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When you got skin in the game (you stay in the game)

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It’s only a matter of time until Holster finds out. Ransom manages to hide it from him easily enough during freshman year, but once they move into the attic, it gets a lot more complicated. Just because Holster’s about as subtle as a marching band doesn’t mean he’s oblivious to his surroundings, and even with their unspoken agreement to politely ignore each other’s masturbation habits, Holster eventually puts two and two together. Thing is, he might never have brought it up if Ransom hadn’t, accidentally, brought it up first.

“Jeez, Rans, seriously, let it go.” They just got back from a roadie: one win, one loss. They’d gotten stuck in traffic; the mood on the bus had been half funeral, half fistfight waiting to happen. It’s past midnight, Rans has a test in two days that he’s trying very hard not to acknowledge right now, and yeah, he’s tense, and disappointed, and still angry about Wagner bringing his girl drama to the ice, and maybe he has been ranting about it for too long, but Holster’s comment does nothing but wind him up more. Great, that’s all he needs right now, to have Holster angry with him.

He pulls his shirt over his head, flings it towards the laundry corner with more force than necessary. Behind him, Holster sits down heavily on his bed. A deep sigh.

“Hey. Ransom.” Ransom kind of wants to be miserable for a bit longer, but he can never say no to that tone. He turns around, looks at Holster where’s he’s rubbing his eyes but also looking right back, tiredly and sincerely. “It’s okay.” He quirks a smile. “Rub one out, get some sleep, everything will be better in the morning.”

It slips out before Ransom can stop it. “No.”

“What do you mean, no?” Incredulous. “You’re not seriously going to study now.”

For a moment, Ransom considers going with that, staging a coral reef crisis, anything to distract Holster, but something in his face must have betrayed his embarrassed panic because Holster’s eyebrows knit together and he goes, “Oh, wait. This is your thing, isn’t it.”

“What thing?” Ransom squeaks out. Yeah, not suspicious at all.

“Your thing. Your system. Your jerk-off schedule, whatever it is.”

Holy fuck, he knows. Ransom tries to redirect. “Bro, you keep track of when I jerk off?” But Holster’s on the scent now, he realizes with despair, and no chirping will waylay him.

“Hard not to, when it’s such a rare event. Can’t be more than, what, once a week? And you’ve got, like, rules. Not before a game. Not before a test. Never in the morning. And when you do, it’s like a fucking marathon.”

“Bro,” says Ransom with weak outrage. “It is not.”

“You once sexiled me for like an hour, and I know for a fact you were alone up here.”

“How do you even know I don’t - you know - in the shower?”

“You’re never in there for longer than five minutes. Not saying it can’t be done, but why would you?”

“Maybe I jack off after, before I come back upstairs.”

“No you don’t.” Holster’s sitting up straight, staring at him challengingly. “You don’t. I’ve roomed with guys for over six years. I know what a dude looks like when he’s just indulged in some self-love. It’s a vibe. I can tell when Jack’s gone at it, and he’s the most repressed, uptight motherfucker I’ve ever met. And even he jerks off more than you. Way more.”

“That,” Ransom breathes out, horrified, “is so fucking creepy.”

“Whatever, I’m just saying. What’s the deal? Is it like a performance thing? Because you know that’s a myth, right, that you play worse when you-“

“Gah, stop. Fuck. It’s not that.” Ransom takes a deep breath, digging his palms into his forehead. Why did Holster have to ambush him with this now, at one AM?

“What is it, then?” Holster’s tone is gentler, now, curious and a bit worried. “Is it me? Should I - d’you want me to, like, fuck off while you - ‘cause I can do that, no problem, I’ll just hang out downstairs -“

No. God, I’ll explain, okay? If you promise not to -“

“Bro!” Offended. “I wouldn’t.”

“Okay.” Rans grabs the desk chair and straddles it, folding his arms over the back and leaning his chin on them. He doesn’t look at Holster when he starts to talk.

“It’s like - I dunno when I started doing it, when I was like fourteen or something, ages ago,” he swallows, trying to push down his nerves. “I guess I must have heard something about delayed gratification? And I was like fourteen, right, so I was jacking it like five times a day -“ Holster laughs in confirmation. “And I thought - that was like the ultimate motivation system. I was trying to get into AA and trying to keep up at school and I just - orgasms became rewards. If I got an A for something, I deserved an orgasm. If we won a game - orgasm. Eventually we started winning a lot of games so I changed it to scoring a point. When I started driving lessons I didn’t let myself have one until I passed my exam.”

He shrugs, his face hot. He still can’t look at Holster.

“Wow,” whispers Holster, sounding awed. Ransom can’t tell if it’s a freaked-out or admiring sort of awe. Maybe both. “Bro, that’s like, months.”

