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Trip and Stumble

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First day of classes.

Chris has no idea what he's doing here. Here - at this school, in Michigan, so far from home. Here - in this class, following some hare brained idea of acting, of maybe one day fame and success. His schedule is an even split of the more practical things his parents pushed (two intro business courses), the one core math he hadn't had the chance to take over the summer, and the ones he's excited-slash-terrified about, creative writing and... this. Theater.

He's already been to his first business class (boring) and his first writing class (intriguing, promising) and now he's sitting here on the ground in a circle with his backpack on his lap trying not to think about how out of place he is.

There are a couple dozen other students, at least. The more students there are the less focus will be on him. It's not that he's shy, exactly; he's just used to trying not to attract the wrong kind of attention.

He knows University of Michigan isn't exactly his high school in Clovis, but old habits die hard.

*

Twenty minutes into the class, a guy comes barreling in. He's out of breath, slightly sweaty, and has a guitar case slung over his shoulder. The instructor gives him an indulgent smile as he whoops, "Made it! Oh, man. You guys missed me, right?"

He drops easily into a space that magically opens up for him between two people he obviously knows. His eyes scan the room, smile open and easily, but don't linger on anyone until he's looking at the instructor.

"We were inconsolable without you, Mr. Criss," the instructor says. "Our fragile emotional states can't handle it, so perhaps try to be on time next class?"

"Of course." The guy salutes cockily and then class goes on.

*

Chris doesn't know anyone here. He has a roommate he saw for exactly twenty two waking minutes, though the awkwardness of stilted conversation made it seem easily three times as long.

He picked Michigan precisely because he doesn't know anyone here, but that decision is feeling short sighted by day number two.

He scopes out the campus on his off-time, finding the coffee shop and the bookstore and a couple of places that seem nice for sitting and writing.

He reads ahead and works on assignments that haven't even been covered yet because there are only so many youtube videos he can watch before he begins to feel like a useless human being.

He's bored.

He isn't entirely socially incapacitated; the barista at the coffee shop makes pleasant enough conversation, laughing at him when he comes in for the second time on the same day - in the same shift for her. Her name is Ashley and she gives him a heads up on the best routes across campus and calls him pet names that seem more insulting than affectionate, but he appreciates a good sense of humor.

He likes that he can have a conversation with her and doesn't walk away feeling patronized or like he's some curious oddity.

*

By the second week he's determined that business bores him to tears, the algebra course is easy enough since he's fresh from covering the same material in his more advanced high school courses, he's in love with everything about creative writing, and theater is still terrifying.

He's still bored and staving off homesickness. He calls his parents every day and gives them updates. He emails the few people he'd decided to make an attempt to get in touch with, but replies are sparse.

He sees Ashley in the coffee shop every day except Tuesday and Friday, which are her days off. His roommate is still absent more than he's present, and judging from the few interactions they've had, Chris is just fine with that.

His parents mail him a care package with a little plush llama, cookies in ziplock bags, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and letters from his sister. He gets a little misty eyed reading the letters and then carefully folds them back into their envelopes, tucking them into his desk drawer.

*

The guy from theater class continues to make a spectacle of himself. Chris is equal parts infatuated and envious.

His name is Darren. He has this perfect head of curly hair that Chris itches to touch. He sings almost more than he speaks, he's not the least bit lacking in confidence or charisma, and he's sort of amazing to watch.

It's not exactly that he tries to be the center of attention - and not even that he always is, some days he just sits there and takes it all in. But he's the first to volunteer when their instructor wants to make an example, he's the first to spout off ideas and theories, the first to crack a joke when the moment arises.

Chris can hardly tears his eyes away, though he tries not to be too obvious about it.

*

It's in the third week that they first split up for group work.

He's already feeling that sense of lead in his stomach that comes with group work, because he doesn't really KNOW anyone yet. He's not exactly hopeful, and that leads to a large amount of surprise when a shadow falls over him about two seconds after the instructor tells them choose their partners.

"Chris, right?"

Fuck.

No fucking way.

"Yes," Chris says, voice obnoxiously high as he looks dumbly up at Darren. "Darren."

Darren beams that big grin at him. "That's me. You wanna work together?"

Well, he's not about to turn that down. "Uh... sure?"

Darren just laughs. "Awesome."

Since the room has no chairs, Darren sits cross-legged in front of Chris. "So we're supposed to work on improv and body movements. Have you done theater stuff before?"

"Not really," Chris admits. "High school plays, but they weren't quite on this level."

"Oh, no worries, we got this. I'm an old pro. My friends and I actually have this theater company, it's so awesome, man." Darren's enthusiasm is obvious, especially when he turns to wave at a couple of the other people in the class. The girl just smiles and waves back, obviously humoring him. "We've put on like, three shows already. We did this Jurassic Park parody. It was epic. We're trying to hammer out a script for this Harry Potter thing, too."

"Harry Potter?" Chris can't help the way his voice rises... though he really, really wishes he could.

"You're a fan?" Darren laughs.

"Uh. Yeah. A little." The dry tone of his voice relays his absolute sarcasm in underplaying his love of Harry Potter.

"Wicked." He drops to a whisper and leans in close enough for Chris to smell after shave. "I was totally hoping you weren't one of those pretentious theater-is-the-only-acceptable-art-form douches."

"Not me," Chris says, laughing. "I spent way too many hours watching movies and tv shows in my room during high school to ever think that."

He's aware of how pathetic the statement is as soon as he says it, but Darren doesn't miss a beat. He just shrugs and keeps grinning and says, "Gotta have hobbies, man."

There isn't much left of the class period, since most of it had been spent explaining the group projects to come. Darren seems to realize this, thumbing over his phone display with a faint frown. "Here, let me-"

"What?" Chris tries to ask. Everyone else is starting to filter out of the room.

Darren is already grabbing Chris's phone from where it sits by his hand, turning it on and swiping over the lock screen. "Hah, awesome," he says when he sees the lock screen, a picture of two llamas. The little grin stays on his face as he opens up Chris's contacts page (and if he notices how few numbers are on it, he politely doesn't comment). He enters in his information then holds up the phone and takes a goofy picture of himself, squinting and making a duckface.

Then he calls himself from the phone and picks up his own to stop the ringing. It only takes him a second to store Chris's information. "Cheese!" is all the warning he gives before snapping a picture of Chris. "I gotta get to a rehearsal, but I'll text you later and we can work out a time to meet up, okay?"

"Uh, sure-"

Darren springs to his feet, then stops in front of Chris and bends to bow. "Until we meet again!"

*

Chris tries not to spend the entire weekend pathetically staring at his phone willing it to buzz.

It is, of course, entirely within his capability to be the first one to reach out. And yet... somehow... it's also not. He picks up the phone once, but only gets as far as pulling up his text messages (eyes skimming the three from his mother and one from his cousin Jeremy asking if he'd taken his action figure collection to college with him and if not, could he have it?) before a wave of blended shame and anxiety washes over him and he drops the phone like it's going to explode if he dares type a letter.

He definitely would never admit to pulling up the stupid picture Darren had taken of himself. Or emailing the picture to himself to save on his laptop. Or to very briefly setting it as his background before he realized exactly how pathetic that was and changed it back to Lady Gaga.

On Sunday night he lies in bed and thinks of what Darren probably spent his weekend doing. He's tried facebook stalking but Darren's profile is locked down. The couple of pictures that Chris could pull up were telling enough; Darren's profile photos have all been him with groups of people, except for a couple where he was obviously performing. (Those get saved to the same folder that the cell phone picture is in; buried in his documents with an inconspicuous filename.)

Darren's obviously got a million friends and a lively social life. He's probably got an absolutely gorgeous girlfriend that he has very frequent, very heterosexual sex with.

And that's why Chris considers himself the creepiest creeper ever for the way he just can't stop thinking about Darren.

*

Darren doesn't actually text until late on Monday. Chris is leaving his finance class, battling an impending headache and a severe need for caffeine when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

The text says: accio theater buddy!

Chris actually stops and laughs, typing back: Doesn't seem to be working. Sure you aren't a squib?

You wound me. Make it up to me. You around? Coffee? We can talk shop.

Chris's heart starts to pound. Sure. Starbucks on campus? I'm nearby.

C U in a few

*

Chris is there early.

Ashley - wonderful, hilarious, absolutely evil Ashley - is working. It's the first time Chris has been downright dismayed to see her. He feels bad, honestly, a little bit - but he's already afraid his crush is scrawled across his forehead in permanent marker and he knows she won't hesitate to tease him ruthlessly.

He's right.

"So what's going on..." she says slowly, cutting her eyes at him as she prepares his regular order.

"Just meeting a classmate to work on something," he says, and then - shit - giggles.

Her eyes go wide. "He must be hot."

"He?" Chris goes sort of cold all over because he's never told her that he was gay. Of course, it's not a huge shock for her to guess; if the idiots at his high school knew from just looking at him, of course everyone does. But he's never had it thrown around so casually.

"Yeah... dude, you're not straight, are you?" She puts a hand on her hip. "Because I am just not prepared to deal with the fallout of you falling madly in love with all this, okay, babyface? I know I'm all kinds of irresistible, but we got a good thang goin' on here. "

This time he's not embarrassed about giggling. "No, definitely gay."

"Whew." She exaggerates her relief. "So back to my first question."

"You didn't ask anything," he shoots back primly.

She makes a face. "Fine. Is he hot?"

He only hesitates for a second. ".... very. But straight."

She shrugs, unphased. "Don't stop you from enjoying the eye candy."

"Shut up, there he is," Chris hisses, spotting Darren walking in through the double doors. He gives Ashley one more warning look.

"Hey, Chris." Darren greets him warmly. "Grab us a table? I'm gonna get some tea and one of those cookie things, you want?"

"N-no, no thanks," Chris stutters. "I'll just... I'll get a table. Do you want me to-"

He gestures sort of vaguely toward Darren's guitar and bag. Darren's face lights up. "Oh yeah, awesome, thanks! That'd be great."

It's a little awkward to walk across the coffee shop carrying his own bag plus Darren's, and Darren's guitar, but Chris wouldn't really trade it for anything. The guitar case handle is still warm from Darren's grip on it before and it makes heat surge through Chris's belly.

Of course, his contact is brief, because as soon as he slides into the curved booth seat he props the guitar case up and puts Darren's bag safely on the other side. He digs through his own to pull out the instruction sheet for their assignment.

*

Darren is hilarious.

Darren does have a million friends, judging by the way every five minutes or so someone stops by to say hi to him. It makes working on the assignment a little difficult, but even when they aren’t being interrupted they aren’t exactly working on the assignment.

There’s just too much to talk about.

Musicals, movies, books, television shows... bands and songs and music and Chris is pretty sure within half an hour that he could talk to Darren for the rest of forever and not run out of things to say.

And the funny thing is, Darren seems to be having fun talking to him, too. So fun that an hour and a half goes by and they’re still no closer to having an idea of what they’ll do for class on Thursday.

“Oh, shit,” Darren says, frowning at his phone when it buzzes for the third time. “I have to go, I’m late.”

He doesn’t say what he’s later for, though Chris wonders. “Oh. Should we-”

“Uh, tomorrow? Does that work for you, are you free? I should have some time between four and six. And we can actually like, pay attention to the school stuff.” Darren laughs. “Well, unless you find that copy of the blooper reel you were telling me about, then we totally need to watch that first.”

“I think I'm free. Just text me later and I'll know for sure.” Chris asks. (He knows for sure that he's free. He doesn’t want to admit that outside of class he has nothing else to do. Plus - he really wants Darren to text him.)

He watches Darren gather up his stuff. “Absolutely.”

He flashes Chris one last smile and then he’s gone.

*

They meet the next day and actually get stuff done. Darren has a full day Wednesday, and the assignment is due Thursday, so there’s not room for much more procrastination.

Chris is disappointed but he’d known that this was only temporary.

They get good feedback from the instructor. Chris feels warmed all the way through at the triumphant grin Darren shoots him, and the way Darren squeezes his shoulder before crossing the room back to his friends.

But then Darren is there - across the room, back with his friends, talking with them... not really looking at Chris, and that’s the way it stays for the rest of the class.

*

Chris doesn’t really like the dining hall. He has a meal plan and most days he gets lunch and dinner there. He always gets it in takeout container so he can avoid the peculiar kind of misery that comes with sitting at a table by himself to eat.

There are plenty of places outside and he always has his laptop. He usually writes while he picks at his food, jotting down novel ideas and character notes and whatever pops into his head.

No one has ever tried to join him. He can hardly imagine a scenario in which case anyone would.

*

He’s camped out at his usual table in the coffee shop with his finance homework spread around him when he hears the scraping of a chair being moved around.

He’s prepared to send a glare in someone’s direction for not asking first when he realizes they aren’t just taking the chair, they’re sitting in it.

And that it’s not just anyone... it’s Darren.

“Uh.” Chris squeaks, then his eyes go wide, and he frantically wishes he could take back the high pitched note of his voice. “Hi?”

“Mind some company?” Darren asks, dropping down into the seat.

He’s a little bit sweaty and smiling widely.

Sweaty looks good on him. Chris has to swallow hard and force his eyes away. “Of course not. I was just doing some homework.”

He’s aware even as he says it how lame it is.

Darren doesn’t seem to judge him though. “Cool. That looks like... numbers stuff.” He makes a face. “I’m pretty shitty at numbers.”

“Theater kid,” Chris says, knowingly. “Well, I’m only taking this because my parents wanted me to have a practical backup to creative writing.”

“Oh, you write?” Darren grins. “I’m not surprised.”

“Should I be insulted?” Chris asks.

Darren just laughs. “No way, man. Writers are the best. Like, all the good shit in the world, all the plays and books and movies and musicals, they come out of the minds of writers. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without writers.”

