Thrilled didn’t even come close to covering it. Psyched out of his damn mind was at least in the ballpark of adrenaline-pumping emotions that made Aaron want to laugh, cry, and puke like he was performing a live one-man reenactment of the night of his twenty-first birthday. He didn’t really think that would be a super cool thing to do in front of a theatre full of actors, the Academy, and maybe millions of people watching on television. The word “millions” got him a little queasy in a way being on stage always did, because for some reason it felt so much different than being on a set. There was an immediacy there, like getting instant feedback from so many people, and it honestly scared the shit of him. It was the same cherry-bombs-going-off-in-your-gut stuff that Bryan liked to talk about like it fueled his entire being. The dude loved theatre. And, looking at Bryan in the front row, smiling so damn hard made Aaron even more self-aware of whatever his own face was up to. He knew one weird flinch or something could turn him into a meme by the time he was sitting down again.
Everything around him was kind of glimmering with his eyes misting: the lights, Claire Danes in all yellow a little ways off to his left, Bryan grinning at him in his tux. Aaron gripped the Emmy as tight as possible with his other hand in his suit jacket pocket, vaguely aware of how he kept anxiously moving around the microphone and touching his face and babbling who knows what as he tried to remember to thank everyone he should. He seriously hadn’t planned anything. Being fortunate enough to win just one of these things was so fucking mind-blowing that he didn’t at all expect to get another. Aaron knew he would have never been up there without Breaking Bad and Vince and Bryan. He was so damn lucky and he couldn’t get over it.
Around the time he was wrapping up this speech-like thing he was attempting, he was pretty sure he declared his love for Bryan again because it was kind of his go-to when it came to making any and all public statements. He kissed the tips of his fingers and blew it out to the crowd, kind of imagining Bryan absorbing the gesture. The guy was still beaming back at him brighter than floodlights, washing out everybody else but the two of them and an air kiss.
Bryan’s hand was on the side of Aaron’s face, clapping the beard he’d said was growing out “Just like a real boy’s” with a crooked smirk when they’d run into each other on the red carpet. Robin had embraced Aaron with a kiss on the cheek just as another horde of photographers started shouting for pictures. Bryan popped a hand on Aaron’s shoulder with Robin on his other side. Even with all of the cameras flashing, Aaron could see Robin smiling at them fondly, like she was looking at the two of them instead of posing or paying any attention to the manmade, paparazzi-like lightning show in front of them. There was just so much warmth and happiness coming from her that Aaron wanted to hug her again.
But, a woman he didn’t recognize wearing a glittery, floor-length navy number pulled her over to talk. Jon Hamm in a tailored, dark grey suit sort of stole the attention of the photographers because he was wearing that suit like a snake in its scales and he was Jon fucking Hamm. They’d both waved and chatted with him a little before Jon got snagged by someone from Entertainment Weekly. Bryan smacked Aaron playfully on the back, asking him how the fuck was he. Even though they called each other on like a weekly basis, a couple of those with their hands down their own respective pants, filming schedules and family stuff and life in general had kind of gotten in the way of them meeting up face-to-face. Aaron hadn’t seen Bryan since they’d wrapped up shooting that first half of the fifth season almost five months ago. So, he may have embraced the man a little indecently, like a full-body, I’ve-decided-not-to-go-to-Paris rom-com reunion at the airport kind of shit. And it wasn’t at all surprising that they’d managed to slot themselves back into this position once the ceremony was over.
Aaron had just finished some press stuff before weaving in and out of a web of back hallways of the Nokia Theatre. He kept checking his phone to see where the rest of the cast wound up because they were supposed to get together at some point to celebrate. Shit, he glanced up from the touchscreen and questioned if he’d passed this oddly placed, gold-framed, abstract ocean panting before.
Then Bryan had shot out from a beige-walled corner like a smartly dressed, over-exited, spicy-orange-cologne-wearing ninja and almost tackled Aaron.
“Look at you,” Bryan said.
They were both grinning, Aaron probably a little more hysterically because he was just too damn happy not to look like a complete lunatic.
“I know, man. It’s crazy. I just can’t believe it, you know?” Aaron patted Bryan on the arm, smile just barely dimming. “I’m not rubbing this in your face am I?”
Bryan’s expression comically soured. He tugged at the corner of Aaron’s bowtie. “You mean how you’re leaving a winner tonight, and I’m in all technicalities a loser? If I asked you to tone it down, would you even be able to?”
“Uh yeah, totally,” Aaron said.
He nodded a few times, face a wobbly front of seriousness until a laugh basically involuntarily shot out of him. Bryan laughed right along with him.
“Just look at you,” he said again. He cupped the other side of Aaron’s face and smiled softly. “I’ve missed you.”
