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dreaming through fourteen hours on an airplane with their legs stretched out and talking idly around the cheap first class wine, elbows knocking companionably with oliver's grin lurking somewhere behind the collar of his coat. caleb's toothpaste hair had earned him a dirty look from the stewardess, and oliver'd laughed at him for two minutes straight. his ipod had died around the tenth hour sitting there, so he'd nudged caleb from sleep and they'd whispered about hamburgers and kanye west until he finally passed out, head lolling on caleb's shoulder. it had been comfortable - almost shockingly - and by the time they were standing around, exhausted, by baggage check, oliver realized he'd never done this sort of thing with a friend before. and never one he'd casually blown in the airplane bathroom, watching his hands clench and his jawline tighten as he'd done his best to keep quiet (and failed, if the way the passengers seated near the back had stiffened while the two walked by a few minutes later was any indication).
"i can't believe-" he'd started, the jagged edges of his fingers fumbling for a cigarette even before they'd stepped outside, but caleb's eyes had been on the human grime of a city with more freedom than seoul, and so he'd let the sentence unfurl behind him. we're here had dragged against the concrete; oliver'd smiled to himself, letting caleb hail the taxi, because he'd never really needed to believe in anything, anyway.
the cab driver caleb had ended up hailing definitely had rigged that sunshine-yellow death trap he drove (with his hands nowhere near ten and two), because there was no way the fare from la guardia to manhattan cost that much. next time, oliver vowed he wasn't going to wear givenchy.
(although weirdly enough, oliver had deflated the moment he'd noticed the still-airplane-mussed state of caleb's ridiculous hair.
so no, he didn't know why he brought him - he also didn't know what that could possibly mean.)
* * *
"should we eat or pass out? that," he sighed in that melodramatic way of his, the one he patented in prep school - "is the question."
by now they were both comfortably nestled into their hotel suite, which oliver had booked more out of convenience than anything else; but despite their separate bedrooms, they seemed to have fallen into the room oliver was pretty sure caleb designated as his, and oliver was currently sprawled out at the end of the queen sized bed. if he closed his eyes, he thought he'd probably end up sleeping at caleb's feet like a cat.
he could feel his hat sliding off of his head while he shifted to face his friend (ish-thing? semantics.) and crinkled his face into something he felt was suitably grumpy. there was maybe even a pout involved. "you should go find the room service menu, yeah? don't make me do it, i don't think i can get up." he then made a weak attempt at doing so just to prove his point. shit, he really was wiped out. jet lag was more of a bitch than he remembered.
there was something suitably familiar - strangely, yes, but it fit somehow - about the ease of banter between them, the nonchalance with which he was able to sit up and gently tug caleb's coat from his shoulders, relishing in the way caleb just let him, and tuck himself underneath it like a blanket. it smelled like him, like cologne and secondhand smoke. it only made him sleepier. it only made him want to pull caleb down onto the bed with him and rest his cheek on the warmth of his chest, to feel it vibrate while he talked into the phone and turned menu pages. the domesticity of the urge surprised him, but he supposed it wasn't entirely unexpected given all the time they'd been spending together. oliver was never good at being on his own. having a familiar body with his - one he trusted, one he knew - was a pleasure he hadn't realized he'd missed. human nature, one could maybe say.
still, he only pulled caleb down with enough intent to get him to sit on the bed beside him. he looked up at him lazily and smiled.
"d'you think the tub is big enough for two people?" by now he was slurring his words a bit, too tired and too happy using english to do anything else, but there was a bite to his otherwise casual tone that even made himself wonder whether or not he was kidding.
fuck, he needed to eat.
absentmindedly stretching his legs out so that his calves rested on caleb's right knee, oliver yawned and felt more at peace lying there in new york with his new best friend/fuck buddy, face half buried in the other man's jacket, than he'd felt in what he thought was about a year. could have been more, maybe - if he was honest, or if he was one to think about his own emotions for extended periods of time before they scared him. in this moment, freeze-frame, still capture, polaroid photograph, he could tell that he was happy. exhausted and nearly starving, but... but happy.
and no, he still didn't know what it meant.
as the smile settled back into his face and he watched caleb's profile, eyes raking over the sleepy slump of his spine, oliver decided he was content with the mystery.
