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Snowed In: Ross and Ashton

By J.V. Speyer

Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

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Copyright 2019 J.V. Speyer

ISBN 9781634868235

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

For Sophia.

* * * *

Snowed In: Ross and Ashton

By J.V. Speyer

Chapter 1

Ross fought to keep his SUV on the road. Another massive gust of wind rocked in from the north, threatening to knock him over. Ice caked the roads, hidden by blowing snow, and they were going to stay that way until the storm wound itself out. According to Weather Center Power Five or whatever they were calling themselves these days, that could be two days from now. The emergency arteries would probably get cleared at some point, but even clearing that much would be a fight for plows. With any luck, news about the travel ban would have spread and people would have engaged their common sense. No one needed to be out on the roads at a time like this.

He grabbed his radio. “Huber to base, checking in from Route 27 near the Maynard-Sudbury Line. No stragglers that I can see. Over.”

The dispatcher’s voice crackled back to him right away. “Bring it on home, Huber. No need to risk getting stuck out there.”

Ross hated to admit it, but he relaxed a little in his seat. He had no problem doing the job in front of him. He’d give his life to protect the people of Massachusetts if he had to, just like he’d sworn in his oath when he took the job. He just didn’t see a point in making that kind of sacrifice without good cause. It was much better to head back to the State Police barracks in Framingham. At this rate of speed, with this kind of visibility, it would take him about two hours at best to get back to base, and the storm was only going to get worse between now and then.

He’d be sleeping at headquarters, but he could live with that. They’d all prepared for it anyway, having known about the storm days in advance. They had food, they had coffee and hot chocolate. They had plenty of cots and blankets and whatnot. They’d be fine, and he’d rather it be him than some of the guys who had young kids or aged parents at home.

He inched his way along, eyes as alert as they could be for any sign of people or animals in distress. As he drove, visibility steadily got worse. The snow was bad enough, but the wind blew it around so much it was impossible to see. He could only hope he made it back to State Police headquarters at this rate. Between the wind, snow, and ice, he couldn’t be a hundred percent sure he’d make it.

Some guys farther west didn’t make it back to their barracks. Ross heard it on the radio, every time they checked in. Most of them called it quits when they got to someplace relatively safe to hole up until things died down. A couple of them decided to bunk down in a grocery store with stranded workers. Another took shelter in a Dunkin Donuts, living the stereotype but at least finding safety (and donuts.)

One just parked his cruiser under the shelter of a self-serve car wash and hoped for the best. Ross didn’t envy him at all.

If the stranded car hadn’t had its flashers on, and its wipers, Ross would never have seen it. He threw his lights and blinkers on and pulled in behind it. It was entirely possible that whoever had left the car there had already been picked up and rescued, but Ross couldn’t take the chance of leaving someone in the vehicle. Not when he could see that the tailpipe had already been covered.

He picked up his radio again. “Base, this is Huber, still on Route Twenty-Seven, probably somewhere in Sudbury. I’ve come upon a stranded vehicle, tailpipe buried, lights flashing. Intend to check for passengers. Over.”

“Roger that, Huber.” Dispatch always sounded calm and collected. “Be advised your road has not been cleared and ambulances cannot pass. Over.”

“Roger that. Making contact now.” Ross didn’t need someone sitting pretty in their socks in Framingham to tell him the miserable road he was driving on hadn’t been plowed. He knew it was just for the recording, in case someone tried to sue later or something, but it still rankled. Or maybe he was just cranky because of the weather.

He slipped his gloves and hat on, grabbed a window breaker just in case, and headed over to the other car. It was a Volkswagen Golf with summer tires, completely inappropriate for this kind of weather, and the motor was running. Now that Ross was on the ground and closer to the vehicle, he could better guess what had happened. The driver had skidded out and gone halfway into a snowbank, and then he couldn’t get out again.

He used his forearm to brush away snow from the driver’s side window. He hoped he wouldn’t find anyone inside, just some dim bulb who’d left the car running when he jumped into the rescue vehicle of his choice. Once he’d cleared enough snow to see, he knew he wasn’t going to be that lucky. He fumbled for his radio, no easy task with his gloves on. “Dispatch,” he shouted trying to be heard over the wind. “This is Huber. We have one adult male, unconscious, and one canine, semi-conscious, in the vehicle. Over.”

Dispatch came back to him right away. “Extract from vehicle if you can, but we cannot send a truck. Repeat, no truck is coming. There is a tree down two miles from your location.”

