BYOP

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Falling Hard

I wake up around eleven.

I close my eyes again after a brief glance at the clock on my little bedside table, only to furrow my brows at the shuffling sounds coming from the corner of the room.

I peek one eye open—Jared[1] is rummaging around, searching every pocket of my work bag until he pulls out my wallet.

When he doesn’t immediately put it back, my heart quickens with energy, waking me up easily.

He counts the cash there, around forty dollars, before sliding my card out of its pocket.

He’s about to pocket everything when I get fed up. “What the actual fuck do you think you’re doing?”

He jerks around, hitting his head on the corner of my desk and knocking over a glass of water I left there. The cup remains intact, but the water spreads across the floor and soaks into some papers and clothes I’ve left there.

I whip the bedsheets off my body in an angry flourish, stomping out of bed in my sweater and boxers and cornering him.

He stands up, just half a head taller than me, but enough to make me feel a lot less menacing. My eyes flicker over the devil tattoos that peek out from the collar of his shirt.

“I just need a few extra bucks, go back to sleep.”

“How much is a few extra bucks? All the cash I’ve got on me and then some? Give me my card back.”

He hands me the forty in cash. “Calm down, Marcus. I’m not taking that much, I just haven’t been getting a lot of hours lately—”

“No, fuck you, I’m so sick of babysitting your bum ass. Give me my god damned card, or . . .”

He squints, looking down at me dangerously. “Or what, Marcus? What are you gonna do?”

I purse my lips. Really, what could I do?

I huff, clench my fists in frustration. “Or I’ll sell you out to the cops. I’ll tell them everything—”

But he backhands me so hard across the face I can barely tell what happened—this time, it’s my head that slams against the edge of the desk, both sides of my face throbbing in pain and overwhelming my senses as I curl into myself.

He leans down, forces my one hand open so hard my fingers crack painfully, and takes the forty back. “No, you’re not going to do that."

He stands over me menacingly, but I can barely make out his face with blurred vision. He chucks my phone onto the hardwood floor in front of me. I flinch, picking it up—the screen is cracked like hell, and my confidence is plummeting.

“Exactly. You’re gonna shut the fuck up and keep quiet about me, unless you want me to break every god damn bone in your body. I’ll fucking break you.”

I nod quickly, clutching my phone to my chest and trying not to hyperventilate. “Won’t! I won’t . . .”

He scoops up the cash on the floor and steps over me, footsteps sending vibrations through the floor with their weight, heavy with barely-contained anger.

Just as I hear the front door slam, my phone begins to vibrate. It takes me four vibrations to make out his name through the cracks in my screen. I tap a couple times to try and answer, but it doesn’t work, just keeps ringing.

I sigh shakily, mind still reeling from the events of the last five minutes.

Jared had never before taken to beating me.

In fact, no one has ever beaten me. I had always assumed no one would ever need to, but . . .

I bring my hand up to brush the damaged skin of my face—it’s swollen where he backhanded me, and likely bruised, but on the left side, there’s a cut along the side of my face near my eye.

My arms are weak as they reach forward to grab my laptop from my work bag, ignoring the now crumpled and unorganized papers inside. I’m glad that out of everything, this is undamaged.

From my laptop, I’m able to order a Lyft to pick me up—I can’t drive right now, not when I’m still trying to remember how to breathe properly.

When the Lyft arrives, I force myself up from my place on the floor, mildly irritated when I step in the spilled water.

I nearly walk out the door without pants. I don a random pair of forest green sweats, slipping my bare feet into my slippers and snatching a black towel from the bathroom on the way out. I fold it and press it against my face, head pounding as I retrieve my laptop and work bag and make my way out.

I shouldn’t be as afraid as I am to see Jared—there should be no doubt he’s gone, but there’s just a little fear sitting in the back of my head, not prepared to get beaten again.

The driver is a girl, and if I weren’t in so much pain I would feel bad. One look at me, and she looks terrified. I try for a smile, but I don’t think it works the way I want it to.

“Two-twelve, North Hudson Court please,” I request, as nicely and unthreatening as I can.

She smiles in return, her only response.

The drive is quiet, which I can appreciate, and as we pull up to his house, my nerves have settled a bit.

She stops, looking back at me expectantly.

“So, um—the reason I’m so bloody is ’cause someone took my money, but I was just going to have the guy who lives here pay, I just need to go get him . . .”

