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The Inexact Sciences

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The Butterfly Effect is a scientific theory that explains that everything happens as a result of something else, and therefore, if you change an event in the past, it will alter the future.

Napoleon Maxwell Sowachowski found this particular theory enthralling. It was no wonder that he spent all of his free time studying it. Now, all free time for Sock—as he liked to be called by anyone who would listen—meant dedicating all time possible to it. There isn't a way to really prove The Butterfly Effect’s accuracy to the truth as to what actually happens, even though it is a widely accepted theory. But Sock wanted to take it a step further.

He wanted to build a time machine to prove it.

Even he thought he was crazy as he stared at his blackboard one night, leaning his lower back on a table end in his workspace. If modern scientists haven't figured out a way to do it yet, what made him think that a college student working on experiments in his basement could?

He shook his head. No, he wouldn't think negatively now. He was so close, he could feel it.

Chapter Text

Sock had moved in two weeks ago. By that point, he was used to it all, surprisingly. The peace and quiet in the rustic atmosphere provided a juxtaposition to his old city life. The one house on the opposite side of the street with the lack of other neighbors, along with the small college he was going to and its courses, were a little daunting. However, Sock adapted to change well, at least he thought so. He was really beginning to fall back into normal routine: Spend every waking hour doing scientific research or experiments.

Sock was a smart man. He solved challenging formulas within a few minutes less than his college-mates, he was trying to find a way to alter the course of time itself, and he understood people without having in-depth conversations with them. However, he was twenty-one years old, and to anyone who wasn't in his own head to understand his line of thinking, he still didn't seemingly know how to take care of himself. He was a workaholic, even though he wouldn't necessarily call himself that. He was so obsessed with the idea of making a time machine that he didn't see it as an obsession. He saw it as more of a tendency to drift to his blackboard when he “couldn't sleep”. I.e., he hyped himself up on coffee and worked his ass off on not only his personal experiments, but his projects for school, until he crashed at somewhere around four-five o’clock in the morning.

He justified his horrendous schedule (subconsciously, because he was unaware of his problem to begin with) by saying that he took care of his hygiene and hunger like a proper human being, which was true. He was truly lenient with himself, though, when it came to sleeping over science. He had no control over how his obsession swayed him in that regard.

His fixation ruled over many other realms of his health as well. It may not have reigned over the groans his stomach made every now and again when he sat back to stare at his blackboard to search for the answers he desperately needed, or the stray thought he had once every few hours about taking a shower, but it did control one very important thing: his social life.

Sock was completely oblivious to his craving for another human to talk to. He did talk to a few people at school, but never long enough to realize how right it felt when he did. He did feel like something was missing in his life, but he always thought that it was the lack of a time machine sitting in his basement. If he just looked a little deeper inside himself, he would uncover that he longed for conversation, for the humane nuances in a person’s speech and way they told stories. But he wasn't willing to look inside himself; he was only willing to look inside books to possibly mention something useful to his studies.

He had resorted to talking to himself—again, subconsciously—and shouting at his blackboard when he couldn't think of the flaw in his study to fill the unknown void within himself.

Flaws in his study were his only company, as they appeared quite often as of recently, ever since Sock hit a mental wall.

This was pretty horrifying whenever this happened, whenever Sock’s brain went kaput. It had only happened once, but that was for good reason. This time, it was simply because he had no more ideas on how to further his plans. Since his scientific mania pushed him to do most of the things he did and did not do, running dry was pretty dangerous.

He had been staring at his blackboard for hours by this point, it was useless. He’d try again in the morning—er, later in the morning. 12:12 came running to him; it seems time flies not only when you have fun, but also when you’re stuck.

“Eh… I’ll just work on that project due for Skotz next week…” Sock sighed, plodding around one of his three tables as he thought about how he lucked out by getting such a huge basement. It was the entire length of the house, and the ceilings were oddly high for a basement. It wasn't too high, but high enough to notice. It was basically just a second floor underground. Obviously, one of the first things on his mind when he had started looking for houses was the size of the basement, for that’s where he would be conducting his experiments, but he hadn't anticipated finding one this big.

Sock arranged the materials he had brought down with him earlier for the project on the furthest table from the stairs. He heated the test tube on the burner for the exact amount of time it should have been on there for, he checked numerous times. He had added all of the ingredients for the concoction properly, he was fairly sure. With these facts in mind, it came as quite a shock when the tube began to boil over. Nothing had spilled yet, but Sock knew something bad was coming. He picked it up, but even through his gloves, the tube burned his fingers. He immediately put it back down in its holder, only for it to quiver a little bit beneath his fingers. No, that was just him, but it still gave him a warning to hit the dirt before the thing exploded.

Glass went everywhere: the floor, the holder, the burner, he didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know that. He blinked beneath his neon-yellow goggles as he slowly brought himself up to a squatting position. He peeked over the two tables he’d ran around to get away from the blast zone. Glass was indeed everywhere, as he suspected, and it was singed, little wisps of smoke twirling in the air as they ascended. Great.

Sock sighed again as he finished assessing the damage. The experiment should not have gone like that! What went wrong?

And then the beeping started. Least I know the fire alarm works… He wasn’t going to bother with putting out the smoking glass, for there really wasn’t anything to put out. The small wisps of gray spiraling upwards into oblivion wasn’t severe enough to start a fire.

Sock cleaned up, and, just as he was about to finish doing so, he swore he heard a knock. Blaming it on the insanity that he jokingly claimed he had (even though it was true), he shrugged it off and continued cleaning. Only when the severe banging on his front door upstairs start did he wash his hands and head upstairs to see his apparently very angry visitor.

Once he’d gotten upstairs, the visitor must have seen him coming because the banging stopped abruptly.

Sock swung the door open after unlocking it, opening it to a man with a five-o’clock shadow and hair that he’d only seen in animated movies. He was at least a head taller than Sock, but he hunched as his hands dug deeply into the pockets of his hoodie. His cheeks dusted pink lightly in the cool, late-September breeze, and his eyes had been staring at the poles holding up the railing on Sock’s front porch.

“Can I help you?” Sock asked, watching the obviously-fake blonde’s head swing to face his. He saw the cracks between the blue where the light coming from the kitchen and the porch light reflected.

“First of all, you woke me up. Second of all, are you okay?” The deepness of his voice almost didn't suit him, he looked a little younger than he apparently was. Once that initial shock took its toll seconds later, Sock processed what the man actually said.

“Oh!—my goodness, I’m so sorry! I was working on something in my basement and it… blew up…” Sock admitted, shrinking into himself.

“It blew up?” Blondie confirmed with something less than a question, disbelieving.

“I’m a science major. I was working on an assignment—“

“Wait. You’re in college?”

“…Yeah?” Sock had always looked a few years younger than what he actually was, but he didn't think that this annoyed guy on his doorstep would want to make small talk.

The man shrugged, “…Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for checking in.” Sock smiled, only met with continuous deadpan. When the man stayed silent for a little too long, Sock was about to introduce himself before he turned around, his business here done.

Once he was in the middle of the street did Sock catch himself staring and called after him, “My name’s Sock, by the way.”

He lazily tossed his eyes over his shoulder, stared at Sock for a moment. “… Jonathan.”

Jonathan didn't say anything else, starting back on the short walk back to his house on the opposite side of the street.

Regardless, Sock called after him, “Cool.”

Sock bit his lip, hoping he hadn’t wrecked his relationship with his only neighbor before he’d even had a proper conversation with the guy. It took him a few more seconds to call out, “Sorry, again.”

Jonathan stopped, hand lingering on the other side of the doorway as the light from his entryway illuminated his figure in the early morning. He turned to his neighbor. He gave a short nod before shutting the door.

Sock stayed in his entryway for a few minutes. He just met his neighbor.

He hadn't planned to see him the night after, as well.

Sock had gone straight to working on the assignment for Skotz, figuring that he’d might as well get it over with. He followed the directions carefully, re-reading them before he continued. He was met with the same result as the night before, only this time, it was a louder explosion.

Sock’s gaze snapped to staircase… he waited for a few minutes. Just as he was about to think the noise hadn't reached the other house on the block, a knock sounded from his front door, joined seconds after by the absolutely lovely din of the fire alarm. Sock defeatedly sighed, washing his hands before running up the steps. He unlocked the deadbolt, then the door, meeting a raised eyebrow on the other side. Sock’s face was an apology, smile twisting nervously. He knew exactly why he was on his doorstep. “I’m so sorry…”

Jonathan sighed, dragging his hand down his tired face. “It’s… fine. Just… don't do it again.”

“I’ll try, but I honestly don't know what’s causing it, so I can't fix it,” Sock explained.

Jonathan nodded absently in a tired haze, beginning to head back to his house before he even finished the gesture.

Sock was truly sorry. Even though he was, he had still gotten the same results for the following night. Again, completely on accident. So when Jonathan showed up on that third night looking peeved and disheveled, Sock shrunk into himself even before Jonathan started giving him an earful.

“Really?” The blonde raised an eyebrow, somehow calmly indignant.

“I’m sorry, I—“

“I thought you said that you weren't gonna let this happen again.”

“I didn't say that, I said that I couldn't promise anything, but that I would—“

“Keep me up for an experiment to see how long the average college student can stay up before they shove an entire microscope up your ass?”

“That was uncalled for…”

“Was it?”

Sock cowered slightly, “Look, I’m so so sorry. I honestly have no idea—“ And then, “Um… Wait here. Just gimme a second.”

Sock ran down the stairs back into his basement. He carefully maneuvered around the glass and chemicals and read his paper.

The frustrated shout came so clearly from the basement.

Moments later, Sock came up and stood in front of Jonathan again. Stood really wasn’t the right word… maybe more like sheepishly hunched in on himself under the blond’s sleep-deprived, disgruntled gaze. He began in a quiet mumble, “The… experiment was supposed to yield a combustion reaction...”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. He was looking for a translation.

Sock spoke up. “I… I’m an idiot. It must've been because I haven’t slept in a few days, but I didn’t see the directions clearly, and it… it was supposed to explode.”

Jonathan couldn’t believe it, it seemed. He stared at Sock for a minute without speech.

“I’m so so sorry,” Sock repeated.

“…Are you fucking kidding me?” Jonathan’s quiet question was incredulous.

“Look, I’ll make it up to you. I can give you… uh, I can pay you? if you—want, um… I can get you coffee? Or something? I dunno. Just…” Sock put his hands flush together and gestured to Jonathan. “Please accept my apology, and I will do something to make it up to you.”

Jonathan swayed on his feet for a few seconds, Sock staying frozen save for his eyes which followed Jonathan’s slight movements. The wind brushed his blond bangs from his eyes. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said, and that seemed to thaw Sock. Without waiting to see how Sock would react to that, and not wanting to risk hearing him ramble, Jonathan headed back home.

“Please do,” Sock said, unsure if he meant for Jonathan to actually hear it or not.

Sock sighed, about to head back into his house and clean up the recent and highly unnecessary mess in his basement when Jonathan stopped in the middle of the street, streetlights creating a halo around him in the darkness of the early morning. “Hey,” he called.

Sock immediately turned around. “Yeah?”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Sock.”

Jonathan squinted at him with his mouth slightly agape, but soon blinked and shook his head, the pull of his person towards his bed too strong to resist any longer.

Sock waited until Jonathan was inside his house to close his door. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe to procrastinate on cleaning up, possibly subconsciously fearing he’d screw that up as well.

Nice job, Sowachowski, you just screwed things up with your only neighbor. That’s great, really great.

Chapter Text

This was way more awkward than either of them really expected it to be.

Jonathan had taken Sock up on his offer for coffee, and now they sat there, facing each other, awkwardly waiting for their drinks.

Sock’s gaze was expectant. For his drink, for a conversation starter, for a key to a vortex that he could see all of time in. The usual, plus some guests.

Jonathan’s gaze was terribly apathetic. He wasn’t sure why he’d even decided to come. The man he was with was a stranger—one that he wasn’t exactly too fond of—and it was his day off. He didn’t have any classes or work today. So why did he decide to spend his day off, out, and with a stranger he wasn’t interested in spending time with, no less?

He sighed. Sock was terribly fidgety, so much so that he was shaking the table. He’s probably waiting for me to say something. Reluctantly, he decided to settle his curiosity. “So, what were you doing when you almost blew up your house?”

