Reaching Optimum Speed
For Detroit handyman Derrick Chance and his lover, Gavin Hayes, the holiday season is filled with the promise of new beginnings. Gavin’s officially moving in, and after the New Year, they’ll begin house hunting. But they both know all the talk of gift exchange, whose holiday ornaments go where, and what repairs and remodels will be needed to put Derrick’s house on the market is only a smoke screen.
Before the month is over, Gavin will have the final verdict on whether or not his dangerously delusional ex, Lukas, infected him with HIV. No matter how good Gavin’s chances appear with the three-month hurdle already passed, neither he nor Derrick knows what the future holds for them.
The holidays have always been a time of loss and mourning for Derrick, but now he has to stay strong as Gavin’s own fears and doubts assail him relentlessly. And when Lukas returns, unexpectedly penitent amid troubling revelations, Gavin has to ask himself whether he can offer Derrick the future he deserves, or whether these first few months of happiness are the best they will ever get.
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As far as new holiday traditions went, Derrick decided spending Black Friday being fucked blind was a pretty good one. Especially when the only shopping involved was an emergency run to the pharmacy for more condoms.
That evening after Gavin returned from services, he and Derrick lounged on the sofa. The lassitude of too many good leftovers and too much incredible sex made their limbs heavy and their thoughts slow. Derrick lay with his head on Gavin’s lap, one of his arms hanging lazily over the edge, petting the folds of Chelsea’s jowls where she lay at Gavin’s feet.
“Oh, I almost forgot to ask,” Gavin murmured. He ran his fingers through Derrick’s hair, releasing at the end of the stroke with just enough of a gentle yank to have Derrick on the verge of purring.
Derrick was aching and sated and reasonably certain neither of them could get it up again if they wanted to, but damn if that didn’t make him willing to try.
“Hmm?” Derrick dragged his wandering attention back to Gavin’s words.
“I have to go to a holiday party on the sixteenth, for work. Want to go with me?”
“Sure,” Derrick answered automatically. Then his hand stilled on Chelsea’s fur. “Wait. How formal a party?”
“Well, it’s not black tie, if that’s what you’re wondering.” Derrick felt the shift as Gavin shrugged. “Suits. Maybe a little nicer than I normally wear for work, I guess.”
Derrick turned his head, lifting an eyebrow. “I’ve seen the way you dress for work. Short of a tux, I’m not going to be able to get sharper than that.”
Gavin grinned, giving Derrick a cocky, unrepentant look. “Well, of course not. No one has that much style. Suit and tie. You’ll be fine.”
“Gav, you’ve seen the ties I wear to church. Last time I bought a suit it was for Devon and Hannah’s wedding — seven years ago. And that was because I couldn’t bring myself to wear the one I’d worn to my grandparents’ and brother’s funerals.”
Gavin’s hand stilled in his hair. “Just tell me it’s not polyester.”
“What? Am I supposed to know the difference?”
His lap vibrated as he chuckled and dropped a kiss on Derrick’s temple. “It’s a good thing I’m not attracted to you for your fashion sense.” He straightened and resumed stroking Derrick’s hair, shrugging again. “Wear whatever feels comfortable.”
Derrick’s mouth pulled down at the corners and Gavin looked back at him. “What?”
Derrick shrugged. “Just don’t want to make a bad impression.”
Gavin blinked. “Well, now, that’s unexpected. I didn’t think you’d care much what people thought of how you dress.”
“Usually I don’t.” Derrick squirmed, unable to explain how his pride pricked at the thought of appearing unpolished by Gavin’s side. “I never have before.”
“Want me to help you shop for a new suit?”
“Shop. You do realize what season it is?”
“Gotta do what you gotta do.”
Derrick sighed and made himself relax, his head returning to rest on Gavin’s thigh. “Yeah, I guess so. That’d probably be best.”
Gavin chuckled knowingly, scratching his fingers through the stubble along Derrick’s jaw. “Okay. We’ll do that this week, then. It’ll give us enough time to have it properly tailored.”
