A/N: BET YOU THOUGHT I'D DIED RITE. Well, for this site I kind of did. I've been working on long, long, novel-length non-slash things and was really trying to avoid my old work because I hate most of it anyway. But this has been half-written for about two years so I decided to finish it the hell up for the day it's actually supposed to be occurring on. So enjoy, if you remember who the hell I am and what this story was. Makes more sense if you read either "Evesdropping" or "Comeuppance."
Author: Alyn Drasil
Disclaimer: MINE. ROAR.
Warnings: as always some language, and then some HEAVY PETTING. Oh god, and the fluff will SMOTHER you.
It was New Year's Eve morning.
Gavin sat at the small table in his kitchen, drinking pulpy orange juice and watching the rain patter soft silver against the glass. The moody weather hadn't let up since Christmas, and in some small egotistical way, Gavin had found it perfectly fitting for his mood of the last five days.
The last five days, which had been full of nothing but the sharp flare of memories, the blushing recollection of broken moments, of an awkward warm kiss in the night air, of a young man's offer and the white paper note that Gavin had carried with him everywhere since that night. The same note was sitting on the table in front of him, starting to fray and thin at the creases from Gavin's constant folding and unfolding of it. It was crumpled slightly, the word "Christmas" had smeared slightly from where water had dripped into his coat pocket, but it was still perfectly legible.
Especially the one part that Gavin couldn't even skim over without blushing. The number at the bottom. An offer. An invitation. An assurance that everything he had done that Christmas night wasn't going to go unrewarded—if only he could have the courage to collect it.
Cole Moer. The name had been burning and echoing in his mind, just as the note paper was a screaming reminder that this whole thing wasn't over yet. It was only over if Gavin let it go. Christmas Eve had been surreal, but now this was reality.
He couldn't count how many times he had picked up the phone receiver in the last five days, only to put it down again, shaking and flushed. Only a handful of times had he managed to start dialing the number before fumbling the phone back to its cradle, and those times he had been nearly positive he was about to faint, his vision swimming and his head pricking with heat. He had never had nerves as bad as this.
Now it was five days later. Gavin was sure that somewhere there was probably some rule about being given phone numbers and calling and the number of appropriate days to wait, but he'd never been bothered to care about those things, and somehow he doubted Cole did either. But, eventually….it would be too late.
Gavin pushed back his chair and stood, gulping down the last half-inch of orange juice and thumping the glass back to the table. Now; he was going to do it now. Or he was going to fold up the note and eat it, for all the good it was doing him.
He found he could almost dial the number without looking at the note—so many botched attempts to call it had resulted in near memorization. Once he had punched the last number, he sat down on the floor so it wouldn't be as easy to slam the club back to the cradle if he lost his nerve again. The phone cord dragged through his hair as he clutched the club to his ear, each ring accompanied by a hard, hollow beat of his heart.
There was a click, and a fumbling noise. Gavin suddenly couldn't draw in breath.
"What," said a toneless voice. Gavin nearly dropped the phone, and didn't manage to make any noise other than a strangled squeak.
"What the fuck," said the voice on the other end. "Is someone there?"
"Er," Gavin said. This had been a bad, bad idea. He was about to throw the phone back to its cradle and go cower in embarrassment back in the kitchen, when the voice spoke again.
"Wait—" it said loudly. "Wait, wait—is this Gavin?"
Gavin froze, something rolling over slowly in his stomach. "I—it…yeah, I--"
"Oh, Jesus," Cole's voice said, exhaling loudly. "You called. You have no idea…."
He couldn't have wanted me to call this badly, Gavin thought, somewhat taken aback. "Um…"
"I'm sorry," Cole said, and Gavin noticed his voice was shaking slightly. "I'm having…a day that isn't pleasant. You don't know how much this means to me."
"What's wrong?" Gavin heard himself asking, even as he thought, I barely know him. What the hell—I don't even know him at all. How can I mean anything to him?
"Family. It's always family," Cole replied. "But I don't want to dump on you. It's just nice to someone's voice who isn't related to me."
"I—you're welcome?" Gavin offered. This is the strangest pseudo-sort of-relationship I've maybe ever been about to start, he thought. "I, uh, would have called earlier than this but I was just—" terrified, anxious, a coward—"preoccupied."
"It's all right," Cole said, and his voice did sound a little cheerier. "Really, just talking is helping. I owe you one."
"You're not very used to talking, are you?" Cole asked, and Gavin shook his head before he remembered the other couldn't see the movement.
"I'm not," he admitted.
"That's all right," Cole said. "I talk too much. We need to get together."
"I—what?" Gavin wasn't sure if he'd noticed Cole's propensity for switching subjects before, but then again he'd really only met the other man for about five minutes.
"I owe you one now. So how about I owe you lunch? Or dinner? Or something—anything? I think it would be a good idea."
"Me, too," Gavin said, trying not to notice how hard he was suddenly clutching the phone, or how Cole's last words made a sort of giddy warmth flood into his chest. "When?"
"Now. Today. Soon." Cole paused, then chuckled. "That was pretty vague. How about I ask you if you're free today?"
"I…it's New Year's eve," Gavin said.
"Well, no, I—just that it's kind of weird. Right?"
"Don't people go on dates all the time on New Years? Kiss your date at midnight and all that?" Cole asked. Then he laughed. "I was early last time."
Gavin's entire face flared up with heat, and he nearly dropped the phone. "Right," he said, and Cole laughed again.
"So, are you really doing anything?" he asked.
Gavin considered briefly. Normally his parents liked to have him and Moira over, and they watched the ball drop on TV and popped champagne and talked about the brand new year ahead of them. But his parents were out of town this week, gone to visit a friend of his mother's in Chicago. Moira had told Gavin her house was always open to him, and he would be welcome on New Years, but he honestly hadn't been planning to intrude on them yet again.
"No," he finally said. "I'm free."
Because it was only ten in the morning and would be nearly eleven before they could meet, they'd mutually decided on coffee. It wouldn't be fancy and it wouldn't be too much like a date—it would be two people meeting to talk.
