All These Words Are Underlined

There is something about the guys that Shaun dates that sets Desmond's teeth on edge.

They've been best friends since middle school - ever since he found an upperclassman grinding Shaun's face into the pavement behind the school, ever since he broke the guy's front two teeth and fractured his cheek bone and had subsequently gotten himself suspended for two weeks. They've been friends since the day he came back to class, sat at his normal spot alone in the cafeteria, and was then surprised to see Shaun sit down across from him with a sour look.

"Don't think this means we're friends," he had said at the time. "I just can't stand anyone else."

Which, as far as excuses go, doesn't last long. Because he spends the summer with the Hastings, takes advantage of their pool and their Super Nintendo, and Shaun never asks him to go home. He doesn't get weirded out when Desmond invites him over and he meets his eccentric aunt, and her hat collection. He doesn't ask about Desmond's parents, or where he's from – and when Desmond tells him, late one night when they're camping in the backyard, he just offers him another s'mores.

Desmond makes a lot of mistakes growing up. He gets in too many fights and he doesn't study as hard as he should, but, despite their differences, becoming friends with Shaun isn't a mistake.

Shaun is very blunt, doesn't pull any punches, and sometimes that equals saying things or picking at wounds that other people might just let lie. It's not always an issue, because Desmond can give back as good as he gets, but no one gets under his skin and gets him riled up quite like Shaun in one of his moods.

Shaun is also incredibly smart (even if he sometimes forgets how to be modest about it) and he has a sense of humor that Desmond has come to appreciate the older he gets. He's a history major, but sometimes he TA's for the introductory chemistry lab, sometimes he writes articles that end up in science magazines Desmond will never be offered subscriptions to, and (sometimes, when Desmond swallows his pride and feels like putting up with the comments) he helps Desmond with his papers.

Desmond is trying to get his Xbox hooked up the first time some guy comes back to their apartment with Shaun.

He's tall, with slicked back black hair, and they're in the middle of a conversation about the African government system when Shaun pauses to introduce him. To this day Desmond can't remember the guy's name, just remembers the fake smile and polite nod he'd received from him, and just remembers the way it had all been a door opening into what would become a continuous cycle of Shaun's boyfriends quietly edging their way into somewhere they didn't belong.

It's not like he hasn't known Shaun's preference in men since junior high, but it's not like Shaun had dated anyone back then.

The problem with the guys that Shaun dates now is that they're douchebags. They're smart, sure, and they're usually dressed pretty well, sure, but they are also usually really into themselves and they never give Desmond the time of day. Which isn't a huge deal, but it's not like Desmond has ever been anything but super fucking friendly when they invade their apartment, so a little small talk and general polite human interaction doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

It doesn't get super problematic until Todd, who Shaun has been dating two semesters and who might be going home to meet his parents soon, and who has so many issues with Desmond that it's getting harder and harder to ignore. The guy does talk to him, sometimes, but the conversations are awkward and the guy only talks to him when Shaun has left the room for a minute – like, once Shaun is around, there's no reason to have to pretend to like Desmond.

It warps and it festers and it slowly turns into such a problem that Desmond just opts to stay out of the apartment when he knows Todd is going to be around. He spends time at Lucy's watching foreign films, or does his homework in the library, or pretty much anything that means he doesn't have to be the unwanted third wheel on Shaun and Todd's bicycle of love or whatever.

"He's probably jealous," Rebecca tells him, while he sits on the kitchen counter and watches her make a sandwich she'll never be able to finish in a thousand years. "You're a hot guy, sharing an apartment with his boyfriend. I bet you anything he thinks you want his boyfriend's dick."

Desmond chokes.

"Think about it," she shrugs. "It makes total sense. It'd be like if your girlfriend shared an apartment with another guy. You'd think about it too."

"That doesn't make any sense," Desmond retorts, fingers tapping against the counter top. "Shaun and I have been friends forever."

"Oh sure," Rebecca replies, eying him like she thinks he's incredibly stupid. "You always know what you want, right?"

It makes more sense when he can't get it out of his head the next time Todd comes over to their apartment to watch a movie and Desmond forgets to think of an escape plan. So he ends up getting invited to watch the movie and maybe it's nothing, but Desmond does start to notice things that are kind of obvious. Like when the guy almost trips over himself to sit between them on the large sofa, or when Shaun excuses himself to the restroom and this really awkward silence permeates the air, or when the guy stares at the side of his head when he thinks Desmond doesn't notice.

Desmond doesn't have it in him to feel any sort of guilt over it; if the guy is so insecure that he can't deal with them being friends, then that's really his own problem. It's just frustrating to have the awkwardness hanging overhead, like the elephant in the room that he and the guy are trying not to notice, and Desmond just really does not want to deal with it. He doesn't care enough to tell the guy how it is, but he cares enough to stay out of the apartment to avoid him; Desmond's mind is a tricky road.

The main problem is really that he just sees Shaun much less by proxy. Because if Shaun and Todd are at the apartment – playing a video game or watching a movie or whatever – then Desmond is not at the apartment. Which, honestly, Desmond totally gets that Todd is filling a gap that he is just not capable of, and Desmond does have other friends, but it sucks anyway.

"Your aversion to social interaction is getting more noticeable," Shaun says one night, when Desmond is shoving his keys into his pocket, his motorcycle helmet snug underneath one arm. "If me having a guy over freaks you out then just say something, Miles."

The bitterness in his voice makes Desmond look up from making sure his license is in his wallet. He frowns, before slipping his wallet into his back pocket. "You know I don't care about that. I just thought you might want some time alone."

"Oh please, how stupid do you think I am? You two can barely stand to be in the same room as each other – and who's fault do you think that is?"

Desmond does think it's Todd's fault, but he doesn't say that, because it sounds childish and Shaun is obviously in one of his moods. So Desmond leaves – which, honestly, they try to never leave in the middle of an argument, but he just tells himself it's a disagreement and that they're all better off just letting it dissipate.

It's a little funny when he crashes his bike later than night, three blocks away from the apartment, and his first thought is, 'Shaun is going to be pissed if I die.'

He swerves too hard to avoid getting hit by a cab (who speeds off without looking back) and winds up sliding into a brick wall that kindly breaks the impact. In terms of crashes it could be a lot worse, considering the bike is mostly okay and his helmet has kept his brain within the confines of his skull, but the left side of his body takes all of the impact when he skids across the pavement. There's a decent layer of skin missing from the left side of his ribcage, from chest to waist in a vertical strip, and it does fucking hurt, but it could have been a lot worse. It's bleeding through his favorite t-shirt – which, even if it weren't stained now, would be ruined from tearing up against the pavement.

