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Things have been cool, recently, but life has become fucking hectic, and that's probably the only thing Leo really misses from Life Before. “Life Before”, that's what they're calling it on the internet, the young ones – the really young ones, 13 to 16 year old kids who knew nothing beside the kind of society they had been raised within, kids experiencing freedom for the first time in their existence, kids who didn't even know they needed so many colors in their life before they started seeing them. “Life Before”, with no mention for the Revolution, the coup, the elections, as though that before didn't even refer to those things, but to something more profound, scarier, “Life Before” they could see the light, “Life Before” freedom, “Life Before” happiness.

“Life Before” was boring and uneventful, predictable and gray, it couldn't even be disappointing, because the rules that governed it were the only thing you knew. “Life Before” wasn't good and Leo doesn't regret it, but the chaos, that he doesn't particularly like, and everything has been chaos since the Revolution happened.

Luckily, not every time chaos means bad. Right this second, for example, chaos is Cody trying on a thousand different outfits all clearly inspired by sexy renditions of queen Marie Antoinette style clothes, so life could be worse, all in all, but Leo's not a fan of hysterics, considering they push Cody completely out of control, so he's enjoying watching him change in front of the full figure mirror he has nailed on the wall, but he would prefer it if Cody could do it without screeching and complaining that he looks like a Picasso painting every five minutes.

“Sweetness, you look perfect,” he says complacently when Cody asks for his opinion on his current outfit – which is something as close as a three-layered cream-covered pink-shaded cake as any kind of clothes combination will ever be – but unfortunately that's not what his boyfriend wanted to hear.

Cody turns to look at him with such fury in his eyes for a moment he looks more like his evil, leader of armies and head of security services twin than himself. “Yeah, sure, perfect!” he yells, grabbing the dress and pulling it off just to throw it on the bed, “That's what you've been saying since I started trying costumes on this morning!”

“That's because you looked perfect in all of them!” Leo answers, and, in his defense, he's not even lying. That's not to say he wouldn't say any kind of bullshit whatsoever just to make this torture stop, but in the specific situation he's not, because he really thought Cody looked great in all the outfits he's tried. Slutty queen style compliments his figure very well, and all the outfits he's tried on were variations on the theme, after all.

“How can you say that when I know for a fact that I looked like seasoned ham in the pink one, like a ball of musk in the green one and like a turd in the brown one?!” Cody whines, and then drops on the bed, face down, white limbs flashing against the dark covers.

Leo sighs, standing up from the armchair on which he's played the audience for Cody's personal nervous breakdown for the last five hours, and joining him on the bed. He sits on the edge of it, daring to stroke Cody's hair, passing his fingers through his straight, silky locks. Cody doesn't bite and he decides to take it as a good omen. “Cody,” he sighs again, “How can you know for a fact something that's just your personal opinion? As I always say whenever I give my opening statement in court, facts are things that can be proven beyond our personal beliefs and views, and believe me, facts never include opinions on looks, especially when the opinion giver is the judged subject too.”

“Don't play lawyer with me,” Cody grunts, his face buried against his neon pink pillow, “You know I don't like it.”

“I seem to recall differently,” Leo grins, unable to resist the chance for a joke Cody just served him on a silver platter and earning a weak kick against his shin in exchange for it. “Ouch...” he chuckles, and then he sighs again and leans in, placing a small kiss on Cody's nape. “Can we drop the pretense that you're freaking out for a damn outfit and talk about what you're really scared about?” he asks softly.

Of course Cody's not worried about what he's gonna wear to the parade, and of course Leo knows that very well. If there's something Cody's never been worried about, since the time he used to wear a pink tutu to go to kindergarten, it's clothes. He didn't even let the regime force him to worry about clothes, not even when the things he really wanted to wear were deemed illegal. He simply chose not to wear them when he knew it would've been dangerous to do it, allowing himself to wear them constantly on the rare occasions in which he could do that without putting himself at risk.

And here he is, now, a stunning, ridiculously lady-like twenty years old boy with snow-white skin and baby blue eyes, worrying about whether to wear a dress that makes him look like a beautiful fantasy princess out of a very dirty porn movie, and another that makes him look like a beautiful fantasy princess out of a very dirty porn movie, except in Barbie pink.

Clearly clothes are not the issue here.

The issue, of course, it's the Pride, and all the madness surrounding it, connected with it. Such madness, in fact, that Blaine welcomed it with a “well, I think I am going to spend at least a couple of weeks in Cape Verde, after all,” right before booking himself a flight out of there, despite the fact that Adam had used his trademark “you can't leave me here alone like this” look on him, trying to guilt-trip him into staying.

It hasn't been easy bringing this Pride parade to life, despite what one would be brought to believe by the fact that a bisexual person currently involved in a five-way relationship is now leading the country. There's been a lot of talk around it since the commission especially created by the Equality Party expressed its intention to organize it in spring. It was summer of the year before, and people were quick in taking sides and form a very strong opinion about it, whether it was good or bad, and now that spring has finally come, and the parade is just around the corner, the debate hasn't calmed down at all, yet.

There are basically two main lines of thinking running for leadership in public opinion, right now: one is that of the Equality Party, affirming that, after more than twenty years of tyranny, racism, isolation and obscurantism, there's no better way to celebrate the first anniversary of the Revolution and consequent liberation than a Pride parade; the other is that of the Conservative Party, or what's left of it, which is a sad handful of politicians leading a much greater mass of bigot, frightened of diversity people scattered around the country, which actually had the guts to go so far as to claim that the Equality Party and the whole Revolutionary Movement's desire to organize a parade is, in fact, cultural appropriation, as they are using a public demonstration format traditionally used to protest for unequal treatment as a mean to self-celebrate and promote the party's demagogic ideology.

Naturally, Leo disagrees with the Conservative Party. After more than twenty years of oppression, he honestly thinks the Conservative Party can go fuck itself if it feels threatened by a bunch of queens dancing through the streets dressed in their best party clothes (which, in at least a few cases, will probably be thongs).

At the same time, though, he can see the reason why a group of people which now feel oppressed, even though they don't have a right nor reasons to feel like that, would think that's inappropriate for a profoundly LGBT-oriented government to promote with a special commission a profoundly LGBT-oriented parade when the Movement has basically won everything there was to win including a war.

