For dinner that night, Addison cooked a stir fry that was so delicious Stuart not only went back for seconds but also picked the pan clean afterwards with his fingers.
"I take it back," he told Addison imperiously. "You should cook me all my meals; this is fantastic."
"In your dreams," Addison shot back, but he looked pleased by the compliment.
They walked to Blackfinn together around 9:00 pm, where Hugh was going to be meeting them for an hour or so.
"After that he'll go try and fail to get laid in a straight bar," Addison explained, enthused by his friend's embarrassment. "He had a steady girlfriend for most of high school and freshman year so he's terrible at picking up."
It had somehow slipped Stuart's mind what it meant that Blackfinn was a gay bar—that he wasn't going to have to watch his actions or consider his words in any way while he was there. As the two of them slid into a booth in the back, Addison slinging an arm over his shoulder, Stuart abruptly remembered and felt something loosen in his chest.
He leaned in close enough that his lips brushed Addison's earlobe. "This is nice, I like this."
"What's that?" Addison asked.
Stuart gestured at the way they were sitting and the room around them. "Being here."
He couldn't see the expression on Addison's face, but he could feel the way Addison's mouth turned up against his jaw. "Yeah, it's pretty great."
They were interrupted by the sound of Hugh coughing. Hugh was standing next to their table with his hands on his hips and disapproval on his face. As usual, he wearing a flannel shirt, which, combined with his thick beard, made him look like some kind of mountain-man.
"Hey Hugh," Addison greeted him.
"You have to go to the bathroom," Hugh told him. "Right now. You've had too many beers."
Addison chuckled, and Stuart could feel it all along his back. "Okay."
"Wait," Stuart realized. "Is this going to be one of those 'hurt him and I'll kill you speeches'?"
"Yep," Hugh said, taking the seat directly across from Stuart.
"I was forced to do this," Addison explained, squeezing Stuart's knee. "He has a lot of blackmail on me. Please forgive me."
"Go now," Hugh ordered.
"So," Stuart opened, gulping as Addison left them alone together.
"Here's the deal," Hugh cut him off. "I've known Addison for three years and I have never seen him this into someone. I saw this coming a mile away because he couldn't ever shut up about you."
"Really?" Stuart asked, unable to keep from smiling at the news, despite the threats potentially headed his way.
Hugh ignored him. "And I like you—you give it back to him as good as you get."
"But I'm not going to play depressing folk-country music for months at open-mike nights because you mess him up. I've done that once and it was terrible. There are still bars I'm not allowed to perform at."
"I'm not planning on it," Stuart insisted, oddly touched by this show of loyalty. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. He's way more likely to be the one to throw me aside."
"Why would you say that?" Hugh asked, curiosity overtaking the wariness in his eyes.
Stuart took several sips of beer, feeling self-conscious. "I dunno, I mean I'm just a freshman—I had to get a fake just to be able to come here tonight—and I'm new to all this relationship stuff so I'm getting a lot wrong. Seriously man, I'm not exactly player material."
Hugh took a swig of his own beer, considering Stuart with an inscrutable expression. Then, unexpectedly, he relaxed, looking satisfied. It seemed like Stuart had somehow passed whatever test had been thrown at him. "Let me know when you finish that beer. Next one is on me."
Eventually Addison came back, creating a more comfortable dynamic. Stuart re-settled under Addison's arm, taking advantage of the opportunity to try to get to know Hugh a little better, since they were likely going to be spending a lot of time together from then on.
After Hugh left, Stuart and Addison remained at Blackfinn, mostly passing the time with Addison explaining to him how shameful it was that he didn't recognize any of the bands playing over the speakers.
"Wow, you're such a hipster," Stuart complained, but he asked Addison to text him a few of the band names to add to his iPod for runs.
Stuart was starting to feel drowsy, curled up so comfortably in the shadowy booth, when the cushion next to him dipped with the weight of someone else's body.
"Happy birthday jerkwad," Macon said, sounding mostly friendly about it. "Way to invite us out to celebrate with you."
Stuart turned his head to see both Macon and Wilson joining them in the booth.
