It better work out
I hope it works out my way
'Cause it's getting kind of quiet in my city's head
Takes a teen age riot to get me out of bed right now
In March 1989 Tony Stark is still eighteen and he falls in love twice.
(He swore to himself a few years earlier that he’d never fall in love, because the times were crazy and breathtaking but not made for love. The sixties were good for that, the forties with war love dramas, maybe the twenties. But not today, not the fading decade of Internet, MTV, AIDS, and leather clothes.)
Tony fell in love once before, when he created the first mini robot, and he knew that would never pass. It was who he’s always been, an inventor, and he’d rather die than lose himself – his brain, his work, his creations.
This is something different.
It’s two different scenes that melt into one in his head.
The first scene is this: he comes back from his year-long trip across Europe. After graduating from MIT at seventeen, Tony spent half a year working for Stark Industries in California before deciding to leave and take his time. Discover things. Get to know people. Breathe.
In March 1989 he comes back to New York, with the intention to spend more than a week or two in the city for the first time since he was seven.
New York, with its streets smothered with salty wind on the first days of spring, with new angry music raising after dusk, with constant hum of subway trains and ocean tides under his feet, it all steals Tony’s soul and he doesn’t even think about protesting. He would give it willingly for what he gets in return: a sense of belonging. The feeling like he’s fitting in, like he’s wanted here.
The second scene is this:
‘We’ll never ever forget this evening,’ Cheryl states when she and Tony step out of the club after the concert.
Tony nods sharply because she is right: today will never happen again. Such an experience is a one-in-a-lifetime, one-in-an-age. He’s vaguely aware that he’ll say the same thing the next time, but it doesn’t matter at all, because the music is still flowing in his veins instead of blood, his heartbeat quick and his eyes shiny with excitement.
Then he notices someone, a young man, maybe four or five years older than him, leaning against the concert hall’s wall, with short dark hair, a cigarette between his lips and hands tucked in the back pocket of his ripped jeans, and that’s it.
Cheryl says something and kisses him; Tony kisses back with his eye fixed on the man. She gives him a joint and he sucks the scented air into his lungs distractedly, then she takes his hand and drags him through the crowd.
‘Let’s go to my place,’ she tells him and kisses him again, giggling, and Tony smiles at her, then turns around and tries to pick the man out from the crowd, but he’s gone now.
They fuck and smoke and sleep and Tony sneaks out of her apartment as soon as it’s dawning. She won’t mind, with her blonde hair, strawberry lips and legs from heaven she can have every boy she wants. It was never supposed to be anything more than an one-night stand. It’s easier this way, and more interesting, and Tony would kill for interesting.
That’s the thing: if you’re the kind of genius Tony is, everything gets boring too soon, in the real world. The only thing that keeps him on his toes is work: creating new lives, like he created DUM-E (he doesn’t mind that his name sound like dummy because he’s a learning unit and he knows it’s a term of endearment coming from Creator.)
Tony goes back to his apartment, and that’s a very flattering word for the loft he’s renting in one of Brooklyn’s old buildings. When he opens the door, the place smells damp and oily, pale light makes the interior look unreal and soft-edged; most of the space is covered with random pieces Tony’s been working with. He has to walk carefully not to step on anything of value.
‘Hey, Dummy,’ he greets the robot who raises his arms up and chirps almost inaudibly. ‘Yeah, I know it’s late, or early – I’m going to sleep now. Didn’t get more than two hours at Cheryl’s,’ he continues, taking his clothes off where he stands until he’s only in briefs. ‘Where’s Lola?’
Dummy takes a moment before pointing his claw at the kitchenette. That’s no surprise; Lola, the tiny grey kitten Tony found a few days earlier, is a contradiction to all cat things and loves water, so she’s taken to spending time in the sink.
Tony finds his way through the mess, cradles Lola in his arms and goes to sleep with the kitty next to him.
