Jack’s phone pinged as he received a message.
Did you buy your ticket?
It was from a potential friend, Parkson. He and Jack had met on the message boards for the upcoming comic convention. By happy coincidence, they were both looking for someone to go with, they were both huge fans of the anime Galaxy Roar, and they were both gay.
Yeah, Jack replied. Have you looked at the schedule yet?
I saw a few panels that looked interesting, Parkson replied, then sent links to them. What do you think?
Jack read over the panel descriptions with great interest. He was stoked for his first convention with a maybe-friend. He would finally have the chance to nerd out with another fan, with someone else who cared about what normal people would consider frivolous. It was fulfilling the dreams of his chubby, teenage self, but he was sorry that it took so long.
“Why are you smiling?” asked a demanding voice, which made Jack freeze as he realized his mistake. In a split second, his phone was snatched from his hands as one naked young man asked, “Who are you talking to?”
Jack’s head snapped back, but the thoughts running through his head made it seem like everything was running in slow motion. He had gotten careless and forgot for a millisecond that Blair was in the apartment, still laying in bed with him. Jack watched in slow horror as Blair’s thumbs tapped rapidly on his phone. He had no idea what Blair was writing to Parkson, but it was definitely not good.
The bed creaked as an equally naked Jack reached for the phone, but Blair stretched his arm out with a wicked smirk, keeping it at arm's length. Hoping Blair hadn’t read too much about their nerdy conversation, Jack stretched his arm out further. Blair let the phone fall to the ground with a clatter, and when Jack tried to lunge for it, he threw his arms around Jack’s waist and tackled him onto his back. If Blair had hesitated, he couldn’t have overpowered Jack, who was more muscular than him, but Blair knew how to take advantage of the situation.
“You’re an asshole,” Jack snapped, glaring up at Blair. He wanted to say more -- opportunistic bitch, spoiled brat, arrogant prick -- but Blair leaned in, nearly chest to chest, and rested his hands on Jack’s bare thighs, gently pressing them open.
“It’s rude to text when you have a guest,” he said with a smile as deep as Jack’s frown.
Jack didn’t want to admit Blair was right. “Like you would know,” Jack said with less bite than intended, because of the way he felt Blair’s words rumble through his chest and the stiff friction grinding against his groin.
He licked his lips as Blair hoisted Jack’s hips up and wiggled in with ease, their third time now. Jack hated himself for the uncontrollable moans that fluttered out when Blair’s hips met his ass, stuffed full with cock. But self-loathing collapsed as Blair fucked him the way he liked it: so hard that Jack’s hands gripped the headboard and his back arched off the bed, so noisy that the slaps competed with Jack’s vocal panting.
Then Blair embraced him, arms tightly around his waist, and leaned in for what Jack assumed was a kiss. He turned away by a hair’s breadth, so the rejection wasn’t obvious, but Blair had sensed it and instead went to his neck. All at once, Blair gripped Jack’s length, pistoned into him harder, and sank his teeth into the flesh of his neck. Helpless in his hands, Jack writhed until pleasure was forced out of him with a sharp cry.
Dropping back down onto the bed, Jack had to close his swimming eyes. When he opened them, he watched Blair stroke himself furiously until hot spurts of come marked his stomach. Blair’s signature smirk slowly returned as he stared at Jack, who imagined himself looking like a slutty, exhausted mess. That look sent a sliver of lust down to his groin. Jack couldn’t deny their chemistry, but he couldn’t imagine them as a couple. Jack was older and average looking, while Blair was younger and handsome. Their work schedules were unpredictable. Plus a relationship involved feelings and vulnerability. Navigating both with Blair sounded awful.
Jack rose from the bed, muttering about taking a shower, but not before snatching his phone from the floor. He gave Blair a dirty look as he escaped to the bathroom. The door shut and locked, he read what Blair had texted to Parkson.
Fyi ihave herps nd i already got soemone so
To which Parkson responded, ummmm
Jack hurriedly texted an apology to Parkson, mortified that he had to explain that his random hook-up had taken the phone. He ended by expressing how much he looked forward to meeting Parkson in person.
With a heaving sigh, Jack turned on the shower and examined himself in the mirror while the water was warming up. He looked grumpy, sweaty, and disturbed by the red bite mark on his neck. The collar of his uniform would barely cover it. He checked his phone to see if Parkson responded, but he hadn’t. It was too soon, of course, and there was no need to be worried.
He distracted himself by stretching his arms and hugging his elbows over his head, admiring the way his pecs and triceps became taut. Jack couldn’t say much about his face, but he was proud of his sculpted body, framed nicely with thin layers of hair. It took years of hard work, but definitely worth the effort. He checked his phone again, allowing himself to be disappointed when he didn’t receive a reply.