"Hey guys," he said. "Sorry it was sort-of a last minute plan. It's good to see you both, though."
"I dunno," Wilson drawled, eyeing the arm around Stuart's shoulder with a shit-eating grin. "Are you sure you just didn't want a romantic night out?"
As always, Stuart could feel his face going visibly red. It was a good thing he never played poker because he was terrible at hiding his feelings. Of course Wilson was going to tease him about this.
"We saw you play a few months ago here," Wilson continued, addressing Addison now. "I'm sure we didn't enjoy it as much as Vonner, but it was pretty good."
Macon socked him on the arm, laughing. "Will, you're the worst. Stop trying to embarrass Stuart."
"Oh," Addison leaned forward, pressing more of his chest along Stuart's spine. "You must be Macon and Wilson. It's nice to finally meet you both."
"And you must be Addison," Macon stated, reaching over to shake hands. "I feel like I should be grilling you on your intentions or something."
"Nope, stop right now," Stuart ordered. "Addison's best friend already put me through that tonight, and I refuse to go through anymore emotional torture."
Macon grinned widely at the implications in that sentence. "It'll happen eventually, Stuart. You can't put it off forever."
"Hey!" Wilson protested. "You can't have two 'best' friends. That totally defeats the meaning of the word."
"Don't worry, you're special in your own way," Macon told him in a low voice that was probably only meant to be fondly mocking.
Despite that, the words came out too loaded with insinuation and affection not to give him away. Wilson didn't touch Macon—they were still intensely private, even here—but his eyes went dark. Addison ducked his head.
"So," he murmured, his breath hot in Stuart's ear. "You were leaving a whole lot out when you told me they were 'totally okay' with you being gay."
"It wasn't my secret to tell," Stuart answered out of the corner of his mouth, unconsciously tilting his own head up. "And I was just as surprised as you are."
"If I have to watch you two suck face, I will make sure to tell Addison all about how disgustingly dreamy you've been lately at practice," Wilson threatened, startling Stuart back.
"Oh my god, shut up," Stuart hissed.
"What's this now?" Addison asked, perking up.
"It's my birthday," Stuart reminded them all petulantly. He pointed at Macon and Wilson with his almost empty cup of beer. "One of you get me a drink."
"I'll get it," Addison said, patting him sympathetically on the shoulder. "You've had a rough night."
He snatched the cup out of Stuart's hand and downed the rest of it, taking the glass with him up to the bar.
"You guys are sooo cute together." Macon mimicked a high pitched teen-aged girl's voice; probably Wilson's sister Vicky's, since Macon was an only child. Then, before Stuart could throw a paper coaster at him, he resumed his normal tone. "But seriously, it's nice to see you mellowed out like this."
"Whatever, I don't need your approval to date," Stuart muttered- still embarrassed by all the events of the past few hours- but he couldn't help feeling warmed by the words, too. It was probably all the beer he'd had.
The next morning they left Stuart's room to walk to their respective classes at the same time. Addison hovered antsily nearby while Stuart dug into his backpack for his keys.
"You could just keep them out," Addison chided him. "This is like the third time you've done this."
"I know," Stuart admitted with his arm so deep into his bag that the straps of his backpack were digging into his armpit. "I always forget though."
Beside him, he heard a door swing open.
"Yo Stuart," Martine greeted.
Stuart had gotten his fingers on the keys, but now his grip began to slip as his palms started to sweat.
"Hey Martine," he managed, turning to wave with the arm not in his backpack.
Martine wasn't staring at Addison in anyway suspiciously. It wasn't like he'd seen them emerge from Stuart's room together. He was giving them a questioning look—probably just because he'd never seen Addison before and because Addison didn't exactly look like he belonged in the athletes' dorm in his torn Ramones t-shirt—and even that was enough to kick Stuart's heart to an up-tempo.
"You off to campus?" Martine asked.
"I have a session with the team trainer; just a check-up on my nutrition plan."
"Cool," Stuart said. Remembering his manners, he added: "Hey Addison, this is Martine— he's the keeper on the Varsity soccer team."
