by BRK

 Exploring his workaholic husband’s ancestral house on his own, Wes encounters a strange symbol and a dreamlike man who seems closely connected to it.

Added: Oct 2020 10,789 words 6,084 views 5.0 stars (8 votes)


Sometimes there is a place you want to go to where you know you should not go, a person you desire whose presence in your life risks what you do not want to lose. Sometimes you know you must make an important choice—only to discover you’ve already made it.

I met Birch in college while I was deep in the throes of my MFA in painting. He was tackling an MBA he didn’t really need. He already knew the business he was about to inherit inside and out, but his dead mother—the Iron Matriarch of RaynCo—had required third-party affirmation of his business acumen before he could inherit. Birch was fit, handsome, driven, and indulgent, just over six feet and naturally built like a gladiator-in-training, with a slight cleft chin, coal-black hair that came in thick and straight, and intelligent navy-blue eyes. His serious expression and round, old-fashioned glasses often made him look like a misdirected dilettante—a Ganymede shunted to a timeline where he was a mogul’s scion and had never known Zeus’s caress. He photographed best in black and white, I told my sister once, and she’d snorted and replied, “That says it all.”

He didn’t seem to mind that I was a skinny, gangly, messy-haired artist type: cute, rather than classically handsome like him, and bottom-line unremarkable. I’d stopped going to clubs and bars because I was all but invisible there. But Birch liked me anyway. He smiled wide when we were together, and his eyes softening with affection whenever he looked at me. I was pleased I could give him that. He needed me.

We had dinner a few times, first with the mutual friends who’d introduced us in large, boisterous student hangouts, then more privately in the nicer, out of the way spots he could afford better than I. Or I’d cook for him in my minuscule fifth-floor apartment, offering up my family’s best artery-hardening Bavarian recipes. Then we’d do the dishes together. He’d roll up his shirtsleeves, and I’d try not to be distracted by his hairy, nicely muscled forearms as we talked about the meal and what we were dealing with in our lives. He taught me tennis (I wasn’t bad), and I helped him through choosing and receiving his first-ever tattoo (a butterfly on the upper side of his left buttcheek, its wings lemon-yellow to match my unruly mop—aww). I got one too, my fourth, mine in a stormy blue to match his eyes. We kissed. We made love. We became a couple.

We both graduated, and the timing seemed right so we had a simple civil ceremony the same weekend Birch took control of the company. We even moved into the family house, just us, though Old Stoneface (as Birch called it) and its lands were large enough to require a staff: a steward who lived off site but was often by managing bills, supplies, and maintenance, a housekeeper, and a groundsman, with outsourced help as needed. It was a huge, square, solid thing, four stories tall with big narrow windows and a dark slate roof. I was a little daunted. But the second-floor solarium over the rear porch was open and airy and full of light, with windows on three sides—a perfect space for a studio. And Birch, giving me that rare, sly hint of a smile I loved, promised me we’d christen every room in the old place, one by one.

His days got longer. A hostile takeover was mounted against RaynCo, and he became a ghost. Some nights he wasn’t home at all, or was holed up in his office at the back of the ground floor. His weekends vanished. I’d see him at dinner sometimes or when he climbed into bed in the wee hours; and I was understanding, because of course I understood. I teased him over rosemary lambchops one night about how we were falling behind schedule on our plan, and all I got was a rueful smile and a brief, wistful kiss before I was alone again at the table.

To distract myself when I wasn’t painting I started explore the parts of the house I hadn’t seen or had barely glimpsed. I wandered narrow corridors, poking my head in unoccupied rooms, my bare feet soundless on old polished floors. Most of the top two floors stood clean and empty; but there were two rooms on the third floor and another on the fourth were set aside as furniture jumble rooms, with stolid old bureaus, heavy, overstuffed chairs, and dark, ponderous bookcases in sturdy walnut or stained oak bundled away to accumulate dust and be forgotten together. To me they looked like pocket-sized Rooms of Requirement that no one remembered how to find anymore, and I amused myself thinking something magical must of opened these rooms to me and me alone.

A tall chest of fifteen shallow drawers tucked in the back corner of the fourth floor jumble room caught my eye. I thought it might work well in the solarium to hold some of my painting supplies, so, squeezing past a mammoth old olive settee and a wardrobe big enough to picnic in, I got in close enough to check it out properly. I pulled the drawers out one by one. Most were empty, but in the fifth one from the bottom I found a small, square scrapbook bound in blood-red leather, now brown with age.

Curious, I pulled it out and started flipping through it. Perhaps there were some rare photos of Birch’s ancestors hidden away in it? Alas, all the leaves were empty, which struck me as odd. I closed the scrapbook and turned it over.

There, etched into the leather in dark, firm lines, was a symbol that instantly fascinated me. It was not unlike a number of Celtic-style designs I had seen, but whereas most of those had three segments, like the brick-red curly-armed triskelion I had on my shoulder, or four, like the various Celtic crosses, this one had five stylized leaves intertwined in a single continuous stroke. The outline of each leaf was also notched a third of the way down from the tip on the right side, as though one of the segments had been gauged with a knife and the wound had rippled through the other four. I knew from my tattoo research that the three-leaved Celtic version was called a triquetra, so I assumed this would be called something like a “quinquetra”. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I stared at it, feeling strangely captivated.

Forgetting the chest of drawers I took the little leather scrapbook back to the solarium and started painting the symbol. I was almost in a daze, and the afternoon passed in a blur: I painted it alone on a canvas, then added more and more, a multitude overlapping and layered as if they filled a fathomless abyss, all in hues of inky blue-black that became darker and darker the deeper it went. I’d completed that fever-dream of a painting when I shifted to charcoal, sketching the symbol over and over on page after page, now loosely, now meticulously, and in different hypothetical manifestations, as if it were fashioned of wrought iron, or wood, or glass, or interlocked like chain-mail in an infinite expanse.

At some point I looked up and saw myself in the windows and blackness beyond in place of the rolling grounds. The day was gone, but all that registered was me, reflected in the glass. I stared at my image. At some point I’d torn off my shirt off and cast it aside somewhere—a childhood painting-fugue habit I thought I’d kicked. It didn’t matter. I saw my pale, tightly defined body for what it was: a new canvas.

