“These are the worst instructions ever,” Jordan said. He stared at the sheets of paper that he’d pulled from the box of bits and pieces that were supposed to magically make a bed. I kind of wondered if we needed to wave a dead chicken over the pieces to make it work. I usually left assembly to someone else.

We had gone furniture shopping the moment our local IKEA opened for business, and had spent three hours grabbing the things Marcus had on his list and several things he hadn’t. I had no idea what I was going to do with that many candles or a hook shaped like a dog’s butt, but for some reason, I had to have them. At least I’d stuck with small items this time.

On the down side, it was nearing one thirty, and I was hungry. Thankfully I’d already solved that problem, along with the issue of getting everything put together.

“Don’t lose the instructions,” I told Jordan. “Help is on the way, and they’ll want those for reference.”

“They?” Marcus asked, looking a little leery.

“Yep. Texted them when we left IKEA,” I said with a nod. “Don’t worry. It’ll be fun.”

“Who is ‘they’?” Marcus asked, his eyes narrowing.

I grinned. “Someone I trust with a screwdriver.”

Jordan started cracking up, and he placed the papers back in the box. “You called your parents.”

“Of course I did,” I said. “Dad’s not likely to put pieces on backwards.” Unlike me. I’d done that very thing more than once.

“Both your parents?” Marcus asked, suddenly sounding worried.

“Yeah,” I said. “You like my mom, right? My dad’s just as awesome. Don’t let his looks fool you, he’s a total marshmallow. Especially if you offer him coffee.”

“Now that I can,” Marcus said, a smile creeping onto his face as he leaned close to me to give me a kiss. He’d been doing that a lot since he woke up that morning to find I’d picked up a coffee maker for him when I’d done the grocery run. “Did I thank you yet?”

“At least a dozen times,” I teased. “And for what it’s worth, I really am sorry to spring the whole ‘meet the other parent’ thing on you, but he’ll get it done way faster than we could, and he’ll do it right the first time. And Mom promised to bring food of some sort, because that’s what she does.”

“Oh hey, maybe she’ll bring that wicked breakfast thing she makes,” Jordan said gleefully.

Marcus gave him a hint of a smile that betrayed how nervous he was at the prospect of my family descending upon us. “Well, we’d better be doing that at your place. Not only is my kitchen table still in a box, it only fits two people.” There was a knock on his door, and he paled.

“I’ll go with you,” I said. I got up from the floor and offered him a hand up. “Dad’s built like a brick wall, but I promise he won’t eat you. His doctor made him lay off of devouring the innocent because they’re full of cholesterol.”

It was easy for me to tease like that, of course, but it obviously did nothing to settle Marcus’s nerves. His hand was shaking when he opened the door and came face-to-face with my father. All six foot three of him, with the width of his body basically filling the doorway. I was pretty sure I heard Marcus whisper something along the lines of “oh my god,” but I ignored it and grinned up at my father. “Hey Dad.”

My dad clapped a hand against my shoulder and grinned back. “You have a project for me?”

“Marcus does,” I said agreeably, indicating Marcus. He’d turned into a statue next to me, staring at my dad. “Sweetie, why don’t you go show Dad what you’ve got for him?”

“Um,” Marcus said. “Sure.” He let go of my hand to move back and let my father in.

“Your mother’s in the house, putting a casserole in the oven,” Dad said as he passed.

“I’ll go help her,” I said. “Be nice to him, Dad. I really like this one.”

“I won’t scare him too badly,” my father promised. “Your mother likes him too.”

I narrowed my eyes at him for a moment and then nodded and headed for the house. Dad was a bit of a prankster, so it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility that he’d inadvertently traumatize poor Marcus. Hopefully he’d tone it down a little.

When I got to the kitchen I shared with Jordan, I was astounded to find that, not only was my mom there, but Brandon was as well. I wasn’t sure if I should make a big deal about it, but opted for playing it cool. “Hey Bran, hey Mom. Need help?”

