It was an odd thing to be said, that Steve found himself developing crushes on people only after they ended up kicking his ass, and he would have been vehemently in denial should it have only happened once in his life.
But it didn’t.
It happened three times.
He wasn’t a masochist or anything, he didn’t really want to get hurt by them after that initial confrontation. But it kept happening where he would find himself with a crush on someone only after they kicked his ass. It happened with Jim after he broke Steve’s tooth, it happened with Aja after she kicked his lights out, and it happened with Toby after he accidentally nailed Steve with his hammer and sent him flying.
Three times was a weird, undeniable proof for him to have.
Unfortunately these little crushes never really went anywhere far. He dated Aja for a bit, but then she left for her home planet, and then he dated Toby for a bit, but they decided it was better that they just remain friends. The only person he didn’t really have a relationship with past the initial small crush was Jim.
The timing was off, Steve was still an enormous tool when he first developed the crush, and there was the fact that Jim’s attentions were very much elsewhere at the time. Though, of course, the biggest blocker for Steve’s crush not developing into a relationship was Steve’s blatant denial that he even had a crush on Jim to begin with. He wasn’t sure how to address the feelings at the time that they happened, having never had such feelings for another guy before and very much not having a healthy outlet for any of his feelings at the time. Toby was the one to help him come to terms with the fact that he liked both men and women, the one that helped him realize that his feelings for Jim before were actual romantic feelings.
Helped him realize that the reason he couldn’t quite stop staring at pictures of Jim as a half-troll (as it was explained) was because Steve found him irrevocably hot.
That was an… interesting revelation.
Figuring out that he was attracted to trolls was something he never really thought he’d get to know about himself. Well, not all trolls, there were a lot of ugly trolls, but there was something about that pink troll he saw and about Jim that he found attractive.
Something about Jim that he found very attractive as a troll.
He hadn’t thought much about it upon first seeing Jim in those quick glances, there were more pressing issues on his mind at the time, but it was later, when he saw the pictures that Jim or Claire occasionally sent Toby. Poorly aimed selfies from Jim with weird troll shit going on in the background that Toby would describe to Steve, and the far more interesting pictures that Claire would catch of him cooking, working, talking with some trolls, and sometimes even lounging around. She had an eye for photography, and knew how to frame Jim in attractive lights that didn’t help Steve’s thoughts in the slightest. He wasn’t able to keep any of these pictures, unable to find a way to ask for them from Toby in a way that didn’t sound creepy, but occasionally Toby would send him some unprompted (mostly of Jim looking or doing something ridiculous), so Steve would take those snippets and use his memory and imagination.
It had been years since he had seen Jim and yet somehow these old feelings for him hadn’t quite dwelled.
They should, he thought, they absolutely should have by now. It had been years, he barely knew Jim as he was now, and Jim didn’t really know him as he was now, he only knew a ghost of Steve.
Maybe it was all superficial, Steve’s remaining “feelings” really weren’t that, but this feeling of general sexual attraction that muddled themselves up with his old crush. He wasn’t quite sure, all he knew was that there was a nervous excitement that fluttered through him when he heard that Jim was coming back to visit Arcadia.
New spread of Jim’s return quickly.
Though, it always did, at least among their friend group. Trolls were common knowledge about Arcadia despite there only being two left in Arcadia, but Jim was less common knowledge. There was an awkward in-between phase, following the Eternal Night, when knowledge of Trolls was being passed around in a rumourous way. Jim was declared as a missing person, as no one knew how to address his sudden disappearance and information about his transformation was limited to those who knew him closely. Eventually things cleared, the existence of trolls was properly addressed and Jim’s “disappearance” was explained and he was undeclared missing, but it still was only to a smaller circle of people who actually knew what happened as opposed to the whole of Arcadia.
Somehow Steve managed to be in that circle of people, though his knowing didn’t feel warranted as he and Jim barely talked following his leaving Arcadia, they barely talked even before then. The fact that Jim trusted him enough with the knowledge of trolls before they became common knowledge when they had such a rocky relationship (or lack thereof) was baffling still to Steve. Jim hadn’t called any one else, he had called Steve.
