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in medias res

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"you don't, ah.. have to feel obligated or anything, i just thought i'd.. extend the offer. put it out there. on the table."

"that's very kind of you, leo. and, for the record, i don't.. wouldn't feel obligated-- not! not.. not that i don't want to, it's just.. ah..."

leo's tapping his pen on the counter, not even fully aware of the movement, the hastily scrawled out

to-do list! (with added gusto, hence the exclamation point!) 

sitting before him, daunting, accompanied by a plate of half-eaten french fries, less daunting and more delicious but his stomach in knots currently so enjoying them is.. difficult. he didn't know which was faring better, honestly; the plate or the list. klaus had always said lists helped with organization, not to mention the whole "personal sense of fulfillment" type of deal that came with crossing stuff off (actually doing the things).. leo himself hadn't personally experienced that feeling yet, but.. well. he was giving klaus the benefit of the doubt. he generally knew what he was talking about, so..

  1. check bank account
  2. cry a little bit. not a lot! just.. a little. get it out of the way
  3. apply for new debit card, since sonic decided to use the old one as a frisbee which ended in it being at the bottom of one of the six hundred eerily glowing chasms spread throughout the city
  4. send michella money
  5. go.. grocery shopping? get more than candy (you're an adult, goddamn it.)
  6. .....get some candy. wanko bars are good, okay? can't blame a guy for that
  7. don't forget shampoo (again.)
  8. or bananas
  9. tidy up. try making the bed? maybe that's a bit too wild of an idea, there. calm down
  10. laundry! you're out of clean socks! underwear too! come to think of it.. buy more socks? since nearly all pairs have vanished since the last laundry trip..
  11. avoid the laundromat on fifth avenue. could be the source of the whole.. losing socks thing? maybe even something more unsavory? weird.
  12. look into the exact nature of the laundromat on fifth avenue. suspicious
  13. maybe it's not even a laundromat? god only knows..
  14. anyway. laundry day. long past due
  15. have this list be an actual list
  16. don't get distracted!!! *this and number 15 not actually accomplished technically, just crossed out for the sake of it
  17. don't forget steven's birthday! it's the 9th..
  18. .. figure out what the hell to even get steven for his birthday
  19. talk to black about... the thing. that you've wanted to talk to him about. for awhile now
  20. don't chicken out! it's not a big deal! just a simple question! you've got this

a frown tugs at his lips, little creases between his brows as his attention is drawn once again to the rather crude doodles adorning the page, courtesy of one zapp renfro. a drawing of a chicken aggressively clucking, with all of the skill a four year old possesses, outshined only by the sheer volume of dicks scattered throughout any and all empty space, done so with the care and mentality of a middle schooler. he clicks the pen, jotting down a quick don't leave notepad out around zapp unattended. ever. under any circumstances. as leo's gaze shifts back to black, he's just in time to catch the bemused look on his face, blue eyes briefly scanning the paper before leo promptly flips the little book closed, warmth blossoming in his cheeks. cue him clearing his throat. the smile returns to black's face, and leo.. feels his heart twinge a bit. huh. hm. funny, that.

"...it's just..?" he lets the repetition of the other's words fall into a curious lilt, clearly a question, clearly encouraging him to explain. "you afraid i wouldn't do the dishes or something?"

"you own dishes?"

his own joke falls flat because of black's comment, and he's frowning again, uttering a soft "hey", while black quickly waves his hands, own brows furrowing as he tries to remedy the situation, sounding apologetic even though there's the faintest traces of a grin peeking out at him.

"i.. i'm sorry, i'm sorry. i was kidding.. sort of. i was going to buy you a set, actually, but.." black shifts on his feet, and leo tries to keep up the facade of being genuinely offended, wounded, even, but black's.. being black, again, so kind, and he finds his throat a bit dry, his head somewhat.. full of static. ".. anyway, what i was saying was.. i'm not.. certain if you would be alright with it."

that throws leo for a loop, confusion etched into his features, "huh?" starting to roll off of his tongue before black.. continues, elaborates.

"i mean.. you may get tired of me, you know? if we're living together, then it would be awkward, because you couldn't bring up anything if i was, say, starting to get on your nerves with my excessive singing in the shower. because we live together.. and you wouldn't want to put even the slightest strain on our relationship, not to mention deal such a blow to my dignity by bringing that up in the first place.. you'd suffer in silence.. because of your kindness.. and i..."

leo painfully, desperately wants to ask if black truly sings in the shower, but he doesn't know if his heart could take the answer, certainly doesn't know if Black's face could, either; it's been getting steadily redder the more he spoke, trailing off awkwardly as he gestured vaguely. leo's heart is doing that weird thing again, but he ignores it, tries.. so, so hard not to let out an exasperated sigh/groan combo at the sheer ridiculousness of black's concerns.. he understood, of course, would never want to invalidate the other's thoughts or feelings, but.. didn't he always try to make it clear that he'd literally never get tired of black's presence? every single skypo call or texting session or even the occasional call over the phone over the course of months had him saying at least once what had quickly became a stock phrase. you should stop by and visit sometime! it's been awhile. to which black would laugh, leo's pulse would jump, and black would shyly, politely wave the thought aside, not really ever saying no, but never outright saying yes. and he never got mad! never.. got his feelings hurt, or anything, he promises, it was just.. kind of disappointing. because he'd missed him.

well. black was here now, and that's what mattered. and leo.. leo was absolutely going to make it clear to him that he wanted him here. reassurance is good. he doesn't even realize that his voice has gotten louder until vivian eyes him, and color stains his cheeks once more, as he coughs.

"oh, don't be silly. i couldn't ever get tired of you. i can't.. believe you'd even say that? even if it was kind of jokingly? c'mon, man.." leo waves a hand, indicates himself, tries to sound as weary as he can, feigning hurt. "if anything you would get tired of me.."

black is leaning forward, fingers splayed out on the counter top, eyes wide, brows knitted, worry in every line of his body, and it's.. leo's pretty sure he dropped his pen? oh well. he could.. get that. later.

"leo! don't ever suggest something like that! i would never--"

vivian's "oh, for the love of god, you two" could be heard across the diner. that'd also become a stock phrase in the past few weeks, often accompanied by her shaking her head or rubbing her temples. leo shoots her an apologetic yet grumpy little smile, and though black still seems somewhat worried, there's the familiar quirk at the corners of his lips, and his eyes are glittering, hinting at a full smile even though he isn't wearing one.

"...really, though, leo. i.. i really wouldn't mind? i mean it only makes sense to have a roommate, too.."

leo nods sagely, putting on his best professional look and voice. gotta be convincing!

"financially it's better.. cut the expenses of everything in half.. safety in numbers, too.. think most people our age are locked into the whole one plus other people living in a compact space, anyway, so why not join the party? but, uh.. i gotta ask.."

and this was the part leo dreaded the most, because of.. whatever the answer would be. he shifts in his seat, examines a fry, letting out a deep breath.

