• ———— •
For the millionth time that day, Henry cursed at his phone. It was stupid, he was aware, it’s not like the device had feelings and would ‘try to do better’ in the future. It was entirely his fault for forgetting to put it on charge before he fell asleep last night; with barely any time to get to the bleeding airport this morning, he had to deal with a glaring twenty percent. Now, waiting to be called, he was stuck with the din of the airport rather than an audio book or music at the very least.
He sighed wantonly, slumping in his chair and reaching into his pocket to pull out a granola bar he stole from the hotel that morning, technically he shouldn’t have as he already paid for everything and couldn’t be charged, but he was hungry and airport food wasn’t exactly five star.
Neither was the bar, he thought dimly as he bit into it, hand cupped underneath to catch all the crumps.
He didn’t notice the pause in chatter until his second bite, in which his shirt was covered with little bits of granola and his hand basically had more oats on it than his mouth did, but when he felt a presence fill in beside him, he cursed all the gods he could imagine, who sits next to a stranger? When there are so many empty seats?
He looked over, he had to see who broke such a strict unspoken rule, and nearly choked.
Alex Claremont-Diaz. The Alex Claremont-Diaz. The actor. The singer. The music-writing-movie-acting-extraordinaire, with background soliciting work and a graduate from NYU. Top of the class, apparently, all his life, with a spark in his eyes and a glisten against his dark brown skin.
Henry blinked, then really realised the state he was in and clamped his hand around the oats, swallowing everything in his mouth and shoving the wrapper around the bar, hiding it in his pocket and wincing at the crumps that were definitely sharper than necessary.
Alex snorted beside him - snorted - Henry was going to die.
“Nature valley?” He supplied, an amused look on his beautiful face. If Henry was ever asked his celebrity crush, it would be him, hands down. Even if he was appallingly straight and had girls hanging off of him, Henry would beg for just a night with this man in his sheets - he’d be happy for the rest of time.
“Uh-“ he croaked, “no, well yes I suppose. South Wales valleys” he supplied.
Alex gave him a curious look, Henry’s cheeks flushed.
“I mean… the granola bar”
Henry looked down at the wrapper, ‘nature valley’ stared back at him cruelly.
“Oh!” he said, hoping the floor would swallow him up. “Of course that’s what you meant. Yes. Nature valley. Christ” he muttered under his breath, but instead of moving away, Alex laughed, and Henry’s heart stuttered in his chest.
“I’ve seen Wales. Beautiful”
Henry hummed, twisting his ankles together, “yes, quite”
A bodyguard, Henry assumed, leaned over Alex’s shoulder and whispered something in his ear. He nodded and sent Henry an award-winning smile, standing up and waltzing away with his team surrounding him.
Henry slumped in his chair, using his free hand to cover his face. He was a moron. A buffoon. Why the hell would he know to ask about where he came from!? Truly, the universe was out to get him.
When he opened his eyes and noticed everyone staring at him with different sort of amused-confusion, he stood up and dumped the crumbs into the nearest bin, shaking his head solemnly.
“How about… him?” Bea turned her phone screen towards Henry, he leaned over the small table carrying their cups of tea, gazing at the semi-attractive man with a perfectly aligned smile and scarily white teeth. His hair was bright and combed back, green eyes enhanced, the background blurred slightly to make him the focus.
Henry shook his head and leaned back, resting his hand atop the glass surface.
“Nowhere near my type” he dismissed.
Bea gave him a withering look, crossing her legs under the table. “Your type is Alex Diaz”
“Claremont-Diaz” Henry said wistfully, Bea rolled her eyes and placed her phone face down beside her mug of tea, shifting forward to take a sip. They were outside a small Café in Milford Haven. The gentle clanks of boats swaying in the Marina beside them serve as background noise to the otherwise quiet part of town.
“Who knows?” Bea said, smiling a little mischievously. “After you met a month ago, he might be into you, too”
She laughed as Henry’s expression twisted into a glare, “I thought we promised to never speak of that moment”
“I’m going to torment you with it for the rest of your life” she dismissed smoothly, finishing the last droplets of her tea. Henry, unfortunately, had done so ten minutes prior. He couldn’t resist a good Earl Grey and envied Bea’s self control to let it last. It was a warm day, too, it wouldn’t have gone cold.
“How do you do it?” Henry said solemnly, eyes watching over the docks. Tall, brown buildings stared at him across the large, open space of water filled with all kinds of sailing boats. He remembered his father docking here and then spending the entire day exploring the town; he often comes back with Bea or his mother, or sometimes even his brother Philip and Martha with their two kids, daughter and son. It’s similar to any average town, but his father loved it for some reason, and that love has seeped into his bones and settled over his heart.
“How do I what?”
“Talk with celebrities” he said, waving his hand around.
