Bad Judgment Outtakes, Tidbits, and Assorted Stuff

CAUTION! THIS SECTION IS SPOILER HEAVY. (Last updated 2/4/17)

0916_9781488020124_BadJudgment_Web.jpg

***Embry and Brogan on Halloween (First included with Oct 2016 Newsletter).

Let's be honest. Embry would be the guy who gives out toothbrushes to the kids at Halloween. He's deeply concerned about gingivitis, okay, and obviously the parents of trick-or-treaters are negligent for letting their children eat so much refined sugar. It's barbaric, and any responsible home owner has to put a stop to this nonsense pronto. And if he runs out of toothbrushes, there's always little bottles of mouthwash, samples of dental floss, and his personal favorite, those little dental picks that no one else in the whole world ever uses. Because they're weird and a bit creepy.

Of course, that means that each time the doorbell rings, Brogan has to come up with an excuse for why he should be the one to answer the door. And for why he's hidden stashes of fun-sized candy bars in all of their shoes and coat pockets in the front entryway. And for why the toothbrushes in the plastic jack-o-lantern don't seem to be diminishing in number at all. 

Everything falls apart, though, when Gizmo smells the Twizzlers hidden in Embry's snow boots and starts barking excitedly. Fortunately, Brogan gets there in time to keep Gizmo from eating the snacks, plastic and all. Unfortunately, he does not manage to conceal the goodies before Embry sees them and realizes what Brogan's been up to.

There's a little bit of an argument then. It's very sarcastic. Embry explains the sociological theory about how it takes a village to raise a child. Brogan points out that distributing toothbrushes is a good way to get their house egged. Embry makes defamatory statements about Brogan's character. Brogan says that Embry is too young to be acting like a cranky old man. Embry scowls. Brogan kisses his forehead and suggests a compromise: they'll hand out toothbrushes and candy together, mixed messages be damned! Embry scowls harder and suggests a compromise of his own. Sex, followed by the distribution of toothbrushes.

Brogan would be embarrassed about how quickly he surrenders, but he doesn't have that much pride. And later (once he has his pants back on) he volunteers to answer the door when the doorbell rings. He does not give out toothbrushes. And Embry, sleepy and satiated on the couch, fully aware of Brogan's underhanded plot (c'mon, like Embry wouldn't figure that out) sneakily uses the opportunity to change the channel from the Real Housewives of New Jersey marathon that Brogan wanted to watch to a Mesopotamian history documentary.

Then he hides the remote.


***Embry and Brogan do Thanksgiving (First included with Nov 2016 Newsletter).

Note to Readers: Originally, Mario’s mother was to play a larger role in Brogan's life, acting as a sort of surrogate mom for him. Unfortunately, the book came in at about 10k words too long and she was one of the less crucial elements, so she had to go. There are a couple hints to her existence that still remain in the story, such as when Brogan notes that Elena is the primary source of any home-cooked meals he eats before Embry comes along, and it's mentioned that she got him a set of bedsheets as a housewarming present when he bought his house. This outtake, then, is my apology to her for taking her out of the book. Be forewarned, though. This scene got away from me a bit and hasn’t seen an editor, so there might be way too many commas. ;D

Thanksgiving with Brogan and Embry
 
For a second, Brogan thought he might actually get away with it.

Then Embry said, “If you put your fingers in that, I won’t be held responsible for what happens next." He never even looked up from his project of neatly arranging crust in a lattice pattern atop the cherry pie, and Brogan froze, heart thumping, his hand hanging extended in the air above the marshmallows meant for the yams.

“Now, Embry,” Brogan began, conciliatory, “I was only checking to make sure there were enough. I’m offended you would think otherwise, truly.”

Embry still didn't look up. “And since you’re here, I need you to put on some pants. And an actual shirt with buttons.”

Since Brogan was currently in boxer-briefs and a white undershirt, he could see how Embry thought that was a reasonable request. Still wasn't going to happen, though. “That’s going to make it harder to have sex while the pie bakes.”

“We can’t have sex in the kitchen,” Embry said, finally looking up but only because he was scandalized. “We prepare food in here. No, that is not a thing that will be happening. You’re awful. Go away, please.”