“Three and a half months.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah.” Ransom chuckles. “Passed it the first time, though.”

“So why can’t you jack off now? You got, like, two assists! We won against BU!”

“But we lost today,” counters Ransom. “And I’ve got that Material Chemistry test coming up. If I feel like I’ve done well on that, I can have one.”

“You always do well,” Holster says firmly. Ransom finally looks up to meet his eyes, and finds no trace of glee or disgust. If anything, Holster looks intrigued.

“When’s the last time you earned one?”

Holster’s choice of words - earned - twists something in Ransom, like he really gets it, and he’s inviting Ransom to share the burden of always doing this, of hiding it. Ransom has thought many times that his teenage experiment has gone too far, that it’s compulsive now, that it’s a problem; to have Holster accept it so easily is an immeasurable relief.

“Eight days ago,” he says without having to think about it. “Aced my immunology presentation.”

“Shit, Rans, no wonder you’re so tense.” And yeah, Ransom knows that has a lot to do with it. It’s the unfortunate consequence of his system: it works a little too well. The longer he goes without, the more he needs to channel that restless, itching energy into other things. He can see that Holster gets that, too - there’s probably a lot about him that suddenly makes sense, now - and, driven by a weird need to get it all out, he confesses:

“I kind of like it.”

Holster blinks; his eyes darken, just a little, or is that Ransom’s imagination? “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I like wanting it, and not giving it to myself until I know I deserve it. It’s really fucking hard sometimes, but when I do have one…” Holster mimes an explosion, Ransom laughs. “Yeah.”

“Man.” Holster blows out his breath. “I’m impressed, not gonna lie. Don’t think I’d last two days.”

He leans over to untie his shoelaces, and that gives Ransom the opportunity to get off the chair without punctuating their conversation with a very obviously tented crotch. That, he is absolutely certain, he would get ruthlessly chirped for.

-

Holster doesn’t bring it up the next day, and Ransom wonders if that’s that - isn’t sure to be relieved about that, or a little disappointed - but the day after that, when they get up from team breakfast and Ransom’s hands are beginning to shake a little, because Material Chemistry is first thing at nine, Holster leans close to him and mutters: “Good luck. Eyes on the prize.”

It sounds filthy, put like that, and it sends a prickle of arousal through Ransom that he really can’t use right now. But it also kind of helps, he realizes to his surprise as they cross the river and Holster splits off towards South Quad; somewhere along the line, he stopped thinking of orgasms as something he can have when he’s good, and started thinking of them - or rather, the lack of them - as a kind of ongoing punishment that only relents when he goes above and beyond. Every time he’s considered quitting, he ended up not daring to, in case orgasm denial is the only thing standing between him and total moral dissolution.

It’s not a bad thing, he reminds himself as he walks into the lecture hall. He wasn’t lying when he told Holster he likes it. But re-framing it like this doesn’t hurt, either.

He finishes the test ten minutes before time is up, and leaves, because he’s gone over his answers twice and he knows he’s killed it. He restrains himself from breaking into a run, if only because running with a boner is really uncomfortable, but he’s never walked back to the Haus this fast.

The Haus is empty, as he knew it would be. Jack’s at the gym, Bits ’n Shits are in class, Holster’s got study group at 11:30. He takes the stairs two at a time, takes off his shoes, his sweater, his shirt, puts a sock on the door just in case, climbs up to his bunk and -

Freezes.

His bed is made, which he knows it wasn’t this morning. It’s also got confetti on it, a box of tissues, a half-empty bottle of lube, and a folded note on the pillow.

CONGRATS, BRO! ENJOY - YOU DESERVE IT.
TAKE IT SLOW :)

Ransom bursts out laughing, because how can he not? Holster must have run - flat-out sprinted - to the Haus to arrange this before the start of his class. It’s a little weird but it’s mostly just hilarious and also kind of sweet? As chirps go, this is really nothing to complain about.

He’s still grinning as he lies down among the confetti, little aftershocks of laughter traveling through him and deliciously sharpening the anticipation, and then he rereads the note.

TAKE IT SLOW :)

His mouth slackens as a slow, dull throb of heat pulses under his navel. He never rushes; the times that he gets to have this are rare enough that if it’s a choice between a quickie right away or waiting until he has time, he’ll always choose to hold out. He likes to savor it, to draw it out, but Holster’s directive feels like more than that.

Normally Ransom would get out his laptop, find some good porn, but now his head is full of Holster, planning this, preparing Ransom’s masturbation session, writing that note, sitting in class imagining Ransom finding it…he takes a ragged breath, dick aching behind his still-buttoned flies, and runs his hands over his chest, lightly, down over his abdomen, fingers toying with his happy trail, dipping into his navel, one hand gently palming his erection. He loves this feeling, days or weeks of tension coalescing under his skin, electrifying everything, but now there’s an extra layer to it: of someone else knowing, playing the game. Holster wants him to go slow: he will.

