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January

 

David trudges down the hill toward the raging party, his hands tucked in the pockets of his light gray suit. His lips are tingling. Seconds before, he was kissing his best friend—by accident, of course. Kissing Tommy Shepherd on purpose would be, by all rights, a lapse in judgment that would cost him the title of genius for sure. Tommy's got a lot of issues; David isn't interested in being one of them.

Right now, his mouth is the only warm thing about him. It's a minute past midnight on January first; it's frickin' freezing. David can act like the cool guy all he wants, but really, he's just cold. Bone cold and heart cold and maybe that's why Tommy ran when he realized David was accidentally kissing him, or maybe it's because Tommy's cold, too.

His mouth was warm.

It was an anticlimactic reunion at best, after months of searching for his friend. David had assumed he'd feel more triumphant, more resolved, once Tommy was rescued—but with every mutant under the age of thirty that he knows partying below, it feels more like prom night than a victory. He won Tommy back in a game he didn't realize he was playing, and he still can't figure out the rules.

He stares down the hill, a cacophony of shouts, laughter, and bad singing climbing up the rise to keep him company as he descends. The party calls him. It shouldn't be this normal. Billy's a budding god. Teddy's an alien prince. America and Noh-varr are ass-kicking space refugees who wear awesome like varsity jackets. Loki's all of those things, and older than David can comfortably wrap his head around (and his head has been Wolverine's head, so that's saying something). Even Kate's exceptional, solely because she can keep up with them.

But they're all down there getting drunk and dancing to trap music like ordinary teenagers, while David, by far the only one of them who can truly be called "ordinary", stands up here chatting with gods and monsters.

Why him?

Patri-not was trying to tell him. Whatever the entity was—is—it knew what David wasn't getting. But it also riddled up the answers in games and cryptic statements and wouldn't make it easy for him, not that anyone, ever, anywhere had made things easy for David. It—he—made it seem like David should have put the pieces together already. Like David should know.

David knows . . . David knows that Billy did something. Billy did something big, and it stretched out to stain Teddy and America and Loki and Kate and Noh-Varr and it even reached all the way to Bedford to sink its claws into Tommy and David, who shouldn't have been involved. But where Billy goes, Tommy goes, and where Tommy goes, David follows—like David needs another reason to be hated by Billy Kaplan. Bad enough he kissed the guy's boyfriend. Bad enough he's still fuzzy on what that means, on whether he wants Teddy or the idea of Teddy or just guys in general and Teddy happened to be there; bad enough that Patri-not kissed him and that was weird and then it was Tommy kissing him and that was right.

He can figure out the world pretty easily. He can describe countries, histories, social structures. He can give a general overview of economies and the free market vs. socialism and break down the issues that stretch across borders and around the globe. He's got at least three professors in his head, and although he hasn't put in the time to earn any doctorates, he considers himself tenured in the subject of life itself. Life is easy.

But when it comes to himself, he's blind. It's like he's twelve years old and spying on his babysitter in the bathroom again (not that he'd ever, ever, ever cop to that). Immature. Uneducated. Doing little more than chase the humming between his legs in the hopes that it'll lead him to something.

It led him to Patri-not, to Tommy and Teddy and the team, and David's not sure what any of it means yet. But he knows it means something; everything means something.

He reaches the party just as it's winding down and his friends are preparing to leave. He's not disappointed. It's been a long day and he's ready to go home.

"You need a lift?" Kate asks him, her violet eyes cautious. Even after the last few weeks, the others keep him at a distance. They still don't know what to make of him.

"Yeah," he says. "Thanks."

"We're all headed back to my place. Want to come?" She starts tucking black strands of hair back into her bun; they straggle out almost immediately, follicle escapees of the Great Topknot Disaster.

David hates himself for it, but he looks at Billy. He shouldn't. He shouldn't be silently asking Billy's permission; future god or not, he shouldn't give Billy that kind of power. David isn't sorry for what he did. He's not seeking forgiveness.

Billy tilts his head toward Teddy, his hands curling possessively around Teddy's bicep and pulling his boyfriend close. His face remains impassive, but David doesn't like the look of the darkness swirling behind his hazel eyes. When Billy gets angry, entire galaxies implode in his corneas. He doesn't even realize he does it; not according to Tommy, anyway.

David's risked enough this week.

"I'm good." He scans the group. There's Noh-Varr, with his shirt slung over one shoulder, impervious to the cold, and Teddy looking cute in a t-shirt and bow tie. America, rocking the Southwest bolo and stifling a yawn. Kate, of course, in her trim party dress, high heels in one hand and cell phone in the other. Billy, still looking at David like a leopard sizing up its prey. No Tommy. David wishes he was surprised.

Since there isn't anyone else he particularly wants to say goodbye to, he gives a jerky nod and then America's grabbing him by the shoulders and they're gone. The sound of her kicking a hole in the universe is louder than a gunshot. He lands on hands and knees on the pavement in front of his apartment.

Standing over him, America cracks her knuckles. He wonders for a wild moment if he did something to offend her; then he realizes it's just America being America.

"See you later." She isn't one for fanfare; he thinks he likes that about her. The portal closes seconds after she disappears through it, and David's left alone on the sidewalk. After the raucous music and boisterous conversations, it's lonely.

He can't believe this is what over looks like.

He digs his key out of his pocket and climbs up to his floor. The hall is nearly as cold as the sidewalk outside. A wave of stuffy air hits him as he enters his apartment. The remains of his last supper—Thai and leftover Italian, both in takeout containers—are scattered over his coffee table, collecting mold. The number for Tommy's department at the call center is scrawled in the margins of his newspaper from--was it only a month ago? Or longer than that? It feels like it's been years.

He has a lot of cleaning to do. He has a lot of everything to do.

He forgot he had a Metallica t-shirt (not his scene, just a gift from a well-meaning aunt), but there it is, slung over the back of a kitchen chair because (oh yeah, that's right . . .) he'd yet to do laundry that week and it was the only clean shirt he had left. He hadn't known he'd be gone for so long when he left. But then Tommy had vanished and everything became about finding him and those last days at home were pretty blurry.

David's closet is open, dirty clothes thrown everywhere. He hadn't paid much attention when he was searching for his jumpsuit. It had been almost a year since he'd worn it. His bed isn't made.

He strips off his jacket and pants and falls, face-first, into bed. He'll sort everything out tomorrow. He'll solve the Patri-not mystery. He'll drink lethal amounts of caffeine and save the world, because he's a Young Avenger now and that's what they do.

 

Chapter Text

David's in a job interview when his phone rings.

He tries to ignore it, but someone (his money's on Loki) changed his ringtone to an actual ringtone, rather than the unobtrusive buzz he used to have. Now his phone feels the need to blare the "Filet O'Fish" song while vibrating manically in his pocket.

He's going to die of embarrassment.

He mutters an apology and yanks the phone out to decline, spotting Kate Bishop's face on the incoming call screen. He doesn't remember taking a photo of her making an obnoxious duck face while Billy mugs in the background, so he's guessing that the joker who changed his ringtone is also responsible for that masterpiece.

He firmly taps the red button and puts the phone away--and Kate calls again.

Scratch embarrassment, he's going to fucking kill her.

"Maybe you should take that?" The interviewer's expression is disapproving, but David knows Kate. She won't stop trying until he answers. Shamefaced, he ducks from the room.

"You'd better be dying, Kate." He presses the phone to his ear and finds an empty conference room to hide in, hoping he looks less suspicious than he feels. "Or in the middle of an alien attack. I'm accepting no less than an alien attack. I'm in an interview."

"Boo hoo." Kate sounds about as sympathetic as his landlord did while explaining to him that dimension-hopping didn't exempt him from paying rent. "You're smart. They'll want you anyway. Just say your grandma died or something."

"I'm not lying." He doesn't take the dispute farther because there's no arguing with Kate Bishop, she's a Hawkeye and they never admit when they're wrong. Better to move forward and take the loss in the spirit of getting off the damn phone in time to salvage his interview. "Well? What is it?"

He hasn't heard from the Young Avengers in weeks. He can't figure out if it's because they're excluding him or because there's nothing happening worth mentioning. He's not sure what he was expecting from this bunch, anyway; Billy hates him, Teddy has at least three solid reasons for avoiding him, America is busy saving the multiverse, Loki's busy fucking up the multiverse, Noh-varr's busy fucking everything in the multiverse, and Tommy is . . .

Okay, David expected to hear from Tommy. David thought that was something he could reasonably expect from Speed. David is clearly not as smart as Kate Bishop thinks he is.

"Alright, I'm standing at this pizza place in Bed Stuy," she says, which is nothing close to the alien invasion he demanded, "I'm staring up at the menu, wondering what toppings would appeal to an immature commitment-phobe who refuses to admit he's digging me harder than our dog digs through the garbage. And I thought, David would definitely know."

"That is definitely not something I know," he says. "I can't believe you bothered me for this."

"It's important," she whines. "He locked me out of the apartment. I have to win him back with pizza or else I'm going to sleep on the street tonight. You know what happens to a girl like me at night in New York?"

"America shows up out of nowhere because she has a Kate Bishop Danger Radar like no one's business?" David checks his watch. He shouldn't take more than three minutes; he read somewhere that three minutes is the longest a person can talk on the phone while maintaining the illusion of an emergency. "Seriously, call Tommy. He's the expert on immature commitment-phobes."

"Tommy doesn't have a cell phone," she says. "Otherwise, obviously, I wouldn't have subjected myself to your utter lack of help."

"Of course he has a phone. Everyone has a phone." David's down to two minutes, twenty-five seconds. "I'll give you the number if you promise to stop making actual calls. Text messages only. We aren't barbarians."

"How come you have Tommy's number and I don't?" Kate demands. "I've known him longer."

"I don't know, Kate, that's just how it is." Two minutes even.

"Well, it blows. I've kissed him," she says. "I've earned his number."

"I've kissed him," David points out, remembering too late that he might not have told Kate that yet. He might not have told anyone that yet.

Kate doesn't miss a beat. "And you have his number. You have the right. I should also have the right, considering I hit that first."

"I'm sure that isn't a--" he begins, and she cuts him off.

"Step out of line?"

He assumes she's talking to the cashier.

"I've waited for twenty minutes to get to the front of the queue—what do you mean, that should have been enough time to decide what I wanted on my pizza? This is a life-changing decision, here. Don't rush me." Her acerbic tone bites through the line, and David feels sorry for the employee on the receiving end of her tirade.

"You know," he says, volunteering information he should know better than to give, "if you really want to get back in his good graces, you should bring beer."

"I can't buy beer, I'm only twenty," she says. "I can buy a rocket launcher, but not beer. Ridiculous."

"You've tried to buy a rocket launcher?" The question is probably moot, but—"When would you ever need that?"

"I didn't try to buy it," she replies. "I did buy it. And it came in fucking useful, but it won't get me back in Clint's good graces."

One minute, twenty-nine seconds; he chooses not to press. "Don't you have a fake ID?"

"Never needed one. I'm thinking sausage. Yes or no?"

"Depends. Is this the day you finally jump your mentor-slash-horrible role model?" he asks. "Because if you're going to seduce him, sausage breath is not the way to go."

"It works for Lucky," she says, and then, "Ew. I'm not into Clint like that. You've been talking to America."

"Only once." He pauses, wondering if he should bring it up. He's got a minute even. "No one's really contacted me before this."

"Oh, that's normal," she says breezily. "I'll take a vegetarian pizza, please. Hold the onions. And peppers. And anything that might give me bad breath--do you use garlic sauce? I don't want garlic sauce."

Fifty-four seconds.

"You only have garlic sauce? What the fuck's up with that? Okay, I'll take a pizza with no sauce, no onions, no peppers, no tomatoes because they're gross--yeah, I want dough with cheese on it, you got a problem with that?"

"Don't kill the pizza boy," David tells her. "It's bad manners."

"I'm not going to kill him," she says. "Oh, he looks alarmed now. Bet he didn't know I'm an Avenger."

"You aren't." Forty-one seconds; he has to wrap this up.

"Close enough. Look, while I have you on the phone, it's sort of my birthday this weekend." Kate sounds like she's reporting the weather. "It's not really my birthday, but some shit happened around my real birthday and anyway . . . I guess I'm having a party? It wasn't my idea. But everyone is going to be there and you're part of everyone now so you're invited."

"Uh. Okay," he says. Thirty-seven seconds.

"Just so you know, everyone also includes Billy," she says. "It was mostly his idea, this party crap."

"Okay." Thirty-six.

"He knows you kissed his boyfriend."

"I know." Thirty-five.

"Everyone knows."

"Cool." Thirty-four. "Is that going to be a problem?"

"Of course not," she snorts. "You aren't a true member of the group until you've macked on one of the other members. Bonus points if it's someone you really shouldn't have hooked up with, like your teammate's screwball brother or a former brainwashed enemy who's still a little shady or maybe your best friend even though you don't have feelings for him like that."

"Why do you make it sound like every one of those things happened to you?" he asks, and then reconsiders. "Know what? Never mind. You still need Tommy's number?"

"Nah, I'll just ask you to text him," she says. "Will you text him? The party's at my apartment, you guys can come together."

"He hasn't exactly responded to my messages," David says. "I'm not sure he's getting them, actually."

"How many have you sent?"

"I don't know, a couple." Twenty-six. He does know. It's been three weeks, and he's sent twenty-six text messages to a guy who won't reply.

He has so many issues, he doesn't know where to begin.

"Just try again," she says. "Tommy's the kind of friend who reads your texts and then forgets he didn't reply, it's nothing personal."

"Fine," he sighs. He's pretty sure it's a useless gesture, but he'll try. "Can I go now?"

"So unfriendly," she complains. "No wonder no one ever calls you."

And he's out of time.

"Kate, I'm in the middle of a fucking interview," he says. "And I really want this fucking job because I have fucking bills to pay and you've made me say 'fuck' more times in one afternoon than I have in the last month so I hope you're fucking happy."

"Okay, okay, I'll let you go," she says. "Good luck."

"Thank you," he mutters, and hangs up.

 

 

The interviewer says he'll call back within the week, and doesn't. But whatever, jobs interviews are like first dates and David's bound to get a few duds before he makes a match.

Tommy doesn't text him back. David bounces the idea off America via Snapchat that Tommy's been kidnapped again, and she sends back a snap of a girl's bare legs in her bed and the caption leave me the fuck alone.

America spends most of her time making terrible fashion decisions and being Kate Bishop's drunk dial, so David doesn't understand how she's getting laid more often than him.

It's because she's getting out there, Teddy texts him. David finally broke down and messaged the one member of the team he knew would be too polite to ignore him--he can only take so many rejections. She tries. You should go on a few dates.

David texts back that he's too busy trying to get a job to get a date, and then shares his theory that they're basically the same thing.

You need 2 B blown, Teddy replies. Badly.

David decides not to reply to that. History is riddled with examples of all the times using sex to fix a situation spectacularly backfired; there's no way it'll fix what's wrong with him. It probably won't even make him feel better in the long run. But he can't deny how good it would feel in the moment, and how tempting it is to drown his real problems in shallow relationship woes. And what does he really know? Maybe a blow job--or at least having someone willing to give one to him--is what he needs.

The next thing he knows, it's Saturday and he's weighing the comfort of corduroy pants against the inevitable backlash he'll get from his friends for wearing old man threads. He has no idea who "everyone" means in Kate's books; just their team, or some of her other friends, or everyone she knows plus people she met at the grocery store and on the street and in her yoga class? More importantly, does he have a chance to get some tonight because if so, he's not wearing fucking corduroy pants.

He decides to err on the side of optimism and ditches the cords in favor of a pair of cherry colored Dockers.

He's early, naturally, and America answers the door. She looks him up and down slow, like she's not sure she wants to let him in, before stepping aside. Her wary eyes follow him as he ventures in, self-conscious and slow in his uncertainty.

The place isn't what he was expecting. Everyone treats Kate like a princess, and she's incapable of holding a conversation with anyone without slipping in, at least once, that her father is loaded. David was thinking penthouse, champagne, silver and platinum--not a rent-to-own in downtown Manhattan with a pull-up bar between the kitchen and living room and furniture that looks like it came straight out of the seventies.

The coffee table is covered in a paper tablecloth and confetti, and David gingerly sets his present on top of it. A banner hanging on the wall says Happy Birthday, Katie!, framed by purple handprints. "Where's Kate?"

"She went for paper plates." America wanders over to the bar and starts hauling herself up, completely disregarding his presence.

"Is there anything I can do?" he asks, while the seventeen-year-old girl puts him to shame on the pull-up bar.

She shrugs, which is an accomplishment with the whole of her weight on her arms. David needs a gym membership stat.

"Okay." He sits on the couch. America is clearly avoiding conversation, but it still feels rude to take out his phone. There's no television or music to distract from the ringing silence. It's awkward.

America's bare feet hit the floor with a thud, and she comes back around the couch to retrieve her beer before flopping down next to him. She hasn't even broken a sweat.

She stares at him as she drinks, so he stares back.

"So, you're smart," she says flatly.

"Um. Yes. Sometimes." He resists the urge to fiddle with his glasses.

"And you used to be an X-Man."

"Kind of." It was complicated; mutant stuff usually is. He tries not to think about that part of his life. He left it behind when he left Jersey and Nori and all of his old friends. He's outgrown those memories.

"And now you're dicking around with the Young Avengers."

He's probably paranoid, but he can't help but feel like there's something critical about her tone.

"Do you have a point, or are you just trying to provoke me?" he demands. "Yeah, I was an X-Man. That was a long time ago, and yeah, I'm with the Young Avengers now. So what?"

"Easy, tiger," she says, arching an eyebrow. "Just trying to get your deal. I'm not used to working with a team. It's making me antsy."

"You're trying to figure me out?"

"One way or another, we're all connected to Billy." She purses her lips. "Except you. So yeah, you kind of stick out. I have no idea why you're still here."

He tries not to feel offended. "Maybe I just have a sense of noble obligation. On the other hand, it's none of your damn business."

She stares at him for another second before giving him a real smile. "Fair enough. But if you turn out to be evil or crazy and screw us over, I'm kicking your ass."

"Fair enough." He neglects to point out that he's probably both. He doesn't need to try his luck. "Am I ever going to see one of those beers?"

She points to the kitchen, making it clear he can get it himself.

He does. "You know you have a major attitude problem, right?"

The apartment door bangs open, and Kate strides in with an armful of paper bags and a party hat that matches America's. She smiles, big and bright, when she sees him.

"You're here!"

"I said I'd come." He leans in the doorway between the kitchen and living room, cracking open his beer can. "I see you've gained access to alcohol."

"America picked up a couple six-packs in another dimension." Kate drops the bags on the couch next to her best friend, still looking happier to see him than anyone has in . . . well, ever. He can guess why Kate is friends with just about everyone. "No such thing as a drinking age in Canamerica."

"Cana-what?" He must have heard wrong.

"It's a merging of Canada and America." America is digging through the bags Kate ditched, but she pauses long enough to give David an alternate-history lesson. "Happened in the late eighties in their world, because of the Cold War or something, I'm not sure. Anyway, legal alcohol and free porn for everyone."

"Canada. Who knew?" Kate takes off her overcoat and hangs it on a hook by the door, then scoops up the bags again, brushing by David to put them in the kitchen. "So I picked up a few things other than plates," she says, stating the obvious. "Some streamers and party favors and a pack of Cards Against Humanity because Clint stole mine to play with Thor and never gave 'em back. And then, because I'm super cheap and the expansion packs were all, like, twenty bucks, I texted Billy and he's bringing his. It's the fantasy one of-fucking-course but it should still be funny, plus we can hassle him for being a nerd."

"Sounds like someone's getting on board the party bus." America twists around to watch Kate, a wicked smile on her face. "We should totally hire a party bus next year."

"Or for your birthday," Kate suggests. Her tone is too innocent as she asks, "When is that, again?"

"Nice try, princess. I'm still not telling."