The next time Tony goes to a concert alone. There are several girls and boys that seem eager to spend the evening and the night with him, but Tony doesn’t exactly feel like socializing. He went out only because it started to feel like even Dummy was disapproving of his continuous stay in the loft and the endless work, interwoven with drinking and listening to his vinyl collection whenever his hands hurt or he was all sore from crouching for hours and hours. He’s been staring at the city from the big windows of the loft, watching sunrises and sunsets with his tired eyes, blinking slowly and pinching himself to make sure this is reality and not some sort of a strange daydream.
When he leaves his place it’s nine already and he’s going to be late, but it doesn’t matter because whoever is performing will be late too. Everyone comes and goes as they please. There are rules, but they don’t live by rules.
The concert takes place in one of Manhattan’s half-forgotten clubs. The subway can be dangerous in the area, but Tony isn’t scared, he’s never been. That’s what the city has done to him within the few weeks since he moved in: he’s learned to be warier, angrier, more poignant in everything he does, in everything he is.
No one does compromises in New York.
Tony knows he’s the luckiest bastard in the city, most of the time. Even if he doesn’t live in one of his father’s extensive mansions – he could, but he resents the idea of as much as talking to Howard – or eat in the fanciest restaurants. He can do what he wants with his two best friends, none of them human, in an era in which everything is possible.
‘I haven’t seen you here before. You look tired,’ he hears someone say behind him when he’s getting himself a beer. They don’t even ask for ID here, so he doesn’t have to flash his fake and smile like a fool.
‘Are you always that straightforward?’ Tony asks without turning around, wrapping his calloused and burned fingers around the bottle and relishing the feeling of cold droplets of water sliding down his hands.
‘Only when I know I can get away with it,’ the voice replies and someone sits on Tony’s side.
He was right. The concert will be late and everyone is high on their drugs already.
‘I like that pointedly exhausted look,’ the voice continues and Tony finally turns around – and freezes.
It’s the man from the night with Cheryl, Tony would recognize him everywhere.
He really is the luckiest bastard alive.
From up close, he can see the man has studs, thick eyelashes and pale blue eyes, just like the song goes. He’s wearing the same leather jacket and jeans and rolls himself a joint without sparing a look at his hands.
‘You come here often?’
‘Often enough to know the regulars.’
‘I saw you three weeks ago –’
‘At that weird place in Brooklyn, I remember. You were with a blonde girl.’
‘Oh,’ Tony breaths and takes a sip of his beer, making sure that the bottle doesn’t fall out of his hand. That burn on his right palm is pretty nasty.
‘It’s nothing personal. I just remember faces easily,’ the man explains. ‘Why didn’t you dress it?’
‘My hand?’ Tony asks, following the man’s eyes, and laughs. ‘Happens all the time. I run out of bandage.’
He really did. When Rhodey was around, he made sure Tony had a fully stocked first aid kit somewhere around. And now, since Dummy can’t go outside and pretend to be human, there is no one to take care of Tony’s wellbeing whenever he decides to disregard it for the sake of one breakthrough or another.
That’s how life goes: from sunrise to sunset to sunrise Tony breathes the city’s damp air and tries to create something that will make it worth to hang in there.
‘That’s stupid,’ the man states and puts the joint into between his lips, in the corner of his mouth. ‘Here,’ he adds, taking out a clear roll of bandage from one of the jacket’s many pockets. Tony stretches out his hand and the man wraps the bandage around the hurt skin delicately, with skill and precision. Tony observes his face changing as his hands move quickly.
There’s a fading bruise on the side of the man’s jaw, he notices, and scars on his knuckles.
‘You get into fights a lot?’ he asks, sipping the beer from the bottle, now in his left hand.
‘In the streets or the set up kind?’ Tony adds with a small smirk.
‘Both,’ the man replies, quickly lighting his joint and handing it out to Tony, who shakes his head for no. There was this one time he took drugs from s stranger and he wouldn’t like New York to be spoiled with a similar experience. ‘You?’
