Jorge's lining up his corner kick when it starts to rain, a slow and steady drizzle. Sam looks up to see Mark's panicked face. "I left Betsy's top down!" Mark calls as he runs off the field, breaking up the game.
"Leave it, man," Ben says, as Jorge bends to pick up the ball; "I'm gonna run some drills." Jorge shrugs and jogs off with Dave and Jones. Sam watches as Ben toes the ball up and bounces it on his legs methodically - thigh, thigh, knee, shin, ankle, toe - one leg at a time, manipulating the ball down and back up, then keeping the ball aloft as he switches between the inside of each foot and the outside. The tapping of the ball in play is steady like a metronome, Ben's body shifting precisely to achieve perfect balance with each new maneuver. When the ball finally comes to rest between Ben's feet, Sam whistles in admiration and Ben whirls to face him. "Sam," he says, clearly surprised, "I thought you took off. Sorry, man - did you want to keep playing?"
"No," he shrugs; "just didn't feel like going home yet." He shakes his damp hair out of his eyes as best he can. "I can help you run your drills, if you want," he offers lamely, clumsily cradling the ball with his feet as Ben sends it to him in a smooth pass.
All he has to do is throw or kick the ball; he doesn't even have to aim, since Ben wants to improve his anticipation and his reaction time, and is running around like a maniac, bursting with energy. The rain has gotten harder, and there's a chill in the air, but it's sweat that makes Sam's shirt cling to him.
He's marveling at Ben's grace when Ben's foot slips in the mud and he goes sliding a few yards on his belly. He doesn't get up, just shakes silently, and Sam tries to remember splinting procedures as he runs over. "Ben?" he asks anxiously, getting a hand on his shoulder and turning him face up, fingers tightening as the quivers continue.
Ben's laughing, glee so strong he's gone nearly silent. Sam takes one look at him and lets himself collapse too, giggling like a loon as he lies in the mud. They lie like that for long moments, gradually getting themselves under control.
"Dude," Sam says, flinging out his arm. His fingers brush the inside of Ben's elbow and his words are lost as Ben rolls off his back.
Sam blinks and Ben is hovering just above him, grey eyes looking like silver bullets as the storm continues, keeping the rain off Sam's face. And then Ben dips his head, catching Sam's lower lip in his teeth with a touch soft as silk, letting it slip through the tender grasp of his own lips. Sam winds his arms around Ben's neck without thinking, and Ben's weight is pushing him into the mud-soft ground.
Before Sam can get used to the feel of Ben's lips against his, before he can open his mouth and let his tongue slide against Ben's, Ben pulls back, stands up, and reaches down to help him up. The rain beats sharply against his face, stinging his brain back to life. He's not sure how he ended up here, splayed out in the mud and breathless from his friend's mouth. He's not even sure if he should be angry or apologetic but he takes Ben's hand automatically and lets himself be hauled to his feet.
He can feel mud inside his jeans, a slow wet slide, and he drops Ben's hand and hears him say something. He squelches along, one step behind Ben, walks numbly up the front porch steps and into the house. Ben takes off his shoes and socks, pulls off his shirt, and steps out of his shorts. He gathers everything up and heads for the stairs, turning to look for Sam, still dripping dumbly in the foyer. "C'mon, Sam," he says, "I thought you said you were cold." And suddenly a hot shower sounds like the best idea in the world, so he kneels and struggles with his tight, wet shoelaces and wrestles himself out of his clingy clothes and follows Ben up the stairs. He stands in the doorway and lets Ben take his muddy clothes and replace them with a soft bundle, then push him gently toward the bathroom. He drops the bundle on the counter and peels off his wet underwear.
The hot water is fantastic, and he feels almost human again as the mud slips down the drain. He scrubs at his hair and skin and stands under the spray while reaching a long arm out to pull a folded towel from the top shelf of the built-in hutch.
The bundle on the counter turns out to be the sleep pants he wore last week, a brand-new pair of black boxer-briefs, an unfamiliar green shirt, and a neatly folded pair of socks. He dries off and gets dressed and Ben passes him silently in the hall.
He sits on Ben's bed and waits. Ben comes back wearing his red pajama bottoms and a bright yellow shirt with "Tanglewood" printed across it. He sits next to Sam, flexing his bare feet. Sam watches his brown toes curl. "Why did you . . ." he starts, but when he meets Ben's eyes, wide and hopeful behind his glasses, he chickens out. "Why did you need to run drills? Season's over, you don't have to be doing that much work."
Ben looks away and nods, then shrugs, his lips tightening. "It's not work if you love it," he says simply.
Sam makes a fist. He can do this. "Why . . . why did you stop?" He can't quite bring himself to finish, but the important stuff, the meat of the question, is out there.
"Because I want you to be sure," Ben answers him, eyes down.
Sam spends the silence that follows wanting Ben to raise his eyes, lift those long lashes, and pin him with a silvery gaze. But when he leans forward to kiss Ben and those big eyes flutter shut, disappointment is the last thing on his mind.
"Dude! What's Manny gonna think if we show up without you?" Dave complains.
"That you're looking to get all liquored up on his dime?" Ben hypothesizes, and Sam laughs at the deadpan response.
"True, but you're the one who's actually friends with him," Jorge points out.
"He likes you guys," Ben protests, then changes tactics. "Anyway, it's not like he's going to notice I'm not there. You know how crowded his blow-outs get." He stretches his legs, resting his feet on the coffee table, and drapes his arms along the top of the couch. He wriggles happily into the cushions. "I'm not going anywhere tonight."
"Hey, you guys ready?" Mark asks, coming down the stairs. He shepherds Jorge and Dave out the door. "Later," he calls as he pulls the door shut.
"You know . . ." Ben says, and Sam wonders how he can fit all that wicked promise into two little words, "we never did figure out what we wanted to do tonight."
"I thought you knew," Sam says, pinning Ben beneath him.
"Oh, here we go again with another From Here to Eternity moment."
