your move
by cimorene

Brice has been at Croft Manor ever since he was sixteen, although he told Lara he was seventeen when she asked. And now he is twenty-three, and it doesn't seem like such an incredibly long time, but when he stops to think about it, it adds up to almost a third of his life.

Brice has a thing for Hilary. Hilary is Lara's butler, and the third (and only other) inhabitant of the manor house.

The thing is that he was pretty young when he came here. He hadn't had any good friends since he was a little kid. Pibs and Mike at the Priory School were okay, but they were mostly friends because they liked computers. And Pibs and Mikey weren't hackers. Not by a long shot.

So Lara said that if he was old enough and wanted to he could come, and she stayed overnight in a hotel there, and the next morning she was outside the front of the school wearing brown leather pants and a black silk wind jacket, her long hair swinging in an extremely badass braid, with one hand on the handlebars of a Harley, and a boxy slate gray sedan with tinted windows behind her.

Brice had kinda thought she wouldn't show.

She raised one hand in greeting when she saw him. He was wearing his school uniform without the tie, which was about all he had that was decent; everything that mattered to him was in his battered knapsack. She leaned down to rap on the passenger's side window. The driver got out of the car--a man who looked old because his suit was so well-cut and he moved so assuredly, until you got a look at his face and saw he was young, probably early twenties, definitely younger than Lara (it hadn't sunk in yet then that Lara was Lady Croft. And because of the way she introduced herself, he'd never called her that except in the third person--like the letter she made him write to Dr. Bellinger, withdrawing from the Priory School).

"Hilary, this is Brice," she said. "He's going to be working with us. He does," she gave a significant look, "computers."

Hilary bowed. "Sir." Brice's eyes popped.

Lara, noting his surprise, said, "Brice, this is Hilary. He's the butler at Croft Manner."

Butler, thought Brice. That explained it. "Do butlers drive the car?" He couldn't stop himself asking.

Hilary smiled.

Lara grinned, "You'll find we're not exactly a conventional household. Butler is really the least of Hilary's duties."

Hilary drove Brice back to Croft Manor across the country; Lara rode her bike. He let Brice ride in the front seat of the car. And he let Brice babble ceaselessly, smiling occasionally and encouraging him from time to time. The amazing thing was that it was clear he was listening. Also, he seemed to know a fair amount about networks--not to mention he let slip a few hints that he knew about, for instance, chemistry, archaeology, medicine, electrical wiring, literature, cars and engines, badminton, Buddhism, sociology, and history. But he was so damned mysterious.

At first Brice told himself that it only made sense to make friends with Hilary. Hilary and Lara were the only other people around--and it wasn't like he was going to do anything to break the isolation. It didn't enter his calculations that he had never felt the need to seek out friendships before, especially not with unlimited computer and electronics resources at his fingertips.

(One of the first things Lara gave him, even before the three of them finished fixing up what would be his workroom, was a chequebook.

"It's not an unlimited account," she said casually, "so if you want to buy anything really big just ask me or Hilary--he does the household accounting. But this should cover pretty much anything you want in the way of computers. Oh, and keep me up to date with what you're making and doing in a general way. I like to stay informed.")

But he really, really wanted to be friends with Hilary, he realized after not very long. Okay, Brice decided. I just really like him. Sometimes people just really like other people.

But it was never that simple. From the beginning Brice never tried to get Hilary out of his head. It fascinated him that Hilary was such a chef. It intrigued him that Hilary studied Zen. Was he a Buddhist? Exactly how much did he know about engines? Where did he grow up? Did he ever want to be a butler? What did he daydream about when he was little? Did he ever have any real friends?

Was Lara his personal savior too?

He wanted to know where Hilary learned to do this and that. Every now and then, when he tore himself away from his new toys--far oftener than he would have guessed if you'd asked him before he met Lara--he'd slink around to the kitchen, and if he didn't find Hilary there, he'd wander around the grounds looking.

