The bright, clear morning sunlight streaming through thin-curtained windows woke Jordan Coffey from a deep and satisfying sleep. Without opening his eyes he basked in the sun’s comforting warmth, feeling it on his bare skin from the shaved crown of his head, down his obsessively gym-crafted torso and powerful swimmer’s legs all the way to his big feet, smiling slightly to himself as he pondered how sleep-Jordan never seemed to let his hard-won bod be hidden by covers for long. He’d always kicked his top-sheets off within minutes of falling asleep, he knew. He’d done it as far back as he could remember—even, as now, in the depths of a howling, snow-swirling Chicago winter. He hung stubbornly onto his semiconscious state, liking the feel of the sun and tracking the screaming gusts outside his well-insulated home, reveling in his morning nudity. He wondered sometimes why he even bothered with top-sheets and blankets at all. But he knew the answer. Beds properly included bedclothes, and Jordan needed to do things properly and fully or not at all.
Besides, settling into bed on a calm, dusky evening with a thin layer of cool, soft cotton settling gently over your hard, tired body was just as pleasant and comforting a feeling as waking up like this, lazing naked and brazenly exposed with the new dawn’s warm caresses ghosting across all the bare skin he had.
Still with his eyes closed, Jordan slowly and languorously stretched his long frame. As he did so, his still-sluggish thoughts registered at last that he was not alone in his bed. Warm, strong arms lay draped around his long torso. A hand wrapped gently around the modest flare of his lats. There was a leg across his as well, and a head nestled against his shoulder. Soft, steady breaths puffed rhythmically across Jordan’s left pec, not quite disturbing his dark, sparse chest hair. Jordan felt himself snuggling automatically into the loose embrace, enjoying the nice surprise. His already semi-hard manhood stirred, intrigued and gratified by the sensual, unexpected male contact.
Something at the back of his head wanted to niggle at him, objecting that he hadn’t gone out cruising for sex last night, or even gone drinking with friends. The persistent niggle was certain that he’d stayed home alone, and that meant, logically, that he should have woken up that way, too. But it was too early for logic, the rest of Jordan’s brain objected. It was cozy here in this strong, snug embrace. He didn’t really want to question anything. Instead he let himself consciously return the envelopment, lifting his hands up from where they lay on the bed and wrapping a forearm across his bedmate’s pleasantly broad back, his hands finding the rounds of his partner’s deltoid and, just as was being done to him, the thick, elegant curve of his latissimus dorsi where it descended from well-muscled shoulders down toward what seemed very likely to be a tight, narrow waist like his own. Meanwhile he let his other hands drift along the thick arms that lay, still heavy with sleep, across his own bare torso.
The niggling thought swelled to a shout. Jordan tried still to resist it, but now too much was bent out of place. Reluctantly he opened his eyes and tilted his head down to take in the tableau he had woken up to. He sucked in a ragged, startled breath.
Things were even stranger than he’d gathered just from sensations alone.
Lying half across him was a tall, lithely muscled, bronze-skinned man whose familiar shape, whose very skin, matched his with a perfection that seemed plausible only through simple, absolute identity. The rich, sunlit buttery-brown of this stranger’s skin was an exact match for his own, including the lack of tan lines leading to an ass the same color as their long, hairless legs. A shaved head just like his own burrowed snugly into his shoulder, and, though he could not quite see the man’s sleeping face, Jordan knew with a coiling shiver in his gut that he did not have to.
Even the part of the scene that wrenched the man’s appearance away from what it should have been to be identical—the two right arms sprawling across Jordan’s chest, and the pair of left arms he could now feel drawn up close between them—could not disturb the identity, because Jordan saw with a sense of shock he did not know what to do with that he, himself, was the same in this respect as his stranger-slash-double. He, Jordan, had two left arms wrapped around his bedmate’s broad back, not one, a hand wrapped around what he now saw was the doubled deltoid of the other man’s powerful shoulder, while the other hand held him further down, around his long, perfect lats, his middle finger pushing unconsciously past the muscle and brushing lightly along a just-perceptible rib under the man’s skin. And he, Jordan, was caressing those twin bronze arms laying warm and heavy across him with two right hands, and he was doing so as naturally if this stranger that was in his bed woke every morning to Jordan’s gentle touch as routinely as the rising of the sun, or the buffeting of a Chicago storm.
Something … inexplicable had happened to him.
The niggling thought now demanded, irrationally, that he panic. His heart had started pounding ferociously in his chest, trying to get him to agree to succumbing to unreason. The beating seemed so loud that he thought he heard it even over the howling wind, and it occurred to him to wonder if his sleeping other heard it too, whether it was pushing roughly into his dreams as he lay nestling against Jordan’s chest. The coiling shiver in his gut had long since tightened into a painful knot.
But Jordan schooled himself, forcing steady, rhythmic breaths. Jordan didn’t do this. He did … not … panic. He would not. Panic killed, and he would never again put himself in the position where he gave himself so far into unreasoning fear that he lost control and put himself, or someone else, in danger. He would never lose control again. He steadied himself, and with determination was able, after several moments, to force even his heartbeat into a more managed, if still strident, tattoo.
In his momentary alarm Jordan had stiffened, but now he allowed himself to relax back into the other man’s soft, slumbering embrace. He held him firmly, enjoying the sensation. That was the other rule that Jordan had set for himself. He had gone through a long, jagged period not long ago where there hadn’t been much pleasure in his life, thanks to the interference of others. When he’d gotten out of it, when he’d shaken himself free of all that by retaking control of his life, he’d made a number of sober resolutions—and one of them was to take the pleasure that came his way. And fuck it: however strange this was and however unnerving this was and however fucked up his life had just become, waking up in the arms of a man—wrapped up in the heat and weight of a hard male body—was, purely and simply, a beautiful thing. Especially, he thought wryly, if the man whose arms he was waking up in was as hot and fuckable as a certain Jordan Coffey.
Without conscious thought he allowed the hand that was cupping the other man’s doubled deltoid to skate down the broad, bulging shoulder to the man’s strong neck. His fingers then trailed up the side of the neck to the shaved scalp. It was faintly dark with the tiniest ghost of stubble. He palmed the other man’s head like a basketball for a moment, feeling the so-slight rasp along his fingertips as he stretched his hand out around his partner’s bronze, hairless crown, before caressing the man’s still-smooth scalp. Jordan had been shaving his head since high school. He’d started because he’d thought it would give him an edge on the swim team against his best friend and biggest rival, Jack, and then had kept it up because the resulting look seemed to fascinate the guys in his school (including, delightfully, his buddy Jack).
He’d owned it and ended up making a lifelong habit of it, continuing the shaving regimen through college and into his turn as an eager cop and then, perhaps inevitably, a jaded P.I. who shared a working relationship of only grudging and conditional trust with his former colleagues on the force. In both his days in uniform and his afterlife as a detective for hire, he’d found that the distinctive look of a tall, caramel-skinned man who was good-looking, muscular, feral-grinned, and defiantly, provocatively bald by choice could be used equally to entice or intimidate, as circumstances required.
He knew what he looked like in a mirror. And he knew what his shaved head felt like both from his morning ritual and from the habit he’d developed almost from the beginning of periodically running an hand over his scalp whenever he was nervous or off guard, as if feeling for the hair that wasn’t there. But seeing his head in a mirror, or even feeling it as he shaved or ran a hand over his own skull, wasn’t at all the same as encountering his own shaved head on another body.
His fingers were moving gently now across the surface of the sleeping man’s skin, and Jordan realized he was looking for—and then he draw in a sharp breath as he found it: the tiny, triangular divot near the crown of his scalp, the one he felt for with his left hand almost as if seeking a finger-hold every morning as he methodically shaved away the stubble with his right.
The same head. It was the same … fucking … head. A gust of wind battered against the back of the house, rattling the windows and sounding as if it wanted to lift the place off its foundations and take it to Oz, and Jordan, accustomed to ignoring the wind’s racket and desire to intrude where it was not wanted, this time seemed to feel it, an icy shiver crawling up his spine. There was no mistaking it: this was another … another him, curled up in his embrace. It was impossible. And yet, the extra arms he felt and saw on himself, matched by those of the man in bed with him, made the idea of another him seem almost oddly mundane and plausible by comparison.
He wasn’t afraid. At some deep level it felt right as much as it felt good, and fuck—it felt amazing. Despite an underlying reverb of fear that would not recede, he didn’t move any of his hands away, but kept them where they were, holding firm onto the warm, sinewy form snuggling into him. And his cock, which had hardened to rigid and aching arousal of its own accord at some point, did not show even the slightest sign of subsiding, not at all, not the tiniest bit. His cock knew what it wanted.
The other man was hard, too, Jordan realized, belatedly putting together what he was feeling against his hip. For some reason the realization struck him funny, and he felt the corners of his lips curve. Of course, if there were to be another him, it was only right that he would be as much of a horndog as Jordan was himself.
Fuck, what would Charlie think about all this? he thought unexpectedly. He tried to listen for him, but the wind outside was too loud. He sighed.
Maybe it was the position they’d found themselves in, waking up as he had, but Jordan surprised himself with a rush of affection pushing through, amidst the simmering anxiety he was trying to ignore. And something more besides. A strange thing had happened, and maybe the freakiness of it would dry-fuck him hard and painful in the coming hours and days. But Jordan’s bedrock defiance of any such threat, tempered by experience, disillusionment, and resolve, was wrapped tight and close around this man in his arms as well, as true and essential for him as surely as it was for himself. And if this man really was who he seemed to be, from shaved head and bronze skin and the little divot in his scalp all the way down that identical body to the soles of those big feet that looked for all the world like a perfect match for Jordan’s own size thirteens, Jordan kept a steady, bankable hope that when it came down to it, that defiance and protection would be reciprocated in spades.
