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Jared looks at him like he’s the goddamn sun and it makes him feel sick every time.

Every time Richard absentmindedly says something rude to Jared, he only realizes what he’s done by this little kind of flinch Jared does, a quick movement like he’s just silently sucked in a breath. It doesn’t show on his face anymore – it did before, when he first joined the team and Richard said things like “sometimes we forget that you’re here.” But now, in a time Richard thinks of as Post-Disrupt, his eyes don’t even flicker. Richard can’t pinpoint exactly when this change occurred but he suspects it was somewhere between making him cry and winning the Battlefield.

Richard, in truth, does not think about any of this until after their excited hug on the TechCrunch stage. It wasn’t until after he felt Jared’s arms around him and Jared’s face pressed against his chest that he realized how much of an idiot he was.

It’s not the touching that does it. The angle of the hug forced the top of Jared’s head against Richard’s face, and he sucked in a deep breath when he gasped and then smiled against Jared’s hair. His hair was admittedly greasy, having not been washed in several stressful days, and it had an odor that Richard started to wrinkle his nose at until he realized that it wasn’t actually bothering him. In fact, it was a kind of pleasant smell, and he tried not to let it show on his face that his stomach had just dropped to the floor. Biology is not his specialty, but he still knows that there is only one reason someone else’s body odor can smell good to another person.

Even if that moment had been a fluke – which, sometimes he suspects it might have been, if only to make himself feel better – the idea is now firmly planted in his head. Now he looks at Jared when he’s not watching and the rest of the guys are too distracted to comment – because he somehow doesn’t hate himself that much – and he studies Jared’s sharp chin and the bridge of his somewhat large nose, not that Richard is in any position to throw stones at that particular area. Jared is not a handsome man but Richard could kind of stare at his face forever, if he’s being honest.

He stares at Jared’s eyes the most. They are a bright blue, he noticed that the day they met, but with the dark rings around them that stubbornly refuse to go away even though he is on a regular sleep schedule again, they are downright obnoxious. Even the other guys have noticed, frequently attempting to come up with a solid joke about it but mostly failing because, well, what the hell could they say? There’s only so many times you can call someone a sleep deprived Disney princess before it starts to sound like flattery.

Richard wants to touch them, which is really weird. Who touches other people’s eyes? He can’t even handle touching his own without wanting to puke, but sometimes he thinks that maybe they would feel like cool glass, like touching a window when it’s cold outside. He once almost asked to because he knew Jared would probably let him.

It wasn’t until after the hug that Richard realizes that Jared switched pants with him before his meeting with Peter Gregory, and that Jared also thinks Pied Piper is a great name. It’s even later that he remembers immediately asking to take Jared’s car instead of Erlich’s and glancing at Jared for comfort before making the dumbest phone call of his life. They hadn’t even known each other that long; at that point he was still having to sometimes remind himself that Jared was even there (he tried to make an effort after the party incident, he really did), but even then he had somehow noticed that Jared would pretty much do anything for him and believed in him more than he had ever believed in anything in his entire life, which made him feel like he was standing on solid ground even at his worst moments. What he couldn’t figure out is how he had noticed that but hadn’t really noticed it. Obviously some part of him knew, but if someone had asked him about it he would have been confused because he had known Jared for, like, five days.

It’s not until after the hug that he thinks about what kissing Jared would feel like and he thinks that it would probably be even softer than kissing a girl.

He tries not to think about it too much.

 

***

 

Gilfoyle, Dinesh, and Erlich are having some kind of argument or competition over something – he doesn’t really bother to pay attention to what – and Richard can’t drown out them out even when he goes to hide in his room. He is sitting on his bed grinding his teeth at the noise from the other room when he hears a soft knock at his door.

“Yeah?”

The door cracks open and Jared pokes his head in, looking uncomfortable “Can I come in?”

Richard nods and starts to climb down from his bunk. “You just get here?”

“Yes. If I had known what would be waiting for me, I think I would have stayed home.” He glances distastefully at the closed door. “How long have they been doing this? Yelling, I mean.”

Richard shrugs, frowning. “All day. It’s driving me insane.”

“Would you like to go to my place?”

Jared freezes then, clamping his mouth shut, as if the words had left his mouth against his will. At Richard’s raised eyebrows, he starts again, stumbling through an explanation, face red. “I just meant – the noise. To get away from the noise. I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“Okay.”

Now it is Richard’s mouth that clamps shut.

Jared pauses, eyes wide. “Okay?”

