NC-17 Slash. Fourth (and final) in a series which probably shouldn't have become a series. Thanks to Harlequin for betaing this; any remaining mistakes are mine alone.

Ohio Spring
by Laura Mason

His mom is smiling as she poses him on the front porch and aims a disposable camera. The photo won't be correctly exposed; the sun is behind the house, leaving him in deep shadow. He wonders if she remembered to turn on the flash even as it goes off in his eyes. Casey can see the washed-out image from the cheap camera in his mind, his mom's sloppy writing on the back. Casey, age 17, 5/99.

The photo will be sent to the grandparents in Pennsylvania, joining 12 others, all so labeled in case they forget his name. If his grandparents' house were put in a time capsule, future generations would only know him as Casey, aging year by year in bad snapshots.

He hopes that's true. He'd like to be finished with the odd notoriety of national magazine covers featuring someone they label a deluded liar. Surely his fifteen minutes are up now? A quiet, unexceptional life sounds pretty good.

His mom takes a second exposure, "just in case," and he blinks away the spots from the flash as they go back inside the house. Casey removes his robe and the cap, hanging them to carry to school. It's too warm to keep them on, and he's not supposed to be wrinkled for the procession.

It's unseasonably warm and the graduates will all be miserable in their robes as they sit on folding chairs set up on the football field for the ceremony this afternoon. Casey is happy about the location despite the heat. The gym, the rainy weather alternative, still gives him the creeps.

"Casey, it's time."

His parents drive him to the school in silence, dropping him at the field while they go to park. His father isn't happy with Casey for a number of reasons, but he still came to the ceremony. Casey isn't sure if he's happy about that or not; his dad's tight face makes him feel like he should apologize. For what, he's not sure.

He joins the mob of seniors gathered behind the field house, smiling at Delilah who waves back and blows a kiss. She's at the front of the line, looking cool in a white sun dress. She's valedictorian, of course, and Casey has already heard her speech. She talked it over with him then practiced in front of him last week. Standing in the sunlight, so confident, she's the embodiment of "brightest and best," and when she pulls on her robe and cap, she still looks stylish. Most of them, like him, look like idiots. It doesn't help that the girls can wear anything under the gown, while guys must wear a white dress shirt and tie. Why can't they all wear the stupid little paper collar, and be comfortable? With a sigh he pulls on the robe, leaving it open until the last minute.

When the orchestra starts playing the march, he hooks the robe, adds the NHS sash and honor roll medallion, then finally puts on the cap. The tassel dances distractingly as he walks, concentrating on keeping his head high so the cap stays in place. The faces of the crowd, teachers, families and underclass friends, blur. Casey has no idea where his parents are sitting.

He doesn't feel pride, or sadness -- nothing. It's meaningless. Ceremonies and rituals aren't necessary for him to feel he's reached adulthood; that came to Casey months ago when authority figures and peers alike were stripped away by the alien. Zeke was right about it, and Casey feels stupid for not knowing. He expected to feel something.

The ceremony begins but he hardly listens to the speakers until they announce the scholarship winners. He applauds and cheers for Stokely as she receives the handshake and certificate officially conferring the Marquardt Scholarship -- four-years in Cleveland State's sociology program. The principal explains to the audience that it's been six years since a senior qualified for this scholarship. Stokes looks embarrassed, but Casey sees her eyes find Stan, and then her smile becomes genuine.

Other scholarship presentations follow, but Casey misses them thinking about Stokes and Stan. They're still together, still in love. Now Stokely will be going away to school, while Stan couldn't get accepted to Ohio State even though Stokes and Casey tutored him. He'll be going to York County Community College. Stokely says if he does well there, he'll be accepted at State for his sophomore year. Stokely has to take the scholarship, of course. She can't pass up an opportunity like that, and Cleveland's Women's Studies program is perfect for her. But they'll be apart for years. Will their love survive? Casey doesn't know, but he hopes it does. It's encouraging that two people who are so very different can love each other.

But Casey isn't going to think about Zeke again.

He feels someone staring at him, turns to look toward the left. There's his father, glaring at him as the other students are recognized and honored. Casey didn't win any scholarships or awards. He's not really sure why his dad thought he might; he only ranked 16th in his class. Casey is a good student, but not exceptional. Certainly no one would call him "well-rounded," as is always demanded in the awards selection criteria. Casey does his homework and takes photos for the school paper.

