The crowd around Ethan is swarming and loud and kind of chaotic but in a contained sort of way as the house mix booms through the speakers.
They’re at James’ place, and Ethan is no stranger around these parts. The first time he subbed in for James’ regular camera guy was because he was out sick, and after that they’ve hooked up to shoot multiple videos for a couple of months straight. James likes Ethan’s vision and direction. Whatever that means.
Bryant had referred him to James, and despite the initial reservations they both kind of had about each other, they work well together. Even though they bitch at each other a lot on and off screen, the fans like that side back and forth, so James keeps him on board on his team.
Ethan’s also been doing some work with Jeffree, Emma and Shane whenever they need a replacement because their guys are out or unavailable. So he’s got a lot to be thankful for after dropping out of his second year of college to pursue this full time.
All of that being said, Ethan sticks close to Bryant and some of the other videographers that he’s worked with at the party, though, since he’s got more in common with them than the influencers.
The behind-the-scenes guys are also a more honest and less fake group of dudes, and that’s heavily factored into his decision when it comes to socializing.
Bryant hands him his camera and Ethan snorts but readily looks at a photo Bryant just took. “Dude, do you ever clock out?”
“Nah.” Bryant smiles as he scrolls through recent pics. Ethan hums in the back of his throat in appreciation as he comes across a particularly nice snap. The angle is off but it looks pretty sick. Super artsy. He looks up at the shout of his name.
James’ voice precedes him as he cuts through the crowd with a raised, well-manicured hand, dragging someone behind him unwillingly. When Ethan catches a glimpse of the slightly sullen face of his captive - a common look sported when in James’ presence for too long - he knows it’s the Grayson Dolan kid.
Ethan internally sighs. He knows what’s coming. James has already delivered his frenzied ‘brother from another mother’ spiel to him before. He’s already shot down two theories by informing James that he’s almost a year older than Grayson and was born in California, not New Jersey. Obviously James ignored those vital pieces of information.
James looks ecstatic and wide-eyed and super pleased with himself as Grayson shakes off his hold and stands next to him like he’s at a loss, looking kind of constipated.
He’s wearing a tight, blue shirt that’s glued onto him in a way that makes his nips and pecs almost burst through, with a Gucci belt, LV sneakers, and navy floral patterned white pants. Dude is thick.
Ethan doesn’t mean to judge right off the bat, but Grayson’s obviously one of those guys. It makes sense now why James has such a huge boner for him - so his type.
“Guys, so Grayson didn’t believe me when I told him that he’s got a doppelganger out there, so I had to show him.” James puts a hand on Ethan’s arm and tries to drag him forward from where he’s casually leaning against the wall, arms crossed. Ethan hardly budges from his spot.
“Hey dude, my name’s Ethan,” Ethan introduces himself, obligingly reaching out for a handshake, and Grayson quirks a small smile and says, “Hey man,” back, shaking his hand shortly before letting it drop. No other introductions. Ethan tries not to roll his eyes or scoff too obviously.
“Bryant, bro, how’s it hanging,” Grayson says with more genuine interest as they give each other a bro-hug right after. Everyone knows Bryant or is friends with him in their sphere.
“So let’s see you, my infamous twin,” Grayson mulls out slowly, once niceties are immediately out of the way, with an almost playful kind of challenge in his voice, head tilted to the side, and eyes narrowed. Looking obnoxiously confident in himself. Eyeing Ethan up like he’s some specimen pinned to a board.
Suddenly Ethan is super aware of the fact that he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days and that he’s wearing a black t-shirt and jeans with red high-top Converse sneakers. He stayed up until 3am last night editing one of Emma’s vids, since her laptop had died on her a day before her scheduled posting.
Ethan frowns and affects an air of boredom and nonchalance under his scrutiny. Arms folded over his chest again, one eyebrow raised. “And? What’s the final verdict?” Ethan asks after a second, James being dragged into another conversation and Bryant taking a call, turned away from them.
“Can you please turn around?” Grayson purses his lips like he’s in deep thought and actually reaches out to turn Ethan around by the shoulders.
“Are you serious right now?” Ethan asks in surprise, and Grayson just says, “Yup,” and starts taking small steps in a semi-circle around Ethan because there’s no way that Ethan is going to do a spin for him, what the fuck.
The way that Grayson sighs as he says, “You’re just being difficult,” makes Ethan crack into a real smile and step into Grayson’s space a bit. Grayson freezes a little. “Since you’re having some difficulty, let me help you out there, bud.”
Grayson’s eyebrows rise up a bit in surprise but he doesn’t step back. He’s a little taller than Ethan, but not by much.
“And?” Grayson presses, with some faux-bravado slipping through.
Ethan nods his head like he’s made up his mind and casually leans back against the wall again, dropping his eyes down to his cellphone, but not before calmly stating, “We look nothing alike, dude. So you can just chill out.”
Grayson looks at him like he’s being dense on purpose. "Are you serious? We do look a little bit alike."
"Nah, man, I don't see it. Sorry to burst your bubble,” he says, just to be a little contrary.
Ethan glances up disinterestedly for a quick second to throw Grayson another bland, bored look before casting his gaze back down again, already freezing Grayson out and not really knowing why he's doing it. He's being blatantly rude but can't help it.
Grayson's outright frowning at him now, and his arms are crossed sort of defensively over his muscular chest, serving intensely displeased fuckboy vibes. His shirt might rip at the seams if he flexes any harder. Ethan works out too but it looks like Grayson is one of those next level dudes when it comes to hitting the gym.
James twirls back into their orbit again thankfully with a flurry of movement and throws his arms around their shoulders and squeezes them in. "So sisters, separated at birth or what?" They take a second to smile into Bryant's camera as he gets into their face for a quick photo op before he moves on.
Grayson huffs out a chuckle and dryly says, "He wishes. I don't see any similarities." Ethan has to look into Grayson's eyes as he delivers that comment, and he bristles a little bit at the cool delivery of it.
"Yeah, there might be, like, a super vague and general likeness there, but the details are all wrong," Ethan chimes in with some satisfaction, gesturing to the way that Grayson's hair swoops down over his forehead and the caramel highlights running through and even going as far as pointing out his outfit. Grayson loudly scoffs and James shrieks out an, "Ethan Grant! Don't be rude!"
Grayson pulls back from their little huddle and says, "I'm done here. Thanks for the introductions, James."
"Ethan," Grayson says with some condescension, almost as an afterthought, pinning him with a glare, "I was actually looking to replace my video and camera guy and James highly recommended you, but I think I'll pass."
Ethan cringes hard internally and wants to smack himself but doesn't show it externally. He can't drop his cool now, it's too late. "Same here, Grayson. I don't know if we'd vibe well together." He and Grayson kind of glare at each other but don't say anything else.
James blinks at them in disbelief a couple of times like he missed something big, and Ethan doesn't blame him. "Oh wow, this did not go at all like how I imagined."
Grayson draws back and takes out his phone as he turns around. "Not your fault, buddy. Shit happens." Next moment he's pushing his way through the crowd and is lost from sight.
Sensing that James is about to round in on him and give him a piece of his mind in a very loud and dramatic fashion, Ethan smiles at him as dazzlingly as possible before pulling him into a big hug and dropping a kiss onto his cheek. "Thanks, James, that was sweet of you. You're a good guy," and James is left spluttering in his wake in distress as Ethan leaves to find Bryant and the others and then head out.
He can’t help but feel like a tool on his way home that night, though. He doesn’t know why he snapped like that, since he’s usually better at faking it with new people.
Sure Grayson seemed stuck up and bougie and full of himself, but so are most of the people that he hangs around with in LA in their circle. He’s got solid working relationships with a lot of douchebags.
Grayson has ten million subscribers to his channel and Ethan just blew that opportunity.
So much for acting like an adult.
Bryant posts the pic of the three of them hugging and posing on instagram that night and Ethan’s instagram page explodes with hundreds of followers the following morning. And with a lot of colorful and cringe-worthy comments. It’s not just instagram, it’s Twitter and his snapchat feed too.
Most comments are about James’ and Grayson’s fanbase losing their shit over the fact that Grayson and he do admittedly look a little alike and share some resemblance.
They want to know if Grayson has a secret twin, how they know each other, does Ethan have his own channel, are they collaborating - it’s a never-ending barrage of commentary, basically, and Ethan loses track.
“What did you do, you asshole,” Ethan may or may not whine out to Bryant on the phone. Bryant snickers out an apology and shoots down Ethan’s request for taking down the picture or removing his username tag.
“I don’t want to set my account to private, dude, since it’s my work account too,” Ethan tries to reason with him. Bryant laughs and mocks his pain by simply saying, “Tough, then leave it open. This will be good for your business.”
“I hate you,” Ethan grumbles half-heartedly and then another huskier voice comes in via speaker and Ethan wants to disconnect the call sort of immediately.
“You deserve it for acting like a dick last night, bro,” Grayson says simply, having evidently hijacked Bryant’s phone. He can hear Bryant laughing in the distance and asking for it back.
“Bryant, I’m revoking and voiding your friendship card right now, just FYI,” Ethan says matter-of-factly, and then adds, “And Grayson, stop being such a tryhard princess and maybe we’ll get along. Later,” and hangs up. Grayson’s voice had gone up an octave with some expletive before Ethan hung up on him.