Derrick rolled a wary look up at Gavin but refrained from commenting. He couldn’t exactly ask for Gavin’s help and then complain about his methods.
“So what do you usually do to celebrate the holidays?” Gavin asked as the ten o’clock news began.
“Um, let’s see. I put up a few lights outside — just enough to avoid looking like a Grinch — and I help Miss Ingrid put up her lights and her tree. She usually makes dinner for us on Christmas night but I don’t know if she’ll be well enough this year. If she’s not, I think I’ll get her Swedish meatballs recipe and make our traditional dinner for her instead. Of course, this year Christmas falls smack in the middle of Chanukah. Hannah usually invites me over to dinner for those eight days, but she’ll understand if I miss a night. You’d be welcome, but I imagine you do that with your mom?”
“Yeah. Mom would love it if you came too. She likes you.”
Derrick smiled. “And I like Leora, but maybe I’ll do every other day? I don’t wanna ditch out on Hannah completely.”
“Sounds like a good compromise. You don’t get a tree yourself?”
Derrick shook his head. “Never seemed worth it just for me. Devon’s firmly agnostic, so the only person I had to celebrate Christmas with was Miss Ingrid, and she already had one.”
“That’s a shame.” Gavin frowned, looking toward the corner by the fireplace where Derrick’s grandparents had always put up their tree, which must have seemed like the obvious Christmas tree spot, the way Gavin zeroed in on it. “I was looking forward to having one again.”
“You had a tree?”
“We did. My dad grew up Methodist. Not all that devout, but we still had a secular Christmas, too, while he was alive.”
“I didn’t know that.” Derrick caught Gavin’s hand, drawing it toward his lips and kissing it. “We can get a tree if you want. Might be fun. I haven’t had one in years.”
“Would you mind? If you don’t have any decorations anymore, I can see if Mom still has ours. Or we could run up to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth—”
“I’ve got ours in the attic still, but why don’t you get yours too? We should have both.” Derrick smiled, looking over at the corner as though envisioning the tree. For the first time in years, the upcoming holidays didn’t seem to be something to tiptoe around, but rather to embrace. It would likely be his last Christmas in this house, so it was fitting that it should be celebrated much more joyfully than it had been in the past.
“I’ll do that.” Gavin leaned down and pressed his mouth to Derrick’s. It felt good. Easy. Right.
How had he ever managed to convince himself he was content with his life alone?
There was only one dark spot to mar the happiness.
Derrick swallowed hard. “When do you get tested again?”
“I haven’t decided.” Gavin sighed, straightening and laying his head on the back of the sofa. “The six-month mark since last exposure is the fourteenth. I thought I’d try to get the results back by the nineteenth, before Chanukah begins, but then…maybe that’s not something I want to know, right before the holidays. Maybe I should wait until after. But I’m not sure I want it hanging over my head any longer than necessary. I don’t know.”
“It’s not going to be bad news. We’ve done the research, talked about the statistics. If you’re negative at three months, the six-month results are mostly a formality.”
“And if it is bad news?”
“Then we’ll deal with it.”
“You’ve had enough tragedy around the holidays.” Gavin caught Derrick’s chin and turned his face, commanding his attention. “You really want to throw that into the mix?”
The thought made his chest tighten. Derrick forced it aside. “You think it’s gonna suck any less come January?”
Gavin laughed without much humor. “Good point. I’ll think about it, okay?”
“Okay.” Derrick pushed himself up. The activity roused Chelsea, who abandoned her post by their feet in favor of her bed in the corner. Derrick pivoted to straddle Gavin’s lap and pinned Gavin against the cushions, leaning down to kiss him. “But it’s not gonna be bad news.”
“Because you say so?” Gavin tried to smile as his hands crawled down Derrick’s bare ribs to rest on his hips.
“Exactly.” Oh, yes, he’d done plenty of research after Gavin had told him there was a chance he might be HIV-positive. It helped his precisely ordered mind to know exactly what they were facing. He knew the stats by heart. Most people tested positive within twenty-five days. Ninety-seven percent of cases were detectable at three months.
