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soft to the touch, feels like love

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Fionn lets the bump of his head against the glass lull him to the state of half-consciousness he always gets to after a long day of classes. The tube is mostly deserted. It always is on Tuesdays when Fionn gets out of his last class at nine.

He likes it, mostly. The relative quiet that feels like it’s going to swallow him up sometimes, how he can let all of his thoughts run out of steam during the twenty minute ride. It’s dangerous when his brain stops buzzing, though, because falling asleep and missing his stop once was one time too many.

Fionn blinks against the grit of his contact lenses and forces himself to look around. His neck aches and he wishes he’d gone for his glasses this morning. There’s a bloke down the other end of the car who’s definitely sleeping, and Fionn feels a rush of second hand anxiety. He’s got a nice coat and boots on, so Fionn figures they’re not getting off at the same stop, Fionn’s neighborhood nice enough but mostly students crammed into too small flats.

He tries to distract himself. Digs a book out of his backpack and tries to get ahead on the reading he’s bound to forget about the second he gets home. He can’t stop glancing up, though, his stomach clenching as he counts down the stops until his is next.

The bloke’s definitely asleep now, his head tilted back against the glass, lips parted slightly. Fionn lets himself stare at his mouth and the smudge of his eyelashes against his cheek, stark in the fluorescent light of the car. Fionn bites viciously at his bottom lip and decides that it can’t hurt to give him a gentle shake before he gets off. Like, common courtesy, really, because Fionn would want someone to wake him up if he ever fell asleep on the tube again.

He can feel himself blushing as he makes his way down to the other end of the car. Half of his brain is telling him to turn back because no good can come of waking up strangers on the tube, but the other half pushes him forward, reminds him that he’d want someone to do the same for him.

He’s good looking up close, even in sleep, dark circles ringing his eyes. Fionn lets himself take his face in, the faint stubble on his upper lip, the way his lips are chapped and bitten, how long his eyelashes are.

Right.

“Hey,” Fionn says, probably too softly, because he doesn’t move.

Fionn worries that he’s dead for a second, and then he licks his lips and blinks slowly, eyes sleep puffy and tired.

“Hi,” he croaks, bringing a hand up to wipe his mouth, “was I drooling? Sorry, long day.”

“Uh,” Fionn starts, wishing he hadn’t come over after all, “no, you’re all right. Sorry, didn’t want you to miss your stop, so.”

He trails off and stands awkwardly, lets his body sway with the movement of the car and wishes he could evaporate.

“Thanks,” he says, grinning up at Fionn, a dimple pressing into his cheek.

Fuck, Fionn thinks, and then the guy’s patting the seat next to him and there’s five minutes before Fionn’s stop but he can’t figure out how to get out of this.

“Course,” he says, sitting just close enough that he hopes it’s not obvious that he doesn’t really want to sit near a complete stranger and engage in conversation with them.

“Don’t get to take the tube much, it’d be a shame to ruin it by sleeping through my stop. I was trying to keep count but I think it actually made me fall asleep. Like, counting sheep, you know? It never worked when I was a kid but now all’s it takes is a little counting and I can sleep anywhere.”

Fionn laughs and hopes it doesn’t sound hysterical. He’s suddenly acutely aware of his knees, knobbly through the dark denim of his jeans.

“I fell asleep once,” he says, picking at a stray thread on the cuff of his jacket, “this time of day, too, late enough that I had to wait an hour to catch the next one back to my flat. Nearly cried, if I’m honest.”

He laughs, loud enough in the quiet of the car that it startles Fionn.

“‘M Harry,” he says holding his hand over for Fionn to shake.

Fionn stares at it for a second, the soft of his palm and all the rings on his fingers, then worries about how sweaty his own might be before he takes Harry’s.

“This is me,” he says, and Harry’s still holding his hand, big and warm and Fionn’s definitely sweating now but he doesn’t want Harry to let go, either.

Harry’s brow furrows slightly, his grip on Fionn’s hand tightening for a split second before he lets it go.

“Thanks,” he says, bringing the hand that had just been holding Fionn’s up and running it through his hair.
“Any time, mate, would’ve wanted someone to do the same for me,” Fionn says, cracking a grin and trying to ignore the flip of his stomach when Harry grins back, dimple reappearing.

