He listens to the war raging downstairs with the door slightly ajar. Their voices sound distorted. Like he’s underwater. Or like- maybe they are.
How many times-
What makes it okay for you and not for-
When it’s over, or at least they’ve hit the pause button for the time being, she comes upstairs. He thinks of closing the door, like he hasn’t been listening in. But he has, and this is Iris. They do the honesty thing.
That she’s singularly unsurprised to see him there is no surprise to him either. He knows her better than he knows the back of his hand. That metaphor never made much sense anyway; he hasn’t spent hours, days, what feels like years sneaking glances and memorizing each line at the back of his hand.
“Thanks,” she says, flatly.
She’d cut her hair herself the week before, an experiment, an adventure, it’ll be easy, she’d said, and now it’s too short. It falls in sharp, uneven shards around her face, barely brushing her collarbones, and she spends half her time these days impatiently flipping it out of her eyes. The most intense need he’s felt in the longest time has been to push it back for her.
She makes a low sound of annoyance at the back of her throat and tosses her head again. He grips the bed-sheet with far too much strength, knuckles turning white. It's better than doing something stupid, like allowing his hands to speak the language he's been learning since he met her.
“I had to tell him.” He forces the words out.
She sits on the edge of her bed, a defeated slump to her shoulders. That he may have put it there, that he may be responsible for this, makes something inside him go cold.
“I know,” is all she says.
It makes him defensive, the lack of accusation in her voice. Scream at me. “The Police Academy-”
“-is no longer on the To Do List, clearly.” Her voice still has that flat intonation, and for once, he doesn’t know how to make it better. Not when he was the one to make it worse.
He's nearly pulling the sheet threadbare, he reaIizes distantly. Attempts to smooth it, before clasping his hands in front of him instead, and staring down. It’s only when the other side of the bed shifts, and her head is already on his shoulders, the ends of her hair brushing the hollow of his throat, that he allows himself a moment of surprise. His hand wraps around her automatically. Instinctively.
“You can hate me if you want,” he offers. He hates himself plenty for this.
She’s silent for a moment, considering, “that sounds like hard work. And I’m exhausted. It's been a long day. Maybe I'll try tomorrow.”
He shifts a little, trying to make her comfortable. He's too tall now, they've never been a perfect fit, "we can make a week of it."
She half-smiles despite herself, then sighs against him, hand coming up to string through his hair affectionately, "you use so much hair-product, you're probably single-handedly keeping the entire industry afloat through the global economic crisis."
He lets his fingers brush against the jagged ends of hers, just barely. It's the first time since she cut it.
"The weirdest thing is," she mumbles, half-asleep by now, words incoherent, running into each other, "I knew you'd tell him and I still told you anyway."
He brushes the hair out of her eyes, lingers longer than propriety demands. She's already asleep.
He's the one who buys her a corsage for the prom. For her date with someone else. And then can't figure whether that makes him tragic or just plain pathetic.
She stares between the two of them; him and the corsage, and for a panicked moment he thinks she’s going to know and nothing will ever be the same again.
She pulls him in, instead, head resting against his chest, “your adorkability is getting close to hazardous, ozone-destroying levels now.”
The first words on the tip of his tongue are dangerous. He swallows hard.
“They’re my favorite,” she says, her voice bright, “the flowers. I love the smell.”
She smells like vanilla, vanilla with a hint of something bitter, if possible. He wonders, for a brief moment, if that’s a flavor they've started making in chocolate too, these days. He’d like to try it once.
“I know,” he’s said before he’s fully thought it out.
Rick will get her a corsage too, of course, and it’s while wearing his coat, getting ready for a date with someone else, that it strikes him that she probably can’t wear both together. This not thinking things through is getting to be a habit. A bad one.
Rick does get her a corsage too (of course). It’s a yellow iris- passion, he remembers from the one time he’d clicked on an article of the sort when he was bored. She’s allergic. He thinks of pointing that out when he first opens the door, but it’s not his place to say.
Iris laughs, and maybe it’s because he’s known her so long that he can detect the undercurrent underneath. She’s uncomfortable. She wants this to work; Rick is the guy she’s liked since a long while now.
“It’s the most ironic thing ever, I know,” she declares.
“Sorry,” Rick says, “I just- the Iris thing-”
“It’s okay,” she smiles, “you couldn't possibly have guessed. I love irises, they just don't love me back. Barry got me another corsage, so it's really not an issue."
Rick’s gaze turns to him, and suddenly it means a lot more than he’d meant it to mean. A lot less than it actually means, still.
“Then you're set,” is the only thing the other guy says.
When she finally wears it, the wrist corsage fits her perfectly.
He's halfway to his date's house when he realizes he forgot to buy her a corsage.
He gets off at the next florist shop on the way. Avoids the irises.
She visits him in college once. Shows up unannounced at his door and says, "I'm crashing."
