Conflict Resolution

Part Fourteen: Power of the Powerless

by Scalar7th

Tags: #another_day_at_the_office #any/all #multiple_partners #romance #superhero #urban_fantasy #bondage #comic_book #D/s #enchanting_voice #exhibitionism #scifi #socialism #villainy

Not every person in Port City is superpowered! Marie, Crystal, and Thomas all have an exciting Tuesday evening.

Port City, USA

Trace Point

A run-down commercial strip mall along a main street

A take-out-and-delivery restaurant called "Lightning Pizza"

9:30 PM, on the dot, Tuesday evening

Marie walks through the door just as her shift is set to begin. Her red locks are in some disarray, but that's the only sign of her earlier activity, that and a spring in her step and a light blush in her freckled cheeks.

"Hey Marie," Ash, the lanky Black store manager (and the owner's child) greets her as she comes in. "Having a good day?" Ash brushes chin-length black hair out of brown eyes to get a better look at Marie.

"I am!" Marie exclaims, deliberately doing a bit of a sway as she walks. "And you?"

"'Bout as good as it gets for me. Slow A.F."

"Well, it's a Tuesday. Where's papa?"

"On a delivery right now, he'll be back soon."

"He didn't send you?" A running joke in the store, Ash doesn't have a license.

Ash shrugs. "I guess he wanted to go for a joyride? You want somethin'?"

"To eat? Nah, thanks, maybe around midnight. Watching my figure, you know?" She pokes her belly. "See? There it is. And there's enough of it already."

"Yeah, you work here long enough..."

"Oh give it up stringbean," she laughs. "I was already like this when I started, and I've been working here longer'n you. No trying to make me feel better. Especially when I'm feeling good already."

Ash snickers. "Somebody got some."

"None of your goddamn business, but yeah, somebody did."

And she's sure that someone else was in the room, at least part of the time that Sterling was keeping her on edge, but her memories and her thoughts and fantasies are jumbled together in a nigh-incomprehensible mess.

She loves the way he does that to her.

"Good for you, girl," Ash says, offering a high five just above Marie's reach so that the redhead has to get up on tiptoe to slap hands. "Is it your mystery man?"

"Who else?" she laughs. "I don't think he'll be ordering pizza tonight."

"Someone already ate his sausage, I guess."

Marie flushes. "Shut up! I'm gonna sit down and wait for an order or two to come in, alright?"

"Yeah, you do what you wanna do, it's a slow night."

Everything in the combination kitchen-and-front-counter space was, by comparison to any other similar restaurant, placed close to the ground: the cash register, phone, and order pad were on an adjustable standing desk so that Ash could use them, raising them up from about hip height to eye-level for Marie (still a bit low for Ash); the automatic pizza oven's long legs had been sawn in half; even things like the cardboard boxes and spare napkins were stored in cupboards just off the floor.

Marie took a chair by the low counter and pulled out her phone. "Any interesting news?" she asks Ash idly.

"Nah. On a Tuesday? Biggest news'll be you comin' in here like you're walkin' on air."

Marie smiles but doesn't respond, looking over her notifications. Nothing of import, as usual. Boring life.

Except her supervillain lover.

She knows, of course. He thinks she doesn't, and she'd never tell him, or another soul, but she figured it out about a year and a half ago. She wiggles in her seat. She'd been fantasizing about supervillains stealing her away since she was eight years old, and one of them—one of the most mysterious, and one of the most feared, at least among the super communities and fandoms that she's been able to connect to—is fucking her.

And surely, using her in his villainous schemes. Otherwise, why would he have to mess with her head so completely?

That thought is honestly better than the fucking. And the fucking is pretty damned good.