"...how long were you planning on staying, exactly? i know you'd wanted to come out here, but the whole mugging thing kind of.. changed the circumstances, so.."

the question hangs in the air, awkwardly, both boys silent, expectant, bracing themselves, and for a moment leo starts to regret asking, anxiety making his stomach churn, guilt beating at the inside of his brain. great. now you made him uncomfortable, because he probably was aiming for getting out of here as soon as he can manage, but he'll feel bad telling you that, so now he'll feel guilty, feel like he has to stay, and--

"i'm not.. quite sure? even originally i'd never.. had a set plan, truth be told.." black rubs at the back of his head, displacing some blond hairs, and leo almost reaches forward and brushes at them, out of instinct. but he doesn't. and black looks.. so sheepish. "..i'd wanted to come out here for awhile, but i never got around to actually, concretely setting out a travel plan, and when the feeling struck i kind of just.. went for it? ahah.. not a great course of action, but.. i'd missed actually seeing you in person, so i didn't really think about the repercussions? sorry.."

what the hell do you have to be sorry for? leo wants to say, baffled, doesn't, stews in it for a moment, lets the little, acidic bubble in his gut roll around so he can begrudgingly acknowledge that, yeah, when black had originally left, he had... felt genuinely wounded, a bit. which was selfish, he knew that, but he couldn't help it. especially not back then. but he'd.. let go of that, for the most part. it wasn't fair to black, and it wasn't fair to himself. this whole city was just.. a reminder for black, and he knew that. and in the past, it made the most sense that, well, after everything, black didn't... really have anything keeping him in hellsalem's lot. he couldn't resent him for that; not even for a second. he still missed white, he would never not miss her, and he'd accepted that, but she was.. black's sister. he couldn't imagine what he'd felt. how he still feels. especially after everything with their parents..

he seems better now, though, leo thinks, giving the boy another once-over (does it count as a once-over if you've done it about four times within the last hour?) as better as one could be, anyway.. and.. he seems happy.

leo would like to think his presence helps, even if it's in some small way, even if he's just a distraction, but that's.. being selfish, again, isn't it? anyway, the important thing was that black was.. happy. doing well, all things considered. as well as someone in this city could do. even his wardrobe seemed.. brighter. his hair is somewhat longer. today he'd ditched a hoodie/sweater and was in jeans and a simple, pale yellow plaid button-up, sleeves rolled up past his elbows on account of dish duty. which.. isn't exactly a fun, activity, but black never complained..

plus leo's grateful for the dishes, really, truly, he'd never voice it aloud but seeing black with his sleeves rolled up like that.. well. it was cute. he was allowed to think that. just not voice it. it's fine. he's fine.

 "don't be sorry!" the words come out in a sort of rush, it hitting him that he'd kind of just.. zoned out there. and he certainly didn't want black to think he was mad or upset or felt.. anything even remotely negative about the fact that he was here. "really, don't. it's.. if anything i should be sorry.. if you hadn't been worried about me, you'd have never flown out here and had to get roped back into the.. hell that is this city."

black laughs, only sounding the tiniest bit weary. the rest is genuine. he waves a hand, busying himself with refilling leo's coffee cup.

"you didn't make me come out here, you know. as i said, i wanted to. had been wanting to for awhile. so don't.. feel guilty for that, leo. please."

leo frowns but doesn't say anything, fixating on idly swirling his cup, mulling everything over in silence. it.. was his fault, somehow. by extension. and he would make himself feel guilt over that. just a bit. black's sigh has his attention shifting back to him, though, curious.

"really, leo. don't do that. i can see you getting too into your own head. and there's.. really no need."

"you can read minds?" leo jokes, halfheartedly, trying to deflect, but black is staring him down, sort of, and it's not as if black was ever intimidating in a harsh way, but the looks he could give, sometimes.. well. he and white were very good at those looks. but, luckily (unfortunately) for him, the diner had started to pull in more and more people, the usual lunch crowd, and that meant black had to focus on.. well, doing his job. vivian had already gotten onto him (only once) about not keeping her worker occupied. to which leo had turned red, apologized, and booked it out the door with a jumbled "i'll see you later!" in black's direction as he'd heard the other's laugh and felt his stomach do flips. and, well.. he'd prefer not going through being called out like that, again. "mm.. sorry. wow. that was.."

"bad. very bad."

"awful, even.."

"ah, give yourself some credit.."

"it really wasn't original at all, though."

black is grinning.

"not particularly.. but i was just trying to save some of the mighty tortoise knight's dignity.."

leo presses a hand to his chest, over his heart, pretending to be touched.

"oh, how kind.."

"will! i need your help over here!"

and the blond does jump a little bit at vivian's shout (as does leo), quick to apologize, gaze shifting from her back to leo. and black looks apologetic, then, this time it's directed at him, and leo knows that he would stay and chat all day if he could, but.. well. they both had their duties. he respected that. he's sliding down from the stool, starting to pull out his wallet before he feels a hand pressing against his own, and he doesn't have to look at him to know that black is wearing an offended expression.

"n-no.. no. i've got it. you know that by now."

it's.. not.. all that weird to see black being bold, but it still kind of.. stuns him, whenever it happens? he could be.. extremely stubborn, about certain things, and leo didn't mind it, at all, really, but... his face feels warm again. the diner feels smaller, for some reason. he's dizzy too? somewhat? vaguely. huh.

"black, i can't.. i can't keep letting you pay for me. it's.. i can pay for myself. it's fine. it's not that m--"

"if it's not that much, then you'll have no problem with me paying. coffee and some fries isn't going to put me any more in the hole than i am already."

leo rubs at his cheek, the back of his hand still tingling like a live-wire after the brief contact, trying his best to ignore it, not let his cheeks get any redder than they already are.

"but you keep doing it.."

"and i'm happy to do it. i'd be happy to buy you a five-course meal, if the opportunity presented itself. you deserve far more than that, in my opinion. far more than you seem to get. so.."

ah.

black really is trying to kill him, isn't he?

"i..." leo swallows, tries.. to remember how to form a coherent sentence, knows vivian is in the background watching the two of them like a hawk, "..thank.. you. it.. i really do appreciate it, man. i'll p--"

"you're welcome, and, no, you will not."

with a groan, leo grips the little notebook in his hand a little more tightly, shaking his head as some of the tension in black's shoulders eases, his expression going from alert to calm, at peace.. he's smiling, again, and leo's.. grateful for that, too. leo gives a small wave to vivian, saying his farewells to black, making his way over to the door before he hears an "oh, leo!", body instantly turning at the voice. black is at vivian's side, looking somewhat embarrassed as several other heads turn in his direction. he clears his throat

"i-if.. ah, if you need to go to the store later.. i do as well, so maybe we could.. go together? safety in numbers, after all.."

leo snorts, quietly, knowing what black was getting at with parroting his previous statement back at him, but in all seriousness doubting that the two of them going together would make that much difference if anyone wanted to start something, but.. he was never one to turn down getting to spend time with black. and he did feel more comfortable going with him. it meant knowing where he was and that he was safe, at least. not to mention.. again. black's presence was easily one of the most calming ones he'd ever encountered, save for michella..

"that's.. i'm good with that."

he really needed to stop zoning out.

"i get off around eight! i'll text you.. or.. call. either one."

vivian is staring at them again, and leo knows she's not mad, but he can feel the "leo, with all due respect, please go" coming off of her in waves, hears one customer grumble something about teenagers, and he flashes a smile in repentance (somewhat.. irritation, at the comment), nodding at black's words, feeling.. lighter, for some reason.

