“Could just stay in bed,” Alexei grumbled as he and Sean walked down the street in the hot morning sunlight.
“This was your idea, remember?” Sean replied, tugging at his hand. “Breakfast for the team so you could show off.”
Alexei scoffed at that. “Not show off. They know am best.”
Sean shook his head, but the fond smile on his face proved to Alexei his fiancé was on his side. “Maybe the best at setting things on fire.”
Alexei leered at him. “Could set you on fire.”
Sean threw back his head and laughed, the faint flush to his cheeks causing Alexei to grin smugly. He ran his thumb over the smooth bump of Sean’s engagement ring, enjoying the feel of it. His own ring was much more prominent and something he still wasn’t used to seeing on his hand, no matter how right it felt.
They crossed the street, walking half a block more to their destination. A small group of confused people were arguing with a harried-looking employee about why the twenty-four-hour breakfast establishment was closed to the public for the first time in its history outside emergency maintenance.
“I’m sorry, but we have a private event scheduled,” the young woman was saying.
The men and women who looked to be in their early twenties weren’t happy with that answer. One of the men stepped closer to the employee, using his superior height to loom over her as he tried to make his case to go inside. Alexei would feel annoyed about being denied pancakes if he were in the other guy’s shoes, but his mother had taught him better manners.
“Hey,” Alexei said loudly. “She say is closed.”
The guy turned around to face them, ready to argue, but ended up staring at them in slack-jawed surprise instead. Alexei smiled meanly, shoving his sunglasses up on top of his head.
“Is private event for us. Fuck off.”
“Charming, as always, Lyosha,” Sean said dryly.
The Flapjacks employee seemed relieved to see them. She touched a hand to the control panel and the doors unlocked with a quiet beep. “Your table is ready and a couple of your team, uh, party, have already arrived.”
Sean smiled at her as he headed for the door, pulling Alexei along with him. “Thank you.”
Alexei gave the group outside one more fuck-off look before the doors closed between them. He was pleased to see that the owners had set the plas-glass windows to their highest privacy setting to block out the morning sunlight and curious eyes.
“You took your sweet time,” Madison called out.
“We’re not late, we’re early,” Sean said.
“I’m surrounded by food and I can’t eat anything yet. Everyone is late.”
Her complaint came with a smile though as Madison waved them over. The entire restaurant was empty save for her and Trevor. They were seated at the long communal table in the center of the open space. Hot griddles were set into the synthwood table at even intervals, with heaping bowls of pancake toppings and small bottles of different flavored syrup ringing each one. The waiter would bring out the pancake batter once everyone had arrived.
Flapjacks was a place people got to cook their own meals. Pancakes were the preferred meal of choice, but bacon, sausage, and eggs were other options. As much as Alexei loved bacon, he liked making the pancakes best. The challenge was to get as many toppings into one eight-inch pancake as possible.
Alexei was determined to beat Kyle this time around.
“The others should be here soon,” Trevor said, sneaking a piece of cloned strawberry out of the bowl and popping it into his mouth.
“Not soon enough,” Madison groaned, craning her head around to flag down one of the wait staff.
The young man hurried over with a smile on his face, not blinking an eye at Madison’s request for copious amounts of synthcaf.
“At least four carafes,” she said. “To start with.”
“And black tea,” Sean added.
“Right. And one carafe of black tea.”
Katie was the tea drinker out of their group. Alexei would’ve preferred actual coffee, but that stuff was expensive. Jamie might be covering the cost of buying out the restaurant for a couple of hours so the team could have a private meal together, but Sean had refused to let Alexei ask about the coffee.
Synthcaf and tea was brought to the table. Alexei claimed a carafe for himself and Sean, doctoring up his own mug with enough cream and sugar it left a coat of sweetness on his tongue at the first sip.
The others trickled into Flapjacks within the next fifteen minutes. Jamie and Kyle were the last to arrive, with the employee who’d been standing guard outside slipping in behind them. She locked the door and went to join her coworkers in the kitchen area. Three of the wait staff carried out pitchers of pancake batter to the communal table, setting them within easy reach before withdrawing again.