Ransom takes nearly twenty minutes before he even shucks his trousers down. He doesn’t stop imagining Holster’s eyes on him, his voice (take it slow, not yet, okay now, yeah, like that), and the voice in his head that Shitty would call the Heteropatriarchal Voice of Bullshit does at some point ask, nervously, if this isn’t a little too gay, but Ransom ignores it, because this feels too good. He’s a sucker for a challenge, as Holster damn well knows, and the toe-curling, syrupy agony of endless caressing, fingertips fluttering over his nipples, his thighs, his balls, his throat, his mouth…it’s one of the sexiest things he’s ever experienced, and he’s by himself with no porn involved. By the time he slicks up both hands and starts fisting his dick, tight and glacier-slow, he’s been at it for over half an hour and he can’t stop shivering, biting his lip to stop the little noises that spill out.

He realizes at some point that he’s sort of hoping that Holster’ll come back, fantasizing about him walking in and seeing Ransom and saying not until I say you can, and he groans, a startlingly desperate sound, and he’s suddenly right there and he can’t take it anymore, he’s thrusting up into his hands and crying out through clenched teeth, back bowing off the mattress, orgasm igniting in him like a match in a barrel of oil.

He goes to wash his hands once his breathing has returned to normal, and hears Bitty singing in the kitchen. He’s demolishing what could very well be the best goddamn omelet he’s ever had in his life when Holster comes in, takes one look at Ransom and triumphantly declares: “There it is! There’s the vibe!”

“What vibe?” asks Bitty, while Ransom is torn between sinking through the floor and throwing his mug at Holster’s face.

“The vibe of a man who has just mastered his Material Chemistry test,” says Holster like butter wouldn’t melt in his fucking mouth. Two can play at that game.

“Bro, I totally nailed it,” says Ransom, and has the pleasure of seeing Holster bite his cheek to stop himself from laughing. “Just took my time, you know?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s definitely better to take it slow,” Bitty puts in, oblivious as he cracks eggs over a bowl with his back to them both, and Holster’s practically convulsing. Ransom grins at him, knowing that Holster will read the message in his face: thanks bro, that was awesome.

-

Holster doesn’t do it again - leave supplies out, or confetti his bed - but he always seems to know when Ransom’s done something to earn an orgasm. He’ll send suggestive texts about it: have fun 2nite and )))))) and remember, thin walls, which results in an earth-shattering orgasm with Ransom biting on his pillow to stay quiet. There’s no point in pretending that having Holster direct him in some way, however subtle, doesn’t turn him on like crazy, so Ransom doesn’t. It takes him a bit longer to stop pretending that they’re still in Bro Territory, that Holster’s winks and allusions are just friendly chirps, that Ransom would find them as hot from anybody else. And it takes him longer still to figure what, if anything, he wants to do about it.

(Thing is, Holster defies categorization. He’s the best friend Ransom’s ever had, no contest: no one else makes him laugh like this, again and again until he’s literally on the floor, clutching his sides; no one else gets him like this, without Ransom having to explain or apologize; no one else has his back so completely. The (large, prominent) area of his brain labeled ‘Holster’ is like a kaleidoscope, an exuberant riot of color and constantly shifting shapes, but love? As in, love-and-sex? Ransom can’t see. It would be easier if he would just have an instinctual ‘ew, no’ response to the idea of sex with guys in general, or even just Holster in particular, but no such luck.)

-

Winter break, unexpectedly, provides an opportunity.

-

“Yo, we’re driving back on new year's day, right?”

Ransom makes an affirmative noise. He’s rummaging through their sock drawer (eight pairs should be enough, right? He’ll do laundry at some point); Holster’s folding shirts. They both have their suitcases open on the floor. One floor down, Bitty’s channeling his feelings about the rapidly-emptying Haus through some top-volume Rihanna; Ransom can feel the bass thumping in the soles of his feet. It’s making him crave rum.

“Does your system include, like, holidays?”

Ransom nearly drops the socks. “Jesus, non fucking sequitur.”

“No, I mean - your last time was like a week ago. Today’s the twentieth, so that’s, like, another twelve? Thirteen days? It’s not three and a half months -“ Holster can’t get over that - “but that’s still a long time, and I dunno - it’s Christmas. Seems like a good way to celebrate.”

Ransom arranges the socks in his suitcase with more fastidious care than he’d usually bother with. They rarely talk about this, but he still finds it hard to look at Holster when they do. It’s not that he’s embarrassed, they regale each other with details of their sexcapades all the time, but this - it’s just - well, put it on the list of things he’s confused about.

