It starts with a small touch.
They had touched before, of course. Living in close quarters with a person would be reason enough, even if the Tick wasn’t extremely physical by nature. He was well-versed in overly affectionate hugs or slaps on the back that sent the other person stumbling to the floor. The difference here is simple.
Arthur initiates it.
The Tick is, for once, not paying Arthur any attention. He is instead staring, rapt, at the television in front of him, only tangentially aware of the other man’s presence beside him. “Say, little buddy,” the Tick says, eyes not leaving the screen. “Do you think we could get one of those?”
Arthur snorts. “What, you mean a jeep?”
“No,” says Tick. “The animal.”
Arthur is silent for a moment. The Tick feels Arthur’s eyes locked on him, but doesn’t drag his eyes away from the television. There are two of the animals on the screen now, munching happily away at some leaves that the Tick can’t say look appetizing enough to be worth the effort. Arthur snorts again. “We are not getting a giraffe , Tick.”
The Tick finally looks in Arthur’s direction, just to make sure the other man sees his pout, but Arthur looks away immediately.
“Sour sport! Come on —imagine it, Arthur! A noble steed unlike any other! We could ride her into battle, her majestic neck stretching high above us, observing far beyond what we are capable! Only the height of her nature and Destiny as our guide!”
“You can’t ride a giraffe, Tick.” Arthur actually doesn’t sound sure about that, but the Tick doesn’t call him out on it, mostly because there is suddenly a gentle pressure on his knee.
Instantly distracted, the Tick looks down at himself. Sure enough, there is something on his knee. That something is Arthur’s hand. It’s resting there, lingering.
Captivating. The Tick almost says it out loud, but it catches in his throat.
If Arthur notices the Tick’s reaction, it doesn’t show. He’s still looking at the film. “Look — their legs are super skinny. No way they’d hold your weight.”
“If you say so, chum.” The Tick turns his attention back to the TV only a little reluctantly. If Arthur wants to touch him, that’s just fine. He’d just been surprised.
Arthur’s hands are smaller than his own, but they’re warmer, too. Gentler. The Tick wonders what he feels like to Arthur.
Eventually, Arthur gets up from the couch to make dinner. He brings his hand with him.
These subtle touches continue, after that night. The Tick suspects that maybe these touches have actually been happening for a while, simply going unnoticed due to the general chaos of the rest of their shared life. But now the Tick is keeping track. Arthur’s hand resting at the small of the Tick’s back as he steers the hero towards the correct doorway. The brush of Arthur’s fingertips against Tick’s own as they walk side-by-side, lingering just long enough to be intentional. Arthur’s feet knocking up against Tick’s under the table when they sit beside each other. A tentative touch to the Tick’s cheek to brush away a stray bit of dust.
The Tick considers starting a diary, but he forgets about it almost immediately.
One night in particular stands out in the Tick’s mind.
The Tick is, for once, having a very pleasant dream. Usually, he dreams of fighting crime, which, while not unpleasant, is not exactly peaceful. On occasion, he’ll also have a nightmare, though he can never quite remember what those were about once he wakes up. Tonight, however, the Tick dreams that he’s deep underground. A stressful thought to some, perhaps, but the air below is cool and comforting. There is no danger down here. Just a long, winding tunnel. No trouble in front of him, no trouble behind him — instead, just an expanse of gentle darkness and, at his side, a companion, walking closely enough that the Tick can feel their warmth against his arm.
The Tick doesn’t have to look to know that it’s Arthur beside him. He wakes with a smile.
That smile only broadens as he realizes that he’s still in Arthur’s bed. Often, when the Tick grew restless and lonely in the night, he would sneak into Arthur’s bedroom and lay beside him. Never close enough to touch, but close enough. Just the presence of Arthur, the knowledge that he’s safely within his reach, is always enough to put the Tick out like a light. Unfortunately, Arthur is a light sleeper, so typically after a few minutes of Tick moving around on the bed Arthur would wake up and tell him to go back to the couch so he could sleep properly.
Tonight, apparently, the Tick had been sneaky enough to avoid waking Arthur, because it’s morning now and the man is still very much asleep beside him. What’s even more of a surprise, though, is that Arthur had reached out some time in the night, and now has the Tick’s arm in a cuddly vice-grip.
“Ah,” the Tick says to himself, as quietly as he could. “This is what a teddy bear feels like.” He flexes his arm experimentally, and immediately Arthur’s grip tightens, but he doesn’t wake.
The Tick could easily break his grip, of course. Or he could simply wake Arthur up and tell him to let go. It’s not in the Tick’s nature to stay in bed past sunrise, after all. It was a new day, brimming with hope and ripe with endless opportunities — wasting it laying around in bed was nonsense. Besides, if evil never slept, then justice must never over -sleep!
Arthur snuffles in his sleep, just a little. His nose is pressed awkwardly against the curve of the Tick’s arm, muffling his already quiet snores.
He looks so vulnerable. Cute, really. The Tick has about a million impulses as he looks at him — he wants to ruffle his hair, he wants to wake him and tell him he looks handsome in the mornings, he wants to scoop him up and give him a proper snuggle-hug. Mostly, though, the Tick wants to let Arthur keep getting some much-needed rest.
Perhaps justice could sleep just a bit longer. Tick’s eyes slide closed again.
The Tick refers to it in his head as The Major Incident.
Their latest nemesis is a woman calling herself Big Pharma. She had been hiding out at an abandoned building, located in an area of The City that had been destroyed by a previous villain’s plot, not yet rebuilt. The building used to be a CVS. Arthur reported it as being “a bit on the nose,” and Tick had nodded, pretending that he understood what Arthur was referring to.
Initially, Big Pharma had been the nemesis of Sage, as he had been the first to detect her involvement. Before him, the sudden upswing of civilians causing seemingly unprovoked havoc had baffled both local law enforcement and AEGIS. Big Pharma was the sneaky sort of villain (the Tick’s least favorite kind), discreetly distributing her super drugs to various civilians. Once the Sage got involved, AEGIS had thought it would be a quick, open-and-shut case — but, when the Supernumerary was found in a drug-induced coma not even 24 hours after beginning his search for her, AEGIS had decided to put Arthur and the Tick on the job.
“I’ve had more than enough bad experiences with medication, I don’t need more ,” Arthur had grumbled to him, when they were on their way to abandoned pharmacy. He came almost close enough to let their hands brush together, but not quite. The Tick tried not to notice.
“No bad experiences today, fella!” The Tick moved his hand away from the Temptation Zone, propping his hands onto his hips instead. “Only the brightly-lit journey to Justice!”
Arthur shook his head, ignoring him. “I’m sure they only sent us because Rathbone thinks you’ll be immune to … to whatever it is she’s been using. But chemicals affect you. At least some of them. Caffeine does, right? Coffee?”
