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Never Put Your Hat on the Bed

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"Always rest your hat crown down." JJ picked up his Stetson from the hotel desk and set it on his head, fussing in front of the mirror until it was angled just so. "It keeps the luck inside."

"We make our own luck." Otabek sat on the edge of his bed and pulled his boots on, fingers in the loops. The leather was stiff and new, just waiting to blister his feet.

He rolled up his sleeves to just below the elbow. It was cool in the hotel room but as soon as they get out on the street, he'd be sweltering. Not that it was any cooler back in Toronto but at least there he was in the rink half the day.

"And don't put your hat on the bed." JJ buckled the spurs onto his own boots, silver flowers that he spun with one finger before he put each foot back down. "It's really bad luck."

JJ hooked his thumbs in his belt, just behind the shiny silver buckle, huge, gaudy, his initials gleaming in the middle. He was standing differently, still loose and cocky, but the way he planted his feet and leaned back was like the cowboys in the streets, the real ones, probably. It was a costume and JJ wore it like one but, like all JJ's costumes, it fit him perfectly.

Otabek looked away but there was another mirror in the room, full length near the door, and his eyes went back to JJ, to his checked shirt and his crisp starched jeans. To the shine in his eyes and the grin stretching his face.

Otabek closed his eyes for a moment, then reached for his own hat. It was straw, not dark felt like JJ's, and the band squeezed tight around his forehead.

The full Canadian experience, that's what JJ had said when he slid his arm around Otabek's shoulders and told him they were going to Stampede together. That's what JJ said every time he dragged Otabek off to listen to a band or eat some odd food or spend the weekend at Carnaval.

"One more button." JJ crossed the room, spurs jingling, and stopped close. His boots were heeled and Otabek had to tip his head back more than usual. JJ reached down, fingers on Otabek's shirt, and slipped the top button free. "Perfect," he said.

Otabek shivered. He kept his hands at his sides, even though his palms were itching to rest on JJ's fancy shirt front. Even though he wanted to press his mouth to JJ's mouth, his body to JJ's body, feel that belt buckle dig into his belly. Have the full Canadian experience.

But it seemed like the only experience JJ wasn't offering. The arm he slung around Otabek's shoulders was friendly, not caressing, as he steered Otabek to the door, the hallway, the car. If his leg collapsed into Otabek's in the stands at the rodeo grounds, that was just JJ's usual sprawl.

And if Otabek didn't move his own leg away, that was just because he didn't want to.

They watched the barrel races and the calf roping, then headed to the exhibition to wander around in the cooler air. Stopped for photos whenever someone recognized JJ, which was pretty often.

JJ pulled Otabek beside him, shoulder to shoulder. "Smile, Beks. It's JJ Style!"

Otabek didn't smile. When the third fan came up to them, he offered to take the photos instead, tapping phone after phone, focusing on JJ's face. How did JJ's grin stay so wide and happy through it all?

"Having fun?" JJ dropped that heavy hand onto Otabek's shoulder.

It pressed Otabek down, crushing him like the beer cans JJ's friends drained, then crumpled. He wanted to get away from those crowds of people, to pull JJ with him, to be crushed beneath him on the bed in their hotel room, against the wall in the venue bathroom, on the dirt in the stadium, underneath the stars.

"Yes," Otabek said.


When time came for JJ's sponsor party, Otabek begged off. The sponsor was paying for their room, but they only cared about JJ. Otabek watched while JJ sauntered away with the rep, looking back at Otabek just once to wave. Then Otabek got take-out from a food cart and went back to the hotel.

There was a red mark on his forehead when he tossed his hat aside and he rubbed at it until it wasn't as angry-looking. He couldn't connect his tablet to the wifi so he turned the TV on while he ate, cross-legged on the bed in sweatpants, wincing when the volume went up for the commercials.

The shirt JJ wore for the flight was crumpled on the corner of his bed. Otabek picked it up and shook it out, just to be tidy.

Just another weekend sharing a hotel room with JJ. Another weekend of flicking his eyes over when he shouldn't. To the muscles moving on JJ's back as he pulled off his shirt, the ink decorating his skin.