Once he found him and Lara fighting. He was awfully confused and a little panicky--"Don't kill him!" He called. A few seconds after that Lara pinned Hilary. When they stopped moving, Brice could see she'd been holding one hand behind her back. She looked up at him curiously, not looking particularly winded.

"Your confidence is touching," panted Hilary, lying under her. He was wearing some protective padding over his shirt--which was, Brice saw with interest, not the usual dress shirt that went under his suit but a shiny, sleek white thing that hugged the curve of every muscle and ended in a funnel neck with a zip in the front. His hair was dark with sweat. Brice stared.

"You guys, uh, do this for fun?" He asked.

"Absolutely," said Lara, jumping to her feet. "Thanks," she said to Hilary. "I'll see you at dinner about this wireless receiver thing," she said to Brice. And strode away with a spring in her step.

Brice likes Hilary, sure. But from the beginning he has also admired him. He has been intrigued by him. He has instinctively trusted him. He has wanted, incessantly, to get to know Hilary better; he has been frustrated by the reserve the man puts on, which he first thought was part of his Butler Dignity, but Lara told him early on (when she was helping him move into the Winnebago in fact) that it's part of Hilary's personality, and since then he's had ample opportunity to confirm that.

Actually he still remembers finding out that Lara picked Hilary up in a hotel. He remembers her description of the costume and how it included "little white gloves"--wrist-length.


When she said that Brice's imagination supplied him with a perfect image of Hilary in tux and tails, waistcoat and ruffles and white gloves, polished pointy shoes, slim, high-waisted flat-front pants.

He remembers that his exact thought at the time was wow, I never thought of that, with perhaps a side-order of that's really fucking hot.

But he'd only known Hilary a few months then and it took him years to realize he wants Hilary's body. He wants to do things he's only read about and things he's never even heard about to it. He wants to explore every single inch of it with his hands and his mouth. He wants to suck on it and blow it. He wants it served up to him preferably naked, but he has no problem with unwrapping it; preferably hot and hard and twitching, but he has no problem with starting from scratch; preferably flushed and wet--for the past several months he has been talking Hilary into going swimming with him pretty frequently, and watching him in the hot tub--but he has no problem with providing his own moisture.

It's funny how long he was able to feel and recognize attraction without going, oh, hey, I'd like to throw him on the floor and shag him rotten, and maybe not take the time to get out of our clothes first.

Like, well, wanting to be around Hilary--that was early--but it didn't even take him a whole year to associate Hilary with "warm and tingly." For some reason "warm and tingly" didn't connect in his brain with "naked and sweaty" for another four years or so.

Well, he may be a computer genius, but no one ever said that had to make him smart. Brice blames it on not enough interaction with kids his own age. He really (really, really) should've listened to old Bellinger.

In fact, it wasn't the first or second time he beat off thinking about Hilary that he realized he actually, in real life, wanted to get him into bed.

Well, then he was stuck with what to do about it.

Which, for a long time, was nothing.

Then Lara found the All-Seeing Eye inside a clock and left for Cambodia, for an extended, indefinite period of time. She made it clear it might be impossible to contact her. She left very specific instructions in case she didn't come back. And she left them.

It was lonelier with her gone to Cambodia than with her gone to, say, America, or Egypt or Greece. Wondering every day, helpless, was starting to take its toll on both Hilary and Brice.

Brice wasn't sleeping much, but he'd downloaded several gigs of music and cross-indexed them and put them on their own hard drive and started experimenting with a mixing software for his smallest and most portable piece of electronics, something the size and shape of a palm-pilot that was a good deal more powerful than what generally went by that name.

Hilary had gone painfully obsessive-compulsive. The man was practically wearing tracks in the carpet and the lawn making his "rounds" every morning and afternoon and night. Brice was pretty sure he was making breakfast all in the same order every day too, but he couldn't be sure.