‘I had a friend,’ Tony offers. ‘In Boston. He was good.’
‘Want to see how it’s done here?’
‘Hell yeah,’ Tony agrees and stands up, leaving the bottle on the bar counter. ‘I’m Tony,’ he offers when they are out in the streets and Tony can finally take in a deep breath. The air smells like wind.
‘I’m Phil,’ comes the reply. ‘We need to walk a few blocks,’ he adds and Tony nods, the concert long forgotten. The city’s music is in the clubs and concert halls much less than it’s in the streets and in people’s voices, in all the said-sung-shouted words, in rushed steps and car engines’ murmur.
Phil fights really well.
If Tony had known some of those moves a few years earlier, he could have avoided a few hardly pleasant situations and a few trips to the MIT Medical.
He doesn’t fight anyone but himself these days.
‘Clean up?’ Tony asks when the small crowd has dissipated and he’s alone with Phil in the empty street. Phil pockets the money he’s just won and wipes blood off his lips with the back of his hand.
‘Nah, I’m good –’
‘You’re bleeding in three places that I can tell,’ Tony counters, raising an eyebrow at Phil.
‘Now you’re gonna mother me?’
‘Just returning the favor,’ Tony laughs shortly. ‘You started it.’
‘You’re an insufferable kid,’ Phil states, taking a step away and lighting up a cigarette. ‘Anyone told you that already?’
Tony pauses for a second, wondering if he should say no one really talks to me or about every single person I’ve met, and in the end he settles for a shrug.
‘Well, we’ll be here same time, same place next Saturday,’ Phil says, putting his jacket over the dirty and red-stained t-shirt. ‘Come if you feel like it,’ he adds and disappears into the darkness of the street a moment later, as if he was nothing but a shadow.
Tony misses the meeting.
There is a conference and a gala he attends with Howard, showing off his newest invention or two and pretending that he doesn’t mind Howard’s arm wrapped around his this shoulders.
Howard looks like he’s doing fine, he charms the crowd the way he usually does, from the girls to the scientists, but Tony has learned to pick out the little details that betray the man, if only to Tony. Maria is not there either and that means things are not good.
By the end of the night Howard is completely drunk and perfectly coherent and disappears with a girl of Tony’s age.
Tony comes back to his cluttered workshop and lets Lola sleep in the sink. He drinks until he can no longer hold a glass without spilling its contents, sharply aware that he’s doing the same thing he hates his father for, and when he wakes up on Saturday morning he knows he’ll spend the whole day throwing up and coding in silence. The headache is bad but it makes him feel alive, and it’s good that he gets what he deserves.
Next Saturday he almost forgets, too, because he spent last forty-eight hours on constructing the controlling mechanism for his new robot project. There isn’t any time to get cleaned up or eat, so he puts on an old band t-shirt, ignoring the smudges of black on his arms, and a hoodie to hide his messy face in its shadow.
‘I was hoping it was a standing appointment,’ he greets Phil, who’s observing an ongoing fight with mild interest from the sidewalk where he’s sitting. Tony sits down next to him and lights a cigarette.
‘It is, lucky boy,’ Phil comments drily. Good poker face.
‘You fighting today?’
‘No, got kicked in the ribs too much a couple days ago,’ Phil replies and Tony scolds himself internally for not noticing how unnaturally Phil is sitting, his back too straight and his arms wrapped protectively around his chest.
‘Want me to bandage them for you?’
‘Oh, you’re a kid with experience, huh?’ Phil asks, taking the cigarette out of Tony’s hands and taking a drag.
‘Aren’t we all?’ Tony counters and gestures at Phil to keep the cigarette while taking another one for himself. They stay like that for a while, staring at the fighting men and exchanging an occasional comment. It’s April and it’s cold and dry, but neither of them minds.
It’s well over two hours later when the fights end and Tony is sitting alone with Phil again.
‘Wanna come over to my place for drinks?’
‘You got something better?’ Phil asks, raising one eyebrow.