“Ab-so- lutely! I love coffee!”
In hindsight, the Tick can admit that he under-estimated Big Pharma, despite her managing to best Sage. For one, her villain get-up wasn’t even a proper costume; as far as he could tell, it was just her civilian clothes with a lab coat and goggles thrown on top. For another, well. While the Tick knew better than to judge someone’s capabilities by their size — his own partner was quite the small fella — Big Pharma was very much not big, short even compared to Arthur. The Tick felt fairly confident that, if he managed to have a direct encounter with her, he could simply grab her by the scruff of the neck and hold her at an arm’s-length and the problem would be solved.
“You should be careful,” Arthur said. “Chemical warfare is no joke. We don’t know how any of it could affect you.”
“Never fear, chum!” The Tick had whirled on him with his best Hero Grin, slapping a reassuring hand down on Arthur’s shoulder. The smaller man stumbled, but only a little. “Big Pharma may have her skills and sneakery and mystery medicines, but she doesn’t have the most powerful chemical of all on her side — Justice! Destiny shall fill our bubbling beakers over the brim with success! No mere substance could ever hold back Her mighty will! Heroes always prevail, and today will be no exception!”
Arthur had scoffed. “You aren’t listening to me.”
“Arthur! My friend!” The Tick put on his best serious expression and got a slight smirk from Arthur in return. “The life of a hero may have many winding paths, but with you by my side, I will never be led astray!”
Finally, finally, Arthur had smiled his most genuine smile, the type that surfaced only when the Tick had said just the right thing. A small smile, the kind that might be easily hidden away, if Arthur hadn’t tilted his head upwards to show him.
It’s this smile that the Tick thinks about as he hits the ground. He has a face-full of broken concrete, feels sure that he may have even swallowed some, and he’s very much wanting to get up. But, of course, if he had the strength to stand, he would have had the strength not to fall in the first place. Whatever had been in that gas he inhaled, it had affected him indeed. So, instead, the Tick follows his second-most pleasant impulse and closes his eyes. His mind wanders easily, even more easily than it usually does.
Arthur’s smile really is absolutely captivating. The Tick wonders what his cheeks feel like when they bunch up tight to make room for the upturn of his lips. He wonders if Arthur’s mouth is as smooth as the skin of Arthur’s delicate wrist. Maybe it’s even softer. It’s easy to imagine just reaching out and touching to find out. Maybe he will. Maybe, once this fight is over.
“Tick! Tick? What the Hell did you do to him?” Arthur’s voice. It sounds far away, but getting closer. The Tick is just as fond of Arthur’s voice as he is the rest of him — that is, absurdly. If the Tick had any control of his body at the moment, he’d probably grin at the sound of it now. Arthur’s voice is brimming with righteous anger. A proper epic hero, coming to his partner’s rescue. Truly Destiny must be beaming down upon his little friend in this moment! It drags the Tick’s attention away from his daydreams.
Big Pharma’s steps are quiet, but not silent. She is walking closer. “Don’t worry, Arthur,” she says, with all the drama of a cashier discussing the weather. “You’ll be very relaxed in just a moment.”
Arthur’s steps are not so quiet, coming down in frustrated stomps. The Tick’s chest feels tight, utterly filled to the brim with an eager warmth. He opens his eyes, but there’s nothing to see but the broken ground. He struggles against the stiffness of his body to look up and see his approach, but his efforts remained fruitless; he barely managed to get his body to tremble with the effort.
“Stop!” There is a loud click. A weapon? “Don’t make me do it,” Big Pharma says. “One dose of the tranq won’t kill your friend, but two doses? Well — I’m curious about what might happen, but I don’t think you’d like it!”
Arthur inhales sharply at the threat, and the Tick wants to yell at him. No — yell for him. “Never fear, chum,” the Tick wants to say. “The mighty shield of Destiny protects me! Move swiftly! Act boldly! You must not let fear slow you down as you race towards evil!” But, of course, the Tick cannot manage a whimper, much less a shout. All he can do is try to ignore how terrible the concrete tastes and wait, impatiently, for the outcome of this encounter.
In the end, the Tick’s inaction doesn’t make a difference. Arthur’s steps don’t slow at the threat — if anything, he speeds up, his heavy steps escalating into a run.
“I’m not bluffing!” Big Pharma’s voice is shrill, suddenly, her air of confidence crumbling away at speed. The Tick feels the business end of the weapon press up against the back of his neck, jabbing down hard enough that it might have hurt a regular civilian. “I’ll do it! You think I won’t do it? Hippocrates can kiss my ass, I’ll fucking kill him!”
There’s a barely audible noise, when the hand-tasers activate. The Tick didn’t hear it, the first few times Arthur activated them in front of him, but he’s accustomed enough to the sound now that he notices it right away.
The Tick can’t quite tell what happens after that. There’s a loud, sharp noise when Big Pharma pulls the trigger, followed by a whistling as it ricocheted off of the Tick’s armor plating. A mere second after, a shuddering shriek and a loud thump.
A weight collapses onto the Tick’s prone form and, for a moment, the Tick thinks it must be Big Pharma, fallen after being shocked unconscious. But, no — the form upon him is far from prone. He recognizes those soft, frantic hands; he wants to lean closer as they slide over the back of his neck.
The warmth that had been gathering in the Tick’s body all but explodes; he feels so utterly overwhelmed by emotion that he doesn’t actually notice that its evidence is spilling down his cheeks until Arthur flips him onto his back and exposes his face. The Tick expects finally seeing Arthur crouched above him to be enough to calm him entirely, but instead it only prompts him to start crying harder.
“Tick?” Arthur’s voice is high and frantic. Those hands are upon the Tick again immediately, this time caressing his face. At first, the Tick thinks that Arthur is trying to wipe away his tears, but when he pulls back, there’s more than water wetting his friend’s fingers. Blood? The Tick hadn’t even been sure that he could bleed, but there’s no mistaking that it’s his own, given the utter shock and dismay on Arthur’s face when he discovers it. “Tick, your nose…”
The Tick wants to reassure him that he’s fine. Certainly he is. There’s no pain in his body. In fact, he’s overflowing with joy! Arthur had rescued him, just as the Tick always trusted him to, and seeing Arthur be so heroic on his own terms is more than enough to make up for the disgusting taste of concrete still lingering under his tongue. But he can’t manage to speak his mind. In fact, even now the Tick can barely manage to convince the corners of his mouth to inch upwards.
“Oh, Tick. ” Arthur leaned in close, so close that, had Tick had full control of his bodily functions in that moment, he might have jolted in surprise. Their noses nearly touch, for a moment. “I’m so sorry. I got distracted. I should have been covering for you better. I…” He swallows hard, a painful sound to the Tick’s ears. His fingertips, gentler than the Tick has ever felt them, trace a slow line along the Tick’s brow. “Buddy, you can hear me, right? Blink twice if you’re okay.”
