Chest heaving, Ryan slammed the door behind him and leaned against it. “I should’ve just kept my big mouth shut,” he muttered. “He’s never going to like me the way I like him. God, I’m such an idiot!”
Pounding footsteps preceded a forceful knock. Ryan waited, breath lodged in his throat.
Cary’s voice rang out. “I know you’re in there. Open the door! Please.”
Ryan ran a hand through his hair, then took a deep breath and blew it out. Trying to appear utterly calm, he twisted the doorknob and stepped aside as Cary rushed in.
“Didn’t you hear me calling?” Cary was slightly breathless, his brow furrowed.
“No.” Ryan tried to smile. “Sorry. Do you need something?”
“Do I…” Cary shook his head incredulously. “What I need is for you to talk to me. I heard what you said to Dara.”
Blood rushed to Ryan’s cheeks, and he laughed, although it came out as more of a squeak. “Oh that? I was just kidding around.”
“Kidding around.” Cary didn’t sound convinced. “So you’re not in love with me?”
“I…” Ryan swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “It was a joke.”
“A joke.” Cary stepped forward, backing him up against the closed door.
Ryan jerked his head in a nod.
Cary was now less than a foot away. He was a few inches taller, and his broad shoulders tapered down to a narrow waist, his body muscular yet lean. Short light blond hair swept up from his forehead, and his green eyes were intense as he watched Ryan. This close, Ryan could see the flecks of gold in Cary’s eyes, and his heart skipped a beat. God, he’s so beautiful.
“That’s too bad, because I’ve been in love with you for months.”
Ryan’s eyes widened. “But that’s…impossible.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
With that, Cary closed the gap between them, taking Ryan’s face in his hands as he pressed their lips together. Their mouths opened as they kissed passionately. Ryan’s pulse raced, excitement skipping up his spine as he yanked Cary against him, their bodies—
Cary broke the kiss and stepped back. He looked to the director. “Go again?”
The director nodded. “Good kiss. But give me a little more on the ‘I heard what you said to Dara’ line.” She focused on Ryan. “You’re playing it just right. Great trembling in your hands. Just need to get some more sweat on your brow. You’re supposed to have just run from the air lock, and it’s a big ship.”
As the assistant director called for makeup to bring their spray bottle, the crew prepared for another take. Cary grinned at Ryan, and dimples appeared in his cheeks. “Sorry, think I slipped a little tongue in there.”
Yes, you did, and God I want more. Ignoring the desire thrumming through his veins, Ryan waved it off. “That was a good take.” It was their fourth, and he’d hoped it would get easier as the day went on. Instead his yearning for Cary increased each time their lips met. Despite the twenty-five bored crew members watching, when Cary kissed him, everything else faded away.
After fantasizing about being with Cary for the past year, Ryan had told himself that the reality—even if it was fictional and not real—would be a huge disappointment. On-screen kissing was supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable and epically unsexy. And in Ryan’s experience it always had been.
He wasn’t supposed to breathe in the citrus of Cary’s aftershave and feel desire coiling in his belly. He wasn’t supposed to notice how thick Cary’s eyelashes were, and how the gold in his eyes matched his hair. His knees weren’t supposed to go weak because Cary’s kisses were warm and wet and tasted like honey and promised so much more.
“Let’s just hope the network censors don’t look too closely. I swear, straight couples can practically get naked on screen, but gay characters…” Cary shook his head. “Drives me nuts. Hey, did you hear anything more from that hate group who sent the nasty letters?”
“Nah. I think Tammy took care of making sure my mail is examined more closely. It’s no big deal.”
Cary huffed. “No big deal? You shouldn’t ever have to hear that kind of garbage. You’ll tell me if it happens again, right?”
“What are you going to do? Beat them up?” Ryan secretly loved Cary’s protectiveness. He smiled and nudged Cary with his elbow. “Besides, now that they’re finally putting Steven and Kishi together, you’ll probably start getting your own hate mail.”
Cary still frowned. “Yeah, but it’s not the same. Everyone knows I’m not gay in real life.” He scoffed. “No way a tough guy like my dad would ever have a gay son. No one would believe it even if it was true.”
“Yeah.” Ryan stopped himself before his brain went too far down the “what if” road. “By the way, your scales are coming loose a bit on your neck.”
“Crap. I keep sweating them off.”
As the makeup team sprayed fake sweat onto Ryan’s forehead and touched up the purple scales crawling up the side of Cary’s neck and across one cheek, Ryan breathed deeply. He reminded himself that none of it was real. Cary’s declaration of love and his kiss that left Ryan buzzing—it was all for the cameras. Nothing more.