Another weekend of lying awake in the dark, hand around his own hard dick, listening to JJ breathe and snore and shift in the other bed.

Otabek grabbed his phone and opened Instagram. JJ at the dinner, gleaming like a movie cowboy and grinning down at the girl hanging onto his arm. Otabek's fingers tightened around the phone and he kept flicking through the #JJStyle tag, enough photos that he could almost trace JJ's steps through the venue.

There was dancing – line dancing – and handshakes and photo ops. Otabek kept refreshing while the TV droned in the background. His finger hovered over one picture, JJ in profile, hat tipped back, smiling – always smiling – at someone off-frame. The lighting was just right and JJ was glowing, beautiful, right there under Otabek's hand. And finally Otabek tapped and held and saved the picture, even though JJ wasn't smiling at him.

Otabek had made a move once. Not in a hotel or a rink locker room. Just sitting together on a bench in the early spring evening, looking out over the water. JJ's favourite spot. Listening to JJ talk about JJ's favourite topic. Trying to ignore the roiling in his gut and the pressure in his chest.

"JJ," he'd said, just JJ's favourite word. He pressed his thigh up against JJ's thigh and slid his fingers up the back of JJ's neck, stroking the hair at the nape. He leaned in until his cheek was brushing JJ's cheek, even though he had no more words to whisper into JJ's ear. And he waited while his heart thudded against his ribcage.

The rejection wasn't even awkward. JJ just patted Otabek's leg with an affectionate hand. "Oh, hey, bro," he said. "You're a good friend."

Otabek moved away, pierced and burning, and stared at two gulls fighting over a few spilled fries while JJ kept talking. When Otabek got back to his room, he put on his headphones and lay down on the bed, staring up into the dark with the volume on high.

The next day, JJ was just the same as always. And Otabek still couldn't say no to the full Canadian experience, even if JJ could.

Otabek changed the channel, still nothing on. He refreshed the Instagram app again and again, watching the photos trickle in: more dancing, more handshakes, more JJ Style.

A text appeared over JJ's face: Poker game, you in?

JJ played poker with his friends back home, those same beer-can-crushing noisy bros, and Otabek had let JJ pull him along to a few games. The stakes weren't that high and Otabek always came out a little ahead but it wasn't how he wanted to spend his time, not the people he wanted to spend it with. Except for JJ.

Whose table would JJ be at tonight? Elbows on the felt, hat tipped back on his head. Fanning the cards out in his hand and grinning because he couldn't bluff for shit. Then he'd pick the most dramatic moment to go all in, lose all his money, and laugh, rueful but satisfied.

Otabek's chest ached and he imagined JJ's arm stretching out over the back of Otabek's chair while someone else dealt. JJ thumping Otabek's arm when Otabek won a hand. JJ standing when Otabek told him they should leave, following him out the door.

But Otabek thumbed his answer: already took my boots off. Then he turned off the TV, put on his headphones, and lay back, phone resting on his chest, and listened to his most dangerous playlist, the one he put on when he was thinking about the full Canadian experience.

Road-tripping with JJ across the country, riding free all day, sitting by a camp fire in the evening listening to JJ ramble on. Playing softly on a guitar while JJ sang to him. Rolling together in a two-man tent at night. Otabek had never been camping before but JJ made him want to try.

He laced his hands across his chest and closed his eyes, going over every detail of the trip. If he could listen through the playlist twice without checking the photostream, he'd get to jack off in the shower.

He didn't even make it once.

There weren't many new pictures, but he flicked back over the ones he'd already seen, reading new comments, careful not to hit "like" by mistake.

There was just one photo from the poker game: JJ shuffling cards with a small pile of chips and a bottle of beer in front of him. JJ's sponsor might not like that, although JJ might be old enough to drink and gamble here, Otabek still hadn't got that all figured out. But when he checked the tag again, the picture was gone.

His battery was nearly dead so he plugged in his phone, over on the desk because that was the only outlet that was accessible. He stared at himself in the mirror: tired, irritated, a little pink from the sun. The mark on his forehead had faded but his hair was still rumpled. He pushed his fingers through it even though it didn't matter anyway.

