Chapter 1: The First Day: Proposals
Sinbad has his regrets, and foremost among them right now is his choice of roommate.
It's not that things are bad right now.
Oh, no. They’re actually fantastic.
He really couldn't have asked for a better roommate during his senior year of grad school, that wasn't the problem - the dishes were almost always done, his clothes were not perma-strewn across the floor, and he actually went to sleep before midnight last night, which was a big improvement from being an undergrad. The thing is, he owes it to the fact that not only will he get a disapproving stare for neglecting basic chores, but he actually likes his roommate.
He does. And really, that's the problem, because he's got it bad for Ja'far.
Sinbad pushes back from his desk and groans, wiggling his bare toes against the wall. He's alone right now to torment himself, although ostensibly he's writing out his proposal for the class on basic stone lithography printing that the head of the department wanted him to mock up. Being one of the few graduate art students and the only one with his particular skill set and background in old printing and photo techniques means he's basically public scapegoat number one for the next year, which means he is deeply honored or incredibly terrified at all hours of the night.
Lesson plans, however, are not on his mind right now. They're on his roommate - the roommate who he'd had the strangest friendship with to date, and that doesn't include the guy who he once sent flying down the stairs by accident who'd texted him the next day because they thought it was hilarious. He rakes a hand through his bangs and thinks of the stare Ja'far had given him midway through writing down his order when they first met. To be fair, Sinbad still blames that residual hangover as to why he'd told Ja'far, "Don't add any extra sugar, you're sweet enough."
No, the problem isn't Ja'far in the least. The problem now is - Ja'far has seemed unusually relaxed around the apartment, and if he gets a clear shot of Ja'far's exposed collarbones or the slope of his bare back one more time Sinbad will straight up lose it. And he'd been on the receiving end of these smiles lately - when the fuck, in all sincerity, did he do something good enough to get Ja'far to look so warmly at him when saying goodbye? Sinbad leans back farther and groans, hand plastered firmly over his face. He can blame it on not having dated for the past month and a half, but he's got it so bad that he can't even bring himself to even think about swapping his number at the bar.
He's balancing his chair on two legs by the time he decides that the paperwork clearly isn't getting done today, so he fishes his phone out of his pocket. 10:32. Great - he still should have a few minutes to himself before he inevitably makes himself a fool when Ja'far gets home from work. As he presses his thumb unlock his screen, he idly wonders how Ja'far would construct a dating profile on the one app Sinbad likes to swipe through when bored - then makes a small, strangled noise at the mental image it produces.
Keep your mind in the safe-for-work zone, he grumbles at himself, but in some place in his hindbrain Sin know's what he'd like to see - that one slightly oversized tank top that he's only seen on the rare occasion he'd passed Ja'far in the gym, jogging on the treadmills with a distant look in his eyes, sweat rolling down his neck -
And he realizes that his fingers are brushing his belt just as he hears the sharp click of the lock turning at the door.
Ja'far is just setting a plastic bag down on the counter when Sinbad pushes the door open, and a startled look flashes over his usually composed features - although Sin supposes that he probably looks like a hot mess. His ears are burning, at any rate, but he tries to play it off as smooth and leans against the doorframe. At least he's fully dressed, although his old habit of puttering around in only boxers had become somewhat dangerous as of late for preserving their friendship.
Ja'far can't know, Sinbad tells himself. It took them forever to be friends - so he can suck it up and deal with his fickle heart.
... Although it doesn't help how handsome Ja'far looks in his work attire. Details. "You're, uh, home early," Sinbad offers, tucking two fingers against his collar. "Slow day?"
Ja'far reaches up to loosen his tie (oof, Sin's heart), smiling slightly. "Of sorts. My boss told me I could come in early tomorrow if I wanted to make up the missed time, but it only would amount to about half an hour. It's too lovely of a day out there to be spending it inside, anyway, so I'm not that bothered."
"Yeah, I've been enjoying the sunshine through my window." He had, too - depthless blue summer sky, the kind without a cloud in sight, saturated in light. Hot enough to need the fans, but still cool enough from the morning to not be dying. "What's in the bag?"
"Oh - I stopped at the deli and got us lunch. I figured you hadn't eaten yet. Did you finish your - oh, should I not ask?" Ja'far gives him that smile again, the one that seems to be reserved only for Sinbad, and Sin laughs with a hand on the back of his neck, sheepish.