So he should stop remembering the press of Cary’s body and how his firm muscles had felt beneath Ryan’s hands. Ryan was in good shape himself, but he was positively ordinary next to Cary’s golden handsomeness and toned, perfect body. Not too bulky, but just right. As Cary tipped his head to give the makeup artist better access to his neck, Ryan imagined kissing him there, sucking on the tender skin and—
One of the show’s publicists approached, her heels clacking across the spaceship set. “How are we today, gentlemen?”
Ryan smiled. “Hey, Tammy. We’re good.”
“Excellent. The reporter from Out and Proud will be here in an hour. He wanted to see the kiss filmed, but as you know we’re keeping the set closed. If anyone leaks this kiss before the episode, I will eat their lungs for breakfast.”
Cary smirked. “And their balls for lunch?”
“Nope. Balls are for second breakfast.” Tammy winked.
The director called out, “Places everyone.”
Fake sweat artfully moistening his dark hair where it fell across his forehead, Ryan took his position to run into Steven’s room once more. Part of him hoped the director would want dozens of takes, but he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep himself in check. He’d worn extra-tight briefs to keep from embarrassing himself, but his one-piece bodysuit costume didn’t leave much to the imagination.
The second assistant cameraman clapped down the slate in front of the camera. “Space Academy, two-twelve, scene nine, take five.”
Silence settled over the set, and the director yelled, “Action!”
As he ran and slammed the door once more, Ryan’s heart pounded anew, and he couldn’t help but look forward to Cary’s next kiss.
# # #
After leaving his trailer, Ryan almost walked straight into Tammy, who tapped a manicured nail on her watch. “You’re five minutes late.”
“Actually, I’m three and a half minutes late, but I had to go to the bathroom. Besides, actors are supposed to be late. And/or hungover.”
Tammy laughed and tucked a red curl behind her ear. “You haven’t reached that phase of your career yet. Talk to me when this show has garnered more than a cult following and you’ve made at least one successful slasher flick during hiatus.”
Cary was already seated in a director’s chair on the command deck of the set, which wasn’t being used for filming that day. It was little more than a Star Trek rip-off, but there were only so many layouts of a spaceship that worked well for filming. Cary still wore his dark green one-piece costume, but the top half pooled around his waist, and he wore a white T-shirt.
It was a V-neck, and Ryan tried not to look at Cary’s light chest hair poking out. He wondered for the hundredth time what it would be like to run his fingers through it and taste Cary’s nipples and—
Never. Going. To happen.
With a smile on his face, Ryan sat in the empty chair beside Cary and shook hands with the reporter seated across from them. Tammy lingered in the background by the space-thruster control station.
The chubby, middle-aged reporter smiled. “Hi, I’m Chuck Basilica from Out and Proud. Thanks for meeting with me today.”
“I’m Ryan Drake. It’s our pleasure,” Ryan answered. He and Cary had done a ton of press for the show at the upfronts in May, and they had a system down pat. They’d alternate answering questions, share a few amusing anecdotes, and generally be their most humble, charming selves.
Of course now that their story line was heating up, the gay press was taking interest. Chuck didn’t waste any time.
“Rumor has it the sexual tension between Steven and Kishi is going to move from subtext to text during February sweeps. You’ll be the first gay human/alien love story on American network TV. Is this true?”
Cary answered. “Well, we’re definitely exploring our characters in greater depth this season, and relationships between many of the cadets will be evolving.”
“Hmm. That sounds like a yes to me.” Chuck smiled.
Ryan smiled back. “All we can say is that fans should keep watching, because there’s some great stuff coming up for Steven and Kishi.”
“Fair enough. Now, were you both surprised at how quickly fans embraced your characters? Individually, but especially as a potential couple. There are quite a few ‘Stishi’ fansites out there.”
“I think we were both surprised, and of course it’s an honor,” Cary replied. “I mean, we were just happy our little midseason replacement show got a pickup for season two, and that viewers took to it so passionately. We may not get the highest ratings, but the fans are extremely vocal and loyal. The best in the world. We feel so blessed to be a part of Space Academy.”
“Let’s talk about your careers for a moment.” Chuck glanced at his notepad. “Cary, of course you’re part of a Hollywood dynasty. You were named after family friend Cary Grant, isn’t that right?”
He smiled. “That’s right. I only hope I can have a career half as incredible as his.”
“Your father and grandfather made their mark in action and adventure movies, while you’ve focused more on drama and now sci-fi. Do you feel any pressure to live up to their legacy?”
Cary’s smile didn’t falter, but Ryan noticed the way Cary’s jaw flexed briefly, his shoulders tightening. “Only in the best way. I’m so proud of Dad and Grandpa, and they’ve always been so supportive of me.”
As Cary went on about his family, telling the public what they wanted to hear, Ryan put on his best listening face. He remembered the first little cast get-together at the exec producer’s house one night in the Hollywood Hills. Ryan had gone outside to get some air and stumbled across Cary on the phone with his father.