‘You bet,’ Tony laughs. ‘I have something much better.’
‘Where to?’ Phil asks, standing up stiffly and wrapping his hands around his chest again.
‘Brooklyn. The only place where I could find something the size I need with a decent view, for some reason. Also, my neighbors don’t seem to mind if it’s noisy at night.’
‘A view?’ Phil asks, sounding mildly curious.
‘What can I say?’ Tony smirks and puts his cold hands into the jacket’s pockets. ‘I wanted my windows facing west.’
‘It just feels right,’ Tony shrugs and leads Phil to subway. It takes them over an hour to get to Tony’s place and they spend the mostly in silence, listening to the city’s murmur.
(The first time Tony took the subway was a few weeks ago. Before that, if he had asked Howard to use public transportation instead of a limousine with a driver, Howard would have laughed and slapped him for being stupid. So Tony never asked.
He loves the thrill; some lines are dangerous, but it’s good. It makes him feel alive. And lots of the views are worth every risk. Tony has learned the appreciation for beautiful things, even if in unusual forms and of certain styles only, from his mother, and sometimes he wishes he didn’t because constant search for beauty is like a curse.)
‘This place is surreal,’ Phil declares as soon as Tony opens the door and switches the lights on.
For a moment he thinks of the way Phil must see it: a big open space, with bare walls and floor, covered with endless boxes filled with hardware, random parts and scraps Tony uses when he builds things, and tools, including a blowtorch and a cold saw. They all have names, but Tony has never shared that particular secret.
And Dummy chirps quietly from across the room making Phil almost jump when he sees the bot’s arm moving.
‘What the fuck is that?’ he asks, staring, and Tony nudges him softly to take a step inside so that he can close the doors behind them.
‘A simple A.I. robot – Dummy, manners,’ he adds, raising his voice and grinning like mad. Dummy raises his arm and whirls his claw around in the gesture Tony taught his years ago. ‘Dummy says hello – oh, and Lola too,’ he says, scooping the shy kitty from between the boxes and stroking her fur with practiced moves.
‘You’re not a girl from fifth grade and you named a cat Lola?’ Phil laughs, taking a joint out of his jacket and patting his jeans pockets to find his lighter, but Tony takes the joint out of his hand and shakes his head. ‘What, no smoking inside?’
‘I’ve got something better,’ Tony states, winking at Phil. He makes his way across the room to the kitchenette, with Lola on his shoulder, and takes something out of the cabinet where he keeps his medical supplies. It’s almost empty right now, but some things are never missing. ‘Here. The good meds.’
‘So you’re secretly mothering me while you’re offering me drugs,’ Phil scoffs, but takes the pills and then a glass of water Tony hands him. ‘How come you have morphine at home? You don’t seem like a bad boy who’d steal it.’
‘I can get everything I want,’ Tony replies, slightly offended. He might be young and he might look even younger because he’s not one of the tallest and biggest guys around, but that doesn’t mean he’s a sissy.
(That’s what Howard likes to call him, when no one can hear, and Tony hates it more than anything when someone implies something similar.)
‘But I’m not giving you booze with that. I’m not stupid,’ he adds and puts Lola in her special box. There is nowhere to sit in the loft but on Tony’s bed, besides the one-person armchair by the computer, so he needs the space. ‘Music?’
‘What do you have?’ Phil asks, sitting on the bed cross-legged.
‘Everything you want, from the fifties to a week ago,’ Tony replies, crouching next to the box filled with vinyls and CDs.
‘You choose,’ Phil declares, smiling lopsidedly. Tony can tell by the way the man is holding himself that the pain is already fading and he’s starting to feel all the good things morphine brings. ‘As long as it’s loud.’
‘Sure,’ Tony agrees and puts on Ramones’ Leave home and then climbs onto the bed after he fixes himself a vodka tonic in a ceramic teacup. Phil observes the process with curious frown on his forehead, but apparently he’s already decided that Tony is weird like that and doesn’t ask any questions.
