Across the room, the blonde man catches Tommy’s gaze.
He’s been staring at him too long over the rim of his beer bottle. It isn’t totally Tommy’s fault—the man honest-to-God radiates confidence. Jesus. The people crowded around him—two guys and three girls—look like they’re basking in it. They’re hanging on to his every word. When the man throws his head back and laughs—twice so far while Tommy quietly watches—they laugh along like it’s a reflex.
And then oh dear sweet baby Jesus because the man’s looking back now, lips curving into a half-crescent, and Tommy’s nearly shitting himself. And that’s before he detaches from his fan club with a small smile and walks over.
“Hey,” the man rumbles, still smiling that stupid grin. God, Tommy wants to punch it off. Blonde hair, blue eyes, built like a brick shithouse—the guy looked like Captain fucking America.
“Hi,” Tommy returns, tapping a nervous finger against his beer bottle. He’s blushing. Christ, he’s blushing like a damn Victorian lady. It’s past pathetic.
“Saw you looking,” Captain America grins, taking a quick swig from the bottle in his hand. Tommy tries not to follow the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallows. He’s not entirely sure it works.
“S’okay,” he interrupts, waving a hand. “What’s your name?”
“Uh, Tommy. Tommy Gold.” Thank God he doesn’t stutter, because holy shit, this guy.
“Jake Miller,” the other boy says, reaching the beer bottle-free hand out towards him. The rough callouses on his hand make Tommy’s chest collapse. It isn’t quite as painful as he’d imagined. “Pleased to meet you.”
So then they talk a little bit more, about school—“Lit and philosophy?” Jake crows, blinking at him incredulously, and Tommy feels stupidly proud of himself. “Shit, I’m talking to a genius then?”—about that passed-out drunk boy one of Tommy’s friends drew on—“that handlebar mustache was a nice touch.”—the girl sitting on the couch looking like she wants to eat Jake for dinner—“did she just actually lick her lips?” Tommy’s not quite sure what’s going on, but Jake puts his number in Tommy’s phone before he walks away slightly off-kilter, and really, Tommy feels a lot drunker than he should after only one beer.
Tommy finally gets the courage to text Jake something witty four days later.
TOMMY: hey, this is tommy. we met @ lisa’s party?
(No, it’s not witty, because he’s an idiot, and he found a shirtless picture of Jake on his Instagram and he’s really still not over that.)
JAKE: tommy the philosophy & lit genius?
TOMMY: no, the other tommy u met @ lisa’s party & gave ur number to.
JAKE: i don’t recall the other tommy being an asshole.
Tommy snorts into his palm because his dad’s grading papers upstairs and he needs to concentrate, Thomas before letting his fingers fly across the screen.
TOMMY: it’s a tommy thing. in the job description & everything. must be an asshole. 🙂
Jake doesn’t text back for ten minutes. Then, finally, Tommy’s phone buzzes.
JAKE: well that explains everything.
The texting part turns out to be easy as breathing. Easy enough that Tommy ends up inviting Jake over after his 12 o’clock Medieval Lit class the next day. Somehow, Jake accepts.
So they’re sitting on the raggedy couch in the basement suite of his parents’ house that Tommy lost his virginity on and drinking beer because of course they’re drinking beer. (In the small part of his mind not totally consumed by the fact that a boy who looks like a Calvin Klein model is sitting with him on a couch still sporting suspect stains, Tommy wonders if that’s A Thing Straight Boys Do.) And Jake might be a little drunk but he’s still leaning over and Tommy’s thinking oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck because Jake’s kissing him and wait, isn’t Jake straight?
He thinks maybe he said this last part aloud because Jake’s laughing against his lips and hauling him closer. But Jake tastes like beer and sweat and boy, so Tommy just laughs back, breathless, and lets the euphoria bubble over.