Now that the five minutes is over, now that they’re at his stop, Fionn wants to stretch it out, wishes five minutes were really an hour and that he could sit back down and edge a tiny bit closer. Close enough that their knees would touch and Fionn could pretend it was an accident.

But it’s his stop and Fionn doesn’t want to miss it so he smiles again and walks out of the car, shivers a little against the cool air that greets him and doesn’t let himself look back.

“Hey,” he hears from behind him, and he ignores it, because generally nothing good comes of stopping for strangers.

“You didn’t tell me your name, otherwise I’d shout it,” the person says, and Fionn turns around against his better judgment, tries to squash the hope that it’s Harry and giving himself a head rush when he realizes it is.

“That sounded a bit creepier than it did in my head,” Harry says, jogging the last few steps to keep up with Fionn.

“Uh,” is all Fionn can say, anything beyond monosyllabic sounds a bit much for his mouth at the moment.

“We should get coffee sometime. My treat, as a thank you. You know, for saving me the embarrassment of falling asleep on the tube.”

“This isn’t your stop,” Fionn says dumbly, wishing he could take it back the second the words are out of his mouth.

“You sound a bit creepy now,” Harry says, “and you still haven’t told me your name. Not that you have to tell me. But I’d like it if you wanted to.”

“Fionn,” he says, and Harry grins and digs his phone out of his pocket.

“Fionn,” Harry echoes, holding his phone out to Fionn, “want to give me your number so I can thank you properly? In a not creepy way?”

Fionn can feel his ears burning, half with embarrassment and half with how much he wants to see Harry again.

“Maybe I’m into creeps,” he says, blinking against the bright light of Harry’s phone screen and fumbling to put his number in.

“Are you really?”

Fionn hands Harry’s phone back and forces himself to look up at Harry, his eyes catching on Harry’s mouth before he can stop himself.

“Nah,” he says, and Harry takes a step back.

“Right,” he says, “I’ll text you then, if it’s all right. Just the right amount of creepy.”

“Yeah,” Fionn says, tongue clumsy in his mouth, “yeah, it’s all right.”

Harry grins at him again and waves. Fionn blushes and watches him walk away, his legs impossibly skinny in black jeans and his coat probably worth more than a month of Fionn’s rent.

He doesn’t let himself pull his phone out on the walk back to the flat. Refuses to let the possibility of someone like Harry actually wanting to spend time with him infiltrate his brain, because that way lies madness, because that sort of thing doesn’t happen to Fionn. He manages casual hook ups and is just grateful when it’s not awkward the next time he sees them. He can’t remember the last time he went out with anyone other than Tom and the boys for more than some shitty beer at their favorite pub.

Tom’s asleep on the couch when he gets in, stretched out and face smushed against the pillow Hattie’d gotten Fionn for Christmas the year before. He looks almost unattractive like this, his mouth open and eyes squeezed shut.

“You’re drooling on my pillow,” Fionn says, letting the door slam shut behind him before he toes off his shoes.

Tom doesn’t even open his eyes, just raises a hand to flick him off. Fionn doesn’t let himself take his phone out of his back pocket, just slumps down on the floor and leans back against the couch.

“What would you do,” he starts, shifting so he doesn’t put so much weight on his phone that it breaks, “if some bloke on the tube asked you to give him your number as like. A thank you?”

Tom doesn’t answer for a second, and Fionn reaches back to drag a nail down the center of his foot, biting down a laugh when Tom squirms away.

“Jesus,” he says, “dunno, thank you for what? I need more context than that. What’d he look like?”

“What does it matter what he looked like,” Fionn asks, staring up at the ceiling until Tom slides off the couch and flops down next to him.

“You’re really going to play dumb? I mean, I can guess what he looks like just from the fact that you’re asking what you should do.”

Fionn just groans and feels himself blush.

“He’s fit, isn’t he,” Tom asks, letting his head drop on to Fionn’s shoulder, “he’s fit and you want him to text you.”

“I didn’t say that, did I? Just don’t want to be rude, really.”

