The Poet’s Eye
“The best thing about art,” said Ambrose Jacobs to the ten children sitting on the library rug, “is that there aren’t any rules. Because there’s no limit to your imagination, there’s no limit on what you can create. If you want to use a piece of asparagus as a paint brush and make purple dinosaurs drinking lemonade out of cowboy hats, then that is exactly what you should do.”
There were a few giggles from the kids at this. “It’s just the same for poetry,” Ambrose said. “You can make a poem about anything you imagine, and it can be as long or short as you want, and it can rhyme or not rhyme. You can start every word with the same letter or write a poem that uses every letter of the alphabet.”
Ambrose was waving his hands in the air at this point. He’d long since given up trying to be an adult when talking to children. “And did you know that you can actually draw with words? You can write words in a big circle where some of them are upside down, or you can drop your words from clouds like rain. There aren’t any rules. Your poem will be good simply because it’s something you created out of your imagination.”
Ambrose moved over to the white board that the library staff had wheeled into the room. “Today I thought we might start by writing a poem all together. Now a lot of times, poets write about the things that they see and hear in their own lives.” He pointed to the window of the library, which gave a view of the park outside, crowded with children and parents, food stands, dogs on leashes, and even a fire truck opened up for visitors. “So what do you see out there?” Ambrose asked.
The children yelled answers and Ambrose began to write them on the white board. “You know,” he mused, “I think we might have the makings of a story poem here. That’s the kind of poem that tells a story, just like a regular story that you’d find in a book, but in the form of a poem. What do you think?”
The children seemed enthusiastic, so Ambrose said, “All right, I’ll get us started with the first line, and then the rest of it will come from you all.” He made various I’m thinking deep thoughts faces, which got a few laughs, and he turned to them in pretend disapproval. “Now, now, none of that. This is going to be a very serious poem, and there will be no laughing.” He waited until he had quiet and then said, “All right, the first line of our very serious poem is— Today, my library book ate my hot dog.” All of the kids burst into giggles.
The poem turned out wonderfully, if Ambrose did say so himself. It ended up taking the form of a picture on the white board, with a whole verse written on the side of a rocket ship blasting into the air. Most of the words wound in and out of trees while library books did their best to jump up and eat them. The librarian took a picture for their website.
Then it was time for the kids to write their own poems on pieces of paper, and they were as beautiful and ridiculous and poignant as always. The library hung the poems in a display on their walls, but Ambrose was sure to get photos of them. This poetry workshop for the city’s Children’s Day was his favorite event of the whole year. Ambrose gave many writing workshops for adults, and there were always some humorous moments there, but nothing could compare to the laughter of children, uninhibited and free.
Ambrose was thirty-seven. A fine age for a poet. Younger than he’d hoped to be when he reached the level of fame where he was paid not only for his poems but for giving workshops. (Ambrose always donated his time to the library, though. Getting the chance to be creative with kids was its own reward, and oftentimes Ambrose came out of it with ideas for new work.) Sometimes Ambrose imagined what it might be like to have children of his own, inspiring him daily. Writing their own poems as they got older. Critiquing Ambrose’s work with a mixture of teasing and kind words.
Of course, when Ambrose thought about having children, it made thirty-seven seem very old indeed.
Ambrose walked out of the library and into the park. The day was very warm, especially after spending the afternoon in the air conditioning. Ambrose stopped to remove his jacket, and, as he often did, he fell into watching the scene with what his mother had called “the poet’s eye.” It just meant that sometimes the world seemed to Ambrose not so much life as living art, made up primarily of the colors and shapes that appeared when you unfocused your gaze a little bit. It was maybe, he thought, like getting a glimpse at what God had seen when They were first bringing the world into life, and everything was just sketches and rough drafts.
Right now, the sky was cloudless and a bright enough blue that it might be called turquoise. The trees in the park had lost the fussiness of their spring flowers and had taken on their summer job of stretching calm, broad green leaves over the ground to make shade. The blue and green colors seemed much more vibrant at the moment because of the flare of bright, brazen red that was the fire truck in the middle of the park.
Ambrose painted sometimes, although not professionally, and he thought he might be looking at a nearly perfect tableau right now. Blue, green, and the splash of red. The scene would hardly need anything more than that to define the city’s annual Children’s Day.
It was perhaps a little unfair that the first time Ambrose ever saw Caleb Dayton, he was looking at the world with the poet’s eye, because it meant that Dayton was a work of art to Ambrose before he was anything else. He was a palate of bold colors: black boots, bright yellow turnout pants, a black shirt, pale skin, black sunglasses and bright red hair cut short on the sides and flopping a little over his forehead.
He completed the scene, was the first thought Ambrose had. This man was all that had been missing. The striking contrast of his clothes, and the hair red as the truck behind him, as if he might be a little bit of the fire engine himself, its friendly face, its way to grin. He was grinning quite a bit at children, helping them climb into the truck and out of it, showing the hoses and the tools hidden in secret panels. He seemed the emotional center of Children’s Day.
Gradually, Ambrose let the reality of the park come back, and he started to see the people everywhere, a chaotic mix of color and movement. The smell of food and the noise of the crowd registered to him again. As his gaze on the firefighter sharpened, Ambrose realized that the man was handsome, beyond just the pleasing colors and angles of him. He had a sharp nose and high cheekbones, and an almost gaunt face that matched the lean beauty of the rest of him, which looked even leaner rising of the enormous turnout pants that hung from his shoulders on suspenders. And he was young. Ambrose could see it in the way he moved, the energy of him. He probably wasn’t more than twenty-five.
Ambrose became aware that he was staring because someone else became aware that he was staring. Ambrose had hardly noticed the other firefighters in the park, but one of them shouted and waved to him, and he nearly jumped. Jill Device had been Ambrose’s friend and neighbor for years. She came over to greet him now, wearing shorts and a Fire Department t-shirt, with all of her dark hair piled up on top of her head.
“Poetry workshop, right?” Jill asked. Ambrose nodded and Jill— no fool she— turned around so that she could take in what Ambrose’s view was from this spot. “Oh,” she said, with a grin. “Finding a new muse, are we?”
“Jill,” Ambrose complained, feeling like he must be blushing. Actually, he was most likely both blushing and getting sunburned on top of it.
“His name is Caleb Dayton,” Jill said, sounding completely unashamed of herself. “He goes by Dayton, though. New guy, but a good one. Fair firehouse cook. Strong as hell. Creative, trustworthy.”
“Does he know you go around advertising him?”
Jill smiled up at him, her eyes bright with excitement beneath her round glasses. “Let me introduce you.”
“No. Thank you.”
“Because—” Ambrose didn’t finish the sentence, but he did look down at himself, without really meaning to. He was wearing white linen pants, a baby blue collared shirt, and brown sandals that showed his pedicured toes. He was an overdressed fussy nerd with a bit of extra weight on him, and probably one of a dozen people in the park who thought Caleb Dayton was maddeningly attractive. Surely if Dayton were looking for companionship— which, of course, he probably wasn’t— he could find a better option.
“He’s busy,” was what Ambrose said.
Jill twisted her mouth a little. “You know what? You’re right. He’s been busy out there a while. Probably needs a break. I should go take over for him.” She took Ambrose’s arm and pulled him along with her. “He’s got to be hungry. And since this is his first Children’s Day, I’m sure he doesn’t know what food stands are around. He could use a guide.”
Ambrose could have refused. He could have simply left. Jill would deal with it. But instead Ambrose went along with her as if there were no other choice, and then he was standing face to face with Caleb Dayton, firefighter and human work of art.
Dayton was wearing sunglasses, so it was difficult to guess where his gaze was going. But he seemed to give Ambrose a little bit of an assessing glance. Ambrose hoped any flush to his skin would be taken for the effects of environmental heat.
Dayton had a little girl on his hip, halfway between the seat of the fire truck and the ground. When Jill introduced them, Dayton reached out his free hand to shake Ambrose’s, and the little girl promptly stuck out her hand too. Ambrose shook both hands in all seriousness.
Dayton smiled. It was a thing of beauty. “This is future firefighter Angie,” Dayton said. He set her down and Jill gave her a silver sticker that looked like a badge. Angie ran off to show it to a man who must have been her father.
Which left Dayton standing there just looking at Ambrose.
Now, Ambrose Jacobs was proud of the fact that he had more than once been called an artist with words. Naturally, this was the first thing he said to Dayton: “So you’re a firefighter.”
Jill, to her credit, did not laugh, but she turned her face away, as if she needed to hide something.
Dayton looked down at his bright yellow turnout pants and then back up. “Uh, yeah,” he said.
Ambrose cleared his throat. “That’s, um, lovely.”
“So are you here with your kids?” Dayton asked.
“Oh, no. No children.” Which no doubt sounded odd, since this was, in fact, Children’s Day. “I was teaching a class,” Ambrose explained hastily. “At the library.”
“Ambrose is a poet,” Jill spoke up.
Ambrose was usually fairly proud of his occupation. It suited him, at least. Something creative but quiet, personal but meaningful to others. What more could one ask for in a career? But standing next to people who had done much more practical things with their lives sometimes made Ambrose feel a little ashamed of it.
“We, um, we had a line about the fire truck in the poem the children and I wrote today,” he said, trying to turn the conversation back onto the subject of Dayton.
It was successful. “About my truck?” Dayton asked, looking very interested.
“Oh, are you the driver?” Ambrose inquired.
“In training,” Jill cut in. “It’s not his truck.”
“It’s my truck,” Dayton assured Ambrose, leaning back against it in a very suave manner. “So what was the line in the poem?”
“Oh, um, well, one of the girls knew that there was a sea creature, a monster, I guess you’d say, called a siren. After she explained it to everyone, they decided they wanted that pun in the poem, so we said The siren stole the fire truck and swiftly sailed away.”
Dayton snapped his fingers. “Wasn’t there a line kind of like that in that poem about the Pobble? Crafty mermaids stole his toes?”
Ambrose again demonstrated his masterful word skills by saying, “You…know poetry?”
Dayton laughed this time. “Kid poetry.” He was lovely when he laughed, Ambrose realized. And yet there was something rather haunting about it, because Dayton was so very happy and so very young, like a dish that had never been broken, that had never needed to be put back together. It made him seem all the more fragile.
It made Ambrose suddenly feel very old and clumsy.
“You know, you guys should discuss it!” Jill was saying. “Dayton, I’ll take over. You can grab something to eat.”
“Oh, um, I should get going, actually,” Ambrose said quickly. “Busy day for me.” Jill looked disappointed. Ambrose didn’t look for Dayton’s reaction, not wanting to see the relief there, polite though it would surely be.
“It was nice to meet you,” Ambrose said. And then, like a completely competent adult, he fled.
After Jill took over working at the fire truck,
Dayton grabbed a couple of hot dogs and a lemonade and wandered the craft booths for a little while— without the turnout pants, thankfully. The booths offered things like finger-painting, face-painting, and crafts made out of gumdrops and toothpicks. There was a plastic tub full of bubble solution, and Dayton took a turn creating the bubbles for a while, waving the wand at the right speed to send terribly unstable but admirably large bubbles out into the sunshine, with children scampering after them.
Eventually Dayton went back to helping Jill show the kids the fire truck— his truck. The kids liked to sit in the driver’s seat and to put their feet into the big black boots and to wear their stickers that proclaimed them firefighters. Some kids had gone all out, showing up to Children’s Day wearing little yellow coats and red plastic fire helmets. The fire truck was clearly the highlight of the festival for them, and Dayton knew that it would have been the same for him at that age as well. Dayton had seen an interview once with a paleontologist who explained his career choice as “I got obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid and never grew out of it.” There were a few firefighters who could say the same, Dayton included. It had been an escape for him as a kid, to imagine himself helping people.