He glances at Dummy and now and then though, and Dummy waves his claw each time. Good manners are important. Tony had that drilled into him for years.
They talk about music and fighting and New York. Tony learns that Phil is from Chicago and that he’s been in New York for almost two years now and Phil learns a few things about Tony’s travels to Europe and the overseas music scene and the crazy political and social stuff that’s going on there.
In the end, Phil falls asleep. Tony doesn’t take off the man’s clothes or his shoes, he doesn’t mind them. He jumps off the bed carefully and makes his way to the computer because he knows he won’t fall asleep, it’s just one of those days when he’s in the middle of a bout of insomnia. He drinks another vodka tonic and works until the sun starts making the sky bright and blue and he doesn’t even notice when Lola crawls out of her box and falls asleep in the crook of Phil’s neck.
When Phil wakes up, Tony is making breakfast. It’s not the thing in his life, but after a sleepless nights eating something is a must, even if it means making cinnamon French toast out of stale bread because there isn’t anything else that’s edible.
‘Take this,’ Tony instructs Phil, sliding the half of a pill across the counter. ‘It won’t make you high, but it’ll make the ache stop.’
‘I don’t need it,’ Phil scoffs and leans against the cold brick wall, observing Tony flipping the toast on the other side.
‘Don’t be stupid,’ Tony replies, shaking his head. ‘I won’t tell anyone, if that bothers you, bad boy. Your secret it save with me. Swear.’
‘You’re awfully bossy for such a scrawny thing,’ Phil comments and Tony thinks it’s funny, because Phil is not much taller than him, even if he’s more muscular and just looking dangerous.
‘I learned from the best,’ Tony comments, thinking of good old Rhodey. ‘Now take this. You’ve gotta take care of your body.’
‘Says someone who walks around with second degree burns.’
Phil frowns when Tony laughs, but Tony ignores him, puts the toast onto one big plate and goes to pick Lola from the bed and gives her something to eat, too. He opens one of the windows in the meantime and the scent of fresh air fills the room.
It will rain today, Tony can tell. He likes rain.
In the end Phil swallows the half a pill, eats a piece of French toast and leaves before Tony can ask him a question – but after he’s managed to slip a piece of paper with his phone number into Phil’s jeans’ pocket.
He spends the next few days working and drinking and trying to sleep, but sleep doesn’t come so he stays up until he almost collapses, almost finishing the new robot’s body that he’s been working on for weeks. Dummy’s future little brother.
He wakes up twenty-two hours later and it’s late afternoon. After a shower and a quick trip to a fast food a few blocks away, he adds finishing touches to the robot and writes the first line on his new A.I. code, just to feel proud while staring at the almost-white screen, and leaves the loft. It’s time to breathe some music and see some worlds.
Phil is nowhere to be seen at the next concert and then in the nearby bar. It would be an awfully lucky coincidence if Tony met him so randomly again. He pretends not to be disappointed.
Instead, Tony finds a girl and spends the night walking from club to club with her, listening to music he’s never knew existed and smoking joints and kissing. He goes to her place and they stay in bed all day long and then eat pizza and listen to Patti Smith until midnight and then fuck. Tony sneaks out of the flat at two because he suddenly has this idea he needs to work on right now; he knows that there will be no coming back to this girl because she won’t forget him leaving. She’s not one of the few MIT’s girls who understand the meaning of the burning need to create that cannot wait.
That doesn’t matter. She’s just a pleasant excerpt out of the boring real world and she knows it.
Three weeks later, someone calls Tony at three in the morning, a few minutes after he’s woken up from a nap.
‘Yes?’ he asks sleepily, dragging his feet across the maze of metal to the bathroom to refresh himself. Lola follows him without making as much as a single sound.
‘Tony?’ the voice asks and Tony takes a sharp breath.
‘Can I come over?’
‘Sure thing,’ Tony agrees and makes a don’t gesture at Lola who’s trying to get into the bathroom’s sink. ‘Why so suddenly?’