I stood and moved toward the window, my reflection seeming to glide toward me. I didn’t even make a choice. Sometimes, when you’re a painter, there are things you have to paint, things you see clearly and have to make manifest; and this was one of them.

I still had a few shades of blue-black paint mixed up, and now, almost but not quite unaware of what I was doing, I took a brush and, eyes riveted on the vivid self-image in the window, I started tracing out the five-leaf design across my own chest. So far I’d been rendering the image with one of the points directed upward, like a Betsy Ross star, but now for some reason it seemed important that the version I was marking myself with had one leaf pointing down, passing beyond my sternum and onto my upper abs. Two pointed up left and up right, toward the shoulders, two more midway left and midway right, as if they were reaching for my nipples. Completely rapt, I filled in the design, using different hues to suggest the interlocking lines were twisting around on themselves as they curved and wove sinuously across my flesh. I felt the paint drying on my body, pulling gently on my skin, and the tactile evidence that the symbol was really there, on me, felt good.

I realized I was aroused.

I painted faster, eyes locked on my reflection as I worked and my cock thickened in my beat-up jeans, woken to near-febrile need. I ignored it, obsessed. I painted, rinsing my brush and changing hues until the image seemed as real in the reflection as I was.

I stared at myself, my brush and palette falling to the hardwood floor by my bare feet. My chest was heaving. I couldn’t quite understand why, but, suddenly, imperatively, I needed to get off. I needed to cum, right now, with an urgency I had never felt before about anything.

There was a big old couch in one corner of my painting room to crash on between painting jags, with an old bedsheet covering it for protection. I was on it in seconds, shoving my painting jeans forcibly off my hips without even unbuttoning them even as I fell bare-assed onto the cushions and kicking them away before sprawling longways and grabbing my rigid uncut shaft in one fluid motion. I had lube in here, somewhere, but right now I was making so much precum I was sure wouldn’t need it—and fuck, I wasn’t going to last long anyway. Sure enough, I’d barely started to stroke myself when my balls tightened and those telltale fireworks started snapping and sparking up the base of my spine. My chest arched up and I started gushing—thick, massive ropes of hot, white cum spurting high and long and splattering all across my chest. As the euphoric pleasure of massive release flooded deliriously through me I came again, harder, coating my chest and abs over and over again.

Finally, finally, the orgasm subsided, and I collapsed in heartfelt, boneless gratitude for this gift nature had given men. Sleep reached for me, and the tingling across my chest was like a ripple on the furthest rim of my fast-receding consciousness. I fell, tumbling gently into calm, black, endless nothing.

“Come to me, Wes.”

The inky void seemed to billow somehow, and a figure emerged. A naked man. His back was to me. He was tall and solidly built, with hard, corded muscle packed onto an elegant frame, like dancer who’d turned to a harder life. Loose, black hair fell in waves on strong shoulders, his long torso tapering below to a waist only a little thicker than mine, and a hard, round ass I wanted very much to grasp with both hands, then caress, then nuzzle and lick. His legs and forearms were dappled with dark hair, his feet angled slightly outward. His stance was relaxed and still—like an art model, I realized, and I was torn: I wanted to paint him, and I wanted to fuck him, whoever he was. I was hard, achingly hard.

“Come to me,” the voice repeated. It was rich and lovely, a high baritone that wove through my heart like ribbon through winter branches.

I didn’t move. Somehow I knew he did not mean that I should approach him here. Instead I said, “Who are you?” Or perhaps I said “Where can I find you?” Maybe it was, “Can I have you?”

“I am yours,” said the voice. “And you are mine.”

My eyes snapped open.

I sat up quickly, my heart pounding hard against my ribs. I felt as though I were waking from a fever. My mind was a little hazy, but…

The symbol. Had I really spent the day painting—

Then, all at once, I remembered everything. I looked down guiltily, expecting to see a mess of paint and jizz drying and tangling in my few sparse chest hairs. Only, there was nothing. The spunk was gone, and so was the paint, as if it had never been—or perhaps as though paint and spunk alike had all been absorbed straight into my skin, leaving nothing behind.

Except… was it gone? It felt like it wasn’t gone, the symbol. I frowned and stood, moving over to the window—it was still black as pitch outside, so perhaps I hadn’t slept long, perhaps mere hours, or minutes. (Either that, or I’d slept a century, and woken on another night exactly like the first.)

As I approached, I thought I saw the barest traces of the quinquetra I’d painted on myself in the reflection, as though the symbol, though taken inside me and hidden, was still almost imperceptibly revealed through the essential translucence of human flesh. Through a glass darkly, I thought. As I watched, the almost unseeable symbol seemed to to intensify slightly, its twisting lines thickening momentarily before relaxing again, and at the same time I felt something tug at me, like a call, or a yearning.

Quickly, I turned away from the window and tried to collect myself. Suddenly I was aware of being completely naked. Spotting the jeans I’d pulled off earlier in a crumpled heap near the couch I went over and gathered them up, preparing to put them on again. As I stepped into them I looked around for my tee shirt, but I couldn’t see it. I did see the little red-leather scrapbook: it was perched symbol-side-up on a small table next to my easel, which still had the quinquetra-multitude painting mounted on it. It looked somber and foreboding to me now. I picked up the canvas, holding it before me. Maybe I should destroy it, I thought, along with my memory of the whole unnerving night. Instead I set it on the floor against the wall, its back to the room. I’d decide what to do with it later.

My eyes fell on the scrapbook. That, at least, I could do something about. I snatched it up and left the solarium, determined to put it back where I found it, as firmly and resolutely as possible.

The fourth floor was warm and stuffy, the lights dim in the little hallway. As I approached the jumble room where I’d found the chest of drawers I noticed that opposite that chamber, on an interior wall, was a low, narrow door I had somehow not noticed before. I opened it, surprised to find a dark, cramped flight of stairs leading up into darkness.

I felt the tug again. I wanted whatever was up there, it told me.

