“Dane?” Noel cleared his throat at Dane’s office door. He was hovering with the same hesitation he’d experienced when he’d first met Dane, who had worked then as a janitor at the university where Noel was now a professor.
“Hey, it’s Noel.” Dane’s hands quickly fell away from his skull, which he’d been rubbing as he sat alone at his shadowed desk.
He was still as beautiful to Noel as he had been the first time he’d seen him, two years before, mopping floors, wearing a black wifebeater, an illicit cigarette resting on his pouty lip.
His brown hair was cut almost military short, his large dark eyes full of feeling as he looked at Noel. He was sporting even heavier muscle now than he had then, the result of working out at all hours of the night.
“One of your headaches?” Noel asked politely, hating that they had become so distant from each other.
“All gone now I see you!” Dane said, standing up. “You are my personal brand of sunshine.”
Noel flushed. “Dane...”
Dane joined him at the door, brushing his fingers against Noel’s as if he felt the same shyness. He loomed over him, a big man, intimidating to those who didn’t know him. But Noel had never felt the slightest fear of Dane’s size and strength. He had always been very gentle with Noel. “Hey, would these lips lie to you? If I say you’re my sunshine, what do you say, huh?”
Noel swallowed. “I say...I miss you.”
Dane’s dark eyes fell. “Oh yeah.”
Aching, Noel watched his Dane turn away, pacing back into his office. “It’s very late,” Noel said when he could trust his voice to be even.
“So it is. Well, I thought I’d put an extra mile in my road work, you know? Just because I’m gettin’ closer to the big three-oh now, I figure that doesn’t mean I have to get soft or nothing.”
Noel huffed out a laugh. “You’re...built!” he said, using a word he’d heard the other fighters use. “I hardly think you need to add another mile to stay in shape! Unless you’re planning another fight?” His heart pounded as he lived his worst fear. Dane had nearly been killed in the ring once by Gerrard Narone, a shady top contender who had succeeded in killing Dane’s mentor, Charlie. In the aftermath, he’d promised Noel he’d never again fight, but that was before he’d stopped sleeping in their bed, eating at their table.
God alone knew what Dane would do now.
“Well, you never know,” Dane said. He looked over his big, rounded shoulder at Noel, the shoulder Noel had kissed, had bitten, when they’d lain together.
Dane swallowed; Noel had the feeling he was remembering those moments too. “Narone --”
“What about him?” Noel prodded wearily, wondering if he’d have to push Dane to share with him.
“He’s out on parole,” Dane said.
Noel stared at Dane. “No,” he whispered.
“’Scuse me, Mr... Uh, Dane?”
Noel managed to drag his gaze out of the gridlock with Dane’s, to see a young man with brown hair and a slight body hesitating just beyond Dane’s office. He looked barely into his twenties, his face a patchwork of colorful bruising ranging from plum to scarlet. His lips were oozing fresh blood, as was his cheek. Behind cracked glasses, his dark green eyes fell away from Noel’s startled gaze.
“It’s my man Ally!” Dane called, leaving his office to greet the stranger. He looked at Noel. “This is Ally Cat. I made his acquaintance in Charlie’s alley. He’s telling me his last name is Johnson, but I’m thinking he’s not being entirely up-front about that.”
Ally flushed, but his gaze remained steady.
“Ah...” Noel struggled to make the jump from missing Dane, to Narone, to the bruised young stranger.
“Ally here is a serious fighter,” Dane continued. “He don’t know this yet.”
Ally made a face. “You’re shining me on, Dane.”
“No way! You think a fighter is all muscle?” Dane held his arm up, flexing it, and Noel stared at it, again remembering touching, kissing, licking...how he’d even liked to put his face into Dane’s armpit sometimes and brush the soft hair with his lips.
Oblivious to Noel’s thoughts, which lately were bordering on obsessive, Dane continued, “A fighter is heart, Ally. And I can see you’re a very serious man the way you’re hurting now and you ain’t complaining about it none.”
