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Little Moments Like These

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He's doing that thing again. That thing with his pen.

Kelly inwardly groans, sliding in his seat, holding his magazine higher—but not high enough that he can't see Matt's perfect pink lips close around the end of the guy's pen again, with just a little flash of perfect white teeth, or the intense look of concentration on his goddamn perfect face as he narrows his gorgeous, gorgeous eyes at his crossword like it's personally offended him.

It probably has.

And Kelly should not be envious of a crossword. But fuck, that's a sexy stare.

His bunker pants are getting a bit too tight. He clears his throat, straightening (Hah!) back up, and Matt switches his gaze to him, gorgeous eyes softening with warmth.

"Need any help?" Kelly, well, croaks.

Matt lets go of his poor, abused pen, and smiles at him. Kelly sort of forgets to breathes.

"Synonym for in love, seven letters?" Matt asks.

Kelly nearly laughs. "Smitten," he answers, grinning to see Matt scrambling to write it down, eyes big and sparkling.

It's how he feels, really.

Chapter Text

The worse part a concussion, Kelly thinks sullenly (and rather sluggishly) is the seemingly never-ending boredom once the sleepy stage is past. He's been cleared on stipulation he lay down and, in Hallie's words, do nothing, which is why he's been mutinously sitting on the couch trying to find something even remotely interesting on TV (or just not nauseating) for the past hour. (Or so. His sense of time is kind of off.)

There is, of course, absolutely nothing.

He twists to sit on the couch backwards. Matt, his self-assigned concussion-sitter, throws him a look.

"I'm still sitting," Kelly grumps, aware of his One Condition for being allowed out of his bed. He rests his chin on the back and watches Matt shake his head with a smile, then continue puttering in the kitchen.

He's rinsing salad. How fascinating.

"Did you finish that house extending thingy you were doing?" he asks, trying to get Matt to look at him again. It was something about an extra something, he recalls. Kitchen? No, that can't be right.

"Almost," Matt answers, looking back at him with a little smile before the baby tomatoes steal his attention, one of them escaping in a spectacular bouncing roll to the dubious safety of under the kitchen table. "All the heavy stuff is done," he continue distractedly, chasing it down, "the rest is just...." he waves a hand, vaguely, "garniture. Shouldn't be more than a day or two's worth of work."

The newly-recaptured baby tomato gets thoroughly washed again. Kelly stares. The word brings to mind his old high school french teacher and her constant frustration over his pronunciation. And confiture, which he's pretty sure he remembers as meaning jam, being a freaking nightmare to get right (kon-phee-tuuuurrr. No Kelly, the e at the end is silent and wouldn't be pronounced e even if it wasn't!), and probably not at all what Matt means, because why would there be jam on a house?

"My head hurts," he complains, turning back and flopping sideways on the couch. He's concussed, he's allowed to act like a child. Right?

A little puff of air against his face makes him open his eyes again, only to find Matt grinning at him from inches away.

He takes a breath to ask (What's so funny, probably), and gets a wet, cold washcloth promptly plopped on his face.

Gently, but still. Kelly's let out an annoyed groaning growling sound before he can stop himself.

Matt snorts. Kelly gracelessly shuffles to lay on his back, and fights the thing on his face just enough to free one eye and glare at him.

"Paint, trimmings, moldings and such," Matt explains, still crouching next to him and looking like he wants to laugh.

It takes a few seconds to sink in and connect. "You could have just said," Kelly grumbles.

Matt actually does laugh a little. "I thought I had," he answers. And, softly, while carefully arranging the washcloth to only cover Kelly's forehead and eyes: "How bad is it?"

It's not, not really. The cold wetness feels good, but it may be because of Matt's hand, holding it in place so gently. Kelly feels more slow than anything else.

"Kel?" Matt asks again, even more softly.

Kelly gropes above his face blindly and catches Matt's wrist. It feels nice and cool, and he kind of never wants to move again.

But he doesn't want to worry Matt. "I'm fine," he mumbles. And, because he's got no filter on: "But—"

"But what?" Matt encourages, because, well, of course. He's Matt.

Kelly gnaws on his lower lip: the great thing about concussions, he remembers (a bit hazily), is it's easy to blame a lot of stupid shit on them.

"...can you stay here a little?" he finds himself asking in a whisper.

"Sure," Matt answers, immediate and just as soft. He moves a little (probably so he's sitting instead of crouching), but keeps his wrist in Kelly's loose grip, still holding the washcloth on Kelly's head. His other hand smoothly slides into Kelly's hair, fingers tenderly stroking his scalp. Kelly sighs happily.

"Hallie said she'll drop by on her lunch break to check on you," Matt is murmuring, "I can't give you more meds until then."

