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Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Issue 67: The First Taste



Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2017 Shousetsu Bang*Bang



Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the contributors and editors, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy or visit our website at http://shousetsubangbang.com. Thank you for your support.




Shousetsu Bang*Bang issue 67 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://shousetsubangbang.com.

TABLE OF CONTENTS



been missing this, by A.S. Mara

Meat Cute, by loveonthefarm

Funeral Potatoes, by shukyou

Summer Heat, by Tamari Erin

illustrated by beili

Constantine’s red letter day, by Hyakunichisou 13

Cream Puff, by TK Hoshikuzu

Honest in Our Hunger, by T.F. Grognon



Front cover by Iron Eater

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/wiki/index.php?title=Issue_67







been missing this

by A.S. Mara



“Well?” Irene asked, eyes bright.

Shaz hesitated, and shot another glance across the room to where the subject of their discussion sat: Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome was chatting with their host, hands moving animatedly. When he looked back to Irene, she was wearing a wide, expectant smile. He sighed. “All right,” he finally admitted, “he’s cute.”

Yes.” Irene made a discreet fist pump. “I knew he’d be your type. I knew it.

“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled into his drink, already regretting his confession.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Go over there and talk.”

“We’ve already talked, Irene. You introduced us earlier, remember?”

She frowned. “That was ‘saying hello.’ I’m telling you to go talk. Work your charm. Do your magic.”

“I told you, I’m really not feeling it.”

“Buddy, I saw the way he looked at you earlier. You’ve got a chance with him, don’t let it go to waste.”

Shaz sighed. “Look, I’m just not interested in hooking up right now, alright?”

Irene crossed her arms, her expression tightening abruptly. “Shaz, it’s been nearly a year. How much longer are you going to let that dickhead ex of yours ruin your life?”

“He did not ruin my life,” Shaz insisted, glaring at her. “My life is fine. I have a job, I gym daily, I’m seeing my sister next weekend, I have friends. I’ve got it covered.”

“You haven’t gone on a date in nearly a year. You haven’t gotten laid.

“Excuse you–”

“And I know it, because the last time we went drinking, you moped about it all night. I know you’re unhappy about it, Shaz, even if you want to pretend like you aren’t.”

Shaz glared at his drink, feeling the irritation boil underneath his skin. It was his life, goddamn it. Why couldn’t she leave him alone? Why couldn’t his sister? Fuck it all, what was wrong with taking a year off from dating? So what if he wanted some time and space to himself? What did it matter if he wanted a change of scenery?

…And why the hell did he go and open that can of worms over a few shots? To Irene of all people, the one person who was certain to take his word for it and harass him non-stop. He was such an idiot.

“Shaz…”

“Fine.” He downed his drink in one go, barely even feeling it, and set his glass down on the nearest flat surface. “Fine,” he said again, as he met her startled gaze, before marching off.

He shouldered through the crowd dancing in the centre of the room, not letting himself think twice about it. Along the way, he grabbed another drink, letting the taste burn his throat as it went down, hoping for liquid courage. Once he reached the couch, he stopped right in front of the two figures, and waited for a lull in their conversation.

“Hey, guys,” he said by way of greeting. “Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted a quick chat with Adam, if that’s okay?”

The two of them looked up at him in surprise. “Uh,” Rosa began, before their gaze flicked to some spot behind Shaz. “Oh,” they said instead, and continued in a light, entirely fake voice, “of course. I just remembered I had to…talk with someone else. Bye, Adam. Catch you later maybe.”

“Right,” Adam said, his expression having gone from excited to confused, as Rosa made their escape. He gave Shaz a weak, awkward little smile. “So…what’s up?”

Shaz opened his mouth just as his liquid courage deserted him. To buy time, he dropped into the now vacant seat next to Adam, and made himself comfortable. After a beat, he dropped an elbow onto the back of the chair and tipped his head against his hand, a position he knew emphasised one of his few assets nicely. Sure enough, Adam’s gaze flicked to his biceps, but his expression didn’t change. Shaz swallowed the flash of disappointment and said, in his best casual voice, “We didn’t actually get to chat much earlier. I was hoping we could fix that.”

Luckily, Adam went along easily enough. “Sure. Irene said you’re a personal trainer?”

“Yeah, at Fikri’s. I’m good at it too. Ask any of my clients.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Well, we’re actually having a promotion on memberships at the moment. You interested? If you drop by, I could show you around.”

“Uh.” Adam glanced away, rubbing at his arm. “That’s all right. I’m not much of a gym person.”

Shit. “Well, drop by anyway.”

That earned him a soft, awkward laugh, Adam’s gaze flicking away again.

Shit. “You’re a radiographer, right?”

“Yeah, at Besi Hospital.”

“Nice,” he said. “X-ray department, right? Do you enjoy it?”

“It’s all right.” Adam shrugged. “The people are nice enough. The cases are interesting. It pays rent.”

“Yeah,” Shaz replied.

Silence descended.

Shaz cast his gaze over the room, scrambling desperately for another topic. Over in one corner, he spotted Irene making vague, discreet gestures at him. He shot her a confused look, shaking his head slightly, but that only seemed to make her more determined to get her message across, her arms moving wildly, until she accidentally elbowed the woman next to her.

“So,” Adam said. Shaz tore his attention away from where Irene was hastily apologising, and back to Adam, who was fidgeting with his cup, not quite meeting his gaze. “Fun party, huh?”

Shaz felt like a dick. “I’m sorry,” he said, sincerely. “I used to be a lot better at this.”

“At what?”

“Making small talk. Socialising. Being human.”

The corners of his mouth twitched. “I think you’re exaggerating a little.”

“Trust me. I used to be the life of parties.”

“Huh.” Now those lips curled in the faintest hints of a smile. “Now I know you’re exaggerating.”

“Wow, harsh.” When that earned him a chuckle, Shaz relaxed slightly. “Really though. Feel free to kick me off this couch any time.”

“And then what? Sit here by myself?” Adam shrugged. “No thanks.”

“I could find Rosa. You two looked like you were having a great time before I barged in.”

“Did we? We were just trading recipes.”

“Recipes?”

“Yeah,” he said, and paused. “Look, have you had any of the pandan cake?”

Shaz thought about it. “I haven’t, actually. Is it good?”

“Good?” Adam gave him a scandalised look. “It’s delicious. Right after the first bite, I thought to myself, ‘holy shit, I need to know how to make this.”

He laughed. “So you asked Rosa for the recipe?”

