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Through The Cracks In The Ground

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Will has thought of Warren as his best friend since his sophomore year of high school; they became friends before that, but it took Will a while to let go of his suppositions about how real friendship should work and admit to himself that Warren just wasn't that friend who stuck to you all the time and was always there.

Warren was more the type of friend who showed he cared by not kicking you out of his personal space and by cooking real, comforting food when you were watching a football game or a movie and were supposed to ingest unhealthy amounts of fast food and snacks dipped in cheese.

It was Layla who clued him in, actually—they were sitting at the Paper Lantern waiting for Warren's shift to finish when she said, "You guys are like, best friends now," her smile slowly growing as she absorbed that realization. Will thinks it maybe should have been more of an epiphany to him, but it was just so obvious. He's well aware that sometimes he just needs to be punched in the face with things for him to truly comprehend them, and that was one of those times.

Will is still friends with Layla. It seemed like an awfully distressing deal at the time, but now he's kind of glad they split up two years before high school was over. They lived so close to each other that neither could really have avoided a reconciliation, not even if it led to another break-up, another reconciliation, and the decision (a surprisingly rational one coming from him, according to Layla) to stay friends.

If they'd waited any longer to address the breaches in their relationship, Layla would have moved to DC, maybe farther, and she might never have talked to him again. And she's kind of Will's best—his other best—friend. Not the kind of best friend who's always around and you go to every party with, not anymore—a best friend whose affection and interest are always genuine. Last summer, she was his plus one to his second cousin's wedding. They play catch-up every time she's in town. She calls in the middle of Botany lessons to make sure Will's gotten out of giant robot fights okay.

And Will's still friends with Warren, even though he's not entirely sure what he ever did for Warren that he lets Will hang on to him. After all the things Warren's done that should feel or be weird—like going to college and majoring in Architectural Engineering, or taking a job in one of the college cafeterias, or acting like he doesn't even have any powers most of the time—Will's a little surprised their friendship has never made any serious attempts at slipping right down the drain.

And Will has new friends now, friends from Advanced Superhero Training and Mr. Boy's recurring If All I Ever Do Is Save the World, Am I Throwing My Life Away? seminars and that brief stint at Directionless Heroes Anonymous no one's allowed to talk about, under threat of The Commander and Jetstream running them into the ground.

Will's kind of embarrassed by how protective his parents are, but he guesses seeing your son at twenty drowning his sorrows in gin and random hook-ups because he thinks his life has no purpose gives them carte blanche to worry at the drop of as small a hat as they want.

It's one of the reasons Will moved out last year, though—he needed to fend for himself. Will loves his parents, but Mr. Boy was right: he couldn't use them as crutches forever. He needed to heal and eventually let go of them.

He still goes over all the time for dinner, and for fridge-raiding, and for the good TV channels, and for the decently softened, folded laundry. That whole crutches metaphor isn't that precise.

Except Will thinks his new crutch may be Warren Peace, and that Warren is way too brooding and generally introspective to say a word about it. Like if Warren were to ask out loud what Will is doing in a cafeteria in a college building at a university Will doesn't even attend at 8 PM on a Thursday night, after the place is empty and Warren's cleaning up and about to close down, he thinks Will might start, like, crying and telling him all about his feelings or whatever.

Which Will wouldn't do. Not because he's extremely concerned about oversharing—he just wouldn't know how to phrase half the stuff that's been going through his head lately.

Like, sometimes, when Will's just saved a kitten from a tree or a puppy from a roof—and god knows how it got there, and if Will were his own father he'd probably tell the family the culprit must be one of their children, but Will is Will, so what he usually does is put on his deep superhero voice and make something up about alien spaceships or flying squirrels or mutant squids or whatever he last saw on the papers or the side of a bus (he's thinking of going into the journalism business as a conspiracy theorist when he's old enough to need a job as a cover)—or stopped an elderly lady from getting hit by a mountain bike, or whatever, instead of going back to his apartment and taking a shower and eating some leftover chili from his mom's last care package, what Will does is fly halfway across the city to a bright metallic cafeteria that stinks of a mix of antiseptic and Febreze just because he knows Warren's working the late shift again.

