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Pushing the Boundaries

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It’s a few weeks after the conversation that William finds himself being buzzed into Gabe’s New York apartment. Not the last conversation they had, obviously – they don’t go for more than three days without talking, unless there are extenuating circumstances – but the important one.

The pertinent portion of the conversation itself had gone something like this:

“I’m not writing anything,” William had said, looking out the windows of the bus as it rolled on toward the next venue, the next show, the next change of scene. “I’m thinking too much about everything, and nothing’s coming out.”

“Under pressure,” Gabe had said wisely, with noise in the background from Ryland’s guitar, low and rumbling. “You can’t force it.”

William’s fingers drummed against fabric too soft for a beat. “I need to get out of my head. Get away. Maybe just for a few days, some kind of artists’ retreat.”

“You know where I live,” Gabe told him.

Which is why he’s here now, climbing the steps because he hates being closed into elevators when he already feels trapped. It hadn’t even really been a question, once Gabe had said it – like there was anywhere else William would go to get away, to be alone. Gabe had been in his life for so long that being around him was more like being with an extension of William himself, someone else to finish his sentences and say the words out loud when he got stuck. He thinks there might be a song in that, but it wouldn’t be as obvious as he’d just made it seem. It never is.

He pushes the book into Gabe’s hands as soon as the door opens, brushing past him and heading for the liquor cabinet. He needs a drink after the insanity of LaGuardia, and Gabe doesn’t stand on the ceremony of backslapping and small talk greetings. William isn’t entirely lacking in courtesy, though, so he grabs two glasses from the cabinet above the sink and pours a drink for Gabe while he’s at it.

Gabe barely glances at the cover, ambling over after he shuts the door to squeeze the back of William’s neck. William isn’t all that surprised by his lack of interest, actually; Gabe has probably already read the book.

“This isn’t exactly what I thought you had in mind when you said retreat, bro,” Gabe comments, fingers digging into muscle just enough to make William’s shoulders rise. He forces them back down again and knocks back the first burning swallow of strong alcohol. Gabe squeezes again, and says, “One of those for me, or was LaGuardia even more of a hellhole than usual?”

“Yeah,” William answers. He twists around to lean against the counter, Gabe’s hand dropping from his neck in the process. The cabinet is cooler when he rests his head against it. “I don’t know, I was just thinking about it.”

“You’re way too vanilla for this,” Gabe says, dropping the book onto the counter beside them. William doesn’t look down, even though the sound of it sparks the impulse. He already knows what’s on the cover. “You get freaked out by anything even mildly kinky.”

“That thing you did with the bottle is not normal,” William says automatically, having heard the story more than enough times to be sure. He shudders just thinking about it. “It’s not.”

“It’s not that kinky, though,” Gabe counters, leaning one hip against the counter next to William. “Not in comparison. That’s all I’m saying.” He still hasn’t reached for the second glass; William nudges it in his direction, unable to stay still.

“I need to stop thinking so much, though,” William tells him, his eyes falling closed. He’s frustrated that he can’t even put this into words, how he thinks it might help, the way the book’s promises dance constantly through his waking mind. “Just. I can’t…”

“Yeah,” Gabe agrees easily, not even needing to hear what he hasn’t been able to articulate. William lets his breath push out in a long exhale, shoulders slumping. Gabe knuckles his shoulder again and William leans into the touch. “You got someone in mind, though? Shit like this, you’re going to need someone you actually trust enough not to fuck you up.”

William opens his eyes. Gabe takes less than a second to get it, and then he doubles over laughing, one hand gripping the edge of the counter for balance.

“Fuck,” he gasps finally. “No. You’re not serious.”

William’s own knuckles are white on the counter; he forces them to loosen and release slowly as he breathes. “I thought we could do, like, some of it. Without the sex.”

Gabe’s eyebrows lift and scrunch expressively. William’s watching him out of the corner of his eyes, too nervous to maintain direct contact. “Bondage without sex? That’s like saying tantric sex without sex is anything but fucking yoga, because it isn’t.” He’s looking speculative, though, under the disbelief, enough for William to take a deep breath and turn to face him.

“Please,” he says. He rushes out the rest as Gabe inhales, cutting him off before he can say anything else and crush William’s hopes for this weekend about getting his own brain to shut up for a little while. “Two days. That’s all. Just the easy stuff. Whatever you’re comfortable with.”

Gabe shuts his mouth. He studies William for long enough that it makes his skin itch, but finally smirks in a way that William knows immediately means surrender, capitulation. His shoulders sag with relief before Gabe even says, “I’m going to be comfortable with way more than you are.”

Which is probably true. That just makes it easier, though, for Gabe to be the one to do this. He’s tried everything once, and even if he hasn’t, he’s up for it. It’s immeasurably reassuring. “I trust you,” he says.

Gabe picks up the forgotten glass and drains it in three long swallows. He sets it down with a heavy thunk on the counter – William’s eyes flick toward the sound before he can stop it, this time – and says, “I guess we’d better find some rope.”

* * *

William fucking Beckett, Gabe thinks. What are you thinking? Considering that they’re currently in a home improvement warehouse shopping for bondage rope – not just a few pieces, either, no, Bill wants to go all the way straight to fucking shibari – Gabe thinks the real question here might be Gabe fucking Saporta, what the fuck are you doing?

Bill keeps picking up all the wrong sorts of rope; rough hemp, cable, parachute cord. “What’s wrong with that one?” he asks, as Gabe takes the cotton rope out of his hands and puts it back on the shelf, the same as he’s done with the last three.

“Too tough to undo the knots,” Gabe says, because he got a lecture on this once from a seriously hot elementary school teacher who had a thing for tying up her one-night stands. “Fine if you’re a pro, maybe, but if you panic we’re getting that shit undone in a hurry.”

Bill eyes him sideways. “You know a lot about this,” he comments, and Gabe can’t figure if there’s something underneath that or not. Bill doesn’t judge anyone’s sex life, but he does sometimes give you weird looks when you stop fitting into the box he’s made for you.

“What did I tell you?” Gabe asks rhetorically, and pulls down a thick bundle of rope, tossing it to Bill after inspection. “Try that.”

Bill turns the rope over in his hands, considering. “I thought you said no hemp,” he says suspiciously.

“I said no rough hemp. The shit you picked out would have scratched you to pieces. We can’t go chafing your lily-white skin,” Gabe says, grinning. Bill rolls his eyes, but un-tucks one end of the rope and winds it around his wrist a few times, giving it a good tug.

Gabe knew, in theory, how this was going to work. Tie Bill up, let him experience whatever, have some chips and check out lolcats, then undo the whole thing, clap Bill on the back and go out for pizza.

Only now Bill’s actually wrapping the rope around his wrists, wearing a little frown of concentration, and Gabe is having far too easy a time picturing him just like that and naked.

“What are you doing?” he asks, leaning against a shelf of assorted hardware.

Bill directs the frown up at Gabe. “You said to test it. This is good, I think. Should we get the whole thing?”

Gabe’s original plan was to measure out the approximate length they needed and take that up to the counter for some helpful, pimply sales kid to cut, but now he’s having a vision of Bill figuring out how much rope they should get by having Gabe tie him up right here in the store, and even if they’re not all that famous, that’s not the best plan Gabe’s ever heard.

