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Endgame

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Ashton’s bandmates are petting each other onstage again which is fine, it’s normal. Must be Tuesday. Ashton’s hands and wrists do the work automatically for him as he drums, keeping the beat while he stares down at Michael caressing Luke’s face, then switching his affections to Calum and stroking his fluffy hair. Calum looks absolutely delighted about it, rubbing on Michael’s arm as Luke gets distracted and scurries away.

It’s not like Ashton has a problem with it or anything, they’ve all been doing gay shit and acting like it’s normal (Is it normal? Is Ashton the weird one for not snuggling with his dude friends all the time? These questions have plagued him since 2011) from the day Ashton met them. He’s used to it by now, all this sensual man-caressing. It’s whatever. He doesn’t even care if they like get some reputation as a gay band that does gay stuff all the time. Ashton’s been around, he’s seen the internet. That shit happens no matter how much physical distance guys put between each other, so they might as well all give into the urge to have a cuddle now and then.

So, anyway, his bandmates can rub up on each other as much as they want to, Ashton’s not even worried about it. He knows they would probably rub up on him too if he weren’t trapped back in his cage of drums alone and lonely and homoerotically unnoticed for the rest of his life. And if they did then he’d screech and push them away to protect his man virginity and they’d try again and he’d probably let them get a little touch because it’s pitiful when Luke gets rejected and turns on his huge sad blue Care Bear eyes and it just makes Calum more determined to get his way at a later time when you least expect it.

(“Seduction is a dish best served cold,” Calum said once, with a sage nod.

“What?” said everyone.)

Michael, of course, just goes for as much dick as he can grab through skinny jeans. And it’s not like Ashton keeps a running tally of inappropriate intra-band dick touches - at least not anymore, not since the It Has Been [0] Days Since The Last “Accidental” Grope sign Ashton wrote on a studio whiteboard was taken as an open and direct challenge. That ended with Michael and Luke in some sort of clothes-on 69 position on the couch and Ashton doing some very vigorous erasing of the board as well as drinking to forget. But yeah, he doesn’t keep track or anything, it just seems like lately they’re not trying it on with him as much. Luke doesn’t use his big dumb body to casually and unsubtly herd Ashton into bed for snuggles and Calum doesn’t drunkenly try to give him lapdances and Michael doesn’t tell him he looks, “super hot, like I’d definitely hit it for sure. That bandana really brings out your eyes,” nor does he try to extract any promises from Ashton like if they’re not married before thirty, they’ll marry each other, and if they don’t find a hookup at the club that night by midnight, they’ll just find somewhere quiet and trade handies.

Ashton never took him up on the handjob proposition, but it’s nice to be asked, you know? Maybe Ashton misses the snuggles he allowed at weak moments, and the cheerfully flirtatious advances. Everyone likes to be thought of, even if they’re only thinking about his ab muscles, or his penis.

Now it seems like all his bandmates do is think about each other.

Also touch each other.

They really, really touch each other a lot.

-

“I would definitely have sex with Jack if he was into it,” Michael announces from on his back on the couch in the dressing room. He’s staring up at his phone like he’s just gotten a fresh batch of nudes in his DMs, but presumably it’s just Jack Barakat tweeting sexual innuendos at him again.

“No you wouldn’t,” Ashton says. “It would make it weird. Don’t make it weird, we’re friends with All Time Low now and you can’t compromise that with your dick.” Honestly, everyone in Ashton’s band needs to rein it in with the flirting with any famous dude who pays them the slightest bit of attention. Like, would Ashton throw himself at Dave Grohl if Dave patted his lap in an inviting enough fashion? No, probably not. Well, maybe he would, it’s Dave Grohl. But he wouldn’t do it publicly. God, Michael just never can resist tumbling headfirst into a thirst trap.

“No you wouldn’t,” Luke says to Michael. He kicks at Michael’s feet from where he’s curled up into a tiny ball at the end of the couch Michael’s hogging. Michael looks away from his phone. He and Luke stare at each other.

“He might,” Calum says. He doesn’t look away from FIFA. “It could be fun, Luke. Open yourself up to the possibilities.”

“Yeah,” Michael says to Luke. His voice goes all husky, like when he’s trying to flirt exaggeratedly with Ashton or anybody, and he licks his lips. “Open yourself up.”

Luke swallows. “Shut up,” he mumbles. Ashton waits, futilely, for everyone to start laughing and break the weird quasi-sexual tension that’s descended upon the dressing room. Nobody does. He shoves a hand into his bag of crisps just to make a noise and break the thick silence over the patter of soccer-playing videogame feet.

“You shut up,” Michael tells Luke, but softer now. He puts his phone down and opens his arms. After a second’s hesitation, Luke huffs a little but unfolds from his origami Luke-ball to drape himself over Michael’s body and snuggle in.

Ashton frowns.

-

Five lagers deep at a club, Ashton moans, “I need a girlfriend.” He’s staring pretty blatantly at the dance floor tangle that was Luke, Calum, and several pretty girls, and which has now evolved into Luke and Calum grinding on each other and giggling as a tall blond waitress pours shots down their throats and the girls cheer them on.

“I’ll be your girlfriend,” Michael says, slouched against the back of the red leather booth next to him. The bright strobe lights swing their way and cast Michael all in dark pink like a sexy gender-ambiguous devil. He takes a sip of his beer. “I look great in lipstick, Jess used to put it on me.”

“Don’t talk to me about your weird sex games,” Ashton tells him, even though he’s actually kind of interested in hearing more. Michael and Jessica always confused him back then; she was so hot and awesome and Michael was a high school dropout who still looked like a blow-up sex doll before he matured into his face. Not that Ashton was jealous or anything, except in an abstract lonely teenage boy way, it was just strange. Jess was so much older and must have been way more experienced. Was Michael really that great with his dick, or what? Ashton should have stopped a lager ago, probably.

“Oh, you’d love to hear about my weird sex games,” Michael says, but his tone isn’t as filthy as a come-on like that deserves because he’s not really paying attention to Ashton, already back to watching Calum and Luke on the dance floor. He taps his fingers against the side of his glass. “Do you think they need rescuing?”

“I need rescuing,” Ashton says, his voice edging on a whine. He clutches his beer bottle like it’s his only friend. “From my life of solitude. Michael,” he says, and it’s so embarrassing how his voice slides into a whimper that he lets himself slump into Michael’s side so he doesn’t have to look at him. Also because it’s just nice, really, now that he’s there. It’s nice to be close, and Michael smells weirdly good, his throat barely sweaty where it meets his leather jacket. Michael’s hot, it’s no wonder people want to fuck him and date him and cuddle him and exchange handies with him.