He's praying to gods he doesn't know that no one is home, while simultaneously hoping they are because he's feeling lightheaded and his ears are still ringing and if he bleeds out on the carpeting there's no way they'll get their security deposit back. There's a light on under the door that's highly visible in the dark hallway of their apartment building and Desmond takes another long, thirty seconds to debate whether or not he should go in.

He knocks, because his keys are in his left pocket and there's no way he's getting them out, and he has another second to regret his decision when Shaun opens the door. He's wearing a white oxford tucked into black pants, a blue and white striped tie loose around his neck, and Desmond feels a slight pang of guilt that he's probably about to ruin whatever plans Shaun might have had.

"Jesus, Desmond," and there's a moment where Shaun hesitates, like he's trying to figure out where it's okay to grab him, and then he's being pulled in the apartment by the front of his shirt. The door shutting behind him seems like the seal on his decision, so he let's Shaun pull him through the apartment and feels a little grateful that the light underneath Rebecca's door isn't on; the lecture he gets from Shaun is going to be bad enough without Rebecca joining in.

The bathroom light is suddenly strangely bright, like he'd had his eyes closed up until this point.

He sits on the closed lid of the toilet and watches Shaun roll up the cuffed sleeves of his white shirt.

"You should probably go to the emergency room," Shaun tells him, and Desmond is not so far gone that he doesn't have it in him to give his friend a look of horror. "I'm serious."

"There's no way I can afford that."

His shirt ends up in the bathroom trashcan – isn't salvageable in the least – and the cold air feels strange against the sensitive portions of his skin burned by the asphalt. The wounded area isn't confined – branches out from where he landed, skidded across the road, and his skin is dirty and scratched and overall has seen better days. His t-shirt had been completely useless in protecting him.

Shaun moves his arm out of the way and peers over the mess like he understands how to fix it, like it's just another problem that needs solving. He starts pulling bottles and bandages out from the medicine cabinet.

"So you wrecked that death trap of yours," he deduces, glancing once disapprovingly at Desmond before shutting the cabinet door and grabbing one of the bottles. "And you weren't wearing your jacket for some reason. Lots of excellent choices made tonight, I see. Please tell me you've been drinking."

A towel ends up in his lap and Desmond gets a single second to prepare before the hydrogen peroxide gets poured down the length of his ribcage, caught at his hipbones by the terrycloth. It lights up the entire area, feels very similar to how the impact on the pavement had, and the cool air does nothing to help. Desmond sucks in a sharp breath through his teeth, lets his head hit against the bathroom wall behind him, unwilling to watch the bubbling liquid develop across his ribs.

"I don't drink and drive," he mutters. "I lost control and got thrown off."

He briefly notices Shaun is holding his left arm – presumably to keep it out of the way, but his grip has tightened and Desmond almost feels like he might think he's going to attempt to escape or something. Shaun's hands are predictably soft, like he would expect from someone absorbed in computers and history books, but they are also surprisingly strong; they are frustratingly rough on skin that has already been treated so poorly.

"I'm sorry," Desmond says then and gestures quickly at Shaun with his right hand. "For ruining your night."

Although if left up to him he'd probably still be in the hallway, or bleeding out in the stairwell. He's the one that comes home at two in the morning and falls asleep on top of the covers, in his clothes and shoes, and doesn't think anything of it. He's not the most responsible and he doesn't think everything through one hundred percent – but that's always been where Shaun has come in, picking up the other half, and he's never had to ask. Shaun has just always been there.

The ointment is cold, but doesn't hurt quite as much as the peroxide.

"I just got back actually," Shaun says, and he starts wrapping the bandages – perhaps a little too tightly- around Desmond's waist. "My night was ruined well before you got home."

Desmond watches his skin vanish underneath off-white fabric, watches the change in expressions on Shauns' face. He probably shouldn't ask, but he does anyway. "Bad date?"

"You could say that."

He watches Shaun continue to mummify his arm.

"Rebecca has this theory," he says then, and he doesn't miss the way Shaun's lips twitch slightly, like he's already amused by whatever Desmond is about to say.

"Do I want to know?"

There are a lot of ways Desmond could broach the subject, but the one he's most well acquainted with is the 'rip-off-the-Bandaid' approach. "She thinks Todd hates me because he thinks that I like you. Eh, like that, I mean. Like he likes you."

Shaun's fingers do pause then, looking up at him from at his elbow, glasses falling a little further down his nose. "That is an interesting theory."

"I'm not saying I agree or anything," Desmond continues, leaning his head back until it 'thuds' lightly against the bathroom wall again. "I mean, he obviously doesn't like me, but I've kind of figured that it's personal."

There's the snip of scissors and Shaun presses the ends of the tape lightly into the bandages, hands a firm pressure all up Desmond's side. The wound looks as though its stopped bleeding – it's not bleeding through the bandage anyway, which is a good sign, but it's still burning like it might be on fire. The small twitches his muscles do on their own, in response to the press of Shaun's hands, are painful in their own right and completely involuntary.

"It's an interesting theory," Shaun says again, "but Todd doesn't hate you, Dez."

"Trust me," Desmond says, stretching his shoulder and watching the bandages bend with the movement. "He definitely does."

"No, he really doesn't," Shaun says easily, while putting the rest of the medical supplies back into the cabinet. He pauses for a moment after he closest the cabinet door, hand still resting on the knob, then glances at Desmond with a straight face. "Is that your whole deal? You think he hates you, so you're spending all your time holed up in your room? Or crashing your bike to prove a point?"

"I'm not holed up in my room, I'm just trying to keep some distance," Desmond replies, and, honestly, he's the good guy here. He didn't have to be the bigger man – most certainly didn't want to be. "What the fuck is your problem? I was trying to be helpful-"

Shaun leans forward, jabbing a finger into the portion of Desmond's chest that isn't bandaged and sensitive, and says, "How old are you? 6? If my asshole boyfriend has a problem with you then he can either bloody well deal with it or shove off."

Desmond stares at him for a moment, his retort stuck in his throat, his mouth dry, and the moment is long enough that Shaun shakes his head, stands up, and vacates the bathroom entirely.

