The first time it happened it was an accident.

They were watching TV, a Schneider's Secret something or other that Drake had insisted Josh would enjoy, but really Josh didn't feel super comfortable objectifying women; he preferred to approach women as intellectual equals, like Mindy. Plus that woman in a thong was maybe someone's sister, like Megan, so that was weird. And all the sparkles kind of made him dizzy. The women on the screen were pretty—were sexy and Josh knew that was what he was supposed to be thinking about. But strutting across his screen, they were all smooth curves and tilted lines, and it was all making him feel kind of seasick, nauseous like when he had to give a speech in front of his class or talk to a girl.

There was something else that made him uncomfortable, too, something that was settling out from the warmth of Drake's knee pressed against his and into the pit of his stomach, radiating out through his fingertips, something that he couldn't quite find the words to explain, nausea hitting in waves that matched exactly the sound of Drake's breath next to him. "Isn't this the best," Drake said, almost absently, and when Josh looked over his eyes were glazed, cheeks flushed, mouth just the tiniest bit open. It was all making Josh feel kind of weird, his stomach clenching and twisting. Drake had his head tilted towards Josh, so close that Josh could smell his shampoo. And there was just something so unusual about all of this, something disquieting and strange. Josh couldn't quite put his finger on it, and maybe that was the worst part of it all, like he was doing something wrong on so many levels and he didn't even know he was digging his way into an early grave.

"Dude," Drake said putting his hand on Josh's forearm, "That chick is ihot/i," and Drake moved his head, just slightly, and they were close, suddenly, so close, their noses nearly touching, and Josh could feel Drake's breath on his upper lip, and it was too much. Josh was turned on, his neck hot-- and it was probably just the models, he told himself, the Schneider's Secret models who were still sashaying on the screen-- but they were fading into the background, like spinning carousels, amusement parks, Drake's face superimposed over them and that didn't make sense. And it didn't make sense that all he could see was the way Drake's eyelashes pulled up and the tiny gold freckles. Drake's nose bumped against his, and then back, and they were both panting. It was way too much.

"I," Josh said, and he turned away. He felt Drake's breath on his cheek for a second, but then it was gone. "Let's watch something else. I think there's a special on the Insects and Oceans Channel on praying mantis mating habits today." He grabbed the remote control and changed the station, and prayed that that would be it, because if he felt anyimore/i, if there was any more iDrake/i he had a feeling he might collapse into nothing then burst outwards, like he had read about supernovas.

"Hey man, I was watching that," Drake said, and he made a grab for the remote, and even though he shouldn't have Josh pulled away.

"I don't want to watch it anymore, Drake."

"Give it iback/i," and Drake was pressing up against him and before Josh could figure out what exactly was happening, he was lying back, ipushed/i back, his head against the armrest of their couch. Drake was stretched out lengthwise on Josh's side, fingers stretching and grappling up Josh's forearm for the remote, and then suddenly still, trailing up the inside of Josh's wrist. And that really was too much, because Josh could feel Drake's heartbeat against his rib cage, light and quick and impossibly fragile, like a butterfly.

Drake inhaled, sharp and quick, Josh felt the quick pulse of Drake's stomach against his hip, and icannibalistic habits of praying mantises ensure that they remain solitary creatures. Because they feed on one another, mantises are/i the voice was droning in the background and for some reason Josh was finding it difficult to swallow.

He could feel his arms shaking, he could feel his palms sweating, and he was right: he was going to burst, because all of this, this was everything all turned into a single moment, and Josh wasn't sure that he could handle it.

"Josh, man," Drake said, quiet-whispery, breath, hot against the side of Josh's cheek, and that meant that Drake was so overwhelmed he couldn't find his voice (and really, at least it wasn't just Josh who was spun by this). And Drake put his left hand on Josh's hip, tight and fast like he was floating away, like they were both floating away, and Drake couldn't find a grip. Josh thought that it might be too late, that maybe they were lost, but then Drake's right hand found the remote.

And Josh turned his head then, maybe to tell him off, maybe because he was surprised, but there was Drake's face again, right there, chins bumping. Josh felt all the wind puff out of him, and he let go of the remote. "Here," he said, "You can have it."

