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Clearing the Air

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“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Max snarled, his cheek pressed painfully against the wall. He struggled against the firm grip on his arms – those slender fingers that looked like they should belong to an artist rather than a ruthless criminal, and that were far stronger than their appearance suggested – but Sternwood’s body was a solid, immovable presence against his back. As deceptively slender as his hands were, but a full head taller than Max and all lean muscle. The only thing struggling achieved was to make the pain in his leg flare up. He put his weight on the other foot, even though he knew it wouldn’t help much, and kept struggling anyway.

“What does it look like?” Sternwood had the gall to sound amused, as if this was just some game Max didn’t get the rules to. As if they had the kind of relationship with each other where they played games, instead of grudgingly bearing each other’s presence because they bloody had to. They might have been through more together than even most friends were – not that Max had many friends left these days, and he blamed Sternwood for that, too, Sternwood and the bullet in his leg and the anger and bitterness that had come with it, that nobody wanted to put up with, except apparently the man who’d caused it all and who was still here. But that didn’t mean Max liked him, or forgave him, or even wanted to talk to him more than necessary. Sure as hell didn’t mean he wanted those hands on his body and that scratch of stubble against the shell of his ear.

“Like you lost your fucking mind.”

Once again he tried to twist out of Sternwood’s grip, his leg screaming in protest, but he bit his tongue to suppress his groan. He hated looking weak, and the only thing he wanted less than pity was Sternwood simply not giving a fuck about what he’d done to him. Sternwood felt almost unnaturally hot against his back, but maybe it was just the fact that Max hadn’t had anyone this close in too fucking long. Didn’t even feel right anymore.

“Hardly. I’m not the one stubbornly trying to ignore the obvious, Max,” Sternwood said. He insisted on calling him by his first name like he had any right to. Max still clung to his last name as a reminder of what this man had done to him, of who he was. An immoral criminal who’d ruined lives just out of greed, who’d spend the rest of his life behind bars if there was any justice in the world. Calling him Jacob, let alone Jake, seemed too much like trying to forget the name that had haunted his nightmares for what had felt like far longer than three years. Sometimes Max could barely even remember his life before – or rather he could remember, but it felt like someone else’s life, like he had barely anything in common with the man he’d been before his path had crossed Sternwood’s.

“Think I didn’t notice you looking at me?” Sternwood’s voice had dropped low. It was deep, and warm, and resonated through Max’s body in a way that made him shudder again, only half pain this time. The brush of Sternwood’s lips against Max’s ear suddenly didn’t seem accidental anymore. “Ssh, I don’t mind. Just seems like a good idea to clear the air a little.”

He made it sound so easy, the way he did with everything – the world probably was an easy place if you didn’t give a fuck about laws and morality and anyone but yourself, if you just did whatever the fuck you wanted and justified it to yourself afterwards. Nothing about this was a good idea.

And yet Max didn’t elbow him in the side to dislodge him, even though he could have. He didn’t smash his head back to catch Sternwood’s mouth, his teeth, maybe his nose. He didn’t do anything but press his eyes shut when Sternwood’s hands loosened their grip on his arms and slid down, slipping underneath Max’s shirt to stroke over his sides. Strong, warm hands, calloused from working in the wilderness of wherever the fuck he’d been hiding out all these years. They’d been wearing gloves when they’d shot him, but even so Max felt the touch of Sternwood’s index, the one that had pulled the trigger, like it was burning his skin.

He hadn’t been touched like this either in so long. Since before. He’d tried, a couple of times, more because he felt like he should than because he really wanted to, and then he’d be too fucking morose to go through with it. He hated the way people pussyfooted around his leg, the way they tried not to stare, or even worse the ones that wanted to show sympathy and talk to him about it. So he’d soon given up again and gone back to spending his nights alone. He sure as fuck hadn’t expected to do this again with the man who’d put him in this miserable fucking state. He couldn’t suppress the groan when Sternwood kissed his neck, incongruously gentle after he’d grabbed Max roughly and pinned him to the wall.

For a moment he considered saying that Sternwood could have just asked, like a normal fucking person, could have expressed interest in any other way than manhandling Max and merely telling him what was happening, and Max should probably count himself lucky there wasn’t a gun to his head involved. But if he was honest – to himself even if not to Sternwood – he knew what he would have said. He would have told Sternwood to fuck off, and that would have been the end of it.

Instead there were warm lips on the side of his neck, just above his collar, hot breath washing over his skin, the earthy scent of Sternwood’s cologne that Max liked far more than he cared to admit. And then a hand moving across Max’s stomach, thumb nail scratching lightly over his skin before the hand dipped lower, quickly opening button and zipper before it reached inside and curled around Max’s cock – and he supposed the fact that he was hard was the real reason he wasn’t protesting anymore, because what use was it to pretend he didn’t want this when some insane part of him apparently did? His brain dug up not particularly helpful memories, both from his police training and from the therapy sessions his superiors had made him go to for a while after the shooting, about people responding to trauma in seemingly nonsensical ways, sexual ones among them, and then decided that wanting to fuck Sternwood because he’d ruined his life was just too damn sad and he still preferred the idea that maybe he just wanted to fuck the bastard.

He shifted his weight again, the pain in his leg slowly numbing down to a more bearable level now that he’d stopped struggling like a maniac. He could feel Sternwood pause for just a second, could just about imagine the concerned look Max had seen on a hundred faces before, worrying about whether the poor fucking cripple could take it or needed help. Before Sternwood could say a word and ruin what he’d started himself, Max reached down and covered Sternwood’s hand with his own, pressed it firmly against his cock so he could grind against it.

“If you say anything, I am going to break your nose.” His voice sounded tense, almost a little strangled, but he didn’t really give a fuck anymore, not when he felt those damned fingers wrapping around his cock and stroking it slowly, Sternwood’s lips returning to his neck for another soft kiss that was followed by a gentle, lingering bite.

It was fucked up, letting Sternwood of all people touch him that way, liking that he touched him that way.

But then everything that had happened to him in the past weeks was some shade of fucked up and unthinkable, and maybe in the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t the worst of it. Max closed his eyes, and for the first time in far too long simply allowed himself to let go.