Charlie followed the line out into the yard, enjoying the bright sun and slight breeze more than almost anything in the world. He got an hour a day to relish the real world, and not the slate gray metal and concrete that made up his life. An hour each day to let himself pretend there was more to the endless violence as he picked a spot near no one else and sat against the fence and closed his eyes, face tilted up to feel the warmth.

Catcalls and kissey noises reminded him what day it was. Cracking an eyelid, Charlie squinted against the sunlight to observe the new cons being brought in. It seemed the usual assortment of lifers and losers until Charlie’s gaze landed on the last man in line. The last man wasn’t going to last very long, he could tell. He was probably in his late-forties with salt-n-pepper hair and a…softness…that the other cons would more than appreciate. The guy’s head stayed down, as if defeated before anything had truly begun and that, too, wasn’t good.

Weakness got men killed inside as sure as arrogance.

Glancing around the yard, Charlie saw that more than one of the other cons had noticed the last man. He shook his head and told himself silently, Balance is everything. Don’t disturb the balance it took so long to find.

And yet, Charlie knew that his precious balance had already been rocked with only a single glance. There was something about that man…something fragile and ready to break…

He’s me eight years ago, Charlie realized. Me without any way to defend myself.

Charlie sighed.

It looked like balance had up and left the building.

* * * *

The next time Charlie saw the new guy was at dinner. He stood in line clutching his tray like it would be taken away at any second. Or maybe like a weapon by someone who didn’t know it was better not to hold so tight in case the opponent twisted it, and your wrist, all at once. Charlie looked around to see who his competition might be and wasn’t surprised to find Martinez and Gregson the ones still keeping an eye on the new guy.

Charlie moved with the line automatically as his tray got filled with bland, supposedly nutritional food that didn’t deserve the name. He grimaced briefly at the mashed orange things that might at one point have been peaches and then continued on to one of the outside tables at the far end of the cafeteria. After so many years, only the new cons bothered him and that was only to make a name for themselves. They didn’t realize until it was too late that he was more con than cop after so long and had no compunction about defending himself any way necessary.

The new guy stood on the side of the caf looking around helplessly, trying to decide where to sit. It was pitiful, in a darkly amusing way, like a new kid at a high school trying to figure out what cliques would turn out the least painful.

Stopping at the guy’s side, Charlie said, “Hey.”

Startled dark eyes met his and Charlie was instantly captivated by how everything showed on the man’s face. “H-hello.”

“Sit with me,” Charlie suggested and then kept walking.

He stopped at the outermost table and set his tray down. Stabbing one of the ‘peaches’ with his fork, he held it up for the new guy to see and observed, “Peaches like this should be put out of their misery, don’t you think? They are so far removed from their original selves, so far off their path of their destiny, that they really shouldn’t exist.”

Those dark eyes blinked at him a couple of times before the man answered, “Okay,” in a tone that clearly said he thought Charlie might be short a few screws.

But that was okay, because Charlie was pretty sure he’d lost most of his screws years ago. Offering a brief smile, Charlie introduced, “Charlie Crews.”

“Ted. Ah, Ted Earley,” the man replied.

“Do you have any money, Ted Earley?”

“No, not really. Not anymore.”

“That’s okay. What about skills?”

“Skills?”

“Skills. Can you do anything? Sculpt? Dance? Suck cock? Are you a good lay, Ted Earley?”

Shock lit the other man’s face and he tried to stammer an answer, but didn’t manage to.

Lifting a hand as he saw Ted about to flee, Charlie assured him, “I don’t ask for myself, but for the two men who have been eyeing you like a soft, ripe peach. The kind that this thing used to be. See, we don’t get much softness here. Mostly because we, and that’s a collective we, you understand, I don’t participate in such activities, but again, mostly because we beat the softness out of wherever it’s found.”

Ted looked like he wanted to faint, not that Charlie blamed him. It was a lot to take in.

“Your two suitors’ names are Martinez and Gregson and I guarantee by the end of dinner, they’ll both have made their case to you,” Charlie finished, popping the once-was-a-peach into his mouth.

Life was uncertain, after all, and Charlie always ate dessert first now.

Ted turned to his tray with the single-minded intensity of the very scared. It was maybe five minutes later that Martinez made the first move and stood behind Ted. He was a big guy, all muscle with plenty of scars thrown in. Not so much to look at and a real bastard, so the package pretty much advertised in truth.

Charlie’s eyebrows lifted and he greeted, “Martinez.”

Ted stiffened and didn’t turn around as a strong, large hand landed on his shoulder.

“Hanging out with a cop can get you killed, fish,” Martinez rumbled.

Ted’s eyes widened as he looked at Charlie, who shrugged to acknowledge the point.

“You’re transferring to my cell,” Martinez continued. “You and me’re gonna get real close, fish.”

Swallowing visibly, Ted still didn’t answer. The hand squeezed and caused Ted to wince, but he still didn’t speak.

“You transfer to my cell and take what I give you, or you die. It’s that easy.”

And then Martinez walked away.

Ted’s hand shook as he tried to eat what passed for mashed potatoes from his tray.

Gregson wasn’t as big as Martinez, but he was a lot meaner and filled with all kinds of Aryan spiel that pissed Charlie off. It was a struggle for Charlie to maintain his balance around the man under any circumstances. Both hands came down on Ted’s shoulders this time and Gregson leaned down to say something that Charlie couldn’t hear. Whatever it was caused Ted to pale considerably, which Charlie really hadn’t thought possible.

Once Gregson left, Charlie observed, “It’s hell being popular, isn’t it?”

“You have to help me,” Ted whispered. He cleared his throat and continued in a slightly firmer, but no less panicked voice, “Please, you have to help me. I can’t, they’re going to, I need your help!”

“Sorry, Ted, but that’s not my thing anymore,” Charlie told him. “All I ask of the universe is to be left alone and so far, it seems to be working. I take you on and all kinds of things start happening. I will definitely not be left alone.”

Ted unexpectedly reached out to grasp Charlie’s arm. It wasn’t a tight grip, far from it. His hand simply rested on Charlie’s forearm above the wrist so that he felt every crease in every finger warm against his bare skin. It was the first time in eight years that someone had touched him without violence or secret agenda or medical reason. The first time in eight years that he felt someone else’s pulse without attempting to stop it to save himself.

Charlie peered curiously at Ted and asked, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that touching someone in prison without invitation is a bad idea?”

Ted instantly withdrew his hand.

Charlie instantly missed it.

