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The Hail Mary

by Takiguchi Aiko (滝口アイコ)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/310064.html)

Javed is still in bed, playing Peggle on his phone and nursing a hangover, when the door buzzes at one-thirty in the afternoon. Javed is skipping a studio day for the first time he can remember, so no one he knows should be expecting him to be home. He ignores the buzzer until it rings twice more, then sighs, staggers out of bed, and makes his way to the intercom. When he presses ‘talk’ and asks, “Who is it?” his voice is rusty with disuse.

There’s no answer for half a beat. Then a voice says, “It’s Adam? Adam Crane.”

Javed feels a hot pound of blood in his ears, feels it expand to his whole head. He has to steady himself with a hand on the wall. This has literally never occurred to him as a possibility. Javed has spent the last four years assuming he will never see Adam again. The polite and awful woman on the phone yesterday who said she was Adam’s publicist — the reason Javed drank almost two bottles of cheap wine last night and is now skipping work — had confirmed that chapter of his life was well and truly over.

Adam, on the intercom, asks, “Can I come up?”

Javed buzzes Adam in. What else can he do?

Javed’s Red Hook apartment is a fourth floor walk-up, so theoretically he has time to clean up a little or put on pants. Instead he gets himself a drink of water from the tap, hands shaking around the cup. Just before there’s a knock on the door he flails a little, grabs his roommate’s fuzzy scarf off the coffee table, and shoves it between the couch cushions.

He’s seen a lot of pictures of Adam in the last four years. Javed was never interested in sports — avowedly avoidant of them after junior year of college — but the Giants are a big deal in New York, especially after Adam came along and, even as a second-string quarterback, helped them secure their current hot streak. This is Adam’s first season as starting quarterback, and Javed hates that he knows this.

Add his good looks and his recent engagement to actress Sophia Braveman, and Adam is on the cover of a lot of magazines. Javed finds himself staring at them on line at Duane Reade, scrutinizing Adam’s big golden-retriever smile, Sophia’s cheerful WASPy beauty. It makes him feel queasy and, unfairly, angry, and he has to remember that he is proud of Adam, proud of himself. That Javed made this happen.

So Javed is familiar with what Adam looks like now — that he has gotten even more built than he was in college, that he doesn’t seem to wear those formerly ubiquitous cargo shorts anymore — but it is one thing to know intellectually and another to have Adam and his six-hundred-dollar haircut at Javed’s door.

Adam is blinking down at him, wearing a navy v-neck sweater and khakis. He has grown into his face, cheekbones more angular now to match the strong line of his jaw. Eyes still the same as Javed used to sketch them, very clear and bright. He looks almost startled. It’s been a good ten seconds of them just staring at each other.

Javed belatedly remembers that he’s just in boxers and a lime green tank top that shows off the really terrible chest tattoos he got at Burning Man. His hair is a greasy disaster and he hasn’t shaved in three days.

“Hey,” Adam says, finally.

“Hi,” Javed says.

“Are you going to let me in?” Adam asks.

Javed steps away from the door, then closes it behind Adam. He hugs his arms to his chest. “What are you doing here?” He only realizes afterwards how that sounds, but it’s probably better to come across as rude and cold anyway.

Adam is looking around his apartment, taking it in. The kitchen and living room can charitably be called cluttered and must be tiny compared to what Adam is used to now. He scans the art on the walls, focusing on Javed’s work, though Javed isn’t sure if Adam’s aware of that. His style has changed a lot since college. He’s now mostly painting thoughtful but uncontroversial deconstructions of Islamic iconography that he can sell to Persian businessmen and their flirty wives. Javed supplements his income by teaching life drawing at a few outer borough community colleges and mostly he gets by. It’s a good life. It’s fine. Javed hasn’t been in the headspace to do more personal work lately anyway.

“Patrice told me you agreed to sign the NDA,” Adam finally says.

Javed nods. “Yeah?”

“Fifty thousand,” Adam says. A muscle works in his jaw and Javed realizes Adam is furious, vibrating with it. “You could have held out for a lot more than that. Do you need the money?”

“I’m fine,” Javed says, curtly. He’d taken the first number she offered, figuring she wouldn’t trust him if he told her he didn’t need a bribe, he’d keep his silence for free. He’d been pretty numb during the conversation with the publicist, but at the time it had made sense. Adam is a starting quarterback in the NFL; he is engaged. He is finally embarrassed about his weird experimental phase. Agreeing to the NDA could be Javed’s tacit seal of approval, his blessing. A wedding present, he thought when in his cups.

“It made me think,” Adam says. This is a rehearsed speech, Javed can tell. “About the past. About us. You really hurt me, Javed, and I never felt like I got closure.”

That had been by design. Javed had pretty much salted the earth after giving Adam back his ring: changed his phone number, deleted his Facebook, moved into a friend’s dorm room. He knew that with any prolonged contact at all he would cave, tell Adam the truth, the breakup wouldn’t stick, and everything would be ruined. Javed asks dully, “You’re here for closure?”

Adam nods, a defiant jerk of his head.

“I don’t know if I owe you that,” Javed stalls. It hurts to be this shitty, but he needs Adam to go. This is unbearable. Javed only limped through the last year of school because Adam changed his mind after the breakup and went for the draft without graduating. That had been the original plan; he was only going to stay for his degree to spend more time with Javed.

Adam looks flabbergasted, raising his voice but trying to remain civil. “You don’t owe me? First of all, you do. You just really, really do. And second, maybe just be a decent person and not run away from me right now. I deserve closure and I’m not leaving until I get it.”