"Nice," Addison smiled. "I'm looking forward to when games start up again. I went to all of them that I could last year."
Stuart held back an indignant sound. Addison finally chose one sport to like and it was soccer and not lacrosse? That was stupid, and Stuart was going to have to remedy that immediately.
Then, Stuart hesitated, realizing his next line in this sequence of introductions. Martine was one of the nicest people Stuart had ever met in his life. He was grinning at both of them, as relaxed and care-free as ever. They were buddies, Stuart thought. If there was ever a time to start saying something, it had to be now. It was just so much harder than Stuart had expected when he'd made his promises to Addison.
"And um," Stuart continued, feeling terrified for what he was about to say next. "Martine, this is…this is my boyfriend Addison."
The entire world came to a screeching halt around him after he spoke. It had been so long since he last took a breath that he thought he might pass out. Blood was rushing in his ears. His only comfort was the way that Addison was beaming at him, radiating joy and relief and satisfaction in his direction.
Miraculously, Martine just grinned wider. "Nice to meet you, Addison. You'll have to help me convince him to spend less time hitting the books. I practically have to beg him to come over and chill with me as is."
"I know, right," Addison agreed, taking a quick break from looking at Stuart like Stuart was the most wonderful thing he'd ever seen to acknowledge the comment.
Stuart was determined to try to keep getting that look, and not the haunted disappointed he'd been the recipient of at other times lately. The sheer number of times he was going to have to do this over again, though, was daunting. His nerves were going to be shot if he made it through the coming month.
One afternoon that week, Stuart got sick of reading about externalities for Econ class and decided to walk over to the library reference desk to talk to Addison. They mostly left each other alone in the library. Stuart would usually say hello on his way in, but then he would try to focus on his work during the time he was there. Now that so many of his nights were taken up, it was especially important that he be disciplined while studying. If either of them took a break; however, they would try to solicit the other to join them.
There was a student already talking to Addison when Stuart came up. The girl had to be a freshman, and she was asking Addison to explain the call number system to her. Stuart choked back a laugh; that was highest of the top three questions that Addison found most annoying.
"No, no, no," Addison told her, shoving a folded piece of paper into her hands. "Look, here's a pamphlet; you can read all about it."
The girl became even more confused by the dense writing on the page.
"Come back tomorrow morning," Stuart told her conspiratorially, startling Addison to look up and glare at him. "There's a very nice girl named Marie who will help you."
"Thanks?" she said uncertainly, backing away to go back to her seat.
"How have they not fired you yet?" Stuart asked Addison, leaning over to prop himself up with an arm on the counter.
"I'm nice to people who don't have stupid questions," Addison argued.
"And people who aren't douchey frat bros, right?"
"Yep," Addison confirmed, grinning at him. "Those are the worst of all. Especially the one bothering me right now."
"I was bored," Stuart informed him. "When's your break? Can we hang out?"
"It's in an hour, but I was actually thinking about going on a run. The weather's been nice today."
Stuart knew he was pulling an incredulous face. "You run?"
"What, just because I don't like sports that means I don't like to exercise? No. I ride my bike and run and hike."
It was one of the days Stuart had off from practice and he hadn't been planning to work out, but he really wanted to see this.
"Can I come?"
"I don't know," Addison hesitated. "I go pretty far, I'm not sure you can keep up."
Stuart was positive that Addison was just one of those wimpy runners who gave up the second they got a stitch in the side, and that he was trying to cover it up by convincing Stuart not to join him. How could Addison possibly run far? It wasn't like he ever ate anything.
"I'm sure I'll be fine, come on." Stuart entreated.
"Sure," Addison caved. "But don't say I didn't warn you."
An hour or so later, Addison came over to lock Stuart's laptop and wallet in his employee locker. On a day-to-day basis Stuart wore basketball shorts and a sweatshirt to class, so he hadn't needed to change at all. By contrast, Addison was wearing Nike running shorts that stopped mid-thigh and highlighted how long and thin his legs were, and a loose windbreaker. Stuart couldn't stop staring at him. Addison looked so different than Stuart was used to seeing him—not exactly athletic, but more like he belonged in Stuart's world than normal—and really cute. The outfit didn't suit him enough to be truly attractive, but Stuart found it impossibly cute that Addison was trying.