And that’s when Chris starts to fall a little bit in love.

*

On Thursday Chris walks into class and hears someone call his name.

It’s one of the girls - one of Darren’s friends. She’s short and sort of intimidating, one of those people with a lot of personality packed into a little frame.

“You always sit by yourself,” she says, smiling at him. She pats the floor beside her. There are no chairs in the classroom, because the students spend most of it up moving around. “Come join us.”

“Uh... sure.” He smiles at takes a seat, immediately wondering where Darren will sit when he comes in.

But he doesn’t come in.

His friends don’t seem to be expecting him, since the usual spot isn’t left open. The class period passes quickly anyway. Darren’s friends include him in their improv group and he manages to hold his own, though he’s a little less pushy with his ideas than the rest of them. He doesn’t get some of the inside jokes and he doesn’t offer many quips himself but he doesn’t leave the room overwhelming humiliated by his social awkwardness, which feels a little bit like a victory.

*

And then, somehow, Chris starts to make friends.

Lauren, the girl from his class, invites him to dinner in the dining hall. For the first time since he’s arrived in Michigan he sits at a table full of people, all laughing and talking.

He still doesn’t get all the jokes, but he doesn’t really care, because Darren is there. Darren is there and thrilled to see him, swooping into the seat beside Chris even though it means moving someone’s backpack into a different one.

Chris is a little quiet - a little overwhelmed, because Darren’s friends are loud, but he laughs along with the conversation and sometimes Darren leans in and whispers these little comments to him that make him sort of giggle.

A few days later, he walks into the dining hall and sees them again. Joey beckons him this time and he makes his way over, dropping his bag at the table with a bashful wave.

When he comes back with a tray of food, Darren’s there and they’ve shifted around so that Chris’s seat is beside Darren’s. Chris isn’t entirely sure what sort of blessings he’d bestowed in a previous life to earn this, but he won’t complain.

*

Chris likes Lauren. Beyond the fact that she’s friendly to him, he actually finds it really fun to hang out with her. She’s tiny and adorable and headstrong and passionate with her opinions and probably the most driven person that Chris knows, but her sense of humor comes out of nowhere and she can have him doubled over laughing faster than anyone he’s ever met.

He likes the rest of them, too, their whole little theater group clique. It takes a few weeks but he stops thinking of them as ‘Darren’s friends’ and just starts thinking of them as... friends.

He’s in the dining hall with her for lunch, just the two of them for now though Chris knows that’ll change. Through either some sort of collective hive mind or previous made standing group arrangement there’s always a starkid or two hanging around the table at meal time.

“So you’ve never been to a club?” She’s narrowing her eyes at him in disbelief. “Chris Colfer, what must your life have been before coming to this enchanted land of Michigan!”

He laughs with her, long past feeling offended or nervous when she makes fun of his somewhat limited life experience.

“Never,” he confirms.

“Well, we’re changing that,” she decides. “This Friday night, sweetie. It is on.”

“I’m under 21, remember?” He points out. “And no, I don’t have a fake id.”

“Oh, we can get you one. Brian’s a total computer whiz, he can just print one up.” Lauren smiles at him.

Chris isn’t entirely sure which Brian she means (he’s pretty sure he’s met at least two of them, though still not as confusing as when they start talking about Joe and everyone else instinctively knows which one they mean) but he decides to just go with it.

Joey (the one that’s Darren’s roommate, Chris has figured out) slides into the seat beside Lauren, his plate piled with food. “Hey party people, what’s the haps?”

“Oh, just planning the corruption of our new friend here.” Lauren gives him a gleeful grin and launches into an explanation for Joey.

*

His roommate is passed out on the bed as Chris gets dressed for his first official wild and crazy college kid night out on the town.

His wardrobe doesn’t offer a ton of choice but he’s wearing jeans a little tighter than he’d normally wear. He shaves (though his stubble is frankly laughable, he still wants to make the effort) and puts on cologne and makes sure he has his shiny new fake id and wallet and cash and phone and heads out the door.

It only takes him a few minutes to walk to the club (proximity is a key deciding factor in location, since no one wants to be a designated driver - he'd witness that argument), but the night is cool and he’s thankfully not sweaty by the time he gets there.

Of course, that changes after two minutes inside with what feels like a thousand people shoving and laughing and dancing and drinking all around him. He spots Jim first for the sheer height factor of him and heads through the dance floor to him, hoping Lauren and the others will be around.

They are, and they all greet him with hugs, and at least three people want to buy him drinks but he begs off, saying he’ll go get his first one at least. The truth is more that he feels sort of overwhelmed and wants to catch his breath a little.

He gets a long island iced tea because it’s the only alcoholic drink he’s ever really had before and sits. His heart is sort of pounding and he wants to relax and enjoy this but he also sort of wants to just leave and go home.

And he might... except that he has no idea if Darren is going to be here or not, and the idea of getting to see him is too tempting. His mind spins scenarios in which Darren asks him to dance, Darren does a body shot off of him, Darren grinding sweatily...

The jeans Chris is wearing are entirely unsuited to his overactive imagination.

Besides, he doesn’t even seen Darren.

He stays at the bar for another fifteen minutes. Meredith comes up and chats with him until she spots Brian and goes off to dance with him. A couple of other people nod from a few feet away or wave. No one seems overly concerned with forcing him to be more social than he feels like it, and he’s relieved. He just needs a little bit of time and maybe another drink before he feels eased into it.

*

The second drink helps. He’s actually considering going to try and find Lauren again when a familiar laugh right in his ear makes him shiver and his heart thud. “Oh my God, look who I found.”

Chris does a half-turn on his stool and he’s already smiling when his eyes meet Darren’s.

Darren steps back and his eyes sweep up and down over Chris. “Wow, Colfer, you clean up well.”

Did Darren just-

Chris giggles. He blames the drink.

“Oh yeah? You look...” He pauses, considering. “Sweaty.”

Darren laughs. Someone walks behind him and bumps him closer to Chris. Chris sucks in a breath at Darren’s arm reaching past him to steady himself along the bar. “Touche. Dancing does that. Which means you... must not have done any dancing yet...” He looks at Chris like he’s judging him. “What gives?”

“Uh, I’m not really a dancer,” Chris is quick to say. “Definitely... not a dancer. At all.”

“Awwww, you just haven’t found the right partner. Hey, what are you drinking?” Darren reaches out and instead of taking the glass that Chris holds out, grabs Chris’s wrist and just guides it closer, lips closing over the straw in a way that makes Chris’s pulse pound faster. “Long Island? Not bad.”

He lets go of Chris’s hand. “So, dancing?”

He’s giving Chris an expectant look and, fuck, is Darren asking him to dance? Is this really happening? Is this-

“Darren!” A squealing voice interrupts his thoughts. A girl practically launches herself at him - jumping onto his back and wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck.

He doesn’t even look startled. “I’m sorry, baby, did I leave you lonely too long?”

The girl lets go and moves around him, pressing her back to Darren’s chest. “Uh huh.” She pouts and to Chris it looks absolutely ridiculous but Darren just laughs.

“Sorry, I ran into Chris here - Chris is awesome, he’s-”

“Dance!” She demands, not even sparing Chris a glance.

“Fine, fine, fine.” Darren pretends to sigh like he’s annoyed, then grins at Chris as he lets the girl pull him away. “Seriously, man, let loose and dance a little. It’ll be fun!”

*

Chris doesn’t take Darren’s advice, but he does go find Lauren.

She invited him and he thinks it would be rude not to hang out with her a little bit before he makes his exit. She tries to cajole him into dancing just like Darren had but when he says he’s too embarrassed to try, she doesn’t push.

“We’ll just have to make sure you learn before you come back,” a blonde girl (Denise?) adds, grinning. “Maybe find a nice, cute, single teacher to give you some one on one lessons...”

"Ooh, yes." Lauren is all for this plan. "Plenty of eligible 'dance' partners around here. I saw a couple of them checking you out earlier."

Chris turns beet red and everyone laughs. “I think I’m fine with not dancing until I meet someone I want to learn from.”

Yeah, he’s definitely going to blame the drink on that one, because widened eyes clue him in on the fact that he just revealed a little more about himself than he’d intended. He slaps a hand over his mouth and says, muffled, “Ohmygod, pretend I didn’t just tell you all that I’m a virgin.”

Lauren can hardly catch her breath she’s laughing so hard. “You really are the most precious thing ever, you know that?” She leans in and kisses him on the cheek. “Don’t worry, honey. Dance on your own time, no one’s gonna judge.”

Chris is still mortified but he’s also starting to realize exactly how awesome this group of people is.

*

Classes don’t get easier or harder, but somehow Chris finds himself managing better. The dullness of his first months in Michigan give way to a social life that, while not exactly bustling, is slightly less embarrassingly sparse.

Theater and creative writing are the highlights. He loves that he leaves both classes feeling uplifted and like he’s got a tentative grasp on his purpose in life. With his writing course, it’s because he walks out of the room overflowing with ideas - a paragraph he’d jotted down in class he wants to expound upon, an outline for a new story slotting together in his mind, sometimes even just a smattering of words that he likes the sound of and wants to use later.

But with his theater class, it’s because of the people in it. He doesn’t sit alone anymore. He doesn’t get all of their jokes but he gets enough of them. He knows their names now, sees most of them in the dining hall once or twice a week.

They like him.

Darren likes him, too, though Chris isn’t sure why. He likes to pull Chris into little side conversations. He does it so casually and Chris knows that Darren has no idea that every single one of those little moments gets carefully stored away in a little part of Chris’s heart, mementos of college growing pains and learning how to let himself enjoy what he can have instead of growing bitter over what he can't.

One Thursday Darren is late. He walks in with an impressive case of bedhead, wearing a faded high school t-shirt and plaid pajama pants.

Everyone laughs. Darren seems fairly unphased by it, giving the instructor a sheepish grin. “Uh, might have forgotten what time class was.” He surveys the room, people around sitting in a loose circle on the floor, and then pointedly steps between Chris and Joey. He looks and Joey and nudges with his foot. “Over.”

Chris has to look away so he doesn’t grin too hard when Darren makes himself comfortable between them.

They’re watching a recorded stage performance so the circle breaks up anyway, people re-positioning themselves throughout the room so they can view the video more comfortably. Chris can see just fine, so he stays where he is, toward the back of the room. Darren doesn’t seem particularly inclined to move, either.

Once the lights are dimmed, Chris feels Darren shift in closer and there’s warmth against his side. “Listen, if I zonk out again, just elbow me, okay? Sometimes I drool in my sleep.”

Chris laughs quietly. “Late night?”

“Not the fun kind. Cramming for an exam this afternoon.” Darren wiggles around again, then yawns. “How important do you think this viewing experience is?”

“Uh...” Chris looks at the screen. “I have no idea.”

“Mmm.” Darren hums. “Works for me. Be my pillow?”

“What?”

Darren wiggles around and then suddenly Chris has a lap full of sleepy boy, Darren’s head in Chris’s lap and his body curled into fetal position. The warmth of Darren’s cheek is a shock, bleeding through the tight black pants he’s wearing.

He wants to look around and see if anyone is paying attention but somehow he thinks like that would just draw more attention to it.

“He does that,” Joey whispers, snickering. It takes a moment for Chris to realize that Joey is talking to him, about Darren. “Just make him sleep on the floor. It’s not like it matters, he sleeps like the dead no matter where he is.”

“Fuck off,” Darren mumbles, draping one arm over Chris’s leg, too. “Chris doesn’t care. D’you?”

“No,” Chris says softly.

He can hear Darren’s breathing go even and whistle slightly after a few minutes, so he spends the entire class period staying perfectly still so he doesn’t wake Darren up. He can tell when the class only has a few minutes left by the way people around him start to get restless.

When the instructor gets up to walk over to the light panel, Chris shakes Darren’s shoulder gently.

“Mmph,” Darren grunts, and wraps his arm around Chris’s knee a little tighter, like he’s hugging it. “Sleepin’.”

“Get up,” Chris laughs. He shakes Darren’s shoulder again and feels Darren’s hair tickling against the backs of his fingers. He can’t resist - really can’t. He reaches up and plays with a curling lock of hair. It feels good to touch, and that doesn’t surprise him. What does surprise him is the way Darren’s head butts back against his fingers to encourage the touch.

Then the lights are on and Darren’s blinking up at him with heavy-lidded brown eyes. For a minute they just look at each other and then Darren smiles this weird little smile, like seeing Chris is a happy surprise.

Voices around the classroom start to rise and then the mood is broken.

Darren sits up, yawning and stretching, back popping obnoxiously loudly. He reaches over and squeezes Chris’s leg. “Thanks, man. You’re a good pillow.”

*

The cold hits suddenly, and to Chris’s shock it’s much colder than he’d been expecting.

All the Michigan natives laugh at him. The girls immediately arrange a shopping trip to help him fortify his wardrobe (and, he thinks, because they’ve been dying to make him over for ages).

He is very surprised to show up and find Darren there with the girls, though.

When he gives Darren a questioning look, Darren just shrugs. “I need a new jacket.”

He thinks he hears someone snickering, but figures it’s just probably one of those things he’s just not in on yet. It doesn’t really bother him; Darren’s going to be there, all day. There’s not much that can bring him down from an unexpected entire day with Darren.

It doesn’t end up being the entire day; Darren does get restless when the girls want to shop for themselves, but somehow like magic he shows back up when they pull Chris into the first store for himself.

He’s not the most active of participants, but he sprawls across one of the chairs when Chris comes out to model things. “Thought you might want a guy perspective,” he says, smirking a little. “I mean, that is the target demographic you’re hoping to reach here, right?”

