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Too Many Runaways (Eating Up the Night)

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“So I’m not exactly in a job right now, no,” Alfredo says. The screen’s captured his gaze, white little squares and lines flickering across the curvature of his irises - “but man, I just love the arcade. Never got on with ten pin bowling. Or fucking minigolf, dude, that shit’s the worst. But the arcade… I got a chance of winning when I play there. I got that drive to be better at shit, even if it’s being better at shit like ‘Commando’. You know?”

Fiona stares at him.

“I guess you wouldn’t,” he reconsiders, “you literally just said you were a home console player… Maybe that’s, like, a different atmosphere. Different vibe. I want that surround sound location so the whole experience is all around me like a winter coat.”

“Dude,” says Fiona. “When people tell you to get a hobby, they usually mean ‘pick two or three and see where they go’. Not pick one and get obsessive.”

“Can’t help it,” he says, and swipes a palm against the joystick. “Just love the place. Clicky buttons aren’t the same at home.”

“Alfredo.”

“Fiona.”

“You’d really rather play Vs. ‘Ice Climbers’ in a room full of sweaty morons?” she asks. “Instead of just waiting your turn and killing my high score in my living room? In pyjamas?”

“Yes!” he says, and mashes the grenade button, before the character on-screen finally dies.

Alfredo makes a strangled, frustrated noise, and finally blinks his way back into the room. His neck audibly grinds when he turns to gauge Fiona’s reaction.

It’s one of disbelief.

“These places aren’t hygienic, man,” she says, “I don’t think they wipe these down all that often. Sometimes is okay, but you’re gonna get sick if you spend every waking hour here...”

He shrugs. “Hey, I like our co-op games. Seeing that little ‘FNA’ next to a big number brings me joy, girl, sickness is a chance I’m willing to take.”

Fiona’s lips thin into a unimpressed little line, and she holds out her hand expectantly.

“How much?”

“Whole roll.”

“Yikes,” he says, fishing for a roll to drop into her waiting palm, “I didn’t realise it had racked up that bad. You shoulda let me know sooner if I owed you that much.”

“It’s cool,” she beams, perfectly placid now that she has her cash, “I like getting it in bulk. I’m saving up for ‘Metroid’... Maybe ‘Kid Icarus’, too. See you later!”

Alfredo watches her bound away, ponytail bouncing with every step, and grimaces when he sees her reject the arcade owner again, ouch. That dude seriously didn’t know when to let up.

And now any budget for the day was screwed up, too.

Ugh. Money.

“How much do you borrow from her if she’s using you as a bank account, man?”

Alfredo spins on his heel, feeling garish carpet fibres twist tight against the soles of his shoes. The voice seems to have come from behind the arcade cabinet across from him - when he peers over, a man is half-crouched around the back with a screwdriver in his mouth.

“‘Commando’ is an expensive past-time,” Alfredo admits.

The man huffs with a breath of laughter. It’s muffled by the screwdriver, as well as what Alfredo can see is a damned pretty mouth. “You know,” he says. “I would take her advice.”

Damn, this guy is intriguingly blunt. Alfredo suppresses a grin. “Why?” he asks, and he feels like he’s poking the bear.

The screwdriver is in gloved hands now, easing screws loose with frightening nonchalance. “Things break,” the man says flippantly. “The buildings break, and the games break, and all those little mall sweethearts, they get all broke too. I’ve seen it a hundred times. Nothing’s permanent in a place like this, not even the stock library.”

He cracks off an internal panel of some kind with a grunt, sticking the handle of the screwdriver between his teeth again.

Safekeeping, Alfredo thinks. That’s just brains.

Nevertheless, something ain’t adding up. “Wouldn’t that mean you’d get laid off?” he asks, narrowing his eyes. “You work for the arcade.”

“I work for me,” the man says, and jabs a gloved thumb at his ribs. “If anything, it’s extra job security. Arcades’ll crash, sure - but I’m beating that deadline back, baby. When the last one goes down, I’ll advertise as a console repair guy instead.”

“Solid plan,” Alfredo says.

“It’s not,” is the decisive retort.

“Better than any plan I’ve got.”

He adjusts his baseball cap, pulling back some wayward curls. “I’m Michael,” he says, completely out of nowhere.

“Uh… Alfredo.”