Dayton waited until he hoped he could sound completely casual before asking Jill, “So how do you know Ambrose?”
Jill got a little smirk on her face, which meant Dayton must have sounded interested. Which he was. From the moment he’d seen Ambrose. From the moment Ambrose had shaken the hand of the kid in Dayton’s arms. Ambrose was— well, he was beautiful, for one thing. Almost like an angel standing there in the sunlight, blond curls like a halo, all soft curves and rosy cheeks that got rosier when he was flustered.
If Dayton had a type, it honestly wasn’t based on appearance, although Ambrose Jacobs certainly wasn’t lacking in the looks department. It was something else, something intangible. The people that knocked Dayton’s socks off (usually literally) were— well, honestly Dayton had no real idea of what it was they possessed that sent his heart aflutter, though he certainly wished he did. But whatever it was, Ambrose seemed to have it in spades.
“Ambrose is my neighbor,” Jill said. “Lives two doors down.”
Dayton was helping a little boy try on a real fire helmet— stripped down to weigh as little as possible— and a couple more kids ran up to him then, so he didn’t get to ask right away for anything more helpful than that.
An hour later, the sun had slipped down in the sky enough to lose its grip on the day and the heat broke, providing the world with a far more pleasant temperature for early evening. Children’s Day was winding up, and Dayton started closing up the fire truck.
Jill came over to help. “Ambrose is an old friend. We’ve been close since Kris and I moved into the neighborhood. He’s gay as a tube of glitter lipstick, in case you couldn’t tell.”
Dayton made some sort of vocal noise that turned into a cough. He also felt himself start to blush a little, which was ridiculous.
Jill was laughing. “You can tell me to stop and I will,” she said, and then immediately held up her hand. “Before you do: he’s a very talented writer, but modest and generous. Just as sweet as he looks. Very good at the violin but I think he prefers to play the kind of music where it’s called a fiddle.”
Dayton gave her a scowl. “Are you done?”
She grinned. “Depends, what else do you want to know?”
“Why are you playing matchmaker?”
Jill smirked, as if she’d been waiting for this question. “Because you two have more in common than you think.”
“What does that mean?”
Jill shrugged. “You’ll just have to get to know him and find out.”
Dayton walked home from the park since his apartment was nearby. Jill drove the truck back with a couple of the firefighters who were on overnight duty. Dayton grabbed a shower and then cooked a small batch of chicken pasta, enough for tonight and tomorrow. He ate on his little balcony that had a view of the park and library in the distance. His cat sniffed around at the balcony plants in their pots, and then joined him, folding his paws beneath himself as he sampled the chicken.
Dayton was not a talented writer, so that certainly wasn’t what he had in common with Ambrose. Assuming Jill was to be believed that they even had things in common. It didn’t seem like that at first blush. Ambrose was the bookish type. Dayton liked books, if they were mysteries or adventures. One of his early teachers had loved poetry, and so Dayton had grown up with The Jabberwocky and The Owl And the Pussycat, but actual adult poetry didn’t really interest him. He probably would look like an idiot trying to read Ambrose’s work, unable to understand its true meaning.
Maybe it was music? Dayton had an old upright piano in his apartment and was skilled enough that at least the neighbors didn’t complain. Ambrose played the fiddle, so maybe—
But of course, all this was ridiculous, asking Jill about Ambrose, musing about the man over dinner. Dayton had gotten used to being alone. There had been lovers here and there, but no one lasting. Dayton was looking for something he couldn’t define and had only ever glimpsed in bits and pieces in the people he took home with him. Maybe if he’d been able to put a name to it, whatever it was behind the sex that called to him, he could have been more confident in his searching. Ambrose— Ambrose would have no trouble with words. Maybe somehow he could tell Dayton what it was that it was about him that had taken Dayton’s breath away.
Except that Ambrose wasn’t interested. He and Dayton had been introduced, and then as soon as it was polite, Ambrose had left, rather than spend time with Dayton at the fair. So really, what Dayton ought to do was to forget about the poor man, finish his dinner, play with his cat, and go to bed.
Dayton managed to do three out of four of those things.
Jill had a couple of June-blooming rose bushes in her yard, and Ambrose was enjoying their scent immensely. The grass beneath his sandals was bright green and laced with violets, like the lawn had been embroidered with them. The afternoon sun gave everything a sharp quality, like a picture fully in focus, until a cloud would pass in front of it and the world would slip into gentler, fuzzier, muted colors.
Jill and her spouse, Kris, hosted an annual early summer barbeque at their house for neighbors and friends from work. Many of them were gathered on the lawn, chatting and laughing, and the smell of meat and vegetables cooking on the grill gave the air an almost gritty quality beneath the thick aroma of the roses.
Jill inviting friends from work meant, of course, that the other firefighters were always present at this party, and yet somehow, Ambrose hadn’t quite let himself anticipate that Dayton might be there. He was new to the station, and therefore probably would be stuck working during this event, wouldn’t he?
And yet, there he was, with his dark sunglasses and bright red hair, standing by the grill in a deliciously tight blue t-shirt and a pair of shorts, drinking something out of a red plastic cup and chatting with some of the other firefighters.
Dayton was just as lovely as he had been at the park the week before, and now there was even more of him that Ambrose could see. He had very attractive legs beneath those shorts, the shapely calves of an athlete. Firefighters were always running up and down stairs or something, weren’t they? Or maybe Dayton ran around his neighborhood to stay fit.
In any case, Ambrose, who was wearing his usual summer outfit of white linen pants and a collared shirt— pink today— was not interested in bothering any gorgeous firefighters with his presence. He was very happy standing by the roses, drinking hard lemonade, and talking with his neighbors about some television show that Ambrose had never watched, but had at least heard of.
That worked well enough until Jill found him and announced that the chicken legs that Ambrose liked so much were the next things to come off the grill. So then Ambrose had to approach the grill, but to his relief and disappointment, Dayton was no longer there. Ambrose looked around and saw that Dayton was playing soccer with some of the neighborhood kids in an adjoining yard. Some of the kids were teenagers and neared Dayton’s height, but most of the players were smaller children who shrieked with a kind of delighted aggression whenever they got to kick the ball. And Dayton— seeming like a runner now for sure— was quick enough on his feet to make sure that the little ones kept finding the ball within kicking range.
Jill, of course, caught Ambrose staring at Dayton, but Kris rolled their eyes and pulled her away before she could start in, for which Ambrose was grateful. He filled his plate with a chicken leg and various casseroles and salads from the picnic table buffet, and he was about to go find another corner of the yard to occupy when he heard a shout of alarm and something smacked hard into his ankle. Ambrose looked down to see that the soccer ball had crossed the lawn and rebounded off of his leg, and then before he knew it, his arms were full of a small child who’d been chasing after it, right into the hot grill.
Ambrose’s food ended up on the lawn, and so did he, having caught the child with such force that the rebound knocked him onto his rear. But he didn’t mind, not even the fact that he no doubt now had grass stains on his white pants, because he had a little boy on his lap who appeared to be completely unharmed. Even the grill was still standing, rather than spilling hot coals onto the grass.
The little boy seemed just as surprised as Ambrose by the turn of events, and looked up at him with wide eyes. “It’s okay,” Ambrose said soothingly, and then they were surrounded by people, including Dayton, who came down to his knees in the grass next to them, with his hand on Ambrose’s shoulder.
“Everyone all right?” he asked, in full firefighter mode, checking them over for injuries with nimble fingers.
“I think we’re fine,” Ambrose said, repressing a shiver at Dayton’s unexpected touch. The boy’s mother lifted him into her arms. She was one of the neighbors, Polly, and that made the little boy Nick, Ambrose thought.
“Oh, thank you, Ambrose,” Polly breathed. “I swear he needs a guardian angel.” She checked her son over herself, even though Ambrose and Dayton had both done it, and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
Dayton gave a little laugh. “Well, he had one, didn’t he?”
Ambrose had started to get up, and was surprised to have Dayton offer him a hand. When he took it, Dayton pulled him to standing as if Ambrose weighed nothing. Well, hadn’t Jill mentioned that? Strong as hell, she’d said. Ambrose cleared his throat. “I was just in the right place at the right time,” he protested.
Dayton gave him an oddly shy smile. “Well, that’s part of an angel’s job, isn’t it?”
Ambrose tried to think of something to say and also tried not to blush. He was not successful at either endeavor. He was saved by Jill handing him a new plate of food. “I think I replaced everything you had on there,” she said, giving him a one-armed hug. “Dayton, did you eat yet?”
Dayton shook his head. “No, I should grab something.” To Ambrose’s surprise, Dayton waved a hand in his direction, but didn’t quite look at him. “I’m new,” he said. “Which you know. Of course. I meant, uh— do you want to maybe show me what’s good? Always stuff at potlucks, you know, that the locals know to avoid or that is the best…” He trailed off.
“I’d be glad to,” Ambrose said quietly. And to Jill’s credit, she said nothing at all, just melted back into the crowd and left them alone.
At first, the talk between Ambrose and Dayton was stilted, running into pauses and drifting around in an aimless way. But it seemed like they both wanted the discussion to go somewhere, and eventually it did. Dayton started talking about having played soccer in high school, and that led to a conversation about how he’d trained as an EMT and then attended the Fire Academy. Ambrose got to hear a funny story about Dayton’s first training fire that involved Dayton in ill-fitting boots and clumsiness on a scale hitherto unknown to man, as Dayton phrased it, and a funny story about a real, although thankfully minor fire and a family dog that was determined to help the firefighters carry all of their gear. And there was a poignant story about bystanders rescuing the victims of a car crash before help arrived. Ambrose made a mental note to get CPR training. It was a nice thought that maybe he’d be able to help someone that way some day.
But after all of that, Ambrose was somewhat reluctant to disclose his education: college and graduate degrees in creative writing. Poetry was a far less useful thing to the world than medical and fire training.
But to Ambrose’s surprise, Dayton actually looked impressed. “Couldn’t do that,” he said. “Writing things for the world to see— way scarier than going into a burning building.”
“Well, I couldn’t possibly do what you do,” Ambrose said quickly. “Saving lives—”
“You did pretty well with the kid,” Dayton said, with a smile. “So at least you’re qualified to be a guardian angel.”
Ambrose started making some objection, but he stilled as Dayton pushed his sunglasses up onto his head. It made Ambrose realize that they’d been talking so long that the daylight was nearly gone now. But there was enough light from the torches Jill had placed around the yard to see that Dayton’s eyes were a brilliant hazel, almost gold. Ambrose promptly got lost in staring at them, traces of phrases wandering through his mind in an effort to describe the color.
This loss of focus was made easier by the fact that Ambrose was now a little tipsy. He’d had two hard lemonades, and that was a lot for him, but it had seemed like a good idea to have a little liquid courage if he was going to talk to Dayton all evening.
Dayton had apparently had the same thought, because he’d clearly gotten into a slightly inebriated state himself, which was probably why he said, “You look like one, you know.”
Ambrose pulled himself out of his dive into the poor man’s eyes. “Like what?” he asked.
“Like an angel.” Dayton waved a hand in the direction of Ambrose’s head. “Your hair, when the sun hits it. Looks like a halo.” He laughed. “Sorry, you’re the poet. I must sound ridiculous to you.”
“No,” Ambrose breathed. “No, you—”
Ambrose couldn’t think of quite what to say either, but that was all right for once, because he realized that this was not a time for words. It was deeper than that. Easier, maybe. A moment like this put them on equal footing, the man of letters and the man of capable grace, reduced to what could be said with eyes alone.
Dayton’s hands wavered a little at his sides, and then he held one out to Ambrose.
Ambrose took it and then they were stepping into the darkness between houses and Dayton had Ambrose pushed up against the wall, and then that magnificent, beautiful man was kissing him.
