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Suspicions Confirmed

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  1. Puzzle

 

Eli noticed first, the subtle change in the way Rush and Young interacted. To anyone just looking in from the outside, it wasn’t exactly clear, but for someone who spent as much time as Eli did with both of them, it was if it had transformed overnight. A flip had switched. Warp drive had been discovered. Darth Vader was, indeed, Luke’s father, and yes, Luke and Leia had that weird sibling-kiss.

The sharpness to their normally biting half-sentences was gone, as if the bitter remarks were only serving a purpose. That they stood too close or spoke in hard whispers wasn’t new either, but the air between them was less…fraught with tension.

Eli frowned at his console—okay, there was definitely still an edge there, something…restrictive, maybe? Hey, he was a math genius; he had never had too much too much luck finding the right descriptive words. He shook his head to get the train of thought back on track before it derailed permanently.

He was monitoring the sensors on his console on the bridge, able to turn slightly to look at another screen nearby that required his occasional attention, but that shift was a disguise to study the puzzle that Rush and Young had become. At the end of the day, Eli liked puzzles more than anything else. Hell, it was partly how he had ended up here in the first place.

Young sat in the command chair, alternating his gaze between the large viewing window, a screen to his right, and less frequently, to Rush on his left.

Eli tapped his screen and turned his head. Okay, so none of that was really out of the ordinary. He risked a quick glance to their facial expressions. Young looked sort of unhappy and frustrated; Rush looked stubborn and upset. Again, all systems functioning within normal parameters.

Still, there was something…off about the way they leaned in to speak quietly to each other. Okay, so maybe it was a little weird that they were being secretive, but it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. It usually mean that Rush wanted to do something that Young didn’t agree with, and the pair had seemed to be making a concentrated effort to keep their snits quiet for the good of the mission and the crew.

That particular argument and compromise had been a closed-doors affair just after stasis, and man, Eli would have loved to be a fly on the wall (or a kino in the room, as it were) for that.

Eli shook himself out of his headspace again, realizing he had zoned out and was staring. Young was gone, Brody and Volker were heading into the room, and Rush was headed toward him. “I didn’t do it!” Eli blurted out.

Rush raised an eyebrow. “Quite,” he agreed dryly. “Your shift is over as soon as Chloe and Lieutenant Scott get here. Good night, Eli.”

Internally, Eli breathed a sigh of relief; Rush was usually pretty observant, especially when people might be staring at him. “Night, Rush.”

That was his luck though that Rush suddenly turned and leaned down beside Eli, ostensibly to look at his console but more to keep the conversation private than anything else. “Fascinating as it must seem to you that the colonel and I are getting along, I would appreciate the speculative staring to go away. One might get the wrong idea.”

Eli spluttered. “No, that’s…but I…and…” He stopped with a defeated groan. “And you’re gone.”

XXXXX

Rush handed Young a glass of Brody’s “best”—something fermented from kind-of-apples and sort-of-strawberries. The only redeeming qualities were the alcohol content and the fact that the too-sweet taste hid how high said-alcohol content was. They were halfway through a chess game, though it was being played more for entertainment than competition.

“You know, if Eli thinks something’s up, it’s only a matter of time before at least Chloe and Scott think it too,” Young mentioned absently.

“That was the point of starting with him,” Rush remarked slowly, as if he was reminding Young of their plan. “Mr. Wallace is, quite possibly, the biggest gossip on this ship without realizing it, and notorious for idle speculation.”

Young still looked unconvinced. “You really think a practical joke will be good for crew morale? When did you ever care about that anyway?”

Rush huffed irritably, unwilling to voice that it was partly due to the reluctant guilt he felt daily about Park’s vision, the potentiality of leaving Eli to die while they slept in stasis, attempting so many times to circumvent authority (especially Young’s), about…well…everything. “I’ve never personally cared for pranks, but if crew morale is up, isn’t productivity as well?” He figured it was how he would justify it later, the feeling of ease he was able to garner from these late nights with Young.

Young shot him a fragile smile. “Happy crew, happy ship?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Rush agreed and took another drink from his cup. “Military patrol changes hands at what, 0500?”

Young looked bemused at the sudden change in topic. “Yeah, give or take a few to brief.” The confusion cleared in sudden understanding, and Young bent his head down in a chuckle. “I’ll take the couch.”