“Yep,” he says, snagging the whole fucking thing from Bill’s hands and looping it like a cable over his shoulder. “To the checkout.”

Bill lags behind as they head towards the front, and Gabe doesn’t know if it’s because he’s embarrassed to be seen with Gabe and a large amount of rope, or if he’s starting to have second thoughts. “You sure about this?” Gabe asks after he drops the rope onto the counter, waiting for the clerk to come over and ring them up. “We can call the whole thing off and go get some lunch, no biggie.”

Bill takes a minute, but his shoulders square, thin and obvious in his worn t-shirt, and he shrugs. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I want to try it.” He gives Gabe a small smile. “I wouldn’t turn down lunch first, though.”

“Bagelwich,” Gabe says decisively, flashing a grin at the clerk who finally makes it over to greet them.

“Bagel wizard,” Bill counters absently, looking out the front windows of the store. “Arguably more robust.”

“Mmm, mmm, Harry Potter,” Gabe agrees, rubbing his stomach. “Tastiest lunchmeat out there.”

Bill smiles at him and rolls his eyes. Mission accomplished. “$35.92,” the kid at the register says, and Bill starts to get out his card but Gabe beats him to it.

“This one’s on me,” he says, flashing another grin. “We give full-service treatment out here at the Saporta Day Spa.”

“You don’t have to…” Bill begins to protest. Gabe waves him down.

“Make it up to me, rock star,” he says, sliding his sunglasses on as they walk out with their bag of newly-acquired bondage gear. “Lunch is on you.”

“A bagelwich,” Bill says drily.

“Damn right,” Gabe agrees. “I don’t know about you, but I can eat a shit-ton of bagels in one sitting.”

“Give me that,” Bill says, sighing, and Gabe lets him have the bag only because Bill can sometimes be an ass about things being fair and equal, and allowing him to carry the bag is easier than the fight that would ensue if he didn’t.

“Cross here,” Gabe says, steering them to the curb and punching the button for the crossing signal. “Two blocks that way for lunch, and then let’s get home and tie your ass up.”

* * *

William uses the bathroom when they get back to Gabe’s place, because he probably won’t get another chance for a while, and he finds that thinking about this practically chases off a lot of the anxiety about actually doing it. He takes off his belt when he comes out, because the buckle will probably dig in, depending on what position Gabe ties him in, and he doesn’t want to be distracted by pain or discomfort.

Gabe’s leaning against the counter watching him, arms folded over his chest. “Stretch first,” he suggests. “You’re thinking hard-core long-term, you don’t want to cramp.”

“Not that hard core,” William argues, but he takes the advice, bending over to touch his toes and wrapping his arms around his calves. When he straightens up, Gabe’s giving him an inscrutable look, and William’s stomach does a weird almost-dropping thing he isn’t sure how to interpret.

“Come here,” Gabe says when William’s stretched out briefly, arms over his head and back, rolling his shoulders out. He beckons, and William almost – almost – balks at the sight of the rope in Gabe’s hand, but fuck it. This is what he wants.

“How do you want me?” he asks without thinking, and feels his face heat almost before Gabe wolf-whistles through his teeth in response.

Gabe grins, turning him a little with one hand on his arm. “Easy there, porn star,” he replies. “You ready for this?”

“I think so.” He frowns, running through his mental list of preparation, shrugging his shoulders out. Gabe nudges him closer to the couch, which has been divested of its usual assortment of magazines, throw pillows and articles of clothing.

“Hold this,” Gabe says, and William closes his hand agreeably around one end of the hemp rope. It’s soft, a little rough against his skin but not abrasive, thick enough that it doesn’t bite in when Gabe wraps the first loop around his wrists.

William closes his eyes, counting backwards from ten to clear his mind the way the book had suggested. He’s aware of everything, in a general sense; the hum of the HVAC in the background, the smell of cheese and old socks, the tag of his shirt flipped up in the back and brushing the nape of his neck. Gabe’s hands feel even larger than they look when he’s encircling both of William’s wrists with just one of them, thumb pressing in a little more firmly than his fingers as he winds the rope. William exhales.

“How flexible are you feeling?” Gabe asks, quieter than he had been a moment ago.

William rolls his shoulders out, feeling Gabe’s grip tighten automatically to keep hold of his wrists. “Go ahead and do it,” he answers. “I’ll tell you if it’s too much.”

“You’d better,” Gabe replies, a teasing crack at a joke. “We’ve got a hell of a lot of rope to go, and loosening it up from the beginning is going to be shit.”

“Just do it,” William says again. Gabe’s already working, wrapping the rope in coils around and around, starting to climb up William’s arms. Gabe lets go of his wrists and puts both hands on his elbows, applying gentle but firm pressure to force William’s shoulders back. William has to take a few yoga breaths to release enough tension, but Gabe eventually gets his elbows close together, forearms brushing.

The rope winds its way higher, up over William’s forearms to hook around the thin skin in the crook of his elbows, tugging gently until William yields another inch. Gabe does something complicated with the rope, looping it under and tying something off with casual efficiency.

“Comfortable?” he asks, hands on William’s arms, encouraging him to flex. There’s practically no give, and it’s not the easiest position in the world, but William thinks he can handle it for a couple of hours.

“Yeah,” he says, taking another breath. “Keep going.”

Gabe walks around him, in a slow circle, and William watches him warily for the first part of the circuit but then has to close his eyes. It’s a little too much, with his eyes open. He feels Gabe’s arms brush his sides, and then the rope again, criss-crossing over his stomach, binding his torso. It’s somehow an even stronger feeling of restraint than the rope tying his arms, and he shifts automatically to test it out, but Gabe’s hand presses warm on his stomach below the ‘x’ of the rope, holding him still.

The rope loops over his chest, another criss-cross just above the first one, and then Gabe layers a third over both of them, working his way back down. It doesn’t interfere with William’s breathing, exactly, but it does make him more aware of it, somehow. Every breath pulls the rope taut against his skin, reminding him of how helpless he is. It’s not the greatest feeling, but it’s serving its purpose.

“Going down,” Gabe says lightly, joking again. “Curl your fingers up for a minute.”

He has to pull his shoulders up even further to do what Gabe’s urging, and there he can feel the first throbbing ache in his back, warning him against muscles that aren’t accustomed to being used like this. Gabe coils the rope around his waist and then his hips, the hemp rustling against denim. It’s nothing fancy, no loops through his legs or down the crack of his ass, but it’s still a strange feeling, having Gabe’s hands guide the rope along the front of his jeans by his crotch.

“Okay, sit down,” Gabe commands, and William bends awkwardly, his balance off with his arms tied behind his back. Gabe guides him down with one hand on his arm and the other at the small of his back, getting him seated on the edge of the couch. “And down,” Gabe says, and gives William a little push that knocks him over sideways, where he hits the cushions with a soft ‘whoomph.’

“On your back, bitch,” Gabe says, and William glares at him, wriggling around awkwardly until he’s mostly there, his arms jamming uncomfortably into his spine. He imagines his expression must be one of eloquent reproach, because Gabe says, “Don’t worry, I’ll make this quick,” and wraps the length of rope in a deceptively simple pattern down William’s legs where he’s holding them raised awkwardly off the couch.

