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Jeremy slammed his laptop shut and glared at the lid with its stupid smug rainbow Trojan decal.  He was halfway tempted to test its aerodynamics out his upstairs window, but he didn’t want the hassle of buying a new one.  And it wasn’t precisely the computer’s fault that that ridiculous reporter hadn’t been able to keep her mouth shut. Or that he had watched the interview on repeat half a dozen times, and it didn’t get better with familiarity.

He pulled out his phone and started to tap out a text, but it was coming out all wrong and he slammed the little backspace button aggressively.  Screw this. He’d go take a shower, blast his music as loud as he wanted, and when he finished all of this bullshit would be behind him and he could make dinner in peace.

It sorta/kinda worked, at least until he came back downstairs in his favorite oversized shirt and threadbare sweatpants, hair still wet, humming Wait For It under his breath.  His phone binged at him; he checked it reflexively and saw a text from Kevin Day of all people.  He didn’t even read the damn thing, just let the phone fall; it bounced off the edge of the table, hit the chair on the way down, and landed, face down, on the tile floor.  

Figured.  

He had planned on some broiled fish and veggies with that passably-edible whole grain couscous his nutritionist had hooked him up with, but there was no way in hell he was eating that now.  Luckily there were some onions, a habanero, and a packet of ground beef in the fridge, and his mother had sent him her home-canned tomatoes a few weeks ago.

If ever he needed to make chili, today was that day.  It didn’t take long before the familiar aroma of sauteing onions was wafting through the whole first floor.  There was something so comforting about the routine of chopping and frying, the scents and the sounds. After a few minutes, his heart rate had slowed enough that he went and snagged his phone off the floor.  By some miracle, the screen hadn’t cracked. Okay. One good thing today.

Cranking Hamilton back up, by the time he was stirring in the tomatoes he was bopping along with the music.  He had gotten into it with one of the defensemen on his team over Hamilton , but he defied anyone to really listen to it and not get completely entranced.  Jeremy lacked the willpower not to sing along; as terrible as he was at rapping, he knew this entire thing by heart and besides, who gave a shit if he sucked?  “I am not throwing away My. Shot. I am not throwing away. My. Shot.” He spun around in the kitchen, holding his wooden spoon like a microphone—only to discover Jean standing, bemused or amused, in the doorway.

Jeremy immediately hid the spoon behind his back, and Jean’s beautiful mouth twitched up.  “Is that my shirt?” Jean asked, surveying Jeremy.

“No,” Jeremy said.  Jean raised one eyebrow.  “It was your shirt, but I have claimed it in the name of missing you.”

Jean laughed and dropped his suitcase to come into the kitchen.  Jeremy tossed the spoon onto the counter and let Jean pull him into his arms.  “I missed you,” Jean murmured into his ear.

Jeremy hummed.  “I thought you didn’t land until later.”

“I caught an earlier flight.”

Jeremy wasn’t precisely short, but Jean could still rest his cheek on the top of his head and standing like that was Jeremy’s favorite thing in the world.  He wanted to stay there for the rest of time, or at least until bedtime, but after a not-long-enough moment Jean released him.

“It’s a chili night?”

“Yeah,” Jeremy said, looking over his shoulder at the pot just beginning to bubble.

“What happened?”

Ugh, Jean knew him too well.  Jeremy went over to stir the chili and turn the heat down on the stove; he felt like he was being eaten alive from the inside out, all interest in food devoured by the parasite of anxiety.  “You saw the interview?” It was almost impossible to meet Jean’s eyes; it would have been unforgivable not to.

“I did, mon cher .  You did brilliantly.”  There was no lie in his beautiful gray eyes, but Jeremy literally did not know how he could say such a thing.  He almost wondered if Jean had missed the all-important last two minutes.

“I outed us.”

Jean nodded.  “Yes, I noticed.”  There was no humor in his voice, no dismissal, no censure.  “But given the disgusting things they were asking about Laila and Sara, I don’t blame you.  I probably would have been far less...diplomatic.”

The gnawing creature in Jeremy’s gut quieted.  It had been appalling, the way the woman had tried to goad him into trashing his former teammates.  And her jaw-dropped shock had been rather amusing when, instead, he had calmly informed her that no, he did not believe that they were setting a poor example for young girls, and that if they were then so were he and Jean, and honestly half of professional exy.

“Can I kiss you right now?” he blurted out.

Now Jean did laugh.  “I didn’t think you needed to ask.”  He closed the gap between them.

He would never get tired of this feeling.  It had been years since Jean had showed up in California, a battered shell of a person, his soul retreated into the deepest crevices in an attempt to survive.  Every moment since then had been a small miracle, but kissing Jean—the fact that somehow he had managed to earn Jean’s trust and love—well, that was the eighth wonder of the world.    

Somehow he managed not to burn the chili, and they spent the rest of the night talking.  About Jean’s trip to New York; about the movie they had been wanting to see; about the end of the season and their plans for the few weeks before their national teams called them up.  Jeremy still couldn’t believe that if all went well they’d be playing against each other in the Exy World Cup tournament, but so it was. And then they spent time not talking much at all.

Later, so long past midnight Jeremy couldn’t even believe the clock, he lay curled onto Jean’s chest, listening to the slow thud of his heart and letting the tension of the past twenty four hours dissipate into nothingness.  None of that bullshit mattered anyway, not when he had this.

Just before he fell asleep, Jean murmured something in sleepy French.  Jeremy wasn’t so good at French, but he was able to piece this together, and tears started in his eyes.   You own my heart .  

Jeremy tucked himself in impossibly tighter to Jean’s side, thinking of the ring he had bought while Jean was in New York, that would be ready to be picked up tomorrow.  “You own my soul,” he whispered, then let himself drift into dreams.