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Jumping before the Gunshot has Gone Off

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It’s only because of Ashton that Luke even shows up to the party. He hasn’t seen him in ages, not since he left for whatever fashion show it was that had been held halfway across the world. The last eight weeks have been nothing but random two-minute expensive phone calls at odd hours of the day and night, because halfway around the world is synonymous for a six hour time difference. He landed back in the country early this morning, covered intensively by all of the media outlets in the city except, apparently, Luke’s. He had messaged him the moment his feet touched native soil, but Luke knew better than to fight the crowds to meet him there. The cameras had begun to roll on him, anyway.

He’s fifteen minutes late. It’s a private home behind a tall fence and an arsenal of landscaping that makes it almost impossible to even glimpse the marvelous hidden house. Luke has a car drop him off right at front where Ashton’s security team ushers him through the throng of paparazzi who are desperate for an edge into the personal life of Ashton Irwin and his elite friends. The flashes of the cameras are bright in Luke’s eyes, almost blindingly so, whenever the paparazzi realize exactly who the security team is escorting through the iron gates. They don’t get much, though, because Luke’s been playing this game for almost a decade now. It’s halfway through January, and the air is icy around them. He’s got a knit hat shoved down over his ears. His blond hair curls out underneath it, but the brilliant blue scarf he’s got twisted around his neck conceals the majority of his face. They only know it’s him by process of elimination.

By the time he gets inside, his ears are ringing from all of the shouts. The door closes behind him. There’s an almost deafening silence in here as compared to the other side of the fence. He rids himself of his heavy jacket, scarf, and hat. It’s quite warm in here, and he’s still a little uneasy about the flashes from earlier. The word faggot volleys around in his head, spoken in an unfamiliar, mean voice. It’s been five years since the world discovered his secret, and nobody really cares about his sexuality anymore, for the most part. Yet, the occasional taunts are no easier to hear.

“It’s about time you showed up, Lukey,” greets Ashton, all hugs and teasing smiles. He’s beautiful, even without all of the makeup and costuming he dons as a model. His legs are long, nearly as long as Luke’s own. His hair curls around the bandana wrapped around his head. He’s wearing a white and pink suit designed by Niall that fits him in all of the right ways. Where Luke normally looks like a sore thumb in those kinds of clothes, Ashton perfectly fills them out.

“Got held up at work,” Luke says, swiping his tongue across his lip ring in a nervous habit that he really needs to break. The excuse doesn’t sound any better spoken aloud. He steps back from the hug to smile at Ashton. It slips a little at the edges, belying the guilt that Luke does actually feel about being late to the party.

“So Calum said,” he responds. “You have such late hours to be hosting a morning show.”

It’s true, but it’s the schedule he forces himself to keep when so many of his friends are out of town and not available to distract him from the errant thoughts that still creep up on him even eight years later. It’s a Thursday, and he keeps Thursdays in particular as his long days. He gets up at precisely four-thirty in the morning to make it down to the television station by five o’clock and in the presenter’s chair at half past the hour. He doesn’t host the earliest morning show for the network, but his is the most-viewed AM program—or it is supposed to be. Luke’s been checking his ratings. They haven’t been good since before Thanksgiving. His boss has noticed it, too, and Liam has been meeting more frequently with Luke to discuss ways to boost the ratings.

“Well, I’m here now, aren’t I?” returns Luke.

He’s probably a little shorter with Ashton than the man actually deserves, but he’s spent too long listening to other people, namely Liam, tear him apart for being a failure of an adult. He just wants to spend this evening getting completely wasted and catching up on quality time with the friends he doesn’t get to see very often anymore. They’ll only be in the city for about a month or so before they jet off to another exotic location to be all beautiful. It should make Luke feel a little self-conscious, being friends with so many people in the fashion industry, but he’s all right with it, mostly. Once upon a time, he had considered going into the business when Ashton had opened the door for him, but he’s glad now that he didn’t. He enjoys being on-air more than he ever would on a catwalk.

