players only. takes place early August 2016, in celebration of Sam's 40th and before he came out in this interview.
"No. No peeking," Ryan admonishes with a laugh in his voice. "If you spoil the surprise then you'll devastate me with disappointment, and I know you don't want to do that." He checks again that Sam's silk blindfold is securely in place – whatever else they might do with it is no one's business but their own – and continues to coax him down the corridor.
Sam sighs – exaggerated of course – but he grins to himself and goes along with Ryan's coaxing. "Just as long as we're not having dinner in one of those places where you're not allowed to see your food."
"But if you're being hand-fed anyway, does it matter?" Ryan murmurs with a grin. "Okay, almost there. Three steps down. Two... Three..." He guides his husband to a stop. "Are you ready for this?" What a question. As if Sam could even make a fair judgment, based on such limited information.
Sam gives a soft laugh. "As ready as I'll ever be," he says, eyes widening behind the blindfold as what has to be a ton of people all scream "Happy Birthday" at him. He pulls the silk from his eyes and takes a look around the massive space, at the people assembled, all the familiar (vanilla) faces – fuck – and he turns to Ryan, punching him on the shoulder. "You're fucking nuts, you know that?" But he's grinning widely, obviously pleased.
Ryan's return grin is more than a bit giddy, and damn near foolish. He carefully puts distance between Sam and himself, letting his lover be swallowed up by a bunch of his old mates from back home. Ones who don't know about that whole bi part of the sexual. And anyway, Ryan has arrangements to check on.
The rooms he hired for the occasion combine into a space resembling a warehouse, and each spot has its own designated purposes. Pinball machines and billiards tables mix in among sectional couches clustered around Xbox gaming systems with huge screens and controllers for multiple players. A fierce – and loud, damn – battle of Infinite Warfare is already going on in one corner, the players' noise level only slightly edging out that of a nearby group currently cheering and cursing about a GTA triple Insane Stunt Bonus. One entire wall is dedicated to food, mouth-watering aromas rising from marinated steaks beneath hot lamps, tables groaning under the weight of catered side dishes and dessert platters. An open bar is busy at one end, but there are freestanding refrigerators full of beer scattered throughout the room as well. Uniformed servers circulate, plying guests with food and drink. Ryan labored over the guest list for two months, wanting it to be the perfect combination of family and friends, people whose company Sam genuinely enjoys on the rare opportunities he gets to see them. And he already warned them all: No work talk allowed.
The whole thing's incredible, from the guest list to the games to the food and the drink. Sam can't believe Ryan went to all this trouble. Well, he can, but it doesn't make him feel any less blessed or grateful. "Son of a bitch," he growls, wrapping his arm around Tom's neck. "Where'd Ryan drag you in from?"
Tom laughs. "Japan. He had my email though and I wouldn't miss this for the world."
Ryan's out of earshot but he's keeping a close eye on his lover, ready to somehow spirit him out of the party if the festivities aren't to his liking. So far, though, Sam looks pleased, so Ryan smiles and nods and nurses a bottle of beer, hanging back but watching.
Sam talks to Tom for a few minutes longer before pushing him in the direction of some of their old mates. He talks to a few more people then makes a quiet detour to see Ryan. "This is brilliant. Thank you."
A smile spreads wide on Ryan's face, and it's all he can do to keep himself from wrapping himself around his lover. "Happy birthday."
But Sam doesn't have any such worries. He wraps his arms around Ryan, hugging the hell out of him. He'd do that much with any mate.
Giddy, Ryan whispers in his husband's ear, "I love you." He makes himself step back. "Go, go have fun! Eat, drink, conquer! The interpretive dance troupe won't get here till later."
Sam cracks up and gives Ryan another grin before he heads off to play with his friends, downing a decent amount of beer and steak as he does.
Ryan spends the next couple hours circulating, feeling somehow responsible for everyone's good time. He talks to the guests he knows and introduces himself to those he'd not met in person yet, wandering between the games in progress and making sure that the food and drink keep flowing.
At one point he finds himself leaning against the wall by a carnival rifle game, with his brother Tim talking his ear off about romantic complications with some bird and her sister, for fuck's sake, when abruptly the topic changes.
"You're serious, none of these blokes know you're fucking each other?" he says, and then has the nerve to look surprised when Ryan inhales a lungful of beer.
"What the fuck, come on!" Ryan chokes out once he's gasped enough breath back into his body. "You're a bloody moron, what's wrong with you?"
