The first thing Raleigh registered when he woke up was his splitting headache. The second was the stranger lying next to him. The third was that he had no idea where he was.
The headache wasn't entirely unexpected — neither was the stranger, to be honest — and the combination of those two could explain his disorientation. More or less.
Raleigh usually knew better than to drink as much as he must have the previous night. Most of it was a colorful, chaotic blur that he couldn't make sense of, his memories fragmented or completely blank.
Raleigh sincerely hoped that there wouldn't be any incriminating photos circulating somewhere. Yancy would have a field day.
It took some effort, but Raleigh was able to focus his gaze on the bare shoulder in front of him. It was broad, muscled, and distinctly male, the smooth curve dotted with adorable freckles. If Raleigh had felt it safe to move, he would have reached out to trace them with his fingertips.
He frowned and glanced down at himself. He was fully dressed in his jeans and t-shirt — where his sweater was, he had no idea. The other guy was at least half naked, but Raleigh wasn't rude enough to peek under the covers to find out if he lacked clothes in all areas.
Despite waking up in the same bed, they clearly hadn't had sex. They might have tried, what with their relative state of undress, but there was no telltale stickiness or heady smell in the room.
Raleigh felt rather disappointed.
The headache was making his head pound and he let it fall back against the soft pillow. The bed was just shy of too narrow, Raleigh's back brushing against the wall with every breath he took. If he wanted to get out, he would have to climb over his bedmate and he wasn't entirely sure if he was coordinated enough to pull that off without causing a minor disaster.
It was surprisingly peaceful to lie there and listen to the other guy's calm, rhythmic breaths.
Sunlight was slanting in through the gaps in the blinds, leaving bright, golden lines along the wall. One was angled low enough to touch the top of his bedmate's head, making the auburn of his hair glow red.
Raleigh quite liked it.
He still had no idea who the guy was since he could only see the back of him, but Raleigh had to struggle not to lean closer. Hangovers always made him lethargic and lazy, and burying his nose against that freckled shoulder seemed like the best idea ever. But that would be terribly rude and invasive. He couldn't even call it morning-after cuddles since nothing had happened the night before.
Raleigh carefully reached for his pocket, trying to fish out his phone to check the time. He didn't mean for his movements to jostle his bedmate, but it was obvious that they must have when he heard a slurred mumble.
"Wha' time issit?"
Raleigh blinked stupidly before raising his phone close enough to his face that he could read it without feeling dizzy.
"Uh... just after nine," he replied, grimacing at how gravelly his voice sounded.
His bedmate twisted, looking over his shoulder at Raleigh. The bed was far too narrow and Raleigh ended up with a warm, muscular arm pressed against his chest, practically pinning him to the wall. The other guy was staring at Raleigh's face, gaze skating over his features.
Raleigh decided that he had every right in the world to stare back.
The guy looked quite handsome from this angle, too. Especially when he stopped squinting suspiciously and his face relaxed. There was something akin to a smile on his lips, his green eyes bright in the sunlit room.
"Hello." The low, smooth drawl made Raleigh's gut clench and something warm and molten started spreading through his veins.
He was definitely going to regret not having had sex with this guy. Not that he would have remembered a whole lot of it even if they had.
Then again, who said it was too late?
His bedmate tilted his head to the side, looking thoughtful. Raleigh found himself wondering how old the guy was.
"Did we have sex?"
The question was slightly slurred, to the point where Raleigh couldn't tell if the unusual melody was due to an accent or poor articulation.
"I don't think so?" Raleigh couldn't quite remember, but the evidence — or lack thereof — suggested that they hadn't. Not to mention that Raleigh wouldn't have missed an opportunity to leave a hickey or two on those freckled shoulders if he'd been given the chance.
"Huh." A brief pause ensued, followed by a wide, wicked smile. "That's a shame."
The guy flashed a pair of dimples, as if the words weren't enough to make Raleigh's heart give an excited jolt. Raleigh was inches from grabbing a hold of his bedmate's face and kissing him, foul morning breath and headache be damned.
There was definitely an accent in there somewhere, but Raleigh wasn't quite able to place it. He blamed his lack of brain activity on his hangover.
The guy angled his head to look at the room, his gaze flicking from one piece of furniture to the other, as if he was seeing them for the first time. That was a bit weird.