Michael props the metal panel loosely against its frame, and slides the back sheet of the cabinet back over the internals. “Better get planning, then, Alfredo,” he remarks, smiling humorlessly, “‘cos ‘Centipede’ here is fucked, and that’s one more broken machine towards arcade endtimes. ‘Scuse me. Gotta cart this away next week.”

And with that, he strides off towards the front desk - presumably to break the news to the owner.

Alfredo tries not to look too weird when the air is disturbed around him. Whatever spray Michael’s wearing? It’s pretty good. Smells pretty great. Smells like Guy and Dude and a whole lotta Attractive, and to be honest he might be a little too focused on it, but it’s super nice. He doesn’t feel too guilty.

Being honest with himself, it would be easier to accept it now - he wants an excuse to talk to the repairman. Alfredo’s officially fallen through some kind of porn-plot wormhole.

Ah, boy, he thinks vaguely, and wonders if he’d get caught breaking one of the units.

 


 

He doesn’t borrow anything off Fiona until the next Thursday, just so he can stay out for as long as possible. Usually he tries a few games out, but this week, he sticks with his favourites to stretch out his lives.

Gotta stay as long as possible to see Michael, his brain gurgles.

Shut up, Brain, Alfredo thinks, I don’t need your imput. I’m already dressing super hot so that on the offchance he comes back, he’ll immediately fall at my feet and beg me to run away with him.

Possibly unrealistic, but he’s trying.

(He’s not trying at all.)

“Still here?” he asks the owner, nodding at the out-of-order booth.

“Yep,” is the reply, “she’s getting collected today, though. Warranty should cover her so you won’t have to wait long to play again.”

“Great,” says Alfredo. He won’t have to loiter forever. He’s just hoping it’s Michael who comes to collect the unit.

He burns a couple hours on ‘Commando’. Out of the top twenty, he’s got four of the high scores, which is pretty fuckin’ awesome. He figures it’s time to stop feeding quarters into the machine when it hits around seven, and that’s when he ducks out of the building and into the parking lot.

Michael’s propped up against the railings surrounding the stairs.

“Hey,” says Alfredo, whose mouth likes to work faster than his thoughts. “Mr. Grim himself. Have you come to reap ‘Centipede’ finally?”

“Yep,” he confirms. A little puff of smoke escapes with the pop of the ‘P’.

Alfredo drapes himself over the railings. “Disgusting habit.”

“It is,” Michael says.

“You should quit.”

“Yeah.”

“Can I have a drag?”

“Sure.”

Michael offers out the cigarette, and Alfredo accepts. He tries not to come off too strong when it’s between his lips.

“What’s the best machine you get to fix?” he asks.

“Why are you still trying to talk to me?” Michael counters.

He can’t tell him the real reasons. That Michael’s a contradiction, wrapped up in the best snark New Jersey has to offer. That he’s got a nice face and he looks great in blue. That Alfredo’s got a favourite place, and that Michael looks good when he’s hanging around it.

“A friend of mine told me I should get a secondary hobby,” he ends up saying, spurred on by a sudden brainwave, “so I thought I’d start with the guy who keeps the first one possible. You do like video games, right?”

Michael lets a disbelieving laugh escape, and accepts his cigarette back. “Yeah,” he says, “I fuckin’ love video games.”

Finally. A result. Alfredo mentally high-fives himself.

“Fredo, wasn’t it?”

“It’s Al-fredo,” he corrects, “but you can call me Fredo, that’s cool with me.”

“Mike or Mikey is not cool with me,” Michael says firmly, stubbing out his cigarette on the railing, “so don’t fucking call me it. Gets on my nerves.”

“Sure… On one condition.”

The lines of a frown deepen.

“Nothing crazy,” Alfredo says, backtracking rapidly, “It’s just… The arcade has tons of ‘Vs.’ units...”

He figures tossing it out into the night air won’t do any harm. Michael’s eyes flicker over the parking lot lines, piquing with interest - maybe he’s actually playing this right for once. His pockets jingle with loose change and boldness.

“Wanna go head to head?”

Michael finally scrutinises him, and it’s not without a heavy degree of suspicion.

Turns out he’s got his own terms. It’s only after Alfredo helps him shift the broken ‘Centipede’ internals into Michael’s van that he agrees to play a couple rounds with him. Hell, Alfredo will work for it, he’s not bothered.

