torch, torch@doubleagent.org
April 5-8, 2003

Disclaimer: It wasn't my idea. Merry asked for it. Do not archive this story without permission.

A little less conversation

Nick reached for his beer and drank about half of it, slowly. He looked at the sea glittering in the sun, at the blue blue sky, at his sneaker-clad feet. Then he turned his head and looked at Justin. "So. Um."

"Yeah." Justin grabbed for his own beer. "So. This is a little weird. I mean." He drank beer, choked, and coughed.

Nick thumped Justin's back, very firmly. "Yeah?"

Justin wiped his streaming eyes. "I didn't mean."

Nick sat back again and drank some more beer. "Right."

"No, really," Justin said. "It's just. You know."

Nick nodded. "I guess." He dug into his back pocket and handed Justin a battered pack of kleenex.

"Thanks." Justin cleaned himself up a bit, sipped at the beer again, and leaned back in his chair. "Really, I didn't mean it like that. I was just, uh. Surprised."

"Okay."

"Maybe we could, uh. Shoot some hoops together sometime, or something. Talk about stuff."

"Sure." Nick nodded across his beer. "Sure, we could do that."

"Yeah." Justin nodded, too. "Good. Cool."

Nick picked at the label on his beer bottle. "We can set up a time and everything. Um, later. Cause I've got my stuff and all, you know, inside."

"Okay." Justin glanced back over his shoulder, and then looked out over the water again. "Nice view."

"Yeah, it's, you know, really nice in the mornings, when—"

Something inside the house went crash. Nick winced.

Justin winced, too. He put his beer down. "Maybe we should."

"Nah." Nick sighed and scrubbed at his hair. "They break something, they pay for it. Especially Howie."

"I wouldn't have thought Howie was the type," Justin said. "I mean. To break stuff and all."

"He's really not," Nick said. "Only, you know. Chris kinda has that effect on people sometimes?"

"Yeah." It sounded heartfelt. "He does."

"You want another beer?"

"Nah, I'm good." Justin stretched his legs out. "And, you know, with this. I really am. And I'm gonna be supportive and all. I just don't, uh, I mean."

"Get it?"

"Yeah. No." Justin bit his lip. "Maybe?"

Nick grinned and shrugged. "It's just the way it is, dude. Long as you don't start breaking stuff, we're good."

"Promise." Justin clinked his beer bottle solemnly against Nick's. "So, you know, I kinda wanted to ask you—"

The door behind them opened and slammed against the wall. "—look, time out, time out," Chris said.

"You're not listening to me," Howie said.

"I've done nothing but listen to you, except when you broke that lamp!"

"Oh, man," Nick said. "Not the desk lamp? Howie!"

"Sorry," Chris said.

Nick grinned at him and stood up. "Swap?"

"Please." Chris went over and sat down in Nick's chair and picked up Nick's beer. "I'm gonna sit here and talk to Justin, who doesn't break stuff." He looked at Justin. "Does he?"

"No," Justin said. "Listen, Chris. It's not that I'm not gonna be supportive, because I am, you know that—"

Nick went over to Howie, put his arm around Howie's shoulders, and began to drag him back towards the door. "C'mon, Sweet D. You got some 'splainin' to do."

"—and you know I embrace your choices, man, even if I don't, uh. Completely relate to them in a way that maybe—"

"Me?" Howie drew his brows together. "I'm sorry about the lamp, but Nick, this is insane."

"Justin," Chris said behind them, "you're allowed to say what the fuck if you really want to. I'm gonna drink the rest of your beer now."

Nick pulled Howie into the house and closed the door. "Okay, listen."

"No, you listen, Nicky." Howie put a hand on Nick's arm. "Have you really thought this through?"

"Yeah." Nick nodded solemnly. "I made, you know, a list, with pros and cons and everything, except I didn't know you were gonna break my lamp, so that never got on the list. If I'd'a known that, maybe..."

"Seriously, Nick," Howie said, but then he just pressed his lips together.

"C'mon," Nick said. "Spit it out. You were in here yelling at Chris for an hour, I bet you're not all out of mad yet."

"I'm not mad at you," Howie said.

Nick shook his head. "I thought you liked Chris."