She could just be making it up, crossing fantasy with reality, just bowled over by the romance of it. She snickers to herself. Romance. She shows up at his apartment (or earlier this night, at his work), he touches her, she sucks his dick, sometimes they fuck, sometimes not, she leaves. Romance is the furthest thing from his mind, at least, and should be from hers. Still, it became impossible not to notice the pattern, the way things never quite line up just right after she's been with him, the words she doesn't quite catch, the strange changes in her thoughts, in her habits. It could be her imagination, or it could be that she was a booty call for Silver Tongue.

But she'll never mention it to him. If she's wrong, it might mean offending a good man and the end of the relationship; if she's right, it might mean not just the end of the relationship, but the loss of those memories and fantasies, if the rumors about him are right. And as much as that fantasy is hot as fuck, the reality of it is not what she wants. At least not yet. Maybe when it's time to move on, but definitely not now.

The order phone rings, breaking Marie out of her reverie. She and Ash look at each other. She holds up a fist, and so does he, and they very quickly play a silent game of Rock, Scissors, Paper. Marie wins with paper, and Ash grabs the phone.

"Lightning Pizza. What can I do for you?"

Marie watches as her co-worker listens on the phone, scribbling notes, asking the standard questions. Unless it's a pick-up order, she'll be heading out in about twenty minutes to deliver it, assuming the delivery car gets back by then.

Ash is in the middle of giving a rough estimate for delivery time when the modified hatchback drives up into its designated parking space and the door opens. Marie gets to her feet and heads out to help the boss out of the vehicle. Billy "Bullet" Brault had been a high-school and college football star and was backup quarterbeack for the Port City Destroyers when he was in a devastating car accident that left him widowed and wheelchair-bound. The insurance payout allowed him to buy the pizza place he had been working at, as the owner wanted to retire, as well as have all the fixtures remade to suit his new physical needs.

"Don't have to do that," the broad-shouldered Black man says, now exclusively known as William, pushing a button to open the trunk where his chair is stored.

"I know," Marie says, hauling the chair out of the trunk and setting it up for him. "But this way's faster."

"You in some kinda rush?" he asks, turning to get out of the car.

"Just got a pizza to deliver, that's all. Ash is just making the pie."

"So you got about twenty minutes, then."

"What's your point?"

William eases himself down into the chair with an audible gasp. "It does not take me twenty minutes to get out of the car."

Marie giggles. "Yeah, well, I can still tease you about it." She closes up the hatchback behind him.

The automatic door to the pizza place slides open and William wheels himself in, with Marie following. "What're you cooking, kid?" he shouts with a grin.

"Deluxe with extra red pepper," Ash calls back.

Marie grins. "Oh, I know who that's for."

"Not your mystery guy," William says.

"Nope! He gets pepperoni and onion. Or sometimes something else if he has guests."

"You know too many people's orders." Ash shakes his head. "'Sides, she's already been to her guy tonight."

"Oh yeah?" William wheels past her and up to the counter. "Hope you had a good time."

"Very," she replies with a dreamy smile. She knows she's blushing and she does not care.

William snickers a bit. "If you were my daughter—"

"Yeah, well, I'm not, and you got your hands full with one kid."

"I'm right here," Ash complains, pouring sauce on dough at a table clearly too low for him, "and I'm not a kid."

"You're my kid, and you will be 'til I'm long, long gone."

"And I'm 25, and you're 19," Marie adds. "Kid."

Ash groans. "I'm making pizza here. You could get me a chair, if you want."

William laughs. "You coulda got yourself one before you started working. That's what I do."

"It was just one pizza." Ash stretches, and Marie hears the pop of straining shoulders. "Figured I'd be up for it."

"Alright, you wanna let me in there, or you wanna finish it yourself?"

"Since you don't pay me..."

"I let you live in my home and eat my food." William wheels himself over to the counter. "Hey, lookin' good. Grab me the ingredients, Ash, I think you're starting to get this down."

Ash grumbles. "I've been making perfect pizzas for two years..."

