Skull glared at the box sitting by his door as the answering machine picked up. He was tempted to kick the box. He sighed at the standard message as he remember the message he still had to erase off his machine, “It’s Skull. I got all of your stuff together and it’d be good if you could come pick it up…”
A meow interrupted him and Skull turned to take in Alpha sitting on the back of his couch. The black cat meowed at him again before cleaning itself as it regarded him with big blue eyes.
“And come get your cat,” Skull continued, “She keeps looking for you, it’s getting annoying.”
As he hung up the doorbell rang and Skull eyed the door suspiciously before he opened it. He felt himself go cold as he took in Bulk standing there. He hadn’t seen the other man in two years. Skull slammed the door shut.
“Skull!” Bulk demanded, “Open the door.”
“Go to hell!”
Skull brought his leg back to kick the box, but the cat meowed again and he lowered it walking towards her. He scratched under her chin as he listened to Bulk try to talk him into opening the door.
Skull huffed before he gave in and glared at Bulk, “You don’t get to come here after forgetting about me and expect us to be friends anymore.”
“I…I…di…” Bulk stuttered.
“You didn’t even call to see why I was running late!” Skull pointed out.
“Why were you running late?” Bulk asked as he tried to glance around Skull’s apartment.
Skull let out a strangled noise of frustration and almost managed to slam his door in Bulk’s face again. He glared when he realized Bulk had caught the door.
“Bad time?” Bulk asked.
“You’ve always had horrible timing,” Skull found himself teasing and then frowned. He had to get Bulk to leave and teasing like they were friends again wasn’t going to do it, “I’m done. You can leave.”
“Done?” Bulk frowned, “We’re supposed to be friends Skull.”
“Friends?” Skull practically shouted even as he questioned the concept, “Friends don’t take off to another planet and leave you behind!”
“Maybe if you’d…” Bulk started then stopped. Bulk shook his head, “This is a bad time. I’ll come back tomorrow.”
Skull pulled the pillow over his head with a wince as he prepared for the nightly ritual of Alpha prowling through the apartment crying for the one person she couldn’t find. He hadn’t slept decently in days. Skull frowned as he realized she hadn’t started. Maybe he’d get to fall asleep before she did?
A weight on his feet said otherwise. Skull peeked out from under his pillow as the cat slowly, daintily made its way up to him. Alpha meowed plaintively once at him as she settled on his shoulder.
With a sigh Skull moved the cat under the covers next to him and as he began to pet her he admitted, “Yeah, I miss him too.”
Skull froze, paused in the middle of locking his door when he saw Bulk coming towards him with what looked like donuts and coffee.
“I’m not interested,” he growled as he finished locking his door.
“Skull,” Bulk all but whined and Skull wasn’t sure how to take it.
“I’m not,” Skull reiterated.
“At least take the coffee,” Bulk said holding the carrier so that one was nearer to Skull.
Skull frowned at the coffee, not wanting to give Bulk a reason to think that they were friends, but he’d recently packed up the coffee machine that a certain someone had gotten him used to using every morning so…
As Skull took a sip of the hot drink he felt some of his anger melt away. Bulk had remembered how he liked his coffee. Skull closed his eyes, gripping the cup. It shouldn’t mean that much, Skull told himself.
“I wish you’d tell me what’s going on?” Bulk told him.
Skull tilted his head towards Bulk and pointed out, “Can’t I be angry that the person who was supposedly my best friend for nearly my whole life just up and left me for two years and then comes back and expects to pick up right where we let off?”
Bulk seemed to deflate for a moment before he pointed out, “I don’t except us to pick right back up where we left off, but the friendship we had before should mean that we can try again.”
Skull’s grip on his coffee tightened even as he admitted, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to put up with being abused anymore. And you’re abusive Bulk so I’m just going to walk away.”
He almost made it to the stairs before Bulk has caught up with him, “Then I won’t be.”
Promises he’d heard before, spoken from another mouth and Skull can’t help but laugh dismally at the similarities.