"Uh, no, but I promise I made progress." He pushes off the doorframe and meanders to the table, poking his nose in the bag while Ja'far moves aside to his own room. The smells of turkey and cheddar waft into his face, and he inhales slowly. Gods, do I love this man, he thinks.
And then he turns to the counter, because he doesn't trust himself to look Ja'far in the eye. "Do you want water or tea?" he asks instead. "I bought some cold lemon tea yesterday."
He receives a noncommittal noise. Then, "Surprise me. Anything that's not coffee sounds excellent."
"I can't relate!" Sin calls at Ja'far's back just before the door swings shut, before busying himself with puttering around the kitchen. He nabs two glasses, two plates, then busies himself with busting out the best of his culinary expertise: which today, it seems, is limited to carving an apple in slices with a sizable dollop of peanut butter in the middle. It'll go well with sandwiches, he's telling himself before he feels a hand in the small of his back and is trying to recall his heart before it gets sandwiched somewhere in his trachea.
“Let's eat; I'm hungry." Ja'far maneuvers around Sinbad and sits heavily at the table, snagging an apple slice as he goes. His eyes crinkle reassuringly at Sinbad, mid-bite, as Sin flops across from him. "You wouldn't believe the weird dichotomy of old people we get at work. It's either the little old ladies who are so sweet I'm always half-ready for them to start pulling candies out of their bag, or the crotchety types who take personal offense to the existence of, gods forbid, anything else then plain, black coffee."
Sinbad chews on his first bite of turkey and cheese, watching as Ja'far delicately reaches for another apple slice. When his mouth is empty, he says, "Are you working tomorrow? You had said about picking up another shift."
Ja'far, with his drink halfway to his mouth, snorts. "Not by choice, but the new girl's been skipping shifts. I picked up the last two, so I'm hoping my manager will kick some other soul into it." He drinks, licks his lips, and goes back for his sandwich. Sinbad looks down and feels embarrassed when he realizes he's mowing through his sandwich like it might disappear. "Otherwise? Tomorrow is my free day."
"Have any plans?" Sinbad crunches on an apple slice, grimacing at the flavor. Granny smiths aren't his favorite, but they were the only ones in the fridge. He'd halfheartedly thought about making a pie at some point, but had gotten derailed rather quickly, as usual.
To his surprise, Ja'far shakes his head. "I'm sure I'll come up with something, but for once, no," he sighs, glancing sideways and tapping at his phone. "The first in a good long while. Guess I should prepare for something terrible to pop up, in that case."
"Wanna hang out with me somewhere?" slips out of Sinbad's mouth, and immediately he wants to kick himself. What happened to rule number one: be subtle? Or rule number eighteen: he must never know?
He waits for some sarcastic comment, but all Ja'far does is give him a long look over the rim of his glasses. Truly, it takes every inch of control in Sinbad's six-foot-frame not to sink down in his chair, and he's already sitting terribly. Then, to his surprise, Ja'far's lips quirk into a smile. "Sure. Have somewhere in mind?"
Sinbad flounders for a second, acutely aware that a delay will clue Ja'far into his slip. "Um. I, uh. Didn't get that far? I was sure you'd be busy." He gives Ja'far what he hopes is a winning smile, crossing his fingers under the table. "It's supposed to be a nice day out tomorrow, though, right? Are you opposed to getting some sunshine?"
Ja'far finishes off the first half of his sandwich, pausing to lick his fingers clean. Sinbad tries not to linger on the action, focusing on taking a long sip of water. "You know I sunburn terribly, but, no, I don't think I'd mind walking around somewhere as long as there's plenty of shade. I like you, but I'm not getting heatstroke for you."
"Would I ask that of you?"
Ja'far just smiles.
"Uh - well. We could go to that amusement park half an hour away. You know, ice cream, plenty of air-conditioned shops to explore, ice cold lemonade, rides, food..."
"Oh? I can't even of think the last time I've been there." Ja'far swallows and frowns down at his plate. "I'm sure I've been there at least once when I was little, but..."
