Harlequin's Slash Fic

Homesick

Title: Homesick
Author: Julie
Universe: Original; Australian rugby league
Characters featured: Nathan/Jason (original characters)
Category, Word count: Story; 8,846 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Nathan misses his days playing rugby league, misses being married, and misses his home in Australia – but at least he can Skype his best mate Jason. Despite the distance and the differences between them, they begin to realise their friendship is capable of becoming something more.
First published: Written 6 May 2007, but never before shared

 

 

Homesick

‘I miss Australia,’ Nathan announced. He’d often had cause to reflect that his days playing rugby league had been the best time of his life, and every day since had done nothing more than take him further and further away from all he’d cared for most. Now, in England for work providing commentary and entertainment segments through the British and French footy season, he wasn’t only distant in time but in space.

‘Yeah,’ Jason agreed from the other side of the world, casting him a sympathetic look via the webcam – which was off to one side, so generally Nathan’s view of his mate was in three–quarter profile. This apparently suited Jase, who seemed happy enough to watch Nathan on his computer screen, but who’d always been a bit shy about direct eye contact. Jason was also a former player, so he understood where Nathan was coming from. ‘I only ever went to England on tours and holidays,’ Jason expanded, ‘and that was fine. But I was always glad to get back home.’

‘Home,’ Nathan echoed. He gazed at his best mate for a long moment. ‘I’m enjoying it out here, don’t get me wrong,’ he continued. And he’d known what to expect, after all, as he’d spent the last year of his playing career in England. ‘But there’s things I miss.’

‘Yeah, decent beaches, for one,’ Jason supplied.

‘Cold beer.’

‘Sunshine.’

‘Good food.’

‘Beautiful women.’

‘My mates,’ Nathan blurted. ‘I miss my mates.’

Jason glanced at him directly again. Offered quietly, ‘You’re always good at making new friends, Nathe. Everyone takes to you. You’ll never be short of someone to go down the pub with.’

‘Well, yeah, and there was someone tonight – but it ain’t the same. You know, it takes time. To really get to know someone. To really become good friends. It takes time.’

‘Yeah,’ Jason agreed. ‘Hang in there. There’ll be someone. There must be guys still around from your Warrington days.’

‘I miss you, Jase.’

‘Oh,’ Jason said, and ducked his head in embarrassment.

‘I know we talk almost every day, and I appreciate it, I really do. But it’s not like hanging out together.’

‘No.’

I loved hanging out with you. Nathan only just prevented himself from saying it. OK, enough was enough. ‘Sorry, mate, it’s getting late over here. I’m maudlin with lager.’ That was always the way, what with the time difference: it was evening for one of them, and he was tipsy or drunk already; and it was morning for the other, and he was either bright or hung–over.

‘All right,’ Jason said, glancing at him again, but still keeping his face lowered. ‘Talk to you again tomorrow, all right, mate?’

‘Thanks, mate,’ Nathan said with a broad grateful smile. ‘See ya!’ And he hung up.

Jason was as good as his word, because when Nathan logged on early the next morning, he found Jason already online, except that the video feed just showed a black window. ‘Jase mate. Must be something wrong with my settings,’ Nathan explained, trying to quickly find the right menu. Nothing was ever straightforward. ‘I can hear you all right, but I can’t see you.’

‘Something wrong with my camera,’ Jason supplied a bit thickly, and enunciating too carefully as if aware he’d had too much to drink. ‘Dropped it when I got home this afternoon, and it hasn’t worked since.’

‘Oh, OK.’ Nathan wondered if his disappointment was evident in his voice. He wanted to see his mate. It was always comforting to see Jason. And, I do admit, he’s easy on the old eyes. ‘Never mind.’

‘Look, mate,’ Jason rushed on, sounding embarrassed, ‘I just wanted to say: I miss you, too, all right? I didn’t say it yesterday. But I miss you, too.’

‘Ah, mate…’ Nathan breathed, feeling a ridiculously profound sense of relief. ‘Thanks. Thanks, Jase.’

‘OK,’ Jason muttered. ‘It’s OK.’

Nathan could hear the blush in the man’s voice, so he took pity on him and changed the subject. ‘How’s business at the coffee shop? Doing well, I hope.’

‘Yeah, it’s going great. We get a lot of customers through. Though I get the idea half of them only come along to check me out.’

But you are so worth checking out… Nathan cleared his throat. ‘Don’t knock it, mate, as long as they buy a cappuccino while they’re doing so.’

‘Sometimes they sit there and go through three or four!’ Jason complained. ‘And not just girls, neither.’

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle. ‘Business must be booming, then.’

‘I even took on a couple of really cute young guys last time we were hiring waiters, so they’d have someone else to check out – but it only seems to encourage them.’

Nathan was laughing out loud by now. ‘Ah, mate. Sounds like heaven on earth: all that eye candy and good coffee.’

Jason just sighed. After a pause, he commented, ‘Sea Eagles are doing better this year.’

‘Yeah, I’ve been keeping an eye on what’s happening.’ In fact, Nathan was quite obsessive about following Jason’s new career as kicking coach. ‘Tony’s got an eighty–three percent conversion, or something, don’t he? You’re doing a great job there.’

‘Oh well,’ Jason said flatly, fobbing off the compliment. He added, ‘Uh, looks like I got the camera working now.’

The video came alive, jumping angles for a moment as Jason rearranged his webcam. Nathan grinned, figuring Jason had just been hiding it or had something draped over it. ‘That’s terrific, mate,’ he said, ‘cause I like checking you out, too.’

Jason groaned, and dropped his face into his hands, obviously blushing again. ‘Stop it,’ he weakly chided. ‘Stop it, or I’ll turn the damned thing off.’

‘You can’t help being so beautiful. And you can’t deny it’s good for business.’

He protested, ‘I don’t care about having a pretty face, Nathan! And, anyway, that’s not all I am!’