“I just got out of a bad relationship,” Skull managed, “You left and okay I had some time to myself, but then I was in this relationship for about a year and half. He’s gone and now you’re here wanting my friendship. Why would I go from a bad romance to a bad friendship?”
Bulk caught his arm as he tried to leave and Skull expected him to defend their friendship, he hadn’t expected to turn and see concern on Bulk’s face, “What’d he do to you?”
Somehow they end up in the picnic area behind the apartment building he lived as they ate the donuts Bulk brought. Skull hadn’t answered Bulk’s question, he’d let the food disappear instead, except they’d reduced the food to a bag and Bulk then looked at him expectantly.
“You got the part where I said ‘he’ right?” Skull tried, wondering if Bulk would leave.
“I asked about him,” Bulk pointed out.
Skull squirmed. Bulk waited.
“Do you remember Adam Park?” Skull asked. Adam’s name was odd on his tongue, odd in his head as he’d done everything to stop trying to think about Adam.
“Adam Park?” Bulk mulled, then scowled, “I always thought he was a nice guy.”
“So did I, but that was before…after a year and half he decided he just had to be straight so...” Skull trailed off to stare at his hands.
“Then he’s an idiot,” Bulk told him.
Skull smiled slightly at the platitude.
“Seriously Skull, Adam’s an idiot.”
The whole story, the little things that bothered him about his relationship with Adam came out slowly over the next week as Bulk began to worm his way back into his life.
“He left his damn cat.”
“He was practically living with me, but kept his apartment incase his friends wanted to come over.”
“He wouldn’t even let me hang out with him and his friends. The only one he’d have had to introduce me to was Aisha!”
“We were all the way up in Reefside, it wasn’t like there was anyone there we’d know and he still wouldn’t hold my hand.”
“He’d get annoyed when I tried to spend time with my friends and it’s not like I have that many that aren’t away at college!”
“I got an award at work and I begged him to come to the ceremony and he didn’t. Kim did. Kim freaking Hart showed up to my celebration and my boyfriend couldn’t even bother.”
Skull was sunk down on the couch two weeks later, feet propped on the table petting Alpha when the phone rang. He grabbed his remote, muted the TV and reached for the phone.
Skull stared at the phone, even after all these years he can still recognized her voice, “Hi, Kim. How’d you get my number?”
“I forced it out of Adam.”
“Look, we finally got it all out of him. How are you holding up?”
“Better now that Alpha stopped prowling through the apartment looking for him,” Skull told her voice sarcastic, even if what he’d said was true.
He had to wonder at how silent the line suddenly gotten.
“Alpha?” Kim asked, voice shaky.
“The cat,” Skull explained, confused.
“You two had a cat?”
“No, Adam had a cat. The cat chose him, but now he’s gone and she’s stuck with me.”
“Hang on,” Kim told him. He heard the phone being set down and then Kim yelling. Not everything made it through the phone but he got a jumble of ‘Jerk’ and ‘You left your cat?’ and ‘Of all the names!’
“Sorry,” Kim told him, a smile in her tone, when she picked up the phone again.
Then the realization that Adam had to be near her for her to be able to chew him out like that slammed him over the head and he sobered fast.
“How are you holding up?” Kim asked.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” Skull grumbled then even though it was childish he hung up the phone, then let it click over to voice mail when she called back.
He closed his eyes at the recording. Why hadn’t he changed that yet? He now hated the part where Adam had recorded the whole thing. He waited until Kim stopped asking him to pick up, until the message clicked off. He deleted it and then stared at the machine sadly a moment before he recorded his new message.
Skull was headed out to meet Bulk at The Surf Spot when he found the rising in star that was Tanya Slone standing on his door step. He stared. Then he crossed his arms, “Is this becoming a thing? Because I really don’t care if he wants to know how I am. I really just want him to pick up his things and leave me alone.”
A flicker of anger crossed over Tanya’s face and then disappointment and Skull wasn’t sure what he could’ve done to disappoint her.
“His things are still here?”
“And his cat,” Skull ground out.
