Piece of a Legend

 

 

Chapter Four

 

"I don't get it," Aaren said, and shook his head, totally bemused.

 

Blair shrugged, without looking up from her magazine. Her feet were propped on the seat next to her, and her chair was sideways. One of her elbows rested on the kitchen table. "None of your business anyway," she reminded him, with an infuriating calm.

 

It had been a frustrating day - and this just about topped it off, although he wasn't sure if it was in a good way or a bad way. "I thought you didn’t like him. You said he was a loser."

 

She smirked a bit, just a slight upcurving of her lips, and kept her eyes where they were. "I like losers."

 

Aaren scowled at her. "That's not what you said last month."

 

"I changed my mind, okay?" Finally, that seemed to get some sort of response - Blair glanced at him sideways, and her voice gained an irritated edge. "Look, either say something useful or shut up about it, huh? What do you care who I go out with anyway?"

 

Aaren chose to ignore that. "He's my age! He's a year younger than you!" It wasn't that it was such a bad thing - really, it was more of a good thing. But why the hell did she go around changing her mind about everything all the time? Just to confuse him? It was aggravating. "I thought you said you didn't date younger guys!"

 

"He's an exception," she replied loftily, and went back to her magazine. "Now shut up and get lost, shitmeister - I'm trying to read here."

 

He stared at her in frustration for another few seconds, and then let out a short, huffy-sounding breath, and turned to storm back up the stairs.

 

Truthfully, it wasn't Blair's date with Seymour that had put him in such a bad mood. The image of the silver-haired boy refused to leave his head, and it sent waves of anxiety through him every time he saw it again. He knew - just knew somehow, even without having a chance to ask Laqueta - that the boy was the reason that Tucker went into the forest so often, even despite warnings. And that it was going to continue - that Tucker would keep going into the forest, maybe even a little deeper every time, until that mysterious figure won out completely and he was lost in there forever.

 

And what could Aaren do about that? Nothing.

 

And maybe I shouldn't. Aaren slumped back down onto his bed with a sigh, splaying one arm over his eyes. He didn't want to believe a friend was in that kind of trouble. Maybe it's what he wants - that could be why he was singled out in the first place.

 

Maybe this is the best thing for him.

 

Maybe… it would be like it was with Aaren and the first forest boy.

 

"Aaren?" There was a knock on the door - and a short moment later his mother slid it open. "Do you need a ride anywhere tonight?"

 

"Don't think so." He sat up, putting aside those other thoughts for the moment. The plan - at least as far as he and Tucker had worked out, before they split up for supper - had been to hang out with Blair and Seymour, and obviously that wasn't going to happen, so he really had no idea what they were doing now. "Why?"

 

"Oh, your sister wants the car for her date tonight." The smile on his mother's face was indulgent. Aaren wondered what it would look like if he were the one going out instead. Especially if he said it was with a person no one else could see. "I thought if you didn't need a ride, she might as well go ahead and take it."

 

"Where's she going to go in the car? There's nowhere around here that's more than a half hour walk away." He sat up, and made a face. "She just wants to look cool or something."

 

"That's up to her - as long as you don't need it. Okay?"

 

Aaren considered that for a minute. He probably would still be doing something with Tucker… "Think it'd be okay if I got a ride in when she went?"

 

His mother smiled at him, and shook her head. "I thought you said every place around here is within walking distance. Change your mind?"

 

"Well, I'll get a ride if I can!" he protested defensively. "When's she going?"

 

"You'd better ask her that - I haven't got a clue, my dear." As he got up to move past her, she stole a kiss on the cheek. "Don't be out late, and don't get into trouble."

 

"Yeah, yeah." Aaren waved her aside, embarrassed despite the fact that there was no one there to see. He resisted the urge to wipe his cheek and bounded down the stairs. "Blair!"

 

She let the magazine drop with a flat thwap on her stomach, and gave him an irritated look. "What now?"

 

He ignored that. "When are you going?"

 

"Seven." Blair eyed him warily. "Why?"

 

"Because I'm catching a ride with you and want to know when, that's why." Aaren shrugged, keeping his tone casual. "I'm going to hang out with Tucker while you guys do… whatever." He really didn't want to think about that too specifically.

