James knows Darren loves him. He just needs to find the words to convince him of it.
For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉
“You don’t get it, James,” Darren’s voice is low, and tired, and he stands as though he has never lived without permanent ache.
James watches him wordlessly, arms folded roughly across his chest, letting Darren speak.
“You just don’t. You don’t understand that I don’t get good things. I don’t get the happy ending, I can’t just have what I want. I just can’t,” Darren sighs then, looking over at James with pleading in his eyes. James can’t tell if he’s pleading for understanding or to be proved wrong.
“It isn’t because I don’t want this,” Darren adds, and he doesn’t need to say the words. This is them. It’s that thing that has brewed and bubbled between them for what is possibly forever. Or feels like forever. Ever since that first – and last time Darren had lapsed, and reached for a bottle instead of help on a bad day, when he’d been doing so well, not drank a single drop in god knows how long; that’s how long Darren’s felt like this about him.
Even then, in that darkest of moments, especially then; James had looked at him as though he believed in him, and that what had happened was nothing but a temporary blip. Darren has never had anyone show that much faith in him, and seeing it open and honest and there on James’ face had solidified for Darren what he’d been kidding himself for the longest time was just fleeting attraction for him.
“It isn’t because I have a problem with this,” he adds, and now he’s being as clear as he can be, when clear feels impossible, “it’s because I want this. You. More than I’ve wanted anything my whole life. And I can’t have it, I just can’t; you’ve got to hear what I’m trying to tell you,”
Silence fills the space between them for an age, and then James quietly replies with, “May I ask why?”
Darren’s resolve is slipping. The tone of James’ voice that is hurt and looking for understanding crumbles it, because that’s what James does to Darren. He makes him weak. “Because I just can’t, okay? I’ll ruin it. I’ll mess things up, and I’ll hurt you, and I’ll lose the best friend I’ve ever had,”
Which, in a nutshell, is the full truth of it. James has been one of Darren’s closest friends since college, with Darren remembering as though it were yesterday looking up across a lecture hall at the sound of a well-spoken English man, articulately arguing for his right for admittance. Or whatever the words he’d used at the time were. The point was, Darren had smiled at him in welcome when he’d come to sit a few feet from him, and James had returned it, and they had been friends ever since.
But it wasn’t yesterday, it was more than ten years ago, and James has been by Darren’s side ever since. His friend, his confidante, his rock. There through his many failures, there for his few successes, there for everything. How can he risk losing all of that by giving into all these feelings, when he knows without doubt that James could do so very much better than himself?
“And you could get hurt.” James adds, noting the omission.
Darren huffs as though that’s not a distinct possibility. That the thought of losing James, especially if he allows them to just… be… doesn’t kill him already.
“You could get hurt.” James repeats firmly, holding Darren’s gaze, in the way only James ever does.
“Yeah, well.” Darren shrugs, breaking the eye contact, “happens…”
James turns slightly, still keeping his distance from Darren. “I would never make promises not to hurt you, Darren. That would be unfair and a lie. I could only promise to never intend to hurt you.” James’ words are gentle, and Darren can’t help but let the tenderness of them seep through him for a moment.
“Don’t know why you’d be interested anyway,” is Darren’s response, scuffing the toe of his boot along the floor with his usual kneejerk change-the-subject reaction.
“I could list all of the things I love about you, Darren. Yes, love,” James repeats the end of his statement when Darren snorts in dismissal, “because I do love you. I have loved you. For a very long time now. But I doubt very much that you’d like to hear what I have to say about that,”
“How could you?” Darren mumbles, eyes still on the floor, and it’s a fair question. How could anyone as incredible as James; intelligent, attractive, kind beyond anything – how could anyone that amazing love him of all people? It wasn’t possible, not now, not ever.
