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Better Than Normal

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The first time he knows – really knows – he’s in the boys’ locker room, which has got to be the worst place in the world to have any kind of realization. And there’s this guy, Matt, and Brandon can’t stop looking at him. He knows he should. He knows he shouldn’t be staring, not here in the locker room, maybe not ever, but – and he’ll laugh bitterly about this later – it’s like it hasn’t even really hit him what’s going on, what it actually means. All he knows is what he wants – that boy, who’s a year older than he is and looks way closer to being a man than Brandon does. And, God, he wants him.

Matt’s face contorts itself into the kind of sneer that’s about to become very familiar. “What’re you looking at, queer?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Brandon says, and he’s about to start babbling, he can feel it, and his cheeks are going red and it’s so obvious, oh God they’re all going to know, all of them, and he has to get out of there, get out, get out, get out, and he can’t breathe –

It gets better, after that.

But not by much.

***

High school has a way of making you feel ugly and awkward and insignificant and yet talked-about at the same time. He’s not popular, he’s not notorious, but he is ‘the gay kid’, or at least ‘the probably gay kid’.

It would be easier if this whole thing came with a manual. He doesn’t know the right things to say. It’s like everyone else knows, like they have this secret language of cool and have received special training in comic or cutting timing.

He doesn’t know how to act like he’s normal.

He doesn’t know what to do to make the whispers stop.

Some days, the punches are easier to take. Because he knows, at least, that there are some people in the school that think the punches aren’t called for.

The whispers, the snide little comments, the eye rolling, the knowing expressions – it’s way harder to find someone who doesn’t think that he kinda has that stuff coming.

***

Olive’s plan works. That’s the most terrifying thing of all, that it works.

So when he meets Sam, who’s possibly the most beautiful man he’s ever seen in his life, and the most handsome – how does he manage to do that, be both at once? – Brandon is ready to act like everything’s normal.

They’re in the video store. Brandon’s doing what ninety percent of his classmates do and looking for a film adaptation of Huckleberry Finn so that he doesn’t have to read it for class. No one actually reads the books, right?

And this guy, this gorgeous guy, is looking at him half-amused as Brandon picks it up, reads what it says on the back of the case, and moves to take it to the cash register.

“What?” Brandon can’t resist saying.

“That’s – ” the guy pauses, shrugs. “It’s just the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Ever.”

Brandon grins. “It’s for class. It’s this or read the book, and this way –”

“Oh, I hear ya.” The guy smiles at him. When he smiles – oh, man, when he smiles. It does something to Brandon’s insides. “I did that all through high school. Ended up a film major at least in part because of that.”

Brandon’s nodding, taking it all in. “So I guess you know what you’re talking about, movie-wise. I mean, if you’re – what college do you go to? Are you – do you – recommend me something.” He’s pretty sure he’s blushing already. Why is he such an idiot? This guy is just being nice and making small talk and he’s turning into an idiot because he doesn’t know what to do when gorgeous guys are nice to you. And he’s kind of scared to be nice because what if this guy starts thinking that Brandon likes him, because then of course he’ll want to beat the crap out of him, and –

There’s a hand out, ready to be shaken. “I’m Sam.”

“Brandon.” He takes the hand.

There’s something, this tingle of electricity, but he must be imagining it.

He must be.

***

He’s back in the store the following week, same time. They sort of agreed that they’d be back there, same time, casual, so Brandon’s trying not to care too much.

He tries to look as though he’s just browsing and as though he hasn’t spent his afternoon deciding what to wear.

“I was right, wasn’t I?” It’s Sam, behind him, and when Brandon turns around he can’t stop a stupid grin spreading across his face.

“It was all right,” he says. Because, hell, it was better than reading the book, and even though he wanted to hate it, he couldn’t quite bring himself to. He relates way too much to that whole wanting-to-be-free thing.

“Oh, man, really?” Sam sighs, eyes him up and down, and finally says, “Okay, we’re going to go and find you good movies. Actual good movies.”