They probably just shared a 'moment.' It's hard for Desmond to tell anymore.

There is a niggling notion in the back of his head that things will probably get worse before they get better – even though it sort of feels like they've made some ground on this – and Desmond is sort of hoping he proves himself wrong and is therefore very disappointed when it turns out he's absolutely right. Shaun would probably say that the odds of Desmond being right are miniscule at best and this is likely the only time Desmond has ever wished to be wrong.

Because, honestly, his problem thus far has just been that he hates feeling like an unwanted guest in his own apartment. It makes sense that he wouldn't have had to deal with it before, seeing as how Shaun is married to his thesis and had been more inclined to court the library than bring home anyone, and now he's being forced to confront the awkwardness that comes with anyone's best friend having someone more interesting in their life. It makes total and complete sense that he would feel a stab of jealousy, that he can't just come home and play a round of Street Fighter with Shaun like usual because he's too busy being straddled by Todd on the couch.

Which, okay. Desmond certainly does his fair share of not thinking about Shaun's sex life, because he's his best friend and he also has sex with men and because it's awkward. Todd is sitting around Shaun's thighs, his hands pushed up underneath his t-shirt, his mouth latched onto his collarbone, and it's fairly obvious the only one feeling awkward is Desmond. There's a groan from Shaun, as he digs his fingers into Todd's hair, that is certainly something he's never heard before – is something that makes his skin feel flushed, the tips of his ears turning red, and-

He manages to hold onto his keys, although he's gripping them so tightly they're digging into the palm of his hand, but his helmet slips out of his fingers and lands on the wooden floor loud enough to wake possibly all of their neighbors. The sound might as well be a gunshot for how quickly it causes Todd to shove himself off of Shaun, to pull himself jerkily away from the couch and land supremely awkwardly in the nearby armchair. He's clutching one of the throw pillows in front of him, looking mildly ashamed and refusing to look completely at Desmond, which is weird and slightly childish and reminds Desmond that his life sucks.

"Class canceled?" Shaun asks, sitting up on the couch and retrieving his glasses from the coffee table. He glances at Todd for a moment and there's some sort of look between them that Desmond doesn't get – maybe it's a secret language you learn if you manage to stay in a relationship for longer than a week, not that he would know – and then turns his head to look at his roommate. "Dez."

Desmond knows he probably looks like a deer in headlights, because that's certainly how he feels, but he can't even accurately process whatever Shaun just asked him. He steps further in the apartment, grabbing up his helmet with both hands when he foot brushes against it, and he manages to hold Shaun's gaze for approximately fourteen seconds before he has to look away – anywhere, at anything that is not Shaun.

"Desmond," Shaun says again, and there's almost a warning tone in his voice, like he thinks Desmond is being an asshole again for no reason, and that's really not it.

Desmond is not really sure what it is.

The desire to flee the room is almost overwhelming. He finds his legs carrying him to his room before he can stop them, a choked laugh somehow making it out of his mouth and he says, voice surprisingly stable, "Oh, yeah, early night. Sorry, I should have knocked – I, uh, I just, god I'm so tired – I'm just going to-"

And he doesn't quite run to his room, but it certainly feels like he does.

The sound of the door shutting is strangely comforting, like a barrier to keep him safe, and he exhales so loudly he feels like the other two men can probably hear it. He sinks to the floor of his room, back against the door, and doesn't even know how to explain to himself why his fists are clenched so tightly at his sides that his knuckles are turning white. He doesn't know why his heart is racing a mile a minute, or why he's got the urge to run out the front door, and he sure as fuck doesn't know how to explain any of it to Shaun.

Shaun, who is still in the living room, with his boyfriend, and who is probably thinking about what a freak Desmond is. Shaun, who he has known most of his life, who he has busted knuckles over protecting, who he is still picturing grinding up against another man-

Desmond forces his hands to unclench and lets his head roll back against the door, the ache of the wood against his skull soothing in a weird way. He feels overheated, but also cold, and like all of his insides are prickling like his hands do when they fall asleep. He feels sick to his stomach.

It's not a big deal. It doesn't have to be a big deal.

It's been like a million years since Lucy and he figured out things weren't working out – what with her preferring vaginas and whatever else it was she had said that had been simultaneously depressing and extremely hot – and it makes sense that it's also been forever since he got laid. It makes total sense that he might, possibly, be unintentionally turned on by his best friend moaning and writhing underneath-

Oh god.

Desmond smacks his head against the door once, twice, trying to knock the image out of his head.

He still feels uncomfortably warm – feels uncomfortable in general.

For a moment he considers texting Lucy for advice, because his list of friends is drastically smaller when he can't talk to Shaun, and then there's the sound of knuckles rapping against the door he's leaning against.

"Are you all right?" Shaun asks, but he sounds hopelessly annoyed rather than concerned, and there's a very brief pause before he adds, as though he knows the real reason for Desmond's freak out, "I sent Todd home. It's safe to come out from under your bed now."

"I'm fine," Desmond barks – or squeaks, rather, like he's just hit puberty or something – and he rubs the bridge of his nose. He really doesn't want to be alone with Shaun – absolutely doesn't want to have to face whatever weirdness is happening. "I'm just super tired. Late night. Lots of stuff to do in the morning-" he fakes an extremely loud yawn, "-I'm just going to bed, really."

He doesn't even have to see Shaun to know he's unconvinced, hears him linger in the hall a moment longer, like he's debating whether or not this is worth fighting about through the door, and then there's the sound of his footsteps fading away. It's actually a bad sign – the times that Shaun is too irritated and exasperated to argue with him are few are far in between – and Desmond knows this is all going to come back to bite him in the ass, but he doesn't feel like he has a lot of options.

So he sits on his floor and breathes evenly and tries not to think about there maybe being more reasons behind why he and Todd don't get along.

He has a dream that night that Shaun's hands are curled tightly at his hips, that he's pressing him into the mattress, a hard line all along his body that is completely unfamiliar. He dreams that Shaun's tongue is sliding hot in between his lips – that he's gasping for air, gasping for more, and he wakes up breathless and sweating and extremely aroused. He stares at the ceiling, fingers digging into the sheets at his sides, and absolutely refuses to jerk off to his best friend.

It's actually not until two days later, in the cafe on campus, that he truly realizes how fucked up his situation has become.