Then, over the sound of the shower, Jack swore he heard a small bang. He stared at the bathroom door, not knowing what he was waiting for, but his police officer’s instincts told him to be alert. He whipped open the door when he heard an unmistakable slam of hard surface against a hard surface.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jack shouted. Blair was hands-deep in his nightstand drawer, which Jack kept locked. He looked at Jack with a defiant, feline expression, as though Jack’s personal drawer should never have been locked in the first place.
“What is this stuff?” Blair asked, holding a 1/10 scale figurine of BearBrave, one of the main trio in Galaxy Roar. LionHeart was the leader, TigerEye the strategist, and BearBrave the good-hearted muscle, who always sacrificed himself for the team. He was one of the reasons why Jack went into law enforcement.
Rifling through a place that no one had ever seen before, Blair said, “It’s all the same guy. Isn’t this like, anime?” He emphasized “anime” as if weird and foreign.
Taking a deep, trembling breath, Jack threw Blair’s hands out of the drawer, pulled the entire thing out, and brought it with him to the bathroom. Mortified that his childhood collection was discovered, Jack sorely regretted the decision to let Blair into his house and his bed.
Blair had been a sexy thorn in Jack’s side since their first meeting.
For their second meeting, Jack was standing at the bar with a glass of whiskey, neat. He was waiting for an older man with whom he had been chatting for a week now. He had just started online dating, and his job made him naturally suspicious, so he was on edge. It had also been a while since he had intimate contact with anyone, so the sense of urgency didn’t help either. Jack prayed that, despite his nervousness, this would work out.
Scanning the crowd, Jack posted up in a corner, tucked between the crates of clean glasses and a kissing couple. He had picked a bar that he seldom went to and had given distinct details about his appearance -- a tight, black shirt with a bear paw printed over the breast pocket. Jack always enjoyed subtle nods to his favorite character and the thought of BearBrave cheering him on comforted him a little, even if it was silly.
He caught a few interested looks, but none of recognition. Jack didn’t think the internet made dating easier. More information added extra steps to an already complicated dance because you could make vivid, but misguided assumptions. It was hard not to play out different scenarios with someone he knew only by picture and a few conversations.
Over the glass of whiskey, he caught someone watching him as if he knew him. The man was nearly six feet tall, had a medium build, and dark, short, wavy hair. His outfit was stylish and suggested he was well-off. Funnily, Jack thought he knew him too, but the dread in his gut told him it wasn’t in a good way. He wracked his brain for recent memories as the stranger made his way through the crowd, squeezed behind the amorous couple and bumped elbows with him.
Jack recoiled once he remembered who he was. Jack had arrested him a few weeks ago for destruction of property. His unit had been called in for a disturbance at the city sculpture park, where he caught a group of younger men defacing a statue with spray paint. The others had scattered while Jack managed to catch by the collar the man in question. The perpetrator had looked a lot different then, pinned to the grass and certainly not cooperative. Snarling about his rich parents, he had made a point to get Jack’s name, badge number, and an obnoxiously long look at his face.
Nothing came of his commotion, but Jack still tensed up. He gave the man a wary, sideways glance, but chose to ignore him. Maybe the man had forgotten all about him. Anyway, he didn’t have time for this brat, not tonight. He took another sip of his drink, growing impatient.
“Found you,” the man said with a grin, which made Jack seize and nearly cough.
“Excuse me?” Jack replied, checking his phone for the time. His hook-up was supposed to be here now.
“Shirt with a pawprint, right?” The man poked Jack’s chest. Jack had to smack it away for lingering.
“Excuse me?” Jack repeated, his brows furrowed in confusion and irritation.
Arms outstretched, the man announced, “Your date is here.”
“Um, no,” Jack said. He pulled up the profile picture and looked at it, in case he was going crazy. It was clearly an older man with a little grey on the sides. “Get out of here, kid. Stop bothering me,” he said, but the man’s shit-eating grin was really getting on his nerves.
“Um, yes,” the man retorted with amusement. “That picture? It’s my dad.”
Jack’s heart stopped and he took another look at the picture, then at the man in front of him. Then he knocked back his drink and with a shaky hand, slammed down any amount of cash from his wallet. Terrible feelings bubbled up and he just wanted to punch them back inside. He seldom wanted to be right about being suspicious, but here he was again, the butt of a cruel, adolescent joke. He had to give credit to the bastard for planning such devastating revenge.
Before he could storm out though, the man caught him by the shoulders. The man began, “Wait--”
“If you don’t let go of me right now, I’m going to knock your teeth out,” Jack said with a glare as sharp as his words.
“Would you believe if me if I told you it was a happy accident?” The young man leaned in, and Jack could smell soap and the scent of sweet moisture from him.
