Matt's sure that from the outside their relationship looks something like this: Matt always starting shit, getting into trouble, and Ben tagging along, getting dragged in after him.
But from Matt's point of view? It's always been more like Matt doing whatever he thinks is mostly likely to keep Ben coming back.
Twelve years old, and they're hovering at the edge of the woods, wobbly on their bikes because of nerves. It's dark in there, and Matt knows that Ben's scared of the dark. But he also knows that Ben's been waiting for the right thing to push him past the fear. And as always, Matt's willing to be that for him.
"You coming?" he says, glancing sidelong at Ben, who's still staring wide-eyed at the thick overgrowth in front of them, and takes off before Ben can respond.
He hears Ben sigh, long-suffering, before following.
When they're on the other side, Ben shrugs and says, "That was fun. Thanks." And Matt hides his satisfied smile.
Sixteen years old, and he's pulling up to Ben's darkened house in his older brother's convertible, two girls from their biology class chatting in the other seats.
He gets out from the car to scoop up a couple stones, tosses them in his hand for a moment.
"Hey, how's your aim?" he asks Anna, sitting in the passenger seat. She gives him a pointed look, and he laughs. "Yeah, okay. Mind throwing a couple rocks for me? Right—" he points "--there."
She throws them, and they hit Ben's bedroom window with a crack. June, from the backseat, cheers, and he shushes her.
The window slides open after a moment, and Matt shines a flashlight in its direction to see Ben's expression.
"Matt? What the hell are you—"
"Look, I know you're studying," Matt says in a rush, "but you need to relax, dude! Don't they say you can't process information unless you take breaks?"
"That's...actually true," June says from the back seat, vaguely impressed, and Matt turns to grin at her.
"I have layers," he says. He turns back to Ben and leans a little forward. "So. You coming?"
Ben stays there, silhouetted in the window, for a long moment. Matt waits, heart in his throat.
Finally, though, Ben breaks out into a smile and pulls his head back in, closing the window. A minute later, he's exiting from the front door, locking it behind him, and sliding into the backseat.
"So," he says. "Where are we headed?"
Nineteen, and Ben's been complaining about his job and his fucking asshole manager for the past four months, but he's not doing anything about it.
"You really should quit," Matt tells him.
"I need the money for my car," Ben says mournfully.
Matt frowns. "I thought your folks said they'd cover the gas until you graduated?"
"Yeah, but I don't want to make them do that, you know?"
Matt sighs. "Yeah but—" He bites his lip. "You're important too, you know?"
Ben smiles at him for that, warming Matt all the way through. But then he still doesn't do anything—
So Matt decides to do it for him.
He makes a list of all the shit Ben's complained about in the past few months, types it up and outlines it--headings and everything because he knows Ben responds well to that--and pulls up outside the department store on a Friday night.
"Ben," he calls, as Ben's going back in after the only tiny break he gets in his four hour shift.
Ben turns around to blink at him. "Matt? What are you—"
"I want you to read this." Matt dangles the sheet of paper outside the car until Ben takes it from him, reads it over with a frown slowly growing on his face. "I want you to look at everything on that list and think about if this is really what you want to put up with. Think about if your parents would want you to put up with it. If you'd want your sister to put up with anything like this."
"Anderson, who the hell is this?" Ben's manager, Flynn, says flatly from the doorway.
Ben looks up from the paper and makes eye contact with Matt. "This is my best friend, Matt," he says distantly, and Matt pushes down the twin sensations of satisfaction and disappointment he gets at that. "He's here to pick me up."
"You still have two hours left on your shift, you're not going anywhere."
Ben's still staring at him.
Matt raises his eyebrows. "You coming?"
Ben smiles at him, and turns to Flynn, handing him the paper. "Sorry, sir. I quit."
He gets in the car, throws an arm behind Matt's seat, and says, "Let's go see a movie, okay?"
Twenty-two, and Ben's graduating with a business degree. Twenty-four, and he's buying an apartment in the city, and Matt parks in his guest room permanently because hey, he can write from anywhere, right? Twenty-five, and neither of them have had a serious romantic relationship (although to be honest, Matt has never really been trying, because what's the point when he's already got Ben?).
Twenty-six, and Ben gets the promotion he's been waiting for, and Matt says, "So we're celebrating, right?"
Ben looks at him blankly. "...we are?"
Matt rolls his eyes, exasperated. "Ben, you just got a promotion, you can stop being a workaholic for like, two seconds, right?"
Ben shrugs. "I guess so. So where are we going, then?" And the way he so easily passes it off to Matt to take the lead—
"Hey," Matt says. "I was going to drive down to Vegas over the weekend with some friends, but all of them backed out on me. You up for it?"
Which brings them here, to age twenty-six, and Matt halfway in and halfway out of a party bus, looking at Ben expectantly. "You coming?" he asks, and gets a flash of memory of all the times over the years he's said the exact same thing, hoping and praying that Ben's going to say yes.
Ben's gaze goes a little distant, then, like he's remembering it all too. "Yeah," he says, voice low and a little hoarse, and follows Matt in.
Matt grins with relief and thinks about all the places the night might take them.
Here's what he doesn't expect: this is supposed to be a celebration for Ben, but somehow Matt's the one who drinks a little too much. He tries to nudge Ben in the direction of a girl who's looking at him with interest, but instead Ben pulls him in and lets him hang all over him. Matt's ready to order another round of drinks, but then Ben sends the bus on without them and calls them a cab.
Matt worries about keeping himself in check, but it's Ben who follows him into the backseat, sits next to him and puts a hand high on his thigh, squeezes lightly until Matt gasps, "Ben," and then pulls it away.
See, from the outside, their friendship looks like Matt leading and Ben following. But right now, when it matters? It's Ben who pulls Matt along by the wrist up the stairs to their shared hotel room. He leaves Matt propped up on the wall while he keys open the door, and then pauses, halfway in the doorway. Matt's leaning heavily against the wall, breathing quick, and Ben looks him up and down.
Matt's wanted this for so fucking long that now, when it's finally happening, he's frozen.
But Ben looks at him and says, with a half-smile, "You coming?" and Matt's knees nearly give out.
"Fuck, Ben," he says, lost--but when Ben grabs his hand and pulls him in, he follows.
Twenty-six, and Ben has Matt begging for his touch, cheek pressed into the pillow because everything he's feeling is too much to stand. It's everything he's ever wanted--Ben moving down his body and settling between his legs, pushing them apart and kissing the head of his dick.
"Fuck, please," Matt says, wound so tight he could go off any moment.
Ben licks his palm and wraps his hand purposefully around Matt's dick. He strokes once, twice. He hides a grin when Matt tenses up and almost kicks him in the head.
Matt swears. "Ben—"
"You coming?" Ben asks, sly, and Matt laughs, chokes, and comes.
(They go back to Vegas at twenty-seven, get drunk, and get married in the nearest chapel. It's perfect.)