Companion Story to
Hayato felt better than he had in weeks. Even before the move, he’d felt like their stress-levels—both his and Max’s—had been too high. It was hard to feel sexual when you were too annoyed with the world to deal with anything. Hell, it was hard to feel friendly at that point.
No wonder Max had retreated into her game. It was an escape. From the move. From the world.
And, yeah, sure, from him. From all the expectations and the questions. Where should we put the couch? Do you want to buy a softer or firmer bed? Do you want to keep your coffeemaker or mine? Can we fit all our things in one closet or should someone take the downstairs one? Did you go grocery shopping or should I? There were a million little, mundane decisions that used to be easier and more routine when they lived apart that now needed to be discussed and adjusted for now that they were sharing a space and a life. It was just a lot at times.
But, after last night, he felt like they’d connected again. Like they’d gotten back a bit of the spark and fire they’d lost somewhere in the mess of the mundane. God, even now, the memory of her hands on her needy, supple form made his body heat and harden. With that old, profanely ratty college t-shirt no longer hiding her from his gaze, her pale, cream body had been a wonder, all swelling curves and silken skin. She’d been a sumptuous visual feast—the fullness of her breasts, the softness of her belly, the wide sweep of her hips, and her cotton-covered heat—that he would never get enough of. Just the sight of her at the height of her pleasure, of her delicious fall into ecstasy, was satisfying in a way he’d never experienced with anyone but her. Last night, as she lay in his arms replete and relaxed, he felt his world right itself again.
And, instead of waking up to either an exhausted, still asleep Max or, worse, an empty bed, he’d woken up to Max’s hand on his chest, slipping south. They’d made love once in bed and had to stop themselves from doing so again on the kitchen table before they made themselves even more late than they already were.
Already, he felt sharper, more on his game, more ready to take on the world, than he had in too long. He couldn’t wait until he got back home.
Maybe he’d forget that he owed her another half hour of game time.
Hopefully, she’d forget the game entirely.
She’d sent him a slightly racy message at noon. A photo of her sitting in panties and nothing else on their bed. Apparently, she’d taken the day off to set up some kind of special, sexy surprise.
He gripped the steering wheel of his car and pulled into their driveway. He couldn’t wait. Once inside, he stripped off his suit coat and tie and rushed upstairs.
An expectant smile spread across his face as he approached their bedroom. God, this was going to be good.
He stood in the doorway and looked in to find Max on their bed. Her beautiful, lush body was covered in nothing but pretty lace and satin panties, like sea foam sinful on her skin.
His eyes narrowed and his jaw tensed.
What the hell was this?
He watched her—body tensed and hunched—as she furiously typed. Her attention was fixed on the screen and she bit her lip in concentration.
With one last tap of her keyboard, her whole body relaxed. She let out a victorious whoop before turning to him. “Well,” she said, gesturing around her, “what do you think?”
This was her surprise?
She’d dragged the TV from the den and apparently hooked it up to connect to her computer downstairs. All so she could play Plunder in bed.
This was her surprise?
He stared at her smug smile. “Looks like I won’t be missing any curfew now, huh?”
He balked. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
Max leaned back in surprise.
He was mad.
That much was obvious. From the flaring of his nostrils. To the tightening of his fists. To the fire burning in the blue of his eyes. To the slash of color across his chiseled cheeks. Yeah, he was pissed.
The question was why?
Confused, she set aside her keyboard. It was a perfect solution. “This way I can play as long and late as I like and still make it to bed on-time.” She smiled wickedly. “And, when I’m done and all flush with victory, we could have a little fun of our own.” She’d wanted to kick herself for not thinking of it earlier. She could just imagine it. She could work or play on her computer, while he worked on his papers. Then, when they were both tired, they could fall asleep together, just like he wanted. He’d see; it was a perfect compromise.
He shut his eyes. Pressed his thumb and forefinger against the lids. “So you thought you’d lug all this up here, hook it all up, for my benefit?” He scoffed and rubbed his eyes. “This was all for me?” His head dropped back and he groaned. “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Max sat up straight, not liking the insulting tone in his voice. “What the hell does that mean?”
He dropped his arm dramatically. He narrowed his gaze at her incredulously. “Last night, we finally connected sexually again after weeks of distance because you’ve been so busy playing that game.” He began to pace. “And now, in response to that—after teasing me with the promise of a sexy surprise—you decided to bring the game into the bedroom.” He turned to her again. “And you say you did this for me?”
Well, when he put it like that...
Frowning, she turned and grabbed her shirt from the edge of the nightstand. She took a deep, stalling breath and tugged it over her head.
She turned back when she heard a disapproving sound. He was right behind her, looking—if possible—even angrier. “Why the hell did you put that on?” he asked, plucking at the sleeve of her t-shirt in disgust.
She looked down at herself. Her sleep shirt? He made it sound like she were wearing something offensive, repugnant. What was wrong with him? She pushed passed him, confused and, frankly, irritated by his attitude. She didn’t understand him. Why was this such a big deal? Why was he being so irrational about all this? “Because I’m not going to argue with you topless?”
He followed her, keeping annoyingly close. “Why not?”
She stopped, and shoved him back. Not hard, but enough to get some damned breathing room. “Because it’s ridiculous!” This whole thing was. This fight. His reaction. She needed some time and space to think about this. Because none of this made any sense.
“But dragging all this upstairs isn’t?” He waved around, gesturing to everything, his long golden hair flicking about his shoulders. “I thought we’d agreed the bedroom was just for us. No TV. No computers. No devices.”
