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The Pact

Chapter Text

 

Party day had finally arrived and Scott walked around his house, taking mental notes of everything he saw. Everything was shaping up nicely, the decorators had done a great job and the caterers were setting up in the outdoor kitchen. Booze, balloons, and a hot playlist with favourites old and new were all in place. Only one thing was missing.

He paused at the table in the entry hall. He had instructed the florist to make a grand arrangement and she exceeded expectation. For those in the know, the asters, larkspur, roses and carnations meant something, and for the others, the flowers were simply beautiful.

He bent to sniff the roses and was disappointed to find they had no scent. That was the trouble with florist roses. Somehow this triggered a memory from years back, when he had talked about scented speakers, crammed in a car with his group. That was so long ago, when they were all young and excited about starting their musical journey. He smiled to himself. A lot had happened since then.

 

Pentatonix grew and grew until, many Grammys and platinum discs and world tours later, they each burst from their shared bubble into individual success. One by one, they left LA in search of the next dream. Avi married Saskia and retreated to his ranch in Oregon, where they raised children and horses in between recording in his home studio.

Twins Cassidy and Melissa ran around with huskies and ponies in upstate New York, a family base for Kirstie and Jeremy when they weren’t in NYC doing shows. Kevin divided his time in Washington DC between public service, preaching at his church, and his beloved Taralynn, mother of their four adored children.

As for Mitch… he was anywhere and everywhere. But the one place he could not be found was at Scott’s side, and so he put him out of his mind.

 

Scott accumulated more nephews and nieces than he could count, and kept track of all the names and birthdays on a spreadsheet so that his assistant could ensure they got gifts from Uncle Scott when he couldn’t be there. And that was often, as he had developed his own solo musical career alongside writing music for movies and even a musical.

He worked hard, kept himself in shape in his basement gym, swam in his pool and enjoyed the fruits of his success. And mostly he put the PTX days in a box marked old memories, and left them there.

 

Scott wandered into his huge kitchen. He nodded at the catering team and poured himself a glass of orange juice, then went into the garden and sat on a bench. He sipped his juice and shaded his eyes against the sun that already beat down even though it was well before noon. It would be a lovely warm evening for the party. Before it started, he hoped his favourite people would arrive and they could catch up. Most of them, anyway.

A team was busy setting up hammocks and torches to light after sunset, while other people arranged fluffy towels in the summerhouse for guests to use once the inevitable happened and someone got thrown in the pool, and others piled into the hot tub. That was just one of the advantages of staying in LA, the weather was reliable.

Scott ignored the phone buzzing and vibrating in his pocket. He wanted to enjoy this moment of calm before it all kicked off. There wouldn’t be a moment to think once he got on this crazy train. He strolled back to the house and went to his office, where he lounged on a leather couch and stared out of the window.

There was only one thing missing. He tiptoed around the elephant in his mental room, and he would not name it.

 With a sigh he sat at the desk, took out his phone, and made the first call.

“Hey, Mario, good to hear from you! You’re both coming tonight, right? You’ll make an old man very happy… great, no anytime is good, say after six?” He made sure to sound upbeat and happy, which he was. Mostly.

 

Once all the calls were returned, Scott went to his gym and ran on the treadmill. He turned up the speed and concentrated on his feet hitting the track in time with the bouncy music from his headphones, until he was breathless and sweating. After five miles he turned the speed down and walked till his breathing evened out, then he lifted weights and worked his core until his muscles hummed and trembled.

Finally he peeled off his sweat soaked gear and stood under the shower, emptying his mind as he had taught himself during the dark days. He had tried different ways to escape his thoughts, but in the end drink and drugs proved less reliable than this practice. Water poured over him, and he imagined it washing away his doubts and fears, cleansing body and soul. When he stepped out, he felt loose and relaxed, and content.

 

He had come to realise that happiness was a fleeting moment, a peak experience, but contentment was possible at every moment. Contentment meant accepting what was and releasing what was not, however much you wanted it. It meant not chasing happiness, because that way madness lies. Scott had trained himself to let happiness come to him, and not go crazy if it did not immediately arrive.

 

Back in his bedroom, he stood naked in front of the full-length mirror and took stock. Yes, he had to work a little harder to keep in shape these days, but he looked good, if he said so himself. And he had to, because there had not been anyone in his life to appreciate his toned arms and abs, or run their fingers through his signature blond quiff for a while now. Still, there was time.

“Forty is the new thirty,” he said aloud. He looked at his phone. There were seventeen missed calls and messages while it was on silent during his workout. Tonight was going to be a blast, and he pulled on a white tee and jogging pants before going back to the office barefoot to catch up on emails.

 

After a light, carb-free lunch of prawns and avocado salad, Scott carried on working until the doorbell rang. The clock showed two fifteen, and he wasn’t expecting anyone that early. On the other hand, he was very ready to see a friendly face and break for coffee, so he jumped up and flung the door open. A familiar, well-loved face broke into a wide smile.

“Well, hello stranger.”

Chapter Text

 

“Oh my god, you came!”

Scott came forward and engulfed Avi in a hug. They wrapped their arms around each other and just stood, the years falling away as they held on. Scott screwed his eyes shut and swallowed hard, placing a kiss on the top of Avi’s head. Eventually he let go and stepped back.

 

Avi had hardly changed. He still wore his dark brown hair long, brushed back and curling over his collar, and there was an occasional silver hair in his neatly trimmed beard. A silver earring glinted in his left ear, and he remained slender yet strong, his green eyes bright.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s so good to see you looking well,” Avi said, closing the door behind him. “Saskia is resting at the hotel, so I thought I’d come over early and see you.”

“Likewise. How is she? Not long now, I guess?”

“She’s good, but she gets tired. Just about six weeks to go. She’s saving her energy for tonight, she’s so pumped about us all being together again, you have no idea.” Avi smiled fondly and shook his head. “As for me, I’m very excited.”

Scott laughed. “Yeah, you always used to say that. So what’s it like being old?”

“Hey now, no need to be rude. You’ll find out soon enough, but essentially more of the same. A few grey hairs, a bit more tired, and earlier nights.”

‘You mean, even earlier for you.”

Avi chuckled, deep and melodic, just how Scott remembered. “Ouch. Well when you have kids, you learn to take your sleep when you can.”

“Where are they now?”

“Both with Saskia’s folks. We want to relax and enjoy tonight with everyone, especially with number three coming soon. It’s been too long.”

 

Scott led the way through to the kitchen. The caterers had left, and Avi looked around appreciatively.

“Nice, very nice indeed. You remember what I taught you?”

Scott busied himself with the cups. “Of course, but it’s so much trouble cooking for one, so…” He shrugged.

“I get it,” Avi replied. He said no more until they were settled with drinks, sitting on a white leather couch overlooking the garden.

“This is a beautiful home, Scott. Saskia will want to steal some design ideas.”

“Design ideas? I thought you didn’t need design ideas in a rough hewn log cabin.”

Avi raised an eyebrow. “Don’t let her hear you say that. We may not be city slickers like you, but we live comfortably. And if you ever came to stay like I invited you, you’d see for yourself.”

“Ouch. Well, I been busy you know, that film score ain’t gonna write itself.”

“I know that, but we got wide open spaces, mountains, lakes. Great places to inspire writing. Recording studio. You can switch off, unplug for a bit.” Avi nudged Scott’s foot with his own. “And the guest quarters are nowhere near the kid’s rooms. You won’t be disturbed.”

Scott giggled. “Sounds tempting.”

“You bet,” Avi smiled. “Hot tub under a million stars, now that’s romantic. Even if you’re alone. And if you’re plus one, well. Like I said, I made sure the guest quarters are pretty secluded.” He winked, and Scott laughed again.

“It sounds heavenly.”

“It is.” Avi got up and set down his cup. “So, do I have to show myself around? It’s a lot bigger than your last place.”

Scott stood and walked towards the wall of sliding glass doors. “Yeah, I wanted a garden, and I thought it was time to be grown up and get a house. This is kind of a housewarming as well as my birthday party.”

 

They stepped out onto the deck, and Avi made a beeline for the outdoor kitchen, opening the grill covers and peering into the stainless steel cabinets. The fridges were stuffed with ingredients for drinks and burgers, and Avi made approving noises as he examined the racks of sauces and relishes. Scott wanted to have enough of everything, no matter how the night played out.

“This is pretty cool, Scott. We should grill out here, y’know. Well, if you want to, of course,” Avi finished quietly.

Scott heard the hesitation in his voice, and remembered that they no longer shared each other’s lives, and nothing could be taken for granted anymore. He stepped up close to his friend and put a hand on his arm.

“I hoped you might say that.” He gazed into familiar green eyes and said, “I’d love you to give me some more tips, you always were king of the grill.”

Avi’s face lit up in a huge smile then, crinkling his eyes at the corners. “Really? You’re on.”

 

And just like that, any remaining distance between them vanished. They strolled around the garden and then the house, chatting away like old times. After an hour Avi left, promising to return with Saskia. They shared another hug at the door, and as Avi drove away in his hire car Scott waved and felt a weight slip from his shoulders. He hadn’t realised how much seeing Avi would mean to him.

It was going to be an emotional night, that was certain, because there were more reunions to come, and watching his oldest friends meet up again would hit him just as hard.

 

Scott didn’t know if his heart could take it, and yet he was even more excited about the night ahead. There would be enough love and happiness to overflow his heart, and he could forget about what, or who, he didn’t have. He had trained himself well, and where once upon a time he might have taken a little something to take the edge off, he chose a better way these days. He went to his room and lay down, and after setting the alarm for ten minutes, slowed his breathing and began meditating.

 

When the alarm went off, he dressed simply in a white shirt, turning back the sleeves, tailored black trousers and dress shoes. He wanted to be a smart host, at least to start. No doubt things would get relaxed later, but for now he would make a good first impression. He knew how important that could be, and he ran downstairs to grab another orange juice.

He couldn’t wait for the next friend to arrive, but meantime he went back to the office and started scribbling down a few lyric ideas while they were fresh in his mind. They often bubbled up after he meditated, and this was another reason he was grateful for his daily practice. He paused, pencil in hand, thinking.

 

He never got any song ideas after waking up hungover and wasted, only the idea that he should never do it again. But then another night would come, with another pill, and another bottle. Eventually, he heeded the advice of Esther, who was still his manager, and cleaned up his act. He’d gone into rehab, and then to therapy, and tried to cast out his demons.

Avi and Kevin had been twin towers of strength, even when he relapsed. On Esther’s orders, they had picked him up bodily after letting themselves into his apartment with her spare key. Ignoring his protests they deposited him back at rehab, dodged his punches, hugged him, told him they loved him. And then they took his phone and left him there.

 

Scott did a lot of crying in therapy. He learned to do without the one person he thought would always be by his side, and to be grateful that not everyone had deserted him. He learned to find his own strength, and he came back from the brink. The resulting album Shape of Me was a critically acclaimed success.

Now he had choices, but he knew he couldn’t make other people’s choices for them. So he chose to be content, and it worked very well. Mostly.

Chapter Text

Esther had been helping Scott with the party planning, Skyping him from Nashville in between running her kids to choir and soccer practice. He knew she wanted this to go well for him. When Scott grew anxious about menus and staff and details, he phoned her in a panic.

“Please come back to LA Est, I can’t do this,” he sighed, defeated. There was a month to go and he was feeling the pressure. He wanted her to just deal with it, like she always did.

“Scott, what did we agree? You can do this. I’ll check in with the caterers if you deal with the florist and DJ. That’s fair, now I gotta run and pick up the dynamic duo. Love you.”

She smiled and blew a kiss, and he felt better. After making the call he meditated, and realised that she wanted him to own this. Esther calmly led him back from the brink, emailed him what he needed to know, but kept her hands off. She could have sorted it out in a heartbeat, that was her job, but instead she let him make his choices, like a real grown up.

 

Scott’s reverie was broken by the doorbell again. The caterers were back to start setting up for drinks service, and the DJ was right behind them. Though Scott usually did party music himself, he wanted everything to be perfect for this party, and that meant being the perfect host. So he had agreed the playlist in advance, and told the DJ to take any requests as well. He didn’t want his new album played. It wasn’t really party music anyway.

 

Everything that could be agreed was written down, and when he looked through the final checklist he took a deep breath. It would be okay. Avi had come, and he still loved Scott, and he would help, and it would be okay. Kevin, and Kirstie, and Mario, and Candice were all coming, not to mention lots of his other friends, and it was all going to be okay.

The first guests arrived and were soon wandering round the garden clutching glasses of bubbly, but when Kevin and Taralynn came Scott greeted them with his widest smile. He hugged Kevin and didn’t let go. Kevin wore dark blue, and he had a little more heft these days. To Scott he felt like solid ground, like nothing wrong could happen while he was there.

“Man, it’s good to see you looking well,” Kevin said. “Y’know Lynn’s wanting to say hello.”

Scott released his friend and held out his hand, but Lynn pulled him down to brush a quick kiss on his cheek. She was a petite woman in a cobalt blue dress with a friendly face, her glossy black hair piled in elaborate curls on her head.

“Hello Scott, we’re so happy to be here tonight,” she said with a smile. “We won’t keep you from host duties, but we’ll catch up later.”

“For sure, thanks for coming all this way. You look fabulous, as always. Garden’s through the kitchen doors, make sure to grab a cocktail.”

 

Kevin took his wife’s hand and they left, as more people arrived. Scott was busy greeting them all, when more old friends appeared. He was very happy to see Mario and his partner Julietta, Candice, Jake, and Mary arrive together. He smiled and hugged and accepted gifts, which were piled on another hall table. People wanted to bring something, even though the invitations specifically said it wasn’t necessary.

Scott just wanted to surround himself with people and a joyful atmosphere, he didn’t need any more stuff. Anything he could buy, he already owned.

 

He was about to go and mingle with his guests when someone entered the hall, obscured by a cloud of lilac and silver heart shaped and number balloons.

“Delivery for Scott Hoying,” she sang.

He turned and glanced down at the feet of the newcomer. Those sky-high wedge heels and toned legs could belong to only one person. He walked towards her and parted the balloons with both hands.

“Happy birthday!” she shouted.

“Kirstie, darling!” He leaned down and kissed her, then took the box holding the balloon strings and placed it on the gift table. “Come here and give me a proper hug.” He lifted her off the ground and swung her around, ignoring her protests.

“Lovely to see you too Scott, but don’t make me dizzy. I didn’t even get a drink yet.”

He placed her carefully on the ground and for a moment he thought he might cry, as memories he had carefully put away came rushing back. But he closed his eyes and breathed in her perfume until he was able to step back. He kissed Kirstie’s forehead and said, “I’m so happy to see you, you don’t even know. Where’s Jeremy?”

“He slipped into the garden while I made my delivery.”

Scott was still holding both her hands. “God, you look amazing, gorgeous, sexy as always. I missed you.”

Kirstie wore a short wine red dress that showcased her small, curvy figure, with dark blonde waves cascading over her shoulders, and glittering earrings that matched the rings on every finger. With red lips curved in a brilliant smile, she looked every bit as beautiful as he remembered.

“Likewise,” she replied. “Looking handsome and sexy as always. Let’s go find the party, looks like your staff have the meet and greet under control.”

She winked, looped her arm in his, and they walked into the garden.

Chapter Text

It was a wonderfully warm evening. The sun slipping below the horizon painted the sky in fiery pinks and oranges, and fairy lights strung among the trees gave a magical glow. Around two hundred people wandered around or chatted in groups, the music was eclectic, staff made sure everyone had a drink and the photo booth was soon in use. A dedicated bar provided interesting cocktails.

The pool was lit up and already delicious smells wafted from the kitchen. Scott grabbed another orange juice and circulated, while more people arrived and the garden and deck filled with laughter.

 

As dusk fell, the torches were lit and guests gravitated towards the buffet tables. Grilled beef and chicken, prawns and fish, rainbow sweetcorn, sweet potato fries, vegetable kebabs, salads and breads made a mouthwatering spread. Scott directed people with a smile, urging them to try everything. He mentally thanked Esther again, for ensuring that the catering was first class. She was a treasure he probably didn’t deserve, and he was sad that she couldn’t be there.

 

Darien was away for work, and then two days before the party their eldest son Elijah got sick. They had Skyped, Esther wringing her hands with regret and sadness about leaving him to host his party alone. Scott tried to be upbeat, after all family came first and she’d done so much for him already. But Esther was family for him, and he had been upset enough by this news to go and look at his drinks cabinet.

After a few minutes staring at the malt whisky and fancy vodkas, he changed into his gear and ran ten miles at top speed until his lungs burned. Then he told himself that he accepted it.

 

Just then, Scott’s thoughts were dragged back to the present by Kevin, shouting above the general noise.

“Look who’s here, late as usual!” He cupped his hand and hollered. “Kaplans in the house!”

Scott turned and saw Avi walking towards him with a wide smile, holding hands with his wife. Saskia wore late pregnancy well, her cream and gold Grecian style gown off one shoulder and skimming the swell of her bump. Flat gladiator sandals and upswept black hair completed her look.

Avi complemented her with his hair confined in a man bun, and a dark green shirt with the sleeves turned back, its open neck revealing chest hair sprinkled with more silver than his beard. Scott idly wondered whether he worked out, or if it was horse riding that kept his waist narrow and his legs strong in close-fitting black dress trousers.

He smiled at Saskia and took her hands, kissing her on both cheeks.

“Hello sweetheart, hello, and I see you brought a plus one,” Scott said with a wink.

Saskia laughed in reply. “Hello to you too, and yes, we’re both here, oh and Avi of course. This is a fabulous place Scott, I expect a tour of your house and garden before we leave town.”

“Thanks. You’re so elegant, blooming beautifully.”

“Oh, you’re too kind. This is my last chance to party before the big event.”

“So, so happy you’re here. Let me find Kevin—“

Avi interrupted. “What am I, chopped liver?”

“No, no, come here.” Scott pulled him into a tight, short hug and whispered in his ear, “You still smell so good.”

Avi released him, shaking his head with a little smile. He murmured, “And you are still a flirt.”

Scott took Saskia in one hand and Avi in the other and said, “Let’s go, reunite the old meat and potatoes team.”

“Haven’t heard that name in a while,” Avi replied with a grin.

 

As they approached Kevin, he jumped up from the bench he shared with Taralynn and came towards them.

“Saskia, you look stunning,” he said, hugging her as if she were bone china. He kissed her hand and brought her to the bench. “Lynn is dying to talk girly things.”

Saskia sat and greeted Taralynn, who accepted a kiss on the cheek from Avi before beginning an animated conversation with his wife.

“You’re so late,” Kevin said, “but I guessed the smell of food would call you over.”

“I can only agree, but Saskia needed her rest, so. I’m here now and I’m hungry.”

“Sure, put it here bro,” Kevin replied, holding his arms wide for Avi to step into his embrace and close his eyes.

 

Scott watched, his throat tight, as the friends held each other then spoke quietly, sharing a private joke probably. He was more than content, he was truly blessed to have all these good people around. They had always been there for him. He blinked rapidly, and was about to lead Avi over to the buffet when Kevin called out again.

“Look who’s here! Come on over, girl!”

Scott could not believe his eyes as Esther ran towards them, dark hair flying. She jumped into his waiting arms and he lifted her up, squeezing her tight while their friends laughed and clapped.

“You came. You came,” was all Scott could say, and the tears that had been threatening finally spilled over. He set Esther down and sniffed. “Sorry, I’m just – but how? What about Elijah?”

“Scott, he perked up and my friend’s babysitting like we agreed and I got a late flight and now I’m here.” Esther dabbed at her eyes. “Don’t make me ruin my make-up.” Then she dabbed Scott’s eyes as well, before gesturing round. “It’s all too, too fabulous. Well done baby, you won’t need me to arrange things for you any more.”

“I will always need you. And you’re my everything, look at you, in your little black dress and all.”

Esther smoothed the fabric over her still slender hips. “Do you think so? I just grabbed whatever and ran, us soccer moms don’t have too many fancy functions to attend so I—“

“Shush, you’re gorgeous. Just take my arm and let’s go show them how it’s done.”

Esther beamed, blew a kiss to Avi and said, “Later, brother.” She strolled away arm in arm with Scott and her head held high.

“They make a lovely couple,” Saskia said when they’d gone. “It’s great to see Scott relaxed and having fun.”

“You’re so right,” Lynn agreed. “Here comes our food.”

Avi and Kevin made their way through the crowd, balancing plates and glasses on two trays.

“I’ve been saving myself for this all day. Let’s go,” Avi said, and they ate and talked as the stars twinkled overhead.

Chapter Text

Scott walked around with Esther, excitedly pointing out all the things they’d planned over the past six months. He showed her the photo booth, the mobile cocktail bar with uniformed mixologist, the photographer, the catering set-up and lighting. She cooed over everything, and he felt absurdly proud of himself.

“See, I told you. It’s absolutely fantastic, and you did it all. Now, I see Mario and Candice over there, so go mingle, be the perfect host.”

“Okay mom, see you later.”

Scott squeezed her hand and returned to circulating and checking everyone had enough to eat and drink. He had a brief meeting with the catering manager, deciding when to bring out desserts. The quiet efficiency of the waiting staff impressed him. His kitchen was made for events like this, not endless take out and salads for one.

 

Once the grilling was done, staff brought out fresh fruit, pavlovas, chocolate cakes and chocolate dipped strawberries and other things Scott didn’t recognise, but he supposed Esther had ordered. The music grew quieter, and then almost inaudible. With a frown, Scott went over to the DJ. It had all been going so well.

“What’s happening, is there a problem?”

The DJ shrugged. “Sorry, somebody made a request and I’m having trouble locating it.”

“Well hurry it up, can’t you play something else while you look?”

“I guess I could,” the DJ said. “But I think they’re gonna play for you instead.”

Scott whipped around, following the DJ’s glance.

 

Under a flaming torch, four microphones waited. The guests fell silent as Kevin, Avi, Kirstie and Mario took their places. Esther appeared and led Scott to the front of the crowd. He clamped his other hand over his mouth as Esther put one arm around his waist, and then signalled to the singers.

 

They began with a couple of throwbacks to the Sing Off days, then transitioned into a medley of Pentatonix hits that had people singing along. Next came Beloved from Avi’s latest album Silence and Stars, and Time to go, a song that Scott had written for Kirstie’s Broadway debut. They moved on to Hold up the sun and Carry me home from Scott’s first solo album. The crowd listened with rapt attention.

 

Scott was transfixed. Tears ran down his cheeks, and Esther produced a white linen handkerchief from her pocket and pressed it into his hand. He had known his heart couldn’t take it, and he gladly accepted this gift of joy. He didn’t deserve it, and he couldn’t ask for more.

 

The crowd burst into applause, whooping and cheering, until Avi held up his hand for quiet. His deep, mellifluous tones rolled around Scott’s ears.

“Before we sing happy birthday to this old man over here,” he paused for the laughter to die down, “we have one more song. For old times’ sake. Scott, this is for you, with all our love.”

Scott sniffed and dried his eyes. What more could they have up their sleeves? He barely noticed Esther leave his side, he was so focused on the singers. Avi gave them their note, Kevin laid down a beat, and the song began. Wait, was that Nature Boy? And then, the impossible happened.

 

Another voice joined them. Pure, crystalline, ethereal, it floated over the other voices, layering diamonds over golden a cappella harmonies. If Scott had been speechless before, now he felt as though he was going to collapse. His stomach clenched, his knees wavered, and when a chair appeared behind him he dropped onto it. He couldn’t stop shaking, both hands over his mouth to keep himself from screaming.

Esther stood behind him, her hands warm and steady on his shoulders. Scott was rooted to the spot, breaking into pieces, exploding into a million shards and floating away. He couldn’t see him, and yet somehow… but it had to be a trick, a recorded track. Mitch wasn’t there, he couldn’t be.

 

Mitch appeared from behind the photo booth with a radio mike. He walked towards the others, singing that beautiful, terrible song, his voice lifting Scott and killing him at the same time.

 

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

 

Time slowed and Scott watched Mitch sing and smile. How could this be? Mitch wore an open-necked white shirt with extravagant cuffs and glittering cufflinks. It hugged his trim frame and was tucked into high-waisted, wide black trousers billowing down to silver boots. Scott could see the tattoos on his hands, and the numerous chunky silver rings that adorned his slender fingers. And his hair was short, and Scott didn’t know what to do except watch.

He stared at Mitch when the song ended to rapturous applause, and saw his mouth curve into a little smile as he looked directly at him.

 

The caterers brought out a huge, three layered cake with forty candles on top, and placed it on a table in front of Scott. A tear trickled down his cheek; he didn’t wipe it away. His friends sang happy birthday, and it was beautiful, and he didn’t know what to do. The song ended, and Esther whispered in his ear.

“Make a wish.”

Scott sat, suspended in a bubble. Everyone else receded from view. Nothing else mattered. There was only the cake, the candles, and Mitch. He didn’t know what to do. The candles burned bright, but all he saw was Mitch. Nothing else was as hot, as brilliant, or as dangerous.

Chapter Text

“Make a wish, Scott.” Esther squeezed his shoulders, gentle over the tremors in his body.

Scott watched Mitch through dancing flames of orange and yellow. He was burning, consumed by emotions he could not name, and yet he did not die. He blinked, took a deep breath, and wished as he blew out the candles. The cheers of his guests punctured the bubble and all at once he was back with them, smiling as cameras flashed and Esther breathed in his ear.

“Well done. I know this is a surprise.” She patted his shoulder and he stood up, to be engulfed in a crowd of well wishers.

 

By the time the people around him dispersed, the impromptu stage was empty. Cake was being distributed and Scott found he really, really needed a drink. He grabbed a jug of water from the nearest table and drank from it. His throat had closed up, blocked by a heart that had leapt upwards and stuck out of place. He had to get away.

 

He looked around but saw only acquaintances, not the faces he wanted to see. He strode back to the house and then fled upstairs to his bedroom. There, he splashed cold water on his hot face, stripped off his clothes and lay on the bed in his underwear. His chest rose and fell erratically and he gulped air.

Mitch. Mitch was here, in his house.

He needed someone. He needed Esther, or Avi, or Kevin, to hold his hand and anchor him, and everything would be okay again. As thoughts tumbled through his brain, he heard a soft tap on his door. He turned away and curled into a ball.

 

“Scott.”

He didn’t answer, instead grabbing a fistful of pillow and stuffing it in his mouth. Words were useless.

“Scott, turn over. You can keep your eyes shut, but turn over.” The voice was soothing and deep, and very calm.

Scott turned and lay on his back, then felt the bed dip. Avi sat next to him and took his hand, interlacing their fingers loosely.

“Breathe with me. In for two, out for four. I’ll count.”

He listened to the voice counting patiently, and found himself joining in.

“Okay, good. Now let’s try four, three, eleven. In, hold, out.”

 

Gradually his heart returned to his chest, shock and panic dissipating with each breath. Avi’s hand holding his was too big, but it was warm, and safe, and when it seemed like he might let go Scott clung on. He gripped Avi’s hand and felt him respond, matching his pressure, keeping him afloat.

“Avi?”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t.”

“Thanks, I – I just need a minute.”

“It’s okay.”

“Did you, did you know?” Scott’s voice sounded small and hoarse in his own ears.

“Yes, but tell you what, let’s talk about that tomorrow, okay? We thought you were ready, and he wanted to come.”

“Mitch… he asked you?”

“He did and I promise, I’ll tell you all about it over the grill tomorrow. Deal?”

Scott paused. His brain was stuffed full and empty at the same time. “I’d better get dressed.”

 

He got up and went into his closet, emerging in a white V-neck tee and jeans. Avi stood up and for a moment they looked at each other. Avi raised an eyebrow, waiting for a reply.

“Sure, let’s meet for lunch, just us five. Like the old days.”

Scott exhaled and mustered a smile. He checked his hair in the mirror, straightened his shoulders and followed Avi back out to the party.

 

The caterers cleared up efficiently, leaving desserts and cake on the buffet and bringing out more drinks. The cocktail barman was busy, the booze still flowed and people were dancing on the deck to current hits. The party showed no sign of flagging and Scott was greeted as though he had never been away. He laughed off comments about his change of clothes as host’s privilege, and he made the rounds again, making sure to speak to everyone.

He joked with business contacts and friends alike, and made it look effortless with a ready smile. Perfect host, he reminded himself, and played his role perfectly.

 

Back in his kitchen, he thanked the staff and marvelled at how clean and ordered they had left things. There would be no trouble making his breakfast smoothie. By the time he went out again, more people were dancing on the deck. Avi swayed with Saskia in a corner, hands caressing her sides. Candice, Esther and a few others including Kirstie danced with alcohol-fuelled abandon, while Kevin and Lynn talked with Jeremy by the pool.

Some other guests had stripped off and were soaking in the hot tub. The torches still burned around the garden, showing people cuddling on benches and hammocks or strolling around barefoot on the grass.

 

Scott decided to allow himself one drink. He was pouring a vodka and orange when Kirstie appeared next to him.

“Ooh, what’s that?” she asked. “Whatever it is, make it two. I’m having a fabulous time, Scott.”

“Vodka and orange, and I’m glad you’re having fun. I’m glad y’all came tonight.” He passed her a glass, and she kissed his cheek.

“I wouldn’t miss it. But I miss you, and the others sometimes. I miss the old days.”

Scott took a mouthful and replied, “Which part?”

“Oh, most of it. I’m probably glossing over the crappy bits, but they made the good bits so much better.” She sipped and went on. “Y’know, after shows when we’d be buzzing and hungry, and when we were babies and we’d huddle together in a dogpile on someone’s floor, getting drunk as skunks.” She giggled and waved her glass. “None of that, now we’re grown-ups.”

“Well, let’s do it again before everyone leaves.”

She peered up at him. “What, really? Like, movie night and pizza? I’d love that. Can Jeremy come?”

“Of course. I’m free all weekend, wanna see as much of you guys as I can before I lose you again.”

Kirstie put a hand on Scott’s arm. “You’ll never lose us. I know we might be far away, but don’t ever think you’re forgotten. Hell, you wrote me a song, and that’s an amazing thing. You’re amazing.”

“Thanks, girl.” He embraced her gently, still holding his glass. “Movie night tomorrow, the after party. Let’s do it.”

They held hands and went in search of Jeremy, and Scott felt contentment and even a little happiness return. Kirstie’s hand was too small in his, but this moment, with her walking beside him, was just right.

 

As the night wore on guests took their leave, until about thirty people remained. Avi protested hunger around eleven, and fired up the grill to fix burgers for anyone who wanted one. He found a cook’s apron in a cupboard, and got cooking. Saskia sat with her feet up nearby and chatted to him. The delicious smell soon drew a small group of onlookers, and Scott set out burger buns and relishes on a table to one side.

 

He was in his kitchen searching the fridge for salad when Esther came in.

“Hey. How’re you doing?” She patted his arm as he sliced lettuce.

“Better than great, actually.” He flashed a smile. “It’s been all I hoped. Having everyone here makes me happy and I wanted to thank you, too.” He scooped the salad into a bowl and put the knife down. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Oh, pfft, I did nothing, it was all you. Well, almost.” Esther grinned at him, then lowered her voice. “And Mitch?”

Scott fetched more bowls from a cupboard. “That was a big surprise, Est. After so long… of course it’s good that he came. Just a bit of a shock that’s all.”

She bit her lip, and Scott watched her consider her words. “He wanted – he asked to come and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I wasn’t sure, but Avi persuaded me that you’d be okay.”

“You should have asked me,” he said quietly. “It should have been my decision.”

Esther spread her hands. “But then it wouldn’t be a surprise. And you are strong, much stronger than you give yourself credit for. We wouldn’t have agreed to it otherwise. He sounded like an angel, didn’t he?”

“Always. Mitch always sounds perfect. Why isn’t he here now?”

 

Scott moved around the kitchen, getting out plastic plates and cups. He couldn’t meet Esther’s eye, and he concentrated on his breathing, controlling it, making sure he could still breathe after saying that name.

“He didn’t want to overwhelm you. He slipped away when you were cutting your cake and taking photos.”

Scott wanted to laugh. Turning up after a year’s silence that followed another year of only sporadic, brief contact? Vanishing into the night, after peeling his chest open and reminding him of scars he wanted to forget? How was that good, or reasonable?

Didn’t want to overwhelm me? Are you fucking kidding me?

 

He finally looked at Esther, who regarded him with an expression he recognised. She wore that look when things were about to kick off, and she was trying to contain it with forced calm. He couldn’t blame her. He felt like a walking unexploded bomb.

“Scott. Talk to me. If I was wrong, if Avi was wrong, just shout at me and get it over with. “ Esther’s eyes shone with tears, and Scott couldn’t afford to give in to them. Not now, not yet.

“I love you, Est. You’ve been my rock, and I’m not gonna shout at you. I just need time to process this, okay?” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Thanks for everything, and for trying to protect me. But I’m officially a grown up, and I have to deal.” He loaded the bowls and plates onto a tray and paused, eyes downcast.

“And I did want to see him.”

Chapter Text

 

“Here’s burger fixings, everyone!”

Scott walked out on the deck and smiled at the people who remained. His dearest, oldest friends, his music family, all lolled around the deck kitchen on chairs and benches brought from the garden. The DJ finished up, and Scott substituted his own playlist. There was one couple swinging in a hammock, Kevin and Lynn he guessed. Fairy lights echoed the stars that dotted the indigo sky, and torch flames fluttered in a gentle warm breeze. For a moment his heart swelled with happiness. This was the night he had dreamed of, a night to remember.

 

Scott scooped up first Candice, then Esther, and waltzed around the deck. The women had removed their shoes, and he was careful not to tread on their toes as he used his height advantage to rest his chin on their head.

“Hey, what about me? I wanna dance too,” Saskia called out. “My husband has abandoned me for food, his one true love.”

“And so you shall, milady.” Scott bowed to Saskia and offered his hand, then held her gently at the waist and sang to her as they moved slowly around. When the song ended he bowed again and kissed her hand. She thanked him, then rejoined her husband who had finished cooking. Avi discarded his apron, before piling his plate high.

“Come on, eat something,” Avi prompted.

“I think I will,” Scott replied. He slumped into a chair and stretched out his long legs. “I am exhausted.”

“Well, it’s hard work throwing the party of the year, homie. Lemme get you a plate.” Kevin filled two plates with burgers, salad, fruit and cake, placing them on a table that Mario dragged over next to Scott.

“Thanks guys, y’all’re spoiling me.”

 

He attacked the plates with gusto, while Tyler brought drinks and Nicole tucked a napkin into the neckline of his tee shirt. The hunger that had been suppressed by the excitement and stress of earlier was suddenly in evidence, and he ate his way through all the food. He had two pieces of cake, one from the chocolate layer and one from the lemon poppyseed layer.

“Is really good,” he mumbled with his mouth full of chocolate cake, “specially because cake is not allowed.”

“True, you gotta look good when that man or woman of your dreams shows up,” Kirstie replied. “But it’s your birthday, and cake is always allowed on your birthday.”

The group broke into a spontaneous chorus of Happy Birthday again, and this time Scott knew what to do. He listened, and appreciated, and at the end he stood up and cleared his throat.

“So, I’m no good at speeches but I wanted to say, thanks to all of you for everything. For the journeys we made together, and the memories, and more recently the support I needed.” He stopped and swallowed.

“You know who you are… I appreciate the effort, leaving your kids behind—”

“That’s no hardship!” Jeremy shouted, to huge amusement.

“Yeah, well, if you say so. But seriously, this,” Scott gestured round at the happy faces, “this is everything I dreamed of, even though I got a bit of a shock, but I’m happy.“ He wiped his eyes with a knuckle as people applauded. “I love you all.”

 

He tried to sit down, but his friends surrounded him, hugging and kissing him and saying lovely things that he was sure he didn’t deserve, but he was grateful for all the same. He concentrated on the details of floral perfumes, spicy cologne, the flickering torch flames, his satisfied stomach, a lingering trace of chocolate on his tongue, and the warm press of bodies against his under a midnight sky.

 

He wanted to fix this moment forever in memory, so he could look at it in the future when he needed it. The day would come when he would want to remember that he could still be happy.

 

The food was long gone when Avi led Saskia over to Scott. He was talking with Mario and Jake, but detached himself from the group and came over immediately.

“Time for this sleepy princess to fly away home,” Avi said. “It’s way past our bedtime.”

“I understand, but you’ll be back tomorrow, right? Like we said?”

“Of course.” Avi hugged Scott, and watched him embrace Saskia gently and then kiss her hand again, making her giggle.

“See you tomorrow, my Greek goddess.”

“You sure do say the nicest things. We’ll be back for movie night, count us in.”

And then Avi was gone, and that was the signal for the rest of the guests to wander out to the hall, replace their shoes and pile into their Ubers. Last were Kevin and Lynn, with Esther just behind.

“That was truly awesome.“ Kevin pulled Scott into his arms and squeezed, leaving him breathless. “We’re only leaving so we can come back refreshed for round two.” He put his arm round Lynn and ushered her out.

 

That left Scott and Esther alone, grinning at each other.

“Perfect,” he said. “But I’m tired.”

“Let’s leave everything and go to bed,” she replied.

“What?”

“I’m staying here with you, stupid. Already grabbed a room, no time to book a hotel and anyway, you could use some company.”

“Wow. I love you.”

She inclined her head graciously. “I know. Now go and lock up, I already put out the torches and the cleaning team is coming in the morning, well in a few hours actually.”

“I love you even more.“ He blew her a kiss.

“Go, go, go! We need sleep.”

 

Scott watched her go upstairs, then checked and locked all the doors. He walked upstairs slowly, musing on the day and its surprises. He stripped off his clothes and left them where they lay before taking a quick shower and brushing his teeth. Lying on his back he stared at the ceiling, reliving the moments of happiness, the laughter and smiles and tears.

 

And how could he forget the flame that lit the dark, chased away the cold in his heart, and burned him if he got too close? He turned on his side, let his mind slide round the thing he would not name, and breathed out. All in all, it had been the best birthday he could remember for a long time.

 

There was plenty of room to starfish on his king-size bed, and the space beside him was too big but tonight he could bear it. Knowing Esther was just two doors away and that they would breakfast together was a huge comfort. He pushed thoughts of tomorrow out of his head, and drifted off to sleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

On Saturday morning Scott woke to the sun pouring through his bedroom windows. Another beautiful day he thought, and bounced downstairs in his running gear. Esther waved at him from the kitchen, and he saw a cleaning crew restoring his garden to order.

First came a workout, followed by a long, hot shower that left him feeling renewed. He finished with a blast of cold water that was supposed to stimulate the metabolism.

 

He never got used to it, but he got through it, and that was a pretty good way to approach the things he didn’t like. Sometimes it was about loving the process, sometimes it was about loving the outcome, and other times it was about simply doing what had to be done. In short, he had learned to be an adult, even if he wasn’t worrying about arthritis and wrinkles yet. It was just that he felt he was growing too serious, and he needed more downtime.

 

The party memories were buzzing in his head, his oldest friends were all in town, and he wanted to be silly and playful and have fun again. He pulled on a tee and jeans, and ran downstairs. Delicious smells wafted from the kitchen, and his stomach actually rumbled.

 

“Morning, beautiful.” He kissed Esther’s cheek where she stood at the vast hob frying bacon. “That smells so good. What do you want me to do?”

“Morning, babe. Set the table and make some coffee, then we’re good to go.”

Scott got to work on his coffee machine, then arranged milk, orange juice, syrup and butter on the breakfast bar.

Esther was humming some tune he didn’t recognise while she cooked, and his heart swelled with the easy domesticity of it all. There had been no mornings like this for a long time.

“Do I smell pancakes?” He sniffed the air. “All these carbs will make me as big as a house.”

“Oh, stop it,” Esther said, sliding bacon onto a plate. “A couple pancakes is what you need, and you already ran today. Anyway, don’t like, don’t eat.”

Scott hugged her briefly from behind. “I didn’t say that. I’m starving and I’m going to eat everything.”

“That’s what I thought.”

 

They sat together and ate in friendly silence. At the end Scott rubbed his stomach.

“Est, that was amazing, thank you. No, have some more coffee while I clear up.” He loaded the dishwasher and put everything away, then tugged on Esther’s hand.

“Come on, let’s sit on the deck.” He poured himself another coffee and led the way out, where they sat.

“This is so nice.” She took another sip of coffee. “It’s always such a mad rush at home, getting the kids ready, finding sports kit and homework. I forgot mornings could be like this.”

 

Scott drank coffee while thinking how to respond. His mornings weren’t like Esther’s. In fact they were the opposite of a frantic family day. Since he had left rehab, he began with exercise, meditation, and a clean breakfast with coffee before starting the day’s work. He was organised and therefore productive, and what his routine lacked in warmth it gained in results. He was content, mostly.

 

After a moment he replied, “Me too.”

Esther set down her cup. She had reverted to wearing her glasses, and now regarded her friend closely. “Are things okay with you? I mean really.”

“Of course, why wouldn’t they be?” Scot waved a hand round. “I have all this, and my music, and friends, family, the whole nine yards.”

 

Esther said nothing, but continued to inspect Scott as though he was a particularly difficult contract clause she was trying to work out.

“What?” He shrugged a little. “It’s true.”

“Yeah but, it’s not the whole truth.”

 She sighed, and Scott went to get up but she put a hand on his knee. “Wait, we should talk.”

“Est, I—“

“No.” She held up her hand. “No running away, you know that doesn’t work. It’s just us.” She took a deep breath and went on. “You said you did want to see Mitch, and I wondered how you felt about him being here.”

Scott stared at his cup. “He’s not here.”

“Last night, I mean. You want to move forward or not? It’s your choice.”

He laughed bitterly. “Oh, so now it’s my choice, when y’all forced him on me, now you think to ask?”

Esther’s voice was softer. “Better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. Put it this way; if I was telling you now that we’d stopped him coming to your party, how would you feel?”

 

She was being reasonable and he hated it, hated her for knowing him and making him do this. You’re not my goddamn therapist. She couldn’t make him talk and think and feel things.

 

He stood up abruptly. “I’ll be in my office for an hour or two.”

She looked up at him with a small smile. “Okay. Want me to fix some lunch later?”

He remembered then that he had promised Avi a barbecue lunch for the former bandmates.

“Oh, actually I said Avi could come over and grill, just the five of us. And you of course.” He hesitated. “But not Mitch.”

He turned and walked away, not looking back even when Esther called after him.

“Leave it with me.”

 

Scott closed his office door behind him and sat on the couch, face in his hands. His heart ticked on but his blood ran cold in his veins. After a few minutes he pulled his phone out, set the alarm for ten minutes, and lay down. His brain jumped around and he couldn’t focus. He groaned in frustration.

The alarm sounded and he concentrated on his breathing, making it slower and deeper until finally he could empty his mind.

 

Someone was pulling at his shoulder gently. He surfaced with an effort, as if from the bottom of the ocean.

“Scott, wake up, I made us coffee.”

“Huh? Sleeping.” He opened one eye, and saw Esther smiling at him.

“Looks like you needed it. We got some time before everyone comes, and I already ran to the store—”

“Store? How?” Scott sat up and rubbed his eyes, before stretching his long arms and back till his joints popped.

Esther spoke slowly, as if he were an idiot child. Which, he supposed, wasn’t that far from the truth.

“I took your car, and your credit card, and I went to the store. I know everything about you, remember?”

“Thank you, I think.”

“Ha! You don’t think, you know, and you need some caffeine. Up you get.”

 

He followed her into the calm and tidy kitchen, and sat at the breakfast bar. “I guess I slept a couple hours, but I got no work done.”

“Scott, it’s Saturday so ease up for a bit. We’re barbecuing at one, and Avi is coming early to get set up. He loves your grill.”

Scott grinned. “He really does, I bet his is even more impressive though.”

“You’ll have to see for yourself.” Esther sipped her coffee, keeping her eyes on her cup. “Mitch could come tonight, he’s free. Pizza and movie night, isn’t it?”

 

Scott gripped his cup. Silence stretched between them, while his brain scrabbled for a coherent answer. He wanted something, but he didn’t know what he wanted. He was an idiot child and a grown man who ought to be able to decide.

 

“It’s been a year since he even texted me. Fifteen months since we last spoke. What gives him the right to come back, like he’s never been away? Where was he when I was dying and I needed him?”

Scott slammed his cup down on the granite counter, and it broke in two. A little coffee puddled on the surface.

“What do you expect me to say?” he shouted.

Esther flinched but stayed seated in silence, while he got up and paced.

He lowered his voice a little. “He has no right.”

“No.”

 

Scott felt the words curdle in his throat, and when he tried to speak again a little cry escaped instead.

Esther set down her cup and turned to face him.

“Shall I—“

He cut her off. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? Why do I have to go through all this again… and Bailey, that was… I can’t, it’s not fucking fair.”

 

He paced and ran both hands through his hair, his heart a panicked rabbit trying to escape his chest. And through it all Esther regarded him through those damn glasses of hers. Why the hell didn’t she get contacts, or surgery or something?

 

Scott looked again, and saw tears spill down her cheeks. She was trying to be strong, and struggling. The boiling anger in his chest subsided as he went over, gathered her into his arms, and rubbed her back while she trembled.

“I’m sorry, Esther. I’m sorry. This isn’t about you, and I’m sorry. You’ve been my rock.” He wiped her tears away with his thumb.

 

She pushed out of his grasp. He heard her sob once as she ran upstairs, leaving him to wipe up the coffee and place the broken cup in the trash.

 

There was still some time before Avi arrived, and Scott didn’t want him to walk into an argument. He couldn’t bear the thought of falling out with him as well. He had to fix this. There was nobody else he could run to.

 

Chapter Text

Scott tapped tentatively on Esther’s door, and waited. There was no sound from inside, and he was about to walk away when he heard her say, “Come in.”

She had removed her glasses and was drying her eyes with a tissue. More tissues littered the side of the bed where she sat with her phone on her lap.

“I don’t want us to fight, Esther.”

“Okay.”

Her voice was croaky and small, and guilt twisted in his chest. She wouldn’t look at him, and it was his fault.

“May I sit?”

She shrugged and scooted up the bed a little, but continued to stare at the floor.

 

“Please, let’s not fight. I’m sorry for being an asshole and you really don’t deserve it. It’s Mitch I need to talk to. I see that now.” He put an arm around her shoulders and took her free hand. “Avi will kill me if I upset you, and then what will I do?”

“You’d be dead,” she replied, her tone flat. “Wouldn’t have to do anything.”

 

That idea still held a dark pull, but he pushed it away.

“Then he’ll go to jail, and what will you do, and Saskia, and the kids?”

Esther sniffed. “You’re right. We better not let it get that far, huh.” She squeezed his hand. “This is hard, I know, but remember who loves you. I’m gonna leave you to sort it out.”

She blew her nose, then gathered the tissues and went into the bathroom.

Scott left, closing the door gently behind him.

 

Back in his office he answered a few emails, and berated himself for messing up. What was he thinking, going off on her like that? He needed to make it right. But before he could sink deeper into a pit of regret, Esther knocked on the door. There was a trace of redness in her eyes, but she seemed her usual self.

“Come and show me your garden before they all arrive,” she said cheerfully.

 

He took her hand with care, as if it might break by holding too tight. She allowed him to lead her around while he pointed at random plants.

“Well that’s a blue flower, and that’s a bush, oh and that’s a rose. I recognise that one.”

“Should do, you have them in your sleeve.”

 

Esther reeled off plant names and descriptions, and Scott was in awe of her knowledge. His guilt faded to a dull ache, and they were once again comfortable with each other, wandering the garden under a blue sky punctuated with fluffy clouds. She was staying. He was forgiven, and it was more than he deserved.

 

At the sound of the doorbell, Scott strode back to the house. He returned with Avi, who greeted his sister with a hug. Esther clung to him for long enough that Scott saw Avi’s slight frown, but she detached herself and smiled at him.

“Everything okay, Est?” Avi watched her closely.

“Sure, just tired from yesterday. It was all a bit of a whirlwind, but well worth it.”

 

She took Avi’s hand and led him to the outdoor kitchen. “Here you go, grill master. You’ll find meat and chicken in the fridges.”

Scott stepped forward. “Tell me what you need.”

“Grab a beer for me, I got this.”

“I’ll go start on the salad.” Esther walked back to the house, leaving the men alone.

 

“She seems a bit quiet,” Avi said.

Scott cleared his throat and placed a beer next to Avi’s cooking station. “She mentioned Mitch.” He paused. “I may have got a bit upset.”

“She’d do anything to help you, and I know you wouldn’t hurt her.” Avi spoke mildly as he concentrated on lighting the burner.

There was another short silence before Scott answered. “We’re good now.”

“Glad to hear it.” Avi took a swig from his bottle, and arranged chicken drumsticks on the grill while Scott kept a careful distance. “Don’t want to fight with the ones you love. It never ends well.”

 

“How’s Saskia today?”

Avi’s frown relaxed. “Very happy, she’s meeting Lynn for lunch and then shopping. Girly things.”

“Yeah, it figures. So, um, Mitch. What’s the story?” He breathed slowly and took a long drink of water.

“I know you two haven’t spoken in a while, but we kept in touch. Very sporadic, he travels a lot with being on set. Spent some time in Italy, he was in a couple fashion shows I think.”

 

Avi turned to lock gaze with Scott, his green eyes kind but missing nothing. “And then he contacted me about your birthday a few months back. I was surprised, to say the least.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he wanted to come to your party. I said that wasn’t a good idea. He was very persistent.”

“You should have asked me, Avi. It’s my life.”

“I know that, but you were finally happy and settled. I didn’t want him dropping a bomb in your life. But then, we were doing the songs as a surprise for you, and we hoped it wasn’t gonna be too much to add him in. And I hope you liked it.”

 

Avi flipped chicken legs, and Scott watched him.

“I truly loved the songs. He was…” Scott trailed off. What words were there? Mitch was a star, and like the night stars he was brilliant, distant and cold.

“He was, y’all were perfect.” There was a lump in his throat, and he swallowed it down with a drink of water. He blinked and went on.

“I can’t thank you enough, for putting up with me, and always being my friend.”

 

Avi set down his tongs and closed the distance between them in two steps. Scott was rigid and anxious at first, but relaxed in Avi’s warm, close embrace. Even though Scott was taller and broader, he felt cocooned by Avi’s strong arms, and finally allowed himself to accept the comfort they offered.

“Better get back to cooking,” Avi murmured, and they broke apart as Kevin and Kirstie arrived together.

 

Scott greeted them both. “Welcome to birthday party round two, barbecue edition.”

"Looking forward to this. I'm gonna go see how Avi is doing," Kevin said happily.

“We still get pizza tonight, right?” Kirstie said. “And maybe… a sleepover?” She raised a questioning eyebrow.

“What are we, twelve?” Scott laughed. “Of course, plenty of guest rooms and couches.”

“And, um, will Mitch be coming tonight? I wanna see him, it’s been too long.”

“Not sure, maybe. I haven’t decided, but possibly. I don’t know.”

Kirstie patted Scott’s arm. “I get it. I hope he will come, tell us about his new film.” She looked up at him, waiting for a reply.

“Sure.”

 

Scott had no idea about any film, or what he would do if he said yes, or what he would do if he said no to Mitch.

 

He saw Avi and Kevin having an animated discussion, so he went back to the kitchen in search of Esther. He sent her out and stayed inside, drinking iced water and trying to decide. Thoughts whirled through his head until he counted to ten and went back outside with the bread and salad.

 

They were back together, but he had always said that if they were missing a member, they were missing Pentatonix. There was no use trying to avoid this meeting any more; he had to face it.

 

Scott sidled up to Esther and whispered in her ear.

“Call him now.”

Chapter Text

Esther’s head whipped round, and she took Scott to one side. “What, you want me to call Mitch, are you sure?”

“Please just do it, before I change my mind.”

“Right.”

 

She moved away with her phone, and almost immediately started a quiet conversation that Scott couldn’t hear. He went to sit with Kirstie and asked her about the twins, about New York, anything to distract him from the knot that had formed in his stomach.

 

He hardly heard what Kirstie said, but he was grateful that she kept talking. Her hand sneaked into his, and when the doorbell rang barely fifteen minutes later he gripped her hand tighter. He shot a look over at Esther, but she was already on her way to the door, nodding to him as she passed by.

“It’s all right, sweetheart, we’re here with you,” Kirstie said quietly. She placed her other hand over his. “It’s gonna be fine.”

 

Scott couldn’t answer. He could only feel the gentle pressure of her small, warm hands enclosing his trembling right hand, the nausea from what should have been delicious food smells, and the sudden dryness of his mouth.

 

“May I present Mitchell Grassi, actress and model!” Esther called out, sounding breathless.

Scott kept his back to the house, and his breaths came fast and shallow. He felt Kirstie squeeze his hands, and then she got up.

 

There was a chorus of greetings, and he glanced up to see Mitch and Kirstie embrace. She was crying, but Scott couldn’t afford to give in to tears. Not here, not yet.

 

Mitch whispered in Kirstie’s ear and kissed her on both cheeks. He moved on to Kevin, whose brilliant smile told of his joy at meeting his bandmate again. He hugged Mitch and almost lifted him off his feet.

 

Then Mitch went over to Avi, who was lifting chicken from the grill onto plates. He tapped Avi on the back and he turned, put down the tongs and engulfed Mitch in his arms. Matched in size, the two men held each other tight, saying nothing. Scott saw how they fitted together effortlessly, and it hurt.

 

Scott bit his lip, unable to take his eyes off them. Avi wore a dark blue check shirt and black jeans. Apart from one plain earring and his wedding band, he wore no other jewellery. Mitch’s pink shirt contrasted well with skin-tight ripped grey jeans and thick soled black loafers. Scott picked out the fine gold chain around his neck, the many rings he wore, the mismatched earrings. Mitch looked like a model off-duty. He looked wonderful.

 

Finally Avi patted Mitch’s back one last time and released him, wiping his eyes before turning back to the grill. And Scott’s heart contracted as he watched Mitch walk towards him. He looked like an angel, but Scott knew that when angels appeared, they could strike fear into the heart of an observer.

 

Scott stood, and his heart curled tight in his chest, hardly daring to beat. He supposed everyone was watching, but he only looked at one face. How could one small person take up so much space?

 

He was struck dumb by the jump from imagination to reality. Mitch was really there, holding out both hands, speaking. Scott blinked slowly, and tried to process. His lip quivered.

 

“Hello Scott.”

“Mitch. I – it’s been a while.” Scott licked his dry lips. “Welcome back.”

He stared at the tattooed hands hanging in the space between them, watched the slender fingers curl and open uncertainly.

“I’ve been wanting to see you all for so long, and it’s wonderful to be here.”

 

Mitch’s voice was smooth, a little lower in pitch than Scott remembered. It gave him chills. He watched his own hands reach out without him asking them to move, and take the waiting hands. They were warm as they held on lightly.

 

There was a hint of a tan on his cheekbones, and Scott inhaled deeply, catching spice in Mitch’s cologne. He forced his legs to stay still, finding support in the ground under his feet. He would not run. Even though the sight of Mitch blinded him, he would stand firm.

 

He knew Mitch was not the crying kind, but his beautiful brown eyes were bright with unshed tears.

“Oh God, I – I can’t—”

Scott’s voice broke, and he dropped Mitch’s hands and reached forward. He gathered Mitch up and wrapped his arms around him. They were both crying, gasping for air. Mitch put his arms around Scott’s waist, and he fitted perfectly like a missing puzzle piece.

 

It was love and pain, fire and ice, and Scott opened his heart to it for a moment. But it was too much to bear, and he screwed his eyes tight and tried to control his breathing. He opened shaky arms and let go.

 

When he opened his eyes Mitch was still there, and beyond him he saw Kirstie and Kevin, Avi and Esther holding on to each other for support. Every one had tears in their eyes, and Kirstie was sobbing, dabbing her eyes with a knuckle.

 

Scott mustered a shaky smile and held his arms wide. “Come on, guys.”

The six friends came together immediately for a group embrace. Kevin said a prayer of thanks as they bowed their heads together. With Mitch’s arm laid lightly round his waist, Scott felt a jittery burst of elation. He had hardly dared hope for this reunion. But it was happening for real, not in a fevered dream.

 

They stayed together until Avi spoke.

“We need to rehydrate after all this crying,” he rumbled, his voice lower than usual. “And we need to eat.”

“I’m all for that,” Kevin chimed in. The spell broken, Avi returned to cooking, Esther went in search of tissues, and Kirstie withdrew to repair her makeup. Kevin poured water and helped Avi dish up the food.

 

Scott sat on the long couch and motioned to Mitch, who sat nearby on a chair.

“You look great, really great Mitch. I… well, there’s a lot to catch up on.” His heart was beating normally, almost.

Mitch folded his hands together. “Thanks, and yeah, I hoped we could catch up. Thanks for inviting me, I appreciate it.”

 

Scott heard the formality in his tone, and was grateful for the distance it gave them. He needed time to work out how close he could get to the flame that lit his darkness and warmed his cold heart, without getting burned.

Chapter Text

“Food, people,” Avi called. He brought the last plate of burgers over to join the chicken legs, vegetable kebabs, bread, salad, and relishes that filled the dining table. Sunshine filtered through clouds, and it was pleasantly warm as everyone took their places and started to serve themselves.

 

Scott sat opposite Avi, who carried on a lively conversation with Mitch next to him. Esther slid in next to Scott, and Kevin beside her with Kirstie bagging the last seat next to Mitch. Esther pointed out the gluten free options while Scott filled his plate, but sipped water rather than eat as he listened in on conversations. He tore his bread into small pieces and rolled the fragments into little balls, which he then hid under lettuce leaves. It occupied his hands while he wore a bland expression, and said nothing.

 

“This chicken is amazing, Avi,” Kirstie said.

“Well, I only grilled it. Esther did the marinade.”

“To your recipe, so I think you do deserve the credit,” Esther said.

Avi raised a glass in salute, and Esther turned to Scott.

“Eat something, you’ll feel better. I see what you’re doing with that roll, so stop it.”

Scott held up his hands. “Busted. I guess you’re used to policing meal times.”

“You bet I am. Now eat up young man, or there will be no dessert for you.” Esther peered over her glasses at Scott, which made him smile.

 

“It all looks so good.”

Scott had a drumstick and a vegetable kebab on his plate. He sliced at the meat slowly, but the first mouthful convinced him. It was delicious, and soon he was getting a second helping. He caught Avi’s eye and waved a forkful of meat at him.

“This is – wow. Please teach me your ways.”

Avi grinned and replied, “That’s what we agreed.”

Scott stood up with his water glass. “Everyone, a toast to the king of the grill, Avriel.”

They raised their glasses and chorused, “All hail, King Avriel!”

Avi raised his hand. “Don’t call me that, but thanks anyway.”

 

Scott could not make eye contact with Mitch. It hurt his eyes, like looking directly at the sun. He sat, and concentrated on clearing his plate. He avoided the bread, knowing there would be pizza later, and probably cake if Kirstie had anything to do with it.

 

“Saw your pictures from the last Balenciaga show Mitch, you looked absolutely wonderful,” Kirstie said.

“Well thank you. I had no idea you stalked me on Instagram.” Mitch took a sip of water and went on. “I’m getting a little mature for all that, but it was an honour to be asked to walk.”

“We’re all getting older, but that doesn’t mean we have to act our age, does it?” Kirstie broke the remnants of her roll into pieces as she spoke.

Esther replied, “Please don’t tell me you’re starting a food fight. Think of the clearing up after.”

“Spoken like a true mom and older sister,” Avi put in. “Age is just a number, I for one still feel twenty five inside.”

“Says the one who was born a grandpa,” Kevin retorted.

“Old man, don’t bother me,” Avi said, tossing a piece of bread in Kevin’s direction.

“Hey, hey, settle down or there will be no dessert for any of you.” Esther wagged a finger at the friends who were mock glaring at each other.

“Really, Avi? You’re superfrowning me? Save it for your kids, I seen it too many times.” Kevin held up a hand and turned his face away while Kirstie shook her head at them both.

 

The friendly bickering continued, but Scott ignored it. His gaze travelled from slender fingers adorned with silver rings, to unbuttoned pink cuffs, lined with red, that Mitch had turned back. He noted the bats and the soot sprite tattoos, but it was the skull that made him catch his breath. He rubbed the matching skull on his own finger.

 

The crystal tattoo was partly visible, and Scott reconstructed the rest of it in his mind. He couldn’t bring to mind all the elements of the SpongeBob sleeve, and he swallowed hard against the lump in his throat. Once he’d known that body almost as well as his own. He caught himself recalling what he’d tried very hard to forget.

 

“Scott. Earth to Scott.”

He blinked and looked at Kirstie across the table. “Sorry, what?”

“I said, we should play some games tonight. As long as it’s not Twister. Do you have anything?”

Scott laughed. “Not much of a games player these days, but we can go get something if you want.”

“Tell you what, leave that to me. I’ll sort something out.” She winked at him, and he felt better.

 

He risked a glance at Mitch and found he was waiting, a small smile on his face.

“Sounds like fun, don’t you think?”

Scott nodded and took a breath. “As long as we don’t play never have I ever. I don’t think I could take too many shots.”

Mitch’s gaze didn’t waver. “Oh, I think we’ve probably done most things, between us. Still,” he arched a perfect eyebrow, “might be interesting to see who’s got furthest down their bucket list.”

“I guess. We’ll see what Kirstie comes up with.”

 

Scott wanted to run, but brown eyes pinned him to his seat. The others cleared the table and brought out fruit, including some chocolate dipped strawberries from the night before.

“We’re saving cake for tonight, but I found these in your fridge. Open up.” Kirstie brought a fruit near Scott’s mouth.

 

He dragged his eyes away from Mitch’s amused expression to Kirstie, who opened her own mouth to encourage him as if he were a child. He obediently parted his lips, and was assailed by sweet, slightly tart juices along with the smoothness of chocolate. He closed his eyes and savoured it all.

“Mmm, delicious. More.” He pointed to his mouth and Kirstie fed him two more before popping one in her own mouth.

She moaned with pleasure. “That is sinfully good. And it’s two of the food groups, which is even better.”

 

“Take it easy, Kirstie. It’s only food.” Mitch reached over for a strawberry but Kirstie whipped the plate away.

“Nope, I’m in charge of these.” She went over to Mitch and said, “Only food, huh? You know the drill.” She held up one fruit in manicured fingers.

 

Scott watched Mitch first shake his head, then close his eyes, tilt his head and open his mouth. With his hands clasped on the table, he looked as if he were receiving some blessed sustenance. With that thought, Scott got up. He muttered something about finding more napkins. He knew he was lying to himself.

 

He couldn’t watch Mitch’s face when he bit into the strawberry and let its sweet juice run down his throat, when the chocolate melted silky smooth on his tongue, when he scrunched his eyes and swallowed and licked his lips and asked for more.

 

So he walked away.

Chapter Text

Scott filled a glass with ice from the dispenser, then topped up with filtered water. He drank slowly, washing away the last trace of chocolate. Then he refilled his glass and held it against his forehead. Pressure was building inside his skull. He needed to get away and he had to stand his ground. He pressed three ibuprofen from their foil pack with trembling fingers.

 

“We need those napkins, it got messy with the strawberries.” Kirstie washed her hands and came to stand next to him.

He swallowed the tablets. “Yeah, that can happen.” He picked up the paper towel roll and offered it without looking at her. “Will this do?”

Her arm snaked around his waist. “Had enough for now? Because we can go, if you want.”

He put down the paper roll and pulled her close, burying his face in her hair. “Tell me you’re not checking up on me.”

“And if I was, if I wanted to make sure you’re okay, because I love you, what about it?”

 

Scott had no answer. He hated the thought that they were observing him on the sly, like he was some kind of tragic case. But he missed their old understanding more. How they had been so in tune, musically and emotionally, that any problems were obvious. How they had all taken turns to check up on someone who was struggling. How they had been family. His shoulders trembled.

 

“Don’t cry, Scotty. You’ve brought us all together again, like you did in the beginning.”

“I’m – we’re not. Not really together.” He took a deep breath. He couldn’t give in to tears again. Not here, not yet.

“But we can be,” another voice said.

 

Scott lifted his head and saw Kevin standing inside the door, holding plates. He put them down and came forward to enclose both Scott and Kirstie in his arms.

“I have prayed so hard for us all,” he said softly. “Prayers aren’t always answered, I know that. But sometimes we have the chance to make them reality, by our own actions. We can choose to be together.”

 

The three friends didn’t move, even when someone else came into the kitchen.

“I’ll make some tea and coffee, shall I?” Avi murmured, stepping around the group embrace. “Don’t mind me.”

Kirstie squeezed Scott and moved away. “I never do. Where are your mugs, Scott? Out of reach of a little one like me, no doubt.”

Scott laughed. “Pardon me for arranging my own kitchen to suit my own self.”

 

The headache eased, and out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed Esther sitting next to Mitch. Scott helped Avi with the fancy coffee maker, found spoons, loaded the dishwasher. It was always best to keep busy.

 

Avi took the tray of drinks back outside, and Scott followed. People had changed seats, and he found himself sitting between Kirstie and Avi, with Mitch directly opposite flanked by Esther and Kevin.

“Did you make this for me?” Mitch turned the little espresso cup filled with dark coffee between his fingers, then looked up at Scott.

“Well, I knew you were living in Italy, and the machine makes anything you want, so I gave it a try.” Scott fiddled with a teaspoon. “Try it.”

Mitch inhaled the aroma, before sipping. “That’s pretty good.” He drank more, and set the cup down. “So if it makes anything, has your machine lured you away from Starbucks?”

Scott’s mouth twitched. “Nothing beats a Starbucks caramel macchiato, and who has time to make fancy drinks every morning?”

“Who indeed.”

“How is Italy? You always wanted to spend some time there.”

“Milan is amazing. It’s crazy but I felt like I had come home, once I got to grips with the language. As it turns out, you learn really, really quickly when you have to.”

 

Scott tried not be blinded by the brilliant flash of Mitch’s smile, and found himself smiling back. “That’s very true. So, are you visiting in LA? I heard you were making a movie.”

“Oh, that. We just wrapped up the shoot, so much of movie making is in post production these days. I won’t miss wearing that mo-cap suit. Zero style points.”

“Who’s your character?”

“I play an alien named Xi who helps the resistance leader.” He waved a hand. “Usual sci-fi stuff, but good for convincing directors that I can act in something other than little art house projects. Had to shave my head, but that’s better than wearing a bald cap.”

“Oh, so that’s why your hair’s so short.”

 

Scott eyed the velvety fuzz, and his fingertips recalled stroking a bare scalp, eons ago after Mitch had risked a backlash from the fans by shaving his head. He remembered holding the clippers, how they had laughed filming for their YouTube channel Superfruit, and later while sweeping the purple hair from the floor.

 

That episode taught them that Pentatonix fans were no longer the small adoring family they had built around them in the early days. In a group so large, opinions were bound to vary. But they had more than enough love to see off any negativity. And Scott had been so very proud of Mitch, for his bravery and experimentation.

 

He’d been so grateful to Kirstie, Avi and Kevin, who closed ranks around Mitch without question. They stared holes into any interviewer who dared even think about being critical, and made sure Mitch always knew he was beautiful.

 

The elegant, poised man in front of him was connected to the boy he’d once been, but he was also a million miles away from his origins. He believed in his own beauty. Mitch talked about life on set, and Scott half-listened, while memories tried to fight free of the box he’d locked them in.

 

“Filming sounds a bit like touring. Lots of hanging around and then a huge push to perform,” Scott said.

“You’re not wrong. So much time in your trailer, and I think I’ve read every novel I ever want to in this life.”

“Not the same when you’re on your own, is it?” Scott said hesitantly. He didn’t want to push.

“No. We always had each other to joke around with on the PTX tours. It was fun.” Mitch stared at his empty espresso cup, and said no more.

 

“Guys, I gotta run. Saskia and Lynn are back at the hotel, so I’ll see you later.” Avi hugged his sister and waved at Scott. “What time?”

“Anytime after six, “ Scott replied.

“Anyone need a ride, this is your chance.” Avi went back to the house, followed by Kevin and Kirstie. Esther collected the cups and left Scott alone with Mitch.

“Beautiful house, Scott.”

“Thanks.”

“I guess I ought to get going too.” Mitch stood up and waited as Scott did the same. “Will I see you tonight?”

 

The question hung in the air. Scott watched Mitch’s expression, and found he couldn’t tell what emotion lay behind the glossy surface.

“Of course, we’ve got more catching up to do. You’re still gluten free?” At Mitch’s nod, he went on. “You still like wine?”

Mitch grinned. “Is the sky blue? Catch you later then.” He swept past and Scott heard Esther say goodbye.

 

Scott stood very still, breathing slowly. That wasn’t so bad. They were talking, and they’d survived. He went back inside, kissed Esther’s cheek and went up to his bedroom. He kicked off his shoes and lay on the bed fully dressed.

 

In some ways, he’d felt like an observer in his own house. But it went well, overall. He had thought about Mitch, making sure there were gluten free options and bringing out the real Italian coffee he’d searched for online. Despite everything, he wanted to be prepared, even when all was lost and it seemed impossible.

 

Hell, he even looked up how to operate the damn machine, when usually he just dropped in at Starbucks. He had spent time making sure Mitch was okay and felt comfortable. He fell asleep wondering how much time Mitch had spent thinking about him.

 

Chapter Text

Scott woke with a dry mouth. He squinted at late afternoon sun slanting through the windows. His sleep had been punctuated by odd dreams of falling through an endless dark sky, and then suddenly thrashing underwater, pulled down by some sinister force. He groped around for the water bottle he kept on the nightstand, and emptied it in one long swallow. Then he turned on his back and set an alarm for fifteen minutes. After meditating he felt able to get up and face the world.

When he went downstairs, all was silent and Esther wasn’t around. He decided not to disturb her, wherever she was. Instead he changed into swim shorts, then dived into the pool. His earlier dream forgotten, he completed twenty laps and pulled himself out of the water to sit on the side. The breeze was a little cool on his skin, so he went over to the summerhouse and got into the hot tub. He hummed with contentment as the warm jets pummelled his back, and he lay back with eyes closed.

“Mind if I join you?” Esther had piled her dark hair on top of her head and removed her glasses, and she was swathed in a light blue pool towel.
“As long as you’re not naked, sure.”
“Someone’s feeling better,” Esther said. She dropped the towel, revealing a floral bikini, and got in next to Scott. “Oh, yes.” She sighed with pleasure. “This is what I needed.”
They remained in friendly silence for a while.

“How’s everything at home, are the boys okay?”
“They’re fine, Elijah’s running around with Reuben again, Darien’s due back tomorrow, it’s all good,” Esther replied without opening her eyes. “I actually had a nap when you did, I’m so tired.” She yawned. “Sorry. I never get to chill at home.”
“You call all this drama chilling?”
“At least it’s adult drama.”
“I suppose.”

“Are you sure it’s not too much, having them over again tonight? Things could get intense.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” He opened his eyes to find her watching him, her dark brows drawn together.
“Okay but can you cope, with everybody and Mitch and sleepovers—”
“I want them here, Est. I don’t know when we’ll get together again, and this house is great but it gets lonely sometimes. I just… I miss everyone.”
“They miss you as well, more than you know. You work hard, but maybe you could ease off a little now the album’s out and doing well. Go and see Avi, chop some wood, ride a horse. Break out of the rut, and you’ll come back home refreshed, new ideas, all that.”

Scott considered her words. He had been invited to stay by everyone, even Mitch back in the day. When he first went to Italy Mitch asked Scott to visit, but he was busy with his debut album, and he didn’t want to be a third wheel. He found reasons not to go. And then the invitations stopped, and there was no reason to go.

These days he had a routine, and he stuck to it. He already felt guilty that he hadn’t checked emails yet, and his phone was charging in the office with who knew how many unseen messages.
“I should get back to work.”
“Scott Hoying, if you mention work again I will slap you. There’s nothing wrong with downtime, in fact you need it more than anyone. Now, it’s about time you had a shower and got ready before the guys come back. Leave me in peace for a few minutes.”
Esther shooed Scott away, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead before doing as he was told.

At five thirty he slipped into his office and caught up on messages until Esther rapped on the door.
“Stop that. Don’t make me come in there,” she called.
He got up and swung the door wide open with a grin. “Coming, mom.”
“I made coffee.”

He followed her back to the kitchen and they sat on the white leather couch overlooking the garden. Esther tucked her feet up and cuddled into Scott’s side. He put his arm around her, and a wave of affection caught him by surprise.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Oh, you’d survive. Get yourself another manager no problem, now you’re the famous Scott Hoying.”
“No-one could replace you.” He kissed the top of her head. “I don’t want anybody else.”

The doorbell rang, and Scott stood up and stretched till his back popped.
“I’ll get it.”
He opened the door, and the smile froze on his face. “Mitch, hi.”
“Hello Scott.”
They looked at each other for a moment, till Scott came to life. “Sorry, come in, you’re early, in fact you’re the first.”
“Thanks, you did say after six. Traffic was lighter than I thought.” Mitch smiled and Scott glanced down at the small leather holdall in his hand. “For the sleepover, if that’s still a thing. But I can go back if not.”
“Of course it’s still a thing, let me show you your room and then you can freshen up. You can have espresso again if you like.”

Scott led the way upstairs. “Esther’s in here, and you can have the next one.” He opened the door. “Bathroom in the corner.”
“Lovely view of the garden,” Mitch said, dropping his bag on the bed.

Scott hesitated, one hand still on the door handle. He couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. Mitch would be sleeping three rooms away, and the thought made him giddy and a little fearful.

Mitch turned back from the window.
“Scott, I—”
The doorbell rang, and Scott jumped. He was jittery. He needed to eat something. “Sorry, I better go but make yourself at home. And, um, mi casa, su casa.
Mitch tilted his head and smiled. “Grazie mille, lo apprezzo,” he murmured.

Scott’s cheeks burned, and he walked away with those words and the modulation in Mitch’s tone ringing in his ears. Acting lessons had taught him even more control over his flawless voice. Of course, Italian would sound like music when he spoke. Of course it would.

Esther was already at the front door, welcoming Kirstie and Jeremy inside.
“Kirst, Jeremy, come in. That’s a bigger bag than I thought, even for you.” Scott shook hands with Jeremy and accepted a little punch from Kirstie.
“Rude,” she said. “We brought onesies, and games, so we needed more room.”
Scott and Jeremy shared a look over her head, and Scott stifled a laugh.
“Okay, well come with me.”

Scott led them upstairs to a room opposite his. “Should have all you need, bathroom through there, come down when you’re ready.”
“See you soon,” Kirstie sang. She was a cheerful bundle of warmth, and Scott drew positive energy from her. This was going to be good.

He shut the door behind him, to be met by Kevin and Lynn coming upstairs.
“Hello, hello, right this way.” Scott opened the next door. “You’re next to Kirstie, and Jeremy of course, they’re getting into their onesies most likely.”
“Onesies?” Kevin laughed. “That’s not how we roll now.”
“It’s how you used to roll, homie.”
“Homie?” Kevin cracked up, and Scott escaped as the bell rang again.

He ran downstairs and flung the door open for Avi and Saskia.

“Darling, I missed you.” He kissed her on both cheeks and took her hand, nodding to her husband. “Bags, Avi.”
“Oh, so you think I’m your slave, too?”
“Your personal life is your own business, Avriel, but if you’re offering…”
Saskia giggled, while Avi merely sighed and said, “Where shall I put these?”
“Room next to mine, while I find this goddess a drink.”
Scott grinned at Avi rolling his eyes, and led Saskia to the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Esther made hot drinks for everyone and they assembled in the kitchen, spilling out onto the deck and chatting. Jeremy and Kirstie were indeed in matching onesies, and the others were all casually dressed. Only Mitch was missing. Scott looked around and caught Avi’s eye. Avi nodded almost imperceptibly, blinked once slowly and exhaled. Scott followed suit, and then Avi called out.

“Hey Mitch, come on over.”

 

All eyes turned to watch Mitch make his entrance. He had changed into a lilac tee shirt, artfully torn to show off his collarbone tattoo and the sharp curve of the bone it named. His colourful SpongeBob tattoo sleeve seemed brighter contrasted against the loose folds of fabric that hung to mid thigh. His slender legs were clad in black leggings, and deep purple sneakers completed the look.

 

“Hey, everyone.” Mitch walked over to accept hugs from Kirstie and Esther, a kiss on both cheeks from Lynn and Saskia, and then turned to Avi.

Ciao, bellisimo,” Avi rumbled. Behind him Saskia pretended to swoon, and Lynn giggled.

Troppo gentile, bello,” Mitch responded, and kissed him on both cheeks while Jeremy wolf whistled and the others cheered.

 

Their voices caressed the ear, Avi’s resonant bass complementing Mitch’s sweet, bell-like tone. Scott stared, lost for words. When had they got so comfortable with each other? How did Avi know Italian? An unidentified pain sparked across his chest. His stomach flipped, and he turned away to find something else to do.

 

Esther had put out some nibbles, and Scott grabbed a handful of nuts and concentrated on the crunch. He ground them between his teeth and drank a whole glass of water in one gulp. Then he pasted on a smile and went back to the group. He wouldn’t give in to whatever nameless emotion threatened to derail his good mood. Not here, not yet.

 

“So, guys.” Scott raised his voice to capture their attention. “Thanks for coming to the after party, sleepover edition, and I hope you’re all comfortable with your rooms. We’ll order pizza and then watch movies in the media room, which is downstairs next to the gym.”

“Mr Fancy!” Kevin called out, and everyone laughed.

“Yeah, like you’re not gonna be in there lifting by 6am, Mr Olu-swole-a!” Scott retorted.

 

He was still wound tight, but his friends’ laughter was easing the tension by degrees. Kevin cackled loudest of all, just as he always had.

 

Scott pulled pizza menus out of a drawer and distributed them, giving the last one to Mitch. He was vibrating with nerves by the time all the selections were written down, amid much loud discussion and changes of mind. So much noise, and they hadn’t even opened any alcohol yet. He drummed his fingers against the counter and took deep breaths.

 

“Nearly there. It’s like herding cats, really.” Avi sidled up next to him and Scott was grateful for the calmness he projected. “Here’s the list, you can do the ordering from your office. I’ll keep an eye on things here. Go on.”

 

Scott escaped to his sanctuary and closed the door. It would be okay, Avi and Esther would help and it would be okay. He placed the order online, and then pulled up a chilled playlist and set it to play throughout the house on the hidden sound system. He counted to ten, then twenty, before going back to the kitchen.

 

Esther came up to him as soon as he returned, and stroked his arm. “Okay there?”

“I guess. Food’s coming in about forty minutes, it’s a big order.” He ran a hand through his hair. “What should I do next?”

Esther kissed his cheek. “Relax. Breathe. Mingle. We got this, everyone’s happy, look.”

Scott looked around, and saw friends filling his house with laughter. The music calmed him, and he whispered in Esther’s ear. “Thank you.”

She pushed him towards the garden and he went, grateful for her and for all of them.

 

The evening was cooler than before, but Kirstie and Jeremy were dressed for it. They snuggled and swayed in a hammock, and Scott decided to leave them alone. For a moment Bailey’s face popped into his head, and he pushed the memory away. He headed in the opposite direction, and as he passed near a large oleander shrub he heard quiet voices on the other side.

 

He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but he had to know what Avi was saying.

“He’s doing great, and I want it to stay that way.”

“Of course, I do too.” Mitch’s tone was a little higher, more like Scott remembered.

“You don’t know what he was like. You weren’t there.”

“I know.” His tone was laced with something, regret maybe? Guilt?

“No, Mitch. You don’t. If you’re just passing through—”

“I told you. Things are different now.”

“Please don’t hurt him again, I’m begging you.” Avi paused, and spoke even more softly. “Don’t make me regret saying yes to you, because I want him to be happy. He deserves it.”

Mitch didn’t reply immediately, and the distant sound of the doorbell pulled Scott away. When Mitch spoke again, Scott was already too far away to hear clearly, and he forced himself not to look back.

 

Scott tipped the delivery driver and helped Esther lay out food and drinks on the long kitchen table. He went around the garden finding people. Mitch sat with Saskia and Kirstie, while Avi chatted with Kevin and Lynn. Jeremy raided the outdoor kitchen in search of beer. Soon everyone gathered to serve themselves and found seats in the kitchen and deck.

 

Scott made sure to eat because he knew low blood sugar and alcohol would be a bad mix. He planned to have one, maybe two drinks at most. He slipped down to the basement and checked the kitchen that sat between media room and gym.

 

He took wine, beer, water, soft drinks, and the all important popcorn and ice cream and arranged them on a table just inside the media room. Then he flicked through his collection of movies old and new, wondering what would suit the group. He never watched rom-coms any more, they belonged to a past he didn’t want to recall. He searched older, safer memories before making a choice.

 

Satisfied, he ran back upstairs and clapped his hands for quiet. “Okay, so I made an executive decision and the first movie will be…maestro please.”

He pointed at Kevin, who obliged with a convincing drum roll. “A musical blast from the past, Chicago!”

A chorus of cheers and whistles greeted him. “We’ll vote on the second movie. Now if y’all come downstairs, I have popcorn, ice cream and wine. Singing along is encouraged.”

 

Scott led the way into his home cinema, where comfortably wide leather seats sat in pairs under a ceiling that sparkled with tiny lights.

“We’ll take the first row,” Kevin said. He tried to pull Lynn onto his lap, but she protested.

“Kevin, please. There are people here,” Lynn stage whispered.

“These ain’t people, Lynn. Just the old gang, they won’t mind.”

“Keep it PG Kevin. We all know what you’re like,” Scott called.

Kevin roared with laughter. “Yeah, I’m the worst.” He let Lynn go so she could sit next to him, and put his arm around her shoulders.