The chances really were more than good that Gavin had nothing to worry about.
Yet that didn’t reassure either of them much. The burden of waiting was a physical weight. If Derrick could feel it dragging him down, how much worse was it for Gavin?
Seeking to turn anxiety into passion, he kissed Gavin again slowly, deliberately. His tongue dipped into Gavin’s mouth, sliding along Gavin’s lips. “And someday — it doesn’t have to be immediately after you get your results, just someday when you feel comfortable with it — I wanna go down on you without a condom. I want to taste you. Just you.”
“God, I want that, too.” Gavin groaned, his hips lifting under Derrick’s body, his hands tightening on Derrick’s waist. “I just” —he turned his mouth away from Derrick’s, his brow furrowed and his eyes uncertain— “What if I can’t ever give you that?”
Derrick shrugged, shaking his head. His mouth sought Gavin’s neck instead. “It doesn’t matter. I said I want it, not that I need it.”
“I know.” Gavin moaned softly as Derrick’s lips and teeth traveled down his neck. “I just want to give you what you —”
“You do.” Derrick’s mouth moved over his again and Gavin gave up the argument.
Wrapping his arms around Gavin’s shoulders, Derrick slowed the kiss, softening, drawing Gavin’s head to his shoulder afterward to hold him.
“I’m scared,” Gavin murmured after a moment, his voice muffled against Derrick’s neck.
“I never should have trusted Lukas.”
“He’s a scam artist, Gav. He told me himself — he paid his way through college hustling ass and freeloading off wannabe sugar-daddies for a few months’ room and board. It’s his gig. You couldn’t have known.”
“He what?” Gavin jerked back, the color fleeing his face. His freckles stood out in dark, shocking contrast
Derrick blinked at him. “What?”
“He told you that?”
“Yeah.” Derrick nodded, frowning. “He said his parents disowned him when he came out to them, so he had to pick up businessmen in hotel bars to pay the bills.”
“Get off me. Get off me!” Gavin shoved at Derrick’s shoulders and Derrick scrambled off his lap. Gavin sprang to his feet, his hands twitching into nervous claws. “He never told me that. He never said a word. He told me his parents were fine with him being gay!”
Derrick shook his head, watching Gavin pace with alarm. “Well, he could have been lying to me. Trying to make himself more sympathetic.”
“Or he was lying to me!” Gavin spun toward Derrick, his eyes wide with panic. “He knew I’d never have taken a chance on him if I’d known he’d been involved in that sort of high-risk behavior, so he didn’t tell me!”
“Stop. Gav, just stop. Your three-month test was fine. Whether he turned tricks or not doesn’t change that.”
“Yes, it does. If his risk factor is that much higher, there’s a far better chance that he is HIV-positive, and if he is, there is no way he didn’t infect me after that many times without a condom. My three-month test just means I didn’t have enough antibodies yet.”
“No. No, Gav.”
Derrick shook his head vehemently, pushing himself off the sofa. Gavin flinched away from the first brush of his hand, but relaxed at Derrick’s second attempt to reach out, letting Derrick draw him in.
“It doesn’t work that way. You’re the math guy; you know statistics better than that. Think about the numbers. Whatever Lukas did or didn’t do when he was younger, there’s only a three percent chance you’re gonna turn up positive at this point. Maybe he was smart enough to use protection with all his johns. And even if he is infected, he might have had really low viral load when he was with you. You don’t know. This is fear talking.”
Which, really, Derrick ought to have expected at some point as he became familiar with Gavin’s tendency to react strongly to things. He should have been preparing himself for this sort of freak-out all along.
He tightened his arms around Gavin. “We just gotta make it through these last few weeks and then we can put this behind us. Or, hell, get tested tomorrow if you need peace of mind sooner. A couple weeks can’t make that big a difference. Either way, it’s almost certain the test will be negative. And if it isn’t, we’ll deal with that. We’ll get you on the anti-retroviral drugs early; keep your viral load low and your T-cell count high. You’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”
Gavin sighed and some of the tension seeped out of his posture. He leaned into Derrick, his head bowed and his brow resting on Derrick’s shoulder. Derrick pressed a kiss to his hair, stroking the back of his neck.