"Thanks, man," Drake was saying, but he wasn't pulling away, he was pulling icloser/i, clicking off the TV and setting the remote down, on the floor next to them, and his left hand was still on Josh's hip, pressing. And Drake leaned in a little bit closer, warm weight pushing Josh into the couch; Josh watched mesmerized as Drake's eyes fluttered shut, long eyelashes settling against his cheek, and Drake was so breakable, so fragile, his lips trembling, breath puffing against Josh's chin.

Josh moved his hand experimentally, flattening his palm on the edge of Drake's shoulder blade and then down the curve of his spine. Drake made a small noise, and Josh wrapped his arms more fully around Drake and closed the distance. Their lips touched, feather light, and Josh wasn't really sure how this had happened, how any of this had happened, but it didn't really matter because Josh was lost already.

It wasn't like kissing Mindy. When he kissed Mindy he thought about everything: about her lip gloss, about the smell of her lotion when her hands carded through his hair, about what he should be doing with his teeth and his tongue, and suck-pull-twist, like a puzzle. But when Josh kissed Drake, his brain completely short circuited. The rest of the world fell away, and he didn't think of anything at all, floated on the tip of Drake's tongue and the edges of Drake's hips. When he kissed Drake he forgot that there was anything iother/i than Drake.

Without even realizing that he was doing it, Josh was turned and adjusted, so that his back was flat against the couch, and Drake was flush against him, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, legs tangled, and Josh moved helplessly, looking and searching for-- oh. iOh/i. That was new.

There were sparks everywhere, surrounding them like a halo, and Drake was making small noises in the back of his throat, low and rumbling against Josh's chest, and his hands were fucking ieverywhere/i on Josh's chest, and up running along the edges of Josh's ears, and down his sides over the edge of his legs, then snaking up, fingertips underneath Josh's shirt onto the skin of Josh's hips, and Josh opened his mouth and keened.

"Drake," Josh said helplessly because, oh God, this was Drake, and this was everything. It was,

It was,

It was.

Josh pulled back, then, turned his head into the pillow of the couch. "iDrake/i." And it killed him, because Drake's hands were shaking where they settled on Josh's biceps. But this was too much, and if they went any further, they wouldn't be able to turn back. "We need to stop."

And Drake pulled away, off of Josh, very suddenly. Raked a hand through his hair. "Yeah," Drake said. "Um. Yeah."

Then Drake laughed. "Man," Drake said, and Josh didn't understand any of this, didn't understand how Drake was so normal, so casual, so iDrake/i after that, because Josh felt like he could never be back to normal. "That's funny," Drake said. "You're a pretty good kisser, man. Almost as good as me."

So, Josh forced a laugh, because it seemed like the right thing to do. "Yeah," he said. "That was… great."

"This is awesome," Drake said. "None of the weirdness like with girls."

But it was weird. Everything was weird. Josh could still feel Drake's stubble on his cheeks, and Drake's fingers on the edges of his hips, and his heart was pounding like it might explode out of his chest. "Yeah," he heard himself saying. "Not… weird at all." And then he leaned forward and turned the TV back on, because he needed to do something with his hands, and Drake leaned back, arms behind his head, and ilays her eggs in batches enclosed in a tough, spongy envelope called an ootheca/i the TV droned, and Josh tried really hard not to think about the warm heat of Drake's leg pressed against his, tried really hard not to think about anything, but his mind was swimming, twisting around and around endlessly.

He did notice that Drake didn't try to change the station.


Josh tried to keep it from happening again, he really did. He kept his distance. He spent most of a week with Mindy, coming home late. But spending time away from Drake was like spending time away from oxygen. Impossible, and painful.

So Josh went home.

He pretended that he hadn't been avoiding Drake, and Drake pretended that he hadn't noticed, and it was almost like everything was normal. Drake was playing his guitar, propped up against his bent knees, the TV glowing in the background. "What's up, man," Josh said, and if his voice was a little tentative, a little shaky, well that's what it was.

"Hey," Drake said. "It's good."

But it wasn't, really, because Josh still felt weird, standing at the door of their room like it wasn't their room at all. He pressed his hand against the front of his thighs, smoothed them back along behind him. Took a couple steps forward. "What you watching?"