 

"Yeah, fine." She gave him a bit of a dour look, all the same. "You'd better be ready when I'm leaving, or I'll drive off without you - I mean it."

 

"And Mom will ground you for the next week if you do," he shot back, without too much force. "Just tell me when you're leaving, okay? I'm going to call Tucker."

 

As it turned out, his friend had the same idea. "I was just going to call you," Tucker announced, after they'd exchanged greetings. He sounded even more pleased with himself than usual. "Cool about B and C, huh? Heh, B and C - like an alphabet song, isn't it? Anyway, I thought we could hang out in the cellar tonight, since they're taking in a movie or some date-type thing. Sound good?"

 

"Sure!" Aaren felt much better, just listening to him. After all, Tucker was happy, wasn't he? Maybe part of that was from that silver-haired boy - so Aaren shouldn't be messing around with it. "How about if I bring those books I was telling you about, and you bring snacks?"

 

"Marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers?" Tucker suggested, cheerfully. "We could make s'mores with the candles - just stick a bunch of them together, and you get a medium sized flame, right? Be like some kind of camp out, but underground."

 

"That sounds cool," Aaren agreed, already mentally going over which books he had to bring. "I'm getting a ride down with Blair, so I'll meet you at Seymour's."

 

"Great. See you then!" There was a moment's pause, and then Tucker added, almost too quickly, "Don't forget the flowers, huh?" and hung up.

 

Aaren held the phone away from his face, blinked at it for a few seconds in surprise, and then set it down, shaking his head.

 

At least he could stop worrying about that joke.