Ignoring the lost sensation, Charlie met the other man’s gaze and knew that he didn’t belong in Pelican Bay. “Why are you here, Ted Earley? What did you do?”

“I, uh, insider trading,” Ted answered. “The judge decided to make an example of me.”

Lips pursed, almost shocked the judge would be that much of a bastard to send this guy here, Charlie commented, “That’s some example.”

The bell rang, signaling dinner was over. Charlie looked down at his mostly full tray and grimaced. At least he’d managed to have dessert. He stood, picking up his tray to deposit at the dishwasher’s window, Ted trailing like a lost puppy. As they reached the gate where they would part ways, Charlie advised, “Find an inner peace that no one else can touch. Oh, and I would sharpen the bottom of your toothbrush and keep it with you. That helps a lot too.”

“Sharpen the…Charlie, please!” Ted whispered urgently.

Charlie walked away without a backwards glance, but for the first time in at least three years, his heart and minder were no longer in sync with his body. All he saw were dark, frightened eyes set in a soft, slightly rounded face.

* * * *

Ted managed to put off the inevitable for almost a week, which was longer than Charlie had originally given him credit. He stayed as invisible as possible, a strategy that never worked in Charlie’s opinion, and kept out of everyone’s way.

It wasn’t until the afternoon exercise that Ted ran into trouble. Charlie sat in his spot at the fence and watched as Martinez cornered Ted a short distance away, looming over the smaller man in an entirely unnecessary way. A quick glance around the yard and Charlie spotted others watching the show, Gregson and his cronies most notably, but a few others. Entertainment was hard to come by and live-action was always best.

The good thing about having a regular place to sit was, after a while, no one noticed that it was a strategic point. Because while Charlie did his best to believe in the balance of life, experience had taught him that being able to see all parties at a single glance helped keep you out of the hospital.

Charlie stood when Martinez grabbed Ted between the legs and clearly squeezed, dropping the smaller man to his knees. He walked calmly over to them and said, “It’s a nice day, isn’t it?”

Martinez glared at him, snarling, “Fuck off, cop!”

“You know, what fascinates me is that you still think of me as a cop no matter how long it’s been since I was one, and the guards think of me as a con, no matter how long I was a cop. I think they call that irony,” Charlie observed.

Martinez turned on Charlie but, before he could even complete the motion, Charlie had slammed his heel into the big man’s knee, dropping him to the ground. He followed it up with a vicious knee to Martinez’s face that shattered the man’s nose. Stepping on the back of Martinez’s neck until the other groaned in pain, he announced calmly, “This fish is mine. Anyone touches him, anyone even looks at him funny, and I’ll know. This is me making a point. Imagine me angry.”

Charlie held a hand down to Ted, who immediately took it and leaned on him to stand. By the time the guards came to see what had happened, they were back at Charlie’s spot against the fence.

“Thank you,” Ted whispered.

Looking at his new protectee, Charlie told him, “You’re welcome. You should probably transfer into my cell if you can.”

Ted blinked at him in surprise, asking, “You don’t think that’ll be enough?”

Charlie shrugged. “Sure, for a couple of days. I still haven’t impressed on Gregson the futility of aggression. It’s much better to simply be the leaf on the water instead of fighting the currents.”

Ted eyed him a moment and then commented, “You’re not like most people, are you, Charlie?”

Charlie grinned at him and confirmed, “Probably not anymore.”

* * * *

It was three days before Ted’s cell transfer took place and in those three days, Charlie found himself worried about what might happen to the other man at night. Gregson and Martinez had access to the guards in a way that he didn’t. They had their gangs and connections and all Charlie had was a reputation for being more trouble than he was worth and batshit crazy. It had been a while since he’d had to show just how crazy he could get, but he could feel a demonstration coming on really soon. Last time, he’d taken down a guard and spent three months in isolation. After he got out of the infirmary.

Still, there was no move from anyone to take Ted or kill him and that made Charlie suspicious. Like maybe Ted would be better off with Gregson or Martinez instead of becoming a walking target by staying with Charlie. The bull’s-eye on his back felt carved into his skin like all the other scars and he wondered if he should warn Ted off altogether.

Charlie lay on his cot reading when Ted showed up carrying his spare sheets, clothes, and toothbrush.

The guard shoved Ted inside and sneered as he said, “I hope you two ladies are real happy together,” and then shut the cell door.

Ted stood there awkwardly for a few seconds and then asked, “So, top bunk?”

Charlie shrugged. “If you want.”

“Um, can I have the bottom? I feel like I’m going to fall out of bed and hurt myself,” Ted requested hesitantly.

Somehow, that didn’t surprise Charlie. He got out of bed and climbed up into the top bunk without any complaints, resettling with his book. Ted made little noise while getting settled, but then he stood by the bunk and asked, “What do we do all day?”

Charlie’s eyebrows lifted as he replied, “This is it, Ted. Work detail in the morning, an hour of the yard in the afternoon, and meals. The rest of the time we spend here doing whatever.”

“Right. Okay,” Ted muttered, moving to sit on his bunk. “You don’t maybe want to talk?”

Sighing to himself, Charlie rolled to look below at Ted and tell him, “I’m really trying not to talk these days, Ted, but thanks.”

“Can I ask you something and then I’ll be quiet?”

Charlie knew what the question was going to be and almost said no. Instead, he preempted the other man by explaining, “I was convicted of a triple murder.”

Ted’s mouth made an ‘O’ of pure astonishment, his jaw dropping and his eyebrows rising almost to his hairline.

Offering a brief smile, Charlie said, “I’m going to read now, Ted,” and returned to his book.

* * * *

It happened two days after Ted moved into Charlie’s cell. He wasn’t yet used to having anyone else in his cell and so sleeping hadn’t gone very well, kept awake by Ted’s soft almost-snores. The sound of another person just breathing had brought Charlie to the realization that he’d missed having someone that close. Someone he could trust, at least, and he instinctively knew that Ted was that someone. Not because the other man was afraid of him, he’d so far shown no sign of it even with Charlie’s revelation, but because there was something between them.

What that was, he had no idea, but he sometimes still felt the sensation of Ted’s hand on his arm.

They were in the showers when Gregson and his crew showed up. Charlie assessed the four large goons, including Gregson, and found that he was pretty much screwed. It had been a long time since he’d needed to summon a killing rage and he didn’t know if it was still there, if he could still do it. He’d become a lot calmer over the last few years.

“So that’s what my bitch looks like,” Gregson announced, leering at Ted. “I’ve seen better asses, but there’s sure plenty of cushion there.”

