Kismet Preview: The Tie “Oh shit.

” Maddox squeezed his copper eyes shut, hoping that if he ignored the numbers on the clock they would change and in the moments shut out from his sight they would rewind and put him back to a more comfortable time. For years he had woken up on time, obeying the baying of his alarm when it rang, and now for the first time in longer than he could remember, he had woken up late. Groaning into the heavy pillow, he chanced another look at the clock. The green numbers hadn’t bent to his will. They remained defiant, clicking forward despite his wishes. “Mm… What’s wrong?” Beside him Maddox felt the bed shift and dip, the blanket pulling tighter around his hips and back as Rico turned and adjusted himself, trying to wake up fully and make sense of what was going on. “Nothing,” Maddox muttered, pushing himself upright so he could rest his back against the headboard while he tried to clear the sleep from his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Just overslept a little bit.” Rico rolled over to drape his body heavily across Maddox’s legs and glance at the clock for himself. It may have been the grip of sleep that still held him, but he couldn’t see the problem. It was still early, leaving them both with plenty of time to dress and be out of the house in time to make it to their respective jobs. His hands wandered idly over Maddox’s legs, groping beneath the sheets to tickle the sensitive spot behind his knee. “It’s still early. You’re not running late.” The gentle touch made Maddox’s legs twitch uncontrollably and a smile break onto his face. Rico knew exactly where to press his buttons even when he was barely conscious. “Stop it.” He pried Rico’s strong grip away from him and pushed his hand to the side. “No, but now I don’t have enough time to go home and get a change of clothes before work. Why didn’t my alarm go off?” He plucked his phone from the bedside table, sighing in understanding and frustration when the screen failed to light up at his touch.

For weeks he had been having issues with the battery and now it seemed to have faltered for the last time. It would need to be replaced. “My phone died. I guess that explains it.” Despite Maddox’s gentle suggestion to keep his hands away, Rico simply brought his fingers back to the shifter’s leg and squeezed his knee. His tendency to be touchy in the morning was a problem they dealt with almost daily. “You really need a new one. I’ve been telling you...” “I know.” Maddox rolled from the bed to his feet, slipping through Rico’s searching touch before he could fall victim. “I’ll just have to wear the same clothes I wore yesterday.” He made a face. “Hopefully no one notices.” With Maddox out of reach Rico pouted and rolled onto his back, disappointed that his advances had been rejected. If they’d woken up earlier he may have had a chance, but once Maddox got anxious about time his mind was impossible to change. Now he would be focused on nothing more than getting out of the house on time. “I think you can get around that.” Heaving a sigh, he flexed his abdomen and sat up, tossing the sheets aside dramatically and exposing his body to the cool morning air. There were two things that could drive him from the bed, and Maddox wandering around the house naked happened to be one of them. He took a moment to stretch, looking his partner over surreptitiously. “If you leave your vest here and just wear your shirt and jacket, who’ll notice?” The shifter glanced over his shoulder. “That’s true. It draws the eye. Especially yours. You love my vests.” “I do. So no vest, and a different tie…” His voice trailed off until Maddox thought he might just be thinking out loud. He padded over to his dresser and began to rummage through the drawers. “Ah. Different tie.” “Going to let me borrow one?” “Naturally.” With his arms outstretched, Rico strode casually to stand in front of Maddox and drape a tie around his neck. “Blue. Blue looks good on you.” Maddox raised his chin, straightening proudly as Rico cinched the tie closed and let it fall flat on his naked chest. Rico had selected a nice one; dark blue silk that felt cool and clean against his skin. “I still need to shower. And put on a shirt, so putting on the tie already is kind of useless.”