coughing. sneezing. snoring. tiny cups of soda. shitty airplane food served with shitty plastic utensils. sars masks and weird looks. all of it was so familiar, such a vivid memory that it always seemed to be lingering around, even when it wasn't actively called upon. it had been done so many times before, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. so many airports, so many ticket stubs, so many baggage checks, so many pat downs from manly, rough women. how many times had he stepped out a taxi, grabbed his bags from the trunk, wheeled them through the doors and blinked into the pristine, harsh light of the lobby, wandered around to his terminal. his life could be broken down into trips- new york to seoul, seoul to paris, paris to london, london to iceland, travel just for travel's sake.
but for some reason this felt different, this felt new.
this was a fresh new thing, all young and wrinkled and being thrust out into the world.
and he hadn't felt so thoroughly fulfilled in such a long time.
he knew he would think about that trip later, that dreadfully long plane ride that left his legs all cramped and his butt all numb and tingling, and he would be washed in happiness, contentedness. oliver's face would come into his mind, the way their fingers had constantly brushed against each other, more times than not coming to rest just eversoslightly on top of one another. he would remember oliver asleep on his shoulder, the warmth he felt against his neck, the soft, even breathing, the way oliver's body moved up and down with each intake and outtake of air. maybe oliver had felt caleb's fingers trace along his jaw, brush gently across his cheek, and carefullysocarefully sweeping along his eyelashes.
and of course he would remember their little joint trip to the bathroom, all close quarters and hot breath and desperate gasps. he would remember the glares and looks of disgust the other passengers had given them because, despite how hard he had tried, caleb had been a bit louder than was required to keep it a secret.
* * *
but now they were here. or there. together and lying on the bed, sprawled out and exhausted, their bodies so heavy with jetlag that they had just stayed where they fell. and now there were memories waiting to be made. when they had finally gotten off the plane, walking awkwardly while their legs got used to being back on the ground, oliver had immediately grabbed for a cigarette and what the hell, caleb had taken one too because it just felt right, the smoke filling his lungs in an almost painful way, the smoke wisping away, the grey blended in with the backdrop of the city. it felt as though he had been gone for so long and that he had never left.
somehow the two of them just fit, they were just two parts of the same star, exploding into a black hole, all violence and shakes and explosions. they didn't fit right and they were somehow just one level apart. they were in a dance that neither of them had bothered to learn the moves to. so they were making up their own, erratic little shakes and shimmies to an individual beat, none of their jigs matching up. but they were a sight and they were moving and they were twirling and they were spiraling. and caleb didn't really care for anything else.
* * *
oliver's words were something that caleb hadn't quite gotten used to. obviously he understood the words, knew their meanings, the way they had been strung together into a sentence. but the cadence, the rhythm, the ups and downs of their tones, those were still a mystery to him. he tried, he tried so hard to understand them. he watched the way his lips moved, up and down, forming soft o's and the rises and falls of their corners. he paid close attention to his tongue, peeking out every now and then, teasing, tantalizing. they always managed to make caleb focus solely on them, claimed every minute piece of his attention.
"ugh, i don't wanna move," he complained, his voice dragging out and groaning. but he rolled off the bed and stood up, slow, aches, stretches, and walked over to the little side table by the door. he lazily tossed off welcome brochurs, channel listings, take out menus and voila, grabbed the menu and lurched back to the bed. he fell face first, landing with a bounce right next to oliver. his head lolled to the side a bit and rested on oliver's shoulder. the menu laid out in front of them, laying on the bed together, bodies completely drained, caleb began to think that he could get used to this sort of thing. sudden and spontaneous travel, shared hotel rooms due to desire and not necessitty, picking out dinner from a (most likely) shitty hotel kitchen. but not yet, not quite yet. he sat up, straightened up, toughed up.
oliver's legs found their way to caleb's thighs and caleb's hands found their way to oliver's thighs. he gently, softly, sweetly, rubbed small circles on his pants. this was such a strange little thing, whatever they had going on. he had given up trying to find a name for it, to put label on it. "i want something disgustingly american," he said, picking up the menu and looking at their options. mainly he just wanted a drink, something to dull his headache and his pains, something to help him sleep for at least fourteen hours.
but then oliver mentioned the tub and suddenly that was all he wanted.
without realizing, oliver started to smile something sweet and slow, all easy and soft, all melted sugar - he smiled, pulling himself upward, and maneuvered himself so that he sat in caleb's lap, his arms hanging loosely around the older man's neck. the tip of his nose brushed against the underside of caleb's jaw. he thought that it probably felt cold.