 

~~~~~~

 

Can't believe I've only been here for a day. Aaren washed the soap off his hands, glancing up to meet his own eyes in the bathroom mirror, ruefully. He was looking over the edge of his glasses, so the image wasn't as clear as it could've been, but his expression looked about right for someone who was undergoing severe supernatural experiences.

 

That thought still came with a little spike of excitement - now with a touch of fear and some anxiety, but those almost added to the effect.

 

I'm involved in it now, he thought, and smiled a bit, shutting the water off and turning to dry his hands on one of the towels hanging nearby. Despite everything - the uneasiness, the worry, the uncertainty - this was probably the most interesting thing to ever happen to him.

 

And hell if he was going to regret wishing for it just because a couple of things weren't perfect.

 

Aaren finished with his hands, and turned back around.

 

To find himself face-to-face with the familiar figure of the green-haired boy who'd been recently stalking him.

 

A slow but intense shiver went up and down his spine, and he stared. Again… It always startled him - of course, it would startle anyone, to just turn around and find someone else standing in a place they hadn't been a second ago, but the third time around, he would've thought he'd be used to it.

 

There was really no graceful way to just appear in a room, most likely.

 

The boy smiled at him - another one of those slow, pleased smiles - and Aaren's breathing quickened. The last encounter was still on his mind - it came back to him with more strength now, the memory of those soft, delicious lips on his, drawing him out into the kiss with almost no effort at all. The way it had felt, like he'd been floating. How close their bodies had been - how intimate it had seemed just to have hands resting lightly on top of his as he was carefully kissed. He watched the boy shift almost lazily, feeling his eyes grow half-lidded.

 

Is he going to…?

 

More importantly, though - Aaren cleared his throat. "You," he began, and swallowed hard when his voice came out shaky, "haven't told me your name yet."

 

The boy tilted his head to the side, dark eyes gaining a thread of amusement, as if he thought that Aaren put too much importance on the question. Or maybe he didn't even have a name… perhaps he was just a nameless projection of Aaren's desires, given flesh by a spirit who could read his thoughts and discover his weaknesses.

 

It was exciting - knee-weakening, really. All of his wants and needs brought to life…

 

Damn, that'd be perfect. Just… perfect. Aaren licked his lips unconsciously, watching as the figure in front of him shifted again, deliberately. The boy's smile widened, and he raised a hand, just a little, with a slight flicker of his fingers as if to beckon.

 

Aaren did not need a second invitation. Ignoring the wild pounding of his heart and the voice of reasoning trying to caution him over the screams of his hormones, he stepped forward - slowly, as if drawn - and leaned up, raising his hands to brace them on the boy's shoulders as he moved in for his kiss. He wanted to touch, suddenly - it was a base need, a sudden, almost primal instinct. It didn't matter what or where it was, but he needed to feel another body against his, skin under his hands - warmth, reality, a presence. He wanted to press himself into this object of his desires, sink in as far as he could get without merging them together. He wanted to feel this, every part of him, as much as he possibly could.

 

So he couldn't stop the groan when his wrists were caught and his hands forced down - although it was muffled a second later as the boy twisted Aaren's hands behind him, forcing his upper body forward so he could lean down and claim his kiss. Aaren's eyes widened and then shut hard, and he strained against the hold on him instinctively. Not for very long, though, with the kiss dulling his senses and making it increasingly hard to think or move.

 

It was nothing like it had been earlier - this was no cautious touch, or a gentle sort of kiss. The boy's lips were hard and hungry against his, almost desperate. His tongue grazed over Aaren's teeth before a startled attempt at an exhalation allowed him further, and Aaren felt dazed against the assault for a moment, his mouth filled with the hot, wet feeling of another person's tongue and saliva. It was a strange feeling - not unpleasant, but not what he'd expected either. His mind whirled.

 

The boy shifted forward, his hands twisting against Aaren's captive wrists, and then their bodies touched, a counterpart to the fierce kiss.

 

Sparks shot up from Aaren's groin, and he moaned again, feeling his throat vibrate even as the sound was muffled. The kiss was suddenly not strange or unexpected - it was the best thing he'd ever felt, a sensation that sent fire through his body, centralizing at the places where he was being touched and making him feel as though he could finish with just the slightest bit of friction.

 

There was a sudden, loud knock on the door, and Aaren jerked violently, breaking the kiss and letting out a strangled squawk of a gasp.

 

"What the hell was that supposed to be?" his sister demanded crossly, from the other side of the door. She let out a loud, impatient sigh. "Are you ready to go? I'm leaving."

 

If he'd been able to summon up the brain power necessary to talk rather than standing there trying to catch his breath and squirm in the grip of the boy he'd just been making out with, Aaren would've told her to go ahead without him. The only thing on his mind was how to get back to the kissing and the touching and… hopefully other things, beyond that. So all he could get out was a small, garbled sort of noise that sounded a lot like the noise a dying cat might make.

 

"The fuck?" Blair didn't seem impressed with that. "Are you listening to me? I said I'm going! If you're coming with me, you'd better get your ass moving!"

 

Aaren shut his eyes, and tried desperately to get some sort of equilibrium. It felt like the world was shifting. There was some reason he should probably answer - or do what she said and get out of there - but he couldn't think…

 

The grip around his hands - and the solid presence against him - suddenly vanished, and he was left with the comparatively cold air of the bathroom and some maddeningly unsatisfied urges.

 

Oh god… Aaren leaned against the counter, burying a hand in his hair and stifling another groan. It felt like he'd just had a bucket of ice dumped on him after he'd stepped out of a sauna. And then hit over the head with the bucket for good measure.

 

"Did you fall in the fucking toilet or what?" Blair snapped, obviously at the end of what little patience she had. "At least answer me, dickweed! Are you coming or not?"

 

Aaren swallowed - and then had to swallow again before he could use his voice. "Uh-huh."

 

"Well, hurry up then!" she shot back, and he heard her footsteps stomping off down the hall.

 

Sliding his glasses off, Aaren rested his forehead against the mirror and grimaced.

 

~~~~~~

 

"You look happy for some reason," Blair commented almost grudgingly, after several moments of annoyed silence. It was dark out, and that made it hard to see the road, so she had to keep her eyes trained forward - which made the remark even more strange.

 

Aaren gave her a bit of an apprehensive look. "I do?"

 

"Yeah - what gives? It's kind of creepy."

 

Figures. Aaren couldn't help smiling to himself. Despite the frustration, it had been… well, fantastic. Wonderful. He couldn't find the right word to describe it. Even then, he could still remember very clearly how it had felt - not that that was a good idea, considering that he was in a car with his sister, but still. The euphoria had not even come close to wearing off.

 

"Sorry."

 

She snorted. "Right."

 

There was another long, awkward moment of silence.

