GIVE AND TAKE
© Clare London / 2011
Ethan opened the bedroom door quietly and stepped out into the lounge. It was in darkness, apart from the moonlight sneaking through a broken slat of the blind and stretching a couple of pale, gleaming fingers across the couch and its cushions. Several of them were scattered carelessly on the floor. The room was silent, too, the only background noise the occasional swish of a car passing through the drizzle of rain on the road outside. It was a quiet neighborhood and at this time of night, there was little traffic.
He padded across the lounge into the bathroom and took a leak. Then he rummaged for a few moments in the cabinet. Damn. He let out a soft tutting noise. He tugged absentmindedly at the waist of his boxers. There’d been no point in putting anything else on, for obvious reasons. What to do now? Wandering back into the lounge, he stood for a moment, listening to the quite hum of the cistern, watching how the shadows of his furniture looped across the mat.
There was a faint creak from another door opening and he turned to look towards the other bedroom, on the far side of the lounge. He watched as a half-shadowed male figure stepped out then bent over the door handle, trying to close it behind him with as little noise as possible. The figure straightened up, dark hair flopping back down over one side of his face. The man caught sight of Ethan and his eyes widened, shining in the semi-darkness. “Ethan…?
“Nick. Shh.” Ethan put a finger to his lips and the other man walked over to him, stumbling over one of the cushions and wincing as he stubbed a bare toe on someone’s discarded shoe.
“One of Micky’s,” Ethan said, keeping his voice low. “Guess he forgot to clear up his clothes before you and Jeremy got in. We were a little too… distracted tonight.”
Nick smiled, slowly. He was also dressed in nothing but boxers. “I gathered that. Your bedroom door was closed and the lights were all out, but the TV was still on and there was popcorn all over the floor one side of the couch.”
Ethan flushed, hoping the darkness hid his embarrassment. “That was me. I dropped the bowl. There was a bit in the movie that…” He searched for the word.
“- startled you?” Nick said, wryly. “Yeah, I saw the cover.”
“It didn’t read much like a horror flick, though,” Nick continued. There was mischief in his eyes. “Unless there’s something shocking about naked, well-endowed young men diving into swimming pools. Without trunks.”
Ethan flushed and frowned.
Nick shook his head. “Hey, no problem. It’s your apartment as much as mine, you can watch what porn you like. Actually, Jeremy and I were tempted to watch some of it ourselves before bed.”
Nick cleared his throat with some discomfort. “We got distracted, too.”
“Just from the opening credits?” Ethan stepped back with a grin when Nick threw a mock punch at his arm. He tilted his head toward the room he’d just exited. “You want the bathroom?”
Nick yawned and nodded. He didn’t move past Ethan, just stood there, scratching aimlessly at his chin. “You’re finished in there yourself?”
Ethan couldn’t be sure, but it looked like Nick was flushed, too. “Am I in the way or something?”
“Of course not,” replied Nick, but his smile definitely looked nervous. “I’ll just pop in there. In a minute. Just need… something.” His hand curled into a gentle fist and his shoulders tensed.
Ethan nodded, his grin growing. “You after something in particular? For you and Jeremy? That cute, insatiable blond in your bed?”
Nick frowned back. “Maybe. I just wanted to get… you know.”
“Not sure I do.” Ethan shrugged, affecting mock innocence. “So you’d better tell me.”
“For God’s sake.” Nick rolled his eyes. “We need some more supplies.”
Ethan grinned. Nick was flushed. “Used up your box already? And wasn’t it the special, deluxe, bumper pack on offer last month at the store? Impressive stamina, man.”
Nick ran a hand through his hair and glanced back in the direction of his bedroom as if someone might hear them. “Shit, Ethan, you’re always so…”
“Blunt?” Ethan grinned even more. “We’ve been sharing this apartment for months now, and been dating our guys for almost as long. It’s no big place at the best of times. What’s to be coy about?”
Nick sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. There has to be plenty of give and take. You and Micky can be pretty noisy sometimes.”
Ethan snorted. “And look at the places you and Jeremy leave your sex toys.”