Maybe Jim’s trust in him was why Steve still had some deep-down feelings.
He wasn’t sure, but he was sure that news of Jim’s visit to Arcadia made him nervous and excited and a million other things now. This was the first time Jim was visiting Arcadia since Steve had returned from college. Somehow, Jim’s visits home had always managed to miss Steve’s visits home, always coming in the middle of the semester when he was too busy with classes and classes and hell to make the trip two towns over to spend time at home.
Now he and Jim would be in the same town for the first time in years.
He shouldn’t really feel anything about it, the chances of him actually seeing Jim in town were probably pretty slim. Their friend group wasn’t planning any kind of meetup (or at least, it was a close-friends only situation), and he wasn’t going to try and plan any meetup with Jim himself, they weren’t that close.
It was 3 am, that’s when he closed the office for end of his shift. He liked working at night, it was quiet, there weren’t too many issues that would arise in the middle of the night, but when they did, they were always interesting ones. This was technically his “evening”, and he strolled over to the little 24-hour convenience shop to grab a couple of things before making his way back home to his little apartment.
The cashier greeted him casually, they usually had the same work schedule, with the cashier’s going until 5 am, and had since come to recognize each other. Steve picked up what he needed and gave a farewell before making his way back home, relishing in the cool night air. There usually wasn’t anyone out and about at this time of night, save for a few drunks on weekends or holidays, Arcadia never had much of a night life, so Steve never really thought twice about watching where he was going. Needless to say, it was a shock smashing into someone as he rounded a corner.
It felt like ramming into a brick house, and considering some of crazy shit Steve’s done before, he actually knew what that felt like.
The other barely moved from the collision but made a startled noise as Steve stumbled back, his bag from the convenience store swung with a sharp motion on his arm, but luckily he didn’t drop anything.
“Shit, sorry,” he mumbled, grabbing his head as the other responded with a similar apology.
He shook the ache from his head and looked up at the person he ran into.
They were blue.
They were a troll.
Wait, it was Jim.
Steve couldn’t hide his surprise at actually having run into Jim, the chances were next to none and yet, here he was, standing right in front of Steve.
And still very handsome.
It was something else seeing him in person after so much time, or even since the last whatever picture he had happened to see Jim in. His hair was longer, like Steve’s, but messier, his eyes were still this brilliant, vibrant blue, he was a wild hodge-podge of familiarity and unfamiliarity.
“Jim,” he managed to say, not at all hiding his surprise.
Jim blinked at him for a moment before he smiled in recognition, “Steve, it’s nice to see you.”
Steve felt himself blank at the smile, the smile and the phrase was so genuine and Steve couldn’t help but feel some weird excited trill because it was meant for him.
“It’s nice to see you too!” Steve replied, a little rushed out, actually facing Jim made him suddenly feel that myriad of feelings that started from the first mention of Jim’s return, “S-sorry to run into you there-”
“Oh, no-no, it’s okay,” Jim reassured with his hand up in a placating manner, Steve remembered Toby mentioning that one of Jim’s hand’s only had four fingers on it now, it couldn’t really be seen in pictures well, but this wasn’t the hand, “I should have payed attention to where I was going.”
“Me too, I’m just not used to other people being out at this time of night,” Steve explained.
Shit, he said “other people”, was that insensitive to Jim? Since he wasn’t completely a person now? Did trolls have some kind of phrase they sued to refer to each other? Did they just use troll? Steve didn’t kno-
“Yeah, there’s usually no one out and about at this hour,” Jim said, seeming unperturbed by the words, Jim snorted, “Unless you’re in Trollmarket, this is like, late afternoon for Trolls,” he smiled and shook his head, looking at Steve once again, “What are you doing out here this time of night?”
“Oh, I just got off work,” Steve explained, “I work the night shift. What are you doing out?”
Because Steve knew he didn’t have the excuse of work, and more importantly his mother’s house (where he was staying), was at the other end of Arcadia.
“Going out for a walk,” Jim shrugged, he glanced around with a lazy look in his eyes, “Just taking a breather, and seeing how Arcadia has changed.”