“But I’m hungry and horny,” Brogan whined, trying to hide his smile. Honestly, Embry was downright predictable about some things. “And everything I need to fix that is in here!”

“You have problems,” Embry agreed. “You should have them elsewhere, though.” He frowned at the pie, apparently dissatisfied with his work on the crust, and Brogan edged closer to peer over Embry's shoulder.

“It looks very pretty.”

“Sucking up will not get you laid,” Embry said absently. With a resigned sigh, he elbowed Brogan out of the way and slid the pie into the oven. “We have to be at Mario’s in an hour. We don’t have time.”

“Do too.”

“Do not. The schedule—”

“You mean this schedule?” Brogan asked innocently, holding up Embry’s typed and color-coded printout of the day’s activities. He’d scratched out Embry’s 12:45 pm -1:06 pm entry (“Make Brogan’s hair do something appropriate for once”) and scrawled, “Bang Embry like a drum” in its place.

Brogan held his breath as Embry leaned in to read, outrage coloring his features as he saw the way Brogan had defaced his precious schedule. If the Doomscowl showed up, it would be in his best interest to run for his life and sex would be off the table for at least eight hours. If Brogan were a betting man, however—and, conveniently, he was—Embry would be more amused than annoyed. It helped that Embry seemed to genuinely enjoy having lots of excellent sex with Brogan.

Embry’s gaze flitted form the page to Brogan’s face. “You realize this means I’ll have to be seen in public with you while you’re uncombed?”

“Three things. First, Mario and his mother aren’t public. They’re friends. Two, they already know what I look like. Three, Elena loves telling me to comb my hair. You’ll be doing her a favor by letting me go to their house with my hair all willy-nilly.”

Strangely, it was the last one that had Embry’s lips pursing thoughtfully. “Doing her a favor?”

“You like telling me to fix my hair, don't you?” Brogan pointed out. “She’s the exact same way. Don’t ruin her day, okay?”

Embry seemed torn, his thumb tapping on the counter anxiously, and Brogan's heart tumbled over in his chest as he realized, “You’re nervous."

“I am not,” Embry said stiffly, scowling again. His hand went still.

“You are. You want to impress her.” His affection only deepened when Embry bit his lip and his cheeks flushed. “I thought the schedule and the pie and the dressing up were you being…well, you, but…Embry, she’s going to love you.”

“Mario doesn’t.”

“Mario doesn’t love anything. He’s dead inside. He’s a withered husk of a man.”

Embry gave him a soft, unhappy look, and Brogan stepped forward, tucking Embry against him. He smelled like pomade and soap and sugar, and he fit so nicely in Brogan's arms that he could almost be satisfied with this even if he didn't get to have sex.

“Mario’s protective," Brogan said. "He’s afraid you’ll crush me beneath your heel. But he’s less concerned than he was. He’s warming to you. Slowly. He didn’t even get mad when we played Risk and you got all pouty when you lost.”

Embry muttered under his breath for a second about Japanese battle tactics, then, more loudly, said, “What if he’s told his mother about the things I’ve—”

“He might have,” Brogan admitted. Mario told his mother everything. “But Elena is a very wise lady. She believes in the benefit of the doubt and she gets really happy when I’m happy. So the best thing you could do is have sex with me so I’ll look happy when we get there. You don’t want me to look sad, do you?”

Judging from his expression, Embry was singularly unimpressed with that logic, but he sighed and said, “Fine. Take your underwear off. Not in here! In the living room! Jesus."

"I hate to tell you this, but people sometimes do have sex in the kitchen."

"Not in this house they don't. And we're doing oral only. And you have to put on pants right afterwards!”
 
“Deal,” Brogan said, and hightailed it into the living room, where he chucked off the rest of his clothes.

Embry came in a moment later, grim as a soldier heading for battle, his flour and cherry-juice stained apron gone, his eyes on the clock. “We have twelve minutes. Only twelve minutes.”
 
“Sure.”

“Brogan,” Embry said warningly.

“No, twelve minutes, I'm on board, I really mean it,” Brogan replied earnestly, lying through his teeth. Gently, he pushed Embry onto the sofa and started tugging at his pants. "It'll just feel longer because I'm super good at this." With a quick grin, he bent his head.

