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Light sparks behind his eyes, like he’s traveled sky-high into a fireworks display.

Just as quickly, and nearly as soon as the last jolts of electricity stop firing in his thighs, Alice disengages. His condom-sheathed cock slips from her and falls against his stomach, and its beady little eye of trapped come stares unblinking up at him. Reaching for her waist, he starts to murmur, “Are you sure you’re done? ‘Cause if you’re not, then we should get to—”

She cuts him off: “I won’t. It’s fine.”

“Wait, what?” He doesn’t mean to say it, and his ears start ringing like a fire bell has gone off next to his head.

“What do you mean, ‘what’? That’s normal.” Ah, fuck. He’s fucked it. Alice is already starting to wiggle her way back under the covers, yanking the scratchy, embroidered duvet over her hips, frowning and babbling at him, “I mean, you don’t have to feel bad, or whatever that look on your face is. I just don’t. Not never, just not—with other people, I mean. I can do it fine by myself.”

She says it like it’s no big deal, but also like it’s a secret she’d slit his throat to keep.

He wouldn’t put it past her.

Never?” Penny’s tone shifts a half-measure down part-way through—a belated attempt at emphasizing that his incredulity isn’t aimed at her, absofuckinglutely not, but squarely at the men—people?—who’ve (literally) come before him. Well, maybe a little bit at her.

Alice is a scientist. She could take a problem and break it down into every component until she could reassemble it, but better this time, with her eyes closed and backwards all while dictating an instruction manual on the fly in Old High German.

If something wasn’t working, she could figure it out with a terrifying directness and accuracy.

Anyway, like, point being: If he had to bet his last Benjamin on who would be most adept at scientifically engineering their own explosive orgasms, he would’ve put every cent on Alice fucking Quinn.

"Not never, I literally just said—Goddamn it.” She lets out a little roar and winces, snatching up the nearest pillow.

Unfortunately, it’s the one half-tucked under his bent arm—the one attached to the hand that’s supporting his head as he watches the blush flooding across the bridge of her nose, out to the tips of her ears—and, like a tablecloth trick, his shoulder and skull drop like a rock. Alice pretends not to notice, stuffing it over her face and slamming her arms against her sides in the world’s tensest savasana.

It’s a tactical error on her part, anyhow; the pillow’s not big enough to hide the flush that’s spread down to the pale, barely-freckled skin between her breasts. Probably she can sense his eyes on her, because she makes another embarrassed, frustrated sound, and the next words out of her mouth aren’t totally audible but they sound an awful lot like, “Can you just shut up and forget I even said anything?”

I wasn’t talking, Penny thinks. But okay.

Given a moment without an audience, he takes on the awkward task of peeling off and knotting the condom and figuring out what to do with the leftover lube on his fingers without being too obvious about wiping them on her bedspread. He makes accidental eye contact with a miniature unicorn figurine watching him reproachfully from her bedside table. Squirming under the gaze of its paint-dotted pupils, he slips from the bed to sneak to the bathroom.

The second-best part of hooking up with someone new (or sometimes even the actual best part, depending on how the night goes) is the snooping. The intimacy of the way other people’s houses smell and their dusty, brass-framed family photos of people he would never meet. It was why he never minded tagging along when his mom couldn’t find a babysitter in time for a client’s open house.

There’s a little bottle of perfume oil tucked deep in the back of Alice’s medicine cabinet. Like a smack upside the head, the smell transports him back to the impossibly huge gardenias in his grandmother’s garden, and he has to concentrate extra hard to keep himself from accidentally fumbling it into her sink and plane-shifting to Key Largo.

Exploring Alice’s bedroom is like sneaking behind the Wizard of Oz’s velvet curtain. Taking in the framed magical animal prints interspersed with pop-punk gig posters, and the cracked spines of the Penguin books piled on the floor, and knowing that they were chosen by her, feels taboo. Maybe more than the sex itself—which was sort of illicit, and really fucking good, although at one point he could hear Coldwater thinking loudly—and bitchily—in the hallway.

Scratch that—the sex was great. Almost. Alice is beautiful and enthusiastic, and talented at sex in the way women with type A personalities and a splintered bone to pick with the world tend to be. When she reached back with a small, dexterous hand to stroke under his balls in concert with a perfectly-timed flick of her hips, he came so hard he pulled a glute.

But, see: It’s impossible for sex to be truly great unless it’s great for everyone. Fifteen minutes inside of her—tongue, fingers, cock—was enough to confirm that the anxiety that’s always squeezing her like a boa constrictor, hunching her shoulders inward and keeping her gaze locked on the floor, runs real fuckin’ deep. He could feel it in the way she shied away from letting him focus too long on only her, exploring her clit with the flat of his tongue. And in how, once she threw him back onto the mattress and climbed astride his hips, she calculated her angle and pace to chase the moans coming out of only his mouth, instead of hunting her own release like a hound after a fox.

