Ethan looked up from his homework when his cell phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number, but his phone said it was from somewhere in Europe, and his heart skipped a beat. He made himself breathe in and out once, but couldn’t make himself do it again before picking up the phone; he was pretty sure it was Xander, and Xander never had much time to talk. “Hello?”
“Hey—Ethan? It’s Xander.”
“Hey!” Ethan always pretended to be somewhat surprised, but then, Xander didn’t need to know Ethan had been tracking his tour since it left town, waiting with increasing anxiety the closer they got to coming back. “What’s up? My phone says you’re somewhere in Europe right now.”
Xander chuckled, a warm sound that melted Ethan’s insides. “Yeah, we’re in, uh…” He heard Xander muffle the phone and shout something, but couldn’t make out what it was. “We’re in Glasgow right now. At least, that’s what Mira says. She could be lying.”
Ethan chuckled when Xander’s next sound was a grunt of pain and a curse. “So, you’re in Glasgow,” Ethan said, trying to hide his amusement. “Sounds fun.”
“Nah, we’re not allowed to leave the bus. It sucks.”
“Oh.” Ethan paused. He didn’t know what to say. He’d never even been out of the country. He quashed the feeling of jealousy, not that Xander was out there, but that Ethan wasn’t out there with him. “Well—”
“Listen,” Xander said at the same time, “We’re getting back next week. What’re you doing Saturday?”
Ethan could feel himself starting to relax slightly. “Well, if you’re coming over, probably eating falafel at the only place worth eating falafel.”
He could hear the grin in Xander’s voice when he said, “Great. Can I reserve you for all of Saturday then?”
“Sure,” Ethan said.
“Great. See you then!” Xander hung up.
Ethan stared at his cell phone with amusement and annoyance. He still didn’t understand how Xander could hang up without waiting for Ethan to say goodbye. It was rude.
Still. He was seeing Xander next Saturday. He slid his homework away from him on the little dining table—he definitely wouldn’t be able to concentrate on it tonight. Not that he’d been able to do much of it before, what with hoping Xander would call and fearing he wouldn’t. But Xander usually called. Most times.
…Ethan should clean the apartment. It wasn’t terribly messy, but he definitely didn’t want Xander seeing his dirty laundry on the floor, or his dirty pots stacked up in the sink. Or the trash he hadn’t taken out. It was late in his last semester of college; graduation was coming up, and with it would come Ethan’s introduction to the Real World, as his mother was so fond of saying. He had left the apartment to take care of itself so he could do homework. Well, he’d just have to work ahead and get all the apartment stuff done too. He knew Xander probably didn’t care, but Ethan did. He didn’t want Xander to think badly of him.
Even if he did only call when he wanted sex.
Xander showed up at Ethan’s apartment in a t-shirt, jeans, and sunglasses. His hair, blond and highlighted to perfection, fell in an artful sweep over his face. His hands were in his pockets, and he was grinning. “Hey, Ethan,” he said, sounding for all the world like a college student and not an international superstar. “How’s it going?”
Ethan stepped back and Xander walked inside, wiping his designer tennis shoes on the welcome mat and stepping onto the hardwood floor of Ethan’s tiny living room. He pulled his sunglasses up into his hair and frowned as he looked around the apartment. “Your place is always so clean,” he said.
Ethan shut the door, blushing at Xander’s needling tone. “Some of us like to see our floors,” he said, referring to their few times in Xander’s dorm room back before he dropped out of college for the band. Xander’s room had been carpeted in clothes, dirty and clean jumbled together in piles indistinguishable except to Xander himself.
Xander chuckled and bumped Ethan with his shoulder. Ethan glared at him, then grinned. “Welcome back to Dodge,” he said. “How’s it feel to be home?”
In answer, Xander groaned and slumped onto the sofa.
Ethan laughed. “Seriously? That bad?”
“My parents want me to settle down with a nice girl—or boy—Mother was very clear about the ‘or boy’ option,” Xander rolled his eyes, “and she wants to know if I’m eating healthy and staying away from sex, drugs, and alcohol while I’m on tour.”
Ethan raked his shoulder-length hair back from his face to keep from having to answer immediately. “Well,” he said, “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her?”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Until she finds out. Then it’ll hurt.”
“You. It’ll hurt you.”
“Exactly. Which is why she is definitely not finding out about that bender I had last Thursday. Woke up with two groupies and one of the guys in my band. Lemme tell ya—that was awkward.”
Ethan winced in sympathy, glad his reaction was in keeping with what was appropriate for this situation—not jealousy, of course. Sympathy. “Who was it?”
“If I told you that, I’d have to kill you. Because he’d kill you worse. And me too, actually.” Xander looked thoughtful, then stood up so fast Ethan took a step back. “So, any soon-to-be-irate boyfriends I should know about?” He took three prowling steps and was right up against Ethan’s chest before Ethan had time to blink.
“Not that I kn—hey, if I had a boyfriend, we wouldn’t be doing this, you know.”
