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Hawthorne was a little surprised when Twain had agreed to accompany him so eagerly.  Something as simple and quiet as a walk through the woods didn't really seem like it would interest him in the slightest.

And yet, here they were, bundled against the morning chill in jackets and scarves (try as he might, Hawthorne could not get Twain to zip up his jacket any more than he was willing to button the shirt underneath), clutching paper cups.  Hawthorne's was full of black coffee, his usual breakfast.  He drank it fast, and tossed the cup into the trash at the earliest opportunity.  Twain's was hot chocolate laden with whipped cream and marshmallows, and he seemed determined to make it last as long as possible, only occasionally sipping at it. 

As they walked, Twain whined.  "Nate, it's cold."

"Zip up your jacket then."

"I don't wanna."

Hawthorne laughed.  "Then I'm not sure what to tell you, Mark."

Twain sidled closer and pressed up against Hawthorne's back.  "This is good.  You're a good heater, Nate."

"Do you plan on following me around like that all day?"

"Maybe."  Twain slid his free hand under the hem of Hawthorne's coat and poked him.  "Plus this way I can touch your butt."

"I thought you wanted to look at the foliage with me."

"Hey!  I can look and grope at the same time!  Never let it be said that the mighty Mark Twain can't multitask!"

Hawthorne shook his head with a smile, and stopped.  "I believe I've found a solution to this problem," he said.

"What problem?  There's no problem."

He reached out for the bottom of Twain's jacket.  Twain assumed he was reaching for something else, and his eyes went a wide.  "Damn, Nate, right out in the open like this?  I know I'm sexy but I didn't think--"

As he spoke, Hawthorne's hand did not dip down towards his pants, but instead briskly zipped up the front of his coat.  Twain sighed miserably and wriggled in place like he was trapped.  "Awww Nate, you got my hopes up, that's so mean."

"Yes, I am fully aware that I am absolutely the worst."

"Well, I don't know about the worst.  But definitely pretty bad.  It's lucky for you you're so damn attractive."

Hawthorne flushed slightly.  Compliments out of Twain that weren't completely x-rated were few and far between.  "Hmph.  I suppose it is."

"Ooooh, Nate," Twain called out in a singsong voice.  "Are you blushing?  You're blushing.  You like me, don't you?"

"Mark.  We're dating.  Of course I like you."

Twain grinned, wide and toothy.  "I just wanted to hear you say it.  You're okay, too."

"That's quite a relief to hear, considering you just said I was awful."

"Maybe it's both," Twain shrugged.  "Maybe I have really bad taste in men."

"You're so sweet." 

"Yep!"  He showed off the grin again.

Hawthorne leaned down and kissed him on the forehead before taking hold of Twain's arm with his free hand.  "Come on, you.  We're supposed to be looking at the trees."

The patches of sun between the trees were warm, and the shady spots were just cool enough to serve as a reminder of the changing seasons.  The tip of Hawthorne's nose, and the edges of his ears, were cold.  He smiled.  While Twain was made for summer through and through, Hawthorne far preferred the crisp wind and the musty smell of fallen leaves.
He stopped, suddenly overcome by the moment: the golden light in the trees, the snap of a twig when he shifted his weight, the subtle smell of nature and what was left of Twain's cocoa.  It made a peaceful, quiet refuge from the rest of the world.

Twain looked over at him and smiled.  "You look happy, Nate."

Hawthorne didn't bother to hide his embarrassment as he squeezed Twain's arm.  "Yes.  Well.  The scenery is quite lovely."

He was acutely aware that Twain wasn't looking at the trees when he answered quietly, "Yeah.  It sure is."

They walked in relative quiet for a while; Twain was finishing his cocoa before it went cold, and Hawthorne was glad to take the silence while it lasted, enjoying the sound of fallen leaves crunching underfoot, and the occasional bird call.  The trail was an easy walk, the air just cold enough to show a little bit of the condensation of their breath, and Hawthorne was filled with a sense of peace and quiet joy. 

It was difficult for Hawthorne not to stare too hard at Twain, hair dappled with the sunlight that filtered through the leaves.  It made him look as if he belonged there, firey locks to match the turning foliage.  His cheeks were a little red, and he had his tongue stuck out in an effort to get some whipped cream off the inner edge of his cup.