Drake looked over at Josh, then up, wide eyed at the TV like he hadn't even realized it was on. "Uh, nothing really. Just background noise." He grinned at Josh, wide, and Josh looked down, because Drake's smile was like sunshine. "Hey, man, listen to this. Just a second." He muted the TV, and all that was became long shadows and dim blue glow. Drake strummed, and then played a finger picking chord progression, slow and sweet. Josh couldn't see anything but Drake's hands, stark and long and pale against the wood of his guitar. So he closed his eyes, scrubbed a hand along the bridge of his nose.

"What do you think?" Josh looked up, and Drake was staring at him, almost nervously, his hand still and spread on the strings of his guitar.

"It's good."

"Is that all?"

Josh smiled at him, took a few steps forward to sit on the couch. "No, man. It's ireally/i good."

Drake smiled, laughed a little. He looked down at his guitar, then back up at Josh. "Hey--"

"Don't say it," Josh said. The TV flickered and dimmed, and Drake was staring at him like he had never seen him before in his life. "So," he said. "You good for some ping pong?"

Drake smiled, and, "You are very bold, young Szechuan." And then everything was okay.


The second time it happened they didn't kiss.

Josh couldn't really remember how it started. It didn't matter. They started out slapping, they wound up wrestling, and then Drake's hands sort of stuck, and they pressed together. They were still laughing when their hips met. Drake made a noise, a surprised sort of intake of breath, and Josh felt his hands settle on Drake's hips, and they were moving, panting, feeling, and the room was a haze of sweat and touch and desire, and it was like ielectricity/i between them.

It was easy, to just fall into this, easy to let Drake slide his hips against him, easy to run his hands up Drake's back, under his shirt, press his fingers against Drake's shoulder blades. Drake's eyes were shut, and Josh couldn't look at Drake like this, his face flushed, his eyelashes fluttering; it was too private, too intimate, and Josh felt his eyes fall shut.

Drake pressed his face into Josh's neck, and this was nothing like Mindy when Josh felt Drake's teeth on his collarbone, this was nothing like Mindy, all hard angles, and rough hands, and sharp hips. Josh was overwhelmed by Drake, by the way Drake smelled and the way Drake felt, smooth planes against Josh, and that wasn't like Mindy either, the way desire made him crazy, unable to resist.

Josh's hands were under Drake's shirt, against warm skin, and he pulled, hiked it up above Drake's shoulders. Drake let out a breath, warm against Josh's neck, and pulled at the hem of Josh's shirt, and then they were pressed together, chest to chest, and this was more than Josh could handle, Drake's fingers teasing up the sides of Josh's ribs, almost ticklish but just over the edge to something else.

"I--," Josh said, and he wanted to say something, wanted to say iDrake/i or iplease/i or I need, I need, iI need/i but he couldn't make his mouth work, couldn't say anything, couldn't breathe, and Drake grunted into the side of his jaw, then irolled/i his hips, and Josh felt warmth rolling up from the tips of his toes to coil like a spring in his stomach.

Drake was breathing hard into Josh's collarbone, his mouth open, and Josh almost thought that he would just take off, out the window and into the sky, because he couldn't stay grounded with all of this. He couldn't possibly stay on earth. It was too much.

And then it was there, then he was floating, tingles echoing from the center of his stomach and down and outward. He let out a small, helpless noise, and then Drake was pressing into him, furious, chin sharp against the crook of Josh's neck. Josh could feel him shaking underneath his fingertips.

Drake rolled off of him, and Josh tried not to think about how much he missed the dead weight of Drake on top of him, and they lay next to each other, and Josh might have felt embarrassed for cumming in his pants, but Drake did too, so maybe it was ok. He could hear Drake breathing next to him, in and out, almost silent.

"Well," Drake said, and pulled himself up (with what strength? Josh was boneless on the ground). "I'm going to go take a shower." Josh could hear Drake moving, rifling through his drawers and then stopping suddenly, and Josh was afraid to look over, afraid that everything had changed and would never be back to normal, afraid that if he looked at Drake he would see something like loss. "Hey."

"Yeah?" Josh said, and there was a nervous little tremble in his voice that he really hoped that Drake couldn't hear.