She squints. “I’m sorry, I’m not really supposed to let you leave without paying . . .”

I try to look as innocent as possible. “I promise you he’ll be right out, it won’t be long at all . . . please?”

I make sure to look as tired as I feel.

Her face twists in a way that says fuck it, “Alright.”

I smile wide. “Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.”

I pull my bag back onto my shoulder, fixing the towel against my face as I walk up to the door.

I ring the doorbell once, lean against the side of the house as my muscles burn ever so slightly in exhaustion.

I’m just so relieved to be here.

As he opens the door, I barely have time to study him before his face is painted with anxiety.

“Marcus what the hell happened? Are you okay?”

He steps out of the doorway, leaving the doorway open and letting the brisk fall air into his house.

“I’m okay, really—um . . .”

“What? What is it?”

His hands grip my shoulders to steady me—the small touch allows my entire body to relax.

“I’d love to tell you, but would you mind paying my Lyft bill first?”

His eyes finally leave my battered form, eyeing the car behind me. “Yeah,” he agrees. “Yeah okay. Go inside, sit on the couch, I’ll be back in a second, okay?”

I just nod, too tired to bother with words, and retreat into his home.

As I take off my slippers, I’m immediately drawn to the hardwood floors of the foyer.

I smile to myself, thinking back to our first real encounter. It seems silly to me now—a Craigslist ad? Why didn’t either of us just use Tinder?

“Lucas? Who is it?”

I freeze.

Someone else is here.

I look up toward the living area where the couches are, ready to sit down but more curious on who’s there.

Suddenly, a face pops up from behind the couch, startling me.

“What—”

“Hi! I’m Emery—are you the pretty sassy sub that Lucas was expecting?”

He’s tanned, with short hair dyed a deep red, and a wide, toothy grin.

“I . . . guess so . . . hi?”

But Emery gasps. “Oh my cheese, what happened to your face?”

I’m almost offended, until the towel shifts against my face and I recoil a bit. Right, I’m a bloody mess.

Another voice meets my ears. “Emery, don’t make me punish you again—oh.”

The man sits up from the couch—a single look at my face halting him in his scolding.

“Sir, I’m not that rude.”

He scoffs. “Yes, you are.”

Emery shrugs, not bothering to argue further, and the man with him turns to me—a bigger guy with shocking blue eyes and black hair pulled back from his face into a messy bun.

“Hello, Marcus I assume? I’m Magnus. Forgive me, but . . . what happened to your face?”

I lift one corner of my mouth in a half smile, before letting it fall as my bruised, swollen cheek aches. “Drugged up roommate. Long story.”

The both of them wince. It’s not really a long story, but I’m far too tired to talk about it if I’m just going to have to repeat it to Lucas.

Emery shuffles over on his knees, patting the couch. “Come ’ere, come sit with us!”

Magnus looks down at his boy. “Why don’t you go get the first aid kit, my little doctor?”

Emery’s warm hazel eyes widen, like he hadn’t even considered the idea. “Oh, of course! Yes, Sir!”

He leaps off the sofa, throwing me a smile as he rushes past me and into the hall beside the living area.

I walk around the couch, and sit on the chaise lounge on the other side of the glass table. It takes me a minute to get comfortable—I’ve never actually sat on a chaise lounge. How strange . . .

“Marcus?”

Lucas walks back in just as Emery returns with a first aid kit. “Lucas,” he says. “You got peroxide?”

My lover nods, gesturing to the hallway Emery just returned from. “Under the bathroom sink.”

Emery leaves again to retrieve it and Lucas walks toward me.

He sits beside me, cradling my face gently in his large, warm hands.

“Stay here tonight. I won’t be able to sleep if you go back there . . . I want you safe . . . here, with me.”

I nod, smile even though it hurts. “Yeah, that sounds good.”

He smiles, but it’s sad—anxiety still pooling in his beautiful green eyes.

I hate the idea that I’ve got him all worked up. “Hey, I’m alright. It’s not as bad as it looks,” I reassure, but I really haven’t seen how I look.

Emery returns once more, sets the items on the glass table gently and with practiced urgency. “Ditch the towel,” he instructs, hands moving quickly.

I frown, but slowly remove the towel from my face, wincing as the dried blood makes my face stick to the towel.

Emery frowns so slightly I almost miss it.