Rush smirked, pleased that Young had understood, and then moved his rook. “Check.” He refilled their cups. “That’s not necessary, Colonel. We’re both adults, and, not to put too fine a point on it, your back won’t function any better than mine for sleeping on either of these couches.”

Young looked taken aback, the faintest trace of color creeping into his ears as he moved his bishop. “I don’t know why I’m still surprised by you sometimes.” He inspected the board. “It’s really no problem; it’s just one night.”

Rush rolled his eyes. “I don’t know why either, Colonel; I’m full of surprises.” He moved his knight quickly. “Checkmate.” He flicked his hair away from his eyes and face. “And indeed, it is just one night. I’ll take the left side.”

Young groaned at the loss, but didn’t argue further.

Still, Rush couldn’t help noticing with interest that Young’s whole face was slightly red in addition to his ears. Well, what’s that about then?

Rush tilted his head in brief thought before deciding to think on it more in the morning.

XXXXX

Greer quietly left Park’s quarters around a quarter to patrol change. She fumbled after him, but fell back to slumber quickly. He smiled softly before exiting the room, only to be started by TJ and James when he turned.

“Y’all should know better than to sneak up on me,” Greer muttered pointedly.

James smirked. “It’s Tuesday. Everyone knows which quarters you’ll be coming out of.”

This earned a dirty chuckle from TJ and a good-natured eye-roll from Greer. They chatted quietly as they relieved the night patrol. TJ wasn’t on yet, but tended to rise early for the social contact. James had just been finishing a dirty joke when Greer stopped abruptly, arm stretched out to halt James and TJ as well.

“What the…” Greer trailed off and pointed mutely.

TJ had never been so glad yet simultaneously unhappy for her early morning habit of social interaction as James gasped an expletive.

But the scene was undeniable—that was Rush, belt undone and his green shirts clutched in his hand, leaving Young’s quarters. His hair looked mussed and hastily finger-combed. He seemed to sense the three and pinned them with an indefinable yet fierce stare.

“Morning,” Rush said in his usual gruff tone, and sauntered past them as if he did this all the time.

Once he had rounded the corridor, James, Greer, and TJ stared at each other.

“Was that…” Greer started, but didn’t finish.

TJ nodded stiffly, appearing slightly shell-shocked. “No, no…we saw that. That was definitely Rush.”

James cocked her head thoughtfully. “With JBF hair, no less.” She hoisted her P90 more securely over her chest and snorted. “Maybe since Rush is getting some, he’ll be less of an ass.”

Greer chortled.

TJ still just looked confused as the shock wore away. “But Rush…and the colonel?”

Greer clapped a friendly hand on her shoulder. “Let’s go; we’ve got patrols and duty and you’ve got things in the infirmary.”

“But—“ TJ started, interrupted by the sound of Young’s door opening again. The three snapped to attention, ignoring Young’s tangled hair and lack of uniform jacket, wearing only his black combat pants and sleeveless undershirt, belt nowhere to be seen.

“Aren’t two of you on patrol?” Young asked, his tone devoid of any real emotion.

“Yes, sir,” Greer and James answered.

Young nodded slowly, his eyes narrowed, before he saluted their dismissal. “Then go patrol.”

TJ scurried away with them, feeling a lot like someone had just told her that yes, science had proven that two plus two did, in fact, equal two.

XXXXX

Rush quietly and reluctantly spooned the protein mush in his bowl. He was debating the merits of trying to just shoot it like liquor when Young sat across from him, looking vaguely amused and a bit expectant. It was a bit of surprise to Rush, if a little unwelcome, how pleasing the colonel looked in that moment.

“I take it you saw them in the morning as well?” Rush asked idly.

Young snorted into his protein mush. “Couldn’t miss them after all the talking they wanted to do.”

As Scott, Chloe, and Eli entered the mess, Rush leaned forward across the small table on a whim, and tried hard not to be smug when Young stiffened at Rush being so close. Rush was near enough to smell the faint woodsy-musk of the soap Varro and Inman had come up with, along with a faint chemical that came from Destiny’s showers.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Young rumbled softly, fluttering the long strands of Rush’s errant hair.

“Giving Eli a new puzzle piece,” Rush murmured, “Now, laugh.” He leaned back, hoping the slow smirk breaking on his face translated properly to Young.

Young chuckled lowly (if a bit suddenly and artificially) as if Rush had told him a filthy joke. Louder than Rush had thought he would, Young remarked, “Promises, promises.”

Rush barely had time to appreciate the clever improv before Young leaned back and shifted so his ankle was firmly rested between Rush’s.