“But, Dad, it’s a good show. Plenty of movie actors are doing TV now. It’s not the way it was before. It’s a great part! I want to do it. Besides, I can’t exactly turn down steady work.”
Cary paused, and Ryan could hear Robert Holloway’s raised voice through the phone but couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Cary went on, “I want to make my own way. I can have a good career in TV. Maybe do some theater in the summers. I think it’s worth a shot.” He paused again. “Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, but I guess you’re used to disappointment by now, aren’t you?”
Ryan tried to back away without being heard but of course promptly tripped on the leg of a deck chair, sending it clattering.
Cary whirled. “Dad, I’ve gotta go.” He hung up and eyed Ryan cautiously. “Hey. Look, if you could just forget you heard any of that…”
“Heard what?” Ryan raised his hands. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
The tension in Cary’s face relaxed. “Thanks, man. Ryan, right? I think we have a couple of scenes together in the pilot.”
“Yeah, we do. You want to run lines this weekend?”
Cary smiled, his eyes crinkling. “Absolutely.”
Now, almost two years after they met, Cary was just about Ryan’s favorite person in the world. Of course Cary was straight, and they’d never be anything more than friends. Which was totally fine with Ryan. Well, not totally fine. But he was working on it.
“And let’s talk about your background, Ryan. You’re from Toronto. How has it been adjusting to life in La-La Land?”
“I’ve lived here for a few years now. There are always great things about any city, and LA has so much to offer. It was a bit of a culture shock, but being close to the beach sure helps.”
“You came out while you were still in Toronto performing in a local production of Rent. You mentioned having lunch with your boyfriend in an interview, and when Space Academy premiered, many bloggers and gossip sites picked up on the old article. Do you regret coming out so early in your career? Do you think you’ll get pigeonholed?”
He’d expected the question, so Ryan resisted the urge to sigh long-sufferingly. He wished it didn’t come up in every interview. “No, I don’t regret it at all. I’ve been out since my senior year of high school. It’s just who I am, and I don’t think it’s impacted my career negatively. I played a straight character in a movie during summer hiatus.” He shrugged. “All I can do is give the best performances I can and hope to continue to have opportunities.”
Cary interjected, his tone firm. “I think Ryan is an inspiration to other gay actors. And straight actors, for that matter. Someone’s sexuality shouldn’t matter in this day and age. He’s an amazing artist and person.”
Warmth bloomed in Ryan’s chest. “I’m lucky that Cary and everyone here at Space Academy are completely supportive. I hope that we’ll get to the point one day when it won’t be a big deal anymore.”
“I hope so too,” Chuck replied. “So are you seeing anyone, Ryan?”
“No, there’s no one special right now.” No one I can actually date, that is.
“Cary, you’ve been seeing Succubus High star Amanda Walker for over a year now. Any wedding bells in the future?”
Cary chuckled. “We’ll have to see. Amanda’s a great girl.”
Actually, Amanda’s a high-maintenance pain in the ass. Ryan kept a pleasant expression on his face. It wasn’t that he was jealous or anything. Okay, maybe he was. But Cary deserved so much more than her. He reminded himself that it wasn’t as if Amanda Walker was the only thing standing between him and Cary. She was irrelevant. Cary was straight. The end.
“You guys are both twenty-five now. How does it feel to be playing high school students?”
Ryan chuckled. “Well, I don’t think we’re the oldest actors to play teenagers.”
“With his big brown doe eyes and baby face, I think he’ll be playing a high schooler for at least five more years.” Cary laughed, eyes crinkling.
“But we love our roles,” Ryan added. “High school—whether here on Earth or orbiting the fifth moon of the newly discovered planet Alida—is so rife with drama and potential for character growth.”
Chuck’s eyebrow popped up. “Ah yes. Such as discovering one’s sexuality?”
Cary and Ryan shared a glance and a smile. Cary answered. “That is a common theme, Chuck. I think our fans are really going to enjoy our characters’ arcs as this season continues in the new year.”
Tammy cleared her throat. “I’m afraid we have to end things there. Ryan and Cary are needed back on set.”
They said good-bye to Chuck, and Ryan checked his call sheet. The next scene was an “intimate moment” between Steven and Kishi. No kiss, but they’d both be shirtless and playing a particularly close game of imperia, a basketball-ish game. The scene was early in the episode, before their kiss, and Steven would be barely able to contain his attraction to Kishi.
Ryan took a fortifying breath as he headed back to set. He didn’t think of himself as a Method actor, but he was certainly living and breathing his character’s emotions these days.
# # #
With a sigh, Ryan popped open a can of soda as he sat back on the couch in his trailer. He still had one more scene to shoot, and it was going to be a long day. As he picked up the TV remote, there was a knock on the door.
His heart stupidly skipped a beat when he found Cary waiting outside. “Hey, man! I’m wrapped. Just wanted to say merry Christmas and all that.”
