Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ben and Gavin



So I’m getting this posted months after my original deadline, but, uh, just under the most recent one, so that counts for something, right?

Originally it was supposed to be a smutty little flashfic, but, good lord they ran away from me.

Anyway! I just wanted to say thanks to all the amazing readers who’ve enjoyed The Last Thing He Needs. I’ve met so many awesome people in the last few months, and I’m incredibly grateful for each one.

One quick reminder! If you haven’t checked out the giveaway post for A Simple Romance audio edition, there’s still time! I’ve gotten a couple of comments and PMs, so, ya know, the more the merrier. :)

Things to keep in mind when reading this:
It’s not edited. You’ll understand why I love editors because, dude. I need them. Also, this isn’t a proper short story, it’s really just a backstory for Ben and Gavin. 18+ only, please! There’s only one smutty scene, but it’s definitely adult reading, IMO.

Title: The Best Parts
Characters: Ben and Gavin (Ben was briefly introduced in The Last Thing He Needs)
Word Count: 11K+

[Edit: I was in such a rush yesterday, I didn't realize my lovely cover didn't show up in the post! *shakes fist* Let's try that again. Cover by my awesome friend Nico Jaye]



 

The club was jumping, hot and loud—just the way Gavin liked it. He’d been dancing with one of his friends all night, hoping Ben would take his invitation and meet him there. Tonight was his eighteenth birthday after all, and Ben had been keeping him at arms-length for an entire year. Ever since they met. But tonight? Gavin was finally legal and he knew how he wanted to celebrate.

“Are you still watching the door?” Tony, Gavin’s best friend and partner in crimes of fashion shook his head and rolled his eyes under the pulsing lightshow overhead. “He’s been turning you down for a year, man.”

Gavin turned his back to Tony and rested his head on his shoulder, pressing close and grinding his ass against him just for the hell of it. “Not because he wanted to turn me down.” He felt pretty certain about that. Gavin always paid attention when Ben was about to hook up with someone. And almost every time it was a slim guy with a little swish in his walk, blond hair, and wide, willing eyes. He’d seen Ben slip into the back room or out the side door more than once. More than a dozen times, really. Gavin always burned with jealousy as he watched Ben take a guy’s hand and tug him away from the crowd, but it gave him hope too. If Ben had a type, well, Gavin fit the bill if nothing else. “He’s just been biding his time.”

“Or avoiding the club slut he peeled off the bathroom floor last year because he didn’t need the drama….”

Gavin turned sharply and glared at Tony. “Did you seriously just say that?”

The look on Tony’s face was pure innocence and kindness. Gavin hated it when he made a good point. He especially hated it when Tony’s points were, well, pointy.

“I’m still a virgin. You have to at least take back the slut comment.” When Tony looked like he might argue, Gavin added, “Blowjobs and handjobs don’t count.”

“I want that printed on a T-shirt.” Gavin didn’t laugh at Tony’s obvious attempt to make up, but it was a near thing. Tony pulled Gavin into a hug and said, “I’m just sayin’. He’s put you off for a year and… looks like he’s putting you off tonight, so you might as well have some fun, okay?”

God. Even more, he hated it when Tony’s pointy points were accurate. “Fine, let’s go find someone to buy us a drink.”

Tony let himself be dragged toward the bar, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it. “You have a fake ID, why not buy your own drink?”

“It’s less fun that way.”

****

Ben ran a nervous hand through his hair. He knew he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. He’d tried to ignore the text earlier.

It’s my birthday. You gonna buy me a drink?

But ignoring Gavin was easier said than done.

Last time I checked, you’re not 21, kiddo.

That’s why I need you to buy it for me. >_>

Ben had laughed and hated himself for texting back.

So you’re using me for free drinks? I’m wounded…

That would only count if you ever actually bought me one.

True. And since you’ve got about 3 years to go, I guess you’re out of luck.

He could picture the kid scowling and smiling at the same time. Goddamn it all. He’d been thinking about Gavin since the first time he’d seen him. Sprawled out on the dingy floor in a dive bar, drunk or high or both. Practically a child. Ben had gotten him on his feet, cleaned him up and taken him home. He’d settled Gavin on his couch and gone to sleep in his own bed, but when he woke up just before dawn with Gavin naked, trying to climb under the covers with him, well, hell. Ben figured he deserved sainthood for turning that down. But even if Gavin had been legal—which he wasn’t at the time—he wasn’t big on getting off with guys who were too wasted to know where they were. Call him old fashioned, but he liked his tricks at least coherent if not sober.

That was over a year ago, though, and since then Gavin had managed to wiggle his way into Ben’s heart. They were friends. They laughed together and sometimes danced together, talked for hours some nights.

Gavin had gotten his shit together a little, but maybe not enough. He’d quit doing the heavy drugs, but he still liked to party. Sometimes it seemed like he was doing it just to show Ben he wasn’t a kid. Which was an all-time backfire since only a kid would do that.

But none of that mattered now.

Ben stood in line, passed over the twenty for the cover charge, and cursed himself for being too stupid to know when to run.

****

Tony arched his brow when Gavin crinkled his nose at the Shirley Temple in his hand. “Next time give the guy more to go on than sweet and fruity.”

“I was trying to be cute.”

The laugh Tony let slip was probably well earned, but it didn’t make Gavin feel much better. Nudging him with his elbow, grinning, Tony said, “Well, mission accomplished?” Before Gavin could say anything, Tony’s eyes went wide. “Don’t look, but your favorite tattoo artist just walked in.”

Every muscle in Gavin’s body went rigid. “Are you sure it’s him?” He resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder.

“He’s pretty hard to miss.”

Gavin’s heart beat harder in his chest as he tried to decide how best to handle the situation. “Does he see me yet?”

“I don’t think so, but he’s definitely looking around….” Tony looked away quickly. “Okay, he’s on his way over here.”

“Shit, um….” With no clear reason why, Gavin thrust his drink at Tony. “Take this,” he said, panicking. “And, uh… laugh.”

Tony took the drink, looking more than slightly ridiculous with the pink soda in one hand and his gin and tonic in the other. “Laugh?”

“Yes, like I just said something really funny.”

“Well you are funny, but….” Being the best friend a guy could have, Tony threw his head back and laughed loud and hard. If he ever decided to go into acting, Gavin thought he might have a shot.

“Did I miss something good?” Ben asked as he stepped up to them. When he slipped his arm around Gavin’s waist, Gavin nearly jumped.

Turning to face Ben, Gavin wrapped his arm around one of Ben’s bulky shoulders, his fingertips tracing the colorful pattern that peeked out from under Ben’s T-shirt. “We were just talking about this guy that’s been cruising us all night.” He held Ben’s eye as he said it, hoping Ben wouldn’t turn his attention to Tony. He couldn’t see his friend at the moment, but he could practically feel Tony’s eyes rolling. “Did you come to buy me that birthday drink?”

Ben’s smile widened, teasing and sweet. “No,” he said pointedly before he leaned in and… kissed Gavin’s forehead. “I came to have a dance with the birthday boy before I head home.”

****

He’d known it was a bad idea, hadn’t he? So why was he surprised when Gavin took his offer of a dance—not as a gentle letdown, but as a challenge? Not even a challenge so much as an invitation to let Ben fuck him right there on the dance floor.