(He quickly finds that Michael kicks some serious ass at platformers.)

 


 

“No. A complete and definite no-- for fuck’s sake, Alfredo, you can’t be serious.”

“I can be serious, and I am be serious,” he says, brimming over with nonsense: “I think I might be a-hundred-percent in love with him.”

“You’re an idiot,” says Fiona. She mashes the buttons with significant force: “you realise this is how Shakespeare characters get fucked, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Then why are you still vibing to it? Pull your head out of your asshole and stop crushing on the resident arcade wastoid.”

“He’s not a wastoid!” Alfredo protests, “He works here, how is that being a wastoid?”

“Because he works here, in the arcade,” she points out, “and it’s not exactly a CEO position.”

Alfredo leans against the cabinet. “Better than flyering,” he mutters.

“Hm?”

“Maybe he’s a burnout,” he says, changing the subject completely (and mostly talking to himself at this point, to be frank). “Maybe he was a straight-A student and the pressure got to him, and he had to drop out of college to pursue his dream of Not Being A Lawyer. Or maybe he’s got electricky superpowers, and he’s using them to coast by in an undercover, normal-looking job.”

“Maybe he’ll run for the hills when he finds out you’re a fucking wacko,” Fiona supplies.

“Look,” he tries, “he gets called out to loads of different places. He’s a goddamn electrician. And his work means he doesn’t have to deal with his shitty roommate all day--”

“Are you swapping sob stories, now?”

Alfredo scowls. “No! Jesus, Fiona, I’m trying to make friends with the dude, that’s all. I’m trying to make an effort to remember stuff he says. That’s kinda how you start being buds with someone.”

“And what about after that?” she challenges.

Ugh.

Alfredo doesn’t know.

 


 

It’s purely by chance that he spots Michael in the store, and it’s a total accident that it keeps happening. Alfredo’s fully aware that it sounds like he’s turned into a scarily fixated stalker, but Michael’s on his mind, and they seem to live in the same area; there’s no surprise in bumping into each other.

Especially if their routines collide.

It’s definitely him!!, his traitorous heart yells. Alfredo mentally tells it to shut the hell up. Can’t deny it, though - that’s Michael for sure. He’s got those ratty, thin style of headphones curled around his head, and he’s scowling pretty fiercely at the veggies.

That first time, Alfredo stays in the safety zone of the cartoon cereals, until his crush and his problems decide to go away.

Except that Monday nights, like Thursdays at the arcade, appear to mean that Michael is hanging around. The third time it happens, Alfredo decides to approach.

“The real good veggies are in the continental store,” he advises. Michael jumps - there’s a cigarette between his teeth, and it spits out surprised ash flakes like confetti. “All this shit is limp and sad-lookin’, you don’t need that in your life… Besides, they got pichay there, I can’t find it ever in white-ass chain stores.”

“Pichay?” Michael croaks.

“A bok choi. Tiny baby cabbages. I stir fry them. From the looks of your basket, you could benefit.”

If he’d been wearing sunglasses, he would have peered over them, all cool-like. He’s not, though, so he has to settle for raising his eyebrows instead, broadcasting judgement towards the clump of spring onions in Michael’s basket.

Michael’s expression tightens. It’s like he’s fighting with himself, but Alfredo can’t hear or see what’s going on behind his scowl.

“Cool,” he eventually says.

Man, Alfredo digs that accent. It’s got corners.

“The stuff that keeps, though? That’s why I come here. All power to resolute tinned food. And dessert is better and trashier in chain groceries, too.”

“There’s a bakery that kicks ass just off Main Street,” Michael adds instantly, and Alfredo knows he’s got that fucker now. They both seem to be surprised that he’s joined in the conversation, and there’s no backing out now, no way - they’re talking and they’re not gonna stop.

And they don’t.

It’s not in his top places ever, but the store is kinda like the arcade, in that he can wander up and down every aisle curiously and look for something that grabs him. Except these days he seems to have successfully annoyed Michael into following him along, those narrowed eyes quietly on watch duty for potential trainwrecks.

Grocery Store Mondays are Alfredo’s second fave, after Arcade Thursdays.