The bulk of the party is in the spacious living room where there’s a vintage jukebox playing today’s greatest hits. Luke doesn’t know the song, but he sways along to the beat anyhow. He loses Ashton almost immediately to the throng of people near the entryway who want to gush over the photographs from the fashion show. They fawn over him in their sincerity, these elite friends to whom Luke introduced Ashton.

The alcohol’s in the kitchen, and Luke passes by Ashton’s coworker Harry on his way to his destination. Harry stops him with a one-armed hug. He’s clutching a flute of champagne even though Luke knows how little he actually likes the drink. It’s good to see Harry again after the two and a half months that he’s been gone. Their weekly guys’ nights out have been rather dull with just Calum as company as of late.

“How’d it go with Liam?” Harry asks in a low voice, and apparently Calum’s got a pretty big mouth. He leans closer to Luke, his wild, curly hair falling into his eyes, so that others in the room can’t as easily overhear their conversation. It’s not total privacy, of course, but it’s not exactly confidential information, either. Anybody with the bare minimum knowledge of how the Internet works can easily stumble upon the charts and graphs that show Luke’s falling ratings.

“Another meeting tomorrow afternoon,” says Luke, because that is his life. He doesn’t want to talk about his job. It’s just been a bad quarter, and, truthfully, his ratings aren’t the only ones slipping. He’ll be fine, as soon as he and Liam finally come up with something that proves he’s the right man for the job. It’s not been easy stepping into the shoes left by his predecessor.

There’s a pretty brunette standing next to Harry who is shooting glares in Luke’s direction for monopolizing Harry’s attention. Luke uses it as an excuse to avoid the rest of Harry’s questions. Really, the man’s probably got about a dozen more, and Luke only wants this one evening to himself without worrying about ratings. Liam has probably already said everything that Harry wants to say by now anyway.

In the kitchen, the party is less dense. There’s only a couple of people gathered around the center island where the drinks and finger foods are set up. Niall greets him warmly, splashing some rum into his soda. He looks tired but happy to be back in a country that speaks English. His hair is a shock of blond again, but the dark roots are starting to show through. The side of his left hand is stained with pencil lead.

“It’s good to see you,” Luke tells him, wrapping his arm around his shoulders. He has to drop his arm lower than he would if they were out in public and he were wearing his signature boots that give him an extra inch or two of height. There are no cameras here, or at least of the kind that really care whether or not a prestigious fashion designer is dressed to the nines. Niall’s barefoot in Ashton’s kitchen. It’s not something Luke would ever be comfortable doing, but Niall’s never really liked the confines of shoes.

“Was beginning to think you weren’t coming, that you’d ditched us free-spirit world travelers for your snooty high-class chums.”

Luke barks out a laugh, because he’s never heard anything so outrageous in his life. Sure, he’s got a rather large circle of friends, most of whom are very influential, but these people here tonight—these people who landed back in this country barely eighteen hours ago—are his favorite. They occupy a strange sort of place in his heart. He’s the one who brought them out of the woodwork and introduced them into this social lifestyle. He opened a world opportunities to them that would have otherwise been firmly locked shut. It’s nothing that he’ll ever tell them, because they don’t owe him a single thing, but they’re his favorite friends. They’re the people he’d never leave.

“You all can’t get rid of me that easily,” he says. “After all, who else is going to bring me ridiculously expensive and immensely useless souvenirs from all corners of the globe? I’ve started a collection, you know, at work. Just this morning, I had a viewer call in and say she was looking forward to the new addition to my shrine des mis amigos.”

Niall smiles knowingly at him. He pulls open a drawer beneath the center island, eyes never leaving those of Luke as he roots through the contents. He knows this place as well as Ashton does. They’re best friends, of course, and have virtually lived in each other’s pockets since they were ten years old. It only makes sense that Niall feels at ease in Ashton’s home in a way that neither Luke nor Harry nor any of the others at this party do.