Tanya scowled and Skull sighed before he invited her in. He had a little while before he had to absolutely leave to be on time to hang out with Bulk. His eyes landed on the box of Adam’s things and Skull had to wonder why he was getting into a friendship with Bulk again. Bad friendship to bad relationship back to bad friendship wasn’t a pattern he wanted to repeat for the rest of his life and yet Bulk had been nothing but a friend recently, all of his old bullying seemed to have gone.
“You wouldn’t talk to Kim and we’re all kinda upset with him right now and worried about you,” Tanya tried to explain.
“You guys are worried about me?”
Skull shook his head and flopped down on his couch.
Tanya sat next to him, “You guys dated for a little over a year?”
“A year and a half,” Skull corrected.
Tanya frowned down at her hands, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know.”
“Aisha was still trying to set him up and he wouldn’t even tell her why he was refusing.”
Skull felt himself go cold. Had Adam cheated on him? Wouldn’t that just be the cherry on top of all the other shitty memories of their relationship?
“He always refused and now we know why and we’re trying to get him to understand we wouldn’t have cared who he dated as long as he was treated right and happy.”
“I don’t think he realized that,” Skull admitted as he stared down at his hands.
Tanya stared down at her hands, “I’m not even sure I know what to say.”
Skull glanced at her and scowled, well this was all sorts of awkward. He glanced at the time, “Did you want something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Tanya smiled.
“Look, I’m meeting Bulk and…”
“Well that’s good.”
Tanya frowned, “Isn’t that good?”
Skull stared at his hands, not sure how open he wanted to be with her, “I’m not sure yet.”
Tanya looked worried again.
“Look, I don’t want to talk about this with you,” Skull told her, “It’s weird enough having Bulk drag it out of me.”
“Is he nicer to you now?”
It’s difficult not to miss the concern in Tanya’s voice.
“Yeah, yeah he is,” Skull nodded, before he frowned, “Shouldn’t you be worried about your friend, not about me?”
“Weren’t we friends?”
“No,” Skull managed as he looked away, “I don’t think we are, or were. You’re his friend and if you’re concerned at all for me then you can leave and take his things with you.”
She remained silent, didn’t say anything until Alpha was suddenly there spazzing over a ball she was rolling on the floor.
“And his cat,” Skull added.
“I’m going to be honest with you Skull,” Tanya told him, “I love Adam, he’s a good friend, but I’m very disappointed with him right now. He always used to support me and encourage me never to let anyone treat me that way that he treated you. So I’m not going to make this easier for him by bringing him his things. He’s going to have to man-up and face you if he wants them.”
“If you need anything, we’re here for you,” she told him.
“I have Bulk,” he reminded her.
Tanya nodded. The goodbyes were less awkward than the hellos had been and as soon as she had gone Skull slumped against the door. He stared at the cat playing on the floor at his feet. Skull sighed, “It looks like you’re stuck with me.”
Skull rubbed at his eyes and tried not to yawn as he watched Bulk putting together sandwiches in his kitchen. He let his head rest against the back of the couch and propped his feet up.
Bulk looked at him in concern, “Do you want me to leave so you can get some sleep?”
Skull shook his head, “I want my sandwich and if I go to sleep you’ll eat it.”
Bulk looked ready to protest for a moment, then he acknowledged, “I used to do that.”
Skull was no longer able to fight the yawn that forced itself out. He glanced over as Bulk sat down.
“I’m sorry,” Bulk told him.
Skull frowned, then cuddled close to his friend, “No, I’m sorry. That was mean. I’ve had a long week and I shouldn’t be taking it out on you.”
Bulk wrapped an arm around him and pulled him closer. Skull closed his eyes as Bulk began to run a soothing hand through his hair.
“Works been…” Skull sighed and leaned in closer, “Then Rocky had to show up and I was more of an ass to him than I was to any of the others.”
“You didn’t really talk about it,” Bulk reminded.
Skull shrugged, “I basically told him that he and Adam should get together since they’re such good friends and that they should leave me the hell alone.”
“How’d he take that?”
“Good, they should leave you alone,” Bulk told him.
“They’re just trying to be nice,” Skull frowned, “And I’m being mean.”
