I’d forgotten what it was like to not be waking up alone in the morning. I missed the feeling of having my arms wrapped around the man I adored, my face buried in his neck, our limbs tangled like earphones left in the pocket for too long. For a second, when I opened my eyes and felt the heat of another body pressed close to mine, I regressed back to the past. It wasn’t until I looked down that I realized it was Emmett and not Reid. A brief pang of disappointment hit me but then Emmett opened his eyes, his lips stretching into a lazy smile, and all thoughts about Reid faded away in the twinkle in his gaze.
“Hey there, handsome,” I whispered, dragging my knuckles down his cheeks.
“Back at you, Dreamy,” he blinked sleepily.
I supported myself on a propped up elbow to lean forward and press my lips to his softly, just a gentle caress to smear his taste over my senses. But he cupped the back of my neck to hold me there and tilted his head, pushing his tongue inside my mouth in a slow stroke. I groaned when I felt his bare sculpted body press against me, his smooth, warm skin pulsing under my touch. When we pulled back, I rested my forehead on the hollow of his collarbone, feeling him sift his fingers through my hair peacefully. Our quiet breaths filled the room with an umbrella of perceived comfort, a soothing illusion I didn’t want to see shattered.
“Thank you for last night.” He broke the silence. “It was the best night I’ve had in a really long time.”
“Me too.” I lifted my head up to look at him. He was staring out of the window, the curtains of which I hadn’t closed last night. His eyes were fixed at some vague point in the distance, his hands absentmindedly playing with my hair. “I wish we could do it again,” I said quietly.
His eyelids squeezed shut at my words, his throat moving as he visibly swallowed. His face was like a mirror to his heart where all his emotions were reflected as clearly as the lenses of brand new spectacles. He did a good job of hiding himself behind a mask of arrogance and sarcasm most of the time. But I’d spent my whole life figuring children out, whose feelings are the hardest to understand because they never learnt how to express them. Emmett wasn’t any different. I could see his anguish written as plain as day on his face.
“I wish,” he whispered.
I broke his line of thinking with a deep passionate kiss that ended up in us going at each other like bunnies in the bathroom. It gave a new twist to the mundane activity of taking a bath. I could feel the time ticking faster as our time together came to an end like a physical clock inside me, amping up a vague anxiety that had no solution.
We walked down the snow filled streets to a breakfast bar downtown. The chill of last night’s snowfall was still clinging to the frozen air. My hands were buried in my pockets to ward off the cold. I think after the level of intimacy we’d reached, I could hold his hand, but suddenly, I was feeling inexplicably nervous around him. Nervous enough to be looking down as we walked, like a thirteen year old on his first date. And I did not like the feeling one bit.
It was only after we had been sitting in a dead end silence opposite to each other that in a booth on the pavement that I decided to clear my throat and speak something. “You wanna tell me what the Jackson dude was talking about yesterday?”
He rubbed a palm over his face, instantly becoming weary. “I knew this was coming,” he muttered.
“Emmett?” I waited until he met my eyes. “Nobody’s judging you. But I need to know and you know that. Take a deep breath and tell me.”
He closed his eyes for a brief second before opening them up again with a steely resolve. “Okay,” he sighed. “So this is what happened. I’d been serving in Afghanistan for twenty months when we got the news that a terrorist base camp has been located, but it was practically on the other end of the country so three teams were dispatched to cover from all possible directions. One of those teams was mine. I had twelve people under me.” He swallowed. “For a few months, when we reached the spot a few miles from the terrorist camp, there were a lot of preparations ensued to ensure it really was what we thought and not some innocent civilians. We mapped the place, recorded all observations from a safe distance and...a lot of other technical stuff.
“Anyway, moving past that. Orders came from the top to move in closer. We were sure, right? So it was time to catch a few birds in the nest. But they wanted them alive.” His voice turned bitter. “We managed to kill three of them and capture one alive but he somehow sent a distress signal back to his people and you can imagine what happened next. We ran. We hid. We couldn’t get out because they were still scouting the place. We couldn’t send any message back to our government because we were sure they would be tapping every damn thing. It was our personal siege and four of my soldiers died of starvation.