"What? I'm being quiet!" Tim insists, offended.
"No you think you're being quiet, just you're so wasted you can't fucking tell anymore!" Ryan hisses, and shoves him towards the door. "Get the fuck outside, let's go," he orders, all but dragging Tim out into the night air.
Sam ends up full circle, talking to Tom again, his mate pushing him on what happened with Natalie. "Nothing happened," he says. "It was just getting harder and harder to see each other and we decided it was best to stop."
"So why aren't there any strippers here tonight?" Tom asks, grabbing another beer from a passing tray.
"Because I didn't want any," Sam says, smiling brightly. "That's your thing, not mine."
Tom just shakes his head. "You're getting old, mate."
"Exactly." Sam grins. "I need to take a piss," he says, excusing himself again, even though he's fine. He just wants to find Ryan again.
"So, Jesus. You're forty," Tim says, leaning back against the concrete wall and draining the last of his beer.
"Almost forty," Ryan mutters. Really he doesn't mind – unlike some people, he doesn't consider the aging process to be some kind of punishment – but he's not quite mentally prepared for the change, regardless.
"And then me, soon." Tim heaves a sigh and squints up at the night sky like he's searching for intelligent life. "You know, by the time Dad was forty, we all of us were already teenagers."
"Yep." Tilting his head back, Ryan shuts his eyes.
"But now you're the only one who's married, none of us have kids – mum's complaining just gets worse and worse, because all her friends are grandmothers already."
"Uh-huh." Ryan has zero interest in encouraging these ramblings. It's not like he doesn't already think about these things even without his family's prompting.
"Man, why can't I find a decent woman?" Tim's question is plaintive, his voice flush with drunken self-pity.
Christ. "Because you're a jackass, Timothy," Ryan answers with a tired sigh. "You've found plenty of decent women, but you're too much of a prick to ever bother compromising for the sake of a good relationship."
"But why the fuck should I have to compromise?" The tone becomes tinged with self-righteous anger. "They say all the time, you should never have to be with someone who doesn't accept you for who you are. Just you love them and they love you."
Ryan glances at his watch, wondering whether there's any sort of party-related excuse he can leverage to get out of this miserable conversation. "I think what that means is don't try to remake yourself into a different person just to please someone else. But you have to be willing to bend a little to live that closely with someone else."
"Bend." Tim snorts a laugh. "Of course you'd give that advice."
"What? It's just a joke, I'm serious. But you and–" At least this time Tim manages to keep the wording a bit more vague. "I mean, you bend over every day," he snickers, unable to help himself, "but that's not even what I mean. You guys," he gestures with his empty bottle, "I thought you were, like, cool. But you have to give shit up to keep him happy?"
Ryan rolls his eyes and pushes away from the wall. It's not like his brother is likely to even remember this conversation once morning comes, so why bother? "You're completely missing the point," he says, taking the bottle from his brother's hand before he does something idiotic like throw it just to hear the glass smash. "Yes, we compromise all the time, both of us, to keep each other happy. That's how it works. Now go back inside," he points, "and watch your mouth this time."
One of the servers is able to point him in the right direction and Sam sticks his head outside, finding Ryan and his brother Tim in the midst of what seems like a heated discussion. "Everything ok?"
Ryan lights up when he sees his lover. "Yeah, everything's good," he tells Sam with a smile. "Just dealing with some drunk eejit, no big deal," he says, waving a hand at his brother. "Are you ready for everyone to sing to you?"
"I thought I was supposed to enjoy my party," Sam says, teasing, looking horrified at the thought. "You can sing to me but I want a pass on everyone else."
Disappointment colors Ryan's face. "But... but what about the karaoke?"
"Seriously? With this bunch?" Sam laughs. "Okay, let me get a couple shots into me." Because he's not nearly drunk enough for that.
"Yes! Shots!" Ryan grins and then pulls Tim into a headlock. "You keep your fucking mouth shut or I will send you home. Got that?" he growls quietly.
"It's not whatever, it's our life." Ryan releases his brother and lightly smacks him upside the head, then pushes open the door to the warehouse, his eyes warm on Sam.
"What's happening?" Sam asks, nodding at Tim as Ryan's brother wanders back into the party ahead of them.
