"You ever think about, I don't know. Trying to get into a girl's pants just to see if you could?"
Alex looks at me, and make what I privately call his Mr. Yucky Face. "Not really. It would be cruel. 'Hello, I slept with you, it was lousy-- oh, I'm gay, can I have your boyfriend?' "
I frown, lay back on the pillows some more. The Corner is basically empty, since it is almost one in the morning; Kallie had foolishly given me a key for this week because I'd promised to do some shit with the computers.
"You know, I hadn't even thought about it like that. You think the girl's boyfriend would go for it?..."
He stands up, starts to pace restlessly. "Sometimes, you're really callous. I can't believe you'd try and pick up a girl just to get with her boyfriend."
I shrug, lightly, and take the advantage of turning up the stereo a little bit. "I wouldn't do it. It'd be like trying to shoot fish in a barrel. Cute gay man. Dead giveaway for girls. There's no challenge in it."
He flips the light-switch closest to me, and I shade my eyes quickly. "Hey, man! That's fucking bright."
He turns it off again, keeps wandering around with some twitch in his system. I watch him for a while, feeling incredibly comfortable laying right where I am, before saying casually, "What has you uptight?"
"I'm not uptight. And you swear too much."
It was apparent that we were going to fight, tonight. Again. It's strange, with Alex and me, but we have to snipe at each other once every few weeks or so, or--
I don't know what happens if we don't. It's probably my fault it ends up happening. Normally, most fights start out with me calling him uptight. And then he says something about being overly dramatic. And then, we end up scowling at each other for a little while, acting like bitchy boyfriends.
I watch him turn on a computer, then barely wait for it to boot up before he turns it off again. "Alex, sweetie. I'm-- sorry, for being a bitch."
He just looks at me. I flip a pen around in my fingers, feeling bone tired after moving all that shit at work and trying to rewire the Corner for what Kallie wanted to install. "And you're not uptight."
"Yeah, you're just saying that so you can get in my pants, Izzy."
I smile, feeling more in my territory. This was the flirty Alex I could deal with right now. This was the one that didn't demand that I act the way I really should. This was the one that--
... was coming to lay beside me. It's nice, having Alex in my arms. He's, not my one true love, no matter how many times I say it to him or others. We, we act too much like bitchy boyfriends. But. "Alex?" I whisper.
He sort of grunts in return. I don't know what he's playing, tonight. I continue, "Do you have to work tomorrow?"
He grunts again.
"Because, if you don't..."
"Izzy, I'm not going to spend all night naked in the Corner. That one time was enough."
I grin. "You never told me about that."
He shrugs, and his chuckling is muffled against my shoulder. "You never asked. Besides. Rick swore me to secrecy."
Alex goes back to his grunting, and I try not to let myself get into a pout. I don't have any reason to. I don't have--
"You and Rick really had sex in the Corner?"
--any self-control when it comes to asking what Alex and Rick got up to, apparently.
Damn. There goes my light-hearted evening.
You owe me a night of fun and frolics, Alex Olsen. And at least two bottles of vodka.
Yeah, I'm good at angst. Shut the hell up, brain, and deal with this new Alex'n'Rick thing that has just been dumped in your lap, Iz. Figure out how to cope, without sounding-- however you are, right now. And do it quick, because in a minute, green-boy's gonna be looking at you all concerned like he always does, and he's gonna wonder why you're-- whatever you are.
I'm not going to say jealous. Or angsting. Or brooding. None of them fit. They're reserved for characters in stories, shows, movies; the occasional comic. Actually, most characters in comics.
I'm not going to use them to describe me.
"Are you okay, Iz?"
"Ceiling. And those new wires I spent all fucking afternoon stringing so subtly."
He rolls over, onto his back, and says absently, "You swear too much, Iz."
"Yeah, whatever, man." I snort.
He sighs, softly, and starts playing with my knuckles. "Iz, you are a dear, dear friend, and a good lay, besides, but I'm never going to get used to dealing with your mood swings."
I answered him by sticking out my tongue.
With Iz, you have to pick your moments.
Timing really is everything.
Pick the wrong time, and he'll disappear so fast he leaves skid marks, pick the right one, and you might get him talking.
Seriously, that is. Bullshit he can do any time, any place. He's actually pretty good at that.
"Did you really?"
I frown at him, and stop tapping his knuckles. "Did I really what?"
"Get naked with Rick here at the Corner?"
He's still on about that? I don't know why he's so... My mind does a quick replay of what we've been saying so far, and I realize what Iz is thinking. I try not to grin too widely.
He twists to stare at me, one eyebrow arched. "Sorta? How can you get sorta naked?"