He kneels in front of me, tall enough to reach my level and gently grips my chin. He doesn’t give me any more instruction, but moves me at his convenience. It stings when he cleans off my face, so I clutch Lucas’ hand in my own and squeeze.

His other hand rubs circles on my back, offering comfort I didn’t realize I so desperately needed.

Jared’s anger-filled eyes, teeth bared threateningly—the moment I almost passed out as I was thrown against the desk . . .

Getting hit is scary.

There’s a hollow feeling inside me, one that makes me squeeze Lucas’ hand even tighter in an effort to fill it. Slowly, but surely, it’s replaced with warmth.

I’m crying only because the peroxide stings so bad, but it’s only when I’ve started that I start shaking again.

When is this going to heal? Is the cut from my desk going to leave a scar? Did Jared fuck up any of my teeth?

Lucas just moves closer, crowds around me like he’s shielding me, and I crave it—press back against him and I cry softly to myself.

Emery pulls back for a minute to cut a piece of gauze for my face, so I take the opportunity to lean back against Lucas’ shoulder.

It’s the smallest kiss on my forehead, the faintest breath against my hair, the way he holds me just the slightest bit tighter as he does it that fills every ounce of emptiness in me.

Magnus speaks up—he and Lucas had been making light conversation, keeping their voices soft. “I think we’ll be on our way soon. I don’t want to intrude.”

Lucas looks down at me, raises a brow. I shrug . . . shake my head. I wouldn’t mind some company.

Lucas grins, but it’s almost forced. “Nonsense—you’re not intruding. After all, you’re staying for dinner, aren’t you?”

Magnus smiles back. “Of course. Wouldn’t miss your fettucine for anything.”

Emery grins, breaking the straight-faced mask he had been wearing moments ago. “We’re having fettuccine? Yes . . .”

I laugh a bit at that.

Emery goes on a little rant on his preferred pastas, his mask slowly falling into place even when his voice betrays nothing. He leans forward, presses the gauze to my face. He must have put something on it—my cheek’s going numb.

“Hold that,” he mumbles.

I hold it to my face with four fingers as he rips off some medical tape.

As he finishes, I touch the gauze on my face. How funny I must look.

“What about the bruise?” I ask.

Emery turns to Lucas. “Still got that ice pack from last year?”

I feel Lucas nod beside me. “Fridge.”

As Emery retrieves that, Magnus turns on the TV, and Lucas turns to me.

“Has this happened before?”

His summer grass eyes are tense with stress, searching mine for an answer as if he won’t get it in just a moment.

“No . . . never.”

He nods, lets out a deep breath he must’ve been holding.

I don’t know why, but it makes me laugh. “Worried about me, Money-bags?”

He screws up his face, disbelieving as I bring back the nickname I gave him after he took his little vacation to Bali.

“Please don’t call me that,” he groans.

“What, Money-bags? Why not, it seems fitting?”

He rolls his eyes, I laugh.

“It’s just weird. Can’t give me a normal nickname? Baby, sweetheart, stud muffin—”

“Um, hold on. Stud muffin is not a normal nickname, unless you’re a character in a rom-com meeting your secret lover’s neighbors for the first time—”

“I would gladly accept designation stud muffin.” He holds me closer, kisses my jaw with a laugh.

It makes me smile wide, bite my lip so I don’t ruin the bandage Emery just made.

Emery comes back with the ice pack, a large freezer-storage Ziploc bag full of some weird translucent goop. His attention is automatically drawn to the TV as Magnus surfs Netflix.

“Oh—Vampire Diaries please.”

Magnus turns his focus to me and Lucas. I shrug. I had watched a few random episodes from season three that really weren’t bad. “I’m for it.”

Lucas gives me a look that says really?

He turns to Magnus, who shrugs. “It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.”

Lucas laughs to himself and shrugs. “Alright, Vampire Diaries it is.”

Emery places the ice pack in a dish towel and presses it to my face. “Keep that there for fifteen, then off for fifteen. Rinse, repeat, ’kay?”

I nod, holding the ice pack. Emery flops down on his master, grabbing for the controller. “You’re slow—I’m on season two . . .”

Magnus rolls his eyes. “Grabby,” he complains.

Emery gives him a sweet smile, making Magnus’ expression soften.

“. . . Brat.”

I laugh at this, with everyone else.

Lucas shifts, pulls away. I grip his arms around me with my own hands, looking back. “Where . . .”

He smiles. “Let’s move to the couch, yeah?”

