How Long Since this Story Began
Standing beside their bed Alex Douglas-Ross braced his forearm against the wall and watched his husband sleep. Alex noted that over the last few weeks a few white strands had dared to salt themselves through Jared's dark auburn hair matching the silver at his temples. It didn't make Jared look old; no one ever put him at fifty, much less his very real fifty-five. With an unconscious need for physical contact Alex reached out to touch the silk of Jared's hair, but jerked his hand away just before his fingers brushed against the fine strands. Jared needed his rest.
Jared's naturally fair skin never tanned well, but the sight of his current unnatural pallor against the dark blue of the pillowcase constricted Alex's heart, making it painful to breathe. The stark visual, an uncompromising reminder of how long Jared had been out of the sun, inevitably brought Alex's mind back to the afternoon he'd come home to find Jared lying in a pool of his own blood.
Fighting back tears, Alex buried his face against his arm. He felt ridiculous. He hadn't cried once in the weeks following the accident, but after receiving the doctor's assurances of Jared's full recovery earlier that day, Alex began to unravel. Now, silent tears wet his face, out of his control.
Despite Alex's efforts not to disturb Jared, he moved, restless, as if sensing Alex's distress. Dark blue eyes blinked open and Jared's voice broke the silence.
"Hey, come here."
Alex considered reaching for Jared's outstretched hand, but unwilling to burden Jared with after-the-fact hysterics, he turned to leave.
Alex stopped, torn between the sanctuary offered by the bathroom door and his inability to deny Jared. Slowly, Alex returned to the place he'd been standing. Jared didn't say a word as he lifted the blanket in silent invitation. Alex hesitated only a moment before toeing off his shoes and crawling, fully dressed, into the haven of Jared's arms. Alex pressed his face against Jared's chest. The security of his embrace, the familiarity of his scent, overwhelmed Alex and toppled his last barrier.
"You scared me," Alex accused, struggling to stem a sudden rush of emotion that threatened to break free in another torrent of tears. He pulled away, sitting up to snag a tissue from the nightstand to wipe his face and blow his nose.
"I know I did." Jared reached up and cradled the back of Alex's head, fingers tangling in his hair, tugging a little, attempting to coax Alex into lying down again. "I'm sorry."
With a sniff and a resigned sigh, Alex settled back into the warm niche against Jared.
"Maybe the next time you get sick you could say something and skip the whole passing out, bashing your head on the cabinet thing?" Alex buried his face into the strength of Jared's shoulder, an unsuccessful attempt to ward off the haunting memory of Jared lying in a pool of blood. His skin too pale, his breathing shallow, and his body burning like a furnace under Alex's hand.
"I promise. I thought I just had the flu or something. You know the fever didn't crop up until days after my stomachache. I didn’t realize there might be a connection."
"I know." Alex shuddered, only slightly comforted when Jared's arm tightened around him.
Alex had heard the story more than once in the last weeks. Feeling achy and feverish Jared had been determined not to miss work and on his way out, he stopped by the kitchen to grab a couple aspirin. He passed out and didn’t remember falling or hitting his head on the marble edge of the countertop. The resulting gash on his forehead accounted for the pool of blood that Alex claimed had knocked years off his life.
"Anybody else would sue them for the misdiagnosis that almost killed you," Alex grumbled. He didn't really believe the doctors had been negligent but he couldn’t help holding someone responsible for his terror as he’d waited for them to figure out what was wrong with Jared.
Jared hugged Alex a little closer. "You know it wasn't a misdiagnosis, just incomplete. I did have septicemia. It's not the hospital's fault that instead of getting the blood infection from some outside source, I walked around being poisoned by my own body. They saved me. By all rights, I should be dead."
Alex shuddered in response to Jared’s statement.
Alex had appendicitis as a child. They'd cut out the useless scrap of organ and, much to his mother's dismay, he'd tried to go back to school three days later. As a result, he'd never thought of having appendicitis as being serious, much less life-threatening. His simple laser surgery was a far cry from what Jared had gone through after walking around for two or three days, poison leaching into his entire system. Jared hadn't regained consciousness after arriving at the hospital. Even after they began treating the infection he laid still and silent, white as the sheets covering the sterile hospital bed. The continuous drip of antibiotics into his arm from an IV the only thing standing between him and death.
