Theo was really, really looking forward to his parents going back to Florida for the winter.
There were certain advantages to having them around. He didn’t need to open and close the place every day even if he often did, and he could take an afternoon off if he wanted to. Having two extra workers, even if he would only let them work in a limited capacity, was a massive help. Deon was working shorter hours while he was study for his GED, and Theo was happy to help him with the material. And Theo could make more time for Matt when Matt could make more time for him.
But then there was the other stuff.
He practically had to stand over his father and make sure he didn’t get too aggressive with the slicer and kick him out when he got tired. He listened to his mother ramble on about wedding stuff he wasn’t directly involved in, and honestly did not want to be involved in - if Foggy wanted his help, he would ask for it. There were constant dinners with his parents and Foggy that he couldn’t talk his way out of.
And of course, his mother wanted to talk to him about Matt.
When Theo left Hammer Industries and started working at the shop full time as a salaried employee, they drew up boundaries. Other than Sunday dinner, Theo’s attendance at his parents’ house was entirely optional, even though it was only a block away and Foggy was still in high school. When he was off the clock, he was off the clock , and that included family. His mother could talk his ear off while he was working, but at six he punched out and went to his own, adult life. And his romantic life - which at the time was fairly nonexistent - was completely off-limits. Occasionally she would “forget,” and ask about girls, or his father would make an off-handed comment, and Theo would dodge it, for multiple reasons. He was an independent adult no longer living with his parents or living off their money and he wanted a level of distance from being the kid who worked in the shop for pocket money, and they sort of respected that.
Fifteen years had passed, Theo came out, and Mom took that as the all-clear to ask him everything about Matt that could be asked without being something she didn’t want to know. And now she knew about Daredevil, and that just made it worse, because she had questions beyond what Matt and Foggy had agreed to tell her while Theo was in India.
“No. We shouldn’t even be discussing it,” he said. Repeatedly. “We could be nailed as accessories. Or hiding a fugitive. Or whatever.”
“Half of Hell’s Kitchen are accessories,” she said, which was only a slight exaggeration of a fact. Certainly not that many people knew who Daredevil was, but they were more than willing to cover for him. “They can’t bring us all in.”
“Mom, you’re too old to ride in a paddy wagon. And then you’ll be all alone in a women’s prison.”
“They’ll put me in a cell with Bess. I’ll be fine.”
Since Matt probably heard these conversations blocks away, he was never present for them. Foggy was the one who Theo ordered to lay the hammer down about discussing Matt’s illegal “ventures” (as Foggy put them, adding the obligatory ‘alleged’ in front of the description) and Mom finally listened, so that let up, but Foggy couldn’t help him with the other part of it.
“Have you talked about the future?” she asked.
“No,” he said firmly, even though it was a perfectly reasonable mom question. He was thirty-six. Fertility wasn’t exactly on the line here, but Foggy was getting married, and Theo could theoretically get married. “It’s like, a little more than a casual relationship.”
“That’s a long time for a casual relationship.” Even though she didn’t know precisely how long they’d been together. She didn’t even know it was his longest relationship, having now outlived the one with Ward.
“It’s not - it’s different for me, Mom,” he said. G-d, he did not want to go into it. “Maybe it’s not that casual. But the rules are different. They just are. And Matt’s - got his own thing. The thing we’re not discussing. It takes up a lot of his time.”
His mother frowned and said, “You should have someone who makes you a priority.”
That stung, because he knew it was true. But he couldn’t let her know that. “I don’t want to have this conversation now. I want to fill orders and start the new salami recipe, and then I want to go home.”
“Let the boy go,” his father finally offered as he came in from the back room. “He’s old enough to make his own decisions.”
“Okay,” Mom relented, though she gave Theo a look that clearly indicated that the conversation was not over.
Since Matt could always tell when Theo was frustrated, he asked about it, and Theo related some - but not all - of the conversation to him later that night.
“You’re the longest relationship I’ve ever had,” Matt said. “So I don’t know what to do, either.”
