A/N: This story is for MyLifeSoundtrack, who helped me through the rough parts by waving her magical wand called TALENT over my whiny-ness. Girl, you rock.
Erm. So. This happened and refused to stop happening until it was full of phonesex, daddy issues, and boys getting drunk and being emo. …I'm sorry?
Nothing has ever hurt so bad as when Nate's mom died. It was messy and long and gut-wrenchingly painful. In the six months between the time she was diagnosed and the day Nate's dad called him at school crying (and fuck if Nate hadn't flushed hard and fell against a wall, gripping onto Kellan's hand like he was the only thing keeping Nate from flying apart) to say, "It's over, Nate. She's…" Nate had spent so much time hurting there'd been little time for anything else.
So that was the worst.
But this. This is also pretty bad.
Nate concentrates on breathing as he watches Kellan go up on tiptoes and smiling to kiss Will on the mouth. Watches him say, "Love you, too" to another man who isn't Nate. Those things are bad. But there's also this:
Kellan leans back, hand still pressed lightly against Will's chest when he notices Nate waiting by the curb and his smile falters. It fucking droops, and his hand tenses against Will like, oh hey, I'd much rather be alone with you, but here's my stupid shadow to pick me up for school.
That's what sends Nate hissing back into his seat like he's been slapped across the face.
It's been three months since Kellan got his memory back (and Nate had been the last to know. And hadn't that been…well, it ranked pretty high up there on the ouch list.) and every time Nate sees him, it seems like he's farther away.
Will waves at Nate, and Nate has to grip on the steering wheel to keep from barging out of the car and punching the bastard in the face. He doesn't get to be nice about this. He doesn't get to be concerned. Fuck.
(There had been once, just after Kellan got his memories back, that Will had pulled him aside and said, "I know what you're going through. I've been there. But you can't keep dragging him through this. He's—"
"He's what?" Nate had snarled, anger bursting under his skin like blisters.
Will had leaned in, fingers in a tight circle around Nate's forearm, and said, "Not going to be ashamed of himself anymore.") Nate will never not hate him.
The worst part about it is he still wants Kellan. Down to the roots of his teeth, Nate can't shake the longing he has for him. It's tearing them both apart, Nate knows, but he can't stop—it's like this perverse thing inside him pushing him on, saying, but look at him, isn't he gorgeous? You know how he feels and tastes and sounds and it's fucking amazing.
And he has to close his eyes and think, No, forcefully, No. Think, if you can't get over it, just ignore it. Like so many things in his life, he is not good at this one.
Kellan kisses Will again while Nate fiddles with the stations of the radio. He's not going to be upset about this. Not today. Okay, so he is, he's going to be mind-numbingly upset about it today. It's going to stew in his stomach until he wants to puke from it because it hurts, goddamn it. But, he tells himself, it's the last time. (it's not true, he knows, it's not the last time. That's a long way off. That's blurry and unfathomable—that he will ever not feel this sting at the thought of Kellan kissing another man.) But it is their last day at WCC and Nate has never been more ready to be done with something in his life.
He looks up as Kellan vaults into his car, grinning out the window at Will (god damn it) before turning to Nate and saying, "Hey! Last day of community college!"
There's a forced cheer in his voice that makes Nate want to roll his eyes, but he manages to quirk a smile instead, saying, "Let's make it count then, huh?"
Kellan laughs and Nate pretends not to notice the way his head cranes to watch Will as they drive away. Seriously, they're going to be away for four hours or something ridiculous and it's not like Kellan and Will haven't been living in each other's back pockets for the last few months. Christ.
"So," Kellan says, fake cheer and all, "Nathan Merriweather, after graduating from Washington Community College, what are you going to do?"
He's supposed to say, I'm going to Disney World! He knows, but he feels like being difficult. He's felt like being difficult ever since Kellan looked at him with his stupid green eyes and said, "I remember all of it, Nate. And I—fuck, I love you but we're still not, I can't go back to the way things were." So he says, "Dunno, I'm thinking about getting shit faced."
Kellan snorts, says, "That's as good a way to celebrate as any, I guess."
"Right, well, being a drunken waste of space seems to be my M.O. these days."
Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Kellan reel back against his seat. Says, "I thought you'd be in a better mood today."
"I thought I would be, too," Nate says honestly. His hand itches to hold Kellan's. To do things he never would before. He'd do them all now. (That is only a little bit of a lie.) "Anyway, what about you? Taking Will and Grace to Disney?"
"Huh?" Kellan says, laughs awkwardly, "Oh, yeah. Ha ha. Right. No, actually we're driving Grace to the airport—she has this like, romantic thing in her head where she goes to Europe and backpacks around and falls in love with a sheepherder or something."
"Oh," Nate says, because he doesn't know what to say to that.
"Yeah," Kellan says back.
And then neither of them says anything until they get to school and Kellan is out of the car so fast Nate doesn't even get a chance to say goodbye.
He stays in his car for a minute, kneading his forehead with his fingers. He can do this. This is doable.
He doesn't have any other choice, after all.
So he knows, right, that he's a closeted gay boy with daddy-issues and a slight drinking problem. Whatever, it's so cliché, he hates himself, but that just makes it even more cliché, doesn't it? Most of the time he just tries to ignore it.
His dad doesn't make it easy, though.
That night, after another awkward car ride with Kellan, Nate gets home to find his dad's car in the garage, which is never a good sign for a Friday night. He wishes he would have picked up Nikki's shift like she wanted him to, but he'd had this crazy hope that Kellan would want to celebrate their last day or something. It's fine, though, he'll just spend the evening in his room trying to avoid whatever mood his dad is in.
He opens the door as quietly as possible and toes off his shoes on the rug by the stairs. Hops over the squeaky bottom stair and is halfway to freedom when he hears, "Nate?"
Shit. "Yeah, dad. It's me." Hopes that'll be enough.
But then, "Come in here, please."
"I was actually—"
Nate sighs, drops his bag by the door and finds his dad in the den, drink in hand. "What's up?" he asks, trying to sound casual.
(The thing is, he and his dad used to be close. On weekends, they'd to go to the park and play basketball with Kellan and his dad. It was corny and embarrassing and wonderful. And then it wasn't. And now there's this.)
"How's Kellan doing?" his dad asks, taking a sip of whatever's in his glass. Brandy probably, Nate thinks. He wishes he had some.
"What?" he says, "Fine I guess, why?"
"I just noticed you two weren't hanging out as much."
It would be nice, if it were true. If his dad actually did notice that this was happening. But his pinky is twitching, and Nate's heard enough lies from him to know that that's his tell. ("Hon, they have to say it's that bad so you won't sue them."
"We're gonna be okay, Nate. It's going to be okay."
"This is a business associate. Her name is Cathy.") So Nate immediately goes on the defensive. "We're hanging out as much as normal."
"Hmm," his dad says, takes another draw of brandy (bourbon?—Nate remembers he's got a bottle of vodka in his underwear drawer. If he can just get through this conversation, he can have a shot). "Maybe you should start weaning yourself off his company."
"I'm just not sure he's the best influence."
"What? Dad. It's Kellan. He's—I mean he's—"
Nate is suddenly going to throw up. "What?" If his voice sounds as weak as he thinks it does, he hopes his dad takes it as shock.
His dad heaves a big sigh and motions towards an empty chair. "You didn't know," he says.
"How do you know?"
"I saw him today. Right out in the open," his dad scoffs, "kissing some gangly guy."
"That's Will," Nate says.
"Oh, um," Nate says, "Nothing. Just. Um. Wow."
"I'm not a bigot, Nate," his dad says, and Nate wants to roll his eyes so bad, they strain against keeping still. "But hanging around people who flaunt themselves like that is not good for a man your age. People will assume you're one of them."
Nate nods his head numbly, thinking I can do this. Let it go. This is nothing.
(Once, when his dad first starting bringing home girls young enough to be Nate's big sister, a boy named Roy at his high school asked if Nate got his dad's sloppy seconds.
Kellan had hauled Nate back before he could land a fist in Roy's braces, whispering in his ear, "Let it go, man. This is nothing. Let it go."
Later that night, Kellan had kissed him for the first time, murmuring, "Let it go. I've got you. Let it go.")
"Well, uh, thanks for letting me know, or…" Nate says, itching to get out of the room. The rich red walls used to make him feel warm and protected, but now they're suffocating.
His dad takes a quick sip of his brandy. Says, "No problem, son."
Nate grits his teeth at the endearment. Wants to say, I am not your son. Not anymore. Instead, he just tips his head up and walks out of the room at what he hopes is a respectable pace.
When he gets to his room, he immediately upends the bottle of vodka down his throat, gulping down as much as he can before his stomach heaves violently and he has to clench his throat muscles to keep from puking it all right back up.
Shaking and nauseous, he leans his forehead against the cool pane of the window, glad that the sun has loped below the tree line, sky easy on his eyes.
So, his dad knows about Kellan.
Nate can't decide if he's angrier about the fact that Kellan is running around kissing people in broad daylight, or that his dad is now a confirmed homophobic bastard. He thinks it's a little bit of both.
It's just that he always sort of had this sick fantasy that his dad would catch him and Kellan—not doing anything explicit, just a press of lips to a temple, or fingers on a wrist—and he'd chuckle and tell them they'd never been good at keeping secrets from him.
(One morning, when they were in first grade, Nate's mom woke him and Kellan up after a sleepover to make Nate's dad breakfast in bed. Only Nate and Kellan had giggled so loud they'd woken his dad up, sleep-worn but smiling when he walked into the kitchen.
"You are good at a lot of things, Nate," his dad had said, ruffling Nate's hair, "but keeping secrets is not one of them."
And Kellan had puffed out his chest and said, "He is too good at that. We have a lot of secrets. A ton of them."
"Oh yeah?" Nate's mom had said, smiling, "Like what?"
"Like—" Kellan had started to say, but Nate had jumped on his back screaming, "No! She's trying to trick them out of you!" And then, whispering, "Only, Kellan, what secrets are you talking about?"
Kellan bugged out his eyes and puffed out his cheeks, blowing hot air all over Nate's face. "I can't hold it in if everyone keeps asking me!"
"What secrets, Kellan?" Nate's dad had asked, slinging an arm around his wife's waist and kissing her cheek with a syrupy mouth, the two of them laughing.
"Nate," Kellan implored, sucking his lower lip into his mouth.
Nate thought about it for a second and then nodded decisively. "Whatever it is, you can tell them. They'll keep 'em for us."
"Okay," Kellan burst out. "It was Nate who peed on Mrs. Garner's fence!"
"Kellan!" Nate screeched.
"We thought it would be funny," Kellan said, shooting him an apologetic look.
Nate's parents just laughed and rolled their eyes. "Boys," his dad said, "I heard you two whispering about that the day it happened. But as long as you promise not to do it again, your secret's safe with me.")
But it hadn't worked out that way, and thank god, Nate thinks. Thank god, because now he can go on waiting to be caught with someone else, and this time he knows it'll be nothing like he hoped it might be. There won't be any fatherly affection or even half-hearted approval. It'll be so, you're one of them. It'll be: your mom would be so disappointed in you.
Nate's stomach clenches tightly, and he curls up in bed with all his clothes on and stares at the ceiling, trying not to choke on the vodka when he sips it, liquid dripping out the corners of his mouth and running down his neck.
Downstairs, the door to the garage opens and then shuts, but the house feels no emptier than it did just before.
The next day Quentin starts working at Platform, and Nate is hung over.
Nikki corners him when he's clocking in, wrinkling her nose at his appearance. "Sheesh," she says, "No need to look presentable, this is only your job after all."
He throws his arm up to rest his head on his hand and turns to face her, like are you really going to go there today? She frowns. Says, "Alright there, Sacagawea?"
"Not my best day," he says.
"I've got a pharmacy in my purse if you need something," she says, and he remembers that she is a nice girl when she wants to be.
"That'd be great, thanks."
She starts rifling through her unnecessarily huge bag. "Alright," she says, "On a scale of one to ten, what's the damage to your head?"
"Um," he says, "Seven?"
She jerks her head back in disbelief. "Nate, a seven is like, legit migraine. Are you sure?"
"What is a 10, then? Coma?"
"Boys," she says, like that explains everything. "Anyway, here. Excedrin should do the trick without knocking you out. And go splash water on your face and pat down your hair."
Nate blinks, swallows the pills dry. "I don't know whether to thank you or be offended."
"Both probably," Nikki says, grinning. "But seriously, you're not the cutest server anymore, so unless you want your tips to take a major hit, you'd better at least be clean." She follows him to the workers' bathroom, chattering all the way. He hopes the pills are rapid release. "You know we hired a new guy right? He's gorgeous. I'm telling you, I would spread my legs for him right now if he wanted."
Nate winces, "Jesus, Nikki. Spare me today, alright?"
"Fine," she says, pouting. "Don't say I didn't warn you." She sashays off and Nate shuts himself in the bathroom, putting all his weight on the sink as he peers into the mirror to assess the damage.
Alright, fine, so he looks like shit.
He splashes water on his face, and combs his fingers through his hair to try and get it to lay flat. He tries running some hand soap over the stubborn cowlick on the back of his head, but it only makes his hair look oily along with disheveled.
Well, any hopes have making good tips today are dashed.
Nate pushes the door open, resigned to his fate, and runs smack dab into every single girl employee standing in a gaggle right in front of the bathroom. "Um," he says.
"Oh!" Carly says, "Excuse us." They all start giggling and sort of shuffle to the side to let him through. He catches Nikki's eye, but she just gives him an evil grin.
He doesn't get it until two seconds later, when somebody knocks into his hip on his way out to the floor. He glances up, already mumbling his apologies for getting in the way, and gets an eyeful of the most exotic looking man he's ever seen. Which is, okay, maybe a little derogatory-sounding or whatever but it's true, and Nate knows he's gaping.
With black hair tied up in a messy knot at the back of his neck, skin a honeyed brown color, and eyes so brown they're almost black, this must be the new guy Nikki was blabbering about.
"Hi there," He says, grinning. "I'm Quentin."
Nate's feels his eyes widening further. Not only is he striking, he's British. Nate glances over his shoulder at the girls, still in a giggling crowd. Not that he wants to giggle, but he could probably add a thing or two to their conversation. ("I've never kissed a guy with a beard before." Or "How do you think he got that scar over his upper lip?" Or "I wonder how he'd sound saying my name.")
But he shakes himself out of it. Says, "Right, good to meet you. I'm Nate."
"Nate," Quentin says, quirking his lips into a smile. He nods, like he's committing Nate's face and name to memory, and sweeps back out onto the floor, greeting a table of Red Hat Society women with a cheesy little bow before he asks them what they want to drink.
"See what I mean?" Nikki whispers, sidling up to where Nate's frozen in place. "You're absolutely screwed."
Screwed doesn't even begin to describe it.
Nate only makes twenty dollars in tips for his entire seven-hour shift while Quentin's apron pockets are surely weighed down by the time they're all closing later.
Nikki hip-bumps him on her way to clock out, whispering loudly, "How'd you make out, fallen star?" She nods at the fold of bills in his hand and actually fucking cackles.
And all he can say (because Quentin is shooting Nate a little self-deprecating grin, running a hand through his hair and looking apologetic) is, "shut up, Nikki."
Her laughter gets impossibly louder and harder to stand.
Summer sinks into itself, heat spiraling upwards until it breaks in a storm, is cool for a moment or two, and then restarts its dizzying ascent.
Nate spends most of the time holed away in his air-conditioned house, jerking off and watching porn, ignoring the way his eyes stray to the men in the scenes more often than not. It's purely competition, he tells himself, just to prove that he's better than they are at bending that way. His noises sound altogether more convincing than theirs. And okay, let's be honest, their dicks have to be pumped full of something because there's no way they can all be that hung.
On one blearily sweltering day, he wakes up at noon, throws his stifling sheets off his sweating body and jerks off lazily, spread-eagle and naked on the mattress, ceiling fan blurring above his head. His sweat starts cooling, sending goosebumps careening over his skin, heightening the heat between his legs.
He forces himself to go slow, lubing up his hand to make it nice and smooth, luxurious. Closes his eyes and sighs indulgently, feeling his muscles tense slowly until he's arched off the bed and gasping, hips fucking up into his fist until he comes, letting it roll over him in waves, hard and long.
He flops back onto the sheets, panting and dizzyingly used-up, slow to come back to reality. Outside, the sound of kids playing basketball and someone mowing their lawn. Inside, the hum of the air-conditioning kicking on again, high-heat of the day making it work overtime.
Nate smiles, and decides it's going to be a good day.
For a while, it seems like he's going to be right.
Kellan calls, asks if he wants to come over and hang out, and Nate goes, heart thumping in his chest at the idea of spending alone time with Kellan after weeks of not seeing him without Will or Grace at his side.
He gets to Kellan's, spends a few hours playing video games in the living room, joking around and batting at each other playfully, until Nate is breathless with it. Here they are. Again. Here they are.
They're Kellan and Nate. Nate and Kellan. Thick as thieves and all that.
Until Kellan knocks the controller out of his hands and topples him over. Nate can't help the way he goes immediately stiff in some places and pliant in others, eyes wide and focused on Kellan's mouth. "That was cheating," Kellan growls, lips turning down into a pout.
Nate laughs shakily, jerking forward in a half-aborted move to press his mouth against Kellan's. Kellan blinks, clambers off Nate like he's been stung, and hurries to his feet. He runs a hand through his hair and looks around the room. Says, "Ah, well, um."
Unable to stand the power-shift, Nate hops to his feet, too, so at least it's a little more even. "Want to go outside?" Kellan says, "Watch the storm roll in?"
Nate glances over Kellan's shoulder out the front window, sees that the sky has gotten dark and brooding. "Sure," he says, familiar feeling of defeat re-entering his mindset. He doesn't want to fight about this anymore.
The two of them sit on Kellan's porch swing, each at his own respective end and with no touching in the middle. Nate wants to ask what all that was about in there. Wants to say: listen, I know you're still attracted to me. That kind of thing doesn't just go away. Instead he comments on how nice it is to feel the heat breaking, how he hopes it'll last a while, how he's glad he's not paying a utility bill. And Kellan, for his part, just nods and mmm's appropriately, eyes focused on the clouds growing fat and heavy over their heads.
"So, there's this new guy at work," Nate says. "He's from England. All the girls are in love with him, and everyone requests to sit in his section. I swear, since he started working, my tips have tanked."
Kellan smiles at him conspiratorially, his eyes shining and his eyebrow raised like I'm sharing this moment with you. It's ours and nobody else's. And Nate knows—this is how Kellan is with everybody now. Now that Will has opened him up and shown him how proud he should be of himself or whatever. But it still feels like old times, when somebody would say something stupid, and Kellan would catch Nate's eye and they'd be the only two to know what that shared glance meant. And then later, when Kellan would look at him, dashing grin and all, and Nate would know he wants me. Right now, he wants to be touching me.
But at this moment, it's just a look. A look he'd share with anyone.
Nate's gut lurches.
"Jealous you're not the hottest guy there?"
Nate works over his words with his jaw before settling on silence. Wants to say, if you think I'm hot, why don't you want me anymore? To say, shut up, I'm still the hottest. To say: you think I'm the hottest?
Instead he just sits there, pining.
It's not even that he thinks about it anymore, it's just a kneejerk reaction. It's I can't have this even though I want it so bad. He wants something to hide behind, something else to focus on, but this is so bright and stinging that it's all he can do to smile back, laugh a little breathlessly, and look away.
But his eyes get caught on Kellan's bare knees, the darkness of the hair on his calves, the pale indent of his ankle. The shadow under his thigh where his shorts hang open. The arch of his foot in those stupid sandals he's been wearing every summer since the ninth grade. ("Jesus, your grandpa owns a shoe store, shouldn't you be giving him some business?"
"These are perfectly worn in, Nate."
"They don't!" A beat, "Alright, so they do, but they're my favorites.") Fuck, Nate even finds Kellan's toes distracting.
When he looks up, Kellan has pink stealing over his cheeks, and Nate hasn't actively felt like crying in years, but he was going to pick it back up, it'd be now. "Nate," Kellan whispers, "You gotta quit doing that."
