With a small sigh, Ben reached over blindly to turn off his clock radio. He had been more or less awake for some time, dozing lightly, waiting for the annoying chatter of traffic news and weather reports to tell him it was time to get up and get ready for work. Pulling back the duvet, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Rubbing his face briskly and giving his stubble a scratch, he yawned widely and stretched the kinks out of his neck.

He made his way over to the window, leaning his hands on the sill as he looked up at the sky to contemplate his options. It didn’t look like it would snow.

“A quick run, or a go at the weights?” he asked himself.

The weather report had said brisk and then cold with a chance of sunshine. Despite it being far too early for sunshine, he chose to go for a quick run. He loved how fresh the air smelled first thing; there was no better way to wake up. And anyway, he knew he’d hit the weights in the evening after work.

“Once or twice around the park, then.”

Boycotting the shower and pulling out a pair of sweats, T-shirt and a warm sweatshirt, he made his way down the stairs and to the front door, where he crouched to tie the laces to his running shoes. Pulling one leg up at a time to touch his heel to the back of his thighs, he deemed himself loose enough and, locking the door behind him, set out at a jog down the quiet street.

At six-thirty on a January morning, it was indeed brisk. He loved Seattle; he didn’t think he’d likely ever move. Knowing a city inside out made a guy feel safe and in turn protective. Running this more-than-familiar route required no thinking, and with his guard down, his feet could just eat up the pavement. Capitol Hill was a good neighborhood, home to good people.

His breath misted in front of him as he picked up the pace; this was his favorite time of day. The park was quiet and empty, only the sounds of birds stirring could be heard. He made his second lap around the park, pulling his hands up into his sleeves when his fingers began to numb. He should have worn his gloves.

Ambling to a walk as he approached the house he had lived in for the majority of his thirty-four years, he wiped the sweat from his brow and stopped to stretch his legs before going inside. He took a few gulps from a bottle of water, then placed it back in the large fridge before reaching for the milk.

He shed his sweatshirt and set the milk, a bowl, and his favorite cereal down on the table, and pulled back a chair to sit. His breathing nearly normal again, he paused and ran a finger over the blue swirling design on the bowl. He’d eaten out of this same bowl as a child. He smiled fondly for a moment and then filled the bowl generously.

He looked around the kitchen as he chewed. It was a spacious kitchen, and so quiet, but he had grown used to it. If he closed his eyes, he could imagine hearing his father tinkering about, making coffee for himself and telling his son to hurry with his breakfast. They had always been in a rush in the mornings, despite waking at the crack of dawn. His father would get him up out of bed early, but then they would usually get to talking and end up scrambling to get out the door on time. Whether they’d be chatting about school or last night’s game, they would always be surprised to see that they were running late.

He was in no rush now. Thanks to his dad, he’d never really been one to sleep in. Lately his days were pretty much the same: get up, lift weights or go for a run, go to work, come home, eat, either fit in a little cardio or go at the weights again before settling in for the night with a book or in front of the TV.

Of course, occasionally he would deviate from his routine to make a trip out to a bar or club, despite not really being a huge fan of either. But everyone needed a little company now and then, didn’t they? His choice of company tended to lean toward the male variety, not something he had ever hidden, but also not something he chose to advertise. A little anonymous sex was needed every so often, when porn and his hand no longer did the trick. So he would hook up occasionally, and though not always satisfying, it scratched an itch.

That was the way it went. He wasn’t unhappy; he was simply a creature of habit. And at that moment another little creature of habit interrupted his musings with a soft mew.

“Hey, sweetheart.”

Putting his bowl in the sink, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and crouched to pick up the scruffiest, most ridiculous-looking cat ever. She was also the sweetest little thing he’d ever known.

“You want your breakfast too, huh?”

Loud purring answered him. He tucked her under one arm as he scratched the top of her head. He’d learned not to feel silly about talking to his cat soon after adopting the odd little stray.

He’d named her Muddles. She had a line that could have been drawn on with a ruler that went down the center of her little face, the left of it a patchy ginger, the right completely black. With long fur that always looked a mess, she looked every bit the stray, save for the red collar she wore with a little fish-shaped name plate that said otherwise. He’d found the grubby little fur ball in his yard while trimming his mother’s bushes. She’d been tiny and pathetic looking, and he’d loved her immediately.

“Tuna today, Mud.” He shook the packet of cat food and ripped open the top, filling her bowl. “Better you than me.”

She didn’t seem to mind, however, and hungrily began to stuff her face, purring the entire time, jelly attaching itself to her whiskers. Wiping his hands down his thighs, he grabbed his discarded sweater and headed upstairs for a shower.