“We’ll be okay,” he repeated.
“Right.” Gavin lifted his head and nodded, trying for a wan smile and falling short. “I think I’ll go to bed.”
“Okay,” Derrick said softly, caressing a thumb down Gavin’s cheek.
“Alone.” Gavin dropped his eyes. “For a few minutes, at least. I want to get myself in a better mood before you join me.”
Derrick blinked, nodding in cautious agreement. “Well, you don’t have to do that for my sake, but sure. Why don’t I take Chelsea for a quick walk?”
Chelsea jumped to her feet at the word walk while Gavin frowned.
“It’s freezing out.”
“I’ve got a jacket.” He smiled and kissed Gavin’s temple. “I’ll be back soon.”
The heavy feeling returned as Gavin disappeared down the hall. His normally straight, proud shoulders were hunched in a way that made Derrick’s throat ache. For once, though, he didn’t question his own ability to help Gavin bear that burden. A week apart had been enough to make it clear that whatever the future held, he’d rather face it with Gavin than without.
He could do this.
They could do it together.
Chelsea nudged his thigh and Derrick stooped to rub the skin drooping down her brow. Her velvety brown eyes looked as sober and concerned as Derrick felt, searching his face for reassurance.
“He’ll be okay,” Derrick murmured to her, the words becoming a mantra in his own mind as he grabbed his leather jacket. “We all will.”
Derrick lay on his back doing bench presses Saturday morning as Gavin came down the stairs, white socks covering his feet below charcoal-gray flannel pajama bottoms. Always chilly in the morning — even in Derrick’s house, where the in-floor heating system kept the house a comfortable, consistent temperature all night — he’d pulled on a long-sleeved thermal shirt. The waffle-weave cotton clung to his torso like a second skin, allowing Derrick to admire Gavin’s lean form. His dance training lent his footfalls an easy grace and he descended the stairs lightly even when heavy with sleep. He clutched a coffee mug between his hands and Derrick knew from experience those fingers would be icy until he’d been up and around for a while.
“Morning.” Derrick blew out his breath with an explosive puff, hefting the bar up above his chest. His arms were just beginning to quiver with effort and beads of sweat rolled off his temple into his hair.
“Mmm, I get a show with my breakfast today,” Gavin hummed, grinning as he sipped his coffee. Derrick silently thanked God his face was already flushed with exertion.
“Not much to see,” he murmured, resting for a moment before bringing the barbell back down toward his chest slowly, controlling its descent.
“That’s what you think,” Gavin said with an appreciative smile. Derrick huffed a breathless laugh, tightening his core muscles to press the barbell up again. The quiver in his arms became a tremor, and he settled the bar in its cradle just as he felt ready to hit muscle failure. Gavin gave another low hum and Derrick lifted an eyebrow at him, panting.
“You’re so gentle most of the time, it’s sexy to be reminded just how strong you are.”
Derrick laughed, burying his face in the towel he pulled off his shoulder. “I have no idea what you’re going on about.”
“What? I’m not allowed to appreciate your hyper-masculine alpha-male moments?” Gavin shrugged, looking unapologetic as he crossed over to the dryer to lean against it, setting his coffee cup on the surface. “I do. They make me feel all dainty and swoony.”
“Do they, now?” Derrick smiled, running the towel briskly through his hair to soak up the worst of the sweat near his scalp.
“Mmm. Like I want to rip open my bodice and scream, ‘Take me now, you manly beast!’”
Derrick stared incredulously for a moment before he burst into helpless peals of laughter.
“You think I’m joking?” Gavin’s eyes twinkled behind his glasses as he continued to grin.
As he caught his breath, Derrick slanted a look at Gavin, studying him. The last time Gavin had come onto him this obviously, it had been pure bravado, laid like thick, clumsy bandages over the wounds Lukas had left him with.
