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Red Apples, Green Apples

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Of course, of course, Geoff had to leave for a convention on the other side of the damn country right when Gavin needed him the most.

They had seen him off at the airport, hugging and kissing him goodbye at the check-in. Gavin began to notice something was wrong when he had gone to hug Geoff and felt the first few tell-tale feathers shifting, ready to fall in preparation for the first stages of his moulting period.

He grimaced.

Birds moulted. Bloody fact of life right there, no one needed to watch National Geographic to know that. But what he was pretty sure the others didn’t know was that it wasn’t just a simple matter of shedding a few feathers. God, he wished.

No, it was like - the crappiest fortnight of his life, twice a damn year. Nothing but feeling moody and stressed for no reason, in a state of constant discomfort. Out of sorts and high strung for, to the outside eye, no explicable reason.

Geoff knew about the issue. That was sort of inevitable, considering for some years they’d been the only ones living together, and he had naturally been a bit alarmed when he woke up one morning to find enough feathers floating around to stuff about fifty damn pillows.

Having been reassured that Gavin was not dying, he’d taken it in stride, and over the number of years they’d lived together he’d quickly adapted to the other changes; the moodiness and the crankiness and the pulling away. By this point he knew how to give Gavin enough space without making him feel like he was alone, understood not to get offended if he was snapped at or pushed away.

But the chance had never really come up to explain about it to the other boys. He hadn’t had a moult since their relationship formed in its entirety - and given that they’d only just moved in together, certainly never when living with them.

Still, Gavin assumed they knew about it - he and Geoff had mentioned it offhand a number of times, in Let’s Plays or around the office with the appropriate number of ‘time of the month’ jokes.

But it was still a little nerve wracking to realise that he was about to go through this for the first time with them, after having just moved house, without Geoff there as a buffer. All he could do was hope this ended up being a quick one.

They were in the car, the five of them, and Gavin was beginning to squirm uncomfortably in his seat in the back. Jack was driving, and Ryan had claimed shotgun despite both Michael and Ray calling it long before. Gavin was sitting behind the driver’s seat, Ray was in the middle and Michael was on the other side.

His wings had to be bound down under his shirt in the car, otherwise he would end up hitting someone in the face or obstructing the driver’s view, so it was simply safer to keep them bound. However, by doing so, his wings now felt extremely uncomfortable. He could feel every misplaced feather but he was unable to fix it, and it was driving him absolutely mad.

Ray began to notice when Gavin started to pull at his shirt, even reaching under it at some points in a desperate attempt to fix some of the feathers. However, the second he tried to rearrange them, they fell out into his hands, and he grumbled something under his breath about stupid bloody feathers before messily stuffing them into the pocket of his shorts.

Ray put a hand on Gavin’s knee when he began to bounce it and looked at him worriedly. Gavin wondered if he should tell them, figuring he should probably warn them about the whole onslaught of feathers that were about to fill up basically every room he stepped into, but before he could open his mouth Jack pulled the car to a halt in front of their house.

It was still strange to Gavin, the idea that finally they had all moved in together after spending so long separated by apartments and other houses. While he was more fortunate than the others to have already been living with someone else in their relationship, moving in with the other four was still a big change and he knew it would take a while for all of them to properly adjust to it.

He was eager to get out and stretch his wings, to go inside and preen them to try and get rid of some of the uncomfortableness. Maybe he could even ask Jack to help him.

He grabbed the house keys out of Jack’s hands and pretty much ran to the door, the uncomfortable feeling increasing by the minute as his wings shifted under his shirt. He compared it to when someone had to piss pretty badly during the car ride home, but those few seconds from the car to the toilet were almost painful.

By the time the others had walked through the door, he was already in the bathroom, stripping off his shirt and flexing his wings. He knew that the uncomfortable feeling was only in its beginning stages, that it would become extremely painful in a day or so, but it still absolutely sucked.

He shut the door, not wanting the feathers to start flying out. His best chance at keeping them contained for now was to seal off a room and sort through them in there to make sure none escaped and started going all over the house. He knew it would probably annoy or worry his boys if they started seeing the bloody things floating around everywhere.

He began to preen, carding his fingers through the feathers and laying them smooth, pulling out any loose or detached ones. Making sure they were neat and lying flat would make it easier for them to fall out once the moult began in earnest, causing him far less pain and grief.

By the time he had gone through most of his feathers, a good majority were already covering the floor and lying in the bath and sink, but he managed to gather them all up and place them in a plastic bag.

Before putting the bag in the rubbish he went and threw the shirt he was previously wearing into the washing machine and took a custom shirt from his drawer, one that allowed him to have his wings out, as there were specially-made holes in the back for winged hybrids.

He hoped that the preening had gotten most of the loose feathers and that there would be almost none falling out. When he went to put the plastic bag in the rubbish bin, Jack came up behind him.

Jack was always careful to make sure that his footsteps could be heard so that anyone in front of him wouldn’t be surprised when he came up behind them. It was more of a precaution for Ray, who got pretty twitchy at anyone sneaking up on him, but Gavin found it was pretty comforting to him as well.

Sometimes none of them could help it when their animal instincts took control, and the one time Jack had managed to sneak up behind him accidentally ended up with Gavin finding out that his wings could be pretty dangerous weapons when they wanted to be. After that incident, Jack and the others were always careful to make sure they could be heard when they walked.

Having put the bag in the bin, Gavin turned to Jack with an inquisitive look. He was pretty sure the other boys were all in the lounge room, watching the television, so for Jack to seek him out was a little strange.

“I just noticed that you seemed a little… Uh… Off. You alright?” Jack asked, and Gavin inwardly cursed.

If Jack was already picking up on Gavin’s behaviour, he wonder how he’d react to Gavin’s attitude in a few days. Jack, or any of the other boys, hadn’t really experienced his mood at its peak- he usually was able to take it out on Geoff so it didn’t really show up much in the office, and if he was lucky he was even in England, where his family and Dan knew exactly how to deal with it.

Gavin just smiled and decided to brush it off. “I’m alright, don’t worry about me.”

He was definitely not alright, knew he’d be even less alright in a few days, but he could tell that his mood really wasn’t all that bad at that moment and he wanted to savour the better moments while he could.

Jack just gave him an odd look but shrugged and beckoned for him to come inside with him. Gavin followed him to the lounge room, where Michael was sitting on the couch with Ryan and Ray was on the floor, his back leaning against the couch.

Gavin decided to sit down on the floor, a few inches away from the couch to allow his wings to be able to stretch. Jack sat behind him on the couch, and Gavin smiled a little when Jack began to run his fingers through Gavin’s wings, fixing some of the feathers he couldn’t reach himself.

He noticed that the show they were currently watching was one that Geoff loved and a pang of sadness filled his chest. He’d have to go through the next few days without Geoff, who knew exactly how to handle Gavin when he went through his moulting stage.

It had been years since he had gone through his moulting period without Dan or Geoff and he felt a bit uneasy when he realised it. He knew his boys would respect anything Gavin asked of them, but it was a little hard when even he didn’t know what the hell he wanted half the time.

Ryan had gotten up at one point to make some toasted sandwiches for lunch, leaving the four alone. When Jack also got up to go do something - Gavin didn’t catch what he said - it left the three lads alone.

Michael slid down from the couch and sat next to Gavin, poking him in the ribs.

“Hey boi, you alright? You seem a little out of it,” Michael said, and Gavin mentally shook himself to start paying more attention.

“I’m fine, my boi,” Gavin answered, grinning at him, and Michael frowned a little but shrugged.

“Want to go fuck with the Gents?” Michael asked, the frown being replaced by a mischievous grin, but Gavin just shook his head in a ‘no.’

If he wanted the boys to not worry about him, that was apparently the wrong answer to give. Michael was back to frowning and poked Gavin again in the ribs, and he couldn’t help but feel a little bit agitated by it.

“Geoff’s gone away plenty of times, Gav, no need to act like a sour puss.” Michael got up from the floor and helped Ray up who seemed pretty interested in the idea of going to fuck with Ryan and Jack.

Ray, fortunately, stood up for Gavin, who could already feel the first of his bad moods kicking in earlier than usual thanks to Michael’s jab.

“Michael, please remember you’re the cat here, which makes you the sour puss. Leave Gav alone,” Ray reprimanded. Michael pouted a little, but Ray was already tugging him out of the room to go through with their plan.

Gavin knew Michael would definitely get annoyed about Gavin’s behaviour in the coming days, so he figured it would probably be best to stay away from him as much as possible. Ray seemed a little better at handling the change in mood, at least, so Gavin figured he would probably be able to hang out with him for a bit without him really minding. Jack would worry, of course, as would Ryan, but he had a feeling that Ryan might not miss an opportunity to really get snarky with Gavin if Gavin became a bit intolerable, which he usually did.

So Ray was probably his best bet to hang around for the oncoming days. At least it would be a good opportunity to build X-Ray and Vav even stronger.

He sat there for a little, beginning to feel the tingles in his wings that usually started right before they started getting unbearably itchy. He grumbled a little, shifting and stretching out his legs, trying to focus on anything except the beginning of the itchiness.

There was a loud clatter coming from the kitchen, undoubtedly Ray and Michael knocking pans or something to the ground just to annoy Jack and Ryan. On any other day, he probably would be with them, and if he wasn’t he would definitely get up to investigate, but his wings were beginning to itch and they were demanding his attention.

He flexed his left wing in front of him, the first of the itchiness building up right near the middle. He ran a hand through the feathers, scratching at the spot, trying to get rid of it.

Of course, as usual, it didn’t work. It never really did.

Feathers began to fall out onto the floor and he knew he should probably clean it up before the others came back to what looked like an exploded pillow, but damn it there was another itch beginning to build up just a little further down and he moved his hands there, trying in vain to get some comfort.

“You get yours before Mich-” someone started, and Gavin moved his wing to see Ryan standing there with a plate in his hand and a very perplexed look on his face.

Gavin looked down to see the small amount of feathers that had made their way onto the floor. In comparison to how bad it was in the bathroom, there were barely any. But it seemed to still alarm Ryan.

“Shedding,” Gavin explained, shrugging nonchalantly and hoping that Ryan would get the hint that he was beginning to moult. Ryan still kept the perplexed look on his face but handed Gavin his plate with his toasted sandwich with no further comments about it.

Gavin realised that it probably wasn’t the feathers falling, which a small amount did daily, it was probably more so Gavin scratching at his wings. Ryan and the others hadn’t ever seen him during the whole process, so Gavin assumed Ryan was probably just confused about that. Maybe he hadn’t pieced together that Gavin was beginning to moult.

Still, he should work it out soon enough, so Gavin didn’t enlighten Ryan any further on it. The others came in, Michael and Ray both now pouting, and Gavin realised that they weren’t carrying their own plates. Gavin figured that in punishment, Jack had probably refused to make Ray and Michael’s.

Gavin took one look at the toastie on his plate and his stomach twisted in a sign of being not hungry. Another one of the ‘perks’ that came with moulting. Loss or gain of appetite, and this time it seemed to be the former.

Ray sat beside him, the pout still on his face, and Gavin just handed him the plate without a word. He missed the confused and worried glances from the Gents behind him, but he didn’t miss the way Ray lit up and began to thank Gavin profusely. Michael mumbled something and Ray just rolled his eyes and gave Michael half of the toastie, as Gavin expected.

Gavin began to pick up the small amount of feathers on the floor and a few that had drifted a little further, also putting those in the rubbish bin.

Instead of going back to the lounge room, he decided to head into the study to play around a bit on the main computer.

He didn’t end up going much on the computer because the bloody itching had become so overwhelming he spent God knows how long just trying to get rid of it.

He didn’t realise just how long he had been in the study, focussed on getting rid of that horrible feeling in his feathers, until someone had knocked on the door he had long since closed.

Looking up, he noticed that it had gone from daylight to dusk. The only reason he hadn’t really noticed was because the light was still quite bright above him, giving the illusion it was still daylight.

He stood up and his eyes widened when he saw the amount of feathers that were floating around, flying up due to Gavin suddenly standing up and disturbing those on the ground. The door opened, revealing Ryan who, for the second time that day, seemed perplexed as to what the hell Gavin was doing.

Gavin just shrugged and walked out past Ryan, mentally promising he’d clean up the feathers later. It was only then that Gavin realised he had no idea what Ryan had wanted and turned back to him, folding his arms and waiting for him to explain.

“Just wanted to ask if you have any preferences for dinner. So, do you?” Ryan asked, leaning on the wall slightly, and Gavin thought about it for a second before shaking his head.

“Not feeling all that hungry; I might just grab a snack and go to bed. I’m knackered,” Gavin answered. His best chance for a snack was probably just a muesli bar or something, so he went to go grab it, avoiding Ryan’s worried stare.

When he got the muesli bar, the last one in the cupboard, he went to walk back to the lounge room to say goodnight to the other boys before he brushed his teeth and went to sleep. He stopped in the doorway when he heard the hushed tones of Ryan and Jack.

“-ably just worried about Geoff. Leave him for tonight,” Jack mumbled, and Ryan ‘hmm’ed.

“Still, the eating thing is weird. The only time he doesn’t is when he’s sick,” Ryan pondered. “And he loses feathers when he’s sick as well. More than usual, at least.”

“We’ll see what he’s like tomorrow. Could just be a little under the weather. No need to worry the fuck out of Geoff the day he leaves. We’ll be getting a text from him soon, I expect, but no need to worry him down this end,” Jack replied, and the conversation seemed to stop there. Gavin waited a few more moments, careful to keep his breathing very quiet before he walked in.

He kissed each of them goodnight, trying to ignore the way that both Jack and Ryan seemed to look at him a bit more carefully. They just hadn’t pieced together he was moulting yet, and Gavin was too tired at that point to even bother bringing it up.

After he brushed his teeth he got onto the edge of the bed, having one last scratch at the particularly itchy spots in his wings before forcing himself to lie down and stop scratching.  

Thankfully, it didn’t take him long to get to sleep.


 

“Where’s Gav?” Michael demanded, meandering into the living room and plonking himself down between Ryan and Jack. “I haven’t seen him practically all day.”

Jack shifted over to make more room, jerking his head back towards the bedroom door. “He went to bed a while ago, that’s why he wasn’t at dinner.”

A frown tugged at Michael’s lips. “He okay?”

Ryan nodded, though he looked concerned. “He ate something before he went. We think he’s just missing Geoff.”

“Oh. That makes sense, then.” They all loved each other, of course - there was no way a relationship like theirs could work without each unique connection being equally strong - but Gavin had known Geoff longer than he’d known the rest of them, had lived with him for a good length of time as well. It wasn’t particularly surprising that he’d be the one to get separation anxiety or what fucking ever.

Jack’s phone buzzed then, and he pulled it out instantly, smiling as he checked the text. “Geoff just messaged to say he arrived safely. He’s on his way to the hotel now.”

