Seven Minutes In Heaven
rated T for language - not for sexual content
everything worthwile created by Taeshi
Jesus, Mike was snippy today, Paulo thought as he ignored whatever the Korat went on about.
Like, irrationally-angry-girlfriend snippy and not hilariously-easily-provoked snippy. What was wrong with him? They had a routine: an insult from Paulo to get Mike's attention, a bit of yelling back and forth, some honest-to-god small-talk until the Korat bitched at him enough to make Paulo go away. Why break that custom now? Why fix what wasn’t (entirely) dysfunctional?
It wasn’t like it was the first time Paulo had called Mike a fairy-or-something-to-that-extent; hell, he’d thought that the other by now woulda understood that was practically how Paulo said hello, and that the derisive snort and ‘what are you PMSing over today, man?’ was an invitation for Mike to indulge in one of the ‘polite conversations’ he adored so much, the huge wuss.
But noooo, today Mike was totally on the rag; there was no other way to describe it and the Somali told him so.
He was rewarded with hilarious, furious sputtering in response. Oh, Mike, never stop being so entertaining.
Paulo rolled his eyes at the incensed Korat, totally not grasping the underlying issue of the argument.
Business as usual.
It was day three of Mike’s Time of The Month and Paulo was pretty much completely tired of it. Girls he could understand; they were supposed to be all the way up there in seventh heaven and then suddenly screaming at you like ice-cream had spontaneously stopped existing and it was somehow your fault. That was normal. This was just annoying. Like Mister Perfect even had reason to sulk, Mister I’m In Honor’s, Mister I’m So Good at Sports, Mister Everybody Likes Me But I Pretend It’s No Big Deal.
Maaan, he was even rubbing his annoying girly moods off on Paulo. Not cool, Mike, not cool.
Someone should do something,
And by someone, he meant ‘someone not him’.
“Sue,” Paulo said. “Go fix the crybaby.”
“Which one?” she deadpanned, not even bothering to look up from her school work. Paulo had found her and McCain nerding it up in the school library like usual.
“I was under the impression he was quite happy, what with the constant flow of deep, emotional connection he’s forged with Sandy via constant texting,” Sue said, allowing a wry little smile at Mike’s expense but ultimately not paying much attention to Paulo’s plight.
“And you’re supposed to be the smart one,” Paulo retorted. “I can’t even get sodas off him without him exploding in my face like it’s our anniversary and I forgot to pretend I give a rat’s ass.”
McCain raised an eyebrow at that. God, Paulo hated that eyebrow. It implied things that went over his head, an in-joke he failed to get.
“Paulo.” Sue said, and wasn’t it a testament to her status as co-inhabitor of the One Sane Man role that she could pack so much exasperation and tried patience into one word?
“Just go make him less bitchy. Talk to him or whatever.” And the eyebrow went higher. Goddamn you, McCain’s eyebrow.
“You’re worried about him? Why don’t you go talk to him instead? I’m kinda busy—”
“C’mon, Sue, you always have time to tell people what they oughta do—”
“—-and some of us have grades they actually care about and after-school responsibilities. Shoo, Paulo.”
As Paulo stalked off to either a) try to get somebody else to care, or b) attempt to talk to Mike himself or c) most likely mess things up horribly or d) all of the above, Sue, too, noticed McCain’s pensive expression.
“Do you know something I should?”
“I hope not,” McCain replied blankly.
Paulo leaned against the wall, tail angrily whipping at the brickwork outside the school entrance, watching the students leave, chattering amongst themselves.
He’d thought that having a girlfriend would involve more passing of cheesy love notes in the hall (he did love his cheesy love notes) and hanging out, and watching movies and—-oh I don’t know making out—-instead of having to call a week in advance just schedule a freaking peck on the cheek.
It was enough to make one’s heart keysmash angrily just thinking about it: Jasmine, why can’t you just askjlasfafasf—-but he couldn’t ask that of her because it was important to her and he liked her so much because she was so lively and always up for doing something. With or without him, sadly.
Urgh, that was enough moping for today. Don’t wanna turn into Mike, now. Or godforbid, Abbey. Oh man, and he hadn’t found anybody else he could let loose on Mike’s alleged problems so he’d probably have to do it himself.
“Hey Mike, you—-whoa, is that a sword?”
Mike stopped, on his back way into the school.
“Paulo?! I, yes, it’s for the play, some of the props are—-hey, no, that’s sharp—”
“Awesome!” Paulo said and snatched it from the box in Mike’s arms. “Oh, wow, it’s real sharp!”
“I just said that. Didn't I just say that?” Mike yelped, jumping aside as Paulo swung the blade with great abandon. “Give that back before you hurt yourself,” he snapped worriedly.
“Man, who lets kids play around with shit like this? I take back everything--well, most things—-I said about your pansy-ass pretend club, this is fricken’ cool.”
Three minutes of Paulo flailing, posing with and poking at thin air with the sword and Mike dancing around it to avoid grievous bodily harm later before the Korat resolutely put down the prop box and went to the Somali, every intention of wrestling the sharp object of him written on his face.
“Okay, you had your fun, now give it back--!”
“Spoilsport!” Paulo blew a raspberry and sidestepped Mike.
They tangoed like that on the parking lot for a while until Mike reached boiling point and threw himself at Paulo’s side—Paulo then tried to feint, but ended up tripping over his own feet and they stumbled backwards against a car, Mike accidentally grasping and lending enough force behind the sword to leave a neat, long scratch in the paint of the car with a loud, screechy sound.
Correction: in a teacher’s car.
The angry teacher who had been sipping coffee in his car and reading... whatever teachers read when they aren’t wasting their patience on bored teenagers, but now stepped outside, looking torn between just ending their high-school career there and then or coming up without something Cruel and Unusual.
Mike and Paulo exchanged equally nervous looks.
Twenty pages about goddamn ferns that grew back when dinosaurs roamed the land because apparently there were a lot of ferns back then? or whatever, Paulo hadn’t paid attention when the sheer ass-hattery of it all dawned on him. Why even give an assignment about the Land Before Time and then not make it about the dinosaurs. Cruel and Unusual, indeed.
No, they would not be charged for accidentally vandalising Noodle’s car. No, they would not be put in detention for playing around with sharp objects either, like a couple of retarded kinder-gardeners, no matter how much Paulo begged for an alternative to what they received instead.
What they would be given was a bullshit month-long partner assignment on freakin’ ferns. Keeerist, and who said the school system wasn’t brutal enough anymore?
“Freakin’ ferns,” Paulo muttered when they were finally released into the school hallway, because the ridiculousness bore repeating. So much repeating.
“Flora during the Cretaceous—-” Mike started to correct him.
“Yeah, that’s great,” Paulo interrupted moodily.
“We should be glad this is all the punishment we’ll be receiving,” Mike said, still slightly shaky, because the pansy never went to the teacher’s office. And also because he was a pansy.
To only answer Paulo deemed dignified enough was to knock his head repeatedly against the wall.
“When you’re done,” Mike said, just as amused as he was annoyed, “Just come by the library and we can get this started today. The only plans I had for today was to drop off that box—” Here Paulo could practically feel the glare drilling into the back of his head. “—-so I’m free for the afternoon. I guess you are, as well?”
The Somali grunted unintelligently against the wall and gave a flippant yet affirmative gesture.
“Right,” Mike said, and the afterthought of ‘Drama Queen’ was so loud it didn’t even need to be said.