"i'll see you then."

"be safe!"

"y-you too.."

no, he didn't just trip over the doorway. he just.. stumbled a bit. that's all. there is a noticeable spring in his step, though, and it lasts all the way to the office, chain eyeing him silently as zapp makes some remark about him creeping him out because of "that godawful look on your (his) face."

"what.. the hell are you even talking about?"

"you look... waaay too happy."

"and that's a bad thing?"

"it's just fucking weird--"

"if you two could focus, please."

nothing could diminish his joy, in that moment, honestly? even zapp's jabs fell on unaffected ears, leo's attention elsewhere. he was focused enough to do his job, of course, but anything more than that? nope. his mind was already hours in the future, happily wandering through the produce aisle with black, chatting animatedly about what kind of juice to buy, going back over the concept of living together, fully creating a concrete plan for it..

yeah.

he was really happy.

and desperately wishing it was eight o'clock.

 




it was 10:27pm, and leo was going to kill zapp. absolutely murder him, without any remorse whatsoever. he was already planning it. the most painful way possible.

everything had been fine until zapp "idiot, ass, bastard" renfro had decided to take a detour while trying to herd a large collection of creatures that resembled some weird mixture of a cow and a lizard on steroids (as in, each was the size of a small house) that also happened to vomit up some substance that had the effect of acid, because, of-goddamn-course that was the case. of course that would happen. why wouldn't it? leo had been partnered with him and in charge of diverting the creatures' attentions, taking control of their sight and getting them into a designated area to be rounded up and disposed of. which had.. been fine until zapp strayed from the path, and they'd ended up in one of the busiest sections of the city, full of humans and beyondians alike.

which went about as well as one would expect.

oh, dear! sorry for their rude behavior! guess they just have upset stomachs! on top of being pumped full of... some large list of chemicals that i don't have the time to list off to you right now. don't think chasing them around is going to help, either! the more they run, the more that liquid builds up inside them, and, ah, well, it's got to go somewhere, you know! they're feisty little devils. have fun!

leo was going to kill the king of depravity, too. maybe before zapp. or after. he hadn't decided.

they'd gotten out of it alive, as they always did, and a few civilians did end up injured, but the most damage was to.. the surrounding area. craters, everywhere, overturned vehicles. it hadn't even been that long that the creatures had been out of control. but the mess they'd made was.. colossal. not anything new for hellsalem's lot, obviously, but it still was hell to take care of, especially when all of the creatures had scattered in every which way. they (klaus and steven, mostly) had made as quick of work as they could of the ordeal, but it still had taken.. much longer than they'd anticipated. 

not to mention leo's clothes were sporting.. a large amount of singe-marks and holes. because, again, of course that would be something that happened. the fucked up, mess flavored icing on the total wreck of a cake that was the situation. luckily only a small amount of it had actually come in contact with his skin, and though it itched like hell, he wasn't.. in a vast amount of pain. thankfully. and, he noted, with some satisfaction, zapp seemed to be the one the worse for the wear. there was barely anything left of his jacket. and shirt. and he deserved as much.

leo had hardly had a chance to breathe, let alone check his phone at all, and once the night was said and done, he felt his stomach plummet at the three text messages and one missed call. all from black.

god damn it.

overcome with guilt, he quickly pressed the other's name in his phone, tilting his head, brows furrowed as the line continued to ring. 

he's.. probably asleep already. leo reasoned. he's fine. just asleep. well, as fine as he can be dealing with the fact that you bailed on him. without even calling. or responding to a text message like an asshole.

then leo does the exact thing he knows he shouldn't do: pictures black waiting for him, brows furrowed, starting to get more and more disheartened with the passage of time, with nothing but silence on his end. eventually he had to just.. give up and go home. dejected. god, how late had he even headed home? leo felt his panic level rise at the thought of him wandering around after 9pm, on his own. in one last-ditch effort, he'd trekked towards diannes, walking through the door and.. seeing no one besides vivian and a couple in the furthest corner booth.

oh, he felt.. awful.

"leo!"

vivian's voice shakes him from his inner turmoil, the constant barrage of self-deprecating thoughts halting for a moment, his mouth opening to reply before cuts him off, sounding.. somewhat miffed.

"if you're gonna change plans or just cancel them with someone, it's best to, y'know, tell them. just a tip."

oh, she knew.

oh, leo felt.. worse.

his completely downcast expression/aura (not to mention his.. overall appearance) must've been enough to ease most of her irritation, because her eyes soften, the edge to her voice less harsh as she beckons him over and pours him a cup of coffee before he can even ask. he plops down on one of the stools, head in his hands as she surveyed him, wary.

"i.. look, i know your job isn't easy, whatever it is.. and no, i'm not trying to get you to tell me. calm down. i just.. will was really worried about you. extremely worried. i managed to calm him down a little bit, and he left for awhile.. then came back and left this. for you."

leo's head tilts, then, surprise written all over his face, as vivian sets a bag in front of him.

"he said he'd left you a message about stopping by here.."

her words don't even fully register to him because he's, leaning forward, peering into the bag, rifling through its contents and.. it's.. socks? several pairs? an ungodly amount of socks, actually. not cheap ones, either. several pairs were in blue. and yellow. and..

..bananas?

so black had seen the list, then. or he truly could read minds. 

leo feels guilty, again, but for the most part he just.. feels.. warm. he's certain his face is red, for about the hundredth time that day, but thankfully vivian either doesn't notice or does notice and just doesn't comment on it. gingerly, he picks up a yellow pair from the bag, his ankle itching, pretty sure that the socks he was currently wearing were going directly in the garbage can after today, as was the rest of his outfit, overwhelmed with a wave of affection and appreciation. fingertips tracing idly over the little bumps in the fabric, his brows furrowed in thought, mind drifting again.. he wasn't even aware vivian had left until she's returned placing yet another something in front of him

"oh, and there's this, too."

he's jolted out of his reverie at the sound, at her voice, attention darting to.. the bowl she'd placed in front of him. soup? and.. a roll. juice. leo's confused for a second, only one, then it clicks. more of black's doing, he's almost absolutely certain.

"he.. i didn't even know you guys do soup."

"we don't," vivian says, simply, adjusts her hat a bit, her eyes boring into him, and, leo realizes, she's.. already attached to black. as most people often seem to get. it's hard not to. "he brought it in. apparently it was leftovers from something he'd made at home the other night? he just.. figured you'd stop by here, so he left it here and told me to make sure you eat it. the roll, too. he said you seem like you haven't been eating enough lately."

laugh laughs, quietly, wryly.

of course he did. but he'd wave it aside if i pointed out how easy it was to lift him and run that one time a few weeks back and how that worried me.

"he worries about you. a lot. but i guess you already knew that."

"..yeah."

"you worry about him a lot, too."

leo really.. really hates how perceptive vivian is; it's not something all that difficult to see, really, but he still.. feels uncomfortable. like he's under a microscope. not to mention he's still.. concerned about black's current state. whatever it is.

"i had him call me when he got home, by the way. just so you know. he's fine."

could everyone read minds? he really needed to work on guarding his thoughts better or something.