“We should call him, say goodnight,” Michael decided. He hopped up off the couch again. “I’ll go get Ray.”

As it was, giving Geoff some time to get to his hotel room and settle in ended up meaning that they rounded themselves up and got ready for bed before calling. By the time they were ready they trooped into the bedroom to find Gavin already fast asleep, curled in on himself at the end of the bed.

He was a restless sleeper at the best of times - fucking limbs kicking everywhere to the point where anyone sleeping right next to him usually ended up with bruises - but he seemed particularly unsettled tonight, constantly squirming and with his wings twitching sporadically as though he couldn’t quite get comfortable.

Michael leaped onto the bed beside him and reached out to prod his shoulder. “Hey - hey, idiot, wake up, we’re calling Geoff. Gaaaavvyy, wake up.”

“Go away,” Gavin mumbled, swatting at him. Michael batted his hands back with a playful hiss before hauling him upright.

“Come on, man, just say goodnight to Geoff and you can go back to sleep.”

The mention of Geoff’s name seemed to rouse him to fuller wakefulness; Michael turned back to the others to find Ryan watching them carefully, something concerned still lingering in his eyes.

They were quickly distracted by the phone call, however, practically drowning each other’s voices out as they all tried to speak to Geoff at once. He couldn’t stay long, having an appointment later that day, but they worked out the time zone difference and made arrangements to call again the next day.

Barely had they hung up than Gavin moved straight back into bed, and the others quickly followed, switching the light off before crawling under the covers. Michael wound up between Gavin and Ray, and they were all exhausted enough from waking up early to farewell Geoff that he started drifting off almost instantly - only to be uncomfortably roused when Gavin started moving and fidgeting next to him.

He could ignore it the first few times, but not when the other seemed to be shifting around every five minutes, jostling him with elbows and pulling at the blankets.

“Gavin,” he hissed, reaching out in the darkness until his hand landed on the other’s shoulder. “The fuck are you doing? You have fucking fleas or something?”

He got no response to that, just a sullen sort of silence, and after a minute he sighed.

“Come on,” he said, rolling over to face Gavin, though he could see little in the darkness. “We all miss Geoff. Come here.” He reached out to hook an arm around Gavin’s waist, tugging him closer to wrap his arms around him, only to splutter through a mouthful of feathers as Gavin squirmed to get out of his hold.

“Get off, Michael, s’too hot.”

“It’s not hot at all,” Michael replied, bewildered. “Dude, you fucking love cuddling, what’s up your ass all of a sudden?”

“I’m trying to bloody sleep,” Gavin said - which, well, really! Michael thought that was a fine business, considering he was the one fucking keeping everyone else awake, and opened his mouth to say so, only for another hand to come out of the darkness and slap weakly at him over the covers.

“Can you two assholes shut up over there? We have work tomorrow,” Jack’s voice drifted over.

Michael released Gavin in a huff. Heard and felt him move back to the edge of the bed. Part of him still felt faintly confused - and a great portion of him, somewhat annoyed - but he was too sleepy to dwell on it, settling for rolling over and wrapping his arms around Ray instead. Better for his hugging skills to go towards someone who fucking appreciated them, anyway.

 


 

 

And then, you know, they woke up to fucking feathergeddon.

“Jesus Christ, Gavin, are you okay?” were not the first words Michael expected to hear in the morning, pulling him out of blissful sleep. He sat up blearily, rubbing his eyes, to find Gavin standing in the middle of the room and Jack and Ryan staring at him in horror. Ray had still been asleep too, was fumbling for his glasses on the bedside table - Michael pulled his own on and blinked a couple of times.

There were feathers everywhere. All over the bed, all over the floor, all over Gavin - little white downey ones sticking all over his clothes and hair, larger brown ones scattered across everything else.

Gavin looked cross. This was fairly unusual for him.

“I’m fine, you cabbage,” he replied, folding his arms and staring at them as though he couldn’t quite understand why they were so horrified.

Jack blinked, evidently not expecting to be called a cabbage first thing in the morning.

It was Michael who replied. “Uh, you sure about that, boi? Because it kind of looks like someone was beating up a feather mattress in here.”

Gavin was looking at them all as though they were stupid, which not only upset the fundamental balance of the universe, but began to piss Michael off beneath his concern.

“I’m moulting, you plebs,” he cried, “You know, that thing that birds do? Like when Jack bloody sheds his winter coat and leaves hair all over the place for a week?”

“Oh,” Jack said - and they all deflated a little in relief.

“Wow,” Michael said then, “Excuse us for being concerned? Since, you know, normally when someone’s feathers start fucking falling out it means they’re probably dying.”

“Your face is probably dying,” Gavin replied, with all the wit he possessed, and walked into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

“Someone got out the wrong side of the bed,” Jack muttered, getting up himself.

“Someone got out the wrong side of the bed and made a great big mess everywhere,” Michael grumbled, as he watched Jack bend over and start picking up the feathers. After a moment they all got out to help - except, you know, the guy responsible, who remained locked in the toilet - and as it turned out, those little white feathers were a total bitch to get off anything. They stuck to stuff. Like fingers and hair and fabric, and by the time most of the feathers were binned they all looked in need of a good lint rolling.

Little did they know that this was just the beginning.

They were at breakfast when Gavin emerged from the bathroom, looking somewhat dishevelled; he had bound his wings as he usually did for work, but even so Michael could see how uneven and messy the feathers sticking out of the top were, like someone had taken a leaf blower to them.

“You feeling alright?” asked Ryan, ever concerned - and Gavin just nodded as he slid into his spot next to Ray. He glanced up at Michael - who smiled at him, by this point having been mollified by coffee and food (but mostly coffee) - but his lips barely twitched in response before he turned to picking at a bowl of cereal.

Okay, Michael thought - still confused more than anything, but he was inclined to put it down to the other being tired, likely still missing Geoff (and it was still weird, his not being at the table with them, they were all a little quieter) - and it was early enough in the morning that it wasn’t particularly unusual for them to head to the office in silence.

Those feathers, though.

Even with his wings bound, they still seemed to be getting everywhere. Michael went to the bathroom before they left the house and it looked like someone had, like, shoved a grenade down a turkey’s throat and let it blow.

They were all over the house.

They were all over the car.

It seemed like Gavin took two steps into the Achievement Hunter office and suddenly they were fucking everywhere there too.

“Do you do this every year, Gav?” Ray asked, picking fluffy white bits from his hoodie. “I honestly don’t remember this happening before?”

“We weren’t all up each other’s asses before,” Michael replied - since most of the feathers on Ray were, in fact, due to his attempting to sit in Gavin’s lap while they waited for their computers to boot up. He had been shoved off almost instantly, which Michael wasn’t quite sure what to make of. Like he’d said last night, Gavin could be one of the clingiest people on the planet when the mood struck him. It seemed it just wasn’t today.

And normally it would be kind of funny - after all, they teased Jack mercilessly about the hair he left everywhere whenever he was shedding, and there was something comical about seeing the office in such a state - except for Gavin not laughing about it.

It was particularly noticeable because Geoff was gone. The room was already quieter than usual, even when Jon came in to sit on the couch, then Barbara later on. Gavin sat at his desk and stared intently at his editing. There was something lethargic to his movements; when Kerry popped in through the door to throw something at Ray, he swivelled slowly around in his chair instead of turning his head, and his responses to any of Michael’s prodding or questions verged on monosyllabic.

“Okay, what the hell is up with you,” Michael said finally, as they set up for a Let’s Play. He’d gotten into a playful argument with Ray, and when he’d turned to ask Gavin’s opinion on it the other had responded with little more than a shrug.

“Nothing’s up with me,” Gavin replied, looking annoyed.

Michael jabbed a finger at him. “See! See, something’s fucking up with you, you’re pissed off at everyone today for no reason.” It was rare for Gavin to get genuinely irritated or angry at people, especially not without cause.

“I’m tired,” Gavin said then, “and everyone keeps bloody pestering  me.”

“Oh wow, okay, I’m pestering  you now by fucking asking if you’re okay.” Michael threw his hands up in annoyance. Then reached out and knocked over the Queen, mostly just to be a dick. Gavin squawked and retaliated by stretching a leg out and kicking Michael’s chair, making it slide back a few metres and bump into Ray’s, knocking over a - thankfully empty - glass of water that he’d just been setting down on his desk.

“Gavin why,” said Ray, shooting both of them a rather unimpressed look.

Jack looked up from where he’d been detangling the mess of microphone cords. “Hug it out, guys, we’re about to start.”

“I’ll hug the vinegar out of you, Gav,” Michael said, jumping up and advancing on him, mostly with the intention of getting him in a headlock - but Gavin scooted his chair back, hands rising defensively.

“Don’t touch me, Michael,” he grumbled - and then, when Michael started wrapping his arms around him anyway, shoved him in the chest surprisingly hard. “Stop it you mong! Help, I’m being bullied!”

You’re the bully, you asshole,” Michael muttered, letting him go as Jack tried to get past them to put a mic on the desk.

“No Michael,” Ray said, “Don’t say that, the audience will hate you.”

Even with Geoff gone, they had to film a Minecraft video. Without him there to MC a game or a build, they were mostly free roaming on the PC version, vaguely seeing who could reach the highest level with the difficulty set as high as possible, but mostly just fucking around. Which meant that the majority of the Let’s Play was going to be carried by their conversation.

And Gavin - Gavin was being a prickly little bitch about everything.

He made snippy or sarcastic remarks to stories the others told. He picked a fight over pronunciation and seemed unable to take a joke or teasing. He burned down everything Jack built after the other accidentally killed some of his sheep.

Get out of my hole, Ryan! ” he screeched, at length, when the other invaded his mineshaft and started pouring buckets of water everywhere.

“That’s not what you said two nights ago,” was Ryan’s automatic response, to jeers from the others.

“Gavin’s turned into a grumpy old man today,” Michael spoke up. “Gerroff my property!

“You’re all assholes,” Gavin replied.

“Nah,” Michael said, “You’re full of vinegar today.”

“I’m full of vinegar because you’re all being assholes.”

“No one’s being an asshole but you!” Michael said, and promptly turned his character around to go and hunt down Gavin’s creeper, determined to hit him digitally if not in real life. “You keep saying we’re all being assholes but you are literally the one being the asshole! Jesus Christ!”

By this point the others were all somewhat annoyed as well; it was not particularly nice having your boyfriend turn on you for seemingly no reason.

“You’ve been snippy all day,” Jack spoke up. “For literally no reason. You like, woke up and snapped at us.”

“Did we offend you in a dream or something?” Ray asked, with half a laugh, but Gavin just scowled at his screen and aggressively mined some dirt.

“Also you, like, left us to clean up your whole mess this morning,” Michael continued, and Gavin’s head turned towards him slightly.

“What mess?”

“What mess? Only the fucking feathers that you’ve been dropping everywhere all day,” Michael said. “You fucking left them all for us to pick up. Look, I’m fucking covered in them  right now.”

“It’s not my fault I’m dropping them everywhere!” Gavin protested. “I can’t control it!”

“Yeah, but you could fucking clean up after yourself. Do you get what I’m saying now? You’ve been a dick all day and you keep blaming us!”

It was getting uncomfortably close to real malice in the room, and Michael could tell the moment Ryan and Jack decided things were going too far. He saw them glance at each other before Ryan said, in a measured tone, “Gavin, is everything okay?”

Gavin was very quiet for a moment. Then he said, slowly, as though talking to a child, “I’m moulting.”

Right. Because that fucking explained everything. Michael honestly did not know what Gavin expected to achieve with that statement. What the hell was moulting, anyway - just dropping some feathers, right? Causing a big mess everywhere like any furrier hybrids did after the winter.

“Is that supposed to be an excuse?” he said. “You don’t see Jack turning into a total prick because he’s shedding some fur.”

Gavin stared at him for a moment, and Michael stared back. He couldn’t work out what the other was thinking, just that he was looking at him in a rather stunned manner and the cogs in his head seemed to be turning, towards what he could not tell. Then Gavin looked away again, quietly returning to his game, and while he didn’t pick any further fights for the rest of the recording, he also didn’t talk much.



Tensions remained high in the office for the rest of the day. It was obvious that Gavin was still pissed at them, for whatever inexplicable reason, but he was quite obviously not going to tell them why, so Michael’s strategy was to ignore him. To focus on his own editing, of which he had quite a bit to catch up on, and later in the day, to go out to lunch with just Ray and a couple of others from elsewhere in the office.

The problem came that evening, when it was time to leave.

Normally, they would have parted ways there. Gavin would go home with Geoff and later that night they would text each other goodnight or call. Usually after spending a few hours apart, whatever argument they’d been having would have blown over through sheer force of separation, and the next day when they all met again at work things would be totally fine.

But now - now they were living together, and there was no escaping each other, and Gavin kept his sullen silence in the car and the whole way home.


 

Gavin had woken that morning feeling like crap, and realised that it had begun.

The moult, much like the zombie apocalypse, struck hard and fast, sucked all happiness and joy away, and left everything else a meandering shell of its former self. Goodbye energy, goodbye good humour, goodbye ability to put up with shit without getting upset as all hell.

He just felt stressed, mostly. Like, really, really stressed. Anxious, and tired, and just - not in the mood to have to deal with crap. And when he got stressed he got quiet, and when he got quiet people started pestering him, because there was a certain pressure at work, he supposed, for him to behave a certain way - to be happy, boisterous Gavin in front of the cameras. To take everything that was thrown at him with a laugh, like water off a duck (or lark, he supposed)’s back. And normally he didn’t mind at all - he was living his dream, after all, and laughing along with everyone else, and no one could ever say that Gavin Free was unable to take a joke.

But not today, not when he was under a ridiculous amount of physical and mental strain - not when all he wanted to do was finish up his work and go home and not have to deal with people touching him or talking to him and it was unfair, he knew, on the other boys. Unfair that they would have to put up with that. But he couldn’t help it.

Is that supposed to be an excuse? Michael’s voice rang out in his head.

He bit his lip, staring resolutely out the car window as he watched the dusk-darkened streets roll by.

That had hurt. Especially since all the others had seemed to agree with him. He had expected that since they knew he was moulting now, they would realise why he wasn’t able to behave as normal - but apparently they weren’t going to put up with it?

You don’t see Jack turning into a total prick because he’s shedding some fur.

Feathers were not fur. Feathers were bloody well nothing like fur, and shedding was nothing like moulting, but maybe - maybe he was  being the whinging one. After all, he was the one at fault here. Perhaps expecting the others to just put up with it was selfish.

By the time they got home, all he really wanted was to be left alone, and as soon as they were in the house he made straight for the bathroom to shower.

Getting his wings out of the binder was a ridiculous relief. The feathers had been crushed half to death, many of them on the verge of falling out, and it had been causing him untold levels of discomfort the entire day - yet another reason it was difficult to act normally. As soon as he shook them free a shower of feathers drifted out, ones that had come loose but been stuck under his clothes.