Adam has five inches and eighty pounds on him. Javed can’t physically force him to go, and calling the police would mean publicity. He sighs and scrubs a hand through his hair, resigning himself. He’ll survive this. Pushing Adam away is the only noble thing he’s ever done, so he can keep biting back all the words that might want to crawl out. “Okay, fine. Sit down. I’m making coffee. Do you want any?”

“Sure,” Adam says. He sounds wary now more than angry. Javed busies himself with the French press.

Adam sits on the couch, watching Javed. His expression is difficult to read, guarded. “So… S. Passad. Is he the one?”

S. Passad is how his roommate’s name is written on their mailbox. “What one?”

“You know,” Adam says, and Javed remembers.

“Oh. No.” Javed says. “We broke up.”

Adam’s expression goes through a complicated flux of emotion. He must have had a lot of media training by now, but his face is still so open and vulnerable. “When?”

“After about a year.”

Adam snorts, shakes his head ruefully. “Didn’t even last as long as we did. Unbelievable.”

Javed shrugs. It is physically painful to have Adam here, a sharp pressure in his chest.

“Who was he, anyway? Some billionaire shipping magnate? Bought you a ton of yachts?”

Adam had always thought Javed was special, this unwavering, adoring belief. They met the fifth week of their freshman year. Javed was at the frozen yogurt machine in the cafeteria and Adam came up and asked if Javed was in his health science class. Javed said he didn’t take health science, and Adam said cool and asked if they could eat lunch together.

Javed was familiar with being hit on by that point. He had gotten hot in a pretty, delicate sort of way during a last unexpected jolt of puberty at sixteen. But he wasn’t prepared for Adam, respectful but assertive and amazed by all that Javed was, right from the beginning. Javed had never gotten used to it, really.

“He was just a boy,” Javed says quietly. “It didn’t end well.”

“Did you cheat on me with him?” Adam asks, so sadly.

Javed’s head shoots up. “No! Adam, never. I would never have done that to you.”

“No, you just stopped loving me,” Adam says, a broken little twist to his mouth. “That’s all.”

Javed grinds the coffee beans so he doesn’t have to answer that.

When he’s done, Adam asks. “So this guy, Passad. He makes you happy?”

“Sal is my roommate,” Javed says.

“You call him your roommate?” Adam asks, incredulous and disapproving.

“He’s actually my roommate, Adam,” Javed says. He’s starting to get angry. It’s not fair but it’s a relief to be angry at Adam. “We share living expenses and we don’t fuck. And even if we did, you don’t get to lecture me on not being out enough.”

“I’m not gay!” Adam shouts. He looks sheepish. “Wow, uh… that didn’t sound like I meant it in my head.”

Javed takes the boiling water off the stove. “Yeah, well, it came out really shitty, guy.”

“Sorry,” Adam mumbles. “But you know I’m not gay. Not, like, gay gay. I’m not even bi, really. So it would be disingenuous to come out, because that label doesn’t apply to me and a lot of people need it. Since it’s all about identity, right? You only lectured me about that eight million times.”

Javed puts the lid on the press, letting the coffee steep. His exasperation now isn’t feigned. “You really still think of yourself as straight? Jesus. Look, I know it was comforting and romantic for you believe I was the one man you could ever love, but I was there and I remember you being way into my dick.”

“That never changed,” Adam says, meeting his eyes. His gaze is steady and annoyed, but also a dare.

Javed flushes and looks away. That is another thing about Adam, always so fearless about going after what he wants. They weren’t out in college to Adam’s football press, mostly on Javed’s insistence, but in daily life it never even occurred to Adam to hide their relationship, to be ashamed of who he was and whom he loved. Javed knows he, himself, is beautiful (handsome is not an applicable word and he is gay enough to be okay with that), but that only made him even more excruciatingly nervous about what it meant to be a person existing in the world. It took him a long time to figure out who he was, even longer to accept it, to draw power from it. Adam, on the other hand, considered himself completely straight up until the age of eighteen, met Javed, then happily had a cock in his mouth the next day.

They had been so thrilled in their love in college, so wrapped up in each other. Javed was sort of an honorary mascot of Adam’s frat house; Adam took a gender theory course with Javed. So Javed knows that mostly Adam is so guileless because he thinks the world is a much gentler place than it actually is. He assumes his own effortless decency is universal. Javed always needed to protect him in his own bubble of cynicism.

When Javed doesn’t answer, Adam continues, “But maybe not being interested in a whole lot of dicks is a good thing. You are, so you ended up dumping me for some other random cock and now you don’t even fucking care, you’ll sign a piece of paper saying I never even mattered to you at all.”

“Why the hell are you so mad about that?” Javed demands. “It’s what you wanted! You had your publicist call me!”

“You think she was calling on my orders?” Adam asks, amazed. “The first I heard of this whole thing was this morning!”

Javed, who had been operating the plunger, pushes down too quickly and gets hot water and coffee grounds all over the kitchen counter. “Shit!”

“You okay?” asks Adam. “You need help?”

“No, no,” Javed says, getting some paper towels. “I got it.”

“Sorry,” Adam says, about the coffee.

“Not your fault,” says Javed.

“You really think I wanted you to sign a nondisclosure agreement?” asks Adam, after a beat. He sounds hurt. “You thought I wanted to bribe you?”

“I mean, I wasn’t happy about it but I got it,” Javed says. “I thought you were tying up loose ends.”