Twain glanced up from his drink and noticed Hawthorne's stare.  He wiggled his tongue at him and laughed.

Hawthorne ruffled Twain's hair.  "You could almost be a forest spirit."

Twain nodded.  "You've shackled me in this pathetic human contrivance," he said, wiggling again distastefully in his jacket.  "I'm trapped forever now.  Hmm.  Do you think that's how Fitz got Lovecraft?  Put a coat on him?"

Hawthorne shrugged.  "I've no idea.  Such things are probably better left alone."

"Aw, he's really not that bad for a sea monster, Nate.  You shouldn't be so hard on the poor guy."

Hawthorne was aware that Twain had a fascination with Lovecraft, and often harassed the creature with strings of seemingly endless questions.  Personally, Hawthorne preferred to keep his distance.  Lovecraft surely existed for a reason, but it did not necessarily follow that the reason was benign.  He was relieved that the time Twain spent with him didn't seem to be having any ill effect, apart from these occasional uncomfortable conversations.

"You should talk to him sometime!" Twain continued.  "He knows a lot of history stuff, it's pretty interesting!  Maybe he knew Jesus!"

Hawthorne stifled a shudder at the thought of speaking to Lovecraft about religion.  Surely that would not be a pleasant topic.  "Mark, the importance of religion is faith.  I have no need to corroborate my beliefs against Lovecraft's version of history."

Twain shrugged.  "Jeez, I don't know, I was just making a suggestion.  John's all religious, too, isn't he?  They get along fine."

"Steinbeck's morality is... rather loose, I feel," Hawthorne said carefully.

Twain laughed.  "Well that makes at least three of us.  C'mon, Nate, we're all in the same place, job-wise.  And I know you're not always this judgemental.  You should give them a chance.  Didn't you say you wanted more friends?"

He did, but why did that mean it had to be Steinbeck and Lovecraft?

"Anyway," Twain continued, "I invited them out for dinner tonight with us.  John didn't want to, but I said it would be my treat, and then he couldn't say yes fast enough."  He beamed over at Hawthorne.  "It's a double date!"

"I suppose you just assumed I would attend?"

"Huh?  Why wouldn't you?"

Hawthorne sighed.  Of course he would.  Twain, frankly, had him wrapped right around his finger.  And it could have been worse.  At least it was people he knew, and Twain wasn't trying to introduce him to some of his one-night stands.  That would be awkward.

"I thought you'd be excited," Twain said, confused.  "I mean, sure John's kind of a pain in the ass, but he should behave himself for free food."

"Mark, I know you mean well, but all the same I'd appreciate it if you asked me instead of making assumptions."

Twain shrugged.  "Consider it a surprise date, then.  Surprise!"  He looked up at Hawthorne and grinned dangerously. 

Yes, he was far too easily manipulated.  The worst part was that after a smile like that, he hardly even cared.

 


 
To Hawthorne's surprise, Twain had chosen a fairly decent restaurant.  Considering the fact that his normal diet seemed to consist of whatever he could get at the corner store or have delivered, he hadn't been holding very high hopes.

Twain had even dressed up for the occasion.  At least, he had buttoned his shirt most of the way up and put on a blazer. 

It was such an unusual sight that Hawthorne couldn't quite take his eyes off him.  He tried to make a joke of it to hide his fascination.  "Mark, how are we going to afford this place if you don't coerce the staff to give us a discount by showing some skin?"

Twain looked at him, very seriously.  "Nate.  You know that buttons can be undone at any time, right?"

They had still been chuckling when the rest of their party arrived: Lovecraft, looking exhausted as always, half dragging a clearly reluctant John behind him.  Perhaps even more shocking than Twain buttoning his shirt was the fact that John was wearing an entirely different outfit than his usual faded overalls.  He didn't seem too happy about it, either.

"Lovecraft, I don't feel good.  We should go home."

"John, stop being dramatic."

"These pants are itchy."

Lovecraft stopped, leaned down, and whispered something in John's ear that made the man turn bright red, but also stopped him from dragging his feet.