He turns away again, looking at the ceiling. I really don't get what he finds so fascinating about it.
"Can I ask you something?"
"...Depends on what it is."
"If I... If I didn't have sex with you anymore, would you..." I pause. I don't know what I want to say. Or, I do. But I'm not sure how. I don't want to insult him. Or make him laugh at me.
He turns to look at me again, eyes wide. "What?"
"Iz, you know I love and adore you, yeah?"
Cautious nod. "Are you going to get sappy on me?"
"Don't know. Maybe."
"Could we just skip that part and have sex?"
I sigh. "Izzy. I'm trying to tell you I don't want to have sex with you."
"Sure you do." Completely uncomprehending look. I'm not sure if he's being dense on purpose or if he really doesn't get it.
When he doesn't want to know something, he can get like this.
He makes himself more stupid than he is. Don't know why. Maybe he hopes it'll magically go away or something. I've never been very good at psychoanalyzing Izzy. I can do Rick. But Izzy is impossible.
Touching him doesn't help. Knowing Izzy's secrets doesn't help. And, trust me, he's got the weirdest secrets. Nothing big or serious, which is why I can touch him in the first place without reaching for my pills two seconds later, but he does have them. Most of the time, I don't think he realizes he's got them at all.
"It's not the point."
"Then what is the bloody point? And I want it spelled out. Slowly."
I let go of his hand and flop down on my back. "I think I'm in love."
"Oh god, Alex..." A distinct whine and a 'why are you doing this to me?' in his voice.
I knew he was going to say that. I feel my face turning dark green. I know I'm being silly, I do, but I can't help myself. It's not like I wanted to fall in love with Pretty Blue Eyes. I could have fallen in love with Iz....Not that that would have been much better, but it certainly would've been more practical. I could get laid regularly then.
"Is it Rick?"
There are ceiling tiles, and there are those wires that I put in there, and there are... ceiling tiles. And there isn't any green mutant telling me that he's going to hook up with our friend, effectively taking away the only two people that made it seem like I wasn't going to end up bitter and twisted and die an early death from too much cynicism.
"Is it Rick?"
As soon as I asked, I regretted it, and hard.
"You know what would be great? If we could convince Moric to write Anya."
Alex, I notice, hasn't answered my question. And I'm glad, because I want to pretend that life can go on as usual, the three of us secretly hating the way we're all living alone, but living equally, at least.
I can handle being low man on the totem pole. I do it a lot. I am one of the world's shortest people, comparatively speaking.
He's got on his I'm-thinking-about-the-right-way-to-break-your-heart face on.
Or, maybe it's just his I'm-thinking face, but either way, I'm not too eager to hear what he has to say.
See, there's only two ways to fool that mutant power of Alex's. I'm great at both of them. The first is simple; just don't think about it. If you live in ignorance of yourself, you live in bliss. And he can't see what you don't know, most of the time. The second is, think too much. Because that creates some circular logic feedback loop and he gets so nauseous and feels so shitty, that he promptly forgets whatever you were hiding.
I'm going for not thinking about it.
I don't want to picture him and Rick moving in together. I don't want to picture the two of them attached to people that made them inaccessible to me. It's selfish, and it's stupid; and I can handle pulling away from both of them, if they're serious. Because, I wouldn't want to stand in their way.
But, whether I ever see either of them again, I'm not going to think about it.
"You're awful quiet, Iz."
I grin at him. "I'm trying to decide the best way to blackmail Moric into writing Anya in a historical era. Maybe Stace."
"I meant, about the whole no-sex thing."
I shrug. "You're in love. I don't want to get between the two of you. I mean-- hey. It's not like I don't have other offers."
...that was cold.
"That was damned cold, Iz. Why are you being so stubborn?"
Don't think about it. Don't think about it, don't bring up that fear of, don't think about it, just don't, and he'll go off and be happy with--
I think about Anya, and how she must speak Latin. I sift through possible candidates who might be willing to do some Latin research for me. I think about who I know that might actually put OUT a fic, for a change, instead of these ingrates who always promise trades and never actually produce--
"Hey, you know what, Alex? You still owe me a story."
He shakes his head, love forgotten for a minute. "No I don't."
"Yes you do. I'd swear you did."
"-- maybe I do."
I beam, feeling quite triumphant. "Hah. I knew you did."
Alex picks up the pen I was playing with before, a nice black ball-point. I don't know why I remember what the pen's like. I don't know why we're still here, why I haven't decided to go home and go to bed already tonight.
He says, "I don't understand you, Izzy. Sometimes, I think I do, but just when I think I've got something figured out, you go and get more drama queen. Or, ice prince."