“Maybe because I am one,” Bea replied playfully, resting her chin on her crossed hands. “You get used to it, after awhile”
Bea was in a band, lead singer and guitarist. With two other members, her best friends, they rose to the top of the charts and have become exceedingly popular with teenagers and young adults. They’ve done two tours, countless concerts, and met thousands of people.
But here, in Milford, she found solace in the fact not many people knew her.
“Maybe I could set you two-“
“Absolutely not,” Henry cut in sharply, “you will do nothing of the sort. No meddling, none of it” he shook his head to emphasize his point. Bea was looking at something over his shoulder, so he continued.
“I doubt he’d ever want to see me again after the poor display in the airport. If he knew we were related he might- Jesus Christ” he breathed, gripping onto the edge of the metal table, legs carved ornately with flowers and leaves. Alex appeared, from seemingly nowhere, bright grins and tightly curled brown locks falling across his forehead. He glowed under the sun, standing just out of the shade where they were situated, bodyguards leaning on the blue railing in the distance, cutting them off from falling into the murky dock’s water.
“Might just what?” He teased, then flicked his eyes to Beatrice, “Bea, thanks for the recommendation. It’s a beautiful town”
Henry sent daggers towards his sister who smiled politely, nodding along.
“Isn’t it? Henry loves it here. Our father spent a lot of time wandering around the shops”
“I can’t stay for long” Alex said, hints of disappointment lacing his voice. “But, I already ordered some cake. Would be rude if I disappeared before eating it” and just like that, he dragged a chair to their table and sat down.
Henry fixed his posture, swallowing thickly and pushing his mug of tea away to give him more space. He looked positively beautiful and Henry didn’t think he could manage to force words past his lips if he tried.
Easily, Bea fell into a conversation with him. Apparently, they didn’t know each other well, from what Henry knew about his sister and how she interacted with people, but they knew each other enough to send infrequent texts on Twitter.
“Fuck” Alex groaned for the millionth time, wrapping his mouth around his fork as he chewed on another bite of his cake. “This shit is delicious”
Henry wondered if he could win a medal for the mental gymnastics he was subjecting himself to to not imagine Alex groaning in other ways or wrapping his lips around other things.
Like his cock.
He crossed his legs and closed his eyes to let out a breath.
“Might come here again for the cakes alone” Alex went on, shoving the last bite into his mouth and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Henry’s into baking” Bea said, Henry’s eyes snapped open. “And his cakes are better than these, if you believe it”
Alex’s eyes trailed over and Henry coughed, “erm- yes. Well, it’s a hobby, mostly-“
“Henry helped out in mum’s bakery everyday since he could walk,” Bea went on, Henry didn’t glare this time but definitely imagined shoving her into the docks, “and he loved it. When our dad passed, mum let it fall on the left side, so he spent a few years keeping it afloat instead of finishing Uni”
“Alright, that’s quite enough-“
“And” Bea giggled, completely ignoring her brother and facing an amused Alex. “His favourite thing is baking for others. He’d happily send some stuff to you, if you ever asked” she finished.
Henry pressed his lips together, willing away the burning red his cheeks had become. It was all true, Philip blew a casket when he found out Henry had dropped out on his first year but, after awhile, and many evenings spent in the bakery helping him clean up after a long day (mostly because Martha insisted he did) he realised everyone went down different paths in life, and this was Henry’s.
He didn’t work there anymore, though whenever he visited he took up part time, his mum had full reigns once again and she adored it. It was good to see her in her element.
“Sounds great. My favourite is coconut tres leches cake” he said with a wink and Henry just about swooned, ready to collapse off his seat and kneel before the man he’d do absolutely anything for. Maybe it was awful. Maybe he was just another silly fan. But he was irreversibly gone for his crooked smiles, dark features and dumb humour.
He had to leave, then, and didn’t offer a way for Henry to give him the cake, but he made a mental note just in case, and turned his attention to an innocent looking Bea.
“I hate you”
“I love you, too”
“You would look glorious, my darling!” He said insistently, holding a hideously colourful jacket against Henry’s chest, his face pinched in confident amusement.
“No,” Henry said firmly, pushing it away. “I couldn’t bare the attention it would attract”
“Any attention would be an improvement” he sighed, hanging the jacket back up with an air of regret. He was putting it on, Henry knew he was putting it on, the fake pout, the sad gleam in his eyes, yet no matter how much he understood Pez wasn’t actually upset, he couldn’t help but give in.
“Fine” he agreed flatly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “We can get the bleeding jacket”
“I knew you’d come around!” Pez absolutely squealed, plucking it up and ordering he would pay for it without giving Henry much choice. Folding the jacket inside of his basket filled with all sorts of colourful fabrics (thankfully for him rather than Henry) he skipped over towards the counter, Henry speed walking to keep up with his visible excitement.
