Emery knows he isn’t the best at feelings. In fact, he would go so far as to say he’s very bad at feelings. There’s a reason he’s most often with August when things get heavy—between the two of them, they’ve got emotionally stunted covered and they can commiserate in their equal lack of ability to comfort people. Both of them are more likely to solve disputes with punches rather than hugs and on the rare occasions that they are emotional, they tend to bottle it up and hide away because feelings are confusing and they just don’t have the energy to deal with it.
It’s not that he doesn’t care—he does. He cares too much sometimes, cares so much that it feels like he’s being put through the wringer every time he sees Jem trying not to cry because of something someone said about the plumpness of his butt, or when he sees Tobi desperately searching for his meds because he just can’t deal without them, or when Donny’s so exhausted that his shoulders slump and his smiles don’t reach his normally warm brown eyes. Everything his friends feel, Emery feels. Problem is, he doesn’t know what to do about any of it and he just knows he’ll say the wrong thing or make it worse some other way. He doesn’t get the whole comfort thing; he leaves that to Damian most of the time, or Jem when it’s one of the others. And really, his friends already know this.
Which is why he’s incredibly surprised when he’s awakened at half past three in the morning by pounding on the door of his dorm. He rolls forlornly out of bed, having only laid down fifteen minutes ago after cramming for his finals for six hours straight, and grabs a hoodie off the floor to cover his shirtlessness. He’s expecting some drunk at the wrong door for a booty call or maybe the Residential Assistant making sure they’re following curfew (of course nobody ever does, but it’s the thought that counts).
What he’s not expecting is a distraught Taylor, smelling of whiskey and leaning heavily against the door frame with a bright purple bruise and a gash on his cheekbone. His eyes are red-rimmed and puffy, normally happy grin completely missing on the all too familiar face. It’s obvious that he’s been crying, and Emery is immediately frozen on the spot by the sight of him.
“Tay…?” he asks uncertainly, feeling panic flutter in his chest. “What are you doing here?”
“I d-didn’t know where else to go,” Tay says, wiping his tears and wincing when the movement causes him to brush against the gash on his cheek.
“I…what about Damian or even Tobi…?” Emery says, glancing around. He knows he’s being harsh, trying to brush Tay off on someone else. But it’s obvious that this is something serious and he isn’t sure he’s ready to face it.
He knows about Tay’s father. Of course he does. No matter how many times Tay has tried to play his myriad bruises off as roughhousing with a couple of his bandmates or his own clumsiness (Tay’s not even that clumsy), Emery has long put it together. But it’s not something he’s ever really acknowledged or confronted Tay about because he knows it’s not his place; he knows, and there’s nothing he can do for him anyways.
Tay shakes his head. “They’ll baby me,” Tay says. “And I don’t…I don’t want that. I just…Emery, please, can I come in? Just tonight…let me sleep here. I promise I’ll be gone in the morning.”
The plea is so broken, so far from the Tay that Emery is used to, that for a moment Emery can only stare, his doe eyes locked on the slightly older boy in shock. He knows he’s being rude, that his mouth is hanging agape and it’s probably hard enough for Tay to even ask this of him, but he can’t really help himself.
Tay closes his eyes, sucks in a breath. “Never mind,” he says. “I should just…I should go. Sorry to wake you up.”
Before Tay can get far, Emery catches his wrist and stops him. Tay glances at him, expression a mixture of relief and confusion, but Emery has no words. He simply tugs Tay into the room and closes the door softly behind him.
Tay holds himself as if he’s cold, staring at Emery’s messy little dorm in silence. Emery is suddenly very aware of everything that’s out of place: a pair of pants thrown over the top of his pathetic television, pizza boxes and takeout containers filling all of the available surfaces in the tiny room, the wrinkled and somewhat stained covers on his miniscule twin-sized bed; he knows Tay isn’t exactly rich, but for some reason Emery hates that he’s seeing his place now, like this, instead of some other way. The only thing remotely decent is his walls, which are covered in prints of his favorite pictures that he’s taken over the course of the year he’s attended UAA. Some of it looks pretty professional, but by far and away, the majority of them are pictures of their little group.
“It’s…nice,” Tay says after a moment of study.
Emery arches his eyebrows in doubt.
Tay tries to crack a smile. “Okay, that’s a lie. What even is that smell?” he asks, pinching his nostrils.
