Author: Guede Mazaka
Lancelot walked into Guin’s office while still batting the snow from his hair. He hadn’t been in a particularly good mood and just coming to work had already made it twice as bad: he’d slipped on a patch of ice in the parking garage and had only avoided planting his nose in concrete by badly wrenching his arm with his grab for his car’s side-mirror. “Today’s going to be terrible.”
“Of course it is,” she snapped. At least, he presumed it was her—she was hunched so far down behind her computer monitor that he couldn’t even see her. He could just hear the frantic clicking of the computer keys. “Arthur was born at eleven tonight.”
He blinked. After a moment, he got his mind to understand that no, this fact was not incompatible with the fact that Arthur was thirty-six years old. It was just spectacularly badly worded on Guin’s part. “Oh. His birthday’s today? He didn’t mention it.”
“That’s because his official birthday is listed as being in March. His real birthday’s tomorrow, and he’s entirely too paranoid and I only know because Tristan just called to inform me not to open the package he was leaving on the front step tomorrow even if it was leaking.” If tones could be used as levers, then Guin’s probably could have flipped the earth into the next galaxy, it was strung so tightly. The top of her head briefly peeked above the computer. “You are getting him a gift.”
It was also going to be a very long day, Lancelot decided. Just then Guin’s espresso machine went off. She didn’t seem to be getting up any time soon, and he needed something to help him face said day, so he helped himself. “Well, obviously.”
One computer key was banged so hard that he was surprised it didn’t ricochet into the ceiling. “Lounging in bed with no clothes and a jar of chocolate sauce does not qualify as a proper birthday gift.”
As a matter of fact, Lancelot hadn’t considered that and felt rather wounded that Guin would think so lowly of him. Then he remembered that it was Guin. He downed the espresso like it was a tequila shot—obviously he needed to wake up faster. “That’s something I know he appreciates.”
“You will not do that, you lazy-arsed pissant. You do not qualify as a gift by yourself,” Guin ground out. She did something with her mouse that made its cable slash out like a bullwhip.
“Don’t I?” Lancelot meant it as a joke.
Five seconds later, he’d beat a precipitous retreat to his own office and was wondering where Guinevere had gotten the fiery red glare. He hadn’t seen her that bad since the time she’d accidentally gotten hot-pepper juice in her eyes.
“Well, so much for her sense of humor,” he muttered, sitting down. The stitches in his shoulder pinched a little, but he ignored them. They were coming out in two days, and not a moment too soon; they were about as eager as he was.
Right. Gift for Arthur. That couldn’t be too difficult.
Except thirty minutes later, Lancelot decided that it was, in fact, that difficult. Part of the problem with dating Arthur was that he’d been an orphan and then after college, he’d been in a profession that strongly discouraged attachments. And after that, he hadn’t had any serious relationships, which all meant that he’d been extremely self-sufficient for…twenty years of his life. He’d already bought everything he needed, and most of the things he wanted.
Someone knocked on the door, and Lancelot looked up just in time to stop himself from telling them to bugger off because it was Pellew. “Sir?”
“Just on my way to a meeting. I was wondering if you were done with the report on the Brooklyn incident yet,” Pellew said.
“Oh.” Lancelot hastily stuck his fingers under the papers on his desk and ruffled them about. None of them belonged to the report in question, but the movement looked impressive. “I’m still waiting on the forensic lab’s report on where those diamonds originated. They’re being awfully slow…I suppose I’ll have to go down later.”
Pellew shook his head and withdrew. “No, no, I’m on my way to meet with the lab director anyway, so I’ll do it.”
“Thank you!” Lancelot called after the other man. Then he sat back and spent a few seconds desperately hoping that that indeed was the reason why that report had been held up. He had so many half-done ones on his desk that he couldn’t keep track of them anymore.
Not that that was his fault. After the whole mess on Thanksgiving, Guin had taken her hunt of the diamond smugglers to new extremes. Of course there was nothing wrong with that, but it was damned inconvenient to sit down and find out that she’d snitched half the evidence summaries he needed without even leaving a note. He’d been the one to get shot and dumped in a cab by an Arthur in James-Bond mode—if anyone should be holding a personal grudge, it should be him.
Which, incidentally, he was. They’d all kissed and made up, but the chances of that actually settling the matter weren’t very good. For one, Clayton was still neatly evading every trap Interpol set for him. And for two, Arthur still hadn’t had time to sit down and tell them the story behind that bastard.