‘I know, and that’s why I love you.’ Nathan faltered, stricken at blurting out something that maybe meant more than he’d intended. He forced himself to go on. ‘I mean, you’re the nicest guy in the world, too. And you’re smart and you’re funny. And…’

‘Stop it,’ Jason whispered. Then he shot a look at Nathan which, if Nathan wasn’t misreading through the mismatched camera angles, might have meant the complete opposite of what he’d said. ‘You’re pulling my leg.’

‘No, I’m not.’ But Nathan was feeling both over–emotional and totally mystified, and his main instinct was to retreat, whether in good order or not. ‘Look, mate, I have to get going. We’re filming today, and it’s a long trip to get there. You wouldn’t believe how long it takes to travel around here, when it’s such a small place.’

‘All right.’ Jason lifted his head, but studiously kept his eyes averted. ‘Talk to you soon, yeah?’

‘Yeah, mate. See ya!’ And the feed went dead. Nathan sat back with a sigh.

They didn’t talk for a couple of days, which gave Nathan had plenty of time to think. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He felt quite subdued when he went online late that night, and part of him hoped that Jason would already be out for the day at the shop or the club. But, no, there he was. Waiting. Nathan sighed, and hit the big green button.

‘Hey, Nathe!’

‘Hey, Jase.’

‘Thought I wouldn’t catch you this morning.’ Jason carefully considered him via the computer screen. ‘What’s up, mate? Had a bad day?’

‘No…’ Nathan looked at him. Gazed at his beautiful best mate, who he missed something awful. Figured he might as well just come out with it. Heh. Come out: that was good. ‘Jase, you know how I was always dubbed Team Flirt?’

‘Yeah. At least that was better than being called Face all the time.’

‘Yeah…’ Nathan let a beat go by. ‘You know how a lot of people over the years said there’s no smoke without fire?’

Jason took that in, and suddenly paused. ‘Yes,’ he cautiously acknowledged.

‘Well, I’m starting to wonder if they weren’t right.’

‘Oh.’ Jason was looking somewhere else entirely now, maybe up at the corner of his ceiling, as if thinking hard or reacting overly, and trying like hell to hide it. ‘You, uh, mean that…’

‘I mean that maybe I’m feeling a bit that way inclined. You know?’

‘Oh, uh…’ Jason just couldn’t look at him, but at least he hadn’t turned off his camera. Oddly enough, he seemed pale, when Nathan had expected more blushes. Jason cleared his throat. ‘How long’s that been going on?’

‘Guess for a while now. But I only just realised. Kind of.’

‘And, uh…’ Jason closed his eyes for a moment as if trying to find the strength. ‘So, it’s just a general thing, this fire, is it? Or have you met someone?’

Nathan stared at the man. They were getting right to the point, weren’t they? ‘There’s someone,’ he confessed.

‘You met someone over there? What, one of the players, or…?’

‘No, mate. Someone back home.’

‘Oh.’ Jason swallowed, then stared down at his hands. ‘Well,’ he said in a strangled voice, ‘no wonder you’re missing Australia, then.’

A long silence stretched.

Eventually Jason asked, ‘It’s something you’re gonna do something about, is it?’

‘Maybe. Guess it depends on him.’

‘Well, Nathan –’ and suddenly Jason was looking him right in the eyes – ‘Well, I’ll still be your mate. No matter what. If that’s what you wanna hear. This doesn’t change anything.’

‘Doesn’t it?’

‘No.’ Absolutely firm about that.

Which was great, except… ‘It’s you, mate,’ Nathan blurted. ‘I thought you’d know. It couldn’t be anyone but you, Jase.’

Which was when the blushes finally attacked. ‘Oh,’ Jason said in a tiny voice. ‘I see.’

‘You didn’t know.’

‘I’m sorry…’

‘What are you sorry about?’ Oh. It belatedly dawned on Nathan that he was being gently turned down. ‘Oh, well, don’t worry about it, mate. Forget I said anything.’

Jason threw him a look full of misgivings. ‘I meant that I’m sorry I have to get to the shop. I have to go, Nathan. I’m gonna be late; I shouldn’t have left it this long.’

‘No worries, mate,’ Nathan echoed, trying to sound like it was the end of just any old regular conversation. ‘Talk to you later. Have a good day.’

Jason nodded at him emphatically, and hung up. And that was that.

Nathan was online again the next evening, but only because he knew his brother Chris was expecting an e–mail from him – and he was dismayed to discover that Jason was out there waiting for him again. The little Skype message popped up saying that Jason was calling. Nathan sighed, and hit the answer button. ‘Hey, Jase,’ he said, with an attempt at his usual welcome.

‘Hey, Nathe mate.’ Jason sounded, and indeed looked, kind and concerned but also very self–conscious. As well he might. ‘How are you?’

‘All right,’ Nathan grudgingly allowed. Not bad for someone who’d recently suffered the humiliation of being rejected by his best mate. ‘You?’

‘All right,’ Jason echoed. Then he grimaced. ‘Nathan, I think you got the wrong idea yesterday.’

He couldn’t believe that. ‘Did I?’

‘Yeah.’ The grimace became a full–on screwed–up face, as if Jason just couldn’t deal with this directly. But at least he didn’t turn off the camera this time, or pretend it was broken. ‘I think you thought I wasn’t interested.’

All Nathan felt was confusion. ‘D’you mean you are…? Interested, I mean.’

‘Maybe.’

Nathan stared at the man, wondering if he was brave enough to hope. ‘Well, uh…’ Is that something you’re gonna do something about? ‘Jase, uh…’

‘I just wanted to make sure you knew that,’ Jason said firmly, which was encouraging, but also sounded final like it was the end of the conversation.

‘OK. Thanks, mate.’

And Jason started talking about something else – the footy in Australia, the Sea Eagles, Newtown, coffee beans, the weather, something else – anything else, as if all was back to normal between them – and Nathan wasn’t paying attention cause he was thinking about how very beautiful Jason was, and how much he wanted him, and how hard Nathan himself was just from looking at his mate. So hard, in fact, he was damned uncomfortable. He shifted in his seat. Scowled irritably. Tried to surreptitiously adjust himself.