Since Pez first spotted the crime of colours, Henry had noticed a conundrum outside of the shop. Loud voices and shutters of cameras. He peered across the building to try and peek through the windows, but with so many mannequins and posters, he couldn’t see anything at all, other than blinding flashes and surges of crowds.
He tried to ignore it, but beside the till the voices only grew louder.
Pez held up his wrist and scanned his Apple Watch against the machine, it pinged, accepting his cash. Henry truly wondered if he’d ever run out; always buying such expensive clothes, devices, and the latest trends. But, honestly, he never truly focused on that side of him. Pez was his best friend since school; he knew him in ways others didn’t.
“We’ve been asked to make sure customers exit the store as quickly as possible and turn right down the street, if that’s not too much trouble” the lady behind the desk requested kindly.
“Of course, dear. Any reason why? Juicy celebrity gossip, perhaps?” Pez offered, collecting his paper bag and sliding the handles over his bent forearm, wrist hanging limply. Henry rolled his eyes fondly.
“We weren’t given specific details, sorry, sir”
“No trouble at all, thank you so much” he said, large smiles and sincere tones, curling his arm through Henry’s and taking off down the store.
“I must know who it is” Pez gasped out excitedly, Henry stumbled over his feet to keep up with his pace, but couldn’t expect much from someone who has befriended too many celebrities to count. Not that he brags about it, it’s just a thing for him to randomly mention he spent the night at Kim Kardashian’s house… or something similar.
Hand on the door, Pez pushed it open wide and sucked in a breath when the celebrity causing all the ruckus came into view. Apparently, they couldn’t wait for Henry or Pez to leave, and he was halfway shoved inside the store, two guards following, slamming shut the door and gesturing him further inside. However, he paused, eyes fixed onto Henry’s.
Henry swallowed, “Alex…”
Pez looked between them, then threw his head back to laugh. “This” he said between breaths, “is the greatest day of my life”
“I know them” Alex assured his bodyguards while Pez all but jumped upon Henry, whacking his arm from pure joy while he desperately tried to reign him in, cheeks flushing a dark red.
“Over here, boys” Pez enticed, leading them to the corner of the shop beside the changing rooms, drawing up three stools and setting them close in a circle. He sat down elegantly, one leg crossed over the other. Henry gave him a look, sitting beside him, not expecting Alex to willingly join them, especially not with such a curious grin.
“You’re Percy Okonjo, right?” Alex began, holding out his hand to shake. Pez reached and with a gentle, if not overly gracious grip, shook it like he was the damn queen.
“That’s me, babes, and my best friend here Henry, though you two already seem…” his eyes flicked between them, Henry caught the mischievous gleam there and felt his insides shrivel and die. Pez would never outright tell Alex about his crush, though with how much he’s complained about it he deserves it, but that doesn’t mean he won’t meddle. “Well introduced”
Alex laughs, Henry crumples in his chair. “Yeah, we’ve met twice now. Didn’t realise you had so many famous friends, H”
The nickname would’ve killed him if he didn’t have a shred of dignity left, he cleared his throat and nodded. “Well- yes. I was famous as a child, so I suppose…” he waves his hand around, “it comes by nature”
Alex’s eyebrows shoot up, he leans forward in instant interest. “Famous for what? Were you one of those child actors in adverts for kids games?” He suggested eagerly.
Pez snorted, “he could only dream”
“Please” Henry dismissed, “the last place I want to be is before a camera. No, my father, he… Are you familiar with James Bond?”
Alex squinted his eyes, the gears shifting in his head as he gazed at Henry’s face, flickering away from his eyes to take in it all, and his breath caught in his throat, hands folding together on his lap.
Then, Alex leaned back, realisation there on his face. “Holy shit. Arthur Fox? He was such a babe!” He exclaimed, Pez dissolved into laughter as Henry blushed bright red and hid his face in his hand.
“I beg you to not-“
“He was so hot! Like! Childhood crush level hot. Not that I’m gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, objectively, hottest man, like, ever, close second to Mark Hamill, obviously” he said in a bit of a rush, Henry and Pez shared a stunned look.
Instantly, he filed this information away under ‘Alex definitely isn’t straight but has no idea yet’ and fixed him with a polite smile, even if his heart might break out from his chest. He could feel Pez practically vibrating beside him, he wished he could send him a glare without Alex noticing.
“Yes, well…” he trailed, not exactly knowing how to end this conversation, or move onto the next topic, without lightly mentioning the fact his father had passed. But, moments later, before Alex could continue his spiral, his face dropped and eyes widened.
“Uh… shit, I’m sorry”
Henry shook his head, “it’s quite alright. It’s been years, it doesn’t affect me as much, anymore” he spoke earnestly, the grief was still there, and he knows it won’t go away, but instead of forcing it to, he’s building his life around it, embracing it as apart of him, and his memories of his father.
