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With Mayo

It wasn't unusual for this particular dorm room to be this dark and quiet at this hour. Usually, around this time of night, one of its occupants was holed up in the library cramming for one hellish exam or another, and the other was claiming to be holed up in the library studying but in reality out getting drunk, getting stoned, getting laid, or getting in trouble (or all of the above).

The latter occupant lying in bed at this hour, wearing nothing but a pair of green sweat pants that appeared to have been hacked off at the knees with a grapefruit spoon, was not even all that unusual.

The latter occupant lying thus dressed, completely sober, and unaccompanied in bed at this hour was highly unusual.

This would explain why, at a little past ten at night, the latter found himself lying in bed with his roommate's coat unceremoniously flopped onto his face while said roommate milled about on his side of the room putting his books away and changing into his pajamas, navigating surprisingly well in the dark for someone who could barely see across the room without his glasses...until his attention was requested by a soft "hey."

"Aack!" The roommate spun to face the sound, lost his balance, tangled both feet up in one leg of his pajama bottoms, and fell onto his ass on his own bed. As he struggled to put his peejay bottoms on properly, he wheezed out an embarrassed laugh. "God, Bowman, don't do that! You scared the hell out of me!"

"Sorry." Bowman poked one arm out from under the coat flopped over him, seized it by the collar, and held it out to his roommate. "Your coat, sir."

"Uh. Thanks..." The roommate claimed his coat once both of his legs were properly into his pajama bottoms, hung it up in the closet, and--a little more hastily, now that he was aware of not being alone in the room--threw on the top half of his pajamas.

Bowman very pointedly kept his eyes closed as his roommate scurried out of one set of clothes and into another. "Keith, I swear, I'm going to come in here one day and have to peel your twitchy ass off the ceiling."

The petulant little groan that issued from Keith's side of the room indicated that he was bracing for the ribbing that was sure to follow. Normally, this line of ribbing would progress from the suggestion that Keith switch to decaf to the suggestion that he try smoking a joint or two once in a while, and then ultimately to the suggestion that Keith go out in the very near future and get laid. At which point Bowman would duck some item near at Keith's hand that came whizzing at him from across the room. Usually, it was a pillow. Occasionally, it was something a little more substantial. The alarm clock that sat on Keith's nightstand still bore the scars of one such incident.

But this time, it went no further than that one little jab.

Keith crawled into bed and set his glasses on the nightstand. "You're back early," he observed, apparently eager to change the subject in case Bowman was simply lying there taking his time to concoct a new and improved barrage.

"Yeah."

Barely visible in the dark room, Keith cast a puzzled glance at Bowman. Normally, there would be a detailed--sometimes too detailed, in Keith's opinion--account of the evening's festivities forthcoming.

Not this time.

The silence following that single word was thick and uneasy and hung in the room like a fog until Keith dispelled it. "No drunken mischief tonight?"

"Nah." Bowman tucked both hands under his head and opened his eyes, staring up at the ceiling in the darkness. "Me and Nineh were talking about something kinda serious...just had some heavy thinking to do."

"Oh." Keith rolled over onto his back and did likewise. This seemed to take a few seconds to sink in. "...oh. Oh no. Is...is everything okay? Did you--"

"Huh? Oh. No, no, it's fine." Bowman paused to ponder this. "More than fine, actually. I think I just might end up marrying that woman."

"Get out of here."

"I'm serious."

Keith couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, stop. Even if she doesn't mind you playing around on the side, I just cannot see you getting forgodsake married."

And, despite his odd mood, Bowman too found it difficult to keep from laughing. "You're damn well going to see it, because you're going to be my best man if I have to drag you kicking and screaming."

"Okay, wait." Keith flapped a hand in Bowman's general direction. "Let's not get carried away, here. What brought this on, anyway? What would make you decide to settle down?"

"I didn't say a damn thing about 'settling down,' thank you very much." Bowman grinned up at the ceiling. "But hell, if she didn't dump me after I told her I--" A pause. This was also quite unusual, as Bowman's brain-to-mouth filter worked rarely, and worked when it needed to even more rarely. "--after what I told her--she's probably not going to."