Leo lost count of the times he's heard, over the past few months, some random Right Wing opinion leader squawk that the city's in ruins, half its citizens don't have a proper house yet and more than half of them don't even have a job, and all the government can think about is to put on high heels and a baby doll and run through the streets with some old Ricky Martin song as a soundtrack. That's bullshit, but honestly, it's not hard to see that by promoting the parade itself the government laid itself open to any kind of accusations. From a strictly strategic point of view, promoting the Pride during such a shiny victory moment was blind, and a newbie move.

On the other side, though, the previously oppressed masses are aching for release. They're aching for a party, for a public display of playful, mindless indecency. For music and dancing and silly games and unregulated kissing in the streets. It is true that everybody's still struggling reconstructing not only the city, but their lives, but it is also true that everybody would feel better if such reconstruction was founded upon glee, rather than upon gloom.

And yet, people are tense, and Cody's no exception. And that's because Adam's no exception to tension to begin with, and Cody's always been prone to absorb Adam's moods like a sponge: back when the Revolution still meant fighting a war, it only took Cody to see Adam confidently charge through an ocean of conservative people to feel confident too. And now, now that he's seeing Adam waver, he's wavering too.

In Cody's defense, Adam truly is acting weird, and Leo honestly can't understand why.

“It's just...” Cody whines, turning on his back and offering Leo an adorable pout he can't help but kiss, “Case keeps saying the parade's gonna be dangerous, that there have been threats and so on, but I wanna go. It'd be my first Pride, I don't want it spoiled by terror.”

“Are you scared?” Leo asks with a small smile, and Cody shrugs and sighs.

“I don't know,” he answers, “I'm nervous, I guess.”

“What is Adam saying?”

“He said I should stay home,” Cody pouts even more, and Leo chuckles. “Seriously, though,” Cody insists, “He promoted the parade too, he was the first doing it, actually. And then he asks me to stay home?”

“He's just worried for you.”

“He's not worried for all the other people too, then? If there's an attack, people will die, whether or not I'm one of them.”

“That's true,” Leo nods, “But if dozens of people die, he will lose the trust of public opinion, he will lose the presidency and he will probably lose all respect of himself, and that'll be all. You die, though? He will lose his life. Of course he wants you to stay home.”

Cody frowns, pouting again. “It's not logical.”

Leo shrugs. “Doesn't have to be.”

“My life shouldn't be worth more than any other's.”

“And yet it is,” Leo smiles, leaning in and kissing him once again. “Now, come on, stop pouting. You're not gonna stay home in any case, are you?”

“No, I don't want to,” Cody shakes his head, hair flying in all directions, and his eyes are back to their usual sweet expression, “I put so much effort into organizing this, and decorating the chariot, and coming up with my costume... and besides,” he adds with a small, little smile, “I want to enjoy it. This is not just my first Pride, it's my first parade. I've never marched through the streets... except for that time, when we invaded the city. But that was different. I mean, it felt good to reclaim the city, but there was death everywhere, everything was in ruins. This is a party. I feel like going to a party.”

“I can throw you one right now,” Leo grins, kissing him on his chin.

Cody arches an eyebrow, receiving the kiss suspiciously. “A party for two?”

“Exactly,” Leo grins again as he starts moving down Cody's body, leaving kisses on his neck, shoulders and chest, “Though you should dress appropriately.”

“Really?” Cody actually chuckles, propping himself up on his elbows, “This outfit doesn't please you?”

“It does, but it's not appropriate for a party, my queen.”

Cody laughs, throwing his head back. The angels singing couldn't sound as good.

“Okay,” he says, “So which one? The pink one, the brown one or the green one?”

“So you suddenly trust my judgment on this?” Leo asks, kissing him on his navel.

Cody chuckles again. “Let's say if no one likes it I will claim temporary insanity.”

Leo nods slowly. His tongue dives into Cody's bellybutton, tentatively, and Cody shivers. That feels fucking good and easily covers up for any chaos he might cause while having a meltdown. “The pink one. I want you at your girliest.”

Cody smiles warmly and reaches out for the dress. He puts it on untidily, as it comes, and that only makes him look more beautiful and dirty.

In a second, Leo's already diving up his frilly skirt.

*

Blaine came back from Cape Verde, in the end, in time for the Pride. Not that Leo ever doubted he would – Blaine likes to pretend he doesn't care about their antics, that their mess bothers him too much to stay, but he's always there when it counts, always supporting them. He's a grown up man in a relationship with four twenty-something year old, and he's been the closest thing to a father for two-fourths of them, while playing the role of guide through the gates for a whole new golden world for the other two: of course he wants to be there when it counts.

Adam was just on the verge of starting to doubt him, when he showed up, wearing a floral green and white shirt and white linen pants, and a huge and probably female pair of sunglasses propped up on his head, holding back his wild mane of black wide curls. He appeared on the door, bathed in light, looking like some sort of very well kept, mature, fantasy-Harlequin-cover inspired angel, and Leo could swear he saw tears dawning in Mr. President's eyes.

“You're back!” he said, joyously.

“Of course I am,” Blaine grunted, “You can't do a thing without me.”

Adam didn't even bother denying, and then they sat down, and started working on Adam's speech.

It's been three days since then, and now Leo's standing next to Adam in front of what has been called “the Presidential chariot”, which is the chariot Adam will ride, leading the whole parade, down to the White House, and Leo thought Blaine's presence would have been enough to calm Adam down, but, as it turns out, it wasn't.

Adam's been quite a mess, since the Pride has been announced. He's been avoiding them, even Cody, which was practically unheard of. What was even more shocking is that, up to the day before Blaine flew to Cape Verde, he refused to seek for his council too, something he usually does repeatedly, even when the only thing he has to decide is if it'd be better to wear a white or a black shirt.

Leo didn’t ask, he didn’t try to make Adam talk about it – that is not the kind of relationship they have. Maybe when they were younger, when they were just kids and they used to talk about everything, maybe back then, seeing him in such distress, Leo would’ve tried to investigate the reason of it, he would’ve asked questions; perhaps, he would’ve even tried to find a solution to whatever was stressing him out like that.