 

“Very nice, Scott,” Jeremy said. He cuddled with Kirstie. “We should get one of these cinemas, babe.”

“Not sure where we’d put it, but it’s impressive.” Kirstie gazed upwards. “I love the ceiling, it’s like a sky full of stars.”

 

Avi helped Saskia lower herself into a chair, then sat next to her. He put a bottle of water in the drinks holder.

She sighed. “I’m as big as a house. Bigger, probably.”

“You’re beautiful.” He stroked her belly and pressed a soft kiss to her cheek, then drew her close. Scott watched them settle together, and his heart swelled. Avi treated his wife like a queen, always attentive.

 

Why hadn’t he visited them? They’d said he was welcome any time, there was no good reason now he thought about it.

 

Yeah, but there was the whole ‘seeing your friends be happy together while trying to heal the wounds punched clean through you and not cry.’ Maybe that was the reason.

 

Esther took a seat, and Mitch asked if he could sit next to her. That left the seat nearest the door for Scott. He was fine with that, and with Esther as his nearest neighbour. He took the control pad from its wall dock and dimmed the lights. The oohs and aahs made him grin again, and then he pressed play.

Chapter Text

The movie flew by, with lots of singing and laughter. Scott relaxed, happy that his first choice went over so well. When it ended he put the lights on, and while people stretched and took comfort breaks, he jumped up to replenish the food and drink.

“Scott, sit down.” Esther came over and pressed him back into his seat. “Everyone here is perfectly capable of getting what they want.”

“But—”

“No buts.” She sat next to him and swung her legs over his lap, easily fitting into the space. “Now, stay.”

 

Scott threw up his hands in mock-defeat, and when a glass of wine appeared in front of him he glanced up.

“You still like red?” Mitch asked.

“Yeah, now and again. Could you bring one for this lady here, she’s pinned me to my seat and won’t let me get up.”

“Sure, we can serve ourselves y’know.”

Scott took the glass and sipped, avoiding eye contact.

 

Soon Mitch returned and passed Esther a glass of white wine.

Grazie,” she said, blowing Mitch a kiss. He took a seat next to Kirstie and started chatting.

“Does everybody but me know Italian?” Scott muttered.

“Come on, thank you is pretty basic. Darien took me to Venice for our tenth anniversary, in fact we double dated with Avi and Saskia. A few words go a long way to breaking the ice.” Esther took a long drink, half emptying her glass. “That’s nice.”

“Okay, maybe you can teach me later. Right now, we need another movie.”

 

Scott clapped his hands. “Okay, suggestions for movie number two, go!”

A chorus of suggestions and small arguments met him, and he put his hands over his ears with a smile. The films named varied wildly, and not all were available on his media player. Of course he could download them, but that would take time. He didn’t want to kill this warm, spontaneous vibe.

 

He couldn’t have been happier than in that moment, with Kirstie shouting random movie names while sitting on Jeremy’s lap, Kevin looking up some detail on his phone, Lynn pouring drinks and Avi whispering in his wife’s ear, making her giggle and play with his hair. And Mitch watched them all. He looked up and caught Scott’s eye. He didn’t look away, and for a moment understanding sparked between the two men.

This is what we needed, what we’ve missed, what we lost when we moved on.

 

Scott watched Mitch’s smile widen, bringing out his dimples. Then Kirstie came over to explain why her choice was obviously the best one. Scott joined in with the lively discussion. The connection was broken, but he didn’t mind. He had shared something with Mitch, however brief, and that was what mattered.

 

It took thirty minutes to choose the next film and get settled again. The latest James Bond movie was sufficiently glamorous and thrilling by turns to keep everyone interested. Theatrical whoops and whistles accompanied the scary or sexy scenes.

 

At the end of the movie the signature theme played, and Mitch started to sing along. The rest of the group fell silent.

 

One by one, each singer joined in. Kevin added the beats, and Avi supplied bass. Scott, Jeremy, Kirstie and Mitch sang, and in the dark six voices created a little magic, weaving around each other and filling in where they didn’t know the words. Hesitant at first, by the end of the song they were giving it their all. Scott’s voice cracked, but it didn’t matter. Lynn, Esther and Saskia broke into applause.

 

“Guys, that was awesome.” Avi’s deep tone boomed around them.

“Sing us another, pretty please,” Lynn called.

Scott brought up the lights. “I’m amazed we all knew that one.”

“It was a pretty big hit.”

“Had to be, for Avi to know it,” Kevin said, to general amusement.

“Well, we can do Hold up the sun, can’t we? I know that one, and Scott certainly should.” Avi pointed to Mitch. “And angel voice here, he knows it.”

Mitch looked almost bashful before his confident smile returned. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

 

They began again, and when Jeremy dropped out after the first verse, the years fell away. Five voices slotted together, a puzzle solved. In the moments after the last note, the five simply looked at each other in wonder. It reminded Scott of the first time they’d sung together, how they could hardly believe the alchemy that produced their sound.

“Y’all were meant to be,” Lynn said. “That’s a God-given gift right there. I know it’s been said a million times, but I can’t get over you five. Praise the Lord.”

“Amen,” Kevin replied.

 

Scott turned to Esther and buried his face in her hair. He couldn’t hold back any more.

“Happy tears, don’t worry,” he heard Esther say. “Why don’t you go back up, we’ll be right there.”

Warm hands, large and small, pressed his shoulder and rubbed his back as people passed by. His heart overflowed. He had not felt so loved, so right, for centuries. Someone left a gentle kiss on the side of his head. Esther’s arms enclosed him and he gave in to the tears he had stored away for later, building them up over the weekend until the dam finally broke.

 

“They’ll think – that I’m - ridiculous.” He sniffed and raised his head, to find tissues pressed into his hand.

“They won’t, because they’re all crying as well. Especially Avi, you know what he’s like.”

“Yeah.” Scott blew his nose. ”I’m sorry, I think I killed the party.”

“No.” Esther stood and pulled him to his feet. “You are the party. You’re the connection. Let’s play some music and play some games. I don’t think Saskia will last much longer.”

She wiped her eyes and led him back upstairs.

 

 

He found the group scattered around the living room couches and floor. A few taps on the control pad dimmed the lights and set a new playlist going. The integrated audiovisual system was one of the selling points when he bought the house, and he was happy to use it to advantage now. While he wasn’t about to show off, he was quietly proud of his home.

 

Lynn distributed cake, Kirstie organized a pile of cushions for Saskia to put her feet up on, and Jeremy brought down a bag.

“Now, we weren’t sure about games,” he said. “Kirstie wanted Cards against Humanity, but then we thought some people might not like it. I wanted poker, but she said this wasn’t the time or place.”

“So what did you get then? I’m not playing Twister,” Kevin said.

“Monopoly, Pictionary, or we can play charades.”

“But Mitch’ll slay at charades, so that’s not fair,” Kirstie said.

“Really?” Mitch raised a brow. “Because you’re totally not a successful stage star.”

“Okay, Pictionary it is!” Scott shouted.

He wanted to get at least one round in before Avi took Saskia to bed. He was certain Avi wouldn’t leave his wife on her own.

 

They divided into teams, and soon were shouting and laughing their way through the game, while more drinks were consumed. As Esther had predicted, Saskia dozed off after forty minutes, prompting Avi to say goodnight and lead her upstairs. Soon after, Kevin and Lynn said they were also going to bed.

“See you in the gym at six,” Kevin said with a wink.

“Possible,” Scott replied. “But unlikely.”

 

“Now we can break out Cards against Humanity,” Kirstie said after they’d gone.

Scott felt nicely buzzed after his third glass of wine. The game got progressively more raucous, until Esther threw in her cards.

“Can’t keep up with you kids,” she said. She hugged them all, dropped a kiss on Scott’s forehead as he sprawled on the couch, and left the remaining friends alone.

 

Kirstie wriggled out of the top of her onesie and tied the sleeves round her waist, protesting that she was too hot.

“You really are hot, babe,” Jeremy said. He pulled her onto the couch with him, and soon they were kissing, his hands roaming over her tank top.

“Hey, hey, stop that, ew,” Mitch said.

“Yeah, get a room. Oh that’s right, you already have one,” Scott drawled.

“Okay, see ya tomorrow!” Kirstie dragged Jeremy away, but he found time to wink at Scott as he went.

 

Scott felt a cold shiver on the back of his neck. He was alone with Mitch. That wasn’t supposed to happen, and he sobered up fast.

“Better clear up,” he mumbled. He gathered the cards and put them in their box. In his peripheral he saw Mitch collect glasses and take them through to the kitchen.

“Got any trash bags?” Mitch asked.

“Middle drawer of the island.”

Mitch cleared pizza boxes and general debris into the trash bag, humming quietly. His feet were bare, with toenails painted dark metallic green to match his fingernails.

 

Scott stacked the dishwasher, trying to keep his eyes on the task. But his gaze slid away unbidden, to tattooed hands that were free of rings, and the bright flashes of colour on arms that were not large, but defined and strong.

 

“Scott.”

“Huh?”

“I said, anything else?”

Scott flushed, caught in the act of watching the man who had been his number one, even when the feeling was no longer mutual. He cleared his throat and scratched the back of his head.

“No, no I think we’re pretty much done. Cleaning service will sort the rest on Tuesday. And yeah, thanks for helping.”

“Thank you, for agreeing to let me come and be a part of this.”

Scott was silent, watching Mitch gaze at him. He nodded, unable to trust his words.

“I know it’s… I hoped we could start talking again.” Mitch looked at the ground, seeming uncertain how to go on.

 

Scott couldn’t help. He didn’t know how to finish Mitch’s thoughts and sentences any more. Mitch took a step closer, and Scott tensed.

“Please, I – I wanted to thank you, it means a lot.” Mitch looked up through dark lashes, and Scott couldn’t read him. Was this acting, or what?

Mitch took a breath. In one swift motion he came forward, placed an arm round Scott’s waist in a sideways half-hug, and kept moving.

“Good night,” he whispered, and left so quickly that Scott had no time to react.

 

It was the mere ghost of an embrace, and he didn’t know what it meant. He stood perfectly still, emotions bouncing from his heart to the pit of his stomach, clenching his fist.

How dare he hug me like that? How dare he leave me?

 

In a daze, Scott poured two glasses of water and drank them both. He trudged upstairs to his room and brushed his teeth. He dropped his clothes in the laundry hamper, put on some shorts, and lay down. Phantoms rattled the lid of the memory box labelled ‘Mitch’ and he sat on it, desperately trying to keep them hidden.

 

Finally, he crept out of his room. He opened Esther’s door silently, and whispered her name. She stirred, opened her eyes, and lifted the covers for him.

“Bad dream, honey?” Her voice was slow, heavy with sleep.

Without answering he slid into the bed, allowed her to spoon him, and sank into the dark.

Chapter Text

 

Scott woke in an unfamiliar bed, with an unfamiliar, slender arm thrown over his waist. His muscles tensed before he remembered. He’d run to Esther in the night for solace, his brain crammed with memories trying to escape their hiding places and unformed emotions warring with each other.

 

He relaxed, listening to Esther’s steady breathing, then decided he should leave before she woke. The curtains blocked the daylight and he didn’t know what time it was. He wanted everyone to have breakfast and wondered if there was enough food. There was probably time to go to the store, if he could get out of this wonderful warm bed.

 

When he woke again, he was alone. He opened the door, checked that the landing was empty, and slipped back to his room. One quick shower later, he went downstairs towards the smell of cooking and the sound of voices.

 

Organised chaos greeted him. His friends milled around in varying stages of dress, ranging from Saskia in a cream wrap and slippers to Kevin who was fully clothed. Jeremy was setting the long table, most of the cupboards were open as Kirstie hunted for food items, and the coffee machine hummed. Avi and Esther stood shoulder to shoulder at the stainless steel hob, cooking up a mountain of pancakes, bacon, eggs and frittata. Typically, only Mitch was absent.

 

“Hey Scott, sleep okay?”

“Morning Kirst, and yes I did thanks. Maple syrup is in the next one down.”

“Ah, that’s the only place I didn’t look.” She gestured to the table. “Sit down, the Kaplans are quite the double act in the kitchen.”

“Anyone seen Mitch, it’s ready,” Esther called as she carried plates of food to the table.

“No, “ Jeremy said. “I’ll go knock on his door.” He took off upstairs.

Esther clapped her hands. “Sit wherever, but get eating.”

 

Everyone sat and filled their plates. Jeremy returned with Mitch, who murmured greetings and took the last seat, furthest from Scott. Esther passed Mitch his own little stack of gluten free pancakes. His smile of acceptance didn’t quite reach his eyes. Scott chewed on bacon, wondering. Mitch obviously hadn’t applied any concealer to his dark circles, and he looked younger, smaller somehow.

 

Scott turned his attention away from this scrubbed, bare version of Mitch and surveyed the scene. Saskia brushed a little bit of bacon from Avi’s beard; Esther chatted to Mitch, drawing a real smile from him; Kirstie and Lynn talked across the table while Jeremy and Kevin concentrated on cleaning their plates. He noted the details, recording another precious memory for a future dark day.

 

He hadn’t planned it, and it was perfect. He didn’t have to chase happiness. He only had to open his heart and accept it, knowing it would pass like a beautiful butterfly alighting on his hand for a moment before flying away.

 

The food, the orange juice, and the coffee had never tasted so good. Scott stood and when all eyes turned to him, he felt a momentary flash of nerves. But happy faces calmed him, and he exhaled slowly.

“I know some of y’all have to run off soon for flights and such, so indulge the birthday boy for a moment. I’m no good with speeches but I want to say how much you mean to me. How much it’s meant to have everyone here together, it’s more than everything.”

He paused, putting one hand over his heart. They all waited for him to go on.

“I’ve made mistakes and behaved badly. Fortunately I had Esther to send in the heavy mob. Kevin, I’m sorry I punched you. Avi, I’m sorry I called you those names.”

“Long since forgiven, man.” Kevin waved a hand, then wiped his eyes.

“But it’s brought me here. I’ve loved every single minute, it’s the best birthday ever. I love you all.”

 

Scott made eye contact with each person in turn, finally coming to Mitch. Mitch bit his lip, his dark, wide-eyed gaze full of emotion. Scott closed his eyes.

“I love y’all.” He opened his eyes and grinned. “And I will love you even more if you clear up before you go.”

Laughter and calls of ‘we love you too’ filled the air.

 

Scott joined Kirstie in loading the dishwasher, Esther sent Saskia upstairs and Kevin said he was going downstairs with Lynn to look for his phone. By the time Kevin came back with two full trash bags, the kitchen was tidy and quiet. Only the row of black bags hinted at an eventful weekend.

 

While his guests were back upstairs packing, Scott went to his office. He knew what was coming, and he dreaded it. He was also unsure what was coming, and he feared that more. After a ten minute meditation break, he felt calm enough to emerge.

 

Bags and cases were lined up in the hall, and the friends were already saying goodbyes to each other. Kirstie hugged Mitch as though she never wanted to let go. Avi and Esther held hands, speaking quietly before sharing a long, silent embrace.

 

Kevin was first to approach Scott.

“Homie, it’s been a blast.” He hugged Scott tight, exuding safety and solidity again. “We had a ball. Proud of you, man.”

“Come and see us soon,” Lynn added. “We’ll keep you in our prayers.”

“Thanks.” Scott had no more to say. His lower lip trembled. Such good people, his friends, far better than he deserved.

 

Next came Saskia. “Your house is amazing, and you’re amazing. I’ve had the best ever last-outing-before-I-pop,” she said, putting up air quotes.

Scott kissed her hand. “Look after yourself, and your little plus one. Can’t wait to meet him.”

“Or her,” Avi put in. “We chose not to find out this time, after all it’s not like they made a third kind.” He wrapped Scott in his arms. “You are always welcome. Always. You don’t need to ask, mi casa, su casa.”

“Thanks for everything.” Scott’s voice was thick, but he wouldn’t give in to tears. Not here, not yet.

 

Avi and Kevin loaded their bags into the hire car, and the others waved as Avi drove away. Kirstie stood in front of Scott, tiny in her flat sandals.

“Scotty, what can I say? Best weekend ever, sleepover was perfect, everything was perfect.” She wiped a tear away. “Look, I’m crying again. Let’s sing together again soon, cause that was… I missed it.”

Scott gathered her in his arms, kissed the top of her head, shut his eyes tight. “Love you so much Kit.”

But he had to let her go. He exchanged a jokey ‘highest of fives’ with Jeremy, and then they piled into their cab and were gone, Kirstie blowing kisses from the back.

 

Scott closed the door. He turned to find Mitch waiting, his small bag at his feet. He wore a black and white striped turtleneck over skinny jeans, and a tailored black jacket. Sparkling black stones glinted in his ears, and his face was perfectly groomed.

 

“I hate goodbyes,” Scott said. He couldn’t find a smile.

“Same.”

“So, any plans? Back to Italy?”

Mitch shook his head. “I’m actually staying in LA for a bit, renting an apartment.”

“Really?” A tiny seed of hope sprouted in Scott’s heart, but he squashed it. He couldn’t stand disappointment. “Are you working here?”

“My plans are pretty fluid.”

Scott’s heart beat once, twice. “We should have coffee again.”

A smile formed, reaching all the way to his eyes. “I’d really love to. Esther has my number, call me when you have time.”

 

Mitch hugged Esther for a long time, only breaking away when his phone buzzed. He whispered in her ear, then picked up his bag.

“That’s my ride, see you soon, I hope.”

Once again, Scott’s arms moved without a conscious decision on his part. He hugged Mitch lightly and let go, then opened the door. Mitch waved and got in the cab.

 

Scott stared at the closed door for a while, inhaling a trace of spicy cologne, vaguely aware that his cheeks were wet. He let Esther lead him to the white sofa overlooking the garden. She pressed ibuprofen and a glass of water in his hands, and encouraged him to drink. But when she turned to go, he caught her hand.

“Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t, sweetheart.”

 

She nodded and sat next to him. He curled into her arms, while she made little sounds of comfort and rubbed his back. She must do this a lot, he thought in a detached moment. Esther had been mothering him for a long time.

 

The night before she had welcomed a small frightened boy into her bed as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Which it probably was, for a mother. And here they were again, because he had been happy and now he wasn’t happy any more and his heart hurt and he didn’t know how to make it stop without pills and alcohol. He needed it to stop.

Chapter Text

Scott and Esther cuddled for a long time on the sofa, until he felt able to excuse himself. He changed into workout gear and went back to the gym. He ran for miles, swung kettlebells, and finished with the punchbag. He punched until his arms burned and wobbled, then took a quick shower and went out to the hot tub. Twenty minutes later, he returned to his room and lay down in his underwear. His body had the soft relaxation that came after a punishing workout, and he used the heaviness of his limbs to ease into meditative headspace.

 

When the alarm went off he dressed and went to his office. More song ideas came, and he scribbled in his notebook before he lost them. He didn’t want to impose any more of his overwrought emotions on Esther, so he decided to try reading.

 

He remembered a novel he’d started on a long-haul flight but never finished. When he pulled it from the bookshelf, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor. On picking it up, he realised it was a photo. Who even printed actual photos these days? Expecting it to be some ancient snapshot, he turned it over and gasped.

“Bailey,” he whispered.

They were on the beach somewhere, holding hands. Scott’s nose was pink from the sun, and they wore sunglasses and wide smiles. They looked happy.

 

Scott sat on the chair, holding the picture and holding the lid down on that box of memories by sheer force of will. He put the photo in the bottom of the desk drawer and walked out to the deck. He opened his book, and stared at the clouds.

 

He wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there when Esther approached.

“I don’t want to disturb you,” she said.

“You didn’t.” He put the unread book to one side. “What’s it now, about three? Shall we go to the store, since I’ve been eaten out of house and home?”

“Good idea. You need everything.”

“I’ll cook tonight. Don’t look at me like that, your brother the chef showed me a couple things. And I’ll be back on salads for one tomorrow.”

 

It was good to get out of his house and wander the aisles with Esther. He piled the cart with healthy options, and ingredients for the shrimp fettucine he planned for later. He also picked up more coffee, not the fancy Italian brand but it would have to do. He sneaked gluten free flour in there as well, and if Esther noticed, she made no comment.

 

Later, she sat at the breakfast bar with a glass of white wine and chatted while he cooked. She didn’t offer any advice, and he found he was more than capable since Avi had taught him one end of a knife from the other. He piled the pasta on warm plates, finished it with chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon, and presented one to Esther with a flourish.

“Ta-da!”

“That looks so good,” she said before trying it. “And it tastes heavenly. Avi turned you into a cook.”

He took a couple of mouthfuls. “Hey, that’s actually decent. He’s a good teacher. Mind you, he’s had years of practice with Acappella Academy, it really took off.”

“Yeah, it’s practically the only thing that gets him off that ranch unless he’s touring, or collecting a Grammy.”

“But he came for me.” Scott stared at his plate and twirled fettuccine with his fork.

“He came when you were ill because I asked him. He stayed with you because he wanted to, and you needed someone. And we’d do it again, because we love you.” She paused and smiled brightly. “Also, I need you to be well so I get my percentage.”

“I’m just a cash machine to you, aren’t I?”

“Pretty much.” She winked and finished her wine.

 

Scott waved away Esther’s offer of help with cleaning up. He brought out ice cream, and they watched another movie snuggled up on the sofa. It was a low-key evening, and he enjoyed the easy domestic atmosphere. There was no pretence, no mask, just old friends hanging out.

 

He let her go to bed by nine, knowing she had an early flight. She insisted on booking a cab, and he knew it was for the best. He’d be a wreck at the airport for sure. That night he stayed in his own bed until sleep finally came. She was there, she would never turn him away, and that was enough.

 

Morning came too soon. When Scott came downstairs Esther’s case was already in the hall, and she was eating cereal in the kitchen. Two cups of coffee sat on the breakfast bar, and she motioned towards one with her spoon. Scott sipped coffee and they shared a comfortable silence like any couple who were barely awake.

 

They’d done this before, all over the world. Familiar routine grounded him, yet he wasn’t fully prepared. He could brace himself against the coming blow, but it would still hurt.

 

“So, I gotta go.” Esther held both of Scott’s hands in hers. They were too small, and they were just right, and he squeezed them lightly.

“Promise me you’ll look after yourself.”

“I will.”

“Call Mitch, if you want to. His number’s in your phone.”

“Maybe. He wants to have coffee, and I can do coffee, I think. I don’t know about anything else.”

“Coffee’s a start.”

“Yeah. I love you a lot. You’re my rock, Est.” His voice came out hoarse.

Her lips quivered. “Scott.” She wrapped her arms round his waist and laid her head on his chest. “Come see us in Nashville, Eli’s always talking about Uncle Scott.”

“Is he now. Maybe I’ll surprise him one of these days.”

Esther sniffed and moved away. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Scott hung his head as he opened the door. He couldn’t say goodbye. Esther kissed his cheek as she passed him, and walked out to her cab without looking back. He closed the door behind her.

 

His house was his own again, and it was very quiet, and so empty. He made another cup of coffee, went to the office, and started on his emails. It was always best to keep busy.

 

Later, he arranged to meet up with a few local friends. They drank and joked together and it helped him forget.

 

It took a while for Scott to settle again. He played music to fill the silence, he worked out sometimes twice in one day, and he wrestled his scribbled notes into lyrics and songs.

 

After researching the language of flowers he sent bouquets to his favourite girls. For Kirstie, he sent white and purple orchids to represent feminine beauty, recalling the balloons she brought to the party. For Saskia, he chose bird of paradise flowers for joyful anticipation, and because he liked their angular beauty. Taralynn received blue iris for faith and hope, with gerbera for cheerfulness.

 

When it came to Esther, he was unsure. How could he convey even a fraction of what he felt? In the end he visited the florist whose table arrangement still graced his hallway. She suggested hydrangea for heartfelt emotion and gratitude. When she gathered together some possibilities to show him, he knew at once it was right. An armful of hydrangeas, lilies, roses and chrysanthemums in shades of peach and cream with greenery made a gorgeously uplifting combination. Scott insisted on scented roses, and the arrangement was assembled by a Nashville florist and delivered to Esther.

 

She Skyped him the same evening. He could see the flowers behind her, and she could barely get the words out to thank him.

“Scott, I don’t know what to say, these are so beautiful.”

“They are. But not as beautiful as you.“

“Stop it. I can’t be crying over flowers.”

“I know. It’s quiet here without you.”

“You are okay, aren’t you?” She leaned forward a little.

“Pretty much. I finished a new lyric today, nothing to go with it yet. I work out and I eat my green smoothies and all my veggies.”

“Good boy!” Her tone was back to teasing, but a loud bang had her looking away from the camera. “Sorry, but I have to go investigate that. Thanks again, talk soon.” She blew him a kiss.

“Bye.”

 

He waved, then disconnected the call with a sigh. Esther was not one for emotional displays. She’d walked away on her last morning because it was too painful to linger. But he was happy to see she was loved the flowers, and they looked perfect.

 

Scott resumed his daily routine but felt as though he were looking at life through fogged lenses. He resisted the memories that called more insistently than ever in his dreams. He took the photo of himself and Bailey out of the drawer, and then put it back. He looked at Mitch’s name in his phone, then resumed scrolling through Twitter.

 

He didn’t know if he had the strength to work this through. Three weeks had passed since the party, and he could no longer deny the truth. Things he had buried were resurfacing. They needed a proper examination, and then a proper funeral, before he could truly be free of the past.

Chapter Text

Scott was quite famous, but LA was full of famous faces, from the mildly recognisable to true household names. His neighbours were like him; successful, hard working, driven people who enjoyed their rewards. He could sit in the local Starbucks and not be disturbed, and this was what he chose to do one morning.

 

Despite the falling temperatures of autumn, he sat with an iced coffee, designed to cool him down after a particularly strenuous workout. His notebook, pen, phone and earbuds sat on the table in front of him. He somehow felt he was intruding if he stayed at home on Tuesdays, when the cleaning service came. Even though the cleaners were very discreet and never came into the office when he was working, he still preferred to get away after his workout. When he had no appointments, the coffee shop was his local escape.

 

He put in his earbuds and pulled up Spotify, effectively insulating himself from his surroundings. He opened the notebook to a blank page and stared at it for a while. His mind buzzed so he switched off the music, keeping his earbuds in. Then he picked up the pen.

 

If you knew then how it would end

If you knew we’d crash and burn

How many tears we’d have to spend

All the bitter lessons we would learn

Would you still take my hand?

I have wept an ocean blue

I have bled a river red

I still don’t understand

 

All the promises we made, I meant it

All the love I had inside, I spent it

 

Now we know how this story goes

And it finishes with grief

It’s just another tale of woe

Yet somehow, I still believe

That I would take your hand

Kiss you by an ocean blue

Bring you scented roses red

To make you understand

 

All the promises we made, I meant it

All the love I had inside, I spent it

 

If I had my time over, I’d do the same it’s true

Don’t want memories without you

I know we didn’t reach the promised land

But every life I live, I’ll always take your hand

 

All the promises we made, I meant it

All the love I had inside, I spent it

 

Scott looked at the scrawled words. Some songs came easy, but they rarely poured out of him whole like this one had. He drained his now watery coffee, packed his things and left the coffee shop.

 

While driving home, he decided on the working title Take my hand. Titles could and did change, along with almost any detail such as key and lyrics, especially once he tried fitting a melody to his words. So it was very much a work in progress. The only certainty was that he had someone in mind when he was scribbling, desperate to catch it before it slipped away. But which someone?

 

He wanted to share it, but apart from a brief mention that Esther didn’t pick up on, he couldn’t. Part of him wanted to keep it secret, hidden away like Bailey’s picture. Then he wouldn’t need to explain it to anyone, even himself.

 

A few days later, Scott stood in the queue at another Starbucks, close to his record company offices. He was busy on his phone, and didn’t pay attention to any of the people around him.

“Hello, Scott.”

“Hi?” He looked up, and found Mitch standing in front of him. ‘Oh Mitch, hello, sorry I was busy and I just… I’m sorry I didn’t call yet.”

“It’s okay, I’ve been busy myself. Got a minute to chat? Or—”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll get my drink and come over.”

 

Soon they were sitting opposite each other at a small corner table. An awkward silence grew between them.

“I didn’t expect to run into you here,” Scott said.

“LA’s a big place. But if it was gonna happen, it had to be Starbucks, right?” Mitch smiled.

“My record company is nearby.” Scott sipped his drink.

“I don’t want to make you late for your meeting.”

“No, I finished already. So what have you been up to?”

“Oh, meetings, auditions, the usual. I kinda want a break, but my agent says I need to capitalise on my recent work, put myself out there.” Mitch clasped his hands together. “But all work and no play is dull, dull, dull.”

 

Scott thought about his ordered and productive life. “You’re not wrong. The party was just what I needed.”

Mitch picked up his cup and drank. “It was the best party I’ve been to for ages, really. The after party was my favourite.”

“I’m sure you’ve been to much more glamorous affairs than my little bash.”

“Yes.” Mitch sighed and then looked at Scott directly. “Glamorous people aren’t the same as old friends. Glamour means being on all the time, you know? It gets exhausting.”

 

Scott twisted his cup in his hands. Mitch looked as groomed as ever in a smart navy coat, with his perfect complexion and level gaze. Scott felt confused about what was happening and not in control of the conversation. What did it mean? He couldn’t wait around to find out.

“Listen, I gotta run, but why don’t you swing by the house, say tomorrow at seven? Or if—”

“Tomorrow is great, shall I bring anything?”

“No need, and I’ll cook.”

They both stood.

“See you then.” Scott swept past Mitch before he could think about whether they should hug or shake hands.

 

His long strides took him outside and down the street to his car. He got in and sat, hands on the wheel, staring ahead. Once again he had acted without thinking, and now he doubted his actions. Why had he invited Mitch, and what the hell would they talk about? He was at war with himself, and the delusional optimism that had served so well in the past was all but gone.

 

Mitch was back in LA, and wanted to see him, and Scott was still curious about why. He felt a subtle pull, like gravity. There was a risk in allowing himself to be drawn into Mitch’s orbit again, and he didn’t know if he could take that risk. Round and round his thoughts went, with no conclusion. With a sigh he put the car in drive and planned his route home, via the store so he could pick up gluten free pasta and shrimp.

 

That evening he toyed with the idea of talking to someone. He couldn’t make sense of his emotions and it scared him. Rationally, he could take or leave Mitch, but his heart told a different story. All the waters were being muddied again.

 

What happens to longing that is pushed down and starved of attention? Does it ever die, or does it lie in wait for the spark that will ignite it? A single flame could start a forest fire, and Scott could not be sure that it wouldn’t destroy him for good this time. Hell, he had only just survived his last brush with disaster. And now as he edged closer to Mitch, the buried drive to reunite grew stronger, strong enough to burst the confines of his will power. If he feared anything, it was that he would not be able to resist his emotions, no matter the cost.

 

Scott lay on the couch in the living room, staring up at the white ceiling. He held on to his phone but set it to silent. He had good friends, old friends, people who understood and had seen how he was torn apart by loss before. He should call someone, but he didn’t know how to explain. It was ridiculous. It was painful. He should call Mitch, tell him it wasn’t a good time, they shouldn’t meet, maybe he should invite someone else as a buffer, or referee?

 

He didn’t want anyone else. He needed Mitch.

Chapter Text

 

Scott found the number he wanted.

“Hey Scott, how you doing?” The deep voice was immediately comforting, as always.

“Hey, Avi. I’m good, how’s my goddess getting along?”

“She’s wonderful, tired of course. She thinks she might not last till the due date, so the moms are on standby.”

“Are you ready, for another baby I mean.”

“Well this one was a bit of a surprise, but a very welcome one. I always saw myself with three kids, and we’ve had two to practise on.”

“Yeah, you must be experts by now.” Scott paused, then went on. “Got a few minutes to talk?”

“Yes, I’m free. What’s on your mind?”

“I ran into Mitch in Starbucks. And I invited him over tomorrow.”

“Great, that’s good.”

“Is it?”

“I assume you didn’t run away screaming or pass out like you thought you might.”

“No.” Scott remembered feeling trapped in the coffee shop, and how seeing Mitch scrambled his brain.

“I wrote a song. And I’m not sure if it’s about him, or Bailey, or what.”

“Does it matter?” Avi asked. “It’s about what’s in your heart, and you don’t have to share it, now or ever, if you’re not ready.”

“Don’t know that I am ready, to meet Mitch I mean.”

“If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have asked him. Maybe it’s fate that you two met that day.” Avi cleared his throat. “He’s been asking about you for a long time. Only you can decide what to do, but take it slow, okay? I see how you still feel about him—”

“What do you mean?”

Avi’s tone was gentle. “I watched you together, remember. You want to get closer, but you’re afraid. Just have faith in yourself. We all love you, and Mitch too. But if he messes up, he’ll have to answer to me.”

“Wow. Thanks dad.”

Avi chuckled. “That’s me. Play it cool with Mitch and keep your song to yourself. When it’s time to share, you’ll know. And I’d love to hear it then.”

They chatted some more, and after ending the call Scott felt a lot happier. Still, restless excitement built until he decided to hit the gym for the second time, hoping to find relaxation.

 

While he ran, his mind slipped away from physical sensations. The steady beat of feet on treadmill became the beat of a heart, and memories spilled out. Happy sunshine days, grey evenings sitting at silent tables, red-rimmed eyes and black despair. On and on he ran, towards Bailey and away from Mitch, and back again.

Sweat stung his eyes, and his heart was pulled so many ways it hurt. That was the signal to stop, and he comforted himself with a warm shower, soft sweatpants, ice cream and an old movie. Staying away from the past was exhausting, and he got into bed praying for sleep without dreams.

 

The next morning, Scott attended various meetings about promotional appearances and a new contract for social media management. He concentrated on taking notes and keeping his thoughts on the matter in hand. Finally he escaped home, where he drank water for the mild headache that hung around his temples. Restless, he wandered around the kitchen and then went outside.

 

There was still warmth in the autumn sun, and he stopped by the rose bushes. Memories of walking with Esther after the party came to him, and he reminded himself not to start a fight. Keep it light and friendly. He considered the deep pink flowers for a while before returning to the kitchen for scissors. He had no idea what he was doing as he dropped three blooms into a glass of water, but they looked pretty. With hours to fill before Mitch arrived, he felt aimless and jittery at the same time.

 

Water, that was the answer. Soon he was carving out lap after lap in the pool, letting his brain empty, feeling the cool rush of water on his skin, focusing on his stroke. More water, hot this time, coursed over his back in the shower. He finished with a blast of cold to remind himself that discomfort made the good times better. He hardly needed the metabolism boost when he was already a bundle of nervous energy.

 

After that, Scott prepared his meal ingredients with meticulous care. He put the Chardonnay to chill and checked the clock. Two hours to go. He went to his music room, sat at the piano, and began to play.

 

***

 

In a light, airy apartment situated in a smart area, Mitch put down the script he’d been reading with a sigh. There was no use pretending that he could pay any attention to his character, not when the evening promised real drama. He wandered over to the picture windows and closed his eyes, letting the sun warm his face.

 

The apartment was perfect. On a high floor, it had views over the neighbourhood at the front, and a quiet courtyard garden at the back. White walls soothed and opulent couches comforted, set off by dark hardwood floors. Large scale, fashionably abstract art graced the walls. The walk-in closets were generous, certainly roomy enough for the stuff he had brought with him. He’d have to decide what to do with the rest of his things, but that was a question for another day. He had a master with king-sized bed and a welcoming guest room. Not that he intended to use it. At this moment, he was skirting around making any big decisions.

 

Mitch lay down on a deep blue couch, running his fingers over its soft pile. He imagined Scott sitting there laughing, the velvet harmonising perfectly with those startling eyes of his. The image he took away from their chance meeting in Starbucks was the endless blue of a summer sky under barely there eyebrows, a sharp jawline scattered with cornfield stubble, and a distance between them that stretched for years and miles.

 

Scott was professional and polished, and Mitch didn’t know him anymore. But amazingly, Mitch had an invitation back to the house where, a few weeks before, he’d stood on the drive debating whether to go in. He’d texted Esther, his hands shaking.

 

I’m here. Come get me before I run away.

 

Of course she came out immediately, held his hands, spoke gently to him. Esther blended soft words and hard expectations, and that was what he needed. He breathed away his anxious butterflies and assumed his glossy persona. Like so many times before, he got up and put on a show. That’s what he did best. He performed, took the applause and the bouquets, and if he wanted to collapse he did it backstage and in private.

 

Bare feet hardly made a sound against the polished wood as Mitch made his way to the kitchen. Coffee might help, then again it might make him even more jumpy. Maybe not espresso then. In the end he made herbal tea, sweetened it with honey, and resumed his spot standing by the window, keeping his mind blank.

 

But when he saw blue sky, he remembered eyes. When he saw clouds, he remembered a swoop of blond hair. When he saw his skull tattoo, he remembered its twin on another finger. When he thought about Scott, his mind short-circuited. When he saw Scott, he retreated to the safety of practised performance. He had one hour to get ready, and decide how to play the evening. It didn’t feel nearly long enough.

 

Mitch finished his tea. He went back to the bedroom where he inspected the outfit he’d laid out with great care, then stripped. In the walk-in shower he drenched himself with hot water, turning up the temperature until he could barely stand it. Jets of water struck his skin like needles. He breathed scented steam and imagined the heat scouring away an accumulated crust of old feelings and memories, until he could emerge baby soft and brand new. If he shed his old skin, maybe he could grow and start again, refreshed.

 

After his steaming hot shower, Mitch soothed his skin with a favourite lotion. Long strokes down his limbs calmed him, and he breathed deeply. He had all but given up hope of ever making amends, but the universe was on his side, giving him one more chance. Just then he couldn’t think about painful separations and arguments, all over the world.

Milan became unbearable, poisoned by bad memories, but he had nowhere and no-one to call home. Home was the place where they always take you in, and he no longer felt he had the right to ask that of anyone.

 

It had been so exciting, and not a little frightening, to go out on his own, outside the Pentatonix family. The first call to walk in a Milan fashion show came like an answered prayer. He liked the idea of honouring his heritage by speaking Italian, and started learning the language. A few bit parts in TV series led to a small role in a foreign movie.

Everywhere he went, doors opened and fortune smiled on him, and he had his pick of boys. Acting and voice lessons taught him to project confident hauteur and flirtatious allure with equal ease. It brought him success, and it had brought him Luca.

 

Mitch finished applying lotion and sat at the vanity mirror. He wanted to tread a fine line with his look; polished but not harsh, attractive but not glamorous. Scott had never criticised his experimentation in the past, even when he didn’t understand it. Like shaving his head that time.

 

Mitch had something to prove, and he had to get it right. He was director, writer, and actor in a play as yet unfinished. After staring at his bare face for a few minutes, he started with concealer for his under-eye bags as always. Scott never looked tired, and he wanted to project energy in return.

Deft fingers applied colour here, a highlight there, and gradually created the familiar persona of Mitchell Grassi, model, actor, singer. Though it had been so long since he sang for an audience, he didn’t feel the last title fit anymore.

 

Luca had encouraged him to move on from his past. Admittedly, it had been quite a successful past, but the future was even more brilliant, full of art and fashion and beauty. Luca supported him and cheered him on as he pushed into new areas of expression. He was so much more than just a singer.

 

Mitch sat looking at his face until he didn’t recognise it. Then he sighed, checked his Cartier watch and dressed. His bag and a bottle of good red stood ready on the table. He finished with a spritz of a designer perfume that had caught his attention with its sophisticated blend of masculine and feminine notes. The coming evening felt like a key audition. It had the power to turn his life around, and he was very ready for the change.

Chapter Text

I shouldn’t have done this. I don’t even know what I was thinking. I’m not ready. What if he’s polite and distant? What if he hates the food, and hates me? What if, after all this time, we can’t fix this?

 

Worries chased round and round until Scott’s head was about to burst. He paced the kitchen, minutely adjusting the place settings at one end of the long table. He took away the glass containing the roses, then put it back again. There was a casual beauty in the overblown blooms and their haphazard arrangement, and he pushed them into the centre of the table. Perfect, he decided. Like he was trying, but not too hard.

 

Scott tried to distract himself with work, but after staring at the same email for five minutes he gave up and went out to the deck. There he watched the sun descend slowly while the sky shifted colour, and birds chirped, and a soft breeze caressed his face. He let his muscles relax, his shoulders drop, and almost believed he could drift off into a light doze.

 

The doorbell rang, and his heart stopped for a startled moment, before pounding away. Scott swallowed and breathed slowly. He checked his hair in the hallway mirror, then opened the door. His breath caught again at the sight of Mitch’s polished perfection.

 

Mitch wore an oversized dark blue leather jacket over another baggy white shirt, close fitting dark trousers and low heeled black boots. He carried a bottle of wine and a small bag that Scott guessed cost more than any of the other items, if Mitch’s old tastes were anything to go by. From his smile to his shiny boots, he radiated confidence.

“Hi, come on in,” Scott said, opening the door wide and gesturing inside. He couldn’t shake hands and he couldn’t risk a hug but he hoped he was welcoming enough. “You didn’t need to bring anything, but thank you. Can I take your jacket?”

“Hello Scott. I couldn’t come empty handed,” Mitch handed over the bottle of wine. “I got a nice Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, since you like red.”

Mitch unzipped his jacket and shrugged it off his narrow shoulders. Scott stood behind him close enough to smell his scent, an intriguing mix of masculine woods and deep rose. He hung the jacket, then led the way into the kitchen.

“Can I get you a drink? We’re having white wine with dinner, or if you don’t want to start with that, water or juice or you know, pretty much all the usual things.” He put the wine on the counter.

“Anything is good.”

 

Despite Mitch’s smile Scott felt a prickle of anxiety. He wanted a steer, this was new territory and the old rules no longer applied.

“Okay well how about a glass of Chardonnay and you can watch while I start dinner. It’s shrimp pasta.”

“That sounds wonderful.” Mitch sat at the island, hands clasped. “I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I wouldn’t say cook, exactly. Avi taught me a couple of dishes. He said I couldn’t get by on take-out all my life and that everybody should be able to feed themselves.” He poured one glass of wine and one of water for himself.

“I’m sure that’s right, for most people. Personally, I prefer to eat rather than cook, and it’s working out so far.”

 

Mitch sipped his wine while Scott assembled his ingredients and tools. He felt suddenly self-conscious, but then Mitch had more or less said he was no chef.

“You must have learned to cook pasta in Milan.” Scott stirred the sauce and tasted it.

Mitch waved a hand. “The pasta there is delicious but not gluten free, so I’m not much of an expert. I did learn to make risotto, as long as it’s the proper rice.”

“There’s different rice? I thought it was just white and brown.”

“Well, yes. You need Arborio rice for risotto. But like I said, generally I leave it to the cook to figure all that out. You look like you know what you’re doing.”

Scott looked up to see Mitch smiling warmly, and he shook his head. “Not really. I have my things I can do but the rest of it’s a closed book. Anyway, what have you been up to in LA?”

“The usual, auditions, meeting my agent for lunch, reading scripts. I’m waiting to hear about a couple of projects.” Mitch shrugged delicately. “I’d shop, but there’s no room in the closets for any more retail therapy.”

“Really? Never stopped you before.” Scott forced himself to concentrate on chopping parsley for the garnish. He shouldn’t have said that. To his relief Mitch clapped his hands and laughed.

“That is very true. To be honest, I’ve been given so many lovely things, there’s not much to shop for.”

Scott looked at him, raising a pale eyebrow, and said nothing.

“Don’t look at me like that. Things change.”

“Wow.” Scott plated up the food and scattered it with parsley. “They really have. I’m cooking real food, and you’re not shopping. Here, let’s eat at the table.”

 

He carried the plates over and they sat opposite one another. Then he poured a small glass of wine for himself.

“Cheers. I hope you enjoy it.”

“I’m sure I will.” Mitch took a forkful of the shrimp in creamy sauce and tasted it. “Delizioso.”

Scott beamed. He understood that word. “Really? You’re not just being polite.”

“I’m always polite, but if it tastes this good, I clean my plate. Watch.”

 

And true to his word, Mitch devoured the whole dish, mopping up the last bit of sauce with bread. Scott’s tense stomach relaxed, and he finished his own food, stealing glances at his companion. He took a tiny sip of wine, and then another. It was satisfying to watch someone enjoy his cooking, doubly so when that person was Mitch.

 

“That was impressive, Scott.”

“Thanks. I practised it on Esther, and you know what they say about practice.” I wanted it to be perfect for you.

“It certainly paid off. So, how long have you been living here?”

“Moved in January. I thought it was time for a change, and a garden.”

“Oh? Are you planning to get a dog or something?”

Scott shook his head. “No pets for me. I can barely look after myself.” Don’t mention Wyatt.

“You seem to be managing rather well,” Mitch said, tracing a finger round the base of his glass. “But it was always nice to have Wyatt running around.”

 

Scott did not want to talk about the sphynx cat they’d owned together several lifetimes ago, or to remember sharing a home and a life. He got up.

“Let me show you around.”

Mitch looked up and Scott felt the pull of his gaze. He took a breath. “You know you want to.”

“Why yes, I think I do.” His smile dazzled, and Scott turned away.

“You’ve seen upstairs. Master suite, five beds, five baths, the usual stuff. Let’s start downstairs.”

 

Down in the basement he pointed out the gym, home cinema, kitchen and games room.

“Didn’t peg you for a pool player.” Mitch ran a hand along the green baize.

Scott laughed. “I’m really not, but the table came with the house. I mostly use the gym down here.”

“I can see that,” Mitch murmured, and Scott felt heat creep up from his neck. The house was warm, so he wore a short sleeved top for comfort, not to show off his arms. Unsure how to respond, he couldn’t meet Mitch’s gaze.

“Would you, um, like to see the rest?”

“Of course I would, lead on.” His tone was mischievous, and Scott went back up to the ground floor, certain that his face was scarlet. Mitch was not flirting with him, and even if he was, he did that with everybody. It was just how he was.

 

“You’ve seen the kitchen and living rooms, this one is my study.”

Mitch slipped past him and stood in the centre of the room. “This is a cosy den.”

“I left it all to the designer.”

Mitch arched a brow. “You had a designer in? How very luxurious.”

Scott didn’t know what to think. “Hey, I was busy. She thought man cave, masculine, blah blah. Hence the dark green and leather. But I chose the couch, so I could look out to the garden in comfort.”

Again Mitch touched the furniture, trailing fingers along the back of the dark brown couch. “Big enough to lie on, even for you.”

“My number two priority.”

“And what was number one?”

You were.

 

“Comfort, of course.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, saved the best till last. I hope you agree.”

They went down the long corridor, and at the end Scott stood back. “After you.”

Mitch paused, one hand on the handle. “Nothing scary in here, I hope? Just kidding.”

Scott did his best not to roll his eyes, and managed to smile instead. “Open the door and you’ll see.”

Once inside, Mitch gasped. “Oh. My God. This is amazing.”

 

He walked into the middle of the large room and stopped, looking around. One end was given over to a glass fronted recording booth, with mixing desks in front. The other end had double height windows draped in dark curtains. A baby grand piano sat in one corner. Guitars and a keyboard were displayed on stands.

Shelves held awards, books, and piles of sheet music, while gold and platinum discs filled most of one wall, under which was a long and comfortably battered grey couch. There was even a tiny kitchen, complete with fridge, squeezed into the corner behind folding doors.

Scott watched him take it all in. He hated boasting about his stuff but damn, he was proud of this room. Having Mitch here, darting from one thing to another, picking up the sheet music scattered on the piano, was better than a dream. He couldn’t stop the grin that stretched across his face.

“You keep all the Grammys here, right from our first one. That’s awesome.” Mitch put out a hand but withdrew before he touched it. He turned back to Scott, both hands clasped in front of his chest. After a moment Scott realised they mirrored positions. He dropped his hands, embarrassed.

“You like it?”

“I love it. Do you mind…?” Mitch trailed off, gesturing towards the piano.

“Be my guest.”

 

Mitch seated himself, folded back his cuffs, and let his fingers wander through some easy warm up exercises. He started to hum, then sing songs from the later part of Pentatonix’s career. It was all Scott could do not to join in, before Mitch transitioned smoothly into another song, one that Scott recognised. He blinked and Mitch’s voice splintered his fragile surface.

 

They say two’s company, three is a crowd

But one is the loneliest number around

I struggle and sink and your eyes are unblinking

Can’t help whispering your name aloud

 

“Oh no, no.”

Scott wasn’t sure if he said the words out loud. His head swam and he moved towards the door, heedless of the music stopping and Mitch’s puzzled voice, questions. All his fault, all his fault

 

Scott ran, his wounded heart weeping blood.

Chapter Text

 

Scott slammed the bedroom door shut. He leant against it and slid to the ground in a tangle of long limbs, wheezing and gasping for air. Avi couldn’t save him this time. No-one would. His fingers twisted through his hair and tugged, then he banged his head against the wood till it hurt. Building from the pit of his stomach, a rising storm of pain and anger filled his chest, squeezing his lungs, till it burst from his throat in a desolate roar.

 

Of all songs, why that one? What twisted trick of fate led Mitch to choose the song in which Scott tried to work out his complicated feelings about the three of them, their dance that was fated to end with no partners and no winners and everyone blown apart and the world ended? Scott slumped to the floor, his cheek on the smooth wood. Tears dripped gently, one by one.

 

This was never going to work, and you can’t go back. The past is dead and buried, and all you've got is the present moment. There’s alcohol downstairs, but he’s there as well.

 

Scott breathed slower, perhaps his heart would follow suit, slow down and stop so he could be free of this agony.

 

Tap, tap at the door. Scott ignored it, and the quiet voice calling his name. He got up and lay on the bed. The knocking grew louder.

“Scott. Scott please, just tell me you’re okay. I’m sorry for—”

“Fuck off!”

“All right, look… I’m sorry.”

 

His tears had dried by the time Scott dragged himself into his bathroom. He washed his face and inspected his puffy eyes in the mirror. He looked pale and tired, and his hair was a disaster.

“Shit.”

Dry mouth and a scratchy throat sent him downstairs in search of water. The sight of Mitch sitting at the table, head in his hands, brought Scott to a standstill. There were no feelings left, only deep weariness.

“What are you doing here?”

Mitch looked round, white teeth worrying at his lower lip. He wrung his hands.

“I – I couldn’t just leave.”

“Oh? You’re pretty good at that.”

 

Scott took a glass from the cupboard, filled it with ice and water. He drank it all, and placed the glass on the counter.

‘What did I do?” Mitch sounded small and uncertain.

“Nothing. Everything.” Scott ran his hands through his hair. “What does it matter? What’s done is done. I think you should go.” He would not look at him. He wasn’t strong enough, his heart quivering and torn, still bleeding.

“Whatever I did wrong, I am truly sorry.”

“You keep saying that.”

Mitch stood. “Because I mean it.”

 

He walked out and retrieved his jacket, then returned to the kitchen. Scott had not moved, staring at the floor.

“Thanks for having me here, and… maybe we can try again, another time. Goodnight Scott. Perdonami.”

 

The front door clicked shut and Scott looked at the clock. Only nine fifteen, and already the world had ended. He didn’t want to embarrass himself by calling anyone, and still he needed someone to talk to him softly, to soothe him and rub his back and tell him it would be all right. And if he couldn’t have that, he wanted nothingness.

 

He went to the edge of the cliff and looked over. One bottle was in his hand, other bottles patiently waiting their turn. His brain buzzed with the same words over and over till they meant nothing.

 

Why why no stop stop all your fault please stop no no no

Okay, but this is Grey Goose vodka, so it’s a better class of oblivion.

Yeah, tell yourself that. You know the truth. You’re a worthless piece of—

 

His phone buzzed and vibrated across the counter and he stuck out his hand to stop it falling to the ground. That was another problem he didn’t need. He put the bottle down.

“Hey, Scott.” A deep, soothing voice, one he could bear to hear.

“Hey.”

“Is this a bad time?”

“When is it not?” He reached for light, but managed only a flat, lifeless tone.

“Just wanted to say hello. It was a big night for you. I’ll call another—”

“S’okay. Don’t go. I made shrimp fettucine. It was all fine until he sang the song.”

A pause at the other end. “The song?”

“Yes, Avi.” He swallowed. “Between two tides.”

“Ah, goddamn. How're you holding up?”

Scott didn’t know. “As well as you might expect.”

“You shouldn’t be alone.”

Scott’s barking laugh hurt his ears. He stopped. “It’s my specialty.”

“Maybe you should come here.”

“Avi, you’re about to have a baby. Well, your mother goddess is. You don’t have to babysit me, I’ll be fine.”

“Okay but stay away from the booze. Go to bed and I’ll ring you tomorrow.”

Scott listened, and nodded. “Okay dad. Talk soon.” He cut the call and turned the phone off.

 

Now what?

 

Scott cleared the table and poured the last of the Chardonnay away. While the coffee brewed he took one of the roses and held it in his palm. Should toss it in the trash. Instead he raised it to his nose and sniffed. The perfume was faint, but it was there. He put the flower back, and took the coffee up to his bedroom. By the time he emerged from the shower the coffee was lukewarm, but he drank it anyway. Then he brushed his teeth, put on his headphones, and got into bed. Sleep was not going to come easily when Grey Goose and Bollinger were calling.

 

Scott threw out the roses the next day. He ate little, but drank more. There was plenty left over from the party. When the chasm opened up inside he filled it with alcohol and drowned himself in it. He cancelled the cleaners and fell asleep on the couch with the TV on.

Somehow the pain always found him. Even in his dreams, Bailey and Mitch argued while a baby cried in the background. He woke shivering with his mouth dry and heart racing, and only one way to escape the anger and frustration for a little while. He’d fought for both of them, with both of them, and in the end they both had left him alone.

 

The emails piled up and his phone notifications were out of control. Three days in, he replied briefly to the most pressing messages, and deleted the rest. Five days in, he looked at his phone and was amazed to see photos of Saskia with her newborn daughter Shira.

 

In one picture Avi gazed adoringly at his wife and baby, and Scott’s heart swelled. He swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked away tears. He could barely see to type his congratulations, and promise to visit soon, before he put the phone down and dried his eyes. He was trying to be happy for them, but his own shattered dreams rained down on him. Happiness would never be his.

 

If Avi guessed something was wrong, he didn’t press it. Scott clung to the evidence that he was worth someone’s time, looking at Avi’s messages before deleting them.

 

Thank you for all the love. Shira is a beautiful blessing.

Please look after yourself.

I hope you’re keeping well. Call if you need to talk.

Remember to breathe. It will pass.

 

On the sixth evening, Scott looked at his grubby sweats, lank hair and lifeless eyes, and decided enough was enough. The next day he worked out, shaved, showered and dressed. He called the cleaning service before clearing away the takeaway boxes and empty bottles. Then he opened the blinds and went to the coffee shop. There, he sat in a corner with his latte and headphones, and watched people come and go for thirty minutes before opening up his laptop. He had things to do.

 

By the time he stopped to order another drink, he had ploughed through the emails, arranged to have lunch with some friends who were anxious about him, and ordered flowers for the Kaplans. He was back in his routine, and it worked. Just concentrate on the present moment, ignore the gaping hole inside, and try to remember that he had been happy. He sipped coffee and listened to music and told himself that he was fine.

 

He said the same to Esther, when he finally accepted her Skype call at home that afternoon.

“I don’t want to go into details, Est. It was a mistake.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Everybody’s sorry, always sorry, well that’s not…” Scott trailed off, aware that Esther was watching him closely. “I should let the past go, and move on.”

“If you’re sure. Anyway, how about the newest Kaplan, isn’t she sweet?”

Scott exhaled, pleased to change tack. “She’s gorgeous. I’m happy for them all.”

“Me too, just working out how soon I can get over there. The moms are both besotted of course. And fatherhood suits Avi very well.”

“Yeah, he thinks he’s my dad too,” Scott said with a wry smile.

“He looks out for you, that’s for sure. Did you talk to Kevin lately?”

He felt a little stab of guilt. “He sent me some messages but I wasn’t up to it.”

“Being Kevin, he’ll forgive you. Maybe you could just let him know you’re okay.”

“I’ll do that today. Oh, there’s the doorbell. Talk soon.” He blew her a kiss and went to answer the door.

 

At first Scott thought there had been a mistake, but the delivery address was quite clear. He placed the generous arrangement of lilies on the hall table, and took the note from its envelope. The slanted script was shockingly familiar. He went back to the kitchen and sat at the island, holding the paper by the corner as though it were hot. He could hardly breathe.

 

Dear Scott 

I was very happy to see you again. I made a mistake, and sorry is all I can say. I know it’s not enough. Perhaps you will never forgive me, perhaps it is more than I deserve. I keep hurting you, even though I don’t mean to, and I don’t want to hurt you again. Thank you, for everything. You deserve to be happy.

 

Mitch

Chapter Text

Scott placed the note on the counter and stared at it. He had deleted every contact from Mitch, the messages that had started that same evening and kept coming every day since. He checked his phone, but there was nothing from Mitch that day. The flowers were the message.

So was this goodbye? He hadn’t said that, but it felt pretty final. He had no address for Mitch. He didn’t know what his plans were, he could be gone for all he knew, off on another shoot or play or something. And Scott had not replied to even one text.

 

After a while, he rang Kevin. His stomach was unsettled and he couldn’t risk showing his pale, sad face on Skype.

“Hey Kevin, how you doing homie?”

Kevin laughed. “Pretty good, you know it’s great to hear from you. Lynn is still talking about the after parties and the sleepover, we had such a great time. So, how are you?”

“Good.” He bit his lip. He was anything but.

“You sure about that? I’m listening.”

Scott took a deep breath. “Kev, I need to ask how to forgive someone, because I tried and it all went wrong, and I just, I have to move on and I don’t know how and I figured you could help…”

“Okay Scott, slow down. First of all, are you ready? Forgiveness is tough, but you know that. Second, why do you want to forgive? Obviously, I’m a great believer in it. But forgiveness is for the giver, so they can release their hurt and go forward with a lighter heart. It is a gift to yourself. Now, having heard that, you still want to try?”

Scot nodded and whispered, “Yes. I need to. I can’t go on like this.”

“You need to understand why they did what they did. That might mean talking to them about it.”

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Okay. Then can you feel, in your own heart, how their actions arose out of their own pain? That don’t make it right, no sir. But if you can make that connection, you’re halfway there. If you can find a shred of empathy, they stop being a monster; you recognize they are human and flawed and somewhat like you. And forgiveness becomes possible.”

Scott paused. “I don’t think I told you, how much I appreciate you and your wisdom.”

“I love you, man, I am always here for you. Believe it.”

“I really do, Kev. I better go, got some thinking to do. Love to Lynn and the kids.”

“You’re in my prayers, Scott. If you need a verse to read, try Ephesians 4.32. Lord bless you and keep you safe.”

“You too, Kevin, thank you. Bye for now.”

 

Once again, Scott was grateful for the unfailing love and support of his friends. Just talking to Kevin helped him settle, because he was strength and safety. From him, Scott could learn to be a better man. He just didn’t know if he had it in him.

There wasn’t a Bible on the shelves so he looked up the verse online, about compassion and forgiving one another. He took that thought and meditated for the first time in days, and when the alarm sounded a trace of calm remained. Keeping calm was the challenge.

 

***

It had all been going so well. Mitch enjoyed the dinner, and the music room was a treasure chest of delights. Scott was talking to him, even risking a little sarcasm, and it seemed as though they were on their way to relaxing around each other. And then he sang a song, and the sky fell on their heads. Mitch had just started to enjoy playing some music again, when he heard Scott say something and vanish, not answering him.

Mitch stood in front of the bedroom door, knocking, wanting to go in but understanding he had no right. Then Scott’s howl of despair sliced clean through Mitch’s chest. He stumbled back downstairs where he sat with head in hands, his breathing fast and stomach churning. He couldn’t leave. He had to know Scott was all right.

The worst thing was, he didn’t know what he’d done wrong. After half an hour Scott appeared looking like a ghost and sent him away. He hadn’t responded to any messages since. After a week, Mitch accepted rejection. He stood in the flower shop and wrote the note with shaky hands, pushing the pain down till it was a cold stone in the pit of his gut. He would not give in to tears. Not here, not yet.

 

He returned to his smart, soulless apartment, closed the blinds, and curled up in the corner of the beautiful blue velvet sofa. He tried to forget how dull and flat Scott’s eyes were, like the sun had finally gone out. He couldn’t blame Bailey this time. It was all his fault.

 

After a time he went to bed, shivering under the comforter and acutely aware of the space all around him. Once upon a time, he would have gone to a club and snared anyone he liked to bring home for a night. Once upon a time, he had strong arms to hold him whenever he wanted, someone to laugh over his tales of conquests gone wrong. Once upon a time… but there could be no happy ending now, just bitter regrets. He turned on his back and stared at the ceiling. He had offers of work, both local and abroad. Which to take remained a question he couldn’t answer.

 

Mitch gave up on sleep and made himself another herbal tea. He tucked himself up on the sofa with a blanket and watched cartoons while his brain whirred. Maybe it was best to move on. He’d been a nomad for years, restlessly wandering. But now his friends had settled down, mostly, and he found himself craving stability of a sort. And he hadn’t had a chance to talk properly to Scott. He’d screwed up big time.

 

He opened up his laptop, and started researching flights and apartments. When his lip trembled, he clenched his jaw until it stopped.

Lui mi manca. I miss him. But it’s time to let go.

 

It was deep into the night when he dragged himself into a cold bed and fell into exhausted, solitary sleep.

 

***

When each morning dawned, Scott worked his way through his routine. Exercise, shower, dress, coffee, work. He met friends for lunch, answered emails, meditated daily, and slowly settled into his ordered life again.

After a pleasant lunch with one of his writing partners, Scott sat in his office with no particular aim in mind. He had coffee and a playlist of his own making. He seriously considered a trip out of town, maybe to see Avi and the new addition to his family. There was Esther and her two boys who wanted to see him, and he also had an invitation from Kevin. He had options, choices and possibilities. He could use a holiday, and he had a break in his diary.

 

What he decided was to pull the picture of him and Bailey from the drawer. He breathed deeply and went back in time. It had been a beautiful, breezy day at the beach. They ate a picnic, paddled in the shallows, and laughed at silly jokes that only got sillier as the wine bottles were emptied. And of course, Mitch was there.

Mitch took that photo. He called them back when Bailey chased Scott, rolling his eyes when Scott allowed himself to be caught, and snapping Bailey standing on tiptoes to steal a kiss. Scott stood between them, loving them both and being loved in return. He really thought himself blessed back then.

The future promised Bailey in a white dress, Mitch in a best man’s suit, babies. They were unbreakable, until they weren’t. He let sadness wash over him without flinching. Kevin’s words were a lifebelt, and he clung to them. Try to understand why they did what they did. Try to see where the cracks started to open up.

 

His phone buzzed and drew him back to the present. He found he was disappointed at the name on the text. Who had he been expecting? He opened his contacts and looked at Mitch’s name, and after five minutes he still hadn’t decided what to do. The words would not come, because there was only one question he wanted to ask. He was almost certain that he could not ask it. He wondered if he could stand the answer.

 

He drank the coffee, and noted that he was still alive. So he let another phantom escape its memory box. This time it was December, the tree twinkling in the corner of the living room, Mitch singing along to their own Christmas song. When Bailey arrived and stood smiling under strategically placed mistletoe, Scott pounced. He kissed her breathless, and when they surfaced Mitch was nowhere to be seen.

Scott knocked on his door, then spent a while coaxing him out of his room. By the time they emerged laughing, Bailey had retreated to her phone, and there was precious little holiday spirit in the room. She went home early, and the two friends drank eggnog and wine till way too late.

 

He couldn’t keep them both happy.

 

Coffee cup empty, memories examined, still alive. Scott left the picture on the desk and walked out into the garden. He needed air, and the cool afternoon gave his overheated brain space to unwind.

He pulled his cuffs down over his knuckles and walked around his house. The roses were almost over. Green surrounded him, from the manicured lawn at his feet to the oleanders where he eavesdropped that one evening. Avi had begged Mitch to be careful, but it all went wrong just the same.

But had he been fair on Mitch, treating him the way he had? He couldn’t know about the song, how emotionally charged it still was. Scott had rejected every attempt to build bridges and apologise. Maybe it was too late. Unsure how much pride he had left, Scott walked round and round the house, trying to find his answer. He didn’t know what he wanted. Taking risks was great, if there was a chance it would pay off, and you were sure you wanted the prize.

 

What if we can’t fix this?

 

Chapter Text

Scott stood at the carousel waiting for his case. He wore a dark blue down jacket to cushion his soft California skin from the cold winds of late autumn in Oregon. When his luggage finally arrived he strode out through the crowds, looking for his friend. There were any number of bearded, beanie wearing men in plaid, but only one waved and called his name. They shared a brief hug before heading off to Avi’s truck.

“Scott, great to see you.”

“It’s kinda cold here.”

Avi laughed and slapped Scott on the arm. “This ain’t cold, southern boy. But the fire’s made and the heating’s turned up for the baby, so you should feel right at home.”

 

They chatted about weather and snow, and soon arrived at the ranch. At the top of a long wooded drive, the trees split to reveal a large house with a brightly lit entrance to the main two storey section. Single storey wings stretched out either side, surrounded by fields under a clouded sky. The land sloped away to the west, and as Avi drove round the curve towards the garage Scott glimpsed more outbuildings that he guessed might be the stables.

 

No sooner had they entered the house than he heard the patter of running footsteps. They just had time to hang their coats before the shouting started.

“Daddy, daddy’s home!”

Two children came flying to meet Avi. Isaac had a head of dark curls like his younger sister, and he had brown eyes whereas Kaela’s were hazel green like her father.

“Hello, hello, I missed you!” Avi knelt down and they jumped on him.

“Silly daddy, you were just here,” Kaela said.

“I still missed you.” He kissed them both and gathered a child up in each arm, then stood and turned to Scott, waiting behind him. “Say hello to uncle Scott.”

They both smiled and then hid their faces in their father’s chest.

“They’re a little shy.”

Scott nodded. “You don’t remember me, but I met you when you were little,” he said.

Isaac peered out at him. “I’m a big boy now.”

“You sure are.”

Avi grinned and they walked through to the main living area.

 

As promised the fire blazed away in a woodburner, with a river rock chimneybreast that reached the high ceiling. Wood was in evidence everywhere, as Scott expected, but the furniture was far from rustic. The gable end wall was replaced by glass, overlooking a breathtaking view of countryside with distant hills. Everywhere was bright and airy, with touches of colour from couches and throw pillows.

 

“You like it?” Avi put down the wriggling children and they ran off to play.

“Wow.” Scott walked through the space and flopped down on a couch. “This is some log cabin.”

“If Sas hears you say that, you’re in trouble. And I won’t even try to protect you.”

“You’ll have to give me the big tour, but first I must see her and Shira.”

“Sure, come on up. You’re sure about staying in the house? The kids can be noisy.”

Scott grabbed his case. “Absolutely. I want to be where the action is.”

“You might regret it later, but we’ll see. This is yours.” Avi tapped on the first door upstairs. “And here’s the nursery, next to our room.” He knocked on the door.

“Hey Sas, I brought Scott with me. Are you decent?” He winked at Scott.

“Sure Scott, come on in,” she replied.

He put his head around the door hesitantly. “Hello?”

“Hey Scott, come on in now, someone’s ready to meet you.”

 

Scott walked into the room, and stood transfixed. Saskia sat in a rocker, black hair tumbled round her shoulders. In her arms she held Shira, swaddled in cream checked blankets. The baby regarded her mother with dark eyes and a slight frown, her pink lips puckered as if about to speak.

“Hello,“ he said again. “You look wonderful, Saskia. And she’s so pretty.”

“Just like her mom,” Avi said. ‘Beautiful, actually.” He dropped a kiss on Saskia’s cheek and knelt next to her. Scott watched Avi’s face soften as he held out a finger for the baby to curl her tiny hand around.

 

The family radiated love, and Scott’s heart ached. He blinked and turned to go, feeling that he was intruding.

“Hey, wait up. You can hold her, if you’d like.” Avi spoke gently, and Scott found he could not leave. Instead he sat cross-legged at Saskia’s feet.

“Is that okay?” Without waiting, he held out his arms and accepted the little bundle.

 

Years of practice with many nephews and nieces schooled him into the right position. Her head with its crop of shiny black curls nestled in the crook of his arm. He fell headfirst into the twin pools of her eyes, and caught his breath when she gripped his finger in her fist. She was life, new and determined, the smallest thing and the largest.

“Hey baby girl,” he whispered, and in that moment he forgot to mourn what could have been his and instead let his heart flower for a moment. Tears blurred his vision and he smiled back at her serious, unblinking gaze.

 

“Looks like you’ve done this before,” Saskia said.

Scott suppressed the urge to rock Shira and sing her a lullaby. He held the baby close, measured the weight of life in his arms, and never wanted to let her go. When he glanced up at the parents, he found they both watched him with a fondness that made him squirm. They trusted him with the most precious thing in their world, and he didn’t deserve it.

 

Avi stood and stretched. “I better go down, before the other two wreck the place. And I’ll make coffee.”

Scott didn’t acknowledge him. He was staring at Shira again, feeling life rush back to his heart. It was a good pain. He sang a quiet lullaby. The words slipped from his lips and he rocked a little, despite himself. With pride, he watched her eyes flutter closed until she slept. Only then did Saskia speak.

“Fabulous, thank you. I’ll take her now, and we can get a drink.” She bent and took her baby, then placed her in the moses basket.

“I’ll take that for you.” Scott stood and lifted the basket with care. He followed Saskia downstairs, where muffled shrieks drifted from the adjoining playroom.

 

Avi had already brought a tray of drinks to the living room.

“Scott sang her to sleep for me,” Saskia said.

“That’s awesome,” Avi replied. “You should come over more often.”

After Scott put the moses basket on its stand, he held his arms wide. “Darling, I never said hello properly.”

Saskia stepped into his embrace. “Welcome, I’m glad you came.”

“Should have done it long since.” Scott hugged her lightly and let go.

“Well, you’re here now, and that’s the important thing.”

“Don’t forget your drinks,” Avi said. He went into the playroom through the connecting doors and sat on the floor. Kaela started explaining her wobbly structure to him, and he joined in with the Lego bricks.

 

Scott and Saskia sat together on the couch. Outside the light was fading to velvety dusk.

“This is so peaceful. Did you design it yourself, or was there a house here before?”

“Yeah, there was a smaller house, but we basically tore it down and started again. Bit indulgent, but Avi wanted it to his exact specifications.” She sipped her tea.

“I’m sure he took your ideas into account,” Scott said.

Saskia smiled. “I may have had some input.”

Scott was absolutely certain they had designed the house together, for the family they planned and the horses and music that were both integral to their lives.

“I figured. So can I get a tour tomorrow?”

“For sure.” The sounds of crying came from the basket, and Saskia put down her cup. “I need to go and feed her. See you in a bit.”

 

Scott finished his coffee and wandered into the playroom. “Hey kids, what’s up?”

“Scott, Scott, look.” Isaac ran up and grabbed Scott’s hand, tugging till he went along. “Sit here.” He pulled out a child-sized chair.

Scott eyed the chair, and glanced over to Avi who shrugged.

“Okay, Isaac.” He tried to sit on the chair, but his long legs would not fold, and he settled for sitting on the floor cross-legged, trying to ignore Avi’s chuckles.

“So I’m tall, what about it?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Okay, let’s play. No, you can’t have the red car, that’s my favourite. You have the truck and the bus.” Isaac organised the vehicles and Scott allowed the child to boss him around, deciding which car went in the garage and along the rug marked with a roadway.

 

Soon they were racing their vehicles, making car noises, and lying on the floor laughing at something. Scott couldn’t remember what, it was some silly six year old’s joke, but he giggled along with Isaac just the same. So much laughter, and his cheeks ached. Eventually he sat up, and noticed that Kaela and her father had gone.

“Hey Isaac, wanna get some juice?”

“Juice, juice, yeah! But you got to carry me.”

“Okay.” Scott scooped him up ontp his shoulders. “Where do I go?”

Isaac pointed. “That way, I want orange juice.”

Scott bounced into the kitchen to find Kaela colouring at the table while her father stirred a pot of pasta.

“Hello Sott,” she said before returning to her picture.

“Juice, Daddy! Scott wants juice as well, don’t you Scott?” Isaac wriggled until Scott put him down.

“Right, dinner’s nearly done so wash your hands and sit down. You too, big boy.” Avi waved a wooden spoon at Scott, who raised a pale eyebrow.

“I’m the big boy, Daddy.” Isaac crossed his arms and pouted.

“Yes you are. Why don’t you take Scott with you and show him what to do?”

“Sure.” Isaac grabbed Scott’s hand again. “Come on, we gotta be quick or dinner gets cold.”

 

A few minutes later they were all seated round the table, with the baby watching from her bouncing chair. After Avi said a brief grace the noise level rose, with Kaela babbling about her Lego castle she made with her daddy and Isaac trying to play cars on the table. Saskia cut up food, poured juice, and asked Scott about his house.

“I loved your house, and the garden too. What made you choose that particular one?”

“Just felt like the right time to move up from a condo. I wanted my own green space and room to spread out.” He reached for a bread roll and started breaking it into pieces. “Oceanfront would be my dream, but who has that kind of money?”

Saskia laughed. “Yeah, the dollar shrinks the closer you get to the water. But look out of your window tomorrow, and you’ll see plenty of green.”

“How many horses do you have?”

“Only three, with the kids I don’t ride as often as I’d like. And obviously the baby bump stopped me for a while. But we have stables for more, if I can sneak them past my husband.”

“I heard that,” Avi said.

“Like you don’t want a hundred.”

“Maybe not a hundred, Sas. But a couple more anyway.” He wiped pasta sauce from Kaela’s mouth with a napkin.

“Really, Av? You can only ride one at a time, am I right?”

Avi raised an eyebrow. “How many cars in your garage, Scott?”

Scott laughed. “Touché.”

‘Do you got a red car, Uncle Scott? Red is my favourite,” Isaac bounced in his seat.

“I know, and yes I have a red sports car, a big silver truck and a black electric car.”

“A ‘lectric one, that’s cool!” He was practically crawling across the table by this point.

Saskia waved him back. “Isaac, sit. If you want to get down ask nicely.”

“Mommy can I get down and play with Scott again please?” He was out of his seat without waiting for an answer. He placed his dish by the sink and patted Scott on the shoulder. “I wanna show you my room.”

“Okay, but it’s bath time soon,” Saskia said, clearing the table. “I’ll be up in a minute.”

“Bath time, yay mommy!” Scott winked at Saskia as he was dragged away.

“Not for you, silly.”

 

Bathtime was a wet and uproarious time with lots of bubbles and chasing of children, until they were dressed for bed. Scott left Avi reading the children a story, and carried the baby downstairs in her basket. Much later, the men enjoyed a beer while Saskia sipped fruit juice. Scott sprawled dramatically on a couch.

“Is it like that every night?”

“Pretty much,” Avi said. “I’m used to it now, but it was exhausting to begin with.”

“I’m pooped.” Scott took a long drink. “Think I’ll head up soon.”

“Whatever happened to the party boy, up all night to have fun?”

“That was then, Avi, and right now this is one tired boy.” He finished his drink. “You can give me the tour tomorrow. Good night.”

 

As he walked upstairs Scott heard Avi talking, but he couldn’t make out any words in the low-pitched rumble. He remembered the last time he eavesdropped, and kept going.

Chapter Text

The next morning Scott opened his blinds to a brighter morning, with patches of blue among the clouds. As Saskia had promised, green stretched away from the trees surrounding the house, and he could see down to the creek on the west side. His chest felt lighter, and meditation came easily.

 

He located the kitchen by smell.

“Morning Scott, sleep all right?” Avi was frying bacon, and Scott’s stomach rumbled.

“Like the proverbial log. Where is everyone?”

“Isaac and Kaela are at kindergarten. Sas should be down with Shira any minute. Help yourself to orange juice or milk, fridge is right there. Nearly done.”

“Good, because I’m starving.”

Avi brought two plates over to the table. “This should keep you going. Lots to see today, I promised you a tour. That means the house obviously, but it also means the grounds. And that means horses.”

Scott almost choked on his orange juice. “Horses? No, I don’t do horses. Just because I’m from Texas don’t mean I was born in the saddle.”

Avi laughed, loud and long, and Scott glared at him.

“What’s so funny?”

“Your face…priceless.” Avi grinned at Scott until he put his hands up in defeat. He couldn’t resist those green eyes for long, not when they came with a wide, genuine smile.

“Okay, okay. I guess I knew horses might happen when I came up.”

 

“He can take Juno, she’s steady. Morning Scott.” Saskia came into the kitchen and patted him on the shoulder. She put the moses basket on its stand near the window.

“I don’t do horses, save me,” Scott said dramatically.

Saskia sat opposite him with a bowl of cereal. “Nonsense, you’ll be fine, city boy. Juno knows exactly what to do.”

Scott sighed. He knew he was defeated, but though he was a little worried about the horse, he was also excited to try something new.

 

After breakfast Avi cleared up while Saskia showed Scott round the house. The music room and recording studio were even more impressive than his own, with views towards trees and space enough for a small choir. There was a gym, an indoor pool and spa that could be opened up to the outside along an entire wall, a ground floor bedroom suite for visiting parents with its own living area, and more. Large windows flooded the interior with light, while green and blue accents linked to the outdoors.

 

At the end of the west wing he found the guest rooms that Avi had mentioned. The biggest opened onto its own veranda with a hot tub, and an enclosed garden sloping away. Scott heard water running, although the creek was out of sight. He stood on the veranda, and closed his eyes.

Hot tub under a million stars, now that’s romantic. And if you’re plus one, well…

 

Avi’s words played over in his head, and Scott’s throat thickened and closed. He turned to Saskia, but she had gone, presumably to attend to the baby. He shut the glass veranda doors and walked down the long corridor alone, deep in thought.

 

An hour later they were out under blue skies, and Scott was relieved to find that Juno, a bay mare, was as gentle as he’d been told. Avi sat easily on his black gelding named Apollo, and the two horses walked side by side while the men talked about music, and how LA was both better and worse than Oregon.

 

Scott’s heart settled to a steady rhythm, with the horse secure beneath him and birds calling over a light breeze. He let the wind blow his worries away to the distant horizon, taking the memories with them. Here, his biggest worry was how long till lunch, how many times he would have to throw Kaela in the air while she shrieked with joy, and when he could hold the precious baby again.

 

By evening Scott was nicely tired. He’d been out for an hour on Juno, visited the creek, and survived another raucous family dinner, bath and story time. Relaxation crept into his stiff limbs. He collapsed onto the couch with a glass of red wine, pushing away the sudden mental image of a bottle of good Montepulciano d’Abruzzo sitting in his wine rack at home.

 

Avi and Saskia were still upstairs, and Scott twirled the empty wineglass in his fingers. Could he live like this, away from the bustle of LA? Maybe. Maybe with the right person, and a family of their own, and a purpose that didn’t depend entirely on other people’s validation. Sure, Avi made his music, but it was for himself before anyone else.

 

Quarterly charts, physical media and stream numbers meant much less than the freedom to follow his creative impulses. He still won a Grammy. Maybe he’d have more if he did more, but he did only as much as he wanted. He had enough, and he was content.

 

Today, happiness was the excited laughter of kids running around, the soft trickle of the creek, and Juno munching the apple he gave her. The contentment he had carefully constructed back in LA had been shattered when he dared reach for more. He should be satisfied with less.

 

“Penny for them, Scott?” Avi stood in front of him with the wine bottle.

“It’s wonderful here.” Scott held up his glass for a refill. “I needed to get away for a while. I may never want to leave.”

“Room is yours for however long. We’ve got no other bookings.”

“Saskia coming down?”

“As soon as Shira settles, she’s fussy tonight.” Avi sipped his beer. “Something on your mind?”

“No. Yes. I mean, maybe?” Scott downed the wine, unable to make sense. “Forget it.”

Avi said nothing, looking at Scott with kind eyes.

You’re not my therapist either. What is it with the Kaplans?

Words bubbled in his chest.

 

“Hey guys, she’s down at last.” Saskia came and sat next to Avi, tucked her feet up and leaned against him. He put his arm around her. “So, what do you think of our rustic log cabin?”

Scott flushed, but she winked at him and he relaxed. “He shouldn’t have told you that.” He wagged a finger at Avi, who shrugged and drank more beer. “It’s gorgeous, I love it all, especially the kids. I’m happy right now.”

“Glad to hear it. You two haven’t made any music together yet, and I’m wondering why.”

“Give us a chance, babe. Horses and kids today, music and kids tomorrow, that’s my plan. Don’t want to wear him out too soon.”

Right on cue Scott yawned, unable to stifle it.

“See? He needs his rest.” Avi pulled Saskia closer, and she relaxed with a little sigh.

“Sorry, must be all this country air. See you tomorrow.” Scott stood up and stretched his long back.

 

Then the sound of whimpering came from the baby monitor. Saskia moved to get up with a sigh, but Scott held up a hand.

“You rest sweetheart, I got this.”

“If you’re sure?” Saskia said, her feet already on the ground.

“It would be my pleasure. If you hear me call for help on the monitor, you can be the cavalry.”

Saskia put her feet up again. Avi hugged her to him and nodded to Scott. He took off upstairs, towards the ever louder sound of crying.

 

Shira cried and wriggled, tears falling down her face. Scott picked her up, holding his breath. Saskia had swaddled her, and Scott undid the blanket. He held the baby to his shoulder, cooing and making little sounds to comfort her. Still she cried, hiccupping between each wail, her tiny fists flailing. He rocked her and began to sing a lullaby, one he’d written years ago for his nephew Landon.