Once he took time to look, it became apparent. There was a tension at the corners of Gavin’s eyes and mouth that belied his easy teasing, and his index finger tapped a silent, rapid beat against the edge of the dryer. Seeing it, Derrick wondered just what sort of nightmare Gavin had awoken from.
Would he even remember if Derrick tried to cut through the posturing and ask? Or was all that was left the anxious fidgeting he tried so hard to suppress?
Or maybe he simply didn’t want to talk about it. Maybe the come-hither joking meant he wanted a diversion, instead. Derrick could respect that.
He set aside his questions, along with his towel, and pushed himself off the weight bench. His stride was slow and deliberate as he stalked toward Gavin, his smile fading.
Gavin’s own smile fled the closer Derrick drew, until he was trapped between Derrick and the dryer.
“I think if you were serious, you’d have brought more down here with you than coffee and sass.” Derrick ghosted his lips across Gavin’s, too light a brush even to be called a kiss, and his hand delved into the pocket of Gavin’s pajama bottoms. His knuckles bumped Gavin’s rising cock through the flannel cloth without paying it any particular attention, and Derrick tutted. “No condoms? No lube? I think you may be all talk.”
Gavin’s eyes widened, his pupils growing large in the faint morning light filtering through the ground-level windows. His breath hitched and then trickled from him in a slow sigh as his tongue darted out to lick his lip.
“I…obviously didn’t plan this well.”
He grabbed Gavin’s shoulder and spun him to face the dryer, pressing close, grinding against his ass.
“And just how,” he growled, “am I supposed to bend you over this dryer and take you now if you don’t come prepared?”
“That’s a…really good question.” Gavin moaned softly as Derrick’s lips found his neck, gliding along the tendon. His hand slid down Gavin’s belly to grasp his cock through his pajama bottoms as it grew beautifully erect, lean and pulsing under the layer of flannel.
Gavin groaned, his breath leaving him in a whoosh as Derrick planted a palm between his shoulder blades and shoved him down over the dryer with more force than necessary. He seized Gavin’s hands and wrapped them around the control panel.
“Don’t let go of that.”
Gavin groaned, nodding and laying his head against the surface of the dryer. Derrick grabbed the elastic waistband of his pants and jerked them down Gavin’s narrow hips to his knees. He grasped Gavin’s buttocks with both hands, squeezing and kneading, letting some of the strength Gavin had spoken of tell in the rough caresses.
It felt good, listening to Gavin’s moans as Derrick knelt behind him, nipping at the taut muscles of his ass cheeks before pushing them apart. Good to fulfill the need behind Gavin’s roundabout joking. Good that he’d even picked up on the clues to begin with. Good that he had the confidence to take charge now, rather than relying solely on Gavin’s experience to lead the way.
Good to taste Gavin, to feel the responsive wriggles and shifts as he rocked back to meet Derrick’s swiping, probing tongue. Good to hear his increasing desperation, the sounds he made swelling the longer Derrick worked.
“Oh, Lord…Derrick, please…”
“That’s what I wanna hear. Only thing I wanna hear from you…” Derrick murmured, nibbling on the soft flesh at the top of Gavin’s ass. He delved up under the tight thermal shirt, nails scraping lightly down Gavin’s torso. “Is my name as you beg me to fuck you.”
“Yes.” A high, plaintive note rode the edge of Gavin’s tone. “Please…yes…”
“Upstairs. Now.” He gave Gavin’s ass one last firm squeeze before pushing the pajama bottoms down to Gavin’s ankles and rising.
Nodding, Gavin pushed himself up off the surface of the dryer and kicked them off, scooping them up and hurrying toward the stairs. Derrick followed fast on his heels, stripping off his t-shirt as he went. He tackled Gavin to the bed once the bedroom door had closed behind them, catching Gavin’s wrists and pinning him to the mattress. Gavin groaned, meeting Derrick’s hard kiss even as he struggled against the grasp.