“You think I think of you as a loose end? That I would want to hide you? Javed, I would go on TV right now and tell everyone, hey, in college I was in love with this gorgeous guy and he broke my fucking heart. I mean, maybe I wouldn’t swear, they’d just bleep it. But you know I would do it.”

“What is wrong with you?” Javed asks. “This is the problem! You were always so ready to ruin your entire life!”

“No one gives a shit, there are tons of gay athletes now,” Adam says.

Javed nearly throws the dirty paper towels at his head. Adam had said that four, five, years ago too, except ‘everyone loves Ellen’ as an example instead of gay athletes, since there hadn’t been any then. He genuinely believes it, too. Javed always had a terrible time saying no to him. So even though he knew better he got swept away on Adam’s fantasy, drunk on love and lofty idealism. They were going to get married and Adam would be out and play pro ball and Javed would create brilliant sculptures and they would change the world.

Javed says, “Everyone gives a shit. It is still a huge, massive deal, Adam.”

“What did you mean when you said this is the problem?” Adam asks. He’s never been dumb.

Javed takes a deep breath, pinches the bridge of his nose, closes his eyes. “Look. I’m sorry I hurt you. I really, truly am. But you have to admit that it worked out for the best, right? You’re happy, right?”

Adam tilts his head, assessing. “Why did you break up with me?”

Javed feels his heart beat quicken. “Adam… I had a bad night last night. I’m still really hungover. Can we do this later?”

Adam crosses his arms. “Answer my question and I’ll go. You’ll never have to see me again.”

Javed shrinks into himself. “I fell out of love with you. I met someone else.”

“Who was he?” Adam asks. “Where’d he go to school? What was his name?”

“You said one question,” Javed says, heart pounding. “You’re not going to sit here and grill me about my personal life.”

“You’re lying to me,” Adam decides. “Why are you lying to me?”

“I’m not lying!” Javed says. “We were twenty — I was too young to get married. I didn’t want this anymore.”

“I don’t believe you,” Adam says. “If you had doubts you could have come to me about them. You knew that. You’re being weird. Everyone I’ve talked to about this agrees you were super-weird about it. Like, cagey.”

“Who did you talk to about this?”

“Mostly my brothers,” says Adam. “I… this was really hard for me. Do you get that? I didn’t get out of bed for days after you left. My parents wanted to put me in therapy. I didn’t think I would ever be happy again, Javed. You did that to me.”

“It’s better now though, right?” Javed asks. “You got Sophia Braveman. You’ve got football. You’re living the dream.”

“You were a big part of the dream.” Adam runs a hand through his hair, sounding tired. “And I think maybe I could stop caring about this if I at least knew why you fell out of love with me. But you won’t tell me the truth.”

“You’re not accepting the truth, did you ever think of that?” Javed says. He’s in the right. He still made the right call, no matter how lost Adam looks now, how much he’s still the same person. Javed’s realizing that maybe in the last few years he’s built Adam up into a celebrity in his own head, assumed he had all the arrogance and airs. But Adam’s never been capable or interested in being anyone other than himself. “I’m sorry I hurt you, but you know you have a good life. If you’re here to assuage some blow to your ego–”

“You know what, I can’t do this,” Adam says, getting to his feet. His sounds disgusted, which is appropriate because Javed feels disgusting. “Don’t be honest, fine. I guess that’s the best answer I’m going to get, that you just stopped being able to be honest with me.”

“Adam…” Javed feels drained and raw, a lot like him might cry.

Adam heads to the door. “Enjoy your payout.”

“I don’t want your fucking money!” Javed says. This is not good, he’s close to slipping, but Javed is too wounded for it to matter. “I just wanted you to be happy!”

Adam stops, turns. “So you dumped me? What kind of logic is that?”

“The kind of logic where I don’t live in an insane fantasy world where NFL players can openly fuck Muslim men!” Javed says.

Adam throws up his hands. “No one cares!”

“Your fucking coach cared!”

Adam’s forehead wrinkles. “Coach Svenson? He didn’t care. I mean, he didn’t want us to flaunt it, but it was fine.”

Javed walks himself back. “Okay, fine. He didn’t care. Your handlers definitely care though, if they were going to bribe me. They care, I care, lots of people care.”

Adam shifts his weight, giving Javed that considering look again. “You care?”

“I’m always going to care about you, Adam,” Javed admits. He thinks that sounds safe enough.

“If I called my coach right now and quit the team, would you go out with me?” Adam asks.

Apparently it wasn’t safe after all. Javed is so tired and strung out. His whole body hurts. He feels desperate and his self-control is eroding. He’s been so good about not being selfish for so long though. He can keep going. “You won’t do that. And if you did do that, I would punch you in the face.”

Adam gets out his phone. “I’m not bluffing.”

“You’re engaged!” Javed says.

“I honestly think she’d be relieved,” Adam says. He has one of the huge new iPhones and Javed can see he’s scrolling through his contacts. “And I was engaged to you first. Technically you have dibs.”

“This is not a dibs system!” Javed says. It’s pretty amazing how quickly they fall back into these old patterns; how even though Javed is panicked and miserable he feels awake for the first time in forever. “You are not allowed to do this, Adam!”

“What made you think think football was more important than you?” Adam says, looking up from his phone. “Did I do that?”

“It was your whole life,” Javed says, helplessly. “You worked so hard. That story — your dad put a fuzzy football in your crib and you rolled over and–”

“Fuck it,” Adam declares. “I’m actually going to call one of the ESPN desk guys.”