Alex nodded, smiling once more. “Did you ever get to go on set?”
And that’s how their conversation spiralled for the next two hours, somewhere between Pez managed to sneak away and shoot Henry a text, something about ‘leaving the two alone’ and also ‘being bored out of his mind’ which made him snort when he read it.
Unfortunately, their time was up all too soon, and Alex was escorted away from Henry, leaving him with a bag by his feet, filled with that damned jacket.
He sighed, cupping his face. How he’s had the chance to meet his celebrity crush thrice he had no idea, but he knew this crush was developing well past the point of ‘celebrity’ and that thought terrified him. Also, made him feel like a crazy, creepy fan.
He left the shop, the streets were empty, and so was his heart.
Henry lived in New York. The process for nationality was long and emotionally draining, he reached the point of almost giving up more times to count, and he never wants to hear the word visa again in his life, but he managed it, and with joint nationality, he could spend however much time here or home in the UK.
He’s had a plethora of jobs, but his current (and he believes to be his life long commitment) was his LGBT Youth centres, expanding to connecting states over the past two years and finding plausible means to open a few across Britain, it was his baby, the thing he’s most proud of, compared to his baking, up and coming books, the fact he got into Oxford (before dropping out).
Knowing he’s helped so many kids, teens and young adults through phrases he struggled with meant the world to him, and he’d continue doing it until the day he physically couldn’t anymore. At that stage, he hopes there are people who can take it on after him, and keep up the ‘legacy’ he had left behind.
However, with all the good that comes with living in New York, there’s the bad’s. Like, for example, walking down the streets at two am because he was baking and didn’t realise until halfway through he was missing a key ingredient, forcing him out the house with his beagle trotting by his side as some sort of protection from the terrifying things haunting NYC streets.
He’s already seen more than he ever would have wanted to; truly this was a horrible idea, but he couldn’t leave the baking until tomorrow because nothing would be right and he was too stubborn to give up now.
The store was open twenty four hours. As he stepped in, the bell above him jingled. A middle aged man sat at the counter, reading from a kindle. As his eyes slowly lifted up to him, Henry held David up.
“Yeah,” the man grunted, returning to his reading. Henry pressed his lips together and kept David tucked under his arm as he scooted around the aisles, searching high and low for a carton of orange juice and actual oranges. He must’ve been there for ten minutes until he gave up, grabbed two bags of oranges because he can just squeeze them which, in retrospect, was probably much healthier, before walking to the cashier and placing them down.
“Four dollars, seventy five cents” the man said, only glancing at the products rather than scanning him. Not wanting to get into any sort of tussle, Henry easily handed over the change, grabbed the bags and swiftly left the store, letting David drop back down to the ground, ruffling up his ears.
“That, David, is why you mustn’t talk to strangers. They’re terrifying” he said, smiling as David licked his hand as if agreeing.
Scooping up his leash, he started the journey back home.
For two am on a Wednesday, he noticed a certain bar was quite lively. A night club, drugs presumably handed alongside alcohol, all sorts of one night stands and general teenage high school party energy, but with adults who should know better.
He strayed away from them, only Pez could ever drag him to a party but knows better than to bother with those types. So, it wasn’t the flashing lights and loud voices that drew him in, it was the subtle crying coming from the alley beside it.
As soon as he registered the first sob, his heart constricted. Panic coursed through him and he wrangled his phone from his pocket, ready to call the police if this was an emergency. However, peering down the alley, he could only see the outline of a man, leaning on the grungy brick wall and covering his face.
Henry should’ve left, they were probably drunk, accidentally cheated, was cheated on, and didn’t need a stranger trying to empathise with him, but something tugged him closer, and with David happily by his side, he supposed no immediate danger was in sight.
He stopped a few feet away, threading David’s leash through his fingers awkwardly, the bag of oranges as a sort of comedic relief to this whole experience.
“Excuse me?” He said, as softly as he could manage. Even still, the stranger jumped, and Henry felt awful. “I’m so sorry, I noticed you were crying and-“
He sniffled, “Henry?”
Henry nearly dropped the oranges, “Alex?” He said, astonished, heart ripping open at the mere sound of his cracked, vulnerable voice.
He wiped at his face, stepping closer to get a good look. They recognised each other from their voices alone and something about that made Henry feel like he was floating, for a moment, until he was brought back after noticing how upset he looked.
“What happened? Are you alright?” Henry worried.
Alex forced out a huff of laughter, crossing his arms over his chest and looking over his shoulder. “It’s fucking stupid”
“It’s not stupid if it has you this upset” Henry countered smoothly.