They’d been going at it for less than twenty minutes and Gavin had plastered himself to Ben. The worst part? It was totally working. The little shit had Ben so hard in his jeans, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to ride home without jerking off somewhere first.

As one song faded into another, Gavin pressed closer—which hardly seemed possible. He ground his hips against Ben and then looked at him, a knowing expression lighting up Gavin’s eyes.

Damn it.

“So you are happy to see me.” Gavin teased. Little bastard that he was, Gavin did another grind against him and then wrapped both arms around Ben’s shoulders, threading his fingers into Ben’s hair.

“I never said I wasn’t.” His response probably sounded more gruff, maybe even hostile, than he’d meant it, but it couldn’t be helped. He was too busy arguing with the one shred of sanity he had left. The part that kept telling him to head home, take a cold shower, and maybe move to another state before sunrise.

“You never said you were, either.” Gavin pointed out. Ben couldn’t tell if the pout playing on Gavin’s lips was for show or genuine. He knew for sure when Gavin added more quietly, “You never do, actually.”

Well that felt like a punch to the gut. The music was still blaring on all sides, everyone around them was still bouncing and grinding together, but Ben and Gavin had stopped moving, maybe even stopped breathing. Ben tightened his arms around Gavin, hugging him, wanting to carry him out of the club and into the fresh night air. Instead of doing that, he leaned in close and said against Gavin’s ear, “Maybe that’s because I’m always glad to see you.” He let himself breathe again, inhale the earthy scent of Gavin’s cologne, the smell of clean sweat, and something else…vodka? Who the hell knew. When Gavin didn’t have a comeback for him, Ben added, “Too glad, usually.”

Gavin still hadn’t said anything and Ben started to wonder if he’d imagined it. Maybe Gavin had finally driven him insane and he’d snapped, living in his own fantasy world where the two of them made sense, where wanting to be with a guy half his age didn’t make him some skeevy old perv, but instead was perfectly natural. Wanting to take care of Gavin and take him home, not for one night, but for every night, meant he was finally there. Finally the guy he’d wanted to be. And Gavin was the guy he wanted to be that guy for. Or something like that.

He pulled back to see Gavin’s face, see if he’d heard him, see if he was ready to laugh now that Ben had finally called his bluff.

Lost for words? That was a first. Gavin looked like he was so stunned he couldn’t process anything. Ben couldn’t help the bark of laughter and he especially couldn’t help hugging the kid and kissing his forehead. “C’mon,” he said finally, still laughing. “I got you something for your birthday. Walk me out so I can give it to you?” He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he reached for Gavin’s hand and pulled him toward the door.


****

Tony looked just as surprised as Gavin felt as they passed him on the way to the exit. He still managed to give Gavin a thumbs-up and a grin, though.

Gavin could only nod and shrug.

The cold air outside tapped him like a slap on his hot cheeks. June was still a hit-and-miss month weather wise. Even though it had been fairly warm earlier, as soon as the sun went down, the chill crept up from wherever it had hidden all day. Gavin was glad for the reality check. The nip in the air felt like an answer to his pinch me, I must be dreaming thought process.

Ben pulled him along and kept him close as they made their way around the building to the alley where Ben had parked his bike. He was scowling and Gavin couldn’t figure out why until he glanced over his shoulder and saw two guys watching them. Gay bashers? Wouldn’t that fit right in with the rest of his life? Less than ten minutes after Ben tells him he’s always glad to see him, and then they end up in a pool of blood and broken bones. Fabulous.

But, no, they were just two guys trying to find some action for the night. The look on Ben’s face must have told them they were barking up the wrong trees because they turned the other direction.

Gavin realized he still hadn’t said anything when Ben asked him, “You okay?”

His question was sort of offhanded as he turned and reached across his bike to open the saddlebag, but he glanced over his shoulder and searched Gavin’s face at the same time.

“Yeah, just… ears are still ringing, ya know?” Head still spinning would’ve been more accurate, but he couldn’t really tell Ben that, could he?

Ben only nodded as he faced Gavin and handed him a booklet and a small box wrapped in shiny blue paper—Gavin’s favorite color—with sparkly ribbon and little metallic stars hanging off it.

When Gavin started to pick at the paper, wanting to unwrap it, Ben said, “Open that one later.”

Gavin couldn’t help an exasperated huff, but he grinned at Ben. “Don’t want me to see what it is while you’re with me?”

Ben actually looked embarrassed and that was better than whatever was in the box, Gavin was pretty sure.

“Something like that. But... just look at the college courses, okay?”

Glancing at the booklet, Gavin realized he had a catalog for the nearest community college in his hand. He and Ben had talked more than once about what he was going to do with himself after he got out of high school. Gavin’s plan had been to see what happened. Ben didn’t like that plan, apparently.

He must have seen something in Gavin’s expression because Ben said, “Look, don’t get shitty about it, okay? The fact that you managed to graduate at all while you were couch surfing for over a year, working, and partying too much…. You’re a hell of a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for, Gav. Don’t waste it, ya know?”

Gavin nodded again—which seemed all he was capable of in the last half hour—and Ben took it as an invitation to add to his previous comment. “Maybe it’ll help you figure out what you want to—”

Before Ben could finish with be when you grow up, Gavin narrowed his eyes, ready to argue, which made Ben laugh and pull him into another hug. Every protest Gavin had prepared fell away as he buried his face against Ben’s chest and felt Ben’s breath against the top of his head.

“I was going to say it might help you figure out what you want to do with your life.” Ben said gently, a smile evident in his tone.

Gavin was pretty sure he knew what he wanted to do with the rest of his life already. Most of it involved being somewhere naked with Ben, but he couldn’t say that. He knew Ben would push him away (not unkindly, but firmly) and tell him he was a kid. He’d gotten that same response the first time he’d tried anything with Ben. And the second. And the twentieth time, for that matter.

He pulled back just enough to meet Ben’s eyes. “Oh,” he said stupidly, feeling his cheeks heat again as he bit his lip around a smile. He still clutched the present in his hand between them, his other arm wrapped around Ben.

“You got a place to crash tonight?” Ben asked, his brow knitting together, concern of one kind or another. Invitation, maybe? Gavin wasn’t sure and couldn’t let himself get his hopes up.

“Steph said I could sleep in the office tonight, but she forgot to leave me the key. I was gonna ask Tony, but he was hoping to hook up with the DJ, so….” Everything came out in a breathless rush as Ben pulled back from him.

Without saying anything else, Ben popped the latch on the case mounted to the back of his bike. He grabbed his helmet and looked at Gavin for a beat before he finally spoke. “I only brought one helmet with me.” He shoved it down on Gavin’s head and grinned. “Your face is prettier than mine, so you get to wear it. But if I get a ticket tonight, you’re paying it.” After he hopped on and got the engine going, he turned to look at Gavin again. “Keep your hands above my waist this time. I nearly wrapped us around a telephone pole the last time I gave you lift.”

Best birthday ever.