“No, ‘cause you’re a fucking liar,” Jack spat, debating whether to push him out of the way. He backed away further and bumped into the wall, which startled him.
A hand landed on the wall by his shoulder and the man looked down on Jack, who was slightly shorter and refused to meet his gaze. He was so close that Jack could feel his body heat. “There’s no reason we still can’t do those things we talked about,” he said in a voice so low Jack felt its vibrations in his chest.
Embarrassment heated Jack’s face as he remembered how he revealed his submissive preferences. He snuck a glance and caught the young man watching him intensely. What disarmed Jack, though, was the curl of his arrogant smile. It reminded him of a man who broke his heart not so long ago.
“I can’t believe this wasn’t planned,” Jack said, his anger faltering and his gaze sliding to the floor. Just thinking of his ex and their torrid, whirlwind of a relationship heightened his lust. “This a sick fantasy for you? Fucking the guy who arrested you?”
The man laughed, brushing off his words. Into Jack’s ear he spoke, “When you put it that way, how could I not go for it?” Despite his boldness, the man was cautious in the way his nose touched the shell of Jack’s ear and his hand settled on his hip. He ran his palm along Jack’s ribs, exploring his taut muscles, and leaned in further.
Their noses touched and Jack jerked backward, giving him an indignant look as he denied the kiss. The other man looked a little offended, then delighted, as if they were playing a game and it was only a matter of time before he won. The brat seemed so confident that it both annoyed and turned Jack on. He began to wonder how much this man would push to get what he wanted. Worse, Jack began to convince himself that it wouldn’t be so bad.
The other man seized the moment to snake his arms around him and pull him closer, interrupting Jack’s thoughts. “I know you want it,” he said, nosing his neck and grabbing generous handfuls of ass over his jeans. “And I know how you want it.”
Jack let out a stilted gasp when he felt fingertips slip under his waistband, and could feel the smirk pressing into his shoulder. The man had discovered that Jack had gone commando, plus the small bottle of lube and condoms in his back pocket. The heady feeling of being exposed made his face, his neck, his chest hotter, not to mention the heated grinding between them.
“You want it too, you asshole,” Jack growled, though unable to keep the desire out of his voice. Though it wasn’t as if the man was trying to be coy. He held Jack’s hips firmly against his body and pressed his erection into him, rubbing it into him.
“Yeah,” the man said, a grin splitting his cheeks. “I wanna fuck you.”
For a few seconds, Jack’s mouth fell open and he stared with glassy eyes, enamored. In a final attempt to maintain his dignity, Jack grabbed a fistful of the other man’s shirt and said, “We’re not gonna do this here, and there’s no fucking way I’m paying for a room,” as if that would stop either of them.
In minutes they were on the street, briskly walking to the nearest hotel. Despite being a liar, the man did pay for the room as ordered, but if he was as wealthy as he claimed, then surely it was nothing. Jack was adamant about waiting in the lobby, jacket pulled down over his persistent erection. He was annoyed at himself, at how horny and desperate he was. He disliked how this stranger was exactly what he had wanted, if only a few years young. Jack turned at the tug on his collar, seeing the man gesture toward the stairs. He willfully ignored the other late-night guests and followed the smirking man up one flight of stairs and into their room.
Throwing foreplay out the window, they snatched their clothes off and Jack finally felt what he’d been longing for -- a hot, hard cock sliding in him with one smooth stroke.
“You really--” the other man began, but Jack bucked backward with a glare. He didn’t need to hear how well he had prepared himself, he needed to get fucked. Ass in the air and cheek to bed, Jack clenched the sheets as the man eased back and slammed forward, smacking his hips against him.
Being fucked in exactly the way that Jack liked caught him off guard. He didn’t have the brain cells to ponder compatibility. Instead, he let loose, which meant being loud. It wasn’t very manly to moan and scream during sex, but when the sex was good, he couldn’t control it, and it had been so long since he had gotten good sex. Forgoing embarrassment for pleasure, he spread his thighs for the demanding, insatiable stranger who had lied to him, humiliated him, and plunged his cock deep into him. God, this was exactly what he needed.
It was a delicious, short-but-sweet romp, culminating in an intense burst of a climax, but Jack held no illusions afterward. Allowing himself a minute to bask and catch his breath, business-like he hopped off the bed to circle the room and pull back on the clothes that had been scattered on the floor.
He glanced at his temporary lover on the bed and wondered if he should say anything to him. To thank him would be stupid, as if the man did him a favor by lying. While zipping his jeans, Jack decided on a sensible nod, when the young man, still naked on the bed, sat up.
“Gimme your number,” he demanded, to which Jack gave a derisive look. The guy looked even younger naked and with a pillow clutched over his crotch.
