Echoes Inhabit the Garden - carleton97

There were certain things about After that didn't surprise Casey.

Zeke somehow managed to talk his way out of high school and into MIT.

Delilah re-evaluated the whole being-nice-to-people thing and reclaimed the title of biggest bitch in four counties.

Stokley abandoned her brief flirtation with Laura Ashley and Stan and was back to eyeliner and unrelenting black.

Stan returned to the safety of the team.

And Casey ... he was still designated whipping boy.

There were surprising things, though.

Zeke emailed him a couple of times a week just to keep in touch and to complain about 'the morons in the bio-chem department.'

Delilah didn't automatically blame him when things went wrong at the paper.

Stokley managed to stay friends with all of them, even Delilah.

Stan was making a concerted effort to keep his grades up.

And Casey ... tutored him.

***

"Hey, douchebag!"

Casey's entire body tensed. Shit. Shit! He knew better than to get caught in the bathroom after school, but someone had smeared grape jelly on the handle of his locker.

The ritual beatings occurred less frequently now, and never in public, but it only seemed to increase their ferocity. He nudged his bag further under the sink in the hopes that his camera would avoid the damage his body couldn't.

He glanced in the mirror and didn't know whether to be relieved or not. There were only three of them this time, but it was Gabe and two of his linemen. Casey let his body go limp as the biggest of the three grabbed him by his shirt and slammed him against the wall hard enough to force the air from his lungs.

Gabe smiled as he gasped for breath, "And here I thought I wasn't going to have the chance to see you today, loser."

Lucky me, Casey thought as he was dropped to his feet just in time to catch Gabe's punch low on his back, I just *stopped* peeing blood.

When he would have fallen to his knees, rough hands bruising his upper arms kept him standing and for once he was glad of it. He didn't think he could take getting the shit kicked out of him so soon after last week's pre-game festivities.

The bathroom door opened, but all Casey could see out of the corner of his eye was the familiar blur of a letter jacket. Great. Reinforcements. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself somewhere more pleasant.

Like Hell.

"What the fuck is going on here, Gabe?" Stan's voice was oddly quiet. "I'm pretty sure I told you to leave him alone."

What? Casey tried to squirm away from his captors, but was rewarded with a sharp shake that rattled his teeth.

"Come on, Stan. We're just having a little fun, isn't that right, Connor?" Gabe's easy smile belied the force of the supposedly friendly punch he threw at Casey's diaphragm.

The rest of the testosterone posing was lost on Casey as he coughed and desperately tried catch his breath. Between the pain and getting the wind knocked out of him, he wasn't really surprised when his vision started to gray out. He fought against unconsciousness, though, unwilling to be completely vulnerable before Gabe and his henchmen. When he finally refocused, it seemed he'd missed most of the showdown.

"... bluffing. I'd suggest you not fuck with me on this, Gabe." Casey didn't think he'd ever heard that tone of voice from Stan before, not even During. It was cold and hard and ... strangely compelling. "Now let him go."

Casey wasn't let go so much as dropped with a side of shoved. He tried to stay on his feet, he really did, but the extra push Gabe gave him sent him bouncing off a sink and to the ground.

Stan took a step forward, but otherwise stayed where he was until the other three were gone, brushing by him roughly as they left. Only then did he relax his guard and drop to his knees next to Casey. "Are you okay?"

Casey propped himself against the wall and ran a quick inventory of his body. His ribs, arms, stomach, back, & kidneys were all bruised, but nothing out of the ordinary. Gabe really hadn't had the chance to inflict any real damage. "I'm fine. It wasn't too bad."

Stan's jaw clenched, but his hand was gentle when he pushed up the sleeve of Casey's t-shirt and ran his thumb over skin that was already starting to bruise. "This isn't too bad?"

Casey shrugged and did his best to ignore how Stan's skin felt against his. Thoughts like that only led to madness and traction. "It wasn't too bad."

Something violent flashed in Stan's eyes, but was gone before Casey could react to it. And he was pretty sure when Stan opened his mouth, asking if he wanted a ride home wasn't what he was originally going to say.

Huh.