“I’m starving,” Katie said as she dug through her purse. “Someone start cooking.”
“On it,” Matthew said, already reaching for the nearest pitcher.
Katie made a triumphant noise and pulled out a portable electronic jammer from her purse. She activated it, dropped it back into her purse, and reached for her tea. The team and Matthew had managed to carve out a little time between all the meetings with the brass, Congress, and the president. The deluge of media requests were still going unanswered by everyone.
Alexei had a feeling they’d have to deal with paparazzi once they left after breakfast. Pity he wasn’t allowed to keep them out of his personal space by setting their camera drones on fire.
“You had a good idea for once, Lyosha,” Kyle said from across the table. “When was the last time we all got together for fun as opposed to work?”
“Been too long,” Donovan replied. He was frying up what looked like a pound of bacon on the griddle while Madison gleefully handled the pancakes.
“I’d say before D.C. was hit,” Annabelle mused. She lobbed blueberries into her pancake on the griddle one by one before adding walnuts.
“A month sounds about right,” Jamie said.
Alexei carefully poured batter onto the griddle and then started adding fruit, ignoring the nuts. Sean was picky about his pancakes and didn’t like nuts in them. “Should have team dinner soon.”
“We’re having team breakfast.”
“Not say no to more food.”
“None of us will say no to that,” Madison said before taking a bite of bacon.
The chatter around the communal table was devoid of any classified subjects and politics. The team still had plenty to talk about. Sports, movies, television—all of them were playing catchup with plenty of things that civilians took for granted. While Annabelle tried to guilt-trip everyone into joining her for a movie outing, Alexei flipped Sean’s finished pancake onto the plate and got ready to make his own.
Kyle flicked a blueberry at Alexei. It would’ve hit him right on the nose if he didn’t move his head to catch it with his mouth. “I still make better pancakes then you, Lyosha.”
“Bullshit,” Alexei said, grinning. “Will show you how it’s done.”
Kyle reached for the pitcher of batter he and Jamie were using. “Oh, it’s on.”
“Katie is judge.”
Kate, mouth full of jam-covered pancake already, rolled her eyes and waved her fork at them in capitulation. “You owe me bacon,” she said once she swallowed her food.
“I volunteer Jamie to cook it,” Kyle immediately said, already hard at work on his pancake.
“I could have sworn I left being voluntold behind,” Jamie said. He still reached for the bacon.
“She didn’t even give you the order and she’s got you well-trained,” Matthew observed.
Jamie arched an eyebrow at him. “Would you tell her no?”
Matthew hid his smirk behind his synthcaf mug. “I like living.”
“Exactly. Now help me make some goddamn bacon.”
Alexei kept one eye on Kyle’s pancake and one eye on his. Right before Kyle flipped his, Alexei lobbed a handful of walnuts at it. Kyle managed to knock most of the nuts away, but a couple pieces got through. Alexei’s pancake was already flipped when Kyle squirted hot sauce on part of it.
“Pass me some bacon,” Katie said.
She serenely accepted a couple of slices over the back and forth pancake battle Kyle and Alexei were having. In the end, when they delivered their sabotaged pancakes to her for tasting, she reached across the table and stole a piece from Sean’s plate.
“Sean’s is better,” she said.
“Sean didn’t even make it!” Kyle protested.
Alexei pumped one fist in the air. “Da! I win!”
“The hell you do. We’re going for round two.”
They spent the next two hours making pancakes, eating their fill, then making more pancakes. They ended up cooking for the team whenever someone got hungry again. His rivalry with Kyle faded into the background, overtaken by good conversation and friendly faces.
At the end of breakfast, after Jamie had paid and tipped all the workers well enough a couple had to go in the back and cry in happiness, Katie presented Alexei with a bottle of the house favorite syrup. Alexie took it and held it over his head, pointing at Kyle.