Had he gone home with someone? He was normally the sort to wake up with someone nuzzling into him, not the other way around—especially if he was in his own bed. So where was he? He could hear powerful winds assaulting whatever house he was in, and that was at least reassuring: it sounded like home. Chicago was the windy city, but his lakeside neighborhood, north of the city proper, seemed to get more and angrier wind than all the rest of Chicago combined.
Jordan blinked, trying to assemble his senses as he lay against whoever he was in bed with, accepting his caresses along his arms, his back, and the dome of his shaved head (an expanse that always attracted the kisses and ministrations of whoever he fucked, especially in the lazy afterglow). He tried to focus his still-sleepy mind and concentrate on his surroundings. That wind and the way it rattled the house—that did sound familiar. That was a start. His gaze rested on the large, framed print on the opposite, dark green wall. It was a crisp, Norman Rockwell-style painting (actually a Leyendecker, but like many of Rockwell’s originally painted for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post) depicting a uniformed policeman on a motorbike, dutifully writing out a ticket for two kids in a soap box racer, a boy driving and a girl perched behind him on the chassis. The boy was pleading his case, the cop was betraying a hint of a smile. Jordan stared at it.
Jordan had that very print hanging in his own bedroom.
Jordan’s older brother, Ryan, had gifted him with the print on his graduation from the police academy. Ryan had handed it over as if it were a gag gift, showing how cops lorded their power even over innocent kids; but Jordan suspected his architect brother had intended it to be a reminder of the wholesomeness and uprightness cops were supposed to represent. Four years later, Jordan, now a newly-minted crusading police detective, had had to tender his resignation rather that work another day for a corrupt superior, Captain Anthony Hester.
When Jordan had started gathering evidence to report Hester’s crimes, it was made clear to him that Hester was just a flunky for a bigger and worse malignancy. His even more corrupt superior was a creepy city alderman named Owen Vasher. Finding out somehow about Jordan’s tentative steps against his secret tool, Hester, Vasher had not been above threatening dire consequences for Jordan and his family, including his preschool-aged nieces, should he be so foolish as to not walk away. Stymied for the moment, his evidence insufficient and one of his contacts having mysteriously gone missing, Jordan had angrily resigned, full of disgust for himself as much as for the system.
But as he’d tossed the packet containing his resignation onto a sneering Hester’s desk and turned his back on the department forever, Jordan had thought of that corny old painting his brother had given him, and vowed to himself that he would see justice done as soon as he could make it happen, because that was the America he wanted to live in.
Jordan drew in a long breath, eyes falling from the upright cop in the framed poster, past the low dresser under it, to the floor. There they fixed on a big, dark-muzzled German shepherd snoozing contentedly curled up node to anus in a large, garishly plaid dog bed, snores inaudible thanks to the endless storm.
As if placed there to remove any doubt, there was his dog. It was his bedroom—the print, the low oaken dresser directly below it, the hunter green walls and sheer white drapes—his dog. Even the fact that there was no sheet covering them told him that he was home, in his own bed, waking up just as he would any other day with bedclothes cast firmly aside. So whose chest was he lying on so submissively, with a dick that was hard as a rock not from simple morning wood, but from the primal arousal that came from being held in the arms of a desirable man?
And then Jordan’s awareness clicked. The arms he had draped across this dark-golden chest. His other arms, drawn up between them. The way both his arms were being tenderly caressed, and the side of his back, and his bare scalp.
He lifted his head suddenly—to stare into his own chocolate-brown eyes.
Their hearts pounded hard as they stared at each other in recognition and fear.
The other man—the other him—swallowed and spoke, in a soft, tentative voice. “Jordan?” he asked.
Jordan nodded dumbly. He had no will to speak. Yet he understood in the same moment that it was his turn. He must reciprocate. His heart thudded against his chest. Even more reluctantly, he returned the question. “Also … Jordan?” he rasped.
The other man nodded once.
Their gazes drilled into each other for several loud heartbeats. In any other situation, assuming there could be another situation remotely like this one, Jordan might have felt the need to say something like, “What the fuck? What the actual fuck?” Useless words of that sort were certainly spinning through his mind, around and around, chasing themselves in frantic circles. But it was just as obvious that the same confusions spun in the other Jordan’s mind as well. There was no need for expostulation, and no need for unnecessary words.
After a time he simply let his head drop back onto his double’s chest, and the other Jordan, as if it was now ingrained habit, let his hands resume their absent-minded prowling of Jordan’s arms, lats, and scalp. Jordan stared at the two sculpted, sun-bronze arms he had wrapped possessively around the other man’s torso. After a long time, he willed himself to speak. For the moment, while he was so uncertain, it was easier not to look at the other man.
“Do you know…” He faltered for a second, struggling to find an intelligent way to end the question, but could only finish with a lame “…anything?”
The other Jordan huffed. “Not about this,” he said, sounding amused. Jordan smiled against what was essentially his own chest, contenting himself to listen to the other’s slowing heartbeat as he stared out into the bedroom. He was trying to make sense of what had happened to him, and what it would entail. He knew the answer to both questions, though. Trouble.
His drifting gaze lit on the bedside table. It was not a normal nightstand, exactly, but was instead a living room end-table of same solid, utilitarian Shaker design that filled most of the rooms in the house, thanks to a lot deal on underpriced, quality Jordan had fallen into not long after he’d purchased the house itself. (He’d gotten the place for a song from an aunt and uncle eager to decamp for warmer climes after a particularly harsh winter two years back, not long before the sudden and brutal end of his time on the force.) The table was without even a drawer for condoms and lube, which therefore resided in a large, unlidded box that sat on top of the table, next to the banker’s lamp Jordan used for reading through case files before bed when he was busy.
Also lying face-down on the table, plugged into its Thunderbolt-cable charger, was his iPhone. … His? Their? Whatever. Getting another phone was probably the least of whatever hassles would be coming at them with all this.
Jordan eyed the phone consideringly. Back when he’d first started digging into Vasher, he’d encountered lots of strange and sketchy rumors about the alderman. The strangest were the whispers that he liked to be referred to as “the Warlock.” Until this moment Darren had dismissed that one as nothing more than a ludicrous affectation designed to capitalize on his unpleasant physiognomy (deep-set eyes, bushy eyebrows, sallow skin, permanent leer), or perhaps as someone’s awed or disgusted reaction to Vasher’s eerie and inexplicable hold over all kinds of people riddled through Chicago government, politics, and law enforcement.
Now he was not so sure.
Things had been quiet for most of the eighteen months since he’d quit. There had no more threats until a few weeks ago, when Jordan had suddenly started getting regular threatening texts from an untraceable number, warning him off the pursuit of Vasher he’d been quietly but doggedly pursuing in his spare time and threatening him with dark and unimaginable consequences if he kept going. The sinister alderman and his tool, Captain Hester, must have caught wind of the strings Jordan had been trying to pull, despite the extent to which he had been trying to do so with the greatest possible care, working to uncover something that could effectively be used against the strange old man.
Jordan reached for the phone, watching in fascination as only the rearmost of his two left arms accepted the command and stretched toward the bedside table. He felt the movements in his shoulder and understood, from the sensory input of his shifting muscles, without being able to see it, that his arms were attached in twain, side by side, to a doubled set of shoulder muscles. It occurred to him that while he couldn’t explore his own shoulders so easily, the other Jordan was available for as minute and interested an examination as he should like. Perhaps they would find such an exploration mutually rewarded, Jordan mused wryly. Jordan’s achingly erect cock flexed against the other Jordan’s hip, seemingly of its own accord.
The table was just barely out of reach, so Jordan had to shift up onto the other Jordan a little more fully, feeling the brush of his double’s erection dragging wetly against his own hip as he did so. He ended up deciding to go ahead and complete the process and crawled fully on top of the other man as his hand came down on the phone. He found a strange kind of relief in the act. It was a little unlike him to snuggle into someone’s embrace, even if it was, bizarrely, his own. He rested his weight on his remaining forearms to either side of the other man, who was watching him closely. Jordan could tell from his expression that he was aware of what Jordan was looking for and why.
Jordan detached the phone one-handed from its charger-plug and checked the display, trying to ignore the way their cocks were now jostling together between them. He grimaced.
The other Jordan immediately understood. “What does it say?” he asked.
Jordan thumbed the screen unlocked and spoke the full text message aloud. “Here is your first taste of being a monster,” he read grimly. “Your own actions have led you to this despite. You cannot go out like this, once-handsome Jordan. Not without screams and rejection. You cannot let your dear family see you in this hideous form. You are now an inhuman creature, but this is only the beginning. Stop now, burn your disks and papers, and perhaps—perhaps—you will be restored, if you swear allegiance to me. Persist … and even worse fates await you.” He read the last line with a sardonic smile, eyebrow arched. “Choose your fate, monster, while you still can.”
He set the phone back on the table, and then looked back down, dropping his remaining forearm onto the cool bedsheet next to its mate, and met his double’s gaze. The other man’s brows were drawn together, his perplexed frown matching Jordan’s own. “I thought monsters were supposed to be hairy and shit,” the other man commented. Jordan scoffed in response, eyeing the other Jordan’s bare shoulders and then his clean-shaven head before meeting his gaze again.