Marie grins, as always enjoying the parent-and-child dynamic, and grateful that the attention was off her for a moment. William may be her boss, and Ash her co-worker, but she considers both of them friends, and the pizza parlor something of a second home. In quiet hours, books were read, applications filled out, essays written. In her first year, it had been a better place than an emotionally cold house; in her second and third, better than a noisy apartment; and more recently, better than being alone.

Maybe that's something she can talk to her supervillain about. She smiles at the thought, knowing that he can't just take her away from all this, knowing that she doesn't want him to, not really. But she can, and does, dream.

And maybe being a supervillain's side piece can have some advantages. Who knows?

10:02 PM

One of the better streets in Trace Point

A small basement apartment

Crystal puts the inducer down on her kitchen table, then picks it up, then puts it down again.

It had worked, as far as she knows. Sharon's reactions were just as Reggie had said they would be. It occurs to her that perhaps he's too familiar with the effects of the inducer. 

But... but even though she's accepted it, even though it's clearly to her and her sister's benefit... it nags. It feels wrong. The way Sharon so easily grabbed hold of the idea that she should look for weaknesses in the structures. She looks at the email on her phone. The first ideas that Sharon had come up with for places that more incidents like the cafe fire might do some damage. They wouldn't have the same sort of emotional impact as burning down a cafe that had only just opened, of course, but little injuries can cripple over time.

Which was probably what Reggie had in mind.

Everyone lives a double life, she thinks. And when she started working for the PCDCC, she gave up one double life for another. But she could see a day when that other double life ends, a light at the end of the tunnel, when Liana is on her way to Port City. Then she can tell Reggie off, quit selling information, and just be a family. Maybe actually settle down, allow herself to be comfortable for a while.

It will be the first time in a decade that Crystal could feel at ease. If it ever happens.

She picks up the inducer again, and puts it down. How can anyone use something like this? she asks herself. What sort of monster would mess around with people's minds?

She picks up the phone and types out a text message. Her thumb hovers over the 'send' button, when there's a knock on the door.

"Delivery!" comes the shout from the hallway.

That would be the pizza Crystal had ordered. And Marie delivering it, from the sounds of it. She's glad for that; it means that she doesn't have to go outside to pick up the pizza from William. Her building is barely accessible to the able-bodied, there's no way for William to get down the stairs to her apartment, or back up out afterwards.

Crystal heads to the door and opens it. "Hey Marie. Usual cost?"

"Yeah," Marie replies. "I made sure Ash didn't skimp on the peppers."

Crystal takes the box gratefully. "You got time to step in?"

"Of course! It's a ridiculously slow night." Marie slips into the apartment and pulls her phone out. "I'm parked on the street. I just gotta let William and Ash know, and if they need me I'll have to go back."

"Great." Crystal puts the pizza down on the side-table by the door and grabs some cash from her purse. "Can't forget to pay you this time."

"Please don't," Marie laughs, taking the offered money and putting it in the pocket of her uniform. Her phone beeps and she checks it. "Yeah, I'm clear for at least ten minutes. If they get a call right now, I'll have to be back there in twenty to deliver it."

"And they don't mind...?"

Marie shakes her head. "Nah, we're a little family unit there, more or less. I'm kind of adopted."

Must be nice, Crystal thinks to herself. After four years in Port City, she has a few friends, but no one she's really close to, certainly no one she would consider 'family.' Once Liana arrives, then she'll have family again. Liana was the only family she ever really had. "You want a drink?" Crystal offers, taking the pizza into the kitchen.

The kitchen, where the subsonic inducer sits on the table.

Marie wanders in behind her. "Sure, if you just got some water or something that'd be great."

Crystal goes to the fridge. "Have a seat." She pulls out a couple bottles of water—the tap water in the city is awful compared to the midwest well water she grew up on, so she's been buying bottled since she got the apartment—and hands one to Marie, who takes it with a nod of thanks.

Marie, who's sitting at the same small round table that Reggie's evil little device is resting on.