“Give me the goddamn phone, Adam!” Javed marches over, hand out. “It was so fucking hard to — don’t you dare throw this away!”

Adam puts his phone up to his ear. “It’s ringing.”

Javed launches himself at Adam, clawing for his cell. Adam deflects him with a gentle elbow block, barely even trying. Javed talked a good game in school about toxic masculinity and the constrictions of heteronormative jock culture, but he sure had gotten off on having a boyfriend strong enough to fuck him up against a wall. “Fuck you! Fuck your gestures! You haven’t seen me in four years! I’m probably terrible now!”

Adam says, “I think it’s going to voicemail.”

“My dick isn’t worth a fifty-million-dollar contract!”

“Hi Megan, it’s Adam Crane,” Adam says, still casually swatting Javed away. Javed has progressed to hissing and trying to scale Adam’s back. “Can I call you back? The guy I’ve been completely, stupidly in love with since college is giving me a hard time about telling you he exists.”

Javed freezes, sliding off of Adam. He staggers back several steps, coming to sit heavily on his coffee table.

“I hung up before I said that,” Adam admits.

Javed’s head snaps up. “You asshole!”

“She might have heard you talking about your dick,” Adam says. “But that could be hard to contextualize.”

“Asshole,” Javed says, but without most of the heat. He is relieved, he reminds himself.

“I wouldn’t have done that to you,” Adam says. “Dragged you into the spotlight without your consent. But you had to know how I felt. I wanted you to know.”

Before Sophia — America’s answer to Kate Middleton — came along, the gossip sites had an endless parade of glossy, perfect women on Adam’s all-American arm. “I thought you got over me. You were drafted and started dating models. Taylor Swift wrote a song about you.”

Adam sits on the armrest of the couch, his legs splayed on either side. “It was a song about what a crappy boyfriend I was, in case you missed that part.”

“God, you were such a good boyfriend,” Javed sighs. Adam had just been so solid. Javed had held on to him all the times otherwise he might vibrate apart.

“I figured I must have been pretty terrible to make you dump me. Or you figured out you were too good for me.”

Javed looks at him. “Adam, you were the love of my life.”

“You’re still the love of mine, asshole,” Adam shoots back.

He’s almost calm now that he’s surrendered to this. Like how in the last stages of hypothermia people apparently feel warm and happy before they freeze to death. “There wasn’t anyone else. I didn’t leave you for another guy.”

Adam doesn’t answer for a moment. He looks sad, conflicted. “I really thought you had. It just broke me up inside.”

“I just wanted what was best for you,” Javed tries to explain.

“And you decided what was best for me was lying to me? You decided that it was your choice to make?”

“Yes!” says Javed. “Because you would have chosen wrong! And you wouldn’t have cared if I had just explained to you it was the wrong choice! So I came up with a lie to make it stick.”

“That still wasn’t your call, Javed!” Adam says. He’s up again, pacing around Javed’s dingy little living room.

“You were going to tank your future!” Javed says. “It’s not like you had a back-up plan if football didn’t work out! Being out, dating a Persian guy, it was going to destroy your draft prospects — you can’t be so naive that you don’t know that!”

“What if it was in reverse?” Adam counters. “What if I dumped you because dating me meant you couldn’t be a famous artist? How would you feel then?”

Javed shakes his head. “That’s different.”

“How?” Adam stops, arms folded.

“You know it is! How do I understand the world you live in so much better than you do?”

“You don’t!” Adam says. “Apparently you didn’t even try! You just had second thoughts and got scared and ran away without even talking to me about it! God, Javed! You always did this! You never told me when something was bothering you! You’d just bottle it up and then explode at me about something else three months later. I thought we were on the same page about what we wanted.”

“We were. We were for a long time.” Javed sighs, rakes a hand through his hair. He pats the arm of the couch and Adam sits down, gingerly. “I… I was so excited about getting married. And you really had me buying your vision. I wanted to break down all these barriers with you. I just wanted to be with you forever.”

“So what changed?”

Javed looks away. “Three weeks before the draft, your coach took me to lunch at his country club and very kindly and politely explained to me that your career would be over before it started if we got married, and that if I really loved you I shouldn’t ruin your prospects just to prove a point.”

What?” Adam cries. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because he was right! We were kids and we didn’t know what we were doing. You outgrow your college boyfriend. You just do. Look at us, Adam,” Javed gestures between them. Adam’s eyes flicker to Javed’s tattoo sleeve. “We never really made sense. It was only a matter of time before we grew apart.”

Javed doesn’t add that he’s been waiting patiently, for years, for that too happen. He checks the love he feels for Adam with the compulsion of a tongue testing a sore tooth, and it’s always there and Javed just has to go about his day. Javed systematically fucked dozens of other men and went on maybe four dates before petering out, disinterested and unassuaged, a while ago. He has his conviction that he did the right thing and a Sports Illustrated article on Adam, the one piece of press he allows himself, and he rereads it compulsively.

“We made sense to me,” Adam says. He’s not belligerent, just mournful. “I thought that’s all we needed, us making sense to each other.”

“You tell me then, if you’re so brave,” Javed says. “When exactly you came out. You’ve been famous for years, they ask you in interviews about your personal life. I didn’t see my name coming up very much, if all you fucking need is love!”

“Out of respect for you!” Adam says. “I wasn’t going to link myself to you in the press if you wanted nothing to do with me! And excuse me if it hurt too much to talk about our breakup on national TV.”

“You just said you’d do that like twenty minutes ago!”

