A/N: I actually wrote this for last year's Valentine's Day, but didn't quite finish, so I've kept it around for a whole year gathering dust. But I remembered V-day actually happens every year, so I polished it up and finished it. Stands alone mostly, but might make a little more sense if you've read at least two of the three one-shots in the 'Holiday Series', either Eavesdropping or Comeuppance, and Resolutions.
Unrelated note; Chiaroscuro was nominated in the SkoW Awards for Best Completed Slash and Best Original Universe. Go check stuff out over there; vote for things!
Author: Alyn Drasil
Disclaimer: still mine
Warnings: language, m/m slash oh gosh are you surprised, excessive bitterness and not much fluff
Cole took a deep breath, twisting his hands into the hem of his shirt. Heat and anxiety were pooling beneath his skin, making every inch of him tense and alert. He blinked once, hard, then focused forward on the eyes looking back at him.
"I know," he started, and took a breath. "I know that we've only been seeing each other for a year. Which I know isn't that long, but it's been…it's been good. Really good, I mean—I don't think I've ever been this happy. You're…really the best thing that's ever happened to me. And maybe….maybe this is too soon, but I've been thinking about this recently, and I…I thought, I mean, I would really like it if you…if you moved in with me."
He closed his eyes, and listened to the roaring silence pushing hard against his ears. Then he sucked in another breath, sighed it out, winced, and struck his palm forward against the glass. That sounded so fucking stupid. Cole opened his eyes again, and glared at his furious looking reflection in his bathroom mirror. His face was still heated, and he could see the pink flush high on his cheeks.
"Dammit," he whispered. "Fuck, fuck."
He hit his palm against the mirror again, and dropped his head forward until his forehead thunked against the glass. He didn't even want to look at his own stupid, embarrassing face anymore. He couldn't imagine Gavin looking at that face and listening to this tenth rendition of his bumbling, ill-formed proposal and even possibly saying yes. Sometimes he wasn't even sure why Gavin wanted to keep looking at his face at all.
"Fuck," Cole muttered. "This is going to be the worst fucking Valentine's day ever."
Sometimes it seemed strange that it had only been just over a year. Strange in the way that Cole couldn't believe Gavin was still around, sometimes, after how much Cole fucked up and got a lot of things wrong. It was still his first relationship, but he seemed to be determined to compensate for all the mistakes he hadn't made in all of his years of never dating. But Gavin didn't ever complain much, or get angry often, or even seem to think that anything Cole screwed up was ever that bad. If they did have fights, Cole was usually the one who ate his pride and apologized—it was usually his fault in the first place, anyway.
Now it was Valentine's day, the gooshy Hallmark force-fed romantic crap day, and Cole was absolutely convinced Gavin would love every minute and every aspect of it. The guy had a romantic soul, which most of the time Cole found endearing and charming, but sometimes—but just sometimes—clingy and stupid. Usually at the same time he was finding other people clingy and stupid. Like with Hallmark holidays, weepy movies, and feel-good news stories about people overcoming insurmountable odds.
The cold February day was grey and heavy with the promise of rain as Cole drove his sister's old silver Celica (finally, and grudgingly, handed over to him when Leila had decided to buy something better and newer) downtown. He parked in the pharmacy parking lot a block down from Gavin's apartment—his usual place when the street parking was full. He called Gavin's phone, let it ring once, then hung up. His signal for "I'm here, come on down." He'd had to work a lot this week—now that he'd finally managed to scrape out a job for himself he was almost happy when he was called in for overtime—and this was the first time he'd be seeing Gavin in about four days, although he'd called earlier to confirm their plans for tonight. And so he could hear Gavin's voice for a little while.
Gavin was already waiting under the brick entryway of his apartment building when Cole jogged up. He was wearing a light grey peacoat that contrasted with his deep brown hair and the darker blue scarf looped around his neck. He had on charcoal grey slacks underneath, with crisply pressed fold lines. One of his hands was hidden behind his back as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, intersecting Cole and tugging him under the shelter of the eaves.
"Hey," Gavin said, with his usual soft smile. Cole felt an edge of heat and panic flare up in him—what if he completely fucked this up? what if Gavin didn't feel, didn't want, the same things he did?—but smiled back. He leant in and kissed his boyfriend, meaning it to be soft and brief because they were right out on the street and anybody could see. But Gavin put a gloved hand around the back of his neck and kissed him back, thoroughly.
Cole was flushing by the time Gavin let him go, and some of the sharper edges of his anxiety was gone. He nudged his face against Gavin's temple, pushing his nose into his dark hair and inhaling. Gavin always smelled good. Soft and clean and like soap and mint. Familiar by now, and comforting.
