Author: Rhys Ford
Characters: Connor Morgan & Forest Ackerman
Fire and hurt brought you to me
Had nothing in me but pain
You wiped my tears, Held onto my heart
And showed me how to live all over again.
— Love and Life
Forest’d grown up inside of the Sound. It cradled him in a way, drywall boxes were his pubescent cribs while sound boards rocked his sleep with often discordant lullabies as musicians struggled to find their own place in a universal orchestra. He’d replaced every water-stained tile in the ceilings, side-eyed the wiring kraken in room three an electrician swore was legal and sweated at least seven gallons a year behind aging drum kits for a few dollars when a band needed a percussionist.
And never once in the years he’d bled, sweated and cried in the brick building he’d grown up in, did Forest think he’d be playing in the nucleus of a not-yet famous rock band.
His foster father, Frank, always told him bands rose and fell quicker than a runner’s breathing. It was rare to be at the start of the next big thing. Even rarer to have a hand in its creation. But standing in the Sound’s Room One, Forest knew in his marrow his life was going to spin out completely away from the path he’d found himself on the day Frank’d pulled him out of the dumpster and put him behind a set of drums.
And all because of the two men breaking down their equipment a few feet away.
Damie was talking to Miki but then Damie was always talking. He moved constantly, his mind a flick of thoughts skimming through life, discarding ideas only to circle around back to them. When Forest first met the charismatic, talented guitarist, he’d wondered how Damien’d ever gotten Sinner’s Gin to the heights they’d reached. Forest soon learned that behind the constant chatter, tasting and testing was an intense focus and drive, willing to push or cajole the world into doing what Damien Mitchell wanted.
He’d been swept up into Damien’s river, carried along on its current while he’d fought to find some kind of balance in the rapids. Forest found his way soon enough, afforded a respect he wasn’t quite sure he’d earned yet but Damien was sure.
Damien was always sure.
Sinjun—Miki St. John—was another matter entirely. Feral and antisocial, Miki was Damien’s cricket, the not so small voice of pragmatic, coarse reason who wove words into tapestries or sharpened them to a keen edge so tight most people didn’t realize they’d been cut until they were bled out. If Damien was the personality, Sinjun was the soul. A dark looming angel held aloof by his nature and gutter-hard when drawn in close. Forest hadn’t been sure if he’d like Miki. The singer held back, the antithesis of the sensual slither who crawled across the stage and coaxed people to scream or weep his name but against the bright sharp of Damie’s willful nature, Miki was oddly a rock, pitted from abuse but standing firm and strong.
He also seemed to be the only one in Creation able to put a leash on Damie’s wilder notions.
There was an ache in Forest’s shoulders, as familiar to him as his own skin but it resonated deeper than it had before. Muscles cramping from hours of laying down beats, countless repetitions and changes until a song went right in someone’s head, he’d always left the studio rather happy the ordeal was over and he could soak in a tub of hot water.
This time—these past few weeks—he’d regretfully ran his hand over the hot skins and wished they could go on.
Playing with Damie and Miki was like bathing in fire and earning phoenix wings in return. Forest never wanted it to stop. Even as blisters rose up on his fingers and his calluses bled along his palms, he fell into the music, drinking it in and filling himself all the way to the dark recesses of his soul where he thought the light would never touch.
Now the band—his band—touched him there.
Just like his lover, Connor.
If the band was mind-blowing, being with Con was… impossible to believe.
But here he was, sitting in the Sound while Damien Mitchell argued about how to coil up cables and Forest was looking at a three-month anniversary with a man he loved with all his heart.
“You guys have been together for a while.” Forest slowly twisted the chair he was sitting in, moving it back and forth. “I mean with your… boyfriends.”
“Sinjun’s past a year, I think.” Damie straightened up, popping his head up over a console. “Shit, I don’t know exactly how long Sionn and I’ve been together but we did a six month thing. How come?”
“Con reminded me we’ve been together for three months today. I’m kind of thinking I need to do something but I’ve got no fucking clue.” He shrugged. “I’ve never even really dated someone before and now…this.”
“Yeah, the this part’s the hardest.” Damien nodded. “That family’s big on anniversaries and stuff. Sionn made a big deal about hitting half a year. Went down to Napa Valley and just lazed about. Sin, what’d you and Kane do… shit, have you guys been together a year? More?”
“More.” Turning around an old dining table chair Frank’d dragged in years ago, Miki straddled its seat, resting his arms on its low back.
“What did you guys do?” The chair squeaked again when Forest turned towards Miki. “I need some help with this. Seriously.”
Miki’s shrug was an elegant display of casual apathy. “We kicked everyone out, stayed home and pretty much spent the weekend eating what we wanted and fucking.”
“You scare me with your lack of romance,” Damien drawled.
“It’s what we wanted to do. Steak and sex.” Miki’s mouth quirked into a grin. “What’s wrong with that?”