“Shut up,” Emery says, and he knows his cheeks are red as he rummages around on a nearby table to find some air freshener to spray in the room. “It’s not like I’m making you stay here.”
Tay holds his hands up pacifyingly. “You’re right, sorry,” Tay says. “It’s really not all that terrible…I like the pictures?”
Emery nods, not sure what else to say. Tay said he didn’t want anyone to baby him, but Emery isn’t sure what else he could possibly do right now.
“So…um…” he begins, motioning vaguely at Tay’s face. “Do you need like…a band aid or something? I’m sure I’ve got some antibacterial wipes around here somewhere…”
“No offense, but I think any medical supplies in here have already been compromised by the mess and I’m more likely to get infected by them than if I just let it heal on its own,” Tay says.
Emery scoffs. “How is that not offensive?” he says, but he’s shaking his head fondly.
Tay shrugs, smiling again. This time, it’s a little more real, a little less forced, and Emery feels the fist around his heart let up a little.
It’s silent again for a moment, neither boy sure how to proceed. Then, Tay bites his lip. “Can we just…go to bed?”
“Um…yeah…” Emery rubs a hand through the back of his hair. He glances around the room, spying the armchair by the window. There’s a pizza box in it, but he can move that, so he heads over as he talks. “I’ll just take the chair, I guess, and you can have the bed…”
Emery pauses at the rather swift denial, giving his friend a puzzled look.
Tay blushes a little. “I…um…I was thinking we could just share the bed. You know…cuddle.”
Emery feels his cheeks heat up all the more at the thought of sharing a bed—his tiny bed—with Tay, their limbs all tangled up in the blankets.
It’s not like he hasn’t ever cuddled with his friends. But being in bed together seems so intimate, so different from what friends normally did. Usually, it’d just be a sprawl of limbs on the grass or on Jem’s floor, a head on his shoulder as they drove somewhere, maybe even piled on the couch in Damian’s apartment. But bed?
Emery looks at Tay, trying to see if he’s joking like he usually is, but his face is devoid of humor and instead, all he can see is a quiet desperation and uncertainty, a need to be held. He said he didn’t want to be babied, but it’s clear to Emery that he wasn’t being entirely truthful. He wants the physical reassurance—just maybe not the cooing and mothering Damian and Jem tended to give.
He looks like he’s about to change his mind, but Emery doesn’t give him the opportunity. “Sure,” he says, smiling at his friend as best he can. “But just a warning, I tend to kick.”
Tay returns the smile, wobbly with relief, and Emery doesn’t think he can take that much longer so he quickly sheds the hoodie he’d found earlier, switches off his light, and pulls Tay into the bed next to him.
At first, Emery isn’t sure he’ll be able to fall asleep. He’s far too aware of Tay’s lithe body next to his: their legs tangled together, the suggestion of muscle beneath where Emery’s hand rests on his waist, the curve of his ass dangerously close to his hips…even the sound of his soft breathing is doing strange, complicated things to him.
See, Emery may be bad at feelings, but he’s still a teenaged boy. Being this close to someone, someone he’s always found attractive, is distracting, and he’s sure Tay can hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears and feel the way his own body is beginning to react as he unwillingly thinks of how much closer they could be, wonders if sex with another guy is really as good as he’s always imagined…
Suddenly, Tay turns around on the bed and pulls up his knee so that it nearly brushes Emery’s cock through his sweats. The younger boy’s eyes widen and his breathing hitches temporarily, but Tay simply settles more comfortably into him, face pressed beneath his chin so that his breath brushes his collarbone. It’s honestly torture, and Emery just knows he’s not going to be able to sleep; there’s just no way.
But his exhausted body has other plans, and although he’s wound up tighter than a spring, his dreams eventually rise up to claim him.
When he wakes up the next morning, Tay is gone just as he said he would be. In his place is a picture that he’d apparently taken with an old polaroid camera Emery had bought on an impulse a couple of years ago while visiting Disney Land; the picture is of Tay, wearing Emery’s discarded hoodie and giving him a thumbs up sign with his boxy grin firmly back in place as if he hadn’t been a complete wreck the night before.
At the bottom of the picture, written in sharpie, are the letters I O U and Emery sighs heavily, unable to fight the smile on his face. He didn’t think he would ever understand Tay, but he finds himself feeling so ridiculously happy that somehow, some way, he’d managed to actually help the slightly older boy that he doesn’t think he really minds the mystery.