped up and widened. “Eli?”
“You could have just said so in the first place.”
Relief tasted sweet. Eli wrapped one arm around Zane’s shoulders and gave him a contented jostle. “I’m saying so now, aren’t I? Onward, friend.”