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Stay, This Time

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It was a little after 8am when Ben woke, slightly confused to find himself someone’s little spoon. He could hear the familiar drone of Larry’s post-night out snoring just behind his ear and without looking around Ben could perfectly picture the younger man completely spark out, mouth hanging open, head twisted in a position that was going to give him an aching neck for the day - whenever he could be aroused from his stupor at any rate. 

These days Ben refused to touch Larry - or allow Larry to touch him - when he came to him drunk. 

It was harder to resist if they’d been drinking together of course, and the first few times it had happened all those years ago Ben had returned the desperate kisses and clutches with gusto, at first thrilled that Larry too felt the magnetism between them and similarly yearned for the physicality, the next couple of occurrences in fervent denial that he wasn’t just being used and soon Larry would realise that they were actually deeply, irrefutably in love. 

But he’d been burned so many times in the early days, and a handful of times here and there over the years when his guard had slipped, that a decade later Ben’s heart and body felt blistered and calloused. Each time Larry inevitably stumbled into his house in the middle of the night slurring the usual excuse of having missed the last train while his clumsy hands clawed at Ben’s waistband and his hot alcohol-soaked breath condensed on Ben’s neck - he felt nothing. It was self preservation. They’d battle through their over-rehearsed dance as Ben gently gripped Larry’s wrists and removed his hands from around his own middle and fought to get his friend upstairs and into the bed in the spare room. It was always made up ready for Larry, of course. Ben was always on high alert for a few hours before Larry’s arrival as he at least now had the decency to warn him via a text or a voicemail that he was out getting blind drunk somewhere in London. 

Sometimes Larry fought back harder and would push Ben up against the walls and try to force his tongue into his mouth. A few years ago Ben might have had to explain over and over again to Larry that just because his body was responding positively to his presence - (as Larry would grind a thigh into the gap between Ben’s legs as they tussled and brush up against the erection that was forming despite Ben’s best internal objections) - that didn’t mean he wanted to be touched. Now it was like even his cock was finally on the same page as his brain, not daring to get its hopes up, so to speak. No need to worry about that happening at all these days. 

Sometimes Larry broke down crying and sprawled on the stairs, whining at Ben to please just kiss him, just a kiss for fuck’s sake, don’t you want to kiss me? Those were always the mornings Larry left the most ashamed and without a word and Ben would venture downstairs to find his keys posted back through the letterbox, the only indication that the events of the previous night had happened at all. 

Just one time Larry had turned up, but immediately left when Ben had opened the door, and Ben mused many months after the fact that Larry must have sobered up too much in the taxi on the way over to his and had bottled it for the evening. It was never long before Larry was back, and no matter how disastrous or violent or pathetic or awkward an evening (and sometimes morning) they’d shared, Ben never feared it would be the last.

Sometimes it was pleasant, of course. 

And truth be told, the nicer nights (and mornings) far outweighed the bad ones now. 

Ben told himself he tolerated the behaviour on the worst nights because he was looking after his best friend. The absolute very worst night, at least five years ago now, they’d actually properly fought, physically. Larry punched Ben clean in the jaw when he’d been pushed away one too many times, and because they’d been out together that time, and because Ben was just so fucking tired of Larry playing this game, he lashed out drunkenly and with one strong back hand across the face made Larry fall to the floor, cracking his head off one of the kitchen cabinets on the way down. Ben had stood frozen in terror as Larry lay motionless for a few seconds, before he picked himself up and all but ran from the house without even rearranging his dishevelled clothes.

The seven hours that passed before he heard from Larry (a cursory “I’m home. Phone died.” text) the next day were among the longest of Ben’s life. 

Ben knew that really though, he tolerated the worst nights because the best nights and mornings made everything seem worth it. It was just a simple matter now of waiting to see what would happen when Larry woke up. And today was only the second time that Ben had woken up to find that Larry had switched rooms in the night and crawled into the bed with him. He was used to the snoring because he normally had to wake Larry up when it had gone past midday and he needed to leave the house himself, and Larry’s phone would have been vibrating all morning downstairs on the kitchen bench where Ben had plugged it in to charge for him. He could picture how Larry must have been lying as he’d seen it so many times as he hovered in the doorway with a cup of coffee, reluctant to wake him up in case it was one of the mornings he wouldn’t even stay long enough to drink it. But the warmth of Larry’s forearm curled around his waist and of his bare knees pressed into the back of Ben’s thighs was new, and Ben’s trepidation grew and grew until blood was pounding in his temples and he was desperately willing his heart rate to settle. 