Having showered - being careful not to get his wings too wet - he spent a while working through the rest, drying any that had gotten damp and carding out the loose ones. A series of small, hard spikes jutted between the soft down of his upper wings; little stumps that were pushing their way out from the surface where new feathers were already growing to replace the ones he’d lost. They’d caused the itchiness yesterday but now they were mostly sore, and he knew the pain was only going to get worse as they pushed their way out, like teeth breaking through gum or ingrown nails, all over the surface of his back. Yet another reason he sort of really didn’t want people touching him.

Giving his wings one last shake, he proceeded to spend twenty minutes on his hands and knees picking up all the feathers - since apparently they were causing the others so much grief - and by the time he was done Jack was hammering at the bathroom door for him to hurry up.


 

"Hey.”

Gavin looked up from his phone to find Ryan lingering in the living room doorway. He’d kept to himself since dinner, curling up on the couch and killing some time on Facebook, and it had been good to be alone. He got like this during the moult, when he was miserable and aching and often just didn’t want to deal with noise and drama and the effort of interacting with other people - but it had been a couple of hours and he was glad to see the other, so he smiled.

Ryan smiled back, seeming relieved as he came over and sat next to him on the couch, just a little too close, but he didn’t seem to notice when Gavin shifted back a bit.

“Mind if I turn on the TV? I think Geoff wanted us to record MasterChef.”

“That’s fine.”

Thankfully Ryan didn’t turn the volume up too loud, and for a little while it was relaxing, idly watching Gordon Ramsay yell at people with someone else’s company.

That changed when Ryan stretched an arm out over the couch around him, leaning in closer as he made to pull Gavin back against his chest. Gavin squirmed a bit. He didn’t want to cuddle, didn’t want to be touched - just was completely not feeling tactile at the moment.

“Ryan…” he started, quietly, hoping he’d get the hint.

“Hmm?”

He was sort of being forcibly hugged by this point, and stress was rising up in his chest again. He must have stiffened, because Ryan’s ears pricked up and he loosened his grip a bit, leaning back to look at Gavin.

“What’s wrong?”

Gavin took the chance to wriggle out of his hold and back to his own corner of the couch. “Just not in the mood right now.”

Ryan was looking at him with something like puzzlement and something like concern, and Gavin knew exactly  why - he was pretty cuddly with the Gents in general and usually took every possible opportunity to sprawl all over them.

“Gavin…”

Words. Nothing was springing to mind, no way to explain - all he could do was look at the TV and hunch his shoulders up, practically radiating the desire to be left alone.

Ryan took the hint, and didn’t push it.

But then he stood up off the couch.

“Sorry,” he said, gently. “I’ll give you some space.”

He leaned forward to kiss the top of Gavin’s head, and he squirmed away a bit - hating himself for the hurt that he saw flash across Ryan’s face. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry -  

Something ached deep inside when Ryan turned and walked out of the room, because he hadn’t wanted him to leave. And it was just - stupid, the way he got this time of year, wanting space, but not too much - to be left alone, but not to be alone - he needed Geoff, Geoff had always seemed to know how to balance it perfectly.

Now Ryan’s annoyed with you, he thought, pulling his knees up to his chest - Michael too, and the others - he’d always been crap at explaining things, any episode of the podcast could tell you that - unable to put his thoughts and feelings into words. Which meant that now he had no idea how to tell them what he needed. And it was selfish, he knew, to expect them to just work it out, but in the mean time he couldn’t quite help the simmer of resentment that they didn’t somehow automatically just know.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 


 

“Jack.”

Jack turned from where he’d been boiling the kettle. Ryan was lingering in the doorway, looking pensive, and he strode over.

“What’s up?”

Ryan glanced over his shoulder into the living room, and Jack followed his gaze. All he could see was the back of Gavin’s head where he was sitting on the couch. A couple of feathers were strewn across the floor, more white down stuck to the wool of Ryan’s thin sweater. Jack reached forward to pick it off.

“I’m concerned about Gav,” Ryan said, still frowning.

Jack’s brows furrowed. It was true, the other had been acting crabby the entire time they were at work and even while they were at home.

“Me too,” he admitted, “I just don’t get why he’s behaving like this? I honestly can’t think of anything that might have changed since yesterday to throw him off, apart from Geoff leaving.”

“That shouldn’t make him push us away,” Ryan pointed out. “I tried to cuddle with him on the couch but he seemed to just want space.”

Jack frowned, a thought occurring to him. “Maybe he’s sick of us.”

“What the fuck do you mean by that?”

“No, I don’t mean… what I’m trying to say is, we all just moved in together. It’s a big switch going from living with one other person to five. It can be overbearing. Like how Michael got pissed off about the feathers this morning? Maybe Gav normally just leaves them lying around at home. I’m guessing as much as he’s missing Geoff he’s missing his old house too. God knows I miss my flat sometimes, given how noisy you idiots can get,” he added, and Ryan rolled his eyes, playfully elbowing him.

“You think that’s it? Too much exposure to us?”

“Everything in moderation, right?” Jack said. “Seriously, he’ll probably be right back to normal tomorrow. Don’t stress about it.”

Ryan nodded, seeming mollified by that, and Jack smiled, reaching out to loop an arm around his waist and pull him closer.

“Don’t worry, I’ll cuddle with you.”

 


 

Gavin had, once again, been the first one to go to sleep.

He had stayed up a little longer to be with his boys when they rang Geoff before they began getting prepped for bed. He could feel that the tension was still pretty thick amongst them, but they managed to mask it pretty well on the call with Geoff so as to make sure they didn’t worry him.

Gavin couldn’t help but wonder who Geoff would call an idiot if they told him of the situation between them. Maybe Gavin, maybe the others, most definitely all of them.

As it turned out, Geoff’s most pressing question was who had gotten out on Masterchef, and Gavin butted in before any of them could answer, yelling out with despair that one of their favourites had been kicked. Geoff groaned and complained about the bullshit of the judging before telling them he had to go.

Gavin had already gotten ready for bed before they called Geoff, so the second Jack pressed the button to end the call he was wishing them all goodnight. Their usual tradition was to kiss each other goodnight, and Gavin felt pretty bad for missing it the night before and argued with himself that while he might feel a bit uncomfortable, it would, at least, quell some of the tension.

Even he had to admit his kissing was a little listless. Although it was just a quick peck to the lips, something Gavin forced himself to deal with because his boys deserved at least something after he had been acting so badly towards them.

Gavin had gotten to Ryan last and leaned forward, going for the quick kiss goodnight, but Ryan put his hand onto his hip and Gavin had to force himself not to tense and immediately push the hand away.

He hoped it would make Ryan a little less annoyed with him, if he just put up with the few seconds of contact that were definitely not very welcome.

He headed to the bedroom while the others dawdled around and did whatever. His feathers had been pretty painful but he had borne with it, not yet reaching the extremely sore stages.

He was out within minutes, but his sleep was easily disturbed throughout the night by any sort of noise. For a while he remained just on the edges of consciousness, but not slipping off enough to go back into proper sleep. His wings were just too painful, not allowing him to ease into rest.

Eventually he just gave up trying to sleep and slowly, over the course of a few minutes, slipped off the bed and managed to get up without actually disturbing any of the other boys. His eyes had long ago adjusted to the darkness, having been awake and staring at it for so long, so he was able to avoid bumping into anything or anyone as he walked around, grabbing his phone from the side table as he went.

He left the room, the door thankfully open already, and walked into the kitchen, using the light from his phone as a guide.

Painkillers usually worked well to dull some of the pain down from absolutely unbearable, which he expected to feel in a couple of hours, to extremely uncomfortable. He just wanted to check if they actually had any.

He searched around in the cupboards for a while, not exactly sure where they had been placed in the new house. They weren’t in the cupboards as far as he could tell, unable to find them even after searching for a good while.

He swore under his breath, annoyed that whoever had unpacked them had probably put them somewhere else entirely to where he would normally put them in the kitchen. It was nearly 5am and he realised that he had only gotten a couple of hours sleep at maximum and knew the lack of sleep would definitely not help his mood in any way.

The bathroom didn’t have the painkillers either, and by the time he had finished going thoroughly through the cupboards the sun was just about to rise, the sky beginning to lighten up.

Feathers had still managed to fall out and there were a fair amount just lying around in the bathroom, so he collected them up as best he could and shoved them into the plastic bag on the back of the door handle.

Gavin then realised that there was a huge possibility that there were still a lot of feathers hanging around in the bedroom. He felt guilty at not helping clean them up the day before, so he grabbed the plastic bag and headed to the bedroom.

Even with the plastic bag rustling and making a lot of noise, he was able to avoid waking up his boys. He began to clean up the feathers from the floor and some that had stuck in some other random places, and then got the few sticking onto where he had laid on the bed.

There wasn’t as many as before now, thankfully, but it was still a huge hassle and there were a couple on the bed very close to the other boys that Gavin didn’t take the chance of getting in case he woke them up.

By the time he had stuffed the bag full of feathers into the bin, the sun was making its way into the sky and he knew it wouldn’t be long before at least one of the other boys woke. He knew it wouldn’t be Ray, who always slept right up until the alarm, and Michael was usually the same story, so it would either be Ryan or Jack.

He made his way over to the couch and curled up on the end. He turned the TV on, but kept the volume almost silent.

His wings had, thankfully, decided to be a bit kinder to him and the pain was a little duller now. He knew it would probably come back worse by the time he woke up, picturing it as the calm before the storm, but he planned on soaking up as much of the calmness as he could. Somehow, he was able to fall asleep.




When Ryan woke up, he woke up with quite a number of feathers resting on top of him.

He blew away the few that were close to his mouth and nose and brushed some of the others out of his ears and hair. The boys beside him weren’t awake yet, as normal, as the sun was only just barely rising into the sky.

Gavin, however, wasn’t even on the bed. Ryan managed to gently untangle his limbs from Michael, who had clung onto him at one point in the night, and he got out of bed without managing to wake the others.

Seeing that Gavin wasn’t with them instantly made him worry, a familiar emotion at this point over the past couple of days. Gavin was definitely acting… not very Gavin-like, to say the least, and Ryan wasn’t really sure how to deal with it.

He made his way out into the kitchen, seeing one of the cupboards swinging open and a few drawers pulled open. It was much like Gavin to leave things open and all over the place when he was trying to find something, which Ryan immediately assumed he had been doing. Even after almost a month of living at the house all of them still got a little stuck with finding things in new places.

Gavin wasn’t too far away, curled up on the couch with his back to Ryan and his chest facing the back of the sofa. His wings were draped over the edge of the couch and rested on the floor, however Ryan noticed the way they were twitching and every now and then even flapping slightly.

Ryan considered waking him up, but then realised that more sleep for Gavin would probably be a better thing for his mood. So he left him and made himself a cup of coffee before sitting down at the dining table.

His laptop was still resting on it and he only took a moment to look at it before he grabbed it, pulling it closer and opening it. He was worried that booting it up might wake Gavin, but he did it anyway and thankfully, Gavin stayed asleep.

He logged in and waited for the computer to really kick in before he opened the browser, going to the search engine and typed in his keyword.

Moulting was something they learnt the basics of back in school. But he’d forgotten a great deal of it - had only really remembered the obvious, dropping-feathers part. But given Gavin’s behaviour over recent days, it seemed there was a little more to it than that, and he figured he could probably pick up a few more things and hopefully be able to apply them to Gavin and figure out exactly how to behave around him.

It seemed even Gavin didn’t know what he wanted, after all. At first he had seemed welcome to Ryan’s company, but then had shut off immediately when Ryan tried coming closer. It was frustrating, for sure, to have someone just unexplainably annoyed with him. But frustration on top of frustration wouldn’t help anything, so Ryan told himself to relax and just research.

At one point, halfway through an article about the whole process of moulting, Jack and Michael walked in and Ryan raised a finger to his lips, gesturing with his head in the direction that Gavin was. The alarm still had about another hour until it would ring, a signal to get ready for work and when Ray would appear, so they let Gavin be.

Jack went to go make himself and Michael some coffee, while Michael sat down next to Ryan and looked at the article.

"Y’know, I woke up with a lot less feathers in my hair this morning,” Michael mumbled, his voice still croaky from just waking up.

Ryan hummed slightly, reading the last of the paragraph he was on before properly answering Michael. “I think he cleaned most of them up before we woke up,” Ryan said, looking in the general direction of where Gavin was.

“About fucking time, cleaning them up yesterday was a bitch. I’m glad he feels bad enough to do it himself this time,” Michael scowled and Ryan closed the laptop lid and turned to Michael.

“I doubt he slept too well,” Ryan mumbled, ignoring Michael’s complaints. Then, a thought hit him as he suddenly realised what Gavin might have been looking for.

“Michael, do you know where the medication stuff went? Painkillers and sleeping tablets?” Ryan asked, standing up from the table and plugging his laptop in to charge.

Michael nodded. “Yeah, they’re in our bedroom, in one of Geoff’s drawers. Jack’ll know which one, Ray too probably.”

Jack came over with the coffee, placing a mug in front of Michael and sitting across from Ryan on the table.

“Jack?” Ryan asked, continuing when Jack looked up and hummed to show he was listening, “Which drawer contains all the medication and stuff?”

Jack took a moment to think about it. “It’s in the smaller drawer up the top, the one next to the cords and whatever else Geoff shoves in there.”

Ryan nodded and stood up from the table, intending to go find the drawer. He didn’t have to worry about being quiet when Ray was sleeping, who only ever woke up at the alarm, but it was still a force of habit to sneak along on the floor boards.

Ray was still asleep and remained that way as Ryan went through the drawer that Jack had described. He pulled out one of the painkillers, reading the back of the packet and seeing it contained codeine. While he was sure it would definitely help Gavin sleep, he knew it would probably not be a good idea to give it to him right before work.

Maybe he could hold on to them for as long as he could before the pain really kicked in for Gavin, and then he would give them to him.

There was still half an hour until the alarm to go off, so Ryan made his way back to Jack and Michael and sat down at his usual seat.

Michael used the rest of the half hour to complain about the amount of feathers Gavin was dropping in the lounge room. Apparently, he had gone to check on him while Ryan was in the bedroom. The slight flapping was just making them fly up everywhere, Michael had said, making them stick to the couch and fly up to all sorts of other places.

Ryan and Jack just let Michael complain, hoping that taking it all out now would help him cool down and stop him from losing his patience later in the day. Eventually Ryan heard the distinct noise of the alarm going off and play for a few moments while Ray presumedly flailed around in an attempt to turn it off.

When Ray eventually did walk through the doorframe, Jack got up to go wake up Gavin from the couch. Ryan went about getting all of them breakfast, pouring or toasting their usual preferences. He didn’t realise he had accidentally gotten out a bowl for Geoff and only just managed to stop himself from actually making the breakfast before he noticed and put the bowl away.

It seemed to hit then, just how much he missed Geoff.