Delilah is introduced and Casey applauds again. As she begins her speech, using the quotation from Shakespeare Casey found for her, he smiles. He'd taken that class to avoid Miss Burke, but it worked out well. Mrs. Brummel's much-younger replacement has a real enthusiasm for the subject. Casey enjoys the florid drama of the plays -- he's rented all the videos he could find to actually see them performed, as Mr. Fisher suggested -- and the poetry is easy to memorize.

Delilah calls his ability to spout Shakespearean verse "another geeky quirk that will get you laid in college." They've remained friends who occasionally have sex. Delilah also jokes that Casey's her fuck buddy, and Casey is living what most 17-year-olds only dream about. He knows he's lucky.

Delilah will be leaving Ohio in September to attend Harvard. She was accepted back in January, and her mother sobered up long enough to complain about the distance and the cost. Her objections don't matter; Delilah's trust fund pays for everything. Her grandfather set up the education fund for his grandsons, but his wife was smart enough to change the will and make him sign it on his deathbed. Delilah, their only grandchild, loves to repeat the story. Casey imagines Delilah is very much like her grandmother. She'll be able to afford graduate school, law or medicine -- whatever she decides to pursue with that incredible brain. Casey's betting law will win out, but Zeke argued--

Fuck. As they rise and start filing to the stage, Casey is miserable. They're calling all the graduates' names now, but the only person in his thoughts is Zeke, who isn't here.

***

Zeke arrives in time to be seated before Casey smoothly crosses the stage, accepting the diploma with his left hand and shaking the new principal's hand with his right. His posture has improved since the daily ass-kicking stopped; he walks more like the real Casey, the one Zeke used to watch when Casey thought no one was looking. Today he almost looks tall in the stupid cap. He's not smiling and Zeke is bothered about that, though the somber look suits him. Without his smile Casey might pass for eighteen.

No, not really.

Zeke's diploma was mailed to him. He didn't want to be part of the ceremony yet he's here, watching Casey. Stupid. He applauds for Stokely, and Delilah, and finally for Stan, too. He considers them friends now, though he never had friends before, just customers for his scams. And if he'd ever imagined himself having friends, he knows he'd never have named Delilah as a possibility. He didn't think she knew how to be a friend, until that day with Gabe.

Zeke saw Gabe slam Casey's head into the drinking fountain. It was the kind of thing jocks routinely did to younger kids; the kind of thing no one had done to Casey since September. Casey came up with a cut lip, bleeding pretty heavily, but he hadn't seemed cowed as he swore at Gabe. The stupid jock laughed as he continued down the hall, but Casey glared after him and somehow remained the new and improved, sexy-as-hell-and-driving-Zeke-nuts, post-alien Casey.

The next day Gabe arrived at school with a taped nose and two black eyes that only grew more colorful as the week progressed. Despite his insistence that he'd been hit in the face during basketball practice, the whole school thought Casey had avenged himself. "He broke Gabe's fucking nose," Zeke heard them whisper as Casey passed in the hall.

Zeke knew the whispers weren't true, though. He knew before Casey came to him at lunch, instead of hanging out in the darkroom or with Delilah. Casey approached Zeke for a change, his eyes glowing with hero worship, not even trying to hide it. He immediately understood Casey saw him watching yesterday and believed Zeke had broken Gabe's nose.

But Zeke hadn't. And he knew who had kneed Gabe in the nose, probably while he was trying to get laid. He'd overheard Delilah and Gabe outside the men's room that morning.

"I didn't mean to break it, but I told you to leave him alone." Delilah, sounding distinctly unapologetic.

"Baby, that freak's always hanging around you," Gabe whined.

Zeke never told Casey the truth, though. He ignored Casey's glowing face and let him think he's a hero. Zeke told himself that if Delilah wanted the credit, she should tell Casey herself. He told himself Casey's smart and should be able to figure it out. He told himself the credit doesn't matter, and that one Zeke actually believes.

What matters is that Casey has been left alone. There are no bruises on him today. In fact, he looks great, the red gown making his face glow. They all look older, and losing the individuality of their normal clothes is part of it.

But Zeke fought too hard to get his individuality back and wasn't willing to endure graduation. Anyway, the ceremony is for proud parents, isn't it? Zeke's parents aren't here; his mother may not even realize he's graduating. The only person who wanted him to publically accept his diploma was Beth. Well, Beth and Casey, who'd been crestfallen when Zeke mentioned he wouldn't bother with graduation at their last coffee night.