“’Cause Forest and Con are kind of the mini-van and two-point-five kids of guys.” Damie must have caught the look of terror forming on Forest’s face because he patted him on the shoulder. “Nothing to be ashamed about. Let’s face it, you’re pretty much straight up married. Probably have been since the first time he saw you. It’s kind of puke-inducing but we all live with it.”
“You make us sound like some kind of romance novel.” His protest was weak but Forest gave it his best go. “We fight. Sometimes.”
“When was the last time you guys screamed at one another?” The guitarist prodded. “And not in the please-fuck-me-harder kind of way?”
Miki snorted and Forest dug into his memory, looking for discord. Puffing out his cheeks, he said, “I didn’t like the colour he painted the back room. I was pissed off about the contractors dragging their feet at the Sound and kind of took it out on Con.”
“Yeah, how’d that work out?” Miki cocked his head, his deep hazel eyes glittering under the studio’s bright lights. “Ended up fucking, right?”
Since his memory vividly tossed back the ache in his back after the hours-long session he and Connor had on the kitchen floor, Forest kept his mouth shut.
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with the two of you,” Damien declared. “Hell, you’re the most stable one of us. Be happy about that. We all work on different levels. Yours is just more—”
“Normal.” Miki cut in. “Really fucking normal.”
“Nothing wrong with normal.” With a nudge of his elbow, Damien nearly unseated his brother. “Be nice.”
“I am nice. I’m telling him to go have a good dinner and fuck Con’s brains out.” Miki kicked at Damien’s shin, missing when the tall guitarist mockingly danced out of the way.
“I’m not saying dinner and a fuck isn’t the way to go,” Damien told Forest. “I’m just saying dress it up a bit. Candles. Tablecloth. Good silver. Go the whole nine-yards. Shit, go for—”
“Don’t do that, Forest.” Miki disagreed.
Damie crooked one black eyebrow. “You got a better idea, Sin?”
“Yeah, keep it simple, dude. Don’t get crazy.” The singer shook his head at Damien’s snort. “You and Sionn like the whole cruising down the coast and doing stupid weekend shit. Forest and Con, they stay home and wallpaper the living room.
“Look, Forest, you and me, we’re trash. Sure someone picked you up, brushed you off and gave you a life and well, I got Damie so you kind of win there.”
“Nice bus you tossed me under there, asshole,” Damien grunted.
“Yeah whatever, D. Thing is, Forest, we’re still kind of feeling our way through shit. Now we’ve got this crazy ass family and a couple guys who want us. So we feel kind of pressured to fit into that nuthouse.” Miki bit at his upper lip and looked up at Forest through his lashes. “See, we don’t have to fit in, I mean. Con and Kane love us for who we are. Do what you guys like to do. Just fucking ride with that. Trust me. I learned that from Donal.”
“How many goddamned fairy lights do you need here?” Kane grumbled from his perch on a picnic bench. The wood slatted seat rattled as he stretched to hook a string of tiny white lights over a pergola beam.“This shit’s for setting the mood. Not lighting up your back yard so the Space Shuttle can dock.”
Connor studied his brother through the wisteria vines weaving through the patio’s pergola. His shoulders ached a bit from stringing what seemed like thousands of lights across the twelve-foot span. Not for the first time, he’d wondered what he was thinking when he built the damned thing. They only had a third of the span left to go but the wisteria seemed determined to fight them.
“It’s got to light up the whole thing or it’ll look stupid.” Connor worked yet another line through a gap in the thick vines, scraping his knuckles open. “I want it to look… romantic.”
“And lights are going to make this jungle look good?” Kane squinted back at his brother. “You’d have been better off hiring a landscaper to come in and set it all on fire.”
“We like it kind of wild out here.” Con caught his brother’s smirk. “Don’t be an asshole. I mean the garden and the trees. A little bit overgrown is nice. And keep doing the lights. He’ll be home soon and I’ve got to make sure the food’s ready.”
“He’s with Damie and my Mick. You’ll be lucky if you see him by next weekend.” Kane got down from the bench then grabbed another string of lights.
“Nah, he knows today’s something special for us. Three months, man. Who’d have thought?”
Con certainly hadn’t. Not this early in his life. And certainly not the blond he was waiting to come home. If someone’d told him a year ago he’d be hooking up with the very-male drummer of a rock band, Connor would have told the guy to sit down and put his head between his legs until the blood rushed back into his head.
Now, he was kind of the guy doing the sitting.
There’d always been a pressure on him. Twisting his skin around him so tightly, Connor was never sure if he’d ever be able to breathe. Then came Forest. Quiet, easy-going and sweet-faced Forest, an enigmatic gilded gift dropped into his lap by Fate and pure dumb luck.
The fact Forest was male made things…problematic. Mostly for Connor to wrap his head around Forest’s presence in his life but once he had, Con knew in his gut, they were all in. No questions asked. Full steam ahead.
There’d been some shit given to him in the locker room. His size didn’t matter to the cowardly, fucking asshole who shoved panties into through the slats of Con’s locker while he was on call but other than that and a few mutters, him hooking up with Forest mostly rolled off Con’s back.
