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Pre-Game Nerves And Other Things That Might Make Your Pulse Race

Dustin adds one last song to his newest playlist before spinning around on his chair to face Kieran.

“That should last the whole way to championships,” Dustin says, leaning back in his chair enough that the wheels lift slightly off the ground.

“What about the way back?” Kieran asks, grinning at him from where he’s sprawled on Dustin’s bed, elbows propped up on Dustin’s unmade comforter.

“Eh,” Dustin says, waving a hand and letting the chair hit the ground again with a thud, “that’ll depend on if we’re celebrating or not.”

“Fair enough,” Kieran says, with a slight head shake, “send me the playlist?”

“Already did,” Dustin says, “but don’t know why I bother. You’re just gonna end up listening to it through my phone anyway.”

“What else are shared bus seats and headphone splitters for?” Kieran says, laughing back at Dustin’s fond eye roll.

“Helping calm nerves, I think you said,” Dustin says, only slightly sarcastically, watching the way Kieran’s eyes get brighter at that.

“Hey, you haven’t thrown up at a rest stop all season,” Kieran protests, running a hand through his hair and moving the piece that had been sitting in front of his left eye.

“No promises that holds out on Saturday,” Dustin says, feeling a little green already at the looming pressure of state championships.

“I’ll bring extra Gatorade,” Kieran says, sitting up on the bed a little. “Am I still sleeping over tomorrow?”

“Works for me,” Dustin says, “no point in both of us driving to school at 5 in the morning”

“I think it’s 6:30,” Kieran says, laughing again, “and I’ll drive.”

“Any time before 8 might as well be 5,” Dustin says, swallowing back a groan and pushing his chair wheels off the ground again.

“Energy drinks, too? I can grab shit between school and your house,” Kieran says, laughing softly.

“Definitely. I’m gonna need it,” Dustin says.

“I’m on it,” Kieran says, then he shifts again, pulling a knee up and looking at Dustin for a minute, “Hey, uh. Can I ask you something?”

“Go for it,” Dustin says, grinning.

“I was just wondering. Since I’ll be staying here tomorrow and all,” Kieran says, looking down at his own legs for a second. “If you’d mind if I uh — you know what? Never mind.”

“No,” Dustin says, shaking his head and looking at Kieran, watching how he’s started to look kinda  nervous, “what’s up?”

“I was thinking about,” Kieran says, running a hand through his hair again, “something that doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it.”

“Dude,” Dustin says, letting his chair wheels hit his floor again and rolling toward Kieran across his bedroom floor, “seriously, what’ s going on?”

“It’s nothing,” Kieran starts, but then he blows out a breath and looks back over at Dustin. “You know how I worked with Jess on that history project?”

“Yeah, so?” Dustin says, even as his heart starts to sound loud as hell to his own ears. Even though he already wants this conversation to not be happening, thanks.

“So, it’d be way too weird if I asked her out sometime, right? That’s weird, right?” Kieran says, looking sort of flushed and sheepish about it.

“Oh,” Dustin says, swallowing hard and frowning. Yeah, that’s sort of exactly what he was afraid of.

“Never mind,” Kieran says, watching his face, “it is weird. She’s your stepsister, and you’re my best friend. Seriously, forget I said anything.”

“You want to date Jess?” Dustin asks, not really meeting Kieran’s eyes.

“We can really forget this,” Kieran says, but then he sighs and says, “I don’t know, maybe? But not if you’re not cool with it.”

“Like, you think she’s hot, or like you’re actually into her?” Dustin asks slowly, feeling like he’s going to puke a lot sooner than Saturday if this conversation keeps happening.

“Like we had fun working on the project, and it might cool to hang out more, mostly,” Kieran says, shrugging, but then putting a hand on Dustin’s shoulder, “but I swear I’ll never even think about it again if it’s too weird.”

“Would it make me too much of an asshole if I said I didn’t love the idea?” Dustin says, shrugging himself and trying to keep his voice casual.

“No,” Kieran says quickly, moving his hand off Dustin’s arm slowly. Too slow. Too fast. Too much. Too fucking something. Kieran shakes his head. ‘That’s why I asked before I even seriously considered it. If anything, I’m the asshole for bringing it up.”

