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Burning Bridges

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Rodel’s bussing a table when it happens.

Technically he graduated from busboy a year ago, but he still busses his own tables whenever he can, mostly to keep the real busboy from helping himself to Rodel’s tips.

So he’s bussing a table, counting his tips before he pockets them and thinking about all the stuff he has to get done on his day off. He’s not really paying attention to the customers in the restaurant, because all his tables are taken care of and his shift’s almost over, so there’s no way the hostess is going to stick somebody else in his section.

Maybe if she was still pissed at him for blowing her off the last time the whole staff went out together, but she’s had a decent amount of time to get over it. Besides, it’s not like he thinks she’s ugly or anything. She’s just not a dude, and once he explained that she was cool with it.

At least he thinks she’s cool with it until he glances up to find her showing someone to one of his tables.

“Damn it,” he mutters under his breath, heading toward the hostess station instead of the customer. Whoever it is has his back to Rodel, so he can’t see the guy. Which means the guy can’t see him, not that Rodel really cares if the guy can tell how pissed he is, because one dude having lunch alone isn’t going to do much for his tips anyway.

“Ash, what the hell,” he hisses when he gets to the hostess station.

“He asked for you,” she says, shrugging like maybe she’s a little sorry, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Which isn’t even true, because she could have told the dude Rodel’s shift was over and if he wants to eat he’s going to have to deal with Marcy. Except the guy asked for him, and Rodel frowns and glances over his shoulder at the table for the first time.

Billy’s looking right back at him, mouth frozen in a weird half-smile and looking…well, pretty much the same as he did the last time Rodel saw him. Two years ago back in Colma, when they didn’t really say goodbye and Rodel didn’t really promise to keep in touch.

“Ro, hey,” Billy says, and he sounds kind of surprised, like he didn’t come looking for Rodel. Like he didn’t walk in here and ask for Rodel out of nowhere, after two years without a word.

“Fucking Maribel,” Rodel says, mostly to himself, then he shakes his head and crosses the room to stand in front of Billy. “What are you doing here?”

"I was in town and I thought I should look you up, see how you're doing. Maribel told me where to find you," Billy answers, like Rodel hasn't already figured that out. Maribel's the only person from home he's talked to since he left, and even that's just an email every couple months to make sure he's not dead.

When he first got to New York he thought about disappearing completely, changing his email address and forgetting Colma ever existed. Because he never wanted to see his dad again, and he sure as hell wasn't planning to keep in touch with that fucker Michael.

Not that Michael didn't try, but Rodel just ignored his emails, and eventually they stopped coming.

Billy...Billy never even bothered, and Rodel decided a long time ago that it was for the best. Except here he is now, looking exactly the same as Rodel remembers, like they haven’t missed two whole years of each other’s lives.

“Whatever, my shift’s over,” Rodel says, then he walks away and doesn’t look back to see if Billy follows him.

But it's Billy, so of course he’s not just going to let it go. Two years after Rodel blew him off and moved all the way across the country to get away from him and his self-righteous pity, he still hasn’t learned to take a hint. Not that Rodel’s surprised; fact is, he’s more surprised it took Billy two years to show up.

“Ro, come on,” Billy calls after him, and he can hear Billy hurrying across the dining room after him. He hears Billy pause when he reaches the hallway that leads to the kitchen, hears it when he lets out a frustrated breath and follows Rodel into the locker room where the wait staff stashes their stuff during their shift. “Rodel. What the hell, man? You can’t just blow me off. I’m your best friend.”

He’s got his head buried in his locker, so Billy doesn’t see Rodel wince at the words ‘best friend’. He doesn’t want to think of Billy that way, not when they’ve gone two whole years without so much as a ‘hey, how’s it going?’ But the truth is that no matter who he meets in the city, no matter how many friends he makes at work or in the local writing scene, Billy’s still the best friend he’s ever had.

He’s a self-centered pain in the ass, and he’s probably spent the last two years feeling sorry for himself because Rodel left. He’s probably been telling himself he’s the one who got shafted here, but no matter how big an asshole he is, Billy still knows Rodel better than anybody else in the whole world.