On impulse, Sinbad reaches over and places his hand over Ja’far's forearm. To say he knows much about Ja'far's childhood is a big lie - he knows the names of a few of his adopted brothers, and he's met one of them, but it's not something. Sinbad gets it - he's heard plenty of stories enough from kids who grew up in the system - but it's easy to forget when Ja'far always exudes this aura of ‘calm and unsettled.’ These small moments of quietude, of morning breakfasts and cheap fast food, of seeing the slivers of deep emotion that he's sure Ja'far hides from so many others.. it's a gift, and Sinbad treasures each one even as he wishes he could smooth away those frowns.
It's important to them both, to their friendship, and that's why Ja'far can't know of this tiny little crush that Sinbad is nursing in his heart.
"Hey, now." Sinbad feels his ears heat up a little, but he tries to keep his gaze steady. Ja'far's steely grey eyes have met his - not angry, but a little distant. "We'll go have a good time of it, yeah? I'll even pay for some of the ice cream. Or we could get some sundaes! Or go to one of the nicer eateries!" He files away the mental image of Ja'far sharing an ice cream with him as daydream material for later. Then he realizes Ja'far is laughing at him, just a little, and does his best to pout back.
This makes Ja'far snort. Then he places his other hand over Sinbad's (fuck, he's practically holding my hand, and it's a nice hand because it's Ja'far's but it's very soft and I'm having a bisexual crisis over here) and says, mock-serious, "Is that a plan, my friend?"
Sinbad smacks his free hand on the table, excited in spite of himself. "Yeah it is. We're going to go to the amusement park, we're gonna have fun, and we're going to make the best memories like have never been made before."
Ja'far smiles and squeezes his hand before withdrawing. Then, as he picks up the last bit of his sandwich, he adds, "I'll have to pick out something nice to wear. I’d want to look nice for a first date out."
Sinbad doesn't choke on his sandwich, but it's a very near thing.
That night, Sinbad had set his alarm for 7:30 in the morning. Bright and early, although earlier than he usually preferred to get up - but, he figured, this would give him plenty of time to wake up, pick out something decent to wear (even if this wasn't an actual for-real date, his heart could pretend as much) and maybe even give him time to make Ja'far something nice for breakfast. It's a good thought, super good, and he gets so excited about it that he stays up for a half-hour scrolling through cute cat videos online to help him chill the fuck out.
So, naturally, he sleeps through his alarm.
He wakes up to the sun shining in on his face and the screaming of that one particularly fat chickadee that loves to sit right outside his window and yell his little heart out. He blinks, groans, slaps a hand over his face - and remembers that he had actual plans for the day. Pulse suddenly hammering, he sits up and scrabbles on his desk for his phone. After realizing that he'd set it under his pillow last night, he swipes it open and immediately wants to hop out the window upon seeing 9:23 emblazoned over his Final Fantasy-themed lock screen.
Now, what Sinbad really wants to do is lay back and perhaps scream into his pillow a little, but he forces himself to untangle from the sheets and stagger to the bedroom door. He throws it open, hoping that Ja'far hasn't ditched him like a loser for whatever he'd originally been planning to do - and gapes, wide-eyed, at his roommate, who is standing right in front of him with a mug and a plate of pancakes.
For a few heartbeats, Ja'far stares back, looking not quite so shocked as he does taken aback. He glances down at his hands, then back up at Sinbad, and then holds them out. "Here."
On reflex, Sinbad accepts the proffered plate and cup. Then, with a crack in his voice, he says, "What's this all about?"
He can blame his hesitation on noticing Ja'far's sleepwear - a low-hanging tank top with a faded parakeet emblazoned in small on the front and pants that pooled a little around the ankle. Slightly woebegone, he looks down at his plate. The top pancake even has a little dollop of whipped cream. Fuck, that’s cute. And he’s cute. God, shut up, brain.
"I woke up at eight and sat on the couch for a bit, and then figured I'd make us a better breakfast than we usually eat." Ja'far shifted his weight to one leg, crossing his arms and tilting his head at Sinbad. "I thought you liked pancakes?"
"Well - yeah. I do."
Ja'far cracks a smile and starts to turn. Before he can speak, Sinbad interrupts him.
"But - I was going to surprise you."
Ja'far turns back a half-measure. "Hm?"