“You’re not,” Dustin says, shaking his head and watching Kieran settle back on the bed. “And uh, thanks for asking, I guess?”

“Yeah,” Kieran says, frowning himself, “let’s just forget I ever did, and concentrate on the game?”

“Yeah,” Dustin says, and it sounds a little weak to his own ears, “sounds like a plan.”


“Morning,” Jess says, passing Dustin the coffee carafe in the kitchen the next morning with a half-smile on her face, “you look like you slept about as well as I did.”

“I’ve had better nights,” Dustin admits, taking the coffee from her and pouring some into his own mug. He overshoots it, letting coffee splash over the edge and hit the counter. Yeah, that’s definitely a sign he needs it, he thinks as he grabs a paper towel.

“Pre-game jitters?” Jess asks, grabbing a protein bar out of a box and raising an eyebrow at Dustin like a question.

“Please,” Dustin says, nodding at the box, “and yeah, something like that.”

“I feel you,” Jess says, tossing him a protein bar before putting the box back on its shelf, “I could never sleep before gymnastics competitions.”

“Still got all those ribbons to show for them, though,” Dustin says, leaning against the counter and gulping down some coffee. It’s still hot enough that it burns his tongue and throat a little, but he’s too tired to really let it bother him.

“And you’ve got one of the best goal-scoring records in the state,” Jess returns, opening her protein bar. Dustin raises an eyebrow at her.

“Evan boring you with soccer statistics again?” Dustin asks, certain he’s never mentioned that one. He can’t imagine his dad had either. He figures that means his little brother is the most likely source.

“Kieran, actually,” Jess said, grinning at him.

“Oh,” Dustin says, glancing over at her, and taking another long sip of coffee. He does feel the burn of it this time, like Jess saying Kieran’s name had woken him up a little.

“Yeah,” Jess confirms, “I’m practically an expert on local high school soccer now.”

“You guys have been talking a lot?” Dustin asks, swallowing hard.

“Mostly during the project, why?” Jess asks, popping a bite of protein bar in her mouth. There’s a thud from upstairs before Dustin can answer, followed by a loud screech from Lilly that Dustin is 99 percent sure is aimed at Evan. He waits until it’s quiet again before he talks.

“Do you,” Dustin starts, taking his own bite of protein bar, wishing he hadn’t when it tastes like sawdust in his mouth, “are you guys like, into each other?”

“Me and Kieran?” Jess asks, looking surprised and raising her eyebrows at him, “your Kieran?”

“Know many others?” Dustin asks, willing himself with all he has this early in the morning not to react to ‘your Kieran‘ because he’s not an idiot. He knows what Jess meant. It still echoes in his brain. So much more than it should.

“Just the one,” Jess says, laughing slightly before she shakes her head and says, “Kieran seems really great, but he’s not my type.”

“No?” Dustin asks, hating himself for the relief that washes over him at that. Hating himself even more for the voice in his head that isn’t sure Jess is telling the truth. The same one that hadn’t really been sure he believed Kieran last night when he said it wasn’t a big deal.

“No,” Jess confirms, “Besides, I wouldn’t do that to you. I’m not planning to start making out with your friends or anything.”

“I didn’t think you’d make out with all of them,” Dustin says, making Jess roll her eyes at him and nudge him with her shoulder against his. “You and Kieran just seemed to really get along. That’s all.”

“We did,” Jess says, “as friends.”

“Okay,” Dustin says, nodding. He’s still not sure he entirely believes that, but he really fucking wants to.

“Seriously,” Jess says, “I promise I’m not secretly interested in him.”

“Not into the fellow blondes?” Dustin asks, finishing his breakfast with a long, slightly less sawdust-tasting, swallow.

“Something like that,” Jess says, rolling her eyes again and then pushing off the counter, “I gotta go see if I can fight for a few bathroom minutes before school.”

“Good luck,” Dustin says, giving her a small salute and watching her walk off. He gulps down another sip of coffee, and he lies to himself that the acid-churning feeling in his stomach is totally just pre-game jitters hitting him early.