Twain beamed proudly, and elbowed Hawthorne with a grin.  "I'm so proud, he's such a fast learner."

Of course Twain was somehow at the bottom of it.

"He kept asking me what he could do, because John's so stubborn sometimes, you know.  And Lovecraft's not really so great with people sometimes, right?  You wanna know what I told him?"

Hawthorne felt sure that he could guess from the context, but he was curious all the same.  "Naturally."

Twain motioned for him to bend down a little, and then snickered.  "I told him that if John got too difficult, to promise him that if he behaved himself, when they get home he'd give him --uh, what would the right term be, if he hasn't got hands?  A tentacle job?  Dunno.  You get the idea, though, right?"

Yes, that was nearly exactly what Hawthorne had expected, and he laughed.  "I still have a hard time imagining either of them as particularly sexual, even after all your stories."

Twain shrugged.  John and Lovecraft had been bothering him for relationship advice for some time now, and he was more than happy to share all the sordid details with Nate.  "That John's a freaky guy.  But yeah, I'm pretty sure Lovecraft would be just as happy sleeping as screwing.  He's sweet, though, in his own way.  He's real worried about making sure John's happy.  Got his work cut out for him, that's for sure."

Hawthorne nodded.  It was indeed incredibly difficult to imagine John Steinbeck genuinely happy; his bright smiles and overfriendliness turned all too often into some passive aggressive display of bitterness.  He wondered briefly if that too was a ruse; God knew he wasn't exactly pleasant in most public situations either. 

He realized that he really didn't know either of these two men very well; Twain was friendly with both of them, to an extent, but also not particularly close.  He wondered again what had possessed him to arrange this dinner at all. 

John noticed them, finally, put on his public smile, and waved brightly.  Lovecraft nodded in their general direction. 

"Dang, this place is kinda fancy," John noted.  "I thought Twain was gonna pick, but I guess you must've, eh, Hawthorne?"

Twain scowled.  "I did pick!"

"It seems very nice," Lovecraft remarked, placidly. 

"Don't sound so surprised!  I have good taste!"

Hawthorne didn't have the heart to tell him that he had also been surprised.  He glanced over at Twain and smiled.  He often wondered what was going through the other man's head.  For most of the time he had known him, he would have uncharitably assumed it was nothing, or even less than nothing.  Twain was cheerful to a fault, and overeager for new experiences, which made him seem reckless.  It was easy to assume that he was, well, an airhead.

He still felt bad about that assumption.  Ever since he had started getting to know Twain better, he was constantly surprised at his depths.  He had a genuine love of people, and was incredibly perceptive; combined they gave him a unique talent for getting people to open up and share their problems, and, of course, their beds.  He was surprisingly considerate most of the time.  And one of the best parts, in Hawthorne's opinion, was that it was all wrapped up in a bubbly, adorable package.

"Whatcha thinkin' about, Nate?"

"I was musing over your good points."

"Aaah, well, I wouldn't want to interrupt that," Twain returned with a grin.

Hawthorne laughed.  "I believe I was finished."

"No way!  It should have taken you a lot longer than that.  I have so many good points!  Did you remember how good I am at giving head?"

"You're right, I did forget that one."

"How could you?  You wound me, Nate!"

"I do apologize."

John was staring at them with a look of disgust.  "You two done with your bizarre public display of affection?"

"Sorry, John," Twain laughed.  "Were we stepping on your toes?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Are you trying to tell me you don't hold your boyfriend's wiggly tentacle when you go for a walk?  That's kind of rude, John.  Lovecraft has feelings too!"

John scowled.  "He also has hands!"

Lovecraft glanced down silently, as if double checking to make sure that he did, in fact, have hands.  Reassured, he looked up and nodded.  "Yes.  I do."

"I see, you save the tentacle stuff for--"

"Perhaps we should go inside and sit down," Hawthorne interrupted.

"Aww Nate, you're no fun," Mark laughed.  "C'mon boys, let's go get our grub on."

 



Hawthorne perused the menu leisurely.  Most of his interest was taken in watching the couple across the table.