Sock’s gaze flicked to him as he abruptly stopped bouncing his leg. He blinked, “I was doing an experiment for my Chem class.”

“What were you trying to do?”

Sock’s gaze fell embarrassedly to the floor on his right, and he made a small sound to accompany its drop. “I was trying to make a combustion reaction occur. The project was to show in a lab report one of the five general categories of chemical reactions. Synthesis, decomposition, single-replacement, double-replacement, or combustion. I chose combustion, and then forgot that that’s what I picked… I just started doing the things I’d written down, knowing what they were for, but not really knowing why I was doing them…” Sock brought his gaze back to Jonathan, albeit unwillingly. He could feel the judgment radiating from Jonathan’s side of the table and instantly felt the need to explain himself. “I-I was—s-sleep-deprived. I’m… not usually that stupid…”

“Sock?!” The voice of the barista had sounded vaguely confused, but when Sock went over to retrieve his drink, he didn’t look so puzzled anymore.

“Y’know, you'd think that your coffee would’ve been made faster than my tea. I mean, you ordered before me, and tea has to steep,” Sock had said upon sitting back down.

Jonathan shrugged. “Eh, being a barista isn’t necessarily an organized thing. Nobody gets really anything in order, at least at the place I worked at.”

“You were a barista?”

Jonathan shrugged, “I wanted some extra cash in high school. Place near me was hiring.” Yet again, he shrugged. He seemed to do that a lot.

“Huh. I’ve never had a job, other than to do my schoolwork,” Sock admitted.

Jonathan was baffled. “How do you support yourself?”

“Well, I help out my Biochem professor sometimes. She gives me money and sometimes she gathers samples from her backyard for me when I do, so I guess that’s my job. And I also saved up everything when I was a kid. Not like a hoarder, but like, money and stuff. Everything I had was either given to me by my parents or other relatives. I never spent money on anything for myself.”

“Huh,” Jonathan simply said, half-listening.

“Jonathan!” The barista shouted, almost pointlessly. There was literally no one else in the shop besides the two boys and another older gentleman at another table. Nothing was particularly loud. Sure, the music was playing, but it was this quiet, indie-sounding thing that couldn’t have woken up a sleeping child on full-volume.

Jonathan got up to get his drink, and Sock was waiting with cash in his hand when Jonathan got back. He’d rolled his wrist, and Jonathan took the money gratefully. “Thanks.”

“No problem. Again, it was the least I could do. Keep the change, by the way.”

Jonathan inspected the money. He had a twenty-dollar bill in his hand when his drink had costed six. He must really be sorry… Either that, or he didn’t know how much the drink cost. “Thanks,” he repeated, knowing no other way to express gratitude casually.

Sock nodded, and they were on their way out.

Jonathan thought he must have looked tired or pissed off or something, because Sock launched into a new sort of excuse for his behavior just after they’d taken the step down from the slab of stone that served as a buffer between the building and the parking lot. “I’m not taking Chem to wake people up.” It sounded like he wanted to clear something up, but Jonathan was lost on what there was to clear up in that regard.

“Hopefully…?” the blond ended up responding.

“I wanna be a scientist, so I kinda need it, along with the other subjects I’m taking.”

“Why do you wanna be a scientist?” The question just sort of slipped out. He didn’t technically need to talk anymore since they were going back home in separate cars, and though he was semi-curious, he hadn't meant to ask it.

“I dunno. I’ve always loved the sciences, especially Bio.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah. Hopefully, I’ll make a contribution or two.” Sock took a swig of his tea. Bitter. Why didn’t I put any sweetener in?

Because he was still sleep-deprived and not thinking clearly. The answer was clear even to him, he who had asked himself the question.

“Do you have any idea what those contributions could be?” Jonathan almost regretted asking.

They had stopped in front of Sock’s car, Jonathan unaware that he had even walked him to it. Sock looked up into his face with quizzical expression, paused like that for a moment, then said, “…Can I show you?”

Before he knew it, Jonathan was getting out of his car, purposely making the door slam to try and draw himself out of his apparent stupor. The drive home was a blur. He’d been seeing the road, but thinking too deeply about what could possibly happen once he got back to his house. He’d responded with a shrug and a curl of the lips that signaled an ‘okay’ to Sock’s question, but he only remembered that that had happened once he set foot on his driveway. He was curious, but also a little worried. He didn't know what he would find down in Sock’s basement... But it wasn't like he had anything better to do. He sighed, locking his car door, and made his way across the street, hands in pockets.

“I don’t know why I’m showing you this,” Sock had said on their way down his basement steps. “I’ve never shown anyone this.” He stopped on the staircase, turning to an abruptly-stopped Jonathan. “Nobody knows about it except me.” He continued down the staircase, and Jonathan waited a second to follow him the rest of the way.

Sock was already at one of his two blackboards when Jonathan had gotten to the last step. “You probably won’t even understand it anyway. That’s not a knock to your intelligence, it’s just… science-y stuff…” He then tugged on one side of the blackboard as hard as his noodle-arms could to spin it around so that the side covered in chalk formulas could be seen. He stood for a second once he was done, and then threw his arms in a grand gesture to the board and mumbled a small, “Ta-dah.”

Jonathan buried his hands in his pockets and stared at the board for a whole six seconds before he stated, “Time travel.”

Sock’s arms fell, and his eyes almost blew out of his chubby face. How did he know that?! Sock’s mouth caught up with his mind after a few seconds and he repeated the question aloud, “How did you know that?!”

“I forget what half-a these things’re called, but…” Jonathan pointed to a symbol on the board. “That’s theta, the quantity of latitude, plus all the ones that go with it that’re like, longitude and shit... That’s lambda, and that designates wavelength, and then that one’s the symbol for a duration of time. You’re trying to find two unknown points of space or distance and how much of a wavelength there is between them and an undefined amount of time.”

“How do you know all that?” Sock asked, completely submerged in awe.

Jonathan threw his hand back into his pocket, and looked to Sock as if understanding the formula for time travel and then proceeding to explain said formula wasn’t impressive. “I’m a math major.”

“Are you really?” It wasn’t a question so much as a dumbstruck discovery.

Jonathan nodded.

Sock watched him, feeling now as if he were in the presence of an astounding enigma. And, in a way, he was. A person was a bit of an enigma to Sock, but when he saw them for a bit, he could typically understand some basic things about them. No matter how predictable other people were, Jonathan wasn’t to him yet, and that enticed Sock immensely, though he didn’t know it. He thought that he was amazing purely because he could understand what he was after.

Jonathan continued to stare at the board—more specifically, the sample problems where Sock had plugged seemingly random numbers into the formula—as Sock observed him, trying to figure him out. Jonathan suddenly murmured under squinting eyes, “Something’s not right here…”

Sock blinked, “Yeah,” he snapped himself out of it with the word. “I’ve been staring at that board for months trying to figure out what I did wrong, but I haven't come up with anything.”

While Sock had been explaining, Jonathan really hadn’t been listening. No, he had been scrutinizing the board to see what exactly the mistake was.

The number had been too small to truly erase, and that one number was the one that had been mistakenly put there on the edge of the board. Somehow, that one small exponent unraveled almost all of Sock’s work, and it would be a damn shame to erase all of the work already done. It could really be an easy fix, if he could just…

Jonathan noticed that the other board was filled as well. He stepped around that board to see that the opposite side was clear, and pointed to it while looking at Sock. “May I?” Jonathan asked.

“Sure?” Sock questioned the motives behind what was about to happen, but he didn’t even know what was about to happen, so he let Jonathan do what he wanted.

Jonathan spun the board around to face the main space without much trouble, and picked up a piece of chalk from the tray beneath it. He then re-wrote the formula and Sock asked what he was doing. He didn’t respond, too busy with numbers tangling themselves in his brain, creating knots that would soon grow to be unsolvable if he didn’t hurry. His brain was going way too fast for his hand to write.

Jonathan finished quickly, dropping the chalk back into the silver tray. Jonathan stepped back, letting Sock step into his old space to examine his work.

Sock’s eyes widened by increments. First increment: Oh my god. Second increment: Oh my god. Third increment: Oh my god! “You fixed my math…” Sock breathed. “You fixed my math!”

Sock whirled around. “You’re incredible!” he shouted.

“No, I’m really not,” Jonathan assured, visibly rattled by Sock’s assumption… or, was it an opinion?

“Dude, you understand the formula for time travel. And you literally told me, the person who came up with it, basically how to use it! That’s incredible!”

“Okay, yeah. When you put it like that, it’s kinda impressive, but—“

“Kinda? Jonathan,” Sock grabbed his shoulders, and he tensed, “you’re a genius!”

Jonathan removed Sock’s hands. “I’m good at math. That’s it. There’s literally nothing exciting about me.”

“But that alone is impressive to me.”

Jonathan sighed. Why am I here? Why aren’t I at home, practicing my guitar or something, anything else than listening to this guy who’s probably crazy tell me how smart I am?

Very suddenly, Sock was on him again, clinging to his chest. “Please be my assistant!”

Jonathan yelped when Sock clutched at his shirt, and went to work prying him off again, “Dude!” Then when he’d gotten free, “No!”

“I can pay you,” Sock snapped from a desperate to a calm tone, and Jonathan wasn’t sure if that was him just being crazy, or him realizing that he’d sounded desperate and restraining himself.

“I don’t want your money,” Jonathan said, heading for the stairs. This is ridiculous.

“You’re a college student, of course you want money,” Sock pointed out. He did have a point…

Jonathan stopped, facing Sock again. “What do you think I could even possibly do for you?” Jonathan asked, not out of curiosity, but to prove a point that this wasn’t a good idea, to catch… what was it, Sock? in a possible murder scheme waiting to happen when he thought of nothing for Jonathan to do. Not that he thought Sock could pull off a murder plot; the kid looked harmless.

“Lots of things! You could be my fresh set of eyes, check my work, and you seem, ha” he held up an arm, as if to show off a non-existent ‘gun’, “a bit more built than me, and if this machine is gonna be built, it’s gonna be made from some heavy stuff. I’ll need the extra muscle.” Sock was in front of him now, and he squeezed a bicep of the blond, who didn’t receive it well.

Jonathan ripped his arm from Sock’s hand, and glowered down at him. “Yeah well, find it somewhere else.”

Please, I’m desperate! And you get me! Not many people do. Besides, it’s not like I can put up flyers that say ‘Looking for Assistance, Building a Time Machine’. The government would be all over me in a second!” He was really doing a suckish job of convincing Jonathan to work for him.

Jonathan rolled his eyes and turned back to the stairs, heading out again.

“Hey! Look, I know I’m a little weird,” That’s an understatement, Jonathan thought as Sock continued, “but I’m working at this on my own, and I… I just can’t do it by myself! And I know that I shouldn't be asking anything more of you, in fact, I’m indebted to you,” Okay, that’s a bit overkill, but I’ll roll with it, “but I just… I need someone. I need help. More help, I should say. And I… I wasn’t able to admit that for a long time… So please, help me for at least a little while, and I can buy you a thousand coffees, if you want.”

Jonathan was already on the stairs. He hesitated in going up the rest of the way. He felt the same kind of difficulty in asking for help that Sock had admitted he’d had, and it sounded like he was Sock’s only hope. He’d never been in that position before, where somebody had so much riding on him saying yes to something. It was a lot of pressure, and yet it was oddly… nice.

Jonathan backed off the staircase, and strode back toward Sock. He stopped a few feet before him, and only when he spoke did he lift his head with an inquiring expression.

“You said you’d pay me?”

Chapter Text

“Hey,” called a voice from the staircase.

Sock looked up to see Jonathan heading down the staircase. “Hey!” he replied cheerily, despite how preoccupied he was. “Perfect timing, I was just about to start something for my… it’s basically Anatomy 2.0 course. Pretty cool.”

Jonathan stopped when he got a few feet from Sock’s workspace. “I thought you wanted me to help you with the whole time-traveling deal.”

“I do,” Sock clarified, “but I figured that you could see how I work before we started on anything, since I have a lot of assignments to catch up on.”

“So you’re paying me to watch you work?” Jonathan wasn’t complaining if that was the case, but he wondered why this kid was letting him take advantage of him.