Nate wants to be angry at him—is angry at him—but can't manage a decent snarl when he says, "Doing what?"
"I'm—" Kellan says, "It makes me uncomfortable."
Nate scoffs, wants to puke, and stands up. "Christ, your ego has swelled immensely in the last few months."
Kellan's hand shoots out and grabs Nate's wrist. This isn't fair. This isn't fair. "Nate—"
"No," Nate says, "No, you don't get to touch me." He yanks his arm away. "You don't get to—just. No."
Kellan holds him hands up in surrender. Says, "Sorry. I won't." (And damn it, Nate wants him to grab back on and not let go. To say, I miss you. I love you. I can't stop thinking about you.)
He doesn't know what makes him say it, maybe it's the way it's about to rain, and everything feels like it's holding its breath. Maybe it's the fact that it's the first time he's gotten Kellan alone in weeks. Maybe he just can't hold it in anymore. But he says, "Kellan, if I—tried. If I held your hand in public, or told my dad…" he trails off, feeling sick to his stomach, knows he can't actually do these things.
Kellan must see that in him because he says, gently, "It wouldn't matter, Nate. We're not—good for each other."
Nate feels himself nodding, scowling, painting a glazed look over his eyes as he stares blankly at the storm clouds rolling in. Feels himself say, "I get it. I'll leave you alone."
When he walks away, his whole body is geared towards Kellan, who hasn't moved, who's still sitting on the stupid swing, not following him or even calling out.
If he focuses hard enough, Kellan will come to him. Kellan will stand up and shake his head to clear it of Will and all the stupid things he's been thinking lately. And he'll say, Wait. Nate. Oh my god, wait. He even pauses at the end of the walk, just a split second, to give Kellan a chance to do those things, but he'd deny it if anybody asked.
When he hears a crack, for a beat he thinks it's thunder, but with a swoop of agonizing shame, he realizes it was the screen door of Kellan's house slamming on his way inside.
He opens at Platform the next day, sighing heavily when he sees Quentin is as well. It's not that he doesn't like the guy; it's just that he really wasn't kidding about the tip thing, and it's not like a waiter's salary is that great on its own.
By the lunch rush, all the ladies in his section are mooning over Quentin, asking Nate if he's friends with him, if he knows what part of England Quentin is from. To each of these, Nate rolls his eyes, says no, I'm not. No, I don't. No, no, no. (and okay, so maybe his attitude is slightly to blame for the two pennies of a tip he gets at the table of women who ask Nate if he'll ask Quentin to come over, and he responds, "Believe me, he wouldn't be interested. I'm doing you a favor by saying no." But whatever, it's still annoying.)
Nate is still stewing about it when Quentin knocks into Nate's hip with his own before gliding back to his section, saying, "Watch it, sweetheart."
Nate responds automatically, "You watch it," and Quentin shoots him a grin over his shoulder, leaving Nate with his stomach in knots, trying to catch his breath.
Okay, look, Nate is not that small. He's taller than every girl he's ever dated and he's not skinny, he's just slender. There's a difference. And so he resents having sweetheart attached to him in any way. He resents it so much, that he's going to tell Quentin to fuck off as soon as he returns from his table. He's going to tell him: listen, I don't know how you do things in England, but here, we don't throw around endearments at our very male coworkers. And also, of course: so, fuck off.
But then Quentin walks past him again, giving him an amused frown like shouldn't you be cruising your section instead of just standing there? And Nate flushes hotly like a…virginal sweetheart.
Christ, he needs to get out of here.
Whatever Nate thought would happen after his last conversation with Kellan, it wasn't that Kellan would completely avoid him. For the first week, it's not that different. Kellan's been ignoring him for Will and Grace since before the New Year. It still stings, though. And whatever embarrassment Nate felt about their talk quickly turns into anger. Which he tries to use to convince himself that Kellan is an ego-blown whiny brat, and that he never wanted him anyway. (It has varying levels of success depending on the time of day—mornings are usually good, nights are usually terrible.)
On one such terrible night, Nate wanders into the den where his dad is typing at his computer, hair ruffled from running his hands through it. He glances up as Nate walks in, but doesn't say anything. Nate settles into the armchair facing the desk and pulls his feet up to rest his chin on his knees.
Nate has a body like his mom's, slender and small, but the rest of him is a copy of his dad. Blue eyes, blond hair, skin that tends to turn an unfortunate shade of red when he's caught off guard or embarrassed. So he used to look at his dad and think that's how I'll look when I'm a man. Even now, no matter what crap his dad pulls, Nate can't help loving him—doesn't know how else to be.
And sometimes, like tonight, when Nate feels like he hasn't got anybody in the whole world, his dad will look up at him and say, "Well, this work will be here in the morning. Wanna order a pizza and watch a movie?"
"Yeah okay," Nate says, careful not to sound too impressed, too eager. But he leans into the touch when his dad drops a hand on his shoulder and squeezes.
He almost tells him about Kellan and asks him how to grow up and stop needing people so goddamn much. Asks him what his mom looked like when they first met, and the things she said to capture his dad's attention. Tells him about the Spanish-Language programs Nate's been looking at for next year.
But the moment passes, and his dad's hand slips off his shoulder. "Green pepper and onion?" His dad asks.
"Sure," Nate says, "Whatever you're up for."
Nate oversleeps the next day, and is almost late to work. As it is, he clocks in just on time, still tying his apron around his waist as he stumbles through the back. Waves distractedly at Quentin, who is composed and gorgeous as usual.
Frazzled and well on his way to annoyed, Nate rushes out towards the floor, but comes up short with a gasp. Sitting at one of the tables in his section is Kellan. Nate had hoped that the next time he saw Kellan, he'd be over it. If not the whole thing ("thing" being his overwhelming urge to throw himself at Kellan's feet and say please, I love you.), then at least the fight they had.
But now, with his heart slamming against his ribcage, he realizes he's not anywhere close to being over it.
Kellan keeps looking over his shoulder at the door, and Nate watches as a huge grin breaks out over his face—knows there's only one person who could inspire it (knows that person used to be him). Sure enough, Will comes through the door, Grace in tow, and Kellan jumps up to give her a hug. She must be back from Europe then. Whatever.
"Err," Quentin says, startling Nate as he comes up beside him. "Alright there?"
Nate looks up at him, trying to seem nonchalant, but failing miserably. Quentin glances over to Kellan's table, where Will's thrown an arm around him and Grace is bouncing sickeningly sweet on her side of the booth. "Know them?" he asks.
"Yeah it's—he's my best friend," Nate says.
Quentin squints. "So you're hiding back here because…?" When Nate doesn't say anything, Quentin says, "Did you not know he was with that guy?"
Nate sighs, rubs his eyes. "No, I knew."
"And you've a problem with him fancying other men?" Quentin says, voice hardening a little.
"No," Nate says.
Quentin ducks down so they're at the same level and he seems to search Nate's eyes. Something hot wells up in Nate's chest when he looks back, just letting himself breathe for a second. "Oh," Quentin says, softly, "I get it."
Nate looks away, moment broken. "There's nothing to get," he says angrily, starting to go out to Kellan's table.
Quentin grabs his arm before he can make it out to the floor and says, "I'll take this one."
"I don't need you to do that," Nate argues, yanking his arm away.
Quentin raises his eyebrows and smoothes a hand over Nate's shoulder. Nate blinks. "I said I'll take it, sweetheart. 'Sides, there's a bitchy old man in my section you can take off my hands so we're even."
Nate sighs, "Fine."
He watches from behind a pillar while Quentin approaches their table. Watches Kellan frown a little and crane his head to look towards the back. Nate ducks away and waits for Quentin to get back. When he does, he smiles at Nate and says, "Which one's your friend?"
"The one with the green shirt."
"Hmm," Quentin says.
"What does that mean?"
"They're both just a bit…animated. I can almost see the hearts in their eyes."
Nate desperately wants to say, right? Jesus. Wants to say, he wasn't always like that. He used to. Not. Look at that guy like that. (He used to look at me like that.) Instead he just grunts and watches out of the corner of his eye as Quentin goes to get their drinks.
"D'you see to the gramps, yet?" Quentin calls, giving Nate a pointed look. Nate sighs and walks over to Quentin's section, pretending to be invisible.
"Nate!" Kellan calls, waving him over. Nate gestures towards the man, shrugging apologetically. He wonders how long he can put this off.
"Sorry about your wait, sir," Nate says, blocking Kellan and his table of merriment out of his mind. "What can I get you started with?"
The man scowls at him as he orders a coffee and a salad. Nate smiles hopefully, but receives no response from the man, who just ducks back behind the paper he's reading.
Quentin catches him on his way out with the coffee, "Googly-eyes is asking for you. I couldn't think of an excuse fast enough. Sorry."
Nate gives him a weak smile. Says, "It's fine. Let me just get this to Scrooge over there."
"Hey," Quentin says, "If you need me to interrupt just give me the signal."
"The universal 'help me, this bloke is crazy,' signal. Don't you have that in America?"
"I guess not, what is it?"
Quentin rolls his eyes, "You just mouth 'help me, this bloke is crazy,' obviously." He grins, "No but really, I'll be out with their food in a few."
Nate laughs even though he doesn't want to (even though he feels sick with it), delivers the coffee to his less-than-thankful costumer, and squares his shoulders for his approach to Kellan's table.
"Hi guys," he says, forcing himself to smile.
"Hey, man," Kellan says, "It's good to see you."
Nate just nods. Can't force himself to say anything polite back. "So, what are you three up to?"
"We're celebrating," Grace says, looking as uncomfortable as Nate. He wonders if she understands how weird this situation is. Wonders if she'll tell her stupid brother how stupid it was to come here and flaunt themselves in Nate's face. Or maybe she just hates Nate. That's probably more likely.
"Yeah," Kellan says, "Grace just flew back from Spain!"
"How exciting," Nate says, hoping he sounds genuine.
"We're having her homecoming party tonight, actually. I—you want to come?" Kellan says.
(When it happens, it's always horrible, the way that it claws up the back of his throat and presses against his eyes like a headache, only more sinister.
It's in the catch of Nate's eyes on Kellan's hands when he talks, or the glint of his teeth where they drag over his lower lip, or the accidental stringing together of words he's said before, but in a very different context.
"Shit, Kellan. What're you—"
"Easy. Easy. I want to savor it."
A groan, and he's not sure who it's from or if it even exists outside of his head, but his body is stretched so taut, it could snap at any minute. "I—Kel—guh."
A glint of teeth, the flutter of a hand at his hip, "You want to come?"
"Fuck. You know I—")
"Um," Nate says, flushing despite himself.
"It's kind of our going-away party, too," Kellan says, quickly. Maybe he's noticed the way Nate has to clench his hands into fists and breathe out through his mouth, noisily. "We're all moving down to campus in a week."
"Oh," Nate says, feeling like the wind's been knocked out of him. He knew this was coming, he just hadn't realized it would feel quite this bad. (He also thinks it's more than a little cruel that Kellan would spring this on him here, in front of Will. And then he thinks, a clench of nausea in the pit of his stomach, that Kellan had probably planned it out this way. So that Nate couldn't—)"Oh, well then, sure. I—"
"Plates are hot!" Quentin says, appearing at Nate's side with his tray. Nate shuffles to the side, still feeling shell-shocked. "Your guy's salad is up, too, Nate," he says gently.
Nate jerks into action. Says, "Right, thanks. I'll uh, be right back."
He's setting the man's salad on his table without really knowing how he got there. Says, "Can I get you anything else?" and his voice echoes like he's stuck in a barrel.
He's so far into himself that his feet feel very far away from his head. Through the din of dull-panic, he hears Grace giggling from across the floor.
He hates everyone.
"You call this a lunch-portion?" the man gripes.
"Yes, sir," Nate says, fighting with everything in him not to do anything rash. This is still his life after all. Still a life that he has to keep living. (His stomach feels so hollow, it's like he's disappearing.)
"It's soaked with dressing," he says.
"I'm sorry sir, I can get you a new one with dressing on the side?" (Oh my god, he thinks, pressing the palm of his hand over his gut, half-surprised that the skin doesn't give completely, his whole body sifting through the gap in a rush of noise and light.)
"No, I don't have time for that," the man says, snapping his paper back up to signal the end of the conversation.
Nate goes back to Kellan's table, only slightly aware of their cheerful conversation withering at his approach. Grace stares at her plate and Will and Kellan shoot him their smug little we-love-each-other smiles. "So, where's this party?" His mouth says.
"Grace's house," Kellan says. "What time do you get off? You can just come over then if you want."
"Yeah," Nate says, his eyes going on with their blinking and his lungs with their breathing. "Alright. Well, um, enjoy your meal. See you later."
"See you," Will says. (Bastard always has to have the last word.)
He walks back to the back, trying to forget all of it. It's fine. It'll be—it fucking sucks, actually. There's no way around it. Kellan is leaving. They're supposed to be going there together. Rushing KT and living it up. But now Kellan is leaving and Nate is staying because he can't go to ISU now, and he's never thought about going anywhere else.
At least Platform stays pretty dead while Kellan's still there, so Nate doesn't have to leave the back very much. Mostly, he leans against the wall and thinks about his chances of getting a tip from the guy in Quentin' section (he doesn't).
Finally Kellan and company leave, and Nate feels like he can breathe again. Shortly after, the dinner crowd comes in, and he doesn't have time to feel sorry for himself again until he and Quentin are stuck closing down the whole floor.
Nate halfheartedly cleans his tables and sweeps his section, trying to take as much time as possible. Will and the Pride Cadets don't seem like the type to stay up really late and party; maybe if he drags out closing for long enough, he'll get there after the whole thing is over.
"Need help?" Quentin asks, leaning against the bar, tips already counted and neatly stacked on the table in front of him.
Nate scoffs, "I hate working with you."
"Excuse me?" Quentin says, looking taken aback.
"Hello, I'm Quentin and I'll be your charming, British server," Nate says, "Please ignore the boring American guy over there and give me all your tips."
Quentin laughs. "Oh, right. Blame it on my accent. Maybe you're just a shite server."
"Even your curse words sound charming," Nate grouses.
"You're plenty charming," Quentin says. "Except for now, when you're delaying my ability to leave. Can I help you get anything done?"
Nate sighs, reminder of why he's taking his sweet time hitting him in the gut. "Sorry, I'm done, actually. I just didn't want to go."
"Why not? Normally I see you rush out of this place like you never want to see it again."
"Normally I don't have parties to go to afterwards," Nate says.
"You're very strange," Quentin says, shoving his tips in his pocket.
Nate just shrugs and leans against the handle of his broom, somewhat dejected upon discovering that he really can't drag this out any longer.
And then, "Would company help?"
That is so completely not what Nate was expecting that he just blinks. Before he can really make a decision one way or another, his mouth is saying, "Yeah, actually, if you've got nothing else to do."
"Okay, let me clock out and we can caravan over there."
"Oh," Quentin says, "I actually took the bus. Couldn't exactly bring a car with me from England."
"Right," Nate says, "Well, uh, I'm parked out back so, whenever you're ready."
"I've been ready for the last thirty minutes," Quentin says, waggling his eyebrows at Nate. Nate refuses to find it adorable in the least.
They ride over in relative silence, Quentin joking about Nate not making as much in tips as him, "Not because I'm British, but because you're a grouchy prick half the time."
"Hey!" Nate says, flashing a scowl in Quentin's direction. "I'm always the picture of a humble servant."
Quentin snorts. "If you mean the kind that make faces at their customers and snap back at them if they're rude."
"That's exactly the kind I mean," Nate quips, biting down on a smile.
When they pull onto Kellan's and Grace's street, it is much easier to keep from grinning at the stupid things Quentin says. Mostly because the feeling of utter dread has once again settled over him. "Well," he says, "Here we are."
"D'you live around here?" Quentin asks as they're going up the walk.
"A few streets over, yeah," Nate says, distracted and anxious. He takes a deep breath and walks through the propped-open door into the living room.
He doesn't know why it surprises him that the party is actually sort of party-like in the way that it is not just Kellan and Will making out with each other while Grace takes pictures from the sidelines, but involves quite a few people.
Where they all came from is somewhat of a mystery, though he does recognize some from WCC, nodding in acknowledgment as they do the same. Quentin sticks pretty close to Nate's side, which is more reassuring than Nate would like it to be, but in the end, becomes rather helpful as Quentin shoves a drink in his hand and whispers, "Christ. Try and look a little less petrified, if you please."
Nate gulps down whatever is in the cup (which is Dr. Pepper. What the fuck are they doing drinking soda at a party? Surely it was goody-goody Will's idea.) and angles his face up towards Quentin. "Better?" he says, stretching his lips over his teeth and raising his eyebrows in an attempt to look normal or something.
Quentin rolls his eyes, but ruffles Nate's hair (Oh). Says, "You're ridiculous."
Nate pushes Quentin away, pressing his hair back down against his head, huffing in annoyance. "In America, we don't stick our grimy paws in people's hair."
Quentin laughs, does it again, and says, "I've never been one for going native."
Nate's going to retort. Going to mess up Quentin's hair, at least. But he's interrupted by a cheerful shout of his name from behind him. He glances up at Quentin again, to—he doesn't know what, fortify himself or something, and then turns around to say, "Hey, Kellan."
For a second, Kellan looks like he's going to hug him, his arms halfway out from his body, and Nate's pulse explodes. There's a jerky moment where Nate raises his arms, too, exhales heavily so that he'll be able to breathe Kellan in once he's close enough, but Kellan flinches and they turn it into some sort of weird hand slap thing. "Ah," Nate mumbles, blush roaring over his face, "Guess we've forgotten our secret handshake."
"What?" Kellan says sharply, like he's gotten into the habit of doing any time he thinks he's missing a piece of the past he's reacquired.
"Nothing," Nate says, feeling like a heel. "Just—stupid joke."
"Oh," Kellan says, forced smile on his face. His eyes flicker around the room and Nate knows, just fucking knows, he's looking for Will for reassurance or something. "Anyway," he says brightly, "Glad you could make it!"
"Yeah," Nate says, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck awkwardly, "Wouldn't, uh, wouldn't miss it."
"Hi," Kellan says, reaching a hand out to Quentin. Nate shuffles quickly to the side so the two of them are face to face and Nate can press himself against the wall. "I'm Kellan."
"Quentin," Quentin says, "We sort of met this afternoon. I was—"
"Oh, right!" Kellan says, butting the heel of his palm against his head like, duh. (It's a move he's picked up from Grace, Nate thinks, because he's never seen the other boy make it before.) "Sorry, it's been kind of a crazy day. Quentin, you said?"
"Yeah," Quentin says, and Nate waits for a sickening moment for Quentin to say Kellan's name. For it to come out all soft and British and much prettier than Nate's own name. And then, dizzyingly, he thinks don't you dare. And that's ridiculous because it'd just be a name, for Christ's sake, what does it matter whether Quentin says it or not? And how can a man get through life without saying any name but Nate, Nate, "Nate, alright there?"
He blinks, realizes he's been staring at his shoes determinedly for the last few moments, that Kellan's moved on to other guests, and that Quentin is quirking a concerned eyebrow at him. "Yeah," Nate says quickly, "Sorry. Just tired, I guess."
"You gonna tell me about the dynamic here?"
"Between you and Ke—"
Nate winces, cuts him off. Says, "I don't want to talk about it." And then softer, when Quentin looks a bit hurt, "Maybe. Just. Not tonight, okay?"
Quentin just makes an "Mmm," sound and takes a sip from his cup.
Nate feels guilty for dragging him here and then being an ass, so he tries again with, "Let's just. What if we talked about something else? Like," he pauses, "Like, okay. Why are you here? Not this party, obviously, but like, America. Iowa. Of all places."
Quentin's lips quirk a little, "Are you one of those self-deprecating Americans?"
Nate shrugs. "No. It's just—I mean, I'm sorry, but Iowa?"
He tries not to enjoy it so much when Quentin chuckles, low in his throat, like he's genuinely amused by Nate's company. "It's actually quite—my father's an American. An Iowan, specifically. I just finished uni and I wanted, I don't know, not to jump right into the real world?"
"So you came to the magical place away from all places. The Hawkeye State."
"More or less," Quentin says, laughing. "My grandparents still live here. They offered me a room for a year."