Kelly isn't really paying attention, though. He's too mesmerized by the hand in his hair, and how soft the inner skin of Matt's forearm feels under his fingers. He traces little circles on it with his thumb, just like Matt is doing on his scalp, and nearly hypnotizes himself to sleep.

Except that he finds himself fuzzily thinking Matt's rebellious baby tomato is probably making a run for it again. And he's sort of craving jam now.

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Cooking isn't exactly Kelly's favorite activity. He can do it (he's fairly sure it's impossible to get through a candidacy if you can't cook), but he doesn't like it. And he never cooks for just himself.

It's too much of a waste of time: he can inhale in less than five minutes what took him a whole hour to prepare. Not worth it. Instead, if he's alone, he survives on take-outs, frozen dinners, and raw or microwaved things. Or cereals. (He really likes cereals.)

Possibly as a result of his terrible eating habits, when he's babysitting the Darden kids, it's with Matt there too, to act, as Heather puts it, like the responsible adult.

Which, really, is not something Kelly minds. At all. He might even be exaggerating all his terrible, no-good habits when he's around Heather, precisely so she'll ask Matt to join him every time Andy (who, as usual, knows him too well to fall for his bullshit) thinks it's a good idea to leave him his spawns so he can take Heather out.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that means Matt is the one cooking, while Kelly plays tag with little Griffin all around the Darden's living room and makes whooshy noises for baby Ben as he holds him up Superman-style. (Matt feeds Ben though, because he's the baby-whisperer, and gets far less spit or puked on.)

Today's a hundredth, though: Matt walks through the door eight minutes late, clean-clothed but with a few bits of wood shavings still in his hair, and looking bone-deep tired. Kelly instantly feels like a jerk to have indirectly lured him here. (Which has happened before, and still hasn't stopped him from making Heather think he's irresponsible. He is a jerk. A jerk in love is still a jerk.)

Despite this, after spinning Griffin around in a circle, kissing Ben's forehead, and giving Kelly a half-hug, he trudges to the kitchen and starts opening cupboards.

Kelly isn't enough of a jerk to let him slave away at the stove when it looks like all he can do is sleep.

So he grabs Matt by the arm, steers him toward the couch, gives him a little push, and, heedless of his owlish eyes, plonks Ben on his collapsed form. When in doubt, distract Matt with the baby. Matt is always distracted by babies.

Then he promptly has to catch Griffin before the hyperactive little hellspawn can pounce on Matt again, hosting him up by the waist and tucking him under his arm sideways.

"Hey kid," he asks the flailing form gigglingly trying to get free, "wanna help me make dinner?"

He's met with a sudden lack of movement and a very doubtful pout. Matt grins at him from the couch, baby wiggling on his chest, apparently making a grab for his nose.

"Heather told me she stocked up on carrot puree boxes," Matt offers, dodging Ben's little fingers with an adoring smile.

"Hmm," Kelly pretends to ponder, "wanna help me make volcanoes with orange milk?"

"Milk isn't orange," Griffin protests with a funny little scowl.

Apparently, he's been too busy wreaking havoc before dinner to have ever seen the magical process of Making Puree From A Box. Sweet.

"It will be," Kelly answers sagely, ambling toward the kitchen with the now quiet little spawn still under his arm. "We're going to turn it orange."

He sets the kid to stand on a stool, and Griffin already looks more interested. "And make volcanoes with it?" he asks, bright-eyed.

It's not an affair as messy as Kelly would have thought, given Griffin's propensity for chaos: Griffin doesn't try to touch the stove, or the heating pot (Kelly's watching him like a hawk to make sure), and he follows all of Kelly's instructions with uncharacteristic attentive obedience. Once the watered milk starts bubbling a bit ominously (to Griffin's obvious delight), Kelly reduces the heat, and hands him the opened packet of puree powder with the seriousness and flair of a magician (complete with appropriate hand-waving that makes Matt snicker at him from the living room), and the kid pours it in the pot with the utmost care, tongue poking out in concentration, while Kelly stirs the mixture in wide clock-wise and counter-clock-wise motions with a few eights figures in between.

Griffin, of course, begs to be allowed to handle the spoon.

"Well," Kelly hums, pretending to consider it, "I don't know, it's a big boy job." And while Griffin is straightening to his whole height on his stool, all but puffing out his cheeks to make himself look bigger: "Hey Matt, do you thinks he's big enough?"

Matt makes a little considering sound too, tilting his head in thought as he looks at the puffed-up Griffin (who makes big pleading eyes at him from his perch). "Hmm, I suppose he is," Matt finally answers, "he looks mighty tall—" (Griffin un-puffs with a grin at the praise, and Kelly nearly ruins everything by laughing at his exhilarated face) "—and he's got a little brother," he adds, snuggling Ben (who's gnawing on the end of his shirtsleeve), "and only big, responsible boys have little brothers, right?"