After a rather giddy hang-up in which neither Cole nor Gavin had been willing to be the first to put the phone down, Gavin called Moira. He'd already been planning to do it, to tell her he wasn't going to make it to her New Year's party.
"Oh, that's really too bad," Moira said. In the background, Gavin could hear clinking dishes and the running of water, the bright giggling of a child's voice, and the deeper rumbling tones of Moira's husband.
"Yeah, I'm sorry…"
"And there's this nice young man coming too, I was so hoping I could introduce you two…"
"He's my coworker's cousin and he's so sweet I thought you'd like him, even just as a friend—"
"Actually, I, er…kind of…haveadate," Gavin mumbled. There was an excited squeal from Moira's end.
"Really? Gavin, that's so great! You're finally getting past—well, never mind, what's his name? Is he cute?"
Gavin laughed a little. "Yeah, I—he's cute." I think. He couldn't specifically remember. That whole night was so confused and blurred. "His name's, uh, Cole Moer."
"The…Moer boy? You mean, my neighbor's son?" When Gavin made a noise of agreement, Moira's tone became less enthused. "I've heard about him, from his mother."
Gavin frowned. "Well, I—"
"I don't want to spoil your date or anything, but Gavin, really, he's probably not the best to reenter the dating world with, I mean—"
"What do you mean, 'not want to spoil my date'? Just by telling me this you're trying to do something! God, Moira."
"I'm sorry! I just…I don't want to see you hurt again. After Barrett you were so—"
"I know how I was after Barrett. And Cole is not him." Gavin drew in a long breath. "I just want to go on a date. I'm not going to marry him or anything. I just want…someone. Even for just once. Okay?"
"Okay." Moira's voice was a little soft. "I'm sorry, I just…really want you to be okay."
"I am okay. I am fine. And I'd be more fine if people thought I could handle myself."
"I do think you can handle yourself! We all do, Gavin. We just don't like to see you hurt."
"It's just lunch. I don't think I'm in any danger of a broken heart," Gavin said.
"Okay. Okay, then, just…have a good time. Just be careful."
Gavin closed his eyes and sighed. "Yeah, all right."
"Dave and I will have you to dinner soon, sometime before your semester starts, okay?" Moira's voice raised to a more cheerful level.
"Yeah, sounds great."
"You know I love you, little bro. Despite the stupid things I say all the time."
Gavin smiled. "I love you too. It's nice you worry about me at all."
He felt marginally better once he and Moira had hung up, but the fact that Cole's mother had apparently been warning her neighbors about her son's behavior made something curl and freeze in Gavin's stomach. The loud argument Cole had been having with the blonde girl that night before he had stomped off and lost his scarf suddenly made more sense, especially coupled with Cole's earlier agitation about his family in their phone conversation.
Which reminded him. He had just under an hour until this not-date commenced. Nervousness erupting like a swarm of large insects in his stomach, Gavin dashed for the shower.
Twenty minutes later, he was staring at his closet, wondering what one wore for a not-date at eleven in the morning. Then he shook his head.
Don't freak out about what you're going to wear, Gavin, he told himself firmly. You are not a girl.
He went with the first nice things he found in his closet—a dark blue oxford and tan slacks, which instantly got lost beneath the many layers of coats and scarves he needed to brave the rumbling, ominous weather outside. He did up the buttons wrong on the oxford the first time around, and only noticed when he gave the mirror a passing glance.
The bus was early, when Gavin got out of the building, finally, to catch it. The gutter was still filled with water from the rain, which had stopped for the moment, and he had to leap from the curb to the bus step to avoid it. The bus swayed into motion and Gavin staggered himself into a seat near the front, gripping one of the poles and staring out the window. His insides were on a low, constant roll—squeezing and tightening each time he started to think about where he'd be when he got off the bus, or when he tried to recreate what Cole looked like in his head. He found he couldn't do it and—even more worryingly—sometimes he ended up picturing Barrett.
When the landmarks outside the bus window were the right ones for the downtown stop, Gavin rushed out onto the street, glad to be walking and moving and doing anything but sitting and thinking. The stop was a few blocks away from where he and Cole had chosen to meet, and Gavin started walking, pulling his scarf tighter around his neck when he felt the first brushes of rain against his skin.
They'd picked a place they both knew the location of—a coffeehouse near the middle of downtown, hitched onto the side of a small independent bookstore. It was only a few blocks from Gavin's university, and sometimes he went there to study, or just to sit, so he knew it well. The place was small and cozy, lit by warm yellow lamps and furnished with unusual knickknacks that the owner put around to make the place different from corporate coffee chains. Gavin's favorite was the wide-eyed and bow-tied kit-cat clock on the wall behind the register.
There were a few people inside the shop—none of them sandy-haired—when Gavin pushed in, ringing a little chime mounted on the door. He was early by about ten minutes. To distract himself, he went up to the counter and ordered something, forgetting what it was almost the second the words were out of his mouth. He almost spilled his money all over the counter by opening his wallet too jerkily, but finally managed to pay and move away, flushing under the amused eyes of the female cashier. He'd been here often enough to know her name, but it had flown out of his head.
Glancing around for an empty table, Gavin took one nearer the large plate-glass window rather than his usual one in the back corner near the kitchen entrance. He could watch the sidewalk this way, and have a few seconds to prepare himself when he saw Cole coming. If he could even recognize him. He didn't start to try to picture the other man again, in case Barrett popped into his head. It was the last thing he wanted to think about. Instead, he watched the sidewalk, and the tiny darker spots forming sporadically on the sidewalk. The rain was giving its best shot at making itself happen.
The waitress setting down a mug and little pot of tea in front of him startled Gavin so much he jumped the chair backwards with a shriek of wood. The waitress started herself, the mug and dish clattering on the table.
"Oh, sorry! I didn't mean to startle you," she said, calming the rocking mug with the touch of two fingers.
"It's fine," Gavin said, his heart beating in his neck. "Not your fault."
The waitress smiled at him. "Do you need anything else?"
"No, I'm—good. Thank you." He returned the smile. The waitress whisked off.