Alex looked at the ground, scuffed his shoe, then met his gaze. “I thought- fuck” he muttered, “I was with a group of friends, in there” he jerked his head at the club, “but turns out they were just… using me” he shrugged, bringing his jacket close to his body. “I didn’t bring Cash with me because I thought I’d be safe with them” he clenched his jaw, the mere memory sending a fire through his eyes. “Apparently not,” he finished bitterly.
Henry’s heart hung, and he wished nothing but the worst on all the idiots who gained Alex’s trust just to stab him in the back so immaturely and downright horrendously.
“I’m so sorry, Alex”
He shook his head, “I should’ve expected it… I need to get home” he changed the subject, waving his hand around dismissively.
“Right… did you bring a car?”
Alex smiled bitterly, “I was chauffeured”
“Call a taxi and send it to my house, we can walk back together… David here will keep us protected” at the glimmer of attention his ears straighten, standing up on his hind legs to lean against Henry’s leg, eyes almost pleading to let him do this.
Alex laughed, and the sound was music.
Henry frowned, “yes. After Bowie”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, taking a moment to seemingly recalibrate.
“Why not just Bowie?”
“On the nose” he shrugged. Alex opened and closed his mouth, then shook his head, dropping the whole thing.
“Why your house?”
Henry smiled, “I… erm, well I made something for you” he admitted.
Alex’s face lights up in curiosity, falling in step with him as they begin the walk. The whole time, Alex tried to wrangle what the surprise was, but Henry was persistent - or, more accurately, they were just as stubborn as each other.
It was only twenty minutes, but Henry adored every second, and wished the walk would’ve lasted forever. During the intervals Alex wasn’t pestering him, he spoke about his family, his sister June and best friend Nora, how he thinks they’re dating but isn’t entirely sure. How his parents divorced when he was a kid and spent most of their time focused on politics.
Henry mentioned more about his own, too, earning a slightly shy admittance from Alex that he had done some research into Arthur Fox and his family. Philip, he discovered, was his older brother, and instead of feeling creeped out, Henry’s heart leaped to his throat at the thought of Alex spending time thinking about him, enough to do research.
At this point, he was barely holding himself back from cupping his face and kissing his never ending words off his lips.
They reached his house, a taxi waiting parked on the curb. As Alex jogged over and leaned through the window, Henry darted inside and unclipped David’s leash, letting him roam free of the living room as he hurried into the kitchen and dropped the oranges on the counter. Opening the fridge, he reached in and grabbed a cute container filled with coconut tres leches cake, looking through the clear plastic to make sure it was perfect. It was, of course it was, he’s made similar cakes before, but with Alex, it had to be pristine.
“Close your eyes?” Henry said once rejoining him, holding the box behind his back. Alex grinned and followed command, holding out a hand and bouncing on the balls of his feet. Henry laughed quietly and placed the box in his open palm, as soon as he felt the cold surface his eyes darted open, pulling the box close to see. Then, his face softened.
“It is your favourite, yes?” Henry said, heart fluttering.
Alex’s smile broadened, and without warning he threw himself at Henry, wrapping his arms around his neck and bringing him down close. Henry froze, hands hovering in the air, barely registering the fact he was being hugged before his body took over and hugged back, coiling around his waist and feeling his lean body. His eyes slipped shut, willing away the urge to never let go. And kiss him. At the same time.
Eventually, Alex leaned back, his face brighter than the sun.
“Thank you, H, this is… really sweet” he said sincerely, tracing his hand over the edge of the cool box. “I bet it tastes great”
“I hope so,” Henry smiled.
Alex rolled his eyes, “don’t be humble. I’ll see you around?”
“Of course” Henry bowed his head, heart screaming to ask him to stay, but he couldn’t do such a thing. Alex slipped into the taxi and they waved through the window until the car was out of sight, leaving Henry alone on the pavement, thoughts jumbled, heart warm yet cracking.
The gentle clicking of the clock on the mantle did nothing to deter Henry’s eyes from his phone screen, which had been glued there for the past five minutes. They were burning but that didn’t matter because Alex, fireball Alex with passion in his eyes and determination bleeding through him, posted a tweet coming out as bisexual, confirming what he had figured out in the shop a few months ago - he was too far in the closet to realise sooner, but Henry was desperate to know what made him come to this conclusion.
Has he met someone? Another man? Has he had sex and realised he liked more than just women? Was he going to announce a boyfriend on Instagram with a cute, candid photo and a cheesy caption?
He slumped into his couch, rubbing his face tiredly. As soon as he tweeted it, he was trending, the world going crazy over the fact such a popular, mainstream celebrity isn’t straight, and how he’s managed to curate a following and a list of movies, top of the chart songs, before coming out. Meaning people who don’t like him anymore have to live with the fact they liked him once, and enjoyed the things he produced.