"Is this your place?" he asked.
Raleigh froze, blinking in surprise.
"Wait, what?" His eyes grew wide. "I thought it was yours."
Green eyes snapped back to Raleigh, a frown settling on that handsome face.
"It's not mine." The tone was measured, as if the guy thought that Raleigh was playing some kind of prank on him. The suspicion was back and Raleigh quite missed the dimples. "So, whose is it?"
"I don't know," Raleigh replied, feeling a cold lump of dread land in his gut.
They stared at each other for a brief but loaded second.
"Well, fuck," the guy hissed, which was a fairly good summary of the situation as a whole.
A second later, Raleigh's bedmate — Australian bedmate, if he wasn't mistaken — threw off the covers and stumbled to his feet. Raleigh wasn't sure if he was supposed to be relieved or disappointed that the guy was wearing a pair of jeans.
"Where the fuck is my shirt?" the guy snapped, glaring at Raleigh as if this was somehow his fault.
"How should I know?" Raleigh shot back, trying to keep his voice down.
They were alone in this room, but there was no telling what would await them on the other side of the door. The owner might call the cops and Raleigh suspected that getting shitfaced wasn't a very good line of defense when charged with breaking-and-entering.
Raleigh gingerly climbed out of the bed. The ground was fairly stable under his feet, which was a plus, but his headache was getting worse — not helped in the least by the situation they found themselves in. This was definitely not how he wanted to spend his morning.
He could understand the urgency, though, since the longer they stayed, the greater the odds were of them getting caught. That was something they would do well to avoid.
The Australian guy was muttering under his breath while he searched the room, supposedly for his missing shirt. Raleigh had to step out of the way to avoid an elbow to his gut. He was aiming for the door, but it was easier said than done to navigate around the other occupant in the room.
He stopped when he noticed that Mr. Australia had picked up a familiar-looking, dark blue sweater from the floor.
"Oh! That's mine," Raleigh said, snatching it from the guy's hands and completely ignoring the glare that earned him.
He was about to pull it on, but the frown on Mr. Australia's face made him pause. The guy looked beyond pissed.
"What?" Raleigh asked cautiously.
"What do you mean 'what'?" the guy snapped angrily. It was too loud to be called a whisper and Raleigh cringed, hoping no one had heard. Mr. Australia gestured toward his very naked chest. "I can't find my bloody shirt! Am I supposed to walk outside like this?"
Well, Raleigh wouldn't mind. Fact was, that seemed like a brilliant idea if you asked him, but he could tell that the answer wouldn't go over well. He glanced down at his sweater before holding it out to Mr. Australia.
"You can borrow it, if you want?" Raleigh figured that he'd be fine with just a t-shirt. With the sun shining, it might even feel like summer rather than early fall.
His offer was met with a look of contempt.
"Why would I want to borrow your ugly jumper?"
Raleigh gritted his teeth to keep himself from replying with something equally scathing. His headache was making him less tolerant than usual.
"Suit yourself," he said curtly. What an asshole.
Raleigh turned toward the door.
"Wait." Mr. Australia rolled his eyes, but sounded tired and defeated. Or maybe he was just as hung over as Raleigh. "Fine." He held out his hand. "I'd like to borrow it."
That was probably as close to an apology as he would get. Raleigh waited a beat before he handed over the sweater and had to hold back a smile once Mr. Australia pulled it on. The sweater wasn't Raleigh's thickest or biggest, but it still made the guy look younger than he had a minute ago. Not helped at all by the sleep-mussed hair and heavy-lidded look on his face.
It was actually kind of adorable.
"Stop grinning, mate, or I'll knock your bloody teeth out."
That was less adorable.
Raleigh pursed his lips.
"Is this the hangover talking or are you always this charming?" he asked dryly.
That earned him an amused snort and he barely had time to step out of the way when Mr. Australia pushed past him, heading for the door.
"Threats of violence come with the package, precious," was the snide reply. "Let's call it a morning-after bonus."
"Lucky me," Raleigh muttered under his breath.
Maybe it was a good thing they hadn't had sex after all. The guy was an absolute douche — not even a pretty face could make up for all of that rudeness.