Stuffing his clothes into the hamper, he pulled back the shower curtain and stepped under the warm spray. He dipped his head and sighed as the warm water ran over his scalp and down his broad back. He ran his hands through his hair, completely wetting it, and then reached for the shampoo. Lathering himself, he allowed his hands to wander lower until he cupped his heavy balls. He contemplated jerking off, his dick showing some interest, but decided he didn’t have the time after taking that second lap around the park.

Rinsing off, he climbed out of the shower, grabbed a towel, and wrapped it around his trim waist. He wiped the bathroom mirror clear, and picked up his razor. He’d been shaving since he was sixteen—he’d needed to. Every morning without fail, there would be a light scruff. He didn’t mind it, had even been told it was attractive, but it wouldn’t do for an officer to look disheveled.

He smiled a small, melancholy smile. He remembered his father showing him how to shave for the first time, his dad’s hands guiding his slowly over his chin, and then quickly swishing it clean in the sink before repeating the action. His father had been gone three years now, and he still found it hard to believe that he would never see the old man again. Ben applied the cream and scraped it gently away with his razor, an action that barely required any concentration after so many years. Sighing, he wiped any remaining foam from his chin, and looked at his reflection.

He didn’t dislike how he looked; he knew he was handsome in a way, though he didn’t see anything particularly striking. With short, black hair, a strong jaw, a straight nose, pale lips, and watery blue eyes, he guessed he didn’t look bad, but nothing to write home about. He tensed his chest for a moment, not admiring, just looking to see if the extra ten pounds weight he’d been lifting had made any difference. He looked about the same, he decided. Broad shoulders, firm pecs covered in a light dusting of dark hair, and hard abs. He rolled his eyes at his reflection, feeling stupid for checking himself out. His only goal was to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and the workouts felt good. Not to mention that his job required him to be in good physical health. But mostly, he refused to watch what he ate. He loved food—and loved to cook—so the trade off was a lot of exercise. He didn’t even own a set of scales.

After running a towel roughly over his hair, he dropped it into the hamper, along with the one around his waist. He took his uniform out of his closet, running his hand down the front of the shirt before laying it on the bed. Pulling out underwear and socks, he got himself ready for work.

Uniform on, belt, gun and cuffs attached, he pulled on his jacket and crouched again, dangled his keys in front of Muddles for a minute, and gave a small grin as she rolled onto her back to bat at the clinking metal. Stepping over her, he made his way to the door, pausing only for a second to glance at a framed photo of his father in uniform before heading off for another day.

 

 

Reece came awake with a start, his alarm blaring obnoxiously.

“Argh, shut up.”

He sat up and reached for the damn thing, jabbing at the off button and shaking the shit out of it. Eventually it stopped, and with a groan he laid back across his pillows. It took only a few seconds for something to register, and he sat back up with a start, looking at the little red numbers that indicated that he should have left for work ten minutes ago.

“Shit!”

He leaped out of bed and ran straight to the bathroom, muttering the entire time.

“Fucking alarm, can’t wake me up when I tell it to, oh no. Has a mind of its fucking own, doesn’t it, gets me up when it’s good and ready and not a minute before….”

He probably should have skipped the shower, as late as he was, but he’d been surprisingly tired last night and had fallen straight into bed without bathing first. Considering what he’d been doing all day yesterday, and what he’d be doing again today, he really did need one. Working downtown saw to that. He was clean in a record-breaking amount of time, and quickly brushed his teeth, barely glancing in the mirror. He knew what was there: shaggy brown hair, kind of scruffy but in an oddly appealing way­—he hoped. Warm brown eyes, cheeky grin, lean body—so it fucking should be—and an eagerness to get on with life that sometimes made him appear younger than he actually was. As it stood, he was twenty-nine, approaching the big Three-O, and not looking forward to it one damn bit.

“A bike messenger at nearly thirty, way to go, Reece. And you wonder why you’re single.”

Of course, he wasn’t just a bike messenger, and that wasn’t what he wanted to be. It just paid the bills and had the small advantage of keeping him in shape; Lord knew he hated working out in his free time.

He was a freelance photographer. He advertised in the local papers, though it didn’t seem to do him much good. Reece’s Family Portraits. He’d position whiney little kids and screaming babies into a pose that resembled something adorable, take the shot, and then develop them in the nearest print lab. Again, not exactly what he wanted to be doing, but it was closer to professional photographer than bike messenger, at least. Truth was, he’d be most content to take pictures of mountains, lakes, pyramids… hell, the ducks down at the fucking park would do. But financial security was hard to come by, so adding to his portfolio (a portfolio he allowed himself to be proud of) was strictly reserved for his own free time, something else that was hard to come by.