That, at least, the Tick can do. Two blinks.
Arthur smiles, faint but genuine. The Tick wishes he could smile back, but his lips will barely twitch.
“Okay,” Arthur says. He backs off again, returning the Tick’s personal space (not that the Tick particularly missed it). “Blink twice if you’re in pain.”
The Tick widens his eyes, struggles not to blink at all. It’s difficult, but far from being the most difficult thing he’s done today. Arthur’s smile broadens, just for a moment, but it's stifled almost immediately by the situation at hand.
“Alright, Tick, I get it. No pain.” Arthur turns away, his gaze sweeping over their surroundings. The Tick himself can’t see much, unable to turn his head, but when he strains his eyes he can make out Big Pharma lying prone in the corner of his vision. “I’ll be right back, okay? I’m gonna tie her up and call Rathbone to get us out of here.”
The Tick wants to give Arthur a thumbs up, and considers putting his full power into attempting to do so — no measly tranquilizer could hold back the full force of the Great Blue Yonder! But before he can even begin the effort Arthur is suddenly very close again and, after a split second of hesitation, Arthur is pressing his lips to the space between the Tick’s eyes.
It’s quick, so quick that the Tick is half convinced that he’d imagined the contact as he watched Arthur scramble away to finish their work. But, of course, the Tick hadn’t imagined it, and he clings to the ghost sensation of Arthur’s lips with all of his strength for as long as he can.
“Is it really okay to take him home?” Arthur asks. His voice is pitched lower than the Tick is used to hearing. This day has run him ragged.
The Tick wants to reach out and give him a reassuring pat on the back. Or, perhaps more than that. But he remains prone on the bed, barely able to wiggle his fingers.
“He’s coming out of his paralysis much faster than the Sage did,” the nurse says. Or maybe he’s a doctor? The Tick hadn’t been paying attention enough to know for sure. Whoever he is, Arthur seems to trust him, and that’s enough for Tick. “If he keeps recovering at this rate, he should be fine in the next three days.”
The Tick tries to crane his neck to get a better look at Arthur, but he can’t quite manage it. The strain of the effort has his antennae twitching in frustration, and this at least gets Arthur’s attention. He came closer, leaning on the side of the hospital bed and firmly into Tick’s line of sight.
Arthur doesn’t reach out to touch him. The Tick doesn’t let it bother him.
“What about the, uh… The blood ?” Arthur mentions the blood the way he might bring up some unknown phenomenon.
“Nothing to worry about,” says the man who was either a nurse or a doctor. “The gas that Big Pharma weaponized just dried the Tick’s nasal cavity. That, combined with the flakes of concrete he inhaled, was enough to result in some surface-level bleeding.”
“Oh,” Arthur says. He leans back a little, obviously relieved, and the Tick smiles a little when the mattress dips towards him a bit. “So, just a regular nosebleed.”
“For someone like the Tick it’s equivalent, yes.”
The discussion continues from there, but the Tick stops listening. He’s far more interested in watching Arthur. It’s good to see him, he thinks. It’s always so good to see him.
The Tick falls into such an eased state of mind that he doesn't quite notice that the third man is gone until Arthur has turned his full attention back to the Tick.
“Looks like you’re coming home with me tonight, buddy,” Arthur says.
Home . The Tick still can’t quite speak, but he can manage a grin and a happy antenna wiggle. Arthur returns the smile.
Oh, what a smile.
Later, Arthur will get a commendation for saving his partner. A great honor for a side-kick, according to Bronze Star. The Tick doesn’t know how to tell them that this isn’t the first time Arthur has saved him, or that it certainly won’t be the last. But the trophy is nice enough.
The Tick can’t get Arthur’s mouth off his mind.
No doubt this is exacerbated by the fact that he’s bed-ridden for almost 48 hours after the Incident. It’s not just that he’s almost constantly in Arthur’s presence (which is not so different from usual) or that Arthur is diligently playing nurse at his bedside (very much different from usual). The worst part, by far, is that the Tick has nothing else at his disposal to distract himself from his errant train of thought. Certainly there will be no crime fighting with his body still stubbornly refusing to let him take action. Even once he regains enough motor control to stumble out of bed, he can’t get far without Arthur frantically herding him back into it.
“You need your rest, ” Arthur had told him, firmly, the stiffness of his upper lip leaving no room for debate. “The more you disobey the doctor’s orders, the longer it’ll take to get better. That’s how being sick works, Tick.”
The Tick, who has never been sick before now, reluctantly believes him. Arthur certainly knew better about this sort of thing than he did.
Unfortunately, this left the Tick with very few options, especially when Arthur left him alone in the room, though not for lack of trying. He talks to himself a bit, when he fully regains his voice, but the Tick has never been good at small talk. He tries to count the stains on the ceiling, but this bores him immediately. He tries to take Arthur’s advice and nap, but pressing his face into the pillow only serves as a reminder that this is Arthur’s bed he’s resting in — a fact that would normally lull Tick right into a peaceful slumber, but now inexplicably keeps him wide awake, an unfamiliar energy tingling under his skin. He tries to let his imagination wander, something that normally serves him well, but no matter what path he sets his mind off on it always wind back to the same place: the feeling of Arthur’s soft mouth against the bridge of his nose.
The Tick isn’t sure what’s more frustrating — that he can’t get the feeling out of his mind when he tries, or that the memory is already fading in clarity. The ghost of the touch had lingered for longer than most, held in place by the strength of the Tick’s feelings, but it’s fuzzy around the edges now. How long had Arthur lingered? A second? Less than a second? A little longer? Was it right between the Tick’s eyes, or a little lower? The Tick wanted to preserve that tiny, fleeting moment, pure and untouched, in the most careful part of his mind — but the Tick’s mind was a winding, unfamiliar maze on the best of days, and the Tick knew it would only fade more and more as time passed.
But time marches ever forward, after all, and one cannot drag their feet on their way to the future’s bright horizon! The only path was forward, and the Tick was not the type to look back, vastly preferring to bound ever forwards in a full hero’s sprint. The fading edges of precious memories did nothing to make them less sweet. The real problem is that the Tick doesn’t want it to be just a memory. He wants that gentle touch in his future and, perhaps most importantly, in his present.
It’s going to become an issue.
Desire was not something the Tick was unfamiliar with. He, just like everyone, had things that he wanted, ranging from following his Destiny to having a pot of coffee in the morning. But this particular desire felt different. It wasn’t just desire, it was proper-noun Desire that the Tick had no real frame of reference for.
