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Banter rolled off Maes’ tongue like confessions, insults like declarations. Each arm thrown over Roy’s shoulder in camaraderie was heavy with intent, and was tangible long after the other man had moved on. Each smile cast over a broad shoulder hit like a head shot, though Roy was pretty sure Maes had been aiming more for the heart.

It was like having a mastiff, being the object of Maes Hughes’ attention and affection. He was a steady presence, a silent warning, both comforting and tiring.

And when the drinks came out at night and collars loosened along with wits and propriety, Roy looked for a solution in the bottom of every bottle. Somewhere between inebriation and unconsciousness there had to be a way to evade the gentle expression in Maes’ pale eyes. It should have made his heart flutter, the depth of affection directed his way. Instead it made his stomach roil.

There was no easy way to explain it away, no tactic that would allow for both men to leave the room with confidence and calm intact. Not when Maes was busy saying one thing and meaning another. Roy didn’t lean into the arm over his shoulders, but didn’t pull away when that arm curled him closer to Maes. He tried not to inhale hints of cologne and brandy, tried to ignore the chin that came to rest on his head. His best friend, his erratic yet static anchor; he needed that. But this was something more, something out of Roy’s capacity.

Roy closed his eyes, just in case Maes happened to see his expression reflected in a bit of glass.