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Across The Hall

Chapter Text

Rhett usually liked moving. He enjoyed the process of gathering up his life and placing it somewhere else, arranging everything in a way that felt familiar but still like something completely new. The change of scenery invigorated him.

This time was different. This time he was running, running like he was being chased. And in a way, he was. He hadn’t wanted to move. He’d loved his cozy, little apartment. The neighbors had been nice and quiet. There had been a few good restaurants within walking distance and a movie theatre only a few blocks away. Rhett would have happily stayed there. But he couldn’t, and it ate at him.

It was him who’d had to pick up his life and skitter away with it, even though he’d done nothing wrong. It was unfair and unreasonable and, sadly, unavoidable. To make matters worse, the moving company he’d hired seemed to be a bunch of buffoons. They’d arrived late and worked in an annoyingly uncoordinated fashion, even by Rhett’s very loose standards. He cursed himself for choosing the budget option.

Luckily, the new building seemed nice. The hallway was clean and stylish: all muted earth tones and lovely little light fixtures on the walls. The elevator moved smoothly, and the lobby even had a little seating area. His apartment was a bit bigger than his old one, afforded by the fact the he’d chosen a not-so-central location. The living room was spacious, and the kitchen was big enough to entertain guests if he ever wanted to do that. The bedroom could have been bigger, but he could live with it. Because by far, his favorite feature of his new home was the big-ass bathtub. That was what had sold him on this apartment in the first place. The thing was huge. He could sit in it with his legs stretched all the way out and there was even a little bit room left. Rhett couldn’t wait to get in a good soak.

Right now he had no time for that, though. He was frantically going through his things, trying to find his clothes. It was dawning on him that the two boxes containing his everyday clothes were nowhere to be seen. He cursed under his breath. It was late; there was no way anyone would answer if he called the moving company. He just had to go to work in the clothes he’d been wearing all day. Not that it mattered much, he’d take them off anyway, but it was still annoying. He took a sniff at himself and grimaced. It was very unprofessional to go to set smelling like this. If he left right now though, he’d have time to shower at the studio.

He grabbed his keys and rushed out of his apartment, stopping when he saw that there were a man and a woman in the hallway. They turned at the sound of Rhett’s door opening. The woman had a short bob and the blond of it was obviously from a bottle. Her features were sharp and angled. She smiled at Rhett, but he noticed that her smile didn’t reach her eyes. She was thin in an L.A. way, as in too thin for her own good, but she still probably thought she needed to lose a few pounds. Something about the way her hand instantly grabbed the man’s possessively made Rhett’s lips twitch.

His attention switched to the man who’d stopped mid-move, keys jangling from his fingers. He stared at Rhett, lips slightly parted, eyes shining bright. It was the latter that almost made Rhett’s knees buckle. He felt like clutching his chest, they were so beautiful. Partly hidden behind black and brown spectacles and the longest eyelashes Rhett had ever seen on a man. They were intensely blue and reminded Rhett of glacial pools. Despite the freezing color, the man’s gaze dripped with warmth. It made him all the more beautiful. His hair was dark brown but there were a few silver strands here and there. His skin was so smooth, though, that Rhett decided that he couldn’t be much older than himself. Brave of him to let the early streaks of gray show. The man’s features were sharp, but in a totally different way than the woman’s; where she was jagged, he was sculpted. She looked like her skin had been haphazardly stretched over her sharp bones. He, on the other hand, looked like someone had taken the time and care to lovingly mold something that was at the same time masculine and strong, but also feminine and soft. Rhett instantly trusted him. He quickly realized he’d stopped breathing. After conjuring a pleasant smile on his face Rhett offered his hand to the man.

“Oh, hello. You must be my new neighbors,” he said hoping his voice didn’t betray the storm of feelings he was experiencing. The man just stared. The woman frowned at him and took Rhett’s offered hand. Hers was bony and cool. Rhett turned his smile to her and shook their grip.

“Hello, there. I’m Catherine. This is Charles,” she said, still smiling her non-smile.

“Nice to meet you, Catherine. Charles. I’m Rhett,” he introduced himself. He was still hoping to get a handshake from the man. Charles continued to stare at Rhett, but his expression had changed. His gaze was now curious and searching. A flicker of hope lit inside of Rhett. Could he be…? Suddenly, Charles seemed to awaken from his contemplations.

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to figure out where I know you from,” Charles said with a small smile and a sound that had to be the most beautiful laugh Rhett had ever heard. He finally took Rhett’s hand, and Rhett shook it with purpose. He wanted to leave an impression. Then Charles’ words hit him. The corner of his lips hitched up and he cheered in his head. Charles had definitely seen him before.

“Oh, I get that a lot. I guess I just have one of those faces,” Rhett said. He felt victorious. Nowadays, being recognized wasn’t that rare of an occurrence. Sometimes men actually came up to him, sometimes he took selfies and signed a pec or two, and sometimes they just shyly said they enjoyed his work. It felt nice, and Rhett was always sweet and courteous. Most of the time he would notice someone staring at him and blushing when they were caught. He liked that, too. It was an ego boost for sure. But there was a faint blush creeping up Link’s neck now that thrilled Rhett more than these encounters usually did.

Catherine coughed. It made Rhett realize their hands were still together. They dropped their grip at the same time.

“Um, anyway. Welcome to the building. Maybe we’ll see each other around?” Charles said, rubbing his neck awkwardly. Rhett smiled at him. He would like nothing more than to spend some time with him.

“I’m sure we will. It was nice to meet you guys. Excuse me, I have an appointment I need to get to.”

He was in a hurry, otherwise he would have gladly stayed and chatted. Maybe try and figure out a way to invite Charles over some other night, without that woman hanging on his arm. Rhett wondered what had brought the two together. His first impression was that they seemed wholly incompatible. He stepped into the elevator and turned, hoping to catch one last glimpse of Charles. He was in luck; Charles stood at his door looking at Rhett with puppy dog eyes. Rhett couldn’t help winking at him. The widened eyes before the elevator doors closed made Rhett’s heart flutter.

Chapter Text

Rhett was tired. He’d been up all night, in more ways than one. He hated night shoots. He hated outdoor shoots, too. He’d said this to his co-worker last night and gotten a confused look back; everyone knew he loved the outdoors, going hiking and camping, even mountain biking sometimes. He talked about it often. But it was totally a different thing to be outside in the darkness, buck naked, tired and hard, surrounded by a crew of equally-tired people. He’d managed to cut his knee on a tree branch badly enough that he had to get it stitched up. That had delayed the shoot, and everyone had been understandably frustrated with him. Also, the bug bites in questionable places really didn’t help his mood.

Rhett stormed into his apartment, in need of a shower and a nap. Also, he still needed to call the move-in company.

On his way to the bathroom, something caught his eye and he stopped at the living room window. A figure far down on the street was ambling towards the bus stop. Rhett recognized Charles from that silver streak in his hair. Before he could really think about it, Rhett was in the elevator again. He sat in his car and was about to start the ignition when his eyes flitted over to the rearview mirror. He looked like shit. He frowned; the bus could be there any minute. He would just have to go with what he had. Fingers ran through his hair to mess it up a bit on purpose, and it actually looked pretty good. He couldn’t do anything about the bags under his eyes, so he stuck his sunglasses on. Last thing he did before starting the engine was slap on some lip balm. Not that he was expecting a kiss, but better safe than sorry.

Rhett was relieved to find Charles still sitting at the bus stop. The man was wearing gray fitted suit pants and a white button down. He looked positively ravishing. He also looked like he was about to melt into a puddle. Rhett knew he had an in there, and so he pulled over and opened the passenger side window.

“Hey there neighbor! Need a ride?” he asked, leaning to look at Charles from the driver’s seat. Charles’ eyes shot wide.

“Oh, um… The bus will be here soon. No need for you to go out of your way,” he mumbled.

“I’d be happy to. Come on! I have AC.” Rhett was certain the promise of chilled air would make Charles give in. He was happy to be proven right.

“That sounds like heaven. Thank you,” Charles said, sounding relieved. As he settled into the passenger seat he let out a small sigh. Rhett was glad of his decision to wear the shades. He could stare at Charles with all the intensity the man demanded and not be obvious about it.

His neighbor was sweating profusely, temples shimmering. Rhett longed to lean in and lick the sweat off of him; to just take a hold of the sharp curve of his chin, make him stay still, and press his tongue onto his salty skin and let it drag from the tip of his jaw all the way to his hairline. All he wanted was a tiny sampling. He was certain Charles would taste heavenly.