"Look, we all know how extra the Captain America family is." Kate waves a stack of paper plates in America's direction. "Just admit it's on the Fourth of July already so I can be right. I have a bet going with Eli that I'm dying to win."

"I'm not opening the door for you to throw some ridiculous, over-the-top party when I turn eighteen." America jabs a finger right back at Kate, unimpressed by the paperware. "It's not happening, chica, end of story."

"I'm going to call Lisa. I bet she knows."

"You leave my girlfriend out of it, Bishop, or I won't be held responsible for what happens next."

David can't help but grin. He helps Kate unpack her haul while the girls bicker, losing himself in the familiar role of observer. He doesn't mind being the third wheel in this conversation, at least until Kate decides to turn around and ask, "Hey, so did you ever hear back from Tommy?"

He pulls out a purple, polka-dotted disposable table cloth (where does Kate find this shit?) and shakes his head. His unease, temporarily soothed by Kate's bubbly presence, returns in full force.

"Well, I know he's alive because he keeps updating his Facebook status." Kate tears the plastic wrap off her stack of plates. "But I haven't heard from him since New Year's."

"Me neither." David's stomach turns. It's irrational to feel like his own worth is somehow tied up in whether or not Tommy shows, but Kate had said—and they all had assumed—

And David himself had thought he was special, which was clearly a mistake.

"I wonder if something's up." Kate helps David unfold the table cloth and settle it in place, oblivious to his sudden tension. "It's probably just Tommy being Tommy. I'll ask Billy when he gets here--he has a better sense of--"

Someone knocks on the door.

"Speak of the devil," Kate says, because she's old-fashioned like that, and goes to answer it. David keeps his head down, lining up the forks in perfect vertical alignment to the plates. This is the part he's nervous about; seeing Teddy and Billy again.

But when Kate comes back in, she's not with the boys.

"Greetings," Loki says, holding up two bottles of Asgardian mead. "I come broken-hearted, and in need of companionship."

America jumps to her feet. "Hell, no."

Kate pushes her back down, in passing.

The trickster god looks older than David remembers, and it's Loki so he's wearing green and fur and looking shady as fuck, but there's a time and a place for kicking people out and a party isn't it.

"Will no one inquire as to the source of my heartbreak?" Loki throws himself in one of the kitchen chairs, kicking his feet up onto the table and disrupting one of the place settings David just meticulously arranged.

"We're kind of in the middle of getting ready for something," Kate says. "Can the heartbreak wait?"

He surveys the decorations. "A party? Without me?" He clutches his chest. "Be still my heart."

"Pretty sure you don't have one," David mutters.

"You jest," Loki says, and reaches out to tweak David's ear. "I've decided to stay in the mortal realm," he announces. "You may fall down in awe at your earliest convenience."

"What the hell are you going to do on Earth?" America demands.

"Excellent question, so glad you asked," he replies, folding his hands behind his head. "I plan on writing an advice column. My brother assures me it pays well. And, of course, I'll be doing investigative work on the side."

"You're going to be a detective?" Kate asks skeptically, hands on her hips. "Where's the catch?"

"No catch," he says. "I like spying on people. It's a good fit. Also, I had to promise to be a productive member of society or else Hulk would throw me back to Asgard." He shrugs. "I'm fairly certain that's impossible, but there are some things in life not worth risking."

America cracks her knuckles. "That's if I don't do it first."

Loki ignores her, catches David's eye, and winks. "How about you?" he asks.

"What about me?" David responds automatically.

"Have you found employment?"

Yup. Loki still knows the randomest things. "No," David says.

The god purses his lips. "Want to write an advice column with me?"

"No."

"Worth a shot."

 

 

When Teddy and Billy finally do show up, it's not exactly the Jerry Springer moment David was expecting. Billy's a little cool with him, but Teddy acts the same as always and the others pretend there's no reason to be awkward at all, and after the first ten minutes or so, David relaxes.

They chill, pretending they aren't waiting for Tommy (Noh-varr declined in advance), and when that gets old, they sit down to eat. Kate ordered pizza, of course. She must think it's one of the major food groups.

David has . . . fun. He's surprised. They eat and talk and listen to music and play games. Teddy shocks them all by winning three rounds of Cards Against Humanity (although win is really a subjective term in that case), and Loki shows them all how to twerk. America threatens to cleanse her eyes with bleach. Kate laughs until soda comes out her nose.

They all wear dumb party hats with mildly offensive captions on it. Billy's is The Gay One, while Teddy gets The Gayer One. David catches sight of Kate stuffing one back in her grocery bag that says Fast In Bed; no prizes for guessing whose that was supposed to be.

And David feels normal, he feels bizarrely normal, and he wonders if this is what being a Young Avenger is really about; seizing normal from a world that refuses to give it to you.

It's almost midnight by the time any of them admit to being tired; Billy caves first, claiming school in the morning. He asks if he can help clean up, but Kate shoos him and Teddy off at once.

"School is more important," she says. "Let us aimless losers worry about this mess."

David is offended to be included in the list of aimless losers, at least until he realizes the most productive thing he's done in the last week is fold all of his laundry in one sitting.

He helps Kate scrape the paper plates, cups, and empty beer cans into a garbage bag, roll up the disposable tablecloth, and box the leftover pizza. In the living room, America takes down the birthday banner and Loki not-so-subtly makes his excuses and splits before anyone asks him to do real work.

"Can you take this out?" Kate asks, handing David the garbage bag. "I have this thing about alleys."

"And the rats that live in them," America teases. She's tugging impatiently at her dress, trying to get it off; David takes that as his cue to leave, the Hefty bag slung over his shoulder.

He's not expecting to find Teddy on the landing, leaning against the wrought iron railing with his hands in his pockets like he's waiting for David. David's stupid heart speeds up when he sees the shapeshifter, especially somewhere he didn't expect. He hates his stupid heart. He wishes crushes were as easy to get rid of as computer viruses.

"Hey," he says, awkwardly hoisting the bag higher on his shoulder. His cheeks flare like matchsticks. He sounds so dumb.

"Hi," Teddy says. He shifts his posture, crossing one leg easily over the other. Everything about Teddy is easy, laid back, relaxed. The complete opposite of David. Even his hair has more chill; it curls over his forehead in soft, blond peaks, ever so slightly guided with gel. David has to slather gallons of product in his hair the second he lets it grow beyond the buzz-and-fade.

"Where's Billy?" David blurts out, because sometimes he has zero tact.

"Waiting in the car," Teddy says, undisturbed. The thought of a wizard and an alien showing up to an unbirthday party in a car spins David's head around. "I just wanted a second. I hope that's okay."

He crosses his arms, gently straining the tolerance of his navy blue t-shirt.

"Wh-yeah, of course it's okay," David says. "It's totally okay. It's perfectly okay. You can talk to me any--well, anyway, yeah. It's cool."

"Okay," Teddy says, sounding relieved. "I was worried . . . I don't know, we're cool, right? Because I value your friendship a lot."

"Quick question," David says, shifting the trash bag again. "Did Billy send you up here to talk me into the friend zone?"

Teddy gives him an uncomfortable smile. "It might be a reconnaissance mission," he admits. "But it wasn't Billy's idea."

"Oh," David says. "Okay."

Okay is what people say when it's not really okay but they want to drop the subject anyway, because they understand some things are never going to be okay. What happened between Teddy and David wasn't okay. It won't ever be okay, but in the scope of things, it's hardly the most important problem in either of their lives and David doesn't have the words to make it right anyway.

"Okay," Teddy says.

Okay is multi-functional, and astonishingly noncommittal for an affirmative. Okay can mean anything, especially when coming from the mouth of an eighteen-year-old boy.

David looks down. Teddy's wearing white Adidas. David has gray Converse. Billy was wearing boots. Shoes matter to David. They say a lot about people, about their style and personality. In David's experience, guys who wear white Adidas will break your heart. Guys who wear gray Converse will be heartbroken. Guys who wear fucking gogo boots will win.

David's experience is all of five minutes old.

"I'll be seeing you, um, around," Teddy says, and David knows what that means. He'll see Teddy for all of never, and Teddy won't even let him pretend it's Billy's fault. Because it was Teddy's idea to hang back and rub in David's face that there is absolutely no hope.

"Cool," David says, about something that isn't cool at all. "That'll be, uh, good."

David doesn't uh. He hasn't uhed in years. He's too smart for uh.

"Sorry," Teddy offers. "For, uh . . ."

"Forget about it," David says, because he doubts Teddy will finish that sentence on his own. "You seem happy, so I guess everything worked out."

Teddy frowns, and even that's beautiful. His forehead doesn't seem to know how wrinkles are supposed to work. There's a dimple in his right cheek. He's gorgeous, and David doesn't want him to be happy. He wants Teddy to be real and flawed and tempted. He wants to prove there's one thing in this universe that Billy Kaplan can't control.

If such a thing exists, though, it isn't six feet tall and giving David a sympathetic look that makes David want to crawl into the Dumpster below to meet an ignoble end.

"I should go," Teddy says. "Billy's waiting."

David nods.

Teddy goes for the stairs, then stops and looks back at David. "You should be happy, too," he says, like it only just occurred to him. "You know? You've earned it as much as any of us."

David weighs that in his mind. Somehow, he genuinely doesn't believe it. There's a legitimate argument for Teddy, Kate, America--and hell, even Loki and Billy--to have a stake at happiness. But what's David done, besides stir an already boiling pot?

"Good night, Teddy," he says." I'll watch you to the car.”

Teddy gives him a long look before nodding. He might look a little sad. David perversely hopes he's a little sad. Teddy plods down the iron stairs that look like they shouldn't be able to support his weight; David watches him reach the sidewalk, then the curb, disappearing into the soft-shadowed darkness of the car idling below. The headlights flare, catching David as the car backs up.

He raises his free hand to wave as the car pulls away from the curb. It's too dark to see if anyone waves back. The car screeches away into the night, and David heads down to the alley.

Tommy's leaning against the Dumpster.

David, taken by surprise for the second time this evening, stops in his tracks.

Tommy looks thin, pale, jittery; in his green hoodie and ratty jeans, a Peter Pan who grew up in a trailer park full of meth heads. David doesn't remember his eyes being so starkly bottle green, or maybe it's just that Tommy's skin has turned to paper.

Tommy has neon track shoes.

"Where have you been?" David asks. His shock is bleeding through in his voice; coloring his words with emotions, which he knows Tommy is deathly allergic to. Tommy is deathly allergic to anything that remotely resembles giving a fuck.

"I had stuff," Tommy says. "Couldn't make it. Sorry." His eyes flick between the trash bag and David's face. "Was it fun?"

His voice is wistful, which isn't fair because he has no business being wistful, there's no reason on earth that a boy who can warp space and time to move at sublight speeds should be late to a party. David can't imagine what stuff kept Tommy away. He doubts it exists.

"Loads," he says, not quite lying. "Loki showed up. Your brother almost doesn't hate me. There was pizza."

"Sounds good." Tommy crosses his arms, glancing toward the apartment building. The light's on in Kate's window, but the lights are also on in other windows, too, and David has no idea if Tommy knows which one is the archer's.

"It's not too late to come up," David offers. If Tommy doesn't know the way, he's willing to show him.

Tommy shakes his head. "Nah, man, I gotta . . . I have stuff. More stuff. I'm busy."

"So you decided to take a break by a Dumpster?" David can't help it. He has to ask.

Tommy pushes off the Dumpster and gives David a ghostly kind of half-smile. "Only 'cause it was a Dumpster you were passing by," he says. But he flinches when David moves closer and David thinks he's mostly bullshitting.

Doesn't stop the words from speeding up David's heart, just a little bit, like Tommy can make other things go faster now, too. It's not fair. He just went through this with Teddy; can he just not feel for one night? He's pathetic, grasping at any shadow of a shot.

He grabs the small side door of the Dumpster and drags it open, tossing the garbage bag inside and wiping his hands on his pants. He doesn't think they're dirty, but it feels like something he should do.

He doesn't look at Tommy when he says, regardless of his better judgment, "Need any help with that stuff? I can do anything, you know."

Tommy laughs. Sounds like someone has him by the throat. "I'll let you know," he says, and then he's at the end of the alley, as far from David as possible in the narrow space. "I've got your number."

I'll let you know is the long version of okay. Guys in neon track shoes are pretty good at breaking David, too.

"Could've fooled me," David retorts, but Tommy's gone by the end of the first word.

 

Chapter Text

When David calls his parents, he conveniently forgets to mention that he passed up a Harvard scholarship to help a fallen god get other superheroes laid. He can't see them being very proud, although they've always been remarkably supportive of whatever he gets himself up to.

Mom says he sounds tired.

"Have you been sleeping well?" she asks. "You know that no matter what, you can come home, right?"

He assures her that he does know that. They both know he won't go home, not now, probably not ever. He knew when he packed his bags for Xavier's that it was a one-way trip. You don't go home after that. Especially not when you decide to involve yourself in mutant terrorist groups and battles for the fate of the universe. He has his little sister to think of.

And he likes being independent; sure, Manhattan is a freakin' shitshow at times but it's a shitshow he's free to watch at 3a.m. if he wants. It's a shitshow he can jerk off to in the living room, the bathroom, the kitchen--he would be lying if he said the draw of rampant masturbation isn't a deciding factor in his continued self-sufficiency.

Besides, if he were at home his family would pick up on the fact that David isn't anything close to okay and that wouldn't be cool. This way, the only one to notice his weirdness is his new not-calling-him-a-boss--and Loki doesn't give a fuck. David's not proud of himself for going back and accepting Loki's offer (his job offer), but it keeps him from having to live with his parents.

And on Wednesday in the Lower West Side, when the sky falls in the superhero world and David's left scrambling to catch the clouds raining down, he's glad he doesn't live with his parents. It starts with a single murder. It spreads through the entire burrough.

"Okay, so, this Watcher dude was murdered," Hulkling says, while standing guard over David and the Hood (the short story is, David and Hulkling and Noh-varr were going to join an epic battle when they stumbled across a not-quite-so-abandoned building and the crazy guy holding people captive inside).

"Yes," David says briefly. He's coding. The Hood demanded that David build him a baby Cerebra to harness the knowledge of the people inside the building; that took, oh, four and a half minutes. Now David's doing the hard part, the part where he double crosses the Hood because there's no way he's trusting this data to a man who can't rustle up a toothbrush and some soap for himself-- or come up with a decent supervillain name.

"And everything he knew and saw--so basically all of the information in the world--has been scattered throughout the minds of everyone in New York?" Hulkling scratches his nose and glares at the Hood, who made the mistake of looking at David funny. "And most of that info is gathered in the minds of the people here?"

"Roughly a fourth," David says absently. "Tell Noh-varr to put his phone away, that stupid--that bubble click from his keyboard is driving me batshit."

"Oops," Teddy says. "That was me, sorry."

David takes a break from hiding the Watcher data for long enough to give the shapeshifter an exasperated look. "I can show you how to disable that feature," he says. "You know, because it isn't 2011 and having a phone that makes noises is no longer cool."

Teddy rolls his eyes, and then his phone pings.

David raises his eyebrows.

"I'm silencing it," Hulkling insists. Judging by the way he looks at the screen, a bashful smile spreading over his face, it's from Billy.

David goes back to his numbers. He does not hate Billy Kaplan, he reminds himself. He does not hate people in general, as a rule. As someone who's been inside more heads than he cares to count, he knows the dangers of judging people before you walk a mile in their shoes. It's not Billy's fault that he gets the happy ending and David gets the door prize. It wasn't Billy's choice to become the master of everything while David gets the sum total of nothing, nothingness, becoming null. Billy did not ask to be Wanda Maximoff's Hail Mary. Hating him fixes nothing.

But David can resent him. He can feel jealous, and does. Billy has Teddy and the team and the whole universe rooting for him, and David has a secret and a lot of betrayed friends and a speedster who took off on him. It's been twenty-three days since Tommy said he'd be in touch and wasn't; twenty-three days isn't a whole lot of time but it's long enough for David to get the message. Tommy's ditched him, or been kidnapped again, or just plain doesn't want to be around. If Tommy wanted to be in David's life, he would have contacted him by now.

Despite his best intentions, David kind of, sort of, in a roundabout way mentions that to Teddy while they wrap up the Hood situation.

"Speed?" Hulkling says. "He's just like that. Free-spirited. He'll be back when he wants a family again." He shrugs. "It's a pity you lost all that data from the Watcher, though. I bet he saw a lot of Tommy Shepherd--that guy gets around."

David might have lied about hiding the data, roughly twenty minutes ago when everything went tits up like all hostage situations tend to do. He might have led Hulkling to believe the knowledge from the Watcher was lost forever because when it comes to intel, David's love language, he doesn't trust anyone, not even anyones with sky blue eyes and a jawline like a razor's edge. The safest hands are always his. He knows what to do with these secrets.

Teddy's offhand comment puts a bug in his ear. The Watcher did see all; it's likely that, somewhere in the sea of data David spread among a hundred islands of motherboards, there's something about Tommy. Maybe something about David, too.

And Patri-not. David would be a fool to think none of this leads back to Patri-not in one way or another; the future bleeding into the past through the door Billy opened--is it really Billy's fault, for opening the door?

All evidence points toward a traitor. Someone put the door there for Billy to find; pulled the right strings so he invited the right parasite to Earth, sent aliens to attack Kate and Noh-varr, kidnapped Tommy, all to bring the Young Avengers together. Someone who holds all the cards, who has all the facts.

Maybe someone who gained the Watcher's knowledge. Someone who hid it from his friends and tried to convince himself he didn't hate Billy Kaplan. Someone who liked to spend his free time worrying about the fate of the universe and making connections; untangling the threads that wrap them all in a conspiracy that makes his time in Utopia feel like the paradise it was touted as.

He doesn't know which is the right choice; using the data or not using the data. It's like a game show: his prize of future evilness and doom lies between one of two unmarked doors (choose wisely). Knowledge is power; but power corrupts. Neither choice feels particularly right.

Choose wisely.

He's staring at his laptop, at the program he's written to retrieve and decode the pad he put on the Watcher data (supposedly impossible, no big deal) when Tommy calls him. It's been twenty-seven days now. David almost doesn't answer the phone.

"I'm outside," Tommy says. David can hear the familiar noises of his own street, in stereo through the phone speaker. "I was just going to come up, but then I thought no, what if he's naked in there or something?"

David glances down at his laptop. He's not naked, but he's fucking glad Tommy didn't come up.

"So anyway, get some clothes on," Tommy continues, "finish whatever you were doing, and come out. I wanna get tacos."

"Now?" David squints at the time. "It's two-thirty-five."

"It's Tuesday," Tommy replies. "You can have tacos any time you want on Tuesday. I had three for breakfast."

David wants to say no, to give him a fucking list of reasons why now is a bad time and Tommy's an asshole and tacos aren't that high on David's To Die For list anyway. He has a mental folder full of nos just waiting to come out and Tommy deserves every one of them.

Instead he sighs and hangs up, which they both understand means yes in David-speak.

"You took forever," Tommy complains, as David steps out of the apartment building and onto the sidewalk. It's a rare warm day in March, and the last of the ice on the front steps melted this morning. Tommy's chilling on the damp concrete with his feet against one railing and his back against the other. His track shoes are splattered with mud. His t-shirt says My Middle Finger Salutes You, but it's still the nicest thing David's seen him wear.

"I had to wash up," David says, which isn't a lie but also isn't what kept him inside the apartment for ten minutes longer than necessary. He had to hide the key in a fake article for Loki's newspaper; then his shirt was all wrong. Then he couldn't find his favorite pair of shoes.

He crouches next to Tommy. The teen looks better than he did outside Kate's apartment. He looks as good as Speed's ever looked, and he rests his pale head against the iron-wrought bars of the railing and gives David a faint smile, closing his eyes against the sun. The skin of his eyelids is almost pale enough to be translucent. Really, he looks pretty damn good. A sight for sore eyes.

It's foolish, but David wants to believe they're going to be normal now. Even if one of them can run beyond lightspeed and the other will abandon his humanity for the greater good within the next few years. He needs some normal.

