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It’s late when Posner gets the courage to wander over to Scripps flat, dutch courage warming his chest and staving off the October chill that seeps down to his bones. He knows logically that Sheffield is colder than Cambridge, further north, but the cold seeps deeper here, the pipes freeze and he shivers in his room, wrapped up in all the layers he can muster. He knocks on Scripps’ door, one, two raps in quick succession, and then he leans back on his heels. Tries to imitate Dakin’s casual slouching posture, before giving up on it as farce, and goes back to bouncing on the balls of his feet. It makes him look young, but then again, he is young.

Scripps takes a while to answer, and Posner almost makes himself turn around and go home, convinces himself of his own stupidity, but just as he’s about to turn, the door opens, a sudden shock of warm yellow light against the cool dark of sleeping Cambridge. Scripps smiles, and Posner finds his breath caught in his chest. Scripps quirks an eyebrow.

“Bored of studying for now?” he asks, stepping aside to let Posner in, not really needing an excuse but asking after him anyway, like he always does. Posner just silently holds up the bottle of red wine, tesco’s finest £7 vintage, and Scripps giggles, an unattractive high pitched thing that comes right from his chest. It never fails to make Posner’s heart ache.

They sit on Scripps bed, because they’ve never really had any ideas of personal space, not between them, and trade pulls from the bottle of wine. It stains Scripps’ mouth red, and Posner thinks his must be the same, and how funny it is that they both look the same, stained dark red. Scripps has put a record on, something atmospheric, quiet enough that Posner can’t really hear the lyrics, but Scripps sings along under his breath, in between stories of his lectures, the history courses Posner had somehow almost immediately managed to turn into English literature through some force of the universe. Scripps had laughed, called it an inevitability

Right now, Scripps is humming along, un-self conscious and sweet, and Posner has never wanted anyone more. Scripps is handsome in a way that Posner can never describe to his friends, but it all comes down to the way he is so thoroughly himself, his bright blue eyes and dark hair, his long piano fingers and the strange beard he’s been slowly growing out. Posner even likes the way Scripps never seems to know what to do with his hands, even if only because it gives him an excuse to hold them. Scripps is a lightweight, and the alcohol is making his face flush, which should make him less pretty, but it doesn’t, just makes Posner feel fond, it feels like the glow of Scripps’ room, this place that is theirs, Scripps’, but Posner’s too. It makes Posner ache.

“So, the beard” Posner hears himself say, despite his own protests.

“The beard.” Scripps agrees, agreeable and pliant, willing to follow on with Posner’s abrupt departure from their silent contemplation, mores the pity. Scripps takes another swig from the bottle of wine, before putting it on the bedside table, not even offering any to Posner.

“Why?” Posner says, regretting how the word tastes in his mouth as soon as he says it. “Do girls like it?” he follows, trying to save himself somehow from his own stupid questions.

Scripps seems to think to himself for a moment, eyes raised to the ceiling unseeing. He taps his long fingers out against his thigh, a staccato rhythm that matches whatever song is playing on his own record player, and Posner wants to still them, wants to hold them in his hands, wants to feel them brush through his hair. He sits on his own fingers instead, and keeps staring at Scripps’ beard. Scripps looks older with it.

“Do you like it?” Scripps says, finally, staring Posner in the eyes. Posner flushes, and breaks eye contact, and his traitorous hand escapes from under his thigh and moves instead to trace the lines of Scripps beard, to cup the side of his face. Scripps leans into it like a plant reaches towards the sun and Posner’s heart breaks and puts itself back together in the space of seconds.

“Yes.” comes Posner’s voice, unbidden, and he’s embarrassed by his own breathiness, it’s almost more exhale than language.

“Oh” says Scripps, and oh, Posner can feel his jaw moving, can feel his lips parting, his hand still gently cupping Scripps’ face, the soft bristles of the beard slightly rough against his fingers. “That’s good.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s really good.” Scripps says, and beams, drunk and silly, and trusting Posner, and Posner has his own heart in his hands, all of him wrapped up in this one boy, too large for his own skin and too small for his heart. “I wouldn’t have it if you didn’t like it.” Scripps declares, and Posner’s heart beats faster yet.