Lucy is chewing thoughtfully on a bite of pastry, looking for all the world like she is contemplating world peace or the existence of life on other planets, and Desmond watches her feeling like everything he knows is all a horrible, horrible lie. Which is how he felt when they broke up, really – when she'd gone through the 'it's not you it's me, well it's sort of you, and your penis, which is great – I just don't... you understand, right, Desmond?' - but, if he's honest with himself, it was probably for the best. He'd hate to have been the one to break things off when he started getting inappropriately aroused by his best friend.

He stares at the blueberry muffin on his plate and feels mildly nauseous.

"I have no idea," Lucy admits, after swallowing. "Maybe you're gay. Maybe you're just really repressed. I have this friend-"

Desmond groans into his coffee. "Please, god, no."

"Look, I honestly didn't know Sally was into all that stuff," Lucy says, for what is probably the third time since The Worst Blind Date of Desmond's life. "If she had mentioned it to me I wouldn't have set you up with her."

The worst part about their break up had definitely been the sudden interest Lucy had picked up in finding a replacement in Desmond's life for herself. Which, honestly, it turns out that Lucy has awful taste in friends – and possibly girlfriends – and that her straight female friends are all incredibly, incredibly weird.

Not that Desmond can't do weird. He can. He's down with weird. Well, sort of. To a point.

It's just really difficult to think about going on a date right now, with all of this shit going on around him. He definitely doesn't want to bring a girl back to the apartment – especially not after the last time, when Rebecca had grilled her for most of the night on her criminal background and her intentions and whatever else it is that had scared the poor girl off for good. Also he really doesn't want to bring a girl home and have to deal with whatever he and Shaun are fighting about.

"You should just see if Shaun will have sex with you," Lucy suggests, in a way that makes Desmond feel like she is probably being remotely mind controlled by Rebecca or something. "Friends with benefits, you know?"

Desmond gapes at her, because he thinks it is probably socially unacceptable to throw his coffee at her, and because he still wants to drink it. His voice is only slightly unstable when he manages to squawk out, "Sex? You think I should have casual sex with Shaun? There's absolutely no way you see that completely fucking backfiring?"

"At least you get laid," she offers, then sits her coffee down and leans forward, patting him on the arm as he buries his face in his hands. "Honestly, it probably is a bad idea. If you let emotions get involved it can get complicated."

"Emotions?" he repeats, staring at her. "I don't even know what to say to that. I'm not like... writing his name on my notebooks or anything, Lucy."

"I was talking about him."

Coffee with Lucy only makes him more confused.

Desmond expects a lot of things to happen over the next couple of days, a lot of them pretty strange, but he turns out to be completely mistaken. What happens is that he looks up from the textbooks spread out on the table he's at, in a quietly empty corner of the library on campus, and finds Todd standing on the other side with his hands resting against the edge.

Which is weird. Mostly because Shaun is not here, so there really shouldn't be any reason for Todd to be there, unless of course there's about to be some sort of heart-to-heart that Desmond is absolutely certain he does not want to get into right now.

"Go away," Desmond deadpans, tapping his pen against the notes for his psychology final. "I don't want to talk to you."

"Well we need to talk," Todd says, and he looks briefly for a place to sit, before seeming to decide that maybe it's better if he stands. "I'm really tired of whatever is going on with us."

He's tired. Desmond feels almost like laughing, but he bites it back. "There's nothing 'going on.' You're fucking my best friend and that's fine. I'm cool with it. Go away."

"You're not though," he counters, leaning forward, and Desmond really doesn't want to get into a fistfight in the middle of the library – he really doesn't. "Maybe you're confused – fuck, I've been there – but I'm not going to dance around you anymore."

Desmond doesn't realize he's tensed up, doesn't realize he's gripping his pen tight enough to break it until it's uncomfortable against his fingers, and he forces himself to breathe out slowly. "You don't know me."

He can't possibly know him, because this is the most they've ever spoken. This is the most time they've spent in each other's company, the longest that Desmond has gone without going to his room or playing solitaire on his phone or just leaving. There's no way he can know what he's going through, no fucking way he can possibly even begin to understand the way he and Shaun click – the way they've been there for each other for-fucking-ever and how maybe it's a little difficult to realize he might be more than a little jealous.

God damn it.

Shaking his head, Desmond stands up and pulls the two textbooks and papers into a pile in front of him, "I'm out of here."

Before he can pick up his things there's a hand settling on his wrist, cold and strange and not at all familiar, and, when Desmond's head snaps up to stare at the man incredulously, there is a very unfamiliar mouth suddenly against his.

And there are a lot of things Desmond expected, a lot of really strange things, but this would have never been one of them.

He feels himself tense up, bile rising in the back of his throat, and he jerks away hastily the moment the shock subsides enough to remind him what is happening. Todd is still leaned over the desk, looking surprised and confused, and Desmond's hands are clenched against the back of his chair – clenched tightly, because he thinks he might deck the man if he lets go and he really can't get suspended for fighting in the library-

"Get the fuck away from me," he hisses, and, okay, he really should have better control of this situation. He feels like he might be sick, his stomach in knots, and there's absolutely no way he's ever going to be able to stand being around Todd after this. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

And the confusion, the embarrassment, on Todd's face hasn't faded in the slightest. It's with no small amount of dread that Desmond realizes what he had been talking about – that Todd had thought – had thought Desmond liked him – and that-

Oh god.

It explains all the awkwardness in the apartment, explains Todd always finding a reason to sit next to him, explains all of the sidewise glances he's thought were suspicious that were actually-

He doesn't run out of the library, but it's the fastest walk he's ever had.

When he gets home, what feels like forever later, he realizes he grabbed his textbooks but not his notes and, for a long and serious moment, he considers whether or not it's worth going back to get them.

It turns out he'd much rather do all of his research again rather than go back.

If he's honest with himself, it reminds him a lot of when he changed schools in third grade and the very first day some girl with ridiculously long pigtails had kissed him in the middle of the hallway. It had been – at the time – the most unpleasant experience of his young life and, for the next six weeks, he had taken to walking through the hallway with his hands covering his face.

It's a little different, but he still feels thoroughly scarred.

Which, he realizes, is mostly because he is now in the very awkward position of his best friend's boyfriend apparently having a crush on him. Which puts him in the very awkward position of having to tell Shaun – because he can't not tell Shaun that his boyfriend is going around kissing other guys – and it's honestly the very last conversation he maybe ever wants to have.

