A Good Idea

by Lady Memphremagog

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/200928.html)

It was the last week of spring classes and Xander would have sworn he was too tired to keep his eyes open, much less stare at the stranger across the way from him in the subway car. At first, he told himself it was just the man’s hair that had caught his attention—it was the kind of bright, fiery auburn that looked fake everywhere outside of Scotland, except that the color was too nuanced for it to be from anything as simple as a bottle. Then the man noticed he was being stared at and Xander looked up and away, pretending he was concentrating on the advertisement for Dr. Zizmor’s dermatological miracles. He read the sign mindlessly, too busy pondering the emerald green of the man’s eyes to bother paying any more attention to the words than was necessary to find the obligatory grammatical mistake in the signage.

God, those eyes. They were deep and pure and greener than a Saint Patrick’s Day tee shirt and, Xander realized with a disturbing jolt, they felt familiar. He’d seen them before, or he thought he had. They tugged at something in his brain, something he wanted to catch hold of and hang on to even as it slid away like spaghetti off a fork.

Xander looked back at the man, who had risen to his feet and was swaying his way towards the door. He had work to do, tests to grade, an article for a conference he was supposed to attend and, besides, he wasn’t the kind of guy who followed strangers just because they had fascinating eyes.

His feet, apparently, had missed that memo, and Xander found himself hurrying along behind a man who was, among other things, a good six inches taller than Xander, not to mention significantly broader in the shoulder. If fate was kind, the man would not turn around.

It was not Xander’s day—the man turned the corner and, presumably catching sight of Xander from the corner of his eye, stopped.

“Hi,” said Xander, with all the nervousness of one of his students coming to explain why their homework was not only late, but also incomplete. “I… you look familiar. Do I know you?”

Well, they certainly weren’t going to award him any points for style, but at least he’d have his question answered.

“No idea,” said the man, suddenly looking a lot less skeptical. Xander made a mental note—acting like you knew someone wasn’t a bad way to get to know someone. “I’m Malcolm Douglas.” He held out his hand.

“What, no last name?” Xander thought, then blushed as he realized his mouth had moved and the words had come out.

Thankfully, the man laughed. “I’ve never seen a need for one. So who are you?”

“Xander Hollister,” and he shook the proffered hand. “Nice to meet you. Or re-meet you.”

Xander wasn’t entirely sure how he ended up in a bar on Columbus Avenue, talking to a man that all evidence suggested he’d never seen before in his life as if they had been best friends for years. Malcolm was a lawyer, his mother was Scottish, yes he could speak with the accent, but he only would when he was completely sloshed, and Xander was considering the advisability of testing that theory when, once again, the Universe proved that this was really just not his day.

“Damn,” Malcolm said, standing up suddenly and nearly making Xander spill the Guinness he was nursing. “I have a date tonight that I’m going to be late for.”

“Oh,” said Xander and then kicked himself for sounding like he had any right to be let down. “Have fun!”

“Thanks.” Malcolm dug a business card out of his pocket and dropped it in front of Xander. “Let’s try and keep in touch this time, shall we?”

Then he was gone, leaving Xander with the memory of green eyes and disappointed hopes though, thankfully, not the tab.

Malcolm was true to his word. They met up again a week later, when Xander was so swamped with his end-of-the-semester grading that he either needed to shoot himself or get out of the apartment. The date, Xander found out, had gone surprisingly well. The guy (and, yes, it was a guy) was named James and he was sweet and kinda shy and Malcolm had high hopes for tomorrow, when he would see the man again. Xander decided he was going to be the supportive friend here, because Malcolm clearly seemed to feel that same I’ve-known-you-for-years thing that Xander himself did and, besides, the man was nearly forty and had had his previous boyfriend for fifteen years, before the relationship had dissolved in the nasty, brutish and short way that things do when one’s partner wakes one up in the morning to announce “You know, I don’t think I love you anymore. I don’t even think I like you.”

Xander winced at hearing that story and made appropriate comments like “What an asshole” and “That sucks” when necessary and told himself that he was way too young and inexperienced to date Malcolm even if the man were to be single, which he wasn’t at the moment. So they were going to just be friends.

To Xander’s shock, his plan of being friends worked. It shouldn’t have; Malcolm was fifteen years older than Xander and couldn’t care less about Anthropology (which was only the field in which Xander was pursuing his Ph.D.) while Xander still thought lawyers were only one evolutionary step above pond scum. Yet there they were, going out every Thursday night for dinner and drinks and, each time, Xander would mind less and less that things were going great with Jamie (as Malcolm now had permission to call him) and just enjoy having a best friend, if you was allowed to call someone that if you weren’t a squealing teenage girl.

The puzzle of his eyes remained and Xander would occasionally wonder just what it was that had drawn him to the other man, but more often than not, it was eclipsed by the more pressing problem of how to tell Malcolm that he loathed the taste of Scotch.

As is the way of such things, the eye conundrum solved itself while Xander was working on different ways to say “I hate your nation’s alcohol”. He had gotten to their usual pub before Malcolm, which was odd, and had just ordered a rum and coke when Malcolm walked in the door with the love of Xander’s life right behind him.

It wasn’t love at first sight, because Xander was sure he remembered the other man, though, he had to concede, the memory might just have been of a particularly good teenage wet dream. The second he laid eyes on that dark, blond head, that freckled nose, those long thin fingers and those deep green eyes that immediately proclaimed him a relative of Malcolm’s, Xander felt as though he was seeing an old lover again, someone who he hadn’t seen in years, but whose image was permanently imprinted on his brain and just waiting to be recalled when needed. That, at least, explained the familiarity of Malcolm’s eyes; they were merely reminding (or preminding him?) him of this man.

And didn’t that just scare the ever-loving shit out of him, that staring at this stranger made him long for the man to curl those fingers in his own hair and kiss him.

Xander turned absolutely scarlet and held up the menu in front of his face. He knew he had never encountered this man in all his twenty-four years on this earth and, yet, there he was in Xander’s head, purring in a voice like silken honey and inviting Xander to spread his legs, which was ridiculous, because there was nothing in the way the man looked or carried himself to suggest he would be remotely interested in such a scenario.

And here he’d thought he couldn’t feel any worse.

His appalling reverie was interrupted when he felt a tug on the menu and let it fall to see Malcolm looking worriedly at him.

“Is everything alright? You look a bit peaky.”

“I’m fine,” Xander lied immediately. “It’s just been a… well, a day.”