"But you've worked so hard," Casey said, clutching the cold cup in front of him.

"Casey, I should have graduated last year. No one who repeats marches at graduation.".

"Oh." Casey toyed with his plate, remnants of pie slowly being mashed by his fork. "It's a celebration, that's all. That we made it through the year." But his eyes said, 'that we're alive, still ourselves, despite Beth and parents and aliens.' Zeke agrees, that is something to celebrate. It might be why he's here today.

His friendship with Casey is one of the most rewarding things in Zeke's life, and the most frustrating. Frustrating because Zeke is still obsessed with Casey, while he is only someone Casey spends time with as a friend. Zeke immediately knows when Casey enters a room or crosses the same hallway. Casey radiates so much beauty Zeke can't believe he isn't getting laid in the hallways between classes with a crowd of onlookers. But as far as Zeke can tell, Delilah and Stokely are Casey's only female friends, and Casey isn't romantic with either of them.

Stokely is wrapped up in Stan, who isn't her intellectual equal and, while he's not two-headed or anything, doesn't compare to Casey. And Delilah still kisses and hugs Casey, but Zeke knows it's not love. How he knows that he can't say, but he's certain that Delilah is only Casey's friend. He thinks she's a good friend. Better than Zeke.

Okay, he hasn't deliberately hurt Casey -- or anyone -- in months, but Zeke doesn't spend much time with Casey. Part of that is Beth -- he hasn't broken with her yet, though it's been over since November. Mostly it's that he's never been someone's friend, and it's complicated because he lusts after Casey and obsesses about him. Zeke has pie with Casey occasionally. They talk. They haven't kissed since that night, yet Zeke is always aware of Casey's body. He can't help staring at the way his sleek muscles move under the too-large clothes, or noticing how nice Casey usually smells. Just the memory makes him ache and swell--

He's fucking insane.

The ceremony wraps up while Zeke is trying to dispel the physical effect of his Casey daydreams. The recessional begins, less formal than the entrance march. Kids step out to hug relatives or talk to friends. Zeke stands to leave, but he's caught by Stokely.

"Zeke, I thought you were avoiding all the bourgeois celebrations." She's smiling, but it turns into a real grin when Stan hugs her from behind.

"Hi, Zeke."

"Hey."

"Seduced by the middle class," Stokely laughs. "Or is it by an upper classman?" She glances at Casey, still in a crowd of seniors at the entrance to the field, and Zeke follows her glance but his own eyes stay there too long. When he finally looks back at her, Stokely's smile is softer and the teasing voice is gone.

"Come to Stan's party tonight."

"You really should," Stan chimes in. "It's small, just in our back yard. Nothing wild, but anyone over 18 can drink -- my dad's rule -- as long as they aren't driving."

Zeke stares at the them for a moment. He can't ask, but Stokely nods an affirmation.

"Unless you have other plans," Stan says, looking past Zeke to Miss Burke approaching.

"No. I'd love to come."

"Seven thirty or whenever. C'mon, scholarship babe." Stan hooks an arm around Stokely and leads her away, leaving Zeke to Beth's attention.

He returns Beth's smile with a weak grimace, and wonders if this would be easier to do if he'd ever before had enough of a relationship to break up.

***

Casey lies on his bed nude, cooling off. There's nothing to do. His mom offered to give him a party at home, and he shivers imagining how awful it could have been. He can see the basement in red and white crepe paper, his mom's pot-luck bake cooling on the table, Aunt Carrie and other neighbors drinking and giving him sloppy kisses, his dad simmering in his disappointed anger -- and no friends from school. Who would he have invited? Delilah has too many cool places to party; Stokes will be at Stan's house tonight. And Zeke--

He's really got to stop thinking about Zeke so much. They made peace. Casey never expected anything like the apology Zeke wrapped in a kiss all those months ago. And they even talk occasionally, when Zeke invites him for coffee. Casey knows Zeke a little better now, enough to appreciate that he is the same Zeke despite his continued involvement with Miss Burke. At least she stopped being so obvious about changing Zeke after the Drama Club auditions.

Casey laughed when he heard the story, kind of impressed that Zeke remembered his joke about using the seduction monolog from Richard III for auditions. Zeke performed it to a room full of students with the added action of stripping off his clothes once he reached the line "I lay it naked." Zeke ignored the calls of "thank you" and just kept talking louder until Mr. Fisher jumped up on stage. He managed to stop Zeke before the boxers came off.

