**This chapter comes directly after Ben Loves a Challenge ch 14. While there is no sex in this one, I promise it’s coming soon.
It’s not necessary to read Ben Loves a Challenge first, this story will still make sense, but I feel like it’s better all together. Either way, I hope you enjoy.
Carlin’s words haunted D’metrius for the rest of the week, and he felt all of the emotions. He was distracted at work, irritable and angsty. Christmas came and went with barely a thought, not that he celebrated anyway. And for the first time since he’d started dressing in drag, he was nervous about becoming Zion.
It was bad enough that he skipped his weekly friday night hook up, which he hadn’t done in a very, very long time. His recent encounters, especially with Topher the week before, his emotional state since Carlin came out, and called him out, just, everything was wrong. It felt like D’metrius was toxic, and if he dressed in drag right now he’d somehow contaminate Zion, too.
He couldn’t risk contaminating Zion. He knew it sounded dumb, and dramatic, but until he kicked his funk he had to keep Zion locked up, safe and secure.
Which meant he had exactly four days to figure it out before the New Year’s Eve drag show.
He’d been headed through the courtyard of his apartment building, on his way to Jimmy’s house to practice their act for the show when he realized he’d forgotten the duct tape and their matching corsets, which had just come in the mail.
He ran back to get them, shoving them into a reusable shopping bag, then rushed back out into the courtyard. Just as he reached the steps, ready to vault down them two at a time, he nearly collided into the last person he wanted to see just then.
His toxic emotions pushed him past a point that he couldn’t stop himself from snapping at Carlin. “You’ve ruined everything,” he growled, stomping down the steps. Carlin’s hands were full, two bags of groceries in his arms, and his backpack on his back.
Carlin looked surprised, which was actually pretty satisfying when he usually looked so calm. So cool. Carlin blinked at him, halting in his tracks as D’metrius stormed into his personal space. “D’metrius?”
It was a mistake, because Carlin smelled good enough to stun him for a second. He blinked, then retreated back up the steps just to be away from his smell. “I can’t, you’ve, you, it’s all your fault!” he stammered. He hadn’t exactly been prepared to confront Carlin, he had no idea what to say next.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Carlin asked, shifting bags around in his arms when he reached the top of the steps. “Why don’t you come over, I can put this stuff down and you can tell me what’s wrong.”
How had he already recovered? How was he also so calm! It pissed him off to no end. “Nevermind, forget it,” he barked, stepping around Carlin. “Just, whatever.”
“D’metrius,” Carlin said in that calm yet demanding voice. “Come back here and talk to me. Going out like this isn’t going to help anything.”
“You don’t know me! I’ll go out however I want. And, this’s all your fault, anyway,” he snapped, turning back around. “It’s all ruined, everything. I’m all, I just, it’s all-” He stopped talking when he saw the little girl who did the flowers upstairs leaning over the banister, watching them both. She ducked when she saw that he saw her.
“D, please,” Carlin said. “Come to my place. These bags are heavy, and we can talk it over.”
“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” D’metrius growled. “And don’t call me D.”
Carlin sighed. “Fine, you know where to find me, if you change your mind. Bye, D’metrius. See you later, little lady,” he said, nodding up to the girl on the banister.
“Bye, Mr. Bishop,” the girl squeaked from above. “Mr. Pretty Lady, you should be nicer to Mr. Bishop, he’s very nice.”
Carlin snorted, then hid his laugh. “Mr. Pretty Lady?” D’metrius said, blinking at the girl, the wind gone from his sails. “Why’d she call me Mr. Pretty Lady but you Mr. Bishop?”
Carlin sniffed a laugh as the girl ran away. D’metrius looked at Carlin, who was biting his lower lip to keep from laughing more. He shrugged when he noticed him looking. “I mean, Bishop is my last name. And, she’s not wrong. You’re very pretty when you’re Zion.”
D’metrius scowled, then turned away from Carlin and stormed down the steps. Jimmy was waiting for him at the street in his beat-up junker.
Just as Carlin predicted he just couldn’t get himself together, and the night was shot earlier than it should’ve been. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t do makeup for shit, couldn’t seem to get his pitch right, and he’d broken one of Zion’s favorite pairs of stilettos. His left arm still throbbed where he’d banged it up to save his face from a table as he flailed. To add insult to injury, now Jimmy was mad at him, too.
Neither of them talked as Jimmy drove him home, both of them in sour moods for different reasons stemming from the same issue.
D’metrius paused before climbing out of the idling car outside his apartment building. Jimmy topkapı escort looked up at him and the pissy look in his eyes just made D’metrius feel even worse.