Nate nods, "Fair enough. Although I'd have tried for somewhere cooler. I'm sure there are a lot of people willing to shelter an attractive British man for an extended period of time."
Quentin's eyebrow quirks and Nate wants to shoot himself in the foot, but neither of them mention it beyond Quentin saying, "I try not to model my life off of Love, Actually, whenever possible." Nate laughs uncomfortably, face still heated under a blush.
He turns and scans the room with feigned interest, wishing someone would wave him over so he'd have an excuse to leave the current conversation behind.
"So," Quentin says finally, "Who's the girl butchering the French language?"
"Huh?" Nate says, only just now noticing Grace pretending to puff away on a Pirouette (and Jesus Christ, how could Kellan be friends with someone like that?) murmuring something in throaty bad-French, apparently. "Oh," he says, sighing, "That's Grace. She just got back from Europe."
Quentin snorts. "I'm not sure what she thinks she just said, but it was definitely something about going down on a tiramisu."
Nate rolls his eyes, "Knowing her, that very well could be what she means to say."
"Oh, and now she's trying her hand at German. That's—" Quentin furrows his eyebrows and mouths out whatever it was Grace just said. Nate does not stare. At all. "It's been a while since I've taken German, but I'm fairly sure 'the train will now be stopping for an arse lick' is not appropriate for a party that's serving Dr. Pepper as the primary beverage."
Nate barks out a laugh, the first genuine one of the evening, drawing the attention of a few people around him. Quentin grins at him, jostles him with an elbow to Nate's arm, and Nate forces his smile into a neutral expression, glances away to straighten his features before he looks back and says, "Yeah, well."
The night goes on that way, with Nate and Quentin falling into conversations and then leaping away from them every time they touch on a nerve. ("So, are you going off to college with this lot?"
"Nikki mentioned that you two saw each other briefly. What ended that one?"
"What, amnesia amnesia?")
By the time the party has dwindled down to just a few people, Nate is tense from being on edge for so long, and wants more than anything just to go home and sleep it off. And when Quentin yawns at his side, Nate snaps at the bait. "You ready to get out of here?" (and fuck if that doesn't make him flush a little, after everything, the ease of the line falling from his mouth before he can worry about what it might mean.)
Quentin just smiles, eyes tired, and says, "Definitely."
And he's almost out of there relatively unscathed, but when he wanders into the kitchen to throw away his cup, he sees Kellan pushing Will against the counter lightly, murmuring against his mouth, "God, I love you."
Nate turns on his heel, not noticing anything but the rush of blood in his head, and collides into Quentin who says, "ho'there!" and grabs Nate's elbow to steady him.
Behind him, Nate can hear Kellan and Will springing apart, and he can't—he physically cannot face them right now, so he pushes past Quentin and out the door, realizing halfway to his car that he still has his stupid cup in his hand. He throws it in the yard, too upset to even get a thrill out of littering all over "He just likes to be environmentally friendly"-Will's lawn.
"Hey," Quentin calls, jogging up behind Nate, catching his shoulder and tugging a little. "Hey, just. Take a breath."
Nate whirls on him, temper blazing, and even though Quentin is obviously bigger and stronger than Nate will ever be, he steps back, hands raised in surrender. "I—I'm not some—this isn't just."
"I know," Quentin says. "I saw it."
Nate exhales, feeling his whole body droop forward, and for a split-second he thinks his knees will actually give out and he'll just pass out on the sidewalk. But they don't—they lock, and he sways, but stays upright. Says, "Can we just?"
"Sure," Quentin says, walking around to the passenger's side of Nate's Jeep.
They don't talk on the way to Quentin's house except for Quentin to give directions, and when they pull up to the house, Quentin points him down the gravel path that leads to an unattached garage. "I live above here," Quentin says.
Nate hmm's and puts the car in park, flicks off his headlights. He doesn't know what he'll say if Quentin invites him up. Doesn't think he can stomach any more talking tonight. Doesn't know if Quentin is even inclined to want to do anything else.
"Well," Quentin says after a heavy stretch of silence, "I guess I'll see you at work. When's your next shift?"
Nate groans. "I open tomorrow."
"Ouch," Quentin says, grimacing sympathetically. "I come in at five. Maybe we'll cross paths."
"Maybe," Nate says, dropping his head back on the headrest. He's so tired. Tired enough that he could be imagining it when Quentin's fingers graze down the side of his arm briefly before he hops out of the car. "G'night," Nate calls softly. Quentin smiles at him and shuts the door, taking the stairs up the side of the garage two at a time. At the top, just before he goes in, he turns back and waves, expression inked out by the night.
Nate imagines that he's murmuring, Night, sweetheart.
Then he scoffs at himself and angrily drives home.
In a rare moment of schedules meeting, Nate and his dad end up in the kitchen at the same time the following morning. His dad is drinking down some ridiculous shake thing that is made from cayenne pepper and citrus fruit, among other things, and Nate is making a show of crunching obnoxiously on his cereal. "You should be careful," his dad says, "that'll catch up to you before you know it."
Nate just smiles cheekily and slurps down his milk. His dad frowns, but doesn't say anything. "So," he says, "work today?"
"Yep," Nate says. "You?"
"Overnight conference in Ames. I left money on the table in the entryway for whatever you need."
"Thanks," Nate says, clattering his bowl and spoon into the sink. "Well," he says, "See you, then."
"Yep," His dad says.
(It's the longest conversation they've had in weeks.)
Nate pockets the money on his way out the door, drives to work, and spends the day promising himself that if he can just get through this shift, he can spend the cash on alcohol and cigarettes. It's stupid, since he's underage and doesn't smoke, but it makes him feel very tough and unaffected, which are two things he desperately wishes he was.
By five, he's made kind of a lot in tips, and he's a numb sort of exhausted and mostly able to pretend last night never happened.
Until Quentin walks in the door, backlit by afternoon sunshine, shooting the spaces between his curly fly-aways through with gold. And of fucking course, Nate's throat tightens and it reminds him of how he's never been this automatically attracted to someone. Not even Kellan, if he thinks about it.
"Hey," Quentin says genially, door swinging shut so that Nate's eyes squint to adjust to the dim lighting.
"Hi," Nate says, annoyed by how breathless he suddenly feels.
His hand is hovering over his timecard to clock out and Quentin reaches around him to grab his own, bringing them almost back to chest and Nate can't help but say, "Oh," and go absolutely still.
He hears Quentin breathe in quietly, murmuring, "D'you put peppermint oil in your hair?"
Nate nods—it's one of the only douchey things his dad does that Nate actually copies. It helps him wake up on the days when he'd rather die than do anything else but sleep. "Is that—?"
"No it's—" Quentin's voice is suddenly an octave lower and gravelly.
A brief bump of Quentin's nose to Nate's temple, maybe, or maybe not, and Nikki is bursting through the backdoor, screeching, "Oi, Quentin, mate! We finally have a bloody shift together!"
Nate jumps forward, fingers fumbling on the machine so his time punches diagonal across two days, cramming his timesheet back in its slot and hurrying away. Behind him, a chuckle. Quentin saying, "Your British is coming along nicely, I see." Nikki, giggling fondly in response.
And the sun, violently bright on his eyes as he bursts out into the parking lot.
That night, after a dangerous amount of alcohol and a failed-attempt to smoke one of his dad's cigars, Nate falls asleep in the big leather chair of his dad's office, knees hooked over one arm, chin burrowed into his chest.
He dreams of his dad coming home to find the cigar still smoking, of him brushing back the hair from Nate's forehead and saying, we'll smoke one together sometime. And Nate smiles and nods and can't keep his eyes open long enough to say anything back.
Of Kellan, nosing at Nate's temple. Saying, Do you put peppermint oil in your hair? Nate saying back, yes yes yes, with his hands and his mouth, his heart so heavy in his chest, he thinks it might sink into his stomach and settle there, each beat of it jerking him forward first, and then back.
Of Will and Nikki kissing on Grace's front lawn, Nikki leaning back to tell Nate I left you money on the table in the hall, mate. Will laughing and weaving his hands into Nikki's hair, tugging her back to him. Nate bursting into a run to find Kellan, running and running until each step glides him up and off the ground and he's not getting anywhere and he's so angry he could scream.
Of Quentin in the dark, Nate's eyes too unfocused to see his face, murmuring, so you've finally figured it out. Nate's heart in his throat, on the back of his tongue, fluttering madly until he can't breathe. Until his eyes open wide and his hands fly to his neck, wheezing and sputtering.
He wakes up in a flurry of limbs and with a gasp, neck bent so far into his chest that it's cutting off airflow. He pulls himself out of the chair and slowly makes his way up to his room, where he falls asleep face down on his mattress, pillow flopped over his head.
So, Quentin says, Kellan says, his dad says, each of them with too many teeth in mouths that are impossibly wide across their faces. So, sweetheart. So…
Nate wakes up the next day feeling clammy and horrible, walks to the shower by valiantly taking a few steps before stopping to breathe through his nose against the nausea. A few more steps, breathe, repeat.
The shower helps a little, at least rinsing some of the shaky feeling off of him, but he still spends the rest of the morning and a good portion of the afternoon splayed out on his bed, taking deep, slow breaths through his nose, trying not to move a muscle.
By the time his hangover has subsided enough that he feels like he could make it downstairs to eat something, it's nearly 4pm and there's a message on the machine from his dad saying he'll be gone another night. Nate rubs a hand over his forehead when his dad says it's because he's "networking with clients." (He remembers the last time his dad came home from a conference, a purple bruise peeking out from under the collar of his suit. When Nate had seen it, he'd blanched and fled the room, hating his dad more than he ever had before.)
He munches on dry cereal while watching some cop show on T.V., clicks around on his computer for a while, picks up the acoustic guitar he'd gotten a few Christmases ago and once again pretends he's going to teach himself some chords before setting it back down and sighing in boredom.
For a flash of a moment, he considers calling Kellan to see if he wants to see a movie or something, but then pushes that thought away. Surely the other boy will be busy with getting ready to ride off into the sunset with Prince Will.
He knows Nikki has a date because she'd been blabbering about it for a week, shooting glances at Nate every time, like he should be jealous.
That only leaves Quentin on the short list of people Nate hangs out with, and he's a stretch considering they've only actually done one thing outside of work.
In the end, Nate decides to go to Platform and pick up his schedule for the next couple of weeks, and if Quentin is there, well, then, Nate will say hi. And that will be that. And then maybe he'll go see a movie by himself or something.
Platform is pretty dead, just a few tables occupied when Nate comes in and finds Quentin leaning against the wall in the back, humming quietly to himself. When he catches sight of Nate, his face breaks out into a smile that Nate has to force himself not to return. Instead, he just grunts, "Hey, man."
"Nate," Quentin says, hovering around him like he hasn't had good company in hours. Which, judging by the crowd on the floor, he hasn't. "Didn't know you were working today."
"M'not," Nate says, "just came in to get my schedule."
"Shame," Quentin says, flopping back against the wall.
It's out of his mouth before he can stop it: "How much longer are you on for? I could stick around a while. Give you a ride home."
Quentin's face lights up immediately, so that Nate barely has time to acknowledge the swooping regret in his stomach at having asked something so stupid. "That'd be fantastic. I, uh," he glances at his watch, winces, "I've still got another two hours, though."
Nate just shrugs, going for nonchalance and pretty confident he hit his mark regardless of the pounding of his heart. "It's fine. I don't have anywhere to be."
He's afraid Quentin's going to press it. Say, honestly? Say, you really don't have to. Say anything to ruin the cautious thing they've got going here. Instead, he just says, "Great. Thanks. Sit down, I'll bring you something to drink."
"You don't have to wait on me," Nate says, but Quentin just gives him a look, so he relents. "An iced tea would be good."
Quentin nods like, it's settled, and hurries off.
When he hands over the glass, sweating and cold and delicious, Nate's fingers may or may not linger over Quentin's as he grasps it, says, "Thank you," in a voice that even he can't pretend doesn't make it sound like a come on.
Quentin licks his lips, draws his hand away slowly, and says, "Not a problem."
He kicks at the chair across from him like, sit with me. Quentin glances around to make sure no one's watching, and perches on the edge of the chair, like he's ready to leap out of it at any sign of the manager or a new customer. Nate takes a gulp of tea, sighs as it makes its way down his parched throat. "So how's your day been?" he asks, drawing one foot onto the chair to prop his chin on his knee. Quentin smiles at him fondly (and if that feels good, well, Nate ignores it).
"Pretty uneventful. Nikki came in earlier—for her schedule, too—and babbled about her date with Mike again."
"Mike's his name, huh?" Nate says, thinking that it should at least sound familiar after how much she's talked about him.
Quentin laughs and nods. Says, "She's still hung up on you, though, poor thing."
Nate groans and hides his face behind a hand. "It's not that I don't think she's great," he says, "but." Oh smart, Nate, he thinks, but what? "We're just better off as friends."
"Yeah," Quentin says quietly, like he's waiting for Nate to add more. When he doesn't, Quentin says, "How was your day, then?"
Nate shrugs, "Spent most of it hungover, truthfully."
Quentin winces sympathetically. Stands suddenly, says, "I'm going to take a sweep of the floor. Don't go anywhere."
The ice tinkles in Nate's glass as it starts to melt and settle, and Nate jerks at the sound of it, realizing his eyes have been set steadily on Quentin's back as he stops at each table to ask how the customers are doing. Nate takes a hasty gulp of tea, coughing as it goes down the wrong pipe, and wills himself to chill the fuck out.
He likes Quentin, so what? He likes Nikki, too. And most of the people that work here. He's even willing to go as far as to say he has a crush on Quentin, okay, but it's nothing serious, just a little adrenaline boost every now and then. Nothing to get worked up over.
But then Quentin laughs at something some middle-aged woman has said to him, her cheeks flushing pink from Quentin's attention, and Nate can hear that he's not just laughing to get a tip out of the woman, but genuinely. And when he turns, face still caught in the tail end of the laugh, and his eyes land on Nate, his smile just blooms that much more.
And Nate, heart in his throat, smiles back, sets his cheek on his knee, and accepts the fact that he is actually, incredibly, thoroughly fucked.
Quentin sits back down across from him, taps his fingers on the table, not far from where Nate's fingers are resting. Nate, who hasn't stopped smiling, and can't even bring himself to try.
"What?" Quentin asks finally.
Nate just shakes his head, nods at the woman from before, and says, "You are one charming motherfucker." Doesn't realize it for the double entendre it is until it's out of his mouth.
Quentin glances over his shoulder, looks back smiling, says, "What, her? She's not my type."
"Not into cougars?" Nate says, taking a drink to hide his mouth, which won't stop smiling.
"Can't say that I am," Quentin says, nodding in recognition as the cook puts Quentin's order up. He stands again, and Nate fully expects him to just walk away. Instead, Quentin sinks his fingers into the hair on the top of Nate's head, tugs in a way that makes Nate gasp and slam his eyes shut, blood roaring in his ears. "But I do have a thing for blonds," Quentin says.
Nate blinks up at him. Wants to say something snarky like, what did I tell you about grimy hands in my hair? Or something sexy like, is that so? But he can't get any words to come out of his mouth before Quentin is off, whisking a tray towards one of his tables.
While he's gone, Nate presses down his hair, fully aware of how badly his hands are shaking and how fast his heart it beating. But Jesus Christ, it'll be a long time before he can forget how fast the lust had swept through him when Quentin's fingers had tensed and pulled.
(It'll be longer, still, before he can forget that his first instinct had been to drop to his knees and press his mouth to Quentin's crotch, tongue at the zipper and whisper, yes, I don't mind. Pull it harder.)
He downs the rest of his tea in one go, and realizes his error when Quentin comes back and Nate has nothing left to do with his hands or mouth. Quentin just smiles at him easily and says, "Another?" Nate nods and hands over the empty glass, careful, this time, not to brush his fingers over Quentin's.
Luckily, Quentin seems to know to back off after that, sticking to questions about hobbies and past jobs. Nate lets himself relax, muscle by muscle, until he's slumped in his seat, wiping tears from his eyes as Quentin regales him with a story about how he'd once been fired for walking in on his boss perusing a site for blow-up dolls.
"The thing about it was," Quentin is saying, while Nate is still howling over the fact that at the time, Quentin had been working at a Christian bookstore. "I was totally supportive. 'The blonde is definitely cuter than the redhead,' I said, 'Get her.' But apparently, that wasn't the right response."
Nate laughs, but sobers up a little, mind flashing again to the embarrassing display he made of himself a bit ago, practically writhing under Quentin's hand. He feels a blush working up his neck and looks away.
Quentin makes a 'hmm' sound at Nate's silence and says, "Well, I'm off in a few. I'm going to go finish up. Wait for me here?"
"Sure," Nate says, thinking, where else would I be?
He resolutely avoids watching Quentin cleaning off his tables and saying goodnight to all his customers by returning his cup to the kitchen, poring over the schedule to see who he's working with and when (he's got three and a half shifts with Quentin next week and he doesn't know if he's excited by that or not.). Pulling his phone out of his pocket and making a show of pressing buttons like he's actually doing something. Leaves a message in his drafts box that says, "Don't be an idiot, Nate."
Quentin ambles back to the table, pulling his tips out of his apron and setting them on the table. Nate scoffs and rolls his eyes, already knowing it'll be a hell of a lot more than he could have made with such a meager crowd. Quentin grins, says, "Yeah, yeah."
There's a heat in his gaze that makes Nate want to swoon, so he looks away to keep himself from it. He eyes settle on the strip of leather around Quentin's wrist, thin and worn, and under it, a tattoo in some foreign language, ink looping intricately before drawing up in sharp strokes and falling back into spirals.
Before he can stop himself, Nate presses his finger over it, glances up into Quentin's eyes as he turns the touch into a caress. Quentin's eyes narrow and he licks his lips. "What's it mean?" Nate asks, drawing his hand back onto the table.
"It's the first word in the Qur'an."
"Are you Muslim?"
Quentin shrugs, "Used to be."
Nate makes a humming sound and looks away. He feels Quentin watching him for a few beats before he ducks his head and starts mouthing the count of his tips.
Something's itching under Nate's skin like warm nights and danger (like he wants to bite at the ink over Quentin's blue blue veins) so he closes his eyes for a second to clear his head. When he opens them, Quentin is folding his cash neatly and sliding it into his pocket, saying, "Ready?"
Dry-mouthed and weak-kneed, Nate says, "Yeah, okay."
They don't talk in the car, Quentin sort of nods off with his head lolling on the back of his seat. When Nate pulls up to Quentin's house, and Quentin doesn't wake, Nate sits for a moment, wondering what he should do.
In the end, he just lays his fingers lightly on Quentin's hand where it's set on Quentin's thigh. Says, "Hey," sweeps his hand over the hair of Quentin's forearm. "You're home," he murmurs, eyes trained on his own fingers, still moving along Quentin's arm, the inside of his elbow, the bottom curve of his bicep.
When he looks up, Quentin is looking at him, heat back in his eyes until Nate gasps and draws his hand away sharply. Laughs uncomfortably, "Right, well, here we are. See you later."
"Nate," Quentin says softly.
"Yeah," Nate says, too afraid to look at him.
But whatever Quentin was going to say is swallowed by a sigh and he says, "See you later."
Nate doesn't wait for him to get to the door before driving away, cursing at himself for being so stupid. Not knowing, exactly, what part of his behavior he finds so offending—the touching, or the lack of follow-through.
Later, when he's gasping into his pillow, grinding his hips down into the mattress with a feverish precision, he knows it's the latter.
Things only get worse from there.
Nate spends his shifts with Quentin cataloguing the other man's movements, his quirks, the way he smiles differently for Nate than he does for everyone else. Something that's softer, shyer. Something that drives Nate crazy, because also, one night, when Nate and Quentin are closing alone, and Nate's helped himself to a beer and is watching Quentin finish up, there's this:
The scar that cuts across Quentin's upper lip mars it—a vertical white stripe under his beard and Nate's mouth waters because he wants to tongue at it, hot and open-mouthed, whispering, sweetheart, call me sweetheart, call me, oh.