They were sitting on his bed with their backs against the headboard because that was the best place to sit in his apartment, rather than the tiny chairs at his tiny table.
“That was because your girlfriend tried to get you to murder someone.”
“And she died. Twice,” Matt said, even if he didn’t let it entirely bring the mood down. “When she came back to New York, the reason we were together a second time was because we fought crime together. And argued over it. It was nothing but conflict. Except for that time that she was unconscious in my bed. Or when I was unconscious on the floor of my living room.”
“She knocked you out in your own living room?”
He pointed to the spot where he had a scar he said was from an arrow. “Ninjas attacked both of us.”
“Oh, right. I get all of the ninja attacks mixed up.”
“We very rarely fought each other - other than by shouting. And sabotaging trials and careers. When I say it all out loud, I can see what Foggy might have been getting at when he said she was toxic.”
Theo couldn’t help it; he laughed. Disrespectful to Matt’s dead ex, he knew, but what other response could he have? And Matt didn’t mind. Or he was really good at hiding it.
“Your mother’s not entirely wrong,” Matt said. “You - “
“Matt, please, don’t start. Don’t tell me what I should do. That’s all I get all day,” Theo said. “If you want out for some stupid reason, I’m willing to listen and be upset about it. But I don’t. Can’t you just accept that I’m happy with you? Can’t I just be happy?”
Matt paused, shelving whatever he was going to say, and in a much softer voice, continued, “Of course you can. I just - wanted to make sure.”
Theo held Matt’s face to his so they would have been looking in each other’s eyes if Matt could do that, and said, “I. Am. Happy. With. You. And that’s all I want. I don’t care what anyone else has to say about it. Their opinions don’t matter.”
Matt took a second to digest that, as if he was debating whether to believe it. Then he said, “I got you something. I wasn’t sure when to give it to you.”
He rolled over and opened his duffle bag where he kept things he needed in the apartment. Theo barely had time to say, “You didn’t have to - “ before Matt returned to him with a box wrapped in newspaper.
Theo wondered why Matt owned a newspaper in the first place - maybe he bought it to use as wrapping paper - but he ceased his objections and unwrapped it. It was a plastic Cassio watch. With calculator.
“Fuck you,” he said. “This is perfect.” He hugged Matt as tightly as he could. “You are the best fucking boyfriend ever.”
“I aim to please.”
When Foggy stopped by the shop for a free sandwich, he was surprisingly unsympathetic. “You’re lucky. You’ve escaped years of this. Years.”
Theo glared at him. “There was a reason.”
“I’m not saying I think being in the closet was all fun and games. I get it. But Mom has been on me since junior prom about one girl or another. It’s in her blood. We must mate and produce grandchildren. Or adopt grandchildren. I think if one of us showed up tomorrow with a five-year-old she wouldn’t ask any questions. After the wedding, Marci’s gonna need a restraining order.” He was wiping his hands when Theo put a hard yellow block in his hands. “What’s this?”
“What do you care? Eat it.”
“I am a little discriminatory about putting food in my mouth!” Foggy said, even though it was a lie. “What is it?”
“It’s yak cheese. Kind of. The yak is the male of the animal. So it’s dri cheese. But it’s still labeled yak cheese because Americans don’t know better.” He returned to his cooking. “Now eat it and tell me what it tastes like.”
Foggy obeyed, popping it in his mouth. “Wow. This is really hard. This is like a rock. How am I supposed to eat this?”
“I think you’re supposed to suck on it,” Theo said. “It’s extremely high in fat so you should love it.”
“Where did you get this?”
Foggy stopped complaining and sucked on it for a few minutes. “Okay. This is pretty strange. It’s salty. I wouldn’t even guess it was cheese. Is this for Danny?”
“Who else would it be for?” There was only one person that Theo tried cooking elaborate new dishes for. He had the kitchen to himself because their parents went home for the day and the orders were done. “Now help me out by eating it. He’s payin’ the bills here.”
“Are things thing bad?”