I stand up. "Whatever, man. I'm going home."
There's no way I can handle this scene much longer. Eventually, he'll really start to see what's going on, and I know I can't handle that right now. I just barely accepted the fact that both him and Rick are lost to me; I don't want to have to play 'These are your emotions', too. Not with Alex. Not now.
I'm not sure how we went from discussing my love-life to me owing Izzy a story, but somehow we did. Due Iz, naturally.
I don't get him.
Come to think about it, there's actually a lot of people I don't get. Fairly much everyone in the whole bloody world, actually, but especially Iz. Especially now. What crawled up his arse and died, anyway?
"Whatever, man. I'm going home," he says and gets up.
I get up as well.
He looks at me, slight frown on his face. Then he shrugs and looks away, starting to walk towards the exit.
He keeps on walking.
Oh fuck it. I run after him and grab his arm. "Iz, I --" I stop as he twists out of my grip.
"I wasn't reading you." I know I look hurt and I am, too.
He tilts his head. "You can't not read me, Alex. It's what you do. But that wasn't it. I just. Could you not touch me?"
That, I think, hurts more than he intended it to.
I pull away. "Sure. If that's what you want."
We stand there, looking at each other for a bit.
"Let's go," he says finally. "I have to lock up and stuff."
I'm silent until we get to the car. Rick's heap of junk, once more. Don't know why he keeps lending it to us. We're always late at turning it back.
"You really have that much against me being in love?"
He doesn't reply.
"It's not that," he says, when I'm behind the wheel and he's sliding down at the passenger seat.
"What is it then?"
He looks... almost surprised. Like he thinks I should have figured it out by now.
But I haven't.
For a moment, it looks as though he's actually going to tell me, then... "You think I could get Stace to write Anya?"
I heroically resist the urge to bang my head against the steering wheel.
"And Latin. 'Cause I think that would be cool. Maybe some revenge thing. I could really see that."
"Iz, I'm this close to hitting you. Can you just tell me what the hell you've got against me being in love with someone for once in my pathetic little life?!"
"It's not that. It's-- complicated."
I watch Alex grind his teeth in frustration, and quench the little chuckle.
"If you haven't noticed, we've got time, Iz."
I take a breath, and try and make this as simple as possible. Simple means he might not figure out what's going on, not all of it, and I'm all for that. "It's not you being in love." I wave a hand around, carelessly. "It's you. Rick. The whole-- idea, of it. And, I'm just a bitch."
He mulls that over, and I hope it's enough for him. Truth was, I don't really know what's going on. I'm not the kind of guy who looks too closely when something in my life turns to shit. There's no point, and it means Alex gets headaches, and he doesn't need that from me. Not only that, but if I don't look too closely, it seems like whatever shit I'm trying to avoid, actually goes away.
Which, I'm also all for.
But this time, Alex ain't buying it. "And?"
And, indeed. I sigh, wanting to kick the bastard. It was so much easier when we were fucking. "And, and. You're in love. That's great, Alex. It really-- I want you to be happy, you know."
He's actually drumming his fingers. "And?"
And. And, you being happy means that I have to look-- elsewhere. That, really and truly, the two people in the world that I might have actually had a future with, they've run through my fingers.
But how do I explain that in words that aren't going to make Alex all sappy?
I fiddle with the door-handle, and it almost comes off in my hand. "And, if you and Rick fall for each other, I don't get to flirt anymore."
Yeah, close enough.
He's not getting any more out of me, that's for damned sure.
I actually laugh out loud.
Iz gives me a horribly hurt look and seems to pull away from me, leaning towards the door.
I didn't mean to laugh. Not hysterically at least, but it's just. Me and Rick?
Where the heck did he get that idea from?
"Izzy..." I manage to get out before I start laughing again.
Iz looks determinedly out of the window.
I try to pull myself together. Must explain. Hurting him, somehow, and. Okay, yeah, I am a sap. And I hate hurting Iz.
"Izzy... I..." I snicker again. Stop and try again. "Izzy, that's not. Not us. I mean, it's not Rick."
He keeps on looking out of the window, then slowly turn his head towards me. "What?"
I can't decide what emotions there are in his voice. Confusion? Relief?
I wave my hand at him, careful not to brush into him. Don't touch me. Still hurts. "I'm not in love with Rick, Iz."
I watch, still grinning, as Iz blinks, seeming uncomprehending, then... light dawns. Finally. Maybe now we can have the conversation I thought we were already having...?