Another of those long, vaguely uncomfortable silences followed, finally broken once again by Keith's voice. "...if it's none of my business, say so, but would whatever you two were talking about have anything to do with why you've been acting so weird lately?"

"I always act weird. I like lima beans, Keith." Dodging the question, yes, but with style. "No normal human being likes lima beans."

"I'm not talking about the lima beans." Before Bowman could reply, Keith cut him off. "Or the wholesale slaughter of country songs in the shower. Or running across the stage behind Dean Whatsisface at freshman orientation wearing nothing but a sock on your, uh, thing that rhymes with 'sock.' Or the fact that you have never once been seen cracking a book open outside of class and you're still pulling a 4.0." Normally, if Keith were to pull something like this out, Bowman would counter with some bit of weirdness he forgot. But he weathered it silently--and unwittingly proved Keith's point. "Aha!" Out of the corner of his eye, Bowman could faintly see Keith pointing the proverbial accusing finger at him from the other bed. "See, there you go again!"

Bowman blinked a few times as he attempted to parse this. "...what?"

"Do I have to spell it out for you?" Keith's words took on a distinctly exasperated tone. "You've hardly said two words a day to me for the last month. You haven't so much as given me a noogie in weeks, and though I can't say I'm crushed, I am a little worried."

"Hell, if you want a noogie, all you have to do is say so. Want one? C'mere."

"NO! I don't, but that's not the point!" Keith stopped there, waiting for some rebuttal from Bowman. It didn't come. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to avoid me. Like I said, if it's none of my business, just tell me--"

"Actually...uh..." Bowman fidgeted with the edge of a sheet. "Nineh kind of suggested I talk to you about this. She figured you might understand some stuff she couldn't."

Keith laughed, softly and a little nervously. "You do realize I'm pretty much useless if you need advice on conventional guy problems?"

"This, uh...isn't exactly what you'd call a 'conventional guy problem.'" Bowman let the sheet drop and reached up to shove his fingers through his hair; this did little aside from leaving it even more unruly than usual. Not that it mattered in the dark. "And you're the only ...unconventional guy I know and trust enough to talk to about this shit."

Later, Bowman would realize that this had been enough to give Keith a very hefty clue as to what, exactly, "this shit" entailed.

Another long silence, this one painfully awkward and uneasy.

"...okay," Keith finally replied.

"Well...uh..." Now it was Bowman's turn to let out one of those nervous little laughs. "Damn...I figured if I could tell Nineh about this, telling you would be a breeze..." It went unspoken that this would, in fact, not be a breeze. It also went unspoken that this might even be harder. "I, uh...well, shit."

Under any other circumstances, Keith might have found great and wicked hilarity in the sight--sound--whatever--of Bowman, who was never at a loss for words, and rarely at a loss for the most potentially offensive words possible, hemming and hawing his way into whatever he was trying to say. Not this time, judging from the silence from the other side of the room.

Bowman almost wished Keith were snickering at him.

Eventually, Bowman gave up on the direct approach. "Uh...Keith? That 'none of my business' thing goes both ways, and feel free to throw something at me if I'm out of line here..." And whatever Keith was expecting, it probably wasn't what came out of Bowman's mouth next. "When did it hit you that you were...uh..."

"Gay?"

Bowman's difficulty in getting the word out, he would later realize, spoke volumes. "Yeah."

Keith let out another soft laugh, a little startled and a bit more nervous. "...well, then."

"Look, if you don't--"

"No, it's okay." Keith was silent for a while, pondering the unexpected question. "I think...I didn't recognize it for what it was until I was seventeen--but...fifteen, I think." A long pause. "I--and no comments from the peanut gallery, thank you--I have, contrary to popular belief, actually seen a vagina in person. Shut up."

"I didn't say anything!" Bowman protested, though the admission and its phrasing did startle a helpless, spluttering laugh out of him.