“No, they’re okay,” Theo admitted. “I was afraid that people would find a new butcher because we were closed for a few weeks, it being Manhattan, but people are loyal. And we got some walk-in tourist people who thought it was a mob hit.”
“It was a hit. And this is a mob place. I told you play that up. You could be the Sparks of butcher shops.”
“Sparks is an overpriced tourist trap.”
“And they’re in business despite their crummy steaks,” Foggy said. “And how do you know they’re overpriced?”
“Believe it or not, people in the food industry talk to each other,” Theo said. “So what’s the texture?”
“Hard. Ridiculously hard. Are you sure you weren’t sold a chunk of salt that was dyed yellow?”
“Maybe there’s a reason Tibetan cuisine hasn’t taken off in the States,” Theo said, watching the veggies try on the pan. “Plus I can’t get all of the ingredients Danny describes, like petals from a lotus flower that only blooms once every thousand years and peaches that make you immortal.”
“Did you make that up?”
“The second one’s from Journey to the West ,” Theo admitted. “Maybe if I cut the cheese into tiny pieces? If I shred it?”
“Do you have a vibranium cheese grater? Ooh, I bet you could get Danny to buy you one.”
“I don’t even know if they make them.” And Theo thought a shopping trip to Wakanda would be an unreasonable request, even for Danny. He turned down the fire when he heard the door chimes and stepped into the front. Danny came in in a suit, so he must have just come from a business meeting, and Ward was similarly dressed because that was the way Ward was always dressed, only he wasn’t in bright orange sneakers.
“Hey,” Theo said, putting up a gloved hand to stop Danny from hugging him while he still had his apron on. “I’m a little behind. And Foggy thinks I got sold a chunk of rock salt.”
“Then you definitely got the right kind of cheese,” Danny said as Theo went around them and locked the front door. “It’s very distinct.”
Ward stood in the doorway, looking around. He had never come before, but Danny had texted last minute and said, Can Ward come? And what was Theo supposed to say? No? After all that Ward had done for him in the hospital?
“It’s a deli,” Theo said. “It’s not very interesting. It’s looked exactly the same for fifty years.” Except for all of the new glass paneling.
“Oh, yeah,” Ward said, collecting himself. “I just never thought I would be in here.”
“Oh. Right.” Well, that was a gut punch. To Danny’s questioning expression, Theo explained, “I didn’t tell my parents I was gay until last year. And only because Foggy convinced me to do it. Before that, I kept those lives - apart.”
“That’s sad,” Danny said, because yeah, it kind of was.
“That’s life,” Ward said, because Ward was past it. Hopefully.
They went into the back, where Foggy was collecting his things. “I think I broke a tooth! Congratulations, you found a cheese I won’t eat. Mom and Dad will be so proud.” He slapped Theo on the chest before leaving. He was going back to the office - they had court tomorrow and were staying up late to prepare.
“You’re supposed to suck on it!” Danny shouted. “Or put it in tea. With salt.”
“That’s absolutely disgusting,” Ward said. “That’s not what you’re serving, right? Because I will go right now, no offense to you.”
“I made regular food,” Theo said. The veggies and meats were cooked, but it was better to fashion momos and fry or boil them on the spot rather than have them sit. Plus Danny was still much faster and making them into decent shapes and he loved doing it. “I mean, considering.” He put the bowls out on the table in front of Danny with the dough. “If you haven’t seen him do this before, it is really impressive.”
“Thank you!” Danny, who never cared about ruining ties, dug right into the flour and started smoothing out the dough. “Theo says I could have been a chef.”
Ward looked at Theo and said, “This one is too easy. I’m just going to let it pass.”
“I couldn’t hack it in the business world either,” Theo said. “So tonight we have a vegetable dish and lamb.”
“I shouldn’t say this,” Danny said, having already finished ten perfectly-shaped momos, “but Ward is a much better vegetarian than I am.”
“That’s a low bar,” Ward replied, “considering you are only a vegetarian when you’re not actively eating.”
Theo was shocked. “You’re still a vegetarian?”