“You’re good at this,” William comments, watching Gabe work.

He gets a grin in return, lazy and practiced. “Yeah, well,” Gabe replies, wrapping the remainder of the rope in a thick coil around William’s ankles. “I read the book.”

There’s a little more left over than is ideal, but Gabe just keeps wrapping it around William’s ankles until he runs out, tying the end off in a quick slip knot. He bumps William’s knees back and forth for a few seconds, then rolls him over onto his side. William would help, but he’s suddenly very aware that he’s trussed up like a calf at a rodeo and fairly helpless.

“Woah, hey,” Gabe says, appearing in his field of vision and crouching down beside him. “No panicking. You say the word, I can get all this shit off in less than a minute. Anytime.”

William breathes out, forcing his muscles to relax. “Why do you think I was panicking?”

“Your breathing got all weird,” Gabe says, squeezing his shoulder. William likes the contact; it makes him feel less isolated. “I know you, bro, no shitting me. You good?”

“Yeah,” William says, exhaling slowly. “Good.”

* * *

Bill’s been tied up for twenty-three minutes. Gabe has avoided thinking about sex for approximately fourteen of those minutes, and that’s mostly because he’d been cleaning up and putting some shit away. Still, it’s not a horrible ratio. He’s over 50%.

Bill’s eyes keep tracking him across the apartment, though, and it’s not relaxing for either of them like this. Gabe spends another few trips across the apartment considering the problem, and then disappears into his bedroom. Bill doesn’t call after him and ask what he’s doing, but he is looking at the bedroom doorway when Gabe walks back out, a navy blue bandana in his hand.

“Trust me on this one, I think it’ll help,” he says, squatting down next to where Bill’s head is, resting on a squishy throw pillow. He holds up the bandana, dangling it where Bill can see. “You game?”

Bill looks suspicious again, but he nods, lifting his head a little in permission. Gabe cradles his skull, making sure he doesn’t catch Bill’s hair when he pulls the loose ends together and ties them into a snug knot. He smoothes the fabric down over Bill’s eyes, sliding a finger under the edge of the blindfold to make sure it isn’t too tight.

“Feel good?” he asks, voice low. Bill nods, slowly, and Gabe guides his head back down to the pillow. “No more thinking,” he says, palm against William’s chest where the ropes cross. “Get out of your head, remember?”

Having Bill here like this is weirdly freeing for Gabe as well. He tries to keep quiet so that Bill can focus, which means there’s no dance music blasting from his speakers the way it often is when he’s home, the XM radio turned off. He doesn’t call anyone to shoot the shit like he normally would, and he doesn’t turn on a video game because he knows Bill would be able to figure out what he was doing and which one he was playing even blindfolded with the game on mute, and then he’d be imagining the game, which wouldn’t help either.

The first time his phone goes off Bill jerks, startled by the brassy ringtone after more than an hour of near-silence, and almost falls off the couch. He makes a soft pained noise and Gabe’s crouched down next to him in a heartbeat, saying some nonsense shit about how everything’s fine and rubbing Bill’s shoulder with his thumb, right at the edge of his sleeve where the fabric is worn thin.

“Sorry,” he says. “It’s going off now, don’t worry about it. Everything cool?” He should have turned it off earlier, but he hadn’t thought about it; his phone is an extension of his hand most of the time, and it’s strange even turning it to mute, much less ignoring calls.

“Yeah,” Bill says, quieter than normal, but calm again, his breathing slowing down and even. “I wrenched my shoulder, but it’s fine.”

Gabe stays for a while, being reassuring, and when he finally drops his hand away from Bill’s sleeve it’s only to make himself more comfortable on the floor. He leans back against the couch, close enough that he can still faintly feel Bill’s body heat, and texts a reply to his missed call, making up some bullshit about resting his voice.

He keeps texting for a while, because the keys don’t make much noise, and the next time he checks the clock, another half-hour has gone by. He stretches, tossing his phone down under the edge of the couch, and stands up.

“Time to move,” he warns. “You’re not really ready for longer than this in one position. You need to piss or anything? Take a break?”

Bill shakes his head, and follows Gabe’s lead more easily than he’d expected, honestly, considering how disorienting the blindfold must be. It doesn’t seem to bother him, though, and he responds to the pressure of Gabe’s hands without faltering, letting Gabe maneuver him as he unwinds the rope from Bill’s ankles and works slowly upward.

Bill hadn’t exactly been difficult to work with before, but now he’s a dream. Most of the tension has leeched out of his muscles, and when Gabe handles him he goes easily, bending and twisting in Gabe’s hands. The blindfold is still on; Gabe had originally planned on taking it off for a while, but Bill is so calm when Gabe repositions him that he decides to just fuck it and leave things as they are. If it’s working, he’s not going to mess with it.

He’d meant to change Bill’s position to something just as simple, maybe even easier, but the way Bill’s folding like warm clay in his hands is hard to resist. Gabe has every intention of tying his hands in front of him and maybe bending his knees a little for variety, but when he pulls the last of the rope from between Bill’s palms and guides his arms up to stretch his shoulders out, Bill gives this soft little sigh against Gabe’s neck and Gabe almost has a physical reaction that’s entirely inappropriate for the situation. Not that Bill would be able to see it, but even so.

He ends up guiding Bill forward instead, bending his legs and curving his arms around them, binding him into a gentle curve that shows nearly every one of the bumps traveling up his spine. He coils the rope high over Bill’s shoulders and carefully avoids his throat, hooking the rope back over itself to make sure it can’t slip and accidentally fall over Bill’s neck. Bill doesn’t make a sound the entire time, breathing softly and letting Gabe manipulate him, pliant and bendable, and after Gabe gets finished with the whole thing he has to take a time-out in the bedroom for a few minutes to chill out.

When he comes back out again, as silently as he can be due to the stillness that’s permeating his apartment, he stands by the kitchen bar for a while and just watches Bill, lying there and breathing. His lips aren’t parted but his mouth is soft, and his hair is ruffled on the side where the blindfold covers the tip of his ear. The cuff of his left pant leg has gotten turned up somehow, exposing a glimpse of argyle sock.

Bill’s breathing changes slightly, just enough for Gabe to notice before he says, “I can feel you staring at me.”

Gabe swallows, pushing off the bar and coming closer. “Yeah?” he replies, and his voice has gone low and throaty without his permission.

He thinks Bill hears it, too, because his tongue flickers out to wet his lips before he says, “Yeah,” and his breathing is faster. Anticipation, Gabe thinks, thrill of the unknown, a little daring, and if these were different circumstances and Bill was tied up at Gabe’s mercy for another reason, that would have been the sign Gabe was waiting for.

It isn’t, though, so he just crosses to the couch and half-sits on the arm next to Bill’s head. Bill is starting to fidget, not restlessness but tension of a different sort, nervous flutters and his fingers picking anxiously at the end of the rope, so Gabe reaches down with one arm to press a hand against Bill’s chest, palm to heart. Bill goes instantly still, melting back into the couch and his bonds, and Gabe looks down helplessly and thinks fuck.