“Sit down,” Brandon told me. “I want to take a look at your eye.”

I blinked at him in confusion for a moment before I pulled out a kitchen chair and sat. “It’s fine,” I told him.

“Sure it is,” Brandon said, probing around the bruise. It surprised me how gentle his fingers were. I was half expecting him to poke at the bruise just to make me squirm. “You look like shit.”

“Brandon,” our mother said warningly.

“Sorry. You look like crap.”

Brandon rolled his eyes as he said it, and I had to bite back a laugh. For a second, I thought he was going to grin back at me, but the expression was gone just as it started. I wasn’t sure if that was a good sign or not, but the fact that he almost relaxed enough to smile gave me hope that his anger was thawing. If it had anything to do with the text I sent him the night before, I’d have to thank Marcus’s sister for showing me what a bad sibling was really like.

On the other hand, that would mean I’d have to speak to her, so maybe not.

Brandon felt around my eye and asked me questions about what hurt where and how much. “You’re lucky he didn’t break your face,” he grunted.

“I know,” I said, grimacing. “I didn’t expect him to punch me, but I guess I should have.”

Brandon shrugged and headed for the door. “I’m going to go help Dad.”

When I heard the front door shut, I sighed heavily.

“It’s not you,” Mom told me softly.

I tilted my head curiously. “What do you mean?”

“It’s not you he has issues with. Not directly.” I stared at her, dumbfounded, and she smiled. “You didn’t really think I didn’t catch the comments he was making to you, did you? I’m not stupid, darling.”

“Then what’s going on with him?” I demanded. I felt kind of bad to be talking to my mother that way, but I was tired of dealing with the angry stranger who’d taken my brother’s place. “Why is he taking it out on me? Has he talked to you about it?”

Mom abandoned what she was doing-—making biscuits to go with the casserole from the looks of it, so Jordan was probably going to get his wish-—and joined me at the table. When she took my hand, I had to smile. Her hands may have been getting slightly wrinkled as she got older, but they were the same warm, soft hands that had soothed me since the day I was born.

“Brandon hasn’t talked to me about it,” she said softly. “But I can guess what it’s about.”

“Is this about Roddie?” I asked.

My mom paused and looked as if she wasn’t sure how to answer, then sighed. “I think Roddie was just the catalyst. Like I said, though, since your brother hasn’t spoken to me about it, I don’t know anything for certain.”

I squinted at her. “Are you psychic, then?”

“Of course,” she answered seriously. “I’m Mom.”

I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. “You’re something else,” I said, giving her hand a fond squeeze. “Do you need help, or should I go rescue Marcus from Dad?”

“Your father will behave,” my mother assured me. “He and I have talked already. That said, feel free to go and see if your father needs more help getting things put together. He’s got more work to do than I do.”

I grinned at her, gave her hand another squeeze, and left the room.

Dad was apparently sort of behaving, because Marcus looked less terrified when I rejoined the group in his apartment. “Did you really drive a car into the freezer?” he asked when he looked up at me.

I groaned. “Dad.”

“What?” my father asked innocently as he screwed together the pieces Marcus was holding steady. “You and your mother both made it clear I couldn’t scare him.”

“That doesn’t mean you had to tell embarrassing stories about my childhood.”

“So you really did?” Marcus asked, raising an eyebrow.

I sighed, sat down on the floor, and leaned against the wall. “I was five,” I grumbled. “And it wasn’t entirely my fault.”

“Your mother may have left the car running, but that doesn’t mean you had to find out what would happen if you put it in drive,” Dad said sagely.

“I didn’t,” I protested. “I put it in neutral first. When I realized the car was rolling backward, I put it back into park.”

“Then how did you end up hitting a freezer?” Marcus asked. He looked like he was trying not to laugh, and I made a mental note to get even later.