He comes up successful in the end and tosses a crystal figurine across the island at Luke, who fumbles to catch it. Luke’s thankful he has yet to drink himself to the point beyond coordination. The figurine has a tiny sharp beak, and it pokes him in the palm, leaving a tiny indention in his skin. He grimaces as he looks down. It’s a penguin, this cheap crystal figurine. It’s got two smooth wings and a pair of flippers that protrude out from the bottom. It’s the perfect addition for his collection. He closes his fingers around it. He’s emotional all of sudden, and he just stands there with his penguin and gawks at Niall across from him.

“Ash got you a t-shirt, too,” says Niall in the thickness of the moment. He smiles brightly at him, but the wobbly nature of the corners of his lips belies the truth he knows. Penguins are Luke’s thing. The ten dollar figurine is worth more than anything else they could have gotten him. “Don’t know where that’s at.”

Luke doesn’t actually care where it’s at, not now while he’s clutching the penguin. It’ll probably be the t-shirt Ashton throws at him in the morning after he’s drank his weight in alcohol tonight but still has to wake up at the butt crack of dawn to go into work. He’ll wake Ashton up by banging through the house, trying to be quiet but too hung over to shut doors in any other manner than loudly. Ashton’ll crawl out of his bed. Dragging his duvet along with him, he’ll toss Luke the souvenir t-shirt and a pair of pants that Luke’s left here before and that have gone through his wash. It’s been a good eight weeks since this particular series of events have played out between them, and Luke’s looking forward to tomorrow morning.

Niall splashes some more rum into his soda, offering to make Luke a similar drink. Luke shakes his head, because he’s never been one to mix rum with soft drinks, especially not as potent as Niall’s specialties. Niall shrugs in response, clearly amused by Luke’s reluctance to trust his bartending skills. It’s nothing that hasn’t happened before, but it’s the first time in eight weeks. It’s nice that everything is seamlessly falling back into order after Luke’s been separated from the others for the past two and a half months.

Niall leaves Luke a couple of minutes later and takes his drink with him. Luke stares down at the penguin in his hand. It’s such a breakable little thing. It would shatter if he were to drop it right now, scatter into a thousand tiny shard of penguin glass across the ornate tiled floor at his feet. He moves closer to the island so that he can pack away the penguin into a drawer until a time when alcohol is not in his near future.

“That mug of your still losing ratings?”

The devil appears out of nowhere, and Luke most certainly does not jump at the question. He whips around to face Michael. Michael’s wearing his signature mean smirk that seems to be designed solely for Luke. He’s not as tall as Luke, having to tilt his chin ever so slightly upward in order to meet his eyes. He is a menace of a man, but even Luke, whom Michael has made it his personal mission to hate from the very first day, has to admit the attractive features he possesses. He’s got soft skin and a piercing in his eyebrow and dyed firetruck-red hair. His eyes are clear green, intense no matter the emotion behind them. He’s got the perfect body for modeling, but Luke would never tell him any of this in a million years.

“Still riding on Ashton’s coattails, are you?” returns Luke nastily, because if Michael can’t be nice to him, he can be mean right back. It’s a bit thrilling, if he’s being honest with himself. Nobody quite gets him riled up like Michael does. Luke’s a pretty easy man to get along with, and he’s never had any problem making friends until he met this particular gem of spite.

The smirk drops from Michael’s face. His eyes flash dangerously, but, otherwise, he’s blank. He studies Luke for a moment, taking in the state of his dress. Luke tries not to feel inadequate underneath the heavy gaze. He’s aware that he looks less than put together. He had run straight here from work, and the top three buttons of his shirt have been undone for the past two hours. He really is a mess of an adult, a failure at all things that should come naturally to somebody who pays his own mortgage and washes his own clothes.

“You’re standing in the way of the drinks,” says Michael finally, nodding toward the line of alcoholic beverages on the counter behind him.