It's a little longer and thicker than a roll of quarters. Metallic. A little twist on the top half sends waves of sonic energy out the other end through a specially constructed speaker, designed to make people more open to suggestion.

More controllable.

The portable version, Crystal was told, needs a pretty precise calibration in terms of position and distance. There's some wiggle room, but the only way to be sure that it was working was to measure the effect on the subject.

"Hot day, huh," Crystal says, trying to sound casual. It had been easier in her mind to justify her tone when she had been jogging.

Marie put the cold bottle to her forehead, and Crystal saw it, then. The slight relaxation in Marie's expression, the little slump in her shoulders. It could be the coolness of the bottle, but it matches what Crystal had been told to look for. She must have left the inducer switched it on while she was playing with it.

Marie giggles. "You might say that, yeah."

Crystal grabs a plate and a couple slices of pizza. "Doesn't sound like you're talking about the weather." Which makes sense, since it's not especially warm for May.

"I'm not," Marie breathes, cracking open her bottle of water.

Crystal brings her meal to the table. The pizza is heaping with red pepper, just as she likes it. "Wanna talk about it?"

Marie flushes, taking a deep drink of the water. She seems to be considering the question.

"Hey, it's no big deal if you don't," Crystal says. "I get wanting to keep that stuff private."

Marie nods. "Yeah, I want to keep that stuff private. I'm sure you have other stuff on your mind these days anyway other than my love life."

"Yeah, but you don't wanna hear about the strike and things."

Marie shakes her head. Crystal might be imagining things, but she can almost see Marie's mind changing. "Yeah, I got enough of that earlier..." she trails off, seeming conflicted.

"Is William worried about it?"

"Huh? Bullet Billy? No, no, he doesn't bother himself with that stuff, he's got enough to do. And it's not like we're connected to the docks, it's just..." Marie hesitates. "Stuff I want to keep private, you know?"

Crystal hears the echoes of her own words coming back to her and tries not to wince.

"Hey, everything okay?" Marie asks.

"Huh, uh, yeah, it's... um..." Caught out, Crystal tries to cover her discomfort. "Uh, just thinking about the strike and all that stuff, you know?" She chews her lip a bit. "You ever think how much easier it would be if someone could just, you know, make everyone get along?"

Marie rolls her eyes and grins. "What, you mean like just wave their hand and stop people from fighting? You'd be out of a job!"

Crystal nods and smiles. "What do you think about it, though?" She chose her words carefully, trying not to influence Marie's decision.

To Crystal's surprise, Marie blushed, and fanned herself with her hand. "That's also... kinda private."

"You know that's just gonna make me more curious, right?"

"It's just that..." Marie looks around as though they were in public, then leans in close. "Okay, so ever since I was a little kid I've had fantasies about a villain just sweeping me off my feet, right? I mean it started with those stories you get as a kid, like the prince or the knight coming to save the kidnapped princess, you know? And then I just... stopped wanting to be rescued. So I mean... when I say that it sounds kinda hot, and that I kinda want that..."

Crystal laughs. "Yeah, I get it. And you do you, girl, I'm not gonna judge. There's enough judgment out there."

Marie nods. "Enough judgment, yeah, I hear ya."

Crystal curses herself for exerting her influence, but she can't think of how to get the inducer away from Marie without calling attention to it and giving away her secret. The last thing she wants is to tell the fetishist that she could manipulate her just like she wants to be manipulated.

"When I was a kid," Marie continues, seeming more at ease, "there were these rumors about Silver Tongue going around. I mean he was kind of this mythic figure around here, but no one could really get ahold of him, he just was kind of... nowhere, you know? And the rumors died out after a while, some people don't even think he exists, but I still dreamed of someone who could just whisper in my ear and... well, that's private."

It's private. The phrase she'd carelessly used earlier, still coming back, again and again. Like hearing Sharon talk about a double life or weak points in maintenance. As much as Crystal needs the money, as much as she can get, those echoed phrases are starting to weigh on her conscience.