Sock explained as he got ready, pausing at every few words to look Jonathan in the eye. Jonathan wasn’t a fan of looking people in the eye, but since this boy was his employer, technically, he supposed that he should show him some kind of respect. “Not just to watch, to understand how I operate. If you’re gonna be my assistant, that would probably help in the long-run. Besides, I may need you to check my work.”

Jonathan made a sound in his throat, signaling acknowledgment.

“All right…” Sock breathed, picking up a pen and starting work on a written assignment.

A few minutes passed with Jonathan having absolutely no idea what to do. He wondered if Sock expected him to ask if he needed any help or something, as if he were as enthusiastic about this as he was, but then green eyes met his clueless stare.

“Am I nice to look at?” Sock asked, that grin he was wearing seemingly suddenly teasing.

Taken aback by the sudden shift from focused to playful, Jonathan started, “I just… don’t know what to do…”

“I wish I had something for you t—wait a minute!” Sock bolted suddenly upright and out of his seat, triggering his assistant to jump. “I actually do have something.” The brunet went around one of the blackboards, and spun it around with no small amount of trouble. “I don’t know how long this’ll take a genius like you but…” he then gestured to a similar sight of the board completely covered in math, now divided into small squares for easier organization, assumedly defining separate problems. “Could you please see if I’m right?”

Jonathan stared at the board, wondering how in hell Sock could’ve possibly forgotten about it. But when his gaze fell to Sock, a sheepish, and uncertain air comparable to that of a little boy appeared in it. He was struck with something, way down in his gut that sparked something in his brain—pain receptors, maybe—that this boy was not used to showing people this. It was personal, and dangerous. He was showing it to a stranger, and he was, quite naturally, nervous about it. He’d seen Sock up until that point as a weirdo with a thing for science, but when he gazed at him then, he saw a human. That human was doing something he was passionate about and sharing it with him.

Something clicked. Passion projects… he’d never had one of those; God knows how long Sock had his.

It took him a few seconds, processing all of that, but finally Jonathan answered, “Sure.”

So the two went off to work again, awkward silence being the individuals’ only trusted companion, trusted only because of repetition.

Jonathan finished checking over Sock’s work before Sock had finished his assignment. Seeing the papers on the table reminded him of his own homework due in two days, and found himself wanting to ask to borrow the blank blackboard next to the one he’d been working on to use for now. Crap, his name… what’s his name? Jonathan searched the recesses of his mind for the odd companion’s equally eccentric name, only coming up with Scott, knowing full-well that it wasn’t what he was looking for. He wasn’t the forgetful type, but for some reason, the kid’s name just wasn’t sticking.

“Um…?” He simply asked, playing it safe by not calling him anything.

Sock perked up, pen mid-sentence.

“Can I…?” Jonathan pointed to the other blackboard, Sock understanding what he meant before it even left his mouth.

“Of course,” he smiled.

Jonathan went to work shortly before Sock finished his. He had started on assignment after assignment until Jonathan finally stopped to take a picture of, and then promptly erase everything he had just done from the board.

“Done?” Sock asked.

Jonathan threw a glance over his shoulder. “Yeah. How ‘bout you?”

“Almost. I just have to finish this one thing...” And with that, he ducked his head back down into the textbook, much like an ostrich with a hole.

“Good luck with that,” Jonathan said somewhat flatly.

Sock gave a small nod, mostly absent in the conversation.

Jonathan stood awkwardly watching him again for a few moments, silence in the room. As he walked back to Sock’s table, his footsteps echoed.

He stood in front of Sock, not bothering with a small stool, leaning his crossed arms on the table.

Sock couldn’t focus on his work. He was just so curious about his assistant. He wanted to know what had drawn him in about him. He didn’t want to be strangers.

“Y’know…”

Jonathan’s eye lazily picked up from the God-knows-what-caused-it stain on the table, attention given.

“I… I just don’t want this to be… weird, y’know? Like… maybe we should… get to know each other?”

Jonathan considered it, although Sock couldn’t tell if he had; his expression hadn’t changed.

The math major shrugged. “It was gonna be weird regardless.”

Sock shrugged, his rejected expression watching his pen skate across the page for a few more words. His eyebrows knit upon reaching the period. His head slowly rose, and he collected courage in the air. The air burst from him on the very abrupt question and snap of the head towards his guest. “What are you like?”

Jonathan startled slightly, “Wh-what?”

Oh, gosh… “Um… How would you describe yourself?”

Jonathan stared at him. “…Apathetic…” That was it, but Sock looked expectant, as if there were a ‘but’ coming, then he added, “That’s it, really.”

Sock’s eyes flew off to the side, finding within the situation that it was unbearable to make eye contact any longer, and nodded. God, am I sweating? Why am I sweating? Jeez, am I nervous? Well, to be fair, I haven't had a guest here… ever, really. I guess it’s rational for me to be scared of saying something wrong… And I probably already have…. Nice job, Sowachowski. “Well, that much is obvious.” He chuckled, and quickly realized that Jonathan wasn’t chuckling with him… he cleared his throat. “Um… what do you like to do?”

Jonathan shrugged, not thinking of anything he was willing to share off the top of his head, so he opted not to say anything.

He really isn't making this easy, is he?

“…Any pets?”

“Do you need me for anything else?” The reply sounded kind of tired, which stung the scientist.


Sock’s face fell from an awkward countenance to a dejected look, his gaze falling with it back down to his textbook. “N-n…no.”

And so Jonathan left.

Yes, their situation was awkward. Yes, Jonathan was a bit hard to deal with. And no, Sock didn't really possess any social skills. But was Sock gonna let that get him down? Was it going to make him veer away from his dream of being the man who made time travel possible?

Absolutely not.

Chapter Text

“Hey.” Oh, he’s back.

For some reason, that was surprising, the fact that he’d come back, and that he—or anyone, for that matter—was coming at all.

“Hey…” Sock’s voice was small, talking to his book instead of his employee. He sighed, shutting the book with a satisfying snap. “Look, if I said something yesterday that sounded pushy, or something, please let me know, I’m… not good with talking to people.”

“Okay. What you said sounded pushy.”

Sock cowered into himself a bit. Am I in over my head with this guy? Can I handle him? Am I too much for him? “Sorry.”

A shrug, “It’s cool. Whaddaya want me to do today?”

“Um…” Crap. He hadn’t come up with anything for Jonathan to do. “Well, uh… I, um…” He deflated with a sigh. “I don’t have anything, sorry.”

Jonathan shrugged. “Well, what are you doing?”

Sock blinked. What was he going to do this afternoon?

“Uh… I have a lab report to do, but that’s about it.”

“‘Looks like ya have a lot of paperwork to do as a science major…”

Sock nodded, then cocked his head as he said, “What did you think it was?”

“I just thought it would be more experimentation. And compared to stuff like that, this seems… well, boring.”

“It is,” Sock answered honestly.

“So why are you a science major?”

“Besides the obvious?” Sock threw a thumb over his shoulder to the chalkboard designated for time travel.

Oh. Right. How did I forget the reason that I’m here? He honestly didn’t know why he was so forgetful lately. It was starting to irritate him.

Sock continued, “Well, i-…” He slowly broke out into a grin. He held up a finger, asking Jonathan to hold on for a minute.

He took out a piece of some material from a drawer in the table, along with a brighter grin. “Could ya hit the lights for me?”

Jonathan furrowed his eyebrows, but made his way over to the switch anyway. This is a bad idea… he thought, watching Sock take out and light a burner with a strange sort of lighter.

He hit the switch.

The burner didn’t really supply much light, he couldn’t even really see Sock’s hands fiddling with something on the table.

“Hey Jonathan,” said the darkness with a cheery disposition.

“Yeah?” he called back.

“Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie?”

“Yeah…why?”

There was a sound, and then suddenly, there was a bright stroke of light cutting through the black in the space.

Lumos,” Sock uttered the charm, his grin briefly illuminated by the light. The light left a residue on the body it streamed past, and Jonathan was now able to make faint outlines which sometimes deceived him, causing him to believe that his bangs were the flaps of his strange red hat, among other discrepancies.

Jonathan snorted, “How are you doing that?”

Sock thought that his ears had misheard the sound when it hit them. Had he gotten Jonathan to almost laugh? Why did it feel so good? His stomach leapt in his torso, and his smile widened even further. “Hit the lights.”

Jonathan did so, and made his way back over to the table.

“Magnesium,” Sock vaguely explained. “I burned a strip of magnesium. I did the demonstration like that so that neither of us would be blinded. It burns pretty bright, as you can see. Plus, the tongs I used” he held them up and clicked them together twice to show that he had indeed used them, “kinda look like a wand in the darkness.” He seemed proud of himself as he described what he had done puffing out his chest.

“Nice,” Jonathan praised, at which Sock’s little heart felt lighter in his chest, “I’ll admit, that was cool.”

“And I didn’t even really do anything to it! I just lit it up! And look!” Sock picked up a tiny glass dish on the table that Jonathan hadn't noticed before. “I triggered a synthesis reaction. Instead of magnesium, I now have magnesium oxide.”

Jonathan observed the dish, and sure enough, there was a white powder there, instead of the grayish metal-looking thing he’d seen Sock take out of the drawer.

“If you think that’s cool, there’s plenty more where that came from. That’s why I love science so much. There’s so much we as humans can do to alter the world around us. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Burning stuff is fun, but we can blow stuff up, have nature-made forces bend to our will. It’s incredible! But you’re right; the paperwork is boring. But I need it to know what I’m doing. I didn’t need instructions for this because this is basically just what I do when I’m bored. But if I tried pulling that with a combustion reaction, I’d take my hand off.”

“Heh,” Jonathan huffed. “Yeah, this was mostly what I was expecting. Experimentation-type stuff.”

“And I fully intend to show you more of it. That is, if you’re interested.”

Jonathan shrugged, strongly resisting his urge to shout ‘Yes!’ He settled for a simple “Sure.”

“Maybe you could even help me with some of them,” Sock suggested, “You are my assistant, after all.”

“Sure! Yeah, yeah, that’d—tha’d be cool.” Jonathan feared he was coming off as too excited, and he trailed off toward the end of the statement, managing it.

And the two did just that. They would finish assignments they had for homework, helping each other in the process, and then they would attempt an experiment.

And oh, the experiments they attempted.

Blowing things up was the norm. Once, Jonathan’s arm was almost nicked by a flying piece of debris and Sock laughed at his reaction. Nature laughed at the brunet when an extra (and bigger) piece flew out into his direction suddenly when the reaction should have been done, scaring the hell out of him to the point where he screamed just as it missed him. Jonathan was close to tears with laughter. Another time, when doing an experiment that Sock claimed he knew how to do, he almost set the house on fire.

They began to get a little friendlier with each other as the weeks went by. Teasing became a means of communication.

About a month into their arrangement, Jonathan announced one day, “I think I’m gonna clock out early today…”

Sock had been working on another assignment, pen scratching the page before he looked up at him, watching him collecting his things. “Why, got a date?”

Jonathan paused, “None of your business…” He was still a little standoffish toward Sock, at least when it came to his personal life, but it wasn’t like Sock thought anything of it. His personal life was personal, and he would tease him about it regardless of if he told him about it or not.

Sock had accused him of it jokingly, but when he noticed the redness coloring Jonathan’s guilty expression… “You so do!

“Later, Sock,” Jonathan muttered through gritted teeth, yet Sock continued on.

He wrote something down as he said, “Mention what we do here, how you blow stuff up, and stuff. Mention me! Wait no, that’s probably not gonna get you laid…”

“Sock, I don’t need he-…” he sighed. “Never mind.” His messenger bag was packed, and he slung it over his shoulder.

“Good luck out there, ladykiller,” Sock called to him on his way out.

Jonathan rolled his eyes, letting himself out.

He did, in fact, have a date. His senior-year sweetheart, as she was popularly called by his immediate family, Melody was coming to see him for the first time since high school. They hadn’t talked since then either, only planning her visit before she had said she had to go to work. Even when he was officially her boyfriend, he didn’t want to sound desperate, so he trusted that she would call him back like she said she would after he’d called her back a few times. In his own defense, Jonathan knew early on that she was a little out of his league, so sounding desperate was the last thing he wanted to do.