“No, my system does not include holidays.”

“Bro, not even your birthday?”

“Except my birthday.” Ransom concedes.

“But -“ Ransom must be making a face, because Holster backtracks. “Relax, okay, I’m not questioning the system, just curious. Why no holidays?”

Ransom heaves a sigh. “Because that would be a slippery slope, alright? Why should a holiday mean I deserve to come? Next it’ll be like, ‘oh, it’s Sunday, I can come on Sundays’, and then it’ll be ‘I can come if the weather’s crap’, or - don’t laugh, those are stupid examples, but you get what I mean. It needs to be a reward for something.”

“Except your birthday?”

“Yeah. Then it’s, like, a present for myself.”

“‘Congratulations, me, you managed to survive another year, have an orgasm.’”

“Pretty much,” smiles Ransom, and for a few minutes, as they keep packing in companionable silence, he thinks it’s end of conversation. But then Holster says, almost casually:

“Alright then. I hereby gift you an orgasm for Christmas.”

Dude. You already gave me something.” Ransom gestures at the wrapped package in his suitcase, a small box that annoyingly gives no clues as to what’s inside, save the ominous note warning him not to open it in front of his family. It’s a hollow protest, though - at least part of him is very much on board.

“Orgasms don’t cost anything.” Holster points out. “No, shh, listen. I get it, okay? This is important to you. You can’t have any freebies, so - I’m giving you an orgasm - no, wait, that came out wrong. You get to have an orgasm, but on my terms.”

Ransom’s hands are clenched tight on a sweater. His mouth is dry. “What terms?”

He expects the mood to break any second now, for Holster to crack a joke or name some ridiculous conditions - hump a snowman, get off with a cousin, stick it in a pie - but Holster looks completely serious. Guarded, even, as though Ransom might decide that Holster’s gone too far now. Ransom doesn’t know where too far is; he just knows they’re a long way from it.

“I’ll text them. Give me some time to think about it, man, I’ve literally just come up with this.” Holster says it lightly, but Ransom’s not fooled. If Holster really did only just think of this, he’ll boil his snapback in sriracha sauce and eat it.

“Okay,” he says, a weird, nervous excitement coiling in his stomach. “But I reserve the right to return the gift if I don’t agree with the terms.”

“Yeah, obviously. Don’t worry, I’m not gonna tell you to humiliate or hurt yourself, or whatever. But I’m not making it easy for you, either. When you get that orgasm, you’ll have earned it,” Holster promises, and Ransom can’t stop staring at him: he’s wearing the same dorky glasses and SMH sweater he was wearing ten minutes ago, but there’s an edge to him now, a kind of intensity, or is that just Ransom projecting his own sudden, helpless arousal?

-

The first of his terms arrives when he takes his phone off flight mode, walking towards baggage claim. #1: cardio, every day. > 30 min. Ransom groans inwardly, though he’d been expecting something like that: he hates cardio. There’s an exercise bike in the basement, or he could run - maybe Kate or Rory’d like to join him? Really he’s just relieved that Holster’s respecting the system and making him work for it.

The streets are too icy to run on, so that night, despite his family’s protests, he gets on the stupid bike and pushes until his lungs are burning, because that’s what cardio is for and if he’s going to do it he’s going to do it properly. He snaps a picture when he’s warming down, spinning lazily, his shirt dark with sweat, and sends it to Holster: is that it?

The reply comes less than a minute later, and Ransom’s feet stutter on the pedals.

#2: finger urself

Ransom stares at his phone, perplexed and not a little alarmed. He never told Holster that he doesn’t do edging (it’s basically cheating, as far as he’s concerned), but he’s not even sure whether this counts, because he’s never fingered himself and he’s not convinced that it would feel good. That’s on top of the fact that it’s gross (and okay, Shitty would have his hide for that, and there are probably ways to - ugh, no, he can’t even think about it right now) and this is way too vague, does Holster mean right now? Just once, at his discretion? Every day?

Holster must have realized the same thing, because he sends a follow-up: at least 3x for at least 3 min. Anytime anyplace, but complete b4 NYE

And then, two minutes later, while Ransom is still trying to process: u can forfeit now if u want

Ransom thinks about that. He very seriously considers it. But all his thinking can't override the feeling that’s been living low in his gut since they started this, since (if he’s honest) Holster left that note on his pillow. As he hits send on his answer (no), he contemplates the irony of a guy who’s organized his life around orgasm denial making decisions with his dick.