"You should not be dead, so don't say that. Not ever." Alex choked out the words, tears threatened again and he held on to Jared refusing to acknowledge the few that squeezed out to trace his cheeks.
Alex's lack of control made him feel half his age. He'd been a pillar of strength throughout the whole horrifying experience. His fear for Jared's life had only increased once the doctor explained the source of his infection. A burst appendix often proved fatal under the best circumstances. Survival usually dependent upon swift and accurate diagnosis, Jared had received neither.
Alex remained steadfast; he made decisions about Jared's life with unwavering confidence. Alex stayed at Jared's side, holding his hand, talking to him, and showing no sign he believed in any outcome short of full recovery. Alex's assurance worried the hospital staff. Jared’s doctor and his nurses had gently tried to prepare Alex for the unfortunate reality that things may not turn out as he hoped. Alex waved them off, refusing to listen. He didn't have the will to contemplate the idea of losing Jared. As long as Jared breathed, hope beat in Alex's chest.
"Alex." Jared inhaled deeply, he had more to say. It weighed between them, but instead of speaking, he buried his face in Alex's hair.
Alex clutched Jared. After the surgery, he had been so pale he seemed bloodless and Alex still didn't remember exactly what the doctors had said they'd done beyond removing the appendix. He had a vague impression of them washing Jared's insides, but that couldn't be right and whatever they had done wouldn't have been in the sudsy kitchen sink that tormented Alex's dreams. He had better recall of his elation when after the surgery the antibiotics had begun to work. The doctor grew cautiously hopeful, and though still hospitalized, and rarely conscious Jared regained a little color. The day they'd taken out his staples, leaving a glaring red wound across his abdomen that made Alex wince every time he saw it, the doctor finally told Alex in plain English that Jared would be fine. Not long afterward he graduated to oral medication and Alex got to take him home.
"You know the chances that you and I are going to exit this world at the same time are very slim." Jared finally voiced his thoughts, though spoken with gentle compassion the words tore at Alex's heart.
"No. You are not allowed to leave me." Alex’s jaw clenched and his hold on Jared tightened.
Bringing Jared home had been the beginning of a new trial for Alex. Keeping Jared in bed when he felt so much better had often been a practice in futility, but Alex had suffered every moment with grace and patience. Only two things mattered. Jared was home and healing. The horrible alternative had been avoided. Knowing what could have been turned the endless arguments over whether Jared was ready to climb the stairs, cook dinner, or water the plants into a strange celebration of life.
If he's arguing, he's improving.
Alex had taken the doctor's words to heart. He'd weathered it all just to fall apart when he had nothing left to worry about, since, beyond all medical expectation to the contrary, Jared had recovered.
Jared cupped Alex's face in his hand, and used his thumb to swipe away the few straggling tears. "We have to face reality. I'm fifty-five, you're fifty-one. We aren't getting younger and this could as easily have been a stroke or a heart attack."
"Shut up." Alex propped on an elbow to glare down at Jared. "Shut up or I'm never letting you eat bacon again."
Alex smirked at Jared's dismayed expression. "Not a single bite. We've ignored the reality that something might happen to one of us for the last thirty-five years and I don't see any reason to change that habit just because you think you're old. We'll go vegan if that's what it takes to make you stop talking about heart attacks and strokes."
"Vegan?" Jared looked horrified.
"Vegan." Alex kept his voice firm despite the urge to laugh at Jared's reaction.
"Well, now that I consider all the circumstances, I think it's much more likely we'll die peacefully together in our sleep on our one hundredth anniversary." Jared hurried to change his tune and even managed to look as if he had convinced himself.
With Jared's insistence they talk about surviving one another safely averted one more time, Alex could relax and enjoy being in bed with Jared for the first time in too long.
* * * *
Silence fell between them allowing Jared time to study Alex's face; he understood what Alex was going through. His recent illness hadn't been the first time one of them had a brush with death. Tilting Alex’s face with a gentle touch, Jared brought Alex's mouth to his and tasted tears in the kiss. His misery wrenched Jared's heart, driving him to make impossible promises.
"I'll never leave you."
"I know," Alex breathed. His fingers slid into Jared's hair and his body pressed close. Jared's breath caught at the feel of Alex against him despite the layers of clothing.
