DYLAN ROJERS bounces on his toes as he looks down over the railing onto the lobby level of the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. Behind him, the Pulse Lounge is filling up, eager geeks mingling with amused football and NASCAR fans—the ones who heard they could get a good room rate by telling the hotel they were here for the convention and then going to the game or the race anyway. It’s always interesting to watch them. Some clearly won’t be back next year, while others get a kick out of the Dragon*Con attendees and come back year after year, not just for the price, but also for the entertainment. By Saturday night, they’ll be mingling with the con-goers, their lack of a badge the only clue that the jersey they’re wearing is for an actual football game or race instead of some video or role-playing game.
It’s always fun to watch people arrive to Dragon*Con. The carts pulled by overworked bellhops constantly hold the most interesting things, and it’s great fun for Dylan to see if he can spot what someone will be dressing as from the bits and pieces that stick out of their luggage. Wings are big again this year, no surprise there, as are lightsabers and stormtrooper helmets. There have been a few big pieces that Dylan hasn’t been able to identify, and twice he’s turned to ask Eric if he has a guess, only to turn back, biting down disappointment and trying his best to ignore the nervous twisting in his stomach. Dylan’s friend and usual roommate ended up not being able to come this year, so Dylan advertised for and found a roommate online. Now he gets to face the pleasure—and apprehension—of rooming with a total stranger.
Whatever his roommate turns out to be like, it won’t really matter in the end. It’s not as if Dylan plans to do much more than crash in the hotel room between panels and after the late-night events. It’s really more of a place to keep his stuff, and so long as this dontbelieve31 keeps his hands off Dylan’s costumes and leatherworking materials and didn’t lie about his intentions involving room parties, they’ll be good. Dylan doesn’t have to like the guy, he just has to collect $450 from him and let him crash in the other bed and use the bathroom.
It’ll be easy, and next year Eric will be back—at least he’d better, or Dylan’s going to kick his ass, and geek he might be, but that doesn’t mean Dylan isn’t built—so Dylan doesn’t have to worry about making friends with the guy. He can tolerate anyone for five nights.
It’s almost time to go down to the lobby level and meet his roommate. Dontbelieve31 had been extremely grateful for Dylan’s last-minute post to the roommate communities—apparently his friend had bailed on him at the last minute as well, only he canceled the hotel reservation when he did so—and had been perfectly agreeable to everything Dylan had suggested about meeting up. He’d promised to arrive by two thirty so that Dylan could collect the cash and give him a room key—the Marriott insists on collecting the full amount for the room when the first person checks in during Dragon*Con—and they could head down to the Sheraton in plenty of time to get in line to collect their badges. Dylan has no illusions that they’ll be at the front of the line if they don’t arrive at the check-in area until three, but he knows better than to wait until four as well. He made that mistake the first year he came.
It’s now two fifteen, and dontbelieve31 is supposed to be showing up in fifteen minutes. Dylan can’t wait to meet him. At the same time, he really doesn’t want to at all.
BRENDAN STONE curses as his escape route is cut off by yet another woman gabbing on her cell phone. He swears he has to be the only person who cares at all about getting to baggage claim in a timely manner—not that doing so will be very helpful in the long run. He’s still going to be late, and binkysrider719 is going to be angry, he just knows it. The guy had only mentioned about eighteen times how he wanted to be able to get over to the Sheraton by three, and Brendan had promised he’d arrive by two thirty so they would have plenty of time to get his stuff to their room, but it’s two twenty, and he hasn’t even made it to baggage claim yet.
It’s just one more thing he’s going to curse his best friend Nate for the next time he sees him. If the asshole hadn’t bailed on Brendan at the last minute, canceling their hotel reservation in the process, Brendan wouldn’t be so worried about getting to the hotel on time. Of course, if Nate hadn’t bailed on him, he wouldn’t even be in the Atlanta airport, fighting against crowds of people who apparently flew in to stroll through terminals and have nowhere they need to be at all. They would have driven, and timed it so they’d be arriving just about now, hitting downtown Atlanta in the “lull” between lunch and dinner where they’d only have to slow to about thirty miles per hour on the highway instead of practically stopping.