“Well, I figured I’d better put the car back where it had been. How was I supposed to know putting it in drive would make it leap forward like that?”

Marcus burst into laughter, and I scowled at him. There was definitely going to be revenge involved at some point in the near future.

“Oh, it got better,” Brandon volunteered from where he was helping Jordan put another piece of furniture together. “He started wailing about how Mom and I should just kill him right then. When Mom said she had to go call Dad and tell him what happened, he started screaming not to do that, because Dad was going to murder him.”

“I. Was. Five.” I repeated slowly. Marcus had to make an effort to not fall over, he was laughing so hard. “And Dad had me convinced he was scary. It took a few years before I realized that he was just a big teddy bear.”

“I don’t know, I could have happily throttled you that day,” my father admitted cheerfully. “Not only did I have to get the car fixed, I had to buy your mother a new freezer. If I hadn’t known you better, I would have sworn she put you up to it just for that.”

“I’ll never tell,” I countered with a grin.

“Do you see what I have to put up with?” Dad asked Marcus with a heavy sigh.

“I’ve noticed that people who have to deal with him say that a lot,” Marcus noted. “I’m starting to wonder if I should be worried.”

“If it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll go be useful and start a pot of coffee,” I told them, hoisting myself up from the floor. I suppose I could have started putting together a chair or something, but there was a better chance that it wouldn’t wobble or have missing pieces if I let someone else handle that.

“How do you even know how to make coffee if you hate it so much?” Marcus asked as I started washing out the brand-new pot.

“Because he’s a suck-up,” Brandon said immediately. I turned to glare at him, but stopped when I saw that he was teasing. He was actually joking with me like he used to.

I turned back around, not wanting anyone to see the tears in my eyes, and shrugged. “Just because Dad likes my coffee better…”

“Terry’s the only one in the immediate family who likes it,” Jordan explained to Marcus. “Speaking of which, is there any tea up here?”

“Tea and hot chocolate,” I said. “I made the assumption I’d be up here occasionally when I picked up groceries.”

“You assumed correctly,” Marcus said. “At least, I think you did.”

I grinned at him over my shoulder, then set to getting a pot of coffee going. Once it was bubbling along, I washed the few mugs Marcus and I had picked up while we were out shopping for household items. How he’d managed to survive without dishes that weren’t disposable was beyond me, but to each their own. Once that was done, I started some water for Jordan’s tea. At least this way, I felt like I was pitching in somehow.

By the time I started handing over cups of tea and coffee, the bed frame had been assembled and the next piece of furniture begun. I watched for a moment and let out a sigh. “I’m useless here,” I said. “I’ll go set the table in the house or something so we can eat once the biscuits are done.”

“Biscuits?” Jordan asked, perking. “She made breakfast.”

I nodded and laughed when he raised his arms in a sign of victory. “Who knew breakfast for lunch could make one person so happy?”

“Pot, kettle,” Jordan snorted.

“Focus, guys,” Marcus said. “The sooner we get this all put together, the better.” He glanced up at me then and gave me a wicked look that immediately heated my blood. “I have plans this afternoon.”

Right. Plans. Thank god it was my father in charge of putting the bed frame together, because the stability tests we were going to put it through would be pretty rigorous. At least this way I could be fairly certain that the thing had been put together well enough that it wouldn’t collapse under us.

Unfortunately by the time we’d eaten, finished putting together the furniture, moved it where Marcus wanted it, cleaned up, and stood at the door waving as everyone left, I’d reached my limits of wakefulness. Sometimes I hated the fact that I worked odd hours.

“You look like you’re about to collapse,” Marcus noted as Jordan left to head back into the house.

“I’m pretty tired,” I admitted regretfully. “Are you working tonight?”

“No, I called in. I told Gloria what was going on, and she told me to take today to get settled in the new place. She also giggled a lot when I mentioned where the new place was.”