“I just needed winter clothes,” Chris tries to protest.

Darren just winks.

Chris has to try very, very hard not to blush. In order to achieve that, he has to pointedly not look at Darren everytime he comes out of the dressing room. It’s easy with the steady stream of commentary from the girls, telling him what colors work for him and what colors don’t.

He’s also really glad he’s kept his spending to a minimum so far, because this blows the budget his parents are allowing him for the entire month.

He ends up with more layers than his wardrobe has ever seen, and pants a good deal tighter than he’d ever pick out on his own, but he likes what he sees when he looks in the mirror.

*

It turns out, the clothes sort of make a difference. Okay, the clothes and the haircut that he lets Meredith talk him into.

He feels very strange walking into class on Thursday with his hair coiffed and streaked with faint highlights. He’s in jeans and a vest with a button up, a fitted gray jacket with thick black buttons that falls to mid-thigh over it all. It’s one of the tamest combinations he’d bought, but jacket is impossibly warm and he couldn’t deny the way the jeans cling to his ass in a way that sort of just... defines things that hadn’t previously been defined.

“Man, you look like, ninety percent gayer now,” Joey says. It’s the sort of thing someone might have said to Chris in high school, but the tone is entirely different. It’s not an insult or a slur - in fact, it’s actually said with a certain appreciation and admiration.

“Aww, Joey, are you flirting?” Someone teases.

Joey just smirks. “I don’t know, Chris. Am I your type?”

Because it’s Joey, and Joey is basically the least threatening person that Chris has ever met, Chris flirts back. “Buy me a drink and we’ll find out.”

Lauren elbows him. “Better watch out.”

“Aww, I don’t bite,” Chris cooes.

Lauren is still giving Joey a look. Suddenly Joey finds something very fascinating on his phone to look at, just as Darren drops into the space beside Chris.

*

Movie night with the theater group is definitely a new experience.

Okay, to be fair, to Chris everything involving a group of friends is a new experience, but he can’t imagine that he’d feel differently even if he had a group of friends he’d socialized with back in Clovis.

It is night, and there is a movie playing, but the evening seems more like carefully controlled chaos than the implied cinematic experience. It’s... well, it’s a party. There is alcohol and a couple dozen people wandering in and out of an apartment that seems fairly small, shouting lines along with the movie, rewriting scenes and in a couple of cases acting them out.

He’s gotten used to being around these people for dinner some days and class once a week but he finds himself still slightly anxious at the idea of partying with them. Partying isn’t something he has any real experience with.

He shrugs out of his jacket and drapes it over a chair, nervously looking around.

Then he hears Darren’s jubilant voice. “You made it!”

He’s engulfed in a hug that he was definitely not expecting. He hugs back awkwardly with one arm, the other with his jacket still on it smushed between their bodies. Darren smells warm and sweet and it’s probably just his shampoo but Chris sort of wants to bury his face in Darren’s hair right now.

But Darren lets go (the bastard). He’s still grinning though, and that sort of makes up for it. “Come on, you need a drink. We just ordered pizza. Like, a shit ton of pizza, man. So much pizza.”

Then he grabs Chris’s hand and tugs him through the living room, where at least half a dozen people stop to greet him.

“Whose apartment is this?” Chris wonders, staring at the fridge jam packed with a million pictures and scraps of paper. He hadn’t even asked when Lauren had texted him the address, but somehow he’s pretty sure this isn’t where she lives. When Darren opens it, he can see that the inside is mostly full of beer.

“Oh, mine. Me and Joey and Matt and Nick live here.” Darren pulls out two drinks and offers them to Chris. “We mostly have beer. Sorry, college budget. But Lauren likes these fruity things, so.”

Chris takes the beer. He’s actually pretty sure he won’t like it at all, but it seems the choice more likely to impress Darren. “Thanks. So - wow. Cool place. I’m in the dorms.”

“That blows. I did it like, my first year. I hated it, my roommate was kind of lame. Living with these guys is a lot cooler.”

“I bet,” Chris says, leaning back against the island counter. He takes a sip of his beer, schooling his features not to wince at the taste. Definitely not pleasant, but he’ll live with it. “So... is anyone even watching that movie?”

Darren laughs. “Uh, probably not. We have fun fighting over what we’ll not watch, though. And the real fun is after. Karaoke!”

Darren is so genuinely excited over karaoke that Chris can’t bring himself to admit that it sounds like the absolute least fun thing ever to him. “Funny, Lauren didn’t mention any of that... I think her exact words were ‘come on over, we’ll put on a movie.”

“There is a movie on,” Darren says, defending Lauren’s lack of detail. “She just wanted to make sure you’d come. We all did.”

“Yes, we did, which is why you can’t monopolize him.” Lauren slips her arms around Chris’s waist and hugs him from behind. He smiles and puts his arm around her when she slides around to his front, resting her head on his shoulder. “Oh, good, he’s boozing you up already.”

“I don’t get boozed up,” Chris says. “I’ll probably stop after one.”

Darren and Lauren exchange a look that Chris is already beginning to recognize as trouble.

*

Trouble.

Definitely trouble.

The movie has long since ended and been replaced by music - loud, live music. It’s like a battle of the voices, except with instruments too, and it’s not really Chris’s style of anything, and he doesn’t even know the people being so insanely noisy.

His head is swimming from the sounds and the drinks... okay, mostly the drinks. Stopping after one hadn’t been quite as easy as he’d thought, not with Darren pouting and offering to make him something mixed if he didn’t like the beer, and whining that he just wanted Chris to have a good time.

He is having a good time, he thinks. He’d had a good time while Darren sang - fuck, can Darren sing. He can sing and he writes his own songs - he writes them. Chris wants to sit down and read everything Darren has ever written now, or make Darren play a private concert just to him. He wants Darren recorded so Chris can listen to that voice every night.

But then they’d shooed Darren away, citing that he always took too long for his turn, and then Darren had disappeared into the crowd of people and Chris has had too much to drink and he’s really sort of tired and feeling a little sick and it’s so loud...

He carefully puts the mixed drink on the table, overly concerned about spilling it. When he’s certain he isn’t making a mess he sits back and draws his knees up onto the couch and wraps his arms around them. He presses his face down and shuts his eyes until everything goes dark and suddenly he can breathe a little better.

He stays like that, pretending that no one else exists despite the cacophony happening all around him, until he feels a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, Chris.” It’s Darren. He lifts his head and blinks at the brightness. Darren is kneeling in front of him, hand on Chris’s knee, looking concerned. “You okay there?”

“I’m.” Darren’s eyes are so pretty. “I’m... tired.”

Darren reaches up and pushes Chris’s hair out of his face where it’s sort of flopped in his eyes. Clearly he needs to invest in product with a better hold. “Come on.”

Chris lurches to his feet, almost falling into Darren. Darren steadies him with a firm grip on Chris’s shoulders. Chris’s mind is a little behind his body and he blames that on the way he sort of sinks into the grip, resting his head on Darren’s shoulder. Darren’s arms close around him in a brief hug. “Mmm, snuggles,” he says. Chris can hear the smile in Darren’s voice. “Come on, cuddlebug.”

It’s almost midnight, probably early by typical movie night standards. If anything, there are more people than there were before. Chris keeps close to Darren as they round a corner into the hallway and then into the second room they come to.

Darren shuts the door and the noise is blissfully cut down to a dull roar. He guides Chris to the bunk beds against one wall and presses down firmly on his shoulders. “I’m bottom. Luckily.”

Chris giggles.

“What’s so funny?” Darren asks, yanking open a drawer and digging through.

“You. Bottom.” Chris snickers again, even as some sober part of his mind recognizes that it’s a joke that perhaps should stay in his mind. “You bottom.”

Darren snickers, too, though. “Someone is definitely being a bad influence on you. Where did my sweet little innocent boy go?”

“Too innocent,” Chris mumbles. He tilts a little too far sideways and finds himself laying down, face buried in a pillow that smells so wonderfully, beautifully like Darren.

Something soft drops onto his hips. “There’s some pants to change into if you get uncomfortable.”

Chris wiggles around and then kicks them to the floor. “‘m ok,” he says, words muffled into the pillow. He really just doesn’t want to move his face.

Then there are fingers petting through his hair and he maybe moans a little. “Do I need to tuck you in?”

He giggles and turns his face to the side to look up at Darren. He wants to say something but words just kind of float out of his mind as Darren’s fingers pass over a spot that does really magical things to Chris’s insides. He lets his eyes close again because he can’t feel that and look at Darren at the same time.

But once his eyes are closed, he doesn’t manage to get them open again. The last thing he thinks before sleep overtakes him is how perfect this moment is.

*

When he wakes up he can still hear voices outside. He’s much more sober and his head is throbbing faintly, nothing worse than the way it does when he studies for too long in dim light.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you up.”

Chris realizes when he hears Joey that he actually had been woken up when the door opened. He rolls onto his back and rubs a hand over his eyes. “What time is it?”

“Like, two? I’m about to crash.” Joey says, standing in an odd position near the end of the bed. “You cool?”

“Where’s Darren?”

“Oh, he’s on set like, five million. He’ll keep playing as long as there are still people out there.”

“I should go home.” Chris sits up. His mind is kind of fuzzy but he knows he can make it home just fine now.

He just doesn’t want to have to walk through the room full of people. Joey seems to sense his indecision. “Want me to walk you out?”

“Thanks,” Chris says, relieved. He also accepts the hand that Joey offers him so he can get to his feet.

If Chris hopes that he can slip out unnoticed, he’s disappointed. Darren actually stops playing when he sees Chris and Joey walking through the living room. “You’re leaving?”

He seems quite a bit more inebriated than he had when he’d escorted Chris to bed hours before. Chris scrubs his fingers through his hair nervously, knowing it’s mussed from sleep. “I’m gonna head home. Joey was just uh, seeing me out.”

“Happy to hand over that duty, though,” Joey quickly says, actually taking a physical step back.

Darren jumps up, shoving his guitar into the hands of one of the guys beside him. “Yeah, yeah, I can - yeah.”

“I can just-” Chris isn’t entirely sure where the sudden concern is, considering he can literally see the front door from where he stands.

“No, I got it. I think my audience fell asleep, anyway.” Darren bounces into place beside him. He grabs Chris’s hand and then all but hauls him outside. Once they’re outside he lets out a surprised yelp. “Oh, shit, it’s cold.”

Chris has to laugh - and he’s entirely laughing at Darren, not with him. “Yes, it is. You can go back inside.”

“You should come back in with me.” Darren gives it his best pout, but Chris shakes his head.

“I’m tired,” he says. “

“You want me to walk you back to your dorm?” As he says it, he sways a little.

“No, I’m fine.” Chris shakes his head. “Go back in.”

The idea that Darren wants to is nice but he’s not actually sure Darren would make it back in his current condition.

Darren sighs. “Fine. Okay, go. Don’t get... attacked. By snowmen. Or anything else. Any kind of men. Or women! Cause, women can totally be attackers, too. I’m equal opportunity in my mental process. I even-”

Chris claps a hand over Darren’s mouth. “Say goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Darren dutifully says, managing to infuse a great amount of sadness into the two words.

Chris pulls his hand back, smiling. “Goodnight.”

*

Chris barely sees Justin, his roommate.

He sort of likes it that way.

He’s a nice enough guy, Chris supposes. He’d rather have an absentee roommate than a homophobic one or someone that used all of his things or wanted to do everything together.

One of his few encounters with Justin falls during the week of midterms. They both happen to be in the room at the same time studying, and though Chris would be perfectly content to keep his earbuds in and avoid all interaction, Justin buckles to etiquette. “So you’re all into like, the theater stuff, right?”

Justin is a music major, something Chris can actually appreciate. “Yeah, I am.”

“There’s this guy in a bunch of my classes that’s majoring in theater. He’s wicked on the violin, you wouldn’t even believe it. He plays all kinds of shit, too. Guitar, piano, cello... he’s pretty cool. Darren Criss, do you know him?”

Of course it’s Darren. Of course it is.

“Yeah, I do. We’re friends,” Chris says.

“Bro has some game, too. I don’t even get what it is. He’s all short and scrawny and he’s got a white dude fro but he walks in the room and chicks just drop their panties for him. I heard he went home with like, two girls at the club last month. Two girls at once.” Justin sounds very, very envious.

It’s not like Chris hadn’t known. He remembers the girl from his night at the bar with them, the one hanging all over him. He remembers even though that’s something he’s tried very hard not to dwell on.

Now, hearing it laid out for him like that, he can’t help but dwell. “Yeah,” he says, voice duller now though Justin doesn’t notice. “He’s pretty popular.”

“But cool.” Justin nods a little, mostly to himself.

Chris shuts his textbook a little harder than he really needs to. “I can’t concentrate. Gonna go grab some coffee.”

He doesn’t say goodbye to Justin, just grabs his phone and wallet and stuffs his headphones in his pocket before walking out.

*

Ashley’s working. He feels a swell of relief when he sees her behind the corner.

“What’s gotcha down, pumpkin?” She asks, already making his most recent favorite drink.

“Life.” Chris sighs and manages to steal one of the chairs along the bar. He hasn’t even brought a textbook to keep up the pretense of studying.

“Oh, life? Is that what you’re calling him now? Because I assume ‘life’ is short for ‘total hottie that I would bend over for in a split second.’” Ashley shakes the whipped cream can and then adds a heaping dollop of it to Chris’s drink. “Don’t argue, you look like you need it. Sprinkles, too.”

Sure enough, she adds chocolate sprinkles and then a drizzle of syrup.

“Thanks,” he says, enjoying the sugary warmth in his mouth. “And... yeah. Him. Why does he have to be straight?”

Ashley gives him a dubious look. “You positive about that?”