The doorframe was smaller than standard size, narrow—it might have been mistaken for a broom cupboard—and low. I stepped under it with only an inch or so of clearance, unusual given I was only 5’11”. I looked for a lightswitch on the stairwell walls but found nothing. I hesitated, almost turning to go find a flashlight, or maybe pretend I hadn’t found these stairs at all. But something compelled me upward. I mounted the steps into the darkness, my stomach fluttering.

The stairs turned to the left, and as I continued climbing I left the feeble light of the fourth floor hallway completely behind. The steps ended abruptly soon afterward and I stumbled slightly. Though I could see nothing I knew I must be in some kind of attic under one of the wide gables that crowned the house on both sides. The air was clean and a little cool, an unexpected change from the musty warmth below.

Surrounded in black, I remembered my dream. And even as I did so, the figure appeared.

His back was to me, as before, but he seemed closer, only a few feet away, subtly lit as if by a soft spotlight despite the lack of any kind of light source. I looked down at myself. I was lit too. The five-leaf symbol was faint but clear on my chest, as though being here, near him, brought it closer to the surface.

I walked toward him. I was hard, my rigid cock rubbing against the denim of my old jeans as I moved. My skin felt warm and flushed. My hands itched. I was still holding the little square scrapbook, and I no longer knew why.

“You came,” the figure said. He was taller than me, broader, stronger. His smooth, tanned skin begged for my touch. His voice was as before: ardent and invasive.

I smiled, remembering what had happened right before I met him in the dream. Did he mean it that way? I could’t tell.

I wanted him to turn around. I also wanted him to stay as he was so I could run my hands over that muscular back and across those bulging shoulders.

I should speak, I thought. Not let him control this… whatever this is. When I wasn’t sure how to deal with people, especially self-assured people like this stranger, my default mode was to try to project a brash confidence off my own, ands I tried that, but I was too unnerved and too intensely aroused to make it work. “Who are you?” was what I meant to say, or demand, only somehow it came out as, “Can I touch you?”, said with the same aggression I’d meant for the question I’d intended.

“You do not have to ask.”

I shivered at his words, and lust blazed through me. Needing both hands I bent and set the scrapbook on the floor, then stood, inches behind him. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, every second an age, with nothing around us but the cool black infinity of nothingness. The universe was us. Not letting myself hesitate I reached out with both hands and pressed my palms against warm, male skin. I felt a low surge of fulfilment in my gut, as though our connection was a necessity.

The figure made an encouraging sound in his throat—he approved of my touch. I slowly slid my hands over his brawny shoulders and strong, tapered back, savoring every inch. Conscious of his magnificent ass, and my throbbing cock only inches from it, I started my hands downward until they were holding and caressing two firm, round, flawless glutes. Should I spread them, now? Would he take me into him as we stood here in this hidden place? Was there lube—or would an uncanny man like him even need it?

I needed to see him first. I shifted my hands back up to his shoulders and grasped them firmly, pulling left and pushing right. He turned willingly, and when I saw his face I gasped.

“Birch?” I said.

But even as the name escaped my lips, I knew it couldn’t be him. The hair was wrong, long and wavy instead of short and straight, and the eyes were a more vivid blue than Birch’s. The body was different, too. Like Birch he was tall and classically built, but this man was harder. His skin was tougher and his muscles thicker, as though some kind of life-or-death training had swallowed his life. There were no tattoos—proof enough, since the one I’d helped Birch get was no temporary tat but the real thing; no moles like the pair Birch had just above his left clavicle; no marks of any kind. His presence was heavy and potent, though his scent was milder than Birch’s, like milk and cinnamon.

The smile, though—that was the real giveaway. Birch’s smiles were cautious and coy, like he’d be caught out for not being grim and obsessive all the time. This man smiled at me in pure, heartbreaking relief. It was as though there was nothing else in the world for him but me, and my coming was a salve and a salvation.

“How did you know my name?” he asked, this stranger with my husband’s almost-face.

I shook my head slightly. My arms were around him—how had that happened?—and he was drawing his strong arms around me. Another Birch? I thought. An ancestor? A ghost?

He’d known my name in the dream, I remembered now. How had he known my name?

I was going to ask, but he kissed me then, his warm lips covering mine as he drew me to him, and in an instant all thoughts fled. His fingers carded through my curls, and I opened for him, our hot tongues greeting each other excitedly as my cock strained desperately against my jeans.

After long minutes, or hours, of this, the other man—I couldn’t call him Birch, no way—moved his kisses down onto my jaw and neck, then further, down to collarbone and sternum and navel as he sank to his knees before me, his long-fingered hands sliding from my shoulders onto my chest and staying there as he went lower and lower. He ministered to my flat but unremarkable belly with his lips and tongue, and when I let out out a tiny moan, he grinned dazzlingly up at me. Finally shifting to his ultimate destination he grabbed at the fastening of my jeans with his teeth and deftly freed the round, metal button there, then, using the same method, he began slowly lowering the zipper, exposing my sparse blond pubic hair and the root of my fantastically hard prick.

“Holy smokes,” I whispered. I was consumed with arousal. All I wanted in that moment was for this man to do… whatever he wanted to me. Every part of me quivered with desire and lust.

As his hands were still planted on my chest, I used my own to nudge my jeans off my hips, and they fell in a pool over my bare feet as my cock sprang loose, smacking him comically in the lips. He laughed and took it in his mouth in a sudden, eager engulfment, wrapping his lips around the shaft and letting his tongue slide luxuriously around the head. I grunted, swamped with pleasure, and he deepened his amorous appreciation of my rigid, sensitive prick, sucking hard as he slid his lips forward and back. My skin was hot, sweat tickling at my temples. I fought to keep myself from bucking into him and fucking his mouth, but he was doing such a good job I was already riding the edge.

He looked up at me, those bright blue eyes meeting mine, and my heart jumped and shattered. “I’m going to cum!” I moaned, and his eyes seemed to light up. Yes, I could almost hear him thinking—the message in his eyes was so clear. Cum, Wes! Cum inside me!