Ethan smirks in victory.
Until he looks down and does a spit take when he reads an absolutely filthy fan comment about he and Grayson. He fights through the blush at the same time he tries to control his coughing fit so he doesn’t die in such an embarrassing fashion.
He tags along to Coachella with Bryant over a week later, and he knows he’s going to have a good time but also help Bryant take more pics and vids and edit on the scene.
Their hotel room ends up next to Grayson’s and Mike’s, the guy Grayson runs his channel with. His childhood best friend. Ethan does not think it’s a coincidence that they are neighbors. He knows that Bryant is best buds with Grayson, too.
Bryant asks him to get along and not kill the vibes, and Ethan isn’t a total idiot and promises to try to behave.
When they go over to their room the night before day 1 to hang out for a bit, Ethan casually says, “Hey man,” and tries to look as non-threatening and chill as possible as he drops into a chair, and it looks like Grayson got the same talk, because he just raises his hand in a small, unenthusiastic wave from his bed, and says, “Sup.” No heat.
He talks with Mike more as Bryant and Grayson geek out over the setlists, and Mike’s a good dude. Funny in a non-douchey sort of way. They exchange numbers at some point, and he can feel Grayson look at him time to time, but he doesn’t return his stare.
It’s all about maintaining status quo the next three days.
They shoot the shit a bit and things are okay, and the next three days end up being a wild fucking ride.
He doesn’t mean to but he jams out to more sets than he would care to admit next to Grayson, both of them singing kind of stupidly loud and off key and flailing all over the place. It’s like they gravitate towards each other, in a dumb and annoying sort of way.
At a couple of points, Grayson throws an arm around his shoulders and Ethan doesn’t immediately push him off, his sweaty arm leaving marks and sticking to Ethan’s skin. When Ethan does move away, he has the excuse of the camera in front of him and takes pictures and videos, roams around.
He follows the usuals - Emma, her friends, James, Grayson, and Mike, on top of others - and goes where Bryant tells him to go, basically.
One of the photos that he takes is of Grayson in his day two outfit, which he posts on his own instagram and it kind of explodes all over the internet. Like, Ethan isn’t blind. He gets it, visually and aesthetically speaking.
Grayson may be a fuckboy but he’s a good-looking one at that, and he knows it. He’s wearing a thin mesh white tank with black, artfully distressed torn jeans, and silver LV sneakers, leaning against a palm tree with a pout on his lips.
Light stubble, next level tan, silver chain, sporting a semi-visible and impossible eight-pack, with the tattoos on his legs peering through the tears in his jeans, and a nipple ring showing through the shirt, if Ethan can even call it a shirt.
Ethan isn’t into dudes, but yeah. He has to take an extra second between those shots to remain super calm and unaffected, because Grayson has a smug, self-satisfied grin on his face like he knows he’s all that and Ethan will not feed his already big ego even more.
Grayson actually comments on that pic on Ethan’s instagram feed with a wink and kissy face emoji the morning after, and Ethan wants to die. His comment section dissolves into teen girls capslocking their fervent hysteria with increasingly incoherent comments and it only makes Ethan’s head hurt more.
“What did you do,” he mutters sort of sulkily and without looking up from his phone, in Grayson’s general direction that morning, as they all grab breakfast together at the hotel restaurant.
Grayson pretends he doesn’t hear him and continues digging into his omelet with more energy and enthusiasm than should be possible after pulling two super late nights in a row.
“You suck,” he adds sort of petulantly, and Grayson tuts and pats him on the arm in faux-sympathy. Ethan jerks away from him. “Don’t be a baby, Ethan.”
“I’m not. You’re just not a nice person, Grayson, and that’s the tea.” Ethan gets up from his seat with one last sigh and stretches his arms above his head and hears bones pop in a way that can’t be entirely normal.
“I’m a fucking amazing person. Isn’t that right, Mikey?” Grayson asks, dragging his eyes away to his friend. Mike grumbles out what could be an affirmative, his head basically buried in his plate and his blond hair sticking up every which way. Grayson pats Mike on the head happily and smiles sunnily up at Ethan.
Ugh. Ethan gives him the stink-eye and goes back up to his hotel room to sleep for a few more hours.
When he wakes up later, he finds that Bryant has posted some more pics to his instagram, and one of them is Ethan with an arm around Emma, sticking out their tongues, with sunglasses on.
Ethan wore black shorts, orange Converse sneakers, a black loose tank top, and an orange bandana wrapped around his neck, his right tattoo sleeve on full display. Just the right amount of tryhard, in Ethan’s fairly modest opinion. Grayson leaves a ‘serving major looks’ comment on Bryant’s post and Ethan is too tired to deal with that.
All in all, Ethan has an amazing time, and the fact that he gets sick for an entire week after Coachella is almost worth it.
He kind of even got along with Grayson towards the end, which was pretty surprising, all things considered.
(Okay, the ‘getting along part’ is a little bit of a lie, since there were a couple of moments where they both did not have the energy to even pretend that they liked each other.
Early Day 1
Ethan opens the door to the room he’s sharing with Bryant at a knock and immediately wants to close it again in Grayson’s stupid face because once again, Grayson is just wearing joggers, Gucci sliders, a silver chain, and no shirt.
He looks too fucking obnoxiously smug for ten in the morning. It’s the third time in less than 24 hours that Grayson has deemed that it’s totally normal to walk around everywhere shirt-free and flex his pecs like a sideshow attraction.
“Just out of curiosity, are you allergic to wearing shirts or are you just a totally shameless exhibitionist who’s attention-starved?”
Grayson pushes him out of the way and heads inside and plops himself down on Ethan’s bed with little care or concern, making himself all comfortable with his hands behind his head, looking like the personification of nonchalance. “Why, does it turn you on or something? No need to be ashamed about it, it’s a common reaction. ”
Bryant snorts from where he’s huddled in front of his laptop on his bed.
Ethan aims a glare at Grayson as he drops down into a chair. “You wish, jackass. I just don’t want to see more of you than I have to so that my gag reflex doesn’t kick in, and I also happen to be allergic to douchebags.” Ethan goes on his cellphone in order to avoid further communication.
Ethan looks up with narrowed eyes.
“Blow me,” Grayson says, super sweetly. The infuriating smirk not lessening any as he crosses his legs at the ankles casually, holding Ethan’s stare defiantly.
“In your fucking dreams, bro,” Ethan snaps back, getting up and grabbing his wallet from the nightstand. “Actually, no, not even then.”
Grayson’s comeback is silenced when Bryant heaves out the kind of sigh a kindergarten teacher might when reprimanding his unruly students. “Guys, please. Can we not? Can we at least pretend to get along for three days?”
Ethan hears Grayson innocently reply back, “He started it,” as Ethan leaves the room.
Early Day 2
The heat is pretty intense but Ethan is determined to tan a little in order to go beyond the vampire realness look he’s serving right now. He’s too pale, and he keeps getting reminded of that whenever he sees Grayson and Mikey. They’re almost bronzed to perfection.
It’s just him and a couple of people around the pool until Grayson and Mikey make the way over to his area and drop down into pool recliners. Like they even need more sun.
“Sup bro,” Mikey says and takes the seat next to him on his left. Ethan returns his greeting. Grayson takes the open spot on his right.
Grayson pauses as he’s about to settle himself in and stands over Ethan for a moment, lowering his sunglasses on his face so that Ethan can see his judgemental eyes squinting down.
“What?” Ethan barks out, not in the mood.
Grayson lets out a hum and then fixes his glasses back onto his face and turns his back to him. “Nothing, I’m just surprised,” Grayson muses.
Ethan does not want to fall for the bait but he’s weak. “About what, Grayson?” He asks sweetly and faux-patiently, face contorted into grimace of a smile.
“That you’ve got abs.”
Ethan looks down at said abs and frowns. “Why?”
“I thought the only exercise you got was jumping to conclusions and running your mouth, but hey, guess I was wrong.” Grayson sounds so pleased and looks so smug that Ethan suddenly wants to overturn his pool chair into the water.
Mikey immediately warns, “Grayson, if he tries to throw you into the pool or inflict bodily harm, I won’t stop him.”
Ethan might’ve energetically telegraphed that move because Grayson’s eyes widen suddenly and he sits up ramrod straight, sort of bracing himself. After a suspended moment, Ethan relaxes the tension coiled through his body and stiffly gets up.
“Honestly, Grayson, you’re not even worth my time,” Ethan grouses. He grabs his towel and lotion and goes across the pool to an empty chair there.
He hears Mikey accuse Grayson of ‘pulling his pigtails’ too much and ‘to tone it down,’ but Ethan pops his headphones in and ignores everything else around him.
Early Day 3
Ethan is huddled around a cup of coffee and slumped forward in his seat like he’s about to tilt forward and fall asleep on the table.
“Hey bro!” Grayson shouts as he takes a seat across from Ethan at the outdoor cafe, looking amped.
“Not so loud, man.” Ethan glares at him with a nasty look but oddly enough Grayson’s smile just grows bigger. And he giggles. Ethan sighs and then takes another careful sip of his coffee, groaning at the caffeine-rich goodness of it.
He’ll just ignore the nuisance sitting across from him.