We're finally having the conversation that I've been dreading from the first minute I met these crazy nutjobs. I'm fine with emotional closeness. I'm fine with opening up what's inside me. No secrets, remember? Alex knows I don't hide shit.
But things are-- different, when it's inside the family. Alex in love with Rick changes, just, changes. And so him and some other guy, outside the three of us-- yeah, whatever. I won't get laid, but there are always alternatives. Nothing changes.
I say, "Yeah, okay. I getcha. Get'im, tiger."
And look back out the window.
He's drumming his fingers again.
Finally, sounding exasperated, he grumbles, "You're so weird, Iz. You go from clammed up, to rambling. You normally want to know all about what's going on, who I'm sleeping with, but when I mention Rick, you clam up again-- or start talking about Anya stories. Which, by the way, is a shitty diversion tactic. It might work on Stace or other people, but I know you."
I shrug, trying to keep away from talking about Rick too much. That will just go places that will end us all up in therapy. And I can't afford the bills. "Okay. Who's the lucky guy, sweets? It can't be someone from that school, is it?"
Bingo. He goes bright green, dark like a whole pine forest.
I smirk. "So, it's a student, eh. Well, good for you. Get'em while they're young, that's my gig."
He closes his eyes for a minute, and I know he's praying for strength. The car starts, and I go back to looking out the window-- a little less pointedly, because it's less for effect and more for the alleviation of boredom. After a few minutes in silence, he says, "I don't know why I even bother with you, anymore."
I say quietly, "Why not?"
Shit. That's not what I wanted to say. I wanted to talk about-- getting Riley and Spike to give each other blowjobs. About Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in 'Dogma' fucking each other silly. About, anything but the current topic of conversation.
And then I do something stupid, like ask, 'Why not.'
He looks at me-- the car's running, the heater's on, but we're not going anywhere. Answers, "Why don't I stop bothering with you?"
Shake my head.
"Why don't I get'em while they're young?"
Shake my head again.
Looking frustrated again, he asks, "Try and divert Stace with ideas of Anya?"
I say lightly, "Look-- forget it."
"Jesus, Iz, if you've got something to say, just say it, alright? It's late. I have to work tomorrow. You have to work tomorrow, and if you miss another day this month they'll fire you. Why don't I what?"
I start fiddling with the buttons on my coat. I fiddle a lot. Finally... "Just-- why not Rick."
This is the conversation I've been dreading since Alex and Rick entered my life. It's the kind of doomsday that happens once and a while, and it's going to make sure that I don't get to sleep tonight at all, whatever happens. I'm never going to live this down. I'm never going to make sure things stay the same.
Why not. Why are there no bonds of romance between-- Jesus. I didn't want to get into Rick, Alex and I tonight.
I didn't ever want to get into it. Some things are just, too full of possibilities that seem more like endings. At the very least, that mean a hell of a lot of change.
Why not Rick?
Good question, actually.
I tap my fingers on the steering wheel, thinking about it. Trying to come up with an answer that doesn't sound too much like something Iz himself might say.
I don't think it's ever really occurred to me. Not more than an idle sort of 'nice arse' and 'wonder what...?' But. On the other hand, I do love him.
Yeah, sappy, I know, but it's true.
It's just. It's not the kind of love... It's not lust, you know?
"I don't know," I say finally, because I really don't. I could just as easily have fallen in love with Rick. Maybe easier.
He arches an eyebrow at me. "You don't know?"
I shrug and actually start to drive the car, rather than just letting it go, using the battery and stuff. Let it run too long once. Rick damn near killed me. Claimed I'd hurt his precious Martha.
I can feel Izzy's eyes on me as I drive towards Rick's place. He's not happy with my answer. Didn't really expect him to be.
A couple of blocks away from Rick's, he says, "What do you mean, you don't know?"
"I mean... I don't know." I glance over at him. "'Cause, see, I really could have fallen in love with him so damn easily. Even if it's not me he kisses."
He frowns at me. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Decisions, decisions... Make him even more snappy, or back off?
I decide to back off. It's late. I don't think I'm up to more fighting just now.
We're silent the rest of the way to Rick's place. I park the car and wait for Iz to get out before I lock it. Don't really see the point, though. Who in their right mind would want to nick this piece of junk?
But. I lock it. Not locking it probably won't make him more eager to have me and Iz as surprise over-night guests...
I open my eyes to white and brown strands and green stripes.
Egh -- cloth. Pillow. Green. White. Hair.
There's some weird noise going on. Loud, really, really loud. I do not wake up easy. I do not like waking up easy.
The noise just gets louder, and by the time I realized what it is well enough to sit up and pretend smoothing my hair down was going to help any and stumbling out of the bedroom, I think my front door is going to fall off its hinges.