Dustin’s not actually trying to spy on Kieran and Jess in his own kitchen like a fucking weirdo. He’s really not. It’s just that, he notices that Kieran’s been up getting a soda for kind of a long time, and he can hear voices in the kitchen, and well.

He thinks he hears his own name, at least once.

So now he might be standing by the basement door. Watching Kieran and Jess grinning at each other over a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter.

It’s not anything.

They’re talking about the project and Jess is wishing Kieran good luck with the game, and it’s nothing to actually raise an eyebrow at. Even with the way Kieran puts a casual hand on her shoulder, the way Jess laughs with wide eyes, the way they seem comfortable together —

It’s not actually anything that couldn’t be the friendship Jess said it was. It’s certainly not enough for the way Dustin’s stomach is threatening to spill its contents out of his throat, and for the way he’s finding breathing harder than it should be.

He just can’t get it out of his head. Kieran asking him if it would be okay if he asked Jess out. And he can’t not put that together with the way Kieran is grinning at Jess right now.

He doesn’t actually think Kieran would do anything about it. Kieran isn’t gonna do anything if he thinks Dustin wouldn’t be okay with it. Dustin knows that. He knows Kieran too well not to trust that.


The thing is.

The idea of Kieran wanting to, but not doing it — for his sake?

Doesn’t actually make him feel a whole lot better.


“You okay, dude?” Kieran asks, hitting pause on his controller, “I never kick your ass this badly.”

“You must be getting better,” Dustin says, and hears the weird note in his own voice when he says it. He shakes his head, trying to clear it, “I’m all good, just game stress.”

“You’re normally better at this when you’re pre-game freaking out,” Kieran says, looking over at him. Dustin shrugs.

“Guess it’s not my night with this one, wanna switch?” Dustin asks, reaching toward the console to switch the game out. Kieran frowns.

“Yeah, whatever is cool,” Kieran says, “You sure everything is okay?”

“Totally,” Dustin says, pulling his FIFA disc out of the controller and reaching for Crash Team Racing instead, thinking he needs something that’s not at all connected to any of the things he’s freaking out about. (Or, as close as he can get, since one of the things he’s freaking out about it is sitting about six inches from him on the couch.)

“Really?” Kieran asks, “You’re not weird about what I said last night?”

“Thought we weren’t talking about that anymore,” Dustin says, sharper than he’d intended to, enough so that Kieran frowns at him again.

“You are weird about it,” Kieran says, “are we okay?”

“Forget about it,” Dustin says, shaking his head,” it’s not a big deal.”

“It kinda seems like it is,” Kieran counters, putting his controller down and looking at Dustin seriously.

“It’s not,” Dustin says, as firmly as he can muster.

“If you’re mad at me, talk to me?” Kieran says, turning those fucking bleedingly sincere eyes of his on Dustin. It’s the last thing Dustin needs right now. It sends that acid in his stomach on an even faster spin cycle.

“I’m not mad,” Dustin says, “nothing to be mad about, right?”

“Dude,” Kieran says again, this time a little pleadingly, “come on.”

“Can we just drop it? It’s cool,” Dustin says, shaking his head and trying to will this conversation to stop happening, because, wow, he really can’t do this.

“It’s obviously not cool, though,” Kieran says, “I’m not gonna be able to concentrate tomorrow if you’re mad at me.”

Dustin raises an eyebrow at Kieran for that. Kieran winces, shaking his head and jumping in again before Dustin can say anything,

“Shit, that came out sounding like I’m only worried you’re mad ’cause of the game. You know that’s not what I meant,” Kieran says, widening his eyes in a way that is really, really not helpful for the situation. Or for Dustin’s life.

“Yeah,” Dustin says, sighing, “I know, and I’m not mad, seriously.”

“Seriously?” Kieran asks.

“Seriously,” Dustin repeats. Kieran looks at him, seeming doubtful, and Dustin sighs again, “can we just drop it and play?”

“Yeah,” Kieran says, sounding thoroughly unconvinced, “sure.”

Dustin’s pretty sure they both play worse than he’s ever seen them, watching as Kieran slides into last place on the screen.

Which probably means Kieran has a point about tomorrow’s game.

Dustin’s just not really sure how to fix that.