He couldn’t help but grin a little at the thought, tapping the edge of his phone screen. He knew Alex lived in New York, but he didn’t know where, and he wasn’t going to try and find him because that was beyond creepy and he had limits, but he really wanted to find a way to congratulate him.
Although with his luck, he’s sure to bump into him eventually.
Later in the day, with David prancing around his side, he stepped into the dog park and made a beeline for an empty bench far enough away from others he wouldn’t be roped into conversation with strangers. David was vibrating in excitement, tail swishing so fast Henry feared he could take out a small child.
Sitting down towards the centre of the bench (selfishly deterring others from joining him) he looked down at David and scuffed up his ears.
“Sit? Good boy” He crooned as David immediately obeyed him, eyes glued to his.
“Have a good day, make friends, don’t talk to strangers” Henry repeated his usual spiel, smiling to himself dumbly all the while. Once David barked in agreement, he removed the leash and let him sprint off to his doggy friends, all of them sniffing, barking, jumping around each other like crazy.
Relaxing back into the bench, Henry watched on fondly, keeping out of direct eye-contact with the other owners. He was well known around for having such a trained dog, one who returns instantly upon his command and practically does whatever he says, everyone requests training tips and give exclamations of, ‘how did you do it?’ while he smiles politely and gives them basic information.
He was as introverted as introverts come, and he didn’t want to explain the ins and outs of training after meticulously combing through website after website to give the best life for a dog he hadn’t even adopted at that stage.
He met young David in a local shelter, fell in love and adopted him the same day. They’ve been inseparable since. Henry would kill for him.
He took his phone back out of his pocket and opened Twitter, automatically clicking into Alex’s account and gazing at his pinned tweet. It was his coming out post, obviously, but he couldn’t help clicking on his profile picture to enlarge it. It was him, arm wrapped around his sister, both of them smiling at the camera. They were beautiful; it must run in the family.
Just as Henry began his daily scroll through Alex’s account, he felt a presence lean over his shoulder, silent in their approach. He tensed, ready to whip around and come face to face with a creepy stranger, but a familiar, honey-coated voice melted into his ears.
“Am I really that interesting?”
Henry turned his head, breaking into a smile against his consent. “Alex. Hello”
He beamed, jumping over the back of the bench and graciously swooping in beside him, their thighs brushing. Henry’s pulse jumped.
“Henry. Hello” he mimicked, peering at his phone. Quickly, Henry locked it, earning a bubble of laughter from him.
“Shy? I am that interesting, by the way, so don’t feel bad” he said dismissively, looking out at the park filled with all sorts of dogs. “Where’s David?”
Henry followed his line of gaze, instantly able to spot out his furry friend. “Over there” he held out a hand, Alex leaned impossibly closer and his breath hitched as his hand rested on his thigh for a moment. This was it; he was going to die and leave poor David stranded in the dog park forever. Not that he would mind.
Once he found him, he made a soft noise from his throat, leaning away, allowing Henry to breathe once more. “He’s adorable. Just like his dad”
Henry croaked around a half-attempted word and Alex covered his mouth to laugh, the corners of his eyes crinkling in delight. Henry flushed, twisting his hands together.
“You’re a menace”
“That I am” he hummed, stretching his arm behind Henry’s shoulders. His stomach miraculously took up the skill of somersaults.
“Why are you here?” Henry queried, briefly worrying he might come off as a bit rude, but Alex seemed unfazed.
“Saw you from the sidewalk, wondered if you’d recognise me” he said, smirking lightly. “Didn’t even notice my disguise”
Henry finally took him all in and noticed that yes, he was wearing an outfit Alex Claremont-Diaz wouldn’t ever be usually caught in, with a baseball cap, sunglasses (since removed and tucked into his shirt) and a face mask he also removed once sitting down, it hung off one ear.
“Well” Henry said, “your voice gave it away”
Alex grinned, “you seem to like it”
Henry glanced at him, “understatement” he murmured, loud enough for him to hear, and had a little victory at the way his eyes widened and lips twitched in a flustered state.
“Flirt” Alex combatted, “anyway, did you… uh…” he gestured to his phone wordlessly.
Henry took a moment to understand, “ah, the tweet? Yes. I did. Congratulations” he tipped his head, “though I should’ve expected it, you have a raging crush on my father, after all”
“That is completely objective!” He instantly argued, Henry grinned. “That man is hot to anyone, and people who disagree are liars” he said, crossing his arms stubbornly. Henry hummed and shifted to face him more, catching the way the sun glistened his hair and becoming mesmerised by it.
“I’m sure they are”
“Anyway” he said pressingly, “thank you. For… that and…” he waved his hands around as if that held all the answers, “y’know?”
Henry furrowed his eyebrows, “yes, I know entirely” he deadpanned.