It took a while, but eventually Jack walked back out with Gavin, who really did look like an absolute mess. The half of his face he was sleeping on had been indented with the patterns of the couch, leaving red marks across one side of his face. Stray feathers were beginning to drift off his wings and onto the floor, and Ryan could only hope that Michael wouldn’t snap at that.

Thankfully, Michael kept quiet as he ate his breakfast. Gavin sat down at the table and Ryan placed his breakfast in front of him and Gavin managed to mumble a ‘thank you’. By the time Ryan sat down, Gavin still hadn’t touched the bowl in front of him.

Jack picked up on it as well, nudging Gavin slightly as he was in the chair next to him. “You alright, Gav?”

Gavin didn’t react to the contact, which Ryan took as a good sign, but it was possible Gavin was really just too tired to bother with it. He smiled a little at Jack, hoping to be reassuring but pretty much failing at it. “I’m fine, just not feelin’ up for it.”

“That’s part of it, right? The whole moulting thing?” Ryan mused, ignoring the odd looks he received from everyone at the table.

“What’dya mean?” Gavin replied, his voice a lot quieter than normal.

“Changes in appetite, in mood, in everything, really. That’s all part of the moulting process, yeah?”

Gavin just shrugged nonchalantly. “I guess,” he replied, seeming to be totally disinterested with the topic. Irritation at his brushing off the subject bubbled in Ryan’s chest, but he forced it down. Changes in mood.

Ryan took the hint to drop the topic, so he did, and thankfully so did the others. Jack began to talk about how he had a bit more to worry about with the videos, saying how the workload was already quickly increasing without Geoff. The convention trip had been a fairly last minute call, which meant they hadn’t pre-prepared as much as they usually did. Ryan offered to help, which Jack gladly accepted, and that ended their breakfast communication.

When they got dressed and all their other usual morning activities, not much talking really ever happened. They were all working around each other, making sure not to get in each other’s way as they got ready for the day.

Somehow, they managed to get ready in time. Gavin had even gone and picked up most of the feathers, and when Jack had gone to help Gavin had waved him off, saying he had it covered by himself.

Ryan realised that the only reason they had actually gotten ready on time was because usually the lads slowed them down, by either messing around or creating a mess. It seemed that without the usual energy of Gavin, the other two also seemed to dampen their mischievous mood as well.

The mood didn’t lighten up in the car, either. Jack did manage to get a conversation running for a while, talking about upcoming projects and the videos for the day. He shared what he needed help with, Ryan listening carefully and trying to remember as much as he could. The three in the back stayed silent.

When they arrived at the office and got out of the car, Ryan took a quick look at the back seat which had somehow remained feather-free. He figured it was probably the binder keeping in a good lot of the feathers, and honestly Ryan was pretty sure he had lost most of the feathers in the lounge room anyway.

They greeted good morning to everyone they came across before they all settled inside the office. Before Gavin sat down, he carefully lifted his shirt and removed the bind, his fingers working gently to get it off without agitating his wings too much. He then quickly switched into one of the shirts with the holes for his wings and sat down, Ryan not missing the way he had grit his teeth when he had to move his wings.

He remembered the painkillers he’d brought, but he was uncertain about giving them to Gavin so early into the day, so he let them sit in his pocket.

Jack gave him copies of the videos he needed help on, so Ryan turned his focus away from Gavin and onto the clips in front of him. Ryan was sure that Jack had given him as little work as he could, but even the little was still quite a fair amount and he worried about the amount Jack still had to go.

Ryan got through as much of it as he could, actually making quite a large dent in the workload, before Jack called for them and they planned out their next recording.

During the time of recording, Gavin put up a happier facade. His mood had seemed to lighten up a little before the recording, but during the game Ryan found himself marvelling at just how different Gavin’s attitude was.

To the listened he was convincingly chirpy, but Ryan did manage to see the way that Gavin would tense slightly whenever something didn’t go his way, the way his wings would carefully start flexing out in a sign of irritation. However, when they reached a certain point they began to curl in, and Ryan began to get seriously worried.

Then Gavin’s wings started acting as a shield, curling in even more and Ryan had never really seen him do that and he realised he had no idea what it meant.


But then Ryan thought back to an incident that he only just remembered, when one day the playful tackling between Gavin and Michael didn’t end so playfully as Michael accidentally managed to land a serious strike on Gavin’s stomach with his nails.

Now that he thought about it, Ryan had seen the way that Gavin’s wings did the same thing then that they were doing now, curling in on himself like a barrier. It was something he did when he was hurt.

Still, it was too early in the day and Ryan knew they needed Gavin on the podcast, so giving him the tablets was probably not a great idea just yet. Besides, Gavin hadn’t complained about it, hadn’t gotten up to get some painkillers from the ones in the office, so maybe it really just wasn’t that bad.

As well as the chirpiness, though, the snark levels in Gavin rose pretty highly. He was getting more involved in fights in the games, was starting more too, and it was beginning to annoy Michael - who had managed to die for the fifth time in the past three minutes thanks to Gavin just killing him for no apparent reason.

“Why are you being such an asshole today, Gav?” Michael asked, his head tilted towards Gavin who just shrugged again in his seat.

“Because you’re  an asshole, sweet Michael, and assholes beget assholes,” Gavin replied, Ray ‘ohh’ing quietly in the background.

“Gavin the lark is bringing in the snark,” Ryan joked, hoping it would dissolve a bit of the tension growing in the room between Michael and Gavin.

Michael laughed. “No shit,” he replied and Gavin just gave Ryan the finger as his own response.

Gavin did tone down the snarkiness after that, in fact, he toned down all of it after that. He still made the occasional comment, but Ryan was no longer sure exactly what Gavin was concentrating on, he seemed to be just all over the place at that point, seeming to just be randomly dying without meaning to.  

Eventually the recording finished and Gavin stood up, saying he was going to go to the kitchen. Ryan had followed him, as Michael was still clearly a bit pissed off and Ray was doing his best to cool him down a little. Jack went right back into the work pile, so Ryan had been left to follow Gavin.

Gavin was hunting through the cabinets, obviously looking for something in particular.

“What are you looking for?” Ryan eventually asked when Gavin went back to check the same cupboard for a second time.

"Some painkillers. Do you know where they are?” Gavin asked, closing the cabinet and turning to Ryan in expectation.

“Yeah, I have a packet here in my pocket, I grabbed them this morning because I thought you might want them,” Ryan answered, going to reach into his pocket before realising that he had moved the packet from his pockets to his bag when they were getting ready.

“Ah, hang on, they’re in my bag in the office. Want me to go grab them?” Ryan went to take a step back, ready to walk back to the office before Gavin whirled on him.

“I want you to bloody not try and think you know what’s best for me!” Gavin shouted, the outburst shocking Ryan into just frozenly standing there, too stunned to move or reply.

“You’ve been holding them since this morning, Ryan. What, you thought it was your decision when to give them to me? Like you know how much fucking pain I’m in, like you know just how much I needed those painkillers. Why the hell didn’t you give them to me when you knew I needed them? I’m not a child, I can… I can monitor these things myself.” Gavin was absolutely livid now, his fists clenched and fuck, fuck, fuck Ryan knew he had definitely messed up with his decision.

“You don’t have wings, Ryan, how the bloody hell are you meant to know just how painful they are?” Gavin seemed to somehow expect an answer to this, stepping up to Ryan and waiting for him to reply.

Ryan licked his lips, trying to get rid of the sudden dryness that had appeared.

“I, uh, don’t,” Ryan eventually replied, his voice quiet, almost hoping Gavin wouldn’t hear it. Seeing as how Gavin seemed to be set off at everything and anything, he would probably find a way to make Ryan regret ever speaking.

“Exactly!” Gavin yelled, obviously hearing it just fine, and threw his arms up in frustration, storming past Ryan.

Ryan watched him go, still rooted to the ground in a state of shock. Well, it ended a bit better than Ryan expected at least, so there was that. However, now Gavin would probably be pissed off with him for quite a while but there probably wasn’t much he could do about that.

With a defeated sigh, he walked slowly back to the office.

 



Calming Michael down was a long and very slow process.

He was beyond annoyed at Gavin, and his mood was beginning to influence the others as well, so Ray had taken it upon himself to try and calm him down.

At first he tried explaining, then he tried defending Gavin, then he tried sympathising with Michael. The only thing that seemed to really cool him off was the quick kiss Ray had given him, and so Ray worked on exploiting it as best he could, going as far down as Michael’s neck and kissing the spots he knew made Michael unravel.

It worked, and by the time Ryan walked back in, Michael was clearly a lot calmer and had a small smile once he went back to his screen. Ryan, however, was a whole new story.

He was acting robotically, too stiff in his movements to really be classified as normal. Ray gave him a blatantly obvious questioning look, and once Ryan caught it he simply shrugged and waved Ray off.

Obviously, it had something to do with Gavin. Ray suspected that Gavin had possibly snapped at Ryan, maybe even had an outburst of sorts, and now would probably be in an even worse mood because he either felt guilty about it but didn’t know how to deal with it or was just pissed off about Ryan pissing him off.

Either way, it was definitely not a great attitude for Gavin to have for the podcast. At least, however, it gave them about two hours away from Gavin, which would definitely be good for Michael’s behaviour and would hopefully give Ryan time to relax a little. They had decided to stay and work late, trying to get ahead a little after Geoff’s abrupt departure had set them back.

Ray set to work, managing to finish his editing in about an hour and a bit and began to work on an achievement. When he was done, Jack came over and asked if Ray would be able to help him with his workload, which Ray took on without a problem.

It was most definitely stressing Jack out - having so much work to do and having to deal with Gavin being the way he was currently - and Ray only hoped that Jack wouldn’t snap or something because that would be absolutely terrifying for himself.

When Gavin walked back in and sat down at his desk, the atmosphere changed drastically. It had been one of light joking earlier, Ryan eventually relaxing and making jokes at “Team Better Friends”, who responded in good humour. But it changed to one of tension and caution and Ray knew this whole issue had to be sorted soon enough or something very bad would probably come of it.

Ray decided to just go up and talk to Gavin, hoping that he wouldn’t snap at him or brush him off immediately. He had been walking on eggshells around Gavin so far, trying to give him the space he desired, and he hoped it would pay off for what he was about to do.

He leaned forward onto Gavin’s desk, standing next to Gavin who was in his chair and gave Ray an odd look, but Ray decided not to take notice of it and continued with his plan.

“How was the podcast, Vav?” he asked, smiling a little when Gavin seemed to relax, and Ray realised he probably expected a confrontation about his behaviour or something.

“It was fine, although Burnie was being a right prick about what I was trying to say about this thing of universes. I knew what I was talking about, I know exactly how it all works and I know the bloody theory perfectly in my head, but when I went to speak about it... It came out all jumbled and I just couldn’t explain what I was trying to mean. If that makes sense. See, can’t even explain it now,” Gavin replied, clearly annoyed at himself for not being able to explain whatever he was trying to explain.

Ray shrugged, not really bothered by Gavin’s attitude. In fact, he was glad Gavin was actually talking to him, as it seemed to be the first actual proper conversation Gavin had with any of them for a day or so now.

“So, it’s like there’s a red apple behind your back or something, but you seem to be unable to describe it except in terms of a green apple on top of your head?” Ray asked, knowing he had hit it right on the head when Gavin lit up.

“Yes! Exactly that!” Gavin grinned, obviously glad that Ray had caught on to it.

“It still means you’re a liar which makes you a piece of shit, just so you know,” Ray jokingly pointed out, glad that Gavin didn’t take offence to it, instead just nodding and keeping the smile.

Please, please let this mean Gavin will go back to normal now, Ray thought to himself.

Unfortunately, of course, he did not.

Ray left Gavin at that point, going back to working on Jack’s workload, the atmosphere almost going back to the way it was before Gavin walked in for which Ray was thankful for.

In fact, the rest of the working day went considerably well. Unfortunately, it all changed when they were in the car.

Michael was in the middle backseat, separating Ray from Gavin, and the ride was peaceful. Jack was talking to Ryan about some new ideas they’d have to bring up with Geoff for future videos. Ray let himself feel sad for a moment, let himself miss Geoff, before Michael hissed at Gavin.

“Dude, your fucking wings are like pulsing or some shit against your shirt and it’s pulsing up against me,” Michael complained and Ray could only think Michael why the fuck couldn’t you just deal with it for the fucking short ride home, why the fuck did you have to complain, now his mood will probably drop again you moron.

“I can’t do anything about it, Michael, they’re already bound down,” Gavin replied, his voice surprisingly calm.

“Then stop it or something. Also, why are they fucking pulsing?”

“They’re not pulsing, you sausage, they’re just pushing up against the bind, trying to push out. I can’t really do anything about it right now.”

“How the fuck did Geoff manage to put up with this? Seriously, he must’ve really fucking gotten annoyed.”

Gavin stayed silent at that, but Ray leaned forward to look over Michael and saw the way Gavin’s nails were digging into his thigh, obviously trying to distract himself from having a go at Michael.

When they got home, Gavin’s attitude had changed again. Back to what he was usually like these past days, moody and reserved, and Ray nearly wanted to shake Michael senseless, because why had he gone and complained, couldn’t he keep his damn mouth shut?

Ray instead went and sat on the lounge, Gavin sitting beside him. They were barely touching, Gavin only just close enough to be in reach but having no contact. It was the closest he seemed to be comfortable with, but it was a lot closer than what he had been before.

And then Michael came along and sat on the other side, and it took just under a minute for Gavin to get up, mumbling some excuse and walking out.

“Seriously, the fuck is up with him?” Michael asked, obviously still annoyed over the whole day.

“Maybe it’s because you brought up Geoff, might’ve made him miss him,” Ray replied, grabbing the TV remote and switching it on to something random.

Michael grumbled something under his breath before speaking again. “So why don’t we just call Geoff?”

Ray frowned. “Because Gavin doesn’t seem to want us interfering with whatever the fuck it is he has going on. Seems like he wants us to leave him alone, and according to Ryan he doesn’t really appreciate anyone trying to deal with it or take control or whatever. If Gav wants Geoff, he would’ve called him.”

“I don’t think even Gavin knows what he wants,” Michael said, stretching his arms out and yawning.

“No, no neither do I. None of us know what he wants, either. There’s nothing we can do but wait until Geoff gets back, I suppose.”

 


 

It took a lot to get Gavin properly angry. Like kicking him into a urinal, that was one way of doing it.

Ryan had not kicked him into a urinal, but God damn if Gavin wasn’t mad as fuck  with him right now, because - really? He had been looking for painkillers all bloody morning and all along Ryan had had them stashed in his bag, withholding them because, what? He thought Gavin wasn’t responsible enough to know when he needed them?

That hurt, and not just physically - he wasn’t a child, no matter what they joked about at times, and he wasn’t sure if he was more upset or offended at Ryan treating him as such.

