The crisp autumn air is a welcome change, cutting through the angry humidity for once and blessing campus with winds that skitter dried leaves across pathways. They crunch under Rhett’s feet on the walk back to the dorm, and he flexes and relieves his fingers of some strain; turns out a gallon of milk and a box of Frosted Mini Wheats aren’t the easiest thing to carry in a single plastic bag. Heavy and awkward.
Maybe I should’ve waited until I was home to eat the Slim Jims. Now it just looks like I went by the corner store to grab a treat for Link.
Not that that’s a bad thing, I guess.
He didn't respond fast enough, but he’d definitely be sore if I didn’t bring back a consolation prize.
Shouldering his jacket tighter, Rhett jogs the last few paces to their building. Usually he takes the stairs, but exhaustion nags at him to use the elevator. Sequestered in the tight space, Rhett digs out his phone and checks the time as he’s carried up.
Crap. Link had responded, just a few minutes ago.
I don’t need anything.
We should talk when
you get back to the dorm.
Rhett reads the second text thrice. Instant nausea.
“We should talk”—what happened? Why’s he sound so… stern ? Something must have happened, Rhett decides, and as a mind is wont to do in situations like this, his goes into overdrive seeking out culprits and explanations: I said something that pissed him off; I left something messy in the room; or, worst, I did something in my sleep again and this time he… he wants to put it out into the open.
Too soon the metal doors ping open, and Rhett steps out in a daze, no longer minding the burn of his fingers now that his stomach is sharp and acrid.
He could run away. He could head to the library or something and make up some bullshit about being held up by an acquaintance once he feels okay enough to handle… whatever Link is springing on him. Who cares if the milk spoils? Oh, geeze, now the cereal is going to seem like a gift to try to guilt him into a better mood.
Frozen in the hallway, Rhett is numb. Avoiding this would only make things worse, wouldn’t it? They always read texts from one another right away, and having been expecting an answer back from Link, he can’t hide behind benefit of doubt.
I gotta go in there.
Heart racing, Rhett pockets his phone in movements too sluggish to feel like his own and starts for their room, flighty mind doings it best to keep pace with his pulse.
There’s no way he knows. My dream journal is in my Drive, which he doesn’t have access to, and we already—I already essentially dry-humped him once. It’s gotta be something else. Something smaller and insignificant, and I’m blowing it way out of proportion.
When he gets to their door, he pauses. Inside Rhett can hear the TV droning away, and that melts some of his anxiety.
I’m overreacting. He just said he wants to talk.
Probably spent more money than he meant to over the past few days and is panicking.
Rhett dives into his pocket for his keys and unlocks the door. What bravery he’d felt upon hearing some show playing is quashed when he’s greeted with the sight of Link sitting in the desk chair—flipped around to face the door. He's wearing all dark colors ( Why is that unnerving?) and has his hands folded in his lap. He’s decidedly not looking at the TV, and instead his eyes are trained closely on Rhett. Biding. Restrained.
“Uhh… hey,” Rhett says, letting himself in and shutting the door behind him gently.
“Hey. Welcome home.” The usual happy tweak to the words isn’t there; today, it’s a platitude. For a moment he simply watches, and Rhett feels the burning intensity of a gaze on his profile as he sets the grocery bag next to the mini-fridge and takes off his backpack.
“Did you get my text?” asks Link, and Rhett’s innards somersault. Fighting down the urge to lie, he considers it and then nods, looking at Link from the corner of his eye.
“I think you should sit down.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
This is definitely a worst-case scenario.
“I’ll… I’ll stand, thanks,” Rhett responds. His voice is quiet. He straightens and slips his hands into his pockets, worrying the sharp edge of his key with his thumb. “Something wrong?”
Link doesn’t look happy about having his suggestion brushed aside like that. After nabbing the remote just long enough to turn off the television, he leans forward on his knees and laces his hands together. The unflinching way he stares up at Rhett from under stoic eyebrows. ..