I snorted. Yeah, I’d just bet she had. The crafty woman had been trying to set me up with someone for ages. Instead of telling him that, though, I dropped onto one of the two kitchen chairs he’d picked up. “Well then, since you’re not going to work…” I let the words trail off, but the leer on my face made my intent clear.

Marcus rolled his eyes. “Right, because I want my boyfriend to start snoring while he’s fucking me through the mattress.”

Dammit. “But…”

Marcus put a hand over my mouth, effectively shutting me up. “You’re going to bed,” he said, and he glared at me. “To sleep.”

“But…” I didn’t want to go back to my room. I wanted to stay there with him.

Marcus pointed at his bed, still glaring at me. “Now.”

Oh, well, that was different. Here I thought he’d been trying to shoo me back to my own bedroom, but curling up in Marcus’s bed? Yeah, I could live with that and then some. I gave him what I hoped was an adorable grin and not a leer and began to strip as I crossed the room to his bed. “You’re going to join me, right?”

“Maybe,” he said cautiously. “Are you going to molest me instead of getting some rest?”

I pulled back the covers and took a deep breath, enjoying the smell of freshly laundered bedding. I would have just thrown it on the bed, but my mom had said something about me being a slob before she dumped all the bedding in the washer. I was kind of glad she had, since the smell of the vinyl it had been encased in was gone. Smelled like home. “Not until after I’ve gotten some sleep,” I finally said, realizing I’d gotten distracted from answering Marcus’s question. “Because, seriously I’m about to pass out.” I reached over and held up the blanket on the empty side of the bed. “Come on. The sheets are clean and everything.”

“I can’t believe you were going to put those on my bed without washing them first,” Marcus grumbled as he pulled off his shirt. “That’s gross. Who knows how many people have handled them.”

“Whatever you say, Mom,” I snorted at him.

“Shut up,” Marcus laughed. “Go to sleep.”

I let out a sigh of contentment when I felt him curl up against me, and then I was out like a light.

When I woke up that night, I didn’t meet it with the same sigh. I met it moaning something along the lines of “oh my fucking God your mouth.” As in Marcus’s mouth. Marcus’s mouth and my dangly bits, which were substantially less dangly at that point. As the saying goes, I could have pounded nails with it.

Except, you know, that would hurt. A lot. Not that I’d know from experience, mind you. My sanity may be questionable at times, but I’m not stupid.

Marcus stared up at me, his innocent look completely destroyed by the fact that his lips were wrapped around my cock. It was a beautiful thing to behold. “That’s a hell of a wake-up call,” I said, my voice a little hoarse with sleep and want. I needed to touch him, so I reached down and ran my fingers through his hair.

He let me go with a wet pop and grinned. “Yeah, well, you were too exhausted to help me test the structural integrity of the bed before you passed out. That’s two days we’ve had to put plans on hold, and I got tired of waiting for you to wake up.”

“It was worth it to get you taken care of,” I told him, patting his cheek.

“Maybe,” Marcus hedged. “But I still need some taking care of here. Where do you want me?”

It took me a minute to get what he was asking me—my brain was still in half-sleep, half oh-my-god mode—but when I figured it out, I grinned. “I’m the one on my back. Why are you asking me?”

“No preference?” Marcus asked, looking surprised. It made me wonder what he expected me to say. Maybe we should have had that conversation earlier, but it was too late to worry about it.

“Nope,” I answered. “I enjoy being on either side of the equation. Do we need to flip a coin to decide?”

He crawled up my body slowly and pressed a gentle kiss against my lips. It seemed almost out of place, considering where his mouth had been, but the tenderness of the act melted me. “No,” he said softly. “I’m just surprised. I thought….” He shrugged and gave me a sheepish look. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. How do you feel about staying where you are?”

“I already told you, I’m fine with just about anything.” I gave the tip of his nose a quick kiss and grinned. “I only hope you have supplies.”

