A/N: If you want a more thorough introduction to these characters, I recommend reading either "Three Strikes" or "Lines of Scrimmage" (both are completed oneshots), but if not, you can probably still figure things out on your own pretty darn quickly.
Best Kept Secrets
Girls, Therapeutic Uses of a Shotgun, and the Great Emancipation of a Bear Named Quan
"So…the fair's coming to town."
Lorene – head cheerleader, grade-A popular girl, and generally five foot seven inches of coconut skin, rippling ink black hair, and two oval almond eyes with a pretty enough canopy of lashes to stop a natural disaster in its tracks – makes the statement offhandedly, but most of the general hubbub at their lunch table (peopled with the typical jock and cheerleader crowd) quiets, aware that she's bringing up a topic of interest. None-too-subtly, she nudges the boy at her side, her boyfriend Derik, with her elbow, and Quan, sitting across from them, continues eating but keeps his ears perked.
"We should get a group together," she continues, still deceptively casual, though it's obvious that this is something she's planned already and has decided she wants, regardless of how Derik answers. "You know, gather up a few choice people…have some fun. You could be romantic for once, Derik, and take me on a 'moonlit ride' on the Ferris wheel…" A whimsical note slips into her voice at the latter suggestion, probably purposefully floozy, seeing as she accompanies it with a theatrical bat of her lashes.
Derik grimaces, and Quan turns his smile into his food, making no comment. "Fuck no," Derik grumps unhesitatingly in reply. "Fairs are shit boring…and anyway, I hate Ferris wheels." Across the way, Quan makes a noble effort not to choke on his asparagus, and Derik's eyes hone immediately in on him, narrowing dangerously. "If you even think-"
Raising his palms in instant surrender, Quan shakes his head, but he has to stifle his laughter. "The food, Derik, man, I choked, alright?" His eyes dance, though, sharing their silent, unspoken secret like an inside joke, and Derik grits his teeth, cheeks warming into a delicious shade of deep, bubblegum pink, but he lets the subject drop.
Unfortunately for Derik, however, when Lorene sets her mind to wanting something, she tends to poke and needle her way around until eventually, things happen her way, and today is no exception. So, while she never gets a promise for a ride on the Ferris wheel out of him, it is decided before lunch ends that at least some portion of their clique will get together for a group expedition at some point while the fair's in town.
As they file out of the cafeteria afterwards, Derik shoves his shoulder purposefully roughly up against Quan's, just enough to knock him partially off-balance. "Jackass," he grumps, and the corner of Quan's lip curves up.
"I didn't say anything, did I?" he counters, openly amused, and Derik's face warms all over again, blossoming with color up to his eartips. It's adorable, though Derik would probably deny Quan sex for all of at least a day or two if he made that observation out loud. Patience has never been Derik's strong suit, particularly when it comes to making himself wait for sex.
"Well, no, but…you…" Derik trails off.
"I've done a pretty good job of not telling anyone for ten years," Quan points out, and then, with a small, barely-there frown, he adds, "…and, you know, I think I've been pretty good at keeping other secrets between us in general, too…"
Derik's attention flicks to him, and then down, fleetingly, his eyes lingering for a moment or two too long on Quan's lips before lifting back to his eyes. It's a good thing no one in high school pays attention to anyone besides themselves, Quan muses, because if they did, he's fairly certain their 'ruse' would be about as inconspicuous as a helicopter crashing through the auditorium ceiling.
"Yeah," Derik finally says, after a long moment. "Yeah, I guess you are pretty okay at keeping secrets." His eyes leave Quan for a moment, darting down the hall, and eventually he turns his attention to the floor, frowning. "Well…whatever. Thanks, then, I guess…for not saying anything, you know. I'm glad you know how to keep your mouth shut."
Quan wonders if he's still referencing the Ferris wheel incident—because it feels like he isn't, not anymore—but he keeps his thoughts to himself, and aloud, he says only, "Sure…no problem. I don't mind."
Sometimes he wonders if it's bad, how easily that is to say now.
When Quan was seven years old, Derik's parents successfully convinced Quan's aunt and uncle to allow him to accompany Derik to the fair. Once there, however, he met Derik's challenge to ride the Ferris wheel with extreme trepidation.
"Cluck-cluck-c-c-cluck, bwwwaaak-bwaak-bwak!" Derik mocked without reserve, pulling several amused glances from the various passerby as he strut around, hands folded under his armpits and elbows flapping loosely up and down in a poor – or Quan thought so, anyway – imitation of some variety of flustered, feathery farm animal.