“I tried, but it’s a family secret apparently.” Adam sighed. “I was going through my own stuff to see if they’d be willing to trade for it.”

Shaz grinned. “You bake, then?”

He shrugged. “A little. I like cooking too. It’s good for stress relief.”

“Really?”

“Nope,” Adam said, popping the end of the word. “Gives me even more stress than my job.”

Shaz laughed. “Then why do it?”

“I guess…because I enjoy it? I like making food, and I like feeding people.”

What a coincidence, I like eating, his brain suggested. Shaz paused, because that sounded a tad too eager for his liking. “I like eating,” he said anyway, because apparently his brain-to-mouth filter had rusted sometime during the last twelve months, and he was dead set on ruining this conversation.

But Adam’s entire expression lit up, and he smiled, wide and sincere. “Want me to cook for you sometime?”

Shaz blinked. “Hell yes.”

“Give me your number,” he suggested, digging out his mobile and passing it over.

Shaz took it, dutifully tapped in his contact details, and passed it back. He watched as Adam keyed in a name, presumably, the smile still lingering on his lips, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly, his curly black hair falling just above his eyebrows. Shaz felt it, the inkling of something in his chest as Adam met his gaze once more, and grinned.

~~~

“So then he said, ‘maybe you should have used more ketchup.'”

No.”

“Yes,” Adam growled, leaning heavily against him. “And then–then he said, ‘Or use less chiles.'”

“The nerve.”

“Right? Come into my house, raid my leftovers…”

“Ungrateful ass,” Shaz said, fumbling with his keys. He shifted more of his weight into Adam, and finally managed to jam the right key into the lock. They stumbled together into his apartment, tripping over each other’s feet. Shaz toed off his shoes and leaned against the wall, trying to reorient himself; Adam slipped into his arms, his hands finding Shaz’s waist, his mouth slotting against Shaz’s own.

It felt so good to be kissing again: the soft give of another’s lips against his own, the delightful pressure of another’s hands wrapped over his hips, the heady intimacy of being so close to another person. Shaz tipped his head back, coaxing Adam’s mouth open with his tongue. Adam followed easily, an eager noise in his throat, and his hands began to wander, brushing across his chest, his abdomen, before dropping lower, a hint of pressure over his crotch. Shaz sucked in a quick breath, the touch sparking his nerves.

Suddenly, Adam pulled back. “I’m going to make you an omelette.”

Shaz blinked. “What?”

“Where’s your kitchen?”

“You want to make it now?

But Adam had already began stumbling down the hallway. “What do you have in your fridge?”

“Whoa.” Shaz caught up, tugged him gently by the arm until Adam faced him once more. “You can barely walk straight. You sure cooking now is a good idea?”

Adam cocked his head to one side, swaying slightly on his feet. Shaz watched him think, didn’t bother fighting back the smile he felt uncurling in his own expression.

“Okay,” Adam conceded. “Tomorrow.”

“Okay,” he said, and when Adam leaned in again, Shaz met him halfway. Adam’s hands were roaming eagerly now, sliding up and down his sides, across his stomach. Shaz reached up for Adam’s nape and urged him closer, until Adam’s weight was pressing him into the wall–but that still wasn’t close enough. A huff of irritation escaped his throat; Adam responded by shifting one leg between Shaz’s thighs, making him gasp with relief. Shaz dropped his head back, grinding down eagerly. It had been so long.

Adam pulled back, their lips brushing on every word as he asked, “Let’s go to bed?”

Shaz couldn’t agree fast enough.

They undressed each other as they went. Shaz pushed Adam’s jacket off of his shoulders. Adam tossed his shirt to one side. They fought to unbuckle each other’s belts first, and fell into bed still half-dressed, a mess of limbs caught by the old, squeaky mattress. Adam bent down to kiss him once more, long, heavy kisses, his hands still wandering all over Shaz’s body.

They made out like that for a while, with the hint of Adam’s weight over him, and Shaz’s body responded like it was starving. Every wandering touch fed heat to his blood; every tiny noise Adam made sent a fresh wave of desire through him, filling him up, until he was clutching desperately at Adam’s shoulders.

When Shaz turned away for breath, Adam ducked down to mouth at his throat instead, making him gasp. Shaz dropped one hand to Adam’s hip, nudged at his leg until Adam shifted in, slotting one knee between Shaz’s thighs. Shaz ground down against him, sighing, and started slightly when Adam laughed into his ear.

He froze. “What?” Shaz asked.

“Nothing,” Adam replied hurriedly, nuzzling his ear. The gesture surprised him, and he leaned into the touch, irritation fading as quickly as it came. “I’m just. Glad, I guess.”

“About what?”

“That I’m not the only one eager for this,” Adam said, and reached down to cup Shaz through his jeans.

His whole body arched into the touch, and Shaz cursed.

Adam palmed him steadily, a solid pressure that stoked the growing heat in his stomach. Shaz let himself enjoy it for a while, before grasping Adam’s hips with both hands and urging him down against his own knee. Adam moaned, a low, gratifying sound, and Shaz couldn’t help but grin, watching the way Adam’s eyes fluttered shut, his mouth going slack as he ground down.

As if sensing the attention, Adam’s eyes snapped back to him, his gaze heated. He reached up to tug at the loops of Shaz’s jeans. “Take this off?”

“Only if you do yours.”

Adam grinned. It took a bit of manoeuvering to get their pants off without elbowing each other, and eventually Adam had to roll off to one side, kicking his pants the rest of the way off. Shaz decided to take that as an invitation, and casually swung his legs to straddle Adam’s hips, their positions reversed. He took a moment to enjoy the view; Shaz had liked Adam hovering over him, broad shoulders framing Shaz’s view, but this–Adam sprawled under him, his mess of black hair spilling over Shaz’s pillow, his hands brushing along Shaz’s legs, heated gaze on Shaz–this was intoxicating too.

“God,” Adam murmured, fingers sliding over Shaz’s stomach, “you’re gorgeous.”

The words caught him off guard, brought with it a rush of feeling so strong, so unexpected that Shaz had to glance away. He let Adam pull him down for another kiss, and then another, before Shaz drew back, nipping lightly at his lip. “Says the pretty boy in my bed.”

Adam made a thin, strangled sound, and tried to tug him back down.

But Shaz sat back, settling his full weight over Adam’s hips, where he could feel Adam’s hard-on nudging against his thigh. “Can I suck you off?”

“Yes, please.

Now it was Shaz’s turn to laugh, and he reached over to dig through his bedside drawers, thankful for the old condoms he still kept there. He could feel the weight of Adam’s stare as he rolled it on, Adam’s cock twitching in his hands. When he looked up, he caught Adam’s gaze, held it, and in one slow, deliberate motion, took Adam into his mouth.

At the first touch, Adam gasped and dropped his head back.

Shaz pulled off and waited.

After a moment, Adam lifted his head again.

This time, as Shaz mouthed at the crown of Adam’s cock, Adam didn’t break eye contact. Pleased that Adam had caught on so fast, Shaz grasped the base of his cock, and slowly took more of him into his mouth. He heard Adam’s breath catch, felt the scrape of blunt fingernails dragging over his scalp; Shaz kept going, filling his mouth until he was near choking from it, the sharp scent of arousal mixing with latex. Adam’s thighs were shaking under his hands, and his breath caught on quiet groans for more. He kept his gaze on Adam the entire time, watched the way Adam fought to keep his eyes open, the flash of white as Adam bit his lip.

Shaz pulled back, tonguing over the slit, and reached down to palm his own cock.

Fuck,” Adam gasped, and threw his head back.

This time, Shaz didn’t linger. He pulled off just long enough to swipe at the saliva dripping down his chin, before going down on Adam once more. He went straight to work, bobbing his head eagerly, enjoying the way Adam writhed under him, hips bucking in aborted thrusts. Shaz’s own need was building rapidly, and he had to switch between squeezing the base of Adam’s cock and cupping his own, urgently, until Adam pushed at his shoulders.

Shaz sat back, wiping at his mouth, and drank in the sight of Adam aroused and wrecked: one arm slung over his eyes, his chest heaving, his breath coming in sharp, harsh gasps. Shaz ran his hands along the length of Adam’s thighs, liking the way he shivered.

Adam groaned softly. “I really want to fuck you.”

Shaz paused, licking his lips as he thought about it. “Maybe,” he began. “Maybe next time?”

“Okay,” Adam agreed. “Can I suck you off then?”

Shaz grinned. “I wasn’t done with you yet though.”

“Who said we can’t suck each other off at the same time?”

That sent a full body shudder through him, and the words went straight to his cock. “Hell.”

They dug out another condom. Adam slipped it on with shaking arms as Shaz fought to keep his hips still. He felt dizzy with need, and when Adam was done, Shaz dragged him in for another kiss, hungry for his mouth.

“Come on,” Adam murmured. “I want you now.

Shaz groaned, and pushed away to prop himself up on his arms and knees. Adam’s cock brushed against his chin; Shaz took a deep breath, and then took Adam back into his mouth. He heard Adam’s long moan, felt it ripple through Adam, through every inch of contact between their bodies. Shaz closed his eyes and bobbed his head slowly, only to almost choke when he felt wet heat envelop his own throbbing cock. He groaned, clutching at the bedsheets, and felt Adam’s hips buck underneath him. Shaz scrambled to keep his thoughts together, to keep moving, but it felt so good, Adam’s fingers digging into his waist, his tongue sliding along his length, his moans rippling through Shaz’s entire body.

Shaz pulled off, trying to catch his breath, trying to rally his thoughts. “Adam–” he started,

But Adam didn’t stop, swirled his tongue over the tip of his cock, little clever flicks that had Shaz twitching with need, his toes curling.

“Son of a–” he gasped, and went back to Adam’s cock. He took the twitching length back into his mouth, held it there where it sat heavy on his tongue, until Adam was squirming underneath him, whining softly. Shaz hollowed his cheeks and sucked, once, twice, then pulled off again. Adam groaned, nails digging into his side; Shaz gasped for breath, and then took in the entire length of Adam’s cock in one, smooth motion.

Adam yelped, the sound muffled around his cock, and Shaz sucked him off fast, letting Adam fuck his mouth just as he fucked Adam’s mouth. Pleasure rolled over him in waves, and he rode each one faster than the last, sucking and fucking eagerly until he felt Adam shake apart underneath him, Adam’s cock deep in his throat, his body arching into his own–and giving Shaz that last push he needed, as he came hard in Adam’s throat.

Shaz pulled off with a gasp, saliva dripping from his mouth, as he rolled himself off of Adam. They lay like that for a long while, head to toe, trying to catch their breaths, until Adam laughed, a ragged, honest sound.

“Well,” he rasped, his voice ruined.

Shaz dragged himself up the bed, found Adam’s face with trembling hands, and kissed him.