Gavin lifted the lid of the little pot and peered in—the loose tea sat in a little sieve across the top, seeping into the steaming water. It smelled like cinnamon. He replaced the top and cupped his palm against the pot, letting the heat seep through his skin.
He glanced at the kit-cat clock, its white eyes wagging eagerly back and forth. One minute to eleven. Gavin inhaled, slowly, resting his palms flat on the table. He pulled his arms out of his coat and let it fall over the back of the chair, and draped his scarf after it. Then he poured himself half a mug of tea out of the little pot.
Five minutes and two more half-cups of the tea later, someone passed outside the window from the right, their back to Gavin as they headed towards the coffee shop's door. The person had light sandy hair. Gavin narrowly avoided inhaling through a mouthful of tea, and grabbed a paper napkin to quickly wipe his mouth. The man stopped in front of the door, glanced up at the sign to the place, then pushed through the door.
The little chime jingled merrily. Gavin held his breath. It was Cole. Or he thought it was Cole—he matched some of the mental pictures Gavin had been imagining all day.
He was wearing a heavy black coat, his sandy hair slightly wet and falling into his eyes. He looked rakish and tousled and handsome, and Gavin could have hit himself for not remembering that the other man was really fairly good-looking. During their first meeting, somewhere in the middle of all the stalking and the kissing, he'd missed the fact that Cole was quite handsome.
Cole spotted him, and a wide smile spread across his face as he wound his way through the other tables, finally reaching Gavin's. He was wearing the black scarf with the red and green stripes at the end, and Gavin flushed to see it, remembering how he'd worn it all Christmas Eve.
"Hi," Cole said. Gavin felt his heart squeeze giddily. He quashed the feeling, shocked that he could feel so middle-school about this entire thing. It was like the first time he'd ever had a crush on someone all over again. He pulled at the corners of the napkin, tearing off little flecks of paper.
"Hi," he said back. Cole shrugged off the coat and scarf and dumped them over the back of the chair before sitting down, raking his fingers through his damp hair. Gavin swallowed and forced himself not to look away.
"So." Cole leaned forward over the table. "This is probably going to be really, really awkward, huh?"
Gavin laughed, surprised. "Yeah, I'd say," he said. "I, uhm, I mean, you already know I'm not that good at talking. And I've never really met anyone…in this way before."
"Yeah, like I have," Cole laughed, leaning back in the chair. "I have to tell you that I was in a really weird place when you met me. It's not like I kiss strangers a lot, you know."
Gavin felt a dark blush creep over his face, and he pulled more at the napkin with his fingers. "And I don't usually follow people home to return lost items," he said. "I guess we were both in weird moods."
"Oh. Well. I meant it slightly differently than that." Cole looked abruptly serious, and blinked a few times. "I mean I'd spent most of the night being harangued for being…you know, not straight. And then you showed up and it just felt like it was way to weird to be all coincidences and I just…I didn't even actually mean to kiss you. It just happened and I—well, you didn't mind it, right? I mean, you called me. You're here."
"Yeah," Gavin said. "I did, I—yeah."
"And I'm going to assume, by my amazing deductive powers, that you're then gay, or at least bi. Yeah?"
"The first one," Gavin muttered towards his collarbone. "And I know—this is a weird question, but—is it obvious that I am? I mean, you, er, kissed me before, but I didn't think I was—"
Cole was laughing, and Gavin shut himself up, startled.
"No, it isn't obvious," Cole said, grinning at him. "I was actually pretty sure you were straight and I'd scared the hell out of you and I'd never hear from you again. So, I got lucky."
"Are you being this shy because you actually are, or because you don't know me and I'm kind of hijacking the conversation?"
Gavin laughed. "The second one, this time."
Cole grinned and tipped back in his chair, balancing on the back legs. "Great," he said. "Because we've only been talking for like—what, five minutes?—and I already want to ask you out on a real date."
"You, seriously," Cole said, grinning again. "I—wait, you don't already have a boyfriend or something, do you?"
"Would I be here if I did?"
"I would? I mean…what?"
Cole laughed, which sounded more like a giggle. "Sorry. I do that to my sister all the time. She hates it."
His sister…Cole thought of the blonde, yelling girl he'd seen on Christmas eve.
"I have a sister too," he said, with nothing else coming to mind. "She's a lot older."
"By how much?"
"Like ten years. She's married and got a kid and everything."
"My sister's engaged," Cole said thoughtfully, and his expression went briefly dark before the light smile returned. "I bet she'll have a million kids." He frowned again.
"What's wrong with kids?"
"Wow, Gavin, I like you and all, but it's a little too early to be talking kids, isn't it?" Cole said with a smirk. Gavin choked and flushed, and Cole laughed at him.
"Seriously," he continued. "I just…am not fond of kids. And—wait, okay, hold on. That was the best diversion I've ever seen. I was asking you out and you made me forget. That was amazing."
"I didn't mean to. And I—" this is a terrible, terrible idea. Barrett finally got out of my life and…. "I'd like to."
Cole's face nearly split in half, he grinned so widely. "Really?
"Fantastic," Cole said. He was still beaming. "How about now?"
"Now? Aren't we—"
"This isn't a date place," Cole said, gesturing widely to the coffee shop. "This is a we-sell-coffee-and-sad-little-sandwiches-in-cardboard-boxes place. Let's go to somewhere real for lunch. It can still be casual, and whatever, if you want."
"I—yeah, okay," Gavin said. He glanced down into his tea pot and was glad that he'd nearly already finished anyway.
Cole pushed back his chair and stood up. Still grinning. "C'mon," he said. "Let's go."
"All right." Gavin stood as well, and the next minute was spent with both of them lumbering back into their heavy weather clothes.
"Ready?" Cole asked when it was obvious both of them were. Gavin nodded, and followed Cole's lead out of the coffee shop, into the cold mugginess of the day. Cole paused on the slick sidewalk, and turned to him.
"How'd you get here?"
"Uh, bus," Gavin said. "You?"
"Got a car," Cole said. "So c'mon, you can come with me."
Gavin fell into step beside the other man as Cole headed down the street towards one of the city's public parking structures. The rain had turned light and misty, beading on their hair and coats. Gavin wanted to say something, anything, but nothing came to his mind. Cole did it instead.