“I try to be,” Ward told him. “But you can’t go to a business meaning at a steakhouse and order a salad. That’s not a power move.”
“Please tell me you don’t eat at Sparks.”
“Of course we don’t eat at Sparks. We’re New Yorkers, not bridge-and-tunnel New Yorker wannabees. Damn, Danny, you are really good at that.”
“There’s a reason why I let him do it,” Theo explained. He started gathering finished momos for the pan.
Danny continued until he got a text. “Damnit! Colleen says she can’t make it.” He put his phone done and turned his attention to the last of the dough. “I think we’re starting to drift apart.”
“And here we go,” Ward said. “The relationship advice.”
“Who else am I supposed to talk to? You guys are my best friends. And Luke always seems busy.”
“Sometimes it just helps to listen,” Theo said. He didn’t know Colleen that well - she wasn’t close with Matt or Foggy because she didn’t need legal help and she was rarely in Hell’s Kitchen. “But I’m sure Luke would talk to you. Though the whole FBI might learn about your love life if you meet him in his office.”
“Why’s everyone acting like he’s a mob boss?” Danny asked. “If anything, we’re the real drug dealers here. Did you know we sold synthetic heroin?”
“Oh my G-d.” Ward put his face in his hands. “It was amazing . But Danny - what did I say about admitting to crimes committed by Rand when it was controlled by an ancient ninja group?”
“Allegedly,” Danny said. “Allegedly Rand was used as a shell corporation by an ancient ninja sect that I was destined to destroy to sell synthetic heroin. Which I’m told is very historically pertinent because it was the West that toppled China by selling them opium. So we’re basically even. And don’t change the subject.”
Theo got the hot sauces out of the box he kept them in. Some were normal ones, others he and Danny had made together after trying to follow recipes from memory. “Someone’s been reading up on their Western Civ. So - Colleen.”
“I think she likes Claire better than me. Which is okay, I guess? Only I don’t feel so okay about it. But I don’t want to be mean. I just thought we fell in love and then we would marry and then, I don’t know, move into the townhouse together and become divine consorts and achieve Enlightenment through Tantric union.”
“You said Tantra isn’t about sex.”
“Sometimes it’s about sex,” Danny corrected. “If you can orgasm in a woman without ejaculating, you attain instantaneous Enlightenment.”
“Wait, what?” Theo stopped in his tracks as the momos fried away on the pan. “How would you - How does that work?”
Danny shrugged. “It’s not easy to achieve instantaneous Enlightenment. But if you want to do it, that’s one way to do it.”
Theo looked at Ward, who said, “Don’t include me in this conversation. I want absolutely nothing to do with it.”
“Oh man.” Theo couldn’t blame him. “I - I have so many questions I don’t want to ask. Or know the answers to. But I can’t hold myself back. Does it have to be with a woman?”
“Of course. You need both the yab and yum energy,” Danny said. “But the woman’s more like a vessel? It’s not as progressive as people make it out to be. But a guy - that doesn’t even count. It’s not even sex unless it’s penetrative.”
Ward threw up his hands. “And I’m out! I’m tapping out of this!” He got up and pushed the door to the front open. “Call me back when you’re done with sex ed!”
And he really left and did not come back.
“I’m sure about this one,” Danny said. “It doesn’t count. It’s not sex.”
“I guess we’re doing this.” Theo went straight to the fridge, took out the open bottle of wine he was supposed to save for cooking, and drank straight from it. And he didn’t even like red wine that much. He just needed alcohol in his mouth right now. “Okay.” He took the pan off the fire and sat down across from Danny. “Okay.” He needed to build himself up to this. He had another swig of wine. It wasn’t terrible. Deep breath, Theo. “Any time that you - or someone else - touches genitals, it’s sexual. There’s no way around it. I don’t know how they do it in the immortal cities of heaven, but that’s how things go down here .”
“What if it’s a guy?”
“It doesn’t matter what gender! It’s sex!” Maybe that came out a little too harshly, because Danny looked horrified. “But - it’s also fine. As long as it involves consenting adults. Consenting adults .”