-

He puts it off for as long as he dares, but then it’s two days before Christmas and soon the house will be heaving with family, and the thought of undertaking this experiment while his grandma is in the same zip code is even more unbearable, so after his morning run (7k in under forty minutes, stuff that in your pipe and smoke it, Holster) he gets in the shower, liberally applies body wash, and gingerly reaches back.

It’s…weird. About as sexy as a doctor’s exam. He rubs one finger back and forth, his arm aching with the awkward angle - it’s a sensitive area, he can admit that much. Experimenting with friction and pressure makes some difference, but not enough to coax his dick to life. It’s nice of Holster to try and broaden his sexual horizons, or whatever this is meant to accomplish, but maybe he’s just one of those people with a neutral back door. How long is three minutes? Can he stop yet?

He’s toweling off in his bedroom, feeling pretty chagrined, when he imagines talking it out with Holster. Holster trying not to look disappointed.

“I did three minutes,” he mutters under his breath.

’s not the same as really trying, points out Holster. You have loads of gay friends, come on. They gotta be on to something. You of all people should know that something can feel good without it involving your dick.

With renewed determination, Ransom locks his door. Gets back into bed, sleep-soft sheets rubbing his heated skin in a way that’s much more sensual than the beat of the shower head. Phantom Holster lies down beside him, head propped up on his hand, watching intently, and yeah, maybe he wasn’t in the right mindset earlier, because his dick is already getting the wrong idea. Normally Ransom would get up now, get dressed, shut this down before he’s tempted, but Holster wants him to try, so. He takes a deep, slow breath. He can do this.

Lube helps, it turns out. It really, really helps. Ransom spends way more than three minutes just lightly stroking his balls, his perineum, his crack, getting everything slippery. He’s reminded of one of his porn bookmarks, a girl just masturbating, teasing herself, the way her labia glistened. He’s fully hard now but he takes care not to touch. He interrupts things a moment in order to change position, on his back with a pillow shoved under his hips, legs falling open, and suddenly there are different images flitting through his head: Bitty doing this to himself, under the covers, biting his lip; that guy from the rowing team, Tom, drawing these teasing little circles, each circle dialing up the warm, liquid tension just a little further, until he beckons with his middle finger and just slips in

Bang. “JUSTIN?”

Ransom does a full-body flail, only just managing to stifle his gasp. Rory gives another bang to his door and shouts “GET UP, WE’RE GOING FOR BRUNCH”, then thunders back down the stairs without waiting for a reply.

Heart hammering in his chest, mood more effectively destroyed than an award-winning mini-pie during finals week, Ransom wipes himself off, trying not to wince at how weird his asscrack feels. He feels proud, though; victorious, even. One down, two to go, and he’s even looking forward to them.

He is owning this challenge.

-

He is in way, way over his head.

Ransom saved Holster’s present for last, locking himself in his room with it after everyone else had gone to bed. Now he’s holding an amorphous but yet very suggestively shaped thing with two curly handles at the base, and the product name on the box - Aneros - tells him everything he needs to know.

Holster got him a sex toy. Fuck.

He snaps a pic of it, captions it omgwtf and hits send, because they’re past the point of playing coy. He’s beginning to see the endgame, here, and what the hell, what’s wrong with them? Why is Holster doing these incredibly intimate things? Why is Ransom letting him?

Ping. Holster snapchats back, a selfie of him in a santa hat and an uncertain smile. Merry xmas

Ransom stares at the picture until it disappears. Holster’s face. God, what is this.

Ping. A text. i still have the receipt if u dont want it

Ransom texts back, so is this #3

kind of. u can MO, but no penis stim. thought this would make it easier

He lies back and breathes, for a bit, trying to sort through his feelings. Holds the toy, running his fingers over it, trying to imagine it inside him, fucking himself with it, imagines Holster imagining it - he must have been thinking about it for weeks, maybe months. Planning this, picturing Ransom with his fingers in his ass while Ransom lived his life in blissful ignorance, feeling kinky just for liking it that Holster knew. Jesus fucking christ.

He needs to text Holster back. He’s probably trying not to freak, but the longer he doesn’t hear from him the more he’s gonna think that Ransom is creeped out or disgusted, and while Ransom is many things, including confused and slightly scared, disgusted is not one of them. He did his second session the night before, this time taking over half an hour until his hand began to cramp, and it felt good, so, butt stuff, definitely on the table. What’s weird is that this fucking momentous change in their relationship is happening when they’re apart, alone in their respective childhood bedrooms.

Holster picks up on the second ring. “Rans.”

“Holtzy, hey.” Ransom tries to sound light, but doesn’t quite make it there. “Just wanted to hear your voice.”

“Yeah, man,” Holster answers softly, tired and a little tense. “Anything in particular you want to hear me say?”