Penny’s mouth goes dry and suddenly, more than anything in the world, he needs to find out what it sounds like when she comes. What her pleasure tastes like, licked clean from his own salty palm. He slowly slides into bed again, the way he used to when his little sister’s tomcat was curled up on his covers, then waits until she surfaces from her little embarrassment spiral. In the quiet of her room, he watches the rise and fall of her breaths, until her clenched fists eventually relax and she lets out a sigh.

The pillow thuds dully to the floor. “Sorry. I needed a minute.”

“That was at least three.”

She peers up at him defensively. Her tangled hair is splayed around her like a halo and her lips are still kiss-bitten; in the moment, she’s so beautiful that he would commit any crime if she just whispered the request in his ear.

Her face is softer without her glasses, too—or, at least, it has fewer harsh angles, but not none. A fond smile tugs at him, the one that keeps elbowing its way back out like an irrepressible shit-disturber every time he looks at her, no matter how hard he tries to tamp it down—because she’s pretty and, for fuck’s sake, he likes her.

“Anyway, I was thinking—” He takes a deep breath, and she visibly steels herself. “D’you like breakfast?”

It must not have been what she was expecting. Instead of telling him to go fuck himself, Alice splutters a laugh and breaks into a heart-skippingly radiant grin. “Who the fuck doesn’t like breakfast?”

It hits him like a rock between the eyes: he’s never really seen her smile before. Something like it, sure—diamond-like, glittering and hard. This isn’t that. This is goofy and soft, like a warm, pink puppy belly.

He can’t help it: He kisses the smile off of her lips and, thank fuck, she kisses him back, her tongue flitting against his teeth—and then they’re just beaming at each other like a couple of fucked-silly idiots. Under the blankets, his palm finds the soft dip of her stomach, and her foot cautiously strokes at the inner curve of his calf—and Penny thinks: Oh no—this girl.

She’s going to be trouble.

 


 

At a Waffle House outside of Miami, he broaches the topic over a spread of coffee, syrup-drenched waffles, smothered and covered hash browns, and a steaming pile of scrambled eggs, all jostling for space on a curved, white formica countertop. The grits on Penny’s side of the table are his alone, swimming in a too-bright yellow pool of butter. Across the booth, Alice keeps watch over a massive pile of bacon. Even when he reminds her that he doesn’t eat meat, she doesn’t relax for a second: “That’s what a bacon thief would say.”

They eat in silence except for the occasional whispered joke about Florida from Alice, who mostly keeps to her bacon, leaving the rest of the food—which is already enough to feed three people—for Penny to deal with. It’s been a long fucking time since he’s stepped foot in a Waffle House, so—it’s a good problem to have.

“So, is this too public a place to talk about it?”

“The orgasm thing?” she asks, loud enough to make a large, bald man wearing a greyed handlebar moustache and a t-shirt that says Truckin’ and Fuckin’ choke on his steak and eggs.

“Yeah. The ‘orgasm thing.’”

That stupid fucking smile sneaks out again, beaming from his face like a spotlight, and she smirks back. “It’s not a thing unless you make it a thing.”

“I get that.”

“And turning it into a challenge just so you can get a little red ribbon pinned to your shirt”—she pokes him in the chest—“is neither desirable nor helpful.”

“I get that, too.”

“And I’m especially not interested in being a,” she waggles her fingers, “little after-school project. I don’t need to be fixed. So, I’m not exactly sure what there even is to talk about.”

Penny takes a too-big-to-be-remotely-cool bite of hashbrown and watches her as he chews. She stares coolly back with the same hard set to her jaw, except now there’s no hint of the blush that pooled in her cheeks only half an hour ago, still laying naked together in the Cottage.

Then she turns to frown through her own reflection in the window, toward the rainbow of neatly-parked semis in the parking lot and the palm trees swaying in the late evening breeze beyond those. It gives him time to think of the right question—because, really, what was there to talk about?

He settles on: “Do you want to come during sex?”

Generously, she doesn’t laugh in his face. If he knew her worse, he’d assume she was picking out the exact words to eviscerate him with before dumping his grits on his lap. Instead, he’s pretty (though not entirely) sure the frown that flits across her face just means she’s treating the question like one worth thinking about.

“Yeah,” she says, popping a double-cooked slice of bacon into her mouth. “I guess I do.”

“Okay, cool.” Smooth, very smooth.

Another slice of bacon, another full forty-seven seconds of deep thinking, before she drags the back of her hand across her lips and says, “You wanna be my orgasm buddy?”

She might be fucking with him. A cat batting around a mouse before finally deciding to kill it. But his brain is still replaying her voice in his head from an hour ago, her nails like daggers in his shoulders, hissing like a predator—Come on, yes—fucking—Penny, yes—and so he’s probably a little bit too enthusiastic when he says: “Yeah, I fuckin’ do.”

“Cool.”

She holds out her hand, and they shake on it.

“Waffle House promises count for double, you know.”

“I bet they do.”