 


 

Walking through the blast of hot air on the way inside lets Alfredo know that today is a good day to be playing video games. Something about the atmosphere is comfortingly heavy, so stable it can’t even leak into the cold outdoors, and it envelopes him in a blanket of ease. Lilac lights dance against the walls. Players’ faces are highlighted in unnatural yellows, bright and focused and determined.

He walks to a Kraftwerk beat.

Computer love, computer love.

He knows that Michael will be waiting for him by ‘Commando’, ready to hear him piss and whine about bullshit stuff that had happened to him whilst out flyering that morning. He’s been there for the last few weeks, ready to return fire with roomie horror stories and moron electronics owners. Alfredo thanks some higher power every night before bed that the ‘Vs.’ arcade series exists, too; when they hang out with each other, they spend a remarkable percentage of their time with their sides pressed warmly together, treading on each others toes and bumping elbows as they jab at the controls.

“So... yeah. I’m basically becoming an IT hardware guy these days.”

“Yeesh. I don’t know what I’d do if my job suddenly started changing-- oh, jump!” Alfredo says. He mashes the button desperately, and Mario lives to chow down on another mushroom. “God, that was close. But yeah, imagine if I were out hiding pieces of paper under windshield wipers, and then suddenly they gave me a postal route to do? That would be crazy.”

Michael shifts the joystick like he’s changing gears - well practised, controlled, focused intently (just in case of death). “You think they’d give you the satchel?” he asks. “Or would you have to supply it yourself?”

“Pffhah, supply it myself... Hell no. You’ve got a van for your work, is it yours?”

“Fuck no is it mine,” Michael snorts. “It’s the company’s, technically, they give all their contract employees an arcade game hearse. I’ve got my own car, I’ll have ya know.”

“When can I hitch a ride?”

“Never,” he decides, “you’ll ruin it. You already put it under extra stress with continental store runs.”

“Aw, what?!”

“I’m not having anything happen to that car, Fredo,” is the adamant ultimatum, “it’s one of the few fuckin’ things I’m sure of. The day you sit in the passenger seat is the day I hand in my formal resignation from life.”

Alfredo fixes his face into a betrayed pout, and desperately tries not to ruining it by snorting.

He’s rewarded with a tightly wrapped-up breath of laughter. “I’m serious,” Michael huffs. “I have a shitty car and a shitty roommate, and I love the first one.”

“And I have no car, no plans, and a fixed date to move out,” Alfredo smirks.

“You’re moving?”

“Well,” he shrugs, “I guess… I don’t know where, yet, I haven’t got that far. Only found out the landlord wasn’t renewing the lease yesterday. I’ll probably ask my parents if I can move in, maybe try to find a permanent job somewhere else… I’ve got three months, I’ll figure something out.”

“Move in,” says Michael.

Alfredo had not been expecting this.

“I’m sorry?”

“Move in,” Michael repeats, “I’ll have a spare room going when my shitty roommate finally fucks off. He’s gonna bother everyone in Cali come six weeks, and he’s being as much of a pain in the ass in the meantime as possible. I’ve been trying to find someone else forever.”

That’s… incredible news.

The reminder that it would be a second room jolts Alfredo out of the ten-second-long fantasy he’s built up. It’s a really fucking generous gesture, but he can’t help but keep on jabbing at the pang of disappointment in his chest. Ungrateful, his brain says, but also... Sad. If the word ‘ew’ were an experience, he thinks it would be this feeling.

Nevertheless, he falls back on demonstrating manners.

“Are you for real?” he mumbles. “That’s really nice, Michael--”

Michael clears his throat: “yeah, well,” he says, a little too loudly, “you’ll be way better than he is. You’re unhinged, Fredo, but you’re not a complete jerkoff. He’s a full-on asshole.”

And just like that, they’re back to their usual routine; not quite grating on each other as chiselling themselves down like clay, with each piece that comes off revealing the expression underneath.

“Good job that I’m an asshole you like,” Alfredo teases.

Michael throws his character’s body in the vague direction of the flag, and the two of them capture the castle. “Well, you’re an asshole I tolerate,” Michael concedes, and Alfredo’s chest feels much less ‘ew’ after that. ‘Tolerate’ is a fair enough judgement.

Alfredo presses the jump button just as Michael flutters uncertainly over the joystick, and the backs of their hands brush. The contact leaves a residual electricity in its wake, and Alfredo wonders idly if it’s something Michael could take a closer look at sometime.