Nick flushed even darker. “That was just the once. I was cleaning up the apartment but I had to help Jeremy inside with the week’s groceries…”
“And left the anal beads on the floor of the elevator.”
Nick closed his eyes, briefly. He looked in pain. “It would have been okay. I remembered seconds later, and went back. If the elevator hadn’t been recalled immediately back to the first floor…if they hadn’t been so obviously purple against the pale carpet…”
“… and if Mrs. Cartwright’s dog from No, 12 hadn’t taken an unhealthy shine to them,” Ethan teased.
Nick frowned at him. “You’re no Mr. Discretion yourself. Remember when you spilled chocolate body sauce on the kitchen floor, then left sticky footprints all the way down to the laundry room?”
Ethan frowned back. “So who was it had to borrow the shears from Maintenance when your ear got caught in the catch of Jeremy’s handcuffs?” That had taken some imaginative explaining.
“And when Mrs. Cartwright called the police because she couldn’t hear the TV over the sound of your orgasmic yelling?” Nick’s voice rose in volume. “You said you were practicing for Phantom of the Opera!”
“At least she could use her TV,” Ethan snapped back. “You keep borrowing the batteries from our remote and running them flat! God knows what they think in the store when you buy multi-packs alongside the flavored lube and another of those silicone flexible pancake turners you’re so fond of –”
Ethan glared at his friend, who glared back just as fiercely. Their breath was coming now in shallow bursts of resentment.
In the background, there was a soft, sleepy moan. Ethan glanced over quickly to his room, and saw Nick do the same. Then he glanced back and found Nick smiling at him. Ruefully.
“Sorry,” Ethan muttered. “I’m a bit… tense. You know? He’s been away for a few days and I’m kind of… glad he’s back. Being horny makes me cranky.”
“You and me both,” Nick replied. “Jeremy hasn’t been able to stay overnight for weeks now. It makes it kind of special when he does. You know?”
They met each other’s eyes and grinned. “Guess we both know,” Ethan said.
Nick nodded. “So…?” He gestured towards the bathroom. “I’ll just pop in there, and get…”
“Ah,” Ethan said, rather too quickly. “Maybe not.”
Nick stared at him. “What do you mean? There’s always a spare pack in there. I bought them last month, because you usually forget yours, and if either of our guys forgets as well, it’s always good to have an emergency supply…” His voice tailed off.
Ethan shifted from one foot to another and tried to think of words that wouldn’t bring him any more grief.
“You’ve taken one yourself,” Nick said. His voice was suddenly quite sharp.
Ethan fisted his right hand and tucked it surreptitiously behind his back. “Look, Nick, be reasonable. I’ll buy some more tomorrow. Micky was in a rush at the airport, he didn’t get time to buy any before we came home. Emergency supply, you said, right?”
Nick still stared. “You’ve taken the last one,” he said. He sounded breathless.
Ethan grimaced. “Sorry. You know how it is. We were back first tonight, and then we were kind of… busy.”
“What about me?” Nick sounded almost like a plaintive child. “What happened to the give and take of apartment sharing?”
Ethan bit back the response that he didn’t think it extended to condom sharing, but he judged – wisely – that Nick wasn’t in the mood for flippancy. “Can’t you…? You know. Do something else tonight?”
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “I could say the same to you. Seems you’ve already yelled away to your heart’s content tonight. Once more seems plain greedy to me.”
“And you could use some of those torture contraptions you keep in the cupboard with the spare duvet,” Ethan retorted. “That’ll keep you occupied for hours. After oiling and powering ‘em up, I’m amazed either of you has the time or energy left to screw each other.”
They glared. Nick’s eyes flashed to Ethan’s hidden hand, then back up to his face.
There was another soft moan from inside one of the bedrooms.
“I’ll pay,” Ethan blurted out. “How much do you want for it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nick snapped. His shoulders seemed to have tightened up and the cords in his neck looked more prominent.
Ethan bit his lip. “I need this, Nick. I need him. He has to go away for another week soon, they’re talking about a conference in Europe. Then you can have free access to any and every sexually-related item in this whole fucking place. I’ll buy you five more boxes, goddammit, and you can choose as many colors, flavors and exotic jungle shapes as you like.”