“No,” he replied, deciding that the brat didn’t even deserve a farewell. “Well,” he said before turning toward the door, ready to leave this all behind.
“Then I’ll visit your precinct,” he said, which made Jack whip around.
“For what ?” Jack snapped. His stomach sank, realizing he had given away another vulnerability. Absolutely no one at the precinct needed to know about his private life. Jack’s reaction made the young man smile with insufferable arrogance.
“Then give me your number,” the man repeated. “You don’t think we were compatible? This doesn’t have to end here.”
Though Jack caught himself agreeing with him, his mind was much clearer post-sex, so Jack said, “I prefer that it does.”
“I don’t,” the man said, standing up and approaching Jack. With a curling smile, he clinched it with, “Officer Ruiz.”
Jack gritted his teeth as he glared at the raven-haired menace. Reluctantly he decided to play along, counting on the sure bet that this spoiled, pretty boy would get bored with him.
Jack was toweling his hair when he heard loud, sharp knocks at his door. Post-workout protein shake in hand, he opened the door to a devilishly handsome man with a smirk that Jack realized was second nature for him. Jack tended to be mildly surprised when Blair showed up at the door. It wasn’t because he didn’t know Blair was coming, since Blair had announced his plans to visit by text. Blair had no choice because Jack’s work schedule was unpredictable (sometimes Jack took overtime shifts on purpose).
What surprised Jack was Blair’s constant presence. He was certain that Blair would move on, but here he was again, standing in his doorway and waiting for Jack to let him inside. Jack frowned at the duffel bag slung over Blair’s shoulder. It seemed Blair had decided for himself that he was staying over.
Blocking the entrance, Jack gave Blair a long look. He sipped his protein shake as he searched for a trace of shame for breaking into Jack’s drawer a few days ago. Of course, he didn’t. Why would he? Blair didn’t take anything, much less him, seriously.
“Are you going to let me in?” Blair asked with a bored expression, which offended Jack. “I’m hungry.”
Jack made a face, thinking of the turkey chili that he had cooked for himself and was meant to last him the week. “You didn’t eat? It’s, like, 9:30.”
Hands open, as if in disbelief that Jack could deny him, Blair asked again, “Can I come in?” His eyebrows perked up as he brushed past Jack, flung his duffel bag behind the couch, and asked, “What’re you making? Smells good.”
Despite the sour expression, Jack had prepared two portions, though he would never admit it and Blair never seemed to notice when Jack made more for him. It seemed Blair took for granted that there would always be something for him. As he closed the door and spotted Blair lifting the pot lid, Jack braced himself for blunt remarks about his cooking skills.
Instead, Blair took one bite and proceeded to serve himself a heaping bowl of chili, using the bowl that Jack had taken out for himself. Jack sighed and peeked into the pot to see what was left for him, then gave the back of Blair’s head a dirty look. It was tiring being jerked around by Blair, who seemed to live firmly on his terms.
Jack opened the cupboard for another bowl, the only other one he had, and opened the drawer for a spoon, which rattled against the two forks and two knives in a lonesome way. Once upon a time, he had only one of each utensil, but Blair decided that Jack needed another set to accommodate him.
After scraping the remnants of chili into his own bowl, Jack took a seat on the couch, purposefully away from Blair, who was flipping through the channels on Jack’s TV and had his feet propped on Jack’s coffee table. Rather, Blair went straight to his streaming apps and opened his watch history, which was full of episodes of Galaxy Roar.
Jack groaned loudly, his helpless gaze looking up at the ceiling. Before this, Jack had been at the gym, putting himself through a grueling workout, so he didn’t have the energy to grab the remote from Blair’s hand and also keep it away from him.
“What are you doing?” he asked, watching Blair for a reaction. His concentrated expression made Jack anxious, again bracing himself for a snide comment. As Blair turned on the next episode, Jack scratched his head, trying not to remember the taunts and ridicule he faced in high school because he liked anime so openly.
As he watched Blair watch the show, Jack was again struck by how effortlessly handsome he was. Blair looked like the type of guy who had been popular in school. Jack remembered how much he hated that kind of person, free to be oblivious to the world, to real life. They never had to worry about being chubby, or having nerdy hobbies, or being gay with mediocre looks.
“Isn’t that the guy in your drawer?” Blair asked, pointing his spoon at the TV, where BearBrave was tagging into the ring for his teammate, LionHart, who had been immobilized by their heel nemesis, Noxious Fritz (season three, episode twelve).
Jack responded with a noncommittal grunt, unwilling to expose his deep knowledge of the Galaxy Roar universe. He took out his phone to signal his reticence, taking the opportunity to review the scheduled programming for the upcoming convention. He had already marked several events of interest, but it wouldn’t hurt to look again.