Hand sliding under Alex's shirt to the small of his back, Jared brought their hips together, allowing Alex to feel his rising interest. "You know, the doctor cleared me for all activity and I've missed you, Alex." Jared stroked the tender skin under his fingers.
Alex made a sound low in his throat, fingers tightening against Jared's scalp as he rubbed against the thigh Jared pressed between his legs.
"Oh God, Jared."
Growling in reaction to Alex's soft sigh of submission, Jared deepened their kiss, pulling Alex's slighter form under his as he worked the T-shirt off Alex's arms, parting long enough to get it over his head before locking their mouths together again. Settling into the welcoming cradle of Alex's hips, Jared plundered his mouth, licking deep before tangling their tongues. Alex suckled hard in return, sending tiny shocks of pleasure through Jared, and he groaned, rutting against the hard bulge of Alex's cock. Jared's tender scar rubbed against the rough denim of Alex's jeans, causing him to hiss and jerk away from the painful contact.
Alex's expression transformed from passionate to concern in the blink of an eye. "We shouldn't be doing this." Propping up on his elbows he tried to move but Jared restrained Alex with a reassuring hand on his chest.
"It's fine. The doc said the scar will be sensitive for a while. There’s an easy fix." Jared's hands went to the button fly of Alex's jeans. "We'll remove the source of my discomfort."
Shaking his head, Alex opened his mouth to protest but whatever he'd been about to say died on his lips when Jared's talented fingers slid the buttons of Alex's fly free, one after the other. Jared's knuckles brushed the soft skin of Alex's belly causing both to tremble.
They hadn't been together for weeks, not even a stolen hand job to help pass the time. Alex's fear of losing Jared kept them on the straight and narrow all the way through his lengthy convalescence. Jared had never been so relieved to hear the words 'you may resume full activities'. He blushed a little remembering the amused curl of the doctor's lips at his questions meant to ensure Alex understood 'full activities' included sex.
When the last button opened, Jared raised his gaze to meet Alex's, sliding his fingers inside to rub the hard length of Alex's cock through the soft cotton of his boxers.
Alex's eyes closed and he groaned, lifting his hips into Jared's touch. "How do you do that?" Alex gasped. Still propped on his elbows, he let his head fall back.
Heat licked through Jared's veins at the sight of Alex's exposed throat.
"Do what?" Jared leaned forward unable to resist the temptation to lick a long line from the hollow of Alex's neck to behind his ear.
"Make me feel like if you don't touch me I'm going to die." With a low moan Alex dropped from his elbows to lay sprawled under Jared.
Continuing to torment the soft skin behind Alex's ears, Jared's fingers found the opening in the front of Alex's boxers and slid inside, brushing against the heated flesh trapped there. Crying out softly, Alex arched into the brief touch.
"Oh God, just like that."
With a low murmur of appreciation, Jared eased Alex's jeans off his hips. "Mmm." Jared licked along Alex's jaw, lapping at the sandpaper texture of his chin. Jared's beard grew in slowly making it possible, even in his fifties, to skip a day shaving if he wanted. Alex's coarser hair gave him the beginnings of his five o'clock shadow by late afternoon. It annoyed him, but as much as Jared enjoyed Alex's habit of manscaping elsewhere, he'd developed a weakness for the rough masculine feel of Alex's stubble against his skin.
Alex turned his face away without warning and with a gentle touch, Jared cupped Alex’s chin and turned him back to meet Jared’s heavy lidded gaze. The doubt Jared read on Alex's face came as no surprise. His exuberant confidence had been taken a beating many years before and though he’d healed; it often gave way before his worry about aging.
His eyes shadowed, Alex fingered his stubbled chin. "Don't you ever miss the boy?"
The dark places Alex sometimes slipped into didn't concern Jared as they once had because over the years he had learned how to dispel them. He rubbed their cheeks together before pressing his lips to Alex's ear.
"Why would I miss the boy when I am so enamored by the man he grew into?"
Gasping when Jared’s breath brushed his skin, Alex quivered beneath him. Alex’s eager response quickened Jared's pulse, reminding him of everything he'd missed while being sick.
Stripping Alex the rest of the way out of his jeans and boxers with practiced hands, Jared returned to his place between Alex's thighs with a hum of pleasure. The slide of their cocks a familiar caress of satin encased steel. Jared felt the pulse of his lust with every beat of his heart. He braced over Alex, struggling for control, determined to pleasure Alex first.