The other three laughed, all ugly sounds, and suddenly Charlie had no problem with summoning rage. He stepped in front of Ted and smiled at Gregson, telling him, “You really don’t want to do this.”

“Aww, ain’t that sweet? He’s got a crush on the bitch,” Gregson taunted.

Ted whispered, “Charlie, it’s okay. Don’t…”

“Shut up, Ted,” Charlie ordered, not even looking at him. Keeping his eyes on Gregson, he repeated, “You do not want to do this.”

For a couple of seconds, Gregson faltered, but then he stiffened and snarled, “I really do,” and lunged at Charlie. Ducking, Charlie missed the big man’s attack, using momentum to slam him headfirst into the wall. Tile shattered and the Aryan went down in a spray of blood. The other three roared in fury and jumped Charlie, surrounding him from all sides with fists and even a knife that he just barely managed to twist aside at the last second. Bones snapped and one of the men shouted in pain, falling away.

Charlie got a brief glimpse of Ted on the other man’s back, holding on for dear life with an expression on his face that clearly screamed, “What the fuck am I doing?”

Charlie’s attention refocused on the two men trying to kill him and he slammed a knee into the nearest crotch while grabbing someone’s head and pulling it in close enough to sink his teeth into an ear and clamp down. Howls of pain reverberated through the shower.

Spitting out the blood and part of an ear, Charlie wrapped his legs around the fallen man’s neck and squeezed while the one in his face dripping blood on him pummeled Charlie in the gut. Ribs broke, momentarily jarring his concentration, but he pushed beyond the pain and dug his fingers into the man’s cheeks, a thumb sliding precariously close to an eye.

The guards showed up before he could really resolve anything, unfortunately, but Charlie was pretty sure his reputation had been renewed by taking out four hulking guys pretty much on his own.

Or so he thought just before a club came down on his head and darkness took him.

* * * *

For the first time in his life, outside of birth and the removal of his tonsils when he was ten, Ted was in the hospital. His back was one massive bruise from where the Aryan guy had slammed him into the wall and his head killed from pretty much the same thing. He’d never gotten into a fight before, not even when he was in high school or college, preferring to keep his head buried in a book and hope no one noticed him. That definitely hadn’t worked here and if not for Charlie, Ted knew he’d be in a hell of a lot worse straits.

That thought prompted him to look over two beds where his odd new friend lay, still unconscious. The guards had been merciless, once they’d discovered the Aryans hadn’t been the ones winning. There’d been several blows to Charlie’s back and head and Ted was seriously thinking of calling his lawyer to try and press charges of brutality against them.

Bruises showed up vividly against Charlie’s pale skin, lending him a fragility that seemed nowhere in evidence when the other man was up and about, those pale blue eyes lively with humor or curiosity. Even in just their short acquaintance, Ted knew in his gut that Charlie hadn’t done what he’d been convicted of. He was definitely capable of violence, but had so far gone out of his way to avoid it, succumbing only when seriously provoked.

What is it about him? Ted wondered silently. How does a cop get wrongly convicted of such a heinous crime? Did someone set him up, or were the other cops really that incompetent?

When the nurse came by to take his vitals, he asked, “Can you tell me how he is? Will he be all right?”

“Charlie? Oh, he’ll be fine,” she assured him. “I swear the man has cement for a skull, the number of times he’s been in here for a head injury.”

“And the rest of his injuries?”

“Superficial, outside his ribs. They certainly won’t prevent a stay in isolation,” she replied, sighing and shaking her head.

Ted protested, “But he was protecting me!”

She looked around and then said in a low voice, “Do everyone a favor, Charlie and yourself included, and let it go. It’ll only make things worse if you try to interfere.”

Which made no sense whatsoever, but her serious expression brought home to him that he really didn’t know all the rules of the game yet. Until he did, he had to rely on others to help him understand. Charlie groaned and Ted immediately looked his way to see him squint against the light.

The nurse hurried over to him and smiled down at Charlie, scolding, “And here I thought I wouldn’t be seeing you again before you got out.”

“Sorry, Teresa,” Charlie replied, grinning. “But how could I go that long without seeing your face again?”

Ted rolled his eyes at the flirting and cleared his throat pointedly.

Charlie looked his way and grinned, seeming delighted that Ted was still alive. “Ted! Hey, buddy, nice move in the showers back there. Next time, though, you might want to use him as a battering ram, not yourself.”

Ted couldn’t help but grin back as he retorted, “Hindsight’s a bitch.”

“It really is,” Charlie agreed comfortably. “How’re you feeling?”

“Like someone used me as a punching bag,” Ted informed him dryly.

Charlie’s grin increased. “Sounds about right.”

Ted was thrown when the grin disappeared from Charlie’s face, replaced by an empty expression that he’d never before seen. Turning to see where the other man looked, he found a guard walking their way and quickly looked away, not sure what to expect.

The guard walked over to Charlie’s bed and said, “Thirty days in the hole, Crews, and ten for your little playmate.”

Charlie’s jaw flexed, but he simply nodded without answering.

Looking at Ted, the man repeated, “Ten days in isolation for you, Earley. And when you get out, you have yard duty every morning.”

From the way Charlie’s jaw kept jumping, Ted had the feeling he didn’t want yard duty, but there was nothing he could do about it. He simply nodded and tried not to look as scared as he felt.

“I’ll be back for both of you in half an hour. Rest up, ladies.”

Once he was gone, Charlie asked, “Hey, Teresa, can we have a few minutes. I need to explain the facts of life to my new friend.”

She nodded and walked over to what passed for a nurses’ station in the infirmary; a desk and chair with notebooks on it.

“Ted, come here,” Charlie ordered.

Ted hissed in pain when he sat up, but he managed to get upright and then hobbled over to Charlie’s bed. He leaned on the side of it and waited.

Those pale eyes met his, utterly without artifice, and Charlie told him, “No matter what, do what the guards say. Don’t try to talk your way out of anything. Just be in the moment, okay?”

“Charlie, I don’t know if I can do that,” Ted protested. “We shouldn’t be the ones getting punished! Especially not you! You were protecting me!”

Charlie reached out, as if to touch him, and then pulled his hand back. “I’m telling you that fighting does nothing except wound yourself. The guards don’t care who started it, only who finished it. They don’t care about anything except the path of least resistance and really, who can blame them? It’s the way of all things.”

Ted opened his mouth to interrupt, but Charlie held up a finger, so he sighed and waited.