“We lost any form of contact to the outside world. I knew we were all going to die if we didn’t do something so I took my chances and sent out an SOS message to Jackson. As expected, they caught up to us. We were so weak that hardly any of us had the energy to fight. They captured us, tortured us around for a while. Ultimately, when none of us opened our mouths, they decided to kill us.”
He paused at this point, a shadow coming over his face as he relived his past in his head, diving into the same old painful river of memories and letting the unforgiving current of anguish wash over him. He was so lost in his story that even when I squeezed his hand, he barely noticed it.
“Here’s the showstopper,” he continued with a smirk that didn’t reach his eyes. “They made me kill my own team just for kicks. I didn’t have any option but to do it because the amount of information I had on them would go to my deathbed with me if I didn’t. I couldn’t let the deaths of my people go to waste like that. So I shot them one by one in the hopes that I would be rescued before my turn came. Right when my last man went down, there was a commotion. My rescue team had arrived. There were about forty more casualties just to get me out of there.”
With a sarcastic pout, he turned back to his usual form, arrogant, confident and seemingly not serious about anything in life. “That’s the whole story with all the gory details. Fast forward two months and here we are. Now I’m being called back to train more people and once again go on the same mission, except actually succeed this time, for which I’m gonna need your help.”
“So it is a death mission,” I said quietly after a few seconds.
He glanced away and then turned back to me. “Look, I know I’m asking a lot. I don’t want to. Trust me, every other person I ever cared about in the world is lying in a coffin. But I have to do this. I need to do this.”
“Why? You’ve relayed all the information you had. Let someone else wear the helm of death,” I said.
“Why? Why not? I’ve never done anything with my life. At least I’ll die a warrior’s death,” he cried.
“That’s not true. I don’t know a lot about you but I do know everything Stuart used to tell me. You’ve done more than most people have accomplished.” I grasped his hand when he started to get up. “Don’t. Don’t switch off when I’m speaking. Don’t put yourself down. And for God’s sake, stop rolling your eyes.”
He bit his tongue, a glint of amusement overtaking his expression at my sudden strict behavior. I was aware I was sounding like a strict parent. This was the voice I used on my kids. Now it came automatically when people frustrated me.
“Either way, no one knows the place or what to expect better than I. I have to do it,” he said firmly.
“You could train someone else to do it,” I suggested pointedly, trumping his one last excuse.
“I’m not letting anyone else die because of me,” he said the truth at last.
My voice, that had been very close to shouting, instantly turned soft. “Their deaths weren’t your fault, Emmett. You did the best you could.”
“Yeah, well, my best wasn’t good enough.” He rolled his eyes but quickly caught himself when I glared at him. There was nothing I hated more than that gesture.
I took a different approach. “All those people died so that you could live. Are you really going to dishonor their sacrifice this way?”
“No. They died for the cause, for the mission. I’m not going to let their deaths go to waste. I will complete what we were sent there for.”
I ran my fingers through my hair, pushing them back in frustration. “I won’t be able to live with myself if I ratified your death warrant.” I had my head in my hands, not knowing what to do. I genuinely cared for this stupid fucker. Why, I didn’t know, but I did. I couldn’t let him die.
His chair scraped when he pushed it back. Giving me a light kiss on my forehead, he mumbled, “Take your time,” and went away, leaving me to wallow alone in my own dilemma.
For the next few days, that was the only thing that dominated my mind. Whatever I did, I wasn’t completely into it. I had a couple of appointments with my old clients but I hardly remembered what we had talked about, something that never happened to me. In fact, one of the women, a middle aged lady with social anxiety problems, even pointed out my distracted behavior which embarrassed me greatly. I apologized profusely but turned out that she was merely concerned.
In the orphanage, some more kids had joined Maia in her peace treaty and were playing cheerfully with Ginger. At least something was going right. I was sure the other kids would come around too.
By the time evening rolled around that day, I was sure that I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t even about my career. As I’d told him, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I ratified his death warrant. I still didn’t understand the technicalities of what his job was but I understood enough to know that his chances of coming back alive were less than me sprouting horns and a tail.