Brendan had considered looking in the Dragon*Con internet communities for someone to share a ride as well as someone to share a hotel room, but he’d decided against it, and he wasn’t about to drive from West Seneca, New York, all by himself. Sharing a hotel room with a stranger is one thing—he doesn’t plan to actually use it much. Driving fourteen hours with someone he doesn’t know is completely different.
So now he’s stuck, watching the seconds tick by on his watch as he tries to get through the crowds of people. With the way his day is going, by the time he makes it to baggage claim, his suitcase will be crushed beneath everyone else’s, or worse, he’ll get there to discover his suitcase didn’t make it to Atlanta at all. His absolute essentials are packed in his carry-on, but his metalworking tools had to be checked—apparently, they pose a security risk in a carry-on—as are all of his costumes. He wasn’t able to bring half the things he wanted anyway, thanks to the airline’s baggage rules, and he really, really doesn’t want to have to fight with them to get the little bit he was able to bring.
The crowd parts in front of him, and he surges forward, pushing into the space as quickly as he can, no longer caring that he’s jostling people with his laptop bag and carry-on. If they’re going to get in his way, they deserve to be hit, particularly the ones on the moving sidewalks who don’t understand that you stand on the right and pass on the left. It’s not a difficult concept, at least Brendan never thought it was until today, but, apparently, no one who flew into Atlanta this afternoon understands. It’s a bit ridiculous, really.
By the time he gets to baggage claim, finds his one bag and his guitar, and gets outside, he’s just in time to see the Marriott shuttle pulling away. For a brief moment he considers trying to weasel his way onto the Hyatt or Hilton shuttles—they’re going to practically the same place, after all—but knowing his luck, he’d end up in some sort of trouble and end up arriving even later. MARTA it is, then.
Joy of all joys. This con is starting out fabulously.
DYLAN is about ready to call it quits, leave a message at the desk, and head over to registration. Dontbelieve31 can just wait for him to get his badge at this point—he’s forty-five minutes late and it’s bordering on preposterous. He hasn’t even e-mailed or texted to let Dylan know what’s going on, and Dylan sent him all his contact information before he left yesterday morning. It’s not as if the guy doesn’t know how to get ahold of him.
If this goes on much longer, Dylan is going to lose all his enthusiasm. He’s already lost interest in looking at the carts of people checking in, and even the few adventurous souls who are already in costume are barely making him smile. Dylan is definitely giving dontbelieve31 a piece of his mind when—if—he actually arrives.
He’s mentally trimming down his planned Dealers Room purchases and reviewing his bank balance just in case the guy does bail on him when a frazzled-looking guy stops in front of him. He’s dragging a giant suitcase with one hand and has a guitar case in the other, and he’s weighed down by both a laptop bag and a backpack slung over his shoulders. His clothes are rumpled, and he looks like he’s going to fall over at any minute, pulled down by the weight of the luggage he’s carrying. Dylan’s eyebrow twitches as he looks the guy up and down, but he doesn’t say anything, just keeps scanning the crowd, hoping that dontbelieve31 will show up.
“Binkysrider?” the guy asks in a voice so faint Dylan can hardly hear him. That’s his screen name, though, so he nods and directs his attention back to the guy.
“Dylan, actually, but yeah,” he manages to get out before his brain goes off-line. The guy may be rumpled and travel-worn, but he’s gorgeous, a few inches over six feet tall with spiked dark-brown hair, warm hazel eyes, and freckles. Dylan loves freckles, and if he weren’t pissed at the guy for showing up almost an hour late, he’d be delighted. Okay, he’s still delighted, but he’s pissed, and he’s going to hold onto that, because he’s sure with the way his luck is going that the guy will be a raging homophobe, or have a long-term girlfriend, or something that will make Dylan’s chances with him less than zero.
“Brendan. Uh, dontbelieve31. Sorry I’m late.” His words are still soft, but now Dylan can tell that it’s mostly because he’s trying to catch his breath. “My plane was delayed, the airport was packed, and by the time I got my bags I had missed the shuttle so I took MARTA, and God, please don’t make me tell you about how that went.” He shudders under the weight of his luggage and hitches his backpack higher on his shoulder.