“Does all this seem … monstrous to you?” his double asked, unexpectedly sounding more thoughtful than glib.
A smile tugged at Jordan’s own lips as he gazed down at his undeniably handsome double. “You don’t look very hideous to me,” he said cockily. Their iron dicks squirmed against each other, seeming to agree. Impulsively, he dropped his lips onto the other Jordan’s, yearning to taste him. The other man’s surprise instantly evaporated into heat and reciprocation. The other man opened for him, and the shared a deep and thrilling kiss that was as much a promise of future passions as it was a moment of deep and wanton pleasure. Their cocks shoved jostled, wanting friction, wanting more.
Jordan lifted his head to stare into his double’s eyes, delighted and gratified to see them dark with want and desire. “You think it was supposed to turn out like this?” he asked hoarsely.
The other Jordan shook his head slightly. “I think he got his eye of newt mixed up with his toe of frog,” his double said.
“Maybe he threw in a few too many bat spleens,” Jordan said absently, his eyes drinking in his partner’s sharp, comely features. His eyes met the other Jordan’s and stopped, momentarily trapped there.
The other man held his gaze a moment. “He’s right though,” the double said seriously at last. “We can’t go out like this.”
Jordan knew what he meant. It wasn’t so weird that there were two of them—that was easy to explain. He—they—could even have fun with the whole “long-lost evil twin” thing. The arms, though. That was another story.
Still, Jordan let himself shrug, feeling as he did so the potential for increased power in his augmented shoulders. Since the other him had voiced the concern they both shared, he could be the one to be cavalier about it. “We’ll figure out something,” he said glibly. Then a thought occurred to him and his lips curled. “Good thing we have a drawer full of ribbed tanks,” he said. He’d always worked out in sleeveless shirts from his earliest days as a fitness-obsessed teen, liking the look and feel of shiny, exposed sweat on his bulging delts and upper arms, and now he was downright grateful for that long-ago impulse.
“Good thing,” the other Jordan agreed, mirroring his grin before desire washed over his expression. “In the meantime,” he added huskily, “how do feel about a little … self-pleasuring?” He wiggled his eyebrows ridiculously.
Jordan suppressed a grimace. Two could play at that game. “I’ve always wanted to be able to suck myself,” Jordan shot back, staring back at him meaningfully, and the other him groaned.
“God,” his double said, sounding both amused and mortified. “Okay, I call moratorium on jokes.”
“Agreed,” Jordan said, before diving into a hungry and passionate kiss. He found himself moaning into the other’s mouth as four strong arms wrapped hard and fast around him.
The sex had been—wow. He hadn’t fucked like that in … well, Jordan guessed he’d never fucked quite like that. It wasn’t just that he (they) knew what he (they) liked. Yes, that cut down on the bullshit, the fumbling, the uncertainty that came with a first fuck with a random guy. But it went beyond that. They were in sync, bent on their mutual pleasure, more than he’d been with any partner ever. The kissing had been phenomenal not just because he (they) were a great kisser, and not just because he (they) loved kissing more than anything short of full-blown orgasm, and not just because they’d woken hungry and horny for each other. It was also that he and the other Jordan had both literally gotten off on how much pleasure they were both getting out of the experience.
And when they’d progressed to a panting, urgent agreement that they had to fuck, right fucking now, they’d both known instinctively that the other Jordan topping—the one who’d climbed on top of him in the first place, originally to grab the phone off the night stand, before being on top of him transitioned into something else—only meant that they both needed to fuck each other, and it didn’t matter which was fucking which. Jordan didn’t bottom often, but feeling the pleasant, fierce burn deep inside his ass from his own thick, impressive cock, knowing how much he had enjoyed it this time, only fed his desire to let the other Jordan share that experience next time.
His lips quirked as he turned his back to the spray to rinse said ass. There was one extra plus: no condoms. He chuckled to himself even as his dick, enjoying the playback and lingering effects of the amazing sex as much as he was, started getting hard again. Jordan seriously contemplated making use of a soapy hand to give it another round of pleasure. But instead he turned back to finish rinsing off, letting his dick stay half-chubbed. He’d already been in here longer than he should have. He’d gone into the shower alone reluctantly, and only because both of them had known without having to speak it aloud that they wouldn’t both fit in the narrow stall, especially with their now-thickened delts and traps and those thick, bulging, amazingly erotic extra arms. Jordan had spent some time after they’d climbed out of bed holding his other self in one pair of arms as they made out sensuously, greedy for his partner’s lips and mouth and tongue, his other hands roaming over the other’s bulging, newly expanded shoulders. And the other Jordan had done the same, feeling up everything that was new and exciting about Jordan’s upper body before shoving him toward the shower, while he, the other Jordan, went to let Charlie out into the back yard before starting the much-needed coffee and foraging for some kind of breakfast for themselves and the dog.
Jordan finished rinsing off and turned off the water. His dick, far from subsiding, was now rigid and rampant again. He smiled down at it. He thought about how his motormouth grad-student buddy Caden, if he were here right now, would be fascinated by what had happened to Jordan and would already be peppering him with a cascade of philosophical questions (while comically trying to ignore Jordan’s huge erection). He could guess some of Caden’s queries. Did he feel like a narcissist? Had he always been attracted to himself? Those would certainly be among the first, and Jordan could see how that would occur to someone encountering his situation, but he knew it wasn’t that. Sure, he’d always recognized he was good looking, even winked playfully at himself in the mirror once or twice while trying to psych himself up for a swim meet or, later, for a face-off with a client or perp he wanted to seduce or intimidate. But what was going on now with the other Jordan—that wasn’t about him being obsessed with himself. It was about something shared, something reciprocated. It was about comfort and balance, and the kind of trust that Jordan had always had only in himself.
Another Caden question occurred to him as he stepped out of the shower and grabbed the towel he’d brought in from the linen closet. How, Caden would ask, would they distinguish each other? Jordan rubbed himself dry, pondering this. Was he “Jordan One” because he’d woken up first, and the other one, the one who’d woken up nestling in his arms, “Jordan Two”? Or was the other Jordan primary because he’d topped first? Jordan finished with the towel and hung it on the rod nearest the shower, shaking his head. The whole “one” and “two” thing was clearly wrong for them—he felt it instinctively. It was as bad idea. He spread some toothpaste and started brushing. Neither of them was primary or secondary, that was obvious. And if they tried using labels they’d only impose behavioral expectations that neither of them wanted.
Jordan thought of Charlie. He’d woken up at some point in the interaction between the two of them and, whether from memory of past commands from Jordan’s history of sexual encounters or possessed of the doggy sense of discretion, had padded silently out of the room and left them alone while they’d fucked. He’d come back in after they’d climbed out of bed only to wrap themselves up in each other again, standing there in the middle of the room kissing their hearts out, flushed and sticky and still soaring from orgasm, their many arms folded around each other’s wide, sweaty backs; and when they’d broken their kisses at last, panting from want and pleasure, they’d looked down together to see Charlie sitting patiently at their feet, staring up at them with the same look of love and devotion he’d always had. They’d bent down together, naked as they were, and had made a game of driving Charlie to transports of ecstasy with the innovation of combined, eight-handed scratchies. Only the tiny whine that told them that as much as Charlie loved this he really needed to pee got them to break it off, grinning at each other, before they’d gone off to take care of their separate tasks.
Charlie had two Jordans now. It was as simple as that. Well, it was as simple as Charlie having two Jordans that each had a few extra arms hanging from his shoulders, but that wasn’t all bad either—Charlie and both Jordans would agree on that,
Jordan spit and rinsed his mouth, then took a moment to stare into the mirror. He started to reach for the razor he used to shave his face, but he drew his hand back. He let another hand rub across the light stubble along his jawline. It had looked pretty hot on the other him this morning, and it had felt good too as they’d rubbed their cheeks together—and if he liked the stubble on the other Jordan, it was a safe bet the other would like it on him, too. His eyes lifted to consider his shaved scalp. They’d probably keep that up, the shaved head thing, since he knew he liked the look and it was a link to the heady days of his swimming career in high school and college. But maybe—and here one side of his lips twisted upward in curious anticipation—maybe it would be fun doing each other.
A quick detour into the bedroom, long enough to find jeans and to grab one of those ribbed tanks (he had a supply, some old and weathered, some new, and in all colors—this one was a rich navy blue), and he was soon padding into the kitchen, pulling the tank down to his waist with all four hands. The smell of frying bacon hit him, causing a huge smile to bloom on his face. He’d discovered one more perk of having another Jordan around—he didn’t often go to the trouble of cooking just for himself. Classic rock played low on the radio atop the fridge, threading the sight and smells with thrumming guitar and comforting make harmonies.
He caught sight of the other Jordan standing over a sizzling skillet, still naked. He was looking back at him with a cocky smile and blazing eyes.
“Woof,” said the other Jordan, raking his gaze over him, clearly enjoying the look of himself in jeans and a tank. Jordan felt oddly bashful. Charlie, already back inside (he wasn’t much of a fan of blustery winter weather), was munching diligently from his bowl. He looked up at them momentarily, perhaps wondering why his masters were talking in doggy-speech, before returning to his own breakfast.
Jordan was already across the room to the stove, wrapping the other man up in a tight hug and succumbing to his constant, insistent need for deep, heartfelt kisses.
“Hey,” the other Jordan objected after a few moments of this, “I’m still sticky.” Jordan smiled and took the spatula from him with one hand while slapping his bare muscle-ass with another. The other Jordan gave him a toothy grin as he separated, nodding at the other skillet, which was covered and over a low flame. “Scrambled eggs in there,” he said. “They’re just waiting for the bacon. You took … a little longer than I expected,” he added, letting his arched eyebrow ask his questions for him.