~~~

The bed was empty when he woke, and Shaz felt a sharp stab of disappointment before he realised the shirt he was holding was the wrong size for him, and that distant clinking sound he heard was probably coming from the kitchen. Warmth trickled into his chest, and he made a quick stop by the bathroom to wash up, before following the alluring scent of freshly cooked food.

He found Adam by the kitchen counter, plating what looked like two generous portions of scrambled eggs.

Adam looked up as he approached, and smiled sheepishly. “I raided your fridge. Hope that’s okay?”

“You made breakfast,” Shaz pointed out, digging through the drawers for forks. “More than okay. Thanks.”

“Well, I did say I would.”

“Didn’t think you’d actually do it.”

Adam chuckled, and Shaz decided, yes, that laugh sounded just as good as he remembered it from last night. They ate at the table, tapping away on their phones in an easy, companionable silence, and Shaz decided he liked that too.

When they finished and Shaz began doing the dishes, Adam leaned against the counter next to him, and said, “So.”

Shaz glanced sideways. “So.”

Adam rubbed at the back of his neck. “Last night was fun.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Adam echoed, lips curling in a shy smile.

That, Shaz decided, was probably his favourite. “Best night I’ve had in ages.”

Adam’s smile grew, tentative. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Shaz said. “Wanna do it again sometime?”

Adam grinned. “Definitely.”

They managed to squeeze in another quick makeout session before Adam had to leave; Shaz pinned him against the front door, enjoying himself thoroughly until Adam pulled back with a breathless laugh.

“I’m leaving now,” he said, still chuckling, “or I’ll be late for work.” But he pressed one last kiss to Shaz’s mouth, and murmured, “Call me,” before he left, so Shaz counted that as a win.

He shut the door, and went to sit in the kitchen, where he stared unseeingly at his tweetlist until he realised he was grinning. With a sigh, he scrolled through his contracts and dialled Irene. It rang four times before Irene picked up with a wary “Hello?”

