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Break You Down
Matt glanced around the room anxiously, waiting in vain for his friend to begin speaking. The violent light of the early-afternoon sun was pulsating around the dusty floor of the attic they now found themselves in, only serving to make him anxious to get out in it.
“What is it, dude?” he asked, finally unable to remain patient any longer.
Daniel glanced up, steeling himself - then caved and looked back down at his hands, clenched in his lap in a rare display of discomfiture and anxiety. His palms were sheeted in a light coat of sweat now, the likes of which was also breaking out on his brow and upper lip.
“Daniel!” Matt finally snapped. “C’mon, man! I’m supposed to be buying my mom’s birthday present!”
After gnawing on the inside of his lip for a half-second longer, Daniel finally complied, standing up and leaning over from the wicker chair he’d been sitting on to the old leather armchair that contained his friend, his face drawing rapidly nearer as he went in for a kiss. For several long moments, it seemed the gesture had been accepted - his lips, already puckered in the correct position, were closing the distance without fail, first inches between them and then centimeters--
And then, just as abruptly, there were rough hands on his shoulders, shoving him backward so hard that he stumbled and fell back into his own chair.
What the h*ll?!” Matt leapt to his feet, towering over him with a face cast in furious shadow. “What the h*ll was that, man?”
Staring with wide, unfocused eyes, Daniel’s jaw worked without words before he finally urged himself to speak. “But... I thought...”
“Thought what? Is this some kind of joke? Did Elijah put you up to this?”
Stunned, Daniel could do nothing but try to recount the scene burning in his mind. There was no way he’d misheard; he could remember it in explicit detail. “I thought you loved me,” he mumbled.
“You thought...” Matt’s mouth popped open, the small ‘o’ all he could manage to represent his incredulity.
“You said it,” Daniel said firmly, with the unwavering confidence of someone who was positive what he’d heard. His shakiness was gone, replaced with the calm exterior he was so known for. “Don’t you remember? Yesterday, when...”
“You did it, man! H*ll! You really did it!” Matt howled, muscled arm tightening around his taller friend’s shoulders until Daniel wondered if he might wake up with bruises. He rolled his eyes.
“Uh huh,” he said nonchalantly.
“You guys saw, right?” Matt called out to their fellow teammates. “Did you see him block that puck? H*ll! You smacked that thing so bad I thought it was gonna burn a path through the ice!”
He couldn’t help it - a minute, smug little smile appeared on Daniel’s face as he recalled what seemed like years but had been less than an hour earlier when he’d managed to keep the puck from entering his net in the last two seconds of the game, securing their win as well as their spot in the region’s ice hockey semi-finals. “I did, didn’t I?” he acknowledged with a chuckle.
Matt bent his head back, taking a long swig of the beer he had in the hand that wasn’t holding Daniel hostage. “H*ll,” he said again for emphasis, grinning. “I freaking love you, man, you know that? I really freaking love you!”
Instinctively, Daniel glanced around to see if any of their teammates had heard that abrupt confession, but they all seemed busy with their own joyous conversations. He looked back at Matt in wonder, but despite the fact that he was taller, Matt was already dragging him away like he was nothing to go hold their new trophy and the opportunity to respond had been lost.
Well, that was all right. Maybe he was embarrassed, or simply not ready to hear his response yet. Maybe he hadn’t even realized he’d said it out loud, tipsy as he was. Daniel would just ask him to stop by the next day - yes, that was perfect, because then he could use the night to figure out how he’d tell him...
Silence ensued after the recollection of that turn of events. “Holy cr*p,” Matt muttered, running a hand violently through his hair. “Oh, h*ll, Daniel. That’s not what I... not that kind of love! I meant, like - a bro love, you know? Like a guy thing! H*ll!”
Daniel stared in a mixture of shock and horror as he swiftly analyzed the situation. Could he have misinterpreted? No, he’d been so sure - but then, maybe it was only because that’s what he had wanted to hear...
“Look, sorry,” Matt mumbled. “I really think it’s better if I leave.” Even as he spoke, he moved closer to the door.
Daniel’s knee-jerk reaction was an instantaneous attempt to salvage a situation his subconscious had already decided was out of control, a last-bid effort to keep his own stupid emotions from ruining his longest-standing friendship: he burst out laughing, the forced note of which Matt surely wouldn’t notice given his surprise.
Matt’s brows shot up. “Dude, what? What’s so bloody funny?”
“Got you!” Daniel gasped out between peels of laughter. “You really believed it!”
Still just a touch confused, Matt frowned. “Wait, so - so that was a joke?”
“You really have to ask?” He snorted. “Sorry, dude, you’re not my type!”
“Aw, h*ll, Daniel!” But Matt was chuckling now, too. “Christ, you freaking had me convinced there, you know that?”
“And here I thought it’d be harder to pull off,” Daniel said dryly, though the words burned at his stomach. “You sure you aren’t the gay one, dude?”
Matt’s eyes rolled and he punched him in the shoulder. “Pretty d*mn sure, and even if I was, I think you’re a little too girly for me, anyway. I’d want to find myself a manly man.” He grinned and turned to face the door again. “C’mon, help me pick somethin’ out for my mom since you held me up so long.”
“Yeah, sure.” Daniel followed him out, listening to Matt’s bursts of stringy laughter. He even joined in every once in a while, bragging about how well he’d done, but above all he always made sure he was at his friend’s back so that Matt wouldn’t see the crushed expression he just couldn’t seem to wipe off his face.