"You missed the fun," he says, nonchalantly as he can manage. "The Watcher was killed, bogies were running rampant . . ."

"I had stuff," Tommy says. Stuff is teenager-speak for a variety of items including, but not limited to, running from the cops, battling evil exes, and going on a Target run. Tommy often uses the comfortable guise of stuff. David's noticed. "So, are we doing this taco thing or what?"

Of course he makes it sound like David's the one holding them up. David knows he's just deflecting.

It's not a fight worth picking, so David nods and follows Tommy down the sidewalk. Some kids have taken advantage of the melting ice to draw in chalk on the paved squares; chicken-scratch names and brightly colored doodles of houses and stick figures. Tommy's t-shirt is tucked into the back of his jeans. David can make out the outline of his phone in his pocket.

Tommy's hands swing free. David lets himself fantasize about grabbing one. He gives himself three and a half whole minutes before he kills the dream.

They grab tacos at a stand a few blocks away. Tommy orders first, while David stares at the mole on the back of his neck and thinks about kissing it and thinks about how he should be thinking about literally anything else right now. They sit in the park to eat.

“Kate's out of town," Tommy says. "According to Teddy, anyway. She split, I think it was last Monday? Maybe Thursday." He unwraps his taco, shrugging to convey how little the exact day matters.

David saw Teddy just a few days ago but the alien never mentioned Kate. He shakes his head. They're leaning against a stone wall, watching the pedestrians on the sidewalk pass, all of them in too much of a hurry to pay attention to two young men devouring an army's worth of tacos.

Tommy's shoulder is hot against David's. David wonders if his own skin feels cold through his shirt. He feels cold, in comparison to Tommy, like he hasn't thawed from New Year's.

Dead man walking.

He thinks about turning his head and helping Tommy lick the salsa from the corners of his mouth. He thinks that's probably a bad idea.

"Where is she?" he asks, minding his own taco instead of Tommy's. The spices sting his taste buds, setting his mouth on fire. It's still the only part of him that feels warm.

"Finding herself," Tommy says. He looks at David. "Or running away. Hard to tell which. Her Snap Story's been pretty vague lately.”

"Coming from the king of vague," David mutters, struggling to keep the lettuce from falling out of his taco. Feels like a metaphor for his life.

Tommy shrugs the comment off, catching the smear of salsa in the corner of his mouth with his thumb. His phone buzzes; David feels the vibration through the wall. Tommy picks up a second taco and ignores the buzz.

"You want to get that, it's okay," David says, after it happens a few more times.

"I don't want to get it," Tommy says, crunching the hard shell between his teeth. "It's my fucking brother.”

"How do you know?" David asks.

"Because it's," Tommy checks his watch (he did not strike David as a watch guy), "two-forty-five on a Tuesday, and Billy just got out of class. He has senioritis and Teddy refuses to quit the football team, so every Tuesday and Thursday like clockwork, I get the call from the wizard convinced he's whiling his life away.” He looks back at David. "Don't know when I became the one to call when you want to live a little.”

"No one lives as hard as you do," David says, even as he dies a little inside. "So you only called me to blow off your brother?”

Tommy finishes inhaling his second taco and wipes his fingers on his jeans. "I called you because I missed you, shithead," he says.

David doesn't understand him. He gets the feeling he could live for a thousand years and not understand the first thing about Speed.

"You have a funny way of showing it," he says.

Tommy elbows him. "I called, didn't I?”

"You did, eventually, show the barest modicum of interest required to maintain a friendship," David allows. He's snarky with everyone, but when he's snarky with Tommy, he means it. He wants to sting, to teach Tommy a lesson--and, of course, Tommy's the one person on earth with skin thicker than the Hulk. Tommy doesn't give a fuck 'bout nuthin; Tommy's the honey badger of the mutant world, and David's the unlucky sonovabitch who gets to be best friends with him.

Tommy is his best friend, sad as that is.

"Can you, like, not hit me with SAT words?" Tommy asks. "Is that too much to ask?”

"Of me? Yes," David says. He sets his taco tray on the wall next to his hip. He's still thinking about what could happen if he turned his head at just the right angle. He's still thinking about licking taco sauce from Tommy's thin lips. He's still thinking it's a colossally bad idea. "No one told me about Kate. No one tells me anything."

Tommy balls up his taco wrapper. His battered sneakers sit comfortably beside David's black Keds. "Because you already know everything," he says. "It isn't personal, it's actually a compliment--everyone assumes you knew Kate left. Or maybe that you'd predicted she'd leave before she actually did it."

Guys who wear Keds have good luck, statistically. David's very extensive mental research has proven this. And Noh-Varr wears Keds so that's all the evidence David needs, really.

"That's a load of bullshit," he says, and sticks his greasy fingers in his mouth. Tommy's eyes follow the motion.

David's completely okay with pretending that means something.

Tommy's phone goes off again.

"Seriously," David says, "answer him. At least tell him you're busy.”

"So he can ask me where I am?" Tommy says. "No thank you.”

"What, are you hiding me?" David asks, mouth running ahead of his mind.

Tommy elbows him again, his shoulder jostling David's at the same time. David elbows him back, and Tommy leans heavily into him, threatening to unbalance them both. He rests his head where David's shoulder meets his neck.

"Billy gets weird when I mention you, that's all," Tommy says.

"Oh," David says.

"Oh," Tommy agrees. "My brother's kind of a dick. He thinks there's something going on between you and Teddy." He snorts. "And I thought I was paranoid.”

"Well, I did make a pass at Teddy," David says. "Maybe several, depending on what you'd count as a 'pass'.”

Tommy straightens. "You what?”

His tone is so shocked, David immediately knows he's made a blunder. Tommy didn't know about the thing.

David has a disjointed moment where he can't figure out how Tommy is ignorant of this very big and very relevant thing going on in David's life--and then he remembers. Patri-not. Running. Not really communicating for weeks. Tommy isn't even in the gossip chain. And the twins don't strike David as sharers even when they're on good terms.

"Oh, well, I . . . kissed Teddy," David says. He wishes he still had food to play with. He looks at his hands. There's a streak of sour cream on the base of his palm. "It was stupid and impulsive and very not like me, you would have been proud. Or, uh, not."

He can feel Tommy staring, but the speedster is damnably silent. Waiting for a response just about kills David, maybe not physically but still painfully. Still permanently. Every second that Tommy doesn't say anything spears yet another of David's dreams of being normal.

"Say something," he begs, stealing a glance at the other boy.

Tommy swallows. David wishes he was imagining the betrayed, disappointed look on his face. He didn't think Tommy would ever care about anything enough to make that expression. He doesn't understand why Tommy cares now.

"Okay," Tommy says quietly.

David waits, but that's it.

He hates "okay".

The stillness is suffocating. David used to pull his padded quilt over his head when he was was young, to keep the bogeyman at bay for as long as he could stand breathing his own hot, stale breath. It feels like he's back there now.

"I like him," David says. "I mean, I really, really like him. I didn't honestly believe I had a shot, but I had to try. No regrets."

Each word is a mistake, handing Tommy another spear to take potshots at David's feelings. He should just shut up. He should know better.

Tommy picks up his crumpled taco wrapper, holding it in both hands. "You still like him?" he asks. "Even though he has a boyfriend? Even though he has Billy?” There's an accusatory note undercutting the words, and it stings.

"I don't know," David says. "It's complicated.”

"It's complicated, or you just don't want to talk about it?" Tommy glares at the wrapper, which isn't fair because the wrapper hasn't done anything to him. And neither has David.

"What do you want me to say?" David demands. "That I want to fuck him? That I think about him when I jerk off and it gets me off faster because he's Billy's, and I know Billy can't stop me?"

Tommy's eyes widen. He stops moving, which is kind of a big deal because Tommy is always moving. Even just a second ago, he was turning the taco wrapper ball over and over in his hands; now it dangles precariously in the loose cage of his fingertips.

David can't remember the last time he let what was precisely in his head burst out of his mouth. Sometime in his childhood, probably. And this time is particularly bad because what was in his head isn't exactly the type of thing you discuss over mid-afternoon tacos in the park. It's more of a one-a.m.-Snapchat-confession you can pretend didn't happen in the morning.

"So . . . yeah," he mumbles. "I guess I still like him. Or something."

Tommy's fingers are shaking. He's back to the not-saying-anything thing, and David wants to curl up in a ball and toss himself in the trash with their taco wrappers. His embarrassment colors him down to his toes, prickling under his skin like a slow, persistent burn. He isn't cold any more; he misses the numbness.

"I have to go," Tommy finally says. "You know how it is. People to see. Worlds to save."

His voice is toneless. David makes the mistake of blinking. When his eyes flutter back open, after less than a quarter of a second, Tommy's gone.

He expects it, but it still hurts.

 

Chapter Text

David keeps the laptop with the key to the universe under his bed, like a crack addict hoarding his stash. He doesn't open it, he doesn't take it out, he doesn't look at it if he can help it (which he usually can because he's not the kind of person to lose socks under his bed and that's really the only reason to be under there), but he keeps it. He has it if he needs it.

It's the nuclear bomb of all hard drives. One day, he's going to need it. He could argue that right now he needs it, but he keeps going back and forth on that like an Information-Age Macbeth: to hack or not to hack.

Choose wisely.

The thing about having a hundred other lives kicking around in his head is, everything's boring. He's done it all, he knows it all. So he craves new information like it's a drug, and having that laptop under his bed without touching it is driving him crazier than Tommy's continued absence. It's worse than wanting Teddy and not getting him. It's worse, even, than losing his powers. Because it's there, constantly, and nothing's stopping him from taking it out except his own flagging willpower.

And his fear.

He doesn't want to see what the Watcher saw, the creature under Patri-not's skin that soaked Tommy up like a leftover coffee stain. He doesn't want to know what the Watcher knew about him. He doesn't want to be sure.

Denial, Patri-not kept chanting, like David was a kid still not grasping the point. Denial. How long are you going to keep pretending?

He spends more time than he should lying on his back in bed, staring up at the ceiling and trying not to think of the laptop underneath him and feeling like he's falling without knowing how far away the ground is or when he'll hit it.

So the answer is a while.

And Tommy's just . . . not around. He bailed, like he always bails, and David doesn't know what to do about it. He doesn't know if there's anything he should do about it.

He isn't sleeping.

It's just not happening. He gets in bed, he pulls his covers up, all the lights are off--and it's one a.m. and he's staring at the neon display of his nightstand clock. Tommy's on his mind. Tommy's always on his mind. He goes over the day in the park, trying to find his mistake. Trying to figure out if what they had was an argument or just awkward silence. All he really knows is that he was honest and that was the wrong move. He blew it, whatever "it" was; he knows it like he knows the Young Avengers were meeting without him before Kate's party, the way he knows he's in but not in-in, not all the way.

Still, David isn't completely screwed yet. He isn't completely screwed until he's jerking off and Tommy Shepherd pops into his head, cat's tongue darting out to dab sour cream from that wide lower lip and David comes hard, and then he's screwed.

Like he wasn't thinking enough about Tommy before.

He feels like he's spelunking blind; crashing into rocks, every missed foothold giving him a micro heart attack, his hands bruised from hanging on so tightly.

He Snapchats Tommy, but he doesn't know if he should apologize or ask what's wrong or pretend everything's normal so, after staring at the picture of his socked feet on the end of his bed for ten solid minutes waiting for inspiration, he neglects to add a caption and hopes Tommy has the words to start the conversation they badly need to have.

Tommy opens it, proving he's not dead, but doesn't reply.

That's probably fair. Or something.

David goes to a diner with America. He needs Kate, the expert on self-destructive non-relationships, but he can't have her so he calls her person instead. Her person is not useful when it comes to her whereabouts.

"She went somewhere," America says vaguely, sawing away at a waffle with her knife and fork. "She stole a dog."

"She ran away because she stole a dog?" David's confounded. Sure, their teammates have been known to do nuttier things for lesser reasons (looking straight at Loki and his grudge match with the lizard men), but even for the Young Avengers, Grand Theft Retriever is a touch extra.

America shrugs again and slides his milkshake over to her side of the table, downing half of it in one go. "She's just doing her thing. She'll call me when she figures it out."

David envies her easy confidence.

At three a.m. this morning, just after he opened and ignored David's socked cry for help, Tommy checked in to an Olive Garden in Springfield, New Jersey.

David paced, planning the shortest bus route and calculating if he had enough money in his bank account before realizing A) he had at least three friends with the power of teleportation, and B) he was nearly stalking someone he was fairly sure didn't want anything to do with him.

He didn't chase after Nori when she wanted to split. He doesn't know why he's hell bent on chasing Tommy now, except they feel like a conversation that never got finished.

"What about you?" America asks, her brown eyes boring in to him like she's trying to drill for his secrets. He doesn't think she knows how much she'd regret finding them. "Have you gotten your shit together?"

"What?" He's so startled, he almost drops his toast. "I have my shit together."

America chokes out a laugh, the last dregs of her stolen milkshake bubbling at the bottom of the glass as she snorts through her straw. "You're, what, twenty? No way you have your shit together. No one who has your backstory at your age has their shit together."

"Look in the mirror, princess," he retorts. "It's the pot calling the kettle black."

"Fuck you, I'm Latina," she says. "You're black."

"It's a--never mind." He bites into his toast with too much enthusiasm, spilling crumbs in his lap and scraping his unshaven cheek.

"Anyway, you're changing the subject," she says. "That trick doesn't work on me."

He picks crumbs from his lap. "I don't know what you want me to say. I'm fine."

"It's about time you check your phone," she notes. "You know, because Tommy might have texted you in the last three minutes after a month solid of not."

His hand flies to his pocket out of reflex; he forces himself to grab his juice glass instead. "Shut up. And fuck you."

"You're swearing. Kate says I've won if you start swearing." America pushes his empty milkshake glass back across the table and grabs a couple napkins to mop up the trail it leaves behind. The strawberry dregs slide sluggishly down from the rim, and David eyes them enviously.

"Did she really say that?" he asks.

" Are you kidding? She left notes on all you guys," she replies. "I wish I was kidding. You know what she wrote for Tommy?"

David grabs the dessert menu like he's legitimately considering pie; why the hell not? It's only five in the damn morning.

America isn't convinced by his show of diffidence. "Call David. That's it," she says. "Billy and Teddy have whole fucking essays on how to handle them, but Tommy? Call David. I guess you're the expert or something."

She raises her eyebrows, waiting for him to argue or agree.

He supposes he owes her this much after calling off their sudden and random Jersey trip for a hole-in-the-wall diner in Wisconsin.

(America claims they have the best milkshakes)

"I'm not a Tommy expert," he says, closing the dessert menu and deciding it's early enough to be too early for pie. "I'm an expert on a couple hundred things, but Tommy Shepherd isn't one of them. She probably just wrote that because I'm the only one with his phone number." Not that it's good for jack shit when Tommy won't reply.

"And that doesn't mean anything," she says in a monotone.

"I thought it did," he says.

The raw honesty in his voice surprises both of them; embarrassed, he flags the waitress for the check and assures America, in a much less passionate tone, that he'll cover the bill since he called her here.

She doesn't buy the distraction. "Please tell me we aren't going to pretend there's nothing going on between you and the world's worst walking disaster."

"I thought Kate Bishop was the world's worst walking disaster," he says, and she narrows her eyes because he's trying to divert the conversation again.

"Give me a break, Alleyne," she says, and grabs the bill from him, laying a fifty in the small black book and refusing to let him have it back. She hands it directly to the waitress with a smile and a wink, and then looks back at him. Her face changes at once, all traces of a smile vanishing. "You called me at stupid o'clock to go after him before deciding that was, I don't know, too gay for you."

"It's not like that," he says, embarrassed.

"Well, it's like something," she says. "And it's your job to figure it out because you're the figure-it-out guy."

He toys with his straw wrapper.

"Look, I've had time to think about this," she said. "I could never put a finger on why the hell you were here, and now I get it. You signed on for Tommy. Obvious, really." She tilts her head, like she's sizing him up. "You don't have to be ashamed of it."

"I'm not ashamed," he replies automatically.

"Scared, then." She pauses. Her next words sound like they come out between broken glass and sandpaper, rather than teeth and tongue. "It's . . . okay . . . to be afraid."

"I respect how difficult that must have been to say," he says, and then, "I'm not afraid."

"You should be," she says. "Seeing you lie through your face like this is kind of pissing me off and you don't want to piss me off, David. You'd have better chances with an angry Hulk."

With her gaze nailing him to the booth, he believes it. America's hard, from her rolled-up jacket sleeves to her mud-spattered shit-kickers. She's got the grittiest part of being a hero in her bones, and of course David isn't stupid enough to test her, not when she's just offering friendship or whatever the hell people like America have to keep them company.

But he's not lying.

Denial.

He hisses through his teeth as Patri-not's voice trickles, unwelcome, through the back of his mind like water from a leaky faucet. He isn't in denial, and yes he knows how that sounds.

"What's there to be afraid of?" He switches tact.

So does she. "You tell me." She rests her elbows on the table, leaning forward. His first instinct is to press back against the vinyl booth cover, but he resists.

"Theoretically," he says, which is how he presents all ideas he doesn't want to fully commit to, "you could argue that I'm afraid of my feelings for Tommy. Alternatively, you could argue my supposed fear comes from the knowledge that one of us becomes a traitor in the future. Either way, I could argue it's none of your business."

"And I could argue you trot out the big words and fancy ideas when you're trying to cover your ass," she points out.

"And we could do this all day," he says. "But it's just talking in circles and it's boring for both of us, so let's not."

"Tommy's your problem," she says, and accepts her change from the waitress. "You don't have to be upfront about it, you don't actually have to tell me jack shit. But next time you call me for a ride you decide you don't actually want, I'm introducing your nose to the back of your head." She tucks the money in her pocket. "Either be honest or get the hell out of my life."

"Fine," he says, and goes to get up.

He isn't trying to call her bluff or anything, but she seizes his wrist and blurts out, "Wait," with as much emotion as he's ever heard in her voice. He slowly sinks back down.

"Kate says I'm bad at this," she mutters to herself, then looks at him. Her expression is a little softer, but he still doesn't want to test her. "Look, I know I'm a hardass," she says. "It scares most people away, and I'm fine with that because I don't want pussies in my life."

He raises his eyebrows. "You don't? I thought that was the whole point of being a lesbian."

"You know what I mean," she says, fighting a smile. "I don't have time to dick around, babysitting people's feelings--and neither do you. And neither does Tommy."

"Okay," he says cautiously, unsure of where she's going with this.

"But you're acting like a little baby," she says flatly. "There's a difference between being too grown up to angst and straight up refusing to have feelings. And what you're doing, here?" She gestures at him vaguely. "It's not fooling me, which means it's not fooling anyone. News flash, Davie--you've caught feels and it's time to own it."

"Everything about that last sentence is wrong," he tells her. "I am a grown up, capable of full-blown feelings, not abbreviations of them, and my name is David, not Davie, and there's nothing to own because feelings are a sensation and not something to be physically possessed."

"Tommy has you all fucked up with sensations," America says. "Unless there's something else going on that I don't know about."

His mind flashes back to the laptop under his bed.

"No," he lies. He slides out of the booth. "Should we go?"

"Are you changing the subject on me again?" she demands, making no move to follow him. He stands, awkwardly, by the table.

"I'm not changing the subject," he says. "We're just . . . done with this subject."

"We haven't even begun."

"Never thought I'd see the day when America Chavez would badger me into talking about my feelings."

She throws up her hands. "You know what? Forget this," she says. "I tried to play Kate, it flopped. I'm not good at this counseling shit, you just do whatever the fuck you want with Tommy, okay?" She swings her legs from under the table and stands, forcing him to back up and give her room to get out. "You need permission, or whatever, here it is," she goes on. "Fuck him. Fix him. Do whatever you have to do. Just make sure he's good, because you're clearly worrying about him and now it's affecting my life, and that's not happening."

He stares at her boots.

"Okay," he says.

"Okay," she echoes, and nods once.

