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gravity

noun

  1. The force that attracts a body towards the centre of the earth, or towards any other physical body having mass.

         Similar: attraction

  1. Extreme importance; seriousness.

 

It should have come with a warning: this party has zero chance of being anything other than painful, and no amount of alcohol will change that. Then again, if he hadn’t come tonight, the same would be true for the next party; it was always going to suck.

It’s been more than four years since he’s done this kind of thing, gone somewhere without backup, without Stevie or someone else to effectively hold his hand through the socialising and leave as soon as “painful” turns into “unbearable”. If he wants to leave this time, he’s going to have to make his own excuses. Or not, because he’s not sure anyone would miss him. He feels a bit like a spectre at the feast. At least they’re mostly strangers – around friends he just feels bad for bringing the mood down. Here, no one knows him well enough to feel bad on his behalf, so he’s only depressing himself.

Patrick sighs into his beer and takes a long sip. Twenty more minutes. Twenty more and he’s allowed to go home, safe in the knowledge that he tried, that he “got back out there”. He’s had discussions with Stevie about what constitutes being “out there” and after some argument they settled on 100 minutes – long enough to have been seen, not long enough to get too drunk and make a fool of himself. But he’s forgotten, somehow, how to function in social situations. So he mostly hugs the wall, nods and smiles at the edges of group discussions, and, if pressed, makes small talk around the beer fridge. Speaking of which …

“Just going to get another,” he mutters to the others in the circle, forcing the corners of his mouth upwards in what he can only assume is a completely unconvincing smile. But they’re not bothered, and Patrick is grateful, so he heads off to the kitchen.

It’s empty, and there’s more gratitude for that. If he plays his cards right, he might be able to wait out ten of the remaining twenty minutes in here by himself. He grabs another beer out of the fridge and looks around for the recycling bin.

“Empty?”

Not alone, then. A man stands framed in the opposite doorway, holding a bottle of something and watching him. Patrick blinks.

“Uh … yeah. Do you know where the—”

“Here.” They guy has his hand outstretched, and after the briefest of hesitations, Patrick hands over his empty bottle by the neck, careful not to brush fingertips. He’s not sure when he started doing that. He knows it’s been a while, though.

Unbothered, the guy takes it, and bends down behind the bench to place it in the plastic bin underneath. Patrick’s bottle clinks loudly against the other empties.

“Thanks,” he offers awkwardly. His instinct is to leave, but he’s just noticed something about this guy. “I know you …” he says slowly, uncertainly.

It’s hardly flattering, but the other guy chuckles. It’s a nice sound, Patrick thinks, cautiously.

“Yeah,” says the guy, his grin sliding into a smirk. “I think you, uh, tried to flirt with me once.”

And now Patrick recognises him. Vampire Shirt. A million years ago, at a party he hadn’t thought twice about, before everything really took off, this guy stood in a kitchen, not unlike this one, wearing a shirt blazoned with a mouth and bloody fangs, teasing Patrick.

The guy’s use of the word “tried” is correct; Patrick can recall it vividly now. To his surprise, though, he huffs out a laugh at the memory. “Right,” he says, looking down at his beer again. “Sorry about that.”

Vampire Shirt is still smiling, though. “No apologies necessary. It was, uh …” he ducks his head and looks up at Patrick from under his lashes, “… it was cute.”

Patrick feels his smile falter. He swallows. “If I remember correctly, you told me I had no game.” Vampire Shirt laughs again, and there’s a tightening in Patrick’s chest. He wants to leave, now, to escape the discomfort, but this is what he’s here for, after all. Just get through one conversation and it’ll be easier the next time.

Or so he’s been telling himself. It never seems to get easier.

“If I remember correctly, you were giving out some low-key stalker vibes,” says Vampire Shirt, leaning against the counter, looking so at ease with himself that Patrick feels a pang of envy shoot through him. He takes a sip and adds, innocently, “Which is not no game …”

This time Patrick feels himself smile without prompting. It’s novel enough to make note of, even if it’s tempered by everything else that’s going on. “Just not good game,” he agrees, wanting despite himself to make Vampire Shirt laugh again, if only for the comfort it brings that he’s functioning at a somewhat normal level.

He’s successful in making him laugh, but isn’t sure he’s completely happy about it. He takes the moment to really look at him; he’s striking, with dark hair, wide eyes—brown, he thinks, or black, but somehow still bright—broad shoulders, broad chest …

He needs to stop now. He clears his throat, ready to make his excuses and leave (it’s close enough to 100 minutes, surely, especially if he hits the bathroom before he goes, and this feels like progress) when Vampire Shirt speaks first.

“Feel like getting some air?”

Something inside clenches, and suddenly Patrick’s body is thrumming on high alert, because he’s unpractised, sure, but he’s not an idiot. He can read the vibe in a room as much as the next guy, and, well, the next guy is asking him to step outside. What’s interfering with things is that he thinks he could do it, thinks he might want to. It’s not a big deal, he tells himself. And turn around and leave, now. And oh, fuck.

Eventually, aware of how awkward he must look, he manages to nod slowly, and the guy turns and tilts his head towards the sliding doors, smiling back at him. Patrick takes a drink to hide his swallow, and goes after him, stepping out into the night air.

It’s a little colder than it was earlier, and Patrick wishes he’d brought a jacket. He looks up and keeps his eyes fixed on the stars as he hears Vampire Shirt close the door behind them. He should call him something else in his head. Lightning-bolt Shirt. Sweater. He can feel the weight, the crushing weight of expectation, but stubbornly refuses to allow that anything is different: they’re just standing in a different location.

“I’m David, by the way.”