“Where to, boss?” he asked, trying to mask his lusty thoughts with bit too bright of a smile. It turned out that Charles was on his way to work, just as Rhett had assumed. Rhett tapped the address into the navigation app and was sad to see it was quite close, only about a ten minute drive. He pulled into the traffic and tried to seem nonchalant, but his nervous energy poured out of him in an involuntary head bob. At least the song playing was good; it wouldn’t look that suspicious.

Charles was quiet. Rhett had kind of hoped he would start a conversation, but as the silence dragged on, he grew impatient.

“Where’s your lady friend?” he asked, and instantly cursed internally. I don’t want to talk about her.

“She’s at work.”

That was curt. Rhett glanced at Charles. He was still looking at Rhett, but he seemed a bit uncomfortable. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about her, either. Curiousness took a hold of Rhett. Perhaps he could prod a bit — get some insight into their relationship. Maybe they’d been together too long. Maybe the relationship had grown stale. Maybe Charles was looking for something new. Rhett would enthusiastically apply for that position.

“Doesn’t use the bus, then?” he asked.

“No. She went to the metro. Her office is pretty far from my place,” Charles answered.

“Your place?” Rhett asked. “I thought you guys lived together.”

“Oh, no. Not yet. We’ve only been dating for six months.”

What?! Rhett almost let the word slip, but swallowed it down at the last second. He’d been certain they’d been together for years. There had been none of that ‘new couple closeness’ between them. At six months you were still supposed to be in that new relationship glow where you couldn’t keep your hands off of each other. But Charles and Catherine had barely touched in front of him. Even the hand holding had seemed forced.

“What?” Charles asked. Apparently Rhett hadn’t covered his reaction as well as he had hoped.

“Oh, nothing. Just seemed like you’ve been together longer than that.” Rhett cringed a bit. He couldn’t help but wonder if that had sounded a bit harsh.

Charles fell silent. Rhett tried to read his features but came up with nothing. Maybe he should say something to soften the opinion. He was wracking his brain when suddenly Charles spoke again. Apparently he’d decided to change gears.

“So, what do you do then?” he asked. Rhett’s gaze jerked to him. From all the blushing last night, Rhett had been sure that Charles had realized where he knew him from. But maybe he’d been wrong. Well, this could get interesting, he mused. He smiled at Charles sweetly and said:

“This and that. Some projects in the film industry. You know, the usual L.A. stuff.” He wasn’t really lying, just skirting the truth.

“Oh, that sounds… interesting.”

You have no idea.

“How about you?” Rhett asked. He imagined Charles in a conference room with a huge whiteboard, saving money and lives with his brilliant mind.

“I’m an industrial engineer,” he answered.

Rhett smiled. He’d been right in his assessment that Charles had a job where he used his brain. Another glance at him and Rhett saw an expression he couldn’t quite read. Could he be embarrassed? No, that would be ridiculous. Rhett felt a rush of warmth for the man beside him. It couldn’t be that he was ashamed of his intelligence? That beautiful, and smart too. How had this man ended up with that raisin of a woman?

Charles shifted in his seat uncomfortably and it tugged at Rhett’s heart strings. He let out a small chuckle and lowered his voice to the tone he used to make men drop trou for him.

“Aah, I could tell you were a smarty-pants.”

To Rhett’s delight, Link’s cheeks flushed a deep crimson. Rhett could almost feel their warmth radiating towards him. He basked in their glory.

They sat in silence for a while. Rhett could see from his app that they were close to their destination. No, not yet. Think of something!

“Any good coffee places around here? I don’t usually drink coffee, but I really need a boost this morning. I had a long night,” he finally said, hoping Charles would take the hint. He couldn’t just ask him out for coffee, right? That would be too forward.

“I usually get my morning coffee from this little cart at the park here. It’s pretty good. Maybe… I don’t know. Would you like to come with me?”

Rhett almost sighed, he was so relieved. He smiled at Charles and said, “That sounds like a plan.”

Once pulled over at the park, Charles tried to get the door open. It wasn’t going very well. He seemed flustered, and the sight made Rhett’s stomach ache delightfully.

“Here, let me get that for you. It’s a bit tricky,” he said, keeping his voice low. Rhett leaned towards Charles, whose eyes sprung wide. His breathing hitched audibly. Rhett drank it up. The reaction his closing-in body had on Charles was manna to Rhett’s hungry mind. Charles lifted his chin to look at him, and for a second Rhett was absolutely positive he was on the brink of a heavy make-out session with his new neighbor. God, he was gorgeous. Rhett couldn’t take his eyes off the curve of that Cupid’s bow, it was too delectable.

Too soon he was back in his seat. The door popped open and Charles still sat, breathing ragged.

“Lead the way,” Rhett motioned towards the park.

They walked side by side, Rhett positioned close to Charles purposefully letting the back of his hand lightly brush against Charles’. The skin-on-skin contact ran shivers all over his body.

The coffee cart was cute and the girl standing behind it greeted Charles like one would an old friend. Rhett’s eyes stayed only on Charles as he—with a polite smile—ordered the same drink as him. Charles then guided them to a fountain, and they sat at the edge of it.

The park was peaceful; an oasis of nature nestled in the middle of the busy city. Rhett felt at home. They were sitting in the shade and it was hard to see Charles through the sunglasses. Fuck the eye bags, he thought. Rhett lifted the sunglasses to the top of his head and dove straight into Charles’ deep blue eyes.

“Well, this is lovely. You come here every morning?” he asked.

“I drink my coffee at the office, but I come here for lunch almost every day. I like people watching,” he answered, smiling a little. He blew on his coffee even though it had the lid on. Rhett forced a chuckle back down. God, this man was too precious.

“I love that too. It’s such a nice thought that everyone around you has their own lives, their own problems and victories, totally separate from your experience, but that we’re all still in this together somehow. You know?” Rhett realized he was rambling. Did he sound like a pretentious idiot? He turned to try and get read from Charles’ face, but the guy was staring at Rhett, lips slightly parted, looking almost awed. Rhett was not one to blush, but he felt a dull heat rise up his neck.

“Yes, that’s exactly how I feel. I even do this thing where I come up with stories for the people I see. Silly, right?”

“I do that too!” Rhett exclaimed. That was one of his favorite things to do when he was in public. They chuckled together at the shared pastime before a silence fell between them.

“You said you had a long night? Did you have a night shoot or something?” Charles asked finally. Rhett glanced at him. Charles’ expression was totally innocent.

“Yeah. It was pretty grueling. I don’t usually have many night shifts but this one was an outdoors thing.”

“Oh. Are they riding you hard then?”

Rhett was glad he had no coffee in his mouth; he would have surely choked if he had. He laughed awkwardly. That couldn’t have been an accident, right? That had to be a purposeful innuendo. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? Yes, actually, just last night a man rode me like a race horse until he came untouched on my chest. Well, that might be a bit much. So, instead he said:

“Sometimes, yeah.”

“But you like your work?” Charles pressed on. Rhett thought for a moment. He answered truthfully.

“I guess, yeah. I’m very good at it. Gives me a certain kind of professional pride. But it’s still work. Like any other kind, there are things I don’t like that much. And it’s very tiring sometimes.”

“Hmm. Probably lots of long days? Isn’t that the way film industry works?”

“Yes. But to balance that, I have lots of free time, too. So, how about you? Do you like your work?”

“Oh, um. I guess? Not to brag, but I’m very good at it too. But it’s not anything I dreamed about when I was a kid. I just kind of ended up into it, you know?”

Rhett smiled weakly. He could relate to that, for sure. Not many kids spent their time dreaming about becoming porn stars.

“Hmm. I get it. Same for me too.”

They fell silent again and Rhett managed to get some of his coffee down. It was really bad.

Charles started to twitch a bit. He even took a glance at his watch surreptitiously. A deep sadness fell over Rhett. He didn’t want to go—he wanted to stay right here, sitting next to this man who had captured his attention completely in the short time they’d known each other. But Charles obviously had to get to work, so Rhett let him off easy.

“Well, I need to get going. I have another shoot in about an hour.” He didn’t.

“Oh, okay. Yeah, I need to get to work too. Thanks for the ride.” Charles smiled shyly. Rhett felt warm all over. Good God, what was this man doing to him? He’d never fallen this hard and fast before.

“It was my pleasure.”

They stood and started walking to Rhett’s car. Charles fidgeted more and more as they neared it.