****

Awesome. Being the brilliant man he was, Ben had taken a bad idea and turned it into the worst possible plan ever. Gavin clung to him as they cruised down the city streets, up the hills, and through the alleys. He held his birthday present in his hand, pressed tightly against Ben’s chest, as if he couldn’t part with it even long enough to ride home. Well, back to Ben’s place, at least.

Ben kept trying to tell himself that this was no different from the other few nights he’d let Gavin sleep over when he had nowhere else to go. He’d put a blanket and pillow on the couch for Gavin. He’d sit up for an hour or two and talk with him until Gavin was sleepy enough, comfortable enough, to nod off. He’d go to his own bed and jerk off thinking about Gavin, then he’d feel like a perv and a shitty friend, and then he’d fall asleep too. In the morning he’d make some coffee and run down to the diner around the corner to pick up some breakfast for them just to make sure Gavin got some food in him. Ben wasn’t sure, but he had the feeling Gavin didn’t eat nearly often enough. He pictured the kid living on ramen noodles and stale chips from vending machines. He hoped he was wrong, but the few times he’d seen Gavin with his shirt off, Ben had been able to count his ribs.

When Gavin tightened his arms and tensed behind him, Ben realized how fast he was going and eased off the throttle. He had been so lost in his own head, he nearly missed the turn for his apartment and pulled up with a slightly reckless skid in front of the building. Gavin didn’t let go when he cut the engine, but that might’ve been because he was terrified.

“You should definitely invest in a second helmet.”

Laughing, Ben gently moved Gavin’s hands and untangled himself from the kid. “I have another helmet, remember? I just didn’t expect company tonight.” His laughter died when he saw Gavin’s eyes. He looked like a deer staring down the barrel of a shotgun. “You’re shaking.”

“Yeah, well, near death experiences will do that to me.”

Ben reached his hand to unbuckle the strap on the helmet and tugged it off for him. “You were nowhere near death, I promise.”

Gavin moved stiffly as he got to his feet, steadying himself with a hand on Ben’s shoulder as he awkwardly climbed off the bike. “Tell that to my bladder. I nearly pissed myself on that last turn.”

With another bark of laughter, unintentional but unstoppable, Ben took Gavin’s hand and led him to the stairs.

****

The first time Gavin had been in Ben’s apartment, he’d been surprised. He’d expected to see beer bottles and pizza boxes all over the living room, milk crates for end tables, a ratty sofa. He didn’t know why he thought Ben would live like a poor frat boy, but he did. Instead he found a tidy, comfortable home. A leather couch and overstuffed chair took up most of the living room and framed photos hung on the wall and sat on shelves with all kinds of different books. Art books, history books, high fantasy novels. Ben was one of the only people he knew who still had real paper books. Not to mention the hundreds of digital copies he kept on his phone. Gavin’s favorite, though, was the leather bound portfolio of all of Ben’s work.

Without any further invitation, Gavin set his birthday present down, picked up the portfolio, and started flipping through the pages.

“There’s nothing new in there,” Ben told him as he put on some music, something quiet and slow, relaxing. “Haven’t added anything in a couple months. The book down at the shop has a few, though.”

Gavin had never been to Ben’s shop. He felt enough like a puppy following him around, he didn’t need to show up at Ben’s job uninvited. “I still like to look.”

Ducking his head around the corner from the kitchen, Ben said, “Suit yourself. You hungry?”

“Nah, Tony took me to dinner and Steph bought me lunch.” After looking at his favorites in the portfolio, Gavin set it back down on the coffee table. “Birthdays are great for free food,” he added before going over to the fireplace to look at the pictures on the mantel. He’d seen them all before, but one stood out this time. He wasn’t sure if he’d never noticed it or if it was new. Two men, wrapped around each other, smiled happily under the glass. “Hey, who are these guys?” he asked as Ben came back into the living room.

He could feel Ben come up behind him. Not quite touching, but close enough to radiate heat. Ben’s breath tickled his skin as he leaned over Gavin’s shoulder and looked at the photograph. “My ex and his husband.”

“You guys are still friends?”

“Yeah, hell, he’s one of my best friends.”

“Why’d you two break up?”

“He wanted…more.” Ben said with a shrug, adding, “I wanted a good time.”

“Can’t you have both?”

“You can, but I didn’t know that at the time. I was young when we got together.”

“How young?”

Ben snorted a laugh. “Twenty five.”

“That’s not that young.”

“Not when you’re eighteen, but now… it’s young.”

Gavin turned and was surprised when Ben didn’t pull back. He looked long and hard at Ben’s face, the laugh lines around his eyes, the few gray hairs in his stubble and shaggy brown hair. “How old are you, anyway?”

Ben leaned closer and dipped his head. Almost close enough to kiss Gavin, but he didn’t. He whispered, “You’ve never asked me that before.”

“I’m asking now.”

Ben’s smile turned predatory, playful. “More than twice your age. I’ve got regrets older than you. Does that bother you?”

“I wouldn’t say that, no. How much more than half?”

“I’m thirty seven. You do the math.” Ben laughed again and finally pulled away.

“That’s not that bad.”

In response, Ben chuckled and lifted a brow.

“I mean… when I’m thirty, you won’t even be fifty.”

When Ben let out another loud laugh, Gavin could feel his skin heat with embarrassment. He could get nearly any guy he so much as looked at, but Ben? Ben made him feel like a stupid kid without even meaning to. Well, he assumed Ben didn’t mean to.

“I’ll be close enough, kiddo.”

Gavin huffed in annoyance and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m an adult now, Ben.”

He could tell Ben was trying not to laugh again. His brown eyes softened and he stepped closer, putting his big hands on Gavin’s shoulders. “No adult feels the need to point that out.” He’d said the words gently, but Gavin still bristled.

“You’re an asshole, ya know that?”

Ben pulled him close and wrapped an arm around his waist. He reached his other hand higher, tangling his fingers in Gavin’s hair. “I’m glad you finally figured that out. I’ve been trying to tell you as much for months.”

All of a sudden there was far less air in the room than there had been moments earlier. Ben held him tight, their bodies pressed together, as the music in the background seemed to surround them. Ben was dancing with him. Not the way they danced at clubs and parties when the hard rhythm pushed them faster, sent them into the space of others around them. This was different. Tender, slow. Gavin felt like he was in the middle of his own movie scene. But not the wild porn he’d hoped this night would turn into. Instead, he was in the middle of a chick-flick-gone-gay.

When Ben said, “You really are beautiful, ya know?” Gavin couldn’t help laughing. Not because he didn’t like hearing it from Ben, but when he pictured himself giving Tony the play-by-play of the night, he knew how cheesy it would sound.

“You have the weirdest seduction routine. I’m just sayin’.”

****

He’d already shared too much with Gavin. Not just tonight, but nearly every night since they met. Gavin knew more about him than most of his friends, more than his family too, but that was only because there are things you just can’t tell your mother or sister.

Ben knew he was in deep enough already. He should let go of Gavin—literally and figuratively—and move on, let them both move on.

That didn’t feel like an option, though.

He tightened his hold on Gavin and dipped his head, brushing his stubbled cheek next to Gavin’s smooth, soft skin. “I don’t have a routine,” he whispered. When Gavin pulled back, just enough to see his face, Ben added, “And even if I did, I doubt I could think clearly enough around you to use it.”