“Hey,” he said, and felt his grin stretch wider, until his cheeks were hurting from it. “First of all, you were right, I was wrong, as usual, thank you. Secondly, he’s actually adorable? I mean, he made me breakfast–

 

Meat Cute

by loveonthefarm

 

Detective Damian Jersey was on the move.

The Wednesday afternoon sun blared high overhead. Heat shimmered in the air. He’d left his partner behind, struck out on his own. The crush of bodies crowding the park was overwhelming, and voices—some chanting, some singing, some yelling—cluttered Jersey’s ears, but his goal, glimmering silver in the harsh light, was almost close enough to taste—and definitely close enough to smell.

The scent of cooked meat greeted Jersey as he joined the line for Meat Cute, one food truck out of the thirty or so that lined the borders of Crux Park, just a block away from the station, six days a week. Its logo, a pinkish-red and altogether too detailed depiction of a human heart pierced by both an arrow and a kitchen knife, winked charmingly in the sun. Months ago that logo had been so jarring that Jersey had almost walked away; now he studied it idly as the line moved. Macabre, sure, but that kind of thing was perfectly in keeping with the odd and casually gory aesthetics of New Revenon, and even more in keeping with the person Jersey was sure had designed it.

Right now that person looked less like a person and more like a whirlwind of sharp utensils and rich steam rattling around inside Meat Cute. Alarming, but proficient. Jersey tamped down a smile as he stepped up to the window.

“Hey, Dion,” Jersey said.

The whirlwind resolved itself into Dion del Monaco, who was tall, dark-eyed, and flashing Jersey a smile of the killer kind. Today he was dressed in a heather gray shirt with the phrase Meat Cute: Love at First Bite! spilling across the front in a font that was either very cute or sort of alarming. Sweat sparkled at his temples. His curling dark hair was held away from his face with bobby pins. The August heat was bad enough in open air; Jersey didn’t envy Dion being cooped up in a food truck like that, but he did admire how good Dion made the edge of heatstroke look.

“Jersey! I was wondering when you’d come through,” Dion said. He had a cleaver in his hand; it glimmered when he waved. The thought of how often Dion gestured like that in the truck’s close quarters with Marcus, Meat Cute’s co-owner, within arm’s reach made Jersey wince. “Lunch?”

“Always. You on your break yet?”

Dion snuck a look at Marcus, who gave Dion a disgruntled look and made a shooing motion at him. “That’s a yes. Let me take care of you first, though. What do you want?”

Jersey squinted up at the menu. He was a creature of habit, and Dion knew this; there were only ever three or four things Jersey chose, and given the weather, the look on Jersey’s face, and the time Jersey stopped by for lunch, Dion could generally guess what he wanted. “Uh,” Jersey said. “Brisket?”

“No,” Dion said brightly. He leaned out the window at such an alarming angle that Jersey reached out to steady him in reflex. In conspiratorial tones, Dion said, “You’re getting something off the new menu. Don’t say anything, and don’t tell Marcus.”

“Oh, wow. You really know how to make a guy feel special.”

Dion didn’t say anything, but he did wink, which was worse. “Give me five minutes,” he said, and ducked out of view.

Marcus, who was burly and rough-edged and had a stunningly delicate touch when it came to plating, gave Jersey a frowning nod. After seeing him at least three times a week since February, Jersey knew that was as smiling as Marcus would get. Jersey returned his nod and stepped out of line to wait.

Four minutes later the back door of the truck banged open, and out leapt Dion, bearing a hot dog in a paper basket. He handed it to Jersey.

“It’s called Best in Show,” Dion said proudly. “Caramelized onion, goat cheese… Don’t look at it like that! You’re gonna love it, I promise. Would I ever do you wrong?”

Jersey looked at Dion over the hot dog. “Would you?”

“Never.” Dion drew a solemn nondenominational three-finger gesture over his heart. “C’mon, let’s go sit. I think there’s some grass over there that hasn’t been cursed or covered in lettuce.”

They snagged a patch of soft ochre grass. Dion threw himself down on it, stretching underneath the summer sun. In the months they’d known each other Jersey had gotten used to how attracted to Dion he was, but sometimes it hit him like a sucker punch—like now, when Dion was all long legs and brassy smile and clever eyes, smacking Jersey’s leg, beckoning him down with slim olive fingers. Jersey sat too, and did his best to concentrate on his hot dog and not the lithe bend of Dion’s waist beneath sweat-sticky t-shirt. His best was pretty good, now, after all that practice.

Dion sat up to watch Jersey eat. He’d convinced Jersey to be test subject number one for the menu rehaul he was planning for the Full Moon Food Truck Festival, which was coming up next weekend. He didn’t ask—he never did—but Jersey swallowed and said, “You were right.”

“Didn’t do you wrong?”

“Not at all,” Jersey confirmed. “The, uh—what’s it called? Flavor—”

Delighted, Dion said, “Flavor profile?”

“Yeah, that. It’s good. Really interesting.”

Dion made a triumphant sound. He put his hand on Jersey’s knee. “You’ve come so far.”

Jersey laughed around a mouthful of hot dog. Dion was quiet beside him for a few moments. When Dion spoke, he said, “How long have we known each other?”

It had been a chill day in late February. The last snowfall of the winter season had been gray-brown and chunky and melting into gutters. Just after Valentine’s Day was early for food trucks to be out and about, which was what Jersey had been thinking when he’d given in to curiosity and detoured to the silver-and-red truck parked at the west end of the little park he walked through to get downtown for lunch during work. He’d gotten close enough that he had to crunch through the stubborn piles of ice and slush shuttled onto the curb where the truck was parked, and then Dion had bent a little to meet Jersey’s eyes through the open service window, smiled, and asked if he could talk to Jersey about whether it was illegal to charm ingredients in food. It had been, Jersey thought, a Thursday.

Jersey said, “I don’t know. Couple of months? Why?”

For a moment the look on Dion’s face was thoughtful and pointed—but it was washed out by playful irritation and a very convincing fake pout. “Jersey. Really? It’s August. Anyway, look. I was wondering if you’d do me a favor.”

Jersey liked Dion. Liked him a lot. That didn’t mean he wasn’t very much aware of the fact that Dion was a little odd. “Uh,” Jersey said, and turned to give Dion his full attention. “Hold on. What kind of favor?”

“Could you let me know if anyone’s seen anything strange happening around here recently? No big investigation, just shoot me a text if you come across anything weird.”