Granted, that wasn’t entirely his fault. When Lancelot and Guinevere weren’t running around trying to make sure nothing big and nasty happened over the holidays, they were coming home to an Arthur dozing with his face in a stack of finals papers. The one time Lancelot had managed to swing a visit to campus this month, he’d been nearly trampled by the mob of pleading students that trailed Arthur everywhere he went. A mob of extraordinarily short-skirted students, considering the recent cold snap…
“Who can take their Christmas cheer elsewhere. Never seen so many mistletoe barrettes in my life,” he snorted. He picked up a pen and stared at the desk. After a moment, he reached out and added a word to the report that was on top. “Speaking of which, it was hard enough thinking of enough stocking and tree gifts to match Guin. Goddamn it, Arthur. You would have your birthday at the…yes?”
“I’ve tracked down the right edition of the volume of Donne that he’s missing, so you can’t get that for him,” Guin said. She came in just far enough to slap a handful of files on his desk, some of which looked like ones he needed. “What are you doing?”
Lancelot stuck the pen-cap in his mouth, then took it out and used the pen to hook over a file. He smirked at Guin’s revolted look. “Well, if I have to mark the damned files so you’ll know they’re mine…”
“We are not twelve and these are not cupcakes for you to stick your finger in the frosting. And you’re stalling.” She gave him a sweet smile, tossed her hair so it fell in shampoo-commercial waves, and pivoted to walk out. The set of her shoulders said all that needed to be said about her current opinion of him.
“I’m—I’m baking him a cake.” Lancelot paused. Then he sat back and made a note to himself that letting his mouth run on autopilot didn’t necessarily guarantee him a good answer. A…cake. He could cook, but cake was something he’d rather go out and buy than bother messing about with himself.
Guin apparently was thinking along the same lines because she turned at the door to shoot him a disbelieving look. “You. Are baking.”
“The best presents are homemade,” Lancelot retorted. The words were barely out of his mouth before he was wincing inside. Damn it, now he was committed, or Guin would never let him forget it. “And when I give it to him, his manners won’t let him leave before he’s at least sat down and had a piece. It’ll probably be the longest we see him till the semester ends.”
Guinevere opened her mouth, then closed it. She looked thoughtful in a way that had nothing to do with reassurance. “Well,” she serenely said. “That should be interesting.”
He made a face at her, but she shut the door before she started to giggle so he couldn’t mock her for it. Then again, she couldn’t see him give her the bird, which was probably better for the office furniture.
Interesting, his arse. It was a cake. Throw together some batter and slather frosting on top. He was smart, good at improvising, and he had an Internet’s worth of cooking websites to flip through. It couldn’t be that difficult.
* * *
Several hours later, Lancelot had successfully blitzed two reports to completion and used that plus some complaining about his shoulder to get himself an early dismissal. He’d have to come in on bloody Saturday afternoon, but Arthur was spending that entire day doing administrative work anyway so it would have been boring to stay home.
He looked at the island counter with a tiny bit of satis—all right, a large dose of satisfaction. He had a recipe. And Arthur’s kitchen had some bizarre pieces of equipment tucked into the backs of cabinets, but that meant he could find everything he needed. He hadn’t even had to run out and buy anything. Stage one successfully completed.
Stage two—putting ingredients together. The ladyfinger crust was supposed to be painted with rum, but Lancelot didn’t have a paintbrush handy. He assumed real fingers and some careful pouring would work just as well, and it mostly did. A little splashed onto his tie…which was all the more reason for taking the stupid thing off. He left it hanging over the sink faucet and consulted the recipe for the next bit while licking his fingers. There was just enough rum on them to give his mouth a pleasant glow inside, and come to think of it, if this went well, maybe he should go on and do some eggnog as well…
Not being an idiot, he noted the implied step about separating all the eggs and decided he’d better do that first. No point in getting the chocolate melted and then rushing things.
The first two eggs went perfectly fine. The third egg was a right bastard: first the shell wouldn’t crack cleanly and then it suddenly crumpled between Lancelot’s fingers so he barely avoided getting shell shards in the whites. That one was no good—the white and yolk bled into each other—and that meant he was an egg short. Shit.
All right, not a problem. Lancelot washed off his hands, flipped out his cell phone and…cursed again because this one was so new he hadn’t programmed in all the numbers he needed.
Luckily, Arthur was anal-retentive about organizing his office. It only took thirty seconds to look up Tristan’s phone number; Lancelot dialed and switched to earphones so he could go back to separating eggs.
“Gawain?” A quick check at the clock said it was only one-thirty. Bit of an odd time for Gawain to be over…maybe not. They both seemed like healthy young men, after all. “Is Tris—actually, never mind. Can you do a favor for Arthur?”