Quan curled his toes in his sneakers, rocking half back on his heels and staring at the gravel – anywhere but at his friend – as his face warmed and lit up like the festive paper lanterns Nainai (Grandma) made during Spring Festival.
How could Americans be so loud? His aunt would have hit him if he were that loud. And not lightly, either.
"Ch-ch-ch-chiiiicken!" Derik drew out the word, making a mockery of it, and then finished his animal impersonation with gusto, planting his hands hard on his hips and sticking his tongue out once before grinning, if possible, even more wickedly than before. "You're just scared 'cause you're a chicken baby…" This, apparently, called for more sing-song. "Baby, baby, baaabyyyy…"
"Little bitty girly girl baby-"
"It's…bad stuff could happen!" Quan argued, and as far as he was concerned, this was true.
It had taken him hours of silent chores and subtle pleas, in addition to the numerous assurances from Derik's parents that they would be watched meticulously the entire time and kept completely out of harm's way, before his grandmother had finally relented to allowing him to spend the evening at the fair with "that crazy-in-the-head white devil child friend of yours."
Nainai didn't – and still doesn't – approve of Derik.
She didn't approve of the fair, either, for that matter, and initially the concept of allowing her only living grandson to be swept off in the hands of hot-headed Americans and taken to a place where the lowest of the low – free-roaming vagabonds, drug dealers, hippies and gypsies – made a living was absolutely out of the question. That in mind, it couldn't fairly be said that Derik's parents weren't at least as talented at getting their way as Derik was. (Well, he had probably learned from them, after all.) Their ways were simply more…
Still, if Quan had left the house with any advice that evening, it was to avoid anything and everything that looked big, tall, fast, loud, old, dark, crowded, or otherwise even remotely questionable in any way, shape or form.
Unfortunately, as far as Quan had seen so far, that advice seemed to tend towards ruling out the entire carnival.
"It's not dangerous," Derik scoffed, as if it were the stupidest thing Quan had said all night. "It's a cake walk."
Quan frowned, suddenly more confused than nervous. His grasp of English was immensely better than it had been two years ago, when he first arrived – at which point he could barely say more than 'Hello, my name is…' – but even now, many idioms still escaped him. Thus, "There's cake?" he asked, honestly perplexed.
"No, there's-" Changing his mind quickly, Derik waved his hand. "Never mind. Just come, alright, princess girly baby?" He smirked, his voice dropping to a snarking coo. "I'll hold your hand if you get scared…"
Quan's pretty sure he was still teasing, but on the off chance that this was yet another one of those things they did differently here, he decided not to embarrass himself by asking for clarification and just swallowed uncertainly. "But…"
Derik's lower lip budded out, his arms crossing and chin rising, and Quan recognized the final stage of Derik's 'bargaining' process and knew, before a word was said, that he was about to do whatever Derik demanded of him, whether he liked it or not.
"If you don't go…" Derik started his ultimatum, and Quan squeezed his eyes shut, his nose scrunching up simultaneously, "…you're not my friend anymore."
Quan breathed out, eyes still shut, and after a painfully long, dragging moment, he presented his hand, like a convicted man presenting his head to the chopping block.
Derik cheered wildly.
Snatching Quan's wrist within the half-second, Derik dragged him immediately towards the looming monster of a contraption otherwise known as the "Ferris" wheel. Quan still wasn't sure what exactly a 'ferris' was, but the wheel was big, and tall, and the woman in front of it had dark purple, oddly shaped hair with orange and lime green tips and a huge ring sticking out of her lip that he was pretty sure couldn't have been natural or comfortable, and that was distracting enough that he didn't think to ask about ferrises themselves.
Suffice to say they must have been big, too.
Derik brandished their "unlimited rides" wrist bands like V.I.P. passes, and Weird Hair Lady drew bored eyes over them in a single, dismissive pass, popping neon green gum once loudly from behind gaudily dark lips before waving them on. The man who led them to their cart was similarly disinterested, ignoring completely Derik's inquiry on whether they could actually please have the green cart, not the red one. (Because red was really a lot like pink, after all, and pink was bad because it was girly and everything girly had cooties. Even Quan knew this, by now; Derik was nothing if not a fast teacher. Nevermind that Quan hadn't actually managed to get a clear answer on what exactly "cooties" were, but he was fairly certain they were some kind of creepy crawly insect that all American girls naturally inherited at birth.)
The first two minutes after they were strapped in were predominated by Derik whining circles around the fact that they had still ended up in the red cart.