Dayton was so warm, and his hands were insistent, too busy roaming Ambrose’s body to really hold him against the wall, but Ambrose wasn’t going anywhere. He made a little moaning sound, and then one of his hands slipped behind Dayton’s neck to hold him into the kiss. Dayton groaned and the kiss got deeper.
Dayton’s mouth was hot and wet and his tongue swept into Ambrose’s mouth in a demanding way that made Ambrose shiver. Ambrose slipped his other hand beneath Dayton’s shirt to feel his smooth skin, and Dayton moaned into his mouth.
But Ambrose pushed him away a little. “Wait, wait,” he whispered. “How drunk are you?”
Dayton rested their foreheads together, breathing hard. He was a little taller than Ambrose and Ambrose very much liked looking up at him. “Tipsy,” Dayton said. “Shouldn’t drive. But I know what I’m doing.” The words, said in a low voice, sent a little thrill through Ambrose. “You?”
“I’m all right.”
Dayton nodded and then his mouth was on Ambrose’s again and Ambrose gave into the pleasure of it for a moment before pushing him away again. “Wait, wait. How old are you?”
Dayton gave a little laugh against Ambrose’s neck where he had started pressing kisses after being denied Ambrose’s mouth. “That’s a rude question, you know.”
Dayton stopped and looked down at him. “Twenty-seven.”
Ambrose’s eyes slid shut. “I’m ten years older than you.”
“Don’t care.” Dayton’s hands came up to frame Ambrose’s face but he didn’t re-start the kissing. “Do you?” he asked uncertainly.
“Why? You’re not old enough to be my father. And I’m nearly a decade over the age of consent.”
Ambrose looked up into Dayton’s beautiful golden eyes. “It’s just— don’t you want someone—”
“Want you,” Dayton said, and then he was kissing Ambrose again and that was all Ambrose could process for a while.
Dayton had broad shoulders and Ambrose explored them with his hands, tracing the breadth of them, learning how they flexed as Dayton tightened his arms around Ambrose or pulled back enough to kiss his neck again. Those light kisses were driving Ambrose mad, so soft and gentle, whereas Dayton’s kisses to his mouth were anything but.
It went on like that until Dayton shifted his whole body against Ambrose, which made Dayton’s thigh press against Ambrose’s cock, hard and aching. “Wait, wait,” Ambrose said, once again.
But Dayton was already stepping back this time, on the same page now. “Angel,” he breathed, his face flushed in the darkness. “You live around here, yeah?”
“I’m— I’m two houses down.” Ambrose attempted to point. It didn’t quite work, his hand shaking too much.
Dayton didn’t even seem to notice. “Right,” he said, and then he grabbed on Ambrose’s hand and pulled him away from the party.
They had disappeared without saying goodbye to their hosts, and Dayton knew they’d hear about that later from Jill, but neither of them had really been in the right state to appear around other people. Now they were behind closed doors, and Ambrose was moaning into Dayton’s mouth more loudly than he had before, and Dayton wanted to devour him.
“What do you want?” Dayton groaned. “What do you like best, angel? Tell me, I’ll—”
Ambrose lifted his mouth from Dayton’s jaw, where he’d been leaving light kisses, and looked up into his eyes. Ambrose had beautiful gray-blue eyes and the softest gaze Dayton had ever seen. “Do you really want to let me decide?” he asked, sounding a little surprised.
A shudder of desire ran through Dayton. “Yes, please. Anything you want.”
Ambrose looked at him a moment more, and then said, “You have to tell me if anything makes you uncomfortable, all right?” Dayton nodded.
Ambrose’s gaze grew a little more heated. The hesitancy he’d shown before was melting away and revealing something that Dayton very much wanted to see.
“Take off your clothes,” Ambrose said quietly, and Dayton had his shirt off with the next breath. His sunglasses went flying off of his head and he didn’t care where they landed. He fumbled with the button on his shorts, and then had those and his underwear off and was standing naked in front of Ambrose. At that point, he realized that he maybe ought to be a little self-conscious, but then Ambrose let out a sigh of unmistakable admiration.
“Oh, you beautiful thing,” Ambrose whispered, his eyes taking in Dayton’s whole form, slowly, up and down. “God, the lines of you.” He stepped forward and put a hand on Dayton’s chest. Dayton shivered, but held still, feeling just as warm under Ambrose’s tender gaze as he imagined he would in the man’s arms.
Ambrose slipped his hand through Dayton’s hair, and then down over his cheek. “Your hair and your eyes. Like fire and light. Oh, I could make a whole world of you.” His hands traced over Dayton’s arm. “Hear the ocean in your chest, travel the tree-lines of your shoulders. The smooth sand of your skin. I could breathe you, and speak you. Sleep in the soft valleys of you.”
Ambrose’s fingers dipped lower until they grazed the top of Dayton’s hard, leaking cock and Dayton groaned so loudly he felt it in his whole body. “Fuck,” he gasped. “Should have known you’d recite me poetry.”
Ambrose’s hand stilled a second. “Oh. I was, wasn’t I? Sorry, I don’t usually—”
Dayton finally let himself move, putting a hand behind Ambrose’s neck to turn him up for a kiss that was only a little bit less than frantic. “I don’t mind,” he gasped out, with a bit of a laugh. “Who’s the author? You never know, I might know him.”
“Well,” Ambrose said slowly, “you are about to get to know him a little better.”
Dayton froze his hands. “That was you?”
Ambrose slipped his fingers through Dayton’s hair again, scratching his nails lightly against Dayton’s scalp, which made Dayton groan. “Oh,” Ambrose breathed. “It’s— it’s just, you’re perfect. You’re so beautiful. I can’t help but—”
“Tell me what you want me to do,” Dayton begged.
“Touch yourself,” Ambrose instructed, his eyes wide on Dayton’s. “Slowly and then faster. Fuck your fist until you come. I want to watch you.”
Dayton gasped and Ambrose gently turned him so that he was leaning back against the wall for support. “You just want to watch?” Dayton asked.
Ambrose pressed a kiss just below Dayton’s earlobe. “Research purposes,” he said, with a sly smile.
“Planning to write naughty poems, are you?” Dayton asked, completely unable to keep his hand from drifting down toward his hips, like it was too heavy to hold up.
“Oh, my dear,” Ambrose said in a low voice, his gaze fixed on Dayton’s cock. “You have no idea what I could write of you.”
Dayton groaned and pushed his head back against the wall. “This isn’t going to take long,” he warned, and Ambrose just smiled at him, so sweetly that Dayton’s cock actually jumped at the sight of it.
Dayton started at the head so that he could slick his fingers with the precome that was in abundance, and then he worked his hand up and down a couple of times. He was able to keep it slow until Ambrose took a seat in an armchair a few feet away, and turned on the lamp beside him to catch Dayton in a soft spotlight against the wall. Dayton moaned loudly, helplessly, his hand speeding up on his cock. “God, angel,” he groaned. “I’m so close. Oh, fuck. Yes.”
“Oh,” Ambrose whispered. “Yes, just like that. Oh, you have no idea the picture you make. You really are a work of art.”
Dayton let out a loud cry and came spurting over his fingers up onto his chest, his hand working his cock through the spasms. He leaned back against the wall, his legs too shaky to stand on his own. Ambrose was there beside him, murmuring softly as he led Dayton down a hallway and into his bedroom. Dayton collapsed gratefully onto the bed, which was large and soft and neatly made.
Ambrose stood over him, unbuttoning his pink shirt, revealing more of his pale skin little by little. He let his clothing fall to the floor, and then sat down on the bed. Dayton’s attention was taken up by his first sight of Ambrose’s cock, flushed and thicker than he’d imagined it. Ambrose leaned over Dayton on the bed and pressed kisses against his shoulder, moving down onto his chest. Dayton shivered, and Ambrose smiled at him. “I think you’re finding out,” he said, “that I can be quite self-indulgent when it comes to sex. Is that still all right with you, or is there something you would—”
“Anything,” Dayton said again. “I’ve— angel, I haven’t come that hard in forever.”
Ambrose smiled a bit and ran a finger through the come splattered onto Dayton’s abdomen. “Haven’t you?” he asked. Dayton couldn’t answer him, he could only moan. “Well, then,” Ambrose said. “Tell me how to make you hard again and we’ll see if you can outdo yourself.”
Dayton’s spent cock twitched and he groaned. “Fuck, Ambrose— just—”
“Tell me,” Ambrose repeated.
Dayton pressed his hands over his eyes. “Suck me off. Suck—” He broke off as he felt Ambrose’s tongue replace his finger on Dayton’s stomach, licking the come from Dayton’s body. Dayton was half-hard already by the time Ambrose wrapped his fingers around his cock and started gently pumping. When Ambrose licked over the head Dayton cried out and he quickly swelled to full thickness as soon as the wet heat of Ambrose’s mouth enveloped him. He moaned. “God, Ambrose, I need you—”
Ambrose pulled off slowly. “I need you too,” he said in a shaky voice.
In a quick move, Dayton had Ambrose on his back on the bed and was leaning over him. “Yes,” he whispered, and caught Ambrose’s mouth in a passionate kiss, tasting himself on Ambrose’s tongue. Ambrose moaned and shivered beneath him. Their legs tangled together, Ambrose raising his around Dayton’s waist, giving Dayton a good idea of where this was going. He raised his head. “Do you want me to fuck you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Ambrose said. “Please. I want your beautiful fingers. Slowly. And then I want your cock—”
“Shh, angel,” Dayton said, leaning down to press soft kisses against his neck. “Let me take care of you.”
Ambrose gasped softly as Dayton’s kisses moved lower. Dayton had imagined that Ambrose would be like this beneath his clothes: soft, curvaceous, warm, and he was, but it was better than that. He was gentle as his hands roamed over Dayton’s shoulders, through his hair. He was sweet, murmuring praises as Dayton brought him pleasure. And he was still reciting poetry. Writing poetry, little bits of phrases coming out amidst moans and sighs. Words like grace and fire and divine, lines about the breadth of Dayton’s hands, the span of his shoulders, the tautness of his skin. It was unlike anything Dayton had ever experienced before. He’d been tipsy earlier on beer, but he was fully drunk now on Ambrose.
Dayton came down onto his knees on the floor and shifted Ambrose to lie on the edge of the bed. Dayton knew what Ambrose wanted, but he could not resist the temptation of Ambrose’s cock, hard and red and in clear need of attention. When Dayton tasted him with the tip of his tongue, Ambrose moaned so beautifully that Dayton lost his focus, taking Ambrose’s cock down until it stretched his mouth, sucking up the salty-bitter taste of him. But it wasn’t long until Ambrose was saying Wait, wait again, and Dayton pulled off and stood up so that he could look down at the angel on the bed.
Ambrose’s eyes were dark and hazy, and his skin had flushed red all the way down his chest. “I want to come on your cock,” Ambrose said.
Dayton nodded. “I know, angel. We’ll get you there.” Ambrose directed him to a bedside table, where Dayton found lube. He slicked his fingers and then started circling Ambrose’s entrance with two fingers. When Dayton slid the first finger in, Ambrose let his head fall back with a sigh.
Dayton made it last, working Ambrose open gently, with occasional brushes against his prostate, scissoring fingers, loving how he could bring such beautiful sounds out of him. But by the time Ambrose was ready, Dayton knew that if he didn’t get inside of him soon, he was going to combust. His cock was so hard it was nearly painful.
Dayton gave a long, slow lick to Ambrose’s cock, cleaning up a drip of pre-come, and then Ambrose scooted up higher on the bed. Dayton followed, lifting Ambrose’s legs to fit around his waist, and then he slid inside him in one smooth motion. Dayton’s head dropped onto Ambrose’s chest as he tried to adjust to the intense heat and tightness of Ambrose’s body. Ambrose sank a hand into Dayton’s hair and shifted beneath him, causing both of them to groan.