“Got it,” Jordan said, ignoring the unspoken query with a small smirk as he glanced down at the bacon. He used the spatula to push a few of the slow-cooking strips around a little. “Hurry and go get clean so I can get you dirty again,” he said, glancing up at his counterpart and putting all the wicked intent he could into his sharp eyes and twisted lips.
The other Jordan’s smile widened. He was about to say something in response when someone started knocking loudly on the kitchen door, which stood only a few feet away giving entry from the deck that hand been built ages ago off the back end of the house. Both Jordans froze, staring wide-eyed at the door. A shadowy form was barely visible beyond it through the translucent curtain covering the window portion of the door. Charlie looked up too, expectant and alert.
It might as well be reality come knocking, Jordan thought, there to interrupt their self-deluding banter. His eyes dropped automatically to his four hands, one holding as spatula suspended unmoving over the sizzling bacon, the other three clenched and tense.
The truth, it turned out, wasn’t much better. “Jordan?” his ex, Aiden, shouted through the door. “I know you’re in there!”
For a moment there was no sound in the room but the soft sputter of bacon and the muted tones of Steely Dan. Even the wind seemed to have died down for the moment. Jordan turned and exchanged a look with the other Jordan. He took in how his other self looked—beautiful, hunky, muscular, and … with four strong, strange, inexplicable arms. Hot, beautiful, and maybe, just maybe, a little monstrous after all. The other Jordan was looking at him, too, no doubt thinking exactly the same thing.
“Open the damn door!” Aiden shouted. “It’s cold as fuck out here!”
It was his turn to shrug cavalierly, Jordan decided, and he did so, finding the gesture oddly reassuring. “Showtime,” he said quietly. The other man nodded and turned to disappear in the direction of the shower, obviously certain that Jordan could handle things—and that it would be easier to do so once the complication of an extra, doppelganger Jordan was removed.
Jordan sighed and turned off the heat for both the eggs and the bacon. He drew in a long breath, mind racing, and forced a smile for his own benefit. His thoughts settled. “Showtime,” he repeated softly to himself, then turned and faced the door.
Aiden glared at the kitchen door as he shivered on Jordan’s back deck, stuffing his ungloved hands in the ample pockets of his heavy black pea-coat and hunching his shoulders against the bitter, gusting wind. His ears were so cold they felt like they were about to come off despite the heavy wool knit cap he was wearing, which seemed to be doing fuck-all. If there was anything he hated more than Chicago, the venue of his greatest failures in both the romantic and the professional categories, it was that baleful thing, the Chicago winter storm, that perfect conjunction of hostile geography and meteorological malevolence guaranteed to produce an unending gray and white moment filled with intolerably arctic winds, blinding snow and pelting ice, and, in general, the piecemeal breakdown of mechanized society. It was bad enough to be out in this, but it was especially galling to be standing here, at his least favorite door on Earth.
He groused inwardly at his fucked up fate. What the heck was up with his life lately? In the old days cities all had patron deities, and a pretty angry and vindictive lot they were if you asked him. Did Chicago have a patron god, even today? And if so, what the fuck had Aiden done to piss him off? Even as he was contemplating this a sudden blast of icy wind ripped around the house and threw itself at his backside so hard he was nearly bowled over, though thanks to the tough, heavy-duty hiking boots he habitually wore he just managed to keep his footing. “Jordan!” he bellowed furiously as he steadied himself, squinting through the curtained window-panes in the door at the well-lit kitchen and the shape of a man standing within. The figure, just barely perceptible through the gauzy curtain, had been moving around before, but was now stilled, a shadow of reticence. Aiden considered banging on the door again, but he didn’t want to pull his hands out of his pockets. He settled for more shouting. “Jordan Mackenzie Coffey, open the farking door!”
The door opened, but only a few inches. Jordan’s handsome face appeared in the gap. His expression was confident and amused, as usual, but there was an uncertain glint in his eye. “Does this situation really call for middle names and medieval curses?” he mock-remonstrated. He was a few inches taller, always seeming big and strong to Aiden, but he didn’t exploit his size to his advantage. He used humor to disarm others and wheedle his way into their defenses. It was how Aiden had fallen for him the first time, all those years ago, and it worked every time he saw him. Fuck if it wasn’t doing him in right now, even as he stood here, cold and angry and a little scared of whatever mess of Jordan’s had snared him by the ankles and pulled him in, too, dragging him back into the company of the man he’d known he could only get past by never laying eyes on him again. Aiden wanted to scream. He wanted to turn back around and get in his trusty old Altima and drive the fuck away and keep driving and never stop. But his booted feet remained firmly rooted to the planks of Jordan’s back deck. He had seen Jordan again, Jordan’s milk-chocolate eyes had lit upon him and snared him, and turning away from that was not something Aiden found coming easily to him at all.
There he was, the cocky bastard, watching him with an arched brow and that lopsided little curve to his full lips. Aiden’s temper flared again. He was in no mood for Jordan’s wry smugness. He contemplated brusquely shoving the door open, courtesy be damned. But as he stared into his ex’s warm, affection-filled eyes, he realized his insiders were fluttering with emotions he had never really cast aside. A surge of unwanted affection washed over him, and his anger and his instinct to violence drowned in it, foundering and vanishing under the merciless deluge.
He tried to keep up a front though, just to salvage his own pride. “Let me in!” he growled, but he winced to hear a note of pleading in his voice, one that had nothing to do with the cold.
For just a second Jordan worried his upper lip with his bottom teeth, a sure sign, Aiden knew, of some kind of inner conflict. Aiden couldn’t blame him. It had been nearly a year and a half since their break-up, and apart from a brief round of texting on Aiden’s birthday as few weeks ago there had been no contact. They might as well have never known each other, never even met. It must have been as painfully disorienting to Jordan as it had for Aiden after two years of delicious inseparability, Aiden knew, and as he stared at his erstwhile lover’s beautiful face, the shaved head he’d loved to caress, the strong shoulders traversed by inch-wide shoulder straps of a chest-hugging navy blue tank top that contrasted interestingly with his rich, caramel skin, Aiden understood with a truly painful squeeze of his heart that he still loved this man who’d angrily cast him aside only eighteen short months ago.
“Please, Joe,” he said, and he felt a lump in his throat at his own use of a nickname Jordan had only ever tolerated from him. “There’s something we have to talk about.”
Jordan looked at him a moment longer, as if weighing something in his head. There was no sound but the yowling wind as Jordan finally nodded, as if in agreement with Aiden’s statement. He nudged the door open, standing back from it by the wall, and Aiden brushed past him into the kitchen. He heard the door close behind him, and though the storm outside could still be heard the warm, cozy kitchen seemed hushed and still.
He’d been as blustery as the storm about getting in, but now that he was through the door Aiden didn’t want to be here. He was standing in the center of the room, his back to Jordan, and he found he wasn’t reading to face his lover just yet. The kitchen was warm and smelled of eggs and bacon and, he recognized, Jordan’s sandalwood soap. Music was playing softly from somewhere. He took a deep breath, almost panicking at the thought of confronting Jordan—it had been easy enough through the door, but now that he was inside was a very different matter. He wanted to laugh at himself. On stage, in clubs and small venues filled with smiling strangers, he bared his soul so easily, exposing memories and emotions with confidence and ease, his old guitar as much a part of him as his hands, his lips, his eyes that reached out to the eager crowd. But now, turning to face the love that had rejected him, no matter the danger he’d been warned of, was almost more than he could bear.
He saw that there was a full pot of coffee in Jordan’s high-end coffee maker, and with some effort he made himself walk across to the counter and take down a mug from the narrow cupboard directly over the machine. Before he could pour a cup, however, he heard Jordan’s rich baritone from behind him saying softly, “Give me your coat.”
Aiden gripped the mug tightly in both hands, annoyed at the way that voice always curled and twisted through his guts, especially when it was quiet and tender like that. Memories came to him unbidden of lush moments where Jordan’s warm voice in his ear had been all it took to arouse him, no matter whether they were naked in bed or fully clothed in line at the Coffee Studio or dancing close in their favorite club, Brick’s, Jordan wrapped around him from behind, his words and breath against Aiden’s ear putting them at one insular remove from the soundscape of deafening house music and the lustscape of hot and horny gay men, and even now, in Jordan’s quiet kitchen, his ex’s calm, simple request was all it took to awaken his sleeping cock and stir the old arousal in his suddenly aching balls. For a fleeting moment he was back there, at Brick’s, feeling the wall of sound and tasting the delicious sensations of Jordan wrapping himself around him, holding him close, his strong arms around him as he whispered about nothing in his ear, and then the feeling passed and he was in Jordan’s snug kitchen, some old Aerosmith song twining softly around them, and Aiden was left in an agony of wanting to be held like that by Jordan, one more time.
He felt Jordan moving closer behind him, and, trying to forestall what he knew would be Jordan’s next move—to reach around Aiden and start taking the coat off for him—Aiden set down the mug with a clatter and started fumbling at the buttons of his heavy pea coat. Releasing each button felt unnervingly like snapping open locks on a heavily secured iron door, one deadbolt after another, until there were no locks left.