It went beyond simple friendship, the Tick realizes that much, although the realization comes with some degree of discomfort. The Tick doesn’t want to think that there was any force in the universe that could overpower their friendship. It was a partnership based on love, after all. Love that they chose, and would continue to choose until the very end, as far as Tick could fathom. But this Desire was different from what the Tick usually felt for Arthur. It wasn’t fully satisfied by simply Arthur at his side anymore. Without Tick realizing it, his Love had twisted at the edges, gotten tangled in the Desire that sprang forth from Arthur’s first tentative touch. The Tick wasn’t sure he could separate the two. Maybe he didn’t even want to.
It was not in the Tick’s usual nature to dwell, but in his bedridden state he falls prey to it anyway. That’s what he’s doing when Arthur (finally) returns to the bedroom. He’s so deep into his own tangled web of thoughts, in fact, that he almost doesn’t notice his friend’s entrance until Arthur speaks. “You’re still not sleeping?”
The Tick opens his eyes. “How did you know?” He’d been lying very still, hoping to at least emulate getting some rest, even if his confusing thoughts wouldn’t allow him to truly pursue it.
Arthur rolls his eyes. “You snore.”
The statement has the Tick beaming, despite how put-upon Arthur sounds. It’s always a delight to learn new things about himself, considering how very little he knows compared to the average fellow, and even more of a delight to learn these things directly from Arthur. He’s the most trustworthy source that the Tick has, after all.
“Well, keep trying, but first, I brought you a snack.” Arthur comes closer and the Tick notices, quite belatedly, that he’s holding a tray of food. Two sandwiches, a bowl of fruit, a cup of orange juice, and a granola bar. “It’s probably good for you to keep eating.”
To be perfectly honest, the Tick isn’t 100% sure he needs to eat. But he does like eating, especially when Arthur is the one making the food, so as usual the Tick accepts without hesitation. He’s about to start digging in whole-heartedly, his hands already lifting one of the sandwiches towards his face, when he sees Arthur start to turn towards the door again. The Tick drops the sandwich.
Arthur turns back to him, an obvious look of surprise on his face. The Tick is just as surprised — not so much at the nature of his request, but at the pleading tone that it comes out in. It isn’t in his nature to beg, but then, a lot of things about his nature have been put asunder by his situation.
Before Arthur can reply, the Tick speaks up again. “If you don’t mind, that is,” he says. This time he keeps his tone neutral — or, rather, neutral for the Tick, which is to say his voice is booming and brimming with enthusiasm. Arthur does not seem convinced by it, his startled expression fading only slightly. The Tick persists. “It’s so boring in here all by myself, chum! I can feel the wind of Destiny in my sails, urging me forwards, and yet I am stuck at shore! Beached by my accursed condition!” The Tick gestures dramatically, arm sweeping to indicate the room he was currently confined to. “You, Arthur, my dearest companion, are my only reprieve! A life-raft kept close, for at any moment this leaking ship may veer straight into the dismal sea!”
The Tick’s dramatics finally reel Arthur back into the room. He takes a seat on the bed beside him and, although he’s sitting on the edge, the Tick is suddenly hyper-aware of the man being within an arm’s-reach. “You’re a real drama queen, sometimes,” says Arthur.
“If you want me to truly relax, you’ll let me out of his dreadful bed and let me hit the streets! I feel just fine!” As if to demonstrate this, the Tick surges forward to prop himself upright. Immediately, vertigo hits him, but he gives Arthur a clench-toothed grin to disguise it. “You see?”
“Yeah, I see.” Arthur reaches out and presses a hand to the Tick’s chest. Immediately Tick leans into the touch; if Arthur’s gentle palms were magnets, the Tick was no doubt metal from head to toe. The press turns into a shove. “Come on, Tick. Lean back. You need to rest.”
The nature of the touch should have been clear from the get-go. A guiding hand, not a caressing one. The Tick feels his face grow warm, though he’s entirely unaware that it shows up in a soft pink on his cheeks. “Every day you grow more stubborn,” the Tick says. There’s no complaint in his tone. Arthur shoves again, more firmly, and Tick allows himself to settle back into the pile of pillows behind him, though he doesn’t lay down entirely. He refocuses, reluctantly, on the food in front of him, picking up one of the sandwiches once more.
Arthur watches him quietly as he takes his first few bites, not saying anything. When the Tick glances back up at him again, Arthur has a pensive look on his face, the kind that only appears when he’s deep in the web of his own mind. Unlike the Tick, Arthur doesn’t get tangled in his own complexities — instead, he digs in deep and builds within them, identifying and expanding until he’s built a maze around himself. Often, the Tick longs to worm his way into Arthur’s mind, just once, to just one time know what exactly goes on in that huge, bright mind of his. But not knowing is part of the charm, the Tick thinks. Arthur’s mind is so deep that, even if the Tick could peer inside, he would never see the bottom. That, like so many things, is what makes Arthur special.
“There’s no one else like you,” the Tick says. He hadn’t intended to say it out loud, but he isn’t embarrassed by it, even if Arthur looks a bit flustered now.
“What are you talking about?”
“There’s just one Arthur Everest,” the Tick says, shrugging a bit. His explanation is muffled by the second sandwich as he shovels it into his mouth, but this doesn't slow him down. “There’s not a lot I know for sure these days, but I know you’re one of a kind. I’m glad that Destiny let me get to you first.”
Arthur’s eyebrows inch upwards. “As opposed to who, Tick?”
The Tick swallows his bite. Shrugs again. “Dunno, chum.” He takes a sip of the juice, then elaborates, “Anybody would be lucky to be with you. Destiny was kind to not make me have to compete for your partnership. Of course, I would have battled without complaint, if that was what it took to earn you.”
Arthur actually laughs at that. It’s a quiet, muffled noise, but it seems genuine, so the Tick laughs too, though he isn’t sure what the joke is.
“You think too highly of me,” Arthur says.
The Tick’s antennae twitch. “Impossible.”
Arthur’s mouth curves into a small, close-mouthed smile. The Tick watches with rapt attention. For just a moment, Arthur pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, and when it returns, it’s slightly red. The Tick’s grip on his cup tightens, the plastic bending inward at the pressure.
The Tick responds, but it comes slowly, most of his mind focused on following the movement of Arthur’s mouth as he speaks. “Yeah, chum?”
Arthur clears his throat, and the Tick forces his eyes upwards to meet his eyes. Arthur has that pensive look on his face again, but this time it makes the Tick a little nervous, because this time Arthur’s full attention is on him. He feels like Arthur is looking straight inside of him, his gaze reaching deep into the Tick’s deepest bits and prying out the rawest part of him.
Except maybe it isn’t just nerves, because as the feeling picks up steam inside of him it surges straight to his gut, dragging a pressing heat through his limbs. It’s a feeling usually reserved for the approach of an especially exciting battle or leaping from rooftop to particularly high rooftop on a chase. Now the only prompt is the curve of Arthur’s mouth and the mahogany depths of his thoughtful eyes.