He was right behind when Mr. Australia opened the door, though, wanting to get out before anyone thought of calling the cops. Raleigh's head was pounding and he was getting really sick of the taste at the back of his tongue, but he could prioritize. Escape first, hangover remedies later.
They didn't get more than a couple of steps past the threshold before Mr. Australia flinched backwards, accidentally stepping on Raleigh's toes. Neither of them were wearing shoes, but it still hurt a great deal.
"Ow! Watch where—"
Raleigh was interrupted by Mr. Australia, who whirled around and slapped a hand over his mouth. The guy looked pissed, but also urgent, gesturing toward the end of the short hallway, which opened up into a much larger room. Raleigh couldn't see much of it, except for a pair of feet on the armrest of a grey couch.
Mr. Australia leaned closer, until Raleigh could feel breaths tickle next to his ear. It was almost as distracting as having the guy's fingers against his lips.
"Be quiet," Mr. Australia whispered, still keeping his hand firmly over Raleigh's mouth. "I think they're asleep. Just find your shoes and bolt, okay?"
Raleigh nodded, despite how his heart was racing. There could be several reasons for that, but he had a feeling that most of them related to the man in front of him. They stood so close that Raleigh could feel the warmth of his skin.
Mr. Australia pulled back and gave Raleigh a warning glare before he lowered his hand. They stood like that for a couple of seconds, just staring at each other. Raleigh felt the tension build, but it wasn't a bad one.
As confusing as it was to wake up next to a stranger without remembering much of the previous night, feeling hung over and miserable, he couldn't deny that he was intrigued by this guy. He was clearly an asshole, with razor sharp edges and a temper to match, but the way he had smiled just when they had woken up — that was something else.
It was the kind of smile that Raleigh wouldn't mind waking up to for countless mornings to come.
"I'm Raleigh, by the way." The words slipped out before he realized how stupid they made him sound, but at least he remembered to keep his voice down.
"Really? Now?" Mr. Australian hissed under his breath.
Raleigh shrugged. There was nothing wrong with being polite. His attempts at an introduction earned him a dubious glare, followed by an eye roll.
Despite the exasperated tone, Raleigh smiled, happy to finally have a name on the guy he had woken up next to. Chuck seemed slightly taken aback, before he cleared his throat and hastily looked away.
"Shoes," he muttered sullenly, shooting Raleigh a glare that was a lot less forceful than Chuck had probably intended. The tips of his ears looked a bit red.
Raleigh gestured for Chuck to go ahead — while trying not to laugh — and followed as quietly as possible.
It turned out that four people were sleeping in the living room, sprawled across the furniture in more or less comfortable positions. Raleigh had no idea who they were — he had never seen them before in his life.
Not that he had seen Chuck before this, either, but it almost felt like he knew him by then. Never mind that it was roughly five minutes since they had made their mostly sober acquaintance.
A silent treasure hunt for their shoes followed, where they tried to tiptoe around the still sleeping people and remnants of an obviously wild party. Too bad Raleigh didn't remember much of it — or how on earth he had ended up in the apartment in the first place.
He remembered that Yancy had headed home early from the bar, being a responsible adult with a job he needed to show up for in the morning. But, after that, things got a tiny bit fuzzy. At some point, Raleigh must have met his new friends and been invited to their party and, somewhere along the way, sneaked off to fall asleep on a bed with a complete stranger.
Raleigh prayed that Yancy would never hear about this.
Chuck found one of his boots pretty quickly, but was frowning in frustration when he couldn't seem to locate the second one. Raleigh snatched one of his shoes from the rack by the door, logically enough, but Chuck had to dig out the other from under a sleeping woman's head — which seemed a whole lot less logical. The fact that she slept through the whole thing was even more of a surprise.
Raleigh smiled in thanks when Chuck handed over his shoe, and pointed to the corner where he had spotted the top of what could be the matching boot to the one Chuck was holding.
Putting on your shoes while being horribly hung over was always an adventure and Raleigh had to brace his hand against the wall not to lose his balance. He jumped in surprise when Chuck walked past and his hand brushed against Raleigh's shoulder. The touch was fleeting, but still firm enough to cause a delighted shiver. Raleigh couldn't quite figure out if the touch meant something or if it was just a reflex on Chuck's part.