Tom laughs at that, the smell of his shampoo filling Fionn’s nose and his hair tickling Fionn’s neck.

“Since when do you care about social niceties?”

Fionn lets his eyes slide shut and his fingers edge toward his phone where it’s shoved in his back pocket.

“You’re right,” Fionn says, “and I don’t have a death wish quite yet. Probably won’t even text me, so.”

Tom pats him on the stomach, his hand a warm, familiar weight.

“You’re a stunner, mate. Just don’t get murdered when he does, all right?”

“Yeah,” Fionn says. “Yeah.”

-

He makes it through a bowl of leftover curry and a shower that leaves his skin pink before he caves and checks his phone. The only new message is from Barry, something about a reading that Fionn isn’t going to do, definitely not now that he’s wallowing in the depths of someone he doesn’t even know not texting him back.

He pads into his room picking at the hole in the hem of his t-shirt. He should probably throw it away because it’s nearly translucent and more holes than anything else at this point, but it’s too soft, reminds him too much of home and staring up at his ceiling and listening to Hattie’s guitar in the next room.

It’s tempting to turn off his phone all together, but Fionn resists, sets his alarm instead, and shoves it under his pillow so he won’t see it if it lights up.

-

There’s a message from Harry when he wakes up. He’s put a period next to his name in Fionn’s phone and Fionn feels a bit ill now that he’s gotten what he wanted.

‘Hi,’ Harry’s written, ‘hope this isn’t weird, but I’d love to take you for coffee.’

‘If you want,’ follows, twenty minutes later, and then, ‘no pressure, obviously xx’

Fionn stares down at his phone for a minute. Looks at the early morning time stamp on the text messages and bites down on his bottom lip and tries not to grin like a maniac alone in his bedroom, his stomach trying to climb up and out of his throat.

‘Sure,’ he types, fingers sleep-clumsy on the screen of his phone, ‘i’m sure we can push past the weirdness.’

He keeps it under wraps for about ten minutes, the amount of time it takes for him to brush his teeth and get dressed before padding into the kitchen, shoes in hand.

“Coffee’s on,” Tom croaks, rumpled and shirtless where he’s perched on the counter next to the sink.

Fionn blinks at him for a minute, feels a smile still tugging at the corners of his lips. Tom stares back, eyes still puffy with sleep and hands clutching a chipped mug that Fionn doesn’t recognize.

“He texted, didn’t he,” Tom says, a grin beginning to spread across his face.

Fionn rolls his eyes and goes for the coffee, pretends that he isn’t smiling big enough that his face feels like it might split.

“This is the end,” Tom says, swinging his foot over to kick gently at Fionn’s leg, “I can feel it, mate. In the two years we’ve been living together, I’m fairly sure you’ve never texted anyone back.”

Fionn can feel his face burning because Tom’s not exactly wrong.

“Shut up,” he says, blushing even harder because he doesn’t even have a good comeback.

“Fionn,” Tom groans, “I can’t believe you’re about to leave me as the only single one in this flat.”

“Fuck off, don’t pretend like you couldn’t have anyone you wanted with that jaw. Talk about never texting anyone back.”

Tom snatches Fionn’s mug out of his hands, puts his own empty one down on the counter.

“Rude,” Fionn says, but his head’s still full of Harry and how his phone buzzed in his back pocket and how much Fionn wants it to be him.

“I texted you back,” Tom says, squinting at Fionn over the rim of the mug.

“Pretty sure I don’t count,” Fionn says, filling Tom’s empty mug with what coffee’s left, “and anyway, it took you at least a month to get back to me. Almost went and found another roommate.”

-

Fionn waits until he’s out the door to dig his phone out of his pocket. He doesn’t want Tom to see his face when he reads Harry’s text.

‘I’ll try to reign in any residual weirdness,’ and then, ‘how’s this afternoon? Print Room at 3 o'clock?’

Fionn’s stomach swoops and he sways in place, halfway to class but not able to make himself take another step for a few seconds. He thinks about all the times he and Tom have camped out there, alternately pouring over James Joyce and listening to Barry’s half-decent band on Friday nights. He tries to slot Harry in; wonders if he’s been there before. If they’d been in the same place and Fionn just hadn’t noticed him.