“But you know, a smart fighter knows when to share how he’s feeling with his trainer,” Dane said. “Just in case there’s something that isn’t working so good and might need more than a Band-Aid, you know what I’m saying?”
Ally now looked as dazed as Noel. “I guess.”
Dane lifted Ally’s hands up and turned them over, examining them. Ally watched, silent as Dane gently squeezed his forearms. He inhaled sharply when Dane reached his upper arms.
“Oh, that’s a bad bruise,” Dane said. “You want I should take a look at it?”
“I can maybe give you some ointment to make it feel a little better is all,” Dane said, his dark eyes patient as he waited on Ally.
“Okay,” Ally said after a pause. He rolled up an oversize white T-shirt sleeve, revealing a huge bruise on his bicep.
“Ouch,” Noel said, caught up despite himself. The young man reminded him a bit of himself at that age, except back then Noel had used a cane after suffering injuries from a car accident. Nowadays he only needed it occasionally since he worked out with grim determination in Charlie’s Gym to strengthen his bad leg. Dane had designed the regimen for him.
“What happened?” Noel asked Ally.
Ally’s green eyes flashed. “Sean,” he said.
“Oh,” Noel said. He looked to Dane, but he only widened his eyes at Noel. Obviously he didn’t know who Sean was either.
“I have some liniment that will help, if you want to apply it, Ally,” Dane said. “You ain’t hurting worse anywhere else?”
Ally swallowed, avoiding their gazes fixed on him. “No,” he said.
“That’s good!” Dane said. “I’m very relieved to hear that, you being of the stoic persuasion. Stoic is this week’s new word, which I looked up in my thesaurus, but I think it fits you to a T, Ally.”
“Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens and popular into Roman times,” Ally said. Then color rose in his cheeks, where the bruising didn’t cancel it out. “Uh.”
Dane said, looking enthused, “You knew a lot about kismet too.”
Ally took the liniment from Dane and patted some onto his arm, looking self-conscious. “I read.”
“That’s excellent. You’re a bit like me and Noel if we was to have a kid. You’re tough and you’re smart,” Dane said. “And that bein’ the case, I wanted to offer you my couch in the office, seeing as you might need a place to crash.”
Ally bit his lip.
Dane rubbed his hands against his legs. “Well, I hope to see you in the morning, Ally. Me and Noel have to go upstairs now. There’s a fridge in my office beside the couch, if you get hungry or anything...”
Noel’s heart picked up. Dane was going to sleep in the loft? He grimaced at how pathetic he’d become, but after years of touching Dane, he wasn’t handling the deprivation very well. He looked over his shoulder at Ally. “Good night,” he said.
As Dane drew open the wooden barricade to the elevator that went from the first-floor gym to the lofts above, Noel glanced back to see Ally watching them, his green eyes shining in the semidarkness.
Noel wondered if the young man would take the offer of Dane’s couch. He hoped so. He hoped he stayed a few nights, forcing Dane to sleep in the loft with Noel.
Maybe if Dane was close at hand, Noel could get over his timidity and seduce the man he loved.
* * * * *
Dane hesitated once he was in the loft with Noel. Noel hadn’t turned on the lights, so their apartment was lit by the streetlamp across the alley from Charlie’s Gym. It made Noel’s features look heavy to Dane’s eyes, so if he was sketching him, he’d use darker lines. There were crow’s feet by Noel’s eyes, but they weren’t smiling now.
Dane remembered when he’d made Noel smile, blue and sleepy, looking up at him when he covered Noel. More and more in their lovemaking, Noel had liked Dane to be inside him, but he was bossy about it so he was still in charge.
Now...what would it be like now?
Dane swallowed, trying to will away the flash of need that moved through him. But, man, he bet if he could see himself there would be wavy heat lines rippling around his body. It was always this way whenever he was close to Noel, like a magnet that needed to be snug against metal.
“Are you going to sleep in our bed?” Noel asked, his gaze fixed on Dane’s face.