‘Nathan!’ Jason cried, as if horrified. ‘Stop that!’

‘What?’ he asked in honest innocence.

‘Hands where I can see them! I will not have Skype sex with you.’

The idea of which just made Nathan even harder. He moaned a little, found himself reaching to caress the image of Jason on his computer screen.

Stop that,’ Jason repeated primly.

‘All right, all right,’ Nathan muttered, dazed with the lust and even more confused than before. ‘Think I’d better go now, then.’

‘I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Nathan.’

‘You know what I’ll be doing in the meantime…’

‘Nathan!’ cried a scandalised Jason. And Nathan hung up.

Nathan signed on the next morning as soon as he had a mug of coffee in hand, and waited impatiently for his mate. Finally Jason logged on and called Nathan, and sat there all business–like with the camera right in front of him for once. After their usual greetings, Jason announced, ‘I’ve got my flights booked.’

‘Great,’ was Nathan’s unthinking reaction. ‘Uh, what flights, mate?’

Jason looked a bit miffed. ‘I’m coming over for a week. I’ll be there on Wednesday. Hope that suits.’

Nathan’s heart began pounding. Jase is coming, Jase is coming! ‘Sure, that’ll be fine,’ he said as coolly as he could. ‘We’ll work around work – No, you can come to work with me! And I’ll show you round. This is a great place, there’s so much to see.’

‘Well,’ said Jason, definitely miffed now, ‘I figured the idea was you could just show me round your bedroom a few times.’

‘Oh,’ Nathan replied, a bit more subdued, but still trying to play it cool. ‘Sure, we can do that.’

‘Good,’ said Jason.

A silence stretched, way more uncomfortable than usual.

‘Look,’ Nathan eventually said. ‘Is this something you’ve done before?’

‘No.’

‘Me neither.’

‘Good,’ Jason immediately retorted.

Nathan laughed. ‘Why’s that? Don’t ya think this would go a bit easier if one of us knew what he was doing?’

‘I don’t care, Nathan. I just – Well, you were so horny this morning – last night, for you – and I spent all day thinking about how I couldn’t bear it if you took that out on anyone but me.’

‘You gonna be the jealous sort, are you?’

‘Yeah. Yeah, if it comes to that.’

Nathan watched the man. He was too shocked right now to feel anything much, but he knew instinctively that he did indeed want it to come to that. ‘You won’t have anything to be jealous about,’ Nathan quietly reassured him. ‘And I wasn’t planning on hitting the town if you didn’t come over.’

‘But you are such a flirt!’

‘So, I’ll only flirt with you from now on.’ Nathan laughed, beginning to relax a little. Beginning to enjoy this. ‘What time’s your flight get in? I’ll come and pick you up.’

‘Six thirty on Wednesday morning. Heathrow, Terminal Four.’

‘I’ll pick you up and bring you back here.’

‘Yes,’ said Jason, his blue eyes burning Nathan alive even through the cameras and the screens.

Which was when Nathan stopped relaxing, and got deliciously terrified instead.

Normally they would have hugged in greeting at the airport, just walked right into each other’s arms and given each other a big old bear hug, cause there was no question they didn’t already love each other. This time they were too embarrassed to do so, and instead just stood there for a moment, not shaking hands, not meeting each other’s gazes, but looking at the floor and shuffling a bit, muttering inanities.

Then, ‘Let’s get outta here,’ said Nathan in desperation, and he led the way across to the car park.

They drove back to his place in virtual silence, broken only by the most stilted conversation about mundane matters both British and Australian, which if such topics were even worth covering they’d already covered in their Skype calls.

And then they were at Nathan’s front door, and he was letting them in, Jason was putting his bag down, and they were alone together. Standing in the hallway, still avoiding each other’s eyes.

‘Uh,’ said Jason. ‘Give me a minute, would you?’

‘Course.’

‘Where’s the…?’

Nathan pointed to the corridor. ‘Down there, first on the right. I’ll put some coffee on.’

‘Great!’ And Jason disappeared.

Nathan filled the percolator, put an extra scoop in, and then took his turn in the bathroom.

It was only in the moment after he’d relieved himself, standing there with his own dormant cock in his hand, that it really occurred to him what he might be doing with it next. He blushed and immediately hardened, and all he could do then was ease his aching cock back into his pants, and drag his shirt down in the vain hopes of retaining some dignity.

When he came out again, Jason was loitering in the kitchen, but his gaze swept Nathan as if he had in mind things other than coffee or food. And it was obvious when he sussed out Nathan’s current state, because his blue eyes suddenly burned, and his beautiful face flushed. His gaze began eating Nathan up, and Nathan knew he himself was returning the favour. They stared at each other, took each other in from head to toe from this new perspective. It was excruciating, but they couldn’t seem to help it: it was the first time they’d really looked at each other, and allowed themselves to be looked at, since Jason had arrived.

‘I’m so tired,’ Jason confessed. ‘I hardly slept at all on the plane. I probably won’t be up for much…’ Despite which he remained totally intent on Nathan.

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Nathan said with a shrug. ‘We can wait.’

But even as they were saying to each other that it probably wouldn’t happen now, they were easing closer, beginning to circle each other. Jason was flushed, but meeting his gaze directly. Nathan was taking the lead in this spiralling dance, and heading for the bedroom.

Almost there, still circling each other as if dragged closer and closer by the force of a whirlpool, and they were in his bedroom now, and their arms were circling each other, then their mouths met, and Nathan gave himself to the strange and wonderful kiss. I’m kissing a man, I’m kissing my mate.

They fell across the bed, holding each other, moving against each other, being held. Nathan groaned at the rightness of it – god, why hadn’t he figured this out a long long time ago? And then Jason slid both his hands down to Nathan’s butt, and hauled Nathan round to match them together hips against hips, hard cock against hard cock, and something in Nathan switched over, powered up, the end was already in sight – he groaned from the depths of his soul, and Jason was moving against him full of purpose, and they came just like that, fully clothed, lying the wrong way across the made–up bed, kissing hungrily and holding onto each other as if nothing else could ever matter to either of them ever again.

