When Alan hears the front door open, he's coming out of the crouch he’s adopted while trying to find a place for the takeout. The patter of tiny feet scampering down the hall is met with a drained yet enthusiastic
He’s spent the past hour and forty-two minutes laying siege to Flynn’s fridge and his efforts are starting to pay off. It looks a lot less like a devastated warzone and a lot more like a storage space for edible food. The shelves, doors and racks have been scrubbed with disinfectant. He’s thrown out all the long-forgotten remnants of leftovers that bacteria had started to colonize. Now whenever Sam or Jet want a sandwich, they won't have to spend fifteen minutes sifting through expired ingredients.
Manual distraction had been the obvious first choice, which had helped…except now he’s back and they can’t put it off any longer.
Now they have to talk about what happened before Flynn left. Alan’s spent the past two weeks running countless mental simulations of this moment with every possible outcome. And yet, as he stands there in the cherry red glow of the kitchen’s neon-rimmed diner clock, every conscious process in his brain stalls.
Escape’s not an option-even if his heart is making its’ best efforts to break free from his chest. It wants to flit off and leave him behind to gush scarlet all over the freshly-scoured tiles. Sadly, that’s not an option either.
So he just stands there, listening to Sam's inexhaustible barrage of Toronto-based inquiry as Flynn’s footsteps squelch inevitably down the hallway. Crawling out the window and into the unexpected downpour is starting to sound like the most logical course of action...
…of course Kevin will probably run him down and haul him back inside.
Resignedly, he takes up the box of rice just so he has something to do with his hands. Is it late? Maybe…He checks the clock. Damn-it's not even ten yet.
“Alan! Alan, look-Dad’s hewe!” The toddler sings out.
Kevin reaches the kitchen archway looking like the Swamp Thing with his son hoisted up in his sodden grip.
“I can see that.” He chuckles, taking it all in.
There are streaks of mud over his face and jacket; brown water steadily dripping from every fold in the drenched fabric. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t seem perturbed in the slightest by the small marsh forming beneath his (apparently liquefying) sneakers.
"Hey." Their weary traveler sounds breathless from fatigue or anxiety. Possibly both.
One step at a time. Treat it like any other conversation until it-oh God-until it isn’t.
"Swim back?" The exhausted lines around Kevin's eyes crinkle when he grins at his reply.
Alan’s stomach flutters, but at least he doesn’t look away. Doesn’t blink, blush or give any other kind of obvious tell either. He hopes.
"Pretty much-car crapped out two miles from here.” Flynn’s grin widens at the look that must pass over his face.
At this point, he’s pretty sure that Kevin lets his mouth run around the kids just to rile him up. Sam giggles when Uncle Alan crosses his arms and fixes his father with a stern gaze that goes mostly ignored.
Any trace of guilt that flickers across Kevin’s features vanishes instantly as he holds his shoulders high and beams back
“Crap’s not a swear.” Sam cheers and Flynn cocks his head, the expression he aims at Alan positively Cheshire-inspired. “Close, but it zings just under the radar.”
“Not under mine.” Before he can respond, Alan hurriedly nods towards Sam “Don’t say ‘crap’, kid. I may not be your daddy, but don’t let me catch you saying it.” The child murmurs an acknowledgment and Kevin chuckles.
“You’re the biggest Dad I know, Bradley,” He winks-Alan doesn’t react-and pulls Sam in closer with one arm while lifting the other to motion down at himself. “I practically dogpaddle back, visibly half-drowned–”
He waves him on. “What happened, Flynn?”
For a beat, Kevin says nothing as the drip-drip-drip of water fills in for him. “I had to park her in a flooding ditch.” He flicks his head, attempting to get a clump of wet locks out of his eyes. They stick hopelessly and his son reaches up to carefully move them out of the way. “Would’ve been a death trap for a lesser individual.”
"Wow..." Sam manages as he loses the battle against a yawn, jamming a fist at his eye to rub aggressively.
“I know, right?” He frowns at Alan. “At least somebody appreciates the outstanding ordeal I had to overcome just to make it back home.”
Alan settles for shaking his head in disbelief. He absolutely refuses to swoon in relief-no matter how much he actually wants to.
Sam mumbles into Kevin’s chest “You aaways make it back jus’ fine.”
“Course I do, bud.” He leans back to peer down the darkened corridor. "Speaking of appreciative people, where's the Jetster?"
