The car is slowing down. They're nowhere near March's house and they’re nowhere near a bar, which are the two primary reasons March ever has for stopping his car. Healy pushes his sunglasses up his nose and struggles out of the haze he’d fallen into, the patter of March’s idle chatter and the movement of the car lulling him into the kind of security that should feel false, but doesn’t.
The midday sun pours heat into March's convertible and the hot asphalt bounces it back up again; without the rush of air from the moving car, a sheen of sweat is already forming on Healy's forehead as he turns to regard March with a flat stare. Doesn't matter that March can't see his eyes behind his sunglasses. The stare is a full body experience.
"Wow. Observant. You sure you're not the detective?" He's taking the keys out of the ignition. His mouth is doing that thing where it parallels the downward slant of his mustache, which usually means he's hiding something, or planning something, or maybe just wanting a cigarette. Healy doesn't like it at all.
A quick glance at their current surroundings reveals no meaningful clues. Just another LA suburb, not too far from March's place, a little run down, but not bad enough to make Healy's fingers itch for his old brass knuckles.
Observation having failed him, Healy turns back to March. "Why have we stopped?"
March does an awkward jackknife to dig a paper out of his back pocket and squint at the writing against the noonday LA sun. "119 Cirrus Avenue. I called this morning, got us a time slot with the realtor."
"Yeah, it's like a person who sells real estate."
Healy smiles sweetly. "I know what a fucking realtor is."
"Well, good." Deftly March flips his pack of cigarettes out of his breast pocket and tugs one out with his teeth. The motion is so ingrained he could probably do it after being lobotomized. "That should save time."
"I like my apartment, March."
"You don’t have an apartment. You have half an apartment. The other half is all bullet-holes. And there's that blue paint shit that's never going to come off the wall.” March gestures emphatically with his lighter, making the flame wilt and dance before raising it to his cigarette. “You look like you live in some kind of shitty modern art installment, on like, the futility of—of—fuck.” March throws his hands up. “I'm not stupid or pretentious enough to finish that joke."
"Your opinion on my apartment is irrelevant," Healy says, in a tone that makes it clear that his opinion is also incorrect. "I don't want to move, March."
"Well, we've already got an appointment. So I guess you'll have to follow me around this house and pretend to care about faucets and window placement."
"Are those your top qualifications for finding a place to live in?" Healy says, but March is already getting out of the car.
In the long moments that follow, March leaning on his car door expectantly and Healy staring him down, refusing to budge, there's no sound but the distant hiss of a sprinkler and the rumble of distant traffic.
"Or you could wait out here," March says, and the heat seems to intensify as if on command. God damn fucking convertible.
"Cirrus avenue sounds like circus avenue," Healy mutters as he pops open his door. It's weak as both a joke and a criticism, and March scoffs accordingly.
"Yeah, you'll fit right in."
It becomes a thing. Which should be weird, should be notable, but the worst of it is that March and Healy have a lot of things between them. Hitting the bar, any bar, after work on the case is done. Playing ping-pong with Holly on the kitchen table with a net Healy helped her gerry-rig out of some plywood and waxed paper. And now, apparently, apartment hunting. It's a thing. It isn't weird.
"Mr. Healy, look." The real estate spread of today's paper inserts itself between Healy and his plate of eggs. Maybe that’s another thing, the whole ‘having breakfast together every other morning thing,’ but, well, Healy likes an early start and the only way to ensure March is out of bed on time is to drag him out by his ankles. Sometimes literally. Staying for breakfast is practically a courtesy at that point.
Healy looks up into Holly’s bright, hopeful face. “This one has a pool,” Holly says.
From the stool on Holly’s other side, March leans over to squint at the listing. “That’s in a really shitty neighborhood, honey. Mr. Healy doesn’t want to live there.”
“I think he can take care of himself,” Holly says primly.
“Eh. He’s not so tough.”
“He beat you up, didn’t he?” Holly says, with the conviction that Healy could easily do it again. Privately, Healy agrees. March has all the physical prowess of an overcooked spaghetti noodle.