Ben sighs. "Sam, man, have you been living in a cave all your life?"
"No," he sulks.
Ben leans up to kiss his frown away, but it reappears when Ben climbs off the couch. "I'm starving. You hungry, Sam?"
Except for the heavy patter of rain, the house is quiet when Ben finally comes to bed, and Sam latches onto him instantly, lying half on top of him, covering his mouth with his own. Ben's mouth is hot and wet and makes Sam feel like he's dissolving. Ben's tongue against his makes him shiver, and Ben rolls them over, moving his lips down Sam's neck.
Sam's hands feel heavy and clumsy as they slip under Ben's shirt to stroke his broad back; the skin he touches is like velvet. He squeezes Ben's ribs involuntarily when Ben's tongue swipes at his Adam's apple, again when Ben bites gently on his earlobe. "Oh . . . you . . ." he mumbles, unsure of how Ben knows those spots when he wasn't even aware of their sensitivity. His fingers are digging into the soft skin just below the waistband of Ben's stupid red pants, trapped between elastic and heavy muscles. They slip free when Ben slides down a bit, one warm palm on his belly, plucking at his shirt questioningly.
It feels like the first dive into the deep end of a pool, pressure hammering at him from every angle. He pulls frantically at his own shirt, finally just holding his arms up so Ben can slip it off; his hands land on the bright fabric of Ben's infuriating shirt, but Ben strips it off before Sam can tear into it.
He pulls Ben back down, tangling their legs and pressing their mouths together. This time, Sam bites down, turns the kiss rough, and Ben eases his hands up Sam's arms, shoulders, and neck, so that he's cupping Sam's face as he gentles the kiss. Ben's fingers, long and strong, are buried in his hair, teasing his scalp, and Sam can feel himself starting to tremble again.
He shifts, pinning Ben beneath him once more, determined to make him shake. He licks along Ben's throat and tries the Adam's apple trick, but Ben's fingers keep threading through his hair serenely. It's only when he laps at the hollow of Ben's throat that Ben jumps, pressing his leg firmly between Sam's. His grinning bite on Ben's collarbone earns him a painful twist of his hair.
When he starts to kiss his way down Ben's chest, fingertips hovering at his waistband again, though, Ben gets his strong thighs around Sam's ribs and says, "Sam, we have to stop." His voice is nearly breathless. "I don't have any condoms."
He presses his face into Ben's belly and growls. "Are you serious?"
"I wouldn't lie to you, Sam," Ben whispers. "I'm sorry. It's just been a while." His hands are making apologetic strokes up and down Sam's arms. He pushes the hair off Sam's face and brings him down with soft kisses and little touches, cradling him until Sam feels his bones go liquid, his weight sinking into Ben. Ben rolls to the side and Sam slides off him; he tucks his face against Ben's neck, kissing it once more before he drifts off to sleep.
It's only when he's in the shower, quietly and efficiently jerking himself off, that he realizes there were plenty of other ways last night could have ended. There are lots of things they could have done that don't require a condom, especially since he trusts Ben. Ben's been treating him like some blushing virgin, like he isn't the guy who kept up with Karla for weeks and had Steve gaping admiringly. He can certainly handle Ben, who's apparently perfectly content to stay safely at second base.
His grip on himself fumbles when he thinks about third base. He's never once thought about what it might feel like to take someone else's dick in his hand or down his throat. He doesn't know what being in another guy's mouth would be like. It's a whole different ballgame, and he can't even see home plate; this, with its top or bottom and spit or swallow questions, is a thinking man's game. He tries to consider the options but he has no context at all, so he shuts off his brain, strokes himself surely, and steps out of the shower after cleaning himself off.
He examines his own body as he dries off, trying to think logically. He's never liked getting into a situation without knowing what exactly to expect; too much can spiral out of control too quickly. But this is Ben, who makes everything as easy and comfortable as breathing. Ben, who he liked long before they kissed. Who'd never given any indication that he'd wanted to kiss Sam until their mouths had fit together and they tumbled into each other. Who's done this before. Who, with his euphoric kisses, was giving him time to figure things out. Ben, it hits him, is being patient.
He steps back into the bedroom and sees his clothes from yesterday in a warm, dry pile on the bed and Ben doing homework at his desk. It would have been so easy for Ben to let the momentum keep carrying them along. He wraps his arms around him, rests his chin on Ben's shoulder, and says, "I love second base." Ben turns his head to face him. "You make me feel safe," he says like he's auditioning for the female lead in some schlocky flick. Ben smiles up at him, his eyes warm and bright.
His life right now is coffee in the computer lab and coffee in the library, final exams and final papers looming large over him. He knows more about Thomas Aquinas than he does about his own roommate. The conjugations of fifty-seven irregular French verbs have taken up residence in his brain.
He steals a sip of Ben's coffee, wrapping his hands around the mug. "How long is Christmas break?"
"Three weeks," Sam parrots back. "You and me alone in this house for three weeks. I kind of like the sound of that." He nudges Ben's shoulder, takes a bite of his bagel. "You okay, man?"
"Yeah," Ben smiles. "Just waiting to hear my parents' flight landed safely." He adds more milk to his corn flakes and checks his watch again. "Don't you have a French final to get to?" he asks, slicing the rest of his banana and tilting his head back for Sam's hurried kiss goodbye.
He's feeling drugged from Ben's hands, all firm palms and trailing fingers, dizzy from Ben's kisses, when he laps like a kitten at the hollow of Ben's throat.
Ben's hips stutter and his strong fingers pull Sam back up to his mouth. "I've got you," he murmurs, rolling them over and kissing Sam senseless. Sam's tongue feels too large for his mouth, and his jaw hangs open as Ben traces an irregular path down his chest, licking and biting and kissing, his hands wrapped around Sam's waist and his thumbs sketching small circles on his skin. Sam lifts his hips involuntarily when Ben's tongue traces his lower left rib, and Ben slides Sam's underwear down, plucking it free of Sam's legs with his clever feet.