“Do you know what this is about?”
Rhett swallows and tries to look innocent, can feel every minute twitch of his facial muscles as he fails to do so: not maintaining eye contact, frowning, brow creasing. “Nah. What’s goin’ on?”
“Don’t give me that crap, Rhett,” Link sighs, shaking his head and offsetting his jaw to sigh at the closet door. “I’ll give you one guess.”
Anything. Pick anything that isn’t damning.
“You’re mad I haven’t finished the pastries yet?” he guesses, feigning, feigning, feigning, and Link’s gaze turns absolutely venomous at what must sound like a flippant joke.
“You—I can’t—” He gives himself a second, chuckling into his lap before pushing to a stand. “You’re really gonna play dumb? Right now? How long is that gonna work for you, huh? You’re gonna make me say it, ‘cause you’re too big a coward?”
Tongue dry, Rhett swallows harsh and draws his shoulders back. His heart is going to break his ribs, he’s sure of it. The thin veil of sweat that’s conveniently snapped over his forehead isn’t helping, either. “Link, I don’t know what you’re—”
“You really think you can just freakin’...” Link throws his hands up, gaping at the floor in exasperation. “Freakin’ moan my name in your sleep every fuckin’ night without it eating away at me? You think I don’t hear that shit, that I can’t see when you rut into your mattress and beg for me?!”
Blood shocked to ice, Rhett turns his sights to the bed. Goes catatonic. Can’t move. Can’t breathe, as Link starts a tirade, pulling down glass bottles holding secrets and smashing them on the tiles that separate their bodies.
“How long has it been now, three weeks? I’m so goddamned exhausted, Rhett. At first it scared me, terrified me more than anything when I realized somethin’ was wrong with you,” he admits, shrill, the laugh at the edge of his tone dreadful and cold. “D’you know I talked to someone in the psych department recently and found out through them that there was never any ‘sleep study’? You just fuckin’— slinked off to go fantasize about me in private somewhere? How fucked up is that?!”
Rhett wants to respond. Wishes he had something— anything to offer at his shame being brought to light, but Link isn’t going to be interrupted.
“And then, that night we—you fell asleep next to me, and I felt sorry for you… shit, you were in such a rough state, Rhett. I let you sleep,” he recounts, looking at his palms like the scripture is there. “D’you have any idea what it’s like for your best friend to get off on you like that?! Just laying there next to you in bed, and—shit, Rhett, you know I love you, but what the fuck?!”
Rhett’s shoulders are drawn tight and high. He still can’t respond, has forgotten he has a throat or a mind or a body.
“So what is it, huh?” Link takes a few steps to close the distance between them, and that stuns Rhett back to reality; his back meets the door, not willing to surrender his personal space in the midst of this. “What—are you... are you gay?” Link asks, halting a foot away and glaring up at him with those injured sky eyes, waiting.
Rhett opens his mouth. Blinks, can’t seem to find it within him to shake his head.
“‘Cause the other options are way too fuckin’ real for you to not open up to me about,” presses Link, flailing his hands, bewildered. “Is it just me? Do you just—d’you think I’m sexy or something? And how long have you felt that way? Have you always looked at me like that, or is it a recent thing?”
Too blindsided to participate, Rhett simply stares at the face of consequence. Notices the wet of Link's eyes and the vein in his reddened neck, the impatient flick of his eyes as they dart between Rhett’s. Waiting. Wanting an explanation he can’t possibly give.
It takes too long, and Link balls his hands into fists in front of his own mouth, a seethe rolling down his body. “Rhett, fuckin' say something! ”
Rhett’s palms are tingling. Their eye contact is brimming, a lit fuse, and he can’t help waiting as he watches it burn down under Link’s attention.
“Are you in love with me?” Link asks, and it’s soft—but not in the way of forgiveness. It’s lined hard and terrible, the last few seconds before impact.
