"The thing with them is—" Serena hiccups, heedlessly slamming her glass onto the chipped cherry-wood table. "The thing with them is, they don't care."

"I know, honey, I know," Jen comforts. "Would you like another glass of vodka?"

"Jen, this isn't a tea-party."

"Shut up, Ellie," Serena retorts, "and, yeah. Yeah, I would, Jen, thanks."

"Not going to be thanking her for the killer hangover tomorrow morning, sweetheart."

"Shut up, shut up, you're not allowed to call me affectionate pet-names, okay? Only Jen is," Serena near-whines in her inebriated state, before deflating suddenly and sagging into her seat. "Here they come, great. Excuse me while I proceed to drown myself in alcohol."

"Next round's on you, Jaime," Ellie calls out to the two approaching their booth.

"What? No way," is the indignant response. "I already paid for tonight, okay?"

"No, you really didn't. Jaime, when are you going to learn to pay for ladies like a gentleman and stop nicking from Terry all the time?"

"I'll stop when he bloody tells me to stop," Jaime answers easily, shuffling into the booth next to Serena, "which will be never."

"You're too soft on him, you know," Jen reprimands softly, turning to the boy seated on the other side of Jaime.

"You see? This—" Serena exclaims abruptly, leaning forward and shifting her glare between Terry and Jaime, "this is what I'm talking about. You two are, you're insi—insuff—awful."

"Oh, great, let's hear it. What'd we do now?"

"It's not what you do, it's what you do, you moron! Any other self-respecting male would mind if half the town mistook him and his best mate for a gay couple, but not you two, oh, no. For you, it's just perfect if no girl approaches you because she thinks you're taken."

"We're not that bad," Terry quietly says, the twinkle in his dark eyes betraying his amusement.


"'Sides, even if we are, what's it matter?" Jaime shrugs, smiling widely with that particular blithesome quality of his that has nothing to do with alcohol. "The right bird'll come along eventually, and she won't mind Terrence. You'll see."

"Ever the romantic," quips Ellie.

"By the way, I'll pay you back with next month's rent, Terrence," Jaime says, swinging an arm around Terry's neck and quickly gulping down his drink.

"Right, yeah," Terry halfheartedly agrees, "and don't drink so much, you lightweight. I'm not carrying you to bed this time."

"That's what you say every time," Jaime grins cheekily, "about the carrying to bed thing, and the paracetamol, and the toast and apricot jam in the morning—"

Terry sighs.

"I give up," says Serena.

The thing is, they're really not like that.

However much Serena glares at them and Jen clicks her tongue at them and Ellie snickers at them, they're really not like that. Jaime, for one, knows himself to be straight than an arrow. As for Terrence—well, Terrence doesn't count because he's practically asexual, anyway. Jaime can't remember the last time he brought anyone home. Although, Terrence being Terrence, Jaime supposes he'd probably prefer a shag in a classy hotel room with silk sheets and exquisite room-service and all.

As expected, he wakes up to a pounding headache and a bottle of paracetamol on his bedside table.

Oh, well, he thinks, wincing, at least there was no drunken hook-up this time.

That was only twice, though. And even then, Terrence was impossibly polite; offered the aforementioned hook-up a nice cup of coffee and omelette the morning after and everything. In the end, the conversation went something like this:

"Uh, okay, so," Jaime says awkwardly, "bye, I guess. See you around, Stephanie." Or not.

Terrence elbows him in the ribs and hisses, "Her name's Rebecca, you idiot."

"Oh. Shit. No, I mean"

That's when the girl had sniffed disdainfully and walked away after a clipped goodbye to Terrence. Jaime thinks she was more besotted with his roommate than she was with him, in the end. He'd have had nothing against that—her freckles were more annoying than endearing, seeing them in morning light.

For all intents and purposes, he knows that Terrence is probably gay. He'd heard the rumours way back in sixth form, and because Jaime's brain-to-mouth filter was shot to shit a long time ago, he'd eventually cracked and asked Terrence about his sexual orientation in a decidedly crude manner two weeks after he'd moved in with him.

The received answer involved a very level stare and an impressive display of eyebrow-raising expertise.

"Right," Jaime had backtracked. "I'll just, uh, go, then. Don't mind me."

"Is it going to be a problem?" Terrence had quietly asked, just when Jaime's hand came to rest on the doorknob.

"Problem? No, no. Uh," Jaime looked over his shoulder, flustered. "No problem. Really."

Terrence had nodded, and the rest was history.

It was only a matter of time, then. Granted, Jaime is a bit of an idiot, but he knows he's an idiot. If it was any other person, he knows his shifty eyes and flustered demeanor would have been pretty unconvincing. But not for Terrence—Terrence knew he'd meant the 'no problem', and Jaime knows he only lends him his money all the time because he trusts Jaime to pay it back eventually (which Jaime does, thank you very much).

"Sweetheart," he calls out playfully. "Where's my toast and apricot jam?"

"No apricot today, we're out," Terrence answers from the living-room, automatically filtering out the term of endearment. "Golden apple out here, if you want any."

"Why can't I have it in bed?"

"Because you're a prat, Jaime. Prats aren't allowed to laze around in bed all day."

"I'm hungover, you cruel, cruel man!"

"That's very tragic," Terrence appears in his doorway, "but if you can shout at me from across the living-room, I'm sure it's not that bad. Come on."

Jaime sighs, and flings away the quilt. There's always a downside to having a responsible best friend, he supposes.

"My God, you miracle-worker," Jaime moans around a mouthful of frittata. "What do you put in this?"

"Just the usual; eggs, tomato, cheese—"

"Never mind, I don't need to know, you'll always be around making them for me anyway."

Terrence says nothing—just smiles one of his wry smiles and Jaime feels a little more at home. If it says a tiny bit more than it should, Jaime doesn't notice.

"You," he blabbers, "will make a great wife someday."

The wry grin vanishes instantly. "You can forget about any of those in the near future, then," he warns, gesturing at the omelette.

"Or, no, what am I thinking? You're not allowed to serve any undeserving wankers breakfast, Terrence."

"Except you."

"Except me."

Terrence smiles, and it's small and exasperated and affectionate and Terrence.