She vaguely remembered that conversation. She’d thought it was odd then. Still did. “Why does it matter so much?” It was just a TV. Just a video game.
“Tell me, Max, while you’re playing your game until the middle of the night, exactly what am I supposed to do? I can’t exactly sleep with all this around.” He nodded. “Oh, but, of course, I won’t be sleeping, because I’ll be waiting for you to finish your game, so you can finally find time to spend with me. That’s right.”
He shook his head. “This room—this bed—is supposed to be for us,” he repeated. “Us. It’s why we agreed, no other partners here, no working in here, no distractions.” He threw his hands up in obvious frustration. “But, now, it’s about you and your game.” He sat down on the edge of the bed, the striped bedspread laid out between them. “Where do I fit in?”
Max paused. He sat on her side of the bed. Her keyboard lay on the other. An unintentionally symbolic visual.
It’d seemed like such a good idea at the time.
And, to her, it still did.
But, for him...
He’d wanted to spend more time with her. And her solution was making sure she could squeeze every last second of gameplay in that she could.
He hung his head. “It just,” he shrugged, “feels like you care more about playing your game.”
Than you do about playing with me.
He didn’t say it.
He didn’t have to.
Aw, Sir. “No.” She shook her head. “That’s not true.” Of course it wasn’t. “I love you.” She would never have been with him this long, never would have moved in with him, if she didn’t.
“Then why?” He looked up at her, eyes sad and wondering. “Why do you need this?”
She sighed and sat across from him on the bed and reached for her keyboard. “Because I do.”
It shouldn’t have hurt to hear that.
It was just a stupid video game.
It shouldn’t have mattered this much. Not enough to hurt.
But it did.
He shut his eyes.
He felt her climb onto the bed and sidle up next to him. He felt the comfortable heat and weight of her as she leaned her back against him, the length and strength of her spine against his shoulder. She let out a small sigh. “You know, when we first met, I’d asked myself why you—why anyone—would need kink. All the toys and costumes and games and rituals seemed so unnecessary. Why couldn’t sex be enough?”
His body relaxed as he listened to her talk. As he let her words wash over him.
“I didn’t get it then,” she told him. “Enough was never the question. It’s not about whether or not you could be happy without the toys and roles in your life; it’s about the fact that their presence in your life makes you happier.”
“And Plunder makes you happy.” He knew that. And accepted that. But… “It’s just that you play it all the time now. And, if you’re not playing it, you’re working on the novels. It feels like it’s consumed your life.” Leaving little room for him.
And they’d just begun this new chapter of their lives, living together, giving this relationship some real weight and priority, and it felt like that was fizzling.
For a game.
“I know.” She sighed and shook her head. “I know I’ve been a little obsessed.”
He snorted. A little?
“But you have to understand,” she said, looking up at him. “You’ve known this side of yourself—kink, BDSM, non-monogamy—for a long time now. Since college.” She shrugged. “I’ve only started figuring this all out for about a year now. I’m still learning. Still discovering.” She held her keyboard in her hands and looked up at the now paused play on the TV screen, her eyes full of Plunder’s adventure and possibility. “And to be able to watch even a part of it play out in a game like Plunder—in a mainstream, widely accepted, widely loved piece of media—and to be asked to be a part of that. A part of shaping our community’s face, our image, to the wider world…” She took a deep breath, the intimidating marvel over it clear in that small sound. She faced him, her expression set in a slight frown. “I just want to get it all right. To do it the justice it deserves.”
Max had come so far so fast—had dove into his world and carved her own place within it, making it her own—that he often forgot how new she really was to all of this. Forgot that she was still building, expanding, and growing her sense of community.
She set the keyboard on her lap and touched his knee. “But I never meant to push you away because of that.”
She gave a self-aware huff. She should have seen it before. Should have listened to Kat. And Peter.
She looked up at the man seated next to her, his face thoughtful. She should have listened to him. She should have seen last night as the first step toward reconnection and not the end-game solution she’d assumed it was.
She, better than most people, knew sex—no matter how good—rarely fixed relationship issues. Whatever was causing problems before the shattering orgasm would likely still be there when it was done.
And this was no different. She exhaled deeply. “I know I need to learn balance.” There was an understatement. “I’m too used to being on my own, to letting myself get carried away by things.” She reached out to grab his hand, admiring the strength and grace there. “But I’m not alone anymore.” She shut her eyes and tightened her grip. “I can’t let myself get lost in my own obsessions anymore.” She frowned and set the keyboard aside. “It’s not fair and I know that.”
This had been a dumb idea. Short-sighted and selfish. She shook her head. Stupid. She moved to stand up. “I’ll put everything back.” She ought to box it all up. Uninstall the game.
She opened her eyes when she felt him reach over her. He picked up her keyboard and held it out to her.
She looked at him quizzically. But he just waved it at her until she took it from him.
He shook his head. “You’re so dramatic.” His thin lips curved in a half smile. “I’m not asking you to give it up. This isn’t an all-or-nothing, me-or-it ultimatum, Max.” He covered their entwined hands with his other hand. “For an editor, I wonder at your grasp of vocabulary sometimes.”
She shot him an irritated glance, but he just laughed. “Balance,” he said pointedly. “Where you allow time and attention for everything you want.” He leaned in and tapped her mouse, unpausing her game. “I know this is important to you. I want you to play it.” Max eyed him suspiciously, not trusting the mischievous tone in his voice. She gripped her keyboard as he moved to sit behind her. He wrapped his lean arms around her and pulled her close. “Go on, Max, play.”
Read Part Two Here