 

She quieted, so he sat in the rocker and shifted her into his arms so he could see her dark eyes watching him. A little later her lids started to droop, and he hummed another tune until she settled back to sleep. He leaned back, found a comfortable position with both his arms around her, and closed his eyes, still humming. Her warm weight against his heart comforted him. Although the past hurt and the future disappointed, in that moment he found peace without pain.

 

He woke to Shira being lifted from his arms.

“Go to bed, Scott.” Saskia pressed a kiss to his head. “Awesome job, thank you.”

He smiled and stumbled off to find his own room.

 

He woke slowly the next morning, limbs warm and heavy, face down in soft pillows. Turning onto his back, he counted his breaths and slipped into meditative space. Afterwards he opened the blinds to a cloudy morning, bright but without sun. This time he was awake early enough to breakfast with the children, help with shoes and coats, and wave them off with Avi. Staying busy kept the ghosts away.

 

When Avi returned, they saddled Juno and Apollo again, and rode out towards the hills, just high enough that they could look down on the country spread out below them. Scott was grateful that Avi brought them back before he could get too saddle-sore, and after a short rest they went out again on foot. Saskia came with them, her baby snuggled close in a sling.

 

This time they went down to the creek. Avi held Saskia’s hand, and they sat on smooth worn river rocks and chatted about anything and everything. When it was time for the next feed Saskia walked back to the house, leaving the two men alone.

 

Scott watched her go, and was startled by Avi’s deep voice.

“You’re a natural, you know.”

“Huh?”

“It was so quiet on the monitor, we couldn’t help but check on you both. Sas trusts you, but new moms are very protective, especially when the baby is still so young… and always, really. Anyway, you looked so precious, she made me take a picture.”

Scott raised a brow. “Really, Av? Creeping on me when I’m asleep? Pretty sure that’s some kind of federal offence.”

“Not if I show you.” Avi pulled out his phone and gave it to Scott.

 

He saw himself in the dim light of the nursery, Shira curled up on his chest with her face turned towards him. Scott lay back against the chair, arms wrapped securely around the baby, and his face was completely relaxed, every line smoothed out. He stared at the screen in silence, pressing his lips together to stop them trembling. There it was, hopes and dreams and everything fallen to pieces. He closed his eyes.

 

Avi’s hand was warm on his arm, but he said nothing. He waited, and Scott felt memories escape with a physical pain in his chest, like tearing off an old, blood-soaked bandage. Then the hand was gone, as Avi took his phone back. Scott hung his head. He wanted the warmth again, he couldn’t do this, there was no hiding any more.

Please don’t leave me. Everyone leaves me alone.

 

Scott shivered, and Avi put his arm around his shoulders.

“Breathe with me.” Avi began counting, and Scott screwed up his eyes. He breathed with the numbers until he calmed down, and Avi moved away. In the silence between them, Scott’s words clamoured for release. If he could just get them past the lump in his throat.

 

Scott swallowed. The water flowed by, and he imagined his words flowing by, past the rocks and over the dams he’d built.

“It was going so well, we were talking, and then we went to the music room and he, and he, he sang that one song. And I ran away and then I threw him out. He messaged me. I deleted them all. I guess I went on a bit of a bender, the week Shira was born, and you sent me messages and I tried. To be the man you think I am, instead of a pathetic drunk.”

 

After a pause, Scott found he could go on. “He sent me one last message, with flowers. And I don’t know where he is now, or if he’ll ever talk to me. I ruined it.”

Avi shuffled closer again, and Scott wanted to fall into his arms and cry. Instead he leaned into him a little, seeking comfort in his strength and constancy.

“Have you tried calling him?”

“I… can’t. Tried to text him but I don’t know what to say.” Scott pulled a card from his wallet and gave it to Avi. “This feels like goodbye.”

Avi scanned Mitch’s message, and handed it back. “When you split with Bailey, and he didn’t call, and you were so hurt. I practically begged him to contact you, but it never happened. I got mad, because you were all hurting but nobody was actually talking. And we know where that went.”

“Yeah.”

“Words don’t always come easy.”

 

Scott stared at the water, lost in the past. Mitch would fly in and demand to see him, and Scott would spend all his time doing what Mitch wanted. Bailey happily went along with it, clubbing and partying, or watching movies with popcorn at home in their pajamas. She knew how important Mitch was to Scott, and she loved him, so she made the effort. And she did enjoy his company, at first. But over time, the strain between Mitch and Bailey grew.

 

Scott tried to keep the peace. He loved them both, after all. But he dropped Bailey at short notice one time too many, and the fights began. He still could not think about some of the things that had been said. Afterwards he tried to work through it in songs, but only oblivion numbed the agony, and only for a while. He fell down a hole, and nobody caught him.

 

“Scott, let’s focus on now. We’ll have some lunch. Food always helps me think better.”

“Yeah.”

“We’ll figure it out, promise. Come on, you can feed Juno another apple. She likes that.”

“Do horses even eat lunch?” Scott got to his feet and rubbed his eyes. He listened to Avi talk about the care and feeding of horses. He was grateful that Avi didn’t seem to expect much from him in the way of actual conversation.

 

Avi was talkative about his passions. Scott kept quiet about his pain.

 

Chapter Text

Avi took Scott to the music room after lunch. Guitars, banjos, banjitars and other stringed instruments Scott barely recognised hung on the walls and filled floor stands. Gold and platinum discs and awards hung over shelves with Grammys in one corner. Scott counted fewer than he had at home, but still an impressive collection.

 

At the far end stood a baby grand piano, its glossy pale wood finish complemented by black legs and trimmings.

“Wow, look at that piano.”

“A present for Sas. She fell in love with it. Told me it fits the décor, but whatever.”

 

Scott clenched and unclenched his fists. “Mitch played my piano and sang that song, and I thought I was going to die.”

He looked over to his friend. “I want to forgive him, Av. Spoke to Kev about it, but it’s hard, it’s very hard to do. I just wanted…”

Past the piano, tall windows framed a view of trees. Scott’s gaze slipped away to the sky, cloudy again. Mitch was out there somewhere beyond reach.

 

“Let’s do something,” Avi said. He picked up a black guitar and pulled up a chair near the piano. “I see your fingers twitching, so sit down and play.” He strummed a few chords.

 

Scott sat at the piano and played some scales to loosen up. The piano had a beautiful warm tone, and he began to sing.

 

Come take my hand and walk with me

While gentle breezes shake the trees

We’ll lie in fields of ripened gold

Entwined until the sun grows cold

As long as there are stars above

And forever after, feel my love

 

Avi joined in, contributing an intricate bass line to his own song. When Scott ran out of lyrics Avi took over, and they spent some time exploring the melody. The simple joy of jamming with someone who knew him so well was balm to Scott’s soul.

 

They moved from one theme to another, and Scott brought some of his new lyrics to the party. Playing around with a different partner sparked new ideas, almost too many to capture. They scribbled words on paper, recorded bits of melodies, and lost themselves in their music. It recalled a past filled with happier memories.

 

They hardly noticed Saskia come in, with mugs of coffee and Shira snug in her sling.

“Having fun, boys?”

“Hey babes.” Avi got up and kissed his wife’s cheek. “Sorry, we lost track of the time.” He stroked Shira’s back and kissed her head. “I’ll come back now.”

“Don’t be silly, I see you’re getting into it and I can manage. Jo is bringing the kids back, so relax.”

She looked over at Scott. “How do you like my piano? It’s vintage.”

“Beautiful, is what it is. I love my Steinway, but this is real nice.” Scott played a run along the whole keyboard with a flourish to end.

“So, enjoy. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

Avi kissed Saskia again and drank some coffee. “Scott, that chord progression in the first chorus, what do you think of this?” He picked up his guitar with a grin.

 

Scott found a new routine. He and Avi hiked or rode in the mornings, and made music in the afternoons until Isaac and Kaela came home. The evenings were a blur of laughter over home-cooked meals, piggy-back rides, baths and story time. He joked with Avi and Saskia, and took every opportunity to hold Shira. Rocking her and singing a soft lullaby became his nightly job, and afterwards he relaxed into a warm bed feeling more contented than any time since his party.

 

Six days passed, and Scott knew he had to return to real life in LA. He dutifully answered emails and messages, but the one name he hoped and feared to see on his screen never appeared. He booked his return flight and pushed thoughts of Mitch from his mind.

 

***

 

 

Mitch stood under a torrent of stinging hot water. He wanted to stay home, but that wasn’t on the cards. Maybe there would be someone interesting to talk to, but he didn’t have much hope. These parties were all the same, full of glossy beautiful people with white shark teeth. Their eyes were always shifting away in search of someone else, someone more useful or important. He was weary of the game he’d learned to play.

 

Luca had helped him so much. He was a natural connector, bringing people together. And they were quite the power couple in Milan and elsewhere, lighting up red carpets with their sharp style and undoubted presence. They would wear complementary outfits with a twist. One of Mitch’s favourites was a skin-tight black and white top with a plunging front, modelled on a tuxedo, and wide silky pants that recalled a skirt, the hems peppered with rhinestones that sparkled under the lights. He designed them himself.

 

With Luca’s hand on his waist Mitch felt like a million dollars. He gazed up at his handsome boyfriend, with his blue eyes and precisely trimmed beard, and dreamed of messing up his perfect black hair, maybe in the back of their limo on the way home. Cameras popped. Life was good.

 

When had it stopped being good?

 

Mitch dried himself, and mechanically went through his routine. Lotion, makeup, hair. It was growing longer and he couldn’t decide whether to cut it, shave it, or leave it. He stared at his face, checking that any sadness was concealed beneath the mask. He had no time to wallow and he wouldn’t drink, this was a night for detached glamour. The intercom buzzed, and he left his heart behind on his way to another performance.

 

Much later he returned, stripped and showered away the fake smiles that clung to his skin like old cigarette smoke. This apartment had no blue velvet couch to remind him of the man with the sky in his eyes. But he had memories, and he was ready to wallow. The chasm opened up inside and he filled it with Cristal before diving right in.

 

The lead actor in the movie he wasn’t really watching on TV turned to look over his shoulder, and Mitch felt a sharp pain in his chest that left him gasping. He looked so like Luca in that moment, so like Luca walking away, telling Mitch he was nothing without him, that he lacked real talent or star quality. Every barb hit the mark, and his heart quivered, ripped open and dying. He covered his pain well, but no matter what he did or what people said those barbs remained, burrowed so deep now that they felt like part of him.

 

He swigged champagne from the bottle. Avi had been comforting on the phone, but Mitch declined his invitation to visit. Babies really weren’t his thing, and though he loved Avi for looking out for him he didn’t want to impose.

“He’s hurting badly.”

“I know that, Avi. I just don’t know what I did that was so wrong.”

“Talk to him.”

“I tried. He didn’t want to know.”

“You don’t know that. You remember how hard it is to make things right.”

Mitch paused. He’d said some terrible things in his time, and he knew how it felt to hear them. “I tried.”

Avi didn’t hesitate. “You want to mend things? Then try harder.”

“Okay.” It was barely a whisper.

“Look, I don’t want to beat you down. I love you both. But you need to be honest, and brave. Is this friendship worth it?”

 

Mitch flinched. Friendship? After all they’d shared, all the promises of forever, it seemed such a small word to encompass that huge and complicated mess they’d created to hide in together.

“Mitch?”

“I’m here. Of course he’s worth it. I don’t deserve to get him back.”

He heard Avi sigh. “You knew him best so find a way. Don’t tell me he’s worth it. Show him.”

 

Mitch tipped the bottle and found it was empty. He dragged himself into the kitchen and poured a glass of water, swallowed Xanax and got into bed. After a few minutes he got up again, brushed his teeth and pulled on an old tee shirt over his boxers. He shivered although the bedroom wasn’t really cold. Then he curled into a ball in bed and willed himself to relax, waiting for the Xanax to kick in.

 

God, he missed being held.

 

Next day found him up and hustling. Once Mitch had wanted nothing more than to stand out, to be noticed and celebrated. Now he found bleak solace in his anonymity among thousands of others, riding the subways and yellow taxis, head down against the biting wind of late autumn New York.

 

After his meetings, Mitch retreated to the smart rented condo on the upper West Side. He showered and slipped into cashmere sweater and pants. His skin glowed with rose scented lotion. He was getting through pints of it now it seemed, trying to calm his skin after the ravages of multiple showers. Cashmere sat well on skin that was constantly tingling after penance with hot water.

 

The concierge was very helpful in arranging a car to take him to Kirstie’s house upstate. He never got used to driving, and he preferred to relax while someone else took care of it. One more night in the city, and he could escape for a while.

 

Twenty-four hours later, he was seated in Kirstie’s vast kitchen drinking coffee.

“I still can’t believe you’re here, Mitch. It’s just us tonight, the girls are staying with friends and Jeremy is away for a few days.”

“Girls night then?”

Kirstie smiled back. “Girls night with wine and snacks, movies, anything you want. Dinner in one hour, so why don’t you go have a rest and get changed? Chardonnay is chilling and I decided to try a new vegetarian recipe.”

He kissed her cheek. “Sounds perfect.”

 

Upstairs he toyed with having another shower, but decided just to wash his face and lie down after changing into his cashmere loungewear again. There was no chance of sleep, so he closed his eyes and tried to breathe away his mild headache. By the time Kirstie called him down, he felt less jittery.

 

Kirstie served butternut squash and sage soufflés followed by beetroot and goat’s cheese terrine with wild rice. When she sliced the terrine to reveal its dramatic alternating layers of red and white, Mitch clapped his hands.

“Girl, you have outdone yourself.” He tasted it and smiled. “Delizioso.”

He busied himself eating to hide the fact that the smile dropped from his face at that word. Last time he’d said it over a plate of wonderful food, things had not ended well.

 

“Everything all right?”

He looked up to find Kirstie’s dark eyes fixed on him. He opened his mouth, and closed it again, then put down his fork and stared at it. All the pain was locked up tight, but when he felt her warm hand on his, he cracked. He was tired of hiding.

“Not even slightly.”

Kirstie said, “Let’s take this over to the couch. No, leave it, I’ll clear up later. Come on.” She refilled the wine glasses and pulled Mitch by the hand.

 

Chapter Text

Mitch and Kirstie cuddled on the couch in silence. Mitch wriggled round so his head lay in her lap, and stared up at the ceiling. He enjoyed the feel of her fingers stroking his arm, and he breathed out.

“Love this cashmere, darling,” she said. “So soft.”

“I fucked up,” he said. “Really truly. He invited me for a meal, he even cooked for me. I wanted to talk to him, finally talk and apologise properly. For Bailey, for everything.” He closed his eyes. “Instead, I hurt him, again, and he hates me, again.”

He was grateful that she remained silent, rubbing circles on his scalp and waiting.

“Luca and me, we had something real. I loved him, Kirst. But he wanted me to stay in Italy and leave everything behind. Leave the past behind me.”

“Mmm.”

“He didn’t want me to sing any more. Said I’d become more than just a singer and I should embrace it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved experimenting with my talents. I modelled, tried out for films, did some designing, but music was off limits. We rowed, God, I don’t know how many times, then we’d kiss and have incredible make up sex and go to another party.”

 

Mitch sat up and took a sip of wine, then curled into the corner of the couch away from Kirstie. He didn’t deserve comfort for what he was about to say.

“Did Scott ever tell you what happened?”

“Not really. He said that it was over between you, that’s all. None of us could honestly believe it. And when Bailey left him soon after, he crumbled. Hid himself away and you know, it was a dark time.” Kirstie pressed her lips together. “He wouldn’t see me. Or anyone.”

 

“We had a really big fight. I’d come back from Italy and things were a bit rocky… he wanted Bailey to come out with us. But I wanted some time just with my best friend. I needed to talk.” Mitch took a breath.

“He said I had to get along with her, she was his everything. I couldn’t accept that he… we started shouting at each other, and it just slipped out.”

“What?”

“I told him he was using Bailey to get a baby. That he was denying his truth. That – that he could lie to himself but I didn’t want any part of it. And then I left.”

 

He gulped air. There was more, but he didn’t want to remember all those bitter words, and Scott’s shocked face, and how his righteous anger had turned to ash in his mouth.

Beside him Kirstie went very still.

“Scott never really labelled himself," she said quietly. "He says the heart wants what it wants. Of all people--"

“I know. He should have had my support, no question. But Bailey wanted more of him, and less of me. Once we started to fight over him, there was no going back.”

 

Mitch hid his face in a cushion, shoulders shaking.

“No! Don’t touch me.” It came out sharper than he meant.

He turned back to see Kirstie withdraw her hand. Her eyes were wide, and Mitch saw expressions flit across her face; sadness, hurt, anger.

“How could you say that to him? How could you, Mitch?”

“I didn’t… I couldn’t… Luca made me stay in Italy and swear I’d never see him again. Everything was going to hell, Kirstie. And when I did get away to see him he was going on about Bailey, and weddings, and babies, and I couldn’t stand it.”

“It was his future, and he loved her! Why couldn’t you be happy for him? You had Luca, the glamour, everything you always wanted.” She frowned at him. “He always supported you, he was your number one cheerleader. Always.”

 

Kirstie got up and paced the floor while Mitch tried to burrow further into the corner. Her face was flushed with anger and she stabbed a finger at him.

“I can’t believe you would be so fucking cruel,” she shouted. “After all the years you shared? Not everything is about you, Mitchell.”

 

She was right, he was a worthless self-centred piece of shit. He wanted to disappear, bring an end to all this painful mess. The cry escaped his lips before he could swallow it.

 

After a moment Kirstie sat beside him again. “Mitch, please don’t cry. I love you, I do, but this is a lot to take in.”

 

Mitch turned and fell into her arms. All the tears he had denied and suppressed for so long that they turned cold and hard like bullets, shattered his masks and peeled back all pretence. He had scrubbed his skin raw, but he could never wash that stain off his heart.

“I got you. It’s all right.”

 

Mitch let himself fracture into a million pieces. He sobbed and gasped. His eyes and nose were swollen and hot, but he couldn’t care about that, couldn’t think about anything but the guilt and naked pain he had buried under a veneer of indifference.

It’s not all right. It’s all my fault.

 

After an eternity, his sobs faded to hiccups. Kirstie held him securely, rocking and shushing him like a mother would.

He took a couple of stuttering breaths. “Water?”

“It’s okay, I’ll get it. Stay there.” She got up and returned with water, tissues and a wet cloth. He blew his nose, then leaned back and let her place the cool cloth over his face.

“Sorry. But there’s nobody else I can talk to. I promised Avi…” Mitch twisted the tissue in his hands. “I promised. And then I fucked up, just the same.”

“It will be okay. It will.” Kirstie took both his hands and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “You’re going to make it right, and I’ll help. But right now, we’re gonna finish that wine and watch a movie, your choice.”

 

When his head was swimming in wine, Mitch let Kirstie lead him upstairs. He barely had the energy to wash his face before collapsing into bed. He snuggled under the comforter, the pillowcase satin smooth under his cheek. Probably 600 thread count was his last coherent thought.

 

The next morning he woke with a dry mouth and slight headache. On the plus side, he’d been asleep for a good eight hours. He dragged himself to the bathroom, avoiding the mirror, and slumped against the cool tile in the shower. He couldn’t help turning the heat up to steam away the regret and self-loathing burned into his skin. After that, a meticulous skincare routine grounded him.

 

He still disliked the face that looked back from the mirror, but at least didn’t feel the need to slather it in product. Just a touch of concealer for the suitcases under his eyes, and he was able to face the day.

 

“Morning.” Kirstie looked bright and cheerful, hair in a messy bun and a welcoming smile. She poured him a black coffee. “Can you face breakfast?”

“Hey, just caffeine for the moment, thanks.”

“Okay.” She busied herself cooking, humming quietly. Mitch was grateful again for her simple acceptance. He looked out at the gardens, and sipped his coffee.

“Here you go.” She slid him a plate with half a mushroom omelette and tomato slices, and sat next to him. “You need to eat a little, then you’ll feel better. Don’t fight me on this.”

“Kirstie, I—”

She wagged a finger. “Don’t talk. Eat.”

Mitch swallowed a small forkful, and it tasted good; he quickly finished it all. His stomach felt more settled, and he smiled as Kirstie took away the plates and produced a small fruit platter.

“You’re too good to me.”

“Somehow I think you need some home cooking and home comforts.”

He toyed with a strawberry. “Well, if I had a home, that’d be a start.”

“Home is something you build over time, Mitch. You have to decide what and where. And who.” She picked up a pineapple chunk and waved it for emphasis. “Any ideas?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. That’s just fear talking.”

“I can’t.” He stood up. “Just going to freshen up, thanks for breakfast. Back in a minute.”

 

The heavy weight of Kirstie’s gaze lay on Mitch as he walked from the kitchen, feigning calm. But in his room he dropped on the bed, fighting to control his breathing. His heart ballooned, crushing his lungs. Air would not pass through his throat. His lips quivered and tingled, and when he shut his eyes, bright spots dotted his vision. He was floating away, bloated heart vibrating too fast, everything trembling. Is this the end?

 

Mitch gasped and forced his eyes open. Something to see, he focused on a white robe hanging on the back of the door. Something to feel, he rubbed the smooth linen between finger and thumb. Something to hear, his blood rushed in his ears, but then he heard the quiet tick of a clock on the nightstand. Something to taste, he found the faintest trace of strawberry still on his tongue. His heart slowed, shrunk down to normal size, he took a breath, exhaled slowly. Slowly he sat up and then went into the bathroom. He inhaled mandarin and lime scented shower gel. That was the last sense he needed to ground him with its familiar citrus aroma, finally coming back to himself.

 

Then he washed his hands, counting to twenty over and over. That was not good. He thought he was past this. He watched his reflection, controlled his breathing, waiting until the mask was back in place.

 

Back downstairs, Kirstie waited in the kitchen. “You feeling better? I didn’t mean to push. Just want to help you figure things out.” She was all concern, but he didn’t want to be pitied.

Mitch mustered a smile. “I guess. I’d love a tour of the house now.”

She smiled encouragingly and sang out, “Take my hand, come with me.”

 

She led him around, showing each room dramatically as though she was a real estate agent. The family room was his favourite, a double height glass extension flooded with light and filled with inviting furniture. Though the November day was cool, inside was cosy. She brought in a tray with tea and honey, and muffins that he guessed were home made.

 

“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble,” he murmured as he sat down.

“Whatever happened to diva Mitch? Bring me this, do that, bow down to the queen?” She poured herbal tea and settled herself opposite.

“Are you kidding me? Or trying to poison me? You should remember I only drink apple and elderflower tea now. God, I do hope that’s organic honey at least.” He fixed her with a haughty look, and she dissolved into giggles.

“Much better! Naturally it is organic, and I can get apple tea if you want.”

Mitch rolled his eyes and sighed. “Apple and elderflower, why does nobody pay attention any more?” He exaggerated the drawl, and felt better.

“Right away, ma’am.”

“Don’t ma’am me.“ He nibbled a muffin. “I like this.”

 

“So, about Scott. There will be no more running away. You will contact him and reopen communication.”

“He doesn’t want—”

“And you will continue until he responds. And then you’ll know.”

Mitch nodded. The memory of writing that final card was still raw. “I took a job in Europe, seemed like a good move at the time.” He bit another piece of muffin. “I leave next week.”

“It is the twenty-first century, Mitch.” Her gaze was direct and he couldn’t look away. “Phones and Skype are a thing.”

He sighed. “He ignored all my messages, I sent some flowers with a card, he ignored that too.”

“So you’re just giving up then? Letting him go.”

“You don’t understand, I don’t want to. But what else can I do?”

“Text him again. Send flowers again. Camp on his doorstep. Act like you actually give a damn.” She glared at him.

 

The blood rushed to his face and he raised his voice. “How dare you? You have no right to say that, you don’t know how I feel. Scott is – is…” He stared at her. “Scott is everything to me, can’t you see that?”

He frowned in confusion when she smiled and picked up her teacup. “Right. Now we’re getting somewhere. You’re dropping the act.”

“But I don’t deserve him!” he shouted. He wanted to throw something, and he breathed the impulse away while she watched him. “Don’t fucking look at me like that.”

“Language, Mitchell. I’m not going to tell you what to do. Just admit to yourself that you can actually be proactive here, and stop wallowing. There’s a lot to talk about, and I for one really want you to get on with it. Then I can invite you all to stay. I miss my trio.” She sipped her tea.

 

Mitch sagged, deflated. “I feel so helpless.”

“And yet, you’re not.” She moved to sit next to him. “I can’t bear all this bad blood between you, it kills me to see you both suffer. Admit to your mistakes and be sincere. You have to be brave.”

Mitch hugged her tight. He remembered Avi had said something like that. “Thank you.”

“And if you behave like a total asshole and hurt him again, I’ll kill you myself. Do not test me.”

He hung his head. “Can you forgive me?”

“It’s not me you should be asking.” She shook her head, looking sad.

“Don’t think I don’t know. He deserves better.”

She kissed his cheek. “You both do. But you have some serious talking to do.“

“What would I do without you?”

“Probably blunder around, not knowing how to repair the most important relationship in your life. Or something like that.” She winked and gathered up the cups.

 

Mitch excused himself and returned to his bedroom. He needed to think through his next move, and time ticked by while he flailed around without making a decision. His visit passed in a blur of wine, home cooking and reminiscing. He laughed a lot, Kirstie painted his nails, Cassidy and Melissa played new music for him. It was just what he needed.

 

Four days later Mitch sat in the departure lounge at JFK airport. His stomach danced with nerves that were not entirely due to flying. He still found it hard sometimes, especially when he flew alone. Which was most of the time now. He checked the time repeatedly, though he knew the west coast was still mostly asleep. By the time he was settled in his seat, he had no choice but to switch his phone to airplane mode, and hope for the best.

 

Chapter Text

On Scott’s last morning, he got up with the children and they all had breakfast together. He smiled brightly when Isaac begged him not to go, promising that he’d return.

Kaela clung to his leg. “Sott, Sott, stay,” she wailed. Avi peeled her away but she continued to cry in his arms.

He ended up riding along when Avi took them to kindergarten. In the excitement of seeing their friends, the children went off quite happily. Scott had to bite his lip and arrange his expression into something upbeat. It was what they needed. He was quiet on the way home, and Avi turned on the radio to fill the silence.

They drank coffee for the last time in the kitchen, and Scott checked the time.

“Relax, I got this,” Avi said. “Why don’t you go up and say goodbye to the girls?”

Scott tapped on the nursery door and went in. Saskia had just finished changing Shira, and Scott watched them smile at each other with a faint ache in his chest.

“Could I?”

“Of course, there you go.” Saskia handed him the baby.

He cradled Shira in his arms and babbled to her. She smiled, and it was like the sun coming out. “Bye, baby girl. I’ll miss you.” He kissed her forehead and gave her back.

“Thank you for everything, Saskia.”

“It’s been our pleasure, Scott. Avi loved making music with you, the kids adore you too.” Saskia settled the baby in her basket, then turned to embrace Scott. “It will be your turn one day.”

Scott wanted to believe that. “She’s so beautiful.”

Saskia rubbed his back. “Come back soon. I’m useless at airports, so I’m staying here. But you gotta come back, now you know Juno, she wants more apples from you.”

He released her and kissed her cheek. “I’ve had the best time. Who knew a log cabin could be so fabulous?”

“Off you go, before I forget why I like you.”

He walked away with a smile, and one last glance at the moses basket.

 

Back downstairs, he picked up his bag. Time to leave this place that was everything Avi had promised. He’d found a sanctuary, a place where he could be part of something real, and he was going to miss it. The men talked about this and that on the way to the airport, and when they reached the gate Scott squared his shoulders. He was a grown man and he certainly could not be crying in public.

“I’ve loved every minute.”

“It’s been great having you here. We have those songs to finish, and I’ll be in touch. Look after yourself.” Avi embraced him.

“Thanks for everything Avi. Means more than I can say.” Scott nodded and walked briskly through the gate. He hated goodbyes.

 

Some hours later Scott shut the front door behind him with a sigh. His house was spotless and silent, but still familiar. He turned the heating on, made coffee and went upstairs. His back felt a little tight after travelling and he stretched till it popped. He wondered about calling his chiropractor, but decided to wait. He’d see how he felt after a workout or two.

 

Scott didn’t remember lying down, but he woke to find the room dark. The coffee was cold and his stomach empty. He went back to the kitchen though it offered little in the way of options. Breakfast was a long time ago and there was no fresh food in the house. Smiling at the memory of Kaplan family dinners, he decided to order some Thai food. His phone was still in airplane mode, and he turned it off. How had he missed that? He’d got a little too relaxed, and it was time to get back to work mode.

Notifications popped up and he waited. He just wanted to order, eat and sort out his inbox. When the buzzing stopped he made the call and started scrolling through the messages.

“Mitch Grassi”

Hunger morphed into nausea in a heartbeat. Scott stared at the screen, then closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. When he opened his eyes, the name was still there. His finger hovered over the letters. He tapped the screen.

‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’ Elton John

The doorbell rang, and he paid the driver before returning to sit looking at the message. Okay then. He ate his food mindlessly, then went to the computer.

 

It’s sad, so sad, why can’t we talk it over

Oh it seems to me, that sorry seems to be the hardest word

 

He listened to the song. He was so tired, of not knowing what to do, how he felt, of being torn apart by opposing emotions. Why didn’t Mitch just leave him alone?

When he did, you didn’t like it. You don’t know what you want, never have.

Scott turned his phone off and lay on the couch. He flicked through channels until he couldn’t bear the noise and then went to bed.

 

Next day Scott pushed the text out of his mind while he ran mile after mile on the treadmill, rowed till his arms turned to jelly, and finished with stretches. He’d been lucky and never had any bad injuries, but his back was much looser if he paid attention to it. Getting older, he thought without humour. Got to take care of myself. Who else would?

 

***

 

Mitch dropped his bag on the chair with a sigh. The Munich hotel room was blandly luxurious, and there was only one thing he wanted to do. He stripped and stood under the showerhead, surrounded by steam. He nudged the temperature up and scrubbed the travel grime away with mandarin and lime body wash, hoping the citrus hit would revive him.

 Once cocooned in a hotel robe, he checked his messages. He frowned, trying to work out what time it was in LA. Scott had left him on read, but he didn’t really expect more. It was close to midnight and he had an early start, so he ordered room service and settled down to watch a movie until he was relaxed enough to sleep. This fashion shoot would take only a few days, and he had a plan.

 

The next morning his alarm went off far too early. The driver was punctual and Mitch was grateful for time on the journey to hide behind tinted windows. Nine a.m. in Munich, three a.m. in New York, midnight in LA. He felt groggy and it was going to be hard work to sparkle. Maybe he could just do weary disdain, that was easy enough.

Erik the photographer was young, red haired and energetic. Enthusiasm rolled off him in waves, and Mitch found himself perking up, absorbing some of his upbeat vibe. The EDM playing didn’t hurt either. But the end of the day’s shooting came, and still nothing from Scott. Mitch stared at the screen while waiting for his car.

 

It was the disappointment that made him vulnerable he thought later, when he found himself chatting over drinks in the hotel bar with another guest after eating dinner alone. He knew how that game played out, and he graciously declined a nightcap saying he needed to rest for an early start. This was not untrue, plus the jetlag was messing him up. It got harder to deal with every passing year.

He checked again before bed. It was past midday in LA. Plenty of time to answer.

 

The next day was full of interviews. During a break Mitch sipped a coffee and picked up his phone. The notification hit him unawares.

‘Judas’ Kelly Clarkson

He didn’t know the song but the meaning was clear. He sucked in a breath, eyes closed. He had another interview and he needed to focus. His heart swam around his chest in a sea of unshed tears. Okay then.

 

On returning to the hotel later, Mitch spotted the blue neon sign for Blauenzimmer across the road. He’d partied in that club before, and drowning his sorrows in cocktails and loud electronica had a certain appeal. Or he could have a discreet word with the concierge, to find a quiet place where nobody knew his name.

Instead he went through his daily ritual. Scalding hot water, soothing rose lotion, soft cashmere for his skin.

 

The only one who took you in
The only one who held your hand
Defended you against the others
Had your back on everything
Never let you down
You turned around betrayed your only brother

 

He swallowed. “I deserved that,” he said aloud.

They’d gone from snarky comments and passive aggressive jibes to full-out shouting matches. It all seemed like a particularly bad dream sometimes, but it had happened. He closed his eyes and let the memories play.

 

It was eighteen months ago, perhaps longer. Mitch had arrived at the restaurant in LA weary but excited to see Scott again. He wanted to talk about Scott’s album, and about the film he had auditioned for. He had a good feeling about it. He also hoped to cuddle with Scott sometime, and tell him about a bruising row with Luca the week before. It ended with Mitch storming out of their apartment. When he came back not twenty minutes later, having walked off his fury, Luca was gone. Mitch sat up most of the night with his phone, biting his thumb till it bled. Luca didn’t call.

The next evening Luca reappeared, kissed Mitch and apologised in bed, via the couch. Mitch felt he was owed an explanation. But when Luca peppered his body in hot kisses he forgot everything except a passion that felt real. It was, as always, a very good apology, and he accepted it.

 

So after a long, tedious flight and a mix-up with his bags, Mitch yearned for the comfort of his best and oldest friend. He was not amused when Scott turned up hand in hand with Bailey. But he was always professional.

“Hey Mitch, lovely to see you! You’re looking fabulous as ever.” Bailey greeted him with a huge smile.

He accepted her kiss on both cheeks. “You too.”

“My turn now. Mitchie, I missed you.” Scott held his arms wide, and Mitch embraced him lightly. How much did he want to rest his head against Scott’s broad chest and just stay there, preferably at home in their pajamas. Instead he stepped back and smiled warmly.

 

“I’m here, at last. Travelling is such a bore.”

“Did you have issues? Oh God, airlines are the worst. Remember when they lost all our bags that time in Mexico?” Bailey looked at Scott, who laughed.

“As if I could forget. I literally had nothing to wear but the clothes on my back.”

“I had to take Scotty shopping, what a hardship.” Bailey smiled fondly at Scott.

Mitch felt his stomach lurch sideways at the pet name, his pet name.

 

“Well, you had no other clothes either. Not that I objected. “ He gazed down at Bailey with a lopsided grin, and when she closed her eyes for the kiss Mitch snapped.

“Shall I excuse myself now?” He held eye contact with Bailey, who blushed and tucked her blonde hair behind her ear. “Or could you possibly save the PDA for later?”

“C’mon Mitchie, don’t be like that. You must be tired—”

“Are you saying I look bad?” Mitch skewered Scott with a cool look.

“No, no of course not, you look amazing as always. Look, let’s get some drinks and eat, you’ll feel better okay? It’s been so long since we saw you, please don’t be mad.” Scott wrung his hands, while Bailey studied her feet. Their reactions both pleased and saddened Mitch.

“Yes. Just the three of us, how intimate.” Mitch was in control, and he savoured his victory, such as it was.

Scott’s face fell for a moment, then he pasted on a smile. “Of course, the trio back together again.”

This isn’t THE trio.

 

The waiter showed them to their table, breaking the tension. The conversation moved onto safer topics, but when dessert was proposed Bailey declined.

“Gotta run, early start tomorrow. You guys have fun without me.” She blew Mitch a kiss and pressed her lips to Scott’s while Mitch stared at his hands, folded on the table. Scott’s gaze followed her as she left.

 

“Scott. Are you listening?”

“Sure, sure.” He ran a hand through his hair and smiled. “I’m all ears.”

“Really. So shall we go then?” Mitch tried to keep irritation from his voice. This was harder work than it needed to be.

“Go?” His brow creased in a frown. “Go where?”

“Out, Scott. Anywhere, I don’t mind, drink some nasty cocktails and dance off this jetlag.”

“God, um, sorry but I can’t tonight. How about we meet for breakfast? I’ll pick you up at your hotel.”

“I see.”

Mitch thought of the guest room in Scott’s condo that practically had his name on it. He still had clothes in the closet. The invitation never came. He exhaled and squared his shoulders, made eye contact with Scott, projected calm.

“Please, Mitch? I’ll make it up to you.”

I really doubt that.

“Perhaps I should call a cab. Let me know what you decide.” He got up and swept past Scott, head held high. This couldn’t be happening, and yet it was.

 

He caught the shock on Scott’s face, reading his tiniest expressions with an ease borne of years together. Mitch the actor projected a hard exterior. Hot anger turned his tears to steam, propelling him out of the restaurant, back to a lonely hotel room. Hadn’t he seen enough of those?

 

He never could resist the appeal in those blue eyes. But he was going to have to learn.

 

Mitch shivered, curled up in the big hotel armchair, caught up in the past. It was getting him nowhere, apart from reminding him what an asshole he could be sometimes. No wonder he had nobody and nowhere to run to.

Food might help, though hunger was the last thing on his mind. He realised he’d had nothing to eat since a small breakfast. He was surviving on coffee, and maybe he was a bit jittery as a result. Room service seemed the best way to avoid everyone, including the cute man from the bar. While he waited for it to arrive, he thought about another song.

 

We were number one

I was wrong, I messed up and now you’re gone

 

Six p.m. in Munich, nine a.m. in LA. Did Scott even remember SpongeBob any more? In two more days Mitch would be back in New York. Maybe things would be clearer by then. He pressed send.

 

Chapter Text

Scott ran. Feet hit the treadmill in a staccato rhythm, speed a little higher, and his breathing stuttered. Feet pounding, heart pounding, fists clenched, and everything slightly out of sync. He stumbled and only just caught himself before falling. He jumped off the belt, cursing. Sweat stung his eyes and he scrubbed a towel over his head and neck. He grabbed his gloves and punched. Left, right, left, he attacked the bag and eventually collapsed against it, breathing heavily.

 

Despite his protesting muscles a ball of energy remained knotted inside his chest, dynamite wrapped in eggshells and housed in glass. He dropped the gloves on the floor, peeled off his sodden gear and stood under a torrent of water. He nudged the temperature down to cool skin that was overheated and paper-thin.

 

Meditation was impossible. Contentment was a distant memory. One last blast of cold water, a veneer of ice to seal the cracks, and he was done.

 

It took a Google search to identify the lyrics Mitch had sent, and they still sat heavy in his gut. Scott gritted his teeth and answered emails, concentrating on the screen. His jaw ached, and he couldn’t eat, and it was all his fault. Outside, light drizzle fell under a brooding sky.

 

After an hour he grabbed his songbook and flicked through the pages.

 

You think I’m wrong, you think I’m scared

You knocked me down again

Been gone so long and you don’t care

And now we can’t be friends

You let me go, left me all alone

That’s okay cause I’m better off on my own

 

Don’t think I’ll give you one more chance

To leave me lost without a glance

 

 

His thumbs flew over the screen as he typed the lyrics and pressed send. Have fun Googling that, asshole.

 

He got up and paced the floor, chewing on his lip, unable to focus. His brain short-circuited, filled with a stream of curse words. If he didn’t get out he was going to explode. Eleven a.m. in LA, and he didn’t know where Mitch was or even what time zone he was in. Scott was adrift, and he couldn’t see land any more.

 

Much later, Scott stumbled through his front door after wrestling with the lock.

“Oops.” He giggled and dropped his keys on the hall table.

“Wow, nice place.” His shorter companion helped him over to the living room. “I could get used to this.”

“C’mere and get used to this,” Scott slurred, dropping back on the couch. The dark haired man smiled and hovered over Scott, pressing hot kisses to his neck.

 

Scott closed his eyes, brain finally spinning in neutral, and no discernible emotion messing with his head. Plus Daniel, or Davis, whatever his name was, definitely had skills. Scott had watched him show off his moves and a very slappable ass. He responded to Scott’s hands on his hips with enthusiasm, and before long they were making out in the back of the club. Taking him home was inevitable, the most natural thing in the world.

 

He ground his hips and Scott groaned. Daniel took this as encouragement, and his kisses trailed lower, over Scott’s chest. He opened three shirt buttons for better access, then blew gently over one nipple. Scott shivered, and felt a vibration against his butt. His eyes fluttered open.

“Lemme get that.” He tried to sit up.

“Forget it, we’re busy.” Davis pressed him back onto the white leather couch, and attached his lips to Scott’s nipple again, flicking the tip with his tongue. It felt so good, sending sparks through his body, and he gasped. It had been too, too long.

 

“No, jus’ wanna…ahh…take it out. Safe.”

“Okay, you take it out and I’ll watch.” Daniel stood up with a sly grin, and Scott sat up enough to reach into his back pocket and pull out the phone. Even in his alcohol haze he remembered that a bit of rough and tumble wasn’t worth the hassle of a cracked screen.

 

He glanced at the phone.

 

“Put that down and lie back, let me take care of you.” Davis started to remove his shirt, licking his lower lip.

“Yeah, one minute.” Scott blinked and sat up fully. His brain refused to engage.

“C’mon baby, I know what you need.” Daniel came forward and trailed his fingers over the distinct bulge in his impossibly tight jeans.

 

Scott looked from the phone to the man in front of him, trying to process. The heat in his veins dissipated abruptly. He couldn’t remember his name.

“The things I’m gonna do to you.” His tone was seductive. He had really great abs. Undeniably attractive.

“Um, I’m sorry, I just… sorry. I can’t.”

Davis’s dark brows lowered, his jaw tight. “What? I thought you were into this. Clearly I was wrong.”

“Sorry, I—” Scott looked at his feet. It seemed the safest place.

“Sorry? Sorry don’t mean shit. You rich bastards are all the same. Get me an Uber, I’ll wait outside. Asshole.” The man grabbed his shirt and stormed out cursing. He slammed the front door behind him.

 

Scott made the call, and then poured a glass of water with ice. He sat with his phone.

 

“Mitch Grassi”

 

Nausea had him swallowing hard. He drank more water and shook his head to clear it. What was he doing? Trying to have some fun. And then suddenly it wasn’t. What was he thinking? That’s right, he wasn’t thinking at all. And what Daniel/Davis said was true, sorry don’t mean shit. He should have learned that by now.

 

Scott

I guess those are your own words? I deserve them all. I only ask one thing.

Please let me respond, in my own words. Just give me one last chance to talk to you.

I’m back in NY from November 14th. Name a time and place, I will be there.

Mitch

 

A headache was already building and he knew it wouldn’t be any better in the morning. He took some ibuprofen and went up to bed with a bottle of water. This night had not gone to plan at all.

 

***

 

Jetlag was marginally easier to deal with flying west, but exhaustion was seeping into Mitch’s bones by the time he returned to the upper West Side apartment. Despite this he unpacked immediately. He should probably go to the gym, maybe even swim. There was a nice residents’ gym and spa in the basement. Kevin had always sworn that exercise helped with jetlag.

 

Instead he took a short, hot shower, got into some loose sweats and lay down on the giant bed. He texted Kirstie and noted the absence of the one message he was waiting for. Disappointment hung around him like a cloud, but he accepted it. There was nothing more he could do to change the situation, so he waited.

 

Thanksgiving loomed large and he could visit his parents, if it came to it, though that wasn’t his only option. Still, he kept his schedule open, because he was waiting for the most important call back. Everything else could keep until he knew whether he would be granted a second chance to explain. It was probably the scene he least wanted to do in the crazy play that was his life. It would be difficult and emotionally draining and yet absolutely unavoidable. The future hung on this defining moment.

 

He wandered over to the fridge in the pristine kitchen. Cristal and Grey Goose vodka were hardly a balanced diet, but he popped the champagne cork anyway. He crawled into bed, put on headphones, and raised a glass to nothing. If he stuck to bubbly the hangover wouldn’t be too awful. He had nowhere else to be.

 

Mitch woke to a grey day and a light headache. The empty bottle on the nightstand reminded him of a forlorn evening, and he was still disoriented by the time shift. Reluctantly he dressed for the basement gym and went down to run on the treadmill. Then he sat in the sauna for a while. He threw water on the coals and his skin prickled with the heat. Steam pulled the remaining booze from his pores, but the cleansing he craved remained elusive. Guilt was tattooed on his heart, and nothing took it away.

 

Later he wrapped up warm and joined the crowds, going in search of Starbucks and a few necessities. The shops were full of Christmas goods and Thanksgiving turkeys, and both depressed him. He hurried back to his rented place carrying his coffee and bags, wondering when he was going to find somewhere he could settle and call home.

 

***

 

Scott spent the next few days keeping himself occupied. He worked out, met friends for coffee one day and dinner the next, and he made sure to smile. Yes, the stay at Avi’s was a wonderful break, no, he wasn’t sure about Thanksgiving but he’d probably go to see his parents, and yes, he was feeling pretty good thanks. Mostly.

 

Underneath it all like an itch he was trying to ignore, the unanswered question. Should he meet Mitch, or should he finally let him go?

 

They’d been so over-involved in the old days. Like two halves of one soul, people said more than once. He’d wrapped his arms around his Mitchie and known that nothing could ever come between them. And when Bailey and Luca happened, he thought their world would simply enlarge to include their significant others.

 

The touchy-feely aspect of their relationship faded, because they each had people they cared about who could only accept so much cuddling before it became awkward. They didn’t really miss it, wrapped up as they were in the partners they loved. They still had their friendship, and they were unbreakable, right?

 

How naïve, trusting that things would turn out fine in the end.

 

When he stood in the shower, when he was driving, even when he was eating, little bits of memories caught Scott unawares. And when he found himself staring into space, zoned out of his friends’ dinner conversation, he knew.

 

He declined a night of drinking in a bar and went home. He lay wakeful into the small hours. He had waited long enough to ask questions, and God knows he needed to move on. Mitch had been back in New York for three days. Time to put them both out of their misery.

 

Chapter Text

Flowers were the first sign of contact. On the fifteenth, a mixed bouquet of lilies arrived, but no card. On the eighteenth, Scott received a potted orchid, pink spotted with white. A basket of fruit arrived on the twenty-first.

Scott went back to his parents on the twenty-seventh and enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and lots of good food. He declined alcohol and maintained a rigid schedule of exercise and meditation, clinging to his routine in a sea of uncertainty.

It was when he lay in bed alone that anxiety broke through his veneer of calm. Once he dreamed that baby Shira climbed out of his arms and crawled away, and he woke up in tears. But mostly he dreamed of fights.

Mitch morphed into Luca, who sneered before shoving Scott backwards to fall endlessly through grey clouds. Scott watched Bailey try on wedding dresses, but when he tried to talk to her she turned away, unable to hear him. He shouted her name and watched her fade into white smoke, and he was alone again.

 

Scott had started preparations for a limited tour the next year, and was getting to know the young artist that the record label wanted to open for him. The music for a new movie was nothing more than a few doodles and themes, and he had lots of work ahead to flesh it out. He had plenty to worry over, but in the end only one thing mattered.

 

On the thirtieth of November in the afternoon, three deep pink roses were delivered with a hand written card. Scott’s stomach did a slow flip. This was really happening, Mitch was in LA.

Mitch had always said that details were important. The flowers were a reminder of their last meeting. Scott put them into a glass on the kitchen table as he had done weeks before, half a lifetime ago. They had no scent. Why did he persist in sniffing every rose he saw? He couldn’t help this spark of optimism that this time, things might be better. It had always been his defining quality, and without it he would have given up long before even conceiving the idea of Pentatonix.

 

Scott came to know the hours between one and three a.m. too well. They were the hours in which he relived rejection and anger and pain, and he was powerless to stop it.

One sleepless night it came to him; he might as well accept that he’d always try again, hope again, forgive again. Delusional maybe, risky certainly, but at least it had the potential for success. He responded to Mitch, sending the text before he could change his mind. And that led to sniffing florist roses, and trying to analyse himself as he had not done since his time in therapy.

See you tomorrow at 8pm.

Mitch

He traced the script with one finger, then took the card and tucked it into his wallet behind the first one. A little over twenty-four hours, and he would face whatever lay ahead. For the moment, his best bet was to tiptoe around the enormous elephant in his mental room. He could squeeze by, pretend it wasn’t there, and hope it didn’t crush him if he took his eye off it.

 

It was hard to believe that it was the first of December already. Scott checked the spreadsheet and wondered what to buy his nephews and nieces for Christmas. He’d have to text their parents and ask what he could get, ranging from stuffed toys to folding money. He made a few notes and then went to bed early, falling asleep thinking about roses and fancy Italian coffee.

 

Scott ensured that he had plenty to occupy him the next day, starting with a long workout. Although his mind flitted around a hundred subjects, he sat through his meditation session for the full fifteen minutes. Then he left for a day of meetings.

Back home around five o’clock, he ate a small sandwich, played piano for a time and checked emails. The clock hand crawled past six, approached seven, and the jitters started. He ran for fifteen minutes, took a quick shower and dressed in a white shirt over a blue tee shirt and jeans. The coffee machine was primed, the house spotless, and the relaxing playlist on low volume. Scott stared out at the garden, and waited.

 

When the bell rang he was ready. He checked his hair in the mirror, and opened the door.

“Hello—"

“Scott—”

They spoke at the same time, and Scott smiled. “Come in, Mitch. Let me take your jacket.” He held the door wide and Mitch stepped inside, carrying a small bag as before but no wine this time.

Scott took the dark blue coat and hung it in the closet, then led the way into the living area through the kitchen. Mitch’s scent was again that wonderful cologne that combined woody notes with roses.

“Have a seat, I’ll bring coffee.”

“Thanks.”

 

Mitch sat at one end of the long white couch. He seemed smaller than usual, dressed all in black clothes that were close fitting but not tight. His bright tattoos were hidden under long sleeves, and his cuffs were closed with large silver cufflinks. His hair had grown out into a feathery fringe that stopped well short of sharply defined brows. Dark circles were evident under his eyes, giving him a weary look quite unlike the polished confidence Scott had come to expect.

Scott kept his breathing even, and stole glances at Mitch as he moved around the kitchen collecting teaspoons and espresso cups. He piled some gluten free cookies on a plate and put everything on a tray as he’d seen his mother do. Then, huffing out one quiet breath, he took the tray through.

“I see you got the flowers.”

“They’re beautiful, and the fruit was lovely too. Thank you.” Scott sipped his coffee. His heart was still beating, distant and hollow.

Mitch downed his espresso in one swallow, while Scott had barely touched his latte.

“Would you like another?”

“Please.” Mitch picked up a cookie. “Are these—?”

“Of course, go ahead.”

 

Scott refilled the empty cup. A hole gaped in his centre. He disconnected, a balloon about to float away. Here was Mitch, in his house, and they were talking as if they were strangers. He still couldn’t read Mitch’s feelings. Acting lessons would do that, he supposed. He’d have to work him out somehow.

Scott was adrift again. In the moment before the storm hit, he saw the rocks illuminated by a lightning flash, heard thunder drawing ever closer. He was set on a collision course, and there was no turning back.

He brought the espresso to Mitch.

“Here you go.” Scott sat down on the far end of the couch.

“Thanks.” Mitch nibbled minutely on a cookie and put it down, then sipped the espresso. He turned the little cup in his fingers, staring at it while music played softly in the background, and Scott watched him.

 

“Is this how we are now?”

Mitch glanced up, then down again. “What do you mean?”

“Just stiff and formal, like we don’t know each other any more?”

“I’m not sure we do.” Mitch looked up then, and his direct gaze took Scott’s breath away. But he had to speak.

“Okay… okay then. I’ve got something to say, but you go first. You said you wanted to speak in your own words, so I’m listening.” Scott put the cup down. He was barely breathing. He tried to believe he had no feelings, no expectations.

 

Mitch clasped his hands together. “I honestly don’t know where to start. That last time we met, I said… I said a lot of terrible things. I take full responsibility for those things.”

Scott said nothing.

Mitch looked at Scott steadily. “I know that Bailey—”

“Don’t say her name,” Scott growled. He saw Mitch flinch. “Don’t you dare.”

“But I wanted—”

“Oh, I know what you wanted. You wanted her gone. You were jealous, you couldn’t bear that she made me happy.”

“No, that isn’t—”

“You expected me to drop everything, every time you flew in from Milan or wherever the hell, and you acted like I should just wait around till you were ready for me. Like I shouldn’t have a life of my own, even though you were the one who left.” Scott raised his voice, staring Mitch down.

“I didn’t—”

“You hated her just because she was a female and you thought you had the right to tell me who to love.”

 

Scott got up and paced. “I truly loved her, Mitch. I thought you two could be friends. All I ever wanted was both of you by my side. Was that too much to ask?”

Mitch shook his head, silent.

“Why, Mitch? Why’d you say those things? Did you hate Bailey because she was a woman? How dare you police my love life. I loved her! And you drove her away… told her you’d known me for ever and she could never be as important.”

 

Scott turned away, anger boiling through his veins, fists clenched. He’d punched through drywall before, and he wasn’t about to do that again. He whirled to face Mitch, who regarded him with wide eyes.

“What gave you the fucking right? You had Luca, you had everything your little fashion heart desired. All the clothes and all the shoes and all the cameras on you all the time. Wasn’t that enough? I wanted to share my life with Bailey but no, you had to destroy what I wanted, because you sneered at the thought of babies and marriage.”

He stood right in front of Mitch, brows lowered and eyes dark. “Apparently you thought she was just a baby mama. The woman I loved, you said she was nothing.” His voice dripped with quiet venom.

“I did.” Mitch’s voice was tiny, his face pale.

Pressure built in Scott’s head. His face burned.

“You self-centred, judgemental, misogynist asshole.” Each word was a bullet. “She said she couldn’t compete, you hated her and it couldn’t work. Marriage couldn’t work, because you hated her so much. I was so upset when you left, I just, I just wanted you both to come back, it nearly killed me. You did that.”

 

Mitch pressed his lips together and his eyes brimmed with tears. Scott didn’t want to give in to his tears, not here, not ever, Mitch deserved to hear all the things he’d kept inside.

 

“I know.” Mitch’s voice wavered.

“You don’t, you fucking don’t, you know nothing. You destroyed me and ran back to Luca, and then Bailey...” Scott gulped air. “She didn’t know what to do, she tried and I couldn’t let either of you go. Booze and pills were the only things that didn’t hurt. I was too far gone, I couldn’t get back to her, and you didn’t come back.”

Scott was shouting, his cheeks wet with tears and volcanic fury erupting through his chest.

“You fucking well left me to die! Did you even try to find out how I was doing?”

“I – I asked Avi, he wouldn’t tell me anything, Kevin told me to stay away, Kirstie said she didn’t know.” Mitch wrung his hands. “I asked around, nobody had any news.”

“Oh, they had news. They knew I was ruined, and they cared enough to try and protect me from you.”

Scott stabbed a finger at Mitch’s chest. He flinched again, but held his ground.

 

Scott ran his hands through his hair and prowled around the kitchen, breathing fast. His brain spun at a hundred miles an hour, the film of the past running at twenty times normal speed, and memories ripping holes in his heart. Blood and tears, fire and ice, they were tearing him apart, and he had to open up, let everything pour out, say it all, finally.

 

“May I speak now?” Mitch sat up straight and addressed Scott, who was standing by the glass doors. He couldn’t get any further away.

“No!” he spat. “I’m not finished. Did you mean any of it back in the day, all that bullshit about acceptance and being true to yourself? Or were you as hypocritical then as you are now, crushing me because I don’t fit your image of what a queer man should be?”

Scott’s blood thundered in his ears. He took a step towards Mitch, who shrank back into his seat. What could this pathetic creature possibly say to turn his fury aside? He deserves what’s coming.

 

“Please, Scott. Let me talk.” Mitch sounded breathless, but he did not move.

 

Unable to trust himself, Scott bit the inside of his lip till the metallic taint of blood filled his mouth. He pressed his lips together, nostrils flared, and nodded. His body vibrated with the effort of maintaining self-control.

He understood crimes of passion, how hate and fury could break the thin walls separating them from love. It was a moment away. The deeper love runs, the hotter rage burns.

He saw Mitch stripped bare; fear in his eyes, his leg bouncing as he fought an internal battle to run or stay. He wanted Mitch to experience pain, to know even a tenth of the agony he had inflicted. He wanted Mitch to suffer because he deserved it. He wanted to explode, even if it meant the end of the world, even if it destroyed them both.

 

Scott glanced away from the man cowering in front of him, and saw roses. Three deep pink roses, were they scented or not? He couldn’t remember. He blinked.

 

“Scott, please, just listen.”

“Why should I?” He was dangerously quiet.

“That’s what I came for. I’m not saying sorry. That word is totally inadequate. I said those terrible things, and I regret all of it. I was wrong to hurt you both.”

Mitch stopped and took a deep breath.

“I was - sad, scared, and I just wanted you to myself for a while, like the old days.”

Scott scoffed. “Always about you, isn’t it? I couldn’t have you to myself, but you expected Bailey to stand aside.”

“I know it was selfish and immature of me. I was all mixed up over Luca. I should have talked it through, not lashed out at you. But I never stopped caring about you Scott, I never stopped. Once Avi agreed to tell me a little about how you were, I realised what I’d done. It shocked him, that I could think like that, say those things. And he told me to stay away. When Avi’s angry, he’s scary as fuck.” Mitch shivered, and Scott watched him.

 

“I fucked up, completely screwed up. And I went back to Italy, to Luca being pleased that I had nothing to stay here for, and to more rows. I wanted to see you, but he…”

Mitch stopped and closed his eyes. He wiped away a tear with his knuckle, breathing heavily.

“I ended up with nothing, Scott. And I caused it, it was all my fault. So I’m here now, grateful you let me come back and see you one last time. Perdonami, forgive me, I don’t deserve anything and I understand if you can’t, but please Scott I can’t live like this.”

Mitch sobbed, tears streaming down his face, nose red and all composure gone.

“I - can’t bear it.” He got up and stumbled towards the door.

 

Scott observed with detachment, his anger cooling. Mitch broke down into ugly crying, and Scott couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him display such raw emotion. So this was probably real, and not acting. Okay then.

 

He closed the distance between them in a few long strides, helped by the fact that Mitch was lost, blinded by tears. He caught Mitch’s wrist.

“Don’t, you don’t have to go,” he said, his tone flat. “Come and sit down.”

Mitch resisted for a moment, but then he sagged and allowed Scott to lead him back to the couch. Scott found a box of tissues, and then poured two glasses of water with ice.

Mitch sniffled and blew his nose, staring at the floor while Scott watched.

“Can - can you call me a cab?” The words came out hoarse and high-pitched. He was a little blackbird, perched uneasily on the edge of the white couch. He sounded like he’d never sing again.

“I can, but I won’t. Not while you’re like this.” Scott sat some distance away on the same side of the couch, and downed his water in one gulp.

 

Mitch drank water, twisted the tissue into a ball, and put his head in his hands. “What now?” he whispered.

There was a long silence before Scott replied.

“I try to forgive you, and we try to move on.” Scott felt as though all the air had leaked out of him.

“You – you’d do that?”

Scott sighed. “Believe it or not, I am trying. I’m not there yet. Kevin’s helping, and I just spent a week with Avi. Nothing you’d like, just him and Saskia and the kids, but it did me good.”

Mitch hiccupped and blew out a long breath. “I’m glad.”

Scott shuffled close enough to hold out one hand. “I’m glad we got all that out.”

Mitch nodded, his eyes puffy and red, and took Scott’s hand.

 

Scott resisted the impulse to comfort him. Mitch’s hand was just the right size, lying passive in Scott’s grip, but it wasn’t right. They were guilty hands. He let go and stood, moving away.

 

I’m not there yet.

 

“Where are you staying in LA?”

“At the Belvedere Suites.”

“Did you eat already?”

Mitch grimaced. “God, no. I couldn’t face anything before.”

Scott walked over to the island and got some menus out of the drawer. “Me neither. Let’s order something.”

“I’ll be right back.” Mitch stood, wobbling slightly, and made his way to the bathroom.

 

Scott watched him go. A headache spiked his temples. He wanted to punish and comfort and hate and care, all at the same time. In therapy he’d learned to observe his feelings and let them break over him like waves on the shore. He knew they wouldn’t kill him, but it still felt like dying.

 

Understand how his actions arose from his own pain. That’s what Kevin had said. Find a shred of empathy, and forgiveness becomes possible.

 

He wasn’t sure how he felt any more.

 

The hole in his centre was no longer numb. It had turned jagged and raw. Maybe that meant it was finally starting to heal.

Chapter Text

 

Mitch returned and sat down, looking pale and uncertain. The dark smudges under his eyes were more pronounced and Scott wondered whether he had forgotten to apply his concealer, or if it had rubbed off. He didn’t attempt to hide his bruised vulnerability.

 

“So what do you want to eat?” Scott waved a handful of menus.

Mitch took slow breaths. He fixed his eyes on his hands, clasped in his lap.

“I honestly don’t know.”

After a beat Scott replied, “Okay, let me just order something.”

Once the call was made, he made fresh coffee.

“Drink up, you’ll feel better.”

Mitch took the cup. “I understand if you hate me, after all the trouble I’ve caused.”

“I don’t… I did, that’s true, for a while. But I don’t hate you now.”

“I should go.”

“You don’t have to go yet. Eat first.”

 

They sat in silence, drinking coffee, while the music played on softly in the background. Scott’s heart faltered, battered by a storm of emotions and lacerated by sharp-edged pain long suppressed. He’d never wanted to relive their final row, but here he was, still alive. Mitch was back in his house, and he had said words Scott never expected to hear.

 

Scott watched Mitch’s hand tremble with the aftershocks, watched his jaw clench and relax. He wasn’t an angel, or a monster. He’s just Mitch.

 

The pizza arrived and they ate at the kitchen table, with the pink roses close by. Scott finished first, and he poured Mitch a glass of white wine.

“What’s that for?” Mitch looked up with startled doe eyes.

He’s surprised. I recognise that look.

“You need it, go on.”

“Okay but where’s yours?”

“I don’t really drink much any more.” Scott refilled his water and sat opposite again.

Mitch sipped the wine and nodded. “Nice.”

 

Scott watched him drink. He needed space.

“Let me know when you want that cab.”

Mitch took the hint, drinking the last of his wine and standing up. “Any time now is good.”

Scott put away his phone after calling an Uber, and looked Mitch in the eye.

“What now?”

Mitch didn’t look away. “I don’t know. Whatever you want, I guess.”

Scott nodded. “Give me a few days, and we’ll try again. You come over, I cook, you promise not to sing that song.”

“I didn’t know—”

Scott’s phone buzzed. “Uber’s here.”

 

They stood at the door, awkwardly separate. Scott hesitated, then said, “I’ll be in touch.”

Mitch replied, “Look forward to it.” He walked out without another word.

 

Scott shut the door behind him, and blew out a long breath. He went upstairs and collapsed into bed, exhausted.

 

***

 

Mitch sat in the back of the car, shivering despite his jacket. He had faced Scott and survived. He closed his eyes and relived the evening.

 

Scott had opened the door looking sternly handsome, the blue tee shirt bringing out the blue of his eyes. Until they darkened with anger.

 

There was that one moment when he thought Scott was going to punch him. Mitch saw the tension build in his corded neck muscles, raw fury held in check. Tutta colpa mia, perdonami, the words were too familiar but never more sincere. He would submit to Scott’s will and take the hit, whatever that meant, even if he might lose control.

 

Scott blazed until even the air around him seemed to crackle and scorch, leaving Mitch breathless, surrounded by his rage. He had never seen Scott like that, not in all the years they’d known each other. But he offered no resistance, ready to be consumed, burned until nothing but ash remained.

 

It had taken a bomb to break their bond, and only in the fire could the broken pieces be remade.

 

Back in his room, Mitch turned the shower up to hot. He rinsed dried sweat and tears from his skin. He had shown some of his wounded heart, and Scott had not turned him away. He had endured the cleansing fire of Scott’s anger. And his heart was still an ugly, unworthy thing, but it beat a little easier in his chest as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

Mitch stayed in the hotel room for four days, ordering room service and watching TV late into the night. Sometimes he drank champagne, sometimes not. He kept his phone charged and rationed himself to one check every hour. Early on the fifth morning, a message popped up. Obviously Scott couldn’t sleep either. The time was five thirty.

 

Hey Mitch, how about Friday 8th if you’re free? Or let me know what date would suit you.

Scott

 

Mitch typed his reply immediately. So what if he looked desperate? He didn’t care about appearances any more, not when it came to Scott.

 

Hi, I’d love to see you then

Mitch

 

The notification pinged a few seconds later.

 

Great, see you at 7pm. I’ll cook.

Scott

 

Mitch smiled, looking at the message. A seed of hope bloomed in his heart, and he settled down to sleep again. He had another chance. He wasn’t going to blow it this time.

 

When he woke later, he ran a couple of miles in the gym and then got ready to go out. He needed a new outfit, since most of his stuff was in storage as he flitted from one rented room to another. Some retail therapy was definitely in order, and for the first time in months he actually looked forward to shopping. He had two days, and that was barely enough time. Better get to it.

 

***

 

What a difference a week could make. Scott slept better without memory phantoms wandering his dreams, and in the daytime a feeling of calm settled around him. He didn’t create anything new, but he was able to work efficiently. He did some interviews around the proposed tour, building expectation, and he took care to be interactive on social media. A spontaneous follow spree pleased his fans, a spike in album sales pleased his management, and his smiling presence pleased his friends.

 

There was no denying the past, but it was time to look forward and start rebuilding. He sent Saskia a bouquet but decided not to talk with Avi until he’d seen Mitch again. He went shopping with a list of ingredients, and practised his dish ahead of time, because he still wanted it to be perfect. Time passed quickly.

 

Friday afternoon found Scott playing piano again, to calm his nerves. Not as bad as last time, but still he was restless. Ingredients waited in the kitchen, Chardonnay was chilling and the Montepulciano opened to breathe. He wasn’t sure that he’d actually drink much of it, but wanted to show his appreciation for the gift.

 

At five minutes before seven, he went back to the kitchen. There were no roses left in the garden, and he hadn’t thought about flowers. The cleaners had put the potted orchid on the hallway table, and Scott was just debating whether to move it to the kitchen when the doorbell rang. He checked his hair in the mirror, smoothed down his black tee worn under a blue short sleeved shirt, and opened the door.

 

Mitch looked up at him, radiating confidence. “Hello, Scott.”

He wore a deep green velvet jacket with oversized lapels, a cream open-necked shirt and skinny black trousers. Green heeled boots with black patent toecaps completed the look, and he carried a small bag. His left hand was behind his back, giving him a careless charm.

 

“Hey, come on in.”

Once in the hallway he smiled at Mitch. “Let me take your jacket. You look great.”

Mitch’s smile widened. “Thanks, you too. Oh, and this is for you.” He produced a small hand tied bouquet from behind his back and held it out to Scott.

“Oh my God, you shouldn’t have. They’re gorgeous.” He refrained from sniffing the bouquet of yellow and white roses with baby’s breath and ferns.

“The florist said to put them in a vase as is.”

“Right, let’s go through.”

 

Scott led the way, and located a small vase for the flowers. Placed in the centre of his kitchen table, they looked perfect.

 

“Would you like a drink? I got the usual.”

“Chardonnay would be lovely.” Mitch sat at the island. “This is the part where I watch you slice and dice like a pro.”

“Hardly a pro,” Scott said, pouring wine. “Trying something different this time.”

“Can’t wait.” Mitch sipped his wine. “Lovely, just what I need.”

“So, what have you been up to?”

“Resting since I got back to LA. The last few weeks have been tiring.”

Scott looked up from chopping. “Oh?”

“I was in New York for work, then I visited Kirstie for a few days. From there, went to Munich for a shoot, back to New York, then here. So yeah, jetlag central.”

“I relate. How’s Kirstie anyway, haven’t spoken to her lately.”

“She’s good, really looked after me. And her house is just gorgeous. The twins played me some new music, so that was interesting. Have to try and keep up with trends, you know how it is.”

“Sure do.”

 

They chatted about music while Scott put together the spiced chicken pilaf that he’d looked up online. He poured himself a small glass of red wine and leaned against the island while the rice finished cooking. Then he piled two plates high and took them to the table where the place settings were waiting. He filled two water glasses and pulled out a chair.

“Dinner is served.”

Mitch tilted his head. “Ever the gentleman, thank you.”

Scott felt his cheeks heat up. “Just being polite.” He took a deep breath, and another while he took his seat.

Mitch held up his glass. “To you. Thanks for letting me—”

Scott interrupted. “To rebuilding bridges.”

“Okay, I can drink to that.” They clinked glasses.

 

Scott sipped his wine minutely, refilled Mitch’s glass once, and let his shoulders drop. The pilaf was delicious, and he mentally thanked Avi for showing him how a marinade made all the difference.

Mitch pushed his plate away. “Once again, a culinary triumph. You’re getting good at this, I wonder what other skills you’ve learned.”

“Thanks, not really a triumph, but not bad.” Scott smiled and ignored Mitch’s raised eyebrow. He couldn’t read the signals.

“You sell yourself short, Scott. An empty plate is the best compliment.”

“Well, okay.”

They were silent a moment, sipping their wine.

“I have ice cream if you want dessert.”

“Maybe later.” Mitch traced a forefinger around the base of his glass. “There’s something I want to say first.”

Scott opened his mouth, closed it again, nodded. He was ready to hear it. His gaze met brown eyes that held him captive. Not that he wanted to leave anyway.

 

“I thought I’d never see you again, or be a part of your life. And I want you to know how much the others cared about you. They closed ranks, even against me. They love you so much. Because I wasn’t good for you, and they saw that I wasn’t fit to be in your life. You had a right to expect much more from me. I denied you my support.”

He paused and looked at his hands, twisted in knots on the table.

 

“I know I’ll never be able to really make amends, and Bailey isn’t… I won’t be able to apologise to her. But once I got away from Luca, and Avi kicked my ass, I saw myself as the selfish bastard I truly was, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I make no excuses.”

He took a drink of water.

 

Scott watched, transfixed, hardly breathing.

“So, now that you allowed me back, I have to say sorry. Bailey was a beautiful person, and I’ve always known that. I know you really loved her. How much do I wish that none of this happened, that I could take back all my shitty words and bad behaviour.”

“She got engaged last month.” Scott had seen the messages on Facebook, but kept it to himself. Now he found he was able to say it.

“Scott, no. I’m so sorry.” Mitch’s voice wavered, and he breathed deeply, eyes closed. “It’s all my fault,” he whispered.

“Not all. I lost myself in booze and pills, and she tried to pull me out but I wouldn’t take her hand.” The song he wrote in the coffee shop flashed though Scott’s mind, and he blinked.

 

“Okay.” Mitch opened his eyes. “I’m not as strong as you, Scott. I spent months begging Esther and Avi to let me see you. I can’t… I didn’t want to go on alone.” His voice trailed away to a whisper.

 

Scott watched Mitch struggle to hold himself together. His own heart fluttered. He’d dreamed of tearful apologies and reunions too often, and when he woke he was so deeply disappointed that he vowed never to entertain that fantasy in real life. He didn’t feel like the stronger one.

 

He reached across the table and touched Mitch’s skull tattoo, feeling the warmth of his skin. There was no need to fall apart again. They could fall together.

“Hey. Look at me.”

Mitch raised his eyes, glossy with unshed tears. His gaze never wavered as Scott rubbed his knuckles gently.

“This is us, here and now, starting again. You and me, but not like before. We were too co-dependent. I learned that in therapy.”

“I’m not worth it. Luca told me—”

“Luca was wrong, whatever he said. You made mistakes and hurt people, but that makes you human. You have to learn and do better. And I never stopped thinking about you.”

“Really?” Higher pitched. Hopeful.

Scott covered Mitch’s hand with his own. “Really. We get broken and sad, and we learn to mend ourselves and be content with what we have.” He stood up and came around to Mitch. “I’m here.”

 

And then Mitch was embracing him, arms locked around Scott’s waist and his chest heaving as he tried not to sob. Scott closed his eyes and breathed slowly, waiting for Mitch to settle and inhaling his scent, and he let his tears fall. They’d lost so much. He wrapped his long arms around Mitch, rubbed his back.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “We’re gonna be okay.”

He held Mitch until they breathed together, and he felt him relax; and still he held on as the space between them closed little by little. They were together again.

“Okay?”

“Okay. I could use a drink though.” The words were muffled, spoken against Scott’s chest.

“Me too.” He dropped a feather light kiss on the top of Mitch’s head and let go.

“Come on.” He picked up the wine glasses, and Mitch grabbed the Chardonnay.

 

They sat on the couch, close but not touching, and Mitch lifted his refilled glass in another toast.

“To us.”

“To us.” Scott clinked their glasses. “Let’s never do that again.”

Chapter Text

 

Scott took tiny sips from his glass and watched Mitch openly, for the first time in what felt like centuries. He found himself smiling, so wide that Mitch eventually smiled back.

“What?”

“I can’t believe it. Do you have any idea how much this means?”

Mitch blinked. “I promise to be better. I never want to lose you again.” He drained his wine.

Scott jumped up and grabbed his hand. “Come on, let’s go play music again. Come now!”

He dragged Mitch downstairs to the music room and ushered him inside. Once there, he sat at the piano. “I need to play this, and maybe let it go.”

Mitch nodded and sat down. “I’m all ears.”

Scott began to sing.

 

They say two’s company, three is a crowd

But one is the loneliest number around

I struggle and sink and your eyes are unblinking

Can’t help whispering your name aloud

 

I guess there’s nothing to do but cry

Torn apart between two tides

 

Hard to discover which way I should go

My heart so heavy when all the tears flow

You force me to choose and I know I will lose

Nobody to help when I’m laid so low

 

I guess there’s nothing to do but cry

Torn apart between two tides

 

Can’t you see I love both of you

Can’t you feel this love is true

This ain’t no crime

I’m drowning, sinking one last time

Won’t you wade in, save me?

 

Well baby I see you’re walking away

And honey I know you ain’t gonna stay

I loved, I lost, I’m counting the cost

Endless tears is the price I must pay

 

I guess there’s nothing to do but cry

When you’re torn apart between two tides

Won’t you wade in, save me?

 

The last note faded as Scott gazed steadily at Mitch. He had to understand.

Mitch put one hand to his throat. “I’m so sorry.” His voice cracked.

“It’s okay, well it wasn’t but it is now, kind of. I wasn’t ready, last time.”

“It’s us, isn’t it? Two of us, and you in the middle. We tore you apart.” Mitch spoke in a whisper, and he closed his eyes, breathing hard.

“Yeah, I guess. I didn’t really handle it that well.”

“But that’s not the album version. You sang ‘Can’t you see how much I love you’ not both of you.”

“You’re only the second person to hear the original lyrics.”

 

Deep calm enveloped him, the sea once again rolling gently and the storm blown over. Sometimes it was best to take the risk, open your heart and live your truth. Scott looked down at the piano keys. There was nothing more to say.

“Thank you,” Mitch said after a pause.

Scott frowned. “For what?”

“Being honest and letting me in. Now move, I’m gonna play something.” Mitch got up and nudged Scott away.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go and get us another drink.”

 

Scott returned to the sound of Mitch accompanying his peerless singing. He stood inside the door, bottle in hand, and listened. He needed this again, much more than he ever realised. The five members of Pentatonix never stopped admiring the skills each person brought to the group, but Mitch and Scott were, before their split, the ones most enamoured of each other. And everyone adored Mitch’s vocal range and control.

 

“You sound amazing.”

Mitch stopped playing and smiled bashfully. “You think so?”

“Of course, always.” Scott came over to the piano and handed Mitch a glass of wine.

“It’s been forever. Your party was the first time I’d sung in months.”

“Don’t you sing in the shower at least?” Scott frowned. Since when had Mitch stopped singing? It was something they’d always done, with or without an audience.

“Let’s do something together.” Mitch smiled, but Scott saw it didn’t reach his eyes. He filed it away for later, and slid onto the stool beside him.

“Room for another one, let’s go.”

 

They began with one of their old Superfruit songs, occasionally stumbling over the words in Scott’s case, playing chords on the piano and gradually relaxing. One song turned into an impromptu medley, with Mitch easily slotting into every song that Scott started. Mitch got up to refill his glass and stood by the piano while Scott played on, belting until his voice cracked, then downing more wine and belting again.

 

Soon the wine was finished, and they went back up to the living room with the empty bottle.

“Another drink?”

Mitch shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m good. I should be going.” He smiled, and Scott could only nod in return. He ordered a cab and hid his disappointment as best he could.

“Okay, let me get your jacket.”

He returned with the green velvet jacket. He watched Mitch’s narrow shoulders as he shimmied into it, and inhaled his cologne. Always the same woody rose mix, and only detectable at close quarters.

 

Mitch turned to him at the door with a brilliant smile, bag in hand. “It’s been a wonderful evening.” He paused, and Scott held his breath. “Could we maybe get lunch next week?”

Scott caught the smallest hint of uncertainty, though his entire demeanour radiated calm confidence. Okay, I’ll go by his voice and ignore the rest. At least until I get better at reading him again.

“I would love that. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“I’ll be in touch. Goodnight.”

 

Scott went back to the kitchen and started clearing up. He couldn’t stop smiling.

 

***

 

Mitch tipped the cab driver generously and floated back to his hotel room. A few words could make so much difference.

“Both of you,” he said to himself. “I didn’t get it, but now I do.”

He dropped his bag on the table and removed his boots.

“This calls for a little toast.”

He poured himself a glass of champagne and held it up. “To us. To the future. To not being a self-centred dick.”

He downed it in one gulp and poured another, then curled up on the bed with his laptop to find a place that had no bad memories. He wondered how soon he could see Scott again. He felt positively giddy with relief and hope, emotions that he had not permitted himself for a long time.

 

He could have stayed for hours, talking and laughing into the night, making music and drinking wine. But he’d backed off, not wanting to overstay his welcome. Scott was still a mystery to him, and he wasn’t the same as the old days. Who was, when you got down to it? Life changed you, and Mitch himself knew that you couldn’t escape your history; you could only make peace with it. Maybe one day, he’d get there.

 

An hour later Mitch took a quick shower and went to bed, leaving half the champagne untouched. He lay on his back and stared at the ceiling for a while, then gathered the comforter around him into a cocoon. He had no idea where things would go from here, but he knew one thing. He was ready to follow Scott again, into a happier future.

 

The next morning he woke early and stepped into a hot shower. Scott was going on a short tour starting a few weeks into the New Year. With Christmas coming up time was short, but Mitch had plans.

 

Mitch was used to being chased, and he loved the game of pursuit. Luca had been an ardent suitor, sending frequent gifts of flowers, chocolates and gourmet food until Mitch consented to go out with him. But the memory of Luca started a dull ache in his chest, and he forced his thoughts elsewhere.

 

This time, he would be the pursuer. He wanted to delight Scott, and lunch would be only the start of his campaign. First, he needed a car and an apartment, now he knew he was staying in LA for a while.

 

Luckily, he was able to rent his previous apartment again. By the end of the morning he’d arranged to pick up the keys and a car the next day. He spent the afternoon shopping, smiling at random people and spending some money. Eating dinner alone in the restaurant that evening was not a chore. Mitch flirted with the waiter, just a little. He went to sleep content.

 

***

 

Scott woke the morning after and smiled, still lying in bed. Mitch had been to his house and spent time eating, drinking, talking, and singing with him. He’d have liked Mitch to stay longer, but they really should take things slowly. Almost two years had passed since the row that ended things between them, and maybe they’d have to go back sometime and pick more shrapnel out of their wounds. But not today. He bounced out of bed, exercised and then meditated. He was ready for the day, ready for a new start.

 

Letting out the anger and hurt had been frightening but also liberating. He could go on without pain stalking him in his dreams, and the new relationship with Mitch would be an honest one. They had all made mistakes, and learned things about themselves, and they had to carry their scars. The future looked much brighter though, and Scott went out to rehearsals with a spring in his step.

 

Later that day he Facetimed with Avi.

“You’re looking very happy Scott. I guess that’s a good sign.”

“The first evening was very difficult. I yelled and shouted at him, needed to get it out of my system I guess. You never told me.”

“Told you what?”

“He said that you were, and I quote, scary as fuck and warned him off.”

Avi paused, looking serious. “What he did was unbelievably cruel and frankly, if I had seen him then I don’t know what I might have done. Yes, I told him to stay away until he could behave like a decent human being and apologise to you both. And until then, none of us wanted to see him.”

“He mentioned that.”

“He had no idea of the damage he did, and Esther cried so many times after seeing you, I couldn’t… anyway, it took months before I returned his calls. He never stopped trying though.”

Scott remembered rage, burning through his veins, how love and hate threatened to tear him apart. He nodded.

“So that was exhausting, but then the second time went much better.” He smiled at the memory.

“I see that,” Avi said.

“And I sang him the original lyrics to Between two tides.”

“Good, so he understands now?”

“I hope so. I feel optimistic, for the first time in so long.”

“You’ll take it slow though, right? Because you’ve both changed, and you need time to get to know each other again.”

“Yes dad.” Scott grinned at his friend.

“Yeah, well, just looking out for you that’s all.” Avi smiled back, and Scott’s heart swelled with gratitude.

“I know. I couldn’t have done this without you and I’m truly grateful. That time I spent with you was a lifesaver.”

“Juno’s still waiting for her apple, Kaela keeps asking for you, and Isaac is parking his red car in the garage, because it’s just like yours. Oh, and Sas misses your nightly lullaby for Shira, she says she can’t sing like you.”

Scott put his hands to his mouth. “No, really? You’ll have to sing it for me until I come back. Give them all my love and give Juno that apple.”

“Done. I don’t miss you at all.” He winked, and Scott laughed.

“Of course not. I’ll be in touch, talk soon.”

“Take care of yourself.” Avi waved and cut the call.

 

Two days later Scott got the text he was waiting for.

 

M: How about lunch on Tuesday?

 

S: Yes, I’m free, where/when?

 

M: Scarpaldi at one, I’ll pick you up around 12.30

 

S: Okay, see you then

 

This was different; he knew Mitch disliked driving in LA. The restaurant was unfamiliar, and he resisted the natural urge to check it out. Sometimes it was nice to be surprised.