Girls who wear shit-kickers are not to be messed with.

 


 

Tommy is asleep on the couch when David comes back to his apartment.

He's in a zip-up hoodie and pair of boxers that look like they've been through a war and back, and his forehead and hands are smudged with soot. He reeks of charred wood and asbestos. David's brilliant mind concludes that Tommy's been in a fire. How he managed to get into a fire between 3 a. m. and now is beyond David. He hopes the Olive Garden is still standing.

David doesn't try to be quiet as he closes his front door and sets his keys on the coffee table. He's pissed at Tommy; he doesn't want to be considerate.

He also doesn't particularly want to talk to Tommy at the moment, so he stops short of actually waking the Young Avenger. He crouches by the couch to check Tommy for visible burns; finding none, he retreats to the kitchen to find excuses to not deal with the speedster passed out in his living room.

There's a pile of dirty dishes in the sink and a copy of Avengers Assembled on the table, so he's in luck.

He flips through the paper he now writes for until he finds his advice column. Seeing his name beside Loki's in print is definitely not the proudest moment of his life. He wants to burn the paper, all copies of the paper, and possibly the warehouse where the paper was printed. He sets the thing aside and turns his attention to the sink.

He digs his mountains of plates, bowls, and cups from the sink and thinks about how Kate was fucking Noh-varr on his space ship, America was crossing galaxies, Billy and Teddy were chilling in suburbia, and David and Tommy were sludging away at day jobs. Was it really a chain of coincidences that brought them together? Because it feels pretty damn orchestrated, almost as orchestrated as Tommy showing up in David's apartment just hours after David and America had an emergency conference about him.

He fights with the slippery silverware, giving up when a butter knife and two forks clatter to the floor. He's going to start eating with chopsticks, he swears. He starts a pot of coffee; caffeine will definitely give him more patience and soothe his jittery nerves, sure.

Washing dishes gives him too much time to roll in his own thoughts; as soon as the coffee is ready, he pours himself a cup and sits down with the paper, looking for a distraction. He skips over the advice column, since he already knows what it says, and skims the Highlights page, which is literally twenty paragraphs of Ms. Marvel fangirling over various events that happened over the weekend.

There are no articles about Billy Kaplan being a future god, or Loki coming down to hang out with his favorite mortals for (apparently) no reason beyond wanting to dish out terrible advice and watch with popcorn as the world slowly incinerates. If David were in charge, that would be front-page news. But, fortunately for everyone on planet Earth, David isn't in charge.

Once upon a time when David was a young mutant with a crush on Nori that wasn't going anywhere fast and the kind of arrogance only children who've never been disappointed or hurt can muster, he let a couple telepaths mess around in his mind, because he was young and dumb like that. And he saw what would happen if he ever used his full mutant powers. He saw himself take over the world.

As difficult as it was to lose his powers because of M-Day, he's always been grateful that he no longer has to face that possibility.

Of course, now he has a new apocalyptic future to contend with so it's just out of the frying pan and into the fire with him.

He finishes his cup of coffee and pours a second. Tommy shuffles in just as David sets the pot back on the heater.

David's throat dries up like the sun-bleached, chalk-stained sidewalk outside. He isn't ready for this. He doesn't know what to say. He comes up with the classic, brilliant, "Hey.", as he slowly lowers his cup of coffee onto the counter.

Tommy rubs his eyes. His nap didn't do much for the bags under his eyes. He doesn't say anything as he lurches toward David, presumably for coffee. David reaches above his head to get a mug from the cupboard, and Tommy's arms wrap around his waist.

David is surprised enough to drop the mug. Fortunately, it lands in his sink of water, so all he gets is splashed.

Tommy's chin digs in to his shoulder. A wave of something--heat, fear, insanity--washes over David, jabbing him in all the right places; his burning chest, his shaking hands, his traitorous balls. His knees go watery.

"Um," he says intelligently, bringing up one hand to rest between Tommy's shoulderblades. He's wary of boxing the other boy in. "What's, um, going on? Are you okay?"

The more he speaks, the easier it is to get the words out and the more normal his voice sounds, even if he's just spouting the kind of empty phrases he's picked up from years of false memories.

Tommy's bare calves press against David's pants, and his hands are claws on David's back, and he doesn't say anything, he doesn't say anything for the longest damn time and it has to be some kind of record, the longest he's gone without letting a stupid comment fall out of his mouth. He inhales a sharp, juddered breath and lets it go again, his heart thudding between the zipper of his sweatshirt and the buttons of David's polo.

"Do I need to beat someone up?" David asks, with a weak laugh.

Fuck him. Fix him. America's words ring in his ears, but he doesn't know how to do either. He feels like he spends more time thinking about Tommy than actually being around him, more time speculating than knowing, more time wishing than anything else.

Tommy pulls back, pushing his bleached hair out of his face. "I'm a dick," he says, shoving his hands in the pockets of his sweatshirt. The motion pulls the fabric down, revealing patches of bare chest and white, fine hair, like duck down. David looks at Tommy's bare, streaked feet, and realizes he isn't half as angry as he thought he was.

"I'm used to it," he says. "What happened?" He gestures to Tommy's ragged state.

Tommy pulls a face. "Some bogies slipped through Billy's portal while we were dealing with Mother," he says. "They're kind of trapped here now, and they thought I was him. They were very disappointed to be wrong."

David reaches into the cupboard for another mug and pours Tommy a cup of coffee. The other boy accepts it at once. They aren't going to talk about last time, David knows, the same way he knows it's okay to brush Tommy's hair behind his ear right now when it usually isn't okay to touch him like that. Tommy leans into the touch, closing his eyes briefly.

David wants to kiss him.

He doubts that would go over well.

"So the apartment where I was staying is sort of on fire now," Tommy says, turning the mug in his hands to twist his fingers around the handle. "I offered to put it out, but the landlord just wanted me gone." He takes a sip, then another.

"You need a place to stay?" David asks at once.

Tommy shrugs. "I'll find something," he says.

"If you're couch-surfing, I have a couch," David says. He doesn't have to think twice about it; it's a natural response, and it feels right. Of course, Tommy should stay here. Because David is Tommy's . . . Tommy's . . . he's just Tommy's, and this is what he's here for. This is what he wants.

"I have other friends," Tommy responds.

David fishes out the mug he dropped, the water streaming down his forearm and soaking his rolled-up shirt sleeve. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Forget it," Tommy says, and edges closer to David like he can't help himself. He sets his mug on the counter.

"No one who says 'forget it' really means 'forget it'," David says, rinsing the mug and sticking it on the other side of the sink to dry. "You have a problem with me?"

"Only 'cause you seem to have a problem with me," Tommy retorts, which, no. That's just wrong, David isn't the one who got all freaked last time and split, David isn't the one with the problem here.
"My only problem is that you didn't really come back," David says, sloshing the water in the sink. He grabs Tommy's mug, dumps it out, and washes it savagely.

"What the hell do you mean?" Tommy scowls. "I'm right here."

David turns to face him, splattering drops of water across the front of Tommy's sweatshirt and the floor. "Are you?" he demands.

"Yeah, I really don't do this metaphysical crap, so . . ."

"I mean you're different," David presses. "You're skittish. You're always gone. Even when you're here, you're not present."

"I'm fine," Tommy says at once, swiftly enough that David definitely doesn't believe him. "You want me to hang around more? I can hang around more. It'll be a drag, but whatever, I can do it--"

"I'm not going to talk you into doing something you don't want to do," David says.

Tommy grabs his shoulders. "Then maybe you should stop talking," he suggests. His expression has become a little manic, his eyes too wide, his thin mouth turned up in an unconvincing smile. "Because everything is okay. And I'm fine."

"You--" David pauses, then leaps to the conclusion anyway, "--you act like you're afraid of me."

"What? No way," Tommy denies, just like David expected. "Why would I be afraid of you?"

Because I turn into a mystical entity that shows you something so horrifying, you pretend you can't remember.

"I make you feel things," David lies, because he's a coward. Because he can't admit out loud what he becomes, that he knows his future and it's a bad one, because admitting is the same as committing and not just because they rhyme. At least this way, Tommy can make fun of him and they can drop the subject because David's obviously way off.

Tommy looks like he was just hit with a frying pan. His hands tighten on David's shoulder.

Davis's face erupts in flames, or so it feels like. Tommy was supposed to laugh, not go weird and quiet. David feels like the doors were just blown off his storm cellar and the tornado is blustering over the horizon, heading straight for him. He's screwed up again.

Why can't he keep his damn mouth shut?

Tommy swallows. His neck looks longer without a t-shirt collar to cut it off; it flows smoothly into his chest and down into his sweatshirt and now it looks like David's checking him out because he let his eyes follow that trail down.

"You make me feel things," Tommy echoes in a low voice.

It sounds more intense coming from him. And it doesn't sound like a question.

"I--I didn't mean--" David stumbles through the words with no clear idea of where he's going. "Shit, Tommy." He closes his eyes, and he doesn't entirely know why except it's getting too hard to look at Tommy right now. If it were possible, he'd sink into the floor.

For the first time in his life he genuinely wishes he was Kitty Pryde.

The pressure of Tommy's hands disappear from his shoulders, and he hears the metallic rip of a zipper, followed by a muffle thump.

He opens his eyes (he can't stand being in the dark for long) to find Tommy's sweatshirt on the floor and Tommy, bare-chested, in front of him.

"Uh--" David says. He isn't sure what he was expecting, but this didn't make the hypothetical list. He can't stop himself from checking out Tommy's body, eyes trailing over lines best left unscrutinized; there is a half-naked boy in David's kitchen, and the urge to grab him has never been stronger. This is ten kinds of unfair. This is Tommy trying to throw him off on purpose.

Because Tommy knows. He knows David likes him.

The realization floods through David in the form of a panicked flood; of course Tommy knows, because he knows everything about David. They read each other like their brains were built from the same manual, and David just gave himself away by projecting his own feelings onto Tommy's behavior.

"So what about you?" Tommy asks quietly. "Do I make you feel things?"

David swallows. No point in lying now. "Often," he admits. "But that isn't what we were . . ."

He falters. He doesn't remember what they were talking about. If he had a minute, he knows he'd get hold of it again; it's not that far gone, and neither is he, but Tommy isn't giving him a minute.

Tommy's fingers flutter over his own chest, brushing his nipples, dancing over his collar bone as he steps closer to David.

David's breath catches in his throat. "Tommy," he protests, half-heartedly.

Tommy cocks his head. "What?"

"You're only trying to distract me," David says, wishing the words did anything to clear his head. They don't. Even knowing what Tommy's doing doesn't break the spell.

"You could at least pretend to not be enjoying it," Tommy says, draping his arms over David's shoulders, his eyes pointedly traveling downward.

David should step away. Sit down. Take a minute to breathe, at the very least.

But Tommy is coming on to him hard, and whether he's distracting or teasing or being serious, David doesn't care. He grabs Tommy's waist, ignoring the way the other boy's eyes fly wide in surprise, and pushes him against the fridge, kissing him. He can't resist the impulse anymore.

Tommy gasps, making the mistake of opening his mouth, and David plunges his tongue into that heat, pressing himself against Tommy's compliant body. He runs his hands over Tommy's arms, his chest, his skin, imprinting the moment in his memory because he's sure he's dead the second Tommy recovers from the shock. He sucks in a deep breath, taking in smoke and sweat and fear, and steps back, releasing the other boy.

Tommy looks like someone just threw a bucket of cold water in his face. His hands hover in the air between them, like he was about to grab David and start kissing him back--but David knows better than to hope for that. Because if there was ever anything between them, it would be drenched in feelings and commitment and all the things Tommy avoids like rank garbage piled in the street. If there was ever anything between them, it would be real, and David knows Tommy well enough to know he'd hate that.

"What?" he asks now, his voice rough with emotion. He can't seem to turn them off, think logically, do the "Spock Thing" as Teddy calls it. The thing he's usually so good at--objective thought--eludes him. "Didn't think I knew how to play sex chicken?"

"That's . . . not how you play sex chicken," Tommy says unsteadily. "You--" He sways, swallows, and wipes the back of his hand across his eyes, leaving a soot smear behind on his temple. "God, David. You're the only fucking person who takes me by surprise."

"I'm taking that as a compliment," David says. "And . . . you, too."

They stare at each other for a moment. David wants to kiss Tommy again. He wants to kiss until both of their lips are sore and swollen. He wants to nail the speedster here.

And, again, he knows better.

"So," Tommy says, and claps his hands like he's signaling it's time to move on, "this isn't a new habit of yours, is it? Randomly jumping people? Because Teddy and I are cool, but you're going to have a few harassment suits on your hands if you keep it up."

David holds up his hands like he's under arrest. "This is the last time," he promises. He doesn't know what happened to their argument, but he guesses now isn't the time to talk about it.

Tommy slides him a sideways smile. "Don't set the bar too high."

 

 

Chapter Text

David wakes up with a pair of feet in his face.

More accurately, one foot in his face and the other kneading its toes in his neck. Gross. He shoves them away, pushing up onto his elbow to squint around, disoriented, at the unfamiliar room. As he takes in the stacks of cardboard boxes and badly patched walls, he remembers that yesterday he moved in with America.

He glances back at the feet, eyes traveling across the body they're attached to. Tommy's zonked out, one arm draped over David's calves, the other dangling off the edge of the bed. His basketball shorts are tangled around his hips and between his thighs, the waistband yanked down to expose half his ass crack.

Other than the television and XBox, nothing in David's room is unpacked. Most of yesterday was spent boxing up the crap from David and America's old places and dumping it in their new place. For America, who'd been splitting her time between Kate's empty apartment and a hotel, this wasn't a big deal. For David . . .

David's a bit of a pack rat. He'll admit it. He can't count the number of times he heard someone say, "Do you absolutely need this?" while they were packing.

(the answer was always yes)

He shoves Tommy's legs away from him again and edges out of bed, careful to climb over the speedster. He nearly loses his balance a few times; even without the moving boxes, there isn't a lot of space to maneuver. David let America have the larger bedroom in favor of this one, which is narrower but also has a window that runs the length of the bed.

His desk fits on one side of the room, and his television on the other. His low dresser doubles as the TV stand, but he doesn't mind the cramped conditions. He's spent years in closer quarters, sometimes with roommates.

The morning sunlight pours through the curtainless window like lemonade from a pitcher. He's surprised Tommy's still asleep, but even David's fumblings to open his drawer without hitting the end of the bed don't stir the guy. Tommy's like a wind-up toy; he goes and goes and goes and then falls over.

David grabs a set of clothes and heads for the bathroom, passing America's room on the way. She made more progress unpacking than he did; through her half-open door he can see her bed made properly, not a bunch of sheets tossed over it like David's, an area rug unrolled at its base. Her shelves are littered with crap she's picked up in her travels; strange micro-worlds and oddly twisted trophies, photographs in wood and acrylic frames, a telephone shaped like either a flower or a vagina, David can't tell. He hopes it's a telephone, anyway.

The hot water takes its time kicking in, and while David waits, testing the spray every few seconds, Tommy shuffles in to take a piss.

"Are we going out for breakfast?" he asks, around a yawn. David's surprised--he half expected Tommy to take off the second he woke up, and he definitely didn't expect Tommy to be part of a "we". But Tommy's been weird lately, ever since David kissed him. He's been around a lot more, to the point that David would question if he's the same person who couldn't stand more than a week at a part time job.

Admittedly, a shitty part time job that David would have gladly skipped away from if he could, as well.

"Ask America," he says now. "I don't know."

He doesn't know the first thing about this arrangement, actually. Are he and America going to eat meals together? What happens when one or the other of them wants to bring someone home, in the colloquial sense?

(Okay, that problem is mostly America's because David hasn't gotten any in so long, his dick probably thinks his hand is the real thing because it doesn't know better)

It's too early in the morning to think about, especially while he's naked and Tommy's using the toilet.

Tommy flushes and washes his hands, flicking the excess water through his wild hair. "She was kind of . . . busy . . . when I passed by," he says. "I did us both the favor of shutting the door. On a totally unrelated note, Kate's back in town."

David has at least three comments to make about that, but the shower finally turns something approximating warm, and he lets them go, stepping in. They haven't hung the shower curtain yet, which he didn't think twice about until Tommy decided to come chill with him in the bathroom.

Tommy nonchalantly leans against the sink.

David turns his back on him. The thought of Tommy watching him shower is doing things to his dick that he'd rather the other guy not see. He swallows the arousal and reaches for soap before realizing there isn't any.

Tommy hands him the bar from the sink. "Here's what I'm thinking," he says. His fingers brush David's, and the bar slips between their hands and lands on the bottom of the tub with a thump. David crouches (he is not bending) to grapple for it. He's both surprised and grateful that Tommy doesn't make a joke.

"What are you thinking?" David asks, lathering the bar between his hands.

"It looks like the only thing that's going to be coming out of America's bedroom in the next hour is moans," Tommy says. "So, in the interest of sparing us both the horrifying experience of hearing her get laid, let's leave and like . . . not come back for a while. Have a day out."

David bends his head under the water, fingers scraping his scalp as he works them through the dense tangle. It's beyond time for a buzz. There's a reason he shaves his head; he doesn't have the time to maintain anything more complicated than that.

"A day out," he echoes. He washes his junk as quickly and discretely as he can manage, irritated by the jolt in his abdomen when his thumb accidentally brushes the head of his cock. He's got a handle on his libido . . . usually. He's moved past the period of uncontrollable erections, got all that nastiness out of the way with Nori (which was its own kind of unfortunate), but. Tommy makes him weird.

All of this is weird. It's been weird for months now.

"Yeah, we can eat, see the city," Tommy says, sounding suspiciously enthusiastic about the idea. "You live here now, after all. We might as well get to know the home turf. I guarantee we'll be fighting something with tentacles in less than a week and you'll regret not memorizing some random alleyway behind a Korean deli."

"You have a point," David concedes. Tommy hands him a towel because he's awesome like that, and David gratefully shuts off the shower and wraps the towel around his waist before stepping out of the tub.

"You're not the only one who can have ideas," Tommy teases.

David's feeling cocky already, so he slides a look over to Tommy and says, "It kind of sounds like a date."

Tommy freezes for half a second, then rolls his eyes. "Call it what you want," he says.

Butterflies explode in David's stomach.

He dresses in record time, thinking he might even be putting Speed to shame--although in the time it takes him to dry off and yank on his chino shorts, Tommy changes, grabs breakfast, and comes back.

He hands the McDonald's bag to David, eyes flicking to the sliver of bare chest between the two halves of David's unbuttoned shirt.

David can't be imagining this, right?

He opens the bag as he shuffles through the apartment, giving America's room a wide berth in his quest for a pair of shoes that aren't spangled with stars. Tommy, by the door, fidgets with David's round Ray Bans and waits for the bag to migrate back to him. David pulls out a breakfast sandwich and hands it over.

He finds the shoes he wore yesterday--a pair of beat-up Reebok sandals--and unwraps his sandwich, sticking it in his mouth. The sausage burns his tongue.

He double checks that the new apartment key is on his ring before they leave, which makes Tommy even more impatient.

"I don't want to get locked out," David says defensively, as they step into the stairwell.

"I could always jimmy the lock," Tommy replies. "You do realize that as long as you know me, you're never going to be locked out of places, right?"

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," David says, and locks the door behind him. He shoves the keys in his pocket and grins at Tommy, holding his arm out. "Let's go see our new city."

Tommy tucks himself under David's arm, bending so his shoulders are at the right height; David laughs and raises his arm so the other boy can straighten.

"You're a goof," he says, taken aback by the affection in his own voice. He's never taken that tone with anyone except his sister before.

Tommy elbows him. "That's no way to talk to someone who brought you breakfast," he says.

"A reheated breakfast sandwich? I'm falling over myself with gratitude," David drones.

"As it should be," Tommy replies, straight-faced. He hasn't shrugged David's arm off yet; miracles do happen. Even to guys like David. Even to guys who kiss other guys' boyfriends and could potentially earn a degree in being an asshole.