Patrick looks down at the hand offered to him. It’s just a handshake. He’s given a thousand of them.

“Patrick,” he nods, taking David’s hand and letting go after a second or two.

“So would you say the music’s gotten better or worse since we got here?”

Patrick chuckles, glad for the levity. “Oh I don’t know. I think the food is really the more concerning aspect.”

David laughs, and Patrick thinks again that he likes the sound. “The cheese sticks.”

“The cheese sticks!” Patrick agrees, his face lighting up for the first time as he feels the tension slip away. “Who serves cheese sticks outside of the 1980s?”

“Same person who thinks devilled eggs are correct party food,” says David.

Patrick grins. “Don’t tell me.”

“Oh yes, thankfully in short supply. Especially once I put them in the compost bin.”

Patrick laughs, takes a sip of his drink.

“Almost as bad as the beer selection,” David adds, nodding at the bottle in Patrick’s hand. Patrick pauses with the mouth of the bottle still at his lips. He can feel a laugh bubbling up in his throat.

I brought this beer,” he says, deadpan, and he can almost feel David laughing at him.

“Oh, I figured,” he says.

Patrick can’t help it. He turns to look at David, whose eyes are sparkling with unapologetic mirth, and his cheeks kind of ache from the grin spreading across his own face.

“Can’t all be, what …” he tilts his head to check “… ginger ale men!” The last is delivered with glee and triumphantly raised eyebrows, but David just laughs and takes a long swig while Patrick … watches. Hm.

Back to star-gazing, then.

“Not a drinker?” he asks, steering to safer waters.

“Not tonight.” Out of the corner of his eye he sees David is looking up at the sky too, shaking his head. “My place is in Kensington, so it was easier to drive out here,” he adds by way of explanation. “Plus my sister said she needed to, and I’m quoting, ‘get drunk enough to lower her standards’ tonight.”

“Ah,” says Patrick. “So you’re designated driver.”

David snorts. “So I was informed, until I got a text from her about ten minutes ago letting me know that she’s found another ride. Single entendre very much intended, if the accompanying emojis are anything to go by.”

Patrick bites back a grin. “Elegant.”

“Isn’t she?” David cocks his head at Patrick, his face scrunched-up in amusement.

“Last week my friend Stevie took me out to celebrate me getting my MBA, insisted on paying, then conveniently forgot her wallet.”

“Ouch.”

“Yeah, which she also neglected to tell me about until after she’d ordered the second bottle of champagne.”

David’s expression is one of barely suppressed amusement. “And it was just the two of–”

“Just the two of us, yeah. I also paid for cab fares.”

David laughs openly at that. “I mean I guess it’s the thought that counts?”

“Is it, though?” Patrick counters, and his grin widens as David laughs again. In a flood of good humour, Patrick holds out his beer bottle. “To friends like these,” he says.

David clinks his ginger-ale. “To friends like these. What would we do without them?”

“Have more money, maybe?”

“I’ve seen the pretentious craft beer you spend your money on, so, I think we both know that’s not true.”

This time Patrick’s laugh is one of surprise. It’s been a while since someone’s jabbed at him like that.

“Guess you’re stuck getting abandoned at parties, then,” he slings back.

“True,” David concedes, looking back up at the stars. After a pause, he continues: “Could be worse, though.” Patrick turns a questioning eyebrow his way. David, whose smirk is tucked into a corner of his mouth, glances down at him, and the teasing in his eyes has been replaced with … something else. “Current company is pretty great.”

And just like that, Patrick’s thrumming again. His insides do a complicated swoop, and he’s not sure if it’s the beer or the mood lighting or the fact that this is the first person he’s connected with in a very long time, but …

Don’t look at his mouth. Do not look at his mouth.

Patrick’s gaze drops to David’s mouth.

His body is reacting without permission from his brain. In fact, his brain appears to have momentarily gone offline. There is thunder in his ears and his mind is blank except for I want. All he can feel is every nerve ending pushing him closer to the man beside him, the man who is leaning in, who is raising a hand to Patrick’s neck …

It’s his first kiss in four years.

It’s his first kiss in four years and he feels it right down to his toes, feels the goosebumps race from where David’s fingers brush the short hairs at the base of his neck, tastes the ginger-ale on his lips, presses closer for more, wants to reach out, but his hand is clenching on his beer bottle and it’s new, and it’s different, and it’s really fucking good, and it’s all too much and—

“Sorry,” he gasps, stepping back and looking dumbly at where his beer bottle has shattered onto the deck.

David doesn’t seem worried, although Patrick can hear him breathing hard. “It’s fine,” he says, softly, but Patrick’s brain has rebooted, and his hand is shaking where it rubs his mouth. He can feel the pressure building behind his eyes and turns away, willing it to stop, willing everything to stop …

“Hey …”

David’s voice is gentle, and Patrick hates it, because if there’s one thing that’ll make him lose it … Out of the corner of his eye he sees David move as if to reach out towards him, and he tugs his arm in before they can touch.

“Everything okay over there?”

Patrick hears the strangled sob before he realises he’s the one who’s choked it out, and that his cheeks are already wet, and oh hell.

Patrick groans through a heaving breath, scrubbing his face with his hands. “I’m sorry, this is …”

There’s a hand on his back, and the pressure is grounding if he doesn’t think about who is providing it.

“You’re okay, it’s okay …”

But it’s not, is the thing. It’s not okay. It’s almost laughable how not okay it all is. Oh god, he’s laughing now, a sort of unhinged, mirthless sound, and this poor guy.

“I’m so fucking sorry,” he gulps out. “It’s not … I’m not normally …” The pressure on his back increases gently, slides soothingly across his shoulder blades, back and forth, back and forth, and the rhythm helps slow his breathing. He takes a deep, shaky breath, wipes his face, and forces himself to look up.