Marcus leaned over at an awkward angle to reach the nightstand’s drawer. “No, of course not,” he said, the smirk on his face reflected heavily in his tone. “I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been eagerly anticipating this for weeks.”

The condom packet he tossed at me landed on my face before I could grab it, and I laughed as I brushed it off my forehead. “Wow. Someone’s feeling cheeky today. I like it.”

“Yeah?” Marcus asked, looking pleased as he settled himself over me again. “Some would say it’s annoying.”

I had a feeling that “some” meant “Davis” but I wasn’t going to invite memories of that asshat into the occasion. “Well, some people are idiots,” I answered instead. “And I’d like to think I’m not an idiot.”

“You’re not an idiot,” Marcus said fondly, opening the tube of lube he’d retrieved from the nightstand and slicking his fingers. “You’ve got the most intelligent posterior of any guy I’ve ever known.”

I gave him a look of complete disbelief as he settled himself between my thighs. “Did you seriously just call me a smartass?”

Slippery fingers found my crease, and I was suddenly too busy moaning to care what he called me. He probably could have called me Bunny Foo-Foo at that point, and I wouldn’t have protested. I would have gotten even later, but I wouldn’t have protested.

I had also been anticipating this situation for weeks. I’d practically worn out my right hand thinking about it, and having his fingers sliding inside me felt like some sort of miracle. He took his time and moved slowly, as if memorizing the feel of me. I’d lost the capacity for rational thought by the time he fit a third finger in my hole.

I let out a choked half sob at the feelings that welled up in me, overwhelming my senses, and he immediately stopped moving. “Are you okay?”

I nodded, reaching out to grab his shoulders and tug him closer. “Want you,” I keened. “Please.”

Marcus watched me for a long moment before his fingers slid out of me, making me moan at the loss. “You’ve got me,” he promised. He leaned up to grab the condom he’d thrown at me earlier. “I’m not going anywhere.”

I nodded again, hoping he understood that I’d picked up on the promise behind his words. When his lips slid over mine, I figured he knew that I understood, and I closed my eyes with a sigh.

He was just as careful when it was his cock and not his fingers pushing into me. In fact, I’m sure I yelled that he needed to “stop with the goddamned stopping,” because he’d freeze in place every time I so much as twitched. It was sweet, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him in me, and I wanted to feel him there for the next week, so I felt more than a little relief when he got the message and sheathed himself fully inside me.

I was pretty sure I saw God. I was also pretty sure I saw him give me a thumbs-up and a wink, but then I heard Marcus moaning, and I was brought back to reality. “Ollie,” he gasped. “My Ollie.”

“Yours,” I rasped. “Move, gorgeous. I want to feel you move.”

He moved. Oh God, he moved, and it was pure poetry. He knew just what angle to take to ping my prostate, and after he’d done it enough times, I wondered if it was possible to die from the pleasure. When I felt his hand wrap around my cock and tug, I was no longer wondering. I was definitely going to die from the pleasure.

“Please,” he grunted. “I’m so close, but you first.”

I could understand that. I’d feel the same way, if I were in his position. “Tighter,” I gasped. When his grip on me tightened, it sent me over the edge like a barrel over Niagara Falls. I screamed out Marcus’s name and shot hard, my back arching up from the bed. I could feel my muscles clench around Marcus’s shaft, and he plunged into me once, then twice more, and then he threw his head back with an expression that would have had me coming again, if it were possible.

Just like the previously mentioned barrel, I shattered when I reached the bottom, but not in a bad way. I couldn’t even move as Marcus carefully pulled out of me and discarded the condom. I had no idea where it landed, but I didn’t care. It was his apartment, and he’d be the one trying to clean dried spooge out of the carpet later.

He landed on his side next to me and pulled me close, and we stayed in silence like that for a long time. When he finally broke the silence, it was to say “That was…”

The words trailed off, like he had no idea how to finish the thought. Luckily for him, I did. “Perfect,” I whispered. “That was perfect.”