“But - “
“I don’t care if the Buddha doesn’t count it as sex,” Theo said. “It counts as sex.”
“Can we agree to disagree?”
“No. This is not negotiable as long as you’re stuck on earth with the rest of us. Now if you want to have a late sexuality crisis, go right ahead. It’s the quintessential American male experience. I’m sure I can get you some pamphlets.”
“Fuuuuuck.” Danny sunk into his chair.
“Did you cheat on Colleen by accident?”
“I did not cheat on Colleen by accident.” He put his face down on the table. “I need to think about this.”
Theo patted him on the shoulder. “Look, we’re all going through this life trying to figure ourselves out. If we knew everything, then we’d be Enlightened, right? You didn’t have to try to figure it out yourself by sneaking all the way to Astoria to buy yourself your first nudie mag, then be too terrified to open it for three days after facing down the cashier and telling him you were eighteen even though your voice was still cracking.” He finished off the bottle. “I’m sure I wasn’t the first gay kid who did that. He knew what was up. He slipped a brochure on safe sex into my bag. It was about the most embarrassing thing ever. Now do you want your momos before they’re burned?”
“Yes, please,” Danny said. “Thank you for not laughing at me.”
“Why would I laugh at you? This is serious shit.” He dumped the momos onto two separate plates, segregating the meat from the vegetarian offerings. “Can I call Ward back in?”
“Yes.” Danny still hadn’t picked his head off the table.
“ Ward! ” Theo shouted, then put the plates in front of Danny. “Do you feel better?”
“Um, a little.” Danny did start dumping considerable quantities of hot sauce onto the side of his plate in preparation for dipping. “Thanks for listening. And - can you not tell anyone?”
“I was in the closet for thirty-five years,” Theo said. “I know how to keep a secret.”
“This is really good,” was Matt’s assessment of the reheated momos later that night in Theo’s apartment. “You have a real talent for this.”
“They’re not too greasy?” He’d specifically made steamed ones for Matt, which Danny didn’t think were as good.
“There’s an acceptable amount of grease. You’re just going to get that with dumplings. Did you have any of this?”
“Before they went in the dough, yeah. There are vegan wonton wrappers in stores, but I haven’t bought any yet. I want to get the recipes down first.” He got himself a beer. “Don’t give any to Sadie - the meat’s too spicy.” His cat was waiting very patiently at Matt’s side. “Don’t look at him! You ate! I fed you.”
“I need her to keep liking me,” Matt said, “so she doesn’t try to get between us. How was dinner with Danny?”
“He was happy with the food. And he brought Ward, which was a little awkward because I basically forbade Ward from coming anywhere near Hell’s Kitchen when we were together. I said if he came into the shop I would hide in the back until he left. And he took that pretty well, I thought at the time. He respected boundaries.”
“He didn’t climb in through your window when you were half-asleep.”
Theo learned over and kissed Matt on the head. “But you’re so cute when you do it.”
His phone was going off constantly, mostly questions from Danny as well as some hilarious texts from Ward.
WHY IS DANNY HAVING A SEXUALITY CRISIS ON MY WATCH THEO
TELL ME WHY
You can handle this. You weren’t president of the LGBT alliance in college for nothing , he typed back.
It was nothing I joined that club to get laid
Theo laughed. “Sorry,” he said to Matt. “Private stuff. Can’t share. I promised.”
“Glad I can hear texts then.”
Theo paused in his typing. “You can do that?”
“I’m messing with you.”
“Fuck, don’t scare me like that. I need some privacy.” Theo typed, Need to go, tell Danny that Freud thought everyone is bi anyway .
I don’t know just tell him that. Theo set his phone aside. “Totally unrelated question - when did you realize you were into guys? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’m just curious.”