A flicker of irritation passes over March’s face. He pulls out his box of cigarettes and takes one between his teeth. He’s not even finished eating his eggs. “You really love bringing that up, huh?”
“Yep,” Holly says.
Healy leans forward to stare at March over Holly’s head. “No smoking at the breakfast table, March.”
“Who’s house is this?” But March puts the cigarette away unlit all the same.
At some point, March starts a checklist of must-haves for the new apartment Healy doesn’t actually want. The initial list is scrawled on a cocktail napkin, with Healy begrudgingly playing along. The next apartment March drags him to, March keeps pulling the napkin out of his pocket and putting it back again, squinting at his drunken handwriting before crumpling it up again.
“Hold still,” he says at one point, smoothing the napkin against Healy’s rounded shoulder so he can check off a few more points. Healy is as still as stone. He can feel the press of March’s pen as if it were scribbling frantic sigils right on Healy’s skin.
Healy almost tells him to put the list away. Almost tells him they’re leaving. But what he says is, “Don’t get ink on my shirt,” and March snorts and keeps writing.
They stay the whole time after all, and by the end of the tour the prickling on the inside of Healy’s skin has subsided to bearable levels.
The napkin falls apart shortly afterwards, and the next list is neatly written on a piece of pink paper in Holly’s handwriting; March loses it and Holly gets mad, and somehow it’s Healy who ends up smoothing things over. All three of them sit down to make the next one, sitting on the floor with a couple glasses of cheap bourbon and a lemonade for Holly, coming up with the most outlandish ideas for the palatial estate Healy’s going to move to.
And when March inevitably loses that list, Holly just crosses her arms and shakes her head at him. “You’re such an idiot, dad,” she says, with a knowing glance in Healy’s direction. “It’s a good thing you have Mr. Healy around to make sure you don’t wander off a cliff.”
March splutters something indignant, and Healy just smiles—unable or unwilling to acknowledge how happy he is, or the reasons why.
One list March scrawls right on his skin, on his palm. There’s something intimate about that. Not like Healy says anything about it, of course. They’re sitting in the car outside of March’s house afterward and Holland shoves his sweaty palm into Healy’s face. “Look, dude, we checked off more than half that time. Including the water bed.”
Very carefully, Healy wraps a hand around March’s wrist and moves his hand further back, so he can squint at the smeared marker on Holland’s hand, the black running into the creases of his hand. He stares at it what seems a reasonable amount of time, and then lets go of March’s wrist. He hadn’t read a word of it.
“Not bad,” he says, and his mouth is very dry. Must be the evening heat.
March stares at him a moment too long before he shakes his head and yanks the keys out of the ignition. “Next on the list is a new pair of glasses,” he says, but as kindly as Holland March is capable of saying anything.
It’s not a thing.
Okay. It might be a thing.
It’s after a regular day on the job, interviewing college students and diner waitresses and making sure March doesn’t drink too much afterward at the bar, that Healy steps back into his apartment and realizes March is right. He doesn’t want to live there anymore. It never really felt like home, but it had felt like his; now it’s just the place he goes to crash after he leaves March’s house; a place where he wakes up and gets ready to go back. When did that happen? Why doesn’t it scare him?
Healy stands in the threshold to his apartment for a long moment, just staring at the shapes of his furniture mute and half-submerged in darkness. The neon lights from outside slip through the blinds like they always do. There’s absolutely nothing here that Healy couldn’t leave behind.
Jackson Healy is not the kind of man to scare easy. He acts. It’s what he does.
He turns around and shuts the door behind him, and it feels sort of like when you finally stop trying to pull two magnets apart.
When March opens the door in the dead of night and sees Healy standing there, his expression barely changes. No surprise, no annoyance. Wordlessly, Healy holds up a bottle of something he grabbed off the bottom shelf without even looking at it; March’s eyes lock onto it. When they return to Healy, there’s something else--something he can't quite pinpoint just yet.
“Well alright then,” March says, and steps aside to let him in.
