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King of the World

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The game was crap. After the final horn, as Matt dragged himself off the Vegas ice, Tristan tapped Matt’s pads with his stick in silent goalie solidarity. At the gate, Sid leaned in and said, “Sorry we couldn’t get a couple more goals for you.”

Sid sounded normal enough, but he smelled pretty fucked up—to Matt, anyway, who’d learned what to scent for. Knowing Sid, he was probably pissed all the alphas and omegas on the team knew what he was feeling. Not that there were many alphas left, with Flower and Cully and Kuni all gone.

“Next time,” Matt said, and then was a little sorry when Sid’s mouth twisted. Sid probably didn’t need to be reminded that there’d be a next time for this: the Pens warming up at one end of the rink and Flower’s team at the other.

Well, Sid would just have to deal, like the rest of them fucking did.

The reporters asked Matt all the usual dumbass questions—“Can you describe that first goal against? How do you feel about your performance tonight?” Then they got down to the ones specific to this game, this locale. This, the first time Matt ever faced off against Flower. Was it hard, how did he feel, did it affect his play.

They couldn’t seem to quite figure out how to prod at their old favorite—“What’s it like, sharing the crease with another alpha?” Or maybe that wasn’t a story anymore. Once again the Pens had one and only one alpha in goal, as they should. Anomaly resolved, balance restored.

When Matt came out of the shower, Olli snagged him. “Nate Schmidt wants to talk to you,” he said, nodding towards the locker room door.

Nate Schmidt. What the fuck. “Uh, okay,” Matt said. He wrapped his towel around his waist and went to go see what the Capitals’ castoff defenseman wanted with him. Matt stepped into the hallway of T-Mobile Arena’s underbelly. Schmidt was just outside, leaning against the wall and scrolling through his phone. He straightened up when he saw Matt. Matt pulled the door shut. “Hi?”

“Flower said to wait for him. Or.” Schmidt looked at the ceiling like it was a teleprompter. “He said to ask you to wait for him. He’d be here himself, but he had media and shit.” Schmidt looked mildly embarrassed to be saying this.

Flower was the face of this brand-new franchise. He’d gotten first star, too—Matt had overheard someone talking about it in the shower. And he’d won, obviously. Of course his media shit went longer. It was fine. “Yeah, I’ll wait for him.”

Well, Matt would wait for him inside the locker room, and he’d put his clothes on in the meantime.

Matt took his time. He accepted muttered apologies from some of the guys, from Phil for the shot that hit iron instead of net. He blow-dried his hair, which he didn’t normally bother with after games. He told himself it was just something to do while he waited for the others to filter out.

“Hey, you coming?” Dumo asked him. “Some of us are checking out Caeser’s Palace.” Matt begged off.

Finally he looked as good as he was going to look and didn’t ask himself why that mattered. The changing room was empty as he shrugged into his coat, and there was no one left in the locker room except for the equipment managers.

Matt went out into the hall, and there Flower was. Flower broke into a grin. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Matt said.

Flower peeled away from the wall. “You hungry? I could take you somewhere. Or we could get takeout and eat at my place.”

“That,” Matt said, before he thought about it too hard. Flower’s grin got wider.

Flower drove a Ferrari now. “Dude,” Matt said.

“Isn’t she pretty?” Flower stroked the top of the door frame like it was a crossbar that had just saved him a goal. His eyes were hidden as he said, “I thought new team, new place. Time for something new.”

“Sure,” Matt said. “Uh, it’s nice.”

Flower flashed him another of those grins.

It drove like a dream, of course. Flower didn’t get a lot of chances to show it off in the fifteen-minute drive to the Hawaiian fusion place he swore by, but he tried. The car was something to talk about, anyway. Matt was realizing with a kind of panic that if they weren’t going to talk about hockey—and after that game, he was definitely in no mood to talk about hockey—then Matt wasn’t really sure what to talk about.

Not why he’d gotten a separate invite, when Sid and all the Frenchies had gone out for dinner with Flower two nights ago. Definitely not about that time Matt had kissed Flower, clumsy and half-drunk in the back of some bar, and how Flower pushed him away so very gently.