Around this time, I usually didn’t have much to do so I usually just played around with all the kids, getting a report on all the new shenanigans the walls of the orphanage had witnessed. I had thought of calling Emmett and telling him he’d asked me too big a favor. I was just dialing his number when another fight broke out between two kids, John and Nicholas. Both of them were always fighting with each other over something or the other and their fights usually escalated to one of them running around the other with a sharp Lego piece.
Ginger and I managed to hold them back after a couple of minutes of chasing then around. I had to physically hold John in my lap so he doesn’t run off in his fury again.
“Why were you hitting him, John?” I asked.
“He wasn’t letting me complete my puzzle,” he cried, still flailing his arms like he could hit Nicholas from afar.
Ginger reproached Nicholas for being a bad boy and troubling John. Meanwhile, I told him, “He could’ve gotten hurt, baby. You shouldn’t hit someone like that.”
“My puzzle is the most important thing to me. Everything else is just collalel damage.” He crossed his arms over his chest and set his jaw.
“You mean collateral damage,” I corrected him with a little smile.
“That’s what I said,” he said obstinately.
“What if Nicholas hit you for coming between his games?” I asked him.
He took a moment to deeply think about the question I had posed. “Then I would have to understand that it’s important for him and it would be wrong of me to take it away,” he said finally.
It’s funny how the tiniest, most negligible events end up drastically changing the most important decisions of your life. Something clicked in my brain when John said those words. The decision I’d reached after days of relentless thinking changed in a millisecond, like I could see a little more clearly through the river than before, even if I didn’t like to see it end into a deep fall.
The choice between life and death was Emmett’s call, not mine. I had no right to make that decision for him. Plus, he was a big boy. He could take care of himself. Hopefully.
I completed the letter of approval I’d been typing the other day, when I had a migraine attack, and printed it out. With a deep sigh strengthening my resolve, I put it in a folder and drove to Emmett’s place.
I didn’t know his address but I did know where Stuart used to live and with any luck, I’d find Emmett there too. But when I walked up the steps to the house and knocked on the door, I had a moment of doubt due to the lack of response. I was about to go back when I noticed movement in the corner of my eye.
Emmett had set up a makeshift gym in the backyard, complete with dumbells and barbells scattered across the wet ground which no doubt had only recently been shoveled. A rod had been attached at the top of the doorframe that led into the house on which he was doing pull ups. He was clad only in a pair of shorts, most of his toned body bare for me to feast upon. It was really a joke for this hotter-than-all-holy-hell man to call me dreamy. I might be Greek but he was the God. Every goddamn inch of him was perfectly carved, like he had taken a pencil and sketched out every perfect ridge on his body. The muscles on his upper body were rippling as he pulled himself up, his biceps flexing as he let himself down. Tattoos covered the right side of his body, ink as black as the night on half of his torso and all over his right arm. The Grim Reaper on his chest looked like he was getting ready to kill some unfortunate bastards with his scythe, and all I could do was stare. The only saving grace I had was the fact that at least I wasn’t openly drooling.
He released his grip and landed back on his feet, doubling forward and supporting his elbows on his knees. Sweat was dripping onto the ground in torrents as tried to catch his breath. Wiping himself down with a towel, he shrugged on a jacket and strolled towards me.
“Keep looking at me like that and you’ll be the one out of those clothes and suspended on that bar in five seconds straight,” he said, a little smirk on his delicious lips.
“Don’t give me ideas,” I said, not bothering to hide the torrent of possibilities on the pull up bar running through my mind.
He stopped two steps away from me and for some weird reason, it pleased me that he had to lift his chin up to meet my eyes. I liked being taller.
“Am I allowed to kiss you or are we past that?” he asked.
In response, I leaned in and pressed a soft kiss on his lips, running my tongue on his lower lip before I pulled back, tracing the tip of my finger down his neck.
“I didn’t think I’d ever hear from you again,” he murmured, his eyes still half closed.
I handed him the folder with his letter. “There you go. I just needed some time to convince myself,” I told him.
He bit his lip, staring down at the folder with a small, disbelieving smile. He chuckled without humor and handed it back to me. “I don’t need it anymore.”
“What?” I blinked incredulously. “Why?”
“As I said, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. So I talked to Jackson the other day. He told me to go for therapy for a few months and scrap this whole fake application deal. He won’t accept it,” he said.