He takes a stuttering breath in, and then a quick draw of beer, eyes on Quentin as the other man cleans off his tables, bending low so that his work-regulated khakis stretch taut over his ass. Nate takes another swig, and it's warm and sour and the whole room feels itchy and charged.
"A-yo, Princess," Quentin says, craning his head over his shoulder to glare at Nate, "the faster these tables get done, the faster we can leave."
Nate shrugs, hoping he looks less interested than he feels (princess? Jesus fuck.), says, "I don't have anywhere to be."
Quentin raises an eyebrow at the beer in Nate's hand, "Didn't know you were drinking age."
"M'not," Nate says, "Gonna tattle on me?"
"I should," Quentin says, walking over and sitting on the barstool next to Nate. Their thighs knock together and Nate takes a quick swig of his drink to disguise the shaky inhale of his breath.
"But?" he says, wiping his mouth with his wrist and forcing himself to hold Quentin's gaze.
Quentin's line of sight flickers back and forth between Nate's eyes, like he's sizing him up. Slowly—enough so that Nate can move away if he wants to—he grips Nate's wrist and tugs it towards him, so the bottle is at Quentin's lips. "D'you mind?" he asks, tongue flickering at the rim of the bottle, a harsh jolt of pink. Nate doesn't say anything. Can't say anything. Is absolutely shocked silent.
Quentin tips Nate's wrist forward, but the angle is still awkward so he ducks down, neck bent back and back (and oh, the shape of it, oh, Nate's mouth waters) and takes a leisurely sip. "S'warm," he husks when he's backed off and dropped Nate's wrist.
Nate just nods dumbly, swallowing around his suddenly bone-dry throat.
"How 'bout you help me finish these tables, and I'll take you back to mine for a real drink?"
Nate blinks, heart hammering in his chest like it might actually knock him off the chair. "Um," he says, "I—can't." He can't think of any excuse other than that, because his brain has just gone on strike or something (and to be fair, there are other extremely displeased parts of his body that are revolting as well).
Quentin's eyebrows quirk, but he just shrugs and goes back to cleaning tables, "Suit yourself."
Nate is so frustrated with himself he could scream, but instead he starts wiping down the bar so he has something to do with his hands. He wants to say, I change my mind. To say, another time, though? Or You're not reading this wrong, I'm just…
But he doesn't say any of those things. When does he ever say the things he wants to?
Nate avoids the bathroom on the first floor of his house, especially after he's been drinking. He can't go in there without seeing Kellan splayed open against the counter, looking confused and aroused all at the same time. Can't walk past it and not remember how it felt to think here's my fresh start. I'll treat him right this time, now that it's marred with the knowledge that he couldn't—no, that he could've, but didn't.
So tonight, when his dad is out and he's been raiding the liquor cabinet, he stumbles past that bathroom, ignoring the clench in his stomach as he does so, and into the kitchen, where he yanks down the phone tree from Platform off the fridge and mashes his fingers into the buttons of his phone until he dials Quentin's number.
It's 3am, he realizes as Quentin answers the phone with a husky, sleep-worn, "Hello?"
Nate clambers up onto the island, crossing his legs and leaning on his knees. "I should have gone home with you tonight," he says.
"I wanted to, you know."
Quentin clears his throat and Nate hears rustling through the line, a yawn. "Why didn't you, then?"
Nate barks out a bitter laugh, "I was scared."
"Of being into guys, in general."
"Oh," Quentin says. Oh. Not 'You shouldn't be.' Or 'That's stupid.' Or 'I'm so sorry.' Just, oh.
"Yeah," Nate says, "But I thought you should know that I—uh. That I wanted to. Have a drink with you. And maybe…uh."
In the silence that follows, Nate thinks Quentin's fallen back to sleep, and he's going to hang up and start the cycle of crushing embarrassment and more drinking, but then, "And maybe, what?"
"You wanted to have a drink with me, and maybe what?"
"Sure you do," is all Quentin says, and Nate sucks in a breath, cheeks hot and bright. Even though there's no one here to see, he hides his face behind his hand.
"You're going to make me say it?" he whispers, blood thrumming in the space behind his eardrums. The granite countertop suddenly feels unbearably cold against his bare legs. Or maybe it's that his whole body is at once feverishly hot. Either way, he starts shaking, chest heaving on each breath.
"Sometimes," Quentin says, apparently deciding to relent a little, "I watch the way you move. You're so goddamn sensual, and you don't even know it. Even when you scowl. Especially when you scowl."
Nate's heart rate picks up and he swallows. "Um."
"I get this image of you in my head, where I'm touching you, and you don't want it to feel good, so you're making that pissed-off face, because it does. And you're—Christ, you're giving me instructions on how you like it. You're such a prat, Nate, and I want to make you come apart."
Nate rearranges himself to accommodate the swelling at his crotch, legs dangling over the counter. He says, "You, um."
Quentin laughs filthily. "Should I stop talking?"
"No," Nate says quickly, winces, says, "I mean, just, I'm…"
A breath of silence and then, "Is it turning you on?"
Nate nods, realizes Quentin can't see him nodding, but can't seem to make any words come out of his mouth that wouldn't sound like a whimper. Which he's not going to do. Thankfully, silence seems to get the point across because Nate hears more rustling on the other end, and Quentin says, "Tell me how you like it, Nate."
"Better yet, why don't you do it? Right now. Tell me how it is as you go."
"You want me to—"
"Yeah. I'll return the favor, if you want," Quentin says, voice pitched low and dirty.
"Oh my god," Nate breathes, because oh my god. "I've never—"
"Do like you normally do. S'easy, sweetheart."
Ultimately, it's that sweetheart that gets him. With an embarrassed huff of breath, he slips his hand beneath the waistband of his boxers, fingers dancing along the strip of skin just above his already-half-interested cock. "Okay," he says, hissing a little as he closes a loose fist around himself, "I'm—I…"
"Are you in your bed?" Quentin asks.
"No," Nate says, giving himself an experimental tug, "No, I—kitchen. I'm uh, on the island."
"You're—" Quentin says, swallows audibly. "Okay, Christ. Are the lights on?"
"Uh huh," Nate says, squirming against his still hand. He swallows around the anxious knot in his throat, torn uncomfortably between wanting and hesitation. "Is that—should I go somewhere else?"
"No," Quentin says quickly. "Stay right where you are. I think it's dead sexy."
Nate doesn't find it particularly sexy. In fact, now that he's thinking about it, it's unsanitary and far too bright, but Quentin told him to stay, so he will. To distract himself, he clears his throat, squeezes his eyes shut tight, and says, "Where, um. Where are you?"
"Bed," Quentin says, quietly. "It's nice," he says, "Nice to hear your voice while I'm in it."
Nate doesn't know what to say to that, so he just lets himself picture Quentin draped artfully over white, cotton sheets, shadows of the room pooling in the hollow places of his body. Pictures him with one hand behind his head, arm-muscles strong and flexed, his other hand stroking lazily at his cock. Nate's own twitches sympathetically. He runs a thumb over the head to catch a bead of wetness and drag it back down along his length. He sighs shakily into the phone.
"Are you touching yourself?" Quentin whispers, like the breath's been knocked out of him.
"Yeah," Nate says. "Are you?"
"I am, yeah."
Nate doesn't quite catch the strangled noise that bursts out of his throat. Starts panting as he strokes in earnest. His face feels like it's on fire, and the air drags in his chest like all the moisture's been sucked out of it.
Quentin sighs, and it's almost like Nate can feel it gusting over his ear. Want crowds in his chest until his eyes sting with it, and at the same time, he's glad Quentin isn't here, because he'd surely come with one touch from him. Like he can read minds, Quentin says, "I'm embarrassingly close already."
Nate laughs breathlessly, shaking and so. fucking. hot. "Me too," he says.
Quentin moans. "Nate," he whispers. "I want to touch you so bad. Baby," he says, "do you even know what you do to me?"
"Call me—" Nate gasps, all the fantasies he's had in the last few weeks tripping over each other in his head. (Quentin bending him over the bar. Quentin on his knees, lips around Nate's cock. Quentin saying I want to touch you so bad. Baby—) "I like it when you," he exhales loudly at a twist of his wrist, "When you call me—"
Quentin groans, "Whatever you want, darling."
"Oh god," Nate says, thighs tensing and back arching. "Yes," he says, "Oh fuck."
"Tell me when you're close," Quentin says, voice urgent. "I'm trying to—I—shit."
"I'm close," Nate gasps, "I'm close."
"Come on," Quentin says. "I'm—just—fuck. Come, Nate."
And so he does. Hard.
(If he promptly hangs up in embarrassment, well, he'll blame it on a drunken fumble of the phone.)
The next day, Kellan leaves.
Nate goes to see him off—can't not—and ends up standing awkwardly on the porch as Kellan hugs his grandpa and then reaches out for him.
Nate swallows, fits himself in Kellan's arms and says, "Even though we—even though…"
"I'll miss you, too," Kellan says, and Nate wonders if he pressed here, if he said the right thing in this moment, would Kellan give? Would it make all the difference?
But then he's out of Kellan's grip, holding onto the rail of the porch to keep from launching himself back at the other boy, saying, "Call every once in a while, okay?"
Kellan rolls his eyes, hefts his backpack up over his shoulder, and says, "Oh right, because the two of us are really phone people."
(Nate doesn't give any sort of indication that this affects him at all. That it doesn't send his heart on a free fall through his body, remembering tell me how it is as you go. The way Quentin's breath had stuttered and morphed into a heady groan at that last minute, tipping Nate over the edge, leaving him shaking on the counter long after he'd hung up the phone.)
"Fine," he says, "Email me then."
Kellan just smiles, hops in his car, and drives away, easy as you please.
It's stupid, because the drive is less than an hour, and he knows Kellan will never stay away from his grandpa for too long without paying a visit, but. But. But Nate's breath still feels fiery in his chest when Mac claps a hand over his shoulder and says, "This looks a lot different than I thought it would."
Nate can only nod. Watch Kellan's car get smaller and smaller, turn signal flashing at the stop sign down the road, and then one final blaze of sun through the window to outline his silhouette and he's out of sight. "Well," Nate says.
"Well." Mac says.
When Mac goes inside, Nate continues to stand there, feeling heavy and dull and alone.
Two nights later, feeling the absence of Kellan like a steady ache, Nate calls Quentin.
Before he calls, he spends a few hours convincing himself he's not going to do it. That he's never going to try for a repeat performance of the other night. That he only did that because he was drunk and lonely.
But tonight he's sober, and his dad has holed himself in his office, and Nate burrows under his covers and dials the number.
"Hi," he says when Quentin answers, heart already stuttering in his chest. "Are you, um, busy?"
Music in the background goes quiet and Quentin says, "Not at all," and Nate can hear the smirk in his tone. "Although I have to tell you that if you're calling to see if I'll take over your shift tomorrow, I already traded Nikki for it."
"Oh," Nate says, tugging at a loose thread in his socks. "So you're opening tomorrow, too? With me?"
"Yeah," Quentin says.
"Oh," Nate says again, "That's—that'll be…uh, good."
Quentin laughs, "I thought so, yeah." A pause, "That's not why you called though, is it?"
Nate licks his lips, closes his eyes, and says, "Not—uh, no."
"I've missed you the last couple of days," Quentin says, as if to ease this horrible embarrassment and hesitation coursing through Nate. "At work, I mean."
"Yeah, I've, uh." He takes a deep breath, gathers his frantic thoughts into a sentence and says, "I've been thinking about you."
"Uh huh," Nate says, somewhat dumbly, hand inching down towards his waistband.
"And what have you been thinking?" There's rustling on the other end and Nate wonders if Quentin is sitting down, or lying down, or taking off clothes, or Christ—or touching himself.
"Are you in your bed?" Nate asks, bypassing the question and following the formula Quentin set the last time they did this.
Quentin must catch on, because he laughs, filthily, and says, "No. Couch. Is that okay?" And Nate knows he's poking fun a little, but not in a way that makes Nate feel stupid.
"Yeah," Nate says. "I'm, um, in my bed."
Quentin sighs softly, says, "Are you naked?"
Heat clenches in Nate's chest, sending his gaze upward as he fights down the roaring lust. "No," he whispers, "but I can be."
"Yeah," Quentin says, "do that."
"Okay," Nate says, fumbling awkwardly to his knees, "hold on just a second." He drops the phone to his pillow and yanks his shirt over his head, wriggles out of his pants and boxers and socks and then dives back under the covers, feeling bashful and stupid. "I'm back," he mumbles, before hiding his face against the pillow, trying to tame the blush on his cheeks.
"God, Nate," Quentin says, voice trembling enough that Nate starts to feel less embarrassed and more turned-on. "I bet you're beautiful."
"Shut up," Nate snaps before he can stop himself.
Quentin just laughs, "You shut up, I'm serious. Do you know how much I hate our work uniform? It covers you up completely. When you rolled up your sleeves at the end of your shift the other day, I almost came in my pants."
"Shut up," Nate says again, without much bite. "You should—you should pretend I'm there, then. That I'm naked, there. With you."
He winces, awkward jumble of his words doing nothing to boost his confidence, but then, Quentin says, "If you were," he pauses, and Nate closes his eyes, just lets Quentin's voice wash over him. "If you were here, I mean, I'd lay you out on my bed and watch you."
"You'd have to touch yourself, too," Nate says, breath turning hot and damp under the covers.
"Bossy," Quentin says. And then, "'Course I would. Wouldn't be able to keep from it."
"I," Nate gasps, palming his erection until it's full and heavy between his legs, "I want to take it slower this time. Okay?"
Quentin groans, "I like it when you tell me what to do."
"That's," sexy as fuck, "weird."
"Maybe," Quentin laughs, "but I know you like it, too."
"Maybe," Nate parrots. And then, on a sudden burst of adrenaline and inspiration, says, "Are you touching yourself now?"
"Yes," Quentin moans.
"Well, stop," Nate says, clenching his own fingers into a tight fist and drawing them upwards with a quick flick of his wrist.
"Don't touch yourself. Just listen to me."
"But I thought you said—"
"I'll tell you when you can," Nate says.
"How will you know if I am or not? You can't see me."
"I just know you're not going to." He moans when he realizes that he does know this. And it makes him so hot to think that Quentin wants this. Wants to be bossed around and made to wait. At least for a little while. "Are you?" he says.
A hitch of breath, "No."
"Good," Nate says, thumbing over the head of his cock in a way that makes him squirm.
"I can't hear you," Quentin whispers, no goading in his voice, only want. Nate's breath stutters.
"Sorry," he says. "Talk to me. Make me loud." (where is any of this coming from? His head is swimming. His blood is pulsing. And oh, his cock is throbbing.)
"Fuck," Quentin says, "Fuck. I didn't know you were—this is—fuck."
Nate huffs out a laugh with cuts itself off with a whining noise as he reaches down with his left hand to cup his balls, pressing the phone between his cheek and the pillow.
"Nate," Quentin whines, "Baby. What are you—what are you doing? I want to be doing it to you."
Nate starts panting, unable to keep his hand from speeding up before consciously making an effort to slow down, relax, enjoy it. "I want you to be doing it to me, too," he says, words tumbling out of his mouth before he can rethink saying them.
"I want to taste you," Quentin husks. "Every bit of you. Your mouth first, your neck. I want to lick up your thighs until you're shaking from it."
Nate breathes, imagining Quentin's tongue lashing at the thin skin where his legs turn to hips turn to something else entirely. "Yeah," he murmurs. "Then what?"
"Then I'd take you in my mouth, sink down real slow. Could you keep still?"
Judging by the way his hips jerk up at the mere thought of it, no. He gasps, says, "You'd have to hold me down." Voice breaking, strangled noise catching in his throat as Quentin's phantom hands leave bruises on his hips.
"Alright," Quentin says, "I'd hold you down until you hit the back of my throat. Wrench my jaw wide open to take it from you."
"Jesus," Nate says, hips stuttering up into his fist, wishes the grip of it was slicker, hotter, wetter.
"And then I'd let you fuck my mouth," Quentin whispers, "until you came down my throat. I want you to do that. Would you do that for me, Nate?"
And with that, Nate fucking loses it, moaning and writhing on the mattress. He says, "Yes, god. Quentin—fuck—do it. Touch yourself. Now."
A guttural moan answers back, and Nate speeds up the pump of his fist, squeezing his eyes shut tight and curling in on himself until come splashes hot on his chest, and he jerks through the aftershocks with little "unh, unh" noises.
Listens dazedly to Quentin's panting breath, rustling over the line, and finally, a wrecked voice saying, "I'm coming." And it's so sexy; Nate would be ready to go again immediately if his dick was able to cooperate.
As it is, he just lays there quietly, until Quentin laughs a shaky laugh and says, "Well."
"Mmm," Nate says, "Well." And then, because he's halfway to sleep already, "I'll see you in the morning, right?"
"Yeah," Quentin sighs. "G'night."
The next day, Nate catches Quentin looking at him, eyes predatory and dark. And Nate, from his spot on the floor, slowly unbuttons the cuffs of his sleeves and rolls them up to his elbows before leaning over to wipe down a table.
When they cross paths on Quentin's way out with a tray of food, he leans down, eyes dancing on Nate's bare forearms and murmurs, "You little shit."
Nate just widens his eyes and smiles confusedly, working up the nerve to say, "What?" before Quentin shakes his head and delivers food to his table of soccer moms and their kids, fresh from the field and still screaming about the game they just came from.
Later, when the lunch crowd is gone and there's just one couple sipping coffees by the window, Quentin comes to stand beside Nate and reaches out to run his fingers down Nate's bare arm.
To anyone else, it might just look like he's trying to get Nate's attention, but it sends Nate's pulse spiraling upwards as he looks up into Quentin's eyes. "Hi," he says, unable to keep the smile from his face.
"Hi," Quentin says back. "Sleep well?"
Nate laughs, says, "Yeah. You?"
"You bet. So, listen," Quentin says, "I was thinking—" breaks off in a hiss of breath as Nate pushes himself off the wall and comes to stand in front of Quentin, reaches around him like he's going for the silverware on the cart beside them and braces himself with a hand to Quentin's stomach.
He leans up a little, moving his fingers like he's counting the forks, and whispers in Quentin's ear, "Yeah?"
Quentin's fingers move up to tangle with Nate's on his stomach, and Nate can feel it rise and fall with each breath the other man takes. "We should continue our conversation from last night sometime. In person."
Nate smiles, wishes his hand was on skin, that they were alone, that he could drop his forehead to Quentin's shoulder and catch his breath.
Instead, the bells over the door chime and Nate glances over his shoulder to see if the newcomer is being seated in his section. When he sees who it is, he tears himself away from Quentin with a hasty, "Shit!"
Quentin makes to reach for him, saying, "Relax, they can't see back here," but Nate just pushes him away, panic tearing at his stomach.
"That's my dad," he hisses. "What is he even…" he doesn't wait for Quentin to say anything before marching out to where the hostess is leading his dad to a table in Quentin's section. "Hey," he says, "I'll seat him. S'my dad."
"Nate," his dad says, "hello."
"What, uh, I mean besides grabbing lunch or whatever, what are you doing here?" Nate stammers, waving his hand at a table by the window for his dad to sit.
"Couldn't it just be that I was hungry?" His dad says, grinning, putting Nate off balance.
"Um," He says, "I guess, but. But I mean—"
"Relax, Nathan," his dad says, rubbing a hand over his face like he's disappointed. "When's your break? Can you have a drink with me?"
Nate scratches his cheek, says, "Dad, couldn't you just tell—"
"Jesus, Nate," his dad snaps, voice dropping to a displeased whisper.
Nate blinks, staggers back a few steps, and says, "Yeah, sorry. Hold on a second. Let me—um." He walks to the back without finishing his sentence, breath rattling around in his chest like a loose marble, like he can't get enough air.
Quentin meets him, ducking down so he's eye level. "Nate, what's—"
"Just back off," Nate hisses, shouldering by Quentin before he can see the hurt look on the other man's face. He clocks out for break without making sure it's okay, knowing Quentin will cover his tables. Maybe it's an asshole thing to do, but he's too riled up to care.