It was Rush’s turn to tense up the barest hint in surprise at the contact, but the lazy smile never left his face. The underside of the table wasn’t exactly hidden; Rush could practically feel several pairs of eyes staring at them in open curiosity.

“Don’t think of it as a promise, Colonel,” Rush said as he absently finished his food and stood. “It’s only a promise if I break my word.” He walked past Young as casually as he could force himself, and, at the last minute, squeezed Young’s shoulder. He drifted his fingertips over Young’s neck even as Young’s head suddenly bent forward before he exited the room.

The clatter and liquid splash were next, followed by Chloe’s indignant shriek and Eli yelping “Shit, I’m sorry!”.

Rush made it to his quarters, barely, before laughing harder than he had in a very long time. When that had faded, he looked at his fingers briefly. Young had tilted his head forward when Rush had touched him, but Rush couldn’t tell if Young were trying to get away or give more access.

Entirely certain that he would be awake all night if he thought too much about it, Rush decided he would simply repeat the action the next time the opportunity arose, and see if there were similar results.

XXXXX

Instead, Rush didn’t get much of a chance to fuel the gossip line, and neither did Young. While stopped at a planet the next day, they ran afoul of the indigenous species inhabiting the world. While everyone made it back to Destiny alive, some were a bit worse for the wear.

Bullied by TJ into staying in the infirmary for at least twenty-four hours, Rush still did his best to make it known it was not by choice and more because of the way TJ had threatened to spike his food with a sedative. For Christ’s sake, he was barely hurt, if one discounted the sling and splint holding his collarbone together and his shoulder in place. Young had gotten much worse, since he and Rush had been ushering up the back of the group in a hurry.

And of fucking course, Young had made sure that Rush, Scott, and Greer were still ahead even as Rush inexplicably tried to hang back to make sure they all made it to the gate, and not just subordinates and civilians.

As such, Young was lying a few beds away, his shoulder and leg bandaged, bruised, and scraped after the two arrows had been removed. At least they hadn’t gone all the way through; they had been far enough away from the natives that the arrows had lost too much velocity to make it all the way to the other side of Young’s body.

Rush tried to be angrier—after all, the dislocated shoulder and hairline-fractured collarbone were only because Young had shoved him to the ground—

And Young had promptly received an arrow to the shoulder for his trouble.

With a sigh, Rush glanced over the dimmed infirmary. Sure, they might be playing an amusing prank on the crew, but this moment felt…different. A gnawing thought pointed out that it was, because this time, it wasn’t for show.

Slowly, so as not to jar any injuries, Rush quietly made his way to Young’s bed. Young was still pretty knocked out from whatever TJ had given him, and while Rush hated sedatives (or anything that dulled his mind too much, really), it was an unexpected swell of relief to see the lines of pain erased from Young’s features. Rush looked around again suspiciously, but James was still lightly napping in the back room where TJ mixed medicinals, and the only other two patients were Greer and Barnes.

Greer was practically comatose in his recovery, having been bitten by something native on the planet.

Barnes had taken some kind of poison dart to the leg, but she was also sleeping soundly.

Satisfied, Rush turned back to Young’s sleeping form and hesitantly brushed some dirt from the dusty dark curls. Slightly more confident when Young didn’t wake, Rush slid his fingers into the dark strands, his thumb unconsciously sweeping across Young’s temple.

Rush looked around quickly again, keeping his hand firmly where it was. A bolt of insecurity and shyness shot through him when he felt fingers encircle his wrist. He looked down to see Young’s dark, drugged gaze peering up at him. Young’s eyes were green and gold, like the planet they had been on, and they were just as dangerous, hiding a real threat behind the comforting, shifting colors.

“Rush?” Young croaked abruptly but still quietly. His eyes shifted direction, and then settled on Rush. A contented look passed over his face, and his hand jerked as if trying to reach Rush. “…Nick?” he inquired uncertainly.

Rush swallowed against the sudden lump of embarrassment in his throat even as he ignored the itch in his hands to reach. “Nice to have you back, Colonel. If you’re done playing toy soldiers for the day?”

Young smiled loosely and dropped his hand back to the bed. He smile was open and smug. “Knew you gave some kind of shit about me.”

Rush scowled at him with little heat, and his voice was brittle and barely audible when he spoke—it was only loud enough for Young to hear. “Of course I do; don’t be a fucking idiot, Everett.” A bright red warning sharply pierced Rush’s temple, but he ignored it in favor of the slip-slide feel of Young’s hair running against his callused, clever fingers.