Foot, meet mouth. "I was... gonna wake up early and make you something nice." He may as well admit the truth, since Ja'far's always had this way of seeing right through his bullshit, and he honestly doesn't have any other defenses up. Sinbad never was a morning person.
He's a little too embarrassed to meet Ja'far's eyes when he was saying this, but when he looks back up he catches the tail end of... something expression he's not sure what to make of. Something one part surprised, one part - he doesn't know and probably won't find out, because Ja'far's now wearing a funny little smile, like he did when Sin had come out of his room yesterday. He only says, however, "Well, I guess I beat you to the punch?" before turning back towards the kitchen.
"Yeah," Sinbad says to the plate. Well. He's never been one to turn down food, and this just means lunch is definitely on him. He swings a chair out at their poor, battered dinner table that usually also serves as a work surface (and is stained by burn marks, paint, ink, and what Sinbad is still pretty sure was the mark of a knife embedded very, very deeply in the table) and sits just as Ja'far joins him, mug of tea in hand.
After several minutes of companionable eating, Sinbad clears his throat and pushes aside his plate. "So, what's our gameplan?" He asks, figuring he'd better know what Ja'far wants out of this trip so it seems like... the best not-date it could be.
Gods, he's so fucking desperate.
Ja'far folds his arms along the edge of the table and blinks peacefully at him. "Well, there's a bandshell at the one end of the park, and some local groups will be playing this evening. If we're there late enough, I wouldn't mind listening."
"I mean, one of the best times to be at a park like this is when they turn on all the lights at night." Sinbad scratches his chin. "Anyone you know?"
"No, but it seems there will be a mix of genres."
"I'd like to go to the arcade."
"Of course you would."
Sinbad flushes slightly. "Listen, just for that, I'm going to win the biggest, gaudiest plush bear, and you're gonna be the one forced to carry it around all day."
"Uh... huh. Either way, I didn't have anything else I definitely wanted to do. I'm fine with going with the flow, although you didn't seem to be the person to meticulously plan the order of the rides you went on...?"
Startled, Sinbad laughs. "No, dude. I... might be the kind of person to ride the same thing five times in a row, but as long as I get to go on a couple roller coasters, I'm all good."
"I'll leave those to you." Ja'far shakes his head and pushes away from the table. "I have a backpack and some water bottles all ready to go, so once you're dressed I'm ready."
See, this is how Ja'far made him a better person. "Give me a few, and I'll be set."
"I never thought we were gonna make it," Sinbad moans, draping himself artistically across the steering wheel.
"If a certain someone hadn't gotten distracted by a roadside farmer's stand for strawberries, we wouldn't have missed our turn."
Sinbad doesn't bother to open his eyes. "You don't think homemade jam is worth it?"
"All I am saying is that it better be pretty good j-"
"We're here though!" Sinbad cuts across whatever Ja'far was about to say, studiously ignoring the look he's receiving from the passenger seat. He splays his hands towards the windshield. "We're here and we're not in a rush, it's all about the journey, blah, blah, blah. Are you ready?"
Ja'far unclips his seatbelt. "No, I was going to tell you to turn the car around." He turns to reach into the seat behind him, and Sinbad enjoys the pressure of Ja'far pressing into his shoulder for a moment while he's grabbing the backpack. He slips the keys from the ignition and pockets them before unlatching his door.
Once he's outside he loiters for a second, watching Ja'far rummage through their bag. It gives him a chance to watch Ja'far and admire the way that olive-green shirt complimented his eyes, and way his khakis framed his legs - and then looks away, face burning slightly. Fortunately, Ja'far comes sidling up to him, grey eyes squinting into the sunlight. "I'm ready when you are, Sin."
Sinbad tucks his hands into the pockets of his jeans and offers him a grin. He'd even tried to dress nicely as well, opting for a more muted button-up instead of one of the more violently-patterned shirts he usually wore out with friends, although if Ja'far complimented him he probably wouldn't be able to take it. Ja'far eyes him amusedly for a second and hands him something, which Sinbad belatedly realizes is a pair of sunglasses. He slips them on and shakes his head. "Always prepared, huh?"
"Someone has to be." It's not said meanly, so Sinbad sticks his tongue out as they start following the sidewalk into the park. "No offense, of course."