Casey stretches, imagining Zeke in boxers. It's only a fantasy -- the story of Zeke's strip tease changes every time it's repeated. Zeke's been in polka-dot boxers, briefs, a thong, or nothing depending on who's relating the tale. Delilah was there, covering the auditions for the paper, and Casey's heard her tell it three different ways.

He can't let himself think about Zeke right now. That fantasy is for later tonight, when his misery will end with sleep. It's time to change for Stan's party. Casey knows he will be missed if he doesn't attend; Stan only invited about twenty people. They're the ones who stayed friends with him even after he quit the football team. Casey isn't close with Stan's friends though they seem nice enough. Stokely says it will be a good party. He's never enjoyed a party yet, but getting out and away from his father's throbbing resentment is reason enough to go.

He takes a quick cool shower, then stands thinking about how to dress. He'd like to wear shorts, but that seems too casual. Lightweight khakis, a short-sleeved shirt, and finally his sneakers. He's vowed not to wear a tie or dress shoes until college graduation -- if that day ever comes.

The plan -- and Casey still has a plan, though he's no longer naive enough to think that anything will actually happen according to his plan -- is to attend Ohio State at Columbus, taking journalism classes. He wants to go to Cleveland with Stokely, to the Fine Arts photography program at the Institute of Art, but it won't happen. His parents aren't happy about State's tuition; a private school is out of the question. When Casey tried to apply for a student loan, his father ripped up the paperwork.

He continues thinking about what will happen in the Fall as he walks to Stan's house.

His parents are buying him a used car so he can commute to Columbus, but he's supposed to pay for his own insurance, gas, books, and clothes. At least the clothes are easy; he's not exactly growing any more. What he has in his closet will be fine. But a two-hour daily commute cuts into the hours he has available for work, even if his parents don't seem to realize it. Casey's hoping to arrange his schedule so all his classes are on two or three days. Then he can work on his free days, and of course he'll save money over the summer. Frank wants him back at the car wash starting this weekend, and Casey can keep looking for a better job.

It's not the way he imagined college, but he thinks it will still be better than most of high school. Zeke may be in Columbus. He applied to the biochemistry program, though Casey hasn't heard if he was accepted. Zeke has money from his parents for tuition and housing. Casey can imagine Zeke in a student apartment, messy and full of experiments, just like his garage looked. Nothing like the suburban houses they were raised in.

His brain really is stuck on Zeke, so why is Casey so shocked when he walks into Stan's back yard and Zeke is there, staring back at him from across the driveway?

Casey manages to keep walking, to answer when Stan re-introduces him to his parents, and to smile as he accepts a can of soda from Stokes. He feels like Zeke is watching his every movement, only because Casey is constantly aware of Zeke's position. He reminds himself that he's the obsessed stalker-freak, not Zeke, and tries to relax.

The night is clear and warm, and the Rosados have transformed their ordinary yard with paper lanterns strung between the trees and red tablecloths on scattered card tables, held secure in the evening breeze by citronella candles. There is a large picnic table covered in food, fried chicken and hot roast beef in a crock with crusty rolls to one side, fruit salad and potato salad and macaroni salad. Everything looks homemade, not like the stuff his mom gets in plastic tubs at the grocery store. A smaller table is full of desserts, flanking a bakery cake with "Class of '99" in red frosting. A stereo is set up in the garage, making the blacktop driveway into a dance floor.

Casey fills a plate at Mrs. Rosado's urging, though he isn't hungry. His parents could never put together such a welcoming party, despite having a larger yard and a pampered lawn cared for by a service. Stan's mother goes inside, followed shortly by his father. They're playing cards with some neighbors in the kitchen, chaperoning the party without being embarrassing. At least, Stan doesn't seem embarrassed.

Casey thought even back in September that Stan had a better relationship with his parents than most of them, since Stan actually believed his father could help. One glimpse of the hug Stan gave his dad at the ceremony today proved Casey was right; they're great together. Mr. Rosado is proud of Stan for graduating, for growing up and just being Stan. He doesn't care that Stan quit the team or didn't get a scholarship.

"Casey!" Not the voice he wants to hear, but Casey turns and smiles at Delilah. He didn't expect her to come tonight; she says Stan is lame and Stokely is annoyingly mushy around him.