The metallic device on the table isn't all that durable. With a few heavy blows on a solid object, Crystal could break it apart, or if not that, she could dislodge the delicate inner workings. It wouldn't be a challenge. She's strong, it's not.

But for some reason. she doesn't want to. The idea of it repulses her.

"Hey, what's this?" Marie asks, obviously trying to change the subject and following the line of Crystal's vision. She picks up the inducer.

An oddly familiar feeling settles over Crystal. "Nothing important," she lies.

"Looks neat, it's a fun little decoration," Marie says. Before Crystal can reply, Marie's phone makes a jingling noise. "Shoot," the delivery girl says, pulling it out. "Ah, man, thanks for the talk Crystal, but I gotta go. Enjoy your pizza!"

Crystal nods, not getting up. "I'll enjoy the pizza. See you later!"

Marie hurries herself out the apartment, forgetting to take her bottle of water with her. Crystal takes a bite of the pizza, and it's even better than she remembers. She reaches across the table and twists the inducer until it clicks into the 'off' position, and ponders how Marie's accidental usage of it makes her feel.

The next bite of the pizza is just as excellent as the first, and it's distracting, but she can still focus enough to think. And she thinks that she knows when she's felt that way before. It's very familiar.

She feels it almost every time she has a meeting with Reggie Bright.

The pizza is amazingly good, but it's not enough to divert her from her growing anger.

11:45 PM, Tuesday night

A ground-floor apartment two stories below where Sterling Grey is currently speaking directly to Tanya Nomura's mind

Thomas Holfers walks through the door to his home to see Jim Tyler sitting on the floor with his back against the couch and his feet under the coffee table, watching the news on the TV. Jim mutes the broadcast and looks over at his partner. "How was work?"

Thomas puts his messenger bag down by the door. "Good, today. Can always use good things."

"Always," Jim replies. "How good is it?" He grins, his tousled blond hair and angelic smile making him look about ten years younger than Thomas despite them being the same age.

Thomas laughs. "Good enough that I get to stop worrying for a while, anyway."

"Was hoping you would say that." Jim gets to his feet. He's only wearing red-and-white-striped boxer shorts. "You've been worrying a lot lately."

The two of them share a quick kiss.

"Sorry I'm so late," Thomas says, starting to unbutton his shirt. "There's too much going on, and I needed to be on site." He carefully moderates his language; Jim doesn't know about their neighbor's ability, or how involved Thomas really is with the seemier side of Dockworks politics. Keeping on top of media interactions and police-involved attempts to disrupt communications is a challenge, especially given that three members of his team are still in prison. "How was your day?"

Jim kisses Thomas' cheek. "It was quiet. No news from the agency yet. I got some of grandpa's papers sorted out, but I just got a bit depressed and had to take a break. Made supper for two, ate it all, and I'm hungry again."

"Should I call for a pizza? Ooh, I haven't had a pizza in ages."

Jim slips Thomas' shirt off, leaving him in a rather sweaty undershirt. He wrinkles his nose a bit. "Tell you what, hon, I'll call for the pizza, you go have a shower."

"Oof, gladly. That bad, huh?"

"Not really, I just like to complain."

Thomas gives his lover a light swat on the backside as he passes. "I could really use the shower, either way. Long day of typing means shoulder and back aches."

"Poor baby," Jim says, following him. "Let me help you with those?"

"Mm, yes please." Thomas peels off his undershirt and lets Jim massage his shoulders. After a moment, the two of them move to the bedroom.

"How was your day?" Thomas asks as he undoes his belt.

Jim sits on the bed. "Just another day, you know?"

"Did you try?" Thomas lets his khakis fall. He's not in the shape that Jim is, not by any stretch, but he's long given up self-consciousness about it.

Jim shrugs and squirms a bit on the bed. "Yeah. But... the usual."

"Regrets?" Thomas held his hands out to his partner. It was a familiar question.