“You’re hurt,” Bulk reminded, “and they’re bringing it up by showing up and who says you want to trust them after everything you’ve gone through.”
Skull nodded and held on to Bulk just that little bit more. When he woke up several hours later it was because Alpha had decided to sit on his head. He jumped and shoved the cat away, realizing slowly that he’d been tucked in on the couch and that it was way past his bedtime. He frowned at his growling stomach and made his way into the kitchen.
He stared when he opened his refrigerator.
Bulk had finished his sandwich and left it on a plate and covered. There was also a note saying he’d let himself out and to call if he needed anything. Skull backed out of his kitchen slowly and sat back down on the couch. Alpha jumped into his lap. Skull petted her absently as he tried to wrap his mind around the changes he’s seen in his friend of the past few weeks.
“I want to trust him,” Skull told Alpha, “and that’s what scares me, but I’m tired of being scared.”
Skull leaned back in his chair, feeling slightly out of place. He stared down at his empty milkshake and realized that he’d been the one to drink all of it, Bulk hadn’t even tried to take it once. Skull tilted his head and took in Bulk’s melting milkshake.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
Bulk set the papers he’d been looking at down and blinked at Skull. Then he frowned, “I’m sorry, this isn’t much fun, is it?”
Skull shrugged, “You just wanted to go out to eat, you didn’t know Adele would spring paperwork on you.”
Bulk nodded, “It’s just a mess trying to figure out how to be business partners and rearrange everything. We decided we wanted to re-open The Youth Center, but there is also the Surf Spot and while I love its theme there is a bit I’d want to add.”
“And I agreed a pool was a wonderful idea,” Adele put in as she sat down.
“It’s really a matter of figuring out what we’re calling everything and how we’re going to do the financing,” Bulk nodded.
“It’s going to be a whole mess of paperwork,” Adele agreed with a smile before she patted Bulk’s arm, “But we’ll figure it out.”
Bulk set the paperwork down, “Maybe later though, I promised Skull dinner.”
“I already ate,” Skull pointed out, “You did too.”
Bulk blinked down at his empty plate, then glanced at his milkshake. He held it out, obviously offering it. Skull shook his head with a smile.
“Desert?” Adele offered.
“Paperwork tomorrow?” Bulk asked.
“That’d be fine, sweetie,” Adele reassured as she began to help Bulk gather up the paperwork.
“Did you want desert?” Bulk offered with a smile.
Skull nodded, he wasn’t very hungry anymore, but he did want to spend the time with Bulk and he could always take home what he didn’t eat.
Bulk grabbed the desert menu off the table and handed it to Skull as Adele said she’d send their waiter over. Skull had barely glanced at the menu when someone else sat down with them.
“Hi guys!” Justin greeted. Skull smiled and shook his head as he recognized Justin’s voice. He waved and kept looking over the menu. He knew what deserts he liked at The Surf Spot, but this was the first time he and Bulk had eaten out since Bulk had come home. It was also the first time he’d eaten out with Bulk and hadn’t had his food stolen.
“Hi,” Bulk greeted in a confused voice, “Who are you?”
Justin blinked and took a sip of his milkshake and Skull laughed.
“What?” Bulk asked.
“Justin Stewart,” Skull told him.
Bulk blinked then shook his head, “No, Justin is about so tall and…”
Justin’s eyes widened to where Bulk’s hand was expressing his old height, “I don’t think you ever knew me at that short.”
“You feed them, they grow,” Skull explained.
Bulk blinked again, “Right, going to have to remember that.”
Justin smiled, “Well I kinda finally hit puberty while you were gone.”
“Right,” Bulk nodded, “It’s still kinda weird.”
“I know,” Justin sighed with a roll of his eyes.
“I guess it’s not weird for me cause he’s forever visiting and I get to see him every now and then,” Skull shrugged.
“Nico had a game today,” Justin explained, “and I wanted to hang out.”
Bulk frowned, “I can’t even remember who Nico is.”
“He’s a freshman who made the varsity soccer team,” Skull explained.
“Oh,” Bulk said, even though his face said that he clearly still had no idea who Nico was.