* * *

Being blindfolded is an interesting experience. At first it had been a little strange, leaving William uncertain and tense because he couldn’t see, he didn’t know what was going on, he’d suddenly had one of his senses taken away and he wasn’t sure quite what to do without it.

The longer the blindfold has remained on, however, the easier it’s gotten, to the point that it feels natural now. It’s just like having his eyes closed during a nap, only the choice of opening them has been removed and is no longer his to make. Which is a relief in its own way, having decisions like that taken out of his hands, and he’s beginning to feel grateful for it.

The blindfold lets him focus on other things, for one; the sounds of traffic outside and Gabe moving around quietly inside; the smell of Gabe’s couch, old liquor and sweaty socked feet; the texture of the rope where it touches his skin and the way it squeezes gently around him with every inhale. He’d felt heightened awareness before, when he’d been bound the first time, but this is pushing him to new levels. He thinks he can feel the raised pattern in the weave of the upholstery beneath the back of his hand, and he knows when Gabe switches from reading a magazine to a novel by the sound of the pages as he turns them.

His head isn’t completely silent, of course, still darting from one thing to another the way it always does, but it doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming as it had before. He’s beginning to drift, a bit, wandering from one topic to another so easily that he catches himself thinking of penguins at one point and can’t for the life of him trace how he’s gotten there.

Gabe hasn’t touched him in a while, which William is actually fine with. It feels nice when he does, reassuring, but there’s a deeper sense of calm in this isolation, almost like his limbs are floating with nothing to ground him. He still knows exactly where Gabe is by the sound of pages and fabric rustling, the squeak of the tap when Gabe goes over to the sink to pour a glass of water and sets the tumbler down on the wooden side table, and that’s enough.

He’s drifting again when he realizes with a start that he’s thinking in lyrics, that the words flowing through his head are broken into stanzas and measured in meter. He has a complete thought in his head, about the last sunrise shared with someone as their hand slipped out of yours, and suddenly the peace and calm of the last few hours is shattered, overridden by the need to get this down on paper before it’s gone.

“Gabe,” he says, and the words feel foreign in his mouth, sour and echoing with disuse. “I think I’m done now. I need a pen, and paper.” His notebook is in his bag, he thinks. Maybe not; the point had been to get away from all of that, so his notebook may be lying on a coffee table in Chicago, abandoned, but he doesn’t think so. Even meaning to leave it behind, he has a tendency to pack it out of habit. Maybe blank paper is what he needs more, though. A clean slate.

He realizes belatedly that he hasn’t heard the familiar sounds of Gabe moving, coming closer. “Gabe?” he tries, berating himself for how small it comes out.

“I thought you wanted to let the words go for a while,” Gabe says, smooth and even, which for some reason makes William feel even smaller. If he shied away less from self-analysis, he might be more interested in his psychological reactions to this experiment, but right now he just wants to push them aside.

“I have…I need to get them down, though,” he says, trying to explain. “Before I forget them.” Gabe knows how that is; Gabe texts him and Pete at all hours of the morning with stray lines and a reminder to don’t let me forget this.

Gabe moves a little, rustling in the armchair by the window. “How about you tell me, instead?” he suggests finally.

He’s not going to let me, William thinks, and his stomach twists with a mix of emotions he can’t individually identify. He forces himself to breathe and think about it, because there’s not a lot else he can do, if Gabe point-blank refuses to untie him. He realizes his eyes are open and closes them, because having them open doesn’t do him any good anyway, and concentrates on relaxing his muscles again, which have jumped back to full tension.

He doesn’t like sharing unfinished lyrics, not with anyone. Gabe is the sometimes-exception to the rule, but even then it’s only when William has gotten stuck in the middle of something and needs someone to talk things out with, to give him a second opinion. It’s not raw and unplanned, stream-of-consciousness before he’s had the chance to look up synonyms and shift commas three times over.

It’s talking, though, which is different than passing him a sheet of paper covered in scribbling and waiting for Gabe to pass judgment. It’s not all that different from when they get sauced together and William starts rambling at four in the morning about loveseats as metaphors. He can feel the words slipping away even as he deliberates, refusing to be kept waiting in the face of so many other thoughts.

He opens his mouth and starts talking.

Gabe listens silently, and once William starts, it’s like the floodgates open and he can’t stop. He reels off entire verses, whole and unpolished, follows the spark of his brain when it leaps even when he doesn’t necessarily know why, and voices things out loud that he’s carried next to his heart for years without ever trusting himself enough to try to commit to paper.

He talks until his voice is starting to wear thin and dry, like old parchment paper, and the tide of words has begun to ebb. He takes a deep breath, feeling more at peace than he has in months, maybe even years, and only then does he hear the soft scratch of a ballpoint pen.

He turns even though he knows it doesn’t matter, tilting his head toward the sound. “You’re writing all of this down for me, aren’t you?” he asks, and he doesn’t know what emotion that is that’s messing up his voice, but he thinks at least part of it is gratitude, and a soft wash of warmth that must be friendship.

Gabe doesn’t answer, just moves from the chair over to the couch, the soft clink of a pen hitting the table giving him away even before he rises. He puts his hand on William’s cheek, palm cradling his jaw, and William turns into the touch unconsciously like a plant seeking sunlight.

Gabe’s thumb strokes his cheekbone, rough with calluses, and he chuckles softly at a joke William doesn’t know and doesn’t care about before asking, “You want some water?”

William exhales. “Please,” he says, skin warm even when Gabe takes his hand away. He’s back before long, William tracking his movements through the sounds he makes as he moves through the apartment, and then Gabe is lifting his head, guiding him to the rim of the water glass so he can drink. It’s surprisingly intimate, even for someone who’s held his hair while he puked up an entire bottle of cheap tequila outside a shitty bar at three in the morning.

William swallows until the water is gone, and licks the remainder from his lips, wet and clinging, when Gabe guides him back down. “You’re doing all right,” Gabe says, the tone intimate as well, and William can’t even make himself care about how he starts to glow.

* * *

It’s possible that this thing with Bill is fucking with his head more than expected.

He’d known that it would mess with him at least somewhat, because he’s not blind. Bill is attractive even when he’s not at his best, and right now he certainly isn’t at his worst. There’s enough of whatever it is between them for Gabe to know what it’s like to kiss him – usually drunk – and grope him – definitely drunk, often also high – but they’ve also been on the same page about where the lines are. Bill’s a good friend, and he looks good in skinny jeans, but neither of them have ever wanted to push it farther.

Gabe is thinking, with the worst possible timing, about how much he’d like to push it farther now.

It’s not just physical, either, which is the real bitch of the thing. If it were just that, Gabe could look his fill, jerk off in the bathroom to the mental image, wallow in guilt for a good half-hour and move on with life. Instead he’s got Bill’s smile whenever Gabe teases him gently about something, Bill’s intellect and three pages of freshly-conceived poetry that’s going to end up on an album within the year, Bill’s history with him and the weight of friendship giving everything more depth than Gabe is really comfortable with right now.

And part of it, he’s willing to admit, is the bondage. He gets off on tying up and being tied up as much as the next guy, sure, but this is even more than that. He puts off changing Bill’s position for as long as he feels safe doing it, because he knows, he knows, what Bill is going to feel like in his hands when he finally does.

