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Max has been really looking forward to this camping trip. Craig needs a break, or ten and he, well. He needs a bit of a distraction. Amanda’s away, out in the big world all on her own... with her school class and about a billion chaperones but who’s counting. His heart certainly isn’t.

If Craig thinks he is having anxiety attacks because he’s out of cell range with his girls at their mom’s, he’s got another thing coming when college rolls around. Max is a wreck.

Or he would be, if he hadn’t learned how to stop and breathe somewhere down the road.

Amanda will be okay. The world won’t end. Even if it does, there’s nothing he can do about it. She’s in good hands. He can’t hover over her twenty-four seven, it would burn them both out not just him.

So, yeah, he can relate. That’s what your bros are for, right?

The trip is going great, better than great. No one has broken their neck and they haven’t starved to death, forced to resort to cannibalism, or at least eating their steaks raw because they’re all out of matches. It’s good. Like old times, just Max and Craig and their wonky tent, out under the open sky.

Pretty awesome.

He didn’t forget the sleeping bag on purpose, he really didn’t. Things have been hanging in the balance between them lately but that would be all sorts of sleazy.

Doesn’t change that Max did forget and they do end up sharing and it’s cold and Craig is really warm and- His lips brush against Maxwell’s neck in a gentle kiss and he shivers for a whole new reason.

It’s the stuff of cheesy romcom movies.

The tent is dark, the air charged with potential. Max turns around (how silly is it that he has to look UP even when they’re lying down, what the hell) and looks at his friend, his brother, recently his neighbour and occasional fitness coach and he can barely breathe.

Craig reaches out, slowly, to let one of his strong, strong hands rest on his hip. They’re so close Max swears he can hear his heartbeat. God.

All he has to do is touch, SAY SOMETHING, anything-

After a long moment he lets his forehead sink against Craig’s frankly insane chest muscles with a sigh. Craig goes a little stiff.

“That’s not the sound I was hoping for, bro. You okay?”

“I’m good.”

Is he? Is he really?

Craig shifts uncomfortably, his touch lightens in that particular way every guy who has ever been to a prom and looking for a place to hold their partner that will be not awkward knows too well. Ah, sweet sixteen. Max is so glad that is over.

Not that age is saving him from awkwardness.

Come on, Trevelyan. Grow a spine. He’s your best friend. And maybe a little more, or he could be… but. There’s always a but isn’t there? Sadly with one t, not two.

Max leans back and bites his lip. Seeing as the mood is past the eulogy and about to be buried that makes Craig look a little more worried, though he hides it well.

“I really care about you, bro.”

A rueful smile tugs at Craig’s lips that most prom-going boys are also very familiar with. Max can’t say he has been on the receiving end of it all that often. “I sense a but.”

Great minds think alike. It makes Max grin fleetingly. “But.” The emphasis has Craig tipping over into a grin as well, despite everything. It’s a little weak but it’s there. “I… I’ve been trying to make it work with Robert? I mean, we’re not together. He’s going through some stuff so it’s too soon to say either way. We’ve decided to be just friends for now…”

Craig’s disappointment and the lingering hurt Max can see all too well starts to soften. His bro has always been too good for this world, hasn’t he? “And this feels like cheating.”

“Yeah. Sorry?”

Wrapping his arms around him Craig pulls him in for a bear hug he returns without hesitation. He is warm, so warm and secure. Max wishes he could just bury himself in that.

It wouldn’t be fair to either of them, or to anyone else kind of involved in this if he did.

“You’re a good guy, bro, you know that?”

With another sigh, Maxwell starts to relax. Maybe this won’t be such a disaster, after all. “I try.”

 

 


 

 

When they roll back into the cul-de-sac two days later, hoarse from scream-singing along to DJ Kegstand’s megamix, things are almost back to normal. It was a bit awkward there for a while but they managed. They’ve run from the cops together in nothing but your sneakers, way back when, Maxwell is pretty sure they can get over almost anything.

(Okay, he wasn’t that sure. He is now, though.)

Five minutes into unloading, or an amount of time that might as well be subtitled ‘I totally didn’t wait for your car to pull into the driveway’, Max catches sight of Robert’s leather jacket out of the corner of his eye.

He can’t say he’s surprised. They were supposed to be back yesterday. When they hit the edge of the reception-free zone Craig had been swamped by work e-mails and Max… well. Robert might appreciate silence but as it turns out he’s a repeat offender where chain-messaging is concerned. Who knew.

Heaving the rolled up tent from the top of the pile and setting it down he wipes the sweat off his forehead. “Hey Robert.”

“Hey.” The man in question shifts a little and looks off into the middle distance. It looks so cool, never mind that Max has his number down to the postal code. Kind of adorable. “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’m good. We got a bit side tracked.” They had. There had been a few things to sort out and talk about, never mind the relaxation time. Mmmm sun and steaks. If it weren’t for cable TV Max could happily abandon civilisation.