"Hey," Cole murmured into his hair. There was a rushing of fierce emotion just under his skin, and he was afraid that if he pulled away too soon he wouldn't be able to hide it, and Gavin would see. He wasn't even sure what it was that he would see, but it was be too open, too vulnerable, too….clingy. He'd only not seen Gavin for four days, and he'd missed him maybe a little bit too much.
Gavin took his wrist suddenly, and pressed something that crinkled like cellophane into his hand. Closing his fingers around the object automatically, Cole stepped back a little bit from Gavin and looked down at what he'd just been handed.
It was a single white rose on a brilliant green stem, wrapped up in a sleeve of blue-tinted plastic cellophane. Cole blinked at it, curling his fingers around the end of the stem. He didn't really care about flowers, but if it was from Gavin then he could like—
"It's candy," Gavin said suddenly, with a laugh. "You can eat it."
"I—oh." Cole looked closer, and saw it was true—each pale petal sparkled with sugary facets, and the crisp green stem was twisted like a candy cane. It was so intricately done that a brief glance passed it as real.
"That's actually pretty neat," Cole said, turning the sugar flower over in his gloved hands. "Where'd you get it?"
"From a place near my apartment," Gavin said, and Cole's chest seized up at the word. "It's a little ma and pa confectionery place, they make all kinds of things out of sugar. We should go, sometime."
"Yeah," Cole said. "I—thanks, I feel bad now, I didn't get anything for you—"
Gavin smiled. "That's all right," he said. Cole still felt like an ass. So what if he didn't like this stupid card company holiday. Gavin did. Cole just wasn't sure what he was supposed to do on this day. For at least a month prior, TV commercials had been packed with suggestions of what to get your girlfriend—flowers or jewelry or in particularly soppy ones, memorabilia from her childhood. Nothing on what to do if your girlfriend was actually a man.
They'd already gone through this day once before, last year, but they'd still only been just barely dating then. And Gavin had been wrapped up in worry and stress about his grad school applications and had barely emerged from his apartment the whole day. He probably hadn't even been aware it was Valentine's Day. Cole had gone by, brought him dinner because he was sort of afraid Gavin wasn't even eating, and they'd fooled around a little and then Gavin had fallen asleep in Cole's lap because he'd been so exhausted.
That had been last year, undemanding and just another day. But now Gavin was in grad school, at the same college he'd done his undergrad at, Valentine's Day had fallen on a Saturday and they were both completely, and somewhat frighteningly, free.
"So, where is this place, anyway?" Cole asked. Gavin had made the dinner reservations, and hadn't given Cole any hints of where it was, only that Cole should 'dress nice'. And he had, as much as he felt comfortable with—a nice button-down shirt and slacks under his coat and scarf and gloves. He'd even gotten a haircut the day before, since he'd been starting to look a little shaggy over the ears and neck.
"We can walk it," Gavin said. "It's not far from here."
"Sounds good," Cole said, even though he would have much rather have been in a heated car. But Gavin still didn't have a car and Cole was pretty aware of how much Gavin disliked depending on Cole to chauffeur him around every time they went somewhere. So if he wanted to walk this time, then Cole would walk.
Gavin smiled at him, and reached out to take his hand. Cole tucked the white sugar rose into the large pocket of his jacket, and then slid his fingers in between Gavin's. He made sure to walk with his shoulder closely brushing Gavin's, so that their clasped hands were mostly hidden between the falls of their coats. He didn't need anybody looking at them.
The restaurant was several long blocks from Cole's apartment, far enough that Cole definitely wouldn't have labeled it as 'within walking distance'. But they filled up the time with talking—about the persistent shitty weather, Gavin's classes, Cole's work, what Gavin's three year old cousin had stuffed up his nose that week, and other things. It was one surprising thing Cole had found about their relationship; even after a year, they hadn't yet run out of things to say to each other. Although he'd sometimes considered investing in a pocket dictionary, for the times when Gavin dropped a several syllable word on him that he didn't know. Cole knew he didn't do it on purpose—Gavin was just more educated than he was.
They finally arrived at a grey-stone building set on a corner, with half-arched windows and a rich cherry wood door. It started to rain just as they got under the eaves. Cole held the door open for Gavin with exaggerated courtesy, and Gavin winked at him as he went through. Cole went in after him, the warmth of the interior hitting him like a sudden blast from a heater, dry and heavy across his skin.
The place was fancy, fancier than Cole thought he was dressed for, fancier than he had ever expected. He had a job now, but he was still just only scraping by, and he could already feel the hit his wallet was going to take from this. The carpet and tablecloths were a rich red, the lighting coming from low-hanging black iron chandeliers and hazy gold candles on the tables. The gentle clinking of silverware against plates filtered through the ambient sound of string instruments. A well-coiffed man in a nice suit stood behind a glossy wood podium just to the right of the door, and he was looking at them.
"Hey," Gavin said, and nudged Cole a little. "Don't freak, okay? Dave's friend owns this place, and he gave me a sort of discount coupon thing. Anyway, we get half off everything."