But things have changed between them. It wasn’t just the different lives they’ve led, one of them inside the society, the other well outside of it, and it wasn’t just having to share Cody the way they do. It’s both things intertwined and nothing in particular. There’s a distance between them – most of the time they dance around it, especially now that they’re reconnecting, but not every time they can – or want to. When serious problems are concerned, none of them instantly thinks about going to the other. First, they always think about going to Blaine.

Back when they were children, it wouldn’t have been like this – and not just because none of them had met Blaine yet. They were each other’s go-to person. Something wasn’t right in Leo’s life, he’d go ask Adam to straighten it up. Something got confused in Adam’s mind, he’d go ask Leo to make it clearer for him.

They lost that. And Leo sometimes regrets it.

“So,” he says, looking straight at the chariot as he clears his throat, trying not to let the tension in Adam’s limbs infect his own voice, “Big day today, huh?”

Adam doesn’t answer right away. He keeps his eyes fixed on the chariot too, but his mind’s not there, that much Leo knows. “You have no idea,” he mutters under his breath.

Yeah, of course, Leo thinks as he frowns, turning to look at him. That’s typical of Adam. Thinking so highly and mightily about himself and his new role in society that he believes no one else can understand his struggle. “For your information,” he replies, irritated, “Despite not being the President I am perfectly aware of how important and potentially dangerous today is, okay? You don’t have to look down on me.”

Adam mechanically turns towards him too, and his brown eyes are open wide, shocked. He looks so honestly taken aback that, for a second, Leo’s bother falters too. Adam looks like he wants to say something, but it’s the matter of a second: he quickly shakes his head and looks away again, and that’s it. “Never mind,” he says, and soon after he’s climbing on top of the chariot.

Leo groans, grabbing the rope Adam just used to climb up next to him, but Adam stops him.

“What are you doing?” he asks, frowning deeply.

“I’m climbing up,” Leo answers, frowning too, “Since Cody doesn’t want me on his chariot, says I’d ruin the picture cos I look like shit in a petticoat, figured I could just ride with you.”

“No you can’t,” Adam frowns even deeper, “Go down the road. Find a chariot in the back.”

“Hey,” Leo almost growls – Adam’s attitude’s starting to infuriate him – “Listen, stop acting like the freaking hero of the day, okay? It’s been years since you took the city, and believe me, since then we, the people living in the real society and not in some high castle conveniently called White House to make it look closer to the people, we, the people fighting for other people’s rights, we have been the heroes. And even during the revolution, I seem to recall having a pretty big part in what resulted into the movement’s victory, so I think I deserve a—”

“Go the fuck back and find another chariot to ride, Leo!” Adam yells, stopping him halfway through the sentence, “Can you, for once, don’t turn this into a competition between us, and fucking obey the order?!” And then his voice suddenly breaks, as he adds, with some strain, “Please.”

This was an outburst Leo wasn’t prepared for. Adam’s got a fiery personality, he’s passionate, prone to useless acts of heroism and always ready to jump into action before he can properly think about the situation at hand, but one thing he’s not prone to, and that’s losing his shit. And he just did.

Leo lets go of the rope, touching down on the ground with a soft thud. He cannot as easily let go of his rage, though.

“Fine, then,” he growls, straightening his jacket. He’s wearing party clothes that feel as far from his real state of mind he almost feels awkward in them. Weren’t they a perfectly tailored suit chosen by Blaine in order to perfectly fit on him, he’d get rid of them. “I’ll go find my own little spot in the darkness. As always. Don’t worry about me.”

As he walks away from the presidential chariot, he confusedly hears Adam whisper “it will be impossible, today of all days”. But he pays it no mind.

*

He finds Meredith’s chariot and jumps on it with no second thought, gathering his girl in his arms the moment she’s close enough to allow that. Meredith laughs like church bells ringing and gets up on her tiptoes to kiss him on his chin. She smells like peach and cotton candy and for a second, as he holds her, Leo’s completely and perfectly happy.

“I thought you’d be with Adam,” she says, sitting on her papier-mache throne, leaving him enough space to do the same as the kids coming in all colors, ages and shapes from the Opportunity Shelter cheer running around them, feeling that the chariot’s starting to move.

“Yeah, I thought so too,” he answers grumpily, “But his majesty had other plans. He wants the spotlight for himself alone, God forbid anyone could ever miss his hero pose next time he strikes one.”

Meredith chuckles and leans in, kissing him on his cheek. “And Cody didn’t want you with him, right?”

“Apparently, petticoats don’t suit me.”

“You do look better in suits, that’s for sure.”

Leo groans, leaning against her shoulder and then hiding his face against the soft, warm, heavenly scented nook of her neck. “No one loves me, Em. I’ve got three partners and you all mock me and hate me.”

“Oh, come on, Leo, don’t be dramatic,” she smiles, and Leo feels the shape of her smile against his own forehead as she passes delicate fingers through his curly, messy locks. Some people have chamomile, he’s got Meredith. She’s the only part of Life Before he still holds dear to his heart, and every time he thinks about it he can’t help but realize how lucky he’s been, even in misfortune: in a world where boys and girls inevitably ended up being paired with dramatically mismatched partners, he got paired with the love of his life.

“I just got a bad feeling,” he confesses, feeling safe in the protected territory that is her body, “There’s something I can’t quite get that’s not working the way it should. Adam’s too nervous, Cody’s on edge, Blaine seems even more annoyed by us than he already usually is…”

“You’re overthinking,” Meredith smiles understandingly, kissing him softly on his lips, “Everybody’s just really fretting because of the Pride. The moment it’s over, they’ll calm down again, and you’ll be left with a very good prize.”

Leo raises his eyebrows, as he looks back up at her. “A prize?”

She smirks the way she only does when she’s thinking about dirty things. “Have you seen Cody yet?”

Leo blushes, as always embarrassed – not matter how much time has passed and how usual this kind of conversation has become between them – when Meredith even so much as imply to him having sex with someone else but her.

“Not yet,” he admits, looking down, “I passed by the chariot coming here but I couldn’t see him.”