"Hey." Casey embraces her, kisses her cheek. "I'm glad you came."

"I'm not staying here all night," Delilah announces loudly. "I have a list of parties." She helps herself to Casey's plate of food without asking, then adds in a softer voice "But I remembered Mrs. Rosado does the best food." Delilah manages to be beautiful even when talking with a mouthful of food. "Mmm. All homemade."

Casey nods and takes the chicken leg before she can grab it, smiling when she swats at him. Delilah doesn't cook much, and her mom rarely has food in the house. But even Casey's mom, who diligently cooks most of their family meals, doesn't compare to Mrs. Rosado.

He turns and sees Zeke looking toward him, but as soon as Casey notices, Zeke is talking with Stokely, then moving to sit with Andy and Edie but glancing back at him. Zeke knows Casey is watching him. Fuck.

***

It's fully dark and Delilah, despite having so many better places to be, is still here hanging on Casey. Zeke wasn't wrong about them -- they're not in love -- but he thinks Delilah is realizing she'll miss Casey.

The party has settled down. Everyone just finished carrying the leftover food inside, and when Mr. Rosado brings out more cold sodas and a case of chilled beer, Zeke moves to help him refill the cooler and the barrel full of ice he rigged for the bottles.

"Thanks, Zeke."

"You're welcome, sir." He's not only obsessed with Casey, he's starting to sound more like him. Zeke feels oddly comfortable with the older man, despite the fact that he's holding Zeke's car keys. Actually, everyone's keys are in custody. Mr. Rosado is pretty smart about kids. Zeke opens a beer in front of him and takes a long pull, then smiles at him.

"You make sure Stan keeps the music low -- it's after ten now."

"Sure." The Rosado neighbors are all in the house laughing, drinking and playing cards. Zeke isn't sure who they're being considerate for, but he nods and smiles anyway, then gulps more beer.

Ted and Lydia are laughing by the stereo, and they put on some slow music -- Tony Bennet? Something from Mrs. Rosado's collection, no doubt. They start dancing, no surprise there, but Stokely drags Stan out there, too. Delilah stands and smiles at Casey, but she walks over to Zeke.

"Dance?" He stares at the hand she's extended, then silently takes it and they move to join the other couples. Delilah steps into his arms, close but not too close, and Zeke tries to relax and move to the music with her. She's a good height for him, comfortable. As they move and turn, he briefly wonders how they look together. Then he sees Casey watching them, his eyes glowing in the scant light, and Zeke knows they look perfect together, two dark heads, two lithe bodies at ease with themselves and each other. He sees all of that in Casey's eyes, and he knows it's not just Delilah who Casey finds beautiful.

She laughs when Zeke stumbles over his own feet, staring at Casey. "I don't have to talk to you after all."

"Talk to me?"

She doesn't buy his stupid act, which always works on Beth. "Tell you to stop dicking around and talk to Casey."

They dance a little, then Zeke says "We talk."

A sigh. "Okay, tell you to go kiss Casey."

"Actually..." He stops himself; she wouldn't gossip about Casey, but he doesn't want to share that memory with anyone.

"Zeke, he's not like you."

"You're right about that. Have I ever thanked you for Gabe's nose?"

Delilah laughs again. "No thanks necessary. It was pure pleasure. Stupid dickhead." When the song ends, Delilah hugs him and whispers, "You'd better not hurt him, either."

Zeke nods solemnly at her, and watches her return to Casey, laughing and smiling. They hug, and then Delilah is leaving, stopping only to thank Stan. Stokely goes to Casey and stands by him, giving Stan a moment to hug Delilah and remember their long-ago connection. They're such different people now, at least to Zeke, and the two watching them are a big part of how they changed.

Andy pulls Stokely to dance, a fast song -- Beach Boys? Zeke should know, but it's not his type of music. Is everyone playing their parents' music just so the old farts of the neighborhood won't complain? He'd like to blast some Tool just to see the reaction.

Still, for sappy 1960's music, the song is okay. Edie is dragging Casey out to dance, and for a moment he looks self-conscious, just like the old Casey. Then Stokely calls out to him and he smiles and relaxes, moving with the others in a weird group-dance-hug, exaggerating the words as they howl the song together.

"Will I see yoooou in Septeeeeeeeeeember, or loooooose you to a summer love?"