“Yeah. I’m in love with you,” Rhett whispers, and Link’s face falls.
First neutral, then resolute.
Then he punches Rhett in the jaw.
It’s fast, with a staggering amount of frustration behind it—knocks Rhett’s head back into the door and slumps him to the floor in a jolt, eyelids fluttering, room spinning, breaths coming in quicker. Link squats in front of him, angles of his sweet face now whet sharp. His next words are a hissing command.
“Then tell me.”
Eyes sliding up to him, Rhett cups his jaw and feels the already-forming bruise there, checking his hand for blood out of expectation alone. There isn’t any. “I—Link—”
“Tell me you love me,” Link repeats, the tears gone, elbows on his knees.
“Didn’t I…?” Rhett might've just had his lights rattled, but he’s sure of it, “I did, just now. I a-admitted it.”
“Not me me, you idiot,” Link spits, and he grabs Rhett by the collar and wrests them chest to chest, leaving him scrambling for support. “Tell him.”
Rhett blinks, keeps blinking.
And when the realization hits him, it’s paired with things that perhaps it shouldn’t be—but Link had just fuckin’ hauled off and punched him, and Rhett’s getting pretty goddamn sick of this kind of shit happening when he's supposed to be safe.
“You’re not real,” Rhett concludes aloud, tone stronger than before, and Link rolls his eyes, dropping him back to the floor.
“Such a freakin’ coward, Rhett. The second you realize this is a dream, suddenly it’s okay? Just ‘cause the consequences haven’t seeped out and ruined your life like they’re inevitably gonna, you now feel safe enough to continue waltzing around like a dishonest piece of shit.” Getting in his face, Link pokes him with a hard finger as Rhett’s face morphs into a scowl. “How’s it feel, safe in your little bubble? Letting it ruin your life and your friendship just so you’re not uncomfortable?”
Rhett presses his lips together and glances down at Link’s stomach long enough to ensure that’s where his kick will land . Link’s eyes go wide as he’s knocked halfway across the room, and Rhett takes the opportunity to stand up, no longer cornered.
“Is that what you think I’m doing?” he fires back, chest swelling while Link gawks up at him in shitless surprise—hand held to the point of contact on his sternum, grimacing. “You really think I’m doing this for my benefit alone?”
“Yes!” cries Link—and he scrambles to stand as well, not to be talked down to. “Don’t you dare go paradin’ around under some idea that you’re fucking protecting me by not letting me know how you feel, you asshole!”
Nostrils flaring, there’s a rumble deep in Rhett’s throat when he strides to close the distance between them. But as soon as he’s within distance, Link shoves him back—once, twice. On the third, Rhett ducks and rushes his shoulder into Link’s stomach, hoisting him into the air. Link shrieks, furious.
“Rhett, put me down!”
The words are barely out of Link’s mouth before he kicks viciously, narrowly missing Rhett’s crotch—but the pain that shoots through his groin is still enough to crumple Rhett with a strained cry, sending them both toppling to the floor. In the ensuing flurry of limbs struggling to come out on top, it’s Link who wins, crawling on top of Rhett’s middle to straddle him.
It doesn’t matter that Rhett snarls and puts a hand on his chest to push him off—Link swings again, and this time his fist connects with Rhett’s nose.
There’s a snapping noise followed by a blinding flash of pain, and Rhett roars and clasps both hands on the stinging, feeling the break of skin on the bridge and the wet warmth dribbling down his cheek.
“Y-You—” Shaking, he frowns hard at Link, staring weepy daggers—wills him to feel bad for the transgression, but Link is set in disdain, sneering down at him, chest heaving. “You fuckin’ broke my nose!”