You two are practically married, Serena's screech sounds at the back of his mind. Jaime blocks out the banshee-shriek and smiles back unreservedly.

"So," Ellie questions, "no drunken hook-ups this time?"

"Fortunately, no."

"You've gotten disturbingly good at handling those, though."

"Not by choice," Terrence answers, in between sips of his strawberry-vanilla shake. "I'm not the one who's supposed to be handling them in the first place."

Ellie's reply is a characteristically un-ladylike snort.

"Jen's right, you know," she says with a wide, mock-sympathetic smile. "You're too easy on him. Jaime expects you to do everything for him now, even kick out his one-night stands—"

"It was only twice," he reminds her wearily.

"—cook them breakfast? I mean, really?"

"He's never actually asked me to do that."

"Because he doesn't need to. He doesn't need to ask you to do anything, darling. You do it anyway."

"Ellie, it's not—" he defends weakly, the protests muddling into a mess of meaningless words on his tongue, "it's not that I don't—I mean, you know how it is. I just want—for him—"

"Terry," she says quietly, the sympathy beneath the hard sheen of her dark eyes transforming into something a little more real. "It's been three years."

"I know. I realize that."

"Do you? Terry, Jaime is an idiot. He really, really is. It'll be ages and you'll still—" she stops abruptly, before sighing and pulling Terry's shake across the table towards her. "Serena and Jen are having a housewarming party next weekend," she says, glaring at him through her eyelashes. "I expect to see you there."

"Of course you do. I'll be there, don't—"

"With a date."

A long-suffering sigh. "Ellie—"

"No, Terry. I mean it."


"If I don't see you with some eye-candy on your arm, I'm telling Jaime everything."

He pauses.

"You would, wouldn't you?" he sighs, eyeing the stubborn jut of her chin. "This is outright blackmail, you realize."

She says nothing.

"Fine. Just this once, Ellie."

She nods—doesn't smile, but silently pushes her banana shake towards him, and Terry knows they'll be alright.

Terrence is busy in their small kitchenette when Jaime comes home, his cell-phone clamped between his ear and his shoulder while he carefully tips some herb or spice or something equally unidentifiable to Jaime into the bubbling curry.

"Yes, that's fine," he's saying. "Listen, if Ellie forced you into this or something, you seriously don't have to—" a pause, and then he laughs, "alright, alright, I believe you. I'll see you tomorrow, then."

He flips it close.

"Another one of Ellie's victims?"

Terrence turns around, unsurprised. After three years, Jaime can't find it in himself to be disappointed.

"You could say that," he answers evasively. "Curry?"


Jaime collapses on their lumpy couch with an exaggerated groan. After he's flung away his shoes and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, he asks, "So what'd he want from you?"

"Didn't want anything, really."

"Right, okay, I totally believe that."

"As you should. Why else do you think we'd be talking?"

"Because you're the universally-accepted scapegoat when it comes to everything Ellie?"

"No, Jaime," Terrence says slowly, a smile edging its way onto his lips. "That would be you."

"Ah, well. Yeah," Jaime concedes, promptly digging in and shoving a spoonful of curry into his mouth without further ado. "So," he continues after swallowing, "about the housewarming thing tomorrow. Your car or mine?"

"Ah. About that," Terrence says, and the corner of his mouth twists downwards in that way it always does when he's forced to confront something he's been avoiding. Jaime sits up straighter, but all Terrence says is, "I'll be going with someone else this time, yeah?"

"Oh. Date?"

"Mm, I suppose."

"You suppose?"

"Yes, Jaime, okay," Terrence huffs, quirking his eyebrow, "it's a date, or whatever. That's fine, right?"

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, sure," Jaime reassures—and it is, it really is, it's just that he can't remember the last time Terrence scored himself a date and Jaime was honestly starting to make peace with the idea of his apparent asexuality and working himself up to buy exquisite cat-food for when Terrence inevitably becomes the male equivalent of a cat-lady and was sort of, maybe, a tiny bit happy about the prospect of them living together even after university because Terrence is an absolute godsend to his stomach and maybe to the rest of him, too—

"'S fine, yeah," Jaime says anyway.

Terrence nods, and the lines around his mouth relax.

Jaime can't shake off a sense of wrongness, though—but then, what did he expect? He hasn't seen Terrence with a significant other since—well, ever. He wonders (as all best friends are bound to wonder at some point, he's sure) what Terrence's date is like. He wonders how well he knows Terrence, how well Terrence knows him. Keeps wondering, too—but that's all normal.

It's the bloke from physics class.

Jaime sort of remembers him—Evan or Ethan or something similar, lanky and blue-eyed and positively average. He's plenty well-liked around campus, as all positively average, typically good-looking people tend to be. Really, though, well-liked isn't much of a compliment, is it? Or maybe it is, but Jaime can't really find it in himself to consider it one, seeing as how, yes, half the student population happens to know when Jaime's birthday is, and he still gets some claps on the back for the antics he pulled during his freshmen year from people he's pretty sure he's never seen before.

And, okay, so maybe he's being a little harsh, comparing this Ethan bloke to himself. He lets up a little, and then spies Terrence's black mop of hair next to the guy, all silky-looking and midnight-blue under the lights—and his judgmental streak is back with a vengeance. Well, obviously, he justifies vehemently, it's Terrence, in'nit?

That's reason enough, he decides resolutely.

Satisfied, Jaime marches over to Serena and Jen to deliver his congratulations. He finds them lounging with Ellie and a couple of other seniors on the patio, laughing with cigarettes held loosely between their fingers.

"I've got to hand it to you girls," he says, "you sure know how to throw a party."

"No party's ever complete without you, Jaime," Jen replies, winking. She's probably had a few glasses in her already, Jaime decides.

"Well, you know me. Here for your eternal enjoyment," he says with a wink of his own.

"If only," Tally—one of the seniors—cries jokingly.

"Where's your precious other half, darling?" Ellie quips, swirling her drink in her glass.

"Can we please just forget about that?" he groans.

"Not a chance."

