Notes: We have made contact! Frustratingly brief contactJ The next one will be more explicit, I promise. Quickly in other news: I got a new computer, thank God, and the 3rd episode of Cambion is out and available at Storm Moon Press here: Cambion. There’s an extra story this time around for people who bought the season pass, so enjoy, darlins! Now on to our boys.
Title: Love Letters
Part Thirteen: Patience As A Virtue Is A Bitch
The rest of the evening was something of a blur to Ben, at least the public parts of it. Despite what they both wanted Ben and Ryan had to separate eventually, Ryan because he was being pulled at by one of the organizers to get ready for the opening ceremony and Ben because he had to let Ryan be pulled away. It felt almost painful to watch Ryan vanish into the crowd after Ben had just had him in his arms, and he swore quietly under his breath at the realization of what that meant. You didn’t get that kind of pang in your chest for acquaintances or casual friends.
Ben wanted his best friend’s younger brother. His dead best friend’s younger brother. He wanted him so badly he could barely think straight. Seeing Ryan in person again, after all the time they’d spent talking, getting to know each other—it was the fatal blow to his delusion of “just friends.” The last bastion of Ben’s self-restraint was crumbling away into the storm of his desire, and he knew—he knew—that Ryan would let him in. He just didn’t know why, and that was a problem.
It was at times like this that Ben wished he smoked, so he could have an excuse to go outside and stand in the cold without looking like a complete idiot. He could have faked it with his cellphone, but that move was a little juvenile even for him. Ben was on the verge of not caring about looking juvenile just for the chance to get some air, though, when Michael found him. He walked up to Ben and spun around in a slow circle, looking pleased.
Ben looked at him and blinked. “You’re dressed up.”
“Well naturally, darling, have you seen this place?” Michael demanded. “I’d be like a fish out of water if I hadn’t. Besides, the hotel doesn’t have any other events going on right now, so I can afford to put all my efforts toward this one.”
“You look good.” He really did, too, the long coat and eye patch giving him an attractively rakish appearance. Michael grinned.
“People think I’m the secret love child of Nick Fury and Margaret Carter as soon as I open my mouth, it’s brilliant. If I were more into this scene I’d absolutely be bringing some lucky person to bed with me tonight.”
“Who’s Margaret Carter?”
“Never mind.” Michael peered at him. “You look a little green around the gills, although that may just be the scarf. Do you need me to find you another nice, deserted hallway to have a private freak out in?”
“Yes,” Ben said immediately.
“No, wait, I’ll do you one better. Here.” Michael pulled a key card out of his pocket. “This will get you into your friend’s top-floor suite, we reserved several for the guests of honor. Patricia should have gotten the primary to him, but I figured you’d appreciate having a copy for yourself.”
“I’m not staying with him, Michael.”
Michael narrowed his eyes a little. “Why ever not? Are you still working through the guilt complex having to do with him being your friend’s brother? Because darling, some of the best relationships I know of began with that kind of connection; it’s not a betrayal.”
“It’s more…” Ben didn’t really want to muddle through this out loud, but Michael was here and offering, and Ben was cognizant enough to realize that he might need help sorting out his mind on this one. “It’s more that I don’t really know why Ryan wants me. I used to send letters to his brother, and Ryan found them and read them and built me up into something that I’m really not, someone a lot better than I actually am. We’ve been talking ever since the funeral, getting to know each other, but how can that be enough?” How could that justify the connection that Ben felt between the two of them? It didn’t seem reasonable. “I’ve met him exactly once before tonight. I barely even knew he existed before a month ago. And he’s young and enthusiastic and artistic, and I’m…a historian.”
“Right, stop right there,” Michael said firmly, holding up one hand. “Two things, darling, and I’m not going to harp on them because I know how you hate the harp, but I want you to really pay attention to me because this is important for life in general and not just for this particular instance of it. First thing: you can’t control every circumstance, but that’s no reason to doubt what those circumstances might bring you. Yes, you’ve gotten to know Ryan in a rather irrational way, but that doesn’t make it any less valid than if you met him at a bar and took him home. Actually, it makes it more valid, because you don’t tend to value people you meet in bars as much as you might. Don’t look at me like that,” Michael chided when Ben glared at him, “I know you, remember? And you know I’m right.
“Second thing, and I can’t for the life of me fathom why this impression exists within you and how it came to be, but you are not just some dusty old historian living your life out in a library. You’re a New York Times bestselling historian-cum-author, you’ve been on the radio and the telly, and you’re handsome and rather fascinating. When you wear the right clothes,” Michael allowed, plucking at Ben’s cuffs. “And you’re not old, Jesus, darling, let’s stop with those insinuations right now. You’re a year younger than me and I certainly don’t consider myself old by any means. So the boy you want is young and beautiful and free, so what? You’re quite a catch. Don’t downplay his probably very genuine interest by giving it another name. There now. Don’t you feel silly?”