“Look, if you’re looking for a tour guide or something, forget it. I’m beat,” Rodel says, and just because he hates himself, he looks over in time to watch Billy wince. He’s standing just inside the locker room door, hands shoved in his pockets and looking just as dumb and just as adorable as ever, and Rodel rolls his eyes at himself and reaches for his jacket.

“Jesus, Ro,” Billy says, still wearing the kicked puppy expression that Rodel’s hated since he was ten years old, because it makes staying pissed at Billy impossible. And he really wants to stay pissed at Billy, because if he doesn’t he might admit why he left Colma in the first place, and then Billy really won’t be his friend anymore.

“I don’t want you to show me around. I want you to tell me what I did wrong.” Billy pauses and glances over his shoulder, and for a second Rodel thinks maybe he’s going to bail after all. He tells himself that’s what he wants, but when Billy turns back to him relief hits him so hard it almost knocks him off his feet. “Look, can we go somewhere and talk? I don’t really want to do this here.”

He’s tempted to say they shouldn’t do it at all, but if he does Billy might actually leave, and after two years without him Rodel’s not ready to let him go yet. He wants...he wants Billy not to have come looking for him in the first place, but what he wants and what he can make happen are two different things.

Rodel lets out a sigh and swings his locker shut, shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket and nods toward the front of the restaurant. Billy steps out of the way to let Rodel lead, and when Rodel brushes past him out of the locker room he sort of expects Billy to reach out and stop him. But he doesn’t, and Rodel tells himself he’s not disappointed that Billy’s keeping his hands to himself.

Billy follows him out of the restaurant and down the sidewalk toward the subway, and when Rodel pulls out his MetroCard and slides it through the reader he figures maybe he’ll lose Billy that way. Except Billy pulls out a MetroCard of his own, and when Rodel raises an eyebrow at him he just shrugs and sticks it back in his wallet before he follows Rodel down the stairs to the platform.

It’s a twenty minute subway ride back to his neighborhood, and the train’s crowded enough that Billy doesn’t try to talk to him. Rodel stands by the door and stares out the window at nothing, trying to ignore the fact that Billy’s standing right next to him. It’s weird, but it feels familiar too, and Rodel has to remind himself every few minutes that he can’t lean into Billy to stage-whisper an insult about the chicks at the end of the car or the old dude who’s been staring at his ass since they got on the train.

He doesn’t wonder if it’s a bad idea to bring Billy back to his place until they actually get there. By then it’s too late, and anyway it’s been two years since he heard from Billy, so if he’s planning to stalk Rodel, he sucks at it.

Billy follows him into his studio, glancing around at the couch that doubles as a bed and the table where Rodel writes before he turns back to Rodel again. “Nice.”

“Fuck you, Billy,” Rodel says, and he’s only half joking, because he didn’t spend the last two years trying to get over Billy just to put up with his judgmental bullshit when he finally does show up.

“No, I mean...I just meant that it’s good to see that you’re doing okay,” Billy says, like it’s his job to make sure Rodel’s managing to feed and dress himself now that he’s on his own in the big city. Hell, maybe that’s why Billy’s here; maybe Maribel forced him to look Rodel up just to make sure he wasn’t living in a crack house or an alley or something.

“I’m great. Never better,” Rodel says, and the thing is, it’s true. He misses Billy, sure, and sometimes he even misses Maribel. But he doesn’t miss his fucked up family, and he sure as hell doesn’t miss hanging around Colma waiting for something that’s never going to happen. His life in New York might not be perfect, but at least it’s his.

“That’s good,” Billy says again, and Rodel doesn’t even bother trying not to roll his eyes, because it’s not like he needs Billy’s approval. “Listen, Ro...”

Billy pauses, hand on the back of his neck and looking kind of embarrassed, and for a second Rodel considers shutting him up in the only way he can think of that will get rid of Billy for good. It’s the whole reason he left Colma in the first place, because he knew if he didn’t that he was going to do something stupid eventually, and then he wouldn’t even have the memory of their friendship anymore.

Shoving Billy up against a wall and laying one on him would probably get rid of him pretty fast, but doing it means admitting that all this time he’s just been another moron in love with Billy. It means admitting that he’s no different from Maribel or even that theater chick Billy hooked up with right before Rodel bailed, and he’d rather never talk to Billy again than to let him see how pathetic Rodel really is.

