Upon reflection, Jim Masters had been a very lucky man. A wandering vagabond, he had managed to survive by his wits and avoided any strenuous labor for nearly two decades now, in addition to walking out on his wife and family twice with no major repercussions. He had never been the type to believe in karma, but deep down he knew his lucky streak would eventually come to some kind of end. But even in his wildest dreams he never suspected Gabriel Lopez to be the start of his downfall.
See, the problem was Gabriel was becoming a regular presence in his wildest dreams. The young man who had captured his youngest daughter's heart was somehow having a similar effect on Jim himself, and it was far too late in their partnership to address these concerns. It had been about six months since Gabriel had surprised Jim at the train station, announcing Buff had rebuffed him, and they had joined forces to swindle a first-class passenger on the first train out of town. Since then it had been a whirlwind of graft and honest tourism- running small schemes or the occasional odd job to finance the next day's journey. Neither man had found anything worth staying put in place for yet, but for a while it seemed they had found a kindred spirit in each other.
Jim was more than happy to pontificate and lecture Gabriel, inundating the poor fellow with his lifetime of accrued wisdom, but became absolutely delighted when Gabriel cut him off, showing off some worldly knowledge of his own, or demonstrating some kind of practical skill to help them out of a jam. And Gabriel seemed to enjoy having an encouraging father figure in his life, one who seemed to truly care about him, and didn't stifle the creative twinkle in his eye.
And so life was good for these travellers. They made it down to Los Angeles, and headed west, spending months on the sea. They bounced around everywhere, taking in breathtaking sights by night, and sleeping on trains by day. Jim was happy again in life, and whatever sentimental impulse that had made him search out his family had long gone, replaced now by a sense of contentment, knowing there was nothing on Earth he's rather be doing- a fact he sometimes had to mutter under his breath on hard nights, being run out of town in the rain at 4am.
He couldn't pinpoint where exactly it began, however; all he knew was it was growing. His easy smiles towards Gabriel now felt packed with affection. He found he couldn't turn away when Gabriel sat in the sun, the bright light illuminating his naturally beautiful features. Or sometimes he'd chuckle in admiration while Gabriel ran his smooth Moby Dick routine, and Jim would have to feign a coughing fit into a handkerchief to keep from being found out. It was beginning to be frustrating for old Jim, and he was starting so suspect this was some kind of fitting revenge for walking out on Nan all those years ago- instead of being trapped in one place with a loving wife, he was being trapped travelling the world with the dashing young man he was struggling to resist.
They were in some small town on the French Riviera when Jim hit his breaking point. The train had arrived late, around 9:15pm, and the only affordable hotel they could find had one room left- with one bed. This wouldn't be the first time they had to share a bed, something they had to do often in their early days, when money was tighter. But not something they'd done recently, and certainly not since Jim had started dreaming about Gabriel lying in his arms.
“Some night, huh? First that train’s delayed, now this,” Gabriel complained, a little unfairly, as soon as they crossed the threshold to their room. It was cramped, but not dirty, and Jim had to admit that bed did look comfortable, if a little small for the two of them.
“It won’t be that bad. It’s only for one night,” he reasoned, as he placed his compact suitcase on the dresser and sat down at the table off to the side.
“One night?” Gabriel questioned, as he flung his bag carelessly onto the bed. Six months travelling together and he still hadn’t lost his impetuousness, or gained any manners, and Jim was embarrassed by how endearing he found it.
“Well, we can’t expect to be taken seriously as fine artifact collectors if we stay in a place like this,” Jim replied logically. “We’ll move on tomorrow morning, and maybe find luck in the next town on the coast. Catch some ignorant tourists perhaps.”
Gabriel frowned, crossing his arms. He seemed disappointed at this abrupt change of plans, but Jim couldn’t figure out why. All these beach towns were indistinguishable from one another, and if he wanted a rest, well, it’s not like they had too far to travel the next day.
“If you wanted some time on the beach, we could wait until an afternoon train,” Jim proposed, hoping that would soften his friend’s temper. That was Gabriel’s one main fault, and while they hadn’t had an actual fight yet, Jim was loathe to rile up his partner. The last thing he needed now was to share a bed with a young attractive man angrily tossing and turning all night.
Gabriel just shook his head, before turning away and unbuttoning his shirt. “Nah, that’s not it. I’m fine leaving first thing. Should probably hit the sack sooner than later anyway.”
Jim coughed, and looked away, trying to seem blasé. He drummed his fingers on the table, desperate to find an outlet for the nervous energy coursing through his body. Gabriel continued to undress, paying no attention to his older partner losing his mind in the corner of the room. When his fingers reached his belt, Jim jumped up and hastily crossed the room.