James takes comfort from the fact that Darren hasn’t run from his words. There was a time when he feared complete rejection purely because they were both men, and throughout college and beyond, Darren had only ever shown interest in women. He feared that Darren’s outlook on life was already carved in stone by the views of his father, and although it was unfair, James felt nothing but dislike for the man, and the way he had shaped his son to hate himself as much as he knew Darren did. In situations such as now, with the full embodiment of Darren’s self-loathing making him truly believe he wasn’t worthy of him, that dislike flared ugly.
“I already said,” James continues, “I could list all the things I love about you. The reasons why. But you wouldn’t want to hear them. It would be pointless to force you to hear things that you are adamant you don’t want to hear. And will reject,” he adds, unable to keep a tinge of sadness and bitterness from his tone. He really has loved Darren for an age; in silence, in secret, at a safe distance. Never pushing, never taking more than Darren was willing to offer because until recently, until an evening where they’d fallen asleep together on his couch and James had woken to Darren staring at him with nothing but want on his face, James had never dared think Darren might care about him, want him back.
Darren’s eyes fly up, pain reflected there because of the pain he knows he’s causing James now. “I’m no good, James,” he protests, “no good at all. I’ve got… nothing to offer you. You could be with anyone, anyone you wanted… anyone at all-“
“You are who I want,” James interrupts, trying to keep his voice gentle when he wants to yell in frustration to make him see sense.
“How?” there’s bewilderment there in Darren’s voice, and he’s tightly gripping on to the edge of the counter where he’s leaning like his life depends on it. “What could I possibly give you? You could have… anything. Everything. But I can’t give you anything, James. I’m nothing,” he finishes with, his voice trailing away as he lets his head hang with a single shake.
“You could give me you,” James counters, “that is all I want,”
“You don’t mean that,” Darren shakes his head again, refusing to hear the words.
“Darren. I never knew want like this before I knew you. I never knew longing, or friendship, or what it is to be cared about. You are going to have to trust me when I say it is you that I want, because you were the first person that I ever wanted this much in my entire life. The only thing I’ve ever wanted in life that I still want,”
“Aside from brownies and pizza and cof-”
“Darren,” James cuts him off, frustration creeping in at Darren’s constant need to make a joke. He knows it’s a diversionary tactic and exactly why he does it, but now is not the time.
“I can’t, James,” Darren pleads, his words quiet, and full of emotion.
“What you mean is, you won’t try,”
“Not if it means losing you altogether. No,” Darren tries for firmness in his voice but it’s marred by the way he just wants to give in, to have James and to let James have him. Because as much as he fights it, it is the only thing that makes sense to him. It – James, is the only thing that has made sense to Darren in a long, long time.
“But if you keep pushing me away. If you continue this… charade, with me, Darren. Do you
honestly believe I can stand it? Do you honestly think I can stay?”
Darren’s eyes widen, and there’s real fear there making his heart thrum away in his chest in panic. “Are you saying… that if I don’t… if we don’t… you won’t stick around?”
James pinches the bridge of his nose, cursing his choice of words. “I am not trying to force you into anything you don’t want. I’m not trying to give you an ultimatum, Darren. I’m just saying, I can’t keep-”
“I didn’t say I don’t want-”
“I’m saying, it will hurt too much to be near you and watch you. With others. With another…”
James’ words dwindle away and he drops his hand heavily to his side. “When I want you to be with me. It will be too painful to pretend that all I feel for you is friendship, and to have to keep wondering if I’m too close, or if I should comfort you, or reach out to you. I am not so strong as to continue to act as though we are nothing but friends, Darren. We are that, we have always been that, and I cherish your friendship beyond… anything. But we are also more. So much more,”
Darren chews on his lip for a moment and then, says quiet enough for James to have to lean forward to hear it, “You do know that I love you back, right?”
For a second, James’ heart soars at the words he never thought he’d hear out loud. Sure, he’s thought he’s seen them in all of Darren’s gestures, the way he cares about him like no one else does. The way he remembers all the smallest details about him, and goes out of his way to make him happy, looking so proud and rewarded every time he makes him smile. That is how he knows Darren loves him, but to actually hear the words spoken is better than any sound he could ever imagine. All he can do is nod his response.