Xander paused in wrapping his arms around Ethan for a moment, then pulled Ethan closer and pouted. “Seriously? You’d ditch me for some random guy? Ethan, I’m hurt.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow, and Xander leaned in and nipped at his lower lip. Ethan sighed and pressed closer, but the kiss he got was unmercifully short. “What?” he asked, frowning.
Xander was still pouting. Ethan rolled his eyes. “You should make it up to me,” Xander said. “I get into town and the first thing you do is be mean to me.”
“I wasn’t—mmph!” Ethan’s startled noise at Xander attacking his parted lips quickly turned to a groan of pleasure. He wrapped an arm around Xander’s neck and gripped his shirt with the other hand, glad to feel Xander’s hard chest beneath his knuckles and Xander’s soft lips against his own. Whatever he told Xander, he wouldn’t ditch him for some random guy, or for a boyfriend—or for anyone. He would take what Xander was willing to give him for as long as he had the chance.
It had started in high school. Senior year, when Xander was getting to be a local celebrity, and Ethan was his assigned science partner for AP Physics. They worked on the project outside of class, but Xander always seemed more concerned with his band than with finishing the project. Ethan had finally exploded, asking him what it would take to get him to actually do his work.
Xander had grinned lazily. “Well,” he’d said. “You are kind of pretty.” He’d laughed at Ethan’s reddening cheeks and gaping mouth.
“Listen,” Xander had said then, “I’ll make a deal with you. Because honestly? I don’t give a fuck about this project. I’ll get a B- in this class even if I fail this.”
Ethan had wanted to punch him. Punch him in his smug, bastard mouth. Instead, he’d said, “Okay, what?”
Xander put a cautious hand on Ethan’s face, and Ethan ducked away, cheeks flushing for a different reason. Xander gave him a disapproving look. “The deal is, I get a kiss for every stupid minute I have to do this project.”
Ethan didn’t know what had possessed him to bargain. Outrage, perhaps, but the mathematics of such a proposition was much more likely. “This project will take days!” Xander shrugged. Ethan closed his mouth and crossed his arms over his chest. “A kiss for each of the problems we have to do.”
Xander cocked his head. Then he grinned. “There’s only six problems. Bullshit, man—this project is worth way more than that.”
“It’s not worth what you were asking.”
“You don’t want to kiss me?” Xander pouted.
Ethan stared at him in disbelief. “I want to get an A in this class!”
“‘A’ work is gonna cost extra.”
Ethan had walked across Xander’s bedroom and back again, fuming. “That’s—”
Xander reached out and snagged him by the arm, pulling Ethan into his lap. “Fine,” he said, “‘A’ work for fifty kisses and a grope.”
“A grope.” Xander smirked. “You know, it’s where I—”
Ethan shoved him and managed to propel himself onto the floor. He rolled to his feet and crossed his arms again. “Twenty and no grope.”
“Forty, and the grope stays.”
“I can’t believe I’m—thirty, no grope.”
“Thirty with grope, and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
Ethan glared at Xander. Xander grinned back. “You want that ‘A’—”
“If you grope me before final grades are in, I swear I will hit you.”
Xander crowed in victory, hands in the air and feet raised off the floor.
Ethan glared at him until he seemed finished, then sat down in the chair Xander had brought out for him. “We’ve wasted time already, so start working. Check my answer to number one, and then start doing two.”
“Wait—what’re you gonna do?”
Ethan glared at Xander. “Research,” he said, pulling Xander’s laptop toward him. “Did you even read the assignment?”
Xander snorted. “No.”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Start working.”
After about five minutes, Xander’s writing and calculator tapping both stopped. Ethan looked up from writing notes and found Xander staring at him. “What?”
“This sucks. I want my first kiss now.”
“Are you serious?”
Xander was serious. And he kissed like he was serious, too. Ethan had been breathless when he stopped, feeling drunk and dizzy and wanting to press in for more. But Xander’s smug smile quickly brought him back to himself. “Now will you do your work?” he’d asked, voice huskier than he’d have liked.
Xander had just winked and picked up his pencil again, writing away in his Physics notebook like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
They got falafel at the corner market restaurant, the one where the glass door was always open and there were hookahs on the shelves and a middle-aged man behind the counter who always seemed to recognize them from high school and asked how college was doing, or the band, or whatever was going on. It was part of the appeal of the place, this man, and Ethan was disappointed to see he wasn’t working when they walked in.
Instead, his son was behind the counter, making gyros for the two girls in front of them. The girls had them to go, and soon the shop was empty but for the three of them—unusual, but then they hadn’t come during one of the place’s typical rush hours. Those times, the place was packed.
“Hey, Ethan,” the young man behind the counter said. “Who’s your friend?”
Ethan grinned wryly; people always wanted to know when they saw him walking with Xander. “Guy from school, won’t leave me alone. You know how it goes.” He rolled his eyes, and Xander swatted him upside the head.