Dare he stay lying here, enjoying the embrace as it melted his imaginary but nevertheless extremely important protective outer layer minute by minute? The only other time he’d woken to Larry sharing his bed was also the only time anything further than a kiss had happened between them whilst sober. How long ago was it now, a year? Eighteen months almost? They were still in the group stage of writing the first series of Ghosts and had both come back to Ben’s after a respectable number of drinks with Mat and Jim. They hadn’t even spoken to each other after Ben had locked the front door and Larry went quietly to what was now his room for all intents and purposes without so much as a backward glance down the stairs. Ben remembered he’d exhaled with considerable relief when he heard the bedroom door click shut, tidied a few things away and hung up their coats, and put himself to bed too.

It was late Spring then, but the room was still dark so they couldn’t have been in bed much more than an hour or two when Ben had heard his bedroom door open slowly. He’d panicked for a moment then thought it best to pretend to be asleep as Larry had peeled back the duvet from the opposite corner of the bed and carefully crept in beside him. They’d both lay there completely still not touching for a moment, then Larry had broken the silence.

“I know you’re awake, Ben, you’ve stopped breathing.”

Ben let out the breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding in, and gulped back some air before trying to respond in a totally calm and relaxed manner.

“What’s uhhh… what’s up, Larry?”

“Come here.”

“Sorry?”

“Please Ben,” Larry had said, sounding almost scared. “Will you please just…” He reached under the covers and grabbed Ben’s elbow and pulled hard so that Ben rolled onto his side and into Larry’s waiting arms. He remembered that Larry had actually smelled nice for once, not of booze and the cigarettes he always ended up begging from his full time smoker friends when he was five pints in, just the vaguest hint of toothpaste and the handwash in Ben’s bathroom. They were both stripped down to their underwear and Larry was breathing fast and shallow as he’d wrapped both arms around Ben’s back and buried his face in the crook of his neck. Ben seemed to recall trying to pull back, to talk to him, but Larry had shaken his head and only drew him in closer, throwing his leg over Ben’s side and pushing their bodies together with his heel.

“It’s okay,” Ben had mumbled into the pillow. Of course it wasn’t okay. Ben had felt scared then, too. It was as close as he’d ever been to what he’d wanted most since meeting Larry, and he’d had absolutely no idea what was about to happen and whether or not it was going to change things forever. What had actually happened was a good few minutes of intense kissing, strictly no speaking or explanation whatsoever, and finally the first (and so far only) blowjob Ben had ever received from another man. In the morning although Larry had stayed for breakfast, he’d been clearly very much intent on pretending none of it had happened. So they both did and had continued to do so right up until now. 

Back in the present, in the growing sunlight and with Larry snoring softly in his ear, Ben realised that playing through his memories of the last time they’d shared a bed was a colossal mistake. Beads of sweat were forming and running down his back and his cock began to twitch with the early stages of involuntary arousal. 

Shit shit shit fuck fuck fuck! You fucking idiot! Ben shouted in his own head, and quickly but softly extricated himself from under Larry’s arm as he rose from the bed and silently dashed out of the room. He paused on the landing and stared down at himself in disbelief then back at Larry through the open door, still completely dead to the world. You fucking idiot, Ben. Don’t start this again. Fucking don’t. 

He crept down the hallway and into the bathroom where he stood staring at himself in the mirror for a long time, part of him almost laughing at the needlessly dramatic image of himself standing there in his underwear, panicked and sweaty, breathing heavily in and out through his mouth. Should he have a very symbolic literal cold shower? Larry most likely wouldn’t be waking up for another two or three hours and he couldn’t just stay in the bathroom in his boxers freaking out the whole time, as paralysed with indecision as he felt right now. 

Coffee. Go and make coffee, and eat some fucking toast or something, then get showered and dressed and before you know it Larry will be up and making his excuses to leave and then, then you can spontaneously combust , he told himself sternly. Or have a wank if you absolutely must , he allowed himself, and smirked grimly.

Ben left the bathroom and was tiptoeing back down the hall to make his way downstairs when he heard movement in his bedroom. Was Larry really up this early already? He’d been in such a state last night although he hadn’t tried past the first foiled attempt to get a kiss out of Ben, and had begrudgingly accepted and drank the pint of water he’d been given before Ben helped him out of his clothes. Larry had passed out cold before Ben had finished folding his jeans for him, but that was barely five hours ago. As they’d both gotten older it took Larry longer and longer to sleep off the alcohol and Ben had expected to have to face him no sooner than 10 at the absolute earliest. Unsure what mood he’d find Larry in and still up quite the height emotionally, Ben ducked into the spare room and hid behind the door as he heard Larry stumble out of his room and head to the bathroom himself.