 

Aaren stopped wrestling himself; the question had been slowly driving him nuts, and he really needed to know the answer. It was like one of those unsolved mysteries or something. "So how come you want to go out with Seymour?"

 

Blair's answer was pretty predictable. "None of your business, freak."

 

"No, seriously." She hadn't sounded too annoyed, and she wasn't scowling or anything, so… "Did he ask you out and you just felt sorry for him? Because it didn't seem like you liked him all that much."

 

She actually laughed at him. "Aaren, I have no qualms about turning people down, no matter how nice they are." The idea really seemed to amuse her; she was smirking to herself as she drove. "Trust me, I don't do pity dates."

 

That didn't help at all. "Then what the hell is with this? It's driving me crazy!"

 

"Yeah, I'll bet." Blair's voice was typically bland. "And like I said, it's none of your damn business. Get your own boyfriend, and worry about that for a while, why don't you?"

 

Aaren could feel his eyes bugging out. Somehow… even with the date, he hadn't thought… "He's your boyfriend now?"

 

"Well, what the hell did you think?" She shot him an annoyed look. "Quit distracting me, okay? I'm trying to drive here."

 

"Sorry." That didn't even sound sorry, and he really didn't care that it didn't sound sorry. Aaren slumped back into his seat, feeling bemused and frustrated, and - most of all, just wanting to know more. It didn't really make a lot sense.

 

He wasn't sure why… but for some reason, he was hoping to hear that Seymour and Blair were dating seriously.

 

Doesn't make much sense, really…

 

Not that much of anything had made sense for the last little while.