Hypocrite, Paulo grumbled inwardly as Mike trotted off with all the self-righteous fury of—-of, well, Mike.
Yeah, he had been free, because Jazzy was off to softball practice and her friends were invited over for dinner later on (why didn’t ever ever get to visit her folks? He was perfectly house-broken, dammit), but haha, now Paulo had plans too and they involved a pissy Mike and twenty pages of freaken’ ferns.
Paulo mouthed something obscene against the wall.
When the Somali finally showed up, half an hour or so after he was supposed to (What? He got distracted! Those comics he’d borrowed from David didn’t read themselves, now did they?), Mike had already holed himself up in a corner of the school library, building up a fort of encyclopaedias and biology textbooks and sheer bad-tempered attitude around him. Pffft, Paulo was never gonna get what chicks saw in him. Either ‘geeky’ and ‘girlishy moody’ were the new ‘eleven’ on the scale of all things hot or most of his female peers were all secretly lesbians.
... actually, that’d be pretty damn awesome.
Paulo pondered the delicious details of this until Mike grew annoyed with the vacant expression on his alleged work partner’s face.
“You know, I have a whole section you could start taking notes on here. Are you going to help or what?”
“’Or what’. You gotta soda? I’m freaking dying here,” Paulo said as he pulled out a chair opposite Mike and a stack of dangerously looming books, some of which Mike pushed towards him, crushing Paulo’s hopes of riding this one out on Mike’s productivity alone.
“What makes you think I carry those around all the time?!”
“Mike, c’moonnnnn—“ Paulo whined for a good long minute before the other boy threw up his hands in exasperation and started to rummage through his backpack.
“Here,” Mike said with all the diction and expression of someone handing over his firstborn to a giggling manifestation of Satan.
“Oh my god, Mike,” Paulo said breathlessly and snatched the proffered can of soda. “I didn’t think you’d actually have one. Hahahah, you are so whipped, dude,” he laughed between gulps and thus missed the positively murderous look on Mike’s face.
What didn’t go over his head was the sound. The actual grinding sound of Mike actually gritting his teeth while staring resolutely into the pages in front of him with an ‘I am so going to flip my shit any minute now I swear’ expression on his face. That sound
Paulo lowered the soda carefully.
This was so against the Guy Code. Damn that Mike for making him go against the simple rules of ‘we are manly men and have no need for girly things like emotions’ or ‘we are manly men and we always pretend we don’t care, really’.
“Jesus, bite my head off, willya? You’ve acted like somebody peed in your Cheerios every morning since Monday—” If looks could kill, Paulo would have been a smoking pile of stupid on the floor by now. “Er, what I’m trying to say... what’s up?”
Mike just gave him the silent treatment for a while. Instead of taking Paulo’s sincerity at face-value, he was obviously pondering whether this was a setup for Paulo to laugh in his face or to mooch more sodas off him— and ouch, that kinda... hurt.
Even moreso because Paulo had done that in the past. Several times over.
Oh come on, what was a poor, thirsty jerk to do?
Ignoring the tiny curl of guilt in his stomach, Paulo went on: “I’m not playing you, man. You’ve been really high-strung lately and it’s... well, it stopped being funny days ago, okay?” Paulo said, awkwardly throwing the empty soda can from hand to hand and looking at some point way off to the right of Mike’s head.
Mike seemed to digest this for a while, came to a conclusion, then shook his head and said: “You wouldn’t understand.”
Paulo set the can down with a loud snap.“Oh, don’t pull that shit on me.”
“I may not be on the Honour Roll but you know damn well better than to treat me like some Special Ed—”
“Just forget it!”
“I don’t want to talk about it!”
“Bull. You love talking. I normally can’t get you to shut up about all those lame books you read, that stupid play, how your totally-not-just-a-paper-clip-out super-model fantasy girlfriend is so much better than Lucy—”
The chair screeched violently against the linoleum floor as Mike leapt up like his ass was spontaneously on fire.
“Shut up! Just... shut up,” he yelled, hands shaking in a death-grip on the edge of the table.
Paulo simply stared at him in a not particularly impressed ‘you need to relax, seriously’ way.
The grey cat deflated slightly before mutely showing a few choice books into his backpack: “Maybe if you didn’t see everything so one-sidedly, I’d consider telling you,” he hissed before stomping towards the exit, delivering a final parting blow: “And read the two first chapters in the books I gave you!”
Paulo eyed his designated reading material disgustedly before he realised Mike had, one: told him off like he was a freaking four-year-old, and two: left him to put the rest of the alarmingly large amount of books back by himself.
Mike paced down the sidewalk with all the vigour of a soldier on the war path, furiously replaying his conversation (if you could call it that) with Paulo.
Who in the world did Paulo think he was, judging him like that?
... so much better than Lucy—
As if you could even say that about a person, weigh them up and declare one fit and the other a dud—that wasn’t even the point. The point was that he was tired.
Tired of the unsaid: “Why aren’t you with Lucy instead of Sandy?” Like it was that simple. Like Lucy was the only one who felt depressed and guilty over this.
He was tired of the co-dependency, tired of playing psychotherapist, best friend slash potential boyfriend-when-the stars-are-right and punching bag, all in one.
He cared about Lucy, he really did. You didn’t just spontaneously stop lo... liking someone, but you did eventually realise when a relationship was both unhealthy and stagnating and... and he was just so fed up with it all, okay?
Lucy didn’t need a boyfriend, she needed a therapist. Mike was fifteen, he couldn’t play that role to his best friend for the rest of his life on the feeble hope that one day she’d magically stop being clinically bipolar because his feelings for her willed it so.
It was time she picked herself up and realised that as well.
He really did want Lucy to be happy but... was it so bad that he wanted to be happy as well? Even if that happened to not involve her in the picture?
Mike slowed down to his normal walking speed and tried to relax his tensed-up shoulders.
It wasn’t like seeing Lucy more and more dejected and miserable with each passing day didn’t pass him by idly—he wasn’t blind nor completely heartless.
Mike breathed deeply through his nose. Yes, it hurt when she ran off to Paulo to do... whatever. He didn’t particularly want to think about that. Yes, it hurt that apparently Paulo was so naive that he thought he could just wave away years of deep-rooted trust issues when years of Mike being her best friend and trying the same had left both him and Lucy off so utterly alienated in the end.
He was afraid that what Lucy was doing with Paulo was simply shifting one emotional crutch out with another or that a bad decision would leave her even worse off... yet at the same time, there was the resentment of years of being taken for granted and the dull fear that if he got involved again, in any way, the entire circus of drama and shouting and emotional entanglements would start up over again.
He had figured that with Lucy’s dependency issues, rejecting her was going to be all or nothing. He couldn’t be a friend to her if she couldn’t find it in herself to be one to him and nothing more.
Like ripping off an old band-aid you’d postponed indefinitely. It was going to hurt for a while... but it had to be done, eventually. And then there was the added trouble of everybody else wondering why you didn’t keep it around and—okay, this analogy was getting gross and insulting to Lucy.
Mike skidded to a halt, staring at the woods across town and sighing deeply.
At the heart of it all, Mike felt that Lucy didn’t completely deserve what she got from him now, but the issue was that he figured he deserved more than what he’d gotten from her then.
He rubbed the side of his face, pulled out his phone and did what always calmed him down when the weight of the entire unfair situation was especially unbearable, dialled the number and...