"Wow," Stuart commented, looking him up and down. "You're showing quite a bit of skin there. Were they out of men's clothes at the store?"
"You can still stay behind," Addison informed him.
"No, this will be fun," Stuart said, planning to pretend to be slow so that he could check out Addison's ass in those shorts the whole time.
Twenty minutes later, he hated everyone and everything in the world.
"You okay?" Addison asked, smirking and slowing down to check on him.
"This is your usual pace?" Stuart panted disbelievingly. "The entire time you run?"
"Yep, 6.50 minute mile."
"How far do you go like that?"
"Six or seven miles."
Doing some very quick mental math, Stuart realized that on his normal four mile runs, he averaged an eight minute per mile pace.
"You're a freak," he told Addison, desperately struggling to draw breaths. "How is that possible?"
"We'll take a break," Addison indulged him, sounding far too smug.
They plopped in the grass by the side of the road, and Stuart put his head in between his knees to catch a second wind.
"I don't understand," he complained. "I thought I'd kick your ass. I work out almost every day."
"Yeah, but you mostly sprint at practice," Addison explained. "This is a totally different kind of endurance. I'm sure you'd win in an outright race."
"I'd better," Stuart muttered, feeling betrayed by his body.
After thirty more minutes of sheer agony, they made it back to campus. Addison walked Stuart by his dorm so that he could change out of his sweat soaked shirt and put on a new layer of deodorant.
"I'm going to stretch while you head up," Addison said.
"Okay," Stuart agreed. "See you in a minute."
Except, he didn't go in right away. They were standing just outside the front of his dorm, and it felt like the end of a date.
"I'm sorry you had such a bad time," Addison apologized, in a low, teasing voice.
"It wasn't all bad," Stuart replied, his eyes going again to where Addison's shorts had ridden up indecently high.
Addison laughed and tugged him closer. "Clearly I should never take these off around you."
"Oh, feel free to take them off," Stuart replied, jokingly pulling on the material. "Just don't put anything else back on after."
"I can do that," Addison promised, and leaned in to catch his mouth.
At that exact moment, Stuart remembered that they were in the center of all the first year dorms- the place where a majority of the people he knew lived. He couldn't help the way his eyes darted around to check for anyone walking nearby. Addison noticed and immediately pulled back.
"No one is paying any attention to us at all!"
"I know," Stuart said, his heart clenching in his chest.
"I thought…" Addison trailed off in frustration. "But things went so well with Martine."
"They did," Stuart agreed, staring fixedly at the ground.
Addison sounded like he already knew the answer when he asked: "Is he still the the only one who knows?"
Stuart nodded jerkily. He didn't know how to explain how much it constantly felt like he was going to have a panic attack lately, even despite that small victory.
"I'm working on it," he said instead.
"I—" Addison scuffed the ground with the sole of his tennis shoe. "I have to get back to work."
"Addison," Stuart pleaded, looking up to catch his eyes. "I really am trying."
Addison's face was pinched with a tired resignation. ""I know. I have to go, though."
"Okay," Stuart said. "Just… wait for me? I'll be fast."
When Addison agreed, he was so relieved that he actually did lean in to take Addison's face in both his hands, pressing a quick kiss to his mouth. "I'll be right back."
During his next game, Stuart was distracted and he knew he was playing poorly. Lately he hadn't been sleeping well; he was tossing and turning more than usual so bogged down with anxiety. He'd somehow managed to get the ball despite his sluggishness, and he was running down the sideline over the midfield when an opposing player caught up to him, slashing at his net.
Any other day, Stuart would've been able to dodge the attacks easily, but his reflexes were slower than usual and he wasn't as quick on his feet. One of the defender's hacks caught him across the left side of his body, dropping him like a stone. The guy must have swung his stick like a baseball bat- Stuart couldn't remember ever taking a hit so hard before. His vision blurred as he slammed into the ground, feelings his elbows skid on the grass, and losing all concept of where the ball had gone.