A waiter comes by the table and Grayson orders a coffee and pancakes for himself. Ethan still ignores him.
The feeling of being watched makes him glance up finally to see Grayson snapping pics of him on his phone and Ethan scowls and tries to snatch his phone away but misses. “What the fuck, why are you taking pics of me?”
There’s a small smile on Grayson’s face as he types something into his phone. He says with some amusement, “I came here to bother you but it looks like I don’t need to. You look like shit.”
“What are you, five?” Ethan hisses, and then thinks better of it and is too tired to play this back and forth game, so he kind of begs, “If I pay you to leave me alone so that I can eat my breakfast in peace, would you please go?” He’s sincere in his request, maybe too sincere, since the obnoxious, jokey, smile drops from Grayson’s face and he looks serious suddenly.
A second later he holds his hand out and says, “Do you want to truce it? No more BS. Let’s just enjoy our last day here.”
Ethan’s a little suspicious of the sudden peace treaty being laid across the table from him, but he’s also really fucking tired, so with some hesitation he shakes Grayson’s hand firmly and says grudgingly, “Deal.”
“Awesome,” Grayson replies back, and they enjoy a quiet but relatively peaceful breakfast together.
Back in his hotel room, Ethan sees the picture of him on Grayson’s instagram feed, his chin on his fist, slouched in his seat and over his coffee, his hair wild and his lips kind of pursed up after probably taking a sip. The caption reads my grumpy date and Ethan just sighs with defeat.)
Cameron calls a week later and gets straight to the point after a quick hello. “Are you and Grayson Dolan hooking up? Because Tina is telling me that you guys are fucking.”
“Holy shit, Cam, nice to hear from you too, and no, we’re not hooking up. I’m not even into guys!” He yells out, kind of feelingly and defensively.
“Hmm,” she says, clicking her tongue, “She’s says there are pics and vids everywhere from Coachella where you two were all over each other and were also flirting online.”
Ethan gapes and tries not to choke on his own tongue. “We were just hanging out and we even kind of hate each other! No dick-to-dick touching involved there. Jesus, you should stop listening to what your friends are saying.”
Cam laughs and then sings out, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks…”
“Bye, loser. Stop listening to gossip,” Ethan advises and hangs up on her quickly.
Later that night, he’s got a missed call and voicemail from a number he doesn’t recognize. It’s Grayson.
Hey man, this is Grayson. Can you give me a call back? I want to meet you so we can discuss some things. Um, okay, thanks. Bye, E.
Ethan frowns at his cellphone for a few quiet seconds in a manner that suggests that it just offended him gravely. E? Since when? He then heaves in a huge sigh and calls him back. Grayson asks him over to his place to chat and Ethan sees no sane, good reason to refuse to go, so he goes.
Ethan’s not stupid. It’s better to be friends than enemies with guys like Grayson and Mikey.
Grayson greets him at the door of his admittedly nice looking digs with a small smile and a bro-hug-fist-bump hybrid.
They head to his living room, and Ethan whistles out a, “Damn, this place looks sick,” before he can register it leaving his mouth, and Grayson grins proudly and ruffles the back of his own hair, and says, “Thanks, man. Mikey and I got an interior decorator to help us out, since we’re both kind of clueless when left to our own devices.”
They chitchat for a few minutes and then Grayson steeples his fingers together like he’s bracing himself for a negative reaction, and asks after a pause in the conversation, “So you’re probably wondering why I asked you here.”
And Ethan nods and takes a sip of the Kombucha that Grayson handed to him, grimacing slightly at the taste and wanting to barf a little. Bougie people and their quirks, man. What the fuck is Kombucha, anyway?
Grayson licks his lips and continues. “Aaron, our camera guy, is heading back home next week to pursue a college degree. He’s leaving and we need a replacement kind of ASAP. Kind of like right now.”
Ethan a perks up and puts his drink down and watches Grayson fidget around a bit, from nerves.
“We shoot every Wednesday and Thursday, and I know you work with James Monday and Tuesdays.”
Ethan says, “Yup,” and internally lets out a fist pump in a preemptive celebration.
“So, obviously, uh, would you be interested in the job?” Grayson finishes sort of lamely, done with laying out his offer. Looking expectant.
Ethan leans back into the couch and scratches at his cheek, thinking it over. “What’s the pay like?”
Grayson lets a relieved little noise out which makes Ethan’s lips twitch up into an unintentional smile. “Our manager will e-sign all of that to you in a contract. I’ll give you his email address and number and you can negotiate what you want with him, if you’re in.”
The breeze from outside hits Ethan squarely in the face and Ethan knows that he can’t logically turn this down. This will open even more doors for him. He wants to be a producer and director in the future and work on his own projects and all of this falls right along that path.
He looks back at Grayson, who’s sitting there playing with his bracelet, biting on the inside of lip. Hair flopping down over his eyes a little, no product in it.
“I’m in,” Ethan says, with a grin, and Grayson lets out a loud “Yes!” and high fives him.
“You’re such a dork, I hope you know that,” Ethan says around another begrudging smile, and Grayson shrugs his shoulders like he doesn’t give a single fuck.
He shadows Aaron on his last two days of filming, and Mikey and Grayson are a little off and a little emotional, since Aaron is one of their good buddies and has been with them for the past two years.
“It’s hard to come by solid people here, man. Lots of snakes and fakes. You hang onto the decent ones,” Grayson says, frowning down into his pad thai as they take a break from filming for lunch.
Mikey whistles out a, “Right on, Gray,” and Ethan doesn’t say anything to that. Just listens as they start swapping stories and taking trips down memory lane.
They tell him about how they came to Cali four years ago, and why. How they were basically bullied out of middle and high school. How certain Youtubers used them and dropped them and they had to learn the hard way to vet their friends real hard before getting real with them in any way.
A couple of times Ethan finds that he has to adjust and reevaluate his opinions of them as they chat, because he might've been wrong in his initial judgments. Just maybe.
At the end of the day, when they’ve wrapped up and he and Aaron are done putting the cameras and lighting equipment away, Grayson asks him if he skateboards.
Ethan looks at the ramp set up in their backyard and grabs the skateboard that Grayson hands him. They take turns and Ethan crows loudly in a cheer when Grayson falls on his ass after nailing a hard trick. When he holds his hand out for Grayson to grab, Grayson just pulls him down next to him and puts him in a headlock, which Ethan has some trouble getting out of. Grayson’s laughter is loud and big and obnoxious, and Ethan may or may not accidentally knee him as he gets up.
Mikey is snickering and hollering in the distance. He snaps them play-fighting and the fans kind of lose their minds when they see it.
Ethan finds out that Grayson was going to pursue football and was on the wrestling team before he left school to focus on his channel full-time. He seems mildly impressed when Ethan tells him that he was on the soccer team and got a partial scholarship to USC for it but then ended up wanting to pursue film. They both also find out that they surf and skateboard in their free time.
“So you’re telling me you’re not a weakass, avocado toast-eating SoCal pussy, like most of the guys here are,” Grayson says with a smirk, and Ethan slaps the back of his head in answer. “Fucking rude, douchebag.”
Mikey sputters out an enraged, “Bro, we’re always eating avocado toast like posers and you’ve got more Gucci than should be legal,” before Grayson chases him in the backyard, telling him to shut the fuck up.
“See you guys later,” Ethan hollers as he leaves, and feels so good about his future, that he can fly.
The next three weeks go by fairly well and stress free.
He manages his new schedule like a boss, and his social media feeds continue gaining in followers and ridiculous comments. But if it means that he’s gaining an audience and a bigger spotlight, then he’s all for it.
It kind of happens all by itself and he doesn’t mean to, but when they wrap up their shoots Wednesdays and Thursdays, Ethan hangs out with Mikey and Grayson, and sometimes Bryant will join in, if he’s not too busy.
It’s nice, they’re a good group of dudes much to Ethan’s chagrin, and when Grayson presses him to admit that he was wrong about them, with a loose arm around Ethan’s shoulders, Ethan yields with an eyeroll and another attempt to throw his arm off.
He’s learned that Grayson is also pretty affectionate, which takes some getting used to, since Ethan is not much for it, unless it’s family and super close friends.
Grayson’s a giant labrador in a person’s body, basically.
“Say it, say you were a judgy little bitch for no reason, Ethan, and I’ll let you go,” Grayson says almost serenely, his arm like a constrictive steel band around Ethan’s neck, contradicting his calm tone completely. Ethan has tried for the past minute to throw him off and get away, but it hasn’t worked too well.
“Look, can you just stop flexing and calm down, dude? This shit is ridiculous,” Ethan says with some difficulty, grunting as he manages to break free for a sweet, fleeting moment and then gets tackled to the rug as soon as he’s up. This is what he gets for hanging out with a guy that is too into wrestling and roughhousing. Serves him right.
From the kitchen Mikey yells out, “Tickle him! That’s his achilles heel!”
And Grayson doesn’t have any time to do much else but cuss out, “Fuck you, Mikey!” before Ethan twists around and starts tickling him under the arms and under the ribs, feeling stupid and silly and like a big kid. But he can’t help snickering though as Grayson shrieks and wheezes and tries to get away.