Chapter Text

Scott fussed over his hair and clothes until he lost patience with himself. It’s just lunch with an old friend, why get into such a state about it?

Because it’s Mitch, and I need to live up to his standards.

In the end he went with a polo neck sweater in dark grey cashmere that flattered his blue eyes, a comfortable black leather jacket and black trousers. He was still fiddling with his blond quiff when the doorbell rang. With one last glance in the mirror, he opened the door.

 

“Hello Scott. Aren’t you the handsome one today?” Mitch smiled at him, and he shook his head.

“Oh thanks, but I think that’s you, actually,” Scott replied.

Mitch laughed. “Why thank you. Come on, we don’t want to be late.” He walked back to his black car, and Scott followed. He recognised the dark blue leather jacket from before paired with a white shirt, its long cuffs peeking out, and close fitting grey trousers.

 

“This is new for me, but I wanted to drive for a change.”

“Have you been to this place before?”

“A long time ago. But they do divine Italian food.”

“Pizza is my all-time favourite.” Scott kept a serious face.

“Hmm.” Mitch glanced at him, then turned his eyes back to the road. “That may be, but we are expanding culinary horizons past pizza and meatballs today.”

“Sounds good.”

“It will be.” Mitch smiled, and Scott stole glances at him while pretending to look out of the window as they drove through unfamiliar neighbourhoods.

 

Once at the homely looking restaurant, Scott allowed Mitch to go ahead of him. He stood by smiling awkwardly while the host greeted Mitch like a long lost friend and conversed in rapid Italian.

“And this is my old friend, Scott.”

Scott snapped out of his trance and held out a hand, but the host, an older man with silver streaking his black hair, came forward and kissed him on both cheeks.

“Scott Hoying the singer, no? I am Guido Scarpaldi, welcome.”

Scott beamed down at Guido, pleasantly surprised. “Yes, I am. Pleasure to meet you, Guido.”

“Your table is ready, gentlemen. Come, come.” He led them to a table half-hidden behind a pillar, giving some privacy from the few other diners. A small arrangement of deep red carnations and baby’s breath sat in a cut glass vase between them.

 

“So, what am I going to eat if not pizza? And how will you get on with the whole gluten-free thing?”

Mitch winked. “Italy is way ahead when it comes to delicious gluten-free food, besides there’s pasta without wheat. As you know.” He raised one eyebrow and Scott nodded.

“Okay, well how about you order for me, show me something new.”

When Guido brought menus, Mitch waved them away and conferred with him in Italian.

“I asked him to bring whatever’s good. I hope you’re hungry.”

 

Much later, Scott had to confess himself defeated by the last mouthful of tiramisu.

“Looks like you’re done. Shall we get coffee?” Mitch asked.

Scott leaned back and patted his stomach. “That was so good. So good,” he repeated. “I may have to switch to sweatpants if I eat here again. In fact, why don’t we get coffee back at my place, then I can make my dream of sweatpants a reality.”

Mitch broke into a wide smile. “Sure, I’d like that.” He gestured to Guido who immediately came over. He fussed over them, bowing when Scott complimented the cook.

“Is my nephew in the kitchen, he will be happy to learn you are satisfied.”

“More than satisfied, in fact I won’t need to eat anything else for days. Delizioso.”

Guido smiled and bowed again. “Piacere mio.”

Mitch and Guido spoke again in Italian, after which Mitch excused himself.

 

Scott drank water, feeling contented in body and mind. Conversation had flowed easily, punctuated by anecdotes about their respective worlds of music and acting, and the food was simply amazing. Guido brought out an array of small dishes, each better than the last, and they both enjoyed the inventive flavour combinations.

 

He finished the last of his water as Mitch returned, waving off questions about the bill with an elegant flick of his wrist.

“All taken care of, now your carriage awaits.”

Before long they were back at the house. Mitch followed Scott inside, dropped his keys on the hall table and removed his jacket. Without waiting for Scott to offer, he hung it in the hall closet.

“You go find sweatpants, and I’ll make coffee.”

Scott frowned. “Wait, shouldn’t I show you—”

“I got this, Scott.”

Scott debated for a moment before deciding to run with it. “Okay, be right back.” He went upstairs to get changed, wondering how Mitch could possibly know what to do with a coffee machine he had not used before.

 

Scott kicked off his shoes and unbuttoned his waistband with a groan of relief. He had already started calculating how long he’d have to run to work off the calories, when he stopped himself. Come on, he’d been working out so often and intensely that he could afford to let one meal go. All work and no play is dull, dull, dull.

He found some presentable grey sweatpants, pulled off the cashmere sweater and replaced it with a white tee, and quickly combed his fingers through his hair.

When he arrived back in the kitchen, Mitch was humming quietly and the inviting smell of coffee filled the air.

“You managed, I see.”

Mitch turned and gave him a smile that dazzled. “I managed. Shall we drink it here or?” He tilted his head, and Scott pointed towards the living area.

“Let’s take it through to the couch, so I can rest my giant wobbly stomach.”

Mitch’s gaze travelled over Scott’s torso. Scott felt his cheeks warming up.

“What?” Was his shirt stained or something?

Mitch lifted an eyebrow. “Giant wobbly stomach, not detected.” He carried the mugs over to the coffee table.

 

Scott cleared his throat and followed, then sprawled on the longest part of the couch.

“I am so. Full. I didn’t even recognise everything I’ve eaten, but it was heavenly, thank you for that.”

“You liked it?” Mitch sat upright, hands clasped.

“You said it, an empty plate is the best compliment for a cook. It’s all in here now.” Scott patted his stomach, then sat up to sip coffee. “That’s really good.”

“Yeah, I raided the cupboards and found some Illy coffee. Used to drink that a lot.” Mitch seemed to shrink a little, and he picked up his mug and regarded it quietly before drinking.

 

Scott panicked. The light, happy mood was slipping. “So, have you been shopping yet? Surely you picked up some obscure European brands in Munich.”

Mitch looked up. “You know, I actually didn’t have time? Between the photo shoot and meetings and jetlag, there hardly seemed to be a minute when I wasn’t either working or sleeping.”

“Sometimes I hate that about travelling. Not knowing where or what time I am messes me up. Esther was always my lifesaver.”

“Does she still travel with you?”

“Well, no, not since she had the boys. I’ve got Neal to keep me on track now, but it’s not the same. He’s good fun though, we always have a laugh.”

Mitch sipped coffee. “I guess you need someone to keep the groupies in line.”

‘Oh yes.” Scott nodded seriously. “He handpicks only the finest examples for my executive suite.”

As soon as he caught Mitch’s eye he cracked, a little smile appeared, and they were both laughing. Scott allowed himself to relax, watching Mitch’s dimples make an appearance. He’d done that, even if it wasn’t exactly subtle, and he was proud of himself.

 

“Tell me about the tour.” Mitch’s posture softened, and he leaned back against the couch. “You need some throw pillows for this, by the way.”

“I don’t need pillows. People with short bodies and legs do.”

Mitch raised one eyebrow. “Like that, is it?”

“My house, my rules. So, it’s like a pre-tour for the album, just ten small dates starting mid January. We’ll gauge the interest and see how a bigger tour might work later in the year. Hopefully I’ll have new material by then for the third album.”

“I’m sure your fans would welcome more dates. Like Mrs Scarpaldi, for instance.”

“So that’s how he knew my face.” Scott drained his mug. “I must remember that. More coffee?”

“I’d love to but I have to be somewhere.” Mitch checked his oversized watch. “Gotta run, sorry.”

Scott picked up the mugs and dropped them in the kitchen on his way to the door. “I’m sorry too, but let me get your jacket.”

He stood by the door, debating what to do, but in the end Mitch solved the problem by hugging him briefly.

“It’s been fun. Stay in touch?” Scott asked.

“Of course.” And with that Mitch was gone.

Scott shut the door, head whirling from another ghost embrace with a trace of rose cologne.

 

He went back to the kitchen and made another drink, putting away the box of Illy coffee that he had been keeping for just this occasion. Then he sat down in front of the computer and got back to work. He had emails to send and reply to, a gift list to compile, and another meal with Mitch to plan.

 

But when he was done, he went up to his bedroom and stood in front of the full length mirror. Lunch had been wonderful, and Mitch was charming, yet Scott had been uncomfortable under his scrutiny. He turned to the side, passing a hand over his abdomen and examining himself with a critical eye. Maybe he should take that run after all. He changed into workout gear and went down to the gym.

 

****

 

Mitch sprawled on his rented couch in his favourite cashmere loungewear, scrolling through Twitter. He had much less of a presence there since leaving Pentatonix, but there were some people he liked to keep up with. Scott Hoying, for example. He looked over Scott’s numbers; two million followers, pretty decent for a solo artist, and he tweeted several times a week. Nothing very personal, but always upbeat and on message.

 

They weren’t mutuals any more of course, but Mitch lurked enough to know about the hashtags organised by a group of dedicated fans. The times when he dropped from sight had been marked by #WeLoveYouScott and #alwaysourSHiningstar.

The user going by @hotsforhoying seemed to be at the forefront of these movements, posting fanart and edits and encouraging others to do the same, and tweeting how much they loved whatever Scott did. Mitch checked and sure enough, Scott followed them.

They were on Tumblr too, but the Superfruit blog was long dormant and he doubted that Scott had a presence there. It had been a long time since Mitch had admin privileges, and he decided not to go there. No good could come of dredging up old memories.

 

Mitch put down the phone, turned onto his back and stared up at the white ceiling. His so-called meeting had been nothing more than a stop at the store for milk and fruit, followed by a leisurely shower during which he replayed the lunch. Guido had outdone himself and the food was even better than he remembered.

What now, though? Eleven days remained until he would be back at his parents’ home for Christmas. His mother practically wept with joy when he told her he was coming home, and guilt shifted in his stomach.

He could hardly remember the last time he’d been home for Christmas, but he looked forward to it with a deep ache that he eventually identified as homesickness. He wanted to go home, far away from endless drama and rows that had all played the same way. First came shouting, then threats, finally silenced with kisses.

Tutta colpa mia. Perdonami. Mi fai impazzine. All my fault. Forgive me. You make me crazy. Back and forth until he was all mixed up and didn’t know which way to turn. He only knew that he needed to make amends so Luca would love him again. Scusa. Ti amo. I’m sorry. I love you.

 

Mitch got up with a sigh and made some coffee, then settled down in front of a movie. He sent a text, then tucked his feet up on the velvet sofa and hugged a pillow to his chest. Not five minutes later the phone vibrated, and he read the message with a smile.

 

I had the best time too, see you soon.

Scott

 

That was all he needed to be able to relax into the movie, half-watching while also thinking about gifts he needed to buy. Shopping was the one thing he could always do. But what to buy the man who had everything, presumably, and even what to do next with this once-familiar stranger were questions Mitch struggled to answer. He just needed things to go right this time.

 

Chapter Text

 

December flew by. Scott spent his time rehearsing, thrashing out details of the mini-tour with Neal and his management team, and keeping fit in the gym. He and Mitch exchanged a couple of texts, but he was so busy that suddenly it was Christmas next week and they hadn’t really spoken.

 

His Christmas gifts for the children and select adults on his list were delivered to his house one by one and he had yet to wrap them. One evening while he stood by the kitchen table surrounded by boxes and paper and ribbon, the phone rang for an incoming call.

“Mitch, hi.”

“Hi, just wanted to speak to you. Got a moment?” Mitch sounded calm, and Scott sat down on the couch.

“Sure, I needed a break from wrestling with tape and wrapping paper anyway. How are you?”

“I’m good, just resting before I go back to see Mike and Nel.”

“Home for Christmas? Nel will be overjoyed to see you.”

“I’m expecting the fatted calf, or something like that. Anyway, I wondered if you had time to meet before then? I know it’s a busy time, and—”

“I can make time. Have something in mind?” Scott felt his heart speed up.

“Actually, yes I do.” Scott thought he could hear the smile in his voice. “Are you free tomorrow or Thursday? It’s kind of a daytime thing.”

“I can do Thursday.”

“Great, that’s really great. Eat a good breakfast and I’ll collect you around eleven.”

Scott chuckled. “Sounds mysterious. Should I be worried?”

“Of course not. You’ll like this.”

“Promise?”

“Promise. I’ll let you get back to wrapping gifts. They do that in stores, you know.”

“I do know, but I like to add a personal touch by doing it myself, badly.”

“Well, you do you. See you Thursday, bye.”

“Bye Mitch.” Scott looked at the phone after the call ended. It felt strange to be talking with Mitch again after all this time, and his name on the caller ID still made his heart skip a beat. Whether it was from excitement or anxiety, he couldn’t predict.

 

He made a coffee and returned to wrapping with enthusiasm. He really did like to do it himself, although his assistant might handle the mailing. Once they were done, he went to his office and started sending emails. He’d have to rearrange a meeting, but that was no problem. He had his priorities, and time with Mitch was definitely one.

 

Scott was ready when the doorbell rang on Thursday and he flung the door open with a wide smile.

“Hey Mitch, come in. Do I get to know where we’re going?”

“You’ll soon see.” Mitch smiled confidently. “I really hope you’ll like it.”

Scott caught it again, a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “I am certain I will. I know I like surprises. Should I wear anything special – snorkel, ski-mask…?” He trailed off with a quirk of a pale brow.

Mitch laughed. “God, no. Do I look like I’m dressed for anything weird? Come on.” He was smart in a black and white striped turtleneck and black wool jacket. Scott thought he recognised the outfit but wasn’t sure where from.

 

They’d been driving a while before Scott cracked. “Tell me where we’re going.”

“No.” Mitch glanced at him with a half-smile.

“Aw, c’mon Mitch.” Scott knew he sounded like a whiny child but he kept on anyway. Excitement bubbled in his chest.

“Scott, we’ll be there soon. Turn the radio on if you’re bored.”

Scott huffed but put the radio on. Soon they were singing along with current chart hits, making harmonies and discussing the merits of various singers. But eventually he noticed the signs.

“Are we going where I think we’re going?” He sat forward. “Because if we are…”

“It’s entirely possible that you’re right.” Mitch pulled into the entrance of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. “Were you?”

Scott clapped his hands. “Oh my God. I haven’t been here for years. Let’s go!” He was out of the car in a moment, tapping his foot while Mitch got his bag and locked the car. There was a short wait for tickets and he calmed himself, breathing slowly while Mitch paid.

I am a grown man and I just might burst from excitement.

 

“You don’t really like amusement parks and rides though,” he said to Mitch. Suddenly uncertain, Scott watched his face closely.

“You do, so that’s why we’re here. As long as I don’t have to ride some awful rollercoaster, we’re good.” Mitch chewed briefly on his bottom lip.

Scott spotted the momentary nerves before his smile was back in place. He patted Mitch’s arm. It was going to be fine.

“Nothing you don’t want to do, okay?”

“Okay, lead on.”

 

Scott tried to remember that he was supposed to be a grown-up. But he had such a good time in the park, sitting out in the sunshine drinking butterbeer and then going on rides while Mitch waited for him. He walked back to Mitch grinning, automatically combing through his wind-blown hair with fingers. Something soft in Mitch’s expression caught Scott unawares. He was unsure what it meant, but as long as Mitch smiled at him like that, all dimples and crinkled eyes, he was happy to take it.

 

“You’re such a man-child,” Mitch said.

“Yeah, and you like that about me.”

“Maybe so, or maybe not that much. I’m thinking lunch soon?”

Scott clasped his hands to his chest. “Just one more, mommy? I wanna go on that one over there.” He pointed to the biggest ride in the park. “Please? Then we’ll have lunch and go to the gift shop.” He tilted his head and put on the best puppy face he could manage without laughing.

Mitch shook his head and muttered, “Oh for crying out loud. What are you, six?”

“Six three, actually. So it’s a deal?”

Mitch sat on the nearest bench and crossed his legs. He pulled out his phone and flicked a wrist. “Off you go, and don’t talk to strangers.”

“Thanks mom.” Scott strode away, smiling at strangers and feeling content when most of them smiled back. He really loved rollercoasters.

 

He returned forty minutes later. “Sorry, the line was long. But it was awesome.”

Mitch put away his phone. “It really is time for lunch, I thought we’d try Hogsmeade. I could go with something hot.”

“Well, you’re with me, so…” Scott smiled down at him. His heart raced, and not just from the ride.

Mitch merely raised an eyebrow, but a smile lit up his face. “I am, and I see everybody you pass checking you out.”

“Yeah, but, I’m with you.” He offered his arm. “Let’s go.”

 

After lunch they hit the shops. Scott happily picked up gifts for some of the more tricky people on his list. They sat with their bags outside, eating ice cream. Scott closed his eyes for a moment. The sun’s warmth alternated with a soft breeze, and when he glanced at the man next to him he wanted to laugh with pure joy in this moment. It was unbelievable and yet true. Here was a memory he could treasure, after so long apart.

“Thank you for bringing me here.” He spoke quietly, and Mitch turned to face him.

“It’s my pleasure.” Mitch’s dark eyes held something Scott couldn’t quite decipher, but he didn’t look away. “Coffee? I think you should visit me this time.”

“Love to.” Scott saw a minute relaxation in Mitch’s neck muscles. He thought I might say no.

“Let’s go then. We can miss the worst of the traffic.”

Scott scooped up his bags. “Can’t quite get used to you driving everywhere, you never liked it before.”

“Still don’t, but you do what you must. Anyway, it’s just a rental, haven’t committed to buying a car yet.”

Scott hummed but didn’t answer. He wanted to enjoy the present without worrying about the future.

 

***

 

As predicted, the traffic was terrible. Mitch walked into the apartment with a sigh of relief and kicked off his shoes.

“Home at last, thank God.”

He took Scott’s coat and hung it, then led the way into the living area. He hated driving in LA and his neck and shoulders ached.

“This is pretty nice, Mitch.”

“I was lucky to get the same apartment again, it’s quiet here. I’ll make coffee, sit anywhere.” He rolled his shoulders as he spoke.

 

It was strange having Scott in this space that was his and yet not his. Where Mitch felt dwarfed by the scale of the room, Scott’s presence humanised it. Mitch watched him standing in front of a large abstract painting, head tilted as he examined it, and the anxious fluttering in his chest refused to settle. He busied himself with coffee making.

 

When he brought the cups over, his heart almost stopped. Scott leaned broad shoulders against the deep blue couch, his eyes harmonising perfectly with the velvet and long legs stretched out in front, just as Mitch had imagined. He smiled, and Mitch’s brain froze. It was not until Scott frowned slightly that he came to life again.

 

“Something wrong?”

Mitch forced himself to breathe and walk. “Not at all, just thinking your blue shirt matches the couch.”

Scott’s frown relaxed. “Oh good, thought I was sitting in your seat or maybe I had spinach in my teeth or something.”

“No, you’re fine. I don't have cookies, I’m afraid.” He set the cups down and sat on a couch opposite.

“Carbs are the enemy, so no worries.” Scott sipped his coffee.

“You shouldn’t worry, you’re in great shape. Obviously making use of that gym.” Mitch looked up at Scott through his lashes, and watched him scratch his neck while his cheeks pinked.

“Haha, yeah. So, when are you leaving for Arlington?”

Mitch decided to let it go. “Day after tomorrow, the twenty-third. I plan to see some old friends and then have Christmas day at the parents. Not sure after that.” He looked down at his cup as he sipped. He wanted to see Scott’s reaction and at the same time he feared what it might be.

“Sounds like a plan,” Scott replied. “I’m rehearsing, flying in late Christmas eve and then a few days with family. Once January hits, I won’t have a minute.”

There was a silence as they both busied themselves emptying their cups.

 

Eventually Mitch decided to risk looking up. He met a steady, blue-eyed gaze.

“I won’t bite, Mitch. We have to learn how to talk to each other again, you know. Like, without being on our best behaviour all the time.”

“It’s a bit soon to be behaving badly, don’t you think?”

“Maybe…but okay. I’ll go first. I feel like I know you, but I really don’t. So much has happened that we haven’t shared. But you can ask me anything. I don’t promise I can answer immediately, but I’ll always be honest.”

“Tell me something embarrassing that’s happened to you.” Mitch raised one brow while his heart raced away. This felt risky, like playing spin the bottle while sober. But he’d said to ask anything.

 

“I will, but are you leaving me exposed here? What about you, are you willing to be honest with me?”

Mitch paused. His chest hurt, and the light dimmed. He would have to pick his way across a minefield of memories before he reached safety.

“Mitch?” Scott looked worried, but Mitch couldn’t reassure him, not totally, not yet.

“I – I’ll try. No, yes I will.” Mitch looked up then. He had to be brave and trust that Scott would look after him. And hadn’t he done just that so far?

“This is what I want, but it’s hard. Can you understand that?”

“Of course.” Scott clasped his hands together, blue eyes sincere. “The one thing I want is that we tell each other the truth. No matter how difficult that might be.”

 

“God, I’m not nearly drunk enough for this, and I don’t really do drunk any more.” Scott’s brow wrinkled as he thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers.

“Okay. I was in a cab, and one of my songs came on the radio. I said to the driver, hey that’s my song, and he straight up didn’t believe me.”

Mitch gasped. “No way!”

“Yes way! I even sang along to convince him. He just looked at me and said, ‘I’ve heard better on American Idol.’ ”

“What did you do?” Mitch already wanted to slap this stupid driver.

“Gave him the smallest tip possible and flounced out in a huff of course. And he shouted after me, ‘keep practising’ and I just about died.”

Mitch laughed, but he was angry on Scott’s behalf. “What a loser.”

“Yeah, well, it taught me to get over myself. I was a bit insecure anyway, just released my second album after my little, er, hiatus.” Scott shook his head, grinning at the memory. “I survived.”

 

The thousand-watt smile Mitch had seen in so many photos was directed at him, bathing him in warmth like sunshine indoors. He hardly deserved it.

“More coffee?”

“Thanks, but I should get going, those gifts won’t wrap themselves.” Scott checked his phone. “I’ll call an Uber.”

 

Mitch had escaped scrutiny, at least for a while, but he didn’t want to let go of the sunshine either. They stood at the door and Scott gazed down at him with another heart-stopping smile.

“I’ve had the best time. And maybe we could grab a coffee in Arlington over the holidays.”

Mitch’s smile spread from ear to ear, he couldn’t help it. “Told you it’d be fun. I’d love to ditch the relatives and see you back home.”

His wish was granted when Scott hugged him, gently but without letting go until his phone vibrated.

“Thanks for letting me be six again.” He gathered up his bags and left with a wink.

 

Mitch closed the door and sat on the still warm velvet couch. He ran his fingers over the pile and took deep breaths. He and Scott had been more than friends yet still platonic for so long before their split, but with the benefit of a little distance he saw him in a different light. He was thoughtful and kind, and retained a child-like quality that Mitch had somehow lost touch with in himself. Also, he was tall and broad and strong and twinkly-eyed and gorgeous and wow, Mitch seriously needed to get a grip. Or maybe he needed someone to get a grip on. It had been a while.

 

His flirtatious side was on permanent lockdown, because Luca didn’t like it. There was a lot that Luca didn’t like. Mitch pushed those memories away because all he wanted to think about was regaining the trust of the man who had been his number one.

 

He didn’t want anyone else.

Chapter Text

 

 

On the twenty-third of December, Mitch flew in to Dallas Love Field and a tearful welcome from his parents. He spotted his mother waving energetically as he walked out to arrivals.

“Great to see you too,” he said while Nel hugged him and wept.

“It’s been so long, honey, welcome back.” She stepped back and dried her eyes. “Let your mom have a few tears, Mitch. I know you hate it.”

He smiled and shook his head. “Well, if you can’t have tears for a Christmas homecoming, when can you. Right, Mike?”

His dad merely smiled. “I’m saving mine for when we get home.”

 

It was truly surprising to Mitch how easily he slotted back into his childhood room. The walls were painted rather darker grey than he would have liked. He preferred the pale dove grey of a cloud not yet weeping raindrops. But he smiled over his old posters, mounted on boards as a memorial to his days of teenage angst and questioning.

 

There was a new board up since his last visit. How long had it been? Too long was the only answer he could come up with. He examined photos of Pentatonix and Superfruit, a screenshot from a movie in which he’d barely had two minutes of screen time, red carpet appearances, magazine pages. Pictures of himself with Scott, posing for cameras and laughing at each other, revealed the full extent of the bond they had back then. People often talked about Heart-eyes Hoying, but he’d always laughed it off. Now he saw those blue eyes trained on him, watching proudly as he hit a high note or served face for the photographer. And all at once it hit him.

 

Scott had always loved him. He was the proud witness to Mitch’s growth, his confidant and encourager, from the time he’d persuaded an awkward gay teenager to skip graduation and try out for a talent show, to launching a YouTube channel together, playing sold out world tours, and never leaving his side for more than a minute.

 

Mitch put both hands over his mouth and gasped. How could he have forgotten and turned on the one who never let him down? And then Nel must have spent hours finding these pictures and printing them out, gluing them to the board and displaying them. All so he would feel at home. She never asked why Scott didn’t call or visit any more. She trusted he would tell her when he was ready.

 

This was what home meant. It was the place where he could be seen as he actually was, remembered for what he had been, and loved no matter what. He’d told Scott, so long ago in a coffee shop, that glamour was exhausting. He was worn thin, his surface polished so that no-one guessed the emptiness at his core. He didn’t let the tears fall. But regret pierced his heart, another self-inflicted wound to carry. He breathed away the tightness in his chest, and went out to see his parents.

 

After a delicious meal Mitch complimented his mother’s cooking extravagantly and enjoyed her pink-cheeked thanks.

“I thought you’d like some home cooking, you must go to some fancy dinners. But I hope it wasn’t too simple for you, because—”

“It was lovely, “ he said firmly. “The empty plate says it all.”

“See?” Mike told his wife. “Told you he’d like it. Can’t beat your mom’s cooking I always say.”

“Fancy is all very well, but sometimes simple is better.” Mitch smiled at his parents. “What’s the plan for the holidays?”

“Jessa is coming over on Christmas day with her family. Tomorrow, I don’t know if you wanted me to cook again, or if you would be going out?”

“I’m meeting a couple of people for lunch, but no dinner plans yet.” He paused. “I’m probably seeing Scott after Christmas. Just for coffee but we haven’t worked out details.”

Mitch heard the sharp intake of breath before Nel answered. “That’s nice, I guess it’s been a while.”

They both watched him from across the table.

“We reconnected at his 40th birthday party, when the old group got back together. We had a really good time.”

“Well, I’m glad,” Mike said with a nod. “We met him after his concert here, he was just the same boy we always knew, all grown up of course. And in very good voice too.”

Mitch frowned, then schooled his face into neutral. “You went to see him sing?”

Mike laughed. “Of course, never miss any of you kids if you come near Dallas. Anyway, he was the sweetest, sent us VIP tickets and we went with Rick and Connie. It was a great night out.”

“Sounds like fun.” Mitch raised one brow, aware that his mother watched him like a hawk.

“I’m not going to ask, honey.” Nel reached across and patted his hand. “It’s your business, but I won’t pretend I wasn’t torn up by how distant you were. You were inseparable, but I realise people grow apart and things change. We always love and support you. This is going to be a great holiday season with you here, I just know it. And I told Scott last year, don’t be a stranger. Mi casa, su casa and all that. We miss seeing him.”

Mitch blinked and looked down at her hand resting lightly on his own. He rubbed her fingers lightly.

“Thank you, that means a lot. I – it’s been a difficult time. I’m staying in LA for a while now, so it’ll be easier to keep in touch with people.

“Sometimes a bit of stability is a good thing.” Mike rose and gathered plates. “Fancy some ice-cream, or have you had enough of us yet?”

“Never say no to ice-cream.”

 

The next day Mitch met some old friends for lunch. He posed for pictures with some excited Pentatonix fans who recognised him at the restaurant, and when he got home the title danced round in his head. Mitch Grassi, singer. It sounded both familiar and strange. He stared at the photographs on the walls, unable to keep memories from spilling out.

 

They’d been out to dinner in Milan, and decided to skip dessert in favour of enjoying each other. Back home, Luca pulled Mitch straight into the bedroom. They were naked on the bed in moments, still talking about their plans.

“Mitchell, singing is past. Fashion and design, acting, these are your future. I am your future, tesoro.”

His full name was a song on Luca’s lips. Mitch watched the movement of his narrow, uncompromising upper lip balanced by sensuous fullness in his lower, and longed to capture their strength and passion.

 

Mitch relaxed, tangling their legs together, one hand on Luca’s thigh. He spread his fingers and drew firm circles, relishing the tightening of muscles beneath smooth skin. He tipped his head back and gazed up at Luca’s brilliant blue eyes framed by dark lashes, messy waves of black hair, and casually unkempt beard. This gorgeous man was all his to love, and he ached with wanting.

 

“It’s what I’ve always done.” He bit his lip and exposed his throat, eyes closed. Luca covered his neck with open-mouthed kisses.

“The future will be different.” Luca sucked and bit into the soft flesh until Mitch gasped, then rolled them over. Mitch bucked his hips upwards, but Luca hovered above him, pinning his arms, out of reach. “You are mine now, bellissima. Say it.”

“Yours,” Mitch moaned. He needed contact, needed Luca to touch him, surround him, possess him. And Luca always delivered.

 

In the shower next morning Mitch was sore everywhere, in the best way. His happiness burst out in song. How had he got this lucky? He sang an old song by Daft Punk, but was surprised by Luca getting into the cubicle with him. Water fell in steaming cascades, plastering black hair close to his skull and running in rivulets from his perfect neck and chest, down to perfectly sculpted abs and v-line. Mitch’s gaze travelled on, to his perfectly hard length, and he stopped mid-phrase and licked his lips.

Luca’s dark brows were lowered. “I have a better use for that pretty mouth,” he growled.

 

Mitch was happy to oblige. He wanted to make his man feel good. He dropped to his knees and took the hot, swollen head into his mouth and closed his eyes. Three swipes of his tongue along the slit and Luca groaned. He grabbed Mitch’s hair.

“Mi fai impazzine, puttanella, fallo.”

And Mitch knelt while Luca held his head still and used his mouth, thrusting fast and deep. He kept his eyes closed until Luca shot down his throat with a shuddering gasp. He swallowed, waiting for the tap on the shoulder that meant he could stand up.

Mio caro,” Luca smiled and kissed his trembling lips. Water rained down on them both. “Ti amo.”

Mitch looked up at Luca, his lids heavy. “Love you, babe.”

Luca smiled and kissed him again. “Italiano, tesoro.” He took a minute to wash himself and then stepped out.

 

Mitch shivered. He caught a handful of hot water and rinsed his mouth. His throat stung. He turned the temperature up and scrubbed himself vigorously, wondering if concealer would hide the bite on his neck. When he exited the shower he checked the mirror, but steam obscured the glass and he couldn’t see his reflection.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like it rough sometimes. It was just he liked to set boundaries first.

 

That night, Luca came home with an armful of white flowers. After dinner, he kissed Mitch tenderly, murmuring mio amore over and over. He held Mitch as if he were made of delicate china. He kissed the angry purple bruise on his neck, whispered perdonami against his skin until Mitch shivered, and made love to him until he forgot his own name in a haze of pleasure.

That was the beginning. Rinse and repeat.

That was love. If it sometimes hurt, that was part of it, right? He’d found himself watching happy couples with increasing sourness. It wouldn’t last. Nothing lasts, and love hurts. That’s the real truth.

 

A notification from his phone startled him out of the past. Mitch shook his head to clear the fog of memories, but smiled when he saw Scott’s name come up on the caller ID. A few texts later, they had arranged to meet for lunch on the twenty-sixth. At least that was something he could look forward to.

 

He really ought to stay away from rehashing the past, and concentrate on the present. With that in mind, he left his room to seek out his father for a chat. He decided to stay home for dinner again. Time was moving on and the future did not always go to plan. He wanted to cherish the people who mattered before it was too late.

 

***

 

Scott threw his bags in the hire car and set off for his parents’ house on Christmas Eve afternoon, his mind still buzzing with plans for tour. He had a whole bag of gifts to give out, and a whole lot of people to see before he went back to LA. But he looked forward to time with family, meeting as many nieces and nephews as he could manage, and most of all, a few days without worries. Plus he was meeting Mitch. It was going to be a perfect break.

 

He was sucked into a Hoying family vortex from the moment his mother opened the door and threw her arms around him. He played Mario Kart with the older kids and Lego with the smaller ones, cuddled dogs, answered the same questions over and over, and ate lots of good food including enemy carbs. He could work it off later.

Despite his protests, he had gifts under the huge tree on Christmas Day; snowman socks, a really nice blue cashmere sweater from his sisters, and his favourite cologne. He went to bed happily exhausted.

The next morning, he ate his way through an enormous breakfast before leaving to collect Mitch. His mother merely nodded and smiled when he told her where he was going, and he was grateful to be spared interrogation.

 

Mitch came out when he arrived and got into the car with a smile.

“Hey Scott, simply having a wonderful Christmas time?”

Scott grinned. “Sure am. I thought we’d go somewhere quiet, I’m not up for fan interaction today.”

“So, should I be incognito? Dark glasses? I probably have some in here.” Mitch started to rummage in his bag.

“I think dark glasses in December might be a little conspicuous. I know a place in Dallas, it’s not that far.”

 

They sat with their hot chocolate in the back of a half full coffee shop.

“It’s weird being back, but in a good way.” Mitch turned the espresso cup between his fingers. “Didn’t realise it had been so long.”

“I know what you mean, though I did have a few days here last year. Pretty much stayed in my room though, when I wasn’t performing.”

“I heard you sent Mike and Nel tickets. That was good of you.” He kept his eyes on his cup.

“Weren’t nothing, my parents were glad of their company, and I liked knowing they were out there. I felt safer.”

Mitch looked up then, curious. “Were you worried about performing?”

Scott remembered palpitations, throwing up on an empty stomach, ringing Avi in a panic. It was a miracle that he’d got through it at all.

“You could say that. It had been a while, home town, yadda yadda. I got nervous. Anyway it went okay and we had drinks afterwards.” He took a drink, and pushed the memories away. Stay with the present moment. It was much easier.

 

Except when it wasn’t. His heart was pounding. This was ridiculous. He took a breath.

“Look, I know you weren’t expecting this and I don’t want anything back but here I got you this and I hope you like it.”

Scott fished the small package out of his pocket and pushed it across the table. It was pretty in its silver paper, with a small, intricate blue bow. When he looked up, Mitch’s eyes were wide.

“Oh my, thank you so much. Scott,” he took the box, “you really shouldn’t have.”

“I let the shop wrap it, as you suggested.”

Mitch blushed. “I didn’t mean—”

“Oh, forget it, I’m teasing. Open it already.” He forced himself not to bounce in his seat.

 

Mitch unwrapped the box, smiling the whole time. He took out a pair of round cufflinks and held them up to the light, admiring their intricate silver scrollwork backed with turquoise. “They’re gorgeous and I love them. I’m sorry I can’t put them on right now but I promise, at the first opportunity I will.”

Scott beamed. He’d been so anxious about getting this right, but Mitch was smiling wide with dimples. It was all fine.

“Merry Christmas Mitch,” he said softly. “I wanted to thank you for taking me out as well, I had a great time. And you let me go on everything at Harry Potter World. And so, yeah. They’re handmade.”

“Beautiful. And I don’t have anything like that for you, I’m sorry.” Mitch looked sad and Scott waved a hand.

“No, no, don’t worry, it’s fine, we didn’t arrange anything so—”

“Anything except this.” With a sly grin, Mitch pulled a small cylindrical package wrapped in striped blue paper from his bag. “Happy holidays.”

Scott’s hands flew to his mouth, genuinely shocked. “But, what, no. You didn’t.”

His hand shook slightly as he took the package, finding it soft. At Mitch’s encouraging nod he ripped the paper open. He unfolded the fabric inside, revealing a pale blue tee shirt with a black geometric print on the front.

“It’s not much.” Mitch shrugged. “But it is from Alejjo’s latest collection.”

“Are you kidding?” Scott held it up, then peeped over it at Mitch. “I love it.” He folded and rolled it up carefully.

“Let me just take care of it for now.” Mitch smiled as he put it in his bag.

Scott’s heart floated around his chest in a sea of joy. He was grinning like a fool at this man whose brown eyes sparkled with life, and before he could stop himself he reached across the table.

“Acceptable?” He squeezed Mitch’s hand lightly, and was reassured by answering pressure.

Mitch laughed. “Absolutely acceptable. Now I need more coffee.”

“Right away ma’am.”

 

Scott tipped the barista generously and brought fresh drinks back to the table. He savoured the encounter, storing every second in memory. They talked easily, happily, and he didn’t want it to end.

All too soon it was time to go.

“I gotta get back, plans with family. When are you going back to LA?”

Mitch tilted his head. “You know, I haven’t booked my ticket but I figure I’ll be ready to leave by the twenty-eighth. You?”

Scott exhaled. “I need to be back then as well.” He met Mitch’s eyes. “Travel together?”

Mitch nodded. “Leave it to me, I’ve got less relatives to see and more time to sort it out.”

 

Back at the Grassi house, Scott jumped out to open the car door for Mitch, who was taking the tee shirt out of his bag.

“Tell me when I need to come get you.”

“I will.”

Scott smiled down at Mitch. “Oh, come here.” He enclosed him in a tight hug and whispered in his ear. “Your mom is watching us. See you soon.”

He watched Mitch walk up to the door before driving away, gripping the steering wheel tight to stop himself floating away in a little bubble of happiness. His new tee shirt sat neatly folded on the passenger seat.

 

Happy holidays indeed.

Chapter Text

 

Mitch settled into his seat and fastened the seatbelt. He usually didn’t enjoy flying. Except this time Scott was next to him, fussing over his headphones and wriggling, apparently unable to find a comfortable position for his long frame.

“Are you done?” he asked, amused by Scott’s inability to sit still.

“No, not quite. These seats are not meant for tall people.”

“I picked the extra legroom seats.”

“I appreciate that, but – oof – it’s still less than I need.”

“Well, it’s all you’re gonna get. For now anyway.”

Mitch folded his hands and closed his eyes. Under his calm exterior, his pulse skipped as he tried to compute the fact that he was sharing an armrest with Scott.

 

Long before, they had always pulled up the armrest as soon as the seatbelt sign went off to make one shared space. He’d wake up to Scott’s soft puffs of breath, still wearing his headphones as he’d drifted off to sleep. Scott would wrap a long arm around his shoulders and make sure he was comfortable. He dripped lavender oil on a tissue to calm his nerves, and let him drink champagne even though it made him first a bit hyper and then a bit grumpy when he woke.

 

And now here they sat, shoulder to shoulder. Mitch smiled at the redheaded flight attendant without really seeing him, still lost in memories. This was so much better than flying alone, pretending everything was fine, counting stripes on the patterned velour headrest to keep from screaming or worse, crying.

 

“Sorry, sorry, I’m hogging all the space.”

Mitch glanced at Scott’s apologetic face.

I cannot express just how okay I am with that.

“You are, rather, but it’s all right.”

“Right.” Scott relaxed, leaving their upper arms in contact.

Mitch had made sure to sit on the left so that his left hand was free. He fiddled with the belt buckle and pretended to watch the safety demonstration. He could smell Scott’s cologne. The mix of lemon and musk was invigorated by a hint of flowers. He sat very upright, holding the urge to follow the scent to its source.

 

“He is rather cute, isn’t he?” Scott nudged him out of his head.

“Who is?”

“Nice try. I see you checking him out.” Scott nodded towards the flight attendant, who was putting the lifejacket on without disturbing a single red hair.

Mitch wanted to laugh, but he kept his cool. “And why would I do that, when I have you right next to me with no chance of escape?” He sighed. “How many fan boys and girls would give a kidney to be in my place.”

Scott’s slight blush was adorable. “Hey, I’m happy to be here too.” He lowered his voice and studied his hands.

Mitch was very glad that the redhead walked by just then, checking seatbelts were fastened.

 

With practiced ease he kept the automatic smile on his face while his thoughts scattered. Take-off was his least favourite, aside from turbulence. He forced himself to breathe slowly. He jumped when Scott whispered in his ear.

“It’s all good. Don’t worry.”

In the end Mitch was so distracted by butterflies in his stomach and the effort of suppressing the urge to grab Scott’s hand that he hardly noticed take-off. A few bumps as they passed through the clouds, and he exhaled.

“Are you all right? Have a drink of water.” Scott passed him a bottle and he drank deeply, relieved to be airborne. “Gonna close my eyes for a minute, is that okay?”

“Sure, I might do the same.”

Scott smiled. “Oh thank you, I just need a couple hours. This visit has been great but I haven’t had a minute.” A yawn escaped. “Sorry.” He put his headphones on and within five minutes, his breathing evened out. As his posture slackened, his head came to rest on Mitch’s neck and shoulder.

The flight attendant came by again. “He’s a cute sleeper. Do I recognise him?” he murmured.

“Maybe so,” Mitch said. “If I said Shape of Me…?” He raised a brow as the attendant smiled broadly.

“I thought so. I won’t disturb him but just let me know if you need anything, I’m Pierce. Tell him I loved the album, can’t wait for the next tour.”

“I will, thank you.” Mitch flashed a bright smile.

 

Scott shifted in his sleep. The headphones pressed up against Mitch’s head, but he didn’t mind. He closed his eyes and relaxed.

 

***

 

Scott woke to a nagging ache in his upper back, and his head dangerously close to Mitch. Might he have leaned against him in his sleep? This troubled him, but Mitch was still asleep and he thought he might have got away with it. He stretched as best he could and took off the headphones that were twisted askew on his head, then called the attendant.

 

Mitch stirred and opened his eyes. “I dozed off?”

“Yeah, but so did I. We’re such good company. I got you some water from your friendly flight attendant.”

“It’s you he likes, actually,” Mitch said, rolling his shoulders. “Maybe you should slip him your number.”

Scott’s face warmed, but he laughed and said, “No way. Is he a fan or something?” He drank water to cover his confusion and avoid eye contact.

“Oh yes, he spotted you and wanted me to let you know he loved the album.”

“Okay well, we’re landing soon.”

 

On the way out of the aircraft Scott offered his hand to Pierce, and thanked him for looking after them.

“My pleasure, and I loved Shape of Me.”

“Thank you again.” Scott smiled, and watched Pierce try not to fangirl. He was used to this, and moved forward hoping that if Pierce ever came to a meet and greet he’d remember him.

Once they collected their bags, Scott turned to Mitch. “Did you drive, or do you need a ride?”

“No, and I’d really appreciate that. Maybe swing by Starbucks on the way?”

“I’d expect nothing less.”

 

Scott said little on the drive home. With tour starting on the fourteenth of January and a hectic schedule of rehearsal and promotion, there would be few chances to see Mitch again until February. This was the moment to discuss things, face to face rather than by text. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, as usual.

 

Were they friends again? Certainly, to some degree, but they were still polite around each other. He wanted that openness back, where they could say anything and not be upset. They hadn’t reached that level of understanding but he craved it.

 

He pulled into the parking area outside Mitch’s block.

“We’re here, let me get your case.”

“You don’t have to.” Mitch smiled, and Scott made his decision.

“But I will, and I’m coming up for coffee.”

A raised eyebrow. “Well okay then, if you insist.”

“I do.” Scott pulled the case out of the car and waited for Mitch to get out. “After you.”

 

They sat in the living room sipping their coffee in silence. Scott glanced over at Mitch to find him watching, head tilted and the blank, unreadable expression in place.

“Don’t give me that look, Mitch.”

“What do you—”

“You know, the professional mask. I can’t read it and I get anxious about what you’re really thinking. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

Mitch exhaled slowly. “I’m wondering what’s next, since tour is coming and you’ll be busy. And I worry that I’ll say the wrong thing.” He trailed off to a whisper. “I just… don’t want to jinx this. It’s too important.”

 

Scott heard hesitation mirroring his own uncertainty.

“You won’t. You can be yourself. You need to be, and I need to be. We both perform for people and if we can’t let the masks slip in private, this ain’t gonna work.”

He put down the cup and gazed at Mitch steadily. “It’s been great, so far, but I want more.” There, he’d said it. “I don’t want to leave things to chance, or not talk about it. Maybe that’s too much. I hope not. I could forget all my filters with you, before, and I’ve missed that.”

 

Mitch answered after a pause. “A lot has happened. It’s hard to, to open up.” He stared into space, his slumped shoulders radiating sadness.

“Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps.”

Mitch shook his head, and Scott berated himself silently for pushing too fast. He should let him alone, let him speak in his own time, not force things. Why couldn’t he let things go? He’d ruined it.

 

“I loved Luca.” Mitch stared at the floor. “He was charming, and super sociable, and very quick-witted. Still is, I guess.”

Scott waited.

“He wanted me to be everything I could be, to realise my potential. For the snake to grow, it must first shed its skin.” He gripped the empty Starbucks cup in both hands. “It made sense at first. Change can be painful but it’s for the best.”

The air in the room seemed very still. Mitch took two deep breaths.

 

“Luca saw what I couldn’t see in myself, “ he said softly. “He wooed me for weeks, months, until I agreed to have dinner with him. He wasn’t like the others. He took me to all the right places, introduced me to the right people, showered me with gifts.”

Mitch stood and took his crumpled cup into the kitchen. He returned with two fresh cups of coffee, his eyes red-rimmed but dry.

 

Scott’s brain whirled. He was helpless to do anything but listen. Should he feel pleased that Mitch was opening up, angry for whatever had happened, or fearful of what secrets remained hidden? He didn’t know. He only knew that he needed to be right there, whatever direction it went. He took his cup and set it on the coffee table. When Mitch sat again and glanced in his direction, he nodded in silence.

 

“It’s not easy to learn a new language, so it made sense to be immersed, right? I was living in Italy and so it made sense.” He drank, and fell silent.

“Made sense?” Scott echoed.

“Only speaking Italian at home. No English, it was allowed sometimes when we were out, if necessary for others.” Mitch locked gaze with Scott. “It made sense. I agreed.”

“It must have been difficult.”

Mitch laughed, but it was harsh. “I learned quickly.” He retreated behind the mask, staring into his cup.

Scott knew he wouldn’t say any more. Anger flared briefly in his gut but he squashed it. He wouldn’t fight Mitch’s defences for fear of breaking the fragile understanding that was growing between them. Trust was the key.

 

Scott cleared his throat. “Thank you, for sharing that.”

Mitch waved a hand. “I’ve talked too much. I don’t want to keep you.”

“You’re not. But I suppose I should get home.” Scott took the hint and stood up, leaving the coffee behind. He had been dismissed, and he didn’t want to go.

 

Standing by the front door, Scott looked down at Mitch and tried to gauge his mood. He could almost touch the cloud of melancholy that enveloped him.

“Um, can I call you while I’m away?”

Mitch frowned. “Why do you ask? Of course.”

“I don’t want to assume… that is, you know me, jumping into things and being too much too fast and I - I just want us to keep in touch when I’m on the road.”

“As Kirstie reminded me, Skype is a thing. Speaking of whom, she invited me to her New Year’s party and I said yes. Have you got any plans?”

“Actually yes, I already agreed to stay in LA for Mario’s party, sorry.”

“Don’t be, Kirstie would love to see you but maybe some other time.”

Scott nodded. “I’ll be in touch.”

Mitch didn’t move. “Can we agree that from now on in hello and goodbye situations we will hug?”

His eyes were bright and in the moment that his guard was down, Scott stepped forward.

 

He gathered Mitch up, felt arms lock around his waist, and held him. Mitch shivered and Scott rubbed warm hands along his back. He marvelled at how their bodies instinctively fitted together as always, Mitch’s head against his chest, and he pulled him closer. He wanted, no needed to be here, protector and guardian and shield. The future would be better, he would make it better. He held on like he never wanted to let go and poured comfort into this man he cared about, more than was wise, more than he would admit.

 

Not until Mitch shifted did Scott move. The scent of sandalwood and roses lingered around them. Without thinking he pressed a kiss to the side of Mitch’s head. He blinked, horrified at his presumption.

“Oh God. I’m, I shouldn’t have, sorry—”

Mitch stepped back and smiled. “Don’t be. It felt like old times.”

Scott’s cheeks were hot. “I shouldn’t have.”

“Scott, for God’s sake, it’s fine, I’m fine with it. You can be sure I’ll tell you if I’m not.”

“Right, so anyway, gonna be super busy but we’ll talk, okay?” Time to escape before he did anything else stupid.

“Okay.” Mitch looked a lot happier as he closed the door.

 

Scott drove home slowly. He had met Luca only once, when he accompanied Mitch to an awards ceremony in LA. He showered Bailey with compliments and was a perfect gentleman with both her and Mitch. Scott could see the appeal of tall, dark and handsome, but he was also beginning to see he didn’t know much beyond the surface glamour. But Mitch was his immediate concern and he pushed Luca to the back of his mind.

 

He hoped that he offered some comfort to Mitch, who clearly was keeping so much pain locked away. Thinking about it made his stomach churn. He wasn’t sure if he was ready to unpack that yet.

 

***

 

Glass of Greco di tufo in hand, Mitch curled up on the couch. Scott’s smiling face faded as Luca’s voice whispered echoes of countless rows. He’d grown a thicker skin, after all rejection was part and parcel of the creative life, but home was the place he hoped to escape all that.

 

Home was a place and a person, Kirstie said.

 

He’d gone all in with Luca, and he didn’t know what went wrong. He wasn’t enough, not talented enough or beautiful enough or pliable enough. So naturally Luca had been forced to push Mitch to be better, good enough for the brilliant future ahead, because he loved Mitch and wanted the best for him.

 

“È per il tuo bene, tesoro,” It’s for your own good, darling. Luca whispered his words against Mitch’s ear.

He shivered, heat already spreading through his skin, Luca’s hands stroking and teasing until his objections melted away.

“Si, mio amore.” Yes, my love.

 

Move forward and leave the past behind. No English, no Scott, no PTX. No singing.

 

Mitch worked hard to develop and prove himself to Luca and the industry. He auditioned, he designed, he gave interviews, and he was always impeccably groomed for the cameras. There wasn’t an empty minute in their diary.

 

Yet despite all his efforts, every visit to LA meant a battle with Luca; accusations, threats, interrogation when he returned. He fought so hard to get away, but when Mitch saw Scott and Bailey happy together, he could not keep his claws sheathed.

 

Love doesn’t last, and one day Scott would realise that. Scott wouldn’t let anything or anyone keep him from Mitch, right? Because they were Scott and Mitch forever. Because they were unbreakable.

 

Mitch wouldn’t admit his problems back then, and the one person he could always talk to was slipping from his orbit. He was angry and lonely and lost. Private pain sharpened his pride until it became his weapon, deployed with deadly precision to hit where it hurt.

 

He forgot who was the enemy.

 

But here in this temporary resting place he was rebuilding, slowly showing his heart and his wounds, praying that Scott would not reject him again. He barely held his tears at bay, safe in Scott’s embrace at last. He missed him so much, it left a pain in his chest that never stopped. He’d risked giving him a little push, and it paid off. Scott held him, longer than anyone had for months, longer than he could have hoped, and his sweetness left no bitter aftertaste.

 

He couldn’t remember the last time they’d shared an embrace like that.

He couldn’t wait until the next time.

Chapter Text

As Mitch predicted, Kirstie was disappointed that Scott did not accompany him to her NYE party. But she was very happy to see Mitch and got him drunk enough not to mind when she scooped him up for a sloppy new year kiss just after midnight. He slept very soundly that night, enjoyed her hospitality for two days and flew back to LA feeling refreshed.

 

Scott sent the occasional text, but Mitch kept busy. He started seeing people from the old days, read scripts, and signed a three month lease on the apartment. He still didn’t buy a car, and he still despised driving in LA, but he did it anyway. And he was careful to keep his schedule open.

 

On the fourteenth of January, he had flowers delivered to Scott’s first stop in Santa Barbara with a note that read, “Break a leg. You got this.”

He hardly expected any reply, but was pleasantly surprised to get a text late in the evening. He guessed Scott was in his bus at that point.

 

Hey Mitch

Thanks for the roses, all went okay, tired. Talk soon.

Scott

 

This made him happy.

 

The next day he checked YouTube and watched Scott ‘s performance. His voice was as strong as ever and there were plenty of his trademark riffs and runs to keep the fans screaming and singing along. The days passed and although they texted after each show, Mitch grew restless and watching fan videos only made it worse.

 

On the last day of January Mitch sat in an anonymous room watching the door. Phone in hand, he concentrated on marshalling the butterflies in his stomach, forcing them to fly in formation. He had done the same before countless performances. It never got easier.

 

A knock on the door startled him and he nearly dropped his phone.

“Ready, Mitch?”

“As I’ll ever be.” He pocketed the phone and followed Neal, his pulse quickening at the roar of the audience. And then he found his place in the wings as Scott started his opening song.

“Come on Seattle, let’s make some noise!” Scott moved around easily, came down to the front row and touched hands, introduced his band and most of all, he sang while radiating passion.

 

Mitch melted into the shadows at the half-time break. He knew that Scott would head back to the dressing room, get his make-up retouched and change outfit, and chug as much water as he could manage, plus at least one energy drink.

 

Barely fifteen minutes later he returned in a white shirt and black jacket with a flag painted on the back, bounding on to the stage and asking the crowd if they’d missed him. The answering cheers assured him that they had.

 

Scott shone in the spotlight. Upbeat numbers slowed to heartfelt ballads that let him show a softer side. Finally he left the stage to rapturous applause, sweat beading on his forehead but the trademark quiff still in place. Neal pressed a water bottle into his hand as they talked while the makeup artist dabbed at his forehead with a sponge.

 

Mesmerised by people watching, Mitch forgot he was meant to stay hidden.

 

Scott’s mouth fell open as he spotted him. He left Neal and walked towards Mitch, shaking his head.

“Mitch Grassi? It can’t be.”

“Hey Scott. Great performance,” he managed to say. His mouth was dry. The bustle around them faded to a faraway roar.

A smile lit up Scott’s flushed face. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Hoping to hear your encore, like those people out there.” He gestured towards the stage.

“Scotty, Scotty, Scotty,” the audience chanted.

“Oh, right.” He gulped down water and gave Mitch the bottle. “Hold this for me, I’ll be right back.”

“I’m counting on it.”

 

Scott’s fans sang along with Hold up the sun and Mitch joined in. As Scott’s final words were lost in a burst of cheering and whistling, Mitch slipped away to the dressing room. Two minutes later Scott burst inside, the noise cutting off abruptly as he shut the door behind him.

“Wow,” he said, grinning wide.

Mitch smiled back. “Indeed you were. I loved it all.”

“Really?” Scott paced around the small room. “How long have you been here? How did you get here? Why did you get here?”

 

He took the half-empty water bottle from Mitch and drained it, then grabbed a handful of grapes from the fruit platter.

Mitch watched him fizz with post-performance adrenaline. “Since the beginning, on a plane, duh, and because I wanted to see you.”

“Oh.” Scott stopped pacing and looked down at Mitch. “Oh. I’d hug you but I’m really gross and sweaty, so…”

Mitch wrinkled his nose. “I believe the shower is through there. I’ll wait.”

Scott opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it and nodded instead. He rifled through his case for necessities, then disappeared into the bathroom.

 

Mitch scrolled through messages. His stomach settled and he relaxed into his seat. This was fine, he’d come to see Scott and with Neal’s help it was going well so far. He wasn’t sure what would happen next but he was sure he could deal with it. Probably Scott would meet fans outside and then get some food with the crew. It couldn’t be that different from when they toured together with PTX. They would—

 

Scott stepped back into the dressing room, a towel wrapped around his waist and water droplets dotting his pale skin, ruffling another towel through his wet hair. The glorious shoulders and biceps previously hinted at under short sleeves were inked with flowers. More water ran down his breastbone to a taut, flat stomach. Scott finished drying his hair and tossed the towel on a chair. Mitch forced his gaze upwards past broad chest and strong neck. As their eyes met, Mitch froze.

 

Scott blushed scarlet. His pale brows went up.

Mitch’s brain short-circuited, unable to form words.

“Sorry, I left my, um, be right back.” Scott grabbed a shirt and fled to the bathroom, giving Mitch a great view of his long, muscular back.

 

There was no air, it was too hot. Scott was all he saw and damn, he looked good.

Had he always looked this good?

God this is all too much I just I need I can’t

 

Mitch bolted out the door.

 

Outside he heard the clatter of crew packing gear away. He wandered the corridors backstage looking for a dark corner away from noise and people. He sucked in mouthfuls of stale air, trying to quell the waves of nausea lurching through his gut. He traced the silver scrollwork of his right cufflink with a shaky fingertip, counting each whorl and then inhaling familiar woody rose scent he’d dabbed on his wrists earlier. Sound, touch, sight, smell.

 

By the time Neal walked up to him, he was almost calm.

“Hey Mitch, Scott’s looking for you.”

“I stepped out to get some some air and got a bit lost, sorry.”

“No worries, it’s this way.”

He followed Neal back to the dressing room, took a deep breath, and walked back inside.

“There you are. I wondered where you’d gone.” Scott frowned a little.

“Went out for some fresh air.” He couldn’t trust himself to move on unsteady legs. He looked down at Scott’s feet, clad in black boots. They moved towards him.

 

Then he was gathered in strong arms, so gently he might have dreamed it. His head came to rest on Scott’s chest.

“Come here. You’re shaking.”

Mitch relaxed into the embrace. Warring emotions swirled around his chest. He was drowning in unfamiliar waters, and floating on a calm sea.

“This is our hello hug,” Scott murmured.

Mitch locked his arms around Scott’s waist and clung on, letting their breathing synchronise. Breath by breath, he inched closer to safety. His heart ceased vibrating and beat steadily, and the bitterness on the back of his tongue receded.

 

“I’ve got you.”

Scott hummed a tune, the vibrations from his chest calming Mitch until the tension in his shoulders lessened. He took a deep, shuddering breath.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you.”

 

Scott held him and Mitch wanted to stay right there, safe in his arms. He leaned against the warm expanse of chest that buoyed him up, and inhaled the clean aroma of his cologne, citrus and musk.

“Thanks, I’m good now.”

“Sure?”

“I’m sure.” He let go but Scott caught both his hands, looking down at him with concern.

“It’s so great that you’re here, really the best surprise ever. Thank you so much for coming. I usually go out to eat with Neal and the crew – and it’s our last night and I totally, totally understand if you don’t want to come, I mean it’s all a bit sudden and I really should go out to see the stans and then it’s tricky but I can change—”

“Scott?”

“—we can go somewhere separate so you don’t—”

“Scott.” He raised his voice slightly.

“Huh?”

“Go see your loyal subjects, then I’d love to join you all, as long as I can get gluten free.”

Scott ran one hand though his hair, frowning. “But you—”

Mitch smiled. “No buts. I am absolutely fine with waiting here. I got my phone, I got fruit, what else do I need?”

Apart from you.

 

“I’m so conflicted!”

Still frowning, Scott clasped his hands to his chest as Mitch had seen him do a million times before. Familiarity anchored him and he pulled out his phone and sat down. Scott needed to move or he’d get even more wound up.

“The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll be back. Don’t make those poor people freeze to death waiting for you.”

“Right.”

“Yes, I am.” He dismissed Scott with a flick of his wrist and stared at his phone until he heard the door click shut.

 

Mitch wandered over to a table where fruit and snacks were laid out. He could do with something to take the edge off. They’d always had champagne on their rider in the past, but water and energy drinks were the only choices. He nibbled on grapes and nuts, banishing the last trace of nausea. Then he sat on the small couch, laid his head back and closed his eyes.

 

He shouldn’t look at Scott that way. They were becoming friends again and he needed it and he was lonely and he missed being held and Scott shouldn’t run around half-naked like that.

It’s his dressing room, why else would he be half-dressed? He trusts you. Don’t mess this up.

 

He would not forget what he saw and how it made him feel, but he would not weaken either.

 

***

 

Scott wrapped up before venturing out to meet the small but vocal band of fans braving the frigid temperatures to meet him. He turned on the charm, took selfies, signed various items and connected with every person in turn. After that he was very ready to duck back inside out of the cold. Instead of heading straight back to his dressing room, he found an empty practice room and slipped inside. He needed a moment to process the events so far.

 

He sat on an old trunk and unzipped his jacket. Mitch had flown up to see the concert, sneaked backstage, obviously with Neal’s help, and now waited for him. This was unexpected, not to say wonderful. But something was off. He could still feel the weight of Mitch’s shocked gaze when he came out of the shower. Mitch was never speechless. Was he repelled by what he saw?

 

There had been lots of food during his trip home, the wrong kind of food, and no time to fix it before tour. He needed to fix it, and he calculated that with extra HIIT sessions and serious attention to his diet, he could get back in shape.

 

Mitch had run away, coming back upset and shaky. He wasn’t sure why and it scared him. But then hugging Mitch felt so right, he could have stayed there forever. In fact he was almost ready to ditch the crew meal to cuddle with Mitch back at the hotel. But first of all, he couldn’t bale on the end of tour celebrations and second, he wasn’t confident that Mitch felt the same. This was not the place to be having in-depth talks about their feelings. Best to just go out and enjoy the evening.

 

He strode back into the dressing room with a smile.

“Hey, I’m back. Ready to go eat? Neal knows somewhere good.”

Mitch put his phone away and stood up. “Very ready.” He put on a pale blue padded jacket and pulled on navy blue suede gloves.

“You always look fabulous.”

“Why thank you.” Mitch fluttered his eyelashes and Scott turned away, momentarily dazzled. He found his phone and wallet, and opened the door for Mitch.

“After you.” He’s wearing that scent again.

 

The crew was good-humoured and relaxed, the mini-tour having gone well. Some recognised Mitch, but everyone welcomed him as Scott’s old friend. Scott was sure to sit next to Mitch and pressed a glass of white wine into his hand.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?”

Scott shook his head. “Not at all, but let’s face it you could do to loosen up a bit.”

Mitch gazed at him for a moment. “Damn right. Gimme that.” He took the glass, letting his fingertips brush against Scott’s hand.

He exhaled. “Just know I’m not carrying your drunk ass out of here later. Not that I even know where you’re staying.”

Mitch took a long drink and smiled. “The Maxwell, same as you. I fancied cuddling up with a plushy tonight.” He emptied the glass in one long swallow. “Another, please.”

 

Scott refilled the glass, smiling to cover his confusion. He didn’t know what to make of flirty Mitch, and he hoped the food would arrive soon to distract him. He sipped orange juice, relieved when Neal drew Mitch into a conversation about coffee from across the table. What the hell did he mean about a plushy? If it was code, it was lost on him.

 

The meal progressed, people got louder and Mitch positively twinkled. Scott watched him charm the server and half the crew with ease, aided by plenty of wine. One unfortunate effect of staying sober was that events stopped being fun a lot earlier, as people sank more alcohol than was wise. He was more than ready to leave when Neal settled the bill and began organising transport.

 

He went over to Neal and had a quiet word, then returned to Mitch.

“I’m ready for my bed.”

“Really,” Mitch drawled, then giggled. It was the most relaxed Scott had seen him, and he liked it.

“Really, I’m beat. Wanna share a cab, since you’re stalking me?”

“Lead on.” He stood and bid a grand goodbye to the crew.

 

The cab ride was comfortably quiet. At the front desk they discovered their rooms were on the same floor, and they rode the elevator together.

“Here’s your room Mitch, 542.”

Mitch turned to look up at him, dark eyes soft. “Had a great time.”

“Me too. Drink some water, you’re hideous when you’re hungover.”

Mitch gave Scott a look, surprised but amused perhaps, and something he couldn’t completely decipher.

“How very dare you. I’ll have you know I’m not that drunk.” He removed his gloves as he spoke.

Scott watched with complete fascination as he pulled at each fingertip and eased his hands from the dark suede. He wondered if it was as soft to touch as it looked. He noticed that Mitch wore the cufflinks he’d given him. They looked good.

“Well, I’m completely, boringly sober. I’m across the corridor, look. 561.”

He looked down at Mitch, and the moment stretched while he considered what else to say.

“If this is goodnight, I claim my goodbye hug.” Mitch broke the silence and opened his arms wide. They shared a gentle embrace and moved apart at the same time.

“Breakfast at eight?”

Mitch made a face. “We’ll see. Goodnight.”

 

Scott closed the door behind him and got ready for sleep. There was a bear plushy on his bed and he smiled, imagining Mitch curled up with his own cuddly toy. He threw it on the unused bed and stretched out under the covers. Hotel beds were heavenly after a long day.

 

He was drifting off when an idea came to him. He pulled out his phone, made a few notes and put it back on the nightstand, dropping instantly into deep sleep.

Chapter Text

 

 

Mitch groaned. Please stop that noise. But it didn’t stop, so he rolled over and grabbed his phone, almost dropping it. After a moment he focused on the screen, and sat up straight despite his headache.

 

S: Mitch

S: Mitch wake up

S: Can I come in?

S: Mitch Mitch Mitch Mitch c’mon

 

He shook his head. No, the messages from Scott were still there and this wasn’t a dream.

 

M: yes what? It’s too early

S: can I come in?

 

Mitch sighed. His mouth was sandpaper dry and scratchy, and he certainly wasn’t fit to be seen.

 

M: Nope too early. Let me get dressed first

S: no no no nope let me in now

 

What in the actual hell? He rubbed a hand over his face.

 

S: MITCH

M: okay but I’m not ready

S: open the dooooooooor

M: OH FFS

M: gimme 1 minute

S: YES FINALLY

 

Cursing, he hopped out of bed, pulled on the hotel robe over his boxers and rinsed his face and mouth with cold water. He avoided his reflection.

 

“This better be good,” he muttered as he stumbled over to the door and yanked it open.

“What the f—”

“Good morning!” Scott beamed at him.

How was he dressed already? And where did that trolley come from?

“I brought breakfast.” He gestured at the covered dishes, and the smell of coffee hit Mitch’s nostrils at the exact moment he decided that he was still dreaming.

 

“Is this real? Are you for real?” Mitch stood aside and Scott rolled the trolley inside, still grinning.

“Very much so. I got a bit of everything because I wasn’t sure, but I guess coffee is first on your list.” He uncovered dishes of fruit, yogurt, granola, scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast.

“I’m glad you opened the door, food was getting cold.” Scott poured coffee and Mitch sat on his bed, open-mouthed.

“You – I – what?”

Scott pressed a cup into his hands. “Drink, and you might be able to make a full sentence.”

 

Scott started on a bowl of yogurt and fruit, an amused expression on his face. Mitch drained the coffee in one swallow. He poured another and fixed a plate of toast, eggs and fruit, then sat at the table opposite Scott.

“Eat up, you’ll feel better.” Scott’s smile bathed Mitch in sunshine. “I want to ask you something, but your brain ain’t working yet.”

“My, aren’t you the chipper one this morning. Been up long?”

“Yup, things to do, places to go.” He served himself the remaining eggs and toast, and poured another glass of orange juice.

 

Mitch tried to be annoyed, but he couldn’t feel anything but gratitude. Instead he ate and drank until his stomach settled in happy fullness. The warmth in his chest only grew when he glanced at Scott, blond hair hidden under a snapback and a smile playing round his lips.

 

“Thank you, you just about saved my life. Why though?” He arched one brow.

“Didn’t I promise you breakfast? I mean, you came all the way to Seattle to see me. I only had to cross the corridor with room service.”

“That’s very true.” Mitch was fully awake now, and questions filled his mind. Scott looked relaxed and sly at the same time. Time for answers.

 

“You had something to ask me, so ask away.”

Scott finished his juice and looked directly at Mitch. “It’s my turn to treat you.”

Mitch bit his lip. “I don’t—”

“Hear me out. I sorted things with Neal and I don’t need to be back for a couple of days. I need downtime after tour and I want to spend some of it with you, hopefully you’re free but if not I can reschedule.” He finished softly, still gazing at Mitch with eyes so blue, they might have been carved from the sky.

“Say yes.”

“Scott, I…” Mitch glanced down at his hands, and when he looked up again Scott waited patiently for his answer. He didn’t beg or plead or argue his case, yet the question hung in the air between them, delicate and inescapable.

 

“Yes.”

Scott did a little fist pump. “Fantastic! So the crew’s heading home today and we’ll stay on here. I have surprises for you. Have you brought some sweats or?”

Mitch laughed. “It’s like you don’t know me. My idea of leisure wear is cashmere yoga pants so…” He shrugged.

“Thought so. Get dressed and we’ll hit the shops. This is gonna be great! We’re going tubing at Snoqualmie first. Don’t make that face, it’ll be fun. Then something that’s more your speed. But a little outdoorsy stuff first will make you appreciate it more.”

Mitch frowned. “Outdoors, you say. In Seattle. In January.”

Scott stood up, eyes shining. “Yup. I’ll be back in an hour, be ready.”

 

Mitch watched him go. Okay, he could make this work. He reminded himself Scott was being nothing but thoughtful and caring. It was just that past memories wormed their way into the present, no matter how he tried to escape them. That’s how things always started off. All wine and roses and sweetness.

 

He got into the shower, turned the temperature up automatically, and told himself things would be different this time. This wasn’t true love, and it wasn’t Luca.

 

Mitch enjoyed the snow tubing more than he thought. Initially he wanted to ride with Scott, but pouted when told that wasn’t allowed. He considered baling for a moment then told himself not to be such a baby. Scott had him wrapped up in warm padded gear, having stopped off at an outdoor clothing shop before the short drive to the mountain.

 

He watched Scott go first, and then hung back behind other excited riders. Once he saw Scott and the others returning in one piece, he shrugged and decided to take the plunge. It was exhilarating, feeling cold air whip past his face as the world flew by in a blur of white.

 

Scott had such fun, his cheeks pink from the cold under a black and grey striped beanie, that Mitch managed a whole hour before demanding hot chocolate. They thawed out in the little café for a while until Scott checked his watch.

“Time to go, part two awaits.”

“I suppose there’s no point asking.”

“None. Let’s go.”

 

They changed back into ordinary clothes at the hotel. Scott arranged a taxi to take them shopping. Mitch was in his element, trying on clothes while Scott sat outside the changing rooms admiring everything he wore. When Mitch caught sight of his reflection, he dismissed the glow in his cheeks as the after-effect of their snowy adventure.

 

Clutching several bags, they returned to their taxi. Scott turned to Mitch.

“Part three next, I hope you’ll like it.”

When the taxi drove off, Mitch looked at the buildings curiously.

“Do we eat here?”

“Nope. Food after.”

Scott led the way to Banya 5 and stopped just outside.

“I arranged for you to have a massage and skin scrub and anything else you want.”

Mitch’s heart skipped a beat. “What, really? This is a spa?”

“Yeah, highly recommended. I’m having deep tissue massage, it’ll be good to deal with my back after tour and everything. And then we’ll have dinner later.”

Mitch smiled. “That is exactly the right answer. Let’s go.”

 

Two hours later, after a full body exfoliation and massage, Mitch floated out to the reception area where Scott waited. His skin tingled and his muscles were soft.

“You look blissed out,” Scott said.

Mitch could only nod in agreement. “So good,” he sighed. “Can we go home now?”

“Taxi is waiting.” Scott offered his arm and Mitch clung on, wobbly and lightheaded in a good way. He forced himself to keep his distance from Scott in the back of the taxi.

 

Before long they stood outside room 542.

Mitch drawled, “God, I need to lie down.” He didn’t wink or bat his lashes. He could barely keep his eyes open.

“Dinner’s not till eight, you got time.”

A beat of silence passed and the words fell from his mouth. “Come and watch a movie with me.”

Scott didn’t move. “You sure about that? Looking very sleepy.”

Mitch turned away and opened the door. “You know you want to.” His casual tone masked internal screaming.

What are you even saying? He won’t want to do this with you.

 

Scott followed Mitch into the room and removed his coat and beanie. He set the coffee maker going and kicked off his shoes, then settled himself on one bed with the TV remote.

“Any preference?” he asked, stretching out long legs.

Mitch waved a hand at him. “Whatever you like.” He went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet lid, heaving deep breaths and trying to stay quiet. He needed to lie down.

In his arms.

 

It was all wrong.

 

But it was what they’d always done, before everything that happened, before everyone that happened. He needed the comfort that only Scott could offer. Why else had he come all the way to Seattle? Somewhere in his brain the words ‘always platonic’ floated around then vanished.

 

He’d take whatever Scott was willing to give.

 

“Okay in there?” Scott called out.

“Sure,” he replied, his voice tight and high pitched. Okay? He was anything but.

 

Mitch went out and rifled through his bag to find loungewear, then went back into the bathroom to put it on. Cashmere always soothed his skin. He climbed on the other bed as Scott watched.

 

They stared at each other for longer than was polite. The film played on and the coffee cups cooled and Scott just looked at him. Mitch felt like he might pass out, but he didn’t.

 

And then Scott shifted sideways on the bed and patted the space beside him. Mitch blinked slowly as Scott opened his arms, offering an embrace for him to crawl into. Dazed, he moved without thinking. He curled into Scott’s side and put one arm around his waist, feeling his warmth. Strong arms wrapped him securely. Mitch felt Scott exhale, settling against the pile of pillows. He shut his eyes tight but tears leaked out anyway.

 

Scott held him tighter, kissed the top of his head lightly.

“Is this okay.” It wasn’t a question.

Mitch couldn’t answer, but he nodded. A thumb brushed tears from his cheek. He pressed his trembling lips together.

“Sleep if you want to. I set an alarm.”

Mitch took two deep breaths, and let himself float away.

 

***

 

Scott was sure he was dreaming. He would pinch himself, except that to do so he would have to move one arm from its position around the actual Mitch Grassi currently sleeping in his arms. That was not going to happen.

Seeing Mitch appear between the shifting crowds in the stage wings had been like a dream too. Apart from the little hiccup after the shower, everything that had happened since was perfect. A happy post-show meal with his crew after a good tour, tubing in the snow, watching Mitch preen and serve in designer clothes, it all felt unreal.

And then came the massage, during which Scott had almost fallen asleep despite the masseur seeking out knots and tension with knuckles and elbows. There was a deep sense of relief in having his muscles stretched and kneaded into submission, without having to punish himself with a workout first.

Mitch had emerged looking so calm, he appeared positively angelic. Scott could think of nothing else but cuddling with him all the way back to the hotel. Once in the room together, the closeness he craved and the rejection he feared fought in his head until he felt dizzy. While Mitch was in the bathroom he decided to take the risk. He knew himself too well; deluded optimism with a side of never give up. It worked more often than not.

Now, unbelievably, it was happening. Their chests rose and fell together. Mitch’s warm weight anchored him among the soft pillows where they’d slipped down a little, still holding on to each other.

The next day he planned some culture, with a visit to an art exhibition in the morning and a dance performance in the evening. Lunch arranged by the concierge would complete the day.

 

He looked down at Mitch, still fast asleep, and allowed himself to dream of a time when cuddling was again as natural as breathing, when their personal spaces would merge so that they could be literally and figuratively open to each other. No secrets. Scott bit his lip. Maybe that would never happen again and there would always be secrets.

Mitch in repose was relaxed and yet so much remained hidden. Scott was sad he thought he had to carry that burden alone. Perhaps Mitch didn’t trust him. He understood. It had taken a lot to get them to this point, and he had no intention of slipping back into indifference.

Unexpectedly his stomach rumbled.

“Guess that’s my cue to wake up,” Mitch mumbled. “D’you sleep?” He cuddled in closer.

“Hmm, not really. But that’s okay. I’ll let you get ready in peace.” He unwound his arms and watched Mitch rub his eyes, still groggy from his nap.

“Never wanna move from here.”

“Yeah, but we have a reservation and as you can hear, my stomach is calling.”

Mitch groaned. “If you insist.”

He sat up and stretched, while Scott went in search of his shoes.

“I’ll come back at seven thirty, try to wake up by then. Don’t want to be late.” Scott gathered up his coat and left Mitch slumped face down on the bed.

 

He showered and fixed his hair, humming happily. He put on the blue cashmere sweater from Christmas and a trusty leather jacket over black trousers. With shiny boots and his favourite cologne, Scott thought he might pass muster.

 He was ready with time to spare, but he knew Mitch would need every minute before he was prepared to step out for the night. He flicked through the TV channels, keeping one eye on the time on the screen. At seven twenty-five he switched off, picked up his wallet, phone and keycard, and with one last check in the mirror he went over to room 542.

 

Mitch opened the door, a vision in purple. Scott recognised the shirt from their afternoon shopping trip, in maroon with a scarf neckline tied in a loose bow. Slim black trousers and heeled boots contrasted with a plum-coloured longline sheepskin jacket. Mitch smiled and Scott was speechless.

“Will I do?” He twirled and posed. The sheepskin begged to be touched.

“You – wow. You look gorgeous. May I?” Scott brushed the back of his hand along the soft pile of the sleeve. “Feels gorgeous too. Ready to go?”

Mitch dimpled. “Thank you, yes I am.”

“Ladies first.”

Mitch’s smile faltered just for a moment, but Scott caught it. “What did I say? I’m sorry—”

“No it’s fine, but I’m not, don’t say that anymore. I’m a man’s man, not a female.” His voice dropped lower.

Anger stirred in Scott’s chest, and he gritted his teeth.

“I don’t know who told you that.” Of course I fucking know. “But you can be whoever you want to be, and I’m here for it. You wanna wear pink all day every day, or lipstick, or a skirt? Fine with me.” He took both of Mitch’s hands. “You can be completely yourself now, okay? You don’t have to hold back. I’m here for you.”

He squeezed both hands for emphasis while Mitch watched him with a bright fake glossy smile. He hated that smile and what it concealed.

“I – um, can you hold on a sec?” Mitch went into the bathroom.

 

Scott tapped his foot anxiously, hoping he hadn’t overstepped the line. He examined Mitch’s face closely when he returned. A hint of palest pink lipgloss enhanced his lips almost as much as the genuine smile that lit up his face.

“There, don’t you feel better? And you look more gorgeous, if that’s even possible.”

“Scott. You say the nicest things.” A faint blush coloured his cheeks, and his smile never wavered.

Scott hugged him lightly. “Only because you deserve them, but let’s go, dinner awaits.”

He wasn’t going to let anything spoil their evening, but he filed it away for later. They had some talking to do.

 

In the back of the car, Mitch sat in the centre seat next to Scott. The shaggy sheepskin sleeve wandered into Scott’s space, and Scott was one hundred percent okay with it.

Chapter Text

Scott was almost sorry they had a table in the back of the upscale restaurant. He followed Mitch as he made a fabulous entrance, strutting ahead in a cloud of plum purple sheepskin and turning heads.

“They’re all looking at you,” he said once they were seated.

“Really? Maybe they’re looking at you, Mr. tall and handsome.” Mitch’s smile lit up his face, and Scott responded.

“Nope, definitely you. Would you like champagne?”

Mitch twinkled. “I thought you’d never ask. Are we celebrating something?”

Scott reached over and patted his hand. “Yeah. I can’t believe you came to see me but I’m happy you did.”

 

The waiter took their order and returned with an ice bucket. He poured two glasses of Veuve and left them alone.

Scott raised his glass. A wave of happiness caught him unawares. “To brighter futures. To you and me.”

Mitch’s eyes were bright as they clinked glasses. “To us. Thank you for a fabulous day.”

“Even the snow tubing?”

“Well, the hot chocolate was lovely but don’t expect me to do that again. The spa was more my style.”

“Actually my back feels great after the massage. I can skip the chiropractor this month.”

 

The evening flew by. Scott limited himself to one glass of champagne and wine, while Mitch finished each bottle. He was giggly by the time they left and Scott offered his arm to lean on.

 

Outside 542, Mitch threw his arms around Scott and looked up at him with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Don’t wanna say goodnight yet,” he said, biting his lip.

Scott hesitated, his arms full of plum fur and Mitch’s dark gaze holding him captive. He inhaled spicy floral scent, full of intrigue.

“We have another day of fun things tomorrow,” he said. “You should get some sleep.”

“Come cuddle with me? Please.” He dragged out the last word.

Scott saw Mitch’s eyes flick to his lips. He didn’t want to spoil a perfect day, and this offer was loaded.

“I’ve had the most fabulous time tonight and I think we should rest now.”

 

Mitch’s pout hurt Scott’s heart, but he pressed a kiss to his forehead and short fringe of dark hair and stepped back. He wanted so many things that he really should not want.

 

Mitch mustered a small smile and nodded. “Me too. Goodnight Scotty, sleep tight.” He went into his room without looking back.

 

Scott shut his door and leaned against it. Scotty. His heart fizzed with unexpected joy. He got ready for bed knowing he’d done the right thing, though it killed him to break apart from Mitch. Better this than endless regrets.

 

***

 

Mitch’s head spun, but he managed to put away his clothes and remove his makeup before getting into bed. He got up again and drank water because Scott was right, he didn’t want to be moody and hungover when tomorrow promised more adventure. Then he grabbed the bear plushy and curled up with it under the covers. It wasn’t the same. He threw it across the room and buried his face in the pillow.

 

Flirting only got him into trouble. He should tone it down. Scott had not responded anyway; maybe he was losing his touch. Or maybe Scott was being sensible and keeping his distance because they were trying to be friends again, without muddying the waters. He’d had Scott’s entire attention for the evening and he should be content with that.

 

Scott had said to be himself. The trouble was, Mitch no longer knew what that meant. He had masks beneath masks.

 

He closed his eyes, and Luca whispered poison in his ear.

Why must you throw yourself at every man you see, puttanella? Remember who made you. You belong to me.

He sat up and switched on the light, then decided to make himself coffee. Half way through drinking, tears on his cheeks, he broke.

 

M: I’m sorry forgive me

 

He finished his coffee and brushed his teeth again. When he came back the notifications glowed on his phone. He was almost afraid to look.

 

S: What are you talking about you’re perfect

S: Mitch

S: are you okay?