“Please,” Ambrose whispered, and Dayton looked up, meeting his eyes as he started to move. Ambrose caught onto his shoulders and rolled his hips up to meet Dayton’s. “Oh,” he said. “Oh, Dayton, that’s so good.”
“You like that, angel?”
Ambrose moaned in response. “Yes. Oh, god, you’re so hard. Oh, you impossibly beautiful thing. Please. More.”
Dayton growled and sped up his pace, trying not to lose himself in the overwhelming feeling of Ambrose’s soft body beneath his, spread open for him, cushioning him, the thighs around his waist, the lush ass that he was driving into. Fuck, Dayton was going to come again, and he needed Ambrose to come first.
He shifted his angle a little until Ambrose cried out. “Oh, Dayton, yes! There. Just like that. Oh—” He arched his back. “Oh, please, Dayton, touch me. I need—”
Dayton reached a hand between them and grasped Ambrose’s cock, which glided easily in and out of his fist, wet with pre-come. Ambrose arched his back even more and then he came spectacularly, shooting come up onto his chest, his body tightening around Dayton’s cock.
“Fuck yes,” Dayton growled, grasping Ambrose’s soft waist and pistoning his stuttering hips against Ambrose’s ass. He came so hard that the world went white around him, and he collapsed down on top of Ambrose.
Ambrose cleaned them with a wet cloth a few minutes later and Dayton noted with pride that Ambrose’s gait was a little unsteady as he went back and forth from the bathroom. Then Ambrose pulled the sheets down and slipped into the bed naked.
Dayton sat on the edge of the bed. “Do you want me to go?” he asked.
“Only if you want to,” Ambrose said, and Dayton relaxed. He crawled under the sheets with Ambrose, resting his head on the man’s shoulder, pulling his soft body against him.
“So was the second time better?” Ambrose asked, sounding pleased.
Dayton gave a shuddering laugh into Ambrose’s neck, and that seemed to be all the answer that was needed.
Ambrose watched Dayton stir into wakefulness just after the sun had fully risen. Ambrose was wearing a robe, sitting at the desk in his bedroom, scribbling out lines and phrases and sketches, trying to somehow capture Dayton on paper.
Ambrose had never recited poetry during sex before, let alone written poetry while holding someone in his arms. He had, on occasion, stayed up all night frantically filling a notebook with ideas. Just not while staring at the man who’d fucked him the night before until he’d seen stars and all manner of other visions.
Ambrose realized what had happened around three a.m., when he was in the middle of a series of drawings focusing on the line of Dayton’s neck as it curved up from his shoulder and then met the pillow. Ambrose had fallen into using the poet’s eye during sex, and he was still using it now, unable to stop seeing Dayton as a living work of art. It was the way he’d first glimpsed Dayton in the park, and here, with the beautiful firefighter lying naked in his bed, Ambrose was filling notebooks about him. The poor man had become his muse.
Ambrose had never really had a muse before, certainly not one who filled his mind and heart to this extent, making his hand shake unless it was holding a pencil, working his mouth into describing kisses as they happened. It was intoxicating. It was a little frightening as well. And it probably wasn’t entirely fair to Dayton, treating him like he was simply something to be admired. As Dayton stirred awake, Ambrose put away his notebook and went back to the bed.
In the early morning light, Dayton’s eyes were the dark amber-gold of iced tea in the sun, and oh, Ambrose was going to have to stop doing that. He cleared his throat. “Good morning.”
Dayton gave him a lazy smile. “Morning, angel.”
Ambrose trailed a hand along Dayton’s arm, feeling the softness of him. “I’m not, you know.”
Dayton stretched his arms up over his head and Ambrose’s gaze was drawn to the sheet sliding lower on Dayton’s bare chest. Dayton must have realized Ambrose was looking, because he not-very-casually pushed the sheet lower, until it reached his waist.
“You look like one,” Dayton informed him, causing Ambrose’s attention to jump back to his face. “And you fuck like one.”
Ambrose laughed and probably blushed. “Angels fuck, do they?”
“If they did, it would be like you do. All sweetness and reciting poetry. Fuck, you don’t know what you did to me last night, Ambrose.” Dayton reached out a hand. “Come back to bed.”
Ambrose took his hand readily and knelt beside him on the mattress. “You didn’t mind me taking charge?” he asked, somewhat uncertainly. “Or the poetry?”
Dayton grinned. “I’m more than happy to be a service top. And no, it doesn’t bother me to hear you compose verses about how beautiful I am while I fuck you.”
“You are,” Ambrose said, his voice still wavering. He had to cut himself off there or risk starting up with the poetry again.
But Dayton had a very interested look on his face. He glanced at the desk. “You do your writing there?”
Dayton grinned. “So’ve you ever been fucked over that desk?”
Well, that was certainly not going to help things, was it?
An hour, a disheveled desk, and several verses later, they showered together. Dayton kept Ambrose’s mouth occupied for most of it though, and Ambrose was able to come back to reality a little bit for breakfast. Not completely, of course. Dayton was wearing only his shorts now, and the lines of his ribs—
Ambrose turned his head, and he thought he heard Dayton stifle a laugh, the bastard.
“I like your place,” Dayton said. “Didn’t really get a good look at it last night, except for a couple key places.”
Ambrose glanced around at the clutter of his home and frowned a little to himself. Well, it wasn’t clutter, exactly. The house was rather tidy overall. It was just books. There were shelves of them, of course, but also piles of them on various tables and occasionally a chair. As Ambrose finished frying eggs, Dayton examined a book that was lying out on a work table.
“I’m restoring that one,” Ambrose said. “Nearly finished now. It’s a first edition Milne. Signed, even.”
“Milne?” Dayton asked.
Ambrose smiled. “Winnie the Pooh. A favorite of mine. I got it far below price since it’s been damaged.”
He dished the eggs out onto plates and Dayton sat down at the kitchen table. With the morning light illuminating the brightness of him— fiery hair, ivory skin, golden eyes— the kitchen looked alive in a way that it wasn’t when it was Ambrose alone. Ambrose rather helplessly made a mental note for his sketchbook.
“So Jill said we had something in common,” Dayton said, as he buttered a piece of toast. “I keep trying to figure out what she meant.”
Ambrose gave him an amused look over his cup of tea. “Perfect opposites, are we?”
“Well, different, at least. Education, jobs. Do you have family nearby?”
Ambrose put his cup down. “No. No family. I’m afraid they don’t approve of my lifestyle. Poetry, yes. Male lovers, no.”
“Do you have family?”
Ambrose watched tension creep into Dayton’s shoulders. “I was a surprise baby,” he said. “My parents— well, my parents didn’t want a child. They made sure to tell me. I mean, they loved me. But they just didn’t really pay a lot of attention to me. Had better things to worry about. I thought they might be upset when I came out as bisexual, but they weren’t, so I guess that was okay? But I think it was really just that they barely noticed. When I went to college, I took all my stuff from the house, everything that was important to me, and I haven’t been home since.”
“I’m so sorry,” Ambrose whispered.
Dayton shrugged. “I shoot them an email every once in a while, just to let them know I’m okay. They usually answer. Sounds like it’s more than you have.”
“That doesn’t make it right,” Ambrose said.
Dayton turned those amber eyes on him, and they were suddenly full of a kind of beautiful hope. “Listen, I have to work overnight the next couple of nights. But if you want to have lunch— you could come to the fire station.” But Dayton must have seen the apprehension in Ambrose’s expression, because he said quickly, “We don’t have to. It’s totally fine, angel. We can just—”
“I’d love to,” Ambrose said softly. “I just— I wouldn’t—” He started over. “Are you sure you want me there?”
Dayton gave him a curious look and then he leaned back and crossed his arms over his bare chest. “Planning to get drunk and make a scene, are you? Dance on the tabletops?”
Ambrose gave a snort of laughter, in spite of himself. “No.”
“Hit on all the married men?”
Dayton snapped his fingers. “Steal my truck and go for a joyride? I’d join you on that one, though. In a heartbeat.”
“Unless you’re secretly an arsonist, angel, I’d love to have you come to the firehouse, and honestly, after the amazing sex we just had, I think I might even forgive that one.”
Ambrose put his hands over his face. “You’re terrible.”
“In all seriousness,” Dayton said, “we will have one problem.”
They said it together. “Jill.”
Jill was thrilled when she saw Ambrose appear at the
station around noon. Thrilled and smug, and not afraid to show it, or to mention the fact that Dayton and Ambrose had disappeared from her party the night before without saying goodbye, and that Dayton’s car had remained on the street outside her house all night. What Ambrose didn’t expect was for her to give him a look that was rather… impressed.
Ambrose brought the lunch into the firehouse kitchen with a little hesitancy, but Dayton’s face lit up when he saw him, which was very reassuring. Dayton bounded over with all the energy of a twenty-seven-year-old athlete and kissed him on the cheek. Probably, Ambrose suspected, just to make Ambrose blush, which of course, he did.
Ambrose had brought enough lunch for all the firefighters on duty, so they gathered around the tables and passed sandwiches back and forth. Conversation revolved around the usual things with a group of friends— past experiences, planned experiences, old jokes, new jokes, family stories, gossip. To Ambrose’s surprise, he was readily accepted as part of the discussions.
His opinion was sought out and listened to, and people even laughed when it was his turn to tell a joke, especially if it was a particularly stupid pun (which happened to be one of Ambrose’s most reliable talents).
Ambrose had expected a few curious looks, maybe even a bit of judgement on Dayton’s choice of an older, heavier, somewhat prissy lunch date. But instead, every single person seemed to be just as impressed by Ambrose as Jill was, which honestly was confusing the hell out of him. He had made a homemade lunch, yes, but it was just sandwiches and a fruit salad, so why—
Eventually Dayton broke down and he leaned over and whispered in Ambrose’s ear. “So I’m sure they would have loved you anyway, but I might possibly have mentioned this morning that you’re a wizard in the sack.”
“Dayton,” Ambrose hissed, feeling his face grow warm.
“In my defense, it’s not a bad way to make a first impression with people,” Dayton said with a grin. “I mean, you were worried about it—”
Ambrose lost it then and muffled giggles against Dayton’s shoulder. “You are ridiculous.”
“I’ve never claimed otherwise,” Dayton pointed out.
The fire bell rang just as they were finishing lunch, and Ambrose got to witness an organized chaos as the firefighters rushed for their turnout clothes and then down to the fire truck. Dayton kissed Ambrose before he left— very briefly, but on the mouth, and Jill gave him a wink. The firefighters were calm in their hurry, and Ambrose knew that it was just another day for them. But he said a few prayers for their safety anyway.
Ambrose and the firefighters who remained at the station cleared up the kitchen, and afterward, Ambrose found a bench to sit on in the park beneath a tree, and brought out the notebook he’d packed up with the lunch.
Heat, he wrote. They live with it. They go off to fight it but it’s in the firehouse as well. Bright colors are part of it. Sunlight coming into the kitchen. Lots of windows. Heat of the day. Red of the truck, bodies rushing to put on clothing to protect from heat but it makes the body hot before they get there. Hot as in attractive, obviously. Heat in a sexual sense, heat of a blush (that ridiculous idiot). Heat of a shower after working. Heated argue arguments? (He never could spell that word.) They must argue sometimes. Hot meals. The heat of friendship. Even at night, in winter, the firehouse must be warm. Glow of lights at all hours, always manned, never empty.
And what is cold? Silence, grief, loss. An empty seat, missing person. Ambrose shivered. Enough of that tangent for now. Possibly forever, art form or no art form.