 

~~~~~~

 

"C didn't say a lot about it." Tucker shrugged, his attention more on his slowly cooking marshmallow than on the conversation. "I know he's really into her, though - he clams up when he's serious like that. You know? Like it's too personal or something."

 

"Blair's always like that." Aaren pulled his stick from the fire so he could examine the marshmallow on it critically. "She gets annoyed if I ask too many questions," he added, lowering the thing again into their makeshift fire. "I think it's good, though. Seymour's cool."

 

"Yeah, he's a good guy." Tucker pulled back his marshmallow, gave it a satisfied look, and carefully clamped the graham crackers around it, pulling it off the stick slowly so he didn’t dislodge the chocolate on one side. "Look at this, huh? Perfect!"

 

"You're the master of s'mores!" Aaren laughed.

 

"Damn straight." The redhead bit into his creation with relish, beaming at his friend around the bite. Crooked teeth and all, he had a cute smile.

 

He's also your friend - don't look or anything… Aaren pulled his own stick away from the fire. "I think mine's done too - let me give this a try." He hastily prepared a couple of the pre-arranged crackers, fumbling at the last second when the chocolate slid out with part of his marshmallow. "Aw, damnit!"

 

"You don't have much practice at this, do you?" Tucker shook his head, almost pityingly. "That's the second time I've seen you mess up food somehow, and I haven't known you that long." His own creation went down to rest on one of the books. "Why don't you let me do it? I'm always making meals and stuff anyway - you get used to it after a while. Here." He reached out to fix the mangled s'more.

 

"Thanks." Aaren leaned back a bit, watching his friend work. "You cook at your dad's café or something?"

 

"You think he'd trust me with that?" Tucker grinned, looking thoroughly amused. "I'd put him out of business or something. Besides, that's a full-time position, and I'm still in school." He shrugged. "He's just not home a lot, so I have to make meals on my own - or for him, if I feel nice."

 

Aaren blinked - he hadn't heard a lot about Tucker's home life yet, so it sort of came as a surprise. "It's just the two of you?"

 

The redhead shrugged again - when he looked up, his smile was a bit rueful. "Mom left when I was six or seven - went to New York or somewhere to work for a magazine." He abruptly finished with the s'more and handed it over, looking untroubled as usual. "Think this is about as good as it's going to get - sorry. But hey, I'll make the rest for you, so you won't have a chance to mess them up or anything."

 

"Oh - sure." Aaren took it, feeling a bit bemused - again. Why was Tucker suddenly bringing this up? And so casually? How come he hadn't mentioned it earlier, if it wasn't such a big deal?

 

But then… it wasn't like he'd been so quick to give out family details either. "My dad died when I was four," he confessed, a bit hesitantly.

 

Tucker glanced at him quickly, his eyes a bit wide for a minute - then his shoulders noticeably loosened, and he nodded, shifting a bit so he could rest one arm on an upraised knee and still look over at the other boy. "Sucks, doesn't it? It's risky when you decide to get married or be with someone or whatever, I guess." He grinned a little, as if they were sharing a secret. "Poor old C. He doesn't know what he's in for."

 

"Especially with Blair," Aaren agreed, smiling back. He felt warm… Tucker's eyes were bright and his expression was genuine - was there more to a really good interaction than this? If so, it had to be spectacular. "Supposedly it's all worth it - I don't know."

 

He would like to, though… Maybe he could find out more about the green-haired boy somehow without asking for anything he wasn't allowed to know. It was a hopeful thought - and at the moment, it felt like he could do anything, and it'd turn out perfect.

 

"Depends on who, when, and how, huh?" Tucker turned for a moment to reach around and grab the bag of marshmallows. "Up for another try? You can toast them, and I'll do the crackers, cool?"

 

"Works for me," Aaren agreed, feeling content and wanting nothing more than to continue the moment. He picked up his stick again. "Do you do a lot of dating?"

 

"Me?" Tucker blinked at him for a second, frozen in the act of reaching into the bag. Then he grinned, shrugging as if to dismiss the thought. "Naw, never thought much about that. Too much else on my mind, you know?"

 

Unbidden, an image of the silver-haired boy in the forest came into Aaren's mind, and he swallowed, feeling the mood slip. But… that could be Tucker's soulmate, right? Or something like that, anyway. He pushed the thought aside. "Yeah, same. Or lack of opportunity. Most times, if I'm interested, he's not."

 

He realized his slip half a second later when Tucker jerked, knocking the marshmallow bag onto the floor, and froze again, his time with a sharp in-drawn breath and widened eyes. "You… 'He'?" the redhead repeated, turning to stare at his friend in shocked disbelief.

 

Oh crap! Aaren willed himself not to panic, trying to seem calm about it even as he felt a prickle of fear brushing over the surface of his skin, like needles. "I mean… she. Of course." He forced a laugh, trying to make it sound natural. Come on… just buy it. You bought it last time - just be gullible once more. Please?

 

Tucker blinked at him several times, and his eyes settled into a more normal size - he stared at Aaren uncertainly for a moment, as he wasn't sure what to do or say. "… okay," he got out after a moment, awkwardly, and then abruptly turned away, reaching out jerkily for the bag that he'd just dumped.

 