***

Stan shifted a little uneasily on the front steps. Casey's house was dark and quiet and it was a little too deserted looking for Stan's liking. Casey looked at him strangely as he jiggled the key in the deadbolt and Stan flushed a little. He knew Casey had to be wondering why he was following him into the house when he should have just dropped him off and gone home.

He tried to convince himself it had nothing to do with how soft Casey's skin was or the way he smiled when Stan mastered yet another geometry chapter, but he was sick of lying to himself. Hell, Stokley had called him on it after catching the tail end of one tutoring session. Luckily, she'd been more amused than pissed and had begun planning a stealthy campaign to help him out.

Which was an immensely cool thing to do for your ex-not-quite-boyfriend.

"So where are your parents?"

The lock finally gave and Casey pushed the door open. "They're off on some second honeymoon for the weekend."

He followed Casey up the stairs and into what had to be his bedroom. Stan gaped as he turned in a circle, trying to take it all in. Every single inch of available space was covered in photographs. Most of them were black and white, but a few were color. There were candid shots of people at school and around town, nature shots, and a few staged photos that reminded Stan of paintings he'd seen when Delilah had dragged him to the museum.

"Did you take all of these?"

Casey seemed surprised as he looked around his room, as if he'd forgotten his walls were papered with photographs. "Yeah. I only had a few up for the longest time, but Afterwards it seemed like I couldn't take enough pictures."

"So these are all new?" Stan leaned forward to study a section that seemed to be made up of the five of them.

"Not really. Most of the candids are older, but the nature stuff is new."

A picture of Zeke lounging on Casey's bed caught his eye. He hadn't realized he and Casey were so close. "When's this from?"

Casey glanced at the photo Stan was pointing at and laughed. "Last month. Zeke's mom had summoned him home for some reason and he stopped by to escape her for a while."

He heard the easy affection in Casey's voice and fought down an irrational surge of jealousy. "I didn't know you and Zeke were such good friends."

Casey smiled a bit. "He's a good guy."

Stan made a noncommittal noise and sat backwards in Casey's desk chair, resting his chin on his stacked fists. He was torn between assuming the worst and satisfying his curiosity as to exactly how 'good' a friend Zeke was. He watched moodily as Casey pulled his camera out of his bag and fiddled with it for a second before turning quickly and snapping a picture.

"Hey!"

"Just adding to the collection." Casey set the camera on the desk and glanced at his alarm clock. "Don't you have a game tonight?"

"No, we've got a bye this week."

"So you're going to sit in my room all night?" Stan looked up quickly at the question, but relaxed at Casey's smile.

And came to a decision.

"No. No we're not. Come on." He stood and nodded towards the door.

Casey raised his eyebrows, but grabbed his camera and stowed it in its bag. He took a step towards the door before stopping, grimacing down at his shirt, and turning towards his dresser. "Hold on."

"What's wrong?"

"I just need to change. I've got grape jelly all over my shirt."

"Wear something - " Stan completely lost his train of thought as Casey pulled off his t-shirt. "Jesus Christ, Casey."

Stan knew bruises. You couldn't play football for long without becoming familiar with the colorful progression of red to black to yellow. The bruises mottling Casey's upper body ranged from faint shadows ringing his upper arms that Stan knew would darken to finger marks by the end of the night to faded yellowish-green splotches over his ribs.

Casey flushed and lowered his eyes, turning back towards his dresser. He reached for a clean shirt, flinching violently when a warm hand touched his back.

Stan felt like crying when Casey instinctively jerked away from him, but really couldn't blame the other boy. He let his fingers ghost over the outline of an especially dark bruise on his shoulder. "How long has it been like this?"

He didn't raise his eyes and, in fact, seemed to shrink a little under the soft touch, but he answered Stan's whisper with one of his own. "Junior high."

Six years? This has been going on for six years? Stan always knew Casey got picked on and that Gabe and some of the guys on the team were a little rough sometimes, but he never realized it was like this. He thought what he interrupted this afternoon was as bad as it got, that Casey was just putting a brave face on things when he claimed what happened this afternoon was nothing.