Around a year ago, when he'd been more pissed than Jaime thinks he's probably ever been in his life—courtesy of Ellie and her insistence on tequila shots for her birthday—he'd drunkenly proposed to Terrence. It was, according to Ellie and Serena and Jen, awful and pathetic and absolutely hilarious. Involved going down on one knee and everything, they said, with slurred promises of never throwing around his clothes for Terrence to pick up as long as Terrence cooked him food for the rest of their lives. He'd threatened to read off lines from Sonnet 43, From the Portuguese—which made Terrence wince every time it was mentioned, for some reason—if he was rejected. Fortunately, Terrence didn't add fuel to the fire and harmlessly dozed off on Jen's shoulder by the time Jaime finished. Still, the girls gave him hell at every chance they got since.

"Busy with his hot date, I'd wager," Serena answers.

"Not very hot, though, is he?" Jaime says before he can stop himself.

"Are you kidding me?" Serena chips in. "Eric Foster is the hottest thing on the planet."

"Didn't seem all that special to me. You sure it's not just you lot?"

"Now, Jaime, it's not our fault you're too self-absorbed to admire anyone but yourself."

"Hear, hear," says Ellie. "Terrence is the perfect example, in fact—"

"What?" Jaime protests, squaring his shoulders defensively. "What about Terrence?"

"Sweetheart," Ellie says slowly, as if speaking to someone with a grave mental affliction. "Have you ever seen Terrence?"

"I've been living with him for three years."

"Yes, but—have you seen him?"

"Well, what exactly am I supposed to see—"

"That he's sexy as fuck, that's what," Tally hisses, "Christ, what I wouldn't do to have a go at that—"

"Whoa, hey," Jaime interrupts loudly. "None of that, okay?"


"No, okay, Terrence is asexual, shut up."

"Oh, Jaime, it's awfully sweet how you're so protective, but I'm afraid Terry's already getting down and dirty with Eric—"

"What." He whips around before the word is even half-formed, but of course Ellie isn't serious (if her ridiculous cackling is anything to go by). He glowers at her, murmuring, "Bitch," under his breath. She only laughs harder.

None of them poke at his over-protective tendencies afterwards, and Jaime relaxes. It's all perfectly normal, he's sure. Perfectly expected. And if Terrence and Eric hover in his peripheral vision all too often and his gaze darts to them every once in a while, nobody says a word.

"I'll be back by eight," Terrence calls out from the front door. "Don't wait up for me, yeah?"

"Yeah, sure," Jaime answers halfheartedly, hearing the door click shut.

He sinks into the ratty old couch in the living-room. Its material is getting scratchy, too, and the colour is fading. He was planning to ask Terrence to come with him to search for a replacement today—but apparently, he has a date with fucking Eric.

And, honestly, he doesn't mean to sulk. He doesn't. He's sure Eric is an all-around nice guy, and Terrence deserves the best because, well, he's bloody amazing. He's amazing and he sure as hell shouldn't have to settle for anyone at all, which is not to say that Eric is the kind of bloke anyone would settle for, per say, but then it's Terrence they're talking about and Terrence is—

—the point, Jaime backtracks, is that there's absolutely no reason for him to be sulking. There's isn't, but Terrence has been out with Eric almost every day of the week now, and can Jaime just point out the irony of Ellie's matchmaking having worked for the first time on Terrence, of all people? And Jaime's very happy for his best friend and all, but, yes, notice the underlining of the phrase 'best friend,' please. He doesn't care if Ellie calls him overprotective and jealous and a mother-hen and all other variants; the fact of the matter is, Terrence is his best friend. Jaime gets the concept of compromise and everything, but they haven't had a chance to watch any cheesy romcoms to ridicule or horrible splatter movies to laugh at in ages, and he can't help it if he feels a little bit neglected, okay, sod off, Ellie.

So then, he works up some courage and resolutely decides that he's going to very casually mention it to Terrence, and he's going to go all, 'so how's Eric doing?' and, 'we haven't hung out in some time, huh?' and, 'damn, I miss your cooking, man, how's spaghetti sound?' and maybe even, 'Jesus, I've been waiting for you to speak more than a sentence to me every time you come home from your fucking dates, you bastard, and just because you've got yourself a fancy new beau doesn't mean I'm suddenly worthless, okay?'

Okay, yeah, big fat no to that last one.

But then Jaime wakes up and remembers that Terrence has law on Tuesday mornings. He trudges over to the kitchen and opens the microwave, sees his breakfast on a plate with a post-it note attached to it, saying:

'Your toast and apricot jam. Got it yesterday on the way home.'

—and immediately feels placated. God, I'm pathetic.

Unfortunately, the pacification doesn't last for long. There's only so much he can take, after all, of Terrence's avoidance and his own cowardice.

The solution, of course, is to call Ellie. Of course.

"Seriously, you are so fucking stupid, it's not even funny anymore."

"Thank you for the vote of confidence, Ellie," he answers. "What ever would I do without you?"

"Jaime, your head is as empty as it is huge, I swear."

"Why did I even call you?"

"Because apparently, you're Terry's best friend but you don't know him for shit."

"I resent that—"

"Jaime, don't you get it? Terry always runs away when he's got something to hide."

"Why would he want to hide anything from me?"

"Oh, Jaime, don't be so conceited. There are things he can't tell you."

"But he can tell you?" he says incredulously. "How does that work?"

She's quiet for a few seconds. Then, when she speaks, her voice is uncharacteristically serious. There's no lilting tone of underlying mischief, no teasing hints that give away the twinkle in her eye, and Jaime unconsciously presses the receiver harder against his ear.

"Jaime, listen," she says, "you need to get your head out of your arse and look around you for a bit. Terrence isn't someone you can bend to your every whim. He has a life of his own."

"I know that, Ellie, don't you think I—"

"No, Jaime, I really don't."

The conversation trails off into silence, but he can hear static from the other end of the line. Ellie's still there. She's still waiting.

"Are you fucking kidding me," is what he ends up saying. "You think I'm trying to—what, own him or something?"

"That's not what I said, Jaime," she replies, sounding tired. "I'm justlook, I know I'm not being fair, alright? But justjust leave it alone for a while. He's happy with Eric and I know you think he's being unfair to you, but he needs this right now. Let him be."

He doesn't bother saying anything. Just hangs up quietly, and stares at the receiver with a curiously empty mind.

And that's not the end of it. The more times passes, the more disconcerted he grows. Naturally, Terrence notices.