"..thank.. you.."

"mm," vivian begins, eyeing him, gesturing at his spoon, clearly.. not going to give up on this, "don't thank me. thank will. not now, though. he's probably sleeping. i told him to get some rest and that i'd send him a text whenever you were here so he knew. now, eat. it's getting cold and you're not leaving until you're finished."

and leo.. is suddenly very aware of exactly how tired and hungry he is, taking a bite, followed by several more in rapid succession, only slowing down when vivian warns him about the hiccups or choking (i'm not in the mood to do the heimlich  tonight, leo), hit with another wave of just.. warmth. gratitude. black..

black was far too good. it felt.. corny to think that, but it was just.. the truth? not that he hadn't been aware of it before this, it just.. he was constantly.. reminding him of it. with nearly every single thing he did. he deserved.. so much..

when vivian wordlessly slides a few napkins his way before going to check on the only other occupied table, leo feels a surge of embarrassment, worried that he'd.. made a mess, somehow. spilled. had stuff.. all over his face. but, no, he'd.. started to cry.

ah.

rubbing at his eyes, he pulled out his phone, finally opening the texts from black, still.. inwardly cursing himself for missing them.


hey! i'm off now.. sorry for being a little late. we can just meet up here, if you want? or wherever! i'm fine with wherever. (8:17pm)

leo? i'm sorry to.. send another message, i just.. got worried when you didn't answer my call. we don't have to meet up tonight! it's fine. i just.. hope you're alright. (9:26pm)

i'm going to go to bed.. i promise this is the last message from me you're getting tonight! i left something at the diner for you, if you have the time to stop by and get it.. have a good night, leo. i'll see you tomorrow? (10:09pm)


with the last message, black had.. sent a picture of himself, in bed, comfortably nestled amongst several blankets and pillows. his face was illuminated by the soft glow of a lamp nearby (a salt lamp, leo remembered. black had very cheerfully informed leo the day he'd purchased it and had offered to buy him one. leo declined. he still bought it), hair slightly disheveled, glasses off, smile small and sleepy..

leo felt like he was going to have a heart attack.

and promptly knocked over his juice.

black really was trying to kill him.



"are.. you sure?"

"yeah! i mean.. it'll be fun, right? a good, ah, time--"

"you sound.. like you're trying to convince yourself more than you are me, leo."

leo was, in all honesty, but it didn't help that zapp was trying to wrestle his phone from his grip, making the most ridiculous faces, whispering some of his favorite (crude) nicknames and increasing the volume each time as leo tried in vain to shove him off.

"well! you know! it's.. i couldn't.. exactly say no, y'know? plus we all.. have to have some semblance of a social life sometimes.."

"are you a lightweight?"

"n-- wh-what kind of question is that? where did that even come from?"

apparently zapp was listening to their conversation, too, because he laughs, loudly, opening his mouth to say something before leo kicks him.

"the answer to that question could very much be the determining factor for whether i say yes or not."

"how so?"

"yes equals me coming to get to witness it, no equals.. well.."

"oh.. oh, you're cruel."

leo is pretty sure he heard zapp say something along the lines of "oh, i like him!" but he can't be completely certain because klaus walks in the door, meaning it was time for zapp to run at him full-force in an attempt to surprise and overcome him. which wouldn't work. it never did.

"sorry.. sorry. i was joking.. i promise.. and, ah.. you said it was sort of a thing for mr. starphase's birthday?"

"yeah.. a.. party.. sort of? i don't even know the specifics of it, really.."

"should i bring a gift?"

"you.. can? if.. you want. i need to pick out one myself.." leo trails off thoughtfully, scratching at a bandage on his cheek, having.. absolutely no idea what the hell he's going to buy. brows furrowing when zapp turns his head back in his direction, eyes narrowed. "we can.. go together, if you want? i.. i promise i'll actually be there. i have the day off on thursday, so.."

"it's a date, then."

leo can hear the smile in black's voice, picture him sitting there, adjusting his glasses more out of habit than actual need, and.. he nearly drops his phone. which.. definitely didn't go unnoticed. much like the immediate rush of pink to his cheeks.

"i-it.. yeah. yeah. i'll.. i'll see you.. later today? i can stop by and help you move the rest of your stuff.."

"thank you, leo."

"don't.. don't thank me."

"mmm.. i'm going to anyway, if that's alright?" again, he can just.. see black smiling. "if it's not i, ah.. truly am sorry. i hope you can forgive me."

leo's throat feels.. incredibly dry. and he's dazed, so dazed he doesn't even notice zapp.. catapulting himself at him, narrowly dodging him but still managing to catch his foot on the carpet and.. faceplant.

"i.. i think i can, yeah-- shit!"

"a-are.. you okay? it sounds like you fell--"

"i'm fine! i'm.. good, don't.. don't worry. zapp's just an ass. nothing.. new. i'm fine, will."

"...hmm."

"really, though, i have to.. hang up now.. so i can kill him."

there's a pause.

"..well, as long as you don't get caught.."

he can't suppress a laugh at that.

"won't. i promise."

"good.. i l.. i'll talk to you later, leo. have a good day. be safe."

"you too!"

leo's so giddy that he doesn't even care when zapp launches himself towards him, again, the wind knocked out of him when he hits the ground, irritation written all over his face as he kicks at the other, none of that.. taking away from how happy he was. genuinely. nothing could ruin it, he was pretty sure. not even.. zapp's antics.

it's.. a date, then?

sure.

why not?


 

Chapter Text


 

living together, as it turns out, isn't.. half bad.

not that leo had ever assumed/imagined it would be! it was just.. a lot easier? the few times he'd stayed with chain or zapp had been.. less than fun. chain had been better by a landslide, but.. still. awkward. the one time he stayed with steven had been absolutely mortifying because everything in his place had looked too nice, and leo had felt.. so guilty breathing in the rooms, let alone.. touching anything. even when bedtime had rolled around, he'd spent a good twenty minutes mentally wrestling with himself over whether he should actually.. sleep on the bed. am i even allowed to do that? these are the nicest sheets and pillows i've ever seen, and they're just in his guest room! what if i mess them up somehow, can sweat ruin this, it looks like silk or something, oh, god--

(he'd ended up on the couch, much to steven's (and his housekeeper's) bemusement the next morning.)

but, really, with black it wasn't.. even slightly weird, really? it felt normal. natural. if anything, his presence was.. comforting, and coming home to someone else, that someone being a person he knew so well and liked so much, was.. peaceful? some weight was always lifted off of his shoulders when he stepped in the door, no matter how bad of a day he'd had. their apartment wasn't great, granted, but with their combined efforts, it sure as hell was better than what either of them could afford on their own. sure, it was small, but, hey. in a way better part of the city than any of leo's previous ones. not somewhere where they'd have to be too worried about coming home one day to have the building in pieces. which was a prequisite for occupying most buildings/apartment complexes in hellsalem's lot, but.. this particular one was in a relatively safe, less.. explosion-filled area. if such a thing could ever really exist in a city like this. they were still in the bare-bones stage of moving in, all of black's belongings (which.. hadn't been much) and his own (way less than much) settled and in their places, but overall, they just.. didn't have a lot to put in the apartment. when black had suggested they go out and buy at least a few plates, glasses, and some actual silverware, leo had begrudgingly agreed, knowing that those things were needed (and had been for awhile, now) but he'd.. never really felt the need to own any of them up until now. most of the time it was just.. paper plates, if anything. he drank a lot of stuff straight from the jug. black had side-eyed him when he admitted that, nodding firmly, clearly determined.

