He tries to keep it level when they make the Elite Eight. His team made the Sweet Sixteen the year before, so he expected at least that much of himself. This year is his team, though, and win or lose, this is going to be on him.
Then they knock out Baylor, and they're heading for the Final Four. His team celebrates, cheering and laughing in their hotel. It's lights-out in about twenty minutes, and Marshall's trying to get him to join, but Ben shakes his head and heads back to his room. There's game video waiting for him; coach sent it like Ben knew he would.
He puts the drive chip into his vidscreen and goes over Duke's defensive strategy. It's intense, a hybrid of the old K-style and something newer. It makes running offense against them a bitch, and it's tripped up enough teams that Duke's in the Final Four despite their offense being ranked 9th in the tournament.
He's pretty deep in Duke's last game against Xavier when someone starts pounding on his door. It's loud and relentless, and Ben rolls his eyes. "Darrell, I told you to bring your keycard," he calls out, opening the door. "You said you -" He cuts himself off, because it isn't Darrell on the other side of the door. It's the Tar Heels' star point guard, the good-looking one from China.
"Ling?" Ben says, because he thinks that's what his name is.
"Meng," he says, rolling his eyes a little, and Ben shifts in the doorway to cross his arms in front of his chest.
"Sure, what are you doing here?" he asks, annoyed, because he's pretty sure 'Ling' is half right.
"This is room 416," he says, English heavily accented, which makes sense, since he probably speaks Chinese at home. Ben shakes his head.
"458," he says. "You must be on the other end." Meng looks down the hall and frowns. "You been drinking? At this point in the season?"
Meng glares at him, posture stiff. "No drinking in Carolina," he says, like maybe Georgetown just lets its players booze it up.
"Great, you know where you should be. Mind leaving me alone? I was preparing for our next game, not wandering around knocking on strangers' doors," he says.
Meng turns away without saying anything, and Ben watches him, glaring at his back. He's not nearly as good-looking up close, and he's clearly a stuck-up dick. He hopes Syracuse smokes them.
He's back to studying game video when he hears the keycard in the door. Darrell walks in, making more noise than any one person should. He's clearly still jacked up from celebrating with the rest of the team. Usually, Ben doesn't mind; that's just Darrell being Darrell. Except he throws himself onto the other side of Ben's bed instead of his own.
"Hey," Darrell says, and Ben frowns at him. "Aww, c'mon. You're always like that. Crack a smile."
"Have you been you drinking?" Ben asks, going still, because he'll turn Darrell in, no hesitation. He doesn't want to - he and Darrell are tight - but this is their chance, and he isn't letting Darrell screw all of them out of their chance at the championship.
"No, fuck, Ben. I'm just happy. You heard of it? Being happy? Not having a stick shoved up your ass?" Darrell asks. "We're in the Final Four, aren't you happy?"
"No," Ben says, shaking his head.
Darrell stills. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," he says. "I'm not happy because there's more to do. This isn't over, and acting like we're finished isn't how we're gonna make the Final or win a championship. That's when I'll celebrate."
"You're so damn intense, chill," Darrell says. He slumps back on the bed, head tipped back. Ben watches him, wondering why he's lying back on Ben's bed and not his own. Darrell looks up at him, catching him watching, and smiles. "Did you wanna?"
Ben goes hot all over and shakes his head, because no, he doesn't. Darrell's his friend and a great guy, with big hands and a strong grip, but he's always fucking weird about it whenever they mess around. Ben's got plenty on his plate right now without adding another one of Darrell's straight freakouts to it. He's done fooling around with Darrell. "No," he says, shaking his head again. "I'm actually kinda tired. You mind?"
Darrell rolls off the bed, and Ben takes a deep breath, grateful to have avoided that. It means he has to put his vidscreen away, though. He rolls onto his side and closes his eyes until Darrell turns off the light. Then he turns onto his back again and thinks through the plays from his vidscreen. He tries to see the Duke defense and think ways around it. This is his year, and nothing is getting in his way.
It's probably the best game he's ever played. He walks through Kent, Jacobs, and the rest of the Duke defense like they're standing still. Darrell hits nearly every three, Marshall sets him up exactly like it's practice, and Ben hits a triple-double. He almost can't believe it. It's like a dream he had as a kid, practicing under the lights. He wants to keep level, wants to remember he isn't finished, but it's so, so damn hard. They're rowdy as hell in the common area, shouting and cheering. Someone starts up the fight song and everyone joins in, butchering it horribly, which just makes everyone laugh more.
Then the Tar Heels show up, jumping up and down, hollering like mad in those stupid light blue sweats of theirs, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that they won too. Damn, he was really hoping Syracuse would wipe that superior look off Meng's face. It's up to him now, but that's days away. For now, he celebrates with his team and lets the boys from UNC celebrate while they can.
