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The Spaces Between Us

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“Sober, my ass,” Daniel said, as he climbed out of the car. “You’re lucky there were no cops on the road.”

“Yeah, yeah. Save it for the mat,” Johnny said as he slammed his door shut.

“Hey, I didn’t say yes,” he said, as he walked toward the dojo. Johnny joined him by his side.

“Oh, come on, one time,” Johnny said, and it sounded a lot like a whine. “You know, like at the end of Rocky 3 when -”

“Right, when Rocky and Apollo fight for fun.” He rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips. “Yeah, okay. One time, and one time only.”

Johnny clenched his fists in a winning gesture. “It is on.”

They walked into the dojo, and both removed their shoes.

“How about we top off the night first?” he asked, as he headed toward the kitchenette in the back. He cracked open the cupboard and retrieved a bottle of rum.

“Sure. It's a nice place you got here.”

“Thanks,” Daniel said, pouring it into two glasses. When he returned to the dojo, Johnny was admiring one of the tapestries on the wall. Daniel handed him one of the glasses.

“To the winner,” he said, raising it in a toast. Johnny did the same, and they both swallowed it down in one go.

It burned down his throat, leaving a hot feeling in the pit of his stomach. Johnny made a face, and coughed.

“Shit,” Johnny asked, voice raspy.

Daniel took the glasses and went to place them on the side table. When he returned to the mat, Johnny was taking off his belt.

“What are you doing,” the words tumbled out of his mouth.

Johnny’s lips quirked in a smile. “Getting ready to kick your ass,” he said, as he threw his belt to the floor and then proceeded to take off his checkered shirt, leaving only a dark gray t-shirt underneath.

In the low light of the dojo, Johnny’s skin looked golden. Daniel dropped his eyes and flushed. He removed his own belt, and on second thought, his watch too.

When he positioned himself on the mat, Johnny was stretching his arms behind his back, and jerking them sideways. He got into the right stance  with his arms on either side of their body. They bowed.

And then the fight was on.

They circled each other for a while, watching one another, analyzing. It was Johnny who threw the first move. He delivered a hand strike to his shoulder, Daniel blocked it with his forearm and backed off a few steps. They circled each other again. Daniel aimed a crescent kick at his chest. Johnny sidestepped it, before turning around and elbowing Daniel in the chest. He let out a grunt and stumbled backward.

That’s how they fought for a while— a mix of strike, strike, block, strike — until finally, Johnny charged into him and threw him over his shoulder. Daniel landed on his back with a grunt.

Johnny appeared in his field of vision with a cocky grin.

“Come on, one more time.”

“Johnny—”

“Come on,” Johnny said, extending an arm in his direction. “Or are you afraid I’ll beat you again?”

Daniel ignored the way his head spun. He grabbed Johnny’s hand and pulled himself to his feet. He didn’t know how long they spent sparring, but little by little, his limbs started to feel more and more sluggish and slow; every movement taking twice the effort for half the efficiency. Johnny seemed to be affected too, missing more times than not.

At the end, Johnny threw a side-kick, Daniel blocked it with his shin before swiveling on his foot in a roundhouse kick. He lost his balance half-way through, and fell sideways until he lay sprawled on the mat, with something solid underneath him.

He blinked hard to regain his focus. He was lying half on top of Johnny, with his face in the crook of the man’s elbow and an arm wrapped around his chest.

That’s when the realization hit him.

“I’m drunk.”

Johnny laughed, his chest shaking under Daniel’s arm.

He knew distantly that he should move, but he was so comfortable, a languid exhaustion settling in his bones. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good sparring partner, one who didn’t need to be corrected every two minutes.

He thought once again about the man underneath him. Maybe now was the right time to ask him the question that had been on his mind ever since they’d bonded at the bar.

“Do you think we could’ve been friends?” he asked, voice muffled against his elbow.

Johnny hummed in question.

He got up shakily and dug his elbow into Johnny’s chest, leaning over him. “In high-school, do you think we could’ve been friends?”

Up close, Johnny looked pleasantly buzzed with heavy-lidded eyes. “I don’t know. We do seem to have a lotta things in common.”

“Yeah… That’s what I thought.”

“You were kinda obsessed with me though.”

“What?” Daniel asked, squinting.

“You were obsessed with me in high-school.”

Daniel’s head spun again, and he dug his elbow deeper to ground himself. “I wasn’t obsessed with you.”

“C’mon, LaRusso. Stealin' my girl. Doin' karate. It all rings obsession to me.”

“Yeah, well what about you? Everywhere I went, you were just standing there, staring at me.”

“Like I said, you stole my girl.”

“Really? All that staring just because of a girl?”