Bill folds for him like a paper doll, letting Gabe stretch his muscles out before binding him up again, flexing into the new position as Gabe directs with the pressure of his hands. It’s either masochism or genius that has him tying Bill’s legs out straight, securing the rope from his ankles to the coil around his hips so that his legs are forced to stay slightly more than hip-width apart.

Bill doesn’t murmur a word of protest, just breathes soft and steady in Gabe’s ear as he rigs the knots, even when Gabe ends up without enough rope to do what he’d originally planned and has to improvise. He pulls Bill’s hands back behind his head, stretching his torso out and emphasizing the slim curl of his biceps, and winds the rope around his wrists to hold them there. The lack of leftover rope means that Gabe has to force Bill to arch, just enough to tie the knot, a shallow curve that lifts his spine off the couch cushion and highlights every breath he takes.

His chest rises and falls slightly faster than before, now that he can’t take the same deep breaths, and Gabe lays his hand across it for the first few minutes to make sure he’s getting enough air. Well, that and to feel the swell of Bill’s ribcage beneath his t-shirt, the steady quick beat of his heart.

“Getting trickier,” Bill murmurs when they’ve both gone still for a while, reminding Gabe that he may have to come up with a few more ideas for this before the night is out and Bill is ready to sleep.

Bill, Gabe reflects dourly, wants to do this for an entire second day.

“You said you were up for it,” Gabe reminds him, and the joke only comes out half as lame as he’d thought when he cracked it. It’s only half-lame because it’s at least half-flirty, and he tells himself sternly to get it the fuck together before the blindfold comes off and Bill goes back to being insightful and perceptive.

Maybe Bill doesn’t even need the blindfold off, because he’s quiet for a minute before he asks, “You okay?”

Gabe snorts. “Yeah,” he says, easily now, leaning in against the couch. “I’m supposed to be the one asking you that, bro.” Bill doesn’t reply, and there’s a little crease edging its way into his expression above the blindfold, so Gabe gives him a little squeeze and asks, “What do you want to do for dinner?”

“Whatever,” Bill says, which makes Gabe mentally kick himself in the face because hello, bondage session, of course Bill doesn’t feel like making the decisions right now. And fuck, how did his hand end up on Bill’s hip, rubbing the waistband of his jeans?

“There’s a Spanish place just around the corner with vegan options,” he offers, the first thing that comes to mind. “They do a pretty good paella.”

Bill’s quiet again, and Gabe realizes belatedly that he might not want to go out, to leave this retreat for the noisy bustle of New York in the middle of their little experiment. Gabe could untie his hands and let him eat, that might still work. The idea of running out to grab something is dismissed almost as soon as he thinks it; there’s no way he’s leaving Bill here on his own and still bound, or even untied but still in an altered state of mind. The idea of feeding Bill one spoonful at a time is far too tempting for Gabe to consider closely.

“I don’t think I have anything here,” he says regretfully, mentally rifling through his freezer and fridge. There’s maybe a frozen burrito and a carton of OJ, but nothing like a proper meal for two. “I didn’t think about it, shit. I could get take-out.”

Take-out actually seems like the best option. Gabe’s just starting to stand and try to locate his phone when Bill says, “No, that’s…paella sounds good, actually. We can go out.”

Gabe’s still casting around, about to ask Bill if he’s sure, when he gets a flash of himself feeding Bill take-out Spanish food, Bill’s hair falling like silk between his fingers as Gabe cradles his head and his lips parted obediently to wait for the next bite.

Fuck fuck fuck, he thinks, doing a little dance around the living room to encourage his dick to lie down and play dead. Of all the times, he has to be doing this now, when Bill’s basically entrusted him with the most important thing he possibly could. Gabe is not fucking breaking that trust.

“Okay,” he says in a rush, clapping his hands together. “Paella it is.”

A break, he reflects, might be exactly what they need right now.

* * *

If truth be told, William is a little relieved that they’re going out. The last position Gabe has put him in binds his legs apart, ankles shackled too securely to resist. Not obscenely, not in any position William would have thought to protest, but enough that he’s aware of it. It makes him feel strangely vulnerable, exposed, and it doesn’t seem to matter that Gabe is the only one who can see him like this.

Maybe it does matter that Gabe’s seeing him like this. Maybe that’s the reason.

The vulnerable feeling doesn’t leave him entirely when Gabe picks apart the knots and helps him sit up, but William pushes it firmly to the back of his mind. He rubs his arms, the movement strange and unaccustomed after the afternoon of remaining perfectly still. He aches in odd places, twinges of muscle that remind him of how he’d been bound here, or there.

He can’t seem to get his bearings. Gabe has to remind him that he doesn’t need his keys; that he should grab his jacket; that his belt is on the counter. It’s a good thing that Gabe knows where they’re going, because William isn’t entirely sure he could find his way down the street to the corner right now.

The restaurant isn’t far, just long enough that the walk and the crisp air help to clear his head a little by the time they reach their destination. It’s a hole-in-the-wall establishment of the type Gabe usually enjoys; no roaches in the kitchen, but no tourists sipping Evian either. They get a table in the corner and William opens his menu like a shield to screen himself from the other patrons. He still feels a little raw, and too exposed even when he knows, logically, that none of these people know who he is or what he’s been doing, nor are they in any position to start hassling him for it.

There are indentations in his skin from the rope, abrasions circling his wrists that feel rough to the touch. He doesn’t even realize he’s been rubbing at them until Gabe reaches over and casually pulls his hand away.

He’s been staring at his menu for at least five minutes when Gabe says, “You ready to order?” and William’s mind goes blank.

“I don’t know what I want to get,” he says. There’s an invisible iron band starting to clamp shut around his chest, and he can’t get enough air. He reaches for something to drink and knocks his glass over, spilling water and tinkling ice across the tablecloth.

“Woah,” Gabe says, and he’s suddenly not across the table anymore but in the seat next to William, reaching out to catch his wrist where he’s ineffectually chasing ice cubes with numb fingers. “Hey. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know what I want,” William repeats, high with panic. He knows, logically, that this shouldn’t be upsetting, that it’s only dinner. Gabe usually chooses for him anyway, when they go somewhere Spanish or South American and William doesn’t know what to order. But this is different, that’s because he knows the cuisine and William trusts him, it’s not because William is incapable of making the decision on his own.

Gabe seems to get it, though, because he just says, “Okay, okay,” and pries the ice cube out of William’s fingers, pulling his hand down under the table and squeezing it. William takes a deep breath and turns his head to rest on Gabe’s shoulder, inhaling the reassuring scent of his aftershave.

“Sorry,” he mutters, thoroughly annoyed at himself, and only notices then that Gabe’s shoulder is shaking slightly with silent laughter. He lifts his head, puzzled, and Gabe actually lets out a guffaw, lifting the hand that isn’t holding William’s to cover his eyes.

“Man,” Gabe says, shaking his head. “I have you tied up on my couch all afternoon, and you start flipping the fuck out when we go out for dinner.”

“I am not,” William objects, disgruntled, but his cheeks are warm and Gabe is still laughing.