Richard swallows. “Okay. I mean - yeah. That would be… yeah.”

Jared blinks once, then twice, and smiles hesitantly. “Okay. Great. Um, let’s go?”

Richard nods, not trusting his voice, and follows Jared out of his room. His palms start to sweat when they walk past their arguing business partners, but they do not notice them sneaking out. He probably wouldn’t have been able to keep going if they had.

The car ride is awkward to say the least. Jared’s eyes stay locked on the road the second he starts the car, and Richard spends the next thirty minutes wringing his hands and glancing around nervously. He had never been to Jared’s apartment, hadn’t even really registered that Jared had an apartment, but did remember an awkward conversation with Erlich in the early days where the man had made it clear that he’d rather burn his house down than let Jared move in. Richard hardly ever noticed when Jared wasn’t at Erlich’s. Back when Erlich hated him he would often crash in his car during late nights instead of going home. Now, he is allowed on the couch. Erlich was reluctant to agree to it but after Jared’s TechCrunch meltdown he doesn’t really have the heart to kick him out every night anymore. Now Jared only leaves when he needs fresh clothes, and Richard often notices him absentmindedly calling the incubator ‘home’. Richard most certainly does not smile every time he does.

Jared’s apartment is small, with a general living room and kitchen area and one bedroom with an adjoined bathroom. Richard almost asks if it’s awkward when guests come over and have to go through his bedroom to get to the toilet, but he doesn’t because he’s afraid Jared’s reply would be something about not having many visitors. There isn’t much there, but there is a reasonably sized television and a couch big enough for two so Jared proposes watching a movie. Richard agrees partly because he does not know what else they would do and partly because he’s curious as to what kind of movies Jared has.

Turns out he doesn’t have any, and instead uses Netflix. As Jared scrolls through, Richard can’t stop himself from greedily looking out for his “Watch It Again” list, and the things he’s marked to watch later. It’s mostly documentaries, but there are a couple surprisingly romantic movies. He wonders if Jared has dated much and starts to feel self-conscious about his own lack of experience.

“Richard?”

Richard jumps, returning Jared’s questioning gaze. “What?”

“I asked you what you felt like watching.”

Richard flushed. “I’m sorry, I was completely zoned out.” He starts to say he’s not sure but he catches a strange look on Jared’s face. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, I just… if you want to go back home, I understand.”

Richard frowns. “Where did that come from?”

Jared suddenly looks unsure of himself. “You seem distracted and even more uncomfortable than usual. I just wanted you to know I do not mind if you don’t want to be here.” There’s an unspoken “with me” hanging on the end of that sentence and Richard feels it like a vice.

“No! I mean, no, I don’t want to leave – I, um, I’m glad I’m here, really.” He stops himself, embarrassed by the eagerness in his voice.

Jared grins at him, taking Richard aback a bit. He doesn’t show his teeth in a smile very often, always keeping his smiles dim, but the crinkling around his eyes always betray exactly how happy he is. This particular smile is big and bright and Richard can’t help but smile back, an unexpected warmth spreading through him. He glances away shyly and tries to focus on the television screen.

“Anyway, I really am up for watching whatever,” he says. He sees Jared also turn back to the TV, schooling his expression back to a more casual one.

“I suppose we could watch something funny? Or perhaps something lighthearted and on the edge of boring, to encourage sleep. Oh – you’re welcome to stay the night, by the way, since it’s so late.”

Richard tries not to let the chill that ran down his spine show on his face. “Um, thanks. I might take you up on that. Since—since it’s so late and all.”

Jared nods and finally selects some subpar romantic comedy. About a quarter way through the movie he actually goes to his room to get a spare pillow and blanket which he sets carefully beside Richard before turning off the light. He sits back down like that was no big deal, but Richard fidgets nervously.

Halfway through, Jared starts to visibly relax, leaning back into the couch, shoulders brushing against Richard’s for a moment before he moves away. Richard continues to fidget.

By the end of the somewhat awful movie Jared has fallen asleep, heading tilted back against the couch. Richard leaves the TV on, the light dim in the dark room. Richard spends a good minute with his eyes stuck on the curve of Jared’s neck, his Adam’s apple even more prominent than usual. Richard imagines trailing his mouth along that throat and the noises Jared might make when he did it, and he has to swallow the little bit of nervous bile that comes up.