He shaved, got dressed in something a little nicer than the hoodie he always wore, played with his hair for a bit to see if he could make it look somewhat presentable (he couldn’t), and drove into town to get her a rose. He did honestly try his best on dates, feeling as if he never impressed her, even when she tried to assure him of otherwise.

When he got back, he waited.

And waited.

And waited.

He texted her to make sure her flight got in okay. ‘You okay?’ The text read.

And the response was near-immediate, and heartbreaking.

‘Who is this?’

Jonathan considered not answering.

‘Jonathan’ he responded after a few minutes.

‘Oh man’

And then a few seconds later, ‘I really screwed up’

‘?’ he texted back.

‘I honestly thought these had sent’

‘My b’

He’d always thought it cute whenever she said that in their conversations, but now it was a sign of caution. He instantly felt wary.

Just as Jonathan started to question what she meant, a picture appeared on his screen. It was a screenshot of her texts to him from a few months before:

‘Im so sorry Jonathan, but I dont think this is gonna work. I like you’—That really stung, considering how she had said she loved him a few weeks prior when they made the arrangement, ‘but I can’t’

‘I just cant do this anymore’

‘I cant keep waiting for you to call me’—To which he responded with a very verbal, very loud, “What the fuck?” because he had called her. Multiple times.

‘And I think Ive found someone else’—…Holy fuck, that hurts.

‘Your a good guy Jonathan’—He was severely judging her incorrect grammar at that moment.

‘Im so so sorry’ And under it read, ‘Not delivered’ in red.

And again, after the picture, she’d sent, ‘Im so sorry’.

It was quite clear from the fact that she didn’t have his contact anymore that she didn’t want any more contact with him at all, so he didn’t answer her. He would much rather treat her like a stranger from that point on; it would be better that way. He figured that she would have had the decency to tell him over Skype or something, so that it could be face-to-face, but no. Melody had always been pasifistic, but apparently, she was more of a coward than he thought she was.

He was this close to smacking the rose against the column that held up his entryway, wanting to hear the flower snap off the stem. He figured that it would make him feel better, yet simultaneously worse. The flowers at the floral shop in town were kind of overpriced. So he slammed the door on his way back inside, threw the rose onto the counter, and ran upstairs.

When Sock faintly heard the telltale sound of a guitar from Jonathan’s side of the street, he thought of many different scenarios as to why he was playing it, none of which being the fact that Jonathan was letting out his feelings the only way he had ever known how.

~~~

“Hey, hot stuff! How’d it go?”

Jonathan didn’t know that that statement would be the beginning to an endless train of nicknames that Sock would give him later on. For now, he trudged into the lab with a flat, if not biting, “Want this?” as he offered up the flower from last night. He held out the rose to Sock, who stared at it as he thought up a quip.

Sock knew something was up. His voice was suspicious, and joking only with his words, tone lying flat over them, “Buy me dinner first, and we’ll see what happens…” Despite his statement, he took the rose, twirled it between his fingers, brought it to his nose. It smelled pretty… He’d never gotten a flower from a boy before…

Jonathan went straight to the board, mindlessly writing down calculations for a problem neither of them had ever seen before. Jonathan just wanted to be busy, forget about what happened and his aching fingers.

“You okay?” Sock asked carefully, trying to broach the subject gently.

Jonathan stared up at the board, chalk in hand, ready to write more. His gaze scrolled upward only to find that was he wrote made no sense. He grabbed the eraser and, almost aggressively, erased what he’d written.

Of course he wasn’t okay, how could he have been? He wanted to move on, but his heart wouldn’t let him. It hadn't even been twenty-four hours and Jonathan was already so done with feeling sad, but he was kept rooted in heartbreak.

It took a noticeably long time for him to respond. “I was dumped and stood up,” his tone was fed-up. He turned around. He threw his arms away from his hips and drew his shoulders up in a dramatic shrug.

All it took was the slap of his fingers against his thighs paired with the empty gaze Sock was met with and Sock knew just how much it affected him. He had never seen Jonathan like this, and he had never helped anyone through a break-up before; he didn’t know what to do. “Jonathan, I’m so sorry…” The right corner of his mouth twitched, as if it wanted to escape his face so he wouldn't say something offensive or hurtful by accident. He opted instead for a smile. “Well, at least now you have me.” He said, holding out the rose as evidence.

Jonathan’s eyes were fixed on something beyond the floor.

“Too soon? Okay.” Sock answered his own question, dropping the hand with the rose to his knee. He didn’t have to search long for a conversation topic. “Uh… if you wanna work—I wanna say that you don’t have to today, you can go home if you want, but if you want to, then I actually mapped out some more possible time travel problems on that board. You can check to see if they're all right…?”

Jonathan nodded, following Sock’s finger that directed him to the other board. Why wouldn't I work? I’m here, aren't I? I came here to work. I could've easily just not shown up and given an excuse. I’m a grown-ass man. Just because I got my heart broken doesn't mean I’m incapable of working. I can do this, why wouldn't I be able to do this?

He was about to pick up the chalk in the tin when he suddenly didn’t. He rubbed some dust off the imperfect cylinder, and stared at his finger blankly when pulling it back up. The swirls on his fingertip were highlighted with chalk. He stared up at all of the math before him. His head swam.

Jonathan began to turn around, “Look, I—“

“Go.” It was understanding, sympathetic, and calm.

Jonathan scrapped up the decency to give Sock a grateful half-smile, and headed out.

~~~

Jonathan hadn’t ever sucked so badly at this part. Even when he was just learning to play it, he hadn’t sucked this much. He couldn’t get the melody line, or the solo. Figures.

Just as he was about to murder his fingers on his guitar again, he heard a knock from downstairs. Thinking for a second that it could possibly be Melody, his hopes lifted a little. Even when she’d hurt him so badly, his wounds meant nothing to the way he still felt about her. He knew that, his body knew that, and Jesus, he was a mess.

He berated himself, set the guitar down; fingers lingered on the wood before he went to the door. No one was there, except Sock, who was walking back to his own house.

His brows knit; he looked down. A coffee cup sat at his feet, along with a yellow rose with a note attached.

Jonathan picked up the items, taking them all inside to properly address each one in someplace other than the nipping cold. He set them down on his counter, and pulled off the note from the rose’s packaging.

Tea calms your nerves. Lucky for you, that café we went to had some wicked good tea. And you gave me a rose (in my favorite color, no less), so I figured I’d return the favor to my favorite assistant. I wanted to do something for you to help you through this, and I don’t know if this helps, but I hope so.

~Yours Truly

P.S. You’ve been playing very well.

Jonathan could practically hear Sock’s voice in his head as he read. He blushed when he read the P.S. Knowing that someone could hear him now put some pressure on him, like he had an audience, and that was daunting to him. Still, the gesture was well-received. It was nice to know someone was looking out for him now.

He went back upstairs, and cradled his guitar in his lap once more. He hesitated. He placed the guitar back onto its stand, and put the amp back into his closet. He grabbed his acoustic on the other stand. He played a slower tune, one he knew well, and was pleasing to listen to. A natural, calm tilt of his lips into a little, very very slight curve graced his face.

Chapter Text

Jonathan was quieter than usual for the week that followed. He came into the lab, yes, but he would only talk if he was asking a question, or answering one from Sock. Sock figured it out all too quickly, and decided not to push him on it. The heartbreak still hurt. Sock had never had his heart broken before, not romantically. Hopefully he was smart enough to pick the right one the first time so that he would never know what it was like… Yes, he was naïve enough on the topic of relationships to think that that was how it worked.

It was difficult for Sock to take, the silence. He felt at war with it, knowing better than to disturb it for Jonathan’s sake, but feeling the selfish urge to poke at it all the same. Silence meant awkwardness for him, it gave an eerie undertone to a situation. He wanted to always avoid it. Now he couldn’t.

Or… maybe I can…

On that eighth day that Jonathan came in, he sighed, mumbled a greeting, and made his way over to the board. He rubbed his face with his hands, and was about to pick up the chalk when he noticed something…

“Is this what I think it is?” Jonathan asked, stepping toward the machine. It was about six-seven feet from the board, probably to avoid damage (Lord knows how they loved to spin the boards around).

Sock smugly followed his line of sight. “If what you’re thinking of is a record player, then you’d be correct.”

“Mind if I…?”

“Go ahead.”

That was all Jonathan needed to begin inspecting the machine, scrutinizing it with awe. He bent at the waist to see the details better, taking in the sky blue paint chipping away in one place on the side, and the needle which wore with every play.

Admiration apparent, he gave a low whistle as he stood up, hands in pockets. “She’s beautiful. Where d’ya get ‘er?”

“My parents. It’s kind of a family heirloom now, I guess. Wanna hear a cool yet kind of a freaky story that goes with that?”

Jonathan looked at him, expression conveying a slight bit of interest (which, Sock admitted to himself, looked good on him), so Sock launched into his story. “My mom had a buncha records growing up that she never used. Her parents never let her get a record player for whatever reason, so she never got to play them. My dad however, had a record player… but all of his vinyls got destroyed in a house fire. So when they met in college, it was like it was meant to be.”

“Soulmates,” Jonathan said, just as an observation, almost without thinking. But he had to admit, if that story was true, that was pretty cool yet kind of freaky.

Sock shrugged with a smile, a gesture that told without saying that he believed the term Jonathan had used, and was proud to be the product of it. “Cool, right?”

“Yeah. Can I see what you have?”

“Sure! They’re behind the crate.”

Jonathan carefully shifted the crate the player sat on and there they were, standing ready for orders as soldiers in a line, ready to wear down the enemy needle and be worn in the process. He fingered through the selection when he stumbled upon one that he felt compelled to comment on. “Abbey Road…”

“Classic,” they said in unison.

“No vinyl set is complete without it,” Sock marched on in the conversation, leaving Jonathan behind to process how creepy that had been. At least it was nice to know that they agreed, though Jonathan couldn’t help the feeling that he was spending way too much time with Sock lately. “You wanna put it on?”

“U-uh—“ He stuttered. “Sure, but I’ve never done it before so I don’t wanna like, break the machine.”

Sock giggled, “All right, gimme a sec and I’ll show you how to do it.”

Sock finished the sentence he was working on in his report, then went over to assist Jonathan in not breaking the record player. He showed him how to lift the tonearm, and what switch put the platter into motion. “Would you mind handing me the record, please?”

And when Sock’s fingers graced his record, the also grazed something… warmer, softer. Sock felt a callous briefly before Jonathan let go. His heart punched his chest, and then beat normally, the brush of the fingers quickly forgotten by Sock’s body.

So… that’s what human contact feels like.

It took him a moment to realize that he hadn’t touched another human for a long time.

Abbey Road began to play in the space, and the boys went back to work. Silence was abolished, and Jonathan seemed more relaxed now. It was helping him! Sock smiled, Good.