"Don't drive?" he asked.
"I do, I mean—I can, but I don't own a car. Too poor."
"I got that," Cole said. "My car's not even really my car. It's my sister's. I commandeered it for the day."
Gavin smiled into the fold of his scarf. "She doesn't mind?"
"I, ah, am not sure she knows, yet." Cole grinned upwards, inviting the mist to settle across his face. "But she probably will mind. Loudly, and repeatedly."
"My sister offered to help pay for a car," Gavin said idly. "I didn't let her, though."
They'd reached the overhanging concrete boxes of the public parking structure, and now their footsteps echoed dully back to them as they scuffled inside, Cole leading them towards the stairwell.
"Wow," Cole said, as they climbed, "your sister actually sounds nice."
"I feel vaguely jealous. Here's me."
They had reached the third floor of the structure. Cole's sister's car was a silver Celica, parked two spots away from the stairs. Beads of water stood up on the paint and windows. Cole slid around to the driver's side while Gavin loitered on the other, waiting until he heard the thunk of the lock.
The interior of the car was low and somewhat cramped. Cole's shoulder bumped and jostled him several times as they both sunk into the seats, which had blue and black Hawaiian flower patterned covers on them. Gavin tried pulling as close to the window as he could, to give Cole more room. The car was a stick-shift, he'd noted, so Cole would have to keep his hand in the center. Gavin edged his hands to his knees and mentally glued them there.
Cole had a few moments trouble starting the car and doing things with the shift. Gavin tried not to watch him, but when the other man was swearing constantly under his breath, it was hard to ignore him. Finally, Cole managed to back the car out of the slot.
Gavin blinked at him. "Can you even drive stick?"
"No, not really." Cole grinned, and roared them down the parking lot ramp.
Although Cole had taken the parking structure corners at ridiculous speeds, he drove fairly sanely once he reached the city streets. He could, contrary to his earlier statement, drive stick, but he did stall them once at a stoplight. Even though he got the car going again before the light turned green and any drivers behind them got a chance to get angry, Cole looked a little panicked.
"Sorry," he muttered. Gavin touched his hand, lightly, where it rested on the gearshift. Cole pinked instantly.
"I can't even drive stick," Gavin said. "So I'm impressed."
"You're impressed by the fact that I killed the car?" Cole said, but he smiled. "Cheap date."
At the next stoplight, after Cole successfully didn't stall the car, he asked where Gavin wanted to go for lunch.
"I thought you had something in mind," Gavin said, and Cole smiled.
"Just checking if you had a preference, or anything. You know I'm a cheap, out-of-work bastard, so the places I know pretty much reflect that status."
"I'm not exactly at the pinnacle of wealth, either. Whatever you choose I'm sure is fine."
"Great. We're going Greek, then."
"Yeah, I know a place. Know the owner too, so sometimes I get charged less." Cole grinned. "Always worth a try."
Gavin had never had Greek food before, but quickly discovered that he liked it, a lot. Especially when there was an animated blond eagerly explaining everything on the menu to him. He ended up with souvlaki, which Cole assured him he would like.
"They're like the hamburgers of Greece," he said. "Until Greece got hamburgers, and now hamburgers are the hamburgers of Greece. But I bet you'll like souvlaki."
Gavin did. Cole had something called moussaka, which looked like messy lasagna but smelled amazing. True to his claim, Cole knew the owner, a jovial man with an accent who came out to greet them both and proceeded to tell Cole a lot about what his son was doing these days, whom apparently Cole had gone to school with.
Cole also introduced the owner, George, to Gavin—calling him his friend and nothing else. Gavin let it go, shook the man's hand and told him he enjoyed his Greek hamburger very much.
George had roared with laughter at that. "I teach Cole that joke! I get no credit!" he said, slapping Cole on the shoulder, who grinned guiltily.
They spent so much time in the restaurant that it was a little past one o'clock before they had paid—Gavin noted that they weren't charged for drinks—and were putting on coats again. George was at the counter, and Cole waved at him as they headed out the door.
"Next time, you bring a girlfriend in!" George called after him. Gavin spluttered while Cole made a vague acquiescence, his cheeks darkening. Then they were once again standing out in the cold air, the sky low and grey above them.
Gavin fidgeted, toying with the seams on the insides of his pockets. They'd only agreed on lunch. And it was over. Beside him, Cole was staring at the gutter, biting on his lower lip.
Gavin coughed, lightly. "Are…we done?"
"Do you want to be?"
Cole looked surprised and pleased, both. "Want to walk around?"
Gavin nodded. It still wasn't raining, so it seemed like a safe option. "Yeah, I do."
They spent a few hours strolling casually around the downtown area, which was still set up with Christmas decorations and lights. Once in a while, Cole's hand would nudge against Gavin's, but never long enough for Gavin to tell if it meant anything. And he didn't know how to instigate that kind of thing on his own, anyway. Barrett had not been a hand-holding person.
They peered into shops and took a long detour through the small park near the edge of the downtown area. Everything they talked about was ordinary and light, but Gavin didn't want any more than that. Cole smiled a lot, more than Gavin remembered him doing on Christmas Eve, and he looked more handsome when he did. Gavin found himself just looking at him, just wanting to watch and listen to him.
After a while they both decided they were hungry again, and they settled on a pizzeria with low prices. A few minutes after they had seated themselves at a booth, near the warmth and the light of the huge brick pizza oven visible in the open kitchen, the sky outside finally broke and poured down on the street outside with a pattering roar.
"We have great timing," Cole said, drawing the red and green striped scarf off his neck. He balled it up in his hands, then looked down at it.
"Lucky scarf," he said, and Gavin smiled.
"Well." Cole looked up at him, his pale eyes strangely serious. "It is now."
Heat glowed in Gavin's face, but before he could say anything, a waitress popped up besides their table."
"Hi!" she chirruped. "Can I get you anything to drink?"
It was long past dark when they were done with dinner, and for the third time that day standing side by side on the curb. The rain still trickled down, but not as the angry torrent it had been before.
Gavin drew in a little breath. "Well, I...should probably get back—"
"I can drive you home," Cole offered.