David’s dark eyes are filled with concern … and a little alarm, but Patrick supposes that’s fair enough. He deserves an explanation, though. Oh god, he hates this part.

“My …” His first attempt gets stuck in his throat, so he swallows and tries again. “I haven’t done that since …” he hates what David’s face is going to do in a few seconds, but he has to explain, needs him to know that it’s not him … “… since my fiancé died.”

 

*

Patrick tells him everything then. Well, not everything, David supposes, but the salient points. The guy, the relationship, the engagement, the accident. He can see Patrick pulling himself together to get through it, and while normally David would be employing a ten-foot pole, to his surprise he feels his heart aching for other man. And yes, he is relieved that it’s nothing that he did, because, well, there’s always a chance.

It’s been a long time since David has admitted any allegiance to the cult of true love. In fact he remembers many an occasion in which he has stated with certainty and in front of witnesses that love happens exclusively in fairytales, not in and around the greater Toronto area, and specifically nowhere near David Rose.

Deep down he suspects that he hasn’t quite learnt to walk the walk. Each time he’d met someone, and with plenty of evidence to the contrary, a seedling of hope lifted its naïve little head. In spite of himself, his hopes have remained elastic, but not effortlessly so. Really, it’s taken a lot of willpower (and Alexis’s nagging) to come here tonight, and he hadn’t expected to enjoy it, but then he’d gone into the kitchen for one last drink …

He hadn’t recognised Patrick at first, just a vague sense of familiarity, and then those eyes had widened at him and something like a current had rushed through his body and god, David wanted him. Wanted his teasing wit and his deprecating smirk and, yes, if he was being blunt, his arms, shoulders, thighs … so he’d put out the offer to join him on the outside deck. He was only mildly surprised when Patrick had accepted, more so to discover that he … liked him. If it were possible to warm to a person instantly then Patrick is like a fucking fireplace. This strange mix of confidence and uncertainty, of sarcasm and wit, of kindness and vulnerability underneath it all …

And so David had kissed him. And Patrick had kissed him back. And time had stopped just a little, not to be too melodramatic, as it focused on Patricks lips, and the light tug of his teeth on David’s lower lip, and the heat of his skin under David’s fingers, and then …

Well. Then.

David is perversely reassured to find that enough of his character—such as it was—remains that he still feels the itch that has always preceded running away. But the fact also remains, novel though it is, that he needs to make sure that this man is okay. So, odd though it is, here he sits, on a deck he has kicked clear of broken glass, with his hand on Patrick’s broad back.

“I’m, um … I’m really sorry,” he says weakly, wishing fervently that he could think of something more helpful, more original, just … more.

Patrick shakes his head, with a half-hearted smile. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but it’s not your fault. Really.”

David winces and rolls his eyes. “No, but you probably didn’t need me to kiss you right now.” His arm is still attached to Patrick’s shoulder blades, rubbing in idle circles. He wonders vaguely if he should stop touching him.

His comment elicits a choked kind of laugh. “It’s really all right.” And he does sound a little better, for all that David can tell.

“Well. It looks it,” he jokes, relieved when Patrick laughs again, this time more naturally. “And don’t worry. This is actually not the worst reaction I’ve had to a kiss before.”

It’s Patrick’s turn to wince. “I don’t think you should take this as a reflection on your kissing,” he says in a low voice, and David actually sways towards him a little, drawn in by his gravity.

Whoa, boy.

“So you’re … I mean …” he waves his hand around descriptively, “okay?”

Patrick looks at him as though David has said something much more touching, as though he’s done something truly of note.

“I’m okay,” says Patrick, and to David his voice sounds raspy in a way that does something ridiculously pleasant to his insides. For a moment their eyes lock, and when Patrick looks down again David realises he’s been holding his breath. “To be honest,” Patrick continues, though it looks like it takes some effort, “that was the first time in a long while that I haven’t felt completely miserable.”

David tries not to let his face light up. He isn’t sure he’s succeeded. “Well,” he mutters, tempering his own inappropriate reaction, “there’s a ringing endorsement.” Another laugh from Patrick, another thrill up David’s spine.

“Believe me,” says Patrick, more steadily, “if you knew what I’ve been like you’d be glowing.” David’s eyebrows fly upwards. “I mean—if you—Jesus, what is the matter with me …”

As Patrick scrubs his hand over his face, David can’t help smiling. He likes this guy.

And it’s just that David wants to make him smile again, make him feel okay, make him feel … not completely miserable … it’s just that he thinks he might actually be able to help for once …

“Patrick,” he says softly, aware of how fragile this feels, aware that it’s probably a bad idea, aware and completely indifferent, because those eyes … “It’s okay to need something that makes you feel …” —Jesus, the air is getting heavy again— “I mean I don’t know what you’re thinking right now but if you …”

If you want me

From Patrick’s expression, it looks like he’s filling in the blanks in David’s inarticulation. His expression changes from confusion to understanding to interest to extreme interest before reverting to confusion once more. Hoping it’s not coming across as sleazy, David lifts his hand off Patrick’s shoulder and rests it on his own knee, palm upwards, offering.

“I’m not trying to get you to do anything, I’m just saying … if you’d like to …” He trails off as Patrick, hesitant and somewhat dazed, reaches out his hand and puts it in David’s, slowly linking their fingers together. It’s warm, and there are callouses on his fingers.

David’s heart races, his body vibrating, and this is such a bad idea for him …

Then Patrick seems to fall towards him—as though drawn by the same inexplicable gravity—until his lips meet David’s.