The look he got for that simple, somewhat painful admission was worth all the cold showers and cheap hookups he’d had over the past several months. Gavin’s eyes widened with surprise, a smile tugged at his lips, but mostly he stared in disbelief.

Yeah, totally worth it.

Fighting his own smile, Ben asked quietly, “You sure you aren’t hungry?”

Gavin blinked once, slowly, then again. “I… What?”

They were still dancing, shuffling their feet in a clumsy box step, almost a waltz, but not quite. Ben pulled him closer. “Want me to make you something?” The kid really did need to eat more.

A sweet flush crept up Gavin’s pale skin, spreading over his neck to his cheeks. “No, I….” He breathed out a laugh and buried his face against Ben’s shoulder. “That’s not what I thought you were going to ask.”

Ben slipped his hand between them, tucked his fingers under Gavin’s chin and tilted his face up. He traced his thumb against Gavin’s lower lip and smiled when Gavin looked him in the eye. “I hoped I wouldn’t have to ask for anything else.”

Not saying anything at first, Gavin stopped moving. Ben could feel the sharp intake of his breath, maybe even a small tremor running through Gavin’s slight frame, as if his blood thrummed too hard in his veins. “You don’t.” he whispered against the touch of Ben’s thumb.

A first kiss shouldn’t feel like a do-or-die moment, but it did. Ben knew if he did what he wanted to, there was no going back. No matter what happened afterward, he couldn’t undo it—for better or worse. Maybe knowing that should’ve made it harder but Ben held Gavin’s eye for one more moment, considered all the rights and wrongs for the span of a heartbeat, and then he leaned in and touched his lips to Gavin’s.


****

Gavin didn’t know what he’d expected—Fireworks, maybe? Spontaneous orgasm?—but instead, all he could think about was how perfectly right his world suddenly seemed.  When he inhaled, Ben pushed his tongue gently into Gavin’s mouth and made a sound Gavin had never heard before, not from Ben anyway. Something close to a growl, all heat and want, maybe even desperation. Then Gavin was sure. All this time, all those lingering looks, all those slight touches, all the concern—it wasn’t all in his head. Gavin hadn’t been living off wishful thinking.

Ben wanted him, maybe even more than Gavin had hoped.

Spontaneous orgasm didn’t seem all that unlikely when Ben slipped his hands lower, running over Gavin’s ass and then suddenly lifting him up. Gavin gasped and broke the kiss, unable to stop the grin on his face as he wrapped his legs around Ben’s hips. He fit nicely against Ben’s solid frame, felt secure as Ben made his way down the hall to the bedroom.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Gavin had expected to be settled gently onto the mattress, like a maiden on her wedding night. When Ben nearly tossed him onto the middle of the bed, Gavin’s laugh was loud and surprised.

“You’re heavier than you look,” Ben teased him as he kicked off his shoes and leaned over Gavin. “And you’re wearing way too many clothes.”

Ben took care of that problem faster than Gavin thought possible. Within seconds, Ben had stripped him, leaving light, tickling kisses over every inch of exposed skin. Gavin’s muscles jumped under Ben’s warm breath, the feel of his scruffy stubble, the nip of his teeth. He could feel goose bumps rising with every touch and even heard himself whimper when Ben’s cheek grazed his cock.

With a gentle touch, Ben pushed Gavin’s legs back, spreading his thighs so he could get closer. When Ben slid lower, trailing his tongue over Gavin’s balls, Gavin dropped his hand into Ben’s hair. He twisted his fingers in, tugged gently, and then stilled. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he could feel Ben smile against his skin.

“If you don’t stop, you’re gonna make me come before you even take off your shirt.” Gavin whispered, panting lightly even as Ben dipped his head farther down and slid his tongue over Gavin’s entrance. “Shit.” The head of his cock was already slick with precome, smearing against his stomach with every shift of his hips. When Ben pushed his tongue inside, Gavin shuddered, his bare feet resting against Ben’s shoulders, toes curling. 

They were in uncharted territory now. Gavin had given his share of blowjobs, received plenty too, but this? The feel of Ben’s tongue pushing deeper, slick and warm, Ben’s fingers spreading him open, giving him better access, it was damn near too much. At the same time, it wasn’t quite enough.

Ben didn’t stop at first, when Gavin muttered his name, but when Gavin twisted his fingers tighter into Ben’s hair and tugged again, Ben lifted his head. His breath rushed out in harsh pants, his lips wet as he nuzzled against Gavin’s inner thigh before asking, “You okay?”

“Yeah, just….” Okay wasn’t really the right word. Fantastic, maybe. Terrified, definitely. “Just wanted you to kiss me,” he whispered, unable to get enough air into his lungs to move the words with any more conviction. Not that he was lying. He just wasn’t telling the whole truth, either.

“I was kissing you.” Amusement lit up Ben’s deep brown eyes. As he shifted over Gavin, he left a trail of playful kisses over his stomach and chest, his shoulders, his neck, and finally, Gavin’s mouth.

Gavin fisted his hand into Ben’s T-shirt, tangling his other into Ben’s hair as he pulled Ben over him. The rough denim of Ben’s jeans brushed against his skin, almost painful against his erection until he was able to wiggle and shift slightly higher, wrap himself around Ben’s body.

Apparently the way he moved did something for Ben because Gavin got a deep moan from him as Ben kissed him harder. He pulled back with a sharp breath and looked in Gavin’s eyes, trailing his fingertips up the side of Gavin’s face and into his hair. “If you end up giving me a heart attack tonight, just know that I’m going to my grave happy.”

Laughing, Gavin tugged at Ben’s shirt as he tried to push it up higher, wanting it off. “I’ll be sure and tell the paramedics that as they roll you off me.”

Ben pulled back onto his knees and reached his hand over his shoulder so he could pull his shirt off. “Mention it in the eulogy too.” He tossed the shirt aside and then paused as Gavin trailed a hand over his chest.

Gavin couldn’t look away. He’d never seen Ben naked before, only little hints of different tattoos on his arms or creeping out from under his shirt or the top of his jeans when he stretched. “I’ve never seen all your ink.” Nearly every inch was covered in dark lines, filled in with bright, beautiful colors.

Ben quirked an eyebrow, his expression only slightly smug, amused. “Should I turn off the lights so you’re not distracted?”

Unable to say anything, Gavin only shook his head in answer, still mapping out every image with his fingers, as if he could read the story they were trying to tell. When the pictures drifted lower, into the top of Ben’s jeans, Gavin followed, tugging the buttons on Ben’s fly until they slowly popped open one by one. He slid his hands against Ben’s skin and pushed his jeans down.

God, there were tattoos everywhere.

Ben shifted over him again, and it only took Gavin a second to realize he was pushing his jeans off, kicking them to the floor along with his socks. No underwear. Why was that such a turn on?

The ink on Ben’s body sprawled down his legs, even covered the tops of his feet. One of the few bare areas was just past his hipbones in the dark thatch of hair around his cock. Gavin trailed his fingertip in a smooth line up Ben’s shaft and glanced up to see his face. Ben closed his eyes and Gavin could feel him shudder. “Nothing here?”