Huffing, Alan uncrosses his arms-acutely aware that his fast grip on the carton of rice is starting to warp the container. "You were gone so long, it rolled around to Lora’s week."
Sam tugs on his dad's soaking jacket, wringing even more water out. "She got hewe duhwing-during Vice Squad but we got to play! We got to play til we died! Jet got eleven thousand...ummmmm..." The three-year-old pushes a tiny fist into the side of his head and bites his lip, casting a pleading look at Alan.
"Eleven thousand nine hundred and twelve points."
"Ye-yeah! And I got tooelve thousand and...and…" He scowls in frustration.
"Twelve thousand one hundred and thirty four." Sam nods enthusiastically as Flynn shifts his son's weight in his arms, beaming down at him.
"Atta boy!" He ruffles Sam’s hair before bouncing him up into a steadier grip and turning back to Alan. "Kid's a natural-they both are! ‘S a huge weight off my mind," he smirks. "I was worried Jet would inherit his old man's gaming skills, but thankfully he spends enough time with the Flynns to overcome those crippling genetics."
Sam picks that exact second to yawn again-both eyes squeezing shut. In the interim, Alan flips Kevin off, who only manages to look even smugger. "While you were perfecting those 'skills', I was building systems that nearly rival those specs of the Grid I’ve seen."
"Don't I know it." Kevin murmurs, respect and fondness glimmering in his eyes-his tone.
And just like that, the spell is broken.
He’s been around the man for five years and Alan still has to fight the unnatural elation in his chest for all he’s worth. Of course by this point, the struggle proves as effective as pushing a boulder uphill. And judging from the cocky expression on Flynn’s face, he’s all too aware of it.
“I wanna see da Gwid tooooo.” Sam whines, rubbing at his eyes futilely.
"You will, kiddo-I promise. Tired?”
"Nah." Water’s soaking through Sam's Spider-Man pajamas and he can barely keep his head up off Kevin’s shoulder.
Alan glances up at the clock for emphasis, idly switching his poor excuse for a prop between hands. "Past his bedtime, anyway," He moves toward the archway, considering how to brush past without actually touching Flynn. "I'll just–"
He tries to squeeze past the two of them, but Flynn quickly blocks him, hips pistoned forward at a dangerous angle. Alan’s eyes flick downward helplessly, shame scorching him almost as hot as the blood rushing south. The room temperature spikes alarmingly as Sam jerks his head up in a valiant attempt to stay awake.
Alan's gotten pretty good at feigning nonchalance over the years. Enough to fool the children, anyway. Sam blinks cluelessly at him from under lids heavy with drowsiness. Unfortunately, his father is nowhere near as blind.
Kevin raises an eyebrow as his gaze languishes over Alan with undisguised interest. Once he would have chalked that up to an overactive imagination. After what happened though, that look awakens the old familiar panic. Repulsion and desire simultaneously clamp their jaws down so hard, it’s like he's being mangled from within.
"You'll just what now?" Kevin intones softly, the way one might speak to a wild animal that they intend to eat but are still wary of spooking off.
He wants to punch the man in the goddamn face and run until he burns up into ashes. Or blink out from existence entirely. Or smash him into the wall and suck all the air from Kevin’s lungs into his own. The maelstrom inside must be clashing across his face because Flynn backs up enough to give Alan some room to breathe-which he's desperately thankful for.
“Hey,” Sam yawns again and Kevin clears his throat and the uncharacteristic softness in his voice with it. "Stick around. I'm still on Toronto time!"
"Flynn, that's three hours ahead of us." He manages, sounding almost unphased.
"Exactly, man. My body’s convinced it’s chow time! By the way, were you planning on eating that or just crushing it?" Alan notices that he’s gripping the container so hard that the lid’s popped open and the contents are being pushed out the top.
“N-no, uh,” He shakes his head and starts to hand it off before realizing that Flynn’s arms are still full of his gently snoozing child. “I’ll heat it up…”
Awkwardly trailing off, Alan shuffles to the microwave with all the grace of those clunky controls from one of Flynn’s damn games. Exhaling the breath that was starting to go stale in his lungs, he pops the box in, but on second thought, reclaims it. Trying to ignore the eyes he can feel boring into him, Alan ambles over to the sink and splashes water over the fried rice to keep it from drying out.
"Besides I should uh..." from the archway, Kevin clears his throat and Alan’s own dries up instantly. “I wanted to clarify some of the stuff I said before I left." It comes out in a rush and thank God Alan’s already back at the counter-punching at the timer with his back to the rest of the world.