And Brandon follows.

***

So it goes on for a few weeks like this. They meet up in the video store, talk about movies, and after that second meeting they start going for food, or coffee, or a drink at this bar that doesn’t mind too much if you’re underage as long as you’ve the decency to let your overage friend actually order the booze for you. Sam’s still only twenty but he’s both taller and wider than the barman and no one’s going to say no to him.

They talk about movies, mostly, but movies are for both of them a way of getting to talk about their real lives. So Sam tells Brandon about clashing with his roommate, this crazy religious nut, and about how he actually gets along with his parents but always feels a little bit weird about that, because everyone he knows has had some major fight and he’s waiting for his, and Brandon talks about school and being picked on without ever mentioning why.

Until the evening Sam says – over his second beer – that his roommate’s been bugging him way more than normal. That’s not the part that makes Brandon’s heart stop for a second. The part that does that is when Sam says, “Just ‘cause I’m into guys doesn’t mean I’m going to be into him. He needs to chill the fuck out, you know?”

Oh my god he really said that, Brandon thinks.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, totally, yeah I know exactly.” He can’t look at Sam. He knows he’s going red. It’s like Matt all over again except –

Hold on, except what, exactly?

Brandon finishes his own third beer before saying, “Does that mean you’re not going to freak out if I think you’re cute?”

***

It happens later that night. They’re both a little drunk, and they’re outside the bar, and Sam leans in and Brandon leans in and it’s like it was always going to happen. All the electricity and the talking and dreaming come together in this one kiss, their mouths opening up to each other, and it’s gentle at first, then more demanding, but never rough, never scary, and it’s a world away from what he expects – what he’s learned to expect – from tough strong guys.

He feels normal.

Better than normal.

Happy.

***

That’d be enough to get him through school. He knows he’s got this big grin on his face half the time, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him.

He’s spent so long not getting what he wants that it’s a complete and utter miracle for him, to wake up every day and have someone he wants want him back. He wants to talk to someone about it, maybe Olive, but then again he’s kind of worried that she’ll do that genius-lunatic thing and point out something he’s missed. He has to be missing something. Things this good don’t happen to guys like him.

And then the phone call comes.

***

Sam’s transferring colleges. Next semester. Next semester he’s starting over fresh, and this semester is a write-off, because the crazy roommate has apparently been a whole lot crazier than Sam’s been letting on, and he just can’t take it anymore.

Brandon arrives at his dorm room to help him pack. That’s all he’s meant to be doing, helping him pack, but then he meets the roommate, and he sees how sad Sam looks – not angry, which Brandon thinks he should be, but just sad, like it’s his fault that they didn’t get along and work things out. Or that even if it’s not, he’s still sad about it anyway.

“I love you,” he says, after the roommate’s gone. Without even thinking about it, really.

And then he starts thinking about the fact that Sam’s going to be back at his parents’ house for the rest of the semester, then somewhere totally different, far away, and about the way he might not ever see this guy again, and –

Sam kisses him back, tongue parting his lips and exploring his mouth. “Love you too,” he says.

And Brandon’s helping Sam put things into boxes, then put the boxes into his car, and he’s waiting and wondering and wishing and hoping.

They speak at the same time.

“Come with –”

“I want to go with –“

And all Brandon can do is smile.

***

They watch movies. Huckleberry Finn, again, because Sam insists on watching it and pointing out why he hates it so much. The Breakfast Club, because Brandon likes delivering his rant about what probably happened on Monday morning once they were back to normal high school politics. The Scarlet Letter, because then he can tell his Olive story. And movies about love, because they’re romantics, the two of them, wanting to believe that this can work.

Brandon knows it’s temporary, this little hide-out from the world they have going on. He’s going to have to finish high school. Sam’s going to be back in college. But for now – there’s just something about the way he feels when Sam’s got his arms wrapped around him.

Like he’s not quite sure how you can feel both safe and free at the same time, whether it even makes sense, but it’s the best he’s felt in a long, long time.