 

Mitch picked up his phone, put on the hotel robe over his boxers, and crossed the corridor. He tapped on the door, heart pounding.

 

Scott pulled the door wide a moment later, dressed in tee shirt and shorts. Without a word he led Mitch over to his bed and lay down, holding the covers open. Mitch couldn’t meet his eyes as he shrugged off the robe and crawled in. He made himself small, smaller, not taking up too much room because he didn’t deserve more.

 

Scott put out the light and moulded himself to Mitch’s back, one arm over his waist and a hand laid over his heart.

A sob choked his throat. “I’m sorry I—”

Scott’s breath was warm on his neck. “Shh, you’re okay, we’re all good. Sleep now, big day tomorrow.”

 

Mitch gulped air. Scott’s chest rose and fell against his back, and finally he relaxed. The last thing he felt was the softest kiss to his shoulder, sending him into peaceful sleep.

 

***

 

Sleep was elusive. Scott lay for a while in the dark, listening to Mitch snore softly and feeling the strong heartbeat under his palm. He fell asleep almost instantly, leaving Scott with his feelings in a tangle. Whatever this was had all happened too quickly and now he was unsure what to make of it. They’d had a lovely evening, it seemed to end well, but maybe he’d done something wrong after all. It wouldn’t be the first time.

 

They needed to talk. He just didn’t know to start.

 

When Scott woke, Mitch had shifted away to lie on his back, one leg stuck out of the covers. He’d probably overheated. It was too dark to see much, and Scott eased his way out of bed and went to the bathroom, taking his phone. It was still early and he craved coffee, but didn’t want to disturb Mitch. So he sat on the toilet lid and checked emails and Twitter for a while, but by eight o’clock he couldn’t wait any longer. He set the coffee maker going and put one light on low.

 

Mitch stirred and stretched.

“Morning, sleeping beauty.” Scott switched on another light.

“What… why’m I here? What did I—”

“Shh, don’t worry, here’s coffee. Drink up.”

Mitch sat up and rubbed his eyes, then clutched the covers around his bare chest. “Water.”

Scott pulled a bottle out of the mini-bar. He expected this reaction after all the champagne and wine the night before. “Here.”

 

Mitch drained the bottle, got up and stumbled to the bathroom. It seemed a long time till he returned. Dark circles were prominent under downcast eyes.

“I’ll take that coffee now.” He sat at the table rather than get back in bed. He drank coffee, staring at the robe in a heap on the floor. Once he finished, he finally made brief eye contact. Scott wasn’t sure what to say that wouldn’t upset Mitch more.

 

“Do I have to apologise for anything?” He hugged his arms around himself, his voice quiet.

Scott shook his head. “Absolutely not. Although you already did for some reason, and we do have things to talk about. Right now, let’s talk about breakfast.”

Mitch grimaced. “Ugh, no.”

“Ugh, yes. We got fun things to do and I don’t want you flaking on me.” Scott kept his tone light. “Shall we have breakfast in here? I can order room service while you go freshen up.”

Mitch glanced at the robe again. “I really need to do that. I’ll have scrambled eggs and fruit. Lots of coffee.” He put on the robe, checked the pocket for his phone and key card, and left.

 

Scott watched him go. Mitch seemed wary, which was understandable. After all they parted after dinner but woke up in the same bed. That was not part of any plan, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t like it. They’d shared many such moments before, and it sure beat waking up to an empty space. The problem was this time, there were no boundaries in place. Scott really needed to know where they stood. Misunderstandings could ruin everything.

 

He ordered breakfast for nine thirty. That gave Mitch plenty of time, plus Scott could meditate before his shower to clear his head. In the meantime he put all his questions aside. He was craving eggs and bacon. And waffles, but they would have to wait. He hadn’t worked out in two days, and that made him feel guilty. A few bodyweight exercises would help to limit the damage until he got back to his gym routine. He began with press-ups and lunges.

 

By nine o’clock Scott felt calmer. His familiar routine of exercise, cool shower, meditation and work was a lifesaver. It was difficult to concentrate on emails though when his thoughts kept slipping away across the corridor. Last night was a good thing; he had comforted Mitch when he needed it. This morning was a little awkward so far, but they would have breakfast and settle into a new stage of knowing each other. Meantime, he pulled his mind back to his screen. He wanted to get finished before the day began properly.

 

**

 

Warm. Mitch was safe, curled up in a little ball by the fire. So warm. He cuddled closer and dipped back into deep sleep.

 

Something was hissing at him across the room. Couldn’t be a cat, but hissing all the same. Still warm, but alone in this big space. Best get moving. He opened his eyes and saw a robe puddled on the floor just as the headache hit him.

Dear God, how much did I drink last night? Should stick with champagne – wait, there’s someone in my room?

 

The smell of coffee. And Scott talking.

“Morning, sunshine.”

 

Mitch froze. Oh God. What had he done? Scott was turning on lights. Please if you love me stop. Dry mouth, water, coffee. Scott looked normal. But this was most certainly not normal. That means – oh no.

 

He knew the drill. Apologise, ask forgiveness, and take the consequences.

But Scott wouldn’t… he wouldn’t hurt me. Didn’t. He took me in.

 

He escaped as soon as he could.

 

Mitch turned the shower temperature up scalding hot. He scrubbed his skin methodically with mandarin and lime shower gel. He drank more water afterwards and sat with his skin tingly and pink, denying himself the comfort of lotion until his thoughts cleared. He’d thrown himself at Scott after dinner, but he was sober and sensible enough to refuse. And then somehow Mitch had tricked his way into bed with him anyway. He checked his phone. Their text exchange looked innocent enough.

 

Okay, no harm done.

 

He smoothed rose lotion over his skin. This brought back memories of the massage, and he almost cried then for how perfect everything had been until he ruined it. He dressed in a polo neck sweater and jeans and made a note to get his hair cut shorter again. Concealer was an absolute necessity to conceal his haggard face.

 

But he couldn’t go back. He sat and stared at a bed that had barely been slept in. He had to do better. He had to regain Scott’s trust.

 

The buzz of his phone startled him out of his thoughts.

 

S: Breakfast is here come and get it. Door’s open

 

Why did it feel like a condemned man’s final meal? He walked on leaden legs, not ready to accept his fate but helpless to change it.

 

“Morning. What have you got planned for today?” Mitch walked in and sat down with a practised smile.

“Mmm, not going to tell you just yet. Let’s get eating first. You’ve probably got a headache still.”

“Why would you think that?” A tiny woodpecker hammered at his right temple.

Scott grinned with a forkful of eggs halfway to his mouth. “You always do if you mix your drinks. Should have stuck to champagne but no, you wanted some Greek wine I’ve never heard of.”

“Not Greek, it’s Italian. Greco di tufo.” He served himself a small portion of fruit and filled the coffee cup. “You’re still useless when it comes to wine.”

“Hey, I know what I like.” Scott dug into his food.

Mitch started eating. He could feel something rising in his gut, something that sharpened his claws and barbed his words. He needed to get it under control before it did any damage.

 

He picked at strawberries. They weren’t very tasty, but what did he expect in January? Silence clung heavy around him.

“You’re doing it again.” Scott’s voice was soft.

“What?” He didn’t mean to sound sharp.

“Tell me what’s on your mind. Is it last night? I want to talk about it too.”

Mitch looked up into Scott’s sincere face. He looked calm, but he was also twisting his hands together.

“I’m sorry, forgive me,” he muttered.

“That’s what you said before, but there’s really nothing to forgive. Did I do something wrong?”

Mitch clasped his hands and stared at them. “I’m sorry.”

“Last night… you were sad, and you came to me, and I’m honestly not sorry.”

Mitch looked up at those words. “You don’t mean that.”

 

Scott brought his chair closer. He sat opposite and held out his hands. Mitch watched his hands move to lie in Scott’s warm grip. His pulse slowed.

“Mitch, look at me.”

Scott’s eyes held a world of blue whose gravity pulled him in.

“I don’t know what happened before. I can see you’re hurting. But we promised to be honest with each other. Nothing bad happened here, you snored a bit but that’s not new. And I will never turn you away if you need me. You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

Mitch exhaled. “I shouldn’t have come on to you like that. It’s trashy and—”

“Stop. He’s in your head, isn’t he?” Scott frowned. “What happened to you, Mitch? What became of my sassy queen, slaying the scene in purple? You looked so fucking amazing last night, I wanted to show you off to the world.”

 

Mitch looked down at their joined hands. “Really? I had such a good time, and then I – I spoiled it.” He trailed off into a whisper.

“Mitch, you didn’t spoil anything.” His tone was low and Mitch shivered. “I can’t tell you how much I’m loving this time with you. And today I’m taking you to see art, and then lunch somewhere, and a dance performance this evening.”

“Sounds fun. So what about the afternoon?”

“Whatever you want. Shopping, or wandering round Pike Place Market, or get a car to drive us somewhere. You choose.”

Mitch bit his lip. Tears threatened again. When had he turned into such a pathetic weepy mess? So weak.

 

Scott still held his hands, and he needed to know things were all right and he hadn’t messed up.

“Could I have a hug? I know it isn’t—”

“Is that even a question?” Scott stood and pulled Mitch to him.

 

Mitch closed his eyes and inhaled citrus and musk. He felt Scott’s heartbeat against his chest, constant and strong. Long arms surrounded him like they’d always done, before everything went wrong. Safe. The stubbled jaw resting against his cropped scalp was replaced by the soft nuzzle of lips. All his fear drained away, banished by a warm feeling in his chest. He didn’t want to name it, but it felt good. Safe.

 

After uncounted minutes, Mitch patted Scott’s back. “Thanks. Better now.”

“Sure?” Scott murmured.

“Ready to take on the day.” He stepped back with a lighter heart.

“Great, let’s do touristy things.”

“Well, that’s what we are.”

Scott’s smile bathed him in light again, eyes crinkling in the most attractive way. Mitch dropped his guard and let the words escape.

“Luca hated me flirting with anyone. I’d have to apologise and it really wasn’t worth the hassle, so I stopped.” Mitch turned away. “I’ll get my things.”

Scott’s words followed him. “I don’t mind at all.”

Mitch paused. “I’ll remember that.”

 

They spent a pleasant morning visiting the Seattle Art Museum and the Museum of Pop Culture. Mitch examined exhibits, took selfies, and soaked up the atmosphere. Images and sounds sparked ideas and connections. He felt his creativity stirring, as if after a long sleep.

 

Lunch in the rotating restaurant at the top of the Space Needle was fun. Although the sky was grey, the slowly changing view was fascinating. Mitch saw how Scott drew attention with a ready smile but with no trace of arrogance. He shared a joke about weather with the server, picked up a child’s dropped toy and returned it, and charmed everyone. And that included Mitch, no matter how he tried to keep his distance.

 

Mitch decided more shopping was in order after that. Once again Scott was the perfect companion, pleasant to shop assistants and appreciative of every look Mitch put together. He bought one shirt for himself and sneaked a gift into the bag while Scott was distracted by his phone. Then he declared himself exhausted and they got a taxi back to the Maxwell.

 

“Here we are again,” Mitch said outside his room.

“Here we are again,” Scott echoed. “Tell me what you want to do now.”

Mitch arched one eyebrow. “Wow, right to the point. I like a man who says what he means.”

Scott looked away smiling, and shook his head. “Okay… I’m going to rest for a bit. The dance thing is at seven so I thought we’d eat after.”

“And?”

Pink dusted Scott’s cheeks. “And nothing, what are your plans?”

“Well…” He let his gaze roam over Scott’s jawline and lips, ending at his blue eyes. He’s a handsome one, no doubt about it.

 

Scott cleared his throat. “I’ll see you later then?”

Mitch rolled his eyes. “Clueless. It’s been far too long, obviously. Get in here and cuddle with me. Just cuddles, mind. It’s still only the second date, I hardly know you.”

He wagged a finger with a sly smile as Scott processed his words. Part of his brain was amazed at his own boldness. He was coming back into focus.

“Right. I’ll get changed, back in a minute.” Scott disappeared into his room.

 

Mitch changed into a tee shirt and brushed his teeth. He prayed to whatever deity was listening that he didn’t screw this up.

 

Chapter Text

 

Scott lay on his bed, trying to empty his mind for a few minutes. Impossible. All he could think about was Mitch, and how he was going to undress with those dark eyes trained on him. He washed his face and brushed his teeth and used mouthwash and he couldn’t really delay much longer. He dug out his longest, baggiest tee shirt and some sweatpants. Maybe Mitch would curb that sharp tongue of his and be kind.

 

When Mitch opened the door and gazed up at him, Scott’s stomach did a slow flip. Mitch’s hair was fuzzy on the sides, with a baby fringe. It looked soft.

“I’m here, let me in.”

“Of course, welcome.” Mitch swung the door open and Scott walked inside, almost tripping up on the stupid hotel slippers. “Careful.”

 

Scott stood by the table feeling lost. Mitch sashayed over in a plain white fitted tee and dark red boxers, almost as if he was deliberately making this as awkward as possible. Scott saw what he already knew by touch, a body slender and strong. He was truly uncomfortable. It was one thing to do this in the dark, but quite another in daylight. He might reveal more than he was ready to show.

 

Mitch gave him the once-over with brows raised. “Surely you’re not lying down in sweatpants? Only you’re hot as hell in bed even without them.”

Oh, you did not just say that.

He cleared his throat. “Of course not, they only get in the way.”

The covers were turned back ready and Scott waited for Mitch to get into bed first.

Here goes nothing. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband and drew the sweats down in one swift movement. Then he picked them up and put them on the chair.

 

When he turned back, Mitch was watching him with a little smile that turned into a lip bite.

This fucker is trying to mess with me.

“Something wrong with my legs?” he asked, raising one for emphasis and turning it left and right. The tee shirt hid his torso and underwear, and Scott had no issue with his legs. He ran a lot.

“Only that they’re not in this bed with me. Get a move on.”

“Yes ma’am.” Scott avoided Mitch’s gaze and slid into bed behind him. “Don’t make this weird.”

“Just cuddle up. What happens, happens.”

 

Scott hoped nothing was going to happen that he couldn’t control. He inched forward. Their thighs touched. He tried to keep a gap between them. “You shaved your legs.”

Mitch pulled Scott’s left arm over his waist. “Haven’t bothered for ages, but I like to sometimes.” He meshed their fingers and sighed. “I got a reason.”

Scott rested his head on his right arm and pulled Mitch as close as he dared.

“You’re tense,” Mitch said. He arched his back a little and brought his butt closer. “We’re just two friends sleeping together and it’s not the least bit gay because—”

“Mitch stop.” He was glad Mitch couldn’t see his face, or feel the heat rushing in his veins. As long as he didn’t start wiggling about, he would be okay. Probably.

Mitch scoffed. “Relax, you’re making me nervous.”

 

Scott closed his eyes, counted to five. “I’ve missed this,” he breathed in Mitch’s ear. Mitch shivered, and there was a pause before he replied.

Score one for Hoying.

“I - me too.”

Scott slowed his breathing and concentrated on Mitch’s hand in his. “Did you set an alarm?”

“Course.”

“Then let’s sleep together.”

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Mitch pulled their joined hands to his lips and kissed Scott’s knuckles. Soon his breathing evened out.

 

He’s definitely flirting with me, and now we’re in bed? Together? What?

Scott smiled himself to sleep, safe in their little bubble.

 

**

 

Mitch woke slowly, backed up to a warm solid form. A heavy arm over his waist held him delightfully captive. Scott’s breath came in soft puffs over his neck and he didn’t want to move. Unfortunately his bladder had other ideas. He eased himself from under the arm and went to the bathroom.

 

On his return he started the coffee maker. Scott stirred and turned onto his back. The light gingery scruff adorning his strong jawline almost amounted to a beard, and close up he could see his brows, fair like the mess of hair tumbling over his forehead. A few freckles dusted his nose and surprisingly long lashes fanned over his cheeks. He was stronger than Mitch remembered, the gym work he’d teased him about obviously making a difference. Those legs and thighs… and the rest.

 

When Scott emerged from his dressing room shower looking like a Greek god, Mitch wanted to lick every drop of water from his pale skin. He had a strong masculinity that Mitch was drawn to, wanted to lose himself within despite every clear-headed thought that he should not, that he should exercise caution.

 

Before, Scott had been his oldest friend and partner in crime, their youthful crushes long past. Now, he was his familiar new best friend who was gorgeous and thoughtful and totally focused on him. Separation and reunion certainly changed things, and Mitch was afraid of what that meant. He really needed to dial it back, yet he fluttered helplessly, a moth to the flame. Mitch was drowning even as he found safe harbour, and he had to find a solution. He couldn’t bear to lose Scott again.

 

The coffee maker hissed and Scott rubbed his eyes. Mitch brought him a cup as he sat up in bed, and perched on the side.

“Here you go. Sleep okay?”

“Yeah, really good.” Scott yawned. “Sorry.”

“Better drink up then.”

Mitch sipped and stole glances at Scott, blond hair wild and eyes bright blue after sleep. A memory stirred, and he batted it away. Be here now and leave the past behind.

 

Don’t – it’s not the same, not like that, he wouldn’t. He’s not the same—

 

“Come back,” Scott said softly.

“What?” Mitch’s mouth was dry. He licked his lips.

“You were gone, million miles away.”

“Oh.” He got up and sat on a chair. “I’m sorry.”

“You apologise a lot.” Scott finished his coffee and put down the cup. “If you need to talk I’m ready to listen, whatever it is.”

 

Mitch stared at the carpet. Here it was. He couldn’t escape, and in a way he didn’t want to. He was tired of hiding and afraid to show all the ugly living under his skin.

“Promise me…” His voice broke, and he swallowed before starting again. “Promise you won’t judge me.”

“I promise I won’t judge and I won’t leave. I’m here for you.” Scott spoke softly and Mitch dared not look at his face.

 

Mitch gathered his courage.

“I do like strength in a man. I like feeling – the feeling that he’ll keep me safe, that I can depend on him. Luca was all that and more, at first. And he was right, I could be more than I was, and he opened doors. I needed him.” Mitch’s leg bounced and he clenched his fists, digging his nails into his palms.

“He held me close, and he held me tight, and then he wouldn’t let me go and I—” His chest rose and fell erratically.

 

A glass of water was pressed into his hand, but still Mitch couldn’t look up. Silence weighed on his chest, too heavy to lift, the air so thick it trapped his words. Mitch gulped water, then tried to breathe away his panic. His heart scrabbled against his ribs, caged in, no escape.

 

“When I sang, Luca would shout to stop or sometimes, he came in the shower and grabbed my hair and he – he made me and my throat hurt and I couldn’t stop him.”

Mitch clawed at his neck. His pulse was trying to burst through the skin. “I had to stop or he’d make me lose my voice, see? He called me names, he was cruel. He knew what I didn’t like and he forced me, over and over.”

 

Hot tears crawled down his face and dropped on the carpet.

“He ignored me if I spoke English and I didn’t always understand what he said, but I could tell he was angry. He told me I was weak and pathetic, worse than a woman and I tried to love him right but he – I – I loved him so much and I was never fucking enough!”

 

Mitch hid his face in his hands and sobbed. He couldn’t breathe, it was happening all over again, right here and now, the shouting and the insults and the shame and he could not bear it a second more. His heart ballooned and exploded, bones shattered, flesh turned to dust. At last he could die and this agony would be over… he’d be at peace, finally.

 

Arms surrounded him and he screamed. “I’m sorry, leave me alone!”

But the arms didn’t leave him. They held him securely, even though he beat his fists against the man’s chest. He collapsed, defeated. Weak.

Citrus and musk.

“I’ve got you.”

Safe.

“I won’t ever leave you.”

Safe.

“Shh, Mitchy, hush. He’s gone now. Shh.”

Safe.

 

And then the arms scooped him up, light as a feather, carried him back to bed. Scott, his Scott, twined his arms and legs around him, skin to skin. Citrus and musk, and a hint of flowers. He knew that scent. Scott rocked him, and kissed his neck, and spoke to him low and hoarse.

“Baby, you’re so brave. So brave. You’re safe now.”

Mitch wailed and they rocked together. Remembered storms raged in his head.

 

Mitch thundered. Me ne vado! I’m leaving!

The lightning struck with Luca’s sneer. Fai come voi, puttanella. Tornerai come sempre. I don’t care, you little slut. You always come back.

 

Luca was right. Mitch was too weak, and not strong enough to stay away. Until one day he realised he had to cast this soiled, tattered love aside, no matter how it hurt, because it was worse than being alone. This love made him a ghost, hollowed out and insubstantial, belonging nowhere and deserving nothing.

 

Here and now, whispered assurances and the sun drove away clouds.

“I’m here, you’re safe, I got you. We’re gonna be all right. Hush Mitchy, sweetheart. He’s gone, it’s all gone.”

 

He shivered, and covers were laid on him. Then his safety went away.

“No, please, don’t go.” He hardly recognised his croaky voice.

“I’m right here.” A blessedly cool washcloth on his face, and then safety surrounded him again. Scott’s breathing stuttered, and Mitch turned in his arms to see Scott crying, his eyes red and face wet with tears.

“I’ve - got you.” His lips trembled, and Mitch felt bad, guilty. He didn’t want his Scott to cry and he had to take the blame. Tutta colpa mia.

“My – all my fault,” he choked out, and more tears spilled.

“Not your fault,” Scott said through gritted teeth. He took a breath. “I’m fine. Turn around.”

But Mitch didn’t turn around. He kissed the tip of Scott’s nose and curled up facing him, and the last thing he saw was Scott trying to smile through his tears.

 

 

It was dark when Mitch woke. His eyelids were itchy and swollen and he wanted a shower. When he peeled his eyes open Scott was still there, wearing a look of such fondness that Mitch’s heart ached.

“Oh God I’m—”

“Nope.” Scott put a finger to his lips. “You are so strong, you know that? To have endured all that and survived.”

“Thanks for saying that. It was… horrible.” Mitch looked at Scott’s nose, his chin, anywhere but his eyes. “I told Avi some of it – you know he’s got x-ray vision, and honestly I needed him to understand before he’d let me see you. He stared at me like he could see through me and I spilled it.”

Scott smiled again. “Yeah, I know that look. It’s intense.”

“I need a shower, I’m gross.”

“Same.”

They looked at each other and Mitch shook his head. “Separately, of course.”

Scott laughed. “Of course.” He rolled out of bed. “We can still make that performance if you want to.”

Mitch sat up and stretched. “I do. Now go away and let me regain human form.”

“Okay, okay. Back at six fifteen then.” Scott put on his sweatpants. “We’ll eat after.”

 

Mitch splashed his face with cold water without looking at it, then took ibuprofen. He decided a cooler shower was best this time. The puffiness around his eyes subsided enough for him to create a coolly elegant façade with a nude lip. He wore a very pale blue shirt printed with peacocks that toned with both his blue jacket and the cufflinks Scott gave him.

 

When he was finished he sat looking at his face for a while. He looked no different, but inside he felt lighter. The guilt and shame that had stained his heart so long were fading, washed away by tears. Scott’s tears were all the more healing once he understood they were freely given. Hadn’t he said over and over that he wouldn’t leave? He stayed. He cared.

 

***

 

Scott stood in the shower, warm water raining down on his back. What the hell just happened? Started with flirting and cuddling and then in the blink of an eye the past battered them in a tsunami of remembered pain. Mitch had endured all that. He must have loved Luca to the point of blind adoration, to let him strip away everything that mattered to him. Scott couldn’t imagine Mitch without a voice.

 

But Mitch’s past behaviour made more sense. It was Luca talking. Luca had destroyed his belief in love and trust in people, chipped away at his self-esteem till all he had left was the outer shell of his personality. Luca had used him to secure success he couldn’t achieve alone. Scott wondered who had been opening doors for whom.

 

The constant apologies, how many times had he been forced to accept the blame for things going wrong? And he couldn’t think about how he had been punished. That wasn’t any kind of love Scott recognised.

 

He hoped he never met Luca in the future, because he wouldn’t hold back. Violence was never his style but the man who had humiliated Mitch and hurt him deeply would be the exception to that rule.

 

Scott stepped out of the shower still angry, his jaw tight and stomach churning. Then he took one deep breath, and another. He had to let it go for Mitch’s sake. No good could come of holding grudges.

 

Okay, enough. Things would be different from now on. He put on a white top and his leather jacket, and for once his hair co-operated. He’d treat Mitchy like the queen he was, like he deserved, and prove how much he cared.

 

After a stunning performance by the renowned dance company Aktiv8R, they left the theatre and Scott offered Mitch his arm. They strolled a little way among the theatre crowds until Scott protested hunger.

“Tell you what, let’s go back and get room service and pig out there. Then we don’t have to wear pants.”

Mitch put a gloved hand to his throat and gasped. “Mr Hoying, don’t you think that’s rather forward?”

Scott bent down to whisper in his ear. “We already slept together, so now we get dinner and a movie. Just doing it backwards, is all.”

“When you put it like that…” Mitch squeezed his arm. “Take me back to your place then.”

“With pleasure.”

 

An hour later they had a feast spread out on the table in 561 with bottles of champagne and water. They were dressed for comfort, Mitch in cashmere and Scott in a white tank and sweats.

“Dig in. What?” Scott said.

“What what?” Mitch replied, filling his plate.

“What are you looking at, is there something wrong with me? Just tell me and get it over with.” Scott was seriously getting spooked.

Mitch shook his head. “You’ve been working out and it shows. I’m wondering when you turned into this absolute daddy.”

Scott scoffed. “Well this daddy has to get his fat ass back to the gym. I ate too much over Christmas.” He patted his stomach but didn’t smile. More HIIT sessions were in his future.

Mitch looked him up and down thoroughly. “Ain’t no part of you that’s fat, honey. You and your ass are looking glorious.”

Scott didn’t quite believe it. “Nope.”

“Only telling the truth,” Mitch said airily. He started eating, and Scott followed suit.

 

“Did you mean what you said before?” he asked quietly when the food was done. It was torture every time Mitch flicked that appraising gaze over him and glanced away like he couldn’t stand what he saw.

“What - okay.” Mitch looked directly at him, eyebrows lifted. “You’re worrying about carbs, blah blah, how many miles you gotta run to work off those ten fries you ate.” He rolled his eyes and then gave Scott a direct stare. “I’m here to tell you, you’re perfect. You came out of that shower dripping wet, and I damn near lost my mind. True story.”

He took the fruit plate and climbed on the bed.

 

Scott was speechless. Mitch’s little comments and the look on his face two nights ago suddenly made sense. He opened his mouth, couldn’t think what to say, and closed it again.

 

“Chop chop. Get on the damn bed already,” Mitch said. “I already picked a movie, so bring the champagne. Just because you’re abstaining doesn’t mean I have to be deprived.”

Scott brought the bottle and a glass, and water for himself.

“Okay, there you go.” His mind was still blown by Mitch’s confession. He wanted so badly to believe.

 

He arranged the pillows as the movie started but all he saw was Mitch. While getting comfortable he took the opportunity to sniff his neck. He never tired of his scent.

“Love that cologne,” he said.

“It’s my current fave from Givenchy.” Mitch settled back into the crook of Scott’s arm, glass in hand.

“I am so happy right now,” Scott said quietly. He needed to express what he felt before this perfect moment slipped away. He’d settled for less too many times. “After all that’s happened, you’re still my best friend. Always will be.”

For a moment he thought Mitch would not respond, but he put down his glass and turned to face him.

“We’re – we’re unbreakable, right?” Mitch said softly, keeping eye contact.

Scott took his hand and kissed it. “If we break, we can fix it. And that’s even better.” Please God that never happens again.

 

He pulled the comforter over their legs and turned his attention to the screen.

Chapter Text

 

Mitch nestled into Scott’s side while some actress said words to some actor and look, I’m not even slightly interested because I’m cuddled up to Scott fucking Hoying and nothing else matters.

 

He wanted to run his hands up and down the toned torso that had been displayed to him so casually. He wanted to feel muscles moving under smooth skin. He wanted—

“Mitch?”

“Huh?”

“I said I’m ready for bed, how about you?”

Mitch peered up at Scott’s playful smile and sighed. “I thought you’d never ask.”

“I’m gonna go pee and then we’ll decide about tomorrow, okay?” Scott rolled off the bed and went into the bathroom.

 

Mitch got up and stacked food debris and plates on the table. What next? Before he could form any ideas, Scott returned.

“It’s been a day.”

Mitch nodded. “It really has.”

“Are you feeling any better?” Scott seemed hesitant, and Mitch couldn’t blame him after the meltdown earlier.

“I’m sor—”

“Nope. No more apologies, just truth.”

“I hope you don’t think badly of me.” Mitch dropped his gaze. He wanted to forget. He couldn’t forget, and that made it worse.

 

Scott led him back to the bed. They sat side by side. Scott took Mitch’s right hand, and placed his other hand on top. Mitch was very glad he didn’t have to make eye contact. Instead he stared at their feet, his dark painted toenails contrasting with Scott’s pale ones. His second toe was longer than the big toe. Deformed, he’d teased him before.

 

“I’m going to say this, and then we can drop it. Although, if you ever wanna talk I’ll listen.” Scott took a deep breath. “You are the strongest, most amazing, beautiful person and that bastard didn’t deserve you. Pray I never meet him because I swear I will beat him to a fucking pulp. That wasn’t love. You deserve someone who will give you the world.” Scott surrounded Mitch’s hand in the warmth of his own.

“Thank you.” The words barely escaped.

“And now we need sleep.” The lightest kiss on the side of his head followed.

“Mmm.” He didn’t trust himself to say more. He was emotionally spent.

Scott yawned. “It’s probably time we went back to LA.”

“Oh, you’re bored with me already?”

Scott gasped and stood up. “Never, but you know, work calls. You must have things to get back to as well.”

 

Mitch had a couple of prospects, but in truth he was drained. He escaped Milan but had to start again from ground zero, his most important relationships starved and dying while Luca burnt his bridges. Rebuilding his relationship with Scott was the only project that mattered.

 

The greyness of Seattle was suddenly more than he could cope with after all his confessions. It was time to find the sun again.

“Oh, I’m ready. We could get flights tomorrow evening.”

“Brunch tomorrow morning?” Scott smiled down at him, ruffling fingers through his hair and sleepy-eyed.

“Done.” Mitch couldn’t think or feel any more. “I’m exhausted, so I’ll say goodnight.” He needed space and days of sleep, and after one brief hug he crossed the corridor to his own room.

 

One quick shower later, Mitch crawled into bed. He was overtired and the space next to him was large and empty, but he’d imposed too much on Scott already. He slowed his breathing until he finally found sleep.

 

The next day Scott was unfailingly attentive. He took Mitch’s case, held doors for him, and let him set the pace. They managed to get flights in the early evening, so Scott took Mitch round Pike Place Market after brunch. He wore the grey striped beanie to avoid dealing with his hair. The tip of his nose turned pink with cold, and Mitch found it adorable.

 

On the plane Mitch sat rigid in his seat until Scott’s fingers curled round his while they chatted, as if nothing could be more natural. Take off passed him by after that. He was anchored and secure, even in a heavy metal tube that had no business being airborne.

 

Without ever discussing it, Mitch found himself sitting in his apartment, Starbucks in hand and his luggage brought up for him. Scott listened to Mitch’s analysis of his Seattle set.

“Fourth song in the second half – Night sky - I think slowed things down a bit too much. I mean it’s a great track but maybe keep the energy flowing more.”

“Yeah, know what you mean, but I also need to catch my breath after Fresh lips. Perhaps something will come from the new material I’m working on. It’s still early days.” He sipped coffee.

 

“I’ve missed music. More than almost anything else.” Mitch stared into his cup. He hated to kill the mood but it was true. He’d lost Scott, and music, and his friends. What remained wasn’t worth having.

 

When he glanced up at Scott he was waiting, blue eyes intense. “My studio is always available.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “We worked well together before and frankly I need someone to pull me out of my own head sometimes so…” He blew out a breath. “So how about it? I can fit around your schedule if you—”

“My schedule is open. If you want me.”

Scott’s smile flooded every dark corner of Mitch’s heart with light. “Want you? I can’t imagine anyone better.”

“That’s nice to know,” Mitch said. “We should put something in the diary.”

 

Working with Scott was more than he had dreamed of in the dark days, but he held back his excitement until it actually happened.

Scott scanned his phone. “I have to talk to some people tomorrow, so why don’t you come by the house anytime after five, we’ll get takeout.”

“As long as I choose where.”

“Sure.” Scott got to his feet. “Better get going.”

 

It was late, they were tired, and Scott hugged Mitch gently without stopping. Mitch closed his eyes, revelling in the comfort that was his again, and wondered whether it was too much to ask Scott to stay.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” Scott murmured.

“I am now.”

“So I’ll say goodnight.”

Neither man moved. Scott rubbed his back gently with one warm hand, and brushed away the old skin that had confined Mitch for too long. His chest filled with warmth and he laid his ear against a heart that had proved itself constant and true.

“Goodnight then.” Mitch moved back a fraction and looked up at Scott, into eyes that were trained on him only.

“This is the longest goodnight in the history of ever,” Scott said with a little smile.

“Ever?” Mitch waited, but he couldn’t make the jump. He stepped back. “I wasn’t timing it, but I definitely will next time.”

“Right. See you tomorrow.” Scott pulled on his jacket and left.

Mitch got ready for bed. He’d shed a skin, but he needed to be stronger. Maybe next time.

 

**

Scott drove home slowly through quiet streets. The beginnings of a melody ran through his head, a good distraction from the thought that Mitch didn’t find him completely ugly after all. Maybe he didn’t need as many HIIT sessions as he thought, which frankly was a relief.

 

When he got home he went straight to the music room. He played the melody on his keyboard and messed around with it, recording three different versions before he gave in to fatigue and went to bed.

 

Next morning came much too soon. Scott couldn’t face high intensity exercise, contenting himself with running and some stretches. A cool shower woke him up and he went out to his meetings drinking coffee with an extra shot, trying to stay ahead of the crash he knew was imminent. After a light lunch he called his parents and then lay down to meditate on his bed.

 

The insistent ring of the doorbell dragged Scott from a deep sleep. He sat up, startled, and then stumbled downstairs. How had it got so late?

Mitch greeted him with a smile. “Hey. You look quite rumpled, am I disturbing something?”

Scott opened his mouth to reply but a yawn escaped. He rubbed his eyes and stepped aside.

“Way to welcome a guest. If you don’t want me here—”

“I didn’t say that, did I? Come in.”

 

Mitch walked into the kitchen carrying two Starbucks cups. “Looks like you’re in need of this.”

Scott’s irritation fell away. “Oh my God thank you, you’re a lifesaver.” He grabbed the cup and drank, then sighed with pleasure. “Caramel macchiato, just what I need.”

Mitch eyed him, one brow raised. “You literally just got up? Your hair’s in need of some work.”

Scott ran his fingers through it. “There. I’m at home, it’s Sunday, so bite me.”

Mitch actually smirked at him. “Mmm, maybe later. We didn’t even hug yet and I distinctly remember agreeing—”

“Oh shut up for God’s sake.” Scott set down his cup and wrapped Mitch in a tight hug. Mitch still held his cup but responded with his right arm round Scott’s waist. Scott tightened his hold until Mitch gasped.

“Too much, I can’t – breathe.” He coughed for effect and Scott let go.

That’ll teach you.

“Hello Mitch, thanks for coming over,” he said brightly. “Can I take your coat, won’t you have a seat?” He gestured to the couch.

Mitch rolled his eyes. “Fake polite, ugh. I preferred the grumpy just woke up version.”

Scott finished his coffee. He felt much better. “Wasn’t grumpy.”

“Oh hell yes. Bed head suits you though, so not complaining too much. You need to cover up a bit, or I could get distracted by these.” Mitch stepped forward and before Scott realised his intention, traced one fingertip around the flowers inked on his left shoulder and down to his inner arm.

Scott pressed his lips together, skin tingling under Mitch’s touch. He cleared his throat.

“Maybe I should.”

His voice came out deeper than expected and he flushed. Mitch regarded him steadily, lips just parted. It was challenging. And hot as hell.

 

He turned and forced himself to walk, not run to his office. There was a short sleeved flannel draped over the chair in there and he put it on over his tank. He took deep breaths and checked in with himself. Heart rate up a bit, a little shaky, but smiling and yes, excited. They were in uncharted territory again but it was only scary in a ‘who knows where this will go’ kind of way. He could deal with that.

 

He went back to the kitchen. Mitch perched on a stool at the breakfast bar, resting his chin on one hand. Scott took in the short feathery hair, dark blue jeans ripped at the knee, thick soled loafers, and an oversized hoodie that emphasized the delicacy of his legs. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“We are gonna make some tunes that are wicked, rad and far-out,” he announced.

Mitch shook his head slowly. “That was so bad. Well, take me to your playroom then.“ He slipped off the stool and looked up under his lashes. “I’m more than ready.” He kicked off the loafers.

“I bet you were born ready.” Scott held his gaze. “You know where to go, babe.”

Mitch tilted his head but did not reply. Instead he led the way down to the music room.

 

“I’ve got a few things to show you,” Scott said when he closed the door behind them. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’m sure you do.” He fixed Mitch with a look and ignored the little grin he got in response, dimples or not. “Anyway, I have this song that I wrote with Avi, we ran out of time to finish it. Plus some others that are just little doodles yet. But we can warm up with some of our old stuff, if you remember back that far.”

“I have no trouble with lyrics, unlike some people.” Mitch waved his hand. “They pay actors to remember words.”

 

Scott simply smiled and sat at the piano. He began with scales and then played Can’t sleep love. Mitch joined in as he worked his way through a selection of PTX, Superfruit and his own songs. Mitch knew every song Scott played. It did not escape his notice that Mitch was pitch perfect with harmonies and made up his own where they didn’t exist in the original. It was delightful.

 

“I need a drink,” Mitch announced after a while.

“Help yourself, fridge in the corner.” Scott got up from the piano and wandered over to the grey couch that sat under a display of gold and platinum records.

Mitch peered into the fridge. “This is not what I had in mind.”

“I’ll have water, but if you want wine you’ll have to get it from the kitchen upstairs.”

Mitch pouted. “What kind of a host are you?”

Scott didn’t look up from his laptop. “I think you’re well past honoured guest into mi casa, su casa territory. So go get wine or drink water, your choice.”

Mitch sighed heavily on his way out and Scott ignored him.

 

Scott thought that singing and playing piano would calm him, but instead he felt energised. There were songs he wouldn’t share yet, but lots of other material they could work on, and maybe Mitch had ideas of his own. Having Mitch nearby, catching the occasional hint of his cologne and sharing jokes only heightened his senses.

 

Mitch returned with white wine and two glasses. “You’ll have some?”

Scott shook his head. “Not for me.”

Mitch filled his own glass. “Have you given up drinking completely now? I mean you don’t have to tell me what happened. I just wondered.” He sat a little way from Scott.

Scott put down the laptop and stared at his hands.

“I drank a lot for a while. I drank too much and it wasn’t helpful, because when you sober up all the problems are still there. Plus, you feel like crap. It took a while for me to accept that and change my behaviour.”

He really didn’t need to relive those days, but it was time to come clean.

“So, rehab twice. No pills now, I might have one drink or two, tops. I can stop there.” He paused. Honest, he’d said.

“I’m glad.”

“There was this one time.” Daniel, was it? “I got a bit wasted at Underground one night and brought someone back here.”

 

Mitch watched, and Scott couldn’t read him. “It was the first time since… I needed something to make me forget. So he’s just getting started and I can’t even remember his name, D something. Next thing my phone buzzes, and it’s you texting me.”

“Oh? What happened?” His tone was carefully neutral.

“I declined, he called me an asshole, I called him a cab. He left.”

 

Mitch sipped wine, and the silence stretched out. “Why?”

Scott swallowed. “Because the guy was like the booze. Something to fill in for the thing I wanted and couldn’t have.”

He searched Mitch’s face for a response. Scott’s gaze roamed from eyes to lips and back, but the mask kept him out. Finally he looked away with a little laugh. This was getting him nowhere. Time to move on before he made a complete fool of himself.

“Anyway, enough confessions. I want to play you something new.”

Mitch exhaled. “Let’s hear it.”

 

Two hours disappeared in a flurry of musical energy. Mitch drank about half the wine, and they went back up to the kitchen talking about film scores. Mitch searched out the Illy coffee and went to the coffee machine. Scott watched his back as he worked, and he could hardly breathe, and it was okay. The skip of his heartbeat wasn’t anxiety. It was anticipation.

 

He went up behind Mitch, startling him a little, and rested his forehead on Mitch’s shoulder.

“You always smell so good.”

Mitch took a quick breath. “Thanks.”

Scott put his arms lightly around Mitch’s waist, giving him ample time to move away. He didn’t.

“Am I distracting you?”

Mitch laughed breathily, and his left hand found the side of Scott’s thigh. “Quite successfully, yes.”

“Would you like me to stop?” He breathed the words against his ear before licking delicately at the lobe. He really hoped not.

Mitch shivered. “Not – not at this time.”

Scott wrapped his arms around Mitch, pulling him flush against his chest, and nuzzled into his neck. One hand was on Mitch’s chest and the other on his hip, the pressure close but not confining. Mitch could easily have escaped. Instead he gripped both of Scott’s thighs, hard enough to bruise, his breaths coming quicker.

Scott licked Mitch’s neck and blew gently. “Shall I go on?”

Mitch gasped and dropped his head back against Scott’s chest, exposing his neck. Scott put his lips to the pulse that beat strongly there and placed a soft kiss, then another.

“Please do.” It was barely a whisper.

 

He littered his neck with chaste kisses, while Mitch trembled in his arms and goosebumps bloomed on his skin. Mitch gasped again as Scott grazed the base of his neck with teeth, held him secure as he pressed forward against that perfect ass and received a slow grind in answer.

“You’re so beautiful. I’ve wanted to kiss you so many times.”

He barely brushed Mitch’s bulge but he responded immediately to the ghost of a touch, hips twitching, hands sliding along Scott’s thighs.

“Really.” His groan went straight to Scott’s balls. He forced himself to concentrate on his words, keeping his voice low.

“When you came to the Seattle show. After we had dinner. After the spa. Last night. Two hours ago. Right now.” He loosened his grip and Mitch turned in his arms. He tilted his face up, dark eyes wide open and lips parted.

“Kiss me then.” He put warm hands on Scott’s face and closed his eyes.

 

Scott touched his lips to Mitch’s mouth once, twice. That first tender touch morphed into hot and hungry exploration with teeth and tongue, while his hands squeezed Mitch’s ass. Scott pulled away for air, and looked down at the beautiful, breathless man in his arms, his eyes still closed. He gripped Mitch’s ass and lifted him on to the counter. Mitch locked his thighs around his waist, and took advantage of the change in position to thrust forwards again and bring Scott closer. Scott opened his mouth to Mitch’s tongue, enjoying the greediness with which Mitch dominated the kiss before attacking his neck.

 

Scott felt like a teenager again. His cock ached for release. He didn’t know what he wanted to do first. He wanted all of Mitch, but he couldn’t form coherent thoughts when Mitch was grinding a dirty rhythm against his hard-on at the same time as sucking on his neck, nibbling and licking and leaving his mark.

 

Eventually Mitch pulled back, eyes dark and hungry, lips swollen. “Fuck me.”

Scott smiled. “Is that a fuck me, or fuck me?”

“Both.” Mitch bit his lip, eyes trained on Scott’s mouth, then slipped down from the counter. He held out his hand, and Scott led him up to his bedroom.

 

Once inside, Mitch wasted no time in stripping down to his black boxers. He had the same colourful and varied tattoos that Scott remembered, and his arms and legs were more muscular while remaining slender. He didn’t notice any new ink but then his attention was focused on the tip of a cock that was just visible and already wet.

 

Scott watched him pull the covers off the bed, and eagerly removed his tank and shirt. But then Mitch caught his hands.

“Let me.” He pulled Scott’s sweats and boxers down as he sank to his knees and sucked the swollen head into his mouth.

Scott groaned, and when Mitch took him down his throat he swayed and saw stars. It took every ounce of restraint to let Mitch’s hot mouth envelop him without holding his head still and taking control.

 

Mitch pulled off, then removed his boxers and lay down. “I wanna feel you.”

Scott looked at Mitch displayed for him, all he wanted.

 

He stepped out of his clothes slowly, still self-conscious under Mitch’s scrutiny.

“Um, just a minute.” He went into the bathroom and found supplies in the cabinet before returning.

Mitch grinned at him, eyes half-open. “Been a while for you too, huh?”

“Hush.” He placed the condoms and lube on the nightstand. “Let’s see if I remember what to do.” He straddled Mitch’s hips.

‘I’m sure—”

Scott cut him off with a deep tongued kiss, rolling his hips slowly to give a little friction but not too much. He kissed a line from his jaw down his neck to the deadmau5 tattoo, circled the nipple then licked it with the tip of his tongue, loving the way Mitch writhed at every touch. This was better than any dream; Mitch spread out beneath him, taking every caress with a sigh, eyes closed and mouth open.

 

He coated two fingers with lube and circled Mitch’s bud, then dipped inside. The muscle relaxed and he added a second finger, stretching him gradually. When he added a curl of his fingers Mitch ground down against his hand, seeking more.

Mitch moaned and arched his back. “Please…please, I need you,” he whispered, fists clenched.

Scott wrapped himself, lubed up and hovered over Mitch. “Okay, baby?” he whispered in his ear. He lined up and pushed in slowly, watching Mitch’s face. “So tight baby, so hot, you’re gorgeous.”

Mitch tensed at the first intrusion, and as soon as he relaxed Scott sank inch by inch. Mitch’s eyes flew open but they were glassy, as Scott began to move and find his rhythm.

 

Scott bottomed out and leaned forward to kiss his beautiful boy, flushed and making such lovely sounds with every stroke. He could have stayed like that but he needed to push him to his peak, so he could see his face lost to pleasure.

He adjusted his angle slightly and Mitch threw his head back, lips parted. Yes, there.

 

Mitch lay surrendered, pre-come dribbling on his stomach. Scott spread it with his thumb, then pumped him faster. He watched Mitch fall apart one stroke at a time until he cried out, painting his chest with white.

 

The sight of a blissed out Mitch only cranked up the tension coiled in the pit of his stomach. He moved deeper, faster. His world shrunk to slick heat, flesh sliding against flesh, the smell of sex and a soft voice urging him on.

“Come for me, Scotty.”

He came hard, a bellow rising from his chest, his boy around him and under him and galaxies behind his eyelids as he came down to earth. His arms wobbled and he melted against Mitch’s chest. Scott pulled out and collapsed beside Mitch.

 

Tears pricked his eyes and he gulped air.

“Okay there?” Mitch asked softly.

Scott was not okay and he was perfect. He reached blindly for Mitch and they wrapped around each other. Scott’s heart overflowed and Mitch held him afloat, calm seas and safe harbour after all their storms and wandering.

 

They woke feeling cold and sticky. Scott stretched out and yawned.

“Ew, shower time, let’s save water,” Scott said. Beside him Mitch tensed.

“No, you go first,” Mitch said.

Scott propped himself on one elbow, and saw fear in Mitch’s wide eyes. One hand strayed to his throat. He reached out, but Mitch flinched and he took his hand back.

“Mitch, I want to look after you. But if you want me to go alone, I will.”

Mitch nodded minutely, and Scott pecked his cheek. “Okay.”

Unhappiness seemed to follow Mitch everywhere. Scott was sad for him, and frustrated that he couldn’t take care of Mitch the way he wanted.

 

He got into the shower and lathered his hair, letting anger roll off his back and down the drain. God damn Luca to hell.

He was rinsing when he saw Mitch’s silhouette. He cracked the shower door open.

“I’m scared in the shower,” Mitch said flatly. He tried to cover himself with his hands, and Scott could have cried. He was so vulnerable and small.

Scott nodded, kept eye contact. “How can I help?”

Mitch chewed his trembling lip. “Just being you helps. And the fact that you look completely edible when wet.”

Scott smiled and opened the door fully. “Maybe we test that later. Come here babe.”

He hugged Mitch and kissed his forehead. “Turn round.”

 

He lathered his hair and rubbed circles on his scalp before rinsing the suds away. Then he washed every inch of Mitch’s skin, dotting random kisses and murmuring compliments. Finally, once he stopped shivering, he let Mitch wash him. Scott was soon half-hard again with those wet hands skimming over his body, but he thought about building a snowman while naked in the snow, and sitting in church with his mean fifth grade teacher, and that worked. Mostly. He would not ask any more of Mitch.

 

When it was time to come out Scott cupped Mitch’s face and kissed him gently as warm water rained down on them both, keeping his hands off his body, telling him he was safe without words. He hoped one day he would believe it.

Chapter Text

 

 

The next morning Mitch woke and didn’t know where he was. The body behind him was definitely not business as usual. He was used to waking up alone, surrounded by empty space. Here he was warm, held by someone familiar.

“Morning, baby.” Scott’s morning rasp was better than he remembered, especially when whispered in his ear.

“Morning,” he replied, nestling his butt into Scott’s lap. “Feels like a very good morning for someone.” He rubbed against his morning wood, smiling at Scott’s groan.

“God, Mitch.”

“Yeah?” He turned over and kissed Scott on the nose. “What?”

“You are trouble.” Scott looked at him fondly.

“You like it.”

“Fair point.” Scott rolled away and got up to the bathroom.

Mitch stretched and yawned, totally relaxed. Safe.

 

“What are you smiling about?” Scott came back and put on the discarded sweatpants, then sat on the bed.

“I had this really vivid dream.”

“Really?” Scott looked down at him, eyes soft. “Was it good?”

“Yes you were.” He gazed up at his sunshine in wonder. “I hope to God it was real.”

A gentle kiss on the lips was his answer. “Me too. Shall I make breakfast, since we kinda missed out on food last night? I’m starving.”

“That’s an excellent idea. I’ll have coffee, eggs, and more coffee.”

“Yes ma’am.” Scott kissed Mitch’s forehead leaving a warm feeling in his chest that spread all the way to his toes.

 

Mitch dozed for a bit longer, then got up and washed his face with some kind of man soap. A new toothbrush in its wrapper waited for him. He smiled at his sleepy-eyed reflection, faint purple marks on the base of his neck. He’d have to bring his own things next time, if there was going to be a next time.

 

If? Who am I kidding?

 

He’d finally tasted Scott, and once would never be enough.

 

He put on boxers and tee shirt, and padded into the kitchen barefoot. Scott stood at the hob wearing an apron, pink marks blooming on his neck, singing along with a current radio hit. Mitch stepped up behind him, rested his head on one shoulder blade, and put his hands on Scott’s hips.

“Hello. You should stop that before I drop some - aaahh!”

Mitch licked up Scott’s spine, grinning as muscles flexed and shoulder blades drew together in a delicious shiver.

“You should wear more clothes, I told you before.” He sat at the breakfast bar. “Need any help?”

Scott waved a spatula. “If you set the table, we’re all good.”

 

Mitch brought plates and glasses and juice to the table, glancing over at Scott. His sweatpants rode low on his hips and Mitch very much enjoyed watching his muscles as he plated up eggs and pulled a dish from the oven. He set dishes of eggs, bacon, pancakes and mushrooms on the table with a flourish, then pulled off the apron. Glorious really was the word for those pecs ending in pink nipples, and taut abs with a scruff of golden hair leading south to—

Down, girl. We can climb that later.

“Ta-dah!”

Mitch couldn’t stop smiling. “It all looks good. Can I eat those?” He pointed to the pancakes.

“They’re made with almond flour so yes, if I don’t eat them first.” Scott speared two pancakes and dropped them on his plate, along with lots of everything else. Mitch took one pancake and some scrambled egg. He drank coffee and watched Scott dig in.

“Eat up, “ Scott said. “I’m not joking about the pancakes.”

 

Mitch cleared his plate in record time. The food was delicious and he hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the previous day. He scooped the last of the mushrooms and egg onto his plate and finished his food. Then he drained his coffee with a contented sigh. Home cooked breakfast was a great start to the day. Not that he usually bothered with breakfast, the last time was at Kirstie’s house for New Year.

 

He looked up to find Scott watching him.

“What do we do now?” He fiddled with his fork, twisting it between finger and thumb before laying it on his plate.

The shift in tone caught him off guard. “I have to go home and get changed, and then we—”

“No, not that.” Scott ruffled his hair, then looked directly at Mitch. He cleared his throat. “I mean, you, me, us.”

Mitch pushed his plate away. “Oh, us. Well, we’re not strictly platonic any more, I suppose. Unless your definition of platonic includes fantastic sex, which, no. It doesn’t.”

His pulse beat quicker, but he wouldn’t run.

“We go on, I guess. I still got my demons, but when I’m with you, they usually stay away.”

Scott considered this. “You want me to keep demons away.” He tilted his head. “So I need a silver cross, or something.”

Mitch huffed a little laugh. “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. You’re clueless sometimes.”

“So clue me in.” Scott’s gaze didn’t waver. His hair flopped over his forehead and Mitch had the strong urge to comb it back with his fingers.

“I’ve been trying to get back to you for the longest time. Now we’re here and I…” He took a couple of breaths. “I just want to be with you, Scott. That’s all. I hope that you—”

Mitch didn’t get to finish because Scott got up as he spoke and stood beside him. He bent and kissed Mitch on the lips, sweet and slow, placing his hands gently on his shoulders and filling him with sunlight.

Scott pulled Mitch to his feet. He took his place in the circle of Scott’s embrace, where he could be whole again.

 

“Come here, babe. We can slay our demons together.” He wrapped his arms around Mitch and brought him closer. “I want you, and I’ll take all of you. Good bits, excellent bits, broken bits, everything.”

Mitch swallowed. He wanted this. He wanted to believe. “I – I don’t know if you’ll like what you see.”

“I like you. And I mean all of you. And by all of you, I currently mean your mouth, which I’d really like to kiss.”

It was not possible to resist those blue eyes or that lick of the lips, and Mitch didn’t care to try.

Scott pecked his lips, then smiled.

“Stop smiling and kiss me properly for God’s sake,” he said with a touch of annoyance.

“Ooh, feisty,” Scott said, still grinning.

Mitch rolled his eyes and pulled Scott’s head down, stretching up to meet him. “You have no idea,” he purred, delighting in the way Scott’s eyes darkened.

 

He kissed Scott until they ran out of air. He ran his fingertips over his ribs and down to his waist, then back up his spine. He sucked on his bottom lip but didn’t seek entry, and when he was sure that Scott was properly riled up he stepped away.

 

Mitch took a moment to appreciate Scott’s tousled hair and swollen lips, broad chest heaving as he took deep breaths.

“Now we wash up I guess.” He took the plates over to the sink, smiling sweetly at Scott’s flustered confusion.

Scott shrugged. He cleared the table, loaded the dishwasher, and walked out of the kitchen.

Mitch watched him go. “Shall I come?” he called out.

Scott paused on the stairs and glanced over his shoulder. “Do you want to come?”

His tone had Mitch’s cock filling even faster. “Yes please. I’d very much like to come with you.”

Scott turned away. He pushed down his sweatpants, kicked them off and carried on upstairs.

Mitch almost stopped breathing as Scott flashed his entire backside at him. There was only one thing to do. He followed.

 

Scott finished brushing his teeth and stood in the bathroom doorway. Mitch let his gaze travel over broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist, long lean legs, strong arms, large hands that were lightly clenched. Pale hair led a fuzzy trail down his flat stomach. The head of his cock was dark and swollen, its tip wet.

“Look what you do to me.” Scott’s low tone sent thrills through Mitch’s body. Scott sat on the side of the bed. “I’m just gonna wait here.”

Mitch nodded and slipped into the bathroom.

 

When he came out, Scott stood up. “Let me.”

Mitch raised his arms for Scott to pull the tee shirt up. He stopped halfway and left it covering Mitch’s face. A jolt of fear stabbed his heart. The fabric trapped his arms and panicked breaths sucked it into his mouth. Then Scott put warm hands on his spine and covered his chest in open-mouthed kisses before dragging the shirt off over his head.

“Was that okay?” he asked, face nestled into Mitch’s neck.

Mitch was overwhelmed. His heart raced and he couldn’t speak, couldn’t catch his breath.

“Baby?” Scott pulled away.

Mitch swayed and Scott immediately scooped him up and laid him on the bed. He curled into a quivering ball.

 

“Oh God, I’m sorry. I scared you, I’m sorry.” Scott lay down next to Mitch, rubbed his back and kissed his head.

 

No no no I can’t I’m sorry please don’t

 

He flinched away from the man. Touching, always touching him.

“Mitchy, I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry, please, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Scott gabbled frantic words. “Forgive me, I’m sorry.” Scott’s voice broke on the last word.

In Mitch’s head it played over and over.

Tutta colpa mia, perdonami, scusa. All my fault, forgive me, sorry.

 

But Scott was saying it?

 

I’m here. I’m here and not there and it’s my Scott and

Mitch exhaled and turned to face Scott. “It’s okay. I got lost for a minute. Just hold me.”

Scott surged forward and wrapped himself around Mitch. Surrounded by warm skin, Mitch found his voice.

“I’m not ready for anything different,” he said softly. “Stupid, I know.”

Scott held him tighter. “I’m the stupid one. I didn’t think and I’m so sorry.” He sniffed and Mitch rubbed his back.

“You couldn’t know. But it’s okay, I’m okay now.”

 

Scott loosened his hold and pulled back so he could see Mitch. His eyes were red and his lips trembled. “I never, ever want to hurt you. Please believe that.”

Mitch took a shaky breath. “I do believe you. Gonna need you to hold me for a bit.”

“Always, baby.”

They twined themselves together and Mitch breathed slowly, matching with Scott till the demon loosened its grip. Quiet minutes ticked by.

I’m here and now. I’m safe with him.

 

‘Scott?”

“Hmm?”

Mitch found his prize and squeezed, feeling it swell in his grasp. “Take two?”

“Oh – are you sure? Because—”

“One hundred percent. I need you to fuck me senseless, right now.” He emphasized his words with firm strokes and Scott made a strangled sound. “I think,” Mitch was panting, “you can do that.” He swiped his thumb over the head, hot and ready.

Scott sat up and swung his legs onto the floor. “Come here.”

Mitch was ready for all of Scott, mesmerised by controlled strength and lust-dark eyes.

“Take ‘em off real slow baby, show me what you got.”

Mitch ran his hands down his sides and tucked his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers. Slowly he lowered them, gasping as his aching cock sprang free, hyperaware of Scott’s gaze only inches away. He pushed them down and stepped out, then put his hands on Scott’s shoulders. Scott stared at him, but made no move. Mitch leaned down and took Scott’s mouth, sliding his tongue deep, and pulled back.

Heat bloomed in his stomach as he was assailed by a hot mouth sucking pre-come from his slit and teeth grazing his skin. He might have fallen but for the hands gripping his ass, while Scott licked stripes along his shaft and he whimpered his name.

Scott pulled off. “Lie down, baby.”

Mitch wobbled on to the bed. His head was spinning, only one thought. More.

 

Scott tucked a pillow under his hips.

“Beautiful. I want you so bad.” Scott’s mouth was all over him and he whined, feeling now a nip to his hip bone, now a tongue swirling round his nipple. Long fingers scissored him open and he pushed down shamelessly, wanting more and not getting it, his cock leaking and hard.

“Scott, fuck, please,” he moaned.

And then came the burn of Scott entering him, thick and hot, so much and not enough and perfect.

“Move, goddamn it!”

Scott moved.

 

He fucked him with perfect rhythm. When Mitch thought he couldn’t take any more Scott snapped his hips and Mitch saw stars. Pleasure rippled through his body with every long smooth thrust against his prostate. Mitch relaxed his fists and let himself float, dimly aware of his own sighs and Scott’s thumbs digging in, holding his hips steady as every rational thought left his brain.

“Mitchy.”

Scott growled and wrapped one big hand round Mitch, finally, pumping him and drilling him until he exploded with a drawn out scream, riding the wave all the way down. Scott picked up his pace, rhythm faltering as he peaked a minute later with a hoarse cry.

 

He lay next to Mitch gasping for breath, and laced their fingers together.

Mitch turned his head to see Scott smiling at him, face pink with exertion and hair plastered to his forehead. That smile had always stopped him in his tracks but now, everything he’d glimpsed over the years was all for him. Scott kissed his shoulder, and his touch was everything.

 

“Any sense left, baby?”

“Nope, none.” Mitch tried to move but he was sweaty and tired and his bones had melted. He laughed and managed a weak wave of the hand. “All fucked out.”

“Then my job here is done.” Scott kissed him again.

He was Scott’s baby, and he was happy.

 

They shared a leisurely shower and got dressed, then sat on the couch snuggled up together while the TV played forgotten in the background. Mitch wanted to stay right there within kissing distance, talking about nothing in particular.

 

A place and a person, Kirstie had said. He’d run away in a panic when she pressed him to admit what he knew deep down. There was no home for him that didn’t include Scott.

 

“We should have safe words,” Mitch said thoughtfully. “Maybe something simple to begin with, like strawberry and pineapple.”

“What, wow, jump cut.” Scott kissed his cheek. “If it helps, sure. Never want you to feel scared, babe.”

Mitch looked at Scott and nodded. “Yeah, I know. Memories surface when I don’t expect them. I can’t help it and I hate it.”

“That’s fucking awful. I hate that bastard for what he did to you.” Scott’s fists curled, and Mitch took one hand and kissed it. He didn’t want his sweet guy getting angry, not now, even though hard-edged Scott was exciting as well as scary.

“Let’s not go there.”

Scott growled. ”Be glad we’re far away from him.”

 

Mitch made a mental note to try and evoke that growl in very different circumstances. In that moment though, he had other things on his mind, and one thing in particular. He had a sense of the pieces falling into place.

 

“I can’t go back, Scott.”

Scott frowned, confused. “Back? To Luca, you mean? Why would—”

“No, not Luca.” Mitch shuffled away slightly and looked Scott in the eye. “I can’t go back to a life where we’re not together.” He glanced down at their joined hands.

Kirstie’s voice echoed in his ears. Be brave.

“I don’t want platonic, but I’d rather that than nothing so I need – I need to know, before I’m in too deep, and you make me feel… just tell me, because if you don’t—”

“Mitchy, baby. I’m all yours.” Scott’s eyes shone, and Mitch knew.

 

Mitch let Scott pull him onto his lap. He kissed Scott like it was his job, like it was the only thing that kept the world spinning, like he’d never been kissed before. They came up for air and put their foreheads together, breathing heavily and smiling.

 

Scott cupped Mitch’s face in large warm hands, rubbing his thumbs along his cheeks, and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead. His smile lit Mitch’s world and chased every worry from his heart. He let himself fall into blue oceans without reservation, ready to be seen.

“Coincidentally, I don’t want platonic either.”

Chapter Text

 

 

It was the best Sunday Mitch could remember for a very long time. Scott drove him back to his apartment for a change of clothes and then they returned to Scott’s house, Starbucks in hand.

 

Laughter and music filled their day until they found themselves sitting on the music room couch in the late afternoon, talking about a verse that stubbornly refused to resolve itself.

“It’s a bit hackneyed though, can’t we find another way—”

“There’s only so many ways to say it, and it’s better to keep it simple.” Mitch grabbed the pencil from Scott, and scribbled on a sheet that was already covered in alterations, asterisks, and arrows.

“Closer baby, bring it here, want you baby, want you near. Or something, I don’t even know.” He sighed. “Maybe we should take a break.”

 

Mitch looked up and found Scott watching him intently.

“Closer baby, bring it here,” he sang softly.

Mitch put the pencil down and sang the next phrase. “Want you baby, want you near.” He kept eye contact with Scott while he stood up and pushed him gently against the couch, then climbed on his lap.

“Make me feel it, do me right.” He settled his legs either side of Scott’s thighs and hands on his shoulders. They were very close now, and Scott did not move, his hands resting beside him.

 

Mitch placed his lips on Scott’s ear and rocked his hips forward against a bulge that matched his own. He ground their cocks together until a little moan escaped Scott’s mouth, and breathed hot air over his skin.

“Mitch.”

Mitch pulled back and took in the sight of Scott laid back against the couch, eyes closed and biting his bottom lip. He turned his head to one side and Mitch dotted wet kisses on the pale skin and nipped the base of his neck until Scott was a panting mess.

“Keep me coming till the morning light,” he sang against his ear, dropping into his lower register.

“Jesus, Mitch.”

 

Mitch kept his rhythm going, even as he turned Scott’s face toward him and devoured him with the deepest, filthiest kiss, tongue-fucking him in time with each thrust until he was about to burst into flames.

Eventually he had to come up for air. “Aren’t you going to touch me?”

“Do you want me to?” Scott bit his lip, eyes still closed.

Mitch giggled. “Dry humping you is fun. But I wanna get wet so yeah, touch away.”

Scott opened his eyes and Mitch shivered at the hunger he saw there.

“I’d happily bend you over this couch right here.”

Mitch nodded. “Duly noted.”

 

Scott closed the distance between them, sucking Mitch’s bottom lip and squeezing his thighs and hips before pulling away. “Upstairs, now.”

“Bossy.” He licked his lips.

Scott’s hand flew to his mouth. “Oh sorry, I don’t want to pressure you or anything I just—”

“Scott, please. Don’t second guess everything, not when we’re in the moment.” He leaned forward and kissed him lightly. “I can use my words, okay? Let’s see that leader type personality come out to play.”

 

He emphasised his words with a sinuous wind of his hips. He really, really wanted to stop talking. He was so hard it was almost painful and they needed to be rid of these clothes approximately yesterday.

“You feel about ready to come in your pants, but I was hoping for a different location.” He purred into Scott’s ear and felt his shiver.

“Right, upstairs now.” Scott pushed Mitch off his lap. “Please.” He raised a pale brow.

Mitch smirked and led the way upstairs, swaying his hips the whole time.

 

They barely reached the bedroom before Scott pounced. He spun Mitch round and pulled their hips tight together with one hand while the other went to the back of his head.

“Ain’t nobody coming in their pants tonight,” he whispered.

Mitch moaned, his hands roaming over muscular thighs and butt. Scott nibbled and licked at his neck before letting him go.

 

He stripped, displaying well-muscled proportions, acres of smooth skin and most of all, the cock of Mitch’s dreams. All this beauty and strength was his to enjoy.

“Clothes off. Let me see you prep yourself.” Scott nodded at the lube on the nightstand, and Mitch could only obey.

 

Mitch lay back on the bed naked, his breathing shallow as he spread his legs and pushed the first lubed finger inside while Scott watched, stroking himself gently. Mitch added another finger and his breath caught. He threw his head back and closed his eyes, muscles trembling and senses on overload with slick fingers, heat inside and Scott’s stare stoking the fire.

“That’s it baby, you look so hot right now. Ready for me yet? Think you can take all of this?”

Mitch opened his eyes to see Scott with his fist clenched around his cock and pre-come glistening on the head, eyes dark with desire. Mitch tried to speak but his brain overloaded and words failed him.

“Fuck yes.” He flipped over on his front and raised his ass, quivering with anticipation.

 

The bed dipped behind him and he held his breath. Scott kissed each ass cheek before nibbling lightly and then immediately pushed inside, blunt and thick and filling him completely. Scott paused after bottoming out in one stroke but Mitch couldn’t wait a moment more.

“Move it!”

Scott grunted and pulled Mitch back by the hips, each thrust balls deep. He was a slave to Scott’s rhythm. He had full control and Mitch didn’t try to resist.

 

He pulled out almost completely and then resumed with a change of angle that had Mitch squealing. It was just right and he needed more.

“Please… please, fuck, I need…”

“Gonna give you… make you feel it.” Scott slowed to a stop and Mitch almost wept with frustration. He was so ready to be fucked without end.

 

Then Scott leaned forward and pressed kisses on Mitch’s back, each one a firebrand on his overheated skin. Scott’s hand wrapped around his cock and he set up a double rhythm of thrusts and strokes. Flooded with sensations, Mitch’s cries seemed to come from somewhere else while his body burned. Scott inside him and over him and around him sent Mitch over the edge with a scream, soon followed by Scott coming with Mitch’s name on his lips.

 

Mitch would have collapsed but for the strong arm around his waist, while Scott supported their weight on his other arm.

“All right, beautiful?” He pulled out and let Mitch slump to the bed with a kiss to his back. Scott cleaned him with a warm cloth and then a towel. Finally he lay next to Mitch and threw one leg over him before pulling up the sheet.

“You are amazing.” Scott kissed his cheek. “I can’t believe we’re here, now, like this.”

Mitch sighed. He couldn’t believe it either. “That was fantastic. It seems we fit together even better than expected. Who knew?”

 

He’d hoped, of course, but reality was far better.

 

He shuffled onto his side and pushed one thigh between Scott’s strong ones. Once again the affection in Scott’s eyes took him by surprise, and he stretched forward to kiss him. He could feel Scott smiling.

“What was that for? Not that I’m complaining.”

Mitch shook his head and smiled. “Just because. Just because this is the only place I want to be.”

He couldn’t explain. He hesitated to label this growing feeling, like the sun was shining inside him. He only knew that he was utterly content. He lay next to his oldest friend and new best friend, his safe harbour and his home.

 

He continued to plant little kisses on Scott’s nose until his eyelids fluttered shut, then cuddled closer until there was no space between them. When he was satisfied that Scott was asleep he whispered, “You are my everything.”

And Mitch slept too.

 

**

 

Scott opened his eyes to the actual Mitch Grassi in his actual bed. It all seemed like a dream except no, they had actually fucked several times already and God help him, he wanted him again. He turned on his side and watched Mitch sleep, all long lashes and soft lips and hair. Heat stirred in the pit of his stomach, and he let it be.

 

There was nothing much in his diary for the next few days. They could enjoy spending time together, not necessarily naked though Scott was not opposed to hearing Mitch scream again. But there was plenty of time to get hot and heavy. He craved proximity, his scent, hearing him laugh, seeing goosebumps pop on his skin just as he kissed his neck… and he was getting hard again, just thinking about it. Couldn’t help it.

 

He always knew Mitch was beautiful, and when they met again he seemed to know it too. But Scott was seeing beyond the surface now, and all Mitch’s wounds called to his heart. He wanted to cradle Mitch and sing to him and never rest until every last demon was banished. He shifted closer until their faces were only a couple of inches apart and he could feel steady breaths on his skin, and let desire fade to a glow that could be ignited any time by a look, a touch, a memory.

 

Hunger on the other hand would not disappear so easily, as his stomach reminded him. He pressed his lips to Mitch’s cheek then slipped out of bed. After taking a shower in a guest bathroom to avoid waking him, he went downstairs to order food. They’d missed dinner, again.

 

“Tell me you made coffee.”

Scott looked round to see Mitch walk into the kitchen barefoot wearing boxers and one of his flannel shirts. Well, he assumed he was wearing boxers. The shirt hung down far enough that he couldn’t be certain.

“Tell me you aren’t rifling my closets.”

“I’m not rifling your closets. I simply held up my arms and this shirt jumped right on me.” Mitch rubbed his eyes. “Coffee.”

Scott grinned at how adorable he looked. “I’m the only one authorised to jump on you, Mitch Grassi.”

Mitch raised a brow. “So possessive, so soon?”

Scott shook his head. “Not possessive, baby. Exclusive. I hope, anyway.” He dropped his voice. Was it too soon? He just wanted them to be together already and waste no more time.

 

Mitch smiled and walked over to him, cuffs hanging over his hands. “You have nothing to worry about.” He snaked his arms round Scott’s waist and looked up at him. “Like I said, don’t second guess everything. I won’t be looking for espresso elsewhere, which reminds me I still don’t have one in my hand yet.”

Scott kissed his forehead, nose and lips. “You’ll have to let go of me first.”

“Never. I’ll just cling on like a baby koala while you do your thing.” He moved sideways, still hugging Scott. “There.”

 

Scott started the coffee machine, distracted by Mitch rubbing his head against his shoulder. “Do you like Illy? I could get something else if you prefer.”

“I prefer the taste of you, and these arms are to die for.” He nuzzled Scott’s upper arm and licked the skin. Scott fumbled and almost dropped the cup.

“Mitch, let’s focus on coffee.” He put the espresso on the counter with one hand, while trying to halt the wandering of Mitch’s left hand with the other.

“Oh I will, but can you?”

A hand ghosted over Scott’s groin and heat flashed through his veins.

“Stop that.” He grabbed for Mitch’s wrist, but he was trapped between the counter in front and Mitch crowding in close behind him. Hands roamed everywhere under his tee shirt, and then he gasped as both nipples were tweaked.

“Shit Mitch, just—”

“I’ll take that espresso now.” Mitch moved away to the couch holding the small cup.

 

Scott took a deep breath. There was no way to hide his hard-on so he decided not to try. He took his own mug and sat opposite Mitch. “What?”

He drank. The coffee was really good.

Mitch’s eyes flicked from the tent in his pants to his face and back again as Scott leaned back on the couch. Mitch was probably a bit sore after their recent adventures, but there were plenty of other ways to deal with the heat in his belly. However food was the next priority, now coffee was sorted.

 

Right on cue, the doorbell rang.

“You should get that. And you should deal with – that.”

Mitch’s stare was not helping Scott’s situation.

Scott hummed. “You’re right.”

He slid a hand into his sweatpants and adjusted himself without hurry, closing his eyes for a moment and savouring the feeling of arousal without needing to act on it immediately.

 

The same couldn’t be said of Mitch, who licked his lips like he’d seen what he wanted to eat, and it wasn’t takeout. Scott wanted to bend him over the couch and pound him till he forgot his name, but that could wait.

 

Scott returned with the food, arranged it on the kitchen table and sat down.

“Are you coming?” he called.

Mitch got up. “Not yet,” he muttered. He downed the espresso in one and came over.

Scott grinned at him. This was a fun game.

“Plenty to eat here.” He piled his plate high. The tightness in his pants subsided enough for food to occupy his mind, and he was ravenous.

Mitch sat down and ate without comment, occasionally glancing up with a smile. Scott had a joyous realisation; all the teasing, touching and tempting could be for real now. He didn’t have to hold back.

 

“What have you got planned next?” he asked when the plates were empty.

Mitch shrugged. “My schedule is open, like I said. There’s a couple of meetings next week, lunch with some people and a script to read. What about you?”

Scott thought for a moment. “Nothing till Monday, I’m meeting Neal for a debrief and then I have songwriting sessions booked, gotta be at the label on Thursday. And I arranged to have dinner with Mario this Friday.”

 

He finished his water and began clearing away, aware that Mitch watched intently and unsure if he should just come out and say what was on his mind.

“Go on,” Mitch said. “I see your gears turning.”

 

Scott sat down again. “I don’t want to assume you’ll fit in with my plans. But I’d like to take you for a picnic on El Matador tomorrow. And I know Mario and Julietta would love to see you, but we haven’t talked about us, and how we’re gonna play it with going public only I want to be with you and be open about things and so I’m a bit anxious and wow I’m rambling, sorry.”

“You are, and it’s the sweetest thing. How about you ask me? That can work.”

 

Scott led Mitch over to the couch, butterflies roaming his stomach. He sat a little way from Mitch, clasped his hands, and dropped his shoulders.

“Okay. I want to be exclusive. I want to be public. I want to let the fans know in some controlled way, not be papped somewhere. I want you with me, like the old days, but with the added bonus of fantastic sex whenever we want.”

“Hmm.” Mitch regarded him silently for a minute, and Scott forced his breathing to slow. It was going to be all right. It had to be.

 

“That is quite an offer, especially the sex part because you are literally my dream daddy.” He smiled, all dimples and twinkling eyes. “Yes, you idiot. Yes to all of it always, as long as I reserve the right to change my mind, as girls do. Let’s go to dinner on Friday. Let’s go all the way. We can work around our schedules.”

 

Scott exhaled, his heart full. “That’s great! I’ve got some ideas—”

“I’m certain you have. But you’re too far away, why not come over here and tell me.”

Scott allowed Mitch to tug him closer. “That’s better.”

He traced his finger along Mitch’s jawline, watching as he closed his eyes, then along his lower lip.

“Getting late. Do you need to go home?”

“I – need some clothes. I need…” Mitch sighed.

“This?” Scott kissed each cheek. “This?” He kissed his nose. “This?”

He placed a hand on each cheek and touched their lips together, and as Mitch melted into the kiss he drew him closer. He licked Mitch’s lower lip, sucking it into his mouth and relishing his answering groan.

“I need you,” he whispered against Mitch’s ear. He unbuttoned the shirt and kissed the deadmau5 tattoo. Mitch slipped his arms out of the sleeves and lay back, eyes still closed, his chest rising and falling faster.

 

Scott dropped to his knees. He kissed and named every bit of ink he could reach, whispering against warm skin and feeling the muscles twitch beneath his lips while his fingers rolled one hard nipple. Mitch sighed and bit his lip, one arm thrown over his face.

“Gorgeous.” Scott palmed him and sighs became cries, rising in pitch as he bucked his hips upwards and ground against Scott’s hand. “I want to make you feel good.”

Mitch reached down but Scott caught his wrist. “I’ll take care of everything baby boy, just enjoy.”

 

Scott watched him exhale and go limp, everywhere except there. He pulled at the waistband just enough to free the dark, wet head, and licked the wetness off.

Mitch clenched his fists and his hips rolled upwards. “Scott fuck please…”

 

His own cock ached but he stayed focused. Mitch lifted his hips so the boxers could come off. He was nicely proportioned, and Scott continued to lick up and down the shaft and cup his smooth balls until all that came from his mouth was squeals and curses. Then he swallowed him down.

 

Mitch stilled for a moment before thrusting forward with a groan and Scott matched him, mouth full of hot flesh and Mitch’s own scent surrounding him. He grazed the skin with his teeth and gripped Mitch’s thighs, urging him on until his garbled cries told him he was close.

 

For a fleeting moment he wished he could see Mitch’s face, but he contented himself with the feeling of Mitch swelling in his mouth as he took him as deep as he could before he shot down his throat. He milked him through every pulse and shudder, finally pulling off with a tiny kiss. Mitch was panting, a fine sheen of sweat on his skin, and one arm still over his eyes. Scott felt ridiculously proud he had done that, that Mitch let him do that.

 

Scott stood up and kissed him on the cheek. “All right, baby?”

“More than… I was… and you… fuck.” Mitch smiled and shook his head. “You broke me again.”

“In a good way I hope.”

 

Scott moved back to the kitchen, his own pants tight. He was determined not to ask anything of Mitch so he washed his hands, drank iced water and did math problems in his head until he was more comfortable. Then he filled another glass with water and brought it to Mitch.

“There you are, thought you weren’t gonna come and cuddle. Or maybe you had a not so little problem to deal with?” He waggled his eyebrows and Scott laughed.

“I’m good, thanks. Put your boxers and my shirt back on, or I might have.”

 

Mitch drank water and dressed while Scott looked elsewhere and built a snowman outside, naked in the snow, with his mean fifth grade teacher who was shouting at him and also naked because damn, naked Mitch made it hard to concentrate.

 

Self-control, he decided, was invented by people who had never met Mitch Grassi.

Chapter Text

 

Scott cuddled Mitch on the couch for a while in silence while a film played and he paid it much less attention than the actual Mitch Grassi in his arms. They were relaxed and comfortable and perfect.

 

“It’s late, we should go up. We don’t have anything on tomorrow.”

“Apart from the picnic.”

“Apart from the picnic, which I have yet to buy.”

“Poor planning.”

“I wasn’t certain you would say yes.” He kissed Mitch’s cheek. “Glad we cleared that up.”

“Haven’t seen Mario in ages.”

“What about my party? You were both there then.”

“I stole away like a thief in the night. Actually I was almost sick with nerves before that performance. Esther helped of course.”

“She’s my rock. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

Mitch nodded, his head against Scott’s chest. “The Kaplans are good people. Avi was my saviour, once I decided to leave Luca.”

Scott tensed at the name. He forced his jaw to relax. “Avi helped you out?”

“Yeah. I rang him one night out of the blue, didn’t know who else to call. He told me to get on the next plane. I arrived in Oregon a freezing, destroyed mess. He wrapped me up in a warm jacket at the airport and let me cry on his shoulder. Then he took me to his house and installed me in the guest suite.”

 

“Did he make you do horses?” Scott kept his tone light to cover the uneasiness bubbling in his chest.

“Jesus, no. I hid in my room and only came out for meals at first. Saskia showed me the creek and I used to watch the water go by and wonder where it all went wrong. Anyway.”

Scott tightened his grip. “I’m sorry.”

“What for? It wasn’t your fault.”

“Sorry you went through all that and I wasn’t there for you.”

Mitch shifted to look at Scott directly. “I could say the same to you. It’s all connected, but it’s all done now. Luca…” He cleared his throat. “Luca used to tell me you didn’t care any more. You had Bailey and I needed to move on.” He ended with a whisper, looking away.

“Luca was wrong about a lot of things.”

Anger and guilt twisted hot knives in Scott’s gut.

 

He clung to Mitch, sad for the time they had lost, sad for Bailey and the future they never had, sad because though he was happy now he’d come through fire and ice to get there. He had been forced to choose between his two loves, could not find a third option. He had two hands, why could he not have held on to both? And in the end he chose oblivion, and failed all three of them.

 

“Scott? Scotty, talk to me.”

He blinked down at Mitch, concern in his eyes as he wiped a tear from Scott’s cheek.

He hadn’t realised he was crying.

“Don’t be sad. We have to go through it to get where we’re going. Such a soft boy you are.” Mitch kissed his cheek. “I like that about you.”

“Yeah?” He was so tired suddenly. He had to rest.

“When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes,” Mitch sang softly, dark eyes fixed on him.

Scott sniffed. “I don’t know that one. But it’s about right.” He got up and pulled Mitch to his feet. “We can cuddle in bed and sleep and stuff. Let’s do that.”