“Jesus, you are hard up,” Michael says. It’s not really mean, though, because he follows it up by slipping an arm around Ashton’s shoulders and pressing a little kiss to the crown of Ashton’s head. “We can find you a girlfriend, babe. We don’t like to see you alone and sad, either.”

“Who’s this we?” Ashton asks, muffled against Michael’s jacket. It tastes funny against his mouth, warm leather, and he squirms up a little closer, breathing hot against Michael’s neck instead of his jacket. “Have you all been making fun of me about it? You guys don’t have girlfriends either,” he says. Any huffy bite to it is lost in the drag of his lower lip over Michael’s pulse, his tongue flicking out for a curious taste.

“Oh my god, okay,” Michael says. As gently as possible, he push-guides Ashton away from him. “You’re so going to regret this in the morning. If you still wanna give me a hickey then you’re welcome to. Just, sober.”

Ashton slouches back into his spot, wishing he could just keep on slouching until he slid to the floor and melted into the earth. When he licks his lips, he can still taste the salt of Michael’s skin.

-

They get back to the hotel and stumble through the lobby with linked hands like schoolchildren. For some reason Michael insisted on taking Ashton’s hand and then having Ashton hold Calum and Calum hold Luke, even though Luke and Cal seemed pretty damn determined to drape themselves all over Michael like a fresh shipment of freebies from Drop Dead. If Ashton’s some kind of unwilling buffer for something then he’ll accept the position. It’s nice to be sort of in the middle sometimes. The lobby lights are bright and he wishes they’d dim them, or that he could go back in time and not have gone all sexy vampire on Michael. Both would be good.

Calum grips his hand tightly, wiggling his fingers where they’re wound with Ashton’s until Ashton gets irritated about it and squeezes his hand hard enough to make him stop. Instead Calum just lets out a breathy little moan. Ashton should be annoyed about being dragged into Calum’s kinky fetishes again but instead he finds it refreshing and nice to be included.

“Cuddle,” Luke demands as soon as the elevator doors shift closed. Ashton stands back so he’s not bowled over by the broad sleepy wall of affection that is Luke Hemmings, allowing Luke to descend upon Michael and wrap around him like shiny paper on a present. Michael, clearly pleased to have successfully herded them all back to the hotel for the evening, settles into Luke’s arms with a sigh. It’s adorable. Why doesn’t anyone ever want to be adorable with Ashton anymore? He’s a cutie. He totally belongs in a bromance of some kind. He’ll even accept some light groping if necessary, like the hand Luke’s acting like no one can see him sliding down to Michael’s ass. Unbelievable.

“Squeeze my fingers really tight again,” Calum says to Ashton, grabbing for his hand. “I mean uh. Hold my hand.”

It’s really a sign of how pitifully far gone and drunk and sad Ashton is that he just flaps around until his hand finds Calum’s, not even bothering to protest being pulled into Calum’s pain kink. He’s still staring grossly at Michael and Luke, pathetic enough to be jealous of what’s basically just a hug. It’s just a really nice-looking hug. “Hug me,” he says to Calum, and hauls him in quick enough to make Calum stumble, bumping into Ashton so hard that it pushes him against the wall of the elevator. Ashton will bitch at him later if he ends up bruised from the head knock, but right now he’s just happy to have his arms full of Calum. Of anybody. Well, of Calum. A stranger just wouldn’t be as good.

“Squeeze me harder,” Calum mumbles into Ashton’s throat. Ashton just doesn’t think Calum’s ever had any shame about what he wants, although the drunkenness may be contributing to his willingness to ask for it. Ashton grips him tightly, his arms around Calum’s waist crushing Calum’s body to his, digging his fingertips into Calum’s ribs when he feels them, and Calum moans a little against him, breathing out his name.

“Guys,” Michael says. It sounds like it’s from somewhere far away; Ashton has to swim to it to get there, to Michael holding the parted elevator doors open and staring at them expectantly, eyebrows raised.

Luke looks pissy for some reason, turning his face from where it’s pushed against Michael’s collarbone and reaching his hand out, saying, “Come on, Cal, come with us,” as if Ashton is chopped liver, or one of those gross fish ball things from Finland that they had to eat that one time. Ashton is no fish testicle, okay, thank you very much. He’s very well-liked and in demand among people. Plus he’s an excellent cuddle, even if he’d rather keep the opportunity rare and special instead of spreading cuddles around like Vegemite on toast like some people. Luke can fuck off.

“I have Calum,” Ashton says to Luke. It doesn’t really make much sense syntactically but he demonstrates it with a firm grip on Calum’s waist, steering them out of the elevator to follow Michael.

“Ladies, ladies,” Calum mutters, swaying a bit in Ashton’s grip, “there’s enough Calum to go around.” Ashton squeezes him closer.

“I think Cal’s probably down for the count for the evening,” Michael says to Luke. It seems specific the way he’s looking at Luke, like Calum was expected to be up for some sort of count. Luke pouts his lower lip out, and Michael pats his hip where his hand rests against it, his arm around Luke’s waist holding him close. “You’re just stuck with me for the night,” Michael tells him, voice conciliatory.

“Why would he be stuck with you?” Ashton demands. They’ve reached their rooms, thank god, since Ashton was just blindly trusting Michael to lead them in the right direction in this godforsaken Overlook of a hotel hallway. The carpet pattern is making him queasy, or maybe that’s just the feeling that he doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. They’re doing proper well now, nobody’s had to share hotel rooms since the last 1D tour. They’re independent men who can sleep alone in a room so no one has to worry about catching glimpses of each other’s dicks bouncing around every time they stop to sleep in a different city.

“I’m cuddling with Mikey tonight,” Luke says. He’s clinging insistently enough to Michael’s jacket that Michael has difficulty getting the door unlocked. “We were gonna make a threesome of it.”

“Shut up, Luke,” Michael hisses. “Calum, are you alright?”

“I’m drunk,” Calum says. He leans his head on Ashton’s shoulder. “Will you cuddle me, Ash?” he asks.

“Yes, I will cuddle you tonight, friend,” Ashton tells him, taking on the self-important tones of someone making a grand sacrifice, even though sleeping alone would have been really depressing tonight and he didn’t at all want to. Michael rolls his eyes, and Ashton resists sticking his tongue out at him as he fumbles for his wallet to get his key card out.