*Um…Sure. Wait.* Something rattled in the background and Gawain moved very quickly, but only managed to make more banging sounds. He sounded rather tired. *I mean, I can do it, but…does it have to be done right away?*
Well, this stuff had to chill for six hours, so that would be a yes. And fuck, there almost went an egg. It slipped out from between Lancelot’s fingers and squirted for the floor, but a fast grab snatched it back. Of course, that also yanked his cell off the counter so Lancelot had to twist around to barely catch it on his stomach. Pellew was starting to make noises about how fast Lancelot went through phones. “Preferably as soon as possible. Why, do you have to get dressed?”
*No! What—what--* Gawain coughed while the static practically blushed. *What did he want done?*
“Oh, he just needs some eggs and he won’t have time to buy them himself. If you could grab a carton and drop them off here, that’d be perfect.” Climbing back up was a trick that required a couple seconds’ thinking. Lancelot shoved the earphone more firmly into his ear, then picked up the phone and put it back on the counter. Then he grabbed the edge and pulled himself back to his feet. His shoulder twinged. “I should be home by then to get them.”
Puzzled noise. *But the CallerID says you’re already there…that’s weird. Did Tristan program GPS into this thing…?*
Of all the fucking…never mind, think of something…Lancelot braced the bowl of whites against his free hand and then smacked the egg on the edge. It cracked cleanly—take that, stupid poultry product. “Oh, I am, but I have to run out for an errand.”
*And there’s no grocery stores along the way?* Gawain sounded…more confused, but at least he didn’t sound accusing. Too bad he wasn’t less perceptive into the bargain.
“It’s not that kind of errand. It’s…a last trip to the doctor’s. Someone’s picking me up and dropping me off, and I can’t really ask them to make a side-stop because of how busy the office is today. I haven’t seen Guin since we drove in to work this morning.” And hopefully that would stop Gawain from asking more questions.
It did. Gawain mumbled an ‘Okay’ and hung up; Lancelot sighed in relief as he pulled over the sixth little bowl he’d gotten out and dumped the yolk into it. He supposed it had gone as well as it could have. Rather well, actually—he could have gotten Tristan, and Tristan wouldn’t have wasted time asking pointed questions, but instead would’ve jumped straight to the dry amusement.
Thank God for winter, Lancelot thought. The squirrels were hibernating now.
* * *
Lancelot opened the door, grabbed the bag Gawain was holding, and closed the door while saying a cheerful ‘Thank-you!’. It might have been rude, but he didn’t want to give Arthur bloody salmonella poisoning from the eggs, which were waiting on him.
He went back into the kitchen and cracked the last one, then wasted valuable time getting the others out of the refrigerator. Goddamn it, even if Arthur came home as late as he usually did, this cake was still going to cut it close.
Melt chocolate. A simple enough task, and one with which Lancelot was very familiar, but somehow he managed to burn it this time. He’d only stepped out for a second, and suddenly there was so much smoke he had to fling open the door to keep the fire alarm from going off. That resulted in an interesting set of conditions where his front roasted as he kept a close eye on his second batch and his back damn near froze. But at least he got the chips melted. He even remembered to mix a little of the chocolate in the bowl with each yolk before dumping the mess back into the saucepan so the yolks wouldn’t make gritty bits.
The other saucepan was a little…Lancelot grimaced, then dumped it in the sink. He could scrape it off later. Hopefully it was one of Arthur’s and not one of Guin’s; she treated her kitchenware like it was made of gold.
Add the whipped whites, and then into the fridge it went. Lancelot spent a moment stretching his arms above his head. Nearly all done. Now he just had to clean up and wait for it to set.
* * *
The clock said it’d been a half-hour. It probably would be a bad idea to poke at the filling, which would be just starting to set up now. It looked a little thicker.
Lancelot rolled his eyes at himself and firmly shut the fridge door.
* * *
Two hours, and Lancelot had finished the work he’d brought home with him—Arthur-habit he’d apparently caught. He paced up and down in front of the fridge, muttering to himself to sit down and stop that.
Two hours and two minutes. Surely it’d gelled noticeably by now? He could take a peek…and let in warm air, which would make it take longer. As it was, he might have to cut the fridge time about forty minutes short and just hope Arthur liked oozing centers.
He was not opening the door. He was not.
* * *
The last four hours had to be some of the longest of Lancelot’s life. He stared at the fridge.
“This is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous,” he told himself.
After a moment, he sat down on the floor in front of the fridge and pointedly turned his back on it. He wasn’t going to look.