Luke glances over his shoulder and notes the terrible choices in glass bottles. There’s more alcohol on the other side of the center island where Niall had poured his rum. Those are more up Michael’s aisle, and Luke wonders why Michael’s being such a little shit to him. It’s really no different than usual, considering, and Luke should be just as pissy back to him. But he isn’t, because as much as this is Ashton’s and Niall’s welcome home party, it’s also Michael’s.

He graciously steps out of the way without a biting remark or concern that Michael might not want to do birthday cake flavored vodka shots. It’s his welcome home gift to Michael, this rare nicety in the face of his meanness. But Luke has to be honest with himself: he’d quite like to see Michael’s face whenever he throws back a gulp of alcohol that tastes straight-up like a burning birthday candle.

Michael doesn’t reach for the flavored vodka. He doesn’t even move from his spot just inside of the kitchen, barely out of the reach of the swinging door that lets into the rest of the house. It doesn’t actually lead to the party, so Luke’s not really sure why Michael had come from there in the first place. He doesn’t ask.

He doesn’t want to hang around in the kitchen with just Michael as company. It’s not exactly Luke’s definition of a good time. So he grabs the nearest bottle of alcohol, splashes some into a ridiculously expensive glass and makes his way back into the throng of the party. As he’s turning the corner into the living room, he swears he sees Michael sneak out the other way, hands empty of alcohol. He doesn’t look twice to make sure.

Luke’s a people person. He always has been. He enjoys shooting bull with others as much as he enjoys learning about somebody else’s life. There’s something fascinating about hearing the different walks everybody has taken to reach this moment in time that Luke just wants to soak up every story he can. He runs into a few of Ashton’s colleagues and talks to them about the fashion show. They’re all appropriately impressed that he’s the host of the morning talk show. He pulls out every trick he knows to learn more about them. He’s rewarded with anecdotes he’d never share with the city at six in the morning. He counts it as a win.

His alcohol turns out to be bourbon. It goes down smoothly, and he barrels through it and then another and another while he talks to Ashton’s colleagues. By the time he meanders farther into the party, he’s made friends with a couple of them. He hopes he’ll remember their names tomorrow beyond the haze of alcohol currently filtering his brain so that they can meet up for the promised lunch date in a couple of weeks.

He finds Calum on the back patio. It’s fifteen degrees outside, seventeen below freezing, and he’s got a cigarette tucked between his lips. It’s much quieter out here. The privacy fence surrounding the back yard hides them away from the rest of the world and especially away from the paparazzi who are probably surrounding the entire property. All of the greenery is dead, but there’s a certain charm to the bare branches of the beautiful trees that are spread out along the property line just inside the fence.

Calum hums out a greeting. He pushes his pack of cigarettes at Luke, but Luke declines them. He hasn’t smoked in eight years, not since Rena’s funeral when the stench of stale tobacco had clung to his shoebox-sized apartment for days after she was dead and buried six feet in the ground. It was there even when the blood was gone. Luke hadn’t known Calum then, or even Ashton. He doesn’t think he’s ever told them his aversion of cigarettes. This isn’t the night to spill his deepest, darkest secret, either. It’s not something he’s ever going to let slip, even for all of the bourbon in the world.

“How’d it go with Liam?”

Luke groans, dropping into the nearby lawn chair. It’s metal, and it freezes his butt right through the fabric of his blue jeans. He’s tired of this topic already. Calum’s probably the only one out everybody who knows as much about the state of the ratings as Luke does. It’s sort of Calum’s job to keep an eye on the station.

“He’s not going to fire you, if that’s what you’re worried about,” adds Calum. He sucks on his cigarette and lets it curl in his lungs before he exhales. The smoke dances blue up into the night sky, fading into nothingness a few feet above their heads. They watch it disappear, silent for a moment in their companionship until Calum lowers his gaze to Luke. He taps the end of the cigarette against the ash tray Ashton leaves outside specifically for him. “Liam’d be damn insane to get rid of you.”