“Your eyebrows are going wild, dude.”

“What? Uh, nothing,” he says.

“I didn’t ask what you were doing--”

“Moving on to the next world,” he blurts out, “keep up, I don’t got all day!”

He sees Michael give him a strange look in his peripheral vision, and resolves to himself, cringing, that evidence of his imaginary brain flirting needed to stay off his face.

 


 

Fiona’s gone home.

Actually, scrap that - Fiona went home, and she got home safe, because she called the bar to deliver that fact around thirty-four minutes ago.

Good.

Great.

It’s good and it’s great. (He’s trying not to be too passive aggressive.) Fiona going home means he can leave too, because no-one’s keeping him here. No reason to stay. No reason to suffer through anymore party bullshit.

“Alfredo, come back inside--”

“No.”

“Please,” says Kelley.

Kelley is one of Fiona’s friends. She’s promised him a ride home, which is good, which is just fucking great, because Alfredo’s over the limit to drive and can’t afford to fork out for a cab.

Except he’s pissed off to all hell, and kinda just wants to skip out.

“I’m not coming back inside,” he says firmly, “I’m going home. Leave me alone, Kelley.”

He starts striding through the lot and towards the sidewalk - not entirely sure of where he’s going, sure, but putting more distance between him and the bar with every step. His shadow is blocked-out black against the red neon lighting. It stretches over the concrete like a censor bar.

“Fredo--”

“You don’t get to call me that,” he says, physically backtracking so he can look her in the eye. “One person gets to call me that, and they’re not you. I’m going home. Don’t follow me.”

He leaves her in the lot, after that.

Fuck, he’s seething.

Loading coins into the phone out front doesn’t have the same payoff as an arcade machine, but it briefly gives him a second-hand leap of excitement. Pavlovian, maybe, but who could blame him? He associates the clink of quarters with lifting spirits and a kind, pretty guy.

"..."

“...Hello?”

“It’s me,” Alfredo says wearily. “Sorry I’m calling you this late.”

The tone shifts instantly. “What’s up?” says Michael.

“I… I’m at that bar on the corner of Avenue G and Forty-Fifth?”

Instinct. I know it.”

“Yeah, I’ve had a bad time,” he says, trying to sound casual and failing miserably, “and I wanna go home, but I’ve already tried my neighbour and he’s not picking up?”

“So you’re drunk.”

“Not that drunk. Definitely not feeling it anymore,” Alfredo says. “Can I--”

“Get a ride?” finishes Michael. There’s a rustling from the other end of the line as he shifts around: “yeah, I’ll be there in fifteen. Hang tight.”

Alfredo waits for a maximum of twelve minutes before Michael’s shitty little car pulls onto the sidewalk. He knows this because he called up the speaking clock to pass the time, desperate to hear some words that weren’t from his stupid fucking mouth.

He climbs into the car.

“You’ve got lipstick,” Michael says, circling a finger at his own lipstick-less face.

Alfredo scrubs his whole chin with the neckline of his shirt, and then spits onto the sidewalk. The car rattles when he slams the door.

“...Not a night to remember, then.”

“No,” says Alfredo, and pokes at the radio. A low barrage of advertisements assaults them, but Alfredo’s too busy thinking about why Michael seems to find this so fucking amusing.

“Scarlet Boulevard, right?”

“Yep. I’ll point which one. Thanks, Michael.”

“No problem,” Michael says, and sounds like he means it.

God, that pisses him off - Michael’s nothing but prickly in a usual scenario, covering up concern with anger and exasperation, because it makes things more real. Sometimes being soothing and worried doesn’t help, and Michael knows this - that’s why he keeps his reactions as standardised as possible. Oh, Alfredo fell off the level? Then fuck it, sorry, man, Luigi needed to die today! Mushroom Kingdom has a darknet hitman and his name is Diaz. You fucking moron.

Michael isn’t reacting in the way he expected him to. He needs something normal. Something comfortingly familiar.

Most of all, he wants to play Pac-Man. Arcade’s already closed, though.

“So...”

“It’s nothing important,” Alfredo says quickly, “it’s, uh-- my ride flaked. That’s all.”

“Uh-huh,” says Michael. He stares into the road. “I can wait for the story, no biggie.”

“I’m not telling it to you,” Alfredo replies, “it’s just some standard shit, it doesn’t matter.”