Rebecca is not home, but she sends him a text message that says, 'was that you I saw sprinting across campus like a bat out of hell?'

He considers, for a moment, saying no, but it's Rebecca and she's going to find out eventually.

'Yes,' he texts back, and sends only that, before pausing a brief moment and hastily typing out, 'You were wrong btw. Todd thought I wanted him, not Shaun.'

There is only a short period between texts, because Rebecca lives on her phone and types faster than some people think, and the reply is just, 'Not wrong. You do want Shaun.'

He throws the phone across the couch, watching with satisfaction as it slides down in between the cushions, and turns back to the pile of homework on the coffee table he doesn't want to think about.

Which is where Shaun finds him when he comes home three hours later, a bag of groceries under one arm and the mail in his other.

He nods briefly at Desmond as he shuts the door, which reminds Desmond that he hasn't really talked to Shaun since-

Oh god, Desmond realizes, feeling the tips of his ears burning, I'm sitting on the couch.

He jumps up from it like it's suddenly on fire beneath him, then straightens himself out awkwardly, trying to appear normal. From the expression on Shaun's face, Desmond doesn't doubt for a moment that Shaun thinks he's lost his mind.

Maybe he has.

He scratches the back of his neck, stares at the couch – then quickly stares at his homework, and moves to sit in the armchair. "Hey."

Shaun moves through the apartment to the kitchen, where there's the sound of him putting away the groceries. "You are such a freak."

The intention is to somehow bring up the subject of Todd, to somehow inform Shaun of the day's events, and somehow Desmond spends a decent five minutes trying to figure out how to broach it while he watches Shaun meticulously place the groceries in their proper cabinets.

There has to be some sort of etiquette he's supposed to follow. How exactly do you tell your best friend you think his boyfriend might be using him to spend time with you? How exactly does that whole thing go down? There really should be some sort of guidebook available for just such an emergency.

Actually, there shouldn't be, because Desmond shouldn't even be in this predicament. Shaun shouldn't date jackasses that use him, that treat Desmond like shit – or worse, kiss him – and there really should be some sort of rule that they are no longer allowed to bring significant others, or prospective significant others, home anymore.

There should definitely be a rule that they don't have sex – or dry hump each other, or whatever – in the middle of the god damned living room where it will be forever scarred on the back of Desmond's eyelids.

"So," he begins, because his brain is fried from studying for finals and from stress and he thinks eloquence is overrated anyway.

Shaun comes out of the kitchen, moves the crap spread across the sofa out of the way so he can sit, and tosses a pile of very familiar psychology notes onto the coffee table. Desmond stares at the papers while a pit grows in his stomach, stares at the redness of Shaun's knuckles that stand out brightly against his pale skin-

"Todd says hi," Shaun says, sitting down on the couch and watching him, expression unreadable.

"What the fuck-" he breathes, and it takes him a moment to formulate his thoughts when Shaun glances at him and raises an eyebrow. Desmond gestures at him, like it's painfully obvious, and sputters, "You hit him."

Which of course he didn't. Shaun is too smart to get into fights, too smart to lose his temper and get in over his head like Desmond always does, so there's no way he would get into a fight with anyone. There's just no way.

Shaun leans his head back against the cushion, and massages the bright red knuckles on his right hand. "Of course I did. He kissed you, Miles. Even I have limits."

Desmond doesn't feel the color drain from his face, but he knows its gone all the same. "He told you."

"Of course he did," Shaun snaps, then rubs the bridge of his nose and exhales slowly. He glances at Desmond and his lips twitch slightly, but he doesn't smile. "It would have been worse if I had heard it from you first."

That sick, sinking feeling in Desmond's stomach – the one that's been there for like a week at this point – doesn't get any better. If anything, he feels worse.

"Look," he says, running a hand through his hair, "this is obviously weird for me too. I didn't intentionally... steal your stupid boyfriend or anything-"

"You are such a bloody idiot," Shaun snorts and he sits up straighter, the look on his face the one that always says how amazed he is at Desmond's stupidity. "Just do your homework. Your final is in two days and if you fail I'm going to laugh."

They sit in silence, while Shaun watches some really awful British sitcom and Desmond stares at his psychology notes and absorbs nothing. It almost feels like the way they used to be, back when Shaun was single and could afford to spend all his time sitting with Desmond in front of the television, or eating pizza at two in the morning, or drinking the shittiest cheap booze-

It's not the same though, because Shaun is pissed – not entirely at him, but a little bit at least – and because Desmond doesn't even know what is going on in his life anymore. He definitely doesn't understand what's been happening, doesn't understand his own mixed feelings on the subject, and he really doesn't feel like forty eighty hours before his huge final is the time for self-discovery.

Forty eight hours before his huge final is definitely not the time for anything except studying, but it doesn't stop him from sitting the papers back down on the coffee table. It's not loud, but it's enough that Shaun's gaze flickers to him briefly, before settling back on the television.

Desmond breathes in slowly, like readying himself to disarm a bomb and says, "I had a dream we had sex."

There's a laugh track playing out on the television that doesn't match the way Shaun tenses at all, doesn't match the way his teeth clench and his jaw locks. It definitely doesn't match the sinking feeling in Desmond's stomach that is maybe nerves or embarrassment or something else entirely. It absolutely does not match the way Shaun's bruised hand curls against his leg, tight enough that Desmond almost winces in sympathy.

He stands up abruptly, hand pressing against the power button on the television as he moves past it, and he grabs his coat from where it's laying on the floor.

"Shaun-" Desmond is already out of his chair, around the coffee table, when Shaun turns around and fixes him with a harsh glare.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" he hisses. "I don't want to hear about your bloody fantasies with my ex-boyfriend."

"I meant us, you jackass," Desmond replies, surprised by the way his voice doesn't waiver, surprised by the way he feels suddenly confident in the wake of Shaun's anger. "You and me."

There's a tense pause, wherein Desmond wonders if he should shut up – but at this point it's a little late – and he adds, "Don't freak out."

And that's all it takes to shut that conversation down entirely. He can almost hear the wave that rushes over the both of them, the stark silence that follows – can see the color drain from Shaun's face. It's like the silence that follows a door slamming, an echo down the stairwell and then nothing, and he imagines that the room feels a little colder for it, a little emptier.