Jersey put down his hot dog. “What kind of weird? Like regular-street-chanting-weird or actual weird?”

Dion raised an eyebrow. “What do you consider ’actual weird’?”

The fact that werewolves and domestic dogs didn’t get along. The seeming lack of regulation on organs that ended up in apothecaries. Dion, and his knives, and the fact that he hung around Jersey so often, smiling the way he did. But this was New Revenon. After eleven years of living here the things that Jersey knew should be weird—the wealth of cults and the charmed drinks at creepy bars and the occasional wailing from beneath manhole covers—were no more than curiosities now.

“Never mind,” Jersey said. “What did you mean by weird?”

Dion shrugged. “I think someone was skulking around near the truck the other night as I was closing up. I’m sure it was just one of the vegans from the truck across the park trying to spook me again, but…I don’t know. I got a weird feeling about it. Not hex weird, but just…vaguely menacing weird.”

The vegan truck across the park was Selene’s Salads and Sundry, a compact and tidy little truck with a dizzying concentric spherical logo on the side. It reminded Jersey of an aphid: bright green and generally harmless. He’d never gone there—he wasn’t much for food that reminded him that he should really be exercising more while he ate it—but people generally gave it good reviews, aside from Dion. Part of Jersey thought Dion’s rivalry with the vegans had more to do with puns than with any genuine sort of vitriol: Dion prided himself on his cleverness, which extended to and was embodied by the wittiness of his menu items, but it was hard to deny that Peas Be Unto You was a great name for a salad. Jersey kept that part of him under wraps.

Dion’s lip was curling. Jersey bit back a laugh. “You’re serious?”

“Do I look like I’m serious?”

“Don’t ask me that,” Jersey told him. Dion shot him a withering look and knocked a bony knee against his leg. “Okay, I’m sorry. Look, I’m taking you seriously. See?” He made a passably straight face. “I’ll keep an eye out.”

Dion let Jersey dangle on that sharp look for a moment longer before turning away, sniffing, to put his nose in the air. “You’re gonna be sorry you laughed when I get in trouble.”

Someone creeping around a food truck was hardly a blip on Jersey’s adjusted strangeness radar. But Dion was right: Jersey would be sorry.

Jersey sobered. “Hey,” he said, and nudged Dion with his elbow. “I’m sorry. For real. Are you gonna be okay getting home tonight?”

“Oh, now you wanna be a gentleman,” Dion said loftily. Jersey frowned. Dion caught him at it out of the corner of his eye and softened. He turned a crooked sweet smile on Jersey and said, “Oh, you are being a gentleman. How sweet. Yes, I’ll be fine. I’ll even call you when I get home, if you like.”

“You don’t have to,” Jersey told him. “But you can if you want.”

“I will,” Dion decided. “Soothe your heart and all. Besides, I’m sure you’d just love to hear about my riveting meat truck escapades.”

This Jersey had gotten used to, too: The way Dion spoke, walking a flirty tightrope suspended above the murky waters of intent, always almost something but never really anything. It was a little comforting in that it never pushed Jersey to make a decision—but that meant he wondered, and wondered, and sometimes even hoped. It meant that things like the promise of a phone call made Jersey feel like he was reading Dion’s intent right and then made him all the more nervous for the possibility of it.

Jersey took a breath. “I would, actually,” he said, because it was true.

“I know you would,” Dion said, like he knew it was true, too. He gave Jersey a smile, nudged him, and said, “Now eat. It’s gonna get cold, and a cold hot dog is basically a crime. You’re committing a crime right now.”

“Somehow I don’t think that’s true,” Jersey muttered, but picked his still-warm hot dog back up and began to eat. Satisfied, Dion leaned back on his elbows to complain how difficult it was to drag puns out of Marcus. They spent the rest of their joint breaks together, and when Jersey went back to the station, he did so with a smile.

It was dark when Jersey’s phone rang.

Weak light trickled in through the blinds of the window above Jersey’s headboard. His room was soft dark lavender with night and sleep. His laptop, which he’d settled down with to watch a movie in bed, was dead. For a moment he thought blearily that he’d just dozed off after an evening drink and that Dion was calling to tell Jersey he’d gotten home safe and sound, and his heart leapt—but when he squinted at his phone he found it was a few minutes shy of six a.m.

It was still Dion calling, though. Jersey frowned and took his phone with him as he rolled over to peek out the window into the deep blue of dusky predawn in the city. He couldn’t hear sirens or anything beyond the soft hush of cars starting up and whizzing by somewhere below him, but then again Dion lived somewhere in midtown in some chic apartment complex he’d name-dropped casually a few weeks ago. That didn’t mean anything, Jersey realized; Dion could be calling from anywhere. About anything. For any reason.

Jersey’s stomach went tight. Worry took him. He answered the call. “Dion?”

“Hey,” said Dion. He didn’t sound wounded, but there was a note of something thready and strained in his voice that Jersey had never heard from him before. “Hey. Did I wake you up?”

“It’s six in the morning. What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Dion laughed thinly. It was wrong—the sound, the tone, the breathiness, all of it. Dion always gave up laughter freely, but even if he didn’t Jersey would still remember what it sounded like: Joyful, raucous, surprisingly deep. Jersey sat upright, looking wide into the night.

“Dion—”

“I’m okay,” Dion interrupted. “I’m okay, but—something happened.”

Jersey found his shoes at the end of his bed. He jammed his feet bare into them and found a t-shirt. “Where are you? Are there cops there?”

“Yeah, they are. And, uh, you know that, uh, the butcher’s on Clockside?”

“You’re at a—do I wanna know?”

“You’ll find out where you get here?” Dion offered, sniffling.

Jersey snagged his badge and his keys from the kitchen counter. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” he said, and let himself out. “I’ll be there in ten, okay? Tell them you know me if anyone starts bugging you.”

“Okay,” Dion said. There was a pause where Jersey almost hung up—but just before he did, Dion murmured, “Thank you.”

His voice was soft. Jersey’s heart twisted. “No problem,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”

Clockside Avenue was on the far west side of town, but Jersey knew which roads had speed traps and which ones had particularly tired cops, so he made it in just under nine minutes. When he pulled up at the address Dion had sent him he found a pack of squad cars gathered round Dinah’s Butchery and a roll’s worth of yellow caution tape stretched across the mouth of an alley lit up with pale angled flashlight teeth. The car lights were standard blue and red, but one car at the edge of the roundup threw sickly green shadows on the sidewalk.

