The discussion about whether they should spend the night on the bus was tense. While Aria understood it would be better to arrive at their grandmother’s in the morning, he struggled with the prospect of sleeping in the bedroom, even when Drew promised he wouldn’t leave them alone at all and would keep the light on. He relented when Cerrian suggested that once the food had gone she would turn the table into a bed.
Within ten minutes of taking the pain medication, Amara wouldn’t have cared if they slept on the roof. In fact, he mentioned the possibility.
“We could look at the stars.” He sighed. “So pretty and so far away, like me.”
“You are pretty,” Aria agreed, “but you’re not far away, you’re right here.”
Amara took Aria’s hand, gazed earnestly into his eye and said in all seriousness. “Don’t you understand? I’m a cloud.” Then he sighed happily, closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Aria freaked until Drew, Cerrian and Jay all assured him that it was just the pain medication that made him somewhat detached from reality. He didn’t look as if he believed them, but he settled and sipped his chai latte until he started nodding and sliding toward Amara, at which point Drew decided it was time for bed. He helped Cerrian clear away the remains of the food and convert the table. He had to admit it made a pretty decent bed. Even so, there was no way it would fit more than two small people.
“I’m going to brave the coffins,” Jay said, grinning.
“Are you sure,” Cerrian asked, fluttering her eyelashes in an outrageously dramatic way. “The bedroom’s plenty big enough for two.”
Jay laughed. “I think I’ll give it a skip, thank you.”
“You wound me. What about you Drew.?”
“Drew’s going to sleep with us,” Aria said sitting up, instantly alert.
“There’s no room,” Drew said, sitting beside Aria who leaned on him. “Amara needs space to breathe. It would be too cramped and that wouldn’t be fair on him.”
“Don’t leave us,” Aria whispered, gazing up into his eyes. Drew melted and stroked his hair, leaning down for a brief, gentle kiss that brought a gasp from Jay. Aria simply closed his eyes and sighed, a beatific smile on his face.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to sleep right here on the seat. I’ll be arm’s reach away. Cerrian is going to leave the light on so you’ll be able to see me from the bed, okay?”
Aria opened his eyes and frowned. “But it wouldn’t be comfortable to sleep here.”
Drew snorted. “Trust me, I’ve slept in a lot less comfortable. I’ll be perfectly fine. You just worry about you and Amara.”
“I am worried about Amara.”
“Don’t be. He’ll be perfectly alright if he rests up. You’ll be surprised what a few days of lazing around will do for him. You can go for some gentle walks in the sunshine, put some colour back in your cheeks and he’ll get better every day.”
“Are you sure? He thinks he’s a cloud.”
“He doesn’t really think he’s a cloud. He’s—” Aria’s grin clued Drew into the fact that he was teasing.
Drew cuffed him affectionately then kissed the end of his nose.
“I think you’d both make adorable clouds,” Jay said. “Little white fluffy ones.”
“Mine would be tinged with pink,” Aria said thoughtfully. “Yours would have glitter, obvs. I think Amara’s would have lightning and Drew…” He tilted his head and frowned. “I don’t know what Drew’s cloud would be like.”
“A little rain cloud,” Cerrian teased.
Aria shook his head. “No, he’d be the sheepdog one. The one who gathers up all the pink ones and glittery ones, and even the ones with lightning, and keeps them safe.”
“What about me?” Cerrian asked. “What kind of cloud am I? Where do I fit in all of this?”
Aria gazed at her with an absolutely straight face and said— “you drive the bus.”
“Thank you.” Cerrian tried to sound offended but she was grinning too wide for that to work.
Once Cerrian had made a nest on the table-bed, Drew carefully shifted Amara onto it. He half woke and spoke a jumble of words that made no sense, then settled down among the pillows and cushions Cerrian had brought from the bedroom. With a sigh, he slid back into a deep sleep. Aria climbed up behind him and snuggled under the duvet.
“Promise you won’t leave. You’ll be right there all night?”
“I promise. Right here.”
“And the light will be on?”
“If you wake up at any time during the night, I promise you that the light will be on and if you lift our head you’ll see me.”
Aria seemed satisfied with that because he settled down and closed his eyes.