"sounds like an idea to me," he said, half a step quieter than he'd been speaking before, and he felt as if he was saying something he shouldn't. he could taste a secret on his tongue. the lethargy still in his bones was a lead weight tying him down and keeping him snug there on top of caleb, breathing evenly and idly rubbing the pads of his fingers against the hair at caleb's nape. this close, he felt every inhale and exhale, the solid proof of the man's mortality, proof that he was living. it was strange. it was something he'd never thought about before. sighing a bit, oliver wondered if he should suggest that they simply lay there instead, because the jet lag was beginning to make oliver never want to move.
mumbling with his mouth pressed into the small expanse of skin between caleb's neck and shoulder, oliver briefly allowed his eyes to close. "we can eat after. i smell like an airport, anyway."
the hushed chatter of the traffic outside provided their only soundtrack as he extracted himself from caleb with all the lack of finesse the truly exhausted can have, and his hand instinctively went for caleb's, tugging him into a standing position. "up and at 'em, dairy queen." he toed his shoes off before continuing across the bedroom, lacing their fingers together absentmindedly. shit, a bath really did sound good right about now.
since they were only staying for a few days, oliver hadn't wasted his money on the nicest accommodations the hotel had to offer - he'd gotten them a very nice joined suite, and while it wasn't one of the penthouse apartments oliver had grown accustomed to (or the one he was bumming around in back home), it was still fairly luxurious. smaller, yes, but just as nice, and he idly paused to appreciate the gold paneling on the bathroom's sliding door. he thought vaguely of embroidery, of gold rope stitching around hems, and he hoped caleb wouldn't hate him if he had to drag him shopping.
the marble floor was freezing under his feet when he stepped inside, but he only made a face and dropped caleb's hand to take three quick steps to turn the bathtub's faucet on, waiting a second to ensure it wouldn't end up scalding. oliver hummed tunelessly and turned around, smiling again - just as soft, just as boyish - fingers reaching for the top button of caleb's shirt. swiftly, deftly, as though he did this all the time, he undid each button one by one, feeling caleb's eyes on him but never looking up to meet his gaze. something inherently different singed the air around them; oliver couldn't place it, didn't know what to name it, exactly, so he didn't try to speak. every so often caleb's breath would ruffle the top of his hair, and oliver suddenly wanted very badly to kiss him, but he didn't. he only continued onward, unbuttoning the shirt with more care than he'd ever undressed anyone in his life, because this wasn't desperate. there was an ease to this, a comfort, and maybe part of it was how tired they were, and maybe oliver's fingers skimmed the soft skin of caleb's waist once the shirt hung undone, and maybe his hands slid all the way up his chest to push it from his shoulders.
fuck, he was beautiful. oliver's mouth actually went a little dry, because god. oliver had been around plenty of beautiful people in his lifetime, swarmed by them at parties and ordering them around at fashion shows, but something about caleb pushed its way into his chest and took hold of his lungs, wrestled its way in and stayed there. caleb was beautiful and he was classic and oliver wasn't sure if he knew it at all. brushing his knuckles against his waistline, oliver took a half-step closer and very, almost painfully slowly, undid the final button on his jeans, inching the zipper down as he leaned in to press a feather-light kiss to his jaw.
(there was territory here that oliver understood he was exploring, certain bases they'd never covered before, and the ghost of preemptive panic wailed softly from somewhere he couldn't see, but he was tired, and this was nice. this was intimate, and he felt like he needed this right now - like he'd needed this for years, even, and he couldn't force himself to stop if he'd wanted to.
the accelerated beat of his heart still hadn't slowed.)
he stepped back to tug caleb's pants downward, taking his underwear with it, helping him step out of them with a hand curled around his left hip. finally, when he was completely undressed, oliver glanced up at him and gave him a small smile. "my turn," he said, the quiet tone of his voice caught up in the sound of running water. his eyes blinked tiredly as he took caleb's hands and placed them at the bottom of his t-shirt. "tub's filling up pretty fast."