David feels Patrick’s hand tighten in his own, feels his other hand at his neck, pulling him closer. Testing a hypothesis, David licks his tongue out to Patrick’s lips—the other man whimpers softly and opens his mouth to David, and the feeling swirling in his stomach triples and rushes throughout his entire body, and he’s never felt—

Patrick draws back, but only so far as to drop his forehead against David’s. David can feel his breath on his lips, can see his chest heaving. He can relate; it’s been a long time since a kiss has done that to him.

“What do you need, Patrick?”

He doesn’t mean for it to come out as a whisper, but he hopes that it at least hides some of the desperation he knows is radiating off him.

God, he wants him.

Patrick lifts his forehead from David’s, and for a long moment just searches his eyes in silence. Then, in a quiet, broken voice, he says, “I just need to feel … good … for a while.”

David, shoving down the last of his own cautionary thoughts, nods steadily and gets to his feet, still holding Patrick’s hand. He helps him up and, with a deep breath, murmurs, “Okay.”

 

*

Patrick can’t say how long it takes them to get to David’s apartment. He‘s fairly sure they take a cab, but he doesn’t think they speak the whole way there, or at least he doesn’t—his head too foggy, too consumed with want, too reluctant to think about whether he should be doing this, whether he’s ready, whether—

Nope. He cuts off that thought with a shake of his head, refusing to think his way out of this. For one moment back there on the deck—two moments, really—he felt free of the weight that has taken up residence in his bones, and he wants to cling to it, to chase it, to know it better. He turns his thoughts back to that last kiss, to the way David’s tongue had danced against his, how alive he’d felt. He hasn’t felt like that since—

Nope.

Before he knows it, though, he’s following David up to his door, his heart in his mouth, his nerves jangling.

Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.

He focuses on David’s back, his soft sweater, his broad shoulders, his height, the back of his neck … the fog settles again, and follows them inside.

While David locks the door behind them, Patrick lets the interior of the apartment distract him. It is warmly decorated, tasteful, spare but not minimalist, with an eye towards beauty, perhaps even over comfort. Textures everywhere: exposed brick, smooth boards underfoot, a pristine fluffy white throw across the back of the couch.

David brushes past his shoulder and immediately Patrick’s body is thrumming again. The taller man settles in front of him and, smiling, reaches up to gently squeeze Patrick’s shoulder; Patrick closes his eyes and leans into the touch. Then they are kissing again, and he’s back in that fog, nothing but the two of them and the feeling of David’s lips and tongue, and the swoop in his belly … he feels his hand start to shake, and reaches out to bury it in David’s sweater.

And David is guiding him now, gently pushing them deeper into the apartment, down the hall, the heat in their kisses increasing, Patrick’s heartrate following suit. This is happening, they’re doing this, he’s—

The backs of his legs hit a mattress—

“Wait, wait, I don’t—I don’t know …”

David stops immediately.

Patrick feels his face flush with heat, equal parts arousal and deep embarrassment. His eyes clench shut, hand gripping David’s arm tightly, though whether to pull him in or hold him back Patrick doesn’t know.

“It’s okay,” David murmurs, with a squeeze to Patrick’s shoulders. Patrick finally looks up to see him pressing his lips together—lips swollen from contact with Patrick’s—his brow furrowed, dark eyes a little lust-cloudy but concerned. Patrick wants to apologise, to try to explain, but before he can, David has let go of his shoulders and is gesturing to the bed behind him, gently urging him to sit. He does, and David sits beside him. Leaning forward onto his knees, Patrick sighs.

“Sorry,” he says quietly, feeling foolish. What kind of man goes home with a stranger—practically begs him to fuck him—and then chickens out the minute they reach the bedroom?

It’s just sex, for god’s sake.

He should have known better; he’s never been one for hooking up, not even when he was in college, back before he knew he was gay. But tonight—tonight he had thought he could run a little, get a little further away from himself, try to lose himself in the fog.

No such luck.

“It’s okay,” David is saying, and he doesn’t sound annoyed, or frustrated. “We don’t have to do anything, you know. I can call you a cab if—”

“No!” It comes out more forceful than intended, but despite everything Patrick does not feel ready to leave just yet. He tries again: “I know, I just …” He huffs in frustration and tries to think of what to say. He settles on, “I’m in my head,” because it sounds better than I’m freaking out because I haven’t had sex in four years and I think I want to and I’m terrified, but I want to just get it over with. He rubs his hand over his mouth to stop himself saying anything close to the latter.

“So … so we should talk for a bit,” says David, sounding calm. Patrick looks up in surprise, but he just shrugs. “Get you out of your head for a bit.”

Patrick gives a doubtful smile. “Talk about what?”

David rolls his eyes and appears to give it a bit of thought. “I don’t know. What do you like to do on the weekends?”

What is it about this man, Patrick wonders, feeling his smile widen as he watches David’s hands twist in the air to illustrate his words. What is it that made him feel completely knocked off his feet but at the same time so … safe? He’s like a walking display of contradictions: all hard angles and soft expressions, delicate gestures and unmistakeable masculinity.

“On the weekends?”

“Mhm.”

“I don’t know, David,” he admits with a faint laugh. “I catch up on laundry, go grocery shopping—” amused, he watches as David rolls his eyes again, waving his hands to hurry him through what he obviously thinks of as the boring stuff. A chuckle rises out of Patrick’s throat, unbidden. “Then it’s all performance art and jello wrestling,” he adds, and felt a tiny thrill when David smiles at him.

“Sounds very hygienic.”

Another laugh. Since when does he laugh this much?

“I watch baseball. I read. I go on hikes.”