Every few moments, John would frown at the menu and lean over and whisper to Lovecraft.  Lovecraft would respond quietly, John would nod, and then the cycle would repeat.  Hawthorne realized that he was asking what some of the menu items were and immediately felt bad.  He knew John's family didn't have much money, and what John made, he sent most of home - he probably felt rather out of place in a restaurant like this.

Eventually Lovecraft just pointed to something on the menu and John nodded. 

Thinking on it, he was a little surprised Twain wasn't asking similar questions.  But then again, he had been the one to choose this place.  Hawthorne suddenly realized that he knew very little about Twain's actual upbringing.  He was just so forthcoming about every other detail of his life that it was difficult to notice. 

He was distracted from his thoughts by Twain leaning across the table and staring curiously at John's neck.  "So, John, tell me, just how many of those bruises do you have?"

John almost spit out his drink.  "Excuse me?"

Twain grinned wickedly.  "Right under your ear, that's a pretty weird hickey, and I would know.  Given a lot of 'em, seen even more."

John's face was bright red and he glanced over at Lovecraft, who shrugged.  "I told you it was quite noticeable."

"And I told you not to--"  John stopped suddenly and cleared his throat.  "Anyway."

Twain was leaning across the table, chin on his hands, clearly pleased with himself for causing so much disruption.  "I already know what kinky shit you get up to in bed, John, or did you forget all those questions you used to ask me when you were still a blushing virgin?"

John stared down at his napkin and scowled.  "Why are we talking about this, again?"

"Just making conversation," Twain announced innocently. 

Hawthorne snorted, rather louder than he meant to.

John looked at him in shock.  "Did you just... laugh?"

He sighed.  So much for trying to maintain his public appearance during dinner.  It appeared the cat was at least partly out of the bag now.  "You shouldn't let him rile you up like that," he said with a slight smile.  "He'll never stop once he knows it works."

"Aww, Nate, whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Right now, I'm on the side of not causing a scene in a restaurant, Mark."

"Boring!"

Hawthorne laughed again.  John was still staring at him in disbelief.  "Hey, Hawthorne, how much have you had to drink?"

"Aw, Nate, he thinks you're drunk!  Wait.  Are you?"

"I'm not drunk," he answered.  "I've hardly even had any of this wine.  And why are you," he turned to Twain, "so eager that I am?"

Twain winked.  "Oh, just curious.  Well, that, and I figure it'll be easier to seduce you if you're drunk."

Hawthorne rolled his eyes.  "Mark.  You practically live in my room.  You don't need to seduce me."

"Oh yeah!" he responded with a bright smile.  "Your ass is mine whenever I want, huh?"

Hawthorne couldn't help but notice the twin stares from across the table.  He chuckled.  "I think our guests would prefer a change in subject."

"Yeah," John nodded.  "Twain may love hearing all about everybody's private lives, but I'd really rather not know."

Twain grinned.  "You gotta lighten up, John."  He glanced over at Hawthorne.  "Hey, Nate, I bet you a kiss I can bounce this bread roll off John's head and make it land in Lovecraft's water."

Lovecraft looked mildly alarmed at that, and covered his glass with a hand.

"Mark, please don't--"

But it was too late.  Twain tossed the roll over the table, with what appeared to be no thought whatsoever.  John started to duck, but Hawthorne reached out at the same time, accidentally knocking over his glass of water.  As it splashed towards John, he jumped, startled, which made his forehead collide neatly with the bread roll.  Lovecraft's hand had gone to his mouth in surprise, leaving his own glass unprotected.  One damp thunk later, Twain was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair.

"Oh, man!" he gasped.  "You guys!  Are so!  Predictable!  I've had point blank shots harder to calculate than that!"

John's arm was soaking wet, and he glared as he dabbed at it with a napkin.

Hawthorne's eyes were wide with shock and he was trying very, very hard not to seem impressed or amused.

Most of the rest of the diners stared for a moment, then collectively decided not to pay the rowdy Guild members any more attention.

"Mark!" Hawthorne said at last.  "You should at least apologize!"

"Oh yeah!  I'm real sorry that Nate dumped that water all over you, John," he laughed.

Hawthorne went red.  "Erm, yes.  Well.  I do apologize, Steinbeck, it was an accident."

"I have no idea how you put up with him," John grumbled.  "He's a menace."