“Hello? Oh! Maishul! I'm so glad you called--”
Her voice, so full of pure, unmasked affection, so easy to talk to, was like the most uplifting melody to his ears. By the time he reached his house, Mike was feeling slightly better.
Having secretly stuffed Lucy’s locker full of Halloween candy did make Paulo feel both a little better and a little worse about himself after pissing Mike off some days prior. Better, because Lucy damn well needed something sugary and full of empty calories in her life right about now, and worse because... Jazzie.
Could you even cheat on somebody with candy? Just because you had a girlfriend didn’t mean you couldn't give other girls sugar, right?
... bad choice of words, and Paulo felt minutely worse.
Hm, it wasn’t like he didn’t have something for Jazz either, he thought with a smirk. Imagine how delighted she’d be when he told her he’d gotten tickets to that chick-flick she'd been not-so-subtly hinting at. That should hopefully get her attention for the evening.
Closing his locker, Paulo hummed a tune and went to lunch.
So maybe he was a bit single-minded, but the first thing Paulo noticed was an appalling lack of one piece of hot, albeit angry, Khao Manee ass.
It was her birthday, right? He hadn’t just stuffed her locker with several pounds of candy on a whim like some creepy stalker, had he? Why wouldn’t she be sitting with all the others, making use of her birthday rights to give noogies and Indian burns to him and David like tomorrow never came?
Paulo grumbled inwardly and turned back into the hallway.
Of course he went investigating, because if Mike was whipped, Paulo was practically gagged and bound as well.
She was in an empty classroom, staring blankly at a piece of paper, unmoving. She looked... well, really creepy, actually; her eyes glossed over with sadness and her usually defensive and I-have-attitude-to-spare posture slumped depressingly.
She looked up, her movements jerky and robotic.
“...come on, Lucy, don’t be like that.”
“... didn’t remember, did he? He... just forgot ‘s all. It happens.” The voice was so hoarse and quiet the Somali wasn’t sure if he’d imagined it or not.
“Kinda lost me there, babe,” Paulo said, feeling increasingly awkward and worried.
At the mention of the pet name, Lucy practically sprang to life, suddenly all vicious insults and poor anger management and fur standing on end. She poked him aggressively in the chest, snarling.
“Leave me, alone!” she hissed. “I wanna be alone! Mike can do that much, why can’t you, too?”
Lucy brushed angrily past him, and Paulo followed her out the door, utterly confused. She made a beeline for the bleachers, but he figured he’d done just about enough for now and left her alone, for once.
For the second time that week, Paulo walked off, leaving alone a girl he cared about, but who obviously didn’t have the time of the day for him.
Feeling very much like a used piece of gum somebody had stuck under the teacher’s table, never to be found again, Paulo simply wandered off into the distance, until the chain-fence of the school was out of sight.
This was just... argh. He felt... urgh. Godfuckingdamnitall, why was it so hard to care about somebody, sometimes? Why was his life so full of chicks who didn’t want him around anyway?! Tess didn’t want him when push came to shove, Lucy was... okay, she was Lucy: crazy and hot and totally bipolar at the best of times but Jasmine... she was supposed to be his girlfriend, right? Somebody who was upfront and genuinely happy to see him, no angsty past; just wanted to be with him, no drama, just the two of them, together.
The fact that even Mike could pull that off and his girl was in another town altogether was just... The fact that he pretty much had the opposite problem of Paulo’s, that he was practically running away from girls who threw themselves at him... fuck, it was downright insulting.
Then, bam, the image of Lucy in that classroom, looking so close to breaking point, hit Paulo right in the smack middle of his rapidly building fury. Mike you douchebag, you totally were running away from her, he realised, puzzling together what Lucy had meant in her depressive ramble. Didn’t even stop to wish her happy birthday, did you, you—
“David, get out of those bushes,” Paulo gritted his teeth.
“Wha—? However did you knoooow?”
David, compliant as usual, jumped out, leaves and sticks pointing everywhere from his fur.
“It’s the middle of the day and you’re not freaking Solid Snake.”
“Curses! Foiled again!” David said happily and swung his fist around for emphasis. “What are we doing?” he curiously asked Paulo, who for all intents and purposes looked like a volcano ready to erupt at the smallest provocation.
“I’m going to borrow your phone,” Paulo said, and did so.
David frowned as his friend practically punched the display into submission in his fervour to call whoever he was calling.
“Ferns, Mike!” Paulo shouted at the phone.
“... I... what?” Mike’s voice gurgled. “...Paulo, is that you?”
“Yes it is friggin’ me, you get a prize: it is ferns, at the library, five minutes ago!”
“If you wanted to schedule—”
“That’s great, see you there,” Paulo spat and ended the call.
“That was fun! ... and worrying,” David added in a smaller voice. “So, what now? Are we going to the library? I thought you were gonna hang with Jazz?”
“You are taking these tickets so my money isn’t entirely wasted,” Paulo said and shoved said tickets in David’s palm.
“I’ll bring my sidekick!” David gabbed happily, and Paulo should probably have registered that as ‘that kid you kidnapped as a birthday present to yourself once?’ and been worried over the fact that his best friend was planning on dragging his ‘sidekick’ into the cinema to watch was probably, in several countries over, considered torture to an eight-year-old boy.
Instead, he just stormed off to the library, ‘cos he was so fucking above that right now, David could go around in a white van, rolling up the entire kiddie neighbourhood for all he cared right about freaking now.
It didn’t matter how little Mike suddenly loved talking—they were going to have words.
Lots of them.
At the top of their freaken lungs.
School had ended some time ago and nobody was around to see or bitch about Paulo throwing the doors to the library open with a satisfying wham.
He trudged around the shelves for a good fifteen minutes, pulling out various books that kinda-sorta looked like they vaguely had anything to do with bullshit plants from a long gone time period whose name he couldn’t even pronounce without choking on his tongue.
Whether they were in fact going to study or if he was going to throw the book at Mike, as it were, he didn’t know, and Paulo was still debating this when the aforementioned Korat entered the scene.
Mike furrowed his brow, looking exasperatedly patient in the same way an adult would in the presence of a particularly dim-witted child they kept catching running around with scissors.
“Paulo, those books are on the Mongolian grasslands, not—”
Mike threw up a hand and intercepted the book in question before it could hit him on the ear.
“Very mature. I thought you wanted to get this over with, not invite me over to witness you throw a temper tantrum?” Mike accused, walking past Paulo and placing his backpack on a nearby table.
“You wanna see a temper tantrum? Then you shoulda thought to stick around to watch Lucy when her birthday passed and you didn't care to remember she even existed!”
Mike’s ears flattened and he tensed up in warning, yet said nothing in return.
“I’m getting the cold shoulder too, huh? That routine’s gettin’ kinda old, isn’t it?”
“Don’t,” Mike said, and if Paulo’s anger on behalf of Lucy and his own pride let him recognise the positively alien dark tone in the other boy’s voice, he certainly didn’t show it when he steamrolled on:
“'Don’t', what? Call you out on your shit? Mike, hell, she’s about to go off the deep end here; would it really bust yer balls to send her a goddamn birthday card or something?”
“Why are you even here?” Mike retorted nastily. “If anything, you should be cuddling up to her right now, exploiting your chance at her for all it’s worth, right?”
That shut Paulo up.
For about three seconds or so.