"I—thanks," Gavin said, startled. "But I—we live on opposite sides of town, and—"
"I don't mind," Cole said. "It's okay."
"Well, I—thank you."
"No problem," Cole said, and started off in the direction of where he'd parked the car. Gavin trotted after him.
After Gavin gave Cole directions to his apartment, the drive was mostly silent. Gavin fidgeting with the buttons on his coat and tried to come up with anything to say. He couldn't. The ease of the conversations they'd had all afternoon were gone, and Gavin thought it was because this was now ending. Which he didn't want. It might not end forever but this day—he didn't want it to stop. And he didn't know how to do that.
Cole parked in the street in front of Gavin's apartment. The streets were slick with rain, the streetlamps reflecting off them in gold shimmers. Silence stretched inside the small car, and Cole wasn't looking at him. Gavin dug his nails so hard into his palms that it hurt.
He opened his mouth to start saying some sort of departing words, but what fell out instead was, "you want to come up?"
Even Cole looked surprised. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "I do."
On the doorstep of the apartment, Gavin's frozen fingers could barely get around the keys, let alone lift them out of his pocket and get the right one into the street door. Cole watching made it ten times worse.
Nothing was said on the way up. Since it wasn't raining any longer, Gavin had risked calling the elevator, and it wasn't leaking. Cole was staring at the elevator paneling and Gavin couldn't think of anything to say. He wasn't sure if he was shaking from nerves or cold. Maybe this hadn't been a good idea.
He had equal trouble unlocking the door to his apartment, and nearly tripped across the threshold once he managed to open the door. He caught himself, but Cole steadied him anyway, his hand firm on Gavin's elbow.
"Whoa," Cole said. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I'm—good, totally fine." Gavin closed the door behind them. "D'you want…anything to drink? Coffee, or tea, or—"
"Tea" Cole said, putting his hands together, "sounds fantastic."
"You like tea?" Gavin asked, already on his way into the kitchen. Cole meandered after him, loitering in the doorway.
"Love it," Cole said. "I don't really like coffee that much."
"I like both, but usually I'm the only one I know drinking tea. What do you like?"
"Well, what've you got?"
Gavin laughed. "Name something."
"I don't know, uh…peppermint?"
"Sure," Gavin said, knocking the box out of the shelf. "Got it."
"Right up front, too." Cole grinned.
"It's my mom's favorite. I keep it in front so if she happens to visit."
"She visit you a lot?"
"Used to. Less since I've had a boyf—er. Less, recently."
"Ah," Cole said, and looked away.
Shit, Gavin thought. "Uh, you can…sit in the living room, if you want."
"Sure," Cole said. He ambled away.
Gavin exhaled a low breath and rubbed his fingers through his hair. Mentioning old boyfriends was not a good tactic.
He microwaved two mugs of water and plunked tea bags into them. He brought his little bowl of sugar packets into the living room with them, but no milk—he hadn't been to the store for a while and was out.
Cole was sitting on the couch, examining the off-kilter stack of books on the coffee table, loose sheets of paper poking out from between them at odd angles. He raised his eyes to Gavin as he set down the two mugs.
"Thanks," he said. "So you're still in school, I'm guessing."
Gavin sat down a foot on the couch or so away from him. "Oh. Yeah, my last year. I'm graduating end of this semester."
"Hey, early congratulations, then," Cole said, running his fingers over the spines of the books. "What's your major?"
"Really? That's impressive." Cole pulled his mug closer to him. He didn't touch the sugar. Gavin opened two packets into his own.
"Well, I majored in graphic design, which is just a bunch of playing around with pretty programs and a lot of goofing off. Nothing intelligent. Not like, you know…Joyce and Pinter."
Gavin laughed. "Well, you've heard of Joyce and Pinter, that's a start."
"Pinter's like where everyone comes out on stage and looks in like three different directions and pause for fucking ever when they talk, yeah? My sister, she's all intellectual and shit, she loves abstract stuff like that. She took me to one of his plays in the city once. I fell asleep." He lifted his mug and took a tiny sip before wincing and putting it back down. "Hot."
"You should try Beckett."
"Yeah, really? What's he about?"
"People sitting up to their necks in trash," Gavin said.
"Sounds wild," Cole said. He grinned. "So. You're really smart, then."
"I—what? No. Not really."
"No one majors in fucking literature and isn't smart. You're going to intimidate me with your brain, I just know it. I'll drown in high diction."
"I'm not that smart—"
"I don't believe you," Cole said. He was still grinning, but Gavin frowned. He had never felt like his major made him anything smarter than anyone else. It had been more of an easy route—he could write, and he could write essays, and without any other clear talents or goals, he'd wound up in English.
"Either way," Cole was still talking, "I'm just damn glad I'm out of all that bureaucratic university shit, even if it means no one respects me any more."
Gavin laughed a little. "So you're out of school."
"Yeah, I graduated last spring," Cole said. "And have done shit since."
"No grad school?"
"Fuck grad school. I have no idea what I'm doing in life, how's grad school going to help that? Other than pigeon-holing me into another restrictive set of classes—just like goddamn college. I'm over it. But oh—hey, I probably shouldn't be saying this stuff to you. You're still young and optimistic, right?"
"I can't be that much younger than you," Gavin said. He didn't want to think about the other things Cole had said, and how true they sounded.
Cole pointed at his chest. "Twenty two," he said.
"Only got a year on me," Gavin said.
"Okay, so you're younger and optimistic," Cole said. "I shouldn't burst your opportunistic bubble."
"It's not like I'm the most ambitious person in the world," Gavin said. "I wouldn't be in English if I was."
"True," Cole said. He grinned and tried his tea again—this time it seemed to be an acceptable temperature. "What do you want to do?"
"I…really don't know. Teach, I suppose."
"That's right—you love them kidlets." Cole chuckled. "Well, good luck. You couldn't pay me to get into a room of kids."
"They're not…so bad," Gavin said. He sipped cautiously at his own tea. "But I probably won't have any."
"Well, the whole being gay thing is kind of detrimental towards that."