In the panting aftermath, Jason suddenly fell fast asleep, his embrace still firm. Nathan lay there for a long while – he found out afterwards he was there for an hour – dozing occasionally but mostly just taking in the fact that he had just had sex with Jason, he had made love with his best mate, and everything had now changed utterly.

After a while he carefully eased out of Jason’s arms, and brought the foot of the doona up and over to cover him. Jason shifted a little, but only to settle deeper into sleep. Feeling sentimental, Nathan walked around the bed to press a gentle kiss to the man’s temple, and then headed out, shutting the door behind him.

He didn’t change his clothes, because that damp spot really meant something. Instead, he pottered around, had an inane Skype chat with Chris in which for some odd reason Nathan didn’t pass on his most significant news. Then he decided to go get some groceries, because it had become clear that Jason really didn’t intend seeing much of London outside of Nathan’s bedroom. He left a note by the pot of coffee in the kitchen, and went out, quietly closing the front door behind him.

When he got back, Jason was sitting at the table with a mug of coffee steaming before him.

‘Hey, Jase,’ Nathan said as ordinarily as he could.

‘Hey, Nathe,’ Jason replied in kind.

‘Have a good sleep?’

‘Yeah, sorry bout that. I just crashed.’

‘That’s fine. Only to be expected if you didn’t sleep on the plane.’

‘Yeah.’ Jason sat there sipping at his coffee, watching Nathan put the groceries away. He looked all right, but a bit uncertain. Maybe that was to be expected.

‘Hungry?’ Nathan asked. ‘I guess it’s your dinner time, ain’t it? I got all sorts in, so we can just eat what we want when we want it.’

‘I’m not really hungry right now, mate, but I probably will be. I’ll probably want an enormous lunch or something.’

‘No worries.’ Nathan wandered a bit nearer; stood behind the chair just round the corner from Jason. Not sure how close he should get, or what would be welcome. Maybe Jason wasn’t sure, either. ‘You all right?’ Nathan asked quietly.

‘Yeah,’ Jason replied. ‘You?’

‘Never better.’ He meant exactly that, though Jason would probably take it as a polite bit of nothingness. ‘Mate,’ Nathan offered, ‘I liked that. I liked it a lot.’

Jason blushed again, but looked at him steadfastly. ‘Me, too.’

‘Not bad for a couple of old guys who have no idea what they’re doing, huh?’

Jason laughed, and seemed to relax a little. ‘Do it properly next time.’

Various visions danced through Nathan’s head. ‘What d’you mean by properly…?’ Were they gonna fuck already? And which way round? Well, Nathan had bought condoms and lube – only half expecting to actually use them. ‘D’you mean…?’

Jason was blushing furiously now, no doubt guessing exactly what Nathan was speculating about. ‘Just meant, you know – Get our kit off. Actually get into bed.’

‘Oh… Yeah, sure. Fine by me.’ Nathan looked at him, let a moment or two slip by. No better ideas came to mind. ‘When, d’you think? Before that enormous lunch, or after?’

‘Before,’ Jason said, glancing away. ‘Now,’ he said, looking directly at Nathan.

Nathan put out his hand, and Jason took it, and Nathan led him back down to the bedroom.

Nathan gasped as they met in the middle of the bed, flesh against flesh. Oh, he was really going to embarrass himself here… They were moving against each other, kissing as if they’d never get enough, and just revelling in holding each other, like before only not as frantic. Slower and sweeter this time. And yet Nathan was still powering up, and the end was looming, even though he wanted more than anything for this to last.

‘Christ, Jase,’ he muttered once his mouth was freed.

Jason made an enquiring sound from where he was nuzzling Nathan’s throat.

‘I usually have a bit more stamina, honest I do.’

The sound this time was ironically encouraging.

‘But I am gonna blow like Vesuvius any moment now.’

Those hot blue eyes looked up at him. ‘That’s good, then, ain’t it?’

‘You think?’

‘Means you really do like it.’

Nathan laughed. ‘Oh god, mate, I love it.’

‘Then blow,’ Jason advised him. ‘Can show off your stamina after lunch instead.’

‘Promise?’

Those beautiful eyes seemed ready to promise him anything. Nathan quit procrastinating, and went with the flow.

They both dozed for a while after that. Then they dressed in jeans and t–shirts, and Jason watched while Nathan threw together a lunch of burgers and chips, and not readymade, either. ‘Didn’t know you could cook,’ Jason commented appreciatively.

Nathan wanted to make a pointed quip about what a good catch he was, but restrained himself. Told the truth instead. ‘Emma insisted I make an effort when we split, for when I had the boys staying over.’

‘Good for her,’ Jason said lightly. He shot a glance at Nathan. ‘If I’d realised before that you were such a good catch, mate…’

You would have jumped me years ago…? Nathan tried to think of a good comeback for that, but he couldn’t, he just couldn’t. It meant too much already. This meant too much to him. Nathan just poured them a beer each, and served up lunch.

Jason happily, unapologetically, wolfed it all down and then paid him the compliment of pretending to look for more. ‘Perfect, mate. That was perfect.’ Those blue eyes glowing at him, as if he didn’t mean just the food.

Oh yes. Perfect.

After lunch, Nathan was determined to take his time, and start to really explore Jason. As he got up onto his hands and knees, Jason made to follow him, perfectly attuned to his every move. ‘Nah, stay where you are,’ Nathan murmured. ‘I want to get my mouth on you…’

Jason actually shivered at the thought, and he lay there obediently.

Well, Nathan started with the man’s throat, then got as far as trailing kisses down his sternum – when Jason hooked an arm round his neck, and dragged him over to his right breast. Nathan just stared dumbfounded at the man’s nipple. Was he meant to…? ‘Jase?’

‘Not gonna do that for me?’ He sounded wistful, but jolly rather than disappointed.

Nathan’s heart ached. ‘On the contrary,’ he raggedly replied. ‘I think I’d do just about anything for you.’