“Not really important,” Justin said, “Going to go back to hanging out in a moment. I just wanted to talk to Skull a moment.”
“Do you need me to leave?” Bulk asked.
“I’m good,” Skull said, “You can stay.”
They both turned to Justin expectantly. Justin blinked, then frowned, he stared down at his hands, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.”
Skull sat back in his chair, feeling chilled. Were Adam and Justin friends? They’d been friends at one point, were they still friends?
“Is this about Adam?” Bulk asked.
Justin’s frown deepened, then he rolled his eyes, “No, I know better than to do that to Skull.”
“Then…” Bulk prompted.
“It’s Kim,” Justin said, “Look I know that she’s friends with Adam, but she throught you two were also friends and she didn’t realize she was friends with both of you and now you’re not talking to her and it’s really upsetting her.”
Skull sat up, “I…I just kinda figured that she’d…”
He trailed off not sure what to say.
“She’s just wants to be your friend,” Justin said, “Promise.”
“And why are you telling Skull this?” Bulk asked.
“Cause I haven’t been taking her calls,” Skull answered, then he smiled slightly, “Thanks Justin.”
Justin shrugged, “Just hate to see you lose a good friend.”
Skull nodded, then exchanged goodbyes with Justin before he looked back at the menu.
“Are you okay?” Bulk asked.
Skull looked up at the concern in Bulk’s face and for the first time realized that he and Bulk were friends again. He could trust Bulk to care.
“I’ve got my best friend back,” Skull pointed out, “And apparently Kim and I can still be friends. I’ll be okay. Also I’m thinking chocolate, it feels like a chocolate kinda day.”
Bulk smiled, reached out and gave his hand a squeeze.
Skull stared. He couldn’t move. After all these weeks, after all the harsh things he’d thought, when confronted with Adam standing there at his door looking concerned and a bit shy Skull found he couldn’t think.
Instead he stared.
“Look, I’ve been a really big idiot,” Adam started looking embarrassed as he took Skull’s hands.
Skull stared down at his hands. He’d heard that line before and maybe it wasn’t one, but he’d really had enough. Skull shook himself and stole his hands back.
“Yes, you are,” Skull told him before he turned and reached for the box he’d stored there. He dumped it into Adam’s hands, “Sorry about the dust, but it’s just been sitting here waiting on you.”
Adam frowned at the box, “Skull, can’t we talk about…”
“There’s nothing to talk about. I’m keeping Alpha, you can take your stuff. I’m not doing this with you anymore.”
It was then that Bulk decided to make his presence known. Skull leaned into the comforting hand on his shoulder.
Adam’s frown deepened, “Hi Bulk.”
“Look I really need to talk to Skull right now so if you could…”
“You got your stuff, you can leave,” Skull reminded, “If you’d wanted to talk to me you should’ve tried when you dropped off my spare key. You took it to the office, didn’t even bother picking up your stuff.”
“I’ve been a bit of a mess,” Adam started.
“You?” Bulk glared, “You’re the one that left him. You don’t get to come here asking for understanding. You get to take your stuff and leave.”
Adam stared between the two of them a moment and Skull could see it all over his face. Adam thought he and Bulk were together.
“Yes,” Bulk interrupted Adam, “You hurt him. He’s mine now and you can leave and never bother us again.”
Adam opened his mouth to protest, thought better of it and took his things. Skull closed the door and leaned against it.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Skull whispered as he wrapped his arms around himself.
Bulk pulled him close, into a hug and Skull sank into his embrace, comforted by that warmth and concern he found there.
“You’re my best friend,” Bulk told him, “Maybe one day something more. I know you’re not ready for that right now, but I’ll stick around.”
Skull blinked, stared at Bulk, “Wait…you…you’re…”
Bulk smiled, “Why do you think I came back? My life just wasn’t what it should’ve been without you in it and it got me to thinking…”
Skull nodded and buried his face against Bulk’s shoulder feeling safe and at peace for the first time in a long time. He wasn’t ready for a boyfriend, but he was ready to trust that Bulk would be his friend and that maybe someday soon, when he was ready, they could be that something more.