He’s not even sure what it is about Billy that makes everyone fall for him. Sometimes he thinks it’s the dumb kicked puppy expression; it makes him look pathetic, and Rodel figures that makes people want to take care of him. But Billy’s a selfish pain in the ass, too, and nobody knows that better than Rodel.

So he knows better, but it’s been two years and he still hasn’t been able to shake it. At least in Colma he had the excuse that there wasn’t really anybody else around -- not counting that asshole Michael -- but he’s hooked up with plenty of guys since he got to New York, and he still can’t stop thinking about his best friend.

“So did you fly all the way out here just to stare at me or what?”

“No,” Billy says, and Jesus, now he’s blushing. “The truth is I had an audition.”

It makes sense, because there’s no way Billy would fly all the way to New York just to see him, not after two years of silence. So Rodel shouldn’t feel like Billy just sucker-punched him, but there it is anyway. He turns away so Billy won’t see him wince, reaching into the fridge for a beer. He doesn’t ask if Billy wants one; he doesn’t really care what Billy wants, not if this is just a pity visit.

“Let me guess, Maribel made you come by and make sure I don’t have any track marks or anything.”

“No,” Billy says again, then he lets out a frustrated breath, like he’s the one who’s in the dark here. “I just...I wanted to talk face to face. This didn’t seem like the kind of conversation you have over the phone, not after two years, you know?”

And no, Rodel doesn’t know, because they’re not exactly having a conversation. At least not one that’s going anywhere, and mostly he just wishes he’d told Billy to fuck off back at the restaurant and come home alone.

“Two years, Ro, and not one word. At first I thought maybe you just wanted some space or whatever, but then I found out you were still talking to Maribel, and I...I just want to know what I did.”

“Nice to know it’s still all about you,” Rodel says, rolling his eyes and taking another swig of beer. “It’s not like my phone was exactly ringing off the hook.”

Billy shrugs, then he blushes again, and Rodel hates himself a little more for thinking it’s cute.

“Yeah, I guess I was kind of an asshole for a while there. When you left I was still so wrapped up in all that Joanne bullshit, and once I finally got over myself, you were leaving. I figured you’d be in touch once you settled in, but after awhile I thought maybe you just didn’t want to hear from me.”

“So what, I was supposed to wait around for you to pull your head out of your ass?”

“No, of course not. It’s just...I miss you.”

“Then why didn’t you just call me, dumbass?” Rodel asks, instead of admitting that he missed Billy too. That he missed Billy more than he thought possible, that he still catches himself thinking that he has to tell Billy about some lame thing that happened at work and then remembers that he can’t do that anymore. He misses Billy so much it hurts, and that’s exactly the reason he never called.

“I told you, I wanted to talk to you in person. While you were gone...I guess you could say I figured out a few things.”

“If this is about you hooking up with Maribel, she already told me. That was a dick move, you know. She’s been into you since high school.”

“What? No, this isn’t about Maribel,” Billy says, and when he frowns this time he gets those cute little wrinkles right above his nose. “Really? Since high school?”

“Yeah, asshole, only you never noticed because you had your head so far up Joanne’s ass. You seriously still haven’t figured that out? I thought you said you’d grown and shit.”

For a second Billy just looks confused, then he shakes his head like some big, stupid mutt shaking off a fly. “Can we not talk about Maribel right now? I came here to talk about us.”

Rodel opens his mouth to point out the truth, which is that there is no ‘us’ anymore, not where he and Billy are concerned. But the words get stuck in his throat, and instead he reaches for his beer and drains the bottle.

“Look, Ro, I know this is kind of out of the blue, and maybe I’m totally off base here. But the truth is, I did a lot of thinking after you left, and I figured a few things out. The reason I stayed so hung up on Joanne wasn’t because I was in love with her. It was because as long as I stayed hung up on her, I didn’t have to deal with a real relationship.”

“No shit,” Rodel says, and seriously, he’s going to get a headache from rolling his eyes so much. “I could have told you that like three years ago.”

“Yeah, I know,” Billy answers, then he smiles, soft and affectionate, like he really has missed Rodel, and it makes Rodel want to kiss him more than ever. “You always knew me better than anybody.”