Shaun is still staring at him, lips parted slightly, retort completely lost, but it's all a very fleeting moment. Because the surprise, the shocked silence, is ripped away by the guarded look that comes over his face.

"Okay," he says slowly, and it seems to throw him off balance for a minute, but doesn't dissipate his anger entirely. "I'm sure in your fucked up little head this makes sense as some sort of super hilarious apology for being an asshole all the time, but it's not. You need to shut the hell up."

Desmond doesn't quite rock back on the balls of his feet, but he certainly feels like he's been knocked into bodily. His mouth snaps shut for a minute, then, "Why? Because I'm being honest with you?"

Shaun steps forward briskly, poking him roughly in the chest with a single finger.

"Because you're being a dick, Desmond. Do you think this is funny? This isn't some sort of fucking game for me. This isn't a joke that you get to share," he bites out, ignoring the cautious step backwards that his roommate puts between them. "This has been every bloody day of my life since we met and it's not okay for you to fucking play around like there are no consequences-"

Shaun pauses then, like he doesn't know if he should keep going or not, and then seems to think better of the situation entirely. He turns on his heel and grabs his keys from the end table.

Which, honestly, just completely ignores their cardinal rule of not leaving in the middle of an argument. Because this is very definitely an argument, even if Desmond is confused as to the particulars of what he's done to blow everything so out of whack. He just wants Shaun to stop and listen for one fucking minute, because this is probably the first life crisis he's had that he hasn't been able to talk about with Shaun, mostly because it involves him, and-

Desmond isn't thinking when he goes after him – just hears the door open and thinks don't leave don't leave don't leave, and there's no way he's going to just stand there. He's working on adrenaline more than rational thought when he grabs Shaun's arm, when he presses the palm of his other roughly against the door to shut it, and that's when his entire world suddenly spins – or, rather, he spins. Because his grip on Shaun's arm is just gone, knocked out of the way when Shaun twists out of the grasp, when he grabs Desmond by the front of his t-shirt and turns them so quickly he can't even get his bearings.

Desmond has a brief second to think after his back hits the door, after Shaun crowds him against it in one fluid motion. His own breath catches in his throat in surprise, eyes meeting Shaun's briefly, and then Shaun's lips are on his in a harsh, open mouthed kiss that completely swallows whatever he'd been thinking of saying. There is a hand clutching the back of his neck, the fingers around the front of his shirt clenched tight, and he has a moment to think 'holy shit' and then Shaun's tongue is tracing a map through his mouth.

And Desmond really doesn't know what he's doing. He has never kissed a man, has kissed maybe a handful of girls in all his life, and he feels very ill equipped to be going through a sexual identity crisis at 24, but his inaction is only a split second. Then he finds a way to move his hand around, to find purchase in Shaun's solid waist, to ground himself when he opens his mouth further and presses back and it is fucking amazing. Which, Desmond doesn't have the experience and he doesn't have a long list of conquests, but he doesn't need it to know that Shaun's mouth is exactly what he's been missing out on.

Desmond's mouth feels wet when Shaun pulls away, and he doesn't realize the groan of disappointment is his own until Shaun's eyes widen a fraction. His glasses are smudged, slightly askew, but he doesn't make any move to remove them.

The expression on Shaun's face – surprise, speechless – is new, but Desmond thinks he likes it. It's obvious he wasn't expecting Desmond to respond, was trying to make a point that somehow got completely blown out of the water, and it's nice; being wrong is a good look for Shaun.

"I'm not joking," Desmond says, and he reaches up and removes Shaun's glasses because he likes them, probably a lot, and he doesn't think Shaun will forgive him if they get broken. He keeps them safe in his hand, unwilling to move away to reach the end table. "I'm not making fun of you. I'm just finally listening when everyone around me says 'oh, hey, Shaun likes you.'"

Shaun stares at him for a long minute – stares at his mouth for a moment, like he's trying to figure out if they really had just been making out – and then says, "I hate you. A lot."

"Yeah, but I know when you say 'Desmond, you idiot, I hate you,' that you aren't really serious," Desmond replies, and he uses the hand still at Shaun's waist to urge him forward again.

It's surprisingly easy to let Shaun be the one in control, to let him press him back into the door and take his mouth again. Shaun presses up and into him, in a way that Desmond has maybe thought about a hundred times in the last week, one of his hands curled around Desmond's hip possessively in a way that should really not turn him on as much as it does. He takes in the feeling of indentions in the door against his back, against the curve of his spine, and he swallows the groan that escapes from Shaun when Desmond bucks up against him. Desmond thinks he is probably going to die – has never been this aroused in his life-

Shaun palms land loudly against the door beside his waist, his head slipping down until his forehead is resting against his shoulder, and he is suddenly very still. "Jesus Christ, Desmond."

Desmond stares at him blankly, trying to even out his breathing, wondering why it is they haven't bothered to open a window or turn on the central air – although it is October, so maybe that's overkill- "Are you freaking out? Seriously?"

"This is a bad idea," Shaun says, mostly muffled into Desmond's shoulder, then he's pulling away and staring at him, expression hard. "You're straight. You haven't thought this through. You don't even know what any of this entails."

The flush that started at his ears has slowly taken over Desmond's entire body. It's hard to think about words and sentences and pronunciation when Shaun is still pressed against him – when Desmond's mind already feels like it's overheated, full of cotton. "I've been thinking about it all god damned week. Do you require a six week correspondence course for me to blow you? Really?"

Shaun's hand involuntarily clenches against his shoulder, almost painfully, and he breathes out a string of curses Desmond can't entirely hear and then, because the planets have aligned or the gods have smiled down at them or some shit, his mouth covers Desmond's again.

Shaun, as it turns out, is easily persuaded.

Which works really, really well – what with him trying to devour Desmond against the door, his hands working at the button of his jeans – until there's the very loud, very familiar sound of a metal key sliding into the lock of the door they're currently making out against.

"For fuck's sake," Shaun hisses, and Desmond manages to get him maybe two feet away from it before the lock clicks open and the door opens.

There's a really awkward moment wherein Rebecca comes in, already rambling about trains and how she hates umbrellas, and then she stops and stares at where they're still mostly attached in the middle of the living room.

"Okay, so, new rule," she says, rubbing a hand over her closed eyes. "No boners in the living room."

Desmond is pretty sure he's going to die. Right there. In the middle of the floor. Dead. 24 is definitely too old for him to experiment with sexual preferences.