“No! No no no, fuck, stop, stop, ” Grayson cries out between bursts of laughter, and then he kicks out and catches Ethan on the upper thigh from where Ethan is on his knees, and Ethan almost falls onto his ass before catching himself and straightening up. Grayson’s chest is heaving as he tries to level his breathing. “Mikey, you’re so fucking canceled. I hate you.”
He’s red in the face and there are tears in his eyes, his shirt is riding up underneath his armpits and he’s flushed all over. And he definitely looks a certain way.
Ethan turns around to grab his backpack with some haste when he catches himself look down at the way Grayson’s shorts are almost too indecently exposing his happy trail and the sharply cut v of his hips.
“Bye, bitches, see you later.” Ethan is a little flushed too and catches Grayson flipping him off as he steps over his prone body and leaves. He tries to half-heartedly grab at Ethan’s ankle but Ethan anticipates that and dances out of the way with a chuckle.
Mikey high-fives him on the way out the door, his blue eyes twinkling mischievously and grinning in a way that is too conspiratory and, like, inside-jokey.
That night Ethan heads over to Emma’s place and they mess around.
It makes him feel lighter afterwards, and he doesn’t think about why that is.
The following week Grayson and Mikey build furniture for each other in order to spruce up their individual bedrooms, and Ethan is hugely impressed, despite his initial reservations about one of them ending up in the hospital due to a misplaced nail at some point. Probably Mikey.
Ethan finds out that Grayson is a man possessed when it comes to building, it looks like, and each time he throws a smug, victorious little look at Ethan, as his construction impressively takes shape, Ethan feels it hit him straight in his gut for some reason.
It’s just that Grayson’s a pretty impressive dude, he reassures himself. It’s like he knows how to do a million random things, do them well, and do them with deep care and concentration.
When Grayson blows on the tip of the drill like it’s a gun, once the last nail is in, covered in sweat and sawdust, but his eyes bright and crinkling at the corners, his smile wide and goofy, Ethan vows to get a girlfriend, even though he swore off all relationships last year.
Obviously his friends-with-benefits situation is not working out with Emma, and he maybe needs a real relationship, sort of ASAP.
Almost two months after he joins their team, Ethan gets a text in the morning from Mikey that makes his stomach drop and his chest tighten up.
Hey Ethan, we won’t be shooting today. We’re putting everything on hold sorry. Grayson’s dad died last night from a heartattack and we’re flying to NJ this morning. Thanks for all you do, we’ll be in touch
It sucks and Ethan feels terrible, but he doesn’t know what to say. He calls Bryant and they both commiserate together in low spirits, and Bryant tells him that he’s going to be flying out tomorrow morning to be there for Grayson.
Ethan thinks that’s a great idea but doesn’t know what to do on his end. He ends up shooting Grayson a text and then just puttering around his place for the next hour, until Grayson responds.
Bro, I heard what happened and I am so fucking sorry for your loss. I don’t even know what to say. Please let me know if you need anything at all <3
Grayson texts back:
Then an hour later:
Are you coming w Bryant?
Ethan frowns, not because he doesn’t want to, but because he doesn’t want to be like a newbie, a stranger, around the Dolans during this time.
He texts back:
Would it be ok if I came? Would you/your fam be comfortable with that?
Grayson simply texts back, Yes, so Ethan books his own flight after coordinating with Bryant.
A cab picks them up from the airport and he and Bryant get dropped off at a hotel only a couple of miles away from where Grayson’s family lives.
They meet Mikey outside the house and they all hug, and Mikey looks tired and worn out, and Ethan is suddenly scared, actually terrified, of seeing Grayson like that.
Grayson, who’s a fucking ray of sunshine and energy and laughter and sweet smiles and a giant, loud dork.
He doesn’t know why it hits him, this fear that is tangled up with so much affection for Grayson suddenly, but it does, and it stuns him stupid for a solid minute, letting Bryant and Mikey carry on the conversation without him. He’s only known Grayson for less than three fucking months total, how can that even be possible?
Ethan tunes back in like he’s just emerged topside from the very depths of the ocean floor when Mikey touches his elbow, face pinched with worry, and asks him if they want to head inside.
There are a ton of people in the living room and dining room as they cut their way through to the kitchen, where Grayson is slumped leaning against the counter, surrounded by two men who're his uncles and someone who has to be his mom, leaning against him, face teary, arm around his waist, his around her shoulders. Ethan can't tell who's supporting who at that moment.
Grayson is saying something to his mom, his voice low and strained, when he suddenly looks up at him and Ethan feels his whole body go hot and cold all at once. Like it used to before a soccer game, or as he's catching a big wave, or nailing down a difficult move on his skateboard.
Ethan croaks out a, "Hi," before Grayson moves towards them, dropping a kiss onto him mom's forehead as he does. His uncles and his younger sister converge around his mom then and they continue talking in hushed voices. People expanding and contracting from the kitchen like the tides of the sea.
Before he's even composed himself at all, Grayson is in his space, face pale and ashen and drawn tight, shoulders curved inwards, looking so young, and Ethan doesn't even think, he just reaches out and pulls Grayson to him in a tight hug.
Grayson just goes, just falls into him full, his arms tight like a vise around Ethan, his wet face smearing tear tracks in Ethan's shirt, against the side of his neck. Jesus Christ.
He distantly feels Mikey and Bryant merge into their hug and envelope Grayson from all sides, until it's just a tangle of limbs and the muffled sounds of Grayson trying not to completely fall apart, his crying almost silent except for the way he's emotionally bleeding into Ethan like Ethan is a sponge. Like Ethan is the only thing that’s keeping him up.
Ethan just holds him, mutters nonsense reassurances to him for a minute, until Grayson’s aunt calls his name and pulls him aside and they all separate.
The next three days pass by in a blur.
In front of his family and friends, Grayson is a fucking stellar actor, as composed as can be. Thanking people for coming with a weak, drawn smile and shadowed eyes, hugging people, directing people, pretty much a perfect fucking robot. James and Emma are there for a day to lend their support, and he puts on a brave face in front of them as well.
Behind closed doors he’s a wreck, and Ethan takes turns with Mikey and Bryant to hold him up when it’s just them. To get him through the funeral.
At one point Grayson squeezes his hand at the cemetery as he’s passing by, his eyes watery but guarded, and Ethan takes his hand between both of his and just hangs onto him, tries to pass him some warmth just through touch alone. The small, thankful smile that Grayson shoots his way is heartbreaking before he gets chaperoned away and pulled into a hug by someone else.
Ethan feels so full of emotions, so full of feelings, that he’s surprised that he hasn’t had an anxiety attack yet. Or fallen apart himself.
Being with Grayson those few days is like getting a surgery done without any anesthetic.
Bryant and he leave the day after the funeral, since Bryant has some prior engagements that he can’t reschedule and Ethan has to be ready for James’s stuff the following day.
He’s checking his phone as they land in LA and he’s already got a simple text message from Grayson:
Thnks for evrything, E xo
Ethan just shoots back a heart emoji before he punks out and just texts back sure thing bro or something else. Grayson doesn’t text him back. Thankfully. Ethan might hyperventilate if he does, since he’s trying to sort of wrap his head around the little revelation he experienced in the middle of one of the worst times in his life only a couple of days ago.
Once home, he heads to his room in a zombie shuffle and sleeps for almost eleven hours straight.
In the morning he feels more human, but is a little withdrawn with James and Emma while helping them shoot their collab vid. He also kind of breaks it off with Emma, and Emma looks relieved about it, and he doesn’t ask why. There’s a knowing kind of look in her eyes that she hasn’t developed the skills to hide well yet in Hollywood. Ethan lets it slide.
Mikey and Grayson stay in Jersey for another ten days, and Ethan tries not to miss Grayson, and fails pretty spectacularly at it.
He grabs brunch with Grayson on Tuesday, a day after they return, kind of canceling on James last minute and then promising him he’ll never do it again profusely. James just sighs magnanimously into the phone like he’s a benevolent ruler and rearranges his schedule so that they shoot later in the afternoon that day.
“Give your boy a kiss for me,” James shoots back, as his departing comment, and Ethan almost swerves into the next lane.
Grayson looks better, though, beanie pulled low on his head, and he smiles kind of small and shy when he catches sight of Ethan walking into the restaurant. He looks a little less haunted.
Their hug lingers a little too, but Ethan just darts his eyes away and makes himself look busy as he drops his cellphone on the table and takes a seat across from him, suddenly wondering why he didn’t shave that morning.
He just prays that he’s not blushing.
“So, how are things?” Ethan asks, sort of stupidly, and then grimaces, as Grayson lets out a light chuckle and leans onto the table on his crossed arms. “Sorry, dude, I suck at this,” Ethan admits.
Grayson waves him off and says, “Nah, you don’t. We’re cool. Things are okay.”
The menu seems to be completely fascinating and captivating for the next few seconds because Grayson doesn’t look up from it as he says, “So I just wanna say that it meant a lot to me that you came. That you were there for me. Thanks for your support.” The tops of Grayson’s cheeks look a little pink once he finishes and Ethan wants to die a little, because this is a thing and it’s happening. It’s definitely a thing that’s happening.
Ethan tries to tell himself not to worry about the fact that this feels kind of like a first date, but it’s super tough not to. Almost impossible not to.