“So, you do know that me saying this can’t happen is because I love you. Right?”
Darren’s logic is annoying, because James can completely understand where he’s coming from. He knows how broken Darren’s opinion of himself is, of how he fears he’ll turn everything good to dust. He knows how frightened he is of that. And he also knows that Darren is rejecting him from a place of love. It doesn’t mean it isn’t rejection though. James can’t see past that, not when he sees, he knows, how good things could be between them. It would just be like coming home, to a home he’s never had, really, but now doesn’t want to be without.
Darren is watching this internal debate play across his face, and James swears he can feel Darren’s heart pounding from across the room. He knows how torn Darren is, knows all the reasons for it. He knows Darren. He just needs to find the right words.
“You say that,” James says, full of caution, “but you are still sending me away,”
“I’m not, James. God, I’m not. I’m trying to explain… I need you. You don’t know how I need you.”
“If you need me-”
“But I can’t need you. Don’t you get it? I can’t rely on anyone. I can’t have anyone rely on me. I’ll just… I’ll fail you, James.”
“You are a most confusing man.” James sighs, rocking on his heels. “What you’re saying is that these… intimacies… that we both want, we cannot have, and that you need me, but can’t have me, so I’m supposed to just be here but not be here with you?”
Darren rubs a hand over his face and a dry laugh escapes his lips. “When you say it like that…”
“It sounds as stupid as it is,” James finishes for him, knowing his tone is curt. He doesn’t mean it to be, but he’s hurting here too.
“I’m sorry,” Darren says, and his voice breaks, his body arches towards James even from this distance, confused by the pull to comfort him and the idea that he must, for James’ sake, stay clear.
James knows that Darren rates his own intelligence very low, and he hates that Darren does that. But right now, James can’t help think how ridiculous Darren is being. How can Darren be saying all these empty words, the things he feels he must say, when James can see written all over his face what he is truly saying? He can practically hear the longing, the wanting, the love that’s there. It just doesn’t mean as much, or anything at all, if Darren can’t manage to say these things out loud. It would be like using his not-so-secret thoughts against him, and there is no way James would ever want to violate him like that.
James decides to take matters into his own hands, or at least, to give them a nudge.
He stretches back languidly, knowing full well the way Darren’s eyes are on him as he arches his neck. He’s not blind; he’s seen the way Darren’s gaze lingers over him, knows when he’s wearing a favourite shirt, or a pair of jeans Darren really likes on him. He knows lust when he sees it in someone’s eyes. Knows ache, and god, does he know want. And he’s seen each of these things in Darren’s eyes, so many times when he’s looked at him.
James lowers his head, eyes pinning Darren’s in place, sure he’s hearing a solitary loud thud of his heart. He stands to full height, and very slowly walks across the room, never breaking eye contact.
“Tell me you don’t want me, Darren. Tell me. And I’ll go,” His pace is deliberate, giving Darren time to consider his words.
“I don’t want you to go, James, I never said I wanted you to go,”
“No,” James agrees, “you want me to stay, but not stay with you. You push me so far and then just… pull back. You keep… toying with me, Darren. I do not enjoy that feeling,”
Darren’s hands fall, crushed by the truth of James’ words, curling defensively into his sides. “I don’t want to hurt you, James. I never mean to do that,”
“So, tell me you don’t want me,” James prompts again, sterner this time.
Darren’s voice is barely audible when he says, “But you know I want you. You know,”
“I do,” James agrees, a slight nod as he stops directly in front of Darren, eyes flicking down to his chest where now he really can hear Darren’s heart pounding out a staccato, “but you can’t keep doing this to me.”
James tries to keep the hurt from his voice, because he knows that it just makes things painful for Darren, but he can’t help that. He can’t help it if Darren has made him so aware of everything about him.