He's completely naked, and Ben is looking at him, up and down from head to toe. His dick only keeps rising under Ben's gaze, and he blushes and reaches for Ben's black boxer-briefs. "No fair," he mutters, working them down, and Ben shimmies a bit to help but stays silent. Now there are no barriers between them and his heart is pounding like a jackhammer and he wants Ben to keep looking at him with those big adoring eyes while somehow also closing them and concentrating on using his talented fingers and beautiful mouth.
He gets his wish. Ben strokes one wide hand down his sternum and spreads Sam's bent legs, settling himself between them and caressing his knobbly knee. He can see just a flash of Ben's pink, eager tongue before that luscious mouth closes around the head of his cock.
By the time he opens his eyes again, Ben's have shut, long eyelashes resting above the hollows of his cheeks. His tongue is tracing ridges, his throat is opening, and Sam can barely remember his own name. He comes in a blind rush, choking and gasping.
Ben's soft kisses, dropped high on the insides of his thighs, bring him around. He can feel Ben's shoulder moving in a steady rhythm, and he spreads his legs wider to see Ben holding his own dark, flushed cock, stroking it slowly. He twists his hips, turning them both to the side, and reaches his hand down. Ben keeps one thigh between Sam's but lets his hands meet behind Sam's neck.
Holding someone else's dick is like staying in that disorienting upside-down moment on a rollercoaster. He has to remember to reverse all of his regular motions, the snap of the wrist, the flicker of callused fingers, the stroke of the palm. The more slowly he moves, the faster Ben breathes, and when Ben's eyes get wide and he crushes Sam to him, Sam can feel stickiness from his elbow to his fingertips.
"Too many delivery boys have seen me in my underwear in the past two weeks, Sam," Ben says.
"Lucky them," Sam dismisses.
"We have got to get out of the house and buy groceries." Ben pouts, but ruins the effect when he can't keep a straight face. "C'mon, man, no one's asking you to cook." He starts making a grocery list. "You don't even have to come; I know what you like."
But Sam is not going to let Ben out of his sight, not when he's wearing that soft green henley that outlines his shoulders and stretches across the firm planes of his chest. "You just want to race shopping carts with the blue-haired ladies."
"Well, I am a thrill-seeker," Ben agrees absently as he adds a few more items to the list.
Trailing behind Ben as they walk through the aisles, Sam chalks up another point in the shirt's favor; it hangs a scant few inches past his waistband, allowing a clear view of Ben's muscular legs and curved ass. He sticks his hand in Ben's back pocket and Ben smiles, kisses him quick behind the ear, and turns to frown contemplatively at the rows of cereal boxes. "Do you even eat anything except corn flakes?" Sam asks, pulling his hand free to snag a box from the top shelf and toss it in the cart.
"Yes," Ben says, managing to sound indignant, but Sam stops hearing him the moment he spots the Apple Jacks box.
"You want to tell me the Apple Jacks story, Sam?" Ben asks.
He blinks, confused by the request. "You mean, the story of how they were invented? I don't know, man."
Ben just keeps looking at him. "No, I mean the story about why you haven't said a word since you saw the box on the shelf. What's going on with you?"
"What do you mean?" he stalls. He pulls out his biggest grin. "Sorry, man; we haven't exactly been doing a lot of sleeping, and I guess I just got tired."
Ben's face is dimming, his eyes stretched wide and sad and serious. Sam takes a shot at saying what he can. "I . . . I didn't think they had Apple Jacks in California." He hopes that's enough, that Ben will subside, let things remain unspoken.
Ben gives him another long look and then turns away. "Sandwiches okay for dinner?" Sam nods, relieved that Ben isn't pushing. "I need to work up an appetite. I'm gonna go run drills."
Sam sits silently at the kitchen table, hating that something so small triggered such an intense reaction from him, wondering when the fallout from being John Winchester's son will end. And he suddenly resents that Ben has been patient about this too, never once asking why it is that he has nowhere to go when the dorms close, or prodding for information in vulnerable moments. All that he's ever told Ben is his name, and that was apparently enough to earn him a seat at the table and a place in his bed.
If Ben wants to know, then he's about to get an earful. He has no right to be so trusting.
He finds Ben in the park, lining up goal kicks and aiming for the top corners of the net, each kick a little less tense, a little more instinctive, until he's moving not to forget but for the sheer pleasure of it.
Sam keeps walking until he's close enough to see the flush on Ben's brown cheeks. "Ben." Ben spins, smiling and squinting in the sunlight, and Sam is struck again by how much he envies his innocence; Ben doesn't fall into a fighting stance when someone approaches, doesn't have a knife hidden on his body.
The words start pouring out of him like he wants to smear them all over Ben, pull him down to a place where "family" means more than shared toothpaste or smiling snapshots. "My mom was killed when I was a baby and my dad went crazy because of it and we moved all the time. We crisscrossed the whole country maybe a dozen times, enough to know what kinds of cereal and cold cuts they'd have in New England but wouldn't have heard of at the Four Corners. And when we were in New Jersey, this one fall, we got free school lunches and my brother used to save his milk and sometimes swipe some extra cartons so we could have Apple Jacks for dinner. And the milk would always be a little sour from sitting in his locker, but that was the best he could do since Dad was gone most of the time."
He can still remember how often the thick paper of the cartons would refuse to rip, how Dean would sometimes let him hold the knife and slice them open, his fingers guiding Sam's on the handle. He remembers Dad stumbling back into the apartment over the garage, two weeks late, his side ripped open, yelling for Sam to lay down salt and for Dean to administer first aid.
Ben sits in the grass, traps the soccer ball between his feet. "Where was your dad?" he asks quietly.
"Fuck if I know. Not with us." His throat is clenched tight as his fists.
"And where is he now?"
"Probably trying again to complete his suicide mission, maybe make it a two-for-one deal, a double blaze of glory." He's not sure if his legs will take him the length of the field at this point.