"I'm sorry." He hated himself in that moment. Hated the complacency that kept blinded him to Gabe's brutality even after everything that happened earlier in the fall. He skimmed his fingers across Casey's shoulder blades and let his hand let his hand settle on the back of his neck.

Casey shivered the tiniest bit under his hand and Stan felt an answering shudder work its way down his spine. Touching Casey was...very nice. When the smaller boy didn't object to the touch, he left his hand where it was for several seconds longer than he should have and dared to brush his thumb over the skin behind his ear when he reluctantly pulled away. "Wear a sweatshirt or something. It'll be colder by the lake."

***

Slouched in the passenger seat of Stan's car, Casey tried to chart the path of events that led from getting beat up in the bathroom to heading towards 'the lake' with Stan.

The path involved way more non-violent touching than Casey was used to, though, so he ignored that part and instead focused on the lake part. "Where exactly are we going?"

Stan shrugged a little and pulled onto the highway. "When my grandpa died, he left me a little lake cabin a half an hour or so from here. Since it's mine, it's my job to make sure it stays in good condition."

Casey thought about pursing Stan's decision to take care of the cabin tonight, but if he wanted waste the one Friday of the season he didn't have a game, that was his business. Besides, Casey had more important things to ask. "What did you threaten Gabe with?"

Stan shifted in his seat and Casey thought maybe he was blushing. "I told him I had pictures of him and a girl from a party last month."

"What's the big deal about that?" Casey would have thought Gabe was the kind of guy who'd love having evidence of his 'prowess.'

"She was thirteen."

"Oh." Casey blinked when he remembered Gabe had turned eighteen at the end of last year. "Oh! Holy fuck. Do you really have pictures?"

"Well, no."

"Wait, you made an empty threat against Gabe?" Casey was dead. *Stan* was dead. Gabe was going to find out the truth and then they'd both be dead.

"Well, asking nicely didn't work, did it?" Now Stan was getting annoyed.

That was another thing. "Why did you even bother in the first place? I never asked you for help." Casey ignored how ridiculous his argument sounded.

"What? You enjoy getting the shit kicked out of you on a regular basis?"

Casey considered that question rhetorical and contented himself with shooting Stan a dirty look before settling back into the seat. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate Stan's attempt to help - it was nice to have someone in his corner for a change - but he was afraid Stan's assistance was only going to result in more pain.

And not necessarily all from Gabe.

It would be so easy to pretend Stan's kindness meant more than it did. To let himself believe it wasn't just his good nature prompting him to put a stop to the abuse. To imagine the friendly touches were an invitation to something ... more.

But Casey wasn't stupid and, despite his continued school attendance, he didn't have a death wish, so he pushed himself deeper into the bucket seat and stared out the window. He wasn't actually pouting. Really.

"Casey?" He heard Stan shift uneasily in his seat. "Come on, Casey. I was just trying to help."

"I know you were, Stan." It wasn't exactly grudging because Stan was just so *sincere*, but it was because he wanted so much more. "I'm just - I'm tired of it all."

He hadn't meant to say that, to sound so broken, even to his own ears, but Stan deserved the truth. He *was* tired of it. Of everything. He huddled back into the seat, truly miserable for the first time in a long while and the gentle hand that landed on his shoulder did little to help. He clenched his teeth against the urge to just let everything out. What it was like to be small and weak and hunted. To be scared. To not remember what his unblemished body looked like. He didn't want Stan's pity, though. He didn't want the friendship and whatever else he thought he saw lurking behind his eyes to fade into some sort of avuncular compassion.

So he pulled himself together and away from Stan.

Or, at least, he tried to. Stan's hand tightened on his shoulder just enough to prevent him from moving away. "Because you don't deserve it."

"What?"

"You asked me why." Stan shrugged and put his hand back on the wheel, obviously uncomfortable with the discussion. "We're almost there. Do you have film for your camera?"

"Of course. Why?"

Stan smiled over at him as he turned off the main road. "No reason."

The narrow, rutted dirt road seemed to go on forever and the tall pine trees filtered out much of the late afternoon sunlight. It reminded Casey a bit too much of about half the horror movies he'd seen. "You're not taking me out to the woods to kill me, are you?"