He gets a couple of waters and brings them to where his dad is sitting, tapping away on his phone, mouth turned down into a tight frown. The afternoon sun is coming through the window at full force, laying gold light over his dad, glinting off the screen of his phone, the wedding ring he's moved to his right hand. Nate sighs and sits down across from him. "So," he says, running his thumb down the side of his glass, catching condensation, "What's up?"
His dad looks up, startled, like he wandered in here by mistake. His eyes flicker to the water, and to the bar behind Nate, and then he presses his lips together and lets out a noisy breath through his nose. "I have to go away for awhile," he says.
Nate frowns, taps a fingernail against the side of his glass. "Okay?"
"For a month," he says. "On business," he adds hastily.
"Of course," Nate says. "Where to?"
"Ottawa," he says, taking a long sip of water.
"What's in Ottawa?" Nate asks. He wants to ask Who's there? Because there's no way his dad's small company could be sending him to Canada for a month. It's ridiculous and there's got to be a woman. A month seems long though. Maybe she's special.
"You know," his dad says, tipping his cheek into his palm to smile at Nate (she's got to be special if she's made him this docile), "potential clients."
"Hmm," Nate says, putting his hands on the table and staring at them with feigned interest. "And when do you leave?"
"I'm already packed up, actually. My plane leaves at nine tonight."
"Right," Nate says, "Okay, well." He's suddenly so angry he can barely stand it, so he pushes his chair back from the table, says, "Listen, we're swamped. I've gotta get back. Have a good time in Ottawa, or whatever."
He stalks away and spends the rest of his break leaning against the side of the building out back, summer heat sizzling along the right side of his face as it starts to set.
He hates a lot of things, but none of them as much as he hates his dad. Ottawa. For fuck's sake. A whole fucking month, and he's not even sneaking off somewhere glamorous like Paris or Barbados, or, Nate doesn't even know, London or something.
The back lot smells like old cigarettes and asphalt, but Nate stays out there a long time past when his break is up. Until his boss sticks his head out the back, looking furious. Nate hastily wipes the back of his hand over his mouth and clutches his stomach, "I think I need to go home," he says, doubling over.
His boss squints in disgust and waves him off, slamming the door behind him in a rush of sweet air-conditioned air. Nate fishes his keys out of his pocket and drives home, takes the long way since there's no rush to get back.
When he finally does get home, he parks in the middle of the garage just because he can, leaves his clothes in a trail on the way to his dad's bathroom, where he's got a whirlpool bathtub that Nate fully intends on using to his heart's content for the next thirty days.
There's an envelope of money on the table in the entryway, a note scrawled on the front that just says "Nate" in all capital letters—the way Nate used to write everything just because his dad did it. With a scoff, he drops it back on the table and jogs up the stairs, two at a time. And even though he's used to an empty house, or at most an uncomfortably quiet one, he still feels edgy and alone now. Like maybe he's the only person in the entire world.
Loneliness crowds in his chest until he's gasping, splashing water from the gushing taps onto his face so it'll be wet because of that and not because of. Well.
When he sinks into the tub, bubbling water turning his body into a pale smear below the surface, he calms down, rolls his eyes at himself, and stares at the ceiling until he's bored. Climbs out of the bath and skips the towel, dripping all over the tile of the bathroom and the carpet of his dad's room, the hallway, foot-shaped puddles in his wake.
He eats a bowl of cereal naked on the couch, hair sending water dripping down his back with pleasant little shivers, damp fabric of the couch turning warm and then cool against his skin.
He feels like a fucking prince. Says haughtily to an imaginary servant, "You will do my bidding with the deference I'm owed as your crowned prince!" Catches sight of himself in the reflection of the television and flushes, embarrassed even though there's no one here to see. Reaches for the remote to drown of the sound of him crunching on his cereal; yanks a blanket around his body even though it's itchy and hot.
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: greetings from your hometown
Saw Mac today at the grocery store. He was buying frozen pizzas, I was buying frozen pizzas, it was kind of a party, you know.
Uh, yeah, so anyway, just checking in to see how big-boy school is going.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: salutations from Ames
Nate! Hey! Frozen Pizzas! Err.
Anyway, big-boy school is sort of fantastic in some ways and sort of horrible in others. Fantastic in the way that I like living in a place where there's so much to do. Horrible in the way that there are surprisingly few people to do them with. I don't know. Transferring in is harder than I thought it would be, I guess.
Whatever, bitchmoan, blah blah. How are you?
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: RE: salutations from Ames
I'm fine. You know, living the life. Waiting tables, lounging around, hanging out with a few people here and there. Dad's gone to Ottawa "on business" for a month, so I've got the house to myself. Every boy's dream, yeah?
Bummer about the lack of company thing. Must be easier having Will and Grace there, though, right?
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: RE: RE: salutations from Ames
Yeah, I mean, of course they're both great. Grace has joined like, every organization on campus, and Will's friends are nice and, you know, Will is nice. Just…is it whiny if I say I miss hanging out with somebody who just wants to play video games and talk shit all day (namely: you) instead of two people who are constantly looking for ways to save the world?
So you totally used the coveted whirlpool, huh?
To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: RE: RE: RE: salutations from Ames
Yep, that's me. The guy whose redeeming factor is his video-game prowess, and the desire to talk shit, and never do anything of merit.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Subject: Shit, I'm sorry
I'm an asshole. I didn't mean it that way. I just meant, I don't know. I just meant: I miss you. I miss my best friend.
Seriously. I'm sorry,
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
Hey, just…it's been a few days. You're probably really busy with work and stuff, I just wanted to check in or…I don't know. Whatever.
To: Nathan Merriweather
From: Kellan Green
I get really tired of this pouting shit, you know. I said I'm sorry.
But whatever. Maybe I'll see you at Thanksgiving.
About a week into his stint as the Lone Ranger, Nate is scheduled to work with Quentin again.
As expected, or, well maybe not expected, but certainly not unexpected, Quentin ignores him for the better part of the night. It's not until Nikki's talking to Quentin and calls Nate over that Quentin lets Nate get anywhere near him without stalking away. As it is, he stiffens, shuffles away from Nate as surreptitiously as possible, leaving Nate with the urge to pout and throw a fit.
"So!" Nikki chirps, "I was just telling Quentin that my roommate and I are throwing a Halloween party and you two better be there!"
"It's only just now October," Nate says.
Nikki stomps her foot, sending her ponytail swinging wildly behind her. "Nate. Seriously. Planning ahead never hurt anybody. Besides, I'll remind you of it plenty if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm sure you will," Nate says, lips twitching into a reluctant smile.
"So you're both coming, then?" she says, waggling her eyebrows at them. "Because if not—"
"We'll be there," Nate says, laughing, not wanting to hear what she'd do to them if they disagreed.
"Good!" she says, bopping off to clock out.
"Sorry, um," Nate says, "sorry for speaking for you. It's just—with her, it's just better to agree and then back out later if you…I mean if you're, you know, have another party or—"
"It's fine," Quentin says, obviously wanting the conversation to be over.
He moves to brush past Nate, but Nate reaches out and grips his arm, yanking his hand away just after he makes contact, surprised at himself. Quentin looks at him expectantly until Nate says, "I'm also sorry about the other day." Pitches his voice low, "It was shitty to blow you off like that."
"Mmm," Quentin says, clearly unimpressed.
Nate sighs, says, "Well. I guess it's closing time." He watches Quentin walking away, and says, without thinking about it beforehand, "D'you want a ride home?"
Quentin pauses, muscles of his back shifting under his shirt, and nods without turning around. "Okay," Nate says, mouth dry and palms sweaty, "Great."
"So," Quentin says, arm hanging out the window of Nate's Jeep, hair flying around his face with the wind. "Your old man's a homophobe then?"
Nate almost chokes on his tongue. "Excuse me?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Quentin face him and say, "I just figured that was why you flipped the fuck out earlier."
Nate shrugs, lips turning down in a scowl. Says, "Yeah, he's—I mean, that's not the only thing about him, he's not just some. He's not…" He sighs in frustration. "But yeah, I guess he—wouldn't want me to be," he swallows, "like I am."
"Hmm," Quentin says, turning to look back out the window, tapping his fingers on the side of Nate's car.
Nate glances sidelong at him. Says, "Hmm?"
Quentin looks back, playful smile breaking over his face (and something bright wells up in Nate's chest so fast it almost makes his eyes water). "S'what I say when I'm trying to sound like I have all the answers."
Nate can't help but smile back, breathless. "Hmm," he says, watching Quentin's smile widen, lit up by a burst of color from a streetlamp.
When they get to Quentin's, the other man runs his fingers up the back of Nate's neck once, hand rough with callouses. It sends a shockwave down Nate's spine, and he grips onto the steering wheel tight to keep his hands from trembling.
"Well, sweetheart," Quentin says, "What are we gonna do about this?"
"About what?" Quentin just squeezes his hand where it's still resting on the back of Nate's neck. "I don't know," Nate says honestly.
"Think about it, yeah?" Quentin says, hand dropping to Nate's shoulder, his elbow, and then, god, his thigh, like he doesn't know which part of Nate he wants to touch most. "And you should call me. Whenever."
Nate licks his lips, mouth dropping open a little at the implication, and nods. Quentin's hand squeezes, fingers digging into the inseam of Nate's pants, forcing a breath out of Nate's nose, harsh and loud. Quentin just laughs, a happy sound, before hopping out of the car and walking up the stairs, the white of his shirt glowing in the dark.
He barely makes it through the door before he's calling, fingers shaky on the number pad, sitting down on the stairs because he doesn't trust his legs to make it to his room. "I'm sorry I'm such a dick sometimes," he says right when Quentin answers the phone, laughter evident in his "hello?" "But I want you so fucking bad, Quentin, I don't think you know."
"So tell me," Quentin says, softly.
Nate squeezes his eyes shut, palming over the front of his pants. "You're gorgeous," Nate says, "I've never—I mean, honestly, I've never been so attracted to anyone before. I just want to touch you, all the time. And your fucking tattoo. Jesus. I dream of that tattoo."
"I have more," Quentin says.
"Yeah?" Nate says, sprawling out on the stairs to try and get comfortable. "You'll have to show them to me."
"And, oh," Nate says, sloppy and on a roll, "the scar on your lip. How did you get that? S'the sexiest thing I've ever seen."
"Got hit by a snowball with a chunk of ice in it. Bled like mad."
Nate laughs, cushioning his head on his arm and flopping a leg out between the bars of the banister. "D'you grow a beard just to hide it?"
"No," Quentin says, laughing, too. "I grew the beard because I could."
"Well I like that, too," Nate says, grinning like an idiot.
"Nice to hear," Quentin says, "I was beginning to think this was a one-sided thing."
Nate's mouth drops open, "Are you kidding me? No. No way. Don't ever think that. You. You are—"
"Nate," Quentin says, "S'alright."
"Yeah, okay," Nate says.
They end up jerking off quietly, breaths stuttering out of them when they can't help themselves, Nate's shoulders digging painfully into the stairs as he comes with a sigh. Murmuring, "I'm coming," like an endearment; Quentin's echoing, "Me, too," a kiss on the jaw.
Nate feels like it's the most honest he's been in a long time.
October passes quickly, and Nate doesn't want to think about how many nights he spends on the phone with Quentin, working himself into a frenzy and then back down from the brink, only for Quentin to surprise him with something like, "I got hard at work today, thinking of how you sound when you're coming." And then, with a gasp, Nate is over the edge, and Quentin is purring, "Yeah, just like that."
Something keeps him from progressing beyond the phone calls, though. He tells himself he just wants to keep it light and fun, but he knows, really, that he's a coward. Still, by Halloween, he decides he's going to invite Quentin home with him after Nikki's party. His dad is coming back in a few days, so Nate tells himself it's now or never.
Both he and Quentin work the day of Nikki's party, trading insults softened with smiles and touches and pet names all day. And by the end of their shift, Nate's worked up the courage to say, "Can I give you a ride tonight?" brushing his fingers over Quentin's and tangling them together.
Quentin looks down at him, eyes darkening, thumb running down the curve of Nate's index finger. Nate feels like his pulse is going to explode out of his throat, and Quentin tugs at their joined hands so that Nate stumbles forward, feet landing toe-to-toe with Quentin's. "Nate," Quentin says, filthy and promising, and okay, wow, Nate is actually going to pass out.
"Order up!" the cook yells, and Nate yanks his hand away, jumping back.
Quentin's eyes harden and he glances at the floor before looking back with a tight smile. "A ride would be great thanks." Without another word, he pushes past Nate to get back to his tables.
Goddamn it, Nate thinks, running a shaky hand through his hair and scowling at the unsuspecting cook.
"My two favorite boys!" Nikki shouts when they show up at her door later. She ushers them in, babbling about how they're early but that's great because she needs so much help in the kitchen and, "Oh! Have you met my roommate, Cordelia? Delia, come say hi to Nate and Quentin."
Where Nikki is vibrant and cute, Cordelia is seductive and drop-dead gorgeous. Her bleach-blond hair falls in waves over the curve of her shoulder, the jut of her collarbone, licks at the shell of her ear where she tucks it back, blue eyes sliding over Quentin's body like she already owns him.
Nate hates her on sight.
"Good to meet you both," she says, voice pitched throaty and low, and Nate watches Quentin's lips turn into a slow, dirty grin as he takes her hand to shake it.
"Pleasure is mine," he says, and Nate wants to gag. Wants to rip the two of them away from each other and put himself in between, say remember me? The guy you've been having phone sex with for the last month and a half?
Instead he just says, "I'll just go help Nikki with the—stuff, or. Yeah."
He hurries into the kitchen, where Nikki's trying to shove a bag of ice into an already too-full freezer. She glances over her shoulder at him, smiles, and says, "Nate!" so warmly that he falls in love with her, just a little bit.
"Can I help with anything?" he asks, already tugging the ice away from her and setting it on the counter so he can rearrange the freezer's contents.
Nikki laughs, and gives him a big hug from behind, says, "My hero. Also, there's a keg I have to haul in from the garage after you finish with that."
And just like that, she's ordering him around the house, his arms constantly weighed down with something or other, hers free to flail about as she tells him his next task. It's a welcome distraction, though, from the fact that Cordelia and Quentin are sitting on the deck railing, knees knocking into each other, heads tilted together in conversation.
Guests start flowing in and a dj sets up in the corner, blasting music Nate likes, but can't stand right now. Not when all he can see is Cordelia tipping her head back to laugh, her slender throat gleaming in the light, Nate tracking Quentin's eyes sweeping over it's length.
He sits through a conversation with a guy from work about the Patriots game, nodding and groaning in all the right places, sipping beer and smiling at the appropriate people when they wave. But something dark is simmering in his stomach and he can't forget about it long enough to enjoy himself.
Later, Nikki finds him in a corner and leans her head on his shoulder with a heavy sigh. "This turned out well, don't you think?"
"Yeah," Nate says, sliding an arm around her waist and tugging her close. She feels good and Nate really does like her. She burrows her head under his chin and wraps her arms around his torso, and this huge wave of affection sweeps over him. He knows now, not to mistake it for anything deeper, but still, it soothes some of the angriness inside of him, just for a minute.
"Nate," she sighs, "Why don't you want to date me anymore? I thought we had a good time together." He stiffens, but she clings on. Says, "No, no. Don't push me away. I know it wouldn't work, I just don't know why exactly."
"Some people," he starts, casting around for something to say, "are just better off as friends, I guess."
She kisses his jaw before ducking back under his chin and says, "Yeah."
They stand like that for a while, and Nate likes the feeling of holding somebody. He thinks that if he could be with any girl, it'd be Nikki. But in the back of his mind is Quentin's grinning face, how it feels to be touched by him, even innocently, and he knows that he can't want anything other than that.
Nikki finally heaves a sigh and pulls herself out of his arms. Says, "Thanks, I needed that."
"Anytime," Nate says genuinely.
"Good," she says, tugging on his hand, "Now quit sulking and come dance with me."
They dance for a song or two, laughing and bumping into people, until Nikki giggles behind the back of her hand, jostles into Nate's side, and says, "Well, I think we both know who Delia and Quentin are sleeping with tonight."
And just like that, the floor of Nate's stomach drops out and he follows Nikki's gaze to where Quentin has his hand on Cordelia's jaw, thumb running back and forth as he kisses her.
He must make a sound, flinch or something, because Nikki is saying, "Nate? You okay?"
And he hates the whole world and everyone in it. Is so goddamned sick of this feeling tearing through his gut—its hot splashes welling up inside him until there's a film over his eyes and his jaw is sore from clenching it so tight.
Not again, he thinks, not a-fucking-gain. But there it is, right in front of him, Cordelia's arms around Quentin's waist, hands clenching in the back of his shirt.
Mostly, he hates himself, has for a long time, and it makes him sick because he can't run away from it. Can't get out of his own skin like he really wants. So he drinks to cover it, raiding the cooler on the deck and moving on to the warm reserve beer in the garage, drinking and drinking until he's puking behind a bush in the front yard. And somebody's taking his keys from him, leaning down to scream in his face something Nate can't understand, yelling back at them and shoving a little, confused about where his keys have gone.
Walking down the middle of the street, cold bite in the air doing nothing to clear his head, someone shouting, "Nate, god damn it!" Walking until he doesn't know where he is, and when he does, he pukes all over the pavement, because it's Kellan's house and isn't that just. Isn't that. Isn't…
He clenches his fists in his hair and forces a ragged sound out from between his teeth. Wants to tear himself apart and start again. Make better decisions. Not lose every goddamned thing he's ever had.
Wants somebody to want him bad enough not to leave him behind.
Nobody shows up to guide him home or ask him if he's okay. Not that he'd really been expecting that to happen, it just would have been—something. Nice.
He trudges up the street, shivering and retching every once in a while, having to stop and sit on the curb to catch his breath. When he finally does make it home, of course, he remembers he doesn't have his fucking keys and his dad is in fucking Ottawa. So he scrambles over the back fence and curls himself against the back door, concrete under him cold and unforgiving. He lays down, presses his face to it, scrapes his cheek up and down just to feel it, cutting through the drunk haze. Hopes he'll have a mark in the morning. Wonders, briefly, what he'll do in the morning, anyway.
By the time he remembers the hide-a-key in a fake rock by the garage, he's so cold, it's bone deep. But he lingers outside a while longer anyway, watching the sky lighten to a soft blue.
Before toppling into bed, he types an ill-advised email to Kellan.
(To: Kellan Green
From: Nathan Merriweather
Subject: RE: Fine
I'm afraid I'll never be able to love anyone as much as I love you. And now Quentin's probably fucking Cordelia and I care, of course I care, and I want him. But I don't know how to tell him that. And somehow it all comes back to you, and how it hurts that you gave me up for Will. Even if. I don't even know if I want to be with you anymore, like that, I just know I miss you, and I'm tired of being so fucked up about everything.
He deletes it.
He wakes up a few hours later to a violent pounding at his door, which he tries to ignore, but can't. Especially not when his doorbell starts ringing at obnoxious intervals. He wraps his comforter around him, body shaking-cold (which confuses him for a minute before he remembers his night on the ground), and he stumbles to the front door, fumbles with the lock and opens it.
He still hasn't focused his eyes properly when Quentin bursts in without an invitation, hurling Nate's keys at him and advancing at such a rate that Nate doesn't really have time to retreat before Quentin is yanking him up onto his toes to glare at him.
"What the fuck," he spits, "did you think you were doing?"
Nate tries to jerk out of Quentin's grasp, but he's too tired to put up much of a fight. Slumps into his grip with a sigh. It doesn't mean he's going to answer, though. Doesn't mean he can't work up a good counter-glare.
"Nobody knew where you went, you—fucker."
"Me?" Nate all-but-screeches. "Me?"
"Yes, you," Quentin growls.
"I'm surprised you even noticed I'd gone, what with you sucking the soul out of that girl's mouth."
Quentin's grip tightens for a moment before he pushes himself away. Says, "I'm not doing this right now."
"Oh, sure," Nate spits, "just call me later and we'll work it out between orgasms. Fuck. You."
"I wish you would!" Quentin hollers, looming over Nate again, crowding him back against the railing of the stairs.
"What?" Nate says weakly, breath going tinny with each inhale.
"Nothing," Quentin says, backing up slowly, shaking his head. "I said I'm not doing this right now."