Then the door banged open and JJ banged in after it. He flashed a grin as he swaggered past Otabek and set a six of longnecks onto the desk. "Missed you, Beks," he said and touched the brim of his hat.

Otabek's heart squeezed. Fuck JJ for making him feel this way. Yearning, aching. Half-hard in his sweatpants and no way to hide it. Maybe JJ would just think Otabek had been watching porn on his phone. "I was going to bed."

JJ's face was flushed, glowing with the beer and the attention and the money he must have lost. He leaned back, butt against the desk, and twisted the cap off a beer. "It's too early to sleep, bro." He held the bottle out to Otabek. "Keep me company."

Otabek stretched out his arm before he could tell himself no. He let his fingers touch JJ's as he took the bottle and kept his eyes on JJ's face as he drank. The beer was dark and bitter and when JJ lifted his own bottle up, Otabek could see a cowboy on the red and black label. "How was the party?" he asked, even though he'd already seen all the photos at least twice.

"I would have introduced you." JJ rambled over the evening, gesturing wide and dropping names like coins from his pocket. Otabek sat on the edge of his bed and watched, tuning out the words like he was mixing down a vocal track. The beer slid cold down his throat but it warmed him inside, loosened the tight feeling in his chest. When he'd killed the bottle, he stood and took another, stepping closer to JJ while he drank.

"You should have been there, Beks." JJ tipped his head back and his throat worked as he swallowed, swallowed, swallowed. "Fun time," he said. "Missed you."

The second time JJ had said he missed Otabek. But JJ liked to have a sidekick, someone to take the photos. Shoulders for JJ to rest his arm on. Two beers down wasn't enough for Otabek to start seeing what wasn't there.

Hard to say how many beers down JJ was, but it was two more than before, and JJ did rest his arm on Otabek's shoulders, pulling him so close, Otabek was half-turned into JJ's chest. It would be so easy to turn the rest of the way and press his face into JJ's shoulder. Let his arm creep around JJ's waist. Shift his leg between JJ's thighs.

But then Otabek would hear JJ's "sorry, bro" and feel himself gently moved away. So he set his second empty down. "I'm going to bed," he said and stepped out from under JJ's arm.

"Pancake breakfast in the morning!" JJ unhitched himself from the desk. His hat was still pulled low over his forehead. His spurs were still jingling as he turned himself around and dropped onto the end of his bed. "It's spinning," he said, looking up at the ceiling. "Like you." He pointed at Otabek. "Pancake spin. You look good. Spinning."

"Take your boots off." Otabek shut off the lights, all except the bathroom and the lamp between their beds. JJ could sleep in his clothes if he wanted to but Otabek couldn't let him wreck his feet. "Come on, JJ."

At the sound of his name, JJ lit up. "We could get pancakes now. Call room service." He pulled his phone out of his back pocket. "I'll call them. You call them."

Otabek took JJ's phone and set it down beside his own. He'd seen JJ have a few drinks before but he'd never been this soft and giggly. "Boots. Take off your boots."

"It's my birthday next week." That was all JJ said, leaning back, sliding low on his hands.

It was so much less cute, so much more annoying, but Otabek's dick hadn't got the message and all he wanted to do was climb onto JJ's lap and put his tongue into JJ's mouth.

Instead, he knelt down and unbuckled JJ's spurs. He gave one a spin and watched it whirl before he tossed them aside. Then he slid the hem of JJ's jeans up, hands on the cool boot leather around JJ's calf, no further.

"You're coming to my party!" JJ's thighs sprawled further apart.

Otabek leaned along with him. Then he lifted JJ's leg and hooked JJ's foot under his arm. "Point your toes," he said, and pulled. JJ didn't help, not much, but Otabek got the boot off and set it down. He got a noseful of the hot day from JJ's sock foot too but whatever, he didn't care.

When he eased off the second boot, he let his fingers linger on JJ's ankle. Not sliding up underneath JJ's jeans, just feeling the muscles pull tight.

Then JJ swung forward. He put one hand on the back of Otabek's startled neck, fingers slipping up into Otabek's hair. He looked into Otabek's eyes and Otabek couldn't move, couldn't breathe, while JJ's thumb stroked up and down the side of his throat. "You're a good friend," JJ said. And he bumped in and kissed Otabek on the mouth.