‘I’ll be there,’ Fionn replies, and he contemplates turning around because he knows he’s not going to be able to pay any attention in class today.

-

He can’t remember the last time he thought about his hair, but he’s thinking about it now. He probably needs a bit of a trim, the ends are starting to curl wildly and Fionn thinks it probably isn’t his best look. He tries to push down the nauseous twist of his stomach when he realizes how much he’s thinking about Harry, full stop Harry., period and all, that he’s thought about Harry more in the last twelve hours than he has about anyone else in the past two years, even the people he’s kissed.

Every class feels like it’s five hours long and Fionn thinks about Harry so much that he forgets what he looks like.

-

“Fancy meeting you here,” Harry says when Fionn approaches his table. He looks different than he had when Fionn met him on the tube. His face is shiny and his hair’s stuffed into a beanie and he looks like he’s just rolled out of the shower. Fionn likes it more than he should, the red spot above his left eyebrow and the way he could use a bit of a shave, faint hairs shadowing his upper lip.

“Hi,” Fionn says, already blushing and hating himself for it because for all he knows, this is just a thank you and nothing resembling a date or Harry actually wanting to see him again at all.

Harry stands up and pulls out a chair for Fionn and Fionn trips a little over his own feet before he manages to seat himself, and maybe it does resemble a date. Who are you, Hattie’s voice in the back of his head says, and Fionn tries to ignore it, focuses in on Harry sitting back down across from him instead, all slow blink and expensive coat.

“Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?”

“Uh,” Fionn starts, his brain suddenly blanking on his usual order, “coffee, if it’s all right? With milk?”

Harry grins at him, dimple pressing into his cheek, and stands, nearly knocking his chair over in the process, which makes Fionn feel better about falling all over himself when he tried to sit down.

“Be right back,” he says, and he lopes over to the counter, tugging his beanie down as he goes and leaving Fionn in a cloud of faint vanilla and anxiety.

He can’t help watching Harry, notices how bad his posture is and the way the cashier blushes when Harry places his order. He smiles at Fionn again when he moves down the counter to wait for their drinks, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets. Fionn’s palms are sweaty when he shrugs off his hoodie and he feels weirdly aware of his skin, like he’s a hair too big for it.

“Coffee with milk,” Harry says, sliding a blue mug across the table and carefully putting his own mug down before peeling off his coat.

“Thanks,” Fionn says, and he watches Harry sit back down and wrap his hands around the mug, catalogues the purple jumper and the fact that he leaves his beanie on.

“Course,” Harry says, “Anything for the man who saved me from sleeping through my stop. ‘S what I get for not taking the tube often enough.”

Fionn shrugs and takes a sip of his coffee. He tries to focus on the way it burns his throat going down instead of the way he can’t seem to find anything interesting or witty to say.

“I like the glasses,” Harry says after a second, taking a drink and blinking at Fionn over the rim of his mug, “makes you look like a different person, almost.”

“Thanks, I think,” Fionn says, and he feels a smile start to creep across his face and then Harry’s knee’s bumping his under the table and he feels hot all over.

“You’re definitely welcome,” Harry says, dimpling at Fionn and setting his mug down gently.

“What’re you drinking?”

It’s probably one of the dumbest things Fionn’s ever said but his brain’s decided to leave him at this crucial moment, apparently.

“Chamomile tea with honey. Good for the throat,” Harry says, and he smirks at Fionn, eyes going all crinkly at the corners and Fionn can’t stop looking at Harry’s mouth and his thoughts aren’t going anywhere pure.

“Ah,” Fionn says, shifting in his seat, “important, that.”

Harry barks out a laugh at that that makes Fionn jump in his seat.

“Sorry! Sorry, I can just see your brain like. Cycling through the dirtiest possible reasons why I’d be mindful of my throat.”

“I mean,” Fionn starts, cheeks burning and laughter bubbling up in his chest, “not sure what I was supposed to think with, you know. Your face.”

Harry presses his knee against Fionn’s and it’s definitely intentional this time. Fionn leans into it and hides his smile behind his mug of coffee.