Alex narrowed his eyes, “asshole. Thanks for!” He gestured again, “y’know… making me realise I was bi” he said quietly yet hurriedly, almost closing in on himself which wasn’t like Alex at all.
Henry’s mouth formed around unspoken words, his world coming to a screeching halt as his brain desperately tried to keep up with this new information. Alex realised he was attracted to men because of him? Not some man he had met and subsequently fallen in love with? Suddenly, he could sprint a thousand miles, but decided responding verbally would be much healthier, for the both of them. Besides, Alex was staring at him insistingly and he couldn’t leave when he appeared so vulnerable.
He could say so many things; in his defence a lot of them did come to mind, but his brain chose one at random and didn’t think about it before going for it.
“I’m gay” he blurted, almost slapping a hand against his face.
Alex’s vulnerable look dropped, and a smile took over mere seconds later.
“Good to know. So, we’re in the same boat, then?”
“I…’ve been gay for years” Henry croaked. Alex quirked an eyebrow.
“Not that” he said, “I just mean-“ he threw his hands up, then shook his head. “Actually, never mind, we’re probably not-“
“Wait, what boat-?”
“Doesn’t matter. Thanks, for the cake” he changed the subject, looking a bit dejected. Henry’s heart crushed, because they were almost definitely in the same boat when it came to attractions, but he didn’t want to push if Alex genuinely wanted to move on. He only came out recently, everything must be new and awkward.
He faced forward. “Of course, did you like it?”
“Yeah. Could use less coconut”
Henry snorted, “it had the perfect amount-“
“Nope” he popped the ‘p’, “I’m an expert, sweetheart. Less coconut”
Henry’s heart fluttered at the pet name, “how long have you been baking?”
“It’s not about the baking, I’ve had enough tres leches’ to know exactly how they should be made and you added too much coconut” he insisted, Henry could tell it was playful, and relaxed again.
“Maybe I’ll let you make them next time, if you’re so adamant about this”
Alex glared at him mildly, “I could make one… if I wanted to”
“You’re a fucking ass”
“You don’t seem to mind” Alex shot him a look again but his resolve broke moments later and he laughed, Henry pressed his lips together, hiding his own amusement.
“Tell me about baking” Alex requested once he calmed down, Henry was a little taken back but he happily divulged. Whenever he did talk about baking, he was usually melt with bland smiles and awkward nods, as if they were paying attention when they obviously weren’t, but Alex was interested, asking corresponding questions and leaning in close as if to tune his focus, nodding and smiling, taking in what he had to stay and storing it in his glorious mind. Henry knew he was an actor; this could all be a ruse, but why would he put in the time to do such a thing?
Henry trusted his gut, and more importantly trusted Alex, to care and not brush something he was passionate about aside.
The sun had shifted it’s position across the sky by the time David was trotting over, exhausted by the excursion and settling down beside Henry’s feet.
“Oh, christ” Henry muttered, checking his watch. “Time flew by”
He noticed Alex staring at him fondly and he quirked the corner of his lip, clipping David to a leash while speaking.
“Your accent” he supplied, “I like it”
Henry’s heart began swimming laps, he automatically plucked David into his arms just for something to do while desperately calming himself down. Mentally fanning his heated face.
“Yours is pleasant to listen to, too” he returned after a moment, Alex grinned and shuffled closer.
“Like the south, huh?” He put on a thick emphasis, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he crossed his legs, unbelievably and humiliatingly turned on by the drawl of his voice and laid back expression.
“You’re insufferable” he muttered, keeping his eyes glued on dogs returning to their owners, just as tired as David who had since settled in his lap.
Alex hummed, the ghost of his breath fanning against Henry’s neck. All too soon, he pulled away, Henry wanted to reach for him but he just couldn’t.
“I should go” he said, Henry could hear the disappointment evident in his tone, and if that didn’t make him feel good about himself he didn’t know what would. “This was fun. I’ll see you around, Fox” he promised, with the audacity to wink, before returning his mask, sunglasses and walking away, hands shoved inside his pockets.
Henry breathed out, falling against the back of the bench and squeezing shut his eyes.
“I wish I could be more like you, David,” he murmured quietly.
David simply snored away.
Henry held up the stapler gun against the corner of a sheet of paper, securing it to the cork board hanging off of the wall. It was filled with all sorts of drawings the younger kids at the shelter had made earlier that morning, now they were off for lunch and Henry was left to clean everything up - today was an empty day when it came to volunteers, it was him and two others, not including the cooks, and he let them supervise the dining hall as he spent the next hour returning the main room to how it looked before.
He stepped back to take it in, a smile lifting his face. They were all beautiful, colourful and unique to each child. He couldn’t be more proud of every single one of them.