Quan didn't really care – they'd made it to the top of the loop now and all he could think was that he could see everything from this height – but he nodded when Derik complained so that his friend could go on assuming that he had an attentive audience. Things usually worked out better that way anyway, in Quan's experience with him thus far.
If the fairground seemed huge from the ground, it looked endless from here. The crowds looked like a sea of paper dolls, like tiny glass ornaments, or the little broken bits of toothpicks that represented people in class projects. Maybe like all those little "pet" ants in Derik's glass farm in his house that Quan was convinced were going to die (because, he reasoned, that just couldn't have been healthy for them, to live in glass).
He didn't realize anything was wrong until Derik's tugging on his arms became more than a mild annoyance, and he turned. "What—?"
"We…why aren't we going down again?"
It was the change in Derik's voice that caught Quan's attention first.
His friend's voice never shook like that. Well, unless he was really, really angry, but even then it sounded different – like a lick of flame about to burst up and consume something, or explode, not the quivering of a too-thin, too-dry autumn leaf – and a frown settled into place over Quan's features, concern knotting in his gut.
Derik shook his head rapidly and then swallowed, and Quan noticed his hands tightening on the lip of his seat, the skin at his knuckles whitening. "It should be going down. Why aren't we going down? It's supposed to go in a circle. We-"
Suddenly, the entire structure gave a great, heaving shake, like a fantastic beast shuddering in its bones – metal creaked, small startled and scattered screams sounded from the other carts – and Derik cried out, though Quan only tensed sharply, soundlessly, his heart becoming a wild drum in his chest.
Could it really be possible that they'd die like this? Would the entire thing topple to the side? Break apart at its center? Would they die of falling or from being crushed alive? Would their family even recognize them? What if they-
A sharp little whimper, with a quick, stifled sob nipping closely at its heels, cut into Quan's tumbling-card-castle-esque thought process, and his attention turned to Derik: teeth clamped tightly down over his lower lip, eyes squeezed shut, and shoulders hunched and stiff, body just barely shaking. Uncertain, but feeling a pang of need to act somehow, Quan reached hesitantly out, 'I'll hold your hand if you get scared…' echoing loudly in his head as he sidled an inch or two closer, and slowly, tentatively, he brought his hand down, letting his fingers come to rest over Derik's white-knuckled ones.
Immediately, Derik's eyes jerked back open and flit to him – big, beautiful blue eyes, wide and quivering, but riddled with some unspoken hesitancy – and Quan wondered if he'd made a mistake. Derik's eyebrows knit together, a frown forming despite the nerves that made him swallow, and he shook his head. "I-I'm not sca-"
"I'm scared," Quan said quickly.
A moment after the words left his mouth, he wondered why he'd spoken them.
He was nervous, but it wasn't that. It seemed that part of him realized, even at this age, that Derik wouldn't go down without a fight. He would struggle to save face no matter what, and to admit his fears, his 'weakness,' and allow his friend to comfort him for it? Unthinkable.
If Quan were the one that was scared, though…
Debate raged war on Derik's face, conflicting emotions chasing each other back and forth over his features. Then the wheel – and their cart – gave another groaning metallic shudder, screws and joints creaking and rattling miserably like an elderly person coming to a stand after too long of a sit, and Quan felt Derik's tension spike again under his fingers.
An instant later, his friend nodded hastily and laced their hands together without comment. Wordlessly, he slid himself the rest of the way across their shared seat until they sat flat side-by-side with their shoulders and legs together, feet bumping each other as the cart rocked.
"'M sorry." Derik mumbled it so quickly and quietly that Quan barely heard it. And then, even as it sank in, he barely believed it, because Derik so very, very rarely apologized. Never, in fact, so far as Quan could remember, except to his parents. He apologized to his parents often—'I'm sorry, mama, I didn't mean to. No, ma'am…yes, okay, I'll be more careful next time,' 'I know, dad, I'm sorry, I- okay, yes, sir. I'll work on it. I know I gotta practice, I will…'
A moment later, though, his friend nodded distractedly and repeated himself. "Sorry for…making you get on. It's a stupid ride, I hate it, and…and I didn't mean what I said. What I said earlier, about you not bein' my friend anymore? I was only sayin' it just 'cause…'cause I wanted you to come with me, that's all, but…"
He took a breath, pulling it deep and shutting his eyes, and there was a glitter of dampness there, trapped in the corners, though Quan suspected Derik would deny it fiercely if the subject were brought up. Still, the dampness glimmered, red and yellow and pink and green in turns as the wild lights changed around them, and for a surreal moment, Quan wondered what it would be like to see the reflection of the entire fair caught in a single teardrop.