Swatting the guilt away that was starting to become an annoyingly recurring event, Paulo went on: “Whoop-de-doo, I would freaking love to, but guess what Mike? It’s you she really wants, for whatever insane reason—”
“Yes, well, she can’t have me. Are you quite done? I want to get this assignment done so I won’t have to see you more than absolutely necessary!” The Korat said, turning his back on Paulo and shifting his attention to the messy stacks of biology books.
“Oh, fuck you, just because I’m telling you how much you messed up this thing with Lucy—”
Mike whirled around fiercely, getting right up into Paulo’s personal space until it wasn’t so personal anymore.
“Maybe it’s not Lucy. Maybe not everything has to revolve around Lucy. Maybe it’s you I have a problem with, you stupid jerk!" Mike yelled, his hands fisted tight, itching with a old, familiar urge, an long-gone pressure boiling in the bottom of his stomach, reminding him of that time in Abbey’s backyard before it exploded into something cathartic but ultimately unforgivable. It was the steadily growing resolve to hit Paulo right in his stupid, blabbering mouth and shut him up for good.
And since there was no cutesy, disarming little sister around to hamper the impending fight this time, Mike turned around and stormed away in silence before things got out of hands and into punches.
It didn’t last, of course.
Whether Paulo was genuinely worried at how the entire situation had spiralled out of their feeble control or seriously pissed (or some mix between the two), the result was that Mike hadn’t gotten longer than to the end of the corridor before Paulo slammed him against the door to the supply closet with a livid scowl on his face.
“What the hell, Mike. You don’t just get in my face like that and then walk away!”
“Don’t you usually love talking things out so much, you freakin’ sissy? Well, Michael, let’s talk.”
“You idiot—” Mike spat and shoved the other boy back, hard. “Why does everything have to be a fight or a competition with you? I’m not going to talk to you just because you suddenly decide you want to listen to anything that’s not Lucy whining—“
He didn’t see the blow coming.
Bright light exploded in his vision, he tasted blood and chomped down on the inside of his cheek in shock and staggered in surprise and pain. Scrambling against the door for purchase, Mike fumbled with the handle, the door opened and he fell backwards into the small room with a clatter of brooms and various cleaning supplies.
Paulo was on him in the next second, but the grey cat had collected himself enough to deliver a kick to the side of the Somali’s face, earning him a yelp of pain and glowering tirade of swear words. Paulo brought his hand to his cheek and narrowed his eyes at Mike, who was trying to sneer at the Somali through panting breaths.
For a fraction of a moment, they glared maliciously at each other.
Neither remembered who threw the next punch or the following shove. Suddenly it was simply a whirl of motion and violence: arms, legs, fists everywhere, yells and growls and frantic movements, both of them trying to get at each other with knuckles and kicks and the intent to hurt any expanse of skin available as they shifted and rolled around the tiny enclosed space in a deranged, snarling embrace.
The... incident didn’t really register at first, since it was less a sign of affection and a hundred times more like biting and fighting with lips and teeth, but it slowly dawned on them, with each tooth dragged across swollen lips and each spark of friction that yes—
--that was indeed Mike’s lips on Paulo’s and that was Paulo straddling Mike and that was one hand fisted in a tuft of hair and another holycrapwhenhadthatwanderedthere--?
ABORT ABORT ABORT
Paulo practically threw himself backwards, crabbed furiously wide-eyed over the floor before crawling up against the opposite wall.
They stared at each other in abject horror as the silence strained on until finally Paulo’s brain scrambled to the door, late to the party as usual, stumbled inside and informed him, horrified: “Who’s there! You were! On Mike!” like the world’s most ill-timed homosexual knock-knock joke.
And Mike merely... pushed himself up slowly, got out of the closet (oh god) and walked in a zombie-esque trance down the hall, out of sight.
Paulo simply sat immobile on his ass, staring blankly at a bottle of bleach and trying to reverse the flow of time with the power of his horrified mind alone.
Somewhere, after a while, a door closed heavily, and the ensuing silence felt like a roar.
Gay. Homo. Fag. Fairy.
Paulo was on his bed, replaying in his mind every slur that’d ever left his mouth like some obscene madness mantra.
Queer. Faggot. Trouser Pirate.
... That last one was probably David’s creation.
After the first frenzied litany of fuckfuckshitfuckohgodnoshitcrapwhyyyyy repeated liberally over the course of dragging himself home, Paulo had skulked around the house, felt inexplicable relief when his dad wasn’t in, and ran to his room like a vital body part was on fire.
When he’d thrown himself on his bed after flailing around uselessly in shock and fury for a while, the first thing he did was sit down and have a think to make sure he still liked girls.
Uh-huh, boobs were still awesome weapons of mass distraction, no change there, thank god. In the wake of such a monomentally shitty day, you had to count your blessings. And your mental images of boobs. Mmyep.
But that was then and this was now and he couldn't stop himself from thinking of all those words and how they... now technically related to him and the sheer overwhelming urge to scream and thrash around, the anger and frustration and a lot of other things he had no idea how to label were swirling around inside him like a terrible booze concoction at a frat party; in the end, he simply decided on hurling all those emotions aside, settling on anger, because it was a nice, violent, and very, very manly emotion, okay?
Aaaargh, things like accidentally snogging a guy were like when somebody slipped on a banana peel into an open sewer and broke his leg—a helluva lot funnier when it didn’t happen to you.
Paulo didn’t know who he was angry at, in particular: Mike, or himself, or ferns—because fuck ferns—or something else entirely. He just knew it was the easiest emotion to focus on, right now, since, ffffffuuu—he’d theoretically, if not totally, cheated on Jazz, and not with Lucy, or Tess or, or.. but with Mike. Mike.
Fuck. His. Life.
Actually, fuck Mike.
... no, actually, don’t.
Swear words, why have you forsaken him in his hour of need?
Paulo whirled around and burrowed his face in the pillow, not sure if he wanted to sleep until he forgot the whole deal or strangle himself with it. It was a debate still ongoing, with many good arguments on either side.
If he was lucky, Mike still avoided talking like a bullet to the brain, and they could just go on hating each other’s guts in comical rivalry and forgot it ever happened.
What had happened?
Nothing, that’s what.
... now, all he needed was to make his brain stop replaying it over and over and over...
Since the universe is at heart a string of wacky coincidences, Mike was on his bed too, staring into the cracks of his ceiling and doing his best impression of the terminally brain-dead.
It was two in the morning and he’d finished all his outstanding assignments for the entire next week, read his math book twice (nothing was as mind-purging as algebra) plus he’d skimmed several books from his shelf, up and including The Picture of Dorian Grey until he felt an uncanny urge to throw it out the window.
Nothing was too droll, too dry, too mindnumbingly dull. Anything to occupy his thoughts.
Because he just didn’t know what to think. What to do. In fact, he’d never wanted less in his entire life to think about something, anything, think about how in the world their shared jealously and rivalry could have unconsciously mutated into something like this, how the pangs of sadness at seeing Lucy and Paulo together maybe weren’t directed solely at her, how the fear that Paulo might end up just as hurt as Lucy—it all was neatly strapped into a box, chained shut and dropped off a mental cliff somewhere at the back in his brain because Mike was resolutely not thinking about this.