“You….uh…settling okay? To the apartment?” he finally asked.

“Yeah. It’s great. The living room is a horrendous color of puce, though. I’m gonna paint it on Sunday,” Rhett said, just to keep them speaking.

“Do you need some help with that?” Charles’ question came fast.

“I would love that. Thank you for offering. Very neighborly of you.” A wide smile spread over Rhett’s face. It felt like all the warmth that had taken residence in his body was pouring out of him through his smile. Charles faltered. Suddenly, his cup was in the air, and Rhett watched in slow motion as he started to fall.

Rhett didn’t think; his arm moved of its own accord. In a flash they were pressed together. Charles was slim and taut. Rhett felt huge wrapped around him. The feeling was intense and arousing. His dick twitched in his pants.

“Watch your step there, Charles,” he whispered, pressing them closer together, almost feeling Charles’ thigh push against his straining erection. His voice was low and he was sure Charles could hear the heat in it. Whether he could or not was unclear, but he did become instantly flustered.

“Umm…thanks. Sorry. So clumsy. Sorry. Bye.” Charles turned and rushed for the entrance.

“See you on Sunday!” Rhett called after him.

He was completely smitten.

Chapter Text

Rhett had been sitting at his kitchen table for the last half an hour. He’d tried to kill time by playing around on his phone, but nothing seemed to keep his concentration more than a few minutes. Charles was coming over soon.

He’d seen Charles last night too. They hadn’t exchanged phone numbers yet, so Rhett had no other choice but to knock on Charles’ door to make plans for today. He didn’t mind at all. It meant he got to look at that face for a few minutes; the face that had haunted his thoughts ever since they’d met.

Rhett had to actively remind himself that Charles was taken. He wasn’t even really sure if he was into men. Yes, he’d apparently recognized Rhett, but it was possible he’d seen a video of him in a totally innocent situation. Maybe his type really was stiff, skinny women who didn’t want to touch him. If that was the case, it was a goddamn travesty. That man was created to make love to; slow and passionate love.

Rhett’s mind started to wander. He imagined Charles in his bed. He imagined himself between his legs, spreading him wide as he pushed into him, as he made him whimper and beg. He imagined the tight, slicked-up warmth. He imagined leaning down to kiss him as he bottomed out. He imagined Charles’ tongue in his mouth. He… Fuck! He had to stop. Rhett pressed his palm almost painfully on his erection in hopes of dismissing it. It only made it worse. It was almost two o’clock. He got up and walked a bit, taking deep breaths, managing to cool down a little before he heard the knock.

“You’re right on time!” Rhett said as he opened the door. He sounded much too enthusiastic for neighborly painting afternoon but he couldn’t help himself. Charles looked better than he’d remembered. Even in ragged clothing he appeared fuckable and sweet. Charles’ smile faltered when his eyes took in Rhett’s clothes. Rhett bit his lip before explaining:

“I’m sorry about my attire. Can you believe the move-in company lost some of my boxes? I only have the clothes I wore on moving day and some really weird things I’ve gotten from sets.” To make the performance more believable he let out a nervous laugh and awkwardly motioned at himself. He was wearing denim overalls and nothing else. Rhett definitely had some less suggestive clothes he could’ve worn. But what would have been the fun in that? Charles’ reaction was exactly what he’d been aspiring for: completely flustered. It made Rhett’s heart sing.

“It’s fine. Not like I’m wearing a suit and tie,” Charles said, shoulders rising a bit. He touched his own shirt and Rhett’s mind went straight to ripping it off of him.

“Sure. And this way I don’t have to worry about my shirt getting dirty,” Rhett said. He knew he was pushing it. Charles’s eyes glazed over for a second and Rhett wished for nothing more than to have a window into his mind. Charles handed Rhett a six pack.

“Here. Brought some lubrication.”

A laugh escaped Rhett. Was he for real? Did he not hear the stuff that came out of his mouth? Either he was seriously clueless or he had the best poker face of this century.

“I’m just gonna pop these into the fridge. We can enjoy them later, yeah?”

“Sure. Sounds good,” Charles called over his shoulder as he moved towards the living room. Rhett opened the fridge and pushed his face into the cool air. He took a deep breath. This is going to be a hard afternoon. He adjusted the growing length in his boxers and shook his head, hoping to clear his mind. He found Charles standing in front of the window. Charles jumped when Rhett stepped near him.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” Rhett said with a low chuckle. He looked outside. “Not much of a view.”

“Mmh. It’s not so bad. All I can see is the other building. At least you got a bit of green right there.”

Rhett looked where Charles was pointing. There was indeed a park close by, he hadn’t noticed. That was nice. Easy access to nature was one of the few things he missed about his childhood home.

“I guess. I still miss home sometimes. Haven’t really gotten used to the city even though I’ve been here for a long time already.”

“So, where is home?” Charles asked.

“Wake Forest, North Carolina.”

“No way! I’m from Buies Creek!” Charles exclaimed, face alight. Rhett smiled at him warmly. A southern boy. It seemed like every new thing Rhett learned about Charles made him more attractive to him. He was in deep trouble.

“Wow! I thought I was picking up on an accent, but wasn’t sure.”

“When did you move here?” Charles asked. He was looking at Rhett with innocent curiosity. Rhett’s stomach clenched. That was a time in his life he didn’t really care to talk about.

“Right out of high school.”

“Oh, wow. Brave.” Charles sounded surprised.

It hadn’t been brave. Rhett had been running then, too.

“Not really. It would have been braver of me to stay home.” Rhett couldn’t help the rush of memories. His mother crying in the kitchen. You could learn to like girls. Please. Couldn’t you try — for me? His father’s face distorted and blotchy red. I have no son. Rhett tried not to think of those words too often. It was easier that way. His chest tightened.

“So, painting. Where do we start?” Charles clapped his hands together, jerking Rhett back to present from his gloomy memories. Rhett gave him a small, thankful smile. Just concentrate on today, concentrate on him. The past is the past. No use wallowing.

Rhett still felt remnants of the darkness that had threatened his good mood as they prepped the room. They were taping up light switches and laying down protective paper on the floor. They weren’t even talking that much, but the mere proximity of Charles had a calming effect on Rhett. Soon he was feeling like himself again.

Rhett started to pry the paint can open. He’d chosen the color carefully, spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to find one that would closely match Charles’ eyes. He knew he was insane, but he’d decided to just embrace it for now.

“What color did you choose?” Charles’s voice drifted over Rhett’s shoulder, making him smile.

“Blue. I think it’ll go nicely with my furniture and I’ve found myself liking it a lot recently.” He was so obvious. Charles had to realize what he meant.

“I like your choice. That’s a beautiful color,” Charles said. Rhett turned to look at him. He needed to see his face, see his expression to know if he’d understood. He was just smiling pleasantly. Rhett stared into those blue lagoons again and felt like drowning in them.

“It really is.” Rhett couldn’t help the way his voice dropped. Charles’ gaze had that effect on him.

He was so lost. It almost scared him. He’d never believed in love at first sight. That was just ridiculous romantic drivel. Lust at first sight? That, Rhett could get behind. There were actually many men he’d gotten behind after feeling that way. But love? No, that wasn’t possible. Love came from slowly getting to know the other person, sharing experiences and enjoying the mundane things in life. That’s what he’d always known to be true, anyway. He wasn’t so sure now.

The blue irises disappeared as Charles’ eyes closed. Rhett took that as a cue to keep going. He reached for the paint tray and accidentally bumped their hips. Charles jumped away, making Rhett’s face fall. Maybe he was imagining it all. Maybe Charles wasn’t flustered because he liked Rhett, maybe Rhett was just making him uncomfortable. The thought saddened him.

Despite the moment of awkwardness they still worked well together. It didn’t take them long to get the first layer done. Rhett went to get them a drink as Charles insisted on cleaning the brushes so they wouldn’t get crispy while they waited for the first layer to dry. Rhett shook his head with a chuckle. He would’ve just stuck them into a plastic bag. Rhett pulled the cover off of his couch and sat down.

Charles stepped back into the living room. He looked… Rhett was trying to find the right word for it and all he came up with was: shy. Charles looked shy. His smile was small and his eyes flitted to the couch, but instead of coming to sit down he leaned against the entrance and rubbed his neck. Rhett stuck his own bottle between his legs and offered the other one to Charles as he patted the couch cushion next to him invitingly. Charles inched over to him and took the beer.

“Sit down. Let’s marvel at our handiwork,” Rhett persuaded him.