He wrapped his clever tongue around my shaft and gave final, sweet suck on my swelling prick, and all control dropped away. My release crashed through me like an explosion of pleasure. I grasped his head with splayed hands and my shoulders twisted backwards as climax took me, and I came, harder than I had the night before. The man took my cum like a champion, swallowing and sucking as though he could coax he greatest and most prodigious release from me I’d ever known. My body seemed desperate to comply, and I came and came and came and came. Finally my endless nut subsided, and a wonderful lassitude washed over me. Soft joy sifted through my mind and body, taking the place of strength and will. My knees started to give way like there were no bones at all down there, and in a moment the man had slid his hands around my bare torso and lowered me to my knees before him with what felt like the gentleness of an angel.

Face to face again, our mouths came together like they were not meant to be separated. We embraced fiercely, like we needed to hold each other as tightly as possible. I could taste myself on him, though only faintly, as though he had taken all my cum into him, leaving only a little residue behind on his swollen lips and tongue.

I was breathing too hard to kiss for long, though, and I broke off, sliding my mouth along his bristly jaw. “You will not regret this,” he murmured, as if to forestall the misgivings already nudging my conscious mind. I pushed them down, along with every other niggle and rational objection. I wanted this moment to remain, untouched, complete and alone with us.

“I will give you everything you want,” he went on gently. “Everything you desire.” I felt him smile against my cheek, and he added, “Everything I desire.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to drink in as much sensation as I could, but one dissonant thought would not go away. “Give me another name,” I whispered. “I can’t call you Birch.”

“Can’t you?” he asked. His voice was sex-roughened in a way that made my exhausted cock thicken and twitch. I did not answer, and he kissed my neck in that place where all good lovers know to kiss. “Then, you can call me Trey.”

I pulled back to look him in the eyes, the two of us still holding each other. I licked my lips. I wondered about his cock. I hadn’t seen much if it—when he’d turned around I’d been distracted by his face—but I felt it against my cooling skin like an iron cudgel, warm and heavy and thick. A dream cock. “Can I return the favor?” I asked.

To my surprise he smiled and shook his head. “You gave me all I need,” he said fondly, his voice even growlier than before. “And I to you in return. Now, it’s time for me to rest.”

In a heartbeat he faded as though swallowed again by the thick blackness of the attic room, and I was embracing nothing.

Nothing. I was embracing nothing.

I let my hands fall.

I stood.

I pulled up my jeans and fastened them with numb fingers.

I turned and found the narrow stairs that had brought me here, trying not to notice how I was seeing in the darkness by a warm, uncanny light reflected from my own skin, though there was no place the light could come from.

I started down the stairs.

My brain did not work.

I made the turn and descended the rest of the steps down to the fourth floor. I reached the little door into the flickering hallway and stepped through it. The top of my head scraped along the underside of the doorframe as I passed underneath.

I froze.

Turning, I looked back at the doorframe with narrowed eyes.

The corridor was warm and still. A drop of sweat slid past my ear and down my jaw.

I took a determined step forward and stood under the doorframe again. My scalp pressed against the lintel.

I will give you everything you want. Everything you desire. Everything I desire.

You gave me all I need. And I to you in return.

My rational processes were still not working, but my instincts were in overdrive. Alarm jangled through me. Alarm, and excitement. Alarm and excitement.

Almost reluctantly, I looked down at myself.

My body. It was nice enough. Defined, they called it. I had pecs that stood out just a little, with a trivial line of blond hair between them. A flat belly rather than six-pack abs. My long arms and legs were stronger than they looked, but that wasn’t hard. Birch, who was hairy and naturally superfit, as manly as you could like, had joked once that I looked more like a debauched chorus boy than a mad painter, and he wasn’t the first to see my naked form as a picture of debased innocence.

In fact it had been in a gesture of defiance that I’d gotten my first tattoo, and then more tattoos. The starter was the dark red triskelion on my shoulder, then a tiny stag on the inside of my other elbow (I’d tell you why, but it’s too embarrassing), a compass between my shoulder-blades, and the butterfly. Eventually I realized my none-too-radical ink kind of played into the whole corrupted youth thing, but I had finally accepted that I looked like a young man who was more hungry for sex than experienced in it.

Now, though—

It was the same body. I was still me. But even looking down at myself in an underlit hallway and without benefit of a mirror I could see that certain things had been… altered. Tweaked. My chest stood out just a little more than I knew it had before. My shoulders felt just a little wider, and for all my innate, wiry strength my upper arms looked almost like I might for the first time have more than the minimum heft required there. I kind of wanted to pull my arms up and flex, just to feel the swell; but then standing with my arms at my sides I could also enjoy the feel of them just barely brushing against my torso, as though my lats had decided to thicken just the few extra millimeters necessary to make contact between limb and torso easier. It was an unexpected and not unpleasant sensation.

My belly was still flat and ordinary. That one little mole a few inches to the left of my navel was still there. But the expanse looked a little tighter than before, and I was pretty sure I could see some faint ridges there, like my abdominal muscles had been incrementally surfaced from somewhere deep inside. All this also had the effect of highlighting the suggestive V that led down into my pants where my cock, despite its recent exertions, was reacting to all this with a seriously interested chub; and the bulge it made—the bulge I could feel and see—was also clocking in at just a bit more than I was used to.

Maybe I was imagining it. All of it. It couldn’t be real, right? Maybe this still all the dream from the night before. What I was seeing, what I was feeling—it had to be a dream. Right?

My legs felt strong, too, though it was hard to tell in the old, battered painting jeans I was wearing—except for the way the snug fit across my ass felt just a notch snugger, and the frayed hems no longer quite hid my ankles. My feet looked nice, too. I couldn’t really tell if they were really any different, but they looked pretty fly.

Okay. No more. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to make sense of things. As I raised my head I felt the lintel slide along my scalp again, shifting my mop around, and a cold chill raced through me as my head pressed against the painted wood.

This. This was the first bit of evidence I’d collected, and the most damning. The rest I could dismiss as a dream or a trick of the light or post-orgasm delirium, but I knew I’d had an inch or two of clearance when I’d come through here before. And if that had changed, other things might have changed, too. The things I’d noticed. Maybe things I hadn’t noticed.