Aaren was starting to sweat. Did he believe me? He couldn't tell from his friend's actions - the whole awkward thing could have just come from making the assumption and feeling weird about it. Just be normal. Don't make a big deal out of it or anything… "Can I have a marshmallow?"

 

"Oh… sure." Tucker thrust his hand out blindly with the requested item in it, pointedly not looking at the other boy. He looked more than a little flustered. "Um… yeah. I'll get the crackers ready," he offered, hastily.

 

Aaren felt like dirt. "Sure," he echoed, heart sinking. There was no way he was going to get that relaxed mood back now, that was for sure. Stupid mouth. Stupid pronouns. Stupid… sexuality.

 

All he'd wanted was to be Tucker's friend - was that too much to ask?

 

"Hey."

 

Aaren's head shot up - Tucker was looking at him now, still with that same uncertainty. "You… You said 'he', didn't you?" the redhead asked, hesitantly. His face colored, and he pushed on. "I mean, you didn't really mean 'she'. Right?"

 

Panic urged him to deny it - Say no, say no! his mind screamed at him. But somehow… Aaren swallowed hard, looking at his friend's expression. There was something almost painfully earnest about that face right then… He just - didn't want to lie.

 

"Yeah," he admitted, voice lowering down to just above a whisper, and stared fixedly down at the marshmallow he was fitting onto the end of his stick. "I meant 'he'."

 

A long, shaky breath emerged from Tucker's mouth, like a release of some kind. "Oh man," the redhead said next, his voice a mix of 'stunned' and 'disbelieving'. "Oh man… I don't believe it. Wow… man. Man."

 

Aaren shifted, feeling more than uncomfortable. "It - It's not that big a deal," he protested weakly, still not looking up. "I mean… I'm still the same guy. Right?" He wasn't as hopeful about that - hell, it mattered to some people; he'd seen it before.

 

He wasn't sure he could take it that easily if it mattered to Tucker.

 

"Man…" Tucker said again, still in that bewildered tone - it seemed like that was all he could say, at least for the moment. There was something of a pause before he went on, as if he were trying to figure out how to get the words out. "It is. A big deal. I mean, not for what you think, but wow. Just - wow."

 

Not for what I think? Aaren did look up then, fixing the other boy with a confused look. "What do you mean?"

 

He wasn't expecting the look on Tucker's face - it was a study in conflicting emotions, the forefront of which was that same uncertainty from before. He looked startlingly vulnerable. "I - um. Hell, I've never done this before - oh man." He ran a hand through his hair, bright red sliding over his fingers as he did, shutting his eyes briefly as if to escape the world for a moment.

 

Aaren stared at him. What the hell? "Tucker?"

 

"Me too." He opened his eyes all at once, turning abruptly to smile shakily at Aaren with something like relieved, scarcely contained elation. "Oh man…" He shook his head then, obviously having trouble putting his feelings into words. "Damnit, A, you're the first person I wasn't too freaked to tell," he admitted, and slumped back, almost melting against the wall behind him, as if it had taken all his energy just to confess.

 

'Bemused' wasn't strong enough. More like 'whacked across the back of the head with a board' - that was how Aaren felt. "You…" he choked out, and just stared.

 

Is he saying…?

 

"I can't believe you are, too!" Tucker got over his period of inertia with astonishing speed, surging up all at once to grab Aaren by the shoulders and stare at him excitedly. "This is great! It's awesome! I mean, I finally have someone to talk to! Hell, I've got someone I don't have to worry about slipping up around!" His words were almost tripping over each other in his speed to get them all out; his eyes were bright, like jewels in the candlelight. "Do you have any idea what it's been like, living around here and being the way I am? You can't tell anyone, because if they don't like it, in five minutes it'll be all over the place! It's crazy!"

 

Aaren just blinked at him. "You…"

 

Somehow, his mind was having trouble catching up.

 

"It's like… hell, I don't know." Tucker slumped down again, this time with a wry sort of smile, loosening his grip. "Like being all alone even with people around. I feel like such a freak half the time, but I can't wish I was normal because it's not me I want to change - it's… it's everyone else." His eyes searched Aaren's hopefully, looking for a connection. "Know what I mean? A?"

 

"I… I think so." It was staring to sink in… Tucker was gay. GAY. Liked boys. Something he hadn't thought was possible in such a small place - and didn't that prove his friend's point about feeling alone? "I can't believe you are too."

 

"I know! Isn't it cool?" Every other time Tucker had beamed at him dimmed down to a pale, puny imitation of the expression on the redhead's face now. "I - damn, I don't know where to start." He seemed to lose his wind then, letting go of Aaren's shoulders and sinking back down with a thud. "I never… told anyone this before." He blinked up, smile fading a bit as confusion settled in.

 

Aaren was starting to get used to Tucker's mood swings, at least. He shifted forward a bit, and set a steadying hand on his friend's shoulder. "We'll work on it," he said reassuringly, and offered a slight smile, feeling that warmth from earlier as it gradually eased back in through his defenses.

 

This was the 'more to it' in a good interaction - he knew that now. And it was spectacular.

 