David quirks an eyebrow. “You’re an outdoorsman. Figures.”

Patrick has a vague thought that he should be insulted, but he just feels charmed. He smirks right back at David.

“Figures what?”

David waves his hand again, but his smile undercuts the dismissive gesture. “Your shoes,” he says simply, as if that explains it. Patrick looks down at his shoes: rubber soled, engineered for walking. He glances sideways at David’s pristine sneakers and feels his smirk widen as he compares the two.

“Can’t fault you on that logic.”

“Mhm.”

“All right then, David, what do you do on weekends?” He’s beginning to enjoy this back and forth. It feels … it feels like flirting.

“The usual. Watching trash TV. Spending hours filling up shopping carts online only to discard them because I can’t actually afford all the things I want. Eating my weight in pizza.”

Patrick grins. “Wow. That’s a lot of pizza,” he teases, and thrills again at the sharp look David shoots him to let him know the jab has landed.

Okay. Please don’t try to tell me you’re a health nut, because this?” he says, gesturing wildly at Patrick’s general person. “Isn’t the body of a vegan.”

Patrick looks down at himself and then up, feigning innocence. “Too much muscle?”

David laughs and raises an eyebrow. He runs a hand up and down Patrick’s arm, squeezing a little on his bicep, with a knowing smirk that serves to bring Patrick’s awareness back to what has brought them here in the first place. He feels his body wake up again, but this time the thrumming is contained to a low hum, his heart pounding a more manageable pace. Swallowing, he reaches out to touch the lightning bolt on David’s sweater.

“I like this,” he says softly. He doesn’t meant it to sound … well … seductive. He doesn’t mean anything. He just wants to touch it. But he hears David’s breath hitch a little. So he rests his palm against David’s chest, let the pads of his fingers press into the fabric and the firmness underneath … He looks up.

David’s eyes are dark and glittery, black pools of banked heat. Patrick feels himself tighten, shuddering softly on his exhale. They stay like that for a moment, close but not close enough, before Patrick decides it’s his turn to make a move. So he leans forward, pausing with his lips an inch away from David’s, glancing up to see his eyes have closed in anticipation.

“David …” he whispers, and removes the distance between them.

 

*

David understands sex. He loves sex. It’s one of the few aspects of his life in which he feels comfortable in knowing how to handle himself. And while he might not be too good for seduction and incitement, even a dash of manipulation, he also isn’t interested in trying to change anyone’s mind, or in sleeping with anyone who doesn’t express the gold standard of enthusiastic consent. And it isn’t as though he hasn’t ever encountered second thoughts amongst his partners; in such cases they usually either stammer out an excuse or leave without a word.

But … as has been proved time and again tonight, Patrick is different.

When his hand presses into David’s pectoral muscle, a disproportionate jolt of longing shoots straight from that part of his chest to his groin. And then Patrick just looks at him like that. And David knows that those eyes are going to be the death of him.

Or maybe it will be that mouth … because they’ve somehow managed to arrange themselves on the bed, Patrick on his back and David leaning over him, engaging in some truly spectacular making out. And then Patrick kicks the intensity up a notch, manoeuvring David’s head just where he wants him, and he hears himself moan—moan, for god’s sake—and David is gone.

Nope, none of that. Remember why you’re here. Just make him feel good.

Reluctantly, he turns away from Patrick’s mouth to drop kisses down his jawline, down to his neck. Unable to help himself, he bites softly at the skin there, revelling in the soft hiss that it draws from Patrick before soothing the spot with his tongue.

“Patrick,” he whispers breathily, moving to the skin below his ear—a whimper from Patrick momentarily shorts his thinking— “Tell me what you need.”

Patrick, whose hands have not been idle, and are currently sliding under David’s sweater to drag along the fabric of the t-shirt underneath, sounds dazed. “I don’t … I don’t know, I just … I want … god, I want …”

Fuck. David briefly draws his earlobe into his mouth. “Tell me,” he whispers. “I’ll make you feel good.” God, he wants to make him feel good. He wants to take him apart, slowly, carefully, ease the weight that has settled on those beautiful shoulders, draw those sounds from that pale throat.

“Oh god, David,” Patrick breathes, and the sound of his name uttered like this goes right to David’s cock. He isn’t the only one so affected, either, if the way Patrick is slowly thrusting upwards is any indication. “I just … I want to feel you.”

Patrick tugs again at David’s sweater, and he leaves his ministrations to relieve himself of it. It isn’t enough, evidently; Patrick sits up and reaches out to make quick work of the tee underneath before pulling David back to his mouth for a kiss. David lets him steer the kiss as he slides Patrick’s sweater and t-shirt up his chest and over his head as one, tossing them to the side. Then he presses forward to encourage Patrick to lay back, repositioning himself so they are chest to chest.

Patrick lets out a sigh at the contact, and now it’s this that’s going to kill David off. Wildly, he imagines he could come to that sound alone, given time. As it is he just wants more, more of everything, but forces himself to rein in and let Patrick set the pace for now.

And he does: his hands are everywhere at once, sweeping over David’s back, fingers dragging up across his chest hair and sliding into the thick hair on his head to card over his scalp. David bites gently against Patrick’s lower lip, hears him growl deep in his throat, and shivers.

Okay. Time to take back control. Now. Now, now, now.

“Patrick …” is as far as he gets before Patrick grinds his hips upwards into David’s, and oh.

Control. Now.

“Do you … do you want me to make you come, Patrick?” David manages at last, and oh god, the groan that answers him sends his own eyes rolling up into his head. Fuck. Fuckitty fuck. Death, slow and utterly satisfying.

“Please,” follows, more whimper than word, but enough to get Patrick’s point across.