tight lungs, breath caught, throat suddenly swollen and shut.
steady hands had left him long ago, leaving him with only shaking little phalanges, all stupid and useless. they moved on their own, and not in a way that was at all appealing. they fumbled as they reached up to gently stroke oliver's cheek, and instead found their way to his ear, accidentally (or perhaps on purpose, in a vain attempt to embarass him) poking him, causing Caleb to pull back a bit, ashamed of how he was acting, all giddy and nervous like a school boy who was about to have sex for the first time. but oliver had always had that effect on him, from the very first moment caleb had ever laid eyes on him. he had been immediately drawn to him, the way he moved, walked, talked,d ressed. there was something about him that seemed almost magical, ethereal, untouchable. and caleb had wanted to put his hands all over him, wanted to kiss him, stroke him, talk to him, do all things sweet and sexual. anything to make him happy. and he had never known why, still to this day wasn't sure why oliver did this to him.
he wasn't sure what exactly was happening- oliver never beat him to the punch when it came to things like this. it was always caleb, caleb biting at oliver's earlobe, caleb suckling at oliver's neck. but now...now oliver was the pilot, flying caleb's hormones around in loops, getting him high, high up and well, we'll see what would happen next. but for now he wasn't going to question it, wasn't going to wonder why oliver's hands were now pulling at his clothes, grasping at his hair and pulling him forcefully towards himself. and he was more than happy to oblige. he moaned softly whenever oliver's fingers sneaked their way under his clothes, drew in a sharp breath anytime oliver's lips found his, or his neck, or his ear, or his jaw. it was easy, all of this. they were in a different city in a different state in a different country on a completely different side of the world, it was easy for them to lose themselves to the urges they felt right now. but come tomorrow, the next day, a week from now, what would they think? would they both feel the way that they do now? that undeniable urge to be together? he didn't think they would. well, he didn't think oliver would, at least. he had a nasty habit of going from hot to cold with no rhyme or reason, leaving caleb to wonder what would be coming to next.
"are...are you sure?" his voice was a raspy whisper and he wished he could know the true answer. he was certain oliver was going to mutter a "yes" in that sexy little rasp of his and caleb was going to be at his knees, doing whatever was asked (or preferably demanded) of him. but when he woke up tomorrow he wanted to be able to say that he had tried, had tried to make oliver slow down, take a look at what was happening, "are you sure you aren't just...i don't know, groggy and sleepy and horny and lonely?" and his voice was sad because he knew that it was true. the only reason oliver ever found his way into caleb's arms late at night was because he was drunk or emotionally needy. caleb had always tried to feign the same, to act as though it had been simple, sexual desire that had brought him to oliver's bed, half naked and wholly erect. and maybe for a while that had been the truth of it, but as their friendship grew, as time went by and they really began to know one another, caleb had lost that certainty. it had made him uncomfortable at first, as emotions always had, but after a while he had come to terms with it, had sorted out what they actually meant. he had never admitted these things though, probably never would.
but he didn't want to question the reasons, not tonight, not right now.
he breathed deeply, a feeble attempt to steady himself. he grabbed at the bottom of oliver's shirt, and carefully, as carefully as he could possibly could, he began to pull it upwards. every inch that it raised allowed him a peek at the smooth, soft flesh underneath. every last bit of it was beautiful. finally he pulled it up over oliver's head, of course with the assistance of oliver himself, who raised his arms up above his head. something about his underarm hair turned caleb weak, something so manly and primal. there was no turning back, he knew. his hands traveled down, pulling oliver's hips toward him and deftly unbuttoning his pants.
(when his motor skills returned?)
he moved towards the bath tub, anxious to crawl into the warm water, not only to be naked in a tub with oliver, but to allow the hot water to soak into all his aches and pains. "well, come on then slow poke."
"darling, this lipstick - what do you think of the shade? i'm worried that it clashes with the red accent along the bust line... they don't quite match, do they? you should come here and unzip me. now i have nothing to wear."
he no longer liked to remember her name or her face or the forced curl of her hair: these were things he'd attempted to bury months ago, and he was sure that they were lying around somewhere, still crushed underneath all that black tar, the ash building up in the bottom of his lungs. however, he could still hear her voice.