Ben shook his head. “You are unbelievable,” he said, but he was smiling now.
“That’s code for I was right and you’re a bit abashed, but don’t be afraid to be wrong, darling, let it out,” Michael said smugly. “It’s perfectly all right to acknowledge my enormous depth of knowledge, my outstanding breadth of insight, over the length of our long friendship…”
“Can you deviate from penis references for more than a minute at a time?”
“I don’t like to deviate from penises, darling; I’ve never swung any way but one. And besides, you enjoy a bit of innuendo if I recall. Now.” Michael glanced down at his expensive watch. “Are you watching the whole opening ceremony bit? If so, you really need to get your pretty arse moving, because they’ll be starting things up shortly.”
“Someone’s saving me a place,” Ben said, but he headed toward the ballroom anyway, tucking the key card into his back pocket.
He didn’t see Starbuck in the sea of people, but she saw him. “Hey, Duckling!” she called out, standing up and gesturing with her cigar. Ben worked his way through the crowd to her, taking the seat she’d saved on the very outside of the first row.
“Thanks,” Ben told her.
“Yeah, no problem. Man, this place is a fucking zoo,” she said, pulling her feet back so another person—this one in a golden dragon costume—could get by. “It wasn’t nearly this crowded last year. It’s the fantasy people, I’m telling you.”
“There you go, man, fake it til you make it.” Starbuck clapped him on the shoulder.
The opening ceremony was as dramatic and crazy as all the rest of the evening combined. Various authors, artists and minor celebrities were introduced, all of them greeted by raucous applause. Christopher Paolini got the standing ovation, but there were plenty of people there clutching copies of Janie and the Phantom and yelling happily when Ryan—or RJ to his fans, apparently—was introduced. He got up from his chair and waved back at the crowd, grinning wide and beautiful. He winked in Ben’s direction before sitting down again, prompting whispers from the people in their section and an eye-roll from Starbuck.
“Family friend my ass,” she said. “Why didn’t you just tell me he’s your boyfriend?”
“Because he isn’t.”
“Bullshit.” Ben expected her to keep at it but she looked down at the con schedule instead. “Damn, he’s going to be running from panel to panel all day tomorrow. Are you going to be his duckling for the rest of the con? Because I sweet talked the organizers into showing the pilot for Battlestar Galactica in the screening room at 3, when your guy’s going to be talking about…” She checked the schedule. “’Small Presses vs The Big Six: Which Is Right For You?’” She snorted out a laugh. “Whichever will have your desperate ass, I bet. But you’re not a writer, are you?”
“Not this kind of writer,” Ben said, and before she could ask continued, “I’ll come to the screening room with you, sure.”
“Good. It’s gonna blow your mind, man.” They refocused on the front, where Ben mostly ignored the next forty-five minutes unless Ryan was talking.
Eventually it ended, and then there was a choice of the Avistrum Academy or an “adult mixer” where people had the chance to mob their favorites in a more casual way before the con really got going. Starbuck vanished into the crowd after agreeing to meet Ben tomorrow morning for coffee before the “Pulling Fantasy From the Real World: On Finding the Muse in Everything” panel at nine, which Ryan would be participating in.
It took a while for Ben to work his way to Ryan’s side at a table near the bar, where every chair was full and more people were standing around the periphery of it, asking questions and looking incredibly interested. There was a specific time set aside for authors to sign copies of their books on Sunday, but some eager fans were pushing their copy of Janie and the Phantom and pens at Ryan, who took the copies but declined the pens, signing with his own sparkling purple marker instead.
“Ben!” All action stopped when Ryan saw Ben, and he scooted his chair to the side and gently pushed back a woman who tried to scoot in. “Sorry, I need this space for my friend,” he told her. “Ben, grab a chair from somewhere.” A few minutes and some polite wrangling later, and Ben was ensconced by Ryan’s side, close enough to touch. In fact, Ryan had one hand on his drink and the other on Ben’s arm, and he kept looking over at him during his conversations with other people and smiling anew every time.
Ben sat and watched and listened, enjoying the simple pleasure of being with Ryan in his element and the soft pressure of his hand. He listened to Ryan answer questions about the parallels between his work and the Odyssey, which migrated into a discussion of Neal Gaiman’s early graphic novels and transformed into sharing opinions on modern interpretations of classic fairytales. Ryan kept drinking too, his fans more than happy to keep him supplied. It didn’t bother Ben, but he was careful to keep his own consumption down. Either of them being drunk was going to put a hold on anything they might have done tonight, and it would be easier to take care of Ryan if he was sober.
They finally broke free at midnight, and Ben walked with Ryan to the elevator and rode all the way to the top floor, one arm around Ryan’s waist to help keep him steady.
