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The six of them -- Sam and Fred, Melody and Colin, Anthony and, surprising everyone, Kate -- have claimed St Winifred's CofE Primary School staffroom as their new lounge. The knitting goths come in there sometimes, but mainly everyone else leaves them to it. They're sitting around eating Hobnobs out of the packet and discussing sex.

Melody and Colin are having it. Loudly and often. Anthony and Kate aren't, Melody announces before Kate can shush her. And as for Sam and Fred--

"Fred's a virgin!" Sam blurts out.

"Yes," Fred says. It's not even the worst thing Sam has had him go along with today. "A virgin. I am. No sex. Ever." His voice goes squeaky at the end.

The others are looking at them with a mixture of concern and amusement. Melody takes a drag of her foul-smelling cigarette and breathes it out in a way Fred has learned means, I do not believe you, but also I do not care.

"Really?" Anthony is on the concerned end of the spectrum. Or maybe Kate is concerned, and Anthony thinks taking an interest in the state of Fred's virtue will help his case with her. "But what about Will?"

Fred blinks. Then, because living with this lot has definitely done something to him, he says, "Genital warts. All over his penis. Couldn't touch it."

Everyone does their best to shift away from him -- apart from Sam, who's grinning like Fred just gave him the best birthday present in the world. Fred's heart does something funny in his chest.

Melody takes another drag of her cigarette. "I enjoy a lover who cannot use his penis. He has hands and a mouth, no? And there is always the strap-on."

Sam's grin flickers, like he's considering being jealous of a sexual prowess Melody just made up in response to a medical condition Fred just made up to preserve a virginity Sam just made up. So Fred leans forward, because he's allowed to do that now, and presses the lightest of kisses to the corner of Sam's mouth.

"I'm much happier now, anyway," he says, before anyone can ask any more questions, like what he was doing for the 28 years before he met Will, or why for the love of god anyone would pick Sam to initiate them into the world of gay sex. "Sam's being very patient with me."

Sam puts his arms around Fred in that half-blokey, half-possessive way he has of doing most things. Most things that involve Fred, anyway. "That's right, babe."

Colin looks up from his crossword. He's started to do them in ink. Melody's very proud. "I think it's lovely that you've waited for the right person," he says firmly. "I've only been with two people, and I don't regret a thing."

"Colin!" Melody stubs her cigarette out on the wall, right next to a poster featuring two bright yellow blobs whose cartoon speech bubbles tell the reader, We don't hit our friends! "You cannot say such things. Come!"

There's silence after the two of them leave. Fred doesn't know what's going on with Kate and Anthony's weird, stilted attempt at reconciliation, but over on this sofa, he and Sam are not-quite holding hands. He rubs his thumb carefully over Sam's knuckles, enjoying the way Sam's breath hitches, how Sam doesn't seem to know what to do with his other hand. It's not fucking on the headteacher's desk like Melody and Colin, but it's good, it's really good. It's what he wants.

Sam's phone buzzes. As they shift to let him get it out of his pocket, Fred can see that Sam's got a semi, just from this, from sitting on the sofa not-quite holding hands. Sam notices Fred noticing. His face does something complicated Fred can't read -- there's definitely some embarrassment there, and probably some anger too, that being Sam's default reaction to anything that makes him feel bad, especially if it makes him feel good, too.

"What?" Sam says. He squares his shoulders like a cat fluffing itself up to seem bigger. "You got something to say, cummybum?" He pauses. Possibly hears the words that just came out of his own mouth. "Cummybabe?"

Fred should find it funny. He knows in his head that this is funny. But Sam's staring right at him with that intensity that goes straight to Fred's dick, so vulnerable under his dramatics that one well-chosen word could deflate him, and Fred just feels-- He just feels, okay? He feels a lot. That's what Sam does to him -- makes the colours brighter, makes the world worth really actually being in. Makes him feel when he's used to thinking. Makes him skip out of work and tell lies about genital warts because everything's so exciting when you can switch off the part of your brain that thinks things through.

So Fred ignores the thoughts that tell him he's sort-of dating a panicky manchild who's terrified of having sex with a bloke and is probably going to break his heart, and goes with the feelings that tell him to kiss his maybe-boyfriend while he still can.

#

A month ago, sitting side by side on a gurney in the old haematology lab, shoulders brushing, Sam had asked him:

"So, pitcher or catcher? Top bunk or bottom bunk? Better to give or to receive? Poker or pokee?"

Fred had made a noise he can admit in retrospect sounded more like a dying frog than an actual answer.

"I’m asking --" Sam waggled his eyebrows. "-- whether you--"

"I get it," Fred said over whatever awful thing Sam was going to say next. "I cracked your fiendish code."

