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The Net Under the Ledge

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By the third finals week they spend in the same space, Aaron knows all too well how to approach a stressed out, pressed for time Carson.

 

As the frantic studying sets in, the master timeline goes up on the fridge.  Both of their finals are on the schedule, Carson’s color-coded in blue and Aaron’s in green, and the untouchable block of study time for both of them each day is blocked off in bright red.  There’s yellow sections blocked off too, a necessity added after their first semester of finals.  Aaron touches the bright ink fondly when he walks by.

Whenever the books come out there’s no talking, no music without headphones, no television, and, when that wild look gets in Carson’s eyes and the pile of root beer cans starts to bury his desk, no crunchy snacks, either.

Aaron curls up on the couch, laptop and notes spread out on the coffee table, finishing his study guide and trying not to glance at the clock every couple seconds.  It’s Sunday, and Carson’s first final is in the morning.  They’ve both been working all weekend, holed up against the cold and the outside world, living off steady snacking and ordering in Chinese and pizza at weird hours.  They both agreed easily that the hard work before would make the actual test week better, and it has, but taking a full schedule of all upper level classes has been tough all semester and it’s all coming to a frantic, work-heavy end.

“Just a little more,” Aaron mutters to himself, not for the first time— he’s said it to his sister when she called, told it to Carson’s mom when Carson shoved the phone at him, too deep in his essay to stop, whispered it into Carson’s hair before kissing it soundly.  There’s a promise of snow on the radar and in less than a week they’ll both be free from class obligations with a whole month of glorious time to spend together.

Five minutes until the study block is officially over.  Aaron looks over at Carson’s desk, where he’s just flipping through notes, one hand propping his chin.  Smiling to himself, Aaron starts clearing the coffee table, making a neat pile to stuff under the armchair and out of sight.

He unfolds from the couch slowly, rolls his wrists as he walks into the kitchen and grabs the kettle, ignoring the intimidating schedule on the refrigerator and putting it on the stove.

In the pencil-covered mug Aaron gave him two years ago— black tea and one sugar, tiny splash of milk.

In Aaron’s favorite Batman mug— chai tea with three sugars and a healthy milk pour.

Making sure the stove is turned off, he shuffle-walks to carry them both to the living room, putting the Batman one on the coffee table and, right as the second hand glides past the 12, puts the pencil one down in front of Carson.

A steady, happy warmth steals into his chest as he watches Carson turn his head to blink at the steaming mug, straightening up slowly.  It’s the same feeling he gets when Carson comes back because he forgot to kiss him before he left for class, when Carson laughs at a joke and his whole face scrunches up with joy, when Carson’s head is tucked under his chin and his nose is buried in his shirt, steady fingers on his chest.

Carson looks up at him, the blank stare melting away into a tired, grateful smile that Aaron returns, unable to resist dipping in to press a kiss to Carson’s forehead.  “Join me?” he says softly, nodding towards the couch and using his fingertip to inch the mug closer to Carson’s hand.

It takes Carson a second to close out his laptop, so Aaron turns to the no-longer-banned stereo, putting on the relaxation playlist he made before finals began.  It’s not a roaring fire and gently falling snow, but a wide, inviting couch and hot tea are almost as good.

He puts down his mug and opens his arms as Carson blearily walks over, toes wiggling in fuzzy blue socks, and folds right into the curve of Aaron’s side, both of them tucked into the corner of the couch.  No, Aaron thinks, smoothing down Carson’s unbrushed and unwashed hair slowly, letting the gentle, steady movement of Carson’s quiet breathing soothe his frazzled nerves, this isn’t a cliche— it’s so much better than that.

“Going well?” Aaron asks, loosening his hold to let Carson retrieve their mugs.

“Mm,” Carson agrees, taking a long sip.  “My brain kind of feels like it’s going to run out my ears.  But I feel good about it.”

“Perfect,” Aaron smiles, leaning in and pursing his lips until Carson rolls his eyes in total contrast to his wide smile and relents, giving him a smacking kiss.

“And how did your studying go?” Carson asks conversationally, wiggling around so Aaron can tuck his bare toes under his warm ones, resting an elbow on Aaron’s thigh.

Aaron downs half his mug, letting the warm liquid spread the contentment of the moment all the way through him.  “Good,” he says simply, leaning just a little more so that their shoulders press together.  “I finished my study guide, and that test should be a breeze.”

They drink in companionable silence, Aaron humming off-key to the piano music and Carson smiling into his mug.

When the dregs run cold, Aaron takes Carson’s cup and puts them both on the side table, happily surprised when Carson settles back into his chest, tugging so that they’re laying more than sitting.

“Miss me?” Aaron jokes, running his fingers over the soft bunched fabric of Carson’s blue tee shirt.

“Missed you,” Carson agrees, small and muffled and Aaron feels it right down to the soles of his feet, how every bit of him sings with how much he loves this man— every cell, every molecule, every atom.

“Yellow block is much better than red block,” Aaron says idly, leaning to kiss right between Carson’s drooping eyelids, which pop open wide at his words.

“Yellow block… Aaron, yellow block. And not the thirty minute yellow block like Thursday or like tomorrow.  Today is a four hour yellow block.”

Aaron throws his head back and laughs, deep from his belly and maybe even from his toes as Carson talks excitedly, fully awake now as he moves around urgently and then—

“Oh, hello,” Aaron says weakly, stomach swooping from giddy to hot arousal at the glint in Carson’s eyes, the knee wedged snugly between his legs and nudging up against him as Carson shifts pointedly, making him gasp.

“Fuck out the finals jitters?” Carson says shamelessly, smiling wickedly when Aaron moans instead of replying and leaning down open-mouthed to kiss him.