Alarm, and excitement. Alarm and excitement.

I stepped back again. The darkness of the stairwell seemed to look back at me, and I closed the door, pressing in until I heard the snick of the latch.

I had to go back downstairs. I had to reenter my life.

Birch would see me. He would see me, and he’d know. He’d know.

Even this subtle wave of change was enough to notice. I’d noticed, and I wasn’t left-brain detail-oriented the way Birch was. Next time it’d be even more obvious—

Next time! Was I nuts? Where had that thought even come from?

Abruptly I turned and strode down the hall, my steps quick and deliberate. I told myself I would never come up here again. I told myself Birch wouldn’t notice what Trey had done. It wasn’t much. Or if he did I could claim I had finally started using the joint gym membership Birch and I shared, and which he used religiously for running and swimming even when he was busy.

I got to the main stairs and rattled down the wide, carpeted steps, my mind a torrent. I was going to forget all of this. I was going to wake up from a dream, knowing none of it was real. I was going to devote myself to Birch and never think about all this again.

I was going to go back to Trey.

I was going to go back to him, and fuck him. I was going to give him all the cum he could want. I only topped occasionally with Birch, but with Trey—the idea of fucking that man made my blood hot.

I was hard, as hard as if I’d never cum at all that night. Like I hadn’t cum in weeks.

Soon, I told my cock. Or, never again. No—soon.

I burst into the solarium, intent on painting something, anything, just to keep from going back upstairs and using this hard-on the way it wanted to be used, violating Trey’s perfect ass. I stopped, my bare feet planted on the hardwood below me.

Birch was in my solarium, the dour painting with the infinitely-layered multitude of blue-black quinquetras in his hands. He was in his sleep shorts, and I guessed he had come to bed late, found the bed empty, and decided to seek me out.

I stared at him as he frowned at the uncharacteristic work. He looked like Birch. Not Trey. Birch. Old-fashioned, manly, works-too-hard Birch.

He looked up, some remark about the strange painting on his lips, but then he saw the very fierce hard-on I had straining against the fabric of my old jeans like it might break through at any moment, and he seemed to forget what he’d been about to say. His eyes lingered on big, stiff prick for a moment, his lips twisting into a sultry smile. Then he looked up and met my heated haze through his nerd glasses. With immense relief I realized I still wanted him as much as I wanted Trey.

I returned his smile with a feral, bared-teeth one of my own.

“Ready to get fucked?” I asked.

I awoke alone, crowded into the back of old cushy sofa with a big empty Birch-sized space where my husband had, as was his wont, vanished with the bright Spring morning.

Embracing nothing again, my brain grumbled. I sighed and sat up. The windowshades were all up—I rarely lowered them—and the room was flooded with bright sunlight. A new day. What did that portend? The end of a momentary fantasy, or the dawn of a transformed life?

I chanced a look down at myself, stomach uneasy. Perceptibly thicker pecs, check. Faint hints of previously nonexistent ab muscles, check. Bumped-up shoulders and pump-retained upper arms, check. I was naked this time—my poor jeans were crumpled on the floor, again, like something in me thought they belonged there—and now I could definitely see the low-key level-up my legs had gotten, and my junk too. My thighs weren’t bigger, really, but you could kind of tell there was muscle under there now and not just generic flesh. And speaking of flesh, that cock…! It felt like it was all the way soft, but it looked like what I was used to seeing from a half-chub at least, all fat and long like it was ready for a hand, or something more serious. Sitting there on the edge of the couch the foreskin was just brushing the old cotton cover-sheet. I stared at it and it twitched once, as if to say, “Yes? Can I help you?”

Closing my eyes I leaned forward, elbows on knees, and shoved my fingers into my messy mop. My eyes popped open, and I let my fingers very slowly card through my hair. Was it this long before? I tried to tell myself I wasn’t sure, but I knew better. Another thought struck me and I pulled my hands back out of my hair and along my jaw on both sides. Sure enough—I’d shaved the morning before, but I had two or three days’ worth of soft stubble. It felt a notch fuller than my thin old beard normally came in, too, like I’d gotten a Viking facial-hair upgrade on top of everything else.

Dropping my other hand I tapped at my lips with the bend of my index finger, then opened my mouth enough to bite the knuckle. This was not good. The changes I’d noticed so far were mild—not so much Wes 2.0 as Wes 1.1 or 1.2. But if my cursedly curly hair was tumbling out at a faster rate than normal it wouldn’t be long before I started looking like a canary-blond Merida (with a Viking beard) or season-one Felicity (with, again, a Viking beard).

There was no way Birch wasn’t noticing a change like that. And if he asked how it happened, I would have to explain. I’d have to tell him what I’d done.

Okay. Okay. No need to panic. Maybe my hair just got a boost, like my pecs and my junk. No biggie. Nothing to worry about. Right? It was a one-time thing. Just one time, give or take——No! I wasn’t going down that road. Last night was… last night. It was there, confined in that moment in time, and I was here, now, at arm’s length from it and moving forward. Time’s arrow would take it further and further away without any effort from me. That was it. Done.

I decided my best course of action was to go about my business and have a normal day. I sat up again and slapped my bare thighs as if to punctuate my resolve. Hmm—I should probably get dressed, I thought. My jeans were right there in a heap, as was apparently becoming habit, but—where the heck was the shirt I’d been wearing? I remembered distinctly having worn my pink and white Gilmore Guys tee to paint in yesterday. I must have whipped it off at some point for me to have ended up doing that obsessive half-naked self-painting and weird foreplay session, but I could not see anywhere it might have gone. Everything else was untouched. The quinquetra-multitude painting was back on the easel—Birch must have set it there before letting me drag him back to the couch, though I didn’t quite remember. The drafting table where I did pencils and charcoals still had the sheafs and sheafs of sketches I’d done after the painting. Finished canvases in various sizes rested against the walls around the room, some of them in little stacks of three or four, and the blanks were stockpiled in the corner by the far end of the couch. Everything was where it should be, except my shirt.