‘I’ve got a favor to ask. Uhm, in person,’ Phil adds more quietly.
‘The door’s open,’ Tony assures him and hangs up. He doesn’t wonder what is this all about, there is not enough data to make a conclusion and Tony is not good at guessing people.
It’s almost an hour before Phil knocks at the door. Tony is teaching Dummy how to catch a ball, with no success on either side. He hasn’t slept in three days, besides the two-hour-long nap, so it’s understandable that his movements are as clumsy as the robot’s.
‘Fuck,’ Tony states as soon as he takes in Phil’s state. His hands are still wrapped with bandage, his jeans seem even more ripped than before, and there is blood and bruises. ‘What did you get yourself into?’ he sighs, letting the man in and closing the door.
He briefly wonders it that’s how Rhodey felt every single time Tony came to him after one scuffle or another; the difference is that Tony never asked for a fight. There were just too many people around that didn’t like him.
‘I thought I could use the… service you offered, the other day,’ Phil says and inhales deeply; when he coughs into his hand, Tony can see blood. Fuck. ‘That’s nothing,’ Phil reassures him with a small grin. ‘Just bit my tongue. No broken ribs.’
‘You sure?’ Tony asks skeptically, walking up to the kitchenette where he, for once and luckily, has a fully stocked medical cabinet. He had a feeling, a few days ago, that he should replenish the supplies. Good intuition or a nice coincidence.
‘Yes, I know broken ribs,’ Phil replies with a wry smile and follows Tony.
‘Sit on the desk,’ Tony instructs and takes the things needs. ‘Lola, you stay there,’ he adds to the kitten and she obediently doesn’t move, smart one, just meows weakly and stares at them from the bed.
‘Thanks, kid,’ Phil says to Tony, taking off his leather jacket, and Tony blinks a few times
‘You’ve got a Captain America shield t-shirt.’
‘Thanks for stating the obvious,’ Phil replies and takes the shirt off, too, in one swift movement, almost managing not to grimace. There are bruises – fresh ones, Tony can tell – and scars on Phil’s pale skin.
There is a moment of silence that Tony uses to make sure Phil’s breathing sounds fine. It does.
‘So, how come the bad boy comes to me for help?’ Tony teases, doing his best job at taping the athletic wraps around Phil’s torso.
‘I do what I want and when I want,’ Phil replies stiffly and takes a few guarded breaths. ‘And I wanted a look at your robot. He’s cool. Not everyone would get the chance.’
‘So you finally figured it out?’ Tony murmurs, finishing the taping, and takes a step back to stare at his work.
‘I’m not much into media and robotics and the whole engineering underworld, but with your name and the robot it wasn’t that hard.’
‘I’m surprised you didn’t know straight away,’ Tony comments. He never brought it up, but most people he meets are aware of who he is. ‘Guess that’s what your disappearance from the trash magazines for a year and a half does that to a man.’
‘To a kid,’ Phil corrects slyly. ‘You’re eighteen.’
‘Bravo, mister Detective,’ Tony mocks and takes out two glasses. ‘Did you take painkillers?’
‘Then we’re having gentleman’s drinks,’ Tony delcares and pours some whiskey he stole from Howard a few weeks ago onto crushed ice.
‘I learned a few more things about you, mister Mystery,’ Phil rephrases mockingly and accepts the drink with half-curious, half content look on his face. ‘Want to hear?’
‘I’m all ears,’ Tony states, hoping onto the desk after he’s thrown some of the unneeded stuff onto the floor.
Phil talks for half an hour, recounting some of Tony’s weirdest adventures and misadventures, the publicly-known kind, since the time he was a boy until his graduation from MIT. Tony is surprised by how many details the man remembers, but Phil just shrugs when he asks about that and says that he’s always had a good memory and a quick mind. He’s smarter than he lets on, Tony notes, and he likes that.
He likes when people surprise him in a positive way. It’s so rare.