They don’t really talk about it, but Jake comes over every few days, and no matter how it starts, they always end up making out on that couch. By the fourth time it happens, Tommy thinks he’s getting a little too attached to the scratch of stubble under his fingers, the rough slide of Jake’s fingers against the planes of his chest. He’s not even going to mention the stupid smugness he feels when he manages to suck on that spot behind Jake’s ear hard enough to make him positively whine.
(By the fifth time, he’s half-hard just from Jake smiling at him, and yeah, definitely too attached.)
Sometimes Jake’s leg doesn’t move right and his mouth will falter against Tommy’s mouth, throat, collarbone. Tommy pretends he doesn’t notice. But he does. He notices the way Jake limps a little with his left leg, the careful way he pulls himself up. The way he keeps Tommy away from anything below mid-thigh carefully, always calls it quits before anyone’s pants can come off. The first couple times, he puts it down to Jake being in the closet. After that, he starts to realize it’s something worse.
But he still doesn’t say anything.
They’re in Tommy’s basement suite—on the bed for once this time—and Tommy’s ducking his head down to mouth across Jake’s bare sternum. He gets all the way down to the coarse trail of hair above Jake’s waistband before Jake stops him.
“I know about your leg, you know,” Tommy says before Jake can mumble out an excuse about needing to go to work or class or to his apartment or wherever. Immediately, Jake’s face goes white, and Tommy holds up his hands, backtracking. “It’s not a big deal, alright?”
Jake shoves Tommy off him, jaw clenched tight. “Course it is,” he snaps, searching around for his shirt. He’s pulling it over his head before Tommy can blink, standing up unsteadily. “I’m a fucking amputee, Tommy. Of course it is.”
Before Tommy can open his mouth, the door slams shut.
He tries texting Jake. Two weeks go by. Jake never responds.
Almost three weeks after the I’m-A-Fucking-Amputee fiasco, Tommy spots Jake in the caf, laughing with his buddies, and he’s determined not to let him weasel out of it this time.
He ends up waiting for Jake’s friends to leave for close to an hour. Then they finally stand up, crumpling Chipotle wrappers in their fists. Tommy waits for them to do their stupid-ass frat boy handshake before getting up, hurriedly shoving his things into his backpack.
“Hey,” he says sharply, touching Jake’s shoulder.
Jake whips around. When he catches sight of Tommy, his eyes widen. “What do you want?” he says finally, looking away with pursed lips.
“I want to talk to you,” Tommy says, jerking his head toward the exit. “And I want you not to run out the fucking door, all right?”
Jake looks at him for a long moment, face flat. “Fine,” he says, grabbing his Coke and standing up. “Lead the way, Gold.”
Tommy swallows and tries to pretend that doesn’t hurt him.
“So what is it?” Jake says as soon as the door to Tommy’s basement suite slams shut.
Tommy takes a step toward him, narrowing his eyes. He’s not terribly short, but Jake’s got a good four or five inches on him, and he has to look up a little to glare at Jake. “You think you’re less of a person because you lost your leg?” Tommy says bluntly.
Jake rolls his eyes, anger turning his eyes to stone. He tries to move way, but Tommy grabs Jake’s wrist, holding him still. “Why not? Everyone else does. You know how people treat me once they find out? I’m just the poor little amputee. I’m not even a person anymore, just some fucking invalid who can’t even take care of himself.”
“Okay, first off: you’re the size of a goddamn tractor, how the hell can you be the ‘little amputee’?” Jake doesn’t even smile. Tommy just sighs and continues, gentler this time. “And second, what the fuck? Who cares what they think about you? They’re idiots.”
“I care,” Jake mutters, taking a couple steps back to sink down onto that godforsaken couch. “I care, all right? I was going to enlist after college. Do something important. Be someone important. And then I lose my leg in a fucking motorcycle accident a mile from home and now I can barely walk up the stairs by myself. How the hell am I supposed to do anything important now? I can’t—I can’t be—”
Tommy sits down beside him carefully, so close their bodies touch from shoulder to hip. The look in Jake’s eyes is too personal, too crazed, for it to be just that. “This isn’t about the military,” he says quietly.