Seeing red, Rhett snarls and retaliates—unable to get a full wind-up from his spot on the floor—and he misses his target, on top of that. But he still feels Link's mouth connect with his knuckles, and Link lets out a sputtering gasp. Once everything stills again, there’s blood running down both their faces. Link’s lip spouts a trickle. He opens his mouth to pant for air, shocked, and red paints his teeth and tongue as well. He spits, flecking metallic saliva over Rhett’s neck, and Rhett growls under him.
“I don’t wanna lose you, you fuckin’ asshole!” he rumbles, nasal from his injury. “If I tell you I love you, what if you don’t wanna hear it? What if this happens, in real life? I can’t—I can’t lose you, Link. You’re the only thing in my life that really matters. I don’t care where I am or what I’m doing with my life—so long as you’re there with me, it’s enough!”
Link’s not having it; he glowers in distaste of another wrong answer and rips up Rhett’s shirt to rake nails down his stomach in fast-burning rows.
With a pissed cry, Rhett snatches his wrists and tosses him to the floor, sending both into a mad dash to assume dominance. Thankfully this time it ends with Rhett on top, pinning Link down like usual with the dead move, and Link yells ire and obscenities and kicks, specks of blood spattering from his lips as he fights.
“Rhett, I swear to God—”
“Listen to me!!” Rhett bellows, loud enough to still him into silence.
Rhett draws back to look down at him. The loathing is still clear on Link’s beaten face, he's still drawing ragged air between bloody teeth. He tilts his head to the side just enough to spit another mouthful on the floor, not once breaking eye contact. Meanwhile, Rhett feels the warmth trickling down a new path, away from his cheeks—over his lips and into his beard. Sees it fall in thick droplets onto Link’s shirt, soaking into the dark fabric like it doesn’t exist.
Swallowing, Rhett feels the burn of his combined wounds: his aching jaw, throbbing groin, stinging stomach, and gushing face. His throat still works.
“I love you, you prick ,” he presses, arms shaking. “But I’m not stupid. Me and you?” he laughs, hollow, and Link’s eyes lose a bit of their bite. “It’s never gonna happen. I know it’s one-sided, and I’m okay with that. I’d been fine with it until you came along—so why the fuck would I tell him when that would risk everything?!”
Link is still. He doesn’t struggle, just eyes Rhett, coming down from his boiling upset.
“You’d really rather just do this, then?” he asks in a murmur, swallowing. It's a last ditch effort to make Rhett see the absurdity of it all, like he doesn’t already know how pathetic he is. “You just wanna have control over your dreams ‘cause you’re too scared to try and control the real thing?”
“I don’t want to control the real thing. Link, you’re—you’re not a prize to keep. You’re a person. You're my best friend, and we’ve both envisioned how our lives were gonna go for a long time now,” says Rhett in a hush. His head feels light on his shoulders, woozy and oddly euphoric. “I’m in your plan. We’re both in each other’s plans… but not like that.”
Link doesn’t respond. For the first time, his focus falls away, following the small stream running through Rhett’s beard. Morose.
“I would love it, if that were the case,” chuckles Rhett, trying not to cry at the idea itself. Being with Link. Like a sunspot in his heart too bright to look at. “But it’s not. So… if I can at least control my dreams, I can stop this. I don’t—” He falters, reaching down and wiping Link’s split lip, but the blood simply spouts fresh. “Don’t wanna dream about you anymore. About him. ”
“Asshole,” Link says, and when Rhett meets his gaze, the anger is back. He swirls his tongue inside his cheeks, swallowing again, and Rhett can imagine the copper he must be taking down. “The least you could do is keep me here. Where it’s safe.”
“S’torture,” Rhett whispers with a small smile, listless. “It ain’t right. Ain’t fair to him.”
Blinking hard, Rhett considers Link with renewed eyes. Brow furrowed. “What...?”
“You think being able to control your dreams will keep me outta them?” Link asks, smirking in pity, and he laughs once, curt. “You can’t fight it, Rhett. It’ll only make it worse. If you’re too spineless to talk to him, you’ve gotta take care of me here. I wish you’d tell him—but if you absolutely can’t… then you have to keep me here. As an outlet. For both our sakes’.”