Giving up, I reached over and grabbed my jeans, pulling them on as I stood, and tromped out of the solarium with a simple plan: a shirt, then breakfast. I usually didn’t have much more than coffee in the morning, but today I felt like I could go for a mess o’ flapjacks and still have room for a plate of bacon or three.

There was no sign of Birch in the bedroom, of course, and the bed was still made from Tanya’s pass through the living quarters yesterday afternoon—neither one of us had made it to bed last night. The neatly arranged bedclothes and pillows gave me a weird twinge in this light, like I was an outsider visiting my own bedroom.

I poked my head in the en-suite, and there, at least, I saw signs of my hubby: the shower door was still spotted with drops of water from his shower, and one of his favorite towels, a thick, heavy brown one he always said felt extra-snuggly as he dried with it, was draped neatly over the top track. I could smell his after-shave, too, which made my lips curve and my dick twitch just a bit. I liked how his musky scent, and he’d somehow found the right after-shave to complement it. The combination always turned me on, and when it was around and he wasn’t it sometimes felt like a promise of his return.

Okay. Going about my day. A quick shirtification, then breakfast… email… phone calls with the gallery. A normal day. I went over to the nearer of the two big, low dark-walnut bureaus and pulled open my tee-shirt drawer—and gaped at the emptiness therein.

I hauled the drawer out further and even reached a hand in. Nothing. I shoved the drawer in and pulled it out again. Still nothing. In a state of shock I grabbed the drawer underneath where I kept old tees and undershirts. Nope. No sale. Nothing but air and an old penny. No shirts.

My pulse quickened as I checked the other drawers, but they were appropriately occupied, as I’d somehow known they would be. Underwear, socks, shorts and trunks—all present and accounted for.

My walk-in closet? The same. Slacks and blazers were all hanging where they should be, but no dress shirts, no polos, no nothing. Even the hangers were gone.

I went back to the dresser, intending to check the drawer again, and caught sight of myself in the large mirror mounted over the bureau. For a moment I just stood there, staring at my reflection. There I was, Wes 1.2. Was the shirt thing… related? Was this a part of that? All the changes I’d catalogued before were there, but this shirt thing made me wonder—like maybe what had happened to me hadn’t just affected a few aspects of my aesthetic appearance. What else was different about me? What wasn’t I seeing?

My gaze fixed on my slightly plumper chest, and suddenly I remembered noticing the faded quinquetra, when I’d woken up from that first dream. Odd I’d forgotten about that. Was it still there? I looked for it in the mirror, but I couldn’t see it, not exactly. I felt like I was almost glimpsing it, like something out of the corner of my eye, except I was looking right at it.

I turned away from the mirror. No. This was stupid. I was not going to let my brain go off the rails. What would Birch say? Think it through rationally. Think it through.

So. My shirts were gone. What the fuck. Maybe… what? Had a prowler snuck in and, bypassing the safe and the silverware and Birch’s watches, instead gone straight for my collection of not-so-priceless and frequently paint-stained boyband tees? Had Birch decided to show his playful side for once and prank me? Or… had Trey physically snuck down from the attic to steal my shirts? I pictured my dream lover, whom I wasn’t sure even existed, tiptoeing down the stairs… darting into the bedroom to filch my tops while Birch was in the shower… making off with the goods back to his dark, garret domicile with a wicked grin. Yeah. Preposterous. But the other explanations didn’t make much sense either. And the places my gut wanted to go in search of what had actually happened were a little unsettling.

Or… maybe this wasn’t just about me. I glanced over at Birch’s bureau. If there was a shirt thief…

I moved over to the other bureau and pulled open the drawer Birch kept his few casual tees in. There they were, folded neatly in square, little piles. I pulled out one at random, a midnight blue one I’d gotten him as a joke once that read “Venture capitalists do it for the return”. I smiled as I put it on, drawing in the scent as I pulled it over my head. It mainly smelled like laundry detergent, but I thought I caught a whiff of Birch’s dark and familiar muskiness as well. It fit okay—just right, actually. Birch was still taller than I was, a bit, and even marginally buffed up I still didn’t match the toned and well-proportioned physique he was so proud of, the one he’d been keeping hard and honed out of pure habit basically since adolescence. I still didn’t know where that impulse had come from back then. He loved swimming, I knew that, but there seemed more to it. Was it hero worship of older, more jock-like peers? Sneers from the Iron Lady about people who didn’t take care of themselves? Some innate instinct in his genetics that prized hard abs and strong legs? Whatever the origin of his fitness-minded disposition, I’d had cause to be grateful for it, to say the least.

Okay. Breakfast. I headed out of the bedroom toward the back stairs. Pancakes seriously sounded like a good idea. Pancakes with lots of butter and that fake maple syrup I liked. And if I checked the fridge we probably did have—

A cool draft slid lightly over the skin of my back like the caress of a ghostly hand, and I stopped, my heartbeat instantly loud and fast. I was shirtless again.

The hairs on my forearms lifted, and not because of the breeze.

I glanced over my shoulder—my bare shoulder. I’d inadvertently left the tee-shirt drawer of Birch’s dresser pulled out. I reentered the bedroom and walked back to it apprehensively.

The midnight-blue joke tee was back where it had been before, folded small and neat with just the beginning of the text, VENT, visible on top, exactly the way it had been when I’d first pulled the drawer open. Like I’d never picked it up and put it on. Like I’d never so much as touched it.

I almost tried it again. Almost. Instead, I just clo-o-osed the drawer, very firmly, and walked resolutely out of the bedroom while trying very, very hard not to think about what had just happened. Breakfast. I would just go down and have breakfast. At this point, as long as the flapjacks I was about to make didn’t spookily vanish between the griddle and my grumbling stomach, I would count it as a win.