Michael was a whole other story; for all he put on a ragey persona, it wasn’t often he got properly angry at Gavin, and Gavin knew he was being grating, and moody, and hard to put up with, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt when the other snapped at him for it.

He stayed in their bedroom for a while, fuming, trying to calm himself down and distracting himself with his phone (although reading the comments of the youtube community was never a good way to get out of a mood, seriously).

When there was a knock at the door he tensed, looking up - it was Jack who entered, and Ryan was right behind him. Gavin’s wings flicked up defensively at the sight of him, and he didn’t miss the way Ryan flinched at the motion, looking stricken.

“Hey Gavin,” Jack said, gently. He approached slowly, with caution, like Gavin was a frightened child or a skittish animal, and that sent a shiver of annoyance down his spine.

I’m a bloody adult, treat me like one.

He put his phone down though, looking up at them expectantly, and Jack came to sit on the bed next to him, careful to keep some space between them. Ryan moved up behind him, but remained standing, still looking like he’d accidentally run over someone’s puppy.

“I’m sorry,” he said, right off the bat. “I shouldn’t have kept that medicine from you, it wasn’t my place.”

Part of Gavin wanted to hold onto his anger, to not let it go that easily - but he was tired, and it was more bother to hold a grudge, so even if part of him still felt a bit sour, he nodded, accepting it. He could tell Ryan was genuinely remorseful, anyway, it was written all over his face, and it was hard trying to hate someone you loved.

“Gavin,” Jack said then, and waited until Gavin was looking him in the eyes to continue. His voice was soft but there was something stern in his tone.

“Michael’s pissed because you’re acting like we’ve all grievously offended you. And maybe we have, but if so, it’s because we don’t know what we should be doing to help you. Like you told Ryan, you’re the only one who knows what you’re going through. So please, tell us what you need. What do you want us to do?”

Gavin bit his lip.

By all rights, the question should have reassured him - should have given him the chance to to sort things out with them and then ride the rest of the moult out smoothly.

Except when he opened his mouth, it happened again - the same thing that always happened when he had something complicated to explain - he couldn’t bloody fit words to his thoughts, didn’t know how to get across what he needed. It didn’t help that it was full of contradictions - he wanted space, but not too much, concern but not overbearing concern, only to be touched sometimes, to have his moods put up with but not to be babied - it was too much to explain, and most of it situational, and in the end it was just so much of an effort trying to get it out that he found himself saying, instead: “I need to be left alone.”

“Left alone,” Jack repeated, slowly, and Gavin nodded.

“Yeah.” That encompassed everything, didn’t it? Don’t touch him if he didn’t want it, don’t get baited into arguing with him or pester him to act normally.

“For the whole time?” Jack repeated - and Gavin nodded again. Jack looked dubious, but he exchanged a glance with Ryan, who was also nodding - realising, it seemed, that his interference had caused much of the tension, and that keeping his distance could have prevented it - and after a moment Jack frowned, but nodded as well.

“Okay,” he said. “If that’s what you want.”

“That’s what I want,” Gavin replied, and turned back to his phone.

Jack stayed seated a moment longer. Then he stood, and for a moment Gavin thought he was going to reach out and touch him - pat his head or kiss his hair the way he normally did - but he just paused for a moment before turning and walking out of the room.

“I’m really sorry about before, Gavin,” Ryan said again, and Gavin glanced up at him.

“I said it’s fine, Rye-bread.” It came out more curtly than he’d intended, and he immediately felt guilty, but Ryan seemed to have taken the hint that he wanted to be alone, and just nodded again before walking out.

Gavin settled back, and for a little while, he was peaceful - enjoying the solitude after the stress of the day, giving himself space to calm down and settle a little.

But it was not long before he realised that he had made a horrible mistake.

Jack and Ryan had, it seemed, relayed what he’d said to the others, because from that moment on, they didn’t bother him again. And that would have been fine, except it seemed they had taken “ I need to be left alone ” incredibly literally because they did it to the point of, well, ignoring him?

And it wasn’t their fault, he knew, it was this stupid moult, because it wasn’t like he was trying to talk to them and they just dismissed or disregarded him. The problem was - when he got like this, sometimes he wanted complete solitude, sure, but other times he still wanted to talk, or touch, or just hang out, except he felt too lethargic and miserable to reach out and ask for it. After so many years living together Geoff had become attuned to knowing when he wanted something without him having to say it. It was stupid, selfish to expect the others to be the same, especially since for all outward appearances he was still annoyed with them.

But it hurt when he went to sit in the lounge room and everyone else instantly relocated. It hurt when only Ray made a passing attempt to say goodnight, and even then as an afterthought once the rest of them had gone through their usual kissing ritual while Gavin stood to the side a little, wings pulled up around him, kicking himself for feeling so annoyed when he himself had barely made an effort to get involved the night before.

And even in bed, when the others left him to lie to the side by himself, he remained lying awake in the darkness. He knew the rest of them were cuddled up together; could hear the faint rustle of clothes and soft murmurs as they tried to get comfortable, and felt suddenly, inexplicably left out.

Stop it you prat, he thought. You wanted this. This what you bloody well asked for.

Except it hadn’t been, not really - not in any way he could express - Geoff had known what to do. Wouldn’t force him into cuddling but would reach out and touch his ankle with his stupid freezing feet, or wait until he was drifting off to take hold of his hand or his wrist, a simple touch that somehow managed to last out the night. Or sometimes, if he was particularly restless, would make Gavin lie on his stomach and then help him preen his wings, sorting out the feathers to make them more comfortable, often lulling him to sleep with the gentle motions.

Now he found himself alone in the corner of their large bed, wings curled defensively around him, nearly shaking in exasperation with himself, the pain of missing Geoff a solid dull ache in the pit of his stomach. And as tired as he was, he was unable to get to sleep.

 


 

Things deteriorated rapidly over the next few days.

Because they had their pairs or their threesomes, sure - the Lads and the Gents, Nice Dynamite and Crazy Mad and the R&R Connection - but they worked as a unit of six; every component was integral.

Taking Geoff out of the equation would have put them under strain anyway.

Taking Gavin out as well only made things worse.

There was an underlying wrongness  to everything that was impossible to ignore, and the effort of their trying to leave him alone - and his steadily increasing upset at their doing so - only served to make things worse.

And the new house? The new house was the last straw.

It was not even Gavin who was the catalyst for everything that occurred over the rest of the week. The tense atmosphere had everyone behaving out of sorts, and things just seemed to keep going wrong.

Ray kept putting everyone’s clothes in the incorrect drawers (matters were not helped by the fact that there were six copies of every single t-shirt floating around the house, since they all basically owned their own merchandise).

Ryan had a habit of doing the dishes at the exact same time of night that Jack liked to take a shower, and since he used warm water it wreaked havoc on the plumbing and meant the water would suddenly turn cold in the bathroom.

Gavin kept moving or taking Michael’s keys accidentally, which wouldn’t have been so bad if he didn’t stay out late Thursday night to do Rage Quit at the office, and then got locked out of the house because the rest of them went out to the grocery store and left Ray - who could probably sleep through a bomb scare - napping in the house. Half an hour of fruitless pounding at the door led to Michael eventually attempting to climb through a window, failing epically because said window did not open from the outside, and the rest of them arriving home to him fuming on the doorstep and ignoring all of them for the rest of the night. It would make a funny podcast story later on, but he was pissed at the time, and combined with Gavin still edgy and moody, it only raised tensions in the house even higher.

It didn’t help that Jack was still under a heavy workload from shouldering Geoff’s duties while he was away, and the fact that he was working longer hours and spending most of his home time either stressed or trying to rest up was starting to get to the rest of them, the lads especially.

By the time Friday rolled around, everyone was tense and miserable. Fortunately they had no recording to do, because Gavin was pretty sure there was no way they could have hidden the sheer amount of vinegar in the room.

As it was, the worst of the moult had passed.

The pain in his wings had let up as most of the spikes began to sprout into feathers, leaving him uncomfortable rather than sore, but he was still feeling down and gloomy and the distance he had inadvertently (or advertently, stupidly advertently) created between the others was not helping in the slightest.

He was paranoid that they were all annoyed with him. They hadn’t said anything, but he could see it - the way they had to check themselves when they were around him, the effort it was taking them not to just tell him to snap out of it, or to stop being so grumpy, or to reach out and touch him at times, and it was just making him feel worse and worse, but he still didn’t know what to do about it and he still  couldn’t find the words or the motivation or the - the courage, maybe, to apologise - or to tell them how he was feeling - or to tell them what he wanted -

And now Michael was annoyed with Ray-

And now Jack was brushing them all off, stressing to get his massive workload done-

And Ryan didn’t seem to know how to fix it, the way he’d always fixed everything before, still caught up in guilt over Gavin getting cross with him, hesitant to interfere any more-

And they were falling apart, it was obvious, they just didn’t seem to want to admit it - and all Gavin could think was that he  had started it all, with those stupid feathers in that stupid house and everything that had happened afterwards - my fault, my fault, my fault -

“Damn it,” Michael snapped, slamming his headphones down roughly.

Gavin jumped in his seat, glancing across at him nervously - and Michael caught his eye. There was an awkward, frozen pause as they stared at each other.

“Fucking spinning wheel of doom,” Michael explained then, pointing at his screen where Final Cut Pro had frozen on him.

Gavin nodded. “Bad luck, boi,” he said, and turned back to his own screen, but not before he caught the flash of… something, that crossed Michael’s face, wistfulness almost, then irritation at the lack of joking banter that normally would have alleviated some of the tension in the room, put him in a better mood after the extreme suckishness that was your editing work crashing on you. Gavin bit his lip - Michael tended to favour getting angry over getting upset, a defence mechanism almost - which meant if he was getting annoyed now, it was a cover for him feeling just as stressed and unsettled as the rest of them, only further reinforcing just how much strain the five of them - their relationship - was under at the moment.

The door to the office opened at that moment, and Jack walked in, looking frazzled but also relieved.

“Everything is done,” he announced, and the rest of them turned to look at him. “I caught up on all Geoff’s work; it’s in the folder ready to upload whenever. Should be a somewhat more relaxing weekend now.”

“Lucky you,” Michael grouched, “Because I just lost fucking everything if this shit didn’t autosave.”

Jack moved up behind him to look at his screen. After a moment he let out a soft sigh, resting a hand on Michael’s shoulder and leaning forward to press a kiss to the top of his head, just behind his ear. From the corner of his eye Gavin saw Michael relax visibly, leaning back into Jack’s touch and letting out something perilously close to a purr.

“You’re too stressed,” Jack said, and then looked around the room. “All of us are. Come on, let’s go to lunch.”

Ray whipped his earphones out at the mention of the word ‘lunch’.

“Good plan,” he announced, and Jack laughed, reaching out to grab his hand.

“Come on then,” he said, turning towards Ryan - the motion tugged Ray closer to Michael, and for a moment they glanced at each other awkwardly before Ray gave a small smile, and Michael broke into a grin of his own. Jack’s easy cheer had, it seemed, spread to the rest of them - even Ryan was smiling when he got up.

Until they turned to Gavin.

“You coming, Vav?” Ray asked - and Jesus bloody Christ he should have just nodded, should have just gotten up and gone with them - but Ray was still holding Jack’s hand, and he was standing close enough to Michael that their shoulders were pressed against each other in an easy sort of camaraderie, and Jack’s other arm was moving in around Ryan’s waist as he got up from his chair.

And the solitude of the last few days suddenly slammed into Gavin in a rush - self-imposed by request, heightened by misunderstanding and his fucking inability to communicate - and suddenly he felt twitchy, touch-starved, and the thought of going to lunch with them - of sitting in his own little bubble of personal space while all the rest of them moved on without him - seemed completely unbearable.

You fool, he thought, just go with them - just act more normally and they’ll treat you how they used to - include yourself and they won’t leave you out-

But it was a balance he still couldn’t strike within himself enough to even begin communicating it to the others.

So he shook his head.

“Nah, I’m good.”

Ryan was frowning, now. “Did you eat yet today?”

“I’ll brown-bag it.”

Ryan hesitated. “Are you sure?”

It was Michael who cut in then, rolling his eyes as he snapped, “Jesus Christ, Gav, he wants you to come with us, he’s just too scared to push you in case you blow up at him again.”

Well. How was one meant to respond to that.

The other’s irritation only solidified his levels of do-not-want. If there was one thing worse than sitting around a table with a bunch of people ignoring you, it was sitting around a table with a bunch of people ignoring you and annoyed at you, and he shook his head again, moving to spin his chair back towards his monitor.

He saw a flash of movement as Michael reached out to grab his arm, but Jack caught his wrist before he could.

“Michael,” he said quietly.

All covers of anger dropped for a moment and Gavin could see that Michael looked hurt, obviously upset that Gavin was still avoiding the rest of them - but Jack and Ryan had exchanged a glance now, and a second later Ryan was ushering the two lads out of the room, leaving Jack and Gavin alone.

There was a frozen pause.

“Gavin.” Jack’s voice was gentle - too gentle - and it made him squirm in his seat, because suddenly, more than anything else, he desperately wanted his boyfriend to just reach out and - and hug him, or something, offer some sort of physical comfort. And it was stupid, stupid, stupid  because he was by no means shy, would normally not have hesitated to just launch himself into the other’s arms without a second thought. But the insecurities were rising back up - he’s angry with you? - the lethargy and nervousness that always came with the moult.

He couldn’t reach out. He needed Jack to make the first move. But Jack wouldn’t - couldn’t - because Gavin had told him not to, hadn’t he? You bloody idiot.

“Gavin,” Jack insisted, and Gavin dragged his eyes up to meet his, “You said you wanted us to leave you alone but now you seem upset, I just… I don’t get it.” There was an undercurrent of frustration to his tone. “You’re making us feel like we’re letting you down and it’s really getting to the others - how can we help  you?”

You’re making us feel like we’re letting you down.

You’re making us feel like we’re letting you down.

And how much fucking worse would it be if he started asking them for what he needed? An endless series of contradictions; touch me, don’t touch me, talk to me, don’t talk to me - how much more would they feel like they were failing him then, if like a child he changed his mind every few seconds?

And the thought struck him, then, out of nowhere - we shouldn’t have moved in together.

Suddenly the yearning to go home - and not back to their house, to home, to Geoff’s old place where he’d lived for so long - was like a physical ache in his chest. He missed it so much he could hardly breathe. His own bed - his own room  - where he didn’t have to hide in his own living space. Where he didn’t have to be careful not to bother the others, didn’t have to keep his guard up for lack of privacy.

It was stupid. It was probably because he missed Geoff still, was projecting that onto the house.

“Gavin.” There was a hint of impatience in Jack’s tone. He was still waiting for an answer.

“I don’t know,” Gavin blurted out.

Jack blinked at him a few times. “You… don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” Gavin repeated, and threw his hands up in the air, a mixture of irritation and upset roiling within him, threatening to bubble over. “I don’t bloody know, okay?! It’s not… it’s not something I can explain, it’s not. Something you can really help me with, I… I just. I don’t know.”