“So. Here is what I am going to do, Darren. I am going to kiss you. I am going to lean in and kiss you, any moment now, and if you honestly don’t want me to. If you honestly, truly believe that this,” and he waves a finger between them, “is a bad idea, well, then. I guess you’re just going to have to stop me.”
Darren’s eyes widen and his tongue dips out to wet his lips; the action is involuntary, as is the tightening of his jeans in response to James’ words.
Again, James knows exactly what he is doing. He leans a little closer, and closer, practically hearing Darren’s internal monologue that goes something like please, kiss me now, no stop, stop, I can’t stop you if you do.
James pauses, inches from Darren’s face, watching Darren’s eyes fall to his lips, his own slightly parted. And then, he does it. Presses his soft, dry lips against Darren’s in one slow, chaste kiss.
He may as well have lit a stick dynamite, because that one touch is not enough.
James’ hands cradle Darren’s face as he reaches in to kiss him again, never for more than a few seconds, always giving Darren the chance to pull away. James can feel Darren’s hands twitching uncontrollably at his sides, until suddenly they’re not. They’re finger deep in James’ hair, holding him exactly where he wants him as Darren kisses back, hot and hard. James’ own hands wind around Darren’s neck and he presses himself flush against Darren, earning him a low growl and Darren rolling his hips back against him.
Darren’s kisses are not gentle; they are ferocious, exactly the kind James expected of him after holding back for so long. He’s been so sure that Darren wanted to kiss him, to claim him for his, to never let him out of his grip again. Now he’s getting confirmation of that, and James is overwhelmed by it, realising that all his fantasies about Darren like this have always been barely adequate. This Darren, the real one, is a furnace, ready to consume him.
James doesn’t mind that imagery one bit.
He kisses back with as much of his own force as he can, his tongue darting fiercely into Darren’s mouth forcing a moan out that flares fire through James’ core. Darren sucks on his tongue, chases it, moves his hands shakily down James’ back to press into James’ ass so that he can grind against him.
Gradually, the kisses lose their intensity, and they lean into each other more in comfort than
anything else. Their breathing is heavy, and lips find skin along jaws and necks before James’ head finally falls onto Darren’s shoulder, and Darren’s arms circle him protectively. Darren kisses him once, long and hard on the side of his head then sighs into his ear, sounding defeated. Finally, he whispers, “I could never have said no to you, James. I don’t have the willpower,”
James nods against him but says nothing, because he doesn’t want to break the spell that is them.
Darren’s hand strokes gently down James’ back, feeling his face flush as he buries it further into his neck. He’s been kidding himself for all this time that James had no idea, when obviously, how could he not? “Then why now?”
“Because, Darren,” James noses against him, “I wanted you to be the one initiating things. I never wanted you to feel I had forced you. That I was using your own thoughts and feelings against you, when you… when you have never acknowledged them,”
“Hey,” Darren raises his head to look James in the eye, “I’ve never felt forced, okay? This isn’t about being forced. It’s about me being terrified of screwing things up. It’s about me still thinking you’re making a mistake wanting me like- like I think… I’m fairly sure you do,”
James narrows his eyes. “Do I have to kiss you again to prove to you how wrong I think you are about that? About me making a mistake in loving you? Wanting you, Darren?”
“Well,” Darren replied, eyes again falling to James’ lips like he’s found a new addiction, “I’d kind of prefer it if you just kissed me for the sake of it,”
And James does just that, slow and leisurely, melting into him.
They break away, a long time later, looking at each other with a mix of awe and uncertainty.
“I’m still not sure about this, James. I mean,” he grips James a little tighter in case there’s any misunderstanding, “I want this. I never didn’t want this. I just… I don’t know how any of this is going to work,”
James shrugs then, leaning in to kiss him once more, wrapping his arms around his shoulders and leaning hard. “We will work that out together, Darren. We will… we will take things as they come,”
“Don’t leave me,” Darren pleads then, squeezing him a little tighter and gathering to him.
James sighs, slotting his fingers through Darren’s hair to cradle him, one warm hand splayed wide around his back. “I never could,”