"Sam," Ben says, waiting until their eyes meet. "What's your brother's name?"
"Dean," he says, and sinks to the ground.
He lets Ben strip him down to his underwear and put him to bed when they get home, and he's almost asleep when Ben finally crawls in next to him. He doesn't say anything or turn to face him, but he reaches behind him and draws Ben's arm around his waist.
He can feel Ben's warm body pressing up against his back, and he opens his legs, letting one of Ben's slide between his. Ben presses a kiss between his shoulder blades and he's out like a light.
When he wakes up, Ben's arm is still snug around him, dark gold in the wash of sunlight. He turns, suddenly ravenous, and he bites down sharply on one of Ben's collarbones. Ben's choked sigh tells him everything he needs to know, and he nudges Ben's legs apart to settle between them. He braces himself with a hand by Ben's waist and licks a long slow line up the underside of his cock. He uses his mouth and teeth and fingers, rough but not uncertain, merciless even after Ben shudders. He frees his mouth long enough to catch Ben's dazed eye and say, "Ready?"
Ben nods after a moment, twisting awkwardly to pull a condom and a small bottle out; he rips open the little square packet. "Come here," Ben says, and Sam crawls up the bed, kneeling in front of Ben and canting his hips. Ben drops a kiss on the head of his dick and rolls the condom on. He pulls one of Sam's hands to him, squirts some lube on his fingers, and guides the hand to his entrance.
And suddenly the heady feeling of mastery leaves him. He closes his eyes. His fingers are cold and wet and Ben is spread out before him and he has no idea what to do next. Ben's hand is brushing the hair back from his face, then looping around his neck to pull him down. Ben kisses him for long moments, wrapping his legs around him and cradling him close.
When Sam sits up, he pulls Ben with him. He reaches for the bottle and wets his fingers again. He pushes one careful finger into Ben, waiting until Ben lets his lower lip slide free of his teeth before pulling free and pushing it back in. "More," Ben whispers; "you have to stretch . . ." his voice drops away as his back arches at the second finger inside him. He splays his fingers as best he can, though the pressure Ben's body is exerting against them is immense. Ben's own fingers are digging painfully into his shoulders, and his heels are pressing heavily against the small of his back. He fumbles for a few moments, losing precious seconds after he pulls out three stiff fingers and before he remembers there's no lube on his dick. But Ben is lying pliant and warm beneath him, smiling up at him when he lines himself up.
He pushes all the way in on one steady stroke, tearing noises from Ben's throat, and going still at the sensation. "Sam, Sam, Sam," Ben is chanting, so he draws back slowly and thrusts forward more quickly, setting a rhythm. Ben is bucking underneath him and Sam only has time to look at his flushed face once before he comes and collapses on Ben in a tangled heap of limbs.
"How is he stressed already?" Irene whispers. "The new semester starts tomorrow."
"That's just Steve's gift," Sam says. "Come on, I know where we can hang out. There's someone I want you to meet." He leads the way to Ben's house, unlocking the front door and almost running smack into Mark.
He's never seen Mark so pleased to talk to him. "Win!" he smiles, completely missing Irene, tucked against Sam's back. "Ben's in my room." He gestures vaguely at the second floor of the house. "Checking email, I think. See you, dude." He claps Sam on the shoulder as he leaves the house, and Sam locks the door automatically behind him.
He leads Irene up the stairs and finds Ben sitting in front of an expensive-looking computer. He bends down for a quick, firm kiss and then glances behind him. "Irene, this is Ben. Ben, this is my friend Irene; we went to high school together. Briefly."
Irene is a consummate actress; she doesn't blink an eye at the revelation. Sam realizes disbelievingly that she actually looks thrilled. She smiles her big pixie smile at Ben and gets an even bigger grin in return. "Have a seat," Ben says, pointing politely to the bed and pulling Sam on his lap. "So, high school, huh? Was he a big goober then too?"
"Oh, no." Irene shakes her head. "He was just a wee little goober then." She looks at Sam. "You grew, what, six inches after you moved?"
"Nine," he grins, smacking Ben's thigh sharply; he should have known that putting these two together was just asking for trouble. He turns back and sees his name on the screen; Ben's writing an email to his sister.
". . . Oregon," he hears Irene say as he turns away from the monitor, "but I spent Christmas break in Virginia. I stayed with my sister and spoiled her kid. I am so going to be Lola's favorite aunt."
"How old is she?" Ben asks.
"Sixteen months. She's just starting to walk, and you know how babies walk like their heads are too heavy for the rest of their bodies?" She jumps up to demonstrate, and he can see Ben fall for her charm as she waddles around like a penguin. "She's just the cutest thing ever, I swear. And so tiny."
"You thought she was tiny?" Sam asks, nearly losing his seat when Ben jostles his legs and smiles sweetly at him, already Irene's defender. Irene digs in her bag and pulls out a picture. Irene and Lola are facing the camera with huge matching smiles, their hair in identical pigtails, but all Sam sees for a moment is the vulnerability of that small body, the tremendous effort it must take to keep it warm and safe and happy. Dean did that for him, kept doing it even when he didn't know how.
Irene plucks the photo from his hand and he snaps out of his trance, turning to face Ben as best he can. "Dude, what is up with Mark? He almost hugged me just now, and I didn't even think he liked me."
Ben smiles and presses his nose against Sam's spine. "No, he likes you. He was just convinced you were straight and going to break my heart." He catches Sam's eye and shrugs. "He's a little overprotective."
Sam thinks back to the first pickup game, Mark's surliness. "Wait. How long were you crushing on me?" he asks, but Ben just smiles at Irene and rolls his eyes, squeezing Sam a little tighter.
He grimaces, squeezing the bridge of his nose tightly, but nothing seems to relieve the headache. It's been building for a few days, and he's been getting increasingly short-tempered. He knows he's close to saying something unforgivable, so he walks out of the house one night after dinner, right in the middle of one of Jorge's meandering stories.