With a laugh, Ben leaned in and caught Gavin’s mouth in another kiss. “No,” he whispered, kissing Gavin again before shifting against him, fitting himself between Gavin’s thighs and grinding his hips against him. “Some hurt more than others, but I’m not interested in finding out how much that would hurt.”

Gavin’s breath released in a quick rush, part whimper and part groan as Ben rocked against him, their slick erections sliding together between them. “Fair point,” he whispered, hearing the tremor in his own voice.

When Ben reached over him, pulling the drawer on his nightstand open and coming back with a condom and a bottle of lube, Gavin figured it was time for his big reveal. “Hey, um,” On the scale of awkward admissions, being a virgin barely registered. It’s not like he was about to tell Ben he was positive or into varsity level kink, right?  “Just so ya know, I mean….”

Curiosity and (always) concern registered on Ben’s face as he stilled, holding his weight off Gavin with one elbow on the mattress. He didn’t say anything, only waited for Gavin to go on.

“I haven’t, like… I mean, I’ve done stuff, obviously, but I’ve never…”

“Bottomed?”

Relief washed through Gavin when Ben finished his sentence so plainly for him. “Right. Or topped, for that matter.” Gavin bit his lip and watched Ben’s face, trying to read his expressions. He didn’t have much luck because Ben simply looked at him, as if he’d forgotten where they were headed and was trying to remember.

****

Well. If he hadn’t felt like a dirty old man before, he would now. “Okay,” Ben whispered roughly. He knew there was probably a better response, but he couldn’t think beyond the one simple word. He searched his memory, going over the mental list of his first sexual experiences. Not the actual first, because that was painful and awkward and unsatisfying. Two bumbling teens, groping and rutting against each other. No lube, no condoms, and no clue.

But later—years later—it had gotten better. Ben had found different men in every corner of the country. Teachers, lovers, friends. He learned his own body, learned what he liked and what he didn’t like, what he could put up with for someone, and what he absolutely couldn’t be bothered to do.

Leaning closer, Ben brushed a kiss against Gavin’s mouth as he trailed his hand lower and wrapped his fingers around Gavin’s cock with a slow stroke. “We’re not gonna do anything you don’t wanna do tonight, all right?”

Gavin inhaled against his mouth and then dropped his head to the pillow. “I know,” he whispered. His bright blue eyes only held trust as he looked at Ben and wasn’t that enough to tip things over the edge?

“I didn’t say I don’t want to. I just thought you should know.”

Ben could only nod in response as he stroked Gavin’s cock in a loose grip, trailing his thumb over the slick crown until Gavin gasped.

“You should probably stop that, though.”

Gavin dropped his hand to cover Ben’s and Ben nearly laughed even as he leaned in for another kiss. “I’ll take care of you.” His words were a whispered promise and if Gavin was paying attention—and the kid seemed like he was always paying attention—he hopefully understood everything Ben meant. Taking care of Gavin was all he wanted to do. Not just tonight, not just in bed. He wanted Gavin someplace safe and well fed, someplace he could call home.

When Gavin gave him a tentative smile, slipped his free hand over Ben’s shoulder and pulled him closer, Ben brushed his lips against Gavin’s neck and inhaled deeply.

“You’ve been taking care of me since the first night we met.” Gavin’s words were barely audible, hesitant, as if he was connecting the dots in his head, puzzling out an answer he was afraid of—or maybe afraid to hope for.

“When you let me,” Ben countered. He hoped the tease was clear in his tone. Gavin didn’t make things easy for him on any level. Even when he really needed something, Gavin would often reject it outright when it was offered. More than once Ben had to insist and leave no room for arguments. “So let me take care of you tonight.” He punctuated the words with one more steady stroke over Gavin’s cock before letting go.

Gavin let out a shaky breath and nodded. His skin flushed beautifully as Ben reached for the lube and slicked his fingers.

“It’ll hurt,” Ben whispered, kissing Gavin again. “I can’t take that away, but I can make it easier.”

“I know,” Gavin told him, letting out a small gasp as Ben slid his finger against the tight ring of muscle, pushing in and pulling out in slow, easy motions. “I’m not totally clueless, just…” His voice caught on another sharp breath, almost a laugh as he went on, “Just new.”

Ben took his time. He watched every small expression flit across Gavin’s face, watched the way Gavin’s muscles pulled and twitched all over his lithe body. He couldn’t remember ever using so much lube on a guy, but every time he thought Gavin might be ready, he decided to wait a little longer.

Maybe, if he were honest with himself, he was just scared shitless.

By the time Gavin looked ready to fly apart, Ben had decided to just get him off like that—fingers, tongue, mouth. He figured he could push Gavin over the edge with nothing more than a quick stroke over the head of Gavin’s cock. His own erection ached to be inside Gavin, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. At least, he didn’t think he could. But when Gavin whimpered his name and muttered a simple please Ben didn’t have much of a choice.

He nearly fumbled the condom more than once, could barely get the damn thing open with his shaking hands, but he finally managed to get it on. Then he froze. Gavin stared at him with his bright, trusting eyes. A look of impatience mingled with something close to terror in his expression, but he reached for Ben anyway.

Chewing the inside of his cheek, Ben closed himself around Gavin. He knew he should turn him over, get him into an easier position, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. All he wanted was to hold Gavin, watch his face when he came, see if he could read Gavin’s thoughts, sense his needs.

And wasn’t that a ridiculous idea? Being with Gavin was going to turn him into a mind reader?

And a poet, apparently. Because this? Touching the head of his cock against Gavin’s entrance, pushing in and pulling back when he gasped, Gavin’s skin flushing so prettily, his eyes widening, his muscles tensing and then easing so Ben could push in again. It deserved a fucking sonnet. A love song.

Burying himself deep inside Gavin felt like a goddamn masterpiece in the making.

****

Gavin had been so close to the edge before Ben even got the condom on, he’d expected it to be a little…less painful? He’d at least thought it would be easy, if not the best feeling of his life.

He was wrong, at least at first.

Ben’s tenderness and achingly slow motions were an unintentional torture. There came a point where—fully committed and unwilling to say “never mind, just kidding!”—all Gavin wanted was to get it over with. He wanted Ben to move faster, harder against him. If he couldn’t get off tonight, maybe Ben could at least. Maybe if they hurried it along, Gavin could go take a warm shower and then sit on an icepack until the morning came. Then he could tuck his bruised ego away with his bruised ass and go back to blowjobs.

“You okay?” Ben’s voice teetered on anguish, but he managed the words. “Need me to go slower, baby?”

Baby. God. Gavin did love that. Ben usually reserved that one for when he was especially drunk and they were talking on the phone in the middle of the night. Or, once, only a couple of months earlier when Gavin had turned up on his doorstep, shivering, crying. He’d been to see his mom, tried again to get her to even look at him. That had ended like most things with his mother ended: badly. Ben had been the only person in the world he’d felt like seeing that night. Thankfully, he had opened his door and then pulled Gavin in for a warm, tight hug.

But, wait. Slower? God no.

With his jaw clenched tight and his teeth grinding together, it was hard to get the words out. “Need more, Ben. Please.”

If it was ever going to end, he needed more. Didn’t actually want more, but he couldn’t tell Ben that.