“I saw him when he came say hi to the children before he climbed up there,” Meredith says, her eyes turning dreamy as always when she speaks of Cody. Sensitive to beauty to a fault, Meredith has always looked at Cody as she would look to some ground-shaking, terrifyingly beautiful testimony of the greatness of Mother Nature. To her, Cody holds the same kind of fascination great heights hold over climbers: he’s potentially lethal, but she can’t stop looking at him in awe.

“Was he very beautiful?” he asks with a sigh, already knowing the answer to the question.

“He was otherworldly,” she says with a tiny squeal, “I think I creamed my pants a little. He looked like he was begging to be taken by force, and at the same time so regal and aloof I—”

“Em, babe,” Leo chuckles, holding her hand in his own, “The kids.”

“The kids were worse than me, they kept trying to get under his skirt,” she chuckles back, “I think a few of them might’ve entered puberty upon seeing him alone.”

Leo can’t help but chuckle, knowing that is, more or less, what happened to him too when he first saw Cody playing alone in that garden, wearing that adorable pink tutu, back when he was three years old and full of promises.

“I’ll wait patiently, then,” he decides, settling more comfortably on the throne next to Meredith, “Once we’re back home, and this is over, I’ll judge if it’s been worth it or not.”

Meredith answers with a secret, silent smile. She already knows all the answers, his girl, she always did. If she’s sure of something, Leo can reasonably believe it’s gonna turn out true in the end, and so he relaxes, and he tries to enjoy the parade. The whole city’s partying, there are protestors but their voices are so low they get overrun by the cheerful sounds of the crowd. Every street is doused in colors, there are rainbow flags draped everywhere, around streetlamps, around people, covering the metal bars of every single balcony. Happiness has turned into more than just a feeling, but a physical, visual representation of itself. It’s colors, it’s sounds, it’s the feeling of warmth of finding oneself welcomed into an accepting, understanding community, and yes, even the feeling of unity coming by facing a common enemy together, so that part of the reason why the Pride turns into an outstanding success is to be found in the little groups of protestors too, because every boo sent their way unifies the community even more, thousands of people melting into one single voice, one single face. Leo likes to think it’s Cody’s. But it might just as well be his own, because he’s part of this too, and this is part of him, intimately, like another shade of his soul.

The parade traverses the whole city, dancing on a tacky, ancient, disco music background soundtrack, and only stops in the square in front of the White House, a few hours later. By then, most of Leo’s annoyance and disappointment has been allowed to leave his body, carried out by the mess and the loud cheering and the happy faces of the people surrounding him, especially those of Cody’s shelter’s children. He left them with Meredith, as he had his own frilly chariot to ride, but Leo’s sure he had a hand in the clothes they’re wearing and in the way their faces are full of edible make-up. Half of them have been eating lipstick off each other’s faces for the last half hour, and things were getting so dangerously out of control, with tongues viciously trying to get way too close to eyes in an attempt to lick off strawberry flavored eye-shadow, that Meredith had to produce a bag full of chocolate snacks, seemingly out of nowhere, just to get them off one another. It’s been, obviously, amazing, and Leo’s laughed his ass off the whole time, which substantially contributed to keep him smiling up to now, as he watches the chariots disperse and settle in circular formation all around the Greek mythology inspired fountain dominating the square from its marble pedestal.

Purity Square (that’s how the previous government renamed it, though no one calls it like that anymore: everybody prefers the “dirty as fuck” that’s been written over it in pink spray paint during the re-conquering of the city) is completely packed. People swarm in through Main Street and settle around the chariots, following the presidential one with their eyes, waiting for it to stop somewhere.

It does, in the end, right next to the fountain. The sound of the water is soothing and yet, at the same time, powerful. The perfect soundtrack for one of Adam’s speeches.

Leo watches him as he climbs up the pedestal in the middle of his chariot. It seems strange, considering that somewhere around the square there’s a chariot decorated Versailles-style – there it is, Leo finally spots it, and on top of it, reigning over it as its rightful queen, Cody, dressed in the pink gown Leo already saw him wear a few days before, though on that occasion he concentrated more on how Cody looked underneath it, than inside of it – but the presidential chariot might just be the most colorful and loud of the parade. It’s packed with drag queens, among which Blaine sits comfortably, as if he was one of them, and covered in rainbow flags. Mounted on top of it are the loudspeakers spreading music throughout the city and in the short handful of hours Leo spent away from him Adam somehow managed to get himself wearing the dirtiest shade of red lipstick ever – and someone already managed to smear it off his mouth, clear sign that one of the nice ladies riding with him must’ve taken the chance to thank Mr. President for his hard, hard work with a nice payment in kind.

The moment Adam stands on the pedestal, and takes in the whole square with his eyes, an electric silence falls upon it. Everybody’s waiting to hear the sound of his voice, and Leo finds himself anticipating it himself too. Adam’s full of flaws, from a general and a very subjective point of view both, but he has a way to catalyze everyone’s attention with his mere presence. Your eyes fall on the gleam of his blonde wavy hair, they get caught in the trap of his hazel eyes, and there it goes, you’re spellbound.

Spellbound too, Leo watches and listens silently, like the rest of the whole city does.

“Back when we started talking about bringing the Pride back to life, a lot of people, even the closest to me, suggested me not to.” He could remain on top of the pedestal, but he chooses not to: after the first few words, he’s already climbed off it, and he’s walking slowly up and down the chariot, not even using a microphone. “Even my Prime Minister,” he throws an affectionate glance at Blaine, and a clever smile that makes all the ladies on his chariot go oooh, “Told me it wouldn’t have been safe. And my head of security, geez,” he whistles and the crowd snickers, as Casey, apparently petrified behind him, doesn’t move an inch, “I thought he was gonna lock me in. You can’t do this, he said, it’s too dangerous. Now, of course I knew he was right. Shit, they were all right, and it was true, I shouldn’t have moved forward with it, I should’ve waited. Or maybe the right wing’s right too, in a sense, maybe this was not really necessary, after all, but you know what? I say fuck you to what’s necessary, we, the people, need something that’s good too, every now and then. So how was today, huh? Was it good?”