Then again… civilisation has its perks. Hint: Ice cream might be one of them but it’s not the one he means.

“Side-tracked, huh?” Speaking off, his perk’s shoulders are curving and this is exactly why Max has worked on his semi-fluency in Robert-speak. Looks like the sparks Craig and him have been dancing around weren’t as subtle as they thought.

A small smile steals onto his lips. “Mhm.” Leaning the tent against the side of the car, Max props himself up on the back. Robert isn’t the only one who can play cool, never mind what his Manda Panda says. He has been practicing. “You know how it is. Miles from any other living being, just you, your buddy and Mother Nature staring right back at you. Nothing but a camping knife between you and the edge of mortality. We’ve seen things, Robert, terrible things.”

Maxwell can see him start cracking up but he’s holding it together. For now. “But my bro Craig and I, we’ve known each other for forever. We got this, just like back in the old days in ‘nam.” With the most serious expression he can pull he looks Robert dead in the eye, “War is hell.”

Game, set and match: Robert dissolves into badly stifled giggling.

Score. The crowd goes wild!

He’s so cute like this, when he lets himself go a little. Maxwell can’t help answering with a goofy grin of his own. It loses him about fifty coolness-points in two second but who cares.

The ice is broken. Robert glances at him from under his shaggy bangs, like he’s not sure he wants to face this head on, or at all, insecurity a little closer to the surface. “So, good trip?”

“It was pretty great, yes,” and because Max is trying to be the kind of guy Craig tells him he is, “Craig’s a good friend.”

The emphasis doesn’t go unnoticed. Wariness creeps into Robert’s expression. Such a burned child. “Bet he is.”

Max smiles gently and bites the bullet. “Could be more, I guess, but there’s this guy I know. He’s pretty cool. Think I might date him when he’s ready for it. So.”

It’s a treat, to watch him light up for that. Surprise and happiness chase the shadows from Robert’s eyes and Max doesn’t think he’ll ever get tired of seeing him like that.

They creep back quickly but it’s always worth it to make the effort, go that extra mile. Or in this case, put a lid on the attraction between him and Craig. It didn’t feel right anyhow, not now, not like this, even if the very next thing Robert says is, “Max… you shouldn’t-“ He swallows, looks away. “Don’t wait for me. I’m not… just don’t.”

“Robert,” it’s not exactly something strictly platonic friends do on the regular but fuck the system. Max reaches out and squeezes Robert’s hand lightly. “I’ll tell you this in all seriousness: I’m not.”

Doubt is etched into his friend’s downturned mouth. As always when he gets like this, he looks almost angry with misery.

“No, really, I’m not, not the way you mean. I wouldn’t. Do you take me for the kind of guy who sits around on his ass wanting something he doesn’t have?” Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Maxwell huffs. “I’m happy with this, okay? I want to take the time to be friends and, if that happens, to see if there’s more. I’m not in a hurry. I’m not waiting. I’m where I want to be.”

Robert musters him. His attention can be a little unnerving sometimes, intense as it is. Whatever he’s looking for he doesn’t find it, or maybe he does. Who knows. Not Maxwell, not yet, but with every time they connect a little more he feels like he’s getting there. It’s a good feeling.

The harsh lines of Robert’s face gentle. “The journey is the destination, huh? That’s pretty zen. Didn’t think you were into that.”

Max can’t help but laugh. “Not sure I’d call it that. I’m just too stubborn to settle.”

“And you shouldn’t. You deserve the best.”

That man. How can he say things like that without blushing? Maxwell sure can’t hear them without turning into one third of a traffic light. “Robert.”

“What?”

“Nevermind. Say, do you feel like some top-shelf ice cream? Because I could go for that.” On second thought… Maxwell smirks. “Have to check my calendar, though. I think my phone blew up while I was gone.”

There is the blush he was angling for. Sheepishly, Robert drags a hand through his already messy hair, “Oh really?”

“It’s hard to be popular.”

That makes him grin. “I bet.”

 

 


 

 

Craig

CRAIG

I WANT YOUR BABIES

Jeez bro.

Cabin fever again?

MY HOUSE IS EMPTY AND SO ARE MY ARMS

I need a child. You have three, be a brother and share.

Hey, if you think you can handle some carrot mash, be my guest. River's throwing more of it than she's eating...

I’m the champion of carrot mash.

Be right over?

Sure thing!
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Robert

Max

hey Max

watcha up to tonight

babysitting

questioning the wisdom of feeding kids brightly colored mush

possibly branching out into interior decoration

you?

just asking

wanna come over? Craig says hi

...

sure

enter at your own peril

abandon all hope ye who treat into these fields for death rules here with an iron spoon

pfff

you laugh now

and i’ll laugh later

poker?

sure, why not

I hope you know Briar and Hazel are gonna clean us out

yeah right

lol

oh yeh of little faith

they're merciless

be there in five

leave the car at home, you’re walking either way

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