Well, shit. “I’ll deal with that once I extract the victims, over.” He took his window breaker, found an appropriate location, and smashed the driver’s side window.

It shattered under impact, collapsing down as it had been designed to do. By the time someone got to the car to tow it, the thing would be a total loss. At least the owner would be alive to fight with his insurance company.

Ross reached into the car and unlocked it. The dog growled at him when he reached inside, but made no more hostile moves when he reached over to turn the car off. “It’s okay, buddy,” Ross told the dog. “I’m trying to get you out of here.”

The dog probably didn’t have the strength to fight Ross at this point. He wagged his tail on the passenger seat twice and drooled a bit. Ross couldn’t quite tell the breed. He’d guess it was a mutt, with a good amount of German shepherd in him. The dog nosed at its human, trying to get him to wake up.

“He’s not going anywhere on his own, boy.” Ross’ teeth chattered as he slipped his glove back on. “Are you going to bite me if I try to move your friend here?”

The dog growled.

“Well, sorry. I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I want you to come too, okay?” Ross felt like an ass, talking to a dog. He knew he should grab the dog’s leash, but right now he had to prioritize the human. If he’d already lost consciousness, time was of the essence and it might already be too late.

He put his arms underneath the victim’s shoulders and dragged him out of the car, into the snow. The man was only a little shorter than Ross himself, and he seemed to be made of solid muscle, so all Ross could do was drag him. He’d deal with any other injuries later. Ross dragged him to the back of his SUV, opened the lift gate, and hoisted the stranger into it. This seemed to be the best way to keep him lying down, although Ross had to fold him into the coma position to fit him inside.

The dog hadn’t followed, although he’d moved into the first guy’s seat to get more of the fresh air. That was fine. “What’s up, Fido?” Ross let the dog sniff him, and grinned when the dog gave two more wags of his little tail. “Want to go see Daddy?”

The dog barked, twice, and looked into the back of the car. Apparently, whoever the victim was, traveled with a bunch of equipment.

Ross sighed. He hadn’t signed on to play porter for some guy. At the same time, the dog clearly wasn’t going to come willingly unless Ross grabbed the guy’s stuff. He grabbed it, and then he frowned.

The man had a military-style duffel, which seemed light to Ross. He had a bag that, upon further examination, contained a laptop, other electronic equipment Ross couldn’t identify, and an expensive looking camera. Now that, Ross could see not wanting to leave hanging around for the elements to take. There was another little duffel with supplies for the dog, to include a large jar of kibble.

“Don’t want to forget that,” Ross said to the dog, who barked.

Ross found a leash to put onto the dog. He managed to lug the other things over to his car. Then he turned the Golf’s electronics off and returned to his vehicle to check on his victims.

The dog piddled on the Golf and rushed to join Ross. He helped his furry companion into the back of the car beside his master before checking his breathing. The man, whose stubbled face looked oddly familiar, had the cherry-red complexion of someone with carbon monoxide poisoning. He was already looking better now that Ross had moved him into fresh air, and the dog had perked up too. Hopefully they hadn’t been out for too long, and they’d recover.

He closed the lift gate, circled back to the driver’s seat, and climbed in. “Christ it’s cold out there,” he complained, and then grabbed his radio. “Base, this is Huber. I have the human and canine victim in my vehicle. Is there a detour to accommodate the tree you mentioned, over?”

Dispatch came back in a second. “Officer Huber, this is dispatch. You and your victims are directed to seek shelter immediately and shelter in place.”

Ross looked around. “Dispatch, there’s nothing here. It’s a wildlife refuge. I don’t know what the vic was doing out here, but there are no buildings within miles.” He flipped the radio off, out of view of the camera so no one would know. “Over.”

Dispatch came back after a second. “Officer Huber, we have your location on GPS. There is an abandoned home approximately half a mile down Route Twenty-Seven, on your right. Seek shelter there and we will send crews for you as soon as it becomes safe. Do you have your emergency kit with you? Over.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Ross bit back a curse. Of course he had his kit with him. He checked it out every shift, just in case.

“Good. Please stay safe, Officer.”

“Roger that.” Ross immediately regretted barking at the dispatcher. She was just doing her job, and it didn’t hurt to make sure everyone had a handle on where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing. “Huber out.”

He put his radio down and looked in the rearview mirror. “Looks like we’re going for an adventure,” he told the dog.

