Despite the god-awful wind chill and the horrible snow, Danny whistled as he hurried from the train stop to his building. A pizza takeout box prevented him from putting one gloved hand in the pocket of his overcoat, but it wasn’t that long of a walk and took even less time if he trotted. Plus, the action helped to keep him warm.
What the hell was he doing in Chicago anyway? He was a southern California boy. His blood was too thin for snow! But to follow his dream, he’d brave the weather and suffer the indignity of being the only member of his band who had to get a job to pay the bills for his tiny little apartment. He’d bear the culture shock of coming home from an expensive, all-expense-paid weekend at a posh ski resort to immediately agree to take the lunch shift at the pizza place where he worked. Although he’d been able to save up enough to cover January’s rent, he was still low on utility and food money, so the extra shift, even right after his time off, was welcome. The savings that had helped him moved to Chicago had dwindled to under a thousand dollars, and he really didn’t want to use any more of it if he could help it.
So, all things considered, Danny could brave the hellish cold.
Once in the lobby of his building, he breathed a little easier. Just being in from the wind raised his body temp enough that he could loosen his scarf as he began the three-story climb to his place. He even jogged up, telling himself he was working off the pizza in advance. Cash wasn’t in the main room when Danny entered the apartment, but there was nothing new about that. He’d been out cold when Danny had come in last night and long gone by the time Danny woke in the late morning. After putting the pizza on the table in front of the couch, Danny went down the hall and tossed his coat and scarf through his open bedroom door before sticking his head inside Cash’s room. Cash sat with his eyes glued to the monitor, fingers flying over the keyboard. He wore jeans and a sweater, outside gear that told Danny he’d gone to school today. Or, at least, had gone out. Otherwise, he’d be wearing sweats, and his hair wouldn’t look like it had been introduced to a comb.
Danny knocked on the door frame to get Cash’s attention. “Hey.”
It took a moment for Cash’s fingers to wind to a stop and his head to turn. For a second it was like he’d never seen Danny before in his life, but then recognition dawned as his brain emerged from whatever cyberspace he’d been in. “You’re back.”
“Hungry? I’ve got pizza,” Danny prompted, to further encourage the human in his roommate.
Finally, it was there. Cash nodded eagerly. “Yeah. I’ll be right out.”
Danny visited the kitchen to grab the roll of paper towels, a bottled iced tea for himself, and a soda for Cash. He sat and had just opened the lid of the pizza box when Cash came out.
“Not deep dish?” Cash asked as he sat. They made both where Danny worked.
“Not tonight.” He picked up a slice, folded it in half, and raised the pointy end toward his mouth. “I’m in a New York state of mind.”
He couldn’t be sure if Cash even got the Billy Joel reference. Sometimes Cash surprised him with some musical knowledge, but for the most part he was oblivious. “Sorry I wasn’t up when you got back,” Cash said, digging up his own slice.
“You were out like a light. Tough day?”
“Yeah.” Chewing. “Was trying to get the coding done before classes started. Then George’s server tanked, so we had to track down Mr. Trautmann to get into the lab at school.” He rolled his eyes as he took his second bite, then talked while he chewed. “George is a complete tool. He needs to replace that dinosaur, like, yesterday.”
Danny grinned. He enjoyed Cash’s depictions of his few friends. They were all tools, as far as Cash was concerned, and were clearly not as talented as he, though Cash would never utter those words. He simply saw it as fact and resigned himself to putting up with his lessers. Danny figured the attitude came with working with computers so much, inanimate objects you just dealt with. “So you were at school all day?” Cash’s spring session didn’t start for another week, but Cash was both teacher’s assistant and prize student and so was known to go in at odd times.
“Yesterday and the day before.” He growled as he used greasy fingers to open his can of pop. “Trautmann hosed the files for the intro class as well as the backup, so I had to recreate a bunch of stuff from scratch.”