“Don’t do anything stupid,” Michael says, pushing into his own room with Luke following closely behind. It seems like he says it to Calum, which makes no sense, because what would Calum even do? All they’re gonna do is cuddle. Ashton frowns at the both of them but then the door’s closing like they don’t even care about his disapproval and confusion. Ashton’s going to make all of them some bracelets like those old What Would Jesus Do? ones, except it’s going to be like, What Are Ashton’s Feelings About This? And then they’re all going to consider Ashton’s feelings and care about them, instead of making no sense all the time and adding unnecessary confusion and strife to Ashton’s otherwise harmonious life.

They get in and Calum falls face-first onto Ashton’s bed, then rolls over and spreads out like a starfish and says, “Undress me.”

“I’m not your slave,” Ashton tells him with some outrage. “Undress yourself.” Calum huffs but follows orders, his hands going for his waistband. “Not all the way, either,” Ashton adds, since Calum’s relationship to clothes in private situations is like that of a small toddler set loose after a bath and Ashton’s not really in the mood to try and ignore Calum’s penis flapping around.

“Why, do you wanna do all the good parts?” Calum asks. He sounds all breathy, voice low, but probably it’s just because he’s having a little trouble squirming out of his t-shirt. His cheeks are pink and hair ruffled when Ashton looks over at him. “Luke always likes undressing me.” Calum smiles dreamily at the ceiling. “He’s nice.”

“Then go cuddle him!” Ashton practically yells, only lowering his voice back to indoor levels when he sees how Calum winces. “Why am I always picked last for cuddling? And why would Luke ever be undressing you?” He takes his shirt off as angrily as he can, throwing it to the ground and stepping over it to go screw the cap off a water bottle and then throw as much back as he can take without drowning himself. Which might be a better option, depending on Calum’s answer.

“He’s helpful,” Calum says. He wiggles back onto the bed for a proper lie-down, working his jeans down his legs and then kicking them onto the floor. “Come lay down,” he pleads. He rolls onto his side and rubs his hand over the doona invitingly, then gets distracted by the feel of it and just sort of pets it for a bit. He waits until Ashton’s finished his water and flopped onto the bed in his boxers and then says, voice meek, “You know we’d cuddle you if you wanted. You just don’t want to as much.”

“Well, you could check in periodically to see if I do,” Ashton mumbles, rather abashed. Calum’s point is fair, but. He squirms until Calum shifts and they’re able to crawl under the covers and snuggle in, Ashton reaching to turn the light off. “It just gets weird, that’s all. You guys are so comfortable with it, it’s like I’m always the new guy on the outside.”

“You like the outside,” Calum points out. “So you can escape if someone gets a boner.”

“Well,” Ashton says. His cheeks go a dull red against his will. So what, like that’s weird? Nobody needs to know that sometimes it’s Ashton himself that gets the boner and has to go somewhere else and give his dick a stern talking-to regarding appropriate times to chub up. He managed to get things pretty well in order by their second stay in London, when Michael and Luke just pushed their beds together and slept close in Michael’s, and then he and Calum would join them in the free bed for morning chats and a bit of a lounge. Ashton’s body just still hasn’t fully figured out that another body cuddled close to his isn’t always one for fucking. Sometimes it’s just a pal, even if it’s a nice warm pal he loves very much.

It doesn’t help that his band of nice warm lovable pals seems to find erections alternately hilarious or ripe for groping, depending on how awake Michael is or how cranky Luke’s pretending he isn’t. They’ve been around each other enough at this point that Ashton’s seen all of them hard, through tight underpants or just right out there in more awkward situations. Felt them all hard too, because apparently his body isn’t the only one that gets confused about gender and sexuality when another person is pressed close. He just wishes it didn’t feel like his body knows something he doesn’t. Or that maybe it knows something his brain also knows, but is trying to let him ignore.

Ashton hides his face in his pillow. “Could you just ask me more often, maybe,” he says, mostly addressing the pillow and pretending it’ll just be a nice bonus if Calum overhears.

“Yeah, Ash, of course,” Calum says, his hand warm on Ashton’s shoulder, squeezing a little. The bed shifts as he moves closer, then pauses. “Do you wanna cuddle right now?” Ashton nods, his nose squished to the pillow. “You wanna be little spoon?”

Ashton doesn’t answer, just rolls onto his side offering up his back to Calum so Calum can scoot closer and tuck up against him. It feels really nice, and it’s sweet the way that Calum slips his arm around Ashton’s waist, patting Ashton’s hand where it rests against the bedsheet. He’s just a shameless little spoon now, so Ashton figures he may as well curl his palm up and give Calum’s hand a little squeeze. Their hands can cuddle too. That’s a thing.

Calum breathes out warm against the back of Ashton’s neck, stirring the curls there. It makes Ashton want to shiver, Calum’s mouth so close to the top of his spine, to his vulnerable throat. Calum’s pressed all up against his body, and Ashton doesn’t try to convince himself he can’t feel the soft weight of Calum’s dick pressed up against his ass. It feels good, intimate. Calum could do stuff to him, sexual stuff, but Ashton knows he wouldn’t. He trusts Calum, he knows that Calum would never hurt him. If Calum got hard, he wouldn’t rub up against Ashton’s ass, or guide Ashton over onto his belly, or softly kiss his shoulder and whisper his name, ask him what he wanted.

Ashton swallows, pressing his hot face into the cool pillow, trying not to shift his hips, unconsciously fuck the air. At least, thank god, Calum didn’t want him to be the big spoon.

-

In the morning, things seem clearer. Well, at first they seem fuzzier, because he’s very tired and it’s early and he’s a little hungover, but somewhere in there is a lingering feeling of epiphany. It powers him through dragging Calum out of bed and pushing him into the shower, and he’s even able to ignore the way the knot of Calum’s towel afterward rests perfectly beneath his jutting hipbone, how the towel angles downward and barely hangs off Calum’s ass. Ashton eats his English muffins like a normal person and doesn’t blatantly ogle his best friend and it’s all well and good. He drinks down an entire pitcher of orange juice and is ready to face the day full of vitamin C. Fuck you, scurvy. Fuck you, hangover.

He does start to get a little nervous as the day goes on and it seems like he just can’t get Michael alone. Michael’s usually a very stationary person; it’s generally easy to find him sat in front of his laptop playing video games, or sat in front of the TV playing video games, or sat in front of Luke kicking at him until he whines or does something interesting. But today Michael’s clinging to Calum and Luke like a limpet, and it’s a bit much if you ask Ashton. Like, he might as well be rubbing himself all over them like a cat at dinnertime. Cats and Michael deserve each other, they’re all hungry and yowly and Ashton’s body doesn’t know what to do with them. At least he isn’t mildly allergic to Michael. If anything his body seems to respond to Michael too well.