There's no reason for him to be watching Meng. He isn't drunk, because no one on either team is drinking right now, not with the Championship only one game away. He isn't even all that tired. There's no reason for him to be watching Meng show off his dance moves for his teammates. And it's definitely no reason to let Meng come over to talk to him.
"Nice moves," he says, sarcastically. Meng's not actually a bad dancer or anything, but Ben's not about to inflate his ego for him. He has a feeling Meng gets more than enough of that.
"All the girls say," Meng replies with that cocky-ass smile that pissed Ben off so much in the hallway.
"Your mama, aunties, and sisters don't count," Ben says, and Meng just laughs.
"Why are you so angry?" Meng asks, then frowns. "Not angry -” He shakes his head. “You need to chill out."
“I’m chill,” he says, and Meng laughs.
“Yes, very chill,” Meng says, somehow managing to sound like he’s still laughing at him. “Coach give me game. You want?”
Ben looks him over, not sure what Meng’s trying to do. “I would, yeah.”
“So give me yours,” Meng says, stating it plainly, like he knows Ben has the game video. Ben does, of course he does. He’s going to look over the last game before the Final, because there’s always something to improve.
“What makes you think I -” He’s cut off by Meng laughing again.
“Everyone knows, Watkins always watch games. Yours, theirs... you watch them,” Meng says and shrugs. “I will if you will.”
“Fine,” he says, because this is earlier than he’ll get them from his coach. He’s surprised that Meng’s been paying attention to him enough to know how strict he is about watching game films, though. He knows his team jokes about it, but not usually where other people can hear.
They head back to his room, and he grabs his vidscreen and the drive chip Coach gave him. “You keep very clean,” Meng says from the doorway, and Ben looks up at his smile and then around the room, where half the room is covered in dirty socks, clothes, towels, and stray bits of paper. It’s kind of a mess, and he doesn’t blush, but he does duck his head.
“Some of this is Darrell’s,” he says, because some of the towels on the floor actually are.
“Sure,” he says, and Ben scowls. It figures Meng’s English is good enough to make fun of him.
“Do you have your vidscreen?” he asks. “So we can transfer videos?”
“In my room,” Meng says. “Come on.”
Meng’s room is on the other end of the hall, and he’s quiet while they go, which also surprises Ben. He more than half expected Meng to keep giving him shit about how dirty his room was. Meng opens the door when they get to it. “Come in,” he says, so Ben follows him.
It figures Meng keeps his room spotless enough to pass even Ben’s mama’s standards. And judging by the little smile Meng’s giving him, he knows it’s more impressive. “Where’s your vidscreen?” Ben asks, because damn, Meng’s such a smug fuck.
“Over here,” he says, moving toward one of the dressers. Of course Meng’s the type to put his clothes away in the dressers at hotels instead of living out of his suitcase. “Easy to find if not all over floor.”
“Did you bring me some homemade cornbread?” Ben asks. Meng stares at him in utter confusion, head cocked and trying to figure out if he’s not understanding Ben’s English correctly. Ben smiles. “That’s what I thought. Cause if you didn’t, then you’re not my mama. So lay off my housekeeping.”
Meng keeps staring for a moment longer and then breaks out into a smile. Ben can’t help it and smiles back. “My mother always tell me on the phone to clean up too,” Meng says, and Ben laughs, because of course Meng’s mama gets on his ass about that.
“I guess some things are universal,” Ben says. Meng grabs his vidscreen and sits down on the bed, already transferring video onto the drive chip. Ben sits down next to him and starts transferring his too. His vidscreen is older, so it might take a little longer than Meng’s.
“It was a good game,” Meng tells him, almost out of nowhere and Ben turns to look at him. “Georgetown against Duke.”
“Your team watched the game?” Ben asks, kind of surprised, because their game was afterward.
“Not all, but some,” Meng says. “Duke is our rival. Everyone cheer for Georgetown.”
“Oh, right, North Carolina,” Ben says, because all of those schools have a pretty intense rivalry down there. “Thanks for your support.”
“Support your team, then, crush you,” Meng says, grinning.
“Oh, you think you’re bad?” Ben asks. “We’re going to smoke you, hope you’re ready because -” He’s cut off by Meng leaning in, hand cupping the side of his face and kissing him. It’s a complete shock, and Ben goes stiff for a second, frozen, because he really wasn’t expecting this.
Meng pulls back, clearly blushing. “I thought... I am sorry, please do not say -” He looks flustered and kind of worried, that smug self-confidence gone for the first time since Ben met him.