He hasn't seen her in months, he's dreamed about her, though.
"No," he manages, blankly, "you're not. This is an all-guys apartment."
She snorts in derision at that, "I'll just stay in your room."
He's been in college long enough to get the implication of that.
"No." He says again. It's not what he wants to say.
"We'll tell them we're step-siblings, we practically-"
"No," he interrupts. His skin feels stretched tight across his nerve-endings, "we're not telling them we're siblings."
She keeps her bag down in a huff, "you're a jerk." Then rushes in and wraps her arms around him. He feels his body give way immediately, shaping itself to hers.
"I missed you so much." Her voice is muffled. There's a hint of something behind her words he can't fully grasp.
It's only later, when they're both drunk on cheap alcohol in a far-too-loud campus bar, because they can't afford something better, that she'll tell him about the first guy she ever slept with. The guy who broke up with her a week later.
Broke my heart, the bastard, she'll slur, her voice loud, the false bravado nearly painful, why do I bother, I swear. Guys I should lay off them forever. Except you, you can stay if you promise to help me with those freaking journalism assignments because you made me take it in the first place and they're killing me. Thanks, by the way.
His grip on the can will tighten. He's no saint. He hates the idea of someone other than him touching Iris. Hates the idea of her touching someone other than him. But he hates the idea of someone breaking her heart even more.
She'll dance after, drunkenly happy, tell him that he so totally belongs here with all the other nerd-types who are so totally going to take over the world someday, I mean, look at Bill Gates. You gonna be rich, Bear, show idiots like Tony who's boss. He'll walk her back when she's finally exhausted, half-carrying her as she sings off-key.
They'll end up in his room anyway.
She'll fall asleep on his arm. It'll be sore in the morning, but he won't move her.
She'll tell his roommates she's his best friend the next day, which is the whole truth. They probably won't believe her, but she won't seem to care. She'll stay three more days. Wear his shirts when she can't be bothered to dress up and write papers on his laptop, wearing new glasses too big for her face and shush him when he breaks her concentration by breathing too loudly or whatever.
He'll tell her he loves her when she's leaving, and she'll smile wide and say aww, I love you too, dork, and hug him. And he won't ask for anything more. He'll let her go. There'll be no shadow in her smile when she leaves.
He knows he's missing something, but for the moment, she's at his door somehow, and he doesn't really need a rationalization. He pulls her in closer, and breathes her in. Wonders if he's been holding his breath all this while, all the while they've been in different cities, further apart than they've been since he first met her, because the sheer relief he feels when he next exhales is vastly disproportionate to the act.
"You're still not weaseling your way into staying here," he says, because otherwise he'll say something like I love you so much, it's terrifying, and that would just be sad, "this is not me giving in."
She kicks her bag in with her feet as a gesture of defiance, and laughs against his chest. He feels it down to his bones.
Joe's instructions are strict. He knows Joe isn't oblivious to the weirdness between them, and maybe telling him to take Iris home is his way of making them talk or something.
"I don't need protection from the Big Bads, dad," she'd rolled her eyes, "I'm a big girl myself now."
But she complies anyway. He knows she's sensed the same tiredness in her father these days, a new heaviness to his movements that he has.
There's a moment later, on the way back, when she stumbles, and he catches her, Flash speed taking over, hand coming around her in a gesture of familiarity. And when she looks up next, her eyes are half-shadowed.
"Sorry," he mutters, just as she says, "thank you."
The both move away. He shoves his hands in his pockets.
He wonders if her head repeats his foolhardy, ridiculous, I love you, Iris, as often as his does, because it's been weeks and they're still awkward. It's a new feeling. One he doesn't like.
"I don't like this," she says out loud.
The next moment she's moved in closer, wrapping her arm around his.
He wills himself to not lean in.
"I miss touching you," she admits. There's a long pause after, as they both register how he's going to take that.
He waits for her to say something then. Something about how she's so sorry- and she didn't mean it like and I'm a terrible-
"Do I need to apologize?" she asks, instead. Her voice small, uncertain.
He knows what she's asking. She misses touching him, it's the truth. They don't apologize for the truth. He isn't the best at it these days, maybe he's never really been, but they still try at the honesty thing. They always have.
I love you, Iris. Here's something he's learned; falling is easy. The jump- the jump is the hard part.
"I'm not sorry either," he says, by way of answer, mouth dry, "so, no."
Her head comes to rest against his shoulder. And here's the thing; he's missed touching her too. So fucking much.
"Good." Her voice is quiet.
We're almost home, he'll say later, Captain Obvious to the rescue. We're almost home, even though he doesn't live here anymore. Habit, again.
She'll nod, the movement mirroring the staccato beating inside his chest. She's been humming something he hasn't been able to catch.
Almost, she'll repeat.
He'll take the longer route at the next crossroad anyway. She won't move away, still.