Then, Derik dragged his spare arm once fast, as if angry, over his face, sweeping away the evidence, and when he opened his eyes again, he met Quan's dead on. Derik's eyes never failed to fascinate Quan, riveting him to the spot as surely as two big, pretty round magnets.
"You'll always be my friend," he asserted, as decisively as though making a life promise. "Whenever I say that you aren't or that I don't like you anymore…I'm lying."
To Quan, who feared emptiness and loneliness above all things, it might as well have been a promise to drag down the moon for him, and he felt sure in that moment that his heart became a dragon in his chest, unfurling its proud wings and beating fiercely for reasons that had nothing to do with panic or fear and everything to do with Derik and nothing else. Abashed, almost, by the degree to which the statement pleased him, Quan dipped his head and diverted his eyes.
"You mean it?" he asked, barely daring to let the question pass his lips for fear that Derik would use the opportunity to withdraw his statement and laugh at his expense, as he sometimes did, but his need to know that Derik wasn't teasing him for once overpowered his fear of rejection.
To his heart's great content, however, Derik only nodded. "Yeah. I swear it, okay? Always and always and always." And only then did Quan allow the wealth of his own smile to spread into place, but he still kept his head down when he nodded in turn.
"Okay," he said quietly, and peeked up just enough to catch a glimpse of Derik watching him, white-blonde hair and rosy, childish features set off against the backdrop of the endless night sky. "I promise to like you forever, too."
In that moment, Quan knew absolutely that no man- or heaven-made light could ever hope to shine quite so brightly as Derik's smile, and when Derik leaned over, pressing his lips fleetingly and lightly as a kiss of sunshine to Quan's cheek, Quan didn't think twice about it except to think that Derik's lips were soft and nice and that he was very happy to have such a good friend.
They made it down safely, of course, and immediately upon escaping the confines of the cart Derik dashed into his waiting (fretful) mother's arms, proudly spouting his version of the events in the cart—which involved him heroically comforting Quan when Quan was sooo scared and of course naturally braving the entire incident himself without a qualm, instinctively knowing the whole time that it would come back down.
And yet, amidst Mrs. Carter's pleased coos of, "Ohh, you were so brave…" and "That's my big boy…" Quan found that he didn't really mind letting Derik tell the story however he liked. It wasn't true, but both he and Derik knew the truth, and somehow the fact that it was their secret – just his and Derik's – made it that much more personal.
That, and Mrs. Carter quickly ushered them away for ice cream cones on the terms that Quan swear not to mention the little 'complication' they encountered on the ride to his guardians, for simplicity's sake. Well aware that neither his aunt and his uncle or his grandmother would ever permit him out with Derik and his family again – and perhaps not even ever let him out of the house again – if they found out, he readily agreed.
It wasn't until just before they parted ways that night that Derik demanded a formal promise of secrecy as far as the actual events on the Ferris Wheel were concerned, but Quan agreed to that, too, without resistance. He hadn't planned on telling, anyway.
At twilight, the Morrison County Fair flickers like brightening Christmas lights of all colors coming to life against the deepening purple-blue and orange sky as the sun sinks lower beneath the horizon. It always surprises Quan, how little the scene changes from year to year.
The swarming, writhing ebb and flow of people doesn't seem quite so intimidating as it once did, he supposes, since instead of them towering over him, he's taller than most of them now, and the gangly, death-defying metal contraptions – er, rides – don't seem so wild or preposterous as the first time he laid eyes on them. But those differences are the result of a gradual process – his growing and accustoming himself to the cultures here – and thus, they don't stand out so much, particularly seeing as he's been back most every year since Derik introduced him to it.
Still, each time on returning, the place generates a certain nostalgia for him.
"Hey there, you big lug…" The gentle tap of a fist to his stomach draws him out of his reverie, "…you alive in there behind those dark, distant, dreamy eyes of yours?" Looking down, Quan focuses in on bright, round brown eyes flecked with green and grey, strawberry blonde hair that hugs the curves of high cheekbones, and a small sea of orange freckles that spills over creamy peach-vanilla skin, and he smiles.
Peripherally, he's aware that Derik, Lorene, Travis, Cassandra, and Marcus are not far behind her, but Chloe keeps his attention, hooking her fingers in his pants pockets under his jersey jacket and smiling up at him.
"Contemplating the meaning of the universe?" she asks, and he blinks.
Chuckling lightly, she shakes her head. "Nevermind. We-"
"We've been waiting for you," Derik cuts her off, and she turns her head to him as Quan looks up, but steps closer to Quan when Derik approaches, fitting her back to his chest. "Where've you been, huh?" Derik continues, splitting his attention between speaking to Quan and aiming a sideline frown at Chloe. "Thought you'd show up an hour ago…everyone else is still inside."