“Xander,” Xander said, ignoring Ethan’s muttered threats. “And you are?”
“Paul. My dad’s the owner.” Paul shrugged.
“Cool. So.” He turned to Ethan. “Two falafel, to go?” Ethan nodded.
Paul turned and started pulling things out. “Looking forward to graduation?” he asked Ethan.
Ethan grinned. “If by ‘graduation’ you mean ‘life in the Real World,’ then the answer’s no.”
“Aw, what’s so bad about the real world?”
“Still no permanent job.”
“Ah.” Paul smothered their falafel in tahini sauce and then closed them and wrapped them up. “Well, you ever want a job, give me a call. I know some people who are hiring.” Paul rang them up and wrote a number on Ethan’s receipt. “That’s my cell, it’s always on.”
“Except when it’s not,” Xander quipped.
Ethan rolled his eyes, and Paul chuckled. “Yeah, except when it’s not. Have a good day, guys. Enjoy the falafel.”
Ethan and Xander thanked him and walked back to Ethan’s car. Once they’d gotten situated, Xander pulled Ethan’s receipt out of his bag and frowned at Paul’s number before holding it up. “This stuff happen a lot?”
Ethan backed up the car, chestnut hair swinging over his shoulder before settling back into place as he drove. “What, getting job offers?”
“Getting hit on, genius.”
Ethan shook his head. “Not nearly as much as it happens to you, I’m sure,” he said.
Xander put the receipt back in Ethan’s bag and leaned back against his seat. “You gonna call him?”
“Not right now, if that’s what you’re asking,” Ethan said. “That would be rude.” He grinned, but Xander’s grin back was smaller than he’d expected. “If you’re going to pout because I’m not paying attention to you—”
Xander’s eyes grew comically wide, and Ethan felt better. Xander pouting was dangerous. Xander joking around was infinitely less so, if still every bit as devastating to Ethan’s composure. Xander… whatever he’d been… well, that was an unknown quantity. And if Ethan wanted him to keep coming back, he needed to keep Xander happy.
When they got back to Ethan’s apartment, Xander looked from Ethan to his falafel and back again. “Eat, you idiot,” Ethan said. “We can do stuff later. When the food’s not getting cold because we left it out.”
Xander locked the deadbolt and grinned wickedly. “Right as usual, of course.” He pressed Ethan against a wall and stole a long, slow kiss. “Okay,” he said, when Ethan was breathless and only keeping from pressing himself against Xander with the same force of will that told him not to drop his takeout. “Now we can eat.”
In bed, Xander’s kisses were brutal, consuming, practiced, the slick slide of his tongue in Ethan’s mouth and against his tongue purposeful and smooth, drawing out moans like he’d flipped a switch. Ethan, whose report cards had always said, “needs to speak up more,” suddenly couldn’t stop making pleasured noises and rubbing against Xander like he was in heat.
Which, Ethan supposed in his moments of clarity, he was. Xander made him forget he wasn’t the only one—he was always so focused, as if Ethan were the center of the universe. The way he kissed; the way he always remembered the spot below Ethan’s ear and the one behind his shoulder that could make him shiver if Xander touched it just right; the way his hands explored Ethan with a possessiveness that Xander showed about everything, as if the world—and Ethan—were his for the taking.
And when Xander finally took Ethan, stretched and quivering and nearly crying and cursing with need, Ethan did feel like he belonged to Xander, wholly and completely. Xander bent over him and started whispering in his ear, things that made Ethan feel hot and dirty and owned, and when his hand came around Ethan’s cock and jacked, it only took a few times before Ethan was coming into the sheets, cry muffled by his pillows and Xander pounding into him, fingers gripping his hip hard enough to bruise.
Xander always came quietly, like he was still on a tour bus and didn’t want to be found out. Still, Ethan could feel him come, feel the heat inside of him, and he always squeezed to milk Xander before he pulled out. It never got a noise out of Xander, but it did get lips on the back of his neck before Xander pulled out, tied up the condom, and tossed it into the trash.
“God,” Xander said, leaning back against the pillows and trailing his fingers down Ethan’s back. “There’s no place like home.”
Ethan felt his insides clench before he could make himself relax. “That’s why it’s called ‘home,’ Xander.”
“Smartass.” Xander smacked Ethan’s ass, and Ethan turned over and shoved him.
Xander grabbed Ethan’s sweat-dampened hair and leaned in to kiss him hard and heavy, before letting it trail into a slow and languid thing that made Ethan feel relaxed and also like jumping Xander again. “Give a guy a minute,” he said.
Xander sighed dramatically. “If you insist.”
Ethan’s eyelids drooped. “I insist,” he said.
“If you fall asleep, I make no promises you won’t be having sex when you wake up.”
Ethan hummed and fell asleep, one hand under his pillow and the other lightly gripping Xander’s shoulder.
Xander left the next morning, and Ethan didn’t see him for the rest of the four days his band was in town. Ethan pretended it didn’t bother him, and returned to his homework, sex-sore and sated, but not satisfied.