“Ouch.” Danny knew next to nothing about technology, but he’d heard enough from Cash to know that backup was king.
“Yeah.” Cash swallowed the second-to-last bite of his slice. “I went ahead and made my own backup this time.”
Danny nodded vaguely, then flipped on the television, and they watched a South Park
rerun in silence for a while as they scarfed down the rest of the pizza.
With a satisfied sigh, Cash sat back, swiping grease from his hands with a paper towel. “How was the wedding?”
Danny grinned, wiping his own hands. “It was awesome. Tons of people, tons of food, and a great party. Luc and Reese were over-the-top happy.” He finished his fourth slice as he told Cash all about the continual party. He talked around the guys he’d hooked up with, sure Cash didn’t really want to hear about his exploits. “They spoke their vows right before the stroke of midnight so they were kissing over New Year’s.” Danny couldn’t help a sappy grin. “It was incredibly romantic.”
Cash snorted, tossing his paper towel onto the box to land beside the two remaining slices.
Cash shook his head. “There you go with that romance stuff again.”
Danny sucked grease from his fingers, then wiped them on his own towel. “Sorry, I was there. It was very romantic.”
Cash kept his eyes on the TV screen. “Yeah. Okay.”
“If you say so.”
Danny stared at him. “You don’t believe me.” It wasn’t a question.
Cash met his gaze for a second, then shook his head. “I still don’t get why two guys need all that wedding stuff.”
Danny felt his heart fall a little. “You just don’t like weddings, do you?”
“Are your parents married?”
Cash glared mildly. “Yes. Happily. But that’s got nothing to do with anything.”
That blew Danny’s burgeoning theory. “So what is it? What’s with you and weddings?”
“It’s just pointless. It’s just a party.”
“What’s wrong with a party?”
“Nothing, I guess.” Some kind of understanding dawned. “Oh, okay, I get it. It’s a party. This was a networking thing?”
“The wedding. It was a networking thing for Heaven Sent?”
“No!” How horrible. A wedding was an event, a declaration of two souls. To reduce it to… “Okay, yes, some networking went on. Of course. But Luc and Reese did this because they love each other.”
Cash shrugged. “Okay.”
“If I say so?”
Cash’s attention was back on the television. “Sure.”
Danny sat back on the couch, watching Cash’s profile as he thought about what Cash had said. Why couldn’t he see the magic? Was he really that
clueless about people? “It’s not the wedding. It’s the romance that bothers you.”
Another shrug. Clearly, Cash was done with the discussion.
Danny wasn’t. “You do realize that most of the romantic ballads in history were written by men?”
“Ha. You don’t know that.”
“You have no idea how many of those ballads were written by men who hid their sexuality.”
Cash rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine. I don’t know for sure. But most of romantic literature is centered around a man going after a woman.” He thought for a second. “So is Reese the girly one? Luc doesn’t seem the type.”
Danny’s jaw could not have dropped farther open unless it unhinged. “Did you really just say that?”
Danny shook his head to clear it, his blood up at this obvious challenge. “So you’re saying that only ‘girly’ guys can be romantic?”
“And by ‘girly’ you mean ‘faggy guys with limp wrists and lisps’? Chicks with dicks?”
Cash’s eyes narrowed warily. “Look, I’m not trying to be insulting. It’s just that there’s no reason for a regular guy to be romantic with another guy. It’s unnecessary.”
“Unnecessary?” Danny twisted around to face his roommate, one knee bent on the couch. “So you think gay men just kinda do the ‘you wanna?’ ‘yeah, you wanna?’ then go off and fuck?” He banged his fist into his palm for emphasis.
He got a flinch out of Cash for that. “Oh come on.”
“That is what you think!”
Cash threw up his hands and slumped back. “Okay, maybe it’s not that cut-and-dried. Yeah, guys go on dates. Yeah, they buy each other, I dunno, Valentine’s Day presents and stuff. But guys can just be, I dunno, straight with other guys.” He smiled. “No pun intended.”