Steve looks stunned to see him, but doesn't close his laptop. Grateful for the silence, Sam looks around and realizes that the room is a sty; dirty clothes lie all over the floor in clumps, winding around empty soda cans and potato chip bags.
His own bed is rumpled, just like he left it, and he can't remember the last time he changed his sheets. He strips down and crawls in anyway, not bothering to set an alarm; he needs the sleep more than he needs to discuss Twelfth Night with a bunch of English majors who are all fixated on the sociopolitical ramifications of cross-gartering yellow stockings.
The shrill ring of Steve's cell phone wakes him up. He crawls out of bed, head still throbbing mercilessly, and snatches the phone from Steve's desk. He collapses back under the covers and peers at the display. "Home" he reads; "Friday, January 24, 2003, 10:10 a.m." It's Dean's birthday.
He doesn't let himself consider the consequences before he dials the last number he had for Dean, his thumb shaky and too big for the doll-sized buttons on the phone. It rings ten, twenty, thirty times and Sam counts them off grimly before hanging up. Dean's probably out, trying to make the most of the brief daylight hours to make his plans and set his traps for whatever evil is making the most noise.
Three hours later he tries Dean again, talking himself into believing that Dean's out at some diner, one eye on Dad, the other on a cute waitress just a little too old for him. The birthday-boy pie and coffee she brings him will have to substitute for what he really wants, so long as Dad is sitting across from him, attention fixed, as always, on his journal.
When he tries late at night, there are no comforting pictures to fill the silence. It is blank like the blacktop under the Impala's worn tires, dark like the night they drive through and kill in, unforgiving like Dad's cold eyes.
Ben's eyes are extraordinarily bright tonight, broadcasting his delight. The house is packed with people; Sam can hear at least twelve separate conversations being conducted in the den. He sees Angie's diamond ring flashing on her finger, Irene smiling coyly at Dave, Mark pouring more ice into the blue cooler. He slides his hand into the back pocket of Ben's jeans and pulls him close, kissing him thoroughly, and Ben melts in his arms.
Ben is always responsive, ardent, but tonight he's virtually glowing; every touch makes him arch up, light and shadow sliding over his skin. "Sam," he sighs over Sam's heart, his arms slipping down to trace the contours of Sam's body.
"What?" Sam slips his hand down between them, fingertips dancing roughly along Ben's length, probing into his heat. "What?"
"You're . . . just . . ." Ben breathes, winding his arms around Sam's neck, bringing him into the rhythm.
Sam guides one of Ben's muscular thighs over his shoulder. "Yes," he agrees, hissing as Ben opens willingly for him, and swallows Ben's long moan.
Ben is brown and pink against the green sheets, his body unnaturally flushed from fighting the bug that's taken down the engineering department. He's tucked himself into a tight little ball, and his eyes are glassy and miserable.
If there was ever a time Sam made a silent wish that he could have Ben in bed all day, every day, he takes it back. It's been days, and Ben is still sweating and shivering and Sam can't tell which is the real problem and which is the meaningless reflex. He picks him up, trying not to notice how uncharacteristically clumsy Ben is when he sets him on his feet. Ben shakes and tries to burrow into his side as Sam strips the bed again, laying down fresh sheets as quickly as he can. Ben crawls back in immediately, arms and legs giving out instantly, nearly knocking over the bottle of ginger ale on the bedside table.
Sam stands at the edge of the bed and looks down at him lying on his side, legs curling like a child's. He clenches his fists, feeling infuriatingly helpless. He doesn't know how to fix this; all he can hope is that the doctor at the student health center was right and Ben's body will recover if he just gets enough rest. But Ben keeps calling him, his eyes cloudy and his voice thready. "Sam."
His pleas are wearing out his raw throat, and Sam's body reacts before his mind can process anything. His hand drops to Ben's hip and pivots there as he walks around the bed, climbing in on top of the covers and tucking them more securely around Ben before lying down and pulling him back against his chest.
His hand clasps Ben's over Ben's chest and the tremors diminish into nothingness. He strokes Ben's hair, smoothes it back from his flushed face, and put his lips on his neck, behind his ear. He murmurs into Ben's skin, promises and charms that had been breathed against his own flesh and bone a lifetime ago, words that still mean safety. Ben stills and sleeps and Sam's anxiety bottoms out so suddenly that his tears catch him completely off-guard.
He looks over at Ben's perfect profile, letting his gaze linger, but Ben is mesmerized by the action onstage. Irene shines, fierce and implacable; she breathes life into the words he read for the first time just a few weeks earlier.
When the lights come up for intermission, Ben sinks back in his seat. "She's fantastic, Sam," he says; "I almost feel bad for Lear when she rips into him."
He grins with pride, then realizes what Ben said. "What are you talking about? King Lear's the tragic hero; you're supposed to be on his side."
"No," Ben argues. "He passes on the responsibility of being king but wants to keep all the perks? That's not right."
"Man, where were you when I was writing my twenty-page paper on this stupid play?" Sam gripes.
"Waiting with my ass in the air for you to stop writing and get back in bed," Ben says, leaning over the armrest to steal a kiss.
"The usual, kids?" Doris asks as they walk into the diner, heading for their regular table.
Irene is still riding the high from the performance, and she's effervescent. "So then Cordelia - this girl Janine - says to me that she and Kent have been getting together during intermission, and would I like to join them in a threeway. Two minutes before I have to say 'Pluck out his eyes'!"
Ben laughs. "That's just great comedic timing," he says, and Irene giggles.
Doris comes by with their milkshakes. "Back with your food in a minute," she says, her gaze lingering on Ben, who smiles his thanks.
The minute Doris is out of earshot, Sam grabs Ben's chocolate shake. "Dude," he says, raising the straws of his shake and Ben's simultaneously, watching the chocolate cling to the straw while the vanilla slides down like water, "your shake is at least twice as thick as mine." Ben scoffs, and Sam turns to Irene for validation. "Doris likes you."