Steve nodded, glancing around with Jim, the changes were harder to notice since Steve had watched them happen and was more accustomed to them, but he saw little things. Shops that had changed out for others, an old statue that was taken out during the event and was now replaced with a different one, the street they were on was an older one that usually had a number of cracks and potholes, it had been recently ripped out and repaved. Were these the differences Jim was referring to? Steve wasn’t quite sure.
“It’s rather lonely,” Steve said, glancing back to Jim, “Being out here all on your own.”
Jim hummed and tilted his head.
“I don’t mind it,” Jim said, “I don’t often get much time to be one my own with being the Trollhunter, and coming home to visit often means seeing a bunch of people and spending as much time as you can catching up. But it’s good to always put in a little breather.”
Steve nodded, personally, he liked being around people more often than not, but that was just him. Though, at the moment, he found that he really just wanted to collapse at home now.
“It was nice running into you,” Steve said with a small smile, “I’ve gotta head home now, though.”
“…Do you mind if I walk you there?” Jim asked seemingly out of the blue.
“But you just said-”
“I know what I said,” Jim shook his head, “But I can also change my mind if I want.”
Steve blinked, unsure how to respond to that, but it was all just as well.
“Sure, I’m in the opposite direction,” Steve pointed to behind Jim, who turned to stand next to Steve and face the same direction as him.
They matched each other’s paces easily, and despite Steve’s welcoming the company, his nervousness crawled back with each moment of silence. Was he expected to invite Jim into his home once they got there? Sure his place wasn’t messy, but he wasn’t exactly expecting to have visitors today.
He kept stealing glances over at Jim as they walk, painfully unsure of what to say given the circumstances and desperately just wanting to stare at him. It’s so different seeing Jim face to face as opposed to just in pictures, Steve found himself more nervous. Jim could stare back at him like this, and he did.
“So how have you been?” Jim asked, it’s relaxed, almost familiar, like two friends catching up after some time.
“I’ve been good for the most part,” Steve answered, a small smile on his face, something in him was glad by Jim’s calm demeanor, that he held no ill will towards Steve even after all those years, “Living on my own and working mostly… nothing glamorous to write home about, but it’s steady,” Jim nodded along, but Steve found himself feeling silly in that moment, how boring his life must appear to Jim who lived with Trolls on the other end of the country, “How have you been?”
“Tired,” Jim said with a lazy smile, he seemed almost amused by the word, “I’m a problem solver, essentially, and you’d be surprised by how many menial little problems trolls will come up with every day,” he let out a breath of air and shook his head, that amused smile still on his face, “It’s ‘steady’ too though, which, considering how things have been in the past, is a good thing.”
Steve nodded, a quiet “that’s good to hear” came from him.
Silence settled over them, the rhythmic padding of Steve’s loafers and Jim’s flip flops being the only distinguishable sound between them.
“What’s it like living with trolls?” Steve suddenly asked, “What’s it like being-”
Steve stopped himself with wide eyes once he realized what he said, his leg stopping mid-step.
“Being a troll?” Jim finished, he turned back to face Steve, now one step ahead of him since he froze. The smile still remained on his face, and he didn’t look at all perturbed by the question but that didn’t stop the mortified feeling from crawling through Steve.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to ask that, a-and I know it’s a really personal question, so you obviously don’t have to answer if you don’t want to!” The words spilled out of Steve’s mouth as he tried to look anywhere but at Jim.
Jim just laughed, this wonderful deep sound that Steve couldn’t help but find lovely. He finally braved himself enough to look at Jim and watched the way his shoulders bounce as he raised his hand to half cover his smile. Jim was, so handsome.
“I-knngh,” Jim waved his hand to get rid of his laughter so he can talk, “I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just so different seeing you like this,” Jim shook his head with closed lipped smile and a little scrunch of his nose, “You’ve really changed.”
The words hit Steve in a weird way. He wasn’t bothered by them, but they felt very… weird.
“I mean…” Steve began, his voice a lot softer now. He looked to the side, still flustered from everything, “I should hope so, considering how I was before.”