Just as Bryan leaned forward, Dean and Anna were briskly making their way down the hall. Bryan was one sly, well-timed, little improvising motherfucker because he used the breaths distance between them to seamlessly pull Aaron into a headlock while he pressed a series of big, showy, goofy kisses into his hair, nudging Aaron to wiggle around to really sell it. Yeah, their costars had most likely at least suspected that he and Bryan had done things to each other sans pants, knew they kind of loved the shit out each other, but Aaron understood how Bryan didn’t want to make anything too glaringly obvious. Bryan was a classy dude. He wanted to keep things respectful, especially since there were other, dearly loved people involved besides the two of them.
“Like I’m going to wrestle you in a 3,000 dollar suit,” Aaron said.
Bryan laughed. “Come on!”
Aaron felt exceedingly proud and sappy that Bryan could just instinctively finish the line from Arrested Development for him at Aaron’s probably millionth reference to the show. He squirmed in Bryan’s hold and maybe giggled when Bryan got his hand under his jacket to pluck his fingers down his side.
Anna, in a stunning red geometric-kind of dress, flashed them an amused smile. Dean hunched down and made a move like he was going to join in with the ice in his highball clinking against the glass.
“Aaron, always aim for the balls,” he said. He chuckled as he started to move on, walking backwards. “But, uh, I guess I don’t need to tell you guys that.”
Bryan rubbed his knuckles across Aaron’s scalp like he was giving him an actual noogie. It didn’t feel all that bad with the way his joints were massaging circles into his skin, way softer than it looked, kind of like fight choreography at its finest. Aaron winced anyway to make it seem like it hurt a little.
“I don’t think he’s gonna be reaching my balls, Dean,” Bryan said. “We both know I could have him over my knee faster than you can finish your drink.”
Anna oohed sarcastically with her eyebrows raised. “A little more than I needed to know, Bryan.”
Bryan chuckled breathlessly as Aaron softly nudged him into the wall, and he tightened his grip slightly around Aaron’s neck. “He’d be over my knee because I’d be breaking him.”
“Whoa, I’m not drunk enough for this kind of stuff,” Dean said.
“No,” Bryan said. He was getting flustered, and Aaron was definitely eating this shit up. It was a glorious and rare occasion to see Bryan Cranston fumbling over unintentional sexual innuendoes. “I mean he’s so small I’d be able to pin the kid pretty easy. Well, maybe pin isn’t exactly the best way to word that….”
“Man, you’re so not making this any better,” Aaron said.
“Whatever,” Dean called out. He was maybe six or so unlabeled mystery doors away by then. “When you two get done playing your daily round of grab-ass, come meet us at the left side entrance. Limos are waiting.”
Bryan jostled Aaron with another dramatically puckered smooch on the forehead and nodded. The second Dean and Anna had rounded the next corner, the hallway was empty again. Bryan drew his mouth down to cover Aaron’s. He slid his hand inside Aaron’s back pocket, warm palm on his ass, Bryan’s tongue in his mouth. Aaron gasped around the kiss. He tilted his head up into it and curled a hand around the back of Bryan’s neck, and holy shit Bryan knew exactly what he wanted and when. The man seriously had some incredible timing.
Aaron lost count of the places they’d popped in and out of around the time Betsy suggested they stop by this new dessert bar on Rodeo Drive. Every swanky restaurant they’d walked into had basically been throwing free food in their mouths all night. Though at one point that was Bryan; that is the person slipping a roasted marshmallow between Aaron’s lips because this place had these little personalized roasters and no one was claiming the extra marshmallow Anna toasted but didn’t want. So, Bryan got him by the jaw and fed the thing to him, all smiles and joking like he was giving him another Wet Willy. The marshmallow was delicious. Bryan liked to tease him about his five-year-old palate and appetite, but it wasn’t good just because it was a warm gooey ball of processed sweetness. It tasted like charred sugar and the limes Bryan had been squeezing over his gin and tonics and a hint of the guy’s bare, unadulterated skin that Aaron had spent weeks licking before he’d hung up Jesse’s oversized jacket and headed back to L.A.
Something inside of Aaron seemed to flick into place like the starting click-click-click of their gas-lit tabletop fire-thing because he hadn’t really realized how much he wanted more than occasional late-night phone sex with Bryan until he had Bryan’s fingertips in his mouth a little and he almost felt like he was still blushing from that make out session Bryan had awesomely pounced on him in that maze of hallways at the Nokia. It was like Bryan just couldn’t help himself even though they’d been only a few feet away from a door that could have been opened to reveal about every single member of the Academy and their moms.
Maybe Bryan noticed whatever it was Aaron was feeling getting switched on inside the pit of his gut by the way it flamed up across Aaron’s face, making his eyelids droop just a smidge. Bryan turned to say something to Vince and casually, firmly grabbed Aaron’s inner thigh under the table. Aaron had mashed pretty much his entire elbow into the soft, creamy slice of blueberry cheesecake RJ and his girlfriend were splitting. And he spent the next ten minutes saying he was sorry, ordering them a new piece, and dabbing his sleeve off with a cloth napkin.