“I hear that,” said the newcomer. “I’ve had a day as well.”

“Yes, that’s why you’re here, remember? To get smashed.” Malcolm grinned at his brother. “Xander, this is my brother Ben. Ben, this is Xander, the lifelong best friend I met this year.”

“My pleasure,” said Ben, extending his hand, and didn’t that prospect just make Xander’s cock jump and say “yes, please!”

“Likewise,” answered Xander, managing to sound only moderately strangled.

“I’m going to go get a drink,” said Ben. “You want anything?”

“G&T,” answered Malcolm, while Xander shook his head.

“I already ordered,” he explained and entirely failed to look away from Ben’s ass as the man walked to the bar.

“I should mention,” said Malcolm in a low and, damnit, amused voice, “That Ben’s completely straight.”

“I know,” Xander sighed and, at Malcolm’s quizzical look, explained, “Anyone with halfway decent gaydar would.”

“And he’s twice your age.”

“I kn–” Xander began, then caught himself as he realized that, no, he hadn’t known. Well, this is was just the icing on the fucking cake, wasn’t it. “He doesn’t look it.”

“And you shouldn’t be looking.”

“In the immortal words of the Boss, ‘You can look, but you better not touch’.” Because, really, what else was there to say to get out of a conversation like that?

Malcolm laughed and, by the time the waitress came by with Xander’s drink, he felt as though he might be able to get through the meal as long as Ben didn’t actually talk to him.

Staving off all that repressed longing had its downsides though, and Xander walked into his shoebox sized studio and headed straight for the bed, his fingers fumbling with the buttons on his pants as he went. He practically fell back onto the mattress, one hand shoved into his boxers and rubbing his cock while the other traced its way up his stomach and tugged at his nipple. He bit his lip and moaned Ben’s name as images of the older man danced through his head. He shut his eyes, imagining Ben’s lips on his own, Ben’s tongue pushing into his mouth, Ben’s fingers twisting cruelly, wonderfully at his nipple and Ben’s large, warm hand wrapped tightly around his cock, pulling him in a frenetic rhythm as Xander begged for more.

He came with a shout, come spilling all over his hand and boxers. Still flushed from exertion and a little bit of shame, Xander cleaned himself off and sat down at his computer, determined to discover who exactly Benjamin Douglas was.

It was not an entirely easy game to play, Xander had to concede, after Malcolm’s Facebook page entirely failed to turn up any information on his brother other than that the man existed and his birthday was in April. A bit more digging led Xander to the inevitable realization that he probably should stop; Ben had two kids, one of whom was a senior in college out in California and the other of whom was working in Philadelphia and already married. And older than he was.

Xander banged his head gently against the keyboard on the off-chance that he might be able to kill the brain cells responsible for this sudden descent into madness. Sure, he’d fallen in love before, but that had at least taken some time. This was like opening his eyes and realizing he’d been at the bottom of love without even remembering the fall.

The problem with the internet, Xander observed after two hours had gone by and he was still sitting there, reading up on the specialty running store that Ben owned and operated (which went a long way to explaining the appeal of those long legs and taut ass) was that there were pages of useless crap like his opinion on the best kind of trainers, but fuck-all about whether he’d ever had feelings for another man or would consider experimenting if his co-researcher was short, grey eyed and named Alexander Preston Hollister.

He did stop, eventually, once he ran across a small article in a small, suburban paper that was digitizing it archives (for no apparent reason) about the hit-and-run accident that killed Laura Adams Douglas fifteen years ago and why street-lamps should be mandatory on all streets, even residential ones.

There was nothing like running across one’s crush’s dead wife to put a damper on research. Finding out a few things, like his job, was de rigueur in this day and age, but there was a line where one was supposed to stop and Xander was positive that past (and specifically passed on) spouses were over it.

Did it mean something that Ben had never married again? Was he pining? That depended on whether he’d dated since then.

No, Xander swore at himself, he was done with the computer for tonight. He was done with anything that wasn’t a long shower and unconsciousness.

There was an old truism that everything would look better in the morning. It didn’t. There was another old truism that everything looked better when seen through the bottom of a glass and that, at least, was one that Xander was more than willing to explore. He went out with some of the other graduates in his department, three of whom had just had the horrifying experience of grading their first papers, and proceeded to get totally and utterly smashed. He was even too drunk to go home with a random stranger, which was for the best, because it would be unfair to ask anyone to hold his head while he clung to the toilet until the wee hours of the morning.

He felt like hell on toast the next morning but, by Saturday afternoon, he was amazed to find that he was more or less feeling okay. Sure, lady fortune had just screwed him over rather beautifully, but it’s not like anything was all that different. Ben was no more unavailable now than he had been. Xander had been head over heels in love before; he could live with it and wait for it to pass.

Thankfully, Malcolm didn’t seem interested in tormenting Xander by bringing Ben along again and, except for some preposterously lurid dreams from which Xander inevitably woke with a painfully throbbing erection, he mostly ignored Ben Douglas. Summer session continued on into fall, his students remained equally divided between the overly ambitious and the horrifyingly dense, and, as the leaves in Central Park slowly turned the color of Malcolm’s hair, Xander was, overall, fairly comfortable with his life.

It was a Thursday night at the beginning of October and Xander was sitting at their table alone, waiting for Malcolm to show up. This was only the second time ever Xander had arrived first, as Malcolm believed that punctuality was a cardinal virtue (while chastity could go screw itself) and Xander was growing nervous.

He had reason to and Xander bit back a soft groan as Ben Douglas walked through the door, alone.

He spotted Xander immediately and sat down across from him. “Mal sends his regrets,” Ben said, “But something came up with Jamie and he had to go.”

“Nothing serious, I hope,” Xander answered almost on autopilot.

“I don’t know,” Ben replied. “He seemed worried.”

They both fell silent. “I thought it was going well,” Xander offered as the silence increased from awkward to excruciating.

“Me too,” said Ben. “Mal sounded like he was worried for Jamie, though, not about him.”

“I guess that’s better.”

“I suppose.”

Xander hadn’t known there was a level of silence after excruciating, one so mind-numbingly awkward that no one had even thought of of a word for it.

The waiter brought them salvation in the form of his traditional query. Ben ordered a whiskey, while Xander got a vodka gimlet and soon they had the excuse of drinks to keep from talking and, after that, the excuse of alcohol to let them talk.