Instead he says, with more control and confidence than he thought he had, “No worries, bro. Of course, what are friends for.” His smile is a little strained and Grayson opens his mouth to say something in response, but then they both get saved by the waitress appearing out of thin air and rescuing the both of them with her notepad and pen.
A fan also approaches them both for a pic just a few minutes after that, which surprises Ethan, and any earlier anxiety and tension leaves as they catch up and dig into their food after.
At one point Ethan even helpfully informs Grayson that it looks like he’s a secret avocado-toast kind of guy himself when they put a plate down in front of him and Grayson flips him off with a smirk.
The weird vibes from before crowd in on them again only when they split the bill - which Grayson tries to stealth pay on his own - and leave.
“See you tomorrow?” Grayson asks, hesitating next to Ethan near his car, and Ethan tenses too but says, “Yeah, sure. We’re starting at ten, right?”
Grayson nods his head, his hands in his pockets. “Yup.”
“Okay, then, great,” Ethan blurts out quickly, and makes to move away, but Grayson just hooks one of his fingers in the thin material of Ethan’s shirt to make him pause in his retreat and face him again. Ethan immediately realizes that there is very little distance between them when he does so, probably less than three feet, and that he has to be staring at Grayson with huge, bulging eyes because…
Because Grayson is giving him a dark, searching look. And not just any look, but one of those looks. The kind of look that Ethan hopes he conveys - as well as Grayson is doing right now - to girls that he’s really into.
Ethan can’t help but drop his gaze down to Grayson’s mouth for a brief moment, his soft, pink, stupidly pouty mouth, since he’s anchored there by Grayson’s light touch, dragging him in like a stubborn hook, and he’s almost about to freak out when a car alarm sounds in the enclosed parking lot and they both separate with a jump and take a step back from each other. Ethan might let out a hysterical little laugh. So sue him.
Grayson however jerks back with a muttered expletive and starts walking away backwards to his own car, a little stiff, his heavy gaze pinning Ethan down for a couple of steps like he’s an insect on display again, before he turns around and leaves. “See ya.” Just like that. That’s all he says.
Ethan runs a shaking hand through his hair and just watches him go for a beat, both of them obviously pretty shit at communication if the last few seconds are anything to go by.
In the end, Ethan feels ten shades of aroused and confused so he just jumps into his Jeep and hightails it out of there like his life depends on it.
It doesn’t even register to him that he’s also little hard until he takes a corner and lets out a deep, wavering breath.
“Fuck, fuck fuck fuck, good fucking job, Ethan,” he mutters to himself, almost all the way home.
That night, after going to the gym, just to test if his feelings for Grayson are a guy thing or a Grayson-specific thing, he watches - more like fast forwards - through some guy-on-guy porn online. He cringes and slams his laptop shut maybe one or twice, feeling super sus and looking around furtively in his bedroom as though his mom is going to jump out from the shadows and catch him.
Ethan doesn’t deal well with new situations or in circumstances where potentially embarrassing or unusual things are happening, and this is definitely an entirely new situation that he’s facing right now.
By the time he showers and role plays a fantasy and a visual in his head of making out with Grayson, he knows it's a Grayson-specific thing entirely when he shoots off in a dizzying rush imagining Grayson just giving him a handjob, nevermind anything else.
So yeah. He's kind of terrified and turned on and a million other things at once. He doesn't know if the terror comes from the fact that he's never been with a guy before and doesn't know what to expect - has Grayson? - or the fact that he might ruin his current gig with them by messing around with Gray and then calling it off if things don't work out and get super awkward.
It's a great job, and their sphere is small and exclusive, so despite what his body is telling him, Ethan concludes that putting their attraction aside in order to maintain a healthy, working relationship is the best option long term. It’s the smart, adult, professional thing to do.
That's what he repeats to himself in the morning like a mantra, before showing up at Gray's place bright and early for a brand new day.
To be real, though, he does freak out a little bit before sleeping that same night and texts Cam a series of texts like:
what if im suddenly into guys
n one of the guys is my friend
n i work with him
n want to bang him
but dont want to get fired???
It's two in the morning in Georgia but Cam is apparently awake and helpfully texts back in response:
don't ruin it by overthinking it
don't be a pussy
don't be extra and chill out
grayson seems to be a good guy
practice safe sex
Just for full disclosure, Ethan’s first and only relationship ended pretty catastrophically, and Ethan isn’t being extra when he tells people that it gave him hardcore PTSD.
Jennifer was his best friend since they were fourteen, then they started dating at sixteen, and broke up at 19 in a truly epic shitshow of a fight. Not only did he lose his girl after the relationship was over, but also his best friend in the entire world.
Ethan didn’t have too many best friends. That’s why he’s been sticking to casual hook-ups and randomly infrequent one-night stands, because there’s no risk involved there. No risk in him getting his heart mangled in a blender again.
Emma and he made it work for a bit, just a couple of times, because she was in love with another guy, and Ethan was done with love altogether.
It worked, until it didn’t anymore.
They're shooting with Jeffree's crew and it involves more people than usual, since Jeff brought his makeup team to give Mikey and Gray brand name bougie transformations that get painted onto their bodies for the video.
He's glad for the bigger crowd because that means he can spend more time getting his head in the game and being behind the scenes, instead of front and center with just Mikey and Grayson, just the three of them.
He follows Grayson and Mikey to their bedroom as scripted and records them starting to take their clothes off until he's pushed out of the room by a smirking Mikey.
Then once they're out and Ethan is set up next to Brock, Jeff's regular video guy, Grayson and Mikey emerge with bathrobes that soon fall to the ground, because this is a clothes optional video.
Mikey and Gray went to get waxed yesterday for the shoot and Ethan is just thankful that they took turns on their phones recording each other instead of having asked him to tag along. That would have been a little too intense.
All that’s left is for Ethan to dutifully record Gray and Mikey get painted on for the next 2-3 hours, which he does, and then follow them out onto Beverly Boulevard as they shop around and probably get arrested for public indecency.
It’s a long process. At one point Grayson looks up and says, “How does it look, E?” His smile is cheesy and big, nothing hiding there.
“It’s a great look. Really digging it, man.”
Jeffree giggles nearby and says, “This is great for the planet, honestly. We should all be doing it. Minimizes the damage we cause to the environment by producing clothes and also allows people to show off their assets in new and inventive ways.” Jeff is definitely looking down at Mike’s ass throughout his little commentary.
Ethan drags his eyes away from Grayson’s torso and laughs too. “I think you’re enjoying this a little too much,” he whispers to Jeff, voice low, and Jeff just raises a perfectly drawn eyebrow up and says, “Baby, I’m not the only one.”
That gets the reaction from Ethan that he was obviously looking for because Ethan catches himself looking at Grayson’s ass and shoots Jeff a glare, but not before blushing a couple of shades of red. Grayson turns his head to the side to glance at them for a second with apparent curiosity before turning back around when he gets reprimanded by the makeup artist.
Ethan decides to go finish off his break in the backyard and enjoy the peace and quiet while he can.
The rest of the day passes by interestingly enough, from people either ignoring the craftily covered partial nudity taking place right in front of them on Sunset or either ogling and stopping to watch them pass by.
By the end of the day, all that is left to shoot is them taking off the paint and doing the outro.
Ethan feels a little bit like shit, so he asks if they can shoot the outro once they’re back home first so he can call it a day.
Grayson steps close to him and puts his hand on his forehead, looking concerned. “Are you getting sick again?” The instinct to step back kicks in strong but Ethan doesn’t move.
Instead Ethan shakes his head and says, “Nah, hope not. Just have a killer headache, though.” He pops the Ibuprofen that Mikey hands to him with a glass of water.
The wrap-up is quick and Ethan leaves when Grayson jumps into the shower. Mikey stops him by the door, frown on his face. “Do you need anything? Do you wanna stay over so that Gray can mother hen you?” He seems to be only half joking.
“No, dude, thanks for everything, though.” Ethan grabs his stuff, put his satchel over his head. “I think I just need to sleep it off. I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah, sure. Let me know if you need anything.” Mikey pulls him into a short hug and Ethan hugs him back, used to the way they operate now.
It’s only four in the afternoon when he’s back in his apartment, but that doesn’t stop him from changing into his sweats and crawling into bed. This might be the nervous breakdown he was anticipating earlier, he thinks dimly, before he falls asleep.
He ends waking up to what appears to be 3 hours later to knocking on his front door. He blinks dumbly up at his ceiling and at his cellphone for a few seconds, not knowing what his own name even is.
Just as he’s getting ready to fall back asleep, the knocking picks up again and he stumbles out of bed, smoothing down his wrinkled t-shirt ineffectively with one had as he gropes for the light switch with the other one.
When he sees Grayson through the peephole, he’s tempted to slink back to his bed again for a brief second and pretend that he’s not home, but just then his cell phone sounds to life and he cusses underneath his breath as he takes it out of his pocket, because it’s Grayson calling, of course. It’s a loud ringtone.
He runs a careless hand through his hair - sure that he’s sporting a bird’s nest and it’s no use anyway - and dramatically throws his head back in a silent prayer, before opening the door.
Grayson’s sheepish face greets him as soon as he opens the door. He’s holding takeout from the Chinese place that Ethan likes. “Sorry, I should have called before I came, but you didn’t answer my texts.”