The thought was quickly pushed aside in favor of following after Chuck, who didn't actually bother to tie his boots before he headed for the front door. Raleigh felt like a lost puppy, latching on to the first person he could find who was more decisive than he was. Maybe he could blame that, too, on the hangover.
Raleigh threw a quick glance over his shoulder as he slipped out the door but, from what he could tell, the people in the living room hadn't noticed a thing. He still made sure to close the door as carefully as possible, not wanting to wake them.
When he looked up, Chuck was nowhere in sight, but Raleigh could hear the echo of his footsteps disappearing down the stairs. Raleigh felt a sudden jolt of what was embarrassingly close to alarm.
He didn't want Chuck to leave without him.
Maybe Raleigh could blame his unease on wanting to get his sweater back at some point in the future, but it honestly had nothing to do with that. He didn't want them to go their separate ways without at least saying goodbye.
Raleigh knew how foolish that was — they didn't actually know each other and the guy was an ass — but he felt strangely attached to him. So, he hurried down the stairs, ignoring how the world seemed to tilt on its axis when he took one of the turns too quickly.
He was almost blinded when he stepped into the sunlight outside the apartment building and had to come to a screeching halt to avoid bumping into Chuck, who stood on the sidewalk. Raleigh's sense of balance caught up with him with a vengeance and he swayed dangerously, until a broad, steadying hand landed against his chest.
"Whoa there, mate. Take it is easy, will ya?" There was more concern than annoyance in Chuck's tone and Raleigh felt a brief flare of delight at that.
"Yeah. Sorry." Raleigh swallowed down the swirl of nausea. "Moved too fast, that's all."
His gaze found Chuck's face, his stomach fluttering at the crooked smile he was rewarded with. Chuck let out a huff that could have been intended as a laugh.
"A hangover will do that to you, yeah." Chuck patted Raleigh's chest. "You need to be careful, precious. Can't have you running out onto the road, can we?"
Raleigh had a hard time determining whether Chuck's words were patronizing or just teasing. There was a very fine line and it wasn't made any easier to distinguish the difference when Chuck's hand lingered on Raleigh's chest. His t-shirt was just a flimsy piece of fabric between them and Raleigh could feel the warmth of Chuck's palm like a brand on his skin.
In return, Chuck could probably feel Raleigh's heartbeat, thumping away against his fingertips.
Like last time, Chuck was the first to avert his gaze, which was a bit of a surprise considering how confrontational the guy was. Now he looked almost bashful, especially when wearing a big, soft sweater that smoothed out the broadness of his shoulders.
"Fuck, I need coffee so bad," Chuck muttered, low enough that Raleigh probably wasn't supposed to hear it. "Or maybe a lobotomy."
"Or maybe just some painkillers," Raleigh suggested.
Chuck shot him a disgruntled look while patting his pockets but whatever he found — or didn't find — made him lose interest in Raleigh pretty quickly.
"Bloody hell!" Chuck growled, looking up at the building, squinting against the sunlight.
"I can't find my fucking wallet. I must have left it in there." Chuck nodded upward, indicating the apartment they had just left.
"You've got to be joking." Raleigh shook his head. "You can't go back in there."
Chuck bristled. "I need my wallet, Ray. I've got money, cards — heck, my driver's license — in there."
"I get that," Raleigh replied, "but I'm saying that you literally can't go back."
At Chuck's affronted look, Raleigh took the two steps back to the door and tugged, only to find it locked — just as he had expected.
"I don't know about you, but I don't exactly have a key," he said, mostly just to be annoying.
So sue him.
Chuck pressed his lips into a thin line before hissing something under his breath that was probably another insult or a curse — maybe both. Chuck ran a frustrated hand through his hair and Raleigh watched, feeling a sting of sympathy. That had been mean of him. He would have been pretty pissed and worried, too, if he had lost his wallet.
"Hey, let me buy you some coffee, okay?" It was a small gesture in the great scheme of things, but at least it was something.
Raleigh's offer was met with confusion this time.
"We didn't actually have sex, you know," Chuck pointed out. "You don't have to buy me breakfast."
"I'm offering to buy you coffee, not breakfast."
Chuck's eyes narrowed. "What's the difference?"
"I don't know." Raleigh shrugged. "And I'm not sure if I care. Do you want coffee or not?"