I nod, moving to stand, but just as I’m on my feet, Lucas sweeps me off of them, holding me to his chest princess style.

"Ah—Lucas,” I laugh, feign protest.

He sits us down quite unceremoniously, plopping himself onto the other side of the couch and letting me fall on top of him.

I giggle, switch hands because the first is getting tired of holding the ice pack.

He nudges me hand away with his own, leaning us back and holding it himself as the show starts.

His arm rests across my body, so I shift, wrap my own arm around his to hold him to me.

. . .

Vampire Diaries is far more intense then I had previously thought, every hour-long episode throwing plot-twist after plot-twist, rarely ever one we expect.

We stress-ordered pizza after the first episode we watched, and now as the doorbell rings, I wonder if the delivery guy got our instructions.

Ring doorbell once. Stay and watch an episode of Vampire Diaries with us.

We all scream no at the same time, cursing everything.

Emery is angriest of us all, having the knowledge of all the previous episodes.

“What is Stefan doing,” Emery complains.

Magnus massages his temples. “I’m telling you, Elena needs Damon, not Stefan.”

“I concur, my good man, fuck Stefan—”

I scoff. “Emery, speak this century please.”

He runs a stressed hand through dark red hair, looking at me with wide eyes. “Don’t tell me what to do!”

Lucas maneuvers me off of his lap to place me on the couch beside him. Magnus gets up as well, the two of them arguing over who will pay for the pizza.

I watch the TV, the music that they play in between episodes kind of calming, but at the same time kind of dangerous.

And then my eyes fall on Emery. More specifically, his collar. At first, I thought it was black, but it’s actually dark red, probably in reference to his hair, with a metal ring settled at the center of his throat.

“That’s not a necklace, is it?”

He blinks at me, had been distracted with listening to the other two at the door just a few feet away. “What, this?”

He hooks a finger into the metal ring.

I nod.

He smiles. “Nope. It’s Magnus’ collar.”

I find myself feeling giddy. I can’t be sure, but I might be trying to live vicariously through him. “That’s amazing, how long have you two been a thing?”

Emery tosses his phone to the side, completely immersed in the conversation. “Six months, I think, back in March. Idiot got himself hurt riding that stupid death trap of his! I was doing volunteer hours at Saint Mary and I’m like hey, those are some nice flowers, and he says back glad you like them, they’re for you.”[2]

I smile—what a sweet story.

Magnus walks in with the pizza, Lucas with the bill, looking smug. “Hey, my baby isn’t a death trap. I distinctly remember you begging for a ride just yesterday—”

“Yeah, on your dick not your death trap!”

Lucas covers his mouth, hides his grin with the receipt.

“Shut up and eat, brat.”

I giggle, risking another glance at Emery’s collar.

I have to wonder if Lucas will ever give me one. I know it’s a bit soon, but I also know that I’m falling for him—hard.

I dig into the pizza, though, super hungry already.

It’s only as we finish that I’m ready to take my shirt off. It’s super hot in here now, and I’m in sweats.

“Babe do you want to borrow a shirt or something? You look flushed.”

Lucas peers up at me as he wipes the pizza grease from his fingers.

“Yeah.” I nod. “That’d be great.”

He waves me on as he gets up, so I follow him to his room.

I recognize it from the first morning we spent together. As he walks into his closet, I immediately notice the stack of papers lying on the corner of his bed. As I take a step forward, I recognize it as a contract.

Our contract.

I pick it up, begin reading . . .

“We’ll deal with that later,” says Lucas, as he hands me a long, blue button up.

I raise a brow. “Thought you didn’t want to put it off anymore?”

He smiles. “We have company. We can do it tomorrow morning for sure.”

As we descend the stairs back to the living area, I witness my first non-personal kinky interaction.

Magnus and Emery are making out like freaking heathens—Magnus backs away, but Emery follows.

Magnus hooks a finger into his submissive’s collar, tugging him upward onto his toes. The taller man bites his sub’s lower lip, donning a stern expression. “Help clean this up.”

Emery nods, giving Magnus sexy, hazel bedroom eyes. “Yes, Master.”

Magnus lays back to watch, and as Emery begins to clean the table, I notice the permanent smile on his face.

I bite my lip, risking a glance at Lucas only to find that he’s already openly staring at me.

I flush against my will. “What?”

He shakes his head. “You’re just cute.”

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