Charles took a seat. He crossed his legs neatly. There was something very sensual about the way they moved. Charles had left a big gap between himself and Rhett, bigger than was necessary. It worried Rhett. Was he really making him this uncomfortable? Rhett offered a silent toast to him that he accepted and seemed to relax a bit.

Rhett admired his impressive goozle’s bob when he dipped his head back and downed the first mouthful. Rhett thought of tilting Charles’ head like that while Charles was on his knees. How that goozle would bob as he sucked Rhett off. How he would hollow those stubbled cheeks as he took Rhett deep. Rhett licked his lips and tasted beer and his berry lip balm. Charles was lost in his thoughts, too. They had an hour to kill.

“So, this is new. I’ve never actually watched paint dry before. I’m sorry. This probably wasn’t how you would have wanted to spend your Sunday afternoon,” Rhett said. Charles didn’t react. He was looking somewhere towards Rhett’s chest but his gaze was foggy and his mouth hung slightly open.

“Charles?” Rhett tried again.

“Oh, sorry. What were you saying?” Charles jerked to reality. He looked like Rhett had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. The expression made Rhett’s belly tighten.

“That I’m sorry I didn’t realize we actually had to sit and watch paint dry. Should’ve thought up something to pass the time.”

“This is fine by me. It’s nice to just chat.”

‘“It would be, yeah,” Rhett teased. Charles shot him a quick smile and then concentrated on destroying his bottle label. Nervous habit, maybe?

“It’s Link, by the way.”

“What?” Rhett asked. Did he miss something?

“My name. You can call me Link.”

Oh!

“Link,” Rhett said the name aloud. He felt like rolling it around in his mouth. He liked the way it felt there. He imagined it was as good as Link himself would feel.

“Okay. Did I get that wrong earlier? I thought your girlfriend…” Rhett suddenly felt mortified.

“Oh, no! You heard her right. She calls me Charles. It is my name. Charles Lincoln Neal the Third. I’ve just always gone by Link but she… um… she thinks that Link is ridiculous.” Link’s voice lowered to a whisper at the end. Rhett turned to look at him. His brows threaded together. That bitch.

“That’s not very nice of her. If you don’t mind me saying,” Rhett said trying hard not to let the vitriol he felt for her not come out in his voice.

“I…” Link started. His eyes glimmered and suddenly, Rhett just wanted to take him in his arms and hold him close.

“It’s fine. I get it. Link is a bit ridiculous.” Link said, letting out a sad laugh. It cracked Rhett’s heart a bit.

“Well, I like it. It suits you. Link,” Rhett said hoping Link could hear he meant it. It really did suit him better. It was more fluid and sweet. Like he was. Link simply nodded, almost imperceptibly, and continued fidgeting with his bottle. Rhett silenced too and drank his beer. His gaze turned to the walls. He already loved the blue that was slowly taking over the horrible reddish brown. It still shone through, though.

“The puce is really hard to cover up. We might need two more layers.”

Link nodded and looked at the walls too. Rhett was happy to see that Link was smiling again.

“So, you think you’re getting your clothes back or do you have to go on a shopping spree?” he suddenly asked, making Rhett laugh out loud.

“I think I might have to do that. God! I hate shopping. Maybe you could come with me. Help me choose stuff,” Rhett said, still chuckling. That would be nice. Spending a day with Link in stores, having lunch together, letting him choose what to buy, maybe pulling him into the changing room, kissing all over his neck and shoulders, slipping his hand down his pants, making him writhe against the wall, hand pressed against his mouth so they wouldn’t be found…

“You gonna do a fashion show for me?” Link’s laughter interrupted Rhett’s fantasy. His mind was still in the gutter, so he let some of it slip.

“I might. If you ask nicely, I might even do an underwear round.”

Link had been taking a drink and suddenly, he was choking on it. His chest heaved and his body spasmed. Rhett panicked a bit and jumped next to him. He patted his back, trying to help the liquid out. Then he remembered reading somewhere that it didn’t really help. Or was it the other way around? Rhett hovered anxiously over Link as he tried to get his breathing sorted.

“Gosh. I’m sorry. Just a stupid joke. Can you breathe?” Rhett asked.

“Yeah,” Link rasped and drew a shaky breath. Rhett watched him, face scrunched with worry. After a minute he realized his hand was still resting on Link’s back. Reluctantly, he slipped away from him and scooted back to where he’d been sitting. Link obviously wanted the space between them.

“When did you move to L.A.?” Rhett asked, hoping to get back to harmless conversation.

“About a year and a half ago. I was relocated. I volunteered so none of my co-workers who had a family had to move,” Link answered. He sat back down and seemed to be relieved by Rhett’s choice of topic.

“That’s nice of you.”

“I guess. It wasn’t totally selfless. It was a nice change of scenery for me too.”

Rhett settled into the conversation. The flow of it was instantly familiar and pleasant. They had much in common, so it was easy to move from one subject to the next. They talked about North Carolina, about moving cross-country, about how different Los Angeles was. When they got back to painting Rhett turned the radio on. Link enthusiastically agreed on the country music channel. Soon they were both singing along with the songs. Link had a beautiful voice. It made Rhett warm all over and every time he joined in, Rhett’s heart skipped a beat.

The second coat was drying and they were back on the couch, beers in hand. Link was closer now. His leg brushed against Rhett’s once in a while. Rhett enjoyed the nearness. Link was obviously relaxing in his company. Rhett was glad the puce was still peeking through. That meant he got to keep Link here longer.

The need to pull Link into his arms—to snuggle him against his chest, to feel that warm breath brush against his skin—it overwhelmed Rhett. Just to lessen the need, he lifted his arm and rested it on the back of the couch behind Link’s head. He moved to peek behind Link. The way Link’s neck moved as he spoke, the way his shoulders rolled made Rhett feel a bit dizzy. There were little baby hairs on his nape that Rhett longed to play with. His fingers twitched, but he didn’t give in to the desire.

“One more?” he asked as Link emptied his bottle. He smiled at Rhett. The smile was different than before, softer somehow. His eyes glimmered. Rhett’s stomach flipped.

“Sure,” Link said. Even his voice was smoother now. The beers were loosening him up and Rhett couldn’t help but to enjoy this more relaxed version of Link.

Rhett got the bottles and twisted the cap off before giving Link his. Their fingers brushed against each other. The touch lingered. Link didn’t immediately pull his hand away. He glanced at Rhett and bit his lip. Rhett swallowed. It was good they didn’t have any more alcohol; all of this was edging on the realm of dangerous.

They were painting again, both a tiny bit buzzed. Link kept laughing too loud at Rhett’s very bad jokes. Rhett kept chasing the high that Link’s laugh gave him.

“Hey!” Link yelped. Rhett was standing over him with his roller as Link worked on the bottom edge of the wall. Rhett looked down and saw Link looking up at him with mock annoyance.

“What?” Rhett asked, confused. The playful look on Link’s face made something flutter in his stomach. Link pointed at his arm. There was a tiny paint droplet.

“Wow. I’m so sorry. How can I ever make up for that?” Rhett said, laughing.

“Tit for tat,” Link said getting up smirking and swiped at Rhett’s face with his paintbrush. Rhett’s eyes flew wide open. In the periphery of his vision he could see that his nose was now blue. Link looked at him, brush still high in the air, eyes wide open like he couldn’t believe he’d just done that. Rhett couldn’t, either. He let out a low, frisky growl.

“Ohhhhh, Neal. That was a mistake. I’m gonna get you for that.”

Link yelped and a wide grin lit up his face. He scampered off, looking at Rhett over his shoulder. Rhett crouched and went after him. Link tried to duck behind the covered furniture, but Rhett chased him out from his hiding place. Link jumped on the couch and his paintbrush swung in the air. Link was lithe and fast. He managed to get some on paint on Rhett’s hair and even a bit on his chin.

Rhett tried to dodge and struck out with his roller. He had a disadvantage since he didn’t want to actually hurt Link with his heavier weapon, yet he still managed to connect with Link’s chest and arm and even swiped near his ear. But then Link accidentally struck Rhett on the wrist and hit a nerve. The roller dropped and Rhett massaged his injury, still laughing. Link looked triumphant, and soon there were swathes of paint everywhere. On Rhett’s hair and on his chest—his arms were practically covered with blue streaks.