“I’d better head off.” Jay said with a grin. “Good luck.”
“Good luck to you sleeping in that thing,” Cerrian said as she passed him and headed down the corridor, diverting into the toilet.
“She’s quite….something, isn’t she?” Jay said, grinning after her.
“She’s something alright.”
“How old is she? She wouldn’t tell me.”
“Too old for you.”
Jay laughed and shook their head. “Not for me. She has entirely the wrong set of tools. I was thinking of a friend.”
“You obviously don’t think much of them then.”
Jay gave Drew an odd look. “Don’t you like your sister?”
“I love her to the moon, but like her? I guess so. We’re very different and always have been. She’s enough older than me that she considered herself practically grown up when I was born, and I was six when she left home. I suppose we never really had a chance to get close, and she’s always teased me because I’m not as laid back and free spirited and she is. She’s even worse with Sioned.” He paused and thought hard. “I’ve never actually thought about it, to be honest. The truth is, I don’t know her as well as I should but I admire her. She’s travelled all over the world alone, gone into places no other white person has been, speaks dozens of languages, works hard for I don’t know how many charities and relief organizations. I suppose it’s not so surprising I don’t know her well enough.” He pondered. “I suppose my reservations come from seeing how upset Mam is when she doesn’t come home for occasions, and how afraid she can be when Cerrian is— Oh.”
Drew gave a bitter laugh. “I just heard myself and realized every word that was coming out of my mouth could be applied to me.”
“Ah. One of those moments. I guess I’m lucky in a way. I don’t have any family to worry about. At least none who give a damn.”
Drew hesitated, wondering if he should ask, but while he was thinking about it, Jay headed off. When Cerrian emerged, they disappeared into the toilet. She stared after them for a moment.
“What have you said to them?”
Drew smiled. She hadn’t hesitated for a moment that time.
“What are you smiling at? I hope you haven’t been teasing them. I don’t think they appreciated it.”
“Pot meet kettle,” Drew said dryly.
“I didn’t say anything. I was talking about family and they got a bit upset, I think. They said they have no family, at least none that care.”
“Ah. Well, not everyone’s lucky enough to be related to someone as fabulous as me.”
On a whim, Drew pulled her into an awkward hug. “You’re right.”
“Oi, what’s that for?”
Drew just grinned and nudged her toward the bedroom. “Go to bed, you mad woman.”
“Nighty night soldier boy.”
Drew didn’t think he’d sleep that night, but surprisingly it felt as if he’d hardly closed his eyes before he was shaken awake. He sat bolt upright and almost knocked Aria over. Aria laughed, the sound like a shower of fresh water that had Drew instantly wide awake.
“What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”
Aria laughed again. “Silly. Are you always so grumpy when you wake up?”
“I am not grumpy.”
“You look grumpy.” Aria laid a hand on Drew’s cheek and kissed him sweetly. “Does that make it better?”
Drew smiled and gazed at Aria. “If you’re going to wake me like that every morning, I guarantee I’ll wake with a smile.”
Aria beamed. “Good. That will be easy, because I really like waking you like that. You’re so sweet when you’re asleep.”
“Were you watching me sleep?”
“Only for a while,” Aria said, guardedly, drawing back.
Drew shook his head, realizing the tone had come out rougher than he’d intended. It always rattled him when the twins were able to get this close without him having the slightest awareness. His life had been saved so many times by his skill in sleeping with one eye open and sensing whenever anyone moved nearby. Somehow, both twins had developed a knack for circumventing that.
“What did I do?”
Drew gathered him close, hating that he’d put uncertainty onto his face and into his voice. “You didn’t do anything. I’m just not used to anyone being able to get close without me being aware.”
“We do it all the time.” Aria shrugged it off. “With everyone. We don’t try to be sneaky.” He paused and thought about it. “Not always.”
“What time is it?”
“Early, but I couldn’t sleep any more. I think Amara needs more of those pills because he’s moaning in his sleep and I hate it.”
Drew reached out for his phone and checked the time. It was seven a.m. “Not that early. He can have another pill and maybe he’ll sleep a while longer.”
“Can I come sleep with you. I’m afraid to move in case I hurt him.”