Nodding towards the revolving box, he remains silent because his tongue is too parched to speak and he’s not sure he could hear his own words over the staccato rhythm of his own racing pulse. He knows they do have to do this-wants to on some level-but the terror clawing its’ way up his spine grinds every gear of his being to a screeching halt. Except his heart of course, which he's fairly certain people on the other end of the city must be dancing to by now.
In the near silence-punctuated only by Alan’s thundering heartbeat, the hum from the kitchen appliances and the downpour assailing the roof-the shaky sigh that Flynn releases is obscenely loud.
"Just let me put the prodigy to bed and hose off, ok?" There's a tremor in his voice that cuts through Alan like a laser. He’s still not used to the idea that he can bring out such vulnerability in the man who’s internationally recognized for not knowing what fear is. Alan’s not naïve enough to believe that Kevin Flynn is anything close to superhuman, but still…
He swallows harshly, rasping out a "Yeah." There's another unbearably heavy pause in which Alan can just make out Sam's soft, even breaths.
"Look, ju–" the microwave goes off, causing them both to jump, if the quiet curse behind him is any indication. Sam starts at the sudden interruption to his slumber, whining nonsense into his father's shoulder. "In a minute, Sam." He shifts around audibly as Alan opens the door latch and carefully picks up the heated box. "Just please don't leave. Give me ten–no, five minutes. Five minutes, alright?"
Over the squeaking of Flynn’s retreating footsteps, Alan’s just able to make out “…adult stuff, don’t worry about it.” Which is almost hilarious, because both ‘adults’ certainly are.
Dazedly, he stirs the rice and unconsciously tries to pinpoint the last time he felt so vulnerable. The inseparably paired memories of proposing to Lora and handing her the signed divorce papers surface. Distantly, he feels his jaw clench as his father’s voice echoes back across time “Nice catch, Son! Beauty and brains-you hold onto that one. And here your mother was half-convinced you’d turn out queer.”
He’s vaguely aware of the shower turning on in the depths of the house as a tall glass of water helps to rehydrate his throat. Placing it aside, Alan sags back into the counter. Slipping his glasses off, he sets them down next to the water and presses the heels of his palms into his closed eyes.
“The hell am I supposed to do about this?” He moans quietly to the empty kitchen, running his shaking hands up over his face and through his hair.
That Thursday before Kevin left had been three days shy of the one-year anniversary of Jordan’s death.
It’s difficult to remember most of the night at the bar, but Alan’s been playing back the last of it that they had spent on the boardwalk. He’s been dissecting it-rearranging it to make sense. He’s been obsessing over it for the past twelve days.
“ ’M I a bad guy?”
He might’ve asked for clarification verbally or with a silent, incredulous lift of his eyebrows.
“Am I a bad person for…” Flynn hadn’t spoken for so long that Alan had assumed he’d forgotten whatever train of thought he was stuck under until he’d snorted “…Don’ even think I can call it moving on.”
Alan’s vaguely fuzzy response had only exposed more of the guilt glistening in Kevin’s eyes as he’d squinted at him while sprawled against the railing with his arms thrown over the sides. Whatever detrimental words he’d uttered, Alan had wished afterwards that they would have been swept away by the chill ocean breeze ruffling Kevin’s hair.
“I mean I loved her, but not…” he’d sighed and half-twisted to gaze out across the midnight ocean behind them. “I loved her like I love Lora or Roy or Walter-like family, y’know? Like a..sister.” He’d scratched at his stubble absently, sparing an unreadable glance at Alan. “but not like someone you’re sposed to have a fuckin’ kid with.”
And he just plain hadn’t known what to say to that because he’d felt guilty and confused and angry and sick. And hopeful. Disgustingly hopeful.
“Don’ get me wrong I wouldn’t trade Sammy for the world.” He’d straightened up and swept his arms wide before letting them fall heavily to his sides. “Jus kinda jumped the gun, y’know?”
Kevin’s voice had been thick as he’d wiped a thumb under both eyes and laughed bitterly “Stole the last years o’ her life away.”
He’d tried to answer with something consoling, which had only backfired when Kevin had flinched away as if stricken by a sentiment he was undeserving of.
“The fuck was I sposed to do?!” Kevin had sniffed angrily, pushing off the railing entirely to stumble right into Alan’s personal space.