Jake’s hand twitches beside him. He’s right, he knows he is. “Shut up,” Jake snaps, jerking away from him.
“It’s about proving someone wrong,” Tommy guesses.
“Shut up, Tommy,” Jake growls, pushing himself to his feet.
Tommy stands up too and walks over Jake, not touching him, but close enough that he could be. “Someone close,” he says softly.
Jake looks like he wants to punch something for few second seconds. Tommy counts to ten, hoping it’s not him, but then the look melts away to defeat and Jake slumps back onto the couch. “General Miller,” he says roughly. “Army. Silver Star, among other things.” He smiles bitterly. “I came out to him when I was sixteen and suddenly I was the disappointment, not the army draft he was so proud of. And now I can’t even prove him wrong because I lost my fucking leg. I can’t be a hero anymore. I’m just the gay amputee who can barely shower by himself.”
Tommy lets out a breath, listens to it echo around the room. “You can still do that, you know,” he says. “I’ve heard of recruiters taking amputees for special cases. My friend’s cousin got into the Navy, and he was born without his right leg.”
He hears Jake’s breath catch as he turns toward Tommy. “Really?” Jake whispers, like he can’t even let himself believe it. This close, his eyes look like water. Glassy, webbed with red.
“Really,” Tommy says gently. “Also, don’t worry about the shower thing. I’m more than willing to help with that.”
Jake laughs, one step away from hysterical, and fits his mouth against Tommy’s almost hard enough to hurt. “Fucking perv.”
Tommy doesn’t see the prosthetic until two weeks later. It’s a Friday night and they’re in Jake’s (empty) apartment, and Tommy watches Jake’s face twist as he pulls off his jeans with shaky hands. Watches him suck in a breath as Tommy’s eyes roam over the black plastic, the metal, all the way down to the where the artificial foot disappears into his socks.
Tommy slowly pushes himself off the bed until he’s kneeling in front of the prosthetic. For one moment, he locks eyes with Jake, seeing the fear in his face. Then, slowly, he lifts up a hand and runs it over the place where real leg turns into fake. Jake shudders, his pupils blown wide. Tommy can’t bring himself to look away. Instead, he just leans in and presses his lips to the seam of plastic and skin.
Jake hauls him up, hands trembling, and they dissolve into a mess of teeth and lips and sweat.
The stump is, by all means, kind of ugly, mottled with pink scars. After Jake’s fumbled the prosthetic off, Tommy runs his hand over the uneven skin, and Jake shivers, pressing him back into the bed.
(And there are a few times where Jake’s hips falter, but Tommy just smiles and presses his lips against Jake’s, and it’s fine. They’re fine. Messy, uncoordinated, but fine.)
Their first ‘official’ date is the Homecoming game. They sit in the fifth row of bleachers and cheer on the team that had he not lost a leg, Jake would’ve been a part of. Tommy’s careful not to hold his hand, not to stand too close—he might be plagued by rumours about his sexuality but Jake, so far as he knew, was known unanimously to be straight. But halfway through Jake reaches down to tangle their fingers together and they stay that way all the way back to Tommy’s room, and neither of them care too much about the looks their classmates give them.
“Thanks,” Jake whispers one night.
“For what?” Tommy asks, looking at Jake in confusion. “For telling you the truth?”
“No,” Jake mumbles, turning his face into Tommy’s shoulder. “For making me feel human again.”
Tommy feels himself blush all the way up to his forehead. “Any sane person would do that.”
“But you’re the first who’s tried,” Jake says, and he’s blushing too, one hand scratching awkwardly at the baby hairs at the back of his neck.
Tommy’s not sure what to say to that. He just presses a kiss against Jake’s temple and hopes he gets the message.
Jake smiles against his collarbone, and yeah. He does.