"Jaime," he starts, not even fully through the door before he has his concerned eyes trained on Jaime, "you seem...really out of it."

"I do?" Jaime answers, a nervous chuckle bubbling up in his throat.

Wrong move. Terrence's eyes narrow, and he doesn't even bother taking off his shoes before he marches into the living-room, over to the ratty old couch on which Jaime is sitting cross-legged. Jaime's eyebrows furrow—Terrence never steps on the carpet with his shoes on if he can help it.

"What happened?"

"Nothing," he answers—too quickly.

"Jaime, I'm not stupid. Who was it?"

"Who was—what makes you think it was anyone?"

"You never get like this unless somebody else is involved," Terrence says, sitting down next to Jaime, his hands clasped between his knees. "Somebody told you something you didn't want to hear. Was it Ellie?"

"Didn't tell me anything that wasn't true," Jaime snaps, and feels no remorse at all for the bitter undertone that seeps into his voice.

"Jaime, hey," Terrence shuffles closer, "don't do that, mate. I know Ellie can be harsh, but don't take everything she says to heart, okay?"

"You wouldn't say that if you knew what she said, Terr—"

"Yeah, I would," he says firmly, "because I know you better than she does, Jaime."

A puff of laughter, and then, "Too bad it doesn't go both ways, then."

It catches Terrence by surprise. He blinks owlishly. A few seconds tick by, tense and uncertain.

"What exactly did she say to you?" he finally questions, slowly and cautiously, "Was it...was it about Eric?"

Maybe it's the mention of Eric, or maybe it's the fact that Terrence knows him better than he has the right to, but then Jaime's mind is full of all the thoughts he'd been suppressing since that phone-call. All the rage, all the indignance, all the grudging understanding and all the selfishness, all of it pushing forward to the forefront of his mind. Terrence is just a few inches from him, close enough for Jaime to feel the heat of him through the thin material of his T-shirt—and he wants this, all the time. He wants him and Terrence sitting on their ratty old couch because it's theirs and he wants their knees brushing against each other just like this and he wants his warm, brown eyes to look into Jaime and see everything because they can, he wants comfortable silences and easy touches on the shoulder, wants smiles and the smell of cooking and happiness.

Right now, he's not happy.

"Eric," he repeats softly, almost entirely to himself. "God, it's always about that guy, isn't it?"


"And, anyway, what's so special about him?" he says, and, yeah, the gaping hole where that brain-to-mouth filter is supposed to be is being felt pretty acutely right about now.

"What's this about, Jaime?"

"He seems so normal, okay? You deserve better."

"That's not fair, Jaime," Terrence sighs. "Also, there's nothing wrong with normal."

"No, there isn't, I know there isn't, but—it's you, and you're—you're—"

He trails off, blindly groping for the right words in the dark of his mind, and Terrence's voice is unusually quiet when he speaks, "I'm...what, Jaime?"

Jaime's gaze is firmly fixated on the cream-coloured carpet, though. He tries to pick out the little specks of dirt nestled between the woolen fibers, but he can still hear the sound of Terrence's breathing, mingling with his own, and it all feels inexplicably final.

"Nothing," he says hoarsely, "Nothing, it doesn't matter. Just—does it have to be him?"

"Jesus, Jaime, have you even spoken to him before?"

"I don't need to, okay?" he snaps. "I don't—can't you—?"

"I'm not going to leave him just because you said so," Terrence retorts, eyes hardening.

"That's not—for God's sake, Terrence, I haven't had a decent conversation with you in days!"

"Is that what this is about?"

"No! No, it's not that, it..." he stumbles over his words, "...I don't know. No. Yes. I don't know."

Minutes pass by in silence. After what seems like forever, Terrence stands up wordlessly. He walks over to the front door with controlled, unhesitant footsteps. He opens it, pauses, and then calls out, "Call me when you're done sorting yourself out. I won't be back tonight."

Jaime hears the door click shut.

He's left staring at the coffee-stained table long after. Terrence isn't supposed to leave, a corner of Jaime's mind complains, he's supposed to stay and make Jaime some mint tea and soothe away his worries like he always does—like he's always able to, when nobody else is.

This is what Ellie was talking about, another corner mumbles shamefully, and he feels like his brain is nothing but an awful jumble of good and bad, wrong and right, one conflicted mess after another.

What were you thinking, Jaime? he wonders abstractedly, and he doesn't know. Resting his head against the arm of the sofa and staring up sightlessly at the off-white ceiling, Jaime doesn't know.

He doesn't know what he's waiting for, really. He doesn't know what Terrence is waiting for, or what Ellie is waiting for, or what fucking Eric is waiting for. All he knows is that he's going through the motions day by day, surrounded by the dead air of an empty flat and disapproving stares, and he hasn't got a clue as to what they want him to do.

Jaime still sees Terrence around campus, sometimes. When their eyes meet, he shoots Jaime one of his small, sweet little smiles, like nothing at all has changed. And maybe Jaime is being over-dramatic, but that wouldn't be quite right, would it? Things have changed (at least for Jaime), and, okay, so maybe Jaime can't always (ever) help smiling back, but Terrence ought to at least acknowledge that fact.

He gets himself a girlfriend, too. It just sort of happens, more or less—an unforeseeable development from his third drunken hook-up. Cathy Moore is blithe and ever-smiling and proud—and undeniably pretty, what with her large doe-eyes and curly auburn hair. They end up exchanging phone-numbers after a surprisingly not-awkward morning-after, and it just rolls from there. When she texts him a couple of days later for a coffee, well, he figures, why not?

And Jaime likes her. She's entertaining company and fairly comfortable to talk to. She's easy to laugh with in the middle of a drink, and somewhere along the way, there's a part of his brain that thinks, so this is what happens when there's no Terrence to sweep them off their feet, and then another part that goes, well then, what do you know, maybe he should just— and then the whole of him in all its entirety which says, No.

And so he's back to square one.

"Why aren't you calling him?" Jen asks him one day.

"To say what, Jen?" he finds himself snapping. "'Sorry I'm a prat like you always accused me of being'? 'Sorry I asked you to dump your boyfriend without even know why'?"

She only says, "Oh, Jaime."