What motivated Jack to buy tickets in the first place was the tenth-anniversary event for Galaxy Roar. He looked forward to browsing merchandise in person, the panels, the guest speakers, and most of all, a companion to nerd out with. Figuring out the appropriate amount of communication without scaring Parkson was a constant struggle for Jack. He pondered as he took a mouthful of chili. Parkson had been gracious about Blair’s rude text, but it had been a while since they had chatted. He supposed there wasn’t much to say to someone he’d never met in person.
“Ani-con? What is that?” Blair asked directly into Jack’s ear. He was so close that Jack couldn’t turn his head without bumping his cheek against Blair’s, and he was staring at Jack’s phone.
“Nothing,” Jack said, stuffing his phone under the couch cushions.
Blair leaned more of his weight on Jack to reach for the phone, while Jack tried to elbow him off. With a tsk, Blair pulled out his own phone to look it up, still leaning heavily against Jack’s shoulder. “A comic convention? You wanna go to this?” Blair asked.
Jack tensed at Blair’s second question, which sounded as if it was ridiculous that he would want to go.
“Just curious,” he said, looking straight ahead at the TV. He knew that Blair was still staring at him, the weight of his body shifted backward to get a better look.
“Were you planning on going with anyone?” Blair asked. “Like with that guy you were texting?”
Jack’s eyebrows furrowed. Blair showed wicked instinct when he wanted, and Jack had to be cautious with his words. “Which guy?” he asked as a little joke and a way to deflect.
Blair paused, taking a moment to meet Jack’s eyes. “Who else are you texting?” he asked, then climbed over Jack to rifle through the cushions for his phone.
“Stop it,” Jack said, struggling to keep Blair away. “Why do you care anyway?” He entwined their fingers to prevent Blair from digging around, this time using his strength to keep his hands still. “I bet you’re doing the same.”
“I’m not,” Blair replied with a straight face. “I don’t sleep with anyone else. If you stop too, then we don’t have to use condoms anymore.”
Jack made a face, thinking that every day with Blair demonstrated how messed up he was. Blair wanted Jack to stop meeting other guys, not because Blair was jealous, but because he wanted to feel better during sex. All Jack could muster was, “Wow.”
Blair looked annoyed, which was a first. “So don’t see anybody else,” he said firmly.
Jack didn’t feel like clarifying that Parkson was just a friend since it meant admitting that he was going to the comic convention. After high school, he’d worked hard to make sure no one knew him as a weird nerd.
“I’m not seeing anyone else,” Jack said and was startled to find that the words, when said out loud, held more weight. It was true that Jack had stopped looking for random hook-ups, but in a roundabout way they agreed to become exclusive, but why? For what?
As Jack sat confused in his thoughts, Blair leaned forward and kissed him, then pulled back. Jack stared in shock, giving Blair the opportunity to kiss him again.
Licking his lips, Blair grinned and said, “You let me kiss you now.”
“That wasn’t me letting--” Jack began before Blair kissed him again, an arm thrown around Jack’s shoulders. Jack knew he should have pushed him away, but instead, Blair pushed him down.
“You promise you aren’t seeing anyone else?” Blair asked, tugging down Jack’s sweatpants.
“I’m really not,” Jack replied, still perplexed by the turn of events but relieved that Blair wasn’t talking about the convention anymore.
“So you can tell that guy to fuck off, right?” Blair asked brightly, nuzzling the corner of Jack’s jawline.
“Fine,” Jack lied.
In the days leading up to the convention, Jack was even more discreet. Without fail, Blair brought up the same subjects whenever they met. He hadn’t expected Blair to be so persistent, so he tried to hide even a hint of interest. His phone was always tucked away and chat records were promptly deleted.
“The comic convention is coming up soon,” Blair said. He was hugging Jack from behind while Jack was trying to make coffee.
“Okay,” he said, pouring two cups -- one black and one with cream.
Blair rested his head on Jack’s shoulder and asked, “Are you going to go?”
“No,” Jack lied. Generally, he hated deception, but Blair was becoming a real pest about it. Plus, the whole relationship was built on Blair’s lie, so it wasn’t as if it mattered. “Let go, you’re going to make me spill the coffee,” Jack said, changing the subject.
On the day of the convention, he felt sweet accomplishment when he got off the bus and saw the crowds trudging toward the convention center in the distance. Parkson was somewhere in the masses of con-goers and Jack was excited to meet in person. His love life hadn’t been going so well and Jack began to believe that he was missing a platonic connection, not romantic. Thinking of their first encounter made Jack nervous. The long, quiet walk to the entrance didn’t help.