He glanced back at Jim for just enough of a second to catch the way Jim’s eyes suddenly widened.
“O-oh, no, I meant,” Jim stuttered as Steve tried to wave it off and reassure him that it was okay, “I-I mean, you know people always change, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen you, and, well, it’s one thing to hear from Tobes how you’d changed, but um, you know, to actually see it…”
They both trail off into an awkward silence.
“I-I get it,” Steve tilted his head and started walking again, Jim followed along and easily met his pace once again, “It has been a while since we’ve seen each other,” Steve looked Jim up and down from the side of his eye.
Jim caught the look and nodded.
“It was kinda odd, hearing from Tobes how you two started being friendly and all that, it… it was rather unexpected,” Jim explained.
“It was very circumstantial at first,” Steve nodded along, “I don’t think we expected it either.”
“Trolls take a long time to change,” Jim said, a small smile returning to his lips, “They’re stubborn, and old, I think I’ve gotten a bit too used to it.”
Jim laughed lightly, and Steve laughed with him.
“I guess also, since I never saw any of it, only heard about how you were,” Jim continued.
“It’s a very… ‘seeing is believing’ kind of situation,” Steve finished.
“Yeah,” Jim said softly, relaxed once again.
“I get it,” Steve repeated, he saw his apartment building not far ahead, they were getting close, “You know, I heard about what happened, and like, Toby showed me pictures and everything… but it’s different seeing you up close, you know? And getting to actually talk to you.”
Steve slowed as he approached the entrance to his building, Jim mimicked the pace.
“The blue stone skin, the horns, the teeth,” Jim said, pointing out his features, he scratched the back of his neck as they silently stopped in front of the door to Steve’s building, “I get that I’m kinda weird looking to those that aren’t used to it.”
Steve didn’t hesitate.
“I think you’re kind of hot.”
He froze the moment he said it, eyes widening as he stared at Jim, who could only stare back at him.
He did not mean to say that out loud.
“WeLL loOK At ThAT, I’vE gOTtA gO!”
Steve rushed past Jim before he could say anything and tried to open the door as fast as he could without seeming like he was running away.
He practically sprinted up the stairs once inside the main building and no longer able to be seen by Jim, each step repeating the stupid thing he said over and over until he reached his floor. He jammed his key into his apartment door once he reached it and didn’t manage to breath until he was safely inside the confines of his home. He leaned his back on the door and slid down it with his hands on his face until he was sitting on the ground, his bag from the convenience store still around his arm and tapping against the ground.
Dear god, why did he say that out loud?
He lightly smacked his cheeks to calm down and glanced at a nearby clock, it was only 3:30 or so, but it was late, it was the end of the night for him and he had worked a full shift after a very long week.
That must have been it, he was tired, he got weird when he was tired.
It seemed reasonable, he’d down plenty of weird things and said plenty of stupid things in the late of the night when he was exhausted, that had to be it.
He slowly lowered his arms to the ground and stared up at the ceiling.
That could have gone better.
He shook his head and pulled himself off the ground, it could have gone worse too, he tried to assure himself. It was rather nice at first, talking with Jim. If only he hadn’t opened his big stupid mouth, they might have had a bit more time.
He should be asleep by now, it was late, late, or early, the sun was going to rise in an hour or so regardless. Sure, Steve didn’t have work tomorrow, so he didn’t have to worry about waking up in time, but he should be asleep. And yet, here he was, rolling around in his bed, awake in a derange way… thinking about Jim.
In particular, he was staring at his phone, thinking about texting Jim. Whether he wanted to try and explain his embarrassing blunder or just talk to Jim more, he wasn’t certain.
Hell, Steve wasn’t even sure if the number he had for Jim was still valid, they had never texted each other outside of that occurrence with bringing the trolls the umbrellas.
Something he only remembered right now because he was staring right at the text. It was a simple text, just a location on where to find them. That was it, the only thing they ever texted each other, even after their odd bonding with the haphazardly titled “wreckless club” that unfortunately quickly dissolved after their initial day together with the more pertinent issues of whatever Jim, Toby, and Claire were dealing with in regards to trolls. They never even texted each other otherwise.