The loud cheering coming from the crowd instantly after he asks the question is answer enough. There are people jumping up and down everywhere, swinging flags, calling his name. Leo clicks his tongue, looking away. “Clown,” he mutters under his breath.

Meredith chuckles, slipping her hand inside his and holding it. “He’s giving them what they want,” she says, “He’s hosting a party, after all. He’s the emcee.”

“He likes to have an audience, that’s for sure.”

Meredith chuckles again, and kisses him on his temple. Chuckles and kisses are what is keeping him sane, at the moment.

“Well, I’m glad to hear that,” Adam goes on with a smile on his face, “Cos at least when I get slammed tonight at the White House I’ll have that going for me, at least you had fun.” He laughs, and the crowd laughs with him. If ever a people’s been represented by his president, this is the case, Leo thinks, unable to suppress the little spark of admiration that always rises in him, despite himself, when he watches Adam work the crowds like that. “But another thing I will say when they scold me for doing whatever the hell I wanted, as always, will be that I understand where their fears are coming from, but that I refuse to surrender to them. This is not a time of fear anymore, this is a time for rejoicing, and growing up, and becoming what we were always meant to be, a rich, proud, happy country, made out of rich, proud, happy people. My people,” he says, embracing them all with his arms. It’s warmer than it’d be if he really held them all in his arms, and the crowd cheers again. Leo can see Cody stand up from his Marie Antoinette throne, and he’s cheering and clapping his hands with the rest of them. Part of him is so jealous he could pull a JFK on Adam right here and now, but once again Meredith chuckles and kisses him, and once again he’s saved.

“This doesn’t mean, though…” Adam starts talking again, and in the blink of an eye his voice has turned completely different. Lower, more intimate. He’s on the verge of a confession, and it shocks Leo to see that he’s prepared to do it in front of so many people depending on him for everything. “That I wasn’t scared. I was. I kept thinking, what if something goes wrong? Then it’ll be all my fault. What if something bad happens and someone gets hurt?” His eyes wander over the crowd and Leo could swear, he could swear that, after seeing them linger on Cody, they moved on himself. “I could lose your favor, your trust. I could lose someone I love. I was scared of that, and I had to face those fears, and you wanna know how I did that?” he smiles again, and the sun couldn’t shine any brighter, “I spoke. With a person. Someone as close to me as my own very heart.” Now it’s clear he’s talking about Cody. Leo can’t see him in such details, but he can perfectly picture him arrange his body in the constant tension that possesses it when he wants to reach out for Adam and he can’t. “This person… he’s one of the most damaged people I know. He’s been through hell. The last government took a lot away from me, but at least it never stole my freedom, while this person, this amazing, brilliant human being has been captive 90% of his life. He’s lived in fear since he was a toddler, and so, believe me, he knows fear and understands it even better than any of us gathered here today can. And yet,” his eyes light up, it can be seen clearly despite the distance. Only two things can make Adam light up like that, one is Cody, the other politics. “Yet, when I asked him what did he think about the Pride, he didn’t hesitate a second. He told me he couldn’t wait for it, that he knew it was gonna be amazing. Now, if a person like that, scarred, chased and mistreated his whole life, if a person like that, despite his fears, can look with such anticipation at an event like this, what right do I have to let my fears ruin it? And when you go back to your home, later today or tomorrow if you’re from out of town, next time you think about doing something and you find yourself rethinking it because you’re scared… think about this. Think about this moment. And the countless children of the ghetto who, despite their fears, are here, today, enjoying themselves, having a party. If they can move past their fears and do whatever the hell makes them happy, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t all do the same.”

In an instant, the whole square seems to explode. Music starts playing again and everyone’s screaming, and a tiny figure wrapped in pink – Cody, for sure – is quickly climbing off the Versailles chariot, to run towards Adam, who’s climbing off his chariot too, humbly leaving the rest of the party to the city after bathing in its love once again.

Sighing deeply, Leo places a soft kiss on the back of Meredith’s hand, and then stands up. “I better get down there,” he says glumly.

She nods, understandingly. “I will stay with the kids,” she says, “And then I’ll see you home.”

The only thing Leo can think of, as he walks towards the fountain, where he knows he will find the rest of this ridiculously messed up family he takes pride into having started, is that he hopes the time for seeing Meredith again tonight comes soon, because he feels confused, mildly angry and a little lost, and when he’s in such a state no one else can fix him quite like her.

Things end up taking an unexpected turn, however, when he gets to the fountain. He finds Adam and Cody kissing, with Blaine watching them with a fond smile on his lips, as expected, but what he didn’t expect and happens nonetheless is that, upon seeing him, Adam breaks the kiss with Cody and hastens to run towards him, holding him by his shoulders and shaking him a little.

“Did you see that, Leo?” he says cheerfully, “Everything was fine! No one died!”

“Whoa,” Leo raises an eyebrow, “You’re setting the bar pretty low if your goal for a successful Pride is to make sure that no one dies.”

Adam laughs happily, leaning in to kiss him on his lips. For a second, he’s close enough that Leo can see every detail of his perfect face, hear every undertone of his perfect laughter. For a second, it’s not a mystery anymore why a whole nation would put its own fate in such hands.

Then, Leo’s eyes focus on Cody, a few steps behind Adam. With his make-up barely holding up, his disheveled hair and his beautiful gown turned into a mess by the hours of dancing and running around and, no doubt, Adam’s hands slithering up and down everywhere in the short while it took Leo to walk from the children’s chariot to the fountain, he looks more like an apparition than a human being. A beautiful whorish angel, ready to cleanse you off your sins with a touch of his ruby red lips.

Cody walks towards him with a happy smile on his face. He seems to be moving in slow motion, but that might just be Leo.

“Let’s go home,” he says in a whisper, holding his hand first, and then Adam’s.

It’s an invitation, a promise and a threat, all wrapped up together, and Leo’s not sure he can detect when one ends and the others begin.

*

Adam’s different, tonight, Leo knows him enough to see that pretty clearly.