What the fuck are you doing hiding in your own house , Ben’s inner monologue chided, but it didn’t help him move. He strained his ears and picked out the sound of Larry pissing, then the tap running and Larry washing his hands then brushing his teeth (naturally he had his own toothbrush at Ben’s). The bathroom door swung open again and Ben heard Larry walking down to-

Oh fuck . It dawned on Ben too late that Larry would probably be looking for his clothes about now if he was as suspected, intent on making a swift exit. And they were folded neatly on top of the drawers in the room Ben was currently cowering in. Oh you complete fucking tit, Ben! He actually held his breath and screwed his eyes shut and thought desperately about what on earth he was going to say to Larry when he heard the familiar groan of the bed springs in his own room, and then. 

Nothing.

Slowly, Ben inched his way back out from behind the door in the spare room. This is absolutely fucking ridiculous, just go in there and talk to him you coward. It was like the voice inside his head was even more tired of Larry’s behaviour than he was himself. But it had a point, and so Ben steeled himself up for marching across the corridor, slamming the door open wide and demanding that Larry get up so they could have a conversation about all of this nonsense like men in their forties should be able to thank you very much. 

He’d expected Larry to have fallen straight asleep again, or at least be trying to get more rest, but when he strode with purpose into the room he was taken aback by Larry in nothing but his underwear too, sitting cross legged on top of the covers with his back propped up on the pillows, looking straight at him as though he’d been waiting for him to return. Ben’s stance withered into a defensive mode and he folded his arms across his chest, feeling very exposed despite being in the same state of undress as his friend sitting in the middle of his bed. 

“Come here,” said Larry finally, after what felt like an hour of silence and unbroken, terrifying eye contact.

Ben didn’t move.

“Please?”

Ben crossed his arms tighter across his chest and shook his head, looking down at the floor. He didn’t know how to say anything he really wanted to tell Larry and could also feel his desire to leap onto the bed starting to rise so he thought it best to just keep still and silent. Larry studied Ben studying the carpet for a few moments, and then-

“I’m sorry,” Larry said quietly.

“Hmm?” Ben said, without looking up.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, you weren’t that bad last night actually, I-” said Ben, trying to brush it off, eyes still fixed downwards.

“Not just last night, Ben,” Larry interrupted.

“What, then?”

“This. Everything. Me, generally. Us.”

In his peripheral vision Ben could tell that Larry had torn his gaze away from him and was looking at his own hands in his lap, so he snuck a quick glance. Larry looked different. Softer, somehow. Vulnerable. Was he trying not to cry? Ben swallowed reflexively a few times to quash the same feeling in himself. He badly wanted to tell Larry everything was okay, but it would be a lie, and not helpful to either of them.

“Why are you saying this now?” he asked instead.

“Because I realised how much of a cunt I’ve been to you.”

Ben was taken aback by Larry’s honesty and allowed himself to laugh. “You said it, mate.”

“Will you please just come here, Ben?” Larry said, catching his eye again and holding out his hand.

Ben hesitated, then slowly walked over to the bed and, ignoring Larry’s outstretched palm, sat gingerly on the very edge of the mattress with his back to Larry. He wanted to continue the conversation but he knew that looking at Larry was weakening his resolve. Larry took the opportunity to instead place his hand on Ben’s back, but Ben flinched and swatted Larry away with his own arm bent awkwardly behind his back, refusing to turn around.

“Don’t.” 

“I’m sorry.”

“You keep saying that.”

“Well, I do mean it.”

“Why now, though? What’s different?” Ben leaned forward and rested his elbows on the tops of his thighs and pressed his closed eyes hard into the heels of his palms. 

Larry stayed quiet for a long time. Ben could sense him shuffling around, heard what sounded like him opening his mouth to talk, then thinking better of it and closing it again. He sighed several times. When it became apparent to Ben that he wasn’t getting an answer any time soon, he spoke again.

“Can you… can you get the fuck out of my house then, please,” he said, straightening back up but still not turning around.

“W-what?” asked Larry, genuinely shocked.

“I can’t do this any more. I haven’t been able to do it for a long time. You can’t just keep coming in here when you’ve had enough drinks to be brave enough to actually be with me and then fuck off in the morning and pretend in front of everyone else like nothing’s going on. I know I should have told you this years ago but, look, I’m saying it now so, please. Larry. Please leave, and… this is it. This was the last time. Really.”

“Ben, I-”

“No, that’s it. You’re a fucking coward, Larry, which is actually really not endearing,” Ben went on, a small voice in the back of his head pleading with him to stop, knowing that he was pushing it too far and would regret this by the time he finished talking but the years and years of mistreatment were bubbling up and boiling over now. “And I’d quite like it if you would get dressed, and leave, and stop treating me like shit, thank you .”

“I’m sorry-”

“I swear to Christ if you say that one more time-”

“I love you.”

It was Ben’s turn to be shocked. He was so shocked in fact, that he couldn’t speak. His brain completely shut down. How could the one thing he had ever wanted this man to say to him for the longest time sound so wrong, now? Why did it feel like it was somehow being used against him? Larry held his breath, waiting for Ben’s response.