Put your fucking phone down, Steve mentally chided himself as his thumbs hovered over the keyboard.
He should say something.
He shouldn’t say anything.
He started typing.
“Hey, this is Steve. Is this still Jim’s number?”
His thumb hits the “send” button before he has a moment to psych himself out and delete the message.
Oh god, what had he done?
Steve slowly put his phone on his bed with the screen facing down. His brain went blank for a moment as he thought about what he did before flipping around to face away from his phone.
This was dumb, this was so dumb. He was acting like some giddy teenager, and for what? To likely get a message back (at a more reasonable fucking hour) that somebody else was using that number now?
There was a beat as Steve dwelled in his thoughts before the phone suddenly chimed. Steve flipped around wildly to check it, grabbing the device so hard he nearly yanked it out of its charger.
Nobody would be texting back at this god forsaken hour.
Nobody except for Jim.
A little sideways smiley face answered him.
Fuck that was adorable.
Another message showed up on the screen quickly after.
“Yes, this still Jim.”
Somehow, Steve found a small smile pulling at the edge of his lips, it quickly went away as he thought of what to type next. Should he try to explain himself? Or act like his dumb comment never happened?
“It was nice getting to see you”
“Do you want to meet up some time while you’re in town?”
Steve hesitated to send that message.
That was too forward. And if he sent it after telling Jim he was hot to his face? He’d seem…
Steve deleted it.
Another message from Jim popped up before Steve could start typing again.
“It was nice getting to see you too” followed by a little smirk emoji.
WHAT DID THAT MEAN?!
Steve didn’t get to dwell on the little smirk emoji before another message from Jim popped up.
“I liked learning that apparently you think I’m hot”
JUST LEAVE HIM BE.
“PLEASE forget you heard that” Steve desperately typed to Jim.
He stared as three little dots bounced on the screen, worriedly waiting for Jim’s response.
“Do you not want me to know that you think I’m hot?” Followed by another smirk emoji.
Was Jim flirting?
Was that what those little smirks meant?!
Steve’s social illiteracy be dammed, what the hell did that mean?!
“Do you want to know that I think you’re hot?” Steve wrote back. The text seeming cool and collected and not at all conveying just how much he was internally screaming.
There was barely any pause.
“If it helps, I think you’re hot too”
That was not what he was expecting to receive from Jim.
His thumbs hovered over the keyboard once again as he thought about to fucking address the fact that Jim thought that he was hot. Everything that came to mind seemed like a stupid reaction. Probably, the appropriate thing would be to flirt back, but by god, Steve did not for the life of him know how to do that. How he had managed to date at least two people before now was an absolute mystery to him. He typed out his invitation again.
“Do you want to meet up some time while you’re in town?”
Was that too forward? Too desperate?
Steve’s thumb was too close to his screen and he accidentally brushed the “send” button.
It’s going anyways.
Steve put his phone done facing the bed once again and stared at the back of his phone.
That was desperate.
That was stupid.
Jim was here to catch up with people he cared about, his mother, his friends, he had said so himself. The chance that he had even run into Steve was next to none, Jim wouldn’t have time in his visit to try and cram some- probably awkward- catch up conversation, even if he did apparently think that Steve was hot.
His phone chimed once again, breaking Steve from his thoughts. He reached out for it but his hand hovered over the phone for just a moment, rejection wasn’t something he was too worried about, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t ever experience it before, but… it’s possibility made him pause.
…Fuck, he wouldn’t actually know if he didn’t look. Steve grabbed the phone and checked the message.
Another sideways smiley face, “I wouldn’t mind that.”
Another message showed up before Steve could write anything back.
“I can’t go out in the sun though, so we’d have to meet up sometime in the evening, and I know most places would be closed…”
Not to mention that Jim couldn’t really go out in public much as he was.
“You could come over to my place for coffee?” Steve typed, the idea of having Jim over in his home sent a weird excited and nervous feeling through him, and he almost didn’t send it. But they were planning, Steve would have time to prepare, to clean, to try and show Jim his best self. He sent the message.