Once he’d undone all the buttons he dropped his hands to his sides. At the same time he felt Jordan’s hands on his shoulders, and he shivered. He stood as still as a frightened deer as Jordan gently grasped the collars of Aiden’s coat and slowly pulled it off him before moving away with it to hang it somewhere, leaving Aiden standing by the counter feeling naked and unprotected in just his thin, red hoodie. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath, and he felt his nipples pebble and harden, brushing against the fabric, despite the comfortable warmth inside the house. The knit hat came smoothly off him too then, and it was still unexpected for all that Aiden had known it was coming next. Aiden didn’t obsess about his appearance but he liked to be put together, and being aware of how mussed his shaggy, shoulder-length ash-blond hair probably was made him feel that much more vulnerable. He pulled the carafe out of the coffee maker and poured a mug of dark java for himself with a shaking hand.
“You hungry?” Jordan asked, suddenly close behind him again, and Aiden started, sloshing the coffee he was pouring so that some of it poured onto the counter. He quickly righted the carafe and rattled it into its seat, then looked around for the paper towels to mop up the spilled liquid, his nerves jangling. Jordan, however, somehow already had the dishrag that hung from the drawer handle immediately to Aiden’s right. He reached around Aiden and started carefully mopping up the spill. “Lift the mug up a second,” Jordan murmured in Aiden’s ear, and Aiden did as he was asked, even as his dick filled with blood to rigid hardness so fast he almost felt light-headed. What was wrong with him? The fucker dumped you, he told himself, but a little mundane kitchen talk in your ear and you’re a goddamned goner. Pathetic, he hissed inwardly. But he could not stop the pounding of his heart, or the raging need of his cock, or the swirling desire in his gut. Jordan stayed close behind him as he worked, so close Aiden was basking in his warmth, his skin of his back tingling under his hoodie at the electric nearness of Jordan’s hot, barely covered torso.
After a moment of ragged breaths and unnaturally loud heartbeats, Aiden realized that Jordan had stopped moving, his powerful hand just resting on the counter still gripping the dishrag, next to the mug where Aiden had set it down again. Their hands were inches apart, his pale skin alongside Jordan’s darker tone, and Aiden longed to move his hand just those few inches, to wrap his hand around Jordan’s fist. “Joe,” he begged, though he wasn’t sure what he was begging for. He wanted to be released from this unbearable stimulation, but another part of him did not want that, not at all, not ever. He tried to remind himself of Jordan’s cold dismissal, his sudden, unprovoked announcement that they could not be together. That Jordan … had never loved him. That he thought being with Aiden was the biggest mistake he’d ever made. But the inward protest just wouldn’t take. He knew, in this moment, that it had been a lie, it must have been a lie. He knew it down to his toes, because he could feel Jordan’s love for him though his skin, penetrating him, nurturing him, awakening from uneasy slumber Aiden’s own epic love and undying need for this one man. Even as they stood there, he could feel their souls mixing together again, twisting around and through each other, becoming one.
“I … missed you,” Jordan breathed falteringly in his ear, his voice raw and emotional. Aiden’s heart slammed against his chest, his cheeks hot and his dick surging in his jeans. Aiden felt a strange wetness of his neck, and realized with a wrench of his heart that they must be Jordan’s tears. “I’m sorry, Ade,” Jordan whispered. “I’m so … I’m so sorry.”
Aiden could not resist any longer. It was the simplest possible action, and all his barriers were torn down and lay in ruins. He did the thing he needed to do to let Jordan know it was all okay, or would be all okay. He leaned back, eliminating the sliver of space between them, and as he felt the warm strength of Jordan’s chest against his back Aiden closed his eyes and sighed in relief mixed with resignation. It was permission. More than that, it was forgiveness, though the terrified fringes of his brain vibrated with a need to break free, to deny, to never forgive. It did not matter. He loved Jordan, and that was all there was to it. He owned this about himself, because that was who he was, though with all that had happened eighteen months ago he’d be damned if he said the words again before Jordan did. Jordan’s arms were around him in a rush of palpable want, and a bolt of arousal raced through every cell of Aiden’s body.
Somewhere in the background Mick was singing now, his voice sounding as raw as Aiden felt. Wild horses, he crooned sadly. Wild, wild horses…
Hot, tender lips touched Aiden’s wet neck, and suddenly Aiden couldn’t take it anymore. He twisted round in Jordan’s embrace and opened his eyes long enough to see Jordan’s chocolate brown gaze blazing down at him, dark with desire. He closed them again as he crashed his mouth against Jordan’s. Jordan opened for him immediately as he tightened his embrace, and Aiden did the same, flinging his arms tightly around Jordan’s broad, muscular back as they shoved their groins together, their erections jostling eagerly against each other through too many clothes. Aiden’s mind spun in a cyclone of intoxicating stimulation and giddy reunion with the only man he’d ever wanted.
The kiss and the contact was so hot, so necessary in fact, that it felt like only seconds had elapsed before there was a sudden tingle at the base of his spine and Aiden realized he was on the verge of a huge, unstoppable orgasm. He broke the kiss and opened his eyes to stare up at Jordan with shock, their faces close, mouths barely separated. Jordan seemed inflamed by what he saw in Aiden’s eyes and squeezed them even close together, their rigid, aching dicks mashed against each other as if the denim between them did not exist.
“Do it,” Jordan breathed, before urgently reclaiming Aiden’s mouth in a ferocious kiss, and as they kissed and rutted against each other they both came hard, moaning into each other’s mouths as phenomenal orgasms rocketed through them both. Aiden came over and over, as if he’d never had an orgasm in his life, and his mind swam as he and Jordan collapsed against each other, their arms wrapped tightly around each other’s bodies like a promise, like they would never, ever let go again.
After a while Aiden surfaced from euphoric mindlessness to find that they were still embracing, though they were swaying now, as if dancing to the classic rock playing quietly in the background—Aerosmith now, he realized, though he wasn’t sure he recognized the song. He let himself melt into Jordan. It felt like the best hug ever. His thoughts nagged at him, though. He’d come here for a reason. “Joe,” Aiden started to say reluctantly, but Jordan cut him off.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Jordan said in his ear, his deep voice still gentle and rough at the same time.
Aiden licked his lips. “Okay,” he said, nestling a little more against Jordan’s next, his body. If they both had things to say, he was glad to let Jordan go first. He let his fingers skate along Jordan’s spine through the ribbed tank as they held each other.
“I—um,” Jordan faltered. “I’ve been …” he stopped, then started again, more resolutely. “Somebody did something to me,” he said. “They changed me.” He paused and did not continue right away.
“What do you mean?” Aiden prompted quietly, not moving. His head was against Jordan’s shoulder, and he could faintly feel Jordan’s fast-beating heart. Whatever this was, Jordan was finding it difficult to say, and Aiden knew he had to hear him out.
“They changed my … my body,” Jordan said finally. “They were … they were trying to do bad things to me, to turn me into a monster. But I kinda think they improved me,” he added suddenly, with a hint of bravado. Then, more warmly: “I sure like it. Right now, in this moment, I like it a lot.”
“I don’t understand,” Aiden said. But something told him he did, and was just enjoying this embrace too much to let himself process what he was experiencing as Jordan held him.
Slowly and deliberately, Jordan squeezed Aiden’s ass cheek with one hand, and the other cheek with his other hand. Aiden’s cock twitched and started trying to get hard again, despite having spent itself so thoroughly only moment ago. Then, just as deliberately, Jordan, still holding onto Aiden’s ass, curled and then straightened the hand that was resting against the left side of his upper back, then, finally, the one opposite it.
A shudder coursed through Aiden, because Jordan’s revelation did in fact confirm what he’d been feeling. This embrace was feeding something deep inside Aiden, much to the dismay and chagrin of the frightened corners of his mind that demanded the safety of independence and isolation, especially from the one man who had hurt him more than anyone, the one man he loved unconditionally, the love of his fucking life. This moment was beautiful and deeply needed, and most of that was because Aiden needed Jordan, and Jordan, however much he’d forced himself never to think of Aiden this past year and a half, Jordan needed him just as badly. It was mostly that. But there was more to this embrace than there had ever been, and he’d known it. A stronger, more comforting, more loving embrace than he’d ever known, than there had ever been.
Jordan had felt the shudder, however, and was making to try to pull away. Aiden clasped his own arms even harder around Jordan’s well-muscled bag, gripping him to him as hard as he could. “Don’t,” he demanded, and Jordan stilled. “Don’t let go. Don’t you fucking let go.” Jordan restrengthened his hold around him, and Aiden sighed. He lifted his face so he could look Jordan straight in the eye. He hadn’t expected this. He’d buried all these feelings six feet under, deep as they would go, far from the light, far from conscious thought. And Jordan had too, he was certain. But Aiden was the kind of man who owned what he was and what he felt. “Don’t let go,” he repeated. Not a plea, but an instruction. No, a fucking demand.
Jordan’s sweet, full lips curved in a tender smile. “Never again,” he said, and kissed him. When the broke the kiss they were looking into each other’s eyes again, and Jordan, without breaking the gaze, lifted a hand to brush Auden’s hair off his forehead and around his ear, all the while maintaining a tight, passionate embrace with his other arms, pressing Aiden tight against him. Despite having reached orgasm only moments ago, at the impossible touch Aiden’s dick started to stiffen rapidly against the cold, wet denim, and he felt Jordan’s fat prick responding in kind through the sopping layers of clothing between them.
Jordan’s smile broadened, his eyes twinkling. “You like being held like this?” he said teasingly.