Ben was holding his fifth whiskey too steadily while gesticulating wildly with his other hand as he tried to describe just how profoundly stupid a particular customer behind whom he had been standing in Whole Foods was. Xander, who was now at the point where he was ordering drinks by their color, was giggling helplessly because Ben was funny and life was funny and he really wanted to kiss Ben and that was the funniest of all.

“So,” said Xander with a hiccup, “What happened after she refused to show her ID because beer doesn’t have alcohol?”

Ben grinned, making Xander’s heart pound just a bit faster. “The cashier showed her where it said six percent alcohol by volume on the bottle and she started to scream at the cashier for selling it to her, because she’s not allowed to have alcohol on her medication.”

“No, really?”

“Yes, really.”

“Christ, I feel bad for the poor guy.”

“Yeah, he had that ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ look on his face.”

“I think I would’ve just hit her over the head with the bottle.

Ben shook his head. “No, you’re too nice.”

“I am not,” Xander protested. “I’m not nice at all!”

Ben raised an eloquent eyebrow.

“Just yesterday, I wrote an obnoxious comment on a student’s essay.” Xander paused. “Well, I toned it down, but my original version was obnoxious. Scathing, even. I was sarcastic at him.”

“I’m impressed.”

“No, you’re not,” Xander protested. “You’re just humoring me.” He stuck out his tongue, because it was childish and it might make Ben smile and Xander would have given the world to see that smile.

“Yes, because you’re three sheets to the wind.” Ben was smiling at him and it made Xander want to fly.

“Nuh uh. Two sheets. Two and a half at the most. Except you can’t have half a sheet; it’s gotta be all or none. Can I round down?”

Ben shook his head and called for the check. Getting this drunk was expensive, but it was worth it. Ben was worth it, with his silvery hair and crow’s eyes and that perfect, wonderful smile that was the second best thing Xander could think of him doing with those lips. Well, okay, third.

“I think it’s time to get you home,” Ben was saying, and Xander drew his attention away from the man’s lips and to the words coming out of them.

Oh, yes, please, take me home. But his self-control wasn’t that far gone yet.

“Probably,” Xander said and stood up too quickly.

Ben was there before Xander really fell, almost in time to stop him leaning at all. “Where’s your apartment?” he asked, one hand in the small of Xander’s back to steady him.

“Morningside Heights,” Xander answered. “It’s right near the 1 train. Not even a long walk, which is good because I don’t want a long walk right now.”

“Walk?” Ben said incredulously. “Are you kidding? We’re taking a cab.”

“We?” said Xander, sure that he must have misheard or that pronoun had suddenly acquired a different meaning that didn’t refer to the two of them going back to Xander’s apartment. Together.

“I am not letting you go home by yourself in this state,” said Ben firmly.

“That’s very gentlemanly of you,” said Xander, speaking a bit slowly because gentlemanly had four syllables and he wanted to make sure they all came out right.

Ben snorted. “That’s one way to put it, yes. Come on, cab.”

Ben hailed a cab, seemingly unaware of the looks they were garnering as he kept one arm around Xander’s shoulder to hold him upright. Xander didn’t really need it, now that the first dizziness of standing up had moved off, but he was not going to tell Ben that. Damn it, he was going to take what he could get.

What he could get, it seemed, was a warm chest to rest on as the cab drove slowly uptown, stuck in the kind of traffic that only New York City had at midnight on a Thursday. Ben even smelled right, under the slight overlay of whiskey and an unfamiliar cologne. Xander closed his eyes and bit his lip to muffle a soft cry as Ben stroked his head. Oh, this just wasn’t fair.

“How are you feeling?” Ben asked as the taxi lurched through yet another yellow light.

“Not bad,” answered Xander. “Surprisingly good, for all that I probably look like I’m about to barf in your lap.”

“Please don’t,” said Ben in a pained voice.

“Nahh,” said Xander. “Your pants are too nice. Besides, I always try to aim for shoes.”

Ben stroked his hair again. “I’ll bear that in mind.”

They reached the door of Xander’s apartment and, fumbling a bit, Xander unlocked the door and led the way down to the basement. Ben followed without comment, treading after him on the stairs and continuing on until he stood just inside the door of Xander’s studio, which, to be fair, was about the only place to stand in the entire room. Between the stupidly large king sized bed, the desk, the kitchen table and the armchair, there wasn’t actually anywhere else to be, other than in the bathroom.

Xander sat down heavily in the armchair and looked up at Ben, who was so out of place amid the trappings of an overworked student who wouldn’t know decor if it fell on his head. He belonged in a real bedroom, in a real house, in a real life that was completely independent of Xander and his ridiculous longing.

“Well,” Xander said, tucking his legs up so he could wrap his arms around them and rest his chin on his knees. “Here I am, safe and sound.”

Ben was just looking at him, as if he was waiting for something.

“You’ve done your duty,” he continued. “Boy-scout badge in escorting your brother’s inebriated friend home will be forthcoming, along with the money I owe you for the cab.”

Ben shook his head. “You don’t owe me anything.”

The silence was back, but with a different taste than last time. There was a sharpness and a tension to it, like a coiled spring waiting to snap.

“Xander,” said Ben in a voice that hurt even more for being so gentle, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” answered Xander with the world’s most often told lie. “I’m tired and drunk and mopey and you don’t need to make me your problem.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Ben asked and Xander hesitated just a bit too long before responding.

“I think–”

“Mal told me, by the way,” Ben said conversationally.

“Told you what?” Xander just had to ask.

“As he was running out the door. He couldn’t seem to find the time to tell me what was going on or why he needed to dash, but he did manage to warn me that you were, and I quote, ‘head over heels in love with you, so be nice’.”

Xander groaned. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am not drunk enough for this conversation.”

Ben sighed in a way that suggested agreement, but made no other move.

Xander let go of his legs and sat up. “Look,” he said, trying to keep his voice as calm, level and sober as he could, “I…fuck, Ben, help me. I don’t know what you want. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what will happen if I stand up and kiss you and–”

“You could try it and see.”

Xander shut his eyes, which did absolutely no good to shut out the drumming in his ears, so he stood up and, catching hold of Ben’s jacket, pulled the man down for a kiss, which effectively shut out everything other than a small voice in the back of his head that was laughing with mad delight.

Ben kissed back, he actually kissed back and his lips and his tongue and the taste of him were better than he’d dreamed they could be. Ben’s hand came up to cradle the back of Xander’s head, holding him in place as if Xander would think of pulling away for any reason less urgent than imminent asphyxiation. Ben’s mouth on his was gentle and he let Xander set the pace, responding to the younger man’s touch without demanding.