So one day Brice's eyes were stinging and burning and he glanced at a clock and realized, with surprise, that he hadn't eaten or slept for nearly seventeen hours. He sort of fell into bed, and woke up some time later light-headed and headachy, his belly painfully empty, his face hot and creased from the pillow. But the main problem was his mind being eaten up by a nightmare, something gruesome where Lara died and her corpse had been made into some kind of robot by her enemies and it had come hunting them, bits of metal showing through the flesh, with these tremendous bloody knives.

The point is that Brice looked at the clock, saw it was five in the afternoon and knew he had about a seventy-five percent chance of catching Hilary in the gym, so he ran across the lawns, his mind still sort of blank and panicky. And he got to the gym and went in the door, after some fumbling with the code pad, and it swung closed silently behind him, and he stood at the side of the doorway, stupid and numb with sleep, watching Hilary, who didn't even see him.

Hilary was--gorgeous. Hilary was sex. He was bare-chested, going through some kind of very fast martial arts routine on the floor mat in the center of the room, breathing hard and deep and even, covered all over with sweat. Brice could smell it. He watched until Hilary's thin shorts were wet and clinging to his skin, outlining the musculature of his buttocks so you could actually see muscles flex as he kicked, rolled, and lunged.

Then he fled.

First he went to the kitchen, and drank almost an entire carton of orange juice. He ate a bit of ham between some bread, wolfing it all down and barely bothering to chew, then took the time to make himself a stack of sandwiches and carry them back to the Winnebago. He locked the door. And when he was done eating he flopped, warm and rather bloated, back into bed and closed his eyes and unzipped his jeans and put his hand inside. It didn't take long to come. His prick was hard almost as soon as he wrapped his hand around it.

Then he sat himself down and told himself, this is ridiculous. You're going to stop this. You're going to do something. And neither of you's going to go nuts just because Lara's gone. When she's done saving the world she's going to want you in one piece.

The next day when Hilary came looking for him in the afternoon, Brice left his project and tailed him back to the kitchen, kept him talking while they ate. That night he went looking for him again to go for a swim, and they stayed up quite late eating the most sinful chocolate cake ever conceived of.

That was the beginning of Brice's campaign. That was when he started to do something.

It has continued for the last week. But what is Brice really doing? Seeking Hilary out when he wants to, instead of suppressing the impulse. Saying (some of) what he thinks. Taking opportunities to touch.

Hilary lets him get away with all this, but nothing has changed, which is to say, none of the things Brice particularly wants to change has changed: there has been no change in how often Brice initiates sex with Hilary, and no change in how often Hilary initiates sex with Brice. Neither has ever happened, and at this point, neither seems very likely to.

Although he's been planning to work up to a real seduction, Brice hasn't actually worked quite high enough yet the first time they do have sex. In fact, it kind of happens by accident; he certainly hasn't planned it. He thinks it's pretty clear that Hilary hasn't either, unless he thought that plying Brice with wine would result in "I want to have sex with you" as a conversational starter.

Hilary stares at him with a distinct air of skepticism.

Brice says, feeling it very urgently, "No, really. I do. I mean I have. I mean I have wanted to. Have sex with you. For a while. You know, it's funny. I didn't think I was that drunk."

This time the stare is more straightforward. "I didn't think you were either," says Hilary.

"I mean," Brice explains, "That half an hour ago I would never have had the nerve to say that. They don't call it liquid courage for nothing."

Hilary blinks. He picks up his wineglass and drains the rest while Brice watches his fingers.

"Well?" Says Brice.

"Well?" Says Hilary.

"I want to have sex with you," says Brice patiently. "Even though I'm drunk, I think it'd be worth giving it a go. There are all sorts of things I'm dying to try. For instance, just now," he adds, "I'd like to lick your collarbone. I can see it in the neck of your shirt. So what do you say? Do you want to?"

Hilary says, "I need a drink." He fills his glass halfway again. Then he fills Brice's. He's very quiet sometimes--well, a lot of times--Hilary is really dignified, and deliberate, and conscientiously perfect. He takes a few sips of his wine, then makes up his mind to a deep drink. When he takes the glass away all that's left is a finger of dregs in the bottom, and Hilary's lip are wet. "All right," he says.