Okay then. He can do this. But first … “I think maybe you … maybe it’s best if we steered clear of anything too … intense.” David grinds out the words as Patrick kisses his neck slowly, hungrily.

“Mhm.”

“But, if you want, we can take these … off?” He lowers his hand to the button of Patrick’s jeans, looking up to gauge his reaction. This part matters, the consent. It’s something David hasn’t always been granted, and he’s damned if he isn’t going to make sure Patrick knows exactly what he wants and what they’re doing.

Patrick’s eyes, dazed and hooded, follow David’s hand to his fly, and flicker back up again. David watches him draw in a shuddering breath before he nods, slowly at first and then with more conviction. David stops him with his mouth while his fingers set to work, and with more haste than grace has lowered Patrick’s jeans. He stands to slide them off his legs, and, noticing that Patrick is watching, slowly rids himself of his own jeans.

Now that they’re both naked save for their boxer-briefs, David hesitates—it might be best for them to keep some kind of barrier between them for now—they’ve only really just met, after all. He’s about to articulate this when Patrick reaches out and his fingertips brush David’s thigh, and, well, David is only human.

He lowers himself carefully, pressing the length of his body along Patrick’s, eyes slipping shut as he hears that sigh again. He joins their mouths once more, hungry now for the taste of him. And then Patrick’s hands slide to the small of his back and press down firmly as he raises his own hips to grind against David—

“Oh fuck …” Patrick is hard. Really, gorgeously hard. And neither of them are going to last long, not if Patrick means to keep up this pace. But it’s his pleasure they’re chasing, after all, and so David leans into it, pressing back down against him.

He’s had plenty of practice in making other people feel good, and Patrick’s responsiveness makes it pleasurably easy to navigate his wants and needs, to find the rhythms and pressure points that will push him closer to the edge, will draw those sounds from him. He likes it, draws gratification from being able to take someone apart like this, and Patrick is coming apart so beautifully beneath him.

And yet … usually there is a clear delineation between giver and receiver. Usually, David’s enjoyment is safely humming below the point of no return. But with Patrick … every time Patrick groans against his lips he feels a tremor go through him, and it’s blurring the line between them. He isn’t used to having his composure be so easily shaken, to be so close to losing—or worse, giving up—control in this kind of situation. Right now it’s a struggle to hold onto it, like peering over the edge of a thousand-foot drop and feeling the temptation to get closer. It feels … to be honest it feels exhilarating, but that’s scary in and of itself.

“Patrick … oh my god, Patrick,” he hears himself growl, knowing he would never have sanctioned those words if his brain had had a say in it. But it doesn’t. They drop from his mouth into Patrick’s without his permission, and it shocks him enough to wrest back control over his own mind. He takes over the rhythm, increases the pace gently, begins to deepen his hips, to press more intently against Patrick’s cock and linger on the grind. On cue, Patrick starts to pant against David’s mouth.

“Oh god … that feels … you feel … feel so good.”

That’s better. David reaches between them and closes his hand over Patrick’s erection through his underwear. The noise from Patrick’s throat is drawn out and guttural, and David starts stroking in earnest, still rocking his hips down against him. He picks up speed, changing his thrusts to short, strong movements, until finally he feels Patrick’s whole body shake beneath him, and he’s coming and coming and coming against David, a delicious, drawn-out moan lifted from his throat. David rocks him through his orgasm, slowly steadying the pace until Patrick stills beneath him, eyes closed, chest heaving. Short of breath himself and not a little proud, David is about to get up and take care of himself when Patrick, eyes still closed, tightens his arm around David’s waist, sliding his other hand down to his groin—he finds David’s aching cock and with languorous intent presses his palm against it. It’s so unexpected a move that David moans, finds himself pushing back instinctively. Patrick’s hand tightens around him through his underwear, and David bites his lip against a whimper. That gets more difficult when Patrick fixes his mouth to David’s shoulder, biting gently against the skin there as he kisses his way along to his neck.

Oh my god …” David breathes, rocking harder against Patrick’s hand.

Distantly, he considers backing away from it, back over that invisible line, but it’s too good, Patrick’s hand too delicious, his mouth too insistent, and it isn’t long before David’s own body is shuddering its release, harder than it has a right to from this kind of contact.

As the haze of his orgasm lifts, David sighs. Giddily, he wonders if Patrick will mind if he stays here on top of him for the rest of the night. Instead, he reluctantly pushes himself off Patrick’s panting chest and heads for the bathroom. A quick clean-up for himself, and then it’s back with a warm washcloth to take care of Patrick. His limbs are pliant and sex-drunk, and it’s easy enough to rid him of his boxer-briefs. As he deposits the cloth in the hamper and joins him on the bed, David notices Patrick’s shoulders are hitching, a sound bubbling from his lips in a surprised sort of laugh. David smiles, bemused, and is about to start teasing when the chuckles take a turn into something else. Something wrong.

Oh god.

Patrick is crying.

And not just tears, but heaving with it.

Horror-struck, David fights against his natural reaction: panic. Uncomfortable with displays of vulnerability at the best of times, the sight of his one-night stand coming unglued like this should send him running. Like, out of his own apartment, running. Instead he freezes in place, an intensely uncomfortable sensation coiling in his stomach as he tries to think of how best to act. He rakes his mind frantically back over his actions, trying to see if he’s misunderstood, has missed a cue, something that should have told him to stop. But … no. He’s pretty sure they’ve negotiated clearly enough, and Patrick certainly seemed to enjoy himself until a minute ago. Some people have experienced regret, sure, but it isn’t usually until at least a few hours afterwards, and it isn’t as though either of them are cheating on—

And as Patrick buries his face in his hands, now shaking with body-wracking sobs, David finally gets it.