That's the whole problem, really. He knows what he's done wrong, he just doesn't know what's wrong with him to have done it.

Okay, yes, they're best friends. Yes, Jaime is probably the only one who knows that Terrence is allergic to olives; picks the darned things off of their pizza every time, even. Yes, Terrence always keeps a roll of bandage stuffed in his rucksack because Jaime is clumsy and accident-prone and everything Terrence is not. Yes, they're probably the only customers at the local cinema whom the guy behind the counter gives mixed salted and caramel popcorn because Terrence hates caramel and Jaime thinks salty is boring and they're too poor for both.

But that's no justification for Jaime wanting Terrence all to himself.

It makes no goddamn sense. He doesn't want to want this—all the comfort and familiarity and the wonderful, wonderful warmth. And he sure as hell doesn't want to catch himself thinking about what more it could be.

He's always been a bit selfish, but even Jaime draws a line at wondering what Terrence's hair would feel like under his palm, wondering what it'd feel like to sweep his thumb over the line of Terrence's jaw. He stops—really, truly, honestly stops, shame-faced,whenever his thoughts detract towards the delicate line of his collarbone, and the sweep of his eyelashes, and the smudged shadows they cast on his cheeks, and the way his eyebrows draw together in concentration, and the way his nose crinkles up in puzzlement, and the way his dark eyes become lighter when he smiles, and—

—and nothing. Nothing.

Even blatantly disregarding his desire to keep from ruining a perfectly good thing, thanks very much—let's not forget that Jaime is very much straight. He likes soft bodies and silky hair and breasts, doesn't he?

At this point, he doesn't even care if he's acting like a bigoted homophobe. He's not gay. He's not.

Unfortunately, Cathy isn't so sure.

"What the fuck do you mean I'm fucking mooning?"

"What do you think I mean?" Cathy fires back at him, all hunched shoulders and eyes spewing fire. "The more time I spend with you, the more I notice it!"

"Just because I check my phone every now and then," he says through gritted teeth, "doesn't mean I'm mooning. I'm not fucking mooning, okay?"

"Jaime, every time you look at the screen, you sigh and sulk and—and suddenly you're not interested in anything anymore! It's not fun, okay? It's—"

"For God's sake, that's not what it is!"

"Then what is it? You're waiting for—for something, someone, I don't know. I just know it's not me."

"Don't be stupid, Cathy." Funny, coming from you, Jaime. You're practically the paragon of stupidity. If Terrence wasn't enough proof of that— "There's no one," he snarls. "There's—it isn't—there's nobody, okay? There's—"

"Are you even listening to yourself?" she says sharply. "You sound completely—"

"Stop trying to psychoanalyze me! If I say there's no one, then there's no one!"

"You're lying."

She looks as if she's about to cry, the poor girl. Hell, Jaime would be crying himself if he wasn't so angry; at Cathy, at himself, at—

He can't even object. Inwardly, he laughs at himself and adds liar to idiot and bigot on the list of unflattering terms he can apply to himself. Cathy ends up leaving, and Jaime ends up collapsing on the stupid, stupid goddamn ratty old couch—because he'd liked her. He'd honestly, genuinely liked her, but it obviously wasn't enough. The worst thing is, Jaime can't even blame her. Not really.

So he reaches for the emergency bottle of scotch with one hand, and the cell-phone tossed against the wall with the other.

773-378-2197: please come back

Received at 00:14, May 18, Tuesday.

"What's going on?" is the first thing Terrence breathes out once he's in through the door.

He's flushed and breathing hard, hair in disarray, and Jaime knows he must have rushed all the way here because his dark eyes are all wide and gleaming with worry and he's fucking beautiful, is what he is.

"Yes, finally," Jaime hisses, and he might have slurred his words a tiny bit, but he's sure it's insignificant. "Finally, you're here. I—" he pauses here, pushes down the wave of nausea because this is too important, goddamn it, tries to articulate his words but only ends up sounding like a pompous arse, and why is everything going wrong goddamn you Murphy— "I've been waiting. For you. I mean."

"...You're drunk."

"Maybe," he concedes. "Hi, Terrence."

"Hello, Jaime," Terrence says dryly and God, Jaime has missed this.

"Took your sweet time, I see," Terrence says. Jaime can't figure out whether he's referring to Jaime's indecision in general or if he spoke that last bit out loud. Either way, Terrence seems slightly more appeased and hence, according to drunken logic, everything is right in the world again.

"Y'know—" he begins. "Y'know, my girlfriend broke up with me today."

Terrence pauses in between taking off his jacket. "Oh?"

"Mm. She was nice, y'know. Pretty."

"I'm sure she was."

"But—but we're not, like," he makes a contemplative noise, low in his throat, "together. Anymore."


"Ask me why we broke up."

Terrence looks at him, then. There's something inscrutable in his eyes. They're dark and sharp in the way they always are when he's weighing some obscure fact very, very carefully and trying to be detached about it. But Jaime's mind is far too foggy, his body far too light for him to linger on the thought as anything but a passing, soon-forgotten idea.

"Why did you break up?" Terrence asks softly.

"'Cause I was mooning!" Jaime exclaims. "That's fucking hilarious, in'nit? Thought—she thought I was mooning, that dumb b—"


"—'cept, well, she's not dumb. Cathy was never dumb. So. So she must've been right, d'you think?"

"I don't..." Terrence begins, looking intensely uncomfortable. "I wouldn't know, Jaime."

"'Course you would. You know me best, remember? You know me too well. You and Ellie, yeah? She gets—" he hiccups, "gets everything right, she does."

"Did she..." Terrence inquires reluctantly, "did she say something to you?"

"Hah. Did she ever." Terrence grimaces silently, but Jaime continues, "Blew her top at me. Went on and on and on, 'bout—'bout owning you or some shit."

"Bloody hell," Terrence mutters under his breath, biting his lower-lip.

"Yeah. Got so angry, wanted her to just go the fuck away. Just wanted—you and me, yeah? Just you and me. But—" he laughs then, loud and sudden, startling Terrence, "but she was right, wasn't she? She and Cathy both. God, women, I swear—"

"Jaime, I really think you should put that away—"

"Whoa, no." He pulls the bottle of scotch out of Terrence's reach. "No, this is—it's for emergencies. This is an emergency, Terrence. 'Cause I'm—" he laughs again, "I am flaming."