Aiden gave him an answering smile. He was gone. The dams he’d built up eighteen months ago to protect himself, to hold himself sane, were crumbled, destroyed, washed away. There was nothing holding him back now. He didn’t want to appear all mushy, though, so he went for breezy backtalk. “Fuck yeah,” he said, though he said it fondly anyway as it turned out, as if he were declaring his true feelings for Jordan.
“Yeah?” Jordan asked, sounding amused. He ground his hard-on sensuously against Aiden’s, and Aiden’s body sang with titanic, overwhelming arousal.
“Yeah,” Aiden affirmed, already starting to pant a little, his face flushing. They were still gazing into each other’s eyes, and Aiden was drowning in the love and need he saw there. “You can have all the arms you want if it means being held like this.”
Jordan’s eyes glinted. “You want more?” he asked.
Aiden blinked at him. He sounded serious. Their hearts were pounding hard, slamming against their chests, and Aiden could feel them both. “More?” he breathed.
Jordan shifted his eyes to look past him, tilting his head slightly as if inviting someone forward, his smile now crooked again and just a little uncertain. And then… then…
The embrace refolded around him from two directions, a fierce clinch that captured him between two strong bodies. Well-muscled caramel arms squeezed him around his shoulders from both directions, while more arms held them all close together, heated crotches and raging erections pressing against him from both sides. “Something else happened to me,” Jordan said soberly, looking down at him, eyes dark with unstoppable arousal once more.
Another voice spoke against his ear. Jordan’s voice. He knew that voice, just as he knew Jordan’s body. It could not be anyone else but Jordan. “There are two of me now,” the voice said, and Aiden, without meaning to, let out a moan than seemed to come from somewhere deep inside him. “I don’t know why,” the Jordan behind him went on, “but we’re both … me.”
Aiden craned his head around enough to see Jordan, holding him fast from behind, watching him closely with smoldering brown eyes. He turned back, this time letting his eyes trail across the bulging doubled deltoids of Jordan’s amazing shoulders, on their way up to Jordan’s beautiful, entrancing face. He met Jordan’s eyes, the Jordan holding him just as close. He was watching Aiden just as closely. They seemed to be trying to wait for him, but their bodies could not wait. They were rocking together, their dicks aching as they ground against each other’s hips and legs and everything, and Aiden felt himself surging again toward orgasm, harder and more aroused than he had ever been in his life. But this time, cumming in his pants as they mashed themselves together, hot and needy and drunk with passion in the middle of the kitchen floor—this time that was not going to be enough. Not nearly enough.
“Bed,” he commanded, looking Jordan right in his dark, unwavering eyes.
Jordan’s brows drew together fractionally as they held each other’s gaze, but it was the other Jordan who spoke. “Ade—” the Jordan behind him said against his neck. He sounded cautious, as if he didn’t want to push Aiden too far, too soon. Fuck that.
He closed his eyes and held Jordan hard and the two Jordans held him just as tightly. He was trying to communicate, chest to chest to chest, everything that he was feeling, everything that bound them together. He knew now what that unknown text had been about. The first part of it anyway. The part that said Jordan’s betrayals had made him into a teratism, an unholy monster. The part that warned him urgently that only Aiden could save him from the violence and persecution that awaited him—that wasn’t as clear. And the last part, the dark hints and warnings about what would happen to Jordan if he didn’t submit, Aiden didn’t understand, but if some strange force could shift and twist the world so completely from its moorings as to bring about what Aiden was now feeling, wrapped deep in passion and love, the possibilities for further retribution might be far beyond what either of them could imagine.
He wasn’t sure what the strange text portended, but he was glad of it, for this, and for the clarity of this moment. He knew now what had never fully been clear to him before: for all that Jordan was taller and stronger and more outwardly cocky than Aiden, the truth was that Aiden’s own strength of mind and body was of a greater caliber than he had ever had cause to test. Jordan was the one who had not been strong enough all those months ago, because he’d pulled back from Aiden’s strength, not realizing they were strongest together. That, he vowed to himself, was something that would never happen again. Jordan—both Jordans—were his to protect. His and his alone. To protect, and love. And he was Jordan’s, to love and protect as well. They were three now. But they were also one.
He huffed a breath against Jordan’s shoulder, sighing. He brought his lips to Jordan’s neck. Jordan’s skin was hot, and he touched his lips to it, feeling the little kiss all the way to his swollen, roiling balls and his rigid, thrusting cock. The muted wails of Joe Perry’s guitar wound around them like red ribbon.
“I need you,” he said against the neck, and he knew that what he was saying now was the truest thing he’d ever said. “I need you both. Whatever else happens, I need you both.”
Jordan crunched his bacon thoughtfully, letting green-tanked Jordan catch Aiden up to speed on everything—not just the eighteen months of radio silence, but all the things he’d hidden from his lover to protect him during the two years they’d been together.
At first Jordan had thought it was straightforward graft—money in exchange for power and influence. A string of eight disappearances down on the docks and rumors of worse and more numerous crimes kept linking to powerful people in city and state government, business leaders, people like that. Every interview of these high-levels person of interest played out the same way: a polite pretense of cooperation that amounted to clamming up about anything important to the case. Jordan was lucky, in that there was something about his face that made people want to confide in him, and when he descended from the city’s glass towers to darker and seedier locales he started hearing a lot of strange things. Every witness and low-level informant seemed both afraid and desperate to warn him about whatever was going on—human trafficking, some said; a covert army, someone hissed; others prattled on about beasts and monsters. Then the witnesses and informants started disappearing too, even the ones no one knew about but the police themselves.
Jordan wanted to dig deeper, call together a task force, push this until it broke. But Captain Hester kept shutting him down at every turn, dismissing the hints and whispers that ties these VIPs to the case as insubstantial one day and as attempts to smear good citizens on another. Jordan smelled a rat, but he kept his anxieties to himself and tried to find out more on his own. It was only after he’d slipped an illicit bug into the limo of one the most nervous of his high-ranking persons of interest, a faint-hearted big-church evangelical minister named Walcox whose smarmy brashness behind the pulpit was all a complete act, that he first heard hushed, fearful mention of a shadowy figure called “the Warlock” in the midst of a furtive phone conversation with an unknown party. The generation of that lead was totally worth a night of posing as a valet parking attendant, he’d thought.
But confronting Walcox in his office the next day with a sudden, curious inquiry—”Reverend, who’s the Warlock?”—might have been a mistake. Watching all the blood drain from Walcox’s face confirmed he was on to something, but the reverend’s visible, abject terror also told him he had a tiger by the tail. Either way, he got no further useful information from him—no more words at all, in fact, as the minister immediately called in a pair of Neanderthal-sized “ushers” to see him forcibly out. An hour later he was called on the carpet, Hester shouting at him for exceeding his orders in interviewing Walcox (bullshit) and for willfully violating procedure by placing the bug (fair enough). Jordan was suspended and warned that the B.I.A. was already on the case and he could expect formal charges… unless he resigned outright.
Jordan was uncontrite. To him, Hester’s instant response, minutes after the interview with Walcox, meant only one thing: his captain was in on it. In fact, it turned out that wasn’t even the half of it. A week of rifling through case files and whispered conversations convinced him that Hester wasn’t just in on it, he was right at the heart of it, giving orders and instigating cover-ups and disappearances. Jordan documented everything he could, hoping one day to find the right leverage to end Hester’s corruption, and the Warlock’s growing hold on the city with it.
The clincher, though, came the night he followed Hester to a secret meeting in a closed section of a sprawling, little-visited modern art gallery a few blocks from downtown. Jordan tracked him silently into the gallery and found a perfect hiding space, watching his quarry unseen from a dark corner through a half-inch gap between two wide pedestals. Hester seemed nervous, and when a second figure appeared in the darkness, the bluff, hard-nosed Hester went as white as Walcox had, and he remained uncharacteristically deferential throughout the brief interview. The second figure was tall and gaunt, with a narrow, pale face he couldn’t quite see clearly enough to recognize in the poorly-lit room. Jordan had thought he had positioned himself close enough to overhear their conversation, but all he heard was mumbles and indistinct sounds, as if something was preventing him from hearing. At one point, the second figure turned and seemed to peer straight at his hiding place, and Jordan froze, heart pounding, until the figure turned blithely away.
The meeting ended, and Hester bolted as quickly as he could. Jordan followed the second man, using all his skills to remain absolutely silent and undetected as the figure stalked through the mostly empty gallery and straight across the quiet street to his car, a blood-red Buick land-yacht gleaming under the street lamps. Jordan stiffened where he lurked deep in the shadows by the gallery entrance, watching the car drive away. He knew that car. He’d interviewed the owner as the man had been leaving an alderman’s meeting early in the investigation: he was one of the VIPs rumored to be implicated in the disappearances, and the only one to be completely cleared by alibis and evidence. Jordan had watched him drive away then, too, that time in broad daylight, and with the same brooding unhappiness. He’d had a weird take on the guy then, like his skin might start crawling if he spent too much time with the man… and now he knew why. Calm, unassuming alderman Owen Vasher was the Warlock—the supposedly sorcerous kingpin behind a sprawling clandestine conspiracy the purpose of which Jordan could only guess at.
The texts had started the next day.
Evidently Vasher had spotted him after all, and had either recognized him or put two and two together after hearing Hester’s reports of a certain newly raised and much-too-intrepid detective. “I never end lives,” promised the first text. “Only… alter them. People can become other things… monsters… and still live.” This was followed by a picture of his four-year-old niece, Jessica. It was a candid shot of her playing in her backyard pool, taken from only a few feet away, and Jordan knew with a sinking heart that it hadn’t been taken by his brother, Ryan, or by Ryan’s wife Olivia. More threats followed: Jordan must quit the force and end his investigations, or face the consequences.