Nick huffed. “I haven’t had Jeremy in my bed for more than three hours at a time for weeks. He’s under a lot of pressure at work since the takeover, ever since they fired the whole senior management team. He needs to forget about it all when he’s here. We both need it.”
Ethan grimaced again. He knew only too well how pig-headed Nick could be when his mind was set on something. Well, not that he wasn’t a bit like that himself, of course. “So what do we do? Do we flip for it?”
“With your two-headed coin?” Nick growled. “I think not. You forget, I know all of those party tricks of yours.”
“Look, there must be another one somewhere.” Ethan looked around wildly, wondering if a condom might suddenly drop from the sky like manna from heaven. “Your pockets? Mine? The cookie jar?”
Nick sighed. “None.” He took a step toward Ethan. “Hand it over.” Ethan recognized his tone: it was the one he used when he watched afternoon TV and imagined he was Judge Judy. “Who actually paid the grocery bill this week? Do I have to remind you it was me? I put it to you, that makes it legally mine.”
Ethan realized how swiftly things slipped beyond friendly compromise. “Ah, but I’ve already got it,” he muttered. “Possession being nine tenths, and all that.”
Nick’s eyes darkened and he steadied his stance. Ethan wondered if Nick could recall any fighting he’d done in his youth before he reckoned on making himself some hotshot TV lawyer person. For that matter, Ethan wondered if he could.
Then the door to Ethan’s room cracked open an inch or so. “Ethan?” came a sleepy voice. “Missed you.”
Micky stood there with tousled curls and flushed cheeks, dressed in pajama bottoms that hung low on his hips and scratching gently at his bare belly. He smiled aimlessly at Ethan. Ethan gazed back into the most perfect example of fuck-me eyes he’d ever seen and forgot what day of the week it was, let alone his youthful pugilistic history.
Right on cue, the other bedroom door opened as well. “Nick? Guess I fell asleep.” Jeremy sounded puzzled. He stretched lazily, the towel around his plump waist shifting precariously. He pushed a pale silk blindfold further up on to his forehead, tangling it in the fine blond locks of his hair. “You want me to heat the massage oil up again?”
Ethan glanced at Nick. Nick’s jaw was clenched.
“Take it,” Nick muttered under his breath. “But you owe me.”
Ethan’s felt his heart skip a beat then do some fist pumping for good measure. “Thanks, man! Look, I’ll clean the apartment this weekend. Cooker, bath, you name it.”
“I will.” Nick’s tone was steely. “And?”
Ethan heard Micky’s yawn from the other side of the room. His cock started to swell. Could he help it, that he found even Micky’s yawns sexy? “Okay, so I’ll do it for a month.”
“And cook the suppers,” Nick hissed. His eyes were on Jeremy but his tenacious expression was obviously aimed at Ethan. “And take out the trash.”
Ethan fidgeted, his feet starting to shift back towards the bedroom. Goddammit, he’d never known his friend had such vindictive tendencies. “Sure. Whatever. I promise. Jeez…”
Ethan surrendered his last bargaining chip. “And I’ll get you one of those pancake turners. A large one.”
Nick nodded curtly.
The two of them glared at each other one last time, then Nick gave a grunt, and loped back across the lounge. Ethan took a deep breath and followed. They both walked past their lovers without a word and disappeared into the sanctuary of their rooms.
Micky looked across at Jeremy and raised his eyebrows. “Trouble?” he murmured quietly, so that only the two of them heard.
Jeremy shrugged in reply. “No, I’m sure things are fine.” He was distracted, looking back over his shoulder into Nick’s room. “Just give and take. You know how it is.” He was fingering the blindfold, as if impatient to tug it back down over his eyes.
Micky nodded. He kept glancing back, too, into Ethan’s room. His breathing was quite shallow. “Guess we all know,” he said, grinning at something that only he could see. His hand tightened on the handle of the door. “See you in the morning.”
The only reply from Jeremy was the quiet click of Nick’s door closing behind him.