"So which one is it? We’re mates. You can tell me." To emphasise the heterosexual nature of his enquiry, Sam punched him in the arm. It hurt.

Fred had tried to prevaricate, but that had only resulted in more arm punches and the reckless deployment of Sam’s puppy dog eyes.

"All right, all right! It depends, okay? With some guys I want . . . one thing, and with some I want the other. Or both."

"Both at once?" Sam put his hand to his mouth, pretending shock. "Dirty boy."

Fred had tried to explain, kind of, but he’s never been good at putting it into words. Some people only like one thing or the other, and the rest of you just work it out, based on what they think about you and what you think about them and what you both feel like at the time. Like the rest of sex, it's a bit funny and a bit awkward, but normally it works out okay.

Sam had been buzzing with nervy energy. Fred remembers that clearly, remembers not knowing what it meant but knowing that it meant something.

"You and Will?" Sam had asked. "I bet he takes it." There was a nasty twist to his voice. "I bet he loves getting fucked."

Fred had felt-- Nervous? Excited? Hurt? A weird mix of emotions, not all of them good. He’s not sure even now which ones made him say, "What’s wrong with loving getting fucked?"

Sam’s face had done that thing like he was feeling at least as many things as Fred and didn’t know what to do about any of them, either.

"I don’t want to talk about Will’s dick," he said. "What about . . . Anthony? Would you --" He pointed at his crotch. "--or--?" He pointed as his arse.

Fred shook his head. "Straight men don’t like it when you talk about them like that."

"We don’t mind," Sam said, a bit too quickly. "It’s actually kind of flattering, as long as you don’t go getting any ideas. Come on, do me." He paused. "Don’t do me do me. Just say which one I am. Which one you'd want, I mean." He made the same two gestures again: dick or arse?

You have no idea what you're asking, he remembers thinking. He thinks he even considered saying it. Sometimes the only way to talk to Sam was to cut right through the bullshit. "You like putting your dick in things," he said instead.

"Yeah," Sam had replied. "Course I do."

#

Now, they're in bed together, watching TOWIE on Sam's laptop, when Sam turns to him and says, "I'm sorry we're not bumming."

Fred tries, he really does, this is important and Sam's being sincere, but bumming? Really? That's the word Sam chooses? Of course it. He snort-splutters a laugh, not able to hold it in, and Sam hits him, and he hits Sam, and then they're both laughing, arms round each other and laptop forgotten, big gulps of laughter that swell with the ridiculousness of the situation. Bumming. Bum, bum, bumming.

The laughter fades into giggles, the giggles slowly die away until they're just left holding each other, catching their breath, close enough that they could be kissing, should be kissing, if Sam wasn't so scared of gay sex that his eyes are wide and his heart rate is through the roof.

Fred turns his head so Sam doesn't have to. "It's okay," he says into Sam's shoulder. Maybe we should talk about this when we're not in bed? he wants to say. Sam isn't good at knowing what he's feeling. They all know that, probably even Sam. If this, if what he's doing with Fred is just because he doesn't know any other way to lo-- to care about a man, if he's scared of bumming because he actually doesn't want to do it -- or wants to do it, but not with Fred -- then they should talk about it sometime they're not half-hard against each other and pretending not to notice.

"I like you." Sam's lips brush against Fred's cheek.

Fred's semi gives a hopeful twitch. The mould in the canteen, he thinks at it firmly. Vomit. Melody's thing about her dad. The combined awfulness just about works.

"I like you too."

Very, very gently, Sam kisses Fred's cheek.

"Can we-- Can I try?"

Try what? Fred's brain says. We should really talk about this first. His mouth, however, just says, "Yes."

Sam snakes a hand down between them, and for one heart-stopping moment Fred thinks "try" means "zero to handjob in 0.6 seconds". But instead he goes to Fred's hip, sliding his hand under Fred's shirt and slowly, softly touching skin.

Suddenly, there are five million nerves on that one strip of skin, and they're all hardwired straight to Fred's dick. Sam draws in a sharp breath, but doesn't say anything about how Fred is now trying to drill a hole in his thigh. It would be embarrassing, only it's not, because this is Sam, and Fred doesn't know how to be embarrassed in front of Sam.

Sam traces shapes on Fred's skin, slowly and slowly until his entire hand is under Fred's shirt, stroking up and down his side like this is the whole point of the exercise, and maybe it is, maybe "try" means "make you come in your pants just by petting you gently". Fred holds himself still, doesn't rock against Sam however much he wants to, however much he can feel Sam's just as hard as he is, just as desperate.

Sam's breath hitches again. He pulls back. "Fred. Fred Fred Freddy Fred. Fred."

This is it. Fred’s going to get dumped by a sexually confused estate agent underneath a wall display of multicoloured scribbles that make up Class 2-1’s Favourite Foods. His mum was right. He should have been a lawyer. Lawyers rarely get dumped in abandoned primary schools while being watched by a child's drawing of spaghetti.