"What? What the fuck, Jaime?"

"That's what I want to ask: what the fuck, Jaime? What the fuck is wrong with you? Why the fuck is Ellie right? Why the fuck do you want to own your fucking best friend?"

Things are going fuzzy around them, like the cocoon of a night-long dream that softens the edges of his mind. There's the constant buzzing in his ears, there's the hum of energy in his limbs, there's him, there's Terrence. There's Terrence's eyes going wide and looking at him with an incredulous, sort of betrayed gaze, like he doesn't know what's going on. Jaime doesn't either—except that he sort of does.

Jaime thinks, then, that he could look at Terrence forever. He could be stuck with him forever, and Jaime wouldn't mind. Even with a hazy, alcohol-drenched mind, the thought scares him.

"B'cause—" he ends up murmuring to himself, "because you're so pretty. Prettier than Cathy." He pauses, looks at Terrence again, and nods. "Much prettier."

Jaime rests a surprisingly gentle hand against the juncture between Terrence's neck and shoulder, feels the hitch in Terrence's breath more than he hears it. He doesn't do anything—only stares at the contrast between their skins, tanned and pale, and feels something huge expand in his lungs, knocking the breath out of him.

"Can't be right," he murmurs absently. "'S not. You can't be so pretty."

"You need to stop," Terrence says, and if he sounds a little bit broken—well, Jaime doesn't notice.

"Yeah, I do. I really, really do."

He doesn't.

They stand there for what seems like hours. With each passing second, the frown between Terrence's eyebrows becomes more pronounced. His lips are a thin, tightened line and his eyes are firm, but Jaime ends up asking himself, is he the one trembling or is that me?

"Hey," he whispers. "Hey. Don't look so scared."

Terrence jerks away, and the hunch of his shoulders is unbearably vulnerable. The frown between his eyebrows is a deep, angry line etched into his skin now, and without thinking, Jaime leans forward and plants a kiss between his brows. It's tiny and dry and sort of weird, but kind of perfect anyway because Terrence's skin feels pleasantly cool against Jaime's lips, and then there's this little surprised 'ah'out of Terrence's mouth which Jaime has never heard before but could definitely stand to hear again. He lets his lips linger there for a moment; wants it to be longer than a moment, but then suddenly, it's not quite enough.

When he rests his forehead against Terrence's, his eyes seem so very raw. Completely unguarded, and confused, and so terribly frightened they're almost pitiful.

Don't, Jaime finds himself thinking. Don't say anything, not right now. Please.

"Let me—can I—?" he stammers. "I need. I."

"Okay," Terrence says, in a voice that doesn't sound like his own at all. "Okay."

They kiss, and it's like the kisses he gave all those girls, except—no, it's not like them at all. Yes, it's filthy and there's tongue and the sting of teeth, but he never kissed those girls like the world was ending. He kissed Cathy hard enough to bruise, but never hard enough to forget where she ended and he began. Their kisses were all strawberry lip-gloss and bittersweet coffee, not spearmint and something distinctly male that tastes like all the things Jaime never knew he wanted.

He doesn't even notice when Terrence's hands reach up to bury themselves in his hair. His own are flitting all over Terrence, never staying in one place for long. One moment, they're clutching at his shoulders, the next, they're dragging over his chest, and then sweeping over his jawline, then lingering over his collarbone. Eventually, one of them ends up resting on the back of his neck, the other wrapped around his waist, perilously close to the waist-band of his jeans.

"Shit, what you do to me," he growls into Terrence's neck, and it sounds like a promise.

Terrence says nothing, but his breathing becomes just that bit more uneven. Jaime pulls Terrence's head to the side with a sharp jerk of his hair. It's sudden and deliberate; partly so he can bite down harder on the side of his neck and partly because he wants to hear that little surprised 'ah' again.

What he gets instead is a sharp intake of breath, and his mind seems to accept it as the cue to dissolve into a muddled mess of wantwantwant. Even Jaime isn't delusional enough to believe it's the result of alcoholic influence.

"God, Terrence, please—"


"I want—need—" he releases Terrence's ear lobe from between his teeth to rest his forehead on his shoulder, "fuck, please. I just want—"

This. Just this. This is all I want.

They're quiet, for a few seconds. Jaime is starting to wonder how the fuck he's going to stop if Terrence says no, and then Terrence goes, "Jaime, I can't—I only want—"

"Whatever you want," Jaime finds himself promising. "You can have whatever you want, I—I'd give you anything, okay? I'd—" he cuts himself off then, because he's pretty sure the words don't refer to carnal pleasure alone.

There's a moment, full of tension and possibilities and desperate, unspoken promises. And then he feels Terrence's arms around him.

"God, yes," Jaime breathes out. "Yes."

There's not much they say for a while, afterwards.

This is the first thing Jaime thinks when he wakes up the next morning:

Bloody buggering fuck shit fucking hell

—except with considerably less coherency.

This is not, unfortunately, owing to the enormous headache currently hammering his skull, or to the noteworthy lack of paracetamol on his bedside table, as is typical of Jaime Frosbery. Rather, it is owing to the horrifyingly familiar tuft of black hair peeking out from the edge of his comforter.

Jaime you fucking idiot you fucking fuck shitshitshit fuck you so much

While Jaime is preoccupied with his overwhelming panic attack, Terrence sighs softly in his sleep. Undisturbed and slumbering blissfully, his legs fold into a fetus position under the comforter, and goddamn it all to hell if Jaime doesn't find that just slightly endearing.

In spite of a hangover that appears to be the mother of all hangovers, his mind—mutinous traitor that it is—flashes back to memories of last night. They're surprisingly (and unfortunately) vivid, considering the haziness that had surrounded Jaime's senses at the time. It's like he can taste it on his tongue all over again; pale, flushed skin and hot breath and the moans he'd swallowed like a starving man.

Oh, fuck. Naturally, it's not long before he feels blood rushing to his nether regions. In all honesty, there's nothing more Jaime would like to do at the moment than to nudge Terrence awake for a repeat of last night, but—no. He can't do that.

Why not, though? a treacherous part of his brain asks.