“Lead the way.”

 

In bed Mitch insisted on being the big spoon. Scott was glad to have the decision made for him, and fell asleep with Mitch murmuring soft words of comfort and rubbing circles on his skin.

 

**

Mitch woke with the very solid form of a sleeping Scott right next to him, despite the size of the bed. He studied the lightly freckled slope of his neck and shoulder, leading on to the tattooed upper arm he found ridiculously attractive. There was something incredible about the past few days, like a fantasy come to life. Scott had finally made his move, and he was even more than Mitch had dreamed of. His touch drew responses from his body that he rarely experienced, and certainly not in the last year. Or longer; how long had it been since—

 

Nope we are not going there. Nope.

 

Time to get up and shower before Scott woke. Mitch sneaked out of bed and into the en suite bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He nudged the dial up from its original setting out of habit, then turned it down to a more comfortable intermediate temperature.

 

When he stepped back into the bedroom the bed was empty. He was towelling his hair when Scott reappeared wearing boxers, his hair still damp.

“Good morning babe.”

Mitch looked him over and smiled. “It is now. Because damn daddy, you fine.”

Scott blushed. “Stop, let me get dressed.”

Mitch grinned, enjoying both Scott’s discomfort and his thighs as he went into the walk-in closet. He emerged in jeans and a white tee, pulling on a flannel, and handed Mitch new boxers in a pack.

“Well that’s just unfair,” Mitch said. “I only have yesterday’s clothes.” He wrinkled his nose. “I’d really rather not.”

Scott combed fingers through his hair. “Oh, um, about that.” His cheeks were still pink. “Let’s see if I can find something for you, come on.” He walked out and Mitch followed him into the next bedroom, puzzled.

“What are you talking about? Just give me a clean shirt.”

 

Scott opened the closet. A row of dry cleaning bags was hanging inside with a small stack of shoeboxes underneath.

“These are yours, I know they’re a bit out of date but maybe—”

“What?” Mitch put his hands to his mouth. “No. Oh my God, Scott. You didn’t.”

Scott nodded. “I always hoped, you know me, the eternal optimist and I hoped you might come back one day and sass me about how you couldn’t possibly be expected to wear these old rags. So I kept them.”

“You’re right. I can’t be expected to wear these old things.” Mitch shook his head. “But I will.”

 

He looked at Scott, his sheepish smile and floppy hair, the soft light of his presence, and he had no words. He closed the distance between them and pulled Scott down by his collar for a bruising kiss. He poured into it all the fierce tenderness he could muster. Scott had never forgotten him. Even in the darkest times he had clung on to a faint hope, keeping these clothes as a reminder of good days and a promise of better days.

 

“You never let go,” Mitch murmured. “Thank you.” He kissed Scott again and buried his face in his shoulder, heart fit to burst with joy. “This means – it means everything.”

“My stuff is way too big for you anyway.” Scott tightened his hug. “It’s okay?”

“More than okay, babe. Now let me go so I can decide which rags I’m prepared to consider today.”

“Right, I’ll get some coffee going and then we need to buy a picnic.” Scott left Mitch searching through the rail.

 

When he was gone Mitch sat on the bed. All those times he’d felt so far away, alone and forgotten, he didn’t know that people still hoped and prayed for him to return to them. Avi, Esther and Kevin held Scott up, and Avi and Kirstie held him up, waiting for the time they would reunite and remember all they were to each other. Mitch was not religious but he gave thanks for the family he had around him, and asked for the strength to be the best man he could be for them all, for himself, and most of all for Scott, his soft, strong, safe harbour.

 

Mitch went down to the kitchen in his own clothes that were a bit dated, sure, but absolutely fine for a day on the beach. He had plans for shopping after coffee, and Scott was happy to take him to three different stores to buy the perfect picnic ingredients. There was a full basket in the trunk along with blankets and a wireless speaker by the time they reached the last stop.

“What are you getting in here?”

“A surprise,” Mitch said. He hopped out of the car and soon returned with a long, narrow bag.

“I suppose I shouldn’t ask.”

“Kinda spoils the whole concept of a surprise,” Mitch replied. “Drive on.”

 

They were lucky to get a spot in the small parking lot at El Matador, and Scott took the blankets and basket for the trek down the steps to the beach, leaving Mitch with his small shopping bag and purse. There were few other people around on this winter Tuesday, and they soon found a little cave out of the wind.

 

The rock formations were picture perfect, and once a would-be model and family with twin babies moved out of the way, Mitch was able to take as many selfies as he wanted.

“Hey, come here, let’s take some together.”

Scott shook his head. “Rather take some of you.”

“Get over here right now, Hoying.” Mitch wanted to capture the moment, even if it was just for private consumption. And who knew, maybe one or two might be useful later.

 

They posed and smiled until Mitch got the perfect shot. Scott turned his head toward Mitch with a smile as Mitch gazed directly into the camera, with rocks and sea behind them in the clear light of morning. They looked similar to earlier photos, but here they were grown up and deliberate, and Mitch was not serving face. He was happy, leaning towards Scott with a softness in his expression that was rarely captured on camera.

 

Scott left the picnic spread out on a blanket and walked over to the shore, feet bare and pants rolled up. He faced the ocean, his hair ruffled by the light breeze, and Mitch took picture after picture. It was still early and fairly cool, and Scott shaded his eyes with his hand like an explorer, gazing out to unseen possibility and new horizons.

 

Satisfied that he had enough material, Mitch put his phone away and picked his way over to Scott.

“You look like a sea captain.”

Scott smiled down at him. “Really. You must be a siren then, come to lure me to certain death.”

“Well if you’re ready to be fucked to death, I’m your man.”

“Girl, surely. Or maybe sirens are non-binary, or what if they appear as your preferred gender?” Scott tilted his head. “That would be the best lure of all time.”

Mitch laughed. “What is even in that brain of yours?”

Scott shrugged. “You are though.”

“I am what?”

“My ideal lure.” He took Mitch’s hand and kissed it.

“I am delighted to hear it, and also that I get to fuck you to death. Aye-aye, captain.” He reached up and kissed Scott lightly, then went back to the cave for his shopping bag.

 

“Now, observe. All the fun for the beach.”

“All the fun?” Scott raised his pale brows.

“With clothes on, yes. Since this is a public beach and I don’t fancy being done for indecent exposure or whatever, let’s fly a kite instead.”

Mitch sat on a rock to assemble the rainbow delta kite, fixing a long red tail and black streamers on each wingtip.

“Avi showed me how to fly a stunt kite once, but this one is simpler. The guy in the shop said anyone could fly it.”

Scott clapped his hands. “I haven’t done this in years. You go first, I’ll launch it.”

 

He set off along the beach with the kite and tossed it into the air. It caught the wind immediately and Mitch watched it soar into the sky, tail and streamers flying behind it.

“Yay, it flies!” he called, as Scott jogged back to him. “Look.”

“I see it,” Scott replied, grinning wide.

Mitch watched the kite and tugged at the line, and found he was actually having fun.

 

They took turns with the kite for a while before sitting in their little cave hideaway, listening to music and drinking iced tea with their picnic. Mitch wanted to paddle but his skinny jeans were too skinny to roll up easily. He shrugged and peeled them off, his long hoodie providing just enough cover. His legs were getting stubbly already, but for the moment he enjoyed the simple pleasure of sand and pebbles under his feet and cool water rushing to and fro against his skin.

 

He stood ankle deep in water, gazing out to the horizon as Scott had done and watching little clouds drift across the sky. He loved glamour, and fashion, and showing off, and teasing people, especially Scott. But this was a different sort of enjoyment, in simplicity and the calls of seagulls, and sea air fresh in his lungs.

 

Scott appeared behind him and snaked hands around his waist before pulling him close. It was a pleasure Mitch could never tire of.

He leaned down to speak in Mitch’s ear. “Good?”

Mitch nodded. While Scott held him, how could he be anything else? “Yes, I haven’t seen the ocean since forever.”

“It’s so calming.” He kissed Mitch’s ear. “I dream of an oceanfront property sometimes, but I’ll never have that kind of money.”

“Who says you won’t?”

“Well maybe I could, if I worked really hard every single day and lived on one dollar ramen for the rest of my life.”

“If it’s what you want, you’ll make it happen. That’s how you are.” Mitch turned to look up at Scott. “I like that about you too, how driven you can be once you put your mind to something.”

 

“What I am is happy, right now, here with you.” He gazed at Mitch, blue-eyed scrutiny taking his breath away. Scott said nothing more. Mitch felt the subtle shift of tectonic plates moving under the surface. The world continued to spin while inside their bubble all was still, waiting.

“Take me home and I’ll show you how I feel about that.” Mitch bit his lip. “But kiss me first, by all means.”

He closed his eyes, but received only a brief peck on the lips. He pouted in disappointment. “What was that?”

Scott whispered in his ear. “That’s a kiss and here’s the promise; if you don’t get your pants on immediately, we’re gonna be done for lewd behaviour or whatever the phrase is.”

 

He walked back to the cave and gathered their things. Mitch had never been so glad of his preference for oversized clothing, though squeezing his throbbing cock back into those tight pants was going to be an interesting challenge. He managed, and he didn’t miss Scott’s glances in that direction.

 

They arrived home and dropped their stuff in the hallway. Mitch found himself backed up to the wall and caged in by Scott’s arms moments before his mouth was claimed by a rough and desperate kiss. Scott broke away only to attack his neck, biting and licking and not holding back. When he pulled back, his eyes dark and wild, Mitch melted.

“Do you still keep stuff in your purse? You always did.” Scott nibbled on Mitch’s lower lip and pushed up his hoodie and tee shirt to tweak one nipple hard, sending a spark of pain-pleasure down his spine that lit a fire in his belly.

His brain stalled.

He had to get out of these pants.

 

A big hand palmed and groped him roughly until he gasped. What did he say?

“Do you?” Scott demanded, his voice deliciously gruff.

“Not, not now…aahh.” Fingers dug into his thigh.

“Stay.” Scott took off upstairs, and returned moments later.

Mitch had not moved an inch, ready and waiting for Scott to take what he wanted.

“Over here.” Scott grabbed his wrist and pulled him over to the living room couch. They were both still fully dressed. “Watch me.”

Mitch heard a whine escape from his throat as Scott unzipped and pulled his cock free. He was so big and he wanted it all.

Scott tossed him a foil pack. “Put it on.”

Mitch rolled the condom over Scott's hot, hard flesh. “Fuck,” he moaned.

“That’s the plan. Pull down your pants and bend over.”

Unzipping proved difficult, but he managed to get his clothes down as far as his knees. His cock quivered with anticipation, and he parted his legs as much as the clothing allowed, bracing his arms on the back of the couch.

“You gonna get it now,” Scott growled.

“Oh I hope so.”

One lubed finger pushed inside none too gently, soon followed by another, and he hissed at the intrusion. But he was impatient for more when they were removed.

“What you waiting for?” Mitch looked over his shoulder and wiggled his butt.

“I ain’t waiting.” Scott gripped his hips and pushed in a little way with a grunt.

Mitch closed his eyes and let out another whine at the stretch and burn.

“Don’t you dare mess my couch.”

He pushed forward, giving Mitch only two snatched breaths to adjust before pulling back and bottoming out. He set a fast pace, pounding into Mitch without rest while he hung on to the couch, a stream of expletives and the smack of flesh against flesh the only sounds between them.

 

Scott’s cursing turned to gasps, and a deep cry started from his chest. Mitch knew he was close, and he tensed his muscles before Scott came with a roar that could be heard in the next state. A kiss was placed on the small of his back and then he was empty, still hard and frantic for his own release.

 

“Fuck, I need—” He rested his head on the couch, panting.

“I know baby, just stand up, let me.”

Mitch stood on wobbly legs, and Scott scooped him up and laid him on the couch. The first touch of Scott’s mouth sent shocks over his entire body, and his hips bucked upwards out of control. One warm hand wrapped around his shaft and one hot mouth wrapped around the tip pumped and sucked until he lost all sense of time or place. His orgasm uncoiled in waves of heat leaving him floating through space.

 

He came to in bed later, half-covered by a warm body and an arm over his waist. There was no keeping the smile off his face as he drifted back to sleep, to dream of beaches and oceans and a blond sea captain searching for his siren.

Chapter Text

 

 

Scott woke early the next morning and took the chance to admire Mitch’s soft lips and dark lashes as he slept. He didn’t kiss him, instead tangling their legs together. Sex with Mitch was absolutely incredible but he needed to think without his dick complicating things. How to announce this new relationship? He would tell his original band mates, Esther of course, and then their parents, friends, Neal, the fans… the list was endless.

 

They had a couple of days left to hide from the world and make a plan. Of course Mitch would have a say too. Mitch. He was the most gorgeous human, and he was right there, filling the once too-large space perfectly.

 

Scott rolled on his back, brain running at top speed, beaches past and present colliding. The previous day with Mitch, the picture of Bailey, her engagement pictures on Facebook all danced in his mind’s eye.

 

As much as this felt completely right, there was a corner of his heart in which Bailey smiled at him on another beach, golden hair blowing in the sea breeze, he loved both her and Mitch, and they travelled a different path. A different life.

 

If I had my time over, I’d do the same it’s true

Don’t want memories without you

I know we didn’t reach the promised land

But every life I live, I’ll always take your hand

 

A melody popped into his head. He slipped out of bed, grabbed a tee shirt and sweatpants, and went down to the music room barefoot, humming as he went.

 

An hour later he had the rough draft of a melody for the song he had composed months ago, for both of them and one of them. He was thirsty and hungry, he realised. He needed to brush his teeth and generally make himself presentable. And Mitch was asleep in his bed, or if not had woken up alone. He ran back upstairs. Mitch was still asleep, so Scott showered and dressed quickly before heading out, humming his new song.

 

Mitch was sitting at the kitchen table wearing a tee shirt when he returned.

“Come to mama,” he said, making grabby hands for the Starbucks cup. He didn’t look at Scott.

“I see, no love for the delivery boy, no morning baby, I missed you, no—”

“Shut up and bring me my coffee and then we’ll talk.” Mitch rubbed his eyes.

 

Scott shook his head and handed over the cup. He could almost see the moment caffeine hit Mitch’s system; he opened his eyes and sat up, then sipped in silence.

“You were gone when I woke up.”

“I woke up inspired to write and then I thought you might like – are you okay?”

Mitch stared at the coffee. “Yeah, course.”

Scott put down his cup. He needed to check this mood before it got out of hand. “You have to talk to me so I know what’s wrong.”

“Not wrong, just I woke up alone and you didn’t leave a note and my phone was dead and—”

“I won’t leave you. I promised and I meant it.” Scott went to stand behind Mitch and put his arms around his shoulders.

Mitch put one hand on Scott’s arm. “Sorry.”

“I won’t leave. But I will leave you a note next time and find another phone charger.” He kissed the side of his head. “Forgiven?”

“Starbucks makes everything better.” Mitch found one of Scott’s hands and brought it to his lips. “I can be such a needy girl sometimes.”

“Stand up.”

 

He let go of slumped shoulders, and when Mitch stood he spun him round and hugged him tight. “If by girl you mean an amazingly sexy and strong person, then yes. Tell me what you need and I’ll try my hardest to get it for you.”

Mitch sniffed, head buried against his chest. “Your hardest is all a girl could want.”

Scott chuckled. “Thanks. Can’t help getting excited when I have my pretty siren calling to me.” He lifted Mitch’s chin and kissed him soft and sweet, relief and reassurance jostling in his chest.

 

Mitch relaxed and pulled away. “Soft boy. In places, anyway.” He winked. “Now, shower time for me and you are not invited.” He poked Scott’s chest.

Scott pulled a face. “Meanie.”

He slapped Mitch’s ass as he walked away, earning a theatrical gasp and exaggerated sway of the hips. He whistled and was rewarded by a glance over the shoulder and lip bite. She certainly knew how to work it.

 

**

Mitch unwrapped his old clothes so they could air. He shook his head in disbelief when he was done. He last saw these clothes hanging in the guest room closet at Scott’s old condo, and he assumed he’d donated them to Goodwill or tossed them in the trash. Wouldn’t blame him for getting rid of old memories.

And yet.

Here they all were, waiting for a day he surely had given up hope on ever coming. Scott was full of surprises.

 

But waking up alone in that big bed instantly transported him back to other mornings, other nights, where he’d woken up reaching out to empty space. He was a little ashamed of his response, but at least he hadn’t run away. He’d considered it for a second before telling himself not to be such an idiot.

This is Scott.

Scott who had said, multiple times, that he would not leave. Scott, who called him baby and nuzzled his neck and looked at him with yes, heart-eyes. Scott, a sex god who fucked him senseless as he screamed himself hoarse.

 

Just as well he didn’t have to sing after a night under that perfect body.

 

He chose an outfit and dressed, planning his next move and trying to ignore thoughts of running his hands over the swell of Scott’s ass, or his jeans would be uncomfortably tight, again.

 

All was quiet when Mitch went back to the kitchen. He wandered around until he heard Scott’s voice coming from the study. The door was ajar and he pushed it open cautiously. Scott waved him in and he sat on the big brown leather couch. While the rest of the house was very light and modern, this room was a dark green, traditionally masculine retreat with a wall given over to bookshelves and framed photos on another wall.

 

Scott spun in the chair while talking on the phone, and Mitch stood up again to examine the photos. There were pictures of Scott’s family, friends’ weddings, Pentatonix together and individually. Lots of people, but not everyone.

“You’re not there.” Scott’s voice startled Mitch.

“You made me jump, what the hell.” He wasn’t sure how to feel. “I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“None of Bailey either. I thought I’d be ready, one day. But the day hasn’t come yet.”

Mitch stared at a picture without really seeing it. “I hope it does.”

Silence stretched between them. “Never say never. Is it too soon for another drink?” Scott got up and left, leaving Mitch to follow.

 

Can’t escape the past, you can only try to make peace with it.

 

Back in the kitchen, he watched Scott cut up fruit and decided he might as well be useful. He used the last of the Illy coffee, and set the mugs on the table while Scott brought the fruit over with two plates. They breakfasted in a silence Mitch found uncomfortable.

“You need more coffee.”

Scott looked up, and his normally expressive face was closed off.

“Okay, we’ll go… I mean I’ll go to the store later. What do you want to do today?”

“I should probably go home, sort a few things out.”

“Sure, I’ll take you.” He drained his mug. “Just say when.”

Mitch breathed slowly. He smiled. “No time like the present.” He swallowed the sick feeling in his throat with the last of his drink.

 

He went back upstairs and gathered his things together, and returned to find Scott had a duffel bag ready.

“You can use this for now.”

Mitch packed his clothes and stood in front of Scott. “Hey. Talk to me.”

Scott shrugged, looking at the bag. “I just need a couple hours to do stuff.”

“Okay, not buying it. I’m here for you too, you know?” Mitch traced a finger over Scott’s jaw. “You have to talk so I know what’s wrong.” He echoed Scott’s words from the morning.

Sadness flitted across his face before he managed a weak smile. “Nothing’s wrong, we’re good.”

Mitch frowned. Scott was holding out on him but there was no more he could say.

 

“Are we. Okay, take me home then. And, why don’t you come over around six? I cook a mean risotto ai funghi, and I hate to be alone in that big apartment. Besides,” he stretched up to kiss him, “I guarantee you’ll like dessert.”

That brought a proper smile to Scott’s face, crinkling his eyes.

“Table for two then? I’ll bring wine.”

 

They said little as Scott drove them through heavy daytime traffic. Mitch chewed the inside of his lip before deciding to risk a hand on Scott’s thigh. The muscle tensed, then relaxed, and when they arrived he seemed more settled. Mitch leaned over the console and pecked his lips. “See you later babe. And thanks for the ride, all of them.” He hopped out of the car without waiting for an answer and pulled his bag from the trunk.

 

He ran errands, shopped for Arborio rice, and Scott’s sadness was a constant presence, just below the surface of his day. Maybe they were moving too fast, and the past still held them back, denying their future. Maybe they were fated to burn hot and then fizzle like a spent firework. That thought was unbearable.

 

While he was making honey and lemon tea a phrase popped into his head, and he left his tea cooling to find some paper and scribble the words down before he lost them. Then he made a fresh cup of tea and tucked his feet up on the velvet sofa with a script to pass the time until Scott arrived.

 

***

 

Scott ran errands, shopped for wine, and a thread of sadness wound through his day. He went down to his gym and ran five miles, then punched the bag until his arms trembled. Dressed again after a cool shower, he lay down to meditate.

 

He should be more than content. He should be happy. Mitch was sleeping in his bed, and not just sleeping. Mitch had returned to light his darkness and warm his cold heart. Mitch was everything he’d dreamed about. He shouldn’t feel this way.

 

He could not empty his mind, could not settle. Beneath the sadness something scurried away from him. When he tried to catch it there was only a shadow slipping between his fingers.

 

Eventually he gave up on meditation and made a call. Endless ringing mocked him. He should hang up and deal with his problems himself, wasn’t he a grown man who—

“Hey Scott, long time no hear.”

“Hi Avi, y’all good? Have a few minutes to FaceTime? I need to talk.”

“Oh, this sounds serious. Let me go to my office and call you right back.”

 

Five minutes later Scott sat in front of his laptop with Avi’s face on the screen.

“Hello again.” Avi smiled despite his dark under eye circles.

“How’s the family? You look like you need more sleep than you’re getting.”

Avi rubbed his stubbly cheek. “Yeah, Shira is up a lot at night, she got a cold and isn’t settling. Won’t last for ever, but feels like it at the moment.”

“Sorry about that but hopefully she’ll be better soon. I have news.” A smile tugged at his lips.

 

“Mitch and me– we met up in Arlington at Christmas and he flew up to Seattle for my last show.”

“Oh good.” Avi nodded, one brow raised. “You’re getting to be friends again?”

Scott scratched his neck. “Yeah, um, a bit more than friends, actually.” He could feel his cheeks heating up, but the smile would not be denied.

 

Avi’s eyes grew wide and his mouth fell open. He leaned forward and his face filled the screen. “More? More than? You mean you, and he—”

“Don’t make me say it Avi.” Scott was certain his cheeks were scarlet and it didn’t matter because he couldn’t keep the satisfied smirk off his face.

“Wow. Well fuck me.”

“That’s what he said!” Scott laughed, a bit shocked since Avi was not known for cursing. But then, this news was quite the bombshell.

“Damn, Scott.” Avi chuckled, wiping his eyes. “And he’s treating you right? He better be.”

“Yes dad, I got no complaints.”

 

“You and Mitch, together at last. That’s fantastic!” Avi did a double fistpump and cheered, higher pitched than Scott expected. “Yes! I’m so very excited for you. Been a long time coming.”

“I can’t quite believe it myself, but yeah, I wanted to tell you first.”

“Consider yourself hugged, that is freaking awesome. You moved even faster than I hoped.” All tiredness had vanished and a joyful smile covered Avi’s face.

“You hoped?”

“I hoped and prayed you could let the past go and be friends again. Of course I did, we all did. And now, well.” Avi shook his head. “You exceeded expectations, as usual. Awesome news, just awesome. I can’t wait to tell Sas, and then there’s the others of course... you must be so happy and you deserve every bit of it.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s good.”

 

Scott’s smile was slipping. He knew Avi would see through him.

“Only good? There’s a problem.” Avi frowned a little, and he waited.

“I was thinking about everything that’s gone down, and Bailey, and I am happy with him but then I don’t want to mess it up and what if—”

Scott paused and looked away from the kind face on the screen. A shadow passed across the face of the sun, and he shivered.

“What if – it all goes wrong? I don’t think I’d survive another fuck-up.” His voice trailed away.

 

“Scott. Hey Scott, look at me.” Avi's deep tones soothed and anchored him as always.

He dragged his gaze up and saw Avi nodding and looking directly at the camera.

“It won’t. If Bailey was not to be, then Mitch is the only one for you. We are meant for happiness but we have to go through the fire to find it. Not fair, but life is complicated like that.”

“I’m scared, Av.”

“I get it.”

“I should be happy.”

“I’m certain you will be. He’s too important. Put it this way, the things that matter most scare us the most. If you don’t care, it don’t matter.”

“I guess.”

“Can you imagine life without him?”

“Yes I can.” Scott shook his head. “But I don’t want that life. I want to hold his hand and kiss him for real and tell him—” He broke off to see Avi’s face wreathed in the widest smile.

“There you go. When happiness is within your grasp, hold on with both hands and don’t let go.”

 

He paused and sat back, stroking his beard. He snapped his fingers.

“You’ll need a ring bearer. Isaac is available, and Kaela will make such a cute flower girl. Oh, did I mention pastels and me don’t go?” Avi winked and Scott laughed, relief spilling over.

“Hold on, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.” He couldn’t think too far ahead yet. The present was more than enough to cope with.

Avi’s melodious laughter washed away Scott’s anxiety.

“Just getting my claim in first. You and Mitch. Damn.” Avi shook his head again, still smiling. “I am over the moon for you both. Follow your heart and don’t overthink it but give him time, he’s been through a lot. I’m sure you know that.”

“Have I told you lately you’re my favourite?”

“Never hurts to hear it again. Now go get your man, I bet he’s waiting not so patiently.””

“Thanks Avi, I will. He means the world to me. Love to Sas and the kids, and try to get some rest. And for Juno, an apple.”

“Consider it done. Man, this is the best news in a while. Give Mitch all my love and congratulations.”

“No love for me?” Scott made a pouty face, but he didn’t mean it.

“Goes without saying. Talk soon.” He waved and hung up.

 

After the call Scott felt lighter and the knot in his stomach eased. He set the alarm for fifteen minutes of sitting meditation.

 

At exactly six o’clock Scott rang the intercom and Mitch buzzed him in. He opened the door wearing an apron printed with a French maid outfit over a white tee shirt and black leggings.

“Hey baby, nice apron.”

“Come in, come in. You brought so much wine, perfect.”

Scott set down a wine carrier containing six bottles. “It’s your favourite Greek tipple.”

“What?” Mitch picked up a bottle and gasped softly. “Oh! Greco di tufo, you remembered. A good label too, thank you.”

Scott was proud of that, but not so proud of how they had parted.

“I’m sorry about before,” he said quietly.

“How about a kiss and we call it even? We weren’t at our best this morning.”

 

Scott could do that. He dropped his bag and gathered Mitch into his arms before kissing him, chasing his lips as he moved away. Mitch allowed himself to be drawn back into a kiss full of sweetness, and Scott couldn’t get enough. He let his hands wander. The leggings fit closely over his butt and Scott approved.

 

“Have to let me go, or there will be no risotto ai funghi tonight.”

“Mmm, maybe I’ll snack on you instead.” He nuzzled Mitch’s neck and breathed his cologne, then gave his butt a firm squeeze.

Mitch pushed him away lightly. “I have gone to a great deal of trouble to cook for you, something I don’t do for just anyone. So, we are eating risotto. To start with at least.” A sly smile banished the last of Scott’s doubts.

“Okay, let’s eat first.” He took off his coat and hung it.

 

“Risotto is made to order and eaten immediately. Watch and learn.”

Mitch pulled Scott into the pristine kitchen. Scott was ninety-nine percent certain he’d never cooked anything in there before, but he knew better than to say so.

 

Mitch had all the ingredients ready. He sweated shallots with butter in a brand new pan, and added rice, wine, mushrooms, and vegetable stock while chatting about the script he was reading. Then the stirring began. When the food was ready Mitch plated up and brought them over to the table, already set with white candles and a small arrangement of yellow roses. Some bread warm from the oven and a green salad completed the meal.

 

“Sit, I’m having wine but I have San Pellegrino for you.”

Scott sniffed the enticing aromas. “I can’t wait to taste this, it looks yummy.”

“I made extra, but I thought it would be nice to have something light after all the gorgeous food we had in Seattle.”

Scott nodded, appreciating the thought and very aware his workout earlier was the first for a few days. He took a mouthful.

“This is divine.”

“You like it?” Mitch fiddled with his fork, watching Scott closely.

“Watch this.”

 

Scott cleaned his plate in record time, then investigated the pan for leftovers. Despite Mitch’s protests that it was overdone, he scraped the remnants onto his plate with more Parmesan and finished it all.

Delizioso.” He drank water and sat back with a sigh. “That’s pretty much the only Italian I know, apart from mi casa su casa.”

“You really don’t need to learn.” Mitch stared into space and sipped wine.

Scott mentally facepalmed. Stupid, stupid.

“How about ciao, bellisima?” He reached across the table to take Mitch’s free hand. “How about pizza marinara, lasagna, espresso?” He faked a terrible accent.

Mitch’s face softened. “Better.”

Scott was relieved to hear it. “Now I am extremely interested in dessert, but first we need to discuss how we’re going to come out.”

Mitch quirked a brow. “I don’t know if you realised, but I’m so far out of the closet I’m probably in another dimension.”

Scott laughed. “Not that, I mean about us. Let me tell you what I had in mind and you can shoot me down in flames.”

 

He went to the velvet couch and patted the seat next to him. “Come to daddy.”

 

Mitch ran a thumb along his lower lip and smiled, lowering his lashes. Scott reminded his dick to stay out of it, just for now, but Scott Jr. twitched anyway. He gave in, partly. Soon.

“I’ll always come for daddy.”

Chapter Text

Mitch came and sat right next to Scott on the velvet couch, a mischievous smile on his face.

“We can’t talk like this.” Scott moved a little.

Mitch moved closer. “Yes we can.”

Scott edged away until he was up against the arm of the couch, and Mitch followed.

“Can’t escape me now.” He perched on one of Scott’s thighs and stroked his chest.

“Babe please.” Scott didn’t want to push him away, but there was talking to do, and currently Scott Jr. was doing most of it.

“Please… what?” Mitch whispered in his ear.

“I cannot with you on my lap.” He shivered as goosebumps raced down his neck and a fingertip circled one nipple. He swallowed a groan.

Mitch huffed. “You can do plenty, but fine.”

He moved to the far end of the couch, turned his head away and crossed his arms.

Scott rolled his eyes. “Look, I need to talk to you without distractions, okay? Then we’ll get dessert and you can sit wherever you like.”

Mitch turned back, brown eyes wide and a half-smile playing on his lips. “Ooh yes, I like this plan better.”

Scott shifted in his seat, already finding it hard to concentrate. Time to get on with talking while his brain was still mostly in charge.

 

“This is just an idea obviously, I want to know if it works for you. We’ll see Mario on Friday and Candice is invited. I spoke to Avi today, and we need to let the others know.”

“Did you? What did he say?”

“He was totally over the moon and he sends you his love.” Scott grinned. No need to mention the other thing they discussed. “In fact he was so surprised he dropped an f-bomb.”

Mitch giggled. “Naughty Avi. I’m really glad he’s on board with us, although I’m slightly cross you did it without me.”

“Sorry.” Scott held up his hands. “I just had to tell someone.”  

Mitch’s fond smile overcame his attempt to look angry.

“That’s so nice. I’ll tell Kirstie, she will be overjoyed and also unbearably I told you so.”

Scott smiled at that. “Don’t honestly mind. I’ll call Kev and Esther.”

“Maybe we should set up a group call or something, streamline it all.” Mitch looked thoughtful. “You can start then I’ll come in.”

“That – could work.”

 

“There was something else, actually.” Mitch edged closer again, and Scott chose not to comment. Scott Jr. perked up.

“I have an invitation to the Vanity Fair Oscars after party at the end of the month and I – I wondered if you would like to be my plus one?”

Scott gaped at him. “That’s very cool and also very public.”

“I understand if you—”

Scott grabbed his hand. “What, are you kidding? Yes yes yes! I’d love to be your plus one. I’ll need to talk to Candice about a suit. Have you got an outfit yet?’ He pulled Mitch towards him but he resisted.

“Na- ah.” He wagged a finger. “We’re not done yet. Outfit is a work in progress. Still got to talk about fans. We should tease something ahead of the party.”

Scott pouted but let go.

 

“All right, well I could tweet something? A new collab in the works, we’ll be good to go by then.”

“Yeah, maybe a poll, get people to guess who it is.”

“But they’ll never guess.”

“No, they won’t.” Mitch smiled widely, brown eyes sparkling.

“Then VF can be our big reveal.”

They grinned at each other. “Done,” they said together, and burst into laughter.

Scott pulled Mitch on to his lap. “This feels too easy.”

“We’ll see how it works out.”

 

There was nothing left to do but kiss his boy. So Scott did, lips locked together even as Mitch turned to face him and grind twice before getting up and leaving Scott wanting more.

“Time for dessert, before I sit where I like.”

At Mitch’s low tone and lick of the lips Scott’s pants got tighter. Scott Jr. definitely wanted to come out and play. “Sounds like a plan,” he murmured.

 

Mitch returned with one bowl and a spoon.

“Did you make that?” Scott pointed at the dessert topped with raspberries and red syrup.

“Nobody makes dessert, they buy raspberry panna cotta from a good deli. Now, open your mouth.”

“Yes, sir.” Scott smiled and opened his mouth. This was going to be good.

 

Mitch scooped a spoonful. “Me first.”

He held eye contact as he licked syrup from the top with the tip of his tongue, and then sucked the remaining cream off the spoon.

 

He took another spoonful and offered it to Scott. He had to reach forward slightly, and was rewarded by the silkiness of panna cotta with a hit of fruit. He rolled the raspberry in his mouth so it gave up its juices before he swallowed.

“Sweet,” he said, licking his lips.

Mitch smiled. “Thank you. Open up.”

Scott closed his eyes and concentrated on sweet, smooth, cool and sharp on his tongue, the soft aroma of vanilla, and the little catch in Mitch’s breath when he released the spoon. When no more came, he opened his eyes.

“More?” he asked, hopeful.

Mitch watched him intently, lips parted. “We should move. Velvet is a bitch to clean.”

Scott gave up the fight and let Scott Jr. do the talking. Right now he agreed with everything it suggested. “Maybe we should get out of these clothes? Just to be on the safe side.”

“I agree.” Mitch took Scott’s hand and led him into his bedroom.

 

Scott stood by as Mitch tugged the covers and sheets off, leaving them in a heap on the floor. He slipped out of the room and returned with a large towel, which he spread on the bed.

“Just in case.”

Finally, he took some items out of the top drawer and placed them on the nightstand next to the half finished dessert.

“Stand over here, let me look at you.”

Scott scratched the back of his neck and examined his feet. “Why?”

Mitch stood in front of him. “So I can do this.” He reached up on tiptoes to kiss Scott while unbuttoning his shirt. “Take it off,” he whispered.

In a daze, Scott complied. Nimble fingers unzipped his fly and teased his length through the thin material of his boxers. He groaned, but did not resist. The pants reached his ankles and he stepped out.

“Lie down for me.”

He did so, watching Mitch strip off his tee shirt and leggings. He longed to kiss the strong, slender torso revealed as Mitch raised his arms, but he waited. He wanted to feel the cock he saw barely contained within dark red briefs. He wanted it all, and he waited, letting the heat build.

 

Mitch straddled him, letting their cocks bump together in a frustratingly light pressure. He reached for the bowl and spoon, and scooped another portion. He sucked the cream and licked the spoon front and back and Scott could not take his eyes off his mouth.

“Want some, babe?”

Scott nodded, eyes wide.

“Okay, oops!” Mitch dropped the next spoonful on Scott’s nipple. He flinched as cool cream hit his skin.

“Messy boy.” Mitch tutted. “Gonna have to suck that off.”

He lapped up the cream with a little moan then flicked Scott’s nipple with the tip of his tongue before sucking hard, sending a ripple to his groin.

 

“Mmm. Want more?” Mitch stared down at him like a hunter with his prey, biting his lip and sighing with every grind of his hips.

Scott’s brain scrambled completely. “Want…” He trailed off into a gasp.

“I’ll take that as a yes then. Fuck, but you’re gorgeous.”

Mitch claimed his mouth and Scott moaned into the kiss, tasting cream and raspberries and wine. Mitch sucked at his lower lip and one hand found Scott’s, pressing him down.

 

More cream and syrup spattered him and dripped down his left side. That talented tongue sucked and swirled and teeth nibbled, hot wetness dipped into his navel and his muscles trembled. The spoon jingled in the bowl as it hit the nightstand. Fingertips brushed his ribs, travelled down to hips, so close to where he wanted them. The touch of Mitch’s hand as he dragged the boxers off sent sparks racing along his skin. Scott bucked his hips and a continuous groan crawled from his throat.

 

A seductive voice floated above, each word a caress. “Scotty, look at you. All hot and bothered and sticky and sweet.”

 

Mitch sprawled on him, overwhelming him with skin contact. Scott clenched his fists as his wrists were pinned down and Mitch drove him wild nipping his neck and shoulder, all the while body rolling into him. Their cocks slid between them, wet and hard, the press of strong muscles ebbing and flowing in delicious torture.

“Know where I’m gonna sit?” he asked, his tone low.

Scott had no words. He had to get inside his boy, but he could not move. He shuddered, eyes closed, and gave in.

 

When Scott was wrapped and lubed and desperate, Mitch straddled him again. He leaned forward to grip Scott’s biceps and whispered in his ear.

“All prepped babe, and I’m so ready to ride.”

Scott opened his mouth to answer. Only a low whine escaped.

“Fuck, you’re – big.”

Through half-open eyes Scott watched Mitch sink down, cock standing to attention, bottom lip caught between his teeth and eyes closed. He placed his hands on Mitch’s ribs to balance his weight, feeling his chest expand and contract as he took Scott slowly, completely.

Mitch opened his eyes and a wicked smile spread over his face. “So full.”

Enveloped in heat, lips parted, Scott could only nod.

 

His hips thrust upwards and Mitch moved with him. They danced slow at first, sliding forward and back in a lazy tempo but then building speed, accompanied by low sounds of pleasure. Scott was consumed by their connection, by pure feeling.

 

Mitch shifted position, triggering a symphony of moans that had Scott reaching forward. He closed his fist around Mitch and felt him tighten, hot around his cock. They moved together, faster.

 

He pumped Mitch, sending him an octave higher, until he spilled hot over Scott’s chest. For a moment there was only their bodies and cries intertwined. And then Scott lost himself in waves of pleasure with Mitch whispering his name.

 

Mitch pulled away and lay facing him, sweat beading on his forehead. Gradually their breathing settled and peace surrounded them. Mitch’s satisfied face spoke to Scott’s heart without words. He gazed into the brown depths of smiling eyes and allowed himself to be pulled under. He didn’t want to be saved.

 

“You’re fucking awesome, you know that?” Mitch murmured. “I just… I think…”

“Don’t think, just be here with me.” Scott kissed Mitch softly. “That was wonderful and I like you a lot.”

Mitch’s smile was a beautiful thing, dimples and all. “Really?”

“Really.” Scott pulled him closer, the faint scents of roses and cedarwood and sweat filling his nose. “I like, like you.”

“I’m glad, because I kinda like you too.”

“Let’s clean up so we can cuddle properly. Do you want to go first?”

Mitch was quiet for a moment. “You go, and I’ll join you.”

Scott kissed him on the nose. “Don’t be too long.”

 

Mitch did join him after a few minutes, and when they came back the bed was ready to slide into with cool sheets and soft comforter. All Scott wanted was to hold his baby and feel his heartbeat under his palm. Whatever the world might throw at them, here they were safe together.

 

**

 

Mitch liked his apartment; it was smart, spacious and quiet. But he loved his apartment with Scott in it, sprawled on the blue couch laughing and singing, trying to find faces in the abstract art on the walls. He was content, sharing a light breakfast sitting at the table with sun slanting in through the blinds.

 

While Scott scrolled through his phone after eating, Mitch watched expressions chase across his features. He could never tire of the strong lines of his brow and jaw. And he recalled looking down on that same face, eyes shut as whispered curses fell from his lips, muscles straining in his neck as he fell over the edge. Mitch allowed himself to dream of taking the lead, of having Scott entirely under his control.

 

“What are you smiling about?”

Mitch looked up into smiling eyes. “Oh, nothing much.”

“It looked like something good.”

“Might have been. Might have involved a certain explorer and some deep sea diving.”

“Oh.” Scott laid his phone down. “Is that what we’re calling it now? I wouldn’t mind playing sailors and sirens.”

“Noted. But we don’t have time for that now, and I’m not giving in to that puppy face, Scotty boy.” He got up to clear the table.

“I must be losing my touch.” Scott came to stand behind Mitch at the sink and put his arms around him.

Mitch leaned back against Scott’s chest, as warm and secure as he could remember for a very long time. “Hey handsome,” he said softly.

“Hey baby.”

“Did you enjoy dinner last night?”

Scott chuckled, his chest vibrating against Mitch’s back. “Risotto was tasty. Dessert was definitely memorable. I wonder if there’s another dessert waiting for me?” He nuzzled under Mitch’s ear, and he couldn’t help but shiver.

“No, God, stop that.”

“Really?” He dragged lips over his skin and Mitch forgot his answer. “Because you seem to like it.”

“I hate it.”

Scott whispered, “No you don’t.” He stopped his assault and moved away.

 

Mitch turned. This wouldn’t do. “I know we have stuff to do today, but can we stay here, just a little longer?” He took Scott’s wrist and led him to the velvet couch. “Let’s lie down a while.”

Scott lay down and opened his arms for Mitch to nestle into. Mitch exhaled, wrapped in sunlight and cocooned in strength.

 

He knew he was lost.

 

He had sworn never to give his heart again. He fully intended to stay closed off and independent of anyone. And here he was, seemingly helpless to stop this slow motion fall back to where he always belonged, orbiting closer until he could not escape Scott’s gravity.

 

They did not sleep, staying close and breathing together. Scott’s phone buzzed on the table. He ignored it. Wordless emotions swam around Mitch’s chest. Another skin fell away, but he needed time to process and grow.

 

“Move, my arm’s gone to sleep.”

“Sorry.” Scott let go and Mitch sat up, rubbing his left arm.

“I’m gonna head home. Meetings today, yawn. Dinner’s at seven tomorrow, I can pick you up thirty minutes before.” Scott stood and stretched, showing a sliver of skin as his tee shirt rode up that fascinated Mitch more than it should have. His back popped several times.

Mitch grimaced. “That sounded painful.”

“Nah, it’s just tight, needs another massage I think.”

A few minutes later Scott kissed him at the door and left.

 

Mitch poured a glass of water and stood by the window overlooking the courtyard garden. The prospect of dinner with old friends was comforting, and the idea of revealing themselves as a couple was terrifying.

 

He had to work out how he wanted to present himself and whether it was a night for lipstick because on the one hand yes, it’d look good but on the other hand no, he didn’t want to leave it all over Scott’s collar. Scott wouldn’t mind. Or would he? What would Mario and Candice think, and Julietta? Everyone knew they’d had a huge falling out, did singing at the party make it all right or had Scott told anyone the details and would they judge him—

 

He breathed deeply. He was tying himself in knots. He should treat it like a matinee performance, a practice run. They would be among friends who knew them well. The big reveals were coming and he wanted to nail them. And he knew he could do it, because he was Mitch Grassi, actress, model, and singer. He reclaimed the last title. Scott had pulled him back to music, and he was living for it.

 

**

 

“So you didn’t tell Mario who your date was?”

Scott glanced at him while driving. “I thought we’d surprise them.”

“They certainly will be.” Mitch checked his face in the vanity mirror, butterflies fluttering in his stomach.

“Relax, you look fabulous.”

“And you look handsome. I should be less nervous than I am.”

“Candice is going to flip her shit when she sees you.”

Mitch grinned. “Yeah, especially because she’s dressing me for the Vanity Fair party. She has no idea.”

 

They stood in front of Mario’s door. Mitch stood back a little and checked out Scott’s blue cashmere sweater that matched his eyes, and trusty black leather jacket. Mitch had opted for his pale blue peacock print shirt, deep blue leather jacket, and mismatched earrings. A blue crystal sparkled in one ear and the other stone swung on a delicate chain. His face was immaculately neutral with a glossy nude lip, and a full complement of chunky silver rings coordinated with the silver tracery of his turquoise cufflinks.

“Ready?”

He breathed citrus, musk, flowers, and centred himself. “I am.”

Scott pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. “Beautiful.” He rang the bell.

 

Mario opened the door. “Scott, hi - hello?” His eyes slid past Scott.

“Hey Mario, good to see you.” Scott said smoothly. He put a hand on Mitch’s back and brought him forward. “You know Mitch, of course.”

Mario looked from one smiling face to the other and gaped.

“But, you, but how?”

“Good evening. Shall we?” Mitch arched a brow, and Mario stood back to let them in.

 

They walked into the living area. Candice turned to greet them and the smile froze on her scarlet lips.

“Candice, honey, hello.” Scott tried to embrace her but she fought out of his arms to confront Mitch.

“What is this? What the actual fuck, Mitch Grassi, you never said a word!” She beat her fists against his chest. “Scömìche is real?” she yelled. “When? When did this happen and why the hell didn’t you tell me?”

Scott shrugged. “Told you she’d flip her shit.”

“Candice, calm down. We’re only just a thing, not even public yet. This is really our first outing together.” Mitch played it cool, thoroughly enjoying her reaction.

She glared at them both. “Can not believe you two. So angry right now.”

Mitch kissed her hand. “Thanks for those kind words honey.”

Mario walked into the kitchen. “Julietta, cariño, Scott is here and you’ll never guess who with.”

 

Candice muttered under her breath while her slightly bemused husband introduced himself. When Jake arrived with his partner, he merely smiled knowingly.

“Good. Took you long enough.”

 

Once everyone settled down to seeing them together Mitch relaxed. He drank wine, talked about his films, and openly flirted with Scott. Dinner with friends and Scott playing footsie under the table turned out to be a perfect evening.

 

Candice practically squealed when she realised she would be dressing Scott as well as Mitch for the Vanity Fair party.

“We are gonna have to rethink our whole strategy, Mitch.” She picked up her phone, tapping with a red nail. “When can you both come for a fitting? God, I’m so excited! So, if it’s going to be your big public reveal we need show stopping and memorable. It’s tight timing but we can do it.”

“We have complete faith in you, don’t we Mitchy?” Scott’s smile dazzled.

“One hundred percent,” he agreed.

They arranged to meet on the following Thursday. Candice’s fingers flew over the keyboard as she made notes.

 

Mitch gestured to Scott across the table. “We are going to kill.”

Scott nodded. “Of course, if I’m with you that’s a certainty.”

Mitch felt his face warm up at the compliment. “Thanks, babe.”

“Ugh, so cute,” Candice cooed. “What was it we always called that look, heart-eyes Hoying?”

Scott’s expression held such open affection that Mitch forgot to breathe for a moment.

“It was, and it is, and I don’t mind who sees it.”

“Scott.” Mitch gazed back, held captive and soaring in a sky of blue like their kite flying free on the beach.

 

Julietta broke the spell. “Time for dessert, before these two forget we’re here.” She winked at Mitch and cleared the table with Mario’s help.

The conversation moved on but every time he caught Scott’s eye, Mitch felt the pull between them. He could not stop smiling.

 

At the end of the evening, Mario bear-hugged them both.

“Man, I’m pumped about this. But next time you two decide to pull a stunt like that, just a little warning, okay? Then I can get my cardiologist on standby.”

Scott laughed. “Yeah, sorry not sorry.”

 

Candice held on to Mitch for a long time. “I am really, truly happy for you, but if you keep secrets like that again I will slap you into next week. Okay sweetie?” She kissed him on both cheeks, then approached Scott. “Same goes for you, big boy.”

 

He looked down at her with a smile. “I’m quaking, seriously. But I don’t plan on keeping us a secret much longer.”

“We’re coming out, again.” Mitch laughed, happy and secure. With Scott holding his hand he could take on the world.

 

Chapter Text

Back home Scott waited until they had hung their jackets and kicked off their shoes. As Mitch closed the closet door he turned him around and pulled him close.

“That went well.”

Mitch nodded, smiling. “Did you see Candice’s face? I really thought she might kill me.”

Scott chuckled. “Yeah, but she’s always not so secretly shipped it.”

Mitch dimpled in such a beautiful way that Scott ached. “Are we gonna just stand here or?” He waggled an eyebrow.

Scott was halted by bright eyes and spiced cologne, and dazzled by a brilliant smile. “May I kiss you?”

“Not sure why you need to ask, but yes, you may.” Mitch closed his eyes and offered up the softness of slightly parted lips.

 

Scott slipped one hand to the back of his head and closed the distance. First a butterfly touch, then soft pressure giving way to warm and almost hesitant exploration. He let his fingers brush fuzzy scalp and wander through short hair, and broke off the kiss to trail his lips from jawline to neck. Mitch trembled, hands gripping his waist before dipping lower.

“Let’s go up now,” Mitch said.

Scott kissed and nuzzled his neck, humming against his skin till he moaned. “Wanna kiss you some more.”

 

He walked Mitch back against the wall. After undoing the buttons on his peacock shirt, he took both wrists above his head and pinned them with one hand. The other hand skimmed over the flat planes of his abs, feeling the flutter of muscles and the rapid movements of his breathing. Then he kissed his mouth again, desire coursing through his veins when Mitch allowed him in.

 

He stepped back and admired Mitch, arms still raised and crossed at the wrist, shirt hanging loose as his hips found a slow rhythm of their own. Sinfully tight black pants displayed slender thighs and outlined his growing erection.

“You are so exquisite, you’d make an angel weep.”

 

Scott bit his lip. He would not rush this. He let his gaze travel over every angle and curve, the collarbone with its name inked below, dark nipples, flat stomach and trail of dark hair disappearing under his waistband.

Mitch turned his head to expose his neck, a pink blush on his cheeks.

“I’m looking at you, baby. How beautiful you look right now with your clothes on. We’re taking our time tonight.”

“Fuck,” Mitch muttered. He opened his eyes and stared at Scott. “Now.”

Scott pulled his arms down and held both wrists. “Soon.”

 

He swallowed Mitch’s retort with another kiss, this time opening to Mitch’s tongue at the same time as grinding gently. Mitch pulled his hands free and grabbed Scott’s butt to increase the pressure, gasping into the kiss before biting down hard on Scott’s lip.

Scott growled. “That’s my feisty girl.”

He stepped away again, smiling at Mitch’s small whine of protest. “Don’t move. Take off your shirt for me.”

Mitch narrowed his eyes, but he removed the cufflinks and held them out. “These are my favourites now.”

Scott took his hand and kissed it. “You’re my favourite now.” The cufflinks and then the rings and drop earring went on the hall table.

 

He twisted each ring before pulling it from his finger, the motion so sensual that Scott longed to be the one to do it. Mitch placed each item deliberately, brushing his fingertips against Scott’s palm, glancing up before looking down again in a mix of demure and inviting that had Scott’s head spinning.

 

Mitch turned to face the wall. He pushed back the collar, shrugged his shoulders and dropped his arms behind him, and the shirt slid to the floor. He circled his shoulders then arched his back, and Scott could not resist. He leaned forward and drew the tip of his tongue up Mitch’s spine, hearing his gasp, feeling the ripple of muscles flexing under warm skin, tasting Mitch under the spice and flowers.

“So strong,” he whispered against the back of his neck. Scott scattered kisses but kept all other contact to a minimum.

 

Mitch took deep breaths. “What do you want?”

These words lit a fire in Scott’s belly, though he reined in the urge to rip his boy’s clothes off. He would channel it into something more than raw lust.

 

He put his lips to Mitch’s ear, tugging on the stud earring with his teeth. “I want you, now and always.” He breathed warm air on his cheek. “Turn round.”

 

Mitch turned and looked through heavy-lidded eyes, both hands against the wall to steady him. He licked and bit his lip, his chest heaved, poised on the edge of letting go yet still holding something back. Scott wanted to see Mitch carried away on a wave of sensation, feeling and not thinking, his sharp intellect silenced.

“How do you feel?” He pinned Mitch with a direct gaze.

“Like – like if I don’t get fucked soon, I might explode.”

Scott chuckled. “Noted. You getting excited yet, baby?”

“What does it look like?” Mitch clenched his fists.

“Looks like you want it. Let me see you touch yourself, any way you want. Show me what I’m getting into.”

 

Mitch’s eyes slipped shut. He traced one hand over his chest, while the other moved to his thigh. His hips jerked forwards as he cupped and squeezed his own hard-on, moans and curses falling from his lips.

“You look like pure sex, baby, I can barely hold back,” Scott purred. “I love watching you like this, getting wound up, ready for me.” He was very ready himself, cock twitching and pants much too tight. He partly undid his fly, hissing at the contact.

At the sound of the zipper Mitch opened his eyes and stared. “Fuck, I need you inside me.”

“Let’s go.” Scott took his hand, and led him upstairs.

 

Mitch peeled off his pants and black boxers then lay down. “You’ve got too many clothes on,” he observed.

“True.” Scott stripped under Mitch’s watchful eyes, no longer self-conscious because he was focused on the gorgeous body waiting for him. He took his time preparing Mitch with lots of kisses and lots of lube, curling his fingers inside and scissoring gently until the muscle relaxed. His patience was rewarded with melodic cries and Mitch grinding down on his hand.

 

When Scott withdrew his fingers Mitch drew his legs up, opening himself completely. Scott had a moment’s disbelief that this was all for him, this strong yet pliant body, this man who owned his power by offering it freely. He was ready to show how much that meant to him.

 

He wrapped and lined up, then tasted wine on Mitch’s lips as he stretched forward seeking contact.

“I adore you,” he whispered.

He buried himself in one slow glide, keeping his eyes trained on Mitch’s face. Mitch closed his eyes and gritted his teeth then exhaled, and every muscle relaxed.

 

Scott could have stayed forever deep in his boy’s heat, blissful surrender on his face, his cock leaking and dark. He kissed him again, and when Mitch locked his legs around his waist he began moving.

“So. Fucking. Amazing.” He punctuated each word with a thrust. As much as he wanted to hold out, his orgasm was gathering speed, and he went deeper and faster without holding back.

 

Nothing existed but their bodies joined, Mitch gasping curses, and the tension growing in his stomach. He reached down and almost came then, with Mitch writhing at the touch and his cock hard and wet. He pumped him once, twice, three times and he came undone, spurting white hot in his grip, chanting Scott’s name over and over like a prayer.

 

He pushed on through Mitch’s descent until his own rhythm stuttered. He came with a roar, hips pistoning out of control, fireworks bursting behind his eyelids and his entire body shuddering with the force of it.

 

“Oh God, oh my God.” He collapsed onto Mitch, unable to support his weight, still inside him. Hot tears leaked onto Mitch’s neck. A surge of emotion overwhelmed him. He didn’t want to name it, and it was all he wanted to say.

 

Mitch held him and stroked his back. “My Scotty,” he whispered. “My everything.”

 

Those soft words pulled his heart from his chest and there was no taking it back.

“I’m yours, baby, always.”

 

Scott knew they should clean up but all he wanted was to surround Mitch. He obeyed that impulse, and soon they were a breathless, sweaty, sticky tangle of limbs and kisses. He hid his tears as best he could because he was happy and scared and certain that this was where he was meant to be.

 

**

 

The weekend drifted by. They spent a lot of time wrapped around one another, yet they were also productive. They put the finishing touches to their song and attempted to line up a Pentatonix group call, saying it was about a new collaboration.

 

On Sunday night they lay in bed, tired and showered and happy. Scott lay on his back with Mitch cuddled at his side.

“I never thought we’d end up like this.”

“No?” Mitch traced patterns on his chest.

Scott shrugged. “It was all over between us, harsh words, I fell off the grid. I thought you’d stay in Italy.”

Mitch was quiet for a while. “Luca did a number on me. I was so isolated from everyone, he made me believe no-one else wanted me.”

Scott hummed. “It’s hard isn’t it? Believing you’re all alone, even when people are reaching out to you. I wrote to you and when you didn’t reply, I tried to accept you’d moved on.”

“You wrote to me? When?” Mitch sat up.

Scott looked up at him. “After I left rehab the first time. Avi gave me the address. I didn’t have a number for you.”

“I had to get a new phone,” Mitch said slowly. “Lost my old one. I never got a letter.” He felt cold and sick.

Scott huffed. “Who even sends a real letter these days? But my therapist suggested… I wanted to explain and say sorry.”

Mitch’s stomach twisted. “I never got it. You wrote to me, and I never got it, and you ended up back in rehab.”

Scott sat up and put his arm around Mitch. “Nope. That’s on me. I knew what I should do, and I made another choice. Just let’s forget it okay?” He kissed Mitch. “Not down to you.”

 

Slow-burning anger flared in Mitch’s chest. “That bastard!” he shouted. “I swear I’ll cut off his fucking balls and stuff them right down his lying throat.” He jumped out of bed and paced. “Fucking piece of shit! And I let him do this to me. What the hell was I thinking?”

He clenched his fists, dark thoughts swirling around his head while Scott watched silently.

 

The more he thought about Luca, the more he questioned whether any of it had been real.

 

“Come back to bed, baby. He’s not worth your time or effort. And look. We’re in bed naked again, so he was wrong after all.”

Mitch shook his head. ‘It could all have been so different.”

“It could, that’s true. But you know what?”

Mitch met Scott’s intense gaze. “What?”

“We’re together, now. We’ve been through hell to get here, like you said. But we made it. Sometimes we take a detour, like Bailey. But I don’t regret loving her. Sometimes we take a wrong turning, like Luca I guess. You loved him, but he didn’t love you back, and I guess that’s the lesson. But loving someone is not wrong.”

 

Mitch stopped and looked at Scott, his unruly hair and sincere face, and wondered if he could ever trust his feelings. “I guess. But I’m so angry now I could punch someone.”
Scott yawned and raked fingers through his hair. “Well, don’t punch me. There’s a perfectly good punchbag in the gym. You can work out your frustrations on that.” He patted the bed. ”Now come back here and cuddle me, I’m cold.”

He pouted and rubbed his arms, pretending to shiver.

Mitch breathed deeply. “As if. You’re like a great big heater.”

He settled back into the warm arms of his number one with a contented sigh.

“Ah, that’s better.” Scott dropped two kisses on his shoulder.

Mitch couldn’t get enough shoulder kisses.

 

Scott’s breathing evened out as he fell asleep and Mitch closed his eyes, relaxed again.

 

“Mitchy?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t give up on love completely,” Scott murmured.

Scott’s hand was over Mitch’s heart, and he stroked it gently before lacing their fingers together.

“I won’t.”

“Some people mean what they say.”

There was silence, and then Scott really was asleep, face tucked into the back of Mitch’s neck. Mitch lay awake for a while, comforted by warm skin and a hand over his heart.

 

Here was someone he could rely on, even if there was doubt in his heart about how genuine love could be. Was love a game for fools, or something to believe in?

 

The next morning, Mitch’s protests didn’t prevent him being dragged down to the gym, where Scott showed him how to use the punch bag.

“I’m no good at physical exertion.”

“I beg to differ. Now straighten your wrist – punch through your first and second knuckles – turn your hips as you follow through.”

Mitch tried it again, but there was too much to wrap his head round and he couldn’t co-ordinate his arms and body. “I hate this.”

Scott crossed his arms, jaw set. “You hate Luca. Put his face on the bag.”

 

Mitch squinted at the bag. He heard Luca’s sneer.

 

You’re nothing without me. I made you. Just take it, little bitch. You belong to me.

 

He punched the bag cleanly. It was satisfying.

“That’s it, that’s a good one!” Scott clapped. “Try again.”

Mitch punched once, twice more, then roared and loosed a volley of punches, imagining Luca’s face torn up and bleeding like his heart when he realised that Luca didn’t care and had been lying to him. He collapsed against the bag panting and sweaty. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

 

Scott led him away and untied the gloves. “You did good, baby. Need to let it all out.”

Mitch drank water. “I can see the appeal.”

“You can use the bag anytime. Now I would love to get sweaty with you but I’m meeting Neal at ten thirty and we’ll probably have lunch after.”

“Okay. Where will you eat? I could join you, tick another reveal off the list.”

“That’s a great idea.” Scott grinned, melting a little of the ice that gripped Mitch’s heart when he thought too much about Luca. “We’ll say Frida’s, and I’ll text you about the time.”

Scott walked away, then came back to tilt Mitch’s chin up and kiss him. “Almost forgot. See you soon.”

 

When he had gone, Mitch stared at his hands for a while feeling confused. With a sigh he started the treadmill and ran a few miles, trying to escape the memories and quiet his mind. His feet pounded the track with no music, no soundtrack but his thoughts.

 

Luca was excellent in bed, one of the reasons he was able to blur pleasure and pain, consent and compulsion, and get Mitch mixed up in his own head about what was happening between them. But his shared history with Scott was something no-one else would ever be able to equal. Not to mention he was hot and absolutely the best fuck ever, bar none.

 

Still, their Friday night session had felt different to before. Scott worshipped his body and he never felt violated or exposed. Mitch no longer felt able to submit safely but with Scott there was push and pull, a free exchange of power. Without being overtly dominated, he had nonetheless yielded at some point, allowing Scott to take them to a higher peak together. And afterwards, Scott was so emotional, his boundaries thinned and open, that Mitch had responded without thinking and let it slip.

 

He stopped the treadmill, breathless. “Fuck, shit, fuck it all to hell.” He trudged upstairs to get showered, cursing.

 

Moving too fast, and it was already too late.

 

**

 

Mitch joined Neal and Scott for lunch. He greeted Scott with a quick kiss to the cheek, and smiled at Neal’s raised eyebrow.

“Hey Mitch. I wondered,” was all he said.

“I want to thank you for helping me stalk Scott,” Mitch replied. He placed a package on the table. “A little token of my appreciation.”

Neal shook his head. “You didn’t have to—”

“No, but I wanted to. Open it.”

Neal looked at Scott, who shrugged.

“News to me too.”

“Well then, thank you.”

 

He unwrapped a slim fit, long sleeved shirt with black mother of pearl buttons. The fabric shimmered in two-tone green and black, echoed by black satin collar and cuffs.

“I didn’t know what kind of thing you liked, but this piece by Gucci appealed to me.”

“It’s the right size, but how?” Neal held it against his chest.

“Well, modelling. You get used to eyeballing bodies.” He smiled at Neal. “I’m sure you need to dress up now and again. Grammys, perhaps.”

“Mitch, thank you. Glad I could help you get your man.”

“You can stop sending me those groupies now,” Scott said seriously.

“Oh yeah, right, pink slips all round for the harem.” Neal grinned at them both.

They all laughed before turning their attention to the menu.

 

Mitch found Scott’s thigh under the table and rested his hand lightly, not teasing, but grounding him. In his periphery he saw Scott’s smile widen. They were all right.

Chapter Text

Scott found a new energy with Mitch in his life. They spent most of their free time at his house, and Mitch returned to his apartment to change clothes and little else. New songs poured out of them both, and he dreamed of a new Superfruit EP as well as producing more material for his solo album. He planned to have Avi feature on the track they had written together.

 

Though it took some time, they finalised a group call with Avi, Kevin and Kirstie for the following week.

 

He agonised over following Mitch on social media but decided to do it anyway along with a bunch of other people, hoping it went unnoticed. Then he posted on Twitter.

 

@scotthoying:           Great news, I’m cooking up a super-secret new collab. Who do you think I’m working with?

 

Let the games begin.

 

Over dinner that night, Mitch joked and sparkled.

“You’re in a great mood.”

Mitch dimpled. “I got some really great news today. Well, good and not so good. But mostly good.”

“Uh-oh. Good news first. Do we need champagne?”

Mitch nodded. “Never a bad thing.”

Scott returned with a bottle of Veuve and two glasses. “If it’s really good, I’ll have a glass too.”

“Well… I’ve been waiting on a decision, and I heard today that I’m the brand ambassador for a new perfume by Givenchy.”

“What, really?” Scott clapped his hands. “I’m so happy for you, tell me everything!”

Mitch’s excitement shone in his face. “It’s a unisex scent called Dualité, and obviously that appeals to me. They were looking for someone a bit off beat and they saw me in a movie and the rest is history.”

Scott leaned forward to kiss him. “Fabulous, darling. You are going to slay.”

“Nobody says that now, Scott.” Mitch was still smiling.

“I say it about you. Time to pop the cork—”

Mitch waved his hands. “Wait, wait, there’s more good news! And then the other but hear me out.”

He took a deep breath and Scott felt a prickle of anxiety.

 

“I read for a movie, oh months ago when I first came back to LA, before your party even. And… I got the part.”

Scott shook his head. “Wow, that’s so amazing, congratulations.” He smiled, genuinely happy. “I’m sleeping with a bona fide movie star, who’d have thought? Real proud of you, baby. I think I know what’s coming next though.”

Mitch’s smile faded. “Yeah, so, two months on set, potentially. Starting March.”

 

Scott opened the bottle, then filled the glasses. “Come on, stand up. To you and your continued success, my sexy little actress. I believe in you.”

They clinked glasses and drank, and then Scott found his arms full of Mitch.

“It feels like a long time,” Mitch said, his voice muffled against Scott’s chest. “We only just got together.”

“It’s not so bad,” Scott replied. It wasn’t what he wanted, but he knew they’d have to deal; after all he was planning to go on tour at some point. “We’ll make it work.”

Mitch turned his face upwards, and Scott saw the question in his eyes. He captured Mitch’s lips in a sweet kiss. “Exclusive and public. I’m not going anywhere.”

“That – that’s a relief.” Mitch sighed. “There’s one more thing.”

“More? I should sit down again.”

“Can we go over to the couch? I’ll bring the glasses.”

 

They settled on the couch. Mitch twirled his empty glass between his fingers.

“My lease will be up while I’m away, and there’s no time to sort stuff out with the party and everything and I’m a bit worried about finding a new place because I can’t extend and—”

“What, you have to move out?”

“Yeah, it’s a bore, but I have to leave. Everything’s happening at once and that’s great, of course. I suppose I could brief a realtor and hope for the best. But I’m picky and they might not get me and my style, you know?”

“That’s a pain. Can I help somehow?”

Mitch sighed again. “Thanks, but I’ll deal with it. It’s stress I really don’t need and so I’ll probably put everything in storage. It won’t be the first—”

“You could stay here.” The words fell out of Scott’s mouth before he could stop them.

Mitch gaped at him. “What?”

Scott was torn between fascinated horror and surprise at his own words.

 

What the hell Hoying?

 

“I’ve got five guest rooms and lots of space. I know it’s… maybe it’s all a bit rushed but I don’t care. Just bring your stuff over. There can’t be that much.”

Mitch looked at him, pressing his lips together. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I know. I want to, though. What d’you say?”

 

Scott’s heart slowed, each beat distinct in his chest as he watched Mitch consider his reply.

“I don’t know what to say, Scott.”

“You don’t have to decide right now, I don’t want to pressure you.” But Scott knew he was putting Mitch in an impossible position. It wasn’t fair.

Mitch looked away, eyes distant. “This is a lot to take on.”

Scott took a deep breath. “I know it’s a big deal.”

 

He stared at his hands, drowning in the silence. Once again he had acted on impulse and then regretted it. Moving in was a huge decision, and here he was offering it on a whim, instead of thinking things through rationally. He couldn’t risk overloading this fragile new relationship before they were ready.

 

“I’m sorry, forget I said—”

“Yes.”

“Yes?” Scott blinked.

Mitch was smiling. “I said it before, yes.”

“Okay.”

Scott hoped he was smiling, but he couldn’t tell. He felt sick, and he felt excited, and he didn’t want to cry but his stomach was doing crazy loops and his heart had probably stopped completely. This was madness of the best kind.

 

And then Mitch jumped him. He pinned him down with both hands on his shoulders and kissed him roughly, all teeth and tongue and hips grinding. He tasted of champagne, and he smelled of sandalwood, and he felt hard and exciting.

“I am gonna blow you,” Mitch whispered before licking round the shell of Scott’s ear.

He sighed. “A simple thank you will suffice.”

Mitch stripped off Scott’s shirt. “That’s what I said. I would tease you but I’m impatient.”

 

Mitch alternated kisses and bites from his collarbone to his nipple and then down to his navel, dipping his tongue in and out. He gripped Scott’s waist.

“Daddy has such strong abs, I like to watch them move when he fucks me good.” Mitch dragged his nails along Scott’s inner thighs, trailing fire in their wake.

“Oh Daddy, what a big bulge you have. Shall we set it free?” He palmed it and Scott bucked up into his hand.

“Yes,” he gasped. “I…”

Mitch unzipped his fly and tugged down his pants and boxers together. But there was no contact and Scott opened his eyes, frustrated. Mitch glanced from Scott’s eyes to his cock and back again, licking his lips.

Scott whined. “Please.”

Those dark eyes and the promise of Mitch’s mouth scattered his thoughts.

 

Mitch straddled his legs and licked a forefinger, then used it to spread the wetness leaking around the slit. “So hot,” he said, his tone low.

One slippery finger was painting the head of Scott’s cock with lava. Another finger slid into the mouth waiting to devour him. Scott’s brain was hazy, consumed by desire.

 

Mitch sucked his finger clean and took the head into his mouth, teasing Scott with teeth and the tip of his tongue before pulling away to suck each ball while his fingertips danced over hips, groin, anywhere but where he needed friction.

He sucked and bit Scott’s inner thigh till he yelped. “Always so big.”

 

Scott couldn’t reply because Mitch swallowed him down and the world stopped. There were moans and sighs and all enveloping wet heat, and fingers caressing his balls and stroking his perineum. When he saw Mitch’s lips fastened around his shaft he could not control the way his hips reared. He thrust forward, riding a wave of pure lust.

 

Sucking and working him with his hands, Mitch took Scott apart one stroke at a time until he shot down his throat with a groan pulled from deep in his chest. Mitch milked him through his peak till he whimpered with oversensitivity.

He pulled off and regarded Scott with a satisfied smile. “Stay here.”

Slumped on his back with his pants round his ankles, Scott couldn’t have moved even if he wanted to.

 

Mitch applied a warm washcloth, pulled his boxers up and pants off, and then kissed him. “Thank you, truly.”

Scott was still breathless. “Best thank you ever. Give me a chance to recover, and I’ll return the favour. But first, come here.”

 

He held Mitch close and told himself that two months wasn’t that long. Eight weeks, fifty-six days, thirteen hundred forty-four hours wasn’t that long. Not that he was counting.

 

**

 

On Twitter the Scotties were consumed by speculation about the mystery collaboration. Guesses ranged from the obvious to the outlandish. Scott and Mitch sat in front of the laptop together to observe the madness.

“Beyoncé is popular, predictably.”

“I wish. But seriously, Fall Out Boy? We have nothing in common musically.”

“Big vocals maybe?” Mitch pointed at the screen. “That person is making the most sense, but they always do.”

“Always? So you’ve been lurking then.”

Mitch shrugged. “I like to stay in touch with current trends, yes.”

 

@hotsforhoying:        ok but hear me out could it be Mitch G???

@Scott_to_trot:           nah they hate each other and anyway he’s gone to Italy

@Scottishot:               noooooo Scomiche for evaaaahhh :*-(

@Scott_to_trot:           u need to move on never gonna happen

@hotsforhoying:        yeah but did you see he followed Mitch again

 

Scott tutted. “I hoped nobody noticed that.”

“Yeah right. They’re watching everything.”

 

@Scottishot:               no wait really?

@hotsforhoying:        Superfruit account is still dormant, but someone posted a pic of them on IG

@Scott_to_trot:           RECEIPTS probz an edit anyway

@hotsforhoying:        here’s the link. Might be nothing, bit blurry, but looks like they were shopping, judging by the bags

 

Mitch sighed. “I hoped nobody noticed that.”

“You did have a lot of bags. And we weren’t exactly hiding.”

 

@Scottishot:               that’s in Seattle

@Scott_to_trot:           how can u tell Photoshop is a thing u know

@Scottishot:               I lived there no it’s real must be after the end of tour

@Scottishot:               *screaming* aksdjdldshfhg

@hotsforhoying:         calm down. BUT SAME #bringbackSuperfruit RT RT RT!

@Scott_to_trot:           not 100% convinced but here goes nothing #bringbackSuperfruit #mitchycomehome

@Scottishot:               u want it donT LIE #bringbackSuperfruit #mitchycomehome ♡♡♡

@hotsforhoying:        my money’s on @mitchgrassi so what do you say @scotthoying?? #bringbackSuperfruit #mitchycomehome

 

“So hotsforhoying is closest, as usual. She’s a really loyal fan.” Scott hummed for a moment. “I’ll post on the Superfruit account just before the party.” He stretched and yawned.

 

“I guess I have to get used to all this again,” Mitch said quietly. “It’s been nice, being off the radar more or less.”

“I wish I could say no, but it’s true.” Scott remembered how Mitch both craved and despised the limelight, depending on his mood. “They’ll want you too and it could be rough. Are you ready for that?”

Mitch shrugged. “I’m better at hiding in plain sight than I was. It’ll be fun at first, then annoying, and then I’ll want to stab someone. But I accept it.” He kissed Scott’s cheek. “For you.”

“Sorry in advance. But on the plus side, not having to hide will be a bonus. And you know I’ll always protect you.”

“Not necessary.”

“Yeah, you’re a strong independent woman who don’t need no man, right?”

“Just this man.” Mitch leaned in and Scott met him half way to share a sweet kiss. “I feel very lucky. And you’re so domesticated now, cooking real food and everything, it’s even better.”

Scott pouted. “You only want me for my cooking skills and to save money on rent.”

“And your fantastic cock, babe. That’s the best part of the deal.” Mitch winked and got up, pulling Scott to his feet.

“Well, okay.” Scott couldn’t help a smug grin. “When are they bringing your stuff?”

“It’s short notice to get movers. Fortunately it’s a small job for them to fit in so next Wednesday, I hope. Still waiting for them to confirm.”

 

They walked into the kitchen and Mitch started the coffee maker. Scott sat at the breakfast bar and watched him. He was blessed to have this gorgeous man for himself, and he couldn’t wait to show everyone. For now he let his gaze roam over his sharp profile and small frame, the peachy ass he loved to squeeze and bite, arms strong enough to pin him down while his mouth worked its magic…

 

“Scott.”

“Huh?”

“You’re practically drooling.”

“Sorry.” He wasn’t at all.

“Don’t be, I like to feel appreciated. But I asked you about food tonight. Cook or order in?”

He snapped back to reality. He had something to say. “Ugh, I don’t know, can we decide later? I want to talk to you first.”

 

Scott accepted his drink and twisted the mug round and round on the counter. Mitch took a seat next to him, far away enough that they could make eye contact but still within touching distance.

“Sure, we should probably talk.”

 

“I’m going to apologise in advance if any of this comes out wrong.”

Mitch put a hand on his arm for a moment. “You’ll be fine. We can deal with this.”

“Okay.” Scott took two breaths and centred himself.

“I just suggested you move in with me and you said yes.”

“I was there, I remember.”

“You’re sure about that.”

“I’m certain.” Mitch nodded and sipped coffee. “I’ll be gone again quite soon.”

“It isn’t anything we ever discussed, and it’s come up too quickly in a way but here’s the thing. I know we can get along in the same space, we did it before. And I want you to know that I was thinking about giving you a key anyway.”

 

Scott got up to find his wallet, and when he pulled the key out some papers came with it and fluttered to the floor. He scooped them up hastily and came to sit by Mitch.

“Here’s your key, so you can come and go anytime. You can choose any bedroom for yourself and I won’t enter unless you give your permission.”

 

He held out the key on his palm, and looked up at Mitch. His dark eyes were bright and he nodded slowly, lips pressed into a thin line.

“You have my permission,” he said softly. “Always.” He reached out and placed his hand over the key, then curled his fingers around Scott’s palm.

“I know I’m impulsive sometimes but this… this makes me so happy.” Scott gripped Mitch’s hand and they gazed at each other, the key held between them.

 

“You make my world better.” His voice was husky and tears were close. He was always the emotional one who had to lay his heart on the line. There was no guarantee that Mitch would do the same, but that was okay. It didn’t make his feelings any less genuine.

 

Mitch swallowed. “I – I just—” He took the key, and Scott’s heart with it.

He stood in front of Mitch. “This might be the wrong time but it feels right.”

 

Mitch looked up from the key in his hand. “I choose your room.”

“Really?” Scott frowned. “There are five other bedrooms—”

“Plenty of closet space then. You said any room. I choose your room, if you’ll have me. I rather be with you Scotty, and that’s the truth.”

“Of course - I’ll have you.” Scott dragged his knuckles across his eyes, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. “Sorry, I’m sappy today.”

“Soft boy. I think,” Mitch put down the key, “a kiss is in order, just to seal the deal.” He slipped off the stool and opened his arms.

 

Scott wrapped Mitch in long arms and kissed the side of his shaved head. He was whole without Mitch, but with him he was stronger, better, happier. Mitch fitted perfectly into the circle of his embrace. When Mitch tilted his head upwards Scott kissed his lips and held him closer again, rocking safe at anchor, home.

 

Then Mitch wriggled out of his arms. He pulled Scott down, warm hands on his cheeks, and kissed him without that hunger and lust they often shared, but with tenderness. Scott’s hands found Mitch’s hips and they simply kissed, breathing the same air and kissing again as though that was all they would ever need.

 

“I’d very much like you to fuck me now.” Mitch was breathless, but something in Scott flinched from his words.

“Let me show you how I really feel.” His voice was hoarse as he traced the softness of Mitch’s lower lip with a thumb. He allowed him to lick and nibble the thumb before removing it. “Go up and get ready, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Don’t make me wait too long.” Mitch kissed his hand before leaving him alone.

 

Scott watched the sway of his hips as he ascended the stairs. A quick search of the cupboard revealed the things he needed. By the time he reached his bedroom door he knew what he would do.

 

Upstairs Mitch lay on his back with eyes closed and the sheet pulled up to his chin. It outlined his arousal very nicely. Scott closed the curtains and left the side lamp on, before going to the bathroom. On his return he placed tealights on the nightstand and around the baseboards, then lit them. Candlelight bathed the room in a soft glow. He removed the sheet, leaving Mitch bare.

 

He stripped down to his boxers and stood by the bed.

“You look stunning, princess.” He sat, and ran his fingertips over the inner surface of Mitch’s upper arms and elbows, down his sides and hips. Then he brushed his lips over his neck, feeling goosebumps pop on the skin, inhaling citrus and natural musk.

 

Mitch gasped and Scott breathed hot air over his neck before sucking hard and biting, leaving a bruise. He skimmed hands over Mitch’s hip bones, rolled both nipples till they hardened, and enjoyed the musical moans and sighs that poured from his open mouth.

“Beautiful, beautiful, baby girl. We’re taking our time. No, no touching.” He caught Mitch’s hands and pinned them gently above his head. “I am going to do the touching, and you are going to like it, okay?”

“Okay,” Mitch sighed. He let his arms sink against the pillows.

 

Scott ran his hands over his collarbones. He scratched his nails down each flank, past Mitch’s hips to his inner thighs, and parted his legs wide. He enjoyed the inviting view of Mitch surrendered, neck exposed, face buried in the crook of his elbow, everything there for the taking.

 

He sucked one thigh while Mitch twisted under him, gripping the other tight so that he could not move. Mitch squealed as he sank his teeth in, and he felt his balls tighten.

“I’m going to suck and lick you until you beg,” he whispered, and stood up.

Mitch whined but he did not move his arms. “Yes, please.”

“You know how much I want you. Look.”

Mitch opened his eyes, and Scott pulled his cock free of the boxers.

“So hard baby, all for you, and I see you’re hard for me too.” He stroked himself and hissed, his arousal heightened under that dark lustful gaze.

 

He leaned down and kissed Mitch, who opened wider to accept the steady glide of Scott’s tongue back and forth. His hips bucked upwards as Scott gave one firm stroke along his length.

“You’re a needy girl today,” he said, voice dropping deeper with each word.

Scott scattered kisses all over, murmuring against the skin. “Lovely, every bit of you baby.” He marked smooth, hot skin with small bites. “Crazy for you, but I’m taking my time.”

 

“What do you want, sweetheart?”

“Want to fuck,” Mitch replied softly.

“All in good time, we’re gonna play on the edge first.”

One lubed finger teased around Mitch’s bud, and he groaned. Scott took just the hot head in his mouth as he slid the finger in and out slowly, and Mitch cried out.

“You like that? Sounds as if you do.” He continued to work his finger with a curl, and added another.

“So pretty. I could come just listening to you, but I’m saving myself to fill you up.” He curled his fingers and took Mitch’s leaking cock in his mouth again, working the tip of his tongue into the slit. The sounds Mitch made filled the air, his musk filled Scott’s nose, and his taste filled his mouth.

 

Scott pulled off and removed his fingers when he sensed Mitch was getting close. He repeated sucking and fingering, then pausing, till Mitch was incoherent.

“Please Scott please fuck please please I need you,” he babbled. He was beautifully ruined, begging, ready.

 

Scott wrapped and lubed while watching his baby writhe and call his name. He prayed he could hold back long enough to draw out the pleasure for them both.

 

“I want to see you. Open your eyes.”

Mitch’s eyes snapped open, but seemed out of focus. “Scotty, please,” he sighed.

Scott knelt between Mitch’s thighs and tucked a pillow under his hips. Mitch was flushed and sweaty, his eyes infinitely dark in the candlelight, his limbs pliable. Leaning forward Scott sucked hard on one nipple, delighting in the whining response.

 

“Look at me gorgeous, watch me…” He pushed in halfway, gasping at the tightness. Then he lifted one ankle onto his shoulder and rocked, shifting until he found the right spot. Mitch shrieked, arched his back and surrendered beneath him, offering no resistance.

 

Scott nearly lost control but managed to keep going, grazing his boy’s prostate with every stroke. He closed his hand around Mitch’s hard cock and he came immediately, spurting over his chest and tightening around Scott, breaking the last of his restraint.

 

Scott buried himself in one deep thrust and pounded through Mitch’s orgasm, finally able to seek his own high, moving deeper and faster as Mitch urged him on in a hoarse voice.