Water is cold. Water to wash the truck, same as they used to put out the fire. Dew on the grass on a new day after the night shift. Cold water to drink. Cold air on the skin as you take off the turnout clothes, especially if you’ve been sweating.
What is both? Every fire hydrant holds the possibility of cold, but they’re painted bright red. Same as the truck, made of heat, made to use cold water. The fire is both— that is, a fire being fought is both, until cold wins. He went up and crossed out Even at night, in winter, the firehouse must be warm, and rewrote it in the both section.
Ambrose finished the entry by making a few sketches of Dayton’s hand holding a fork or a sandwich.
What surprised Ambrose about this sudden turn of events with Dayton was not that he was becoming slightly obsessed with the man. Well, probably more than slightly, but hopefully still short of disturbingly. Dayton was attractive in so many ways, it made perfect sense. What Ambrose hadn’t expected was that Dayton would be interested in him.
It wasn’t even some sense of false modesty, Ambrose was honestly confused. He was grateful for it, of course, he was greatly enjoying it. But a part of him wondered how long something like this might be expected to last. Ambrose was older, yes, and while that had given him time to become rather experienced in the sack, as Dayton would put it, it also meant, well, older, and Dayton was young and beautiful and— Well. It probably wasn’t going to be something that lasted, that was the point. Ambrose needed to be sure that he was ready for such an eventuality.
And when it was gone, perhaps Dayton would still permit Ambrose to use the notebook he was steadily filling to create new works. And if not, well— Ambrose would always have it for himself.
When they’d been dating for about a month, Dayton and Ambrose had a picnic in the park.
When they’d been dating for about a month, Dayton and Ambrose had a picnic in the park. Dayton lay back on the blanket looking up at the tree that was shading them, watching how the branches parted and met again in the breeze. He could hear kids playing and dogs barking, and closer than all of it, the scratch of pencil on paper. Ambrose was leaning against the trunk of the tree, sketching something, and Dayton had suspicions about what it might be.
“Have you ever published your artwork?” he asked, turning his head to watch Ambrose. The artist was wearing a sky blue shirt and a pair of light trousers, and his feet were bare on top of the blanket. Ambrose had soft, well-manicured toes and a dusting of very light hair on his lower legs where they disappeared into the pants. It made Dayton feel rather pleasantly warm to know that he was intimately familiar with what the rest of Ambrose’s legs looked like, even though they were hidden from everyone else.
“No, I haven’t,” Ambrose said. “It’s mostly just a tool to help with the writing.”
“So how many pictures have you drawn of me naked?” Dayton asked.
If he’d been hoping to fluster Ambrose, he was disappointed. While Ambrose was normally quite easily flustered, if he were in artist mode (the poet’s eye, Ambrose called it), he tended to be the opposite: calm, cool, and confident in a way that gave Dayton chills (and other bodily reactions). “Seventeen,” Ambrose said, not looking up from his notebook.
Dayton tried again. “Are you drawing one now?”
“Of course not. We’re at the park.”
Dayton pulled up a blade of grass and started twirling it in his fingers. “I was thinking I could pose for you, you know. Let you do your naughty drawings of me live.”
That finally did it. Ambrose’s pencil skittered a little and his cheeks flushed faintly. Dayton grinned and he held out a hand. “Let me see what you’re doing there?”
But when Ambrose handed over the sketch book, it was Dayton’s turn to face a (slight) disappointment. Ambrose hadn’t been focused on him at all. Dayton looked from the book to the busy playground in front of them. “You’re drawing the kids.”
“Just Ellen,” Ambrose said. “Her family attends my church. Her mother’s sitting over there, I thought I’d give her the drawing.”
“It’s beautiful,” Dayton said. In the portrait, a little girl with pigtails was riding a swing, her legs stretched out in front of her and her head tipped back. Dayton could almost see the motion in the static picture, the moving swing, wind pushing clouds across the sky. “You are so talented,” he said.
Ambrose made a little huffing noise, but at least he didn’t try to deflect the compliment, like he sometimes did. So Dayton felt safe in advancing another one. “You’re good with kids.”
Of course, Ambrose turned it around. “So are you.”
Dayton sat up and stretched a little. “I love kids. I’d like to have some someday,” he said, sneaking a little sideways look at Ambrose.
Ambrose’s voice was soft as he watched the playground. “Me, too.”
Dayton felt his own face flush a little. “You want to come back to my place, angel?”
It was the first time Ambrose had visited Dayton’s apartment. He poked around a little, taking in the space, such as it was.
“Tiny place, I know,” Dayton said. “I don’t mind it, though. It’s big enough for me and Cat.”
Ambrose turned away from admiring the cactus in Dayton’s kitchen window to regard the orange tabby on the couch. “Your cat’s name is Cat?”
Dayton shrugged. “Description’s best left to the poets, I guess.”
Ambrose laughed, and Dayton took him through onto the little balcony, where most of the plants resided in their colorful pots. “I’d like to have a vegetable garden someday,” Dayton said. “Right now it’s just the tomatoes in a pot there, and some herbs.” The rest of the plants on the deck were flowers. Ambrose seemed especially taken with the bright red geranium.
“Have you thought about a place with room for a garden?” Ambrose asked. “Of course, this one is close to the firehouse.”
“Oh, it isn’t that,” Dayton said. “I’ve just— I’ve got expenses. You know how it is.” He reached over to pick a ripe cherry tomato from its vine, and offered it to Ambrose. To his delight, Ambrose allowed him to pop it directly into his mouth, and then as he bit down on it, he made one of those moaning noises that Dayton was so fond of.
Dayton pulled Ambrose close and licked the taste of home-grown tomato out of his mouth, and Ambrose went right on moaning. They shared an absolutely filthy kiss there on the balcony, and then Dayton tugged Ambrose back inside.
The only problem, Dayton thought, about ten minutes later, with having Ambrose between his knees doing an absolutely earth-shattering job of sucking him off, was that this particular act left the poet unable to share whatever verses he was composing, since his mouth was otherwise occupied. But Dayton decided he wasn’t going to complain.
For a few moments there on the couch, nothing existed for Dayton except Ambrose, his gentle hands on Dayton’s thighs, his mouth warm and wet and perfect around Dayton’s aching cock. Dayton couldn’t remember ever being so turned on as he got with Ambrose, and Ambrose certainly appreciated it. His mouth on Dayton’s cock was insistent, but also sweet and slow. Ambrose tended to be very confident in his ability to get Dayton off without rushing things, without letting Dayton get too excited too fast. So Dayton let his head drop back onto his couch as he was led to a pleasure that built slowly and then overwhelmed him completely. Dayton finally came hard enough into Ambrose’s mouth to practically sob with it, tears in his eyes and his voice breaking.
“Oh, fuck,” he breathed, when he could talk again. “Gonna tell the whole fire house about that one.”
Ambrose smacked him lightly on the thigh. “No, you aren’t.”
Dayton laughed and pulled Ambrose into his arms. They curled up together on the couch for a little while, and Dayton felt at ease in a way that he rarely ever did. It felt right to have Ambrose in his arms, to listen to his voice, to feel his breaths as they came in and went out, to be able to smell the lilac shampoo in his soft white curls.
Dayton was going to miss this, he knew, when it was gone. It was really too early to think about it ending, but Dayton felt it as surely as he did Ambrose breathing against him. Whatever it was that Dayton was looking for, that elusive quality he’d never been able to name, Ambrose had it, more strongly than anyone else Dayton had ever met. And Dayton craved it. But he’d never managed to hold onto a lover before, and so there was no reason to think he could do it now.
But at the moment, there also seemed to be something about Dayton that Ambrose craved. Something Ambrose needed from him, something he was filling notebooks with. So Ambrose would at least be invested in this until that ran down.
Dayton was brought back into the conversation as Ambrose asked him a question. It was a perfectly innocent thing. Ambrose had been talking about a trip he’d taken once to the California coast and he’d asked if Dayton had ever been.
Maybe it was the recent mind-blowing orgasm or just the fact that Dayton seemed to let his guard down so easily with Ambrose, but the question brought tears to his eyes.
Ambrose noticed immediately, and he sat up. His soft hands moved to Dayton’s shoulders and he shifted them around on the couch until Dayton could rest his head on Ambrose’s chest. “I’m so sorry, my dear,” Ambrose said gently. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I know,” Dayton said. “I’m sorry. I just— I went there as a kid, with my parents.”
“Oh,” Ambrose said softly.
“Yeah. I remember it was a nice day for it, and we packed a picnic, brought a blanket. I’d never seen the ocean before and I was fascinated.”
“How old were you?”
“Ten. I remember running up and down the beach, chasing the waves in and out. I found some seaweed and it was really gross and I loved it.”
Ambrose laughed, and Dayton could feel it beneath his cheek.
“Eventually I got hungry,” Dayton said, “and so I started heading back to my parents, but I didn’t see them anywhere. I’d wandered off without meaning to, and I couldn’t find them. It was crowded and I was starving, and I—”
When he broke off, Ambrose combed a hand through Dayton’s hair, smooth and gentle. He leaned in and spoke softly with his lips against Dayton’s head. “You don’t have to tell me, my dear.”
“I want to,” Dayton said, and Ambrose went back to stroking his hair. “Eventually a life guard must have noticed a kid looking like he was lost, and brought me back to his tower. They ended up calling another lifeguard over and he walked the beach with me, trying to find my parents. It took forever, and I cried, and I was ashamed of that, and ashamed that I’d gotten lost. But we found them.”
Dayton was quiet a minute, and Ambrose didn’t push. He just held Dayton in an embrace that was both soft and impressively firm. “They hadn’t noticed,” Dayton said finally. “They’d even had lunch without me and just figured I was fine and I’d come back when I was hungry. They didn’t care that they hadn’t seen me for hours, on a crowded beach where we didn’t know anybody.”
“Jesus Christ,” Ambrose said quietly, and Dayton could tell that it was not something Ambrose was in the habit of saying.
“The lifeguard tried to lecture my dad about it, but my dad just said that they were on vacation and it was the lifeguard’s job to watch me, because that was what he got paid for, to watch people. God, I was so embarrassed.”
Ambrose brushed a kiss over Dayton’s head. “Even if that were true about it being someone else’s job,” he said, in a darker voice than Dayton had ever heard from him, “I can’t imagine a parent who wouldn’t keep an eye on their child anyway, just to be sure.” He tightened his arms around Dayton. “I’m so sorry you had to grow up like that,” he said. “It’s so unfair for a child to be— invisible.”
Dayton twisted in Ambrose’s arms and looked up at him. “Will you draw me?”
Ambrose smiled, and he traced a hand down the side of Dayton’s cheek. “I would love to.”
Dayton stood up and took Ambrose’s hand to lead him into the bedroom. It was a small room, mostly filled by a very large bed. Ambrose raised an eyebrow when he saw it, a smile playing over his mouth.
Dayton was already wearing just his briefs and t-shirt, and he pulled the shirt off. He went to remove his underwear— any self-consciousness he’d had around Ambrose was long gone by now— but Ambrose stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Leave those for now, please, dear. There’s a delightful bulge in them that I’d like to sketch.”
Dayton groaned as the bulge grew larger, and Ambrose looked very pleased with himself. Ambrose arranged a chair by the window and clicked on a lamp to light the sketch book he’d brought. “On the bed, then,” he said, and Dayton quickly complied.
“You’ve got a bulge of your own,” Dayton pointed out, nodding toward Ambrose’s linen pants.
“I am aware,” Ambrose informed him with a sigh. “But I’m afraid there’s nothing for it at the moment. After all, one must suffer to create art.”
“Anytime you’d like to be done suffering,” Dayton said, “you just let me know.” And then he grinned as Ambrose had to adjust himself a little.
“All right, dear,” Ambrose said. “On your side, please, but roll a little to your back— and move the pillows to where you’re comfortable. There, perfect.”