Gabe wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and tugs the menu out from under William’s hand. “Only you,” he says, and William wants to be irritated with him, but Gabe’s smile says, you’re the only one in on the joke, and he’s using the warm, fond tone of voice that William never hears him use with anyone else. It dissolves the last of the tight pressure around his chest.

The waiter comes to clean up the mess, and when he asks if they’re ready, Gabe doesn’t even spare William a glance before replying. “Paella Valenciana y Paella Vegetal, gracias.

“Valenciana?” William asks after the waiter’s gone, leaving them with fresh water and a tablecloth that’s only slightly soggy.

“You’ll like it. Trust me.” Gabe’s confidence is cool and smooth, no cracks that William can see. It’s such an ordinary thing for him to say, but so strange at the same time, considering what they’ve been doing.

“I do,” he says anyway, because it feels like the right reply and the right moment for it, and Gabe catches his eye with a little crease in his brow that looks like a question. William finds himself speaking without consciously deciding to, just spilling the first words on his lips. “Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe we shouldn’t have come out.”

Gabe squeezes his hand his hand under the table, startling William a little because he’d forgotten they were still touching. He searches William’s eyes for long enough that William starts to doubt himself, fighting the urge to squirm. Then he says, low and even, “What do you want?”

It’s such a simple question, and so very much like the one William hadn’t been able to answer, five minutes ago. He takes a while to actually think about it, though, to debate staying here and eating a nice dinner in a restaurant versus shutting themselves back inside Gabe’s apartment with take-out.

“I want to watch a movie with you on your couch,” he says finally. “Something stupid. And I want to eat whatever it is you ordered for me while we do it.”

“Okay,” Gabe says. “We can do that.” He twists in his chair, attracting the attention of their waiter from across the room with one lifted finger, and says, “Make that to go.”

William’s phone goes off in his pocket, and he bangs his elbow on the bottom of the table when he jerks back reflexively. Gabe drops his hand so he can pull it out of his pocket, and William sits there for a long minute staring at the name on the caller ID.

Gabe cranes his neck over to look, disregarding William’s personal space as always, and tilts the display a little so he can see it better. Neither of them move for the next few seconds, just watching the phone blink and trill.

William reluctantly starts to flip it open, but Gabe’s fingers suddenly provide resistance, applying pressure against William’s knuckles. “Why are you here?” he asks, when William looks up at him in surprise.

The corners of William’s lips curl up slowly. “A retreat,” he admits.

Gabe grins back at him, lazy and smug. “And what do people on retreats not do?”

The insistent rings finally cut off, service going to voicemail. “Check their phones,” William answers, and Gabe’s grin widens with approval. He flips the phone open for long enough to turn it off again and then slips it back into his pocket.

Gabe stands and reaches for him, tugging him up out of his seat. “Our food’s done,” he says, chin jutting towards the counter. “Come on. Let’s get you back to the spa.”

* * *

For as ruffled as Bill had been at the restaurant, he calms down quick enough once Gabe gets home. Part of it is probably low blood sugar, and the rest is likely the absence of strangers staring at him when he feels vulnerable. Bill’s armor is pretty thick, but he’s not really in a good headspace to deal with shit right now. Thank fuck they hadn’t run into any fans.

Gabe installs him on the couch with the paella container and a fork, pours some OJ for each of them along with another set of glasses filled with water, and pops in Hudson Hawk because Bill makes the same faces every time, no matter how often they see it.

Gabe eats a metric ton of vegetables and rice while they watch, slouched down on the couch. Bill doesn’t eat quite as much, picking at his paella ingredient by ingredient, but he still puts a respectable amount away by the time they abandon their meals and push the containers out of the way on the floor.

Bill’s being the Bill-version of sneaky, which is actually painfully fucking obvious to anyone who knows him. He’s been stealing looks at the rope on the floor for the past five minutes, growing gradually twitchier as the seconds tick by. Gabe’s been keeping an eye on him, waiting for Bill to initiate, and just when he’s almost convinced that it isn’t going to happen, Bill looks sideways and catches his eye.

“You want?” Gabe asks, raising an eyebrow without judgment.

Bill hesitates, looking guilty, which Gabe is hazarding a guess means ‘no, but I feel like I should, so maybe.’ Gabe saves him the trouble and slides sideways on the couch, tugging Bill down until they’re sprawled together sideways on the couch, Bill’s back against Gabe’s front, angled so they can both see the screen.

“You can decide later,” he suggests, propping his chin up on his elbow. “Let’s just watch the movie. I want cuddle time.”

Sure enough, it works like a charm. They watch the movie and Bill doesn’t fidget at all, just makes faces at the same places he always does and then makes more at Gabe when he laughs. When they hit the credits Gabe doesn’t even move much, just reaches lazily over Bill’s head for the remote and channel-surfs until he finds a John Hughes flick playing on cable. He and Bill both eat that shit up when it’s on, so he sets down the remote again and doesn’t bother moving. He’s comfortable.

Bill, however, has apparently taken the ‘decide at the end of the movie’ thing to heart, and is tensing up again. Gabe reaches down before both of them over-think things and catches Bill’s wrists in one hand, squeezing just hard enough to get his attention.

“Not yet,” he says, and even before he’s relaxed his grip, Bill has gone limp like a wet noodle. Gabe catches himself looking at Bill’s eyelashes, highlighted in the glow of the screen, and tells himself sternly to watch the damn movie.

Bill gets fidgety about half an hour in, and this time Gabe doesn’t even need to think, he just hooks his ankle over both of Bill’s legs, effectively trapping him against Gabe’s body and the couch. Bill’s wrists flex once in his grip, almost testing, and then he gives a little sigh and melts bonelessly into the confinement.

And this, right here, this is the problem. This is what Gabe has avoided thinking about since the first time he untied Bill to reposition him and felt the way Bill flowed into his hands like softened butter. Gabe gets off on bondage as much as the next guy, and he’s equal opportunity about which way it goes, but what really gets him going is when he’s with someone who stays put without being held there, just because it’s how he wants them. Bill is, apparently, one of those people. The way he is now, the way he has been for most of the afternoon, Gabe would hardly have to lift a finger. Bill would never need to be restrained, now that he’s discovered how this feels and the way to get himself there. Bill would do all of the work for him.

Gabe becomes aware, with horrifying abruptness, that he’s about to be hard against Bill’s back. And as tightly pressed as they are together, there’s not really going to be any room for misinterpretation.

With anyone else, this really wouldn’t be a problem. He and his guys have long passed the point of familiarity where a stiff dick is no longer embarrassing and something they’ve all seen, Victoria included. He and Ryland have even jerked off to porn together, some really crazy leather dominatrix shit that they found on pay-per-view once in a hotel.

There’s a strict code of conduct, though, about dudes making each other hard. If you notice it, you pretend you didn’t, and you either politely ignore it or you offer to take care of the situation, depending on your mood and the dude in question. Gabe ignored when Pete got a boner during their ‘gay is great’ makeout session back on the last big Midtown tour, and Mikey ignored when Gabe popped one that time they were grinding on the dance floor in Jersey. It happened. They were guys, they were open-minded, they were frequently sexually frustrated. No big deal.