“More than positive,” Chris scowls. “My roommate even knows how straight Darren is.”

“Your roommate is a dumbass.” Ashley doesn’t actually know his roommate, but Chris is still comforted by the assessment. “And so are you. Just ask him.”

“Just... ask him? What? If he’s straight? If he likes me?”

Ashley shrugs. “Why not? What’s the worst he’ll say?”

Chris can think of quite a few worst case scenarios. “He could stop talking to me and be totally freaked out.”

“Do you really think he’d freak?” Ashley leans against the bar, staring at him. “You think this guy has sunshine and rainbows coming out of his ass. Would you really fall for someone you thought would crush you like that?”

To be honest, he can’t imagine Darren reacting badly. He’s seen Darren flirt with everyone. There might not be intent behind it, but Darren obviously doesn’t have any deep homophobic tendencies.

Still...

“I don’t want him to shut me down like that,” Chris admits. “This is the first time I’ve had a crush on a guy that actually acknowledged my existence. I don’t want it to turn awkward. Even if he doesn’t care - he won’t act the same way. Straight guys just... don’t.”

Ashley sighs sympathetically. “I don’t know what to tell you, cutie.”

“Yeah.” He takes another drink of his coffee and forces a smile. “But thanks.”

*

He skips dinner with the theater kids for the next couple of days, not really wanting to face Darren. It’s midterm week, though, and the excuses for his absent are so obvious that no one even bothers to ask.

After burying himself in writing and studying, he manages to shake himself out of the funk by the next Thursday.

He’s issued an open invitation to ‘movie night’ that makes him feel pleasantly accepted, though he doesn’t really think he feels like their particular brand of revelry. He passes once, then again the next week, to increasing protests from his friends.

His friends. He clutches that very concept dear to him, and that’s why when they ask him about the club, he says yes. Because they’re his friends and while he might want a little bit of distance from Darren, he still wants to hang out with them.

Besides, it’s Halloween, and Chris loves Halloween. He’s just never had much of a chance to celebrate it, beyond dressing up to take his sister out trick or treating.

So he says yes and he spends two hours shopping for a costume and then another hour getting dressed to Meredith and Lauren’s freakishly exact specifications in the tiny bathroom of Lauren’s apartment. The club is the same one they’d gone to before but it’s decked out for the holiday, and most of the people in attendance are equally dressed up for the occasion.

His fake ID gets him in and gets him a drink, and his outfit gets him a whole lot of attention. He’s a cat; skintight bodysuit, eyeliner expertly applied by a hand that wasn’t his own, ears strapped to his head and a tail that he keeps absently reaching down to pet and play with.

Yeah, he gets plenty of attention. Some of it is even sort of wanted. Winking and pleased smiles from a cute, taller boy with the prettiest green eyes. Yes, Chris can’t help but preen a little. Chris might be halfway in love with someone, but he’s not stupid. He lets the guy make eye contact with him and does nothing to discourage it as the number of looks in his direction start to grow.

The problem is that Chris isn’t exactly subtle.

He catches Lauren frowning at him. “What?” He says, self-conscious. “He’s not that much older.”

“No, it’s not-” Lauren sighs. “It’s not that. Don’t you want to go sit down? Darren and Joe grabbed us one of those huge booths.”

Chris looks across the room to where Darren is sitting, surrounded by people - mostly girls - hanging onto his every word. The sad thing is, Chris does sort of want to be there. He hasn’t even said hello to Darren yet. But he still shakes his head.

He wants to be noticed. He wants Darren to notice, but he doesn’t think he has much hope of that. Is this what he wants every night end up like? Desperately hoping for a hug that drunkenly lingers on a little bit too long from a guy that in actuality sees him as nothing but a friend?

He wants it, but right now there are other options presenting themselves to him, and the lure is too strong. He’s too curious to see if the guy is going to approach him.

The volume of the music picks up with a new song and he has to lean in to shout where Lauren can hear. “I’ll come over when I finish my drink.”

He holds up his half-empty rum and coke to show her. She nods, appeased, and then gets drawn into a conversation with someone a few feet away.

When Chris turns back, Mr. Green Eyes is standing right beside him. “Oh,” Chris says, with a surprised laugh. “Hi there.”

“Hi there yourself.” Green Eyes is dressed in something that’s a little too obscure for Chris to recognize, but the pants are latex and the shirt is sheer and, well, hello there, very nice biceps. “So do you approve?”

Chris realizes belatedly how obvious his checking out had been. He blushes brightly and tries to hide it with another sip of his drink. “I’ll be perfectly honest, I have no idea what you are.”

Green Eyes laughs. “No problem. I’m guessing you’re a cat?”

“You would be right,” Chris says, holding up his tail like that’s an indication of rightness.

“I’ve seen a few others around, but I gotta say, you are without a doubt the hottest one I’ve seen.” Green Eyes leans in and puts his hand on Chris’s arm. “So what does it take to get you to purr?”

Chris almost snorts the drink he’d just taken. “Wow, that is an awful line.”

Green Eyes just laughs. “I know, I know, sorry. I’m not operating at full capacity tonight.” He gestures with his own beer with one hand. The other travels up Chris’s arm to rest on his bicep. The room suddenly gets a whole lot warmer to Chris. “At least dance with me?”

“Oh, Chris!” Lauren and Meredith both appear, like magic. Meredith pushes slightly ahead. “There you are! Come on, Darren is just dying to see you, he keeps asking about you.”

Chris immediately looks over at the group table. Darren is there, but the huge smile is gone from his face. He looks like he’s listening as Julia furiously talks to him.

Green Eyes is pouting when Chris looks back. “You were gonna dance with me...”

“Chris,” Lauren whines, clinging to him. He wonders how it’s possible that she’s this drunk this fast. “Come on. We haven’t hung out at all yet.”

“We’ve only been here like thirty-”

“Come find him later and we might give him up then,” Meredith says, with a way too sweet smile.

Green Eyes looks confused but he shrugs and walks away. Chris feels a stab of regret, because he actually had wanted to dance with that guy... and that guy (that really, really attractive guy) had actually wanted to dance with him.

He gets to the table and like magic the two people sitting between Darren and the end of the circular booth get up and leave. Meredith sort of shoves Chris in until he slides all the way down, pressed up against Darren, who isn’t quite looking at him.

“Everything okay?” Chris asks, all but forgetting about the guy on the dance floor. He knocks his knee against Darren and then, just for good measure, bumps him with his shoulder, too. “I thought you were the life of the party.”

“I guess not every party,” Darren says, and then he does look up at Chris and their eyes meet and all at once Darren takes a breath and then relaxes. “But, I don’t know. Things are looking up for this one.”

“Yeah? Well, that’s- hey!” Chris suddenly realizes something, eyes going wide. “You’re Harry Potter!”

Darren laughs, twisting sideways to show off his gray shirt and Gryffindor tie. “In the flesh. I have robes, too, but it got too hot in here. I don’t know where Joey disappeared to, but you gotta check him out - he’s Ron. He found this totally awful red wig, it’s great.”

“That’s really amazing. My costume is boring.” Chris makes a ‘meh’ face. “I didn’t have much time to put it together.”

“Boring? Are you crazy?” Darren reaches out and rubs a finger along one of Chris’s ears. Chris can’t actually feel the touch but it sort of makes him want to shiver anyway. “You’re the hottest pussycat around here.”

Chris completely blames his drink on the fact that he answers with, “Meow.”

*

Every time Chris finishes his drink another one is placed in front of him. He stops keeping track because he’s too deep in conversation with Darren. A meandering conversation about Harry Potter turns into Lord of the Rings and the more drunk they get the less it makes sense.

But Chris doesn’t really care because Darren hasn’t even tried to move in the last hour and they’re sitting a little too close together even though there’s space to either side of them and it’s really hard for Chris to keep up with what Darren is saying when Darren is so close.

“C’mon, Crookshanks! We can just like, stick a name tag on you, right... here.” Darren’s fingers rub over Chris’s chest, dancing around a few spots before pressing right against his heart. “And then you’d be my cat.”

“Harry had an owl,” Chris says automatically. “Crookshanks was Hermione’s.”

“Creative license,” Darren says. “I’m appropriating her cat.”

“Big words.”

“Uh huh.” Darren wiggles those stupid triangle eyebrows like he’s said something dirty, and so Chris giggles, turning to press his face into Darren’s shoulder. “You are so...”

“So, what?” Chris asks, lifting his head up.

“So... meow.” Darren says nonsensically, and then kisses the tip of Chris’s painted black nose.

Chris laughs breathlessly. “Now you have...” And because he is really stupendously drunk, he reaches up with his thumb and rubs away the spot of makeup from Darren’s bottom lip.

“Why thank you, Christopher,” Darren says. His breath is warm on Chris’s finger where he still hasn’t pulled it away.

“I’m... oh. Sorry.”

“For what?” Darren smiles. “You’re fucking perfect, man.”

“Am not,” Chris mumbles, but he’s smiling so hard.

“Gag me.” Joe - the quiet, little Joe - says from the other side of the booth, where Chris had previously assumed he was asleep.
*

Chris has no idea what time it is but Darren says he’s leaving soon (in this really weird voice that Chris probably couldn’t process even soberly) and he wants Chris to come back to the apartment with him.

“We’ve got movies and shit,” Darren says. “Scary ones. I mean, if you don’t wanna... uh, I mean. I can play you some songs, too! Just... come back with me?”

“Yeah, of course,” Chris says, breathless at the idea that not only has he spent hours talking to Darren, but that Darren wants to hang out more out.

“Awesome.” Darren beams at him, a huge toothy ear to ear smile.

“Let me pee first,” Chris says, wobbling out of the booth and to his feet.

The whole world is spinning and he’s never felt like this before. He tries to keep his steps measured and careful and it really doesn’t work.

Somehow he manages his way to the bathroom and then back but Darren isn’t in the booth. He looks around, frowning. Darren might have just had to pee, too. He’ll just wait. He’ll stay right here and he’ll wait.

He leans against the wall, arms wrapped around himself. It’s getting colder the later it gets and hey, didn’t he have a jacket when he came in? Yeah. He has a leather jacket somewhere around here - maybe Lauren has it. Yeah, Lauren probably has it, he decides.

So he goes to look for Lauren and finds...

Not Lauren.

He finds Darren, talking to some girl. The girl is leaning in close with her hand on his arm and her hair falling in front of her face, all cute and coy.

His mood plummets, irrational mind conjuring all kinds of scenarios that are a hundred times more intimate than just standing and talking. He spins on his heels and -

And runs straight into Green Eyes. A much more drunk Green Eyes whose face lights up when he sees Chris. “Hey, it’s my sexy catboy.”

“Sexy?” Chris parrots breathlessly. It’s still not a word he’d apply to himself.

“So sexy...” Green Eyes looks him up and down. “I’ve been looking for you all night, baby. I thought you disappeared. Can we dance now?”

Chris twists around to see Darren still talking to the blonde. He looks back at Green Eyes. “Yeah. Let’s dance.”

*

Green Eyes is named Brad, and he’s here with his straight friends. To appease them his friends are going to a gay bar with him next. Green Eyes - Brad - really wants Chris to come, too.

“Or I’ll just stay here,” Brad says, pressing in close. He’s sweaty and smells like cigarette smoke and cheap deodorant but his arms still feel good around Chris and the way he looks at Chris like he wants to eat him alive is sort of awesome. “Whatever you want, baby.”

There’s wetness on his neck and it takes Chris a moment to realize that it’s a kiss. Brad is kissing him. Maybe licking? Yeah, definitely licking. Chris gasps a little, because the sensation doesn’t really qualify as nice but it’s new and sort of hot that someone is tasting him.

“I, I don’t know,” Chris answers. He’s not sure if he wants to leave or not. He’s not really sure of anything.

“Let me help you decide?” Brad asks, lips brushing up Chris’s jaw and then slanting over his mouth.

He kisses back on instinct, hoping his lack of experience isn’t painfully obvious. Brad’s sloppy anyway, and it’s sort of gross how wet it is at first but then their tongues are touching and it’s not really that bad. Chris clenches his fingers in Brad’s dirty blonde hair and for just a moment he pretends that it’s Darren kissing him.

The difference is obvious to Brad, if not Chris; suddenly he’s getting a lot more reciprocation. He steps back excitedly. “Or we could just go... back to your place?”

Then it dawns on Chris exactly what he’s doing. He shakes his head, heart thumping in a terrified way. “Dorms,” he blurts out. “I live in dorms.”

“Oh.” Brad looks disappointed. “My roommates are home, but I could kick them out for a little while.”

“No, I don’t... think so.” Chris shakes his head. Suddenly he feels a lot more sober, though the way the room spins at the motion proves he isn’t actually. His voice cracks when he speaks again. “I’m sorry, I just-”

Brad squints at him. “How old are you?”

“Eighteen,” Chris admits.

“Shit.” Brad sort of laughs. His smile is friendly and he reels Chris back in. “Okay, that’s cool, though. You’re just... you’re fucking hot, that’s not even fair.”

Chris buries his face in Brad’s shoulder, embarrassed. He feels a warm kiss on his neck and fingers in his hair. It’s nice but his stomach is churning now and he just wants his bed. “I should go,” Chris says. “I... I want to go.”

“You said you live in the dorms, right? Campus isn’t too far from here, you want me to walk you back?” Brad asks.

“No, I can-”

“Let me, okay?” Brad insists. “I’m not being pushy, I promise, no ulterior motives.”

So Chris nods and he still can’t find his jacket and it’s fucking freezing outside but Brad puts his arm around Chris’s shoulder and that’s sort of nice. They don’t really talk on the way, but it’s only a five minute walk. “This is my building,” Chris says, stopping in front of the tall dorm unit. “Thanks for-”

Brad leans in and they’re kissing again and it really is nice. His lips are cold and damp when he pulls back and he licks them, realizing he’s tasting someone else. “Thank you, catboy Chris. I hope I run into you again.”