It’s not until after the night’s show has ended and they’re all tromping back to the bus that Ashton manages to snag Michael by the arm, hand curled in his denim jacket to tug him back away from the others. “Hey, can we have some like,” Ashton hesitates, hunting for the right way to put it and landing on, “guy time tonight?”

“Like trading handjobs?” Michael asks, mouth quirking in a grin.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” Ashton hisses at him, even though Michael’s sort of on target, topically speaking. “Just to talk about stuff.”

“Manly man chats,” Michael says, nodding. He slings an arm around Ashton’s shoulders and pulls him in. “You can give me that hickey you wanted to so badly last night.”

Ashton shoves at him very half-heartedly. “I didn’t want it badly,” he mutters, feeling the need to defend his honor, at least what little there is left of it. Ashton doesn’t like being the needy one here, he much prefers being needed. The trouble with Michael is he makes such a sex object of himself, Ashton doesn’t know what to do with that. Stare at him, mostly, at the way he sprawls and stretches when he knows he’s being looked at. He’s spent so much time rejecting what Michael’s offering (if it’s even real or has ever been real - doesn’t Michael try it on with almost everyone just to see what happens?) that he doesn’t know how to say yes to it anymore. He’s too scared to find out what would happen if he did.

“I’m so glad that’s your counterargument,” Michael tells him. “We’ll seal off the back lounge, have all the guy time you want. Unless you want to just take it to my bunk?” he asks, raising an eyebrow and grinning devilishly at him.

“See, this is why I’m so confused,” Ashton says pitifully, but he won’t say anything else about it after that, not even through Michael gathering beers and snacks for their man chat. Which, of course, Michael announces loudly to all and sundry, insisting on their need for privacy. So the entire bus (well, mostly Cal and Luke, the driver doesn’t really care and in fact requests that Michael not tell him any details) knows that they’re going to be alone in the back talking, a word which Michael has infused more innuendo into than Ashton was even aware one simple verb could carry. He’s talented, Michael Clifford. A handsome, talented pain in the ass.

“Well,” Michael says grandly once they’re all locked up in the back lounge, beers cracked open and pretzel mix poured up in a bowl like they’re proper adults instead of raccoons shoving their faces into crinkly foil bags. “Guy time is officially on. Should I get naked now, or later?” He crunches down on a handful of pretzels, looking very pleased with himself for sexually harassing Ashton once again.

“How did you figure out you liked guys?” Ashton blurts out. It comes out embarrassingly high pitched, an absolute yelp of sexual curiosity. Oh, balls. Ashton shoves his hand into the pretzel mix to have something to do that’s not practically singing a horrible almost-confession in his best falsetto. The few bagel chips in the mix pay the price, splitting loudly into pieces.

The ensuing silence is long enough that Ashton has to look at Michael again, just to check and make sure he hasn’t died. Michael’s mouth is hanging open, revealing some half-eaten pretzels. It’s gross. Dudes are gross and Ashton should probably just stick with girls, all told.

“Oh god,” Ashton says. He hides his face in his hands. They smell like crushed bagel chips. “Nevermind, I was just kidding. I’m not curious. This is a social experiment. Please hit me over the head with a beer bottle repeatedly until I’m unconscious.”

“Oh my god,” Michael echoes, like they’re the only words he understands. He chews and swallows his pretzels finally, to Ashton’s appreciation. “You’re serious.”

“No I’m not,” says Ashton, but it’s feeble. Just go ahead and paint a big rainbow on his face, it’s out there in the world now. He’s out there. He’s out. Even though he hasn’t put a name to anything yet, his voice has now backed up what his brain and dick have both been pretty sure of for awhile at this point.

He grabs a bottle of his friend beer. It makes his hand cold but at least it’ll make this situation easier to handle, he hopes. Probably he should have pre-gamed this conversation.

“How long have you known?” Michael asks finally. Ashton starts to protest, and Michael cuts him off with his hand. “No, come on. If you’re asking, you know. How long?”

Ashton lifts one shoulder, barely a shrug. Maybe it’s one of those things that makes more sense in retrospect, feelings he thought were hero worship, weird moments with friends written off at the time. The way he finds himself looking at the guys sometimes, the little things that stand out and stir him - Michael’s little moans when he falls onto the couch after a long day, the soft flutter of Calum’s eyelashes when he wakes up in the morning, the sweat on Luke’s shoulders when he boxes with their trainer. It’s not just aesthetic appreciation. “I guess for awhile,” he admits. “I haven’t like. Done anything about it. But I think I want to.”

“Wow.” Michael sits back heavily, lifts his beer bottle to his mouth and takes a long swig. Ashton watches his throat move as he swallows, his red mouth when he takes the bottle away. He’s been kidding himself about this for so long. “Well, welcome to the club.” He reaches out and clinks his bottle against Ashton’s. “So you seriously wanted to give me a hickey the other night then?”

“Maybe,” Ashton says. His voice cracks halfway through. This true confessions stuff is for the birds. He’s never been so embarrassed in his entire life. “I’m curious, okay?” he says defensively. “And you flirt with me all the time! You’ve flirted with me for years! This is probably your fault!” He can’t help the way his voice rises; this is ridiculous, it’s a ridiculous situation to thirst for all your bandmates. It probably is all their faults, with their nice dude bodies and excellent cuddles and frequent nakedness. What was he supposed to do, not look at their dicks? Not appreciate their nice strong bodies and handsome smiles and cute giggles? The flesh is weak, okay, and well-earned muscles aside Ashton’s flesh is no different. And it’s interested in man flesh, no matter how nervous Ashton’s brain feels about that.

“Ha,” Michael says, but he’s relaxed back into the couch now, turned in Ashton’s direction with his thighs spread and one arm around the back of the couch, fingertips just a bare centimeter from brushing Ashton’s hunched shoulder. “So how come this is all coming out now? Do you have a crush on a guy?” he asks, nudging Ashton’s shoulder lightly. “I mean, besides me.”

If Ashton bit Michael’s soft, pillowy lower lip he probably wouldn’t look so smug anymore. It’s tempting. “Shut up,” Ashton mumbles. “I don’t know, I just felt really weird the other day after you guys were all over each other on stage. With the caressing and all that. You’re always so snuggly with each other.” Ugh, he’s sort of whining again. He takes another swig of his beer and clears his throat, tries to relocate his reasonable impassive tone of voice. “You all looked so happy and comfortable. I want to be comfortable and happy.” He kicks at the underside of the table, making it suffer for his loneliness. The pretzel mix rattles in its bowl.

