Micah watched the struggle flit across Justin’s features as he tried to find a way to verbalize what he expected from Keith. He reached out under the table and rested his hand on Justin’s thigh and squeezed.
“Things with Micah have been a struggle since you left,” Justin admitted.
Keith’s eyes widened and he looked at Micah, who confirmed Justin’s words with a small nod.
“If we ever plan on allowing anyone into our relationship again, our relationship needs to be stronger than it is right now.” Justin made a noise in the back of his throat and shook his head before continuing. “Which honestly is ridiculous. We’ve been together six years; we’ve been married less than six months. Nothing should have been able…”
Justin sighed and quieted.
Micah’s heart twisted, knowing Justin was right, knowing that he was responsible for letting things go the way they had. His misplaced anger toward Keith had nowhere to go besides onto Justin, and he had taken it on willingly, all to ease Micah’s pain.
“I’m sorry,” Keith blurted.
Micah looked away from Justin and focused on Keith who was here in the flesh, sitting at their dining room table with bandages on his face and scrapes on his hands. Keith looked more upset than he had at the hospital and Micah held a hand out across the table, that Keith reluctantly took.
He knew Justin wanted to wait, but Micah knew this was right. He couldn’t explain it beyond that. He loved Justin more than life. He’d do anything for Justin, but something more just clicked when Keith was there. If Justin would have just given it a chance. If Keith hadn’t taken off…
“I know you are,” Justin answered, reaching down to pat Micah’s hand. “If you want to stay here, you’re a guest in this house. You sleep in the guest room. Alone.” Justin cast a sharp look to Micah.
Micah’s cheeks reddened and Keith quickly let go of his hand, tucking both his hands together in his lap under the table. Micah took a drink of wine, then another.
“You’ll start seeing a therapist,” Justin continued.
“I’m sorry, what?” Keith interrupted.
“A therapist,” Justin confirmed. “You’ve been through a traumatic event, sounds like years of traumatic events, and it’s important for everyone that you work on getting better.”
Micah inhaled sharply and looked at his husband, who was focused solely on Keith. The words Justin was saying may have indicated things between them were at a hard stop, but the look in his eyes reflected anything but. Justin was focused on Keith in way Micah rarely saw him focus on anything other than him, and he was already making demands.
“I don’t have insurance,” Keith said with a shrug. “So, I guess I’ll just go.”
Keith pushed his chair back and moved to stand.
“Sit. Down,” Justin hissed, his voice low and serious.
Keith sat, staring at his plate.
“We can pay,” Justin offered. “But only if you are serious about wanting help.”
“I do!” Keith answered, excitedly. He leaned forward in his seat, craning his body toward Justin and Micah on the other side of the table, and then he began to cry, bursting into a fit of remarkable tears.
Micah ached to go to him, or for Justin to go to him. He looked at Justin, who watched Keith come apart with an indecipherable look on his face. Micah subconsciously rubbed at his throat, feeling the rough leather of his collar under his fingertips.
“Sir,” he mumbled, eyes still focused on Keith. Justin nodded, barely, but enough that Micah was able to catch it out of the corner of his eye. He pushed away from the table and moved toward Keith, but a hand on his forearm stopped him.
Micah paused and turned back, a finger still rubbing nervously against his collar. Keith’s cries turned frantic and Justin exhaled deeply, standing and walking past Micah to the other side of the table. Micah watched, shocked, as Justin knelt beside Keith’s chair and placed a strong hand on his knee.
Keith inhaled and choked on his spit, leaning down to listen to whatever Justin was whispering to him. Justin’s voice was so soft, Micah couldn’t even make out the words, but Keith was nodding now, hiccupping and choking on his tears. Justin leaned back and held his arms out. Keith collapsed into the embrace, knocking them both down to the ground.
Micah inhaled, his tears fighting in the back of his throat to break free. He knew how good that felt, to be where Keith was right now—how warm Justin’s affections were. Micah saw Justin for who he was, though. He saw past the tough exterior Justin always wore, down to the man he was inside. And Justin was the greatest man he knew. Justin loved so fiercely and protected those he loved with an unmatched ferocity.
Justin could tell Keith whatever he wanted about what the relationship between the three of them would or wouldn’t be, but Micah knew the truth. He knew Justin. His husband. His dom. His partner.
Justin whispered something into Keith’s ear again and Keith nodded, leaning away and wiping at the bandages on his face. Micah grabbed a napkin from the table and passed it down. Keith smiled up at him and rubbed at his eyes, the napkin immediately disintegrating from the wetness. When Keith looked up at him apologetically, Micah passed him two more.
Justin stood up and held a hand out for Keith, who used it to right himself.
“Go replace your bandages, then we’ll finish dinner,” Justin told him, returning to his seat and taking a sip of wine.
Keith nodded and scurried off, leaving Micah standing shocked in the middle of the dining room.
“Sit down, Micah,” Justin ordered.
Micah shook his head to clear it and took his seat, scooting his chair back in and reaching for his wine. He and Justin stared forward at the vacant chair across from them.