"Alright!" Says Brice. "Yes?"

Hilary fixes him with a hard look. "Yes. I want to have sex with you. I want to lick the rest of this bottle of wine off you. I want to hold you down and make you scream. I want to take it all."

Brice stares for a second. He can't get his body to function although his brain is yelling at him, your move, man, YOUR MOVE. (With a chorus of take it all! in the background.) Then he manages to pick himself up and lean on the edge of the table, and it works again! His arms and legs are, if anything, too light, like a small car given a too-powerful engine. "Okay," he says to Hilary, who's looking at him, possibly wondering just how tipsy he is. "Okay. But right now."

Hilary nods, but after he stands up, he drinks the rest of his wine while Brice hovers a millimeter from his shoulder, somehow afraid to actually touch, breathing deep enough to smell his hair. Then he picks up Brice's wineglass, which still has wine in it. He's looking at the wineglass--not at Brice. Until he looks up and then he's looking at Brice and not the wineglass, and he's looking hard. He's looking hot.

He puts the wineglass down with a sharp clink, not looking, even though he hasn't done anything with it yet, and moves closer and closer until they're standing chest to chest. He leans in and Brice forgets to close his eyes because he's studying the way Hilary's eyelids tremble and flutter closed. A hand wraps around the back of his neck, square and warm. Hilary has beautiful hands.

Brice has never had a real kiss, although he did kiss Sharon Tannin once outside the Quick Mart. Her lips were fat and puffy and the kiss was slimy and not very pleasant--for her either, apparently, because she shoved him away and wiped her mouth. He sort of lost real interest in kissing after that, although he remembers looking at some people's mouths--like Lara's, for instance--and admiring their shapes (not that he has ever wanted to kiss Lara. He'd be terrified. She has a definite aura of too hot to handle. And now that he's older he suspects he doesn't have much interest in any women).

He can't imagine why he lost interest in kissing--kissing is incredible. Hilary found his mouth even though his eyes were closed. Their chins and noses keep getting in the way, and he's getting less and less patient with them because he's absolutely positive that there's something wonderful in the bottom of this kiss.

Hilary's mouth is warm, and his lips are smooth and with his eyes closed Brice can feel the shape of them, and for some reason he never thought about that, but it's like looking only better--they're like a sculpture, dip, swell, arch, the soft hollow at the center of his upper lip, the surprising shape of the inside of a mouth as mapped by a tongue--the softness of the inside of his cheek, the satin surface and sharp points of his teeth--the way he catches Brice's lower lip with them and bites gently, and it's so hot when he gets into it. Something in Hilary is broken, a wall of patience, perhaps. He backs Brice up into something, a table or counter, seizes his head in both hands to tilt it, and dives deeper into his mouth with agile thrusts of his tongue.

Brice is going to open his mouth to say something but he changes his mind and it comes out a moan. He's scrabbling beside his hips with his hands, trying to brace his feet on the floor--Hilary is standing between his legs. The more they kiss the harder he gets until he has to pull back, panting. Hilary isn't bothered by this. He takes a firm grip on Brice's hip with one hand and with the other opens the zipper of his pants. His face is in Brice's neck, mouth open and sucking under his ear (I've never had a hickey, thinks Brice), and his hand slips in the opening at the front of his jeans, into his shorts and cups his hard prick. The touch is sharply sweet. Brice bucks his hips up and he can feel Hilary smiling into his neck. He wraps his hand around the hot length and gives one slow jerk.

Brice almost comes. "For fuck's sake--!" He pants, pushing Hilary away, "Bed."

"Yours is closer," says Hilary. He straightens up and Brice stares: his mouth is dark, almost purple; his neck is flushed. His shirt is rumpled. Brice stands shakily, uncertain of his legs, but when he finds out they will in fact support him, almost runs out the kitchen door. The Winnebago isn't far.

