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You've grown up too fast

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Tom Harris was a nervous, excited mess when he stepped into the Boarding Area G of the San Francisco International Airport. He anxiously scanned the crowd for a mop of curly blonde hair which he knew would belong to his best friend Alex, but every time a flash of blonde caught his attention, he was disappointed when it turned out to be someone else.

After letting his gaze wander for a few minutes, a small sign with his name on it caught his attention. Muttering apologies and pardons left, right, and centre, Tom made his way – fought, rather – to the person who held the sign. It was a man in his mid-forties, but more importantly, next to him stood the slender teenager Tom had fruitlessly searched for. Alex had grown over the past three years. The 5'10" teenager Tom had once known had grown into a young man of around 6'1", with broad shoulders, a tanned skin, and a hair more beach-blonde than the sandy colour it had once been. His face had lost most of the worry lines which had bore witness to the hardships Tom's friend had gone through years ago. Instead, Alex' trademark smile greeted Tom as recognition flashed across the young man's features.

Tom's lips split into a grin as well as he was pulled into a hug by his best friend. For the past three years, ever since Alex had – once again – disappeared for weeks without an explanation, they had only ever talked to each other via phone or video chat. The first thing that Tom had heard about Alex had, surprisingly, come from his best friend's agent controller – a woman called Mrs Jones. After someone had fired a bullet into their classroom, Alex had stopped coming to school – Mrs Jones hadn't given him any details, and he suspected she had only talked to him because he was the one with a bullet wound, not their precious teenage spy. From what Alex had told him via phone, he had been assigned another mission, which had resulted in the death of his legal guardian, Jack Starbright. It had scared Tom how indifferent Alex had sounded back then.

But that was water under the bridge, all of it. They had kept contact for the past years, regularly exchanging news, but it wasn't the same. Tom would talk about his everyday life, what Alex' former friends were up to, complain about schools, and whatnot. Alex would in return tell him about his routine, how it was to live with his foster family, how American schools were different from British, and other stuff. They talked, but none of them had an actual idea of what they told one another. 5,300 miles separated their worlds.

Tom was the first one to hear when Alex got together, and later broke up, with his friend Sabina. It had, in all honesty, hurt. Back when they had been in school together, Tom had always had a bit of a crush on Alex, who was – despite his regular absence – always ready to listen when Tom had a problem, caring, kind, and always the first to step in when somebody got bullied. His missions had left scars on Alex, both physical and emotional, and Tom had been quite disillusioned about the life of a secret agent, but he couldn't help but admire Alex a bit. Plus, the blonde had gained some pretty defined muscles over the course of the year he had spent in MI6's services. He had been outstanding in PE before, but during the rare months weeks he had spent at Brookland between missions, Tom surely hadn't been the only one to stare at the way Alex performed every exercise effortlessly.

During the whole ride towards Alex' home – well, the home of Alex' foster family –, the two boys were happily chatting, exchanging stories and catching up on each other's life. Tom had exchanged a few words with the father of Alex' friend Sabina – Edward Pleasure, Alex' legal guardian after Jack's death –, but once they had gotten inside the car, Alex had heaped questions on Tom. Any random spectator wouldn't have believed that these two had called each other once a week during their separation.

Upon arriving at the Pleasure residence, Alex – after briefly introducing his friend to his adoptive mother and sister – immediately dragged his friends upstairs to show the room they'd be sharing for the next month to Tom. It wasn't as though they had never been apart – Alex had changed. Tom couldn't help but notice small things like gestures the 'old' Alex hadn't used, the use of words reserved to American English, or a slight hint of an accent somewhere in the middle of British and American. Alex' demeanor wasn't the same it had once been, and the gap of three years would probably become more noticeable, but for now, the joy of having their respective best friend back outweighed.

During dinner – earlier than Tom was used to – the main topic of the conversation was Tom's future. He had finished his college education just a few weeks ago, and had enrolled at the University of Southern California to study medicine. Ever since he'd had to take care of his brother Jerry when the BASE jumper had been injured during one of his jumps, he'd known that a career as a physician was what he wanted to do with life. Therefore, he had given up his dream of pursuing a career in sports, and begun to study in earnest. Every single one of his teachers had been astounded at the rate with which his grades improved once Tom had decided what to do with his life.

During the next month, he was supposed to find himself a flat – an apartment, as they said in America –, but both Liz Pleasure and Alex had made it clear that in case he wouldn’t find one, he’d be welcome to stay with them for longer. Since the UCSF was more than ten miles away, that would mean that Tom would have to get up at an ungodly hour, so he strongly hoped that he would find a place. Jerry – who was earning enough money with the job he worked in aside from BASE jumping – would pay a part of Tom’s expanses, and while Tom’s parents hated each other, they agreed on the fact that they would pay their share of Tom’s education as well.

By the time dessert was ready, the topic changed to Alex’ and Tom’s time in England. Tom insisted on telling how Alex had beaten up Cliff Anderson for bullying Tom within Alex’ very first week at Brookland, and Alex had everybody laughing when he told how Tom had, despite his small stature, kicked everybody’s asses during the tryouts for the school’s football team.

Before the two teenagers turned out the light that evening, Tom sat up in the camping bed that had been set up in Alex’ room for him, and whispered, ‘Alex?’

‘Hmm?’

‘It’s great to see you again.’