Ethan was surprised to get a phone call from Xander a month and a half later. “Hey, graduate! How’s life?”
Ethan was so startled he nearly dropped the phone. He’d not looked at the screen to see who it was—he’d nearly missed the call. “Xander?”
Even over the phone, Ethan could hear the pout. “Of course it’s me. Who else calls you at ungodly hours of the morning like it’s normal?”
Ethan looked at the clock. It was almost 4 a.m. “You have a point. Where are you? I didn’t get to see where the call is from.”
Xander chuckled darkly. “France. Damn, it’s pretty here. You should be here.”
“Uh huh. As much as I’d love to be there, it’s probably not gonna happen for a good long while. Broke college student and all. Well, graduate. Whatever.” Ethen chuckled. “It’s still sinking in.”
Xander was silent a moment. When he spoke, his voice sent shivers up Ethan’s spine. It was the kind of dangerous Xander got when he was scheming—or trying to get Ethan to do something he’d never done before in bed. “What would you give me if, say… I brought you to France? You know. Hypothetically.”
Ethan’s heart began to pound. France. With Xander. Granted, Xander might be fucking groupies right and left, which would be absolutely awful, but—”Wait. You’re asking me what a trip to France is worth. Hypothetically. If one were bargaining. Right?”
Ethan frowned. It was way too expensive—wasn’t it?
He hadn’t realized he’d said it until Xander laughed. “That’s why we’re bargaining, Ethan. What’s it worth to you? Think of it—France. A trip through Paris, getting to see San Tropez and Cannes, and all those little places you never hear about that are absolutely gorgeous—”
“Twenty kisses and a grope,” Ethan said, knowing it was way too low. Not that he was whoring himself for a trip to France or anything. He winced. If his friends found out about this bargain of his, they would flip. No one knew about his odd relationship with Xander, really. It seemed too… private. For Ethan, anyway. He assumed it was private for Xander for different reasons—namely, tabloids.
“Twenty kisses and a grope? Try three hundred and a quickie in the dressing room.”
“In the dressing room? Like—wait, people won’t be watching, will they?”
Xander sounded annoyed. “Of course not! Sex is private, Ethan.” He paused. “Well, sometimes.”
Ethan shook his head. “Two hundred and a quickie.”
“In the dressing room.”
“In the dressing room.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “If you insist.”
“I insist. Oh—what’re you doing next week? Say, Tuesday?”
Ethan looked around. “Uh, living in my old bedroom while I figure out what to do with my life?”
Xander drew in a hissing breath. “Well, that settles it. Pack your shit, you’re leaving on Tuesday.”
“I’ll email you all the info. But look—I gotta go. We’re unloading now. Bye!”
Xander hung up, as usual without waiting for a response, and Ethan stared at his cell phone before abruptly sitting down on the floor. “France,” he said softly. With Xander. He’d known some bands brought friends along for a little while, but still. Fucking France. With Xander. A wild grin spread across his face, and Ethan giggled. Xander and France were all of five days away!
He looked around at his apartment. Three years of his life in this place, coming to an end. He grinned again. He’d better get packing. And get all his stuff to his parents’ basement. By Sunday. Because Monday, he’d definitely be too useless to do anything but refresh his email.
He slept on the airplane and woke up wired and tired. A driver with Ethan’s name on a placard took Ethan from Nice to Cannes, and he was put on a bus going to San Tropez that made him feel a little sick, but mostly tired. He was yawning when he got off, and another driver with his name on a board took him to a villa with a name Ethan couldn’t understand and dropped him off.
When Ethan rang the bell, the bodyguard answered it. Jerry, Ethan thought his name was. “Hi,” he said, “is Xander—”
“Ethan!” Xander dashed over and dragged him inside. Ethan felt Jerry lift his bag away from him, and thanked him before being pulled into a sitting room that overlooked a waterfront from a little ways up a mountain. Their view was clear, though, and it was beautiful. Ethan stared, a small smile on his face. Xander leaned close to his ear. “See?” he said. “Gorgeous.”
Ethan nodded, familiar shiver coursing down his spine from Xander’s heat and whisper, and the way Xander slid the pad of his thumb down Ethan’s wrist before letting go and saying, “I’ll go tell the guys you’re here.”
Mira was the first to come in. Her dark brown hair was growing out from when she’d buzzed it, but was still too short to form the Shirley Temple curls she’d had when Ethan first saw her. “Hey!” She grinned and hugged him, which Ethan didn’t expect. “Thank God you’re here—Xander’s been driving us crazy!”
“Who doesn’t Xander drive crazy?” That was Rob, tall and gawky but with a wicked grin and sharp, dark eyes. “I mean, he’s Xander.”
Quinn was second-to-last into the room, but only because Xander was shoving his back. “Hi,” Quinn said. Quinn was the shortest of the group—shorter even than Mira, which Xander said drove Quinn crazy—but was also the stockiest. He was the drummer, and had somehow managed to do Taiko and boxing in high school and his first years of college before the band called him away.