Danny cocked his head to the side, unwilling to let this go. “You don’t think a guy likes to be romanced?”
“Not even by a girl?”
“Because it’s unnecessary for a guy to be wooed?”
Cash grinned. “‘Wooed’?”
“It’s a perfectly good word.”
“Okay, then, yeah.”
He’d held back his own attraction to Cash for a long time. Maybe he was still high off the romance of the weekend. Danny was up on his knees beside Cash before the other man had a chance to react. He grabbed Cash’s hand and held it between both of his.
“What the hell…?”
Danny gazed into Cash’s eyes and pitched his voice low. “Have I ever told you how gorgeous you are?”
Panic was the first reaction he saw, and it settled into narrow-eyed disbelief, but somewhere in between those two extremes, Danny saw something else. A spark of…interest? Hope? Cash tried to pull his hand away. “Quit it.” His voice was soft, surprised. Uncertain.
“No, seriously.” He reached up to cup Cash’s chin, effectively stilling him. He wanted to pull off the thick-rimmed glasses but was afraid it would spoil the momentary hold he had on the other man. “You have the most gorgeous eyes.” He kept his voice low, hypnotic. This he knew how to do. “I could get lost in them for hours.” He let his thumb stroke the sparse stubble on Cash’s chin. There was that spark again, fanned by a hitched breath. Both very brief, but Danny saw them because he knew what to look for. He had to admit being surprised to see it on Cash’s face. Surprised and very intrigued. He let his gaze fall to Cash’s lips, moved his thumb to stroke the bottom one. “And I’ve wanted to kiss those lips ever since I saw them.”
Cash shut his mouth with a click and edged back toward the arm of the couch. “All right, stop.”
“Can’t.” Not when he could hear the tiny quake in Cash’s breathing. Like a predator, Danny moved with him, leaning one arm on the back of the couch so he could hover over Cash. He was careful not to crowd too close, to leave Cash an avenue of escape. The fact that Cash didn’t take the chance was telling. “Every time I get near you, it’s harder and harder to move away. I’m drawn, like a moth to flame.”
Cash placed a palm on Danny’s chest to stop his forward progress. “Okay, that’s hokey.”
“Maybe. But that doesn’t make it not true.” Danny put his hand over Cash’s to trap it against his heart. “Can’t you feel my heart racing?”
Cash opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out. He must have really felt Danny’s heart beating. Danny pushed against Cash’s hand, knowing he was taking a big risk. He’d backed off Cash for months. If Cash hadn’t reacted, he probably would have backed off again, but that spark of interest spurred him on.
“Th-this isn’t…” Cash managed to stammer, his gaze glued to Danny’s. “That’s not what…”
Danny noted a few things other than that Cash couldn’t finish his sentences. His eyes were wide. His lips were parted, and Danny could almost feel the caress of his breath. The tips of the fingers that were spread over Danny’s heart curled, digging into Danny’s flesh in what had to be an unconscious gesture. Danny didn’t want to be accused of taking where he wasn’t wanted, but how the hell was he supposed to pull away from this?
Instead of letting Cash off the hook, he dived in against Cash’s token resistance and pressed his lips to Cash’s. Cash didn’t move or reciprocate, but once Danny touched him, he couldn’t stop. Leaning heavily on the arm he had over the back of the couch, he lowered himself farther and angled his head for a better fit to Cash’s parted lips. A tiny yelp that might have been a moan squeezed from Cash’s throat, but he didn’t pull away. Danny took advantage and slid his free hand back behind Cash’s ear, holding him as he opened.
But that’s when Cash reacted. Before their tongues could touch, he jerked his head back, trapping Danny’s hand between his skull and the padded arm of the couch. “Wait.”
Wait, not stop. Hopeful. Danny kept his face close and kneaded softly at the top of Cash’s neck. He noted some fogging on Cash’s glasses, but it didn’t completely obscure the daze in Cash’s eyes. “You sure?”