When they got home, they all collapsed on the couches in front of the TV, too exhausted to move. The constant, reassuring – though a little creepy – presence of Casey and his men out the door allowed them to let down their guard, and so, as they watched recaps of the glorious day on the news, Blaine started snoring softly on the armchair, Leo rested his head on Meredith’s lap as she painted his nails in black and Adam sat next to Cody, and instantly started kissing him.

Now, it’d probably come as a surprise to the most part of his loyal subjects, by now well accustomed to their president’s habit of smooching people of all genders and orientation as part of his “political kissing” routine, but Adam is definitely not a sexual person. In fact, though he likes kissing a lot, he tends not to do that often, in intimate situations, because he’s ridiculously good at it – one of the many things Leo envies of him – and very passionate, and that may induce the kissed to believe he might be in the disposition to have sex, not to mention put the kissed in the disposition to have sex themselves, while normally, if he’s not in one of his “on” periods, Adam is never horny, and therefore never has sex.

He’s especially careful with Cody, when it comes to that, because he’s spent the majority of his life kissing Cody stupid and then withdrawing one second before taking him, and he knows very well that he can’t afford to rile Cody up and then back off with a “never mind” anymore, so he knows better than kissing him the way he’s kissing him when he’s not thinking about a segue.

Leo’s trying not to pay attention to them. He hates the way Adam kisses, which means that he loves how he does it, because he’s freaking good at it, and Leo’s jealous of it. But the TV volume is low, and it’s impossible to escape the slow sound of smooching, and the tiny whimpers escaping Cody’s lips every time Adam’s fingers touch his skin with a stronger pressure. As it is impossible to ignore the silent pause that precedes Cody exhaling and then whispering “you wanna stay the night”.

On any other night, that would’ve been a question. Tonight, it isn’t. Tonight, Cody’s sure of it.

“Yes,” Adam whispers back. Leo raises his head to take a look at them and finds them with their forehead pressed against one another, their eyes closed, lips brushing with every short breath. They’re even holding hands, their fingers entwined like vines. So freaking intense it makes him wants to roll his eyes at the sky.

Cody smiles and presses a kiss on Adam’s nose. “I’ll wait for you upstairs,” he says, disentangling himself from his embrace. Leo watches him climb off the couch and leave the room and, groaning, turns on the side, facing the television. He hugs Meredith’s knees like a pillow and simply hopes they don’t get too noisy, upstairs, but soon enough he smells Adam’s scent, too close to be that of a man walking away, and he turns, finding him standing in front of the couch, looking down at him.

“What the hell do you want?” he growls, confrontationally, “Isn’t your princess waiting for you upstairs?”

Adam just stares at him silently for a few seconds. Then he crouches on the ground, right in front of him. He puts a hand on Meredith’s knees for balance – Leo doesn’t miss the strength with which his fingers close around it, and doesn’t waste the chance to get jealous of that too – and leans in, pressing his lips against Leo’s in an urgent kiss. A pretty chaste one, too, he’s seen Adam kiss strangers way more dirtily than this – hell, he himself has been kissed by Adam way more dirtily than this – but nonetheless pretty intense.

Taken aback, he looks at him, completely dumbstruck, for an eternity of seconds. Then, Adam tells him to come, and holds out his hand for him.

This has never happened, and Leo has no idea how to react to it. He turns to look at Meredith, but she keeps smiling fondly watching the news, as if she didn’t wanna intrude in the moment, and Leo understands that this is his own choice, and she can’t help him make it. So he looks back at Adam and nods slowly, taking his hand and letting him guide him upstairs.

In the bedroom, Cody’s already lying on the bed naked, waiting. He’s expecting only Adam, so when he sees them both he gets up on his knees and tenses all over, his eyes darting uncertainly from Leo to Adam and vice-versa, searching for an answer. Leo knows how he loves to have them both in the same bed, and he also knows this rarely ever happens, so it’s not hard to guess that his heart must be beating like crazy, right now. Just like his own: sometimes Cody may ask for threesomes, but Adam never does. Instead, he wanted him here, tonight. And there’s something different about him, a golden gleam Leo can’t quite translate into words. It’s an aura that’s been with him since this morning, since before the Pride, actually. If Leo tries to think back, he realizes it’s been there for the past few days, at least, since Adam started to act so nervously. Leo had thought it’d just be the fact that he was afraid. But Adam’s not afraid right now, and yet the aura is still there.

There must be something else, and Leo’s tempted to ask, but he simply doesn’t have the time to do so, because soon after they’ve gotten into the room Adam has already taken him by his hand, and he’s guiding him towards the bed. He climbs on it, urging Leo to do the same, and then takes Cody in his arms, kissing him fiercely. He’s hard, even Leo can see that, the bulge at his crotch rubbing insistently against Cody’s thigh, making Cody whimper and moan.

“Am I dreaming…?” Cody whispers, searching for Leo’s hands. Guided by an instinct Leo never knew before, he wraps his arms around Cody’s waist from behind, welcoming him against his chest as Adam’s doing it against his own.

“If you are, then I am too,” he answers in a lost, low voice.

Adam laughs, and his laughter sounds so vibrant, sure and intense, that Leo can’t help getting carried away with it. It’s the laughter of a man who knows what he’s doing, and though it is unnerving, and upsetting, he likes to be dragged inside it with no forewarning. He gets closer to Cody, squeezing his slim, pale body between his own and Adam’s. Cody whimpers, feeling both their hardnesses, one against his crotch, the other against his ass.

“You two are gonna drive me crazy, tonight, aren’t you…?” he asks weakly.

Adam leans in and kisses him on his neck, then on his jaw, and finally on his lips. “Just a little bit,” he answers, “Now move aside, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Leo doesn’t get what’s about to happen before it’s too late to back off, and even if he did he’s not sure he would have. Adam has this ability to surprise you, to always do the opposite of what you’re expecting him to do. Up to a few months ago, Leo would’ve said that this was his game, the part he liked to play, but now he knows better than this. That is what Adam is, profoundly. Like all heroes, he’s unbearable, amazing and unpredictable. You either fall savagely in love with him, or you fall in love with him and you start hating him because of it. In both cases, though, you can’t help but follow him blindly.

Adam kneels before him, and Leo feels his heart jump up in his throat.