They're all laughing insanely, but Zeke isn't amused. He hasn't had enough beer to be maudlin about a poignant song, but the reality of graduation is hitting him. They're all going separate ways, these laughing kids who seem so close. Life will be taking them into adulthood, which isn't about no-more-homework. It means working for a living, marriages and kids of their own, then loss and heartbreak and disappointment.

He wants to leave right now, no arguments, so he doesn't even try to get his car keys. Zeke walks out of the yard, away from the lights and the happy voices, moving as fast as he can without breaking into a run. He laughs a little at the idea of outrunning their mortality. Then he hears the only voice that could make him stop.

"Zeke?" The stupid kid comes pounding up, running on his shorter legs to catch up with Zeke's strides. "Are you leaving?"

He stops and nods, unable to speak, his hands in fists jammed into his pockets.

"Oh. I suppose you have other parties to go to - like Delilah." Casey smiles up at him. "I just... Good luck, Zeke." And Casey steps in fearlessly and hugs him.

Zeke thinks about Luke for a second, but pushes the thought away. He wants to remember Casey glowing and happy, not imagine what life can do to him to take away the glow forever. He moves his arms around Casey, enduring the hug longer than he would for anyone else on the planet. Then, to break the moment, he picks up Casey and starts walking off with him dragging between his legs. Just like a seven year old, Casey shrieks with laughter.

"Hey!" Despite the inane giggles, Casey is still holding tight to Zeke, who pushes him into a tree to set him down. Instead, he keeps holding him and kisses the giggling mouth. Casey tastes like Coke, not beer, so when Zeke releases him and Casey keeps clinging to him and pressing at his mouth, Zeke knows his enthusiasm is real, not chemical.

So is Zeke's happiness as he stands there for long minutes, exploring Casey's sweet, warm mouth, their bodies pressed together.

***

Casey isn't drunk or high, but he doesn't exactly remember how he got to Zeke's house, or when so many of his clothes came off. He knows there was laughter and much kissing involved. Now he needs to concentrate, to remember all of this, but Zeke is kissing him again, long sweet presses of his mouth and nibbles at his lips, even better than Casey remembered and what was he thinking about?

His hands are on bare flesh, Zeke's bare flesh, so he must have helped Zeke pull off his tee shirt, too. They're moving again, kissing and touching until they reach the bedroom. Then Zeke pulls away for a moment, his eyes intense, boring into Casey as if to memorize him. Casey stares back and tries to do the same, starting with the sensual mouth, cherry red from their kisses, open a little as they breathe heavily in unison. Zeke is all long, strong lines, his lean body solid muscle.

"Casey, are you okay with this?" Zeke waves a hand, indicating the room, his half-clothed body, and looks into Casey's eyes.

But he can't answer because he doesn't know what to say that won't sound pathetic. He's wanted this forever; he's thrilled that Zeke might really want it, too. Casey nods, but Zeke doesn't look convinced. He wets his dry lips and says "Please?" softly.

Zeke relaxes then and moves back into Casey's arms, an endless string of kisses moving them on to the bed at last. Casey decides the way to remember this night forever is to take photographs with his mind, so he concentrates on seeing as if he is looking through a lens.

There's a perfect shot, Zeke's profile and the dark eyelashes on his flushed cheek. Another, Zeke's big hand on Casey's chest, rubbing so gently. Zeke lying beside him, and Casey's eye pulls back to get a full-length shot of him now that he's nude and splendidly aroused, long cock flushed in a dark tangle of curls. Another exposure, of the clean lines of the strong arms pulling Casey close to him, removing the rest of his clothes, and then shots of their limbs together, different yet alike. Casey has never seen anything to admire in his own body before, but his photographic eye recognizes the beauty without self-consciousness.

Then Zeke's hands move to hold their cocks together, stroking as Casey convulses with pleasure next to him, and he wants a picture of that but can't concentrate with lightning-pleasure striking through him. And there's no way to photograph Zeke's dark voice, whispering and gasping.

"You're beautiful, Casey. I wanted to throw you against the lockers every day and do this..."

The pictures fuse as Casey explodes into the flash of blinding, white hot pleasure.

***

Zeke can't hold off when Casey screams, his body almost levitating. He simply grabs onto him and holds tight, his own limbs shaking and jerking in unison. He tries to watch Casey's face, but has to close his eyes or black out from the brightness of him and the sensations still trying to pull more from his hyper-sensitive cock.