He leaves without asking for Chris’s number, and Chris is relieved.

*

He gets a text from Lauren at nine am the next morning.

Hangover brunch, dining hall, 10:30.

He’d fallen asleep the previous night still in his costume. His tail is tangled in the sheets and his ears fell off somewhere. His head is pounding and his mouth is dry and he feels a little like death. Part of him wants to just stay in bed for forever, but he forces himself up and into the shower.

By ten he feels halfway back to human so he throws on clothes and grabs sunglasses and plops himself into a seat. He has a plate full of eggs and toast but the coffee demands most of his attention.

“Whoa,” Joe says - the tall, loud Joe, peering at Chris. “Someone had a fun night.”

Chris knows exactly what he means. He’d seen it himself when he’d gotten out of the shower. Brad’s parting gift: a nicely sized hickey. Chris doesn’t even remember getting it, but his skin is so pale that it’s always bruised easily.

“Yeah, you just disappeared,” Meredith says. “Lolo was going crazy looking for you.”

“Shit.” Chris winces. “Sorry. I went home.”

“We figured that much.” It’s Darren this time - Darren, who hasn’t really looked at Chris much. “That blonde dude that was eyefucking you all night?”

Chris is sort of taken aback by the tone Darren uses. “Brad,” he says, automatically.

“Lauren, oh beautiful saintly Lauren,” Joey says, heralding her arrival back at the table.

“Yes, I got you more coffee, asshole.” Lauren glowers at him, handing him one of the cups on her tray.

Joey takes it greedily. “You are a goddess among women.”

“Christopher,” Lauren greets him formally, eyes narrowed.

“I’m told I owe you an apology,” Chris says.

“You absolutely do. No disappearing with strange men, okay?” She points a butter covered plastic knife at him before lowering it down to her toast. “Momma Lopez worries. Now, give me all the details. Were you a smart boy? You used protection, right?”

Chris turns bright red. “Nothing happened! He didn’t even come in. He just walked me back to my dorm.”

“Really?” Darren’s head shoots up, staring at Chris like he really needs to know before he forces his head back down. Then looks back up again, curious. “I mean... why not?”

Chris shrugs, trying not to be defensive. “I didn’t even know him.”

“He was macking on you pretty hard, though.” Darren insists. “And he wasn’t totally ugly or anything.”

Chris starts to get annoyed. He feels very, very uncomfortable discussing his continued virginity over breakfast, even if these people are his friends now. “Why does it matter? I didn’t feel like it, so I didn’t.”

“Ignore Darren. He’s just being a brat,” Julia interrupts. “No one taught him how to share as a kid.”

“Hey!” Darren protests. Then Julia puts a hand on Darren’s arm and whispers something to him that makes him relax. Chris doesn’t know her very well, but she seems closer to Darren than anyone except maybe Joey, and somehow instead of making him jealous Chris likes her anyway.

Besides, she just referred to Darren being jealous, and even if he’s just upset that his conversation partner had been stolen away, Chris can’t help but feel a little bit happy. Darren doesn’t want to share him.

“Sorry,” Darren says, when Julia is done talking. He even smiles at Chris, though it’s a faint hint of the usual Darren smile Chris is used to seeing. “This hangover is getting the best of me.”

“No problem,” Chris says, smiling and finally starting to eat his breakfast.

*

“You are such a loser for not suggesting this sooner,” Ashley says. “I mean, I know you’re king of the socially inept and all, but I was starting to think you actually considered sitting there while I’m at work hanging out.”

“I did - I do,” Chris admits. “But this is fun, too.”

And it is - he’d finally asked Ashley if she wanted to get together and do something that didn’t involve her making him a caffeinated beverage. He’d been a little dubious when she’d suggested bowling, but it turns out that even the dorkiest of activities can be made wonderful by good company.

Now they’re sitting at one of the little formica topped booths in the food section sharing a greasy pizza and talking.

“So any progress in the straight boy lusting department?” She asks. He’d briefly told her about his drunken makeout on Halloween but has sort of kept all encounters and observations to himself since them.

Mostly because when he stops to think about what he’s really feeling, he just gets depressed. “I don’t know. He’s so weird. Sometimes I honestly think he’s flirting with me, but then I remember: he flirts with everyone.”

“Well, you said he acted all funky the next day, right?” Ashley doesn’t actually know Darren that well, but she has already confirmed that she i s firmly on the side of Team Get Chris Laid, and that it’s in her best interest to have him either see it through with Darren or move on.

“Yeah, but I think it’s just an attention whore thing. He’s always the center of attention, and I ditched him. I think that’s just why.” To Chris, this makes perfect sense.

Ashley shrugs. “If you say so. But I’m just saying, there’s one way to find out for sure.”

“I... I can’t,” Chris admits. “This semester has been great so far. I’m not ready to add ‘first broken heart’ to my list of new experiences just yet. I just... I really like him. A lot. I’ve never felt like this about anyone else before. I’ve had crushes on guys before - straight guys - but it was a lot easier to ignore when they weren’t around all the time, actually wanting to be my friend.”

Ashley gives him a sympathetic frown. She reaches over and pats him on the head. “What a sad puppy you are right now. Cheer up, emo kid. I’ll buy you another drink. Diet coke on the rocks.”

Chris laughs and leans into her gentle petting. “Thank you.”

*

“You want to come hang out?” Darren asks him, hovering near the door of their theater classroom.

Chris smiles at the invitation, but has to turn it down. “I’ve got to pack. My flight leaves tonight.”

Chris is flying home for the Thanksgiving break. He’d tried to argue his parents on it, insisting that he could wait until Christmas because it seemed so wasteful to have to buy two sets of plane tickets so close together, but his mother wouldn’t even think of having the holiday meal without him there. He’d been the one to insist on a red-eye since it was so much cheaper than leaving midday.

(“Besides,” his mother had said. “Hannah’s missing you so much lately. You leaving was a real adjustment for her, and we’ve been telling her for months she’d get to see you in November.”

That’s really all she’d needed to say.)

“Oh, bummer.” Darren says. Chris expects him to walk away, but he lingers and then says, “Need any help packing?”

“Sure.” Chris gives him a smile and they talk (mostly about class and upcoming assignments) as they walk to Chris’s dorm.

There actually isn’t much Darren can do to help, but he sprawls out on Chris’s bed while Chris digs through his clothes to find enough clean things to take home. “So tell me about Clovis.”

Chris shrugs. “Not much to tell. Tiny, conservative town. I guess it wasn’t all bad, but I mostly found myself exposed to the negatives.”

“What do you mean?”

“Bullied and harassed in high school, watched my sister get mocked and laughed at...” He glances at the framed photos on his desk. Darren follows his line of vision and sits up, reaching for the one of him and Hannah. “Yeah, that’s her.”

“She seems like a total doll.” Darren smiles down at the picture. “You, too. How old were you here? Like, twelve?”

“Something like that.” Chris grabs his toiletries basket from where it hangs on the door and sits at the edge of the bed, rifling through to see if there’s anything he can’t go without while he’s gone. He leaves the new hair product, thinking he won’t have much need for new Chris in his hometown. The last thing he wants is to run into someone while he’s out with his mother and get mocked for being even gayer now.

“You don’t seem thrilled to be going back,” Darren comments, putting the picture back down.

Chris laughs bitterly. “Not really. I miss my family, but... I’m happier here than I ever was there.”

“Really?” Darren seems surprised.

Chris grabs a couple of notebooks and puts them down on top of the clothes in his carry on bag. “Yeah, really. Is that bad?”

“No, it’s good, Chris. It’s really good.” Darren smiles at him in that way that still makes Chris feel like there isn’t enough air in the room for him to catch his breath. “I’m really glad we met.”

“Can you hand me that charger?” Chris points to the one plugged in by his lamp. Darren grabs it and winds it up expertly so it takes up as little room as possible before he hands it over. “Thanks. And yeah, me too.”

Darren watches in silence as Chris packs his laptop and charger and then zips up the bag. “You want to go grab dinner? You’ve got a few hours, right? We could go somewhere off campus?”

“Yeah, sure. Do you want to text everyone else?” Chris asks.

Darren shrugs. “I can if you want me to, or we could just go and hang out,” Darren says. “I mean, it might take awhile for the whole group to decide where to go and all. You know how that goes.”

He does know that group plans have a habit of turning into a clusterfuck of text messages and phone calls. Darren’s suggestion makes perfect sense.

Dinner with Darren also seems like the perfect note to leave Michigan on.

“Okay.” Chris smiles, sliding his phone into his pocket. “That sounds good.”

*

Dinner is great and Chris finds himself regretting that he can’t just spend the hours that he’d really like to sitting across from Darren in a little Italian restaurant not too far of a walk from campus.

He learns things about Darren that haven’t come out in casual conversations: things about his family, about growing up in San Francisco and living in Hawaii, about visiting the Philippines. Darren promises to email him mp3s of his brothers band and says he’s been thinking about making a youtube channel for some covers he wants to do.

“Hey, I still haven’t heard you sing,” Darren says at one point.

“How do you know I even can?”

“Oh, come on, with that voice? There’s no fucking way you can’t sing.” Darren shakes his head. “I’m right, yeah?”

“I guess. I was in drama in high school but I got a lot of teasing in school for my voice. Not many roles for my range.”

“What is it, exactly?”

“Countertenor.”

“No shit?” Darren’s eyes widen. “Okay, I need to hear you sing. Please? Pleaaaase?”

“Maybe,” Chris says, laughing. “I’ll have to find a good song.”

“I’m not gonna let you forget it,” Darren swears. “You can’t outrun it, either. I’m gonna blow your phone up with texts over the break.”

“Maybe I should call and sing into your voicemail, then.” Chris suggests it as a joke but the idea might have merit. He wouldn’t have to look Darren in the eye when he sang, if he did that.

Darren doesn’t seem opposed, either. His face lights up. “Yeah, totally! I can make you my ringtone!”

“Darren!” Chris laughs. “You don’t even know if I can sing.”

“We’ve already been over this. You definitely can. I’ve got a sixth sense for it. Like gaydar, except with music. I have musiciandar.” Darren pouts at Chris in the most pathetic way. “Will you?”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” Chris says.

He’s pretty sure Darren will forget all about this conversation by the time he’s back, anyway.

After spending almost an hour and a half in the restaurant, Chris announces that he really needs to go if he’s going to grab his stuff and make it to the airport on time. Darren insists on paying, telling Chris that he can just get it next time.

Chris is surprised when Darren falls into step with him as they head back to campus. “You don’t have to walk me home,” Chris says.

Darren’s shoulder brushes Chris’s when he shrugs. “I got nothing better to do.”

“Well, in that case.” Chris just looks over at him and smiles. “Thanks. For dinner, I mean.”

“No, thank you,” Darren responds.

“I didn’t do anything...”

“Thanks in advance, then.” Darren winks. “For the lovely gift of song you’re soon to bestow upon me.”

Chris playfully shoves him. “I never said I would.”

“But you will.” Darren grins. “Cause you like me.”

“You’re impossible.” Chris grumbles but he doesn’t think he really sells the grumpiness, considering he’s fighting a grin the entire time.

*

From the dorm Chris just plans on calling a cab to get him to the airport but once Darren finds that out he refuses.

“Nick has a car, he’ll let me use it to take you,” he says, already grabbing his phone. Chris tries to protest but Nick is already on the line and before Chris knows it Darren is following him up the stairs and grabbing Chris’s carry on.

“You really don’t have to,” Chris says for the dozenth time, but Darren just waves him off.

“Maybe I want to.” Darren smiles over at him. The apartment is right on the edge of campus, and it doesn’t take long to get there. He drops Chris’s bag on the hood of a little green car. “Just hang out here, I’ll run up and get the keys.”

It’s cold but Chris just wraps his jacket a little more tightly around himself and smiles to himself. Darren driving him to the airport; not a particular fantasy of his, but it’s better than the lonely evening of a mediocre meal in the dining hall before a lonely cab ride.

When he comes back Darren’s out of breath like he’d run up and back down, but he brandishes the keys proudly before swooping in front of Chris to open the passenger door. “At your service, Mr. Colfer.”

“Dork,” Chris says. He pulls his back onto his lap because he isn’t sure what else to do with it.

Darren cranks up the radio for the ride and sings along. He keeps looking over at Chris and gesturing for him to join, but Chris steadfastly refuses.

“You’re no fun,” Darren complains.

“I think that says more about you than me,” Chris responds. “Considering you’ve spent half your day with me now.”

“Oh, fine.” Darren relents. “Well, we all know I have only the highest standards of friends, so I guess you’re a little bit of fun.”

At the airport, Darren continues to surprise him. He pulls the car up to the drop off point at the airline Chris is flying and gets out, too.

“You don’t have to-” Chris can’t even finish the sentence before Darren is engulfing him in a huge hug. Chris actually loses his grasp on his carry on and hears it hit the ground with a dull thud before he’s hugging back.

Darren smells amazing. He’s warm and his hair is soft and Chris really needs to figure out some way to get Darren to hug him like this on a regular basis.

*

On his first day back in Clovis, he sleeps until noon.

He wakes up when Hannah jumps on his bed, impatient for him to start hanging out with her. He manages to coax her into joining him instead of making him get up and they spend two hours watching tv. She doesn’t focus much on the program playing but he lets her pull up the photo gallery on his phone, showing her all the pictures he's taken while she still feels like it.

She’s holding his phone still when he gets a text message.

“Who is it?” She asks.