"Yeah, sure, but there's the wonder of modern science we now have the ability to exploit. You could probably have a kid with a marmot if you so desired."
Gavin snorted into his tea, and Cole looked pleased with himself.
"I meant," Gavin said, smiling, "that it's not the easiest thing to do in society. Being gay, and raising a kid."
"Oh." Cole blinked rapidly. "Never mind. I never really think about it, you know—that kind of thing."
"Sure. I know."
Cole was staring at his knees. There was a odd expression on his face, neither a frown nor a smile. Gavin watched him for a few moments, puzzled, but he didn't speak. Finally, Gavin offered, "you all right?"
Cole blinked, and the expression disappeared at once. "I—yeah," he said. "Just—can I ask you something weird?"
"Sure you can," Gavin said, and Cole rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
"Right, English major," he said. "May I ask you something weird? You don't have to answer, or anything."
"Sure, I guess."
"Do you…" Cole scratched his fingers into the hair at the base of his neck, and grimaced. "This sounds rude, I know, but do you…you're okay being the way you are?"
Gavin blinked. "What, being gay?"
"Yeah. I mean—you don't wish you weren't, or anything?"
"You're right, that is a weird question."
"You don't have to answer it," Cole said quickly. "I just—I mean, you know, it is really more difficult. The kid issue—just made me think about it."
"I haven't ever thought about it, I guess," Gavin said. "I—my family's always been supportive of me, in anything, and I think they probably even knew before I ever came out to them. It never changed anything—made them think less of me. My friends, well—half of them are theater majors, so they either don't care or are gay anyway. Of course I know, in general, that everything is more difficult, to be this way. But for me personally…it hasn't changed much in my life. I just, you know, date men. But I'm about as low-key gay as you can find."
Cole laughed a little, but he looked somber. "That's nice," he said. "That's really…nice. I'm glad it's been that way for you. I really am."
"I know it's unusual."
"Yeah. I'm just glad that you're happy being you."
Gavin drew in a slow breath. "You aren't, though, are you?"
"I—" Cole looked up, from where he was twisting his fingers together in his lap. "Fuck, I'm being really depressing, aren't I? I'm sorry, I don't want—"
"No, it's okay. I saw—you know, on Christmas Eve—you having that fight with your sister. Is that—what it was about?"
Cole exhaled. "Yeah, it was. You saw that? Shit, of course, you were right next door, and I bet everyone on the block heard it. Yeah, it was about that. I'm pretty much the opposite of you, Gavin—my family thinks I'm a sinning abomination. I've gotten nothing but shit for being this way—it's made it really hard to actually like it."
Gavin reached out and touched Cole's shoulder. "I'm sorry. I—wish I could do something."
"Do you?" Cole twisted under his hand, and suddenly Gavin was looking into a pair of pale blue eyes, very close. Cole even looked startled that the movement had put them this close, but he didn't move back. When he spoke again, his voice was a whisper, "I do too."
Gavin wasn't entirely surprised when Cole leaned the rest of the way in and kissed him. He had invited the other man into his apartment, after all, and talking and tea weren't usually what that kind of invitation meant. The kiss was rougher and harder than the strange, sweet and muddled one they'd had on Christmas Eve, but Gavin wasn't entirely surprised at that, either. Not when Cole had just finished telling him he had never had a reason to like being like this. The kiss felt like desperation.
And Gavin kissed him back, sliding his hand under Cole's arms and pulling them closer together, because Cole hadn't otherwise touched him at all. It was all the further invitation Cole seemed to need, because at once he grabbed at Gavin, his shoulders and the back of his head. His fingers dug into Gavin's hair and held, and he leant so far forward that Gavin felt himself loosing his balance backwards. But before he did, Cole pulled away with a loud and silly-sounding smack.
"This…this is okay, right?" Cole asked breathlessly, and Gavin nodded.
"It's fine," he whispered, titling back up to press his mouth against Cole's again.
This time Cole lowered them purposefully down to the couch, pressing Gavin against the cushions and straddling him. It had been a long time since anyone had touched him like this and everywhere Cole touched him sent thrilling fire shooting along his skin. A pool of warmth was gathering low in his stomach, squeezing in the same way his nerves had felt earlier—but good, and right.
It wasn't like Barrett at all. They hadn't even really slept together in the last few months of their dissolving relationship—just another reason Gavin had been relieved rather than angry at the breakup. And then Gavin realized he was thinking about Barrett again at a time when it was really not needed, and he decided it would be better to not think at all.
Cole's hands were up under his shirt, his breath hot against Gavin's lips, and Gavin's fingers hooked in the front of Cole's belt. Not to undo it, but to hold on, but Cole whispered against his mouth, "are you taking that off?"
He felt Cole smile against him, and meanwhile warm fingers were undoing the buttons on Gavin's oxford. A thrill of something that he hadn't felt since long before Barrett—maybe had never felt—threaded itself up from the squeezing warmth in Gavin's stomach. It made him gasp into Cole's mouth, and a few moments later he gasped for an entirely different reason, when Cole's fingers dipped down under his waistband.
A harsh, flat buzz suddenly jarred through the apartment, sending a spike of adrenaline through Gavin's chest.
Cole sat bolt upright, his fingers slipping away. "What the fuck was that?"
"The…the door," Gavin said, drawing in a breath. "I—shit, I should get it. It could be my landlord, sometimes in weather like this there's problems—"
"Yeah, sure." Cole climbed off him, passing a hand over his still-red mouth. He was smiling a little dizzily, and Gavin imagined he probably looked the same way. "Just come back fast."
Gavin's heart gave an extra warm thump. "Y-yeah."
He stood up, starting for the door. Cole caught him by his shirttail.
"Hey, button up there, soldier," he said. Gavin flushed and pulled his oxford closed, starting to do up the buttons—all of which Cole had managed to undo. The buzzer bleated again and Gavin ran for the door, the top two buttons still open.
The buzzer was on its third ring before Gavin pulled the door open, an apology already forming on his lips. But it froze in his throat when he didn't see the short, rotund form of his landlord in the doorway. Instead he found himself staring down six foot two inches of broad-shouldered blond, with darkly sandy hair stylishly ruffled and deep blue eyes beneath lifted eyebrows.