The referee blew his whistle, signaling a stoppage of play. Objectively, Stuart knew that he should head over the bench and sit out at least the rest of this quarter. He was worried about looking weak, though—he was already self-conscious that some of the older guys might not think he was tough or mature enough to be their alternate captain- so he did his best to ignore the throbbing pain in his side while he found the strength to push himself up onto his knees.
Macon jogged over to help pull him to his feet.
"You okay, man?" he asked. "That looked really bad."
"Yeah," Stuart wheezed. "I'm just winded."
"I'm going to wave for a sub," Macon told him, sounding concerned.
No, it's fine!" Stuart protested, trying not to grimace. "I'm good."
The game was intensely close—they were only up by one point with ten minutes to go—and the adrenaline kept him going. Every step he took and every pass he made jarred his side, but he focused on seeking chances to put the game out of reach in an effort to distract himself. Still, time passed excruciatingly slowly.
By the time he heard the three final whistles blow he felt like shards of glass were being grated along his ribs every time he took a breath. He doubled over, gasping for air while his teammates started celebrating around him. There were talks of the whole team going out for pizza together. Stuart waved off the invitation to hobble back to his dorm.
The walk took three times longer than usual. In his room, he fumbled with a bottle of ibuprofen, tossing back three. Then, he very carefully lowered himself into his chair, dropping his head down to the desk to rest while he waited for the painkillers to set in.
After a while, the sound of his phone beeping startled him from a light doze.
How'd it go? Addison had texted.
Stuart smiled and typed We won. He wondered if Addison was putting any effort at all into hiding the fact that he was texting at work. Probably not. Stuart could picture Addison kicking up his feet to type in plain view of everyone.
Hoisting himself to his feet, he shuffled into the hall and knocked on Martine's door.
"What's up?" Martine asked.
He had his cell phone in the curve of his neck and his head tilted to keep it up.
"Sorry to interrupt," Stuart croaked. "Do you have any ice?"
Martine frowned, running his gaze down Stuart's arms and legs with a professional eye to check for any noticeable injuries. Once he was appeased by the results, he nodded and ducked back into his room, going for the small mini-fridge by his bed. He came back and handed Stuart two cold packs.
"Thanks," Stuart said.
Back in his room, he curled up in his bed, wincing as he laid the ice on his jersey above his sore skin.
Addison had replied You get any goals? while Stuart was out in the hall.
Naw, I sucked, Stuart replied.
Then, he silenced his phone and pulled his pillow over to him, hoping that maybe if he slept for a little while everything would stop hurting so badly. When he drifted awake later, his room was pitch black. Lighting up his phone, he saw that it was almost 8:00 pm; he'd been asleep for over two hours.
Addison had texted him back twice in the interim. Immediately after Stuart's earlier text he'd written I'm sure you were great. Then, thirty minutes ago, he'd asked: Will I see you tonight?
Stuart wrote back: I'm wiped from the game, sorry. Tomorrow?
Less than a minute later, he got: Sure, I'm only on from noon to seven. Study here and then come home with me?
Sounds good. Make me dinner?
Yes, your highness.
Stuart was starving and he knew he smelled terrible, but he didn't think he could move, so he closed his eyes and gradually managed to fall back asleep.
The next morning he woke up feeling like he'd been hit by a car. When he pulled off his shirt to go shower there was a long, mottled purple bruise across his left arm, the exact width of the opposing player's stick. There was an even darker patch of bruises all down his ribs, both from the player's net and his collision with the ground. The spread of colors on his skin was sickeningly unnatural—as if someone had thrown a palette of shadowy paints on him.
Every drop of water stung. He found himself holding his breath the entire time he washed up. Once he was dry, he pulled on a long sleeve shirt, checking in the mirror to make sure that none of the marks were showing. He grabbed an early lunch in the dining hall and then sat on a bench outside the library for the ten minutes until the library opened at noon. Wearing a backpack was only not overwhelmingly painful if he kept it dangling off his right shoulder, so the whole day his body had felt tilted and off balance.