“So thinking about us made you realize you were into guys?” Michael asks. When Ashton looks over at him, his eyebrows are raised very, very high.

“I wouldn’t say it that way,” Ashton mutters. It’s one thing to come out as probably bisexual, definitely another to come out as bisexually interested in one’s bandmates. Like. All of them. “It’s all your faults, anyway. You’re all over each other lately, you look like boyfriends or something. You make it look so nice.” Now he just sounds like a sad wistful loser. Which he is. So, whatever. He finishes his beer and reaches for another one, giving it to Michael when he offers his keychain bottle opener. Their fingers brush when Michael hands the opened bottle back and it makes Ashton have feelings.

“Okay,” Michael says. He huffs out a deep breath, looking extremely torn about something. Probably he’s figuring out how to tell Ashton to quit perving on all of them and fuck off forever while he’s at it. It’s what Ashton deserves for being unable to just be a friend and bandmate instead of getting his weird romantic and sexual confusion all over everything anyway. “Um, I know this is going to sound bad but I need to go talk to Cal and Luke about something really quick. Not about you. Sort of about you. Not in a bad way, you know obviously we accept you and stuff and love you no matter what. I just need to talk to them about something.”

“Please don’t kick me out of the band,” Ashton says, staring at the floor. He’s not going to cry; he will not cry. Okay. Thanks.

“Oh my god,” says Michael. “No, Ash, no - not about that.” Suddenly Michael’s grappling at him, pulling him into the fiercest hug Ashton’s ever felt, so hard it almost hurts. He buries his face in Michael’s chest, clinging onto his arm like he’d drown without Michael’s touch. “We’d never do that, okay?” Michael says, voice muffled in Ashton’s hair from how close he’s holding him. “Never, I swear,” he pledges, and tugs Ashton’s head back with a hand in his curls, forcing Ashton look at him. “You’re stuck with us forever, you asshole. Don’t ever think you’re not.” He presses a kiss to Ashton’s cheek, hard and sincere. “I’ll be right back.”

He gets up and shuts the door behind him, leaving Ashton alone. Do they really need to have a threeway discussion without him right now? What do they even need to discuss, how they’re going to harmonize their laughter when they reject him completely? This is the stupidest idea Ashton’s ever had. His brain is stupid and his dick is stupid and his band is great but full of people who will never love him the way he loves them. It’s fine. Maybe from here on out they’ll just feel badly enough to cuddle him often and generously, and maybe Ashton will even allow it instead of dying of shame. Amazing plan.

Through the closed door Calum cries, “What?!” and Ashton hides his head in his hands, then covers his ears, trying to block out any further screams about how Ashton’s betrayed them with his penis and they’ll never trust him again for lying about his intentions, even if his intentions were just to join a band and have a good time and didn’t have anything to do with catching feelings over a snuggle or two. But he can’t block out the sound of pounding feet, or of the door wrenching open, or of Calum saying his name, “Ash, Ash,” like he’s hurting, like he’s grateful for it. And when Calum pulls his hands away and climbs onto Ashton’s lap, cups Ashton’s face in his hands and kisses him hard, all he can really do is kiss back.

Luke bursts through the door in short order, groaning, “Oh god,” at the sight of them, but Ashton can’t pay too much attention to him. Calum’s so warm on his lap, kissing him firmly, already grinding a little like he can’t hold back another second. Ashton grips his slim waist hard, holding him in place so he can’t get away, even though it’s not like he’s trying. It’s just in case. He’s not letting Calum go now.

“I wasn’t a hundred percent sure on the whole part where he wanted to fuck us,” Michael admits. “But I guess that’s what he was saying.”

“Probably, yeah,” says Luke.

“Another day, another dick,” Michael says cheerfully. Ashton vaguely registers what must be the sound of Luke hitting him.

“So he’s joining us?” Luke asks. “Like we’re doing fourways now? We’re gonna have to get bigger beds at the hotels.”

That registers much more clearly in Ashton’s head, even though there’s still a moment before he can convince himself to pull away from Calum. He almost goes right back in at the sight of Calum’s face, his flushed cheeks and dilated pupils, but no, no. There are questions that need answering. Mostly, “What?” Ashton asks. “What ways?”

Calum looks over his shoulder at Michael, his hands still planted on Ashton’s neck, stroking him there. “Wait, you didn’t tell him?”

“I didn’t tell him,” Michael says, looking nervous. “Uh, Ash, don’t be mad.”

Ashton’s hands slip from Calum’s waist of their own volition, settling onto the couch. He digs his fingers into the cushions. “Tell me what?”

“We’re a thing,” Luke volunteers, after Calum and Michael stay in abashed silence. “Like, the three of us.” He looks at both of them. “We fuck.”

“I just joined,” Calum says, guilt in his tone like he knows that doesn’t make things much better. “A little bit ago. They’ve been hooking up for awhile.”

“You fuck,” Ashton repeats, his voice flat. Virtually any guilt he’s felt about keeping his interest from them has vanished forever. “How long have you been lying to me about it?”

“We just didn’t really know how to tell you,” Michael says. He looks so small, shoulders hunching in. His and Luke’s knuckles brush between them, and Luke takes his hand, squeezing it. It seems so obvious, suddenly. How could Ashton have missed it? How long has he been missing it? “We were kind of just hooking up, and then we stopped hooking up with other people. It wasn’t a big deal.”

“And then Calum was lonely, and we were all kinda drunk.” Luke shrugs, looking helpless. “And it was good, so.”

“Yeah,” Ashton says. He shrinks away from Calum as best he can, pretending his lap is empty. “It sounds good.”

“Please, Ash,” says Calum. He strokes his hands over Ashton’s shoulders, trying to calm him, comfort him, but Ashton’s so stiff he barely feels it. “We wanted you too, we just never thought you’d be into it. I would have said something ages ago.”

“But instead you just said nothing to me, about anything, forever,” Ashton says. He barely recognizes his own voice, it’s so toneless. He feels empty, like they’ve drained everything out of him. “Yeah, I’m gonna,” he starts, but then trails off. He shoves at Calum as lightly as he can manage until Calum gives in and gets off of him so he can stand up. “I just need some time to think.” Actually, he needs some time to drink, preferably alone, preferably a lot.