Xander, on the other hand, demanded. He insisted, even, because this was either a painfully vivid dream or a sign that Ben had temporarily lost his mind and, either way, it was so unlikely to happen again that Xander was going to make the most of it now.

Xander untangled his hands from Ben’s lapels and stood on his tip-toes to wrap them around Ben’s neck. He felt the other man chuckle against his mouth and gasped as Ben lifted him a few inches off the ground. For perhaps the first time ever, Xander relished being less than five and a half feet tall.

He could have stayed there for hours, rediscovering just how good this man felt, but he wasn’t the one doing all the heavy lifting. Ben set him back down and pulled back to look at Xander.

For all Xander’s experience with men (which wasn’t exactly extensive, but was, as far as he knew, way more than his partner’s) he had no idea how to proceed. How did one seduce a straight man? Was he having second thoughts? Did he want to stop? “Try it and see,” he’d said earlier. Well, then. That’s what Xander would do.

He locked eyes with Ben, even as he reached down and tugged at the sleeves of his jacket. Ben obligingly let it fall to the ground and Xander reached for the hem of his shirt, pulling it up and over Ben’s head. Ben had to help him with that, bending forward so that Xander could get it off and, thankfully, not laughing at him for it.

He just stood there, breathing so quietly that Xander could barely see his chest rise and fall, even while he was looking right at it. Xander, who could sometimes be subtle, decided that now was not the time and licked a slow, winding path from Ben’s collarbone (which was as high as he could reach) down to his navel, stopping at each of his nipples in turn to swirl his tongue around them and pull them into stiff little peaks.

Ben’s breathing grew faster and his hands clenched and unclenched almost rhythmically by his sides. Xander pressed kisses to the circle of skin around his navel before tonguing it properly. Ben groaned and Xander felt a rush of pleasure tingle down his spine and into his jeans where his already-hard cock was pressing against the denim.

He unbuckled the belt on Ben’s slacks, going slowly in case the older man decided to stop him. “Damn you, say something!” was not strictly an acceptable expostulation during sex, but Xander was worryingly close to saying it anyway. Once the belt was out of the way and the buttons had been unbuttoned, the fabric slid easily down to pool around Ben’s feet. Xander had dropped to his knees and was slowly kissing his way down to the jutting curve of Ben’s hips. He could feel the tightness in the man’s thighs, feel each muscle as Ben fought to remain still.

Xander closed his eyes, took a deep breath and, in as close to one motion as possible, pulled down Ben’s briefs, pushed him down onto the bed and swallowed as much of his cock as he could, given the limitations of their respective positions.

That got a reaction. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Ben hissed as the head of his cock hit the back of Xander’s throat. Xander pulled back and began to lick his way along the underside of Ben’s cock, one hand sliding down to cup the man’s balls while the other rested on the inside of his hips, holding his legs apart. Xander rubbed small circles with his thumb on Ben’s thigh as he nuzzled his way back down to the root. Ben was making small, pleading noises in the back of his throat that just made Xander even more determined to hear the man beg. He cradled Ben’s balls and lapped at the head of his cock, swirling his tongue around before closing his lips around the head and sucking. He knew what he was doing and made damn sure to pay close attention to what the man liked, (other than the obvious answer, which was fellatio) just in case a repeat performance was ever a possibility, and, before long, he heard Ben’s voice, low and rough like chafed hands on silk, begging.

“Please,” he whispered. “Xander, please.”

Christ, the sound of his name on Ben’s lips was nearly enough to make him come.

Xander swallowed as much of Ben as he could, bringing the hand that had been resting on the man’s leg to wrap around the base. He moved quickly now and Ben’s voice grew louder as he did so.

“God, Xander, please,” he moaned, his hands fisting in the folds of the blankets that lay on Xander’s unmade bed. “Please, I need, I need–”

Xander pressed one finger to the skin behind Ben’s balls and, with an inarticulate shout that just might have been his name, Ben was coming.

Xander swallowed as best he could, focusing more on not choking than anything else. He pulled off of Ben, licking almost absentmindedly at the corner of his mouth where some come had dribbled out, then rose to his feet to get a wet washcloth to clean the other man off. He didn’t look at him; he didn’t want to see what, if anything, Ben was thinking now.

Ben hadn’t moved so much as an inch by the time Xander came back. He debated cleaning Ben himself, just for the chance to touch the man again, but it seemed weirdly intimate in way that even sucking him off hadn’t. He didn’t even watch as Ben took the washcloth with a quiet thanks.

“Xander,” said Ben after a moment. Xander looked up to face him, but didn’t say anything. “Come here,” he said and Xander’s heart thrilled as his body recognized that dark-chocolate purr that meant—

Ben pulled Xander into his lap and kissed him roughly, his hands coming to rest on Xander’s hips as Xander straddled him. Xander, who entirely lacked Ben’s vocal reticence, whimpered against the older man’s mouth and rocked his hips forward in search of contact.

He wasn’t quite sure when Ben had gotten his jeans unbuttoned or his fly unzipped or, for that matter, how he’d ended up sprawled on top of Ben, who was now lying down on the bed and doing his best to divest Xander of every article of clothing he had on other than his socks.

Naked, except for the aforementioned socks, Xander squirmed against Ben’s body and gasped as the older man caught Xander’s earlobe between his teeth and nipped. Xander’s hips bucked faster, feeling the smooth glide of Ben’s thigh between his own and then Ben shifted and he felt the older man’s cock against his and that would have been enough, except that Ben was whispering in his ear and the sound of his own name flung Xander over the edge into orgasm.

He cried out, something about “God” and “Ben,” and he felt Ben’s lips curve into a smile against his cheek.

Ben retrieved the washcloth and gently pushed Xander onto his back before wiping them both clean. Xander had been right about the intimacy of the gesture, but this time, it fit.

Ben sat up and Xander reached out without thinking, catching hold of his hand before letting go and letting his own hand fall.

“I’ll be right back,” said Ben. “I’m just going to put this in the sink.” Ben was as good as his word and, barely a minute later, he was back and holding a glass of water in his hand.

“Drink,” he ordered and Xander blinked at him curiously, but obligingly sat up and took the glass.

“You’re dehydrated,” Ben said. “Or you will be.”

Xander nodded. “You should get one too,” he added, after a moment.