Dayton was quiet at first, watching Ambrose look back and forth from him to the sketch book, his pencil moving smoothly across the paper. Ambrose turned the page after a while and began a second sketch, mumbling to himself something that was undoubtedly praise. Dayton listened to Ambrose’s soft words, his breathing, the scratch of the pencil, and lost himself in the comfortable feeling of it, of sharing something so intimate and quiet.
Eventually, Ambrose finished his second drawing and nodded to Dayton with a bit of a smile. “All right. Briefs off.”
Dayton had mentally rehearsed this while he was lying there, and so he slid his hands smoothly down his body, noting that Ambrose’s eyes followed the motion closely. Dayton caught the edge of his briefs and eased them over his hard cock before kicking them off. “How do you want me?” he asked in a low voice.
Ambrose smirked. “As before.” But he couldn’t help adding, “Oh, you are gorgeous, aren’t you?”
Dayton made a show of rearranging the pillows and frowning. “How did I have it before?” He looked to Ambrose. “I’m afraid I can’t quite get it figured out. You’ll have to come show me.”
Ambrose put his sketch book down on Dayton’s dresser with a thunk, and then crossed the three steps it took to stand over Dayton as he lay on the bed. As soon as he got close enough, Dayton reached up and pulled Ambrose into a messy kiss.
For a moment, Ambrose gave into it, making those moans that Dayton loved so much. He leaned into Dayton, pressing kisses to his neck and down his chest, running his hands over him. One hand moved to Dayton’s cock and caressed him a couple of times and Dayton let out a groan. Ambrose followed his hands with his mouth, and for once blissful second, Dayton’s cock was surrounded by that perfect wet heat.
But then Ambrose moved back and spent a moment arranging Dayton onto the pillows. Dayton did protest, but Ambrose just smirked again and went back to his chair.
Dayton was lying mostly on his back now, with one arm folded above his head and his other lying across his stomach, with his hand resting on his inner thigh, not quite touching his hard cock.
“Have you done this before?” Dayton asked as Ambrose got started. “Drawing a naked person, I mean.”
Ambrose nodded as his pencil moved. “In classes. The models weren’t, ah, aroused, however.”
“What about drawing a lover?”
“Occasionally. But not like you.”
“What do you mean, not like me?” Dayton asked, and it was only then that Ambrose seemed to realize what he’d said.
His pencil stilled. “I mean—” He looked over Dayton with those beautiful blue eyes. “I just mean there’s no one like you, Dayton.”
Dayton could feel the goofy smile on his face, and he tried to fight it down. For art purposes, of course. Wouldn’t want to ruin the picture.
Ambrose finished his first drawing and turned the page. “Stroke yourself a little,” he instructed quietly, and Dayton groaned as he did, pumping his cock up and down.
“Now stay there,” Ambrose said. “With your hand— just there, yes. Wrap your fingers around your cock.”
Dayton forced himself to lie still— which took a little doing— and watched the pencil move. He wondered how much detail was in the sketches today. Was Ambrose drawing the freckles on his thigh? The way one of his eyebrows was always a little crooked? The precome dripping over his fingers?
If Dayton were to draw Ambrose— if he suddenly miraculously had the talent— it would be like this, he realized. Ambrose sitting half in the light of the window and half in the light of the lamp, with his white curls a little mussed where Dayton had run his fingers through them. Ambrose with his hand gracefully holding the pencil, his legs casually crossed to support the sketchpad. But what Dayton would really want to capture was the look in Ambrose’s eyes as he drew. His gaze was sharp on Dayton, focused on the paper, and yet somehow impossibly fond as he looked over his lover lying on the bed. If there was a way to let Dayton spend the rest of his life under Ambrose’s caring gaze, Dayton would do almost anything to have it.
“Roll over, please,” Ambrose said into the quiet of the room, and Dayton quickly complied, letting his legs fall where they might, but making sure his ass was fully on display. He carefully arranged his cock where he could get a little friction against the mattress, and then crossed his arms and let his head rest on them.
“Oh, perfect,” Ambrose whispered, and now the poetry started to come out. “You’re so quiet like this,” Ambrose said. “It runs through you like a river.”
“What does?” Dayton asked.
“You have a quiet soul,” Ambrose told him. “You like to let yourself rush over the rocks, but sometimes it runs through you smoothly, like now. Deep and cool and unbroken, even after everything you’ve been through.” His pencil stilled for a second, and he sighed, looking at the paper. “Oh, you’re endless, aren’t you? I could search through you my whole life and never find the place you come from.”
A few moments later, Ambrose turned a page and said, “Cross your legs, will you, dear? Yes, there, that’s lovely. It’s a garden, I think,” he mused, as he started the sketch. “An Eden. It has to be, the place that made you. Somewhere bright but also shaded. Where things grow and rivers flow and time never quite passes right. It flies when I’m with you, you know. There’s a magic to it that I can’t control.”
“I know what you mean,” Dayton said, and Ambrose smiled at him. He made a last couple of lines on the paper, and then put the sketch book down on the dresser.
“All done?” Dayton asked.
“For now, yes. Thank you for modeling so skillfully, my dear.”
Dayton sat up and reached out to Ambrose. “Come on over, then.” When Ambrose hesitated, Dayton frowned at him. “Ambrose, you’ve spent the last hour drawing my cock. Aren’t you going to come over here and let me fuck you with it?”
Ambrose came closer, but he still looked a little reluctant. “You don’t have to, you know. You don’t owe me anything. In fact, I’m really the one who owes you—”
“No, you don’t.” Dayton shook his head. “Never. That’s not what this is. But nothing turns me on as much as you writing poetry about me, so if you’re game, I would very much like to fuck your incredibly talented brains out. Come here, angel.” Dayton let his legs fall open to reveal the strength of his desire, and grinned when Ambrose looked at it hungrily.
A couple of short steps later, Ambrose was in his arms, soft and sweet and warm and wonderful. Dayton wanted to take his time getting Ambrose ready, but it appeared that the hour or more of foreplay had been a little rough on them both. As soon as Dayton slid the zipper down on Ambrose’s pants and realized that Ambrose’s cock was flushed painfully red and leaking, Dayton pushed him onto the bed and sank his mouth onto him.
Ambrose cried out and slid his hands into Dayton’s hair. Dayton lay on his stomach between Ambrose’s legs on the enormous bed, and when Ambrose’s hips bucked a little Dayton allowed it, letting Ambrose’s cock rub against the roof of his mouth, drinking in the sounds he made.
After a moment, Dayton pulled back long enough to take Ambrose’s pants and underwear all the way off and to grab the lube he kept in a drawer by the bed. Slicking his fingers quickly, he started preparing Ambrose as he went back to ministering to him with his mouth.
It was a beautiful thing, driving Ambrose to pleasure. Dayton knew he didn’t actually owe Ambrose anything for the incredible act of writing poetry about him, but it felt good to reciprocate part of what Ambrose had done for him: the careful attention to his lover’s body, the sweet, comfortable atmosphere of it, trying to create a place where Ambrose felt wanted.
Dayton might not have been quite on Ambrose’s level of expertise with blow jobs, but he did have talent for it, and it wasn’t long before Ambrose was panting and begging for release. Dayton gave it to him, sliding his tongue up the sensitive underside of Ambrose’s cock while he twisted his fingers inside of him to rub against his prostate. Ambrose exploded into Dayton’s mouth in a rush of fluid, and Dayton sucked him down eagerly.
As soon as the tremors in Ambrose had quieted, Dayton came up to his knees. He put a pillow under Ambrose’s hips and used a little more lube to slick up his cock. And then he sank into Ambrose with one slow thrust, shuddering a little as he did so. “Fuck,” he gasped. “Fuck, you feel so good.”
Ambrose just moaned, lifting his hips and encouraging Dayton to move. Again, Dayton wanted to take his time, but he’d been hard for so long, and now that Ambrose was holding him so tightly inside himself, Dayton desperately needed to come. Ambrose kept his eyes on the sight of Dayton’s cock pumping in and out of him, watching in obvious rapture as Dayton fell apart. Dayton threw his head back as he came, making sure he kept up the hard thrusting for as long as he could. Ambrose gave a filthy moan as Dayton filled him, and then Dayton finally collapsed on top of him.
Ambrose’s hands were on him at once, caressing, gentle, soft, but possessive. Dayton let himself be held and kissed and it was everything he needed.
The next few months passed in the sort of magic time-lapse that Ambrose had tried to describe to Dayton.
Certain moments seemed to last forever, especially when Ambrose had his hands on Dayton and there was nothing else but him in the world. But then one afternoon Ambrose looked up and it was late autumn and he was standing in his bedroom in a suit as he did Sunday mornings before church, only this time the suit was black and had a bow tie to go with it, and there was no Dayton lying naked in the bed behind him.
Dayton was on duty at the firehouse. He’d have to meet Ambrose at the party, which was the first formal event Ambrose had been to in quite some time, and—
And he was nervous. The Fireman’s Ball was held every year, but Ambrose had never been before. Ambrose was the type to make donations from the privacy of his home, not get dressed up and go to a fancy event on the arm of a younger and more handsome man—
Ambrose sat down heavily on the bed. Dayton was expecting him, it wasn’t like Ambrose could beg off of this one. And he didn’t want to, not really. He desperately wanted to take Dayton in his arms and dance with him all night. It just would have been nicer if no one else were there with them.
When Ambrose got to the dance hall, he sat in his car for a moment, admiring the lights that had been strung outside, and watching the people filing into the building. Most women were bundled up coats, their fine clothes visible only as beautiful but uncomfortable shoes and fancy hairdos, all of the bright colors of them hidden away.
It was easy for Ambrose to catch sight of Dayton as soon as he finally made himself walk through the door, despite the crowded ballroom. It was the red hair, of course, there was no mistaking that, but Ambrose had also managed to learn the way Dayton walked, the way he moved his head when he laughed, and shifted his weight when he stood.
Jill and Kris were beside Dayton, both of them wearing lovely gowns, Jill in blue and Kris in black. Jill elbowed Dayton and Dayton’s smile when he turned and saw Ambrose was brighter than any of the fancy colored lights playing over the crowd.
Dayton actually jogged across the floor, and when he reached Ambrose, he caught him around the waist. “Look at you,” Dayton breathed. “Oh, my god, you look fantastic, angel. I knew the sight of you in a tuxedo would be worth the price of admission. Come on, dance with me.”
Ambrose laughed, the tension in him fading away under Dayton’s enthusiasm, and he let Dayton pull him onto the floor. It helped to have most of Ambrose’s attention taken up by the picture Dayton made in a tuxedo. “Who’s leading?” Ambrose asked.
Dayton bit his lip. “Ah, that would be you, because I don’t know how to waltz. I mean, I’ve seen it done, but—”
“Well, if you’re not leading, then you have to do it backwards,” Ambrose warned. “But I’m sure a soccer star such as yourself can figure out the footwork.”
Dayton made a hesitant face. “Uh— you know soccer is about kicking things, right?”
They managed a waltz step eventually, with very little kicking, just before the song ended, but Dayton was quite proud of himself. They mingled with the other firefighters, all of whom Ambrose knew at this point. Dayton seemed to want to touch Ambrose at all times, holding his hand or resting it on Ambrose’s arm. Dayton’s possessive attention was far more intoxicating than the one glass of champagne Ambrose drank (he was driving home later, after all). Almost enough to make Ambrose think that maybe he and Dayton might be here like this next year as well, still together.
When the orchestra took a break, Jill came to get Dayton, calling, “You’re up, Mozart.”