"Oh, umm…yeah, sorry about that," Quan apologizes, bashful, and steps out, away from his just-parked car. "Turns out my aunt was out late running some errands, and I had to take Nainai to pick up a prescription before the doc's office closed. Didn't know ahead of time, and it kind of took longer than I expected…"
Derik huffs, but with nothing to be done about it he eventually shrugs it off, and they depart as a group from parking lot where they'd come to greet him and start back towards the fairgrounds. "That old lady is a crazy bat," Derik asserts as they go. "I swear, all she does is curse at me in Chinese and…scowl. Only a matter of time before she goes off the deep end," he adds, and Chloe frowns, but doesn't respond to the comment directly and slips her hand into Quan's instead.
"Is she alright at least?" she asks, sounding honestly concerned, and Quan glances to her. "Like, she's not getting sick is she?"
"Oh," He shakes his head, "no. She's very healthy, mostly. Her knees hurt her, that's all. They have been, for a while, but it's getting worse. My aunt only just recently convinced her to get some medication for it. She's…a little fussy about Western doctors."
This is the understatement of the century, but Quan doesn't figure it merits further explaining. Nainai has never been particularly fond of doctors, period, if his aunt is to be believed; American doctors are just rats among mice in her eyes: greater evils amidst a sea of lesser evils.
Ahead of them, Derik scoffs. "And what kind of health care does she want to get? That freaky…needle torture shit?"
Immediately, Chloe pipes up. "Actually, acupuncture has been scientifically proven to produce certified medical results, and it's only natural for older people to be more trusting of the medical practices they grew up with and understand. But when it comes down to it, the range of Chinese medicines and its applications-"
"Okay, what-ever," Derik groans back with no small amount of distaste laced into his tone. "Acupah-what?"
Chloe blinks, startled. "Acupuncture?" she repeats. "'Needle torture shit?'" And Derik frowns. After an awkwardly drawn out moment, given his clear lack of comprehension, she explains, "Acupuncture is the form of medical treatment where needles are inserted into the body at pressure points in order to regulate-"
"Ohhh," Derik realizes abruptly. At her look, though, his expression of comprehension quickly grows hostile again. "What?" he snaps. "So I didn't know, so what? You want a fucking diploma? Jesus…" He directs his scowl at some unidentifiable object in the distance, rolling his shoulders irritably as though shaking off an unpleasant chill. After a time he says, more beneath his breath than anything, "I knew it started with an 'A' at least…" A pause, and then, quieter still, "…I think…"
"Anyway," Derik grumps, more loudly again, "…I didn't come to the fair for a history lesson."
"All I'm sayin' is that modern doctors tend to know what they're doing," he continues, "…and relying on strange…hocus pocus medicine techniques and…" He waves a single hand vaguely, "…leaf chewing and stuff or whatever…doesn't make much sense."
Visibly giving up, Chloe turns her attention away from him and sidles closer to Quan instead as they walk. "If the world were limited to being made up of only things that make sense to you, Derik," she says quietly, going on despite her diverted gaze, "…this planet would be a very, very small place."
Quan winces, and privately hopes Derik didn't hear her. Derik, though, (who clearly does hear, unfortunately) only rolls his eyes – if rather theatrically – and when their eyes meet over the top of their girlfriends' heads, Derik tosses him a smirk.
"Yo, Quan," Derik says, and Quan raises his eyebrows in acknowledgement. "I think this means it's time you found yourself a new, stupider girlfriend."
Quan purses his lips, Lorene laughs, and Travis and Marcus chuckle. Chloe smiles derisively. "Someone more like you, Derik?"
For a moment, Derik's cheeks pink, and he stalls on his answer – not, if Quan were to guess, because of the slur on his intelligence, but for the other, ironically close to accurate implication which Chloe most likely hadn't intended to make. Seconds later, though, he huffs and slings an arm over Lorene's shoulder, pulling her up close against him as they walk.
"Uh, yes," he answers with emphasis, as if hers was the silliest question ever to be asked. "In fact," he continues, "…why stop at 'like' me? I think I'd make a great girlfriend…"
There's another small swell of snickers from the collective members their group – excluding Quan, who's inadvertently blushing, and Chloe, who's scrunching up her nose like she just smelled something particularly foul – and Derik grins like he just won something. He probably just did.