* * *
Five hours. Whisking heavy cream, sugar and vanilla into whipped cream was a very therapeutic way to not think about the goddamned cake in the goddamned fridge. “Well, not really, but it’ll do,” Lancelot snorted.
It was a shame doing that didn’t take longer, but he wanted soft frosting-like cream, not stuff he could use as hair mousse. He reluctantly put down the bowl and…oh, to hell with it. Arthur was going to be home soon anyway. Lancelot would just take it out, check, frost the thing and stick it back in.
He was busy poking at the cake center when the door opened. He went stiff…and relaxed when he realized those footsteps could only be made by someone wearing high heels. Arthur wasn’t that kinky.
“Lancelot, you little pissant son of a bitch. You sloped off from work and…well. You did actually make one.” Guin stopped beside him and leaned against the counter. She watched as he sucked off the dab he’d gotten on his fingertip.
Still a little mushy in the center, but the rest of it felt firm enough, so Lancelot flipped the cake onto a nice glass platter and unlatched the pan sides. He elbowed Guinevere out of the way so he could get to frosting. “Cake with an intriguing pudding-like filling. Should remind him of you—ow! Hey! I almost flicked frosting in my eye!”
“I’m warmer than that,” she retorted, sashaying around him. She dropped off her purse and picked up the candles Lancelot had gotten out earlier. “My God. And is this one supposed to make him think of you?—no, that’s far too optimistic.”
Lancelot waved the spatula at her. “I have plenty of this left. It’d go nicely with your suit.”
She immediately backed up a few steps, one hand rising to dance over her spotless lapel. “So you’re giving him a hermaphrodite cake?”
“No. No, I’m giving him a deliciously decadent chocolate cake. Put those away—no point in reminding him how old he is. God knows he already worries too much about his legacy. Legacies.” The sour note that accidentally came out in that last word filled the silence between them as Lancelot moved the cake to the table. He stood back and looked at it.
Quite good, if he said so himself.
“Not bad,” Guin said, trailing over. She hefted the package beneath her arm. After a couple seconds of staring, she unwrapped it and pointedly pushed the book at Lancelot. “There. Wouldn’t want your eyes to pop completely out of your skull.”
“Well, it looks right, anyway.” Lancelot shrugged and sucked at the whipped cream on his fingers. He paused, then licked more thoughtfully. Very nice…and he still had a bit in the bowl—
When both Lancelot and Guin had finished regaining their balance, they were greeted by a puzzled-looking Arthur, who very much needed to stop walking so quietly. He tilted his head. “Am I interrupting something?”
“No, not really,” Guin blurted. Her arm bumped Lancelot as she shifted the book she was hiding behind her.
Lancelot would have moved, but that meant Arthur would see the cake. “You’re home early.”
“More like on-time for once. I finished grading the papers and Galahad offered to enter the grades for me.” Arthur rolled his shoulders beneath his coat, then looked dismayed at the light dusting of snow that left on the floor. He sighed and put his briefcase on the counter. Then he stopped.
Goddamn it. The bowl of whipped cream had attracted his attention and he wandered over to it. Guin glared at Lancelot, who shrugged and just yanked them around the table so they were still blocking the cake from view. What exactly did she expect him to do? Yell at Arthur to get away from it? Like that wouldn’t tell him something was up.
“Mariette’s staying late as well, so…oh, this is good. Are you making something?” Arthur asked.
“Well, yes.” That should have been followed by something else, but Lancelot was having the damnedest time thinking of what that should be. He frantically poked at his mind, demanding that it come up with something, but apparently it’d maxed out with Gawain. Lazy bastard. “You see…”
“We just thought…” Guin started at the same time.
Now Arthur looked worried. He came back over with the bowl still in hand, trace of cream on his finger. “What? Did something happen at work? Oh, you know, I have time now so did you want to talk about Clay—”
“Happy birthday,” Lancelot said. For some reason, he’d ducked his head so he was staring at the floor when he said it.
“You’re a year older,” Guin so-intelligently added. She brought the book around and poked it in Arthur’s direction, also dropping her head so her hair slid along Lancelot’s arm. “That’s not…that didn’t come out like…oh, what is it with you! I never have this problem with anyone else!”
Arthur’s feet shuffled a little closer. “I’m—wait. Will you hit me if I apologize?”
“Happy birthday. I…this is the right book, right?” Guin pushed it at him again.
After a moment, Arthur’s hand came out and took it. “Yes…if you mean is it the book I’ve been trying to get for years. Where did you…”
“You’re not the only one with secret sources.” That sounded a bit more like Guin, since it was rather smug. Her hands came out to take hold of the bowl, and Arthur’s hand went behind him, then came back empty.
