Layla doesn't know when things changed in their trio. Yet it wasn't hard to miss that her relationship with Will had changed at the same time. They both felt that strange sense of loss sometimes when they were alone. The kissing was amazing and Layla had enjoyed making out while flying as much as the next girl, but sometimes in the silence there was a Warren-shaped hole. And their trio was so much more than Will-Layla, Will-Warren, and Warren-Layla - Will-Layla-Warren was a force for good and she didn't think that any two wanted to fight crime without the third (could fight crime without all three). It was a feeling that crossed over into their living arrangements.
It definitely started then, Layla thinks, as she remembers Warren's expression when Will invited him to move in with them. Though he was a well-respected superhero, not a villain as so many of their classmates had suspected, people were wary of renting apartments to Warren because of the risk to their property. Josie Stronghold had used her superpowers (the real estate ones) to land Will a fantastic deal on a house. When Will had first started talking about moving out, the Strongholds refused to have Will rent for a multitude of reasons so they put a down payment on his house as a college graduation present, assuming quite rightly that Layla would be moving in to help make the house payments. They hadn't blinked twice when Will and Layla informed them that Warren would be moving in to help as well (Layla thinks it helps that their trio was widely being touted as the natural successors to the Stronghold Two should they ever decide to retire).
But Warren's expression at Will's invitation had been strange, Layla remembers thinking, gratitude, wariness, and something dark in his eyes that she couldn't identify. "No thanks," he said shortly, clearly considering the subject closed.
Will had looked at Layla and shrugged uncertainly, but she could more than outmatch his powers of persuasion (hadn't she once convinced Warren to go to Homecoming with her? If she could do that, she could do anything). "Warren, it's not like it would be rent-free. We really could use the help in making the house payment every month. There are plenty of rooms and the basement is fire retardant. Besides, think about how much easier it would be to do our jobs when we're together." In reality, Layla's listing of pragmatic reasons had only had one lie (they could survive the house payment without him, but why would they want to?).
Warren watched her carefully as she put her hand out toward him. She had positioned herself far enough away from Will to keep the romance part of their relationship out of the discussion (she loved Will but she knew that keeping Warren meant compartmentalizing that part as much as possible in his presence). Will stepped up next to her and took her hand (she mentally groaned at his move), but he put his hand out as well toward Warren. "We want you to live with us, Warren," he repeated. "Otherwise, we might have to ask Zach."
He cracked a smile, but he still stared at them. "I just don't think it will work."
"Why?" Layla demanded, her normally ironclad patience wearing thin. "It's not because Will and I are dating, is it? I'll dump him right now."
"Hey!" Will's outburst was ignored by both of them.
But Warren looked thoughtfully at Layla. "You would, wouldn't you? It's that important to you?"
"You're that important to us," she said, squeezing Will's hand so he would agree. "The last thing we want to do is make you feel that uncomfortable. We need you to live with us."
"Need is a lot different from want," Warren answered evenly.
"And we want and need you to live with us," Will said quietly. "You're the best cook, your power is really useful when the dryer doesn't quite do its job, and we miss you when you're not around."
Layla suppressed the urge to kiss him at that moment (sometimes he said things that made her want to punch him but this was not one of those times). "And of the three, the last is the most important. You don't know how much we miss you and maybe that's our fault, but the truth is, we've already told his parents you were moving in with us. This is not a pity ask, this is us demanding that you be in our lives even more."
Surprise flashed in his eyes at her assurance of victory. "Layla, what you're asking is impossible."
"Nothing is impossible when we're together," Will reminded him. He reached out his hand again and grasped Warren's hand (Layla mirrored his movement without question). Sparks flew under their grasps, but Will and Layla ignored Warren's irritation.
"Don't you understand?" Warren asked angrily. "I don't want to be around you that much. It's too hard already."
Startled, Will looked at Layla uncertainly. "I didn't know you felt that way, Warren."
"Because you've never stopped to ask yourself why I might want to be elsewhere after a mission."
