“Thanks,” Blanche replied with a small smile, pulling the coat closer to his own body as he (and Vega) followed Gwen upstairs without an argument. It was then that he noticed the faint scent of sandalwood and sage drifting off of the fabric of Gwen’s coat, causing Blanche to swoon just a little and cuddle into it.

He felt his chest tighten in response and a slight pain swirled in his head.

Or maybe it was those extreme temperature fluctuations – hot, freezing, then hot again, all within a matter of minutes…

“I think I will,” he said, then swiftly expanded on that, “Keep wearing your coat, for a while, I mean. And also stay the night.” Although I’d rather be in your room, in your bed. But that was wishful thinking, and perhaps Blanche’s intolerance for extended periods of loneliness. (Or as a normal person would call it, ‘being single’.)

 He hopped onto the guest bed and dangled his feet over the side of it, kicking his feet in the air. “Canada, huh? Do you speak French?” he asked a moment later, his eyes still sparkling with curiosity.

He ignored the restricting feeling in his chest and attempted to rid himself of it by clearing his throat with a dry cough. It didn’t work. He attempted to continue talking, although he found that getting harder to do by the second. “I… I took some classes… in high school and college, but I’d love to learn more of it.” His face contorted into a slight grimace as he spoke, his voice a bit hoarse. “It’s… a pretty language.”

Crap.

He hated this. It was so embarrassing… His face grew hot and he glanced away from Gwen, his right hand gripping his chest as he stood from the bed and disappeared towards the bathroom with a small, “be right back.”

Once safely behind the closed door, he leaned against the wall and reached in the pocket of his jeans for his inhaler. A quick breath of it and his physical symptoms started to disappear, but his embarrassment still lingered and he dreaded going back out before he composed himself. He turned on the sink and splashed some cool water on his face, stared at his own reflection in the mirror for a minute or two, and then finally reemerged back into the guest room.

“Anyways,” he said, as nonchalantly as humanly possible, “You were saying?”

A breath caught in Blanche’s throat, both from the warmth of the coat that was selflessly hung around his shoulders, and from the warmth and sincerity of Gwen’s voice. Blanche’s hands gripped tighter to his own arms as he stood there, gazing into the other man’s sparkling eyes – not like emeralds, he realized, but like morning dew coating a lush, green field, swaying in the breeze, and his golden hair like the light of the sun warming the grass.

For a moment, he was transported there, and his heart skipped a few beats as he thought about it… He could almost feel the warmth of the sun on his face, and the wetness of the grass on his bare toes, and hear the buzzing of bees going about their daily business.

Until finally, another whip of fierce, cold wind brought him back to reality, and he sucked in a breath and nodded, swallowing the remnants of the sob in his throat with a slight tremble.

“You’re welcome,” he murmured finally, his voice barely coherent above the howling wind. He leaned forward, resting his weight against Gwen, and buried his face in his warm chest with a simple sigh. His body was almost instantly warm just by the subtle embrace; it was almost unbelievable how soft and inviting the other male was. Just… don’t forget, okay?

After a few moments of silence, Blanche realized he was probably intruding on the other male’s personal space, but secretly, he didn’t regret it at all, even though he apologized. “Sorry,” he said, quietly and sheepishly, before making his decision to head back inside the house with him.

He thought he might even have to stay the night here, if the weather didn’t let up, soon. He thought about his pets for a moment, but he had deliberately left the heater on in his house for them, and they all had plenty of food and water when he had left this morning, so they should be fine.

“H-here…” he started, once they were both back inside the home, thinking it appropriate to give Gwen his coat back, even though Blanche’s body was still shivering from the cold. He unwrapped the coat from his shoulders and offered it to him. “Thanks.” Although he wondered if Gwen was cold… Well, he had to be, although he didn’t really show any signs of being affected by it. He thought Gwen must have been a true northerner. Maybe he was from Alaska or something, and the cold didn’t bother him that much.

“You… you said you guys just moved here, too, right?” he asked, but then continued without leaving room for an answer to the question, “From where? And where were you born?” 

Blanche said nothing more, merely reached for Gwen’s wrist and gently pulled him along outside into the flurry of snow and wind. It was a frozen hell outside, but it was warmer than being subjected to Vincente’s icy gaze, anyways.

“Gwen-” he started, albeit the fierce chill that racked his body cut his words short and he struggled to pull his own coat closer to his body, and put his hands underneath his armpits where they could at least retain some semblance of warmth, if he was lucky.

“You know what this looks like, right?” he asked, pleadingly, desperately. He could already feel the burn of tears behind his eyes, (in fact he had felt them coming on while he was still sitting there talking to Vincente, just a minute ago) yet he refused to let them fall just yet. “I’ve… seen people in situations like this before. You know… you know, you don’t have to stay here.”  He wished there had been someone to say that to him years ago.

“I have an extra bedroom at my place, if you need somewhere to go, even just for a while.” Never mind that they had just met, and that he had been instantaneously smitten by the other male, too. “I’m sorry I was angry at you at first, but when you said he wasn’t your boyfriend, I… I don’t know. And I’m sorry for dragging you out into a blizzard, too.” He laughed, for a moment, before he glanced at his car, his subtle smile gone again. It really would be hell trying to get back home in this storm, but he judged it was worth the risk, if Gwen agreed to it. If not, he wasn’t going anywhere without him.

Blanche rolled his eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause you’re that much older than me,” he retorted, sticking his tongue out at Gwen.