If he were dying, the sight of Casey's orgasm would bring him back. Fuck, if he were already dead, Casey's naked body could jump start his heart. Zeke laughs but stops himself before Casey misunderstands.

But a glance over shows Casey is still far away, maybe on the planet he must have come from -- still enjoying himself if his beatific smile means anything. Then Casey giggles, and Zeke pokes him and tries to look stern.

"What's so funny, Connor?"

"What?" Casey looks confused, as if he doesn't remember laughing, so Zeke hugs him and smiles.

"Never mind."

They lay together for a while in silence, then Zeke gets up to bring washcloths and towels. They clean up and sit on his bed, drinking bottled water. Graduation night is not as he expected it would be. He might have imagined himself getting drunk at Weasel's, or spending it with Beth. The thought of her takes away his smile and much of his good mood. Casey notices, of course. Damn kid.

"You okay?"

"Yeah." Zeke isn't going to volunteer anything, but he doesn't manage to drop it either. "You and Delilah are still friends, right?"

"Yeah. She's -- well, I love her," Casey says thoughtfully, and Zeke knows he's never discussed their relationship with anyone, not even Delilah. "I thought it was romantic love, eros. But there's more to it, and less, too." Casey laughs a little. "I guess that doesn't make any sense. She's a good friend, and sometimes we fuck. But she fucks other guys without being their friend."

"Best of both worlds," Zeke comments, and Casey nods earnestly.

"I know I'm lucky to have a friend like her..." He breaks off, looking shy. "Are you friendly.. like that.. with Miss Burke?"

Zeke scowls, but Casey's eyes are steady. "You of all people should know I'm not anyone's friend."

"That's not true," Casey the staunch defender of Zeke Tyler makes Zeke want to laugh, but he waves in surrender and interrupts.

"Okay, no dramatics. I'm not very good at friendship, and I've never been friends with someone I fucked." Casey looks down at his hands for an instant, then back at Zeke's face. "I never was her friend, but I wasn't just using her. I just thought..." Actually, his reason for being with Beth seems incredibly stupid and all he can see is her betrayed, tear-ravaged face. "I didn't intend to hurt her, but I did."

Casey nods, a sad smile on his face. "Everything is changing."

"Yeah. I don't know what she was hoping would happen. She knows I'm moving to Columbus."

"You got accepted?"

"Yeah. I've got a campus job that starts next week. Painting crew." If they were having coffee, he'd be telling Casey about his apartment and his plans. He might even tell him about Beth and the breakup today. But as Casey nods, Zeke only sees another naked body in his bed. The words all die.

What was he thinking?

Zeke pulls on his jeans and walks to the window to light a cigarette. There's no happy-ever-after for them. It's over now, or it will be soon. He'll keep fantasizing about Casey until someone else comes along, and then it will really be done. As Casey said, it's all changing.

***

Zeke's mood keeps deteriorating, and Casey feels like he's back in the orchard again. That was over a year ago, and the only difference now is Casey knows exactly what he did wrong and what Zeke is thinking. Casey knows him now, and almost understands him -- that's how much their relationship has changed. They've both changed this year, but in some ways Zeke has stayed exactly the same.

Casey gathers his clothes as Zeke glowers out the window. Casey is angry with himself for not stopping; he should have seen this coming. He let his prick lead the way -- he's always wanted Zeke too much. So now it's over, or will be soon.

But they're friends. At least Casey thought of Zeke as a friend, albeit one he imagined kissing much of the time they spent together, and a lot of the time they didn't. And Casey still wants to be his friend, though Zeke obviously doesn't believe that's possible.

To Zeke, being naked and sharing this kind of beauty is the end of closeness, not a beginning. Casey gets angry just thinking about it. He throws the clothing he's holding to the floor and pushes his hands through his hair.

"You're such a fucking idiot, Tyler. And a damned coward, too."

Casey doesn't realize he said it aloud until Zeke swings around, a stunned expression on his face. At least he's not brooding anymore. Enough of the self-pity. Zeke is one fucked up guy, but why shouldn't Casey try to change his mind? He would argue with Zeke on any other subject, and this is more important to him than anything else.

He's moving before he's thought it through, but Casey knows he's right and Zeke is wrong. He can only think of one way to prove it.