There, that solved the problem. They listened to the record player as they worked from then on.

~~~

Something occurred to Jonathan one day as he worked at the board. Sock was in his normal spot at the table, thinking up scenarios for where he would go in time and space, while Jonathan worked with an exceptionally difficult problem for one of his classes. He needed a break, and an answer. “Hey, Sock?” he vaguely called over his shoulder.

“Hm?”

“Shouldn't we be doing the thing you hired me to do? Help you with the whole time travel thing?”

“Oh, no. I haven't finished the blueprints for the portal yet. But I’ve been writing down all of the situations we’ve mapped out into this journal.” Sock propped a thick, pleather-bound book up on the table. “So don’t worry, what we’re doing is productive enough for now.”

Jonathan nodded. He wondered how long this was going to take… and what would happen after that portal was built.

“Why do you ask?” Sock asked.

Jonathan could very well have not have asked. He could have ignored the part of his brain that chastised him for lacking integrity, could have gone on with a mark of regret on his life and not much more, could have ignored his curiosity and suffered for it until he knew for certain what would happen. Though part of him knew there was an internal impasse, a fight within himself that he could not win, couldn’t live with, if he didn’t put a stop to the arrangement that had Jonathan taking advantage of Sock on a day-to-day basis. The guilt made him crumple into himself sheepishly as he spoke, “Well, you’re literally paying me for a study session. So I figured… I don’t think it’s right to not be doing what you’re paying me to do, and paying me for it anyway.”

Sock shrugged. “It’s not like it’s that much. And besides, money’s a small price to pay for someone to hang out with that’s as cool as you.”

There was so much that was wrong with that statement, Jonathan didn’t know where to start. Somebody as cool as him? He wasn’t cool. He was a sexually ambiguous geek who liked sandwiches and music, who happened to hang out with a mad scientist in his off hours. He wouldn’t call that cool. And as for the money thing, where did this kid get the money he got? He was a college student, how much spare money could he possibly have, even if he saved up? And ‘money’s a small price to pay for someone to hang out with’? That was depressing. How Sock had phrased that whole statement left Jonathan uncomfortable. Heat creeped up into his cheeks, anyway.

It seemed his question stimulated more problems and questions than solutions.

Chapter Text

Sock was remarkably good at cleaning fish tanks.

He’d never had fish as pets; he’d wanted some when he was a kid, but his parents had been hesitant about the subject ever since the Great Inchworm Incident of 2007.

Professor Mendi had shown him how to clean the tanks when he’d asked if he could do anything to help her clean up the lab one afternoon after class. She learned just how quick a learner he was.

Professor Mendi wasn't unlike a chubbier Professor Trelawney from the Harry Potter franchise: odd, over-the-top, and her glasses and hair were very similar to the character. She was his Biochem professor, and to anyone who asked, she was a total kook. But Sock was also a total kook, so the two fit together nicely. Their mutual respect for each other landed Sock a job helping her clean up the lab after his class, because once he’d done it the first time, she wanted to pay him for doing such a good job with it. She paid him twenty bucks an hour, claiming that it was unethical to have him do this without payment, and that she was guilty for wasting his time. Despite Sock’s insistence that she wasn’t, she still continued to pay him handsomely. Sock wasn't complaining.

"So, Sock, ya doin' anything special for Thanksgiving this year?"

Sock looked up from the particularly stubborn mass on the side of the tank. “Hm?”

“Whatcha doin’ for Turkey Day?” She asked again, straightening some papers on the main table.

Sock’s response was a knee-jerk reaction, “Uh, I… think I’m gonna sit out again this year.”

She perked up, abruptly freezing with the papers mid-shuffle. “What do you mean by that?”

The concern in her voice made Sock tense. Uh oh.

“‘Sit out again’... what did you mean?” She asked, as if the first question hadn't already been perfectly clear.

“Uh…” You’d think Sock had a plan for this. Considering he hadn't had a family to celebrate Thanksgiving with for about five years, he should have come up with an excuse by now, a cookie-cutter out that wasn't technically a lie and wouldn't leave anyone feeling sorry for him. In truth, he hadn't worried about it. He spent the last few years in his childhood home--where everybody and their mother knew about what happened to his parents--before finally moving, so he hadn't needed to worry about it. With everything that had been going on lately, the thought never occurred to him to craft a good excuse. In all honesty, the holiday snuck up on him.

“Sock… you do have someone to spend Thanksgiving with, right?” Her already-huge eyes were magnified in the also-huge glasses she wore, and it all just looked like two big discreet balls of concern and suspicion, and even after Sock tore his gaze away he felt his resolve decaying. He kind of felt guilty that his first thought was Jonathan.

“Yeah, yeah I do,” he refused to cave, even though he knew that if he lied, she’d see right through him.

It wasn’t silent for long. “I finished grading the reports, by the way,” Professor Mendi declared cheerfully, swerving into an entirely new lane of conversation.

“...Oh?” Sock asked, curious, but very confused.

“Yeah. Don’t tell anybody I gave you yours first, though; I can’t have anyone thinking I have favorites,” she then winked and handed him his report.

A+.

Then, beneath the red marking, was a post-it note that read in scrawling handwriting:

You can be a family friend.

And then what Sock assumed was her cell phone number was underneath.

Sock’s heart thudded hard in his chest. He felt hurt, like he ached everywhere and couldn't find the source, and he didn't know why. Touched by her generosity, he made to voice his appreciation, but she met him with a look that rendered it unnecessary. He settled on a small nod with an only slightly larger smile before he made to pack up his things.

“Have a good day, Professor Mendi.”

“You too, Sock.”

---

The neon-yellow post-it jutted out against the matte black of Sock’s lab table. He couldn't help but stare at it when he got home.

“Hey,” familiar footsteps on the stairs accompanied the greeting.

Sock brightened, “Hey!” He pulled the note from where he’d stuck it on the workspace and tossed it in one of the many drawers. “I honestly didn't expect you to show up today, so this is a nice surprise.”

Jonathan looked momentarily confused, then got it. “Oh, yeah, today’s the first day of break, that’s right. Then today’s the last day I’m gonna be here for a bit.”

“Goin’ outta town to see family?”

Jonathan shrugged, “Yeah, kinda.” Then, out of professionalism or politeness or both, he asked, “What about you?”

“Me? Um… well, my uncle actually survived a bus accident recently, so I think we’re having it at his house this year,” Sock hoped that Jonathan didn’t ask any questions, because he was--hopefully not-so-obviously--lying through his teeth. Those two things had little to nothing to do with each other. “To celebrate.” Sock added.

Jonathan stared at him strangely, but quickly devolved back into his apathetic self after deeming something appropriate to say. “That’s cool.”

“Thanks, I’ll tell him you said that.” Sock wanted to smack his head into the table. That did not warrant that response.

Jonathan nodded awkwardly, unknowing of how to respond. Sock couldn't blame him; he didn't know how to bounce back from that either.

There was a beat where Jonathan just stood there, unsure of what to do or say, until he pointed to one of the blackboards. “That for me?”

Sock surveyed it, seeing that it mapped more time travel problems. He should have been concerned that he didn't remember writing them down, but he nodded and confirmed that they were ready for Jonathan to check without much thought.

Sock cleared his throat once Jonathan was in front of the board. “So, how long ya gonna be gone?”

“Only a few days. Gotta be back for testing.” He was already growing absent, losing himself in the numbers.

“Unfortunately.” Sock had completely forgotten about exams. He thought up the proposition on the spot, “If you need study and you don’t want to come here in those few weeks, that’s fine.”

“Cool, thanks.” He was almost gone.

Sock fidgeted for a long moment. “Or if you want help studying…?”

Jonathan blinked, still staring at the board. “What?”

Sock rushed to cover his ass, “What?”

“D’you say something?”

“Nope, not a peep from me. No, sir.” Sock suppressed a groan. He didn’t even know why he had asked. He knew Jonathan would want to be alone, he knew that much from spending two months with the guy. And besides, their relationship was strictly professional, despite some level of friendliness between them. Sock didn't know what that fact had to do with anything he was thinking about, but figured it was good to remind himself.

Jonathan eyed him before turning back to the board.

Sock got a lot of work done. He finished his project due in two weeks for his Anatomy course, he discussed the issues in the problems Jonathan checked, and then he mapped out some more, and Jonathan checked those. The height of productivity, however, was when Sock whipped out the drawing paper. In his case, it was more like sketching paper, considering that he knew that he wouldn’t get the best design on the first try.

Jonathan, in his haze of mathematics, didn’t realize that Sock had moved on to something else. He, in all honesty, forgot about him. That was until his lower back started aching from leaning against the lab table end, and when he’d groaned as he shifted his position there came a “You okay?” from somewhere behind him.

He confusedly turned around, and then suddenly he remembered. “Oh.”

And then.

And then, and then, and then.

There was a vague smile on Jonathan’s lips.

Sock’s eyes widened as his heart crawled into his throat.

Jonathan’s smile disappeared with a harsh puff of air that was meant to be a laugh. “I forgot you were there. I’m stupid.”

Sock swallowed, and his heart pinched and clung to the sides of his esophagus and descended slowly, somehow, back into his suddenly-too-small chest cavity. “Yeah,” he managed. “I mean no!” He corrected, urgently. “You’re not stupid, just, um--forgetful? I…”

He didn’t get to finish before Jonathan was quietly chuckling to himself.

There’s that laugh again… It’s so pretty.

Jonathan ceased his attempts at muffling himself, and sonorous chuckles rang into the air. Sock stared wide-eyed, and before he could breathe, Jonathan was already winding down. “So what are you doing?”

It took Sock a few seconds after Jonathan’s eyes found him to blink, and a few more to respond, “Yeah. Um. I’m drawing up schematics for how the machine is supposed to look. I’m just brainstorming right now.”

“Mm,” Jonathan grunted.

Vmm, vmm!

Jonathan’s jeans pocket vibrated. He knit his brows and hiked up his hoodie to fish out the device. Once he did, he came face to screen with a reminder displayed on his home screen that eloquently read: Kat’s thing fuckface.

“Ah, fuck. I gotta go get my sister something before I head out. You need me for anything else?”

“Nope, that’ll do it! Have a wonderful holiday, Jonathan.”

The response was so unexpectedly sincere, Jonathan was taken aback. “Yeah, you too.”

Sock was smiling to Jonathan until he heard Jonathan exit the front door. His smile dropped with a sigh of relief, and he stared into the inky black of his lab table, down through the thick black and into the drawer where the post-it laid--down past the post-it, even--where his subconscious ran wild thinking about what happened with Jonathan just now.

That thing. That thing that had made his heart squeeze in his chest and leap into his throat and swell and cling to his esophagus and make him feel like a string being pulled on both ends. That thing that made him dumbstruck, and left his body a risky chemistry experiment. What the hell was that? The question followed him all through the night, and that turbulent chemistry experiment roiled within him; he tossed and turned trying to rid himself of the energy and increasingly ridiculous theories it brought him.

The next morning--running on no sleep and vague, incomprehensible inclination--he picked up the phone and called his professor.

 

Chapter Text

The Lusitania is undervalued. It sunk in approximately eighteen minutes, which is nothing compared to Titanic’s two hours and forty minutes. It seems like nothing, but that’s the point. The thing was T-boned by a freakin’ U-boat, of course the sucker’s gonna fall fast. And sure, it only killed about 1,200 people, and in comparison to Titanic’s 1,517… Well actually that isn’t too far off. So why is the RMS Lusitania so under-appreciated? Titanic, upon investigation, had a bunch of crap wrong with the design because they were arrogant about how amazing their ship was. The sinking of the Lusitania was completely unavoidable, because nobody knew it was happening. Wait, was it? … I vaguely remember Ms. Delmont saying in her droning voice that people had been given notice that the Germans were planning an attack, that they’d sent flyers out and everything. Was my school district responsible for the way I view this tragedy? I don’t remember them covering it well, or for very long, so have I been forever doomed to think of it as the lesser tragedy?

… I sound like a Peanuts character… Specifically Lucy.

Sock deeply sighed.

Sock looked around for something more interesting than the RMS Lusitania. In the kitchen, some men were discussing their college years with a boy that was, apparently, one of their sons. At a quick glance, Sock pegged the boy to be a senior or maybe even a junior in high school.

Behind Sock, in the living room, people were laughing—loudly laughing, absolutely cackling. Sock wasn’t following their conversation, but every time they laughed, they laughed in an uproar. And every time they laughed, Sock jumped.