“Yes Scotty, wreck me, come for me.”

The world shrunk to a bubble of overwhelming sensation. Tension coiled in his balls and he rode the rollercoaster still higher. A roar filled his ears as he fell off the edge, descending at speed, pumping into the tight heat of his boy, Mitch’s blissfully sated face the last thing he saw before he screwed his eyes tight and let go.

 

Scott’s muscles trembled and he pulled out and collapsed, panting. A hand caressed his cheek, and he couldn’t speak the words trying to escape from his chest. Soft lips found his.

“Scotty, baby, my everything.”

Still shaking, he opened his eyes to the most beautiful smile. “I – I—‘’

“Shh, babe, it’s all right, I’m here.” Mitch kissed him again.

He gulped air, dazzled and drowning, but he couldn’t look away. “I adore you. Mitchy, please, I—”

Mitch put a finger to his lips. “Babe, I’m yours.”

 

Scott’s emotions threatened to spill out of control. Tears filled his eyes.

Mitch’s soft voice anchored him. “My big beautiful boy. Let me take care of you.”

And Scott lay unguarded and spent while Mitch washed away the aftermath of sex and sweat, dried him and covered them with the sheet.

 

Scott was happy to be Mitch’s little spoon. He meshed their fingers together and pressed their joined hands to his heart in affirmation of a wordless truth.

 

When Mitch kissed the back of his neck and his shoulder, Scott sank back against the comfort of warm skin and matched breaths with his baby. The boundary between them blurred and Scott wasn’t sure who was holding who, but they were together. Nothing else mattered.

 

Chapter Text

 

Mitch was reduced to a gratified puddle, skin burning from kiss-bites, ass satisfyingly sore, and pulse settling slowly. His hand fit into Scott’s larger one and he felt each beat of that big heart under his palm, each rise and fall of his chest. He scattered butterfly kisses on warm skin. They had no energy to do more than fall into each other.

 

The world spun slower.

 

Everything felt different. Scott was under his skin and seeping into his veins. He radiated adoration. If his smile was the sun, the unfiltered post-orgasm look in his eyes was a supernova, a million times brighter. Mitch could hardly meet that look and answer its silent question.

 

He knew Scott had more to say, and he didn’t know if he could keep up. Voices in his head would not be silenced.

 

Nothing lasts, and love hurts.

Some people mean what they say.

Be brave.

Don’t tell me what he means to you, show him.

 

He cuddled his sleeping giant and he had never felt so safe, so completely accepted. Scott was his everything and following that truth could lead to only one conclusion.

His mind resisted even as his body tried to merge, maximising skin contact and moving so close to Scott that he barely had room to breathe. There were worse ways to die. He let go of the endless brain chatter and let himself sink into sleep.

 

The next morning he woke to singing in the shower. He didn’t know the song, but he enjoyed the voice. He went into the bathroom and washed his face, and when Scott threw out a ridiculous riff like it was nothing he smiled. This was his reality now. He could come home to Scott, wake up with Scott, sing with Scott even.

 

What else had he dreamed of, all those lonely days and nights? He’d prayed for reconciliation, hoped for something like friendship, and now he had the possibility of much more. Scott wanted him. If only he could risk giving himself completely. Scott deserved no less.

“Hey, baby.” Scott stepped out of the shower and Mitch eyed hard muscles restrained by glistening skin. Damn, he looked good.

“Morning.” He accepted a light kiss and ran his fingertip over one bicep before licking it. “Wet Scott is hot.”

Scott shook his head and backed away, grabbing a towel. “Temptress. But we have things to do today so bye.” He left the bathroom with a wink.

 

Mitch left the shower temperature unchanged, and lathered himself from head to foot. He let his mind spin in neutral, not thinking about anything except the water running down his skin, the sting as he washed the many bites on his neck, chest, and inner thigh, and the ache in his lower back. Warm water worked wonders as he stretched his spine gently.

 

Outside he applied his favourite scented lotion, easing it over the tender spots. Scott had gone already and he could never fathom out how he was able to get ready so fast. That was a boy thing he supposed. Perhaps he could take the bedroom next door as his, even if he had no intention of sleeping alone. A girl needs time and space to create perfection. And after all, he already had clothes in the closet.

 

The prospect of filling the closets with new clothes was really exciting. He’d have to go through the things in storage, but retail therapy was always good. Once he got back from his shoot… life was taking interesting twists and turns, and conflicting feelings were a part of that. Well, coffee first. That was an easy decision.

 

They parted after breakfast, Scott going to a songwriting session while Mitch returned to his apartment. He couldn’t quite believe he would be moving into Scott’s home in a few days. He sat on the couch and stared into space. A little chill snaked down his spine.

 

It made sense. And it was madness, too soon, too much. He thought about calling Kirstie. He thought about calling it off.

 

He remembered Milan.

 

They had gone out for dinner with some of Luca’s friends from the film world, and Mitch sparkled. He enjoyed speaking English for a change and there was the faint prospect of a part in something, all very tentative but exciting nonetheless.

 

It was a good evening and as soon as they returned to Luca’s apartment Mitch was caught in a close embrace, his lips captured by a passionate kiss.

Luca murmured in his ear. “Ti amo, bellissima. Rimani sempre come me.” I love you, beautiful. Stay with me always.

His fingertips barely brushed Mitch’s thigh, and he shifted to grind their cocks together, pressing close. A bolt of pleasure shot through Mitch’s veins, and he moaned in answer.

“Mi casa es su casa, tesoro. Rimani.” My house is your house, honey. Stay. He licked at the hollow in Mitch’s throat.

“So che mi ami. Dire si. Dire si.” I know you love me. Say yes. Say yes. His low, musical voice gave Mitch thrills, each phrase punctuated with hot kisses to that one spot on his neck that drove him crazy.

 

Luca’s hands were everywhere, squeezing his thigh, stroking him through his pants, tugging lightly on his hair when they kissed. Every part of Mitch responded to his touch.

Mitch was breathless, overwhelmed by sensation. He opened his eyes to Luca’s intense blue gaze and parted lips, and his heart was full.

“Si, si Luca, ti amo per sempre. Ora mi scopi.” Yes, yes Luca, I love you forever. Now fuck me.

 

Sex was rough that night, perhaps only a little more than usual, but nothing Mitch couldn’t handle. Still, it ended with tender confessions of love when they lay in bed sated, looking into each other’s eyes without fear. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They loved each other. It made perfect sense to move in.

 

Looking back, this was another turning point. Moving into Luca’s apartment soon afterward deepened their relationship. The move also trapped him in the lion’s den with nowhere to hide. He just didn’t know that then. Even here, miles and years away, he shuddered at the memory.

 

He got up and made some tea, then pulled the shiny new key from his purse and stared at it. He could do this. He was safe with Scott, as long as he didn’t lose himself in promises no-one could possibly keep.

He couldn’t talk to anyone else about it, but did he dare risk broaching the subject with Scott? Would he feel rejected if he expressed doubts?

He was forever poised at the top of the ride looking down at a dizzying drop, wondering if he dared take the plunge, knowing there was no turning back once he said yes. What if it went wrong? But Scott would be with him, and he said they would be all right.

We’re unbreakable, and if we break we can fix it.

Just thinking of Scott brought the sun out again and chased the shadows away.

 

Mitch sat with his tea on the velvet sofa. He would miss running his fingers along the silky pile. He would miss seeing Scott stretched out, long limbs filling the space except the spot left for Mitch to fit into. But this apartment was not home. He got up and went in search of his jewellery box.

Threaded on a simple silver chain and nestled against Mitch’s chest, Scott’s key was warm on his skin, comforting his restless heart. He took a deep breath and started collecting and packing his personal papers. The smile never left his face.

 

 

Mitch drove back to the house and left his rented car on the drive. He’d never seen the garage, but he supposed there was room for another in there. Maybe he’d get one of those new Tesla electric cars, after the shoot.

He turned his new key in the lock. It was a little tight, and his heart skipped as he entered the house alone for the first time. Scott was due back soon, depending on traffic. He set the Starbucks cups down in the kitchen, hung his jacket and kicked off his boots. Then he booted up his laptop and began researching.

A few minutes later the front door slammed.

“Honey, I’m home!” Scott shouted.

Mitch smiled at him as he walked into the kitchen, a silly grin on his face. “Hello sweetie, home from the grind?” He winked for emphasis.

“Home to the grind, hopefully. C’mere.” Scott stretched out his arms and Mitch went over to be gathered up.

Scott hugged him tight. “Hey baby,” he whispered. “Good day?”

Mitch sighed against his chest. “It is now.” He tilted his head up and waited. Scott pressed soft kisses to his forehead, each cheek, and finally his lips. Mitch tightened his hold and deepened the kiss, swiping his tongue along Scott’s lower lip. He wanted nothing more than to stay there, kissing like teenagers. But the coffee was getting cold and they had their group call to think about.

 

He broke free. “Starbucks awaits. Don’t make that pouty face at me, we got things to do, as I recall you told me this morning.”

Scott put up his hands. “Okay, you’re right, we’ll take a raincheck.” He picked up his cup. “Shall we eat before or after the call?”

“After, I think.”

They wandered over to the white couch and sat down. The coffee was soon finished and Mitch knew he needed to begin. His heart lurched, then settled. He patted the key hidden under his top for courage.

“Can I say something?”

“Oh. It’s serious, isn’t it? Is it – no, just tell me.” Scott frowned and clenched his fists.

Mitch almost jumped in his lap right then. “Don’t be scared. It’s not so bad.” He chewed his bottom lip, took one breath.

“We were always super honest with each other before. You said, ages ago, that you would be honest with me now. So I need to tell you something and I’m sorry if it comes out wrong but—”

“I’m listening.” Scott’s gaze was intense.

“And don’t interrupt.”

Scott nodded and zipped his lip. He folded his hands in his lap.

 

“I…” He took another breath. “I lived with someone else and it didn’t work out too well, so this scares me. I need my space sometimes, but I want to be with you. That’s why I chose your room.” He smiled at Scott. “I claim all the other closets, by the way.”

“Mmhmm.” He nodded several times, eyes wide.

“Good. I’m actually really nervous because this means everything.” He gestured between them. “Scott, you mean everything to me. I just need time to outrun the past and I hope, I really hope…” His voice cracked, and he swallowed.

“I hope you’ll wait for me.”

 

He reached forward and made an unzipping motion, drawing his fingertips along Scott’s lips. He glimpsed relief and happiness on Scott’s face before he surged forward and hugged him tighter than he believed possible.

“Oh Mitchy. I will wait forever, as long as you’re with me, I’ll wait. Baby, my baby boy.”

Mitch felt his heart expand and burst through another skin, and he was another step closer.

 

“I’m holding on for you,” Scott sang softly.

Mitch melted into his arms, a restless nomad come to the end of his wandering.

“You’re my home, Scotty.”

Scott unwrapped his arms and held Mitch at arms length. His eyes glittered with tears. “You – that’s the sweetest thing – you’re my world.”

Mitch gazed at his man, the man with the sky in his eyes. “Right here with you babe.”

 

He climbed on Scott’s lap, settled his thighs either side, and kissed him with his whole body. He cupped Scott's strong jaw with both hands, tugged on his lower lip with teeth, and slid his tongue back and forth in time with each wind of his hips. Scott sighed and thrust up against him, warm hands on Mitch's butt pressing them closer.

Mitch growled and tugged hard on blond hair. Scott's eyes flew open in surprise. He turned his head and offered his neck, scattering Mitch's thoughts as desire burned through his skin. He put his lips to the pulse and licked the skin. Taking the lead with Scott excited him even more.

The buzz of a phone alarm interrupted them.

 

Scott groaned and pulled back. “Ugh, one hour till our call with the guys.”

Mitch stood up. “Just about enough time to get ready. Sorry about your hair.”

Scott ran his fingers through it and sighed. “Okay, well, raincheck.”

Mitch pointed. “Your pants are looking kinda tight right there.”

“Yeah, they are. Maybe you could help me with that later.”

“As are mine.” He ran one hand over his bulge and watched Scott’s eyes widen.

“I’ll bear that in mind.” Scott licked his lips. “We have to get through this call first.”

“Then you’ll have to control yourself.” Mitch reached down and palmed Scott.

 

He squirmed and looked up, eyes dark. “Watch out. I don’t need a whole hour to bend you over.” His voice was low and irresistible.

“Flirt.” Mitch stroked himself and his eyes closed. He heard Scott’s breath catch.

“Oh baby, you did not just touch yourself right in front of my face.”

“Maybe I did. Maybe I’m wondering what you’re gonna do about it.” Mitch squeezed himself hard and gasped. He half-opened his eyes and let his mouth fall open.

“Don’t move.” Scott jumped up and went over to the storage unit, returning with a small grey zipped pouch.

“Prepared? I like that,” Mitch said, breathy and excited.

 

Scott beckoned Mitch forward to where he sat on the couch. “Hands off, we don’t have much time.”

He unzipped Mitch and pulled his stiff cock free. “You’re always so ready.” He drew a fingertip up one side and Mitch gasped.

“Listen carefully. I’m gonna blow you and then fuck you fast and hard, understand?”

Mitch blinked, turned on even more by Scott’s tone and the wild lust in his eyes. “Yes, please daddy,” he said sweetly.

“You are fucking…” Scott shook his head, then he licked from base to tip and sucked on the head.

Heat burst in Mitch’s belly and his cock throbbed. “Yes, daddy, just like that.”

 

Scott looked up at him, a narrow band of blue surrounding dilated pupils, then grabbed his hips and swallowed him down, bobbing and sucking and twisting till Mitch’s head spun. Then he used one hand to fondle his balls, pressing deep in his perineum as he deep throated him. Mitch wobbled but the death grip on his hip kept him upright as he released with a scream. Scott milked every drop from him and pulled off.

 

“Up, kneel on there.”

Breathless, Mitch knelt on the seat and leaned over the back of the sofa, skin tingling and still alive with anticipation as his clothes were yanked down. The first lubed finger circling his bud before pushing inside was soon joined by two more.

“Get to it, time’s moving on.” He yelped when he received a firm smack to each ass cheek.

“We got time,” Scott growled. “Fast and hard, you ready?”

“Oh, I – aaaahh!” Mitch moaned as he was stretched. A moment’s pause, he heard Scott exhale, and felt him draw back. Before Mitch could speak, Scott slammed into him over and over, not troubling to search for his spot but gripping him so tight it was sure to leave another mark.

Mitch tensed his muscles and held on. He wasn’t going to come again but this felt so good. “That’s it, give it to me, faster baby, harder.” He kept up a stream of encouraging words till Scott’s change in rhythm warned he was close.

“Scotty baby, come for me.”

Scott bellowed and pumped into Mitch after a few more thrusts, then collapsed on top of him, gasping.

“Got what you wanted, babe?”

Scott pulled out and kissed his butt. “Oh yes, but now we have to get cleaned up and catch our breath before we talk to the others. Come on.”

 

Mitch giggled as they went upstairs, clothes in disarray and cocks hanging out.

“We look ridiculous.”

“Sex is inherently ridiculous, but also very fun with you.” Scott kissed his cheek. “You take the en suite, go go go! Thirty minutes max.”

 

Forty-five minutes later, Mitch strolled into the kitchen. Scott looked up from his laptop as he came in. He had changed into a grey polo neck, and his hair fell in a soft wave to one side. He was gorgeous even before the thousand-watt smile lit up his face and crinkled his blue eyes.

 

“How do you look so good in only twenty minutes when it takes me twice as long?” Mitch grumbled.

“Ah, but you look twice as good.”

Mitch preened under the compliment. “Why thank you.”

“You look beautiful,” Scott said softly. “Come here and kiss me.”

 

Mitch was happy to oblige. “A kiss and a promise of more later,” he said with a smirk. “Don’t wanna mess our hair and makeup, do we?”

“Not yet.” Scott pulled out a chair. “Sit here and let’s discuss tactics.”

“You make it sound like a battle.” Mitch sat.

 

“No, but it’s a performance, isn’t it? Anyway, Avi knows, the others don’t. We have several things; collaborations, Superfruit, party.”

“Moving in together.”

Scott smiled. “Moving in together. I hope they’re happy for us.”

“They will be.”

 

They checked the camera angles and set up the call. Mitch sat out of sight while Scott called their friends. Soon Avi, Kevin, Kirstie and Esther appeared on the screen, waving and smiling.

 

“Wow, it’s actually working. Great to see everyone together again, well virtually. I wanted to talk to y’all about a new collaboration.”

“I loved us singing together at your party, “ Kirstie said. “Didn’t realise how much I missed it.”

“Absolutely,” Kevin agreed.

“How come Mitch isn’t in the call?” Esther asked.

“He’s coming later,” Scott replied. He cleared his throat.

 

“I do want us to sing together on my new album, Avi and I wrote a song that might work and maybe you have some ideas too.”

“That is fantastic, count me in whenever,” Kirstie said.

“Me too.” Kevin grinned broadly. “When can we start?”

 

“Um, not sure why you need me to be in on this,” Esther said, frowning behind her glasses. “And what about Mitch?”

He pulled his chair up and came into shot with a smile. “I’m here, hi everyone.”

They all greeted him and Kirstie blew a kiss.

“Fancy seeing you here,” she said with her trademark lop-sided smile.

 

“Yeah, Mitch and I are planning to revive Superfruit, we’ve written some new material.”

“Really?” Avi said. “That’s awesome.” He smiled, all twinkly green eyes, and Mitch couldn’t help smiling back.

“That will be amazing,” Kevin agreed.

 

“There’s something else you need to know.” Scott saw Avi bite his lip. “About Mitch and me – we’re gonna be working together, um, real close on our special project.”

Three people looked confused and one put his hand over his mouth.

 

Kirstie frowned. “Special project?”

“Say what?” Kevin tilted his head.

“Yeah, you said Superfruit just now. Or is it not that?” Esther said.

Mitch and Scott looked at each other for a long moment. Mitch’s heart tried to escape his chest, but he closed his eyes and it settled.

 

The kiss was soft but lingering.

 

Three people on screen went crazy. Everyone shouted at once.

 

“Whaaaaaat?”

“No wait what? Scömìche is real?”

“Is this some kind of joke? Because it’s not—”

“You sly fuckers, just you wait till—”

“Well done, you are too cute.”

“How long has this been going on? How long dammit?”

“This is great news!”

“I want details and I want them now!”

 

Mitch heard shouting, but all he saw was Scott’s adoring gaze, the tiny lip bite that reeled him in for another kiss.

“Hey stop that.”

“We can still see you, no PDA.”

“Beautiful, just lovely. You’re meant for each other.”

“Get a room!”

 

Mitch giggled. “Shall I tell them?”

Scott nodded. “Go ahead, baby.”

Everyone fell silent.

Even Avi stared at the camera. “There’s more?”

“I got a room right here,” Mitch announced. “I’m moving in next week before I leave on my shoot.”

 

No-one spoke for a moment and Mitch’s smile faltered. He was finally sure in his heart but he wanted his oldest friends to be happy for them too. Then Avi laughed and clapped his hands. One by one the others joined in the round of applause.

 

“Bravo guys,” Avi said. “Bravo.”

“Y’all making a home together again.” Kirstie wiped her eyes. “You made me cry. When are you gonna visit? I miss you.”

“Prayers are answered, bless you both.” Kevin clasped his hands and bowed his head for a moment, then punched the air. “Awesome!”

 

Mitch watched them all, his heart full. Scott’s hand found his, and they laced their fingers. He wanted to kiss Scott again, but that was probably not the best idea.

 

Then Scott said, “Esther? You okay?”

Red faced, Esther took off her glasses and dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

“I’m – I’m just really h-happy – sorry I don’t usually do this.”

“Aw Est, don’t cry, you’ll start me off too.“ Avi’s voice wavered, deeper than normal.

 

“All right people no more crying!” Scott announced. “We are officially together and we’re very happy. We wanted you all to know ahead of the public reveal, which will be at the Vanity Fair Oscars party next week.

“I saw you followed Mitchy on Twitter again,” Kirstie said. “I hoped… but this is way better than that. So happy for you.”

“Thanks Kit, means a lot. Y’all are important to us, we wanted you to be the first to know.”

“Do your parents know yet? Nel and Connie will die of happiness, then come back to life for the wedding.”

“Ah well, let’s, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Scott was pink and clearly uncomfortable, shifting in his seat. Mitch squeezed his hand and he took a breath.

“I mean we’re only just together so give us time.” Even the tips of his ears turned red and his grip tightened.

Esther smiled. “Yeah, right, okay. Time waits for no man, am I right?”

“Esther, give the man a break.” Kevin grinned wide. “But, you two ain’t getting any younger.” He pointed at the camera, cracked up laughing and the others joined in.

 

Mitch tried to look indignant, but all he felt was gratitude for the love of his friends.

“When you’re all done laughing, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. Everything. From keeping us apart when we were toxic, to holding us up through dark days, to helping us find our way back.” Tears blurred his vision.

 

“Aw, Mitchy.” Avi rubbed at his eyes. “You’re both worth it. For us to be whole again, it’s a miracle. Love you guys more than I can say.”

A chorus of agreement followed those words. Mitch pressed his lips together, nodding and breathing away tears. He wished they could all be there, standing in their huddle and whispering a prayer of thanks.

 

The chat moved on to talk about recording and music. Mitch edged closer to Scott, staying within the energy he exuded as he made plans. They talked and joked, and held hands out of sight the whole time. As the call went on, he said less and listened more.

 

“Hey, heart-eyes Grassi.”

“Huh?” He looked away from Scott towards the screen.

Kirstie rolled her eyes. “Really? It’s catching, obviously. I expect details, do you hear me Mitchell? Details. Stay in touch, love you both.” She blew kisses and left.

 

“Scott, you did well. Proud of you both.”

“With your great advice Kev, how could I go wrong?”

He smiled. “I am only the vessel. May the Lord keep you both safe, and I cannot wait until we get together again.” He clasped his hands together and left with a brilliant smile.

 

Esther was the next. “Well I think my tears have dried otherwise I’ll have some explaining to do. This is more than I ever hoped for.”

“Me too,” Scott said. “I’ll be in touch Est.”

“Yeah, so when you need to plan your next big event,” she raised her eyebrows and drew air quotes, “just call me.” She smiled knowingly and waved goodbye.

 

Only Avi remained. “I’m smiling so big my cheeks ache,’ he said. “Living together already? Damn Scott, that’s smooth.”

Scott’s pale brows went up as Mitch giggled silently. “No, honestly it was just that his lease was up and y’know he’s going on location soon anyway.”

“Ouch. That’s hard, but this time Mitch, you know where you’re coming home to. And who.”

Mitch nodded. “I do.”

 

Scott coughed and cleared his throat. “It is a bit quick in some ways but on the other hand not really, after all we’ve lived together before and it makes no sense to leave an apartment empty for – what?”

Avi was laughing, hands clasped against his mouth. “You are flustered and it’s delightful. You’re also disgustingly cute together and of course you’ll treat each other right. Right?” He raised one eyebrow. “Because I know how important this is for you both and I need to know that you’re on the same page.”

 

They looked at each other.

“We solemnly swear to treat each other with utmost respect.” Scott raised their joined hands to his lips.

“Same,” Mitch said, leaning in for a kiss.

“Okay kissy boys, I’m still here remember. Communication is the key. One more thing. When are you coming to visit?”

Mitch looked at Scott, then back at the screen. “When is it hot tub weather?”

Avi’s smile was positively devilish. “Whenever you want it to be. It’s always hot in the tub. Take care, oh and use protection.” He winked and cut the call.

 

“Avi always acts so innocent but I think secretly he’s the worst,” Mitch observed, shaking his head.

“He’s not dead inside just because he’s a dad,” Scott said.

Mitch grinned. “He’s a daddy all right, perhaps you meant father?”

“Whatever. Parenthood isn’t the same as death.” Scott shut the laptop. “Shall we get some food now? I’m ravenous.”

 

Mitch decided not to press the subject. He was too giddy with happiness and he wanted to savour the moment.

“Food sounds good, and wine sounds better. And then you can respect me all night long.”

Mitch was thrilled by a firm squeeze to his thigh and he hummed with pleasure.

Scott whispered, “Oh I like the sound of that.”

And he knew they were all right.

Chapter Text

Scott greeted Candice with a huge embrace at her studio the next day. Rails of clothes lined the walls and high windows flooded the space with light. Full length mirrors stood in each corner and back to back in the centre of the room.

 

“Hello, darling. Are we forgiven yet?” He let go but caught both her hands and kissed one.

She peered behind him and pointed at Mitch, who was sipping coffee and looking innocent. “Maybe, but that boy there held out on me and I shall not soon forget. Rude.”

“Honey, your face was a picture.” Mitch arched a brow. “In fact I wish I’d taken one.”

“Hmm.” She gave him a stern look. Mitch gave her a brilliant smile in return.

 

“Well Scott, let me see you.”

He slipped his leather jacket off, revealing the long sleeved blue tee shirt Mitch bought him for Christmas.

Candice walked around him. “Like the tee, Alejjo is it?”

“Picked it up in Munich,” Mitch said, smiling at Scott.

She nodded. “That figures. Very nice lines as always Scott, you’ve been working out I see. We’ll need to accommodate those shoulders, but I have some ideas.”

Scott stared into space and tried to forget that two people were appraising him closely. It was just a fitting, he’d done this many times.

“You two are going to steal the show, I guarantee it. You’re disgustingly cute together, we just need to accentuate that.”

“Scott is perfect arm candy.” Mitch put his purse and denim jacket on a chair. “Let’s see what you have for us.”

 

The fitting flew by with lots of laughter, and by the time both Candice and Mitch were satisfied it was past lunchtime. Scott only half-listened to them arguing some minor point of style while his brain hummed. So much depended on getting this event just right.

 

In the car afterwards Scott concentrated on traffic. He jumped when Mitch put a hand on his thigh.

“You always look wonderful, babe. Strong and handsome and so masculine, I could eat you up at any given moment.”

“Yeah?” He didn’t take his eyes off the road. “Thank you.”

“You need to believe in yourself. I do.” He squeezed the thigh and let go.

 

“Ten days until the party, so I have time to get into better shape. I can—”

“Stop, Scott. Just stop. You look fabulous in anything. Or in nothing.” Mitch trailed his fingers up Scott’s inner thigh and he swallowed.

“Don’t, don’t distract me when I’m driving.”

“Okay but just know that Candice loves to dress you. You’re her own personal Ken doll because everything looks great on you. You’re blushing but it’s true.”

 

“You’re the fashion model, Mitchy. I like to keep fit, and tour’s coming.” His cheeks were hot and he was glad not to have to make eye contact.

“True, you are fit. I certainly reap the benefits of your stamina.” Mitch’s breathy tone was getting to Scott, reminding him of things he shouldn’t be thinking about while behind the wheel. And he didn’t like talking about how he looked.

 

“I am excited for this party though.” He shifted slightly in his seat. “Traffic is awful today.”

“Hmmm. We’ll take this up later. I’m looking forward to the red carpet for once. We’ll be seated with some fashion types, I hope that’ll be okay? You might not know many people.”

“I know you.” He glanced at Mitch. “That’s enough for me.”

 

Since the early days when Pentatonix went to events as nobodies knowing no-one, Scott had learned to navigate the celebrity landscape. He was better known now, and the opportunity to promote his brand alongside Mitch was golden. His management would be overjoyed, he was sure. They would both gain followers too, although he didn’t love the crazy that went with that.

 

He was so caught up in his own thoughts about numbers, and interviews, and what exactly he would say about Mitch, and whether to tweet again about the collaboration, that suddenly he was turning into his drive without remembering how he’d got there.

 

“Preoccupied much?”

Mitch’s soft voice pulled him out of his head. “Sorry, sorry, lots to think about.”

Scott drove into the garage and turned off the engine, then turned to face Mitch. As he opened his mouth to speak, soft lips pressed against his. He closed his eyes. This was real, this was certain.

 

“Let’s go inside and relax.” Mitch plucked the cups from the centre console and got out. He looked around at the vintage red Mustang and silver Mercedes G-wagen parked inside.

“Nice cars, and looks like there’s room for another.”

“Sure, I’ll get you a remote.” Scott led the way up to the ground level.

 

In the kitchen he stretched. “I gotta book for the chiro again.”

Mitch sipped coffee. “I can massage you.”

Scott saw his sly smile. “Yeah, just so you can tie me in knots.”

“Tie you up? Only if you want me to.”

“No, I didn’t mean that, I just – never mind.” He swallowed coffee, pacing, unable to quiet the thoughts jostling for space in his brain.

“Scott.”

“What?”

“You’re a little wound up. Come here.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“It wasn’t a request.”

Scott looked up then and found Mitch watching with open arms.

“Still waiting.”

Scott couldn’t explain why he felt so restless. Maybe he was tired after their nightly activities, or hungry, or worried about the party. He just didn’t know.

 

So he went and wrapped himself around Mitch, and let him rub his back. He inhaled unfamiliar cologne, nuzzled his neck and let himself relax. Strong arms held him close.

“I’ve got you,” Mitch murmured. “Let’s take this to the couch.”

 

They wound themselves together on the couch in silence. Scott slowed his breathing, and listened to Mitch humming. This was real.

 

When he opened his eyes again his stomach was rumbling and his back was sore.

“Hey, babe. Didn’t want to disturb you but my arm’s gone to sleep again.”

“Sorry, I’ll move – ow, my back.” Scott sat up and yawned. “Maybe not fall asleep on here in future.”

Mitch rubbed his arm. “You needed it. Go phone your chiropractor, and I should be going.”

“Going where?”

“Dinner with my agent, I did tell you. I need time to prepare. You’re free to eat your bodyweight in pizza if you wish, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Scott’s heart sank. “Why can’t you come back after?”

“Don’t you want a good night’s sleep for once? In a few days I’ll be here every night so enjoy a night to yourself while you can.”

 

Scott watched Mitch gather his bag and jacket and tried not to feel abandoned. He kissed him goodbye at the door, then went to his office with a fresh drink.

 

When he had made calls and answered emails, he sat on the deck with a bottle of water. Fresh air and ibuprofen helped, but the headache would not go away. He stretched and sat again, brain spinning. There was only one thing to do with this odd, twisted energy.

 

Scott pounded the treadmill. He counted his steps over and over. He punched the bag until he felt dizzy, then thoroughly stretched his back. Finally he stood, muscles quivering, while water poured over him. He breathed consciously, slowly, and let emotions ebb and flow. He remembered to observe, rather than numb or avoid his feelings. Taking up with Mitch had been all consuming, and he had forgotten his daily meditation practice.

 

By the time he was sprawled on his couch in sweatpants, limbs soft and all the knots loosened in his back, he was finally at ease. His diary was dotted with commitments, but there was plenty of time he could devote to Mitch. They could start seeing close friends as a couple, though needed to avoid being caught in any questionable situations until after the VF party.

 

He wanted the world to accept Mitch by his side, but he would have him there whatever the world said. He couldn’t imagine life any other way.

 

 

He woke with the shock of cold feet slipping between his calves. “Wha – wha’s happening?”

A body moulded itself to his back and a hand roamed his front before lacing fingers with his.

“I’m back. I missed my Scotty.”

Words whispered on his skin, soft kisses on his neck and shoulder.

“Hey baby. Was okay?”

“I am now.”

There was no space between them. Scott kissed his baby’s hand and smiled himself back to sleep.

 

**

 

In the following days Scott tested out a new routine, finding a balance between their schedules. It helped that Mitch was also busy with read-throughs and meetings. He resumed regular exercise but didn’t obsess over missing a session, and he set aside time for meditation. There was a lot of singing and a lot more sex.

 

Scott grew more excited as Wednesday drew closer. Mitch spent most of Tuesday afternoon at the apartment overseeing the packing of his precious wardrobe. Scott had already brought most of the personal items and papers across.

 

On Tuesday evening Scott arrived at the apartment with Starbucks and Thai takeout. He almost tripped over boxes stacked in the hallway.

“I come bearing gifts.”

“You’re a lifesaver.”

They finished the food in record time.

“I am exhausted,” Mitch said, dramatically swooning on the couch.

“It’s all done now though, they just have to bring your stuff and shove it all in the closets.”

“Less of the shoving, please. I’ve liked living here. I especially like that velvet couch.”

“You’re still sure though? About moving in.” Scott bit the inside of his lip. Putting the fear into words made it real.

 

Mitch sat up, nodding slowly. “You’re unsure. Is it not the right thing? I know it’s kinda soon but I thought…” He dropped his gaze to the floor.

Scott cycled rapidly through anxiety, shock, and then panic.

“Yes, yes it is, that came out wrong I’m sorry, I just want this to be, I want you to be happy.” He rushed over to Mitch and dropped to his knees in front of him. He took both his hands, kissed them.

“Fuck, please believe me. I have no doubts Mitchy, none.”

Mitch took a deep breath. “You had me worried there.” He looked at their hands. “I’m ready to do this, even though it’s now and not in like six months or a year.” Each quiet word dropped into the space that had opened up between them.

 

Scott’s chest constricted. “Shit, okay, we need to talk this through.”

He waited for Mitch to look at him, then smiled and squeezed his hands. The distress in his brown eyes hurt Scott’s heart. He had to fix things.

 

“I am one thousand percent certain. I want you to be happy and you must have some mixed feelings but I swear I don’t know what I would do without you. I just wanted to check in, am I making any sense at all? Please, Mitch.”

“I’m anxious too, and a bit tired. But I’m still sure.”

He blew out a long breath. “So I can kiss you then?”

Mitch smiled. “You’re such a gentleman. Sure you can. I’d like a lying down kiss please, cause mommy is pooped.”

Scott grinned back, relief washing away his anxiety. “I can do that.”

 

He picked Mitch up and carried him through to the bedroom. Mitch wrapped arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

“If you do that I might drop you.”

“Please don’t.”

He laid Mitch down gently and then lay facing him. “We will always talk, okay? We’ll talk and hash things out as soon as.”

“Good idea.” Mitch nodded. “Leaving the top off the toothpaste can lead to eventual murder, if not addressed in time.”

Scott smiled. “I always buy the pump ones. No top to lose.”

“That’s great but can we skip to the lying down kiss part now?” Mitch closed his eyes and stretched forward.

 

Scott put a hand on Mitch’s hip and pushed until Mitch tilted over. He moved across to kiss him, hand still lying on his hip. He claimed soft lips and allowed Mitch to pull him in deeper. He resisted the urge to climb on top and instead let Mitch explore with hands under his shirt, a thigh slotted between his in just the right position to drive him crazy.

 

Scott pulled away, breathless. “It’s time I was going. Early start for both of us.”

“Then it’s time I was coming.” Mitch rubbed Scott’s hand over his hard cock and sighed. “Tired but not dead.”

Scott chuckled. “If you insist, just so you sleep better. Strip off princess, let me see some skin. You won’t need prep for this.”

Mitch pouted. “But I’m so tired.”

“Fine.” Scott didn’t mind, and Mitch allowed himself to be manhandled out of his clothes. Soon they were both naked and Scott hovered over him.

“Time for a quick one. A little relaxation,” he kissed his neck, “because I don’t want to wear you out tonight.” He sucked gently on one nipple, and Mitch gasped. “When I have you in my bed I promise I will fuck you senseless, but tonight, just this.”

He kissed Mitch deeply and wrapped his hand around both their cocks, feeling Mitch shudder. “You’re as hard as I am.” He pumped them both slowly, nipping at Mitch’s sensitive spots he knew so well but without marking him.

“Don’t resist, don’t hold back, I won’t come till you do.”

 

He increased his speed and Mitch twisted fistfuls of sheet, throwing his head back. Every moan and cry increased the tension in Scott’s balls and he jerked them faster, his hand full of hard flesh and his own peak approaching.

 

Mitch groaned deep in his throat, arched his back, and opened his eyes.

“Scotty,” he breathed, looking straight at Scott before releasing.

Scott felt every pulse against himself, heat dripping against his skin. Mitch’s gaze pulled him in. He leaned forward and kissed him, control melting away in the intimate fire of connection. One more stroke and he gasped, coming with Mitch’s name on his lips.

 

Scott sank on top of his boy, letting go of their oversensitive flesh but still seeking contact. They lay together while their breathing returned to normal. Scott knew he should clean up and go home, but even this brief encounter made him question his decision.

 

The look in Mitch’s eyes when he said his name, when he came, was unforgettable. He’d glimpsed a flash of something rare, as though the clouds had parted for a moment. And it was wonderful, but it was gone.

 

“Really need to sleep now.” Mitch did sound about to crash, so Scott pulled him into the bathroom to clean up.

 

Tucked up in bed wearing a fresh tee shirt and boxers, Mitch half-opened his eyes. “You’re so good to me,” he mumbled.

“See you around ten. Sleep well.” Scott dropped a kiss on Mitch’s forehead and turned off the lights on his way out.

 

Scott drove home slowly, aware that he was tired and possibly distracted. Despite his anxieties, he wanted Mitch near because he was going off on location too soon. They were barely together, and they would be separated again. But who said life was fair? They were taking another step forward, and if life pressed pause, he was ready to wait.

 

**

 

Mitch startled awake when the alarm sounded. He allowed himself two minutes to luxuriate in his warm bed before getting in the walk-in shower. He made his last cup of coffee in the smart kitchen, and when the movers arrived he was ready.

 

The apartment had been more of a haven than he expected. It became a chrysalis, a safe space for him to turn himself inside out and regroup. It was time to emerge as a new creature. He was excited. He was terrified.

 

He oversaw the removal of his boxes and when the last one was loaded in the removal van, he came back and sat on the blue velvet couch. He ran his hand over its soft pile, remembering Scott lying there, laughing at something on his phone and calling him over to see. Good memories.

 

Mitch wandered into each room in turn, checked the nightstand drawer, and then left, closing the door quietly behind him for the final time.

 

He had thirty minutes behind the wheel of his rented car to prepare for walking into Scott’s house as – well, what exactly? Roommate seemed too juvenile, friend certainly didn’t cover it. Boyfriend was closest. He rolled the word around in his mind and tried it out aloud.

 

“I’m Scott Hoying’s boyfriend, partner, main squeeze, boy toy, lover, bandmate, honey, piece of ass. Scott Hoying owns this ass. I should get that on a tee shirt.” He chuckled to himself.

“The rumours are true, I’m Scott Hoying’s boo.” That really was juvenile.

“Scott is my boyfriend and his ass is mine.” Maybe one day. One night even. He filed that provocative thought away for later.

“Why yes, I am dating the Scott Hoying, be jealous bitch.”

 

He distracted himself with sassy comebacks, but his pulse still skipped as the moving truck turned into the drive. Why was the truck so big? He had hardly any stuff. He felt small, dwarfed by the scale of both the house and what he was about to do.

 

Mitch parked his car, stomach clenched with nerves. He walked up to the front door and patted his chest where the key hung warm and comforting under his hoodie. He should use it.

 

Before he could do anything Scott opened the door and flung it wide.

“You’re here, right on time too.” He engulfed Mitch in a hug. “I’m so excited I hardly slept last night, come in.”

Mitch walked in slowly, watching while Scott directed the movers to the second bedroom. There was an espresso waiting on the breakfast bar and he downed it in one. He could do this.

 

A few hours later his clothes filled the closets, his books and papers sat on a new desk in the corner of his bedroom, and Scott had found room for the cookware in his vast kitchen. Though he’d done very little physical work Mitch felt sweaty and grubby, and he sat at the kitchen table with a sigh.

 

“Tiring, isn’t it? Took forever when I moved in, even though it was just me. Mind you I did have a condo’s worth of stuff. “ Scott passed him iced water before finishing his own drink. “Are you really exhausted, because now everything’s done we could relax before dinner.”

“More than I thought. What’s this about dinner, are you cooking?”

“I wanted to welcome you so I arranged a thing.” Scott reached across the table and took Mitch’s hand. “Why don’t you have a shower and rest, and I’ll pick you up at eight?”

Mitch smiled. “What do you mean, I’m right next door.”

Scott looked very pleased with himself. “You’ll see. Just stay in your room till then and no peeking.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“You’re welcome. I’m going to my office now, see you later.” He got up and stretched.

Mitch watched him, intrigued despite himself. “Do I know where we’re going?”

“Oh yes. Wear something nice.” He went off, humming.

 

Mitch went up to the bedroom. His things scattered around gave the room a semi-familiar feel.

“My room,” he said aloud, looking at the garden below.

He set the alarm, showered and lay down. It still didn’t feel real.

 

Mitch’s phone woke him at six and he got out of bed feeling refreshed. The two hours before Scott collected him were precisely allotted to beautification. When he was done he dabbed the new fragrance on the hollow of his throat, behind his knees, and the inside of his wrists. He checked his reflection. The matte plum lip allied to smoky eyes was daring but alluring, and garnet studs completed the look.

Five minutes to go. His heart fluttered with excitement. He smoothed down his hair. Would Scott remember?

 

At exactly eight o’clock, he heard Scott clear his throat before tapping on the door.

“Come in,” he called, standing a little way back for full effect.

“Evening Mitchy – wow.” Scott put one hand to his mouth, eyes wide.

His hair waved precisely to the left, he wore small diamond ear studs, and the white and blue patterned shirt matched his eyes. Black dress pants and shoes completed his look.

He opened the door wide. “I always loved that top. You’re – wow. I’m literally speechless right now, you look exquisite.” He shook his head, smiling.

 

Mitch smiled, wider than he thought possible. “I’m glad you like it.” He twirled, showing off the sparkly black sweater with its open back. He always felt sexy wearing it. It was having the desired effect.

 

Scott stepped forward. “I want to touch that.”

“Of course you do.” Mitch held out his arms for Scott to run hands down both of them and then embrace him gently.

“So soft, but best of all I can just sneak in there,” he said. Large warm hands caressed Mitch’s spine, then slid around his ribs and waist. He gasped at the touch, and Scott pulled him close, kissing his neck. There was suddenly even less room in Mitch’s leather pants as he inhaled spicy cologne and felt warm breath on his neck.

“Princess, you are gorgeous.” Scott pulled back slightly and bit his lip. “Shit. Okay, I have thoughts, but I’m gonna hold those for later. Let’s go to dinner first.” He took Mitch’s hand and they went downstairs.

 

The lights were dimmed throughout the ground floor and music played though Mitch didn’t see any speakers. Scott ushered him into the kitchen. The table was set with white linen scattered with rose petals and a single scarlet rose in a vase. Tall crystal glasses sparkled in the light of rose scented tealights flickering everywhere.

“What – we’re eating here?”

Scott pulled out a chair. “Yes, a personal housewarming for the start of a new era. Please have a seat.”

Mitch sat down. “Thank you. This is beautiful.”

 

Scott took a bottle of champagne from the ice bucket and opened it. “We’ll have a toast and then spinach soufflés followed by almond chicken and fondant potatoes.”

“Sounds delectable.” Mitch accepted a glass of champagne.

Scott held up his glass. “To new beginnings, and to you. Mi casa is truly su casa now, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Mitch clinked glasses. How was Scott so wonderful? “To us. Thank you for inviting me. I am a very lucky girl.”

They drank, and then Scott served the first course.

 

Mitch enjoyed the food but he found himself examining every detail of Scott’s face. The contrasts between strong jawline and soft lips, deep blue eyes and pale freckles, controlled swoop of hair and careless laughter were endlessly fascinating.

They talked and laughed and finished the champagne. Scott opened a bottle of Chardonnay but Mitch nursed a single glass. He wanted to be fully present, and Scott had switched back to sparkling water.

 

After clearing the main course, Scott returned to the table. He listened to Mitch, never taking his eyes off him.

“You’re not saying much.” Mitch sipped wine.

“I’m enjoying listening to you. I talk too much sometimes.” His eyes flicked to Mitch’s lips and back. “Do you want dessert yet?”

Mitch traced a finger along the stem of his glass. “I guess it depends on what you have in mind.”

Scott grinned. “Nothing fancy. Just some fruit.”

“Sounds good.”

“Okay, close your eyes.”

Mitch shrugged and complied. He heard Scott open the fridge and then sit next to him.

 

“Open that wicked purple mouth.”

Mitch opened up. Cool chocolate touched his tongue briefly and he licked at the smooth surface. He smiled, knowing what was coming.

“You guessed it, I think.” Soft, low words sent a shiver down his neck.

Mitch closed his lips around the strawberry held in warm fingers. He bit into it and chewed. Cold sweet juices ran down his throat while the chocolate warmed and melted on his tongue. Fingers touched his lips and he swirled his tongue over fingertips.

He opened up again and chocolate was painted over his tongue, moving back and forth. He gave up trying to follow it and stayed still, closing his lips around the strawberry and nibbling at its tip. He sucked it into his mouth and crushed it for a hit of flavour.

 

Scott’s breath hitched. “If you could see yourself now. Bite this one. Show me your teeth.”

Warmer now, the fruit offered less resistance. Juice dribbled from the corner of Mitch’s mouth. He raised his hand to wipe it but Scott was quicker, his thumb rubbing along Mitch’s lower lip.

He needed to see Scott’s face. “Can I open my eyes now?”

“Sure.”

Mitch opened his eyes to see Scott licking the juice from his thumb, eyes dark and hungry. Heat exploded in the pit of his stomach.

“Fuck.” He wanted Scott on him and inside him.

Scott stood and pulled him to his feet. “God, I want you.”

“Yes,” Mitch breathed.

 

Scott pulled him closer and kissed him hard, tongue dominating, hands squeezing his ass and thighs slotted so they could grind on each other. Scott growled and attacked his neck, while his hands roamed and Mitch sighed. When Scott found his most sensitive spot he gasped as he bit and licked the skin. His knees trembled and Scott gripped him tight.

“Got you.”

Mitch melted with those hoarse words, and then he was weightless. Scott picked him with ease and Mitch wrapped an arm around his neck.

 

The bedroom was lit with vanilla scented tealights. Mitch was deposited on the bed moments before Scott was on him.

“Leather pants, sweet Jesus.” A big hand palmed his bulge, then pulled off his shoes and tossed them away. He didn’t care.

Scott ran his hand over butt and hips, up his abdomen and chest before pinching both nipples.

“You can’t look like that and not expect me to go wild.” Scott pushed up the sweater to suck at Mitch’s nipples.

Mitch arched his back and raised his arms above his head.

“Go wild, smear my lipstick.” He stared at Scott. “Wreck me, I’m yours.”

 

He hardly registered his clothes being removed. It seemed like a second later that Scott was lying naked on top of him, grinding him into the mattress as their cocks slid together. Then Scott’s weight lifted, replaced by bites on Mitch’s chest, his thigh, his inner arm. Sparks raced from one bite to the next, and then Scott kissed him, deep and greedy.

 

A slick finger pushed inside, and as Mitch relaxed a second and third joined it. He heard cries and moans, but didn’t know who made them. Bright spots burst in his vision when Scott grunted and curled his fingers. Pleasure flooded his brain.

 

“Just take me.” Mitch wanted Scott inside, filling him up, claiming him.

‘That’s right, that’s what you wanted.” Scott removed his fingers and cut off Mitch’s whine with a bruising kiss that left Mitch breathless and desperate.

 

“Messed your lipstick, gonna fuck you good.” Scott lined up and pressed his tip against him, hot and thick. Mitch wriggled but Scott shifted, tantalisingly close yet out of reach. He was almost ready to beg, but he bit the words back, waiting to see what Scott would do.

 

“Look at me, princess.” Scott’s tone was silky now, and irresistible.

Mitch opened his eyes. Scott bit his lower lip, hair falling over his forehead. The candlelight painted his face and the dark pools of his eyes in flickering shadows.

 

Scott buried himself slowly, giving Mitch the stretch he craved.

“I could have fucked you the first time I saw you. But I held back.”

Scott’s thumbs dug into Mitch’s hips but he stayed still, sweat beading on his forehead.

“I’m not holding back any more,” Scott panted. “You destroy my self control.” He lifted one ankle to his shoulder.

 

The first stroke took his breath away. His toes curled with the next and Mitch surrendered. Scott growled, driving into him over and over until time ceased to have meaning. Mitch’s world was the relentless glide of flesh and the tension coiling in his body higher with every brush against his spot.

“Touch yourself baby, wanna come now?”

Mitch gasped, wrapped his hand around his hard cock and cried out at the rush of heat in his balls.

“Show me, make me lose it.” Scott was breathless, and Mitch pumped himself only three times before he came all over his chest with a scream, still full of Scott.

“Jesus, fuck.” Scott peaked a moment later, grunting and rolling into Mitch for wave after wave.

“Scotty,” he slurred, body turned boneless and mouth not working right.

Scott pulled out and lay next to him. “Baby boy.” He kissed him. “You’re all I need.”

 

Mitch’s lip quivered. He still had no words. He rolled into the shelter of Scott’s arms. When he looked up, Scott’s face held everything. Tears pricked the back of his eyes and he closed them. Still he felt emotion radiating from Scott, inescapable and beautiful.

“It’s okay baby, I got you.” His tone was soft and deep,

“Scotty, tesoro.”

Scott’s embrace tightened and they lay together in a single tangle of limbs, drifting in a sea of joy.

 

Mitch fell asleep, holding on to his truth.

 

Chapter Text

 

Over the following days, Scott often found himself replaying that night. It was a miracle he had managed not to tear Mitch’s clothes off the moment he saw him in that sweater. It had starred in an ancient episode of Superfruit, at a time when their relationship was tactile but platonic.

 

The fans loved it when he put his hands on Mitch, and Scott rather liked feeling Mitch react to his touch when he slid his hands inside the open back. He was surprised Mitch had kept the sweater, he usually moved his clothes on after a season or two. He was anything but sentimental about fashion.

 

And wow, Mitch in makeup did strange things to his insides. Eyeliner and dark lips looked so good on her. All she needed were fangs to be the ultimate vampire wet dream, particularly with those thighs sheathed in black leather. Maybe he’d get her to recreate that look and take some photos, because damn.

 

Now Mitch really was his to touch and hold. He was having a hard time reining in his adoration, especially knowing Mitch would soon be away on set. Scott carried it like a precious secret, but worried his face gave him away in those moments when boundaries were down and words unguarded. Scott let Mitch behind the velvet rope without a second thought for hiding, always had. There seemed no lines left to cross, yet he was holding back, waiting.

 

Having Mitch writhing under him and around him, a fallen angel abandoned to lust, his lips smeared with purple and flushed skin covered with bites, was more than a man could take. The fact that he alone was allowed to take him made him happier still.

 

He would need these memories in the coming weeks.

 

On Friday, he posted to the Superfruit account, and watched the speculation grow.

 

@Sup3rfruit:            It’s been too quiet for too long. Time to break out the popcorn.

 

@hotsforhoying:        I TOLD YOU

@Scottishot:               what does that even mean

@hotsforhoying:        a video and a new song yeah boi

@scott_to_trot:           ???? But yeah #bringbackSuperfruit !!1!!1!

@hotsforhoying:        dunno but wasn’t Mitch G in a film? Popcorn for movies?

@Scottishot:               he’s in Italy #mitchycomehome

@hotsforhoying:        hey @mitchgrassi where are u now we miss u ♡

 

On Saturday morning, he liked hotsforhoying’s last tweet and followed her friends. They flailed and he smiled. Such a tiny gesture, yet it made people happy and that in turn made him happy.

 

@scotthoying:          So good to be back in the studio. Future number one? Hope so ♡

 

The Scotties went wild.

 

@Scottishot:               OMG it’s true they’re back i’m akdjsdhfsdjgk

@hotsforhoying         Post your fan art and edits of SH+MG and tag them #bringbackSuperfruit !! RT so they see it!

@scott_to_trot:           OK I was wrong… loving it *heart eyes*

 

He liked more tweets and followed a few people, then liked some particularly talented drawings of him and Mitch for good measure. The fans’ creativity always amazed him.

 

That evening they Skyped their parents together. As predicted, both mothers wept, beseeched them to come visit soon, and then agreed to meet up, all within the first ten minutes.

“They’re planning something,” Mitch said after they signed off.

“They’re happy for us, that’s the main thing.”

 

Scott felt pressured by expectation. They were only just together for God’s sake, couldn’t people be satisfied with that? He bit his tongue and said nothing to Mitch.

 

Mitch was busy during daytime, but the evenings were just for the two of them. They watched movies, cuddled, and Scott decided it was absolutely the wrong time for declarations of anything. He also restrained his biting in anticipation of red carpet moments. He probably cared more about showing marked skin than Mitch did, but seeing pictures cropped and zoomed and endlessly discussed was something he could do without.

 

On Saturday the twenty-fifth, they went out to dinner with friends. This time they sat side by side and Scott held Mitch’s right hand when he thought no-one was watching. Mitch was always on his left without having to discuss it, leaving both of them one hand free to eat and drink. Scott loved how naturally they navigated space together again. They came home early and enjoyed each other without hurry, falling asleep wrapped tight.

 

Life was beautiful, and time was against them.

 

On Sunday they woke slowly, sharing sleepy kisses. The day would be filled with preparation for the party, so Scott began by making coffee, leaving Mitch tucked up in bed.

“Here, drink this and go shower.” Scott put the cup on the nightstand and kissed Mitch on the cheek. “Gonna take a quick run.”

“Ugh, how are you so lively?” Mitch groaned and rolled on his back. “Mommy feels sore today.”

“Not even slightly sorry, you were fantastic as always.” Scott grinned as Mitch opened one eye. “Don’t pretend it wasn’t. I’m a happy boy.”

 

Scott watched Mitch sit up and drink his coffee. He was not a morning person, at least before coffee. He was a fascinating fusion of opposites. Strength and delicacy, exhibitionist and discreet, kind and cutting, friendly and reserved, all these described Mitch and barely expressed his contradictions.

 

Mitch put down his cup and stretched with feline grace. “You’re staring again.”

Scott snapped out of his trance. “Made me look again.” He laced his trainers. “Leaving before I get distracted. It’s a big day.”

Mitch smiled. “Don’t I know it.”

 

After his run, shower and meditation break, Scott answered emails. He’d been staring at the same screen for a few minutes when he gave up on work. Instead he went down to the music room and played piano. He was on his fourth song when Mitch slipped into the room. He walked over to the piano singing along. Scott’s nerves settled as they moved from one song to another. Mitch always kept up, added something new and made perfection look easy. Scott wondered how he’d survived so long without him.

 

“The beautification crew will be here soon.”

Mitch nodded. “I’m excited and nervous and I can’t wait.”

Scott went to the control panel by the door and started music playing. “Dance with me.”

Mitch laughed and shook his head. “It’s Sunday morning, we have a huge event later, the hairdresser will be here any minute, and you want to dance?”

 

Scott simply opened his arms, silently willing Mitch to come over. When he did, muttering under his breath but smiling, Scott gathered him up. He closed his eyes and they swayed together to a slow song. Mitch laid his head on Scott’s chest, and the world was entirely right.

“I wish we could stay like this.” Mitch wrapped his arms tighter, and Scott hummed.

“Don’t you agree?” Mitch pulled back to look up, all smiling eyes and beard scruff.

 

Scott didn’t hesitate. He released Mitch so he could cup his face in both hands and kiss him, putting all his mute emotions into this one connection. He broke for air and kissed Mitch again, because this was the one thing that his heart needed. Then he dotted little kisses on his cheeks before finding his lips yet again.

 

Scott pulled away, breathless. “You’re smiling.”

Mitch dimpled and Scott lost himself in fearless brown eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes then.”

“Yes to what?”

“Oh my God, you’re so blond today.”

Before Scott could answer the doorbell rang and Mitch shook his head. “Shall I get that?”

“Yes. And yes, I totally agree. One day soon.”

Mitch beamed at him before running off to the door. Scott heard him greet the hairdresser. He didn’t know why Mitch wanted to cut his hair again. He loved running his fingers through it.

 

Time moved on. They ate sushi for lunch and drank water. Mitch debated whether to use a little eyeliner, and eventually decided on a subtle smoky eye with nude lips.

 

Scott gave silent thanks that he wouldn’t be faced with the Goth siren who had pushed him to the brink of his restraint a few nights before. And he didn’t want anyone else seeing her either.

 

Candice arrived with their clothes, her red lipstick perfect as ever. “Boys, you look great already. Let’s get you suited up.”

 

Mitch wore Givenchy to honour his brand ambassador status. His black jacket featured deep red satin lapels finished with a pleated fringe that hung down, giving the effect of a scarf. A long line black satin shirt carried the same pleated hem, with a blood red rose corsage in place of a tie. The shirt had a sheer red back and red satin cuffs. Narrow pants and heeled maroon velvet boots embroidered with silver snakes finished the outfit. Black and red diamond clusters flashed in his ears.

 

He adjusted his split cuffs so that the white gold cufflinks were just visible.

 

“Sweetie, you’re stunning.” Candice sniffed his neck. “Is that your new cologne?”

“Yes it’s Dualité.” He turned and checked his reflection. “I’m not sure about the pleats.”

“Darling you look wonderful, and they’ll accentuate the swing of your hips, like we agreed. That’s traditionally a female thing, but you of course can work it.”

 

“That’s what duality is about, isn’t it?” Scott came into the bedroom buttoning his shirt. He stopped dead.

“Mitchy. You’re too gorgeous for words.”

He walked around Mitch, whistling. His fingers brushed the pleats. He didn’t know what else to say.

“I can’t smear your lipstick, but consider yourself kissed.”

Mitch blushed. “Thanks, babe. Loving your legs, but maybe put some pants on?”

It was Scott’s turn to blush, but Candice shooed him away.

“Out, out, I’ll be with you in a minute, and get your pants on.”

 

Scott returned to his bedroom, soon joined by Candice. His Gucci blue-black silk tuxedo with smooth lapels and waistband was lined in kingfisher blue. A pristine white shirt with a tall stand collar was set off by blue embroidery to the cuffs and white gold snake cufflinks with sapphire eyes.

 

In place of a bow tie, Candice used a simple length of indigo silk velvet ribbon, crossed at the front and fastened with a small red rose pin, echoing Mitch’s corsage. Diamond studs, shaved sides and the tallest, sharpest quiff completed his look.

 

“My God, you’re handsome.” She made minute adjustments to his cuffs and tie. “What do you think?”

Scott examined himself in the full-length mirrors. “Any man looks good in a suit.”

Candice scoffed. “Please. Only you look this good in this suit.” She brushed imaginary hairs off the lapel and smiled up at Scott. “You’re like seven feet tall, I love it.”

Scott did enjoy being tall, and he smiled back at her. "Thank you."

 

“You are indigo night, and this suit makes your eyes pop. And Mitchy, well, he’s dark and dangerous. But you’d know all about that.” She winked.

Scott felt his cheeks heat up, but he smirked back all the same. “No comment.”

Candice laughed. “Oh, I don’t need a comment honey, not when it’s written all over you.”

 

“Oh my.” Mitch walked in and stopped by the door. “What is this? Are you for real?” He came up to Scott and trailed his fingers along the velvet tie, then down one lapel.

Scott pressed his lips together. He thought he looked all right. “Is this okay?”

“Scotty you’re killing it. You’re killing me.” His voice dropped lower. “Because all I want to do is—”

 

“Oh no you don’t.” Candice clapped her hands. “Nobody is undressing anybody till after this party, got it?”

 

She waved Mitch away, but Scott did not miss the admiration in his eyes. He relaxed and smiled, happy that he met Mitch’s standards.

 

Candice snapped shot after shot on their phones before departing.

“You two are quite the couple. My work here is done. Now go, make mama proud.”

 

The rest of the evening was a blur, from posing on the red carpet with a thousand cameras to the wonderful food and snatched chats with celebrities, some of whom still rendered Scott star-struck that he was sharing an evening with these people.

 

He was hazy about who won what because he was fascinated by Mitch, talking and air-kissing with what seemed like hundreds of people. He was animated, punctuating his words with elegant hand movements, his smile brilliant. No-one in that room shone brighter in Scott’s eyes.

 

They held hands in the limo going home, happily silent. Scott had set his phone to silent, and he checked it. As expected, his notifications had exploded.

“Looks like Candice posted to Twitter and Insta.”

“It begins then?”

“Yeah.”

 

Scott undressed and hung his suit, removed his cufflinks and then helped Mitch with the corsage tie. He slipped the jacket from Mitch’s narrow shoulders and hung it, then turned back to find him waiting.

“Thank you for a most marvellous evening, Mr. Hoying.”

“Mr. Grassi, the pleasure was all mine.” He kissed Mitch’s hand, then looked up into smiling eyes.

“I wondered if you could help me out of these clothes?” He bit his lip, batted long lashes. “They’re so tight, especially just down here.” Mitch’s slender fingers lingered on his thigh and ghosted over his groin.

Scott didn’t need telling twice. “Sure.”

 

He removed the cufflinks, unbuttoned the shirt and left it hanging open. He dragged his fingertips down Mitch’s breastbone and abs, feeling muscles twitch under warm skin, smiling at the catch in his breath. Then Scott moved behind Mitch, admiring the sharp lines of his shoulder blades just visible through the sheer material.

 

“I like this new scent, it’s spicy and fruity and sexy.” He kissed the tattoo on the back of his neck and unbuttoned the waistband of his pants before placing his hands on Mitch’s waist.

“Do you know how absolutely stunning you are? I have no words to tell you…”

He laid his head on Mitch’s shoulder. He couldn’t speak.

 

“Babe?” Mitch turned and took his hands. “Scotty, words please. Shall we lie down for a bit or if—”

“Mitch.” Scott stared down at Mitch’s smoky lined eyes, their shades of brown with a darker ring around the iris. So much to see, if you got close enough.

 

“Mitch I - can’t.”

Shallow breaths. Heart beating out of his chest.

Mitch’s perfect brows drew together. “Can’t what, babe?”

 

“I can’t any more. I wanted so many times and I have to because you make me so happy.” He leaned in and kissed Mitch’s confused face. Words tripped against each other and he forced them out in the right order.

“Please, don’t freak out and run away. I can’t lose you again, you’re my whole world.” Scott took a deep breath.

 

“I love you.” He nodded. “I love you so much.”

Mitch froze. Time held its breath. “You do?” he whispered.

The last wall fell.

“I do. I keep wanting to say it and then I don’t want to scare you and please stay, I’ll wait as long—”

“Say it again.” He gripped Scott’s hands tighter.

Scott could do that. “I love you, Mitch Grassi.”

Mitch’s lip trembled. He reached up and wiped the tears from Scott’s cheek.

“Again.”

“I love you, Mitch Grassi.” The words danced on his tongue, free at last.

 

The man not known for crying put both hands to his mouth, brown eyes brimming.

 

“It’s okay, you don’t need to say anything. I needed to tell you, that’s all.” Scott smiled. He was relieved to finally say it out loud, to live his truth like he had promised.

 

Excitement and fear and passion swirled around them, but at the centre of the storm lay this simple, undeniable truth, a certainty that ran through every cell in his body. He loved Mitch.

 

Mitch gasped. “I – I…”

He grabbed Scott’s collar and pulled him down to kiss with a fierceness that took Scott by surprise. Then he unbuttoned Scott’s shirt with shaky hands.

 

“Prove it. Make love to me right now.” Mitch yanked the shirt off Scott and stripped. He left their fancy clothes in a heap on the floor and pulled him over to the bed.

 

“Do whatever you want with me.”

He lay back, his breathing rapid and lips parted. He clenched his fists keeping them away from his cock. Pink shaded his cheeks, and his eyes never left Scott. A little gasp slipped from his lips and he bit his lip again, this time radiating desire and need without challenge. Scott always found his love beautiful, but Mitch at this moment looked truly magnificent.

 

Scott straddled him. “All I want is to show you my love. I’ve waited forever to tell you. You are everything to me, baby boy, my whole world.”

 

He kissed Mitch softly, swallowing his answering moan, and scattered soft kisses all over his body. He prepped him with gentleness and whispered compliments against his inked skin, and then kissed away the goosebumps that bloomed in response.

 

Scott kept his mouth on Mitch, nipping skin lightly and sucking hard on a nipple, while his fingers worked in and out. He twisted his fingers and saw Mitch arch, his toes curled, as his keening wail filled the air. Scott had never heard a sound more beautiful. Desire spread white hot through his body and settled deep in his belly, his cock heavy and aching for release.

 

Mitch let go, his skin flushed, whispers and sighs tumbling from his lips.

Scott kissed him more. “Beautiful, my beautiful.”

“Please, Scott,” Mitch whispered. “Need you now.” When he tried to turn over, his limbs uncoordinated, Scott stopped him.

“No baby, let me see your gorgeous face.” He slid a pillow under Mitch’s hips then wrapped himself.

 

Mitch beat his fists on the bed. “Please, please.”

In answer Scott licked his shaft while stroking his balls. He teased the slit with the tip of his tongue until Mitch squealed, then buried himself in one smooth motion. They held still for several heartbeats, panting together, Scott’s low pitch mingling with Mitch’s sweet babbling.

“Love you,” Scott rumbled, tracing circles on Mitch’s hip with his thumbs.

 

Enveloped in heat, his ears filled with melodious cries, Scott gritted his teeth and held on to the last of his self-control. Mitch locked his ankles and pulled him even deeper. Mitch flexed his abs, rolled his hips and fucked himself on Scott’s cock in smooth glides, moaning and utterly abandoned.

 

Scott was transfixed, rock hard but nowhere near to coming, watching Mitch take his pleasure.

 

Mitch blinked. “Yes,” he breathed, and his body yielded all resistance.

Scott moved slowly, then with more speed as tension coiled tighter in his stomach. Mitch closed his eyes, neck muscles straining as he threw back his head and sang Scott’s name with each stroke. Then he locked gaze with Scott. Sweat beaded on his flushed face, his eyes dark pools in which to drown.

 

Scott was dizzy with lust, drunk with adoration. His rhythm never faltered. Time slowed, a pause between heartbeats.

Mitch urged him on with every stroke. “Scotty, yes baby, yes, I feel you.”

Scott’s orgasm exploded. His muscles trembled and he kept moving until the very last drop. He threw back his head and roared over Mitch’s soft voiced encouragement, asking for still more.

 

When Scott returned to reality, Mitch was gripping his own hard leaking cock. That wouldn’t do. Scott worked him rapidly, wanting nothing more than to see his baby come undone. Mitch’s neck muscles strained as he rode his sensual wave, sweat sheening his skin, spurting hot over his chest with a low pitched, rumbling sigh.

 

Scott barely found the strength to pull out before collapsing next to Mitch. Every muscle melted, all his bones crumbled in the afterglow. He linked their fingers.

 

“I adore you.”

Amore mio,” Mitch murmured, then turned to gaze into Scott’s eyes. “My love.”

Scott’s heart stopped. “What?”

Mitch stretched forward and kissed him. “I love you, Scott Hoying. I’m not afraid any more.” He kissed Scott’s hand. “My heart is yours.”

“Oh my God.” Scott wrapped himself around Mitch, shaking with disbelief and joy. “You do? You won’t leave me?”

His voice broke. His heart and soul were wide open, fearless and raw. “Mitchy, baby.”

“Going nowhere, babe.” The words muffled against his chest. “I won’t leave because you’re my home. You’re all I need.”

 

The final boundary dissolved as they flowed together. Scott wept, and Mitch held him, whispering words he didn’t know. His meaning was clear. Amore mio. Il mio cuore è tuo. Ti amo. My love. My heart is yours. I love you.

 

They rocked together, tearful and happy, finally aligned at the centre of one shared universe.

 

**

 

Mitch woke with a heavy arm over his waist and something firm between his ass cheeks. He nestled closer, but Scott didn’t stir. His heart was full. He had a wonderful man who adored him, a movie to shoot, new songs to sing, and a lovely home. The only thing he needed at that moment was coffee.

 

He came back to bed with two cups. Scott lay on his side with the sheet drawn up to his waist. Mitch set down the drinks and appreciated the strong curves of an upper arm outlined by inked flowers, large hand lightly clenched and hair scattered over his forehead. He was handsome, rumpled, perfect.

“Do I smell coffee?’ Scott rasped, eyes still closed.

“You certainly do.”

He opened one blue eye. “Angel.”

“I bet you say that to all the boys.”

“All what boys? You’re the only one.” He sat up and stretched, giving Mitch a superb view of broad chest and shoulders. “You’re naked.”
Mitch gasped. “No, really?” He posed with hands on hips and a pout. “Like it?”

“Always. C’mere.” Scott reached out and made grabby hands.

 

Mitch giggled and got back into bed. “How could I resist when you are so very attractive? Nope, don’t deny it. I don’t know why you doubt yourself sometimes, because you’re strong and sexy and soft and smooth and the sweetest. In fact all the S’s.”

Scott gathered him close. “If you say so,” he mumbled.

“I do say so, because I love you and it’s my job to tell you how – how strikingly sumptuous you are.” The words felt very natural in his mouth, and that pleased him greatly.

Scott squeezed him tighter.

“I didn’t dream that then,” he whispered. “I love you.” He let go and leaned back, smiling fondly.

His words and the light of his smile burst over Mitch like shooting stars, settling into his skin. They were part of him now.

 

Mitch reached forward and combed his fingers through soft blond hair. He traced a finger across Scott’s forehead, down his nose to his lips, to know his face by touch. “May I kiss you?”

Scott nodded. “Of course, any time.”

Mitch felt Scott smiling into the kiss. “Happy babe?”

“Here with you, yes.” He pulled Mitch down on top of him and they rolled around the big bed, kissing and touching and giggling until their coffee was cold.

 

Much later, showered and freshly caffeinated, they sat on the living room sofa, phones in hand.

“I suppose we should check social media.”

Scott sighed. “Have to do it sometime.”

 

Mitch examined pictures from the red carpet and admired Scott’s handsome face, his bright smile and the way he filled his sharp suit perfectly. He was a vision in blue-black, broad and tall and exuding star quality.

“Babe you killed it.”

Scott scrolled through his phone. “You looked completely gorgeous. Candice did a great job.”

“We look so good together though.” Mitch held up a photo Candice took on his phone. “I’m gonna post this one.” He added the caption ‘ready to slay’ and posted it on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Twitter exploded. Demands for facts were followed by demands for Superfruit to post a new video immediately, but in general fans were extremely positive. There were those who thought it was a publicity stunt, but they were shut down by an outpouring of love for the new couple. The hashtag #Scomicheisreal even trended briefly.

 

@hotsforhoying:                    I CALLED IT ASKDJFHDFH;KSK

@hotsforhoying:                    SCOMICHE IS REAL I REPEAT SCOMICHE IS REAL THIS IS NOT A DRILL #Scomicheisreal trend it!!

@scott_is_hot :                       happy tears ;-; all of the happy rn I was wrong and it’s beautiful #Scomicheisreal

@Scott_to_trot:                       happy crying emoji x10 did you see their suits? And they’re so in love aaaaaaahhhhhhh @mitchgrassi welcome home we missed u we wanna hear u sing

@hotsforhoying:                     @scotthoying your Scotties love you ♡♡ and Superfruities love you both @mitchgrassi ♡♡♡

@hotsforhoying:                     (collage of VF party shots) They are PERFECT #Scomicheisreal

 

“I guess this means we can go out in public together now.”

“Yeah. I got about a million messages, how about you?”

Mitch sighed. “Back to work, huh.” He kissed Scott and got up. “Let’s get to it.”

 

@Sup3rfruit:             where r u now @mitchgrassi

@mitchgrassi:           I’m right here

@Sup3rfruit:             where u been

@mitchgrassi:           making movies & stuff hbu

@Sup3rfruit:              waiting for u to come home ♡

 

@scotthoying:                       beyond excited to work with @mitchgrassi again!

@hotsforhoying:                     gonna make beautiful music together ♡♡ can’t wait

@scotthoying                        u know it, me too ♡

 

Mitch relaxed, scrolling through entertainment websites and social media. Their outfits were well received, the pictures looked fabulous and their individual follower numbers were climbing, as well as those for Superfruit. His agent was very happy and invited him to have lunch again soon.

 

He liked some tweets and had to admit he enjoyed the ripples it caused. He saw that he and Scott both liked hotsforhoying’s picture collage, leading to caps lock flailing and many retweets. The madness was okay from a safe distance, even if the shine would inevitably wear off.

 

His phone dinged with a text notification. It was from Scott, supposedly working in his office.

 

Scottyboy:                   they love you

Scottyboy:                   me too ♡

 

He replied:                 love you more ♥︎

 

And then he returned to answering emails, so that he could finish up and go show Scott exactly how he felt.

Chapter Text

 

It was the photo that did it. Scott and Mitch had a joint portrait taken at the Vanity Fair Oscars party, and it was shared endlessly by fans of Scott, Superfruit, PTX and Mitch to all social media.

 

Their colour choices stood out in a sea of men in black. But what stood out more was the obvious happiness on their faces, Scott’s hand resting on Mitch’s lower back and Mitch angled towards him. They were individuals who complemented each other perfectly.

 

The world went mad for Scömìche, together and individually. Mitch was bemused by a return to the kind of Twitter crazy he’d left far behind.

 

Then there was the delighted reaction of their friends and family, all of whom sent messages of congratulations. Mitch could not doubt how much they were loved. Everyone wanted to see them both, and everyone was disappointed to hear he was out of circulation after March third.

 

The reality was, he was leaving in a few days. There was no prospect of shooting a quality video in that time, but they squeezed in a visit to Endless Noise studios and recorded an acoustic version of one new song. In a throwback to earlier days it featured both of them and a keyboard against a black background. Mitch reveled in stripping the song down to its bones, and having Scott’s smooth baritone to ground his vocals. It was like the old days of Superfruit, another homecoming.

 

They spooned in bed together that night after a long tiring day. Mitch thought Scott was asleep, and he tried to breathe away the distress he felt whenever he thought of leaving. He really wanted to make this film but right then the price seemed too high. His coming departure hung over them like a cloud.

 

“You’re awake,” Scott whispered.

“Can’t sleep, thinking about stuff.”

“I know, same.”

“I don’t want to go.”

“You want to do this movie.” Scott kissed his shoulder. “It’s not so bad. Not like a world tour for practically the entire year.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Too tired to fuck. Shocker, I know.”

Mitch wiggled his butt. “That’s all I can manage right now but hold that thought.”

“We’re terrible.”

“We’re terribly tired. I still love you though.”

“Turn round and say that to my face.”

 

Mitch turned and threaded his leg between Scott’s. “I love you, Hoying.”

Scott kissed him. “Love you so much, Grassi. I kept it to myself—”

Mitch scoffed. “Hardly. Every time we fucked lately it was all over you.” He kissed him, lips lingering. “I could feel it.”

 

He had tried to deny what his heart knew without words. Scott could not conceal his truth in the bright afterglow of passion. Mitch pulled back, only so that he could sink again into eyes that held the sky and ocean and everything between.

 

Scott’s smile was bashful, and Mitch loved him. “Oops. I didn’t actually say it though. I’m an open book to you, huh.”

“Pretty much.” He paused. “What are we going to do for sex for two months?”

Scott shrugged. “Hook-ups and groupies for me I suppose – ow!”

Mitch punched his chest. “Bitch no. Just sexting with me. If I can find any time or energy. The days are so long, like sixteen hours sometimes.”

“I wish you were staying.” Scott sighed and rubbed his eyes. “But we’ll manage. We have to sleep now. Turn round baby.”

 

Mitch settled back into little spoon. They matched breaths until they both drifted off.

 

 

His limbs were warm and heavy when he woke, unsure of the time. A pinch of his left nipple sent a jolt through his body. A hand stroked his side, hip and thigh. Little nips to his neck made him shiver. He groaned when nips turned to bites and a hand grazed his cock twice.

“Awake yet?” Scott’s morning rasp opened a direct line of communication to his balls, and the answer was definitely affirmative.

 

He twisted and arched his back, now fully aware of hard flesh pressing against his butt.

“Not sure if I’m still dreaming.”

 

Mitch felt heat flash through his veins as Scott rubbed against him, rolled his nipple and groaned, sending vibrations through his chest. He was half asleep and half very much awake. He reached back and gripped a strong thigh.

Scott chuckled. “I wouldn’t fuck you while you slept, baby. Consent,” he licked along the shoulder blade, “is very, very important.”

“Oh… okay.” Mitch’s brain refused to get in gear, but his body knew exactly what to do, shifting so that hot erection sat between his ass cheeks and then sliding back.

Scott pulled Mitch on to his back. “Guess that’s a go, then.”

 

He pushed the covers away and hovered over Mitch, eyes dark. He sucked one nipple and stroked the other, then pulled away. He watched Mitch in silence for a moment, lips parted and breathing a little heavy.

“Shall I mark your pretty neck? Bite you just here?” Scott trailed one finger over Mitch’s personal hot button, and his hips twitched.

“Yes,” he breathed. “Yes Scott, yes.” They’d barely begun but his skin was on fire. He didn’t care what Scott did, could not have denied him anything at that moment.

 

Fear flickered in his chest at the sudden realisation of how much power Scott held over him. His body writhed with pure lust even as his brain fought his heart for control.

 

But this is Scott.

 

“What you waiting for?” Frustration was growing and Mitch didn’t know if this was part of the game.

Scott laid a warm palm on the centre of his chest. “I’ll take care of you princess, if you let me.”

Scott pushed back the hair falling over his forehead, his blue eyes sincere.

Mitch let the weight of Scott’s body and the truth of his love anchor him to here and now.

“Please make this worth waking up early for.” He raised an eyebrow.

Scott grinned and leaned forward. “I’ll try my hardest, baby.”

 

At his low tone, Mitch’s resistance drained away. He closed his eyes. Little bites made him twitch, each soothed by a soft kiss. Hands skimmed over his body, kneading his thighs, thumbs circling over his hips. For a moment he drifted, humming in contentment.

 

Scott attacked his neck, biting and sucking at his favourite spot. Mitch yelped in surprise. Hands spread his legs wide and long fingers explored inside. A stream of curses and whines fell from his lips. And then the fingers found his spot. Mitch squealed, his back arched and toes curled as white-hot pleasure surged through his veins.

 

Scott’s breath was hot on his ear, his voice ragged. “ Love you like this baby, out of your mind, so hot.”

Mitch could only make a garbled sound in response. He tried to grab the smooth sheets but found no purchase. Scott’s fingers worked their magic and his mouth was everywhere.

 

Mitch stroked his hard, leaking cock for only a moment before a strong hand pulled his wrist away.

“No,” Scott breathed. “Mine.”

Scott pinned Mitch’s wrist with one hand, continued his slow slide and curl with the other, and teased his slit with a hot tongue.

Mitch’s eyes flew open. “Fuck.” His breathing faltered.

Scott took him down into a volcano of sensation and the world stopped. 

 

A moment and a lifetime later he lay on his side with Scott filling him inside and enclosing him outside in strong arms and warm skin. Teeth nipped at his shoulder. Deep groans filled his ear. Muscles flexed against his back. Their left hands meshed, pressed against his chest. Scott moved faster. There were no words, no thoughts. Slicked with sweat, they moved as one.

“Fuck… close… gonna come with you sweetheart.” Scott rumbled in his ear and pumped his cock. The volcano consumed him.

 

Mitch found his voice, screaming Scott’s name as he came, each wave matched by Scott driving into him with a cry that rattled the air around them as they fell off the edge together.

 

Mitch came back to earth as Scott pulled out. He turned to face Scott and cupped his cheek. Raw devotion dazzled him.

Scott was breathless. “Love you forever baby.” He gulped air.

“I am yours, always.” He kissed Scott’s nose. All he wanted was to lie in his arms, preferably clean and dry.

“Come on, let’s get cleaned up.”

 

They stumbled through to the bathroom and brushed their teeth while the shower warmed up. Mitch waited until Scott finished washing his hair because he couldn’t hold his arms up that high for long. Then he washed every part of Scott’s skin, pressing kisses and nipping here and there so Scott didn’t fall asleep. Finally he gently washed the sleepy cock that gave him such pleasure and whispered his appreciation. When they were done he embraced Scott under the warm water, kissed him softly, told him he was beautiful. He hoped that he would believe it.

 

He had just enough brainpower left to set an alarm before they crawled back into bed and curled around each other, falling asleep without another word.

 

**

 

Scott hummed as he cooked bacon. He had already exercised and showered, and stretched out the niggles in his upper back. Mitch was yet to appear, and he wanted to have everything ready when he did. Blueberry pancakes made with almond flour suited them well, being both gluten free and high protein. He set out orange juice and syrup. The day was going great already.

 

He savoured the domesticity of breakfast together. Only two more days remained before his departure. They tiptoed round their shared elephant in a tacit agreement not to discuss it. Seeing the open suitcases half-filled with clothes in Mitch’s room chilled his heart, and he couldn’t take it. He fled back to his room, their room, with its rumpled bed and memories. He sat on the bed and told himself it would be fine, they would make it work, over and over like a mantra.

 

After breakfast they went separate ways for the day. Mitch had last-minute errands to run. Scott was meant to be songwriting, but his partner complained he was distracted and ended the session early. He didn’t mind. There would be plenty of time to write sad songs about loneliness and separation. Meantime, Mitch’s going away party was set to start with dinner with a fairly big group of friends, then move on to a club. He was looking forward to it.

 

Scott enjoyed dinner, but might not have chosen Underground. He couldn’t confess his reasons for avoiding the hot club of the moment, and so he found himself at the bar with bass thrumming in his chest and a strawberry martini in his hand. He scanned the lively crowd and sipped his drink.

 

Dancing was well under way but he felt no need to join in. He watched Mitch dance in a group of friends including Candice, wondering how soon he could take him home.

 

“Hello again handsome, wanna dance?”

Scott looked round at a dark haired man with an inviting smile.

“Hi, thanks, I’m just waiting for my friends.”

“You don’t remember me?” The man wagged a finger. “I would say I’m hurt, but to be fair you were pretty wasted. I’ll forgive you though if you buy me a drink.” He got very close to Scott.