Campus was desolate; most of the student body apparently still sleeping off the night before. At 11:59 am Addison came into view, jogging up the steps to meet Stuart.
"Hey," he smiled and waved.
"Hey," Stuart replied, standing up to greet him.
Remembering their run a few days before, and seriously needing something to distract himself from the constant throbbing in his side, Stuart caught Addison by the belt loops and tugged him in for a short, dirty kiss. Addison almost dropped his keys to the library, filling Stuart with satisfaction.
"Hi," Addison said into his mouth. "This is a nice surprise. It's like you missed me or something."
Stuart smirked, shaking his head. "Never."
Addison made a simple dish of beans and rice with cilantro and avocado for dinner. Stuart was still ravenous from barely eating the day before and he wolfed down three plates without even a token complaint about the meal lacking any chicken or beef.
"Should I increase my grocery budget?" Addison asked, obviously amused by how much Stuart was shoveling into his mouth.
The reminder of his suspicions that Addison didn't have very much money froze Stuart with his fork halfway to his mouth.
"No, this is just part of my ploy to get you to come keep me company for more meals in the dining hall," he finally responded, having made a show of chewing so that he would have time to think. "Misery loves company."
"I can totally see why you're considering Marketing as a career field," Addison snorted. "What a sales pitch."
Stuart feigned indignity. "Fine, turn down my magnanimous offer of meal swipes."
"No, no, I'll come. I was just momentarily thrown by memories of awkward dates freshman year."
"Well I am way cooler than anyone you might have dated back in the day," Stuart told him, absolutely not jealous in the slightest.
He'd just finished loading his plate into the dishwasher when Addison crowded him back against the counter, sliding both his hands around Stuart's waist.
"I don't know about cooler," Addison said dryly. "But you're way hotter."
And then before Stuart could decide whether or not to be offended, Addison leaned in, sucking Stuart's bottom lip between his teeth. Stuart shuddered as Addison sucked kisses into the corner of his mouth, his jaw, and down his neck. Addison's mouth was warm and wet, and Stuart turned his head so that Addison could get better access.
Stuart groaned when Addison bit lightly against a particularly sensitive part of his throat. He could barely hear the resulting sound Addison made in return, but he could feel it vibrating against his skin. He dragged Addison up for a proper kiss, spreading his legs so that Addison could push up even closer to him.
"Morgan's staying at Mike's for the night," Addison murmured into the scarce amount of space between them. "So we have the place to ourselves."
"Awesome," Stuart said, with feeling.
Just as the kiss started to get really heated, Addison slid a hand under Stuart's shirt. The tips of his fingers only barely brushed Stuart's side, but it was all Stuart could do not to flinch away. Instantly, he pushed Addison back enough to put some space between them.
"I'm sorry, I'm uh... really sore from the game yesterday," he explained, which was as close as he could get to the truth. "Do you mind if we don't do anything tonight?"
"Of course not," Addison replied, but he couldn't hide his disappointment.
It was going to be the first time they'd spent any extended period of time alone together without hooking up. Stuart was still hard against Addison's thigh and that look just made him want Addison even more, but Stuart also knew that there was a strong chance that was going to collapse if Addison inadvertently knocked against one of his bruises again.
"I can go if you want," Stuart offered, unsure of his continued welcome.
At that, Addison rolled his eyes, reverting to normal. "Yes, Stuart, please go. I only asked you over so I could get laid."
They ended up on the sofa together, watching TV. Stuart needed to be propped up by cushions, so he leaned against one of the arms of the couch and tucked his feet under Addison's legs.
"What do you normally watch?" Addison asked, flipping through the channels.
"ESPN," Stuart responded immediately.
Addison pulled a face. "Anything else?"
"Not really," Stuart admitted. "I don't really have that much time to pick up on shows."
"Oh right, you have to study."
"Well, yeah," Stuart said, poking Addison with his right foot in response to the mocking.
"What about Parks and Recreation?" Addison asked. "Morgan has the first three seasons on DVD."
"Sure, I haven't seen it before, but I've heard good things."