Jim allows himself to be pulled into a hug. "I miss it even after all these years, but... no, not really. I'm much happier with you than I was before."

"Even if you can't—"

Jim silences Thomas with a kiss. "Even if I can't. Now come on, you need a shower and a backrub, and we need a pizza." He gently but forcefully turns Thomas around and playfully swats his bottom. "Shorts off! Shower! Go! Ándale!"

Thomas laughs and drops his boxers, pausing a second for Jim to give him a second spank, and then heads off to the bathroom. "The works, right?"

"Right!" he hears Jim shout back.

The shower is, as always, warm and strong, and soap and shampoo do a great job at making Thomas feel more normal, at least. As he's rinsing the last of the suds off his chest, he hears the door open.

"Twenty-five minutes," Jim says from the doorway. "The usual place is closed for some reason, so I called that place that Sterling ordered from last month when he had us up."

"Lightning?" Thomas asks. He hides a smile even though he's not visible behind the shower curtain. Both he and Jim were friends of Sterling's in college, but Jim isn't in the know about Sterling's ability. And that is for the best.

"That's the one," Jim replies, stepping into the shower. "Seem to recall they're pretty good."

"Are you setting me up to say something ridiculous, like 'That's not the only thing that's pretty good around here'?" Thomas asks, not turning around.

Strong arms encicle his waist, and Jim presses up behind him. "I mean if you want to say something ridiculous and fun like that, I'm not gonna be the one to stop you..."

Thomas laughs. "I get it, hon," he says, turning around and kissing Jim deeply. Under the spray of the shower, the two of them make out for quite a while, kissing and caressing until the water starts to get cold. More than once, Jim's hands made their way to Thomas' crotch, and by the time they were done, both of them were breathing heavily and half-erect.

"How long 'til the pizza?" Thomas asks, flushed as he steps out of the shower.

"Long enough for me to deliver on my promise of a massage," Jim replies, grabbing two large towels. "Wrap up and get to the bedroom."

Thomas grins and grabs the two towels, following instructions, drying himself as much as he can on the way to the bedroom. He knows Jim will be a few moments behind him, which gives him some time to decide whether he'll lie on his back and get the offered shoulder rubs, or lie on his front and maybe get a different massage altogether.

Might even be time for both.

Still, the stress and aching muscles made the decision a little easier; if there was going to be sex, it would be nice to go into it well-rested and not sore. Ignoring the protests from his libido, he turns over, adjusts himself and his position, and lies face-down on the bed. He doesn't even notice that he's drifting to sleep before he feels Jim's powerful hands on his back. He moans as strong fingers work the stiff muscles just above his butt.

"Too bad I can't just wave," Jim says, wiping his damp hands on the towel lying under Thomas' body.

"Hey, you tried," Thomas mutters into the pillow.

"Can't do it without getting angry," Jim says wearily. "Can't seem to get angry."

"Which was the point." They'd had this discussion at least weekly.

"Sure was." Jim's hands worked into the knots below Thomas' shoulder blades. "Much as it would be easier to just use power..."

Thomas moans again. "I'd rather have you not angry."

"Me too. Wouldn't take it back."

There's a moment where there's no sound other than Thomas' pleased sighs and groans. An idea occurs to him. "What if you had to?"

"Hm?" Jim's thumbs are doing wonderful things where Thomas' neck meets his shoulders.

There's a moment where Thomas can't bring himself to speak. He doesn't disturb Jim as he's working over the neck. As those fingers move on to Thomas' scalp, he restates his question. "What if you had to take it back?"

"What do you mean?" Jim's hands stop and he rises up on his knees, giving Thomas some space, helping him to turn over.

"Well, things are getting pretty wild on the docks, you know, what if..." Thomas trails off.

Jim shrugs. "Honestly, I don't know if I can." He doesn't sound upset by this. He flops down on the bed beside Thomas. "If you were in danger, gorgeous, I could find a way."