“D - Daniel?” His heart sank but he mustered a professional smile. At least he guessed his name right.

Daniel grinned. “So I did leave an impression. Come on, dance with me.” He put his hand on Scott’s arm.

He leaned away. “I’m sorry about before, but I’m not—”

Mitch appeared on his other side, smiling widely. He didn’t acknowledge Daniel and pulled Scott down for a kiss. “Is this man bothering you, baby?”

“What man?” He spoke close to his ear. “Finish this drink and let’s get out of here.”

Mitch drained the martini in one long swallow. “Not before I grind all up on you and show everybody who you’re with.”

Daniel was already forgotten as Mitch pulled Scott to the dance floor.

 

They moved around to a current chart hit, nothing special, but upbeat. Mitch shimmied his hips and moved his arms gracefully, and teased his fingers down the front of his loose cream shirt. A deep vee of olive skin and a glimpse of tattoo was on show, and he toyed with the last button as if to undo it. He licked his lips. He was mesmerising.

 

The song changed, Scott grabbed Mitch’s narrow hips and turned him around. They’d done this many times in the distant past, drunkenly teasing each other but never going too far. Now Scott glued his crotch to Mitch’s ass and made sure he felt his arousal. Mitch dropped his head back, and Scott wasted no time nipping his neck and whispering filthy suggestions in his ear.

 

His balls tightened when Mitch ground against him, moaning shamelessly. Scott ran his hands over Mitch’s torso and rolled his hips, feeling his shudder, enjoying the fact that anyone could see them. Because he was the only one authorised to jump on Mitch Grassi. He was the one who would take him home and finish what they started on the dance floor.

 

Mitch agreed to leave after two more songs, and for Scott that was two songs too many.

 

It was inevitable, given Scott’s dislike of nasty club bathrooms, that he found himself vibrating with suppressed need as he denied the urge to jump Mitch in the cab. Not five minutes after shutting the front door Scott was on his knees with the aim of sucking Mitch off in the shortest possible time, his ears filled with beautiful, dirty whimpers and moans.

 

Ten minutes later Mitch was bent over the couch shouting encouragement with Scott pounding his ass. He gave Mitch the briefest prep while he ground on his hand and told him to hurry up and make him feel it. Scott bit his ear, his neck, growled into his mouth. He gave his boy what he begged for, what he’d been holding back since the first time he rubbed that sweet ass up on his cock in front of the whole club.

 

He forgot restraint, letting his orgasm hit with the speed and power of a runaway freight train and bellowing just as loud.

 

Thirty minutes after that they were tucked up in bed again, kissing and whispering sweet nothings. Mitch fell asleep first, cradled in Scott’s arms. It was, all in all, a good night.

 

Another day passed. Mitch finished packing. Scott cooked shrimp fettuccini for dinner. His years of travel had taught him that home-cooked food takes on legendary status after weeks on the road. He had a sudden urge to bake cookies to send with Mitch, but since his culinary skills did not extend that far he contented himself with buying the fanciest gluten free baked goods he could find. He tied the box with blue ribbon and slipped it into one case along with a couple of little gifts.

 

That final night he made love to his baby and cried. There could be no tears at the airport.

“I love you so much and I miss you already, Mitchy. You’re gonna steal every scene, I know it.”

“Thanks babe.” Mitch was hoarse. “I love you, always.”

Scott planted kisses on his cheeks and lips to match the ones he’d already left on every inch of his skin. “I’ll text you every day.”

Mitch sniffed. “I’ll call on my days off. Gonna need me some phone sex.”

Scott chuckled. “At least your ass will get a rest, right?”

“Whether I want it or not.” He tried to smile, but his eyes were sad.

“Yeah. We need to sleep now, so turn round, let me hold you.”

 

Scott spooned Mitch, memorising the weight of his body, the feel of his skin against his chest, his smell. It was a long time until Mitch’s breathing settled. Scott matched him, resting one hand over his heart.

 

He couldn’t resist the tug of sleep any longer, even though it brought a morning he didn’t want.

 

 

They were both quiet the next morning. Scott went out early for Starbucks. They breakfasted and watched each other drink and Scott imprinted every detail of Mitch’s presence. He let his gaze linger on soft hair, slender wrists and tattooed hands, olive skin and sensuous lips. The only thing missing was dimples, and they were unlikely to appear that day.

 

Scott loaded the cases and drove to the airport with Mitch’s hand resting on his thigh. The walk to departures was torture. He concentrated on rolling the two big cases while chatting about nothing. He watched Mitch check the cases and smile at the agent and take his boarding pass. He stood up straight and breathed softly and held his heart together.

 

“So.” He looked down at Mitch, standing within arm’s reach but too far away.

“So. I know you hate goodbyes, and I don’t want to leave.” Mitch’s eyes were glossy. “Don’t you dare kiss me.”

Scott shook his head. “I know people can see but—”

“I can’t.” Mitch pressed his lips together.

“Okay, baby boy. But we can hug, right? I have to hold you.”

“Mmhmm.” Mitch nodded and stepped closer.

 

Scott closed his eyes and wrapped his boy, tight enough to feel his irregular gasps of air, tight enough to reassure him that they were in fact unbreakable, tight enough so he didn’t collapse. He was a grown man and he certainly could not be weeping in public, for once the tears started they might not stop.

 

Scott inhaled the scent of cedarwood and rose he knew so well. Around them the bustle of travellers receded to a distant buzz. It was an eternity until their breathing synchronised and settled. It was not long enough.

 

“Enjoy Canada,” he murmured.

“I’ll try.” Mitch sounded small, but he pulled away and straightened his shoulders. The mask was in place, and Scott understood.

He kissed Mitch’s hand, smiled. “Stay in touch.”

 

He walked away, head held high because Mitch needed to see he was all right before going through security. He peeled his fragile weeping heart off his sleeve and hid it inside his chest. Mitch had left his prints all over it. And he needed that connection until Mitch returned to hold his heart again.

 

**

Mitch sat rigid, seatbelt fastened, face neutral. He watched the flight attendant demonstrate the safety features. He had been sad and angry and lonely on flights before. He had counted stripes and spots on hideous patterned velour, and downed vodka tonics to calm his nerves before.

 

He hadn’t felt this way before.

 

He was headed towards a few weeks of high-profile work. It was a job that he really wanted, one he had fought for. He respected the director and the principal actors. He believed in the story. He needed to place all that at the forefront of his mind. But for now, every mile and minute weighed heavy on his soul, because he was travelling away from his sunshine with only memories to sustain him.

 

How would he survive eight weeks, fifty-six days, thirteen hundred forty-four hours without the sanctuary of Scott’s arms? Scott would know just how much he disliked roughing it in a small trailer in the boonies. Scott would find a way to drag him out of his moods and make him laugh. Scott was everything, and it took just a few hours away for Mitch to realise what that meant.

 

He was completely fucked.

 

Later he settled into a hotel room in Vancouver, his base for the next two weeks before decamping to the lake for the outdoor shoot. He unpacked to occupy himself, and among his clothes found a bakery box tied with blue ribbon, a large brown envelope marked “NOT YET”, and a much larger padded bag marked “NOW”.

 

Intrigued, he shook the manila envelope. It seemed to contain papers or cards. He untied the ribbon and sniffed the baked goods inside the box. They looked delicious and smelled even better. He set that on the table.

 

He climbed on the bed with the padded bag. He emptied its contents beside him and went through the items one by one.

 

First was a red and black flannel that smelled of Scott and Gucci Guilty. He inhaled deeply and put it to one side. Then he found a silver photo frame with their Vanity Fair portrait.

“We fucking killed,” he said, placing it on the nightstand.

 

Next were several bars of his favourite brand of European chocolate, together with packs of vocal pastilles, a jar of organic honey, and herbal teabags. He had his own supplies, but Scott’s thoughtfulness blew him away.

 

Mitch saved what could be the best gift for last, a slim box wrapped in red paper. The tag was written in neat cursive.

 

for you, love S PS wait till I see you and we’ll open it together

 

Now Mitch was downright curious. He shook it but no clue. He would just have to wait until their FaceTime call later.

 

Meantime he texted Scott to say he’d arrived. He knew he was in meetings all day. Since the Vanity Fair party requests for interviews had multiplied, and he felt a little guilty for leaving Scott to face the media storm alone. He also knew that Scott had packed his diary so he could stay busy, and that was the best way to avoid brooding.

 

He had some time to kill and an early call the next morning. So he went out to explore a bit of the city, and take his mind off the nagging ache in his chest until he could call his man.

 

**

 

Mitch was looking at his script, Starbucks long finished, when the alarm sounded. He checked his face in the bathroom mirror, then settled against a pile of pillows in bed with the laptop.

“Hey, baby.”

“Hey yourself. Right on time too.” Mitch felt his anxiety ease as he smiled back at Scott.

“Of course, not a minute late. Everything okay with the room?”

“It’s fine, not going to see much of it anyway. I have a day off next Sunday and if past experience is anything to go by I will be sleeping one hundred percent of the time.”

 

They chatted about schedules. Mitch purposely drew it out, until Scott cracked.

“Did you unpack yet?”

Mitch laughed. “You lasted longer than I thought.”

Scott pouted. “Meanie.”

“Yes I did, thanks for the care packages. We look so good in that photo, and now I can relive it every morning. I already ate two cookies.”

“Is there anything else you need? I could have a package sent up, if you want.”

“Unless you’re in it, no. Talking of which, what’s in the red box?”

“You didn’t open it, did you?”

“No, look.” He held it up. “But what is it? You know I hate waiting.”

Scott grinned. “Sometime in the next twelve days, you can open it. But not till I tell you.”

It was Mitch’s turn to pout. “The tag says when I see you and I’m seeing you now. Why can’t I open it?”

Scott wagged a finger. “Nu-uh. No peeking. And shaking it won’t help.”

“You’re lucky I love you.” Mitch narrowed his eyes.

“Believe me I know.”

 

They talked for a few more minutes and then signed off with blown kisses. With eight straight days of filming ahead before his rest day Mitch needed sleep. He reset the alarm and returned to his script. He had a job to do, and he intended to give it one hundred percent.

Chapter Text

 

Scott closed the laptop with a sigh after their call. His house was too large and empty again. He poured a glass of iced water and sat at the kitchen table to drink it. He reminded himself that the joy of union was worth the pain of separation. Hadn’t he told Mitch that they wouldn’t be co-dependent like before? He just had to live the truth of those words.

 

Not even one day, and he was already pining.

 

Get a grip, Hoying.

 

He put some music on, then printed out his schedule for the month and spread the sheets on the table. Structure, that was the key. He filled in regular exercise and meditation sessions, added songwriting and business meetings, and frowned at the gaps.

 

While he wasn’t the social butterfly of younger days, he could do with seeing more of people. He pencilled in dinner and lunch dates with friends. Evenings and weekends would be too quiet unless he actively planned things to do.

 

Several texts and emails later, he had a mix of events arranged to keep him busy. And if solitude got too much, there was always the gym. It had been his safe space more often than he could count, and he wanted to keep the abs that Mitch enjoyed so much. That was one excellent reason to keep motivated.

 

Scott had roses delivered to Mitch on Monday with a note.

“break a leg, you got this, love S xx”

He texted each day, short messages about his day and encouraging words. They both looked forward to Skyping on Sunday.

 

On Saturday night Scott tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep. He knew from texts that Mitch had returned to his room late and tired. He would be asleep in seconds. He spread out in the big bed and slowed his breathing. He didn’t want to be tired for his call.

 

He woke early on Sunday. After ten minutes of meditation in which his mind jumped around, he took a quick shower. It was probably too soon, but he called anyway.

“Hello?”

“Mitchy it’s me, good morning.”

“Scott, the fuck? Way too early, bye—”

“No, don’t hang up baby, wanna see you.”

Mitch groaned. “Scott. Skype me later, please let me sleep now.”

Scott smiled at the sleepy, irritable voice. “I will, if you let me come in.”

“No, I want – what?”

“I’m here, open up.”

The dial tone was the only reply. He picked up his key card and phone and went out to knock on the door.

 

Mitch opened the door after a minute and pulled him inside. He scowled at Scott and pointed a finger at his chest.

“You’re sneaky. Now get in that bed, kiss me, and shut the fuck up so I can sleep.” He turned away and slipped back under the covers.

“Yes ma’am.”

Scott put out the ‘do not disturb’ sign, took off his sweatpants and went over to the bed. He leaned down and kissed Mitch’s forehead. He grunted in answer, eyes closed.

So that’s how it’s going to be.

Scott moulded himself to Mitch’s sleep-warm body and nuzzled his neck, putting an arm around him. Mitch relaxed against him with a sigh and linked fingers before falling instantly asleep.

“Missed you too,” Scott murmured. He closed his eyes and exhaled. Grumpy Mitch was still adorable. This was what he needed.

 

It was close to ten o’clock when he woke to an empty bed and the sound of running water. He found the room service menu and slid under the covers again to read it.

“Hey handsome.” Mitch reappeared with a towel wrapped round his waist, skin glowing and damp.

“Hey baby. Come on over here and say hello, then we can get room service or…” Scott trailed off as Mitch stalked towards him, sucking his forefinger.

“You’ve come to service me? Sounds delicious.” He stood by the bed and bit his lip. He smelled of citrus shower gel.

 

Scott looked up at his sly smile. This man would be the death of him, tracing one finger round a nipple and not even trying to hide his excitement. Scott sat on the edge of the bed, reached forward and loosened the towel. It slid to the floor.

“Hello,” Mitch whispered. His cock twitched.

Scott placed his hands on Mitch’s ass and squeezed, at the same time wrapping his lips around the head. A groan in response encouraged him. He gradually took Mitch into his mouth, feeling his butt tense as he fought the urge to thrust.

Scott pulled off and scratched his nails along damp skin. He spoke to hooded eyes and parted lips.

“Wanna fuck my mouth baby? You’d like that,” he growled. “Deep throat you till you’re ready to come, then let you pull out and shoot all over my face. You want that?”

“Fuck, yes…” Mitch closed his eyes as Scott licked pre-come from his slit, still gripping his ass cheeks.

Scott couldn’t quite believe the words coming out of his mouth. His own cock throbbed and every moan and whimper from his boy stoked the fire in his balls.

 

He stared up at Mitch before swallowing him down. The first thrusts were slow and shallow. Scott dug his fingertips into muscle, hummed around the hot weight filling his mouth, and sucked harder.

 

Mitch whined and cursed and found his rhythm. He tugged lightly on Scott’s hair, sending ripples down his spine. Scott matched his speed until the rhythm stuttered and Mitch began calling his name. He hollowed his cheeks around Mitch’s hard flesh.

“Scott I’m gonna please Scott…”

Scott waited until Mitch’s body tensed and his cock swelled, and as he felt the first pulse he pulled away and closed his eyes. Warm drops spattered his cheek and mouth as Mitch continued to chant his name.

“Fuck, Scott, so hot babe.” Mitch drew a finger along Scott’s cheek, wiping the white into his open mouth. He sucked the finger clean, gazing into Mitch’s eyes. Mitch was flushed and breathless, utterly beautiful.

 

“Did I do good, baby?” he asked innocently, eyes wide.

“You were fucking amazing, babe.” Mitch leaned down and kissed him. “Go wash your face and come back to me.”

“Okay.” Making his baby happy made him happy. It also made him hard.

 

On returning from the bathroom he was treated to the sight of Mitch naked on his back, working himself open. Scott’s mouth fell open as he watched slender fingers disappear inside while Mitch gasped.

“Almost ready, don’t wanna make you wait.”

“I can’t wait any more.” Scott wrapped and lubed up. The brief friction made him groan.

“Turn over.”

Mitch flipped on to all fours at the edge of the bed. “Like this?” He wiggled his ass.

“Just like that, I’m so ready for you baby, saved everything for you.”

 

He rubbed the head along Mitch’s crack. It felt good but desire won out and he plunged inside.

“Jesus, so tight.” He waited, taking shallow breaths, until Mitch sank back against him. Scott leaned forward, his kiss turning into a bite in the meat of Mitch’s shoulder.

Mitch yelped and his back dipped into an inviting curve. His tone was low and commanding. “Take what’s yours, daddy.”

Scott‘s blood burned. He pulled out till only the head remained, and felt Mitch clench around him. Any remaining restraint collapsed under a tidal wave of lust, carrying him on a relentless assault as he slammed into Mitch over and over.

Mitch dropped his head and the change of angle had him screaming, urging Scott on and winding up the tension. He was lost in sensation, ears filled with a harmony of groans and squeals and names and pleas while he chased his climax.

“So close, all yours, take it.”

Scott bellowed, emptying himself in pulse after pulse. A soft voice told him how strong, how incredible, how sexy he was, his anchor in a world aflame with pleasure.

 

Somehow Scott was lying on his back in bed again, vaguely aware of a warm cloth on his hands, face, and body. Then Mitch snuggled up and Scott wrapped himself around his baby.

“That was filthy and fantastic.” Mitch pecked his cheek.

Scott grinned. “I live to serve my queen,” he said. He reached forward for a sweet kiss. “I missed you so much, it’s not even funny.”

 

Saying it aloud made his heart skip a beat. He fell into dark eyes, clutched Mitch’s warm body closer.

 

“Scotty. I can’t believe you’re here.” Mitch spoke softly, his voice full of emotion. “I miss you too, but I try not to think about it too much. I keep busy.”

Scott nodded, unable to speak.

“We can do whatever you want. Or nothing. We can stay in bed all day and get room service.” Mitch kissed Scott and chased his lips as he pulled away. Mitch leaned in again and they kissed, tender and gentle, and their world was entirely right, orbiting in alignment.

 

“How can this be real?”

Scott didn’t realise he spoke out loud until Mitch answered.

“We’re here now, and maybe we couldn’t have travelled any other road, but we arrived, and that’s all that matters. You are my everything. I know that’s real.”

Mitch turned to let Scott spoon him. He took Scott’s hand and kissed each finger. “Sleep now, big boy. Mommy is exhausted.”

 

When they woke again Scott returned to his room to get dressed. It was too early in the season for cherry blossoms, but they wrapped up and went walking in Queen Elizabeth Park. The rain soon grew heavier and they escaped into the subtropical atmosphere of Bloedel Conservatory.

 

Macaws and parrots in bright plumage flew overhead, calling above the tropical flowers and plants. Scott drew Mitch behind a large oleander and sneaked a quick kiss before walking away, exclaiming how beautiful the wildlife was. Mitch blushed and tried to protest, but sneaked his hand into Scott’s for the remainder of their visit.

 

Thirty minutes later the sky cleared and Mitch dragged Scott outside.

“I thought I wouldn’t get to see the city view everyone said was so spectacular, blah blah.”

Scott nodded, looking down at Mitch. “My view is pretty amazing.”

Mitch raised one brow. “You’re not even looking.”

“Yes I am.”

Mitch held his gaze. “When did you get so smooth, Scotty?”

“When I got to call you mine, baby.”

A slow smile spread over Mitch’s face. Dimples appeared and Scott was lost. He really didn’t care about the view, or the city, or the gardens. All he wanted was the man in front of him. He wanted to kiss the blush from his cheeks, wrap him in his arms, and drag him back to bed for the short time that remained.

“I am yours. I’m also hungry.” Mitch glanced down at Scott’s mouth. “Take me back.”

 

**

 

“You know, this reminds me of that time we had room service dinner in Seattle.” The gluten free option had been surprisingly tasty, and Mitch poured himself another glass of wine.

Scott looked up from filling his face. “Really?”

Mitch hummed. “After we went to the dance performance, and you were giving me some bullshit about having a fat ass. I had to set you right.”

Scott looked uncertain. “Yeah.”

“But this time, I get to prove how you make me crazy.”

“Mitch—”

Mitch waved his glass. “Nope. I’ll tell you you’re beautiful until you believe me, then I’ll keep telling you because it’s true.”

 

Scott finished eating and put his plate on the trolley without answering. Mitch wondered what on earth had shaken Scott’s confidence. Could he really not see himself? After the shoot, he would make it his mission to change that. After the shoot, life would begin again.

 

Mitch sighed. “Babe, you’re gorgeous, the whole world agrees with me on that. Let’s cuddle and watch a movie for a bit.”

Scott relaxed. “Yes please.”

“And then I can open my present.”

“Your… oh. Oh yes.” Scott’s tone gave Mitch chills. Whatever was in the box must be good. Really good.

 

They were an hour into the movie when Scott shifted and sat up. He stretched. “I’m just gonna go get ready for bed.”

Mitch frowned. “It’s early yet.”

Scott whispered in his ear and goosebumps popped on his skin. Damn him and his sexy deep voice, getting him all excited. He loved it.

“It’s exactly the right time for your gift. Back soon.”

 

Mitch watched Scott leave. He should be resting, or learning his lines, or doing something other than lusting after this blond hunk of man.

Fuck that. And soon.

 

Mitch dived into the bathroom. Scott could get ready unnaturally quickly, and Mitch had preparations to make. He showered and shaved, then picked out some dark red boxers before applying a hint of pink vanilla flavoured lipgloss. He knew Scott liked it and there wasn’t time for a full face.

 

He left off his rose lotion and discarded his tee shirt before dotting cologne behind his knees and in the crook of his elbows. If the evening went how he hoped, Scott’s mouth would be all over the rest of his body. That thought made him half-hard, and he savoured the first stage of arousal with the knowledge that much more awaited him.

 

A text pinged.

 

Scottyboy:                   Ready?

 

Mitch replied:              Absolutely

 

Scott let himself in and dropped the two keycards on the table. Mitch watched him approach with a smile. He arranged himself cross-legged on the bed, the red gift box on his lap.

Scott’s gaze travelled from Mitch’s face to torso and back. “Not wearing too many clothes, baby. I’m not complaining.”

“Maybe there’s something to wear in this here box.” Mitch held it up.

“Let’s see shall we?” Scott mirrored Mitch’s position opposite him. “You can open it.”

“Finally.” Mitch tore the paper away and revealed a plain black box. He lifted the lid and gasped. “Oh my God.”

“Shall we play?”

That voice alone did things for Mitch, and the toy had him tingling with anticipation. Tee shaped with a longer slightly curved stem, it was sleek and black and mysterious.

 

Scott moved closer so their knees touched. He spoke in a low tone.

“It’s a prostate massager, for when I can’t be with you. But here’s the thing. It comes with an app, so we can test out and save your favourite patterns. Better yet I can control it using my phone.”

“You can get me off by remote control?” Mitch bit his lip. “That is superior sexting all right.”

Mitch met Scott’s intense stare. His pulse fluttered, and he fought the urge to lie back and surrender immediately.

 

Scott reached forward and took the massager, sweeping the box and paper off the bed. He kissed Mitch then placed a warm palm on the centre of his chest and pushed. Mitch let himself sink back onto the pillows. He lifted his hips to let Scott remove his single item of clothing and waited.

 

“Wanna remember how you look when I’m alone at night.”

He got up to get his phone and took pictures while Mitch shifted position, one arm raised and hips thrusting upwards a little. He felt desirable and powerful with Scott’s hungry gaze roaming his skin. He stared at the camera, trailing his left hand down his thigh, daring Scott to take what was his.

Scott hummed. “I cannot believe that you are mine, princess.”

Mitch opened his mouth to speak. No words came, only a little cry, a plea for more. And Scott answered the wordless question with a kiss that left Mitch in no doubt about who was in charge. Scott gripped his jaw and held his mouth wide open so he could plunder it, tongue thrusting deep in a promise of what was to come. Mitch responded, matching the movement with his own tongue before relaxing into acceptance.

 

Mitch half-opened his eyes when Scott pulled away. Scott stood by the bed, pulled the tee shirt over his head and tossed it aside. Mitch watched his broad chest rise and fall with each deep breath. He pulled down his sweatpants revealing white boxers whose purity contrasted with the hard cock clearly outlined within.

 

Mitch stared at Scott, strong and aroused without a trace of softness, and he wanted to touch himself but didn’t know if that was allowed. He was so very hard.

“Daddy,” he whispered.

“Yes, angel?”

“May I touch?”

Scott shook his head, unsmiling. “Only when I say.”

 

Mitch relaxed and closed his eyes. Firm strokes along his sides and limbs alternated with pinches to his nipples and nails dragged along his inner thighs. Scott’s mouth was on his neck, sucking and nipping. He swallowed a groan.

“Let me hear you, angel.”

“Scotty please.”

Warm hands gripped his thighs, kneading the muscles before spreading them wide, stroking from groin to ankle. He forgot what he was going to say.

“What a pretty view.” Scott’s voice was rough with desire.

 

Mitch squealed as a hot tongue licked his shaft from base to tip, lingering there a moment. He opened his eyes to a dark stare that turned into a hungry smile.

“I’ve got just the thing for you, look.”

Scott picked up the massager and coated it in lube. He tapped his phone and the toy hummed. “Now, we’ll begin.”

 

He started with one finger, at the same time resting the massager on Mitch’s thigh. He added another finger and held the toy against his balls. The frequency was low and pleasant, and Mitch sighed. For a moment he was empty and then the tip teased his entrance before pushing inside slowly, smaller than Scott but somehow more as well.

 

Instinctively he squeezed his eyes shut and flinched, then exhaled and relaxed.

Scott’s voice commanded him. “Touch yourself now. You know I like to watch.”

Mitch couldn’t reply. The vibrations seemed stronger. “Is it… did you…”

“Maybe I should touch you.”

Scott’s big hand wrapped around Mitch and pumped him as the massager found his prostate and he bucked upwards with a deep groan.

“Oh yes angel, that’s it, right there.”

 

His entire pelvis vibrated. The pleasure was almost too much to bear, and he was thankful that Scott let go of his cock. His hands closed and opened, his back arched, and his voice dropped to match the low throb of the toy. The pattern switched from constant to intermittent, Scott alternated nips and kisses to his skin, and Mitch drowned in multiple sensations.

 

Time had no meaning. Mitch opened his eyes and watched Scott’s mouth, not really hearing the words. He was wound so tight that one touch might send him over the edge. He tried to form words.

“Scott please need I want you fuck please…”

“Want you baby, so much.”

The massager withdrew, leaving his ass tingling. He turned over when told, legs shaking. Then Scott peppered his back with hot kisses before driving in.

“Mitchy,” he whispered.

Mitch sighed. This was what he needed, to join with Scott and feel him move, to chase their peak together.

 

He knew Scott was close when his hand closed around him. Pumped hard and fast, Mitch was swept away by twin centres of pleasure. His orgasm washed over him, and he was only dimly aware of Scott coming afterwards calling his name.

 

They collapsed onto the bed in a breathless, sweaty heap and Scott surrounded him in warm skin. He kissed the back of his neck and pressed a big hand to the centre of his chest, pulling him closer.

“Feel like I’ve melted.”

Scott chuckled. “That’s because you’re so hot.”

“Scott, oh my God.” He laced his fingers with Scott’s. “One minute strict Daddy, the next terrible dad jokes.”

Scott didn’t reply immediately. “Do you like it though?”

 

Mitch turned around. He combed fingers through floppy blond hair, traced them down his nose and along soft lips. He looked into the blue eyes that held the sky and the ocean and all the love in between.

“Scott. I love you more than chocolate. And I’ll take all of you, even your bad jokes.”

Scott smiled at that. “That’s a relief.”

“You are my everything. I can get through six weeks in a trailer in the back of beyond because I will come home to you.”

He didn’t do tears. They spilled down his face anyway.

“Look at me.” He sniffed. “You’ve completely fucked me up in every way. And that’s okay.”

“Really?” Scott wiped his thumb across both cheeks, his smile soft, radiating adoration.

Mitch felt his heart grow without bounds or limits, bigger than the chest that tried to enclose it, big enough to hold the man who owned it. “Really.”

“I love you too.”

 

Mitch stretched forward to kiss Scott. After that he pulled Scott into the shower, where they stood wrapped together while warm water fell and they forgot the world existed.

 

Back in bed, they spooned.

“Just hold me babe. Wake me up for round two later.”

“That’s exactly what I planned to do.”

“Perfect.” Mitch drifted into sleep, utterly content.

At some point during the night, Mitch woke to little bites on his shoulder and teasing strokes. Scott didn’t use the massager this time. He loved Mitch with his own body, bathed him in lustful adoration, and sent him to sleep again very happy.

 

It was much too early for the alarm to be going off. Only the smell of coffee made it marginally less unbearable.

“Hey baby. Rise and shine.”

Mitch groaned and hid his face. “Time‘s it?”

‘Time you were up for your early call.” Scott pulled the covers down. “Coffee.”

 

Mitch was forced to accept that it was in fact morning and he had to do things. He sat up, muttering curses.

“How are you up already?”

Scott sipped coffee. “Finish your drink, jump in shower, check your stuff for the day. You have to get going.”

“Shit, okay, just… wait a minute.” He stumbled into the bathroom.

 

He emerged feeling sadder and more awake. Scott stood up and opened his arms. Mitch laid his head against Scott’s heart and mirrored his actions, rubbing hands up and down his spine. Scott was big enough to hold him safe, and strong enough to let him go.

 

Mitch didn’t want to let go.

“I really didn’t expect you to visit but it was the best surprise.”

“Returning the favour.” Scott sounded husky. “Wanted to give you something to remember me by during the next few weeks.”

“Thanks babe. I am so lucky to have you.” He tilted his head up. “Do you—”

Scott cut him off with a tender kiss. “You’re welcome. And I think I’m the lucky one.”

They embraced, but too soon Scott disentangled himself gently. “You gotta go and slay your scenes. I love you always, and I’ll be in touch.” He kissed Mitch’s hand and left.

 

Mitch blew out a long breath. The black box sat on the nightstand and he tucked it into a drawer with a little smile. They’d had a wonderful interlude and there were definite possibilities for the future.

Now it was time to get back to work.

 

Chapter Text

 

The days went by. Mitch learned his lines, read books, and texted with Scott each evening before falling into bed. The weekend after Scott’s visit the production decamped to the Canadian wilderness and a basic but friendly hotel. He shared a trailer on location with a woman who was mercifully quiet behind the thin dividing wall. Noise cancelling headphones insulated him from the world when he wanted to escape.

 

Mitch despised roughing it, but he didn’t complain to anyone at work. He figured that if he ever made it to principal status he could bitch about everything. Until then he sucked it up. At night he fell asleep wearing the red and black flannel that smelled faintly of Scott.

 

On his day off he spoke with Scott. The massager proved a discreet fun way to maintain a connection. It was a lot quieter than Mitch himself, and he muffled his cries with a pillow when he had Scott in control of the vibe patterns and his voice in his ear, low and urgent.

 

After two weeks on location he was over it. Mitch made a mental note never to agree to work so far from civilisation again. At this point Scott told him to open the big envelope marked ‘NOT YET’. Inside he found smaller envelopes numbered from 1 to 30, and two marked ‘in case of emergency’. More than one for each day left of filming. He was quietly proud of holding out that long.

 

He opened the first one while on the phone with Scott. Inside was a photo of them as young boys grinning into the camera. On the back Scott’s neat script read I’m glad I met you. Mitch completely agreed with that, smiling at the delightful man that boy had become. It was the perfect starting point.

 

Mostly he opened one envelope before starting work, sitting with coffee and music in a calming ritual to begin a long and often trying day. There was a mix of photos through the years and postcards from their recent trips; the Space Needle in Seattle, Bloedel Gardens in Vancouver, Harry Potter World. The messages written on the back varied, but all were signed with a heart.

 

Beautiful

Remember this?

You slay queen

You are my angel

I miss you more

Can’t wait to see you

I love you always

 

Inevitably a really bad day happened. After a restless night of poor sleep, he hung around all day in case he was needed. His call never came. The director was ill tempered and demanding of the co-stars. Their pivotal scene needed so many takes that they lost the light.

 

Mitch screamed internally with frustration. He got wet in yet another rainstorm. There was no decent gluten free option for dinner and he ended up with an omelette. Again.

 

He couldn’t talk to Scott either, because he was out at some industry thing. He was cold and angry and he needed comfort goddamn it. He needed Scott.

 

He stomped back to his room, showered, and wrapped himself in Scott’s flannel that had almost lost his scent. He made some tea, and settled down with chocolate. When he felt calmer, he tore open emergency envelope #1. Instead of a photo he found a hand-written sheet.

 

When your day feels like it’s gone to hell

And there’s no-one close that you can tell

Your secrets to, remember you are not alone

Because I hold you in my heart always

Just know that I’m counting the days

Until we two embrace and you are back at home

 

Should be kissing you, but I’m missing you

Till you come back again and ease my pain

 

Tomorrow will be better

I love you, always    S xx

 

He put one hand to his mouth, pressing his lips together. He missed Scott so much at that moment, there was an actual pain in his chest that crushed his heart and made him gasp.

 

**

Scott kept himself occupied with work and social engagements. He worked out and spent at least ten minutes meditating daily. He even invited people for dinner and showed off his growing cooking skills, ignoring Candice’s sly comments about what a perfect house husband he’d make.

 

When Avi checked in, Scott cooed over Shira who was trying to crawl and sit up. Seeing her was bittersweet, leaving a mild ache that he didn’t analyse too closely. He worked on his movie score and his own music, and planned to publish the Superfruit video about two weeks before Mitch returned.

 

In interviews he smiled and confirmed that yes, Superfruit planned to release new music when Mitch was back from filming, and no, he didn’t have a firm date for that yet. But each interviewer who asked was met with a direct gaze and a direct answer.

 

“Yes, we are seeing each other as well as working together. We’re close and that’s all I want to say. I’m happy to talk about a new Superfruit video that’s coming in a few weeks, watch out for that.”

 

Even if he skirted round the personal questions, nobody with eyes could miss his soft expression when he mentioned Mitch.

 

That was more than enough for the gossip mill to kick into high gear. Their Vanity Fair appearance was dissected endlessly, but he didn’t mind. They looked magnificent, they were an item and the sooner people accepted that, the sooner the fuss would die down. His Scotties showered him with love and art and edits because they knew Mitch was away. It was all fine.

 

His bed was too large, but on rest days he called Mitch, fired up the app, and took pleasure in hearing his excitement as they got each other off. Being in control of Mitch’s soft pleading had definite appeal and partly satisfied the need for closeness and a physical connection.

 

When Scott was alone and unable to sleep, he looked at the photos from his last visit. Mitch regarded the camera without fear or reservation, glowing with desire, his hands luring the eye. He wondered again about a professional photo shoot, but then decided that some things were not to be shared with anyone else.

 

Scott was getting on more than reasonably well.

 

Then he came home to a voicemail.

 

He had spent the evening smiling at some awards do that the label wanted him to attend, checking the time frequently after the first hour. When at last he escaped, he planned to just fall into bed. He drank water and checked his messages. Mitch’s name came up on the caller ID and he smiled.

 

Hey Scotty, I had such a shitty day and I read the first emergency note and… I really wish you were here. You’re so thoughtful and it made me cry and smile at the same time. Does that make any sense? So anyway thank you. I love you, I miss you. Speak soon.

 

Scott sat staring at his phone. He replayed the message a few times, listening to the light voice, the little hesitations and pauses for air, until he knew it by heart. It was late. Mitch was probably asleep.

 

“Scotty, hi babe.” Scott was happy to hear the smile.

“Hey baby, hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No, not asleep yet. How was the thing?”

“It’s over now. How are you doing?”

“Not so bad since I ate some Ritter, everything’s better with chocolate.”

Scott chuckled. “That’s my girl. Was it really awful?”

He heard Mitch shift in bed. “I’ve been better.”

“Sorry about that. Wish I could cuddle you right now and kiss you and tell you tomorrow will be okay.” His voice was thick. He swallowed.

“I miss you,” he whispered.

“I just… it’ll be okay, I just wanted to say thank you for the song, I love it. I love you for writing it. Soft boy.”

Scott nodded, then remembered Mitch couldn’t see him. “But I’m your soft boy.”

“Correct.” Mitch sighed. “So done today and I still can’t relax.”

“Maybe I can help.”

“Scott, I’m much too tired for—”

“No, not that. I’ll sing something, and when you get sleepy just hang up, I won’t mind.”

“I’d like that.” The quiet defeat in his voice hurt Scott’s heart.

 

He began with a Superfruit song, and transitioned into his go-to lullaby. Written years before for his adored nephew Landon and originally sung by Avi, the song soothed Scott as much as he hoped it soothed his listener. He was almost at the end when he heard Mitch whisper.

“G’night darling.”

“Love you.” The dial tone greeted him, and he rubbed his eyes.

 

It hit him then in full force. He couldn’t be there, even when his heart yearned to comfort Mitch. He took deep breaths. He had done what he could, and it would have to be enough. For now.

 

In the end he ran five miles before he could settle. He went to bed and fell asleep with Mitch’s voice in his headphones. Mitch stood in the recording booth, eyes closed, singing one half of a duet. He opened his eyes and beckoned Scott to join him. Scott stood up from the mixing desk and walked to the booth. He reached for Mitch’s outstretched hand. Almost there.

 

He woke sprawled across an empty bed with the alarm beeping, somehow comforted by his dream.

 

Only two weeks remained until he saw Mitch again. It was time to post the acoustic Superfruit video of Stars. After breakfast he watched it again. The bridge could probably be improved, but he was happy with what they had achieved in the short time available.

 

Scott hit publish and sat back to await reactions. Positive, negative or neutral wouldn’t faze him. He had absolute confidence in their work together and in his Mitchy.

 

Let’s drive up to the hills

Look down on the city

Where the air is still

All the lights so pretty

 

Stars in your eyes, shine brighter than stars in the sky

Hold me tight in the moonlight

 

Let’s gaze up at the sky

As we lay side by side

Moon bright in midnight blue

But all I see is you

 

Stars in your eyes, shine brighter than stars in the sky

Hold me tight in the moonlight

 

So beautiful, I can’t breathe

So wonderful, never wanna leave

 

Stars in your eyes, shine brighter than stars in the sky

Hold me tight in the moonlight

 

 

Scott was genuinely surprised by the positive reaction, with the video being shared by long-time fans of Superfruit and PTX as well as Kevin, Avi and Kirstie. The bandmates congratulated the duo on Twitter and joined in the hype about a forthcoming album, and Scott responded with gratitude. He had plenty of material to choose from. He just needed to hear that angel voice in person again, soon.

 

@hotsforhoying:   omg omg so beautiful LOVE LOVE LOVE I just *crying emojis*

@Scottishot:         ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡ did u see them did u seE THEM DID U

@Scott_to_trot:     one death to go please ♡♡♡

@hotsforhoying:   @scotthoying go get ur boy. show him the stars.

 

The days ticked down. The views went up. The Scotties flailed. Scott ran, meditated, wrote music, ate clean.

Almost there.

 

**

Mitch hated flying alone. The only reason he looked forward to this afternoon flight was that it brought him back to his baby. He gritted his teeth through take-off, landing, and baggage reclaim. With his heavy carry-on slung across his back, he dragged his two rolling cases through the final automatic door and looked around Arrivals for the familiar blond quiff.

 

When a uniformed driver approached with “M GRASSI” on his tablet, Mitch chose not to weep or scream. It was a close run thing, but he was always professional.

“Mr. Grassi? Mr Hoying sent me. I’m Victor your driver, please allow me to take your bags.”

“Thank you.” He hid his disappointment that Scott had not after all managed to rearrange his meeting at the record label.

 

Mitch relinquished the big cases with relief, but rummaged through the carry-on for his phone before handing it over. He followed the driver out to a waiting limo with tinted windows. That was a very welcome sight. He wanted to be home and in a hot shower and in Scott’s arms in rapid succession. Victor stowed the bags in the trunk and opened the rear door. Mitch was already texting.

 

“Hello Mitchy.”

He almost dropped his phone. “Scott? The fuck?”

Scott chuckled. “Happy to see you too. Now get in here.”

Mitch slid inside and the door slammed shut behind him as long arms dragged him close and Scott kissed his forehead.

“Hope the flight was okay,” he murmured.

 

Mitch screwed his eyes shut, inhaling Scott and locking his arms around his waist. He didn’t trust his voice. The car was moving, and Scott rocked him gently. The partition rolled up before clicking shut.

“I thought – I thought you hadn’t come after all.”

“You know I will always come for you, baby. In every way.” Scott’s grip tightened.

“How could I stay away? It’s been literally weeks.”

 

Mitch lifted his head from trying to burrow into Scott’s chest. He looked up into the smiling face he loved so well. Soft lips touched his for a moment before pulling away, almost hesitant. Mitch’s eyes fluttered shut and he chased those lips. They both smiled into the kiss, and continued their gentle hello with Mitch pressing forward, then holding still to accept Scott’s answer. It was a sweet exchange.

 

Mitch angled his body towards Scott, and when one hand ran down his side, over his hips to his thigh, he gasped. Scott’s tongue plunged into his open mouth and took control, while his hands roamed everywhere within reach. Almost everywhere.

 

Mitch’s skin caught fire. He moaned and his head fell back, allowing Scott access to his neck. He finished with a soft kiss to his most sensitive spot, leaving Mitch purring.

 

“I missed you,” he whispered against Mitch’s skin, and he shivered. “So much. Did you miss me too?”

“Yes,” he breathed. Scott’s lips, his low tone, his hot breath made it difficult to focus.

“Would you let me touch you, right now? I bet you would. Let me touch you and kiss you,” he nipped Mitch’s neck, “anywhere.”

Mitch squirmed and whimpered. Desire swirled round his brain. A strong hand gripped his thigh, holding him still.

“Don’t worry, Victor can’t see or hear us. Even if he could, he’s paid to be discreet.” The words rumbled in his ear. “Maybe you’d like him to hear how desperate you sound.”

 

Mitch made a strangled noise, which Scott swallowed with another demanding kiss, sucking on his bottom lip. He tasted of peppermint and smelled of Guilty and Mitch wanted him.

“So, you’d let me do it?” he whispered.

Mitch had one hand on Scott’s thigh, feeling the muscle tense and move. “You know the answer,” he managed to reply.

“Baby.” Scott pulled away, leaving Mitch panting. “I need to hear it. I need you to say it.” He squeezed Mitch’s thigh.

Mitch took two deep breaths. “Yes, always. But first I need a shower.” He sat back, pants tight and lips tingling, and tried to collect his thoughts.

 

Scott clasped his hands in his lap, quite composed, and smiled. “Okay then. What do you want to do tonight? We can order in, or go out if you’re craving the civilised world again. Or I can cook something, your choice.”

Mitch had a very good idea of what he wanted to eat, but he decided to let the temperature cool a little.

“Shall we go out? Somewhere quietish? Maybe Guido has a table.”

“Scarpaldi? I liked that place. Oh, we’re nearly home.”

 

With the bags safely deposited in the hallway and the door closed behind Victor, Mitch exhaled. He was home again. He hung his coat in the closet. The heat in his veins had settled to a warm buzz.

Scott stood in front of him. “Good to be home? I’m glad you’re back.”

“Scott.” He took his hand. “Thanks for the ride home. It was unexpectedly pleasurable, to say the least.”

Scott smiled smugly. “I aim to please, angel. Do you need any, um, help in the shower?”

Mitch shook his head. “I don’t strictly need any help, but I am happy to accept it if you – whoa!”

Suddenly he was weightless as Scott scooped him up easily and carried him upstairs.

 

Mitch didn’t object to Scott manhandling him out of his clothes. He watched Scott strip, admiring for the umpteenth time his inked biceps and endless smooth skin over strong thighs and abs. He was half-hard and luscious.

“Do you want to go first?”

Mitch appreciated that Scott remembered his shower trouble, though it was much less prominent than it had been. “Together.”

Scott grinned and led him to the bathroom.

 

In the shower Mitch luxuriated in steamy heat and hot water streaming around them as Scott massaged his scalp with strong fingers and circular motions. It felt so good, and wet slippery hands everywhere were even better. He stepped out of the shower feeling a little wobbly, grateful for the warm towel wrapped around him.

“Okay, you can lie down.”

Mitch was only hazily aware of the towel wiping water from his skin gently, an occasional kiss dotted on his skin and finally his lips. He relaxed, warm and content.

 

Mitch woke disoriented, warm but alone in a big bed, whose bed? He opened one eye and tried to remember. His phone sat charging on the nightstand. He turned over. The faintest trace of citrus and musk calmed the momentary anxiety in his gut. He was home.

 

He wandered downstairs barefoot and located Scott in his office.

He turned in his chair. “Hey baby, good sleep?”

Mitch rubbed his eyes. “Must have been. I was in the shower, and now I’m here.”

Scott patted his lap. “Come over here and say hello.”

Mitch walked over to stand in front of Scott. “Are you working?”

“Not now. Sit.” He tugged on the loose sleeve. “You like my flannels way too much.”

Mitch sat across strong thighs and wiggled. “Hush, you like me in your shirts. Don’t even lie.”

Scott started, “Well I—”

 

Mitch placed his palms on Scott’s jaw and kissed him thoroughly. He took his time. There wasn’t room in the chair to straddle Scott so he rocked his hips until Scott’s arousal pressed against his thigh. He broke away for air.

“Hello,” he breathed in Scott’s ear.

Scott sighed. “Hello baby. I didn’t book a table anywhere.”

“Good.”

“Do you want to order or shall I cook something real quick? You must be sick of hotel omelettes.”

“Gluten free pizza would be heaven right now, then we can cuddle in front of a movie neither of us is watching, before one of us falls asleep.”

“Or jumps the other.” Scott nuzzled his neck.

Mitch giggled. “There’s another option. I am well rested, as it happens.” He stood up. “Let’s go order.”

 

Some time later he curled against Scott, safe and secure. He seemed to be watching the movie, but Mitch watched him, relearning the angles of his jaw and nose, the length of pale lashes, the density of his sandy beard, the rhythm of the pulse beating at his throat.

“Why are you looking at me?”

“I’m so glad to be home.” He slipped a hand under Scott’s tee shirt and rubbed circles, staying in safe territory. The muscles twitched under his hand.

“That’s nice.”

“I’d rather be naughty.” He rolled one nipple until it hardened and Scott exhaled sharply.

“A very tempting offer, but shouldn’t you rest?”

“I did. Now I need to be fucked. By you.” He lifted the tee shirt and fastened his lips around the nipple, sucking until a groan escaped Scott’s throat.

“I – won’t do that.”

“No?” Mitch sat up, disappointed. “Why not?”

Scott kissed him on the cheek. “I want to love you tonight. After that, I am very ready to fuck you senseless. Please let me have this.”

 

Mitch paused, gazing at the sincerity in Scott’s face. He was never afraid to speak plainly about what he wanted. At the same time he wanted to Scott to be happy, and the words mattered.

“Anything, babe. I’m yours, you know that.”

“Get ready, sweetheart. Be right there.”

 

Mitch got up and walked away with a little sway. He turned as he reached the stairs. Scott was watching, so he dipped his head and bit his lip before making his way up, stripping off the shirt as he went.

 

Scott came out of the bathroom, muscular and hard, eyes dark. “Miss me?”

Mitch beckoned him over. “Only every night.”

“Even when we played with the toy?” He lay down next to Mitch.

“Especially then.” He trailed fingertips from Scott’s groin to his inner thigh until he trembled. “No toy compares to you. No one makes me feel the way you do.”

 

He raised up on one elbow and looked Scott up and down, drinking in his masculine beauty and power. He put one hand on Scott’s heart, beating steadily under the rise and fall of his chest.

“This. This is my favourite part of you. Oh, you’re tall and broad and handsome, no question. You’re sexy. You can sing. Your cock is magnificent, and you sure know how to use it.”

Scott blushed and looked away.

“Scott. Look at me.”

Scott turned those blue eyes on Mitch, and his heart took flight. The words came easy.

“But those are not the most important things. You have the biggest heart. You’re kind, and loyal, and thoughtful, and generous. And if it all ends tomorrow, all the fame and fortune, we can buy a little house somewhere and I’d be happy with you, because I love you.”

 

Scott’s eyes shone with tears, but Mitch went on.

“I am the luckiest, because you share your wonderful heart with me. And I missed that every day.” His voice trailed away.

Scot pulled him down and surrounded him, like he wanted and needed. Mitch couldn’t say any more. Scott gulped air, and Mitch felt his heartbeat, racing away.

 

Scott rolled them over so that he looked down on Mitch. “I love you, Mitch Grassi. I want to see your face when I make love to you.” He reached for Mitch and gave him three long strokes. “I wanna hear you.”

Mitch sighed and let his arms fall by his sides, powerless to resist. “Yes.”

 

Scott covered his skin in hot kisses. He sprawled on top, overwhelming him with skin contact, letting his weight press Mitch into the bed. Slick fingers worked their magic while his tongue owned Mitch’s mouth. A curl of those fingers found the spot that arched Mitch’s back and curled his toes.

 

His cries crept up the scale and soared along with the tension growing in his balls. Sweat prickled on his forehead, his skin burned. He wanted Scott, needed to feel him.

“Scott.”

“Yes, angel?”

“Please, I need you.”

Scott kissed his mouth, then trailed kisses all the way down. When he took the head into his mouth, Mitch keened and begged. The mouth disappeared and Mitch lifted his knees, opening himself up.

 

Scott sank slowly. Mitch gave himself over to the leisurely stretch and fullness until Scott stopped moving. This was everything he wanted; union with the one he loved.

He opened his eyes and locked gaze with Scott.

“Yours.”

 

Scott started with slow strokes, then shifted angle slightly. Mitch’s eyes rolled back in his head, no sound escaped his throat, and Scott pressed his thighs back and drilled into him at a blistering pace. The glide and slap of flesh against flesh was all consuming.

 

He let go to pump Mitch’s cock, sweeping away his last coherent thought in a rising tide of pleasure. Mitch found his voice again and coated his chest with a scream, while Scott worked him through his peak.

 

Mitch watched Scott, face flushed with exertion and eyes closed as he chased his own peak. He was magnificent.

“Scotty, take it, make me feel it,” he croaked, hoarse from screaming. “Look at me.”

Scott’s eyes flew open.

“Love you.”

Scott shuddered, swelled, and roared. His body rolled into Mitch for wave after wave, until he pulled out and collapsed in one movement. He pressed his forehead against Mitch’s while he caught his breath, then bathed Mitch in a smile of unfiltered adoration.

 

They traded whispered endearments until Mitch got up. He washed away the aftermath so they could cuddle together, skin to skin, hearts beating in step. He fell asleep in the arms of his Scott. Mio tutto, bel ragazzo, tesoro. My everything, my handsome boy, my darling.

Chapter Text

Scott felt he had his right arm back once Mitch returned. He had worked hard during his absence so that he was free to spend time with him. They wrote more music, sang, and went out together. When they were spotted by Pentatonix fans outside Starbucks, they smiled and signed autographs.

 

They drew the line at the bold request to kiss on camera, but the fan photo of their joined hands quickly went viral, at least in their corner of Twitter and Instagram. Mitch allowed that it was a romantic shot, expressive without being intrusive. Scott said nothing, but saved the picture to his phone.

 

Scott didn’t even mind being teased by his former bandmates. He knew they were ecstatically happy for them both. Avi mentioned the hot tub in every call. Kevin talked about time passing. Kirstie retweeted the holding hands photo with heart emojis.

 

Esther smiled knowingly but refrained from saying I told you so when he FaceTimed her. After all, his princess deserved a fortieth birthday party even more fabulous than his own.

 

Springtime saw them in New York, working with talented songwriters Zarina May and George Konstantin. Scott’s third album was almost complete but the Superfruit album needed more tracks, and collaboration was the way to go. They were happy and busy.

 

A nostalgic trip to the top of the Empire State building reminded them of the days when Pentatonix owned Christmas and sang for the switching on of lights and department store windows, Christmas parades, and TV specials. They looked out over the city and Scott placed a hand on Mitch’s back, smiling as he leaned against him just a fraction. So many good memories.

 

Scott took Mitch to MOMA and Central Park for inspiration, La Esquina Corner Deli for food, and Fifth Avenue for retail therapy. Then it was his turn to be surprised when Mitch produced VIP tickets for Kirstie’s run in hit Broadway show Remember The Day.

 

They sat in the front row, sang and cheered with the crowd, and then sneaked backstage. Kirstie shrieked with joy and embraced them both.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?”

“Wanted to surprise you. You killed it, naturally. So proud.” Scott kissed her hand.

“Darling, you were fabulous,” Mitch drawled. “Hurry up and get ready, we’re taking you to dinner.”

 

Over dinner at Gramercy Tavern the trio reminisced and caught up with each other’s lives. Scott sat opposite Kirstie and Mitch, and allowed himself a second glass of wine since he didn’t have to drive. At some point a socked foot found its way to his calf, while the owner of that foot was engaged in a lively debate about dessert options on the menu.

 

Kirstie defended her love of cheese. Scott cleared his throat and examined the menu card when Mitch described how much he enjoyed raspberry panna cotta. After seeing Kirstie back to her hotel with promises to visit her at home, they returned to their own room. Scott had been teased for long enough, and revenge was very sweet.

 

 

To celebrate a successful writing trip with several completed songs ready to record, Scott and Mitch took Zarina and George to Balthazar. They all got on well and conversation flowed easily in the busy, traditionally decorated restaurant.

 

Scott stopped, fork halfway to his mouth. It couldn’t be.

 

He chewed slowly, watching the couple take their table in the corner. When he met eyes even bluer than his own, a bubble of rage rose in his chest. He put his fork down, never breaking gaze.

Mitch had his back to the door. “Scott? What’s wrong?”

Jaw tight, he nodded at Luca and his male companion. “Him.”

Mitch turned, paled, swallowed. “Oh. Fuck.”

Zarina watched them. “Okay guys?”

“Just someone I never wanted to see again.” Mitch took slow breaths.

She nodded. “I get it. Want to get the check?”

Scott shook his head. “No. We’re not leaving.”

 

He returned to his food, but his appetite vanished, replaced by seething fury. Self-restraint was something he had practiced over many years. Now he wanted to give his anger free rein. His fists clenched and every muscle tensed, ready.

 

This bastard had hurt Mitch not once but many times. He took away everything he could not use, and kept Mitch in a prison of lies. And here he was, walking over to their table, with a younger man who looked like a model.

 

“What a marvellous coincidence. Mitchell, hello.” Luca spoke to Mitch alone, training his brilliant gaze on him. He was impeccably groomed in a charcoal suit and white open-necked shirt, black hair and beard perfect, his voice low and pleasing. Scott hated everything about him.

 

Scott slowed his breathing. Mitch was talking, introducing everyone.

“I never expected to see you here, Luca. Or indeed anywhere. And this is?” He raised one eyebrow.

“Oh, where are my manners? May I introduce my dear friend Antonio Sforza, model and actor.”

 

The brown haired man came forward with a smile, offering his hand. He was tall and angular, with sculpted cheeks and hazel eyes. Scott recognised his pale grey suit as current season Gucci.

“Please call me Tony. Delighted to meet you Mitchell, I admire your film work. And now Givenchy ambassador too, congratulations.” There was only a trace of an accent in his smooth voice.

Mitch smiled as he shook hands. “You’re too kind. It’s an honour to work with Givenchy, and of course all these talented people here.” He gestured at his companions. “Scott and I have big plans for the new album.”

 

Scott bit the inside of his lip. His pulse drummed in his ears. He forced his legs to be still.

Luca let his gaze slide over everyone and back to Mitch.

“Oh yes? Music was where you had some little success before.”

Mitch smiled, eyes hard and lips tight. “Yes, more than a little. I am so glad to be able to express myself in every way now. Freedom to follow all my passions without restriction is wonderfully liberating.” Each word carried a sharp edge. “I couldn’t be happier.”

 

Scott had been silent too long. “Now that Mitch finished his latest shoot, we can’t wait to get back into the studio.”

Mitch glanced at Scott. “Looking forward to it, babe.” He turned an unsmiling gaze back to the two men.

“Well, we mustn’t keep you. Nice to meet you, Tony. “

“Thank you so much, your career has been quite an inspiration. I hope the album goes well.” Tony flashed a bright smile at Mitch.

“Good luck with the acting.”

“It is not so much luck as hard work that brings success.” Luca smiled at the group, displaying white teeth and sharp canines.

Scott regarded him coolly. “Absolutely agree. Someone will be working hard. Goodbye.” He picked up his knife and fork and sliced at his cold steak.

 

When they left, the table let out a collective breath.

George whistled. “Wow, kinda rude about your music, Mitch.”

Mitch took a long drink of his wine. “How awkward. Sorry you had to see that.”

Zarina laughed. “Honestly, I relate. In this town everybody hates somebody. Tell me more about Vancouver, I always wanted to visit.”

 

The conversation moved on to safer topics but Scott could not help glancing over to the corner table now and again. Mitch caught his eye, silently communicating. He blinked slowly, nodded slightly. Scott relaxed a little. He was all right.

 

On his way back from the bathroom Scott passed Antonio, sitting with his back to the room allowing Luca to watch the other diners. He glared at Luca before leaning down to whisper in Antonio’s ear.

“Be very careful with him, okay?”

He didn’t wait for Luca’s response, and kept his eyes on Mitch for the rest of the night.

 

**

 

“You can be scary sometimes, you know.” Mitch sat on the edge of the bed waiting for Scott to join him. “Zero to one hundred real quick.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m a soft boy, remember? Wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Scott came out of the bathroom in boxers.

“You’ve been known to hurt flies. You’d like to hurt Luca. You went from soft boy to tough guy, all cold and hostile.” Mitch shivered, remembering baby blues turned glacial with clenched fists and tense shoulders. “Kinda hot though, for me anyway.”

 

“I wanted to beat the smug grin right off that fucker’s face.” Scott sat next to Mitch and took his hand. “But I didn’t want to make a scene, besides you handled yourself.”

“Yeah, acting training helps you look cool even when you’re shitting yourself inside. The hate was one hundred percent real though.”

“You were completely dignified and I was proud of you.” He kissed Mitch’s cheek. “And I marked that Tony’s card.”

“What do you mean?” Mitch was surprised by the sly tone.

“Warned him to be careful. Can’t trust that asshole.”

Mitch’s eyes were wide. This was a side to Scott he hadn’t seen before. “Wow. What did Luca say?”

Scott shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t care.”

Mitch giggled. “Now that will have totally pissed him off. He likes to be in control and you planted a seed of doubt. Seriously though, Antonio needs to get out while he still can.”

 

Scott hugged him. “Are you okay, really?”

Mitch considered for a moment. “I never, ever wanted to see him again. But now I have, there’s a kind of closure, you know? If there’s ever a next time, I would bitchslap the bastard. Course, he’s busy with his new protégé, and he’ll probably never let him leave Italy again after this.”

Scott scoffed. “I’ll join in with the slapping. If Tony’s even one tenth the talent you are, Luca will be doing well.”

“Babe, you say the nicest things.” He kissed Scott’s cheek. “Now, show me your hard side and handle me.”

 

The words had barely left his mouth before Mitch found himself flat on his back, hips caught between strong thighs.

Scott pinned his wrists and frowned. “You talkin’ to me?” he growled.

“Oh yes I am.” He smiled.

“I’ll wipe that smile off your face,” Scott said, each word clipped, his eyes dark.

 

Mitch flinched. Scott had not released his earlier anger and it oozed from his pores now, written in the tight lines of his neck and shoulders. Mitch wasn’t sure what to expect, and delicious uncertainty coiled in the pit of his stomach.

 

“Are you scared, princess?” Scott traced one finger across his jaw, down to the deadmau5 tattoo. “Don’t be. I know what you like.” He pinched the left nipple, and Mitch swallowed his moan.

“I won’t hurt you.” He nipped his neck. “Unless you want me to.” The last word ended with a sharp bite to the collarbone.

 

Mitch twitched and gasped. He stared into eyes more black than blue, pupils blown wide. He smirked and looked away deliberately. “Bite me.”

“If you insist.”

 

Scott attacked his neck, gripping and kneading his biceps till they burned. Knees clamped tighter around Mitch’s hips. Tight cotton underwear rubbed against his skin and his cock throbbed. He struggled and moaned, caught between defiance and surrender.

“Remember your words, princess?”

“Yeah…ahh…”

“Tell me.” He paused.

The mist cleared for a moment. “Strawberry and – and pineapple,” he gasped out.

 

“Very good.” Scott’s hot mouth licked and sucked gently at his neck where marks were surely forming, then his hands roamed over Mitch’s torso. He bucked upwards.

“Needy, needy girl.” Scott gripped his hips and pressed down, digging in his thumbs. “Are you sure it’s me you want, and not somebody else?” His voice was rough, demanding.

“No, no, only you, Scotty. Only you.” Mitch heard his voice squeak higher.

 

He stared at Scott, but he seemed like a stranger with hooded eyes and set jaw. The distance between them stretched and he shook his head.

“No Scotty please don’t say that please.” Cold chilled his heart and he scrunched his eyes shut. “Pineapple.”

Scott’s hands dropped from his hips and he immediately lay down. “Wanna dial it back? Or just stop?”

 

Mitch opened his eyes at the tender concern in Scott’s voice. He hadn’t had a flashback for a while but the hard edges were too much like the past. He wanted his Scotty back.

 

“Don’t mention him. I only want you.”

Scott frowned and shook his head. “Sorry, I pushed too hard. I’m gonna say strawberry now.” He stroked Mitch’s arm, warm and reassuring. “Sorry baby.”

Mitch giggled. “That’s not how this works, mio amore.”

Scott smiled, and that was much better. “It’s how I work. Let’s start again. I’ll run off the rest of my jealous rage in the gym tomorrow. It’s just you and me, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Nothing you don’t like, angel.”

 

Scott was already palming him as he put his mouth on Mitch’s ear. “Getting hard again, my angel likes to be handled right, doesn’t she? Maybe I suck it, lick it, until you’re begging to feel me inside you? How about that?” His tongue traced the curves of Mitch’s ear.

 

Mitch shivered with excitement. His body sank onto the bed, all resistance gone. His boxers disappeared along with coherent thought under the assault of a hot mouth and fingers curling inside. Scott took him deep, hummed, grazed him with his teeth, until he was close. Then he pulled off, but kept his fingers moving. Mitch threw back his head and roared, frustrated and desperate.

 

“Ooh, I think my Mitchy likes that. You ready for me yet?” He closed his other hand around Mitch’s cock and pumped, torturously slowly. “More?”

 

Mitch could only managed a garbled noise. He felt like his cock might explode, his heart racing and his skin prickling with heat. The pit of his stomach boiled with arousal. Each word from Scott entered his ear with a shiver and rippled through his body.

“So hard and wet.” His thumb swiped over the head and Mitch squealed. “Shall I make you come now, with my hands all over you, or make you wait?”

 

Mitch was incapable of reply, floating in a sea of pleasure. He heard more words, a distant rumble, and nodded.

“All for you, baby.”

 

His limbs were arranged for maximum access, a pillow under his hips, and then he groaned, deep in his throat as Scott pushed in. Soft lips touched his, and as his mouth fell open Scott took possession. He held position, sighed against Mitch’s neck.

Mitch forced his mouth to work. “Move it.”

 

Scott moved. He rolled his hips and grunted with each thrust, then as his speed increased he curled his fingers around Mitch and pumped. Mitch abandoned himself to sensation, filled and held, hard and slick, inside and out.

 

The grunts resolved into words, and Mitch’s soft sighs became squeals as they chased their high together. Stars burst behind his eyelids and the waves washed over him with every pulse. His name floated above him as he chanted Scotty over and over.

 

Soon Scott had him wrapped in strong arms, rocking, whispering.

“Love you, angel, so so much. Ti amo.”

Mitch’s heart fluttered again. “You learned some Italian?”

“You taught me the only words that matter, Mitchy.”

“So fucking smooth, Scotty boy.”

“What can I say? I’m a smooth fucker when I want to be.”

Mitch laughed full out, till tears formed in his eyes. That was his Scott: sexy, sappy, silly. He loved him a truly unfathomable amount.

“You got that right, damn.”

Scott chuckled, the vibrations moving them both. “Let’s get clean again.”

 

They stumbled into the relatively small shower and stood close together, washing each other and giggling when their elbows hit the sides and Scott's head bumped the showerhead. They dealt with the necessities, manoeuvring around each other in the bathroom easily without words.

 

When they were back in bed tangled together, Mitch leaned forward and kissed Scott on the nose. He dived into the blue he knew so well.

“Only you, understand? Amo solo te. I love only you.”

The answering smile warmed him from head to toes. “I know, and I’m the luckiest, baby boy.”

 

They settled into their usual spooning position. Mitch relaxed, let Scott’s heavy arm hold him safe, and drifted away.

 

**

 

Mitch couldn’t remember a time when he had been as happy. Party preparations were progressing well under his watchful eye, with the date set for the Saturday before his actual birthday.

 

Scott planned to whisk him away afterwards for a holiday in an unspecified location so they could celebrate in private. Since he wasn’t the biggest fan of surprises, he dropped sufficient hints to be reasonably confident that Hawaii or the Seychelles was in his future.

 

He was writing music again, solo and with Scott. They saw friends some evenings and stayed in on others, cooking for each other and dozing off in front of movies. Nights of passion kept a smile on his face.

 

He had lived through sad times, but they were behind him. Life was good and he was grateful.

 

About a month after the New York incident, they were in the music room just messing around one afternoon, with nothing planned beyond Thai food and a bottle of wine later. Sun poured in through the windows.

 

Mitch sat at the piano and played a little melody.

“What’s that?”

“It’s not finished and maybe you could help with the chorus. But it could be something.” He stopped playing and looked down at his hands. “I didn’t think it would be so difficult. I mean we share everything, pretty much.”

Scott came and stood by the piano. “You don’t have to. Some things are just too personal.”

Mitch looked up at Scott’s serious face. “I want to.”

“Want me over here, or?”

“Just bring me my phone and then… I don’t know. Don’t look at me.” He bit his lip. Maybe he shouldn’t do this.

“I’ll go back to the couch.” Scott sat facing away from the piano. “Start whenever. Or not, I won’t judge.”

 

Mitch counted to ten, and began.

 

Think this love is real but I don’t know

There’s so many feelings I could show

Afraid of what it means

To finally be seen

 

So I carry on my life from day to day

Don’t know what I’ll do if you don’t stay

The time’s already gone

When I could cut and run

 

Oh I’m tired of playing games

Oh and if you feel the same

Let’s not waste our time

Just tell me that you’re mine

If you catch me when I fall

I’m ready to give it all

 

Maybe we’re moving too fast and we rushed

Into this thing before we built our trust

But I really don’t care

As long as you’re there

 

Catch me, catch me when I fall

Giving, giving you my all

 

“That’s all I’ve got.”

Scott turned round. “Can I come over now?”

Mitch nodded, and in a few strides Scott closed the distance between them.

He knelt next to Mitch, eyes wide. “When – when did you write that?”

“I started after Mario’s dinner party. Because that’s when it was different. You were different.”

Scott said nothing, waiting.

 

Mitch went on. “I knew, Scott. I’d tell you to fuck me, and you made love to me instead. Or you fucked me with love, maybe. I knew.” Mitch shrugged. “And this song is me trying to make sense of how scared I was, that I wouldn’t be enough for all the love you had to give.”

Scott’s lip quivered. “But you are, more than enough,” he whispered.

Mitch shook his head. “I hurt you before. I threw away a lifetime of memories and our future. But this time’s different.”

“We’re okay this time? Because I know I’m too much sometimes and I—”

‘Shhh.” Mitch put his fingers to Scott’s lips, then leaned into a kiss. His lips were soft and accepting.

“You’re just right for me. I know I’m ready to give it all.”

“That’s beautiful, baby boy.” Scott wiped tears from his eyes. “Sorry, I am the most ridiculous—”

 

Mitch turned on the stool to enclose Scott between his thighs. They were around the same height and he wrapped his arms around his soft boy, and whispered against his skin.

“Scott. You are the most wonderful person I know. I wish you could see that.”

“You told me, when you came home. That it’s more than skin deep.”

Mitch unwound himself and held Scott’s face in his hands. “I see you, and I love what I see.”

 

Scott surged forward, wrapped Mitch up and kissed any little part he could reach. Mitch opened up to a love he never thought he’d have and the absolute safety of Scott’s arms, the place where he could finally let go.

 

“That does it for me.”

“Hmm?” Mitch pulled back.

“I don’t want anybody else, only you.”

“That’s good, because you’re not getting rid of me, ever.” He melted into Scott’s embrace.

They rocked and murmured ‘I love you’ and smiled together.

 

**

 

Spring gave way to early summer. Roses and oleanders bloomed in the garden. Scott thought about moving house, since six bedrooms were a bit of overkill. Oceanfront still called to him, though it would have to be a smaller place. On the other hand, the basement studio and media room were perfect and the location quiet and convenient. So he decided to stay put.

 

Mitch stamped his personality on the rooms, with modern art appearing on the walls and throw pillows on the big couch to accommodate non-giants.

 

He wandered into the office one day looking for a phone charger, and noticed several new photos gracing the wall. Mitch saw his style evolve over the years in select images leading up to his favourite, the Vanity Fair portrait.

 

Last was the famous shot taken by an excited fan outside Starbucks. It had been enlarged, and the slightly grainy quality only enhanced it. Their joined hands fitted together naturally, fingers loose but the bond so close. It took his breath away.

 

His Scott did this. Soft, sentimental, strong and steady Scott. Mitch stared at the pictures for a long time, pondering the journey his life had taken. He’d known good times and dark times, and now he was once again the hero of his own tale.

 

**

 

The party drew closer, and it was time for another visit to Candice.

“What kind of thing are you looking for, honey?”

Mitch wandered along the rails, tracing his fingers over colours and textures. “Something gorgeous and show stopping, of course. It’s my party and I want to shine.”

“That’s my specialty. Let me show you a few ideas.”

**

 

Meanwhile Scott fretted. He wanted to surprise Mitch with something impressive but he also wanted Mitch to love it. That was a tall order. He had said he didn’t really want any gifts, but Scott wasn’t falling for that. Hints were dropped. He paid attention.

 

Scott Skyped with Avi and Kirstie often, discussing details and asking their advice. Kevin's wisdom gave him strength. He was grateful for them, for their unwavering love and friendship after all the years that had passed since they were wide-eyed teenagers with a shared dream. They would always be part of his future.

 

When Mitch commented that he looked as if he was hiding something, he agreed. Scott wasn’t so good at lying, but he was very good at keeping a secret, at least for a while.

 

**

 

On party day Scott and Mitch walked around their house, taking note of everything they saw. The florist outdid herself again, with extravagant arrangements of stargazer lilies, roses, carnations and ferns in the entry hall, vivid orchids and greenery in the main living room, and gladioli in the kitchen.

 

The same caterers set up in the kitchen. Mitch briefed the chef in detail on the gluten free and vegan options he wanted. Scott made sure there was plenty of choice for carnivores too.

 

The house, pool and hot tub were ready. The deck was strewn with seating and the outdoor kitchen packed with food and drink. Fairy lights and torches waited to be lit as the sun went down. Scott had a sense of déja vu. This party would be even better than last year.

 

Mitch added his own twist to the things Scott had arranged. A cocktail bar was a must, the photo booth with props was essential, but he also engaged two magicians to mingle with guests and do close up card tricks. Scott merely smiled and indulged him, because this was Mitch’s party and Scott wouldn’t deny him anything, whether it was pink Veuve champagne or gold leafed gluten free truffles.

 

Mitch was closely involved in every aspect including briefing the DJ, but Scott refused to let him arrange the live music. He had very specific ideas of his own.

 

At two o’clock, a car arrived. Mitch was whisked away to a spa for intensive beautification, because although Scott didn’t think he needed it, he knew he wanted it. He himself needed little more than a fresh haircut and beard trim. At four thirty Mitch returned and went straight to his room. Scott let him get ready in peace, looking forward to the big reveal.

 

Scott reviewed his silky pale blue short-sleeved shirt with mother of pearl buttons and blue-black pants. The back of the shirt was a vibrant print of birds and foliage in blues and greens. He could never upstage the birthday boy, but he wanted to keep up. The topaz twinkling in his ears brought out his eyes, his quiff was sharp, his legs looked a mile long. Altogether he liked what he saw.

 

“You look all right, Hoying,” he murmured. He slipped his signet ring on and went down to await Mitch’s entrance.

 

He didn’t have long to wait.

“Hey babe,” a light voice announced.

Scott came to the stairs. “Hey, gorgeous.” He stopped, trying to find the words to describe the vision before him.

 

Mitch wore an oversized jacket in shimmering gold brocade embroidered with a rainbow of flowers. Narrow plain gold pants showed off his ankles over heeled red velvet slippers. He opened his arms wide and turned slowly, revealing a gauzy cream shirt shot with narrow stripes of gold, his tattoos just visible through the veil of fabric. Smoky eyes smiled over nude, glossy lips. His hair was a little longer, the way Scott liked it, fluffy on top with a sharp fade.

 

“Wow. You are sensational.” He beckoned Mitch over. “And ruby slippers?”

Mitch’s smile lit his face, and he preened. His dimples always charmed Scott, and today was no exception.

“You like? Because there’s no place like home.”

Scott nodded, heart full. “No place like home,” he echoed. “Damn. You always get me feeling some kind of way, princess.”

“It’s true. I must say you’re looking absolutely delectable, Mr Hoying.” He bit his lip and let his gaze roam over Scott without hurry. “Mommy approves, very much.”

“Why thank you.” Scott smiled, content with Mitch’s admiring scrutiny.

 

He enclosed Mitch lightly and inhaled Dualité, fruity florals and tonka bean over a spiced wood heart. “You are exquisite.” He put his lips to Mitch’s ear and whispered. “I look forward to ripping that sexy shirt off and smearing your lipstick later.”

Mitch tapped his arm, still smiling. “No ripping my Versace please. But, yes.” He walked away. “Later, handsome. We have a fabulous party to host.”

 

Three hours later eclectic music played, drinks flowed, and fairy lights twinkled under an indigo sky. Two hundred people wandered the garden and deck in the warm summer night.

 

Scott played the perfect host while Mitch flitted from group to group, an exotic butterfly in his element. The male and female magicians mingled with the colourful party crowd, amazing people with close-up sleight of hand. A photographer took posed and candid shots, while the photo booth and its masks and costumes was rarely out of use.

 

Champagne jello shots proved very popular. Two mixologists made cocktail after cocktail, including Scömìche Kiss which combined champagne, raspberry sorbet and Chambord Black topped off by thin curls of lime peel and fresh raspberries.

 

Everyone was there, from Mario, Candice, Jake, and Austin, to Esther, Avi, Kevin, and Kirstie with their respective partners. Parents Connie and Rick had made the trip together with Mike and Nel. Mitch had gathered everyone who meant something to him together in one place for a summer celebration like no other.

 

Food choices ranged from burgers and barbecued chicken and fish to little bites of deep fried mac and cheese, stuffed mini mushrooms, baby savoury tarts, and salads in a rainbow of colours and flavours. Desserts included the inevitable chocolate dipped strawberries as well as bite sized cheesecake and tiramisu, champagne truffles, and every fresh fruit imaginable.

 

Every now and again Mitch caught sight of Scott laughing with friends or urging guests to try some food. They shared a smile and Mitch blossomed, revelling in the glamour of a night that was all for him and a lover who couldn’t keep his eyes away.

 

While food was served, torches lit next to a small stage drew attention to the slide show projected on a screen behind, reminiscent of PTX concert staging, Guests cooed over baby Mitch and tried to pick themselves out in the pictures and home movies. The show moved on to clips from Mitch’s actual movie appearances. Then, as before, the music quieted and stopped.

 

Mario, Avi, Kevin and Kirstie took their places. Scott led Mitch to the front of the crowd, kissed his cheek, and joined the singers on stage. Scott breathed away his nerves for this performance that meant more than ever before. He saw Mitch hold hands with Esther. He adjusted his radio mike, and nodded to Kevin.

 

Their medley started with Pentatonix and Superfruit hits, moving on to a haunting rendition of the main theme from Mitch’s first major film role in The Lake House, accompanied by Kevin on cello. Then came the theme from the last Bond movie Daybreak, which they had sung at Scott’s after party the previous year. They followed with Senses, written by Avi and Scott. The crowd sang along and applauded.

 

Mitch watched it all, spellbound. His birthday so far had more than lived up to expectation. He had everyone he loved around him and every reason to be sparkly and happy. He listened to the singers, picking out Scott among Avi’s warm bass, Kirstie’s bright mezzo, Mario’s power, and Kevin’s tenor and virtuoso beatboxing. Their voices shone brilliantly, singing a cappella under the stars with torches burning and a very appreciative audience.

 

He suspected Scott might have a song up his sleeve. But even so, he was surprised when the other singers stepped back for a solo version of Stars, their new Superfruit song. Scott was famous for belting and riffing for his life. Instead he gave an emotional display, his power controlled and centred on Mitch.

 

Cheers erupted when he finished and Mitch cheered loudest, so very proud of his man. He was too happy to give in to tears; not here, not yet.

 

The caterers brought out a huge birthday cake, each of the four layers shaped as the letter M. Pink and blue marbled icing was scattered with glitter and sugar paste flowers, and topped by two gold number candles.

 

Esther led Mitch over, and Happy Birthday rang out with multiple riffs and layered harmonies worthy of such a musical crowd.

 

Mitch looked around. He wanted Scott by his side.

“Where’s Scott? I need him here.”

“Don’t worry.” Esther smiled. “He’s not far away.”

 

Right on cue the crowd parted. Scott walked towards Mitch carrying an envelope in one hand and something blue in the other that matched his shirt. His face was unsmiling, focused.

 

A chair appeared behind Mitch and he sat down, heart racing. Esther stood behind him, her hands warm on his shoulders. A small table was placed in front of him, and the crowd gathered round, almost silent. Avi sang in a strong voice, his honeyed tones caressing the ear.

 

There was a boy, a very strange enchanted boy…

 

Mitch put both hands to his mouth. Scott’s voice joined Avi, weaving together in lower register, and Mitch couldn’t take his eyes off Scott.

 

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return

 

The song ended. The people waited.

 

Scott placed a silver plate on the table. In the centre was a cake shaped as a pale blue box about three inches square, with a white bow and silver heart on top, and Mitch spelled out on the edge in elegant white script. The word Tiffany whispered through the crowd. Someone squealed and was immediately shushed.

 

Mitch blinked up at Scott, and took the envelope he held out. His hands shook as he pulled a ragged piece of paper from it.

“Oh my God, Scott. You didn’t.” His mouth was dry.

 

Scott nodded. He still wore the mike, so everyone heard him. He spoke only to Mitch.

 

“Many years ago when we were young and foolish, and most likely drunk, we made a pact. You probably forgot about it. When we were thirty, and thirty-five, life was different. It’s been a long road, but now we’re here.”

 

Mitch pressed his trembling lips together, took shallow breaths. He was mesmerised, unable to move. An eternity stretched between each heartbeat and the next.

 

“We agreed if we were single on our thirtieth birthdays, or any fifth year after that, we would get together properly. We’re both forty, and I invoke the pact. Mitch Grassi, you are my entire world, the one who makes me a better man, the person I don’t want to live without. Please open the box.”

 

Mitch’s vison blurred with unshed tears and he clutched the paper to his chest, still unable to move. Esther said something he didn’t hear. She gently lifted the top off the cake. Mitch’s heart raced. He gasped.

 

Inside nestled a beautiful ring. Simple black borders enclosed a silvery band that swirled with texture.

 

“Scott.” It was a whisper.

Tears spilled down Scott’s cheek. “This – this—” He stopped. Wiped his eyes. Took a breath.

“Tungsten for my love, stronger than diamonds. Meteorite for you, because you were sent from the stars to me, and…” He trailed off, swallowing hard.

 

People cried, holding on to each other in groups of two or three, some sharing secret smiles and kisses, but no-one spoke.

 

Mitch dabbed his eyes on a handkerchief Esther gave him. The world shrunk to his big beautiful man, his soft boy, his everything. Everything stopped.

Scott was down on one knee. The ring gleamed on his palm.

“This is my promise to you, if you’ll have me. Will you—”

“Yes Scott, always and forever yes, I’m yours.”

 

Mitch held out his left hand, rested it on Scott’s warm palm. Scott slipped the ring on his third finger with a surprisingly steady hand. He looked up and pressed his lips to Mitch’s hand, eyes full of love, more than enough to drown in.

 

Scott stood up, discarded the mike and pulled Mitch into his arms.

 

There was a distant roar like waves breaking. Lights flashed. Mitch disregarded it all. He looked up and met the lips he could call his, the man who wrapped him in safety and showed him that love was the great truth of life, one that he was worthy to receive.

 

Stars aligned. A universe balanced and completed, still and perfect. Scott was its centre.

 

He filled Mitch’s horizon, his earth and sky, his heart and soul.

 

“I love you, Mitch Grassi.”

“I love you more, Scott Hoying.”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Scott said softly. “Will you marry me?”

Mitch’s smile stretched wide, wider, until he knew he couldn’t smile any bigger. “A thousand times yes.”

They shared another kiss, locked in a bubble distant from the excited celebrations around them.

 

“Best birthday present ever. When did you get so romantic, babe?”

“When I got you to inspire me, baby boy.”

 

Above them, fireworks painted the sky in brilliant colours. The crowd oohed and aahed at the spectacle.

 

Mitch and Scott swayed to music only they could hear and lost themselves in another kiss, home at last.

 

**

 

“Is that the picture you want to use, babe?”

“Yeah, is it okay with you?”

“It’s perfect. Do it.”

 

Scott cropped the picture, their usual positions reversed to show Mitch’s left hand and his right. It seemed right to link dominant hands together to make their joint mark on the world.

 

The black bands of the ring complemented his fiancé’s bat tattoos and contrasted with the gleaming central meteorite band. Something strong and something rare joined to create something unique.

 

He couldn’t wait to upgrade the ring and wear its twin on his own finger.

 

Scott added the caption and pressed send.

 

“promised”

 

It was time to tell the world.

 

THE END