“Hi,” Ethan said, shaking hands. “Nice to meet you guys.”
“Finally,” Rob muttered.
Xander kicked him, and Ethan frowned. “That wasn’t nice.”
Xander came over and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. “You are to be on my side in all conflicts for the duration of your stay.” He grinned. “Please?”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “I refuse to permanently ally myself with someone who so often disagrees with me. And is wrong.”
The band laughed, and Xander pouted. “Not fair,” he said.
“‘This is what you get when you mess with us,'” Mira sing-songed. “Anyway, we’ve got a few days’ break, so make yourself at home—we’re mostly vegging, but Xander wanted to explore. Good luck with that.”
Ethan grinned. “I like exploring. Well, some things. France, I think I will like exploring.”
“Good man.” Rob clapped him on the shoulder and strode out of the room. Quinn followed him, waving goodbye without looking back.
Mira shifted. “So. You’re Ethan.”
Ethan fidgeted. “Yes?”
Xander’s hand tightened on Ethan’s shoulder.
“So,” Mira said, “did Xander tell you about that time in Australia where that old woman tried to, like, molest him with—”
“No groupie stories!” Xander clamped his hands over Ethan’s ears, and Ethan laughed, since he could still hear perfectly. Then Xander pulled him out of the room, Mira’s laughter following their retreat, and down a hallway. Xander shoved him into a room on the end. It had a window overlooking a little path in a garden, with a small fountain in the center.
Ethan didn’t notice when Xander closed and locked the door—he was too busy looking outside. Still, he didn’t jump too much when Xander’s arms wrapped around him, hands sliding up his t-shirt to thumb at his nipples, and Xander’s mouth closed around the juncture of Ethan’s neck and shoulder. Ethan sighed and leaned back into Xander, and Xander mouthed kisses up his neck until he reached the shell of Ethan’s ear. “Turn around,” he said, “I wanna blow you so bad.”
The need in his voice surprised Ethan, but he couldn’t deny the way his cock responded, hardening quickly as he turned and Xander pressed him against the wall, dropping gracefully to his knees and not quite ripping Ethan’s jeans off in his haste. When Ethan’s cock sprang out of his boxers, Xander looked at it like it was a delicacy, and took it in his hands so softly, so carefully, Ethan wondered at his initial haste.
Then Xander wrapped his lips around the tip, tongue flicking out inside that wet heat to lick at the precum dribbling from Ethan’s slit, and started jacking with his hands, slowly bobbing his head, each time going farther down until he had all of Ethan in his mouth. His nose rested briefly against the wiry chestnut curls at the base of Ethan’s cock, his hands curled around Ethan’s balls and rubbing softly. Ethan’s eyes fluttered shut at the sight before he made them open again, touching Xander’s shoulder because Xander hated hands on his head, said they made him feel rushed or something like—
Xander’s throat constricted as he withdrew a bit from Ethan’s cock, and Ethan moaned, fingers curling. He stroked Xander’s jaw before he could help it, and Xander swallowed again. Ethan’s moans blurred together as Xander’s head started bobbing, his cock sliding in and out of Xander’s mouth, and Xander’s hand picked up the rhythm. Ethan could feel his legs starting to shake, and when he felt the familiar coil in his balls, he shoved at Xander’s shoulder. “I’m—ah—gonna come—”
Xander’s mouth slid off Ethan’s cock with a wet smack, and Xander stood back up, hand never leaving Ethan’s cock. He leaned in, and Ethan gladly met him in a kiss. He curled his hands in Xander’s hair, and Xander jacked him until his fist was still and it was Ethan doing the fucking. Ethan came with his tongue in Xander’s mouth and a full-body shudder that he was sure Xander felt through even his kiss.
Ethan leaned against Xander while he caught his breath. Xander stroked his back until he’d calmed enough to reach for Xander’s cock, pressing hard against his tight jeans. “Want me to take care of that?” he asked, smile tired but wicked.
Xander kissed him, and Ethan’s lips were still sloppy but Xander didn’t seem to mind. “I insist,” Xander said, and tugged him over to the bed. It was a double bed, not as big as the queen Ethan had in his apartment—well, at his parents’ house now—but it would be a better excuse for cuddling. Or being found spooning by one of Xander’s bandmates. He wasn’t sure how much they knew about his and Xander’s… relationship. Such as it was.
A hand tugging on his hair brought Ethan back to the moment, and he scowled at Xander and sat down. “Help me?” Xander said, sliding out of his jeans like a snake shedding its skin. But with less grace. Ethan took the ends of Xander’s pants and tugged them the rest of the way off. Xander stripped off his shirt and tugged at Ethan’s shirt and pants and socks until they were both naked. He sighed when Ethan settled against him, half on top and half against his side, and pulled Ethan’s hand to his cock. “Yeah,” he said, and swallowed hard. “Like that.”