It was just a kiss. But Otabek was already rising into it, hands on JJ's thighs and head turning to duck under the brim of JJ's hat.

JJ slid his hands down Otabek's back, onto his ass, and Otabek could feel the heat of JJ's palms through his sweatpants. The slide of JJ's mouth moving against his. The choke of joy that this was happening, finally happening.

He clambered up so he was kneeling on the edge of the bed, astride JJ's lap. He put his mouth back on JJ's and JJ opened for him, kissing deep and messy and noisy. JJ's hands caressed Otabek's back, and Otabek couldn't keep his own hands still. Clasping JJ's face, touching his arms, his shoulders.

When JJ pulled up Otabek's t-shirt and got his hands up underneath, stroking Otabek's bare skin, Otabek felt like he might die. Like that would be okay, as long as he could have all of JJ first.

He pressed closer and his head bumped JJ's hat again. He took hold of the brim. JJ grabbed his wrist. "Cowboy needs his hat," he said against the side of Otabek's mouth.

Otabek let go but JJ didn't. He squeezed Otabek's wrist. He bit Otabek's lip. A little harder than Otabek was expecting, but who the fuck cared when this was happening, Otabek and JJ, together.

Otabek leaned back, he was going to get this going right now, and he pulled off his t-shirt. Then he looked at JJ's face.

JJ wasn't smiling but he was looking Otabek up and down, like he had never seen Otabek's naked chest before. Otabek had a moment when he wondered if he'd killed the momentum, but JJ's hands went around his waist and Otabek arched his back for a moment, just to show off.

"Come back," JJ said, and pulled Otabek down into another kiss.

Otabek put his hands on JJ's fancy shirt front, like he'd been wanting to do all day, his thumbs rubbing the pearl snaps on the pockets like they were JJ's nipples.

JJ leaned back again. His mouth was red and shiny from kissing and his hat was tipped back. He ran one finger down Otabek's breastbone. "Cowboy doesn't need his shirt."

The words flared in Otabek like a match on a firelighter and he took hold of JJ's shirt, just below the collar, like he had really been wanting to do all day. He yanked, one dramatic gesture, and all the snaps came free, baring JJ's chest, just like in the movies.

JJ shrugged out of the sleeves and Otabek ran his fingers over the tattoos on JJ's biceps. How good would he have to be to get his own initials inked on JJ's body? Maybe beside the crease of JJ's thigh, where Otabek could trace the letters when they were alone. Maybe on JJ's chest where he would pull his collar to the side to show it off while Otabek frowned and looked away.

Maybe Otabek would get one too, together, so they matched. Staring into JJ's eyes while the needle marked JJ's name into his skin. Together. Otabek bent down and pushed the word into JJ's mouth with his tongue.

JJ grabbed Otabek's hand and pressed it down into his lap, over his cock. Otabek curled his palm around it, fucking JJ's fucking dick, grabbing it through JJ's jeans. JJ hard for him, for Otabek.

Otabek sucked in breath, heat surging through him. Every cell in his body awake and telling him that he was here, making out in a hotel room with JJ and there was no reason for them to stop.

He'd gotten off with people before, here and there, sometimes fumbling, sometimes sweet. But he'd never been in such an adult situation, all the time and space they needed, no place to be, no one to hide from.

His chest constricted and, for a second, he couldn't move, just felt his heart throb and JJ's dick jerk under his hand. He rubbed JJ through his jeans and when JJ groaned, Otabek felt it in his own throat.

"Take them off." JJ unhooked his shiny silver belt buckle and popped the button at his waistband. He looked up at Otabek. "You want to see, right?"

Otabek wanted to see. He slid off the bed, still straddling JJ's legs, and opened the rest of the buttons himself, one by one, letting his fingertips brush JJ's briefs, that stupid bright red he always wore, that Otabek couldn't keep himself from looking at when JJ was changing in the same room.

