Home > Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(16)

Off Base (Out of Uniform #1)(16)
Author: Annabeth Albert

    He started by removing all the laminated particle board parts of the stand for the TV and gaming systems. He’d assembled enough stuff by himself to know that getting started was the trickiest bit, but he used the box of games to help brace the first side panel. He was just lining up the pegs for the shelves when a stream of curses came from Zack’s room.

    Unable to resist, Pike went to check on him, finding Zack surrounded by stacks of boards and piles of screws, a pissed-off expression on his face. “Goddamn piece of shit directions,” he said.

    “Want help?” Pike offered, mainly just to watch Zack grimace and try to work though whether or not to accept the offer. Zack tilted his head one way then the other, sighed heavily and kicked at the boards.

    Finally, Zack sighed again. “You speak Swedish and read hieroglyphics?”

    “I speak fluent IKEA-ease,” Pike assured him as he came into the room. “And I’m a whiz with a hex bolt. But mainly I think these boards are so long that you just need a second person to keep it level.”

    “You can do that,” Zack conceded, because of course Mr. Big Bad SEAL would get to handle the tools. Mr. Big Bad Virgin SEAL. Wow. Pike knew he’d probably been wrong to press him about his sexual history in the middle of IKEA, but holy cow, the kid had never even shared a bed with anyone. What’s more, he didn’t seem to find anything weird about the fact that he didn’t seem at all tempted to either.

    Now, maybe the guy was asexual, which was a totally valid orientation and a real possibility here, but Pike couldn’t help feeling like Zack was working overtime to refuse to admit the truth about himself whether that were asexual, bisexual or gay. There was this certain look Zack got in his eyes—an expression of confusion and longing Pike had witnessed a bunch of times. At the bars in West Hollywood. Whenever they were around Josiah and Ryan sharing a tender moment. At IKEA Zack couldn’t seem to look away from the gay couple arguing over pillows, but when they’d been in line behind the most lovey-dovey het couple ever, Zack had barely paid them a glance. And maybe Pike was just confused by his own conflicting feelings, but damn... He couldn’t possibly be misreading some of the hot and heavy looks Zack had been sending his way since they met.

    “So you’re on duty tomorrow, right?” Pike did his best to keep the long unpainted pine board at the right height for Zack.

    “And the next three days.” Zack grunted as he reached around for a bolt, and it was a strangely sexy noise.

    “So what do you want me to start on? I’ve got to prep for my classes and do new faculty orientation stuff, but I should have some time to work on stuff here too.”

    “It can wait until I can do the list with you.”

    “There’s a list? That’s great. Just message me a copy and I’ll look for the one-man jobs.” Pike accepted the screw Zack passed him, putting it in the slot before Zack slid over with the wrench.

    “I should really be around—”

    “Dude. You’re going to need to trust me. I get that that’s going to take time, but I’m not the flake everyone seems to always assume—”

    “I didn’t call you that.” Zack huffed as he tightened the screw.

    “But you thought it.” It was okay. Really. Everyone thought that just because he was flirty and a comedian that he couldn’t hold down a real job or be a responsible adult. But for the first time in his life, Pike was determined to prove everyone wrong. “Trust me. I’m good at this stuff. Want to talk to my mom?” Pike fished his phone out with his free hand.

    “You’d let me talk to your mom?” Zack blinked. “This late at night?”

    “She’s a night owl. And she’s already heard about you and the roommate situation.” Pike knew Zack would never say it, but he’d bet money that Zack’s parents didn’t even know he was living off base, let alone with Pike. “And she can tell you that you can trust me to rip up that dank carpeting in the living room or whatever. She’ll like you. She likes all my friends.”

    “We’re friends?” Zack’s eyebrows shot up.

    “Guess not.” Pike tried not to sound hurt. “I thought we were working on it, what with you letting me stay here—”

    “We can be friends,” Zack said hurriedly. “But maybe not meet-the-parents friends quite yet, okay?”

    “Fine.” Pike scooted his phone away with his foot. “I’m just saying, I’m good at stuff. And I want to work with you.” Surprisingly, he really did. He liked doing things with Zack, like this project. It gave him a warm feeling as the bed platform started to take shape. “But I’m also good with you delegating to me.”

    “You want orders?” Zack raised an eyebrow.

    “Yes, please.” And now they were back to flirting as Pike couldn’t quite keep the flirtatious lilt out of his voice.

    Zack gave him a considering look, one that made Pike want to lay all his kinks out for Zack to examine and ponder. Finally, he spoke. “I yanked the carpet in the hall, but the tack strips still need to come up. And I guess you could do the carpet in the living room if you’ve got time—”

    “I’ll make time,” Pike assured him. “And get me a copy of that list.” Why it mattered so much to Pike to be an equal to Zack, to be partners in this house thing, he really couldn’t say. But he wanted that, wanted to work together.

    “Motherfucker.” Zack recoiled as he pinched his finger between two slats.

    “You’ve got an awfully salty mouth for a v—”

    “Don’t.” Zack sucked on his finger in a way that went straight to Pike’s dick, which decided it would like that tongue lavishing attention on it too. “And I think it’s impossible to go through boot camp and BUD/S and not come out cursing. Damn, this hurts.”

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