Dustin doesn’t know how it starts. Something seeping from this weird tension between them, like a valve releasing. They’re sitting on the couch, playing the single most pathetic game of Crash Team Racing of Dustin’s life, and Kieran says something Dustin hardly registers. It’s a halfhearted attempt at the sort of video game competition banter they normally shoot back and forth. So Dustin throws a couch pillow at him, equally halfhearted —

And then Kieran lobs it back, with a tiny bit more force behind it. And then Dustin shoves his shoulder into Kieran, a little bit more on purpose. And then Kieran’s elbowing him with something past a nudge. And then one shove turns into another, somewhere between playful and not playful at all —

And then Kieran is muttering something about how Dustin could seriously stop this and talk to him. Dustin hears himself telling Kieran that he’s just making it worse, which doesn’t even make any sense in context, he’s aware, but he’s already flushed and flustered by the time he says it. He’s not thinking really thinking logically between the shoving and the growing heat behind it.

And then, before Dustin can really register it, they’re off the couch. They’re wrestling, like middle school, except not at all.

And then Kieran is on top of him.

And then Kieran is on top of him, straddling him and pinning his wrists above his head. They’re both breathing hard, and Dustin can feel all the places where Kieran is pressed into him.

“Sorry, shit,” Kieran says, not moving at all, eyes wide and staring down at Dustin. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Dustin gets out, trying like hell not to feel it so much. The way Kieran’s hands are on his wrists, Kieran’s hips over his, the way Kieran’s knees around his thighs, the way he can feel the rise and fall of Kieran’s chest, so close to his, the way Kierans’ heart is racing too, “at least it’s carpet.”

“Yeah,” Kieran echoes. He shifts, not up and off Dustin, but enough that it sends a chill through Dustin and fuck. He never wants this to end, but he’s gonna need it to. He’s gonna need it because he can hear his own breath speed up, and he can feel the flush rising on his skin. He can feel himself start to get way too turned on and get uncomfortable in his jeans, and he can’t, he can’t

Well. He can’t let Kieran notice that. He can’t ruin their friendship and his whole damn life that way, he can’t. He can’t —

“Um,” Dustin attempts, but then Kieran shifts again, slightly, making their hips move against each other’s, and Dustin’s brain short-circuits. He registers two things.

One: There is no way Kieran can’t feel exactly how turned on Dustin is with the way they’ve shifted.

Two: He can feel a bulge in Kieran’s jeans. Because Kieran is very clearly turned on too. Against Dustin’s thigh. Laying on top of him.

Kieran sucks in a deep breath over him. His eyes are wider than Dustin thinks he’s ever seen them.

“Is uh, this okay?” Kieran asks, voice shaky as hell. Dustin nods. He’s not even a thousand percent sure what he’s agreeing to, because he’s having trouble thinking much past the feeling of Kieran pressing down onto him like this. He thinks he’d agree to just about anything right now.

“Yeah,” Dustin says on a long exhale.

A logical part of him is telling him he should put a stop to this. Roll away. Save himself from whatever the hell aftermath this will bring. He’s pretty sure he couldn’t find that kind of willpower if he tried.

Kieran nods, and lets go of Dustin’s wrist with one hand. His other stays wrapped around a wrist firmly enough that Dustin doesn’t think he’ll ever forget the feeling. He watches Kieran, sure his own eyes are wide. He’s expecting Kieran to shift his hips again, or for Kieran to —

He’s not expecting Kieran to lean down, snake a hand behind his neck, and kiss him.

It’s so unexpected, that for a second Dustin startles and freezes. Kieran starts to move away, but then the delicious damn warmth of Kieran’s lips and the fucking astounding idea that this is actually happening hits Dustin. He recovers enough to fist his free hand in Kieran’s shirt and pull him closer, folding into the kiss and into Kieran.

The hand Kieran has behind his neck is firm, and his fingers slide into Dustin’s hair, teasing at the edges of his scalp. Dustin pulls him in closer, desperate about it, not wanting it to ever stop. He licks at Kieran’s mouth and shifts his other hand. He slides it out of Kieran’s grip on his wrist and moves it so their fingers are laced. Kieran gasps against his mouth, and everything is warm and electric. Dustin feels like he could float away on it.

