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“Yes, Cud? Was there something you wanted?”

Dressed in yet another of the suits he'd newly acquired and taken such a liking to, Cud stood at the door of their hotel room, fingers incessantly dancing along the hem of the hat he carried. His only response to Ben's question was to haphazardly glance around and shut the door behind himself before stepping forward, looking for all the world as if whatever he had to relay was a matter of life and death.

Sensing his discomfort, Ben immediately gestured at the bed. “Please, take a seat and tell me what's got you so troubled.”

Despite appearing even more disconcerted at the offer, Cud nonetheless made his way over to the bed and took a seat, eyes trailing Ben as he did the same. Once they were both seated, he opened his mouth as if to speak, then promptly shut it again and looked down at his hat instead.

“Cud,” Ben said, trying his best to keep a level voice. “What is it?”

His tone seemed to give Cud pause, as if the possibility that his behavior was becoming increasingly worrisome had only just occurred to him. Eyes widening, he hurriedly clarified, “No, no! Don't worry, it's nothing serious.”

Ben instantly relaxed. He'd doubted that it truly was, but the confirmation served to put him at ease all the same. Still, his curiosity was getting the better of him. “Why not tell me what it is then?” he prompted.

“Well...” Cud trailed off, staring at him for a few seconds. “It is serious. But not dangerous-serious! I... I hope not, at least.”

Certain that his own confusion was evident, Ben chose to remain silent and let his expression ask the necessary questions for him.

Cud somehow managed to maintain their eye contact despite his skittish demeanor. Bit by bit, he started speaking.

Ben avidly listened to him recount the events of the past few months, from their very first meeting to the present day, glossing over the deaths of his friends as best he could. He thanked Ben for having been present throughout the following weeks afterwards, for the comfort he'd provided and the quiet nights they'd shared— nights during which, though Cud liked to pretend otherwise, his emotions had most definitely brought him to shed a few tears.

“We've gotten pretty close and... You mean a great deal to me, Ben. More than you realize. Hell, more than I realized. But now I have. And I think, uh. I think maybe you've got an idea of what I mean...? You've got to, right?”

Cud rocked in place for a moment, staring at the hat in his hands as if deep in concentration. He abruptly straightened back up, a gleam of determination in his eyes as he met Ben's gaze dead-on.

“What I mean is... Ben, you mean more than anything to me. I've never cared about anyone as much as I care about you. I can't stand the thought of us going our separate ways someday. I used to think I could, but the more time goes by, the more I know it's no use. I don't know what I'd do without you, and if I had my way, I'd spend the rest of my days by your side. But...”

He cleared his throat and swallowed, voice taking on an oddly tender tone.

“That's not all I meant. When I say that I want to always be with you, I mean it in every possible sense. Our working relationship, our friendship, our...” A deep breath. “We could have more. We could have what men and women have. Not that I'm calling you a woman! Neither of us. It's just... That's the only way I can describe it, how I feel about you. What I want us to be. I'm sorry, I don't really know how this works, but I'm more than willing to learn... Ben?”

Ben's eyebrows rose even higher.

“I promise to do whatever it takes to make you happy. All I need is a chance.”

For a long time, there was only silence following Cud's speech. Neither of them made a move, Ben merely looking down at his lap but feeling Cud's eyes on him all the same. Despite the distraction, he thought deeply about how to phrase his reply.

He'd known what his answer was going to be as soon as the nature of Cud's proposal became clear. The problem was how to deliver it in the least hurtful way possible.

Ben was no stranger to how varied sexuality could be, and it wasn't that he found the idea repulsive, as so many others might. It wasn't an issue of there being something wrong with Cud either. As it was, Ben had his share of experience with men of all types, in countless combinations and varied roles. If all Cud was looking for was a night of fun now and again, Ben would be more than willing.

