[Flash Fiction Friday] Bru Baker presents “Web Cam”

Hello Internet! Here we are for Flash Fiction Friday. Please welcome back my co-writer for Some Assembly Required and good friend Bru Baker. Bru brings us Web Cam, the story between Harper and Ty and what happens when video conference meetings have a shot at becoming more than just business.

Web Cam by Bru Baker

The management books called it a “distributed team,” but Harper personally thought a better phrase would be “giant pain in the ass.” Working on a team that was spread across two continents and four time zones was an exercise in patience and frustration most of the time.

The web cams had been Erin’s idea. The rest of them had been happy to exist with IRC and the occasional conference call, but that had all changed when she’d joined the team. On the whole it had been a good move, because having a project manager with a background in marketing brought a new perspective that a group of developers just didn’t have. They knew what to do to make the programs work, but Erin knew what to do to make them sell. The features and upgrades she suggested made Harper’s life more complicated, but they seemed to be a big hit with the sales team.

Until she did things like suggest they have daily staff meetings over web cam of all things. Harper had expected their boss Martin to laugh it off, both the idea of staff meetings and the cameras, but he’d surprised Harper by agreeing.

“It’ll be good for us,” Martin had told him. “Help us stay grounded, keep in touch.”

Harper hated to admit it, but Erin’s web cams actually did make it easier to have long-distance meetings. Being able to see expressions helped him get a feel for how confident his co-workers were when they were promising they’d be able to deliver a feature on time. The cameras ended up being invaluable for that—how else would he have been able to see the tic of Prevet’s eyebrow that gave away the fact that he wasn’t entirely certain his latest front-end widget would work, let alone be done on time?

They were close to their goal date for the latest production cycle, which meant the group had been having several web cam meetings a day. The time differences were still a hassle.  Erin was in Paris, Prevet in New Zealand, and Ty was God only knew where as he moved around to conferences around the world selling their product, but they managed to make it work. They’d been so busy that Harper had stopped closing the conferencing software they used, a secure program Prevet had designed, leaving it running all the time on the chance that someone needed him.

So when he heard Ty talking on his kitchen counter late Thursday night, Harper assumed there had been a problem with the latest software specs he’d sent over earlier that day. Ty often surprised him by asking insightful questions about the material, and he’d taken to sending him detailed notes about the inner workings of the programs that the clients didn’t really need—or want—to see, but that would help Ty get a deeper understanding.

Harper was elbow-deep in sudsy water when he heard Ty’s unmistakable voice, with its butter-soft Southern accent and teasing tone. Unwilling to leave his task half done, he finished up washing the pan he’d roasted a chicken in for dinner before drying it and setting the spotless dish on the sideboard. Only then, after draining the water and rinsing the sink, did he walk around the breakfast bar and settle himself onto the barstool he used for web conferences.

Harper had been expecting to see Ty—after all, he’d plainly heard his voice. He just hadn’t been expecting to see so much of him. Ty stood in front of the camera, his head cut off from view, his chest filling Harper’s laptop screen. A myriad of tattoos danced over his skin as the muscles underneath rippled, and it took Harper a full minute of open-mouthed ogling to realize what he was seeing: Ty was lifting weights.

He was halfway into a diatribe about wasting his time when he realized his own web cam wasn’t recording. He had it set up to automatically come on when a meeting request came through, but none had popped up on the screen. It looked like Ty had never turned his own camera off after their last conference, and Harper’s software hadn’t closed out the meeting, even though he’d manually shut off his own camera.

Which meant that Ty didn’t know he was watching. Harper’s cheeks flushed, his heart racing as he watched Ty go through his workout routine. Muscles flexed and bunched, beads of sweat rolling down over tanned skin. Harper had shared a room with Ty the last time all the company had brought everyone in for a meeting in Sacramento, so he was familiar with Ty’s hotel room work-out routine. He knew from experience that  Ty must be looking in the mirror, watching himself as he methodically went about each of the exercises. He hadn’t been shirtless when Harper had seen him do it before, but it had still been captivating.

Now he felt like some sort of voyeur, watching what he quite plainly knew he shouldn’t be. When they’d been in the hotel, he’d looked away, pretending to focus on the report in his lap but actually watching through the reflection in the full-length mirror on the closet door, which caught every motion that Ty went through in front of the bureau’s smaller mirror.

That had felt a bit dirty, like spying on something private, but this—this was spying on something private. Ty had known he was there then; this time, it was totally different. The secret thrill of it sent adrenaline coursing through Harper’s veins.

Harper snapped the laptop shut with a thunk the moment he felt his interest deepen into arousal. It had been inappropriate to watch, but letting himself get off to something like that would be unforgivable. Not without Ty’s consent, and he certainly didn’t have that.

He slid off the bar stool, ignoring the twitches of interest below his belt, and went back to the kitchen. He filled the sink with cold water and methodically pulled each dish out of the drainer and washed it again, repeating the process until his fingertips were wrinkled and his erection was long gone.

When he finally had control of himself, he dried his hands and opened the laptop. He’d email Ty and explain. Tell him that he’d left his webcam active and apologize for intruding, suggesting that maybe he check in the future to make sure he was disconnected.

Harper felt a tinge that had to be jealousy when he realized that they’d been on an open channel. Anyone on the team who still had the video chat client up would have seen Ty’s little show. Not that anyone else would have cared. Maybe Erin, but he didn’t think Ty was her type.

He was exactly Harper’s, though. Bulging muscles, tanned, tattooed flesh and a proclivity for New York Times Sunday crosswords.

Which was why Harper would apologize, profusely. He’d never make a move on a co-worker, and spying on one he found attractive was repugnant.

He picked up his phone to look for the time-sensitive numerical code his laptop had just texted him, since the company insisted on two-factor identification. He blinked in confusion when he saw he had one from Ty, sent more than fifteen minutes ago.

Either you were offended or worried about offending me. Do I owe you an apology?

Did that mean Ty knew he’d been watching? Shit.

His fingers trembled as he typed out a response.

I’m the one who should apologize. I should have turned it off the second I realized.

He really should have. Could Ty tell how long he’d been watching? Should he try to play it off like he’d turned it off earlier?

I was hoping it would turn you on, not that you’d turn it off.

Harper’s mouth fell open at the blatant innuendo. He’d never been one for flirting and certainly not for sexting, but even he could recognize it when it was this obvious.

Feeling bold, he sent his response.

And if it did?

One second went by, then another. Heaviness built in the pit of Harper’s stomach as he waited for Ty to text him. Was this okay? He wasn’t Ty’s boss. Technically they weren’t really even on the same team, since Ty was his project’s liaison to the sales team. But just because there weren’t any workplace rules against the two of them doing whatever it was they were doing didn’t make it a good idea. Maybe he should—

If it did you should turn your chat back on. We can start a side channel that’s just us.

Harper swallowed hard. He was a professional. This was risky. Even in a side channel, someone could hack in. It would be a piece of cake for any of the programmers on their team.

He scrolled through his texts, cursing when he saw the login code he’d gotten had expired. He’d need to restart the login protocol to get another. It was probably a sign that he shouldn’t be doing this.

Two minutes, he texted.

Signs were a crock of shit, anyway.

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