“Do your ten days and then watch your back when you’re in the yard,” Charlie continued. “That’s Martinez’s turf and he’s got a grudge against you now. He probably won’t cause trouble for you while I’m in the hole, but he might.”

“What do I do, if he does?” Ted asked, voice almost going out on him.

Charlie’s lips pressed together, thinning, and he finally said, “Survive. It’s all you can do.”

Not exactly the most hopeful of pronouncements. Ted’s mind skittered away from what he might have to survive and he replied honestly, “I don’t know if I can, Charlie.”

Staring into space a moment, Charlie told him, “You know why reeds survive all kinds of storms and tsunamis when all other kinds of vegetation around them gets wiped out?”

Ted sighed. “No, why?”

“Because they bend, Ted. They’re flexible,” Charlie replied, meeting his gaze. “You have to be flexible if you’re going to survive. It’s that simple. I can’t be with you all the time. You either learn to take what life gives you, or you don’t. And if you don’t, or can’t, then you won’t survive. What happens here has nothing to do with sex or orientation or anything except power, dominance and brutality. Nothing that you do, or that gets done to you, has any bearing on who and what you are outside. Nothing.”

It was impossible to keep looking back at Charlie. He knew without being told that Charlie had survived more than just beatings over the years. That it had taken something from Charlie and yet, he’d somehow found himself again. Maybe he wasn’t crazy, maybe it was everyone else.

* * * *

Isolation wasn’t anything like Ted had thought it would be. He’d seen too many prison movies over the years, maybe, but he’d expected filth and darkness only to get bright and pristine. Too bright. The lights never went down so that the guards could keep a clear eye on him whenever they felt like it. He’d thought his time in the cell boring, but it had nothing on isolation. That, of course, was exactly the point. By the time the guards brought him back to his cell, Ted was about ready to chew his own arm off just to occupy his mind with something more than counting the cracks in the ceiling or the squares on the wall.

It was late in the day when they released him, so Ted had nothing to worry about once he made it to the cell. Relatively speaking, at least. He’d slept a lot in isolation, but it was a completely different kind of sleep. On his cot in the dark, he slept like a log, the clang of the wake-up alarm jolting him awake, heart slamming against his ribcage.

And that was pretty much how he spent the day, so it was fitting to start like that. He ate breakfast at Charlie’s table, waiting for someone to harass him. He worked in the yard while expecting a literal knife in the back. He ate lunch in exactly the same place and sat in Charlie’s spot against the fence in the yard for afternoon exercise. Then he was safe in their cell again and he breathed a sigh of relief.

It was something of a shock that no one even looked at him in the twenty days of Charlie’s absence. Everyone seemed to take the man’s threat to heart. Not that he blamed them, after seeing Gregson and his pals. None of them had been pretty to start with, but Gregson had a huge scar across his forehead from where he’d hit the wall and one of the others was missing part of an ear. Not surprisingly, the guy he’d jumped had no visible injuries.

Finally, the guards brought Charlie back just after lights out on day thirty. Ted sat up and asked hesitantly, “Charlie? You okay?”

Charlie held up a hand and climbed silently into the top bunk.

Taking the hint, Ted kept his mouth shut. Whatever the other man had had to do to keep his sanity for thirty days in that hell clearly lingered beyond the white walls. Settling back down on his bed, he had to bite his tongue to keep words from spilling out. He wanted to touch Charlie and make sure he was okay, see for himself that the guards hadn’t done anything worse while he’d been in isolation.

He lay there for a long time just listening to Charlie breathing, slow and even and barely audible. The indent he made in the mattress above was a curve that Ted could touch if he wanted, but he wouldn’t disturb Charlie that way. He had no idea how long it would take the other to return to what he’d been before, but Ted would give him as much time as he needed.

Although it would be nice to talk to someone, he thought with a sigh.

No one said anything to him except to bark orders. Charlie had been in an actual isolation cell, but Ted hadn’t exactly been in party central, either. It was a long time before he fell asleep, but when he did, it was to a feeling of protection that had been distinctly missing.

* * * *

It was three more days before Charlie spoke. Ted just about burst a gut keeping his mouth closed, but he did it. They were in the cafeteria for dinner when Charlie speared a pear and held it up, much like he had a peach that first day, and said, “This is sad.”

Eyebrows lifting, Ted paused with his fork halfway to his mouth and asked, “The pear, or your fork?”

Charlie grinned at him briefly, clarifying, “The pear. It used to be vibrant and full of natural juices. Now it’s just…well, look at it.”

Ted looked and offered, “Sad?”

“Sad,” Charlie confirmed, popping it into his mouth. “How are you doing, Ted Earley?”

Ted shrugged. “Okay. No one hassled me while you were in isolation.”

Charlie’s lips quirked sideways before he commented, “I figured that when I didn’t find you curled up in a fetal position.”

“Sorry. I state the obvious sometimes,” Ted muttered.

Chewing on another sad piece of pear, Charlie swallowed and told him, “Sometimes, the obvious needs to be stated.”

They were quiet again, but this time Ted didn’t feel strained with the need to say something. He ate his bland food and thought about a prime rib dinner that he’d probably never be able to afford again. Between the fines and his divorce, he was flat broke.

“That was a heavy sigh.”

Startled, Ted looked over at Charlie and said, “I didn’t realize I’d sighed.”

“Which means it’s a true indication of how you feel,” Charlie observed. “What’s wrong?”

Waving it off, Ted answered, “It’s nothing, really. Just thinking about…out there.”

“You’ll go crazy if you keep doing that. Be here, Ted. Just here.”

Ted half-smiled as he said, “Not one of my talents, Charlie, but thanks.”

Charlie shrugged and returned to his tray.

After a moment, so did Ted.

* * * *

As crazy as it seemed, life fell into a routine and Ted got used to being in prison. He never relaxed, but he was able to ‘be here’ more often than not, at least by his standards. Charlie often had an amused expression in place when looking at him, so probably not by Charlie’s standards. Still, he only tormented himself once in a while with what he couldn’t have and concentrated on what he did.

Charlie was a good roommate and a great friend. He knew when to draw Ted out, knew when to back off, and best of all, ignored him completely on the nights that he just had to jerk off or go utterly crazy. It was furtive and as quiet as he could make it, not knowing what the protocol was for masturbating with someone else present who wouldn’t normally be. He started out in his head, remembering the expensive women he’d fucked who got paid by the hour, in detail. Ted did his best not to even touch himself until he was hard enough to hurt. He’d always had a great imagination and it was very, very useful.