“Repeating ‘I don’t know’ over and over is not making me understand any clearer,” Jack pointed out.

I know that, I just - don’t -” And his voice was rising now. It was coming out angry in its desperation, and he could see that Jack was confused and growing more confused with every word Gavin forced out of his mouth. He didn’t know what to say, so he said what was at the forefront of his mind, ideas spewing out in the wrong order.

“It’s making it harder you guys trying… trying too hard all the time, I just need. I don’t know what I need but not this, not you ignoring me-”

“You asked us -”

“-but not you laying it on thick either, I can’t…” He shook his head, frustrated with himself, with how inarticulate he was being, “It’s too much and I can’t. I can’t take it twenty four seven, at home as well as at work, just you guys being there all the time-”

Us being there?” Jack cried, incredulously. “Gavin, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in a God damn relationship.”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Jack was bristling by this point, the fur of his mane standing on edge in agitation. And he had always been the gentlest, the most genuinely calm of them, so to see him so worked up spoke volumes about the amount of stress they were under. And with his ears pricked up, tail lashing, everything about him inadvertently screamed predator.

Gavin hunched back in his chair a little, wings rising defensively as unease curled in his stomach. Whatever Jack saw in his face made him force himself to relax, a stricken look crossing his features as he calmed himself, going so far as to hunker down a bit to make himself seem smaller.

He sighed, ran a hand over his face.

“Okay,” he said quietly. “Okay. So you want us to leave you alone. But you also… don’t want us to leave you alone.”

It was a matter of inflections, Gavin thought, a little hysterically, alone but not alone - and all he could do was give a miserable nod.

“That’s…” Jack trailed off, seeming honestly lost for words, and Gavin knew what he was thinking. Idiotic. Inarticulate. Too hard, too confusing - you’re making us feel like we’re letting you down - is that supposed to be an excuse?

“Do you want to be alone right now?” Jack asked then.

Yes. No. I don’t know.

All he could do was stare helplessly, and after a moment Jack shook his head with a sigh.

“Okay,” he said, and turned for the door. Gavin watched him go, the ache in his stomach growing by the second. Jack paused in the doorway.

“Jesus, Gavin, we’re trying,” he forced out - something sad and almost desperate in his tone - and it was that which made Gavin crumple when the door shut behind him, putting his head down on his desk and sucking in shaking breaths, trying to work out where he’d fucked up so horribly - because he’d upset Jack now, sweet, gentle Jack who at heart had always had such infinite patience with them all.

 


 

Jack found the boys waiting in the carpark, leaning against the car and waiting for him to get in.

None of them had asked what had happened in the car as they drove out to get their lunch, being careful not to upset his shaken mood any further.

It was quiet, so goddamn fucking quiet, and Jack hated it. He knew the other boys did too. It was too quiet, just like Gavin was nowadays about what the hell he wanted.

How did Gavin not know what he wanted? Jack had left on a silent answer, Gavin obviously still unsure about what he desired. God, they were trying - they were trying so hard not to annoy Gavin - but no matter what they did, he got agitated.

Ryan parked the car and they walked inside, sitting at a booth and mindlessly going through the menu. Only when they had ordered their light lunches did someone speak up.

“So, why couldn’t he come?” Michael asked, his voice so heartbreakingly laced with despair that Jack, at that very moment, absolutely hated Gavin, the way that he could do this to all of them.  

“He… He doesn’t know,” Jack answered, unsure of what else to say. It was the only thing Gavin seemed to say during the whole ordeal, after all.

“What happened in there, Jack?” Ryan asked, his hand going to Jack’s knee and forcing himself to calm down and relax. He still had the other three boys to hold together, after all.

So he explained what had happened, what Gavin had said. Michael was beginning to get annoyed, his ears flattening against his head and Jack tried to say just how much any show of aggression was a bad idea.

Needless to say, all the boys were surprised when Jack told them he let his control slip and he had scared Gavin. The look on Gavin’s face so astonishingly painful and the fact that Jack had been the one to cause it… Jack knew he’d be regretting it for a very long time to come.

It seemed to calm down Michael a little, who got the underlying message that showing aggression was probably the worst thing to do. Gavin was skittish enough as it was, as was Ray, and it would do no one any good if Michael let his control slip too.

Ryan began to question aloud just what the perfect balance for Gavin was. He didn’t want contact, but then again he did, but oh no just wait.

It was frustrating to all of them - and it was only when Jack was reflecting on their conversation at the table as they were driving back to the office that he noticed - but Ray had actually remained silent the whole time.

Jack then had a thought and spoke aloud in the car, breaking the tense silence. “Ray, how has Gavin been around you?”  

Ray took a moment to think. “Well, he’s not as big of a dick to me as he is to you guys. He doesn’t seem pissed off at me for anything in particular, so that’s probably good, right?”

Jack nodded. “Definitely,” he answered, “it means you might have a chance to speak to him and maybe he has figured out what he wants by now. So you’re going into the office by yourself and speaking with him while the rest of us go wherever. Good?”

All the others agreed and Jack was glad that they at least had some possible idea of what to do with Gavin. If Ray could just talk to him, he’d probably have a better chance of figuring out what Gavin wanted.

But then of course, the bloody idiot wasn’t even in the office. They went looking around, asking around, but nothing and no one knew where Gavin had gone. Worry began to close in around Jack’s chest, however someone managed to come by with news.

Lindsay walked up to Jack, a casual smile on her lips and all around relaxed, which soothed Jack a bit.

“Heard you were looking for Gav,” she said. “I saw him in his office, but Burnie just took him out to wherever a few minutes ago. Dunno where they went.”

Jack thanked Lindsay, relieved that Gavin was, in fact, alright. It did mean, however, that they wouldn’t be able to talk to him for a while, so the plan with Ray was probably out the window.

There was nothing they could do except wait, so they just sat in the office and did whatever. Jack really did not want to edit or make another video for at least a day after doing so many, so he just played on his phone.

A message from Burnie came through and Jack was quick to open it, reading the text before relaying it to the boys.

“Burnie said he’s driving Gav home later. We’ll see him tonight, then,” Jack announced. There was a mix of emotions from all of them, but Jack was feeling a bit anxious as to how the night would go. Hopefully, Jack hadn’t spooked him too much.

He really ate those words.

When they got home, Gavin was already there, curled onto the corner of the couch. He looked up, the smell of the takeaway they got probably drawing his attention, but when he caught Jack’s eye he… God, he looked afraid.

Ryan placed the food on the kitchen counter, letting the boys grab their own plates. Jack grabbed one for himself, getting his food on the plate and noticing how Gavin was no longer even looking at them.

They sat around the couch, Ray thankfully taking the spot next to Gavin. He seemed to get the amount of space Gavin wanted, being close enough that if Gavin stretched his wings Ray would get a mouth full of feathers, but far enough that Gavin had a clear boundary of his own space.

Ray did look at Gavin at one point, all of them watching as eventually Gavin turned to Ray and Ray lifted up his plate in a show of food, but Gavin just shrugged and shook his head, going back to his phone. Ray glanced away, looking hurt.

That was the tipping point, apparently.

They should’ve expected Michael to be the one to lash out first, they should’ve been watching him, but they weren’t. Before they even realised what was going on, Michael was putting down his plate and standing up, storming over and stopping just in front of Gavin.

Shit,” Jack heard Ryan say beside him, and he knew this would not end well if they didn’t stop Michael.

Ray was already getting up, about to step in front of Gavin and defend him, but Michael was already firing off.

“Holy shit, I can’t fucking stand it with you anymore!” Michael yelled, and Gavin looked up from his phone, obviously in shock over being so suddenly reprimanded.

“You want your fucking space because your stupid fucking feathers are going everywhere, fine, that’s cool. But I can’t take your shitty attitude with us despite the fact that we are trying, we are fucking trying, and you can’t fucking seem to help us because you don’t know what the fuck you want.” At this point, Michael was livid. His ears were flattened again, and his tail was standing straight up, swishing ever so slightly.

Gavin had taken to the defensive position again, his wings curling around him to form a barrier, and Jack wondered why he hadn’t just climbed the couch or run like he normally would if he was so threatened.

And then Jack realised, a sickening feeling churning in his stomach. Gavin hadn’t run - hadn’t even made the move to hide - with Jack, either. Because Gavin was, most likely, too shocked to even consider running. Too frightened. Because the men he was meant to trust most were beginning to show the line between predator and prey.

And birds were always the prey of felines.

God, the two worst hybrids to get riled up were beginning to give off the vibe of predator, and it was probably scaring the ever loving shit out of Gavin, having to face his boyfriend in such a situation.

Jack wondered how long it would be until Michael truly attacked, and taking a look at Michael’s features, it wouldn’t be long.




Gavin wasn’t even sure what was happening, all he knew was that Michael had begun yelling and Gavin could see the way his ears were flattened - a sign of being ready to attack - the tail that was now stiff in the air, the way that Michael was no longer Michael.

He was a predator, he was Gavin’s predator, and shit, why couldn’t he bloody move? He had to escape, he had to get out now before he was ripped to shreds.

All he knew was that his wings had reacted accordingly, had curled in as the barrier they usually formed - ready to deflect and protect the more important body parts in an attack - and now his predator was right above him, ready to attack and Gavin curled in-

Threw his arms over his face-

Why the hell wasn’t he  running?

He couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t. God, it was a predator above him, but it was also Michael.

Waiting for the blow that would likely end up inflicting some serious damage seemed to take a damn long time.

It never came.

A frozen silence descended over the room, and he cracked open his eyes. Lowered his arms slowly to find all four of them staring at him, a mixture of sadness and horror on their faces. Ryan had his hands on Michael’s shoulders, but the overbearing rage had drained from the cat hybrid; he was still tense, still simmering - but there was something else in his eyes now, something odd, on the verge of vulnerable.

“Gav…” his voice was quiet, unsure.

Gavin suddenly felt very exposed, on the couch by himself with all of them staring at him. He kept his wings up, but not so much for physical defence any more.

“I wasn’t… Jesus Christ, Gav, you don’t have to look so - I wasn’t going to hit you, fuck. I was just gonna…” He made a shaking motion with his hands, then realised the tips of his claws were out, just slightly. “...oh. Fuck.”

Ray had half-risen from where he was sitting, had placed himself between Michael and Gavin, one hand out as though to push Gavin out of the way. He was trembling, too, his ears almost completely flat against his head, obviously shaken up from the shouting and aggression in the room, but still determined.

Too much animal, Gavin thought, a little hysterically - it was taking over too much, in all  of them. Stress made it harder to control. Or maybe - maybe it was living together. Maybe it’s him.

The silence was awkward now. Michael’s voice rose to fill it.

“I would never hurt you, idiot - you’re my boi, Gavin.”

And there was something pleading and desperate in his tone - begging for Gavin to respond with the same. For things to just - snap back to normal.

He couldn’t snap back to normal.

He physically couldn’t - it was bloody… hormones, or something, it made him more defensive, more fearful this time of year. That was partly why he needed to spend more time alone. Partly why he took offence to things rather than letting them run off his back as usual.

All he could do was sit there and stare at Michael, eyes wide and blown, like a dumb fucking bird, like a deer caught in the headlights - like the stupid bloody idiot who was breaking their whole relationship up.

Watching things fall apart around him.

“Jesus Christ, Michael,” Jack snarled - actually snarled - and Michael whirled around. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

I wasn’t going to hit him.”

“Sure fucking looked like it,” Ray ground out.

“I fucking wasn’t! I got angry, sure, but I wasn’t going to  hit  him.”

“Angry is an understatement, Michael.” It was Ryan who spoke up, quiet and disapproving - and the chastisement in his tone - gentle but somehow almost patronising - had Michael bristling again.

“Can you blame me? Gavin’s behaviour has been pissing off all of us, so don’t you dare act like I’m the only one that is annoyed here. I know all of you are angry too, I know that Jack nearly lost it as well, so don’t you fucking dare start painting me as the bad guy here.”

Gavin kept his wings close to him, the tension in the air still screaming out danger. Ray lowered his hands to his sides and formed fists.

“But none of us fucking went to attack him,” Ray said it so quietly, so resolutely, but Gavin didn’t miss the way his voice trembled. “Leave Gavin the hell alone.”

Michael’s gaze darted to the rest of them, accusing now. A finger jabbed at Ray. “Don’t you get on your fucking high horse when you were complaining to me the other day about how he kept picking fights with you in GTA. Or you, Ryan, getting sour about how distant he’s been - you’ve all been fucking complaining about it, you’re all just as mad as me, you just don’t want to fucking say anything about it.”

Each word was a stab in the gut.

“He’s not,” Michael ground out, “An infant. He doesn’t need you to baby him. He’s a grown ass man and it’s not okay,” directed at Gavin now, eyes boring into his, wide with anger - wide with hurt - “It’s not okay for you to just shut us out suddenly like this. We’re not fucking mind readers and we’re trying our God damn best but I’m sick of it, okay?”

A frozen silence. When Michael spoke again his voice was strained.

“I’m sick of feeling like I’m letting you down at every turn when you refuse to tell me what you want. If you tell  me, Gavin,” pleading now, “Just tell me what you need and I’ll go to the end of the fucking earth to get it for you, but you can’t just… you can’t just say to leave you alone - you can’t just order us to leave you alone - and then start looking at us like we’ve abandoned  you. You can’t just snap and snarl at us and then act all hurt when we get annoyed, it just - it doesn’t work. This isn’t working.”

The words dropped like bombs in the quiet room - what everyone had been thinking but dreaded to say. They seemed to encompass not just the here and now, but everything - the entirety of the last five days. The fights. The lack of communication. The animals rising up within them, threatening their fragile control.

“Yeah, because you just spooking the shit out of Gavin will definitely help make it work and everything,” Jack broke the silence, his voice quiet but admonishing, and Michael took a deep breath and calmed a little before responding.

“Nothing will make it work  until he lets us help him.”

And no one - not even Ray - could disagree with that.

“Gavin, please, just please tell me we can sort this out, that we can help you.” Michael was on the verge of pleading now.

Guilt suddenly seemed to expand in Gavin’s chest, constricting his throat and hitching his breath as he heard the desperate words. God, he couldn’t explain it, couldn’t tell them what he wanted because there was a damn filter or something jammed in his throat, not allowing the words he wanted to escape his lips.

“You guys just don’t understand, I-” His voice was quiet, afraid of speaking any louder, like it would somehow shatter their fragile situation altogether.

“Because you won’t explain it, Gavin!” Ryan was the one to cut Gavin off, and the sudden change on Ryan’s sides made Gavin freeze, unable to finish his sentence out of shock.

“We’ve tried asking, we’ve tried understanding, but you keep shutting us down every damn time, Gav,” Ryan continued, and Gavin could feel the lump in his throat swelling, could feel it threatening to stop his words.