If March were a suaver man, or maybe just a smarter one, he wouldn’t ask what Healy was doing back there that night. But he isn’t. He pesters Healy with questions as he leads him to the backyard, needles him again as they sit and drink, the warm wet LA night close around them, a dull grey starless haze above.
“I mean, it’s not like it bothers me.” March’s shoulder bumps his. “You didn’t even have to bribe me with booze. That’s how little I mind that you showed up at my house at whatever-the-fuck-o-clock it is.”
“How generous of you,” Healy says, taking a swig from the bottle they share without glasses. It tastes like it’s been brewed in a public urinal. March drinks it like water. Healy chokes it down. He’s never been the sort of man to rely on liquid courage, but he’s also never done anything like what he thinks he’s about to do now.
“So you’re really not going to tell me what all this is about, huh.”
“I’m working my way up to it.”
Both their legs dangle over the edge of the pool where they sit. Their knees jostle, and then stay pressed together. It's nothing. It's easy.
“Okay. Because you’re kind of freaking me out a little bit, I’m not going to lie. I mean, again. Great that you’re here. That’s not sarcasm. Mi casa, tu casa, blah blah blah.”
It’s at that point that March tries to lean forward to give Healy’s knee what is probably meant to be a friendly clasp. Unfortunately, March’s sense of timing, balance, and spatial awareness is never exactly in top form. As such, March leans forward, grabs Healy’s knee—and tips face-forward into the deep end of the empty pool.
“I’m fine. Ow. I’m fine. Jesus Christ.”
“You are not fine,” Healy explains, quite patiently given the circumstances, as he man-handles March through the living room with a hard grip on the back of his shirt. It’s clammy with the filthy scrum of residual water March had managed to roll every inch of his body in before Healy got down there to haul him up. “You just fell face-first down a seven foot drop. You probably have a concussion.”
“Don’t worry, I just landed on my head,” March says, as Healy gets him to the couch. The noise March makes as Healy deposits him on the cushions resembles the squeal of a rusty hinge.
“Well, that’s good,” Healy says. “Nothing to worry about in there.”
March’s face turns petulant. It shouldn’t be endearing, but. “You know, you could be a little nicer to me. I almost died.”
“Thought you said you were fine.”
“I am fine! But almost!”
“Don’t get up.” There’s really no need for Healy to be stern; March is already slumping back against the cushions and pulling out a cigarette. Healy snags it off of Marchs’ lips before he can light it, and all March does is groan.
A minute later, Healy returns with a bag of frozen peas colonized by a mold of freezer burn. March’s head is tilted back, his eyes closed as he pinches the bridge of his nose. His hands are all scraped up; that and some bruises are the worst of the damage as far as Healy can tell. March is resilient. Like a rubber ball, or a cockroach, except neither of those comparisons seem to encompass the sort of feelings Healy is fighting down as he settles beside March on the couch and proffers the towel-wrapped block of frozen vegetables.
“Oh, fuck yes.” March takes it and slaps it on his head, immediately yelps. Healy has to resist the urge to lean over and do it for him, to press it slowly and gently the way it’s meant to be. March is too rough with himself, like his body is a cheap suit he can’t be bothered to take care of, one he doesn’t even like anymore. Healy likes it, though. Not like he’s spent a lot of time thinking about March’s body in any capacity beyond the fact that March is the one inhabiting it. But he thinks maybe he could help take care of it, if March would let him.
“You jumped in right after me, huh? That was nice of you.” When Healy looks up, March is staring at him with a smile that’s far too smug for a man who smells like an ashtray someone pissed in. “Concerned for my safety, were you?”
Healy makes a noncommittal noise under his breath. Yes, he’d jumped in right after March, and no, he hadn’t actually thought about it; one moment March was touching his knee and the next March was gone, and Healy had acted in the only way that made sense to him in the moment.
In the end, Healy shrugs. “If you crack your head open, I’ll have to run a new ad in the paper.”
“No more March and Healy,” March says, a little wistfully. “That would be a shame. It’s a good ad.”
“It is a good ad,” Healy echoes.
The silence stretches out. March slowly draws the frozen peas away from his head, and lays it on the arm of the couch with a care and methodical air that tells Healy something is about to change.