“Clearly it matters to you.”

The lamps sweeping territorially over the road are eerily green in the night. Little pinpoints of emerald and jade, which light the way home. At this point, Alfredo could probably walk - maybe if he annoys Michael enough then the man will change his mind and ditch him here. He doesn’t know how to deal with someone being unfailing nice to him. He’d rather take his chances out there.

“Fredo...”

And there it was. He tries to tune out. Crackly synthesizers, announcing some background Foreigner soundtrack, are an undercurrent to winds rushing around the frame of Michael’s car, making the windows rattle and the seats bounce.

“Can’t hear you,” he says, waving vaguely at the radio. “Love this song, man.”

Michael doesn’t look away from the wheel. Alfredo knows this because he checks, and when he turns to do so, he smells florally perfume against his own shoulder.

Argh.

Ugh.

“I’m serious, Fredo, it’s bothering you. You wanna tell me what happened?”

TO CHANGE THIS LONELY LI-I-IIIIIFE! ” Alfredo bellows, hoping to drown out the conversation.

“Stop it,” Michael laughs.

I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IIIIIIS,” he yells, jubilant and ever-so-slightly slurred, “I WANT YOU TO SHOW ME!!!”

“Yeah, I’ll show you alright,” Michael mutters. His eyes are rolling. There's something long-suffering and dismissive about it.

Alfredo grins. “Go on then,” he says, and his volume wobbles.

“What?”

“Show me.”

“If you wanted someone to make a move on your drunk ass, you should’ve stayed at the bar.”

“Someone did,” Alfredo says cheerfully, “someone made a move on my gay ass, and I ain’t about that life.”

Michael pulls over.

Whoops.

Foreigner are still humming out a thick ballad, phasing in from behind their conversation; Alfredo’s actually taken aback by the look on Michael’s face, but he stands his ground. If he’s gonna get the crap kicked out of him tonight, he’s not gonna be a pissy little fuck about it.

“You serious?” Michael asks. He’s leaning on the wheel, attention focused solely on the conversation.

“Serious as hell, man. Boys are my kinda girls, you know what I’m saying?”

Yeah, I know what you’re saying,” Michael replies, and he sounds annoyed, as though he’s given up on something he was trying his hardest at. “Fuckin’ hell, Fredo, I-- I’m just--”

Alfredo tracks his eyeline as it darts all over the place: Fredo’s face, Fredo’s mouth, the hem of his shirt and and the odd white thread running through his denim shorts. It shifts to the wiper smudges on the windshield, and fixes there to stay.

This isn’t the reaction he was expecting.

“I’m sorry,” Alfredo tries.

He’s not entirely sure what’s happening.

 

I've got nowhere left to hide, it looks like love has finally found me…

 

And Jesus holy shitty Christ, the radio is still playing.

Michael shifts in the driver’s seat. Agitated. “We could,” he starts, and wets his lips. “We-- If you were serious, I mean, if you meant--”

“Serious as hell, man,” Alfredo repeats, edging into his personal space. His smile feels soft and keeps on creeping into ‘giddy’ territory. “Drunk, sober, tipsy, whatever, I always like two things - and that’s guys and video games. Hey, Michael, do y--?”

He doesn’t get to finish, because Michael bumps noses and kisses him, cool hands holding him in place like a plaster cast. Alfredo’s surprised at how gentle he is, how careful, how the only things painful about this experience are the graze of his seatbelt sliding up his neck, and the handbrake that’s digging into his hip.

“Yep,” Alfredo says, feeling his mouth run off without his consent, “this is basically what happened, but I don’t wanna go home here, this is good, this is great, I actually want--”

“Shh,” says Michael, and gently pulls him back into another open-mouthed kiss.

There’s something to be said for someone who can read the signs of a situation properly. Alfredo’s okay at action, but he’s shitty at talking things through; Michael gives off the air of someone who’s had to practice both a lot, but can steadily work through puzzles with a frightening degree of patience.

Maybe he’s been as impatient for this to happen as Alfredo’s been.

There’s an idle slapping at the dashboard. Michael’s trying to find the power without looking: “I’m not dry humping to this shit,” he mumbles, muffled and breathy.

Alfredo tries not to laugh too suddenly, and wonders what Michael will do if he bites down on his bottom lip. ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ blares suddenly and abruptly. Then it cuts out.