He was surprised to find that Charlie had a lawyer and only discovered the fact because the other man vanished for the better part of two hours and returned almost as silent as when he’d gotten out of isolation. Thankfully, the silence only lasted until the following day and then Charlie was back to normal. He didn’t know anything about him or her, but the lawyer showed up every two or three weeks. Ted was dying of curiosity, but knew better than to ask about the situation.

The status quo remained for almost six months and then his ex-wife showed up and shot his hard-won peace all to hell and back. She’d barely spoken to him during his arrest and divorced him shortly after his conviction. The papers had arrived about the middle of his second month in and Ted had signed them immediately and sent them back. She’d been humiliated enough during the end of their marriage, he sure as hell wasn’t going to draw it out.

Their visit was short and excruciating and Ted returned to the cell almost more agitated than when he’d been arrested in the first place. He paced the small area in front of the cots before flopping down on his bed.

Charlie peered down and asked, “Didn’t go well?”

Ted turned onto his side and pulled the pillow up over his head.

Charlie got the very not subtle hint and left him alone.

Neither of them said anything for the next couple of hours, not until the lights went out. Ted grumbled under his breath and stood up to relieve himself and brush his teeth in the dark. He took care of that and promptly misjudged the height of the bunk and whacked his head on the bar holding up Charlie’s bed. Groaning, Ted held his head and dropped onto the cot.

Charlie hopped down with the athletic ease that Ted had envied for months, sitting beside him and putting a hand on his shoulder. They rarely touched, so the gesture moved Ted more than it should have, probably more than it was meant. He looked over at where Charlie was a shape in the darkness and managed a smile as he said, “Thanks. I’m okay, Charlie.”

“Are you? Really?” Charlie questioned quietly. “You’re fading away, Ted. I can barely see you.”

“That’s because it’s dark,” Ted pointed out wryly.

His attempt at humor must have fallen flat, because Charlie leaned forward and kissed him on the mouth. It was gentle and hardly enough to be called a kiss, but shocked a gasp from Ted nonetheless. All kinds of sensation that he’d been blocking for months came pouring back when Charlie returned for a stronger kiss, licking along his lips for entry. Stunned and suddenly more aware of himself than he’d been for years, Ted’s mouth opened seemingly of its own volition.

Charlie jerked away just as they got to the makeout stage, tongues sliding against one another, exploring. He hissed, maybe in anger, maybe in recrimination, and whispered, “I’m sorry, Ted, I’m so sorry,” before climbing swiftly onto his own bunk again.

Ted’s fingers traced his lips, the warmth and wet of saliva still coating them. Shock and need kept him rooted to the spot, his body demanding attention while his brain screamed, What the fuck just happened?! What’s happening?! I’m not gay!

As he lay back in his bunk, emotions in a whirl, Ted couldn’t ignore the fact that he’d gone from an aching head to an aching cock in about fifteen seconds flat.

* * * *

Kissing Ted had been a surprise.

Charlie really hadn’t meant to do it. He’d only meant to give what comfort he could after the obviously bad visit with his ex-wife. Not that he really had any clue how to comfort anymore, that part of himself had been dead and buried for years. Still, a hand on the shoulder had seemed appropriate given that Ted had just about brained himself. And then…then Charlie didn’t know. He’d been sitting right there, next to Ted, the other man’s body heat and scent right there, filling him. And even in the dark he’d seen more of Ted’s pain than he should, felt it really.

So then the kiss.

And oh God, it had felt so good. So damn good. The taste of the only person who’d ever trusted him completely, in his life. The slide of their tongues together and the light ridges on Ted’s palette had urged him on until he’d suddenly realized what he was doing…betraying Ted’s trust. The other man was so hungry for affection that Charlie had no doubt Ted would take whatever Charlie gave him.

Charlie didn’t sleep that night, even though he eventually heard Ted do so. He concentrated on breathing and sublimating the need raging through him for more. It took a long time before he no longer felt Ted’s mouth on his, but he managed it somewhere around dawn. He got up and started his sit-ups, counting silently in his head instead of out loud as he usually did. The repetitive motion soothed while the physical exertion ate away the simmering hunger underlying everything.

Lights came on when he hit fifty in his pushup routine, but he ignored them. Up and down, up and down, breathe, up and down, breathe.

“Charlie?”

He paused, but then continued and asked, “Yes, Ted?”

“You okay?”

“Fine,” he answered.

“I kind of need to, uh, you know. Take a leak?”

Charlie paused again and then hopped lightly to his feet, stretching his arms and moving to let Ted have access to the toilet. He twisted from side to side, limbering up, but kept his back to the other man, giving him privacy. Once he heard Ted finish and start to wash his hands, Charlie turned to gauge his mood.

Ted met his gaze with a shy smile and Charlie nearly groaned out loud. He’d been almost hoping to find a pissed-off Ted, even though that wasn’t really the other man’s nature. Quirking his lips into a brief smile, Charlie bent forward, pressing his palms to the floor and then lifted up and bent backwards to touch the back of his knees. By the time he was upright again, Ted was leaning against the bars of their cell, watching him.

“You get any sleep?” Ted questioned softly.

Charlie evaded, “I rested. Meditated.”

“But you didn’t sleep.”

“Well, no.”

Ted sighed and told him, “Look, Charlie, what happened doesn’t have to mean anything. We’re both intelligent adults who can overlook a momentary lapse.”

“You aren’t freaking out,” Charlie observed, a little surprised.

Giving him a grin, Ted confirmed, “I’m really not. I know, it surprised me too. I guess, well, I’m flattered.”

Charlie laughed in relief and said, “Just when I think I have you figured out.”

Ted chuckled, dark eyes bright with humor as he replied, “Well I have to keep you on your toes somehow.”

A smile lurked, ready to spring on Charlie for the rest of the day. Things went back to normal without a hitch, which left him feeling strangely disappointed. It took an effort for him to focus on the routine of prison life, but by the following day, he’d managed it. If Ted noticed that he stood a little closer than usual or brushed against him in passing now and again, the other man thankfully didn’t mention it.

It was at lunch the day after that, that Charlie heard the first rumblings. Not that anyone took him aside and said, “Hey, we’re gonna riot,” but he knew the signs. There’d been four riots during his nearly nine years at Pelican Bay and Charlie knew the rank smell of massive violence right down to his soul. As soon as he realized what was going on, he cursed himself for being so wrapped up in himself and Ted that he’d missed the earlier signs.

Glancing around the room, he found the Aryans all sitting together and not eating, but talking way too quietly. And halfway down the room, near the food line, the Latinos did the same. Anyone not affiliated with either had their heads down, tension etched into hundreds of shoulders and faces.