It stumps him for a bit. He was abhorrently drunk, yes, but there's no denying how much he wanted Terrence last night.

Then, there's the factor of his sexuality. Obviously, he's not going to join any PFLAG rallies anytime soon, but Jaime has nothing against homosexuals. They're free to do whatever they please, same as anyone else, but the equation naturally changes a bit when it involves himself. Women are all he's ever known his whole life, and fancying a bloke isn't something that ever crossed his mind. This isn't a situation Jaime ever expected to find himself in, and the sheer unpredictability of it sends him reeling into the twilight zone.

Terrence emerges out of the bedroom an hour or so later, when Jaime is busy rummaging through the kitchen drawers in search of his Cheerios.

A tide of anxiety instantly washes over him; sneaks up on him like some sort of cataclysmic tsunami. And even then, even then, he sees the stupid cowlick sticking up rebelliously from his head and his stupid, girly eyes, heavy with sleep still, and Jaime feels that huge-expanding-warm-thing in his lungs all over again—

"Near the oven."

He blinks. "What?"

"In the drawer near the oven," Terrence elaborates, raking a hand through his unusually messy hair and not meeting Jaime's eyes. "You're looking for the Cheerios, right?"

"Oh," Jaime says. "Y-yeah. Yeah."

"They're in the drawer near the oven," he repeats, when Jaime keeps standing in the middle of the kitchen like a retarded idiot.

"Oh—okay. Thanks. Um."


"I'll just—I'll get those, then," he says. "You, uh. You want some?"

"Sure," Terrence answers, glancing up with a small smile, and Jaime immediately thinks, Thank fuck. "Thanks."

"No problem."

Fifteen minutes after, Jaime's sitting cross-legged on the living-room carpet, reclining against the leg of the couch with a bowl of Cheerios held in his hand. Terrence has his own bowl set on the little purple, circular table they'd jokingly purchased three months into their sophomore year, his elbows planted on the edge of it as he shovels food into his mouth with considerably more dignity than Jaime. Even with the obvious tension between them, Jaime feels incredibly lighter, being able to have this again.

"Okay, so," Terrence begins. "Are we going to talk about this?"

"Talk about what?" Jaime replies instinctively, half-joking and half-serious.

Terrence's eyebrow twitches. He sighs—a quick, agitated exhale of breath—and when he abandons his breakfast to lean back against the couch, Jaime sees that peculiar hunch of his shoulders again, guarded and edged with vulnerability.

"I—" Terrence starts, then stops, presses his lips together tightly, and starts again, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—I mean, you were drunk. It was stupid of me to—you were drunk and I—"

"Okay, whoa. Hold on," Jaime interrupts. "You can't possibly think—look, it's not like I didn't, you know, like I. I mean, I—okay, yeah, we were both stupid, but this is mainly my fault, okay?"

"I made a mess of things, Jaime—"

"You made a mess of things? Terrence, I never thought I'd be saying this to you, but are you really this much of an idiot?"

"We've got to work this out somehow," Terrence says quietly, and thisthis is what Jaime was afraid of, always.

"What's there to work out?" he forces himself to say, and convinces himself that Terrence's pinched face makes no difference whatsoever.

"Jaime, did it somehow escape your notice that we—that we just slept together?"

Oh, believe me, it most definitely did not. "Terrence, listen. You know this isn't going to lead to anything, right?"

"Of course I do, but that's not the point," Terrence says fiercely, eyes unwavering. "Jaime, we live together, alright? There's just some things we have to—"

"Like what? What could a bit of fumbling around warrant, anyway? And that's all it was, wasn't it?" You dirty liar. Why do you have to fucking do this to yourself—no. shut up. nonono.

"What it could—are you fucking serious? Do you even hear yourself? A bit of—? Jaime, I don't confess to being the love of your life, but I think we're worth a little more than that."

"Terrence, I can't..." he sighs, deflating. "I'm not gay, alright? None of this makes any sense—"

"So you're going to run away?"

"I'm not running away! I'm being rational here—"

"Oh, of course, because you've always been the rational one, Jaime. Because you've always been the one who doesn't run away, haven't you?"

"Fuck you," he says. "Just—fuck you. Do you even know what this is like for me?"

"Jaime, for God's sake. Alright, fine, you're having some kind of gay crisis or whatever, but I'm not all fine and dandy here, okay? You think you're the only one who's confused?"

"I never said that! But just—can't you just give me a break here?"

"And, what? Smile and wave at you while I'm standing here wondering what the fuck I'm supposed to do?"

"I don't want this, okay? I never wanted this!"

"I suppose I dreamed all of last night up, then?"

"Last night was a mistake, okay? A fucking anomaly. It's not going to happen again—and why should it have to? You don't want it, I don't want it—"

"Jaime, don't be an idiot. I'm not asking asking you for anything, I'm just saying we'll regret this somewhere down the road if we don't talk about it now."

"If it didn't mean anything, there's nothing to regret—!"

"You're being a child!"

"No, Terrence, I'm just not being an enormous girl about everything!"

"Well, I'm sorry if I happen to value you a little more than you seem to value me, Jaime!"

In the end, that's what tips him over the edge of his anger, until it's white-hot and poisonous and venom spewing from his lips.

"Are you fucking joking?" he snarls. "Before last night, you didn't even know I had a girlfriend, you don't even know why I got so bloody pissed in the first place! You don't know shit, Terrence, and fuck knows where you've been till now, off canoodling with your bloody boyfriend or whatever, while I'm here, wondering what the fuck I did wrong! You don't even care. You don't care about anything but yourself and bloody Eric Foster, so forgive me if I can't think of having sex with you as some life-changing experience!"

"Fuck you," Terrence growls viciously, striding over to where his jacket lies crumpled on the floor. He pulls it on in short, brutal movements. "You don't even. Whatever. Whatever, okay? Sort your shit out alone. I'm done."

That's it, then? Jaime thinks. The slam of the door decisively answers, Yes.

"I'm an asshole."

"Mazel tov, Jaime. You've finally achieved self-actualization."

"I've completely screwed Terrence over. Literally."

A part of Jaime is aware that he ought to feel triumphant over leaving Ellie speechless for the first time since he's known her, but he doesn't.