They looked at each other in the eyes, then Johnny’s eyes dropped down to his lips, lingering, before snapping back up.

Then, sounding not convincing at all, “Yeah.”

Daniel’s mouth went dry. Had he just imagined that? No, he definitely hadn’t.

“Why did you just do that?” Daniel asked through his parched throat.

Johnny swallowed thickly. “Do what?”

“You— you looked at my lips.”

Johnny seemed to take it as a cue to look at his lips again. This time, his eyes stayed there.

“I don’t know.”

Then, a hand grabbed him by the neck and pulled him down. Their lips touched, a second that seemed to last an eternity, before Daniel jerked back. His heart was racing in his chest, a rapid staccato against his rib cage.

He looked down at Johnny, with his blue eyes and tousled hair; and for a split-second, another face transposed itself upon him, a younger, smoother version with mischief in his eye and a perpetual smirk on his lips.

Daniel’s stomach tightened, and just like that, the memory flooded back to him. Lying in his bed late at night, thinking about Johnny with a mix of fear and arousal tugging low in his gut. Wondering whether he was going bump into him the next day at school. Wishing that he would.

It’s Johnny, a little voice said inside of him like it was all the explanation that he needed. It’s Johnny.

He leaned down and connected their lips again. Johnny let out a breath through his nose and threaded his fingers through Daniel’s hair, before just holding on.

He didn’t know whose lips parted first, but suddenly their tongues were brushing against one another; a slow, tentative stroke that caused a bolt of arousal to shoot through Daniel. They did it again and again, their lips and tongues melding like waves crashing into each other.

Daniel moved until he was fully on top of Johnny, their chests pressed together, their long legs tangled in a single mass. Johnny’s mouth was hot and rich with the taste of the rum, and with every flick of his tongue, Daniel could feel himself slipping further and further away.

Then, Daniel’s world titled and he was lying on his back, with Johnny nestled between his legs. Johnny touched his cheek, and Daniel opened wider, jaw going slack as Johnny explored his mouth deeper. He dipped his hands under Johnny’s shirt, and stroked over the wide expanse of his back, the curve of his ribs.

There was something at the back of Daniel’s mind, a niggling thought that told him that he shouldn’t be doing this, that he shouldn’t be marveling at the softness of Johnny’s skin underneath his fingertips. But the thought was quickly drowned out by Johnny sucking on his lower lip, a hint of teeth, before delving back into his mouth. Daniel rolled his hips and shuddered when the hard line of Johnny’s dick rubbed against him.

Johnny trailed his tongue against the roof of Daniel’s mouth, and soon their hips were occupied in a slow, lazy grind. Daniel let the fire in his belly settle, fanned it with every swipe of his tongue. It felt good to have someone else take the lead. Not to have to always be the one in control.

The thought was strange. Daniel tried to focus on it again, but before he could make sense, it slipped away like sand sifting through his fingers. He searched deeper, waded through the muddle of his mind, even as Johnny’s tongue plundered into his mouth.

It was there, the source of all his discomfort, the stray thought that was causing his body to now tighten with anxiety. No, it wasn’t a thought. It was a name that tore through his mind like a whirling maelstrom.

Amanda.

He jerked back, a string of spit still connecting their lips, and turned his head sideways. Johnny’s hips stuttered to a stop. Now, the panic was getting stronger. It was in his chest, rising and rising.

“Hey,” Johnny said, nosing at Daniel’s cheek. “What’s wrong?”

Daniel’s stomach twisted and turned. Fingers wrapped loosely around his neck, a reassuring weight that ground him but did nothing to alleviate the pressure in his chest.

“LaRusso.”

Daniel shook his head. There was a lump in his throat like cement. He swallowed multiple times, trying to dislodge it, but it was still there. When he finally spoke, his voice was ragged.

“I—” He breathed in and out. In and out. “I’m married.”

The words dropped like stones in the stillness between them. He could feel Johnny’s breath against his cheek, hot and intimate; and the smell of him, a masculine scent that surrounded him.

Daniel slowly turned his head up. Johnny was just staring at him, his chest heaving with every quiet breath. He pressed his lips together, and dropped his eyes.

“Yeah,” Johnny said, rubbing a thumb against the hollow of Daniel’s throat. His eyes snapped back up, and then in an even softer voice. “Yeah.”

He gave one last caress before he got to his feet.

Daniel’s body felt cold without Johnny’s warm heavy weight on top of him. His head was spinning again, and this time, there was the unmistakable rise of bile in his throat.

He closed his eyes, and breathed again. He heard the clink of metal, the sound of muffled footsteps, the door swinging open.

When he opened his eyes, Johnny was gone.