He kicks a discarded t-shirt and a quilt onto the floor and throws the t-shirt he's been wearing on top of them. Hilary's standing in the door, standing on one foot, then the other to pull off his shoes, and carefully unbuttoning and unzipping his pants. Brice is down to boxers and is getting impatient. He helps Hilary with the row of little white buttons down the front of his shirt and starts tugging it impatiently. Hilary pushes his hands away and gets out of the rest of his clothes at remarkable speed. Brice didn't think Hilary did anything that fast. He always seems so deliberate.

While he's still wondering, Hilary has left a pair of white Y-fronts puddled on the floor and moved to the bed. Brice can't stop staring--he doesn't even know what to stare at first, the firm buttocks, trim hips, the rippling muscles of his torso, the curve of his cock, flushed dark red? Hilary doesn't give him much choice. He tugs, then pushes Brice into the bed and kneels over him and starts nuzzling behind Brice's ear while his hands find their own way, slow and steady, stroking from his shoulders, over ribs and hips and down his flanks, making Brice shiver hot and cold until he arches his back and wraps his arms and legs around Hilary and pulls him down, whimpering.

It's thick and deeply warm and liquid, boiling in the pit of his belly, making his cock pulse and his face burn and sensation is ticking down the back of his neck in slow dangerous sparks. He feels stupid and clumsy, all arms and legs, all hands and feet. He sits up and pushes Hilary sideways and traces his collarbone with his open mouth, scraping it with his teeth, and Hilary shudders and goes momentarily boneless and just sighs and for a second Brice feels like a god.

He puts his hand around Hilary's prick and makes a loose fist for a long stroke, fingering the head while he bites at the back of Hilary's neck. Brice doesn't really know anything about sucking cock: it's much more intimidating than using his hands since he uses his hands on himself all the time. Plus, Hilary's big, and his mouth seems really small. He tries licking instead--around the top and under the edge of the head, while Hilary gasps and sort of chokes and shouts, and his thighs tremble under Brice's hands.

The taste is odd--not bad. Brice decides he likes it. He licks down the length and up and Hilary starts saying, "Oh God, oh God, oh, oh, dammit--!" Brice stares up at him, shocked and mesmerized. It's the fucking hottest thing he's ever seen. Hilary's face is red and his teeth clenched.

He bends down again, takes the tip of Hilary's prick in his mouth and sucks. That's when Hilary starts thrusting up into Brice's mouth and he has to pull back, but he doesn't want Hilary to stop panting and making those noises. He stretches out on him and thrusts against his hip.

Hilary's still straining and panting. "All right."

"All right," says Brice. He doesn't know what Hilary's saying but anything is all right.

"Do you have something," says Hilary with his eyes closed. "Anything."

Brice stares. "Uh--" (He does. He always feels embarrassed paying for the damned stuff. Even worse that it was just for jerking off.)

Hilary slicks it over Brice's cock carefully. The feel of it making his fist close and slippery--is heaven. Then he says, "You'll have to do me," and rolls over on his belly. Brice's never done anything like this before--only ever thought about it and never fantasized about lubricant. He's surprised his hands don't shake. He strokes the curve of Hilary's arse, lingering at the small of his back--it's amazing, he's never really looked at it before, but there's a dip there the perfect size and he can't resist leaning over to taste it.

It's messy and awkward. He feels stupider than ever and he suddenly realizes how sordid and ridiculous sex is. He thinks he's probably not very good at it. Of course this doesn't mean he wants to stop. And by the time Hilary tells him he's done Hilary can barely talk, and is all past grunting and into breathing raggedly and urging him, "Come on. Please." He steadies him with a hand on his hip and tries not to think about Hilary squirming back on his fingers, crying out and biting the pillow.