It's a beautiful day - sunny, but not yet muggy. They scored a great parking place, at least, so they only have to walk a short distance to get to the ticket kiosk. The line actually isn't too long, so Sinbad fiddles with his pockets to find his wallet - just in time to see Ja'far twisting to rummage in the backpack.
"Put that away," Sinbad hisses, batting Ja'far's hands and trying to keep him from grabbing anything. "I'm paying. I got us lost and you made breakfast, so I'm gonna buy our tickets."
"I can buy - "
"No. Put it away."
"I can at least - "
"I'm serious, Ja'far!"
Ja'far sighs, long-suffering. "You'd better not be planning on buying everything when we get in the park, Sin."
"This was my suggestion, so wouldn't that be right for me to pay for most of it?"
"You were telling me a few days ago how you didn't have enough money for ch-"
"That's a meme, Ja'far, I'm a bad person, but I really swear I'm paying for the tickets. I am. Put it away, I will sling you across my shoulder and carry you into - "
Ja'far tries to bump him out of queue with his hip, but this only fuels Sinbad on further.
"Ja'far, come on. Please?"
They are almost to the top of the line, and Ja'far gives him one long look before deflating slightly and zipping the backpack back up. "Fine. Go ahead, Sin." But, as Sinbad shuffles forward, he feels Ja'far press into his shoulder and hiss, "But if you try to pay for everything I will get you back for it... later." Sinbad feels a small thrill course down his back, but all he can do is bob his head in agreement and duck down to the stand.
The older lady running the kiosk looks incredibly bored, as though she's envisioning herself trotting for the gates as fast as she can. Not that Sinbad can blame her. "Um, how much does two packs of tickets cost?"
She doesn't even twitch. "It's $18 a pack, son."
Ah. Sinbad decides to use his credit card, figuring that he'd better save his cash for food and arcade shenanigans. He pays as quick as he can and stuffs the tickets in his pocket, then scowls at the look Ja'far is giving him. "What?"
Ja'far holds out his hand, and Sinbad has a moment of confusion. What? He'd paid with his own card, he didn't take anything from Ja'far. Did - did he want to hold hands? What -
"The tickets, Sin. If I have guessed the kind of rides you typically go for, on the first one that tosses you upside-down they'll go flying from you pocket. Give them to me, I'll put them in the bag."
Sinbad slumps, handing them over. That was rather cutting. He glances at Ja'far from the corner of his eye as they turn into the park. "Are you... You are excited to be here, Ja'far?"
Ja'far blinks, as though startled, before a small snort of a laugh escapes his lips. "Yes, Sinbad. I really am... I mean it. I'm sorry, I guess I'm used to running damage control a little too much. I didn't mean to come across as annoyed."
Sinbad sighs before smiling in spite of himself. "Well, I guess I deserve it sometimes. I'd be a bit of a mess without you." He forces himself to stop there, heart hammering suddenly. No, this wasn't confession central, and he's not too impressed with the little waver of his voice at the end. This is a little too close to a-little-more-than-friends territory, so he looks away just in time to watch a little kid go running past and trip, face-planting in the gravel.
"Whoa, there, little dude!" Sinbad crouches down, fully expecting the kid to be ready to bawl - but when they push themselves up, it's only to look at Sinbad and giggle, wide brown eyes shining. Sin stares, then shakes his head. "Well, I guess you're excited, huh?"
"You wouldn't know it to look at him, but he was dead-to-the-world asleep in the car ten minutes ago," says a woman behind him, whom he takes to be the mother as he and the kid turn. The kid lights up and points at Sinbad, babbling, and the lady laughs and reaches to swing him up into her arms. She smiles at Sinbad. "Sorry about that."
"Oh, no problem. You have fun, little man!" He says to the kid, waving, then turns back around to Ja'far - who is looking at him with a soft expression, the corner of his mouth quirked. "What?"
Ja'far shakes his head and turns back to the thoroughfare. "Oh, nothing."
Sinbad trots to catch up, feeling his excitement start to rise again. "So, what do you want to do first?" He feels an arm link with his, and turns to see Ja'far smiling that certain smile again. His heart does a little tap-dance against his throat.
"You can choose first. Lead the way, Sinbad."
He will, if his heart can handle this.
Cross-Posted on my Tumblr account.
I had wanted to cover the entire park trip in this chapter, but decided to split it in half.
As always, thanks for reading!