Jason got up onto his elbows, and looked at him, steadfastly but enigmatically.

‘If you show me how,’ Nathan added. ‘Or tell me.’

‘All right.’ Then Jason was disobeying him, pushing up, pushing Nathan over onto his back. And he was licking tenderly at Nathan’s own right nipple, swirling gentle circles round it, rasping it with the flat of his tongue, creating gooseflesh – and giggles.

Nathan couldn’t help himself. ‘That tickles!’ he protested, before squirming away.

Jason growled. ‘Try this, then –’ and he pounced, attacked with his teeth, gnawing and mock–biting, rough and wonderful, and Nathan was a goner, so much for taking it slow this time, this weird wonderful sensation powering him up again, and he was lost.

They slept together that night. Which was only to be expected, but it felt momentous to Nathan. It was so good to have someone at his side again, in his arms. Jason had fallen fast asleep by about nine, with a muttered yawning apology, and Nathan lay curled up beside him for a long while before sleep took him, too. They each surfaced a couple of times in the night, and shifted closer, taking turns to spoon each other. And the darkness around them felt warm and heavy and safe, utterly safe.

The next morning, while Nathan cooked them breakfast, Jason got online and exchanged Skype messages with Joe, his employee who was running the coffee shop for him. Nathan listened to him tapping away at the keyboard, silently waiting for then guffawing at the response, and bursting into another flurry of keying. Listened wistfully. It would be silly to call it jealousy, but it was a step in that direction.

Afterwards Jason was bursting to tell him all the latest coffee shop gossip. Which on any other day would have been delightful. It was all ‘Sally said the other day they…’ and ‘We couldn’t make enough of these new mocha lattes if we tried…’ and ‘There was this mad customer who…’ and then ‘When I get back there next week, Joe is really gonna pay for saying that…’

Nathan’s eyes prickled, pained, and he wiped at them distractedly. Then a funny gulping sob took him, and tears were running down his cheeks, and Jason was exclaiming, ‘Nathan! What is it?’

‘I don’t – I don’t –’

‘You don’t know?’ Jason hovering beside him now, uncertain what to do for the best.

‘I don’t want you to go! I want you to stay here with me!’ And he was weeping, and Jason took him deep into his arms, they sank to the floor together, and huddled there. Nathan just disintegrated into a soggy mess, way worse than he’d ever been before, even when he’d realised that he and Emma were over and he’d have to leave his boys behind. Had he just been stronger back then?

‘Nathan…’ Jason was murmuring, and rocking him back and forth. ‘Nathe mate…’

And so they continued until the sausages burnt so badly that they set off the smoke alarm, and the two of them were simply shocked into jumping up and running around to deal with that.

Nathan salvaged what he could of breakfast, and served it up, but it seemed neither of them were very hungry now. They sat there at the table in silence, not looking at each other. ‘I’m sorry,’ Nathan eventually offered.

‘Don’t be,’ Jason immediately said reassuringly.

‘I, uh… I don’t know where that came from.’

‘Don’t you?’ Mildly reproving now, as if Jason wouldn’t tolerate misdirection let alone a lie.

Nathan swallowed hard, and somehow gathered the courage to lift his head and meet his mate’s knowing gaze.

‘You’ve said enough already,’ Jason continued, ‘for me to know.’

‘What?’

‘That you – love me. Don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ Nathan whispered. ‘I hardly knew myself.’

‘All right,’ Jason said then, as if it were settled.

Nathan forced himself to ask the biggest question of his life. He’d known Emma would say yes. He had no idea what Jason would say. ‘What about you?’ he asked, barely above a strangled whisper. ‘How do you feel?’

And Jason was just distantly considering him. ‘You hardly know me, either, then.’ His voice a bit hard, a bit miffed. ‘Do you?’

That had to mean… ‘You love me?’

‘Yeah. Course I do. Just don’t know what we should do about it, that’s all.’

‘You mean…?’ Nathan frowned. Dropped his head into his hands, and gripped on for dear life. ‘What d’you mean?’

‘Well,’ said Jason, as if explaining the perfectly obvious, ‘I don’t know if we should try to be together. Or just keep it to the odd week now and then. That sort of thing. Keep it below the radar.’

‘But, it’s love,’ Nathan said, raising his head to implore, because he felt totally in the right now. ‘It’s love. There’s no choice. We have to be together.’

‘So, as far as you’re concerned it’s living together, and being… married again, and all that comes with it. Telling Chris and your parents, your kids. Making a home, just you and me.’

Yes.’ Seeing all the potential pitfalls, right enough, but what else could they do? The cosy domesticity Jason described, difficulties and all: Nathan wanted that so very much. ‘Yes, love.’

‘I’m not sure if I’m the marrying type, Nathan. No one’s gotten me yet. Maybe you’re the exception that proves the rule, I don’t know.’ He seemed so self–contained, saying this. ‘And it strikes me that even for men and women, there aren’t so many rules any more. There aren’t so many fixed ideas of what they should be for each other, of what husbands and wives should mean. And doesn’t that go double for two guys? I mean, no one’s saying that we’re husband and husband, and there’s these roles we have to slot into, and all that. We can make it up as we go along.’

Nathan just watched him through all this, taking it in, and then he sat there watching his mate some more, trying to understand. One thing occurred to him that gave him hope. ‘You’ve really thought about this, haven’t you? I mean, even if you don’t know the answers, you’ve sure been asking some pretty big questions.’

‘I guess.’

‘But, uh…’ Nathan shook his head, trying to think. ‘But you said you’re the jealous type. Are you really saying that you love me, but you’d be happy with a week here and there, and you’d expect us not to see other people…?’ He tried to say it straight, without judgement, but he probably couldn’t hide his incredulity. Not from his best mate.

And Jason was honest enough to look doubtful.

‘Look, you’re my mate.’ It was pure instinct to say it, but suddenly it made a whole lot of sense. ‘You’re my mate, in every sense of the word. You’re my best mate. I want to mate with you.’ Nathan blushed at how ridiculous that sounded, but it was also true. ‘I mean, like, mate for life.’