Bryan had just smirked. He was still smirking at the next bar and the hotel suite party after that. He was keeping it up even when they made a quick stop at Jeff Daniel’s ginormous living room where Aaron got into a bizarre conversation about the finale of Twin Peaks with Bill Hader. Though, disagreements about spin-offs or sequels quickly turned into them doing Andy Brennan impressions as they both played with Jeff’s new litter of black Persian kittens in their laps on a tasteful though shockingly white sofa.
He wasn’t sure whose idea it was to take a dip in the pool of the Château at three in the morning. But, they all jumped inside with everyone still in their suits and gowns. Left on the side was a heap of discarded heels and loafers and jackets that had been drenched anyway once RJ and Dean started up a cannon ball contest. It was like they’d unintentionally staked the place out as their own territory with their stuff spread out everywhere, tossed and strewn across the bricks like little kids coming in from the snow.
Aaron hadn’t felt like a nine year old more so than he did standing by Robin and Betsy while they all held glasses of chilled champagne and he listened to them talk about some new World War II documentary series that Aaron was pretty sure he’d recorded without watching any of it yet. He just smiled and nodded until Betsy waded off to get a refill. And it wasn’t pretending like he knew what they were discussing that made him feel young and short enough to need to tread water in the shallow end. No, it was what he was waiting around to ask Robin about that got him imagining water wings wrapped around his upper arms with that plastic-y smell that never seemed to go away.
He was kind of psyching himself out. Because even once they were fairly alone, he didn’t know how he wanted to say this. He seriously stood there for at least five minutes in silence, taking the occasional sip of champagne and holding back a burp or two triggered more so by his nerves than the bubbly stuff he was drinking.
Aaron smiled anxiously. “You look lovely.”
She did. Her black, flowered, lacey dress looked like a dewy garden beneath the glowing water. The bulbs lining the interior were also casting a light on the jungle of palm trees bordering the pool. Underneath white umbrellas, sprawled out on white lounge chairs were a few cast and crew who had climbed out to snack on platters of finger foods too tiny for Aaron to make out other than the prosciutto-wrapped pear slices calling his name. He hadn’t wanted to get out just yet. It was maybe seventy or so degrees so the water felt just the right amount of chilly and Robin was still in here.
Her black earrings dangled and shimmered with her hair loosening from her twisty up-do that reminded him of Lauren. She was in Sydney for Kind Campaign, sweetly blowing his phone up with apologies for missing out, jokes about living in the future, and a shit ton of koala bear emojis. He tried to focus on the conversation they’d had over the phone last night, because he hoped it could be kind of like reference material for what he wanted to come out of his mouth sometime before his whole body started to prune.
“That’s sweet of you to say,” she said. “This brown looks really great on you, especially the bowtie. It’s an interesting color.”
Aaron glanced down at silk knot still askew from Bryan playfully yanking on the corners. “Yeah, it’s sort of a brownish burgundy. I thought it looked pretty cool with the suit, and I was kind of tired of plain black, so I thought why the hell not, you know?”
She nodded and propped an elbow up on the lip of the pool, seeming to wait for him.
He made a two-handed wave to her ensemble. “This dress is awesome by the way. Who are you wearing?”
All right, now he sounded like he was Mario Lopez on the red carpet.
“It’s a Kaufman Franco,” she said. Tipping her glass to her lips, she smiled. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m the mother of a teenage daughter so I know when someone’s tiptoeing around something.”
Robin held his arm just about where one of his imagined child safety flotation devices would be with a wry little smirk on her face that looked like it could have been traced directly from her husband’s handsome mug. “You didn’t wreck my Mercedes, did you?”
Aaron laughed. “Taylor wrecked your Mercedes?
She shrugged. “Slight fender bender and it wasn’t her fault. I’m just being dramatic. Mothers can get that way.”
“Yeah,” he said, back to nodding like a moron.
As if knowing just how uneasy he felt, she made a nice, soothing move up and down his forearm where his sleeve was pushed up. She smiled. “What’s on your mind, sweetheart?”
Aaron laughed again with his hand finding its way to the back of his head as if it was on some sort of nervous autopilot. “I, uh, got sort of a weird request.”
He gnawed on the left corner of his mouth, tucked his chin down a little. “By all means, feel free to say no or tell me to go to hell or whatever. But…I….”
Not really understanding the full picture of why, Aaron started imaging what Lauren had suggested to him just the other night like she was right there with him, helpfully feeding him his lines.