The first push is tentative and off-center, but he can feel the muscle giving slightly to pressure and Hilary actually sobs and Brice bites his lip and uses his hand for position and then closes his eyes and pushes and it's scary, he's breaking out in sweat, but then he feels Hilary relax in this wave and he slides in, hot, tight, slick, tight, and Brice freezes, holding onto Hilary's shoulders and shuddering with want and need and shock until Hilary groans and thrusts back to take more of him, and after that it's sort of a blur--he shoves deeper, bit by bit until he's gone all the way he can, and he doesn't know what he's doing but now it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, and Hilary's growling at him, "More, more, moremoremore."

Brice gives him more. He can barely think, because it feels so good and it's so hot and he wants Hilary squirming and panting and gasping under him, wants to pin him down to the bed and own him, is shocked at how wild and--desperate and--possessive he feels. Mine he's thinking as he drives deep, gripping Hilary's hips, and he's mouthing the words, breathless, "mineminemine." It burns, it aches, it's clawing at his gut, my God, sex is exhausting. His legs are weak and trembly and feel like they should have collapsed by now. His knees are sore.

He presses Hilary down flat on the bed and his hands are making claws on Hilary's shoulders, his toes are curling, his feet are cramping and he's shoving his prick in with deep shudders traveling down his whole body, thrusting up and scrabbling at the sheets for grip, angle, anything.

Hilary arches his back and something Brice does then must be right, because he gasps and pushes back, crying out wordlessly, throwing his head back, and after a few more thrusts he's groaning, and coming, and his arse clenches around Brice's cock.

After that it doesn't take long for him to come too, but he doesn't want to stop thrusting, just weak little flexes of his hips until he's all done, but pulses of lazy pleasure are still traveling through his body, unraveling in the back of his neck and his fingertips.

He comes down to find himself sticky and sweaty and almost unbearably hot, with a cramp in his foot and weak, jelly-like legs. "Unnh," he says, and is surprised when no actual words come out.

"Mm," Hilary mumbles, and lies there getting his breath back. But when Brice flops off of him he rolls over on his back too, and uses the corner of the top sheet to wipe the spunk off his belly. Then he sighs.

Brice has found out that he really (really, really) likes sex. He doesn't know why he never realized this before. He's an enthusiastic devotee.

He lets Hilary do his compulsive little rounds of the garden and the house, but when he sees him walk by the Winnebago the second time he goes out and grabs his hand and smirks at him, and drags him inside it.

Hilary comes looking for him the next day a little before lunchtime and they hump each other's hips leaning on the wall in the workroom. The day after that they happen to be in the library together, and Hilary puts his book down and watches Brice browsing the shelves until he gives in and straddles Hilary's thighs and presses him down into couch.

They basically fuck like rabbits. Hilary keeps leaving hickeys on his neck. Brice finds out that he's pretty good at sucking cock.

But his favorite memory of the few weeks before Lara's back and the world is safe once more is always going to be when he walks into the kitchen one afternoon and finds Hilary stirring simmering tomato sauce on the stove and plasters himself to Hilary's back, and nuzzles his neck until he turns around; and Hilary's amused, a little put out, but tolerant, and he says "mmph" when Brice steals a kiss but then he gives in and they stand there at the counter, trading kisses and tasting the tomato sauce every now and then, for almost ten minutes. They don't have sex. Not even a handjob. And when Brice leaves, Hilary slaps his ass.

Lara doesn't seem to notice anything at first. But after the loose ends are tied up, she sleeps really, really late one day, and that's how they know everything's back to normal. She gets up and goes looking for Hilary for sparring practice--at lunch (at the kitchen counter, Hilary polishing off four sandwiches and Brice digging straight into a few drumsticks of baked chicken) Hilary's got bruises forming all over, and other than feeling the one around his hairline to see how bad it is, Brice keeps his hands to himself. It's a busy day, and they both feel that.

But Lara sees Brice that afternoon--they sit in the library and he's telling her about this paper on AI that's just come out of MIT, and leaps up to find the journal on the bookshelf when she goes, "Wait--what's--"

And he stops and turns around, having no idea what she's talking about. "What?"

Her fingertips go to her own neck eloquently. One eyebrow rises.

Brice self-consciously feels his own neck and the constellation of bruises and bites there. "Oh," he says, "that."