Dave….Dave… The name ran through Cole's head a few times before it clicked as the name of Gavin's brother-in-law. Cole had only met the man once, so he barely remembered his face, let alone his name.
"Glad you remembered I'm a cheap bastard," Cole said, resisting the urge to turn and kiss the side of Gavin's face because the maître d' behind the front podium was still looking at them.
"Hi," Gavin said to the man, who had swept-back dark hair and a handsome narrow face. "We have a reservation for 7 o'clock, under Ross."
"Certainly," said the maître d', after a glance at the reservation book. Cole wondered what he thought of two men with a reservation together on Valentine's day—whatever his opinion, he hid it beneath pure professionalism. Without so much as a double-take or blink, he gestured them to follow him into the dining area, which was so warm and red and enclosed that it felt to Cole like walking into a giant human heart.
The maître d' led them to a curved booth probably meant for four, against an arched window that looked out into the rain-slicked city evening, bright with shimmering globes of colored light from buildings and streetlights and passing cars. Gavin slid onto one side of the cushioned seats and Cole dropped into the other, tugging his gloves and scarf off and shrugging his coat off his shoulders. He heard the crinkle of cellophane in his pocket, and rescued the candy rose before he forgot about it and crushed it to pieces.
One of the green sugar leaves had broken off in his pocket, but it was otherwise intact. Cole put it in the center of the table between them, and Gavin gave him such a wide grin that his nose crinkled up. He'd taken his coat off too, and the shirt he was wearing beneath was a dark wine red. It looked good on him—and he matched the room.
"Guess I do," Gavin laughed, after Cole had pointed that out. He brushed a wrinkle out of his sleeve. "You know I've never actually been in here, but Dave's friend keeps giving us all these discounts—I think he wants to spread business around, since this place isn't that old and, you know, always the economy…"
Gavin was babbling a little, which meant he was nervous. And Cole was reassured by that. Maybe Gavin didn't know how to deal with their first real official Valentine's Day either. Maybe his asshole of an ex-boyfriend had never done it right for him. Well. Cole was going to be better than that. He didn't want to do anything the same way Barrett ever had.
"It's great," Cole said, although he thought it was way too fancy and not at all a place he could ever feel comfortable in, no matter what sexuality he subscribed to. But he knew Gavin had only meant well. And he couldn't blame him for that.
"Oh," Gavin said suddenly, "I have to tell you about this thing that happened in Schumacher's class the other day, you'll love this—" And he was off, telling his story.
Cole watched Gavin talk through the soft candlelight. Little sweeps of his dark hair brushed down over his forehead, and Gavin occasionally reached up to push them off his face. He was talking about some class he had, some professor of his and something he'd said to a girl with a bad excuse for a late paper, but Cole was only half listening. He watched the shadows from the candlelight dip into the spaces beneath Gavin's jaw and slight hollows beneath his cheekbones as he spoke, watched the way his dark lashes cast layers of spiky outlines around his eyes.
Cole wondered sometimes, but especially at moments like this; how had this happened? How had he gotten this? He could never really explain to anyone how he and Gavin had met, because the events of that Christmas Eve a year ago had been so awkwardly karmic that it always sounded made up. Sometimes he couldn't even believe it himself. Gavin had practically stalked him for an entire night, and somehow it had become a relationship. His first, best, and only.
His look must have been too intense or too serious or something, because Gavin interrupted his own story, chuckling and pushing his bangs a little nervously out of his face. "What?"
"Just…looking," Cole said. He wanted to reach out and take the hand that Gavin kept moving all over his face, grab it and hold it still and run his nails over the warm palm. Press the fingertips to his mouth and taste the salt of Gavin's skin. But he didn't, because this place with its population of solidly heterosexual couples was making him anxious and insecure, as the only table of two men in the room. When the waiter came over to take their drink orders, Cole could barely look him in the face.
"Are you okay?" Gavin asked, when the waiter had left. Cole rubbed at the side of his face and nodded. He hated that he couldn't stand to have people look at him, at them, like that. He wanted to not care about what people thought, the way Gavin did, because Gavin had grown up supported and safe and fine with himself and the way he was. And Cole hadn't.
"Great," Cole said. "No, really, I am."
"Well, maybe this place is a little much," Gavin said, glancing around. "But—we still deserve something nice from time to time, yeah?"
"Yeah," Cole said, selfishly glad that Gavin was misunderstanding his heterophobic panic as just being uncomfortable in a fancy restaurant was out of their price range. Gavin's hand was on the table top now and Cole tried to make himself reach out and take it. But he couldn't. Instead, under the table where nobody passing could see, he bumped his leg against Gavin's and nudged their calves together. And was relieved when Gavin smiled down at the table and maybe even blushed a little.