The conversation changes direction after that, for which Quan is silently grateful, and Lorene, Derik, Travis, and his girlfriend Cassandra take over. They make it in, Chloe accompanies Quan to buy tickets and the next several hours pass quickly, divvied up between rides, games, and no insignificant amount of artery clogging food of the sorts teenagers relish in consuming by the barrel full. There are apparently ten of them in all from their typical crowd, as Quan finds out when Derik lists off the attendees for him, but the actual make up of the group changes constantly thanks to them each splitting off in different directions and meeting up at various different points.
It's sometime just past eight o'clock when, in the midst of waiting for the guys he was with to show back up after running off to get yet more food-
"Hey, there you are!" The abrupt, boisterous greeting comes paired with a hearty slap to the shoulder from behind and, startled, Quan swings around, but Derik barely seems to notice. "Was wonderin' where you got off to…" He trails off for a brief moment, and then frowns, puzzled. "Are you here by yourself?"
Quickly, Quan clears his throat and shakes his head. "No, ahh…I'm waiting up on Wes and Marcus. They just…" He makes a broad, vague sweeping gesture in the general direction said boys left off in, "…went off for some more…funnel cake? I think? I'm not sure they made up their minds about what they wanted, but-"
"Yeah, more food, okay," Derik says, nodding, and he looks around, shifting his weight with a subtle jitteriness that Quan recognizes to mean he has something on his mind. So Quan waits. Sure enough: "Come walk with me for a bit, yeah?" Derik asks a second later, not quite meeting Quan's curious gaze – which of course only makes Quan more curious.
"Walk?" he repeats, and Derik frowns at the dirty, gum, candy-wrapper, and cigarette-butt littered gravel under their sneakers.
"Yeah. I want-" Apparently deciding against that intro, Derik changes gears. "We need to talk, okay? Just…quick like, or whatever." And Quan's eyebrows rise high.
"'We need to talk'," Quan parrots, necessarily dubious. "Those four words, Derik? Really?"
Cheeks heating, Derik grits his teeth, but all he says is, "Just…come," and after that he turns, starting off in the opposite direction Quan had indicated the others going and not so much as sparing a glance backwards to see if Quan actually follows. Quan does follow, though, of course – which probably explains why Derik never bothers to second guess it – and a minute later they're walking side by side, surrounded by noise, but saying nothing.
"How's your leg?" Derik asks after some time, referencing an accident that landed Quan in the hospital a month or so back, and Quan relaxes a little, if only for the break in the lull.
"It's good," he answers. "A lot better, I mean…most of the time I don't notice it."
Derik nods, but it isn't what he dragged Quan off to talk about and both of them know it. Finally, after another, stretched pause, Derik says, "You know when you asked why I keep getting back with Lori and whether I 'liked' her or not? And…I told you that I don't give two shits about her, but it's convenient, so we work it out?"
Quan frowns. "Yeah," he answers eventually, wary, trying and failing to figure out where Derik plans on taking this.
Derik's eyes are intent, but they look everywhere but at Quan when he says, "It's not like that with you and Chloe."
It isn't a question, and Quan doesn't know whether the twinge of guilt he feels at the assertion is warranted or not. Should he really feel guilty for liking his own girlfriend? Or is it whatever he's doing with Derik that's wrong? Does it matter? Is there even a difference?
"No," he admits at length, "…you're right, it's not. Why?"
Despite the confidence with which Derik originally made the statement, he looks – upset? frustrated? …hurt? – dissatisfied, at the very least, in some way by Quan's reply, as though he'd hoped Quan would deny the assertion instead.
"You…really like her?" he asks after a time, and Quan sighs.
"She's a nice girl, Derik," he starts, "…and I-"
"That's not what I asked."
Quan suppresses the urge to frown. Then, making a concentrated effort to keep the words as even as possible, he answers: "Yes, Derik…I like her."
Because he's irritated, he doesn't mention that whatever he feels for Chloe is wildly different from what he feels for Derik. He doesn't mention that Chloe is like a hug or warm socks and a dusting of snowflakes on an otherwise clear windowpane, whereas Derik is…lightning and a snowstorm, or fireworks, shooting stars, and a car crash all rolled into one.
Instead, he just says, "Are you happy?" and predictably, Derik doesn't look as though he is.
"What do you want me to say, huh?" Quan retaliates. "I don't-"
"I want you to break up with her." Derik says it flatly, point blank, and Quan tells himself he oughtn't be surprised. It's Derik's style, to say things upfront, bluntly, without a sugar coat, and yet the audacity of the assertion alone strikes him, and he blinks despite his best efforts to remain nonchalant.
"You…what?" He shakes his head. "Why? Because you don't like her?"