"You didn't have to say it. I could hear you thinking it from over here." Keith waited, more or less patiently, for Bowman to settle down. "And yes, before you ask, that would be 'a,' as in 'one.' Back then, I had--well, a girlfriend--" The word came out in the same sheepish tone as "vestigial tail" or "third ear" might have in its place. "--she was nice, and I guess she was pretty, and we liked hanging around each other well enough...but when we finally...uh, did it..." Keith paused and cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable about discussing this with anyone, least of all Bowman. "I guess she enjoyed it, and I guess at the time I did too...but later on, the more I thought about it, the more I got the feeling that something wasn't quite right about it...I couldn't put my finger on it at that point, but...I guess I did it more because I thought I was supposed to than because I really wanted to...I think she picked up on it too, because that's the only time it happened, and neither one of us ever mentioned it again."

Bowman tried to picture Keith with a girlfriend. His brain refused to produce the image. One of the first things Keith had hit him with, when they'd been assigned a room together two years ago, was an unapologetic statement to the effect that he was gay and might, occasionally, have company just as any young man off at college might, and if that was likely to bug Bowman in any way, one of them needed to go request another room right then. Neither of them did. The initial novelty of rooming with the official Campus Queen wore off after about a month (though one incident in which Bowman unwittingly walked in on Keith while he had "company" over did result in one somewhat tense day afterward), and after that, it was a fact of life. Grass was green. Birds flew. Keith liked guys. No big deal.

"I didn't actively not like it..." Keith continued, as Bowman persisted in trying to persuade his brain to cough up an image of Keith with a cute girl hanging on his arm and Keith willingly letting her. It still wasn't happening. "...it just...didn't seem right."

"So..." Bowman cleared his throat, somewhat nervously. "Were you, uh, looking at guys then, or..."

"Not at that point, no. Or if I was, it didn't register." Keith paused for a moment, then laughed quietly. "I think my subconscious must have spent about two years figuring out the logical answer, though. The year before I came here, I was taking some prep classes in Hilton, and there was one guy in most of them--that was the first one I noticed."

"Was he--"

"Yes, thank God!" This drew laughter, however uneasy, from both of them. "He was sort of in the same situation I was--fairly sure he wasn't interested in girls, but not so sure he was interested in guys, so when I finally said something to him, it was okay. And a good thing too, because even if he had taken it badly, I don't think I could have stopped looking at him." Bowman opened his mouth to say something; even unable to see this, Keith held up a hand to silence him. "And before you ask: yes, we did. We didn't plan it, we didn't talk about it beforehand--it just sort of happened."

"Hey," Bowman interjected, laughing a bit. "That's the best kind."

"Oh, god...well, now that you mention it, I guess it was. But neither one of us had done that before, and..." Keith stopped to let out a rather embarrassed laugh. "We had no idea what we were doing, we asked each other if we were sure that was supposed to go there at least four times and had to wait until we stopped laughing to go through with it, we kept just randomly bursting out laughing again when we thought about how silly we probably looked, all fumbling and falling all over each other like that, and the whole thing was so damned clumsy and awkward and we didn't care."

By the time Keith finished that part of the tale, he was laughing, and Bowman couldn't help but join in. "Yeah," he wheezed, "that sounds about like the first time I did it...I didn't know what the hell I was doing--I mean, I did kinda theoretically know how it worked but damn, when your folks sit you down and explain the birds and the bees to you, they don't exactly coach you on technique-- not that I would have wanted to hear that from my old man anyway, but--"

"--and they definitely don't tell you about doing it with another guy--" Keith wiped his eyes. "I'm not going into any more detail, so don't ask...but I will tell you the most important thing I learned from that experience. It's probably not the best substance for the job, but if you have nothing else with you but lunch in brown bags, mayonnaise will do." And with that, Keith hid his face behind both hands and silently laughed himself to tears.

"Oh, shit!" Bowman nearly fell off the bed, both at this piece of advice and at the fact that it had come out of Keith's mouth. "Okay. No. I'm not going to ask. In fact, there are a few images in my head now that I'd rather not have."

"Good! Consider that payback for all the stories you've subjected me to." Keith laughed himself out, swiped a hand over his eyes, and then tucked his hands behind his head once more. "Anyway...that time, I didn't have that weird feeling about it, and I knew that was what I wanted."

The turn in conversation from creative uses for everyday condiments to pinning down one's sexuality and calling it what it was jarred the grin right off Bowman's face. Perhaps it hit a little too close to home. "When you figured it out...what was going through your head? I mean, did it freak you out at all?"