Instead of reaching for Guin, it tipped up Lancelot’s chin. He pushed out of reach, then turned around to nod at the cake. “That’s for you.”
“You baked that?” Arthur said. He must have had an arm around Guin, because when he stepped closer, so did she. His hand touched Lancelot’s waist, then slid down over Lancelot’s hip.
“Well, there wasn’t actual baking involved,” Lancelot had to admit. He reached down and pulled Arthur’s hand over the front of his thigh, squeezing it. “But I did make it. And it tastes wonderful. You should try it.”
Arthur nodded in agreement and started to pull back, probably to get a spoon. Then he paused and gave Guin and Lancelot a very long, very odd look. Some decision clicked in his head and he reached past them for the cake…and hooked two fingers right in the center. He pulled them out, chocolate streaks nearly dripping to his cuff, and carefully nipped off some. His eyebrows rose. “This is good.”
Then he smeared the rest across Lancelot’s face.
Lancelot blinked, then narrowed his eyes. “This might be your birthday, but I hope you don’t think you’ll get away—hey! Guin!”
“Stop talking and get down here,” she mumbled. Her hands were busy with Arthur’s tie and her mouth was giving Arthur’s fingers some very messy attention.
Guinevere could be annoying, but when she made sense, she made sense.
* * *
“Dripping in my bloody eyes, you toss—oh, God, that’s cold!” Lancelot hissed, twisting against the floor. He tried to reach back and smack Arthur, but Guin grabbed his hands. She curved around him and dragged his wrists up between her legs so his fingers rubbed against her cunt, her mouth biting sharply at his jaw. “Little higher, would you?”
She made a muffled noise of irritation, but moved up to lick the running chocolate from his cheekbones before it blinded him. He felt around till he’d sussed out where her clit was and worked his fingertips over and around it in a figure-eight pattern that had her moaning too much to use teeth. And down below, Arthur was still streaking that chilly chocolate all over Lancelot’s thighs. He even used a ladyfinger to prod teasingly at the back of Lancelot’s balls. Lancelot humped himself up a little, trying to get his knees under himself, but then a hot tongue flattened itself between his buttocks. His knees skidded and his prick got painfully squashed as he went down.
“Excellent cake,” Arthur murmured, nuzzling higher to the small of Lancelot’s back. He slid his hand up against Lancelot so his thumb just nudged inside while his cold fingertips were grinding in the chill behind Lancelot’s balls.
The contrast was killing. It made Lancelot try to draw up and shove back down at the same time, and so he didn’t really go anywhere while Arthur thoroughly enjoyed his gift. He jerked again when Arthur pushed one sticky, cold finger all the way inside without any warning. “Arth--”
And lost his voice because Arthur had taken advantage of Lancelot’s buck upwards to stick his head underneath and give Lancelot’s prick a few delicate licks. Lancelot shuddered, tried to say something to the effect that he was falling and collapsed before he could. Luckily, Arthur had fast reflexes.
He kept moving as well, pressing up and over Lancelot while his fingers made way for his prick that was incredibly hot compared to the chilled cake—mousse, whatever. Guin gave a little squeal and was suddenly dragged out of reach of Lancelot’s fingers; she lost her grip on his hands just in time for him to stiff-arm away her knee before it could smash her nose. Arthur was lying diagonally across Lancelot now and from the sounds Guin was making, thought her taste made a great accompaniment to the chocolate.
Well, Lancelot was willing to let that happen as long as…no, Arthur hadn’t forgotten. Arthur decidedly hadn’t forgotten, and it was all Lancelot could do to brace his arms against the floor and pant over them, rocking with the other man. The cold of the chocolate had faded to just an edging on the liquid fire that was currently streaming through his body, and that was just fine. That was great. That was absolutely, positively, wonderfully perfect, and Jesus, he loved this man. Loved.
And a little later, well into the sticky afterglow when he wasn’t distracted by sheer physicality: still loved him, inconvenient and complicated as it could be. Lancelot was happy Arthur was another year older because that meant another year ahead for them. Even though he wasn’t sure if he could get off the floor.
“Thank you,” Arthur murmured, the words long ragged things.
“Happy, happy birthday…huh. You know, this isn’t much different from sitting in bed naked with a jar of chocolate sauce,” Lancelot said. He was expecting the smack Guin gave him for that, but she was so worn-out that she barely ruffled his hair.
She dragged herself around so her head bumped his. “Oh, shut up. You’re ruining the mood.”
And Arthur was looking back and forth between them like he didn’t quite understand, but he leaned down to kiss them anyway.