He's not imagining this, he confirms. But it's a careful line to walk, and he's terrified of going too far. Again. So far, he's followed Tommy's cue and not talked about the day in his old kitchen and not asked where Tommy's been sleeping since he lost the apartment. All he knows is that it (usually) isn't with him.

They wander out to the sidewalk and turn left. David keeps track of where they walk, but he doesn't have a destination in mind and he doesn't think Tommy does, either. He drops his arm from Tommy's shoulder after a couple of steps, covering the motion by raiding the bag in Tommy's hands and stealing a couple hashbrowns.

The location of the apartment wasn't important to America, who can travel anywhere she wants without paying bus fare, but David missed Illinois so here they are in Ottawa, where there's . . . mostly nothing, but it's quiet and only forty-five minutes away from his parents' house. Ottawa's a cool place. There are parks.

They stop at one to hang out for a while, using the balled-up McDonald's bag to play catch. David has to talk Tommy out of taking a dip in the duck pond. They wrestle, lay in the grass. Between the dark green leaves of the oak trees, the sky blares loud and blue. Tommy's fingers tangle with David's, and everything smells fresh and new and hopeful. It doesn't matter that he doesn't have a fucking clue what's going on between them.

Ottawa is wildly different from New York, Chicago, any of the big cities where he's spent the last few years. He wouldn't call it a small town, because it's not--it's just . . . normal. He's pretty sure that's the word he's looking for. The level of commotion is normal, and the level of calm is normal. The Indian man hawking Mexican food from the cart on the corner of Columbus street is normal, and so are the competing youth groups playing basketball in between the Baptist and Lutheran churches directly across the street from each other.

And then they're standing at the river.

"I didn't know there was a river," Tommy says, staring down the bank at the rushing, muddy current. Across the river, the city continues; behind them, a couple apartment buildings and some businesses squat, all of them named something water-related.

"Well, there's a river," David says. "Two, actually. I think this one converges with the Fox River in that direction." He points to the left, which he thinks is (possibly)southish. "My class took a field trip here in fourth grade."

"Was that fun?" Tommy asks, sounding like he doesn't care about the answer. He squats down, gathering a handful of gravel to toss in the river, ignoring the signs posted every three feet asking people to do exactly not that.

"It was okay," David says, crouching next to him. "Did you ever take field trips?"

Tommy shakes his head. "Mom liked to keep me home," he says, referencing his parents for the first time in David's memory. Whenever Tommy talks family, it's about Billy. It's always about Billy. "She was afraid of what I'd do without constant supervision." He slants David a half smile. "Well. She wasn't wrong."

"You do give off the vibe of needing a babysitter like, always," David agrees. "Someone to keep you from sticking your fingers in light sockets for the heck of it."

"Or other people's fingers," Tommy says.

"Or other people's fingers," David concurs. He traces his fingers through the gravel. "I won't help you stick anyone's fingers in a light socket," he says. "But I will recommend you dump a bucket of water over their head first."

Tommy's smile widens.

By late afternoon, Tommy's pockets are loaded with souvenirs he didn't pay for, and David's pretty sure they've seen everything worth seeing in Ottawa. The sun glares in their eyes as they wander back to the apartment, David going by the map he's slowly built in his head during their exploration.

"There are worse places you could have moved to," Tommy says, fiddling with something called a fidget spinner that David low-key wants to throw in the river because Tommy has not put it down since picking it up in that dollar store. "Like New Jersey, New Jersey sucks."

"Isn't that where you're from?" David asks.

"David, I'm a man of the road," Tommy says, straight-faced. "Child of nowhere. Son of no one."

David sighs. "More like the spawn of utter bullshit," he says, and Tommy laughs.

"Anyway," he says, slinging his arm around David's neck and twirling his spinner in his other hand, "it doesn't matter where I'm from. I'm here now. And that's how I roll."

David wonders if he's the only one who can hear how false the bravado in Tommy's voice rings; surely not. Surely someone before him figured out everything that comes from Tommy's mouth is either a lie or a bluff, all meant to prop up the image of a superhero who totally has his shit together.

They're in their late teens and twenties; they're all pretending to have their shit together. David gets that. America was right.

"How long are you going to be here?" he asks.

Tommy hip-bumps him. "Why? You gonna miss me when I'm gone?" he teases. "Hey--let's go in that soda shop, it looks bomb." He skips a few steps ahead, dashing up to the picture window and then stopping, his shoulders slumping. "Awww, it's closed," he moans. "Stupid town--everywhere closes at, like, two."

"Not the Wal-Mart," David reminds him. He chooses to let the obvious change of subject go, but when Tommy whirls around, green eyes lighting up like twin GO signals, he says firmly, "No. We aren't going to Wal-Mart today."

"Okay, cool, we'll table it for now," Tommy agrees. "Revisit the idea after supper."

"That's not what I said."

"Wanna hear this song I really like?" Tommy asks, yanking his phone out of his pocket and starting to play it without listening to David's answer (which is "Not really."). He's pinballing, distracting David, playing the avoidance game. He holds the speaker between their ears, humming along with the tune and then breaking into the chorus.

Their faces are so close, separated by only a few inches of plastic.

The avoidance game is kind of working.

David eyes everything but Tommy's face. Tommy's got a new pair of runners; they're green. He misappropriated David's Metallica t-shirt this morning. He's still in the gray basketball shorts he slept in. He's not the kind of guy to wear jewelry. He's obviously not going to talk about the future, which means he'll probably be gone tomorrow.

David's the kind of guy to wear jewelry. He has a watch, because he's responsible, and a couple bracelets he's picked up from random places. He has no plans to go anywhere in the immediate future. He wouldn't mind talking about it with Tommy anyway, just in case. He wouldn't mind if Tommy invited him to go with; he wouldn't go, he knows how important Tommy's independence is to him. He just wants to be asked.

The sun skims the tops of the buildings around them, creating a clear divide between light and shadow on the sidewalk. The shadow stretches diagonally across Tommy's calves. David estimates it at a forty-five degree angle. His brain likes to give him math when nothing else makes sense.

Tommy's hum low and deep in his throat. David's close enough to pick out every thrum of his vocal chords. He couldn't care less about the music coming, tinny and too loud, from Tommy's phone. His arm is close enough to Tommy's that it raises the hair on the back of his neck, gooseflesh dancing down to his fingertips.

"I really like this part," Tommy says, pressing the phone closer to David's ear even though it's already busting David's eardrum. He clenches his teeth but bears with it.

Tommy sings along, slightly off key and definitely higher pitched than the gutteral singer he's mimicking. David doesn't care.

He genuinely doesn't. Tommy could sound like Oscar the Grouch's favorite band and David would listen.

The thought flings across his brain like one of Kate's arrows, effortlessly striking the mark of his feelings. America was right about more than one thing; David's caught something, and he can't hide it much longer. He's come down with a severe case of butterflies for his own best friend, and kissing Tommy did nothing to ease the symptoms. If anything, it only raised his fever.

Tommy elbows him gently, their bare arms knocking together. "So?" he asks. "Whaddya think?"

David can hardly remember the tune, let alone the words or his impression of them.

"Cool," he says. It's the universally accepted substitute for "meh". Tommy picks up on it, but instead of getting mad, he just grins, wide mouth quirking at the corners like he knows exactly what's up.

"Well, it's not for everyone," he says. "I know, I know, you weren't expecting me to drop such chill beats--I look like a rap guy, right?"

He steps away from David and holds his arms out. David's shirt hangs from his frame; too long, too baggy. His knees are grass-stained.

David holds back a smile. "You look like a skinny white boy from suburbia," he says. "Not a rap guy."

"Aw, fuck you," Tommy's grin widens. "I cry racism."

"You and every other oppressed mutant from here to JGA," David drawls. "Seriously, the song was cool. I just . . . got distracted."

Tommy raises both eyebrows. "By me?" he teases. David's sure he means it in a lighthearted way, but he doesn't play along this time. He doesn't want to play along. For a guy who hasn't told anyone about the terabytes of contraband data lurking under his bed, he really hates secrets. They've done nothing but screw up his relationships in the past, romantic or otherwise.

He steps closer to Tommy. It feels like a much wider gap than a single pace. His toes hold a staring contest with the tips of Tommy's sneakers, even as Tommy himself looks away.

From here, David can see the red tipped beginning of an acne spot on Tommy's upper lip, and the scruffy hint of a beard that would make Noh-Varr cry from awfulness, and the flecks of darker skin that might be freckles or just normal skin mottling.

"Yeah," he says. "By you."

He doesn't give it a lot of thought. He presses his mouth to Tommy's mouth with the kind of daring he thought he only had in him once, with Teddy, when he thought they were going to die. He kisses Tommy without the excuse of an argument or arousal or whatever he's been telling himself he kissed Tommy in the kitchen for.

He kisses Tommy for the second time in a month.

This time, Tommy kisses back, proving beyond a shadow that it isn't all in David's head.

His mouth is warm, wet. His hand closes around David's, pulling him closer, and David cups Tommy's cheek with his free hand.

He wonders if Tommy feels like they've just jumped off a cliff without a parachute, or if he's just rolling with it in his typical Tommy-always-down-for-that-Shepherd way. Probably the latter.

Tommy pulls back. His lower lip is pinker than usual. He looks like he's about to say something dickish and ruin the moment, so David kisses him again, dragging his teeth across Tommy's bottom lip. Tommy's inhale is so fast and sharp, David almost misses it. It sends a thrill of excitement through his abdomen; he took that noise from Tommy. He made Tommy sound that way.

Tommy pulls away again, this time shaking David off like a dog shaking the rain from its fur.

David doesn't push his luck.

"What the hell?" Tommy asks. He's still here, so David doesn't lose his shit just yet--but it's close. He knows he didn't imagine Tommy kissing him back, but that doesn't automatically mean they're cool. It just means Tommy likes kissing. Which is . . . good, but not quite what David needs to hear.

David glances around. "Maybe this isn't the best place to talk about it?" he offers. "We are in the middle of the sidewalk."

"You kissed me in the middle of the sidewalk," Tommy points out. David hates when other people use logic on him.

"I was overwhelmed with emotion," he drones, aware that he sounds the opposite.

"Bullshit," Tommy accuses.

"Bullshit," David admits. "Did you hate it?"

Tommy runs his thumb over his lips, which David finds unfairly sexy. "I don't know," he says. "It was weird."

"Weird how?"

"I don't know, just weird. Different from Kate."

"I should think so." Something occurs to David. "Have you kissed anyone other than Kate?" He assumed yes, but assumptions have a bad rep for a reason.

"Sure, I've kissed you," Tommy says, which they both know isn't an answer. "And you still haven't told me why."

"It's not obvious?" David asks.

"We aren't all as smart as you, David," Tommy says. "I can't deduce shit like motives and stuff, you gotta spell it out."

"I'm pretty sure this is basic," David replies, and crosses his arms. The shadows are getting longer. It isn't cold, but the air tastes like it will be, soon. "I kissed you for the normal reason a person would kiss another person. No motives and stuff to worry about."

"Kate kissed me to piss off Eli," Tommy says. "Cassie kissed me because she was in mourning. Lisa kissed me because she wanted to get in my head."

"It sounds like you know more about it than you claim," David says.

Tommy catches his gaze and holds it. "If you kissed me for any of those reasons, it wouldn't be okay," he says. "I forgave the girls because I knew what I was dealing with when I got involved with them. I knew what they wanted." He pauses a beat. "I don't know what you want," he admits.

David can't remember the last time someone wanted to know what he wants. No one asked what he wanted on M-Day, or in the aftermath of it. No one asked what he wanted when he was fighting for Utopia. Definitely, no one asked what he wanted at the call center, except Tommy, who asked if he wanted coffee and noodles and the answer was yes.

Tommy's the guy he wants to say yes to.

But Tommy hasn't asked for that yet.

He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and shrugs. "I wanted to kiss you," he says. "I want to do it again, if you'll let me. It's nothing deeper than that."

David, who hates secrets even though he has the nuclear warhead of all information under his bed and hasn't told anyone yet, lies.

And Tommy, who's always been spectacularly good at calling David's bullshit, who picks out David's lies because they come from a brain that's almost a carbon copy of his own, stares at him like he expected better before shoving his hands in his pockets, whirling around, and walking away.

David's lips burn, from both the lie and the kiss.

The rest of him is cold.

 

Chapter Text

Kate's Fourth of July barbecue is in three days. David's been in his new apartment for six, and it's been five since he kissed Tommy on the sidewalk outside a closed soda shop.

It's been eighty-three since he picked up the Watcher laptop, and one-hundred-and-eighty-one since Tommy came back and David stood on that hill looking down at all his friends in the world and made the mistake of thinking he was normal.

Exactly half a year, and he's made no progress on Patrinot. Or Tommy. Or anything, really. He wonders if any of the great names in history sat around counting the number of days they were not-great.

"I see my mistake, now," America says in passing, on her way to the fridge. "You can't be blamed. I'm the one who gave the kid candy. We shouldn't have bought a calendar."

"Everyone needs a calendar," David says, elbows-deep in a list of events he's transcribing on their brand new Grumpy Cat calendar. "How else do you stay organized?"

"I'm pretty sure Tony Stark has an entire suite of programs for just that," America says.

"Always have a manual backup," he replies. "When's your birthday? It's the only one I don't have."

"You're conspiring with Kate," she accuses, and disappears back into her room with the entire bottle of orange juice.

"If you finish that, you'd better buy a replacement," he calls after her.

He likes dates. Dates are organized, predictable; dates distract him from the terror that's been lurking behind his nightmares and in the pit of his stomach for two-hundred-and-twenty-three days. If he can number it, it's not so bad. It's controllable, measurable, subject to the same basic rules as the rest of the universe.

He's just finishing writing his sister's graduation in the Stuff I Guess I'm Doing Next Year box when his phone rings.

He hasn't gotten around to changing it from 'Filet O'Fish'.

"Hello?" he says, sandwiching the phone between his ear and shoulder as he starts to gather up the papers spread across the card table.

"Hi," Teddy says. "Is now a bad time?"

David glances at his newly printed calendar to make sure that, no, it's not a bad time at all. Actually, with the exception of Kate's barbecue, he has nothing planned for this week.

Maybe he should go to college, just for something to do.

"Yeah," he says, and then catches himself, "I mean yeah, go ahead, it's not a bad time."

He's still a dork around Teddy. But he's getting better.

"Okay." Teddy pauses. "Actually, can you meet me?"

"Okay," David says cautiously. "Is that all right?"

"You're in Ottawa, aren't you? Does the deli on LaSalle St. work?"

"Um--yeah," David says, still deeply confused. "How are you--"

"See you in twenty." Teddy hangs up.

David drops his phone back in his hand and stares at it like it might give him a clue to Teddy's behavior. The changeling didn't even say goodbye, and he's always been polite like that.

Also, David hasn't showered in two days and is wearing nothing but a pair of jeans he dug out of his dirty laundry pile.

He decides making himself decent for human company is more pressing than figuring out Teddy's deal. He'll know soon enough, anyway, when he meets the guy.

Tommy shows up while David's in the shower. David hopes Tommy isn't planning on making a habit of this. Their boundaries are getting severely blurred.

"So, my brother has summoned me," Tommy begins, leaning against the sink with his arms folded. "And I'm not going, but I thought I'd let you know so you have somewhere to begin when I show up mysteriously dead for ignoring the universe's most spoiled god."

"You should cut Billy a break," David says, then pauses to appreciate the extremely unlikely thing that just left his mouth. He shuts off the water and steps out, nudging Tommy aside so he can shave at the sink. "Weird, though--Teddy kind of did the same thing to me."

"Murdered you for not paying attention to him?"

"I wish," David snorts, running his brush under the faucet. "I mean he just asked me to meet him, but it wasn't exactly a request. And he hung up kind of abruptly. Maybe something's going on." He wets his face, then starts lathering soap in his dish. Tommy teases him for shaving the old-fashioned way, but David likes it. Even if it's kind of hipster. "Maybe you should reconsider standing your brother up."

Tommy wrinkles his nose. "I'd rather not," he says. "Why don't you do it instead?"

"I don't think Billy wants to see me. Ever." David swirls the lathered soap on his face.

"That's probably true," Tommy admits. He leans on the sink again, sideways so he's facing David, and re-crosses his arms. "But you're not trying to get with Teddy anymore, right?"

"I wasn't trying in the first place," David says. "But no, I'm not. Doesn't make it not weird." He sighs. "Oh well. Can't be weirder than when my girlfriend started fucking my best friend to get me to dump her."

"I'm sorry, what?" Tommy asks, his whole face lighting up. "Please tell me that hilarious story again. Slowly, with more details."

"I think that's the first time you've wanted to do something slowly," David says, then shuts up because he's running a straight razor across his cheek and he can't just steal Wolverine's healing factor if he messes up now.

"I could think of a few things I'd want to do slowly," Tommy says.

David flicks soap off his blade and tries to ignore the thrill that spikes through his abdomen like a signal flare. "Tell me that isn't a come-on," he says dryly. "Because it wasn't clever."

"Oh, Davie," Tommy says. "If you're waiting for me to be clever, you're going to be old and gray before we hook up."

David sets his blade down for a minute so he can give Tommy his full attention. If he doesn't pick up the pace, he's going to be late to meet Teddy, but-- "I can't tell if you're serious or not," he says. "Is this a serious thing? Are we flirting now?"

"You're bad at this," Tommy notes.

"Yes," David says. "That shouldn't be news."

"How did you snag a girlfriend before?" Tommy sounds too amused for this discussion. David suspects he's being mocked.

"Luck," David replies. "And also, girls are different. I've never . . . guys are more difficult. I don't know what to do with them."

"Yeah, I've noticed that," Tommy says, because this isn't a weird subject in the least. Especially not with David hanging all out there, having dispensed with the towel because Tommy's already seen everything. "You kind of skip straight to the awkward first kiss. Which, actually, brings us back to Teddy. You sure it's a good idea to go see him alone?"

David can't keep up.

"Are you offering to come with me?" he asks, then shakes his head. "No, wait--you have to meet Billy. You're just trying to get out of seeing him."

"Guilty as charged," Tommy snorts, then gives David a once-over. Slow, so David can't miss it. "Guess you have me all figured out, David Alleyne."

David doesn't have time for this.

He turns his attention to the sink, and Tommy gets bored and wanders off. When David emerges from the bathroom, shaved and dressed and much more respectable, the other guy is raiding the fridge.

"There's no orange juice," he complains. "Someone should get groceries."

David slides around him to grab his house keys. "You do know you don't live here, right?" he asks.

Tommy straightens, turns, and freezes. His eyes rake over David again, this time in a much less lighthearted way. "Is that what you're wearing?"

"Shit, is it bad?" David asks. "I thought I'd start wearing some of the things I've been stuffing to the back of my closet since the dawn of forever, y'know, because I liked them when I bought them . . ."

"It's . . . " Tommy recovers from whatever shocked him and sticks his head back in the fridge. "It's kind of hard to believe you don't have an agenda," he says, from inside. David's pretty sure Tommy would climb all the way in if he could.

"I always have an agenda," David says, and frowns down at his clothes. He wasn't totally sold on the green chinos, but he figured it was a nice change from all the beige and yellow. Now he thinks he might be better off throwing on a pair of Tommy's basketball shorts. "But not the one you're implying. Seriously, what's the matter?"

Tommy pulls himself out of the fridge and sighs. "Come here," he says, beckoning with one hand.

Nothing good ever came from someone saying that to David, but he obediently edges closer to Tommy, who grabs his waist.

Uh.

"What are you doing?" David asks.

Tommy tries to pinch the sides of David's shirt between his fingers, ignoring David's glare at the wrinkles that causes.

"Feel this?" he asks. "This is the feeling of a shirt that is too tight."

"Oh. Okay," David says, too nonplussed to come up with a better reply. "I mean, you only run around in spandex--"

"You look good," Tommy says flatly. "There are tiny flamingos embroidered on your shirt and you still manage to look good." He releases David's apparently offensive shirt and scowls. "Like you're trying to impress someone. A Teddy someone. And you smell like fucking balsam."