"I--" Drake was silent for a long second, that felt like minutes, that felt like hours. "I've got a rehearsal with my band tonight," Drake said finally, and if the second had been as long as it felt, well then he couldn't tell from Drake's voice. "Won't be back till later on. You want to drive tomorrow or should I?"

Josh fisted his hands into the carpet, then relaxed them, palms down. "I'll drive," he said.

Drake stood for a moment, and Josh turned his head so his cheek pressed against the carpet, counted the threads of the grey toe on Drake's socks. Watched as Drake coughed, shifted, then walked to the bathroom. A minute later Josh heard the shower start, and Drake started singing, and everything was normal, Josh just had to istand up/i.

He sighed and threw an arm over his forehead. Maybe later.


It became a pattern. Sort of erratic, sort of regular, and sort of just like everything else that Josh and Drake had ever been.

They had rules. They didn't kiss after the first time. They never made eye contact. They didn't cuddle after. They never actually slept together in the literal sense. Their physical contact was limited to frotting and hand jobs and the special occasion blow job when they hadn't touched in a while and needed imore/i. But the most important part was that they didn't talk about it. Ever.

It would have made Josh laugh if it had been anything less than Drake. It was like Fight Club, almost. Drake and Josh's own personal version of Fight Club. That was less about pain and more about-- more about something kind of like pleasure, but kind of like a million other things, too. And that was also just like everything else that Josh and Drake had ever been. Nothing could ever be simple, or clean. And maybe that was part of what Josh-- part of what Josh iwanted/i as much as he hated to admit it. The chaos was part of it.

It began as a sort of weekly thing, when the anticipation, the unfulfilled touches had built up to the point where they ineeded/i it, and then it was never in a bed. It was hot, quick, passionate on the floor, or on the couch, or once in the boy's locker room at school locked into one of the tiny bathroom stalls after Drake had talked Josh into skipping gym with him, because they let the need build to the point where there wasn't itime/i to do anything dignified. It was just pressing, and jerking, and touching, and iGod/i it wasn't enough.

So they upped the ante.

Drake started it (he always did).

They had given each other hand jobs on the couch that day before school (it had been nearly a week and a half since their last encounter, so it had been fast, twisting and pulling and all Drake had to do was lick the palm of his hand and rub, really, and Josh came harder than he thought possible, tiny spots of light floating in the sides of his periphery, and honest to God he felt dizzy for minute). Josh had been mildly disappointed as he was falling asleep, because the whole thing had taken less than ten minutes, and this was all he was going to get of Drake for another week.

But there were rules. Rules that had to be followed or the delicate balance, the house of cards that they had built inch by inch would come crashing down around them (Drake would laugh at him if he knew Josh was thinking of their relationship as a house of cards, but: Josh worked with what he knew). And losing everything was unfathomable.

Which was why Josh was surprised when Drake was creeping into his bed as the digital clock next to his bed flashed 3:04.

"Drake," Josh said, because he knew when he felt the mattress depress, he knew when he felt the familiar chin pressed into the place where his neck turned into his shoulder. It couldn't be anyone else.

"Shh," Drake said, and Josh could feel his breath against his ear, and it turned him on iway/i more than he thought it had any right to. It was the twenty-seventh time. That was all that Josh could think, and even that thought vanished when Drake's lips were pressed against the side of his neck, and Drake's hand was moving to cup the front of Josh's pants, and Josh could feel Drake against his back, and Drake iwanted/i him. Drake iwanted/i him even though it had been less than 24 hours, Drake iwanted/i him, and that thought alone made Josh shiver and writhe under Drake's hand.

It was the twenty-seventh time and Josh knew even then that things had changed, that things were different.

And they were. Not the big rules, because the big rules were all that were holding them aloft. They kept dating girls. They didn't kiss. They didn't make eye contact because that would be too personal. They definitely didn't spend the night in the same bed-- too risky. Once Josh passed out in Drake's bed after a particularly intense blow job, and Megan almost caught them. Josh took a flying leap from Drake's bed into his own when he heard a hand on the doorknob, twisting his ankle. Megan gave him a long, suspicious look after she did whatever she did in their room (Josh was so focused on keeping his breathing slow and steady and inot getting caught/i that he couldn't really work up the will to care). That was the last time that Josh broke the rules.