Oh god, it’s happening.

Alfredo fumbles with the door handle. Fuck this - he’s climbing into the backseat, and he expects Michael to follow.

 


 

Fiona comes to find him after he’s done flyering for the day, and apologises to no end for Kelley’s behaviour, and gives him a roll of quarters as an extra sorry gesture. When she calls him ‘Fredo’, he lets her.

They play a few rounds of co-op ‘Savage Bees’ and generate a new high score, so he hopes she knows that he’s cool with everything now.

The ‘FNA’ nickname blinks at him from the start screen.

“Eighth spot. Not too shabby.”

The pair don’t even flinch at the voice over their shoulders: “oh, gross, your boyfriend’s here,” Fiona jokes.

Alfredo’s beaming is unrestrained. “Bro,” he says, as heartfelt as possible, and Michael tries his best to keep a straight face in more than one way.

They haven’t told her yet. It’s a work in progress.

The whole thing’s going fucking well, though, and Alfredo isn’t quite used to his life being like that - he wonders if he should be waiting for some horrifying thing to crash down from the heavens and ruin everything. On the other hand, homophobia comes from a bunch of different angles and he’s not sure the stars are on that list - space is probably gay.

“If I’d’ve known your pillow talk would be this weird, I would’ve never hooked up with you,” Michael grouses.

“Space is gay. Ask Captain Kirk, man, the guy’s qualified to like dick.”

“I almost wanna go for a smoke just to get away from your afterglow bullshit,” Michael says, “most people shut up after getting off, you know that?”

“You can if you want,” says Alfredo, and climbs on top of him anyway. “Go for a smoke, I mean.”

“Nah. I quit.”

Alfredo sits back. “Wait, you did?”

“Yeah,” Michael says, shrugging like it’s obvious, “you didn’t like it. And to be honest, neither did I.”

Fucking hell. He’s never known someone like Michael, ever.

“Don’t smother me with the sheets for asking, but you’re still good if I move in, right?” Alfredo says, nosing the corner of Michael’s jaw.

Michael’s chest heaves with laughter, and he flips the both of them over.

 


 

Thursdays are even better after that. It’s his favourite place, and he’s there with his favourite person, and they bicker over whether it’s worth buying an Atari 7800 together.

“I’m just not very confident about the future of arcades, y’know?” Alfredo reasons. “When they collapse, I’m gonna hole up all day in my living room with home consoles. I’ll do what Fiona does, I’ll save up random quarters until I can afford the cartridges. I heard ‘Metroid’ is awesome.”

“There’s some good stuff coming out of Japan, sure. But why not have an arcade in the house?”

“What?”

Michael seems very quiet and very fierce about this decision. “I’ll sort that for you,” he says. “I’ll maintain a home arcade, I could fix up a load of units we could have a cabinet room. Lights and bubblegum dispensers and everything. We’d never have to leave.”

“You’re so electric,” Alfredo grins. “You’d do that for me?”

“Sure I would. Question is what you’ve got planned for me.” He taps Alfredo’s forehead, the illuminated reflection of his arm sliding over the display. “I know there’s something in there.”

“You already get everything I keep from other people.”

“Like what? I’m gonna need an itemised list of these exclusive features.”

Alfredo considers it. He’s never been so radiant and warm, not in his whole life. “For you, baby,” he says, “there is a welcome mat on the ass of my jeans.”

Michael flushes. “Dude,” he laughs embarrassedly, “we’re in the arcade, c’mon.”

“You still love me.”

“I put up with you.”

“You’re with me for my kind heart and my hilarious jokes and my beautiful hair...”

Michael snorts. “I’m with you because sometimes you laugh like Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“That’s an exclusive feature.”

“Will you hurry up and lose a life? ‘Gauntlet II’ co-operative is calling,” Michael says, and laughs when Alfredo abandons his session mid-game. He’s just following instructions, man.

Michael’s the one who crouches down to feed quarters into the slot. When he doesn’t stand up immediately, Alfredo glances down - their eyes catch. Michael looks up through his eyelashes, mischievous and flirty, and glances at the zipper he’s face-level with.

The blush travels up Alfredo’s neck like a loading bar.

“Come on, babe,” he says, drawing circles with the joystick. “We got hidden rooms to find together.”