"Barrett," Gavin yelped. He fell back a step into the apartment, which only allowed the other man easy access through the threshold.
"Vinnie, yo," Barrett said, using the nickname Gavin had only ever pretended to like when Barrett was pretending to like him in return. He moved past Gavin, further into the apartment. "Just came by for some things. I won't be long."
"Wait, I—no—" Gavin said, then grimaced when Barrett completely disregarded him. Nothing was going right. Nothing was ever going to go right.
When Gavin pulled his head up, Barrett had already gone halfway around the entryway corner, and had stopped at the border to the living room area. Past him, Gavin could see Cole still sitting on the couch, still looking tousled and slightly debauched, and staring at Barrett with one lifted eyebrow.
Barrett turned back to smirk at Gavin.
"Replacing me so soon?"
"So soon?" Gavin said. "We broke up a month ago. And we both stopped caring months before that."
"Ouch, I'm wounded," Barrett said, and breezed past him, into the kitchen. Gavin whirled after him.
"Don't take any more of my things!" he said. "Everything here is mine."
"I've still got some stuff here," Barrett said, his head in a cabinet as he poked through it.
"You don't! And you don't have the right to be here anymore!"
Barrett took his head out of the cabinet. "Christ, you're pissy," he said. "So I interrupted you and your new boytoy, big deal. I'll be out in a second."
"He's not my—" Gavin inhaled a long breath. "Barrett, just leave. This is not your apartment, these are not your things, and I'm not yours to mess around with any more. Go screw with someone else, all right?"
"Hey, chill," Barrett said. He stepped back from the cabinet, holding the electric mixer. One Gavin had gotten from his parents, and they had owned it years before he'd ever met Barrett. "I'm gone."
"Put that down."
"This?" Barrett lifted the mixer, quirking an eyebrow at it. "This is mine, man."
"No, it isn't. It's mine and I'm not buying another one just because you feel entitled to everything you've ever touched here."
"You got anything that proves it's yours?" Barrett smirked when Gavin only opened and closed his mouth, wordlessly. "Then it's mine. See ya later, Vinnie."
Barrett pushed past him, out of the kitchen and back to the entryway. Gavin whirled and scrambled after him, managing to duck past the other man and get in between him and the doorway.
"You're not leaving with that," Gavin said, setting himself in a firm stance in the doorframe. Over Barrett's shoulder, he saw Cole coming up to the entryway, frowning with his brows drawn together.
"Hey, just chill," Barrett said, and took Gavin's shoulder to move him aside. Gavin jerked his arm back, and Barrett grabbed him again, harder. Gavin knew he was nowhere close to a physical match for Barrett, but he had to try anyway. He resisted against Barrett trying to pull him away from the door, at least until the man grabbed his elbow in a hard, painful grip and yanked him forward. Gavin yelped, and stumbled forward.
"Hey!" he heard a voice yell. Something pulled Barrett away. "Get the fuck off him!"
When Gavin looked up, Cole and Barrett were staring each other down, inches apart. Cole's fist was twisted up in Barret's collar. Barrett swept his eyes up Cole once, and smirked.
"You really did replace me," he said to Gavin.
"Hey, fuck you, asshole!" Cole snapped. "Don't compare me to you! I don't fucking force my way into apartments and shove the occupants around!"
"Yeah? So what do you call this?" Barrett tapped Cole's hand, still gripping the collar of his shirt.
"Aggressive negotiations," Cole sneered, and Gavin laughed before he could help it. Cole and Barrett both looked to him—Cole with a little smile, and Barrett with a glare.
"You can…let go of him," Gavin said to Cole, and the blond at once eased his fingers out of Barrett's shirt. Barrett sneered at him and straightened his collar with a decisive jerk.
"Seems to me I should leave you two to get back at it," he drawled, hefting the mixer in one hand. The second time he did it, Cole grabbed it.
"Leave this," he said, and gave Barrett a seductive glare. "We're going to use it. You can still have it after, if you want."
Gavin wasn't sure whether to laugh or start being horrified at how someone might use a mixer in the way Cole seemed to be suggesting. Barrett stared at Cole as though he were trying to make the same choice. Finally, he just straightened his collar again, and reached for the door.
"He won't be here all the time," Barrett said, giving his chin a sharp jerk towards Cole. "And I am coming back for the rest of my stuff."
"Get the fuck out," Gavin said, quietly, shaking. And finally, Barrett did. The door snicked shut behind him and Gavin went back to the living room, not even looking at Cole.
He sank down to the couch, leaning over his knees. Then put his face into his hands and let out a long, shuddering sigh. He was trembling, and couldn't make himself stop. A weight dipped the couch next to him, and the mixer set down on the coffee table. A hand touched his shoulder. Gavin started, jerking his head upwards to see Cole sitting beside him, looking concerned.
"Are you all right?" he asked quietly, and Gavin shook his head.
"Maybe you should leave," he said, and Cole sighed.
"Shit," he said. "I though it was a bad idea to do that. Look, Gavin, that guy was your ex, right? So he caught you with someone else and now you think this whole thing is wrong because we barely know each other and someone saw it. Not to mention the guy had enough asshole in him for about twenty people."
"Something like that," Gavin muttered. Cole grabbed his shoulder and turned Gavin to face him, staring him in the eyes.
"This isn't wrong, okay? It's just fast. And it's fast because…well, shit, let me be honest, you're the first person who's ever said yes to me, in terms of a real, actual date, and…fuck. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—to do anything. Wrong, I mean. I just…fuck, I was so happy." Cole looked sharply away. "Maybe I shouldn't have said that."
Gavin laughed shakily. "It's not like I've had a lot of great relationships either. You just saw my only long term one right there. I'm realizing I'm not a very good judge of character." Cole scoffed, and Gavin amended quickly. "Not saying anything against you! I mean, it's just—I let people take advantage of me."
"I don't—I can't help it."
Cole frowned, and pulled away from him. "Did you—I mean, you caved pretty quickly into this whole thing, did you really not want—"
"No!" Gavin grabbed at Cole's arm, then flushed. "I mean…no, I really did want this. I called you, right?"