"definitely getting glasses, then."

so.. there they were at bad bath & beyond, black far more focused than leo was, because the amount of things before him was.. overwhelming.

not to mention the price tags..

"this is like.. five weeks worth of groceries, right here," leo said, one hand on the handle of a skillet, lifting the lid to examine it further, expecting it to shoot of fireworks or have an autopilot setting or something, given its cost being well over $150. "for.. this."

"mm," black hummed noncommittally, a skillet in his own hands, the same shade of blue but.. smaller, somewhat. "well, we don't need anything super fancy.. just.. basic stuff. nothing too flashy. this'll do the job, i think? wish the one i'd brought over from my apartment hadn't caught fire, but.. ah.."

(leo still felt guilty about that. in his defense, he didn't know grease fires.. didn't take well to water. somehow nothing else had been damaged besides the pan.)

"mm.."

leo watched him set the skillet in their cart, which already had silverware, a dinnerware set (in nearly the exact same shade of blue as the skillet, leo noted, finding the fact.. cute, wondering if it was intentional), some dishtowels, bath towels (blue for black, yellow for leo), glasses, baking pans, a small pot, an oven mitt, several varied cooking utensils...

really glad steven gave me an advance.. he thought, sweating, knowing that they still needed a few more things but already dreading the total. it was.. worth it, though. all of these things were.. necessities, really. adulthood and whatnot. he would be perfectly content, personally, to not ever cook for himself, but.. black had insisted that they make dinner every night at the very least. leo didn't really have to heart to tell him no; when he'd brought up the fact that he mostly ate out, if he ever ate, black had.. gotten that signature worried look, brows knitted, eyes flickering with a mixture of concern and dismay. so leo was letting him have this. 

fresh start for the both of us, after all.

"what time was the party, again?"

shaken from his daydream, leo frowned, scratching at the back of his head. black looked amused, for some reason.

"7:30 is when it starts, i think? we could always be fashionably late, though.."

black laughed, quietly, shoulders shaking even with the small amount of force (he.. always did that, leo had noticed. every single laugh). leo shifted on his feet, avoiding the other's gaze and instead focusing on the cookware set in the very corner of his line of vision that he was sure he'd rather die than ever pay the amount of money it costed, at all but especially for.. kitchen-related things. guilt and regret would completely eat away at him. hell, right now it was difficult for him to keep a cool head and rationalize their purchases, and they hadn't even.. made them yet. he was.. trying. it was fine. this was fine. money was.. money. he'd make more. michella already gave him an earful when he'd told her in advance about his shopping trip and started to apologize, swiftly putting him in his place.

it's your money, leo. you're an adult. you spend it however you wish. toby and i are fine. plus.. you really do need to start cooking and eating more.

great
, he'd mumbled. you and black both.

"it's completely up to you, leo."

"can we maybe.. stay home.. then?" he began, tentatively hopeful, already knowing what black's answer would be but trying nonetheless. "i mean, i still haven't gotten to fully utilize my belated birthday present and all.."

(the new gaming station, which black really, really, hadn't needed to buy him, but.. no matter leo's protests, he'd just smiled, waved a hand, and thrown out the sincerest you deserve nice things,leo that leo had ever heard, and, well.. it was hard to think straight with his heart thudding in his throat, warmth flaring in his cheeks, and tears threatening to spill, the weak thanks he'd managed to choke out feeling.. disrespectful. but.. black's smile had gotten bigger, even warmer, and--)

"again.. all up to you. but i feel like we should.. at least make an appearance? drop the gift off.. mingle.. a bit?" black sounded.. slightly unsure himself, and leo knew he didn't.. prefer large crowds, so him saying this was.. coming from the heart but also stepping out of his comfort zone. "plus it's.. a really good gift. and i think mr. starphase will like it.."

the gift, in question, was a bottle of blackberry wine (midnight, leo had read aloud in his fanciest voice when black had presented him with the bottle, appraising it as if he knew.. anything at all about wine. and he didn't know shit, really), and though neither of them had tried it, they'd gotten a bottle of strawberry wine (sunset , leo had slurred aloud in a less fancy voice, cradling the bottle as if it were a small child) from the same vineyard, and that... that had been enough to get them pleasantly buzzed after dinner one night, leo on the floor rolling a banana-shaped cat toy towards sonic (who'd merely stared at him) and giggling after two and a half glasses, black sitting at the counter and quietly, fondly observing him, half-finished fourth glass at his elbow. he'd promptly sent it flying in his rush to help leo when the other had faceplanted on the hardwood.

where had they even gotten that, again? oh, right. just when they'd given up on gift hunting, it had appeared. courtesy of someone black had waited on at diannes.. a vineyard owner. from all the way out in california. how black had managed to be that lucky was.. beyond him. but, then again, no it wasn't, at all, because black was.. black. kind-hearted. soft smile. charming, even though he would protest it. always careful, always gentle. and even if leo didn't know him and met him in passing, he'd be willing to give him a $60 bottle of wine in a heartbeat. he'd give him his whole wallet in tips. 

"mm.. you have.. a point.."

far better of a gift than zapp probably got him, anyway.

"so we're going! good! i know you'd said you don't have any.. fitting attire for the occasion, but rather than buy a shirt, i think you should just.. borrow one of mine? i don't think anyone expects us to arrive in suits, anyway.."

another good point..

"that's, ah.. that's fine with me," leo says, rubbing at the back of his neck sheepishly. "i just.. don't want to trouble you, or anything? what if i spill something on it.."

black gives him.. a look. brows raised, just a little. and somehow manages to say something in a deadpan manner that also is.. sincere? soft? how the hell.

"...there are these things called "washing machines", leo.. and they have them in these places.. known as "laundromats".. which is where we often go, as a matter of fact, to wash our clothes." 

"i--"

"it's a shirt, leo." black says, simply, turning the cart, clearly not going to budge on the subject, smiling over his shoulder. "i trust you with it. not to mention there are.. far worse things than getting a shirt dirty. if that's the one bad thing to happen tonight, then i'd say it would be a pretty nice night."

yet another.. good point...

"mm, well... thank.. you. for that. i'll.. try to take good care of it."

"i know you will."

black's laugh is.. louder, this time, head shaking, and it's 6:06pm, but leo's sure the sun is still shining, bright, and it's.. right in front of him. warm. glowing. making his heart.. do that odd thing in his chest, again. the beyondian ahead of them in the checkout line gives them both a weird look, but it doesn't really faze either of them, leo too giddy to even fully notice anything beyond the two of them and their cart full of home goods. for their home. their apartment. their shitty-but-not-as-shitty-as-it-could-be, cramped apartment. they could eat on actual plates. drink from glasses. cook, together.

yeah.

this was.. good.

great, actually.



"have you ever been to a party like this before?"