He was beginning to think he’d never get tired of the way Embry slowly unraveled under his hands and mouth. The way Embry moaned and panted and rocked against him, his fingers tangling in Brogan’s hair, messing it up in a manner that he’d be mad about later. The way he'd stop caring about schedules and rules and the outside world at large as long as Brogan was here to hold him close and drive him crazy.

They took far longer than twelve minutes.

While Embry was in the shower, charmingly grumpy and sweetly relaxed against his will, Brogan grabbed his cell phone and tapped out a quick text.

***
           
“Brogan, what on Earth has happened to your hair?” Elena Bello asked as she let Brogan and Embry into the house. She was a tall and handsome woman, her own hair black and pulled into a stately chignon. She wore crisp slacks and a festive red blouse. Understated jewelry decorated her ears and throat.

Embry shot Brogan a deadly look, and Brogan grinned and said, “It’s bedhead.” When Embry’s eyes widened in horror, he added, “I needed a nap. Watching all that football is exhausting.”

“You’re exhausting,” Elena said, taking the pie from Embry and shoving it at Brogan, who somehow managed not to drop either the pie or the yams he'd already been carrying. “Mario’s in the kitchen, making a mess out of the eggs. Go straighten him out, dear, and leave me with your young man. Don’t set anything on fire.”

Embry gave him a desperate look, but Brogan only kissed him on the cheek. "You'll be fine," he whispered, then whistled something out of tune as he headed for the kitchen. He managed to drag his heels enough to overhear Elena say, “It’s such a pleasure to meet you, Embry. Mario’s said wonderful things about you, and I know I’ve never seen Brogan happier than he has been over the last months.”

“Oh,” Embry said, turning adorably pink. “Well, I’m very lucky to have him.”

Brogan was smiling when he entered the kitchen, nudging Mario hello as he whipped deviled egg innards in a bowl. “Hey, thanks for passing along the message.”

“Like she’d be anything but gentle with him even anyway.You know her. Babies and puppies and terrifying criminal masterminds alike, all tamed beneath her hand. Although I can't help being bewildered by the idea that Embry's afraid of anything, let alone my mother. I'm not afraid of her.”

Brogan snorted. "Liar." He dumped the pie on the counter and wandered back to the door, peering out. Mario came up behind him, still stirring, and they watched as Embry and Elena chatted. They looked very intent on each other, Embry nodding seriously, Elena’s voice passionate, and then the words La Traviata reached Brogan’s ears.

He and Mario winced in tandem.

“This might’ve been a mistake,” Brogan said.

“God, we’re going to have to go with them,” Mario groaned. He stopped stirring to shake the eggy spoon in Brogan's face. “This is all your fault! You told me to tell her that Embry was scared to meet her! And she thought it was sweet! You made her all soft and gooey and now we’re gonna have to go to the opera!”

“I didn’t know this would happen,” Brogan hissed, elbowing him. Mario elbowed him back, slopping some of the egg mixture onto the floor.

They shoved at each other for a few seconds in the doorway, and wound down just in time to hear Embry say, “Why, thank you, Mrs. Bello, we’d love to. I’ve been meaning to introduce Brogan to more cultured forms of entertainment than America’s Next Top Model.

“Crap,” Brogan whispered.

“This is all on you,” Mario told him, retreating into the kitchen proper so he could take his frustration out on the poor eggs by stirring viciously.

“Crap,” Brogan said again, but as he watched Embry's smile widen enough that those damnable dimples showed up, his heart wasn’t in it. Embry's dimples had always had that affect on him, and if you added in the nervous deference in his tone as he spoke to Elena, Brogan was pretty much a goner. He'd never known how sweet it could be, to have someone love him enough to want to impress the people in his life. But then, Embry had taught him a surprising number of things about relationships, albeit usually by accident.

“This is a nightmare,” Mario lamented from behind him.

“Yeah.” Brogan smiled softly. “It’s the worst.”


*** Alternate Epilogue (First Included in Jan 2017 Newsletter)



Note to Readers: This is the last tidbit from Bad Judgment that I'm going to do, so I decided it better be good. It's also pretty long, if that makes you feel any better.