Too happy for words, he returned the stapler gun to his office draw, sitting opposite Pez who was busy tapping away at his computer.
“They’re great artists” he said offhandedly, scanning over some paper documents on his desk, a few familiar names hitting back at him. Reoccurring older teens who were always welcome to come back and find home here until they had suitable living arrangements.
“The next Frida Kahlo’s” he agreed, pulling himself away from his work and grinning vibrantly. “By the way, my dear, you’re as observant as a dead mouse”
Henry furrowed his eyebrows, “excuse me?”
Pez sighed wantonly, throwing himself back in his chair. “You’re blind, blind!”
“What’re you talking about?” Henry exasperated, tired from cleaning up all by himself. He loved Pez, truly he did, but sometimes Henry wanted him to get to the point.
He was still grinning, though, which was worrying to say the least.
“Our new volunteer” he finally said, eyes gleaming. “You haven’t met them”
Henry looked startled, shifting through the pages to try and find them but Pez tutted. “I’ve already checked them over, darling. They’re cleaning up the dining hall now” he said, gesturing towards the door to their office. “Go. Meet them. Befriend them. Fall in love with them” he crooned delightedly.
Henry sighed, “I’ll do nothing of the sort” he said dismissively, “but thank you. Sorry I’ve been busy, lately-“
“Oh hush” Pez waved, shoving him out the room. “This is as much my business as it is yours. Go” he said one last time, with a final shove and a wave the door was shut in his face and Henry left floundering in the hallway.
Fixing himself up, he made a beeline for the dining hall. How he hadn’t managed to notice them all day was a little shameful, and he hoped they wouldn’t be too upset Henry hadn’t introduced himself yet, considering he ran the shelter alongside Pez.
Opening the double doors, his eyes scanned across the hall. As soon as he saw the new volunteer, he shut the doors and leaned on the wall opposite them, air stolen from his lungs in a horrid robbery.
The volunteer… he was… he’s… Henry didn’t even believe it. He peeked through the doors to make sure it was him, and it was, as if he could ever mistake someone for him.
It was Alex. Alex was volunteering at his shelter. His legs might give out under him.
Patting himself down, brushing his hair with his fingers and taking a few deep breaths, he walked into the room and headed towards him. Alex noticed before he could announce himself and grinned, putting down the black bag filled with mess and marching towards him.
“Alex, he-“ he was cut off by a swooping hug, Alex burying his face into his neck and simply breathing him in.
Henry, automatically, hugged back but suffice to say he was unable to do anything else, eyes wider than saucers.
“Henry” he said, leaning back but staying close, face bright and open, in ways Henry hasn’t seen before, only ever around him, but not quite like this.
“Alex” Henry mimicked quietly, wondering if this was real.
“Found out you had a shelter, and you didn’t even tell me” he said, though his smile was so vibrant he couldn’t even fake an offended tone. Henry held his arms loosely around his waist, copying Alex’s around his neck.
“Well-“ he blushed, “it never came up in conversation”
“Besides the point” Alex insisted, “you should’ve told me. I have too much free time and I’m going to spend all of it here”
“Really?” Henry said quietly, almost disbelievingly. Alex’s face softened and he withdrew his arms, gently holding onto his wrists.
“Yes, you dumbass. Besides, I’d have to be an idiot to pass up spending time with you” he said, as if unaware of the effect it had on Henry’s heart; or his entire body, his stomach renting out a room for the butterflies they spend so much time in there. Words caught in his throat and in a moment ‘how is this real’ mixed with simple clarity, he surged forward and kissed him.
Cupping the back of his head, feeling his soft hair there, and smiling into the kiss easily returned by an overly eager Alex, who replaced his arms to his neck, holding him close.
They pulled apart, for a second, eyes barely sliding open before their lips met again, into something soft yet overwhelming at the same time.
“I… you… erm..” Henry managed to splutter, face warm, skin tingling. Embarrassingly, his eyes were glued to Alex’s lips, pink and wet.
“Yeah” Alex said, “been waiting for it”
Henry shook his head, “why didn’t you?”
“Didn’t think you were into me” he admitted, cupping the side of his jaw and pressing a delicate kiss against it, Henry melted.
“I’ve been into you since I first saw you,” he admitted quietly. Alex snorted, kissing across his cheek to his lips again, Henry didn’t part until Alex did.
Their eyes met, grinning stupidly.
“Why didn’t you?” He countered, head cocked adorably. Henry reached one arm up to card through his hair, relishing in the way Alex leaned into him.
“Didn’t think you were into me” he copied, Alex laughed loudly, pulling him into an open mouth kiss, giggles spilling between them.
“I could say the same to you” Henry said, mumbling.
Alex hummed, “go on a date with me?” He asked, bursting confidence. Henry grinned.
“I’d want nothing more”
• ———— •