And Lara smiles, and motions at the bookshelf. "Nothing," she says. "Never mind."

Brice coughs and turns back to the shelf. He has a feeling he's blushing.

But he also kind of wishes, after a while, that he could talk to Lara about this. He may be wrong, but he's always harbored a belief, deep and not so very secret, that she knows everything, and can do everything, and well. She is an undeniable badass. She's pretty incredible. If he was Lord Something and Hilary was his bell-boy at a hotel, could he have known just like that what he had? Probably not. And possibly likewise, he doesn't really know what to do now either.

The problem is that it all seems so... furtive. They don't have anyone to hide from. Lara knows. She smiled. He's pretty sure it's all right with Lara. And there's no one else there, but they're always having quickies in the stairwell and the workroom and the shower room in the gym, and fucking in the middle of the afternoon in his bed and Hilary's (and once in one of the guest bedrooms), and then jumping up and--going off. And even when they wait until after dinner, when they're done Hilary still gets up and goes to check all the windows and doors and then goes to bed. There's always something else to do--make lunch, water the plants, work out, fix the paneling under the stairs, look into the speed of the new experimental jet that's being developed by the US military.

Then one night Lara comes down to the kitchen--she says she wants to get Hilary to replicate a perfectly heavenly dish she was served in Thailand, without an exact recipe. Brice has just wandered in and poked his head in the refrigerator, and he decides to watch.

He crosses his ankles in a second chair and settles back with his hands in his lap and a cup of coffee and watches them bending their heads together, laughing, sampling the sauce and throwing out the first attempt. Finally Lara is convinced Hilary's on the right track and she hovers over the pot with the coconut milk and some red pepper flakes ground to powder.

Hilary turns around, washes his hands, and tosses a salad. "Peanut oil," Lara says suddenly, "in the salad. And shrimp. So, Brice," she adds, "How's it going with the fellows at MIT?"

"Morons," he mutters. "There might be something there I can use."

Hilary leans over his shoulder, takes his coffee cup and replaces it with a full one. Their eyes meet and Brice grins and feels a bubble of something warm settle in his stomach.

They eat under the bright fluorescent kitchen lights, just the three of them.

"Mmm," Lara purrs over the salad, which she always saves for after the main course: "That was tremendous. Thank you, Hilary."

They've all three stuffed themselves. "I've had better," Brice says nonchalantly.

"It's the peanut oil," says Hilary, making a little face.

"Yeah. I knew you were right the second to last time. It was one hundred fifteen microliters of peanut oil it needed, not sixteen microliters of peanut oil!"

"Whoever suggested peanut oil go on this salad was way off," says Hilary.

"Way off," Brice agrees. "Mentally deficient."

Lara laughs and dumps her stacked plates in the sink. "All right. I'll leave you to it. I need a bit of a workout, and then bed."

Her footsteps go thumping up the stairs. "When does she not need a bit of a workout?" Says Brice, swabbing the last of the oil off his salad plate with a thumb, then sucking his thumb clean.

Hilary elegantly arches one eyebrow and commences clearing the table. Brice drops the last handful of silver in the sink and puts his chin on Hilary's shoulder, resting his hands on Hilary's hips. But when Hilary turns off the hot tap and turns around and kisses him and hooks his hands in Brice's back pockets, Brice says, "Wait."


"Go on and finish the dishes," says Brice. "And check all the windows. I'll come with you."

Hilary shrugs and turns back to the sink, rinsing everything, scrubbing the wok, and arranging it all carefully and symmetrically in the dishwasher. They wipe the counters and then head upstairs.

It turns out that all the windows are still closed and locked from last night except the ones at the very end of the hall looking out over the garden. These are Lara's favorites. Over their heads, her white silk-clad form bounces and flips and whirls silently on the bungee cords. They're both used to this by now.