“That’s great. I could recommend you to a good psychiatrist,” I said, for the first time feeling a little hopeful. This was amazing news. It meant he would stay alive for another couple of months. And who knows? Maybe he would change his mind.
“You won’t treat me?” he asked.
“It is unethical for me to take a patient who I have feelings for,” I said slowly, wondering how he didn’t know that when his own mother was a nurse.
He pressed his lips together to hold back the grin I could see his face splitting with. “See, I knew that, but I’m such a mean sucker that I wanted to hear it from you that you have feelings where I’m concerned.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course I do. It wouldn’t take me days to type a damn letter if I didn’t.”
With the same cocky smile on his lips, he started to backtrack, singing in a teasing voice, “You like me.”
I couldn’t help laughing at his childish behavior. How he packaged immaturity, cuteness and arrogance at the same time, I will never understand.
“Come back here right now,” I ordered.
“You like me, you like me,” he kept singing. By this time, he had reached the door leading into his house.
“Trust me, I will spank your sexy ass so damn hard when I catch you,” I said, taking slow steps towards him, baiting my time, letting him take chase.
“You’re just a barking dog, you don’t bite,” he taunted me.
“You’re literally asking for it,” I said and took off at a run to catch him. It wasn’t tough, mostly because he wanted to get caught quickly.
I grabbed him by his waist and pulled him back to me. “You test my patience more than anyone I’ve ever known,” I said, pushing his jacket past his shoulders.
“It’s not that hard. You’ve got the patience of a grasshopper,” his smart mouth replied.
“Bend over the couch,” I whispered in his ear.
“And if I don’t?” he asked, only half heartedly struggling against me.
I pulled his wrist hard till he fell forward with a jerk and maneuvered his bent body on the back of the couch like I wanted, pressing my chest against his back so he couldn’t move. “Then I’ll make you do it myself.”
“I thought you couldn’t get hotter but you just did,” he said.
I made him hold on tightly to the arms of the couch and started to leave sensual kisses along his spine, from where his shoulder blades met to the curve of his waist. I slowly pulled his shorts down, leaving him bare for my ministrations. To be honest, I’d only ever spanked anyone once before and I didn’t like it because of circumstantial reasons. This felt more natural, more in the moment.
With a hand pressed down on the small of his back to hold him still, I brought an open palm down on one cheek, hard enough to sting but not hurt, like the strong winds before a storm that scare but don’t cause damage. “Are you going to run from me again?” I asked in a pseudo strict voice.
“Seriously not cool how much that turns me on,” he muttered, burying his face inside the leather of the couch.
I gave two more swats on each cheek, making him utter a vague noise in the back of his throat. “When I ask you a question, you answer me,” I told him, accentuating it with another slap. His skin was starting to get hotter, responding to my touch, the first signs of a red glow.
“Probably not,” he answered quickly, instinctively. His breaths were already coming harder in anticipation, spurring me on to impatience. I guess I did have the patience of a grasshopper.
“Are. You. Going. To. Run. From. Me. Again?” With every word, I spanked his sexier than sin bubble butt, making it red under my palm. Blood rushed to the surface, his hands tightening with each slap.
“No, I won’t,” he said breathlessly, squirming by this point. I still don’t know whether the goosebumps on his skin were from the anticipation of another slap or the cold wind rushing in from the open door of the backyard.
I gently rubbed my fingers over the redness, relieving him of the sting. Right when he started to relax, I pulled my hand back and brought it down hard on his already fragile skin, making him jerk a little from the surprise. I continued with the same combination of relief and pain, my slaps getting successively harder, till he was whimpering without even realizing it.
He bit his lip and I groaned at the unknowingly provocative gesture. He made me want to become a cannibal just so that I could eat him, in a completely non gross way.
I cupped his cock, delighted at finding him as turned on by this as I was. It wasn’t the noises he made but the willingly vulnerable position he had put himself in for me. I traced a path with my tongue from his cherry red ass to his shoulder till I was nipping at the delicate skin below his ear, letting him slowly stand up.
“I believe you’ve learned your lesson,” I said, a smug note to my voice.
“Kind of,” he conceded, a little breathless. “But you should probably hand out a few more in the future, just to be sure.”
I muffled my laugh in his hair, holding him tighter against me. At least there was a future.