During revision, my editor and I decided the epilogue of Bad Judgment needed to do three things: 1. Show that Embry had made serious strides in healing from Henniton's abuse; 2. demonstrate that Embry and Brogan had developed better conflict resolution skills than they'd employed in the rest of the book, so that readers wouldn't picture Embry handcuffing Brogan anytime they argued; and 3. show that Embry and Brogan would have more laughter than angst in their future together.

Oh, four things--it needed to be shifted from present tense to past tense. Apparently lots of readers hate present tense, so my editor felt the change was necessary, even though that drives me crazy because I greatly prefer present tense.

But I digress.

This version here, the original version of the epilogue, doesn't meet those four criteria, so I made some changes.

Because of #1, I shifted this scene from Brogan's point of view to Embry's, because Embry says one word for every hundred that he thinks, and I wanted the reader to be absolutely certain that Embry was in a much better place at the end of the novel. Brogan could've guessed at Embry's state of mind (he's good at that), but it wouldn't be as convincing as getting it directly from Embry's perspective. Fortunately, exploring #1 enabled me to do #2 fairly easily, and there wasn't a single instance of handcuffing in the entire argument. And as for #3...you might remember Embry and Brogan bickering/flirting about whether polar bears can pull Santa's sleigh, with or without a jet engine? Well, that's my idea of a happy ever after, so. There you go.

However, once I took care of #1 and #2, the epilogue was way too long, so some of the fluffy fun and laughter stuff had to go. Still, even though this version didn't fit the needs of the story quite as well as the eventual epilogue did, I do still love it, and I'm glad you guys will get to see it here.

Remember, this is an unedited, incomplete section of a first draft, so it might be what one of my beta readers calls "grammatically and fictively crappy." ;D

 

***Alternate Epilogue

 

“You realize that doing the laundry yourself defeats the purpose of assigning the chore to me, don’t you?” Brogan says, bending over and resting his forearms against the back of the couch so he can see Embry’s face.

“You are the worst at laundry ever,” Embry says, shaking out a pillowcase. “There are people with disabling brain tumors and no hands that are better at laundry than you. You haven’t worn underwear in weeks and I’m on my last pair.”

“Just go commando like the heathens.” He pauses to imagine easing open the placket of Embry’s tailored trousers and finding nothing but smooth, bare skin underneath. “Wow. Please. Do it.”

“Shut up,” Embry says, and because it’s obvious where Brogan’s mind has gone, his cheeks flush a lovely shade of pink. Brogan chuckles, taking up a strand of Embry’s hair and giving it a gentle tug. The rough-slick surface slides between his thumb and forefinger. It’s strange how, even after months of being allowed to touch Embry whenever and however he likes, he’s still occasionally struck dumb by the sheer impossibility that he’s been given this privilege. It’s also strange to realize that he’s familiar enough with the texture of Embry’s hair that he could probably identify Embry by it if he had to.

There’s a kind of ownership in possessing that knowledge. They’ve known each other for just over a year now, and Brogan doesn’t know everything about Embry, could never possibly know everything, even given limitless time, but he knows enough to feel like Embry is his. It’s in the way Embry’s eyes turn red and water when he’s around cats, and the way he’ll sometimes eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon in great, mouth-clamping bites, and especially in the way that Embry’s face will reflect utter panic whenever someone deposits a child in his arms, as if he’s been given a bomb to hold moments before it’s due to explode. It’s in every moment they spend together where Embry acknowledges Brogan’s claim and demands one of his own.

Brogan hadn't known that love could feel this huge and mysterious, as impossibly magical to him as an airplane would be to a caveman. He hadn't known it could twist and burn and gouge this way so that the pain of looking at Embry is second only to the pain of not looking at him.

Embry tips his head back slightly so that his temple rests briefly against Brogan’s knuckles.

“Why don’t you take over the laundry and I’ll take one of your chores, then?” Brogan offers, as if he wants a trade to keep things fair, as if they don’t already know that he would do anything Embry asked, fair or not. “Since I’m so ineffectual.”