“You and Lora were kickin’ off on the whole nuclear family gig and I…I jus wanted…” Kevin had fixed him with the full intensity of his focus, and Alan had tried to keep his breathing even-his face neutral, not knowing how successful he’d been. “I just wanted to move on, man!”
There had been the unmistakable sensation of stepping off a burning bridge and onto unfamiliar terrain. Alan had been positive that the feeling was mutual, but he’d never been good at reading situations like this.
“You sayin’ you were…”
Alan had slurred as jealousy-directed at his ex-wife of all people-had boiled his insides raw. Instantaneous shame had forced him to duck his chin while he rubbed his neck like an overly anxious teenager. His glasses had slipped and Kevin had leaned in to push them back up the bridge of his nose.
He’d laughed somewhat hysterically and made air quotes with his fingers. “That you were ‘trying to move on’ from Lora-still-when we got married?”
He’d shared his best friend’s warm, boozy breath as Kevin had tilted Alan’s chin up and enunciated very clearly “That’s not at all what I said.”
Panic had flooded the man’s eyes as he’d let him go and muttered something about finding change to call them cabs.
“Don’ move, jus…” he’d refused to look Alan in the eyes as he’d shambled back towards the bar. “Just stay right here.”
Alan doesn’t realize that the shower’s stopped until he hears Flynn bump into the archway-which might be for his benefit, considering that he’s practically blind with face cradled in his hands.
“You can look. Got a shirt on and everything.”
Alan huffs as he wipes his lenses on the inside of his shirt. “Thanks for the warning.”
Honestly, he’s never seen a man go shirtless as often as Kevin Flynn likes to. It’s been steadily driving him insane for years now. Mercifully, that ridiculous baja pullover and those obscenely threadbare sweats hint at (almost) nothing in the dim red light. And one small perk of this mess is that the atmosphere’s too stifling for Alan’s imagination to start peeling those layers away.
“Yeah, well,” Kevin crosses the kitchen, ruffling out his damp hair. “Pneumonia really isn’t the goal here.” He pops the latch on the microwave and reclaims the takeout, which is probably room temperature now at best.
He’s almost got a bite to his mouth when Alan manages to find his voice. “What is?”
Lips parted, Kevin looks up at him and Alan meets his gaze despite the terror spiking through his veins. Flynn closes his mouth, planting the wooden sticks in the food. His brows are furrowed in thought as he sets the box aside and crosses his arms, lowering his chin towards the floor.
“You know how I get when I drink, man.”
Flynn peeks up at him again and distantly, Alan wonders if the man witnesses his heart splattering to the ground.
“I was really overemotional about the anniversary, and…” Alan tunes out for a second, trying to school his features into something calm. This is good. This is good. Things can go back to…
To what? Normal?
“…barely even remember most of what I said.” Kevin raises his chin jerkily and Alan forces himself to nod; boardroom stoic. “Not that-”his friend inhales, blinking rapidly. “Not that that’s any excuse.” He runs a hand through drying locks before holding his arms out beseechingly. “You’re my best friend, man. You’re always there for me and I’m sorry that I wigged you out. Didn’t mean to-was trying to tell you how much I…”
Alan blinks, unconsciously clenching his jaw as Flynn struggles to find a word he knows he’s not going to like. It shouldn’t be like this, but it honestly does feel like there’s a knife lodged in his breast.
And the knife twists.
Suddenly exhausted, Alan sighs and makes a dismissive gesture. “It’s fine, Flynn. Booze has been making humans say and do all kinds of weird things they don’t mean for thousands of years.” He pushes off the sink counter; smiling around the hollow ache where it feels like something vital has been carved out.
His gaze unwillingly flickers to Kevin’s face where it almost looks like-
Don’t be ridiculous. He’s made his point.
“Yeah,” Flynn swallows, visibly deflating in what Alan can only assume is relief, and yet he looks oddly conflicted before exhaling “Couldn’t have started civilization without it.”
Feeling slightly nauseous now, Alan nods and leaves the room. He makes his way through the darkness on instinct and memory, carefully stepping over faint outlines of scattered toys. He gathers his coat and briefcase bag from where he set them next to the sofa, foolishly hoping he can make it to the door uninterrupted.
Naturally, Kevin steps from the kitchen shrouded in shadows and blocks his exit again. Alan’s thankful for the gloom no matter how inscrutable his poker face may be.
“Thanks for watching Sam,” Flynn says quietly, and as grateful as he is for his own obscurity, Alan wishes he could make out the other man’s expression. “And again, sorry for…” he trails off, lifting an arm before letting it thud to his side.