“Charlie? What’s…”

Charlie’s hand snapped out to clamp down on Ted’s forearm, squeezing tight. His gaze locked onto worried brown eyes and he silently warned the other man from finishing the question. Ted swallowed visibly and gave a jerky nod, falling silent. Leaning forward, Charlie ordered in a low voice, “When it happens, go straight to the cell. Don’t stop for anything, not even me. When you get there, barricade the opening with whatever you can. I’ll get to you when I can, understood?”

Ted opened his mouth, clearly going to protest, but Charlie squeezed tighter, provoking a wince and another nod.

Riots weren’t just to release pent up frustration and anger, they were a chance to settle scores. Not that he had any scores to settle, but he could think of a few people who would jump at the chance to stick him in the heart. Charlie had no intention of Ted being anywhere near the storm when it broke, not if he could help it.

They were on the way back to the cells after lunch when shouts broke out at the back of the line. Charlie turned to look, keeping a hand on Ted so he knew where he was, and found that a fight had broken out. A vicious one with two Latinos already down and the guards wading in, cracking heads, but losing. More cons joined the fight and then chaos erupted with a roar of a tsunami.

Charlie shoved Ted towards their cell and shouted, “Go!”

Ted ran for it and Charlie bent down to pull the homemade knife from his sock. He walked backwards, keeping an eye on the violence exploding down the line as the men realized there were too few guards to keep them all in line. The noise level grew to intolerable levels, but Charlie ignored it, keeping his pace steady, but as fast as he could make without losing his footing.

And then he spotted Gregson charging down the hall, coming right at him. Charlie stopped, rolling his shoulders and neck, getting loose for the fight that couldn’t be avoided. He spotted the blade in the bigger man’s hand and dispassionately noted that it was a couple of inches longer than his own. With the longer reach on top of that, it would be a bitch of a fight, he could just tell.

“Your bitch is mine, now, Crews!” Gregson snarled.

Charlie half-smiled as they circled and he replied calmly, “Ted belongs only to himself.”

Gregson sneered, “Not for long!” and lunged for him.

Darting aside, Charlie grabbed Gregson’s hand and snapped it back, breaking it in one, smooth movement. When Gregson went down, Charlie wrapped his arm up and around, pushing it to the breaking point as he breathed against the big man’s ear, “You come near him again, I will make you wish you were dead.”

Charlie released the arm only to slam Gregson’s face into his knee, knocking him out and letting him fall to the floor. Just as he stepped back, someone tackled him, shoving him against the wall. Not bothering to see who it was, Charlie drove both elbows back in a punishing blow that caused his attacker to cry out in pain and stagger away.

The full force of the riot had reached him by then and Charlie barely had time to turn and run full out for their cell. Someone else caught him up, grabbing the back of his shirt and spinning him into the side wall. His nose broke on contact, tears instantly welling up to blur his vision. Charlie fell to his knee, struggling to breathe around the blood suddenly in his throat. He spat it out as someone else kicked him in the ribs.

When the foot came back a second time, Charlie let himself lose his reason and intellect. The best way to survive was to react without thought, so he did. He snared the foot and twisted viciously, shoving the man back and jumping to his feet. Pockets of fighting surrounded him, blocking his way back to the cell and he plowed mercilessly through those between him and Ted, the need to make sure the other man was safe driving him on relentlessly.

Four broken wrists, two smashed knees, a concussion, and a dislocated shoulder later, Charlie finished the trail of broken and bleeding bodies he’d left behind. Somehow, Ted had managed to drag the top bunk off its hinges and piled it in front of the opening where the cell door should be. Charlie shoved it partially aside and climbed into the cell only for someone to jump him partway through. Ted appeared from nowhere and brought the unabridged, hard-covered, Harvard dictionary down on the newest attacker’s head. Charlie shoved the unknown man off and let Ted pull him the rest of the way inside.

Panting, Charlie leaned on Ted for a few seconds, hand gripping his friend’s waist for balance as a multitude of aches and pains hit him without warning. Adrenaline still flowed, though, so he used it to advantage and ordered, “Let’s get the other bed up, too.”

Ted nodded, paler than Charlie had ever seen, and they set to work. It took several minutes before Charlie was satisfied, but finally the hole was plugged so that it would take a concerted effort on someone else’s part to dislodge it. The only other person who would probably try was Martinez and Charlie was sure that he’d seen two Aryans beating the shit out of the man.

“Charlie, Charlie, c’mon, let me look at you,” Ted ordered, pulling him over to the sink.

The first thing he did at the sink was spit out more blood that had clogged on the wrong side of his nasal passages. Turning on the faucet, Charlie tried to splash water on his face, but his hands shook too badly.

“Charlie, please sit,” Ted begged. “Let me help you.”

So he let Ted bring him to the footlocker to sit down. His ribs protested, but not in any way that made him think they were broken, or even cracked, so he ignored them. He watched as Ted soaked a hand towel and came back, carefully washing Charlie’s face.

Ted looked at the throbbing mass in the center of Charlie’s face and announced, “I think it’s broken.”

Charlie laughed briefly, confirming, “It is. Hurts like a bitch, too.”

“Where else are you hurt?” Ted asked.

Shrugging, Charlie reported, “Just bruises and a couple of cuts. I got off light this time.”

Ted echoed faintly, “This time?”

“Don’t ask.”

“All right then.”

Ted gazed at him for a long moment and then said, “Are you okay?”

Charlie thought about it for an equally long moment before responding, “I am.”

Letting out a shaky sigh, Ted rested a hand on Charlie’s shoulder and admitted, “I didn’t think I would see you again. I thought someone would kill you for sure.”

Thinking back to all the fights he’d been in the first few years, Charlie told him, “Takes a lot to put me down these days, Ted.”

“So I see,” Ted agreed, wry, sitting next to him.

And then, as they sat looking at each other, the tension from three nights ago slammed back into Charlie. He shouldn’t have been surprised, not with the fight or flight urge thrumming through him, but he was. Ted’s eyes widened, as if knowing exactly what he thought about. Swallowing against a dry through, Charlie forced himself upright with a minor groan and walked back to the sink.

Ted followed him and then upped the ante, leaning on Charlie’s back as he said, “I’m not some kid you have to protect from yourself, Charlie. You’re one of the most honorable men I’ve ever known. I trust you more than I have trusted anyone else in my life. And okay, most of the people in my life were shit before I got arrested, but…I trust you more than I ever did my wife.”