“Dishes?” Embry asks, looking up at him. His eyes are dark and still and deep. He knows, Brogan thinks. Embry always knows what Brogan’s thinking and feeling, often before Brogan knows himself. Embry presses his lips to the back of Brogan’s hand, then sits back up and resumes folding.

“Yeah, okay.”

With that solved, Brogan wanders into the kitchen. He’s thinking it’s sandwich time. He peers into the fridge. Baloney for himself, and for Embry…

“Why is there a monkey on your sock?” Embry asks tonelessly.

“Turkey?” Brogan calls over his shoulder.

“Not turkey. I said monkey,” Embry says. "You own bright yellow socks with monkeys on them. Well…actually, you only own one bright yellow sock with a monkey on it. I don’t even know what to do with this."

Brogan turns around to see and Embry holds the sock up. Brogan squints across the breakfast bar at it, then says, “Huh. The other one has to be around here somewhere. Although, I guess if we can’t find it, there’s always the penguin. I lost one of those ages ago, but now I’m glad I held onto the other.”

Embry tilts his head to one side in question, eyes narrowing in thought, and then guesses tentatively, "Because even if you only have one monkey and one penguin, it's still a match because they’re both animals?"

Brogan beams at him, because there’s something exceedingly romantic in finding out that your boyfriend can, in fact, read your mind. "I'll admit, I liked the penguin socks more. I always wanted to visit the North Pole and see a penguin. But more importantly, I meant that you’ll want turkey on your sandwich.”

Embry studies the sock in his hand as if he feels sorry for the hapless monkey and replies absently, "You're thinking of polar bears. Penguins don't live at the North Pole. And yes, turkey’s fine."

Brogan stops in the middle of putting bread on plates and pretends to think about it. He could give two shits about socks or arctic wildlife, but he suspects that he might be able to push Embry into an actual conversation about it if he’s careful. And he wants it badly—Embry so rarely allows himself to be silly and young and unrestrained that Brogan provokes him on a fairly regular basis with the hope that Embry will remember, just for a moment, that there is more to life than loss and grief.

Brogan can still see the shadow of Amy in Embry’s eyes sometimes, but he likes to think that the weight of her loss is lighter than it used to be.

So instead of accepting Embry’s word on the subject—and he has zero doubt that Embry is right—Brogan says, "That can't be true. Polar bears eat penguins."

Embry looks at him like he's grown a second head, monkey sock completely forgotten. "What? They do not. Polar bears eat walruses and seals and...are you fucking with me? How do you not know this? This is second grade stuff."

"I was feeding small children when I was in second grade, not acting like one. And besides, I don't believe you."

"I have no reason to lie to you about where polar bears live."

"If polar bears live at the north pole, why doesn't Santa use them to pull the sleigh?" Brogan asks, putting on the air of someone who knows they’ve just won the argument, because he totally has. He finishes slapping turkey and baloney on bread and moves on to finding the mustard, which is definitely in the fridge somewhere. There’s a scratching sound as Gizmo comes running at the sound. He noses in, searching for food.

"Are you high? Have you even seen a fucking polar bear? There's no way they're as aerodynamic as reindeer,” Embry replies, and Brogan wrinkles his brow as if doubtfully considering this, when really he’s somewhat impressed, because Embry is far better at hypothetical nonsense debates than anyone would think to look at him. Brogan often wonders how a man who wore a bow tie to present a paper at an undergraduate physics conference manages to be so good at cursing and other common forms of rhetoric.

"Polar bears make about as much sense as reindeer," Brogan points out, rather sensibly from his perspective. Ah, there’s the mustard. And ooh, lettuce. He grabs a knife out of the drawer and goes to town. "Seeing as neither of them can fly. Polar bears are stronger, too. You'd only need half as many to get the job done."

"Polar bears aren't pack animals. They'd compete rather than coordinate. You'd never get all of them attached to the sleigh at once."

"Polar bears are faster too," Brogan says thoughtfully. "Have you ever seen them race? Polar bears always win."

"When polar bears and reindeer race," Embry repeats blankly, as if he’s suddenly realized what they’re actually arguing about and isn’t exactly sure how it happened.

And that’s the end of that one, Brogan thinks fondly. Oh, well. Brogan cuts the crusts off of Embry’s sandwich and gives them to Gizmo, who has a bizarre liking for the whole-grain, stodgy shit that Embry prefers, then carries the food into the living room.