Kieran shifts his hips again, and this time Dustin is pretty sure it’s on purpose. And shit, they really can’t do this. On the living room floor. At all. Without talking. Without. Something. They can’t just do this, and part of Dustin knows that, but it’s so hard to care when he can feel Kieran pressed against him. It’s hard to care when Kieran kisses him like that. 

Dustin shifts up under Kieran, meeting his hips with his own firmly enough that Kieran groans into his mouth in a way that Dustin thinks will burn in his brain forever. And then —

And then Evan’s voice rings down the stairs:

“Dustin! Dad wants you!” And Kieran bolts up, standing up and getting off of Dustin in a move that would be impressive as hell if Dustin wasn’t so fucking flustered and dizzy with everything. Kieran extends him a hand to help him to his feet, and neither of them looks at each other, both breathing hard as hell.

“I should, uh,” Dustin says, gesturing toward the stairs without meeting Kieran’s eyes. He smooths a hand over the front of his jeans, desperately trying to breathe down his hard-on.

“Right, yeah,” Kieran says, sounding every bit as awkward as Dustin feels right now.

He runs for the stairs without looking back at Kieran.


Half an hour and one overly long lecture about geometry homework he’d only half-listened to later, Dustin heads down the hall toward his bedroom. He pauses outside the bathroom, not really sure what the hell he’s going to say to Kieran when he gets back to his room. Part of him is going to have their kiss playing in his mind on loop at all times. It’s the single hottest thing, the biggest fantasy fulfillment moment, that’s ever happened to Dustin. Part of him is thrumming with low-grade, heart-shattering terror, that he’s just lost his best fucking friend, forever. That everything is ruined now.

“Hey,” Jess says, coming out of the bathroom in pajamas and looking over at him, “rough day?”

“You could say that,” Dustin says, letting out a breath.

“Anything I can do?” Jess asks.

“I doubt it,” Dustin says, “but thanks.”

“Well if you ever do need an ear, a shoulder to cry on, whatever, you know where I live,” Jess says, throwing him a soft grin. Dustin grins back, almost in spite of himself.

 (He could have done a lot worse in the stepsister department, he thinks. Jess is honestly cool as hell. That’s part of why the idea of Kieran liking her is so hard. Because Jess is actually the kind of girl that’d make sense for Kieran. If Dustin wasn’t painfully, stupidly, in love with his best friend, he’d even approve, he’s pretty sure. Shit, he’s such an idiot.)

“Thanks,” Dustin says again, “I don’t suppose you’ve still got that emergency cigarette pack?”

“Ouch,” Jess says, “that bad, huh?”

“Jury’s still out,” Dustin says, “but maybe.”

‘Sorry to hear it,” Jess says, shaking her head, “but I actually do still have a couple. So let me know?”

“I will,” Dustin says, shaking his head back and letting out a long breath.

“And seriously,” Jess says with a small shrug and a glance at him that feels oddly knowing in a way Dustin can’t figure out, “if you ever wanna talk about. Anything.”

“Yeah,” Dustin says, “I’ll come knocking.”

“Good,” Jess says, “I’d say my door’s always open, but. Evan lives here too.”

“Completely understood,” Dustin says with a laugh. Jess grins back, and then gives him a wave, heading down the hall.

“Good luck if I don’t see you before you leave tomorrow morning,” Jess says as she starts to walk, “and with whatever else is going on with you.”

“Thanks,” Dustin says, waving back, then steeling himself to start toward his own room and face whatever the hell has happened tonight.


Kieran’s already in pajamas when Dustin gets back to his room. He looks freshly showered, like maybe he’d needed a shower after they’d. You know. Made out on the living room floor.

Right. Dustin is pretty sure he can’t focus on that right now. Or the idea of Kieran in the shower.

“Hey,” Kieran says. He’s sitting in Dustin’s desk chair with his knees folded into his chest, fiddling with the strings on his hoodie as he looks up at Dustin. He looks and sounds so damn small right now, all six feet of him, in a way he never does.