Shaun slides his glasses from Desmond's palm and pushes them back onto his face, smudges and all, and almost rolls his eyes when he says, "Lesbians."

There's a quick moment, wherein Desmond rocks back on his heels and tries to think about the most discreet way to edge them towards Shaun's room, before abandoning tact altogether and reclaiming his grip on Shaun's elbow. He pulls him towards the open door on the other end of the living room, feeling momentarily pleased when he meets with no resistance.

"Hey! You can't fucking have sex once I'm home," she blurts, gesturing at them. "Have some decency."

"Put on your headphones," Shaun offers, and Desmond, who is probably going to stay a bright shade of red for the rest of his life, pulls them both into the bedroom.

The door shutting is helpful, especially in the dark cave that is Shaun's room – only the glare of the laptop on the desk illuminating anything – but it does very little to help Desmond forget that his life is a complete and utter mess. He sits awkwardly on the edge of Shaun's futon, feeling a little like he did on prom night, and tries not to start freaking out.

Weirdly enough, Desmond wishes they were still out in the living room, making out against the door. The futon is strangely more intimate, is where Shaun sleeps and maybe brings other guys, and definitely where Shaun has sex, and it's really hard to ignore that fact once he's there. Not that Desmond hasn't been in his room before – but he's definitely never been on his bed, and it's just strange. All of it is really, really strange.

Shaun drops his glasses onto the desk and falls onto his back on the bed, covering his eyes with his arm, and he groans in very clear exasperation. "This is so fucked up."

"I think it's going well so far," Desmond counters.

The look he gets is familiar, says 'you are an idiot' very clearly, and Shaun says, mostly to himself, "I have the worst taste in men."

"Whatever," Desmond says, without any real ire. "I am way hotter than Todd."

Shaun rolls his eyes, but Desmond doesn't miss the way his lips twitch slightly upwards, like he's fighting off a smile. It's strange, the nerves that twist and knot in him so suddenly, when he realizes Shaun probably agrees.

There's a long pause, wherein Desmond tries to maintain some semblance of nonchalance, and it ends with him breathing out a heavy sigh and saying, with no small amount of awkwardness, "Are we, uh..."

Shaun snorts and slides his hand away from his eyes to give Desmond a look which is surprisingly affectionate and very amused. "Bloody hell, Dez. We're not going to have sex. You've been attracted to me for two hours – do you have any sense of perspective?"

"You were way less rational in my dreams," Desmond offers, and he likes the way Shaun laughs at it so openly.

"I have wanted you for nine years. I know what I want. You have no idea."

"So this is the waiting game then? I have to wait 'x' amount of time before you'll fuck me-" and Desmond pauses when he notices Shaun tense almost imperceptibly next to him, like an action out of his control, eyes watching him carefully, and, "You really want to."

"Jesus Christ," Shaun mutters, rubbing the bridge of his nose, and his entire body twitches noticeably when Desmond hand curls back around his hip. "You are the worst listener."

"I get that sometimes you're a giant girl," Desmond reasons, pulling his own t-shirt over his head and tossing it to the floor, watching the way Shaun's eyes latch onto him and feeling strangely turned on by it, "but I'm not going to court you for six weeks before you let me hold your hand."

It's very easy to pull the rest of his body onto the bed, to turn and move his leg so that he's sitting on top of Shaun, straddling his thighs, and he thinks 'this is so much better from a first person view.'

Shaun breath hitches slightly, fingers digging into Desmond's denim covered legs, and he looks like he's seriously considering throwing Desmond off of the bed.

"I don't know if you've noticed or not," Desmond says, leaning forward so that, when he presses down, grinding against the hardness in Shaun's jeans, he can swallow the other man's groan in his mouth, "but I am seriously about to die. I'd rather not come in my pants like a fucking teenager, but you're quickly leading me down that path."

"You are going to be the death of me," Shaun mutters, and it takes one very smooth, very quick motion for him to lock one leg around Desmond's and flip him onto his back on the mattress. Which also shouldn't be as much of a turn on as it is, but Desmond finds himself quickly acclimating to being manhandled and wonders briefly if maybe he'd taken Shaun's going to the gym four times a week for granted. It's also surprisingly easy for Shaun to undo Desmond's jeans with one hand, and that's actually really hot too. "If you give me shit about this later I will put rat poison in your cereal, I swear to god."

Desmond lifts slightly as Shaun slides his jeans easily over his hips and casts them off the side of the futon. "Oh, Shaun, sweet talk me some more."

And then Desmond is leaning up quickly, catching Shaun in a kiss and unbuttoning the Brit's shirt like he's being timed on it. He spreads it out, over Shaun's shoulders, pulls it off his arms and tosses it to the side, and pulls Shaun back down on top of him by the belt loops of his pants. Shaun's mouth is only away from his for a second, then his tongue is licking a line back into his mouth and his hands are spreading smooth across Desmond's chest.

It's strange in that it's not strange. Which, actually, it's fucking weird. It's weird to have someone the same size as him, of the same general physical strength, pressing him down into the bed. It's weird to have another man's erection pressed against his own – weird and intense and good – and he doesn't know if he would go so far as to say he wants to fuck only men from now on, but he's definitely all in favor of what's happening at the moment. Shaun's hands are softer than his own, but they're definitely not anywhere near close to being a woman's and it's weird, it's different.

It's strange because it's nothing he's experienced, but it's Shaun. It is the boy he busted his knuckles protecting from bigots and assholes, the boy he spent most of his life sharing every single thing with, the man he followed to college and has held stupidly close for most of his life. He's never had Shaun's hands on him like this, but it feels as close to familiar as it could be; like the only one he could ever see getting this far underneath his skin.

It's strange because every movement he make, every noise that slips from his mouth, seems to drive Shaun crazy; Desmond has never felt especially self-conscious, but he's also never had anyone so obviously attracted to him.

It takes Desmond a moment to realize the thumping in his ears is not his heartbeat, not his pulse, but the agonizing bass beat of Rebecca's techno bullshit blaring in from the living room. It's exceptionally loud today, absolutely on purpose, and for a moment he imagines the thumping he's hearing might actually be his eardrums moving around in his head.

"Oh my god," Desmond says, against the lips on his own, and he feels weirdly fond of the way he can feel Shaun's laughter against his mouth. He settles his hand on Shaun's waist, stares up into eyes that squint slightly to see him without the aid of lenses, and he sighs loudly. "She is really intent on being the biggest cockblock she can."