Tommy's the only person David knows who can make a compliment sound like an insult.

"I'm not," David says. "Also . . . none of your business."

Tommy closes the fridge door and puts his hands on his hips. "It's my business if my brother murders you."

"What's with you and thinking Billy's going to kill everyone he dislikes?" David asks, officially entering the territory of Too Amused To Be Pissed. "And why do you care what I wear, anyway? Fashion's definitely not your thing."

He's seen horrors in Tommy's drawer. Horrors he doesn't want to talk about.

"Maybe I have a vendetta against flamingos," Tommy mutters.

David shakes his head and grabs his keys. "Look, I have to go," he says. "I don't have time for whatever this is, I'm going to be late."

"Because you were busy gussying up for Teddy." Tommy heads down the hall to David's bedroom.

"No one says 'gussying up' outside of Westworld!" David shouts after him. "Grow up!"

"Make me!" Tommy shouts back, and slams the door closed behind him.

 


 

 

Teddy is already there when David arrives. He's sitting in a corner booth with a Mets ball cap jammed low over his eyes and his shoulders hunched like he's trying to be surreptitious; impossible for a guy who tops six-three in bare feet.

David goes over and sits down, feeling like he should be delivering a cryptic message involving the crow flying at dawn.

"Hey," he says. He still feels disgruntled from how he left things with Tommy; he tries not to let it affect his tone, but it's hard when Teddy's being sketchy. He's making David nervous, and nervous and disgruntled are not emotions David wants to feel heading into a conversation with his old crush. Ex-crush? Whatever.

"Hi," Teddy says, and laces his fingers together. "You want anything? My treat."

His voice breaks on the last word; David realizes he's nervous. So . . . they're both nervous. Fabulous. It's like a first date, but without the possibility of a goodnight kiss later. It's just the terrible, fingernail-biting parts.

David lowers his hand from his mouth, since his nails are blunt enough already.

"I'm good," he says. "What about you? Is everything okay?"

Teddy shakes his head, eyes on his hands, his leg jittering under the table. "Sorry to call you out," he says. "I know it's weird. I know this is weird. But we're friends, right?" He glances at David. "We can be friends?"

"Of course," David says, partly because he still has a soft spot for the guy and partly because it's just straight-up true. David'll always take more friends, especially if they're friends who can turn into dinosaurs and wear Levi jeans that fit tight in all the right places (although not both at the same time).

"Cool," Teddy mumbles. "Because I kind of need one. I don't have any, you know. I was thinking about that yesterday."

"What?" David's already confused. "You have an entire team, Teddy."

"They're our friends." Teddy stresses the word. "Mine and Billy's. We share, like we share everything." He glances at David again, then tugs the brim of his cap further down. "Sometimes I think Tommy has the right idea," he mutters. "Keeping himself separate from Billy, making sure no one thinks they're the same person just because they're twins."

David hesitates, then puts his nail-bitten hand on top of Teddy's. "You're separate from Billy," he says encouragingly.

"Am I?" Teddy asks. "I mean, that's why you suggested I take a break, right? Because I was losing my identity."

"I suggested you take a break because I was secretly hoping it would become permanent," David figures there's no point in padding his answer. He doesn't have a chance with Teddy, never had to begin with, and friendships are built on honesty. "And anyway, you guys are good now. You're good now."

Teddy just looks at him.

"Is this why you called me?" David asks, withdrawing his hand. "You needed to feel independent? Live a little?"

"No, of course not," Teddy says, frowning. "I called you because I don't have anyone else to talk to. You're the only person I know who . . ." he trails off, looking pained, before coming back to the end of his sentence. "Who sees Billy for what he really is."

David doesn't like the sound of this.

"I'm worried about him," Teddy blurts out. "This morning--just a few minutes before I called you--it's scary, David. I'm scared."

"Of what?"

Teddy's shame-filled gaze feels like sandpaper and grit on David's skin. His answer comes out in a whisper, like he can't bear to say it at full volume.

"Billy."

"What did he do?" David asks at once. Demiurge or not, he'll find a way to make Billy pay if he hurt Teddy. Even if it's not, strictly speaking, his place to do so.

Teddy shakes his head. "Nothing, yet," he says. "It's just--the short story is, we met future versions of ourselves--"

"What?" David asks, equal parts intrigued and jealous. "How?"

Teddy waves the question away. "It's not important," he says.

"I beg to differ," David says, because, time travel.

"Billy's evil," Teddy blurts out. "In the future, I mean. He's evil, so evil that even Loki thinks he's too much. Loki."

David gives him a blank look.

"I think Billy's the one who becomes Patri-not," Teddy says.

"That makes no sense," David says. "Patri-not became Patri-not to stop Billy, or to make sure he becomes the Demiurge, or whatever . . . but, anyway, he isn't Billy. Billy's the one person we can be absolutely sure isn't Patri-not."

"You don't know that," Teddy argues.

"I do," David says. "It's called logic. Billy can't be his own worst enemy. Well . . . I guess he can, but not in the physical sense."

"You assume Patri-not is some kind of balance to the Demiurge," Teddy says. "You don't know for sure."

"I'm sure enough," David says. "And my 'sure enough' is the same as other people's 'absolutely positive'. Patri-not isn't Billy."

"Then the Demiurge is just evil," Teddy says. "And we're all doomed."

"I know I'm the computer guy, but you're thinking too binary," David tells him. "It doesn't have to be one or the other. I mean, look at Loki. Sometimes he's good. Sometimes he's not. We've all done bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons and, you know, blurred the lines a bit." He shrugs. "There's no need to jump to conclusions."

"You make it sound so reasonable," Teddy says. "Dismissing everything I've been stressing about for the last hour."

"Only the last hour?" David leans forward. "I've been worrying about this for the last six months. I've had time to consider and throw out the possibility that it's Billy."

"But what if what we've assumed is wrong?" Teddy asks. "What if Patri-not is actually a force for good?"

"Who teamed up with a parent-munching demon?" David asks. "Doubt it."

"Desperate times. Desperate measures," Teddy says, spreading his hands in a shrug. "You just said it, we've all done bad things for good reasons."

"Okay," David says, because he can't disagree with his own argument. He can't start doubting himself, not when everyone else is so very good at doing it for him. "Then let me present my current theory."

Teddy leans forward and waits, cocking his head.

David folds his arms on the table. "It's not that simple," he says.

There's a moment of silence. Confusion flits across Teddy's face. "What is?" he asks.
"Everything. Hear me out," David says, because he gets the feeling Teddy's eyes are about to glaze over. "I've been through this with the X-Men before. With Nori. With pretty much every problem I've ever gotten bogged down in. Everybody--and I'll admit I'm painting in broad strokes here--wants to divide the world into good and bad, yin and yang, black and white. I propose that the future, and our future selves, are much more complex than that."

"You can say that," Teddy says, "but bad stuff's still bad. Morality isn't an illusion, or whatever you're trying to say." He takes in David's expression. "What? I've had an Ethics class or two in my life. I'm familiar with the idea of moral relativism."

"Moral nihilism is more what I was going for," David says. "But I get your point."

"Murdering people is bad," Teddy continues. "Cheating is bad. Hurting people is bad."

"You sound like a five-year-old."

"Patri-not is bad," Teddy says, and that's where David has to disagree.

"There's the problem," he says, jabbing his finger in Teddy's direction. "You're making the assumption that, just because Billy and Patri-not oppose each other, one of them has to be 'good' and the other has to be 'bad'. That's not necessarily the case."

"Then why travel to the past and fuck up our lives?" Teddy asks.

David sits back. "It's just a theory," he says. "I'm still working on it."

"That doesn't make me feel better about Billy," Teddy says. "I'd worry about anyone who has an unchecked source of power. Look at what Wanda did--and Billy's capable of so much more." He looks at his hands again. "The only thing keeping him in line is his own moral code," he adds. "I used to think it was unshakable, but learning that he loses it . . . it's terrifying. And I can't talk to Billy about it because he's straight-up refusing to admit any of it happened."

David's unpleasantly reminded of Tommy. He knows exactly what Teddy's talking about. He feels his first twinge of real sympathy.

"I understand that you're afraid," he says gently. "You can always talk to me about it."

Teddy runs a hand through his hair, knocking off his ball cap. "Thanks," he says. "I just . . . I wish there was a way to know for sure, if this is normal or something I should worry about . . . if these are the last days I have with my boyfriend."

David swallows the lump in his throat. He has a way. He has the key at home, under his bed.

He could tell Teddy for sure.

"We'll just have to keep an eye on Billy," he says. "I'll help. I know a thing or two about controlling unruly powers, maybe Billy will let me train him a bit. It's going to be okay, Ted."

Teddy bends down to retrieve his hat from the floor. He comes up looking slightly relieved. "You wouldn't mind?" he asks. "I know you don't get along with Billy."

"I don't know him that well," David says. "I'm sure we'll be--" friends would be a stretch, "--fine for an hour or so a week. And if not, at least Billy's first murder will be a nobody."

Teddy frowns at the joke, and David remembers--too late--that he's not with Tommy and that kind of humor is strictly off-limits.

"We won't let anything bad happen to Billy," he says, heading back to safer territory. "Everything will be fine."

David, who hates lies more than anything else in the world, is becoming quite adept at telling them.

 


 

The idea that he could help Teddy nags him for the rest of the day, and into the night.

It's so tempting; all he has to do is decode the Watcher data. Surely there's something in there about Wiccan, the ever-present Demiurge, capital D, as in Defender of the Universe. Knowing what will happen is half the battle in stopping it, after all. And the idea of doing it for someone else, especially a someone else as noble as Hulkling, isn't as scary as the notion of doing it for himself.

Plus, there are terabytes of info. It'll be easy to miss or skip over the parts that mention him. Maybe. He thinks. Best-case scenario.

He re-enters his apartment to find America left him a cryptic post-it note on the fridge: gone.; and Tommy has put all the perishables on the counter because he's petty af.

"Real mature!" David shouts, unscrewing the lid of the milk. It still smells passable, so he puts it back in the fridge.

He doesn't get why Tommy's so pissed off. He doesn't even get what Tommy's pissed off about.

By the time he's done putting everything back in the refrigerator, he's starving. It's around the time he usually eats supper, and he skipped lunch to go meet Teddy so it's been a while since he last ate. He considers matching Tommy's pettiness and ordering takeout for one, but his better nature kicks in at the last second and he heads down the hall to his room to be the bigger man to ask if Tommy wants Chinese or Mexican.

Tommy's cross-legged on David's bed, playing XBox.

David's eyes flick to the mattress. The laptop is under there, just on the other side of Tommy's thighs. It would be easy to shove the speedster aside, plug in the key, unlock the secrets of the world. It'd be a crime to ignore information this important. He shouldn't let his fear get the better of him like this.

Tommy pauses the game and gives David an exasperated look. "What the fuck do you want?" he demands, starting off hostile and elevating from there. "Amnesty from Billy's wrath because you fucked his boyfriend?"

"I didn't fuck Teddy," David says, irritation spiking like adrenaline in his veins. He forgets what he came in here for, looking at Tommy's stupid face. Looking at Tommy there, in his thin shorts that twist and ride up and down in all the best places.

Even glaring, Tommy is something David wants. Has always wanted.

He strides to the bed and pushes Tommy down, not sure what's he's actually doing until he gets there.

"What the hell?" Tommy splutters, and David kisses him.

If he didn't, he would have gone for the laptop. And he can't. He needs a reason not to, and it's sitting here in a loose tank top that's so easy to push up and over Tommy's tousled head.

Tommy's hands grab David's head, cupping the base of his neck, like he's going to pull David away--but he doesn't. Instead, he seems to forget he was ever angry. His body writhes under David's, their hips grinding together, and he wraps one leg around David's waist and--

Shit. Oh, shit.

David's chinos chafe his hardening cock, pressed tantalizingly against Tommy's, but when he reaches down to free himself, Tommy beats him to it. The sound of his shorts zipper is as damning as ripping fabric or breaking glass. He presses himself into the heat between Tommy's legs, grinding the other boy into the bed, and Tommy fumbles around for the game controller, tossing it out of the way. It makes a sharp cracking noise when it hits the floor, but David's too busy climbing on top of Tommy, knees pressing into the mattress on either side of him, to care.

It's taken too long to get here, and they're moving entirely too fast, and David just doesn't want to think for another minute about how much he wants to kiss Tommy. He doesn't want to tangle himself in the greater meaning when he could be tangling himself in Tommy's legs and does.

Tommy's heel digs into the small of his back, and David works his fingers between them to yank down the waistband of Tommy's basketball shorts. Basketball shorts are the miracle invention of the sex world. The thin, silky fabric slides over Tommy's dick like a whisper and then it's gone, and the only thing separating David and Tommy is a pair of strained briefs.

Tommy spreads his lips open at the same time as his legs, and David has no doubt they look ridiculous, grinding against each other like a pair of teenagers in the backseat of a car before curfew, trying to cram in every minute of arousal they can--he probes Tommy's mouth with his tongue, his breath catching when Tommy's darts forward to meet him.

Every time Tommy rolls his hips forward, David thinks this is it--that he can't get any higher--that he'll break any second and the wet patch leaking from the head of his dick will blossom to a full blown stain, like all of this is just a wet dream--but every time, he just peaks and peaks and rises and never quite gets there.

"More," Tommy mumbles against David's mouth, his voice low and throaty and going straight to David's balls. He laces his fingers together around David's neck, palms pressing against David's shoulders, letting him pull back without actually letting go of him.

David slides his hand between them, running his hand over Tommy's cock with the complete lack of delicacy the situation calls for. Nothing quite like quick and dirty.

Tommy's hips jerk forward; David pulls his mouth from Tommy's long enough to spit on his palm, closing his fingers around Tommy's dick again. Tommy's staring at him with fire blazing behind his green eyes; David knows what he's thinking at once.

He kisses Tommy one last time, long and slow to take with him because he knows Tommy won't let him anywhere near his mouth after this, and then goes for Tommy's neck, his chest, mouthing a trail all the way down to Tommy's abdomen. He sees Tommy's eyes close, feels his back arch under David's hands.

"Fuck, yes," Tommy mutters. "You'd better be doing what I think you're doing."

David presses his mouth to the salty skin just above Tommy's pubic hair, Tommy's dick brushing his shoulder, and smiles broad enough for Tommy to feel it, glancing up in time to see Tommy bite his already swollen lip.

This is a terrible idea. David's too smart to even consider sucking off a guy whose sexual activity is a complete mystery to him without any protection--

--which is why he isn't thinking about it. He's just doing it.

It's like sucking a lollipop, really. A strange-shaped, velvet coated lollipop that quivers on his tongue and tastes vaguely of armpit.

In the moment, David finds that sexier than his thinking-straight brain ever would. He isn't thinking straight, in any sense of the word.

He runs his tongue up Tommy's shaft, teasing the vein on the underside of Tommy's dick. His own body is quivering, itching, whining for attention but not loudly enough to be unbearable, not yet. He's willing to put aside his own state to pay attention to Tommy, since Tommy so clearly needs someone to pay attention to him.

He dips his head down, letting Tommy's dick slide into his mouth before bobbing up again. He tries a couple of different angles, absently handling Tommy's balls as he does, until he finds the one that makes Tommy gasp. Then he just keeps going until Tommy's shaking, sweaty hands pushing David's head down in search for more, hips jerking, leg muscles clenching periodically like he's tensing for impact again and again--Tommy's almost there.

David raises his head one last time, Tommy's cock pop ping around his lips (exactly like a Tootsie Pop, Jubilee was right), and wipes saliva from the corner of his mouth.

Tommy's too impatient to wait, hand going to his twitching cock, and David stops him. He kneels upright again, and Tommy opens his eyes.

"We aren't--we can't--you'd better not be--" Tommy says, between heavy breaths. He never works his way around to the end of the sentence, but David knows what he means. He kisses Tommy's palm.

"Not today," he says, and brings Tommy's hand to the waistband of his underwear, which is straining under his erection. "But maybe you can help a brother out?"

"Holy fuck," Tommy groans. "You dork. "

David thinks he's screwed up-- again --but Tommy just puts his free hand on David's chest and pushes him over to straddle him. He yanks down David's underwear and presses his body down, grinding his ass against David's cock.

David's eyes flutter closed of their own accord, his breath going short. This is not how he pictured his night going when he woke up this morning. He's not complaining, though. There are worse ways to spend an evening than with his dick sandwiched between Tommy's smooth ass and his own stomach, the two way friction blossoming starbursts of pleasure in every nerve ending he possesses.

"Good?" Tommy asks. "Or do you--" He breaks off as David grabs his hips, making sure he bears down on just the right spots, and has to brace himself on the bed. " Fuck , David. Just do whatever the hell you--ah--"

His sarcasm melts away, his hips following David's rhythm, his face twisting with . . . something. David can't figure out what, exactly. He keeps one hand on Tommy's lower back, and with his other starts to jerk Tommy off.

"Seriously--" Tommy growls, and then grunts, his teeth clenching together, his pace becoming erratic. He was closer than David; he orgasms first, his cum soaking one of the flamingos embroidered on David's shirt. David doesn't let him stop grinding until the motion becomes too much; his eyes fixed on Tommy's face, he finally crests, letting a noise escape him that would be embarrassing under any other circumstances with any other people.

Tommy just looks vaguely proud of himself.

He pushes pale hair out of his face and collapses on his stomach beside David, grinning. "If you're going to end all of our arguments this way, I'm going to act childish more often," he says.

David forgot they were having something that, by the loosest definition of the word, counted as a spat.

"You're always childish," he says, plucking at the stain on his shirt and frowning.

"Told you I had a thing against flamingos," Tommy mutters, prying apart the buttons of David's shirt. "Fuck, I wanted to get you out of those clothes the second I saw you wearing them."

"Teddy's not interested in me," David tells him. "You know that, right? I could wear a Speedo and high heels and he wouldn't bat an eye."

"Now there's something I'd like to see," Tommy mutters, and succeeds in unbuttoning the first two buttons of David's shirt. "And it's not Teddy. It's the fact that you dress up for him."

"Baseless assumption," David says, and then, "Wait. Do you mean you were jealous?"

Tommy abandons the shirt to roll on his back. He's totally naked, his dick flopping to one side, toward David like it has fond memories of him.

He's gorgeous. David wants to roll on top of him, to kiss him again; but with Tommy's pre-cum still souring his mouth, he doubts that'll be welcome. He sits up instead, staring down at Tommy and Tommy's body and the mess he just created because the mess he was already in wasn't bad enough.

Tommy's ears and neck are red; he stares out the window instead of at David.

"You were jealous," David says, with more certainty. His brain starts making connections. "Just like in the park, when I told you about kissing Teddy. You've . . . always been jealous of Teddy."

Tommy throws an arm over his face. "You're attributing me with feelings I'm incapable of possessing," he says woodenly. "See? You aren't the only one who can use big words."

David presses a kiss to Tommy's chest, right over his sternum. He feels Tommy's heart speed up under his ribs. "Let me kiss you," he says.

"After you just sucked me off? No thanks."

"I didn't go all the way to the end," David says. "And you ruined my shirt so you owe me."

Tommy peeks out from under his arm. "Lose the stained shirt and I'll consider it," he says.

David fumbles with the remaining buttons, feeling self-conscious. He just came in front of Tommy, but being watched as he strips off his remaining clothes is . . . worse. It feels like a bigger deal than a bump-and-grind orgasm, especially when Tommy makes no effort to hide the desire in his eyes.

David drops the shirt on the floor by the bed.

Tommy's eyes flit over him. "What are you doing this week?" he asks.

"What?" David asks, disarmed.

"Your plans," Tommy says. "What are your plans?"

"Kate's barbecue." Why are they talking about this now?

"So, nothing until Friday?" Tommy clarifies.

David nods.