It was in the quiet times between them did Connor realize Forest was probably as overwhelmed as he was.
He’d seen the date and thought of doing something nice. Something low-key enough so Forest didn’t think he was crazy but Connor wondered if it were enough. His parents—God, his beloved-damned parents—did things big. From dinners to gestures to romance, his parents constructed celebrations lasting weekends and sometimes beyond even then.
The Italian take-out Connor grabbed on the way home and shoved into the oven to keep warm was a long way from an evening gondola ride through Venice after a five-course meal.
“God, this sucks.” Connor studied the patio, weaving a string through the final panel. “I should have gone… bigger. Done something bigger.”
“Don’t look at me. Miki’s about as sentimental as a rock.” Kane dusted his hands off. “We should test these damned things. Did you plug them in before we started all of this?”
“Yeah, who do you think I am? Brae? Of course I tested them.” Con frowned, trying to recall if he’d plugged the strands in before dragging them outside. “Or at least pretty sure.”
Grabbing one end of an extension cord and the main lead to the fairy lights, Kane plugged them in and waited. The pergola remained dark, long strands of purple wisteria drifting in the light breeze rolling through the Victorian’s back yard.
“Well, shit,” Con spat.
“Hold on, I see the problem.” Kane held up his hand. “Extension cord’s not in.”
A snick of a plug going in and the patio lit up, a sea of tiny steady stars amid the dark leaves and pale purple blooms. The glow was soft, washing over the set-in tiles under Connor’s feet. The conifers edging the fence were enormous verdant sentinels, holding back the city from the long yard’s intimate space. With dusk falling, most of the flowers were closing but the fragrance of roses and wisteria carried on the air.
“I just need that tablecloth for the picnic—” Connor shut up when Kane cleared his throat. He turned around and found Forest standing between the open French doors, a full plastic bag from the taco shop they often at from dangling from his hand. “Well, shite and hell. I wasn’t ready for you yet.”
“Well, that’s my cue to leave. Good luck, bro.” Kane slapped Connor on the shoulder. “Guess this means Mick’s home.”
“Yeah, I dropped him off at the loft,” Forest replied as he tilted his head up. “Damie and Sionn were heading over to some show over in Oakland.”
“Excellent. Not that I don’t love them, but you know…” Kane nudged Forest as he went past. “You kids have fun. Don’t stay up too late.”
With the table bare of plates and the Italian take out still in the kitchen, Connor stood in the middle of the patio and smiled at his lover. Forest turned, taking everything in, framed by the French doors Con’d installed to replace the ones riddled by bullets a few months earlier, They’d survived the carnage, a sure sign they’d withstand anything life threw their way.
Con just wasn’t sure if he could survive the love he felt for the man standing in front of him.
“Hey.” Forest stepped out onto the patio, his feet bare on the rough tiles. Holding up the bag, he jiggled the plastic handles. “Brought dinner.”
“Yeah?” He met Forest halfway, tugging at his lover’s waistband until Forest was snugged up against him. “I’ve got Italian in the kitchen. What did you bring to the party?”
“Mexican.” Forest brushed his lips against Connor then pulled back, a teasing touch. “’Cause you know, nachos.”
“Shit, why didn’t I think of that?” He couldn’t keep his grin from nearly splitting his face. “Nachos.”
“I like the lights.” Forest set the bag down on the table, stretching a bit in Connor’s embrace. “They’re…nice.”
“I was hoping for sweet but I’ll take nice.” Connor slid his arms around Forest’s waist.
“It’s sweet. And nice. It’s both. Like you.” Forest captured Connor’s face in his hands, tipping his head for a kiss. “God, I love you.”
If Connor hadn’t already hungered for the man he held in his arms, Forest’s kiss would have whet his appetite.
There were threads of sunlight and stars on Forest’s tongue, simmering into a silken heat when his teeth nipped at Connor’s upper lip. He sighed and dove in.
The air grew cold around them, their bodies heating the slender space between them. If he could have one thing, one sliver of anything in his life, Connor would have chosen Forest’s kiss. His lover gave, a tender, delectable drawing out of soft touches and raking bites.
It hurt to have to pull away but every ache in his body soothed when Connor saw the lights reflected in Forest’s luminous eyes.
“I love you too, a ghra,” Connor whispered. “May we have many more months together. Years even. I will never have enough of you.”
Forest laughed, a husky rasp of pleasure. “Yeah, I’m not going anywhere. Bigger question though, what are we going to have for dinner? Italian or Mexican?”
Connor nipped at Forest’s nose, making him laugh. “I’ve an idea. How do you feel about some Irish first?”
Rhys Ford was born and raised in Hawai’i then wandered off to see the world. After chewing through a pile of books, a lot of odd food, and a stray boyfriend or two, Rhys eventually landed in San Diego, which is a very nice place but seriously needs more rain.