“Because I’m not embarrassed about how I feel about you! You act like I should be. I’ve never been ashamed of you, or us.”

Javed groans and rubs his temple. “What would you have done if you had never been drafted? And don’t you dare say no one cares. Pretend your coach was right. You wouldn’t have a job and I’d be a starving artist. Our parents disapproved — they wouldn’t help us out financially. Your mom probably would disown you–”

“She wouldn’t,” Adam protests. “She’s not that bad.”

“Mm,” Javed defers politely. “But if that happened, what would we have done? What would you have done — worked in a coffee shop with me? You wouldn’t have been happy. You were meant for more than that.”

Adam looks deflated, not like he’s conceding exactly, but still grim. “You make it sound like I was curing cancer instead of throwing a football around.”

Javed rubs the side of his own neck. “A couple years of being broke and disappointed together and you would realize I wasn’t worth the sacrifice. I wasn’t going to wait around for that.”

Adam lets out a breath, making a semi-rude noise. “No wonder you’re still single.”

Javed looks at him, affronted. “Excuse me?”

“If you’re committed to finding the worst-case scenario before you even start! Yeah, we’re all going to die someday, so why bother eating dinner?”

Javed had actually had similar trains of thought as a maudlin teenager, making him even more annoyed right now. “I just said I had a roommate. I didn’t say I was single.”

Adam’s face falls. He says, “Oh. So you’re–” at the same time Javed blurts out, “I mean, I am.”

Adam relaxes again. Javed adds, “But that’s not why I’m single.”

Adam points a finger at him. “I bet it’s like ninety percent of the reason you’re still single.”

Javed is single because he’s been tired and listless and bored. He can get sex anywhere and after a while even that had lost its luster, and it was just easiest to stay home and focus on his art. “Okay, I’m single. Do you even like your fiancee?”

“Sure, I like her,” Adam says. “She’s great. I don’t love her, no.”

He probably could have guessed given the tenor of the conversation so far, but hearing Adam say that still makes Javed feel his heartbeat in his throat for a second, a little electrical storm in his brain. “Then why are you marrying her?”

“We agreed it made sense,” Adam says.

“Celebrity power couple?” Javed sneers.

“Getting married… stops the rest of it,” Adam says. “The dating stuff, getting shuffled around through relationships by PR people. If you get married people get bored, they stop looking. And I want kids, and I’m twenty-five. It seemed like the right call.”

“Does she know that’s how you feel?”

Adam nods. “We’ve talked about it. I mean, not that we said it like that, but we’re on the same page.”

Javed sighs and gets up, flops next to Adam on the couch. He still makes sure they’re not touching although the space between them feels charged, magnetized. “You know, it’s dumb, but I used to have this fantasy that you would come out. Like, I’d read Gawker one morning that you had called yourself bisexual in an interview and it would be safe to come and find you. I could explain myself and beg your forgiveness…. It’s probably not fair of me to even tell you that.”

“I’m seriously not gay enough to do that,” Adam says. “Or I would have.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Javed says tiredly. “You’re just gay for me.”

“If I could explain how it works, I would,” Adam says. “But I don’t even care. It’s just true.”

“So you’re willing to marry someone just to make the press go away? You didn’t want to try to find someone you loved?”

Adam nudges his shoulder almost companionably. “I did and he dumped my ass.”

“Someone else, I mean,” Javed says.

“It’s not like I wasn’t looking,” Adam says. “Just never happened.” He sighs and rubs the back of his head. “How did you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Convince yourself you weren’t worth it to me.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Javed says. “It’s just — there was the rest of your life and then there was me. I wasn’t going to make you choose me over your whole life. And, like, I like myself fine, but at the end of the day I’m this weird queer kid who doesn’t like making extended eye contact and you’re you.”

“Why do you make me sound like, like a superhero?” Adam asks, cross. “Like you’re keeping me from saving Metropolis.”

“I’d have thought being a big strong professional football man would have inflated your ego more,” Javed tries to lighten the tone.

“I’m still me,” Adam says. “I do a job and I do it well, but I don’t get away from that.”

“That’s the thing though. You never saw how special you are.”

Adam says, “Same to you, Picasso.”

Javed scoffs.

“I love your art,” Adam protests. “I don’t know if I get it, but I love it.”

Adam might not have had the vocabulary, but he has always gotten it. “I don’t know, it makes me feel really big and really small at the same time,” he had said the first time Javed had shown him a painting, and Javed had pulled him down to kiss him, flush with the new realization of being understood and in love.

“It’s changed a lot since college,” he admits.

“Yeah,” Adam says. “I, uh. Googled you.”

“Oh,” Javed says. “What do you think?”

“I like it,” Adam says. “I… uh. Bought one once, actually.”

“Oh,” Javed says again, stupidly. “Which one?”

“It had some kind of Farsi name?” Adam says. “It has a lot of gold paint?”

“They all have Farsi names. And most of them have gold accents. They’re meant to hang in wealthy Muslim living rooms.”

“It’s big?” Adam tries again.

Javed is jostled by a notion. “Was it a triptych?”

“Yeah! That was it.”

“Yeah, okay. I remember that one,” Javed says. “Mostly because the buyer massively overbid.”

Adam looks chagrinned. “I did?”

“By over eighty thousand dollars! I paid my student loans off on you!” Javed slouches in his seat, crosses his arms. At the time he had taken it as a sign that he was going to make it, as an artist and as a person. That check had felt so symbolic, a reward for all his hard choices. “God. It figures.”

“I just thought that was, you know, art,” Adam tries to explain. “That that’s what art costs.”