Gavin went back to whatever story he'd been telling about his classics professor, and Cole tried to not be so obvious about staring at him. He glanced out the window behind Gavin's head, watching silver patterns of rain wriggle their way down the glass. A blonde and a brunette girl walked by, nicely dressed under heavy coats. Cole saw them pause outside the restaurant's front façade, peering in through the windows.
Gavin's story about his professor ended with a rant the man had gone on that had reminded him of Cole. "You'd probably like this guy," Gavin said. "He hates bullshit just as much as you."
Cole laughed. "Sounds like it."
"I'd probably have a crush on him if I didn't have you," Gavin said, and then laughed. "And if he wasn't like sixty years old. And straight. And married."
"Fortunately for me," Cole said, "I got you first."
"Yeah," Gavin said, and smiled. Cole's hand was still on Gavin's knee under the table, and he thought about…maybe he could just…reach up and take his hand…his heart started pounding harder in his chest just thinking about it, but nobody was looking over their way, the waiter had already come by with their drinks and menus but they hadn't even opened them yet (Cole was a little afraid to, even if they were getting half off)…so nobody should be bothering them—fuck his mouth was so dry— not for a little—
Both Gavin and Cole startled, and Gavin dropped the fork he'd been playing with into his lap while Cole glanced up. The two girls Cole had seen walking by outside were standing over their table, the blondish one hanging back slightly behind her friend, flicking her eyelashes nervously. The brunette, adversely, had one hand splayed on their table and was leaning forward, smiling.
"So," she said, tilting her head to one side. Her severely straight hair swung just past her chin, some strands tucked behind her ears. Little diamonds glittered in her ears. "You boys are all alone tonight, huh? On Valentine's Day?"
Don't be rude, don't be rude, don't be rude, Cole thought furiously, and knew that to do that, he would have to stay completely silent. He cleared his throat a little, and looked at Gavin, who flushed.
"I, well—" Gavin said, retrieving his fork and placing it neatly across his bread plate. "We are here together—"
"But no dates," the girl pressed, and Cole kept his teeth clamped together as tightly as he could, hard enough that his jaw started to ache. The shyer blonde girl gave him a little smile, and Cole returned a tight stretch of his mouth at her. Go away, he thought at the both of them. Turn around and fucking leave.
"It doesn't make much sense for us all to be by ourselves tonight," the dark haired girl said smoothly. "We were thinking we could join you."
Don't say anything at all, Cole told himself. Don't, don't, don't. And he avoided Gavin's eyes when he felt the other man trying to search out his gaze.
"Well," Gavin said. "Well, I—"
"Fantastic," the brunette said, without waiting for any further answer. "I'm Miranda," she continued, as she slid forcefully into the booth besides Cole, forcing him to scoot over closer to Gavin. "This is Yvonne."
"Hi," the blonde girl said to Gavin, blushing. She hadn't sat down yet, but Gavin had already moved over for her. She didn't look so bad, but the smirking brunette next to Cole looked like trouble in a little black dress. And more diamonds than Cole had seen even his mother wear at a time. They were at her ears, around her neck, in a delicate bracelet on her wrist, and shalaqued onto each blood-red nail of her hands, one of which she rested with a purposeful closeness to Cole.
They were probably just rich college-age girls, out spending money that tumbled unhindered out of their daddies' bank accounts. Cole was fairly sure neither of them was even old enough to drink. But Miranda summoned a random waiter with a wave of her diamond-encrusted fingers, and within minutes both of them had something strongly alcoholic in front of them.
I hope your tab from Dave will cover the squatters, Cole thought, trying to catch Gavin's eye. Maybe after these girls had a drink or two, and a little bit of male company they were obviously intent on, they would leave. But Gavin was being fully distracted by the blonde girl, who had somehow gotten her earring tangled in her hair, and had enlisted Gavin to help her sort it out. When Gavin touched her shoulder to keep her still as he drew strands of her hair from the earring, she let out a bubbly giggle and shifted closer to him.
Cole abruptly decided she was no better at all than Miranda, who was currently asking him what he did, and did he model because she swore he looked so familiar that she must have seen his face somewhere—
"Yeah, I've done a few pornos, maybe you've seen me in one of those," Cole said, and Gavin made a tiny snorting sound in his throat. Miranda and Yvonne exchanged a startled look, and then Yvonne laughed.
"Oh, you're so funny," Miranda said, and gave his arm a playful slap. Cole could feel the edges of her nails even though his shirt. Thankfully the waiter had brought bread with the new drinks, and Cole leaned out of her grip to tear a hunk off from the basket.
"You didn't introduce yourselves," Yvonne said suddenly. Her hair and earring were untangled by now, but she was sitting even closer to Gavin than she'd been before.
"Cole," Cole said, and shoved half the piece of bread in his mouth to avoid saying more.