JJ rolled to his feet, so close he almost knocked Otabek back into the desk, and put his hands on Otabek's waist. He rubbed his cheek against Otabek's temple and Otabek leaned into it while he pushed JJ's jeans down, fingers over his hips and ass and thighs. JJ didn't help him and Otabek had to crouch to pull them all the way off, lifting one foot, then the other. He pulled JJ's socks away too, tossing them further than the jeans.

Then Otabek knelt up to see JJ's cock pushing against the silky fabric of his briefs, the dark spot near the tip, JJ wet and waiting for Otabek.

This was what Otabek thought about every night when he got off before he went to sleep, one hand around his own dick. Kneeling in front of JJ, JJ's cock in his mouth, heavy on his tongue, stretching out his jaw. JJ's hand on his head, oh, Beks, oh, Beks, while Otabek deep-throated him, the best JJ had ever had.

"Beks," JJ sighed. He touched Otabek's hair, fingers kneading at Otabek's scalp. Then he grabbed Otabek's shoulder and pushed him back. "You too, I want to see it."

Otabek growled in the back of his throat before he could stop himself. Maybe he should just rock back in, pull down JJ's briefs, and suck JJ's dick into his mouth. But what if JJ pushed him away again?

"Okay." He stood. "I'll show you. Let me see." He slid down his sleep pants and kicked them away. The aircon was blasting cold air but even naked, Otabek was hot all over, damp at the armpits and in the folds of his knees. His cock was standing, wet and ready, just like JJ, and he held his breath while JJ looked down.

"Nice!" JJ said, like he had finally won a hand of poker, and pushed his tongue a little past his lips. But he didn't hook his own thumbs into his briefs.

Otabek breathed again. He shouldn't care what JJ thought about his dick. He shouldn't care what JJ thought about anything. "Let me see," Otabek said again. "JJ."

But JJ just took another beer, flipping the cap into the corner of the room, and leaning back to drink, while Otabek stood naked in front of him.

Otabek's stomach clenched and his fists clenched and his head swam with the cocktail of anger and humiliation and desire. If he could unloop time like the lariat on a cowboy's saddle, back past when he said, yes, I'll come to Calgary, past when he let JJ slide his arm around his shoulders, past when Otabek came to Canada at all. Then coil it another way, where JJ was just an opponent he looked down at from the top of the podium.

"Come here." JJ held out his hand and Otabek went to him, lassoed and tied, fitting in underneath JJ's arm. "Drink." JJ held the bottle to Otabek's lips, tipping it before Otabek could open his mouth, so beer dripped down his face and throat.

Then Otabek caught it and gulped the beer down, cool and bitter, swallowing and swallowing until JJ released him. "What the fuck?" Otabek scrubbed the back of his hand over his mouth. "What the fuck, JJ?"

JJ put his hand on his hat, that stupid hat, but instead of taking it off, he tipped it forward, shading his eyes. "Let's ride," he said and pushed Otabek onto the bed.

Otabek scrambled back and watched JJ finally, finally, take off his underwear. JJ tossed it away, probably with a dramatic flourish, but Otabek couldn't say for sure because he was staring at JJ's dick, memorizing the length and the lean, the neat scruff of hair, the heft of the balls. Anticipating the taste of it on his tongue. The way JJ was going to gasp when Otabek made him come.

Then JJ climbed up and straddled Otabek, thighs bracketing Otabek's hips, stretching out his arm to set the bottle on the bedside table. "I want to ride." He leaned back so his ass was brushing Otabek's cock.

Otabek pulled up his knees, leaned up from the waist, trying to fold himself around JJ, skin on skin. He pressed his thumb against the crease of JJ's thigh, right where his own name was going to be, dark on JJ's pale belly.

But JJ pushed him back down. "Gonna ride." And he reached back and grabbed Otabek's dick.

When JJ touched him, Otabek's hips pushed up on their own and whatever blood wasn't already swelling his cock rushed down, leaving him dizzy and staring into JJ's face. "You want to–" he got out. Fuck but that last word was trapped inside his throat, choking him like it was JJ's dick.

JJ squeezed, looking down at Otabek on the bed like he looked down at him on the ice, on the street. He held his other hand out to Otabek, palm open. "Spit."