Javed side-eyes him. “So you just went up to the counter and said ‘one art, please’? You weren’t taking pity on me?”

Adam is taken aback. “Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know,” Javed says uncomfortably. “I guess part of me was always worried you just felt sorry for me.”

“Why?”

Javed shrugs and fiddles with the hem of his shirt.

“No really, why?”

“I just never got you,” Javed says. “You saw me and – look, everyone wants to fuck me, but you, you just loved me. Immediately and completely. I was eighteen, Adam. It was terrifying. High school had been so awful, and I had barely come to terms with who I was – who I was attracted to, who was attracted to me. I think part of me was always worried it wasn’t really love, you just felt bad for me.”

Adam’s eyes are big and wet. “It was never that complicated.”

“What was it like then?”

“I just — I loved you,” Adam says, looking frustrated at the limits of language. “Everything else just fit. It all made sense.”

Javed nods, because there’s not much else to do. They’re both quiet, processing. Like assessing the damage after a sandstorm, when everything is peaceful again but the landscape is in a different configuration.

“Do you feel like you have closure?” Javed asks.

“I have no idea how to answer that,” Adam says.

“How come?”

“Just… what now?” Adam asks.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know where I stand,” Adam says. “With you.”

“Yeah, you do,” Javed points out, confused.

“No, I mean, am I ever going to see you again after I leave this apartment,” Adam says. “I don’t know if you want that.”

Javed bites his lip. “We’re never going to handle just being friends.”

“I’m kind of not handling it right now,” Adam admits.

Javes flops his head between his legs and groans.

“So, um. I should go,” Adam says. “If you don’t want not-friends.”

Javed looks up at him, hair in his eyes. “If we’re not friends, what’s that mean? What does it look like?”

Adam’s expression goes slack, mouth parted, and he grabs Javed’s face between his hands and pulls him into a hard, sweet kiss.

Javed reacts immediately, like the sprung trap and the caged animal simultaneously. He makes an angry noise into Adam’s mouth, kissing back hard and swinging into his lap. Adam adjusts for his weight even on the precarious arm of the couch. He’s holding Javed tight against him with hands large enough to nearly span Javed’s waist. Javed cradles Adam’s face in his own hands, trying not to claw at him in his desperation.

“Fuck,” Adam says, feelingly into Javed’s mouth. “You’re so gorgeous. You’re even hotter now, it’s crazy. Shouldn’t even be possible. I honestly thought I could open that door and see you and actually stay mad at you. Instead I’ve been half-hard since I got here.”

Javed breaks off the kiss to moan against Adam’s cheek. He has tried not to think about how much Adam loves to talk during sex throughout the last four years of jerking off. Adam grabs his ass hard enough to bruise, pulling him against his erection as if to prove his point. Javed grinds against it. Adam asks, “Which one is your room?”

Javed feels lit up like a sparkler and heavy as syrup at the same time. He mouths at Adam’s neck. “Door on the left.”

Adam’s hold on his ass shifts lower, becomes more secure. He stands up, still holding Javed, who makes a little noise and has to wrap his arms and legs around Adam’s torso like a koala. Once he’s steady, Adam starts with purpose towards the door on the right. Javed laughs, surprised at how happy he sounds. “Left! Your other left!”

“Oh,” Adam says, changing course and busting his way in. He falls down on Javed’s bed, on top of Javed, the two of them bouncing on the mattress. Adam props himself up on his elbows, giving Javed, sprawled out on the bed, a good opportunity to study him. Adulthood looks good on Adam. Especially now when he’s tousled and giddy.

“Dummy,” Javed says with affection, brushing the hair out of Adam’s eyes. He pulls him down into another kiss.

Adam kisses back harder than Javed remembers him ever doing when they were young. He yanks off Javed’s shirt, Javed moving sluggishly in comparison to help get himself out of it. Adam says, “Fuck, the ink is hot too.”

“Yeah?” Javed asks breathlessly. He helps Adam pull off his sweater and starts working on Adam’s fly, palming the bulge of Adam’s cock as he goes.

“You designed your sleeve, right? I can tell. God, it’s sexy. Like you’re your own artwork. Makes me want to see if it tastes different than the rest of you.”

Javed fumbles through Adam’s boxers, getting his hand on his dick, automatically adjusting to a grip he knows Adam likes. “So what’s stopping you?”

Adam groans and leans down to suck on Javed’s shoulder just where the colors of the tattoo give way to skin, then give it an elaborate lick. After a few seconds he decrees, “It tastes the same.”

Javed starts working on Adam’s cock, savoring the weight of it. His own dick is flushed and trapped between them. “I really missed this.”

“Yeah?” Adam says. Javed feels him shiver a little in his hand. Adam switches to sucking hard on Javed’s neck, obviously intending on leaving a huge, obnoxious bruise. He lifts up enough to ask, low, “You did? Missed my hands? Did you miss being fucked?”

Javed nods, flopping his head to the side to allow Adam more room to work even as he blushes. “Missed you so much. Missed you fucking me.”

“How long’s it been since someone’s fucked you?”

“Adam!” Javed whines, embarrassed. He palms Adam’s ass with his free hand, trying to distract him.

Adam bites at Javed’s earlobe. “Weeks? Months? How about since someone just made you beg for it? Who else has made you beg? I’ll break their fucking legs.”

Javed moans again, trying and failing to sound annoyed, maybe. His dick twitches between them. Adam was never possessive before. Sex in college had been playful even when it was intense, only desperate in a hungry way. Javed admits, “Over a year since anyone else.”