 


 

The next time they have sex (and, by fuck, he makes sure there’s a next time), he doesn’t bring it up. Instead, he says, “Need to taste you before I come.”—quick, breathless, whispered in her ear before he unlocks himself from her bucking hips, lifted high off the mattress as she fucks into him, and nips his way down her throat. It’s a card played just right: Keeping the focus on his pleasure, so that she can’t wig out and convince herself there’s any clock ticking on her own.

Just as quickly, she nods and pants, “Okay, yeah, fuck, okay,” and strokes at his shoulder, the back of his neck, pushing him downward as he noses at her collarbones, her sternum, between her hipbones. She’s smooth-shaven today; he wonders if it’s for his benefit. He hopes not.

He slips further down her body (hands gripping her hands, pinning them at her waist) and noses at the mound of her pubis. She smells like sex; musky, hot.

She makes a strangled noise and lifts her hips up, up, off bed again to try to press herself against his mouth but he presses her back down again. “I know for a fact you’re very good with your words, Alice Quinn.”

“Please,” she squirms under his hands. “Penny, come on—”

“Say please again.”

“Fuck—please.”

He sucks her clit into his mouth and drags his tongue over the throbbing bead of it, and she lets out a groan like she’s slipping from winter air into bath water.

Easing off, he circles her clit a few torturous times before sliding the flat of his tongue over her, trying to get a feel for what makes her buck and fuck herself harder up against his mouth. The whole time, she stays quiet. Doesn’t direct him where she wants him, doesn’t say right there or like that (or hell, not there or not like that, which would be equally welcome). Occasionally, she lets a startled sound loose, like he’s hit on the right spot or rhythm, but otherwise he fumbles in the dark.

Maybe she just needs concrete choices instead of freestyling. He gives her one more long swipe before he surfaces to ask, “Do you want me to fuck you with my fingers while I lick your clit?” and she says, “Fucking—I just—anything you want,” which is—well, it’s really fucking hot. But it’s also the only wrong answer to his question.

So he says instead, “Tell me what you want,” and she scrabbles at his shoulders and whines, “I want you to fuck me,” and so he does, slipping up her body to line himself up and stretch her open again, torturously slowly, until she’s fucking herself down on him out of desperation to be filled up all the way.

Because this is progress: This is Alice Quinn asking for what she wants, and fucking getting it.

And he’s here to give it to her—no fucking questions asked.

 


 

Later, in a Waffle House in Mesa set smack dab in a sea of black pavement that radiates with heat so vicious that the gold-lit horizon looks like it’s shivering and alive, Penny asks, “How do you usually do it when you’re alone?”

“Like, alone-alone?”

“I don’t know what not alone-alone would even mean. You a cam-girl, Quinn?”

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t know. Usually with a vibrator, sometimes with my hands.”

“You ever use a vibrator with,” he shrugs, “a friend?”

“No?”

“Why not?”

“Isn’t that, like—rude?”

“Absofuckinglutely not.” He points at her with his fork, a hashbrown still speared on the end of it. “Literally the fucking opposite of that.”

 


 

The vibrator is sky blue, a fancy molded silicone thing that looks more like an abstract sculpture than a sex toy. She flips it around and offers it to him like a hammer. Businesslike.

“Nah—that’s all you, babe,” he says with a smirk, sitting back to dig the heels of his hands into her bedspread.

“Huh?”

“What I’m saying is . . .” Chewing on his bottom lip, he takes a second to figure out what, actually, he’s trying to say. “You know where to hit the spot.”

Alice stares at him like he’s forgotten how to do basic math. “This is an external vibrator.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Oh. Okay.” Taking it back, she turns it over in her hands like a puzzle. “But the whole point is for you to make me come, right?”

“Is it?”

“You’ve lost me.”

“I mean, as far as I see it? The end goal is for you to come during sex. If a toy will get you there, well—I don’t know about you, but I see that as a win.”

“So you want me to use it while you fuck me?”

“We’ll get there. But maybe”—he rubs a hand over his crotch, making his cock jump under his jeans—“the first stop on that subway line is for you to get a little bit more comfortable with an audience.”

She raises an arched eyebrow and lifts the vibrator. “You want a show, Adiyodi?”

Penny barks a laugh. “I mean, yeah, always. But don’t worry, I’ll give you one back.”

He’s already pulling his shirt off, and the tension in her spine eases the tiniest bit—she melts the rest of the way when he covers her body with his own, letting just the right amount of weight from his hips press against her, so she—

“Goddamnit,” she growls, rising to meet him and capturing his mouth in a kiss.

They roll around for a bit, making out and rutting against each other like horny teenagers on a musty basement couch. Penny works her clothing off piece by piece, slipping her blouse over her head and shimmying her out of her skirt. She’s wearing a matching lavender set, lace pulling sheer over the swell of her breasts in a way that makes him feel half-feral.