"We can't." There was more they needed to do than spitting into JJ's hand. Even if Otabek had never done this before, he knew that. Even if he always thought it would be JJ pulling Otabek's leg up over his shoulder and pressing in.

"Beks." JJ squeezed Otabek's dick again and Otabek's hips jerked again but it was JJ's mouth turning down and his eyes wide with betrayal that made Otabek struggle up on his elbows and touch JJ's palm with his tongue before he spat.

Otabek clutched the duvet in his fingers and hoped he could do this. That JJ wouldn't think he was just a stupid inexperienced kid. He tried to remember the porn he'd watched, was it even going to work in this position?

JJ spat too, then slid his wet hand over Otabek's dick and Otabek clenched all his muscles, hoping he could even last long enough.

JJ shifted and moved Otabek's cock between his buttocks. But instead of angling for Otabek to push inside, he leaned back, both hands on his ass, and pressed his buttocks tight together. He started to move, rising on his thighs, Otabek's cock sliding between and brushing JJ's balls on every stroke down.

Otabek scrambled to adjust, the tightness in his chest loosening for a moment before he tensed up again and figured out the angles and the rhythm, apart, together, apart, together.

He looked up into JJ's face. JJ's eyes were closed, shaded under the brim of that fucking hat, and Otabek stared at his eyelids, wanting to brush the soft skin with his thumb, tender and sweet.

He reached out and touched JJ's cock, getting his fingers around it and holding tight. It was just right in his hand, thick and warm and alive. It would be better in his mouth but he couldn't quite curl up to reach it, not and keep thrusting. He couldn't even get his hand moving with the rhythm so he just held on and rubbed with his thumb under the head.

JJ was still moving like a cowboy in the rodeo, ridiculous and so hot Otabek's bones were aching. JJ held out his hand. Otabek was reaching for it when JJ gestured to the bottle on the bedside table.

"You sure?" But Otabek was already stretching for it, whatever JJ wanted, anything to keep that skin against Otabek's skin and those eyes on Otabek's eyes.

"Beks," JJ said again, giving Otabek his name like he gave Otabek his tongue. "Santé!" He tipped his head back, tipped the beer up, half missed his mouth so the beer ran shining down his chin and and throat.

And he tipped Otabek too, a shove over the crest of a hill, and Otabek raced down, so fast there was no stopping, hips bucking up like he was trying to throw JJ off and coming so hard he wasn't sure he ever really had before now.

And while Otabek was turning inside out, spending everything he had over JJ's ass and back, JJ leaned forward and put his hand on Otabek's face, looking right into his eyes.

"You're a good friend," JJ said and dropped the half-full bottle of beer onto the floor.

Otabek's muscles loosened and he flopped on the bed, drained and satisfied, like he'd collapsed on the ice after going too hard but scoring so high. His hand on JJ's dick curled loosely and this was the moment he was going to lean up, wrap his arms around JJ's hips, and suck that cock as deep as he could take it, until it was part of him.

But JJ took it himself, fingers sliding in under Otabek's, and started jacking, rocking on Otabek's hips.

A spark lit inside Otabek, kicking him back to life, and he was half a beer away from hitting JJ, cursing him for taking away what Otabek wanted. Instead, he put his hand over JJ's. "Let me," he said. "Come on."

But JJ didn't so much as move his fingers apart for Otabek's to slide between. So Otabek just held on, one hand over JJ's, the other on JJ's thigh, brushing his initials onto JJ's belly with his thumb.

He wanted to feel it all, JJ's muscles pulling tight for Otabek, JJ's voice calling his name, Beks, Beks. JJ coming for him, in Otabek's hand, in Otabek's mouth.

Next time, next time. Otabek looked up into JJ's closed eyes, the dark lashes on JJ's cheek, just above where Otabek was going to press a kiss in the morning.

JJ's mouth twitched, just one corner, and he was coming all over their hands, gasping without words, squeezing Otabek's sides with his knees.

Otabek fixed every detail in his mind like a pic on Instagram, hashtag JJStyle – JJ's frowning face, his jerking cock – even though he was going to see it again and again. When JJ went slack, Otabek leaned up and grabbed him, arms around his waist, and pressed their bodies together, Otabek's semen still slippery on JJ's back and JJ's on his belly.