“Why d’you have to be mindful of it?”

Harry looks uncomfortable for a second, and Fionn’s stomach curls with anxiety again, even though he can’t imagine why that would’ve been the wrong thing to say.

“‘M a singer,” Harry says after a minute, staring down at his tea like he wants to drown himself in it.

Fionn keeps looking at him, the circles under his eyes when Harry looks up, the way his jumper’s stretched across his shoulders. How the cashier had blushed and laughed when it was Harry’s turn to place his order. He feels like Tom would be elbowing him in the stomach if he were here, but Fionn doesn’t know who Harry is, aside from the fact that he’d almost missed his stop on the tube.

“Are you famous,” Fionn whispers, leaning in and trapping one of Harry’s knees between his own.

Harry blinks slowly. Bites at his bottom lip hard enough that it goes white.

“A bit,” he says, and Fionn’s momentarily distracted by Harry rearranging his legs under the table so their knees aren’t pressed together anymore. Fionn misses the contact.

“A bit,” Fionn echoes, and studies Harry’s face in case he missed something recognizable the first time.

Harry mostly looks like he’s ready to make a swift exit if necessary, and Fionn doesn’t think he’s ever seen him before. He’d remember Harry’s face, he thinks. Wide eyes and extreme widow’s peak, even with a beanie on. Green, he realizes, Harry’s got green eyes, weirdly light and staring at Fionn like he can see right through him.

“Yeah,” Harry says after a second, his voice cracking and tongue flickering out to lick his lips.

“What usually happens next in these conversations?”

Harry just stares at him for a second and Fionn takes another sip of his coffee. It’s not hot enough to burn his mouth anymore and Fionn misses the distraction.

“I mean,” Harry says, shifting in his chair and settling back into it in increments. Fionn watches his shoulders lower from where they’ve been hovering up around his ears and he feels the brush of one of Harry’s knees against his again.

“They usually don’t go like this?”

Fionn blinks. Stares at the curl of Harry’s fingers around his mug of tea. Wonders vaguely if he plays an instrument. If there are calluses on his fingers.

“Is that a question? I mean, we’ve never had this conversation before, so I’m not really sure how it’s supposed to go.”

Harry starts to smile at him again, his shoulders relaxing further and Fionn smiles back and scoots his chair in closer.

“I promise I’m not a dick,” Harry starts, “but usually people know? Who I am, so generally this isn’t how the conversation goes.”

Fionn shrugs.

“Guess you should check your ego at the door, then. I don’t know you, you don’t know me. We’re even, especially now that you bought me coffee.”

Harry rolls his eyes and smiles, slumps in his chair and tangles his feet with Fionn’s. Fionn smiles back and tries to ignore the nervouswantexcitement in his stomach. His phone buzzes in his pocket and he ignores it. It’s probably Tom pretending to be the responsible one and checking in to make sure Harry hasn’t murdered him.

“Tell me about you, then. Something other than your propensity to fall asleep on the tube.”

“It was one time for the record, and I’d just finished midterms, so I’ll have you know it’d’ve been more surprising if I hadn’t fallen asleep.”

Harry just laughs again, the sound of it incongruous with the rest of him, really, and settles back and waits.

-

Fionn talks long enough that The Print Room empties out and it’s dark enough outside that he should get going before it’s probably too dark for him to walk back to the flat comfortably.

“Sorry,” he croaks, voice scratchy from talking, but Harry’s already shaking his head.

“What’re you sorry for? I asked. And I like hearing you talk. It’s like, living vicariously through you. I never got the university experience.”

Fionn can’t suppress an eye roll.

“Dunno, pretty sure traveling clear around the world before you’re 21 beats out doing a degree in english, mate.”

Harry shakes his head again and reaches across the table to collect Fionn’s mug. Fionn watches him drop them in the bus tub and wave to everyone behind the counter.

“Can I walk you home? ‘S getting dark. Or we could relocate?”

Fionn stands, his knees creaking in protest.

“Probably should get back. Didn’t get my assigned reading done last night. Something distracted me, which is weird. I’m usually laser focused.”