He glanced quickly through his organizer as he dressed in a rush, looking to see if he had any bookings coming up, and sighed at the blank pages.

You’ll get by.

Nothing but his standard, boring as fuck nine-to-five job for the moment, then. Luckily his boss was a darling, and his best friend. So he could take a day off work at short notice when these miraculous bookings did actually happen.

He was hungry but had no time to eat; he’d have to nab a pretzel on the way to his first drop or something. He loved food. He couldn’t cook for shit, but could eat like a pro. Lucky for him, his vain ass had a quick metabolism.

You’re not vain, you’re single and a fucking bike messenger, add fat onto that and you’ll die alone for sure.

He dashed back into his room, remembering at the last moment to feed his fish. Darren, his good buddy and boss, had bought the fish for him on his last birthday. Reece had joked at the time that a sweater from Gap would have sufficed, but he loved the little sucker—mostly because he hadn’t killed it yet. He’d named it Wesley Snipes. Wesley Snipes the fish, because anyone could tell by looking at it that this was one badass fish—fucking huge, gold with a black tail and a little castle that it enjoyed knocking over.

Fish fed, he hefted his bike out of the narrow corridor of his cramped apartment, and set it aside so he could quickly ransack his tiny kitchen for wherever he’d left his keys.

“Gotcha!”

Stuffing them into his pocket, he pushed his bike to the door, pausing to jot down a note on a pad he kept beside his phone. The list of things he needed to buy—but as of yet could not quite afford—was getting longer and longer. He scribbled beneath where he’d written “new bike.”

“Buy new… non-shit alarm clock.”

Picking up his bike, he pushed it out of the door and locked up. The elevator was, of course, not working, had, in fact, never worked in the ten years—ten fucking years—he’d lived there.

Hefting the bike frame onto his shoulder—not exactly comfortable but at least the repetitive action afforded him arms that no longer resembled spaghetti—he made his way carefully down the stairs to begin another day of delivery and dodging traffic.

 

 

Ben held back a sigh. Bickering couples should not be allowed to dial 911. He stood in the apartment of a couple who had been screaming up a storm, over what he gathered so far was the woman’s son-of-a-bitch husband’s infidelity. She’d thrown half his shit out onto the street, and then gone to the kitchen for a knife. Or at least what the guy who had then promptly called the police had described as a knife. From where he was standing, this “huge fucking knife” looked a lot like an average-size potato peeler.

“Miss, please put down the, uh… potato peeler.”

Had he ever had to say anything so ridiculous?

“What? You gonna shoot me?!” The woman cried.

“Not over a potato peeler, no.” He wished he could stop saying “potato peeler.”

“It looked like a knife when she came at me with it,” the husband said.

Too right you should look embarrassed, you cheating dick. Ben exchanged a look of strained patience with the other officer who had joined him on the domestic call. He was a good guy, name of Brown, a young guy, new to the force, who apparently had a hard time keeping a straight face when the guy—who was in his boxers and nothing else—flinched every time the woman moved or gestured with the “weapon.”

“Miss, I don’t want to have to arrest you over a… over that”—he nodded toward the peeler—“and I appreciate that you’re very upset right now, but that isn’t going to make anything better.” He approached her slowly with a hand outstretched, gently touching her elbow. “Can we sit down, just for a minute?”

She seemed to calm under his touch and offered the peeler to him without a second thought. “Like I could hurt him with this. What am I gonna do, peel him?”

He guided the sniffling woman to the couch, exchanging a glance with Brown, who was speaking now to the husband, urging him to put some clothes on.

“My clothes are out in the fucking street—”

Ignoring the man’s whining, Ben turned back to the middle-aged woman before him. She looked heartbroken.

“You realize if he asks to press charges, you’ll have to come with us.”

She shrugged, that small defeated gesture earning her his sympathy. “I’m sorry you were called, I didn’t know he’d do that. It was just a vegetable peeler.”

He bit back a small smile. “Yeah, not the most heroic of guys you got there.”

She turned teary eyes to him, her chin trembling. Unconsciously he put a gentle arm around her shoulders. “He slept with my sister. Can you believe that?” she asked quietly.

He sighed, and replied to her in a quiet voice for her ears only. “I’m tempted to give you this back.” He nodded toward his hand.

That earned him a small watery laugh. He’d do what he could. Make sure his report (if it came to that) read that she had not had a knife, and had not been trying to attack him, only scare him.