Embry just stares at him suspiciously for a moment from the couch, then sets aside the laundry and takes his plate. Brogan sinks down next to him and is in the process of congratulating himself for beating Embry at making sense when Embry asks, "Can we play Peggle 2?”

Brogan winces. “No. You’re cut off, remember?”

“It won’t be like last time,” Embry replies earnestly. “I’ll be good.”

“I’m not falling for that.” Brogan shakes his head, withholding a shudder of fear. On the surface, this might look like the same sort of silly, youthful moment that they just shared while discussing polar bears, but it isn’t. Embry is dangerously competitive and entirely irrational when it comes to Peggle, and last time Brogan ended up with excruciatingly deep teeth marks in his wrist from where Embry bit him, which was grossly unfair because Brogan was barely even cheating.

It’s not his fault Embry’s geometrical calculations aren’t perfect when someone’s shoving him.

“Sandwich,” Brogan says desperately, pointing at his plate.

“Do you really think it’s reasonable to ask that I give up Peggle for food?”

“Absolutely. Unlike you, I do not have a bizarre fetish for that unicorn.”

“It’s not a fetish,” Embry mutters. “I just like it.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“I’m about to faint from hunger. I think we should eat instead.” And because he knows how Embry’s brain works, he forestalls the inevitable what about after we eat comeback with, “And then have sex.”

Embry seems ready to go along with that plan at first, but then he pauses, his expression turning sly. “I might not be in the mood to have sex.”

“I think I’m offended,” Brogan says, potentially honestly. He takes an enormous bite of his sandwich, and chews while he considers it. After he swallows, he adds, “In fact, I’m definitely offended. I can’t believe you’d rather play Peggle than have sex with me.”

“I would not rather play Peggle than have sex,” Embry says, so firmly that Brogan is reassured. “That’s not what’s happening here. I’m withholding sex until you play Peggle with me. That’s completely different.”

“Is that the kind of crappy conflict resolution they’re teaching you in anger management?” Brogan asks, though he can’t even pretend to be shocked that Embry is mercenary enough to trade sex for Peggle. There are a lot of ethically dubious things Embry would do for Peggle 2 specifically, because the unicorn always looks so happy for him when he wins and Embry has somehow become addicted to that. “Also, I don’t care. I’m so good in bed that I rock my own world even when I’m alone.”

Embry snorts—well, he makes a sound that would be a snort coming from anyone else. From him it’s more of an aristocratic, rapid exhale. “How about this? I’ll give you head every morning for a week if we can play for an hour today.”

Brogan doesn’t let himself show weakness—that only makes rabid creatures braver. “No.”

“I’ll teach you how to count cards.”

Brogan is so astonished that he abruptly puts his sandwich down. “You can count cards?”

Embry blinks twice. “No. I don’t know why I said that.”

“Holy shit,” Brogan says, feeling a warm buzz of happiness rise in his chest. “You can totally count cards. How did I not know this?”

“I can’t, really,” Embry says quickly. “It was a mistake.”

“A mistake? How does anyone make that mistake?”

“I thought I could, but then I remembered I can’t?”

Brogan, being a man of normal intelligence, ignores that and says, “Okay, new plan. We’re going to play Peggle. Then we’re going to have sex. Then you’re going to teach me how to count cards. And then we’re going to Vegas.”

Embry sighs. “I knew you were going to say that. And no, we’re not.”

Brogan makes a noise of pain and protest, to which Embry, cruel bastard that he is, replies, “Think about it, Brogan. We would end up with our legs broken in an alley behind Caesar’s.”

“But all the money, Embry,” Brogan says, sandwich forgotten. He’s already imagining it. Their electricity bill for January could be paid. “We could win all the money.”

“We could break all the bones, Brogan.” Embry pauses a second, then frowns. “I’ve never won money gambling before. How do you report it on your taxes?”

“You really are the most charming thing,” Brogan says. He’s still perplexed as to how he ended up in love with a grown-up. “Okay, let’s do this. Peggle. Get on it. Because afterwards, we’re gonna count some cards. You’re gonna educate me, Embry. You’ll teach me your sciences.”