He’s nearly through the door when Michael stops him with a hand on his chest. Ashton’s so tempted to shove right past him, only barely keeping a hold on his temper. “I’m sorry,” Michael says. “We’re sorry. We want you to be with us, okay? Please. Just think about it, and try to forgive us for not saying something sooner.”

Ashton stares him down, and stays silent until Michael sighs and lets him go.

-

By the next morning Ashton’s had some time to think it over and it seems possible that he’s fucked everything up forever. Everyone’s staying out of his way like skittish feral kittens; he accidentally bumped into Luke coming out of the showers at the venue and he’s pretty sure Luke would have scampered away and hid under the couch if he could have fit. They’re all avoiding each other, in fact, no one’s cuddling and they all look afraid to even stand too close together. It makes soundcheck awkward. It makes everything awkward, and sad, and terrible, and Ashton knows that it’s their collective faults for lying to him like jerks but it feels like it’s his own fault for expecting to ever be included. What did they think he would do if he found out, anyway, pitch a hissy fit and leave the band? He just wants to know stuff, that’s all. They should tell him stuff. It’s only fair.

They sit in the dressing room and wait for call time to go onstage and nobody even looks at each other. Ashton doesn’t think he’s ever known them all to stare so hard at their phones, and they spend about eighty percent of their time doing that so that’s really saying something. He’s just about to get up and start loudly singing some Zeppelin when Michael and Calum look at each other, make a series of weird facial expressions, and then get up and leave the dressing room.

“Um,” Ashton says. On the opposite couch, Luke stares at him, biting his lip. After a moment, he gets up and flops down next to Ashton.

“Cuddle?” Luke asks. He’s not really in a cuddling position, but he sounds so pitiful that Ashton can’t deny him. When Ashton gives him the okay, Luke squirms closer until he’s half draped across Ashton’s lap, the way he usually sprawls on Michael. It’s kind of sweet, like he’s a big affectionate puppy. Ashton hesitantly gives him a little pet, stroking between the flat of his shoulder blades, and Luke shivers a little. “We want you,” Luke says after a minute. “And we’re sorry.”

Ashton didn’t expect them to send Luke as the emissary. Luke tends to have two ways of addressing conflict, either a sharp hot-tempered attack or literally curling up into a ball and pretending the confrontation isn’t happening. This isn’t really either, and Ashton finds that he likes seeing the peacekeeper in Luke. Maybe this threeway whatever has been good for him. Still, “It was really fucked up of you guys to keep this from me,” Ashton says. He’s a forgiving person, generally, but this one’s cut deep. He hates being lied to.

Luke cups Ashton’s knee, scritching at the black denim. “Mikey and I were just on and off at first, it didn’t seem important.” He shakes his head. At himself, Ashton realizes. “Then it got important. I don’t know, it’s hard to talk about. We didn’t talk about it with each other for a long time, and even when we did it just felt too big to try and put words to. I tried to write songs about it even. They all sucked.”

“I’m sure they were great,” Ashton says, still automatically needing to make Luke feel better. There’s always been something about Luke that Ashton’s wanted to look after; it’s been odd and awesome, watching him grow up and become a man who doesn’t need so much coddling, even though they all do it from time to time.

Luke laughs a little. “Thanks. I guess it was just one of those things where you don’t talk about it for so long that it feels weird to bring it up after so much time. Like it was a secret because it wasn’t anything serious, and then it was a secret because maybe it was serious. And then it was just a secret because that’s what it had always been. You know?”

Almost against his will, Ashton grunts in agreement. They still suck, but he can sort of understand how it would happen like that. “What about Calum though? Was that not the time to maybe let me know?”

Luke hides his face against Ashton’s thigh, groaning a little. “Oh god, that’s like really new though. I mean you know that Cal and Mike used to have a thing back in school.” That secret hadn’t lasted long; it had basically come out as soon as they all got drunk with each other, Michael talking about how he was into dudes and Calum talking about how he wasn’t, Michael saying that wasn’t what Calum said last night, or at least it wasn’t what he said some months ago. Ashton’s memory is blurry on the whole subject, except for how Calum made them all swear to never bring it up again because Club Calum was going girls only and he didn’t want it to fuck up his chances with Katy Perry when they all got famous. “I mean, don’t tell him I told you this, but Calum’s kind of had a thing for you for awhile.”

Ashton’s misty trip down memory lane comes to a screeching halt at that. It feels like crashing into a wall. “A thing?” he says faintly.

“Well he wasn’t pining away or anything, but it was pretty bad for awhile there. We partied a lot on break and he would always end up whining about how he missed you.”

“And then you had a threesome?” Ashton asks. That’s his sticking point. Ashton himself has been sad plenty of times, but his sadness has never led to all-dude threeways with his BFFs.

“You know it’s awful when he’s sad!” Luke protests. “I don’t know, we were at the club, and I was drunk and stupid and said something about hooking up with Mikey, and then Calum was upset and then he wanted to watch, which was weird but whatever, and so we got a cab to Mikey’s and then Mikey was mad because we interrupted his gaming but then, I mean, it was sex. Which Michael likes. Then it was all three of us, but just a couple of times since then.”

“Like the other night,” Ashton says, realization slowly dawning. No wonder Luke had been so huffy at him for snatching up Calum for a cuddle session, Luke had plans for Calum that evening. Sex plans. Ashton’s clearly underestimated Luke’s libido. He’s sort of proud of the kid. He’d just always figured that Luke wasn’t much for hookups because he was an inexperienced little cupcake looking for true love, but apparently Luke’s just been raking in the dick on the low.

“Yeah,” Luke confirms, “but Cal was too drunk.”

He sits up and Ashton misses him already, the warm weight of Luke on his lap. He thinks about how nice it would probably feel to have Luke naked on his lap, Luke’s broad body spread out for him to touch. Then he tries to think of other stuff so he doesn’t end up taking a boner onstage.

Luke doesn’t go far, though, reaching over and taking Ashton’s hand in his, squeezing it. He leans up against Ashton’s shoulder and says, “Do you think you can forgive us?”

As much as Ashton would like to hold onto this one on principle, maybe teach them all a lesson, his other urges are somewhat stronger. “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll forgive you. Do you really wanna try it with all of us? How would that even work?”

“Just one more dick, I guess,” Luke says, shrugging. When Ashton looks askance at him, Luke gives him a wicked grin. He looks excited about it, the little pervert. This side of Luke is so far really interesting. “We’ll figure it out. Tonight, if you want.”

Ashton wants.