Sebastián, Birch’s (and I guess my) estate steward, accountant, and general personal finances dogsbody, was at the breakfast table, a half-eaten Dagwood-sized sandwich and a large ceramic bowl of greasy kettle-cooked potato chips in front of him while he scrolled through whatever on his tablet. Geez, the metabolism on that guy—he ate like a fratboy and was thinner than I was. I breezed past with a casual “Hey”, like I came down to eat topless all the time, and started pulling down stuff for pancakes. I was still trying not to think too much.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw him look up at me and frown slightly. “You been working out?” he asked after a moment, as if the idea were slightly perplexing.

“Sure,” I said. I turned on the oven so it could do keep-warm duties as I made the pancakes, then checked the fridge. Score! Bacon. This morning definitely called for bacon. It also called for rum in the pancake batter, but that was probably a bad idea. I pulled the bacon out and started the griddle and a frying pan heating.

“Growing out your hair, too,” Sebastián added thoughtfully.

I was pretty unsettled by everything and not at all sure how to deal with Sebastián. Out of habit, I went for my projecting-fake-confidence thing, tossing my hair back as I glanced briefly over my shoulder at him. “You like it?” I asked, mustering a grin he could take as either genuine or sardonic.

He wiggled his eyebrows. “I do,” he said, surprising me.

Quickly, I turned away from him, hiding my blush as I grabbed a whisk and started violently mixing batter. How the fuck had Birch managed to hire the hottest CPA in history? Sure, he was Birch’s best friend, but honestly, it was like the guy had been constructed by a bunch of horny queens with a Hot Spanish Guy checklist. He had it all—svelte dancer’s physique (with, it seemed, that annoying lightning-fast metabolism), tawny golden-brown skin, a conservative yet dashing dress sense (right now he was wearing dark, leg-hugging trousers, a dark blue well-cut blazer, and a white shirt open just enough to show his hairy chest), smoldering eyes and perfect cheekbones, dark perma-stubble and lush jet-black hair you wanted to run your fingers through, and, worst of all, a brilliant smile that went straight to your dick. He even had a slight accent, despite having come here from Spain when he was eight, which made me suspect he played up the whole “love child of Enrique Iglesias and Antonio Banderas” gig for kicks. It didn’t matter. It worked for him. He was the package—and that wasn’t even taking into account his actual package, which was as arresting as the rest of him.

And why was I so aware of all that today? Usually I was more or less immune to Sebastián’s allure. Mostly because he barely seemed to notice me. “More or less” meaning he’d caught me staring at him once, a long time ago, at a party not long after Birch had introduced us. Sebastián had tossed me a wink, probably more or less automatically, then proceeded to ignore me for three years, and I’d spent the whole time self-consciously not looking at him whenever we ran into each other.

Now, though, I could feel his eyes on me, and the heat was seeping right into my bloodstream.

“What’s the story with the compass?” he asked.

I poured my first pancake and started the bacon sizzling before answering. The truth was there hadn’t actually been a reason—I’d just wanted a tattoo between my shoulder blades and had chosen the compass at random. I gave him my standard line. “It’s there as a guide for any wayward travelers I meet,” I said, without looking around. “In case they have any trouble finding my ass.”

Okay, why had that sounded more like an invitation than usual? It was the same joke I always told whenever anyone wanted to know about that tattoo. Heck, I’d told my mother that joke when she’d asked about it.

“No problem there,” Sebastián said. His voice was closer than I expected. I turned around and suddenly I was in his arms.

I gulped. My face was inches from his. “You, uh, want some?” I asked, meaning the pancakes.

Sebastián nodded, his dark eyes riveted on mine.

Loud sizzling behind me trickled into my awareness, and it took me a second to realize it wasn’t some kind of mental static. “The bacon’s going to…” I mumbled, trailing off as he reached past me and switched off the burners. Click. Click. The sizzling died away, and all I could hear was my pounding heartbeat.

My hands were on his waist, under his jacket. I didn’t understand when that could have happened, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be not touching Sebastián anytime soon.

He moved closer, pressing his hips against mine. I could feel his thick hard-on, and he could feel mine.

“I want you, Wes,” he said, dead serious. “And you want me.”

He wasn’t wrong. Insatiable lust surged through me like a drug. Had he really been this intoxicatingly sexy the whole time? How had I kept away from him before now? “Fuck, Sebastián,” I complained softly. “Why are you so hot?”

He glanced at my lips. “Why are you so…” He moved in for a soft kiss, like he was tasting a meal he was about to devour.

“…irresistible?” he finished, his accent making my balls tighten.

I wanted to think about that word, about the illogic of all of this and everything that had happened today, but it was necessary that talking end and action begin. I slammed my lips onto his, and we kissed like it was impossible for us to get enough of each other.

Okay, that was not the plan for the morning.

After I fucked Sebastián over the breakfast table—using butter from the butter dish for lube!—I went back to making pancakes in a bit of a shaky daze and he returned to his tablet and his emails, almost like it hadn’t happened. Only it had definitely, definitely happened. Sebastián refused my offer of his own plate of flapjacks but filched from my pile of perfectly crisped bacon with a cocky smile and a wink, like our being at arm’s length from each other was a thing of the past now and both our libidos were on board with that whether I liked it or not.

When I reached for the butter to smear some on my pancakes I felt him watching me, and when our eyes met his smirk was enough to make my stomach flutter. I spread that butter pretty damn defiantly, making sure to use the bit with the finger-marks. I met his gaze the whole time I was lathering up the top of my short stack, and his smugness was as thick in the air as the smell of sex and bacon grease.

Hmm, bacon grease, I thought distractedly, still matching stares with Sebastián. Maybe I ought to save that for——

Nope! Nope nope nope. I was not going to make a regular habit of drilling Sebastián with various assorted breakfast-themed lubes. Very deliberately I bent my attention to my food and began scarfing it down as quickly as possible.

“What’s your hurry?” Sebastián asked, sounding amused.

I swallowed a triple wedge of buttery flapjack. Jeez, I forgot the syrup! I’d been craving that shit, too. Too late now. “I just remembered,” I extemporized, hacking out another multilayer of pancakey goodness, “I… gotta meet with the gallery director today.” Which was true, apart from the “today” bit. My show was eight weeks off, so anytime in the next month would have worked. I carried on stuffing my face, trying to reroute my thoughts away from sex and in the general direction of the details and price points Dima still wanted to iron out.