But Warren doesn't say a word, and that's how Will knows they're still friends. Good friends, really good friends, and Will wants to say best, but even Layla's switched from her usual mocking "How's your BFF?" to simply "How's Warren?" when they talk on the phone. Will may be a bit slow on the uptake, but he knows there's nothing wrong with their friendship.

It's just different now.

Before, Will would, actually, go back to his apartment, and maybe order Thai and call Warren over as an afterthought. Before, if he had to fly to Europe to defeat three supervillainous arsonists, he would call his parents from the wreckage of the fire to say he was okay before he'd even had time to shake the dirt off his clothes.

Now, he calls his parents from an uncomfortable plastic chair in what is possibly the most badly designed cafeteria in the world, eyeing Warren as Warren eyes him like he knows just as well as Will why the fuck Will's picked this place as his personal phone booth.

Which, as knowledge goes, is nothing.

Except, lately, Will has come to realize it may be a lot more than that.

"You gonna offer me a lift home?" Warren tells him more than asks him, pulling Will out of his trance. Will looks up and can't help the abashed grin that floods over his face when he sees Warren putting on his coat, glancing down from behind a thick strand of—slightly shorter and better taken care of—hair, and his eyes send a thrill down to Will's stomach. It's the way Warren doesn't just position his eyes in the general direction of his talking target when that target is Will, the way Will knows Warren's seeing so much he's probably never going to let Will in on.

It's exasperating, but Will keeps making it happen by coming here every other day, so he figures he brings it upon himself.

"Sure," Will says, picking up his iPhone from the pristine table. Will has a sneaking suspicion the only reason his apartment hasn't been torn down by termites yet is because Warren goes on cleaning sprees in the middle of the night after Will falls asleep in front of the TV. But it's not like Will minds, and it's not like you can just walk up to Warren Peace and say, "Oh hey, I had the most bizarre dream this morning—there were leprechauns cleaning my kitchen, and then I checked and it was clean, but it was dirty the night before, so should I assume it wasn't a dream? Do leprechauns exist?" and then add, option A, "Or was it you?" or option B, "Or do you want to go on a completely platonic, heterosexual, not even the smallest bit gay trip to Ireland with me?"

Will likes his face a lot. Well, not a lot, but he appreciates it for what it is. So Warren punching him—option B—or disfiguring him—option A—would go in the "major adversity" category.

What Warren means by a ride home is an actual ride home—Warren loves his beat-up '70s Thunderbird way too much to park it anywhere near teenagers—or twentysomethings, who Warren claims all have the maturity level of his kleptomaniac fourteen-year-old TA with a disturbingly high IQ—who stupidly might get drunk and high and stressed. Stupidly because there are so many other places they could do it without getting caught by people who have a say in their grades.

So, anyway, now Will's extra careful not to just fly there when he thinks Warren may be feeling too exhausted to walk the five blocks to his building. It was one of these drives home, one with an unusually—their silence is usually companionable—awkward silence, that made Will realize why they're not best friends anymore, and he thinks he may have a higher chance of a second epiphany if he attempts to re-create the situation more often.

(It's not like it was a bad situation: Warren had been sprawled over the co-pilot seat with a building plan over his legs and his hands stretched large and startlingly appealing over the edges to keep it in place, and Will had felt a sudden urge to climb on Warren's lap and get those hands all over him instead. He's glad he didn't indulge in it, because otherwise they would now be dead.)

When it happens—when Warren says something—Will's just pulled into his street, and is seriously considering taking a right turn and kidnapping him.

Warren says, "It's not just you," which sounds a lot like an accusation, and Will stops the car.

Warren looks at him curiously, his glance bouncing from place to place on Will's face, his hair, his arms. It's kind of electrifying, in both a good—deep down, Will always knew it was Warren who'd have to take this particular step—and a terrible—Warren's watching him, and he let his hair dry in the cold air of night, so it must look godawful, and he's pretty sure Warren's said a few times he hated this shirt—way.

Warren shakes his head, unlocking the door to get out, and Will's about to let out a very unmanly, not at all dignified squeal when Warren ducks to face him and says, "I'm not kissing you in a freaking hybrid," and Will's body just lights up with relief and anticipation.

Because, well, that means Warren's kissing him somewhere, right? And it feels like if this one piece of his life, against all odds, actually works out, everything else will eventually slide into place.