Nate bites his lip, chest heaving, comforter slipping down his bare shoulders. He gasps in a wet breath, feeling so lost he doesn't know where to look, what to do with himself. "Fine," he says, voice wavering without his permission. "Fine, just. Leave, just—"
But then Quentin is pressing his face into Nate's neck, bending to slide his hands under Nate's knees and picking him up, pushing him into the banister so that it hurts, so that Nate's back arches and he gasps and wraps his legs around Quentin's hips, wraps his arms around Quentin's shoulders.
"So goddamned pitiful," Quentin mumbles against Nate's skin, and a small part of him wants to complain about it, but it sounds so affectionate that he can't be bothered to care.
"I hate you," he gasps as Quentin's lips graze over his chin. "I fucking—"
"No you don't," Quentin says. "No you don't."
"Yes I—" (a hitching of breath as Quentin repositions his hold, one hand cupping Nate's ass, the other palming the small of his back, hand big and hot on Nate's chilled skin.) "I do. I—you absolute—ungh." Quentin's scruff scraping over the sensitive skin under Nate's ear so the other man can growl, "Shut up."
His hand slides up Nate's back, tipping his head onto Quentin's shoulder and he steps back from the banister, just cradling Nate in his arms. Nate hangs on as Quentin walks them to the living room, steps heavy and awkward under Nate's weight. He settles them into the loveseat, swinging Nate's legs to the side to keep him on his lap. "'M not a girl," Nate mutters darkly.
"It's not just girls who like to be held," Quentin says, stroking the nape of Nate's neck. Nate grunts in response, fingers clenched in the front of Quentin's sweatshirt.
"How's Cordelia?" Nate asks, feeling petulant and tired.
"How would I know?"
"Don't play dumb," Nate says. "You know you weren't being subtle at all last night."
"I wasn't trying to be subtle, Nate, I was trying to get to know someone I found interesting. You know? Like people do?"
Nate burrows under Quentin's chin. Says, "I don't want you to find her interesting."
"Well, tough shit," Quentin snaps. "You think I want you shoving me away in person? Calling me up only when you're drunk or horny?"
"I—" Nate says, frowning.
"No," Quentin cuts in, "You don't get a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card just because you're closeted, okay?"
Nate reels back to glare at Quentin's face, "I never asked for one!"
Quentin raises an eyebrow. Says, "Look, I honestly don't give a shit. You don't want to twink around town, well fine, I don't either. But Jesus, why can't we be like this?" He noses into Nate's hairline, lips brushing over Nate's temple. "At least when we're alone."
Nate climbs off Quentin's lap to stand on coltish legs, shivering now that he's away from all that body heat. Quentin's face falls until Nate reaches out to touch his forearm. Says, "I'm going to go brush my teeth and put some clothes on. And then I'm going to kiss you. Okay?"
"Okay," Quentin says. "Okay."
Nate goes up to his room, tugs on a pair of sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt, brushes his teeth twice, and wanders back downstairs. Quentin's settled on the loveseat, still, arms hooked over the back of it to stare out the window.
Suddenly feeling awkward, Nate shuffles in and clears his throat. "Do you, um, do you want something to drink or, I don't know, breakfast or something?"
Quentin smiles and shakes his head, holds out his arms and says, "No. C'mere."
And so it's Nate who slides in, hands framing Quentin's face in an apology before kissing him on the mouth for the first time.
Quentin's hands are feel like they're everywhere at once, and Nate is content to let them roam, soaking in the feeling, lips sliding hotly over lips. Something that's been tight inside him for so long twinges, just a little—not letting up completely, but loosening some. "Do you think I'm interesting?" he asks, fingers carding through the hair at the nape of Quentin's neck.
"More than," Quentin murmurs, smearing kisses over Nate's cheeks.
They spend the afternoon watching Brat Pack movies on TNT, Nate shivering and sneezing, pressed up against the cool cotton of Quentin's sweatshirt. Quentin's fingers card through Nate's hair, and just after the start of St. Elmo's Fire, he sighs and says, "This is nice."
Nate burrows closer, thinking of how full the house feels with Quentin in it, and says, "You're so corny, Quentin. Is that a British thing, or a you thing?"
Quentin bites him on the ear, but Nate thinks he gets it anyway.
After Quentin leaves (he has to work the night shift at Platform), Nate lays down on the warm spot Quentin left on the couch, feeling stupid and cheesy, but not really caring. He stays there, half-heartedly flipping through channels, until the doorbell rings.
He sits up and looks around for something he could use as a weapon. Tells himself, Jesus, Nate, don't be a baby. It's fucking 4:30pm. Nobody's here to kill you.
Slinks to the door anyway, peeking out the curtain to find Kellan on his porch. He swings the door open, heart galloping in his chest (because, did he accidentally send that email?), and says, "What the hell?"
Kellan wrings his hands together, looking bashful. "Yeah, uh, hello. Um, can I—"
Nate steps aside so Kellan can come in. They stand in the entryway looking at each other awkwardly. Nate's eyes flick to the banister Quentin had him pressed against this morning, the loveseat where they kissed, and back to Kellan, who looks like he's about to puke all over himself.
"Um," Nate says, "So it's—"
"You're dad's still in Ottawa, right? Wanna hang out?"
Kellan pushes past him into the kitchen, and Nate follows him, unsure of what to do with himself. "Sure," Nate says, drawing the word out in hopes Kellan will get that Nate has no idea what's going on.
"Good," Kellan says, helping himself to a glass of water. "Yeah, I had a free weekend, so I thought I'd come see you."
"O…kay." Nate says, "Does Mac know you're home?"
"What?" Kellan says, flipping on the T.V. "Oh, yeah, I stopped by and said hi."
"So is it cool if I do some laundry here? If not, I can do it at my grandpa's, I just figured—"
"Kellan." Nate says, yanking the remote away from him and turning off the television. "Have you been kicked out of school or something?"
"What?" Kellan says, laughing, "No."
"Then why are you here?" It comes out meaner than Nate intended, and he flinches when Kellan's face falls. "No, I just—it's not that I'm not glad to see you, just. This isn't like you."
"I can go," Kellan says, frowning, moving to put his glass in the sink.
Nate grabs his arm and yanks him back to the couch. "No, Jesus. Sit still for a second."
"Okay," Kellan says.
Nate takes a breath, "Bear with me. I'm hungover and—"
"It's almost 5 o'clock."
"Yeah, I had a shit night."
"Wanna talk about it?" Kellan says.
"Maybe, but not before you tell me what's going on."
"Nothing is—" Kellan says, shoulders slumping in defeat. "Nothing is going on."
Nate looks at him. At the tense line of his back, the twitching of his fingers over his knees. Nothing going on, his ass. He sighs. "Alright. Well, you staying the night?" He walks into the kitchen, glances back at Kellan, who's smiling at him gratefully, prods through the refrigerator. "I'm sure it'll come as a great shock to you that I have no food to offer you. Wanna get takeout? I could go for something greasy and disgusting."
A bright smile breaks out over Kellan's face and he says, a little breathless, "I missed you, Nate."
Nate looks down to where his hand is pressed to the kitchen counter, gives himself a second to breathe and compose himself before looking back and saying, "Yeah well. You can prove it by paying for dinner."
Three hours later, and Kellan still hasn't told Nate what's wrong. But it's fine, and Nate feels so much better after inhaling a double cheeseburger and fries.
"And then Grace went ape-shit. I mean really, I had no idea she could get so angry," Kellan is saying. "She stood up in class and started yelling about gender-inclusive language."
"That doesn't sound like Grace at all," Nate says dryly.
Kellan laughs, "Yeah well, the professor ended up apologizing. Although he still kicked her out of class for the rest of the period."
"Hmm," Nate says.
"So," Kellan says, "What about you? How're things?"
Nate shrugs, thinking, immediately, of Quentin—flash of adrenaline sweeping through him so fast, he's sure he's blushing. He says, "Not too much."
"What happened last night?"
"Nope," Nate says, kicking Kellan lightly in the shin. "Not until you tell me what brings you 'round these parts."
"'Round these parts?" Kellan says, raising his eyebrows.
Nate kicks him again, harder. "Whatever. I'll get it out of you, Kellan."
Kellan looks away, guilt screwing up his face. He fakes a yawn. Nate takes the out while he can. "Hey, so I know this is lame and all, since it's only like, 8 o'clock, but I have to open tomorrow. I think I'm going to call it a night."
A startled look passes over Kellan's face for a minute before he covers it. Says, "Okay, sure. You mind if I stay up awhile? Watch a movie or something?"
"Nah," Nate says, "have at it. What's the point of so many channels if no one's going to use them?" He stands up, stretches. "You know where everything is, right?"
"Unless you've rearranged."
"Oh, yeah. Glad you said—we keep the guest bed in the pantry now."
"Shut up." Kellan says, swatting his side as Nate walks by. "Thanks for—um. Night."
Nate sets his hand lightly on Kellan's head. Just for a second. Feels Kellan lean into it. Nate's breath catches. "Yeah," he says, hurrying away. "Night."
The next day, Quentin and Nate work the same shift.
The minute Nate sees him, it's like the air's been knocked out of him, and he's smiling like an idiot and striding across the parking lot to where Quentin's getting off the bus. "Hey," he says, grin threatening to break his face apart.
"Hey," Quentin says, reaching out to squeeze Nate's shoulder.
They fall into step with each other, walking into Platform through the back. "How was work last night?" Nate asks, keeping close to Quentin, not letting more than a few inches get between them. It's ridiculous. It's fantastic.
Quentin must pick up on what Nate's doing, finds excuses for their fingers to brush (at the door handle, over their time cards, undoing a tricky knot in Nate's apron). Tells him that work was fine, tips were great (Nate snorts), but that he "was a little distracted for the whole night."
"Oh yeah?" Nate says.
"Mmm," Quentin says, leaning in like he's got a secret. "I found out someone I really like likes me back."
Nate laughs, pushes Quentin away and says, "Corny! You are so corny."
"Right, because I was the one with a soppy grin on my face at the end of The Breakfast Club."
Nate just throws his fist in the air and walks away.
The morning starts out slow for a Saturday, and Nate enjoys it, spends his time exchanging hot-eyed glances with Quentin.
"Stop that," Quentin says, leaning next to him against the wall. "Don't even act like you're innocent, either."
"What are you doing tonight?" Quentin asks him, fingers running up and down the outside of Nate's upper thigh. Nate inhales, drops his head back against the wall and kicks his feet apart before he knows what he's doing.
And then Quentin is ushering him into the utility closet, pressing his whole body along Nate's and whispering in his ear. "I'm serious, Nate. You have to—you can't just—"
Nate clenches his hands in Quentin's shirt, buries his face in his shoulder. "Sorry," he says, breathing hard, heat pressing against his cheeks. "I can't help it," he whines.
Quentin's arms wrap around him, hold him close. Nate sighs. "Here's what we're going to do," he murmurs in Nate's ear. "We're going to stay in here for thirty more seconds, just like this. I'm not going to yank up your shirt and bite at your hips, but god, I want to." (Nate gasps.) "We're going to calm down and then go back out there and do our jobs. And when our shifts are up, you're going to drive us somewhere. Anywhere, I don't care. And I'm going to touch every inch of you."
Nate starts nodding before he remembers that Kellan's still at his house. That he promised they'd talk tonight. "Oh, god, Quentin. I can't. Kellan is—I don't even know. Having some kind of crisis. I promised him I'd hang out tonight."
Quentin groans. "This Kellan person has the worst timing."
"Yes," Nate says. "Do you work tomorrow?"
"No," Quentin says.
"Then tomorrow," he stands on his tiptoes to press his mouth to Quentin's ear. "Tomorrow you can touch every inch of me. I want you to."
Quentin shudders, and Nate lets himself be a little proud of that, before easing away from him. "Ready to get back out there?"
"No," Quentin says, but he's smiling.
"Me neither," Nate says. "In 3…2…1."
When Nate gets home, Kellan is sitting in the front room, looking nervous and uptight.
"Um," Nate says. "You know we never actually spend time in here."
"Yeah, I know," Kellan says, scooting over to give Nate room on the loveseat anyway.
Nate doesn't want to be in here. Doesn't want to ruin this room after the time he spent here with Quentin. He sits down anyway. "So…" he says.
"So, I think Will's going to break up with me."
"What?" Nate says, "No. There's no way. That boy is—"
"Shut up," Kellan winces, "please. Just, let me get this out."
"Okay," Nate says.
"He thinks I'm cheating on him."
Nate waits a few beats for Kellan to continue, but when he doesn't, Nate says, "Uh. Are you?"
Kellan looks like he's going to cry. He nods. Says, "I think so."
Nate takes a breath. "I'm sorry—you think so?"
Kellan looks down, scuffing his shoes together before crossing his ankles and looking back at Nate. "Will loves me." He says. "And I—love him, too."
"Okay," Nate says.
"I don't—I mean, I never talk about this because I've always thought it would be unfair to you. Because it—it doesn't matter anymore, but. You really hurt me, too. Really bad. Back before I even lost my memory it was like, I mean you were the only thing that I," he pauses, swallows, "that I wanted and you wouldn't let me have you. Not all of you."
"What does this have to do with now?" Nate asks. (It's dawning on him, slowly. But surely it's not—)
"Because I—" Kellan says. And then, "Damn it." And then he's kissing Nate.
Nate becomes painfully aware of the feeling of Kellan's wet, plush lips against his. Of the coolness of Kellan's fingers where they're pressed hesitantly against Nate's throat. The warmth of the loveseat. The buzzing of the central air. Of the fact that he's kissing back, rather desperately, hands scrabbling at Kellan's hips, fingers tangled in denim and cotton and then, blissfully, on skin.
Kellan breathes, "Nate. Nate." And Nate doesn't know what the fuck is happening, only that he's trembling and hot and Kellan's hands are scorching on the skin of his back, under his shirt, nails digging in and dragging down until Nate has to throw his head back to catch a proper breath.
Kellan surges forward, hands sliding up and into his hair, pressing his lips along Nate's neck, and it's all Nate can do to not pass out on the spot. "What?" he says. "Kellan?"
Kellan just groans and attacks his mouth again. Says, "I'm not—I can't be perfect."
"I don't," Nate says, biting at Kellan's swollen bottom lip, "I don't want you perfect."
There's a moment, then, when Kellan meets his eye and Nate gets it. "Wait," he says, not knowing where it's coming from, still slicking his tongue along Kellan's. "This is," his hand cards through Kellan's hair and he turns the kiss soft, searching, like they never really had time for before.
It feels awful.
So he pushes himself out of Kellan's arms and stands up. "Look," he says, "this isn't." Kellan's looking up at him, wrecked, hair sticking out at odd angles, breath panting out of his kissed-raw mouth, and Nate practically falls on him, says, "Just. Here." Kisses him again, slow and lush, trying to feel half of what he felt with Quentin, that all-consuming roar in his ears where everything narrowed down to the slide of skin against skin.
"Fuck," Nate breathes. He presses the back of his hand over his mouth, stumbles back off the couch. "Fuck."
That seems to snap Kellan out of it, too, because he immediately drops his head in his hands and says, "Shit."
"We shouldn't have done that," Nate says finally, and surprises himself by meaning it wholeheartedly. "I have to—I'm going to go."
"Nate, wait a minute," Kellan says. "Can we talk about this?"
Nate huffs out a breath, lifting his arms and letting them fall in defeat. "Work out your shit with Will, okay? We'll talk later."
He doesn't wait for Kellan to say anything before he jogs out of the house, jumps in his car and drives towards Quentin's.
His stomach hurts as he pulls up to the house, heart in his throat, lips still swollen from being on Kellan's mouth. He doesn't pause between turning off his car and dashing up the stairs, knows that if he does, he'll never go through with this. Pounds frantically on the door until Quentin answers, looking pissed off and pleased in turn, opening his mouth to say, "Hi—oomph," before Nate throws his arms around his neck and presses his face into Quentin's shoulder. And there it is—that loosening in his chest like he's come home after a long and horrible day, and he doesn't care how cheesy that sounds, because it's true.
He pulls away, Quentin's arms a reassuring weight around his torso, and puts it all on the table. "Kellan kissed me. Just now. I mean, like before I drove over here. It was terrible. I wanted it to be you. The whole time. I wanted…" he trails off as Quentin runs his thumb over Nate's lips, wipes the spit on the side of his jeans, and presses his mouth to Nate's.
He kisses him like he's trying to draw something out of him, and maybe he is, and maybe it's works, because Nate forgets about everything in that moment except for Quentin's body against his, the wiry hair of Quentin's beard rasping over Nate's skin, Quentin's tongue, hot and slick over Nate's upper lip. "There," he says, voice husky after he pulls away. "Now it's me."
"Oh," Nate says, eyes wide and face hot.
Quentin's eyes are lust-blown and he looks territorial, wild. He walks backwards, Nate still in his arms, tugging them both inside and kicking the door closed. "Did you do anything else with him?"
"No," Nate breathes as Quentin peels his shirt off, hands broad and hot on Nate's bare skin. "I swear," he says.
Quentin doesn't answer, just skims his hands over Nate's chest, grips his hips and sets him up on the back of the couch, ducks down to mouth at Nate's neck. "Did you want to?"
"No," Nate says. "I don't want anyone but you." He gasps as Quentin's hands dip below his waistband, sliding into his jeans to cup his ass.
"Prove it," Quentin says, pulling away to stare into Nate's eyes.
Nate brings his shaking fingers to the hem of Quentin's shirt, tugging upward until Quentin yanks it over his head. Swoons at the tattoo over his heart. "What's this mean?" he asks, teeth already set to the ink, tongue lashing over the hot skin there.
"They're coordinates for places that mean something to me," Quentin says, gripping Nate's upper arms and swaying into him. "Jesus, keep—keep doing that."
Nate does, running his fingers over the spit-slicked skin, biting at it again. He angles forward, locking his legs around Quentin's thighs, hand trailing down to unbutton Quentin's pants. Slides his hand in and curls his fingers around Quentin's erection, feels his heart thundering under Nate's mouth, his breath stuttering in his chest.
He looks up at Quentin, holds his gaze as he fists his cock. Says, "You feel good."
Quentin's hips jerk and he swoops down to kiss Nate on the mouth. Says, "I can't believe you're actually here."
"Me either," Nate says, left hand settling on the side of Quentin's face.
"No more of that phone shit," Quentin rasps, turning to kiss Nate's palm. "Not when I can have you this way."
"Okay," Nate says, speeding up his pace over Quentin's cock, smiling as the other man's eyes flutter shut.
They stay that way, breathing into each other's mouths, until Quentin's eyes fly open and he comes with a wrecked groan, hips stuttering wildly. He fights for breath, and Nate squirms uncomfortably on the back of the couch, ass numb and cock throbbing. Quentin laughs shakily, runs a hand through his hair, and urges Nate forward and onto his feet.
Before Nate can say anything, Quentin drops to his knees and thumbs open Nate's pants, tugging them and his boxers down enough so that his cock springs free. There's not even breath between that and Quentin gulping him down, and Nate collapses back onto the couch, elbows braced to keep him standing. He moans loudly, Quentin's mouth searing hot and so fucking perfect he can barely see straight.
And it's been so long since anyone's touched him this way, sure and confident and knowing that it's absolutely wanted, that Nate doesn't last long before he's warning, "I'm close. If you—if—you have to—if—" But Quentin doesn't back off, just looks up at him and hollows out his cheeks in a tremendous suck that yanks the orgasm right out of him. Nate feels his whole body flush as he comes, gasping so that the air catches in his throat.
He comes down slowly, sinking to his knees in front of Quentin to kiss him. Quentin hums in surprise when Nate licks right into his mouth, tasting himself on the other man's tongue. He feels boneless and fantastic, clings onto Quentin's shoulders and kisses him, close-mouthed now, and sweet.
"So you're not mad?" he asks.
"'Course I am," Quentin says, gathering Nate into his arms even as he says it. "S'hard to stay that way, though, after your cock's just been in my mouth."
"I'm sorry," Nate says honestly, kissing under Quentin's chin, pressing his fingers to his neck.
Quentin shrugs. "We never really talked about, you know, other people or whether we're even seeing each other."