Dragging his teeth against her throat, he slips his thumb over the little mound of her clit, stroking her through her thong. She jolts, her hand flying up to grip his wrist so she can press into his touch. A little while later, once she’s making mewling noises into his mouth and fucking herself against his hand, she tries to reach out for his cock—which is straining through his briefs in such an openly enthusiastic way that he really feels like a fucking teenager again.

He slips out of her grasp and leaves her panting against the headboard, stretching his body sideways across the foot of the bed with his head propped up on one hand. When she tilts her head curiously, he grabs her right foot—the closest thing he can reach—and plants a quick kiss to the bottom of her big toe.

“Alice,” says Penny, very seriously.

“Yeah?”

“Spread your legs and make yourself come for me.”

A tiny noise escapes her mouth and she chews her lip, shooting him a grin to make clear that it’s a good noise. Sliding her panties to the side to give him a proper view, she complies.

Alice Quinn’s pussy is a Goddamn wonder to behold. She’s already wet, a pearl of liquid slipping from the bottom of her slit and leaving a pretty stream along the edge of her ass cheek. The vibrator stays quiet for the moment, tossed aside next to her on the bed, as Alice instead swipes her middle finger between her folds to slick it up before sliding it over the hood of her clit.

“You do like a show, huh?” Alice closes her eyes, leaning back against the pillows.

Penny glances down at his cock, already ninety-percent of the way toward painfully hard. He palms himself dry, gaze locking back on the deft movements of her hand. “It’s a good show. I wish it was on every afternoon. Like Passions.”

There’s the tiniest pause in the pattern of her fingers, as she asks: “How the fuck do you know what Passions is?”

“I spent a lot of summers at my Grandma’s place.”

“Jesus, of course you did.” Alice snorts a laugh. Her words are subconsciously paced between the slow circles she’s making around her clit—this is delicious, vital information, and he wonders if she even knows she’s handing it to him on a silver platter right now.

Alice Quinn: Likes to start with indirect stimulation. Good to fucking know.

And then her fingers slip from her clit and she curls them, pressing past her own entrance, and Penny’s cock jumps in his hand. He barely manages to bite back: “Jesus motherfucking—”

 


 

It’s four p.m. in a Waffle House in Homestead, Florida. Outside, the rain sizzles into motor-oil tinged steam, crackling through the everglades petrichor. She’s glowing and slightly frizzy in the humidity, methodically demolishing a plate of pancakes.

It’s been less than half an hour since she growled his name like a dirty word and he came in his own hand, his tongue pressed against the salty curve of her calf, and it still takes everything he has not to launch himself across the booth to kiss the artificially-flavored syrup off of her lips.

“Did you like that?” she asks lightly, stabbing a sausage and dragging it through the swimming pool of syrup on her plate.

“Yeah, I fucking did.”

It’s such an understatement that it borders on untruthful. If just the look of Alice Quinn loose and freshly-fucked could make him commit crimes, the sound of the broken breath that ripped its way out of her throat as she came—clenching hard around his fingers, curving into her soft heat—would make him face the gallows with a smile on his face.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Cycling through his Proto-Greek conjugation homework, Penny shifts his seat as subtly as possible to avoid flagging the fact that he’s getting painfully hard all over again. To Alice or their very nice middle-aged waitress who’s just trying to do her job whilst understandably engaging as little as possible with the two twenty-somethings slumped in her section still reeking of sex.

He adds, “Did you?”

“Are you serious? I came so hard I thought I broke your fingers.”

“Same.” Penny grins at her like a secret, then offers a quick show of jazz hands across the table. “You didn’t, though. For the record. Guess I don’t get to sick-note my way out of Van der Weghe’s midterm. ”

“You’re welcome, or I’m sorry.”

“Six of one. Almost rather take the broken fingers.”

She breaks into a soft laugh. Generously, again, because she was the only one out of any of them that could run through the seventeen discrete steps required to cast Gerhard’s Mote Array without making bystander classmates nervous about their personal safety. She claims one of his hands and draws a line down the center of his palm with a delicate, ink-stained thumb. Lightning crackles up his arm, and he lets himself lean into her touch; he could swear she leans in, too.

“I like this.”

“Me too.”

“Whatever this is,” she hedges.

“Yeah,” he agrees.

“And I guess what I’m trying to say is thank you. For being—” A series of expressions cross her face, like a flipbook of Rorschach blotches. “So cool about it.”

He only raises an inquiring eyebrow, because speaking might break whatever spell has Alice Quinn offering physical affection in public, to him, as easily as it’s nothing.

“I mean, for making it low-pressure and actually fun. Not to sound like an asshole or like I’m lumping you in with every other dude, but, I mean, most guys seem to only care about getting a girl off so they can say they did it.”

“No, it’s okay. I get it.”

“Yeah?” she says, like she didn’t expect him to.

“Yeah—and it’s total bullshit. One day someone’s gonna figure out how to fix that glitch in our software.”

“The fragile masculinity thing?”

“Exactly.”

She snorts a laugh. “And then it’ll be game over.”

“It’ll all snowball from there. The matriarchy will rule the world, and before you know it, it’ll be flying cars and world peace.”