"I do," Howie said. "I always have. I just never thought, I mean, this isn't. I like him, but. I never thought he'd do anything like this!"

"Um." Nick tugged Howie along into the kitchen and got himself another beer. "Okay, you're gonna have to explain that so I know which one of us you're insulting."

"Nick." Howie crossed his arms. "He's too old for you, he's too weird for you, and he should know better."

Nick drank some beer. "I shouldn't?"

"Shouldn't what?"

"Know better." Nick put the beer down on the kitchen counter. "Cause, you know, I'm the one who put my hand down his pants at that afterparty."

Howie grabbed Nick's beer from the counter and drank. "Nick, you didn't."

Nick shrugged. "Well, it didn't look like he was ever gonna do anything, you know?" Then Nick grinned and took his beer back. "And, you know, he's not gettin' any younger, so I thought I might as well."

"Oh." Howie went to the fridge and got his own beer. "I guess I kind of thought."

"That he was a big evil seducer? Howie, it's Chris. He's really not a big evil anything, or I guess he's kind of evil sometimes, but. And I'm all grown up now."

"And you have such a great track record," Howie muttered.

"Thanks."

Howie turned around and walked over to Nick and wrapped his arms around Nick's waist and hugged him hard. "Sorry." He looked up. "You know I just want you to be happy."

"Well, I'm pretty happy now," Nick said. "You want me to be happier, you could buy me a new lamp."

Howie frowned a little, still leaning against Nick. "I'm just not sure if this is the wisest choice you could make."

"Just think of all the ways he's different from Mandy," Nick suggested.

"Yes, but." Howie's eyes were big and concerned. "Nick."

"No," Nick said. "No, no. You don't get to use the Bambi eyes, you know what that does to me. Stop it." He held his beer bottle threateningly over Howie's head. "You know beer is good for your hair, right?"

"Nick!" Howie's eyes unbambified very fast. "Don't you dare."

Nick tilted the bottle a little more. "Maybe Chris really is a bad influence on me," he said.

"And you wonder why I'm worried about you."

Nick smiled. "But this is great," he said. "You know how people say, you know, the devil made me do it, or something, now I can say Chris made me do it."

Howie said something uncomplimentary about Chris in Spanish. Nick poured a little beer on Howie's head. Howie said something uncomplimentary about Nick in English and chased him towards the door.

Nick ran outside just in time to hear Justin say, "—but, you know, it's a little weird."

Chris looked up at Nick and Howie. "Nothing else broken?"

"Not yet," Howie said.

"Um." Nick looked from Howie to Justin to Chris. "Swap?"

"Again? Yeah, okay," Chris said, looking a little confused. He stood up.

"Great," Nick said. He pulled Howie forward and pushed him down on the chair, grabbed Chris, and pulled him into the house. Nick leaned back against the door and heard it click shut.

Chris started to laugh.

"Did you just lock Howie and Justin out on the deck?"

"The thing is," Nick said, "that you're, you know, a bad influence on me."

"Believe me, I've heard about it," Chris said. He looked at Nick. "I can tell you're not the sweet innocent boy you were two months ago."

Nick shook his head. "No, I'm not, you know, I've gone all, um. Weird."

Chris looked serious. "I had no idea Howie would get that upset."

"I poured beer on him," Nick admitted. "I guess that didn't make things better."

The corner of Chris's mouth twitched. "I guess not. So what do you think we should do about it?"

"I think we need to get back to the basics of this relationship," Nick said and stuck his hand down Chris's pants.

"Whoa." Chris wriggled. "But about those guys you just locked out—" Nick moved his hand. Chris closed his eyes. "I think maybe we should—"

Nick dropped to his knees. "Hush," he said.

Chris made a squeaky sound. Then he hushed.

A while later, Chris said, "You know, you're very persuasive when you want to be." Nick smiled. Chris tugged at him. "C'mon. This way. Up. Bedroom."

Nick looked up, trying for Bambi eyes. "But those guys out there," he said.

"Yeah, what about them?"

"You're just going to leave them there? I thought you were all concerned about them and all."

"Well, you know." Chris smiled and wound his fingers into Nick's hair. "You're a bad influence on me."

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