They had planned to meet near the entrance by the fire hydrant, where Parkson would be wearing a red shirt featuring his favorite character, TigerEye. Jack’s face nearly split with a happy grin when he spotted a tall, Asian man wearing a TigerEye red shirt and waiting by the hydrant -- exactly as described.
Trying to be cool, he bit back his grin as he approached him and asked, “Are you Parkson?”
“Oh, yeah! Jack, right?” Parkson replied, holding a hand out. Impressed, Jack took it with a healthy grip and two manly shakes. “Ready to line up?”
“Sure,” Jack said. “Nice shirt, by the way.” He was so jealous that Parkson had the courage to wear such a conspicuous shirt. Jack had one, which he wore once but never outside. Today he wore the same black shirt that he wore in the bar where he met Blair.
“Thanks! It’s one of the better-looking ones,” Parkson replied as they walked to the growing line of con-goers waiting to get in. “That’s what my boyfriend says anyway.”
Jack nodded with understanding, trying not to stare as they stood shoulder to shoulder in line. Parkson looked like a secure, well-adjusted person, not immediately like a stereotypical geek. He wondered how his apartment looked like and if there were anime goods out in the open. Parkson having a boyfriend was encouraging as well since it meant they could have a platonic relationship without drama. Jack hoped that Parkson was open to having a new friend.
“Wow, look at that cosplay,” Parkson said, pointing away from the convention center. “He must have worked out really hard for that.”
Leaning over to see where Parkson was pointing, he spotted a man posing for pictures. The man was dressed as the main character for Galaxy Roar, Lionhart, and was suitably ripped like the character. He looked so good that Jack couldn’t resist staring agape.
“I mean, it’s not that hard, since it’s a mask and tights, but...” Parkson began, then their gazes met, a jolt of understanding passing between them. They grinned and chuckled with a little embarrassment, as two gay fanboys did when they were ogling. Jack was positively delighted by the connection. Finally, someone who understood.
They continued to watch the crowd as they waited in line for their passes. Jack admired the variety and dedication of cosplayers but began to notice that he didn’t recognize any except for Galaxy Roar characters. Also, the people who chose not to cosplay were unexpectedly diverse. Sure, there were the stereotypical chubby nerds, but there were families and tall, pretty people of all races. He saw kids that reminded him of the ones he used to go to school with. Jack didn’t feel so weird anymore.
When they finally reached the main hall, Parkson pulled out the schedule, which had a mini-map printed on the back.
“Dealers room doesn’t open until 11 AM. Should we walk around to see what’s here or do you wanna grab coffee first?” Parkson asked.
Taken with the gentleness in his voice, with a shy nod Jack replied, “Either way is good. You have more experience with this anyway.”
“Yeah, but I usually go alone,” Parkson said with a laugh. “Thanks for coming, Jack.”
Not as thankful as me, Jack thought as they walked through the scattered groups of con-goers and cosplayers. Jack enjoyed the positive energy that flowed through the halls, an agglomeration of like-minded nerds. People were more considerate and generous with compliments and conversation. Jack could hear snippets of people discussing tidbits like producers’ roles in Galaxy Roar or the most annoying characters. They dug into obscure details that Jack didn’t know, which surprised him. His beloved show was a smaller part of his life than he thought.
Eventually, Jack and Parkson stood in the line into the dealer’s room, discussing their stash of Galaxy Roar merchandise. Jack laughed at Parkson’s stories of when his boyfriend began to notice the posters and the odd figure around the house, though made no comment. Parkson had begun to hang up more posters and wear more shirts just to get a reaction from him.
“He’s not embarrassed, but it was a hilarious game of chicken,” Parkson said. “He drew the line when I changed the bedsheets. You think I could find curtains? Or furniture?”
Jack remembered the drawer that Blair had broken into but decided against telling Parkson that story. He didn’t need to know anything about Blair or that Jack was only interested in little things that could fit in the drawer. He was embarrassed that he was so shy about his interests.
Though, once they entered the dealer’s room, Jack fiercely debated on whether he really needed the Galaxy Roar set of four cups, or the BearBrave hoodie, or the 1/100 replica of the iconic wrestling ring where they fought their final enemy. He finally settled with an inoffensive set of fridge magnets, which only fans could recognize, but even browsing was fun.
Jack admired a limited edition figure that was too big for his drawer. Buying it would be a pure indulgence, but BearBrave looked so cool in his ultimate form. He turned away regretfully. Maybe next year he’d gather the courage to buy it.
Parkson, on the other hand, was already struggling to fit his purchases in his backpack. Again, the goods were from series that he didn’t recognize, and frankly, didn’t interest Jack.
“How many animes have you seen?” Jack asked in disbelief when he was insecure about watching just one.
Parkson paused to make mental calculations. “A lot,” Parkson said with a laugh. “I can make recommendations if you want.”