Billy’s moving as he says it, and it’s not like Rodel’s place is that big, so it only takes him few steps before Billy’s standing right in front of him. He’s close enough for Rodel to feel the heat radiating off him, and yeah, Billy’s his best friend and they’ve been this close before, but after two years it feels different somehow.

Or maybe it’s the way Billy’s looking at him, nervous but kind of determined too. There’s a part of Rodel that ways to shove him back to a safe distance, but there’s another part of him that wants to grab Billy and drag him close before he changes his mind. Except Rodel’s known Billy for most of his life, and he does know Billy better than anybody, so he’s pretty sure Billy’s about to kiss him.

Which...fuck that, because he may be pathetic, but he’s not taking a pity kiss from anybody.

“What the fuck?” Rodel says, hands on Billy’s chest and shoving him backwards. He stumbles a step or two, but he doesn’t back off. Instead he just gets the confused puppy look this time, like he honestly can’t understand why Rodel stopped him.

“You mean you’re not in love with me? Maribel said...”

“‘Maribel said’? Fuck you, Billy. Fuck you and Maribel. Don’t do me any favors.”

“I’m not...” Billy pauses to run his hand over his head and let out a frustrated breath. “I’m asking you to give me a chance here.”

“A chance to what? Prove what an asshole you are? I already knew that.”

“Ro, come on,” Billy says, then he takes a step forward, and Rodel backs up until he hits the counter. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t figure it out until after you left, okay?”

“Figure what out?” Rodel asks, but as soon as he does he regrets it, because Billy’s hands land on either side of the counter, and then he’s leaning in again. “I swear to God, Billy, don’t make me knock you out.”

He knows he should be insulted at the way Billy laughs, but he’s too busy panicking over the fact that Billy really is going to kiss him. Billy’s going to kiss him after two years of total silence, and Rodel’s either going to hit him, or he’s going to kiss Billy back. Maybe both, because he’s got his pride and all, but if this is his only chance, he’s not sure he’s strong enough to pass it up.

Then Billy’s lips are pressed against his, way too dry and kind of thin, but it’s Billy, so Rodel feels it all the way to his dick. His hands land on Billy’s chest to shove him backwards again, but instead his fingers curl in the front of Billy’s shirt and Rodel yanks him forward. He kisses Billy back, mouth open and shoving his tongue past Billy’s teeth, swallowing his gasp and ignoring the hand that lands on his cheek to try to slow him down.

“Ro,” Billy whispers, pulling away to press his forehead against Rodel’s like they’re in a fucking chick movie or something.

“Shut the fuck up,” Rodel says, then he does shove Billy, but instead of pushing him away Rodel follows him, hands gripping his hips hard to push him toward the futon that doubles as his bed. Billy looks a little nervous, and for some reason that makes Rodel feel better.

When he shoves again Billy sits down hard, and Rodel sets his jaw and waits for the moment when Billy tries to take it all back. But instead of changing his mind he lets Rodel plant his knees on either side of Billy’s thighs, and when Rodel surges forward and plants another hard kiss on his mouth, Billy doesn’t try to stop him.

Even when Rodel grinds down against him Billy doesn’t put on the brakes; his fingers flex even harder against Rodel’s hips, and he makes a noise in his throat that goes straight to Rodel’s cock. And that’s not supposed to happen, because the last time they saw each other, Billy was still into girls.

“What the fuck?” Rodel says, pulling back to scowl at Billy.

“Believe me, it was a surprise for me too,” Billy says, and when he laughs Rodel can’t decide whether to hit him or kiss him again. “I guess it took you leaving for me to figure it out.”

“I left two years ago, asshole.”

“So I’m a slow learner,” Billy says, and when he laughs this time it’s like those two years never happened.

He pulls Rodel forward again, kissing him soft this time, just like Rodel imagined back in high school when he tried to picture the way Billy would kiss.

“So you really are a fag,” Rodel says, mouthing the words against Billy’s lips, and when Billy laughs Rodel feels it against his mouth.

“Close enough. Why, is that a problem?”

“No, it’s just not funny when I call you that anymore,” Rodel says, then he lets Billy kiss him again.