Chuck seemed to hesitate, clearly weighing the pros and cons. If he wanted his wallet back, he would have to find a way back inside the apartment but — if Chuck was feeling the previous night as much as Raleigh did — he probably wanted to wait an hour or two before attempting that. They weren't exactly in tiptop shape.
Eventually, Chuck sighed and nodded, his shoulders slumping. He looked pretty tired, which Raleigh didn't blame him for at all.
"Yeah, sure. Don't ask me where the fuck you can get some around here, though." Chuck looked around, a displeased frown on his face. "I'm not sure if I've ever been here before."
"This way," Raleigh said with a smile. He had a vague idea of where they were but, if all else failed, it couldn't be that difficult to find a Starbucks. It was usually the other way around.
Neither of them was up for making small talk, so they walked in silence. Raleigh didn't mind. His head was still pounding and, while the dizziness had settled, he was far from his usual, cheerful self. Coffee wouldn't be nearly enough to combat his hangover, but it was a start.
Chuck pulled out his phone after a couple of minutes, frowning at whatever he read on its screen. Raleigh gave him a brief glance but left him to it, figuring that it was none of his business.
He pushed his hands into his pocket, brushing against his own phone, but he didn't want to look at it just yet. Yancy was probably waiting for an opportunity to tease him for getting drunk off his ass and Raleigh wasn't prepared to face that until after he had gotten some coffee.
Raleigh shivered slightly, glancing disinterestedly at the people they passed on the street. It would be wrong to call it chilly — not with the sun out — but, in his hung over state, even a gentle breeze felt a lot worse than it actually was.
"Huh." Chuck's eyebrows rose in surprise.
"What?" Raleigh asked, holding back his urge to bump against Chuck's shoulder, just because he could. He wasn't twelve, for heaven's sake.
Chuck glanced up, smiling crookedly.
"False alarm. A friend of mine has my wallet." He started typing out what Raleigh assumed was a reply to a text he had gotten. "He says I dropped it at the bar we were at."
"That's good, right? Better than leaving it in that apartment."
"Yeah, no." Chuck shook his head, but he was still smiling. "I think his brother pickpocketed it so that his other brother could buy them all drinks on me."
"I... see." Raleigh didn't. Had one of Chuck's friends just stolen his wallet? Was that a good thing? "How many brothers does he have, exactly?"
"Two," Chuck replied distractedly, before pushing send and pocketing his phone. "They're triplets."
Raleigh wasn't sure what to reply to that so he let the subject go, instead focusing on locating coffee.
As expected, they ended up at the closest Starbucks, only for Chuck to stare at the menu with something close to disdain. Or maybe it was frustration — it was difficult to tell when he was frowning like that.
"Just get me a regular black coffee, okay?" Chuck muttered after a second. "I'll find a table."
It was on the tip of Raleigh's tongue to ask what size, but he had a feeling that would only be met with contempt rather than an answer.
A couple of minutes later, Raleigh put two coffees and a water bottle on the table Chuck had chosen before sliding into the opposite seat. The sun didn't quite reach them where they sat — for which Raleigh was grateful, since the glare would only have made his headache worse — but it was still close enough to the windows that he could easily see the people passing outside.
Raleigh was surprised that Chuck hadn't asked to get his coffee to go, since getting a table suggested that he wanted to stay in Raleigh's company. Not that Raleigh minded.
"Thanks, mate," Chuck mumbled, doing a couple of swipes on his phone with one hand while pulling his coffee closer with the other.
Chuck had pushed the sleeves of the sweater up to his elbows and Raleigh tried not to get too fascinated by his bare forearms. They had a nice curve to them and Raleigh wondered what it would feel like to run his fingers along that patch of skin.
"You're welcome." Raleigh felt a teasing smile spread on his lips. "You look like you need it."
Chuck looked up from his phone, his gaze challenging.
"You don't exactly look so chipper yourself, Ray," Chuck drawled, carefully placing his phone on the tabletop. It was such a simple act, but looked surprisingly defiant — and might have made Raleigh's heart miss a beat.
"It's Raleigh," he corrected, keeping his voice level.
There was a flicker of amusement before Chuck shrugged nonchalantly.
"I'm sure it is."
Raleigh frowned. "Don't call me Ray. My name is Raleigh."
"I'm hung over," Chuck replied, leaning forward to brace his elbows against the table. "Too many syllables."