Keith was silent for a while, pondering this question. "Well, yeah, sort of...I knew a lot of people--my parents included--didn't approve of it, and that scared me. And still does. But the rest of it, I just sat down and took a nice long logical look at. I knew I wasn't interested in girls in general. I also knew I was very interested in, at least, one particular guy. And after he went off to school in Eluria, I didn't start looking at girls, but I did keep noticing the good-looking guys. It just fit." A pause. "I know a couple of guys that talk about having this big profound 'holy shit, I'm gay' revelation...I sort of had that too, but it was more like 'oh, that's what it is' than anything else. If anything, I was glad to find out there was a name for it, and he and I weren't the only ones..." There was another pause, longer and, it seemed, uneasier. "Bowman?"

"Huh?"

Keith frowned, just a bit, barely visible in the dark even to Bowman's sharp eyes. "...why are you asking me about this?"

Why, indeed?

Bowman swallowed and dragged his fingers through his hair once more, leaving it even more ridiculously rumpled. He opened his mouth before he even knew what would come out. Oh, nothing, just wondering. No, he was fairly sure Keith was at least partially on to him. Research. Yeah, right. That'd work about as well as a bicycle with no wheels, considering he took no classes in which something like this could be considered "research."

Because I needed to hear what this was like for you so I'll know I'm not crazy. Because I needed to stall. Because saying what I'm about to say to my girlfriend was hard enough; the thought of saying it to a guy, especially the one I live with and consider to be my best friend and who happens to like other guys and who will very possibly freak right the fuck out when he hears this from me scares the shit out of me. True enough, but it wouldn't come out.

In the end, Bowman didn't answer that question at all.

At least, not directly.

What finally came out of his mouth, after a small, silent eternity, was: "...I know I'm not gay."

Keith sat up halfway, propped up on one elbow, his little frown deepening slightly, but he said nothing. Bowman stayed right where he was, staring up at the ceiling, pointedly not looking over at Keith. "I know for a certain goddamned fact that I like girls. If Nineh or one of her cute friends were to come over here right now, knock on the door, and ask me if I wanna, I'd be out the door and after her so fast my shoes would catch on fire. I see a nice pair of legs or tits or a cute ass on a girl and I drool. Every time a girl with looks and brains comes within thirty feet of me, I notice. But lately...I...uh..." Bowman shut his eyes; he could just barely, out of the corner of one eye, see Keith watching him, and that wasn't making this any easier. "I've...been noticing guys too."

For better or worse, there it was.

And once that was out, the rest came out with it, along with details Bowman had not even been able to relate to Nineh. The night about a month before, for example, when he had spent the better part of an hour on his usual barstool at his usual watering hole talking to a young man whose name he either hadn't caught or had forgotten, suddenly realized half an hour into the conversation that said young man was flirting with him, politely declined said young man's proposal that they go somewhere quieter with an apologetic declaration that he was straight, and then spent the rest of the night alone in bed staring at the ceiling wondering what might have happened if he'd had just one more beer in him, admitting that the young man was quite attractive, and sorely wishing he had a name to put to the face he couldn't stop thinking about. The numerous days since that one night at the bar that found him sitting on a bench in the courtyard with his arm around Nineh and catching himself nearly agreeing out loud when she declared some random guy or another to be hot. The sudden and unnerving realization, at the worst possible time, that the one guy on the track team that could occasionally beat him in the 400 had a really nice ass. The dreams that were coming more and more often, sometimes with Nineh, sometimes without, always with a man (usually his nameless stranger from the bar), the ones that left him wide awake in the middle of the night, horny and hard and bewildered.

But he just couldn't bring himself to mention the other dreams, the ones that left him horniest and hardest and most bewildered of all, not to mention embarrassed, and more often than not also left him standing in a cold shower at three in the morning, desperately trying and utterly failing to imagine that the hand around his cock belonged to anyone but the man it had belonged to in his dreams...and then spending the next day barely able to look Keith in the eye. For a moment, Bowman seriously considered mentioning this, but thought better of it. If the rest of his story didn't freak Keith out, this sure as hell would.