Bill, however, is a whole rulebook unto himself, and Gabe doesn’t think he knows about the code. Gabe is fairly sure of this fact, actually, considering a conversation he had once with Ryland and another with a mortified Sisky Biz. Bill will want to ask questions. He’ll want to talk about it. He’ll want to make sure, with extreme earnestness, that everyone involved is okay and that no one’s feelings are hurt and things are hunky-fucking-dory before he’ll finally let it drop.

Normally Gabe would just lie. He’s a master bullshitter, he could spin something even Bill would believe, something about the chick onscreen and her fucking mouth and by the end of whatever story he’d cooked up, it might not even be a lie.

Tonight, though, with this trust thing hanging over them like the fucking Sword of Damocles and Bill lying quiescent in Gabe’s hold, he can’t do it.

He pulls back, just enough that Bill’s not pressed up against his crotch anymore, and sits up, letting go of Bill’s wrists. Bill looks up immediately, but he doesn’t move, not even the smallest reflexive twitch, wrists still pressed tight together and still. And that’s it, that’s more than enough to push the situation in Gabe’s pants from ‘impending threat’ into ‘red alert.’

“Gabe?” Bill’s voice, soft and unsure. Gabe does not – does not – look down, because he thinks Bill might be hard too, and he doesn’t know if that would make things better or worse.

“Toilet,” he says easily, and that’s totally not a lie. He squeezes Bill’s arm and says, “Be right back.”

He shuts the door to the bathroom behind him, runs some water onto a washcloth and tosses it over his hard-on, because if there’s one thing his dick doesn’t like, it’s cold fucking water. He’s not jerking off in here, there’s too much of a chance Bill could hear and misinterpret. Or not misinterpret, which would probably be worse. He’d rather blue-ball himself than deal with Bill watching him knowingly when he opens that door, especially because he thinks that in his current frame of mind, Bill might be willing to make an offer.

His dick strives valiantly at that thought to remain upright, but he warns, “I’ll get colder water,” and his hard-on finally grumpily subsides.

That issue taken care of, he zips his pants back up and splashes some water over his hands and face, pointing at his reflection in the mirror. “Do not fuck this up,” he tells himself seriously, and goes back out to watch the rest of the movie.

* * *

They call it a night after the second movie, for which William is grateful. Gabe can be a night owl, the two of them staying up far into the early hours of the morning, drunk on tequila, high on life and each other’s company. They haven’t had anything to drink since that first shot, William realizes, which is unusual. Nothing about this visit has been precisely ordinary, though.

He suspects he’s more tired than he thinks he is, after the airport and the flight and the shopping trip and the afternoon-into-evening roller coaster of experiences. He’s still feeling alert right now, buzzed on a contact high from Gabe’s hands forcing him into stillness, but he knows himself well enough to guess that the crash is imminent. When Gabe suggests they pack it up for the night, William merely blinks lethargically and goes to find the spare toothbrush.

He walks by Gabe in the kitchen on his way to get a glass of water, and sees the rope now lying neatly in a coil on the countertop. He stops, unsure how he feels right now about being tied up again. It had been satisfying, and he thinks it might put him right to sleep, but there’d also been a difference between the supple, all-encompassing embrace of the hemp, and the heated points of contact when Gabe had held him. He doesn’t really want to trade the second for the first.

“Should I…?” he begins anyway, because he trusts Gabe to know about these things, and what he really needs. If Gabe thinks they should go back to rope, then rope it is.

“Not a chance,” is Gabe’s reply, given with a grin. “I don’t like leaving you for more than an hour and a half, there’s no fucking way you’re staying in one position all night.”

“Okay,” he agrees, inexplicably relieved. Gabe bumps his shoulder on his way out of the kitchen.

When he finishes his nighttime ablutions and pads back to Gabe’s bedroom in a loose borrowed t-shirt and boxers, Gabe’s already in bed. William hesitates on the threshold, uncertain. Gabe’s hedonist enough to own a queen-sized bed, and as tall as they both are, neither of them have ever spent the night on the couch. For the first time, though, William wonders if he should give Gabe some space.

He only realizes that Gabe’s opened his eyes when his gaze drifts back to Gabe’s face. There’s a smile there, too, soft and secret. “Get in,” Gabe says, tossing back the corner of the top sheet. “I could make you an invitation, but it would take too long to print.”

William laughs, almost startled by the sound of it, and curls up under the sheet, on the edge of the bed. He wonders if Gabe was right about the bondage-without-sex thing, if the curl of heat in his stomach when they’d watched the movie earlier had been inevitable because of the restraint, or if it had been inevitable because it’s Gabe. Gabe has always made him feel the way the rope does, to a certain degree. Safe, supported. Cherished.

Fingers spider-walk up his spine and he shivers, twisting around onto his back. Gabe’s grin is barely visible in the dark. “You’re thinking too loud,” Gabe says without any reproach. “I can’t sleep.”

“Sorry,” William says, smiling back, and follows the tug when Gabe pulls him back into the center of the bed. Gabe’s arm drapes warm and loose around his torso, and that feeling returns, even without the binding, of safety and security.

“How’s the retreat going?” Gabe asks, low near his ear. “Is it helping?”

William takes a moment to consider it. He hasn’t thought about the album all day, or at least not seriously. He has several pages of freeform lyrics to browse through on his flight back to Chicago. He hasn’t felt the knot of anxiety build up under his sternum when he thinks about the band and the future since the moment he set foot inside Gabe’s apartment. Even now, when he’s usually lying awake suffering from insomnia because of how much is weighing on his mind, he feels calm and clear-headed.

“Yeah,” he says finally, letting out a breath. “Yeah, it’s helping.”

“Good,” Gabe says, his mouth still close and warm next to William’s ear, and before he thinks about it too much, William turns and catches it with his own.

They’ve kissed like this before. They’ve kissed like this in this bed, even, drunk and happy, giggling into each other’s mouths. William knows exactly how to angle his head and how to slide his tongue along Gabe’s to get him to sound that low rumble of approval. He knows when Gabe is going to reach up to touch his face and exactly where he’s going to cradle William’s jaw in the palm of his hand.

They kiss for long minutes, slow and soft, and if this feels different from those other times it’s only because they’re both sober. William slides into Gabe’s arms easily when they both shift for a better angle, and then they’re kissing even more deeply, fingertips brushing skin and tongues licking at each other slowly, like they’re dragging through honey.

William shuffles even closer and feels, for a moment, Gabe hard and heated against his thigh, and he’s sure then that both of them want this, whatever this turns out to be. He makes a noise when Gabe moves back, out of full-body contact, but Gabe’s mouth is still gentle when he eases them out of the kiss.

Gabe’s voice is low and warm, curling close next to his ear, when he says, “It’s been a long day, you should get some sleep.”

And that…is not what William had expected to hear.

He pulls back as well, forehead creasing, but Gabe doesn’t give him the room or the time to work himself into a sulk, just leans forward and kisses him again, deeply, until William stops thinking about or even wanting to protest.

It doesn’t really change anything when he pulls back, though. “Gabe,” William says, quiet but serious.

“Tomorrow,” Gabe says, and if it’s a lie William can’t tell, lying this close to him in the dark. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow. When we’re both in a better headspace.”

William frowns. “Gabe,” he says again.

“Cross my heart and swear to die,” Gabe promises, and William can’t really say anything to that, so he rolls over onto his side facing the edge of the bed and closes his eyes.