‘Nathan…’ Jason whispered.

‘I don’t know about not being the marrying kind. I guess I am. Maybe that’s just what I’m used to, and I miss it. But I do know what you mean about making it up to suit ourselves. That’s right. Being together is about two individuals finding out what they each want, and making it work together; not about two roles that you’re forced to play.’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know.’

Nathan looked at the man for a moment, and Jason looked back imploringly. Which gave Nathan even more hope, but Jason was also getting a bit upset, and Nathan figured they didn’t need Jason collapsing to the floor in tears as well. ‘Look,’ he said gently, backing off a bit. ‘Let’s have this week together. Let’s enjoy it. I’m loving being with you. You just blow my mind, Jase; I haven’t been this horny since I was a teenager. But we don’t need to make any big decisions about what happens next, not yet. I mean, we only got together for the first time yesterday morning. Let’s just enjoy ourselves, and then maybe next Tuesday afternoon we’ll sort something out.’

Jason looked at him gratefully. ‘OK.’

Nathan got up, and went round the table, and took the man into his arms. Jason wound his arms around Nathan’s waist, pressed his face to Nathan’s chest, against his heartbeat, and Nathan remained strong but melted inside. God, he loved this man. ‘I’m gonna clear this now,’ he said, pulling away and indicating their ruined breakfast. ‘Then I’m gonna make a sandwich, and we’re gonna watch a DVD or something. All right? No more hassles, OK?’

‘OK,’ Jason replied. And he looked up at Nathan with what seemed to be total devotion.

Hell, that was good enough for Nathan.

Two hours and a movie later, they’d both cheered up, so with very little prompting back and forth, they found themselves heading down the bedroom again. The sex this time was a direct echo of the first time, except they were naked now, body and soul. Matching each other hips against hips, hard cock against hard cock. Jason with both hands spread firm on Nathan’s butt. Holding each other, moving against each other, being held. They tried a few different positions, but ended up with Nathan on top though Jason remained in charge; Jason with one leg bent for purchase; Nathan’s legs interleaved. Gazing into each other’s eyes, and even Jason not blushing now. ‘I love you,’ Nathan murmured, because he could – it was the truth and they both knew it. ‘Love you, too,’ Jason honestly replied. Nathan feeling the rightness of it all through and through. Jason’s fingers easing further down, fingertips dangerously close, and the urge to surrender surging through Nathan like it was high tide. He groaned, and Jason was moving purposefully against him, driving him along – but then Jason groaned, too, and lost himself – they kissed, mouths devouring. Orgasm took them. And they held tight onto each other, and nothing else mattered.

It was a beautifully mellow afternoon, so as the sun began westering they actually emerged from Nathan’s apartment for a while, and took a walk through the parkland along the river. Just chatting, or not, quite comfortable with each other. They found a pub along the way, so drank a pint in the beer garden, then continued wandering on.

Everything perfect, until suddenly Jason cried ‘Nathan!’ through gritted teeth.

Nathan looked around to find Jason blushing furiously. Couldn’t quite work out why, but eventually looked down to find that he’d just naturally taken Jason’s hand into his. Just as he would have done back when he was with Emma. ‘Sorry, mate,’ he murmured, easing away.

Jason paced off, then came to a halt with his back still turned. Nathan looked around, but couldn’t see that anyone had witnessed them. Not that he knew exactly when he’d first done it, although surely Jason wouldn’t be quite so unsettled unless someone had spotted them.

‘I’m sorry,’ Nathan tried again. ‘Guess it’s just what I’m used to.’

‘What you’re used to,’ Jason echoed. ‘You mean married or straight?’

‘Well, both.’

‘That’s the thing,’ said Jason urgently. ‘That’s the thing, isn’t it?’

‘What’s the thing? We were both straight, weren’t we?’ Nathan felt bewildered. ‘I’m sorry, I should have thought. Did anyone see us?’

‘Yeah. I guess I thought –’ Jason turned away again. ‘I don’t know! It’s not about that, is it?’

‘What’s it about, then, mate?’ Nathan asked gently, his bewilderment only growing.

‘I don’t know. I guess – you’re used to being married. And I’m not. The only long term relationships I’ve had weren’t exactly exclusive.’

‘All right…’ Nathan sighed. They didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so he sat down on the grass. ‘What does me holding your hand have to do with this?’

‘I don’t know!’ The poor chap seemed so agitated.

‘Jase mate, we don’t have to have this conversation until Tuesday, remember?’

Jason threw him a look.

Maybe they had to have it now instead. ‘I love you,’ Nathan said, with quiet sincerity. ‘And I’d love for us to be together, just you and me, forever. But you don’t have to call it married, if you don’t want to. We don’t have to call it anything.’

Silence and turmoil.

‘What do you want, mate? Maybe we can meet in the middle somewhere.’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know.

‘All right,’ Nathan said easily. He left a pause, but Jason wasn’t gonna fill it. ‘Well, for now, let’s just enjoy the sunshine, shall we? There’s precious little of it usually.’

Jason cast him an imploring look, but it wasn’t quite as fraught as before. Eventually he came and sat down on the grass next to Nathan, and let the sun warm him. From there he finally got so relaxed that they ended up exchanging provocatively knowing glances, and heading off back to Nathan’s as fast as they could decently go.

‘I love this!’ Nathan cried in the midst of it. He was overflowing with delight, despite Jason’s occasional recurrences of wariness. ‘God, I love this!’ His hands spread on Jason’s wide shoulders, on Jason’s boxy hips; Jason’s hard cock digging into his thigh, Jason’s balls jostling after with every move. ‘I love that you’re a man.’

Jason laughed a bit wryly. ‘Just as well,’ he commented, ‘cause that’s one thing that ain’t ever gonna change.’

‘Good!’ Nathan was laughing, too; a far happier sound. ‘But I mean… I mean I love you partly because you’re a man, not despite it.’

‘What are you on about?’