Ethan stares at him wordlessly for a second, and then moves aside, gesturing with his hand for Grayson to come in.
“Thanks,” Grayson says around a small smile, eyeing Ethan’s hair with a pointedly raised eyebrow for a beat before he moves past. Ethan pats down the sides of his hair at his look but then just gives up.
As Ethan follows him to the living room he briefly recalls that he never gave Grayson his address. “How’d you know where I live?”
Grayson is placing the food down onto the coffee table and taking containers out of the bag. He frowns at Ethan for a moment like he’s special before going back to it. “You gave it to my manager, and I’m kind of like your employer? I’ve got all your info.”
It’s his turn to sheepishly smile and Grayson shakes his head fondly. “Dummy.”
“Are you feeling any better?” Grayson inquires, as he rummages around for soy sauce.
Ethan shrugs his shoulders. “I think I’m feeling more human, but it’s still too early to tell.” He takes two cokes from his fridge and hands one to Grayson.
“Sorry it’s not Kombucha.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Grayson says, smiling goodnaturedly, already used to hearing Ethan bitch passionately about all of his dislikes on more than one occasion.
They sit down and immediately start digging into their food, and it’s nice. Grayson turns on the TV after and they catch a bit of the Kings and Caps playoff game.
Grayson yells out, “That’s not even a fucking penalty! Cheap call,” and Ethan just snickers into the remainder of his low mein and shakes his head. Grayson’s volume setting is always at loud.
After about half an hour more of that, Ethan has to comment, "You didn't just come here to hog my TV, did you?"
Grayson's makes a pained noise when the Kings player on the breakaway fumbles the puck and can’t score a goal. "No, I came to make sure that you hadn't, like, fainted or anything."
"Because you can be pretty dramatic," Grayson says teasingly with a poke to Ethan’s side, smiling.
Ethan kicks his foot out and catches him on the calf.
"Ow! I also fed you, you dick!"
"Whatever, serves you right," Ethan grumbles, burying himself further into his lumpy but oh-so-comfortable couch, arms crossed over his chest, feeling sleepy again. On a whim, he stretches out on his end and put his feet up in Grayson's lap with full authority.
Some warning signals start going off in the back of his mind, but he swats away at them like they’re pesky flies.
Grayson lets out a noise of surprise but then it quickly turns into a snicker. His hands fall to Ethan's socked feet easily, and to say that Ethan is expecting him to start digging his thumbs and fingers in the curves and soles of his feet to give him a foot massage - instead of knocking them back down - is a big fucking lie.
“Any complaints?” Grayson asks after three seconds, smirking like a douche when Ethan looks at him.
“Oh wow, no. None,” Ethan lets out on a low moan, and wants to scowl and feel embarrassed about it, but it’s too much effort. “As long as you don’t have a strange foot fetish thing going on, then I’m good.” He lets out a pleased little sigh and smiles, with his eyes closed, pretending to completely ignore Grayson’s chuckle and muttered, “You’re just like a big, needy baby.”
The heat from Grayson’s touch is really nice and he’s crazy good a hitting spots to relieve tension that Ethan didn’t even know he had. Nice long swoops down to the arches of his feet followed with a gentle kneading, and Ethan is so chill and relaxed that he actually blinks his eyes open on the brink of sleep, when Grayson softly calls his name, hands at a stop around both of his ankles, just resting there while his thumbs dig in a little on an involuntary flex. There’s a strange look on Grayson’s face, something sweet and private, before he drops his gaze down to his lap.
“You’re tired, why don’t you just head to bed and I’ll clean up before I leave,” Grayson says, his voice low and soothing and Ethan suddenly wants to wrap himself up in Grayson, in his warm hands, warm touch - big, dumb warm everything. The thought startles him a little and he sits up with an overly exaggerated yawn and a secretly elevated heart rate.
“Nah, man, I’m good. I can clean up, you can head home,” Ethan tries to say lightly, and fails. Grayson eyes him silently as he gets up from the couch with a tiny stretch and starts picking up cartons and the takeout plastic bag to shove them into.
There’s movement behind him and Ethan tries not tense up, all previous sleepiness gone instantly and the atmosphere almost shimmering around him with steadily rising tension. Ethan, like, legit gulps - and breaks out into a sweat - before dropping the empty coke cans in the bag and then turning around and straight into Grayson. Grayson who’s eyeing him with that look again, his eyes dark and heavy and intense and Ethan feels like he’s almost drowning when Grayson reaches out.
Ethan hurriedly gives him a tight smile and side-steps him and away to the kitchen. He may or may not actually sprint there.
His brain is short-circuiting because he doesn’t know what to do. There was no time to actually imagine a scenario in which he would be communicating to Grayson like a fucking adult that they should just be friends. There’s nothing to do in the kitchen besides drop the takeout trash bag into the bigger trash can before he senses Grayson walk into the kitchen.
Ethan hysterically feels like he’s on Animal Planet and he’s the gazelle that’s about to get pranced on by the lion or cheetah or whatever.
“Hey E?” Grayson is still using his low level voice, which is ten kinds of weird and hilarious. Ethan must be telegraphing hard how skittish he is, and the thought makes him cringe internally and muster up whatever shred of bravery and balls that he’s got and turn around in a controlled, calm sort of way. He’s not going to be a little bitch.
Ethan tries for a small, inquisitive smile, leaning against the sink with his arms crossed over his chest. “Yeah, what’s up?”
Grayson’s eyebrows are furrowed and he looks down suddenly, his hands in his pockets, shoulders kind of hunched. All of the earlier tension hidden behind some wall, some defense mechanism. Ethan wants to be relieved at that but he’s not. It disarms him completely.
“I think you know what I’m going to ask but... you don’t want to hear it,” Grayson starts saying, around a self-deprecating chuckle, and Ethan breaks his cool facade and steps forward unconsciously before he can process it.
Etan blurts out, “It’s not that I don’t want to hear it, it’s just that I’m, like, scared, dude.” Grayson’s gaze snaps up to meet his then, and he looks a little relieved but also confused.
“Why does me liking you scare you? Is it because I’m a guy?” Grayson asks, kind of earnestly and with a little bit of a blush and Ethan wants to walk into traffic at that very moment. Because he doesn’t have a good enough answer for that.
“I don’t even know, dude. It’s just, like, I don’t want to fuck up what we already have and accidentally ruin things,” Ethan admits with a tight, strained voice, feeling all kinds of miserable.
“It won’t,” Grayson replies quickly, but it’s like Ethan doesn’t even hear him.
He doesn’t even know that he’s sort of desperately playing with the beads of his bracelet, looking down, until Grayson steps into his space and takes his hands in his, until he noses at Ethan’s cheek and Ethan looks back up at him with some perplexion. Their foreheads come to a rest against each other.
The first thought in Ethan’s head at this new development is that Grayson must be operating in stealth-mode because Ethan feels like he’s watching things unfold from the depths of the ocean and he’s experiencing a lag and delay in the events unfolding.
But then things get super, duper fucking crisp and clear when Grayson’s breath ghosts over his lips suddenly, his breath humid and hot. Ethan doesn’t think at all anymore when Grayson drops shy ghost-like kisses on his lips, once, twice and then finally his mouth just lingers over Ethan’s, his breathing fast, like he’s waiting for a response. Like he’s waiting for rejection.
Being that Ethan is kind of stupidly and obviously into him, however, Ethan moves in the scant centimeters between their mouths and then kisses Grayson with a scary sense of urgency and swallows Grayson’s initial gasp of surprise.
Ethan’s got his hands at the sides of Grayson’s face lightning-fast, fingers curling and digging in the hair at the nape of his neck and Grayson shudders and then crushes Ethan against with him with his ridiculously big arms and they’re not playing. Not at all.
Grayson licks into his mouth with a filthy kind of promise pressing into every touch, every taste, and Ethan is just wanting, just wanting so many things suddenly, especially since their mouths are pushing-pulling together in a way that makes his toes curl and his pants get tight way too fucking fast.
He actually - no lies - whines when he pulls back for a breath and Grayson’s lips just trail to his jaw and start down his neck with sucking kisses. Ethan tries not to whimper at how fucking hot it is but he does, and Grayson gentles him with a hand to the small of his back.
But everything flies out the window when Ethan’s cell phone goes off in the other room and Ethan kind of jolts back into the counter and re-enters the earth’s atmosphere again in a blink. Holy Christ.
That seems to clear a tiny bit of the lust clouding his brain because he puts his hands on Grayson’s chest and pushes him back a little, to get more space. “What are we doing, man?” Ethan breathes, gaping at Grayson, a hand tugging at the front of his hair, his heartbeat slowing down a little.
Grayson, for his part, looks totally disheveled, his hair a little wild, eyes bright, and his lips just… Red and wet. And still highly kissable. His shirt also looks a little stretched out at the collarbones and Ethan blushes because it looks like he dragged it down and messed it up himself. Some coherence must enter into Grayson’s brain because he says with some difficulty, “I’m sorry, what?”
Ethan heaves out a huge, soul-seizing sigh, and says, arms crossed firmly over his chest, “We can’t do this.”
