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Freefall

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He was ranting at Randall, shouting at the top of his lungs about how he couldn't change, was afraid of change, sounding every bit as cowardly and unreasonable and closed off as the asshole he really was. Halfway through his tirade, as he glared at Randall's bewildered face, he had wanted to stop, but he couldn't. The floodgates had been opened, and now that they were let loose, the emotional conflicts boiling within would not be denied their outlet.

Why? Why did Randall have to go and push him like that? Why couldn't he just sit there quietly beside him and let him stew in his own misery, like Randall always did? He could even ramble on inanely about salsa sharks for all he cared. But no, Randall had chosen that very trying moment, after a day filled with nothing but trying moments, to poke at his shortcomings.

Suddenly, it seemed like the entire world had really turned against him.

Constant prodding and merciless teasing aside, Randall had always stood by him when it came to the crunch, had always provided the support. He never realised how much he had needed that psychological crutch until now.

And he didn't want that to change.

He didn't want Randall to leave him.

To leave him… -- where had THAT come from?!

His mind in a daze, confused and panicky, he blurted out that ridiculous story about him shitting his pants when he was three, then proceeded to make a quick getaway into the storeroom at the back. He didn't dare stick his head out until Randall had finally decided to leave.

***

As closing time approached, customers dwindled, leaving Dante with plenty of time to mull over his chaotic thoughts. The horror of discovering that his ex-girlfriend had just fucked a corpse had been relegated to the back of his mind, as new revelations regarding his best friend began budding within his mind.

How on earth had he come to the conclusion that Randall would leave him? Although the other man could get pretty pissed at Dante's indecisiveness at times, he had never shown any indication that he had wanted to sever their friendship. In fact, he had popped over to the Quickstop too many times to talk, complain, or just hang out, much to the detriment of the video store's business.

'But then why would he want to stay?' a little niggling voice sneered in a corner of his brain. Randall was a guy who knew what he wanted, always speaking with the force of his own convictions behind his words. He might be a video store clerk now, but he probably had some sort of plan for what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

A strange knot formed in Dante's stomach as he contemplated the possibility that this plan might not include a weak, vacillating loser who was frightened of taking a real stand for himself in life.

'Shit, stop it!' He shook his head slightly, trying to dislodge the growing unease. Randall wasn't going anywhere.

At least, not anytime soon. Dante resolutely kept his mind away from anything after.

***

"…Smoking weed, drinking coke…" The last five minutes before closing time, the two drug dealers always loitering outside the Quickstop came in, presumably to buy something.

The blond one, Jay, if he didn't recall his name wrongly, was asking him something, trying to distract Dante from his blatant swiping of the sweets off the counter. Dante absent-mindedly maintained his end of the conversation, vaguely musing that he should be stopping Jay instead of turning a blind eye, but his mind was still fixated upon the look on Randall's face earlier this afternoon as he accused Dante of being too safe and comfortable.

Was there really something more behind the intensity that shone in his eyes, or was Dante merely imagining it? Dante couldn't tear his mind away from the suspicion that Randal's words had been laced with a double meaning that sent a thrill of unexpected ecstasy and fear down his spine.

Jay pushed away from the counter, striding out of the store, but his silent companion stayed where he was for a moment, staring at Dante before speaking. And unlike his voluble friend's speech before, Silent Bob's words came through loud and clear.

It was like the floodlights in his brain had all switched on together, illuminating that tiny bit of reason that had been floating in the darkness for so long. Who was the one who'd been there every time to pick up the pieces after Caitlyn cheated on him? Who was the one who had spent the weekend, after he and Caitlyn had finally broken up, watching him get drunk and stoned, and then brought him safely home? Who had he always confided his deepest darkest secrets to, regardless of whether he was tricked into it? Who always helped him put everything into perspective, calmed him down? Who was the one he could never say 'no' to?

"God, I've been so blind!"

***

He'd had it all worked out. Caitlyn was definitely out of the picture, but he would have to talk to Veronica. He felt terrible for leading the girl on like he had for so long. Not that he didn't like her – he did – but he didn't love her. Randal was right, he had just been with her because she was safe, 'low-maintenance'. She deserved someone who could give her more than he ever could.

He was working on the break-up speech when she burst into the store like some banshee from hell, screaming about irresponsible fucks who didn't even have the balls to initiate a break up to the person's face. Stunned, he'd lain on the floor while her accusations fell like blows, all the while wondering how she'd known.

The irresolute, fickle being that was so much a part of him kicked in reflexively and he started denying everything. No, he never meant to do that. No, he still wanted to be with her. No, of course he wasn't going to get back with Caitlyn. She was the one he actually loved.

All the phrases were at the tip of this tongue, ready to pour out, until he heard Randall's name falling from her lips.

"Randall?!"

The name struck a clarion bell within him, reminding him of what he'd been planning to do before hell's fury had descended upon him. He buried his face in his hands, reflecting on that last feeble 'I love you' he'd thrown after Veronica's retreating back. He hadn't even meant it, so why did he have to go say it?