***

A scowling Casey yanks Zeke away from the window and into his arms. Zeke could resist if he wanted, though Casey is stronger than he looks. But he doesn't want to, and he has no response to Casey's insult anyway.

Casey's lips collide with his, demanding and insistent. Casey pulls Zeke close, devouring his mouth, then pushes him back to the rumpled bed and forces him down.

Zeke relaxes to enjoy the ride, and it's a wild one. He's kissed, fondled, nibbled, undressed and sucked until he's squirming, and then he's rubbed and soothed with slow, wet kisses. That continues until whatever demon has possessed Casey kicks in again and the teasing arousal begins all over.

Fuck. He can remember when he couldn't imagine Casey buying condoms. Now he's watching Casey deep throat him. It's the most erotic thing Zeke has ever seen.

Zeke isn't sure how long it's gone on. He's a wreck, a puddle of sweat and jangling nerve endings, and when did Casey learn so much about tormenting someone with pleasure? Zeke thinks about sending Delilah flowers, or killing her.

The hot mouth descends on his cock again. Maybe Casey is a natural...

Zeke gasps for air while Casey digs into the nightstand and pulls out condoms and hand cream. Casey's eyes ask for his trust and Zeke can only nod. That seems to be enough; Casey's smile is radiant.

He's careful with Zeke. Maybe too careful, though Zeke hasn't let anyone do this before. But his body is screaming for more long before Casey is ready to move along. Zeke's not sure why he's allowing Casey to do this to him, why now, but he wants it. His body writhes as Casey's thin fingers move inside him. Casey's eyes devour him, and Zeke gasps again.

"Please."

Casey finally moves, finally pushes up Zeke's legs and enters his trembling body in a slow, steady possession. It's not painful, so when Zeke feels the wetness on his cheeks he tells himself it's sweat. Casey is inside him, owning him, looming over him. He kisses Zeke, holding still inside him until Zeke moans and pushes back at him. Then real fucking begins, Casey's face so serious, concentrating as if he's working out a science equation, his arms straining and all the muscles of his body working as he rides Zeke.

Casey hasn't retreated into that dream world of his. He's right here, so present Zeke can feel his attention like sunlight. Casey slams into him again and again, then his face contorts and he finally reaches for Zeke's cock with one hand. Zeke screams and comes in a tidal wave of pleasure that sweeps him further than any fantasy.

He comes back to himself being held in Casey's arms. He wants to squirm and move away -- he's not some fucking girl -- but he's tired, and Casey's sensed it and tightened his hold anyway.

"Don't be a moron," comes the sweet voice, and it takes a minute to process the actual words.

"More insults, Connor?" he manages to husk out.

"Yeah. You don't want pet names and endearments, right?"

Zeke is silent. He's never been in a relationship. The lie with Beth doesn't count. Does he want anything from Casey?

"Course not." Because wanting doesn't make anything happen, wanting just leaves you hurt when they leave you.

"Tough shit. Zeke, you've never been friends with someone you fucked." He grunts in reply, but Casey isn't waiting for him to respond. "But I'm Delilah's friend, and even though I fucked you I'm still your goddamned friend, dumbshit." Casey pulls away, just enough to catch Zeke's eyes. "I won't let you fuck this up, Zeke. It's all changing, even you. Even us."

Zeke has no answer, but Casey is silent now, satisfied with whatever he saw in Zeke's face. Casey's arms grow heavy and Zeke relaxes, ready to sleep, thinking that he wants it to be true.

***

Sunlight warm on his face; it's morning. Casey's parents are going to be so pissed off. He looks at Zeke sleeping next to him in the bed and doesn't care. What they shared was worth it.

After helping himself to a shower and pulling on his slacks, Casey goes downstairs and starts the coffee. He doesn't want to be alone, though, so he brings a glass of juice back to Zeke's room, planning to watch him sleep. Zeke's eyes are open though he's still stretched out on the bed.

"Hey," he says, apologetic for leaving him to wake alone. But Zeke doesn't seem bothered. He sits up, takes the glass, and drains it in one long guzzle. He looks up at Casey standing beside him, his dark eyes clear and fully awake, as he sets the empty glass carefully on the nightstand.

"Casey, I need a roommate in Columbus, someone to share expenses. You know of anyone who needs to live close to the university?"

Casey lets himself be pulled down to the bed next to Zeke, knowing the joy he's feeling is plain in his dopey smile.

This time no one is left behind.

 

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