Richard does not want to wake Jared up, knowing it would only embarrass him, and he does not think about sleeping in Jared’s bed instead. He can’t stretch out with Jared in the way, so he resigns himself to sleeping sitting up. He places the blanket over the both of them and tries to sleep, painfully aware of how close they are.

In the morning he wakes up with his head resting on Jared’s admittedly bony shoulder, pressed completely against his side, and he almost throws up right then until he sees that Jared is still asleep. He carefully gets off the couch and goes to the bathroom, where he does promptly throw up.

When he returns, he discovers that his retching has woken Jared up. Jared is stretching, back arching off the couch, and Richard stares helplessly at the sliver of skin where his shirt has ridden up. Jared makes a happy, sighing noise, and Richard swallows thickly, forcing his gaze up from Jared’s flat stomach to his face. He’s met with another terrible sight: Jared’s hair, uncharacteristically messy and falling over his eyes. Richard is reminded of his general dishevelment at TechCrunch, but this feels different. Jared isn’t running on twenty minutes of sleep and gradually not caring how he looks; here, he’s content and relaxed. This is how he probably looks every morning—how he would look if you woke up next to him.

Richard braces himself for arousal at the thought but the feeling settles in his chest instead, a light ache. He’s actually experiencing heartache over Jared. This isn’t just a harmless crush on his friend, he’s having real feelings about this and he is so fucked, oh my God, he’s fucked everything up—

“Richard?”

Richard jumps. Jared is standing now, blushing a little and trying to fix his hair. Richard clears his throat and rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “Uh, yeah?”

“Did you have a nice night? I know my bed’s not the most comfortable, but I promise it’s better than the couch.”

Richard blinks. “What?”

Jared’s arms fall and he straightens up, looking nervous. “I mean – I know it’s not very soft because I prefer a firm mattress but at least you could stretch out, right? And the blankets are really warm, so—”

“You meant for me to sleep in your bed?”

There’s a long pause and then: “Of course? It’s customary for the host to give the guest the best bed—not that I expect that from Erlich or any of you! That’s completely different, a long-term arrangement, but for one night it’s only right to… You didn’t know that? What did you...?” Jared trails off uncertainly, glancing between Richard and the couch with something like slowly dawning horror on his face.

Richard kind of feels like vomiting again. “I didn’t realize – I thought I was supposed to sleep on the couch but you fell asleep but I couldn’t just take your bed without permission!” He knows his face is red, feels the flames of it, and he has to tear his gaze away to stare down at the floor, at his hands working themselves into a frenzy. “I’m so sorry, I should have known, that was so stupid of me, I should have slept on the floor or something.”

“Richard, don’t.” Jared’s voice is soft, gentle, like he’s trying to soothe a child; Richard kind of hates that it is working on him. “Don’t be sorry. I should have made my intentions clearer, it’s not your fault.”

Richard takes a breath and looks him in the eye again. He looks like he wants to say something else, and Richard gives what he hopes is an encouraging look.

“I just… I don’t mind. That, um. That you slept on the couch. With me.” Jared’s face is burning, redder than he’s ever seen it, and Richard glances away guiltily. He gives Jared a half-hearted smile and starts rambling about breakfast, and Jared seems grateful for the change in topic.

 

***

 

Here’s the thing: Richard never even considered that Jared might feel the way he did, even when he looked at him in that way that makes Richard’s skin crawl. Later, he wonders how, and decides that this is almost as bad as not figuring how to make Pied Piper work sooner, except this time there is no drawn-out dick-based conversation to spell it out for him so maybe he should give himself a break.

 

***

 

Jared is standing beside him, talking about… something. Most likely complaining about the lack of work they are getting done. Richard has given up trying to look like he’s paying attention, staring down at his feet in boredom. Jared has him crowded against the kitchen counter, trying to speak quietly, so that the other guys don’t hear him in the next room. The more Richard ignores him, the closer Jared leans in; Richard is not a good enough person to pretend he isn’t enjoying that part. Richard is not short by any means, but the way Jared towers over him kind of makes him feel safe (that is like number six on his list of “Things I Will Never Tell Another Human Being, Ever”).

Richard can hear Jared’s voice grow more and more desperate until he finally hears a sharp “Richard, please” followed by fingers at his chin, tilting his head up to look him in the eye. He gasps a little in surprise, and watches Jared’s eyes go wide as he blanches, realizing what he has done. He stands there, frozen, face inches away from Richard’s, and Richard feels his fingers start to tremble under his chin. Richard swallows hard, watches Jared’s eyes dart down to his throat, following the movement.