“Hey,” Dustin says. He debates for a second not shutting and locking his door, like he normally would, but then decides it’s weirder if he doesn’t. It’s weirder if he acts like this is different than a thousand other sleepovers, even though it clearly is.

“Everything okay?” Kieran asks, “with your dad, I mean?”

“Same shit as always,” Dustin says, waving a hand and hating how he can’t actually make himself sound casual. He sits down on his bed, breathing.

“Sorry,” Kieran says, shaking his head.

“It’s cool,” Dustin says, leaning back on his hands.

“I um,” Kieran says, mostly to his own knees, “didn’t actually want to ask Jess out.”

“What?” Dustin asks, sitting up straighter and looking at Kieran for real.

“I mean, she’s great, and I do like her. I’m sure we would’ve had fun on a date or whatever, but. I’ve sorta been really into someone else. For a long time. I was just 100 percent sure that they weren’t a possibility,” Kieran says, still more to his knees than anything.

“You were sure?” Dustin says, “past tense?”

“Yeah, until about 45 minutes ago,” Kieran says, finally looking up and meeting Dustin’s eyes. He takes a long breath before he adds, “and now I’m a lot less sure that uh, he’s not even a possibility. I am pretty confused, though.”

“Right,” Dustin says, hearing the roughness in his voice when he does, “I was never mad, but I really didn’t want you to want to date Jess. It’d be worse than usual if it was Jess .”

“Worse,” Kieran repeats, he stands up, eyes wide, like he’s pretty sure they’re on the same wavelength here. He comes to sit beside Dustin on his bed. He smells good, and Dustin can feel the warmth coming off his skin. He’s looking at Dustin with this face that’s equal parts sincere, and that familiar Kieran edge of mischief, and a layer of something else Dustin doesn’t think he’s ever seen before, not like this, anyway.

“Worse than when you date any girls,” Dustin admits on a long exhale, watching the way Kieran’s fingers are moving near Dustin’s hand on the comforter, the way they seem to be shifting closer and closer. “Cause she lives in my house, and she is great, and ’cause I’d end up seeing you kiss her all the time.”

“Oh,” Kieran says, biting his lip and scooting closer to Dustin on the bed. Dustin watches him, and his brain adds, because fuck, I want you to kiss me, instead. But he doesn’t have to say it, because Kieran says:

“I’d rather kiss you,” in a low whisper that is the single best sentence Dustin has ever heard.

“That does sound better,” Dustin says, swallowing hard.

And then Kieran does. He reaches his hand up to grab onto Dustin’s bicep and he tugs him just enough, and Dustin falls into it, kissing Kieran and tangling his fingers in the strings of Kieran’s hoodie.

They kiss until Dustin’s out of breath with it.

Kieran slides a hand all the way into his hair, and he leans over him a little as they kiss, getting his other hand on Dustin’s thigh in a way that makes Dustin’s pulse jump.

They’re both breathing hard when they pull back, eyes wide as hell, a flush on Kieran’s skin that Dustin wants to trace with his fingers. They both stare at each other for a long second, and then Dustin says, grinning.

“So uh, hey, I’ve been meaning to tell you — I’m into guys, ” biting his lip and smirking as does. Kieran laughs, so close that Dustin can feel his breath on his cheek when he does.

“Oh yeah? Me too. I’ve been meaning to tell you the same thing,” Kieran says, running his hand back down Dustin’s arm to lace their fingers together.

“I’ve been,” Dustin starts, but he doesn’t really know how to finish that one. He looks at Kieran, his best fucking friend in the world, and knowing that he’s the one who made his eyes all bright and his skin all flushed like that.

“Me too,” Kieran says like he gets it. Maybe he does. Kieran leans over and kisses him again, softer this time. He grins at him, all mischief laced now, “hey, I think I have a better rest stop activity for you than puking.”

“Hot,” Dustin says, rolling his eyes, “nothing like me throwing up to really set the mood. But, go on?”

“Nah,” Kieran says, grinning at him, “I think I’ll keep it a surprise for tomorrow morning.”

Dustin’s about to protest that, but then Kieran’s kissing him again, and Dustin forgets to care about much of anything other than the pressure of Kieran’s lips on his.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Happy Read, LGBTQ+, Romance, Young Adult (YA)