The dots popped up quickly after the message, another sideways smiley face replaced them before they came up once again. Steve felt an unexpected relief go through him, as if he was expecting Jim to say no for some reason even though he had already accepted the invitation to spent time with Steve in the first place.
“I like that idea. I’ll be here for the next week and a half, what day would you want to meet?”
Steve thought of his free days, there was tomorrow, of course, but that seemed too soon, again too desperate. His schedule was weird, he had the one day off, and then another five day work week before he got a proper weekend, but he would be busy next weekend with daytime errands and the fucking doctor’s appointment he had to schedule nearly two months ahead for, and then it was another work week. He didn’t have another time to do it aside from tomorrow, or a really uncomfortable speed meeting that somehow didn’t feel appropriate. Steve couldn’t deny that he wanted to spend more than some 10 minutes with Jim…
Fuck appearing desperate, it was just coffee.
“I’m free tomorrow night if you want” send.
The little dots barely have a moment to show up and bounce before Jim’s message came through, “Tomorrow sounds great”.
Steve found himself grinning like an idiot at his phone.
He was going to see Jim tomorrow.
Dread quickly made it’s way through as well.
Oh god, he was going to see Jim tomorrow.
Another message showed up before he could dwell on it much longer.
He typed quickly, wanting to know what time Jim would actually be available for before he accidentally schedules a time the coincides with something else Jim might have and would cut their meeting short. He doesn’t expect them to spend the whole night together, but again, he wants… He wants a fair share of time with Jim. He’s not sure why he wants this, but he does.
“I’m free all of tomorrow, so if you have a preferred time that doesn’t interfere with previous engagements, I’m good.”
That sounded nonchalant enough, right? No, it was ungodly formal for some reason, why couldn't he type like a normal person would?
“I’m free all of tomorrow too! Can I come over around 8?”
About an hour after sunset, that seemed like a good time, it left plenty of buffer before for Steve to clean up his apartment before Jim arrived and plenty of time after to enjoy themselves without having things to do.
“That works for me!” Even though he’s trying to match Jim’s energy with the exclamation point, it felt too excited when he used it, “Is there a certain kind of coffee you like?” If he’s going to have Jim over for coffee, he should at least be a courteous host and get something Jim would like as opposed to Steve’s typical, cheap-as-fuck instant coffee he has. Maybe he should get some kind of snack item too?
“I can’t drink any coffee aside from black nowadays,” an upside-down smiley face emoji, Steve felt his mouth twist, he couldn’t handle black coffee, it was far too strong for him, “If you could just get something that feels like a punch in the gut, that should be good.”
Steve mentally went through a number of absurdly strong coffees he happened to know others drank, recalling some coffee-extra expresso monstrosity Mary drank during one of their senior finals, and the multitude of other terribly strong coffees Steve became vaguely aware that others drank during his hellish years in College. Jim never seemed like much of the one for terribly strong coffee, and what did he mean that he couldn’t drink anything aside from black coffee? Had his tolerance really gotten so strong that it was the only thing to work for him-
Fuck, it was only then that Steve remembered Toby telling him that trolls ate different things than humans did. That they couldn’t even eat most food people did, was that applicable to Jim?
“WAIT, can you even drink coffee or eat most foods???” He sent the message before he could wonder whether or not his phrasing was insensitive.
More upside-down smiley face emojis showed up.
“Kind of?” Steve sent back just as quickly, the text unable to convey the weird tone as he whispered the words aloud to himself.
The little dots bounced again as Jim typed.
“I can eat some regular foods, and some troll foods, which is a nightmare too cook for.” Steve blinked at that, as far as he had seen with AAARRRGGHH, most troll foods didn’t even need to be cooked, or were even food if he said so himself. Another message popped up, “And I can drink coffee so long as it’s black. Just get something horribly strong and it should be more than okay for me.”
Well there went Steve’s snack idea.
“I’ll see tomorrow at 8!”
Steve felt another smile pull at his lips, this time accompanied by a warm, if somewhat nervous, feeling pooling in his stomach.
“See you tomorrow”
He put the phone away and curled deep into his comforter.
See you tomorrow.