"I'm Gavin," Gavin said, angling just a little away from Yvonne, enough to put companionable space between them.
"Really? That's my cousin's name!" Yvone exclaimed. "I always liked it, but it's not real common, is it?"
"I guess not," Gavin said, smiling a little.
"Ah, the ladies," said their actual waiter, smiling, when he came back to the table. Cole felt like his eye was about to start twitching—the man had obviously assumed the stupid girls were his and Gavin's dates, and they'd just been late. Now, thinking about, it the maître d' must have assumed the same thing, since he'd given them a booth for four. Cole would have been furious at the assumption—if they weren't getting dinner for half-off and complaining about it would have to involve him telling someone off for not treating him and his boyfriend well. He couldn't do it.
"Have we decided?" the waiter said, and Cole grit his teeth and tried to sound slightly pleasant through the cloud of perfumy toxins wafting in the air around Miranda.
"A few more minutes," he said, and the waiter left with a complying nod. Cole grit his teeth together and resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands as Miranda turned to him with a bright smile and a glint of diamonds.
Miranda and Yvonne did not leave after they had had their drink or two. Cole couldn't figure out a way to invite them to please get the fuck out without sounding rude, and Gavin wasn't letting Cole know what he thought about the whole thing. He wasn't letting Cole catch his eye even though they were sitting right fucking next to each other. Cole did manage to subtly snag the waiter and insist on separate checks—he didn't care about chivalry at this point; even with a discount he wasn't going to pay for two uninvited squatters.
He didn't even know who these women were, where they'd come from, why they were trolling the streets on Valentine's day dressed to the teeth, how they'd had the balls to invite themselves to their private dinner, and why they were staying. Cole could have fended them off in three seconds if he'd wanted, but Gavin hated it when he was unnecessarily—or even necessarily—rude to people, and he was trying to be good today. But they shouldn't have even been here at all. He and Gavin were on a date and—
But what did we do? We came in like regular guys, got our table, sat across from each other. We didn't ask for a smaller booth—we could have. We didn't help each other with our coats and I couldn't even hold his hand and we haven't done anything at all that looks like we're together. I tried really hard to make it look like we weren't. So these idiot girls assumed. Everybody did.
Cole had lost most of his appetite by the time their food came, and he pushed things around on his plate and listened to Yvonne chatter Gavin's ear off about something idiotic, while making single syllable replies to whatever inane things Miranda was in turn saying to him. The menu had been heavily written in French and Gavin had managed to accidentally order shellfish, which he was allergic to, and Cole felt a vindictive and bitter sort of justice that Gavin couldn't eat much of his dinner either. He knew it was horrible, but he couldn't help it.
He felt a little less happy about it when the check came.
To his horror, the two women tagged along on their heels when he and Gavin left the restaurant, as if they'd been invited along again. They all grouped together under the eaves, out of the pathetic misting that the rain had turned into, while cars splashed by in the street and cuddly couples rushed by under the shelter of the awnings. Cole forced himself in between Gavin and the ulta-clingy Yvonne, arranging their group so that they were facing off against the two women.
"Well, it was nice to meet you," Gavin said, and Cole nearly swung around and punched him. His stupid earnest meek politeness hadn't helped anything about this fuck-up of a night.
"Yeah, sure," Cole said, not anywhere near as sincerely. "But we're gonna take off now."
"Oh, come on," Miranda said, with a flip of her glossy hair. "There's plenty of clubs open, we should definitely go somewhere. You can't call that a night!"
"Well…" Gavin said, with the same noncommittal waffling he'd been doing all night. It made Cole's entire body flush with helpless, furious anger.
"Actually," Cole said, trying hard to reign in his savagery, "my boyfriend and I have other plans."
"Oh, well," Miranda said, apparently unruffled at Cole's sexuality drop, "where's he been then? Not with you on Valentine's day?"
"He's my boyfriend," Cole said, slinging his arm around the back of Gavin's waist. Thankfully, Gavin leaned into him, clutching his hand into the back of Cole's coat. Then, feeling furious and daring, Cole leaned in and kissed Gavin hard, pressing his palm along Gavin's jaw to keep him in place, while Gavin gripped at his waist and—thank god—kissed him back.
He felt only bitter satisfaction at the twin gaping expressions that had appeared on Miranda and Yvonne's faces, once he yanked back from Gavin. "And we're leaving," he added, as casually as he could manage. "Good night."
He steered Gavin around and started walking them both away, back in the direction of Gavin's apartment. His hand was clenched so hard in the back of Gavin's coat he could barely feel his fingers, and roaring blood was filling his ears and pulsing through his face and neck. It felt like he could hardly even breathe.
"You could have said something!" Yvonne screeched after them, and then only a little less loudly, to Miranda, "I told you, I told you—"
"Oh, you did not. You said, 'they kinda don't look gay'!" Miranda's voice shot back, and Yvonne's next answer was swallowed up by the rush of traffic.