"Fred. I’m fucking this up, aren’t I?"

What? The "No!" is out of Fred’s mouth before he can think about it. "No," he says again, 50% less squeaky this time. "It’s okay. We don’t have to--" He cuts himself off, not sure how to finish that sentence.

"Fuck," Sam says, more to himself than to Fred. "Come on, big man, you can do this."

"Big man?"

Sam looks affronted for a millisecond before waggling his eyebrows. "Maybe I meant you."

Fred really really really wants to fuck that smirk off Sam’s face. He doesn’t care who does what or how. He just wants.

It must show, because Sam flinches, looks away.

There’s silence for a moment. Sam puts his hand back on Fred’s side -- over the clothes.

"Kate!"

It’s not the most flattering thing that’s ever happened to Fred when he’s been sexually vulnerable, but nor is it the least.

Sam runs our the room, leaving Fred lying there thinking about when and how his life came to this. It was probably his GCSEs. He never should have done German. Maybe if he’d done French instead, he could have been a lawyer.

"Kate," he hears through the open door. "You’re good at feelings. I need you."

"I’m really not," Kate protests, but she lets herself be dragged into the room anyway. "Fred, hi? I didn’t expect--"

"Should I go?" Fred asks Sam.

"No, no." Sam gestures for everyone to stay exactly where they are. "I want you to hear this. Kate, Fred’s not a virgin."

"What?" Kate says unconvincingly. "No?"

"I made it up. I made it up because I’m scared of how much I want his scrawny, unimposing body."

Fred decides that's a compliment.

"I really li-- lo-- He’s really important to me. And not just in a best friend way. In a blowjobs and handholding and meeting my mum not when she’s scattering my dad’s ashes way. And I don’t know what to do, Kate. How do I make him lo-- li-- stay?"

Kate sits down heavily on a chair made for an eight-year-old. "I don’t know what makes you think I’m the expert on getting anyone to stay. Be boring and comfortable until he feels too guilty to follow his heart? Hate your body so much he starts to too?"

"I love my body," Sam says. "And Fred’s body. My body a bit more though, because have you seen me?"

"Well good for you. What’s your problem, then? You got the boy. He likes you, you like him, what are you so fucking scared of that you’d rather cling to the tatters of a broken relationship you’ve both outgrown rather than try living your actual life with the safety wheels off?"

"That’s not what I--"

"Do you really think you can’t be happy without a man? Because newsflash, Sam, you’re not happy with one. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’s okay not to be happy. Maybe you could stop being so scared of possible unhappiness that you refuse to let go of the very real unhappiness you have right now."

So that’s how Sam and Fred end up going to sleep with Kate between them, her sobs becoming snores sometimes around 1am.

Just before Sam pulls the string that knocks over the box that pushes the trolley that hits the light switch, he says to Fred, "See? I told you she was good at feelings." Moments later, once the string has been pulled, the box knocked over, the trolley pushed and the light switched off, he adds, trying to sound casual and not managing at all: "Tomorrow, we begin Operation: Fuck."

#

Operation: Fuck starts with Sam filling Fred's room with several dozen candles. It's probably the most effort anyone has ever gone to to get into Fred's pants, if you don't count Will pretending to like his friends, which he doesn't.

Fred stands in the doorway and takes in the sight. There are candles everywhere -- on the child-sized desks, on the child-size chairs, on his suitcases, on the creepy penguin sculpture decorated with children's handprints. And in the middle of it all, his bed, and on his bed, Sam, wearing just his boxers and an expression of pure fear.

"Fred!"

"Hi?"

"Do you like it? Of course you do. It's probably the most romantic thing that's ever happened to you."

"Yes." Fred takes a step inside.

Sam pauses for a moment. "Right. Look. I'm an amazing lover. Everyone knows it. When we fuck, I'm going to blow your mind."

One of the candles is dripping wax on the suitcase Fred borrowed from his mum. She's not going to be happy about that.

"But maybe we could start with handjobs?" Sam sounds like he's expecting to get slapped down, which is strange, because Fred would literally actually kill a man to get Sam's hand on his dick. "I know it's not--"

Fred flings off his clothes in his hurry to get some hands on dicks before Sam talks himself into another panic. "It's perfect," he says, but he's got his shirt stuck over his head so it comes out more, "Iss murfum." Fuck this shirt, he never liked it anyway. "It's perfect," he says again, shirt now on the floor with slightly fewer buttons than it had a minute ago. "I am so into handjobs."

"Course you are. Are you?"