“Don’t worry about it.” His voice feels like a valley suffering from drought just before the storm clouds break.
Flynn moves aside, the air between them still unbearably charged as Alan brushes past. There’s a warm hand laid on his shoulder as Alan grips the chilled door handle. Kevin squeezes and for a moment, they stand in silence. His fingertips brush the fibers of Alan’s henley as his hand falls away.
Then he’s out in the freezing rain and Flynn raises his voice to call out “Drive safe!”
Raising a hand in acknowledgement and farewell, Alan refuses to look back. His hands are unsteady while unlocking the car and he tells himself that it’s from the cold. He tosses his bag aggressively into the passenger seat and realizes that he never did put his coat on. Alan starts the ignition with a sigh and a shudder.
Grunting as he budges up to slip the tan trench on, he stares up at the darkened house from the driveway through the rain sheeting over the windshield. Making a fist, Alan starts up a rhythm on his thigh while the car warms up. He can have a quick breakdown in the shower (that’s how men are supposed to let it out) and until then, he’s just going to have to beat his emotions into the meat of his leg.
Waves slosh out from his tires as Alan takes off much faster than he should; desperate to put it all behind him. Except that he can’t. Because now their last conversation is speeding through his head on a loop. He’s so distracted that he barrels through a red light two blocks from Flynn’s house and cuts off someone who honks as they narrowly avoid hydroplaning. Ignoring driving protocol altogether, he pulls into the lot of a Circle K without even bothering to signal.
He puts the car in park and slips his glasses off, leaning back as he gnaws on the rubber-coated earpiece. Closing his eyes, Alan lets himself think-really think-about all the years of invaded personal space, lingering looks and soft tones bordering on tender.
Things like “Want a picture? Just for you I’ll sign right over my naughty bits” and “New suit, Bradley? It would look even better on my floor” passed off as humor. But always a little bit breathless with that subtle lilt in his voice. That barely guarded sheen in his eyes just before he looks away and changes the subject.
Truth is that Alan can’t take it anymore. It’s making everyday life downright impossible. Forget the dreams that frequently leave him achingly lonely and achingly hard.
When Kevin looks at him, Alan’s pulse stutters like it’s trying to tap out urgent messages in Morse code. When Kevin praises him, Alan’s chest floods with warmth that feels like it could sustain him through the most unforgiving of storms. When Kevin leans in to whisper one of his downright stupid jokes, Alan’s lungs pull his scent in greedily like a surfacing swimmer gasping for air.
He narrowly avoids stabbing himself in the eye as he shoves his glasses back on. Throwing an arm over the passenger headrest, Alan reverses recklessly and swears as the entire car bounces over the hard edge of the curb.
Even if his answer’s the same…
He needs closure-blunt and indisputable-because this is killing him. Alan speeds through the flooded streets as only a man trying to outgun his own insanity can. At least this time, he stops at the light.
No part of this ‘plan’ is even slightly advisable. He suspends every instinct he has just to stay his course because this is the only man he’s ever been able to admit that he cares for. Like family-of course-but definitely not like a brother. Not for some time now.
Alan careens down Flynn’s street (he hasn’t driven this heedlessly since he was sixteen) and doesn’t even bother to pull into the driveway. He hastily parks, kills the lights and engine in one reflexive motion. Not even bothering to lock the door, he pelts through the rain, nearly tripping over an upturned tricycle in the yard as the front door opens.
Kevin, hair visibly agitated, stands there in the soft glow from the entrance light with his mouth slightly agape. Alan holds up a finger, sagging against a rain-spattered column as he catches his breath. He should not be this winded-he goes to the gym twice a week.
“All that,” he pants, speaking loudly over the tempest as Kevin gulps. “All that stuff you said just now–”
“I lied.” Kevin shouts, looking for all the world like a man teetering over the brink of a skyscraper.
Apparently, that’s all Alan needs before his body decides to surge forward. With possessiveness he doesn’t even think he’s capable of, Alan takes Kevin’s warm face in his cold hands and presses their mouths together insistently.
Several terrifying heartbeats pass where neither man moves. The sheer lunacy of his actions catches up with him and Alan tries to pull away. Tries because then Kevin’s bruising his arms with a titanium grip and shoving a hot, wet tongue past his stunned lips. When he gets yanked inside the house, every cell Alan possesses is howling in unimaginable triumph.