As soon as they turned the corner, Cole dropped his arm off of Gavin. It took Gavin a few moments to release his own grip, as though he was startled that Cole had let go at all. Barely suppressed anger was still flushing furiously beneath Cole's skin, and he didn't trust himself to speak. And Gavin didn't say anything either.
The walk back to Gavin's apartment was an abysmal, cold stretch of silence. Cole couldn't even look over at the other man. He kept his head focused on the sidewalk some five feet in front of him and kept his hands in his pocket. Every so often the edge of Gavin's blue scarf would flutter into his vision and whisk out again. Rain was misting around them, settling on everything as tiny white beads, stark against Gavin's deep brown hair. Cars sloshed through puddles left over from the earlier and harder rain, and the sidewalks glimmered orange under the building lights.
It seemed like it took twice as long to walk back to Gavin's apartment as it had to get to the restaurant. They went inside and took the elevator up, Gavin fiddling with his keys in his pocket. The tiny metal clinking and the humming of the mechanisms through the walls were the only sounds in the tiny claustrophobic box. Beaded water was still standing out on Gavin's hair, and on any other night, at any other time, Cole would have smoothed them away with his hand, probably wiped his hand off on Gavin's scarf, gotten a laugh and a playful shove back, and maybe a kiss. But not now.
Once they were inside the tiny foyer of the apartment and the door was shut behind them, Gavin turned to him, his face set into the wounded but determined expression that usually meant the start of one of their infrequent serious fights.
"What's wrong with you?" he said.
"Me?" Cole said. "There's nothing wrong with me—what's wrong with you?"
"I—" Gavin's face crumpled, before resolving back to something more stubborn. "If this is about what day it is today, you know I wasn't trying to make a big deal out of it, I know you hate things like that—"
"This isn't really about what I want, is it? I can't figure out what you want!"
"I thought you would make those girls leave," Gavin muttered. "At dinner, I—but you didn't."
"I thought you would think I was being a jerk if I chased them away!" Cole said. "Believe me, I wanted to. But you didn't seem upset by them being there, you didn't seem to want them gone—so I didn't do anything!"
Gavin winced. "You know that's what I do. I let people walk all over me, I can't help it. I can't even tell a couple of college girls to leave us alone because I'm not like that. But you are, and I—
"You want me to be your personal bastard? I can't do that. I can't always guess what you want. Sometimes I can, but you didn't even give me a hint this time. But then you didn't say anything, all day, and I just felt like it was all a test I was failing, and I don't know what I was doing wrong."
"I wasn't testing you," Gavin said, blinking furiously. "I didn't want anything different from you—because that wouldn't be like you! I'm not with you because of the things you don't do, I—I…I'm not trying to make you do anything at all!"
"Then what," Cole said, lifting his arms, dropping them, then lifting them again, frustration burning through him, "what was this supposed to be?"
"You're my boyfriend," Gavin said, and his voice was wavering. "I just wanted to be with you today. That's all—nothing else!"
He turned abruptly, and went into the living room. Cole let him go, staring dully at the wall. He felt a little like he might be sick. He really had just fucked everything up. It wasn't like it was anything new, but it hurt more than anything he could remember. He and Gavin had had fights before, but silly ones—stupid ones. This didn't feel stupid.
Cole knew he was bad at this—bad at being romantic, bad at showing his feelings, bad at reaching beyond himself to do things for other people. But he'd thought he could wing it, just go along and try and pick up hints from Gavin, try and figure out what a person did with their boyfriend on a day like this. He couldn't help it if he'd never had to do it before, if he'd never had a real boyfriend before.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the white candy rose. Another green petal had snapped off, and some of the sugar of the petals was sifting off, gathering in the corners of the cellophane package. How simple was this—just an innocent little gift, and Cole hadn't been forward thinking enough to do something of the same. He was so stupid. Selfish and stupid.
There was no way to make it up now, but he couldn't just let things sit where they were. It had been his screw up, not Gavin's. He was the one who couldn't act like a decent boyfriend in public, or probably even in private. He really didn't know why Gavin put up with him. He obviously wasn't cut out for a relationship. He was better off with the infrequent one-night stands and equally unfulfilling and uncommitted hookups that he'd always done before meeting Gavin. He obviously couldn't handle anything else.
Gavin was sitting on the couch and staring at the coffee table when Cole inched his way into the living room area, feeling like a kicked puppy. Gavin's mouth was pinched and turned down, his eyebrows scrunched together, and Cole rubbed his hand over his forehead. He hated this, he hated Gavin looking like this. Especially when it was because of him. It was because of that stupid look, that look that so obviously said that Gavin was hurt but determined not to make a big deal out of it, that made Cole the one who usually took the step to resolve the fights. Gavin was just too quiet and passive to try and beat things right again.