Cole laughed along an exhale. "Yeah, that's right," he said. "I'm so fucking glad you did, too. My goddamn family."
Gavin readily followed the change of topic. "What happened?"
"They wanted me for New Year's eve. They just fucking wouldn't give up until you called and then I told them I had prior engagements. I have no fucking clue why they wanted me over, they don't even like my presence. Well, I guess my sister does, and my mother, sort of, but everyone else—it's like I'm there to absorb abuse. That sounds harsh, I know, but it's how I feel most of the time."
"It almost sounds like your family doesn't even like you," Gavin said.
"Sometimes, I think so," Cole muttered. "It's more like they don't like who I can't be and what I can't do. I'm not straight, not ambitious, and not successful. They can't handle it."
"It's just…I called my sister this morning. She lives next to your parents. When she found out who I was going out with today, she…I don't know. Tried to warn me about you, or something. Because of what she'd heard about you from—"
"My mother, I bet." Cole screwed up his face. "Stupid gossiping hag. Well, now I have to hear it. What'd your sister say she'd heard?"
"Nothing specific. I'm sure she didn't want to say. She was really just looking out for me, but…I'm really sorry your family treats you that way."
Cole shook his head. "Really, I'm almost used to it now. I wish I wasn't, but, hey. That's how it is. I moved out. I haven't seen them much since. I got forced to go see them on Christmas; I wish I hadn't. But, you know…if I hadn't, I wouldn't have met you, right? It's all karmic, or something."
"You believe in karma?"
"Sure," Cole shrugged, "in a kind of transitory, convenient way. I'm not Buddhist. I'm not anything at all, actually."
"Me either, really."
"Hey," Cole said. "Great. No conflict of religion, then."
Gavin smiled, and settled back against the couch cushions. Cole mimicked him. A peaceful silence fell between them. Their hands rested near to each other on the cushion—Gavin could almost feel Cole's little finger brushing his.
"Do you really want me to leave?" Cole said after a moment. "Because, I will…if you want that."
Tight panic seized at Gavin's chest. "No," he said. "No, don't—I don't want you to."
Cole leaned closer to him, using the hand now resting on Gavin's elbow to pull them together. He bumped his forehead against Gavin's.
"Just forget about that goddamn idiot," he said. "He's really, really not worth it."
"I know," Gavin said, his face searing with heat at their closeness. "And I could forget—if he didn't keep coming back."
"Maybe he's the one with a separation problem, then."
"I don't see why—he was the one who cheated on me."
Cole drew back. "He cheated on you?"
"Yeah, a little."
"You can't cheat on someone a little. You either do or don't." Cole cast a glowering look at the door. "What a bitch."
Gavin laughed despite himself. But Cole was shaking his head, his forehead creased and his mouth drawn.
"I don't understand why anyone would cheat on you."
Gavin flushed. "And I don't understand why no one has ever said yes to you before."
Cole glanced up, a funny smile crooked on his face. "No one says yes much when you don't ask them the question to begin with."
Gavin studied Cole's face, the little lines that had creased around his mouth and eyes. He reached up and brushed his fingers through a lock of Cole's hair that had fallen into his eyes, tucking it behind his ear. Cole's cheeks turned pink.
"Let's not talk about my ex anymore," Gavin said.
"No problem." Cole reached up and mimicked the move, stroking his fingers through Gavin's hair. "It's not good date conversation, anyway."
Gavin blinked. "Are we still on a date?"
"I hope so. And if we are, I'm expecting a kiss at midnight," Cole said, batting his eyelashes. Gavin laughed.
"Sure. It's a deal."
They were close enough that Gavin could count the little darker blue flecks in Cole's eyes, but neither of them moved any closer. Gavin had the feeling that Cole wasn't going to do anything else again until Gavin made the first move. And he liked that.
"What…what do you want to do, then?" he asked. Cole shrugged a little.
"I don't know. You got movies? Everyone loves to watch a movie."
"Yeah, sure. DVDs are on that shelf over there—go look if you want."
Cole got up and went. "Holy shit, you've got a lot of movies."
"Yeah, and I had more. Barrett took about a third of them."
"Oh, the bastard, you really should have let me hit him."
Gavin smiled at his knees. "Just pick something."
Cole put something into the player and came back to the couch. After a few moments of watching the FBI warnings, Gavin let himself lean against the other man. Cole's shoulder was warm, and comfortable, and felt safe. Cole leant back into him. And that was all. But it was enough.
"Hey. Hey. Guess what time it is."
"Mm," Gavin mumbled, and exhaled. The voice above him laughed, and hands pushed at his head. He was lying down, his head on something warm and firm. When he opened his eyes, he saw jean-covered knees and beyond that, film credits.
"Your breath tickles." Fingers poked him again.
"How long was I asleep?"
"Mm, twenty minutes. You missed the end."
"I own the movie."
Cole laughed. "Hey. It's five past."
Gavin rolled over, blinking up into Cole's face. "Midnight?"
Cole patted his forehead. "Yup. Happy new year."
Gavin smiled sleepily at him. "Happy new year."
"But, you slept through it. I didn't even get my kiss."
"You can have it now, if you want."
Cole brightened. "Okay."
Gavin smiled and pulled himself up on his elbows, lifting up to meet Cole halfway as the other man bent his head down. It was more like their first kiss this time—slow and close-mouthed and undemanding. It felt natural—like falling asleep in Cole's lap had felt natural. Like everything he had ever felt concerning this other man had felt natural.
When they pulled back, Cole was pink again, and smiling.
"I know this turned into kind of a shitty date," he said, "but, you wouldn't want to try it again, would you? We can make it a goddamn New Year's resolution—to have better dates. We can even invite the mixer along."
Gavin laughed, twining his fingers in Cole's hair.
"Okay," he said. "It's a promise."
GUESS WHAT THERE'S MOST LIKELY A 4TH PART. Cause I like these two. And keep having ideas for them. Hopefully it won't take me two years to write it. I do still have a deep and abiding love for slash. I just do more reading of it than writing now.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, YO.