Nobody was in the dining room but him. They had all scattered once they were done with their food. Sock hadn’t joined them. He was too tired of trying to socialize. Professor Mendi had spent some time with him earlier on in the night, around the time he had shown up at her home. But since she was the hostess, she needed to spend time with her other guests, and Sock respected that. He just wished her family members were as accepting as that.

He had received so many furtive glances that night. He was used to that, for he was a fairly off-the-wall person. Somehow, though, in such an intimate setting as someone’s home, it left him with an inescapable awareness of being an outsider, of not belonging with this clan. Some of them made civil conversation with him, but it was stuffy, awkward, and Sock stood there for a moment until he realized that the conversation was just too suffocating and jumped ship.

So he sat alone at the head of the dining table. He had taken the liberty of taking the seat of the birdlike woman—thin as a twig, nose as sharp as a beak, eyes just as beady—who sat there earlier, for he’d been crammed into the space between the table and a glass credenza. He’d spent the whole of Thanksgiving dinner fearing his movements and those of his neighbors. Once everyone was gone, he’d practically scrambled over the table for the space. He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there, but it felt like a long time.

He sighed, and pulled out his phone.

‘Hi Jonathan, just checking in to say that I hope you and your family are having a great Thanksgiving!’

Sock bit his lip as he contemplated if he should add something about Jonathan possibly coming in the following week. He couldn’t think of anything, so he sent it.

Sock spared one more glance to the men and the college-bound boy in the kitchen through the little window separating the dining room from the kitchen. One of the men—balding, probably in his fifties—was throwing his arms about, smacking the shoulders of the men next to him impassionately. Some were snickering, others full-on belly-laughing.

Sock didn't understand why he felt so deflated.

The Lusitania was highly under-appreciated because… because...

But it was so hard to think with the constant overlay of Lucy shouting in his ears:

I know when I’ve been insulted, I know when I’ve been insulted!

---

Jonathan didn’t react when his phone went off, not really. His eyes and eyebrows showed only the vaguest surprise, but other than that, he remained as impassive as ever. He managed to shrug it off in the time it took to stab a piece of turkey with his fork, then shovel it into his mouth.

The vibration had sounded in a dip in conversation, so—unfortunately for Jonathan—everyone heard it.

Katharine tentatively set her fork down to pull out her phone, having not felt the vibration herself, but not believing it to have been anyone else at the table.

“Setting your fork down on the table and not on the plate, like a normal person? God Kat, what a sinner,” Jonathan chided.

Katharine turned to look at her brother. “You’re not concerned with the fact I have my phone out, yet you scold me on my placement of silverware?”

Katharine was a lot like her brother, in some ways. She had the same sarcasm, the same baby blues and dark hair that the entire Combs family possessed, the same no-nonsense attitude. But they were also very different. For one thing, Katharine was whip-smart. Studying to be a lawyer, she was easily smarter than Jonathan, but she didn’t parade that fact around unless she wanted to tease him. Jonathan appreciated that, he supposed. It was definitely better than having a sister that went out of her way to feel superior to him. Katharine also had a horrible taste in men, which Jonathan prided himself on not following in his sister’s footsteps on that one. An example from the horrifying list of boyfriends was sitting right next to him at the Thanksgiving dinner table: Rick. Rick was another law student, and if Jonathan didn't know any better, he would have thought that Rick hadn’t come out of his house in years. His hair was flat with a substance that Jonathan couldn’t tell if it was sweat or gel. He was of average build, and had a kind smile, Jonathan guessed, but other than that, there was really nothing redeemable about him. He was anxious to a point that was too-far past endearing, and he always asked Jonathan a lot of unnecessary questions. Rick was smart, but if you were to put him in front of a college freshman, he would completely lose his cool, apparently. The first time Jonathan had met him was a few months ago, and Rick had, with the opening and closing of a door, visibly clamped up.

“So you’re Katharine’s brother,” he had said in a voice that was way too high-pitched to be mistaken for something natural.

Jonathan had pegged it as “first meeting with the family” nerves, but if that were the case, then maybe Rick would have gotten over it after a year of knowing him.

Jonathan didn’t respond to his sister’s question; she knew full-well that he didn’t prioritize well.

Katharine stared confusedly at her phone. She looked to Rick, “Did your phone go off?”

“I thought it was yours,” Rick responded.

“I did too, I thought it was work texting me.”

“No phones should be at the dinner table anyway, Katharine. I raised you better than that,” Jonathan’s mother scolded, tone light with eyes brandishing “the Mom Look”.

“Ooooh, you got in trouble,” Jonathan teased, tone fairly level for a comment so exaggerated. Jonathan rarely ever got into moods like this, where he was blatantly annoying, but it was Thanksgiving, and he wouldn’t get a chance to annoy Kat like this until Christmas. Sometimes, he felt the insatiable need to fill the role of the annoying little brother.

“Put a sock in it,” Kat tiredly insulted.

Jonathan allowed a smug smirk to cross his face for only a second before he hid it with another mouthful of food.

His phone vibrated again, reminding him he got a text that he hadn’t checked yet.

“Seriously, Rick, check your phone, maybe it’s work letting you know that you’re off tomorrow,” Katharine nudged him.

“It’s mine,” Jonathan clarified, just so they’d stop talking about it.

A hush fell over the table as they stared at him.

“What? Why’re you all staring at me like that?”

Katharine’s eyes and tone were actually very concerned, and Jonathan thought that that should probably make him concerned, but it didn't. “Last time we talked, you said that you didn’t really know anybody yet. Mom and I didn't text you, we’re right here. Was it one of your high school friends?”

Jonathan didn’t have any friends from high school anymore. The only one he could even remotely call a friend was this guy Mick, who he’d bonded with sophomore year over South Park and a small indie band called Punching In, but he didn't talk to him anymore, purely for loner reasons. That, and Mick never texted him.

“Was it… she who shall remain nameless?”

Jonathan was done. It was none of her business, one, this conversation shouldn't even be happening because it was just too stupid to be happening, two, and three, he just didn't want to think about Melody Carse right now. Everything involving her was so confusing, and he was so sick of trying to figure it all out. He was too tired of the thought of her to figure out if he had actually loved her at all. “She knows better,” is all he said. Not bitter, tired.

Kat noticed. While she knew to drop it—because she had known before she even said it that it was the wrong thing to say—her boyfriend picked it up, and tried spelling it out for him. “Look, Jonathan… Frankly, we just think it’s interesting that somebody’s trying to get in contact with you.”

There was more to the explanation, but Jonathan tuned him out. Just because I prefer to be alone doesn't make me totally unlikable, or totally cut off from society. He thought, and this time he was a little bitter, especially because he didn't need to be talked down to.

At the mention of Melody’s name, he unwillingly zoned back in. “I mean, it’s no wonder why things didn’t work out with her, aren’t you gay?”

Katharine chastised him under her breath. “Rick.

Jonathan groaned internally. Unnecessary question number one. He swallowed a mouthful of food and cleared his throat before answering, “In some capacity.”

The bulging eyes and puffed out cheeks Katharine shot him with told Rick he was in the wrong. It was dawning on him just how wrong it was. “Oh, I’m… I-I-I’m so sorry, Jonathan, I didn’t mean to—”

“Rick, it’s not a big deal.”

Rick got shamefully silent for a moment, and before he could fumble through another excessive apology, Ms. Combs stepped in. “Guys, leave him alone. If he doesn’t wanna talk about it, he shouldn’t have to talk about it.”

Jonathan was a young adult, a big boy. He didn’t need his mom to rush to his aid anymore, but that didn’t mean it didn’t go unappreciated when she did. “Thank you, Mom.”

She nodded.

The rest of the dinner went on without much fanfare. They laughed a little bit once the residual awkwardness had almost entirely dispelled from the table, and before they knew it, it was over. Jonathan was standing beside the freshly-cleared table, checking his phone.

A text from Sock.

Huh.

“Hey.”

Jonathan snapped his head over his shoulder. “Hey,” he greeted his sister.

Her arms were crossed in her turtleneck, uncomfortable and guilty. “I didn’t mean to accost you earlier. I’m sorry about that. And about what Rick said.”

He turned to fully face her. “Kat, you know me well enough to know that I don’t care about not having friends.”

“But we still shouldn't alienate you like that. Just because you don’t associate with many people doesn’t mean we should stare at you like you have ten heads when someone texts you. It’s not that uncommon, especially in today’s society.” She moved to put weight on her hand, leaning into the table.

Jonathan shook his head, “You’re cool.”

Kat looked at him like she pitied him, like she still felt guilty. She shook her head, too. “Who did text you anyway? If you don’t mind my asking.”

“Just some guy I know.” His neighbor probably would’ve been a better way to describe him, but the thought only occurred to him once the words were out.

“‘Some guy’? That’s kinda sketchy.”

“He’s my neighbor. We hang out sometimes.”

“Kathy?” Her mother called from the kitchen, before she could ask anything else.

“Yeah?”

“Can you help me with these?” She asked, referring to the mountain of dishes in front of her.

“Sure,” she answered.

Before Jonathan could hurriedly ask if he could take her place—he really didn’t want to be alone with Rick in the living room—a voice piped from behind him. “Jonathan.”

He hesitated in turning around. There he was, his sister’s walking ball of anxiety in the flesh.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” He asked, twisting the hem of his sweater in his hands.

“Yeah, sure. Whatcha need?”

He got a little closer to his face, which made Jonathan really uncomfortable. “Not here.”

He blinked. “Okay. Where?”

They were on the back deck in freezing weather in no time.

Jonathan exaggeratedly shrugged once they were out.

Rick fumbled with his words for a while, a long while. Too long. Jonathan’s patience was wearing thinner with each passing chilly breeze on his neck. Soon he couldn’t help himself any longer. With long drag of his hand down his face, he exhaustedly asked, “What are you asking me, Rick?”

“Do I have your permission to marry your sister?”

Shell-shocked, Jonathan was as frozen as the icicle he would soon become if he didn’t get inside soon. His mouth moved a lot, forming words that never formed. Eventually, he wet his cold lips and settled on, “Shouldn’t you be asking my mom about this?”

Rick was shifting his weight, studying the grains in the wood on the deck of Jonathan’s childhood home. He managed enough courage to look Jonathan in the eye as he shoved his shaking hands into his pockets. “I already asked her.”

“And wha’d she say?”

“Yes.”

Jonathan stared at him.

“I thought it was courteous to ask you as well.”

Jonathan shot a glance inside. While they’d only been dating a year, Jonathan had to admit that he noticed a significant change in attitude on Katharine’s part. She used to smile a lot less, a lot less, and Jonathan couldn’t pretend like he hadn’t seen it. Above all else, he wanted his sister to be happy. He wanted her to be with a guy who no-less-than worshipped her, and he was fairly certain that Rick viewed Katharine as a goddess, that nothing could compare to the loving, modest fireball that was Katharine Combs. The window viewed the kitchen sink, and his mom was the one in the center of the glass. However, he could still see Kat, in the very corner, smiling widely and laughing.

His gaze dropped to the deck for a long moment, watching the boards shift as Rick transferred his weight from foot to foot. “Wait inside,” he finally said, “You’ll freeze out here.”

Rick looked confused, but didn’t object.

The both of them went back through the sliding glass door, and were greeted by, “So, wha’d you two talk about?” Katharine.

“Sex stuff,” Jonathan replied, deadpan, because he knew absolutely no one wanted to hear about it. Kat was smart enough to see through that, but he figured it was better than whatever vague statement Rick was gonna stutter out.

Sure enough, Katharine turned back to the dishrag, eyes wide with an aversion to furthering the conversation.

So far, Jonathan’s plan was working.

He milled about in the kitchen for a bit before they all migrated to the living room. He milled about in there too for a few minutes, ignoring the hopeless glances he got from Rick every now and again.

He really wanted this guy to fear him, then—only to make sure Rick wouldn’t chicken out, of course—even though he knew he already did.

He supposed part of that was due to the incident that happened a few summers ago. Katharine had told Rick about it. Reed, an ex of Kat’s, was in a fight with her, and had said some things he hadn’t meant, which had made Jonathan’s blood boil to begin with. But when Reed had aggressively grabbed Kat’s wrist as a means of gaining some control, that made Jonathan’s brother instincts flare up with an urge to kill. He’d taken an old baseball bat from the garage and swung it wildly at him, not sure if he intentionally missed to scare the ever-living shit out of him, or not. Regardless, Jonathan had apologized to him flatly once the couple was back on good terms, with something in his eyes that promised he didn’t regret it, and would do it again. Reed and Katharine broke it off two weeks later.