"At least I'm cute!"

Hawthorne giggled quietly behind his hand.  At least John was distracted enough that he didn't seem to notice his laughter. 

Lovecraft, however, did.  "Are you all right, Hawthorne?" he asked quietly.  "Your face has gone very red.  Do you need to step away from the table?  When John turns that color--"

"That's enough, Lovecraft!" John interrupted.  "Let's talk about something normal, like work."

"Sure, work, normal," Twain laughed.  "You two strangle dudes for a living.  Very normal."

John's eyes lit up suddenly.  "Oh, you should have seen the last guy Lovecraft got ahold of.  I swear there wasn't a bone in his body that wasn't cracked in at least two places."

Chuckling, Hawthorne asked, "You really do enjoy your work, don't you?"

"Enh, it's a living.  It's not all sunshine and daisies.  Still, it's better to be outside and getting stuff done than in some office doing paperwork.  When's the last time you even had a real mission, Hawthorne?"

"It's been awhile, which is fine with me.  I'd rather not kill anyone if I didn't have to."

"Well, there's your problem," John laughed.  "You're in the wrong line of work."

Twain shook his head and interrupted.  "I don't know how any of you you guys can stand that up close and personal stuff.  Give me a rooftop any day."

"That's just chicken," John frowned.

"Yeah, well, not everybody's got a hard-on for stabbing like you do," Twain said, with a roll of his eyes.

Hawthorne laughed.  "He's got a point.  Even I try to keep a distance between myself and an enemy if I can."

Lovecraft nodded.  "That is a very good idea.  Humans are quite fragile.  I have tried to convince John many times to leave the fighting to me, but he is quite stubborn."

John scowled and the rest of the table laughed.  "Hey, I'm not gonna hide behind Lovecraft!  I fight toe to toe and I'm proud of it!"

"Just like that little sister of yours, eh?" Twain grinned.  "Lovecraft told me she bit him.  Twice."

Lovecraft nodded in agreement.  "I have since learned not to withhold cake from her."

"Hey, you leave Ruthie out of this!  She's an angel!"

"It sounds like you may need to rethink your definition of angel," Hawthorne observed mildly.

"Oh Nate, good one!  High five!" 

Hawthorne raised his hand tentatively and Twain smacked it loud enough to draw the attention of most of the other diners.

"Ruthie's a sweet girl!  You think so too, right, Lovecraft?"

"She is a delight."  It sounded like something he'd been trained to say.

It worked to appease John's temper, though.  "The real terror is Rose, anyway.  She doesn't let anybody get away with anything.  She even washed Lovecraft's mouth out with soap once.  Joke's on her though, he likes to eat soap."

Hawthorne looked over at Lovecraft.  "What did you say to make her do that?"

He shrugged.  "I believe I told her that the infinite cosmos did not give a flying fuck if my coat was dripping water on the floor."

Twain giggled.  "Aww, you got that one from me, didn't you?"

"Could you stop teaching him curses?" John asked with a sigh.  "It makes things tough back home."

"John, it is tiring and confusing to remain unaware of current slang," Lovecraft cut in.  "Language changes very quickly, and it is quite difficult to keep up."

"I think you'll be fine without knowing stuff like flying fuck!"

Twain hadn't stopped giggling during the entire conversation, and now hearing John repeat the phrase sent him into another fit.

Hawthorne also let out an appreciative chuckle.  To be honest, the evening was passing much more pleasantly than he would have expected.  John told stories about his family, clearly glad to have an appreciative audience.  Lovecraft remained fairly quiet, but occasionally provided some extra detail or viewpoint to John's tales.  Twain was in his element, laughing and cutting in with bad puns and dirty jokes.  Hawthorne mostly observed, and when Twain finished eating and reached for his hand under the table, he felt the night had been quite a success indeed.

 



During the walk home, Twain basked in the glow of a plan well executed.  "Jeez Nate, they're just as hopeless as you are.  All of you are so miserable at making friends.  You scowl at people until they leave you alone.  John, well, let's just say he's got some issues.  And Lovecraft would just stare at someone until they died.  What would you all do without me?"