‘I found out you like boys and girls alike,’ Phil says at some point, around the fifth refill of whiskey. Tony laughs hollowly, making Lola raise her sleepy head from the pillow she’s been sleeping on.
‘I thought bad boys don’t like fags,’ Tony points out, swirling the liquid in his glass and making the ice cubes rattle. It sounds strangely disturbing in the late night stillness.
‘I told you, I do what I want,’ Phil states and leans forward to kiss Tony.
It’s an amazing kiss. It vaguely tastes like blood and whiskey, but it’s an amazing kiss.
(Sometimes Tony forgets that he’s in love, because he is, no matter how much he wants to deny that – but right now he knows the exact feeling to the bone.)
‘So you don’t even give a fuck about what your posse thinks?’
‘I am my own man,’ Phil smiles and moves slightly, but before he can kiss Tony again, Tony stops him by wrapping his hands around Phil’s wrists. It’s an awkward position, but he doesn’t mind.
‘We’re not doing anything when you’ve got fractured ribs,’ he states and points at the bed. ‘Go to sleep. Shoo.’
‘You’re such a smartass,’
‘To the max,’ Tony grins and glances back at the windowed part of the wall; the sun is slowly starting to peek from behind the buildings and lighting up the view from Tony’s loft. The rays only fall inside before the sun sets down, but that’s how Tony prefers it, the light being pale and dissipated and mellow.
Fractured ribs take weeks to heal, Tony knows from experience, even if they feel better after a week or two.
‘Stay with me,’ Tony tells Phil when the man is up. Tony’s been up all morning, writing The Code. He’s halfway done; it would be finished already if it weren’t for another stupid space-oriented contest he has to take part in because he’s a Stark and Howard ordered him to win.
(Tony knows better than to say no. He said no once. It didn’t end well.)
‘What?’ Why?’ Phil asks, petting Lola with one hand and eating cereal with the spoon in the other. Tony was clever enough to sneak out of the loft and get something edible for breakfast or lunch or dinner, because cereal is good for every meal.
‘Do you have a better place to be?’ Tony wonders aloud, the words distorted because he’s holding a wire between his teeth, but Phil gets them.
‘… I guess not,’ Phil replies. Tony smiles.
‘Come hold this for me then,’ he asks and Phil obeys.
Tony finishes the robot project for the contest, a far cry from the one he’s working on for himself, but it’s better than what anyone else can come up with anyway. It’s not an A.I., it’s remotely controlled and perfectly neat.
‘Wicked,’ Phil comments when he gets his hands on the pilot and tries to makes the bot pick up a small screw from the floor. ‘This is tougher than I thought – and you’re so fucking smart,’ he adds.
‘And I’m very, very bored,’ Tony sighs, ignoring Phil’s a bit too penetrating stare. Phil’s been doing that. Tony admires the way he made himself fit in the groups in the streets because they consist mostly of meaty guys with questionable morals or I-own-the-world types, and Phil seems to be too smart to be one of them.
When Tony asks him why does he hang around those people, Phil chuckles with amusement.
‘I like leading people. I like when people listen to me and they do because they know that I know better. And – I like the adrenaline of a good fight.’
‘Sounds like you could start a gang,’ Tony laughs and offers Phil a joint.
‘Guess I could,’ Phil agrees, taking a drag of his cigarette and exhaling the smoke slowly. ‘Who knows, maybe I will have my own band of misfits under my command one day.’
They both laugh. One day.
Tony goes to the contest with Howard and smiles and wins. Howard tells the newspaper how proud he is of his son and Tony makes his best effort not to run away and make himself throw up in the bathroom because he can’t stand his father. He’s too much of a fucking coward to just leave his family altogether.
(There were times when Howard wasn’t like that and when Tony enjoyed working with him in the workshop as a little boy, but that was before Howard decided Tony was old enough to man up and stop being coddled.
It was confusing and it hurt, but he got used to it quickly enough.)