-

He almost changes his mind after Calum and Michael tackle him like hyenas let loose from the zoo, the news barely texted from Luke’s phone before they burst through the dressing room door and then were on him. Mostly he just shrieks as his survival instincts kick in with all the heavy dudes up on him and sloppy kisses being pressed to his face. It’s not the smoothest seduction he’s ever been party to, but he guesses they get points for sincerity. Once he shoos them off Calum just sits close and stares at him with giant happy Pixar eyes while Michael and Luke pretend they aren’t groping each other in orgy anticipation.

It’s probably a good thing that Ashton’s caged up behind the drums for the show; it’s already pretty blatant how they’re all grinding up on each other onstage, he can’t imagine how they’d be molesting his person if they had easier access to him. He likes watching it this time, though, the open delight on Calum’s face when Luke snags his microphone, Michael’s saucy grin when he rubs up on Luke as Luke sings a solo. They keep looking back at him now, like it’s all for his benefit, something for Ashton to enjoy instead of something he’s being excluded from. It’s for him. They’re for him.

Ashton doesn’t know about the guys, but he’s about to vibrate out of his physical body from all the tension by the time they’re headed back to the night’s hotel. Which thank god for that, because coordinating a four-way in the back lounge wouldn’t have been as comfortable. Not that he wouldn’t have given it his all, but it’s nice that they’ll have room to spread out. And open. Ashton wonders if he’ll get to fuck somebody tonight. He hopes so.

He doesn’t have to wait long to find out once they’ve all pushed into their chosen room in tensely anticipatory silence. Calum breaks it with an adorably honest, “I’m nervous and I need a drink,” and heads for the minibar.

“Shots!” Luke says, following him. Ashton wavers on going after them, because reasonably he’s a bit nervous too and a little something wouldn’t hurt, but he doesn’t get far before Michael’s snagged him, his hands firm on Ashton’s chest as he pushes Ashton against the wall.

“I’ve wanted to suck your dick since I was sixteen,” Michael says. All Ashton can do is swallow and open for Michael’s kisses, pressed hot and needy to his mouth. He’s the second guy Ashton’s kissed now, and he’s stubblier than Calum, no getting around the dudeliness of him. He’s half-hard, too, Ashton can feel it, and more to the point he fucking likes it, likes feeling it and knowing that Michael wants him, has wanted him in more than just a jokey opportunistic way. He slides his hands around Michael’s waist and drags him close, kissing him back as hard as he’s getting it. Michael shoves his hands beneath Ashton’s shirt, eager and aggressive for it, and Ashton goes with it. He goes with Michael pulling him back and then tugging him toward the bed by his belt, pushing him down onto it.

Calum and Luke are already there, shirtless and making out, a couple of empty minis on the bedside table. They haven’t been choosy, gin and vodka and tequila all represented. Their mouths must taste sharp, liquored; Ashton wants to know for certain, tugs at Calum’s shoulder until he pulls back from Luke with a gasp, arching up towards Ashton and shutting his eyes in anticipation of the kiss Ashton eagerly gives him. Gin, Calum’s had the gin, the taste stinging and juniper bright on his tongue. Luke clambers over them to get to Michael and Ashton just pulls Calum on top of him, cupping Calum’s ass and guiding him to rub their cocks together through their jeans. He’s always liked girls on top, how he could watch them take a ride, see how they loved it. He bets Calum would look just as good riding his cock. God, he hopes Cal is into that sort of thing.

It’s an effort, but Ashton manages to tear himself away, his hands on Calum’s chest keeping him back so he can gasp out, “How do you guys usually do this? Like what do you do?” Undeterred, Calum goes for Ashton’s neck, licking at his pulse and sucking hard enough to leave a little mark. It makes something in Ashton go all woozy, his body hot with need as he tugs at the back of Calum’s hair, then just holds him there, encouraging him to keep on, stretching to offer more of his throat.

Michael shrugs. He and Luke have already gotten naked, which is impressive in its swiftness, though Ashton supposes they’ve had plenty of practice. “Luke likes getting fucked the most,” Luke nods at that, looking excited about it, and Michael pats his bare ass, “but we’re all pretty switchy. Anything you’re interested in trying?” Michael asks. He licks his lips. “Do you think you could fit two of us in your ass at once?”

“What?” Ashton squeaks, blanching. Jesus Christ, what has he gotten himself into here?

“Dude,” Calum says, pulling back from Ashton’s throat. “Ease off.”

“Worth a try,” Michael says, grinning like the obnoxious dick he is. Ashton smacks his arm, and Michael yelps, curling into Luke.

“It is worth a try,” Luke says, sounding extremely huffy about it.

Michael instantly switches his attention to Luke, telling him, “It’ll hurt you! What if we break you and then you can’t go onstage?”

“That’s what lube is for,” Luke says. He gives Michael a sulky look, and Ashton thinks he hears him mutter something about next time they have a vacation. Ashton has definitely gotten himself into something very kinky, and here he was worrying that Calum might not like to be on top.

“Thank god you’re here now,” Calum mumbles into his chest. “Do you see what I’ve been dealing with? It’s all jokes all the time with these nerds, and Michael won’t even slap me very hard.”

“Well, I was thinking there could be blowjobs,” Ashton says feebly. So much for being the cool older experienced one in the group. He’s just going to brace himself for whips and chains and latex masks, it’s only a matter of time.

“Don’t joke about double anal, Ashton’s new at this,” Calum admonishes Michael, who just purses his lips at him in a kiss. Calum wiggles on top of Ashton, working his hips down against Ashton’s cock. “You can fuck me, if you want.”

“Yeah, want that,” Ashton says. He squints. “Just me alone though, right?”

“Yes,” Calum says. He goes to give Michael a follow-up smack but Michael’s already distracted, Luke settled between his legs licking at his cock. It’s nice to watch, if Ashton’s honest. Luke opens wide and slides several impressive inches down Michael’s thick cock, Michael groaning and fisting his hand in Luke’s hair, guiding him. Ashton doesn’t think he’ll be that good at dick-sucking himself, but he’s interested in trying. He wants to get good at it, be good for them. “Come on,” Calum says. They get their jeans off, and Calum grabs the lube, looking Ashton’s naked body up and down. “I’ve wanted to do this for a really long time,” he says. “Not just the sex stuff. The feelings stuff.”

“Yeah, Cal,” Ashton says. He opens his arms and Calum falls back into them, holding him close and squeezing tight. “I’m glad we’re doing this, I want you too.”

“You guys are so cute,” Michael says next to them, but it’s fairly breathless so any sarcasm doesn’t really come through, if he even intended any in the first place.