“What did you tell him?” Micah questioned.
“None of your business.”
“But,” Micah started, only to be cut off.
“None of your business,” Justin repeated, turning his attention to Micah. “The rules stand. He sleeps in his room. We sleep in our room. He gets therapy. We…I need to feel better about where you and I are at before we can go forward.”
Justin’s second admission of the night was like a spear in Micah’s side. Another pain he’d caused the most important man in his life by acting like a selfish child. “Besides,” Justin continued, “he has his own things to work out before he can be a good partner for anyone.”
Keith walked back into the dining room, patting carefully at a fresh bandage on his face. He lowered himself meekly into his seat at the table and rubbed his hands over his lap.
“I’m sorry about that,” he whispered. “I’ll sleep wherever you tell me to, and I’ll see a therapist. Thank you.”
“Micah can help find you someone and you can go this week,” Justin advised, picking up his taco and taking a bite. “Now can we eat dinner?”
“Yeah, yes,” Micah affirmed quickly, shoving the end of one of the tacos into his mouth and taking a bite. He chewed and swallowed, quickly devouring his taco, not having realized how hungry he was.
“When was the last time we ate?” he asked Justin, starting in on taco two.
“Dinner last night with Landon and Gregory,” Justin answered. “Will you go get me some more wine?”
“Yes, Sir,” Micah answered instinctively, putting his food down.
“I can do it,” Keith interrupted.
“You don’t need to,” Justin remarked.
“I want to,” Keith protested further, standing. “Please.”
Micah hovered halfway standing and halfway sitting, holding his breath while Justin decided if he’d allow Keith to serve him. Micah would have cleared out their entire savings account to be able to crawl into Justin’s brain at that exact second.
“Alright,” Justin conceded.
Keith grinned and straightened his shoulders before turning into the kitchen for the wine. Micah eased himself back into his chair and stared straight ahead, not willing to look at Justin’s face for fear of what he might see. Justin reached for him, his fingers tight around Micah’s knee. Micah could feel him shaking and his breath caught in his throat.
“Are you scared?” Micah whispered, realization unfurling through him.
Justin tightened his hold, but remained silent as Keith came back into the room with the wine. He tipped the bottle in question and Justin nodded. Keith leaned across the table and refilled both of their glasses before setting the bottle between them on the table. He sat back down with a satisfied smile.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Thank you,” Justin countered, his voice raspy.
Micah scrabbled at his fingers, pried them off his kneecap, and took them in his hand, holding him tight.
“So, we’re in agreement then?” Micah asked, clearing his throat.
Keith nodded. “Yeah.”
“What are you going to do about your apartment?” Justin asked, reaching for his wine.
Keith looked down at the table. “Uhm, I’m going to get evicted probably, I haven’t been to work in weeks. That’s why I was going to leave. If it doesn’t fit in my car, it doesn’t get to go. Like last time.”
Justin’s palm was sweaty in his hand, but Micah held on like his life depended on it.
“Well, if it fits in your car, it comes here,” Justin offered. “If you don’t want it in the guest room, you can put it in the garage.”
“I need to get a new car,” Keith said, squinting his eyes in thought.
“Why? Does it need repair?” Micah asked.
“No,” Keith shook his head. “Russ knows the license plate now is all.”
Keith had answered him so matter-of-factly it took Micah’s breath away. Understanding someone could find you and hurt you because they knew what kind of car you drove wasn’t anything Micah had ever thought about, and Keith offered it up like he was reporting the weather.
“Russ is in custody,” Justin reminded him.
Keith looked up with a sort of melancholic and seasoned look in his eyes that Micah wouldn’t ever be able to unsee.
“For now,” he told them.
A chill raced up Micah’s spine at Keith’s implication.
“Dinner is getting cold,” Justin interrupted the hesitant fear that had settled over the table. His words, low and demanding, sent it scattering.
Justin removed his hand out of Micah’s grip and smiled, taking a drink of his wine.
“This is exactly what I didn’t want to happen,” Keith groaned, shoving bits of tomato back into his taco.
“What do you mean?” Micah asked.
“I didn’t want you two to get involved with my shit. That’s why I left when he told me he’d seen me with you. When he threatened you.”
Justin snorted an incredulous sound and rolled his eyes. “I’m not scared of an overgrown fool who beats up other men because he doesn’t get his way.”
Keith looked nervous.
“There’s an alarm on the house,” Micah offered. “You know that.”
“Seven-oh-twenty-nine,” Keith said with a small smile.
“Not anymore,” Micah informed him, wincing as Keith’s smile fell.
“We changed it after you disappeared,” Justin told him, the barest hint of apology lacing his words. “We didn’t know what happened.”
“Oh, I get it. I understand.” Keith somehow managed to force a bite of food into his mouth, chewing and swallowing roughly.
“It’s three-four-six-nine now,” Justin shared.
Micah snorted, covering his mouth with one of his hands to hide his laughter. Keith sputtered and shot a look of disbelief across the table to Justin, who only offered a brief, yet knowing, smirk before he finished his glass of wine.