“Oh Patrick.” All thoughts of running vanish, replaced with a deep sadness, and before he can think better of it, he’s pulled the other man into his arms, holding tight and enveloping him in all the warmth he can gather. He’s never heard a man weep so uncontrollably, so full of grief, and it squeezes his heart to hear it come from Patrick.

He has no idea whether he’s helping or hurting, but Patrick is sinking into David’s embrace, so he keeps going, running his hands up and down his back in what he hopes is a soothing manner. “It’s okay. I’ve got you,” he murmurs over and over in time with his touch. “I’ve got you.”

By the time his body has stopped shaking, Patrick is asleep.

 

*

He feels so heavy.

Not painful, but weighted, as though he has sunk into the mattress in his sleep, like all his muscles have given up trying to keep him afloat and have let him sink down, down into oblivion. Waking is like rising gently up through warm treacle, and when he breaches the surface Patrick feels his body jolt slightly at the difference.

He doesn’t recognise this bedroom.

It takes a moment for the events of the night before to rush back into the white space in his mind, culminating in the memory, before he fell asleep, of—

Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Oh god no.

A wave of heat and shame floods his cheeks and down his chest and he squeezes his eyes shut against it. The sheer embarrassment of crying—Jesus, sobbing—in front of someone you had just slept with, feels horribly juvenile, even despite the fact that they are strangers. He doesn’t think he can face it.

“Morning, sunshine,” comes a teasing voice on his right.

Patrick groans and covers his face. He hears the man beside him chuckle, and in spite of himself he feels the corner of his mouth curl up in something like a smile. Rubbing his hand down over his chin, he takes a deep breath, makes himself turn his head to look at David.

All the things he’d first noticed are still there, just softened by the aftermath of sleep and by the forgiving early light. Dark, laughing eyes, thick black hair and eyebrows, full lips and a knowing smirk. All hard angles and soft expressions …

Patrick swallows back the thoughts that rise, lets them be overshadowed by the feelings of guilt and shame, because at least those are familiar. He makes a valiant attempt at a smile, because, well … Patrick Brewer is nothing if not polite.

“Morning,” he croaks out.

There is a pause as Patrick tries to think of something else to say.

“David,” says David with a smirk, and Patrick actually laughs. “Just in case you …  you know … forgot.”

“I remember, David,” Patrick manages.

Tell me what you need.

He feels himself blush, but it’s already less uncomfortable. He wants to thank him, somehow, for managing once again to lessen the awkwardness he knows he is radiating.

Speaking of which …

He turns to face the ceiling; having to look David in the eye for this is asking too much. “I’m sorry about … last night … afterwards, I mean.” He feels pricking at the corners of his eyes—

No, absolutely not.

“Well, you were … going through a lot,” says David in his quiet, hesitant way, but Patrick gets the feeling he’s trying to be kind about it. It helps a little. “Are you feeling … okay?”

Patrick looks at him now. There is something almost nervous in David’s expression, which is a little surprising. He hasn’t seemed to find any of this awkward, not even Patrick’s obvious embarrassment. But now there is an anxious edge to his voice, and Patrick feels an unexpected urge to reassure him.

“I’m okay,” he says, hoping it’s enough to convey that while, yes, there are certain aspects of last night that Patrick regrets, the decision to have sex with David is not one of them. Then, because he wants to know, Patrick asks, “Are you?”

David’s eyes widen, and he blinks as if in confusion. Patrick blushes, and wonders if he’s just made some naïve faux pas. He toys with apologising—for what, exactly, escapes him, but it seems to be his default—when David nods slowly.

“Mhm.” He looks at Patrick for a moment, then seems to recover himself. “Did you want a shower?”

Patrick hesitates. Objectively, he does—nothing like a hot shower to gather one’s bearings—but if he says yes, does that mean that David will join him? Because he definitely isn’t ready for that.

“No, I’m … I’m okay, thanks.” He can already feel his body tensing, the burden of being his regular self—of being the man he has become—settling back into his bones.

“So …” he croaks out, wincing at his own voice. “I know this must come as a shock, but, uh … I don’t really, uh … do this often?” It ends as a question, and he wonders if he could sound any more pathetic. But when he sneaks a glance at David, his lips are still quirked to the side in a barely controlled smirk, softened by the expression in his eyes.

“Well, you hide it well.”

Another laugh huffs its way out of Patrick’s throat, and it sounds as surprised as he feels. If he’s ever imagined being in this particular situation, the last thing he would have envisaged is being able to laugh. Especially after humiliating himself so thoroughly.

He nods at the ceiling, chewing his bottom lip. Eventually, he tries again. “I’m sorry, I’m not exactly sure—”

“Of the proper one-night-stand etiquette?” says David, his tone light and teasing. “Relax. The guidebook is pretty vague on the morning after.”

Right, a one-night stand. He’s never been one of those before. He’s always kind of hated the idea of skipping out at the crack of dawn, or under the cover of darkness—it seems … rude. Then again, maybe it would be less uncomfortable than whatever this is.

“If you need to leave, you can,” says David, his voice soft again, and Patrick squeezes his eyes shut against the kindness there. Because he does need to leave; his skin is itching with discomfort, like he’s stuck in a body that’s the wrong shape, in the wrong space, because Patrick Brewer doesn’t sleep with strangers, Patrick Brewer doesn’t sleep with men who aren’t his fiancé.

And yet …

Right at the edge of things, and for a reason he can’t really point to, Patrick thinks there’s a part of him that might want to stay a little longer …

He turns to face David. He wonders if he—or a part of him—might want him to stay, too. It seems unlikely. “I do kind of have to get going,” he murmurs apologetically.