Hawthorne laughed.  It was a fair accusation; he truly wasn't very good at socializing.  "If it wasn't for you, I would be a much lonelier person," he said, and it came out sounding far more serious than he had intended.

Twain stopped and wrapped him in a tight hug.  "Aww, Nate."

Hawthorne returned the hug and kissed the top of Twain's head.  "You really are quite special, Mark."

"I know," he grinned.  "You too.  You're..." his voice trailed off as he searched for the word.  "Solid."  He went quiet, and Hawthorne could see he was blushing slightly.

"Well, I am glad that at least I'm not a liquid, that would get messy."

Twain laughed and smacked his arm playfully.  "You know what I meant!"

"I do," Hawthorne said, softly.  "And I am very glad you feel that way."

Twain's face turned more red, and he shrugged awkwardly.  Seeing him flustered like that was such a rare thing, that Hawthorne couldn't help himself and leaned down to kiss him.  To his surprise, Twain returned it not with his usual playfulness or roaming hands, but almost tenderly.

When they finished, Twain was shy, refusing to make eye contact and biting his lip.  He fidgeted with one of his cuffs.  "Hey, Nate?"

"Yes?"

"I... um.  This is probably stupid to say, but.  I really do like you.  A lot."

He glanced up at Hawthorne, who felt like the world had momentarily stopped.  Perhaps it was a silly thing to say, when this relationship had started with sex and then developed into a strange sort of friendship.  He was always acutely aware that Mark could get bored with it at any moment, and leave. 

Hawthorne tried very hard to be glad for the strange, nebulous thing they had.  He tried not to wish it was something more concrete, something that he didn't have to worry would vanish at a moment's notice.  But every time Twain smiled, every time he made some horrible joke, it was more and more difficult not to grab his arm, to hold him still and try to wring a confession out of him.

And now here he was, the notorious Mark Twain, gazing up at him with those gorgeous eyes, blushing and talking seriously about his feelings.

"In fact," Twain continued, after a deep breath, "It... it's probably more than that."  He chewed his bottom lip and fidgeted.

Hawthorne grinned stupidly and tried to answer, but the words stuck in his throat.  Instead he held onto Twain tightly and finally said, "Me too." 

After a moment, Twain began to wiggle.  "Nate, I can't breathe."

Hawthorne let him go with a flushed apology.

Twain laughed brightly.  "You're so mean, making me say that when you've obviously been hopelessly in love with me for ages."

"I am deeply sorry," he laughed.  "However can I make it up to you?"

Twain made a show of thinking about it.  "Well, there's a lot you can do when we get home, but for now..."

"Yes?"

The blush suddenly returned to Twain's face.  "Just say it."

"Say wha--oh."  Hawthorne was sure his face was a match to Twain's now and he glanced upwards with a silent prayer for strength.

He reached out and took Mark's hand.  He regretted it a little when he realized his palms were sweating.  Why was he so nervous?

"I've felt like this for awhile now," he said quietly.  "But I didn't think it was the sort of thing you wanted to hear."

Twain smiled up at him.  "You sure can be dumb, huh, Nate?"

Hawthorne was a little taken aback but he laughed all the same.  "Yes, I most certainly can be."

"Anyway, you were saying?"  Mark's voice was innocent and sweet, but there was a trace of mischief in his eyes.

Hawthorne grinned back at him.  "Well since you clearly already know, I suppose it's pointless to say it."

"Awww, Nate, no!  C'mon!  Please?  Pretty please with a cherry on top so I can tie the stem in a knot with my tongue and get you all horny?  Please?"

Hawthorne laughed again.  The romantic mood was definitely gone now, but he didn't really mind.  This was, after all, how it was between them.  A strange balance of sweetness and sex and the terrible sense of humor that they both shared. 

He put his hand on Twain's cheek and, still laughing slightly, said, "God help me, I do love you, Mark."

Twain beamed up at him.  "I love you too, Nate."

They stood like that for a heartbeat, then Twain pushed himself heavily up against Hawthorne and held him very, very tight.  Hawthorne leaned into the top of his head.  The air was cold, but together they were warm enough to make his glasses start fogging, and he pushed them up onto his forehead.

Twain was silent, clutching onto him desperately as if he might disappear. 

"Mark?"