“You could have called or something.” Dylan holds out his phone pointedly, deliberately ignoring the lilt in dontbelieve’s—Brendan’s—voice that’s going straight to his groin. He’s pissed off, and he’s going to stay that way. “I’ve been standing here for almost an hour. I was about to give up and go get in the registration line anyway. I thought you were bailing on me or something.”
“Sorry.” Brendan winces. “I swear I printed out the e-mail you sent and tucked it in my laptop bag, but I couldn’t find it once I was off the plane, and I didn’t think to try to pull it up on my phone until I was on the train, only it didn’t keep a strong enough signal to get internet.” He hitches his backpack again as it starts to slide down his arm and curses. “Sorry. It just really hasn’t been my day.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t exactly had a blast either,” Dylan retorts, though he knows what Brendan went through is worse than just sitting around and waiting. Still, he’s tired, frustrated, and now he’s going to have to go stand in line for a couple hours with a bunch of strangers as everyone else he even knows who’s coming isn’t planning on arriving until later tonight and will have to pick up their badges in the morning. Dylan had shuddered when Kelly told him that, but if it makes the girls happy, well, he’s not the one who will risk missing Friday morning panels. He had hoped that he would click with his roommate and at least have someone to talk to during the long wait, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening.
Oh well, it’s not as if he can’t amuse himself. He’s done it before.
He turns on his heels before Brendan can reply and stalks back toward the elevators. “Come on. Our room’s on eleven.”
“Can you—” Brendan starts to say, but Dylan disappears into the crowd before he can finish. The elevators are obvious, and at nearly six and a half feet tall, Dylan is tall enough that he stands out amongst the slowly building crowd. By tomorrow, it might actually be a problem, particularly if people break out the tall costumes, but right now Brendan should have no trouble following, and Dylan isn’t going to get roped into helping with his luggage. Not after that introduction.
BRENDAN huffs as binkysrider—Dylan, he reminds himself; it’s weird to keep calling his roommate by his online handle, no matter how tempting it might be—disappears into the crowd, making a beeline to the elevators at a speed Brendan can’t hope to match, especially not with his luggage falling off his shoulders.
Apparently, Dylan is above helping Brendan get it situated so it doesn’t fall to the ground on the way to their room, which was all he was going to ask for. It doesn’t matter now, though. Dylan’s gone, out of sight and earshot, and Brendan is just going to have to make do if he wants to have a chance of getting on the same elevator as the guy.
It turns out to be a good thing that Dylan told him which floor they were on, because by the time Brendan reaches the elevator bay, Dylan is nowhere in sight. And to think, he seemed like such a friendly guy in the few e-mails and LiveJournal comments they’d exchanged.
When the doors to the elevator Brendan finally manages to catch open on eleven, Dylan is leaning against the far wall of the elevator bay, his arms crossed over his chest and his expressive face set into a deep scowl. “Took you long enough.” He pushes away from the wall and starts down the hall, only sparing Brendan a cursory glance to be sure he’s following. “We’re this way.”
“I don’t control the elevators, you know,” Brendan calls after him as he yanks his suitcase out of the elevator, barely making it through the doors before they close on it. “And it’s hard to move quickly in a crowd with luggage.” His laptop bag falls from his shoulder as he tries to maneuver around the corner, and he growls low in his throat as he stops. “Can you hold on a second? I’m dropping stuff here!”
The sound Dylan makes can only be described as irritated, and the glare he sends Brendan’s way could strip paint from the walls. “I would like to get my badge today, you know.”
“So would I! But if it’s so damn important to you to go right this minute, give me my key, tell me what room it is, and go!” Brendan snaps, tugging on the strap of his bag until it’s back on his shoulder and digging in it for the money he owes Dylan for the room. “I’ll get myself there! I’m sure I can find the room without you leading me like I’m a packhorse.”