The dog didn’t reply. He probably had the same dim view of adventuring that Ross and maybe most hobbits, had. Maybe he’d already had enough adventuring for one day.

It took a while to ease down the road, but he found the driveway leading up to the house the dispatcher had told him about without a problem. Getting up to the door would be more of a challenge, but these little Ford SUVs had a few extra modifications that didn’t come standard from the showroom floor. Ross made it over the snow eventually, and turned the vehicle around for ease of unloading and so he could get the car out more easily the next day.

He picked the locks on the front door and did a quick sweep, but as near as he could tell the house was undisturbed. It had been cleaned out when the owners moved and then simply left, for several months. Bad luck for them, excellent luck for him. He went back out, unloaded his guest’s gear, and then he brought in the man and his dog.

He went back for his supplies and guns. He didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to try to break into the vehicle right now, but there was no reason to take a chance. He had water, and he had blankets, and he had first aid supplies. When he was done unloading, he checked the light switches and found the place still had electricity.

Thank Heaven for small favors.

It turned out they had running water and sewer, too. It was a miracle the pipes hadn’t frozen yet.

He settled in to check on his patient. The man still looked familiar. He looked more than familiar, if Ross was being honest. He looked like a guy Ross had dated in college, but Ash had been skinny. This guy was built, solid muscle and taller than Ash had been, too. While the dog was responding quickly to the fresh air, the human seemed to be having more trouble with it.

In an ideal situation, Ross would get him to a hospital for oxygen treatment. Hell, even a dentist’s office would probably have what he needed. All Ross had available to him were blankets, and a dog. The dog curled up by his human’s feet and kept watch, and Ross sat up with him. It would have to be enough.

* * * *

Ash gasped his way awake. He felt like crap. If he could combine all the best parts of a hangover, the aftereffects of a chemical weapons attack, and the joy and fun of a traditional bombing, he’d probably feel exactly like he did now. He’d sometimes combined two of those elements, but never all three at once. This would be a new experience for him. He rolled over, coughing and gasping, only to find Porthos nudging him and licking his face.

Dog breath was the worst.

He reached up for Porthos and patted once he found his dog’s shoulder. “Good boy,” he groaned. “Good boy.” As he blinked the haze from his eyes, he tried to make some sense of where he was. He didn’t recognize the surroundings. The wallpaper screamed 1970s, the floor screamed Mop me, and the scent had notes of must and long-gone meals heavy with cabbage and bacon.

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Ash sat bolt upright when he heard that voice. He hadn’t heard it in years, not since college. The sound now painfully tore through his chest, just as much as it had the last time he’d heard it. He grabbed at his chest, just for a second, before he realized the pain wasn’t physical. He didn’t know if he was going to stop breathing or throw up. Neither was a great option, though one was messier than the other.

He looked up to see Ross, only to find that Ross looked the same. Well, Ross looked the same except for the part where he was dressed up like a state trooper. Ash blinked his eyes again. Maybe they’d clear and this would all be a hallucination.

Ross leaned in a little closer. “Buddy? Are you able to speak?”

Porthos growled when Ross got closer, and Ross chuckled. “Look at you being all protective. You were just fine when I was dragging his ass in here, but now that his eyes are open all bets are off? Buddy, I’ve got to evaluate your human and make sure he doesn’t have brain damage.” He slumped a little. “Not that I could do much about it from here.” The wind howled outside and shook the walls, as if emphasizing his point.

That was enough for Ash. He pulled Porthos a little closer to him. “His name is Porthos,” he growled. Since when was his voice so raspy? “Not Buddy.”

“Ah. My apologies.” Ross sat up straighter with that fake mildness he’d always had when he was being insincere. “I had to call him something when you were out cold. He wasn’t answering to ‘Hey, you.’” Then he relaxed a little. “I guess you must be a big Three Musketeers fan.”

Ash stared at him. Had he meant so little to Ross that he’d just forgotten how much he’d loved Dumas? “Yeah, I still am. That’s not the kind of thing that’s likely to change.”

Ross tilted his head a little, like he didn’t quite understand, but pressed on. “It’s just funny, I used to date this guy, he was super into The Three Musketeers.”

It finally sunk in, and when it did, Ash was ashamed he hadn’t figured it out before. It must have been the pain and nausea slowing his brain down. He scooted back against the nearest wall, so it could support his shoulder and his back. “You have no idea who I am, do you?” He laughed weakly, until he coughed. That jostled his shoulder, which sent spikes of pain down through his body.