“Are you going like that?” Sebastián asked. Now I could actually hear the smirk in his voice.

I looked up, and, after chewing and swallowing, fought down my nerves and tried to match him cocky for cocky. “Like you’ve never taken a fashion risk,” I taunted, taking the offensive. “Which one of us wore a gauzy shirt and a blue speedo to the company picnic two years ago?”

He wasn’t expecting sardonic aggression, and he raised his eyebrows slightly, like he was impressed. “I’m glad you remember,” he said.

Boy, did I remember. I was getting chubbed again just thinking about how he’d had all the spouses and admins, male and female alike, staring hungrily and gossiping in hushed, leering whispers over those thick, flat, hairy pecs and that luscious, rippling six-pack with the impossible-to-miss treasure trail leading straight down to a round, tightly contained blue bulge. Or—had his abs been that nice? Somehow I felt the edge of another memory, like I’d been thinking at the time it was pretty awesome for a verging-on-middle-aged guy with a soft but flat belly and hairy, nonexistent pecs to make add some entertainment to the summer outing by acting the over-the-top Lothario. But that wasn’t right. Sebastián had had us turned on and drooling, not just laughing, right? Plus the age thing didn’t make sense either. He wasn’t much older than us, and if anything he looked younger than the always-serious Birch.

Fuck, my head was a mess. I was the one who’d been bumped up a couple notches, not Baz. No wonder I was feeling mentally disoriented, given the quinquetra thing and the Trey thing and the shirt thing and, well, all the things. I needed to get a grip.

He considered me shrewdly as I ate and stewed. “This is a side of you I haven’t seen before,” he said. It couldn’t help noticing the hint of approval in that statement.

I looked up at him, a forkful of pancake paused in midair. “That’s… what I said ten minutes ago,” I quipped, because that was what Confident-Me would say. I made a joke of taking the forkful into my mouth, drawing my teeth lightly along the tines and licking my lips when I was done, making eye contact the whole time. Baz chuckled, and we finished our meals in surprisingly companionable silence while I went back to trying not to think about how fucking weird my life was all of a sudden.

I was a little distracted as I entered the four-car detached garage behind the old house through one of the open bays, so at first I didn’t notice long coverall-clad legs and big boots sticking out from under my machine-gray metallic Miata MX-5 convertible.

I loved that car. It was weird having money, and a year of marriage hadn’t helped me accept that it came mostly from my husband. Sure, my paintings sold okay, and I knew a lot of classmates and fellow artists that wasn’t true for. But married to Birch I could have had literally any car I’d wanted—like, say, the gleaming Tesla sitting beside it, or the perfectly restored brilliant-blue ’67 Corvette 427 next to that.

So after a bit of internal struggle I’d compromised on a car I pretended I could have almost afforded without Birch’s ocean of wealth, and I hadn’t looked back. Mia (yes, I named it) was great to drive and looked grand, and I felt a kind of rush as I entered the bay at the sight of it—it looked damn good.

Fuck, even cars were turning me on today. Since when was I this randy?

Of course, you know the answer to that, I told myself snarkily. My blood had started flowing faster and hotter from the moment I’d set eyes on that strange symbol and slid cock-first into my own personal sex dream. But reminding myself of what had happened to me no longer gave me the same level of heebie-jeebies it had before. Somewhere along the way I think I’d subconsciously decided it was all too much stress to worry about. I’d probably flip back to freaking out later, but at this point I was just rolling with it all.

As if on cue there was a motion from under the car, and a large, grinning man rolled out and waved up at me. “Hey there, Mr. Rayn!” the mechanic said cheerily. “Having a good morning?”

I watched as he got up, and up, and up, until he was beaming down at me from a height advantage of at least a foot and a half. “Uh, hey, Ace,” I greeted the dark-haired giant absent-mindedly, while my graze climbed up his immense frame to his shining green eyes and brilliant smile. Something in my brain elbowed me with a reminder that he’d asked a question, and I added truthfully, “It’s, uh, been a very strange day.”

He moved a step closer, a little line of concern between his perfect eyebrows, and rested a hand on my bare shoulder, its weight both comforting and intensely arousing. “Not in a bad way, I hope?” he asked.

I stared up at him. Fuck, my big stupid cock was hard again. “No,” I said slowly, “bad is not the word I would use.”

Ace smiled beautifully, and fuck if it didn’t make me shiver and my balls tighten with improbably quantities of lust. Ace was impossibly handsome in that super-friendly, easy-going way that made anyone love him who ever met him. And everything about him was crazy, crazy hot. Not only was his face mesmerizing, with those bright eyes and the smooth skin and the huge, easy smile with the lips you automatically pictured around your dick, but… even in thick slate-blue coveralls you could tell he had a body like a Greek god, only one that had been accidentally hit with a growth ray that had sized him up by, like, 125%.

Man, imagine if the Gorgons did that to you instead of turning you to stone.

I struggled to get a hold of myself, despite a raging hard-on that seemed to be trying to get to Ace by means of the clever ploy of weakening the fabric of my jeans with a steady flow of precum so it could rip right through. I swallowed. “A-any problems with Mia?” I asked.

“Nope!” he answered happily. “I was just doing a quick maintenance check. She’s all good.”

“Cool,” I said, still gazing up at him. His hand was still on my shoulder, and his thumb had started to move along my clavicle.

“You look really good today, Mr. Rayn,” Ace said, his eyes dark now with obvious desire.

“Please,” I said. “Call me Wes.”

He nodded. “You look really good today… Wes,” he said, his voice lower and gentler than before.

I couldn’t even handle how much I wanted him. I glanced down at his coveralls, then back up to his face. He was watching me intently, like he was studying how hot I was and how aroused I was making him. “You know, Ace,” I heard myself say, “I’ve… always kind of wondered what exactly you wear under those.”

His slow-spreading smile was breathtaking to behold. He placed his other hand on my shoulder, heavy and warm, and I think my dick got even harder.

“I’ve always kind of wanted to show you,” he said.


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