“Lover, if you don’t get your shit together, the show’s gonna go up in flames and you can kiss our crowns goodbye. And, I think it goes without saying, but there is no way I’m losing my title to Stella Stelagtits. Get your shit together and shove it in your uptight backpack already.”
“Get off my back, Jimmy, I just had an off night. If you want the crown so much, why don’t you just do it without me.”
“Do it without you?” Jimmy’s scowl deepened. “That’s not what Zion would say.”
“Well, I’m not Zion right now, and it’s what I’m saying,” D’metrius snapped. He slammed the car door and stomped to the building.
“You need to figure out whatever crawled up your ass and died and dig it out by New Year’s Eve, Metri,” Jimmy called after him.
He didn’t turn around, just raised a middle finger high above his head and held it there until he needed it to unlock the door. There was nothing to figure out, he knew exactly what had crawled up his ass. He climbed up the stairs, half afraid and half wanting Carlin to be reading at the table, but he wasn’t tonight. He refused to acknowledge the disappointment that bubbled up in his gut as he crossed the softly lit courtyard and headed to his apartment.
It was late and the building was mostly quiet. He heard the landlady’s TV when he passed her door, something with canned laughter, it faded as he moved down the hall. He unlocked his door and took his coat and shoes off, then stood in the doorway.
Dread settled in his stomach as he saw Zion’s touch in every aspect of his apartment. Pictures of Zion and Bambi, Jimmy’s drag persona, at pageants and drag shows on the walls. The open closet, full of dresses and corsets and silky undergarments, an entire wall rack full of shoes in every color of the rainbow. His dressing table surrounded by the rainbow of wigs Zion used to coordinate with his every outfit.
It took physical willpower and a slow count to five to get him inside.
Once inside, he couldn’t bear to touch any of Zion’s things, afraid that the slightest touch would begin the slow contamination of everything that made up his other life. It made it difficult to weave through his apartment until he made it to his bedroom.
He showered and changed into sweats, but Zion’s touch was heavy in his bedroom and bathroom, too, of course. Every spare space was covered with more makeup tools and cleansers and lotions than he cared to admit he owned right now. He skipped his normal routine of moisturizing and skin care that had become second nature to him, feeling guilty for not doing it, but also too afraid to do it, too.
It made him uncomfortable, but not for the reason he’d been expecting. He couldn’t escape Zion’s presence, Zion’s personality, and he didn’t feel like he deserved to be around Zion’s things as he was. It usually felt liberating, turning into Zion was often what got him through the day. Today everything relating to Zion was smothering, and he didn’t like it at all.
His chest grew tight and he had to close his eyes and focus on his breathing for over a minute before it stopped feeling like something was sitting on his chest. It was suddenly too much, and he couldn’t bear to be there for another minute or he knew he’d contaminate Zion past redemption. It wasn’t rational, and he couldn’t explain why he felt that way, but he did. He backed out of his apartment and closed the door behind him.
He instantly realized he was barefoot, but he couldn’t go back, not right now, not even for shoes.
The smooth, worn wooden floor was dusty under his feet as he walked to the courtyard. Without thinking about it too much he threw himself down on the worn leather couch, staring up at the soft, dirty chandelier, and above that, the night-dark sunroof. He sighed and closed his eyes. He was up again before he could stop himself, full of nervous, stress-filled energy he couldn’t control. He paced the courtyard for a moment, then decided to just go to bed.
His gut clenched when he got back to the door to his apartment with the sudden realization that he’d locked himself out. He tried the handle anyway, confirming that Zion was appropriately locked in, safe from his corruption. He sighed again, then rested his head on his door, eyes shut tight.
He headed towards the landlady’s apartment, but hesitated in the middle of the hallway. Ms. Stewart was maybe still up, and would unlock his door for him if she was, he just had to get there. The problem was, the apartment to his left stopped him like a physical barrier. He forced himself to pass it, but just a horror movie he found himself quickly turned around again, stopped in front of it.
What was it about Carlin that messed him up so much? He knocked.
What was he doing? Standing in the hallway barefoot, knocking on the man who drove him crazy’s apartment door after midnight on a Sunday night? He turned away, but etiler escort not before the door hinges squeaked open.
“Oh, ah, sorry. Nevermind,” he dismissed, back still to Carlin. “Wrong door.”
Carlin snorted. “Sure, sure.” He didn’t move, couldn’t move. “Well, good night, then,” he said.
D’metrius swallowed hard, then pirouetted around quickly. “Wait!”
Carlin’s door was almost closed, but he stopped, pulling it just open enough for his head to peek through. “What’s up?”