As luck would have it, Keith did not seem to be freaking out. Unless he was doing so really, really quietly; Bowman still had his eyes shut and did not quite dare open them. He found it a little easier to talk this through if he could keep his eyes closed and pretend he was talking to himself.

At least, until he posed a question he thought was rhetorical. "...and why the hell am I freaking out and losing sleep over this, anyway? Hell, Nineh sleeps with other girls once in a while, and I'm fine with that, and I keep trying to tell myself it's the same goddamn thing, and I know it's the same goddamn thing, so why the fuck is it bugging me so much!?"

Bowman had so thoroughly convinced himself he was not being listened to that the sound of Keith's voice, soft as it was, nearly startled him right onto the floor.

"It's not quite the same thing." There was a long pause; Keith must have been thinking of some further way to explain it. "It's like there's an unwritten rule out there, that it's okay for two girls to do it--mostly, only if they're cute, and only if they do it for someone else's entertainment, granted--but it's never okay when it's two guys."

"Bunch of bullshit, is what that is." Bowman scowled faintly, draping one arm over his eyes. "And you know damn well I think it's bullshit. You're not the only gay friend I've got. I don't give a shit who someone else might like to fuck, and I don't see why anyone else would, either. Unless there are animals, kids, or dead bodies involved, in which case I'd have no problem publicly declaring someone An Officially Fuckin' Fucked-Up Motherfucker--or, uh, Sheepfucker or whatev--"

"Bowman!"

"Uh. Sorry. Anyway..." Bowman snickered quietly in spite of himself. "I hate to drag this up again, and again, feel free to throw something at me, but you remember that time about a month after we first got stuck here together--"

"Oh, would you drop that already--"

Bowman pretended not to hear. "It didn't bother me. Startled the hell out of me, yeah. But not any more than it would have if you'd had a girl in here. And I told you so the next day. I wasn't blowing smoke up your ass then, and I'm not now. It doesn't bug me."

Keith took a long time to reply to this. "It doesn't bug you as long as it's someone else, you mean. As long as it's not you."

"Yeah, exa--I mean--no! That's not--" Silently cursing his traitorous brain-to-mouth filter, Bowman flopped his arm back down onto the bed in exasperation, floundering his way through a pitiful, spluttery attempt to reel the admission back in. "--it's--aw, shit." Having utterly given up trying to crawl up out of the hole he'd dug himself into, Bowman let out a petulant sigh and squeezed his eyes shut. "Yeah," he finally conceded.

From the other side of the room came the sound of mattress springs shifting, soft and unassuming; Bowman figured it was nothing more than Keith rolling over onto his side or some damn thing.

Until he heard the same sound come from his own bed, and felt the mattress sag a bit under the weight of a second person sitting on it. Bowman swallowed audibly and tried not to think too much about this.

"...I know this isn't easy," Keith said, his voice little more than a whisper. "Kind of scary, even...but it'll be okay." He laughed, very softly. "So that's why you've been avoiding me."

Bowman swallowed again, harder, and tried very hard not to notice that Keith's hip was nestled right up against the side of his knee. "Uh...sort of." Finally--finally-- he opened his eyes. He couldn't quite bring himself to look directly at Keith, though. Not yet.

"Sort of?" Keith quirked his head ever so slightly to one side. "Is something else bothering y--"

"Don't--" Bowman barely registered the sensation of Keith's hand on his before he unconsciously jerked his own hand back, out of Keith's gentle grasp. Almost immediately, he realized how this must have looked from Keith's vantage point. "...sorry...I just..."

"Now you're starting to worry me." Keith did not reach out for Bowman's hand again; instead, he twined his fingers into a fold of the blanket at the edge of the bed. "Bowman--"

"I..." Bowman shut his eyes again and took a deep breath. "I...uh...didn't want to tell you this...look, can you promise me something?"

Keith was silent for a few moments. "...okay."

"If I tell you the rest of it, can you promise me you won't freak out? Please? At least give me three steps toward the door before you start throwing things?" Bowman's own fingers knotted in the blanket, knuckles surely white. He opened his eyes again, flicking his gaze uncertainly in the direction of Keith's face, just long enough to see Keith nod.