“Do you-” Posner starts and stops, licks his lips unconsciously, staring at Scripps face in his hand. “Do you ever think about kissing - I mean with the beard- stubble burn?” he rambles, wishing God would put him out of his misery, but knowing that he only has himself to blame. Scripps stays perfectly still, leaning his face against Posner’s palm still, but his eyebrows come together and his forehead wrinkles in confusion and Posner wants nothing more than to kiss the furrowed spot between his eyebrows. He carries on instead. “Because I’d help you practice, I’d try. Y’know, so you’re ready for when you’re done with the celibacy. God can’t want you alone forever, Scripps.”

Posner’s face is burning, and he is thoroughly mortified, but here in this limbo he cannot be the one to act, either Scripps will laugh and push him away and Posner will walk home mortified, or-

“Okay” Scripps says, barely audible, a whisper, and Posner’s breath is caught in his stomach, and his heart is in his throat, but he just nods, and slowly, slowly, kisses Scripps.

Scripps’ beard is scraggly against Posner’s cheeks and it’s clear that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, slow to respond, but he’s there, and warm, and his lips are slightly cracked. He tastes like the red wine, and when Posner moves his hand and opens his mouth a little, Scripps makes this soft little noise in the back of his throat. Posner breaks away to breathe heavily, but just for a moment, and he pushes himself forward, so close he’s basically in Scripps lap. Scripps reacts almost instinctively, his hand gripping Posner’s hips, and kissing has never felt like this, nothing this electric, and Posner wants nothing more than to sit in Scripps lap for hours. Instead he brushes Scripps’ hair with his fingers before pulling, just a sharp little tug, but Scripps gasps and pulls away from him, panting hard, and staring at Posner.

They stare at each other for a minute before reaching back towards each other almost instinctively. Posner keeps one hand at the back of Scripps’ head, gripping his hair, which is softer than he thought it’d be, and the other hand twisted in the soft cotton of Scripps’ shirt. Scripps’ hands are still gripping Posner’s hips, hard enough to make him wonder if they’ll bruise, hard enough that Posner knows he likes it, likes being held by this boy, who Posner could never run away from even if he tried. He shuts his eyes and lets himself lose himself in Scripps, lets himself break their kisses to nuzzle his face and slowly press open mouthed kisses down Scripps’ neck while Scripps whines and tilts his head back to give him access, lets himself have this, if not forever, then for at least this wine drunk evening, with their shared stained red lips and Posner’s stained glass heart. Posner moves back to Scripps mouth, tries for one good movie kiss, Brief Encounter and Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, and every wayward feeling that stains his stupid heart.

When they finally break apart for the last time Posner doesn’t move from his seat on Scripps’ lap, but he reaches over him, and grabs the bottle of wine from the bedside table, and downs the last of it, before he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. His whole face feels prickly and Posner just knows that even if he and Scripps don’t kiss more today, tomorrow he’ll be fending off questions about his obvious beard burn from his flatmates, and suddenly all of this sours like a pit in his stomach,

Scripps isn’t his, not really, and these are borrowed kisses, like back at Cutler and pretending that Dakin could ever love him, just Posner and the same stupid patterns, his spaniel heart pulling him to another boy who can’t love him, not the way Posner wants him to at least. He tucks his head against Scripps’ neck briefly, let’s himself surround himself with Scripps, lets himself pretend that this could be his. Posner wonders almost absently who Scripps might be thinking about when he bites back a moan, who he might pretend Posner is really, instead of the coward Posner knows he is. He starts to pull away, stands and pick his messenger bag off the floor, and Scripps moves almost as if to stand too, but stops abruptly.

“What was that?” Scripps asks, his eyes darting up at Posner for a second, then back down to the ground, back at his socked feet against the soft carpet of his floor, and Posner wants nothing more than to sit back down and kiss him silly, to tell him he loves him, to tell him that it was kissing, because Posner loves him, and wants him. Instead he pulls himself together, and turns around so he’s not facing Scripps, so he can’t see his face.