“Not really. Just…wondering why you never said anything before.”

“Too scared,” Holster says simply, which Ransom finds hard to wrap his head around, because he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Holster scared of anything. “You’re straight, and anyway, this is your thing. You just seemed pretty into it when I did stuff, so I just…”

“You thought you’d say it with a butt plug.”

Prostate massager, and yes.”

“What would you have done if I’d said no? Y’know, before we left?”

Holster laughs, a quiet, embarrassed chuckle. “I had a back-up present. Same wrapping paper, roughly the same size and weight. I would’ve swapped them when you weren’t looking.”

“Christ, Holts.”

“Yeah.” An audible swallow. “Guess I’m pretty crazy about you.”

“Crazy’s right.”

They fall silent for a bit. Ransom’s still holding the massager in his left hand; the plastic, smooth and not quite rigid, has warmed in his palm. He listens to Holster breathing, waiting.

“I want this.” Ransom says eventually, voice a bit rough. He clears his throat. “Whatever this is. I don’t know. I don’t think I’m as straight as I thought, and that’s not just because I’ve had my fingers up my ass and liked it.”

“You liked it?”

“Fuck you, man, you just heard me say it.”

“Okay.” Ransom knows what Holster sounds like when he’s smiling. He smiles back, even though there’s no one to see it.

“So…what now?”

Holster hums, as if he’s thinking. “Do you accept my Christmas gift?”

“Which one?”

“Both.”

“Um,” says Ransom, mouth suddenly dry. The toy feels very large and solid in his hand. “Yes.”

“Then we keep going. We can do the whole DTR thing when we get back to Samwell.”

“Yeah, okay.” That’s kind of a relief. “Got any further instructions?”

“You fingered yourself three times yet?”

Ransom feels himself blush, even though they’ve kind of been talking about this for over an hour, now. “One more to go.”

“Do that first. You can use the toy if you want, but no coming, obviously. Do some research first, there’s like a right way to do it, apparently.”

“Have you ever…?” asks Ransom.

“No. Been fingered, though.”

‘Been?’

“What happens in Juniors, stays in Juniors.”

“You are telling me that story if it’s the last thing you ever do. You owe it to me, man.”

“Maybe someday. Let me finish: you have to come on new year’s day. Not December 31st, new year’s day. Doesn’t matter where or how, but you can’t touch your dick, or rub it against anything. Oh, and you need to have done your cardio for that day before you start.”

Ransom groans. He’s not sure if it’s from frustration, or from how stupidly hard he is. Holster sounds relaxed, and yet nothing in his tone brooks the slightest resistance. It’s like Jack’s captain voice, but a million times hotter.

A small noise on the other end of the line has him lurching upright. “Bro, are you jerking off to this?”

“No rule saying I can’t,” says Holster, sounding very slightly out of breath. “Thanks for your Christmas present, by the way. ‘Swawesome.” A DVD-set of remastered Disney classics.

“Pretty sure there’s a rule saying you can’t masturbate while talking about Disney movies.”

Holster laughs, and Ransom can definitely hear his hand speed up. “Fuck you, Holtzy.”

“You too,” comes the fond reply, and then Ransom hangs up because he needs a freezing cold shower right the fuck now.

-

Taking the Aneros for a ride is definitely a commitment. Ransom tries reading the manual, but he’s pretty sure his Molecular Chemistry textbook is easier to understand; fortunately there’s reddit, and a forum on the Aneros website that seems to suggest that Ransom’s about to stick nothing less than the key to spiritual enlightenment up his butt.

Meanwhile, it’s Boxing Day (family lunch), uncle Joseph’s birthday (family drinks), the annual traditional game of family shinny (followed by family dinner), and too many fucking games of Cluedo and Settlers of Catan and Cards Against Humanity because “you’re never heeeeeeere, Justin, c’mon”. On the 29th, Katy seems to hear his slightly manic desperation when he says “I’m going for a long run”, and asks, “Can I come? I won’t talk, I promise.”

She doesn’t. It’s actually really nice; it makes Ransom want to talk, to ask her things. They weren’t super close when he still lived at home, she was bossy and he was too teenagery. Now that they’re older the age difference doesn’t seem to matter so much. They do the workout trail at the park, teasing each other; Katy’s just started her medical internships so she doesn’t have much time to exercise, but she keeps up admirably.

“When’s the last time we did this?” she asks, panting, as they do their cooling down stretches.

“I dunno, before I went to Samwell?”

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“Want to go to Timmy’s?”

“There’s more than one answer to that question?”

They’re walking home, each with a coffee, the streets and sky around them sinking into ever-deeper shades of blue, black, and purple, when Ransom pushes out:

“I think I might be in love with Adam.”