Grayson’s brows furrow automatically and he takes a step back, folding his arms over his chest too. His surprised look twists into something more irritated. “Ethan, you need to explain to me what’s going on inside your head right now, because I’m kind of fucking confused.”
“What do you want me to say?!” Ethan snaps back, throwing up his hands. This is going south fast and Ethan wants to exit this convo in a way that makes his bones ache. He starts pacing semi-frantically.
“I suck at relationships, Gray, and we work well with each other, and you’re one of my best buds, and things might totally get fucked up if we start messing around and I punk out, and everything about you screams ride-or-die long-term relationship goals,” Ethan spills out sort of helplessly. “I can’t have that happen.”
To say that Grayson’s face closes off at his words and that he looks stung is an understatement. “Huh,” he says, his voice flat, before he turns around and heads out of the kitchen. Just like that.
“Grayson! C’mon, man,” Ethan maybe pleads, as he shadows Grayson in the living room while he picks up his cellphone and then pulls his hoodie back on. “Say something, don’t be like that,” Ethan begs, okay, he begs.
Grayson finally gives him a tight, pinched smile, his hands running down his sweats absentmindedly. “Don’t worry about it. I get it. You’ve got all of this figured out, looks like, so I’ll just see you later,” Grayson says quietly, walking towards Ethan’s front door.
“I’m sorry,” Ethan manages to mutter out with a choked throat, but Grayson doesn’t seem to hear him. Or care.
Ethan lets him leave and then just rests his head against his door for minute. If this is what being an adult is like, then it totally fucking sucks and Ethan is never doing it again.
He can’t fall asleep that night, and when he remembers that they’re shooting a simple Q&A video together tomorrow in the afternoon, sleep becomes an elusive and impossibly Unicorn-like concept to him entirely.
His chest feels hollow and fluttery the entire night. Like being too full and too fucking empty all at the same time.
Just a deep, deep aching.
The following morning, Ethan texts Mikey and Grayson - in their group chat - to confirm that they’re filming at noon. He texts them at nine in the morning because he obviously slept like shit and wants to give Grayson ample time to cancel the day’s video shoot and postpone.
Life flips him the bird, once again, when Mikey texts him back confirmation at around ten.
“Honestly, just fuck everything,” Ethan cusses out feelingly, as he throws his laundry into the washing machine and then slams his hand down on the start button.
If he kicks his backpack against the wall in his bedroom and then breaks a glass bowl in the sink - that one’s an accident - then everyone can just kiss his ass, because he’s evidently a responsible, fucking adult now and this is his unique version of it.
He spends 30 mins in the gym in his building just running on the treadmill until he’s about to trip and brain himself, and by the time he’s done, he’s bent over at the waist, gasping for breath, slightly lightheaded, and tearing up for no reason. Thankfully there’s no one in the room with him and he makes it back to his apartment to shower and change with no audience tracking the status and timestamp of his meltdown.
With a little prayer sent up to all the Gods and Goddesses of the world indiscriminately, Ethan prays that something happens so that their shoot gets canceled when he gets on the freeway and over to their house.
Despite his fervent prayers, he makes it to Gray’s place in one piece.
Ethan cringe-smiles when Mikey opens the door and he tries not to fidget too obviously. “Hey, bro. You guys ready?”
“Yeah, we’re almost set up.” Mikey opens the door to let him in, and if Mikey weren’t such a solid dude, Ethan thinks he would have been treated to some nasty attitude or something. But Mikey is only a little cool with him, but not much, and it seems like after a few minutes he’s more clueless and at a loss more than anything else. Like he doesn’t want to be involved in their domestic but he’s got no choice.
They’re in the purple room with the MG logo lit up in background, just he and Mikey chatting about their plans for the weekend, when Grayson stalks into the room and the air gets sucked out of the entire place in an instant.
Grayson raises an arched eyebrow at him before taking his seat on the couch and then he runs his fingers through his hair. He’s got no product in it and it’s kind of floppy and soft-looking at the front. Ethan wants to reach out and touch but he can’t. Instead he says, “Hey Gray,” too fake causally, and Grayson throws him another unwelcoming look and curtly says, “Hi. Can we start now?”
Grayson turns around to address Mikey. “You’re ready, right? Let’s get this shit done.”
Mikey’s eyebrows almost reach his hairline and he pauses from where he’s grabbing the bucket with the fan questions in them. “Are you sure you wanna do this today, bro? We can cancel, and if it’s cool with E, we can do it on Friday.”
“I’m fucking sure about this, Mike,” Grayson explodes, voice a little too loud, and then casts a vexed glance at Ethan before taking his place on the couch again. Mikey shoots Ethan a grimacing look over Grayson’s shoulder before he sits down and smooths out the invisible wrinkles in his shirt.
The plan for today’s video is a Q&A followed by going to the warehouse and showing the fans the revamped updates that they are making in there. Ethan’s got a slightly sick feeling in his stomach that things are not going to unfold in that order.
Ethan presses record and holds his breath. Ethan’s seen more energy and liveliness at his grandma’s bingo night meet-up than what’s going on right now. Grayson is stony, and Mikey is grumpy, and Ethan helpfully says, “Guys, I’m recording. You can emote now.”
Grayson evidently pretends he doesn’t hear him and Mikey flips him the bird. This is great. Just absolutely great.
“Shit,” Mikey lets out and then reaches for the bucket and starts quickly looking through the questions he dropped in there earlier.
Grayson eyes him with zero enthusiasm. “What are you doing?”
Mikey crumples up pieces of paper as he quickly sorts through. “I just collected a bunch of them and forgot to sort through ‘em. Didn’t pay attention to the questions too much last night. Some of them are cringey, so just give me a minute.”
“That’s stupid, we can just edit out the lame ones in post,” Grayson grouses. “Let’s go.”
“I said one second, bro.”
Grayson huffs and grabs at a bunch of the discarded ones and starts reading through them outloud. “‘Are you and Mikey secretly together?’” He lets out a small snort. “Mikey wishes.”
Mikey is mumbling something underneath his breath when Grayson reads out, “‘What was the last thing you said to your dad before…’” And then he trails off into silence, and Ethan’s heart stops beating and Mikey’s attention snaps to Grayson, too. Grayson is staring down at the question like he’s frozen, his mouth drawn tight in a thin line by force, because tears start rolling down his cheeks that he quickly rubs away.
“Gray…” Mikey says, voice hushed, and that snaps Grayson out of it and he looks up with teary eyes and a trembling lower lip and seems too embarrassed to hold Ethan’s gaze.
“I just need a minute, sorry,” Grayson mumbles, voice watery, as he abruptly leaves the room. Mikey drops the bucket down on the couch and tells Ethan, “Gives us a couple of minutes, ok?” And follows right after him.
The need to go and comfort is so strong, but Ethan knows that Grayson doesn’t want to be around him right now, so he hits ‘stop’ on the video and goes on his phone, feeling like shit. Feeling like it’s his fault somehow.
Ten excruciating minutes later, Ethan is about to lose his mind when Mikey comes back in alone, looking worn out and totally depleted. He tries to smile but it just falls flat too. He claps his hands together. “So it looks like we’re canceling today’s video, sorry, E. It’s just…”
Ethan stands up fast and holds his hands out. “You don’t have to explain, it’s fine. Is he okay?”
Mikey shakes his head and sighs, scratches at his cheek dejectedly. “No, man, he’s not. It sucks so bad and I don’t know what to do. He wants space.” His eyes are big and a little teary too, so Ethan walks up to him and hugs him without a second thought.
Belatedly Ethan realizes that he’s more about doing that with Grayson and might’ve miscalculated, but Mikey hugs back tight and snickers out, “Gray says you’re a heartless dick, E, but I don’t see it,” when he pulls back, small smile on his face.
Ethan lets out a short laugh too and runs a hand through his hair. “Thanks, I think.”
All that’s left to do is pack up his stuff and go home, so Ethan does just that. He pauses as he’s about to leave, with his backpack and camera bag on his shoulders, an itch starting up underneath his skin. Shaking through his bones.
“I’m going to order lunch, you want pizza?” Mikey asks from where he’s rummaging through their sad fridge.
Ethan considers it for a moment but says, “No, I’ve got some errands to run, so…”
“Oh, okay,” Mikey replies weakly, and Ethan opens the door and leaves before he does something stupid. But he’s evidently not fast enough to curb the stupidity that is shaking to the surface, because just as he gets to his car and throws his stuff into his trunk, he sprints back up the stairs and through the door and warns a surprised Mikey, “I’m going to his room and I promise I won’t be a dick,” and Mikey high-fives him and lets Ethan pass with a nod of his head and a grin.
He takes in a huge breath and places his hand on his heart in an effort to calm the poor thing down, before he knocks on Grayson’s bedroom door. After a few seconds, there’s no response. So Ethan knocks again and calls out, “Grayson? Can I come in?”
Again, a couple seconds pass and he gets nothing, so he takes another bracing breath in and opens the door and sneaks a look inside. And what he sees fills his heart up with a ridiculously unnecessary amount of love, because Grayson is no longer a human person, but a burrito person wrapped up entirely in his comforter and with his back to Ethan.
“Go away, Ethan,” Grayson whines, only the tops of his head and hair poking out from his little burrito encasement.
Ethan can’t walk away. He tried already. “No, I won’t. Sorry, dude.”