Ryan ushered him in and handed him a bottle of water from the fridge since Cary didn’t drink soda. That was just one of the reasons he’d been featured on the cover of Men’s Health and Ryan never would be. Ryan worked out and kept trim and healthy, but he wasn’t a heartthrob like Cary.
“Big plans for the holidays?” Ryan asked. “Will you be with your mom or dad?”
“Neither. Dad’s in Thailand shooting another sequel to Blowing Shit Up.”
Ryan laughed. “Is this Strike Back part four?”
“Yep. The world’s appetite for explosions and cheap one-liners continues unabated.” He flopped down on the couch. “Besides, my stepmother’s with him, and I can’t deal with her. She seriously tried to give me parental advice at Thanksgiving.”
Ryan sat beside Cary and swung his feet up onto the low coffee table. Most movie stars would sniff at his small oak-paneled trailer, but with a sofa bed, shower, toilet, and kitchenette, the twelve-foot space was luxury for Ryan. He still wasn’t used to being waited on, and at first the trailer had seemed unnecessary. But for the long days of shooting, he was very glad to have it.
“Tell me you’re exaggerating.”
Cary took a swig of water. “I wish. No, it seems that in Janelle’s twenty impressive years here on Earth, she’s learned a lot. She was quite put out that I didn’t want the benefit of her extensive knowledge when picking my hiatus project.”
“Wow. Okay, so what’s your mom doing for Christmas?”
“She’ll be in Hawaii. I’d go, but Amanda booked us into a spa for a cleanse.”
“A cleanse? For Christmas?”
Cary grimaced. “Yeah, nothing but lettuce and lemon water or something. Oh and pepper or hot sauce, I think. Yum. It’s in the desert near Palm Springs. Lots of yoga and massage, at least.”
“And starvation. No turkey? No stuffing? No cookies? It’s just not Christmas without a ton of fattening food.”
“Eh, it’s no big deal.” Cary shrugged. “I’ve never really had a real Christmas. Growing up, my parents were always getting married and divorced, and they vacationed in the tropics. A white Christmas and the family all together is just something I saw on TV.”
Ryan’s jaw dropped. “You’ve never had snow at Christmas?” He realized he was practically shouting and flushed at his overreaction. “Sorry. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday.”
“The most wonderful time of the year? Well, you’re Canadian, so it’s understandable,” Cary replied playfully. His smile faded. “Nah, Christmas was just never a big deal. I got presents and everything, but it’s never been a big special day with walking in a winter wonderland and all that.”
“I’m sorry.” Cary seemed uncharacteristically melancholy about it. “Hey, you’re more than welcome to join me and my family in the Great White North.”
To Ryan’s surprise, Cary’s face lit up. “Really?”
The invite had slipped out, and he hadn’t really been serious, but the thought of actually spending Christmas with Cary had Ryan’s stomach flip-flopping. “Of course. I’m flying home tomorrow, and we’re going up to our cottage on Friday. More snow than you can shake a stick at.” He knew he should limit the time he spent with Cary off set, but… But I can still look even if I can’t touch.
Again, Cary’s smile disappeared, and he slumped back against the cushions. “Man, I wish I could, but Amanda will kill me if I try to back out of the spa. Besides, I wouldn’t want to intrude on you and your family.”
“It wouldn’t be an intrusion at all. My parents keep saying they want to meet you. You’re my best friend out here.”
Cary’s expression was unreadable. Pleased, maybe? “Really? Thanks, man. That’s nice to hear. You know you’re my boy too.” He punched Ryan’s shoulder lightly.
Ryan cleared his throat and pretended his whole body wasn’t on fire. “Well, the invitation stands if you change your mind.”
They smiled awkwardly at each other. Things had always been totally comfortable between them, but now that they’d kissed on set, Ryan felt on edge. If he relaxed, he was afraid he’d do something that would cross the boundaries without even thinking about it. Now any kind of touch barring a shoulder punch seemed too intimate. He’s not your boyfriend. It’s all pretend.
Their eyes met, and Ryan swore a current surged between them, shooting up his spine and then right down to his dick. Cary licked his lips, and they stared at each other in the silence. Ryan could feel the heat from Cary’s body beside him on the couch, and Cary seemed to be leaning into him.
A soft knock on the door was followed by a PA calling out, “Ryan? We’re ready for you.”
The strange mood broken, Cary drained his bottle. “See ya next year.” He stood, then pulled Ryan up into a straight-guy hug, slapping his back with a thump.
“Right, see you next year. Merry Christmas.”
As he walked to set, Ryan decided it was a good thing they had three weeks until they had to be back in the second week of January. Time to get this crush on Cary under control. Between work and their friendship, they had a good thing going, and Ryan was damned if he was going to mess that up.
Copyright © Keira Andrews
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