It was so out-of-character for Jonathan to do something so out-there like that, but that fury he’d felt was otherworldly, and he was pretty sure that Rick understood that. The fact that Jonathan was capable of something like that, despite his constant state of apathy, was something that kept Rick in check, even though Jonathan himself didn’t think he could ever do that again. He contributed it mostly to the teen angst that had been running wild in his freshman veins, at the time.

Once he was just about to sink into the couch completely, he got up unceremoniously and headed to the stairs. Unlike Jonathan’s room after he’d left for college, which had become a guest bedroom, Katharine’s room had been kept relatively the same. It was used for storage, but it was stuff from Katharine’s childhood, for the most part, save for a few boxes in random places about the room.

Jonathan moved a box labeled “BK”, meaning “Before Katharine”, to get to an old jewelry box on one of the older white dressers.

He lifted the lid on the old flat box and “Ode to Joy” began to play. He panicked, having forgotten it was a music box. He didn’t want anyone downstairs to hear, especially not Katharine. Thank God it only played a few notes before the turner gave up. Jonathan released an audible sigh of relief. He opened one of the side drawers on the box, and it was there that he found it.

He shoved the small object into his hoodie pocket, and headed back downstairs before they started asking where he was.

There was a lot of socializing, and lot of not-socializing from Jonathan, for the next hour and a half. It was then that Jonathan remembered how boring it was without the rest of his family there. Last Thanksgiving, Rick had had a panic attack in the bathroom because he was so overwhelmed with family members he hadn't met before. They decided to nip the issue in the bud this year: It was just the four of them, and the rest of the family met at Jonathan’s aunt’s house. Jonathan didn’t understand why Rick hadn’t just taken Kat to his parent’s for Thanksgiving this year, but to be fair, he tuned out that part of the conversation. He also okay-d the plan, so he figured he didn’t have a right to ask anymore. He wouldn't have been bored if he just had his headphones. They were in his car because his mom hated it when they had company. She didn’t mind if he refrained from conversation, though.

He glanced down at his phone as he sat on the couch, some conversation going on between Rick and his mom in the background, where Katharine chimed in every-so-often.

‘Hey Sock. To you and your family as well.’

He sent it, but not without cringing at the formality.

He didn’t really know how to act around Sock. He liked hanging out with him, which was shocking in and of itself, but now that he’d seen some heartbroken part of him, it was like Jonathan was tiptoeing around glass shards. Sock was very accommodating to his fluctuations in attitude, but he also teased him quite a bit. He liked how Sock acted around him: natural, yet charismatic—sort of. He didn’t ever feel pressured to speak or do anything; he could just focus on his work and the music for the whole session, if he liked. He just never wanted Sock to see that vulnerable, whiny, emotional part of him again. Granted, he hadn’t seen much, but still. For Jonathan, it was more than enough.

“All right,” Rick stood up, “We’d better head out.”

The goodbyes went on for ages to Jonathan. He said goodbye to everyone, then nabbed Rick on his way out of the living room. “Forget something,” he whispered.

“What?”

“I gotta talk to you. Go to the car, then forget something.” When Rick looked at him scared, he added, “Can you do that?”

Rick nodded.

Jonathan hung back for a second. He found his mom staring at him.

“He ask you?” she asked.

Jonathan nodded.

“What did you say?”

“‘Haven’t said anything yet.”

Jonathan,” his mother scolded.

“What? I can make him sweat it out if I want to. It’s my sister we’re talking about. That, and ultimately, what I say has no bearing on whether she’ll say yes or not either. My saying yes doesn’t mean she’ll say yes.”

“You don’t like this, do you?” She had a smile in her voice.

“What gave you that idea?” It wasn’t even really sarcastic, either.

“You’re very talkative about it.”

Jonathan stared at the floor, then sniffed. “I don’t want to feel like I'm selling her off. And I don’t want him to think that he’s got a guaranteed in, either.”

“Jonathan, it’s Rick we’re talking about. You really think that he’ll get cocky?”

Jonathan shrugged. “Anybody can get overconfident once they’ve gotten comfortable.”

“Rick isn't comfortable anywhere.”

“‘Cept with Kat.”

She waited a moment. “You used to be that way.”

Jonathan stayed silent.

“You almost never talked to anyone else except Kathy and I.”

“I was like, five. You were the only people in my world. Even now, I don’t really talk to anyone else.” He supposed that sounded sad, but he thought it was enough.

“That’s not true.” When Jonathan knit his brows at her, she continued, “Who was that, earlier?”

Jonathan groaned.

“It’s not a weird question, Jonathan.”

Yeah, but it’s kinda invasive. “I just don’t…” he sighed, it was useless. Just then, Rick came up the driveway and opened the door. Jonathan’s mom slipped back into the living room to give them some space.

Jonathan made a show of his disinterest in fishing around in his hoodie pocket for the tiny object. Once he’d found it, he slowly pulled it out. “It’s my great aunt’s engagement ring,” he explained. “Take it.”

Rick blinked at the ring, gaze darting between Jonathan’s stony expression and the tiny symbol in his hand. “You really want me to have this?”

“I really want Kat to have it. If you’re really serious about this, then you should give it to her.” Jonathan closed his fist around it before Rick could even make a move to take it. “Few things first, though: don’t do it around a major holiday, don’t do it in front of a lot of people, and please for the love of God don’t make me regret this.” He opened his fist, and the tiny gold band with the ruby stone shone brilliantly even after all the years it had been tucked away. Rick stared at him, expecting him to say something else, so he did. “Make her happy. That’s all I ask.”

“I won’t let you down. I won't let her down.” It sounded like a vow with such determination underlying the anxiety.

“Better not,” Jonathan said, warned. It wasn’t a threat.

Rick nodded and took the ring, pocketing it on his way out to his car.

He only realized that his mom was behind him once she clapped him on the shoulder. “You made the right choice.”

“I was always going to say yes. Just wanted to scare him a little bit, that’s it.”

She fired the mom warning look again. “Sadist,” she said disapprovingly.

Jonathan shrugged.

“And you really think I didn’t give him hell before I said yes, too? Really, Jonathan? You know me better than that.”

All right, now he felt a little foolish. He still stood by what he did, though. There was a moment where he watched Katharine’s car drive away.

Then, his mom piped up again from behind him, arms crossed. “You never answered my question before.”

Jonathan shrugged—uncomfortably, this time—his hoodie shifting around his body. “He’s just some guy I know. I hang out with him sometimes.”

“Does this guy have a name? A status with you?”

“Status?” Jonathan asked, disbelieving.

“Is he your friend? Is he your tutor for something? What?”

Jonathan shrugged. “His name’s… brace yourself: Sock.”

“That’s a cool name,” she said impartially. Before Jonathan could retort with a statement on how ridiculous the name and the boy was, his mother asked, “What did he say?”

“Just wished me a happy Thanksgiving. You guys, too.”

“That’s nice,” she cooed. “Am I ever gonna meet this Sock character?”

Jonathan scoffed, “I wouldn’t count on it.”

---

Sock had just settled behind the wheel of his car when his phone vibrated beside him on the passenger seat. He glanced down to see the notification.

A text from Jonathan.

He smiled.

 

Chapter Text

Their studying and sleep cycles always filled in the gaps of the other. While one studied, the other would be asleep on their books. They rarely did anything else.

Of course, that pattern only lasted for about four days. Jonathan only had so much motivation.

“Can we blow something up?”

Sock was shocked to not only find Jonathan on his doorstep, but to have that be the first thing he said upon seeing him. He cockily smirked, “Well, that’s funny. When we first met, you wanted me to stop blowing stuff up. Now, you’ve completely changed your tune.”

He couldn’t avoid sounding desperate, “I’m so bored. I need stimulation.”

Sock briefly thought of a tease, of an innuendo. He’d lean on the doorframe and stare him dead in the eyes, a sexy smile on his lips. ‘I can think of something stimulating we could do…’ he’d say, and Jonathan would roll his eyes, but get kind of flustered, all blushing cheeks and mumbled comebacks. Sock would get to him, into his head, under his skin...

But he didn’t. Because. Well...

Come to think of it, why didn't he? There wasn’t a problem with that, right? Friends teased each other like that all the time, right?

His lips moved on their own, “Stimulating explosions are my specialty.” He supposed that could serve as an innuendo to its own right. It just wasn’t as… direct. “Come on in!”

They moved to the basement.

As Sock rifled through his supplies to take inventory, Jonathan took a seat at one of the lab tables, zoning out with his chin in his hand. He wound up idly fiddling with his undercut, realizing he should get it buzzed again soon. He hated that; he always looked so stupid with his undercut buzzed. He realized with time that there’s definitely a sweet spot in the length of his undercut, but there was nothing he could do to get there consistently. Accepting that was no big deal, just annoying.

Sock poked his head up. “Not sure if I can make something explode, per se, but would you be willing to see what elephant toothpaste is all about?”

“Elephant… toothpaste?” Jonathan skeptically repeated, swearing he hadn't heard him correctly.

“Yeah! That’s the name of the experiment. I’m sure you’ve probably seen it before when you took Chem, they just probably didn’t call it that. Wanna test it out?”

“Sure.” Might as well.

“Okay, then I need you to grab some things for me first.”

Jonathan raised a brow. “All right, what?”

“Dish soap and food coloring. Food coloring’ll be in the closet on your left when you go to the kitchen, and when you’re looking at the shelves, it’ll be on one of the middle shelves to your…” Sock trailed off as he thought about it. “Right?” He shook his head. “Dish soap’s right next to the sink.”

When he came back after a little trouble trying to find the tiny-ass box of food coloring that was literally staring him in the face—It wasn’t on the right, Sock, it was in the center—he found Sock had taken out other materials. A thick, dark bottle of liquid labeled hastily as ‘HP 20’ in black Sharpie sat on the counter, along with two beakers and another bottle labeled ‘Potassium Iodide’. Beneath the two beakers was a large, circular basin. Sock, now wearing his goggles over his eyes, gloves, and a covering that was kind of poncho-like on him, glanced up and smiled. “Find everything okay?”

Jonathan thought that he was mocking him at first. Then remembered that Sock hadn’t remembered where the food coloring had been, and therefore couldn’t have purposely set him off course. “Yeah,” he simply said, not bothering with everything else.

“Cool! Let’s get started.” Sock abruptly focused on the materials in front of him, then brought his eyes, and only his eyes, back to Jonathan. “You might wanna back up.”

Jonathan eyed Sock, but obeyed, walking around the lab table before the one Sock was working on so that he was now on the other side.

“All right. Here it goes,” Sock mumbled. He looked up with only his eyes again. “I’ve never actually done this before. I’ve seen people do it but I’ve never actually done it myself.”

There was a very brief, almost indiscernible thought in Jonathan’s head that there was a chance he might actually die one of these days. “Oh.”

Sock looked at him, a little more head to it this time, after he poured some liquid from one of the bottles into one of the beakers. “Wow. You actually kind of sounded not comatose.” His eyes widened in horror under the goggles, “Sorry! That was mean! I’m so sorry!”

Jonathan held up a hand and kind of shook it. “It’s okay. I really don’t care. Just…” Jonathan’s tone deflated from assurance to reassurance, “focus on what you’re doing.”

Sock took a breath and nodded. Jonathan actually seemed to calm him down a little bit. It was a surprise to both of them. Normally, Sock’s energy was just barely containable. Now, it seemed like there was room to breathe in the container.

There was a bond forming now, a form of mutual respect—dulled in some ways, acute in others. They were starting to get strangely familiar with how the other’s mind worked.

Sock glanced back up at Jonathan. “What color do you wanna make this: red, yellow, blue, or green?”

Jonathan shrugged.

“Red it is, then!” Sock decided. It was his favorite color, after all. Besides, the dish soap was green, so that would show up anyway, and he wasn’t positive that yellow would show up. “We’ll make this Christmas-y.” Sock grinned, readying himself with the open dish soap in one hand, and the red food coloring in the other. He glanced mischievously up at Jonathan, “Ready?”

“Do it.” Jonathan had no idea what to expect.

He certainly didn’t expect nothing to happen.

Sock stared confusedly at it for a second before he exclaimed, “Oh!” and blew a raspberry. “I’m an idiot. This is what triggers it.” He said, gesturing to the bottle, afraid to shake it.

“I hope you’re not this forgetful with the shit you do for school.”

Sock tried to explain himself, “I don’t do stuff like this with instructions, so even though I put it out, I forget to use some stuff because I kinda forget when to use it.” He nervously laughed before readying the bottle above the beaker. He cleared his throat, then, “Still ready?”