‘It’s not just that you’re my mate, and I’ve loved you for such a long time that eventually it became something more. Almost like an accident, you know? It’s not that it just grew out of us being such good friends. I fell in love with you for exactly who you are, whether we were friends already or not. You know…?’

Jason was smiling up at him with the gentle smirk that indicated shyness rather than a taunt. ‘So, you’re gay now, Nathan.’ A statement that was also a careful question. ‘How bout that.’

‘Yeah. Unrepentantly. Gay gay gay.’

And Jason didn’t respond with a declaration of his own, but he drew Nathan’s head down close, and they kissed. Passionately. Lovingly. As if they’d never part.

Nathan tried to leave the difficult stuff for their conversation on Tuesday, but he couldn’t. He had to admit to himself at least that he was worried they couldn’t work it all out if they left it to the last minute. So the following day, as they sat sprawled on the sofa with coffee, he tentatively prompted, ‘Jase mate. You said you’d had some long term relationships?’

Jason sighed. ‘Yeah. Remember Teresa? And Gabby. Ayesha, too, I guess.’

‘Yeah.’ Nathan had met them as Jason’s dates on various occasions over the years.

‘Well, you know. We saw each other when it suited. We had… arrangements. Not that we ever really talked about it. It wasn’t anything like what you want. We didn’t live together, we weren’t faithful.’ Jason frowned, then said with scrupulous honesty, ‘Well, I wasn’t faithful. We dated and slept together, and went our separate ways. That’s all. No real expectations, except that we treated each other decently.’

Nathan thought about this, and offered, ‘You treated them with respect. You must have cared about them.’

And Jason turned to look at him, deadly serious, to drive the point home. ‘Not enough, though. I never cared enough.’

‘What about Sam?’ Nathan tried that evening. ‘You were engaged. You were gonna marry her.’

Jason shrugged, though he certainly wasn’t blasé. ‘Another arrangement. I couldn’t go through with it. She was too much of a friend.’

‘So, again, you respected her. You cared enough not to live a lie.’

Jason was silent for a long while, considering this. But eventually he said rather bleakly, ‘I don’t think any of this helps you, Nathan. I’m just not the marrying sort.’

‘You’re the decent sort,’ Nathan firmly replied, ‘and I love you.’

There were mornings and afternoons, of course, when they barely got out of bed. In between times they’d laze around, lying next to each other talking but not touching, or else lying thoroughly entwined. During one such, Nathan just couldn’t keep still, but continually shifted around Jason, pressing and rubbing against him, trying to experience every desirable configuration of skin against skin.

‘Nathan,’ Jason eventually said rather drily. ‘This is just a sex thing with you, isn’t it?’

Nathan chuckled, and grinned up at his lover. ‘It isn’t only a sex thing.’

He started getting Jason more involved, by placing his hands on Nathan’s body, by arranging him. At some stage Nathan’s goal surely became obvious. But he decided to be upfront about it rather than continue to hint. ‘I think you should fuck me,’ Nathan announced.

Jason just looked at him, a bit warily but steadily nevertheless. ‘You mean…?’

‘Yeah, I mean. What d’you think?’

‘I think that’s gonna hurt.’

‘Yeah, me, too. But I’m used to pain. You know that. Playing footy was nothing but pain, sometimes.’

‘Are you sure you wanna? I mean, for your sake? You want to do it for your own reasons? Not cause you think I want it.’

‘Yeah, I want it. I want to open my thighs for you. I want to feel you inside me. I want you to be a part of me.’ Nathan chuckled, knowing he was sounding too much of a girl to convince. ‘I want your hard cock ramming hot up my spine.’

Jason grinned, though still a little remotely. ‘That I can do.’

Nathan’s heart sped up. ‘Will you, then?’

‘I’m a man, Nathan: I’m not gonna say no to a fuck.’

‘Cool! I got stuff.’ He threw himself at the bedside table, found the condoms and lube. ‘See,’ he said, offering them in both hands to his mate, ‘I figured it’d come to this.’

Jason was still looking doubtful, though. ‘You ever done anything like this before?’

‘No. Course not. Straight, remember?’

‘Not even a finger, playing around…?’

‘No.’ Nathan frowned. He hadn’t realised how unadventurous he’d been. ‘What, you’ve done that kind of thing? With women?’

‘Yeah. Some. And on my own. Nothing serious.’ Jason sighed. ‘Maybe you should do me. At least I’m used to that much. You’re gonna really feel it, aren’t you?’

‘Yeah.’ Nathan offered whimsically, ‘I’m a complete and utter virgin. And you’re a man. So, do me!’

‘Oh, Nathan…’ Jason responded with what sounded like regret. Nevertheless, he took the stuff, and prepared himself.

There’d been nothing like it before in his life. It was everything he’d wanted, except for pleasurable, and there were hints that it might indeed become that as well, once he was used to it. Nathan lay there in Jason’s arms, filled up by the bulk of him, and Jason gazed at him, into him, heatedly, reverently. Jason moving over him, loving him, taking him. It went on for what felt like hours. And in the heat of it, they fused together.

Tuesday afternoon came around. Nathan thought back over the previous week as he made coffee. It seemed at once to have lasted forever, and to have gone in the blink of an eye. He felt quietly confident that they could now look forward to a lifetime of such weeks together, one after the other. Not all of them this blissful, perhaps, but all of them significant. For he knew in some gut–deep, soul–deep way that Jason was the love of his life.

However, when he walked into the lounge and saw Jason’s grim expression, Nathan’s heart fell. He put the coffee down, and sat at a little distance from his lover. Let a silence grow. He mustn’t make a drama of this. He mustn’t burn the bridge between them. He waited quietly. Inside he howled in grief.

‘I can’t, Nathan,’ Jason eventually announced. ‘I can’t do what you want. I can’t be what you want.’

‘All right,’ Nathan gruffly replied. He prayed that they hadn’t destroyed the important thing. ‘We’re still mates, though? Friends?’

Jason looked at him directly. ‘Of course.’ No question about it.