“Fine.” Dylan whirls around and snatches the money Brendan is holding out. He counts it, pulls a card out of his jeans pocket, and slaps it against Brendan’s chest. “Room 1128. It’s down that way.” He jabs a finger toward the far end of the hall and disappears back into the elevator bay.
Brendan barely catches the card before it falls to the ground. “Terrific.” At least he has time to rearrange his bags before trekking down the hallway.
The room is more posh than the one Brendan was going to have shared with Nate—they’d been in one of the overflow hotels, not the Marriott—and for all his other obvious faults, Dylan appears to be neat. His suitcases are lined up against one wall, tucked out of the way, and though he’s claimed drawers and a bed, the ones reserved for Brendan are left untouched, as is half the closet space. It seems that when Dylan isn’t pissed about things no one can control, he’s a reasonable guy.
If he’ll let that side of himself show this weekend, they might both survive the con.
The bed is soft, and Brendan’s bags sink into the down comforter when he piles them on top of it. He’s really, really tempted to shove them to the floor and curl up for a nap, but he needs to get his badge too. There’s a Voltaire concert tonight that he’d like to attend, and he’s been considering getting up to go to the Shatner and Nimoy panel first thing tomorrow morning. If he’s going to do either, he’s going to have to brave check-in while it’s open today.
As he’s walking down to the Sheraton, Brendan gets a text from his friend Kevin Scott asking where he is and if he wants to meet up for dinner. He sends back a fervent, GOD YES, followed by, Heading to check in, and continues his journey with a little more spring in his step. Kevin and his wife, Laura, are great listeners and a lot of fun. They’ll be the perfect antidote to Dylan, and texting them might keep Brendan sane through the check-in line.
DYLAN sees Brendan when he gets into line at the Sheraton, but he doesn’t say anything or draw attention to himself. He’s only about three rows ahead of Brendan when they enter the actual winding queue, and he knows that no one would say anything if he were to flag Brendan down and bring him up so they could stand together, but he doesn’t.
Instead, he opens his phone, loses three games of Solitaire, and then opens up his Twitter application.
The tweet that he’d sent when he first arrived in the line—Awesome. Roommate’s an ass. Not going to be in the room much this weekend.—has five replies, most sympathetic, but one telling him to suck it up because he’s lucky enough to be at Dragon*Con. He’s annoyed by that response for a moment, but then he reminds himself that the sender isn’t someone whose opinion he cares about anyway. He or she—Dylan isn’t sure—has been jealous ever since he started talking about making concrete plans for this year. The only reason he hasn’t blocked the account from following him is that whoever uses it is always good for retweeting his leatherworking links.
Eric apparently hasn’t been on Twitter yet, so Dylan exits the application and dashes off a text message, frowning as he tries to walk and type at the same time. The line is almost always moving because someone leaves the front area where they get their badges every few seconds, but the badges are separated by last name, and a long line at one letter group can hold up the whole thing if no one can get by. The result is a strange stop-and-start movement with the line moving anywhere from a few steps to almost an entire queue row before stopping again.
“You’re smart,” the girl in front of Dylan says when they stop again, startling him away from frowning at the phone as though that will make Eric respond faster. “Bringing your phone, I mean. I didn’t think that I’d need to entertain myself since I got here before the line officially opened.”
Dylan chuckles at that, his annoyance with Brendan and his impatience with Eric momentarily forgotten. “I’ve heard rumors that there are times when the line is short, but I’ve never figured out when that is. Every time I walk by, the line is out the door. I think it dies down once the convention really starts, but it’s always packed on Thursday and Friday.”
“It’s probably one of those ‘I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’ things,” the girl says with a grin. She moves as the line shuffles forward, and for a moment Dylan thinks that maybe he’ll be able to go back to frowning at his phone, but she turns to him again once they stop. “So this isn’t your first year, then?”
“No. It’s my… fifth? I think. No. Sixth.” He goes over it again in his head just to be sure, and nods. “I started coming in 2004, and I’ve been every year. So ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08, and now ’09.” He holds his fingers up as he counts off the years. “Yeah. Sixth.”