~~~~~~

 

He felt the staring before he opened his eyes; it was becoming a familiar sensation. Aaren let his arm flop over his forehead and blew out a long sigh, not ready yet to get up and face it. He wasn't really awake yet, first of all. And even with his mind still groggy, it didn't seem like the best thing to do at the moment. Part of him thought the idea was great, but part of him…

 

Well. He was still kind of reeling from Tucker's confession the night before.

 

I don't feel like dealing with this right now. It was a thought he'd never imagined he would have about anything sexual. But at the moment, with his mind completely off somewhere else, it just… didn't seem right.

 

Like jerking off the day after your dog died, or something.

 

There had really been a connection after his friend had let out that piece of information. Aaren couldn't help but smile a bit to himself, remembering it. They'd cooked more s'mores and swapped stories about various things - not necessarily related to the recent revelation, although a lot of them were. Tucker seemed to want to talk about it often, as if making up for years of having to keep quiet, and his smile was bright and his voice and actions brighter. They talked, and laughed, and brought out some of Aaren's books every so often, and it seemed like it had only been minutes when he glanced at his watch and realized it was time to go back up and meet Blair for his ride back.

 

Tucker enthusiastically promised to call the next morning, with an ecstatic grin and a wave as he traipsed across Seymour's neighbor's yard and got himself admonished from a window about being too loud at that hour.

 

Aaren's last memory of the night was that grin, brilliant and unrepentant, and he felt warm all over when he thought about it.

 

Somehow, after that, the idea of fooling around didn't seem appealing at all.

 

That's just strange… Aaren let out another sigh, and settled back against the pillow. It felt like opening his eyes would be giving permission for things to happen - and he really didn't feel like it. Maybe later - let me sleep some more… give me a while…

 

Something shifted at the end of the bed, and then a pair of hands suddenly pressed into the mattress on either side of his head. Aaren's eyes shot open - an instinctive reaction - and the arm across his forehead slipped.

 

The boy smirked back down at him, dark eyes amused - as if he thought Aaren's attempt to buy a little extra time was funny somehow. He tilted his head to the side, as if to raise an eyebrow and ask, 'What was with that, huh?'

 

Aaren forgot to breathe.

 

Still with that little hint of a smirk, the boy lowered himself smoothly to touch his lips to those of the still figure beneath him.

 

For a moment, Aaren felt the floating feeling again - it was nice to be kissed; he wanted this - had to want it. But it was unsettling, and he wasn't too sure why. What's with this hesitation? This is what I want! I've always wanted this! And it feels good…

 

The uncertain expression on Tucker's face swam to the front of his mind, like a diver breaking up through the surface of some previously still water.

 

Aaren broke away with a gasp, shoving hard at his assailant. It was something like trying to move a brick wall. "Stop!" he got out - breathy, shrill, and desperate. Even more than before, he couldn't explain this reaction - it was instinctive, and it caught him up, leaving him squirming on the bed with only the panicky need to get away remaining.

 

There was no more smirk on the boy's face now; he stared at Aaren with a kind of perplexed dismay - for a moment, his eyes narrowed, and Aaren shrank back, feeling the air around them grow heavy.

 

This is… this…

 

"Stop," he breathed out again, and felt fear trickling down his spine like ice forming on a ridge of earth. The boy hovered over him, too close to squirm away from, danger scrawled across every feature. He shifted again, as if to move…

 

"Aaren!" There was a sharp knock at the door. "What was that shout?" his mother's worried voice went on, and the door swung open.

 

With a frustrated hiss of breath, the boy's face contorted and he vanished in the next second, leaving Aaren alone and shaking on the bed for his mother to find.