That remembered humiliation burned in Matt’s stomach as they pulled into parking lot. He stood by the door, hands in his pockets, while Flower ordered for them both. He felt like a kid again. Really a kid, not just a rookie fresh up from Wilkes-Barre. A kid like he’d felt in junior after he’d lost a game in front of a crowd of a couple thousand and then gone back to his hotel room and watched Pens game highlights: the team that drafted him and the star alpha who tended their goal.

While Matt and Flower sat waiting for their order, a little girl came up and asked Flower for his autograph. Flower ended up signing things for the whole family, of course, and talking to them right up until the food was ready. Matt took the bag from the server while Flower disentangled himself.

“Sorry,” Flower said, once they were in the car.

“It’s fine,” Matt said. “Face of the franchise, right?”

Flower nodded. He looked straight ahead, hands shifting back and forth on the steering wheel. An ambiguous note Matt had been scenting all this time suddenly resolved into unease. Uncertainty. Flower cast him a glance that said the same. “Thanks for coming, Matty.”

“For sure. I thought—at first I didn’t know, you know. When you made plans with Sid and the Frenchies—” He didn’t know how to end that thought.

Flower sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Are you—maybe I should have—fuck. I’m sorry?”

Maybe Matt should make Flower pull over. He could call an Uber and take his fancy fusion takeout back to the hotel room, but there was no way on Earth he was going to do that. “I just didn’t know if you wanted to see me. But then you sent your minion over, so it’s all good.”

“My minion,” Flower repeated.

“Yeah, what’s that about, anyway? You have fucking minions now?”

“Face of the franchise,” Flower echoed, good humor restored.

Flower’s condo was nice, too. One wall of his living room was nearly all window, looking not towards the city but towards the desert. Right now, the view was black, dotted with occasional street lights. He’d gotten a decorator in, clearly. There were a lot of sleek lines and warm, earthtone colors and a number of succulents in pots.

“They don’t need that much water,” Flower said, when he caught Matt looking at one. “Like once a month. So they’re okay when I’m on the road.”

“Nice,” Matt said. He couldn’t say that he’d ever had an opinion on houseplants before. He could barely form one now.

The place smelled new, of fresh carpet and paint, and of Flower. There was a riot of scents, mostly days old and mellowed out, semi-familiar from Vegas players Matt had caught wind of on the ice or in the arena hallways. But at the forefront, seeping directly into his brain, was Flower: cheerful, hopeful, anxious, at peace, pissed off. Turned on, even, a faint niggle of old arousal that Matt firmly told himself to ignore.

If anyone else had been turned on in these rooms in the past week, Matt couldn’t smell it.

Flower drew the drapes, closing that desolate black emptiness away. It brightened the whole room. “Come on,” he said, settling onto the couch. It was plush and comfortable—the sleekness only went so far, apparently.

“So you liking Vegas?” Matt said. “The city, I mean.”

Flower brightened. He did like Vegas. He liked the warm weather, all the things to do. Engelland, who’d played minor league hockey here long before the Knights drafted him, had taken Flower personally under his wing and shown him all the sights. “And they like me, you know?” Flower said. “The city.”

For a moment Matt was shocked silent. The only words in his head were, We liked you. But as he stared, Flower sneaked glances at him out of the corner of his eye, even as he pushed his fancy breaded chicken around in his to-go box. “Of course they like you,” Matt said.

Flower let out of a big sigh, like a collapse. He kept on looking at his food. “I didn’t know for sure. What it would be like.”

He had the city half in thrall just by walking up on stage when George McPhee called his name, and he’d finished the job in the months since. Matt didn’t have to be on hand to know it was true. There was no defense against Flower’s charm. Matt had some first-hand experience there. “Of course they like you.”

The corner of Flower’s mouth curled in an uncertain smile. “Thanks, Matty.”

“Yeah.” It was Matt’s turn to stare at his food. There was pork and rice and a pineapple sauce. It was delicious, probably.

He shouldn’t have come here. The place was so steeped in Flower that Matt could barely taste the food. He was too warm, fuck. He was a little flushed, way more than half a bottle of local IPA could account for. He was twenty-three years old, he had two Cup rings and an NHL team of his own, but one look at Flower and he was just a kid with a crush again.

“Matty?”

Matt swallowed, hard, and met Flower’s eyes. “Why’d you ask me out here? To your place?”