He so badly wanted to call Sandy, to hear her voice, to have her affection and bell-like laugh help him through this... thing. However, the guilt and shame stabbed through him every time he chanced a glance at his lifeless phone and Mike felt like the biggest jerk in the world for even thinking of being deserving of her love after...after—
He couldn’t leave this alone. However, he couldn’t bring himself to poke at it with a nine-foot hot poker either.
What was he going to do?!
Mike flexed his fingers, sighed deeply, and got up to his desk. He flicked the pages morosely and started to read through his math book for the third time that night.
The relative sanctum of the weekend was over and the next Monday was... ‘interesting’, if one wanted to practice the age-old twin tactic of underestimation and denial, and ‘hideously awkward’ if one wanted to be entirely accurate.
Not a single word was uttered between the two of them and they spent the entire school day staring at the floor tiles like the freaking plague was transmittable through eye contact alone.
At one point, Mike and Paulo wasted about six minutes dancing awkwardly around each other in the hallway, moving in and out of each other’s way while furiously ignoring the other’s presence; both having English classes they really, really wanted to be in all of a sudden.
Lucy, who had been present during the entire social train-wreck like a morbidly fascinated bystander, was consequently wholly validated in her belief that both of her love interests were, in fact, mentally deficient in some important way.
She ended up taking pity on the idiots by forcefully shoving Paulo out of the way and dragging him off to their shared class.
As the Somali gratefully fled the scene, Mike exhaled deeply, turned, and nearly vaulted over Daisy.
“Ah, s-sorry,” he croaked.
She waved her hand dismissively, smiling pleasantly. “’s okay. Walk you to class?”
“Sure,” he said, dragging up the willpower to act fairly chipper. How much had she seen?
They traversed the corridor in silence for a while until Daisy put a tentative hand on his arm. She looked up into his face and practically radiated concern. “Mikie. I’m worried about you. And I... wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Mike frowned. This was (another) new development he wasn’t sure he liked. “Sorry? What for?”
“I had noticed you were under a lot of stress lately but I... oh, I guess I was just so busy in my own little world, with Abbey and...” Daisy’s hands flew to her face in a distraught gesture. “I’m really, really sorry! I didn’t mean to ignore you when it was obvious you were unhappy!”
Mike managed an ironic smile. “Guess we really are even, then.”
Daisy didn’t look particularly comforted. Her eyes trailed to his arm and she gasped. “Mikie!”
Scratches and a few faint bruises remained from the... tussle. Mike had all but forgotten about them in the wake of being completely freaked out of his wits and rereading his math book for the seventh time.
Daisy turned her gaze to Mike again, frowning: “Did you have a fight with Paulo?” she asked. Even without the glaring evidence two minutes prior, she was in Honour’s for a reason.
“Yeah,” Mike answered. It wasn’t truth by omission, on account of him having no clue as to what else to say.
Daisy shook her head in the ‘gawd, boys’ fashion disapproving females were so fond of.
Mike wanted to offer something like: ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing’, ‘We’ll figure it out’ or ‘Lucy already punched Paulo, so I’m good’. For the sake of staying truthful, he remained silent.
“Even when we’re all friends, we’re not all friends,” she pouted. “Sometimes I just wish that, for once and all, we could all kiss and make up.”
Mike made a strangled noise.
School was at long last over and there was nothing more that Paulo wanted to do right now but snuggle up to Jasmine and revel in his heterosexuality.
Of course, since their previous troubles with clashing schedules hadn’t been magically resolved over the weekend, and Paulo had forgotten to call ahead, he was left to dejectedly watch his girlfriend disappear off to the mall with her clique.
The Somali hugged himself, feeling unconsciously vulnerable.
He really didn’t want to be alone right now. His mind might wander, and Paulo wasn’t so sure he’d approve of what it brought home.
During the Sunday, he’d tried to sift through the slurge of confused emotions, coming up with a few choice facts.
One: He still wanted to work things out with Jazz, because she was awesome and didn’t have to use weird fruity shampoo in order to smell super nice.
Two: Nobody was to ever know, ever, that he’d macked on another boy. Paulo couldn’t even entertain the thought that he could risk losing David’s friendship if it ever became known, even in jest. Perhaps he should give David more credit than that (‘specially bearing in mind that strange obsession the Labrador had with Abbey, of all fruitcakes), but mostly Paulo just didn’t want anybody to know, ever, at all, in the history of ever.
Three: Mike’s eyes were way greener than they had any right to be.
Seriously. They were the colour of freaking freshly cut grass after a spring shower, and holy shit, the fact he could think of flowery crap like that in relation to Mike was seriously starting to disturb him.
Which brought him to number four: Paulo really wished that he was old and/or rich enough to drink himself silly.
After another day of literally dancing around the issue with Paulo and reviewing his school books and rearranging his bookshelf more times than what would probably ever be necessary, Mike made a decision.
A nervous, shaky decision made with extreme trepidation, but a decision nonetheless.
They were going to have A Talk. Mike was pretty sure the seriousness of the situation warranted wanton capitalization.
There was the uncomfortable issue of the fact that he had no idea what either of them were going to say about it all, let alone to each other, but Michael would be damned if this was going to turn into another huge mess full of unsaid things and carefully ignored tension. Another friendship left behind because neither of them were brave enough to address the big pink, slightly homo-erotic, elephant in the room.
Mike’s already crumbly resolve, however, faltered, when the day passed into lunch without him having caught sight of tail nor whisker of Paulo anywhere.
“Haven’t seen him,” Sue answered when queried. “I don’t think he’s here today, Mike. Didn’t call in sick, either. As far as I know." She looked at McCain, who shook his head.
“He’s skipping?” Mike frowned. Then grimaced when he realised his first internal reaction was a pang of worry and an instinctual ‘what mess has he gotten himself into this time?’
“Haven’t seen Lucy all day either,” Sue went on. “I really needed to review some of the solo parts with her before rehearsal, too.”
Neither Paulo nor Lucy was attending today?
Mike’s face went blank.
“Oh,” he said, voice oddly monotone. “I see.”
And McCain raised an eyebrow.
Mike slammed the by now pretty poorly-treated math book shut. It didn’t matter where Lucy and Paulo had been off to the other day. It was none of his business. He’d decided to keep his distance from Lucy. None of his business.
But... if Paulo got them into trouble, it would be, right? He hadn’t outright told the other boy he didn’t want to see him anymore because he... didn’t... not want to see him anymore, and so, worrying would be perfectly normal.
Throat inexplicably dry, Mike got up and out of his room, meaning to get a glass of juice.
As he passed the living room, he immediately froze.
On the couch was Paulo, drinking the awful, awful soda Mike (for an unfathomable reason he didn’t want to examine) had yet to throw out of his fridge, with his legs on the sofa table and watching television like he was bloody well entitled to.
The Somali only appeared to pay any attention when a series of guttural sounds emerged from Mike, ending with: “W-Why are you here?”
Paulo flashed him a wry grin: “Why Mike, I coulda sworn you’d been let in on that one secret already. When a mommy loves a—”
“In my house,” the Korat added irritably, rubbing his face.
“Your mum let me in,” was the matter-of-fact answer.
“Well, gee Mike, I thought it’d be obvious!”
The grey cat scratched the back of his head. His scarf was unexpectedly chafing and did the room seem... smaller? “... oh, uh, yes. I guess we—”
Paulo bent over the arm of the sofa and hefted up a backpack onto the table with a heavy thunk.