Stan laughed under his breath. "You've been watching movies with Stokley again, haven't you?"

Casey tried to frown at the other boy, but his good natured laughter was too much to resist, "Yeah, well, see if we save your ass when it's a mutant killing machine instead of an body-snatching alien queen."

His response only seemed to make Stan laugh harder, but that was fine with Casey. He felt the last of his tension drain away with the laughter. He didn't exactly buy Stan's explanation, but was relieved to leave the whole uncomfortable conversation behind them.

Stan steered the car around the final bend in the road, glancing almost nervously at Casey as the car rolled to a gentle stop. He started to ask what was wrong when he caught a glimpse of their surroundings. He opened the car door and slid out in a daze, trying to take everything in. Most of the trees had yet to drop their leaves, so the whole clearing was surrounded by more shades of red and orange and yellow than he could name. The cabin, tiny and lovingly cared-for, sat to their left. Through the trees, he could see the sparkle of the lake.

A barely perceptible breeze stirred through the leaves and brought with it the scent of pine.

It was perfect.

Almost before he realized what he was doing, he had his camera in his hand. He looked to Stan and gestured around, silently asking for permission to explore. The other boy smiled and waved him off.

"Go crazy. There are a couple of trails behind the house and one towards the lake, as long as you stay on one of them you should be fine."

"Thanks, Stan." Already digging in his camera bag for a different lens, Casey took off towards the lake, intent on capturing the play of light on water.

Well over an hour later, Casey shivered and came back to himself. His pockets were stuffed with used rolls of film and the bottom of his jeans were soaked where they had fallen out of hastily rolled cuffs and into the water, but he was happy. If his photographs turned out like he thought they would, he'd have some excellent additions to his portfolio.

Now that his mind wasn't occupied with the particulars of aperture and shutter speed and film grain, it was harder for Casey to ignore the circling of his thoughts. What the hell was Stan doing bringing him here? To this beautiful place that obviously meant a lot to him? Casey had to stop himself from, yet again, reading more into Stan's actions than the other boy could possibly have meant. It was driving him crazy, wanting what he absolutely could not have. Against all odds, Stan was his friend and he didn't have so many friends that he could afford to chase one away.

Shaking his head at himself, he sat on a broad, flat rock and shoved damp feet into socks and shoes. There wasn't a lot of daylight left and he didn't want to risk wandering off the path, so he headed back towards the house.

Casey crested the slight rise between the lake and the cabin and had to stop as he tripped over his own feet. On the other side of the small clearing, Stan had stripped down to just his jeans and was chopping wood near the corner of the cabin. He was sweating a little in the cool autumn air, perspiration giving him a slight glow in the light of the setting sun. He rested the axe against the block and began to rearrange the stack of wood piled against the side of the house.

The play of muscle under smooth skin was very nearly too much for Casey. He wanted to cross the 20 yards separating them and press himself against Stan's strong back, to trace the line of his spine and taste the curve of his shoulder. He stumbled forward a few steps before he caught himself and jerked to a halt. In self-defense, trying to create some distance between himself and Stan, trying to view the sheer beauty of the other boy dispassionately, he raised his camera.

***

Stan didn't recognize the sound the first few times he heard it. It was just a quiet clicking that seemed vaguely familiar. It only took him a minute or so, though, to realize he was hearing Casey's camera. He shrugged it off, figuring the smaller boy was somewhere close by, photographing bugs or leaves or something, and went back to chopping and stacking wood for his cabin.

For as long as he could remember, Stan had loved this place. Some of his favorite childhood memories involved trailing after his grandfather as he checked on trees, monitored streams, and cleaned up the lakefront. Taking care of this place didn't seem like work to Stan, though it could be physically grueling. It was a labor of love he'd gladly assumed first when his grandfather was too ill to continue and then when he'd passed away and left his legacy to Stan.

He had never shared this place with anyone; not his teammates, not his friends, not even Delilah when they were dating. Hell, his parents didn't even come up here. It was the one place in the world that was his and his alone.

And he'd brought Casey here.