"I promise."

"Okay." Bowman drew in a seep breath and let it out in a whooshing, slightly shaky sigh. "You're right. I was trying to avoid you." He braced for the "aha!" that was sure to follow. It never came.

In its stead, another question: "Why?"

Bowman squeezed his eyes shut again. "Because I...uh...I..." Just spit it the fuck out already. "There's...a few little details I left out." He swallowed. A cigarette sounded really good right about now, but it would just be one more excuse to stall. "I...I'm not real sure I trust myself around you anymore."

"Bowman..." Keith's fingertips brushed over the back of Bowman's hand, once, falling away almost before Bowman could notice. "I trust you."

Bowman forced his eyes open again, forced himself to look up at Keith. "You're sure about that."

Keith chewed briefly on his lower lip...and nodded. "I'm sure."

Bowman shut his eyes again. "You know those dreams I was telling you about? You know how you wake up in the middle of the night lately and hear the shower running? That would be a cold shower. That's what it took to get me unwound from a few of those damn dreams so I could go back to sleep--that, and sometimes a solid half hour of jerking off in a cold shower." He needed a cigarette, damn it--preferably one of the "special" ones he kept in a cough drop tin under the mattress. "You want to know what those dreams all had in common?"

Keith didn't answer that. Maybe he didn't want to know. Maybe he already knew. It didn't matter. Bowman had gotten this far. Just a little more wouldn't kill either of them. He hoped.

"You." If Keith was about to kill him, Bowman reasoned, it would probably be a good idea to open his eyes so he'd have at least a chance of getting the hell out of the way. So he did. "Still trust me?"

Keith didn't seem homicidal.

"Bowman...it's okay." Keith reached out for Bowman's hand again, and this time got a solid enough grip on it that it would take more than mere reflexes to pull it loose; Bowman's eyes slammed shut at the touch.

"Don't--awgod, Keith, please don't touch me--"

"It's okay," Keith repeated, a little more firmly this time. "I trust you."

Bowman snorted out a faint laugh. "Glad one of us does." It became clear to him that Keith wasn't going to let go of his hand this time, and eventually, Bowman gave in and let him hang on to it. And, after a lengthy internal debate, turned his hand over and hung on in return, slowly stroking his thumb over one of Keith's fingers. The hand in his, Bowman thought, had never come in contact with a heavy bag, never broken a stack of pine boards, never encountered a thorny blackberry bush or a prickly stand of wolfsbane, probably never taken any damage more severe than a paper cut. He wondered what his hand felt like to Keith. Probably like hanging on to a cat's tongue, he figured. Keith didn't seem to mind. He didn't seem to mind any of this, and that was more than Bowman had counted on. "I was kinda expecting you to haul ass out of here soon as I said that..."

"Now you're just being silly." Keith gave Bowman's hand a little squeeze, and Bowman let out a soft, nervous laugh.

"No, really...I thought you'd think I was picking on you or playing a really bad joke on you or something..." Bowman returned the little squeeze. "I just--I didn't want to--" Again at a loss for words--this must have surely been some kind of record--Bowman shrugged and sighed. "Y'know."

"Yeah." Keith offered up a little smile. "I know."

Bowman attempted to return that smile. He was mostly successful. "There's just one more thing I can't figure out."

Keith's little smile widened, just a bit. "What's that?"

"...how the hell can you tell who's--who'd be interested!? I mean, just going up to some random girl and asking her out, you're pretty much okay, but you try that with some random guy and you're liable to get your ass kicked. And not once have I ever seen you accidentally hit on a straight guy! Not one damn time! Okay, some of 'em, yeah, I can even tell, but the rest? I'd sure as hell never know! Is there some kinda, y'know, secret handshake or someth--"

"Oh, shit!" Keith spluttered, and burst into helpless, hysterical laughter. The kind one rarely saw come from Keith--the kind that involves drawn-up knees, wheezing, gushing tears, and the occasional snort.

Bowman sighed. "I'm glad you're amused, Keith. I'm serious."