Rhett laughed and dipped and finally grabbed Link’s wrists to stop him. A thrill ran through him as Link struggled against his grip. He pulled on his hands, trying to get him to jump down. Something went wrong and all of a sudden, Link’s body hit him with force. He lost his balance. Rhett let out a surprised huff and Link yelped. Rhett’s back hurt and all the air had been knocked out of his lungs. Then he noticed the warm body covering him. They’d ended up on the floor, and to Rhett’s equally dizzy and buzzed brain it was the funniest thing ever. He laughed hard. Tears of joy fell from his eyes and soon he felt Link’s body shake from laughter, too. Link had forgotten about the battle and Rhett could easily snatch the paintbrush from his fingers. He pressed it into Link’s face and slowly painted a wide blue swipe over his cheeks and nose.

“Now your face matches your eyes,” he rasped. He was out of breath from the play fight, but also just because Link was so close. Rhett could smell him. He smelled of something sweet and tangy, maybe a shampoo? His laughter died and he smiled at the man on top of him, throwing the brush away. Link wasn’t laughing anymore either, but his smile was like an invitation. Rhett couldn’t resist anymore. He lifted his hand to brush Link’s mussed hair out of his forehead. Link’s eyes flitted closed and opened again. His gaze was intense—a plea Rhett was desperate to answer.

He’s taken! Rhett’s mind was screaming. He didn’t do this. He had a back bone; he had morals. He didn’t mess with people who were committed to someone else. Despite all of this, Rhett’s hand moved to cup Link’s face. Link pressed into it and his smile disappeared completely. A hush fell between them.

Rhett waited. He hoped. Make the first move, he was pleading in his mind. But Link was frozen in place. Rhett swallowed and opened his mouth.

“Link,” his voice was barely a whisper. An almost imperceptible movement towards him made Rhett cheer in his head. But then there was a flurry of movement and suddenly Rhett saw stars. Link was already up. In his hurry, he’d managed to clock Rhett straight into the groin with his knee. Rhett wheezed from the pain.

“OhmygodIforgotImsolate!” Link babbled.

“What?” Rhett had no idea what was going on. The pain in his crotch was mingling with the emotional sting of Link leaving so abruptly.

“I’m sorry. I have to go. I’m gonna be late. I was supposed to meet Catherine and her parents at six!” Link yelled from the foyer.

Goddamn it. What the hell are you playing at, McLaughlin!

Rhett scrambled up and padded to his door. There was some kind of a commotion outside his apartment. He saw a blond bob swing out of vision as Link was pulled into his apartment. Shit.

Chapter Text

Rhett finished painting in a gloomy silence. He felt like an utter asshole. He’d almost kissed someone who was in a relationship. He prided himself on not being that person. He couldn’t even comfort himself with the fact that he hadn’t actually done it. He knew that if Link hadn’t jumped up and hurried out, he would’ve gone through with it. The pull Link had on him was too intense. He needed to take a step back; get his head on straight.

He couldn’t help but hover near the living room window when he was done painting. He wanted to see whether Link went with Catherine to the dinner. Part of him, a part that was honestly not that small, hoped that they would just break up. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for them to appear on the street below. Rhett’s stomach sunk. Link had put on a suit. He looked handsome. Catherine was obviously still mad as she’d turned her back to Link.

Rhett jumped back when Link suddenly turned to look straight at him. He laughed awkwardly at the empty room. There was no way Link could've seen him; it was too bright outside. He stepped back into the window and just for the hell of it, waved. Link kept looking towards his window. Rhett bit his lip and made a decision. He was not going to contact him again. Even if Link wanted to be his friend, he’d just say no. He didn’t need to pine for a taken man. He had enough problems as it was. Link turned to look at Catherine and Rhett turned his back on them and went to shower.

Monday was a work day. Rhett arrived early again to shower and change. He’d called the moving company first thing in the morning and apparently they had no idea of any boxes existing in this or any other universe. After some insistence from Rhett, they promised to look around. Rhett had almost thrown his phone against the wall when the call ended. Look around? Seriously?! If they were just lying around somewhere, wouldn’t they have been noticed already?

Rhett was fuming when he got to set. Allison from wardrobe squinted at his clothes.

“Weren’t you wearing that on Saturday too?”

“Yeah. Goddamn moving company lost all my clothes,” Rhett huffed as he riffled through the racks.

“Wow. That sucks. Here,” Allison said and Rhett looked as she bounced around the room for a bit before bringing Rhett a pile of everyday clothes.

“Really?”

“Of course. Just return them when you get your stuff back,” she smiled sweetly.

“Thank you. You’re the best,” Rhett said and bent down to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“I know. I keep telling Jonathan that but he just won’t listen.”

“Well, we all know he’s an idiot,” Rhett snorted.

“I know,” she sighed and continued with a smirk. “I just can’t help myself. He’s hung like a horse.”

“Allison!”

“No one would ever believe what you do for a living; you’re such a prude!” she laughed and Rhett flipped her off before stepping out of the room. A singsongy voice called after him.

“Stevie was looking for you!”

Rhett sighed. That did not bode well. He loved Stevie. They’d met when she was an assistant producer for the company Rhett worked for and became fast friends. Nowadays, she was an executive producer and one of his closest friends. Unfortunately, her new position meant they rarely interacted at work so when she needed to talk to him, it was usually something less than pleasant. Stevie would have to wait a bit, Rhett decided.

He slipped into the showers and, with a relieved sigh, peeled off the five-day-old clothes. Rhett stepped under the showerhead and turned the tap. A loud curse echoed from the tiles as cold water was sprayed all over him. Rhett growled with annoyance. The water heater had been acting up all week. He made a mental note to remind Chris about it. Again. After a quick freezing shower Rhett put on his work clothes. It was nothing to get excited about, just some good, old leather pants and a tight white tank top.

Stevie was sitting in the corner of the hair and make-up room. Her long, blonde hair was gathered to a sporty ponytail that was sticking out from under her black cap. She wore her usual white t-shirt and tan shorts. Her legs were hanging over the chair’s armrest and somehow everything about her casual appearance screamed ‘power lesbian’. She was tapping on her phone but when Rhett entered, she slipped it into her pocket and smiled.

“Hey, Stevie. Anton, good morning,” Rhett greeted her and their resident hair and make-up guru. Anton stepped to Rhett with a wide smile and kissed him on both of his cheeks.

“Honey! Good morning. Sit down. You look horrendous. I can help with that.”

“Just the man I was waiting for,” Stevie started. She swung her feet down and leaned forwards folding her hands on her lap. “The star of our little production. I saw the dailies from Saturday. Good stuff. Really good.” Rhett looked at her through the mirror while Anton was attacking his hair with blow dryers and products.

“I don’t need the buttering up. Just spit it out.” Rhett said. He knew he was a bit short with her but he knew that face. Stevie grimaced at him.

“The thing we talked about. I need to ask you one more time. Are you sure?” Stevie asked. She looked like she knew the answer already. She was right.

“Stevie,” Rhett sighed. “I won’t do it. I don’t care what they think. It’s my body, I get to decide where I draw the limit. They can give the part to someone else.”

“But they want you. And it’d be a lot of money. It’s just one movie,” Stevie coaxed, even though she knew it was in vain.

“It doesn’t matter and you know it. I don’t bottom,” Rhett said and a tense silence fell into the room. Anton lifted his eyebrows at Rhett and started working on his face.

Finally, Stevie leaned back on the chair and relaxed. She smiled at Rhett, winked and said: “On film.” Anton let out a high pitched ‘ohhhhhhh’ and Rhett couldn’t help laughing at that.

“Wow, Stevie. Way to call a man out,” he chuckled.

“Whatever. You know I had to ask, right?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So, I haven’t talked to you in days! How was the move?” Stevie clapped her hands together and got up to rifle through Anton’s stuff. He shooed her away with mock annoyance and Stevie leaned against the edge of the table next to Rhett.

“Horrible,” he sighed. “Drinks tonight? I really need someone to talk to.”

“Sounds good. Nonna’s? At seven?” Stevie suggested and pulled her angrily buzzing phone out of her pocket.

“So, eight on Stevie time. Great,” Rhett teased.

“Har har. I love you. See you tonight.” She was out the door before Rhett could answer.

---

Rhett was there at half past seven. He ordered a bourbon on the rocks and sat down at the bar. He was tired and wired; a common feeling after a shooting day. He sipped his drink and absentmindedly scrolled through Twitter. After some time, there was a tap on his shoulder. Rhett turned and was met with blue eyes that made his stomach flip at first but then he realized they were a muddy blue, not the bright hue that made his heart race. The guy was a lot shorter than him and very buff, almost ridiculously muscular. Not at all Rhett’s type.