“I have the house to myself with Lauren out of town, and she already said she’d be cool with it. Well, it was sort of her idea. But, you know, I mean, I’m all for it too. It’s just been like a long time since I’ve seen Bryan. He was filming that thing in New York, and then I went out to Idaho and you know, whatever. Maybe you haven’t seen him a lot either and you totally have dibs, like forever dibs.” Aaron chuckled and wiped a wet hand down his face. “Not that I go around calling dibs on people or anything. I just, I don’t know, wanted to see if you’d be cool…if you didn’t mind if, uh….”
Robin reassuringly clutched his wrist with her lips faintly quirked. “Are you asking if Bryan can sleep over?”
Aaron laughed and winced at the same time because that was like the exact way he didn’t want to word this. He eyed the area around them, startling a little when he noticed Bryan and Vince watching them from the deep end, even dropping his stupid glass in the pool.
He skimmed it up off the surface and cleared his throat for no good reason. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I was going for. I’ll so respect your decision. I haven’t asked Bryan yet, because I thought I’d….”
“You thought you’d be your darling, sensitive self and ask me first?” She gently touched his shoulder. “Honey, if more Hollywood affairs had half your class, the tabloid industry would probably flop harder than my husband does on the sofa during a Dodgers game.”
Aaron snickered. “Yeah, he’s sort of a couch-hog, isn’t he?”
“I’ve honestly spent a few dull innings picturing those very words engraved into his tombstone. It doesn’t help that he wears the same dingy pair of tube socks every game. But, he’s a grown man with his own choices. I choose not to sit next to those things.”
“You sound extremely patient,” Aaron said, chuckling. “He’s a lucky guy. I mean, Lauren’s pretty okay with football, but I can like see her eyes glaze over the second basketball season starts. Sometimes when the Lakers are playing an away game, we’ll do like a drinking game or something at home. It’s fun if you’re careful.”
“I’ll take that tip into consideration,” she said. “Speaking of being inebriated….”
She did this shifty-eye thing just as Bob splashed by while doing a backstroke with a silly grin, and they waved to him, not talking until the tiny wake he left behind stilled.
Robin toyed with one of her earrings. “I don’t know if this is my place to say. But, my husband has been pretty frank when discussing your…time together.”
Aaron was pretty sure his eyebrows were getting really chummy with his hairline right about then because, like, holy shit, Bryan. He wasn’t sure if he should run or just melt into the chlorine.
“He didn’t get too graphic,” she said with a vague, flippant hand gesture. “He’s always been a chatty drunk. And recently we hosted a somewhat stressful dinner party with my dreadfully dull cousins visiting from Wichita. One of my friends—she sculpts mostly nudes, grows her own coffee beans, very outspoken—mentioned how she’d re-watched Brokeback Mountain, which really upset my backwards, imbecile cousin and his wife. Then that somehow led to a discussion about the wide variety of sexual positions between two men because that one friend loves to get a rise out of conservative types.”
She smiled sheepishly and loosely crossed her arms. “I feel I did to borrow your preluding statement of ‘by all means, tell me to go to hell.’ But, Bryan and I were loading up the dishwasher once everyone had either left or gone to bed. And I was tipsy enough to indirectly ask him…about the two of you. I was curious about…the mechanics you might say of how…he liked it.”
Robin knocked back like the last half a glass of her champagne. “Should I shut my mouth or keep going?”
“Definitely keep going,” he said, grinning. This had potential to get really good.
“Well,” she said. She squinted for a second. “Again, don’t take this the wrong way, but the details he gave me weren’t too surprising if you consider stereotypes like your ages and body frames and such. And when I could have left things at that, I went and asked if he’d enjoy you’re…positions…on the field reversing.”
Robin tightened her arms and leaned in closer. “I know that you know that Bryan isn’t shy about expressing himself. There’s just something different about this. Use the information in whatever way you wish, but everything from his body language to the way he kind of laughed it off and said ‘sure,’ screamed that it’s something he really wants. And I assure you, you don’t need to ask me first about that.”
Aaron had to pop a hand over his mouth because laughing was all his body knew how to do with that kind of information. It took him a minute or two to calm down. And once he did, he snatched an opened bottle of champagne by the side of the pool and topped them both off.
He raised his in a toast. “I’ll for sure keep that advice in mind; appreciate it.”
“Anything to help,” she said and clinked their glasses together. “Just to reiterate here, Bryan can most certainly sleep over.”
He laughed. “Thank you. I promise I’ll be good to the man.”
“Aaron,” Robin said with a smile. “You always are.”
She kissed his cheek and patted him on the back, and Aaron had never felt more reassured and confident about anything in his entire life.
He gave her cheek a peck as well, wished her a good night, and headed to wear Bryan was still watching him like a grade-A weirdo. Aaron smiled as he swam over because there was a good chance he was going to fuck Bryan Cranston tonight, and he was stoked as hell about it.