“Uh... a friend of mine. His name is Darren.” She doesn’t know why he smiles so big when he says that. It doesn’t occur to her that her brother has never actually had friends like that, people that just texted him out of the blue. “Do you want to tell him hi? I can tell him it’s from you.”

She eagerly nods and watches while he types to her exact specifications: Hi. This is Hannah. Chris is my brother and I stole him back from you.

Darren doesn’t take long to respond. The famous Hannah!!! This is awesome! Though I’m sad you stole Chris. :( I guess you had him first.

Hannah looks at Chris. “He knows who I am!”

“Of course, silly. I talk about you all the time,” Chris says. He feels a little bit guilty that it isn’t entirely true. It’s not that he doesn’t want to, but he’s never been the most open person and Hannah is something he wants to keep close.

He’s glad he’d mentioned her to Darren. It’s enough to make her face light up, just getting that message. She and Darren go back and forth talking and when he sees her starting to fade out a little he takes the phone and starts to translate the messages between them. She wants to know about the snow, and to both of their delight Darren starts sending them pictures of various snowy bits of scenery around his apartment building.

Darren’s in one of them, a goofy self-portrait with a miniature snowman he made.

“He’s cute,” Hannah announces. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“I don’t know,” Chris says. He ignores the little pang that comes with saying it.

“He should have a girlfriend.” Hannah seems quite sure about this.

“Want me to ask him out for you?” Chris teases. “Here, lets take a pretty picture to send him.”

He puts his arm around her and she cuddles in with her head on his shoulder while he takes the picture and then sends it to Darren.

By the time the response comes again, Hannah has wandered off, bored of Chris and his sloth-like devotion to his bed.

Look at those two cuties.

Chris grins to himself and writes back: Be careful or someone might get a crush. His heart pounds after he sends it, the first true bit of flirtation he’s dared. Then he immediately backtracks and adds another message. Hannah, I mean.

His stomach is still in knots until he gets back: Hannah, hm? Bummer...

Chris has absolutely no idea what to make of the message, besides that Darren apparently just can't help flirting. He finds his charger and plugs his phone in and goes to take a shower instead of responding. Later when Hannah’s napping and Chris is curled up on his parents couch listening to them bicker while local news drones on the tv in front of him, he pulls up the photo of Darren again to stare at it.

*

The rest of his vacation passes uneventfully. Thanksgiving dinner brings a house full of relatives with well meaning but entirely too nosy questions. He dutifully responds that he doesn’t have a girlfriend yet, he’s not really looking, he’s focused on his studies... he’s pretty sure half of his family has figured out that he’s not exactly the breeding type, and the half that hasn’t is just in denial.

He’s much happier when he’s actually asked about the classes he’s taking. He’s already thinking ahead to the next semester; he doesn’t intend on pursuing business at all, but he has been toying with a minor in British history. He’s always been obsessed with the royal family, and he thinks he might want to write a period novel one day.

He gets text messages from all of his friends, not just Darren. They send him things he’ll be amused by (usually as part of a group message, he thinks).

If most of the messages he get are from Darren, and if Darren is the one he’s up until almost midnight with a constant back and forth... well, he tries not to let himself get too pleased. He knows Joey is back in California too, and Matt and Nick are back at their parents for the weekend.

Darren is probably just bored. But... even if he’s just bored, he likes Chris enough to use him to alleviate the loneliness that comes from an apartment to himself. Darren even texts him some during the impromptu potluck dinner that the stragglers in Michigan throw together.

Part of him wishes he were there with them, but he isn’t unhappy to be home. He’s missed his mother and home cooked meals and sleeping in his own bed. It’s still strange how he looks at things on his desk that he’s had for years and they look slightly unfamiliar now, but it doesn’t take long to slip back into the groove of things.

Before he knows it, Monday has come and gone and he’s taking another trip to the airport. This time his parents park and walk him to the security checkpoint, where he hugs his mother a little too hard and reminds her that he’ll be back in a month.

*

His theater classmates - his theater friends - talk him into signing up for another class with them in the coming semester. It doesn’t require much arm twisting. He wants the excuse to hang around with him, and their enthusiasm for projects is contagious. They’re talking about writing some shows themselves, and he spends an hour talking about Harry Potter with Matt.

The Friday after Thanksgiving break, he goes to another movie night. Darren’s already playing to a crowd but he pauses to wave at Chris when he walks in. Chris finds Lauren and talks to her for a few minutes before he finds a comfortable spot on the floor to listen to the music. He nurses a beer for a while, determined not to drink as much as he had the last time. It might mean he won’t end up in Darren’s bed again but he’d much rather be awake for the experience next time anyway.

Joey and Dylan begin jeering and heckling for their turn before long. “Fine, fine,” Darren says. “One more. I just wrote this one, okay, so - be harsh. Like, be brutal. Tell me if it sucks.”

“It sucks,” Brian shouts right away.

Darren flips him off as he makes sure his guitar is tuned before slipping into a sweet melody.

Chris wants to close his eyes and just disappear in the song. It’s about love, new love, and feelings... the lyrics are cheesy, maybe, but it’s a love song. Cheesy works, cheesy fits.

“Don’t you want the way I feel, don’t you want the way I feel, don’t you want the way I feel for you...” Darren croons. His eyes look down most of the time, but every time they flicker up Chris wants to pretend that Darren looks right at him. “It’s true... it’s just a fantasy for two... but what’s the difference if it all could have been true? I guess this is better... but don’t you want the way I feel... don’t you want the way I feel... don’t you want the way I feel for you...”

Chris tries very hard not to applaud more than anyone else when Darren lets it wind down to a close.

*

It’s past midnight and most of the people have made their way out, back home or to another party. Every time Chris tries to say he needs to leave, someone grabs him and pulls him back into conversation.

Even Darren seems to have settled down from his perpetual state of social butterflying enough to stretched out on the floor. He has a beer in one hand and he’s playing with the lace on Chris’s sneaker with the other. “You ever smoked pot, Chris?”

“Uh... no,” Chris says.

“That’s how we usually end movie night.” Darren’s hand moves up and wraps around Chris’s ankle, thumb rubbing against the lump of bone. Chris is still half buzzed and so distracted by the casual touch that it takes him a minute to catch on to what Darren is saying. “Joey went to get the stuff just now.”

“Oh. Should I... go?” He frowns. He doesn’t want to go. It’s nice here and Darren is voluntarily touching him.

“Noooo,” Darren whines. “Stay. Let me corrupt you some.”

Meredith cackles loudly from the other side of the couch, then immediately hums and looks pointedly away, as if to prove how much she wasn’t eavesdropping.

“Okay,” Chris says.

(Like he’d say no to that.)

*

Chris discovers that everything is a little hazier and a little softer and a lot funnier when he’s high. He can hardly catch his breath as Nick tells some long rambling story and womens underwear and a high school play. The story probably isn’t even that funny but god, fuck, everything is so fantastic right now.

“I want to write,” Chris announces, interrupting Nick and not even caring. “I want to write like this. I bet it would be so good.”

“Oh, Chris, Chris!” Darren says his name excitedly, like he needs to get Chris’s attention. “Hey, I write songs when I’m high.”

“And they suck,” Lauren says. She’s sitting in Dylan’s lap after a very hilarious (how are these people all so funny) conversation about his usefulness as furniture. “Darren, last time you wrote an ode to the potato.”

“It’s so VERSATILE!” Darren’s voice is so genuinely awed that Chris giggles desperately, turning his face to the nearest thing to him to try and muffle the sound. He doesn’t want Darren to think he’s laughing at his song. It’s probably a very pretty song. But, potatoes.

The nearest thing to him happens to be Joey. Chris pulls back abruptly from where he’d been pressing his face to Joey’s arm. “You smell really good.”

Joey beams at the compliment. “Why, thank you. I started doing this thing where I shower once a day and I use this new stuff they have called soap?”

“It’s working.” Chris nods, then sort of slumps against Joey, because he does smell good, and he’s kind of warm... a little bony, but warm, and not at all scary to think about.

Darren is scary to think about. Darren is scary to think about because he’s so close - like, three feet away close, in the semi-circle they’ve formed in order to pass the joints around. Close enough that if Chris just tipped a little bit the other way he’d be pressed all against Darren and he really, really wants that.

But he can’t have that. And Joey is... Joey is nice. Nice and here and un-scary and Chris feels all tingly and he sort of wants to just touch someone. Anyone. He wiggles in closer and he hears someone laughing at him.

He really should be more self-conscious right now, he thinks, but he just... isn’t. He reaches out and pats Joey’s thigh. “This is nice. Thank you all for corrupting me.”

“Hey, why’s-” Darren starts to say, but someone cuts him off.

“You’re very welcome, Christopher,” Meredith says. Her voice sounds really close and sort of up so he tips his head back and, oh, she is up. She’s standing in front of him. “Why don’t you come with me.”

“I didn’t do it,” Joey says, raising both hands.

Chris pouts. “But he smells good.”

“You know who else smells good?” She coaxes him, like she’s talking to a child.

“Darren?” Chris guesses. “Darren always smells good.”

He gives Darren a sort of longing look that to his surprise Darren doesn’t look happy at all, not like Chris feels. That makes him sad.

“Well, him, too.” Meredith puts both hands out and Chris instinctively reaches for them, letting her pull him up. “But I was talking about me.”

Chris leans in and sniffs her, then pulls back “You smell better than Joey, but not as good as Darren,” he declares.

“Ouch,” Joey says. “Oh how fleeting is your favor.”

Darren is smug. “I smell the best.”

Meredith is less sympathetic now. “Okay, I’m just gonna save us all a lot of trouble.” She grabs Chris by the shoulders and guides him three feet over before pushing down hard. He topples easily, not expecting it.

He falls with an ‘oof’ right into Darren’s lap.

“If you like how he smells so much, then fine,” Meredith says.

“Yaaaay, I win Chris!” Darren cheers with both arms raised and then wraps them around Chris. “I win you,” he says to Chris in a mock whisper, resting his chin on Chris’s shoulder.

Chris is shocked into silence for a minute until he looks around and realizes half the people in the room are sitting on someone’s lap.

No one cares. He can sit in a guy’s lap and no one cares.

Chris sort of loves the everything about this night.

“I’m really glad I stayed.” He doesn’t mean to say it out loud, but whoops, it sort of slips out. He tries to explain further. “You’re all so touchy. You... touch. No one ever touches me.”

“Touching feels good when you’re high,” Darren says. He puts his hands on Chris’s arms and rubs them up and down. The callouses from his guitar playing feel a little rough against the soft skin of Chris’s arms. “Doesn’t it?”

It feels amazing. “If I were a cat,” he tells Darren, “I’d be purring. That feels so good.”

“Isn’t pot great? Just makes you want to hug the world.”

Chris doesn’t want to hug the world. He just wants to hug Darren. But this is close enough for now. The conversation flows around them but Chris doesn’t even bother trying to catch up. When another joint gets passed around he lets Darren hold it to his lips while he inhales deeply. Darren’s other hand is warm and heavy on his chest, feeling him let the smoke go. His first few tries had devolved into coughing fits but he has the hang of it now, even if it still leaves his throat feeling raw.

Darren takes another hit after him and then passes it along. “Warm,” Chris mumbles, leaning back against him. “I’m sleepy.”

“Yeah?” Hands free again now, Darren wraps his arms back around Chris and nuzzles his neck. “You can go to sleep if you want to.”

Chris doesn’t remember much after that. He fades in and out, wakes when Lauren kisses his cheek and whispers something that might have been goodbye or might have been good luck.

He lets his eyes shut again and when he opens them some time later he’s on the floor, curled up with a blanket draped over him and a throw pillow from the couch under his head. There are only a few people around now and most of the lights are off. He thinks it’s either very late or very early because Darren’s wearing pajamas pants and a t-shirt, but he has his guitar out, singing again softly.

Then the music is gone and Darren is talking to someone. Bits and pieces of the conversation make their way into Chris’s mind through tendrils of dream. Take the bed and no, it’s cool and yeah, I’ll crash here and then all the lights are off and there’s a warm body behind him, arms around him.

He starts, because he’s not really high anymore and arms around him - that’s not a thing he’s used to. The laughter in his ear is familiar and it’s Darren with that wonderful Darren-smell. “This okay?” Darren asks, lips brushing Chris’s neck. “I let Lauren sleep in my bed, and Dyl is on the couch.”

He doesn’t mention that there’s a whole rest of the floor he could sleep in and Chris doesn’t point it out. He just nods and squeezes his eyes tight and smiles. “Mhm... ‘s fine.”

*

Chris wakes the next morning with an ache in his back and a crick in his neck from sleeping on the floor. He can hear people talking in the next room and smell food. That’s what gets him to his feet, twisting until his back cracks in a satisfying way. Dylan is stretched out on the couch still snoring, so Chris knows he’s at least not the only person that stayed over.

He glances between the hallway and the kitchen and decides to go for the bathroom first, stealing mouthwash to gargle and trying to tame his bedhead into submission. His clothes are impossibly wrinkled but he thinks it could be worse.

He runs into Joey in the hallway. Despite all indication that he’s wide awake, he looks more sleep rumpled than Chris had. “Hey, dude, you’re up! Darren made bacon and eggs.”

“Thanks,” Chris says, smiling at him. He brushes past to go into the kitchen.

“Sleeping beauty arises.” Lauren is sitting at the island on a barstool sipping coffee. Somehow, she looks perfectly put together. “So did we-” She looks pointedly at Darren. “-thoroughly terrify you last night?”

“Not at all.” Chris reassures her. “It was a lot of fun.”

He does remember everything about the night before, until the point he’d been half asleep. He remembers being on Darren’s lap, and he’s pretty sure Darren sleeping beside him really happened, too. He can’t quite look Darren in the eye.