“Should I?” Ross narrowed his eyes at him. “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

The room spun around Ash, and he used his good arm to prop himself against the floor. He wanted to scream, to shout his resentment to anyone who would listen. It didn’t necessarily make sense for him to do so right now. He was sick, and he was hurt, and he needed Ross until he could get out of here. Wherever here might be.

Besides, screaming resentment he hadn’t known he felt until two minutes ago, didn’t feel like the most rational thing to do.

“Obviously it was a minor interaction,” he croaked out. Maybe it had been to Ross. Ross had just broken his heart, no big deal. “How did I get here?”

“I found you and your car as I was heading toward base. You shouldn’t have been on the road,” Ross told him, with a severe look. “The governor declared a state of emergency, and a travel ban, and not just because he was being a dick. No one was supposed to be on the roads. My job is to be looking for stuck motorists.” He relaxed and looked around. “And I found one. Your tailpipe had been stuck in the snow, and you and your dog were getting a good dose of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

“Jesus.” Ash coughed into his hand and struggled to keep his stomach from rebelling. He reached for Porthos again. “That’s…I remember swerving to avoid another dog. It wasn’t mine. And that’s when I skidded out. I must have hit my head on the frame or something. I was heading north.”

Ross chuckled. He looked so good, even in the dingy lighting and the unflattering uniform. Ashton had thought he was mostly over him, but having him here and close blew all of that out of the water. Of course, knowing Ross didn’t even remember him probably had something to do with his feelings, too.

“Well you weren’t heading north when I found you. Maybe that explains why you’re moving so stiffly, maybe you’ve got a touch of whiplash.”

Ash didn’t have whiplash. Or maybe he did, but whiplash had nothing to do with the way he moved. “Maybe.” He didn’t need Ross knowing what he’d been up to for the past few years. Hell, if Ross had bothered to turn on his TV he’d have found out. “Thanks for pulling us out.”

“No problem. It’s kind of my whole job, literally.” Ross smiled widely. “Do you think you can handle a little bit of water?”

“Has Porthos had any?”

“He absolutely has. Not that he was willing to move from your side to get at it.” Ross chuckled. “What had you on the road during an emergency, anyway? I promise, I’m not going to write you a ticket.”

Ash closed his eyes. Wasn’t this his own stupid luck? Rescued by the guy who’d broken his heart, who didn’t even remember doing it. If the way the snow had piled up against the window was any indication, Ash would be stuck here for some time, looking at the same smile that had bound his soul all those years ago. “I had an assignment, actually. And because I’m still new here, my phone doesn’t get the emergency alerts. Believe it or not, I’m supposed to be covering ski season at Nashoba Valley. But I got turned around, and then I swerved to avoid that dog, and it was all over. I don’t even know why they sent me up there. I don’t ski.”

“Really? Well, if you’re going to live in New England, you’d better learn.” Ross gave him a little half grin. “It’s a pretty popular pastime around here.”

Ash moistened his lips. He didn’t want to hint at too much. He didn’t know if he wanted Ross to recognize him, or not, at this point. Either one seemed unpalatable. “Yeah. I used to go to school around here. I even skied. But, ah, I had some injuries, and the docs said to stay off the slopes.” Or anything else that involves high impact, like bombs or explosions or things slamming into you at high speeds. “So, I’m benched, permanently. But I guess they wanted to see what the new guy could do.”

“Are you a photographer?” Ross’s interest sounded more polite than genuine.

“Yeah, photographer and journalist.” Ash had won multiple awards for his coverage of the wars in Syria and Yemen, and the crises in Guatemala and Honduras, but apparently Ross hadn’t checked up on him. Ash couldn’t exactly throw stones. He’d checked in via Facebook—quietly, without reaching out—but he hadn’t followed Ross’ career either. Of course, Ross hadn’t been on TV on a regular basis, so it wasn’t exactly the same. “It’s a living.”

“I guess. Cops and journalists don’t always get along so well.” Ross chuckled. “But hey, we’re in the same boat for now.” He stood up and stretched. “So, I spoke with dispatch. There’s a tree down across the main road from the south, and I don’t know what’s happening on the road from the north, but it ain’t good. We might as well dig in, because we’re going to be here for a good while.”