Even though he knew how Xander liked it, it still made Ethan preen to hear, especially since Xander was as quiet in bed as Ethan was noisy. They kissed lazily for a time, until Ethan felt Xander’s hips start thrusting harder. Then Ethan switched to bites, soft so they wouldn’t mark—not that Xander was easy to mark—and licking his way down Xander’s neck to his collarbone and down his stomach, until he was tonguing Xander’s balls, the underside of his cock, the bend in his hips.
A bite there, just above the bone, was what finished Xander. His come roped across Ethan’s shoulder and back, and Xander sighed and quieted after a few more thrusts.
Ethan crawled back up Xander’s body, taking care not to touch his cock, which was always much more sensitive after he came than Xander let on. He slumped against Xander’s side. “So,” he said after a while. “France.”
Xander chuckled. “Vive la France.”
Ethan stroked his chest absently. “So,” he said, “do you think your friends could hear me?”
“I’d be surprised if they didn’t. But don’t worry—they won’t say anything.” Ethan was sure he was scarlet with embarrassment. Xander patted his ass comfortingly. “You should hear Quinn when he thinks we can’t hear him and his girlfriend. Filthy mouth, I tell you.”
Groaning, Ethan turned his face into the crook of Xander’s arm. “I’m going to die now.”
“A little death?”
The guys in the band, along with Jerry, were in the men’s section of some clothing store Rob had wanted to ransack. Ethan was perusing near the front of the store, looking but not touching because, well, he was still a broke college graduate. He was lucky Xander had offered to pay his way to France, even if he did seem to want someone to fill in for his groupies. Ethan lowered the light gray shirt he’d been holding and stared out the display window into the small side street that would be crammed with people in another month, or so he’d been told.
“That would look wonderful on you,” a strange voice said. Ethan jerked and looked up. The man who’d spoken to him in crisp, unaccented English was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome.
Ethan blinked stupidly at him, then said, “Thanks.” He put the shirt back on the rack and looked around quickly for Xander or one of the other guys. He didn’t see anyone. They were probably in the dressing room. The man looked at Ethan speculatively, and Ethan pulled his hair behind one ear, a nervous gesture, he knew, and turned to go with a nod.
“You have your ear pierced,” Tall, Dark, and Handsome said. “I admit, I never got up the nerve to get a piercing. What is it—left is right or right is right? I can never remember.”
“Left is right and—” Ethan stopped. Smiled. “Excuse me. I’ve got—” He saw Xander and headed quickly toward him.
Xander was scowling when he reached him. “Where’ve you been?”
Ethan motioned backward with his chin. “Shirts.”
Xander nodded. “Okay. C’mon.” He grabbed Ethan’s hand and pulled him into the dressing room hall.
Ethan liked the red and the black on Xander, but thought he shouldn’t go with the yellow—it looked too much like mustard. Or really noxious piss. Xander cracked a smile when he said that. “Of course,” he said. “How could I have mistaken this canary yellow for anything else?”
“You’re blind,” Ethan said, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what it is.” Xander tugged him in for a quick kiss and then sat him back down. “God, these things are tiny! Ok, next question: the white, or the purple?”
Xander seemed in much better spirits than whatever had upset him earlier when they went to check out. “I had no idea you were such a girl,” Ethan muttered when Xander put his merchandise on the counter. “Shopping as a cure-all? Really.”
Xander kicked him in the shin, and Ethan kicked back and stepped away.
Right into a saleslady. He winced. “I’m so sorry!”
The saleslady shrugged, grey-blonde hair bobbing with her shoulders, as if such accidents happened all the time. “It is alright. One of our customers bought this for you.” She handed Ethan a bag, already rung up and wrapped.
Ethan froze. “I’m sorry?”
The saleslady smiled. “He says it is a gift for the man with the pretty brown eyes.” She put the bag in Ethan’s hand and walked away.
Ethan turned to Xander, horror on his face. “Xander, who—who would—”
Xander was once again scowling. He glanced briefly at Ethan before paying for his clothes and striding out of the store. Ethan followed quickly, saying “thank you”s to the sales people as he left. He found Xander waiting by the corner. If it was possible, he seemed even more upset.
He approached cautiously. “Xander?”
Xander glared at him, then looked away.
Ethan sighed. “Look, do you want to go back to the hotel? I think I’m shopped out right now.”
Xander nodded curtly and started walking back. Ethan fell into step beside him, not sure why, exactly, Xander was so pissed off about some guy buying Ethan a shirt. Hell, it was weird, but it’s not like the guy was stalking Ethan or had done something terrible, was it?
They reached the hotel and in short order were in their shared room. Xander dropped his bag on the floor and sat on the bed, staring out the window apparently lost in thought.
Ethan sat on the other bed and pulled whatever the gift was out of the bag.
It was the gray shirt Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome had seen him eying. There was a note in the bag, too.
To the man with the beautiful brown eyes,
If you ever want to go sailing, do give me a call. I would be happy to have one such as you aboard my vessel.