"Jesus fucking christ," I tell the world at large, and get into an itty bitty kicking match with the kitchen table. It wins. "What the fuck --"
The window in the living room is open, just a little, and I can see it's dark out. I fell off the computer chair at two am. This is -- there's going to be blood.
I turn the key. I wonder why I have the chain in place when I swore I wouldn't use it every time I laughed at my mother for doing it. Then I realize I still haven't asked who it is, and this is either whatever am or the next day, and this is someone who doesn't mind one bit about waking me up on the other side of the door. Oh, yeah, great going, Rick. Real clever.
My own intelligence astounds me sometimes, really it does.
I try to blink something that feels disgusting and probably looks worse out of my eyes. My mouth still tastes like someone dumped what came out the last time I tried to make an omelet in and boiled it dry. "Who are you? And what the fuck time is it?"
I'm not necessarily coherent when I'm tired.
The door talks to me. I stare in awe. No, really, I just sort of wander off to sleep again with my eyes open. I'm not much of a morning person -- even less when the morning is too early, i.e anytime before two PM. This is, by my rough sleep-drugged estimation, about two days past my bedtime.
The door says, "Let us in, Rick."
The door also says, "C'mon, hon, you know you wanna." I'm impressed.
"Izzy?" I say. It comes out a little more suspicious than two of my nearest and dearest deserve, maybe, but then, said nearest and dearest happen to be Alex and Izzy, so, you know. Bets, off, all that crap.
"No. The fucking Easter bunny. I'm early this year."
Oh yeah. Izzy, no doubt. My door doesn't get images this fucked up.
"You're not allowed to say fucked when I'm annoyed," I grumble, and reach up to unhook the chain. I try not to wonder whether that made any sense. My head hurts.
"Hey, Alex," I say to the green sheepishly-smiling man in my doorway. "I'm going to assume you didn't wake me up. I still love you."
He snorts. But he still looks kinda sheepish, so I let it go.
"Hey, Ricky!" Izzy says, pushing forward a little as Alex kinda ruffles my hair and heads inside. He grins, cheekily I might add, and reaches up to kiss me on the cheek, but has the brains to take a step forwards after. Maybe it's the morning breath.
"You woke me up," I tell him, patiently. "You made my door do weird psychedelic things. I don't like you. Go 'way."
Iz knows I'm not a morning person, so he forgives me.
"Ricky," he says, with the tone of someone announcing some major and exciting news, "Your hair's all over the place."
I consider closing the door in his face after all.
That look on his face says, 'Get the hell out of my life' and 'fuck off' and-- well, fuck off means most of what he's thinking, I think. There's a minute or two where he stares at me, and I wait for the door to slam. Literally.
Rick's dicey at almost three in the morning. Can't blame him, on a normal day, but this isn't a normal day and so other rules apply.
Besides. His hair is doing this weird-- an-alien-spat-me-out thing, and that adorable streak of his is more a mangled blob. It looks like someone chain-saw-massacred a Peep and then stuck the bright blue marshmallow on his forehead.
The moment when I might hear a slam dies, and he shuffled into the house, muttering. I follow him, and close the door. "Rick, do you know what your hair looks like?"
He turns around. Looks me up and down.
Behind him, a tired-looking Alex makes a sharp, chopping motion with his hand. The message is clear. Don't mention the marshmallow. Don't mention the marshmallow.
Always a good rule to live by, I figure, so I shake my head. "Nevermind."
He purses his lips. "Uh huh. Good call, psycho boy. If you two are staying here tonight, then-- I don't care. Stay. Whatever. I'm going to bed."
He turns around and starts heading for the bedroom, but stops in the middle of his living room to eye us. Okay, he bashed his shin on the solid oak coffee table, and had to swear at it for a few minutes, first, but that's besides the point.
He says, "Did you lock my car?"
I sit down on the couch -- sprawl, alright -- and roll my eyes at him while simultaneously shucking off all of my uncomfortable clothing. Off go those bloody shoes, my jacket, and-- naw, better not take anything else off. It's--
"Izzy, if you strip, there's no electric blanket to hide under like at the Corner."
Oh, damn. Alex Olsen, not only did you rearrange my cosmos but you also took me away from my self-heated bedding.
For a minute, I remember that there's cosmos-arranging I have to not think about, and drop my eyes away from both Rick and Alex. I don't want them getting suspicious. I want to just go to bed.
Nothing is going to be different in the morning. Except maybe Rick's hair.
Actually, I'm really hoping that will be different. I don't think I could stand looking at it in the daylight.