Cole had often had a thought that it was because of how externally easy-going Gavin was that things had gotten so bad between him and his last boyfriend—the one who had used and used him once he realized Gavin would let him. It had always made Cole exceptionally careful about what he asked out of Gavin, because Gavin would do it even if he didn't really want to.
It was why he might not have asked Gavin to move in with him, even if this night had gone perfectly. Gavin might say yes even if he didn't really want it, because he thought it would make Cole happy. Gavin was always trying to make him happy. He was too fucking nice, and Cole didn't deserve any of it.
He forced himself to walk into the living room, over to the couch. Gavin didn't even look up. Cole sat down next to him, letting their knees just brush against each other. He set the candy rose on the coffee table, then sat back and rested his hands helplessly in his lap. Gavin lifted his head a little then. Both of them looked at the flower for at least a half minute of heavy, stifled silence. Then Cole turned his face against Gavin's shoulder, hiding himself in the soft wool of his coat, and whispered a muffled, "I'm sorry."
Cole clutched at the back of Cole's coat with one hand. "I hate this, I'm sorry. I hate doing this to you. I'm—stupid, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"I just don't want to fight anymore," Gavin said, and his voice was shaking again, wobbling like a plucked string. "Cole, I don't, and I didn't mean for it to go this way, and that you thought that I wanted something I didn't."
"I'm sorry," Cole said again, lifting his face out of Gavin's shoulder. "I'm sorry I fucked up, I—really don't know how to not fuck up, I guess. It's really all I'm good at. Screwing up."
"Stop that," Gavin said, and dragged the back of his hand across his eyes. "That's not fair. You don't mess up nearly as much as you think you do. But you think too much into everything, everything I do or everything you do, because you're so afraid of messing up that you almost make yourself do it. So just…stop."
"Stop thinking?" Cole offered, wryly. But Gavin nodded.
"Okay," Cole said, caught the back of Gavin's neck, and kissed him hard.
It wasn't a nice kiss—Cole was still too shaken up to care about making it careful or soft. But Gavin came back at him with equal force, grabbing at the back of his neck and his hair, pushing him back on the couch. Cole threw an arm around the back of Gavin's shoulders to hold on, one of his knees drawing up between Gavin's legs and pressing. Gavin pushed back against him and Cole groaned and jerked his hips up, knees falling helplessly apart to let Gavin fall in between them.
Gavin pressed his face against Cole's neck with a breathy noise like "nnhh!" and dug his fingers into Cole's shoulders. Then one of his hands was suddenly down between them, clinking against the buckle of Cole's belt and pulling it undone with fumbling fingers. Cole twisted his hands into Gavin's hair and held them together, pushing his mouth so hard Gavin's that he was sure they'd both bruise. They were still fully dressed for cold weather, barriers of scarves and coats and wool and leather between them, and their panted breath made the air around them hot and moist. He heard a second buckle sound and another purr of a zipper being undone.
Cole pulled away for a gulp of air and a gasped command; "get—clothes—off."
"No time," Gavin breathed against the side of his face, his mouth open and wet against his ear. Cole tried to reply, wanted to say there was always time to get clothes off, but the only thing that came out of his mouth was an incomprehensible noise as Gavin's hand closed around both of them. Cole felt his body arcing responsibly off the couch, pushing up and into and against Gavin and rocking helplessly, and he wasn't sure were his own hands were except they were dragging and pulling against thick fabric, trying to find skin to touch somewhere.
But Gavin was moving too fast and there really wasn't any time before the pressure and heat and awkward rhythm was too much, and suddenly he felt like he was sixteen again and completely out of control of his own stupid body. He bit down on Gavin's shoulder through his coat, yelling something incoherent that probably included Gavin's name, hot helpless pulses shuddering through his body while spots crowded in on his vision and he couldn't pull enough air into his lungs.
He shuddered back down into himself after a minute or so, letting his head loll back against the arm of the couch. He felt hot and sticky and damp in his clothes, but slow and sleepy and content. Gavin's breath was heavy and loud in his ear, tickling fine hairs along his neck, and his weight pressing down on Cole was comforting and perfect. Gavin's hand was still wedged between them, twitching weakly.
"Oh, god, that was good," Cole said into Gavin's shoulder. He could fall asleep right there, fully dressed and with his shoulder wedged between the couch cushions and Gavin sprawled on top of him. But he shouldn't, because there was still some of the night left and maybe he could make it into a better Valentine's Day, like—maybe they could watch a really sappy movie or something. Or whatever it was people did. Whatever Gavin would like, he'd do it. Gavin deserved it.