“Hey, gorgeous. I’m gonna take you home tonight,” the guy said with an air of superiority. Rhett sighed. He knew the type.

“No, you’re not,” he said simply and turned back to his drink.

“Oh, I totally am. I’m, like, really good at persuasion,” the guy said as he sat next to Rhett and ordered a drink for himself and another bourbon for Rhett. Rhett glanced at the time. It was 7:45. He just wanted to talk to Stevie and maybe get a bite to eat. He had no patience for intrusive advances.

“Dude, just go back to your friends,” Rhett said pushing the ordered drink towards him. A group of guys looking as jacked as his nuisance were raucously talking at the corner booth. The guy glanced back at them and Rhett noticed a few of them laughing at him and waving hand signals that indicated failure. Fuck. They knew who Rhett was. This happened from time to time: a group of guys betting on who’d get to take him home. He hated it with a burning passion.

“You really don’t want to miss this mouth,” the guy said and made an obscene motion with his tongue. Rhett’s eyes rolled to the heavens in his head and he huffed.

“Seriously. I’m not going home with you. And you can tell your friends I’m not going home with any of them. Thank you for your interest in my body but fuck off,” Rhett said. His words were dripping with annoyance. The guy’s face fell and then he angrily grimaced at Rhett.

“Wow. You really are full of yourself. Maybe get down from that pedestal you’ve put yourself on. You’re not that great. I’d fuck better on camera than you. And I bet you’re actually shit in bed.”

Rhett laughed. It always ended like this.

“Yeah. I suck. Whatever. Leave me alone.”

The guy flipped him off and went back to his group. He apparently told them what’d happened because a chorus of boos and sneers reached all the way to the bar. Right then, the door opened and Stevie stepped in. Rhett got up and dragged her by her arm.

“Hey! Look, I’m early! Wait, what are you..?” she asked looking confused as Rhett pulled her out of the bar.

“Sorry. Let’s go somewhere else.”

“What happened?” she asked, confusion morphing into worry.

“Nothing big. Just some assholes trying to build up their egos by bedding a porn star.”

“Dang. Sorry, man. That sucks. Red Velvet is right around the corner?”

They changed venues and sat down at a corner table to avoid any unwanted encounters.

“I think I’m getting too old for this,” Rhett muttered into his drink when they settled down.

“What? Drinking on Monday nights?” Stevie laughed.

“No,” Rhett said smiling. “Not that. The whole…on camera thing.”

Stevie’s eyebrows rose. This was the first time Rhett had ever said anything like this.

“Really? What makes you say that?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Just a feeling. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still like it. Just…I guess, not as much as I used to?”

“Mm-hm. Well, any ideas what you’d like to do instead?”

“Maybe direct? Or produce or…I don’t know, do something to advocate for better working conditions for performers,” Rhett said. He couldn’t help but blush at that last part. It was a secret dream he’d never told anyone before. He had no idea how to go about doing it but he still thought about it a lot. Stevie’s smile widened.

“That’s an amazing idea.”

“I guess. But that wasn’t what I actually wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh?”

Rhett told her about Link. About meeting him and basically hustling him to get coffee and the whole fiasco on Sunday. Stevie listened, eyes wide, sipping her drink and when Rhett finally silenced, she let out a long whistle.

“So, I don’t see you for…what? four days?...And you go and fall in love?” She was laughing now.

“Stop it! I’m not in love with him. I barely know him,” Rhett muttered fighting the blush rising on his cheeks.

“Those puffed up cheekies tell me different. Oh, Rhett. This is amazing. How long has it been since Adam? Three years, right?”

“Ugh, Stevie, no! This is not amazing. Didn’t you listen? He’s taken. And I’m not even sure he likes me like that.”

Stevie snorted.

“He obviously does. And that relationship does not sound healthy. They’re not married?”

“No.”

“Okay, good. Just tell him how you feel. Maybe he’ll dump her.”

Rhett squinted at her. “It’s not that easy.”

“It really is. And if he says no… Well, then you’ll know. Yes, it’ll sting for a bit but you can move on.”

“I…” Rhett started and stopped. What could he say to that? It was too logical.

“I know. I’m so smart. That’s why you keep me around,” she said smugly. Rhett rolled his eyes at her.

“That is so not the reason. I keep you around to get the next round,” he said and waved his empty glass at her. Stevie laughed and got up shaking her head.

“Fine. But only because you’re desperately in love with that guy and I feel for you. Don’t get used to this.”

“Thank you, boss lady!” Rhett called sweetly after her.

Close to midnight, Rhett stumbled out of the Uber and dragged himself to the elevator. Soon he stood in front of his door, key in hand, staring at the brass number plate: 69. It still made him chuckle. It was so fitting and might have even attributed to Rhett getting the apartment – at least subconsciously.

Even after a few tries, the key refused to go into the lock and Rhett cursed under his breath. He turned and leaned against his door. His head was swimming with alcohol and the earlier conversations with Stevie.

Tell him how you feel.

Rhett’s fuzzy brain latched onto that line. He should. It was a good idea. Let’s do it right away.

He swayed to Link’s door and knocked.

Chapter Text

“Calm down! I’m coming,” Rhett heard Link’s voice as the door opened. He sounded grumpy and tired.

“Link,” Rhett said. His brain was filled with a haze of alcohol induced stupor and a waning desire to confess his feelings. Link was looking at him, eyes wide with surprise. He was sporting the most adorable pajamas Rhett had ever seen and some cute, messy bed hair. The pajamas were mint green with tiny bananas all over them. ‘Wouldn’t mind snacking on that’, Rhett thought absentmindedly. Then he realized what Link appearance meant.

“Sssorry… Were you asleep?”

Link frowned at him.

“Yes. It’s very late. Maybe you should go and sleep off…all of this.”

Link looked at him like he was a pest. Rhett’s chest tightened. What the hell had he been thinking? Link had work in the morning and here he was selfishly disturbing his sleep. To do what? To express his feelings for him? Suddenly, Rhett felt utterly idiotic.

“Oh. Yeah. Probably. Sorry again… I didn’t… ” Rhett stumbled over his words. He tried to smile apologetically.

“God, you are a mess,” Link said shaking his head. Rhett’s head felt like lead and with a heavy step he walked to his door. He huffed annoyed at the key that still refused to go into the lock. Rhett bent down to look at the lock, wondering if it could be broken.

“Oh, for crying out loud. Come here,” Link’s voice came from behind him. Link was standing at his door, arms crossed over his chest. Despite his closed off posture, he was smiling a little. His lips looked so soft. Rhett imagined how they would part in a quiet moan when his own lips would sink around the cock hiding under those goddamn banana pants. The idea thrilled him. He could just walk up to Link now and pull down those pants. How nicely would they bunch up around his ankles. He could get on his knees and worship that man the way he decidedly deserved to be worshipped. Rhett knew he could make him tremble. He knew he could make Link grab Rhett’s hair and fuck his face. He knew he could make him cum like he’d never cum before. Rhett’s eyes rose back to Link’s face. He looked like he was expecting something.

“What?” Rhett asked. He wasn’t sure what was happening. The last shred of his reason seemed to have left his mind with that fantasy.

“Just come on in. I’ll fix you some tea. Let’s get you sobered up a bit,” Link said. He looked at Rhett like he was a child that had scratched his knee while biking. Rhett tried to understand Link’s words. His brain was too muddled with the inebriation.

“Come on,” Link repeated. Rhett’s body seemed to understand what his mind didn’t because he realized he was walking into Link’s apartment. Link closed the door and then Rhett felt a ghost of a touch in his lower back. He wanted to press into it, wanted Link to slip his palm under his shirt, wanted to feel him properly. But the fingers just barely touched him and his body answered to the guiding touch by moving forward.

Rhett looked around, trying to see all that he could. This was Link’s place, he might get some insight into the man from it. To his delight, he saw an impressive record collection and itched to dive into it, to find out which of his favorites he could find there. But suddenly he was sitting in the kitchen and Link was moving, opening cabinets and pressing buttons and a soft bubbling sound filled the air. Tea? Yes, there had been a mention of tea.

“So, did you have fun tonight?” Link asked. How is he so pretty? Rhett couldn’t get his eyes off of him. A smile spread on Link’s face. Rhett tried to remember what he’d asked.