“Here’s to that.” Alice knocks her styrofoam cup of Diet Coke against his sweet tea.

Looking at her across the table, as a blush pinkens the tip of her nose and she keeps frowning intently at his heart line, the entire universe feels confined to the edges of their booth.

Penny doesn’t know how any of this is going to go, but if they still know each other in a year, or five years, or ten, and if she ever asks him—this is the moment that he’ll be able to point to, frozen in time like a pinned butterfly, as the moment he first realized he might be in love with her.

Eventually, still avoiding his eyes, she says, “Once I decided to stop faking it in bed, they all just turned—shitty, basically. It’s like it was never enough that I was a good lay. Even if the guy was just jackhammering away while rubbing a hole in my right labia, even if I fucked him until he screamed my name, I still felt like I was supposed to make him feel like a golden sex god.”

A blue-haired snowbird in a pink tracksuit eavesdropping in the booth beside them glances between them, waiting for his reaction. Meeting her eyes, Alice shoots her a glittering-cold smile before recapturing her train of thought.

“Even the ones who are pretty good, who actually try—” She shakes her head. “Ten, fifteen minutes will go by, and I’ll think I’m getting close, but then that bored, impatient look inevitably starts to creep across their face—you know the one—and, blam. I get knocked off course and there’s no salvaging it. It’s like I’m standing right on the threshold, and someone’s slammed the door shut on my fingers.”

“Those guys are bullshit. I fucking mean it, Alice—also, fifteen minutes? That’s not even—”

“No, I know, I know.” She cuts him off, waving a hand. Not unkindly, just—been there, psychoanalyzed it through years of therapy, bought the T-shirt. “They suck shit and can eat me. But at the end of the day, taxonomically identifying the exact nature of their bullshit and knowing it has nothing to do with me never really fixed it, or made sex any less of a . . .” She mimics the sound of a deflating balloon.

Their neighbor nods pointedly to her dining companion, a squat man in a fedora wearing chinos. Around his open mouthful of eggs, he grumbles: Whaddaya want from me?

“So knowing they’re assholes doesn’t fix the problem,” Penny ventures. He desperately wants to ask whether Coldwater forms part of that douche-canoe cohort, but also would rather stab himself in the eye than know the finer details of Coldwater’s performance in bed. Instead he adds, stupidly, “Makes sense.”

“Exactly. So, I guess I take back what I said before. Thanks for taking on this thankless project.”

It’s impossible to conceptualize Alice’s frame of reference if she thinks that getting to hear the tiny, exquisite gasp of shattered breath that skipped from her pink, spit-wet lips—as he just barely pressed the head of his cock into her and felt the fluttered clench-unclench as she worked through the stretch of it all—counts as fucking thankless.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath: Proto-Greek. Licking the floor of a truck-stop bathroom. Quentin Coldwater mentally humming Taylor Swift during exams.

But her thumb is still rubbing circles in his palm, so the best he can do is just to wait until he’s pretty sure that he can at least speak without his voice cracking, then point out, “I thought we just established the bullshit belongs to those chucklefucks? And you’re not a project.”

“I kind of am,” she reasons. “This whole orgasm buddy experiment feels like I’m wobbling on training wheels while everybody else is fucking—fucking off-road BMX-ing.”

He wants to vociferously assure her that he couldn’t give a solitary fuck about the sex everyone else is having, but wimps out at the last second and makes the hairpin turn toward the less risky road instead, half-joking: “Well, we both thought you nearly broke my fingers off today, so if we’re talking extreme sports, then—”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I know,” he confirms.

At long last, the intensity of the moment passes. As if realizing at his mention just how long she’s been gripping his hand, she lets go to wipe at a bead of humidity-sweat that’s threatening to make a break for it over the ridge of her eyebrow despite the vicious air conditioning in here, then worries at the edge of her sleeve. Back in the safe space of that classic Alice Quinn Defense Mechanism Playbook thing, the one where she stares intently at everything else in a twenty-yard proximity except for him.

“Okay, last thing and then we can agree to never talk about this ever again. Can I just say something out loud, so I can just, like—say it? Without you feeling like you need to respond?” Her neat fingernails rattle like a gatling gun against the tabletop. “Or, like, actually—maybe just don’t respond at all? Would that be okay?”

“Yeah,” Penny says.

“Great,” she says flatly, chewing on her bottom lip. She takes an impossibly long sip of her Coke, then grips the styrofoam within an inch of its life, explaining, “People don’t usually let me go at my own pace. For sex—for anything, so.”

The naked truth of that statement is so comically obvious in retrospect that he nearly feels ill.

The first time he saw Alice Quinn she was cold-called on the first day of fucking magic school. While the rest of them were still in a state of paralyzed wonder and just trying to pretend they had any idea what the everloving fuck was going on, she was at the front of the class doing real-ass, beautiful magic, looking like she’d rather be dead.