“The ratings say otherwise,” returns Luke, because it’s true. That’s what he hates the most about discussing this topic. He can say the viewers love him and that he’s transitioned easily into the big man’s chair, but he hasn’t, not according to his show’s ratings. He knows that’s what his boss cares about, because that’s what ensures the budget for the next quarter. The more people like Luke’s show, the more money the station gets. He hasn’t made them much money over the past few months.

“Fuck the ratings. Seriously, man. It’s the demographics that are skewed. I’ve crunched the numbers. You’re doing much better than Nick did in his first twelve months. Liam knows this—he was the boss back then, too.”

It doesn’t help the rumble of uselessness in the pit of Luke’s stomach. He can lie to himself all day that he’d be fine if Liam were to up and fire him for his less-than-stellar performance, but the truth of the matter is that he lives for his job. It’s really all he’s got going for him. Sure, he’s got an active social life and a nice house that meets all of his needs, but his pride and joy is this job. It’s everything he’s wanted since he was eight years old.

Calum finishes his cigarette. He crushes it in the ash tray, leaving it to smolder itself out. Luke shoulders the weight of his gaze, but he doesn’t look back at him. He stares up at the bleached purple sky. It’s on a night like this that he misses the stars. They’re not visible against the brightly lit city lights that surround Ashton’s house and makes complete darkness a vain wish.

There’s a roaring noise of chatter on the other side of the house, and somebody important must be making their leave. It’s almost imperceptible from the patio, but Luke knows what to listen for. It’s half past eleven. He’s been here for four hours already, and in another six, he’ll have to leave for the station.

“I have another meeting with Liam tomorrow afternoon. He’s thinking about—he’s thinking about switching me back to nights.”

It’s the first time Luke’s admitted this to anybody outside Liam’s of office, though the possibility has been in the air for weeks now. He doesn’t look over at Calum as he says it, or even in the aftermath of his words. He loves the morning show. It’s the most-coveted spot, and he’s worked his ass off over the past few years to host it. Eight months in, and he’s already failing. It’s a sobering thought. He longs for more bourbon to wash away the doubts that have plagued him.

“Luke—”

“Don’t. Okay?” he says, cutting off Calum before he can make a counter argument. Luke doesn’t want to hear it, because his friends do this thing where they build up his expectations and then reality crashes down around him, and nothing is as he expected it. Calum and Ashton are the worst culprits. Luke wants to believe them more than anybody else, but he can’t. Not with this. Not when his entire career teeters precariously on the edge of a bottomless pit.

Calum’s face twists into an ugly expression somewhere between pity and helplessness, like he’s so personally affronted by Luke’s dismal future that he doesn’t quite know how to react to it. Luke stands up from the patio chair. The cold has seeped into his soul by now, after sitting out here in the middle of the night in mid-January without a jacket. His fingers are icicles, and he’s starting to shiver. Calum makes a half-aborted attempt to say something else, but Luke shoots him a dry smile and leaves him alone outside.

The party’s died down some by now. While it’s not spectacularly late by these people’s standards, it’s been going on for hours. Luke ducks by Harry and Niall in the living room. They’re surrounded by most of those who have yet to leave, so he doubts they even notice his appearance. He thinks about joining them, but he goes into the kitchen instead where there’s still a steady supply of alcohol.

The room’s vacant when he enters. He reaches for the birthday cake flavored vodka for the hell of it. Out of all the bottles carefully lining the center island, it is the fullest. There are no cups close around, so he tips back the entire bottle, letting it gather in the back of his mouth before swallowing in one quick movement. It burns all the way down, just like he knew it would, and the fumes that chase it back up taste like embers bedding across his tongue.