Until he finally does and Darren is smiling at him and everything goes a little bit brighter and nicer.

*

It’s almost been easy to forget that finals are approaching, but Chris gets an unpleasant reminder in the form of half a dozen assignments spread out through his courses with precariously coordinating due dates designed to leave him guaranteed sleep-deprived for the following week.

The only upside is that most of his friends are suffering right along with him: different teachers, different courses, but each with their own overwhelming load of essays and homework and projects. He ends up getting most of his meals to go and camping out in the library or his dorm room or, during the off times, the coffee shop.

The business classes test his patience in the worst way and it’s all too easy to find himself swapping back over to a blank document to work on creative writing or the script he’s had rattling around in his head.

Ashley’s great about bringing him drinks when he can barely keep his eyes open, so it comes as little surprise when she slides a steaming latte and a freshly warmed scone toward him at half past seven on a Tuesday night. “I’m on break,” she announces, sitting across from him. “And I have news on your boy.”

Chris’s head jerks up. “Who?”

(Of course he knows who, but he doesn’t want to just assume.)

“Okay, here’s the dealio. My guy Eric knows a girl who knows a guy who said he used to hook up with that, and I quote, hot little hippie dude with the hair that never shuts up. Tell me what doesn’t sound like your boy?”

“He’s not my boy,” Chris says, but it’s just an automatic response.

“Okay, well, not-your-boy is officially in the rumor mill as heteroflexible at the very least, so chin up, sweetcheeks. Your odds just improved.” Ashley smirks at him but beyond the default expression of slight disdain and sarcasm he’s come to know her well enough to understand that she really is happy for him.

“It might not mean anything.” Chris holds his disbelief up like a shield.

“But it might,” Ashley argues. “I’ve seen him in here with you. Come on, I know you’re kind of a knucklehead, but he makes these googley eyes at you... I almost mentioned it before but it seemed kind of mean if he really was Mr. Straighty McStraight. But now that he’s Mr. Potentially Curvy...”

She can’t seem to understand why Chris isn’t elated over this, and he can’t really explain why.

The thing is, Chris doesn’t come from a world where he gets what he wants.

He comes from Clovis, California - where gay kids are mocked and teased, where anyone different is mocked and teased.

He didn’t grow up feeling free to be himself and explore all aspects of whatever that might mean. He grew up learning to hide it, to dull the more unique parts of himself, to work as hard as he could to blend in.

He didn’t grow up with people like Darren Criss in his life - or Lauren, or Joey, or any of these people that just look at him and blindly take him for what he is without finding it odd or off-putting or freakish.

He comes from a world where straight and gay exist, bisexuality is only acceptable in cute girls wanting attention, and where his odds were always basically slim to none unless he felt like really reaching out of his comfort zone and hitting up the local gay bar. (Which he’d done once in a fit of intense curiosity, and hadn’t even made it inside when he’d seen the parking lot full of men in leather and guys old enough to be his grandfather.)

But even if Darren is, as Ashley put it, heteroflexible - that doesn’t open a door. It maybe, maybe cracks a window - if Darren is drunk enough and desperate enough and Chris is willing to take a furtive makeout.

He’s not, though. That’s part of his problem. That’s why he didn’t go home with the first guy to hit on him in public. He wants more for himself. Darren making out with a guy (which, for all Chris knows, might have happened only once) doesn’t mean he’s going to want to be the boy that holds Chris’s hand and goes on dates with him and kisses him like it means something.

That’s the kind of boy Chris wants, and that little tease, that bit of hope mixing with his utter lack of faith in his own willpower just leaves Chris pissed off at the world.

*

Of course, he can’t just forget what Ashley said, and he can’t seem to stop it from coloring how he looks at Darren.

Underneath his bitterness and cynicism there’s a little hint of possibility now. It’s in the back of his mind when Joe announces that Friday night is a study-free zone and they all strong-arm Chris into joining them at the club.

It’s in the back of his mind when he dresses in some of the skin tight jeans he’d bought during their makeover shopping trip, when he picks out a purple shirt that he knows looks good on him, when he straps the leather cuff to his wrist and slides his feet into boots.

By the time he orders his third fruity cocktail that night, it’s no longer relegated to the back of his mind.

It’s right at the forefront.

He’s drunk and Darren has just showed up.

Darren, who looks delicious with stubble on his cheeks and his hair a mess, is making a beeline straight for Chris.

At least three people stop him between the door and the wall Chris is leaning against, but Darren only gives each of them a moment of time. Halfway there he says something to Joey, who turns and waves at Chris and then goes in the opposite direction.

“Hi,” Chris says, greeting Darren with a warm smile. He really couldn’t do anything but; just seeing Darren here makes him happy.

“Hey yourself.” Darren reaches out and takes Chris’s drink, guiding it to his mouth without taking it from Chris’s hand so he can sip it. Chris wonders if Darren has any idea what it does to him when Darren doles out such casual touches. “Ooh, sweet. I like it.”

“Me, too.” Chris takes a drink with his mouth on the same place Darren’s just was. Darren isn’t even looking. “Go get a drink. Then I want to dance.”

Darren looks surprised, but happy. “Yeah? Yeah, awesome. I’ll be right back. No, wait, come with me. You look way too good tonight, I’m not taking chances.”

Chris giggles at the compliment and at the surge of giddiness he feels when Darren grabs his hand and keeps him close.

Darren orders two shots and does them one right after another, wincing and smacking his lips and shaking his head right after with a loud, “Ahhh! That oughta help catch me up.”

“Mhm,” Chris agrees.

Darren orders a beer to chase it with and then looks at Chris. “You serious? You want to dance?”

“I asked you, didn’t I?” Chris bites his lip and, wow, Darren is giving him a look now.

“Yeah, you did,” Darren murmurs, smiling. He gets his beer from the bartender and slides a twenty back at him, not waiting on change.

*

Chris loses track of how long they dance together. He’s drunk enough to not be self-conscious, and Darren never needs an excuse. They touch - nothing too inappropriate, but it’s touching. Darren’s hands on Chris’s back, on his hips, guiding him into stupid dance moves sometimes just so they can laugh together... and then there are the moments where neither of them are laughing, where they’re just dancing and staring and finding new ways for their bodies to find synchronicity with each other. Darren’s shoulders are warm and perfect and Chris can feel the dampness of sweat through his thin t-shirt. It really should feel gross but it doesn’t at all, it feels sort of hot.

The lights go even darker and a song with thudding hard bass starts to play. Darren yanks him in closer until they’re chest to chest and presses a thigh between Chris’s leg. Chris gasps and presses his mouth to Darren’s shoulder, one hand sliding up the back of Darren’s neck to tangle in his hair. Darren groans; Chris can’t hear it over the music that seems to be invading his pores, but he can feel the vibration through Darren’s body.

Darren grabs Chris’s other hand and brings it up between them, to his mouth. He kisses Chris’s fingertip and Chris is pretty sure this is what cardiac arrest feels like.

He could kiss Darren right now, if he wanted to.

He wants to.

He really wants to.

He shuts his eyes and turns his face toward Darren’s blindly, lips parted slightly. The first touch is faint, like Darren is testing the waters - then firmer, pressure and dampness and a tongue swiping over his bottom lip. Chris gasps into it and then starts to kiss back. His fingers curl and tug in Darren’s hair and rocks forward into everything, into Darren. Darren’s arms go tighter around him and he pushes back. They’re still moving but it’s not really dancing anymore, just sort of swaying and moving into each other. Chris is throbbing hard in his pants, suddenly regretting the tightness of his wardrobe choice, and he’s pretty sure Darren can feel everything but he thinks he can feel something too, and if he thinks too hard about that he’s pretty sure he’s going to orgasm right here on the dance floor so he doesn’t think about it at all, or anything. He doesn’t think, he just kisses Darren like his life depends on it.

Then the song ends and the lights come up a little. Chris is dazed and overheated and suddenly his legs are unsteady. If he holds Darren a little more closely, that must be why.

*

They dance through one more song, because Chris is completely following Darren’s lead and Darren doesn’t seem too inclined to move away from him.

Darren gets spotted again, though. It’s none of the theater kids; these are people Chris doesn’t know. The girl all but begs Darren to dance with her and he declines, shooting Chris glances every few seconds. Chris starts to wonder if Darren is only turning her down to be polite and where he’d felt lighter than air moments ago suddenly he feels like there’s lead in his stomach.

He takes another step back and Darren instantly makes to go with him, grabbing Chris’s hand. Chris shakes his head and Darren looks surprised. Chris leans back in and says, “Water,” right in Darren’s ear so he knows he hears.

Darren looks worriedly at him. “You okay? You want to go sit down?”

“Yeah, I’m... I’m gonna go find everyone else.” He squeezes Darren’s hand a little when the worried look doesn’t go away. “I’m fine. Have fun with your friends.”

His eyes dart over to the blonde when he says the word friends. Darren is frowning but Chris doesn’t stick around to let him say anything else. He feels shaky and overwhelmed and just needs a chance to breathe.

*

He really means to go back inside, but once he’s out in the fresh air it just sort of makes him feel sick to think of walking back in there.

What if Darren’s already dancing with one of those girls? What if he’s already making out with one of them? What if he takes one of them home?

Before he even realizes he’s doing it, Chris is walking back to his dorm. He makes it all the way back and curls up on top of his bed without undressing. His roommate is gone, usually absent for the weekends, and Chris is grateful for it.

He’s almost asleep when his phone buzzes and makes him jump. “Shit,” he mumbles, wincing as he digs in his pocket for it. There are messages there that he's missed and Darren's name is among them. Guilt twists at his stomach and he skips them, goes straight to the newest one from Lauren.

It’s a text message from Lauren that says: Where the fuck are you?

He writes back: Home. Wasn’t feeling well.

Lauren replies right away: Liar. You little shit. I’m coming to see you.

He sits up again, catching a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. He looks awful, with his hair flattened on one side from laying down and his mouth too red against pale skin. He goes down the hall to the bathrooms and splashes water on his face.

Lauren texts him when she gets there. Don’t make me force my way in there, Colfer. Come let me in.

He takes the elevator down and lets her in through the lobby. “What-”

“You shut up, you do not get to talk right now. You are a liar and an asshole.”

He takes a step back. She’s tiny, but sort of drunk and sort of terrifying like this. “What did I do?”

“Darren is a fucking wreck right now. He thinks you hate him. He said you guys were ‘connecting,’’ she does finger quotes, “and then you took off. Why would you jerk him around like that?”

“Me?” Chris squeaks. “Me, jerk him around?”

“Uh, yeah?” She puts her hands on her hips and stares him down. “Okay, you can talk. If you have a good reason, I want to hear it right now.”

“I...” Chris has no idea what to say. “What?”

“Look, I like you. You’re an awesome guy, and I want to keep being friends with you, but oh my god you are making my life impossible right now. Do you know what it’s like to have to deal with Darren when he’s pining? I didn’t, before he met you, and I will be happy if I never have to live through this again. He’s impossible! All he talks about is you! And tonight he thought he was getting somewhere, and then you bolted.” She reaches out and punches him hard in the shoulder. “Dick.”

“Ow!” Chris rubs his arm. “I don’t understand.”

“Are you seriously that dense?” Lauren glares at him.

Chris wraps his arms around himself and says, in a very small voice, “He likes me?”

As she studies his face, her glare fades into an annoyed sigh. “Oh my God, you really are that dense. I thought being gay made you somehow less of an idiot boy. Thank you for disproving that stereotype. Darren wants you. He wants to date you. He wants to woo you. He think’s he has been, but he’s too much of an idiot to say it and you’re too much of an idiot to see it.”

“I should-” He steps toward the door like he’s doing to leave right then and go back to the club, but Lauren stops him.

“Don’t. Just, like. Text him or something, okay? Once I let him know that you hadn’t been kidnapped by some serial killer or something, that you really just left, he got all mopey. The guys were gonna take him home and keep him from doing something stupid like getting wasted and serenading you at three in the morning.”

“I didn’t even know he was... I didn’t know he liked guys,” Chris says, dropping down onto one of the chairs in the lobby. He looks up at Lauren. “He never said.”

“Sweetie, he’s Darren.” Lauren sits down beside him. “He doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of us sometimes. He grew up in a magic land of puppy dogs and rainbows where everyone loved each other and he could be whatever he wanted. I don’t think he realizes that’s something he needs to really say. When he likes someone, he likes them.”

“And he likes me.” His voice is filled with wonder this time. “He really likes me?”

“Chris, honey.” Lauren puts her hand on his knee and squeezes. “He really likes you. But you both probably need to sober up before you really talk about it, but at least let him know that you don’t hate him, okay?”

“Okay.” Chris stands when Lauren does. She pulls him in for a hug that he easily returns. “Thank you.”

“Any time, sweetheart. I adore you, you know that. But Darren’s like everyone’s horny, loud, happy brother. I don’t like seeing him upset. I don’t like seeing you upset either. So just... try and figure something out so that no one is upset. And if you aren’t sure, don’t fuck with him.” She squeezes him again then steps away. “Now go to sleep.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Chris says, smiling a little.

He wanders back to his dorm room clutching this newfound knowledge tightly to him. His phone sits on his bed mocking him, and when he picks it up he sees four messages. The first three are from Darren and one is from Joey. They’re all from over an hour before, from just after he’d left the club.

(Chris? Where’d you go?
Chriiiiiiis :(
Seriously, is everything okay?)

(Uh hey little buddy if you’re around answer so Darren stops freaking.)

He ignores the one from Joey and opens up a reply screen to Darren. I’m sorry I ran off like that. I’m kind of a jerk.

He doesn’t have to wait long for a response. No you arent. I shuldnt have kissed you like that man. I’m sorry. I just want us to be cool.