Thomas takes hold of Jim's hand. "Mhmm." He has doubts, though. Jim had been a very, very angry young man, a natural reaction to an unaccepting father, merciless teasing in school, and a devastating rejection from the Bright Society after risking everything, quitting college and giving up a good scholarship opportunity to join their training program. The reality of their relationship might well have been a factor in that decision by the Brights, since they were expecting their membership to be the public face of the Society, and at that time an out gay superhero did not fit the image they were looking to project.

All of which had compounded to make Jim bitter and cruel and destructive. Fortunately, their friend Sterling had a life-coaching business, and could teach Jim a few tricks to get a handle on his anger. And while Sterling no longer acts as a life coach, he still lives close enough that he can have them over regularly for little nudges to Jim's psyche, helping keep that nasty streak under wraps for years. Part of the perks of being a friend of Silver Tongue is being able to use his voice from time to time to turn a loving-but-explosive partner into a loving-and-stable one, one who is far happier in his life now than he ever was when anger ruled him.

The downside is that the power which used to come to Jim in anger now simply... didn't. Both of them had long agreed that that was a worthwhile tradeoff. Jim said that if he couldn't join the Brights and couldn't find another organization, it was just as easy not to have the powers in the first place. So he submitted himself to Bright testing for a second time, and they found his powers to have faded—not common, but not unique—so he could de-register and live in anonymity. Or at least without the Brights keeping tabs on them.

The Brights would probably have been very happy to have him now, if he hadn't 'lost his power.' Too bad. Thomas was committed to the PCDCC project, and Jim wanted nothing to do with the Bright Society after the way he'd been treated, even if it was fifteen years ago. He was more than content to be a loving and supportive househusband to Thomas, which is definitely what Thomas prefers to having a volatile partner leading the dangerous life of a Port City superhero.

"So," Jim asks, squeezing Thomas' hand, "what was so good about today?"

"New recruit," Thomas replies, propping himself up into a sitting position against the pillows on their bed. "Just got the news as I was coming off-shift. Remember that hacker I talked about that kept trying to dig into personnel files?"

"You convinced them to join up?" Jim's fingers walk up and down Thomas' thigh in a wonderfully distracting way.

"Well, I didn't, but yes, they're going to work with us now."

Jim runs his index finger over his partner's scrotum, lightly. Thomas takes a small, sharp breath. "So that makes the communications team, what, fifteen people?"

"Well, there's m-me," Thomas stammers as Jim's fingers tickle and tease him, "old Tom, and Anna, Vanessa, Mark, Paula, nnggg, uh Celeste, Peter and Patrick..." Thomas tries to keep track by counting on his own fingers, but Jim is making it increasingly difficult, stroking his shaft with a mischievous grin. "Latasha, Maguerite, Emmalyn, Troy, and now aaah!" He bucks his hips at Jim's sudden movement, thrusting his hard cock into Jim's hand.

"If I didn't know better..." Jim said, spreading Thomas' precum on his hand to slicken it.

"Only one name on my mind right now," Thomas replies.

"That's how I like it." Jim's slow, teasing strokes accelerated little by little. "The dockworks gets you all day. Once you're at home, though..."

Thomas moans. "Oh, you can have—ngrmph—all my attention when..." he pauses for breath, "when I'm at home."

"And I know how to get it."

Jim isn't lying, and proves it both with the hand already working at Thomas' cock, and with his mouth, kissing its ways in slow circles towards his hand, now on Thomas' left thigh, now the right, now on a hip, on his belly, the other hip, ever closer to the center point, to goal.

Jim barely makes it in time, his tongue reaching the head of Thomas' penis just as Thomas jerks upward into Jim's mouth. Thomas' whole body tenses as he feels Jim's warm breath on his member, and he feels the release of his seed into his lover's mouth before a pleasant warmth settles over him and he collapses back into the bed.

A few deep gulps of air later, as the orgasm subsides and Jim is releasing his flaccid cock, Thomas is speaking again. "I think I really needed that."