“Wow. It’s uh, it’s my first year, in case that wasn’t glaringly obvious.” She twists her hair around her left index finger and holds out her right hand. “I’m Caitlin, by the way.”
“Dylan,” he responds. “And, yeah, it was kind of obvious, but that’s okay. We love new blood around here.”
Caitlin giggles. “I hope you don’t mean that literally.”
“Oh, jes,” Dylan says, using a really bad imitation of a Bela Lugosi vampire movie accent. “Ve vant to suck jour vlood.” He leans in, baring teeth that bear no resemblance to vampire fangs at all, and closes the small gap between him and Caitlin.
She giggles and steps back, and Dylan has to break character to stop her from crashing into the group of people ahead of them in line. “Careful,” he says in his normal voice as he grabs her shoulders and pulls her against his chest instead.
“Thanks,” she breathes as he steps back and lets her go. “That could have been embarrassing.”
“Welcome,” he says, pulling his phone back out of his pocket. He hasn’t felt it buzz, but he looks anyway, keeping an avid expression and pushing the buttons even when it tells him that there are no new messages or new tweets.
Caitlin quietly moves along with the line while Dylan peers at his phone, quickly reading the new tweets in his timeline, but as soon as he thinks she’s going to leave him to stew about Brendan in peace and tucks the phone back into his pocket, she turns around again. “So are you here by yourself?”
“Sort of?” Dylan shrugs. “I came by myself, but I’m meeting people here. You?”
“Oh, I came with friends. I was excited and wanted to register as soon as possible, but they were tired after our flights and wanted to nap first.” She giggles, putting her hand over her mouth as she looks behind them at the spiraling queue. “I think they may regret that.”
“Yeah.” Dylan looks back too and is surprised to find that they’re now closer to the front of the line than the back of it. Just a few rows ahead, he can see the Dragon*Con staff pulling people out of line to go up to the letter groupings that don’t have anyone waiting at them. Rojers, unfortunately, isn’t in one of them. “No kidding.” The line shuffles forward and Dylan again tries to distract himself by playing with his phone.
Again, Caitlin doesn’t let him. “So, uh, where are your friends?”
It’s obvious to Dylan that she’s skirting around asking what she really wants to know—why Dylan keeps scowling at his phone, most likely—but he appreciates that she’s not pushing him to talk about something he doesn’t want to mention. “Um. Not sure. A lot of them aren’t arriving until tomorrow.”
“Won’t the lines be worse then?”
“Yeah.” Dylan shrugs. “They’re the ones who will have to stand in them, though, not me.”
“Yeah, but it means you can’t hang out unless you want to wait in line with them.” She shudders. “I don’t know about you, but once is enough for me.”
Dylan nods fervently. “Oh, yeah. I’ll be good to go until next year, I’m sure.”
“So, what are you going to do until your friends get here? I mean, my friends and I are going to dinner and maybe out into Atlanta some, but that’s not much fun by yourself.”
“I don’t know.” Dylan sighs and glances back to where Brendan was. He’s not there anymore, or at least he’s not where Dylan looks, and he’s not inclined to look too hard. “I had hoped to hang out with my roommate, but the guy is apparently a total ass, so that’s out.”
“Wait.” Caitlin looks up at him with wide, astonished eyes as the line moves forward. “You’re rooming with someone you don’t know?”
“It’s more common than you’d think,” Dylan assures her, though based on his experiences with Brendan so far, he’s no longer sure it’s a good idea. “There are communities online dedicated to finding roommates. It makes it easier to go if you can split the cost.”
“Yeah. Some people cram as many bodies as they can fit into a room too. I know a guy who once had eight people crashing in his room.”
“The hotel lets them do that?”
“They’re not supposed to, but if you keep the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, how are they going to know?”
“I guess.” Caitlin shrugs. “So your friends aren’t here yet and your roommate is an asshole. Man, this con is kind of sucking for you so far.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” Dylan says dryly. “I’d almost forgotten.”
Caitlin’s hand flies up to cover her mouth. “Oh! Fuck! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to—” She looks up at Dylan apologetically. “You must think I’m such a ditz.”