Chris types back: We are. And don’t apologize for that. I wanted it.

Really? Darren responds.

He shuts his eyes, says a prayer to a God he doesn’t even remotely believe in, and types back: Really...

His phone starts to buzz in his hand. When he sees Darren’s face on the screen his heart starts to pound and he feels a little sick, but he answers because he knows the kind of message not answering would send.

“For real?” Darren asks. He sounds breathless and his words are a little slurred.

Chris can hear noise in the background that abruptly dims, like Darren has walked into a different room or shut a door.

“Of course.” Chris curls up on his bed again. “I just got... scared, I guess.”

“Don’t be scared of me.” Darren’s voice is soft and there’s a quality to it Chris has never heard before. “I just want to make you smile. Like, always.”

It’s the most shockingly romantic thing Chris has maybe ever heard. He squeezes his eyes shut and smiles. “You do.”

“I’ve thought about kissing you a fucking million times, Chris. And I shouldn’t have - in the club, not like that, it was the wrong place. I fucked up it, we only get one first kiss and I kind of fucked it up, and I’m sorry. You just asked me to dance and like... zap, my brain was mush, I couldn’t help it. Let me make it up to you.”

“I’m the one that ran out. I should be making it up to you.”

“So we can make it up to each other,” Darren says. “If you-”

“Stop asking. I want to. I promise,” Chris says, laughing a little. “I want to.”

Darren goes silent for so long that Chris has to check and make sure he’s still there.

“You don’t know how badly I want to just, just come see you. Right now,” Darren finally says.

Chris, who had just sort of halfway caught his breath, feels it abruptly catch again. He has every intention of saying no, saying that they should both sleep, sober up - but instead what comes out is: “Please do.”

*

For the second time in an hour Chris finds himself downstairs in the dorm lobby waiting to let someone in. He curls up in the chair facing the double doors and tries not to fall asleep. His eyes feel heavy with exhaustion but nerves keep him alert.

He’s up as soon as he sees Darren walk up. His hands shake as he opens the door from the inside, ushering Darren in from the freezing cold. He’s wearing sweatpants and a thick hoodie, a beanie jammed over his curls. His face is still red and Chris can see him rubbing his hands back and forth.

“Hey,” he says, stopping and just staring at Chris. “Hi. Um. hey.”

Chris smiles a little. “Hey. Do you... come on, let’s go up to my room. My roommate isn’t here.”

He reaches out and takes one of Darren’s freezing hands in his to lead him. Some of the tension in the way Darren’s carrying himself seems to seep away at the first touch of their skin and he walks close to the elevator. They stand side by side in it, neither of them taking advantage of the fact that it’s empty besides the two of them.

They don’t speak until Chris has shut the door to his dorm behind him. He leans back against it while Darren just stands there, still watching Chris.

“I’m so tired,” Chris admits. “But we can talk, if you want to.”

Darren tugs the beanie off and puts it on Chris’s desk. “Not really. I just needed to see you.”

He rubs a hand over his mouth. He looks a little older and a little sadder than Chris has ever seen him before, and it hurts Chris like a physical pain to know he did that. Then Darren proves that nothing can keep him down for too long by smiling and holding his arms open. “Know what would make it better? A hug.”

Chris smiles back, grateful to Darren for making this move, and steps into the embrace eagerly. Darren’s neck is chilly from the wind out but warms quickly against Chris’s cheek. “You’re right. This does make it better.”

They stand there swaying together, both of them with their eyes closed, until Darren breaks the moment with a loud yawn. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, immediately. “Fuck, it’s like three am, isn’t it?”

“Stay,” Chris says, pulling back. Then he turns bright red because he realizes that when Darren stays over with someone it probably isn’t usually just to sleep. “I mean-”

“Yeah, I know,” Darren says, nuzzling against Chris’s shoulder a little. “Yeah. Consider me your platonic snuggle buddy for the night. I am perfectly down with not walking back to my apartment right now.”

“Okay,” Chris says, pulling back a little.

Darren doesn’t let go. “Not kidding about the snuggle buddy, though. I’m a champion snuggler.”

Chris smiles. “Okay. Good.” Darren lets Chris go. “I’m going to get, uh... changed. Do you want something to sleep in?”

He finds Darren something to sleep in and then escapes down the bathrooms to change himself, saying something about needing to wash his face, though he doesn’t take anything with him.

He needs the few minutes to gather himself together. He’s mostly sobered but and there’s a boy that he really likes (that might really like him) waiting in his bedroom right now.

He looks in the mirror and in his reflection he just sees a boy that this would never happen to. Chris Colfer, from Clovis, who hadn’t even kissed a guy, who considered it a good day if he didn’t get mocked for the concept that he might want to.

This doesn’t feel like a good day. This feels like a fucked up, confusing day with some of the best and worst moments he’s had in Michigan somehow happening concurrently. It feels like life, messy and complicated, and he can’t go backwards anymore.

*

Darren’s stretched out on the bed when Chris comes back, phone held up in front of his face as he types something. When he sees Chris, he reaches over and puts it on the nightstand and then scoots over. It doesn’t make much difference; there’s still barely any room on his twin bed.

He sits on the edge of his bed and plugs his phone in, turning it on silent but leaving it within reach for morning. There’s nothing left to do after that but stretch out beside Darren, who holds up the covers for him with a little grin that Chris can see through the faint moonlight coming in from the window. He’s not sure if he’s glad or not to be spared total darkness.

Darren, blessedly, keeps him from wallowing in insecurity for very long. He scoots in close and lays on his side, sharing the pillow with Chris. “I really want to kiss you right now,” he whispers. “Is that okay?”

Chris can’t stop the smile on his face as he says, “Yes.”

Then Darren’s mouth is on his, slow and soft and sweet. It lingers on and on but it’s not a kiss that means to go anywhere. It’s lazy and sleepy and Chris thinks he could do this forever. Darren’s fingers stroke over the back of his neck and his shoulders, like he’s petting Chris, and that’s almost as good as the making out.

“Wow.” Chris says it faintly.

“Wow,” Darren agrees, kissing the corner of Chris’s mouth. “You are very wow.”

“Not me,” Chris argues. “You.”

“No, you.” Darren argues back, then kisses Chris again before he can say anything. “You, you, you, you, you.”

Chris giggles against his mouth. “You.”

“Man, I think we’re both out of it,” Darren laughs. “Fuck, you’re so adorable. I can’t stand it. I just wanna.”

He kisses Chris again, biting a little against his bottom lip.

“You wanna?” He wants the rest of that sentence. He wants Darren to never stop saying such nice things. As long as Darren keeps talking, this can still be real.

“Eat you up.” Darren bites again playfully, then slides his tongue along Chris’s. “Taste you. Kiss you some more. Never let you go.”

“Oh.” Chris smiles. His eyes are so heavy and he can barely keep them open. He can feel Darren pressed all along his body, one of Darren’s knees nudging his. The last thing he thinks before he falls asleep is now nice Darren’s fingers feel as they stroke over his cheek, along the dimple of his smile.

*

Chris jolts into wakefulness to a loud crashing noise. His eyes fly open, then squint back shut at the light for a few seconds before slowly opening again. “Darren?” His voice is scratchy with sleep.

Darren looks at him guiltily. “Uh, wow, that was a total fail. I was gonna be sneaky and go get us some food.”

Chris sits up slowly and rubs his eyes. “What time is it?”

“A little after eleven.”

“Oh. Wow.” He picks up his phone to verify, but Darren’s right.

Darren, apparently deciding that sneaky breakfast is off the table totally, drops back down onto the bed. He rests his back against the wall and studies Chris. “So. Morning after.”

“We didn’t have sex.” Chris flushes just saying it.

Darren proves himself to be an absolute bastard, because he just laughs and casually drapes himself over Chris like personal space isn’t a concept he was ever taught. He drags Chris back until he’s laying down again. But his voice gives him away a little when asks, “This is okay, right? I’ve gotta leave in like, fuck, twenty minutes or something, but I just wanted to...”

“You’re leaving?” Chris frowns. He wishes now that they hadn’t slept so long. “Why?”

“Rehearsal for the play I’m in right now.” Darren props himself up on one elbow to look at Chris. “I’d stay if I could, but I’ve already been late to half the rehearsals.”

“Of course you have.” Chris smiles fondly. “Don’t you own a watch? Or a cell phone?”

Darren laughs. “Maybe I need a personal assistant.”

“Hmm.” Chris pretends to think it over. “What does the job pay?”

“Well, I’m low on cash, but I could work out some sort of system of sexual favors...” Darren flirts, running a hand up over Chris’s chest.

“Oh.” Chris knows he’s supposed to joke back, but he’s thrown by the comment in a really tantalizing way. Darren’s grin deepens, like he knows exactly what he’s doing to Chris.

“Here, let me give you a little example.” He cups Chris’s face in his hand and kisses him on the mouth, tongue sliding out. Chris really wants to protest because he hasn’t even brushed his teeth and this should really be disgusting, except that it isn’t at all. It’s just warm and hot and it’s probably pathetic that he’s getting hard from just this, but he is. He’s not sure what to do with his own hands so he settles for putting one on Darren’s back and letting the other stay on the pillow between them. Darren drops a couple of shorter kisses on his lips and then pulls back. He talks as he kisses down Chris’s jaw and then settles right at the curve of his throat. “I promise excellent benefits, too.”

“I bet you do.” Chris laughs, warmth bubbling over in him. He wants more kisses, wants more of that feeling, and it’s like Darren can read his mind because in the space of a moment their making out again. Darren leans against him and Chris realizes he doesn’t have a reason to feel embarrassed because Darren’s definitely half-hard, too, and there’s so much Chris wants to do...

Then Darren’s phone rings. He pulls away and glares at it, then grabs it. “Fuck. It’s Julia. She’s gonna have my balls if I don’t get there on time.”

“Okay.” Chris reluctantly lets him go. He watches as Darren reaches down to adjust himself with apparently no modesty at all. “I think I’ll stay and take a shower.”

Darren pouts. “Come to the theater after? Pleaaaaase? We can get lunch after?”

Chris can’t resist that. He smiles and nods. “Okay.”

“Awesome!” Darren leans in to give him another quick kiss. “See you then.”

*

No one seems all that surprised when he walks in halfway through the rehearsal. He sits near the back but the rehearsal space is small. As soon as one person spots him they all make a point to greet him in loud and exceedingly obvious ways.

The director corrals them back into rehearsal mode, but one person slips away to join him. He smiles at Julia in greeting, but immediately starts to get nervous. “Hi,” he says, whispering to keep from disrupting the conversations happening

“Hi.” She smiles back, but there’s something a little guarded about it. “So - did you and Darren work things out?”

Chris decides that honesty is the best policy. “I have no idea. But I think we will.”

His eyes catch on Darren on the stage, acting his heart out - surprisingly effective even if his wardrobe is about the opposite of what it’ll be when the show is really on.

She nods a little bit and keeps watching him until he starts to squirm. “Is this the part where you threaten to break my kneecaps if I hurt him?”

She laughs. “I thought about it, but I’m not really sure who is more likely to hurt who. Darren can be kind of dumb.”

Chris frowns. “What do you mean?”

She reaches out pats his arm reassuringly. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say things like that. Darren is... he’s an amazing guy. But I haven’t ever seen him act like he does with you before.”

“I... I’m not sure what to say to that.”

“Just don’t let him mess with your mind.” She squeezes his hand briefly and then withdraws, standing up. “I’m not trying to warn you off of him. I just know that he doesn’t have it as together as he wants to act.”

Five minutes after she walks away, Chris slips out.

*

Chris doesn’t go far. He wants to - he wants to run, again, but he’s sober this time and his legs just won’t take him past the front steps of the building. He sits heavily, head in his hands, and then picks up his phone and texts Darren to tell him where he’s at.

He needs Darren to know what they’re doing, because he really has no clue. He sits there trying to play out all the ways the conversation that they have to have could go, and each one is more painfully awkward than the next.

He jerks around when the door slams open. Darren is standing there, looking chilly without his jacket. “Hey, there you are. I saw your message, what’s up?”

“I...” Chris looks down.

“Oh. Fuck. It’s not good, is it?” Darren’s voice drops low. “That’s not a good look.”

“No! It’s not bad.” Chris gets to his feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Really?” Darren sounds hopeful again.

“I just... I’m confused,” Chris admits. “About us. I don’t know what we are.”

“We’re awesome, that’s what we are.” Darren gives him a cheeky grin. When Chris doesn’t laugh, he steps in close and grabs Chris’s hand. “Hey, come on. Do I need to say it any more clearly? I fucking like you, Chris. I want to be something. I want us to be like... together.”

“Together?” Chris goes breathless. How does Darren keep doing this to him?

“Yeah. I thought we were. I mean, I know we didn’t talk about it, but I thought we were... something. Are we?” Darren stares at him with a blank look, the least expressive Chris has ever seen him. “Just tell me, okay? Are we something? Or is this all just...” He makes a hand gesture that Chris has no idea how to interpret. “Are we something?”

“Of course.” Chris blinks hard, feeling very young and miserable that he’s made Darren doubt this. “I want to be.”

“Thank fucking God.” Darren launches himself at Chris in a full body hug that Chris returns tenfold. “You drive me crazy. Fuck, are you crying? Don’t cry, please, don’t cry.”

He frantically wipes at the tears on Chris’s face. “I’m sorry,” Chris says, voice higher than normal. “I’m just- Darren!”

“What?” Darren smiles back at him through watery eyes. “Okay, look, we can just agree to never tell anyone we both cried, okay?”

Chris laughs and then pushes against Darren in a kiss that barely goes anywhere, mouths touching with firm pressure in a reassuring way. “Deal.”