Flower’s gaze was troubled. “Maybe I shouldn’t have.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

Flower didn’t deny it. After a moment, he set his to-go box aside and stood up. For a moment Matt thought Flower was on his to way to asking Matt to leave, but instead Flower went to the sliding glass door and opened it a crack. Cool air drifted in with a green, bitter odor riding on it. “Sagebrush,” Flower said.

Matt took a deep breath of it, in and out. It cleared his head a little. But only a little. “I really fucking missed you,” he said. He bowed his head over his hands.

“I saw the interview,” Flower said. “From yesterday, after practice. What you said about me.”

“I meant it,” Matt said, even though he couldn’t remember now exactly what it was he said.

“Matty—” Flower began. He heaved a sigh out his nose.

“I’m gonna go,” Matt said. He tucked his to-go box closed—he’d be starving for it by the time he got to the hotel—and got to his feet. He felt too tall, all limbs, just like that year of junior when he gained five inches. He reached out to squeeze Flower’s arm; a hug felt too dangerous right now. Or too awkward. And then he finally looked Flower in the eye, and he caught himself on Flower’s gaze, deep and pained.

Flower had brought him out here.

That was all the excuse Matt had as he pressed his palm to the top of Flower’s shoulder—not too close to the neck, even now, the avoidance instinctual. Flower stared back, and he didn’t move, and finally Matt leaned in and kissed him.

For one horrible moment, Matt was in that bar again, Flower stiff and surprised against him, rejection a half-second away. Then Flower relaxed and began to respond. His hand fell to Matt’s hip. The pressure grounded Matt in his body, reminded him: live in the moment. So he kissed Flower with everything he had. Matt couldn’t have said what he was feeling except that he ached with it.

Finally Flower pulled away and rested his forehead against Matt’s. They were both breathing pretty hard. “I didn’t think you wanted me,” Matt said. He flushed hot with new humiliation and had to shut his eyes. “Fuck.”

“Matty—”

“Sorry, sorry.” Matt turned away and finally set down the leftovers he’d been clutching one-handed all this time.

“Everything was already fucked,” Flower said.

“So you didn’t want to fuck it up more?”

Flower stroked along Matt’s arm until finally Matt turned around again. “I didn’t want to make it more complicated.”

Matt took a deep inhale, not even trying to disguise it. The condo was already full of Flower, but this close, Matt could smell nothing else. Matt had spent a lot of time over the last two years talking down his dick and his hopes when it came to Flower; now he didn’t bother to try. “And now?” Matt asked.

For an instant, everything was still. Flower held his breath, and Matt caught himself doing the same. Then Flower leaned up and kissed him, hard, pressing Matt’s lips back against his teeth.

Matt mostly tried not to think about that time in the bar. But on the rare occasions he did, when he let himself really look back, he remembered Flower grinning to show all his teeth, crowing over some joke, bright-eyed and so fucking pleased with himself. Flower’s forearms, thick with muscle that nobody ever seemed to give him credit for because he was, after all, a goalie. Flower’s collarbone peeking from the collar of his t-shirt and Matt’s mouth watering with how much he wanted to bite it.

But most of all Flower after a win, king of the world and Pittsburgh and every damn person in the room. Especially Matt.

A year and an expansion draft later, not a single fucking thing had changed. Flower’s bulk pressing against Matt’s height felt like everything Matt had ever wanted—and in this moment, with Flower’s teeth on Matt’s lower lip, Matt could pretend to himself that he had, in fact, never wanted anything else more than this. Flower’s hand skating up Matt’s ribs was scalding, so Matt could only gasp into Flower’s mouth.

“So easy,” Flower said, the words a buzz against Matt’s lips. Matt pulled back, flushing, uncertain, but Flower was grinning up at him with old, familiar fondness. Flower stepped into Matt’s space again, neatly slotting the bulk of his own hard-on in against Matt’s. Matt gasped again, and Flower paused. “You have—right? You’ve done this—”

“Of fucking course I’ve done this before,” Matt said, mortified almost beyond words. “Just not—” Not with an alpha, he might have said. Not with you.

Instead of pressing for an end to that sentence, Flower kissed Matt again. “I got a nice bed,” he said after a while. “A new one, when I moved out here.”

“Okay,” Matt said, breathless.