Gavin closed his eyes when Ben growled against his neck and thrust in deep and hard. Pain shot through him again, his body tensed and he held his breath. Then Ben shifted his weight, pushed Gavin’s legs farther back and drove in with one steady push and everything changed.

Every move Ben made seemed to wake up a different nerve ending in Gavin. In a good way, surprisingly enough. Where the pain had seemed endless, the fullness too much to take, all of a sudden, it was all he wanted. His body was alive for what felt like the first time, pulsing with sparks of heat that chased down his spine, lit up his fingers, his toes. His balls tightened and his cock started to get hard again. Which Gavin had thought was a thing of the past. A moment earlier he didn’t think he’d ever get hard again. Now, as Ben built a heavy rhythm, as his breath beat against Gavin’s skin, as their bodies grew hot and slick with sweat, Gavin started to wonder why the hell he’d thought this was a bad idea.

Ben pulled back again, catching Gavin’s eye when Gavin looked at him. “Better?” he asked, and Gavin couldn’t even nod, couldn’t say a word. All that came out was a sharp grunt when Ben thrust into him again. He bit his lips between his teeth and moaned into his closed mouth. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Ben whispered, staying just as he was, grinding his hips in quick, short strokes.

Gavin reached a hand up to Ben’s shoulder. He splayed his pale fingers against the patterns, the story of Ben’s life, and it seemed perfect, a different kind of art. Like Gavin could blend in there, weave himself into Ben’s rich history, his colorful world.

Another harsh groan slipped from Ben’s mouth with another heavy thrust and Gavin lost track of everything else. When Ben said, “Stroke yourself,” in his rough, deep voice, Gavin didn’t have to think. He simply dropped his hand from Ben’s shoulder and wrapped his fingers around his cock. Ben’s brow furrowed and he muttered something that sounded a lot like so fucking beautiful and then they were both climbing higher, getting closer to the edge together.

Only a few minutes passed before Gavin’s world narrowed to the porn-worthy sound of skin slapping on skin. Their bodies hot and slick, their voices raising in gasps and moans, until finally, Ben drove in just hard enough in just the right spot at just the right second. Gavin grazed his thumb over the head of his cock and he was coming between them, spilling out white heat as he muttered Ben’s name.

Maybe that was what Ben had been waiting for. Gavin thought so, because as his body thrummed with release, as he shuddered through it, Ben offered one last heavy thrust and then he stilled. His face froze for a moment, his voice sounding harsh, ruined as he cried out and then, finally, collapsed on Gavin.

The weight of Ben’s body was more comforting than he’d expected and the hot rush of Ben’s breath against his ear sent another shudder through Gavin. Then he heard, “Christ I love you.”

Gavin’s eyes flew open in surprise. Ben was wrapped around him, holding him tight, still inside him. Gavin looked up at the ceiling, the room framed against Ben’s shoulder. For a moment he tried to decide if Ben had actually said it or if he’d imagined it. The whole night was starting to feel like some kind of dark magic, a gift from ancient gods to make up for a shitty life. Then, after a few more seconds passed and Gavin decided it might be real, he tried to decide if he should say anything. He’d been in love with Ben since the first time Ben smiled at him, but he’d never admitted it to anyone. The idea alone made him feel like he was too young to throw the word around. 

Thankfully Ben didn’t seem to need a response. Or maybe he was trying to pretend he’d never said anything, because when he pulled back, he looked at Gavin like he always did. His brown eyes were lit up with tenderness, his smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and then he leaned in and kissed Gavin soundly before he slowly pulled out.

****

Maybe Gavin hadn’t heard him. And that was probably for the best, right? Because, seriously, I’m coming and oh-by-the-way-I-love-you is kind of ridiculous. Who does that? He hadn’t meant to say it, but once the words were out, part of him had been relieved. The rest of him was in a cold panic, sure, but there was one small fragment that was glad he’d finally let it out. Gavin had been chasing him for a full year now, and Ben was ready to be caught.

Despite how ridiculous the idea of them together was.

He made quick work of the cleanup without saying anything else and when he had finished, he tucked Gavin up against him, covered them both and reached for the lamp. Maybe he just needed a good night’s sleep to clear his head and let this kid go.

“Don’t,” Gavin said quietly, reaching his hand out to stop Ben from turning off the light. He turned in Ben’s arms and pushed him onto his back. “I wanna see.”

Gavin looked bashful as hell, but he crawled on top of Ben and started tracing his fingertips over Ben’s skin.

“Can’t you see in the morning?” Ben asked, quirking a brow, unable to stop his smile as he looked at Gavin.

At first, Gavin only shook his head in answer. Then, as his fingers landed on Ben’s oldest, and probably his favorite tattoo, Gavin said, “This one isn’t your design.”

How he knew that was a mystery, but Ben nodded. He didn’t have to look down to know which one Gavin was talking about. He could feel Gavin running over the amateurish lines of the wolf, baying at the moon.

“Did your friend do this one?” Ben was pretty sure he knew which friend Gavin was talking about, but Gavin added in an apologetic whisper, “The one who died?”

Jeremy had been his best friend since the second grade. They’d been more like brothers than buddies. They were technically distant cousins, but Ben hadn’t learned that until Jeremy’s funeral when he was seventeen. Fucking leukemia.

“How’d you know that?”

Gavin looked surprised by the question, but he answered anyway. “You never fixed it. It’s never been touched up, or…. I just figured that was probably why.”

Well, hell. The kid paid even closer attention than Ben had realized. With a shrug, Ben said, “I’ve thought about fixing it, could probably do it myself in the mirror, but….”

“Sometimes the imperfections are what make it perfect.”

Damn. Ben nodded in answer. He didn’t know what to say to that. Gavin was right, of course, but looking up into Gavin’s face, the way his blond hair fell over his eyes, his full lips flushed pink against alabaster skin…. On the surface, Gavin was the embodiment of perfection, but Ben knew him better than that. Gavin’s scars just ran too deep to see, even up close.

Before Ben could say anything else, Gavin slid his hand higher, resting it over Ben’s heart. “Why don’t you have anything here?”

The answer to that one was more embarrassing than Ben realized, at least when he had to admit it to Gavin. “Saving that for something special. I’ll know it when I find it.”

Gavin didn’t ask for anything further, thank God, but he did inch his way lower. He skipped over the few places he’d looked at earlier, when Ben had stripped off his clothes. Gavin traced the line work down his thigh, over his kneecap, down his shin. Those ones were nothing special, almost like doodles that Ben had tried to work into a coherent design of leaves and flowers, vines. Gavin seemed to know without asking that they were only decorative with no real meaning behind them.

He paused to tickle Ben’s feet, made him flinch and jump and laugh, before he finally slid off him. Ben thought he might be allowed to sleep now, but, no. “Turn over.” Gavin said, his voice quiet, with a hint of childish demand in it.

Ben did what he was asked, rolling his eyes and grinning as he tucked a pillow under his chin before he spread his arms out for Gavin.

He could picture each line as Gavin found them with his fingers, tickling here and there, and Ben waited for the laugh when Gavin moved higher.

Something close to a giggle slipped out when Gavin asked, “Why do you have a giant rainbow-colored rose on your ass?”