"'m okay," he answered, voice muffled.  "'m just happy."

There was a tiny, almost inaudible hitch in his voice that broke Hawthorne's heart wide open, and his grip on Twain became very tight as well.  "I've never been happier," he said quietly. 

"Promise?"

"Of course I promise."

"Good."  Twain paused for a minute, then added, "No one's ever liked me enough to stay.  It's weird.  Good weird."

"What do you mean?"

He sighed.  "I don't like to talk about it, but... my parents didn't really want a kid.  So they acted like they didn't have one.  And... well, I'm good with people but not really good at... this.  Serious stuff.  So nobody really takes me seriously."

Hawthorne was taken aback by the sudden somber turn to the conversation.  "You don't have to talk about it any more than you're comfortable with.  Just understand, Mark, that I'm not going anywhere."  He held him tighter.  "And not only do I love your sense of humor, you are also very good at this serious stuff, don't you ever dare think otherwise."

"Okay.  Thanks, Nate."  Twain held onto him quietly.  "I dunno what I'd do without you."

Hawthorne smiled and kissed his forehead again.

After a few more moments of quiet, Twain suddenly laughed, and looked up at him, eyes wide.  "I just thought of something.  Won't God get jealous?"

Hawthorne raised an eyebrow.  "Since when are you troubled by your effect on my standing with God?"

Twain shrugged.  "Well, we're all serious now.  He's probably shaking in his boots!  Wait.  Does God wear boots?  He seems like he'd be more of a sandal guy to me."

"Maybe you just have a thing for sandals."

"Could be!"

"Anyway," Hawthorne chuckled, "Let's get you home before you get struck by lightning, shall we?"

"That doesn't really happen, though.  Right?"

Hawthorne shrugged.  "You never know, Mark."

"Oh yeah, mysterious ways and all that, right?"

"Indeed."

Twain beamed.  "See?  I'm taking an interest in your stuff!  Let's go home and you can take an interest in some of mine!  I got a new vibrator the other day, and--"

Nate's face went red again.  "We'll, um.  We'll see."

 



When they got back to Hawthorne's room, Twain immediately dragged him to the sofa and tugged him down practically on top of him.

"Mark, goodness, at least let me get my coat off."

"Nah."  He wiggled his shoes off and Hawthorne heard twin thunks as they were kicked across the room.

"Then can I at least sit down properly?"  He was straddling Twain's lap, legs folded awkwardly under him.

"Nope!" Twain chirped, happily.  "You know I like it when you're on top of me." 

He winked and Hawthorne coughed, trying to hide his sudden embarrassment.

"Yes.  Well."

Twain laughed and gazed up at him.  "Aww, Nate, you'd think you'd be used to me by now."  He bounced a few times and grinned as Hawthorne became increasingly more flustered.

"I doubt I will ever become immune to your - ah - particular charms, Mark."

"Good!  Now get that stupid handsome face of yours down here so I can kiss it."

Hawthorne tried to carefully adjust his position, but Twain insisted on squirming and trying to tickle him, and they ended up in a giggling heap on the floor.  Before Hawthorne could even catch his breath, Twain's hands were in his hair, pulling him down against his mouth.

"So, Nate," Twain said after a moment, "Are you ready for my revenge?"

"Revenge?  What for?"

"For making me fall for you, duh.  Nobody does that to Mark Twain and gets away with it!"

Hawthorne laughed.  "Well, it certainly wasn't easy."

Twain looked serious for a moment.  "Don't be so sure about that."

He expected a dirty joke or lewd comment could follow, and when it didn't, Hawthorne was shocked.  "Why, Mark, when did you get so sweet?"

Twain blushed, and stammered, "I'm not sweet!"

Hawthorne grinned.  It wasn't often that he found himself with the opportunity to embarrass Twain.  "Don't be so sure about that," he purred.

"Naaaate!  I'm the one that's supposed to do stuff like that, that's not fair!"

"Oh?  I suppose I should stop then?"

"I didn't say that."

Hawthorne laughed again.  "What have we gotten ourselves into, Mark?"

"Why, Father Hawthorne," Twain responded, with mock surprise, "I'm surprised you can't tell.  Looks pretty close to heaven to me."