"mm?" leo's snapped out of his reverie, gaze shifting from one of the large chandeliers overhead to black. "sorry, i was.. gone for a second, hah.."

thinking? just.. zoning out? either way, leo felt.. guilty for it; it's not as though black would mind or bad mad, he just.. didn't want him to think that leo didn't care or didn't listen? not that.. black would ever probably think that, but..

"you're fine, leo.. it all really is a bit overwhelming? not, ah.. bad, though! it's all very nice.. just.. a lot.."

a lot, indeed. their parties to ring in the new year had always been pretty big, elaborate, loud, the same could be said for their christmas parties, but.. this.. this was on a whole other level. leo could only vaguely recall steven's last birthday, a blur of events, faint flickers of an actual picture. he had.. drank, a lot. luckily they'd had rooms booked at the hotel, at the time, so he didn't have to travel far, but he still ended up lost, slumped down in the elevator mumbling something about every floor looking the exact same, and, of course, chain had.. found him. eventually. after countless stares from other confused or vexed guests. he'd thrown himself face down onto sheets that he himself would probably never be able to afford, ever, in his life, and passed out. nursed a slight hangover the next morning, but, above all.. really fun? that hotel? it was nothing compared to this. the whole building seemed even more like a labyrinth, and leo was certain that he had.. no idea what the actual name of the place even was. most likely something he couldn't pronounce without embarrassing himself. his (black's, actually) shirt collar seemed a bit tighter, suddenly. frowning, he tugged on it, throat feeling dry even though he had been sipping on water the entire time they'd been there. 

are half these people even libra members? he wondered, scanning the room, numerous familiar faces dotted throughout the crowd, sitting at tables, chattering away, but there was also a pretty even amount of people he just.. did not know, at all. to be fair, though, steven does have a life outside of work, so.. he can.. have friends? know.. people.. i guess.. has a lot of.. connections.. so.. maybe he met some of these people while shopping for ties and struck up a conversation and now they're friends? he does have a lot of charisma.. hm.

that was such a weird concept, though? leo found himself both curious and jarred. the people he saw at libra headquarters every day.. knowing others. the thought of them going shopping, like he and black had done earlier, for anything at all. does zapp even know what a grocery store is? the thought of chain going to a laundromat just seemed so.. bizarre, because it was so normal. hell, he'd been to bars with zapp before a few times, often with zed, and there were a handful of instances where all of them had went out for drinks together, in a moment of camaraderie, but it was just.. odd to think about, when he actually thought about it for longer than five seconds. but, well, leo had a life beyond libra. so the other members having the same thing only made sense, logically.

...how the hell does he even manage to afford things like this?

"something the matter, leonardo?" at the familiar voice that is not black's, leo jolts a bit, inwardly cursing himself for it as klaus watched him, putting out his hands. "i apologize.. i didn't mean to startle you. i just wanted to check up on the both of you."

"we're good!" leo says, a bit too quickly, a bit too loud, face reddening when black tilts his head and seems bemused. "r-really, we.. we're fine. just feel.. kind of out of place, is all? always feel like that at parties, though.. should've worn a suit, i guess.."

klaus just watches him, seeming to be more at ease when leo laughs, even though it's.. slightly nervous in nature.

"you're never out of place when you're with us, leonardo. please know that." klaus adjusts his glasses, smiles, reaching down to lightly pat leo's shoulder. "suits don't make a man, you know. just wearing whatever is comfortable is best.. besides. blue is a good color no matter the occasion, and you pull it off very well, in my opinion.

oh, god, is he really going to do this?! pile on one kind thing after another?! as they should be the most obvious thing in the world?! don't.. tear up. 

(leo half-expected klaus to ruffle his hair.)

"ah.."

black has.. been silent the whole time, head slightly tilted, thumb idly tracing along his wine glass, clearly a bit amused at how leo avoids the taller man's gaze, something else in his expression and overall aura that leo... can't quite read. peace? joy? something.. good? it felt good. not negative, that was for certain. he just.. seemed happy. in general but to observe, especially.

"i-it's.. not my shirt, actually, so i can't take the credit for it.." leo begins feebly, trying not to notice the way black's lips seem to twitch, the other not shaking his head at him but certainly putting all of the vibes out there that he wanted to, wanted to sigh, exasperated. "still, ah.. feel like i should've worn a tie or something.."

"you're fine," klaus reassures, tone just as warm as it always is, "but if you ever need a tie, please don't hesitate to ask."

leo wasn't sure if that meant klaus would either let him borrow one or buy him one, and both prospects had his eyes close to watering again, yet another laugh that leaves his lips weak but.. appreciative.

"th.. thanks.."

the nod klaus gives him is one he's used to. it's meant to encompassi understand" and "you're welcome" all at once, and he's somewhat relieved when klaus turns his attention on the blond at his side, fingers still fidgeting with the cloth napkin in his lap.

"forgive me, william. i should've asked how you are as well."

when he's addressed black blinks, taken aback, as if he'd expected to go unnoticed, blend in with the backdrop, and something in leo's stomach twists at the way his eyes widen for a fraction of a second.

"i-i.. i'm fine, thank you. it's a very nice party, by the way. i've.. been to some events in my time, but i don't think i've ever been to a birthday party this.. grand. it's beautiful."

klaus smiles, nods, again.

"it is rather impressive.. a bit flashy, but.. fitting for a man like steven, all things considered. definitely what he deserves. especially after the past few months he's had. the past few months we've all had."

there's.. something in klaus's voice that feels.. so familiar, and leo ponders that, for a moment. maybe it was the way he'd said steven's name? not to mention, klaus had glanced over in steven's direction and their eyes had met for just a second, what passing between them could only be described as.. fondness? it was the way black often looked at him and vice versa. fond. appreciative. content. leo wondered..

"well, i don't mean to be rude, but.." klaus begins, and leo already knows where the rest of the thought it heading. steven had waved klaus over, the gesture small, brief, but leo had caught it, took note of the crooked smile on his face as he'd waved, and, if he didn't know any better, he would swear he saw the faintest bit of color in klaus's face. "..i need to go.. attend to something. i'll leave the two of you to it. hopefully i'll see you both later on, but if not.. have a pleasant evening. oh, and leonardo.."

leo's brows raise a little.

"..please be careful in the elevator."

 of course he brings that up.

once klaus has left after politely excusing himself, leo and black are alone, again, and the silence that stretches between them isn't.. uncomfortable. it's kind of pleasant, really. even though neither of them are speaking, the buzz of conversations and laughter are all around and make up for their own quietness, too. but mostly, it's just.. so easy for the two of them to just be around one another. leo's realized that more and more over the past few months, especially now that they lived together. being around black was.. calming. as easy as breathing. going shopping together, black showing him how to flip an omelette, staying up into the night laughing over the most ridiculous of things.. he didn't know how he'd gone this long alone. no.. not.. alone, in particular. just.. without having black there. within arm's reach.

well. they were together now. and that's what mattered. leo wasn't going to take any of the time they spent together for granted.

"should we be worried about the elevator, or was that.. code for something..?" black asks, sounding curious, and the quiet snort that leonardo does has his head tilting. "hm..?"

"n.. nothing, don't.. worry about it. inside joke." leo would prefer to keep what little shred of his dignity he still has intact, thank you. "just.. let's not.. stay out here too late. wouldn't want to.. get lost, or anything.."