But it was changing. Before Josh realized it their meetings were more frequent. It became a daily thing. Then it became a more than daily thing. Then it became an any time they could get their hands on each other thing, and suddenly it was getting really hard to keep it quiet, but even worse it was getting hard to keep it iseparate/i. Drake and everything related to Drake began to color every part of Josh's life, as undeniable as it was uninvited.

And Josh wondered if there was something seriously wrong with him, because with Mindy one kiss was enough to last him for a while, but the more he got of Drake, the more he wanted, the more he ineeded/i. It was never enough, even when Drake was pressed against him, he needed more. It was all he could think about.

Drake had been sparked (or maybe spooked) by Josh to take up girls with a passion. He was out every night till late (when he would come home and pick stupid fights with Josh until they collapsed into bed for a whirlwind of touch and feeling). And as much as Josh didn't want to think it, he thought that maybe this was how Drake was running away from him. Because Josh might have Mindy, but ever since he and Drake had started their-- whatever it was, Josh was torn between pulling away from Mindy because he felt dishonest when he spent time with her (and even more dishonest because he didn't want to kiss Mindy nearly as much as he wanted to kiss Drake, rules or no rules) and getting closer to Mindy to divert attention away from him and Drake, as gross as that was. But also because Josh iliked/i Mindy. She watched out for his feelings, like Drake was too busy or distracted to, and it was nice to have a friend. But Drake didn't put a second thought into the fifty girls he kissed every week. It was different for Drake, Josh knew that.

"Drake," Josh said once, when Drake was standing to leave, but he had no follow through, just the name that settled off of his lips like a secret.

Drake stopped anyway, and Josh could see his back tense, and Josh could feel it, too, how that one word, that one syllable was threatening the foundations that they had built, could feel the house of cards starting to shake. "What's good, man?" Drake said.

And, Josh wanted to say, a lot was good. A lot was really good. Like when Josh and Drake were pressed, chest to chest, long expanses of skin, that was good. When Drake's heartbeat pulsed rhythmically against Josh's ribcage, that was good. When the smell of Drake, sweat and toothpaste and soap, filled the room and clouded Josh's head, that was really good.

But it was falling apart. Josh wanted to say that, too. He wanted to say that it wasn't good when Drake came home smelling like cheap perfume. And as much as Josh knew he had no right, and he was dating Mindy, and they had irules/i, he really, ireally/i hated it when Drake brought his random girls into the Premiere and made out in front of Josh's station. And he hated it when Drake would pull away from Josh, from the collapsed mess of tangled limbs and sweat, and say "Got a date, man. Don't wait up." And it pissed him off that some igirl/i who didn't even know who Drake was, some nameless girl could kiss Drake and Josh couldn't. He wanted to say that, that the rules were making it not good.

He wanted to say that Drake was killing him, that Drake didn't care and Josh cared too much, and it didn't matter if the house of cards fell, because it was just cards, and maybe he and Drake wouldn't be hurt.

But it was too risky. There was too much at stake, because Drake was at stake.

So he just smiled down at the carpet, and said, "Hey, have fun tonight, man."

"Thanks," Drake said. And then he was gone.


The one-hundred-and-forty-third time, things changed again.

This time Josh knew exactly why. It was after he told Drake that Mindy loved him.

When Josh came back to their room, Drake was on him in a second, and Josh wasn't really surprised. There wasn't any hesitation. Drake was everywhere at once, his hands pushing up against Josh's sides, gripping and dragging, then pushing Josh down onto his bed, and all Josh could see was Drake standing over him, and Drake wasn't saying anything, but Josh could read him easily.

Drake was angry. Josh couldn't help that.

Maybe he was in love with Mindy. He got along with her without even trying. It was easy, certainly easier than with Drake, because they understood each other, because Mindy looked out for his feelings, because Mindy cared about him. Maybe that's what love was. He could tell Drake that.

But he could also tell Drake that no matter how much he loved Mindy he loved Drake more, because he could never help it. No matter how much he and Drake fought, no matter how sweet or caring Mindy was, no matter how selfish or thoughtless Drake was, Drake got Josh on a level that no one else would ever be able to. He could tell Drake that love with Mindy was like a dance that he knew the steps to, tap-tapping toes and gentle swaying, and all of it ordered, neat, rational. He could tell Drake that he knew that real love was like a fire, destructive, consuming, because that was what Drake was, to Josh. And Josh couldn't break away no matter what.