“Just practice for all the girls that beard will attract, Scrippsy.” He says, shouldering his messenger bag. “You’ll thank me later! I’m going to go home and sleep off this wine, but I’ll see you soon, yeah?” He finishes, pressing Scripps’ door open and pushing past it before Scripps can respond, before Posner gets that final confirmation that this is all he’ll ever get of Scripps, that he’ll never be anything more than a placeholder, before he can hurt himself more than he already has with any of this.

He doesn’t look back but he swears he almost sees Scripps press those long piano player’s fingers to his lips, and clench his fist like he wishes he could stop Posner from going, but that would be ridiculous. This is just Posner, taking what he can get and imagining the rest. He doesn’t look back, and when he gets home he passes out instantly without crying, not even a little bit.

 

The next day Posner wakes up and his head is pounding. It’s way too early, five am, his alarm going off for a lecture that Posner is definitely going to miss. He his the snooze button and rolls over, staring up at his ceiling, watching as the light hits the window. His head aches, and his mouth feels dry and disgusting. Mostly he’s embarrassed. All those years of Scripps and his hands and his kind heart and Posner still can’t keep his stupid mouth to himself, still can’t stop himself from the same mistakes over and over again. It would be funny if he weren’t so sad.

He swings his legs round and moves to sit up, delighted to realize that he had neglected to get undressed last night, seemingly passing out fully dressed. That saves on time certainly, if he doesn’t mind being gross. Posner goes to the bathroom, takes a piss, and looks at his sullen eyes in his sullen face in the mirror, pulls a face at his own exhausted self. He gets back in bed, back to staring at the ceiling. Not sleeping, just staring.

Thunderous knocking wakes him up from the trance he’s been sitting in, and he walks to the door, only to find Scripps standing on the other side, his hands clenched awkwardly at his sides. Posner still wants to hold them. He always does.

“Scrippsy?” He says, trying to seem surprised, like nothing happened, nothing strange, nothing to address. If he just keeps acting normal, and Scripps follows his lead, it’ll be easy really.

“Why did you kiss me?” Scripps says, walking Posner into his room, and where Posner promptly collapses onto his bed to try and avoid Scripps’ eye contact. Scripps starts pacing up and down Posner’s room, kindly ignoring the empty wine bottle under his desk and the socks and underwear that are at least half under his bed.

“I-” Posner starts to answer, before biting at his lip and looking down at his feet. He doesn’t want to answer. He doesn’t want to get this over with, because the sooner he answers, the sooner Scripps will leave, the sooner Scripps will never talk to him again and Posner will be alone.

“Was it a joke? I’m sorry I couldn’t hide my feelings better, must’ve been really funny when you told everyone how eager I was. I never thought you were cruel, Pos, Jesus.” Scripps goes on, and his eyes are rimmed red, and this is, not what Posner thought was happening and Posner still can’t keep eye contact but he licks his lips.

“Your feelings?” He asks, feeling his heart jump in his throat.

“Yeah Pos, my big stupid crush on you. The one everyone can see from space. The whole thing where I’ve been in love with you for years. Those feelings” Scripps laughs to himself, bitterly, and runs a hand through his hair, all nervous energy.

“Oh.” says Posner, genuinely shocked.

“I tell you I love you and all you can say is ‘oh’? Give me something here at least, Pos!”

“I’m thinking okay! It’s not everyday the love of your life appears in your room at 5 AM to insult you and tell you he loves you. Let me think!” Scripps’ mouth falls open, and he stares at Posner for a few seconds. Posner fidgets with his fingers, looks up at Scripps.

“The love of your life?” Scripps says, leaning down towards Posner and cupping his face in his hands.

“Well, I suppose maybe that’s a bit generous. Maybe I should tone it down a little.” Pos laughs.

“No, no take-backs. The love of your life” Scripps laughs, and Posner leans up to kiss him, and this time, he’s not leaving, not for a while.

Later, much later, after Posner has skipped at least one lecture to kiss Scripps silly, and Scripps has told Posner over and over again how much he loves him, Posner comes to an unfortunate realization.

“Y’know, Dakin was the one who gave me the idea to offer to help you out, it was just a joke for him but wow, do we owe our relationship to Dakin” Posner says, his eyebrows furrowed. Scripps takes both of Posner’s hands in his.

“We can never tell him.”