Flower kept grabbing more kisses on the way, as if he’d been starving for them all this time—as if he’d been the one to kiss Matt in that bar and Matt had been the one backing up, apology in his eyes. Inside the door of his bedroom Flower pushed Matt up against the wall until they were flush, chest to balls. His hard-on pressed into Matt’s thigh.

It was a sudden sharp reminder: he had a knot. Flower had a knot. Matt had never been with anyone before who did. Flower didn’t swing it in the locker room like he had something to prove, and he didn’t bullshit any more than the next alpha about what he could do with it. He definitely wasn’t the kind of alpha who jammed it up his partner’s hole and told them what a slut for it they were. Unless they wanted him to, maybe. But he had one all the same.

Then, like he was reading Matt’s mind, Flower nosed up against Matt’s neck.

Matt stilled, his breath frozen in his lungs. The next moment Flower realized what he was doing and fell suddenly backward. “Shit,” he said, staring wide-eyed at Matt. “Shit, Matty.”

Matt licked his lips. “You can,” he said.

Flower’s gaze sharpened. He gripped Matt by the shoulders and put his mouth to Matt’s neck. His nose brushed against Matt, and for a moment Flower didn’t move at all, only exhaled hot, slow breaths. Matt’s heart raced. He’d had an O girlfriend who liked to pretend scenting him, but that was for play, and this—

Flower shifted his weight just a little and closed his teeth on Matt’s skin. Matt nearly choked. Flower only held on tighter, his fingers biting into the flesh of Matt’s arms. Flower worked his jaw, scraping his teeth across the skin, until Matt’s breaths came short and shallow. His entire attention was on that pinch at his neck. Heat bloomed from it along his whole neck and down his chest. He wanted to wrench himself away; he wanted to never move again.

Finally Flower let go with his teeth and pressed a kiss to the spot. Dropping his hands, he took a step back. Air rushed back into Matt’s lungs. He stared at Flower, dazed and a little light-headed and found Flower looking back, eyeing him narrowly. Then, with intent, Flower squeezed the swollen crotch of Matt’s dress pants. His eyes widened. “You’re into this. You want it.”

“Yeah?” Matt said. His face flamed. “I mean, I’m here, so.”

Flower snorted, a quiet, harsh sound. “You get everything you want, right?” he said.

“I—” Matt couldn’t finish. He felt like he’d taken a spear to the chest without any gear. He couldn’t catch his breath.

“Fuck.” Flower pressed his whole face to Matt’s neck. “Fuck,” he repeated. A new scent stained the air, a kind of low-grade misery that Matt only recognized from the very occasional whiff last year. After a few beats, he hesitantly stroked Flower’s arm. Flower’s next breath shuddered through him, and the next. Finally he pulled away to look Matt in the eye, his lips pressed too thin. “Sorry. I shouldn’t—we shouldn’t—” His chest rose and fell, and he gave up trying to say whatever it was they shouldn’t do. He bit his lip and shrugged away, towards the still-open bedroom door. His back to Matt, he said, “I get so pissed at you sometimes. Sorry.”

“You can be pissed,” Matt said. He kept his voice and his breathing steady. He’d had a lot of practice. “It’s fair. I get it.”

“No, you don’t.”

That hurt, too, though Matt didn’t think it was meant to. But Matt wasn’t just a kid with a crush anymore, and there was a lot between him and Flower that was more important than a hookup. “Should I leave?” he asked. Mutely Flower shook his head. “So what do you want?”

Flower’s gaze skittered away from Matt’s, maybe to the forgotten bed behind them. His shoulders were rounded down. He didn’t look like he had on the ice, triumphant with his win, or in that bar when Matt couldn’t help but kiss him. He didn’t look like he’d won anything at all.

“Flower?”

“Not good things.”

Heat prickled in Matt’s armpits. He edged closer. “Like what do you mean?”

Flower shook his head. “I don’t do that kind of shit. I’m not—you don’t deserve that.”

Matt’s entire body felt hot. “Do you want to hurt me?” Flower’s gaze snapped to his. “Fuck me up? Take this whole fucking mess out on me? You can.”

“Matty—” Flower said, stricken.

“Just this once,” Matt said. “Fuck, I’m into it, okay? Whatever you want, you can—whatever.”