Brice stands at the foot of the main stairs and puts out his tongue thoughtfully: the chandelier and all the recessed lighting are put out, and the air is a dense wash of vibrant navy blue. He thinks he can taste night. Moonlight from the skylight traces the outlines of some of the furniture, making it seem somehow very small. Most of the great hall is a vast and imposing empty space. Walking through it is almost like swimming underwater.

He follows Hilary up the stairs and goes into the sitting room and the old study and the workroom, checking all the windows, while Hilary's in the library and adjusting the wall controls for the skylight (which was replaced with bulletproof glass and now has a retractable jointed metal skin on the inside). As the skylight is covered the whole great hall turns darker, but the other windows still provide enough illumination for Brice to see Lara, and she doesn't even pause her acrobatics. She could surely do them in pitch black, now he thinks about it.

Brice is waiting when Hilary finishes with the skylight. "All done?"

Hilary nods, making an eloquently inquiring face.

"With everything?" Brice asks, dropping his voice a little and stepping closer to Hilary in the dark.

Hilary's voice is rough and one of his hands hovers under Brice's chin: "Not everything."

Brice smiles. "You think there's room in your bed for one more?"

They walk down the gallery, Lara pinwheeling behind them. Hilary goes into his room and waits until Brice has latched the door to turn on the light. Then he crowds Brice back up against the door. Brice's heart starts to beat a little faster, but Hilary just traps him between his arms, doesn't pin him there or kiss him, and leans his forehead on the door.

His warm, damp breath gusts over Brice's ear and gives him goosebumps that rush down the whole left side of his body, the back of his neck, his shoulders and arms, even pinching and crawling over his skull. After a moment he relaxes, and Hilary presses their foreheads and their noses together.

A breath is enough to bring their mouths together, both closed, just a soft, plush meeting of lips, and Hilary lifts one hand and traces the line of Brice's jaw and up over his mouth, sooooo slowly, with the pad of his thumb. "I think there's room," says Hilary.

Brice kisses him again and backs him up to the bed.

They shed their clothes, kissing and touching, climb into bed, and pull the blankets up over them. In the smooth, cool cocoon of sheets they press the lengths of their bodies together, belly to belly, chest to chest, prick to prick, knees to knees and even their hands palm to palm. Hilary flexes his hands and laces their fingers together, rolls over on his back and pulls Brice on top of him.

Brice ends up kneeling between Hilary's thighs, lifting his hips up onto Brice's knees. He presses into him carefully, but not too slowly. Hilary grunts and closes his eyes and wraps his legs around Brice's waist and they start, cautiously, to move together--in and out, even and measured and maybe a little too fast. Hilary moves his head around on the pillow, making the most bizarre contorted faces, then every line relaxing, going liquid and boneless, when Brice finds the spot. Then his mouth opens and he keeps saying "Ah--"--trying very hard to be quiet. Brice leans forward and puts one hand over his mouth and they finish fast and somewhat dirty.

Hilary doesn't open his eyes for more than an instant while he's catching his breath. Brice kisses his shoulder and climbs out of the bed to get a damp washcloth from the washroom, and turn off the light. He wipes them both off and crawls back on top of Hilary.

At that Hilary's eyes open, maybe surprised.

Brice crosses his arms over Hilary's chest, pillows his chin on the backs of his hands.


Brice shakes his head. "Tomorrow," he says.

Hilary studies his face for a minute. Brice knows he's waiting for him to get up and go out to the Winnebago.

"You said there was room for one more," Brice says finally.

Hilary seems to make a decision to smile. When he does it starts small and becomes big. "You can stay as long as you like."

Brice puts his head down and buries his nose and mouth under Hilary's ear. "I like," he tells Hilary's neck. "I get... lonely sometimes," he explains to the soft, fragrant skin there. He pauses to take a sniff of Hilary's hair. "But there wasn't a lot left that I do in a day besides sleeping."

Hilary tightens an arm around Brice's back and strokes his shoulderblade. They lie still for a long time. And when Hilary thinks Brice is sleeping, he kisses the top of his head.


follows [hard to find] and [the all-seeing eye].