Ben ignores him, reading the dessert list instead. "Maybe I'll get peanut butter pie," he says, nodding at Irene's hopeful gaze to assure her that he'll share.
"You keep eating like that and there'll just be more of you for Doris to love," Sam says, smirking; his ankle is nailed by a sharp kick a moment later, and he turns betrayed eyes on Irene, who's got her head on Ben's shoulder.
Sam's nursing a beer, his head in Ben's lap, when Mark tosses some mail on his stomach. "Thanks, man," Ben says, tearing his eyes away from the soccer game on TV. He reaches out to scoop it off of Sam, who sits up a bit to dodge Ben's elbow. He leans back against Ben's side, hearing the rip of an envelope being torn open; he feels it when Ben's breathing accelerates.
"Sam," Ben says quietly. "Sam. I got an interview." He sounds like he can't quite trust his own grasp of the English language. "Harvard Med." He gulps down some air and opens another envelope. "Johns Hopkins." By the time he's done, there's a snowstorm of paper on his lap, crushed when Sam shifts to sit on his lap and kiss the breath out of him.
Ben gasps when the cold beer bottle clinks gently at the top of his spine and shivers against him in a way that somehow makes Sam think of sorrow. It takes a moment for Sam's brain to catch up. All but a couple of the schools Ben named are on the East coast.
He leans his forehead against Ben's, unable to keep from touching him. He wants to ask how much time they've got left, but the words freeze in his throat. "Sam," Ben whispers against his mouth, "I'm not going anywhere just yet. These are just interviews."
Sam closes his eyes. "But you are gonna go." Ben deserves this, has worked hard for it. And the idea of Ben as a doctor, reaching out with those friendly hands and wide smile, using his mind to figure out how to make people feel better, makes sense in a way it would be stupid to deny.
"Yes," Ben says simply, sitting back to look him full in the face, and he can't think of anything to say after that.
A lifetime of cheap motels with stained carpets, threadbare towels, and missing lampshades rears its ugly head when he walks into the lobby of the Four Seasons with his arm around Ben. He gapes at the leather and wood and crystal and silk, nearly twists his ankles on the plush carpeting. His hands drop to cover the holes in his jeans, and it's only when Ben turns to him with nervous eyes that he remembers that it doesn't matter how this place makes him feel; Ben needs him.
He nudges Ben with his hip, steering them to a couch in the corner of the lobby. "We're early," he says. "You've got forty minutes before your first interview."
Ben nods, looking around like he can't remember how he got there. Sam kisses him to stop his mind from wandering, and Ben's mouth opens under his as he relaxes, finally smiling against Sam's mouth.
Sam grins down at him and pulls the tie from Ben's bag. "Flip your collar," he says. He winds the silk around Ben's neck and looks at the shadows his long lashes are casting on his cheeks; every detail is unbelievably sharp as he looks at Ben and ties his tie. His fingers slip into the soft dark hair above Ben's nape as he flips the collar back down and Ben looks up at him with happy, bright eyes.
They sit close together until Ben checks his watch and stands, his hand warm and damp on Sam's thigh, thumb rubbing at the skin bared by the biggest hole. "Wish me luck," he whispers, picking up his bag. Sam watches him get smaller and smaller as he walks across the lobby and rises in the soaring glass elevator.
It's hard to concentrate whenever Ben looks at him, but especially now, when Ben's hair is wet and spiky from his shower and his eyes are sleepy behind his glasses and all he's wearing are black boxer-briefs. Still, Sam makes an effort. "What?"
"Spring break," Ben says again. "Jorge and Dave asked if we wanted to drive down to San Diego with them and stay in this place they rented. Sam and Angie are going to Georgia to plan the wedding and Mark's gonna be in Chicago. What do you want to do?"
He can't think when Ben's catching the lamplight like that, like it's sunshine sunk into his skin. "I . . . I don't want to go anywhere," he says honestly. "I've been everywhere; I just want to sit still and be home." It looks like Ben understood his mumbling a little too well, and he rolls over, pressing his face into the cool pillow.
"Whatever you want, Sam." Ben snaps off the light, and a hand finds his hip in the darkness.
Sam's hips flex furiously as he slams into Ben, pushing him further up the bed with every thrust. Ben mumbles in a voice as dazed as his eyes, "You're new," then bends his back like a bow as Sam wrenches him to completion just before he comes.
He knows it's neither fair nor nice, but he's safe, Ben is safe, so Sam doesn't bother biting his tongue. They're lying together, sweaty and sated, and Sam whispers, "I'm new? Dude, I've been here for months now. Remember?" Ben blushes a little, murmurs something inaudible, and buries his face in Sam's neck. "No, seriously, man, what does that mean - new? Cause I think I've gotten pretty good at all of this," Sam says grandly, waving his hand in a sweep over the rumpled bed, knowing Ben won't disagree. Ben still doesn't respond, so he pokes at his ribs and prods, "Ben? Ben. Ben?"
Ben kisses him hard to get him to shut up, more teeth than tongue, but Sam keeps his eyes open, makes them plead, and Ben breaks the kiss with a sigh, rolls off the bed, and walks to the door. Sam follows him into the bathroom, mouth open to apologize, and Ben closes the door and grabs his arm.
"You're new," Ben says, low and clear. His chin is almost on Sam's shoulder, and Sam is facing the full-length mirror that hangs on the back of the door.
"I'm sorry," he says, trying to turn, but Ben's grip on his shoulders keeps him locked in place.
"This is what I see when I look at you, Sam," Ben says. "I see slanted eyes and a wicked smile. I see shoulders like a charioteer's, hips like arrows. Huge hands, flat little ass."
His fingers are tracing everything he describes, and Sam can't look away. He's completely spellbound by Ben's vision of him, a wondrous whole made up of old and beautiful pieces of the past, rearranged in an extraordinary new way.