 

~~~~~~

 

"Hey - are you okay? You know, you look kind of spaced out."

 

Aaren nodded distractedly, pushing his glasses up and offering the redhead beside him a small smile. "Yeah, fine - just thinking."

 

Tucker looked unconvinced. "Sure? You've been kind of weird since I came over. I figured something happened, because - I mean - you weren't like this last night." He grinned a bit, obviously not down from his high yet, and turned to squint at the dirt road they were walking down. "I thought a lot when I got home, too - but hell, it probably wasn't nearly as big a deal for you as it was for me."

 

"I don't know." Aaren shrugged, staring ahead again without much interest. "Maybe not."

 

He wasn't being vague on purpose - it was just bothering him, what had happened earlier. I would've been thrilled if it was yesterday - what was the problem, anyway? The vehement rejection had startled him, and then the reaction to that had followed it up by being unpleasant.

 

The boy had scared him. That wasn't a turn-on at all.

 

Aaren felt a bit sick thinking about it, in all honesty. It was starting to dawn on him that he might've been making a very big mistake.

 

But how to fix it…

 

"It was cool, though, huh?" Tucker was staring at him again, almost with a kind of hopeful anxiety. "I mean, I had fun - I don't know about you."

 

"Yeah, it was great." He hadn't really gotten to know the green-haired boy - maybe there was something to that whole caution business. He should've tried to find out more about him or something before getting all involved. But I did try. Once, anyway.

 

"So maybe we could do it again, right? It'd be fun?"

 

"Definitely." Should he be worried? Feel like he'd lost something? Failed relationships and stuff like that was supposed to be painful. It didn't seem like it would matter if he never saw that guy again.

 

Was that bad?

 

Tucker took in a breath. "A?"

 

I didn't even know his name! "Yeah?"

 

His thoughts came to a crashing halt as his friend darted ahead and then stepped directly in his path, forcing him to stop. "Okay," the redhead announced, and squared his shoulders as if preparing himself. His expression was determined - and a bit nervous.

 

Aaren blinked. "Wha…?"

 

He didn't get a chance to put that thought into words - not that it would've been all that productive anyway. Tucker stepped forward boldly, braced his hands at the sides of Aaren's shoulders, and leaned in to kiss him square on the lips.

 

What!?

 

The experience was nothing like it had been with the boy from the forest. Aaren hadn't had any time to prepare, of course, so he was as rigid as a board, blinking rapidly at the left side of Tucker's face. His friend's eyes were shut tightly - by comparison, his mouth was soft and warm. More so than Aaren would have expected… It hadn't been this warm last time, had it? He felt Tucker's uneven breathing through his nose, like a fan against his skin; Tucker's hands braced a little too hard on his upper arms, Tucker's hair tickling his forehead. But most of all that kiss - it was clumsy and a little slick and too hot, but -

 

Aaren shut his eyes, and allowed himself to be drawn in by that warmth…

 

Wait - what…?

 

His eyes jerked back open with that thought. Breaking away with a sudden gasp, and caught off-guard by the disorienting loss of heat, Aaren stumbled back a few steps, pulling free of Tucker's grip. "H-Hey…!" He instinctively reached up to straighten his glasses, and stared at the other boy in astonishment, too shocked to even be embarrassed, all the while trying to recover his wits.

 

He… just…

 

Tucker looked a little surprised at first - then his face flushed, under his tan, and he looked down at the ground miserably. "S-Sorry?" he got out, voice small and confused, speaking as if he wasn't sure if it was the right thing to say.

 

Aaren just stared. That… Wait. That wasn't supposed to happen. He's not supposed to like me - he's supposed to… and, well, I’m supposed to… "What… that…" His thoughts were a mess; it was hard to find the words. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Th-That's not - "

 

"You don't like me." Tucker's voice was low - disheartened. He was still studying the ground, with a kind of dejected fascination; the combination of voice and expression didn't suit him at all. "I mean - like that. I kind of figured that might be it, but - " His words stopped for a moment, and he blinked rapidly. "I. Just - " He took in several more breaths, obviously steadying himself.

 

The sight made Aaren's stomach clench. No… "I didn't mean that," he said, very softly, and felt his own breath catch as he realized the words were entirely sincere. I didn’t mean…

 

What had he meant?

 

Tucker's eyes finally turned up to meet his then, full of determination and fear and all sorts of the same insecurities Aaren recognized in himself. "I like you. Like that," he added hastily, and swallowed hard, obviously awaiting some kind of verdict.

 

I like you… Simple words - really childish, if you thought about it. But they struck a chord somewhere. Aaren lifted his hand to touch his lips, feeling more than a little confused. His stomach was fluttering; it felt good to hear the words, somehow - but it made him nervous at the same time. "It… wasn't bad," he said after a moment, uncertainly, and lowered his hand again.

 

The redhead stared back at him, alternately startled, unsure, and painfully hopeful. He took a hesitant step forward, reaching for Aaren's shoulder again with one hand and leaning in for a second kiss, slowly, almost jerkily, as if he expected to be pushed aside at any second.

 

A number of things flashed through Aaren's head at that moment. Tucker's arm around his shoulder - his friend's exuberant acceptance of him, right from the start of everything. How he'd gleefully shared information about the forest, how he'd pushed him out of Laqueta's when Aaren seemed to be freaking out. His face when he confessed about his father - about his own secret. His relief at discovering the common ground between them. His doubts, his flaws, his insecurities…

 

His name's Tucker Cardinal.

 

Aaren braced his hand on his friend's free shoulder, and met the kiss halfway.

 

 

~~~~~~

 

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