“I didn’t drink as much as you,” Ben pointed out.

“Actually, you did,” Xander replied. “I’m just a cheap date.” And then he blushed.

“Very cheap, considering that you covered your own tab,” Ben said drily.

“Yes, but you covered the cab.”

“Which, if I recall correctly, you then offered to reimburse me for.”

“Offer withdrawn, then,” Xander said, setting down the now-empty glass. “I’m not that cheap.”

Xander rescued a wayward pillow from where it had fallen on the floor and tugged the blankets up so that he could snuggle under them. Ben watched him and Xander felt very alone in the too-large bed, for all that his company was barely three feet away. Xander turned the quilt down on the side of the bed closest to the room, then rolled onto his side so he faced the wall. It was up to Ben whether he wanted to stay or not.

A few seconds later, Xander felt the mattress shift and the weight of another body settle behind him. He could feel Ben’s soft breath on the back of his neck, even though they weren’t actually touching.

“Xander,” said Ben after a moment.

“Hmm?”

“Are you still wearing socks?”

The answer, of course, was yes, and Xander sat up to divest himself of the offending articles, because there was nothing more ridiculous than sleeping naked except for a pair of socks. When he settled back in, he found that his head was resting on Ben’s forearm and Ben draped his leg over Xander’s hips. Xander snuggled even closer and fell asleep without even once allowing his brain to think about what kind of hell there might be to pay come morning.

~~~

Benjamin Douglas woke from a very deep sleep with the vague feeling that something was wrong. His first thought was that the light coming into the room was too bright and that he’d overslept, but he quickly realized that it wasn’t a question of brightness, merely the wrong angle. The light was hitting him full in the face; an irritating way to wake up, especially since his head, though not in full-on hangover mode, was certainly considering a migraine. This brought on thought the second, which was that he’d definitely not had enough water the night before if he was waking up with a hangover.

Putting thoughts one and two together, he remembered where he was, what he had been doing and, rather importantly, with whom he had be doing it.

Xander, as far as Ben could tell, had not moved since he’d lain down the night before. Ben looked down at the messy head of dark brown curls pillowed on his bicep and sighed.

Briefly, Ben considered slipping away before Xander woke up and neatly sidestepping the “so…now what?” conversation, but that would be, as Xander might say, ungentlemanly. Also, Ben had his doubts about being able to extricate himself from Xander’s embrace without him noticing; the boy was hugging his arm as if it was a beloved teddy bear.

The clock on the headboard blinked 7:38 at him in cheerful green LED, which meant Ben had an hour and twenty-two minutes to get dressed, get coffee and get downtown to open the store on time. And that meant he was going to have to extricate himself from Xander somehow.

He tried to tug himself out from under Xander but, for all that the younger man was… Ben was going to be polite and say petite, he was heavy enough to keep Ben pinned.

Ben gently shook his shoulder. “Xander,” he said, his voice getting lost in the ambient noise coming through the window. “Xander, wake up. I need my arm back.”

“But you’re comfortable,” Xander protested sleepily, tightening his grip.

“I’m sure I am, but I still need it back. I have to get to work.”

Xander sighed and rolled over. Ben surreptitiously massaged his shoulder, which had gone numb. “How are you feeling?” Ben asked.

“Hung over,” answered Xander, “As predicted. You?”

“Much the same.”

“You don’t sound it,” muttered Xander enviously.

“I’ve had practice,” admitted Ben, a bit ruefully.

“Oh?” said Xander, still facing the wall with his arm flung over his eyes. “Do you spend hours in front of a mirror, cultivating your blasé tone and unflappable sangfroid in the face of overindulgence?”

“It’s comes naturally,” answered Ben, “Do you always sound like you’ve been eating the thesaurus when you wake up?”

“It comes naturally,” Xander replied, which made Ben laugh. Xander had a knack for that, Ben observed. He’d spent much of last night smiling, just from being around Xander. Was that what had happened, Ben wondered? Had Mal’s warning, instead of putting him on his guard, make him more aware of Xander as a potential date? He certainly had not had this much fun on an official date in years. He also had a policy about sex on the first date, which somehow got ignored last night as well—unless, of course, he pretended that oral sex wasn’t “really” sex, which was a ridiculous statement from anyone who was no longer a teenager. Then again, it was not as though Xander had been not-a-teenager for very long. Ben tried not to grimace—the fact that he’d slept with someone younger than his daughter was actually the lesser of his two current problems.

And, of course, the last thing he wanted to do was break Xander’s heart. He liked him, really liked him as a person, as a friend. He understood immediately what Mal had meant when he’d said, on first meeting Xander, that he felt like he’d known him all his life. Xander just fit, like he belonged in Ben’s life, like there had been a space for him and Ben just hadn’t known it.

Maybe that was it, then. Was he just confusing camaraderie with attraction? Had last night been an aberration, brought on by just enough booze and the scientific fact that there’s no such thing as a bad blowjob?

“Ben?” said Xander, and Ben felt the younger man’s hand come to rest on his shoulder.

“Sorry, I was just…sorry.” He shrugged and smiled. “I really do have to go to work; do you mind if I borrow your shower?”

“Sure, there’s a spare towel in the cabinet.”

There was, in fact, one spare towel in there and it was smaller than Ben was used to, but he had better things to do than complain about the amenities. Like get out the door on time, for example. Xander’s shower had surprisingly good water pressure and would go up to lobster-boiling hot, which was just how Ben liked it on mornings like this.

Not that he’d ever had a morning quite like this before. Ben closed his eyes and luxuriated, quickly, under the spray. What was he supposed to say now? Well, that depended on what he was going to do, didn’t it?

“I don’t know,” he said to himself and turned off the water.

When Ben emerged, Xander was sitting up in bed with the blankets draped around him and his computer in his lap. Ben took a moment to think, then decided he still wasn’t sure if he was disappointed that he was missing the view. Come to think of it, he had yet to see Xander naked; though he’d certainly felt him.

On second thought, maybe that should have been a cold shower this morning. Ben smiled at Xander, who was biting his lower lip with concentration as he stared at something on the screen. He was adorable, which only emphasized the question of whether or not Ben wanted to adore him.

Last night had been… like a dream, Ben thought. The absurdity of it all had made perfect sense. He had been fully complicit, hell he had invited Xander to kiss him. He’d wanted him and he hadn’t been too drunk to know what he wanted. Xander had been warm and sweet and affectionate and it had seemed right to kiss him. Xander had wanted him and when he’d felt the first press of those lips on his own, he’d wanted Xander right back.