The Tick isn’t nervous, he realizes. He’s excited.
Finally, Arthur speaks. “You’re staring at me a lot lately.”
The Tick tilts his head. “I have.” His antennae twitch again. Should he have been sneakier about it? Arthur doesn’t seem bothered, but he doesn’t seem pleased, either.
Arthur frowns, just a little. “Okay,” he says. “ Why have you been staring at me?”
“Oh!” The Tick relaxes. He’d been afraid that Arthur might ask him a challenging question. “That’s simple! I like looking at you!”
Arthur blinks, slow and deliberate. “Okay,” he says, but he doesn’t sound sure, so the Tick speaks up again.
“You’re very nice to look at, chum.”
“Am I?” Arthur’s ears are a little pinker now. The Tick beams.
“Of course! Your visage is as bright as the sun, my little friend! Brighter, even!”
At this, Arthur looks away. The loss makes the Tick feel cold. He tries to drown the feeling in a fist-full of cubed fruit, and it helps, but only a little bit.
Arthur stays until the Tick has finished off his food, and for a little while after too, but the look never returns.
The Tick needs advice.
The Tick had never been shy about seeking outside guidance. He’s more than aware that there are countless things in the world that he doesn’t understand, due to his nature or due to his memory loss or both, and the Tick isn’t afraid to admit this. Certainly this Desire was no exception. If he’s going to conquer it before it consumed him, the Tick cannot continue alone.
Luckily, the Tick had an ever-growing collection of friends to choose from when he needed help, all with their own perspectives and skills. Dot, Joan, Grandma, and Tinfoil Kevin are usually at the top of the list when it comes to life advice, but the Tick doesn’t write off the opinions of his more eccentric friends like Overkill, Dangerboat, and Lobstercules either. Even Miss Lint, whose status as a friend was a subject of hot debate, sometimes offered unique insight into problems presented to her.
However, the dilemma when deciding who to ask was trust.
It wasn’t that the Tick didn’t trust his friends. He trusted… well, most of them. But this Desire that was encroaching on his life felt like a delicate subject. Perhaps the kind of delicate subject that would have a real effect on not only the Tick’s life, but Arthur’s too. Though the Tick was often clumsy in handling it, he did prioritize his partner’s happiness. A happy Arthur was the #1 thing on the Tick’s to-do list, right up there with achieving world peace. If a misstep might jeopardize that, well, the Tick couldn’t trust just any old strategy.
Anyone could come up with a plan. It was coming up with a good plan that was the challenge — a challenge that the Tick wasn’t ashamed to admit he struggled with. The ability to construct a fool-proof plan, especially when under pressure, was a truly precious skill. That was why the Tick partnered with Arthur in the first place, after all.
It takes Tick only a minute after having this thought to connect the dots. There was only one person that the Tick can trust with something this important.
“Arthur, I have some questions about touching.”
Arthur makes a face that is somewhere between about-to-laugh and about-to-scream, which the Tick would have found quite endearing if he could see him. But the Tick can’t see him. This is because they have their backs to each other. The chairs that they’re chained down into are also chained together. The Tick tries twisting his head around, hoping to catch a glimpse of his friend, but he doesn’t make it far. He’s a hero of many skills, but flexibility is not high on the list.
When Arthur doesn’t respond right away, the Tick pipes up again. “Not trying to tangle your shoelaces, my friend! But I do need your advice!”
“Tick, can this not wait until later? You know, when we aren’t in a lair?”
“I’d rather it didn’t, chum!” It could, in fact, wait, but the Tick had been trying to fit this conversation into their busy schedule for almost 24 hours now and he’s growing impatient. He speeding along Destiny’s fast lane, and he’s not eager to pump the breaks. “Besides,” the Tick adds. “There’s no time like the present!”
Arthur sighs, slouching in his chair. The shift in position has Arthur’s head resting on the broad slope of Tick’s shoulder; it makes the Tick feel a little warmer, which is nice, since this Evil Lair wasn’t particularly cozy. Perhaps when Miss Magnet returned the Tick could ask her to turn up the thermostat.
“Alright, then,” Arthur says. The Tick can feel his friend tense up a bit behind him, as if bracing himself. “Let’s hear it. What’s the issue?”
“The issue is my feelings! One feeling in particular, that has been pursuing me incessantly ever since I acknowledged it! I had hoped to form my own strategy to handle it, but I’m afraid that, while I can rely on our sweet lady Destiny as a flawless guide for most things, she has very little to say when it comes to Desire!” The tension in Arthur’s body increases tenfold behind him at that word, but the Tick is too caught up in his explanation to notice. He only tenses further as Tick continues, “There are a lot of funny little things clambering about in my noggin that I don’t quite understand! I’m used to it! But Desire is a beast far too fearsome to let roam!”
It’s clearly a struggle, but Arthur manages to get a word in edgewise. “I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, Tick.”
It’s now that Tick finally notices just how tense Arthur is behind him. Sympathetic tension forms in the Tick. This conversation was making Arthur nervous. Granted, most things make Arthur nervous, but Tick prefers not to be one of those things. For the first time, the Tick wonders if he was wrong to go to Arthur with his concerns directly. But the Tick had one foot in the deep water of this conversation now, and there was no way to come out dry; all he could do now was take the plunge.
“You know me, Arthur! I’m not always thinking straight ahead!” The Tick’s voice rises to a booming volume once more, emotion overcoming him. “I can’t afford to procrastinate any longer! The longer I wait to defeat the beast that these feelings have become, the more dangerous they will be! This time I must make my own choice, without waiting on Destiny’s sweet hand to provide Her final shove! She has brought me this far, but I must make the final leap on my own terms! No — on our terms!”
“ Our terms?” Arthur’s voice shook, just a little. Once more, the Tick tries to twist around enough to see him, but there’s simply no way to do so without moving from the position he’s chained in. However, with a little bit of struggle, the Tick does manage to reach an antenna to brush up against Arthur’s own. He knows Arthur can’t feel it — Arthur’s are just part of his helmet — but it’s a huge comfort to the Tick.
“Yes.” The Tick forces his voice to soften as much as he can; the delicacy of the situation isn’t entirely lost on him. “That’s why I need your help, Arthur. When you’re lost in the great jungle of life, you can’t expect to have a map. You must rely on your loved ones as your guide if you expect to make it through. You have been by my side in this wilderness from the beginning, chum, and…”
Arthur remains silent, anticipating more, but the Tick trails off. His antennae twitch, agitated. Words are failing him. The Tick can wax poetic about love and destiny straight into the wide open arms of eternity, but none of that feels like enough. Not for this conversation. But being clear and straight-forward felt out of reach as well, when the situation itself was not at all clear and straight-forward in the Tick’s mind. Not many things were.