“Yeah, yeah, I know how you feel, it sucks,” Paulo went on seamlessly, producing a liberal amount of biology books from the bag. “The teacher’s really gonna ride our asses if we don’t get this stupid assignment done, though, and some of us have a grade that won’t recover if we don’t,” Paulo sulked.
Mike stopped in his tracks. His brain suddenly felt like it was trying to leave the conversation without him.
“The ferns Mike, keep up with the rest of the class, willya?” Paulo sighed patronisingly, since apparently these were trying times for Mike’s communication skills.
“The assignment?” Mike echoed in utter disbelief.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we’ve wasted enough time already, and for the record, I did read those godawfulboring chapters.” Paulo wrinkled his nose in memory. “Seriously, I don’t think Noodle coulda chosen a less soul-crushing topic. Man knows to put the ‘ass’ in ‘assignment’, know what I mean?”
“I know what you mean,” the other boy said darkly.
The orange cat was blithely ignorant of Mike’s piercing stare.
“Excuse me,” Mike hissed, “—a moment. I have to go stick my head in the freezer for a bit.”
“Sounds awesome, dude,” Paulo said, and flipped his notebook open.
So that was how things were going to be.
Hand on the door handle, Mike simply watched the light play on the smooth front of the refrigerator.
The coolness of the metal reminded him of the chill of another day, years ago, playing in the snow with Lucy... that too had ended in a rejection, except—
Mike shook his head viciously.
Except this was nothing like that. Nothing.
He’d just... thought Paulo was better than that. Had more honesty in him than that.
That was why he was disappointed. That, and no other reason.
To think that Paulo could just... sweep it under the carpet, without acknowledging what had happened...
The afternoon passed in surprising productivity.
Paulo had actually, for once in a blue moon, done his job and researched properly. Mike would have asked the other boy who he truly was and what he’d done with the real Paulo, had he not been so absolutely furious it actually managed to revert all the way around to a sort of icy numbness.
Paulo rubbed at the notebook with his eraser, occasionally uttering ‘freaking ferns’ as it was ostensibly the Somali’s new favourite phrase of displeasure.
Mike seemed to overcome most of the homework session in a state of emotional auto-pilot, reading from his notes and mindlessly skimming the books for relevant information. It was strange, almost an out-of-body experience, like he’d simply switched off and been given a script to read instead of reacting himself.
Paulo bit his pencil and colourfully cursed the stupid lazy meteor which could manage to destroy something as cool as dinosaurs but not a few measly plants as well.
“Language,” Mike reminded him dully. His younger sister was milling about in the kitchen, in earshot.
They finished off two thirds of the rough draft before Paulo shoved his things back into his bag, left for home with a ‘later!’ and went off.
And that was that.
There were two things that kept Paulo from completely reverting back to his carefree self.
One were the looks that Daisy were giving him; and consequently Abbey, since as soon as Daisy stared giving off those oh-gosh-so-worried vibes, the tool was dragging right behind her, scowling at everything that happened to be even remotely Paulo-shaped.
Paulo could easily ignore everything else. McCain’s seemingly out-of-context discussions with Sue about something called the Kinsey Scale. Abbey’s snippy comments were nothing new, although he was pretty sure David had picked up on and was wondering about Paulo’s newfound reluctance to using certain curse words around Mike these days. Lucy needled him once about the fight and when he told her it had been about her, she kicked him in the stomach and declared that she didn’t need him to fight her battles for him.
But if there were two things he couldn’t ignore, it was Daisy’s dejected look whenever Paulo entered a room, and how Mike as a result excused himself.
They were mostly good excuses too, clever little fibs, and you’d only know something was wrong if you happened to be Daisy.
Because if you were Daisy you would, out of the corner of your eye, catch the way Paulo tensed in all of a fraction of a second. And she’d turn to Paulo and look at him in that silent, saddened way, the one that said: ‘I don’t know how, but you did this, somehow, and I can’t believe you did.’
Disappointed in him, like she knew he could do better, like he’d let her down.
There were two things that kept Paulo from sleeping soundly at night.
One was Daisy’s looks and the other was the way he felt like the biggest jerk in the world after closing the door to Mike's house, just standing there, and not going back in to tell him that he’d never forgive Mike for having such amazingly green eyes.
Lani dusted her chalk-covered hands off, turned her back on the blackboard and smiled pleasantly at her class.
“See you tomorrow, kids. Paulo? A word.”
The students filtered out, some giving Paulo cross or bemused looks before disappearing altogether.
Lani closed the door primly, and returned to lean against her desk. Paulo stood before her, cocking his head slightly and looking every part the blissfully innocent schoolboy she darn well knew he wasn’t.
“What’s up?” he asked mildly, and Lani was caught between the urge to strangle him for being such an annoyingly good actor or ruffle his hair for being so boyishly mischievous.
“Well, big guy, it’s not a big deal. I was just wondering why, while I was at the depot, you felt the urgent need to cover the entire blackboard in a rendition of the headmaster as drawn by a drunken Jason Pollock.”
“You sure it was me?” Paulo asked smoothly.
Lani’s patient smile never wavered: “Kid, you signed it: ‘by Paulo, yours awesomely.’”
“Good artists should promote themselves, right?”
“Right. C’mere,” Lani said and patted the desk.
Only then did Paulo falter, his whiskers drooped ever so slightly, and a shadow of insecurity flickered over his features.
“Paulo.” Lani smiled warmly at him, promising only openness and help.
Hesitating a bit, he then pulled himself onto the desk and Lani wasted no time in draping an arm around his shoulder in a comforting, if not unprofessional, gesture.
“What did you want to talk about?” she asked, as if she could look right through him. And she could, couldn’t she?
Paulo swallowed thickly.
At first, all he could muster were tiny mumbles and coughs, but once the floodgates were opened they spilled forth a veritable tsunami of confusion and regret and anger and feeble denial.
He told her whatever sprung to mind: how he had loathed doing that month-long assignment since every time he went to Mike’s house it was like wandering into a friggin’ tundra. How he did think Mike was an okay guy—he just liked to rile him up because... well yes, he could be an annoying know-it-all pansy, but he looked really... really... alive when he was angry, and Paulo missed that angry look instead of this new... quiet dislike. It made Paulo want to throw a chair at his head, if only just to get the other boy to look at him.
He told her that he didn’t want to feel this way, that if he could, he’d go back in time and barricade himself in his room instead of ever going to the library; because it wasn’t fair, to Mike or him, they had way too many other people and relationships to juggle with. Really, whose stupid idea was this anyway, it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair that Mike was such a cool guy, and not totally unlikeable and that he could make Palo miss his stupid voice and stupid talks about stupid plays and stupid books so much...
...and how it was all shot to hell, because Paulo was such a goddamn idiot, always had been, and always would be.
Lani nodded, and hmm’ed and politely encouraged him to go on.
In fact, what was Mike getting so upset over? He should’ve known this woulda happened right from the moment he was snogging the dude who was most likely to be awarded Universe’s Biggest Douchebag. Step up and claim your prize, Paulo, it’s a kick in the teeth and a passive-aggressive former best rival.
“Stupid green eyes. Stupid ferns. Stupid, stupid, stupid...” Paulo babbled.
“I know, Paulo. I know. Ah, to be young, confused and hormonal again,” Lani sighed sympathetically and squeezed his shoulder.
Coming from anybody else, that might’ve sounded condescending, but Lani was young, and she did know.