He couldn't help but laugh at himself. Even if, as he suspected, Casey was just as into boys as he was girls, there was no way he'd go for a jock like Stan - someone so similar to Gabe and the rest of the cavemen who had abused him for years. No, Zeke with his genius IQ and his slacker charm was much more likely to catch Casey's eye. Stan had a sudden vision of Zeke and Casey on Casey's narrow bed, a tangle of pale bodies, and had to close his eyes for a second.

Love was such a bitch.

Trying to push aside his unhappiness and jealousy, he stretched, raising the axe over his head and bending backwards a bit. The clicking of the shutter increased for a second and from the corner of his eye, Stan saw Casey.

Photographing him.

His first impulse was to wave Casey over, but for some reason he pretended he didn't see him and went back to chopping wood. The slightly uneven rhythm of the task soothed him and he began reevaluating a couple of things. Like Casey always leaning into his touch for a second before pulling away. Or how his eyes sometimes followed Stan. Or the way he'd shivered this afternoon when Stan had touched his neck - even though his room had been almost uncomfortably warm.

Stan's hands tingled from the jolt of steel against wood and he was reminded of Casey's skin under his fingers. Casey was pretty obviously not used to being touched and Stan had been trying to change that. He had spent weeks slowly trying to let Casey get used to his touch - brushing against him in the hallway, nudging his hand to get his attention, letting the length of his leg rest against his in the library - but Casey stubbornly remained skittish. Not that Stan could really blame him now that he knew the extent of the damage Gabe had inflicted over the years.

This afternoon was a little different, though.

Casey had shivered.

He felt a little thrill at the thought of Casey responding to his touch. In the fantasies he allowed himself, he'd never quite been sure how Casey would react to him. Even after he'd convinced himself the other boy was at least bi, he'd been uncertain of Casey's willingness to simply let himself feel. That tiny shiver proved to him Casey was everything he could ever hope to want - smart, beautiful, funny and responsive. He was much more of a prize than Stan was, he was sure.

He knew most people thought he was stupid because he liked football and had a reputation for blowing off schoolwork but, while he readily admitted he wasn't a genius like Zeke or book smart like Casey, he was smart enough to get by. And there was one thing he was brilliant at: strategy.

There was a reason he was captain of the team and there was a reason Coach had him watch hours and hours of game footage before designing plays. He could recognize and capitalize on the tiniest gaps in a defense. He saw and took advantage of the smallest weakness in an offense. Working out the specifics of a relationship with Casey was close enough to engineering a victory at Homecoming that he was pretty confident of the results.

There were risks to pursuing whatever this was with Casey. Some were avoidable, some not. The most important thing to Stan, though, was ensuring Casey's safety. The abuse Casey had already taken was bad enough, but if anyone found out he was involved with another guy, Stan wasn't sure how he could protect him. If he thought for a minute outing himself would help, he'd do it, but he knew the guys on the team well enough to know that would only make everything worse.

They could be careful, though. They were already spending time together with the tutoring and Stan had been moving away from the team and towards Casey and Stokley for the past several weeks. If he kept it up, it would only take a few weeks before him constantly hanging around Casey would go mostly unnoticed. Stokley would help too, he was sure of it. Well, once she stopped laughing at him.

Actually *starting* the relationship was the problem.

He was almost positive Casey was attracted to him, but he didn't know exactly what Casey wanted so he couldn't just throw it out there, 'So Casey, I've worked it out and it's entirely possible for us to date without anyone killing you.'

Yeah, that'd go over well.

And if Casey didn't feel the same way Stan did, if he just wanted someone to experiment with, Stan wasn't sure he could stand it. He knew he was kidding himself, though. He'd take whatever Casey offered without a second thought. He'd never even get to that point, though, if he didn't do *something* because Casey sure as hell wasn't going offer anything.

Which left seduction.

Stan grinned at the thought, picturing the cheesy candles-and-champagne routine Delilah had pulled on him last year. That didn't seem like Casey's style and he was damn sure it wasn't his, so it would have to be something a little more subtle. He thought about heading back to town and the privacy of Casey's empty house, but there was plenty of privacy here and he really wanted to see Casey stretched out against the faded quilt on his bed in the cabin.