Young’s eyes were already slipping closed. “I give a shit…” His eyes grew glassy, and his hand reached out, as if trying to grasp the thought. “Even if you…if you…” Young yawned, hands falling against the sheets as he fell back asleep.

Rush disentangled his hand and went back to his assigned bed, insisting firmly that he absolutely didn’t care what Young had nearly said.

When that didn’t work, Rush began to wonder if maybe their “little joke” was starting to go too far. As he started to drift into sleep, (ignoring the vague tingling in his fingers), a traitorous voice in his head whispered that maybe it hadn’t gone on long enough.

He grit his teeth and abandoned that train of thought, but fell asleep with the image of Young’s open smile and dilated green eyes in his mind.

XXXXX

Time was mostly irrelevant so far as holidays aboard Destiny went, but Eli had been not-so-subtly hinting at a New Year’s Party. Less than two days after Young’s three-day stint in the infirmary, Rush was in his quarters, relaying the request as if he would rather be in the vacuum of space than asking about Eli’s party.

Young frowned when Rush had finished. “It’s not like Eli to ferry something like that through you.” He stood with care and rounded his desk before leaning back against it. “What gives?”

Rush gave a forced smirk, shaking his hair away from his face. “He thought I would be more…persuasive.”

The meaning was clear in Rush’s voice. Young felt his lips twitch in mirth without his permission. “Did he,” he asked as he shook his head, because seriously.

Rush nodded and stood next to him. “Just imagine,” he grumbled, “Some of my team probably think I’m in here, persuading you.” His tone was smooth and lilting.

Young felt his chest hiccup once, twice, and then he couldn’t keep himself from laughing. His sides were hurting, his face was wet, and his eyes were still watering a bit when he finally managed to stop and look back at Rush, who looked equal parts exasperated and…fond?

Young straightened himself out, ignoring the little flip that Rush’s smile had caused, and bumped his shoulder into Rush’s. “Fine,” he said, voice still a little rough, “Tell him that you managed to “persuade” me.”

Rush laughed lowly, his arms crossed. “By the looks of you, I did a damn good job too.”

That low chuckle went straight to the pit of Young’s stomach, churning up feelings that damn well had no business being there. “Maybe I can “persuade” you sometime,” he replied humorously instead.

Rush walked away in a mocking parody of seduction, but Young felt it deep in his balls and cock. “We’ll see, won’t we?” He left, the door whirring shut behind him.

Young fell back into his chair with a sigh. Christ, even he was starting to believe their little performance. The most bothersome part of that revelation didn’t occur to him until later, when he was intentionally crowding Rush’s space at a console in the control interface room.

It didn’t bother him at all that he wanted it to be real, and that was how one Colonel Everett Young realized he was fucked.

He wanted Rush.

XXXXX

It only took two days for Rush to corner Young in his quarters. “Alright, so what the fuck is the wrong with you now?”

Young gave him (what he hoped) was a startled, innocent look. “Could you be more specific?” he asked blandly.

Rush glared at him. “Don’t be an idiot; we both know better.” He sat on the couch opposite Young. “Far be it upon me to assume we were past this bullshit when one of us has a problem and we avoid each other.” He schooled his gaze into something that resembled passivity, but Young was all too aware of that stare and the danger that could (and often did) creep behind it. “So I’ll ask again,” Rush asked evenly, “What the fuck is wrong?”

Young leaned forward, trying for a thoughtful look to stall for time. He didn’t want to do this now (or ever, really), but Rush looked stubborn and angry, as well as utterly unwilling to take anything at face value. So Young went with something closer to the truth.

“I think this little joke of ours is over,” Young said, but the words were fast and his tone was off. “It’s getting a little much, don’t you think?”

Rush looked surprised, then suspicious. “Getting issues from your oh-so-open-minded military friends, is that it?”

Young frowned and then vehemently shook his head. “No, of course not! And even if they did have that kind of streak in them, it damn well wouldn’t last long, not under this command.”

“Then what?” Rush stared at him quizzically, like he was mentally slotting different variables into an equation with a known solution.

Young nearly felt it as much as he saw it on Rush’s face when the right puzzle piece snapped into place. With no regard for the fact that they were in his quarters, he stood gracelessly and ignored the strangled-sounding question from Rush as he all but fled into the corridors of Destiny.