Jersey flashed his badge at the cop at the tape and ducked under it. The first familiar face he found was homicide’s Lila Cuervo, who was standing near the tape, chewing on the plastic lid of a cup of coffee and eyeing the glistening mess at the end of the alley like she thought it was far too early to be dealing with something like this. Jersey couldn’t tell what had happened yet, but he wholeheartedly agreed.

He sidled up next to her, gave her a greeting, and tried not to look too shifty when he asked, “What’s occult crimes doing here?”

“Their job?” she replied, arching a brow. “What are you doing here?”

More officers were gathered further down the alley, organized into curious little clusters. Over the murmur of official voices and the hum of car engines, Jersey thought he could hear Dion’s voice. He rocked up on his toes, searching.

“Jersey.”

Jersey landed on his heels. “Uh. Detecting?”

Her expression was flat.

“Okay, fine. I’m not here officially. I just…I’m here for Dion. Del Monaco. He called me.” Jersey took a deep breath and asked, “He’s not your prime suspect, right?”

Cuervo hummed thoughtfully. “That your knife boy?”

Jersey shot her a look. “He’s not my ’knife boy.’ He’s not mine, either—who told you that?”

“I’ve gotten lunch with you there, remember? I got eyes. The knives…” Cuervo made a face. “Everyone knows about the knives. You should tell him to tone it down with the knives.”

“He works in a meat truck!” Jersey protested, but Cuervo waved him off and nodded down the alley.

“They’ve cleared him preliminarily, but they want him to stick around. Don’t go underground, don’t apply for cult refuge, et cetera. It would help if someone could vouch for him,” she added lightly, shrugging. “Don’t know who that would be, but…”

“I get it,” Jersey muttered. “Can I take him home?”

Cuervo gestured toward the back of the alley, and then stabbed her finger at Jersey. “Go, but keep your eyes to yourself. I don’t need you snatching up any of my cases this month.”

“I would never,” Jersey said, though they both knew it was an empty promise. He’d told Cuervo a hundred times that unraveling problems was just what his worrier brain did and that he couldn’t choose what he unpicked. Cuervo had told Jersey a hundred times to stop ruining her solve rate. They had a mutual understanding.

Jersey headed down the alley. A portable spotlight fixed its eyes on a twisted heap of skin and flesh and bone. It was a human heap, but beyond that there was nothing definitive. Usually occult crimes was called in at obvious signs of cult involvement: sigils, strange symbols, long rambling manifestos written in blood and finished in chalk when the blood ran out. This looked more like the gruesome overkill of werewolves.

When he was close enough to it to distinguish gut from bone, something caught Jersey’s eye. Seated neatly in rent red flesh was a knife with a series of circles swallowing each other on the handle, bloodspattered bone inlaid into gleaming silver hilt. It might have been a beautiful knife but for the blood and the eeriness and the fact that it did look like a knife Dion would own. Between that and the bad timing, it was no wonder Dion was being questioned. Jersey swore.

“Jersey?”

Jersey turned sharply. In the shadows outside the spotlight’s beam, half obscured by the broad shoulders of a detective, was Dion. His eyes were wide and tired; his face was pale; and though his arms were tucked around his middle, his left hand was going through motions Jersey recognized: the cavalier flip-and-flick of a butterfly knife in motion. Jersey knew Dion, and would say he knew Dion pretty damn well—but he’d never seen Dion look like this. It was unsettling.

The detective in front of Dion turned around. It was Cuervo’s partner, whose name Jersey could never quite remember. Matthew? Matthews? Something like that. Matthew saw Jersey, then saw Dion, then saw the space between them. His eyes narrowed. “Don’t tell me you’re poaching our case.”

Jersey held up his hands. “Nah, you can have this one.”

“Don’t tell me you’re poaching our witness.”

“That I am. Cuervo says he’s not a suspect. You need anything else from him or are we good?”

Matthew frowned. “Why are you taking him? We’ve got uniforms for that.”

“Because I’m taking him,” Jersey said. That was all Matthew needed to know—and, given the propensity of everyone around Jersey to gossip, more than Jersey probably should have said. “You gonna let him go or what?”

“Jesus,” Matthew muttered. He dragged a hand down his face, looked between Dion and the body, and then said, “Yeah, take him. You gave someone here your info, right?”

Dion nodded. Matthew blew out a put-upon breath and waved. “Okay, get outta here.”

Dion sagged gratefully. Jersey went to him, put a careful arm around his shoulders, and nudged him forward. “C’mon. You gonna be good to get to the car?”

“Will you carry me if I say no?” Dion asked. He gave Jersey a half-smile that made Jersey want to say yes.

“Fireman-style,” Jersey said instead. “It wouldn’t be fun.”

He earned himself a rasping sort-of laugh. “Sexy, in a very old-school kind of way. Easier than walking for sure.”

“You’re funny,” Jersey said. When they reached the mouth of the alley he fended off Cuervo’s interrogating look with a glare of his own, lifted the tape for Dion to duck under, and guided Dion to his car. Dion insisted on opening the door himself, but let Jersey shut it for him.

Jersey got in, too, and drove.

Jersey pulled up at Dion’s apartment at half past seven. He kept his foot on the brake and didn’t put the car in park. “Here you go,” he said, gesturing awkwardly at the building. “Home sweet home.”

Dion turned bright eyes on Jersey. Now that the sun was coming up Jersey could see that he was pale, his shoulders hunched in a way so foreign that for a moment Dion didn’t look like himself at all. Tenderness rang bell-clear in Jersey’s chest..

“Walk me up?” Dion asked.

Jersey walked Dion up.

On the eighth floor Dion fumbled his keys out of his pocket and got his door open. Jersey leaned against the doorframe and watched Dion turn on the living room light and step slowly out of his shoes. The place looked like Dion lived here—cluttered but homey, full of books with odd lettering and ornate dagger sheaths and a large plant that seemed like it would have teeth—but Dion moved through it tentatively, gingerly, like he was relearning the layout. He was probably still in shock, Jersey noted. Someone at the scene should have given Dion a blanket, should have made him answer honestly when they asked if he was okay. Jersey knew Dion could twist truth and had probably lied about how he was doing to go home, but Jersey could tell he was shaken.

Dion cracked open the freezer. He pulled out a bottle of something that he waved at Jsery. “I’m gonna make myself a drink,” he said, and took a glass out of a cabinet. He filled it, then took another out and filled that too. From across the apartment, Jersey met his eyes.