The warmth of his lips against Charlie’s throat sent a slice of need and pain simultaneously through him. Gripping the sink with both hands, Charlie stared at the white porcelain as if it could tell him what to do. He struggled against it, he bit his lip bloody not to say it, but they escaped anyhow in a low, helpless voice, “I didn’t do it, Ted. I didn’t kill anyone. I shouldn’t be here.”

Ted’s hand slid up his back to curve over Charlie’s shoulder as he answered, “I know. I know you didn’t.”

Startled, Charlie looked from the sink to those brown eyes that showed everything. All he saw there was certainty and belief. The walls he’d so desperately put up came crumbling down and he seized Ted’s mouth in a hungry, aching kiss. Ted gasped into it, opening to it as his hands clutched at Charlie’s torn and bloody shirt. Devouring his mouth, thrusting his tongue into Ted’s mouth to taste that belief if at all possible, Charlie walked them to a wall and pressed Ted against it.

His hands fumbled at Ted’s pants as he continued to plunder the other man’s mouth. Finally, he could shove them down and wrap his hand around Ted’s dick. They both groaned at the contact, the sounds melting together as Charlie stroked him a few times. Ted tore at Charlie’s shirt until it came off and then his hands roamed over his chest to slide around his waist and hold on, pulling Charlie in tight.

“Wait, wait, Ted,” Charlie ordered, gasping to catch his breath. “Wait a second.”

Ted blinked at him, fuzzy with desire, and Charlie smiled at the sight. Attractive in a conservative way on a normal day, Charlie had to admit that he’d never seen anyone in quite the same light as he did Ted. The lines on his face, the gray hair, a white-collar body that had passed into middle age without much of a fight; individually, those would be seen as faults by society, but to Charlie they all made up Ted.

And Ted was damn hot right then.

Finally regaining his voice, Ted asked, “What is it?”

“Nothing,” Charlie replied, bending down to take his mouth again.

Ted kissed back, but not in an aggressive fashion. He explored while Charlie took care of his own pants, tongue sliding into Charlie’s mouth and against his tongue. When he pressed up against Ted, skin to skin, they both groaned again. Charlie knew he wouldn’t last long, as much as he wanted to take his time. Not only did he not know when the riot might get put down, it had just been too long since anyone had touched him the way Ted was, hands petting restlessly up and down his back.

Breaking off the kiss as he thrust their cocks together, Charlie licked a path along Ted’s throat and up to his ear. From the harsh breaths the other man took, he suspected he wasn’t the only one about to come. He bit lightly at the juncture of throat and shoulder as his hips continued to pump their shafts together.

“Oh God, Oh God, Charlie!” Ted moaned, shuddering as he came, coating Charlie’s hand.

His own need spiraled over and he thrust a couple more times before his balls exploded and he came all over Ted’s shirt, biting down hard as darkness hit him without warning. He only vaguely heard a worried exclamation from Ted and barely felt as the other man caught and then lowered him to the floor.

After that, he passed out, knowing that doing so was the stupidest thing he’d done in a long time.

* * * *

The sounds of the riot woke Charlie some time later and he found his head cushioned on Ted’s lap. Looking up at the other man, he asked, “How long was I out?”

“Not long. Half-hour, maybe,” Ted answered. “I tried to set your nose while you were out, but that first aid class was a long time ago.”

Since the throbbing had downgraded to an ache, it seemed that Ted had done a pretty good job. The rest of his body chimed in with various pains, his ribs most significantly, but for the most part Charlie felt content in a way he hadn’t since before being arrested. Charlie took Ted’s hand, lacing their fingers together, and closed his eyes. “The riot will keep going until it burns itself out. They won’t risk any guards to rein us in unless there are hostages. Kind of like a self-cleaning oven.”

Ted snorted. “Not an analogy I would’ve come up with.”

Charlie smiled and told him, “That’s why you have me.”

Ted’s hand tightened briefly on his, prompting Charlie to open his eyes, but the other only said, “Get some sleep, Charlie. I’ll wake you if anything happens.”

Sleep would be the best thing, but it proved elusive. For the most part, Charlie simply lay there and relished how easy it was to be with Ted. The other man had adapted to him in a way that no one else would or, probably, could. He didn’t even blink at Charlie’s more esoteric ramblings and talked to fill the silence when Charlie couldn’t stand to listen to his own voice any more.

And yet, it wasn’t love. Not love as he’d thought about it before, anyhow. Could he love Ted when they barely knew anything about each other? Anything real, at least. Sure, they’d gone over plenty of superficial likes, dislikes, pet peeves, wants, needs, frustrations, and angers, but none of the nitty-gritty. There’d been no baring of souls like Charlie remembered with Jennifer, back in the day.

At some point he did fall asleep, because Ted shook his shoulder and said, “Charlie, something’s going on.”

He groaned as he stood, holding his side, and went to peer out of their makeshift door. The hall was a complete disaster, but it was the guards in full riot gear that got his attention. They looked like they were out for blood and he quickly moved to the back wall, commanding, “Get over here, Ted!”

Ted hurried over to him and they waited against the wall until one of the guards stopped to look inside. “Get this out of the way!”

Charlie tugged Ted forward and they pulled down the bottom bunk, setting it in place and then dragging the top bunk back into place. The cell door slammed shut as soon as it could and he breathed a sigh of relief. How strange to be happy that they were locked indefinitely in their cell, but it was the safest place for them. No “accidental” shootings. Especially with Constance looking into his case and making a fuss about his health on a regular basis, whether he wanted her to or not.

They spent the next half-hour putting the bed back to how it should be, making sure the fastenings were intact again. Charlie hopped up onto the top bunk and bounced around a couple of times, grinning down at Ted’s wince, the other clearly expecting the bunks to fall apart. “Seems to be staying.”

“You could have just tried it out without so much moving around,” Ted scolded, exasperated. “You could’ve hurt yourself. Ah, more. You know what I mean.”

Charlie stretched out and sighed in relative comfort.

“Charlie?”

Turning his head, he found Ted standing next to the bunk with an uncertain expression in place. “Yes, Ted?”

“Um, you could sleep down here with me,” he suggested.

Charlie shook his head, a little surprised at the sliver of regret when he had to say, “I can’t. We can’t change how we act or everything else changes.”

Ted frowned and then nodded, sighing as he sat on his own bunk.

Looking at the ceiling, Charlie knew that he was right. If others found out they weren’t just cellmates…he wasn’t sure what would happen, really, but couldn’t risk it turning out badly for Ted. They would have to keep things strictly friends during the day, maintain their routine. Not that that would be hard. He and Ted were friends. It wasn’t like they had nothing to do outside of sex.