Ash rubbed at his face. “I’m grateful. I am. I’d have died if you’d left me where you found me, and more importantly, Porthos would have died. I just—I’m not sure where here is, exactly.”

Ross took off his hat. His dark hair was a lot shorter now, but he still had that playful look to him. Ash could just run his fingers through that hair, it would be so easy. He wouldn’t even have to tell Ross who he was—no. He wouldn’t do that. Ash deserved better than to be one among many, damn it.

“My dispatcher told me about an abandoned house not too far from our location. We aren’t the only state trooper and civilian unit out in the wild tonight. A few have taken shelter in businesses. We just had to be a little more creative. It’s fine. It’s obvious these folks aren’t coming back tonight.”

Ash shuddered. “I hope not. Hey, do you have my phone? I need to tell my editor where I am. Can’t have the new guy be a no-show for his first assignment, right?”

“Oh God, no.” Ross laughed. “You’d be fired.” He rummaged through a few things and passed Ash his phone. As he did, their hands brushed together for just a second. Did Ross feel that same electric spark that passed between them?

If he did, he didn’t say or do anything about it.

“Thanks,” Ash muttered. He shifted position, since the pain in his shoulder had become excruciating, and called his boss.

John picked up on the first ring. “Ash? Oh my God, are you okay?”

Ash chuckled weakly. “Thanks. Um, yeah. Thanks to the kindness of a passing state trooper, Porthos and I have survived our first encounter with New England weather. Unfortunately, I won’t be making it up to Nashoba tonight. I’m stuck until the storm passes and I’m pretty sure my car’s toast.”

“Dude, don’t even worry about it. As soon as they lift the state of emergency, I’ll send someone to wherever they take you—hospital, Target, whatever. We’ll get you home and safe. Are you in a safe place now?”

“Safe enough. It’s an abandoned house, it seems reasonably sturdy, so far. It’s better than gassing myself and my dog in our car, you know?” Ash made himself laugh. He wasn’t particularly keen on dying, but if he had, it would have been through his own stupidity. Risking Porthos, though—that would have been unforgivable.

“Don’t even think about it.” John’s voice had an undercurrent of steel. “Listen, maybe you can work it into a feature about the dangers of winter driving. That way we can make sure you’re on the clock. You know, for the insurance.”

“Hey, good angle. I’ll try to come up with something. I don’t know if it will be useable, but we’ll see.” Ash grimaced. He hadn’t thought about the insurance. He hadn’t had to before. “I’ll talk to you soon, John.”

“Definitely. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” John hung up.

“Sounds like that went well.” Ross looked away from the window. “I wasn’t eavesdropping, I swear. It’s just close quarters, you know?”

“No, no, I get it. It turns out they were worried. I think they must have called or something, and I didn’t answer.” He struggled to his feet and then he swayed. He used his good arm to hold himself up against the wall. “This place still has all its utilities?”

“They must be planning to sell it. I mean why else leave all this stuff on, right?” Ross looked around. “Where’d you go to school?”

“Hm?” Ash’s mind raced. Could he come up with a good lie? And should he? Would it be the end of the world if Ross figured out who he was? “I went to Northeastern.”

“Huh. Me too.” Ross opened his mouth like he was going to say something, and Ash’s heart sped up. Would this be when he remembered Ash? Remembered them? Then Ross shook his head, just a little bit. “It’s a big school. Everyone’s probably seen everyone at least twice, right?”

Ash sighed. “Right.” Porthos let out a disgruntled little sound beside him. “All right. Let’s settle in or whatever.”

* * * *

Chapter 2

Ross woke up before his companion, who still hadn’t told him his name. He couldn’t be surprised he woke up first. The other guy had been through the wringer. There was the carbon monoxide, the accident, and whatever was going on with all that stiffness. The poor guy was still new in town, which meant he probably shouldn’t have been on the roads anyway. What was done was done. Hopefully Mr. Mysterio would plan better next time and wouldn’t lose his job over it.

Porthos looked up and let his ears go back. The dog clearly had a pretty strong bond with Mysterio, whoever he was. He wasn’t letting anyone else get close. “You’re okay, buddy,” he said, holding his hands out. “I’m not going to hurt your human, okay? I’m going to stay right here until he wakes up.”

Mysterio opened one eye. “You get he’s a dog, right?” he croaked, in a voice so much like Ash’s cranky morning voice Ross almost cried. “I mean he’s a good dog, but his English is only kind of so-so.”

