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Go West, Young Man

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America as a whole hasn’t been a massive, twisting, dark wilderness in Neal’s mind for years now—he knows better. He does. New York is bright and bustling and so like and so unlike the things he knew growing up that his childhood self wouldn’t have known whether to be excited or disappointed. There are cracks and crannies in New York, and plenty of predators to hide in them, but there isn’t room enough for a whole hidden species. All things come to the surface in New York eventually, and that is a good thing. It’s why Neal is in broadcasting—the truth needs to come to light, be dragged out kicking and screaming if necessary. “The truth will set you free,” Neal’s mother used to intone when he was a child who sometimes fibbed a bit, and it always sounded good enough to almost work. The truth will out eventually, and it’s better to be on the winning side.

Neal tells Jim not to vote against his own romantic interests, not to be such a cliché of a ‘good guy,’ not to let his news stories become metaphors for his personal life like some highly fictionalized hospital drama where each routine post-mortem is a reflection of a wealth of inescapable personal angst. He says this, or some of it, and revels in the delicious irony of it all, of the fact that his own chiding is a perfect example of what he is telling Jim not to do.

Or, well, sort of an example. Not really the same because Neal has a date tomorrow night with a beautiful woman who likes to go out drinking with him a couple of times a week, generally end up in bed together, and leave it at that. “Girlfriend” is really too strong a word for Kaylee and that is the way she likes it. That’s the way Neal likes it, too—it’s not like he’s got time to give a real relationship much of a chance. The only way Don and Maggie manage it, he’s pretty sure, is by being around each other at work. He’s not sure how Mac and her suit-wearing beau do it, but he suspects that Mac does not actually need to sleep, which probably helps to add hours to the day.

Neal hasn’t done much with guys lately—hasn’t really sought them out that regularly since he grew out of trying to spite his parents for their less-than-entirely-enthusiastic reaction to his coming out by shoving their grudging support down their throats. Okay, so Neal can admit it, he was a kind of immature kid. A little after that phase, though, messing around with his camera phone turned into his calling somehow, and justifying his bisexuality had fallen by the wayside for a while.

Now, Neal looks up across the newsroom some days, and Jim will be on the phone, will turn and roll his eyes at Neal about whatever the person on the line is saying, and Neal will feel this stirring of something. Interest, warmth—he’s not quite sure. He does know he’s not about to do anything about it, though. The difference between him telling Jim to stop being an idiot about Maggie and Jim telling Maggie to stay with Don is that Maggie is interested in Jim right back, anyone with eyes can see that, and Neal sees more than most people seem to think.

Jim can have Maggie, if he tries. Neal is almost sure. Jim can have Maggie and Neal can have Bigfoot. He’s less sure about that one, but life is in the trying, and outside of work, he doesn’t have too many other things to try for lately. Kaylee had shut down the idea of trying for anything more with her pretty quickly, and Neal is kind of glad, which he supposes basically proves her point. She’d been kind about it, or as kind as one can be in this situation, as far as Neal can tell.

“We’re neither of us the settling down kind,” she’d told him, and Neal still isn’t sure whether or not she was right about him, but that’s the idea of him that she’s been operating under, so even if she’s wrong, it justifies everything she’d said after. They’re still going out tomorrow night, they’re fine, but it’s not something Neal can pour this emotion he’d been perfectly happy not having for so long into, either.

He hasn’t thought about Bigfoot so seriously since he was thirteen, but he’d started to notice himself pouring frustrated emotions into efforts to help Jim with Maggie, and he knows well enough, at least, to know how fucked that is, putting unrequited emotions towards someone into trying to help that someone get someone else. That way lies madness. And so, Bigfoot.

He hasn’t been doing much research since he hit puberty, it’s true, but the idea has always been there at the back of his mind. A hidden species. King or the forest, roamer of the cold and dark, creature of legend. There’s a reason he reads obscure blogs from the Pacific Northwest, and it’s not just so he can lose all faith in his semi-adopted country and also humanity all over again by hearing about more awful things happening to immigrants.

There’s a lot more to learn, now, a lot more science behind these ideas than there was when he was a kid, and Neal doesn’t actually have to work that hard to convince himself. He’s a little surprised by how hard it is to convince everyone else. Jim, the bastard, is stubbornly skeptical. If Neal were a bit more speculative, a bit less determined to base his life on facts, he might be tempted to suspect that Jim sensed he was being replaced.

As it is, Neal pitches his Bigfoot presentation to Will, who tells him, “It’s a pretty compelling argument, but without any breaking news on the subject, it’ll just come across as a fluff piece,” and Neal nods, because that is probably true, and he’s enough of a newsman to know it.

He tells Will, “If I’m right, though, there will be, and when there is, we’ll be better researched than anyone else.”

He’s pretty sure Will is humoring him, but it’s actually kind of flattering to have anyone, never mind Will, bother to let him think he’s been convincing about this subject, so he enjoys it for what it is. When he leaves Will’s office, Jim is leaning against the wall outside the door to ask him, “So did it work? Are we on our way to being the Enquirer of news shows?”

Neal shakes his head, and before he can go on, Jim claps a hand on his shoulder. “Sorry about that. Come out, have a drink, let the rest of us console you. You can even tell us about how aliens built the pyramids, if you want.”

If this is his life, Neal thinks it’s probably a pretty good one, as lives go. And the pyramids are pretty bizarre, as human artifacts go. He nods. “Let me just grab my things.”