"You can say syllables but not Raleigh?" He wasn't sure if he was supposed to feel exasperated or amused and eventually landed somewhere in between. Chuck's cheeky grin tipped him closer to amused, though, for how it left a warm and pleasant hum in Raleigh's chest. "You are such a dick," he pointed out.
Chuck snorted on a laugh. He snatched the water bottle before Raleigh could, uncapping it and taking a couple of mouthfuls before pushing it back across the table. Raleigh wanted to feel insulted at Chuck's rudeness, but rehydration was key when hung over and Raleigh was far too soft and caring to deny Chuck that.
"Twenty minutes ago, you were dying to see my cock, precious," Chuck shot back.
The business man sitting at the table next to theirs was obviously eavesdropping, judging by the scandalized look on his face. Not that Chuck seemed to care — he was too busy looking smug.
Raleigh tilted his head to the side while Chuck took a sip from his cup.
"Well, I can't say that I really stopped," Raleigh said calmly.
Chuck promptly choked on the coffee.
The spluttering flowed seamlessly into a laugh and Raleigh felt his heart skip a beat. He could easily fall in love with someone who looked like that when they laughed. It wasn't just the dimples, but the way Chuck's face lit up, eyes crinkling at the corners, and how the guarded stiffness melted away.
He looked nothing short of breathtaking when he laughed.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Chuck replied eventually, still chuckling softly.
Raleigh's smile was maybe a bit softer than he had intended.
Chuck just stared at him for a second before he seemed to catch himself and quickly looked away. He busied himself with his coffee cup instead, but Raleigh didn't miss how Chuck's cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink.
That was just adorable. For all his brashness, Chuck was obviously awkward and almost shy when it came to the softer side of things.
Raleigh couldn't help wondering if he had kissed Chuck last night. He had no memory of it, so, even if he had, he wouldn't know what that felt like or what Chuck tasted like. Raleigh really wished he did.
Lifting the water bottle to his lips and taking a couple of sips was possibly the closest he'd ever get to kissing Chuck, depending on how things unfolded. That left Raleigh feeling both disappointed and frustrated.
It was mostly to keep himself from saying something stupid that Raleigh pulled out his phone. He could only postpone talking to Yancy for so long, so, after having pushed the water bottle to the side and swallowed a couple of sips of his coffee, he typed out a quick text to his brother.
'You got to work okay?'
He barely had time to look away from his phone before a reply came in.
'Small talk won't save you'
Raleigh froze with his coffee halfway to his lips. Yancy knew? Were there pictures after all?
Another text arrived before he had as much as a chance to reply.
'So when will I get meet my new brother-in-law?'
Raleigh put his coffee down so quickly he almost tipped it over, earning himself a confused look from Chuck.
He felt a nudge under the table but ignored it. Raleigh was too busy trying not to let his heart jump up out of his throat to look at Chuck.
It took ages for Yancy's reply to arrive.
'You texted me last night saying you proposed to some dude and he said yes'
Raleigh stared at the pixelated letters on the screen, trying to make sense of them in a way that wouldn't mean that he had gotten engaged while roaring drunk. Possibly to Chuck.
Well, that last bit wasn't so bad, if you overlooked the fact that they didn't know each other and Chuck was an annoying asshole.
Raleigh was just about to demand proof when his phone buzzed again.
'Just scroll up and read the messages Rals'
Right. Sometimes, it was scary just how well Yancy knew him.
It was with a growing sense of dread that Raleigh started scrolling upward, reading his own excited texts. The mere fact that he had drunk-texted Yancy was mortifying enough — the content made him want to migrate to Europe and never speak to another person again.
There was a picture somewhere in the middle of all the texts, proclaiming his undying love for this guy he just met and, yeah, that was Chuck alright. Who apparently was Raleigh's new fiancé, as per their mutual agreement.
The picture itself actually wasn't that bad since neither of them looked as drunk as they had to have been. Raleigh was propped up against Chuck with his head resting comfortably on Chuck's shoulder, as if he had done this a hundred times before. Both were smiling at the camera. Raleigh looked happy and relaxed and, while Chuck's smile had a definite hint of amusement, the arm he had snaked around Raleigh's chest left no doubt about the casual intimacy they shared.