He finished stacking the rest of the wood and was reaching into his bag for a bottle of water when inspiration struck. It was perfect. If nothing happened, he could brush it off as helping out a friend, but if Casey wanted him, it could be just the opportunity for them. He swung the axe over his shoulder and ducked around the woodpile to stow it in the lean-to. When he came back around the corner of the house, Casey was jogging down the hill towards him.

"Hey. How was the lake?" Stan pretended not to notice the way Casey kept reluctantly glancing at his chest.

Casey shook himself slightly, obviously focusing his attention on Stan's face. "It was awesome. I can't wait to develop my film."

Stan had to smile at the other boy's enthusiasm and gestured towards the paths behind him, "I've got a few things to do inside if you want to check out the woods."

"Nah, I don't have any film left so I can help you out if you want."

"Come on, then."

Casey preceded him into the house, pulling roll after roll of film out of his pockets and dropping them into his bag. When he finally finished, he looked up and Stan had to laugh at his expression he realized Stan was watching. "I was inspired."

Stan just shook his head and dumped his bag and shirt onto the couch. "If you want to make sure there's nothing perishable left in the kitchen, I'll check all the windows."

Casey wandered off towards the kitchen and Stan sped through double-checking the rest of the house. He'd done most of the winterizing a few weeks ago, but needed a few minutes to review the game plan one last time. He was pretty sure his plan was flawless. The biggest obstacles he could see were Casey's skittishness and his own nervousness. Finishing up the windows in the living room, he took a moment to psyche himself up.

All he needed then was an opening.

He pushed open the swinging kitchen door just in time to see Casey bang his shoulder painfully on the corner of an open cupboard door. The other boy grunted a little in pain and Stan could hear him start a quiet, profane litany under his breath.

"Did you hurt yourself?" Stan let his hand brush against Casey's arm.

Casey started, jamming exactly the same spot on his shoulder into the sharp corner again. "MotherFUCKER, that hurts!"

"Jesus, Casey." Stan pushed the cupboard door closed with one hand and grasped Casey's elbow with the other. "Come on."

"What?" Casey sounded rather surly and reached up to prod at the sore spot.

"Don't do that." Stan pulled his hand back down before reaching into his bag and rummaging around for the arnica gel he'd seen before. "Take your shirt off."

***

"What?" There was no way Stan actually said. Casey could feel his entire body turning red.

Stan handed him the tube he was holding and its very existence distracted Casey just enough for him not to notice when Stan reached for the bottom of his shirt.

"Hey!" He tried to squirm away and, while Stan froze, he didn't relinquish his hold on Casey.

"Casey, you look like you've gone ten rounds with Tyson. Just let me do this. Please." Stan was strangely intent and Casey wavered for a second before giving in to temptation. If Stan wanted to touch him, Casey wasn't going to argue.

He pushed Stan's hands off his shirt and gave him back the tube he'd pressed into his hand before pulling his sweatshirt over his head and letting it drop onto the couch. He could do this. He could stand here and let Stan touch him without embarrassing either one of them because they were friends. Friends and nothing more. Stan would never have suggested this if he knew how much Casey wanted his touch.

He didn't bother looking down at his body, he knew what he looked like, but neither could he look at Stan as he catalogued every bruise and scrape. He tried not to flinch under the weight of Stan's regard, but it was hard being so exposed in front of the other boy, having proof of his weakness on display. Despite his best efforts, Casey felt his body start to curl in on itself, staring at a spot of floor between his feet. He flinched when Stan carefully touched his shoulder.

"I won't hurt you." Even barely above a whisper, Casey could hear the promise in Stan's voice.

He felt like he should apologize, but for what he wasn't exactly sure and, besides, he had a feeling it would only make both of them feel worse. So instead, he just shrugged a little and let the hand on his shoulder gently turn him around. The plastic squeak of the cap was oddly loud in the quiet room and Casey felt a chill roughen the skin of his shoulders. He tried to repress his shiver and wrapped his arms around his stomach, hooking his fingers into the belt loops of his jeans.