“I don’t mean to offer the world’s most pedestrian, armchair hobbyist Jungian examination of my own, like, psychic bullshit, but. I have a really fucking hard time with feeling like I’m in the way. Taking up any space, or being a problem, or asking anyone to put any energy into—” Stumbling over her words, she pauses to re-center herself. When she looks back up at him, her eyes burn bright: “My bullshit is nobody’s responsibility but my own.”

Well. He would beg to fucking differ, but he’s willing to park that issue for later.

Under the table, he reaches out to brush their legs together and her foot curls behind his ankle in reply.

 


 

Alice uses a vibrator on her clit while she lets him fuck her slow and teasing with an orange dildo as thick as her wrist, and when she comes clenching and bucking around it he’s pretty sure he sees God. Afterward, they bicker over the last bite of hashbrowns in middle-of-nowhere Ohio that he only chose as a joke (he swears).

Alice drags her tongue along his bottom teeth and then grips his hair as she shoves him toward her pussy and rides his face so hard, her other hand clamped over her mouth and barely muffling her curses interspersed with growled instructions, that he can barely move his tongue, can only sit still while she rubs and fucks herself against his flat tongue until she comes with a frantic jerk, rolling herself—soaking and frantic—against his mouth as she wrings every last drop out of her orgasm. Later, he runs an informal thesis defence to Alice's skeptical (but barely holding back laughter) one-man tribunal on how the best animated kids movie of all time is actually The Iron Giant and he is willing to die on that hill, thank you very much.

Alice rides him with her nails dug deep into his back and groans his name out loud for the first time. That evening, he has a hard time keeping track of what she's saying about the finer points of Olympic horse-jumping because he keeps replaying the sound of it in his head, over and over again; the harsh softness of it, and the way it felt, shaped by her hot breath against his ear.

 


 

Things that he didn’t expect to happen this week: Getting a solid B+ on van der Weghe’s midterm. Alice, cornering him outside of the library and asking if he wanted to go for a drink. And Alice, taking him out for said drink, and then a couple more, before suddenly flagging down the bartender to settle up and whispering in his ear, “Can we get out of here? Your place?”

There’s a strange urgency to it. The second they travel into his cramped room, she doesn’t waste a second pulling off his clothes, like she’s tearing into him, starving. Shirt yanked off, pants pulled down; her fingers wrapping around him—“Fuck,” he groans into her hair.

A second later, it makes sense. “God, you’re so—” he mumbles against her neck, slipping his middle finger between her folds and groaning out loud again, this time at how fucking impossibly wet she is.

“I almost dragged you into the bathroom.”

“You could’ve.”

“That place was a biohazard.”

"I would've risked it."

"Trust me, it wouldn't have been worth the superbug."

Sitting on the floor with his back against her bed, she rides him hard with one hand wrapped lightly around his throat and the other hot on his cheek, placed just right so that he can suck her thumb into his mouth and rub the flat of his tongue against its pad, showing her exactly how he’d punish her clit if she chose to grant him the privilege.

She won’t be able to wear a skirt tomorrow—not unless she wants the world to see the bruises his hipbones have claimed on the backs of her thighs—and when she whispers that he’s not allowed to come inside of her until he asks prettily enough, and her words make him immediately come with an indecent yelp, he relishes the punishment.

A nanosecond after he comes, she commands him onto his back on the mattress and climbs astride his face, legs spread wide as the Sea, ordering him to sink his tongue into her; the vibrator pressed against her clit tickles his nose, and it takes less than two minutes before she’s gasping and flooding his mouth, collapsing forward onto her hands.

She rubs herself once more against his tongue, then lets him breathe again, scootching herself downward to lay alongside with one leg hitched up across his hips; every soft, sweaty inch of her touching him.

"That was so nice." Her orgasm must be colliding with booze because her eyes are already getting heavy-lidded; Alice nestles into the warmth of his chest. "Thank you for that."

"Literally any time. Seriously."

"Careful," she murmurs, "you feed a stray cat and then it starts showing up on your doorstep every day."

"I like cats."

"Oh yeah?"

"I used to have one. A black and white tuxedo. His name was Carl. He had a little white mustache under his nose."

"Carl?"

"Yep."

"Who named him Carl?"

"I can't remember, must've been one of my sisters. He just showed up one day and after that it was just, oh, there's Carl."

She laughs softly, and the vibrations in her chest tingle against his skin. "Carl," she repeats quietly, like she just wants to feel it in her mouth.

"He was great. Killed all the mice and spiders. A killing machine."

"Killer Carl."

"He lived to eighteen and was the baddest ass right up until he died."

"So that's where you learned it."

"Oh yeah. It was all Carl. Taught me everything I know."

"About being a bad-ass?"

"Exactly."

"Heh."

"Did you ever have pets growing up?" he asks. For a long stretch, there's no response—just the steady sound of her breathing. "Alice?"