“Nah, it’s, it’s fine,” Ben says, reaching out, hand on the back of Meng’s hand. “I was just surprised.” Meng watches him, clearly still confused, and Ben recognizes all of it. He knows how it is, being sort of on the downlow but not completely, out enough but not flaunting it. Meng probably is wondering what’s fine, if Ben’s going to tell his team, fuck up his chances of getting drafted.
“I said it’s fine,” Ben says and leans in, tilting his head to the side and going in for a kiss. Meng meets him, hesitant for just a second before going for it. He reaches up, broad fingers curving around his neck, thumb brushing over Ben's jaw.
Meng pulls away for a second, kissing a little softer before whispering, “Still crush you.” Ben opens his eyes, looking at Meng’s from close up enough that he’s a little blurry. And fuck, there’s that cocky-ass smile of his.
Ben smiles and pulls Meng hard against him, pulling him down onto the bed. “Keep dreaming,” he says. Meng must have put the vidscreens somewhere, because they’re not in the way when Meng climbs on top of him, heavy and solid, long legs on either side of Ben’s body.
“You want?” Meng asks, and Ben’s confused for a second, but then Meng’s hand is cupping Ben’s cock through his clothes and he nods, as enthusiastically as possible.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says, lifting his hips while Meng drags his sweats and underwear down. Meng grins down at him, like he’s making fun of Ben for sounding dumb right now, and Ben frowns and reaches down. Meng’s wearing sweats too, but Ben can’t really pull them down from this angle. Instead, he shoves his hands down the back of his sweats, scratching over the small of Meng’s back and then grabbing hold of Meng’s ass.
Meng arches against him, kissing harder, and then rolls off of Ben so quickly Ben almost doesn’t get his hands out of his sweats. “Clothes off,” Meng says, and Ben looks at the door for a second. “Not a problem.” And Ben’s not one to argue about getting his clothes off, so he strips out of his shirt, sweats, and underwear as fast as he can.
Meng’s just kicking off his sweats when Ben’s finished, and he takes advantage of it by climbing on top of him. He kisses him again, rocking his hips down against Meng’s, and Meng holds onto his shoulders. It feels like forever since he really did this, and Meng’s arching just like Ben likes.
He’s surprised when Meng uses his hands on Ben’s shoulders to roll them over and get back on top of Ben. Meng just smiles down at him, though, smug and self-satisfied, and Ben’s kind of into that, so he lets it go. He’s rewarded by Meng spitting in his own hand and reaching down to grab both of their dicks. Meng’s got a nice, solid grip on him, jerking both of them at once, and Ben arches his hips into it.
Meng kisses him once more, hard, and then trails his mouth down, over his jaw and toward his neck. “Don’t, not... don’t leave any marks,” he says, a little breathless. Meng bites, teeth in his neck but not hard enough to leave a mark, and Ben shudders.
“We do again?” Meng asks, kissing and biting around Ben’s neck. “After we crush you.” He sounds so fucking sure of himself, and punctuates it with another bite. Ben comes, hard and fast, and he’s honestly surprised by it. Meng, the asshole, laughs against his throat and jerks himself faster. He’s still got both of them in his hand, and Ben’s about to say something, because it’s okay for now, riding out the aftershocks of his orgasm, but it’s going to hurt soon. Luckily, Meng comes, arching against Ben and shuddering, and it’s over.
It’s not as awkward as Ben would have thought, getting dressed afterwards. They don’t stare at each other, but they’re also not avoiding eye contact entirely. Once they have their clothes on (and Ben’s borrowed some Kleenex to clean up with), they still have to transfer video from each other’s drive chips to their vidscreens. Meng waits patiently for Ben’s vidscreen to transfer the video, and even walks him to the door.
“I mean it,” Meng says, at the door. “Again, after we win.”
“And I meant it too,” Ben says, and he leans in for one more kiss. “Keep dreaming.”
Ben’s going over the video in his room when Darrell gets back around lights out. He’s already got a few things he wants to talk to Coach about, and he’s feeling pretty confident about the game. “You’re already going over game video?” Darrell asks, and Ben shrugs. “At least you came out to celebrate long enough to get the stick out of your ass.”
“Huh?” Ben asks, looking up.
Darrell waves at him. “How relaxed you are?” he says. “This is because you spent some time with the boys, celebrating a win. I told you, all work and no play. You gotta listen to Doctor Darrell.”
He heads into the bathroom, grabbing his towel so Ben knows it’s for a shower. Once he’s inside, Ben touches his mouth and then runs his hand over his neck. He does feel pretty relaxed. He smiles, thinking how much it'll burn Meng if this is what ends up winning him the championship.
Then maybe he can collect on that promise to do it again.