Ambrose looked at Dayton in surprise. “I do the interlude music,” Dayton explained, shrugging off his tuxedo jacket as he walked over to the baby grand piano in the corner. Ambrose was lost for a moment in admiring the stark coloration of it all— Dayton in black pants and a white shirt, the black piano with white keys, Dayton’s scarlet hair like a bright flame, and the whole scene drenched in the spinning colors of the disco ball above them.
And then, of course, Dayton started playing, and that was magical. Ambrose had heard Dayton play before, at his piano or Ambrose’s, but this was something else, a larger instrument, a larger audience, and a much larger space.
Dayton started out with Mozart, giving Jill a nod, and then moved on to Handel. They were challenging pieces, and Dayton gave a little laugh as he got through the last one. “All right,” he said. “That is enough of that. What do you think, angel, some Joplin?”
“As if that’s easier?” Ambrose asked with raised eyebrows, trying not to look too desperately hungry for the firefighter so masterfully playing the piano with part of his clothing missing.
Dayton made one of those faces that instantly raised Ambrose’s suspicions, a sort of disingenuous look. “Well, it would be easy,” he said lightly, “if I was just doing chords. Too bad I don’t have someone to play the melody.”
“Oh, good heavens,” Ambrose sighed, putting a hand to his forehead. “You brought my violin.”
Jill was there a second later, handing Ambrose the black case that Dayton had somehow sneaked out of his house.
“Can’t help it,” Dayton said, gazing up at him from the piano bench. “I want to show you off.”
That was very flattering, but it was more than that, Ambrose knew. He’d once mentioned to Dayton that he didn’t like crowds unless they were an audience, whether for poetry or music. Having something concrete to do in front of others was so much easier than trying to mingle and make small talk. And Dayton had remembered.
Ambrose unsuccessfully fought a smile as he removed his own jacket and set his instrument on his shoulder, fussing with the tuning. Dayton played him an A and Ambrose adjusted his instrument to match the piano.
“Maple Leaf Rag?” Dayton asked as Ambrose examined his bow.
“Slowly, the first time,” Ambrose cautioned. “I haven’t played in a week.”
Dayton’s voice dropped low. “My, my, angel, what have you been doing with your time?” And as soon as Ambrose had blushed red, Dayton started the piece.
They’d played Joplin together before, so Ambrose was able to follow along fairly well. One rag led into the next, and the audience gathered around the piano to listen. When they stopped, someone called for a Celtic fiddle tune. Ambrose raised his eyebrows at Dayton. “Star of the County Down? Swallowtail Jig?”
“You know what,” Dayton said, “you just start playing and I’ll follow you.”
Ambrose gave him an assessing glance that was probably a little too heated for public viewing, but he could hardly help himself. “Do try to keep up, then, dear,” he said quietly, and watched as Dayton blushed now.
Ambrose counted off a couple of measures with his shoe against the floor to give Dayton the tempo, and then let the bow dance against the strings, his fingers pressing into their practiced places. Ambrose hadn’t played a proper fiddle tune in a while, but this was what he’d trained on as a child, and the music had long been a part of him.
Dayton caught onto the accompaniment fairly easily— fiddle tunes were complex in some ways, but not usually very daring as far as chord changes went. When Dayton got confused, Ambrose called out the chord to him, and as they started to really get the hang of it people cheered for them. Jill was videotaping with her phone, of course. A few people even knew the traditional dances.
Ambrose took them through a series of reels and then brought the tempo down for a last sad Irish lament to finish the set. Dayton grinned up at him, his cheeks flushed and his tie askew. Ambrose fixed it for him, unable to keep from touching him.
The rest of the evening Ambrose felt much more at ease. Dayton danced with him and chatted with him and introduced him to anyone Ambrose hadn’t met yet. People complimented them on their music.
At one point, Jill took Ambrose aside to talk about the ongoing children’s programming at their Neighborhood Center. Jill was on their board. They’d been given a couple of large donations, Jill said with a wink at Ambrose, and they were hoping to do some programming over Spring Break. Ambrose gladly consented to doing a poetry workshop (and waived his fee) and promised to stop by the Center the next day and meet with some of the teachers.
Dayton was coaxed back to the piano for the last dance, a tradition, apparently. Ambrose sat beside him on the bench as he played through the Tennessee Waltz, which seemed perhaps an odd choice for how excited the crowd was. Ambrose figured it out when they got to the second verse.
Officially, there was no second verse to the Tennessee Waltz. Unofficially, it went like this:
I was waltzing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
at the annual Firemen’s Ball
All the people were staring at what she was wearing:
a newspaper dress, that was all
Oh, she wore comic strips from her knees to her hips
Where the want ads were, I can’t recall
Then the dress caught on fire and burned her entire
front page, sports section, and all!
The whole crowd sang the verse, and Ambrose was dying of laughter by the time they got to the end of it. Dayton pulled him close and kissed him. “Now you’ve had your first Fireman’s Ball, angel. What did you think?”
Ambrose rested his head on Dayton’s shoulder. “I loved it.”
As the crowd left, Ambrose and Dayton stayed behind with the firefighters and various volunteers to help clean up the space.
“It’s music, isn’t it?” Dayton asked Jill, as he lifted up an impressively large stack of chairs like it weighed nothing. (Ambrose was at the point of the evening where he was unabashedly staring at Dayton doing this sort of thing and not caring in the slightest who saw.)
“What’s music?” Jill asked as she removed some of the strings of colored fairy lights from the wall.
“Ambrose and me. You said we had something in common.”
Jill broke out laughing, and she looked from one of them to the other. “You still don’t know, do you? Oh, well, I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to just figure it out yourselves!”
Dayton shot Ambrose a smile. “I guess we will.”
When they got home, Ambrose was a mix of very tired and very turned on, which meant that he had the energy for one thing, and one thing only. Dayton seemed to be feeling the same way, so their shoes, suit coats, Ambrose’s violin, and various other items were left along the way to Ambrose’s bedroom.
Dayton stopped them for a moment by the work table for a deeper kiss. Ambrose let himself be pushed against the table and Dayton looked down. “Oh, the Milne book’s gone. Did you get it all repaired?”
Ambrose answered him as well as he could with their mouths pressed together. “Last week.”
“I’ll have to look at it in the morning,” Dayton said against Ambrose’s neck.
“Oh, I sold it,” Ambrose said.
Dayton stopped and pulled back. “I thought you loved that book.”
“Oh I do. Just, um—” Ambrose shrugged. “Expenses. Nothing to worry about dear,” he added as Dayton gave him a concerned look.
“Didn’t piss off the mob, then?” Dayton asked.
Ambrose laughed. “Hardly. You’ve stopped kissing me,” he pointed out.
“Oh!” Dayton exclaimed. “My apologies.” He caught Ambrose’s mouth again and they resumed their stumble toward the bedroom.
“It should be illegal for you to wear a tuxedo,” Dayton groaned. “Good god. I can’t believe you were on my arm the whole night.”
Ambrose was working on Dayton’s shirt buttons. They had made it to the bedroom now, leaving several more articles of clothing in the hallway. “Oh,” Ambrose said, a little surprised.
Dayton stared at him for a second and then frowned. “Look, I can’t do what you do, with the words. Well, nobody can do what you do with words. What I mean is, I can’t write you any verses, Ambrose, so I’m going to just lay it out for you.”
Dayton took a deep breath. “You’re beautiful.” He made a face. “No, you’re more than that, you’re gorgeous, and you’re sexy. I’m especially fond of your mouth, and I don’t mean for sex— well, I don’t mean just for sex, I also mean the way it moves when you talk, and the way your hands do the thing when you play the fiddle—” He made a frustrated noise and waved his arms around a bit. “I don’t know what to call it, it’s a thing, okay? And you had the best ass in the whole ballroom, of anybody of any gender, and I can’t believe that I’ve fucked you before and that there’s a reasonable chance of me doing it again in the future.” He crossed his arms. “All right, that’s the best poem I’ve ever written. What did you think?”
Ambrose had started laughing already, but he could also feel tears in his eyes. He pulled Dayton into his arms and muffled giggles against his neck. “It was marvelous, my dear. Beautiful.”
Dayton pressed kisses against Ambrose’s cheek. “Let me show you. I’m better at that.” He pulled Ambrose toward the bed, making sure Ambrose shed the rest of his clothes on the way.
“I’ve been planning something,” Dayton said, as he trailed kisses down Ambrose’s chest. “This seems like the night for it.” He looked up and smiled. “Unless you’re too tired to compose, angel.”
“About you?” Ambrose asked. “Never.” He sat up. “Should I go to the chair then?”
Dayton pushed at him gently. “No, you stay right here with me.” He kissed Ambrose softly. “Not that I don’t love when you sit over there, but you do know, you’ve got other senses besides sight.” He kissed him again. “Thought we might try out touch.”
Ambrose looked up at him in surprise and Dayton grinned at him. “Just a sec.” He climbed off the bed and snatched up one of their ties from the floor. “Okay if I blindfold you?” he asked.
Ambrose felt a little shiver go through him. Dayton raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you like that.”
Ambrose huffed at him. Dayton gently tied the fabric around Ambrose’s eyes. “All right?” he asked.
Ambrose nodded. “Fine.”
Dayton kissed his mouth. “Perfect. If that stops being the case, though, just take it off or ask me to take it off. I won’t mind.”
Dayton began trailing kisses down Ambrose’s body. He moved over his chest and along his arms, over the swell of his stomach and the bulk of his thighs. When Dayton kissed Ambrose’s aching cock, Ambrose sighed and sank his hands into Dayton’s hair.
“Ah, ah,” Dayton cautioned. “Hands to yourself, angel. You’re meant to be observing, here.”
“Sorry,” Ambrose whispered.
Dayton murmured something soothing as he started sucking against Ambrose’s thigh in a way that would probably leave a mark. Ambrose clenched his fingers in the sheets, but when Dayton moved back to his cock, his hands came free and grasped at his lover’s hair again.
Dayton laughed. “Do I have to bind your hands?”
Predictably, a shiver ran through Ambrose.
“Right,” Dayton said, and his voice broke a little. He moved away and then was back an instant later, attaching what felt like more ties to Ambrose’s wrists. “We didn’t talk about this beforehand,” Dayton said, as he tugged Ambrose’s arms up and fastened them to what must have been the headboard. “So I’m going to do this loosely. Twist your wrist and the knot will come right out, okay? Or again, just ask me, and I’ll take them off. We can stop anytime you need.”
Ambrose nodded. “I’ll let you know.”
“Now,” Dayton said, sitting back, sounding rather pleased with himself. “I want to hear some verses, angel.”
In the end, Ambrose wasn’t sure what he said exactly. He knew he was talking, but the feelings came to him more in images than in words, endless beautiful things passing behind his sightless eyes.
Not being able to anticipate where Dayton would touch him was part of it. The waiting, the surprise. Sometimes Ambrose’s body jumped at the contact, and sometimes he stretched up to meet Dayton as if his body had somehow known Dayton would be there. When Dayton did touch him, the feeling spread far beyond the site of it. It raced up Ambrose’s body in raging wildfires chased by waves, and in little pieces too: tiny shivers of cold skin met by a warm mouth and then turned abruptly cold again as Dayton moved away and let the damp skin meet the air. It was like Dayton was present and absent in the same moment, and necessary all the while, a green and growing thing, everliving.
Dayton neglected no part of Ambrose. He massaged his tired feet with strong, sure fingers, he kissed each freckle on Ambrose’s arms, and of course, he slid Ambrose’s cock into the heat of his mouth and sucked him down until Ambrose moaned with pleasure.
“Please,” Ambrose begged, and Dayton shushed him, pressing his mouth against his legs as he parted them.
“Don’t worry, angel. I’ll see to you. I’m loving this poem, by the way. A tree at the center of the universe, am I?”