They looked like a real couple, familiar and at ease in each other's personal space.
As if on a cue, another text from Yancy dropped in.
'I'm still not sure if you have my blessing but I gotta say that you look surprisingly happy together'
Raleigh swallowed, once again ignoring Chuck's boot nudging against his shin. He was too busy typing out a reply.
'You mean for having met and gotten engaged on the same night?'
When he finally looked up, Chuck was glaring at him, but he looked more concerned than angry.
"What?" Chuck demanded. "Did something happen?"
Raleigh felt a laugh build in his throat but he pushed it back, knowing that if he let it out, he would sound mildly hysterical.
"You could say that," he replied faintly.
He glanced at his phone when it buzzed.
'I guess you should be glad we don't live in Vegas'
Raleigh could practically hear Yancy's teasing tone. He placed his phone on the table in a childish attempt at payback, refusing to reply.
Not to mention that Chuck was growing increasingly impatient from being ignored.
"What happened, Raleigh?"
The triumph of having Chuck say his name was short-lived since Raleigh realized that he should probably let Chuck know that they were engaged. Did it even count if you were shitfaced when proposing? If it did, Raleigh supposed it should still be fairly easy to break the engagement.
"We got engaged," he blurted out, wincing at his own bluntness.
Chuck looked understandably shocked.
Raleigh picked up his phone again, scrolling through his messages until he found those that proclaimed their engagement, a couple of texts above the picture of the two of them. Raleigh felt a lump in his throat, just glancing at that photo.
Yancy was right — they looked surprisingly happy.
Was that just because they had been drunk? Or was that happiness something Raleigh could have on a daily basis, when they were sober?
Chuck's eyes widened as he scrolled through the messages and Raleigh could tell that he stopped to stare at the picture. The silence between them was heavy and uncomfortable, and the fact that they were in public didn't exactly help matters.
Raleigh was relieved to notice that the snooping business man had left, at least.
"Is that even legal?"
Chuck's question made Raleigh flinch back to the present. It took a second before his brain was able to process the words.
"Uh... yeah. Same-sex marriage is legal in this state." Raleigh looked down at his phone, still cradled in Chuck's hands. "As for drunken proposals, well, I'm not sure."
The silence settled again. People around them were talking and laughing, and, even if the room wasn't crowded by any means, the noise was grating on Raleigh's nerves. His headache was more vicious than ever and a sense of nausea was building. He suspected that had nothing to do with his hangover this time.
"You actually proposed to me." It was difficult to determine if Chuck was upset or not. His voice sounded suspiciously flat, but, from what little Raleigh could see of Chuck's expression, he seemed shocked rather than angry.
Something else was growing underneath the surprise, but Raleigh couldn't quite identify the emotion.
"And you said yes."
The words weren't meant to sound like an accusation and it didn't occur to Raleigh that they must have until he saw Chuck's expression close off. Chuck placed Raleigh's phone on the table before pushing it to him, as if he didn't want to risk touching Raleigh by handing it over.
"Yeah, guess I did." Chuck met Raleigh's gaze, but those green eyes of his looked cold and distant now. "But it's not like it's an actually marriage with paperwork and shit. If we say it's broken, it's broken."
Raleigh's instinctive reaction was to refuse. Not just because he was pretty drawn to Chuck, asshole or not, but because the anger he saw in Chuck was the complete opposite of what he had shown a mere second ago.
Chuck had looked happy.
A little confused, sure, but still excited — awed.
"No big deal, mate." Chuck shrugged and looked out through the window. Raleigh got the distinct impression that Chuck was trying to avoid eye contact. "It was a silly thing we did when drunk. So, let's just call it off."
"I don't want to."
The silence was stunned this time and briefer than the others.
"What?" Chuck asked incredulously, but at least he was looking at Raleigh now. His expression was a mix of disbelief and condescension, but it was better than nothing, Raleigh supposed. "Are you nuts? You can't seriously think it's a good idea to stick with a decision we made when we were wasted."
"That's not what I'm saying." Raleigh leaned forward, catching and holding Chuck's gaze. "But I wouldn't mind to at least take you out to dinner before I decide."
"We don't even know each other!" Chuck exclaimed, raising his voice a bit higher than strictly necessary.