The Tick must have been quiet for too long; he feels Arthur’s elbow jab into his side. “Tick? Are you okay?”
“Yes, chum.” Actually, the Tick feels like his heart is being squeezed into a paste, but there’s no way to explain that to Arthur without derailing their conversation. “Just… trying to find the words.”
“Okay.” Arthur’s voice is barely a whisper, but it’s not shaky anymore. This time, when Arthur’s head moves against the Tick’s shoulder, the Tick is sure it’s intentional. “Let’s think about it practically, Tick,” Arthur is starting to sound like he did when he was trying to explain the television remote, slow and deliberate. The Tick increases his focus tenfold, determined not to miss anything important this time. “All these feelings or whatever. What’s it causing? Actively, in your life, not just in your imagination.”
The Tick takes a deep breath. The air in the Evil Lair tastes stale, but that can’t dampen the Tick’s relief. This is what he’d hoped for. There were few things more comforting to the Tick than Arthur’s gentle interrogations. The Tick didn’t understand himself, but he trusted Arthur. Nobody knew the Tick like Arthur did — not even the Tick himself. If anyone was going to unravel the mystery that was the Tick, it was going to be Arthur, and that was exactly how the Tick liked it. Everything was better with Arthur’s guidance, really.
It takes a minute for the Tick to wrestle his tangled thoughts into the parameters of Arthur’s question, but he manages it. “I keep thinking about it. Especially what happened with Big Farmer.”
“Big Pharma,” Arthur corrects. Then, a little less calmly, “You mean the paralysis?”
The Tick laughs out loud. “No, chum! Nothing so mundane as that!” The paralysis had been a bit annoying, but it was part of the job as far as the Tick was concerned. Great heroism implied great danger, after all. “I meant what you did, chum.”
“What I did?” Their chairs rattle loudly as Arthur tries to turn around and look at the Tick. Of course, all this does is jostle them both. “What do you mean? I—” Before the Tick can elaborate, Arthur cuts himself off with a choked little noise, the kind that the Tick knows means he’s come to an abrupt realization. Arthur’s body slouches. “Oh,” Arthur says. “You mean the kiss. I forgot.”
“Already slipped your mind, chum?” The Tick tries not to let this bother him, but doesn’t quite manage it. He doesn’t know how Arthur could forget a moment that has been resting so heavily in the Tick’s mind. It may have only lasted a split second, but it was a second that the Tick treasured.
Arthur elbows him again. “Not like that,” he says. “I was worried about you, Tick. I wasn’t thinking about anything but keeping you safe.” All feelings of disappointment drain out of Tick in an instant. Arthur was a proper hero, just like always! Of course his focus would be on completing their work! Unlike the Tick, Arthur would not let himself be led astray by Desire when evil was afoot! The Tick opens his mouth to shower Arthur in praise, but Arthur starts speaking again before he can. “I did, though, huh? I kissed you.”
The Tick feels warm all over, the memory of Arthur’s soft lips like a ghost on his skin. “Yes,” he says. “You did.”
Arthur gulps. The Tick wants to hold his hand. It’s an urge that he’s used to resisting, at this point, but this time it’s almost smothering. His fingers twitch.
“I liked it,” the Tick says. This is an understatement.
Arthur’s head rests more heavily against Tick’s shoulder. “Yeah…?”
“Yeah. I want you to do it again.” This is an even greater understatement. “It’s like I said before, chum. There’s no one else like you.” He starts out quiet, trying his honest best to contain himself, but his enthusiasm quickly gets the best of him. Soon he’s all but shouting. “With you, what might be a candle is a forest fire— Nay, hotter! Scalding! Akin to the brightest star to ever bloom in the distant skies! Each time you touch me I am struck like a match, ignited by a Desire that I cannot begin to understand, much less hope to describe! Chum, when you kissed me— Oh, if I could have moved I would have jumped for joy! If I could have spoken I would have sang! You are my friend, my partner, my guiding light, but this Desire, this need for touch, has pursued me far beyond what I anticipated, and though I have loved the chase, Arthur, I cannot imagine an end to it! I fear — no, I hope! I hope that it may never end! Longing for you, it seems, lights me up inside like… like a misplaced sparkler on the 4th of July!”
The Tick could have gone on like this forever, and perhaps he might have, except that Arthur starts to laugh behind him. The Tick presses his lips into a tight line to silence himself, relishing the sound. Arthur sounds as if he’s bursting with joy, his laughter high and unabashed; the Tick couldn’t have hoped for a better response, even if he doesn’t quite understand what’s so funny.
He doesn’t get the chance to ask Arthur what’s funny before the door to the lair swings open.
“What’s so funny down here, hero ?” Miss Magnet has her menacing villain voice down to perfection, every word rolling off her tongue laced with poison. Under different circumstances, Tick might have given her a compliment on her hard work, but right now he’s distracted.
“You read my mind, villain!” the Tick replies. Arthur had stopped laughing immediately, but the Tick’s enthusiasm isn’t dimmed. If anything, he’s happy to see Miss Magnet. The timing isn’t exactly ideal, but they have to take care of this sooner or later — they can’t sit about chatting forever. Time marches forward, as always, and like time Arthur and the Tick needed to march out of this chilly lair and into the awaiting evening and all the potential it implied.
With that in mind, the Tick breaks the chains and gets to his feet. Arthur and Miss Magnet release almost identical squawks of surprise.
“If you could have done that the whole time, why did we sit here so long?” Arthur shouts.
Magnet speaks over him, far louder. “Were you trying to trick me, you big blue bastard?”
“We needed some time to chat!” The Tick intends for this to be a response to both of them, but he doesn’t think Miss Magnet processes the response before he has her in a headlock.
The fight doesn’t last long. Every piece of metal in the Lair goes flying at Tick, but none of it slows him down, and it isn’t long before Miss Magnet has gone limp in Tick’s arms, out cold. He’s gentle with her after that, picking her up bridal-style before turning to Arthur. He intends to hand her over to him — Arthur usually has a pair of handcuffs on him for situations like this — only to find that Arthur is still chained to the chair and wearing a big frown on his face.
“Sorry about that, chum!” The Tick drops Miss Magnet to the floor and hurries to Arthur’s side. Arthur’s frown deepens. Tick’s antennae twitch. “What’s eating you?.”
“What’s eating me? Fuck’s sake...” Arthur grumbles and rolls his eyes. “Couldn’t we have talked about our feelings at home, Tick? Since we apparently weren’t actually trapped?”
“It couldn’t wait. Besides, this was a good opportunity!”
“Oh my God… Okay. Just unchain me.”