"I'm sorry," he says again. He wants to do this for Ben, find a word for each part of him, but he knows he can't, can't pin him down to one word when Ben means everything, so he holds Ben's face in his hands and kisses him back to bed.
Irene shows up with a pile of books under one arm and a determined look on her face. "I'm here to take your mind off things," she announces firmly. "We're going to talk, then we're going to do work, and you'll be so busy that you won't have time to miss him."
Already he's feeling a little better. "How was the tour?" he asks.
"Why Chuck decided that it made sense to tour San Francisco high schools with a production of King Lear is beyond me. Every night when I went out for my curtain call, I'd hear some charming boy yell out, 'Way to go, Gonorrhea!' or something along those lines. Because 'Goneril' is apparently the most hilarious name in the universe. Were you aware of that?"
"No," he giggles, and she socks him in the stomach.
When Ben comes back, there's less tension in his shoulders. Even his walk looks a little more fluid.
"I liked Harvard the best," he says, sitting Indian-style, a pillow between his back and the headboard. "They're doing the kind of research I want to get involved in, and they've got the funding to do it." He falls silent for a moment. "But Boston is really expensive; I don't know if I can afford to live there. If I went to Yale, I could live with my parents." He smiles tenderly at Sam. "I can't stay here; I'm sorry. But we'll figure everything out once I get my loans and stuff."
He brushes Sam's hair off his face, going still for a moment before swinging his legs off the bed and heading downstairs to make dinner.
"Does that make sense?" Ben asks again, not even letting his eyes drift back to his own work, and Sam feels horribly guilty for being so slow on the uptake. He's never liked math, figured he'd never need it, and that's one thing that didn't change when he traded one life for another.
"No," he sighs. "Sorry." He drops his head on his arms on top of the textbook. Ben's book is open to a diagram of a circuit that looks even worse than the integration he's been struggling with. "Hey," he says, ready to change the subject, and putting his most winsome smile on his face, "you don't happen to know of any classes that would fulfill my hard science requirement and not make me use math, do you?"
"I do," Jorge says, strolling into the kitchen to raid the fridge. "Psych 302. Early Childhood Development. Total cakewalk, if you get Masterson. She lets you use your own childhood instead of doing research."
Having to dredge up his childhood sounds like a total nightmare, so Sam just smiles and turns back to his calculus. But Ben looks interested. "Like what?"
Jorge talks around the egg roll shoved in his mouth. "Like, you know, um, what was your first word, and what is the significance of that word? Does that word have significance, or is it our own cultural bias that invests the event with such importance?" He grins. "I totally aced that class, man." He strolls out of the kitchen with a couple of take out cartons.
Ben turns back to his books, his long fingers curled around a mechanical pencil, and Sam forces himself to look down at his own work. He concentrates on making his mind blank, but he was never any good at that; his brain was always too busy to hunker down for a wait. All he can hear is Dad's voice, the one time it approached tenderness: Sam was holding Dean's hand and Dad had a death-grip on the other. The steady beep of the heart monitor filled the silence, and Dad cleared his throat and started to speak. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn't talking to Dean.
"After your mother . . . Dean stopped talking. Wouldn't say a word. He'd look at me like his voice had been scared right out of his throat. Didn't realize until months later he'd been talking all along, but only to you. I'd find him in your crib every night and he must have been whispering to you all night long, because your first word was 'Sammy,' just the way Dean used to say it, almost like a song."
Dad stopped talking abruptly, like he'd just run out of things to say, and Sam looked at his own hand, too small to hold Dean's the way he wanted to, to wrap Dean up safe and secure.
"Sam?" he hears, and looks down to see Ben's strong hand spread wide on the textbook, looks up to meet Ben's worried grey eyes. "Take a break, man," he says, shaking Sam's shoulder gently; "your eyes are gonna bleed if you stare any harder."
He nods and walks slowly up the stairs. He crashes into sleep the moment he lies down.
He's trying not to think about how badly he must have blown his calc final. The important thing is that exams are over; his first year is done.
No, the important thing is that he's got Ben's head in his lap. He pulls up some grass and throws the pieces idly at Ben, watching as they drift down, resting against his cheek, clinging to his eyebrow. Ben's wide hands are pressed against the earth, grass and clover springing up between his long fingers.
"What do you want for your birthday, Sam?" Ben asks, his eyes still closed, the sunlight picking out the blue veins in his eyelids.
His heart tightens all over again, marveling at how restful, how easy things are with Ben. He doesn't even have to think before he says Ben's next line right along with him: "Or should I just surprise you?"
He grins down at Ben, who's opened his eyes and tilted his chin up inquisitively. "Yeah, surprise me. If you can." He doesn't resist when Ben twists, an arm around his waist, and pins him flat on his back.
Ben's mouth is soft and hot and slow, and he can feel himself getting drunk on lush lips, the sunshine, the velvety feel of Ben's back against his knuckles. The shrill song of the birds in the trees rings persistently in his ears, and he pushes up until they're sitting side by side.
Mark jogs up a few minutes later, dumping his heavy bag at the edge of the field and dropping his body next to Ben's. "It's over, man," he says, and Ben reaches out to bump their forearms together. "Four years," he shakes his head in disbelief, and Sam looks at him and Ben, the sun lighting them up, and sees the weary happiness they've earned in them.
He's about to get up when he sees Jones walking toward them, Jorge and Dave behind him.
"One last game?" Mark asks, standing and grinning down at them all. Jorge pulls the soccer ball from his bag and tosses it on the ground. "Gentlemen," Mark nods at each of them in turn, then swipes the ball away with a clever kick, and Ben laughs as he steals it back.
"Dude, you okay?" he hears Jorge say, and he looks over to see Ben with a hand clapped to his face and blood dripping between his fingers. The guys are crowded around Ben, but they part readily, making room for him, and Ben tries to grin at him, but his lips are slick with blood.
He pulls Ben's hand away and tilts his chin up. There's a long tear in the skin at Ben's temple, dangerously close to his left eye. He uses the hem of his shirt to wipe Ben's face, holding his head with one hand.