He thought about telling Drake that when Drake stood over him, cheeks flushed, and Josh saw the hint of fear that hid behind Drake's eyes, that eventually Josh would leave him, and Josh could tell him that he had nothing to fear, he could so easily change everything.

But it would break The Rules. It would damage them irreparably. And he didn't know what they would do without the rules, he didn't know what he icould/i do without Drake, so he didn't say it. He broke eye contact, turned his head against the pillow to look at the wall, and Drake made a small angry noise in the back of his throat that sounded like "Josh," or "please," or maybe something else entirely. But then he was collapsing onto Josh, gripping at Josh's chin with long, strong fingers, and turning Josh's head to face his. Drake's fingers were not gentle, but Josh knew how this worked. This was the only way that Drake could tell him: Drake was angry that Josh had Mindy, and that Mindy might take Josh away. He icouldn't/i be angry. He was Drake Parker. So, instead, Drake was hot against him now all fury and storm, hot and hard and present because this was the only time he could be. And Josh felt the house of cards quiver around him, because Drake was pushing his face up so that their cheeks were pressed together. Josh kept his eyes shut, and waited.

Drake was breathing next to him, Josh could feel it on his temple and through his hair, Josh could hear him panting low and quiet, and Drake's fingers smoothed down Josh's jaw line, almost gentle suddenly, down his neck and sliding over his chest out to push Josh's wrists up and over his head, and Drake's breath was hot and quiet against Josh's cheek, then pulling back and over his mouth.

And Josh counted, Josh kept track because that was all he could do to keep from being swept into the absolute insanity that was Drake Parker, it took one-hundred-and-forty-two times since the first time for Drake to kiss Josh again.


The first time that Josh changed things, it was scary.

It wasn't like anything happened really, or anything more than Drake being Drake, and being thoughtless, and forgetting about Josh because he wanted to make out with some girl, and it shouldn't have mattered because it wasn't like it was the first time Drake had let him down. But there was something really iwrong/i with him, Josh realized. There was something iwrong/i because even standing outside of the classroom sobbing, sweaty, even knowing that his grade was going to take a hit and he would be second to Mindy iagain/i and it was Drake's fault, even though Drake ran over his bike, even with everything that Drake did, even when Josh was alone, all he really wanted to do was kiss Kat's lip gloss off of Drake, and there was something so wrong about that, something so twisted.

And that was when Josh knew that things had to change. He couldn't do it anymore. He couldn't do—whatever it was he and Drake were doing, because it was too much, too much of everything that Josh needed, and everything that Josh wanted, and he could never have it with Drake. And it would never change, he knew it, in the same way that he knew that being apart from Drake was more painful than anything else in the world.

Two-hundred-and-twenty-one times, the last one the night before at 3 in the morning with Josh protesting that they had to sleep, they had a test tomorrow, it was important, and-- it was the last time. It had to be the last time. Josh wanted everything from Drake, or he wanted anything, whatever Drake gave him, but Drake—Drake didn't need anything, he didn't need Josh.

And Josh couldn't do it anymore.

Drake wouldn't understand, icouldn't/i understand, because Drake couldn't understand needing someone like Josh needed him. So Josh would have to say it in a way that Drake would understand, that the rules were nothing, that they were nothing anymore, because Josh needed them to be nothing. Josh needed to be Josh for once, not DrakeandJosh, and most of all Josh needed to not need Drake anymore.

Two-hundred-and-twenty-one times and Josh was done.


Josh didn't know that it was possible for him to refuse anything to Drake, but apparently it was. Because when Drake crept into his bed, pressed his whole front against Josh's back and slid a cold hand under Josh's pajama shirt to the sensitive spot on the inner line of Josh's hip, Josh put a hand over Drake's and said, "No."

"Come on, Joshy," Drake was whispering in his ear, breath hot as he licked up the shell of Josh's ear, and God, this was the hardest thing Josh had ever done. "Don't be mad at me. You know I'm irresistible." And maybe it wouldn't be as hard as Josh thought it would be.