Ryan shrugs carelessly, because he's just resigned to all the sibling nonsense at this point. "He's just a fuckhead," he explains under his breath, "who tends to get all True Confessions when he drinks. I'm going to go ply him with tequila and watch until he passes out." Glancing sidelong at his husband, he grins. "You're going to give us a show, right? I mean, no one really gives a shit if Frank from Wairangi throws some Dusty Springfield at us. They all want to see Sam take on The Black Album." He laughs softly, letting the back of his hand brush against Sam's. "Even though you know that personally I prefer Master of Puppets."
Sam laughs. "Only if you sing with me." He'll still do it anyway but he's hoping he can rope Ryan in.
Hesitating in the doorway, Ryan shoots him a grin. "Well if you want me up there, I think we might have to do some AC/DC instead." His eyes sparkle wickedly. "Big Balls."
Sam laughs. "I'm game if you are." Fighting the desire to kiss Ryan there and then, to hell with their guests.
In only minutes they're both up on the wide stage erected at one end of the warehouse. Ryan grins and gives the crowd a wave, but hangs back a bit like he always does, keeping his lover front and center while they wait for the familiar opening chords.
"You're crazy," Sam tells him, shaking his head one more time before they start in, hoping his mates are all drunk enough to forget this. At least his part in it. Ryan can sing.
By the time they finish the first chorus, a couple dozen people are singing – okay, shouting – along. Tom clomps up onto the stage with his new best friend Tim at his heels, and Ryan winces internally. Great. Who saw that coming? The two of them grab Sam and hike him up onto their shoulders to cheers from the crowd.
Sam's pretty sure he's going to end up dropped on his fucking head but hey, it's his birthday and at least insurance would cover that. He grins at Ryan and joins the shouting again.
Ryan grins back, only partly concerned that Sam is going to go down, and hard. A heady rush nearly dizzies him as he realizes this is one of the most intensely happy moments of his life: the kind that he knows he'll be able to vividly recall in future idle times.
Sure enough, Sam ends up on the floor, but at least he's right side up when it happens, only his ass getting bruised. He shakes his head at Tim and Tom when they try to pick him up again and makes his getaway back onto the stage with Ryan. "They're two fucking peas in a pod, aren't they?" he yells, nodding at his friend and Ryan's brother.
"Fuckin' menace," Ryan agrees with an arched eyebrow. "It pains me that I didn't see that coming." But right now is not a moment to waste on them – he hopes – and he smiles at his lover, having caught a signal from the manager he put in charge. "Cake time," he says, and points at a gigantic chocolate layer cake dripping with ganache as it gets wheeled out on a cart. The flames from the accumulated candles are near blinding.
Sam stares at the cake for a long moment, stunned by the size and the candles. "Forty?" he asks, even though he already knows.
"What? No," Ryan says in a worried tone. "Because I told them exactly– specifically– I told them to just put on as many candles as possible. Not forty. Fuck no." He steps closer and sees to his horror that, not only does it look like the right number of candles, but also some busy beaver at the bakery took it upon themselves to write a huge Happy 40th! in curly whipped cream script. "Fuck."
The look on Ryan's face... Sam starts laughing, he can't help himself. "It's okay," he says, wrapping his arm around Ryan's shoulders and giving him a quick guy hug. "Forty feels like any other year and way better than a lot of my twenties and thirties did." And almost all of that's down to Ryan.
Ryan exhales in relief, hoping that if anyone else picked up on his sudden anxiety then they attributed it just to a sense of perfectionism. Not to a bone-deep need to please – and protect – the man at his side. "Are you going to blow them all out in one?" he asks, his renewed smile only a touch bashful.
Sam chuckles. "I can try but I don't know that I have that much breath in me." He grins at Ryan, ignoring everyone else around them. "Want to help? You take half and I'll take the other half?"
He's a little concerned with how that might look, but who is Ryan if not a slave to the birthday boy? "All right. Should I count us down?" he asks, circling to the other side. "One... Two..."
Sam blows out his half on three, the last few taking everything he has in his lungs. Ryan has a much easier time of it as expected and Sam just laughs and gives him a hug as they move the cake to the side to start slicing it. "You could have blown out that whole thing, couldn't you?"
Ryan shrugs a little. "Maybe," he says, but what he's thinking is don't start with the blowing jokes. He's had just enough beer – or maybe not quite enough? – to know better than to say it out loud. "I'm pretty sure you still get credit for the wish."
"Good." Sam smiles, leaning in to whisper in Ryan's ear. "I love you."
Oh, god. Ryan beams, his smile widening almost painfully. And when he looks at Sam, he knows his heart is in his eyes. I love you too.