He watched Cash start to blink himself back to reason and didn’t fight the urge that made him kiss Cash again. He kept it to lips. Mostly. A soft brushing of skin to skin with just a little bit of his tongue tracing Cash’s bottom lip. So delicious. He could do this for days.
Cash’s eyes almost closed again, but another jerk had him pushing at Danny’s chest, for real this time. “Stop.”
Danny sighed and sank back onto his heels, cursing himself for not pushing anyway. But he’d been raised by a strong woman and taught manners by equally strong sisters. He was already guilty of ignoring one stop; he’d be pushing if he ignored it twice.
As soon as Danny was clear, Cash rolled off the couch, stood, and took himself around the coffee table to stand beside the television. His eyes were wild, his lips wet. He looked positively edible. “What was that?”
Danny tried to be casual, but he was now aware of an aching erection that wanted Cash back where he’d been, on the couch, beneath him, preferably naked. What had they been doing? Why had he…? Oh, right. “I was just trying to show you what romance felt like.”
“That wasn’t romance.” Jerky head movement, wide eyes. Both very unlike Cash. “Romance is candles and dinner. That…that was…”
Interesting distinction. Danny made a show of checking a watch he didn’t wear. “It’s kind of late, but I think there’s an all-night diner a couple blocks over. I can take you—”
“Shut up. That’s not what I meant. I meant…” Cash shook his head and raised one hand halfway, fingers aiming for his lips, but then he stopped and yanked it down to his side. “Why’d you kiss me?” Breath whooshed through flared nostrils.
“Because I wanted to.” And I want to again. And again.
This unsettled Cash was more intriguing than any other incarnation Danny had seen.
“You kiss all the guys you want to?”
“Obviously not. Else I’d have kissed you ages ago.”
Cash jerked back but didn’t have any more room to go, so he bumped into the television. He wasted a few minutes in catching the TV and righting it before it fell on the floor. It was enough time for Danny to get his erection under control. It wasn’t going away anytime soon, but he could think a little clearer. Enough to unfold himself from his knees and sit properly on the couch. If Cash noticed the bulge in his pants, so be it.
“I thought you knew…” Cash rattled, still messing with the TV. “I mean, I thought you figured out I’m not gay.”
“Well, that’s what I thought. But…”
Danny laughed. “Jesus, Cash, you all but put out an invitation.”
“I did not!” Even though it had a shrill quality, Cash’s voice got deeper in anxiety.
“Well, you didn’t see what I saw. And you took a hell of a long time to stop me.”
Cash ran a hand over the top of the television, watching himself do it. No verbal answer. Clearly, he was compartmentalizing, thinking it all through so he could calm down.
Danny didn’t want him to calm down. “Did you like it?”
“No.” Too fast.
Danny laughed. “I’m supposed to believe that?”
With a sigh, Danny pushed to his feet. To keep himself from lunging for Cash, he picked up the pizza box and the errant paper towels. “I’m sorry I took you off guard.” Not.
“And I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable.” He would not, he decided as he took the trash to the kitchen, apologize for the kisses. Not in a million years. There was silence behind him. He dumped the trash and turned to find Cash still in the hall to the bedrooms, watching him. Because the only thing I want to do is do it again, he admitted to himself as he watched the flush fade from Cash’s neck. “We still friends?”
Cash scowled. “I don’t know.”
Danny held up his hands, palms out. “Look, I won’t do it again.” Unless you ask me. Unless you tempt me.
Shit, this was going to be hard.
Cash’s eyes narrowed as though he heard the unspoken thought. “I’ll have to think about it.”
Danny’s happy buzz faded as he watched Cash turn on his heel and disappear into his bedroom. For one of the first times since they’d been living together, Cash’s bedroom door closed before it was time to bed down for the night. Danny slumped against the kitchen counter and ran a hand through his hair. “Good job, idiot. Now what?”