Katy takes a long, careful sip. Ransom watches the streetlamp highlight the henna in her dreads, pumpkin orange, neon black. He notices how much she looks like their mother; like him.

“Makes sense,” she says, and smiles at him. They walk the rest of the way in silence.

-

Ransom chickens out of trying the Aneros at the last minute, so his third fingering session proceeds much like his second: definitely arousing, but leaving him with the frustrating feeling that there’s an itch he wants to scratch (so to speak) which he just can’t reach. Probably for the best, he tells himself as he packs the toy away (wrapped in underwear, bottom of his suitcase); from what he’s read, prostate stimulation can be pretty intense. After nearly three weeks of abstinence, he might have come before being able to stop himself.

They go into the city to watch the fireworks; his phone starts buzzing at the countdown, and by the time he’s cheered in 2015 and hugged his parents and sisters, the SMH group chat is blowing up. Bitty sends a selfie from what looks to be a hill, with fireworks in the background, wearing shorts and a tank top like the chirpy little shit he is; that triggers an avalanche of selfies, Nursey at Times Square, Dex with fireworks reflecting in the ocean behind him, Jack surrounded by an alarming amount of hockey royalty and asking what their resolutions are, Shitty doing god knows what, wearing glitter and not much else, Chowder trying to pout and failing, because it’s not 2015 in California yet but on the other hand he’s got his arm around Farmer. Holster with his sisters, all with the same blond hair and toothy grin and parkas from The North Face.

He gets a private text from Holster 30 seconds later: happy new year bro :-* may 2015 bring many new experiences

start as u mean to go on eh?, Ransom texts back, and then happy new year holtzy :), because they’re more than just chirping, or flirting, or whatever. This new thing they’re doing is like…fuck, he’s not good with metaphors. It’s like baking a pie. The pie is already there, in all its finished, delicious glory, but putting it in the oven just makes everything hotter.

He considers sending this, but he’s not sure it makes as much sense out loud as it does in his head.

They run into a group of staff from the hospital, already pretty rowdy with champagne, and suddenly Ransom’s parents seem a lot less interested in getting a good night’s sleep. Katy and Rory disappear shortly after that, to meet up with friends, and Ransom disentangles himself from the group with a similar excuse, because the truth - I’m going home to do some cardio and then fuck myself in the ass - probably sounds a bit pathetic. Ransom has actually been invited to hang out with some old school buddies: he could go do that, get a bit drunk, sleep in, go for a run, claim a hangover and pretend to go nap, and then orgasm. That’d make a lot more sense.

He doesn’t want to wait. He wants it now.

On the train back he contemplates the irony of a guy who’s built his life around delayed gratification handing over admin rights to a guy who wouldn’t recognize restraint if it bit him in the face.

-

It’s a little past two by the time Ransom gets off the exercise bike, breathing hard and already stiffening in his shorts. The house is dark and silent; his parents are still not home, his sisters will probably crash at some friend’s place.

He showers, long and thorough, by now touching his ass without hesitation. He’s aware of a sort of solemn quietude settling over him, the washing feeling like a ritual preparing of his body. As though what he’s about to do is going to change him, change them irrevocably, like sealing the pact that’s been developing between them.

He shakes his head like a wet dog. God, this is what happens when he and Holster are apart too long. He gets hella melodramatic.

The first finger goes in easy, after long, unhurried strokes of his hands across his body, getting things wet and relaxed. The sounds of his parents coming home, giggling and sshh-ing each other, throw him off for a few minutes, but they become nearly inaudible once their bedroom door closes and Ransom sinks back into the blissful feeling of being alone and having all the time in the world. Somewhere outside, a bird calls. Ransom pushes in a second finger and closes his eyes.

He doesn’t know how long he floats like that, his dick hard but undemanding, pleasure moving through him like water, never hardening into urgency. Eventually though, his forearm starts to twinge, and he remembers what he’s supposed to be working towards.

He doesn’t have to use the Aneros, he reminds himself, eyeing it dubiously; it seems so much thicker than his fingers, and he really doesn’t want to kill the mood by hurting himself. But if he doesn’t use it, he’s having a hard time imagining what else he’s going to do to get off. You have to come, he hears Holster tell him, and fuck, yeah, okay. He can do this.

On his side, with gritted teeth and what feels like way too much lube, he works it in; trying to remember what he read about this part, trying to bear down and breathe through the feeling of wrong wrong get it out get it out get it - slowly, after several long, uncomfortable minutes, the feeling dissipates. It settles. Ransom’s groping for the sensuality he’d been immersed in, experimentally squeezing around the toy with disappointing results, and is just about to visualize Holster in order to help things along, when he remembers - he doesn’t have to.