“Stay?” Dion asked.

Jersey stayed.

He toed his shoes off near the door and joined Dion in the kitchen. He watched Dion knock back a finger of what smelled like vodka, shook his head when Dion offered him some. Jersey wanted badly to hold Dion, soothe away the tired wildness that lurked at his edges. The softness of Dion barefoot and rumpled and the strangeness of the early hour weren’t helping; alcohol would only make the longing worse. Dion gave Jersey a long, searching look, but eventually drank the second glass, too.

“You should sleep,” Jersey murmured.

Diono grimaced. “Shower,” he said. “I keep smelling guts.”

“Gross,” Jersey said.

Dion wiggled his hand. He said, “I prefer my meat cooked, is all,” and headed into the bathroom. He paused, though, and stuck his head back out to tilt his head toward the door kitty-corner to the bathroom. “You can go to bed. I won’t be long.”

Jersey started toward the couch.

“Bed,” Dion repeated. He arched one dark brow, but his eyes were amused. “The soft rectangle with the pillows.”

Jersey’s stomach clenched so hard he thought he was going to be sick. He made himself take a deep breath. “You want me to sleep in your bed?”

“Jersey,” Dion said evenly, “I have just witnessed rather a lot of murder. Would you mind?”

God. “Sure,” Jersey said. “Okay, sure.”

He followed Dion’s firm gesture through the door and into Dion’s bedroom. It was cozy: square, walls a warm desert brown, full of floating shelving that held books and small plants and candles, dominated by a bed brimming with pillows and whose maroon covers were thoroughly rumpled.

Jersey sat down on the edge of the bed.

Dion’s bed.

Was this happening?

It couldn’t be, Jersey thought as he laid back. It couldn’t be, and yet he was scooting upward to fit himself into the corner of Dion’s bed and putting his head on Dion’s pillow.

This couldn’t be real, and yet.

Jersey closed his eyes. His traitor heart raced. He laid there smelling rosemary and sweet citrus hair product and made himself breathe evenly until he felt less desperately giddy. How many times had he imagined this, and just this, no more, no less: Lying in Dion’s bed and knowing what he looked like when he was dozing off?

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in. Hear the shower turn off. Breathe in, breathe out, in, out, oh, God, was this really happening?

“D—Jersey? Hey, are you asleep?”

Jersey cracked an eye. Silhouetted against the thin light flooding in from the bathroom was Dion, lean and glistening dark-and-gold. He was wearing boxers and scrunching at his hair with a towel. His legs were so long it was almost impractical.

Jersey swallowed hard. “No,” he said. “You feeling okay? Any better?”

Dion hummed and came over to the bed. “A little,” he said as he tossed the towel and laid down. Like this they were face to face, eye to eye. Jersey could see it when the smile on Dion’s cupid’s-bow mouth reached his dark eyes. “A little more.”

Jersey smiled, too. “Good. That’s good.”

“Mm.” Dion nodded. “Thanks for staying. And for taking me home. And for coming to get me. I’m sorry it was so early, I just…didn’t know who else to call.”

Dion tucked himself under the covers. He pulled them over Jersey, too, and as he did his feet slid against Jersey’s. It was a simple touch, but it lit a fire under Jersey’s skin, in his blood. For a moment Jersey wanted Dion so badly he almost couldn’t breathe—and then Dion smiled, all bright teeth, the front two a little bigger than the others, and said thank you again, and something purely tender, though no less warm, swept through Jersey like a tidal wave. Dion had thought of him, called him, invited him over to keep Dion company on what might have been—though Jersey couldn’t be sure—the worst morning of his life. He was looking for comfort; he didn’t need Jersey getting hot under the collar over something as simple as the soft pads of his feet sliding against Jersey’s.

Jersey took a deep breath. “You can always call me,” he said. It was stupid, and it was sappy, but when Dion’s smile went a little crooked Jersey knew it was true.

“I will,” Dion said. His eyelashes were fluttering; his voice dipped low, raspy with exhaustion. “Do you have work today?”

Jersey did. “I’ll call in sick for the morning,” he said. He had the hours; and if he felt like he was overstaying his welcome, he could grab a late breakfast and walk around. It would be a slow morning. Jersey didn’t mind those. “Go in in the afternoon. If you don’t mind having me.”

Dion laughed. It wasn’t quite his usual laugh, but it was close. Jersey would take it. “I asked you to stay, remember?”

He’d asked Jersey to stay after seeing the remnants of a particularly grisly murder up close and personal. Jersey couldn’t blame him. He couldn’t read into it, either: Dion didn’t need that kind of pressure.

As noncommittally as he could manage, Jersey said, “Yeah, I remember.”

“So stop asking,” Dion told him, and, like some string winding him tight had come undone, sank into his pillow. His hair fanned out around his head like a dark halo. Jersey curled his fingers into a fist to keep himself from brushing stray hair away from Dion’s forehead. “I’ll be fine in the morning,” he mumbled. “Just need sleep.”

“So sleep,” Jersey said. And, like it was simple as that, Dion did.

That night Jersey went to sleep with the soft lines of Dion’s slack mouth and graceful eyelashes and sharp nose burning into his memory, feeling not hot but rather sweet and warm, and he knew: He had it bad.

Jersey woke to an unfamiliar empty bed. For a bleary moment he thought he was dreaming, and for another he was only lost—but then memory of that morning surged up, blood and gore and Dion’s tired smiling face, and Jersey sat upright, heart pounding.

There was a Dion-shaped indentation in the sheets next to him. Jersey ran his fingers over it and found it warm; touched the pillow beside his and found it still damp. So that had happened, too. Not some yearning dream that Jersey had woken from bereft. A hundred butterflies broke chrysalis in his stomach.

Jersey hauled himself out of bed. The kitchen held the apartment’s only noise: shuffling sounds, quiet talking sounds, coffee sounds. Dion was braced against the counter, murmuring into his phone, stirring the dark contents of a French press with a knife. His long legs were bare beneath his blue striped boxers, but he’d put on a t-shirt. Jersey blamed his lingering disorientation for the guilty seconds he spent watching Dion, who was all long lines and broad shoulders and thoughtless grace, easy and handsome in the early morning.

“Sorry,” Dion said, a little louder, though he didn’t look sorry. “Yeah, I know. Don’t let them edge us out, alright? I’m never gonna live it down if we get run off by vegans—or that falafel place. I know they’re good, that’s the problem.” He went to a cabinet and took down two mugs. When he turned back he spotted Jersey, gave a slow curling smile, and held up a finger. “Yeah. I’ll come in tomorrow. Just slim down the menu for today. See you.”