It sounds like Grayson lets out an annoyed huff and grumbles loudly enough, “Fine, then you can just stand there like a creep while I ignore you.”
That makes Ethan snicker for a second before he gets serious again, as he approaches the bed. “I just want to say that I’m sorry, and that I care about you a lot, and that I’m here for you,” Ethan tries, voice gentle and his hands held up in prayer mode, palms rubbing against each other anxiously.
Grayson shifts and then appears to experience a moment of getting stuck in his sheets before he fully turns around in bed on his other side to face Ethan.
Ethan can see his red eyes and wet cheeks and Ethan’s toeing off his sneakers and climbing onto the bed before he even registers it. Lapses like that tend to happen a lot around Grayson.
A frown comes on Grayson’s face and he weakly says, “I didn’t say it was okay for you to get in my bed…” but Ethan has already reached him, and after a second of hesitation, both of them at a standstill, Ethan softly moves strands of Grayson’s hair that’s matted to his forehead aside, so that he can lean in and kiss him on the forehead, his thumb moving back and forth on his cheek. He stays there for a beat before pulling back and the sigh that Grayson releases sounds like surrender.
And it is, because his lips kind of helplessly quirk into a small, teasing smile and he looks down at Ethan through his lashes. “So you came here to apologize?”
Ethan nods and then rests his head down on Grayson’s pillow, throws his arm around Grayson’s form. “I suck, and I’m sorry. Really sorry.” He runs a hand down Grayson’s back and Grayson scoots closer to him.
Haughtily, Grayson demands, “Continue. What else are you sorry for,” but his tone and words bely his actions, because he’s pulling down his comforter so that Ethan can get in. Ethan smiles and darts forward to drop another kiss onto his cheek, helpless not to.
“I’m honestly terrible, Gray. I am the most extra person you will ever meet.” Grayson tilts his head up more as Ethan drops another lingering kiss at his jawline.
“And? What else?” Grayson asks, his voice catching, when Ethan bumps their noses together and their breaths mingle.
Ethan leans in and kisses him softly, tasting salt on his lips. “I’m sorry I was ever afraid about being crazy about you,” he adds on a whisper, feeling like he’s flying suddenly when Grayson’s small smile breaks out into a pleased grin, and his eyes legit sparkle like he’s some Disney prince or something. His fingertips guide Ethan’s face into another unhurried kiss, and this is the most languorous, hottest kiss of Ethan’s entire life.
It’s just them and nothing else for the next few minutes. Just absolute bliss.
When they break apart for breath, Grayson tries to muffle his yawn in his shoulder, but it’s no use, and Ethan yawns as well. He’s got a hand on Grayson’s hip and their legs are tangled together.
“I didn’t sleep too well last night,” Grayson admits.
Ethan laughs. “Dude, I didn’t sleep at all.”
Grayson replies, “Nap? Then we can go grab some lunch after,” and Ethan is too happy to comply. So he acts as the big spoon as Grayson turns around again and Ethan wraps his arm around him securely and drifts off to sleep feeling like a goddamn rockstar.
So they don’t make it to lunch right after their nap.
What happens is that Ethan wakes up to lips trailing down his neck in slow, perfect kisses and a nip at his jawline. He groans sleepily and drags Grayson down on top of him, until they’re firmly against each other and Ethan can feel the jutting outline of Grayson’s cock rubbing against his own through their clothes.
When Grayson makes an aborted arch against him and whines when their cocks catch together, Ethan easily spreads his legs to accommodate him, even though the position is super feminine and something in his lower belly clenches tight at that in anticipation.
Grayson’s palm touches his lower belly and Ethan’s breath stutters out of him in a gasp, and the next thing he knows, they’re both giggling as they try to take off their shirts and pull down their pants and boxers at the same time. Ethan attempts to fling his shirt to the side and hits Grayson in the face with it, who scowls, and Grayson almost tips forward and catches him in the balls with an errant elbow when he attempts to remove his own.
“Hey, hey, hey, watch the goods, bud,” Ethan warns with haste, protecting his junk with his hands once he’s naked.
Grayson kicks off his boxers somewhere in bed, and then they’re just both, like, totally naked. And Grayson might be the hottest thing that Ethan’s ever seen in his entire life. He can feel his face going pink as Grayson settles himself over him like some sexy predator. Ethan also then realizes in some part of his head that he should maybe stop watching Animal Planet since most of his comparisons come from the animal kingdom.
Grayson, for his part, smirks down at him with a smile that is too smug and not at all seductive, his strong thighs bracketing Ethan’s hips. His skin on fire, always too hot to the touch. “You look like a cockatoo, bro.” His fingers wind up in Ethan’s hair, combing through it almost thoughtfully.
Ethan coughs and glances up into Grayson’s eyes - his cock is just, like, right there, God, and it’s hard to look away, and it looks nice as far as cocks go - and runs a hand through his hair futilely too, their fingers tangling together. “A sexy one, though, right?” His voice is hoarse and fucked up and they haven’t even done anything yet.
Grayson’s eyes are hooded and he looks flushed as he ghosts a thumb over one of Ethan’s nipples, making him jump and then push up into his touch. “Yeah, a super sexy one,” Grayson says, and fucks his hips forward so that their cocks touch. Ethan arches up into it and his hands immediately find purchase on Grayson’s thighs, squeezing, looking for a grip.
“Fuck, that’s, that’s one way to start,” Ethan stammers out, already feeling flushed all over, his fingers digging into the tight muscles of Grayson’s waist then as his hands move there. Just wanting to touch him everywhere at once.
“Yeah,” Grayson says, his voice hushed, as he moves against him with enviable control, Ethan’s mouth falling open on a moan. Grayson tips onto Ethan for a hurried moment to press a filthy, tongue-fucking kiss to his mouth, the noises in the room suddenly obscene, his hands roughly running down Ethan’s pecs, his sides, scorching a trail down to his cock when he goes in for a few messy pulls, making Ethan shake and whine beneath him, clutch at the sheets in desperation.
“Fuck, Gray, just,” Ethan hears himself moan out, but can’t help it. Can’t shut up, because it’s Grayson’s cock sliding against Ethan’s belly, all sticky, between his abdominals, it’s Grayson making little grunting sounds against his ear.
Grayson comes just like that, rubbing up against him when he loses grip of the fist he’d made around both of their cocks and can’t stop himself from shuddering and shooting off against Ethan’s cock, which is, once again, at that moment, the hottest thing that Ethan has ever experienced in all twenty years of his life.
Thankfully Grayson lingers in his post-coital bliss only for a few seconds, now a sweaty, heavy weight on top of him, before taking Ethan into his hand for a few slow, tight pulls, languidly thumbing the head of Ethan’s cock, in his wet slit, while he nips at Ethan’s jawline with biting kisses. Ethan tenses and comes just from that, groaning long and low and totally finishing off like a champ.
It takes a moment to come back down on to earth again, and when Ethan does, it’s to Grayson slumped along his side, his hand rubbing reassuring circles on Ethan’s chest.
“Dude,” Ethan tries to say, flabbergasted, and Grayson just presses lazy kisses to his shoulder for a calm minute before he staggers out of bed to clean himself off with the first thing that he sees on the floor. Which happens to be Ethan’s shirt.
“Dude!” Ethan cries out in outrage now, and Grayson smiles at him all warm and big and just says, “Whoops. Sorry, E. Gonna go shower now. Bye.”
And Ethan really wants to be upset for a few more minutes, okay, but he can’t because Grayson’s bare ass is absolutely sinful and masterful and poetic - if he were a sculptor, he’d totally sculpt it - so instead he stumbles out of bed after Grayson and tackles him in the bathroom.
Ethan ends up taking the longest shower of his life after that, basically.
At some point, after they’re dressed and sneak out of Grayson’s room - both of them appropriately ashamed by how loud they were for the past two hours - to grab slices of pizza for lunch, Ethan suddenly recalls Grayson’s nipple ring at Coachella and the distinct lack of it when they were having sex.
“So hey, where’d the nip piercing go? You had it at Chella,” Ethan says around a bite of pizza, absolutely starving. Grayson’s sexual appetite is something of a wonder, and Ethan feels like an explorer only on the brink of an amazingly orgasmic journey for the foreseeable future.
Grayson lets out a little snort and scrunches his nose up in slight embarrassment. “I, uh, kind of got the piercing two weeks before Chella, just for the outfit. And then it bothered me ‘cause I have sensitive nips. So…” He tries to shrug it off.
Ethan’s mouth falls open. “You’re not serious.”
“Shut up,” Grayson scoffs, throwing a rolled up greasy napkin at his head.
Ethan dodges it like a pro as he laughs. “You’re so extra, oh my gosh, Grayson.”
“Look who’s talking!” Grayson retorts back incredulously, his pizza forgotten in his plate.
And that’s how Ethan knows that despite everything that’s changed, some things are still thankfully, perfectly the same.
Six months later, after they’ve both kind of announced to their close friends and family that they’re together (and no one’s surprised, like, not even a single person), Grayson posts a pic of him sleeping in his bed, with the comment my bae accompanying it and heart emojis on snapchat and instagram.
The way that Ethan ends up getting spammed for the next few weeks on all of his social media platforms is sort of worth it.
Totally worth it.