“No.” Seeing familiar yearning and confusion, Dane turned away. He was a fighter, a boxer. He could go the distance. He could endure. “I’m gonna take a shower,” he said. “On account that probably I’m leaving a scent trail and it ain’t so nice for you. I did seven miles.” The last he said proudly.
“Oh. I’m... That’s nice,” Noel said. His voice was like a balloon, slowly deflating until it bumped the ground.
Dane wanted to say more. He wanted to sit with Noel between his legs and talk to the man, looking into his eyes. No, he wanted to do that naked, after they’d --
Instead, he made himself go into their bathroom and shut the door. He stared at the sink that still made him feel stupid because even after a couple of years he wanted to twist some knobs, and he reached for them. But water spurted only when he put his hands under the spigot.
After he’d patted cool water on his cheeks, he pulled off his T-shirt and shorts and briefs and walked into the circle of glass that was their shower. Usually now he used the ones in the gym because they didn’t come with extra features, like X-rated memories of him and Noel getting it on against the tile. Lifting Noel up and laughing because his blond head had fallen back and he groaned, clawing Dane, as Dane buried himself deep in the smaller man, his hips moving in and out so it was like they did a slow, hot dance under the water.
Dane leaned against the tile and let the water fall, feeling like crying he missed Noel so much. The memories of Noel running his tongue down Dane’s long back and biting the muscles he found stretched out and quivering along the way made Dane harden. He hunched closer to the glass and took himself in hand, groaning softly, imagining it was Noel’s hand on him, Noel whispering that Dane could come, but only when Noel said he could come. Oh yeah...
“Need a hand?”
Dane spun around as the glass door opened, and there was Noel, naked. Not just his body, but his hot blue eyes, raking Dane’s bigger body like he owned it. Which he did.
Dane backed away against the tile.
Noel’s mouth tightened, and he slammed the glass behind him. The spray hit him so the fine soft brown-blond pubic hair around his erection fanned wet against his thighs, and his pale and subtly shaped body was slick like he was wearing baby oil. They liked to use it on each other sometimes. Their bodies would slide together, and next thing, he’d be inside Noel and Noel would be gasping. Yes. Yes!
Noel’s bad leg had white pale lines forking around the knee like a lightning tattoo, and it was still thinner than the other, but Noel held himself with more assurance now than he had when Dane first met him. He hurt, like a fighter hurt, but he toughed it out.
Dane’s mouth watered with the need to get down on his knees for his Noel and kiss and lick that knee. He loved it the way he loved Noel, because it went the distance, because he knew it hurt Noel, so sometimes there had to be creative making love, the way Dane was still learning to be creative with his art.
Making love. Oh, man. He had to stop thinking with his dick. But his dick and his heart wanted Noel.
Noel couldn’t seem to see that, though. He stood on the other side of their big shower, water slicking his hair back from his face so he looked like a very serious merman.
“Dane, this has to stop,” he said. Then he chewed his lip, and Dane wanted to groan and offer to do it for him. “I have been thinking of moving out.”
Dane blinked, water hitting his face, which was suddenly numb. But he couldn’t feel it, like that moment when he’d taken too many punches and sound, scent, and sight narrowed down to his heart beating. “You gonna leave me?” he croaked.
“I had Gilbert open my father’s house.” Noel’s father had gone to prison for going too far in trying to keep Noel and Dane apart. When he had gotten out, he’d gone to Tibet. Noel thought it was to find himself, but Dane figured it was to lose himself. Anyway, they hadn’t heard from Noel’s dad.
Dane felt like a bottle he’d found at the river one time. There were words inside it, rolled up, but it was all stoppered up with wax, and when he’d tried to open it, the cork went into the bottle and that was all she wrote.
The words he wanted to say were: If you leave me, I will die
“I want to keep the goldfish,” Dane said. “On account that moving might not work out so well for him. But we could share custody of our dog. I heard Hollywood people do that.”