"I'm going for a walk," he announced, not looking back. "I have a headache." He slipped out of the door before Gabriel could react, and bounded down the stairs, desperate for a gasp of fresh air. He circled the block, thoughts racing in his head. He had no idea how he could possibly make it through the night. There was no way Jim could crawl into that bed and not completely give himself away to Gabriel. And it seemed unfair to the young man, having brought him this far across the world, to suddenly jump on him. Jim was worldly enough to know that travelling companions generally made for bad romantic couples, and vice versa. The easy friendship they had fallen into was about to crumble to nothing, and it was all his fault.
It was well past 2am when the cold finally got to Jim. He was huddled on a bench on the beach when the whipping wind finally became too much, and he stumbled back towards the hotel, a defeated man. He opened the door to the room as quietly as possible, and shuffled into the room without turning on any lights. Some weak light from the street lamps filtered in through the curtains, and Jim's gaze fell on Gabriel, asleep in the bed. HIs hair was mussed, but his delicate features looked so peaceful, and the blanket was low enough to show he was sleeping bare-chested.
Jim sighed in frustration, before shedding his sweater, shirt, and pants. He pulled back the covers and got into bed stiffly. Gabriel was lying on his side, so Jim was able to lie on his back without their shoulders touching. He clutched at the blanket around his chest, trying to warm up, and sighed again, the late hour finally catching up with him. His eyes followed passing car lights on the wall, as sleep finally overcame him.
Jim woke again a few hours later, sometime after sunrise. He was having a wonderful dream- him and Gabriel alone on a beach, relaxing in the sun, lying in each other’s arms. Nothing but hot sand under them, and taking turns lovingly caressing each other’s body. It was hard to come back to earth after that, until Jim realized it wasn’t just a dream. Sometime during the night, Gabriel had wrapped his arms around him, and now Jim was nestled safely in his friend’s strong body.
Before Jim could even react, Gabriel made a small humming sound and burrowed his head deeper in between Jim’s shoulder and neck.
“Hmmm, you only gave me one night to make my move, so I had to improvise. How’d I do?”
“Your-your move?” Jim asked, confused. Gabriel looked more than comfortable however, arms outstretched around him. He still hadn’t opened his eyes, and the uncertainty in Jim’s voice seemed to encourage him. He began running his hands gently up and down over Jim’s chest, over the undershirt he was wearing.
“I saw the way you’ve been looking at me. Same look I’ve seen before, in eyes very similar to yours. But I know you now. I knew you wouldn’t do anything first, so I had to make the first move. You scared me last night, saying we’d move on this morning. I was hoping to have more time, and build this up slowly. But not bad for a last minute job, right?”
Gabriel finally opened his eyes, and glanced up at Jim, raising an eyebrow. For his part, Jim was still frozen, not entirely convinced that this was not some highly realistic epilogue to a dream. But then Gabriel rolled over, sitting up to straddle him, and got his hands under the undershirt, bare fingers on Jim’s stomach, and he knew this was no dream.
“You do want this, right Jim?” Gabriel asked. He still seemed confident, but the longer Jim hesitated, the more he could see a hint of fear creeping into Gabriel’s dark eyes.
“I was afraid,” Jim started, unsure what to say. “I was worried that, maybe, I might’ve scared you off if you knew my inclinations towards you.”
Gabriel shook his head in disbelief. “You think I’d be scared off so easily?”
“Well, one never knows how such declarations are received. Plus the age difference and all, it really never occurred to me that you could feel the same way.”
Gabriel just laughed, before leaning in and kissing Jim, deeply and intensely. His lips were hard compared to Jim’s, but he put a lot of feeling into the kiss. His hands still roamed over Jim’s chest, his fingers rising to tweak Jim’s nipples. He finally pulled back, a satisfied smile on his face.
“You get the picture now, old man?”
Jim laughed huskily. Unable to come up with a retort, he pushed Gabriel teasingly, but with enough force that Gabriel slid back a bit, and the blanket fell down past his thighs, revealing he was completely naked. Jim arched an eyebrow.
“Hey, I only had one night here. I had to pull out all the stops.” Gabriel said defensively, pouting a little.
Jim smiled. Gabriel had intended to snag him, one way or another, and he had to admire the young man’s workmanship. “Upon second reflection, one night wasn’t very long. How do you feel about changing our plans and staying here indefinitely?”
“It isn’t such a bad little bed,” Gabriel agreed, pushing down on the mattress. “Would be nice to test it out.”
“Come here,” Jim beckoned, reaching out for him. They embraced again before Jim got another idea.
“Any chance I could tempt you into lounging on the beach this afternoon?”