“Well, there’s not much room, but I’m not going to say no to a cuddle.”
Aria’s face lit up. “I’ll put all the cushions on the floor. The ones you sit on come off, too, I checked last night. With all the pretty ones, we should be able to make a nest.”
“I’ve slept in worse places.”
Drew crept to the kitchen, wincing at every creak, trying not to disturb anyone. Nevertheless, Jay stuck their head out of the lower cabin. “Are you getting up?”
“No, just giving Amara his meds.”
“Oh, okay, call me when there’s coffee.” The head disappeared and Drew grinned.
Drew located both sets of pills. Considering, he figured the less strong ones would be sufficient at this point given Amara was asleep and likely to go back once he’d taken his pill. He grabbed a bottle of water and climbed onto the bed. Amara groaned and rolled his head on the pillow.
“Hey you.” Drew brushed the hair out of Amara’s face. “Time for your meds, sleepy.”
It took a little coaxing but eventually Amara’s eyelashes fluttered and he opened his eyes. They were dull and glazed.
“Yes, it’s me. Are you going to sit up to take your pill or do you want me to lift you up just a bit.”
Amara mumbled something incomprehensible and tried to roll onto his side. Drew stopped him. “Pills first.”
“Don’t want to. Don’t like it.”
“I know, but you don’t like the pain either, huh?”
Amara mumbled something but struggled to sit up. Drew helped him and he lay half supported by Drew’s arm, gazing into his eyes. He sighed and raised a hand to touch Drew’s face. “You’re beautiful,” he murmured.
Drew chuckled. “No, that would be you. You and Aria are the beautiful ones.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be, too.” He sighed again as Drew nudged his hand down and deposited a pill in it. He handed the bottle of water to Amara and nudged him. “Take the pill.”
“I love you, Drew, but I don’t like you much when you’re forcing me to take drugs I don’t want.”
“You can kick my arse when you’re better. In the meantime, take the damn pill. Don’t worry, it’s not the strong one I gave you last night. It’ll just take the edge off so you can sleep.”
“For God’s sake take the damn pill.” Jay sounded frustrated, and they made no attempt to emerge from their pod.
“Traitor,” Amara mumbled, too low for Jay to hear. Nevertheless, he put the pill into his mouth with bad grace and swallowed it down with a few swigs of water. “Happy?” he grumbled.
Drew helped him lie back. “I’m happy you can rest without too much pain, yes.”
Amara scowled. “I hate it when you’re right.”
“Get used to it.”
Drew reclined next to Amara and stroked his hair until he fell asleep, already breathing more easily. He then watched him sleep for a while before carefully edging off the bed.
Drew smiled when he saw the cosy nest Aria had made for them on the floor between the seats. He smiled even more when he saw that Aria was asleep, curled up like a kitten under the duvet. He visited the toilet, then slipped under the cover and cuddled up to Aria, who made a sleepy sound and curled in to him. He fell asleep stroking Aria’s hair and thinking that after having longed to do it for so long it was something he would never get tired of.
The next time Drew woke, it was to the sound of someone moving around in the kitchen and not being quiet about it. He sat up and Aria followed, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
“I got fed up of waiting for someone to make coffee, so I thought I’d do it myself. Imagine how disappointed I was to discover there is nothing but instant. I might have come from the gutter, but I’ve got used to the finer things in life and coffee is at the top of the list.”
Jay grinned at him and put down the saucepan they were holding. “I’m not really making anything except noise. I want someone to get up so I can go and get some proper coffee. Well, closer than this.” They looked at the jar of instant coffee as if it contained worms.
“I’ll come with you,” Aria said, hopping to his feet. “I’ve never been to one of those places before, not on my own. I’ve been with security, just to the toilet.”
I don’t think that would be wise, Aria,” Drew said. “Don’t forget the situation. If anyone recognises you there could be trouble.”
Aria’s face fell and Drew’s stomach turned. It was like kicking a puppy.
Firming his lips, Aria nodded. “I understand. Sometimes it sucks to be famous.”
“I’ll go,” Jay said. “I’ll get your favourites.”
“How does Jay get to go,” Aria protested. “He’s famous too.”