“Sure,” Jack replied with a smile. Past Parkson, he noticed a BearBrave cosplayer and a few women taking selfies with him. “Oh look!”
“That’s a good one,” Parkson said, nodding in approval. “Wow, he’s a total bear too. I don’t know why people were surprised that this show made boys realize they were gay.”
After a nervous pause, Jack asked, “Do you think it would be weird if I asked for a selfie too?”
“No, I think he’d appreciate it,” he said and gave Jack a thumbs up. “I’m gonna use the bathroom over there. I’ll meet you back here?”
Jack returned a thumbs-up as he jogged after the cosplayer, who was surrounded by a throng of picture-takers. Waiting for his turn to take a picture with him, Jack felt his cheeks flush. Parkson was right; watching Galaxy Roar had been a confusing, formative time for Jack. Not only did the show help foster his sense of justice, but also a healthy appetite for aggressive, burly men.
With a sheepish, but wide grin he approached the cosplayer and complimented how great his cosplay was and how much he loved the character and if he could take a picture with him. The cosplayer was wonderfully gracious and even did a pose as Jack positioned his phone.
Within a few seconds of pressing the button, Jack saw through the camera a white-hot, death glare and his throat seized in momentary terror. Later, Jack would be deeply disappointed that the one photo he did take at the convention showed the instant transition from joy to dread and the furious expression on Blair’s face.
Jack stared at Blair, standing with his arms crossed. He was so blindsided that he had to take a moment to gather himself. The fun that he was having disintegrated and Jack was left only with irrational shame and anxiety.
“You lied,” Blair said with a raised voice, with disappointment, as if Jack owed him anything. Blair had no right to be outraged, even if Jack had lied. But Jack knew better than to justify bad behavior like that, which riled his temper.
“You followed me just to tell me that?” Jack snapped. “I’m not the issue, you fucking stalker. What are you doing here anyway? You don’t belong here.”
Brows furrowed, eyes darkening, mouth pursed, Blair’s face looked as if threatening to collapse into itself, but he said nothing and couldn’t even bring himself to look Jack in the eyes. Blair looked so angry that he couldn’t speak.
“You said you’d tell that guy to fuck off, but you didn’t. So I did it for you,” Blair said, ignoring Jack’s words.
Eyes wide open, Jack said, “You what ?” He glanced at the entrance to the bathroom and didn’t see Parkson in the area. Jack had been so distracted by the cosplayer that he didn’t notice that Parkson was taking longer than normal. “You what?” he repeated.
“You should have invited me instead,” Blair said. “I would have gone.”
“Why would I have done that?” Jack said, raising his voice and attracting attention. “You’re such an asshole, Blair.”
“What’s wrong with getting to know you?” Blair asked angrily, then shoved Jack as he stormed away.
Jack was so concerned about what Blair had reportedly done to Parkson that he rushed to the bathroom, but he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he had done something wrong. Maybe he had taken a lot of wrong turns along their relationship, but all paths led to the perplexing conclusion that, awful as he was, Blair did care about him.
Jack nearly ran into Parkson as he exited the bathroom. Grabbing his shoulders, Jack asked, “Parkson, are you okay?”
Parkson looked fine, but Jack could see that he understood what he meant. Parkson replied with a confused smile, “Yeah, I’m fine, but I think I need some context. Let’s get lunch?“
He rubbed his face and let out a tumble of words, “Of course, oh my God, I’m so sorry, Parkson. I bet he was awful. What did he say to you?”
They walked together to the cafeteria as Parkson described his encounter with Blair. “I think he followed me to the bathroom because before I could use it, he stopped me and asked me if I was trying to get with you,” he said. “Then I told him I wasn’t and that we were going as friends. Then...” Parkson paused, then he chuckled. “I showed him a picture of my boyfriend.”
Jack was horrified at the impression he had given Parkson, but noticed that Parkson said 'as friends.' He was relieved that Parkson didn’t seem to hate him, but was becoming more curious about the interaction between Parkson and Blair.
“Is that all that happened? Didn’t he threaten you or say anything nasty?” Jack asked.
“I mean, he wasn’t nice,” Parkson said with a shrug, “but he didn’t threaten me. After he mentioned you, I figured he was the same guy who took your phone and said you had herpes.”
“Yeah, he was,” Jack replied sourly. “Again, I’m really sorry. He’s so rude and does whatever he wants, just steamrolls over people.” He remembered how Blair had stormed away earlier. “But I don’t think he’ll be a problem anymore,” Jack said, remembering Blair’s last words. Now that he had time to think it over, the memory was uncomfortably bitter.
“I think he really likes you,” Parkson said, interrupting Jack’s thoughts. He gave Jack a pointed look.