Jim grins at him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "I think you did too, hon." He descends on Thomas, wrapping him in a warm embrace. "We can talk about what I need after supper."

"What you need is supper," Thomas replies. "And me, too, after that."

"Don't be silly," Jim say, beautifully close. "I always need you, sex or not."

Thomas laughs at the joke and rolls his unresisting partner off him. "You need to get dressed for when the pizza gets delivered. Meanwhile, I'm gonna stay right here and let you bring me dinner in bed."

"No you're not, or at least not the whole time," Jim says, getting to his feet. "You're gonna get cleaned up and join me in the front room for some garbage television until your mind is so full of trash that you can't even think about that damn strike, alright?"

"I'm not about to argue with that. I could—"

"But you know you'd lose."

"The way I'm feeling right now?" Thomas groans, getting up into a sitting position. "I'd let you drag me around with a fishing line."

Jim laughs and grabs his shorts. "Where would I tie it?"

Thomas winces. "Okay, not my best plan." He wraps a towel around his waist. "I'll back out in a few."

After a few minutes, Thomas emerges to the living room in sweat pants and a light t-shirt, the usual thing he wears to bed, when it's anything at all. Jim, similarly dressed, is at the door, talking to a young, stout redhead, handing her some cash and receiving a box of pizza. Her head pops around the side of Jim's shoulder, and he recognizes her, though he doesn't know her name. She's brought pizza a few times to the communications department when Sterling was working with them. He'd seen her around there out of uniform more than once, and passed her in the apartment halls on occasion.

"Oh hey! You're, uh... Tom, right?" the girl says in a sprightly voice.

"Thomas, yes," he says, mentally flinching at the shortening of his name.

"Right. Right! There's another Tom and you're Thomas. Sorry about that."

Her smile was too genuine to be anything but forgiving. "Nothing to be too worried about. It's impressive enough you can remember the two of us."

She bursts into a bright grin. "Any friend of Sterling's is a friend of mine!" she laughs. "It's weird to deliver here and not having to climb two flights of stairs, so hey, next time you want a pizza give me a shout! I love this part of town and being able to come here."

Jim carries the pizza in to the living room and puts it lightly down on the coffee table. "This part of town? This neighborhood?"

"Yeah!" The delivery girl nods. "I live in a quiet corner upland and work in Trace Point, so getting anywhere near the water is nice. Even with the smell."

"Was about to say something about that." Thomas shares her smile. "We get used to it after a while, but every so often..."

"Just fish." She makes a disgusted face. "Anyway, I should get back to the store. Never know when we might have another call. Hell, I've already delivered three other pizzas tonight, which for a Tuesday is pretty busy."

Jim comes back into the room with paper towels for napkins. "Well, it's already after midnight, so it's Wednesday, technically."

"Still Tuesday far as I'm concerned!" The pizza girl gives a wave and turns, then looks back over her shoulder. "Say 'hi' to Silver Tongue for me!"

The door closes behind her. If Thomas had been carrying something, he would have dropped it.

"Hey hon?" Jim asks as he sits at the table and opens the box. "Everything okay?"

"Huh? Oh, uh, yes, I'm fine Jim, sorry." Thomas carefully composes himself. How could she know? Did she know? Did she misspeak? Was she making a joke?

The pizza is very good, and Jim's selection of awful shows is truly mind-numbing, but Thomas isn't able to fully enjoy either. He knows that tomorrow he's going to have to have a serious talk with Sterling, and it might not go well for the delivery girl.

12:23 PM

Marie is two-thirds of the way through downtown when she stops at a red light.

"Wait," she says aloud, suddenly panicking. "Oh shit, oh shit, when I was walking out the door... what the fuck did I say?"

Will Marie's slip of the tongue have an impact on her life? Will Crystal's anger outlast her dinner? Will John ever give Ash proper respect?

Find out more in Part Fifteen!

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