He takes another swig and then another until the fire-flavored alcohol burns away Liam’s suggestion and his friends’ pity and everything else collapsing in on him. He’s halfway through the bottle when he stumbles out of the kitchen, vodka in tow. He needs a bed, preferably the one in the room he’s claimed as his own. It’s a quarter past midnight. He’s more drunk than he’s been in a long time, and he’s only got about five hours to sober up enough to present tomorrow morning.

He slips out of his shoes just outside the kitchen, leaving them in a pile he’ll hopefully be able to find in the morning. He manages the stairs up to the second floor fine, but stumbles over nothing in the long hallway stretched before him. His destination is four doors down on the right, something his sober brain would have no trouble locating. He’s far from having a clear mind. The bourbon and the vodka are sloshing around in his belly, and he starts to doubt it was ever a good idea to mix them in the first place.

“Finally had enough of your own voice? It must be damn annoying being forced to listen to yourself all day. Dunno why you’ve subjected all of those nice people out there to it as well.”

The impish voice floats to his ears, and Luke staggers to a dead stop immediately. He’s standing in the doorway of the third door on the left-hand side of the hallway. It’s a guest room, but it isn’t the one for which he had been aiming. The greatest piece of evidence is Michael, grinning maliciously at him and standing shirtless near the ensuite bathroom. His pupils are blown, a testament to the alcohol that, too, is raging through his veins. He’s probably less drunk than Luke, as he eyes the vodka still clutched between Luke’s fingers with trepidation that isn’t shared between them.

“Could say the same about your face, too, sweetheart,” says Luke, and he doesn’t make it a habit to call Michael pet names. He doesn’t actually it a habit to call Michael anything except the occasional annoying bastard or snarky little shit. He’s certain that Michael’s names for him are just as flattering. Ashton won’t say, of course, but he’s pretty sure that the words asshole and fucking piece of shit are Michael-speak for Luke’s name.

“To hate it so much, you’re spending a long time staring at it now.”

Luke licks his lips and looks pointedly away from Michael’s face, not realizing he had in fact been staring until it was too late for his dignity. It’s not his fault, really. He’s drunk, and Michael is unfairly handsome, no matter how much Luke would wish otherwise. It’s just that sober-Luke never gets to fully appreciate Michael’s dashing good looks—the way the corners of his eyes crinkle whenever he’s trying so hard not to laugh, the way his pale collar bones peek out of the stretched-out t-shirts he favors so much, and the way his eyelashes flutter closed so slowly when he’s dead-beat tired but longing to stay awake a minute longer. Sober-Luke hates beautiful Michael, because beautiful Michael is all sharp-wit and vicious tongue and anti-Luke.

“Trying to resist the urge to punch it,” drunk-Luke tells Michael’s shoulder. It’s not really a smart place to look since Michael is shirtless. He’s a model, but he looks like the boy next door. Luke likes that in men. Apparently, when he’s drunk at least, he likes that on Michael even more. “Come to think of it, that’d probably be an improvement.”

“You’re so infuriating, did you know that?” asks Michael.

He’s no longer standing still. He crosses the room to Luke with purposeful strides, stopping just short of him. Luke has to look down to meet his eyes, and Michael has to tilt his head up. Luke feels like there’s something he’s missing, like he’s skipped an entire page in his favorite novel and doesn’t understand how the protagonist could be dying when they were just casually strolling through the marketplace.

“You’ve been telling me that for the past four years,” responds Luke.

His tongue seems to have a mind of its own, because his brain still can’t put two and two together to come up with a reason for Michael invading his personal space. This is probably the closest they’ve stood to each other since the day they met and were forced to shake each other’s hands as strangers who were so pitifully unaware of the tumultuous hatred ahead of them. This proximity doesn’t feel as odd as he would have otherwise expected. Michael’s breaths puff against Luke’s chin, and it smells like tequila and limes.