"You hate us that much?" Will's voice was soft and unhappy. Layla's heart was hurting for both of them (and if she was truly honest, her heart was broken, too).
"I can't hate you," Warren said, and somehow his voice was even more angry. "My feelings are the furthest thing from hate and I hate that, not you."
In a flash, Layla understood what he was really saying, pieces falling into place as she considered his actions over the past few months. She let go of Will's hand and stepped forward without waiting for Will's incoherent response. "We love you, too, Warren." She gently kissed him, her lips pressing against his without resistance. He growled in protest, but she pushed her tongue against his mouth, finding the tiniest of opening to show him exactly how much she loved him. From behind, she felt Will's hand touch the back of her neck before he left a trail of kisses along her cheek, transferring his mouth to Warren's cheek. She felt Warren's mouth tighten at the additional contact and grudgingly released Warren to allow Will to show his feelings. Something stirred as she saw her boys kissing and even more as she felt their hands squeezing her hand and neck at the same time. There would be no exclusion in this moment. When the sensory moment came to an end a few minutes later, they shared a glance that seemed to say more than all the words they had already traded.
Warren was the first to speak, his voice ragged. "This isn't right. You can't just play with my feelings that way to get what you want."
"I'm not playing," Layla responded. "You've been running scared from us for too long. I love Will, but it's not different from the way I love you. I've wanted you from practically the moment I met you at that Chinese resturant."
"No, you wanted Will," he said irritably. "Everything you said ..."
"Was both true and designed to make you jealous. Will had been everything I wanted for as long as I could remember, but you were dangerous and angry and spoke to something I didn't know I ever felt. With Will, my heart was safe, but with you, I could be angry about the way he took me for granted and could be angry at the world at the same time ... yet I never felt unsafe with you. Gaining Will's love was everything I could have wanted, but you know me, I've always wanted more than was strictly necessary. I wanted Will to be jealous, but I also wanted to make you care about me."
She cast a glance at Will, wanting and not wanting to apologize for the hurt that she felt and inflicted on their relationship, but Will was studying Warren with something akin to understanding. "Layla's right," he finally said. "I love you both. How hard did I work for your approval in high school and even now, Warren? Maybe I was blind to Layla, but you opened my eyes to her and to you. You did the stand up thing and took her to a dance when it should have been me all along which maybe says something about us that I haven't ever wanted to face. It's always been us three for better or for worse entangled in something that none of us tried very hard to escape."
Warren glared at them. "And what makes you think that this makes up for anything? No one will ever approve of whatever this is."
"It might take some time," Layla reasoned, "but people would either understand or they wouldn't. Do you think that would change anything?"
"They've always disapproved of me," he answered. "I remember how much they tried to talk you out of us three working together."
Will shrugged. "And now they admit they were wrong."
"And your parents?"
"I think my parents would say love is love," Layla answered.
"And my parents didn't bat an eyelash about you moving in - they just want me to be happy."
Warren's expression was changing with each answer. "And would you be with this?" He gestured toward the three of them. Layla and Will caught his hands and stood in a circle.
"Happier than I've ever been ... even when I realized Layla loved me," Will replied sincerely.
"Nobody is saying it's going to be easy," Layla answered. "But we owe it to ourselves to try."
"Fine," he said gruffly. "But we have to talk about it, no matter what happens. We can't risk the trio for whatever this is."
"It's a deal," Layla murmured and kissed them both to seal the deal, a kiss that they returned in equal measure with each other.
Things were never easy (Warren's penchant to be irritable, Layla's prickly moods, and Will's impatience did not make things easy), but doors in their new home remained open between them more often than not. The navigation of "whatever" proved no more difficult than the navigation of a trio fighting crime and open communication simplified things even more. The Stronghold Two and their friends eventually came around (even Zach) because they were happy and united in their happiness. No one could turn them against each other, a fact that Warren proved as he took the battlefield at Will and Layla's side against his own father.