XXXXX

Young found himself both pleased and irritated that Rush seemed to be giving him space and time. He was in no hurry to carry on their last conversation, but he was starting to hate that things were returning almost to how they were before. He missed the companionship, someone to laugh with and talk to, someone who was willing to put their own personal bubble aside just to make the crew happier.

He sighed and balanced his head against his hands as he sat at his desk. Things were awkward now, and it wasn’t like the crew hadn’t cottoned on either. For god’s sake, Chloe had approached him the day before to let him know that Rush was in just as bad a mood and probably hurting too; couldn’t they maybe talk about whatever had happened?

Politicians, Young thought. Her meaning had been clear—she thought Rush and Young had a spat and he needed to hear that she thought they should work it out. Christ but this had become such a mess. What had started as a harmless joke was now a parody of what they had intended to accomplish. Crew morale was down, people were feeling the tension and the avoidance, and, if Rush’s statistical model on productivity being directly related to morale was true, then the crew was definitely not accomplishing as much as normal.

Even Inman had mentioned that while it wasn’t a priority, they could use different vegetables and fruits for the hydroponics bay since the ones they had didn’t seem to be flourishing as well lately.

Young sighed and dragged his hands through his hair. He wasn’t even sure he’d ever wanted someone like this; he knew he’d never wanted a man like this. From what he could garner from the Stargate Command file on Rush, he didn’t think Rush was too far from his own position.

Still, the situation was growing to unacceptable levels, and he needed to fix it before it became toxic again. Even if they couldn’t return to the growing friendship they had been working on, they could at least be professional.

And if Young still thought about him that way from time to time, well…it was no one’s business but his own.

XXXXX

Rush looked up when the knock on his door came. He debated answering it for longer than was necessary, mostly because people never came to his quarters; they knew better. As he was still thinking on it, the knock sounded again—four soft-knuckled taps. Against his better judgment (and with no small amount of curiosity about who on the ship could possibly not know it was better to contact him through radio), he rose from the one small chair in his room and opened the door.

He wanted to say he wasn’t surprised when it was Young who waited on the other side of the door. He didn’t let it show on his face—he had intentionally engineered the situation so that if Young wanted to even come close to what they had last spoken about, it would be Young who instigated the conversation.

Rush stepped aside wordlessly, gesturing into his quarters.

Young paced pensively into his room, looking at the sparse quarters, the smaller bed, the lack of furniture…looking at everything in an apparent attempt to avoid talking about what they needed to.

Rush gave him time, but only for so long. After nearly five minutes of watching Young dance around it, he sighed irritably and crossed his arms. “Was there something I could help you with, Colonel? Or did you come here to get your daily exercise in?”

Young’s neck should have broken with the force his head had turned to glower at Rush.

Rush didn’t lower his arms and shook his head. “I would’ve thought I’d have given you enough time to deliberate your overture about keeping things on a cordial, professional level, but I didn’t expect you to pace around my room, still thinking about what you wanted to say.”

Young’s hands clenched at his sides and he glared darkly at the ground. His jaw twitched as if there were words kicking at his throat.

Rush narrowed his eyes and debated poking the sleeping bear, as it were. He walked until he was in front of Young’s tightly coiled frame, tilting his head as if he were examining a piece of faulty equipment rather than a person. In the end, he went with pointing out the elephant in the room. “Well then? Or are we just going to stand here all night, pretending you don’t want me?”

Rush was completely unprepared for the way Young’s body uncoiled and shot forward, one hand grappling almost painfully into his long hair, lips hard and thin against his own. Rush bent backwards under the onslaught, arms uncrossing in defense and hands awkwardly stuck between pushing and pulling. There was a hand wrapped at his hip, a thumb slipping into his belt loop against the worn denim of his jeans before he could even fully comprehend that Young was kissing him.

Jerking away, Rush stared at Young for a long moment as Young’s hands made an aborted attempt to follow him. Young looked conflicted and desperate, his fingers twitching out a communication that was far more effective than any words that could be said. His mouth was agape, as if still in the act of kissing.

Incredulously, Rush gestured between them as if he couldn’t quite understand. “You…” He cleared his throat, because his voice sounded hoarse and uncertain. “You want this.”

Young looked fiercely determined with an undercurrent of self-loathing and embarrassment. “It was just a joke,” he bit out, as if that explained everything.