Porthos stuck his nose under Mysterio’s arm, and Mysterio rolled over onto his back with a grimace. The guy was way too young to be moving around like he was arthritic, so what else could be wrong with him? “I suppose you speak canine, then?” Ross asked with a little chuckle. He’d met people who made stranger claims. “I met one guy who said he couldn’t train his Havanese until he established his dominance over it. The thing was positively feral.”

Mysterio chuckled, giving a grin that made Ross’ insides melt. “No, no, that’s not it at all. It’s—really? He couldn’t train a dog until he ‘established his dominance?’” The guy hoisted himself into a sitting position and raised his eyebrows in shock. “That’s a new one on me, man. I don’t think I’ve ever heard something so ridiculous. Did he read that in some self-help book or something?”

“I didn’t ask. I just wrote the ticket. The thing was trying to bite me through the rear window the whole time. Like a little piece of popcorn with teeth.” Ross chuckled at the memory.

“I’ll bet. No, I brought Porthos back from my last assignment in Syria.” A shadow fell over Mysterio’s face for a second. “It took a little bit of doing, but I managed it. He stayed with me the whole time. I saved him, and he wound up saving me. I guess it worked out, hey big guy?” He scratched behind his dog’s ears, adoringly.

“Were you a soldier?” Ross leaned forward a little.

“No. War correspondent with one of the big networks.” Mysterio looked up from his dog, and again, he looked enough like Ash in that moment to make Ross’ heart hurt. “We don’t get guns, I’m afraid. Just cameras.”

“Doesn’t that make you better off? Like, safer?” Ross licked his lips. The press was supposed to be safe, right?

“Not even a little bit.” Mysterio flattened his lips for a second. Then he struggled painfully to his feet. “So. What are the odds that the previous residents left any food around here?” He shuffled off toward the kitchen. Porthos followed. It was hard to say whether the shaggy dog followed out of loyalty or hopes of breakfast, but he followed.

Ross watched him go. What was it about this guy that got under his skin so badly? Was it the position of vulnerability in which Ross had found him? The resemblance to Ash, the guy who’d all but torn his heart out and taken it with him back in college? Christ, he couldn’t walk past a closet without remembering Ash. The guy had been everything Ross could have wanted in a guy, except his lack of acceptance.

What was Ash doing now? Part of Ross hoped he was thriving and doing something he loved, skiing out west or something like that. Maybe he’d made the Olympic team, wouldn’t that be nice? Another, pettier part of Ross hoped he was miserable. Ross would have done anything for him, if only Ash had been willing to come out.

Ross, apparently, hadn’t been worth coming out for. And sure, on the surface Ross could understand his arguments. Cultural issues, professional issues, we want different things, blah blah blah. When Ross heard those arguments from other people, from friends or from guys who were new to his life, his advice was always the same. Come out in your own time, when you’re ready. You’re the only person who can make that decision for you. No one else gets to decide what’s safe or what’s right for you. Ross, on the other hand, never dated anyone who wasn’t a hundred percent open about his sexuality again.

Apparently, he had to learn his lessons the hard way, but he could be taught.

Mysterio limped back into the main room and fed Porthos. Ross cleared his throat. “I can’t help but notice you came back empty handed.”

“Yeah. Those cabinets are clean as a whistle. Not so much as a hint of mice or anything.” Mysterio lowered himself to the ground. “Not that we’re to the point where eating mice is on the table, but still. I definitely think they’re planning to sell this place. I’ll chip in toward the cost of getting a maid or something. It’s the least I can do.”

“I think the state might be willing to cover it. We’re not exactly wrecking the joint, and it is an emergency situation.” Ross ran a hand through his dark hair. He’d love a shower. He loved what gel did for his hair, but he didn’t love the feel after sleeping on the ground all night. “I can’t believe it’s still snowing.”

“I know, right?” Mysterio let out a little laugh. “It already feels like we’ve been here for days, but I know it’s only been a few hours.”

Ross snorted. “You’ve probably been in situations that make this one look like child’s play, seriously. I mean you were in Syria. Bombs have got to be worse than snow.”

“True.” Mysterio closed his eyes and leaned his head against the garish, outdated wallpaper. “But at least you knew, then, that there would be an end. Either they’d run out of ordinance, in which case you could run, or they’d bomb you into pieces, in which case you wouldn’t care anymore. Either way, you wouldn’t be stuck sitting and waiting.”

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