The first touch of cool, slick fingers against his back made him jump, but he managed to keep most of his reaction to a barely perceptible shiver. He cursed his body's telltale reaction to Stan's touch and held himself a little more tightly, praying the other boy would write off his trembling as a reaction to the unheated air of the cabin. The gel quickly warmed against his skin and he relaxed into the gentle touch.

Stan smoothed the liniment over his shoulders and back, around the curve of his ribs, and against the backs of his arms. He carefully prodded the knotted muscles along his spine and Casey felt himself relax even further. His head tilted forward a fraction of an inch and he realized how much he trusted Stan. Trusted him not to hurt him, not to laugh at him, not to ignore him. And that only made it more difficult for him to stand still under the warm hands sweeping up and down his back. The urge to lean back into those hands, into the heat he could feel radiating from the other boy was nearly irresistible. There was a whispery brush of warm, moist air against the back of his neck and even the death grip he had on his belt loops couldn't contain Casey's shuddering response. Calloused palms chased goose bumps up and down his arms before gently pushing and pulling until he was facing Stan.

Almost against his will, he looked up. Stan was frowning a little, but the hands that pulled his away from their desperate hold on his pants were gentle and sure. Casey fidgeted, not quite sure what to do with his hands as Stan covered the bruises on his torso with the last of the liniment, obviously concentrating on not hurting him any further.

Despite his best efforts at control, Casey felt himself begin to harden in the face of such careful attention. That Stan cared enough about him to do this, to help him when no one else had even noticed anything was wrong meant so much to him. He tried to think about something else, anything else, but knew he was fighting a losing battle. With a focus born of desperation, he concentrated his attention on the freckles scattered over Stan's shoulders and shifted a little, ready to move away from the other boy, but a soft touch on the back of his neck held him in place.

"I'm not quite done yet." Stan's voice caressed him as surely as the fingers drifting through his hair and Casey froze.

Despite everything, there was a part of Casey convinced this was a joke. That at any second Delilah or Gabe or *someone* would jump out from behind a door to cement his humiliation. When Stan's lips brushed against his without incident, he decided it was all a terrible mistake. That he must have fallen and hit his head at some point during the day because there was no way Stan Rosado was cradling his head like he was something precious and pressing soft kisses to the corner of his mouth.

Stan was touching him. No, Stan was *kissing* him. Not just brushing by him in the hall or sitting pressed up against him in the library, but honest to god kissing him as if ... as if he were wanted. And he must have made some sort of noise because Stan's hands stopped petting his hair and he lifted his head a couple of inches.

"Hey, is this okay?"

Casey knew he'd only have to say 'no' and Stan would step back and they'd try to put everything back to the way it was before. They'd be awkward with each other, but they were friends and, hey, what was a little sexual tension between friends? No harm, no foul, right?

"Casey?" Strong hands on his shoulders anchored his suddenly shaking body. Casey squeezed his eyes shut and let Stan's quiet voice wash over him. It was so *nice* to be touched like this. To feel Stan's skin warm against his and to hear him whispering against his ear.

"Shh, it's okay. I'm sorry. We can forget this ever happened, I promise."

Wait, what?

If Casey could have kicked his own ass, he would have. Stan obviously thought his mini emotional breakdown was a symptom of rampant heterosexual panic and, in all his selfless glory, was trying to smooth things over between them.

Well, fuck that.

***

Stan wanted to die. He wanted to curl up in a little ball and die. He had totally misread the situation, mistaking Casey's panicked silence for acceptance, and now the other boy was shaking and digging his fingers into Stan's waist in what was obviously shock.

He was just like Gabe. God, he was worse than Gabe.

Which was why he was surprised when Casey leaned forward and licked a path up his neck.

Even if he wanted to pretend the shudder crawling up his spine was simply shock, there was no way he could have, not when the feel of Casey's hands sliding over his back sparked a whimpery moan. "Casey, what are you doing?"

His voice was a puff of breath against Stan's throat, "Don't be stupid."