“Yes…yes, it was,” Rush responded, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to do all the talking here. Thoughts shifted and re-ordered themselves in his brain though, and he settled back onto the heels of his feet so he could put the epiphany to words. “It’s not anymore.”

Though it was more a question than a statement, Young finally looked up, dark eyes laced with green and gold before he nodded tightly. “No, it’s not,” he managed.

“I thought so earlier.” Rush didn’t back away at this point, even though Young’s stature practically screamed to get away, and he crossed his arms again. “That’s why you ran out of your own quarters.”

“I don’t know how…” Young started and then abruptly stopped. He shook his head, shoulders drawn tight, before he looked up at Rush. “I don’t know how to do this.”

Rush shrugged. “That makes two of us.”

The silence that followed was awkward at best.

It was Rush who stepped back towards Young, and swept his fingers through Young’s dark, tangled curls. With Young leaning into that touch, Rush went further and hesitantly placed a hand over the join of Young’s neck and shoulder. Young looked at the floor and to the side, but he trembled beneath Rush’s hand.

Rush leaned up (being that Young was taller), and brushed his lips against his cheek, almost chastely compared to the searing kiss Young had delivered earlier. He kept his mouth there, letting the unfamiliar rough of stubble burn against his lips. Young’s fingers clasped Rush’s wrist, tightening down and his nails digging into the skin.

Arousal shot hot and dark, settling into the base of Rush’s spine as Young pulled him closer. The hand never left his wrist, but Young’s other dragged into the long hair brushing against his face, pulling and pushing it back as Young tilted his face to kiss him again. Rush let him this time, allowing the strange feel of a man kissing him wash out and through. He tightened his fingers in the dark tendrils of hair, hitching closer without realizing he’d done it.

Young gasped against his lips at the motion, his mouth opening and his tongue slicking across Rush’s lower lip.

Rush groaned when a hand pressed against his lower back, encouraging the forward motion of his hips. The barest hint of flesh came when a thumb dragged under his shirt at the hip. With concentrated effort, Rush pulled away, but only a little.

“It would appear that I want it too,” Rush said against Young’s lips. When he breathed in, he could taste the not-really-coffee drink Becker had served at dinner.

The fingers in his hair tightened.

Young looked unsure at best, and ready to run at worst. “I…” He stopped, and then looked pensive at Rush’s neck. “I haven’t done this…not…not this.”

Rush snorted with the hope it might put Young at ease, because god damn, he wanted this. “Like I know anymore than you do.” He bit at Young’s neck, rewarded with Young pressing closer with a groan. And yeah, that was definitely Young’s dick poking into his hip, and while Rush might overanalyze it later, right now…he just wanted more.

Young didn’t disappoint, pulling until Rush’s own cock was snugly resting against the hollow of the colonel’s hip.

A note of irony in his tone, Rush smirked and said, “That makes two of us.”

Young chuckled into Rush’s shirt.

XXXXX

Eli hated bridge shifts with Rush and Young. Four months ago, he had been convinced something had changed between them, but then they’d gone to that one planet where Greer had been in a coma for a week and Barnes had done the same for half that time. After that, there was the same tension and avoidance that had always been there.

But a little after that…it was like they were back to when Eli had first suspected they were…together or something.

As Scott and Chloe talked about something, Eli glanced surreptitiously to the two-man circular table that Rush and Young sat at, heads bent together, knees touching, and ankles almost interlocked. No, this was most definitely different than how they had appeared when Eli thought they had first started their…thing.

This…they almost looked…comfortable.

Eli felt like he had been brained in the head with Thor’s hammer, because that was when he realized the difference. The first time had been an act, something they had been doing for…whatever reason they might have had. That was why there was so much secrecy, so many private conversations, so many ducked heads when others were present.

This, on the other hand, was real.

Scott bumped shoulders with him, drawing him out of his reverie.

“What?” Eli asked absently, eyes still trained on Young and Rush, who were leaned toward each other and discussing something in quiet tones clearly not meant for others to hear.

Scott chuckled beside of him in hesitant amusement, the low thrum of it rumbling against his shoulder and hip. Chloe’s giggle combined with it.

Chloe only smiled at him though and touched Eli’s hand. “We’ll tell you…after dinner.”

Eli stared at her in utter confusion. He kept being on being bewildered, right up until he felt Chloe kick Scott under the table, and there was a definitely male hand falling on his knee just as Chloe trailed a foot up Eli’s leg.

Eli choked on his protein slush, and wasn’t thinking anymore about Rush and Young.

XXXXX