"I'm responsible!" Griffin agrees enthusiastically, head bobbing up and down almost violently. "You can ask Ben!"

Matt does just that, holding Ben to his ear to pretend to hear the answer, then solemnly telling Kelly that Griffin can have the spoon. Griffin nearly bounces in excitement, turning huge eyes on him.

"Alright, big boy," Kelly concedes, grandly handing it to him, "you need to make circles. Start with big ones, then make them smaller, so that you get the whole thing, okay? Don't slosh too much," he adds, when Griffin's first stir almost slops over the rim, "it'll mix better if you're gentle."

The kid pokes his tongue out again to do as instructed, and Kelly directs him to eights and alternative circles, to keep things interesting until the puree is done. Point of which he turns the stove off completely, transfers Griffin to a kitchen chair with a "Well done, buddy! Now we can make those volcanoes, just let me get plates," and makes the strategic mistake of turning around to do so.

Because he turns back around just in time to see Griffin racing toward the couch, spoon full of puree in his evil little hands.

"It's orange and all thick, Uncle Matt, look, look!" the little hellspawn shouts triumphantly, flailing with it.

Kelly chokes on a curse, and very nearly drops the plates next to the kitchen table instead of on it. But he doesn't, and he dives for the paper towels and scuttles behind Griffin like a demented cleaning crab to wipe the escaping puree blobs before the mess can set in the living room's carpeted floor. He finds himself having to wipe Ben's hair as well, and both of Matt's forearms (there's miraculously nothing on his shirt). Griffin voluntarily hands him back the now-empty spoon with a sheepish smile and puree-covered hands, and it's absolutely impossible to be mad at him.

On the plus side, the whole thing makes Matt completely crack up. He's still giggling quietly a minute later when Kelly redeposits a cleaner Griffin at the table to makes volcanoes for the four of them with a fork (three big ones, plus a little one for Ben), and eyes him like a mama hawk while quickly microwaving ground beef (lava rocks) to stuff the volcanoes with.

Griffin, thankfully, carefully applies himself to his new task, not spilling any more puree, and the rest of the meal's preparation goes without further incidents.

All in all, Kelly would still call it a success: they have food, Matt's managed to rest a little (and was entertained), the kids are happy, and it's impossible to tell there was puree blobs on the living room's carpet by just looking at it. (Andy and Heather might never know.)

And if Griffin's amazed eyes and smug accomplished expression over their culinary art hadn't made it all worth it already, the affection-full dimpled smile Matt gives him as he sits at the table with Ben certainly would have. There's pretty much nothing in the world Kelly wouldn't do to get that smile.

Although, Heather calls him the next day to ask what the hell he did to make Griffin think he ate a magical volcano, and Shay has to take the phone from him because Kelly's laughing too hard to explain.

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The music is loud. Andy is busy crazily waltzing his giggling wife in the middle of the dance floor, and Shay's all but disappeared among the throng of wriggling girls on one side of the it.

Which is a thought Kelly should probably find hot, but he's too busy watching Matt: Hallie's managed to coax him onto the other side of the floor, the one that's slightly less crowded, and he's doing an adorably awkward little head-bobbing thing in time with the music while she dances around him (having apparently given up on trying to make him dance with her). They're both laughing—him self-consciously, her like he's the cutest thing she's ever seen.

Kelly knows the feeling.

Most of the time, he's past being jealous: he pushed Matt at her, and she is (generally) good for him. She also clearly loves him. And Matt loves her. They're good together. And Kelly is happy to see Matt happy.

But once in a while...well, he can't help but want.

Like now: Hallie's managed to sneak behind Matt, grab his hand, and make him twirl under their joined arms like a girl in a rock and roll dance, and he's laughing so much he's nearly folding over. And Kelly wants so badly to be in Hallie's place: to be the one making him twirl and laugh and have his own arms around him like hers—to be the one cackling in his ear while bodily holding him up.

It might be okay if that's all it was, but it somehow never is: Matt looks back at Kelly, that gorgeous smile still on his gorgeous face, and gives him a shy little wave. Kelly waves back, grinning—as always, too grateful Matt is still aware of him even with Hallie (literally) wrapped around him to not respond, and Matt laugh a little more, radiating excited happiness at him from all the way across the room. And for a few, too long seconds, all Kelly wants is to march over there and kiss him.

It's all he wants, just to kiss him—to kiss him and never stop.

But (even if Hallie wasn't right there) Matt is engaged, and not interested, and Kelly's promised.