“Yeah, well, you haven’t quite gotten the message yet, have you?” demands Michael, and the next moment, he’s closing the last gap between them, and his lips are on Luke’s, and he’s kissing like there’s no tomorrow. It’s hot and heavy and wet, and Luke stands stock-still for a long moment until he gives into his own bodily desires. The bottle of birthday cake flavored vodka slips from his fingers. It falls to the padded carpet, spilling out across their feet. Neither man moves away from the mess, pressed tightly against one another as if they could become the same entity.

Michael moans low in his throat and pushes Luke against the doorframe without breaking the kiss. Luke’s not sure he didn’t finish the entire bottle of vodka and is rather experiencing the wildest, most unexpected alcohol-induced hallucination of his life. But Michael feels real underneath his touch when Luke moves his hands to cup Michael’s buttocks so that he can hoist the man into a better angle. Michael grinds against him. He’s a hard length against Luke’s own thickening cock.

There’s still a part of him that’s screaming in his mind, frantically, desperately searching for the true reality, hardly able to come to terms with the fact that Michael’s hard against him and that Michael’s kissing him like there’s no tomorrow. Michael reaches for Luke’s wrist and forcibly removes the attached hand from his buttocks. He presses it to the bulge of his hard dick underneath the confines of his jeans. Luke wraps his fingers around the outline, hardly in control of his own actions.

Michael’s still kissing his mouth, and Luke fumbles for the button and zipper of Michael’s jeans. He tugs the waistband of the hidden boxers down just enough that he can slip his hand inside and grasp Michael without anything separating them, skin to skin. Michael’s heavy in his hand, and the head of his cock is leaking precome. He breaks the kiss to drop his face to Luke’s neck, gasping against it. Luke tugs at the cock experimentally, his own pressed hard in its confines against Michael’s hip from the new angle. Michael moans, loud and deep and guttural in Luke’s ear.

Luke tugs once then twice and finally a third time, and that’s all it takes to send Michael spiraling over the edge. He comes all over Luke’s hand in a breathless grunt, lips pressed against Luke’s shoulder, teeth digging into the skin there. He shudders, full-bodied, a heavy weight in Luke’s hold. Then slowly, without preamble, he pushes himself off Luke, tucking his dick back into his jeans.

It’s awkward for a long stretch of seconds. Luke’s still unforgivingly hard in his pants, his dick leaking a stain into the stiff fabric. Michael’s gaze drifts down to it, and then it’s even more awkward. The frenzy of their sex is gone. Its climax mirrored Michael’s own. The carpet is squishy underneath Luke’s feet. The bottle of vodka is empty except for the tiny amount gathered behind the neck. Luke has the urge to throw it back right now, because this is a scene that only belongs in the bottom of the bottle.

Dead silence hangs between them. The air grows tense by the second, and Luke’s dick is still unfailingly hard. The thumping sound of drunk footsteps ramble up the stairs, floating into the room. Luke is suddenly aware that they never closed the door. Michael seems to realize this in the same instance.

Luke opens his mouth—to say what, he doesn’t know—but Michael’s a blur around him, leaving him stranded alone in the guest bedroom that’s not his with a hard-on that most certainly is. Ashton appears in the doorway next to him. He glances down at the bottle of vodka before his eyes drift up to Luke’s face. Luke knows he’s flushed, can feel it by the sweat beading along his forehead. He wipes Michael’s come off on his pant leg and tries to ignore the way Ashton’s eyes flash down to follow his movement.

“I get your love to try out new things, Lukey. I really do, but you’ve already professed your hatred for the morning sun that streams in through the bay window. You must’ve drunk more than I thought.”

Luke glances at the window in question and tries not to think about how handsome Michael had looked silhouetted against it just moments before, sharp and witty and exasperated in spite of everything. It feels like a lifetime ago already. Luke’s still hard in his jeans. When he finally makes it underneath the covers in his own proclaimed guest room, he thinks about jerking off to the memory of Michael coming undone all over him. It feels all wrong, though. Makes his skin crawl like he’s got no right to be privy to such a sight, so he doesn’t. He turns on his side and goes to sleep.