“I love you, Ben,” he repeated when it became clear that he wasn’t getting one. “I love you. That’s what’s different. Well, I mean, me loving you isn’t different. It’s not new. I suppose I mean - I finally realised it? And I’m sorry. Ben? Ben will you please say something. Literally anything.”

“I love you too,” said Ben, sadly, barely more than a whisper. “But you know that. And you’ve still, to use your own words, been an absolute cunt to me, for years, so I’m not sure how you’ve come to the conclusion that you love me back if I’m honest.” The volume of his voice was rising with his anger again.

“You’re right, Ben. You’re always right. I am a fucking coward, but I have loved you for a really long time, actually, I just never really let myself call it that or… say it out loud. And I acted like a prick about it. And then I thought, well, there’s no way he’s going to love me back now, and I’m never going to have the courage to do anything about it sober, but as soon as I’ve had a drink you’re the only person I want to see, and then before you know it it’s ten years later and it’s turned into a horrible routine. I suppose.”

Ben started counting out what he was saying on his fingers in a patronising so-let-me-get-this-straight sort of way that Larry always found hilarious, apart from when he was on the receiving end. “So you started off being a cunt, then got scared that I wouldn’t love you on account of your being a cunt, so you thought, well, I better… keep being a cunt for the next decade or so, then?

“I mean when it comes down to brass tacks... yes. That is what happened.”

“Larry, considering you are literally the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, you can’t half be a fucking idiot sometimes.”

“And a cunt,” Larry pointed out.

Ben laughed, caught off guard by Larry’s humour again, and then finally plucked up the nerve to turn around to look at his friend. He’d never seen Larry look this way before, so open and unguarded, but he did look a great deal more relaxed than a few minutes ago, he was even smirking slightly. Pure instinct took over and Ben reached out and placed his hand on Larry’s knee. Larry looked up, hopefully, that beautiful fucking man, and as Larry covered Ben’s hand with his own a switch flipped in Ben’s brain and he suddenly didn’t care if this was about to burn him with the fire of a thousand suns, emotionally speaking, he didn’t care if this was undoing a decade’s worth of careful and rigorous desensitising, he didn’t care what horrible buried feelings might be drawn to the surface. All he cared about in that moment was kissing Larry, and he quickly span around and swung his legs up onto the bed and clambered ungracefully over to him. Ben cupped the younger man’s chin in his hands, pressing their foreheads together and closing his eyes.

Larry allowed Ben to take the lead for once, waited to be kissed rather than reaching up to Ben and capturing his mouth, as badly as he wanted to. Slowly, Ben leaned down into the kiss, closed-mouth at first, then he opened his mouth and very tentatively slipped his tongue along the inside of Larry’s bottom lip, eliciting a deep groan. Larry moved from sitting cross legged to kneeling and rose up, pulling Ben with him by the firm grip on his upper arms so they were facing each other directly and their bare chests stuck together as their kissing ramped up in speed and intensity. Larry continued to hold Ben by the arms, and he noticed that Ben was quivering. It had been a long time since they’d kissed properly, and a very long time since Ben had last initiated it. 

Lately Larry had been trying to be nicer, trying to convey through his behaviour that his feelings had changed, and he would give Ben a chaste kiss or an overly long hug before leaving the house, but hadn’t dared do anything like this sober since that one night at the start of last year. Kissing Ben, properly, made Larry finally realise why the rest of the world was obsessed with the act, why it was always the focal point in stories, why it was so often imbued with magic and power. Kissing Ben felt like nothing else on earth, and they clawed at each other’s backs and shoulders as their tongues glided over and around and under each other and they moaned and whined and gasped into each other’s mouths 

Each time they parted for breath, Larry said “I’m sorry” or “I love you”. 

Each time Ben nodded wordlessly and drew their lips back together. He didn’t want to allow any time for doubt or sensibility to creep in and talk him out of what was happening. 

They dragged each other down onto the bed and entwined their legs and they kept on kissing, and Larry kept on apologising and professing his love, and Ben kept on nodding, and they both grew hotter and harder. A last wave of fear and trepidation crept over Ben as Larry started to pull down Ben’s underwear around his thighs and he started to shuffle down the bed, his head now parallel with Ben’s belly. Larry looked up to him with those ridiculous blue eyes, wordlessly checking that it was okay to proceed, and Ben quickly nodded. Larry immediately licked Ben’s cock from base to tip and Ben’s whole body shuddered violently and he put his hand on Larry’s shoulder to stop him. Larry looked back up quizzically.

“Promise you’ll stay, this time?” Ben asked pleadingly.

“I promise,” said Larry, and Ben allowed himself to be swallowed whole.