“’nsom?” Holster sounds like he might have been asleep. Oops.

“Happy new year, Holts.”

“Happy new year.” Ransom can hear him smiling. “You wake me up just to tell me that?”

“No.” Does his voice betray what he’s doing? He’s acutely aware of it, suddenly, the pressure of it, weaponized pleasure waiting for the right moment to strike. His dick, which lost interest in the proceedings a while back, stirs back to life.

Rustling on the other end. “Rans,” says Holster, sounding a lot more awake. “Are you -“

“Yes.”

“Did you do cardio yet?”

Yes. Fuck, you sound like Jack.”

“You did cardio at like one in the morning. On New Year’s Eve.”

“Ye-es. Get with the program.”

“Fuck, Justin,” breathes Holster, and that, the sound of his name, sends a spike of arousal through him. A tiny sound escapes, not quite a moan; he hears Holster suck in a startled breath in response.

“Tell me how it feels.”

“Um. Good? Getting it in was a bitch.”

“Fuck, you’re actually using it. Oh my god.” Is this Holster’s sex voice? Dazed and delighted? Ransom never wants to stop hearing it. Unless he’s hearing that other voice.

“I kind of expected it to be more, though. Maybe I should switch positions? I’m on my side, now,” he leads, hoping Holster will catch on.

He does. “On your back,” says Holster, sounding no less I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening but a lot more do-as-I-say. Ransom smiles, shivering at the command, thinking maybe this will be enough if Holster keeps up the dirty talk, and rolls -

“HAaaaaaa, fuck!”

“Rans, are you okay?” Frantic.

For a few seconds, he can’t answer, too preoccupied with trying not to come. Something must have shifted as he moved, because now that he’s on his back every part of the toy is pushing into exactly the right places, and it’s like going from zero to sixty in under five seconds, like his body is a Porsche and the Aneros the engine, revving relentlessly and all he needs to do is take his foot off the brake.

“Fuuuuuuck,” he gasps, trying to stay quiet, right hand clutching the phone like a lifeline, left hand reaching for the headboard in order to keep it away from his throbbing - everything, god, everything is sparking, every nerve he never knew he had. “Holster, jesus, fuck, it’s -“

“Did you just come?” Holster demands. Ransom’s shaking his head before he remembers that Holster can’t see him. “No.”

“Good. Don’t. Not until I say you can,” and Ransom flat-out whimpers, biting his lip, trying not to move.

"God, Rans, you sound - you have no idea -"

Ransom has a pretty good idea, as it happens, because Holster sounds like he isn't too far from orgasm himself, making all the bitten-off little grunts and breathy pants that Ransom can hear most nights if he holds his breath and strains to listen. He's never seen it but he can picture it without difficulty: the surprisingly delicate grip of his fingers, like he's holding an instrument, not squeezing but rippling, up and down, up and down.

They hold each other hostage like that, for minutes that feel like hours, gasping into each other's ears. Ransom's hips jerk helplessly against the mattress, seeking relief from the inescapable pressure; his dick is leaking precome, a steady thread of it spooling onto his abdomen. He desperately wants to touch it, but it's also weirdly exhilarating to feel orgasm lurking deep within him, beyond where he can normally reach, and to have so little control over where it takes him once he lets go.

"Close," Holster grits out as Ransom begs him, "Adam, please-"

"Yeah, do it, come for me," and he sobs as he clenches, once, twice, his perineum going white-hot and the spring in his body winding unbearably, impossibly tight until it breaks and he jackknifes, again, again, again, shaking, biting into the palm of his hand to stop his shout, coming like an arterial spray. In his ear, Holster chants a litany of fucks and gods and Justins.

Ransom rolls back onto his side as soon as he's able, the Aneros suddenly unpleasantly overwhelming; tugging it out is nearly as uncomfortable as putting it in had been. He informs Holster of this in a voice that's still trembling. Holster chuckles, unsteady.

"Worth it, though, yeah?"

"So worth it," Ransom agrees. "Best Christmas present ever."

His alarm clock reads 04:17. He needs to clean up and hide the Aneros, before his mother catches him cuddling with it in the morning, but exhaustion is dragging his limbs down like lead. On the other end of the line, Holster yawns.

"'mma catch some sleep, start driving around nine-ish. That should be early enough for lunch, right?"

"Hmhm," goes Ransom. He doesn't think he has enough functioning brain cells left for that kind of math. A warm, fuzzy pleasure unfolds in him at the thought of Holster showing up at his door in less than eight hours.

"Jus'." Holster's voice in his ear, low and fond. "Go clean up. You'll hate yourself in the morning."

"'mkaaay. Adam?"

"Yeah?"

"See you soon."

Ransom can hear him smiling. "See you soon."