“I think I drank too much,” Ryan said, frowning cutely as Ben helped him down the hall and opened the door with his key card. “How…where…did you get that? Did you pick my pocket?” He patted his own ass searchingly. “Do I have pockets?”
“One of the managers gave it to me,” Ben told him, walking them into the suite. It was a large bedroom with an attached living room and oversized bath, and Ryan’s eyes goggled as he looked around.
“Hey, there’s my stuff!” He turned and looked at Ben. “Did you bring my stuff up here too?”
“No, that was probably one of the staff.” Ben set Ryan down on the edge of the bed and turned away to shut the door. When he came back Ryan grabbed for his hand. He missed, but Ben took it anyway.
“I didn’t mean to get drink…drunk,” Ryan said mournfully. “I was nervous. This is my first con, and just my second you ever, and I didn’t want to be nervous.”
“It’s okay,” Ben said. “I understand.”
“No, it’s not okay, because…because I have a question for you.”
Ryan looked very serious, so Ben made sure he didn’t let his amusement show when he looked back at the younger man. “Ask me,” he said gently.
“Will you kiss me?” He immediately shook his head. “I mean, do you want to kiss me?”
Fuck yes, was the first thing that came to Ben’s mind. He’s completely drunk was the second, and before Ben could think of how to qualify his answer, Ryan started to pull back, his hopeful expression falling away into misery.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry I did it all wrong—”
That Ryan could even be thinking that was what was really wrong, and so Ben leaned in and pressed their lips together before Ryan could finish that sentence. It was an awkward angle, noses bumping and necks straining a little, and Ryan tasted like beer and whiskey. It was still probably the most incredible first kiss Ben had ever experienced.
Ryan’s mouth shivered under his, his breath caught in his throat for a moment before gusting out with a moan. He twisted on the edge of the bed and deepened the kiss and Ben let him, opening up when Ryan’s tongue pressed against his lips. The kiss turned a little sloppy, a little desperate, but it was still perfect. Ben thought at that moment that probably everything Ryan did was perfect.
Until Ryan tried to climb into his lap and slid off onto the floor instead, and Ben was rapidly reminded of why this wasn’t going to happen right now.
Ryan gaped up at Ben from flat on his back, his pouty lips glistening, eyes wide. “You kissed me.”
“I did. I wanted to,” Ben told him, then put his face in his hands and wiped at his eyes briefly, chuckling. “And I want to do it again, but not tonight.”
“No, now!” Ryan tried to sit up but ended up flopping back onto the ground. “Shit. I’m too drunk.”
“Exactly.” Ben leaned over and grabbed Ryan’s wrists, then helped pull him up to standing. Ryan instantly leaned against him and went for another kiss, but Ben evaded him. “Not tonight, baby. Tonight you go right to bed, because you’ve got an early morning tomorrow and you’re going to hate yourself if you don’t get to sleep soon.”
“I won’t,” Ryan promised, but he didn’t fight Ben when he laid him back on the bed, pulling the comforter out of the way. “Are you taking off my shoes?”
“Yep.” Ben finished untying the sneakers and put them on the floor by the bed.
“Are you going to take off my pants?”
“I guess I might as well while I’m here,” Ben teased, reaching up and undoing Ryan’s belt. His fingers brushed the bare skin of Ryan’s stomach and Ben swallowed hard, and had to sternly tell himself that he wasn’t here to feel up Ryan, not right now. He got the belt undone and pulled Ryan’s pants down his legs, with a little fumbling help from Ryan.
“What else will you take off?” Ryan asked softly.
“Nothing tonight. You need to sleep.”
“But you’re still dressed. It’s…tragedy. I mean tragic.” Ryan reached out and ran a hand down the closest part of Ben he could reach, his head. “Your hair is so soft.”
“I really—like it.” Ryan’s declaration was broken up in the middle by a yawn.
Ben smiled at him. “I really like you. Go to sleep, Ryan.”
“You should stay. If you can, I mean. Please.”
“Sure.” It was way too late for Ben to consider going home, and he didn’t really want to leave Ryan anyway.
“Are you sure you won’t kiss me again?”
Ben leaned in and pressed a kiss to Ryan’s forehead. Just being able to touch him was amazingly satisfying, enough that he could ignore the fact that his body was definitely more on board with this than his mind at present.
“How’s that?” he asked Ryan.
Ryan smiled sweetly. “Nice. Do it again?”
“If you’re still awake once I get out of the bathroom, I’ll do it again.” Ben pushed off the bed, left his shoes by the door and went into the bathroom to clean up. By the time he got back out, Ryan was asleep on his side, one arm hanging over the edge of the bed.
Ben lay down on the other side of the bed, close enough to feel the warmth of Ryan’s body. “Maybe tomorrow, baby.”