Flower stared at him for another long moment, gaze unreadable. He closed the distance between them. He dug his fingers into the meat of Matt’s hips, his eyes hot, burning away all that internal conflict. He leaned up for another kiss, bruising this time, with hints of teeth. Then he began tugging at Matt’s belt buckle.

They stripped each other out of their game day suits gracelessly, without much care for where things landed. Matt barely managed to hang his jacket over a chair before Flower was pulling him back in, fingers biting just below the ribs as he nosed at Matt’s neck. Every brush of Flower’s lips sent sparks through Matt, bewildered and stinging, all the way down to his dick. Then he bit down, a sharp ache that would leave a mark. Not a claiming bite, but a bite of dominance. A bite to punish.

The guys would all see it. They might not know who’d given to him, but they’d all know how he got it. He’d let someone do this to him. Heat flooded his cheeks. He held still, breathed through the pain, swallowed it down. He’d earned this.

Finally, as Flower released him, Matt said, “You want to fuck me, right?” When Flower’s breath caught, Matt knew he was right. “Come on, then.”

“Shit,” Flower said, low and harsh. He pushed Matt backward, onto the bed. He yanked Matt’s boxer-briefs off, chafing the skin on his hip. “Over,” he said, ungentle fingers gripping Matt’s thigh to guide him onto his belly, a pillow beneath his hips. “You good?”

Blood pulsed uselessly through Matt’s hard-on, trapped beneath him. His entire body felt hot; his back must be one big red blotch. “I’m good.” Then his nerve gave out. Maybe he was tapping into his freaky side tonight, but he had limits. “Don’t, uh—don’t knot me? I know I said—I’m sorry—”

“It’s fine, Matty.” Flower gave Matt’s side a squeeze, almost a pinch. Then he climbed off the bed, leaving Matt alone to goosebump in the open air. There was a chill in it he’d been too distracted to notice before. He propped himself up on his elbows, bowed his head, and waited.

For a moment there was the sound behind Matt of things getting shoved around in a drawer. Then Flower was back, and a cold, slick finger was pressing into Matt’s hole. “Fuck,” Matt said, without meaning to all. The finger in his ass stilled. “No, fuck you, keep going.” He kicked blindly behind him, his heel connecting with flesh that had bone beneath it. Flower cursed a long stream of French. It took Matt a moment to piece together that Flower was threatening to tie him down. Matt buried in his face in Flower’s pillow rather than risk any response to that. Flower just went back to lubing Matt up, maybe a little less gently now.

The same O girlfriend who liked scenting Matt had convinced him to let her fuck him with a strap-on a couple of times. It’d felt kind of weird, but she liked it, and he didn’t mind. It’d done nothing to give him any opinion one way or the other about people putting things up his ass.

But now, new heat pooled in his gut when the tip of Flower’s dick pressed against Matt’s hole. Then Flower pushed in, and all other thoughts were gone. This right here was all Matt could handle: the fullness of Flower’s dick in him, the friction of each heavy thrust. Whether it was the size of him or just not quite enough lube, every motion burned a little, a sting that Matt pressed back into, as much as he could with Flower’s weight on top of him.

He hadn’t come here expecting this, this sting and burn and ache. He hadn’t expected anything. But he needed it: Flower’s fingers biting into his sides sometimes, Flower rubbing Matt a little raw at the rim where there wasn’t quite enough lube.

“Fucking hold still,” Flower said above him, and then there were teeth at the nape of Matt’s neck. Matt froze. Instinct kicked at him to do something, fight Flower off, bite back. Matt took a choked breath and did what Flower told him. He held very still.

“You—fucking—” Flower took a pinch of Matt’s side and twisted.

Shit,” Matt hissed. He bit his lip, clenched his fingers in the pillowcase. He breathed through the pain, and he didn’t move.

Flower let go. Then, bewilderingly, he smoothed his hand over the spot, muttering too low and fast and French for Matt to hear. The next moment he began to move above Matt again.

Flower’s thrusts started to stutter a few minutes later. Matt felt a momentary concern, in case Flower forgot to pull out—in case he decided against it—but then he settled back to sit on Matt’s calves. His breath was heavy and fast. He cursed sharply in unintelligible French and stripes of heat fell across Matt’s back.

Matt collapsed, all his straining muscles giving out at once, almost like he’d come himself. The release of all that tension he’d been holding—from long before Flower kissed him, from the moment he knew there was someone out in the hall of T-Mobile Arena waiting to see him—felt almost as great.