“Jenkins?”

Ben looked up at the mention of his name. Brown, who stood with a sheepish looking, still half-naked man behind him, seemed to have the situation under control.

“He doesn’t want to press charges.”

He heard the woman sigh in relief.

“The least you could do, if you ask me.” His words were not directed at his partner. “Do one of you have somewhere else you could stay tonight, at least until you’ve both cooled off?”

“I’ll go,” the guy muttered.

“To her?” The woman broke down crying.

Ben cleared his throat uncomfortably; he hated these calls. Fortunately, his radio chose that moment to crackle to life. He shared a brief look with Brown before nodding and heading out into the hall to take it.

It turned out to be another call. He looked back into the apartment and briefly explained to Brown.

“Go, I got this,” Brown said.

He thanked Brown and left. The domestic no longer needed two officers on location. He felt for the woman, but there was nothing more he could do.

He liked Brown. He wondered if they’d end up partnered together. He’d been a cop for a number of years now. His old partner, Ted Adams, had been wounded three months ago, and it didn’t seem like he planned on coming back. The thought made Ben a little sad, but Adams was a good fifteen years his senior, and had lost some of his passion for the job. It made it easy for Ben to understand why he might take worker’s comp and early retirement from the force. He’d earned it; he’d have a limp for the rest of his life and he had scared the shit out of his wife to boot.

Ben made a mental note as he climbed back into his vehicle to pay his old partner a visit soon. While he’d grown used to riding alone the past couple of months, it could get a little boring. Well, either boring or dangerous. Brown would make a good partner. He’d just have to wait and see what happened there.

Speaking over the radio, he made his destination known and pulled away. Hopefully this call would be the last of his shift.

 

 

Reece groaned as he all but dropped his bicycle in his short hallway, pushing the door shut behind him with his foot. What a day. He’d made thirteen drops and his ass was killing him—and not in a good way.

Darren had been fine with him, as always. Well, he’d greeted him with a “Where the fuck have you been?” before shoving his first delivery of the day into his arms.

“You’d better have been getting laid, you know no other excuse is acceptable.”

“I agree, but alas, it was the alarm clock from hell. It wants you to fire me.”

“It may just get its wish if you keep this up.”

“But Darren,” he’d said, giving his best helpless itty bitty kitty look and blinking sadly at the man, “you know I’d be destitute without this shitty job.”

“So you’d think you’d try a little harder to keep it.”

“I’d have to pedal my ass on the streets. Sell my bicycle helmet. Give blow jobs for change!”

“Oh, like you wouldn’t love giving head for a living.”

“Not to married, balding, fat businessmen I wouldn’t.”

Darren had just laughed and said, “Then I suggest you get going. Go!”

He’d been pushed out the front door, his best friend grinning at him affectionately, but his day had gone downhill from there. He hated office drops. He hated standing there in his cycling gear, waiting for a signature while successful businessmen in their successful businessmen suits strode past him looking all superior and shit. He was well aware that it was most likely all in his head—that they in fact didn’t even notice him and that it was his own hang-ups that made him think that way. Still. It wasn’t a great feeling. And today he’d had some posh asshole, all handsome and distinguished looking, in a suit that probably cost more than he earned in a month, yell at him in front of a foyer full of people for something that wasn’t even his fucking fault. He just delivered the goddamn packages; he didn’t know what was in them. That wasn’t his or Darren’s responsibility. The day hadn’t really gotten any better after that, but at least it was done now.

He leaned over the fridge door, gazing mournfully at the near empty shelves.

“Cereal, it is. I should probably learn to cook one of these days.”

He forced down a bowl of cereal, looking back at the fridge and willing it to fill with actual food. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford the groceries; he could buy himself food at the very least. He was just too goddamn tired to attempt to cook anything.

He had to face it: he was getting older. Gone, for the most part anyway, were the nights spent dancing till three in the morning and picking up some guy he’d probably never see again. It bothered him, but not in the obvious way. Everyone eventually got older and he wasn’t ashamed to be turning thirty soon, he certainly wouldn’t lie about his age. He’d simply envisioned his life being a little different by now. His career was supposed to have taken off; he was supposed to be living in at least a semi-decent apartment.

He looked at the place that had been his home since he was nineteen and winced. Apart from the photography on the walls, his apartment could still be mistaken for student digs. He felt a lump develop in his throat. If he were to be honest, he felt a little embarrassed, perhaps a touch ashamed.

Darren was always telling him to go easier on himself. That at least he was out there, trying to make his way under his own