“You’re fine.” Dylan sometimes forgets that not everyone can handle his occasional sarcasm. He’s usually pretty easy-going, so it takes even his friends by surprise. He should have known that Caitlin wouldn’t pick up on it. “You’ve helped, actually.”
“Really?” She chews on her bottom lip as she looks up at him.
“Really.” He grins. “I haven’t had a chance to be annoyed since you started talking to me.”
Caitlin smiles. “Good.” She rubs at the back of her neck. “Only now I don’t know what to say.”
Dylan laughs, asks her what her favorite television show is, and the conversation gets rolling again. They don’t have very many fandoms in common, but Caitlin’s are popular enough that Dylan knows a little bit about their presence at Dragon*Con and he fills her in. He also tells her about the concerts she’s sure to want to make it to, the costume contest, and gives her some pointers for surviving the convention.
By the time they separate to go into their respective lines in front of the badge booths, Caitlin is giggling, and Dylan has actually relaxed. He feels good, like he’s supposed to feel at Dragon*Con, and when his phone buzzes with a reply from Eric just as he’s walking away with his badge and program guide in hand, he completely abandons the rant he’d planned and instead starts talking about how awesome this year is going to be.
And it will. Even if Brendan really is an asshole.
BRENDAN is in a much better mood when he returns to the hotel room hours later. His wait in the registration line wasn’t that long, as he lucked out and they were calling for people to come up to the line that included Stone. He got to slip out of line several rows early and was able to meet up with Kevin and Laura for dinner. They ate at Sear, bracing themselves against four days of nothing but the food court and horribly long lines, then headed to the Pulse Lounge, where they drank until Brendan was able to relax and lost the tension that had been building in his neck and shoulders since his plane was first delayed in Buffalo. He’s pretty sure that Laura gave him a back rub at one point, but everything after about nine is a blur, so he can’t be positive.
The light is off and Dylan is flopped out on his bed, his feet up near the head and his head resting on his crossed arms at the foot. His eyes are open—barely—and the television is showing some show that Brendan doesn’t recognize. “Hey,” he mumbles when Brendan eases the door shut behind him. “You get your badge?”
It’s a vast change from his earlier attitude, and Brendan is too tipsy to question it even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t. He’s just going to go with it and hope that the new attitude keeps up all weekend. “Yeah. I, uh, got to skip the line when they started calling for my lane. You?”
“I had to wait the whole time, but yeah. I did.” Dylan fumbles for the remote, flips off the television, and pushes himself upright. “I, uh…. Sorry about earlier,” he says in a rush, running his fingers through his floppy blond hair and looking at Brendan with a sheepish expression. “I was kind of an ass, and I’m not usually, honest. This year just isn’t going the way I’d anticipated and it’s stressing me out.”
Brendan is drunk enough that it’s easy to be magnanimous. “It’s okay. I should have taken five minutes to find your number and call or text or something.” He sits down heavily on his bed and starts attempting to toe off his shoes, which seem unusually attached to his feet. “It probably wouldn’t have made me any later, but I just felt like I had to keep moving, you know?” He gives up on the shoes and just lets himself fall backward, his arms flopping outward to span the bed. “Stupid, but, hey. I never claimed to be a genius.” He’s close, actually, but he doesn’t talk about that. He’s with fellow geeks, anyway, and most of them are almost as smart as he is, if not smarter.
They’re all smarter than he is tonight. He’s pretty sure most of them can figure out how to take off their shoes.
Dylan flops back down on his bed, lying the right way this time, and rolls onto his side to look at Brendan, who has lifted his feet into the air and is again tugging at his shoes. “You all right, man?”
Brendan turns his head to the side and grins. He likes this kinder Dylan much better than the one who met him earlier today. “My shoes are stuck on my feet.” He tugs ineffectively on the shoelaces again, but they simply dangle down over his face.
“Dude,” Dylan says, rolling off the bed and teetering for a minute before practically falling to sit next to Brendan. “Undressing? You’re doing it wrong.”