Tommy pulls him down, kissing him fiercely, pinning him on the bed in one swift motion. David's stomach lurches with excitement. "Then I'm keeping you here," Tommy says breathlessly. "Hope you didn't count on seeing Teddy again this week."

"Damn, boy," David snorts, mostly ironically. But also . . . damn. He's never seen Tommy so focused on a single thing, and with the single thing being him-- well.

"You're hard," Tommy observes, taking David in his hand. "That was fast."

"Hey, I have to keep up with you, don't I?" David asks.

Tommy kisses him again, hard, grinding David's lips into his teeth. It's not pleasant, but the possessiveness in Tommy's expression when he pulls back more than makes up for it. "You're the only one who can," he says.

There are at least ten things David should be worrying about right now, and he lets all of them hide in the back of his mind while he learns exactly how to make Tommy come again. And again. And again.

 

Chapter Text

Kate knows the second she lays eyes on David; he reads it in her face.

He's screwed.

"You slept with him?" she demands, pulling him aside as he tries to hand her the hostess gift he brought (because David's polite as fuck, thank you very much). She yanks him back into the stairwell he just emerged from, leaving the rest of the roof to gossip about where they're going and what they're doing.

David hasn't seen Kate since her party, and he's relieved she's back in town, but he's not happy that she appears to know everything there is to know about him and Tommy. He blames America.

He shoves the gift at her again, not relenting until she threads her fingers through the twine handles of the "homey" (Tommy's word) paper bag he thoughtfully wrapped the six-pack of beer in. David's no more twenty-one than Kate, but he has access to a fake I.D. that works just fine, no tears involved.

"If you think this will work as a bribe," she says, peeking in the bag to see what it is, "you're wrong. If it was a bag of Columbian coffee, well, then we'd be talking--or not talking, as the situation dictates--but there's no way a case of Budweiser will shut me up on this one, Alleyne. It's way too juicy." She waggles her eyebrows.

In her white t-shirt, flag shorts, and red bandanna headband, Kate's clearly been raiding America's wardrobe--and channeling her spirit. She stands on the step above him, blocking his retreat back to the roof, and sets the gift behind her, clamping her hands down on his bare shoulders.

(David felt brave enough to go sleeveless today, and given the 90-degree weather, he's glad he did).

"Now listen," she says gravely, her expression grim and frightening, "Tommy is an old and very dear friend of mine. I wouldn't be doing my due diligence as his best female friend if I didn't threaten your life and balls right now if you ever, ever, ever, ever hurt him."

"There go my plans for this weekend," David says dryly. "Guess I'd better put my knife kit away when I get home."

Kate slaps him upside the head, gently enough that it's barely a brush of her palm, but still. She gets her point across. "Tommy's my boi," she says, and shakes a finger in David's face. "And I like you and all but you got here about five minutes ago so I can't be too careful."

"I get it," he says, catching her hand and yanking it away from his glasses. He doesn't mind being poked in the eye (no, seriously), but smudges are a bitch to get out of the yellow, specialized lenses. "I appreciate your concern, and before you say another word--no, of course I won't tell Tommy we had the shovel talk because I'm not a complete moron."

She stares at him for a moment, then gives him a tight, red-lipped smile. "You're a dark horse," she accuses. "You came up from behind all of us and became the Tommy expert."

"You already knew that." He leans on the wall, shoving his hands in his pockets since it doesn't look like she'll be letting him back on the roof any time soon. He's a little nervous the wall will collapse; it's already crumbling in several places. He hasn't gotten around to asking why he's always meeting Kate in crummy apartment buildings, but he will. Eventually. "I heard about the Cliff Notes you left America."

"Ooh." Kate has the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "I promise I was going to add something more than just 'call David', I just . . . forgot. Hope it didn't end up being an issue."

"I'm pretty sure America burned those notes," he says. "So don't worry about it."

"Actually, she scattered them in space while singing Sweet Caroline at the top of her lungs and flying over Mars, she took great pleasure in telling me so the second I made it back," Kate says, and sighs. "I don't know why I love her."

"It's because she does shit like that," David says. "Trust me. I have experience in this."

Because he woke up this morning and, for the first time in four days straight, Tommy wasn't next to him ready for French toast and sex and like three minutes of conversation so they could pretend they had a normal relationship before going back to banging like rabbits. He was gone, and David realized he wouldn't love Tommy half as much if he wasn't always leaving.

It's not the leaving part. It's the surprise. The unexpected. Even the thrill of panic as David conducted a five-minute social media search to make sure Tommy was okay and just not around.

David's so . . . fucked up. In so many ways.

Or he just trusts that Tommy will always come back to him. He's not sure which.

Kate's looking at him oddly.

"What?" he asks.

"I never thought I'd see a look that dopey cross your face," she notes. "Please tell me you were thinking about Tommy, make my day."

"I was thinking about a puppy," he says, without missing a beat. It isn't a lie . "Anyway, are you going to let me see this party of yours or am I banished to the stairwell until the fun's over?"

"You haven't given me details yet," she says, crossing her arms. "How, exactly, did this happen? What were you thinking?" Her eyes widen. "Oh my God, do you like like him?"

He feels like he's back in high school, which is clearly when Kate Bishop stopped maturing. He sighs.

"It's complicated," he says. "Did you love Noh-varr?"

"That's--wait, are you actually asking, or are you trying to make a point?" she asks.

He thinks about it, and surprises himself. "I was actually asking," he says.

She scratches her nose. "Damn."

He waits.

"I don't know how much you know," she finally says, "but I have a history of disastrous relationships. I mean, I'm a textbook case of daddy issues and believe me, I know it. The guys I dated before Noh-varr were all, you know, substitutes. For my father." She gives him an uncomfortable smile. "Noh-varr was the first guy I had who wasn't a way to get back at dear ol' Pops, or replace him, or just . . . feel safe. It was the first time I felt like I was willingly engaging in a balanced relationship, and that part, I loved."

David isn't complaining, but he wasn't expecting such a detailed, serious answer.

She shrugs awkwardly, pushing a strand of hair back under her bandanna. "But, I mean, it didn't work out because I didn't want to, uh, you know. Be in a serious relationship. With him. I'm not sure if it was just him or if it's me, if I don't want to play the relationship game, and I went to California to kind of figure it out, among other things, and wow I just totally let my issues hijack this convo, sorry."

"You're fine," he says. "I asked. And I'd always rather talk about other people's emotional bullshit than my own."

"Same," she says, with feeling. "But, listen, going back to Tommy--I have to ask bluntly."

"I don't think you know how to be subtle," he tells her, and she laughs.

"True," she says. "So, is it just sex?"

He runs a hand over his scalp. "Honestly, we haven't gotten as far as actual sex," he says. "Nothing's penetrated anything else."

She props her fists on her hips and fixes him with a knowing look. "You're a smart person, David, you know sex doesn't always involve penetration," she says. If he'd hoped to fluster her with his frankness, he should have known better.

He sighs. "It, like, just happened," he says. "We haven't talked. Given that it's Tommy, it's unlikely we will talk. He took off this morning. I'm assuming he's going to show up here, but I don't actually know, again, given that it's Tommy."

She doesn't look satisfied with his answer. "Okay, well, is it just sex on your end, then?" she asks.

He stares at the wall ahead of him, rather than the girl on the step above him. Then he transfers his gaze to Kate's strappy Roman sandals and admits, "No."

Kate punches him in the arm.

"Ow!" he exclaims, more out of surprise than pain--although she is a lot stronger than he would have expected a girl with a $150 manicure to be. "What was that for?"
"Because you need to tell him!" she replies, matching his vehemence. "Geez! I'm horrible at relationships and even I know you should tell a guy you like him
before you bone him."

"How do you know I didn't?" he demands.

"Because if you had, Tommy would be here with you," she says. "And just for not knowing that, I'm revoking your status as Tommy Expert."

"He doesn't like being trapped," David mumbles.

"There's a difference between being trapped and having somewhere--and someone--warm to come home to," she snaps.

"Maybe he doesn't feel the same."

"And maybe my ass is blue, good God, David, did someone steal your balls while I was gone?" she asks. "This is not the guy I remember. This is not the guy who strode up to us in a diner and blew us away with his massive brain."

"We're not talking brains, we're talking dicks, and that's more complex," he responds.

"We're talking hearts ," she says. "And you're being grossly unfair to Tommy by not being honest about yours. There. Lecture over."

"That's it?" he eyes her suspiciously.

She shrugs. "I don't want to push my luck. You could accuse me of calling the kettle black, because, you know. America."

He grins. "I could," he says. "But I'm so happy someone other than me knows that analogy that I won't."

She looks confused, so he explains about the diner and America as they head back out onto the roof.

Bed Stuy isn't the most gorgeous place in the world, but with the late afternoon sunlight turning the sky violet and sausages frying on the grill by the chimney, there's no place David would rather be. There's an old-school boom box playing classic rock, dozens of people he doesn't know making small talk about things he doesn't care about, blue and red coolers of cold beer, and Tommy sitting over by the fire escape, chatting with Billy.

David zeroes in on Tommy like there's no one else on the roof. Kate notices him noticing Tommy and makes herself scarce, giving him a little shove toward the speedster as she heads over to chat with the grillmaster.

David joins the twins with butterflies revolting in his stomach. He should be beyond nerves, but geez. This is kind of intimidating, especially when Billy nails him with one of his best approach-mere-mortal expressions. David feels like he just interrupted something, given the way the twins look up in unison, their heads still bent together from their conversation.

"Hi," he offers, ready to back out again if it becomes clear he isn't welcome.

Billy sort of smiles. Tommy doesn't even try. He's got one leg bent, his forearm resting on his knee, the other leg dangling on the fire escape like he's prepared to flee. His white t-shirt says Fuck Yeah, America! . Billy's says Party Like It's 1776.

David missed the clever t-shirt memo.

"Hey," Billy says. "Teddy said you wanted to talk to me about, like lessons?" He wrinkles his nose.

"Nothing that official," David says. "It'd just be coffee, maybe some meditation. Low commitment, don't worry."

Tommy shoots him a curious look, and David remembers he never got around to mentioning this to the speedster because they were too busy . . . being busy. He sort of smiles his apology, hoping Tommy understands.

Billy looks between them, then nudges his brother. "Can I tell him?" he asks.

"Tell me what?" David asks.

Tommy rolls his eyes. "Well, you have to, now," he complains. "You made it obvious."

"Last week, Teddy and I met our future selves," Billy says. "Go ahead, be jealous. I'll give you a minute."

David catches himself before he lets his confusion show on his face; Teddy already told him about that incident. But, obviously, Teddy didn't tell Billy about that. In fact, he might not have told Billy he met with David at all.

"I'm supremely jealous," he says. "How dare you meddle with time travel without me?"

"It all happened very fast," Billy says, waving his hand dismissively. "We would have called you, but--well, I guess it's a good thing we didn't." He winks at Tommy, who scowls. "Seeing as you guys were busy."

It doesn't take a genius to decipher Billy's tone.

"Does everyone on this roof know we hooked up?" David demands, and Billy's grin becomes wide enough to be insulting.

"Just the chosen few," he says. "Congrats, by the way. Welcome to Club Gay. We have t-shirts and flags and bomb pops."

"I'm not gay," David says, at the same time as Tommy. David adds, "I'm bisexual."

Tommy doesn't add anything. David tries not to worry about that; he's got enough to worry about already.

"Right, sure," Billy chuckles. "Whatever. Point is, you've seen the wonder of a good dick."

"This is not the conversation I want to be having with my brother and my boyfr--boy," Tommy says, very obviously cutting off the word boyfriend . "My boy David."

David isn't sure which one of the twins he wants to glare at more. He compromises by giving first Billy, then Tommy a dirty look.

"You," he says, pointing at Billy, "need to understand that the wonder of a good dick doesn't take away from my appreciation of a tight pussy."

Tommy mutters, "Great, now you've pissed him off."

"And you," David says, pointing at Tommy next, "can feel free to call me your boyfriend. If you want. I mean, it's fine if you don't, I'm not pressuring you into--but I'd like it, too--if it's something you . . ." His righteous indignation burns out quickly, leaving him fumbling and supremely embarrassed.

"I think he just asked you out," Billy says to Tommy. "At least, I think that's what that trainwreck was."

David scowls at him.

Tommy swings his leg off the fire escape, standing. "It's fine, that's just David," he tells his brother, and slings his arm around David's neck. "Awkward as fuck, just like I like him." He kisses David's cheek, and whispers in his ear, "I'm murdering you for asking me out in front of my brother, so be warned."

"It was an accident," David protests, just as quietly, turning his face to Tommy's. "You're the one who went public first. Maybe I didn't want Billy knowing we, uh . . . "

"Did the sex?" Tommy offers, loudly, just as Teddy joins them.

David hides his face in Tommy's shoulder and wonders if he'd survive jumping off the fire escape.

"Who did the sex?" Teddy asks, looking between all three of them and then shaking his head. "I mean, who had sex?"

"Them two," Billy says, pointing to Tommy and David. "And don't call David gay, he'll get super bitchy about it."

"Because I'm not gay," David protests, lifting his face again.

"Doing it with a dude makes you at least a little gay," Teddy says, his expression apologetic.

"I didn't come here to talk about my sexuality," David mutters.

"No, he came here to sort-of ask me out in front of Billy, which neither of us will ever live down," Tommy says, and pokes David in the side. "Relax, man. They're just busting your balls."

"I'd rather neither of you came near my balls," David says, gesturing between Billy and Teddy.

Teddy raises his eyebrows. "That isn't the impression I got when you smashed your face into mine," he says, and then looks shocked at his own daring.

It's tense for a minute, David looking to Billy for his cue. Then he decides, fuck it, it was funny, and laughs. Tommy joins him at once, and then Teddy follows. Even Billy cracks a smile, shaking his head at David.

"I hope you aren't planning on macking on all the guys in my life," he says. "Because my father is happily married, thanks."

None of them should laugh as hard at that as they do, but there's something to joking about all the things that have been tense between them that feels good. It feels good to be open, to wind his arm around Tommy's shoulders and enjoy the company of his friends. Teddy and Billy are his friends, and after months of saying it, he finally feels it.

David sits back and lets the barbecue roll over him. He eats when Tommy shoves a plate of burgers in his hands, leaning against the fire escape that's quickly becoming their base of operations for the duration of the party. He drinks when America comes over with beer for all of them and the declaration that there's nothing more American than underaged drinking, and he helps Billy shout her down with statistics about brain damage and alcoholism and all the things they probably shouldn't be reminding themselves of while working their way through a six-pack.

He dances when Kate hauls him onto the impromptu dance floor, and he heads back over to Tommy when he sees the other boy beckon him. They light sparklers as the sun goes down, and then everyone's breaking out blankets to watch the fireworks. David and Tommy sit on the fire escape, eyeing Billy and Teddy curled up together nearby. Tommy threatens to kick them if they start "canoodling".

"Canoodling?" Billy repeats, raising a judgmental eyebrow.

"Sounds like fun. Come here," Teddy says, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend and giving him a sloppy kiss. "Let's canoodle."

David joins Tommy in making loud gagging noises until it becomes clear the other two aren't going to let a couple hecklers ruin their makeout.

David edges further out on the fire escape, resting his back against the short cage meant to keep people from falling off the landing. Tommy scoots back to join him.

"Did you mean it?" he asks quietly. "You want to do the boyfriend thing?"

"Only if you want to," David says. "I know we haven't talked about it, but I have feelings for you. Serious ones."

Tommy doesn't say anything. It's nearly too dark to see his face, but David tries to make out his expression regardless.

"Um. Tommy?" he prompts, his heart speeding up in panic.

"Downstairs," Tommy says quietly, and then he's gone.

It takes David a minute to orient himself, to realize that Tommy didn't simply run away , he's only moving their conversation elsewhere and that's okay, that's a tactical retreat. He slides off the fire escape, ignoring Billy and Teddy's heads turning in his direction, and Kate's impatient hiss that the fireworks were going to start any minute.

He heads down the stairwell. Tommy's waiting on the first landing; he wordlessly gestures for David to follow him into the complex, and David does. They pass a few doors with crooked numbers and scarred wood before Tommy opens one.

David starts to protest.

"It's Kate's," Tommy assures him. "I'm not breaking and entering, although, technically, she doesn't live her. But it's still hers."

"I'm confused," David says, closing the door behind him. He looks around, finding traces of the archer in the apartment, which is small and shabby but cleaner that he'd expect from the outside.

"Don't worry about it," Tommy says, and grabs his hand. He pulls David through the kitchen and into a bedroom, kicking the door closed.

David knows he's staring, wide-eyed, but he can't help it. If this is going where he thinks it's going, then he has a right to look at Tommy like the other boy's lost his mind. "What are you doing?"

"I'm nuts about you, too," Tommy says in a rush, like he was just waiting for the right moment to let the words out. "Don't ask me to say it again. I don't care if we're boyfriends or whatever but I don't want you with anyone else, especially not Billy's stupid boyfriend, so if that's what it takes to make you mine--"

"I'm yours," David assures him, and moves closer, taking Tommy's other hand. "You don't have to make me your boyfriend for that. Although." He pauses, thinks about it, decides that, yeah, "I'd like it. Especially if it means you won't be seeing anyone else."

Tommy tilts his head up, expectant. "There are other people?" he asks, mock innocent. "You mean, I have other options?"

"I'm letting that go only because I appreciate how difficult it was for you to be serious this entire time," David tells him. "Now tell me you didn't just bring me here to have this conversation at an extremely inappropriate and suspicious time."

"Oh? Is it suspicious for us to sneak away just as the fireworks are beginning?" Tommy asks, and grins.

David kisses that smile, and matches it with one of his own. "It's kind of a Teddy and Billy move," he says. "Might want to watch that."

"Ugh. Heaven forbid we ever be that dumb," Tommy says.

"And yet, here we are," David points out.

"Well," Tommy sighs dramatically, letting go of David's hands and backing toward the bed. "Since we're here, and all."

"Might as well live up to everyone's expectations."

Tommy gives him a quirked smile. "You know me, I hate to disappoint," he says. "And, since we're boyfriends now."

He pulls David down and kisses him. Even after four days straight of nothing but Tommy, David's skin still blisters with heat, every nerve ending in his body singing with joy. None of this feels real, or likely, or set to last beyond a few weeks (if David's lucky ), but he's damned if he's not going to soak it up while he can.

Tommy breaks the kiss and wriggles around for a second; David stands back, bemused, and Tommy pulls a small, square packet out of the pocket of his denim shorts. The motion coincides with the first boom of fireworks. Fitting. Tommy waves it at David. "Billy shared," he says. "Magnum X. I didn't ask which one of them wears it."

David stares at him, and he falters.

"Shit, are you a wait-for-anal guy?" he asks. "I didn't think--I'm not pressuring you or anything--"

David snatches the condom out of his hand and kisses him again, pushing him down on the bed. "This is the wrong place," he says, his lips on Tommy's face, his neck, as far down his chest as the collar of his t-shirt allows, "and the wrong time, and for all the wrong reasons, and I should really know better."

He kneels on the bed and yanks his shirt off. Tommy, sprawled out beside him, smiles again and unzips his shorts, pushing against the bed to slide them off and toss them to the floor.

"You aren't acting like you know better," he notes, fingers dancing to David's shorts, next. David pushes Tommy's shirt up, mouthing a trail across his chest, pausing to swirl his tongue around one of Tommy's nipples.

"Sometimes I make bad choices," he whispers against Tommy's skin. "People do that, you know. Bad things for good reasons."

Tommy chokes out a laugh. "You're getting philosophical? Now ?" he asks.

"No," David says. " Now I'm getting in your pants." He slips his fingers under the elastic of Tommy's underwear and yanks it down, revealing Tommy's semi-hard dick. He runs one finger over it, and Tommy shivers. "And pretending I'm not nervous as hell."

Tommy takes David's face in his hands and guides him back up for a kiss. "Trust me," he says, and flips them over.