No, the issue was that Cud was clearly after much more than that, and for all that Ben had enjoyed his romps with men, he'd never once felt an ounce of romantic inclination towards them. On the other hand, he had entirely too many romantic feelings when it came to the fairer sex. Most times, he considered himself fortunate; it kept things easy. Other times, he wished his tastes were more universal.

This was one of the other times. Desperately so.

“Cud. I appreciate what you've told me, and I admire the courage behind it.”

He lifted a hand, intending to lay it on one of Cud's, before thinking better of it and pulling it back onto his lap.

“I know it can't have been easy to say all of that. I'm more honored than I can ever express.”

His tongue swiped across his suddenly dry lips as he forced himself to wipe away Cud's hope-filled expression once and for all.

“I'm afraid I can't reciprocate. And not for lack of trying. You're a wonderful man, Cud. If I had my way... But I can't. I'm sorry.”

The change in Cud's face was gradual. The hope gave way to brows furrowing in confusion, then a wavering smile, and finally his face went slack, the gleam of his eyes replaced by a muted dullness.

“Cud—”

“No, I understand. I absolutely understand. I'm— I— There's things I should go do.”

He was already halfway out of the room by the time his voice cracked. In a matter of seconds, he'd shut the door behind himself and was striding down the hall, leaving Ben alone and miserable.

It was dusk before Ben saw him again, though whether out of avoidance or sheer coincidence was debatable. Regardless, Ben watched him approach the hotel doors apprehensively, as if considering staying somewhere else altogether.

Stepping out to meet him, Ben glumly took note of the startled look the action evoked. “Please, Cud. Come inside, I want us to talk,” he implored, placing a reassuring hand on his arm.

Cud glanced down at the touch before silently nodding and following him back to their room. Once inside, he immediately put a few feet of distance between them.

Ben gave a disheartened sigh. Rather than try to close the gap, he walked to the bed and sat down, indicating the spot beside him. “Join me.”

Cud's downcast eyes moved back and forth between him and the spot for a few seconds. Then, with a look of resignation befitting a man walking towards the gallows, he stiffly approached and took a seat.

“Cud, look at me.”

He remained resolutely facing the wall.

Ben placed a hand at his shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze. “Cud.”

The only acknowledgment he received was a shake of the head before Cud turned entirely away.

Growing concerned with the unusually withdrawn behavior, Ben reached out his other hand to grab at Cud's opposite shoulder, turning him back around and not being able to help the sharp intake of breath at the realization that Cud was on the verge of crying.

“Oh, Cud.”

Moving past the alarm suddenly blossoming throughout his chest, Ben wound his arms around Cud and pressed their bodies together. He felt Cud tense beneath his hands, refusing to return the hug.

No matter.

Ben kept a firm hold on him, letting the seconds pass in silence until the tenseness suddenly gave way, leaving Cud as pliable as a rag doll. The tentative brush of fingers against his waist spurred Ben to tighten his hold, hoping it would encourage the touch.

At last, he felt Cud's arms wind their way around him, accompanied by a choked sob. Swallowing down the lump in his own throat, Ben brought a hand to the back of Cud's neck, gently rubbing it in the best attempt at comfort he could manage.

“It's okay, I'm still here...” he murmured.

Cud nuzzled against his shoulder and the sobs continued, leaving an increasingly wet patch in their wake. All the while, Ben carried on administering little rubs and squeezes, feeling irrational guilt over the situation they found themselves in.

Gradually, the noises began to die down, the occasional sniffle cropping up in their stead. Despite that, Ben's hands remained hard at work as he thought over how to address the current problem. After a few minutes of consideration, he carefully began, “I admit that I did find it rather odd, you siding with a stranger over your longtime friends. I shrugged it off as a moral choice at the time, but something about that explanation never seemed quite right.”

Another sniffle. Ben pressed on. “Going as far as you did? Not many would do that, regardless of moral convictions.” He pulled away slightly, meeting Cud's pained look with some effort. “I had no idea,” he added. “If I did anything to give you the wrong impression, I truly am sorry.”