"Because you do like her," Derik snaps back, and Quan manages not to roll his eyes.
Or, well, he almost manages not to. "That doesn't make any sense-"
"It's not fair."
"Because…it's not," Derik argues, clearly frustrated that Quan isn't already seeing things his way. "You just agreed that things aren't the same between you and Chloe as they are for me and Lorene…"
"Yeah?" Quan retorts. "So? So…what? I can't date any girls I like because the only girls you date are complete nutcases?"
Derik frowns. "Well, when you put it that way…"
Quan wants to shoot something. In fact…
"Look, it's just-" Derik cuts off as Quan takes an abrupt reroute to the side. "Where are you going? Quan?"
Stepping up to the nearest booth equipped with guns and targets, Quan digs into his pocket, drags out a handful of tickets, and slaps them down onto the makeshift counter in front of the attendant manning the thing. "How many for a round?"
The girl behind the counter, skinny as a broom with pitch black – dyed hair – styled in a pixie cut and snakebites in her lower lip runs her eyes over him once, then shrugs. "Three for ten shots, no practice round. Five for twenty shots, and a five shot practice round. You get…one point for hitting the outer circle, two points for the middle ring, five for a bull's-eye, and prizes…" She nods her head in indication, "…are on yer left 'n right. No points are scored during the practice round."
"Quan…" Derik grumps, coming up beside him and folding his arms crossly, "…what are you doing? I wasn't finished."
"Keep talking, then," Quan invites, picking out five tickets and sliding them across to the girl. "I'm listening." As she resets the targets, he hoists the first in the line guns up, tucking the butt against his shoulder and checking the scope, testing the weight and feel of it in his grip as he slides his finger appraisingly around the trigger.
"But-" Derik starts.
"Practice round," the girl announces, and the targets make a rattling, clacking sound as they start to move, rolling slowly along a built-in conveyor. Quan lines up his sights.
Click-click, he loads the first shot—bang!
Frowning, Quan purses his lips. Certain he has the things targeted properly, he adjusts his angle, bringing them just to the left of where the scope says he ought to shoot.
"Come on, Quan," Derik gripes, "…this doesn't-"
Outer rim shot.
He adjusts a fraction more to the left.
"This makes it really hard to-"
Middle zone shot.
Another minor adjustment.
"I can't even-"
"Nice shot," Derik comments, and the corner of Quan's lip curves up, pleased both by the shot and the praise, despite his best intentions.
"Alright, point round," the girl says. "Ready? And—start."
"Look," Derik starts in, determined, "you know she really doesn't-" Bang! "-like me either, and-" Bang! "-you at least have to admit she's a smartass. I mean-" Bang! "-I don't know how she became a-" Bang! "-cheerleader, but…"
"She's just defending me, Derik."
"Defending you-" Bang! "-against what?" Derik comes back, sounding sincerely clueless.
"Umm…against you?" Quan answers – Bang! Bang! – and unfortunately, he can't spare the attention to see Derik's expression as he does.
"But-" Bang! "-what have I ever done to you?" Click-click—bang!—bang!—bang! When Quan spares him a fraction of a second's glance, Derik is frowning. "Is the shooting supposed to-" Bang! "-mean something?"
"No, Derik," Quan says – Bang! Bang! – his tone impressively flat for sarcasm. "I just felt like picking up a gun and-" Bang! "-aiming it at something for no reason…"
"You should join the-" Bang! "-military."
"Because-" Bang! "-you look really hot firing a gun."
Quan's final shot misses its target completely, the makeshift bullet making a dull thwap against the paper backdrop behind the moving targets, and he frowns. Derik's chuckling doesn't help matters, and the girl behind the counter might be smiling, but he can't quite tell. She gathers up his targets and counts his score.
"That's a total of…eighty-nine points, seventeen bull's-eyes for five each, two middle ring shots for two each, and one…" She clears her throat, "…miss." Definitely smiling. Quan's cheeks, already warm, heat further, and he has to fight the instinct to divert his gaze when she looks amusedly up at him. "Prizes?"
A second after opening his mouth, something occurs to him, and Quan smiles abruptly, turning a pleasantly smug look on Derik. "Well?" he asks and nudges his head towards the prize board. "What do you want?"
Immediately aware of the implication behind the gesture – boyfriends win their girlfriends prizes at the fair – Derik's cheeks light up like pink nightlights behind his skin, and he faces off against Quan's smirk with narrowed eyes and stubbornly pursed lips. Then, the attendant clears her throat, openly smiling now as she catches Derik's attention and similarly motions towards the prize board.