There was a name and a number, but Ethan was too busy blushing to notice. Seriously—was that a double-entendre in there, or was Ethan reading way too much into the note?
Which was snatched out of his hands. Ethan looked up, and blushed harder when Xander read it. “There’s a double meaning in that, isn’t there?” he asked.
Ethan groaned and put his head in his hands. Then he picked up the shirt and handed it to Xander. “I was looking at that when he started talking to me.” He fell back against the mattress. “God, do I have to call him to thank him? That would be so weird.” He covered his eyes with his hands and rubbed them soundly. “France is bizarre.”
Xander sat next to his head and Ethan scooted over a little bit. Ethan could see the bottom of his jaw when he looked forward, and up his nose when he looked down. He smiled. Either way, Xander was beautiful. Even when he was scowling. “Do you ever call people back who give you their numbers? Because it seems like a lot of people do.”
Ethan shrugged. “Maybe once or twice.”
Xander looked at him, then slid down and abruptly kissed him. Ethan was surprised, but kissed back gladly. This was a Xander he knew—fierce and demanding, hot and sensual. He didn’t know why Xander was annoyed and not amused, except that Xander seemed to dislike when the proper attention was not paid him.
That was probably it. Because no way was Xander jealous over Ethan.
Ethan had no right to be jealous when Xander’s fans—the band’s fans—crowded around the group and asked for hugs and pictures and autographs. He had no right to be jealous when Xander flirted with the women and let his hands linger on the men’s shoulders during pictures. Ethan wandered around the meet and greet, generally watching the chaos, and was surprised when a woman who looked to be a few years older than he was walked up to him.
“Hi,” she said, reaching out to shake his hand.
“I’m—not part of the band, if that’s what you—”
“Oh, no,” the woman said, smoothly moving her hand to touch his shoulder instead. “I’m here with my friends. Are you from around here? You sound American.”
“I am. American.” Ethan saw Xander glancing at him and managed to catch Mira’s eye. “Excuse me, my friend—”
“Wait.” The woman stepped in front of Ethan when he moved, and scrawled something in her autograph book. Then she tore out the page and handed it to him. “If you’re ever in Paris and looking for a good time…”
Ethan took the paper and said “thank you” before beating a hasty retreat. He stuck it in his pocket and hurried over to Mira. Mira looked like she’d swallowed a lemon. “What was that?” she hissed.
“People here are really really ridiculously forward,” he hissed back. “Who was that?”
Mira’s grimace turned to a smile as someone approached her to sign an autograph, and she pushed him toward Xander in a way Ethan wouldn’t have recognized as an order had he not known her for almost two weeks.
Ethan walked up to the gaggle of people around Xander and nodded to him. Xander motioned him to the back of the room, in Jerry’s direction, and Ethan happily went. The burly bodyguard should scare off anyone else determined to fluster him, at least for today.
The band all went backstage about ten minutes later, and Xander pulled Ethan into the dressing room with them. Xander dressed slowly. The rest of the band seemed in a hurry to leave, and Mira gave Ethan a quick “good luck” before she scurried out the door.
Ethan was in trouble. He really wanted to know why.
Xander turned, adjusting his collar, and leaned backward against the sink. Ethan could see his own reflection in the mirror behind Xander’s head. He looked contrite. He didn’t know why. “Xander, what’s going on?”
Xander strode over to him and shoved him lightly, again and again, until Ethan stumbled into the far wall. Xander’s hands caged him there, and Ethan suddenly felt claustrophobic. Xander looked far from amorous.
“Ethan.” Xander’s voice was a mocking growl. “What’s going on? You’re collecting numbers like you’re starting a phone book, Ethan.”
“But that’s not—”
Xander silenced him with a bruising kiss. It hurt, but it felt good, too. Ethan parted his lips, but Xander abruptly stopped. He huffed, looking off to the side, and licked his lips quickly, then glared back at Ethan. “Is it—is it too much to ask for you to just be with me while you’re here? Because from where I’m standing, that’s not too difficult.”
Keeping his tongue before it could say something awful, like admitting he’d been just Xander’s since their little bargain in high school, Ethan fished the number out of his pocket and handed it to Xander. “There. Better? Because I wasn’t going to call her.” He shouldn’t have sounded quite so antagonistic, but he was backed into a corner.
Xander took the note and crumpled it in a fist before letting it drop. Ethan didn’t bother watching it fall. “Step two is getting you to stop taking peoples’ numbers in the first place,” Xander said. “It’s rude. You’re my friend, you’re here with me, period.”
Ethan scowled. “Exactly—I’m your friend. What’m I supposed to say when people hand me things? ‘My friend doesn’t like other people hitting on me?'”
“Just say you’re taken!”
“Taken implies a dating relationship, Xander, I’m not going to lie to—”
“Fine.” Xander shoved away from the wall and strode across the small dressing room. “Do what you want. I don’t care.”
Xander left the dressing room, and Jerry came in a few minutes later. Ethan was sitting on the ratty dressing room couch, frowning at his hands. Jerry cleared his throat, and when Ethan got up, took him to a place where he could watch the performance in the wings.