Derrick knew the reaction intimately — the need to test the restraint. Not to escape, but to feel more held. He’d done it himself dozens of times since he and Gavin had begun seeing each other.
“Oh, you’re gonna fight me now?” Derrick taunted, grinning wolfishly. “Go right ahead.”
Gavin’s eyes narrowed in challenge. Pinned under Derrick’s weight and grasp, his efforts didn’t amount to much. He fought harder than Derrick had expected, though, beyond merely testing. He strained against Derrick’s grip, twisting and writhing, unable to buck Derrick off. He glared and spat curses, his breath coming in rapid pants as Derrick smiled down at him.
Derrick waited out the resistance patiently, secure in the advantage of his position and leverage. He let Gavin exhaust himself.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” Derrick asked huskily, dropping a soft nip to Gavin’s throat without letting up on the force of his grip. Gavin made a pained sound as he tried to twist his wrists out of the manacles of Derrick’s strong fingers. “To be thrown down and taken?”
Gavin’s struggles slowed, his whimper rising to a moan as the nip became a bite. Derrick ground his hips deliberately against Gavin’s, rubbing the cotton knit of his sweatpants against Gavin’s erection.
“Yes,” Gavin hissed. His head fell back, baring his throat to Derrick.
He held the bite, tightening his grip on Gavin’s wrists when Gavin’s body tensed in resistance. Then the tension melted away, leaving Gavin moaning beneath him. When Derrick released Gavin’s wrists, the bands of his fingers left red marks behind. Still, Gavin reached for him, grasped at him.
“Please…Derrick, please,” Gavin whispered, shifting under his weight.
“That’s more like it.” Smiling in satisfaction, Derrick pushed himself up, shoving his sweats and briefs down his hips before reaching for the condoms and lube.
Something unspeakably beautiful crossed Gavin’s face as Derrick worked into him, letting the thread of roughness carry through into that as well. Had that look always been there, each time he topped Gavin? Had he missed it before? Or was it just now, this mood, this undercurrent of need from Gavin, pulling on Derrick like invisible strings?
He didn’t know, but it made him both yearn to shelter and protect Gavin, and also to claim him, to carry him even closer to desperation. He held nothing back, not in the hard drive of his hips or the brutal grasp of his hands. He hooked his arms under Gavin’s thighs and loomed over him, jerking him into each rough thrust.
If he lacked Gavin’s glib tongue and penchant for dirty talk, Gavin didn’t seem to mind.
In the aftermath came tenderness, as Derrick covered Gavin’s body with his own, engulfing him. Gavin buried his face in Derrick’s neck and clung to him, gasping and shuddering. Derrick held him, with soft, nonsensical murmurs and soothing strokes of his hands.
For a moment, his chest began to ache. A hard, familiar knot of fear formed, paralyzing Derrick’s vocal cords — fear of having too much to say and no words to speak it all. Fear of needing someone, fear of admitting weakness, fear of the unknown, fear of loss.
He made himself speak past it.
“I love you.”
He pressed his lips to Gavin’s temple and the knot loosened and let him breathe again. Since the first time he’d blurted those words in a near panic, it had become easier to make that admission and lay bare all the vulnerability inherent in it.
Gavin smiled up at him, and his eyes were calmer than they had been when he’d come down to the basement.
“Thank you,” he answered, tucking his face against Derrick’s throat again.
Derrick didn’t bother to ask what for.
It didn’t disturb Derrick that Gavin didn’t say it back. He didn’t want meaningless, reflexive reciprocation. When he said it to Gavin now, he did it for himself. He did it because it was liberating for him to release that overwhelming, tumultuous feeling that welled up inside. And because each time he said it, he got a little better at accepting it, and the reality of loving anyone again — especially Gavin — became less terrifying.
He didn’t do it to hear the words mirrored back at him.
Gavin had reasons for being more cautious, and Derrick couldn’t blame him. Sometimes he wondered just how Lukas might have abused those particular words to make Gavin so leery about speaking them. I think I love you was all Gavin had dared admit so far.
It was enough that Gavin needed him.
Derrick could wait for the rest.