Flower pulled out and crawled off the bed. Matt lay still. Cool night air raised new goosepimples and began to dry out the jizz on his back. It itched a little.

When Flower came back, it was with a wet wash cloth. “Hey, no,” Matt said, not even sure why he was protesting. “You don’t—I can—”

Flower gave him a sharp look and then sat down on the bedspread next to him, bare-ass naked. “Hold still,” he said. The command made Matt flush again, but he held still, and he let Flower do what he wanted with him. Sometimes the half-dried jizz pulled at the hairs on his back as Flower washed him off. Matt kept his face hidden, and he let it happen to him.

Flower was always so chatty. He had a million things to say to anyone who tried to shoot on his net, look at his pads wrong, make what Flower judged to be unfounded complaints about the bus or the food or the visiting locker rooms. Now he didn’t seem to have a single thing to say.

The bed bounced a little. Matt heard something hit a tile floor with a wet slap. Then Flower sprawled out next to him. Matt was startled by a touch to his side—pinching aside, he’d always been ticklish—but Flower only smoothed his hand over the skin he’d twisted earlier. He stroked over the spot, just firmly enough not to tickle. It was kind of soothing.

Finally Flower said, “I thought I’d fuck it up, if we did this before.”

It took Matt a long time playing that thought backwards and forwards before he was pretty sure he’d placed it. “In Pittsburgh?”

Flower didn’t say anything, only rubbing his along Matt’s hip.

“And now?”

The silence drew out. Flower thumbed across Matt’s pelvic bone, back and forth, back and forth. Matt’s blood and breath continued to slow. He’d almost forgotten he was waiting for a response when Flower said, “I like it here.”

Matt blinked his eyes open. His head was turned away from Flower; his gaze caught on some kind of succulent sitting in the corner of Flower’s bedroom. It was in a hand-thrown pot with an iridescent glaze on it. “Yeah?” he ventured.

Flower’s nose brushed against Matt’s neck, then pressed into his hair. “I didn’t want to be an asshole to you. It was worse—when I was in Pittsburgh, it was worse. But it wasn’t your fault, you know? You didn’t choose it, what happened.”

Matt tried to let that pass into the night without comment. Somehow his mouth opened, and he said, “I kind of did.”

Flower stilled for a moment. Then his hand stroked Matt’s thigh again. “No you didn’t.”

Matt rolled over so he could look Flower in the eye. “I wanted to be the best. I could’ve—I took the crease, and I’m—I’m not even fucking sorry.” Yet somehow tears pricked at his eyes.

“Aw, Matty. Quel idiot.” The words were fond. Flower shifted closer, closer still, until Matt’s eyes instinctively shut. The next moment, he felt the brush of lips against first one eyelid, then the other. Then Flower kissed him, warm and sweet, patient like none of their other kisses had been. “That’s not a choice,” Flower said. “Not for us.”

“Not even for you?”

Flower sobered. “Last year, I would do anything to win my goal back. You think I just let you have it?” He pinched Matt’s side, not gently. “I wanted it just as much as you. I’d let you sit on that bench forever, and I wouldn’t feel bad at all.”

Matt took a shaky breath. “Okay.”

“You don’t think so?” Flower asked sharply.

Matt couldn’t bear to look at him anymore. “I just thought you were a better person than me.”

Flower laughed. “You are an idiot.” He squeezed the back of Matt’s neck. “Matty, we’re the same. We’re both assholes about this, right? We’re the same.”

“Okay,” Matt repeated. He shut his eyes, so Flower wouldn’t notice the new tears. A tension he’d been holding for a long, long time, so long he’d kind of forgotten it was there, began to ease. It ached, like unclenching a muscle after clenching it too long.

“Matty,” Flower said gently, and kissed Matt again. Matt opened his mouth, let himself focus on the wet slide of Flower’s tongue. After a bit, Flower rolled Matt over onto his back and straddled his hips. When Matt finally found the courage to open his eyes, Flower was looking down at him with such fondness that Matt had to turn away again.

Flower didn’t let him get away with it. He bent down and kissed Matt one more time, and then he said, “You let me be mean to you. Will you let me be nice now?”