“Well yes,” Drew conceded, “but they’re not as famous as you and they’re looking very un-Jay-like at the moment.”
Aria hummed and tilted his head, staring at Jay. “I suppose so. There’s no sparkle at all.”
“Hey, my inner sparkle’s still there.” Jay grinned and it was true – their eyes sparkled and they bounced while standing still.
“What’s all the noise? I hope someone’s been for coffee.” Cerrian emerged from the bedroom scratching at her wild hair. It was blonde, like Drew’s, but streaked with ash from spending so much time in the sun. Drew was pretty sure there was a fair sprinkling of silver in there, but Cerrian hit him every time he tried to investigate.
“I was just about to,” Jay said. “I can get breakfast as well, I’m starving.”
Cerrian glared at them. “It’s unfair you’re so slim when you eat like you do.”
Jay grinned and shrugged. “It’s the energy I exude like expensive perfume. Don’t think about that. Come on.” They linked their arm with Cerrian and her foot was on the first step before she realised she had no shoes on.
“Hang on you idiot. I’ve walked barefoot plenty of times but I’m not risking it in there.”
She paused to slip on a pair of canvas pumps that lingered beside the door and ran after Jay who hadn’t waited. It was very quiet after they’d gone.
“We should get the nest put away,” Aria said and tugged at the duvet.
Drew stood and stretched. “It can wait a minute while I use the toilet.” He should have known Aria would have finished by the time he got back.
“You should have waited.”
“Why? Don’t you think I’m capable of picking up a few cushions without your help?”
“No, of course not. It’s just… I like to help you. There’s something about working side to side with the man you love that I find very satisfying.”
Aria froze and stared at him.
“You called me a man, and said you love me.”
“Well, you are a man, and I do love you so what’s the problem?”
“You don’t understand. No one has ever called me a man before, and I’m pretty sure no one has ever looked at me and thought it. I know I haven’t been eighteen very long and I suppose I wasn’t a man before then, but everyone’s just seen me as a useless kid.” He shrugged. “I suppose that’s how I see myself. It’s different with Amara. Because of the kind of songs he sings he’s never really been seen as a kid. I mean, since he started singing.”
Drew took Aria’s face between his hands and gazed into his eyes. “Never say that about yourself again. You are not useless and you are not a kid. You’re a strong and beautiful man. Okay, you’re a man who strongly reminds me of a kitten, but still a man.”
“Maybe I should grow into a cat.”
Drew stroked his hair and caressed his cheek. “If you want. I’ll support you in anything you want to do. But just so you know, I’m rather fond of the kitten, ears and all. After all, that was the first time I really looked at you and thought…wow. I think that’s the moment I fell in love with you, but I didn’t realise it at the time.”
“You did? Even though I was wearing a dress and my kitten ears?”
“Especially because of that.”
“I was trying to impress you. I guess I was showing off a little, all night.” Aria ducked his head and glanced up from under his eyelashes, in the most unconsciously seductive glance Drew had ever received. He shivered and parts of him twitched. Aria stepped in, closing the distance between them. He took Drew’s face between his two small hands and Drew couldn’t have moved if his life had depended on it. Damn, he could barely breathe as Aria stood on tiptoe and pressed their lips together. Almost afraid to move, Drew wrapped his arms around Aria and pulled him closer. Aria gasped but didn’t pull away. Instead he sighed against Drew’s lips and Drew had to fight not to whimper.
“It’s okay,” Aria whispered. “I trust you. I know you won’t force me into anything, so it’s okay for you to relax and do all the things you do, like making sounds and…you know…getting…um…hard. It’s weird, but I trust you and I know you can’t help it.”
What the hell was Drew supposed to do when Aria said something as sweet as that, with his lips still against Drew’s. He groaned and deepened the kiss. Aria stiffened again, but almost immediately relaxed and clung to Drew, doing his best to follow what Drew was doing with a tentative exploration of his own.
“Stop,” Aria whispered, breathless, and Drew immediately pulled away.
“Was I pushing too far?” Drew asked anxiously.
Aria smiled and caressed his cheek. “I need to breathe,” he said. “It was… It wasn’t too much…exactly. I want to… I don’t want to stop but… It was….”