“World tree,” Ambrose managed to say before he lost track of the words again. He was used to Dayton’s fingers gently stretching him, but blindfolded and tied like this, the world narrowed to the sensation of exactly how Dayton touched him and how those touches flowed through Ambrose’s body, right out to the edges of him and back again.
When Dayton finished preparing Ambrose, he drew his fingers out of him, and the next touch Ambrose felt was at his wrist. “There are parts of you I can’t reach like this,” Dayton said gently. “I’m going to turn you over. I can redo the ties if you want.”
Ambrose had never felt so keyed up and so relaxed at the same time, and he was floating on it. “No, I’ll remember,” he murmured, and folded his arms under his head as Dayton guided him over.
There was a gentle tug tightening the blindfold, and then Dayton trailed his fingers slowly down Ambrose’s back. Ambrose gasped at the feeling of that skin being touched for the first time. He almost didn’t register the ache of his cock now, the emptiness of his body where it was ready to take Dayton in.
When Dayton finally did slide Ambrose up onto his knees and then push inside him, Ambrose could tell that Dayton was losing a little of his own control, his movements jerking the way they did when he was close to coming. But he stilled himself and then started making slow, rhythmic thrusts into Ambrose. Ambrose moaned in bliss, and it only built from there. Dayton was everywhere, his constant touch Ambrose’s entire world. And as it peaked, Ambrose did something he’d never done. He came without the help of Dayton’s hand, his cock spurting over the bedsheets below them with a groan of pleasure.
Behind him, Dayton gasped and seized Ambrose’s hips in a tight grip. His thrusts grew harder and he groaned out, “Angel, oh my god, yes. Fuck. Oh, fuck.” And as he came, he let his body fold over Ambrose’s back, covering Ambrose with heat.
When Dayton had stilled, Ambrose slipped over to his side and pulled off the blindfold. Dayton was flushed and a little sweaty and looked blissed out with pleasure. He fell back onto the bed beside Ambrose. “So how was that?” he asked.
Ambrose let out a breath. “I think I could… I could fill a couple of books with that. Yeah.”
Dayton tucked his face into Ambrose’s shoulder and laughed.
Dayton was having a good day.
He was tired, yes, and he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be at work the day after the Ball, especially having had so little sleep, but there was such a good reason that he hadn’t gotten much sleep that he couldn’t help but be cheerful.
Dayton did still wonder what it was about Ambrose that had caused him to fall so fast. And he had fallen. Dayton had wanted Ambrose from the first time he’d seen him, and somewhere along the line, in the comfortable dates and phenomenal sex, Dayton had tripped over himself, head over heels, into something he’d never felt before. Dayton was in love.
And Ambrose wanted him too. Ambrose cared for him, and enjoyed his company, and as long as Dayton could continue to make Ambrose feel as good as he’d felt last night— as long as Dayton could continue to be Ambrose’s muse— the relationship would last. And maybe Ambrose would fall in love too, and they could have a life together that was full of music and poetry and gardening and really fantastic sex. Honestly, what more could a person want?
So Dayton was having a very good day, until the fire bell rang. But even that didn’t dampen his spirits too much. Dayton didn’t mind going out on a call. It usually wasn’t a fire, those were thankfully rare. But it was always a thrill to get to pull up to a scene where someone needed help and to be that help, to step in and calm and comfort and care. So it wasn’t the call so much that broke his good mood. It was when Jill ordered him out of the driver’s seat of the truck.
“I am in training as a driver,” he reminded her with a frustrated frown.
Jill didn’t rise to the teasing. Her face was pale and stark. “Not right now you’re not,” she said.
Dayton braced a hand on the dashboard as the truck pulled out of the station, siren blazing. He felt his breathing pick up, his heart skitter in his chest. “Where are we going, Jill?”
“The Neighborhood Center by my house. There’s a fire.”
“Oh, shit,” Dayton said, and the other firefighters leaned forward to hear the news.
“Are there people inside?” one of them asked.
“Possibly,” Jill answered, checking her mirrors carefully as she blew through a red light. “And Dayton,” she said, in the kind of calm voice that could terrify someone, “Ambrose might be there.”
Dayton saw his fingers turn white where they gripped the dashboard. “What? Why?”
“Meeting the teachers about programming. Upcoming poetry workshop.” She fixed Dayton with a look. “If you can’t do this, I will sideline you.”
“I can,” Dayton assured her. “I can.”
And then they turned the corner and Dayton saw the most horrifying sight he’d ever seen in his life. The Neighborhood Center with smoke pouring out the windows, and in front of it, Ambrose’s car.
Dayton fell back on his training. It was what you had to do, in a situation like this. His hands found his gear, adjusting his clothes as surely as they did when he played the piano in long-memorized movements.
There were teachers and kids outside, and one of the teachers ran over to them. “Afternoon summer camp,” she said, in an impressively calm voice for someone who had clearly been crying. “We’re missing a student. Six-year-old boy. And Ambrose—”
Dayton didn’t hear the rest of it, but the meaning of it got through enough to turn his stomach. Ambrose hadn’t come out either.
Jill seized Dayton’s wrist in a painful grasp, even through his turnout coat. “Can you do this?”
Dayton nodded. He pulled on his hat and mask as the teacher explained that the student had gone to the bathroom right before the fire alarms went off. Ambrose had gone to fetch him as the teacher evacuated the other kids, but they’d never come out. Another teacher had gone back in, but the bathroom was empty, and the smoke had forced him out onto the sidewalk.
Dayton was in the building almost before he realized it. His feet seemed not to make contact with the floor somehow, but he was moving forward anyway. There was heavy smoke but no fire that he could see. Behind him, other firefighters in protective gear fanned out into the building, searching for the source.
“Fuck, Ambrose,” Dayton whispered. “Where are you?”
The smoke was fairly thin in the lobby, and the lights on the ceiling could still be clearly seen, along with the red EXIT signs. Wherever Ambrose and the student had gone, they probably weren’t able to see a way out. Dayton made for the densest area of smoke.
It wasn’t terribly hot in the building, and Dayton was thankful for that. It probably wasn’t a fire then, just an electrical or machinery failure that was pumping out a lot of smoke. But smoke could be plenty damaging on its own.
Dayton turned a corner and things got darker. He pressed on, daylight fading behind him, searching for movement, for—
Oh. Thank God for Ambrose and his ridiculous white linen pants. Dayton could see him lying on the floor, and as he knelt beside him, he discovered the student beneath him.
Ambrose wasn’t wearing a shirt. The little boy had it in his hands, and it was pressed over his mouth and nose. Ambrose had gotten it wet somehow, maybe as he passed a water fountain or bathroom.
Dayton must have called for help over the radio, because he was surrounded then, and the little boy was rushed away. Dayton lifted Ambrose into his arms. It wasn’t the first time. Ambrose did like to be romanced, didn’t he? Indulged. Seen to. Well, after this was over, Dayton would be sure to do that, wouldn’t he? To make up for this one, because Ambrose— Ambrose wasn’t awake to see it.
When Dayton broke through to fresh air, the ambulance crew was waiting. They took Ambrose from him and put an oxygen mask over his face. Dayton tore his off, and came down to his knees on the grass.
The little boy was awake and coughing. His teacher was holding him as the paramedics checked him over. “I didn’t like the really loud noise,” he said, looking over at Dayton. “And then I got lost. But he found me. Is he okay?”
One of the paramedics reassured the child as she put an oxygen mask over his face. Dayton got to his feet, realizing that Jill was helping him. She loaded him into the ambulance with Ambrose and they started for the hospital.
Dayton sat in a chair by Ambrose’s hospital bed and waited. Ambrose didn’t really look like himself at the moment. His white hair was tinged a dirty gray and the hospital gown was an unattractive shade of green. A lighter color would have suited Ambrose better. Ambrose would no doubt complain about it himself. Any minute now.
He still had a red mark on his shoulder where Dayton had bitten him the night before. Dayton arranged the gown so that the mark could be seen.
The damage to the Neighborhood Center was fairly light. The air conditioner had overheated and created smoke. The little boy was going to be fine. And Ambrose— Ambrose was breathing on his own. There hadn’t been the need for a ventilator, just the oxygen mask. The doctors were very reassuring.
It was just that Ambrose hadn’t woken up yet.
Jill came in a little while later with flowers. She hugged Dayton and then dropped down into another chair, looking more stressed than Dayton had ever seen her.
After a moment, she said, “It’s the Neighborhood Center. What you have in common. Ambrose is a major donor.”
Dayton looked at her in surprise. “What?”
“He’s been making donations for years. Sells books that he restores. Finances the summer camp by himself. So when you made your donation this year— which I do not know how you afforded, by the way— that’s when I knew you two would be perfect for each other.”
“Small apartment,” Dayton said, staring at Ambrose. “I don’t need much space, it gives me money left over to donate.” He watched Ambrose’s breaths raise and lower his chest. “That’s what it is about him,” he said softly. “Look at him, he’s an angel.”
Was it Dayton’s imagination or did Ambrose stir a little at that word?
“What do you mean?” Jill asked.
“He is. He loves children. He works with them, draws them, sells books for them. He finds them when they’re lost. That’s what I’ve been looking for all this time, because that’s what I needed as a child. A real-life guardian angel. Ever vigilant.”
This time Dayton wasn’t imagining it. At the word angel, Ambrose turned his head toward them and opened his eyes. Dayton jumped up and grasped Ambrose’s hand, desperately grateful that Ambrose squeezed his fingers back.
Ambrose coughed a little and then moved the mask aside so that he could talk. “Little boy?” he asked.
“He’s fine,” Jill said. “Good trick with the wet shirt.” She dropped a kiss on Ambrose’s forehead and gave Dayton a hug on her way out of the room.
“You’re an idiot,” Dayton said in a fond voice. “I bridal carried you and you missed it.”
Ambrose coughed again. “I demand a rain check.” He took Dayton’s other hand as well. “I’m so sorry, my dear, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I love you,” Dayton said.
Ambrose looked up at him with a sort of softly confused face. “You do?”
“I wasn’t going to say it like this, but I’ve loved you for a while and you need to know.”
Ambrose dropped his gaze. Dayton told himself not to panic unless Ambrose let go of his hand, and Ambrose did not. But Ambrose didn’t say I love you back. Instead, he asked, “What if this isn’t fair to you?”
Dayton tried to smile reassuringly. “What if what isn’t fair? Quiet evenings in? Lunches at the firehouse? Amazing sex?”
“Being my muse,” Ambrose said. He looked up at him with worried features. “Dayton, you need to know that I would destroy it all in a heartbeat. I’d never write another word about you, never draw another sketch. Just to make sure that you know you’re not just a pretty thing to me—”
“I like being a pretty thing for you.” Dayton felt his courage falter a little. “Course, I’ll get older. Won’t quite look the same—”
“I’m never going to fall out of love with you, Dayton,” Ambrose said. “So you don’t need to worry about that.”
Dayton stared at him for a second. “I like being your muse,” he said, in a voice that broke a little. “No one’s ever seen me the way you do, and I need— I need to be seen.”
“I will always see you,” Ambrose promised. “But I worry that you’ll think it’s just because I want to write about you—”
“Well, maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way,” Dayton said. “Maybe it’s— maybe it’s like the music. We both do that together, don’t we? Create something out of the two of us.”
Ambrose seemed to consider for a moment. “I like that,” he said finally. “You are more than my muse. You’re my creative partner. And my love.”
“We could make so much together,” Dayton said, a little desperately. “A home, a life. Books of poetry and your wonderful sketches. A family, with children someday.” He could have cried at the way Ambrose’s face lit up at that. “And as your creative partner, I think the profits from our first book should be used to finance the remodel of the Neighborhood Center.”
“I do love you,” Ambrose said.
Dayton pressed his lips to Ambrose’s forehead. “I love you too, angel.”