For some reason, Brendan finds that to be the funniest thing he’s heard in a very long time. His legs fall heavily to dangle off the bed and he starts laughing hysterically, rolling around and clutching his stomach. “You’re doing it wrong!”
“Are you drunk?”
“Probably,” Brendan admits once he’s stopped laughing enough to form words again. “I met a friend and his wife for dinner, and then we went to Pulse and they kept buying me drinks. Said I was tense.” He frowns at the last words and tilts his head so he’s looking at Dylan sideways. “I’m not tense.”
“Not anymore, you’re not,” Dylan says, laughing. “You kind of were earlier, though.”
Brendan tips his head farther and draws his knees up. He twists so he resembles a cat lying all convoluted and curled up, his torso twisted one way, his legs twisted another, and his head turned as far as it would go. “Was I?” He blinks as he thinks about that for a minute and then nods decisively. “Guess I was. Sorry.” He flashes an apologetic grin. “I’m not usually, really. I just hate flying. And being late. And crowds. And slow people. And riding MARTA. MARTA scares me. Have you ridden MARTA?”
Dylan’s expression is growing more amused by the minute. “I park my car at one of the stations up the line and take the train back. That way I don’t have to pay for valet parking. It’s not that bad if you know where you’re going.”
“It is with luggage,” Brendan declares with a decisive nod. “And the Peachtree Center Station is horrible.” He draws out the last word, his lips curving around the O for several seconds. “I went out the wrong exit and got lost and had to drag my luggage all around the block before I found the hotel.” He reaches out to pat Dylan’s knee but hits the bedspread next to him instead. “Don’t ever do that. It’s not fun. Not even a little bit. Not even any. Not even at all.”
“I’ll, uh, keep that in mind.” Dylan heaves himself up off the bed and looks down at Brendan for a minute, shaking his head and fighting a smile. “If I get your shoes off, do you think you can manage the rest yourself?”
It takes Brendan a few seconds to realize what Dylan is asking, and then he has to seriously think about it. He’s not sure that he’s coordinated enough at the moment, but there are worse things than sleeping in his clothes, so he nods. “Maybe?”
“That’s… not very encouraging.” Dylan tugs Brendan’s shoes off, hauls him to his feet, and points him in the direction of the bathroom. “Go. And get water while you’re in there. You’ll need it.”
The room is spinning in a way that it most definitely wasn’t before Brendan lay down, and he clings to Dylan while he attempts to get his balance. Dylan is firmly muscled beneath his T-shirt, his biceps flexing under Brendan’s fingers as he forces Brendan to move, and Brendan doesn’t want to let go. He’s good right here, with Dylan holding him up and his inhibitions lowered enough that he can stare up at Dylan without feeling ashamed. “You’re hot.”
“And you’re drunk.” Dylan walks Brendan to the bathroom, his hands on Brendan’s shoulders the whole way. Inside, he fills a glass with water, thumbs open the button on Brendan’s jeans, and points him toward the toilet. “Drink the water. And after you use the bathroom, don’t put your jeans back on. I’m going to go turn down your bed.”
The instructions are simple, but as Dylan closes the bathroom door behind him, Brendan finds himself repeating them aloud as he struggles to puzzle out what they mean. Finally, he gulps the water, slams the plastic cup back onto the counter, and begins peeling off pieces of clothing, one at a time.
When he emerges from the bathroom clad only in boxers, there’s a pile of clothing on the floor and puddles of water on the sink. Part of Brendan’s brain is telling him that he shouldn’t leave a mess like that, especially not while sharing a room with someone he doesn’t really know, but he doesn’t have the energy or coordination to do anything about it at the moment. He’ll fix it in the morning.
The bed is turned down and Brendan wastes no time falling into it, rolling around to get his feet under the covers and then fumbling for the sheet as he buries his face in his pillow. He keeps tugging at something that doesn’t move, but then the sheet settles over him seemingly of its own accord, and the light clicks off, plunging the room into near-total darkness with only the light spilling in from the bathroom providing any illumination at all. Something warm pats his head, and he nuzzles at it for a second before letting his head drop heavily back onto the pillow and sighing with relief.
Sleep claims him within seconds.