"we could get a cab.. uber.." black muses, swirls his glass a little, and, leo notes, black is nearly done with his second glass of champagne while he's just finished his first, the combination of carbonation, water, and a hearty meal leading to him just feeling.. heavy. warm. a bit dizzy/giddy, also. maybe he's imagining it when he sees k.k., clad in a burgundy cocktail dress, pearls around her neck, hastily stuffing half of her steak, several rolls, and a large helping of roasted potatoes into a large tupperware container in the very far corner, only barely obscured by a large centerpiece, but, then again.. maybe not. 

she certainly has the right idea.. damn it, why didn't i bring t--

"blue really is.. a good color on you."

the comment.. doesn't exactly startle him, but leo really doesn't expect it, doesn't fully know what to say to it, at first, and the pause is enough to have black.. flushing, somewhat. from the alcohol, surely.

"s-sorry.. if that's.. odd to say. i was just.. thinking about it..." leo is.. amused, for the most part, but.. there's that something again that has his stomach doing flips. "..which makes it all sound even odder, i guess.. i'm sorry."

leo frowns. he doesn't want black to start berating himself, especially not.. over that. so he smiles, leans forward a little, doesn't take into account that his glass is dangerously close to both his elbow and the edge of the table.

"hey. hey, it's.. your shirt, so i really can't take any of the credit for it." blue, huh? he'd have to buy more blue. "..thank you, again, by the way. i really, uh.. need to.. go clothes shopping.. at some point."

the idea alone is daunting and enough to send leo into a spiral, so he doesn't dwell on it, instead just.. keeps the smile. and when he reaches out, he's not.. even fully sure what he's going for, but, black's hand is there on the table and touching it seems like a good idea, right now? so he.. goes with that. when his fingers brush along the other's he settles on giving his hand a series of little, awkward pats, and black is suddenly.. extremely alert. his eyes were wide, again, lips parted even though he's silent, and leo can almost see the struggle in his mind to.. form a coherent sentence. he knew that feeling all too well. but, with black, it was.. far more endearing. 

"i.."

unfortunately, zapp picks that moment to saunter up, clearly not on his first drink, surveying the two of them with slightly narrowed eyes.

"yo, pipsqueak club. you gonna associate with anyone else besides each other? kind of the whole point of a party."

leo groans, very audibly, purposefully, wishing that looks could kill. zapp would have been dead long ago if that had been the case. what an ideal world..

"thought you would've went up to someone's hotel room by now."

something flickers across zapp's face that leo can't.. recognize, but it's gone and replaced by a glare before he can try to read into it further, the other's snort using such force that he scoots his chair back a little, not liking how zapp was just.. waving wine around with him in the line of fire. when he catches sight of black again, the other's brows are furrowed, gaze focused intently on the centerpiece, avoiding him, and leo starts to.. worry. had he said something wrong? was it zapp.. being there? should he.. not have patted black's hand like that? that was probably it. shit. he.. he should've asked before just.. going and doing that.

"black--"

"i'm.. going to the restroom. excuse me, for a moment. i'm sorry." black's words are.. rushed, and leo can't manage to catch him, too busy with having to pick up the glass he'd knocked over in his haste to.. well, try to catch him. black says something in the distance, but he can't quite catch it. "i'll be back!"

just like that, he's.. stuck with zapp. yet again. a summary of most of his days.

why does this always happen?

"what's with you two?"

"what.. do you mean?"

zapp shoots him a look that screams are you fucking kidding me? and that just confuses leo further. the other's exasperated sigh and shake of the head doesn't help, and part of him wants to tell him to just spit it out, already, but he's.. not going to give him the satisfaction.

"have you told him yet?"

are you capable of not speaking in riddles?

"told.. who.. what?"

"who do you think, you moron? the one you're practically swooning all over all the time, as he's swooning all over you. it's.. painful to watch."

leo grits his teeth, napkin balled up in one hand, focusing on breathing evenly and.. ignoring the spike of heat in his gut and the warmth that had certainly flashed across his face. this is.. the las thing he wants to address or speak about at length, and zapp is the last person he'd ever want to speak about it with.

"...i don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"oh, i think you do," zapp says cryptically, as leo's desire to throw something at him climbs. "unless you really are that clueless.. which is possible, i guess. but i'd hoped you were smarter than that. my bad."

and leo does know. that's the thing. he's painfully aware of exactly what zapp is referring to, has been for awhile but it's become even more apparent to him over the past few weeks, but it isn't something he can just.. talk about. especially not right here, right now. or ever. he'd prefer.. never. if black happened to come back..

"can you just.. leave?"

"i'm.. trying to help, y'know," zapp begins, and when leo gives a short, harsh little laugh, starts to talk over him, zapp continues, cutting him off in return. "hey. shut up for a second and listen. i am. i'm not just.. trying to mess with you."

that's.. such an unthinkable concept, for leo, but the way zapp is standing, looking anywhere but his face, folding his arms, seeming almost uncomfortable, is.. enough to make it seem like there's a slight possibility that he isn't.. lying. that he actually is trying to help, in some way. even though his way is usually awful. this.. is the way he always seems to get, whenever emotions are involved, and leo used to find it funny, but right now, it's.. kind of terrifying. even more terrifying to realize that zapp could be.. perceptive.

"..you need.. to talk to him. because otherwise things are just going to get.. weirder and weirder, you'll feel weird, stuff will build up because it's never getting let out, and.. shit.." zapp's rubbing at the back of his neck, frowning. "..you know what i mean? you just.. can't let an opportunity slip through your fingers because you're too chickenshit to speak up."

"an.. opportunity for what, exactly?"

"happiness?"

it sounds.. even more cheesy coming from zapp renfro, of all people, and it's so hard for him not to laugh. or cry, maybe. he can't tell.

"i don't.."

"look," zapp says, hand raised, sigh heavy, "i can't.. tell you what to do. at the end of the day, you're a hardheaded little bastard who will do whatever he wants to, whenever he wants to do it, but i just.. don't miss out, man. it's.. so much easier than you're making it out to be. trust me. better to say something than not say it and regret.. not saying it."

though leo would rather get hit by a bus before he'd ever trust a word coming out of zapp's mouth, he really did.. seem genuine. and have a point. for once. hell was frozen over, for sure.

"...thanks?"

"whatever. just.. don't.. be so much of an idiot, okay? if someone drops everything to just fly out to see you, that generally means they like being around you. i, personally, can't relate or understand the sentiment, because i'd never do that, sure as hell wouldn't do it for your dumb ass, but.. whatever. you get my point."

"y-yeah, i. yeah. th.. thanks."

when zapp leaves after a very heartfelt grunt and shrug, black still hasn't returned, and leo wonders (worries) that he's.. gotten lost, or something has happened. it was a big hotel. did black even know where a restroom here was? what if he'd asked someone and they purposefully told him the wrong direction? and he'd gotten mugged? the longer he thought about it the worse his train of thought got.. 

a hand gently touching his shoulder has him jumping, abruptly pulling him from his fears, and it's.. black, looking apologetic and smelling faintly like vanilla and honey. 