Matt swallowed the last of his meal before he answered the question. “When I was seventeen, this other kid in the orphanage asked if he could kiss me in the rectory. I was feeling particularly mad at G-d at that moment, so I said sure, why not? People didn’t come into contact with me very much and the porn people got through the student laptop filters didn’t do much for me, so I think I was more interested in the physical contact than that it was from a guy. So we kissed. And it was a first kiss, so we were both horrible at it, and we didn’t do it again after a couple of tries, and then he aged out of the orphanage. But it made me a lot more curious about other people’s bodies. I guess I figured, life had thrown enough at me, I was going to take what I could get. But after that, it was mostly girls. Especially after I started going to the university gym all the time.”
“Must have been a coincidence,” Theo said. “I’m sure dealing with it was harder than that, but you make it sound like figuring out your sexuality was easy.”
Matt shrugged. “I had other things on my mind. How the hell I was going to make it through college, through life, all that. So I may have been indiscriminate at times.”
“Be honest. How many people in the wedding party have you slept with?”
Matt needed a minute to fucking think about that. “There’s one person I’m not sure about, but it’s like, 75%, if we’re including bride and groom.” He refocused on Theo as he put his dishes in the sink. “But you’re the one who snagged me for real.”
“I fed you and gave you weed,” Theo said. “It was one of those. Or both.”
“You have some other admirable qualities,” Matt replied as he changed for bed. “My mom thinks you’re good for me.”
“Does everyone’s mom have to weigh in on us? Not that I don’t appreciate your mother’s approval. I guess. I’ve never been given that before.”
“Neither have I,” Matt said as he slid into bed, and Theo realized that while those opinions didn’t matter, and could even be frustrating, he would much rather have this, with Matt by his side, than anything else in the world.
Since Ward was still being a little bitch over text the next day - and Ward did not have a habit of doing that, or even messaging Theo directly - Theo decided to man up and talk to Danny again. It took a few days of dragging his feet to let Danny stew over things and sort out their schedules, partially because Danny did occasionally have to go to his big fancy job where he ran a company that employed and decided the fates of thousand and thousands of people, which was very hard for Theo to imagine him doing. Then Theo got a text from Luke.
Is it okay if I out you to Danny?
Pretty sure Danny is aware, thanks .
You know what I’m talking about.
It’s fine, Theo wrote back, and decided he needed to step in before Danny individually asked every person in the city what their thoughts were on the nature of human sexuality. Danny was kind of a high-maintenance guy, but he was a nice high maintenance guy who meant well and was probably going to pay for half of Foggy’s fucking wedding if Foggy gave him half the chance, so Theo offered to take him out for drinks after work at a bar where the drinks were decent but he knew he could afford them, because Danny shouldn’t have to pay for everything all the time.
“Did you know Luke used to own a bar in Hell’s Kitchen?” Danny said as he sat down across from him.
Theo, who was definitely not going to remain completely sober for long, said, “I think it was in his wife’s name? It’s where we met. And I think it’s how he met Jessica. You know, before he was the famous Luke Cage.”
Theo choked on his beer. “Who the hell calls him that?”
“Even he’s not sure how that one got started. I just know it’s on a lot of T-shirts and keychains.” Danny scrolled through his phone and brought up a picture of a souvenir stand full of doubtlessly bootleg Luke Cage and Daredevil paraphernalia. “I don’t make the cut.”
“You know, having a secret identity might not be a legally bad idea, and yes, I have been hanging out with lawyers too much, now that I think about it.”
“My shirts? With my tattoo on them?” He unbuttoned his collared shirt and pushed aside the tie just enough so Danny could see the undershirt with the dragon tattoo. “I had to have those made . Myself.”
“So hire a publicist.”
“Ward won’t let me.”
Theo decided not want to explain that Danny was an adult, and could do what he wanted with his own money, because Danny definitely knew that on some level. “Ward is looking out for you. He’s a good guy.”
“I know,” Danny said, sounding a little guilty about it. “I’m a huge hassle to him.”
“Trust me, Ward does not make time for people he does not care about,” Theo said. “He’s rich enough that he doesn’t have to do that.”