"the muse always loves the artist, doesn't she?"
it crept into his ears at night; he could hear her humming from the sill of his window.
"is that not how the story goes?"
only the noise of the city could ever drown it out. and when that didn't work, it was the slide of bourbon against glass, angry fingers pressing dissonant chords into hotel grand pianos, stuttering slurs and sir-please-return-to-your-rooms and suddenly, the uneven rubbery grate of a makeshift tourniquet, the hiss through teeth that might be yours and the static of the world peeling slowly into puppetry, into something blurry and unreal that you laugh at, the clatter of a syringe and the desperate pounding of a bathroom door, the disappointed tone of an ambulance siren.
and then sometimes - and then now, maybe always, because time was so uncoordinated on the best of days - it was different. it was the startled tug of caleb's laugh, the way his breath snagged in his throat, the way he caught a moan and tried to trap it behind clenched teeth before letting it leave wounded and whimpering.
sometimes, it was this. sometimes, it was the slow, gentle cadence of caleb's voice, even now, even strange and uncertain, and oliver cocked his head and looked at the vulnerable slope of his throat, and he didn't smile this time. he shivered when caleb's hands grasped the hem of his shirt. "yeah," oliver said, not quite knowing what he was agreeing to. "you make the sound stop."
when they'd met, oliver hadn't been looking for a friend, necessarily - he hadn't been looking for much of anything, maybe just company, someone to knock back a couple beers with outside of the tempting buzz of the party in that dimly lit ballroom, and he'd thought that was okay. but then the alcohol had turned caleb's words into a soft bass rumble, and they'd been sitting sprawled out on the sand, and oliver had definitely picked up on the attraction being radiated his way all night (he hadn't missed the hand on his leg or the glances that'd lasted a beat longer than casual); they'd just been talking, but right away he'd known that caleb wasn't her, wasn't even anything close, so he'd leaned up into sokcho's saltwater air and kissed this stranger straight on the mouth. and he vaguely remembered thinking of the fact that he'd never done this before - not with another man, at least - but caleb's cologne had smelled nice, and his arms had been warm as they went around his waist, and oliver had thought about it for days after, heel of his palm pressed guiltily to the front of his pants, until finally he'd asked the front desk for the room number of one caleb lee.
he wasn't sure what this was now. it could've been a casual fuck, but they hung out too, occasionally, they had inside jokes and fought over TV privileges and bought each other room service. oliver knew his birthday and planned to buy him something. oliver had brought him to new york.
"what if i'm all of those things?" he asked suddenly, eyes slipping closed as he shuddered through a sigh at the feel of a solid chest against his naked back, of hot, nervous breath at his ear. "aren't you?"selfish. you're selfish, we're both selfish - why else would we live the lives that we do, why else would we be here at all? we're people, and we take what we can. sighing quietly, oliver tilted his head back, pressing languid kisses to caleb's jawline (he loved his jaw, could spend hours there, probably, and again, didn't know what that meant, or if it meant anything). the water was beginning to cause his muscles to relax while he angled his head to kiss him deeply, surely, turning around and sloshing water and pouring out a little bit of something - something, something, something - into the kiss, but he didn't know what, only that it seemed to stretch and unfurl from the center of his solar plexus. and he didn't know what, but it felt eerily familiar. this was deja vu, and it hit him hard, and he didn't realize he was biting caleb's bottom lip with more force than needed until he felt his arms tense beneath his hands. i'm sorry, he kissed it apologetically, more tender than he'd maybe let the other man ever see him.
(oliver felt that he was apologizing for more than that, somehow.)
"caleb, caleb lee. we're lost and found. don't overthink it. please, just-" (suddenly honest, a shade toward desperation, dropped to a whisper, spoken against caleb's mouth) "be here with me. i want you here. it can't be anyone else."
he had this nasty tendency to withdraw in times like these, retreat, say that he was much too tired to get into anything like this at this time of night, in this situation, in this city. but it was never true. he just couldn't help but back off when he felt the soft touch of intimacy creeping up on him, its long, silky fingers clawing at him, frightening him. it had been like this for as long as he could remember, all tightlipped and emotions locked away, somewhere so deep inside of him and far off that he wasn't sure evn he could find them. but god, right now, e wanted nothing more but to dig up a map, a crumpled, crumbling piece of parchment that would lead him to this treasure.