The words feel clumsy in Fionn’s mouth and he tries to swallow past the wave of embarrassment and self loathing that bubbles up in his stomach. It feels like he’s showing his hand and he wishes he could take it back but then Harry’s smiling, dimple deep in his cheek, holding the door open for him.

“Weird, I was distracted last night, too. Dunno what it could’ve been,” Harry says, letting Fionn take the lead and bumping their shoulders together gently.

Fionn’s palms are sweaty and he can feel the tips of his ears burning but he can’t stop smiling, kind of wants to listen to the slow drone of Harry’s voice forever. Kind of wants to hold his hand even though he can’t remember the last time a thought like that crossed his mind.

“This is me,” he says, too soon, slowing to a stop outside of his and Tom’s flat.

Harry’s face is shadowy and soft under the street light and Fionn wants to kiss him. He curls his hands into fists instead, stuffs them in his pockets because this isn’t--he never does this. Boys like Harry never look at him and Fionn never looks at anyone twice, anyway.

“This is you,” Harry says, looking up at the flat Fionn feels a little love and a lot of irritation for with its iffy plumbing and drafty bedrooms.

“I had a nice time.”

Harry takes a step closer and Fionn sucks in a breath, tilts his head and looks at Harry. He smells like vanilla up close and Fionn feels self conscious. He’s acutely aware of his hair and his breath and the last time he washed his hoodie.

“Yeah,” Fionn says, voice still rough from talking for so long, “me too. Hope I didn’t bruise your ego too much.”

Harry huffs out a laugh and he’s close enough that his breath hits Fionn’s face, minty from the gum he popped into his mouth when they left the Print Room.

“Would it be weird if I kissed you?”

Harry whispers it, like maybe he’s afraid Fionn’ll run away, and it takes him a second to answer because his brain gets caught up thinking about the fact that no one’s ever asked if they could kiss him before.

“No,” he says, and tries not to wince at how breathy his voice sounds, “wouldn’t be weird.”

He keeps his eyes open for a second and watches Harry lean in. Focuses on Harry’s eyelashes until he’s so close that they’re just smudges in Fionn’s field of vision and Harry smells like vanilla and mint up close and his lips are cold and a little chapped and even hesitant and Fionn leans into it. Slides a hand behind Harry’s neck and draws him in, opens his mouth to the flicker of Harry’s tongue and tries not to lose himself completely.

It’s hard, because Harry’s mouth is soft but insistent on his and his hands are resting on Fionn’s hips, thumbs twitching like he wants to move them all over Fionn’s body but he’s trying to be polite.

Fionn’s not sure how long they stand there, leeching each other’s body heat but not getting as handsy as Fionn really wants, before Harry pulls back.

“I should let you go,” he says against Fionn’s lips, bumping their mouths together again and digging his hands into Fionn’s hips like he wants to do the opposite.

“Mmfffhh,” Fionn groans, leaning into Harry’s mouth before Harry takes a full step back and lets his hands fall from Fionn’s hips.

“You don’t have to,” Fionn says, and his voice doesn’t even sound like his.

“I should,” Harry repeats, and he smiles and takes another step back, “but I’ll text you. Or I’ll call you. Or both.”

Fionn watches him walk backwards down the sidewalk, vaguely wonders where he lives. Where he’s going. What his life looks like outside of the Print Room and the sidewalk outside of Fionn’s flat.

“Okay,” he whispers when Harry waves and turns around, picking up his pace and digging his phone out of his back pocket.

Fionn’s phone buzzes once Harry’s out of sight.

‘I had a nice time,’ Harry’s said.

‘Despite me bruising your ego?’ Fionn types, then legs it up the front steps and lets himself inside.

“You didn’t text me back,” Tom says, arms crossed where he’s entrenched in the couch. “I thought he killed you.”

“You didn’t think that,” Fionn says, and he tries to make himself sound breezy but he can tell he fails by the way Tom groans and lets his head fall back against the couch.

“You’re really going to leave me as the bitter single one, aren’t you,” he says, “abandoning me in my hour of need.”

Fionn rumples Tom’s perfect hair on his way past the couch and ignores the way Tom swats his hand away.