“Lie down,” he says, and Leo answers with a ridiculous strangled noise that makes Cody chuckle.

He complies, nonetheless. Gets down on his ass first, then lies down and props himself up on his elbows to make sure he doesn’t miss a second of this, as Adam crouches between his legs and starts helping him get rid of his pants.

“You can’t be serious…” he says, out of breath.

Adam snickers, unzipping Leo’s pants. “Don’t read too much into it, dude,” he says, “I just want Cody to enjoy the show.”

But Leo knows this isn’t true, not completely, anyway. Adam never does anything he doesn’t really want, especially when sex is involved. If he’s doing this now, a part of him, doesn’t matter how big or important, wants it. As upsetting as it is, Leo likes the thought.

As Adam leans in, and takes him in his mouth, Leo throws his head back and gasps, cos the bastard is as good mouth-on-dick as he is mouth-on-mouth. There’s something shameless, dirty and incredibly sexy in the way he unapologetically swirls his tongue around Leo’s shaft, tracing wet circles on his hot, oversensitive skins. It’s something more than skill, it’s like he’s making a statement with every movement he makes. His mouth says “so I like to suck dick, do you have a problem with that?”, even though he’s not spelling out any word, and that’s what makes it so exciting, that’s what makes even simply standing next to him so thrilling, all the time: Adam’s not just a politician and he’s not just a hero, he’s a rebel, his whole attitude constantly speaks of dare, every step he takes, in any direction, is him throwing a challenge in the face of the rest of the world. And when he involves you in it, when he touches you and kisses you and blows you and jerks you off, it’s like he’s making you the instrument of his revolution. You’re the loudspeaker his rebel yell uses to shake the world down to its foundations.

Leo surrenders to his touch, to the movements of his tongue. He surrenders completely, moans of pleasure escaping his lips with no control whatsoever, and he rocks his hips accordingly to the way Adam’s head moves, and all the while he can’t help but think that he hates him, he hates this guy for being so freaking perfect, and at the same time he has no idea what he’d do if he didn’t have him in his life, because the mere thought of waking up tomorrow in a world that might not be the place where Adam lives is annihilating.

Cody curls up against his side, and his softness contrasts so pleasantly with the hardness of Adam’s muscles that Leo could weep with joy if he only didn’t know for sure that Adam would register it in the back of his mind and use it against him sometime in the future. “Do you like it?” he asks, sweet and dangerous like poisonous sugar.

“Yeah,” Leo answers, short of breath, and his hand darts forward, slipping underneath Cody’s body, which moves to favor the movement, only to close around his buttock, squeezing hard. “Not as I’d like fucking you, but it makes for a nice overture.”

Adam stops blowing him all of a sudden, letting go of his throbbing shaft to laugh and take a breather. “Liar,” he says, jerking him off rather quickly. Friction and wetness threaten to make Leo yell, but he’s determined to hold his shit together, especially now that he’s aware of Cody’s proximity.

“Don’t push your luck, Walker,” he answers, parting from him and his magic hand, though it breaks his heart to do so, “I came up here and I haven’t kicked you out of the bed yet, but that’s just cos you haven’t made me lose my patience, yet.”

“Right, it’s hard to find time to lose one’s patience, when one’s being blown out of his wits,” Adam grins, and Leo laughs, leaning in to slap him on his nape.

“Shut up, dickhead,” he says, but there’s no mean undertone in his voice. Adam’s actions set the mood for this, and thank God it’s a good one. Leo turns to look at Cody, and kisses him right away, getting on his knees to push him down into the mattress. “Look at the mess Mr. President made,” he comments, playfully, “I’m all wet and sticky. Who’s gonna take care of that?”

Cody laughs out loud, pressing a hand against his face. “Don’t be dirty, please.”

“What?” Leo protests, disappointedly, “Why? You let him be dirty.”

“It’s different,” Cody laughs again, and nonchalantly parts his legs to welcome Leo between them. Then he closes them once again, this time behind Leo’s back, trapping him against his own body. Leo can feel the warmth of his skin and the electric eagerness emanating from it. It’s amazing, and it’s even more amazing that all three of them can share this moment, be happy, be at ease together, for once. Cody mewls and pulls himself up, closer to Leo’s ear, just to whisper: “I wanna feel you inside, now,” and Leo follows his words as if they were an order, thrusting inside him in one swift, quick push.

One day, Leo will have enough words to describe what it feels to be buried inside Cody’s body. What it means to hold him so close to be able to feel all the nooks and crannies of his soft, soft body. For now, the only feeling that quite describes what he experiences when they have sex, together, of course, with such a numbing pleasure he still feels it hours after they’ve finished, is gratitude. Gratitude that he still has him and can call him his own. Gratitude that Cody allows him to get so close to him despite the struggles they’ve gone through over the years. Gratitude that, no matter how complicated it gets with the rest of the family, he can always retrace on the little marks of his skins all the beautiful, amazing things that Cody means to him, and how awesome it was to fight, really fight, to get him back.

And if he has this to be so grateful of, that is partly because of Adam. He needs to admit that, with himself if with no one else. It’s because Adam kept him alive, it’s because Adam kept his flame alive, and it’s because he fought too, that today they’re here, all of them alive, all of them on the verge of real, full happiness.

So, sometimes, Adam deserves a show of gratitude too.

He gathers Cody in his arms and helps him up, and as he sits on his ass he arranges Cody on his lap, turning him with his back towards Adam. Cody whimpers, moans and protests, and finally bumps him on top of his head, pouting. “You could’ve asked,” he says, pretending to be annoyed that Leo did it all by himself.

Leo smiles and kisses him, silencing him with a stronger thrusts that open him up and exposes him to Adam. And it’s Adam Leo looks at, above Cody’s shoulder, as he gestures him to come closer. “Come here, Mr. President,” he grins, “Come reap what you sow.”

“Hey!” Cody protests again, but Adam’s fast enough to make him completely forget about it. He approaches him from behind, and it takes him less than a second to place the tip of his cock against Cody’s opening, which, despite being fully stretched and occupied, already, answers by clenching and relaxing rhythmically in such a way it forces a strangled moan out of Leo’s throat.