“It was okay. Stevie is good people. A good friend,” he finally said. Stevie was a good friend. But she had been wrong. Rhett shouldn’t tell Link how he felt. You don’t mess with someone else’s relationship like that. What was inside those fruity pajama pants was for Catherine alone, not for Rhett to covet.

“That’s nice. It’s good to have friends.” Link’s voice seemed to be coming from far away. Rhett was feeling a bit tired. Maybe if he closed his eyes for a bit… Link had said something. He should answer him. It was only polite.

“Mm-hmm,” he muttered noncommittally. Rhett’s head felt too heavy to carry. Was it getting darker? God, he was so very tired.

---

Rhett woke up slowly. He was having the best dream and he was clutching onto it, desperate not to let it slip away. He let the warmth of sleep-Link seep into him and drew a deep breath. It was almost like he could really smell him. Rhett shifted in the bed and his swollen dick brushed up against Link’s ass. Rhett startled awake.

Link was actually sleeping in his arms. Rhett pushed away from Link in a panic. What happened? Where the hell am I? His memory returned in flashes. Drinks with Stevie. Stumbling home. Knocking on Link’s door. His annoyed expression. The pattern of Link’s kitchen counter. After that it was just darkness.

He must be in Link’s bed. Rhett almost groaned aloud. He’d been dreaming about this; of bedding Link. But definitely not like this. Not smelling like a dive bar and definitely not being so drunk he couldn’t remember how he got here. He felt sick to his stomach. It took him a while to realize it wasn’t just because he was embarrassed. He actually needed to throw up.

Rhett scrambled up and grabbed his shoes and his jacket. He barely got home and to his bathroom before his stomach contents evacuated. He felt utterly miserable. When he was certain he had nothing left to give, he got up, stumbled into his bedroom and fell onto his bed, still clothed. He was asleep in minutes.

Rhett woke up a few hours later. He felt like he’d been run over by a truck. His mouth was dry and his throat ached. He got up feeling a bit woozy and realized his head ached too. After a glass of water and some painkillers he slipped into the shower and scrubbed the smell of the old liquor off of himself. As he was toweling himself off the thought hit him.

Link would have woken up to find him gone. He hadn’t even left a note. Rhett’s stomach was suddenly in a painful knot. He could imagine Link waking up and looking for him, wandering into the empty kitchen, peeking into the toilet. He could imagine him frowning. He could imagine him sitting alone at that kitchen island and having breakfast, face scrunched up with upset. Link had been so sweet to him, when he really didn’t need to. And as a thank you Rhett had just slinked away like a rat running from the flood. He felt like throwing up again but now it was purely psychological. Rhett pulled on his clothes in a hurry. He glanced at the clock. Link was probably on the bus already. If Rhett hurried, he might get to the park before him. He could at least apologize.

Rhett was quicker than he would have thought. He sat at the fountain, waiting for Link for quite a while before he spotted him in the distance. If he hadn’t asked the coffee cart girl if Link had already gone, he would have been sure he was late. But there he was, finally, walking briskly towards him with an expression of pure hatred on his face. Rhett’s stomach dropped. Link looked absolutely livid.

A nagging thought hit Rhett. He remembered nothing after the kitchen. Maybe something had happened after all. Maybe he’d tried to come on to Link. No, that was not possible. Link wouldn’t have let him sleep like that if something untoward had happened. But Rhett could have said something, promised something. His stomach tightened and his eyes were on Link. He got up and put on a smile.

Link stopped in his tracks.

“Rhett?”

“Good morning. I got you a coffee. Here,” Rhett said and walked up to meet Link. Link took the coffee and stared at the cup for a moment. The anger had vanished from his face, confusion taking its place. Hope sprung inside Rhett. Maybe he hadn’t been angry at Rhett after all, maybe something else had happened.

“What are you doing here?” Link asked tilting his head up to look Rhett in the eyes.

“I came to apologize. I woke up early and, to be totally honest, I kind of panicked a bit?” Rhett said. He felt embarrassed. He still couldn’t believe he’d just up and left like that. “I think I might have drunk a bit too much last night and I had only a hazy memory of how I ended up in your place. I just bolted.”

Link’s feet started to move again and Rhett moved with him. He tried to catch Link’s eyes, tried to look apologetic as he continued:

“I went home and fell asleep and when I woke up I realized I’d acted like a jackass. You were obviously very courteous and helped my disgustingly drunk ass when you really didn’t have to. And then I just left like that. Like you were a one night stand I was ashamed of. I’m sorry.”

“We didn’t! There was no…” Link said quickly. Rhett jumped at the sudden raise in decibels. Link looked horrified. Rhett felt something deflate inside him at that expression. Was Rhett really that disgusting to him? Was the idea of them together really that horrible?

“Oh! No, I didn’t mean that we did! No. I just meant that…gosh…just that it was very rude to leave like that after you were so nice to me,” Rhett hurried to answer. Link’s shoulders came down from his ears as he relaxed. His eyes unfocused and he seemed to be deep in thought. They walked on as Rhett wondered what he could say to make this mess better.

“You seeing anyone right now, Rhett?” Link asked all of a sudden. Rhett’s heart skipped a beat. A part of him was screaming with joy. He likes you! He must like you. Why would he ask that if he didn’t?! Rhett drew a deep breath to calm his racing heart. With a sternness of a disappointed father he told that part of him to shut its imaginary mouth and get a grip. Link was just curious. Maybe he thought their sleeping arrangement might upset Rhett’s potential partner?

“I just meant…” Link continued behind Rhett. Rhett turned and realized Link had stopped. He was standing several steps behind and looking at Rhett with wildly blinking eyes. “That if you were dating someone, we could go on a double date. Catherine and me, and you and…your person. I think that would be nice.”

Seriously? Rhett recoiled at the thought. He wouldn’t go near that woman with a ten foot pole. Link was now smiling at Rhett but there was something off about it. Rhett couldn’t quite put his finger on it but the smile didn’t seem that genuine. Link caught up with him and looked at him with his head cocked to the side waiting for a response.

“No. I’m not seeing anyone right now,” Rhett said carefully. He felt like continuing, 'but I would like to'.

“Oh, too bad,” Link said with a disappointed huff.

“Mm-hm. Too bad. I’m sure it would have been lovely,” Rhett said and was only barely able to hold off the snark that wanted to pour into his words. From the corner of his eye Rhett saw Link glance at him. Just to be safe, Rhett put on a pleasant smile. They walked over the crosswalk in silence.

They stopped in front of Link’s office building.

“Thank you, for the coffee and the apology. Neither was necessary,” Link said and gave Rhett a small smile. This one seemed more real.

“I felt that it was. I’d never want you to think badly of me,” Rhett said quietly. He felt somewhat relieved. Link had stepped close to him as they stopped and Rhett felt no need to step back. He welcomed the closeness.

“I see you’ve gone shopping,” Link said and poked Rhett’s chest with his finger. “Looks good on you.” His voice was hoarse. Rhett looked at the finger that was pressed against him. He wished for Link to press his palm on him, to grab his shirt and pull them together. Just the thought of Link nonchalantly kissing him in broad daylight made Rhett’s stomach ache and his dick swell. The finger disappeared in a flash. What was he asking me? Oh, yeah. clothes.

“Oh, no. I borrowed some clothes from work. I still need to go. Might go today actually. Want to come?” Rhett tacked on the question as a lark. He was certain Link would say no.

“Yes. I get out of work at five.”

A smile spread across Rhett’s face. It was so wide it almost hurt.

“I’ll meet you then,” Rhett said. Link made a noise, almost like a gasp. It sent shivers running down Rhett’s spine. All of a sudden, Rhett felt like he’d just asked Link on a date. He chuckled awkwardly and felt an acute need to escape before Link could say no. Their bodies brushed against each other as he walked off and all the way to his car, his heart raced in his chest and his cock throbbed in his pants. Rhett was so confused. He desperately needed Stevie to help him figure this thing out.

---

“I’m not late, am I?” Rhett asked with a smile as Link climbed in the car a little bit after five o’clock.

“No, of course not,” Link said quietly. He seemed distracted. Rhett pulled back into traffic and looked at Link periodically from the corner of his eye. Maybe he was having second thoughts about their shopping trip. Rhett wondered if he should ask and make sure he really wanted to come. He could still turn back and drop him off at home. But he was a grown man, right? Wouldn’t he say if he had had other plans? Link interrupted Rhett’s musings with a question that seemed to come out of nowhere:

“Do you use some kind of product on your beard?”