“Mm.” Rico took a step back and stroked his chin dramatically as he looked Maddox over, playing the part of the contemplative artiste. “The color of your skin really makes the blue pop. It’s fetching.” The shifter snorted. “Fetching?” “It’s a good word.” Rico clapped his hands. “That’s the one you’re going to wear.” Sighing, Maddox decided not to argue with his tastes. If Rico said it looked good, then he could trust that it did. “I trust you. But…” he tugged the knot loose and slipped it over his head, handing it back to Rico with a smile. “I still have to shower. And put on my shirt from yesterday. Yuck. You don’t have one I could borrow do you?” Rico accepted the tie with reluctance. Maddox wearing the tie and nothing else had a certain kinky appeal to it that he mentally filed away for future reference. Maybe it wasn’t the right time now, but there were plenty of nights where they had the time and energy to cash in on Maddox’s playfulness and fulfill a few of Rico’s more harmless fantasies. “Not one that’ll fit you. Not without looking like you’re wearing daddy’s clothes.” “Oh god no.” Maddox shuddered at the thought. He had always dressed well; just the thought of wearing something that fit so poorly made him cringe. It may have been even worse than wearing something for the second day. “I’ll suffer through the old shirt.” While Maddox his discarded clothes in preparation for his shower, Rico sat gently on the edge of the bed. It was always fun to watch Maddox’s sense of fashion be ruffled, but deep below his amusement something was bothering him. “You know…” he started, weaving the tie between his fingers. “If you just left some clothes here, you wouldn’t have to go back to your apartment every time you stayed over.” Maddox slowed just enough for Rico to catch the look on his face. The conversation was one they’d touched on before, and every time it seemed to make him uncomfortable. “True.” Rico watched him. “I can clear out a spot in my closet this afternoon, in fact. Bring over some suits, some vests…” he paused, hoping to soften his words with a bit of humor. “You can skip the underwear if you want. I won’t mind.” “Yeah, I’d have to look through everything, see what I could spare to leave here.”

“Spare?” Rico frowned and laid the tie to the side. “You’re here like… four nights a week. Just split some of your clothes.” “Uh huh…” Maddox glanced at the clock. “Shit, it really is getting late. I need to shower.” His avoidance of the topic spoke volumes to Rico, he just didn’t know exactly what they were saying. Fighting down the urge to be offended by Maddox’s brushing off of his suggestion, Rico flopped backwards onto the bunched up blankets and closed his eyes. “Right. Go do that.” Maddox hesitated, sensing in his tone of voice that something was wrong. What had begun as playful banter had turned to serious conversation, and his desire to not discuss it had irritated Rico. Instantly he felt guilty. Even when he could see what he had done wrong, he could never stand to know that he had upset his partner. He sighed, taking the moment out to return to the bed and lean down, pressing his lips to Rico’s in a sensual but apologetic kiss. “Sorry, but I really do. I’ll make breakfast after I clean up. How’s that sound?” Rico nodded, accepting the apology enough that Maddox would be able to continue on with his day. If he didn’t Maddox would bend over backwards to make it up to him, and he didn’t want it to come to that. “You better. A good breakfast. Pouring cereal into a bowl doesn’t count.” *** By the time Maddox finished his shower, Rico had calmed down enough that he thought he might able to handle bringing up the topic again without getting frustrated. It was something that needed to be discussed, and he wasn’t prepared to let Maddox keep slipping away without an answer. They had been dating for just over a year; Maddox spent almost more time at Rico’s house than he did at his own, but it was roadblocks like this that he felt were keeping them from taking the next step. If Maddox couldn’t even commit to leaving some of his clothes at Rico’s house, how was Rico ever supposed to broach the topic of him moving in permanently?