Adam nods, grimly satisfied. He fishes Javed’s hand out of his pants, pinning Javed’s wrists together over his head with just one hand. “That’s a goddamn shame.”

Javed wiggles a little, experimentally. Adam’s grip is strong enough Javed might not be able to break out of it if he tries. Javed feels himself relax with that realization. “I don’t think anyone else has ever made me beg.”

It has the desired effect. Adam’s face goes almost blank and he rips Javed’s boxers off so quickly it hurts Javed’s dick and he thinks his underwear teared. Adam says with confidence, “No one else has ever made you want it this much.”

Javed kicks off the remains of his boxers when Adam gets them past his knees. “Oh, that’s what you’re doing, making me want it? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Fuck you,” Adam says, but he’s grinning. He lets go of Javed, rearing back on his knees. He curls a hand around Javed’s dick, gently, like it’s a small, precious animal. “I missed this. Missed sucking it. I really did.”

Javed arches up into the touch. “I missed it too.”

“No, listen,” Adam says earnestly, beginning to stroke though, which makes it a difficult command to follow. “I know it always confused you that you’re the only guy I’ve ever wanted. And I could never explain it in a way you understood, and I think that made it easier for you to pull away. But I thought about it a lot. It wasn’t that you were a hot guy. I’ve seen hot guys. You were you, and you were also a guy. I would have wanted whatever I found when I unzipped your pants because it was attached to you.”

“Oh Jesus Christ,” Javed gets out in one breath. He thinks he’s crying a little. “Please, god, Adam, suck my dick, please.”

Adam looks startled, then smug, then he bends down and swallows Javed’s dick to the root.

Javed’s hips jolt. He squeaks out an apology and does his best to keep his lower half still. He reaches out to punch the wall behind him, spreads his legs, needing to move.

Adam closes his eyes and hums, pleased, as his throat adjusts. A small, dark part of Javed thinks Adam is adjusting much too quickly, but the rest of him is too busy kicking out his leg and getting harder somehow. Adam scoops Javed’s ass up in his hands, encouraging him to move, like he needs as much of Javed inside him as he can possibly get. Javed’s eyes are definitely tearing now. He’s completely lost in that tight heat. He grabs at Adam’s back, wanting more skin.

Adam lifts up for a second to lick a slow circle around the tip of Javed’s dick before diving back in. Javed swears loudly, pounds on Adam’s back, finally in the moment enough to use Adam’s throat the way he’s clearly being invited to. He fucks a few shallow thrusts, garbles out some vague sound that could be a warning, and comes.

Adam’s throat works once, trying, but he rears off of Javed’s dick with a cough. He pinches his nose, then gropes around for Javed’s tank top and blows it in the fabric. Javed is too fucked-out to be appalled. His whole body feels heavy and loose.

He throws an arm over his eyes, chuckling a little sheepishly. “Sorry. S’been a while.”

Adam just grins although his eyes are watering a little bit. He crawls up and kisses Javed again, long and thorough. “It’s okay. God, if you did have a boyfriend I’d have to fucking kill him.”

Javed isn’t as big a fan of that. He concentrates on running his hand up and down Adam’s chest, tugging a little at a tuft of hair. Adam seems to sense the change in mood. He says, “I mean, you’re right. We could never just be friends. I would want this every time I saw you and it would drive me crazy.”

Javed takes Adam’s cock in his hand again. “How’d you stay so good at it?”

“Just thought about it a lot,” Adam says. He leans down for a little sipping kiss. “Ate a lot of hotdogs on the road.”

Javed makes a face and Adam laughs. Javed snorts and starts jacking Adam off in earnest. “What do you want now?”

Adam groans. “I want you stop doing that because you’re going to make me come before I get to the good stuff.”

Javed redoubles his efforts, feeling mischievous. “Oh yeah? How are you going to stop me?”

Adam pins Javed’s arms to his side, leaning his weight in to immobilize him. Javed feels a thrill run through him. “Oh wow, you got stronger.”

Adam looks pleased. “I could probably bench-press you.”

Javed finds himself making a small, helpless noise. “Oh god, could you?”

“I am way too hard to bench anything right now,” Adam says.

Javed reaches up, kisses him. His mouth is getting rubbed raw. “Later then.”

Adam braces himself back on his hands, wedging a knee between Javed’s thighs. But then he stops, studying Javed with an intense, inscrutable look.

Javed draws himself up on his elbows, self-conscious. “What?”

“You’re really beautiful,” Adam says.

“Thanks,” says Javed, who would honestly at this point much rather be fucked than flattered.

“I’m so in love with you,” Adam says.

Javed finds himself wanting to brave, a tremulous, insistent fluttering in his chest. Maybe honesty is bravery after all, no matter what he’s been telling himself. “I love you too.”

“And it’s not why I’m in love with you, but you’re so goddamn hot it’s insane,” Adam says, rubbing Javed’s thigh.

“I used to jerk off to that Sports Illustrated article about you,” Javed confesses.

Adam wrinkles his nose. “That was an awful article.”

“The pictures were great,” Javed says.

“I’ll show you great,” Adam says, slapping Javed’s leg lightly. “You still keep the stuff in the same place?”

Javed settles back again, propping himself up on pillows. “Yeah.”

Adam gets off the bed, strips off his pants, noticing Javed watching him avidly. He grins. “Better than Sports Illustrated?”

“Well, not the online version behind the paywall.”