"I know," Raleigh replied calmly, "which is why I'm asking for an opportunity to actually get to know you."
That seemed to give Chuck pause, but the frown that settled on his face didn't look very promising.
"You won't like it."
Chuck rolled his eyes.
"Fine! Me. You won't like me, okay?" He looked angry, but there was a flicker or something else underneath — something small and vulnerable that made Raleigh's heart ache.
Raleigh licked his lips. It was true that he didn't know Chuck all that well, but he could tell that he had to be careful with what he said next. Chuck's shoulders were tense, as if he was just waiting for a blow, be it verbal or otherwise.
"Can't I be the judge of that?" Raleigh asked carefully, voice soft.
Chuck grimaced before leaning back and crossing his arms defensively over his chest. He looked uncomfortable and surprisingly nervous for someone so confident and forceful. But maybe he was a lot softer underneath all the bravado.
"How old are you?" Raleigh found himself asking, catching them both by surprise.
Chuck hesitated, but eventually replied, even if it was with a hint of defiance. "Twenty-one."
Raleigh felt an involuntary jolt in chest. Chuck was a lot younger than he looked and certainly younger than he acted. No wonder there were still hints of insecurities behind that temper.
It got a little difficult to breathe all of a sudden, but Raleigh cleared his throat and forced himself to keep going.
"I'm twenty-five. Soon twenty-six." His smile was a little shaky around the edges, but he gave it a valiant attempt. "And what I'm saying isn't that we necessarily have to keep the engagement. I'm just trying to make you realize that I want to keep seeing you."
Chuck twisted awkwardly. He looked so much younger and more vulnerable than ever before, and Raleigh felt a tug of protectiveness.
"Why?" Chuck demanded, clearly trying to hide his insecurities behind fierceness.
Raleigh's smile grew stronger.
"Why not?" He held up a hand to stay Chuck's protest. "I know you're an ass. It's difficult not to notice, okay? But you're also interesting." Raleigh shrugged, allowing a teasing grin to spread on his lips. "Besides, you still haven't shown me your dick."
Chuck burst out laughing, even if he was clearly trying not to. He got it under control admirably quickly, but had to clear his throat to get his voice to level out.
"That's... you're fucking unbelievable." Chuck was smiling, though, and Raleigh decided that had to be a win in his favor.
"Maybe I am," he agreed, tilting his head to the side, "but you still haven't answered my question."
Chuck swallowed, but he looked more grounded now. "Which one?"
There were several that Raleigh wanted answered, to be honest, but only one that could really lead to him getting more opportunities to ask.
"Go to dinner with me?"
Chuck took a slow, deep breath, his gaze flickering toward the sunlit street outside. Raleigh waited patiently, even if his heart was racing inside his chest.
He had no idea what he was doing. Yancy was never going to let him live this down. First and foremost for proposing to a random stranger, and then for deciding that continuing to court said stranger was the best course of action.
He couldn't say why he wanted to. Maybe it was because of how Chuck had smiled back when they were lying pressed together in that bed, or the way he was confident and determined, despite the softer hints of awkwardness and shyness. There were so many facets that Raleigh had yet to see and he would hate not getting the chance to do so.
Raleigh's face cracked up into a wide, happy smile.
Chuck rolled his eyes, but a smile was building on his lips as well.
"Yeah, really." His eyes were sparkling with amusement as he leaned forward, bringing them closer to each other.
Raleigh felt the tension return, building low in his gut and sneaking up along his spine. His skin tingled. Chuck's smile was crooked.
"Can't disappoint my fiancé, can I, precious?"
"That would be terribly insensitive of you," Raleigh agreed, knowing that he had to be looking like a fool by then, grinning widely.
Chuck didn't seem to mind.
Despite their respective hangovers, they appeared to be pretty happy with the situation. The atmosphere wasn't quite as effortless as what had been caught on that snapshot from last night, but it had the potential to get there. Raleigh could feel it in his bones and in the way his stomach fluttered with nerves and anticipation.
This was something else — something worth pursuing. The blissful happiness and comforting familiarity from last night had to be more than just them being drunk. Raleigh refused to believe anything else.
This could become so much more.
He was absolutely right.
When Raleigh proposed again two years later, they were both stone cold sober and knew each other better than they sometimes knew themselves.
Chuck said yes that time, too.