though he honestly wasn't sure it was a treasure he wanted to find. because he had locked it away for a reason, had found long ago that emotions only brought pain, tears, heartbreak. it never happened like it did in the movies, all smiles and kisses and hugs and proclamations of love. no, in real life emotions just brought all these volatile things out in people- fear, loathing, sadness, depression. even the world's most popular and referred to love story told it that way- romeo and juliet both die in the end, all in the name of love, this thing that couldn't be seen or tasted or felt. it was all chemicals, developed through millions of years of evolution, hopes that these little firing sparks in the brain would keep people procreating, filling the world up with even more unneccessary bodies. crowded. suffocated. claustrophobic.
but if it couldn't be felt or seen or tasted, what was it that took over caleb whenever oliver was around?
was it not the sight of him, all wild hairstyles and self-made clothes and half-crooked smiles? was it it not the feeling of his skin against caleb's, the electricity that fired whenever their hands touched? and was it not the way that oliver's mouth tasted against his, all warm and minty and occassionally smoky, the lingering flavor of a recently smoked cigarette? he knew it was, but he was so afraid to admit it, because once things are admitted and said out loud and brought to the forefron of someone's mind, that was when a person became vulnerable. the object of their affection had complete control over them at the moment, could manipulate them in anyway they pleased.
caleb knew from experience.
he didn't think oliver would ever do that to him, hurt him intentionally, but how many times had he thought that before, given himself to someone wholly only to be left bent and broken, bloody and salty with tears?
for now though, it was only sexual. he knew this, could see it from the way oliver's eyes looked at him. it broke his heart a little bit, in a way he didn't realize it could be broken. hadn't he gotten over this a long time ago? these sort of things were something that belonged to prepubescent kids at their school's dance. it was nothing that a grown, experienced, worldy man should feel. what if, though, what if caleb wasn't any of those things, any of the things he fancied himself to be?
damn it, caleb, this is not the time for sould searching.
and as usual, oliver's voice, all warm and soft and comforting, brought him back to his body, grounded him. simply the way his voice made him feel sent caleb into a wild frenzy, all animalistic and sexual, the sudden urge to throw all of these thoughts into the fucking ocean, let them get devoured by a shark, shredded to bits and left to rot in stomach acid. he had always controlled himself, because somehow oliver made him want to, made him want to be a better man, someone he wasn't sure he could ever actually become. but god, for fucking all he was worth, for all he wasn't worth, caleb wanted to try.
for the potential they had.
for something they could become.
despite how caleb had known that it was true, oliver practically admitting he was lonely and drunk and groggy and that was why he was here now, was caressing caleb in a bath, all teasing and wonderful, well, it broke his heart. he wasn't sure what he had been expecting. had he been hoping for an admission of love, desire, an urge to be together forever? no, because in all honesty, neither of them were really ready for that. probably, if anything, he had been hoping at least for oliver to say that he was simply choosing caleb because he wanted him, needed him here. but he figured that for now, he was willing to be whatever oliver needed him to be. and if that meant lying, then he would do it, happily, anything to make oliver smile.
"yeah, i am," but his words were flat and hollow and haunted by the truth. he knew this, knew how apparent it was, so he quickly leaned in to kiss oliver, hard, to show him that this was what he wanted. at least a bit of that was true. this was about half of what he wanted, and for now half was all he could get and that was okay for him. he needed oliver in a way he had never imagined possible, and it made him look at oliver with rose colored glasses, to the point that oliver was ethereal and angelic, something that could never be given to any one single mortal.
oliver was just too far out of his reach.
and then his heart was fluttering because, for fuck's sake, oliver needed him, wanted him, and no one else. it couldn't be anyone else. caleb accepted oliver's lips gratefully, pressing hard into his, his body moving smoothly through the warm water around them. his hand rubbed slowly up oliver's back, torso, neck, until it was pulling oliver's head towards his, begging him for the kiss to never end. but it had to, of course, and thank god, because caleb had so much to say. he wouldn't say it all, but he would at least admit a bit. "okay, we'll leave it at that. no questions, no thoughts, no feelings. just you and me. he paused, trying to figure out what to say next. and it was occam's razor, because the simplest answer was the right one.