Enraged and cornered, Jordan resigned, and Hester made sure he departed in disgrace. That night he sent back a single text, somehow knowing it would be received even though his phone should have had no information on where to send it. “My family and friends are to be left alone,” he typed, practically growling as he did so. “You claim not to kill. I take that to mean you have a code of honor. I may be beaten, but I will not allow you to punish innocents for my actions. I demand you hold me and me alone responsible.” He wanted to say more—that he would end him, that he would bring justice to everyone Vasher had wronged and abused—but there were lives at stake. Vasher and Hester had to believe that he was done digging, but he needed to try to protect his loved ones before he withdrew into the shadows.
A minute passed before the chilling reply: “So be it.”
Jordan listened pensively as green-tank Jordan explained all of this to Aiden—everything he’d kept from his lover as he’d gotten more and more obsessed with the Warlock case. Outside, the storm seemed to be winding down, but the cold, wet winds were still whipping around the house like they wanted to tear it down. After months and months on his own it, the solid presence of his sudden, inexplicable clone was oddly comforting—and dependable, feet-on-the-ground Aiden, too. He and Charlie and the house weren’t facing the tempest alone anymore.
“So that’s why you broke up with me,” Aiden said, as Jordan’s other self related the events of his humiliating resignation from the force. He looked fresh and alert after their bedroom adventure and post-coital showers, and the way his long ash-blond hair combed back, still damp from the shower, made him look kind of fierce. “You thought you were trying to protect me.”
Green Tank grimaced. “I was frayed,” he admitted. “And worried and angry. I had Vasher’s promise that he’d only go after me, and I believed him. But someone going after me might still hurt you. Of course, I was picturing a hail of bullets, not…” He gestured at himself and Jordan, and the two of them shared identical crooked grins.
Aiden smiled too, but it faded quickly. “I remember how upset you were back then,” he said. He fixed both of them with a steely gaze and added, “And I was furious you wouldn’t talk to me about it.”
Green Tank sighed. “I know.” He scraped his fork around his mostly empty plate, then set it down and fell back in his chair. “I’m… sorry,” he said quietly, not quite meeting Aiden’s eyes.
“Me too,” Jordan added. He didn’t look over at Green Tank, but he knew they were feeling the same thing. They were the same, both Jordan, but not. The only difference was the ribbed tanks, and yet—he was already thinking of himself as Blue Tank, a consequence of the lines of thought he’d been considering while Aiden was getting caught up, about what they would have to do next.
Blue Tank, Green Tank—it kind of worked, he thought, distracting himself. Should they try to keep up some kind of identifying designations after all? He kind of felt like there wasn’t really a reason to need to tell them apart… but would that always be true? That was an unsettling thought. Anyway, if they went with Blue and Green he’d have to—er, they’d have to throw away all their non-blue, non-green tanks, which would be a shame. Unless they went with something like Warm Colors Jordan and Cool Colors Jordan. No, then Cool Colors would think he was cooler than his duplicate. Primary and Secondary Colors? Fuck, that was worse. No. Whatever tanks they wore, that would be how they did it, one day at a time. He nodded, sure that made the sense and wondering if he was right to assume his other self would agree.
Aiden considered them both. “So what happened?” he asked. “Why did he attack you anyway, after all this time?” Before either of them could answer, though, he tilted his head and said, “Wait, let me guess. You kept investigating, and then about three weeks ago someone finally cottoned on you were still at it. Am I getting warm?”
“Pretty much. Though there’s a little more to it,” Green Tank said. Then he frowned at Aiden. “Wait—what made you say ‘three weeks ago’?”
Aiden gave them a steady look. “Because,” he said, “that’s when I got my first text.”
They both looked up at him in horror. “No,” Blue Tank said, while at the same time Green Tank said, “Show us.”
Aiden was already pulling out his phone. He fingered the text app open and handed it to Green Tank, presumably because he’d been handling the exposition so far. Blue Tank shifted his chair a few inches to the right and draped both his right arms around his double’s broad, warm-skinned shoulder, and Green Tank tilted the phone a bit toward him while, at the same time, withdrawing his left hands from his lap and wrapping them loosely around Blue Tank’s lower back. The contact was gratifying, and he had to nudge his brain into focusing on the text messages Aiden was showing them. Charlie, responding to the movement, stood up from the corner where he’d been curled up and stalked under the little round table, plunking himself down onto both Jordans’ bare feet.
There seemed to be two messages. One was, indeed, dated just over three weeks back. It said only, “Your friend Jordan risks all.” They both looked up at Aiden, who shrugged. “I just thought it was some weird kind of spam,” he said. “I didn’t think it meant anything until I read the second one. And,” he added, eyes glinting, “can I just say… fuck, seeing two of you, Joe, all close and cuddly like that—that is so incredibly hot.” He raked his eyes over their faces, their bulging, mostly bared, sun-bronzed shoulders, and their long, powerful multiplied arms full of rippling, corded muscle, then back up to their faces; and if his eyes were glinting before, they were positively alight now. “I really need you guys to make out for a little while now,” he urged, his voice just a little huskier than before. He licked his lips. “If you wouldn’t mind.”
Blue Tank felt his skin heat up in reaction to all that, but he kept his face impassive, guessing his double was doing the same, only going so far as to raise an eyebrow at him. “You saw us kiss before,” he said, letting just a hint of sauce slip into his voice. “Back in the bedroom.”
“I know,” Aiden said, eyes positively blazing. “And I really want to see it again. Besides, that was around my cock,” he added. “Not quite the same thing.”
Blue Tank realized his dick was swelling in his soft knockaround jeans, and pretty soon he’d be running out of space down there. Meanwhile, Green Tank was rubbing his thigh against his own, clearly as affected as he was. “Christ, Ade,” Green Tank said, “were you always this horny?”
“Actually I was,” Aiden said pointedly. “You were busy playing crusader detective.”
Blue Tank actually felt his face fall. His dick deflated a bit too, though not all the way. He exchanged a glance with his double for almost the first time since they’d sat down to breakfast, meeting his other self’s warm, chocolate-brown eyes. Like so much else, this was something they shared: responsibility for ignoring a good and true man while pursuing a job that started out feeling like a calling and that had slowly become an obsession. He shifted his bare feet under Charlie’s warm, furry body, and found his double was doing the same. The truth was, neglecting Aiden hadn’t been intentional… but it had made it easier to convince himself that pulling the plug and walking away to protect his lover had been the right thing to do. He felt pained, and incredibly guilty. “Ade, I—” they both said together. Another shared glance, then back to Aiden. “We—”
“I know, Joe. It’s okay,” Aiden said, meeting both their gazes, and in those always unyielding eyes Jordan saw compassion, and understanding, and, most amazing of all, endless love. A gentle smile softened his angled, beautiful face. All the anger he’d stormed in with seemed to have melted away—almost all of it, anyway. “It’s okay,” he repeated, raising an eyebrow to emphasize his point.
Jordan’s heart constricted. He’d always been the bigger one, but Aiden… Aiden was fierce. Fierce, and awesome. “I love you,” he said impulsively, though once again it came out in perfect unison with his double. They both snorted a laugh, then said together, “We love you.”
Aiden’s smile widened. “I know that, too.” He sobered a little and nodded toward the phone with his chin. “Read the second text.”
Dutifully, they looked down at Aiden’s phone, and Green Tank used his other right hand to scroll up. Convenient. The second text was longer, and timestamped the afternoon before. “Your detective’s fate is sealed,” it said. “Spell by spell, twist by twist, a teratism made not born, that all will know what betrayal looks like. Only you can divert what is to come. The horrors that await him no man should endure. The Warlock does not forgive.”
They digested the words thoughtfully. “I assume you looked up ‘teratism’,” Green Tank said, just before Blue Tank would have asked the same thing.
“Monster,” Aiden said blandly. The two Jordans nodded—that’s what they’d guessed. “Specifically,” Aiden went on, “it’s usually applied to a fetal monster, a misdeveloped child. Originally, the product of baleful magic.” He bit his red lower lip. “Not sure why a fetus or child—maybe to signal that this is a beginning.”
“Hmm,” Blue Tank mused. “Like, fucking us up is the start of a new era? More overt, more destructive.”
“Could be,” Aiden said thoughtfully.
“I don’t get it, though,” Green Tank said. “Because—we aren’t monsters. Right? Not they way they mean, hideous and terrifying and nauseatingly wrong.”
“From where I’m sitting, you two are pretty much the opposite of hideous,” Aiden said. His little smirk was kind of hot, like he knew exactly what he wanted to do with them.
The two Jordans snorted. “And then there’s these texts,” Blue Tank went on. To Green Tank he said, “You noticed, right—?”
“—They’re not like ours,” Green Tank agreed. “Both warnings, but the message—”
“Ours are all ‘I will fuck you up’,” Blue Tank jumped in.
“And Ade’s are like, ‘He will fuck him up’.” They both abruptly turned toward Aiden, excited. “There’s someone else,” they said together. “Someone interfering,” Green Tank said, and Blue Tank added, “Someone who hasn’t bought into the whole Warlock agenda.”
Aiden was blinking at them, not hiding that he was impressed. “You guys really are detectives,” he said appreciatively. “Like, made that way.”
Blue Tank and Green Tank gave him matching shit-eating grins. “And now there’s two of us,” Blue Tank said.