He's fine with it most of the time, he truly is. But Matt is Matt, and Kelly is only human: sometimes, like now, it's best he simply keeps his distance. He doesn't really trust himself to not do something stupid if he saw Matt's happy smile from up close.

Because when Matt smiles like that—smiles like that and looks back at Kelly, all Kelly can think about is how this smile used to be only for him. Used to be only because of him. That he used to be the only one who could kiss it off those lips, make it wider, brighter, with nothing but more kisses. And that now, he'll never be able to do it again. He'll never be able to kiss Matt again.

That's another reason Kelly stays away, in moments like these: it's a fucking awful feeling, and he doesn't want anybody to see it in his eyes. The last thing he fucking needs is anyone asking him about it.

But the worst is not knowing he'll never be able to kiss Matt again: the worst is knowing, that for the rest of his life, even just once in a while, he'll feel like this. That he'll love, always, and occasionally want, yearn...with a hunger that will never be satiated.

Chapter Text

One positive plus of having, however grudgingly, reconnected with Benny (Kelly still can't quite bring himself to say Dad, or Pop like he used to) during his time in the academy, is that Kelly can now have free use of the cabin more-or-less whenever he wants.

(Contrary to popular opinion, though, he doesn't bring dates. He's never even thought of bringing dates. Well, besides Matt, but Matt is pretty much the exception to everything.)

Kelly had loved coming here as a kid. Not only because that was the only time he had his father all to himself, but because it made him feel free: here the world was something greater than schoolwork, concrete, car fumes and packs of obnoxious loud people. Here, everything was amazing: even the familiar was ever-changing—perpetually new, and always welcoming. The first time he came back, with Andy and Matt, after he finally accepted Benny's offer on their graduation day, Kelly had stood at the edge of the lake for hours, his best friend and his secret love sitting in silent, patient understanding a few yards behind him. He'd had tears in his eyes, for how much he had missed this place without even realizing it.

Since then, Andy, Matt and him have made it a point to escape there at least once or twice a year, leaving behind civilization and (growing) responsibilities for a few days to recharge far from it all. Boys' fishing trip, as they call it.

Whether there's actually fishing involved or not: sometimes it's just beers and multiple cold pizzas, and running around in dead leaves, or sitting together in a quiet, comforting hush. Just the three of them and mother nature.

But, each trip, Kelly is always the designated driver-slash-expedition guide, and not just because it's his car and his father's cabin: Matt hadn't, before that first time here, right after graduation, ever been out of the city, and Andy, despite having come here numerous times as a child with Kelly's not-yet-imploded family, has a sense of orientation of an absolute zero. Kelly, though, knows all the unmarked trails in the woods, the little hidden private creeks, even the nooks and crannies in the trunks and the rocks. (In old kids' adventure novels, they'd potentially house treasures.)

So, every time, he points out the location of the moss, the angle of the sun, the particularly-recognizable trees, the direction of the slopes, the boulders, the shape of the lake's coast, and every time, the other two follow him like wide-eyed baby ducks, nod, and seemingly remember nothing the next time over.

"I swear the moss fucking moves," Matt grumbles under his breath this time, glaring adorably at the nearest clump of it like it's solely responsible for his inability to figure out where they've come from.

"Or the trees do," Andy agrees, looking like he'd very much like to kick one but isn't too sure it wouldn't kick back.

"City boys," Kelly dramatically sighs, shaking his head in mock-despair.

It's true: they're so hopeless he perpetually has to make sure they don't get lost accidentally wandering off without him. That first time, he'd made the terrible mistake of telling them to gather firewood, and things had turned into a three-hours unwanted exercise on finding two (mercifully uninjured) persons by shouts alone. He'd gotten them whistles still, but it's still something he never wants a repeat of.

Occasionally, though, he purposely takes them down the most tortuous paths. Just to mess with Andy's head and make Matt blink huge clueless eyes at him: sometimes it also makes Matt hold unto the end of his sleeve or to his backpack strap, when it gets dark and there's roots to trip on everywhere, and for a little while Kelly can pretend he didn't mess everything up. (Andy has no problems cutting off the blood circulation of Kelly's other arm to avoid falling on his face, or hanging half his weight off the back of Kelly's pack, so Kelly thankfully never forgets enough to do something stupid, like push Matt up against a tree and kiss him senseless.)

"Yeah, well," Andy generally snarks back good-naturally to Kelly's eternal joke, "not everyone can be a born-woodsman."

"What can I say," Kelly quips, "it's a talent. Comes with my good looks and all."

He promptly has to dodge Andy's hand, aiming for the back of his head, but catches Matt's fondly exasperated grin out of the corner of his eyes, and, proudly beaming back like the idiot he is, fails to notice the dead branch traitorously half sticking out of the layers of dead leaves covering the trail, just waiting to trip him.