If Matt opened his mouth, he was sure he’d start crying again. Then he’d say a lot of pathetic things even more humiliating than the crying. Instead he swallowed around the lump in his throat and nodded.

“Okay,” Flower said, patting him on the cheek. Then he shuffled backward on the bed, folded himself over his knees, and took Matt’s dick in his mouth.

Flower had a lot of work to do; Matt’s hard-on had flagged a long time ago. Flower didn’t seem to mind it. He alternated, sucked and stroking and licking around the head, patient and thorough, with just enough variety to keep Matt’s mind from wandering. At one point Matt tried to apologize, but Flower pinched the tender skin in Matt’s hip crease, eyes sparkling. Matt yelped, and after that he let Flower do his thing.

Gradually Flower brought Matt’s arousal up to a simmer, a low hum in his blood. Then, suddenly, Matt could barely hold his hips still, and every lick Flower gave him up the side of his shaft was maddening. “Flower—” he began, and then his gut tightened and he came all over himself, hands fisted in the sheets.

Afterwards, Flower crawled back up next to him. “Pretty good, eh?” he said, his grin impish and achingly familiar.

Matt laughed weakly. He was pretty spent. “It was good,” he said, patting Flower’s arm.

Flower sprawled on his belly next to Matt and squeezed Matt’s bicep. He fell quiet. Matt dozed, exhausted beyond telling from a game, an orgasm, and way more feelings than he’d had any intention of having.

“Matty,” Flower said.

“Mm.” Matt dragged his eyes open. When Matt turned his head, he could just make out Flower’s face.

Flower licked his lips—looking a little dry, now—and said, “I like it here.”

“You said.”

“It’s like—I’ve moved on, you know?”

“Oh,” Matt said blankly. That—that hurt more than any the rest of it. “Right.”

“I get to have a team, too, Matty,” Flower said gently. “You’re not very good at sharing yours.”

“Sure,” Matt said. There was that lump in his throat again.

“You’re not listening.” Flower jammed his knuckle in Matt’s side, making him jump as much as his jellied muscles were able. “I have a new home now. I don’t have to be so mad anymore. Don’t have to worry about getting an ulcer.” His smile was thin. His eyes begged for Matt’s understanding.

In all their time together with the Pens, Flower had never asked Matt for anything more important than a piece of equipment within Matt’s reach, a warning when the latest prank victim was getting too close. Matt took a couple of breaths and tried to get around that ache in his chest, that echo of I’ve moved on in time to Matt’s heartbeat. He looked at the bright woven rug hanging on Flower’s wall. There’d been nothing like it in Flower’s house in Pittsburgh. There’d been no cactus.

Matt took another deep inhale. He caught the scent of sage. “Okay.”

Softly, Flower said, “I don’t have to be mad at you anymore.”

“Oh.” Matt’s throat was thick with—fuck it—more tears.

Flower stroked his arm. “I didn’t even—I didn’t know you were fucked up about it. I thought it was just me. I wouldn’t have done that tonight if I—” He broke off, like he didn’t know how to finish.

“I wanted it,” Matt protested.

“And you always get what you want.” There was only the ghost of a sting in the words. “But you only get one shot. Next time, I’ll only be nice.”

“Next time?” Matt repeated. He could barely parse the words. He couldn’t imagine a location beyond this bed, a time more than ten minutes in the future.

“If you want,” Flower said. He turned his gaze away. “Or maybe you only wanted tonight.”

“I’m the one who kissed you in that bar,” Matt said, honestly a little affronted. “I’ve wanted you for a year. More than a year. I—” It took a lot of courage to say it, way more than it’d taken to let another alpha bite his neck or fuck him in the ass. “I like you a lot.”

Flower looked at Matt, a hint of surprise his eyes. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Matt said, growing surer of himself. He pushed up onto his elbow and found Flower's mouth. Flower hummed, approving. Matt took some of those kisses he'd daydreamed for months, in his most private imaginings. He let himself believe he deserved this, too, and not just the shitty parts. Not just the parts that hurt, even if he was holding onto a little hope that Flower’s only nice clause could be renegotiated at a later date.

When Matt pulled back, Flower was grinning up at him, his upper lip pulled back to show off all those straight white teeth. He looked smug as shit, eyes unshadowed by any of last year’s concerns, like he owned the whole world and everything in it, Matt included.

And he was right.

[end]