Xander was amazing. He sang his heart out, and the band played like they were wild around him, accenting his voice and pushing him to be better, sing harder. The crowd was in his hands, and Ethan knew how they felt. He had never seen Xander as larger than life, but he had the same intensity onstage as he did in bed, and it was intoxicating.
The group finished and came backstage sweaty and tired and laughing, and Xander tugged Ethan into a hug when he saw him, and it seemed like all was forgiven. The group went into the dressing room, changed clothes, and the rest of the band left to chat with fans and steal onto the buses.
Ethan and Xander stared at each other for a few moments. “You were really good,” Ethan said after a while. His voice felt oddly loud in his ears. “Really good,” he whispered.
“Thanks,” Xander said. He took a sip of water and rubbed a towel through his sweat-dampened hair. “C’mere.” Ethan did, and the kiss Xander gave him felt like home. He sighed into it, and Xander slid a hand down his pants to grip his ass. A mischievous grin decorated his face. “I think we should do the quickie now.”
“Now?” Ethan’s eyes were wide. “But—what if somebody sees?”
“You don’t want to be seen with me?” Xander pouted, but something dark was in his eyes.
Ethan made himself be casual when he said, “It’s not my reputation I’m worried about.”
Xander seemed to relax. “Well, if that’s what you’re worried about, I can assure you that I don’t give a damn right now, and we’re wasting time we could be putting to better use.”
The quickie was quick, furtive and filled with stifled laughter and muffled moans. When it was done, they cleaned themselves with tissues and threw the sticky things in the trash, Ethan wondering aloud how many other people had done the same thing. Xander snuck a kiss and straightened out their clothes, then hurried them out to the bus.
It was well beyond dark when they reached the hotel. Ethan barely had the energy by that point to take off his clothes before he fell into bed. Xander curled up beside him, and Ethan kissed him and drifted off to sleep content.
The next morning, Xander was up before him. That was a feat in and of itself, and Ethan told him so. Xander swatted him, and then started lapping at the back of his neck. Ethan shivered—it was definitely one of his most sensitive spots, and Xander quickly had him writhing on the bed. The slick fingers that slid into him sometime later were a prelude to bigger and better things to come, and when Xander pushed his cock inside Ethan, Ethan moaned, feeling his toes curl in satisfaction when Xander slid past his prostate.
Xander was excruciatingly slow, and Ethan was practically weeping, mind unable to handle so much pleasure. Xander’s hand was on Ethan’s cock, his lips nibbling Ethan’s lips and neck, and his cock pressing insistently against Ethan’s prostate with each slow thrust. Xander whispered, “You okay?”
Ethan nodded vigorously and pulled Xander down for another kiss. “Please,” he rasped, voice going hoarse from his continuous moans, “wanna come—please!”
Xander increased his pace the smallest fraction, and stared into Ethan’s eyes. Ethan stroked his face reverently, and Xander pressed into Ethan’s hand. “I have a bargain for you,” Xander said softly.
“O—okay.” Ethan rocked his hips in time to Xander’s thrusts, trying to get Xander to go faster, but unwilling to push too far. As much as he wanted to come, if Xander stayed right where he was, Ethan would still be happy. Excruciatingly happy. “What’s the—ah—bargain?”
“I…” Xander buried his head in Ethan’s neck, and said in a rumble, “I want you with me. Just with me.”
He slammed in then, and Ethan shouted a pleasure-filled curse.
“No taking numbers,” Xander said, raising his head and looking at Ethan with dark eyes. “No sex with other people. No—no one but me.”
Ethan’s heart hammered in his chest, and he dragged Xander down for a kiss as filled with lust as it was hope. “What do I get?” he asked.
Xander mouthed under his ear. “Just me,” he said softly.
Ethan arched off the bed and came, hands scrabbling for purchase and finding Xander, fingers digging into him in his ecstasy and finally, pulling him in for a kiss that became simple breathing, breathing in Xander and mouthing his face, learning its shape with his lips as he came down from his high and Xander still thrust within him, fast now, a pounding pace. His eyes were bright, and he was almost smiling. “Well?” he asked, burying his head in Ethan’s neck and pulling his hips so hard Ethan knew he’d have bruises.
Ethan touched Xander’s face again. “Yes. It’s—it’s always just been you.”
It was the first time he’d heard Xander make a sound—and it was Ethan’s name. Ethan arched, wondering if he could come again so soon, and then Xander came inside of him, came and came and came, and Ethan wanted to keep Xander there forever, joined with him, just his.
But eventually, Xander pulled out. He tied the condom and threw it in the trash by the bed and then wiped the come off Ethan’s chest with a corner of the sheet and buried his head in the crook of Ethan’s shoulder. “God,” he said. “There’s no place like home.”
Ethan laughed softly. “We’re in France.”
“Home is where the heart is, genius,” Xander said, and pulled up the blankets.