And here he was, back again at square one. Was it right to want Xander, if he did?

Ben looked distastefully at the clothing he’d been wearing the previous day, then shrugged and started getting dressed. By the time he’d sat down to tie his shoes, he noticed Xander’s eyes on him.

He kept his focus on the laces, as if tying them in a bow actually needed his concentration.

“There’s a Starbucks on the corner,” Xander said. “And about five different indie stores within a three block radius if you’re ideologically opposed to mindless consumerism and terrible coffee.”

“Thanks,” said Ben. “I think I’ll stick with the Starbucks. The devil you know and all that.”

“Oh, but new and exciting devils can be such fun,” Xander chirped and Ben wondered if he was being sarcastic and hoped they were still talking about coffee.

“You’ll have to introduce me to them some time,” said Ben and, on that note, he nearly ran out the door. If this kept up, he would either be apologizing to Xander for getting his hopes up or kissing him goodbye, or possibly both at the same time.

Coffee, that necessary evil, got him to work and a busy day with plenty of customers got him through it without letting him spend more than a few minutes at a time wondering what in God’s name was going to happen next. Lunch had been the worst—well, really, the pre-lunch walk to get falafel during which he was alone and thinking about why it was he had not brought lunch from home that day, the way he usually did.

But the day ended, finally, and Ben breathed a sigh of relief without really knowing why. It took him until he was actually walking through the door of the two-story brownstone he’d bought after selling his house in the suburbs three years ago (because that was what one did after one’s youngest child moved off to college). Malcolm, who despite having taken over the second floor and paying half the rent, still insisted he wasn’t living there and was just waiting until he found a new place to go and a new person to go there with, was sitting at the kitchen table with a can of soup and a book of astrophysics.

“You left early this morning,” said Mal, turning the page. “You were out the door before I was even up.”

“What time were you up?” Ben asked, hanging up his coat and wondering how to balance his conflicting need to ask his brother for advice and to pretend that everything was normal.

“Eight,” answered Mal,

“You woke up late.”

“I had a long night.”

“What happened? And how’s Jamie?”

“He’s fine. He just— Why are you wearing the same thing you wore yesterday?” Ben went to the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of water. “Ben…”

“Why do you think?”

Mal cackled with glee. “Oh, you got laid! It’s about damn time, too.”

“Thanks,” Ben drawled, sitting down.

“So, were you using Xander as a wingman or something? Convince them you were younger because you were with the cute little student?”

Ben glared at him. “I cannot tell you how much I don’t appreciate any cracks about my age right now.”

“Well, was she at least legal?”

Ben was re-evaluating his earlier impulse to want to bare his soul to his idiot brother. He buried his head in his arms and pressed his cheek to the cool glass surface.

He heard Mal get up. “No more jokes, I promise. What happened?”

“I slept with Xander.” There, it was out in the open. On the table, more or less.

Mal, who had an exquisite sense of timing, waited exactly the right number of seconds it took for Ben to wonder if he should pick up his head and make sure his brother wasn’t about to kill him, before saying “You know, when I told you yesterday that Xander was interested in you, it would have been nice if you’d mentioned that you were planning on acting on that tidbit.”

“I wasn’t!” Ben protested, looking up at his brother, who was now standing next to him.

“So it was a spur-of-the-moment going home and fucking him, then? I’m going out on a limb here and assuming you were on–”

“We didn’t fuck,” said Ben through gritted teeth. “We just—actually, that’s all the details you’re getting. We didn’t fuck.”

There was another well time paused. “So…does he give good head?”

Ben gave up. Head back in his hands, he replied, “If he didn’t, I think I’d be a lot less conflicted about what to do next.”

“Well, what were you thinking last night?”

“I don’t know.”

Mal hit him. “That’s not an answer.”

“Fine, I was thinking that he was drunk and I should take him home. Then I was thinking that I was standing in the bedroom of a boy half my age who was looking at me as if he was about to cry and then I probably stopped thinking, because I told him that I knew he was interested.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, so that he wouldn’t think I was upset or anything or minded that he was practically asleep on me in the cab home.”

“Then?”

“Then he said something about kissing me and I practically dared him to, which was what I meant when I said I probably stopped thinking, because I can’t remember why I would say something like that.”

“Other than that you wanted him to, of course.”

“Of course,” Ben mimicked.

“So you want him?”

“I must have,” Ben observed, trying for detachment. “Otherwise why would I have let him kiss me?”

“Present tense, Ben. If you had the chance to go back there tonight and spend another night with him, no guarantees or commitments, just one more night, would you take it?”

Put like that, it seemed almost easy. “Yes,” Ben whispered after a long moment.

“So, no offense, why are you still here?” Mal was grinning, actually grinning at him.

“Because, as charming as your fantasy world sounds, I don’t do sex without commitment. I don’t know if I should be in a relationship with Xander or even if I can and, besides, I don’t find men any more attractive than I did two days ago.”

“Just him.” Mal said. It wasn’t a question. It didn’t need to be and Ben was grateful for that. It meant he didn’t have to answer.

“I feel like a fucking teenager with his first crush,” Ben muttered.

“Oh, good, you noticed the similarity as well.”

“Mal, can you please be serious?”

“I’m trying, but you’re making it difficult,” Mal said. Ben ignored that, because he didn’t want to admit that Mal was right.

Mal finally hooked a chair with his ankle and sat down next to Ben. “So. It seems to me you have two problems and you’re conflating them into one, big mess of a problem.”

“Oh? Enlighten me.”

“Why do I have to be serious if you’re going to be obnoxious?”

“You’re my therapist.”

“Ben, and I say this with all the brotherly affection in my heart, there is not enough money on this earth to pay me to be your therapist. But that’s besides the point. You’ve decided that the question of whether you’re interested in Xander and might even want to start dating him is inextricably linked to the question of your sexual orientation. It’s not—let me finish before you interrupt me to tell me I’m wrong.”

Ben shut his mouth, and waited, as instructed, for Mal to finish talking before voicing his disagreement.

“You’re not attracted to Xander because he’s a guy or because you’re suddenly and miraculously gay, you’re attracted to Xander because he’s Xander. And, if you’ll excuse my ‘sassy gay sibling’ moment, sweetheart, you’ve got it bad!”