He turned to Vincente, his playful manner quickly fading back to ‘annoyed five-year-old’. “The only reason I’d come here to look at animals is if you had any that you couldn’t possibly transport to the office, whether they were too big or too sick.” The Great Danes were big, but at least they could still fit in a car. Although, if it was requested, the office would still send someone out, but Blanche didn’t say anything about that. “Anyways, the office is on the other side of town…” Grudgingly, he reached in his pocket for his wallet and procured a plain business card with the name of the office, its address, and phone numbers printed on it.  He set it on the coffee table. “But here.”

He had no qualms about helping the dogs, but he didn’t have to see Vincente to do that.

Vincente’s profession didn’t come as a surprise to Blanche, either. The guy definitely had the stuck-up personality for it. “Yeah, I bet…” he murmured quietly to himself, although soon after, an awkward and heavy quietness had settled on the small group.

Blanche glanced around for another few moments before he said, “Well, I… I should get home.” He stood up and forced a smile to Vincente before he turned to Gwen, his blue eyes steeped in concern. He used his hand to cover one side of his mouth so that Vincente couldn’t see, and slowly mouthed to Gwen the words, ‘come with me?’  

“I’m twenty-six,” Blanche responded flatly, feeling the need to clarify, although he did have the suspicion that Vincente had said that just to spite him… maybe… even though Vincente wasn’t wrong in assuming that Blanche got asked for his ID often, anyways.

“And I’m a veterinarian. I work at an office outside of town, although most of my jobs are off-site.”

Taking another look around, Blanche admitted that Vincente did have another nice point. The house was gorgeous, and although he really wasn’t that knowledgeable of the art world, Blanche wondered just how many of the paintings decorating the walls were original or not, because Vincente didn’t seem like the type of guy who’d settle for fakes.

Either way, they’d be expensive. Probably more expensive than the house itself.

He must have had some high-paying job. Much higher than a rural, just-out-of-school veterinarian.

He shot a quick glance at Gwen before he turned back to the other male and asked, “What do you do, Vincente?” He was as curious as he was just slightly intimidated. 

“Not your boyfriend?” Blanche repeated incredulously, blinking, for a moment, although didn’t have a chance to ask about it as the man in question had returned from the kitchen. His bright blues followed Vincente as he gave Gwen the drink and sat across from them in the armchair.

But… something still isn’t right here.

Subtly, he glanced from Gwen again, to Vincente, and back to Gwen.

“I, uh,” he started, distracted by his own thoughts for a moment, eyes lingering on Gwen before he finally turned his attention back to Vincente. “No. I haven’t been here very long… I just graduated, and moved here for a job.”

But his mind was reeling. What was the nature of their relationship, then? Blanche couldn’t help but worry about the worst-case scenarios.

He was quiet, for a few moments, then suddenly asked, hoping that it wasn’t too conspicuous of a question, “Are you two… Are you the only ones who live here?”

“I’m Blanche,” he responded to Vincente, first, a little absently as his attention was no sooner turned to the two giant dogs that greeted him. He smiled, for a moment, and extended both hands to greet them and scratch them behind the ears.

He glanced between the two men as Vincente disappeared into the kitchen, trying to really gauge what their relationship was like until he followed Gwen into the living room, but didn’t really have much time to dwell on it or make any more assumptions yet, as the speckled Dane was commanding all of his attention.

But he didn’t mind it at all. Blanche was just as happy to give the dog love and attention as much as the dog was happy receiving it. “Hey Vega,” he cooed as he patted the dog’s head and neck.

“Yeah,” he said, in reply to the other male’s observation. “I guess I kind of have that effect on animals.” He wasn’t a veterinarian for no reason. “And they’ve got that effect on me.”

“But, uh,” he glanced up at Gwen for a moment, then to the kitchen, then back to Gwen. Right. He had almost forgotten that he was angry. “Yeah, you think? It would have been nice to know you had a boyfriend,” his voice trailed off a moment, and he turned his gaze back to Vega with a huff.

The only conclusion that he came to, so far, was that he had apparently pissed Vincente off already. That much was painfully obvious. Off to a great start. Not that it really mattered. He didn’t imagine he’d be coming back here anyways.

Blanche would have been lying if he said he wasn’t impressed. Not to judge… but there was no way Gwen could be living there by himself. He must have roommates. Or a significant other, which was the other option, however, Blanche didn’t want to believe that. Not after how charming and receptive Gwen had been so far, weirdness aside.

An invitation already? “I’d love to,” Blanche replied, wondering just how far this encounter would be going once they were inside, especially if they really were alone, based on Blanche’s experiences.

Gwen certainly knew how to push the younger man’s buttons, intentional or not. His brain kept saying “no” but his fluttering heart and anticipation said otherwise.

Not like it was any excuse to stay, but the snow had started falling harder too; almost akin to a blizzard in such a short time. Blanche wrapped the scarf tighter around his neck and followed Gwen up to the front door and into the cozy brick home –

Only to be greeted by another man, of which Blanche immediately got the “boyfriend” vibe from. His hopes had been shot, his smile dropped into an angry scowl, his hands balled to fists at his sides, and he contemplated turning around and leaving in that very instant without so much as a ‘good riddance’.

Fucking jerk played me… What’s his game, anyways?

But, for better or for worse, and once again against his better judgment, he decided to stay.

“Hi…” he mumbled to the other man, partially wanting to stray from any scrutinizing glares or questions, partially because he was still pretty unreasonably angry.