He’s been there, perfectly still and breathing evenly, for quite some time before he hears Gabe’s breathy laughter near his ear, and the warmth of supple limbs infiltrating his personal space.

“I’ve seen you sleep, we both know you’re not going to get any rest like that,” Gabe teases, and William rolls his eyes but doesn’t fight it when Gabe grabs his arm and rolls them both over. He wraps William’s arm around his waist and tucks it securely under his own elbow, and William feels absurdly better already just holding him like this.

“You never fall asleep unless you’re the big spoon,” Gabe murmurs, drowsy and muffled now from being farther away, but the smile is still apparent in his voice. “You always need to be holding on.”

Gabe’s back is warm and solid against William’s chest, and he falls asleep almost before he hears the final word.

* * *

Gabe wakes up well-rested, comfortable, and needing to piss. His belly itches a little, too, but he’s not quite awake enough to remember how to move his hands to take care of that. There’s a warm weight in bed next to him, and he thinks it wouldn’t be too much effort at all to just roll forward a little and rub his morning wood against someone’s sleep-loosened body.

Then he remembers it’s Bill in his bed, Bill’s hair tickling his nose, and the idea doesn’t actually lose any of its appeal, but he does achieve the willpower to resist temptation. Bill snuffles into the pillow when Gabe gets out of bed, one foot worming its way across the empty space before he promptly rolls into the warm spot.

Gabe visits the toilet and makes a half-assed attempt at brushing his teeth even though he wouldn’t normally, for reasons he chooses not to dwell on. Bill is just being slightly unpredictable, what with this whole shibari situation, and Gabe likes to be prepared.

There’s OJ in the fridge, but Gabe just stares at it, scratching his belly absently, until he realizes his mouth tastes like toothpaste. Not the best combination. He pours a glass of water from the pitcher instead and thinks about starting some coffee, because he doesn’t drink espresso like breathing the way Suarez does, but he still appreciates it some mornings, and Bill probably will too, when he wakes up.

He doesn’t know what that was all about last night, and he doesn’t think Bill does, either. Hormones and electric energy, maybe, something like that. Shit, he can’t even blame this one on alcohol the way he usually does. That was some stone cold sober, gay-ass groping and making out they did back there.

He drinks the water and is still just not-awake enough that some of it goes astray and ends up dribbling down his chin. He wipes it off with his shirt sleeve and sets the glass down on the kitchen island, leaning forward against it. It’s a little cold on his bare thighs, and he thinks he should probably go put some clothes on, something more than boxers and a t-shirt, but that would likely mean waking Bill up and he doesn’t want to do that.

He’s still contemplating it, staring across his living room at the couch and blinking every few minutes, when he feels a whisper of movement behind him and both his wrists are caught up and twisted gently behind his back. There’s the stiff-soft friction of hemp against his skin and Bill’s breath laughing quietly across the side of his face. He leans forward, warmth against Gabe’s back, and whispers, “Gotcha.”

Gabe is completely, achingly hard against the counter within a heartbeat.

He closes his eyes and leans back just a little into that warmth. “Is that how we’re playing it now?” he jokes, and hopes Bill can’t tell how breathy his voice has gone.

“Maybe,” Bill replies, coy and smiling, pressing up closer against Gabe’s back. “Good morning.”

Gabe takes another second to think about whether he really wants to do this, and then he breaks the hold Bill has on his wrists and twists then both around in one smooth motion, trapping Bill against the counter. “Good morning,” he responds, low and gravelly. And there’s really no mistaking, in this position, what he’s thinking right now.

Bill’s eyes flicker, searching his face. Gabe doesn’t move, doesn’t push, doesn’t do anything; and just as he’s finally inhaling to speak, Bill surges forward and kisses him.

Bill tastes like toothpaste as well, with a little bit of sour sleep hiding at the very back of his mouth when Gabe goes questing after it. Bill makes noise when he sucks on Gabe’s tongue, little breathy whimpers, and Gabe shifts his hips forward harder, seeking heat through two sets of boxer shorts.

When Gabe pushes, Bill resists him, shifting his weight to stay balanced. Gabe can feel the smile against his mouth, and then the warning bite of Bill’s teeth sinking delicately into his lip. Not going quietly, then. He turns the kiss coaxing, licking a little into Bill’s mouth before he tries again, and this time Bill bends easily over the counter, just like Gabe knew he would. It’s not the easiest angle for Bill to sustain, stomach muscles rigid and breath coming in shallow gasps, but Gabe puts him there and he fucking stays put, and Gabe is even harder now than he was two minutes ago when Bill started this game.

He thinks about hoisting Bill onto the counter and kissing him there, touching him, maybe even giving him a handjob. Gabe is a very open-minded guy, and right now, with Bill dragging air against Gabe’s mouth in quick, panting breaths, he’s feeling even more open-minded than usual. But that would mean giving this up, the control and the feel of Bill’s muscles bunched tight to hold himself up above the counter.

Bill moans, the sound buzzing against Gabe’s lips, which is just enough for Gabe to think big brain, not little brain and slowly ease up.

Gabe hadn’t been willing to do this last night, not when Bill was still in a weird headspace and more than a little fucked-up, whether he realized it or not.

This morning is an entirely different story.

Bill straightens once Gabe backs off, with just enough sex-glaze in his eyes that Gabe has to fight the urge to lay him right back onto this counter and crawl on top of him so they can grind against each other until they both come.

He doesn’t, though, just presses his thumb against Bill’s lower lip and asks, “You sure about this?”

With anyone else, he wouldn’t even be asking, he’d just be thinking hell yes and ripping the clothes off. One of Bill’s superpowers, along with a freakish talent for Rubik’s cubes and the gift of sounding like an angel at six in the morning after three hours of sleep and a bottle of Jäger, is apparently the ability to turn Gabe into a fifteen-year-old girl who wants to talk about his fucking feelings.

Bill doesn’t go for the obvious, sucking Gabe’s thumb and making come-hither eyes to get the message across. He just smiles softly all the way up to his eyes, which is so much fucking worse.

“No,” he says honestly. “Are you?”

“Not even close,” Gabe answers, hauling Bill close against his chest, sliding his palm across the curve of a hip and another into the slender dip of Bill’s spine. “Bedroom?”

Bill laughs, and Gabe kisses him again, which feels more like a yes than a maybe. He could be making the worst decision of his life and fucking up one of his closest friendships beyond repair. On the other hand, he thinks as Bill’s tongue slides sweet and sly across his, he could finally be doing something he should have done a long fucking time ago.

They pull apart to switch rooms and Bill’s eyes flick down and away, at the coil of hemp still half-unraveled between the counter and the floor, then dart back up to Gabe with a question in them.

“Leave it,” Gabe says, with the low growl in his voice that Bill put there, and Bill’s eyes widen a little like he’s only now recognizing the look Gabe’s sending his way. It feels something like the desire to peel Bill’s clothes off and lick every subsequently exposed inch of skin, but Gabe’s not looking in a mirror, so he can’t be sure. He thinks that’s probably close, though.

Gabe kicks the rope out of the way as he reaches forward, and follows Bill’s laughter all the way to the bedroom.