“You know, I just feel like maybe Holly was right? About having you around.” March shakes his head, winces at the movement or maybe at the sentiment. “I mean not about you needing to like, nanny me. I can take care of myself, and I know that present circumstances don’t exactly provide a shining example of that, but.” He gestures vaguely. “Yeah. So. What do you think?”
It takes a couple moments for Healy to comb through what March is saying. “What exactly are you asking me?”
“I’m saying I’m sick of this apartment hunting shit,” March says, irritable now. March doesn’t have a train of thought, he has an army Jeep barreling through the metaphorical jungle, always roaring off in a new direction. “And I know you were from the beginning, so maybe we should just do the simple thing and stay here.”
“Stay here,” Healy repeats. “As in, move in with you.”
“Split the rent,” March says, barreling ahead. He isn’t looking at Healy; his eyes dart around the room as he ticks things off on his fingers. “I save money, you save money and a commute, we can set up some kind of office area for work stuff—so, you know. Win-win.”
“Huh,” Healy says. At the sound of his voice, March’s eyes finally snap to him.
“I mean, you don’t have to. It just made sense to me.” March reaches for his pack of cigarettes—and stops. Puts the pack back in his pocket, agitated as he glances at Healy out the corner of his eyes. “We could both get something out of it is all. And, you know. Convenient. So. There’s that.”
“There is that.”
March takes a breath. His hands settle on his elbows, tight over his chest. “You’re good to have around,” he says at last. And Holly likes you, you know, and she was the one who said I should ask you, so you really can’t say no, for her sake.” March stares at him, a little twinge of something behind his eyes. “You’re not going to say no, right?”
Healy leans forward. There’s no thought involved; no plan; no endgame. He just wraps an arm around the small of March’s back and lays his other hand on the side of his neck, and kisses him. Simple as that. March’s shirt is still wet under his palm, that disgusting water making it nothing at all between Healy's hand and the skin beneath, a damp thin clinging layer, phenomenally warm. The mustache is a learning curve. Healy doesn't mind; isn't capable of minding anything at the moment.
When he pulls back at last, he gets a brief but gratifying glimpse of March with his eyes closed before they open, and blink far too many times.
“Did—” March breaks off, licks his lips—which would be incredibly distracting if it weren’t for Healy’s heart pounding up the back of his throat, waiting to see how the sentence is going to end. “Did that really just happen?”
“Yeah,” Healy says. His voice is hoarse. He’s still holding March close, so gently that even a shift of position would break the embrace; but March is stock-still, and he stares into Healy’s face as if searching for something he already knows is there.
“Okay,” March says. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Is this okay.” Healy speaks slow and plain.
“I don’t know, actually. Let me just. Um.”
It’s March who leans forward that time, March whose mouth presses to Healy’s, a bit sloppy, wholly unexpected, and over again before Healy can collect enough of his scattered brain cells to kiss him back properly. March pulls away, the motion bird-quick, and frowns at Healy’s mouth like it’s a pack of cigarettes with the nerve to turn up empty.
“Yeah,” he says at last. “I’m pretty sure that’s—yeah. That’s probably going to be fine.”
“Well, that’s really comforting to hear,” Healy says, unable to bite back the sarcasm. “I’m so reassured.”
“Are you always such a dick after you kiss someone for the first time? Don’t answer that. I might as well feel like I’m special.” March takes the bag of peas off the arm of the couch and moves to slap it back across his head. Healy intercepts him halfway, tugs the makeshift cold-pack out of his unresisting hands, and gives in to the impulse to gently do it for him. March doesn’t comment, which in itself is a miracle. He just leans back, relaxing slowly, and eyes Healy suspiciously. His fingers raise to smooth at his mustache, and if they linger at his lips it’s only for a millisecond.
“You are moving in though, right?”
Healy smiles at his own knees. He feels like, if he let it, the happiness and relief could pour out into his lap like water. “I can move in tomorrow.”
“Okay. Good.” March shifts the bag of peas against his head, staring at the wall. “Stay tonight, though.”
“Change your fucking shirt.”