He hung up and wiggled his phone at Jersey. “Sorry. I had to let Marcus know I wasn’t working today. I didn’t want to wake you up.”

“You could have,” Jersey told him through a yawn. “I wouldn’t have minded. How are you feeling?”

Dion hummed. He took the knife out of the French press. It was a butterfly knife. Jersey was unsurprised. “I’m alright. Tired. Better, though, now. Coffee?”

Jersey went over to the kitchen counter and took the mug Dion pushed his way, murmuring his thanks. In return Dion gave him a smile that didn’t quite do what it was supposed to. His mouth had said ’alright,’ but this close Jersey could tell that his eyes did not.

Jersey frowned. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Talk about—”

“Don’t say ’talk about what.’”

Dion snorted. This time when he smiled it did touch his eyes, though it was wry. “Do we have to?”

Jersey wanted to say yes. Instead he said, “We don’t have to. I know you work with meat and New Revenon isn’t the most peaceful place, but…murder’s different.”

“Hardly,” Dion said, but deflated under Jersey’s look. He sighed. “I will. Just…it’s easier to act like it’s not a big deal, you know? I do see blood and meat all the time, I’ve been to farms, I know what happens, it’s just—you know. You saw it. Can we pretend we didn’t have this discussion? I’d love to just have coffee with you. We never do that.”

“Because I never see you this early,” Jersey said. He let the topic drop. Dion relaxed; Jersey let himself relax, too. “We also don’t usually do this.”

Dion raised an eyebrow. He didn’t say anything, which meant he was going to be difficult. Jersey scowled and gestured delicately with his mug. “This.”

Dion hid his mouth behind his mug, but his eyes were dancing. “Coffee…?”

Caught between affection and frustration, Jersey could only say, “This. I know you know what I mean. Quit playing.”

“We could have coffee more often, you know,” murmured Dion, who, it seemed, was committed to making Jersey’s life difficult both accidentally and by his own design.

His eyes were dark; his lashes had gone low. Did he mean coffee, or did he mean this morning, the sleeping together, the easy chatting as they stood barefoot in Dion’s kitchen? A look like that seemed like it should mean the latter, but Jersey thought Dion cuttingly beautiful even when he was sweaty and smelling heavily of fresh pork. He knew by now that his sense of what was seductive and what was not was, unfortunately, very much skewed.

Jersey erred on the side of caution. “We could if you ever woke up before ten.”

Dion gave Jersey three different looks at once. None of them were particularly sexy, but his voice was warm when he said, “We could. We could also keep having coffee now if you stay.”

Jersey’s head was still muddled from the hard knock of an extra three hours of sleep and a murder at daybreak. If he flirted back, he could blame it on that. He could blame confusion if he broke this beautiful tenuous thing between them.

He could. But he wouldn’t.

“I’ve got work.” Dion’s expression went put-out; wincing, Jersey added, “I wanna find out what happened this morning. Gotta go to work to do that.”

Dion gave him an absurd pout. “Fine. Get dinner with me, then? I’m still feeling traumatized.”

“You’re playing with a knife,” Jersey pointed out.

Dion was playing with a knife. He looked at his butterfly knife like he was surprised to see it, too. “I can’t be traumatized and play with knives?”

You can,” Jersey admitted, because if there was anyone who could pull off shaken and disaffected at the same time, it was Dion, “but most people don’t. Uh, actually, you might wanna lay off the knives for a while. Since you’re hanging out around cops and all.”

Dion made a dismayed face. “Am I?”

Jersey gestured wordlessly at himself. Dion heaved a dismissive breath and waved his knife. “You don’t count. You’re a detective.”

“Same thing.”

“You’re you,” Dion said breezily. “It’s different.”

A smile fought its way onto Jersey’s mouth. He did his best to bite it back. “Sure,” Jersey allowed. “And yes to dinner, if you were serious.”

“I’m always serious,” Dion said.

Jersey both believed that wholeheartedly and didn’t believe that at all. It was unbelievably charming. “Okay,” Jersey said. He chewed on his lip. If Dion caught him smiling he’d never take Jersey seriously again, and he barely did to begin with. That was what happened when your first impression of someone was watching them drool relish while trying to flirt with you, Jersey supposed. “Dinner. I’ll be free ’round five-thirty. What do you want?”

Dion tapped the flat of his blade against his jaw. “Whatever you’re making.”

Jersey blinked. “Me?”

“You,” Dion said. “You’re making dinner. We’ll have dinner at your house. That’s what I’m saying.”

Dion’s eyes were bright. So bright. If he kept smiling like that, clever and sly, Jersey’s heart was going to beat right out of his chest. “Okay,” Jersey said, “fine, invite yourself over, it’s cool. Whatever. I’ll swing by on my way home and get you, yeah?”

Dion lifted his mug to his mouth. Over the rim of it his eyes were dancing. “Sure thing.”

“Cool,” Jersey said. He let himself out—then stuck his head back in, pointed at Dion, who hadn’t moved, and said, “Hang out here today, alright? You’ve been in enough trouble for one day. The guys already think you’re kinda weird—the knives, you know? And I’m vouching for you. Don’t make me look bad.”

“Boring, but doable. I’ll be here until you come get me.” Dion kissed the knife in his hand and blew a kiss to Jersey off its edge. “I’ll see you tonight. It’s a date.”

“Wh—”

“Bye!” Dion chirped. He wiggled his fingers cheerily and dismissively. “Don’t be late.”

There was no arguing with him. Jersey knew that by now. Sometimes he didn’t appreciate it, but he did find it endearing. He left Dion with a smile and headed back down to his car, already sure he would be too busy thinking about tonight to do much else.

Jersey was right: He was too busy thinking about tonight to do much else. His partner Mina was more than happy to point that out.

“C’mon, Jers.” She leaned over his desk and gave him big pleading eyes. “Spill. We have a pact—and I haven’t dated anyone in weeks. I’m dying for drama.”

Jersey snapped himself out of it. “There’s no drama,” he said. “You know me. There’s never any drama.”

“Uh huh,” Mina said. “That’s why you showed up to a scene you weren’t called to, came in late this morning, and haven’t managed to drink any of your coffee at all even though you’re usually three cups deep within your first hour of work, right?”


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