"Oh," Nate says, "I guess I just assumed—after the yesterday, I mean—I guess I just thought we could be, uh, exclusive. But it's whatever you want."
"It's whatever we both want," Quentin corrects. "But if you're asking, then yeah, I want you for myself. Have for a long time."
"Let's do that then," Nate says. Quentin doesn't answer, only tightens his arms around Nate and sighs.
(Much later, he goes home. Kellan's gone. There's no note.)
In public, nothing changes. Not really. If anything, Quentin pulls away from him when they're at Platform. Doesn't brush against him or call him sweetheart or smile at him filthily in passing.
Nate would be worried. Except there's this:
Nate opens the door of the employee bathroom, shouting over his shoulder for Nikki to grab a Coke for the man in his section, please, before turning and seeing that someone's already in the single-person room. "Oh shit," Nate says, looking away and moving to swing the door shut. "Sor—"
But then his shirt is grasped and he's dragged in, looking up startled at Quentin's laughing face. "What?" Nate says, heart hammering and confused.
"I'm on break," Quentin says, locking the door and manhandling Nate until he's leaning against the sink, Quentin standing between his legs.
"Yeah, well I'm not," Nate says, breath catching as Quentin makes quick work of his pants and boxers, working Nate's cock into a full erection. "Quentin."
"You're so pretty when you're scandalized," Quentin says, free hand dancing over Nate's cheek.
"I'm not—unh—pretty," Nate says, valiantly trying to regain control over the situation. "And I'm not on break."
"Hmm," Quentin says, letting go of Nate's dick (and okay, Nate is relieved, not disappointed, no matter what his mouth is saying with it's longing sigh.) Quentin reaches in his pocket and pulls out a tiny bottle of lube, comes back to Nate, hand glistening. "Guess you'll have to rush."
"Did you plan this?" Nate says, cursing his hips that are already pumping up into Quentin's fist.
Quentin smiles wolfishly, strips Nate's cock hard and fast, efficient, and it's not too long before Nate can feel his orgasm building up at the base of his spine, waiting to rip out of him. "Darling," Quentin whispers in his ear, "I've been planning this since the first time we met."
Nate groans, tight coiling pleasure leaving him unable to keep the emotions off his face, out of the sounds he's making. "Filthy bathroom sex gets you hot, does it?" he mutters, to cover up for the fact that he's clinging to Quentin's shoulders shamelessly, mouthing his words into the other man's neck.
"Having you anywhere gets me hot."
And call him a narcissist, but that does it for Nate, and he chokes on a gasp as he comes, barely having the wherewithal to lift his shirt out of the way just in time.
He flops boneless against the sink as Quentin cleans him up with a damp paper towel to his stomach, toilet paper to his cock, and tucks him back into his khakis.
Nate's still panting, reaches up for Quentin to press their mouths together. Quentin pushes him away, smiling, "People will see that. Your lips swell like mad."
Nate whines, rolls his hips against Quentin's even though it's too much on his spent cock, just to see Quentin's eyes flutter shut. "So kiss me softly, then," Nate says.
Quentin's eyes open, and they're tender with something that can't be anything other than affection. He sets his hands gently on Nate's shoulders, thumbs sweeping up over the skin of Nate's neck, and kisses him, soft and wet and fucking perfect. Nate sighs and melts into him, wants nothing other than to have Quentin carry him out of here, take him home and lay him out on the bed, kiss every inch of him before Nate returns the favor.
There needs to be a word between "like" and "love," he thinks, because whatever that word is, it's what he's feeling. He likes sugary cereal and he loves the memory of his mom the summer before she got sick. But this thing with Quentin, well, Nate doesn't know what to call it.
So he settles for, "I so owe you one, darling." Says it so it's funny, so his 'a' stretches out long and his tongue curls around the 'l.' But by the way Quentin's eyes light up, he gets what Nate is really trying to say.
"That you do," Quentin says, "Back to work with you, delinquent."
"Says the boy who pulls innocent victims into dark rooms."
"Says the man who just gave you a fantastic orgasm," Quentin corrects.
"I concede this round," Nate says, slipping out of the bathroom before he can do something stupid like beg Quentin to sneak them out the backdoor.
Nate's dad is home again, but one afternoon he says, "So listen, it looks like the Ottawa thing is panning out. I'm going to need to spend the holidays up there. Just a couple of days before Christmas to New Year's."
"Oh," Nate says. "Thanksgiving, too?"
His dad pauses, presses his lips together and says, "No, I'll—I'll be here for Thanksgiving."
"Dad," Nate says, as his dad starts to walk away. "You know if there's something—if Ottawa isn't really just, you know, business. You can—I want you to be happy."
A look of pure relief flashes over his dad's face before he covers it with a laugh. Says, "This isn't the movies, Nate. Ottawa is just Ottawa."
Nate knows then, for sure, that his dad's in love with somebody.
For some reason, it's not upsetting. He thinks his mom probably would have wanted it this way. Thinks that maybe, finally, they both have someone again.
A month later, as his dad is packing up to leave, Nate comes in his room and sits on his bed, next to his suitcase. Just sits there, watches his dad roll up his socks and tuck them into the empty corners of his bag. Something glints under a pair of pants and Nate reaches for it, curious.
It's a picture of the three of them—him and his mom and his dad, on Christmas when Nate was 14. Nate gasps and nearly drops it. "You—do you always—"
His dad slips the picture frame back where it was and says, "Of course I do."
"Oh," Nate says.
His dad sighs. "There's someone."
Nate smiles. "I know."
"I thought you would be—I didn't want you to meet her until I was sure."
"Are you sure?" Nate asks.
"Getting there," his dad says. "The point is: if you want, you can come with me. I—we could spend Christmas there."
Nate throws his arms around his dad's neck. Says, "No. Thank you."
"I should have asked sooner."
"Yeah," Nate says, laughing, not letting go. His dad's arms snake around his waist.
They sit like that for a long time.
Kellan comes home for Christmas. Nate only knows this because he sees Kellan's car in Mac's driveway.
After thinking about what happened that day, Nate still hasn't decided just how he feels about it. Angry, he thinks. Angry that Kellan was so torn up about not living up to Will's standards while not bothering to try and meet any of Nate's. Assuming that Nate would always be game for a quick validation fuck.
But he gets it, too. A little bit.
But he's not going to admit that unless Kellan mans up and apologizes.
But Kellan has made efforts in the past, when Nate was being stupid. When Nate didn't deserve it.
But Nate isn't like Kellan.
Nate dials Mac's number before he can wimp out. Tells Mac "Merry Christmas, to you, too. Is Kellan there by chance?"
On the other end, he hears a door shut. A quiet, "Hello? Nate?"
"Hey, asshole." Nate says, "Just calling to see if you were still alive."
Kellan sighs. Says, "You must have been really worried to actually pick up the phone."
"You know what they say about desperate times," Nate says. And then, "So, you're okay then?"
"Sort of," Kellan says.
"Wanna talk about it?"
Kellan sighs, like he doesn't want to talk about it, not at all. But then he launches into: "We're on some kind of break, I guess. I don't know. I told him I kissed you and he was really upset. I mean, understandably. And Grace wouldn't talk to me for weeks. She's come around now, though. Says it's Christmas Spirit or something, I don't know. I've been—you're going to think this is so stupid—but I've been sending him letters. Or, well, giving them to Grace to give to him. Telling him the things I would tell him if he were around. That I'm sorry. That I love him. Grace won't tell me if he reads them or not, but—" Kellan takes a deep breath, and Nate can hear it catching in his throat. "I hope he…"
"He will," Nate says, sure of it. "Christmas Spirit, right?"
"God, I hope so," Kellan says, laughing a little. "Nate. I'm—"
"Don't worry about it. We've both done stupid things. But I don't hate you yet, so I guess our only choice is to keep being friends."
"My boyfriend hates you," Kellan says. "Or—my—whatever."
"You boyfriend," Nate insists. "Yeah well, mine hates you, too."
Kellan laughs. Says, "Wait, what?"
Nate smiles, feels contentment expanding in his chest at finally telling someone. "Do you remember Quentin? From Platform?"
"You and him?" Kellan says, shocked. "I—you—that's great!"
"Yeah, I think so," Nate says. Thinks stupidly that he could be borne up by a gust of strong wind, for as light as he feels.
Every Christmas, Quentin's grandparents caravan up to Wisconsin to see their relatives, which leaves Quentin and Nate alone on Christmas Eve, draped across Quentin's bed, kissing the taste of cheap wine out of each other's mouths.
"Nate," Quentin says, rolling them over so that Nate's on top. "I want you to fuck me."
Nate just about chokes on his tongue.
"It's just—" Quentin says, "It's not that I don't love what we've been doing. I do. I could do it all day. We have, on occasion, done it all day. It's just that I want all of it. With you."
Nate continues to stare at him, blood rushing through him, making him dizzy. It's not that he didn't see this coming, it's just that he's surprised with how much he wants it, after being scared of it for so long.
"Right then," Quentin says, "bad idea, obviously. Moving on—"
"No," Nate says, kissing him deeply, thoroughly, peeling his briefs off so he's naked.
"I mean, no, don't move on. Yes, I'll fuck you." Just saying it speeds up his pulse, makes his mouth go dry. "I want to."
"God," Quentin says. He leans over to his side table drawer starts riffling around. Nate bites at the muscles on his side. Moving down Quentin's body and taking his boxers with him. Quentin's hands are shaking when he presses a condom and lube into Nate's.
Nate opens him up carefully, has watched enough porn by now to know what he's supposed to do. And when Quentin pleads, "You, Nate. I need you. Now," Nate listens.
His mouth drops open, a thrumming sort of awe rushing through him. Quentin glances back over his shoulder and says, "Alright there?"
"What?" Nate says, distracted by the sight of him disappearing into Quentin's body. "Yeah, I—" his fingertips sweep over the skin where they're joined and Quentin's body jerks helplessly.
"Fuck," Quentin hisses.
Nate smears his fingers in the lube around Quentin's opening, presses with a little more intent at the taut skin. Hitches his hips and gasps as Quentin slams back to meet him. His fingers skid up Quentin's crease and Nate watches (can't look away from) the way his cock is swallowed up, like Quentin's body was made for it.
"I'm inside you," Nate breathes, wonder and wanting at war in his chest.
"That's the idea," Quentin says, laughter breaking when Nate pulls back and slides back in, once, to get his bearings.
"I've never," Nate says.
Quentin goes immediately still, his body clamping down around Nate like a vice and Nate drops forward a little, palms slipping along Quentin's back as he moans wildly. "What?" Quentin says.
"Huh?" Nate says, dazed and so turned on he can barely breathe.
"You've never what?"
"This," Nate says, demonstrating with another jerk of his hips. Quentin's body yields again, going languid underneath him. "I've never done this with anyone."
"Oh," Quentin says softly. "I didn't know."
"Is that okay?" Nate asks, already poised to stop.
But Quentin reaches around quickly, puts his palm on Nate's thigh and rasps out, "Yeah, it's. You're beautiful." He shimmies his hips a bit, and Nate groans, thrusts once to feel the friction of it before Quentin says, "Here, just." And then he's sliding off and turning onto his back, guiding Nate back into him. "I want to see you," he says, "and—" he leans up and presses his mouth to Nate's, teeth closing over Nate's lower lip and pulling back with a sharp sting. "Now," he says, "fuck me."
Nate nods, locking his eyes on Quentin's and pulling out and then sinking back in, shocked whine ripping out of his throat. "You feel," he gasps, "You feel so—"
Quentin's hands cup the back of his head, tilt it down to rest their foreheads together. "That's it, darling, that's it."
Nate lips at Quentin's mouth, too much panting breath between them for it to really be a kiss. Nate's body takes over for him, thrusting into Quentin hard, each catch and drag of Quentin's body spiraling upward through Nate's own, their noises echoing between their mouths.
"Faster," Quentin pleads, heels pressing into the backs of Nate's thighs. Nate just nods, knocking their foreheads together, eyes trained back to the place where his cock is sliding out of Quentin and then back into him, heat and friction and it's fucking amazing that their bodies can do this kind of thing.
He knows he's not going to last much longer, so he tries to make it count, meeting Quentin's eyes and pistoning his hips into the other man rough and fast. Is shocked by how ragged his voice is when he says, "Wanna make you feel as good as I do."
"You are, love," Quentin says, fist closing around his cock. "You're brilliant."
Nate comes then, his orgasm rushing out of him like a secret, pulling him forward onto Quentin's chest. Quentin wraps his arms around Nate's quaking body, ruts against Nate's stomach until he's coming, too, mouth pressed to Nate's ear on a noisy exhale of, "Christ."
Still sex-stupid, Nate mumbles, "Is it always so—"
"No," Quentin says, panting. "No, that was."
Whatever it was, he doesn't say, just strokes his hands up Nate's back and into his hair. Drops kisses all over Nate's face, sloppy and soft, until Nate is shaking for an altogether different reason than post-orgasm exhaustion. "Quentin?" he says, pulling out with a wince.
"Hush, sweetheart," he answers. "Come here."
And Nate goes, settling against Quentin's chest, and lets the other man kiss him to sleep.
A few weeks later, Kellan calls. Says, "Well, the bad news is: my boyfriend still hates you. The good news is: my boyfriend still hates you."
"So your frilly love letters worked after all?" Nate says, grinning, stretching out beside Quentin and walking his fingers up his bare chest. Quentin wriggles under his hand, smacking his lips a little in his sleep.
"Yes, Nate, my highly intellectual correspondences were received as I intended."
"You're so weird."
"Whatever. How's Quentin."
"Oh, you're—" Kellan says. Laughs. "Who's lovesick now?"
Nate just smiles, strokes the hair back from Quentin's forehead, and says, "No one I know."
Spring comes in fits and starts, one day is sunny and warm, the next there's frost on the windshields. But by the time March is coming to a close, they get a full week of warm weather, and Nate and Quentin spend every moment they can of it together.
(Because with it, comes the expiration of Quentin's visa, which is up at the end of May. So that's two months. Only two more months.
They don't talk about it, though. And Nate certainly refuses to think about it.)
One morning, after Quentin wakes him up by sinking down onto Nate's morning erection, and rides him until Nate is practically sobbing to come. Thigh muscles weak and twitchy afterwards, abs an aching wreck.
"I'm going to cook for you," Quentin announces suddenly, as they're drying off from a shower.
Nate raises an eyebrow. "Is that a skill that you have?" He says doubtfully.
Quentin swats him with a towel. "Yes, that is a skill that I have. Wanker."
"I love it when you call me names," Nate says, laughing and scurrying out of the bathroom naked.
"I know you do," Quentin says, following him. "Sweetheart."
(And it doesn't have the same effect as it used to. Doesn't zing along his spine and leave him hard and desperate. But it does make him stop and lean back in Quentin's embrace. It does make him say,) "Yes." (Yes, instead of I'm yours. Instead of I think that I—)
"How do you feel about quiche?" Quentin says, after they've dressed, wandering into the kitchen and ducking his head into the fridge.
"I have absolutely no emotional reaction to quiche."
"Perfect," Quentin says, "Quiche it is." And then, "Actually, shit, I'm out of cream. But I bet my Nan has some. Let's go."
"What?" Nate says, letting himself be pushed out the front door and down the stairs.
"We'll grab some from the house," Quentin says, ushering him across the yard and in the back door. "Nan?" he hollers, "Hi, you here?"
"In the living room!"
"C'mon, we'll just pop in and say 'hi.'" Quentin says.
"Okay," Nate says, shrugging.
Quentin's grandma is sitting in an armchair by the window, book open in her lap. "Hey, Nan," Quentin says. "This is my boyfriend, Nate."
And. And what?
Nate immediately flushes, glances at Quentin in panic, and then back to his grandma. She's just smiling though, like that's nice. "Good to meet you, Nate."
"You, too," Nate says automatically, and thank god for that, because the rest of him is still in freak-out mode at how casually Quentin had said boyfriend. Because for all that Nate has thought it, and known that it's what they are, he's been sidestepping actually saying it out loud.
"We just came over to see if you had any cream? I'm trying to prove to Nate that I can actually cook."
"Oh," his grandma says, smiling, "he can. He makes us dinner once a week, and I'm telling you, Nate, he puts me to shame."
Nate laughs, hopes it doesn't sound uncomfortable as he feels, but Quentin glances at him with a weird look on his face, but says, "Yeah right. Now you're just lying."
"I'm not," his grandma says, eyes twinkling. "There's cream in the fridge. Take what you need."
Nate waves awkwardly, says, "Um, thanks. It was nice to meet you."
"You, too," she says, and Nate practically runs from the room, leaning against the kitchen table while Quentin rifles through the fridge.
He throws Nate a look over his shoulder and says, "Alright there?"
Nate shakes his head to clear it. This isn't a big deal. Why is he so shaken up about it? "Yeah," he says, "I'm just hungry I guess."
"Aha!" Quentin says, brandishing the carton of cream with a flourish. "Follow me, young boy, and you will hunger for nothing." Nate wrinkles his nose and Quentin drops a kiss on it, laughing, says, "Too much?"
"A bit," Nate agrees, smiling despite himself. One of these days, he's going to figure out how Quentin manages to be so sexy and nerdy at the same time.
Back in Quentin's kitchenette, Nate hoists himself onto the counter and watches Quentin at work. And okay, also one day soon Nate is going to stop fetishizing everything Quentin does. But that day is not today, and Nate's greedy eyes take in Quentin's fingers as he cracks an egg, his wrists flexing as he whisks it all together, and his mouth, lips pressed tight in concentration as he chops up a pepper.
"If you could please stop getting me into a constant state of arousal just by living, that would be nice," Nate says as he watches Quentin pour the egg mixture into a piecrust and sprinkle peppers and cheese over it.
Quentin turns to him, smile wide and surprised, eyes warm. "Oh?" He says, quirking an eyebrow before turning away and putting the pan in the oven.
"Mmm," Nate agrees, hopping down from the counter to stand toe-to-toe with Quentin. "It's very rude," he says. "Because I am hungry and still a bit sore from this morning," (Quentin's pupils go wide and dark) "But you've managed, again, to work me up." He crowds into Quentin's space, palms flat on his sides, squeezing possessively.
"Well that needs 45 minutes to cook," Quentin says. Nate groans petulantly, because he really is starving. "But I've got to do the dishes before we do anything."
Nate leans back and squints up at Quentin. Says, "What now?"
Quentin just laughs, and says, "I can't—I just have this thing where I can't walk away from a sink full of dirty dishes."
Nate peers over Quentin's shoulder to inspect the dishes. Says, "They don't look too dirty."
Quentin shoves him away playfully. Says, "It'll only take a minute." Nate huffs and flops back against the counter while Quentin starts filling the sink with sudsy water.
Standing there, horny and irritated, watching Quentin's back muscles flex under his shirt as he dips his hands into the water to start washing the dishes, a wave of longing passes over Nate. The kind of longing that makes him feel sexy and powerful, like his body knows it can make Quentin come apart and that's just what it's going to do.
So he wraps his arms around Quentin's hips and presses his chest along the other man's back. Bites at his shoulder blade through his shirt. "I swear this won't take long," Quentin says, grinding his ass back against Nate like the absolute tease that he is.
"Oh don't mind me," Nate says, popping the button of Quentin's jeans and jerking the zipper down. Quentin drops the knife in his hand with a splash with a sharp inhale. He starts to turn in Nate's arms, but Nate grips his hips and keeps him still. "No," he says, "Keep doing what you're doing."
And then, quietly, while sliding his hand into the heat of Quentin's briefs, "I'll take care of you."
Quentin's breath leaves him like he's been punched, and he hunches over the sink and kicks his feet a little wider apart. "That's it," Nate husks, other hand palming the skin over Quentin's stomach.
With shaking hands, Quentin starts washing the dishes again, and Nate keeps his pace slow and torturous. Takes his hand away at one point and brings it to Quentin's mouth. "Get it wet," he says.
Quentin's mouth presses a shaky "Oh, fuck," into Nate's palm before his tongue starts laving at the skin, twining between Nate's fingers until Nate is panting into Quentin's shoulder, leaving a wet spot on the fabric of his shirt when he bites down and instinctively sweeps his tongue over the spot to soothe it.