"i'm so, so sorry, leo.. i received a call when i was in there, and it.. kind of.. went on for awhile. i didn't mean to be away for so long.."

"is everything alright?"

"it's fine! i'm fine.. it was just.. catching up, more than anything.. my uncle has a tendency to.. say he really has to be going then talk for another ten minutes.. multiple times.."

leo observes him, carefully, trying to catch any signs of him.. not being fine. but, it does.. seems to be the case, and he relaxes a little at black's quiet laugh, a small smile coming to his own face once black has plopped back down in the chair next to him.

"what did i miss?"

stuff i'm glad you missed. "ah, not.. much? a lot of people decided they wanted to start dancing, for some reason? most of them, actually.. hence.. the music.. and.. all of that.."

"you didn't want to dance?" black says, almost pouting, playful, his gaze shifts to the crowd of people laughing and bumping into each other. "i'm disappointed.."

"well, i couldn't just do it without you. that'd be rude."

leo's just matching his teasing, but black.. seems to take it to heart, turns a bit pink, clears his throat..

"ah.. l-leo.. you're.. too kind.. if you really want to, we can, ah--"

"oh, no, don't.. don't feel like you have to..! i was.. just.. kidding around. but if you want to, then.."

"do.. you?"

"it.. might be kind of fun?" leo admits, shrugs, realizing that he doesn't.. have much to lose. "who knows. not like it'll kill us or anything. hopefully."

"you never know," black says, seeming.. shy. "my two left feet could.. be considered a hazard."

oh, it was settled.

"c'mon."

and black had allowed himself to be pulled (gently!) by the arm into the fray.

it would be fine! they would be.. fine. a few minutes wouldn't hurt.



how they had managed to get home was.. beyond him.

leo had.. drank.. a considerable amount of wine, after and during dancing, and could.. vaguely recall being in a cab? a car, at least.. the whole party itself after them joinging the crowd had been.. a bit of a blur? black had been more responsible, from what he could piece together, but the other still seemed to have some difficulty putting their key in the door, fumbling, dropping it only to have leo dive to the floor to catch it (despite his protests) as if it were made of glass.

and once the door is open, black flicks the light switch, making his way past leo sprawled out on the couch to the kitchen. opening the fridge, he pulled out two water bottles, at leo's side again before he could even lift his head, holding out one to him and lightly nudging his foot.

"mmmh..?"

"you.. really should drink this.."

leo mumbled something about drinking enough water already, and black sighed, not going to budge on the issue. the smile on his face was.. warm, though. fond. tired.

"leo.. you know you'll regret sleeping here tomorrow. you always wake up sore when you do.."

black, beautiful black, wonderful, sweet, caring black.. had a point. as he often did. but leo would be.. so, so content to just stay like this, in the most uncomfortable position possible, without a blanket or pillow, and deal with the repercussions tomorrow.. if it had been anyone else but black gazing down at him, gently trying to coax him into bed, to take some care of himself. damn him.

"i.. fine.."

"do you need help? i can.. oh, that's, ah.. my bed, but.. that's.. alright.."

in his haze leo had, in fact, made his way over to black's bed, water bottle in hand, bundled up in the sheets, pressed his back to the wall, and grumbled.. black was about to ask if he was alright with him using his bed, but leo turns his head a little, peeking up at him from among the blanket, looking almost comically like a little cloud with how ruffled his hair was.

"a-aren't.. you coming?"

black blinks and just.. stares down at him, for a moment, mind not fully processing the question, not fully processing the situation, unsure of.. how to respond. what to do. breathing, also, was something he was not quite certain how to do, right now, but..

"...i-i can.. go to the couch?"

the way his voice breaks and his fingers nervously fidgeting with the water bottle has leo's heart.. soaring, just a little, and if he were fully conscious right now, the image alone would probably give him a heart attack. and he's.. determined, brows furrowing, a hand reaching out and patting the space beside him with a bit.. too much force.

"will.. please.. you're.. not taking the couch. you just.. told me how uncomfortable it was.."

thankful for the low lighting, black.. shifts on his feet, still.. torn.

"but.."

"i'm.. listen, i really, really am sorry, and you can hit me for this later, but i don't.. feel like moving, right now, and i don't want you having to sleep on my naked bed with no sheets because i forgot them at the laundromat.. i'm not.. punishing you for my mistakes.. please.."

leo genuinely sounds like he's about to cry if this persists any longer which, while adorable, would make him cry, so black is quick to slide in beside him, the bed.. less comfortable than it would be with only one person in it, given its size, but.. black didn't find himself minding all that much, and he was pretty sure leo.. didn't mind. at all. there's a bit more shifting and leo throws the blankets over him, too, seems.. way more content than he had been only seconds before. it's quiet for awhile, to the point that leo thinks black had fallen asleep, but then he speaks up, softly.

"we probably.. should have changed into pajamas.."

"mm.."

"also, i.. wanted to thank you, for tonight. for inviting me. you didn't.. have to do that, and i had.. a lot of fun, leo. really."

leo's suddenly wide awake.

"d-don't, ah.. thank me, for that. of course i invited you. and i'm glad that you had fun.."

black is quiet again for a few more moments, and leo lets him be, not going to intrude on the silence unless prompted, not wanting to seem like he was trying to speak over him.

"...i don't think i'd been to a birthday party since the last one i'd had for mary.."

rolling over, leo faces him, then, very aware of how close their legs are, that they're touching, making no move to adjust himself and noting that black doesn't either.

"..your birthday party? for the both of you?"

"ah, no, actually.." black laughs, softly, head tilting a little against one of the pillows, his face looking.. older, without the glasses. huh. leo had never really.. noticed.. "it's.. going to sound silly, but our parents always had our parties on separate days, just so we each got our own day, but also because technically we were.. born a day apart.."

it's leo's turn to tilt his head, sleepy, sure, but intrigued. and it was far too late for him to personally contemplate that and find an answer himself.

"..how's that work, exactly? you're.. twins.. right?"

"i was born after eleven one night, and mary was after twelve.. so.. new day, and all. our parents thought it was funny.. but, in the long run, it really was better.. my mother would always make mary this huge chocolate cake, and she'd try to eat it all in one sitting.. on my birthday i'd usually just ask for shortcake and mary hated strawberries, so.. mostly for me.. we'd camp out, usually, too.. it was nice."

it's.. so easy to get engrossed in what black says, especially when he's speaking so softly, smiling that wistfully, and leo is.. absolutely going to make it a mission to learn how to bake, as soon as possible.

"that does sound.. really nice."

"it was.. ah, sorry.. for rambling, like that.. i'll let you sleep. i just.. wanted you to know that tonight meant a lot to me."

"you weren't rambling," leo says, a yawn slipping out despite his best efforts to hold it back, body feeling heavy, "and i'm just.. really happy you came."

"mm.. goodnight, leo."

"sleep tight.. something.. about.. bed bugs?"

"not letting them bite."

"ah.. right. that.. that too. goodnight. and.. sorry, again, for stealing your bed."

black had never minded anything less in his entire life.

"it's more than fine."

the next morning leo would find him even closer, breathing peacefully, shirt rumpled, bangs sticking to his forehead, a bit of dried drool at the corner of his lips, and have to suppress a scream.