It’s more difficult to break Arthr’s chains, since he has to be careful not to accidentally hurt his friend, but he manages. The minute he’s free, Arthur all but leaps out of his chair, all of the nervous energy he had built up while he was trapped rushing to escape all at once. The Tick watches Arthur fondly as he flails about; his smile only broadens when Arthur finally turns his attention towards him again, despite the grouchy look on Arthur’s face.
“We’re going to talk about this.” The way Arthur points at Tick while he speaks is almost accusing, but Tick’s smile doesn’t waver.
“Alright,” Tick says. “Let’s talk.” Even as he says this, he’s turning to pick up Miss Magnet again. She’s starting to rouse, slowly but surely, but she either knows better than to put up a fight or doesn’t have the energy to try, because she remains prone.
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Later,” he says. “We’ll talk about this later. At home . Like normal people. ”
“But we aren’t normal people, chum! We’re Arthur and the Tick!”
Arthur doesn’t grace that with a reply, but the Tick doesn’t miss the hint of a smile on Arthur’s face as they head back upstairs.
The Tick is right. They aren’t normal people and they don’t make it back to the apartment. In fact, they don’t make it past the AEGIS staff room. On the bright side, the AEGIS staff room is completely empty aside from the two of them. This could be because most heroes have better things to do with their Friday nights than lurk about the facility, but it’s more likely due to the fact that they stop restocking the croissants at 8PM.
Arthur isn’t even half-way through meticulously finishing off today’s paperwork before he snaps. “Can you stop staring at me? I’m trying to focus.”
“I’m not staring.” The Tick doesn’t move an inch from where he’s been sitting across from Arthur, eyes following the man’s every move. “I’m just looking at you.”
Arthur pauses, pen hovering half-way through a signature. “That’s what staring is, Tick.”
The Tick’s antennae twitch as he considers this. “No,” he says, after a moment. Arthur finally looks up at him, eyebrow raised. “Staring is different. I was just watching. If I was staring , it would be like…” The Tick shifts forward in his seat and fixes his gaze as intently as he can on Arthur, giving the other man 100% of his focus. It’s this focus that lets him notice the blush, ever so slight, that creeps onto Arthur’s cheeks.
Arthur looks back down at the paperwork. “Okay, well, whatever you wanna call it. Just let me focus.”
The Tick nods, although Arthur isn’t looking at him anymore. He manages to stay quiet for a whole thirty seconds (which he’d say was pretty impressive, given the circumstances) before speaking up again. “Does it bother you when I watch you, chum?”
Arthur sighs. “No, Tick. Not usually.”
“Because,” the Tick continues, as if he hadn’t heard, “it’s like I said before. I just like looking at you.”
The Tick doesn’t have to concentrate to see the blush that spreads over Arthur’s face then. Nearly his whole face is pink. The Tick feels warm in response, though he’s entirely unaware of the red on his own cheeks. He isn’t embarrassed — he’s delighted.
Arthur clears his throat.
“It’s — fine. It’s fine that you want to look at me. I… I also… Ugh.” Arthur sighs yet again, a heavy sound that seems to steady him somewhat. The Tick inches closer instinctively, sitting on the very edge of his chair now. Arthur looks away for a moment, his bottom lip disappearing between his teeth, only for his gaze to creep back up to meet Tick’s eyes again. “I like looking at you, too, Tick.”
The Tick’s eyes go wide.
Honestly, the Tick hadn’t considered that before. He didn’t often think about his own appearance at all, beyond wondering if he might be a robot (he wasn’t) or trying to decide if he felt naked or not (debatable). Considering it from Arthur’s perspective, though… The Tick’s antennae perk up straight. “Well, that’s splendid, chum! We have all the time in the world to look at each other to our heart’s content, after all!” The Tick can imagine it easily, how they might sit down after a long day of heroics and just gaze at each other for a while. The thought is soothing; the Tick’s grin softens into a softer, gooeyer smile.
Arthur puts down the pen and turns his full attention onto Tick. His expression is pensive. “Tick. You want to kiss me, right?”
The Tick’s body goes rigid; it takes every ounce of his willpower not to simply leap across the table and show Arthur exactly how much he did, in fact, want. The Tick can see it in his mind’s eye — lifting Arthur out of the chair, pulling him close… The Tick’s antennae twitch about almost frantically. It is pure torment to imagine these things with Arthur so close.
Somehow, Tick manages a nod.
“Alright, then,” Artthur says. “Why don’t you?”
Tick’s eyes go wide. His muscles coil, ready to pounce. “Right now?” he whispers, glancing around conspiratorially.
Arthur’s blush amps up to 1,000. “N-No— Not. Not right now , Tick! We’re at AEGIS.” The tension does not leave the Tick’s body at the clarification. If not now, then when? How long must his patience stretch? It’s growing thin, no doubt, and Arthur can obviously tell, if the flustered look on his face is any indication. “Tick, can you please focus? I… I get it, b-but I really need you calm and collected, here, buddy.”
It’s a challenge, no doubt, but the Tick manages it, squeezing his eyes shut and forcing all thoughts of kissing out of his mind — or, at least, sweeping them towards the back where they won’t be so noisy. “Alright. Sorry about that, chum.” When the Tick opens his eyes again, Arthur’s expression has softened into something fond. The Tick feels his heartbeat stutter.
“It’s… It’s fine.” Arthur is steadying himself, too, his tentative confidence slowly but surely returning. “I should’ve been more clear. Guess I didn’t realize how, uh… How eager you were going to be.” Arthur’s talkative nature accompanies his confidence; he starts to babble, prompting the Tick listen closely. “What I meant to say— Well— Well, I was trying to ask, since you usually just do things without thinking about it — no offense. You’re not a look before you leap kind of guy. If you want to— wanted to kiss me, you know, what’s been stopping you? Or, I mean…”
Arthur keeps talking, but Tick stops listening. His antennae twitch so rapidly they’re practically vibrating.
What’s stopping him?
The Tick jolts. “Arthur?”
Pulled out of his rambling, Arthur shifts in his seat, blinking. “Yeah, Tick?”
It is rare that the Tick has to actively gather his courage, but he does so before he asks. “Do you want to kiss me ?”
It’s a vital question, one that the Tick has neglected to ask until now. He’d been so preoccupied trying to wrestle his own feelings into a shape he fully understood that he’d missed the far more daunting questions at play. Arthur had only kissed him one time, after all, and he seems so nervous now. What if he decided he didn’t like it? The thought makes the Tick’s stomach twist a bit, but the feeling dissipates when Arthur’s fond smile reappears.
“Yeah, Tick. I want to kiss you.” The relief is instant. The Tick isn’t sure what kind of expression is on his face, but whatever it is, it earns a giggle from Arthur. “But,” Arthur says, stifling his amusement, “It’s not just about kissing, is it?”