Nathan felt a little relieved. He tried for the second–best version of how they might remain lovers. ‘What about what you said? Seeing each other occasionally. Keeping it under the radar. Can we do that?’

‘Yes. Yes. If that’s what you want. If that’s enough for you.’

‘Of course,’ said Nathan, echoing Jason’s firm tones. ‘Well, you know what I want most, but I want us to be together when we can. However we can make it work.’

‘Good,’ said Jason. But he stayed sitting there, staring grimly down at the coffee, as if he hadn’t yet said all he needed to. ‘Look,’ he eventually said, ‘I know I have no right to ask you not to. But if you see other people, I don’t want to know about it.’

‘All right,’ said Nathan, a painful kind of hope in his gut. ‘I’m the faithful sort, anyway, mate. I won’t be looking around.’

‘Well, if it comes looking for you, just don’t tell me, OK? I couldn’t bear it.’

‘What about you?’

‘I won’t be looking, either,’ Jason said flatly.

‘You said – Your other arrangements. You said you weren’t faithful.’

Jason coloured in shame, in annoyance. ‘This is different. I’ve said all along this is different.’

Nathan grinned, though he didn’t really feel the humour of it. ‘Yeah, it is.’

And Jason seemed done now, and halfway relaxed. So Nathan went over to him, and took him into his arms. And Jason sank against him with a relieved sigh, as if he’d been almost certain that he wouldn’t be forgiven.

‘I love you,’ Nathan murmured, pressing his face to Jason’s dark hair.

‘I love you, too,’ came the fervent reply. ‘I really do.’

‘I know, my darling man. I know.’

That night, Nathan expected some serious sex. Fucking, for instance. Instead, it was so simple and direct that it became profound. They just lay there on their sides, facing each other. Each with both hands on the other’s cock and balls. Gazing at each other throughout. It was truly awesome.

‘Where d’you come up with these things?’ Nathan murmured in the quiet afterwards. It seemed neither of them wanted to go to sleep. ‘I’ve never had sex anything like what I’ve had with you.’

‘I haven’t either,’ was all Jason would reply.

Letting Jason go with dignity at the airport was possibly the most difficult thing Nathan had ever done. He did it, though. They’d exchanged their physical farewells in the privacy of Nathan’s apartment, agreeing without words to avoid making a scene in public. Jason was shy, after all, and hadn’t even liked Nathan holding his hand. Yet they still hugged each other as friends, and Nathan didn’t bother fighting too hard against the tears that beset him.

When he stood back, Jason proved just as damp–eyed. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry I can’t –’

Nathan shook his head. ‘Don’t be. You’d be going home now anyway. We wouldn’t be seeing each other regardless.’

‘I guess.’ Jason looked again at his watch. ‘I’d better go. Security these days…’

‘Go. Skype me once you’re settled again. Once you’re over the jetlag.’

Jason was looking stricken. ‘Nathan…’ And despite their unspoken resolutions, he took Nathan’s head in both hands and leant in to press a kiss to his mouth. An unmistakably real kiss.

Then he was gone.

Nathan went home alone, crawled into the bed they’d shared, the bed that still smelt of Jason and sex, wrapped himself up in the doona, and he wept like a babe.

Against all reason, he calculated to the second when Jason would be home, factored in the different time zones, and sat there waiting on Skype. Just in case. Even though he’d said Once you’re over the jetlag. Even though they only had an arrangement.

Against all hope, he was rewarded. Only minutes after he’d calculated it was even possible, there was Jason calling him – and looking all flustered once the cameras were online. His bags were dumped just behind him, as if he’d wasted absolutely no time logging on.

‘Jase mate!’ Nathan cried in delight, grinning fit to burst. All was obviously as OK as it could be, under the circumstances.

Or was it…? Now that he really looked, he realised Jason was quite distraught. ‘What’s wrong, mate? Are you all right?’

‘God, Nathan…’ A desperate, strangled voice.

‘What happened? Are you hurt?’ His heartbeat panicky. God, don’t let him be hurt.

‘No. No. But I’m hurting. God, why the hell did I leave you there? Why the hell didn’t I stay?’

‘Oh, Jase mate…’ Nathan murmured, the worry draining out of him – though real hope had the same effect on his heart as the fear had done.

‘I love you. I really do. I said it before, and I meant it – but I didn’t know how much I meant it. God, I’m an idiot!’

‘No,’ Nathan quibbled with a wry grin. ‘You’re no idiot, mate. You’re my darling man.’

‘It just got worse and worse. It got to the point where I was seriously considering hijacking the plane and making them turn it around. You think they would have acquitted me, if I explained it was all for love?’

‘Mate…’

Jason just stared at him for long wild moments, but then eventually started breathing a bit more normally. And after a while Nathan smirked at him, and Jason cracked a shy smile in return, and let out something between a sob and a laugh. ‘Oh, Nathe mate,’ he ended up saying, quieter now but absolutely sincere. ‘You were right. We’ll do it your way. Marriage. In–laws. Never thought I’d have them, but your family are the best. Chris as a brother–in–law. Stepfather to Johnny and Damian, if you’ll let me.’

‘Of course,’ Nathan said, heart thumping now. All his dreams coming true.

‘We’ll live together. There or here, or both, I don’t care. Skype sex in the meantime.’

Nathan was so surprised by that, he gurgled.

‘You name it, Nathan, and we’ll do it.’

‘You, too, though. You say what you want, too.’

‘I was so wrong about this.’

‘No, you weren’t. You knew all along it was love. You knew to just go and buy plane tickets when I was hardly even game to say anything. I felt like I was the one catching up.’

‘Now I am.’

‘But it’s what you said – you said the wisest thing. It has to suit both of us as individuals. We have to make it up to suit ourselves. And that’s what we’ll do.’

‘That’s what we’ll do,’ Jason echoed firmly. And he reached out to caress Nathan’s face on his computer screen. And all was settled between them. ‘I love you,’ Jason murmured, ‘so very much.’ The rest was details.

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