“I’ll get behind your paywall,” Adam grumbles, grabbing Javed’s lube and condoms. The condoms part stings a little bit.

“I really love you,” Javed says, because now that he’s admitted it he’s finding it impossible to stop. He draws his feet up flat on the mattress.

Adam crawls back on the bed, drawing Javed closer before lubing up his fingers. He makes a small sound between his teeth as he presses against Adam’s ass. “Man, you’re tight.”

“Sorry,” Javed says, deliberately trying to relax. The tip of Adam’s finger slips inside him and he feels his body tense up again. He’s an anxious person.

Adam mostly looks smugly knowing, probing deeper. “You’ve always been tight though. Sometimes a little uptight.”

Javed sucks in a breath, trying to concentrate on the part of the pressure that feels good. “Ha ha.”

Adam gets one finger inside, still going slow and careful. “No, god, it was amazing. Definitely missed it. Never stopped wanting it.”

Javed closes his eyes as Adam adds another finger, kisses the knob of Adam’s wrist on his free arm to distract himself. He asks, hating himself, “Am I better than her?”

“Hey,” Adam says. “Hey look at me.” He doesn’t continue until Javed does. “You’re the best, okay? In every way, you’ve always been the best.”

“I’m sorry,” Javed says, suddenly desperate. So many years. “Oh god, Adam, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I–”

“Hey,” Adam says gently. “Hey.” He pets Javed’s cheek clumsily. “None of that now, okay?”

Javed nods jerkily, eyes getting wet again, although that might also just be because Adam finds his prostate. He starts grinding back against his hand, the sensation suddenly going from too much to not enough. Adam doesn’t ask if he’s ready, doesn’t need to, that’s always been the signal. He’s got the condom on and pushes inside Javed, who’s lost to that good hurt.

Technically, Javed’s had better than Adam — partners who were more creative, more experienced. He’s never felt as wild for it though with anyone else, or as fundamentally known. Sex with Adam was about communication as much as anything else. He feels himself adjust around Adam’s dick, hears himself take shuddering breaths.

Adam leans in so they’re chest-to-chest. He starts thrusting, a deliberate, hard pace, kissing Javed as he goes. Javed’s hands come up to cradle Adam’s face, the back of his neck.

Adam can’t keep up the pace for long, thrusts getting shorter, harder, more rabbity. He’s whimpering now under his breath. This isn’t going to last, they both understand that, and Javed encourages Adam to go faster, to take what he wants.

He thinks Adam’s getting ready to come, but Adam presses his mouth to Javed’s temple, voice hoarse. “I love you. Please don’t make me leave you again. I love you.”

Javed gasps, and digs his nails into Adam’s back. “Don’t leave. Please don’t leave.”

Adam whimpers and pushes himself up for leverage, fucking Javed hard enough now that his head would bang against the wall with each thrust if he didn’t brace himself. He’s staring down at Javed, red and intense and greedy, as he comes.

Javed pets his back, his neck, kisses whatever part of Adam he can reach. Adam slides out of him and settles next to him less as a deliberate act and more a force of gravity. Javed rolls over, facing him. He’s half-hard again — which surprises him, these days he generally only can go once a night — but it doesn’t feel desperately in need of tending to. He watches with rapt attention as Adam catches his breath and comes back to himself.

When he’s recovered, Adam closes the space between them, clutching Javed to him hard. His voice is thick when he says, “I’ll call ESPN right now. Where’s my phone? Ugh. Why can’t I develop psychic powers to find my phone?”

“You’ve still got a used condom half on your dick, don’t call ESPN,” Javed says. He swallows. “Do you really want to call ESPN?”

Javed feels Adam nod from where his chin is resting on the top of Javed’s head. “Yeah. I should probably call some other people first though. Like, anyone who’s expecting to marry me in the near future who isn’t you.”

Javed wiggles his way free to look at Adam. Adam is a fucked-out mess, gorgeous as he’s ever been, looking back at Javed as if for the first time all day they are having a normal conversation. “Am I expecting to marry you in the near future?”

Adam shrugs. “I never rescinded the offer.”

“Oh, the offer was never officially rescinded. Let no one ever say you’re not a romantic.”

“How I felt about you hasn’t ever changed,” Adam says, not rising to the bait. “I tried to stop loving you, I really did. It never took.”

Javed sits up gingerly, drawing his knees in. “This … it’s still really stupid and crazy, you know that right? Your life is going to turn into a media circus. The team is going to be furious at you. Are you really okay with how this is going to change everything?”

“It’s 2015!” Adam says. “There are gay politicians now, it’ll be fine!”

Javed does not remotely share Adam’s optimism. But he can’t go back to the damp numbness he was choking on before, he really can’t. The blood’s in his teeth and he doesn’t want to give up on either of them again. He doesn’t know how he’ll handle whatever comes next, but he has to fight now. “Fuck it. Adam Crane, will you marry me?”

Adam rolls his eyes at him, extremely underwhelmed. “Yeah, duh, of course. I asked you first.”

“You asked me five years ago,” Javed reminds him. “And then you asked a completely different person to marry you in the interim.”

“Okay, fair,” Adam concedes. He draws Javed in again, more loosely this time, so Javed’s head is resting on his chest. “But I already said yes.”

Javed feels Adam’s heart pounding, or maybe it’s his own pulse, but either way he closes his eyes and lets himself be steadied by the rhythm. There’s a lot of future ahead of them, and right now he wants to settle into this little pocket of warmth. “Okay,” he says as Adam starts to stroke his hair. “Great.”

see this story’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki

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