David lays back and just lets Tommy happen to him. The fireworks boom and crack in the background, coming in waves that nearly match the rhythm of Tommy's hand, kneading David's cock. Tommy kisses him again and again; so much that David's lips start to chafe but he doesn't want it to stop. Every time Tommy kisses him, it feels like a reminder that neither of them are alone.

He ghosts his hands over Tommy's skin, but he doesn't have a doubt who's in charge right now. Tommy presses him into the mattress that isn't theirs to ruin, strips the rest of David's clothes from his body, sits back and just looks at him for the longest damn time.

David swallows, and Tommy touches his throat. His expression is intense enough to take David's breath away. He runs his hand down David's throat, across his collarbone, down his chest and stomach, all the way to the head of his dick. He thumbs the tip of it, smiling at David's shudder.

"You're incredible," he breathes, hardly sounding like Tommy at all. "I can't believe you're still here."

"I'll always be here," David responds, half talking with his dick but not saying anything he hasn't thought before. Not saying anything he doesn't mean with a deathly intensity he knows Tommy isn't ready for yet. "Doesn't matter how often you run. I'll wait."

It's Tommy's turn to swallow, and David recognizes he said something heavy, too heavy for both of them. He strains up to kiss Tommy, to forget the moment, and it works. Tommy's lips move against his, mouthing words David can't hear or understand, his tongue flicking out now and then to electrify David's mouth. He kneads David's cock in a slow, mesmeric rhythm. His own erect dick brushes David's stomach with each roll, but he doesn't go any farther until David brings the condom back into play, holding it up questioningly.

"Are you ready?" Tommy asks, breaking their kiss to nod at it.

David shakes his head.

"Will you be ready if I help?" Tommy asks, and David nods before he can think too hard about it because if he thinks too hard about any of this, he'll chicken out. And he doesn't want to do that, he's just really, really good at overthinking and there are some times--like now--when he can't let himself analyze a situation because that would only ruin it.

Tommy takes the condom from him and rips it, easily sliding it on. David watches the motion, watches Tommy's dick twitch at the stimulation. The rubber is tinted pink, turning Tommy's skin a shade darker than normal. He leans over to the nightstand, rummaging around in it for a quick second before yanking out a bottle of lavender-scented lotion.

"This is going to be awkward on several levels," he warns, before popping open the cap. "More than usual, because--" he sniffs the bottle, "yup, this smells just like Kate."

David doesn't know whether to groan or crack up.

Tommy bends down to kiss him again. "Hold your breath, it'll hurt less and you'll come faster," he advises.

"You aren't serious."

Tommy just smiles. He squirts a fair amount of lotion on his palm and reaches down to rub the bridge of skin between David's dick and asshole. Another firework whines and cracks. Tommy presses a finger into David's asshole, and David shudders. He expected it to hurt like hell, and it does, especially when Tommy immediately adds a second finger, but also--

Also, the skin pulled tight around his arse is extremely sensitive, and when Tommy starts stroking David's dick along with the motions of his probing fingers, it feels better. Nearly good.

Tommy tongues in his mouth, keeping him distracted from what's going on below his waist. David knows, intellectually, what Tommy's doing--opening him up, relaxing him--but he wasn't prepared for how it would feel. He wasn't prepared for any of this.

Maybe he'll be the one to bail because it's getting too real.

But for now, he arches in to Tommy's fingers and chokes back a gasp when Tommy yanks them out with a pop.

"Close your eyes," Tommy orders, sliding off David's glasses to kiss his eyelids. "Take a deep breath."

"Oh, shit," David mutters.

"Don't shit," Tommy says. David's pretty sure he's joking. Probably. He doesn't like the smile on Tommy's face. "Seriously, David," he says quietly, his tone ten shades more patient than normal, "it's okay. Tell me you trust me."

David nods.

"Say it out loud, dipshit."

"I trust you," David says, and then pulls a face because, hello, corny.

Then Tommy eases himself inside David's ass and David understands. His hands fly out of their own accord, seizing fistfuls of Tommy's hair-- "Holy fuck," he grunts, lacking any other words to describe the forest fire blazing in his asshole. It isn't a good feeling. "Fuckfuckfuckfuck--"

He'd never do this for someone he doesn't trust. No, scratch that, he'd never do this for someone who isn't Tommy. Any other guy would be halfway across the room at this point, kicked to the curb the second David's theoretical knowledge of anal sex became practical.

"I know, I know," Tommy says, still in that patient tone. He kisses David's temple, then his forehead, and grabs the lotion bottle again. When he starts massaging the skin around David's asshole again, David tightens his grip on his hair.

It's possible Tommy will also wind up thrown across the room before the end of this. David's not sure how far his tolerance extends, but Tommy's definitely pushing to the end of it. To his credit, Tommy lets David pull the living daylights out of his hair in the meantime.

Tommy rolls his hips slowly, his dick pushing further in before carefully, carefully easing back out. David grits his teeth, but to his surprise, the fire is dying down, replaced by a subtle, more manageable burn that almost feels like arousal. He tilts his chin up, and Tommy obligingly kisses him, opening his mouth to scrape his teeth across David's tongue. David closes his eyes, like he should have two minutes ago.

Okay. He's having sex with another man. Who was his best friend and is now his boyfriend.

He can handle this.

"I was kidding about holding your breath," Tommy says, sounding worried. "David?"

"I'm good," David says, and finds it isn't a lie. "You can move. Not, like, in a crazy porn way, though."

Tommy chokes out another laugh, and presses his face to David's bare shoulder. "I couldn't manage crazy porn right now if I tried," he admits. "I've almost come, like, three times already."

David hits him, gentle and open-palmed, between the shoulderblades. "Then get on it," he says. "This isn't a Sunday picnic."

"Oh my--" Tommy's shoulders shake, and his voice does, too, with laughter. "You're such a dork."

"And you're a jerk," David mumbles.

Tommy kisses him again, and they become serious again. Tommy slides almost all the way out of David before plunging inside again, fucking him slowly, reminding David of Tommy saying there were some things he'd do slow. He wasn't kidding. The dull ache pooling low in David's abdomen changes, nearly becoming good; after only a few strokes, however, Tommy stiffens and shudders and digs his hands into the mattress on either side of David's head, his eyes squeezing closed and his dick pulsing and jerking out of David's ass as his hips buck.

Tommy's whole body is shaking. David's body doesn't know if it wants to be pained or aroused or doing something else entirely, like watch TV or fight lizard-creatures or possibly jump out the window.

(David should probably talk to someone about his tendency to Abort Mission to the extreme)

"I--shit--sorry--" Tommy pants. "I'm usually better--at not--"

"It's fine," David says, rolling over to reach for his shorts. Tommy stops him.

"Where the hell are you going?" he demands.

"The fireworks are probably winding down," David says. "We're going to be missed."

Tommy scowls at him. "You aren't walking out of this room without getting off," he says.

"It's fine," David says. "I've gotten off on you a lot over the past few--"

Tommy cuts him off with another kiss, and says, "Think of it as training. In a few weeks, I'll have you coming from my dick alone."

"I'm sorry, what--"

Tommy grabs his cock, clearly not brooking any further conversation. With his other hand, he works a finger into David's still-throbbing ass.

David closes his eyes and takes a page from the Borg. Resistance is futile.

Tommy absently kisses him as he touches him, his fingers probing, doing strange things that his dick didn't mange to do to David's insides. He presses against the lining of something, and David inhales sharply because damn that feels good--

And then Tommy starts vibrating his fingers, pressing his mouth to David's neck at the same time, and it's all over. David's body bucks, the orgasm slamming into him out of nowhere, hard enough to hurt, hard enough that he wants to run, spots bursting into supernovas behind his eyelids, and even when he was a teenager it wasn't this quick. He's being incinerated from the inside out, fire raging through him, burning away every memory he has of being cold and alone and turned down by Teddy Altman.

(Fuck, why is he thinking about that now?)

He collapses, feeling like the wind just got knocked out of him. He's shaky and exposed and has just enough presence of mind to pull Tommy toward him, just for the sake of embracing him.

For fuck's sake, he's become cuddly.

"Oh, good," Tommy breathes in his ear. "I was concerned about my reputation, for a second there. Good to know I still give the best fucks."

"Last I checked, you gave no fucks," David says, his voice rusty. "It's kind of your thing."

Tommy squeezes him tightly and whispers, "I give a fuck about you."

For him, that's practically a declaration of love.

David thrusts one hand in Tommy's hair and holds him there, tight-tight-tight, and squeezes his eyes shut and wishes he could hold time as still as he can the boy in his arms.

He's so fucking in love with this boy.

 


 

It's about time for everything to go to shit.

David's lived through enough thought-it-was-a-happy-endings to recognize it, and he opens his eyes with the overwhelming feeling that he'll regret waking up this morning.

His eyelids are gritty from sleep, and he reeks of his sweat and Tommy's sweat and stale cum and the beer Tommy spilled on him by accident last night when they rejoined the party. He's staring at an unfamiliar ceiling. Tommy's arm is heavy across his bare chest, humidity gluing their skin together. Tommy's hair tickles David's shoulder.

He's groggy and stiff as he pushes his boyfriend (oh holy fuck he has a boyfriend) off him to sit up. His back screams in protest, and his neck definitely curses the existence of wooden floors, even wooden floors semi-padded with a rug and a couple pillows. David rubs his eyes. On the couch a few feet away, Billy and Teddy are curled up like puppies, all tangled up in each other. Billy's back is to the room, face pressed to Teddy's sternum, but Teddy is propped up on one elbow and facing outward, like he's been keeping vigil over them all for some time now.

David looks around. Realizes he's in the Kaplan family living room. Realizes he's half-naked and smelling of Tommy in the Kaplan family living room.

Coming here seemed like a good idea last night.

Teddy smiles when he sees David's awake. On David's other side, America is zonked out under the coffee table, and Kate is curled up on the floral-patterned armchair that matches the couch. The television is playing the morning news, volume turned down to nearly nothing. According to the timestamp, it's just after six a.m., but with the bright sunlight flooding the room, it feels much later.

David gives Teddy an uncomfortable half-smile and looks down at Tommy. His boyfriend (!) is going to flip the fuck out when he wakes up here. Tommy wasn't sober enough to make this decision last night, and David wasn't thinking straight for reasons of his own. One of the first things Tommy told David, back when they were aimlessly wandering through the land of coffee-buddies-but-not-quite-friends, was how much he hated the Kaplans' house.

And this is weird, like really weird.

Tommy nudges his face against David's thigh, snuggling closer in his sleep, and David goes still, wondering if the speedster's about to wake up. He doesn't.

"In case you were wondering," Teddy says, in a voice calculated to carry to David's ears and no farther, "yes. It was very obvious you two fucked in Clint's room. You'll be getting a dry cleaning bill for that."

David raises his eyebrows. "Tommy neglected to mention we were in an Avenger's apartment," he says, making a mental note to kill his boyfriend.

(!boyfriend! his mind is still doing somersaults around that one)

"It's cool," Teddy says. "Billy fucked me in the Avengers' HQ once. Much worse."

David covers his face with one hand. "This is still really embarrassing," he says. "I'm not . . . I don't--I like my sex life to be private."

"You're dating Tommy Shepherd," Teddy says. "Kiss privacy goodbye." He pauses. "You guys are dating, right?"

David absently brushes Tommy's feather-white bangs out of his face. "Seems that way," he says. He's reluctant to make it so official. He doesn't want to jinx this lucky streak.

Teddy tilts his head, his expression bemused. "Are you happy?" he asks. The question calls back to his declaration outside Kate's apartment, months ago now; a night that feels as far away from this claustrophobic and surreal moment as night from day--or winter from summer.

David clasps his hands around his raised knee and thinks about the question. He thinks about all the loose ends still tangling them--Patri-not's identity, Billy's powers, the Watcher data no one knows David has--and about all the choices he's been putting off.

Denial.

Choose wisely.

Dead man walking.

"I love Tommy," he finally says. It feels funny to be admitting it to Teddy, of all people, before he tells Tommy himself. But it's kind of poetic, as well. Teddy's his coming-out buddy, after all. "I don't need to be happy. Or that makes me happy, I don't know. I don't think happy is necessarily a goal as much as something that happens to us along the way, in periodic bursts."

Teddy frowns. "I'm happy," he says.

David thumbs Tommy's cheek, and the prickle of pale stubble under his thumb makes him happy. Tommy's breath on his wrist makes him happy. But later today, when Tommy's taken off for some other country? Or when David finally goes back to his apartment and there's nothing to distract him from the laptop under his bed? Happy doesn't last. He'd rather place his bets on something more permanent than happy.

` He's been around long enough to recognize when he's found something concrete inside himself. Looking at Tommy, he feels like the fog has finally lifted and he knows. The confusion he's been wrestling with since the night with Patri-not is gone, replaced by the indelible ink of his feelings for Tommy.

He doesn't say any of that to Teddy.

"Good for you," he says instead, and means it. "Enjoy it."

"You're strange, David Alleyne."

David lays back down, nose to nose with Tommy. He doesn't care that Teddy's watching, or that Tommy's rank breath is worse than all of their unpleasant body odors combined, even with his mouth closed. He studies Tommy's face, memorizing the sharp lines, the blemishes, everything.

"I'm okay with being strange," he says, and Tommy opens his eyes.

His pale eyebrows slant down. "Morning," he says, and yawns. David wrinkles his nose and inches backward as the wave of bad breath hits him.

See? Now he isn't happy. It's as fleeting as that.

"Morning," Teddy says, and Tommy's sitting up in a second, head jerking around to take in their surroundings. He focuses on David first, his expression clearly betrayed. Davids holds up his hands--hey, don't blame me.

"Is it time to get up?" Billy asks sleepily, pushing against Teddy's chest and righting himself. He rubs his eyes, his frowning, just-waking-up expression identical to his twin's. "Why are we at my house?"

"It seemed like a good idea last night," David says dryly.

"Lots of things seemed like a good idea last night," Tommy says, and David gives him a sharp look. Even for Tommy, it's a little soon to be regretting having sex.

Tommy catches his eye, and gives him a reassuring smile that doesn't quite touch his anxious eyes. David gets the message clear enough: it isn't you.

"We should head out," David says, still reading Tommy's expression. "Maybe hit the McDonald's."

He can feel the nervous waves running over Tommy's skin like they're his own. He doesn't know exactly why, but he knows Tommy woke up on edge and it's time to go. He's pretty sure it has something to do with the house.

"At least wait until the girls wake up," Billy protests, twisting to get off the couch and stretch. Teddy sits all the way up, mirroring his boyfriend and arching his back. "And say hi to my parents, and stuff."

"I, for one, am not sticking around to hear what Kate has to say about what we did in Clint's apartment," David says, getting to his feet. He's so stiff, he feels like an old man. He looks around for his sweatshirt in the sea of abandoned clothing, and comes up empty-handed. "Anyone seen a sleeveless sweatshirt? Specifically, the one I was wearing last night?"

"Last I saw, I was stripping it off you," Tommy says, also standing. "So I'd put good money on it still being on Hawkeye's floor." He grins, the picture of his usual rugrat self, but it's too rehearsed for David to really believe it.

"You two are horrible," Billy says conversationally. "Seriously, though, you should stay. Today's waffle day."

"Mr. Kaplan makes the best waffles in the world," Teddy adds, running his fingers through his blond hair. Predictably, it sticks up in all directions when he's done.

Billy pokes him in the side. "Will you please start calling my dad 'Dad'?" he begs. "He's only been badgering me for months about it."

"I can't, it feels too weird," Teddy says. "I bang his son, it's way too . . . familial."

David glances at Tommy, who glances back with the same level of I-can't-fucking-deal-with-this-right-now. His expression suggests he's going to start breaking things if they don't split.

"Tell your parents I appreciate their hospitality," David tells Billy. "But we have to go."

"Pressing business at Sociopaths Anonymous?" Billy grumbles, but David ignores him, snagging his shoes from under the coffee table, next to America's ear. Tommy stuffs his feet in a pair of flip-flops and raises his eyebrows at his twin.

"Bye, Felicia," he says.

David grabs his elbow and tows him out before he can start a fight. He can pretty much feel Tommy holding his breath until they find their way out of the house. Stepping into the perfect, cookie-cutter neighborhood, Tommy tilts his face to the sky and takes a deep breath.

"Fuck," he says, thrusting his hand through his hair. His voice is as twisted as the vines climbing the side of the Kaplan house, and his hand tightens, tugging on his hair like he can drag the emotions out by the roots. "What a nightmare."

"It's just a house." David feels the need to play devil's advocate, in the hopes of goading Tommy into talking more. He never hears enough of what Tommy's thinking.

"It's a prison," Tommy says flatly. "I'm sorry, I just . . . I can't ever do that, David, you know? I can't call your father 'Dad' or brag about his waffles or be some perfect boyfriend and the second you start talking retiring to the suburbs, I'll fucking drop you, and I know that's not fair but--"

"Hey, hey," David interrupts, stepping in front of him. "Who said that's what I want?"

Tommy blinks at him. "Isn't that what everyone wants?"

"Not you," David points out.

"Yeah, but I'm weird," Tommy says.

David sighs, and puts his arm around Tommy's shoulders, pulling him down the sidewalk. He can't shake the feeling that at least one of the Kaplans' neighbors is watching them from behind their lace curtains. "You can call my dad Chris," he says. "My mom's Dorothy, and my sister's a brat. And I'm a fucking superhero, Tommy Shepherd, I'm not retiring to the suburbs." He flicks Tommy's ear for emphasis. "Maybe start asking me about this stuff before assuming I'm just like those two." He gestures back at the Kaplan house.

"Fuck you," Tommy grumbles, but he looks gratified.

David doesn't add that he won't be retiring anywhere; that his future involves giving up whatever home he makes with Tommy, and that's why it's so easy to give up the dream now. He'll never have Tommy anywhere, not in the suburbs, not in the city, not in a secret base or apartment or retirement home. Their relationship has an expiration date.

A lump forms in his throat. He's never thought about what he wanted before, not out of his future. So far, he's just been rolling with whatever comes his way--taking the job with Loki, signing up for college with America, falling into the rabbit hole with Tommy. Even before Patri-not delivered his sentence, he wasn't a daydream-about-the-future kind of guy.

Tommy rests his head on David's shoulder. "You should let me run you back to Ottawa," he says. "It's going to take forever at this pace."

"Secret identities," David protests.

Tommy snorts. "Never saw the point." He pinches David's side. "Besides, the faster we get home, the faster we can start fucking again."

David cracks a smile. "Is that all you're thinking about right now?"

"What the hell else is there to think about?" Tommy stops, and yanks David's head down. The kiss tastes bitter, but David doesn't care. He willingly pulls Tommy close, their hips banging together, opening his mouth to tongue into Tommy's. He can feel his boyfriend's heart pounding, and it makes him smile.

Tommy breaks the kiss and grins. "Your breath's fucking awful," he says, and wipes his tongue on the back of his hand.

David snorts. "Yours is worse, trust me," he says, and then (because he's David Alleyne and his big fucking mouth hates him), "I love you."

Shit.

Tommy's face goes blank, and David steps back, holding his hands up in mock surrender.

"It's not a big deal," he says rapidly. "Sorry. I know it's soon--well, I mean, we've known each other for about a year now so it's not like soon soon, but as far as anything official--"

"I don't love you," Tommy blurts out.

Shit.

"Oh," David says. "Well, yeah, that makes--I'm sorry--" Damn, he's screwed up. He knows better than this--he's smarter than this--it's about ten years too early to say those three words to someone like Tommy Shepherd, and David is supposed to be the expert.

He's starting to realize he doesn't actually know the first thing about Tommy.

Tommy's face is bright red. David isn't feeling so chill, either.

"I have to go," Tommy says. "Sorry. I have . . . stuff."

"Okay," David says. He thinks he might still be in shock. The idea of Tommy running someplace far from here is an extremely appealing one.

And then--in some extremely warped form of wish fulfillment--the ground literally opens up and swallows Tommy whole, leaving David to stare at the place his boyfriend (ex-boyfriend? already?) was just standing.

The pavement in front of David is empty.

Tommy is gone.