The way she looked at Paulo... not like a teacher or an older sister... akin to something he only saw at a distance, in whole, unbroken families... it was something to be treasured and envied, something other people didn’t know how much they missed until it was Mother’s Day and they had no one to celebrate or annoy until they agreed to bake you cookies instead.
It made him slouch and knit his fingers together because the thought of admitting fault, of becoming a disappointment in Lani’s eyes were as equally horrendous as it had always been with Daisy.
The way she smiled at him, though, so full of understanding and fondness... it made him feel less like a piece of dog poo recently scraped off Satan’s sneaker and more like the person Lani time and time again firmly told him she believed he could be.
“Mike seems like a good friend, all things considered,” Lani offered.
‘Good friend’ was sometimes interchangeable with ‘total pansy’, honestly.
What? Paulo might... like the guy, but he wasn’t about to go over the flippin’ moon, here. Leave the roses and purple prose to a grade-A piece of fruitcake like Abbey, please.
“I’m sure he’ll understand. It can be a big shock.”
Paulo grunted. “Shyeah. It was. Is. Urgh. I dunno. You sure you can’t—” he wiggled his fingers non-descriptively “—make it go away?”
“I’m sorry, Paulo.” There was faint laughter in her voice. “We have yet to find a cure for the gay.”
“Stupid goddamn useless science. What the hell are they using their freaking funding for, then?”
Carefully ignoring his language, Lani laughed quietly. “Love isn’t rocket science, Paulo. If it were, we’d at least have some chance of making sense of it."
At the... L-word, Paulo visibly bristled. Lani noticed.
“Give it time,” she said. “Figure out if it is, or not. In any case, it’s not healthy to repress, big guy. Only makes things worse.”
Paulo moped, resigned to his fate and the death of his heterosexuality.
“Hey.” Lani punched him lightly on the shoulder before she slid off the desk. “Look at it this way, kid. When you’re playing the entire field, it’s not so bad to return to the locker room afterwards.”
Paulo’s mind crashed to a sudden halt as Lani waggled her eyebrows at him in an oh-yeah-you-know-what-I-mean fashion.
She winked, and then led the stunned Somali out of the classroom.
In a way, it was Jessica who broke the status quo.
If she hadn’t decided to actively start working on forgiving Tess, the two of them would never have started hanging out to the point when they arranged a mid-term party at Tess’ place.
Mike could easily have gone on the entire evening, hell, the rest of his sophomore year, without speaking a syllable to Paulo again. However, events like to conspire, or rather, Daisy had liked to insist on playing what was generally considering grade school party games and Tess had unfortunately been tipsy enough to indulge her, which meant an empty bottle, a circle of teens on the floor.
This, of course (since Luck is a fickle mistress with a frankly poor sense of humour) had ended with Paulo and Mike being manhandled into one of the small hallways that apparently passed for closets in a mansion.
“Hey! Lay off!”
“This isn’t funny!”
“Relax, boys! Think of it as a way to relive the good times in Acapulco!”
“Seven minutes! Who bails out first? Bets are up!”
Then the door had slammed shut on a chorus of snickers and ‘witty’ comments behind Paulo and Mike.
Thus, their current predicament.
Paulo looked vaguely uncomfortable wedged in-between a golf bag and several cubic metres of Italian shoe boxes. Mike sat in the furthermost corner, under a rack of fur coats, and obsessively counted the seconds. Something of an argument brewed in the other room when Jessica and Rachel suggested some sort of drinking game.
“Oh, wow, sounds like they’re gonna let David at the booze. Recipe for disaster, right there,” Paulo joked. It sounded strained even to his ears.
The Korat tapped his arm impatiently.
Paulo coughed. “Yeah. This is not super awkward at all. Great. Stu-pen-dous.”
The overwhelming sound of jack shit happening continued.
“Remember the last time we were in a closet?” Paulo blurted out. Who needed things like tact and subtlety when you could tackle the subject with a sledgehammer to the knee?
Mike’s mouth pressed into a thin line.
The Somali threw up his hands. “Oh, come on! What do you want me to say?!”
“I wasn’t aware you wanted to say anything,” came the reply, laden with icicles.
“Argh, Mike, don’t be such a freaking girl—”
“Shut the hell up!”
“You shut up!
“Be quiet,” Mike whispered testily. “They’ll hear us.”
A few seconds were spent in a dread hush. Outside, somebody declared themselves to be ‘the prettiest princess at the ball’. Smacking sounds that could only be described as ‘facepalms aplenty’ followed.
Paulo bumped back against the wall, folded his arms and scowled.
“This is your fault, you know.”
Mike’s head whipped up. “How the hell is this my fault?!”
“It totally is! You and those—grrnh, eyes, and wow, this mess shouldn’t even have come as a surprise, since that scarf of yours is so fruity I don’t eve—”
Mike grabbed the first thing he could get his hands on (turned out to be a riding helmet) and lobbed it at Paulo’s face: Assault with Intent to shut him the hell up.
Paulo reached out for ammunition from the shoe boxes as Mike roused to his feet.
Sue was distrustfully eyeing the drink Rachel proffered her when the door to the closet slammed open and two angry tomcats tumbled out; Mike hit the floor face-first with Paulo landing on top.
Tess coughed conspicuously and raised an eyebrow.
“This isn’t what it looks like!” Paulo warbled.
“... It looks like you’re trying to club Mike to death with my father’s putter,” Tess deadpanned.
“Oh,” Paulo muttered, slightly dumbfounded. “Then it’s exactly what it looks like,” he said and backhanded Mike, who in turn elbowed the Somali in the ribs and threw him off.
“Six minutes and forty-two seconds. Damn,” Sue groused. “I owe Amaya a slushee.”
“Boys will be boys,” Tess shook her head at Jessica, who smirked in response.
“Speaking of,” Sue interjected. “I smell smoke.”
The girls whirled around. “Ohmigod, David!”
“I’m making popcorn!” came the reply somewhere in the other room, along with a fat trail of black smoke.
“Somebody get a fire extinguisher!”
“Somebody get that dog a freaken leash!”
As the room emptied in a fit of panic and damage control, Paulo pulled on Mike’s scarf before the boy could trail after them.
“What are you—?”
“Get in,” Paulo said and shoved him back in the closet before following suit.
The Korat rounded on him with every intention of beating the stupid out of the other boy: “You can’t just—!”
Paulo leaned against the door. He suddenly looked very tired. “I know, Mike. Crap, I know. ‘m sorry, okay? I am.”
Mike wasn't so easily deflected. “... Yeah? You should be.”
“What the Christ, man. Let a guy to get used to the fact he’d like to mack on another guy, okay? Jesus, I practically just went from bitching about your love interests to becoming one of them!” Paulo snipped.
“Uh,” Mike said eloquently and blushed vividly.
Several seconds ticked by. Faint yells, a clattering racket and loud excuses were the only noises heard in the otherwise quiet and mostly-dark closet.
The Korat felt like he’d swallowed his tongue. “I... why? Why is this happening?”
A shrug, accompanied by: “Dunno, really. You always tried to do right by other people, y’know? It’s... well, it’s kinda stupid sometimes, but I guess I can be stupid too,” Paulo admitted clumsily. “I do... like you, even if your scarf is really ga—girly.”
“... since I like you too, I’m just going to ignore that last part.”
They smiled at each other. It didn’t feel as awkward as it could have.