“No way,” Jack quickly replied with a dismissive laugh. “I doubt there’s no room for anyone else in that giant ego.”
Another pensive look weakened Jack’s confidence. He chuckled with a dose of uncertainty and said, “Look, I don’t know what he said to you, but I know this was all just to piss me off.”
“Why can’t it be both?” Parkson asked with a gentle shrug and smile, the naive face of someone who didn’t know that Blair was a selfish, parasitic brat that would drain the life out of Jack if he let him.
“Why, did he say something to you?” Jack asked, trying to appear nonchalant.
Parkson gave him a wise and secretive smile. “I don’t doubt that you’ll see him again,” he replied. “If he knew that I told you, I know he’d come back for me. But anyway, I’m okay, you’re okay. Let’s get lunch and enjoy the rest of the day. Just forget about it for now.”
“You’re right,” Jack said, sighing. “Thanks for being understanding.”
“By the way,” Parkson said, as they entered the cafeteria, “did you notice? That guy had a three-day convention pass.”
“No, I didn’t,” Jack replied, who had gotten a ticket for Saturday only.
Jack woke up the next day feeling unhappy. What should have been a wonderful day had been tainted with nonsense. Placing his new magnets on his fridge didn’t cheer him up. He would allow himself the day to wallow in self-pity, then he didn’t have to waste any more energy on what went wrong. After today, he would not spend any more time thinking about their relationship, dead on arrival.
Just in case though, Jack reached for his phone and messaged his sergeant to request overtime shifts. He couldn’t think about it if he was busy with work. He then shot a message to Parkson, thanking him again for yesterday and that he hoped they could hang out again soon.
He decided he needed a treat for yesterday’s ordeal and trudged to the kitchen, hoping there was enough in the fridge to indulge himself without going outside. Examining the loaf of bread to see if the mold could be pinched off, he jumped when he heard sharp thuds on his door. There was no way that it was who Jack thought it was, though he should have known to trust experience over expectation.
Surely it was an urgent mailman or an irate neighbor or someone who really needed to pee. When he opened the door, it was Blair with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Jack’s eyebrows knitted in confusion, not knowing what to make of his sudden appearance.
He could tell Blair was annoyed by the way he glared, remnants from yesterday but not as severe. Also, he could tell by the way Blair snapped, “Well? Are you going to let me in?”
This time Jack placed his hand on the door frame to block Blair from barging in as usual. “Why?” he asked. “Why are you here? Why don’t you hang out with literally anyone else? How about your punk friends from the park?”
“I don’t hang out with them anymore,” Blair replied without pause. It surprised Jack, but he had to take a stand here. He couldn’t stand the expectation in Blair’s eyes, that Jack would give in and let him in.
“I just --” Jack began, growing angrier because it seemed like he was the only person who didn’t know what was going on between Blair and him. “What are we doing here? What is this?”
The sound of a neighbor’s door opening and closing made Jack pause and step aside to yank Blair in. He’d die on the spot if his neighbors heard him argue with Blair. His back leaning on the closed door, Jack glared as Blair set down his duffel bag.
“Don’t bother unpacking. You’re not staying long,” he said, watching Blair unzip his bag. To this Blair straightened up, looking at Jack in silence. But it was the hint of expectation in his eyes that bothered Jack. What did Blair want? Jack wasn’t going to admit he was wrong. He certainly wasn’t going to apologize first.
“Don’t you get it?” Jack continued. “You -- I don’t want you around. You just barge in whenever you want, you eat my food, you leave your crap here, you are rude to friends, you break into my stuff. Are you so delusional to think that there’s anything between us? This whole thing started with a lie. I don’t owe you anything.“
Jack was surprised at the emotion in his words, buried in the back of his throat. “Yeah, it was fun. That’s all there was. You’re just a spoiled asshole who thought it would be funny to fuck the guy who arrested him, and I’m the pathetic loser who let him. So, please leave.”
Blair stared at him, then licked his lips and said, “You’re not wrong. I am an asshole, and that’s why no one gives a shit about me. But before I go...”
Blair bent down and opened his bag. He handed Jack a box, which he instantly recognized. It was the limited edition BearBrave figure he had admired at the convention but had been too big for his bedside drawer. At this moment, though, it frightened him. The implication behind this thoughtful action was terrifying.
Blair pulled out more items, everything that Jack had wanted but chose not to buy, and put them on the coffee table. “You shouldn’t hide what makes you happy,” he said.
All of this implied that this unbearable human being, who burrowed into his life and refused to leave, who constantly reminded him that he wasn’t alone, who had seen sides of him that he tried to hide, might actually be his person. Jack locked the door behind him.
“I was going to make breakfast,” he mumbled. “If you wanted some before you leave.” He knew that Blair wouldn’t refuse.