The one waiter in the place took Danny’s order. It was just a good enough bar that it had table service, and just enough of a dive to be affordable. Theo knew it well because it was a good place to meet Grindr dates in public and establish that neither of them were ax murderers or had lied too hideously on their profile about something important.
One of the really, really nice things about being in a relationship with Matt was that Theo no longer had to resort to a bar and an app for a night out. Or in.
“Did you tell Matt about - you know, everything?”
“What? No,” Theo said. “You said not to. Plus that shit is private. I’m not obligated to share everything I hear all day with him. It would be weird if I did. There is a thing called oversharing.”
“I’ve heard I do that.”
“You’ve had very interesting experiences and you want to talk about them,” Theo said, finishing off his first beer. “I brag about way less impressive stuff than punching dragons and melting sacred objects with my hand.”
“I’ve never heard you brag.”
“I’m a butcher and a chef and I haven’t eaten beef in eighteen years.”
Danny sipped his own beer when it arrived. He prefered microbrews. “That is impressive.”
“There’s some other stuff, records and whatnot, but I’m a gentleman,” he said. “And I am, technically speaking, a literal rocket scientist.”
“Is that what you did for Hammer Industries?”
“Fuck no, I just got high and filled out reports,” he said. “If they were drug testing like everybody does today, I wouldn’t have made it a month. Oh, and I’ve now met two Avengers, so - that’s cool. Wow, now that I say it out loud, my life is more interesting than I thought it was.”
Danny laughed. “Okay, you’re capable of bragging. Which it sounds like you deserve to do. But for the record, I never thought you were boring. I’ve always wondered why you put up with my shit. I mean, aside from the meat orders.”
“That’s what friends do. They put up with shit.” Theo also liked this place because they had good bowls of mixed nuts he could snack on so there was something else in his stomach. “Someone who’s not willing to do that is not your friend.”
Danny was smiling, but he looked down and said, “So please don’t tell anyone this - and I know you’re good for it - but I talked to Colleen. About stuff.”
“It’s complicated, but I think it’s okay. When we first got together, I thought we were going to be together forever because we loved each other. And we still love each other. But I’m not good at being there for her all the time. I do retreats, I do initiations, I have Rand stuff, I have Iron Fist stuff. And she’s got her own chi now and her own deal in Chinatown. And she has Claire. But we don’t want to break up, either. We decided we’re at a good level. It’s just not a level I thought people could be at. The rules for everything are really confusing. And now she’s like, so are you bi? And I don’t know the answer to that. Apparently, I have had sex with a bunch of guys. I just didn’t think it was sex and they didn’t think it was sex so I didn’t think about it. It was something you did to make being a monk less difficult.”
“You don’t have to label yourself,” Theo said. “Labels are only good if they’re helpful. They can give people a sense of who they are if they attach a label to themselves that comes from society. But it’s not obligatory. What happened in K‘un-Lun happened, and as long as everyone was consenting and you were all adults - “
“We were teenagers.”
“ - or the same age, then it’s fine. Nobody got hurt, and you didn’t do anything you didn’t want to do. Unless you did.”
Danny squirmed and waved his hand with the “iffy” gesture. “Sometimes I did things I didn’t really like, but it was like, ‘I’m helping out a pal, and I want to be cool. I want to be accepted.’ I was the one white kid. It was sort of an uphill battle. And to be clear, we weren’t kids. We were like, sixteen? Seventeen? Age is funny in K‘un-Lun. One kid was like a thousand, but he was grouped with us.”
Theo digested what he thought Danny was trying to tell him, or what Danny was unintentionally telling him. “When I got out of college, I was really on my own. No one knew I was gay except my college friends, and they were scattered by life, and I worked for my parents, and everyone I saw was either family or was basically family and had known me all my life, and none of them could ever find out I was gay. And this is before phones with apps, so it was either the internet, which was super sketchy, or sneak off to a bar with people I didn’t know, all of whom were older and more experienced than me. For a while it was just terrifying, even though almost everyone was nice to me, because they had been through what I was going through. My guard was up like, all the time. It was exhausting. When I did actually meet someone and start to trust them, I wanted them to like me, so I was accommodating. I did stuff I wasn’t interested in or didn’t enjoy. Looking back, there were definitely people who sized me up and knew they could take advantage of me. Who was I going to go to? My parents? The police?