Unable to stop the groan with his answer, Ben buried his face in the pillow and said, “Because I was drunk and my friends are dicks.”

Gavin laughed again, but he sounded like he was at least trying to stop himself. “You really need a pair of assless leather pants for that one.”

“Never would I ever.”

Gavin leaned over him and pressed a kiss just behind Ben’s ear. “Not even for me?”

For you? Probably. “No, not even for you.”

He didn’t say anything else, but Gavin did laugh again as he pulled back. He traced one finger up Ben’s spine and then trailed it over his lower back.

“That one’s—”

“Shh, lemme see if I can guess.”

Ben settled again and let Gavin work his way over each bit of ink. His back was one solid design, a landscape of his life, or the parts that really mattered at least.

When Gavin swept the palm of his hand over the ocean tide, Ben closed his eyes and pictured it. It felt good, having Gavin touch him like this, as if he were memorizing every detail. But there was something vulnerable about it too. Most people—guys at the gym, even lovers—who’d seen him naked just looked, sometimes curious, sometimes admiringly, but it never felt like there was anything beyond that. When Gavin sat quietly and studied his body, touching the pictures and the muscles beneath, it felt like Gavin was reading him, absorbing every painful moment, every joy, every memory. It was unsettling, even if he didn’t want it to end.

“That’s your dad,” Gavin said quietly, his fingertip running over each wave on the choppy, unpredictable sea. His father had been a fisherman, so that one was maybe an easy guess. But when Gavin ran his hand higher, outlined the full moon above the sandy shore and said, “That’s your mom.” Ben felt his stomach flinch. The kid knew him too well. “Always pulling him back.”

Gavin spent a few moments on the spindly tree that wrapped around his ribs and reached high on his shoulder, scraping the invisible sky under the moon, but he didn’t comment. Instead he searched over to the other side, and traced the two lonely gulls flying high above. “That’s you and your sister.”

Ben had to ask, “How’d you know?”

Leaning close again, kissing his left shoulder where the two birds flew together, Gavin said, “You always say your parents gave you roots and wings.” 

Yeah, Gavin definitely paid attention.

When he sat back again, he moved his hand over to the tree, as if he’d been considering it the whole time. When Gavin circled a small spot, Ben was sure he was tracing the outline of another small bird, frail and huddled on the longest branch. “Your baby brother?”

Ben only nodded against the pillow. Talking about Hunter was never an easy topic for him, but Gavin knew that already. Fucking car crashes. Fucking drunk drivers. Hunter had been three, Ben five. His mother was pregnant with Anna, close to term and ready to burst. Their father had taken the month off to be home when the baby was born. He’d dropped Ben off at school that morning, taken Hunter with him so their mother could get some rest. If Ben hadn’t dragged his feet that morning, or if he’d managed to talk his parents into letting him stay home from school, if they hadn’t gotten caught at the red light, or if they’d managed to get through the railroad tracks before the signal started and the train crossed, if they’d been on time that morning, maybe Hunter would still be alive.

As it turned out, that morning—like just about everything else in life—was about chance and timing. Ben was late for school, rushing to hop out of the car when his father dropped him off. Hunter was sitting in the front seat with a lap belt fastened around him, loose, pointless, but not uncommon for the time. Nowadays, a father driving around with a little kid like that would be a criminal, but then? He was just a dad out with his son.

Instead of turning right toward home, they’d taken a left turn, probably headed for the park. A car ran the light and T-boned them on Hunter’s side. Ben hadn’t been there, had only heard about it in whispers and sobs, but that didn’t stop his little boy brain from picturing it, dreaming about it for years.

Anna was born two days later. She came into the world bloodied and crying, shaking her little fists—or so their mother said. She came into a world of grief and mourning, to a woman crying for too many reasons to count. They bundled her up in a white satin blanket and she rested quietly in their father’s arms at Hunter’s funeral. A bright spot of hope in a sea of black.

“So the tree,” Gavin started quietly. He pulled Ben out of his thoughts so quickly, it was like being jerked out of a dream. “That’s, what? Heaven?”

More or less. Ben thought. “That’s family.” he said instead. “There’s a branch for everyone that’s gone now. My grandparents, Dad, my favorite aunts and uncles….” There was one for Jeremy too, but Ben figured Gavin knew that without saying.

Anyone looking at Ben would never know he carried the names on his skin, sealed in blood and ink. Everyone who ever mattered to him had a small sacred space, in his heart and on his body.

Gavin sat quietly for another long moment. He moved his hands from Ben’s back and shoulders up into his hair. Gavin stroked him like he might with a restless animal, petting Ben, maybe trying to comfort him. “I think that’s beautiful,” he whispered finally before sliding off to Ben’s side. The words sounded like condolences and wishes and loneliness all wrapped up together. Ben realized then that Gavin had very few names he’d carry with him. His family wasn’t really family. They were distant at best, hateful more often than not. Gavin had to make his own family, and lying there next to him, it dawned on Ben that Gavin had chosen him for that roster with very few others.

The idea choked him up, but rather than say anything, he turned onto his side again and pulled Gavin as close as he could, wrapped himself around Gavin and tugged the blankets higher. He kissed Gavin’s temple, held him tight and hoped Gavin could settle down enough to get some sleep.

“You can turn the light off now, if you want.”

Right. Ben wanted to stay exactly where he was, but he thought Gavin wouldn’t have mentioned it if he hadn’t wanted it dark and quiet, so he shifted a little, turned off the lamp, and made himself comfortable again.

Gavin wiggled against him, reminding Ben of a cat trying to find the right spot on its favorite chair. When he was done, Gavin had somehow burrowed nearly under Ben’s side, Ben’s arm and leg wrapped around, Gavin tucked comfortably against him.  Ben lived alone, but he thought if anyone were to walk in, they wouldn’t even see Gavin there, hidden away from the world, Ben his shelter. He liked that idea way too much.

After a long, silent few moments, when Ben thought Gavin had actually fallen asleep, Gavin asked, “Hey, Ben?” Ben didn’t respond beyond tightening his arms around Given and kissing the top of his head. Gavin must have taken it for an invitation to go on. “Earlier, when… uh, when you said…. I mean, was that like, thanks for the orgasm, or…?”

Ben didn’t have to ask what he was talking about. “It was or. But, thanks for the orgasm.”

He could feel Gavin’s little rush of breath against his skin and—Ben was almost sure—Gavin’s lips turning up in a smile.

“I love you too.”

Maybe Gavin fell asleep after that. It took Ben a lot longer, though. He lay awake for another hour or so thinking how complicated his life just got. He felt like a fool for being happy about it, but his father had told him once that love thrived in complication, in the messiest parts of the soul. The best parts.

****

Gavin had the day off, but Ben didn’t. They’d both slept late, Gavin only stirring when Ben got up to take a shower. He thought about joining Ben, but changed his mind and decided to make some breakfast for them both. Lunch? The clock said it was well after noon. Brunch, he decided as he made his way to the kitchen, feeling aches and twinges with every step.

Poking around the cupboards and refrigerator was an eye opening experience for Gavin. Canned soup, frozen dinners, every kind of condiment known to man, and half a dozen eggs were the only things Ben had on hand. The recycle bin was full of takeout boxes, so it was obvious Ben did eat, but Jesus. The man seriously needed to step up his game in the cooking department.