"No, no..." Keith flapped his free hand in Bowman's general direction and eventually managed to settle down. "Oh god. I'm sorry, I'm not laughing at you, honest..." Keith cleared his throat, tittered a bit more, and patted Bowman's hand. "Well...secret handshake, oh god--I'm stopping, I swear--there are the ones like me that are really obvious about it, and you're fairly safe with those...well, except the ones that just act that way to get chicks, and they're probably used to guys hitting on them anyway. But the ones that aren't so obvious...you just sort of--learn to pick up on it. I can't really explain it. You just...know."

"Great." Bowman laughed a bit himself. "I think for right now it'd be safer to just wait for 'em to hit on me instead. Because knowing my damn luck, I'd manage to hit on some guy that would and could kick my ass."

This set Keith right off laughing again. "Oh, you could just outrun those."

"Yeah, but I have to eat or go to class or come back here sometime." Bowman snorted out another soft laugh and shook his head. "Eh. Maybe I should just look for that guy next time I head out for a few beers..."

Keith frowned, just a bit. "...I'm not sure that'd be such a good idea. At least...not the first time. Actually...it's probably never all that great an idea...going off with someone you just met and don't know anything about, even if it's just once..." His grip on Bowman's hand tightened a little. "I mean...there are a lot of assholes out there."

"I can deal with assholes." Bowman gave Keith's hand a reassuring squeeze, and Keith shook his head.

"No, I mean assholes. Bowman, I heard some guy in one of the bars one time bragging about how he led some poor kid in Cross on for a week and then took him for everything he was worth...and I'd like to think you're smart enough to know when someone's trying to screw you in a bad way, but I've seen the effect an average night's worth of beer has on you. I just--I don't want you to get hurt. You're my friend and I care about you and I don't want you to get hurt." Keith drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "And besides...even if he's okay..." Was it just Bowman's imagination, or was there a little possessive edge to Keith's grip on his hand? "...do you really want that first time to be with some stranger you met in a bar that you might not ever see or hear from again? I mean--" Keith squeezed Bowman's hand again. "I'd feel a lot better if it was someone you know you can trust..."

"Keith?" Bowman frowned a bit himself. "Are you trying to tell me--"

"I'm trying to tell you that if you want to experiment..." Keith swallowed, and even in the dark, Bowman was sure he could see Keith blushing. "...I'm willing to be the guinea pig."

Bowman swallowed and knotted his free hand into the blanket; he didn't know what he would do if he didn't immobilize it thus, and was half-afraid of finding out. "Keith--"

Keith didn't seem to notice. "I mean, if you want to...my first class isn't until eleven tomorrow, and you always stay up to the wee hours anyway--"

"Keith." Bowman struggled upright, one hand still tangled in the blanket, the other still captured in Keith's, and wincing faintly as he realized that the mere suggestion of Keith helping him "experiment" had left him half-hard and somewhat uncomfortable. "You don't have to do this."

"No," Keith agreed, though his other hand slipped down to untangle Bowman's from the blanket. "I don't. But I'd rather it be me than someone you just picked up at a bar." And with both of Bowman's hands in his, he added, "...and if I said I've never wanted to, I'd be lying."

Bowman let out a soft, incredulous laugh. "You, uh...you've thought about doing this? With me?"

Keith echoed the laugh, a little more sheepishly, and nodded. "Well, yes..."

"And how long has this been going on?" Despite the circumstances, a huge goofy grin threatened to break out on Bowman's face. He stifled it, though not completely. Keith let go of one of his hands and plucked at the ragged, frayed edge of his mangled sweat pants.

"I guess...the first time I saw you in these." Quickly, he added: "I still think it's high time you gave them a proper burial, though. I am convinced that the only thing that keeps them from falling apart in the wash is sheer will to survive."

"That was a pretty long time ago." About two years, to be precise. Bowman opened his mouth to defend his venerable sleepwear; what came out instead was: "Why didn't you say something?"

Keith shrugged and let out another soft laugh as he leaned forward and tentatively rested his cheek on Bowman's bare shoulder. "I thought you were straight." He tugged at Bowman's hands, guiding them behind him.