D’metrius looked down at the pale, worn wood floor. “Oh. Um. I, ah. Um, locked myself out. Of my apartment,” he said, feeling beyond stupid.
“I’m sure Mary probably has a spare, she could let you in.”
“I, ah, nevermind. I mean, she’s prolly sleeping, it’s after midnight.” He looked at Carlin, meeting his eyes for a brief second before quickly turning away. His hair was sticking out of his man bun in a sexy-messy way, and D’metrius realized he might have woken Carlin up. “Sorry, I woke you up, too, didn’t I? Sorry, man, sorry.” He took a step back.
“You didn’t.” Carlin looked down. “You locked yourself out without even shoes?”
“It’s been a bad night,” he growled, suddenly angry with Carlin for no singular reason in particular.
“I can tell.” He didn’t say anything else, and neither did D’metrius. A tense moment passed.
“I should go,” D’metrius said when he couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“Wanna come in?” Carlin asked at the same time.
D’metrius flushed, at first angry, but that deflated quickly into resignation. “If you don’t mind,” he replied, feeling sheepish.
Carlin pulled the door open and ushered him inside. D’metrius’s unit was a one bedroom with an open floor plan, hence how Zion dominated his living space, where as Carlin had a much larger apartment with a separate room for his dining and kitchen area. D’metrius stepped inside feeling like a child as he scanned Carlin’s home.
It felt like Carlin, and as dumb as it sounded, it was true. The room was filled with warmth, deep red and beige walls finished with beautiful cherry wood bookshelves, soft, overstuffed couches, and a coffee table that matched the bookshelves. The walls were adorned with abstract art that matched the room, and also a large TV.
D’metrius had never seen an apartment so tidy. Carlin shut the door behind him and he jumped. “I just realized you’ve never been here,” Carlin noted. “Make yourself at home. You’re welcome to sleep here tonight until Mary’s up for the morning, if you’d like.”
“Sleep with you?” he squeaked.
Carlin smirked at him. “I figured you might want the couch, actually. Not saying my bed isn’t available, just figured you’d feel much more comfortable on the latter. Believe what you’d like, but my intentions are pure.”
D’metrius scowled, crossing his arms over his chest. “I didn’t, I mean, whatever, man.”
Carlin snorted. “Would you want a drink or something?” Carlin asked, then turned away from him and moved to the kitchen area.
“Yeah, sure,” he agreed. Carlin returned with two glasses and an amber bottle of liquid with the label covered by his hand. Carlin opened the bottle and poured about two fingers or so of the amber liquid into the glasses before handing one to D’metrius.
He took it, careful to avoid touching Carlin’s fingers. The older man didn’t notice, or if he did, he didn’t pay it any attention. D’metrius sat down on the oversized armchair to the left of the couch he assumed he’d be sleeping on tonight.
At least it was comfortable, though he wasn’t sure he’d be able to sleep at all so close to Carlin. Was it possible to relax when surrounded by Carlin on all sides? Not likely.
He sniffed the liquid in the glass. Whiskey of some sort.
“What?” Carlin asked, sipping from his own identical glass.
“What’dya mean what?”
“You chuckled. Just wondering what made you chuckle.”
“I didn’t chuckle,” he said with a sniff.
Carlin snorted. “If you insist.”
A quiet second ticked by. “Just, it was pretty expected. I mean, for you to be a whiskey guy.”
Carlin raised an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”
“Um, well, just,” he said, flustered that he’d even said anything at all. “Just, you look like you could be a model for a whiskey advert, that’s all.”
Carlin sipped again, then shrugged with half a shoulder. “I dunno about that.”
More silence. D’metrius went to sip his whiskey, but was so nervous he ended up downing it like an oversized shot. It burned on it’s way down and sat in his stomach like angry shrapnel.
“Woah, slow down. That’s sipping whiskey, not shooting whiskey,” Carlin said, looking both amused and concerned at the same time.
D’metrius just bit his lip and held the now-empty glass between his legs, staring down into it so he didn’t have to look at Carlin. “I’m fine.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Carlin agreed with a chuckle. “Good thing you’re not going home tonight.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It was a joke!” Carlin exclaimed. ataköy escort “Like, you’re not driving, I mean, I wasn’t…” He sighed, then ran his free hand over his messy, tied back hair. “I can go back to my room and shut the door, if it would help. I wasn’t trying, like, I just wanted to hang out for a minute or something.”
“Hang out?” D’metrius blinked twice, then laughed. “You’re around your students too much, it’s rubbing off on you.” He looked up, enjoying the flustered look on Carlin’s face until he hid it again. D’metrius smirked. “Why do you even like me? I’m way outta your league.”