The Tick thinks about it for a moment, then shakes his head. “Not just kissing, chum,” he says. “Other things.” The Tick tries to lean even closer, but only succeeds in almost tipping his chair over. “I liked it,” the Tick explains, conspiratorial tone returning, “when you touched my knee. During movie night.”
It’s clear that Arthur remembers, if the embarrassment finding his way onto his face is any indication. “You noticed that?”
“Of course, fella!” The Tick can recall the memory with rare clarity, in fact. If he thinks about it, that’s where this all started — or, at the very least, when it first came to the Tick’s attention.
Arthur gets this look on his face, then, like he’s about to say something important. Always an exciting sight, at least for the Tick, who loves to listen to Arthur say important things. Alas, the Tick also recognizes the moment that Arthur remembers the pile of paperwork in front of him.
“Okay, Tick,” Arthur says, after a moment. “Go home ahead of me, okay? We’ll talk about this there.”
The Tick’s shoulders slouch. A further test of his patience. “Do I have to?”
“Yes, Tick.” Arthur sounds exasperated, but he hasn’t stopped smiling. The Tick unleashes an exaggerated sigh and gets to his feet. It would be a challenge, no doubt, but the Tick would push himself past any limit for Arthur, and he would do so with only a few complaints! The Tick would stretch his patience into eternity, if that’s what Arthur needed! Steeling himself for the journey ahead, the Tick turns on his heel and starts his march towards the door.
“Wait — hold on a second.”
The sound of Arthur’s voice has the Tick immediately spinning back around, only to let out an “Oh!” of surprise to see Arthur already right behind him. The Tick grins. “Forget something, chum?”
Even on his tip-toes it’s a stretch, but once Arthur gets his arms wound around the Tick’s neck it’s easy for Arthur to pull him into a kiss.
Arthur’s lips are as soft as Tick imagined. Maybe even softer.
It’s brief, just a soft brush of the lips before Arthur dropping back again, but the Tick can (reluctantly) admit that it’s for the best. Just that tiny contact has the Tick stumbling backwards a step, knocked off balance by the rush of emotions it prompts. Anything more and he really might have burst.
Arthur’s eyes go wide. “Tick—?”
The Tick bounces back with vigor. “Wowie zowie!” His hands clap down on Arthur’s shoulders, squeezing tight. “That nearly bowled me over, chum!”
Arthur’s face is flushed, but his smile is genuine and sweet. His hands return to the Tick’s neck, just caressing now. “I’ll see you at home, okay?”
“At home.” The Tick is smiling hard enough that it almost hurts. He gives Arthur’s shoulders another squeeze. “I will gather all of my patience and await your return.”
“Okay.” Arthur’s smile widens. There’s a glint in his eye that Tick will eventually learn is flirtatious, but even unnamed puts a spark of excitement in the air. “Hey, Tick?”
Arthur tilts his head up, just enough. “One more for the road?”
For a moment, Tick feels a kinship with damsels in old television programs, ready to swoon at a moment’s notice. Luckily, the Tick is of sturdier stock — he leans in for one last smooch. And, if he sneaks in a few extra kisses before finally departing, well, Arthur doesn’t complain.
In the end, it only takes a few hours for them to reunite at home. To Tick, it takes an eternity and a half.
They kiss for an hour.
More accurately, the Tick kisses Arthur for an hour. Intermittently Arthur would tap out and just lounge on the bed, catching his breath and cooling off. Tick, undeterred by this, continued the kissing during these breaks. He peppered kisses over Arthur’s soft wrists, the curve of Arthur’s cheeks, the shell of Arthur’s ear, the slope of Arthur’s neck. This last place tended to be last on his list, as the Tick would only get away with it for about a minute before Arthur would be wrestling him into a proper kiss again, ending his break.
Mostly, they kiss for an hour.
The Tick feels sure that he could have kept going for another hour, maybe three, maybe five, maybe however many hours were left in the day and then some more tomorrow — but Arthur’s stamina is not quite so bottomless as the Tick’s, and soon Arthur is desperately slapping at the Tick’s shoulders. Successfully brought to attention, the Tick dislodged himself from where he’d been memorizing the line of Arthur’s jaw with his lips. “Something wrong, chum?”
“N-No… Nothing wrong.” That’s enough assurance that the Tick nearly gets straight back to what he was doing, but Arthur catches him, hands darting out to grasp the Tick’s cheeks. Obedient, the Tick keeps his lips to himself and listens. “Tick,” Arthur says. “Let’s take a break for tonight, okay?”
The Tick feels an overwhelming urge to pout, but he contains it. “You’re right. Evil never sleeps. We still haven’t gone on patrol.” For once in his life (at least he can remember of it) the Tick doesn’t sound 100% thrilled at the prospect. Arthur doesn’t look excited either.
“No, dummy.” Arthur releases the Tick’s cheeks and, thrill of all thrills, cranes his neck to press a kiss to each one. The Tick’s eyes flutter shut. It’s one of dozens of kisses tonight, but each one threatens to knock him off balance as much as the first. “It’s like three in the morning. If evil needs our attention at this hour, AEGIS will call us.”
The Tick does pout a little at that — he’s not dead-set on trusting AEGIS so completely — but then Arthur is pulling him closer, and his concerns melt away. The Tick lets himself go boneless so Arthur can drag him where he wants him, which as it turns out is pressed right up against Arthur.
“I want to sleep, so…”
“Ah!” The Tick winds his arms around Arthur and pulls him closer. “You want to spoon!”
Arthur wiggles around to give the Tick a startled look. “N… Wh— Why do you know what that is?” The Tick opens his mouth to answer, but Arthur keeps on without him. “Nevermind. Um. Yeah, I do want to spoon, Tick.”
“Keen!” Tick declares, at volume that has Arthur wincing a little, but Arthur is smiling, too.
“But,” Arthur adds, “my point is, I want you to stay.” He hesitates for a moment, a blush rising to his cheeks as he considers his next words. He ducks his head, pressing his face against the Tick’s chest in an attempt to disguise it, but the Tick still notices. “No reason to be sleeping on the couch if we’re going to be, um. Together.”
“Because we’re romantic partners,” the Tick elaborates for him, feeling very helpful. (In the brief conversation they’d had before devolving into kissing, Arthur had presented a plethora of terminology to him, some of which the Tick only pretended to understand, but he’d liked partners the best.) He feels more than sees Arthur nod. “And you won’t kick me out this time?”
“No, Tick.” Arthur winds his arms around the Tick’s waist, gripping tightly. This isn’t spooning, but it’s nice, so Tick doesn’t point it out. “No more kicking you out.”
The burst of joy that erupts in the Tick’s chest at that is almost painful.
“I’ll stay,” Tick says, and it’s a promise.
Arthur gets to sleep for about an hour before the AEGIS alarm starts blaring.