He sat up, pushed Drake's hand off of his hip. "I said no, Drake. We're roommates, that's all we are." And then he had to take a deep steadying breath, because he was right the first time. This was really, really hard, and Drake's leg was still pressed against his like a furnace, knobby knee pressing into Josh's thigh, and Josh wanted him so bad he didn't even know what to do with himself. "And I'm not mad at you. I just can't anymore."

"Joshy," Drake said, and he put his hand on Josh's arm.


"You can't mean it. You ineed/i me." And maybe there was something like desperation in Drake's voice, but Josh was pretty sure he was just imagining it, he just wanted it to be there iso bad/i wanted Drake to need him as much as he needed Drake, and it was just—

"Not anymore," Josh said, and he hoped that Drake wouldn't hear the obvious lie.

The hand on Josh's arm moved for a second, twitched almost, up and to the side, jerky. "I-" Drake said.

"Please get out of my bed," Josh said, and then he rolled over and tucked his arm under his pillow, pulled his body away from Drake's so that no part of them was touching because he thought that if he was touching Drake for even one more second his resolve might break, he might fall apart and collapse back into Drake. His chest felt empty where he used to have a heart, and the room echoed with sound of Drake breathing next to him.

Then Josh's bed was moving, and Drake was gone suddenly. Josh heard him walking across the room, and Josh's heart was back in his chest, but now everything was painful, and cold, and alone, and Josh didn't know how he managed to not leap out of his bed, and catch Drake, and kiss him, and let it all be back to the way it was, but somehow he managed. And if it hurt, well everything always hurt anyway. He had gotten used to it.


It didn't get easier as the week went on, or any less painful, but Josh got number, and that was kind of like the same thing. Drake tried a few times after the first night. He tried to start slap fights and wrestling matches. Once while they were at dinner, he put his hand deliberately on the front of Josh's pants, under the table. Josh excused himself from the table and went on Fridge Run later that night. Another time Drake stepped into the shower when Josh was in it. Josh got out of the shower, soap still on the back of his neck, and got dressed.

And the more times it happened, the more outlandish Drake got, the easier it was for Josh to step away. Because every time he left behind a little piece of something, and it was like he was being emptied out, like someone was taking a spoon and scraping him out till he was hollow, and at least it wasn't hurting as much anymore. The pain dulled when it echoed through him.

He spent all his time with other people, because it distracted him and that made it hurt a little less, too. Once he even went on a double date with Register 5 and Craig and Eric, but at the end of the night when she slid a slow, sultry hand over the gear shift of Josh's car and up his inner thigh along the inseam of his jeans he politely stilled her hand, moved it off of his leg and said a quiet "Good night." She didn't ask him out again, and that was okay. He had mostly gone with her because it seemed like something he should do. And maybe being with a beautiful woman instead of his stupid step brother was something he should do, too, but all he could see when he looked at her was Drake, and it wouldn't be right to have sex with her just because he wanted to have sex with Drake.

So when she got out of his car and her heels clack-clacked to her door and through (he waited to make sure she got in safely, because even if he wasn't everything he should be, damn it, he was a gentleman) he wasn't that sorry to see her go. If she couldn't respect his need for personal space during this difficult time in his life, then she wasn't worth his love. Or maybe that was just another excuse.

Anyway, all of it seemed kind of pointless when he got home smelling like perfume and watched Drake's face fall.


The next time things changed, Josh definitely wasn't expecting it.

Because Drake stood up iin front of their entire chemistry class/i and said a lot of things that Josh couldn't understand, or couldn't comprehend really, because there was Drake soaking wet telling Josh that he needed him more than Josh needed Drake (which was impossible), and Mr. Roland was asking Josh whether he wanted to leave class to talk to Drake. And he did want to, he wanted to so bad that his legs were tensing under the desk, he was bouncing the heels of his feet, but he couldn't.

Josh had made a mistake.

He should have known, because Drake had tried to tell him, but he had been too hurt to see it. Of course Drake needed him, and of course Drake couldn't tell him he needed him, because he was Drake Parker. Because Drake Parker didn't need anything, and that was how they worked. But Drake Parker had needed Josh Nichols, and Josh had pushed him too far, and now they were falling apart, Drake was falling apart, and it was Josh's fault.