“Are you sure it's gonna do something this time?” Jonathan flatly teased.

“Positive,” Sock declared, definitively.

“Do it.”

Sock poured in a minuscule amount of the liquid into the beaker before having to back up. There was a technicolor foamy substance racing up through the top of the beaker, sliding quickly down the sides and into the basin.

“Woah, it’s so fast,” Jonathan awed, trying not to sound too excited.

“Right? It’s like fast, scorching, acidic foam! It’s so cool!”

Jonathan almost laughed at how passionate Sock got over “elephant toothpaste”. He caught himself, and snorted instead. “Scorching?” He asked.

“Yeah, this is really super hot.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s ‘cause of the chemicals in there and how they react.” The foam was now rushing to the lid of the basin. “Woah, I didn’t think it would make that much…” Sock stated, a shaky undertone to his voice. He honestly hadn’t measured any of this, and he probably… definitely should have. Only when it had started to pour over the basin did it begin to slow down.

Jonathan subconsciously backed up to the wall, closer to the stairs. Even though it wasn’t close to him, there was significant evidence suggesting that he couldn’t outrun it if it started flooding the room.

Sock ran around the third lab table, getting a safe distance away to keep an eye on it.

They stared at the foamy, suddenly-still substance.

A large clump of it separated from the rest and fell. It made a smacking sound as it hit the floor.

Laughter bubbled out of Jonathan before he could even realize. To his surprise, he found he didn’t regret it. It felt like the proper thing to do.

Sock glanced up, and smiled upon seeing his partner laughing. Giggles bubbled up in Sock, too.

They calmed, and Jonathan stared at the foam again. “I really don’t wanna go home right now,” he concluded.

“So don’t,” Sock offered. It seemed simple. Jonathan didn’t want to leave, Sock didn’t want him to leave, and—as far as Sock knew—they’d both studied very hard for their exams.

Jonathan looked up. He’d BS-d exams before with even less study time. It was his first time participating in college midterms, but it seemed to him like there wasn’t much that was too complicated. Everything he couldn’t grasp, he’d studied. He was a little stressed, but a lot less stressed than when he studied for tests in high school. There was a lot less riding on him now than there was then, when he was praying for scholarships and trying to prove to himself he could actually graduate high school. Now, he knew the basics of how to be a functional young adult. He had graduated high school, gotten into a pretty good college for his major, and made his family proud in the process. Now all that was left to do was graduate from college, but that was light years away from him in that moment.

Right now, all there was to do was say, “Sure.”

---

“Okay. For argument's sake—

“What argument? You don’t have an argument!”

Sock verbally fumbled for a moment before, “Just let me play Devil’s advocate here for a minute.”

“You don’t have an argument,” Jonathan bluntly insisted.

“If you had a pan that could conduct and trap heat really well, then yes, you could—theoretically —make s'mores over a bunsen burner.”

Jonathan was pacing now, just bursting with an argumentative energy caked with denial. “No way. No way,” he simply said, shaking his head.

“Yes way! It would take a while but it could work!”

“It would take you hours to get anywhere, and why would you do that if there are so many other effective methods of making s'mores, ones that work better and take up less time?”

“Hey, the argument here was whether or not you could do it. I say that you can. Bunsen burners get pretty hot. Why do you think chemists use them?”

“Still, it’s like this pathetic little flame that can reach a little bit past the length of my middle finger.”

“It's condensed! Big things come in small packages…” Sock trailed off, sounding vaguely defensive. “Besides, there’s a lotta power in that middle finger-a yours.”

Jonathan stared at him for a moment, leaning back on the wall with his arms resolutely crossed. “... It’s not possible.”

“It is possible!”

“Yeah, it is possible, and so is the possibility of the world ending. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen anytime soon or fast.”

Sock leapt up from his spot on the couch, pointing a finger towards Jonathan as if pinning him against the wall. “So you admit it can work!”

Jonathan opened his mouth to protest, and suddenly, being right seemed like it took too much energy. He caved, but made sure to put as much sarcasm and disapproval behind it as possible. “Okay. Yeah. Sure. You’d have to have the best heat-trapping pan in the world, and it would be inefficient as hell, but yes. It can work.”

Sock completely ignored his tone. A loud, victorious “HA!” erupted from his small body, and he did a small happy dance in the middle of his living room.

Jonathan let out a breathy chuckle and ran a hand down his face, watching Sock dance goofily over his fingers. He rolled his eyes and went to lay down on the couch, his energy suddenly leaving him.

Sock followed him, flopping down with flailing limbs so his torso was near the one foot Jonathan pressed into the couch cushions. Jonathan braced himself as one of Sock’s feet came dangerously close to his crotch, and fell back on the throw pillow with a pained yet relieved groan that somehow devolved into a laugh after the heel smashed into his hip.

“Did I hit what I think I just hit?” Sock asked, concerned.

“No. My hip, but don’t scare me like that.”

Sock’s relieved sigh suddenly spiked into a laugh. “Sorry.”

A contented silence fell over the two.

Sock lightly kicked with the leg that swung off the side of the couch into Jonathan’s leg that stretched out and onto the floor. “Hey,” he started, “how old do you think I am?”

“Eighteen. Why?”

“I’m not.”

Jonathan opened an eye at him. “What?”

“I’m not eighteen.”

“Well, what the fuck are you then? Seventeen?”

Sock was giggling. “Go up.”

Jonathan sat up. “... You’re my age?”

Sock continued giggling. “Go up.”

“No. There’s no way you’re older than me.”

“Consult my birth certificate,” Sock retorted.

“How old are you then?”

“Thirty.”

Jonathan looked at him. Come on.

Sock exaggeratedly sighed. “Fine, sixty-seven.”

Jonathan’s expression didn’t waver.

Sock reveled in Jonathan’s annoyance. “I know, I look great for my age.” He batted his eyelashes in mock flattery.

Jonathan’s frown deepened.

Sock stared him in the eyes, letting Jonathan guess on whether he’d tell him the truth or not this time. “I’m twenty-one.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

“Do you wanna see my driver’s license?”

“Yes I do actually, because I don’t believe you otherwise.”

“I’ll show it to you later ‘cause I don’t feel like getting up, but I’m telling the truth this time. I just got my license renewed at the DMV last week.”

Jonathan spoke simply, “There is no feasible way that you are old enough to drink.”

“That’s why I can still eat off the kids menu.”

Jonathan’s head dropped, and swung back and forth in absolute cluelessness on what to say.

“I don’t often, but I could if I wanted to.”

“All right, you don’t look that young.”

“That’s because you know me, and know that I’m older. I’ve been mistaken for a fourteen-year-old recently.”

“Seriously?”

Sock nodded, then gestured to his face. “This babyface is a blessing and a curse. Hell, it might even get me a date if I ever, ya know, left my house.” He had said it as a joke, but quickly realized that it could theoretically be true.

Jonathan thought about the way Sock had put that. “It might get me a date”. Not, “a date with a cute boy” or “a rendezvous with a hot girl”. Sock hadn’t specified. It put a weird question in Jonathan’s mind on who Sock was into romantically. He hadn’t thought about it. Not only was it not his business, but Sock didn’t seem to be interested in romance at all. His work was his life, and that was pretty much the end of it, as far as Jonathan saw it. But he couldn’t help but wonder if maybe he was wrong.

“What?” Sock asked.

“What?” He was caught.

Sock grinned. “You look like you wanna ask me something.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, you have this look on your face like you wanna ask me something.”

Jonathan thought about it, about asking, but as he decided that he should just let it drop and that it really was none of his business, an unplanned “What do you like?” fell out of his mouth.

“About what?” Sock asked innocently, unfazed by Jonathan’s graceless word-vomit.

Jonathan blinked. “Uh…” He sighed. “Sorry, it’s none of my business. Don’t worry about it.”

“No, tell me! I’ll judge whether it’s too personal or not.”

“What’s your…” Jonathan finally found the words as he spoke, but he was still uncomfortable asking, “sexuality?”

“Pan,” Sock answered simply. He happily shrugged, “I like anyone and everyone. It was weird though; for the longest time I thought I was gay, and then in my freshman year of college, I got a crush on a girl and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is new’.” Sock laughed. “Why do you ask, hot lips?” Sock eyed him in a teasing, endearing way, “Got an interest?”

He was so way out of his depth. He’d never talked like this to anyone, with anyone. He wasn’t that kind of person. “No, just… curious. I’ve never seen you… ya know, care about that stuff.”

“Normally, I don’t,” Sock answered honestly. He quickly receded into his teasing tone. “But I guess if you don’t have an interest, you must be straight. People can’t keep their hands off me otherwise.” Jonathan noted the sarcasm.

“Bi.”

Sock tucked his knees to his chest, carefully removing his feet from off of Jonathan’s person. “Oh, come on. I’m just teasing, you don’t have to leave.”

Jonathan was confused for a second. “Oh. No. I’m bi, actually.”

Sock froze. “Oh m—” Then he started laughing.

Jonathan knit his brows.

Sock held out a hand. “No! No, I’m not laughing at you, I swear. I’m just laughing ‘cause…” Giggles overcame him for a moment. “I thought that all my flirting and teasing was completely null and void, and apparently it wasn’t…” He managed to tack on an “I’m sorry,” through a few more giggles. Once he caught his breath, he said, “It’s not like it affects you anyway, nothing fazes you, but… still.”

Jonathan shrugged it off. “You’re still gonna keep teasing me. I don’t see what difference it makes.”

Sock wound down, wiping a tear from the side of one eye. “Aha, true.”

Jonathan’s eyes darted to the clock, preparing himself to plead for an acceptable time to get home and away from the awkwardness of what he’d just asked. Boy, did he get enough of an excuse. He shot up. “Oh, shit. Dude, it’s almost two a.m.”

“Wait, really?” Sock’s head snapped to see the time. “Wow… I didn’t even notice.”

“Me either.”

“Here, I’ll walk you out.”

“Thanks.”

Sock walked him to the door and threw on a coat. He wanted to make sure Jonathan got in okay, but the weather would give him a hard time about it if he didn’t protect himself.

Jonathan got his coat and hat on, and turned to Sock. His voice tender, he said, “Hey… thanks for not kicking me out.”

“Of course!” Sock exclaimed, “You’re always welcome here.” The sentence was punctuated with a bright smile.

The heat in his cheeks was from putting on a coat in an already-warm house. But Jonathan hadn’t ever been so close with someone to warrant them saying something like that to him. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself that it was more from the coat than the comment, he knew better. “Thanks. Night.”

“Good night.” Sock watched as he made his way down the driveway. “Be careful,” he called from his doorframe, “it might be icy from the cold front last night.”

Jonathan nodded at him from the middle of the driveway.

He got the very end and slipped, his body coming right out from under him.

Sock burst out laughing. “Are you okay?!” he managed through his giggles.

Jonathan only answered with a glare that cut through both the darkness and the distance between him and Sock.

“Hey, it’s not my fault! I did tell you to be careful,” Sock unhelpfully pointed out.

Jonathan felt around on his forearms for the ice so he could avoid it when he got up. His tone was biting, and clouds of winter-y cold burst from his mouth with every word he spoke. “Oh, yeah. Thanks. Ya coulda told me where the ice was.”

“I could have. If I knew where it was.”

“You shoveled this. How did you not know?”

“Musta missed it. I don’t know!” Sock defended. “Human error, shoot me.”

Jonathan rolled his eyes, both at Sock and his inability to get up. The ice was a bigger patch than he’d thought, and getting up was more of a test of Jonathan’s patience than anything else. It was a battle he was starting to accept that he’d lose, and his chances only worsened when he found out that it was black ice under him.

Sock watched him flounder for a minute before striding over. “Here, lemme help.”

Sock toed the ground before where Jonathan fell, finding the last available patch of iceless driveway. He bent forward, putting one hand on his knee as he reached out with the other. “Gimme your arm.”

Jonathan hesitated a moment before he reached out for Sock. Together, they managed to hoist Jonathan back onto his feet. He stumbled a little as the toes of his Converse hit stable driveway, and he wound up a step too close to Sock.

The world spun a fraction of a fraction as they marveled at the closeness of each other.

“...Thanks.”

Sock let his arm go. “Sure.” His voice was quiet.

Jonathan whipped out his phone, enlisting a flashlight to map out where the ice was.

“Clever boy,” Sock complimented him.

Jonathan leapt over the patch of ice with a bit of effort, now standing in the middle of the street. “Well, uh… good night.”

“Night.”

Jonathan hurried over to his house. As he reached the door without incident, Sock shouted, “Aaaay, ya made it!”

“Aaaaay, shut the hell up!” Jonathan called back, triggering a lighthearted laugh from his neighbor.

They retreated into their homes, and it all sunk in.

Discoveries had been made that night. In stunned, layered whispers, the two breathed their findings to their walls as they leaned against their doors.

“He’s twenty-one.”

“He’s… bi.”