He opened his eyes, about to suggest they do something like that, and didn't get any words out. Gavin was looking down at him, studying his face, frowning a bit and moving sweaty strands of Cole's hair out of his eyes with one hand. It made Cole instantly nervous, because he thought the sex had been good and that they'd fixed their argument and that things were okay again. But maybe none of it was. He didn't like that little frown at all.
"What?" Cole said, maybe sharper than he'd meant to be, but his boyfriend was freaking him out a little.
"Nothing," Gavin said.
It wasn't nothing and nervousness was starting to dig sharp claws into Cole's chest, making it hard to breathe. He had to do something, say something, fix something, before it all fell apart again.
"Move in with me," Cole blurted out.
Gavin's eyes snapped wide open. "What?"
"Fuck," Cole said, and sat up. Gavin got off him, leaning forward over his knees and running his hands through his hair. Cole awkwardly did his pants back up, feeling humiliated and edgy. He kept to his side of the couch, not touching or even looking much at Gavin. All he could see from the corner of his eye was the charcoal color of his slacks, and his hands wedged between his knees. He couldn't believe he'd asked. He couldn't believe he'd asked. He was such a fucking moron.
"I—you know, I was…going to ask you that, tonight," Gavin said to the coffee table. He sounded blank, and maybe confused. And hurt, still hurt. Because Cole couldn't stop fucking up.
"You wanted me to move in with you?" Cole said, stupidly.
"Yeah, I did—I do, but—you kind of said it first."
Cole bit down on his jaw and clenched his fists against his knees. He couldn't come up with anything else to say, and honestly it would probably be better for both of them if he just stopped talking. He didn't know if this was even a real option for them. He'd asked it, he'd actually managed to get the damn words out, but maybe it would be better if Gavin just said no.
"I—" Gavin said, after a couple of long moments, and then exhaled. "My apartment isn't that nice."
Cole shifted, startled, and drew in a quick breath. "My house isn't that nice, either."
"Do you—" Gavin started, then shifted, angling his body in towards Cole. Cole finally had to look at him, and startled at how close he had gotten. Almost nose-to-nose, so close it was hard to focus on Gavin's face without going crosseyed. "Could we find a new place, together?"
"Yeah," Cole said, thickly. "Yeah, I—that sounds good. That sounds really good. D'you think we can…"
"Do it?" Gavin said, and smiled a little. Survive it, Cole had actually been thinking, but Gavin's guess was close enough. "I hope so. I think so. You know I—" he stopped, and pressed a kiss against Cole's temple instead, lifting his hand to rest in Cole's hair. "I'm sorry. About today. I forget sometimes that you're a little…panicky, about things like this."
"Panicky?" Cole said, but he couldn't be too offended when Gavin was kissing the side of his face and stroking his hair like this.
"I just realized you've never really done any of this before," Gavin said. "The relationship…thing. I put you on the spot. And I really should be able to stand up for myself better. I'm sorry."
"And I'm sorry for being so fucking paranoid," Cole said. "And taking it out on you. And being such a douchebag."
"You're not a douchebag," Gavin said.
"An asshole, then."
Gavin laughed. "Quit it. You're…"
"I'm what," Cole said, when Gavin trailed off and didn't finish.
"You're just human," Gavin said. He took one end of Cole's scarf in his hands and slowly pulled it off his neck, the soft material dragging against his skin. "We both are. We both mess up. And it's okay. There's never been anything that—that we couldn't fix. If we both want to, we'll always be able to fix anything between us. Okay?"
"Yeah," Cole said, afraid he was going to do something stupid and clingy himself, like cry or something. "Come—come here."
Gavin did, and Cole slid his hands under the flaps of the now-damp peacoat and peeled it off of him, stripping Gavin down to the red shirt beneath, now darker in places from sweat. He unwound the blue scarf from Gavin's neck and threw it somewhere behind the couch.
"Hope your shirt isn't ruined," he muttered, as Gavin tugged Cole's own coat off him. "Looks really good on you. And looks expensive."
Gavin chuckled, shaking a little under Cole's hands. "It's from Target," he said.
"Oh," Cole said, and glanced down at his own cream-colored dress shirt. "So's mine."
Gavin looked at him for a moment, and then broke out laughing. "I guess we really aren't cut out for fancy French restaurants," he said, which reminded Cole of how much he hadn't actually eaten his fancy French meal.
"Fuck," Cole said. "I barely ate that stuff. I'm starving. And you couldn't even eat."
"Yeah." Gavin made a face. "You're not the only stupid one here. Pizza?"
"Hell yes, pizza. I'll call for it," Cole said. He caught Gavin's face with his fingertips and kissed the edge of his mouth. "Are we really okay?"
"We're really okay," Gavin said. He reached out and took Cole's hand. "And tomorrow's Monday."
"Apartment offices are open. If—if you want. To go look together, you know."
Cole grinned, for what felt like the first time the whole day. "Yeah," he said, squeezing Gavin's fingers in his. "It's a date."