But she's fast asleep. He stays as still as possible until he's certain she won't stir, then lifts his head to take in the fact that Alice Quinn is asleep in his bed, her cheek smashed up against his pec and the tiniest bit of drool wetting his skin. It doesn't feel real, but at the same time he's certain he can feel every nerve ending in his entire body. Panic sets in, briefly; should he wake her up? She probably didn't mean to fall asleep. Usually it's fuck, grab a bite, leave, or fuck and then leave, but it's never—sleeping over hasn't ever been part of the deal.

He'll just—it's fine. They can lay here for a little while, he'll rest his eyes, and then he'll 'accidentally' move around and wake her up in like five minutes. It's a perfect plan.

He hazards craning his neck down one more time to press a kiss to the top of her head, stealing another long lungful of the smell of her peach shampoo, then lets his head fall back on the pillow.

Five minutes. Rest his eyes. Let her get a few more minutes of sleep. Then he'll wake her up.

 


 

"Penny?"

It’s Alice, peering at him six inches away in the dark.

"Hey. Sorry, it's so late—God, it's four in the morning." She yawns. "I'll get out of your hair."

"You don't—" Penny takes a deep breath. "If you want to sleep here, you can."

"Thanks," Alice says, tone cryptic. "But I'm probably not going to be able to fall back asleep before class."

"Oh, okay." He'd slap an angry mountain lion just to get fifteen more minutes of sleep, but he also knows an opportunity to shoot his shot when he sees it. So instead he asks, "You hungry?"

She considers it. "I could eat."

 


 

A Waffle House at three-thirty a.m. (CST, thank you) is a different plane of existence. Imagine that reality has been kicked off kilter and is now a wobbling top, trying to keep itself upright or else spin into disaster. And then, make everyone drunk.

At least they fit in fairly well without having to tame their sex-nap hair.

His Jacksonville Jaguars hoodie is so comically big on her that she keeps having to bunch the sleeves up to her elbows just to keep them from getting soaked in butter. Over a spread that now includes two bowls of grits—because Alice finally, eyerollingly, admitted that, fine, OK actually, they are fucking delicious, whatever—he’s trying to explain what an audible is while she (only semi-jokingly) threatens to walk herself home.

“That’s a—” He pulls it up in Google Maps, because there’s nothing Alice loves more than getting yes, and-ed. “Ninety-seven hour walk. Just for the record.”

“Child’s play.”

“You’d miss class.”

She sighs, throwing her hands up and laughing. “Well, fuck. You’ve got me there.”

A drunk girl passes by on her way to the bathroom and plants her hands at the edge of their table. "Did you know—" she begins, swallowing back what Penny is pretty sure was a mouthful of vomit, before continuing, point-waving a finger at Alice, "that she is so pretty."

"Yeah," Penny says, smiling despite himself. "She is."

"Like, so pretty. Look at you!" She turns her attention to an already-squirming Alice, who looks like she would rather fall through the floor, and continue all the way through the Earth's crust, than continue this interaction. "You gotta, like—" she makes a gesture that's somewhere between a Beyoncé dance move and a fist pump, "lock it down, dude. Look! At! Her!"

"She's out of my league," he says kindly, but with finality, hoping it's enough to send her on her way so the blood can return to Alice's face. He steals the briefest glance toward her and a jolt runs through him as he realizes that she's not staring at the girl—but instead squarely at him, mouth slightly parted like she's ready to say something but it's caught in her throat.

"Well, you're frickin' hot too, but good luck with all that, dude."

She stumbles away, and Penny lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Alice still hasn't said anything, and that's what finally makes him start to squirm in his seat—it takes less than ten seconds before he has to break the silence with a joke or else he'll suffocate. "Well, look at us. A couple of hotties."

"I'm not out of your league," Alice says, very deliberately.

"Oh, that wasn't—I didn't mean anything by it, you don't have to—" make me feel better, he thinks, but instead he says, stupidly, "She might be wasted, but she's right. You're really, really pretty, Alice."

Pink floods Alice's cheeks, and she dips her head a little, clearing her throat. "You too."

A tingle spreads through his veins. Never in his life has he ever failed to keep the banter going with a quick retort—but this time he comes up empty. Eventually he says, lamely, "Nobody's ever called me pretty before," punctuated with a quick, uncertain smile, and digs back into his waffle so he doesn't have to come up with any more words for a while.

 


 

A few weeks later, they’re fucking in his room after class. It’s easy, familiar.

He has to haul ass across campus for a lunch-and-learn on astral projection he’s been voluntold into attending by Fogg in about half an hour and so, while it’s not quite hurried, there’s nothing delicate or formal about it.

Her wool skirt is pushed up over her hips and her tights are tangled at her ankles, and he’s vaguely aware that he looks like he’s been electrocuted from the way she gripped his hair while he licked her out from behind, tongue and thumb rolling over her clit—each of her groans answered by his own, rumbling up from his chest and back into her body, so that she bucked and moaned again, a perfect infinite feedback loop, until she finally gasped and let go of her stinging grip and ordered, “Stop, I need you to—fuck me—I need your—”

And she knows he’s a good boy who’s never needed to be told twice.