But David doesn’t seem offended, his smile still tucked into the corner of his mouth. “Sure.”

“I’m—”

“It’s really okay,” David says, and now his eyes are laughing at Patrick, who shoots him a look that says he’s noticed. David only smiles wider, so Patrick nods and sits up.

The covers fall from his chest and he sucks in a breath as the cold air hits his bare skin. He flushes again at the realisation that he is naked, but short of stealing the sheet to wrap it coyly around himself—which seems a bit redundant, among other things—there isn’t anything to be done about it, so he forces himself out of bed. He finds his clothes and gets dressed, trying to ignore the fact that David is watching him, trying not to think about whether that makes him feel better or worse. By the time he’s tying his shoes, though, David has risen from the bed and wrapped a robe around himself, and when Patrick straightens up he finds himself face to face with the taller man.

He is taller, but Patrick doesn’t feel towered over or intimidated; he gets the feeling that David makes sure of it, that he relaxes his posture to keep people comfortable. He shakes his head a little, unsure where that thought has come from, or whether it’s even true.

“This way,” says David, and walks off down the hall. Patrick follows, and soon they are standing in front of the door, facing each other with an odd sense of déjà vu. “Did you want me to call you a cab?”

Patrick looks down at his feet to hide his grin, shoving his hands in his pockets as he shakes his head. “No, I’m … I’m fine.” He looks up again to meet David’s gaze with a smirk. “I’ve got these great walking shoes on, see.”

He watches David glance down at the shoes he insulted the night before, his face instinctively contorting into a spectacular grimace, and Patrick’s laugh is bright and incredulous and once again unexpected.

“Well then you’re all set,” says David with light acidity, his eyes back to teasing.

Patrick isn’t sure how he’s ended up going home with the rudest and kindest stranger at the party, but though the heat of his embarrassment hasn’t really gone anywhere, and will likely boil over again before too long, he’s suddenly not sorry to have done so.

Shit, though. He’s staring, and David is beginning to look self-conscious.

“What?” he asks, eyes darting uncomfortably around them.

And before Patrick can really understand his reasons for doing it, or whether he is once again breaching etiquette, he leans forward and wraps David in a hug. He feels the other man hesitate before returning the embrace. He is tall, and strong, and soft, and it feels … nice.

“Thank you, David,” Patrick says softly, trying to communicate in those few words how grateful he is, not just for bringing him out of his grief for a few hours, but for his kindness, for not laughing in his face, for actually … holding him while he cried (oh god, he’d cried).

“You’re welcome.” It drifts softly over his shoulder, by his ear and barely there, but it helps Patrick feel a little understood.

Pulling back, he takes a deep breath, turning to reach for the doorknob. As he pulls the door open he turns back, ready to offer one last joke, but before he can, David places his hands either side of Patrick’s neck and kisses him.

Too stunned to think of anything else, Patrick responds, willingly but unfamiliar with the energy David is now projecting: hesitant, reaching, almost tender. Patrick feels David sigh into his mouth as he pulls back, feels himself sway a little, as though he’s lost his footing, comes to rest against David’s forehead. He blinks, trying to read David’s expression, but his eyes are closed as he murmurs, “You were amazing.”

Before Patrick can think what to say to that, David lets him go and walks back down the hall.

He stands stock still, hand still on the doorknob in an awkward half-turn. He makes a couple of false starts towards the door, half thinking that he should go after David to make sure he’s okay, to ask what the hell that meant, but it seems stupid to follow someone who has literally walked away, especially considering … everything else. As dismissals go, it’s… well, confusing as hell, actually. Ultimately, he settles on a faint, “Goodbye, David,” —because Patrick Brewer is nothing if not polite—before walking out and closing the door behind him.

 

*

As soon as he hears the door close, David holds a pillow up to his face and groans into it. Loudly.

I mean, WHAT. The ACTUAL. FUCK.

He had been so close to getting through it all with his dignity intact. And then, those fucking eyes

He can count on one hand the number of times he’s let himself be that vulnerable with someone, and he loathes everything about it. Mortification pools in his stomach and expands into the rest of his body, making him want to expel it as soon as possible.

He goes and tries a few experimental dry retches in the sink, hoping to get it out that way.

The really annoying thing is that other than his brain aneurism at the door this morning he had been really enjoying himself. Like, a lot. More than he had expected to. More than he has in a long time. And sure, Patrick’s breakdown the night before wasn’t ideal, but this morning, watching him try to navigate a situation while so clearly out of his element, while so obviously trying to do the right thing … it really shouldn’t have been as charming as it was. And yet David is charmed. A wildly uncharacteristic part of him had even considered suggesting they go for breakfast or something, which is immensely troubling, but at least that madness was short-lived. Anyway, it had seemed kindest to put Patrick out of his misery and let him go home—

And that was another thing: since when has David started going so far out of his way to be kind to his one-night stands? Or indeed anyone? The only answer he can scrounge up is that Patrick was … nice. And he’d wanted to be … nice to him.

Hm.

As for his actions at the door … he really can’t account for them. Maybe it has just been too long since he’s had sex. At least, since he’s had sex that good.

Fortunately, he is well-versed in humiliation, and so he sets to work brushing it aside. This, after all, is the best part of one-night-stands—you never have to run into them again, never have to explain awkward actions or find a way to get past it, so there’s no point in worrying, and you can just let it go, let it leave through the front door and down the stairs.

And so by 11 am David is showered, dressed, and on his way to the gallery, feeling that special mix of ego-boost and bone-deep satisfaction that only amazing sex with a gorgeous stranger can bring.

 

*