“Too much. I know. I remember what it was like when it was all new to me, too. It’s overwhelming. Don’t think we have to do this every time, or that you should do it for me at all. We’ll take it at your pace. If you want to kiss me gently, you can do that. If you want to kiss me a hundred times a day without tongues at all I would be the happiest man on earth. If you kissed me just once with your tongue half way down my throat, I’d feel exactly the same way, because I am the luckiest man in the world just to have you in my life on whatever basis you want. The important thing is that you know I’ll never hurt you. I’ll never push you farther than you want to go. You set the pace, always.”
“It’s not that I didn’t like it, or that I don’t want to do it again. It’s just…all so new. I never thought I’d want to do even that. I’ve never kissed anyone like that.”
“And I don’t want to spoil it. I don’t want to break something so precious before it has a chance. That’s why I want you to take it slow, too. Don’t push further than you’re comfortable with just because you think I want you too, or even because you want to. Slow, okay?”
The smile that broke over Aria’s face was pure sunshine. “I love you Drew.”
“I love you too, kitten.”
A cloud passed over Aria’s sun. “You do know, that it won’t ever go further? That no matter how much I like kissing or how…enthusiastic I am, it will never go further. I don’t want you, or anyone else, to touch me. I don t even like touching myself. It doesn’t feel good and I don’t want to ever have to do that with anyone else.”
Drew brushed the hair from Aria’s forehead and ran his thumb over the creases made by his frown. “This is why it’s so important to talk. I’m going into this with my eyes wide open, and so are you. I will never never ask you to do anything you are uncomfortable with. I know what asexual means. Okay, I don’t know exactly what it means for you, for us, but we’ll learn together what your limits and preferences are. You’ve never had the opportunity to do that before. One thing you can be absolutely sure of though, if you tell me you don’t want sex, I will accept that one hundred percent. As far as I’m concerned, it’s completely off the table and that’s how it will always be unless you tell me different. Even then, you’ll have to convince me it’s really what you want.”
Aria’s eyes darted around as if afraid to settle on Drew. “What if… What if, sometimes in the future, I might want to…try things? Not sex, but maybe…maybe touching…or something?”
“If you want to try, we’ll try, but only if I’m sure it’s what you want and not what you think I want. And I will never ask you to.”
Aria gave a deep sigh and his sun came out again full force. “We were lucky weren’t we? Lucky to find you.”
“I don’t know about that. I think I’m the lucky one.”
“Well, we won’t argue about that.”
Aria sighed again, his expression turning sad. “I wish… I just wish… I wish Amara had met you sooner.”
Drew hugged him close and Aria hugged him back, pressing the side of his face against Drew’s chest. Drew stroked his hair. “We’ll make up for it now.”
“You will make it good for him, won’t you? You won’t hurt him like… You won’t hurt him?”
Drew bit his lip, fighting to keep his voice even. “I won’t hurt him, Aria. I promise. I won’t hurt either of you, ever.”
Aria relaxed against him and they simply held each other for a while.
“I wish Jay had you, too,” Aria murmured then sighed. “They need someone to love them, too.”
“Well as much as I like Jay don’t even think about bringing them into our relationship.”
“Oh.” Aria raised his head and beamed at Drew, “I would never do that. I don’t want to share you with anyone.”
“You share me with Amara.”
For a moment, Aria seemed confused, then he grinned. “That’s not really sharing, is it? I mean Amara’s part of me, and I’m part of him.”
Drew chuckled and shook his head. “I’ve never known anyone as close as you two.”
Aria shrugged. “We’ve been together right from the very start. We were just one egg and then we broke into two, but we’re still the same. We fit together like two pieces of a broken plate. Amara said that. He’s the poetic one. He writes songs. I thought about that, but I think we’re more like a press stud. We need each other to be completely whole, but when we’re apart, neither of us is actually broken.”
Drew kissed Aria’s hair. “I like your version better.”
Aria beamed. “Thank you. I’ll tell Amara, but don’t expect him to just accept it because he doesn’t like being wrong.”
“No one likes being wrong, but the longer you live the more you get used to it.”
“And of course you’ve lived such a long time, old man.”