'I hate myself.'

***

"Dante, you ready to go?"

Seeing Randall coming through the door was the last straw. There was so much tension roiling inside him, the frustration and fear, confusion and anger and self-loathing colliding within, that it just had to come out. All it needed was a convenient, available target.

Grabbing him by the throat, he heaved the other man around and flung him down the aisle, ignoring Randall's startled shouts, and the boxes and cans raining around them as they crashed to the floor. Wrapping his arms around Randal's waist, he tried to pummel him but Randall was kicking out, getting himself out of the stranglehold to launch his own retaliation. Randall had no idea what precipitated this eruption, but he could see nothing wrong with the 'let's-fire-then-ask-questions-if-we're-all-still-alive' theory.

Later, they sprawled amidst the spectacular wreckage of broken eggs, oils and powders, rotting vegetables, and other substances that defied description. Reality began to trickle back into the forefront of Dante's conscious mind. 'Oh fuck, what have I done?…'

"What the hell were you doing?" Randall's echo chimed in at exactly the right time. He gazed at Dante reproachfully, massaging his throat. "Did you have to try and strangle me?"

Dante winced slightly. He could see the red marks there, and cursed himself for leaving them there when it was actually the last thing he wanted to do. 'Alright, all you have to do is tell him, Dante… Tell him… Tell him… tell him what?!'

Panic began to set in again, and he groped for the nearest thing to say, which turned out to be an outburst about Randall telling Veronica he wanted to break up with her. Gradually, like all his other ramblings on this ill-fated day, it degenerated into a self-pitying whine about how it sucked to be Dante Hicks.

"And there you go again, trying to shift the blame!" All of a sudden, Randall blew up and Dante could only sit there in shock as he got pelted by dented cans, bits of sandwich ham, and other unidentified items as Randal sliced his personality into mincemeat. The only thought running through his mind was that this was it, the moment of reckoning had arrived. Randall was finally at the end of his tether, completely fed up with him. This was going to be the end.

Randall hurled one last vegetable at him and then stood up, heading towards the door. Dante watched him go through the motions as if from a great distance, then it hit him what this all meant, and before he knew it, he was on his feet and in front of Randall, blocking the only exit out of the Quickstop.

"Get out of the way, Dante," Randall warned in a low voice. He was really furious this time, and he wasn't sure how long he could hold on to his control. He didn't want to harm Dante, although the bastard could get him SO mad at times. Right now, all he wanted was to get out of there, find someplace to get drunk and forget about the hurtful words that he had hurled at his best friend. Shit, why did he have to say that? He knew better than anyone else what Dante was like, and he'd even believed he'd accepted that. Yet today's events had shown him that maybe he wasn't as cynical as he thought he'd become.

"No," Dante raised his hands, placing them on Randall's chest to push him back, away from the doorway. "I can't let you go now." Somehow, the dynamics between them had changed. The day's occurrences, Randall's actions, and Silent Bob's words had all conspired to shove their relationship out of the rut that it was in. There was a potential here, Dante sensed, for something more, beyond safe and comfortable, a change that could actually be wonderful and good. And now, they were at that point of equilibrium, when things could tip either way.

If he let Randall go now, they would just slide back into the rut. For some reason, he knew that in his bones, and alarms were sounding inside his head. He had to do something. Randall was getting impatient, trying to push him aside.

So he grabbed Randall's throat again, albeit with less force this time, then slid his fingers up to cup the back of the other man's head and brought it down so that their lips met. His hands tightened into fists, clutching Randall's hair painfully in case he decided he wanted get away. Dante had no intention of letting go until he got his point across.

Thankfully, Randall's lips softened after that initial shock, and he stood there, making no move to escape, just letting Dante gently brush his lips over his. But when Dante moved lower to nuzzle his neck, Randall pulled back, staring at Dante with an unreadable expression on his face. "What are you doing?"

Slightly drunk on relief that Randall had neither left, nor hit him yet, Dante nearly broke into a hysterical giggle. "I'm kissing you."

"I know that. WHY are you kissing me?" Randall spoke slowly, like he was addressing a small child instead of the twenty-two-year-old man he'd known nearly all his life.

"Because I was mad at you breaking up with Veronica for me when I wanted to do it myself, thus ruining a perfect chance for me to instigate change in my own life—"

"You really wanted to break up with Veronica?" Randall sounded a little surprised, but Dante was sure he heard a tiny note of hope in his voice as well.

"Yes, I've been so blind…" He gazed up at Randall, wondering why he never noticed how beautiful his best friend was. "God, so fucking blind…"

"Uh, Dante? You're not making sense here."

Dante slowly leaned closer, until there was nothing the both of them could see but each other. "I was kissing you, because I…" Their mouths were so close their breaths were inter-mingling.

"Yes?" Randall whispered, his arms coming up to rest around Dante's waist.

The gesture of encouragement was all he needed. He closed his eyes and jumped off into freefall, confident that there would always be someone to catch him.