Stan thought maybe he should take offense to that, but it was hard to work up any sort of righteous indignation when Casey was pressing tiny kisses along the line of his jaw. He automatically tilted his head to give Casey more room even as he tried to switch gears. "Are - "

"Shut up."

Stan gave up. He was having a hard time marshalling any arguments and he didn't really feel like arguing anyway. Apparently Casey wanted him too. That was more than enough.

Lips trembled against his skin and the hands anchored to his hips were clenching and unclenching arrhythmically. As new as he was to the whole touching-a-guy thing, those tiny nervous gestures reminded Stan how new *all* of this was to Casey. Because, as far as he could tell, until he came along, no one ever touched Casey. He didn't just mean this kind of gropey, sex touching either, just ... touching. Casey had never had many friends and his parents were pretty, well, cold was the nicest word Stan could think of.

Which was why he shouldn't have been all that surprised when Casey suddenly became Octopus Boy, pressed skin-to-skin against him and, whoa, hands *everywhere*, but he was. He knew he could slow them down if he wanted to, but Casey was so warm in his arms and when Stan brushed their lips together he was met with an enthusiastic, if untutored, kiss.

Kissing Casey wasn't anything like he expected. He thought maybe kissing another guy would be the same as kissing a girl but it wasn't. Or, at least kissing Casey wasn't. Where Delilah was practiced and confident and Stokley gentle and eager, Casey was clumsy and a little rough. He was ... needy, almost to the point of desperation, and Stan loved it.

He loved the weight of Casey's body against his, the strange language of sounds he made, the awkward scrabble of his little-boy hands against the button of his jeans. Between one breath and the next Stan was pushed back onto the couch, his pants twisted around his knees. Before he had a chance to complain about the loss of contact, he found himself with a lapful Casey.

Naked Casey.

Exactly how he got naked so quickly was a mystery, but when he kissed Stan again, sliding his tongue over lips and teeth to tangle with Stan's as he straddled the larger boy, Stan realized he didn't really care. Casey rocked his hips against Stan's and the hands on his shoulders pushed and pulled until he was more or less on his back on the couch. His own hands found purchase on the sparse curve of Casey's hips, making tiny adjustments to their position until - oh, yeah, right there - they were lined up. Casey made a weird little gasping noise into his mouth and moved against him a little faster.

Stan felt heat coiling at the base of his spine, but that couldn't be right because he'd only been touching Casey for a few minutes and that was hardly any time at all. He tried to push back the urgent need to come, to hold on for a vaguely respectable amount of time, but then Casey started to shake above him and he pulled his mouth away to bury his face in Stan's neck as he came against his stomach.

The slick warmth spreading against his stomach was all it took to set Stan off and when he came back to himself he realized the rather stupendous orgasm had done little to relax Casey. Oh, he wasn't digging a hole in Stan's hip any longer, but he was way too tense to have just had some damn good sex. Casey squirmed on top of him, doing his best to crawl as far into Stan as he could get. His fingers were digging into Stan's shoulders and, when Stan moved his hands from Casey's hips to his back, his muscles shuddered briefly as Casey breathed out something close to a sob.

It reminded him of an article they'd read in health class about orphans in Eastern Europe wasting away because no one ever hugged them so he ignored the weakness of his arms and hugged Casey as tightly as he could. Casey relaxed, melting into Stan as he burrowed closer. Stan rubbed gentle circles on his back, unconsciously channeling Grandma Rosado, and was struck anew by the baby soft skin covering every place he touched. At first he had thought it was a trick of the liniment, but no, Casey really was just that soft.

The hummingbird flutter of his heart against Stan's ribs finally began to slow as Casey slid towards sleep. Stan knew he should clean them up so they weren't permanently glued together and that they needed to have a Talk, but the talking could wait and the cleaning was going to have to because there was no way he could just dump Casey onto the couch to go searching for a wash cloth and his game plan.

That was okay, though; they had plenty of time. Casey's parents weren't home and his weren't expecting him back until late. Casey shivered a little in his sleep, grumbling and snuggling closer as Stan pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and over his back.

Yes, plenty of time.

The End.

Disclaimer: The Faculty isn't mine, I just play.


Created and maintained by carleton97.

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