Embry’s watching him warily when he says, “Some men aren’t meant to hold these secrets.”

“They are if they’re meant to play Peggle with their boyfriends.”

“Maybe I don’t have to play Peggle,” Embry says, his dark eyes suddenly going soft and worried.

Brogan doesn’t hesitate to call that bluff. It’s insulting. So he says, “Really?” and then just waits.

Embry’s looking forlornly at the Xbox, his perfect lower lip curved sweet and vulnerable, one hand fiddling pathetically with the corner of his sandwich and Brogan can’t help feeling a pang even though he knows it’s manipulative bullshit meant to make him feel guilty enough that he’ll cave. Well, it’s mostly bullshit. Embry really does have a weird thing for the unicorn in the game. It would be sort of creepy if it wasn’t so uncharacteristically cute.

But the point is that Brogan is made of steel and doesn’t cave and eventually Embry abandons the sad face to give him a dirty look.

“Fine, asshole. Here’s what’s gonna happen,” he says in the voice that he breaks out whenever he’s about to do something that will get them arrested or possibly save the world, the voice that Brogan has learned the hard way not to argue with because he’ll end up exhausted and delirious and he still won’t get he wants anyway. “Peggle. Sex. Vegas.”

“You left out the part where you teach me to count cards,” Brogan points out.

“Yeah, I’m not doing that.” When Brogan gives another gasp of protest, Embry just talks right over him.

“You’re completely undisciplined when it comes to gambling. You’ll get us in trouble with the mafia and we both know you won’t report your winnings, which is unacceptable. But if you stop making that face I’ll win you a reasonable amount of money. Enough to cover airfare and the hotel and pay one bill. One bill.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” Embry asks, clearly suspicious about Brogan’s easy capitulation.

“Yeah. I mean, we don’t have to win all the money at once. We can go back as many times as we want.”

Embry’s scowl deepens. “No, we can’t.”

“Anytime you want to play Peggle, really,” Brogan says innocently. Yeah, he’s pushing his luck—if the Doomscowl shows up, he’ll be lucky to get Embry into a casino sometime this decade—but he’s willing to bet that Embry’s love of that stupid unicorn will keep him from shutting the whole game down.

“Hell, no. A trip to Vegas is not commensurate with a round of Peggle.” Embry eyeballs Brogan scornfully, the whole enterprise balanced on the edge of complete chaos for a moment before the scowl abruptly vanishes, replaced by sheer determination. Brogan lets out a soft breath of relief as Embry leans forward, eyes hard. “You play twenty rounds with me and I’ll go to Vegas with you.”

“Twenty! You’re on crack, kid. Five.”

“I can play Peggle by myself, too,” Embry says. “I’d like to see you win at Blackjack without me.”

“The odds at Blackjack are actually the best in—”

“Oh, my God, shut up. Ten rounds.”

“I’ll give you twenty rounds if we can go to Vegas four times.”

“One trip. I like my kneecaps, asshole.”

“Twenty rounds for three trips.”

“One trip. One, Brogan.”

“Thirty rounds for two trips!”

“Sold,” Embry says. He holds his hand out and they shake on it. He turns on the television and gets Peggle 2 started while Brogan goes back to his sandwich, utterly unsurprised to find that he’s more than a little turned on after all the negotiations.

“We’re getting really good at being in a relationship,” Embry decides.

“Fuck, yeah we are,” Brogan agrees as the plinky music starts up. The unicorn appears on screen and Embry gives an involuntary, happy little wriggle. It’s the most adorable thing ever, but Brogan pretends he didn’t see it because he’s a nice boyfriend.

There’s a beat of silence. Then Embry admits softly, “It’s dumb. I know it’s dumb. But I really do like that unicorn.”

Brogan smiles and reaches over, trailing a thumb along Embry’s jawline affectionately while Embry gives him a shy, slightly embarrassed smile.

“It’s okay, baby,” Brogan murmurs, warmed throughout with the knowledge that everything is exactly as it should be. “I won’t tell anyone. We’ll keep it just between us.”

“Just between us,” Embry repeats, quietly pleased, and presses the start button.