Fuck these shoes. He should have stuck with velcro. Forget his GCSEs, learning to tie laces was clearly where the rot set in. "Sam," he says, as seriously as a man can with his trousers halfway down his ankles and one shoe still on. "I would rather swap handjobs with you than have a marathon bumming session with the entire cast of Magic Mike XXL."

"Kinky," Sam says on automatic. Then, with that sudden sincerity that disarms Fred every single time, "Because I know you're all sexy and experienced and stuff --" He waves his hand at Fred, who is currently bent over double, cutting his shoelaces off with a pair of nail scissors. The weird thing is, he seems to mean it. "-- and I'm going to get amazing at gay sex, I am, I'm going to out-fuck everyone you've ever even thought about jousting willies with, but right now, I'm --" He looks down at the palm of his hand, where Fred can just about see he's got something written down. "Okay. Look."

Fred is down to his boxers now, so he gets on the bed next to Sam, puts his hand over Sam's mouth. "Sam. Do you actually want to give me a handjob?"

Sam nods.

"And do you want me to give you a handjob?"

Sam nods again.

"And do you want us to do that now?"

Sam nods vigorously.

So Fred kisses him.

His whole body lines up against Sam's. Their bare chests slide together, and Sam is grabbing him, pulling him closer, until their dicks are pressed together, hot against each other through thin layers of underwear. The kiss deepens, turns lush and indulgent, a connection Fred can feel right the way down to his toes.

Sam makes a tiny sound into Fred's mouth, a barely-there moan that runs right through them both. The electric hum builds between them, blood rushing to every point where their skin touches. Their nipples brush, and Fred thinks he might actually die.

"Let me," Sam says, and his hand is, he's pushing Fred's boxers down, he's got hold of Fred's dick, Sam's hand is on Fred's dick, and he's not letting go, he's not backing away, he's smiling, tightening his grip, jerking Fred off with steady, perfect strokes, fuck. Fred can't breathe, it's too good, the delicious pressure builds and he never wants it to end but he wants it, he wants it exactly how Sam is giving it to him, stroke by stroke, one of Sam's legs hooked over Fred's to keep him close, every feeling in his body concentrated where Sam's hand draws him up, draws him in, keeps him there, keeps him-- Fuck.

Fred collapses on Sam's chest, breathing heavily. That was, hands down, the best orgasm he's ever had. He presses kisses to Sam's chest, to his throat, to his chin.

And then, oh shit. His skin is clammy, and not just from having come his brains out on his boyfriend.

"That was amazing," he says, "perfect, amazing, you were amazing, wait right there, just a minute."

Sam is hard enough to hammer nails, but he lets go of Fred, lets him get up and root around in his bag for a pack of jelly babies. Fred eats half a dozen of them in one mouthful, sits down naked and cum-splatted on one of the tiny chairs by the bed.

By the time Fred can focus again, Sam's sitting up, still hard but no longer confused. "Did you just have a hypo? Did I make you come so hard your blood sugar couldn't handle it?"

It's actually pretty normal for Fred after sex. He doesn't tell Sam that.

"I'm a medical threat. Mothers, lock up your diabetic sons. I am hypoglycaemically amazing at gay sex." Sam lies back down. "Take your time, loverboy. I don't want you back here until you're fully recovered from the power of these monsters." He waggles his fingers.

It takes a few more minutes before Fred's steady enough to get back into bed. He kisses Sam, puts his entire heart into it, and Sam moans back breathily, like he's having to restrain himself from just pushing Fred down onto the bed and rutting against him. Fuck, that would be hot. Fred thinks about offering him that -- or a blowjob, or anything, absolutely anything -- but he doesn't want to confuse matters, not when everything's going so well.

Instead, he slides his hand just under the elastic of Sam's boxers, enjoying the way the muscle tenses against his touch, and says, "Can I?"

"Be my gue-- Oh."

Fred strokes him off slowly, showing off just a little with the ease of his movement, the way he feels for Sam's reactions until he gets just the right grip, just the right angle, that Sam can't even respond properly, so lost in the sensation that he's panting against Fred's neck, clutching at Fred like he doesn't know how to let go.

He lives and dies with the feel of Sam's dick in his hand, hot and solid and perfect, with the harsh wet breaths he wrings from Sam, with the way every part of Sam's body tenses, with the final, shaking gasp he draws out before Sam is spilling on them both, is pulling Fred on top of him and holding him there, making Fred a warm, comforting blanket between him and the rest of the world.

"Fuck me," Sam says at last. "That was worth at least ten jelly babies." He starts petting Fred's back absently.

Fred reaches down underneath the bed and fishes out the packet, offers first pick to Sam. They eat in silence, one jelly baby at a time. Sam keeps petting him.

Sam shifts, kisses Fred's shoulder. "I think you might be the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Not even the giant wall display of Class 2-1's Favourite Foods can ruin the moment.

###