“I just.. I just can’t explain it, you don’t get it. It just… I can’t just,” and there it was- that same horrible feeling, the same damn  annoying  feeling building up because he couldn’t explain it, he couldn’t force the words to form.

The room was silent, none of them sure how to continue. All of them looked drained and exhausted and Gavin just wanted to get the hell out of the room, to escape the arguing.

Gavin was not equipped to deal with fights. In fact, he avoided them at all costs, and before this - before Geoff and all the others - he had made a habit of avoiding break ups. You couldn’t break up with someone if you weren’t dating them in the first place - and any separations were easy to deal with by simply, you know. Dropping all communication ever.

But he could not ignore this. Not when all four of them were there, not just a string of increasingly annoyed text messages but standing in front of him, flesh and blood and hurt.

He went to speak again, to force something past the damn filter, but Michael cut in front of him.

“Fuck this. When you fucking figure it out, let me know.” Michael stormed off with those words, and Gavin felt a wide range of emotions that he forced himself to suppress. He couldn’t be angry with Michael - with any of them - because it was all his fault. He had caused this, he had caused this rift all by his damn self.

Why did he always have to go and bloody ruin everything?

It seemed that when Michael left, he took Gavin’s words with him. Ryan looked at him sadly - defeated, at this point - and turned and walked away, following Michael to the bedroom.

And God, how Gavin wished to call out after him, to apologise and explain that if all of them just worked patiently, they’d figure it out together. He had done it with Geoff, and he knew his boys would be willing to do it easily.

But he didn’t, he didn’t bloody try and stop Ryan, didn’t try and stop Jack and Ray also turning and leaving.

He stood there for a long time, too frozen - too shocked - to even remember how to move. He didn’t even remember when he had stood up; maybe somewhere amidst the arguing, maybe after. 

It didn’t matter either way. He ended up just collapsing back down onto the couch below him, bringing his knees to his chest and curling his wings around him and desperately longed for the warmth of his boys that was now no longer welcome to him.

Sleep took a long time to come to him. He spaced out, berating and cursing himself, and the boys, and above all his damn stupid, stupid wings.



Geoff returned home early on a Saturday morning. He was at the airport by five, out of customs by six, and it was rolling on seven when his taxi pulled up outside of their house, their new house - he was disoriented, for a minute, having half expected to return home to where he’d previously lived with Gavin, but he quickly remembered oh hey, we moved, and then was hit by a thrill of excitement as he realised that meant it wouldn’t just be one of his boyfriends waiting to greet him, it would be all five of them.

His flight had come in early enough that he’d decided to forego being picked up by them in favour of taking a cab, knowing that they’d already be tired from shouldering a bigger workload while he was gone. And he was feeling mildly jet-lagged himself, but his eagerness to see his boys won out as he slid his key into the lock and entered quietly, hoping to surprise them if they weren’t already awake.

He took two steps into the living room and stopped.

Gavin was sprawled out on the couch, alone, his wings pulled up over himself in lieu of a blanket - looking a little scruffy and in good need of a preen. He was curled in on himself slightly, his brow furrowed like he wasn’t sleeping all that peacefully, and for a moment Geoff wondered why the hell he’d be out here when none of the others were.

But then he realised, hey, he’d probably been waiting up for Geoff - either foolishly trying to pull an all-nighter or intending to wake up early to be ready to greet him, only to fail at both - and a slow grin spread across his face. He’d missed him too much and was in too good of a mood to wake him up unpleasantly, so he quietly left his suitcase by the living room door and crept over to sit on the couch beside him. He leaned forward to gently press a kiss to Gavin’s hair - and God he had missed them, God it was a relief to just be able to touch one of his lovers again - and smiled a little when Gavin squirmed closer to him, leaning into the touch, though he still didn’t wake up yet.

“Hey, Gavvy,” Geoff whispered, letting his hand nestle in the other’s hair for a moment before trailing it down the nape of his neck and to his back. Though his wings were unbound, they were only half-folded, and Geoff gently tugged at one, spreading it out over his lap as he began to smooth out the dishevelled feathers.

“You are a fucking mess, buddy,” he murmured fondly. “Leave you alone for a week and you start looking like you belong back out in the wild.”

He started carding his fingers through the feathers, gently sorting out the mess, but paused when a couple of them started coming away in his hands. That wasn’t uncommon, birds tended to shed all the time, but Geoff paused when he felt an odd, sharp roughness under his fingertips.

What the fuck.

Closer examination revealed the budding spikes of new feathers sprouting from between the soft down of Gavin’s wings, most of them already growing out into blood feathers, their dark stems standing out amongst the rest of the white and brown. Geoff pulled back instantly, not wanting to be careless, fearful he’d snap one accidentally and make Gavin start bleeding everywhere. A frown descended over his features as he realised that Gavin was either starting his moult or, more likely, near the end of it.

The motion had woken Gavin up, though, and the next thing Geoff knew he was blinking blearily up at him, sleep-dazed and confused as though he wasn’t sure what he was seeing was real.

“Geoff…?” he mumbled, squinting comically at him, and Geoff couldn’t help the wide grin that spread over his face.

“In the flesh. Do I get a welcome home kiss now?”

It seemed to take a moment for his words to register. Then Gavin’s eyes snapped open and the next thing Geoff knew he had a lapful of bird as he was pulled into a hug so tight it nearly crushed away his breath.

Geoff,” Gavin said again - excited, but something almost urgent in his voice as he squeezed Geoff in a nearly vice-like grip, his arms painfully tight where they were locked around Geoff’s waist, head practically buried under his chin. Geoff spluttered through a mouthful of Gavin’s hair and, he was quite sure, part of his own moustache, but laughed and brought his hands up to hug him back, mindful of his wings.

“Yep…. yep… okay, I can’t really breathe here, bud.”

Gavin’s grip loosened up a bit but he didn’t let go. If anything he squirmed further into Geoff’s lap, practically burying his face in the other’s t-shirt, and Geoff started to laugh only for it to peter out when he realised Gavin was shaking slightly.

“Gav…?” He stroked one hand down the other’s hair. What’s going on? “Everything alright? Come on, I’m flattered you missed me that much but…”

“Geoff.” A new and exhilaratingly familiar voice had him lifting his head. It was Ryan standing in the doorway, the others trailing in behind him. He looked happy to see Geoff, a smile already spreading across his lips - but there was something relieved in it too, and abruptly Geoff realised that he looked exhausted. That they all looked exhausted; Jack hovering behind him, Michael and Ray close by his side - they all looked like they’d barely slept last night, and not in a good, waiting-for-our-boyfriend-to-come-back-tomorrow way. In a something-is-fucking-wrong way. Geoff frowned.

“My flight came in a bit early,” he started to say - but Ryan was already striding across the room, bending across the back of the couch to kiss him. Geoff leaned up as best he could to meet his lips, Gavin still in his lap.

He was surprised, however, when Gavin flinched back away from where Ryan was leaning over him, turning his face into Geoff’s shoulder. And as Geoff broke back, away from Ryan, he looked to the others and starting picking up tell-tale signs of distress. Michael’s ears were back against his head the way they got when he was upset, his tail lashing in something that wasn’t quite irritation but close to it. Ray had his shoulders hunched up, ears back as well - and Gavin... Gavin’s feathers were fluffing up more and more by the second, a defensive mechanism he always used when attacked, - usually not due to any sort of genuine threat; more like when Michael playfully had a go at him or he and Geoff got into a wrestling match. But they weren’t fighting now and Gavin still wouldn’t look at the others, and still wouldn’t stop clinging to Geoff, and all the others looked stricken and-

“What the fuck is going on here?” Geoff asked, sitting up a little more. He’d expected happiness, excitement, even relief at his return, but not this dead silence and a feeling of horrible tension in the room. “Someone die while I was away or something?”

“No,” Jack replied. He leaned forward to kiss Geoff too, and that was the signal for Ray and Michael to come around the side of the couch and try to come in to hug him, but Gavin was still huddled up in his lap and there was something about his uncharacteristic silence that had Geoff uneasy and unwilling to push him away to make room for the others.

“Hold up a fucking second,” he said, sitting up a bit more on the couch. “Tell me what’s going on here.”

“We had a… a bit of a fight while you were away,” Ryan spoke up then, the others nodding, and Geoff frowned, still confused.

“What the fuck does that mean? A bit of a fight? Gavin, what’s wrong?” he added then. He reached up and tried to pry Gavin’s fingers from his shirt. “Ryan, tell me what happened right the fuck now.”

Ryan stared at him helplessly, glancing between he and Gavin as though he wasn’t sure where to start - or didn’t want to start - but to Geoff’s surprise, it was Ray who stepped forward. He squashed onto the couch next to Geoff and reached out, tentatively running a hand along Gavin’s arm.

“Gav,” he said, quietly. “I’m sorry about last night. The last thing we wanted was to upset you more but… you gotta understand we’re just worried and-“

He was squeezing Gavin’s shoulder now, thumb rubbing slow circles on the exposed skin of his neck where his collar rode down a little, but Geoff could feel how tense Gavin was and it was quite evident that he was getting more than enough physical contact from Geoff without Ray adding to the mix. Gently he reached up and took hold of Ray’s hand, pulling it away.

“Hey, maybe don’t touch him so much, I think he’s on the moult right now,” he said - only for the other four to freeze and stare at him.

“Wait, you know  about this?” Michael demanded, and Geoff blinked a couple of times.

“Know about what?”

This,” Michael cried, and waved a hand in Gavin’s general direction. “This fucking - moulting thing, or whatever.”

“What? Yes, of course, he does it every year.” And a horrid suspicion was sneaking over Geoff now. When Ryan said ‘fight’ he’d imagined… well, he wasn’t sure what. A proper argument, something recent, maybe fighting over something that had happened in the house. But Michael’s reaction had him wondering.

“You guys did know he was moulting, right?” he asked, in disbelief - and got nods all around.

“Yeah,” Ryan said. “But we…” and here he trailed off, again not seeming to quite know what to say.

Geoff realised then, all of a sudden, exactly what had gone wrong here.

Because it wasn’t like he hadn’t been confused too, the first time. And God, it had taken a ridiculously fucking long time for him to even get the whole story out of Gavin when he first started dropping feathers all over the place, and even then Gavin had seemed to find it mortally difficult to tell him what was going on. He’d had to observe most of the symptoms and mood changes for himself to even figure out what to do and how to deal with them, because if there was one thing Gavin was terrible at (apart from driving in GTA V and surviving more than ten minutes in Minecraft without falling into lava) it was expressing himself. Especially when it came to personal things, or anything he deemed genuinely embarrassing.

“Gavin,” he said, sternly, and prised Gavin off him, pushing him back against the couch and gripping his shoulders until Gavin finally looked up and met his eyes. He looked upset, but there was something sullen to his features as well when he noticed how Geoff was glaring at him.

“Gav,” Geoff sighed, “You did tell  them you were moulting, right?”

“Bit hard not to when I was dropping bloody feathers all over the place, innit,” Gavin replied, the words coming out quick and nervous.

Geoff rolled his eyes. “Sure, but did you tell them what happens? Did you warn them?”

The lack of an answer was answer enough, and Geoff turned to the others with a frown.

“He’s a piece of shit when he’s moulting. Fucking mood swings galore, needs his space. His wings hurt, it makes him cranky. It doesn’t help that he never fucking tells you what he needs, either.” This with another glare at Gavin, though there was no malice in it.

“Yeah, we… kind of experienced that,” Jack said, but there was something almost guilty to his tone that made Geoff wonder just what, exactly, had happened.

“That what your little fight was about then?” he asked. He still didn’t get an answer, and it wasn’t until he noticed how none of the others would quite look at Gavin - or each other, for that matter - that it hit him.

“Not such a little  fight then, was it?” he said, with a sad sort of sigh.

Gavin reached over and grasped a fistful of his t-shirt again.

“I wanted you here, Geoff,” he said, simply - and Geoff let out a rush of breath, the quiet words making something ache deep inside him. It was fucking hard sometimes being so much older than the others; they looked to him, he knew, for protection or guidance or just support; especially with Gavin.

“I know, Gav, I’m sorry.” He flung an arm out over the other man’s shoulders, keeping it loose enough that he could just shrug it off if he decided he didn’t want to be touched anymore - and saw how the other four’s eyes tracked the movement, something almost disappointed in their gaze.

And he saw plainly now what the problem was. Because fuck, he hadn’t realised Gavin’s moult would hit while he was away, and he honestly couldn’t think of a worse time this could have happened.

They’d all just moved in. They were still adjusting to one another. It had taken him a good few years to be able to handle Gavin easily at this time, to work out what to do. Four people blundering around unsure of themselves would have been a recipe for disaster - made even worse by the fact that they cared about Gavin so much. They would have wanted to help - been overeager and then hurt when he pushed them away, unable to quite understand why. Especially since he was certain Gavin wouldn’t have been able to find the words to explain exactly what he needed.

“I know what I’m doing because I’ve been putting up with this for seven fucking years,” he explained - casting a fond smile at Gavin so he’d know there was no resentment in it. “Can’t blame you guys for being a bit confused.”

“We got more than a bit confused,” Ryan admitted, something guilty in his tone.

Geoff frowned, unsure what he meant for a minute - then he registered Gavin’s still-fluffed feathers, the wariness in his eyes.

“And I bet he didn’t fucking explain that  to you either,” Geoff sighed. “He gets more… defensive, this time of year, all birds do. Flightier. Gavin, chill the fuck out, they’re your boyfriends, they’re not about to jump you.”

It seemed that the sheer relief of having Geoff back - having someone who knew what he was doing, who could calm Gavin down for them - drained away any residual anger or annoyance that they may have had from the night before. They moved to sit down around the couch - Ryan perching on the armrest, Jack claiming the other armchair, Michael and Ray finally leaning in to kiss Geoff before sprawling on the bean bag together.

“Gavin,” Jack said then, slowly, “Sorry about last night. Like Ray said - we were just worried about you. We didn’t mean to lose control.”

Michael nodded, blowing him a couple of kisses. That made Gavin smile a bit - if anything, seeming reassured of the fact that four out of five of his boyfriends were not, in fact, angry with him perked him up a bit.

“It’s okay,” he said then. “It’s been a bloody long week for all of us. And I…” He paused, taking the time for once to mull over what he was about to say instead of just blurting out whatever came to the tip of his tongue. “I’m sorry as well. I know I’ve been a dick all week, I just… I assumed you’d know what to do and that was unfair, and I know I’m crap at explaining-”

“You’re fucking right about that,” Michael cut in, “But by this point we should know  you’re terrible at it and, like, fucking expect it. So this whole thing basically boils down to all of us overestimating each other. Which I suppose should be flattering.”