He sipped his coffee, burning his tongue as he heard Maddox come down the stairs. He was freshly showered, his hair still wet but already immaculately dressed; it was one of moments in life when Rico loved him most. When his hair and skin still smelt freshly of soap and the stylish professional persona clashed and mingled with the playful trickster that lived underneath it. Rico smiled and for a moment he considered forgetting about the entire discussion and leaving it for another day. “Hey,” Maddox smiled. “I thought you might sneak back to bed while I showered.” He sidled up beside Rico, poking his face close so he could sniff at his coffee and silently beg a sip out of him. “Not without you. Come on, you aren’t the only one who can be responsible.” Rico held his mug out, pressing it close to Maddox’s lips so he could steal some, just like they seemed to do every morning. “Hot. Don’t burn yourself.” Maddox smiled up at him, but instead of accepting the mug he pushed it gently to the side and found Rico’s lips instead. He kissed him softly, lingering, just barely making contact in a way that was so aching familiar to Rico. No matter what happened, Rico would always know that kiss, recognize the way it felt almost hesitant and chaste, and still managed to contain within it more affection and feeling than something more bold could. He closed his eyes, surrendering to the fluttering sensation the kiss brought, all other thoughts sweeping out of his mind. Groping for the counter he put down his coffee, freeing his hand to brush his fingertips across Maddox’s warm cheek. Maddox always felt warm, almost feverish. When Maddox pulled away, Rico kept his eyes shut for a moment longer, savoring the memory of the brief, intimate moment that had just passed. As he opened his eyes again, finally surrendering the realty that the kiss was over, he found Maddox smiling, his eyes almost bashful. “I love you,” was all Maddox had to say, and Rico forgot all about the discussion he wanted to raise. There was such genuine truth and depth in Maddox’s words; how could Rico possibly have doubts or worries? Worse, how could he knowing bring something up that he knew bothered the man so much? Maddox didn’t idly avoid topics. He was the kind of person who normally faced a challenge head on. If Rico ignored that

and made him talk about it, made him uncomfortable and ruined the moment, what kind of person would he be? He just smiled back, a little sadly, deciding that it wasn’t worth it. “I love you too.” “So,” Maddox stepped back and scanned the kitchen. “What do you want to eat? Pancakes? You have some of that shake and pour batter right?” Rico shook his head and reclaimed his coffee, staring down into glassy black surface and finding his own face looking back up at him. “You could cook dog food for me, and I’d be happy with it. Its my turn to shower.” He smiled at Maddox’s back as the other man moved around the kitchen and rummaged through the cabinets. “I’ll have whatever you’re having, okay? Be right back.” Maddox stopped looking, a box of instant oatmeal in his hand as he watched Rico leave the room and climb the stairs, his coffee still in hand. Rico liked his coffee and shower at the same time; he found it both relaxing and invigorating at the same time. Maddox didn’t quite understand it. Alone in the kitchen, he sighed and looked blankly down at the box. Rico had said he would have whatever Maddox was having, but suddenly Maddox didn’t feel much like eating. It was too easy to read Rico; when he’d come downstairs Rico had looked unsettled but determined, and Maddox knew what was going to come. He’d stopped it the only he knew how; reassuring Rico without words that everything was okay, and whatever thoughts and concerns had been ruminating in his head during his absence were unfounded. It had been a genuine gesture. Maddox had never once lied to Rico about that, but he could be completely honest in saying that there had been a subtle undercurrent of manipulation in it. It made him feel awful. He tossed the box haphazardly back into the cabinet and shut it. He still knew what to cook for Rico, even if he didn’t plan on eating it himself. *** Rico stared at his phone and tried not to read too deeply into the message on the screen. It was nothing different than ones he had gotten dozens of times in the past; just a

short note from Maddox saying hello and letting Rico know that he was likely going to go home after he was finished with work. It was no big deal. It wasn’t all that strange for Maddox to go home after a long day or when he had things to take care of around his apartment. Normally Rico would pout at the message and reply back with a whining, reluctant comment or an enticing offer that might sway Maddox’s decision. This time however, the message felt weird and uncomfortable, like something he would get after the pair had gotten into a fight, and he couldn’t think of anything witty to say. His fingers flicked over the keyboard, typing out a short response. Okay. Call me before bed, if you want. Love you. When the message had been sent off he sighed and tossed his phone back into the bedroom, aiming for it to land on the bed. Despite the fact that nothing had been resolved that morning, he had followed through on what he had said; piled around his feet were heaps of clothes he had pulled down from the hangers in his closet in preparation to put them into storage. Now the closet he stood in was a third empty, an appropriate amount of space he thought, for Maddox to leave a few things of his own. Maybe if Maddox could see the space he had made for him, he would have a change of heart. He shoved a pile of clothes back into his bedroom with his foot and took another look around the cleared space. It was a start at least. The clothes he had cleared out hadn’t been worn in a while, and after a quick washing they could be put back into storage. He dumped them all into a laundry basket, considering for a moment before adding something else to the pile. Maddox’s vest was dry clean only, but the least Rico could do was wash his underwear. Maddox had drawn the line there, surrendering to the fact that he’d rather go commando for a day than wear them for a second time. When he came back to his room after putting the load in the wash his phone was beeping the high pitched, irritating tone that signaled him to a missed call. He scooped his phone from the bed, smiling a little when he saw that the missed call was from Maddox. It was still way too early for Maddox to be thinking about going to bed; he hit the recall button and waited for less than a full ring before Maddox picked up. “Are you screening my calls?” Rico grinned and sat on the edge of the bed. “Just wanted to filter out the psychos. What’s up?”