"Here." JJ pulled off his hat and tried to push it onto Otabek's head. "Cowboy needs his hat."

Otabek took it and tossed it away. He pressed his forehead into JJ's shoulder, inhaling the scents of skin and sex and beer. He could almost smell the fresh air and the campfire smoke. Leather jackets and a hot cup of tea in the morning. "JJ," he said.

"Gotta piss." JJ shrugged Otabek off and crawled out of the bed, ruffling up his hair and scratching his balls as he headed to the bathroom.

Otabek watched JJ's bare ass as long as he could, the way it moved, the ink above it. JJ didn't shut the door all the way and Otabek listened to him piss while he picked the spilled bottle up from the floor and threw their clothes over the desk chair.

JJ came out yawning and stretching, arms above his head and his whole long body filling the room. His belly and back were still smeared.

That was going to itch him in the morning. Otabek reached out for JJ's arm, to pull him back into the bathroom, maybe under the shower spray with Otabek.

But JJ brushed past and crawled into the bed. "Floor's wet." He dragged the sheet half over him and curled up on his side, back to Otabek. "Night."

Otabek watched him for a moment, the small shifts of JJ's body as he settled in, one arm stretching out over the pillow beside him. Then Otabek switched off the lamp.

By the light of his phone, he got a towel from the bathroom and laid it over the beer spill on the carpet, pressing it down with his bare feet. Then he showered, hands braced against the tile because he was ready to go again but he was saving it for JJ.

He rubbed his hair until it was only damp, smiling at himself in the mirror even when he tried not to. He stepped into his sleep pants and went back to stand on the damp towel between the beds and look at JJ in the sliver of light where the curtains don't quite close.

"Good night," he said finally.

JJ stirred, rolling onto his back and making a sound that might be a word, quiet like JJ was never quiet.

That sound slid through Otabek's skin, between his ribs, around his heart like the rope again, pulling tight. Pulling him in. He sat on the edge of the bed, back to JJ. Two breaths. Then he lay down, close, pulling the sheet around them both.

JJ rolled again, face next to Otabek's face, beer breath on Otabek's mouth.

The smile pulled Otabek's face again and he turned onto his side, his back to JJ's front, and worked himself into the curve of JJ's body. JJ curled around him and Otabek pulled JJ's arm over his chest, two bodies in one space, like the two-man tent.

He matched JJ's sleeping breath until his heart slowed, enough anyway, and he wasn't quite done planning their trip when he slipped into a dream.


When he woke up, the light through the sliver in the curtain was yellow day and Otabek was alone in the bed. The bathroom door was closed but he could hear the shower running.

He needed to piss, he needed to put his hands in JJ's wet hair and kiss his morning breath mouth. He pulled the towel up off the floor, then dropped it again. The stale smell of yesterday's beer filled the room, even with the aircon on too high.

He looked over at the other bed. There was his hat and JJ's, where Otabek had tossed them, both crown up. He put them on the desk instead, setting them carefully upside-down.

When the bathroom door opened, JJ was already dressed, jeans and a checked shirt. "I'm late for the breakfast," he said, doing up the last snap. He sat down to pull his boots on.

"Are your feet okay?" Otabek said.

"I'm supposed to be making pancakes." JJ reached past Otabek for his hat. "Always rest your hat crown down, it keeps in the luck."

Otabek really had to piss now but he watched JJ set the hat on his head, tipping it just so. He stepped towards JJ.

JJ turned away. It was so smoothly done, maybe JJ didn't see Otabek's hand reaching for him. Maybe he was as late as he said.

Maybe he didn't know Otabek's chest was aching.

At the door, JJ looked back, eyes shaded underneath the brim of his hat. "You're a good friend."

"You too," Otabek said.


While Otabek was getting dressed, he caught a glint of silver in the corner of his vision. JJ's spurs, lying on the floor. He picked them up and gave one shining wheel a spin.

When it stopped, he fastened them around his own boots. He set his hat onto his head, tipping it just so.

Then he went out to eat anything but pancakes.