Jared glances back up and starts to pull his hand away, and Richard makes a decision. He reaches up quick and grabs Jared’s wrist, keeping it still. He holds onto it loosely, unsure exactly what he wants but sure that it includes Jared’s hand staying where it is. Jared sucks in a breath at the touch, his eyes dropping to Richard’s lips. It all hits Richard like a train then, and he makes an embarrassing little whine and moves in, only giving Jared a peck on the cheek because he’s still a coward.

He barely has time to pull back before Jared is on him, lips pressed against his hard, eyes screwed tight. Richard blinks, feels Jared shaking, scared, and releases his wrist to wrap his arms around Jared’s neck, pulling himself up against him. Jared moans a little at the contact and the sound travels down Richard’s spine and he’s never been so far from throwing up in his life. He lets his eyes drift closed and smiles against Jared’s lips. Jared relaxes, hands resting at Richard’s hips, and pulls back slightly for a bone-chilling second before kissing him again, softer, a real kiss instead of a sudden, terrified smashing of mouths.

Richard doesn’t have a very large frame of reference, but he’s pretty confident it’s a great first kiss. He’s not sure how long it lasts, just that they both get bolder, Jared’s hands traveling up Richard’s back, holding him steady as Richard threads his fingers in his hair. They never quite get the courage to include tongues in the mix, but Richard does bite at Jared’s bottom lip for a second and is rewarded with another little moan.

In retrospect, he really regrets doing that, because that is when he hears Erlich in the other room say, “Did you guys hear that?”

They disentangle themselves much faster than Richard thought they could, and he grabs a plate and turns on the sink, hands shaking as he starts washing it. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Jared frantically trying to smooth his hair back down, face red. Richard jerks his head toward the door on the other side of the room and Jared nearly runs to it, the door swinging closed just as Erlich enters the kitchen, Dinesh and Gilfoyle at his heels.

He can tell they were prepared to see something out of the ordinary, but seeing Richard standing by himself doing dishes they all pause, confused. Dinesh and Gilfoyle share a look and shrug, going back into the den. Erlich watches him suspiciously for a moment before starting to make himself a bowl of cereal.

Richard finishes washing the plate and dries it, putting it in a cabinet. He takes a deep breath and turns around, wilting a little under Erlich’s steady gaze. “What’s up?” he asks, trying to keep his voice even.

“Where’s Jared?”

Richard blinks. “Dunno. Bathroom, maybe?”

Erlich makes an assenting sound and starts to leave, cereal in hand. “Your face is really red, dude.”

Richard forces a self-deprecating smile. “I just threw up in the sink a bit. Started thinking about the future. I’m okay now.”

Erlich nods knowingly and leaves. Richard collapses against the counter, breathing heavy. He stays like that for a few minutes, trying to process everything that just happened. For a moment he thinks about leaving – leaving the house and just walking, anywhere, but he can still feel electricity everywhere Jared had touched him and he almost trips over his own feet leaving to go find him. He checks the bathroom first, and then peeks inside his room; Jared is standing in the center, facing away from him, holding his head in his hands.

He closes his door as quietly as he can, and locks it. Jared does not notice, still caught in what Richard can only assume is a spiral of doubt and self-loathing. Jared lets out a ragged breath and mutters something about being stupid and Richard immediately crosses the room and wraps his arms around him. Jared jumps like a spooked horse and Richard lets go. Jared spins around, eyes red and cheeks pink.

“Are you… are you crying?”

“N-no. Just—just a little. I thought you’d be mad or embarrassed or maybe even sick once you realized what just happened and I just—”

Richard reaches up and grabs Jared’s face, pulling him into a harsh kiss. Jared gasps and Richard licks into his mouth, praying that he’s doing this right. Jared melts into him before stumbling forward and pushing Richard against the wall, seemingly desperate for some kind of stability.

Jared pulls back, breathing heavy, eyes half-lidded and still somehow the bluest things Richard has ever seen. Richard is hit by a wave of giddiness and he grins up at him. Jared smiles back, this crooked, goofy thing, and Richard feels something tighten in his chest and he knows, he knows he’s completely fucked, but then Jared kisses him again, sloppy, and he has a hand tugging at his curls and he really doesn’t care anymore.

 

***

 

Richard is the first one to say “I love you” and that surprises them both more than anything else. In his defense, it was in the heat of the moment, so he can’t really be blamed.

The fact that that moment only consisted of Richard saying something stupid and Jared actually frowning at him in disappointment is irrelevant.