“Just on my way back from a showing. Thought I’d give you a call while I’m stuck in horrible traffic. I have a feeling the traffic alone is going to be enough to convince these people not to buy the house.” “I’ve heard worse reasons. So you think it’s going to be a flop?” “Probably. I mean, the fireplace was made of brick, and not marble, after all.” Maddox said sarcastically. “God forbid they make one little sacrifice.” Rico laughed. The downside to Maddox handling wealthy clientele was that their expectations ran to the unreasonable. He could have filled a book with the stories of frustration that Maddox could tell. “How could they do such a thing? Do you ever have any easy clients?” Maddox paused. “One. I rewarded him by sleeping with him. Repeatedly.” “Mmm…” Rico closed his eyes and savored the thought. The reality was a little backwards; part of the reason he had been such an easy client for Maddox was because of the fact that he had been attracted to him. Rico wasn’t ashamed to admit that he was a sucker for a good looking man in a suit. “It was so worth giving up the built in aquarium.” “Better be.” Rico heard Maddox shift the phone. “Too bad I can’t use the promise of sex to get these people to pick a house already.” Rico made a face. From what he had heard of Maddox’s current clients, he wouldn’t have wanted to get anywhere near them even if he hadn’t been attached. “You owe me just for making me picture that.” “I’ll make it up to you.” “Can I make a case for you to make it up to me tonight?” Just hearing Maddox’s voice and the casual way he spoke to him made the anxiety from earlier lessen a bit. “Sorry,” Maddox apologized. “But I’ve got a date with cleaning my apartment. It’s got to be done every once in a while, you know.” Rico tried not to be too disappointed. Just because Maddox spent the majority of the week at his house didn’t mean that he didn’t occasionally need to go back to his own home and take care of things. It had nothing to do with their failed conversation earlier that day. “Cleaning? That’s how you plan to spend your night?”

“Hey, I don’t have a housekeeper, you know.” Maddox laughed. “Think you can handle being all by your lonesome?” Laying back, Rico stared up at the ceiling and thought about it. Normally he wouldn’t be bothered, but he was feeling uncharacteristically clingy. “Me? I survived 27 years without you, I can last one night.” Maddox’s voice was cool but not necessarily offended. “Nice. Okay, I’m just about out of the worst of the traffic, so I’m going to call into the office and then head home. I’ll call you tonight okay?” “Got it,” Rico said, wishing that the traffic had been just a little bit worse. Congestion was a good thing, sometimes. “I’ll talk you later. Have fun.” “Bundles of it.” “Love you.” On the other end of the phone, Rico could swear he actually heard Maddox smile. “Love you too.” The line went silent but Rico kept the phone held to his ear for a few seconds more, working his way backwards through their conversation. It had been normal, like any other conversation they’d had in the past year, but that fact didn’t make him feel reassured. Suddenly he didn’t want the standard of normal they had always had. He wanted something better, something more. A new normal. He tossed his phone on his pillow and lay quietly, listening to the sound of his washing machine switching settings in the far corner of the house. As little as he wanted to admit it, there was some truth in Maddox’s joking. Rico wasn’t completely sure what to do without Maddox there. He supposed he could watch TV or read a book, but he felt too restless. There wasn’t a chance that he’d be able to calm him mind and completely invest in either activity. Until his worries were settled, he wasn’t going to be able to fully relax. Rico sat up, suddenly determined. If the situation was going to keep bothering him, then it needed to be resolved. In life and in business he never allowed a problem to fester and grow; he took care of it immediately, before it got worse, and with Maddox it should have been no different. He checked the clock. By the time his laundry was done, he would be ready to go.