“Ugh,” Aiden groused, tightening his scarf around his face and neck. “This wind is chapping my ass. Can’t we go back in and cuddle?”
“Too late, princess,” Blue Tank teased, tossing him a wide, weather-loving grin as the three of them braced themselves against the storm’s crazed buffeting and started fighting their way toward their vehicles. The storm seemed to agree with Aiden and was doing its best to make his warm, cozy kitchen seem like the most welcoming place in the universe, but they had people to see and things to do.
While Green Tank had been explaining things to Aiden, Blue Tank had been trying to think ahead. Stopping the Warlock was their number one priority. Protecting Aiden, getting his life back, exposing Hester, ridding Chicago of the villainous sorcerer’s baleful influence—it all came down to the same thing. The trouble was how to do it. As Aiden and his doppelgänger had worked through the situation, he’d come reluctantly to the conclusion that good police work and dogged determination on his part weren’t going to cut it. They needed to know what they were up against, magic-wise. And that meant they needed an ally who had a foot in both worlds.
He’d come to another conclusion, too. There was no way in hell that he was going to hide in his house and make himself into the monster his nemesis wanted him to think he was. The Warlock could work him over all he liked, but Jordan wasn’t going to do the fucker’s work for him.
Taking a prompt from the “there’s two of us now” comment, Green Tank and Blue Tank, after working out what they needed to try next, took advantage of Jordan’s increased numbers and decided to split up. After all, if a cop finally could be in two places at once, why not take advantage of it? So Green Tank and Aiden would be taking Aiden’s Altima to follow witchy leads, and Blue Tank would follow up on the flatfoot side of things with pretty much the last detective on the force who’d ever be suspected of helping out disgraced corrupt ex-cop Jordan Coffey. It was a long shot, and not without a risk of backfiring badly, but both Jordans recknoed it was a lead that needed pursuing now that things were coming down to the wire.
Charlie trotted happily beside them, untroubled by the wind ruffling his fur. He’d perked up as they’d risen from the table and started getting ready, and had pretty much insisted on joining them rather than remaining in an empty house being rattled by howling winds, knowing what a softie his masters were; so he’d be coming with Blue Tank. Jordan had told Aiden it was to balance things out—”one adorable puppy per team,” he’d said with a bit of glee, earning him a sour look from the long-haired blond and a happy, tongue-wagging pant from the big, dark-muzzled German shepherd.
The three of them hugged when they got to Jordan’s pickup, Green Tank and Aiden both offering him brief, chilly-lipped goodbye kisses before trudging against the wind back to Aiden’s dark Altima, which was parked just behind Jordan’s forest-green F-150. Blue Tank opened the door and Charlie immediately jumped into the cab, and Blue Tank climbed in after him. He was kind of curious to see if driving felt any different with all the extra arms. He and his double were both wearing coats long enough to hide the surplus arms and hands, not that they’d withstand very close inspection; but he’d kept his coat open, and now he made a point of reaching over and scratching Charlie’s head while simultaneously starting the engine, putting the truck in gear and taking the wheel. His stomach fluttered as he smiled. He might be a monster, but he was going to make this thing work his way no matter what. A moment later Aiden and Green Tank pulled out, and Blue Tank followed suit, turning the other way toward the north shore when they got to the first major cross-street out of his neighborhood. He wondered if the little twinge of separation he felt as he watched the car containing his other self getting further and further away in the rear-view mirror was all in his head.
The wind off the lake was strong enough to try pushing even his two-ton pickup around, and Blue Tank kept two hands on the wheel and a third absently scritching around the ears of a very contented Charlie as he headed for his destination a mile or so up the shore. He checked his phone to confirm the directions. There had been a brief discussion about which of them got the phone and the driver’s license, and they’d reluctantly concluded Blue Tank needed both, since Green Tank would be with Aiden—but they’d have to at least get a second phone, and maybe dupes of other stuff, too. At least his backup meant they both could have weapons if need be, though neither of them was carrying on this trip. Someday soon, though, they’d both be going into danger, and on that score, at least, they’d both be prepared.
No way Ade would be present when any of that went down, though.
Twenty minutes of storm-dampened Sunday traffic later, Blue Tank was pulling into the asphalt driveway of a small two-tier house almost hidden away behind a heavy swath of blue fir trees, all of them waving and ruffling in the wind and spreading their heady scent through the whole secluded neighborhood. He pulled his truck around behind the house and got out, Charlie jumping down after him. But after closing up and remote-locking the truck and zipping up his coat (with his extra arms inside), Blue Tank turned his back on the house and headed down to the medium-sized houseboat moored at a small private dock directly behind the house, right on the choppy lake. Blue Tank boarded the boat and moved directly to the door that led down into the boat’s residential space, giving it three hard raps. Charlie sat next to him, a picture of patience and loyalty.
After several long moments the door opened. Warm air rushed out, instantly buffeted away by the cold wind. Despite the storm, the man who greeted him was wearing red-orange board shorts and nothing else, and as always he looked like a model for one of those Instagram channels dedicated to proving that only east Asian men were capable of achieving the ultimate expression of sculpted, perfectly defined male beauty—though unlike most of those Adonises this man had a thin brush of dark hair between his full, defined pecs, a lightly stubbled jaw, and a knowing, experienced look in his shrewd, dark eyes.
The man froze when he saw who his visitor was. “Coffey,” he said cautiously after a moment, taking in without comment the stern expression, the watchful dog, and the bulky dark knee-length coat that seemed to be hiding something.
“Hey, Chen,” Blue Tank said calmly. “How’s things in Internal Affairs?”
Chen stared at him a moment longer, the gears of his mind clearly turning as he did so. “You’d better come in,” he said finally, “before you freeze my nipples off.”
The first interview was very brief.
Green Tank climbed the steps of the narrow, three-story brick townhouse and rapped loudly on the cheery door. On the way over, he’d explained to Aiden how he’d discovered the lead in his most recent round of investigation just after the New Year, when he’d gotten up the nerve to break into a storage space owned by one of the shell corporations that laborious research the previous year had shown to be connected to Hester’s wife. (Even though it was accomplished with a stolen key, swiftly copied and returned, and Jordan had been sure he’d gotten in an out undetected, it must have been this break-in that had alerted the bad guys to the investigations Jordan continued but had been trying to conceal under the cover of the other, totally mundane cases he’d taken as a P.I.)
In the storage space were boxes of documents, and on some of these papers Jordan had noticed various doodles and marginalia that amounted to Hester writing his thoughts out in stream of consciousness fashion, trying to puzzle through various problems threatening his schemes and cover-ups. There was a thick file on him, of course, with unnerving detail about his doings before his resignation and notes like “need him disgraced” and, underlined, “stonewall him”, with “maverick” underneath—Jordan’s first discomforting indication that he’s been maneuvered into giving himself the rope to be hung on. Also included in these files, though, was a very revealing page with the names and addresses of various magic or wicca stores in the city, which Hester had apparently checked out as a matter of routine just to be sure they didn’t pose any possible danger to his sorcerer boss. All the entries were crossed out except the last one, which had only the name “Cougar”, this address, and the words “possible threat”.
Within moments the door opened opened to reveal a short, cheery faced woman with short curly hair, rosy cheeks, and—bizarrely—a Christmas-themed sweater covered in candy canes and reindeer, even though the holidays were already a month behind them. Green Tank barely had time to register this curious attire before the cheery-faced woman took in his appearance and then fixated on his coat, which was doing only a marginal job of hiding the extra set of thick-muscled arms that Green Tank happened to have secreted away within. Her eyes went comically wide, staring first at the coat and then up at him, and then, without a word, she slammed the door shit, right in his face.
Green Tank stared at the door in amazement for a moment, then turned to look down at Aiden. “I think we’re at the right place, don’t you?” he asked, bemused. Aiden, still amusingly swathed in cap and scarf so that not much more than his bright, blue-gray eyes were showing, nodded mutely. Lips curving, Green Tank brought his knuckles up and rapped again, a little harder this time.
This time when the door opened they were greeted by a slinky, thin, goateed man all in black. He gave Green Tank only a glance and ignored Aiden completely, merely pulling back the door and gesturing for them to come in. Still without saying anything he led them through the short foyer and up a curving staircase to a large, formal sitting room well let by light from a wide bay window. They followed, and Green Tank wondered if the slinky walk was an affectation offered only certain kinds of visitors.
As soon as they entered the room, everything around him—the floor, the walls, the very air—seemed to burn with yellow fire. Green Tank felt a sudden rush of sexual awareness, as if his libido had been turned up to eleven and was infusing itself though every inch of his flesh. He felt strong and masculine and attractive, and very, very aroused. His clothes felt confining, and the coat hiding his extra arms was ridiculous and had to go—he clenched his fists to keep them from reaching up and ripping the thing off him, though everything in him longed to be free and bare. But his thoughts of himself fled as he beheld his lover, Aiden, this exquisite man who blazed with animal ferocity, his eyes as they stared up at him nearly incandescent with it. They moved closer to each other, barely aware they had done so, and then suddenly they were kissing passionately.
The kiss broke, they moved back, and everything was changed. The fire was gone like a light had been switched off. The room was calm, bathed only in the cold, blue light of a stormy winter Sunday. Green Tank though the only lingering heat from that sun-blazing moment only a few heartbeats back was in his cheeks, but in Aiden’s steel-gray eyes he saw no regrets.
Remembering where he was, Green Tank turned and saw that their sinuous guide hadn’t followed them in. “Wait here,” he said from the doorway. “The Cougar will be with you in a moment.”