Eventually, Bowman took the hint and (somewhat awkwardly) wrapped his arms around Keith's slender waist, a quiet, nervous laugh escaping him as Keith's hands rose to flatten against his shoulderblades. "You're gonna laugh at me...but for the first time in my whole damn life, I have no idea what I'm doing. ...well, I sorta know what to do, but--I don't know where to start--"

"I think..." Keith lifted his head from Bowman's shoulder and nuzzled his cheek. "I think it's customary to start with a kiss." With that, he leaned back a little, the tip of his nose just barely brushing against Bowman's.

"I..." Bowman's voice came out in a ridiculous croak. He cleared his throat. It didn't help much. "I think you're right." I can't do this! his brain suddenly yelped. I can't. I can't do this. I--

Bowman ignored it. Enough, at least, to lean forward, just barely brushing his lips against Keith's. Keith's lips, he discovered, were even softer than his hands. He found himself wondering if the rest of Keith was just as soft, and wanting very badly to find out despite the voice that yammered on in his head, the voice that insisted over and over again, I can't do this I can't do this I can't. Bowman swallowed dryly, squeezed his eyes shut, and before his courage could desert him again he leaned forward that last...little...bit.

The force behind that kiss, though it came mostly from nerves, startled a soft "Mmf!" out of Keith, and Keith's hands tightened convulsively on Bowman's shoulders for half a second. The kiss was stiff and awkward at first, but slowly--ever so slowly--Bowman began to relax into it, the mental cries of I can't do this gradually giving way to another voice, calmer and quieter: I can do this. I want to do this.

And then he pulled back, just a bit. Keith opened his eyes and stammered out half an apology, and Bowman shook his head.

"No, it's okay--it's okay. I was just thinking..."

Keith let out a soft laugh. "Now what?"

Bowman looked Keith straight in the eyes. "...I think there's still some mayonnaise in the fridge..."

Keith's eyes went wide...then squinched shut. "Bowman, I do have actual...I am never going to hear the end of that, am I?"

Bowman grinned and plucked the top button of Keith's pajama top open. "Nope."


It wasn't unusual for this occupant of this room to wake up with the faintly pleasant sore and stiff feeling that tends to follow a night spent in bed with one of his "special" friends. It wasn't even all that unusual for him to wake up with said "special" friend still in bed with him.

But this...this was something entirely new.

Still half-asleep, Bowman murmured out a "huh?" and peered down. No, this wasn't Nineh, and it wasn't one of her cute friends. It wasn't a girl at all, as a matter of fact.

There is another guy using me for a pillow, Bowman thought through the haze of drowsiness that was just now beginning to lift, ...and he's butt-nekkid. And so am I. ...and it's Keith.

Keith shifted a little, mumbled, and was still.

...and he...I...we...

Bowman drowsily laid a hand on Keith's shoulder. And frowned, just a bit.

...and...

"Hey..." Bowman shook Keith, not too hard, just--hopefully--enough to wake him.

...and...

Keith mumbled something utterly incoherent, snuggled briefly against Bowman's chest, and then blinked sleepily up at him. "...huh?"

For one long silent moment, they lay there, squinting at one another through sleep-heavy eyes.

...and I liked it.

"...nothin'." Bowman shut his eyes once more and wrapped both arms around Keith's shoulders.

"Huh," Keith mumbled, and snuggled up against Bowman some more. "...'kay?"

Unseen in the dark and the haze of sleep, Bowman smiled, just the tiniest bit. "Yeah. 'M okay. Go back t' sleep."

"Mmn." With one more sleepy snuggle, Keith did just that.

Tomorrow, Bowman would pick Nineh up after the day's classes were done, and they would go out for dinner or drinks or whatever sounded good then. At some point, they might find themselves parked on their usual shady bench in the quad, checking out cute passers-by as they sometimes did.

And if Nineh happened to spot a good-looking guy and point him out to Bowman, this time he would agree out loud. Which would, naturally, lead to Nineh asking Bowman if he'd had that talk with Keith, and Bowman happily admitting that he'd done a little more than talk. She might be amused by this. She would definitely be relieved.

Bowman knew he sure as hell was.

And from that day forward, every time he and Keith ended up trekking to the dining hole together, he would make sure to order extra mayonnaise on his ham sandwich.


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