* * * *

It was like Charlie’s body and mind suddenly remembered that his dick was for more than pissing and the occasional, pathetic masturbation session. The few hours before lights out passed very slowly with Charlie’s mind flashing back to things like the soft gasps Ted made, the feel of his warm skin, the heavy weight of his cock in Charlie’s hand. All the mental images shot right through him, keeping him hard and aching and very glad that he had nowhere to be since he doubted his hard-on would go anywhere until he took care of it.

When dinner came, Charlie sat up so he could put his pillow over his lap and take the tray from Ted. Amusement lit the other man’s dark eyes as if he knew exactly what Charlie hid under the pillow, but there were no comments. The food was even more bland than normal and he didn’t bother to make conversation about the lack of what passed for fruit. Ted took his tray when the guards came back, flashing him a brief grin before his gaze lowered to Charlie’s lap. He actually whistled cheerfully as he walked to return the trays through the bars.

The jerk.

And then lights went out. An unnatural stillness descended over their wing of the prison, almost like a sense of anticipation to echo the one Charlie felt. He waited, knowing the guards would make their usual rounds. At least all the time to rest had given his body the space it needed to start healing. His nose was only a minor ache, although he was sure it looked horrific, and the rest of his various bruises had receded to almost nothing.

The guards finally went on their rounds, cursing out various prisoners on their way. Charlie listened as Ted relieved himself and he almost quipped, “Need a hand with that?” but restrained himself with a grin. Once Ted had washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and stripped, the soft rustle of clothes loud in the silence, a surge of desire ran through him because there was no indication that Ted had gotten into the sweats he generally wore to bed.

He gave it another ten minutes before climbing down and taking care of his own business at the toilet and sink. Even in the dark his nose looked swollen and he grimaced, wondering if he should spare Ted the sight of him at such a close range. He’d almost convinced himself to do so when his ears picked out a soft sigh from behind and the tell-tale slide of flesh on flesh that told him exactly what Ted was doing while he waited for Charlie to make up his mind.

Turning to the bed, he leaned on it and looked down at Ted. In the dark, all he saw was the general shape of spread legs and the movement of hand on dick. “Having fun?”

Ted chuckled breathlessly and answered, “Be more fun if you joined me.”

“It would, wouldn’t, it?” Charlie commented.

He pulled off his shirt and tossed it in the corner. His pants and briefs followed before he bent down to climb in beside Ted. It was a tight fit, but they managed. Charlie hooked a leg over Ted’s hip, lying partially on top of him, and propped himself on an elbow. Looking down, he said, “We really can’t act different during the day.”

Ted nodded and replied, “I know. And I don’t care, really, as long as um, you know. We can do this. Have this.”

Charlie leaned forward and took his mouth in a slow kiss, just because he could. Ted returned it, their tongues moving languidly together in a better exploration than what had happened earlier. He didn’t need to keep track of anything but the man next to him, no worrying about someone storming in. Or, not as much worry at least. The guards could stop by and break it up at any time, but he didn’t need to think about other cons.

His hand slid over Ted’s chest, feeling out the contours as his fingers slid through the chest hair. The other man was no Adonis by any stretch, but he was solid and that felt good to Charlie. Lowering his hand, he gripped Ted’s dick and stroked it lightly, enjoying how he gasped into the kiss and his hips moved after the touch. He broke off the kiss and shifted slightly to lick along his throat, sucking lightly at the base of it, but not lingering enough to make a hickie. It surprised him, how much he wanted to do so, but he moved on.

They didn’t have anything like lube, so penetration was out of the question, but there were other things they could do. He murmured against Ted’s ear, “Ever give someone a blowjob?”

Ted shuddered and shook his head, stammering, “N-no, I never, I’ve never done anything with another guy.”

Transitional hetero, Charlie thought in dark amusement. He’d heard about it for years. How a guy wouldn’t even look at another man outside, but in prison things weren’t nearly as rigidly defined. Still, he didn’t blame Ted for reacting to the comfort and touch in such a bleak environment. It wasn’t like he wasn’t doing the same thing. Shaking off the train of thought, he asked, “Want to give it a try, or just jerk off again?”

“Um…” Ted gave him an uncertain look.

Charlie took pity on him and said, “Handjobs it is.”

“Charlie, I just umph!”

Stopping the words with his own mouth, Charlie devoured Ted in a strong, hungry kiss, licking along the other’s tongue and palette in a teasing manner. It had been so long since he’d had such intimacy Charlie was more than happy just to keep kissing forever. Shifting over Ted, he planted himself between Ted’s legs and rubbed their groins together. He shuddered at the friction and undulated stronger, increasing the contact of their cocks together.

Ted moaned, thrusting up against him, fingers digging into Charlie’s arms as he gasped, “Oh God, Charlie!”

He kept it going for a few minutes just to watch the shadow of Ted’s face from the barely there light of the hall. He was open mouthed with either pleasure or need, both Charlie hoped, and his eyes clenched shut when Charlie reached down to rub Ted’s balls. Only a few seconds later, another ragged thrust, and Ted shuddered, coating them both with his come.

Charlie sat back on his knees, stroking himself off to the wrecked expression on Ted’s face. It was like his very own porn as Ted panted and tried to bring himself under control. And then he seemed to realize what was going on, because he pushed upright and flashed that lopsided grin of his before taking hold of Charlie’s erection and adding to the pressure. That was enough to push him over the edge and he grunted in release as he came, splattering Ted with come.

Leaning forward, he pushed Ted back and stretched out beside him. Trailing his fingers over the spunk on Ted’s abs, he grinned briefly and brought a finger up for a curious taste.

“Oh, Charlie, that’s just gross,” Ted complained. “And how do you know I’m safe, anyhow?”

Licking at the salty blandness smeared on his finger, Charlie countered, “I’m not going anywhere, what does it matter?”

“Still.”

“Ted?”

“Yeah, Charlie?”

“Go to sleep.”

Ted snorted, but slid an arm around Charlie’s waist as he said, “Good night, Charlie.”

When all was said and done, it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Someone could take offense to Charlie or Ted looking at them wrong so anyone knowing about them wouldn’t really do much except give another excuse. The only thing that really mattered was life and that included the man in his arms. Charlie hitched a leg over the smaller man possessively and breathed Ted in, relaxing against him as he breathed out. Not just his own porn, but his own personal teddy bear.

The thought made him smile as he drifted into sleep.