Upon further inspection, he found some cheese in the back of the refrigerator and two apples that looked lonely and forgotten in the vegetable crisper. Gavin rolled his eyes and got to work, scraping the mold off the cheese and whipping the eggs.

By the time Ben shuffled into the kitchen, Gavin had plated the omelets and was about to pull the baked apples from the oven. Ben didn’t say anything, but Gavin could feel him standing there, watching.

“What kind of man has six different kinds of gourmet coffee, but lives off canned soup?”

Ben laughed and stepped up behind him as Gavin set the baking dish on the stovetop and closed the oven door.

“The kind who eats out every night.”

When Ben slipped his arms around Gavin’s waist, Gavin turned to face him. “You could probably go to Europe on what you spend eating out every day for a year.” He smiled as he lifted up on his toes and brushed a light kiss over Ben’s lips. “I’m just sayin’.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Ben kissed him again before he pulled back. “Smells good in here.” He stepped to the counter and picked up a bit of cheese from a paper towel. Gavin didn’t think anything of it at first, still focused on the task at hand.

When he caught Ben munching on the cheese, Gavin suddenly remembered why that was a bad idea. “That’s the cheese mold.” He couldn’t help laughing as Ben made a face and spit it out into the sink.

“The garbage disposal works, ya know.” Ben dumped the rest of the shaved cheese into the sink and turned the water on before he flipped the switch. When he was finished, Gavin was still laughing. “I’m not as hungry as I was a minute ago.”

“It’s not my fault half the stuff in here is old enough to kill you.” Gavin set the food on the small table by the sliding glass door that led out to Ben’s deck.

Ben let the comment go with a laugh as he got himself a cup of coffee. He added two spoons of sugar to it, but no cream. Gavin watched and made a mental note on how Ben took his coffee, wondering if he didn’t bother with cream because he didn’t like it or because there wasn’t so much as a drop in the fridge.

“Where’d you learn to cook?” Ben asked. The two of them sat down at the table across from each other. It felt very domestic and very right to Gavin, even though the thought embarrassed him.

****

Ben knew he should focus on eating his breakfast and getting out the door for work. All he wanted to do was look at Gavin, though. He’d been disappointed when he’d gotten out of the shower and found his bed empty, but it was probably for the best. He didn’t think he could’ve resisted climbing back in if Gavin had been there, and he was going to be late already.

“We all took turns cooking and cleaning at home. I picked up a few things, watched cooking shows and stuff.” Gavin shrugged and looked almost sad, but not quite.

Ben knew the stories of Gavin’s home life. Gavin’s mother had always treated him distantly. She treated all seven of her kids distantly. Being a mother was one of her burdens, a cross to bear, a duty to God. His father wasn’t much different. He reared Gavin and his brothers and sisters with a Bible in one hand and belt in the other.

Not that religion was what made shitty parents. Ben’s own mother was pretty devout too. She had taught them their prayers when they were little, dressed them up nice and took them to church. When Ben’s brother died, she had prayed then too. She lit a candle for him every Sunday, even decades later. But she believed in the power of love. His father summed it up with a simple “don’t be an asshole” but his mother believed that every problem in life, every confrontation, every worry, could be healed with love because God was love.

He wished Gavin had been so lucky.

“Well, if you advertised the mad kitchen skills, I bet you could find a permanent roommate and stop couch surfing.”

Gavin beamed at him for the compliment, but then he glanced down at his plate. “It’s better to just hop around. Don’t wear out any welcomes that way.”

Ben took a bite of his breakfast and considered that for a moment. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he understood. “Gav, you’ll never wear out any welcomes. Your friends want you around because they love you.” He could see Gavin’s cheeks turning pink, even though he had his face tilted down, his blond hair falling over his forehead and hiding his eyes.

“Better safe than sorry,” Gavin said quietly, not quite a whisper, but close enough.

Ben couldn’t think of a response to that. He disagreed, but he’d learned from previous experiences it was better not to argue with Gavin when he could avoid it. The kid had his own way of doing things, and damn it all, he was one stubborn little shit.

They ate quietly, only chatting here and there. Gavin seemed thoughtful and Ben didn’t want to intrude.

As he stood at the door, Ben pulled on his jacket and said, “C’mere.”

Gavin stepped closer, a teasing look in his eye. “Here?”

With a laugh, Ben reached out and jerked him forward. “No, here.” He kissed Gavin deep and hard as Gavin wrapped his arms around Ben’s shoulders. “You be here when I get home tonight, okay?”

Gavin didn’t say anything, but smiled and nodded his head before shoving Ben toward the door.

Ben laughed as he left, still grinning as he hopped on his bike.

****

As soon as Gavin was alone, he went over to the sofa and snatched up his present from the coffee table. He’d been good and hadn’t opened it until Ben was gone. Now, though, he tore off the paper like a little kid, only saving the starry ribbons.

Inside the little box, Gavin found a note and a silver unicorn charm that made him laugh aloud. When he pulled it out, he realized it was a key ring with one key on it. He unfolded the note, written in Ben’s shitty handwriting.

Gav,
I know my place is too small to really invite you to room with me, but hell. I can’t stand thinking of you out there on your own and maybe not knowing where you’re gonna sleep from one night to the next. So, anyway, until you get your own place, just…think of my apartment as your home too, okay? No strings attached. You and the couch are old friends and, well, I just want you to know you’ve got an open invitation from now on.

Happy Birthday. Maybe I’ll buy you a real present on payday.

Love,
Ben

Gavin stared at the key for a long moment. Ben had given it to him last night, before they slept together. For some reason that made it feel more special.

Though, Gavin hoped he wouldn’t be staying on the couch anymore.

He grinned so broadly it made his cheeks ache. The invitation wasn’t exactly will you marry me or even will you move in with me, but it was close enough for now. There was only one place in the world Gavin really wanted to be. Ben probably didn’t even realize it yet, but he’d given Gavin every secret wish he’d ever made.

He’d even given him the stars.

That wasn’t the best part, but it was close.





13 comments:

  1. Thank you I really enjoyed that :) Will it ever be available in PDF format?

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    1. Hi, Sula!

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'll see if I can figure out how to get it posted somewhere in PDF over the next few weeks. :)

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  2. So nice, thank you for this short story :D

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    1. You're very welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it. =D

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  3. What a great story! I was surprised to find I enjoyed it even more than The Last Thing He Needs. I used Word to convert it to a PDF file (just for my own convenience, so I could read it on my tablet), & it's 26 pages long, so a nice size for a short story. Thank you so much for this lovely story. Ben and Gavin will stay with me for a long time.

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    1. Aw, man, thank you! I'm so glad their story spoke to you. I've got more in the works for them, I just need to write faster. :D

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  4. OMG, that was so lovely! Thank you so much for telling us their stories, I loved The Last Thing He Needs and I wanted to know more about Ben and his young boyfriend.

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    1. Thank you, Toray! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I've got more going for Ben and Gavin, but, lol, I'll be lucky if I get it finished this year.

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    2. Thanks so much for this! Glad to hear that there will be more for Ben and Gavin, because I've been dying to know about them since I read The last thing he needs.

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