“Nothing really serious happened, but eventually, this guy who was much older sat me down and was like, ‘You have to say no. You have to put up boundaries. It’s always okay to say no.’ I had figured out I was gay, but not really what I wanted out of sex or a relationship, and I needed to figure that out and it was going to take time, and in the meantime, I had to grow a pretty thick skin. By the time I met Ward, I was shocked by how nice he was. He respected all of my boundaries. He was a stand-up guy. Probably still is. That doesn’t seem like a thing that he would stop being.” He emptied another glass of beer. “So it was complicated. Sex, relationships, it’s all complicated. You’re tempted to look back and say, ‘I was a dumb shit’ or ‘I let that person take advantage of me because I was a fucking moron.’ But that can be very self-destructive. All you can do is your best. You did your best, and that’s how life turned out for you. Now I’m in a great relationship with a guy I didn’t even like very much until last year, even though I know this is going to end with his gruesome death by criminal or me kicking him out so I don’t have to go through my boyfriend’s gruesome death by criminal. I try not to think about it. Impermanence, right? Hell, I almost didn’t outlive him. He’s out there risking his life almost every night and I got shot by my own cousin. At work. That shit is crazy.”
“I’m glad you can laugh about it. Sort of.”
“Yeah, I’m almost there,” Theo admitted. “I know I just said a lot. I don’t know if any of it was helpful, but if you ever want to talk - I’m here. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too.”
Danny took a moment, and said, “Yes, it’s really helpful.”
“If you’re being honest with yourself and Colleen and you two - or three - are happy with what you’ve got going, you know, whatever works. Or you can go full monk again. We’ll miss you. Ward will probably be beside himself.”
“And you’ll have all that yak meat to use up,” Danny said. “Look - thank you to listening to me. This stuff is really embarrassing and I don’t have a lot of people I feel I can talk to about it.”
“Anytime,” Theo said. “I mean, not literally anytime. Please do not crawl through my window like Matt does.”
“Does he not know how to use doors?”
“I think he just likes to do it. It’s a Matt thing.”
“I think if I tried that on Colleen she would cut me in half. Literally. With her chi-loaded sword. She would feel bad about it later, but,” and he shrugged, “Rand’s advances in medical technology aren’t that good.”
Theo laughed with Danny. He hadn’t wanted to do this - he never imagined himself as the responsible guy - but he was glad he did. Danny wasn’t a blushing teenager - Theo was pretty sure he was something like thirty - but even after two years in New York, sort of running a billion-dollar company, and flying around the world to fight ninjas and banish demons, he still had a sheen of curiosity and newness to him. Theo could see why Ward wanted to protect that, because Ward, despite being in deep denial about it, was a good guy.
“Couldn’t you stop her sword with your fist?” he asked.
“Uh, I think that would cause some kind of explosion, two chis meeting. And I can only afford to blow up so many of my own buildings.”
“The insurance company is going to get suspicious after like - how many is it now?”
“Depends on how you count. Minimum, three. But only one of them was like, gutted. The rest were more like minor fires. They only took out floors.”
Theo snorted into his beer. “Are all Iron Fists like you?”
“I’ve been told I am the worst.”
“Awww,” Theo said between giggles. “I’m sure you’re a great Iron Fist.”
Danny finally look a long gulp of his own drink. “No one’s ever said that before.”
“Are there any other living Iron Fists to compare you to?”
“I don’t think so. Shou-Lao’s pretty selective about who he lets approach his cave. Unless you catch him while he’s sleeping.”
“You totally did that, didn’t you?”
Danny grinned. “Maybe.” He looked at Theo, who glared at him. “What? Dragons are scary!”
“Oh, you weren’t pals up to this?”
“No! I don’t speak dragon!”
Theo nearly choked on his beer and decided that yes, this was worth it.