Two episodes in, Stuart started laughing: "Wow, I get why you like this now. You and Leslie are the exact same person; she has all those crazy projects like you do. I was confused why I was almost attracted to her, but it makes sense now."
It wasn't really an insult—actually it was mostly a compliment—but Addison said "hey!" and leaned over to hit him with a pillow. The blow was unexpected, and Stuart didn't react in time before it caught him across the side. He gasped, doubling over as his hands flew up protectively to cradle his stomach.
By the time his eyes stopped stinging, Addison was staring at him in horror. "Stuart, I barely touched you… what's going on?"
"Nothing," Stuart denied, pulling his legs up and scooting back.
Addison followed him, fighting off Stuart's efforts to knock away his hands and getting a hold on the hem of Stuart's shirt. The action forced Stuart to go still so that Addison wouldn't accidentally hit him. Very carefully, Addison lifted Stuart's shirt, sucking in a breath as the main bruise came into view. Stuart reluctantly lifted his arms up so that Addison could pull his shirt all the way off, leaving him bare-chested in the living room. The situation was terrifying in its intimacy; Stuart hated having this weak spot out in the open for Addison to see.
"Stuart," Addison exhaled, fixating on Stuart's arm and ribs.
His face was so torn up with worry that Stuart rushed to comfort him: "I was distracted during the game and took a bad hit, it's not as bad as it looks."
Unconsciously, Addison reached out to trace the bruise on Stuart's arm. Stuart gasped again, mostly from the way it made all the hairs on his arm stand up and his skin tingle and not from any pain. The noise made Addison jerk back, though.
"Your coach said it was okay?" Addison checked. "Did you get it looked at by a trainer?"
"Um," Stuart said, glancing down at his lap while he stalled for time.
"You didn't get this checked out by anyone, did you?" Addison asked tightly.
"No," Stuart admitted in a whisper.
He winced as he looked up to see how clouded Addison's face had gotten. "You could have a broken rib. No, you could have several broken ribs."
"I think I would know if it was that bad," Stuart defended.
He was preparing himself for Addison to yell at him. It would probably be deserved.
But then, Addison said, "You could be really hurt." and Stuart noticed the way that Addison's hand was shaking against the curve of his bicep.
"Don't worry," Stuart coaxed, pushing back the hair on Addison's forehead. "I'm fine, it's okay."
In response, Addison gingerly lifted Stuart's left arm and pressed his mouth to a spot just barely to the side of one of the blotches of purple. Stuart felt paralyzed and vulnerable, watching the splay of Addison's eyelashes on his cheeks. Addison did the same for every inch of injured skin on Stuart's arm and then knelt down so he could get at Stuart's left side, too.
"I don't think you can kiss this better," Stuart told him, ruining the sarcasm with how breathless he sounded.
Addison kissed him three more times, getting halfway around the largest bruise. Then, he paused with his mouth close enough to Stuart's skin that Stuart could feel the moisture in his breath.
"You aren't going to practice tomorrow," Addison let him know
"Of course I am," Stuart insisted.
That made Addison frown and pull back, and Stuart whined in the back of his throat from the loss of warmth. All Stuart wanted was for Addison to keep going and to stop looking so scared that Stuart was going to break.
"Okay, okay," Stuart gave in, arching into the spread of Addison's fingers on his hip. "I won't, I promise."
He was rewarded with another press of Addison's mouth, down close to trail of hair under Stuart's belly button.
"And you're going to Student Health to get this checked out, right?" Addison asked, ending the question with several more kisses.
Stuart could barely think right now, he was so dizzy. "Yeah, I will. I'll go first thing."
"You're such an idiot," Addison told him, furiously sad. "You're so stupid sometimes."
It hurt worse to have made Addison this worried than it had to get the injury itself. Stuart reached out to rub his thumb along Addison's cheek, feeling his throat seize up.
"It's okay," he said soothingly. "I'm fine. I won't do it again."
"Good," Addison replied, reaching to pull Stuart's shorts down. "Now shut up and let me take care of you."
And Stuart forgot all about the pain in his side for a while after that.