"Must have been a rock," Jorge says, and the guys all murmur agreement. He looks at the fresh blood welling up from the thin slice, then away to smile into Ben's eyes.
Ben smiles back and tries to blink, but his eyelashes are heavy and sticky with blood, and his left eye stays shut. His eyelids are quivering like an animal caught in a trap, like Dean's did when blood - his own and a werewolf's - glued his eye shut until holy water washed it all away. Just like Dean's. Just like Dean.
Sam looks his hands, red and tacky with blood, and wipes them on his shirt. He steps back and spins, vomiting uncontrollably. He heaves for so long that he gets lightheaded and he falls to his knees, panting.
"Sam," he hears Ben say, before someone - Mark - hauls him to his feet and gets his legs moving. He lets himself be dragged along. When he closes his eyes he sees Ben, smiling up at him with Dean's eyes, Dean's mouth, Dean's heart.
He felt from the moment he met him that he fit at Ben's side; he was sure that he belonged in Ben's bed. He knows everything about Ben; he thought he knew it from what Ben has told him, but it's because Ben is generous and loving and admiring in the way Dean's always been.
Christ, how did he never notice that Ben looks just like Dean? If Dean's skin and hair were darker, if his eyes slipped from green to grey. He's been fucking a guy who could be his brother.
He wakes up with his face pressed into a pillow. It smells like Ben until he sighs and he smells the foul taste in his mouth.
A hand touches his spine, stroking his bare back soothingly. "Sam," Ben says softly. "Sam, are you feeling better?"
His stomach lurches again, but there's nothing left to come up. He sits up abruptly and knocks Ben's hand away. "Don't touch me." Those hands - Dean's strong, veined hands and elegant fingers - have been all over him.
Ben sits back and watches him with those wide, stolen eyes, a butterfly bandage glowing against his dark skin, shadowed by his soft hair.
He looks away from Ben, scopes out the desk, the dresser, the floor. When he's sure his legs won't fold under him, he stands. No wasted movements as he grabs his backpack and stuffs his books and clothes in it, tuning out the sound of Ben's worried voice.
He pushes past Ben, trying to squirm by him, shoving him away when Ben doesn't get out of the way quickly enough. His skin is crawling at the thought of what he's done to Ben, whether it means it's what he wants to do to Dean. Blood is singing discordantly in his head as he finally makes his way downstairs, past the guys, and out the door.
Every day he stands in the shower for what feels like hours, scrubbing roughly at his skin, his dick, his lips. His heart slams in his chest and he feels raw beneath the spray of painfully hot water. His skin glows red all over; pink circles the drain when he gags again and spits. He wants to feel clean and new, but showers won't wash away the wrongness at his core that stains him through and through. Maybe it will work better tomorrow.
He's savagely glad now that he couldn't afford a cell phone, that he and Steve never bothered to get a phone for the room. If Irene and the guys want to talk to him, they'll have to come and yell through his door.
It's none of their business anyway. The only one who has a right to know is the only one who hasn't hounded him, and it twists his stomach all over again. Ben's undemanding silence is just what he'd expect from Dean.
If he can just get through this last week, it will all be over. Graduation is on Friday, and the guys are moving out of the Phoenix Street house. He buries his head under his pillow again, ignoring the pounding on his door. Now he has something to work toward, and he starts the countdown in his head. Three days left, three days left. He falls asleep with his fists clenched. In his dreams they pound into Ben without mercy.
"Pomp and Circumstance" drifts through his window before he slams it shut. He paces around the room, willing these last few hours to slip by. The blank walls of his room look like they did the day he moved in.
He gathers up all the stickytack Steve left littered on his walls and molds it into one big ball. He'll get a new beginning when he moves into the summer dorm tomorrow, so he finishes packing and strips the sheets from his bed. He keeps the light on and sits on the floor, waiting for morning to come.
He nearly steps on the girl, and he's about to snap something about the dangers of sitting in shadowy spaces when she jumps up with a ready smile.
"Hi! I'm Jennifer."
"Hi," he says as his stomach rumbles.
"What's your name?" She peers up at him through short lashes.
"Sam," he says shortly. "Look, I'm gonna miss lunch if I don't get going." That's not quite true, but he doesn't want to drag this out. He's tired of looking at people and wondering if they know, if they can see it written on his skin.
"Do you want some company?" she asks, and he looks at her for a moment. She's cute, sandy hair spilling over a wide pink face and big blue eyes. He shrugs.
She comes apart under him within five minutes. The next girl keeps his mouth busy for a whole night. The girl after that never gets anywhere near his bed; her little fingers work him so surely that he ends up slamming into her against the wall.
He buys navy blue swim trunks, a combination lock, and a few plush towels with one of his paychecks. Every morning he goes to the older campus gym and swims for an hour before going to work at nine; it's hot enough that he's grateful for the air conditioning. He swims again after work, and the only thoughts in his head are of dinner and sleep.
He dreams of Dean.
One girl won't kiss him on the mouth because that would be cheating on her boyfriend, but she puts her mouth everywhere else. Another screeches when she comes and her eyes roll back in her head when he clamps his hand over her mouth. The one after that gives him a lapdance.
He loves the feel of the water - this water - against his skin. The pool is nothing like the muddy, leafy lake where he first learned to swim. It's clean and well-lit, orderly blue tiles marking the lanes and the depth changes. Water carries sound, but there's only silence around him, giving him space to breathe.
There's one girl who bends her dancer's body in every way imaginable. Another leaves imprints of her teeth all over his skin. The next one sucks on his fingers as she rides him hard and fast.
His hair is rough from too much shampoo and the whites of his eyes are pink from the chlorine, but his new roommate only has eyes for the large, half-empty box of condoms sitting on top of his desk.
"Nice, dude," he says, handing Sam a beer. "I'm Zach. This year's gonna be sweet."
On to Part 4