Then Paulo put on a stern expression: “But, and I wanna be very clear on this part: I just ‘like’ like you. I really don’t, like, love you or nothing. Don’t think this, whatever it is, have been going on for quite that long,” Paulo said and flicked his finger around as if lecturing a child.
Mike caught his hand before it could poke his eye out. “I know.”
“You do, huh?” he asked, suspicious.
“I do. A crush. You can say it out loud, you know. And, if we’re finally being honest about this, then... I kinda envy how you could always just go on like nothing ever mattered to you. No matter what had happened before, you were always there when we really needed you. Water under the bridge and all that. You’re not upset by what people do to you.”
“Um. Sometimes. This last month wasn’t so fun,” Paulo murmured, a blush having spilled onto his cheeks as well.
“You deserved it,” the grey cat answered firmly.
Paulo eyed him for a moment, and then deliberately reared forward to invade Mike’s personal space bubble like it was the new Poland.
“What are you doing?” Mike flailed comically, taken by surprise.
“Shut up for a second,” came the answer, oddly soft.
His eyes grew wide when Paulo arms looped around him and drew him into a hug, cautiously.
Mike’s glance flickered over Paulo’s ruddy fur. He did a quick soul-search for any part of him that might scream bloody murder at being hugged like this. Astoundingly, his brain came up blank, only offering the fact that that Paulo’s coat was every bit as warm and bushy as you’d expect it to be. If you’d thought about it. Which he hadn’t. At all. Really.
“... Surprisingly not-bad.”
“Hah, I know. It’s crazy, right?”
The two of them, hugging like this? Yes. Yes, it was. But it also managed to be very nice.
Mike lowered his arms and let them settle around the other’s shoulders. Since it was the easiest place to put them. Really.
Without really thinking, he reached up and dragged a hand up and down the back of Paulo’s head.
Huh. The Somali’s fur really was very soft. Fancy that.
Seconds ticked by in an amazingly comfortable silence in the murky darkness of Tess’ closet.
Mike hadn’t realised he’d closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he noticed that the other cat seemed deeply lost in thought.
He shouldn’t have asked.
“You think Sandy, Jazz and Lucy would be up for a fivesome?”
For a moment, all Mike could do was open and close his mouth repeatedly like a gobsmacked goldfish.
Never one to take shocked silence as a ‘no, and please feel free to stop talking’, Paulo went on: “’Fivesome?’ Is that even a thing? Oh hell, now we have to try it. For science or sumthin’. Sexy science.”
Words having left him, Mike took a moment to properly glare at Paulo.
“Uh, Mike, starting to look a little choked up there, dude.”
“...I, you, no. Just no. And for the record, no.”
“We can start with a threesome and work our way u—fuck! Ow! Watch the claws!”
“If you ever flaunt that idea of yours to Lucy she’ll do much worse.”
Paulo shifted uncomfortably and whined: “... seriously, what kinda guy scratches instead of punching?! You woulda totally been the girl and you know it.”
“Says the guy who’s been petted behind the ears by another guy for the last minute.” Mike tried not to sound infuriatingly smug. He was gleefully unsuccessful.
Paulo simply snorted derisively.
“You want me to stop?” Mike asked blithely.
“No. I, uh, I mean, I’ll let you indulge in your girly tendencies because I am awesome and a totally giving guy like that. ... Li’l more to the left.”
During the next few minutes, the only sounds were the faint scratching of Mike’s fingers against orange-golden fur and Paulo trying and failing miserably at hiding his appreciative purr.
It couldn’t last. At some point, the others were going to remember they existed, and the door was going to have to open, the light would pour in, and by then they wouldn’t be standing like this anymore, in the semidarkness, with nobody else knowing and so many things left unsaid between the two of them.
Maybe they wouldn’t stand like this again for a long time.
Maybe not ever again.
Mike wasn’t sure he wanted to think about it, but apparently his mouth had other plans and simply stumbled ahead without consulting the rest of him: “Paulo, I can’t... Sandy... after Lucy...I—I mean... I want to work things out; I don’t want to hurt anyone! I care about them both... and you, somehow... but—”
And that serious tone shut him up completely.
Paulo looked down at him, a curious mix of pity, sadness and warmth on his boyish features.
“Have I ever told you how terrible you are at rejecting people?”
“It’s... been brought up in conversation before.”
“I’ll never get how you can juggle all those love interests around,” Paulo shook his head jokingly. “Yours truly not included, obviously.”
“I’m sorry.” And he was, actually. Sorrier than he thought he should be.
The orange cat laughed a little unsteadily, but his eyes held a steely resolve. “You know me, Mike. Water under the bridge, right? Things don’t have to be so complicated.”
Something like a lead weight of worries and ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Can’t possibly make this work, not now’ around Mike’s conscience was slowly loosened, dropped, and left behind completely. He allowed himself a tiny, slowly unfurling smile as well as the sliver of a hope that maybe things were actually going to be okay. Eventually.
From outside, loud whoops of joy and annoyance came into earshot and someone loudly told David to share that Jack D or ‘suffer the consequences’.
The Somali got on his feet and dusted himself off. He fixed the unsure, but definitely smiling, Korat with a lopsided grin, which was wholeheartedly reciprocated.
“C’mon, we better get out there and make sure David doesn’t end up in the ER,” Mike said.
They walked out, leaving behind a lot of things that could have been, or could still come to happen. Maybe when there were less angry girls and relationship drama in their lives, or maybe not at all. Nobody knew, least of all the two of them.
For now, Mike and Paulo settled on enjoying the rest of the evening, talking and bantering with their friends on Tess’ balcony in the cooling night air, and wrestling that bottle of booze off of David before the Labrador ended up balancing on the roof drunkenly (again).
And maybe things were really going to be okay.
The young man drew a deep breath and knocked on the door. A muffled voice from inside told whoever it was to freaking wait a bit, it was like six thirty on a Saturday, what the hell was wrong with you?
The door was thrown open and a thoroughly annoyed, not to mention half asleep, Somali emerged, rubbing at his eyes.
“David, I told you man, no more coming over for cartoons in the morning after we go drinkin’ the night bef—huh?”
Drowsy apartment owner and uninvited visitor stared at each other for a good, long while. The silence stretched on and inflated like a marshmallow in the microwave.
“Morning, Paulo,” Mike said and coughed self-consciously. “I, uh, brought you a house-warming gift.”
Paulo narrowed his eyes. “If it’s a potted fern I’m going to punch you in the snout.”
Michael smiled. “Gift certificate.”
“Gift cer—dude, that is lame. Glad to see yer haven’t changed, I guess.” The Somali scratched the back of his head. “How’s Sandy?”
“Happy. But not with me.”
“Oh. Huh. And, uh, Lucy?”
“We talked things out. She’s not ready for a relationship yet.”
“She’ll come around. She’s a tough cookie.”
“She is,” Mike agreed quietly. “But in any case, she only wants to stay friends.”
Paulo’s ears perked faintly. “Sounds kinda familiar.”
Mike’s smile widened. “It does, doesn’t it?”
This time, the brief silence was of the fond sort that accompanied the revisiting of old memories.
Paulo shifted to make room. “Wanna come in?”
“Yes, thank you,” Mike said, and followed the other cat inside, politely closing the door behind them both.
Hello reader! You made it to the end! Good for you!
Here is a dumb slashy doodle:
See you next fic, guys
This post has been edited by Sniggy: 22 August 2011 - 09:02 PM