Jared wanted to drive Alex to heights of passion that would leave him sated and boneless, relaxed in a way Jared knew had eluded Alex for weeks. With that goal in mind, Jared mapped Alex's body with his eyes, smiling with smug satisfaction when Alex quaked with anticipation. Jared leaned and nibbled along Alex's collarbone causing him to shiver under the contact with a quiet gasp. Jared gave a quiet growl of satisfaction, licking and biting his way down Alex’s chest. The lube Alex tried to press into Jared’s hand caught him by surprise. It wasn’t like Alex to skip straight to intercourse. He loved foreplay so much sometimes Jared thought he liked it best.
Worried his illness may have triggered more than Alex’s brief struggle with his self confidence, Jared looked up to meet his eyes. "Alex?"
Seeing the shadow haunting Alex’s eyes troubled Jared more than Alex's nonsense about aging ever did. In an effort to help him loosen up Jared ignored the offered lube, nuzzling the Alex’s belly and dipping the tip of his tongue into Alex’s navel. His hips rocked communicating his pleasure, but Alex didn't relent urging Jared to take the lubricant. Uncertain, Jared’s fingers closed around the tube.
"I need you now, Jared, please." Breathless Alex tugged at Jared. "We can play next time."
Jared couldn’t resist such a plea. Heat coiled in his belly at the idea of being inside Alex, and Jared's hard-won control slipped another notch. Bracing a forearm on the pillow beside Alex's head, Jared leaned down for a kiss, at the same time slipping a well-lubed hand between them. Alex gasped, spreading his legs, heels digging into the mattress.
"That's good," Jared whispered pulling back to watch Alex's face when he pressed a slick finger inside.
Alex gazed at Jared through half-closed eyes, his body a tense line of anticipation as he waited for Jared to continue. Jared ignored the need burning through him, to gauge Alex's reaction, watching closely for any indication of pain or discomfort. Seeing no sign of anything but Alex's hungry desire evidenced by his impatient shifting against the sheets, Jared added the stretch of a second finger.
"Jared." Alex moaned clutching Jared's shoulders. His hips moved in rhythm with the slow glide of Jared's fingers. A third finger joined the others; Alex gasped arching off the bed.
"Oh God. Jared." Alex's head fell back baring his throat, fingers digging deep into the muscles of Jared's arms.
Heart racing, Jared ran his teeth along the taut tendon in Alex's exposed neck, and Alex quaked under him. After so many years together, Jared didn't have to be told Alex was ready. He ignored Alex's grumbled half-hearted protest when Jared's fingers left his body, and shifted position to kneel between Alex's thighs. Slicking his cock with long slow strokes, Jared trembled under the touch of his own hand. That, combined with the sight of Alex sprawled under him, almost snapped what little restraint that remained to him. Jared gasped and clenched his teeth, the muscles in his jaw bunched and jumped.
"Not going to last." He panted. The sight of Alex spread out for him always pushed him to the edge. "God, you're so hot."
With a wicked grin, Alex edged his legs up Jared's thighs until they wrapped around his waist.
Jared whimpered when Alex's hand covered his, urging him to stroke faster. His entire body shook in reaction.
Their eyes locked, Jared grasped back of Alex's straining thighs, leaving Alex to guide his cock into position. Panting, sweat beading his skin, Jared pressed forward breaching Alex’s body in a slow steady movement that didn't end until his hips met Alex's ass. Buried to the hilt, Jared hunched over Alex, letting go of his legs, Jared braced his hands on the pillow on either side of Alex’s head. He rocked his hips and Jared groaned at the feel of Alex's body moving on his cock. His eyes clenched tight, his hands fisting in the pillow.
Alex went perfectly still under him. "Does it hurt?"
"No." Jared cupped the back of Alex's head, fingers threading through the persistent curls. "You're still thinking too much." He brought Alex's mouth to his in a bruising kiss.
Alex grabbed Jared's arms; a moan of pure pleasure escaped his parted lips as Jared pulled out in a single smooth motion before burying himself inside Alex's body once more. Jared's cock slid over Alex's prostate with long, slow pressure that came from years of practice and left Alex shuddering and gasping. Lowering himself to lean on one forearm, Jared gentled their kiss to a caress, tongues sliding together languidly. Jared's thumb rubbed the stubble covering Alex's jaw as he slowed the movement of their bodies. Loving Alex with every touch, with each stroke until Alex quivered beneath him breath coming in ragged pleas for more.