I know that, Ben thought to himself, though refrained from voicing the thought as Mal didn’t need to interrupted simply to be told he was right. But there was something about hearing it from someone else, especially when that someone else was doing a deadpan impression of a youtube phenomenon, that made it harder to push to the back of his mind and ignore. He did like Xander. He thought he was cute and funny and brilliant and sweet. He pushed all of Ben’s buttons in a way that few if any of the women he had agreed to date over the past five years had. And then there was the not-entirely-irrelevant detail that Xander clearly thought he, Ben, was worth sleeping with and that was definitely a nice boost to his ego.

“So, if you decide to pursue him, it doesn’t mean you’re gay, it doesn’t mean you now must find men attractive, it doesn’t mean that this is your midlife crisis—don’t glare at me like that, we both know you were thinking it—it just means you’ve found someone with whom you think you may be compatible and you’re trying to decide if it’s worth the risk. The risk is the same as it always is; is it worth letting your heart be broken to grab the chance to make it whole?”

“I….” Ben began, then stopped. “Thanks, Mal. I don’t have an answer yet, but thanks.”

“The goal of this little speech wasn’t to give you an answer, merely a better set of questions.”

“It was a good speech,” Ben conceded.

“Thanks,” said Mal without even a trace of modesty. “It should be, I’ve given it enough times.” Ben looked around for something to throw at his brother, but the only thing on the table was A Brief History of Time, and even that was out of reach.

“In lieu of payment, I will accept dinner,” said Mal.

“Why, what do you usually charge?” asked Ben, rising to his feet and going to examine the contents of the pantry.

“For my ‘don’t worry, having sex with a guy doesn’t make you gay’ speech? Take a lucky guess.”

This time, because Ben did have a projectile in reach, he threw an apple at his brother’s head.

Ben didn’t go over to Xander’s that night, nor did he call. He was too busy thinking. Mal might be right to warn him away from putting himself into neat, little categories, but other people who saw him and Xander together would no be so reticent. Would he mind introducing Xander as his boyfriend? Would he mind the inevitable whispers they would garner from his being twice Xander’s age?

That was a stupid question, of course he would. The question was really would he mind enough? Ben ran his fingers through his hair and rolled over in bed. He had to think.

He also had to sleep, and he drifted off into unconsciousness without being any closer to admitting to himself that his answer to Mal’s question about whether it was worth a shot was going to be yes.

Mal was good at not prying, though he would ask, about once a day, whether Ben had had any startling revelations. The answer was always no. A new week began and Ben slowly realized he was spending less time agonizing over whether to ask Xander out and more over how. It was strange, because he couldn’t remember actually sitting down and coming to the decision that he was going to go through with this (and that was another thing, he had to stop calling his possible romance with Xander “this”), but it seemed as though his subconscious had. It was a rainy Tuesday afternoon, five days after his, okay, fine, his accidental date with Xander, and business was slow enough that most of them were just sitting around on the chairs in the shoe department and feeling antsy. And, of course, the store closed late on Tuesday and there was a flood of customers (and the rainwater they brought in with them, Ben observed sadly) during the last forty-five minutes that only made him itch even more inside his own skin. He’d spent long enough deliberating; it was as if, during those interminable hours not helping people, the past five days finally coalesced into something tangible. He knew were he was going and what he was going to do. Assuming, of course, that Xander was free tomorrow night and liked Indian food.

There was one more thing he had to do first and that was go to Xander and apologize for…he wasn’t sure what particular aspect of his behavior he was going to pick on, but Ben was positive he should apologize for something. And if Xander still wanted him—Ben flushed at the thought as he stalked towards the 1 train with the determination of a predator who is pretty sure his prey is carrying a tranquilizer gun—well then, they would have to just see, wouldn’t they?

Ben wasn’t sure what it said about him that he remembered Xander address and was standing outside the door to the building in less time than it had taken him to close up the store. It was barely nine fifteen and, instead of worrying that he might be showing up too late at night, Ben realized he didn’t know when Xander was done on Tuesdays (or any other day, for that matter). He could easily have a late night class or section he had to teach or maybe he was just in the library.

Ben took a deep breath; for heaven’s sake, he hadn’t even rung the doorbell yet, and then he did. There was a flat, annoying buzz that didn’t so much cut through the night as add one more layer to the dull roar of the city, and then, before he even had time to wonder if Xander was home, he heard the answering, sharp beep of the door and the click as the lock disengaged.

He was inside and heading down the stairs, all the while wondering if this wasn’t some huge mistake and how evil it would be for him to just turn around and go home as if he’d never been here.

Before he could make up his mind, the door to Xander’s studio swung open and Ben watched as Xander stuck his tousled head out the door, looked up and grew wide-eyed in surprise.

“Hi,” said Ben, because this was the easy part of the conversation. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” answered Xander, stepping back and nearly onto the bed to let Ben in, which left a fair amount of space between them, at least as far as there was anything resembling space in this place.

“How are you?” Ben asked, then tried to think of a way to retract that because it was so banal.

“Oh you know, same old.” Xander gestured to the armchair. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, I’m good.” Ben sat gingerly and Xander pulled the desk-chair out to sit in it. The awkward teenager thing was back and Ben had this ridiculous urge to start babbling his apology and the last thing he want to sound like right now was a love-sick teenager. So, no backtracking, no stuttering, just a civilized question.

“So I was wondering what you were doing tomorrow night?”

There, Ben thought, absurdly proud of himself, that didn’t sound half as idiotic as it could have.

“Um,” said Xander, which seemed to be the tradeoff and Ben suddenly felt guilty—if he sounded ridiculous, it would give Xander an excuse to do so too. Except, Ben was startled to realize, he couldn’t think of anything to babble. He could only think of coherent sentences. “Same thing as tonight, I think.”

“Would you be up for changing your schedule and going out for dinner with me instead?” And no one would ever know how many times Ben rehearsed that line in his head to get it to come out so easily.

“I– sure,” answered Xander looking adorably confused and flustered. His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and Ben wondered what it would feel like to kiss him right there. He might even find out soon.