He slips the pad of his thumb over Quentin's lower lip (and it's so hot and wet, Nate wants to drag him to the ground and suck it into his own mouth.) Quentin flicks his tongue over the sensitive skin, scrapes his teeth along it. Nate shudders. Says, "Those dishes aren't going to do themselves," before sliding his hand back into Quentin's pants, grip nice and slick now.
When he circles his thumb over the head of Quentin's cock, Quentin hisses and practically slams the bowl he's holding into the drying rack. "Careful," Nate says.
"Shut up, you—" Quentin husks, attacking the mixing bowl with the rag.
"What am I, then?" Nate says, reaching down even further to press against the skin behind Quentin's balls. Quentin curses and rinses the bowl frantically, draining the sink and running his hands under the clean water.
He spins around, backs Nate up against the refrigerator and growls, "A tease."
"Me?" Nate says, smirking, raising his hands in a way that might look innocent if his right one wasn't glistening with Quentin's spit.
Quentin grips both of his hands up over Nate's shoulders, over the top of the fridge. Crowds into Nate's space and nods towards his crotch. Says, "Alright then, finish what you started." His voice is so dark and gravelly, commanding, that Nate's heart skips in his chest.
Before he really thinks about what he's doing, he goes to his knees, yanks Quentin's jeans and briefs down his thighs and wraps his hand around Quentin's cock. Quentin just looks down at him, arms and legs around Nate like a cage, and raises an eyebrow like, well? In some dim part of his mind, Nate is pissed off that Quentin's turned the tables again. But most of him is thinking fuck, how is this guy even real?
He opens his mouth, feeds Quentin's cock into it, and runs his hands lightly down Quentin's thighs. "Nate," Quentin chokes. "Move."
Nate just hums, tugs Quentin's hips and looks up at him with what he hopes conveys, have this. Have me like this.
"Shit," Quentin gasps. "You want me to—"
Nate hums again, pleased when Quentin's eyes slam shut and his hips shift, pushing him deeper into Nate's mouth.
Things get sloppy from there, spit dripping down Nate's chin as he takes it and takes it and takes it. Choking and sputtering a few times, Quentin gentling him through it, until Quentin's hips stutter and he groans so loud, Nate can feel it. Comes down Nate's throat.
Nate swallows what he can, licks up what he can't, until Quentin is shaking, pushing him away with overworked hisses. "You," he says, when he pulls Nate up off his knees. "You are—"
"Skilled? Insatiable? Best sex you've ever had?" Nate offers, wrenching his sore jaw around a bit.
"Yes," Quentin says, kissing him. And then quietly, looking into his eyes, "yes."
The quiche is good, and Nate makes a big deal of it. "Oh god," he says, "I could eat this for every meal."
Quentin cuffs him on the shoulder. "Shove off."
"I'm serious," Nate says, shoveling another bite into his mouth. "I'm never eating anything else again."
Quentin laughs, kisses him on the cheek, and says, "Guess I'll be cooking a lot then."
"I'll pay you with blowjobs."
"I find that salary more than acceptable."
Nate swallows what's in his mouth and takes a deep breath. "So," he says. "You called me your boyfriend."
"Ah," Quentin says, taking a drink of water. "That's what you were all weird about."
"I was not…weird," Nate says. "Surprised, maybe."
"Why?" Quentin says, tilting his head and resting his chin on his hand.
"I just didn't know we were. There yet, or."
Quentin blinks. "Oh?"
"You're mad," Nate says, regret swimming in his gut. He shouldn't have brought this up.
"No," Quentin says cautiously, "This is just starting to sound like the Nate from months ago. I thought you were over this closeted crap."
"Closeted crap?" Nate says. "I'm sorry my family isn't joining me at pride parades like yours seem to be but—"
"Nate, calm down. I didn't mean—"
"No!" Nate says, anger spiraling up through him and clutching at his throat. He scoots his chair back from the table and stalks out of the room.
Quentin follow him, says, "Just because he wouldn't go to pride parades—which, for the record, I don't even go to—doesn't mean your dad wouldn't support you."
"You don't know anything about my dad," Nate snaps.
"And whose fault is that?"
"Just—he wouldn't be okay with it."
"In my experience, it's never as bad as you're expecting it to be."
"And what's your experience? After-school specials?"
"Right, because I am as hetero-normative as they come. Surely I've never dealt with coming out."
"You know what I mean," Nate says, pacing the tiny living room while Quentin stands by the couch.
"No," he says, "I don't."
"I just don't know why you're forcing the issue right now. With my dad, it's—" fragile. It's working its way back to something they lost when Nate's mom died. It's finally showing Nate pictures of Leah, the woman he's going to propose to soon. It's something Nate doesn't want to jeopardize for a man who's leaving in two months. (Christ. Two months.)
"Nate," Quentin says, placating. "When have I ever pushed you to do something you didn't want to?"
"You haven't," Nate says.
"That's right, I haven't. I don't care if you tell your dad, but it's my business if my own Nan knows about me. And she sure as hell isn't going to care that you're gay. She just cares I'm happy. And I am, Nate. So I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, but you are my boyfriend, in case you hadn't noticed."
"It's easy for you to say these things because nobody's ever disowned you for them," Nate says, sinking into the couch and dropping his head in his hands.
"Nobody's disowned you for them either!"
"Only because I haven't told him."
"Then don't tell him. I don't care, I told you."
"You seem like you do."
"You sure that's not you, projecting? Sure you're not jealous that I can be open about it with the people I love and you can't?"
"Oh fuck you," Nate spits, anger bursting inside him viciously. "The world just gives you everything you want, doesn't it."
"I don't see you suffering in that huge house with only daddy to share it with, rent-free," Quentin says.
"You think I want that?" Nate says, waving an arm through the air. "You think I'm some stuck up daddy's boy with no problems? Everybody fucking leaves me, Quentin. Everybody. I don't want a goddamned big house, or any of it. I want people. And none of them want me back."
"And what the bleeding fuck do you think I am?" Quentin says, "I don't know about the others, alright, I don't know about them. But I do know that I want you like mad. That I—Christ, that I never want to leave you."
"Yeah, but you will."
"Because I have to."
"It doesn't make any difference."
Nate thinks of his mom, the way she hadn't given up, even at the end. How she'd smiled for him every time he visited, asked him how school went, what he'd learned, to tell her something in Spanish. She hadn't wanted to leave. But it still. It still. "No," Nate says, "That only makes it worse."
"Well I—" Quentin says, not looking at him. "I don't know what to say to you."
"There's nothing," Nate says.
Outside the window, everything is shot through with green.
A week later, Nate is at the dinner table with his dad. Nate's twenty-one today, and his dad pours him a glass of wine with a flourish.
"A drink with my son," he says proudly, grinning at Nate over his own glass.
Times like these and it's like meeting his dad again, after years of having him gone. Having him moving from room to room with no blood in his veins, just a holding place for this real, smiling thing. Already, Nate loves Leah for making his dad like this.
Nate wonders if his dad is seeing him in the same way. Thinks the only way he'll know for sure is if he says, "Dad, I have to tell you something. About me."
His dad looks at him, smile gentle and open.
Nate swallows. Promises himself that even if this all goes to shit, he'll remember the moment before, when he had his dad back, even just for a while. "I'm so glad that Leah makes you happy," he starts, and his dad's smile goes soft. "And I hope that you want me to be happy like that."
"I do," his dad says.
"Well I am. I'm seeing this amazing person. And he makes me really happy. Happier than I've been in a long time. Since mom."
His heart is pounding in his ears so loud, it hurts. He shoves his shaking hands under the table to keep them from view while his dad stares at him.
"Kellan?" His dad says.
"No," Nate answers. "For a while we were. But this is somebody different. Somebody I really—his name is Quentin. He works with me."
"Ah," his dad says. He rubs his forehead wearily.
"I've missed a lot these last few years, haven't I?" his dad says, heaving a sigh.
"Is there anything else?"
"I failed geometry. Had to take it over," Nate says. "Got a few speeding tickets."
His dad is quiet for long enough that Nate starts to panic again before his shoulders start shaking and he looks up, guffawing. Nate blinks. Says, "Um."
"Well," his dad says, "if that's all then."
"Yeah…" Nate says slowly, unsure of what's going on.
His dad takes a sip of wine to calm himself. Looks at Nate's stricken face and says, "Oh, was I supposed to say something grandly reassuring?"
"If you—I mean, yeah, I think that's the part that comes now. From what I've seen. In movies."
"Right," his dad says, "Well, Nate, I'm sorry I haven't been around to help you through this. I've probably just made it all worse. But it looks like you've made it to the other side just fine."
"Oh," Nate says, breathing for what feels like the first time in years. "Yeah."
"And you can, you know, bring him around. Any time." His dad says easily.
Nate just gapes at him. "This did not go at all how I was expecting."
"We can redo it if you want," his dad says. "It's a defining moment in a young gay man's life, I've heard."
"Dad!" Nate says, choking on laughter. "Are you actually making fun of this right now? Am I dreaming?"
His dad just ruffles his hair. Says, "Finish your wine." and, "I love you, even though you're way too dramatic for your own good."
The next day, Quentin bursts out laughing and says, "After all that angst. That is what happened?"
"Shut up," Nate says. "It could have been gruesome, and then you would've been sorry."
"What made you tell him anyway?" Quentin asks, slinging his arm Nate's shoulder and tipping Nate's head onto his shoulder.
Nate presses his forehead to Quentin's neck and says, "You know that."
"Mmm," Quentin says, squeezing his arm. "Guess I do."
They sit like that for a while, watching Quentin's grandpa work in his garden. Quentin says, "You know I'd do it for you, right? If I hadn't already come out to everybody."
"Sure, sure," Nate says. "Good excuse."
Quentin laughs, and then sucks in a breath. "No, I know! Come on."
"Quentin, what? You don't actually have to—"
"Oh no," Quentin says, "my honor has been challenged. I most definitely have to prove it."
He pulls Nate up the stairs to his apartment, and plops down and pulls his computer into his lap.
"Are you showing me your dirty videos?" Nate asks, perching on the arm of the couch.
"No," Quentin says, "I'm googling the coordinates for the town."
Nate's mouth drops open, eyes zeroing in on Quentin's chest, the fabric-covered space where Nate's tongue and teeth and fingers have spent hours worshipping the skin. "Really?" he says.
"Can't think of a more important place I've been," Quentin says. And then, "Know of any good tattoo parlors around here?"
After, they stand in front of the mirror, admiring the shiny and abused skin under the new tattoo. "What do you think?" Quentin asks.
Nate just looks at him, this charming and sexy and amazing man, and thinks that the dilemma over finding a word between 'like' and 'love' is still a thing that bothers him, because it's stupid not to have one.
But maybe it's not an issue in this case anymore.
Maybe he. Maybe he, yeah.
He's not ready to say it out loud yet, but he is ready to think it. Ready to put it in words he can see in his head. Lined up in a row and terrifyingly true.
I love you. He thinks. Pushes the thought forward in his mind until it's all he can think, until if he was forced to open his mouth and talk, it's the only thing that could come out. But that doesn't happen, and he just keeps standing behind Quentin while they look together at the flushed and newly-inked skin on Quentin's chest.
Their eyes catch in the mirror, and Nate thinks it once more, and hard—I love you—before tucking it away and saying with a raspy voice, "Looks good."
On Quentin's last day at Platform, Nate feels sick.
Everyone stays late, and the manager lets them drink a little, say their goodbyes. Nate scowls through most of it, even when Nikki elbows him and says, "What? Your tips are going to go way up after this."
All Nate wants to do is get Quentin home and keep him there, tie him to the bed and throw his passport in the trash.
When it's just Nate and Quentin and Nikki left, they sit at an outdoor table they dragged out here a few days ago, when it looked like summer was finally on the way. And suddenly, it hits Nate right in the chest that he and Quentin are going to be the only ones at Platform who really know what happened this year. That Quentin will leave in a few days, and then Nate will be the only one here who knows how much he—how much he loves this man. The things they did together. The way Quentin sleeps with his lips parted, just a little, his fingers curling and uncurling while he dreams; how he always keeps some part of his body touching Nate's, for the whole night.
In a few days, Quentin will leave, and Nate will have this gaping hole inside of him and no one here will know. No one will see it. And Quentin will just be that fun, British guy who everybody liked, even Nate, the guy who never likes anyone.
And Nate hates that.
Somebody has to know. Somebody besides the two of them. Nate can't stand coming into work next week and being the only one to remember the way they really were with each other.
So he fakes a yawn, rubs his hand over his face like he's tired, and then leans on Quentin's shoulder, nuzzling in a bit and sighing.
For a second, the whole world goes still, and Quentin tenses and Nate can only hear a buzzing in his ears. When it fades, Quentin slips an arm around his waist and tugs him close, tips his head onto Nate's and exhales steadily.
Nikki is biting at her lip, failing to hide a smile as she says, "So that's how it is."
"Yeah," Nate says, putting his hand on Quentin's thigh, "that's how it is."
And when he looks up at Quentin, the other man is beaming.
Quentin packs quickly, viciously, like he can't stand it, so that the night before his plane leaves, he has nothing to do but sit with Nate in his apartment, clutching at each other, but pretending nothing's wrong.
It gets to the point that Nate can't take it anymore, that he reaches over in the middle of Quentin saying something about whatever the fuck they're watching on T.V. and kisses him. Says, "Let me fuck you."
"Yes," Quentin says, laying down right there, and letting Nate peel off all his clothes and kiss up from his ankles to his hips, his hips to his chest, and then his mouth, slow and lush and heartbreaking.
He makes Quentin come on his fingers first, twisting them slow and hard into Quentin's body, catching his moans in Nate's mouth.
When he sinks in, Quentin is languid with it. Eyes glassy and voice wrecked, and he says, "Nate, Nate."
"Don't go," Nate says with his fingers, pressing bruises on Quentin's hips. "Don't go," he says with his eyes, never leaving Quentin's as he thrusts into him. "Don't go," he says with his lips and his teeth and his tongue, saying words that aren't words, but gasps, but hitched breath, but moans.
"Please," he says, and Quentin's body bows up with a hoarse cry as he comes again, body clamping down around Nate like a vice, stealing the breath from Nate's lungs.
When he comes, it's an afterthought, the rest of him busy settling Quentin down with his fingers dancing along the other man's cheeks, lips, collarbones.
In his whole life, of all the things he's lost, none of them have been this cleanly devastating before. Unmarked by bitterness or sheer exhaustion, this hurt he feels now will cut straight through and heal up without a scar, the way the worst wounds always do. So that he won't have anything to point to and say this is the year I fell in love. This is the boy who wanted to stay, but couldn't. The night I fought against my eyelids to stay awake, looking at him for just a little longer, while he was still there to look back at me.
They drive to the airport quietly, Quentin staring out the window and Nate focused on the road. He feels like they should be touching, but they aren't, and he can't bring himself to grab onto Quentin's hand because it might make this whole thing hurt worse.
It costs him twelve dollars to park, but he doesn't say anything about it. He's not just going to drop Quentin off in the Departures lane and call it a year. "Listen," Quentin says as they're walking through the parking garage, his rolling suitcase scraping along behind them. "I know we didn't really talk about, I don't know, doing a long-distance thing, but. I mean, I'm up for it if you are."
Nate shrugs, says, "Sure. We can, um, we can try that. See how it goes. I—" am quite possibly about to grab onto your leg and beg you to stay, "'d like that."
Quentin nods, and they both keep their gazes resolutely turned away from each other.
They make small talk while they're waiting in line to check Quentin's bag. About what schools Nate might apply to in the fall, since he's decided he doesn't want to work at Platform for the rest of his life. About the rainstorm that's supposed to blow through in the afternoon, and if it'll delay any of Quentin's connecting flights. And the whole while, Nate is thinking hold on to him, hold on to him, this can't actually be ending.
When they're one person away from the counter, Nate's pain trips over itself in his chest, and he takes a sharp breath in while tangling his hand in Quentin's, fierce and strong, until his fingers are actually aching.
Quentin doesn't say anything, or maybe he does, and Nate can't hear it over the thundering of his heart, and they stand that way, hands hidden behind Quentin's bag until they're waved forward. Nate exhales, flexes his numb fingers, and follows Quentin to the counter. Watches as Quentin hands over his ID and passport, collects his tickets from the kiosk and fills out an ID tag for his bag.
Just as he's supposed to be putting his bag on the conveyer belt, Quentin looks down at his tickets, hand hesitating over the handle. "Sir?" the worker says, "Is there a problem?"
Quentin looks up, shocked almost, eyes meeting Nate's as a sudden burst of laughter comes through his parted lips. "Why am I doing this?" he says, smile breaking over his face.
Nate glances at the worker, who's sporting a politely annoyed expression. "Um," he says, "Because of the thing where you're not a citizen?"
"Come with me," he says, ignoring her. "Something, just—I can't, I actually cannot leave unless you're coming with me." Quentin's eyes have gone a little wild, and unlike Nate, he seems to be able to forget about the people crowding up behind them, all perturbed to various degrees.
"Sir." The worker says, pressing her lips together and flushing pink. "I'm going to have to ask you—"
"Yeah, just. Here, take it," Quentin says, heaving the bag onto the conveyer and dragging Nate out of the line.
"What?" Nate starts to say. What are you doing? Why are you making this harder than it has to be?
"I lo—" Quentin starts, but Nate cuts him off with a rough hand over his mouth, up on his tiptoes and hoping he looks as furious as he feels. "Do not tell me that in a fucking airport. Jesus. I thought you didn't want to live your life like Love, Actually."
Beneath his hand, Nate can feel Quentin smiling. "Take me home, then," he says after Nate's dropped his hand. "I'll tell you there."
"Your home is in England, Quentin," Nate says, huffing out a breath past the panicked hurt that clenches in his chest when he thinks it. Thinks that in less than an hour, Quentin will be on a plane to another country, and sure, they'll call each other (they're good at that, aren't they?) but then what? And then what? And then…
"Not really," Quentin says.
"If you spout out some crap about me being your home now, I will kick you in the balls."
"I'm serious," Quentin says, smirking. "Come with me."
"What, so we can do this again in a year's time?"
"You can apply to schools there. Get a student visa. That's at least four years—"
"Oh god," Nate cuts him off, distraught and overwhelmed.
"Nate," Quentin says softly, cupping Nate's face in his palms. "I didn't want to ask you before. To just—pick up your life or, whatever, just. I'm asking now because I'm. Because I'm sure about this. About you. I wouldn't ask if I didn't lo—"
"Not in an airport," Nate says.
"What, and you don't?" Quentin says, faltering for the first time since he started his godforsaken conversation.
"Of course I," Nate starts, loud and adamant. And then, nearly a whisper, leaning in a little, "Of course I do. But I can't just. My dad, and work and—"
"How long will it take to get things sorted?"
"I don't know! I've never done this before." Even as he says it, something triumphant is working its way up his throat, bubbling like joy over his tongue. He laughs, smothers it with his hand, eyes dancing over Quentin's as it becomes apparent to both of them that, yes, this is stupid, but they're going to do it anyway. "A week?"
He's nearly doubled over with giggles, young and foolish for what feels like the first time in his whole life, and Quentin says, "Alright. A week, then." And then he kisses him, right there, in front of hundreds of people hurrying this way and that, off to god-knows-where for god-knows-what.
And in the middle of it, Nate's life coming together stitch by stitch, humming under his veins like, finally finally finally, he's figured it out.
A/N: Sorry this took so long, guys. It's just that in the middle of writing it, I had the good sense to go ahead and fall head over heels for this stupidly charming boy I can NEVER HAVE and subsequently the Kellan/Nate interactions became super achy to write. Like ohGAWD! no one has ever felt pain like me and my fictional character! NO ONE! My heart is full of longing and woe! However, as with most of life's challenges, I fixed myself by watching BBC's Merlin for hours on end and giving Nate a rough-and-tumble British boy to make le petit mort with. (I don't know French. Was that French?)
ALSOANDMOSTIMPORTANT: Thanks for everyone who read/reviewed Side Effects. You guys were what got me through the writing of this monster. You're all fabulous.