He had been so blind.

Drake had always needed him, Drake had needed him in all the ways they could never talk about, ping pong and bad movies and Blues Brothers, and it was so delicate, Drake was so delicate, that any misstep could change it forever.

And this was one hell of a misstep. More like a misleap, and Josh didn't know if it was too late to fix it, but he couldn't fix it by running after Drake. He couldn't fix it by making Drake talk about it, because if they talked about it they might never go back to normal, and Drake Parker could never be Drake Parker again. And Josh needed Drake Parker.

So he didn't run after Drake, even though his legs were practically leaping out of the chair without him.


It wasn't until long after ping pong, when both of them should have gone to sleep (they were watching some late night Blues Brothers instead, legs pressed against each other, and Josh knew it was stupid but he thought that maybe he could feel the heat spreading from his hip to the top of his head and the bottoms of his toes, and he sort of kind of maybe wished that the heat would never go away) that Drake tentatively leaned over, and put his hand on Josh's knee. Josh looked at the hand first, warm and steady on his leg, then up at Drake, and Drake was staring at him with something that neither of them would ever be able to articulate, and Drake was licking his lips, glancing down then back up, and his hand was shaking a little from where it rested, Josh could feel it trembling through him.

It was the two-hundred-and-twenty-second time, and things were changing again, almost faster than either of them could handle, but Josh put his hand on the side of Drake's face, stroked his thumb up Drake's temple, and Josh knew it would be ok.

"Josh," Drake said, and that was all he said, but he imeant/i everything. And Josh understood, when he stroked a hand up Drake's front, under his shirt, miles of skin and Drake's heartbeat.

"Drake," Josh said, and he laughed then, leaned in and their chins bumped first, but then they found it, that place where it was just them, and they were kissing. But it was different because Josh's eyes fluttered open and met Drake's. It was different because when Drake ran his hands up Josh's sides they were tender and soft. It was different because Drake was watching him, slow and quiet. It was different because finally, ifinally/i Josh understood what he should have known from the very beginning, and Drake's lips were everywhere, against his collar bone, just to the side of his armpit, under his belly button, like Drake needed to relearn every inch of Josh.

It hadn't been like this before, because Josh had been too scared to let Drake say everything he needed to in these moments. Now things would change more than they ever had, because Josh might be a little bit slow sometimes, but once he learned something he didn't forget it. And this was ihuge/i because it was Drake. He could feel the house of cards tilting and whirling, but it didn't matter anymore, because this was him, and this was Drake, and Drake was whispering something into Josh's hip that was sorry, or I need you, or I love you, or maybe just gibberish, it didn't really matter.

Drake climbed back up him so they were pressed chest to chest, and Drake ilooked/i at Josh, and for a few long shivering moments neither of them could look away, neither of them could move, even though Drake's hand was folded sort of uncomfortably between them, even though Josh's legs were falling asleep. And then they were kissing again, kissing and kissing and kissing and kissing like they couldn't stop, like they were afraid to stop. They had never done this before, kissed like that was all they needed to do, like it wasn't leading to anything. Drake's lips felt like the sunrise beneath his, like a secret and a promise and everything that was anything in the world, and Josh wanted to pull away, thought that maybe he ishould/i pull away, but he couldn't. Drake was the world's biggest magnet, and he wished he had realized that a million science fairs ago, because then he wouldn't have wasted so much time trying to mess with metal and fields when the answer was right here, beneath his finger tips, pressing against him. Josh had always tried to make it complicated, but it was so simple, even when their teeth banged together, even when Drake moved his knee a little wrong and dug into Josh's calf, even when they accidentally fell off the couch. Because even as they fell they were laughing, and Josh picked Drake up, lifted him off of his feet, and by the glow of the Blues Brothers carried him to Josh's bed where they collapsed.

And all they did was kiss, and then sleep, Josh pressed against Drake's back, his hand balled against Drake's stomach. They didn't turn off the TV or lock the door, and maybe that was a mistake but, Josh thought sleepily as he felt Drake shift against him, Megan had a lock-picking kit so locking the door wouldn't prevent anything, and it seemed like too much effort to move when everything he needed was in his bed.

After the two-hundred-and-twenty-first time, Josh stopped counting.