Though Cud made no attempt to pull away and simply looked back down at his lap, Ben was determined to get his point across. He placed a hand on Cud's thigh, certain that it was within his field of vision. With Cud's attention inevitably on him, Ben stressed, “This will stay between us. I may not feel the same way, but I can understand it.”

His promise was met with resounding silence. Ben found himself cursing their incompatibility, lightly chewing his lip in frustration. Letting his sight drift down to his hand on Cud's lap, his thoughts were left free to wander.

He remembered their first meeting, the instant chemistry they'd shared. Looking back on it, Ben could see how Cud might have gotten his hopes up. Of course, it wasn't entirely his fault; Ben's own attitude had certainly been playful at the time, he realized with a grimace. Perhaps on some level, he really had been hoping Cud would take the bait. It would've been nothing but sex, some casual enjoyment of each other's bodies, and leave both satisfied for a decent amount of time— at which point they'd indulge again.

Ben's gaze hardened, eyeing his hand's proximity to Cud's nether regions. It was entirely possible that he'd misinterpreted the extent of what Cud wanted. Maybe his needs were simple, more easily dealt with than Ben was imagining. After all, it would be so easy to just...

Slide down...

Cud let out a soft gasp at the touch, flinching and grasping at Ben's waist again.

There was a pause where neither moved, both entranced by Ben's hand frozen in place between Cud's legs. They briefly met each other's eyes before Ben looked back down and gave a deliberately teasing squeeze, relishing the way Cud's breath hitched. Blood pounding in his ears, Ben rushed to free him from his confines, working through his clothes until his half-hard dick was within reach. Ben pulled it out into the open, taking a moment to fondle it with eager fingers.

There was nothing particularly notable about Cud's dick. Its size was proportional to what could be expected of him, and save for the fact that its head was ever so slightly on the smaller side, Ben would be unable to distinguish it from the vast majority of those he'd handled in the past. He gave it a couple strokes, feeling it harden as Cud's labored breaths filled the air. As soon as it began leaking, he swiped his fingers over the head and used the fluid as lubrication, deftly moving his hand up and down.

All the while, Cud's breaths increased in tempo. He slumped against Ben's shoulder, weakly pawing at his back and sporadically letting out muffled sighs and grunts.

Ben's trousers grew tighter as well, but he couldn't be bothered to tend to himself. Instead, he focused his attention entirely on the task at hand, all too aware that his initial assumptions may have been wrong. If this was what Cud wanted, all he wanted...

Ben could do it.

He could do it over and over and over again, keep Cud satisfied this way. And, with time, maybe in other ways too. He'd fuck Cud, be fucked by him, pleasure him in every conceivable way in the interest of keeping him happy.

He carried on stroking, barely registering the way his hand was steadily coated in fluids. The excess of lubrication only served to make his work easier, letting him frantically move his hand over Cud's throbbing dick, fingers lightly squeezing and teasing its head.

So wrapped up in his own frenzied motions, he hardly noticed Cud shifting against him, raising his head to nose at the side of Ben's face.

Ben...”

It wasn't until he felt Cud's lips nearing his own that the fantasy he'd created for himself fell to pieces. He tore his hand away and practically leapt from the bed. The hurt and confusion on Cud's face was plain as day, and Ben knew he'd only worsened the situation tenfold. At a loss for how to excuse himself, he helplessly stood in place, unable to think of any way to possibly fix his mistake. He took a step back towards the bed and Cud jumped to his feet. For a split-second, Ben wondered if he'd upset him enough to warrant a punch.

To his surprise, all Cud did was hurriedly right his clothes as he left the room, not quite shutting the door behind himself. His footsteps died away beyond the slightly ajar door, as if challenging Ben to follow.

But how could he? What could he even hope to fix?

Well...

There was only one way to find out.

He ran after Cud.