“Shit, sweets, calm down,” he says, heaving, “You’re gonna make me come.”

“I can’t help it…” Cody moans desperately, moving frantically on top of him, trying to arch his back to force Adam’s cock to slip inside, “Adam… nh… please…”

Leo watches Adam smirk like some sort of wicked, blonde, impish elf, and the second after he feels a cumbersome presence push against his own cock, and he knows Adam’s dick is making its way inside of Cody’s body, and the discharge of pleasure and pain mixed together coming from it is so strong, so overwhelming, that Cody loses all of his attitude in one second, and he’s reduced to a tiny, broken, whimpering mess right away. And Leo loves Cody’s attitude, but not as much as he adores to see him like this. To see him like only Adam and him combined can reduce him. Broken open, dirty, helpless and lost.

Everything becomes blurry, after that. Adam feels huge and he’s so hard Leo can barely stand his own ground, but it’s a battle he’s glad to be fighting, because it feels amazing, this hard presence rubbing against him, trapped, together with him, in the hot, wet tightness of Cody’s opening. They’re comrades in arms, probably for the first time ever, Adam and him, fighting side by side to win the resistance of their lover’s body.

When Cody comes with a loud yell and collapses, completely spent, between their bodies, they know they’ve won the war, and Leo doesn’t care about sharing anymore. There’s no jealousy left in him, no desire to compete, no inferiority complex to battle against. Just pure, simple bliss. He comes, and his pleasure mixes up with Adam’s, and for a second everything is sticky, messy and unbelievable.

Then he collapses too, too tired to even come out of Cody’s body, and everything becomes pleasantly dark.

*

He wakes up uncharacteristically early. Outside is still pretty dark, though the feeble light of dawn is already starting to turn the sky indigo blue. Cody’s sleeping peacefully next to him and, in his sleep, he’s gotten all tangled up in the blanket, which has forced his arms up and his wrists tied together. That’s exactly what Leo means when he says he seems to have been built for sex: he ends up being suggestive even when he’s unconscious.

“You’re thinking about putting your hands on him again, aren’t you?” Adam says in a short chuckle, and Leo’s glad he talked, because he was so concentrated on Cody he probably would’ve ended up touching him anyway, with no regards with whoever else might be in the room, simply because he wouldn’t have noticed it.

“Yeah,” he answers honestly, propping himself up on his elbow to mirror Adam’s pose on the other side of Cody and the bed, “But then again I rarely think about anything else when he’s around, so…”

Adam chuckles again, shaking his head. “You clearly have a problem,” he says.

Leo shrugs dismissively. “We all learned to live with it, so it’s not a problem anymore. Speaking of which, though…” he casts a suspicious glance at Adam, “What got into you today? Or rather, the last couple of weeks? You’ve been impossible. You made Blaine run away to Cape Verde.”

“Blaine is always ready to find any excuse to leave.”

“Yeah, okay, still, you know what I mean,” Leo frowns, because the fact that Adam didn’t acknowledge it right away in all honesty, like he usually does when he’s got a problem, is even more suspicious, “There was something eating at you. But you were different, tonight, the tension was gone. I can’t believe it was just a pre-horny phase.”

“In fact it wasn’t,” Adam laughs, and then gives in to a sweeter smile, “You still read me pretty well, huh?”

Leo can’t help but blush and look away. Stupid perfect face.

“Whatever. Just spill the beans.”

“Okay,” Adam chuckles, and looks down, playing with one of Cody’s fingers, so gently that Cody doesn’t even move in his sleep. “I was trying to decide something. Or… to put it better, I had decided something and I was trying to understand if my decision was right or not.”

Leo raises an eyebrow. “And the tension’s gone now because…?”

“Because I decided I was right,” Adam says, smiling confidently at him. The first rays of sunlight emerge from the horizon, making his hair shine blindly for a second. “I want you all to come live with me at the White House. I had decided if things went smoothly with the Pride, I would’ve asked you.” His smile widens, and Leo is blinded for the second time in as many seconds. “So, I’m asking you.”

So that’s what he was hiding.

And Leo can feel it. Every last barrier he could’ve put up against Adam, it’s crumbling down like the walls of the ghetto did when they took the city back and dismantled them. He’s tired of fighting against him, against the idea of him. He’s tired of looking at him and seeing an enemy instead of an ally. He wants to be together with him, like he was when they were children. He wants to be the instrument of his revolution. He wants his family to become that instrument, and he wants to wield that instrument like a peaceful weapon from the White House, from where everyone’s gonna be able to see it.

His heart jumps in his throat and leaps to his lips, when he throws his arms around Adam, making Cody whimper and whine in his sleep. “Everybody’s gonna freak out,” he says, chuckling.

Adam laughs too, putting him back where he belongs, not to disturb Cody any longer. “Sounds amazing.”

*

Three hours later, Cody’s vacuuming a cup the size of a first course plate filled with chocolate milk and star-shaped cornflakes, and he’s talking about his great nightly adventure with everyone who’s willing to listen, which means primarily Meredith, who’s sipping a glassful of fresh-squeezed orange juice sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter while Blaine, already disgusted with the recount of the erotic exploits two of his pupils carried out with the boy he’s raised as a child of his own, drowns his sorrows in a cup of dark coffee.

“I swear to God, I had never come this hard,” Cody’s saying, his mouth half full of cornflakes, “I was devastated, afterwards, couldn’t even move my legs!”

Meredith chuckles, swinging her own legs in excitement. “That sounds amazing,” she says.

Leo laughs, shaking his head as he washes his hands after squeezing a thousand oranges for her. “Let it go, sweets, come on, you’re killing Blaine.”

“Oh, don’t mind me,” Blaine answers with a dreadful voice, “If everything goes according to my plan, I will be in Costa Smeralda comes tomorrow morning.”

“Slow down, old man,” Adam says, finally deciding to join them in the kitchen. He took his time taking a shower and combing his hair, before he came downstairs. Leo knows he wanted to be at his best for the announcement, and sharing the secret with him for these last few seconds feels incredibly good. “First, I’ve got something to ask you all.”

Leo gives in to a discreet smile, puts away the juicer and waits for the room to detonate.