Now, she’s bent over the scarred, Brakebills standard-issue desk that he’s never once sat at, palms splayed. Body covering hers, he fucks up into her, one hand wrapped gently around her jaw to hold her aloft, off of the desk’s drink-ring stained surface, as she twists around to capture his mouth and mutter curses into it.

It’s the middle of a school day. Probably laughter and footsteps are radiating through the hallways, and confidently stupid thoughts are being jettisoned out into their shared airspace at deafening levels. But none of that matters.

Right now, there is only her. And the velvet slick of her squeezing around him, keeping his easy pace; and her small hand, reaching back to urge his hips to fuck her harder, harder, while the other rolls a travel-sized vibrator over her hood; and the smell of her peachy-musky shampoo that’s long-since conditioned his brain to redirect blood flow to his cock.

And then, when he least expects it—

—and maybe that’s the magic of it, the missing puzzle piece, the key to the cipher—

—she hisses, “Fuck, I’m, oh God.”

The rest is cut off by a shout. Mouth leaving his, her head drops and her hand flies to his hip again, holding him still as she takes control and rides out her orgasm, fucking herself backward on his cock and forward against the vibrator.

His body memorizes the way the pleasure radiates outward from the flare of heat in her pussy, coursing its way through her muscles as her thighs begin to shake against his and her ass clenches rhythmically against his groin.

There’s no use fighting it. Within seconds, he’s coming, too. Forehead pressed against the nape of her neck, it hits him like a fastball in the gut and he gasps in relief and surprise, like he’s taking his first greedy breath of air after being stuck under a sea of ice.

She’s still fucking herself on him and it’s making the head of his oversensitive dick feel like a fucking plasma sphere and he grips her hips still, begging, “Alice, Alice, Jesus Christ.”

“I know,” she says on a rattly exhale, “I just—did you—I finally—” even though that’s not what he meant, but also—oh yeah, wow. Wow. She finally. She really fucking did. That’s cool, very cool, that’s—

“Awesome, yeah,” he agrees, dumbly, before kissing her, and then feeling weird about kissing her right in that moment. Is he allowed to kiss her outside of sex? He tries to think of something cool to say but his brain has put up a ‘Back in 5 minutes!’ sign and left the building. He settles on, “That was—you’re really fucking hot.”

Fuck it. He’s pretty sure he’s allowed; or at least, he’s willing to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission on this one. In their shared post-orgasm endorphin haze, he seizes the opportunity to kiss her again, for real. For real-for real. One hand on her cheek, the other pulling her body—still heaving like a million-dollar race horse—tight against his chest.

He kisses the Goddamn hell out of her. And for once, he doesn’t bother trying to hide just how fucking bad he’s down.

“Shut up,” she mumbles into his mouth, a smile in her voice.

They stay glued together for a while, panting loudly in a shared post-orgasm liminal space, before she finally turns her head and blinks at him. “Don’t you have to go to a thing?”

“No,” he lies.

“You should go,” she says, giving him a conciliatory pat on the flank. “Don’t get in trouble on my account.” If she only knew the half of the trouble he was willing to get into on her account.

“Okay, fine, you’re right.”

Slipping out of her again, for the time being—maybe for good—feels like shutting a door and locking it.

They get themselves decent-ish again in comfortable silence. There’s no time for a shower, and he only hopes that a quick splash of water before he rushes out will save him from really obviously smelling like pussy while everyone else is trying to eat shitty catered salad and learn about the finer points of coordinating the circumstances for clearer astral mind projection.

Alice escorts him across campus and his pulse skips when she reaches out to tangle their fingers together as they walk. It’s springtime in Brakebills’ lagging corner of the space time continuum, and it’s hard to tell if the burn in his cheeks is really only just from the heat of the sun peaking in its arc across the cloudless sky.

By the time they’re halfway across the Sea, his brain finally comes back from its smoke break and he says, “You know, if I thought I was worried about my fingers before—”

“I am going to murder you,” Alice snaps, warmly.

The walk takes an eternity and it only takes a millisecond, but she delivers him safely. Giving his hand a squeeze, she says, “See you in a bit.”

Even though there’s a full stop at the end, it feels more like a question. He skips up the first few stone steps, up toward the heavy oak front doors of the Psychokinesis building, then spins on his heels to look at her again; she’s still there, watching him go, without a drop of makeup on and dressed in a plain t-shirt dress, practically glittering in the sun. Ignoring the sweat coating his palms, he clears his throat and asks, “Hey—you wanna hang later?”

“Yeah.” A grin breaks across her face, like he almost forgot something but caught it at the last second. “I’m starving. You hungry?”

“Famished. But I’ll skip the free lunch in exchange for your company.” It’s a bad line and he flushes, pausing. “Same place, different place?”

“I was thinking Louisiana this time.”

“Love that for us.”

“Well then,” she says, venturing up the steps and rising on her toes to kiss him, “I guess it’s a date.”