Phil is still staying at Tony’s when Tony comes back from California and does the same thing he always does after he’s forced to spend time with his lovely father: he drinks until he’s numb.
Or he tries because Phil doesn’t let him.
‘I don’t know what happened,’ Phil says, taking Tony’s clothes off and dragging him to bed. His ribs are healed enough already. ‘But I want to see that A.I. you’re working on before I let you drink yourself into alcohol poisoning.’
Tony doesn’t reply.
He falls asleep with Phil’s hand around his waist and Lola nestled into the crook of his arms.
They don’t talk about it.
‘I’ll have to leave in September,’ Phil states one day, when he and Tony are walking back home from another concert. Some new band. Tony doesn’t care to remember the name.
‘You were right when you said someone will finally catch up and figure I’m playing a game with the guys in the streets.’
Tony frowns. It’s hard to understand Phil’s words because he’s so drunk on this fucking incredible city. It’s crazy, but he can feel its beat crawl under his skin, making it hard to breathe, making it hard to think, making it hard not to lose yourself to it.
That sometimes happens. Tony is used to it by now.
‘So, you pissed off a mob? Or your own guys wanna revenge or something?’
‘No,’ Phil laughs and pushes Tony into a phone booth they’re just passing.
‘Phone booth make-out?’
‘You read my mind,’ Phil states and puts his hands on Tony’s hips, pressing their lips together. It brings Tony down to earth a bit, but he can still feel the soft pull of endless hands dragging him into the city’s daring darkness.
He knows Phil won’t give him an answer now.
‘Then we better make the best of what we have,’ Tony states when they are finally back to the streets, walking their way home, getting wet with the warm May drizzle.
‘You wanna be a bad boy?’ Phil laughs, wrapping his arm around Tony’s waist and keeping him close as they walk west with the soft cold morning light crawling up the sky behind them. It’s the most daring thing they’ve done in public. Tony isn’t sure he minds. Even if a photo of him and Phil lands on the front page of newspapers tomorrow, it’d be worth it.
He’s fallen in love, in a perfectly overwhelming way. It’d be worth it.
They see Sonic Youth the next week and they’re high when they leave the concert, with both the experience and soft nice drugs and it’s perfect. Phil teaches Tony some of his favorite fight moves, helps him with work and sometimes disappeared for most of the day and comes back with food and rare vinyls. Tony teaches him things about computers and basic cooking and skillfully omits the subject of Phil leaving.
Tony brings home girls for both him and Phil because despite the pressure of time, neither of them feels ready for anything more than intense making out. They don’t really talk about that. They don’t need to. It just works that way and it’s perfect.
For Tony’s birthday Phil dresses Dummy with a birthday hat and buys the most cheesy birthday cake possible and they eat it all, in the warm afternoon sunshine, until they’re almost sick with the sugar, and then Phil takes Tony for a night-long walk and Tony isn’t sure if it’s his boy or the city that’s making him dizzy.
In June on the first day of summer Tony makes sure Howard is in California, takes one of the fastest cars from Howard’s collection and they spend the day speeding down highways. It’s exhilarating and perfect, but something is missing out there on the wide endless roads, and when they’re driving back into New York Tony is reminded yet again that when he moved here, he gave his heart and soul to this gigantic psychotic labyrinth of concrete and steel.
He’s pretty sure there is no better place in the world to be nineteen.
They run to the tunes of Teen Age Riot and an infinite stream of song. Phil makes the real world not boring and Tony relishes the feeling and gives himself to it completely.
They run and run and run and drink iced tea when they’re out of breath, chasing something invisible and slipping away from something invisible.
They run and sing and fight and kiss and it’s all they need in the world.
They run and forget everything they want to forget.
They run and they are everything they’ve dreamed about being, here and now, only here and now.
(It’s good that Tony doesn’t know the future, because in the future he will lose both of them forever: Phil will die. Saying New York’s name will mean a panic attack.
But at the moment, this beautiful summer, he has everything he needs to live.)