“Yeah, that’s adorable,” Luke says in his flatly sassy Luke voice. “It’s like the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen.” Ashton wants to scold them or even look over at them and frown, but he kind of doesn’t care if Michael and Luke make fun of them. Love is rad, Ashton doesn’t care what anyone else says. He kisses Calum again, feeling his shoulders move. He lets his hands trace the movement down, to Calum’s flexing wrist, his hand working, fingers pushed into himself getting ready to take Ashton’s cock. He rubs at the bases of Calum’s two fingers buried inside, feeling at the hot tight stretch of his hole, and Calum swears at his touch.

“That looks good,” says Michael. “I wanna do that too. Luke, get on my dick.” He pats his lap.

“Yes, master,” Luke says, all low and breathy.

“Stop sexually trolling me,” Michael whines. “You’re gonna make me come in like two seconds, come on.” Ashton’s not gonna lie, it kinda does something for him too.

Also, Ashton knew that Luke and Calum were both mildly competitive in their own ways, but he’s never seen two guys in an obvious race to see who could sit on a cock first. It’s pretty dumb but mostly hilarious, and Ashton can’t help but laugh. At least Calum turns back to look at Ashton before he gets into position, Ashton’s cock thick and rubbed slick in his hand as he steadies it and then carefully, carefully lowers himself down. Then he keeps looking at Ashton, his eyes lidded, lips licked wet. He winces a little, like it hurts, overwhelms him to take it, and Ashton just has a hand out to stroke his thigh, comfort him, when Calum’s grimace spreads into a slow, blissed out smile and he says Ashton’s name.

“Jesus, Cal,” Ashton says in wonder. “You look so fucking good.”

Calum moans at the praise, staring down at Ashton like he’s too dazed to do anything but feel it, take it, love it. “Feels so good,” he manages, a long moment after clearing his throat. “You feel so good.”

The bed’s starting to bounce rather more aggressively next to them, Michael fucking hard up into Luke and Luke taking it like it’s what he was made for. Luke turns to look at them, giving Ashton’s body an appreciative once-over and then reaching out to tap his fingertips on Calum’s wrist, circle around it to get his attention. Once he has it he says, “We’re like cowboys,” to Calum, and Calum groans.

“We are literally not like cowboys in any way at all,” says Calum. Ashton shifts his hips, fucking up into Calum’s ass, and Calum throws his head back, shoving himself down onto Ashton’s cock so hard that Ashton’s probably going to have bruises on his thighs tomorrow. He looks forward to it.

“Ride ‘em, cowboy,” Michael says lightly.

“You see,” Calum says, in labored gasps as he starts fucking himself properly, working his ass in circles on Ashton’s dick, “what I have to put up with.” He clenches down, pushing his fisted knuckles against Ashton’s abs, and then it’s Ashton who can’t help but moan. “Jokes, always jokes with these two.”

“I like laughing during sex,” says Michael. “It’s good for the spirit. Right, Luke?” Luke doesn’t answer, too busy grinding himself roughly on Michael’s cock, bouncing on it hard enough to make Michael’s little tummy quiver.

“Faster,” Ashton demands and, struck by inspiration, smacks Calum’s ass cheek, making Calum’s whole body jerk, his ass clenching down hard.

“Fuck, please,” Calum gasps, “again.” It’s just so easy to make Calum happy, Ashton’s always loved that about him. How quick he is to laugh, how he’s always up to have a good time, how bright he makes Ashton’s days. He’d do anything for Calum, will do anything for him. Even smack his freaky little ass while he rides Ashton’s dick. In fact, this may be the easiest time Ashton’s ever had pleasing him.

Michael’s hands are braced on Luke’s hips, guiding him up and down, fucking him, so Ashton mirrors him, digging his thumbs into Calum’s hipbones in between increasingly hard smacks to Calum’s ass. It’s super hot and also a relief when Calum gets there, his come spattering hot and white all over Ashton’s clenching abs; Ashton is definitely not going to last much longer, and he didn’t want to come first. “Can I be on top?” Ashton asks, needing the control, needing to fuck. Calum complies, wincing a little as he moves off but getting into position, spreading his legs so Ashton can push his cock back inside. Calum’s so relaxed and it feels so perfect, his body so hot for Ashton to fill up.

“Missionary,” says Luke. “Ooh, kinky.”

“Shut up, Lucas,” Calum says, but it’s more of a purr, and he doesn’t take his eyes off Ashton’s face, watching him dreamily as Ashton starts to pound him, taking what he needs. “Don’t pick on Ash just because Mike’s too lazy to ever be on top.”

“I wasn’t gonna be the one to say it,” Luke says, barely working himself on Michael’s cock now, a slow grind. He’s already come and Ashton missed it; he must have been awfully quiet, which Ashton finds strangely charming. It does explain why he’s never heard Luke jerking off in the bunks like he’s heard some less discreet bandmates he won’t name.

“Fuck off,” Michael says, gone a little screechy there at the end he’s so offended. “Ashton, you’re fucking Luke from now on. I hate him. If I had to date any member of this band it’d be you.”

“Okay,” Ashton tells him, barely paying attention now. Sure he’ll date Michael, he’ll date everyone in the whole band. He’s happy to be in whatever position, happy to be with them, happy to be looking down at Calum’s soft, content face as he fucks in deep and comes inside him. It’s all great. “I love you guys,” he says, and it’s probably only fifty percent his amazing orgasm talking.

“We love you too, Ash,” Luke says. He reaches over and pats Ashton on the shoulder, then gets grabby with him when Ashton tries to lie down on Calum’s other side. Fuck-stupid and obedient, Ashton lets Luke pull him into a kiss. It’s sweet with a little bit of teeth, about what Ashton would have expected from him. Michael’s looking at them all sleepy and pleased when Ashton pulls away, so Ashton must have missed Michael coming too. He really needs to get better about paying attention to these things if they’re all gonna be riding the fourway express for the foreseeable future. Maybe he can get them to start like, ringing a bell when they’ve finished. Just some kind of indicator.

“Ashton’s in the middle,” Calum announces.

Okay, while his first thought is still No! That’s so gay, it at least says something that his follow-up thought is Which is fine, because you just had gay sex with all of them. That’s progress. And the sex, that was progress too. The happiness he feels as he lets Calum pull him into a cuddle with Michael on the other side and Luke draped over Michael rubbing on Ashton’s belly, well, that has to be a sign of personal growth. That he can let himself feel it, and let himself need his boys this way, have his boys this way.

He knows for sure now, at least, that he doesn’t have anything left to be jealous of. And he knows he never will anymore, with them.