The heat of Alex's body gripping him coupled with Alex's intense reaction undid Jared, and gentleness burned away in the raw hot need that flared between them. Kisses bruised, teeth bit, and hands grabbed.
Jared pounded into Alex's body, and Alex’s legs edged higher, locking around Jared's ribcage. Heat curled Jared's toes, bringing alive every nerve in his body. He dug his hands deeper into the pillow for leverage as he thrust into Alex.
"Touch yourself," Jared panted. "Now, Alex."
Alex's hand brushed Jared's belly when it closed around his cock, settling into the familiar motion between them. Alex gasped and tensed, his body tightening around Jared's sex. The combination pushed Jared over the edge. He drove into Alex a final time, back arched, muscles quaking, Jared shouted his release.
Coming down from his own high, Jared rested his forehead on Alex's, breathing his air. Jared knocked Alex's hand away from his cock, closing his own around it with a tight grip and a flick of his thumb he knew drove Alex crazy. A second stroke paired with a well timed twist and Alex cried out, shuddering as his dick jerked and cum coated Jared's chest. Alex clutched Jared, close to sobbing as he quaked against Jared in the aftermath of his release.
Jared caught Alex's mouth in a gentle kiss, hand stroking his softening sex, easing him down.
"Shhh, I know. I know. I missed you too, so much." Jared murmured nonsense words into their kiss in an effort to soothe and comfort him. Alex's trembling faded and his tongue licked into Jared's mouth, sliding against his with familiar ease.
Holding Alex close Jared's heartbeat began to slow and his breathing quieted, but as the adrenaline rush from making love faded, Jared's arm trembled from the strain of bearing his weight and he broke the kiss. Alex, of course, identified the problem immediately.
"Damn it, Jared." Alex pushed at him. "Lie down."
Jared reached to uncouple them, unable to suppress the moan of regret at being separated from Alex.
"Jared." Alex’s tone threatened dire repercussions if Jared didn’t follow instructions.
"Shhh." Jared attempted to placate Alex with a pat on his hip, but he didn't relax until Jared eased onto the bed, urging Alex to onto his side and pulling him close. Jared spooned behind Alex, and the simple embrace felt like coming home in a way nothing else had.
"We need to clean up," Alex commented but he didn't move.
"Later." Jared had no desire to get up and wasn't sure he could if he tried. His hand slid up through the cooling cum on Alex's chest and he nuzzled the dark curls at the back of his neck. Shot with gray in the light of day, they were as dark as those of a boy in the shadowed room, reminding Jared of Alex's question.
"Do I miss the boy? How silly are you?"
An embarrassed shrug indicated Alex's need for such reassurance had fled. Relieved, Jared pressed a kiss to the back of his neck, hand moving to cup Alex's hip, fingers pressing into the tattoo of their names imprinted on the tender skin.
"We'll be together forever, I promise."
At his words Alex sighed happily, reaching to cover Jared's hand with his own. Satisfied all Alex's worries had been sidelined; Jared entwined their fingers and tangled their legs. Sleep tugged at him. Cleaning up would have to wait until he had some energy. He let go of Alex's hand long enough to pull the blanket over them. Alex didn't protest. Instead, he snuggled against Jared.
Smiling Jared, pressed warm lips against Alex's ear. "I want to grow old with you."
Alex gave a sleepy laugh. "I think we've already done that."
"You haven't seen anything yet, I'm just getting started."
Alex sighed, content. His breathing deepened as he slid towards sleep.
Jared squeezed Alex's hand. "I love you."
The only evidence Alex heard came in the slight hitch in his breathing and the way he melted against Jared, warm and trusting.
His face buried in Alex's soft hair, and surrounded by his scent Jared swallowed against the emotion choking his throat. "God, how I love you."
Alex breathed deep, already sleeping he missed the unprecedented repeat declaration of Jared's affection, but Jared didn't care. The warmth of their love spread through him, a therapeutic solace that gave Jared had everything he needed to finish healing. Their love always had been enough, no matter what.
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