“Great,” said Ben, grinning. That was easy. What had taken him so long? He rose to his feet. “I’ll see you at eight?” he said as he headed towards the door, stopping only to drop a quick kiss on Xander’s cheek, which was only the beginning of what he wanted to do, but would be enough for now.

Ben was halfway out the door when Xander called out “wait!” and he turned back around to receive an armful of warm, lovely Xander, who was reaching up to kiss Ben at the same time Ben realized he was leaning down to kiss him.

Xander pressed against him, barely giving him a chance to shut the door before nearly shoving him back against it. Ben laughed, the sound swallowed up by Xander’s mouth and held him as Xander once again reached up to lock his arms around Ben’s neck.

Ben freed his mouth from Xander’s and ducked his head to kiss his way down Xander’s neck, starting under his ear and trying not to be too distracted by the gasps Xander was making as he clung to Ben. Ben nipped at the spot where Xander’s neck and shoulder joined and Xander moaned, arching his body against Ben’s.

“You didn’t seriously think,” Xander said breathlessly, “That I’d let you leave with just a peck on the cheek?”

“Well,” murmured Ben against the skin of Xander’s throat—feeling it move under his mouth as Xander spoke, “I wasn’t sure if you’d forgiven me for last week yet.”

“Forgive you?” Xander said, his voice hitching slightly as Ben reversed course and made his way back up to Xander’s ear.

“For being an ass last week?” Ben suggested, not sure why Xander seemed so surprised. “For dashing off without a word, for example.” Somehow, confession was a lot easier when one’s confessor was distracted.

Xander was silent, at least until Ben licked the shell of his ear, and he yelped.

“I didn’t mind,” Xander said and Ben didn’t need to see his face to know he was lying.

“You aren’t going to blame me,” he corrected Xander quietly, sliding his arms around the younger man’s back and pulling him closer, so that his leg was pressed between Xander’s thighs. “That’s not the same thing.”

“Certainly not if you keep that up.” Xander whimpered, “God, Ben!”

“Xander,” Ben purred in reply, “You forgive far too easily.”

Xander’s laugh was cut off when Ben slid his hands down Xander’s body and cupped his ass.

“Ben, I want–” he breathed, clinging tightly and Ben felt himself growing harder with every movement of Xander’s body and every gasp from his lips. “I want.”

“Me too,” Ben confessed, lifting the younger man and carrying him over to the armchair. He half sat, half fell into it and Xander was sprawled on top of him. Ben, whose hands had not relinquished their grasp on Xander’s bottom, was idly wondering why it had taken him so damn long to wake up and admit how much he wanted this.

“Strip for me,” he said and Xander pulled back just far enough to grab hold of the shirt he wore and fling it away. “Pants as well,” Ben continued, staring hungrily at Xander and thinking, annoyingly, that Mal was right. It wasn’t men he wanted, just the man who stood in front of him now, whose hands shook ever so slightly as he unknotted his sweatpants and pushed them down over his slender thighs.

Xander was exquisite and Ben just stared at him for a moment as he stood naked in the middle of the room with a bright pink spot in the middle of each cheek.

“Ben?” Xander said and Ben blinked, realizing that now was not the time to be fantasizing about what he could do with Xander, not when he could actually be doing it.

“C’mere,” Ben said and reached down to unfasten his own, now painfully tight trousers. Xander’s hands were atop his before he’d finished with the zipper, which meant that Xander’s hands were touching him (through his briefs, for now, but the night was young) and Ben had to fight hard not to thrust up against his palms.

“Help me get these off,” Xander said and Ben lifted his hips so Xander could tug his trousers and briefs off. Ben’s pants were pooled around his legs, which was fine because he was not going anywhere, not with Xander climbing into his lap and straddling his hips and taking both their cocks in his hand and stroking slowly.

“God, Xander,” Ben groaned, watching that hand move up and down and focusing on the feel of Xander’s hot, silken cock pressed against his own. It was almost perfect, the not-quite smooth glide of Xander’s palm across his skin, the occasional ripple of his fingers, the way that Xander bit his lip with the same look of concentration he had when reading. Almost perfect and, when Ben reached down and wrapped his hand over Xander’s and matched his rhythm, it was.

Xander kept his other hand braced against Ben’s chest, while Ben raised his hand to cup Xander’s face. “Kiss me,” Ben ordered.

“Or what?” Xander asked, his lips curling into a smirk.

“Or I’ll be forced to beg,” answered Ben, pulling Xander closer. “Please,” he whispered in Xander’s ear, letting his breath puff against the side of his face. “Please, sweetheart.”

“Ben,” Xander said, desperation making his voice tremble. “Ben, that’s not fair.”

“Please,” Ben said again, unable to stop as Xander’s hand began to move faster, bringing Ben’s along with it.

“Ben,” Xander was sobbing, his face buried against Ben’s neck as his hand clenched and unclenched against Ben’s chest.

“Please, come for me,” Ben said, curling his fingers in Xander’s hair, his voice nearly as broken as his lover’s. “Xander…”

And Xander did, his hand faltering as he cried Ben’s name. Ben felt the younger man’s cock twitch and jerk against his own, felt the wetness of Xander’s semen as it spilled over their joined hands and then he too was coming, his eyes closed tightly and his head flung back as he followed Xander over the edge and into that proverbial sweet oblivion.

Once the world righted itself again, Ben untwined his fingers from Xander’s hair and started petting his back.

“You okay?” he asked, pressing a kiss to Xander’s cheek.

“Okay?” Xander replied in a slightly strangled tone. “That would be the understatement of the millennium.” He paused. “We are still on for tomorrow night though, right?”

“Hmm?” Ben said. “Of course. Unless you’ve suddenly developed something to do.”

“Yes, but I think he can wait until after dinner.”

Ben kissed him, because he could. “You’re terrible.”

“Mmm,” Xander said, tucking his head under Ben’s chin.

“And I do have to get home and eat dinner at some point,” Ben added. Xander didn’t move, so Ben poked him in the side. “Xander?”

“Can I at least have a few minutes of cuddling?”

Ben nodded, suddenly not trusting himself to speak. He shifted slightly, drawing Xander up into a more comfortable position and wrapped his arms around him. By the time five minutes had passed, Xander was asleep.

As Ben would later have a chance to verify, Xander was a very heavy sleeper. He barely even stirred when Ben nearly dropped him, trying to pick him up and carry him to bed—which was completely not Ben’s fault, because the position they were in afforded him no leverage. He also seemed not to notice when Ben cleaned the sticky semen off his hand and cock, though parts of Xander certainly seemed interested in the operation.

He pressed a brief kiss to Xander’s mouth.

“Goodnight, sweetheart,” Ben said, flicking off the light as he left the room and smiling with a smile so bright and unfading that the moment he walked into the house, Mal laughed and said that it was about damn time.

Ben had to agree.

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