“<<Just accept I’ll always be better than you because I’m older,>>” Alexei said.
Kyle flipped him off. “<<Older and uglier, maybe.>>”
“No killing your brother,” Sean said, dragging Alexei towards the door.
“Not take long,” Alexei retorted.
“I’m too full from breakfast to save you, so let’s go.”
They left the restaurant, with Alexei prepared to deal with a gathered crowd, but was surprised to see the sidewalk outside the restaurant cleared of any curious onlookers. The reason for that was the team of Secret Service special agents keeping an eye on the area. The contingent of men and women tasked with guarding Jamie had ensured their privacy while they enjoyed breakfast.
The team said a round of goodbyes. Alexei deigned to give Kyle a hug before he slung an arm over Sean’s shoulders and started down the street for home.
“That was fun,” Sean said a couple minutes later.
Alexei tossed the bottle of syrup into the air and caught it easily. “Could have more fun.”
Sean gave him a long, knowing look, but Alexei knew he’d won again by the faint blush staining his fiancé’s cheeks.
“Of course you’d want to work off breakfast rather than sleep it off.”
Alexei reached down and copped a feel of Sean’s ass. “Could do both.”
Sean elbowed him in the side but didn’t pull away. “Well, we don’t have anything else planned for the day.”
Alexei lengthened his stride, urging Sean to walk faster. “Hurry up.”
Sean laughed, smiling for the rest of the walk home. When they made it to their apartment, Alexei didn’t hesitate in guiding Sean backwards into the kitchen while they kissed. He figured Sean wouldn’t appreciate having to clean syrup off the bed.
“We should probably do this in the bathroom,” Sean said as Alexei worked to undo Sean’s belt.
“Shower later. Have dessert now.”
He turned Sean around and went to his knees, taking Sean’s jeans and underwear down with him.
“You are ridiculous,” Sean muttered.
He still leaned his elbows against the kitchen island and spread his legs. Alexei smirked as he popped open the cap on the syrup bottle. “Not hear you complain.”
“Only because it’s you.”
Alexei felt all kinds of smug at that answer. He upended the syrup bottle over Sean’s perfect ass and painted his skin with sticky, maple-flavored sweetness. He didn’t use a lot—mostly because he wanted to do this again—and proceeded to drag his tongue through the sticky sweetness. He lapped it off Sean’s skin with teasing licks, letting the flavor fill his mouth. Alexei scraped his teeth over the curve of Sean’s ass, the syrup smearing across his mouth.
“Taste good,” Alexei said against warm skin. “You taste better.”
“You don’t have to sweet talk me, Lyosha. I’m already marrying you.”
Alexie pulled his ass cheeks apart, fingers sticking to his skin. “Think you mean I’m marrying you.”
“Are we going to argue about this again? You know you’re not—”
Sean broke off with a gasp as Alexei licked over his hole with focused intent, pushing the tip of his tongue against that tightly furled muscle. The smell of maple filled his nose, sticky residual smearing across his nose and cheeks. Alexei didn’t care, pressing his mouth closer so he could push his tongue inside.
Sean let out a moan, pushing back against Alexei’s face. “That’s cheating. You can’t always use sex to win an argument.”
Alexei pulled his mouth away from Sean’s body and turned his head to lick at a stray droplet of syrup. “Works.”
Sean reached back and tangled his finger in Alexei’s hair, twisting his body to look over his shoulder. Alexei smirked up at his fiancé, pleased at the need he could see in those warm brown eyes.
“We’re taking a shower,” Sean said, enunciating his words very carefully. “I’m not letting you fuck me with syrup on my ass.”
Alexei’s cock twitched in his jeans and he dragged his palm down the growing bulge there. “Da. Fuck you in shower. Be best almost-husband.”
“Yeah,” Sean said, tugging at Alexei’s hair until he stood up. Sean turned around to face him so he could pull Alexei down into a vaguely sticky kiss. “Best almost-husband.”
Alexei broke the kiss and led Sean towards their bathroom.
He brought the syrup bottle with them.