"What can I getcha, honey?"
After one final I-am-so-getting-you-back-for-this glower, Derik rolls his eyes, concedes, and turns his attention to the wall of prizes. Quan watches a lump form in Derik's cheek as he pushes his tongue along the inside of it thoughtfully, taking his time, and Quan fishes into his pocket for a piece of gum as he waits, unwrapping and popping it in without pause.
"I'll take…" Derik finally tilts his head, and then smiles, "…the panda." When Quan snorts, Derik spares him a glance.
"I'm sorry," the booth worker says, sounding honestly a little regretful. "The panda takes ninety points, and your boyfriend only earned eighty-nine…"
Quan almost chokes, and Derik's head snaps around to face her. "He's n-" That far into what Quan would have bet fifty bucks was going to be 'He's not my boyfriend,' Derik cuts himself off, rethinking his words for reasons Quan can't begin to guess, and eventually he turns his attention back to Quan instead. "Gum?" he asks, and Quan blinks, forced to recover quickly from his own brief shock.
"Ahh…yeah, you…want some?" he offers, but instead of answering immediately, Derik's eyes flick around them, scoping out either side of the crowds as if looking for someone. "Derik…?"
"Yeah," Derik says at last. When Quan reaches to fish back in his pocket, though, a hand slipping back and catching behind his neck stalls him, and when he turns his head-
Derik's lips meet his dead on. They muffle, thankfully, the first (likely embarrassing) sound that escapes Quan and for the first half second all he can think – as his heart attempts to beat itself to death against the walls of his chest – is that Derik is kissing him not only in a public place, but with swarms of people all around them.
Then, Derik's hand settles more comfortably into the niche between his neck and shoulder, his fingers lace neatly into the short ends of hair at the nape of Quan's neck like they belong there, and his angle tilts, adjusting to fit their mouths together like puzzle pieces. Quan's lashes dip grudgingly to half mast, resilient, but then Derik sucks at his bottom lip and feeds his tongue into the mix, and when precisely Quan lost the battle entirely he's still not sure. But by the time Derik draws back, Quan's eyes are fully shut, his cheeks are flush, and his gum is gone.
When he opens them again, Derik is grinning like Sylvester with yellow feathers in his teeth. And Quan wants to take him, then and there, against the fucking game booth if he has to, crowds be damned.
Unfortunately, he's well aware that several persons would object strenuously to that – Derik not least of all, if the way he responded the last time Quan even dared mention that Derik could bottom, too, every once in a while, was any indication of his feelings on the matter – and so Quan only watches, letting his eyes drop appreciatively to Derik's irritatingly forever-off-limits-ass as he turns his back to Quan and faces the girl at the booth again. Tease.
"So, what can I get for eighty-nine points?" Derik asks, tossing in a winning smile for emphasis, though the attendant clearly hasn't fully recovered from their impromptu "show" yet, her eyes glassy, pupils dark, and cheeks a glowing, rosy pink. And thus, her response is belated.
"Uhh…you…" She gives a distracted nod, "…you can have the panda, if you like…it's just one point, anyway…"
"Great!" Derik answers immediately, propping his weight back against the counter and popping Quan's gum once. "Thanks, then, I'll have that." As she fetches it, he continues to chew happily, and Quan purses his lips.
"Anyone could have seen-"
"Oh, chill," Derik insists, cutting him off and waving a hand dismissively. "I checked. There was no one we knew around."
"None that you saw-"
"This place is huge, okay? There are hundreds of people, lots of 'em from different parts of the state, it's—thanks," he intermits when the girl taps the counter to get his attention and hands over the desired bear, "—it's dark. Seriously, it's the whole massive crowd effect or whatever. Tons of people and tons of eyes, but…" He lifts the bear to face Quan, wobbling him back and forth teasingly and smiling himself, "…nobody sees a damn thing."
"Nnh." Quan's not convinced.
"I think…" Derik holds the bear up further, turning it to face himself and squinting at it speculatively as though searching for something, "…I'm naming him Quan."
"That's-" Quan blinks. "Wait, what?"
"Quan," Derik states proudly, and then turns the bear to face Quan, "…meet Quan."
Sometimes, Quan wonders how he gets himself into these situations.
A/N: This one will come in several parts, though I'm not sure exactly how many yet. Somewhere between two and four. I'm not sure how I feel about the tense switching to better set apart the little mini-story/flashback/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, but...I guess it's okay.
Porn comes later. Yes, I'm making you wait this time. Enjoy some fluff, corny romantic tropes, and conflicted boy-angst in the meantime. :)