Rhett hesitates, easing his weight off of Link entirely. Link doesn't try to fight anymore.
Isn’t this just my brain fighting with me? Telling me what I want to hear?
Excusing me from consequences? Rationalizing?
“You might go mad without it,” Link promises, and he eases up onto his elbows to kiss Rhett, ignoring any discomfort from his split lip.
Rhett’s nerves and soreness melt with a timid groan, and he’s debating whether tongue would hurt when Link breaches that gap for them—he licks into Rhett’s mouth, tasting of warm metal and understanding. Rhett caves, one hand finding its way to the back of Link’s head and drawing them close, stroking through his hair. When Link responds in kind, wrapping his arms up around Rhett’s shoulders, he breaks to ask low, “Will you touch me? Please?”
“Yeah,” nods Rhett, bracing his knees on either side of Link’s hips, still holding his head up and undoing Link’s jeans with his free hand. Link trembles out an anticipatory breath as Rhett grazes against his arousal and takes him in hand, enjoying the hard shift to care. Only pausing to spit into his hand—once and wiped off, twice and wiped off, and the third time it runs clear—Rhett wets Link’s length, pumping him shallow and soft.
It’s a drastic change in the air, but Link gasps grateful against it and lets his lids fall, watching Rhett’s lips. His body tenses, curls closer, and Rhett lowers his head and holds him. Focuses on making him feel cherished after such a horrible mess.
“I really banged you up, huh?” Link asks, and Rhett moves to press their foreheads together. Link is looking cross-eyed at his nose, smiling, features twitching every time Rhett strokes over his head.
“Is it bad?” Rhett mumbles with his own smile, hearing the clotted congestion of his septum, and Link smiles.
“I dunno… kinda like the way you look when you’re a little roughed up. S’hot.”
Blushing, Rhett leans in for another kiss, wrist now flicking in quick tugs between them. Link hums, bucking up just barely. “You look like an action hero,” he observes with another chuckle, and Rhett huffs a laugh.
“Wish I could say the same for you. Can’t believe I punched you in the face.”
“I did it first,” Link reminds him, breathy, thighs clenching under Rhett’s. “I’d say I got the better shot, too.”
“I can still bust up that pretty face, if you want,” Rhett jokes—but Link moans, settling his head into the crook of Rhett’s neck. His arms tighten pleasantly before he comes over Rhett’s fingers, dribbling and warm, and Rhett’s hit with a furious blush at the thought that Link likes their hands on one another in any context.
“Ahh,” Link breaths, kissing his throat—no doubt leaving a lipstick stain of his own wound—and then he’s batting Rhett’s hand away from his over-sensitive length, apologetic. “Oh, gosh—too much, I’m done.”
Rhett pulls away and wipes his hand on his pants. "You like it rough.”
“You're good at bein' rough with me,” Link admits, suddenly-sleepy looking and content despite his state of being.
For a while, Link stares at him. Rhett stares back, unabashed, face-to-face with this arrangement. Acknowledging it, and not looking away.
This is best for everyone.
“You really want control over your dreams that badly?” Link asks in a whisper, tilting his head to the side.
Reaching up, Rhett drags a thumb along Link’s lip and stops short of the torn skin. Looking at it. There's so much blood. On both of them.
I don’t wanna see him hurt. Not even in a dream.
“Yeah,” he admits, eyes ticking back up to Link’s.
Link smiles, genuine, and nods. “Alright then. If you think that’s best.”
When Rhett finishes the run of his thumb along Link’s lip, there’s no cut.
There’s not even any blood.
They’re left huddled on the floor together, unscathed and clean, no more aches or pains, and Rhett lets his lids fall shut and takes a deep breath through his nose, clear of damage, fluid.
“Thank you,” he murmurs, voice thick, and Link smiles.