Shaun snorts, unhooks his leg and rolls over to lay on the cool sheets beside Desmond. One of his arms is still curled around Desmond's shoulder, his face momentarily buried in the side of his arm, and he sounds just as exasperated as Desmond feels. "Oh no, Shaun, it'll be great to have a female roommate. No, Shaun, she's really great."

"You can't mimic me in a British accent," Desmond says, breathing slowly. He is still sort of painfully turned on, sort of obscenely frustrated at the mess that continues to be his life, but Shaun's weight next to him is surprisingly calming. "I haven't been with anyone for seven months and she's ruining my life."

"You and Lucy broke up four months ago," Shaun says, raising an eyebrow.

"Dude, she's a lesbian."

"I keep forgetting," Shaun replies, and then he turns on his side and slides warm, skilled fingers underneath the hem of Desmond's boxers and wraps them around him in a single, smooth motion. A smirk twists at his lips when Desmond stills, fingers clenching tightly against the sheets, and he leans up to lick at the curve of his ear.

Desmond arches up into the touch, briefly, and then turns on his side in time for Shaun's tongue to slide in his mouth again. It would be easy to say it's been forever since he's had sex with anyone, even easier to say it's because the last half hour has been the longest foreplay of his life, but he gets only a very quick moment to enjoy it, to gasp against Shaun's open mouth obscenely, and then he's clenching his right hand tightly against Shaun's arms and coming hard in his hand. It's a burst, a wave, that rushes over him, leaves his ears ringing in a way that can't entirely be from the techno music in the hall, and might possibly have to do with the fact that it's Shaun.

There's a long moment where he wonders why the glow from the laptop is gone, a moment wherein he realizes his eyes are actually shut, and he keeps them shut for a little longer while he breathes slowly against his best friend's lips.

"Jesus Christ," Shaun manages and he sounds out of breath, his own eyes still closed.

Desmond opens his eyes and watches the flush that is spread across Shaun's face and neck, down his collarbone. He shifts them carefully, props himself up on his elbow, and says, in disbelief, "Did you really just orgasm from watching me?"

The smile that spreads across Shaun's lips is rare. It's content and it's amused and it matches the look of reluctant affection in his eyes that Desmond sees when Shaun sits up, takes his face in his hands, and kisses him hard on the mouth again. It's brief, just a quick pressure, and then he pulls back.

"You are incredibly hot," he says, and Desmond refuses to blush, because he's not a girl, and he's definitely aware he's an attractive man, but maybe it's the honesty in Shaun's eyes that is throwing him off-kilter and turning the tips of his ears bright red.

The techno music is pretty easy to forget, despite its volume.

{epilogue}

It's three days before Thanksgiving when Shaun calls his mom and says, "I'm bringing mashed potatoes this year. And a date."

Desmond chokes on his cereal from across the table.

[]

They let themselves in because Shaun's key still fits the door, will always fit the door, and there's the warmth of central heating and the smell of cloves and everything is just like he remembers. He's spent maybe half of his Thanksgivings with the Hastings, is no stranger to their traditions or their cranberry sauce, and it feels a lot like coming home. Things have been rough the last couple of years – school has been rough, then there had been trying to spend his Thanksgiving last year with Lucy's family (who he loves, but they'd been on the edge of breaking up and it had been weird), and it feels good to be here.

Desmond's heart is beating wildly in his chest, more nervous than he's maybe been in his entire life, and it's Shaun hand on his elbow, pulling him towards the kitchen, that is the only thing that keeps him from bolting back out to the car.

The kitchen is warm and alive with cooking and baking. There's a couple cousins Desmond hasn't met yet, an aunt he remembers, an uncle putting the finishing touches on a turkey, and a very familiar, very petite woman who looks up and sees them and gasps in surprise.

It's a little hard. Shaun's mother is closer to him than his own – was at his high school graduation, listened to his girl problems, always offered up her own unsolicited advice – and it's extremely hard to wonder what she will think.

Then her arms are around him, squeezing him tightly, her eyes a little watery, and she says, "Look at you! You've grown so much – what a handsome young man."

"Your son is still over here," Shaun says, holding out his arms, but his lips are twisted up into an amused smile.

"He calls more than you do," she says, squeezing Desmond again tightly, fondly, and then slaps Shaun's arm and he pulls her into a hug. "You promised me mashed potatoes and a date."

Shaun glances over at him, quite noticeably, and says, "I forgot the potatoes."

His mother follows his line of sight and Desmond flushes brightly underneath her gaze.

She smiles, lips pursed, eye watery again, and squeezes Shaun's arm tightly. "Oh, Shaun."

"Please no waterworks," he murmurs, without any real feeling behind it.

[]

"This is the worst movie I have ever seen in my life," Shaun mutters, for what is probably the second time, and it's really unfair to place such judgment on something that's only been playing for an hour, but, okay, it is kind of bad.

"You can change it," Desmond offers, gesturing towards the remote on the coffee table, because he watches shitty movies all the time and it will take a lot more than bad acting to get him off the couch after how much of Shaun's mother's cranberry stuffing he just horked down. "Your stepdad's snoring is loud enough to wake the dead – I'm pretty sure he's not going to care."

"Turkey coma," his cousin agrees, as she moves into the living room with a plate of pumpkin pie and sits down in an empty armchair. She gives Shaun a look, at the way he and Desmond are sprawled out on the couch together, ignores the way Shaun none-too-discreetly flips her off, and smugly eats a giant bite of her pie. "There's a Mythbusters marathon on."

Desmond waves at arm limply in the direction of the coffee table, but makes no real effort to move at all. "Uh, can't reach."

She rolls her eyes and slinks down in her seat, enough to nudge the remote towards her with the edge of her foot. "Ass."

Shaun presses his nose into the back of Desmond's neck and sighs. "A nap sounds amazing."

There's the sound of his mother and aunt in the kitchen, putting leftovers into plastic containers, and the sound of football coming in from the den, and the very loud chewing of pie from the armchair nearest him, and the warmth of Shaun from behind him, and Desmond is probably never going to get off the couch ever again.

The movie is gone, replaced by some awful sitcom, but Desmond lets himself be distracted by Shaun's fingers tracing up and down his back and silently acknowledges that, for once, something in his life has gone surprisingly, surprisingly well.

[end]