“Umm…yeah. Why do you ask?” Rhett cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Oh, no reason,” Link said and looked out the passenger window. He was wringing his hands in his lap.

“You don’t look like you need a recommendation. Unless you plan on growing a beard,” Rhett said questioningly. Link suddenly seemed very uncomfortable. Sometimes Rhett wished he could read thoughts. He wished he could just dive into Link’s head and hear what was going on behind those baby blue eyes. That would make everything so much easier.

“No. It doesn’t really suit me,” Link said almost absentmindedly still staring outside. His attempt to seem nonchalant made Rhett even more curious. Also, Link with a scruffy, dark beard seemed like a great idea. Rhett immediately thought about Link’s imaginary beard scratching against Rhett’s inner thighs. Rhett shivered a little at the thought before chasing it away to concentrate back on his interrogation.

“That seems unlikely, but why do you ask?” he pressed on.

“I…” Link started and fell silent for a moment. Then he slumped in his seat and said with a deep sigh: “You always smell really nice. Was just wondering what that was.”

Rhett’s heart tried to flutter out of his chest. He blushed fiercely and did not dare to look at Link.

“Oh. Thank you,” he said. He knew his voice was betraying him; Link could definitely hear how much his words had affected Rhett. Just to distract himself from the dizzying heat in his chest, Rhett continued. ”It’s a really nice brand. If I remember correctly the scent is sandalwood and citrus. There was something else too, not sure what it was.”

“Well, it smells really nice.” Link said again as if to make sure that Rhett was primed to faint at the wheel. Rhett had to keep talking just so he wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about Link smelling him and liking it.

“My friend Stevie called and is gonna be around the same area so we figured we could meet up for a coffee. I’d love for you two to meet.”

Link just nodded. Rhett carried on talking. Actually, Rhett was the one to call Stevie and basically beg her to come. He needed a second opinion. It felt like every other minute Link had feelings for Rhett and every other minute he couldn’t stand him. Rhett was too far gone with his own feelings to trust his judgment. Stevie had laughed and promised to be there with her gaydar. Hers was pretty impeccable, Rhett had to give her that.

“Her girlfriend is coming too. Haven’t seen her in ages, so that will be nice,” he said to Link.

“Wait,” Link said, his head whipping around to look at Rhett. “I thought Stevie was a guy?”

“No. Her name is actually Stephanie, but don’t call her that. She might seem small but she packs a mean punch, I guarantee you,” Rhett said laughing. He’s made that mistake once and the look he’d gotten could have made even a stronger man weep.

They sat in silence as Rhett navigated familiar streets in search of a parking spot. They could’ve gone somewhere closer but Rhett found himself almost automatically heading back to his old neighborhood. He missed it. Link was asking him about where they were heading and Rhett made a decision on a whim. He’d just seen a really nice shirt on a Scotch and Soda ad and he felt like splurging a bit.

With some unexpected luck Rhett managed to find a parking space near the store and they got out of the car. Link walked next to Rhett, teetering on the edge of the curb. Rhett tried to give him more room but people kept bumping into him and throwing Rhett off balance. The back of Link’s hand was so soft. Rhett’s hand kept brushing up against it. He imagined what it would feel like to just grab his hand and intertwined their fingers. Brush his thumb against that softness. Maybe lift the hand to his lips and gently kiss it. Rhett’s stomach ached. He needed to stop this. He was like a goddamn cat in heat.

Link followed him around the store. Rhett pulled pieces from the racks and after a moment Link started to make suggestions too. Rhett was impressed. He had good taste.

“Okay, I think that’s enough. Gonna go try these on,” Rhett said and headed towards the dressing rooms.

“Oh, this one too!” Link voice sounded from behind Rhett. He turned and was met with widely smiling Link holding a colorful Hawaii shirt. It was cream colored with a palm tree print with a mix of yellow, green, blue and peach.

“Really?” Rhett asked. It didn’t seem like his style at all and he was surprised Link had picked it.

“What?” Link asked. “I really like it. You need some color to balance all that out,” he said pointing at the pile of dark colors Rhett had on his hands. Rhett couldn’t help but smile. That was true. He had a thing for dark colors. Maybe it would be good to try something different. He glanced at Link’s black and white ensemble and tried to remember if he’d seen him wear any colors before.

“You know, colorful is not the first word I’d use to describe you.”

“I used to wear a lot of graphic tees that were very colorful,” Link said defensively.

“You used to? Why’d you stop?” Rhett asked as he took the shirt from Link’s hands and felt the material. It did feel nice.

“Oh, Catherine felt like it was time for a more mature wardrobe.”

Rhett’s head whipped up and he looked at Link. He knew his face showed his annoyance. He couldn’t hide it.

“Do you always do what she tells you?” The words slipped out of him. He probably shouldn’t have said them but there they were, hanging heavy in the air between them.

“What?” Link asked. He was frowning at Rhett. Rhett knew he was quickly getting himself into trouble but he couldn’t stop himself. The anger towards Catherine flared inside him. It was just so unfair. She had no right to dictate how Link lived his life. It was like she wanted him to be someone else. If that was the case, why couldn’t she just go and be with someone else? Rhett’s anger spilled over.

“She shouldn’t tell you what to wear. And she definitely shouldn't tell you that your name is ridiculous,” Rhett was looking straight at Link as he said it. Something flashed in Link’s eyes. It was too quick for Rhett to read. Then Link was just silent and kept looking at Rhett.

“Well?” Rhett’s prompting jerked Link back to reality.

“Oh. Um. She just wants what’s best for me. I like that she’s opinionated,” Link said. His voice was small. Just like when he’d been talking about his name. Rhett’s heart ached for him.

“Opinionated. Mm-hm. You do realize that there is a difference between that and being overbearing?” Rhett immediately knew he’d gone too far. Link was looking at him with furrowed brows and a mouth that was pulled into a tight line. He looked hurt and outraged,

“You don’t know her! You barely even met her. She is lovely,” Link hissed at Rhett. Rhett felt like all the air was escaping his lungs. He hadn’t meant to hurt Link. He took a step back and lifted his free hand up in surrender.

“I’m sorry. That was totally out of line. I’m sure she is very lovely,” Rhett tried to backpedal. Link was still fuming at him. His hands were balled into fists and his upper body was tilted towards Rhett as if he was about to pounce at him. Rhett wanted to plead for forgiveness. He hadn’t meant this to happen.

After a moment, Link nodded at him slowly, eyebrows relaxing but mouth still staying pursed. He breathed in through his nose before saying: “Anyway.” He pronounced the word carefully as if to say “we’re moving on from this topic and you better keep your mouth shut about it from now on”. How one word could contain all that information, Rhett wasn’t sure, but he still clearly heard it.

“I think that would suit you nicely. Can you try it at least?” Link continued pointing at the shirt.

“Of course,” Rhett hurried to agree. If putting the ridiculous shirt on would make Link feel better, he would gladly do it. Link nodded and Rhett hurried into the dressing room. He hung the clothes and leaned against the wall for a minute resting his forehead against the cool surface. What the hell are you doing? You idiot. Are you purposefully trying to drive him away?

He gathered himself eventually and stripped. He stood in the dressing room with only his boxers on and stared at the mirror. He was so used to seeing himself in all kinds of states of undress it felt almost normal. Like he could just walk like this to the store room and get another size for a shirt if he needed it. A small smile tugged at his lips as he thought of Link’s expression should he do that.

Rhett imagined Link staring at him eyes wide and mouth hanging slightly open. He imagined Link following him into the dressing room. He imagined how he would tower over Link under the harsh lights, how Link would look at him, face tilted up as his hands traveled down Rhett’s chest and onto the hardness in Rhett’s boxers. He imagined Link getting on his knees. He imagined his blue eyes looking up at him as his cock slipped into his eager mouth. He imagined slowly fucking Link’s face. Holding onto that silver streaked hair and seeing how his length disappeared inside Link. He imagined whispering him to be quiet when a sound of pleasure escaped from his throat as Rhett pushed deeper. He imagined Link wanting him like that; needing Rhett so much that he was ready and willing to be discovered in a compromised position.

Rhett drew a sharp breath and palmed himself. God, I need to get laid. Obviously, he’d had sex just yesterday at work, but that was not what he meant. He wanted the connection. He wanted to be with someone he actually wanted. It had been far too long. He pressed his palms against the wall and shook his head to clear his mind. Clothes. Yes, try on some clothes.

He ended up buying the colorful shirt. It actually looked really nice on him.