“I think flattered is the last thing any of us feels right now,” Ray said, with a slightly self-deprecating laugh. “Really though, Gav, I… I feel bad for not knowing what to do, how to help you-”

“Which you shouldn’t,” Geoff interrupted with a slight frown. “Like I said. I’ve had seven years to work out this shit. And guess what?” he added, with a slightly goofy grin around at them. “We’ll have seven years more for you lot to work it out too.”

“Assuming we don’t kill each other trying to live together first,” Ryan laughed, and Geoff rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, the move kind of really didn’t help,” Gavin piped up - something almost wistful in his eyes, and Geoff reached out and ruffled his hair.

“Well, I know me leaving might’ve thrown you all out of balance, because you all revolve around me and I am the sun in the solar system of this relationship-”

Assorted booing from the others at this, Ray throwing up a lazy thumbs down from where he was sprawled across the bean bag.

“Space,” Gavin murmured.

“-but we’ll get used to it,” Geoff continued. And smiled around at them all - still revelling in the sheer novelty of being together again, the six of them. “We’ll get used to it together. Better that than being apart, right? That’s what fucking matters and all that.”

They nodded, humming thoughtfully. And beside him on the couch, Ryan reached over and laced his fingers between Geoff’s, squeezing gently - Michael shifted over on the beanbag to lean his head against Ray’s shoulder - Jack caught Gavin’s eyes and gave him a soft sort of smile that the other man returned with little hesitation.

Geoff grinned, then - and conversation quickly turned to things that had happened while he was away. The good things, all of them carefully avoiding mentioning the fights and the tension, sticking to the Lets Plays they’d filmed (and Michael managing to laugh his way through the locked-outside, attempted-window-climbing incident, which to be fair was much funnier in hindsight). Gavin still plastered himself to Geoff’s side, trailing after him even when they relocated to the kitchen to get breakfast, but it wasn’t long before jet lag took over and Geoff found himself starting to yawn as the time zone difference started to kick in, having not slept all that much on the plane either.

Jack noticed immediately, of course, and chuckled softly.

“You want to go take a nap or something?”

“I might, actually,” Geoff replied. “Wake me up if I’m out too long though; I don’t want to fuck up my sleeping habits.”

“Sure,” Jack replied, and Geoff cast one last around at them - his boys - happy to be home before he retreated off to the bedroom.

 


 

With Geoff gone Gavin suddenly felt a little lost again, standing in the middle of the kitchen clutching a tea towel. The relief at the other man being home was overwhelming, exhausting in its intensity - even now he still felt slightly out of sorts. The moult was nearly over but the stress of the last week or so hung over him.

He had been terrified this morning, when the others came in. Mostly due to some sleep-dazed prospect that they were still pissed off at him - that even Geoff returning wouldn’t be enough to set things back to normal. But he’d been mistaken, in the way he usually was when he let his doubts get the better of him.

They weren’t angry - he thought - he hoped, and in the silence that followed Geoff’s exit he cast a quick, almost nervous glance around at the others.

Ray caught his eye and then, out of nowhere, made as though to throw the china plate he was holding at him. Gavin flinched back with a squawk.

“The fuck, Ray?” Michael demanded, having ducked back as well.

“I was going to recreate that scene from the Hobbit,” Ray informed them all. “You know, where they throw all the plates. We could start like a chain of chucking the dishes in the sink and washing up-”

No,” Ryan said, instantly, and Ray laughed, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah, I know, I thought better of it immediately.”

“The only acceptable reason for breaking all our expensive plates would be for Gavin to film it in slow motion,” Ryan said, snatching the dish from Ray before he could do anything else with it and dumping it in the sink. “And even then I probably wouldn’t let him.”

The tension thus broken, they set about cleaning up breakfast with a noise and clamour that Gavin found oddly soothing; quickly losing himself in the methodical rhythm of drying the dishes as Michael passed them to him. He was so engrossed in what he was doing that it took him a moment to notice when he’d dried the last glass, placing it in the cabinet behind him before turning to find Michael standing right in front of him, staring at him with a peculiar intensity.

“Hey Gav,” Michael said.

Gavin blinked a bit. “Hi Michael?”

Michael reached out and plucked the tea towel from his grasp before grabbing both his hands and just holding them, swinging them slightly in an almost childlike manner. “You feeling okay now?”

“Yep,” Gavin replied - and it wasn’t a lie, either. As everything seemed to fade back to normalcy things were slowing, settling. “I’m top.”

“That’s good.” Michael paused then, something hesitant in his eyes. “I love you, you know.”

“Aww, Michael.”

“Shut up, I’m trying to be serious here,” Michael said - and Gavin couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face, wide and stupid and terribly relieved under everything. “You know that, right? We’re cool?”

“Of course,” Gavin replied. “Team Nice Dynamite, right?”

“Right,” Michael replied, a smile tugging up at his lips before he leaned in and kissed him - a brief, soft peck on the lips before he turned away. Gavin made a half-hearted grab at his tail but he moved too quickly, only to be immediately replaced by Ryan. It was only then that Gavin noticed the others had left the kitchen, giving them some semblance of privacy.

“Are we going to have a Love and Stuff moment as well?” Gavin asked - and Ryan smiled at that, but there was still something oddly serious in his eyes.

“I still feel like shit over hiding that medicine from you,” he admitted. When Gavin opened his mouth he held up a hand, barrelling on. “Look, Geoff’s not always going to be here-”

“Jesus bleedin’ Christ, don’t make it sound like you’re gonna murder him.”

“You know what I mean,” Ryan scoffed, rolling his eyes. “But if his trip had been longer, or he goes away again - we’re not always gonna know what to do, so. Even if you can’t express it well, you  still know what’s best for you. So whether it be taking painkillers or deciding whether or not you want to kiss us goodnight, I want you to know that we’re deferring to your judgement in these matters from now on. Even if it confuses us, even if we don’t get it. It’s about what’s best for you, okay? Don’t be scared of telling us what you want or need just because you think we’ll be annoyed or whatever, I don’t think I could stand it if we ended up making you feel like that-”

“Okay,” Gavin cut him off, sensing he was starting to ramble. “I mean it, it’s okay. That sounds fine.”

“The next time you start dropping feathers everywhere, I promise to have the utmost patience with you,” Ryan added. “No matter how contradictory your requests may be. Your wish is my command.”

“That sounds very promising,” Gavin smirked, and then laughed when Ryan rolled his eyes. “So if I told you I wanted to kiss you afternoon-”

“Kiss me afternoon?” Ryan questioned - and Gavin flushed, realising he’d failed to express himself properly again, but Ryan just smiled, shaking his head. “The incoherency strikes again. But,” he added, and leaned in close, Gavin’s breath hitching a little as Ryan got in his space. “I’m all for it.”

Ryan’s hands were very gentle, cradling his face as he pressed their lips together. There was still something overly cautious to his movements; he held Gavin like he was worried one wrong move or rough press would damage him. After feeling on the verge of a break down all week it was welcome, and Gavin melted into his touch, hands rising to Ryan’s shoulders.

Ryan pulled back a little too soon and Gavin made a soft, displeased noise - but quickly smiled when he saw the almost concern in Ryan’s eyes. He was obviously going to lengths now to make sure everything he did was okay, every touch now was something he was still comfortable with.

“I think someone else wants to talk to you,” Ryan said then, nodding towards the lounge room door.

Gavin followed his gaze and then bit his lip as he realised, Jack - Jack was waiting out there. He felt a stab of guilt suddenly, because he still felt bad for managing to upset the usually mild-mannered man so much over the last week, for somehow managing to behave so terribly or concerningly that even Jack got annoyed with him. And he knew he’d made Jack feel bad, too, involuntarily. This they had to fix.

He took a deep breath, his hands beginning to wring together with nerves but he forced himself to step away from Ryan and towards Jack.

Each time he took a step towards Jack, a memory flashed across his mind. Jack telling Gavin, you’re making us feel like we’re letting you down. Jack going from frustrated to predator was another step. But the closer he got, the less distressing the images became. Slowly, over the course of the few steps, Jack went back from predator to lover.

When Gavin was finally standing in front of Jack, there was a small smile at his lips as the last fond memory faded, but the feeling of guilt had only grown stronger.

How had he managed to make a man so gentle and patient so utterly frustrated and defeated?

“I’m sorry, Gav,” Jack apologised, and the feeling of guilt only intensified. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Gavin licked his dry lips and thought about his next move. God, he was never any damn good at apologising. So instead of speaking, he moved forward and hugged Jack, clutching the back of his shirt and squashing his face into his shoulder.

“I’m sorry too,” Gavin mumbled into the fabric of Jack’s shirt, his words nearly lost as they were so quiet. Even so, Jack managed to hear them  - thank God for heightened senses - and following Geoff’s lead, wrapped his arms around Gavin loosely enough that if he wanted to escape the embrace he could do so easily.

He didn’t, though, just scrunched the shirt even tighter and let himself relax as Jack began to kiss the top of his head. He even moved his head so that Jack could give him light kisses along his temple, and then Gavin twisted his neck a little more and both of their lips connected.

And yeah, going a week without kissing Jack definitely made him want to catch up now. Usually, Jack set the pace at something slow and compassionate, but they hadn’t kissed in nearly a damn week and even Gavin could feel his slips of control. He didn’t act on his urges, though, obviously too nervous to do anything without Gavin commanding it.

So command it he did. They began to kiss a little rougher, a little more desperately and between kisses they would whisper apologies to each other, but they began to get jumbled and Gavin's brain just completely forgot how to work – Jack just knew how to do that – and the words eventually changed to “ It's okay. We're okay.”

It was interrupted by Ray, who threw a pillow at the back of Gavin’s head and broke the two apart.

Jack looked over Gavin’s shoulder and grinned, and Gavin turned around to face a playfully irate Ray.

“You’re just going around and banging everyone but me,” Ray pouted, folding his arms petulantly from where he stood. “That’s very racist.”

Jack was laughing, and Gavin slipped out of the embrace with ease. How could he leave Ray out, the one that had gone to defend him and had treated him with a hell of a lot of patience, even coming close to almost understanding Gavin’s whole situation.

Gavin gave Ray a sheepish smile, about to apologise, but Ray stopped him with a raised hand.

“No apologies,” Ray ordered, and Gavin frowned a little. Of course he had to apologise, he had to say just how sorry he was for treating them all like absolute trash- especially Ray, who had tried his best to understand.

“Okay, so how about a thanks?” It was better than nothing, at least, and Gavin decided Ray really didn’t have a say in the matter. He would say it anyway, or rather show it.

“Hm, that I could live with,” Ray replied and then suddenly seemed to remember all the times that Gavin thanked him with ‘ presents’. “Wait, what kind of thanks?” he asked, skeptical now.

Gavin just shrugged and Ray watched him cautiously as he approached with slow steps. Ray probably expected the usual definition of a thanks and was preparing to bolt in case it was what he expected, but Gavin surprised him by moving in and capturing their lips together.

“That kind of thanks,” Gavin mumbled when he pulled back and Ray just grinned.

“Oh yeah, I could definitely live with that,” Ray responded, and moved back in to kiss again.

Gavin smiled a bit and decided to show just how grateful he was, one hand coming up to tangle in Ray’s hair as he pressed forward, deepening the kiss. Ray let out a little noise, startled but pleased as he seemed to get the message, his own fingers tracing gently over Gavin’s jaw before wrapping around the back of his neck as he stepped in closer, tugging their bodies together.

“You guys wanna take that to the bedroom?” Jack’s voice cut in, amused - and they broke apart quickly, Ray scoffing out a laugh against Gavin’s lips.

“What,” he said, “On top of Geoff’s napping body-”

“Jesus Christ, Ray,” Gavin cut in, laughing a little hysterically, and Ray shot him a lazy grin.

“Seriously though,” Ray said. “Michael’s already in there with him - fucking cats sleeping all the time - they’re probably getting a bit lonely. We can go join them. If that’s okay with you,” he added, casting Gavin a careful glance.

Gavin didn’t even need to consider. He nodded and both Ray and Jack lit up a little in happiness - and Gavin knew that having both himself and Geoff missing from the bed the night before had probably left it feeling a little empty - and Ray threaded their fingers together and pulled Gavin along to the bedroom.

“Come on Ryan,” Ray called out in the general direction of the kitchen where Ryan was still lurking. “We’re going to go bang in the bedroom. You know, the gay kind.”

“We are not,” Gavin immediately denied, then after a moment added: “At least, not on top of Geoff.”

Gavin heard Ryan chuckle but didn’t hear if he actually followed, because immediately Ray was pulling him again into the bedroom, the door already open.

Michael glanced at them lazily; he was obviously just on the very border of sleep and had been disturbed by their entrance while Geoff remained dead to the world.

Gavin felt bad about disturbing Michael, but Ray had no such sympathy. He shuffled in, and made Michael shift over - who had hogged like, half the bed - because Geoff probably wouldn’t wake up and move for them. At least he was (mostly) in the middle.

Jack and Ryan walked into the room and Ray glanced back. There was more room next to Michael than Geoff, so Ray tugged Gavin onto the other side where Geoff was lying.

Gavin was quite honestly glad for the change, because while Ray usually went next to Michael, Gavin usually slept next to Geoff and he definitely needed to tonight. To ease him back into it, even if the moult was nearly over.

Ryan slid in next to Michael and that left Jack at the end of the bed. Gavin had rolled onto his stomach and folded up his wings and just hoped they wouldn’t stretch out as he relaxed and make the bed uncomfortably warm, particularly for Geoff and Ray.

It was still quite bright outside, but with the steady breathing of Geoff beside him and the comfort of the others’ presence, Gavin couldn’t help but feel peaceful, a slow smile spreading across his face as he felt any dregs of remaining tension drain from his limbs.

And huddling closer to his boys, he let himself drift off to sleep.

 


 

Geoff returned blearily to consciousness. He was warm - snug - thought he was in a hotel bed for a moment, but the room seemed more familiar than that. He cracked his eyes open a sliver and saw Gavin, registered the hand that was loosely gripping the front of his shirt, and smiled softly.

Home. He was home - except a low, thrumming noise caught his attention and he realised there was a second arm around his waist. He turned his head and registered Michael, snuggled close against his back, making a noise that he would probably furiously deny was purring when he woke up.

And it hit him, then, that they were in the new house - that home was no long just his and Gavin’s place but all six of them, finally together, and a deep-seated joy  pierced through his sleep-addled haze as he noticed the other three bodies also in the bed.

His moving about had stirred Gavin a little, the grip on his shirt front tightening a bit as he stretched his wings out slightly before drawing them back in, sending a few feathers drifting out across the bed. Geoff smiled, leaning forward to press a kiss to the other’s hair, knowing Gavin would probably be clinging closer to him for the next couple of days. It was a big switch, he knew, going from two to six in a house, even if they were all dating.

They would encounter plenty of more bumps and hiccups, and some would probably be even bigger with Geoff thrown in the mix. But he’d been dead serious when he told Ryan they’d have time to figure things out.

They would always come home. They would always be fine.