“Outta… What?!” Carlin frowned. “I’m not that bad,” he grumped, looking offended.
“What? I never said you were.”
Carlin sipped again before he met D’metrius’s eyes. “You said I’m outta your league.”
D’metrius’s stomach fluttered. “You are. I’m not even close.”
“You’re not… I don’t understand,” Carlin muttered. “I mean, I know I’m not into your scene, but I take care of myself and-“
D’metrius was feeling lighter, more relaxed, and more than a little buzzed. When had he eaten last? “Seriously? Carlin, you’re a trip.”
Carlin looked surprised, then hid it with another sip. How did he still have so much left? It looked like his glass was still as full as when he’d poured it. D’metirus looked down at his own glass with nothing but the faintest wheat-colored puddle at the bottom.
“You’re the one who’s outta my league was what I meant,” D’metrius clarified, finding it easier to talk to Carlin after downing hundred-proof liquor. He held out his cup, wordlessly asking for more. “Like, you can do much better than me.”
Carlin eyed it suspiciously, but he still picked up the bottle and uncorked it. “You sure you want more?”
“I can handle myself,” he snapped. Carlin shrugged and poured more sharp smelling liquid in his glass, but it was significantly less than the first time. He downed it all like another shot, knowing he’d regret this later but not emotionally under control enough to care or stop himself right now.
“How so?” Carlin asked, and he knew he was being baited, but it didn’t piss him off like it normally would. “Why do you think I’m out of your league?”
“Hmm,” he said slowly, drawing out the feeling of temporary superiority the conversation was giving him. “Well, you have a good job, you’re smart, and good with kids. You look super dignified-“
“Dignified?” Carlin cut in.
He snorted. “Yes, dignified.”
“With a man-bun and premature greying hair?”
“Oh yes,” D’metrius agreed. “You’re very hot.” Why had he said that? Carlin’s eyes darted down and he turned a pale pink just over the top of his beard. Carlin’s reaction melted his regret instantly, egged him on. Or maybe it was the alcohol. It didn’t matter which it was as his mouth kept on spilling his secrets. “You are, you know. Like I said, you could be a whiskey model.”
“Not true,” Carlin corrected, seeming to recover slightly. “I’m old, and-“
D’metrius snorted. “You don’t think I know how to spot a beautiful man?” He no longer wanted to control his mouth, not when his words made Carlin make all these adorable little reactions. His head felt light, and his heart did, too. It was a welcome surprise.
“I never said that,” Carlin noted, sipping again. D’metrius noticed his drink was finally a little lower. “I said I’m old. You said so yourself.”
“I was being mean,” he agreed. “But you are pretty easy on the eyes.” He smiled with half his face, watching for Carlin’s reaction.
Carlin scraped his teeth over his bottom lip as he thought about his response. “So, like, drag Queen beautiful? Would you wanna see me in drag?”
D’metrius rolled his eyes and sniffed. “As if. You’d make a terrible Queen Carlin. You’re a beautiful man, beautiful as a man. Not all of us are that lucky. I’m not normally into older guys, but you’re really stunning. Handsome-style beautiful, not Queen-style.”
“You don’t think you’re beautiful?” Carlin asked, too perceptive for his liking.
D’metrius frowned. “Zion is the beautiful one.” His good mood soured.
Carlin sighed. “You are Zion, dingus.”
He snorted. “Like I said, you’re around high schoolers too much. It’s rubbing off on you.”
“I’m not joking,” Carlin said. “You’re beautiful.”
“Zion is beautiful,” D’metrius corrected. “I’m boring.”
“You are Zion! You’re beautiful!” Carlin growled. “You are Zion. Zion is beautiful, and since you’re the same person, D’metrius is, too!”
Carlin’s outburst startled him enough to suck his good feelings away faster than a Dyson. He turned away and put the glass on the floor before pulling his knees up to his chest. “I’m boring, Kermit, that’s why Zion, I mean, right?”
Carlin sighed. “Back to the name calling, eh?”
“I have no idea what you’re referring to, Carlito.”
He didn’t have to look to know Carlin was rolling his eyes. A quiet moment passed before Carlin spoke again. “Of course not. So, why would you say I’m beautiful when you aren’t attracted to me?”
More bait. He turned back to Carlin and instantly regretted it when he was trapped by piercing steely eyes. “I didn’t say I wasn’t, uh, like, you’re attractive. Of course you’re, like, your eyes, your face, your body. You’re just… Who wouldn’t find you attractive?”