"You great, big idiot," she says softly. "Olivia's. Ten minutes."

She hangs up before he can answer.

Exactly ten minutes and thirty-six seconds after the end of the phone-call, Jaime finds her seated at a table right in the middle of the café. He hates that spot. Jaime thinks she probably did it on purpose. She's stiff-necked and narrow-eyed, and her manicured nails repeatedly scratch at the red-and-white checkered table-cloth.

"Sit," she says. He does.

"First," she begins, her voice low and heavy in her throat as she leans forward. "I'd just like to tell you, you have fucked this up so colossally, I'd be surprised if Terry gives you the time of the day, like, ever. No," she says firmly, when Jaime opens his mouth to interrupt, "I don't care what he said, or what you said, okay? It's not about what anybody said, it's about what you did. You'd best understand that first. Now," she continues, "tell me everything."

Jaime does. Her eyes become stonier with each word uttered, but he doesn't dare stop.

"I was drunk," he defends weakly.

"Yes, you were," Ellie agrees flatly. "The question is, why?"

"I told you, Cathy—"

"Cathy," Ellie interrupts pointedly, "has nothing to do with this, and you know it."

He says nothing.

"You had a falling-out, didn't you? Before that night."

"How'd you know that? Do you know Cathy?"

"Oh, Jaime. I know everybody on this campus a little bit, whether they like it or not."

"Right, okay," he answers uneasily. "Well, yeah, we did. It was pretty stupid, actually."

"Go on."

"I don't know, it was—she said something about...she said I was mooning, or something."

Her eyebrows shoot up to her hairline. "Mooning?"


"She said you were mooning?"

"'S what she said."

"Well, who would've thought," Ellie says, and Jaime notices, unsettled, that she seems strangely delighted about the notion. "The girl's smarter than I gave her credit for."


"Mm, never mind that, though," she says casually, waving a dismissive hand as if to nonchalantly swat away that particular discussion. "What I'm concerned about, mainly, is what you could've possibly said to Terry to make him storm out like that."

"Look, it wasn't exactly a discussion over tea. I can't pinpoint what it was that I said—"

"Jaime, I know you better than that. You can pinpoint exactly what it was that you said."

"I don't suppose I could convince you that you've overestimated my intellectual ability?"

"You can't in your right mind think that's even possible."

"That answers that question, then," Jaime groans. "Well, I might have...mentioned something about him being an unappreciative, pathetic excuse for a best friend...?"

Her eyes narrow. "You did, did you?"

"A bit, yeah."

"What else? Go on, let me have it."

He sighs, resolutely obliterating any leftover scraps of his aforementioned brain-to-mouth filter. God help me, he thinks, and begins recounting their conversation. His feet are tapping restlessly on the linoleum floor and his hands keep clenching and unclenching, and if Jaime unconsciously flinches at some point in the middle, Ellie doesn't comment.

So forgive me if I can't think of having sex with you as some life-changing experience, is where he pauses, having to swallow the persistent lump in his throat. "Except that I totally do," he says. "I really, really do, Ellie."

"No getting around that, Jaime," she quietly answers. "But, I think..." she pauses tentatively, and he hears the impatient tapping of her fingernails again. "I think that...you need to start thinking about the why's and how's now, too. Because there's no getting around those, either."

"Ellie, I can't—what do you want me to—"

"It's not about what I want, you know. It's about how much you're willing to face up to for Terry's sake. You slept with him—there's no changing that. And Terry's right; you can't just keep ignoring it. It's not something you can ignore, Jaime, it's not 'nothing'. You admitted that yourself."

"It's not, I know," he laughs bitterly. "It can't be. Not—but I just. Ellie, I can't—"

"What are you so afraid of, Jaime?"

To his credit, Jaime takes the accusatory question with nothing more pronounced than a fleeting grimace. His eyebrows furrow as he presses his lips together into a thin line, as if stifling the instinctive urge to stammer out a series of protestations and denial. Ellie's eyes soften—it's the first visible sign of distress he's been desperate enough to show her since this whole episode tossed their relationships into the metaphorical grinder.

"A lot of things, Ellie," is all he says.

"Tell me," she urges.

"I don't—it's not just..." he sighs, agitated, "it's not just one thing, or one person, or—or one instance in particular, you know? It's like, my whole life's turning upside-down, and I'm... I don't want it, but then I do, and... I don't even know anymore."

"Jaime, listen," she says. "I'm not very good at sympathizing and mollycoddling, right? So here's how we're going to do this: I'm going to ask you a few questions, and you'll answer with either 'yes' or 'no'. No intermediates. Fair?"

Cautiously, he nods.

"Okay, great. Then," she breathes in, "do you want Terry in your life?"

"Yes," he answers firmly.

"Is he important to you?"


"Do you want to live together even after university?"

A longer pause, this time. "Yes."

Ellie nods. "Alright. Does he..." she struggles to phrase her question more tactfully, with perhaps a little more ambiguity, if only for Jaime's sake. "Does he feel comfortable?"


"Wait, no. That isn't right." There's no easy way to ask him this, is there? "Does he feel like home?"

Jaime starts. "I—"

"Yes or no, Jaime. Take your time, think about it."

For a few seconds, the murmurs of conversation and the clatter of cutlery and the light twinkle of the bell around them fade into a dull, indistinct cacophony. Ellie is afraid, at one instant, that Jaime might never bring himself to answer.

He does, though. He does, and his features, then, are set in decisiveness. "Yes."

"Do you really think you'll be satisfied with that—with him—for such a long time? Do you think you'll always want that?"

"Yes," he answers briefly, even though she hadn't meant the question to be part of this peculiar exercise of theirs. She watches the steely grey of his eyes become lighter, the hard sheen of them become softer, and they say to her, it's all I'll ever want.

"What do you feel, when you're with him?" she asks softly, before backtracking and shaking her head. "Wait, sorry, only 'yes' or 'no' questions, right? My bad—"

"Happy," he answers, anyway. "Really, really happy."

"Oh," she whispers after a pause. With more hesitance than she will ever admit to having experienced, Ellie asks him, "Do you want to hold his hand?"


"Do you want to touch him, all the time?"

A moment, here. "Yes."

"Do you want to kiss him?"


She bites her lip, because she recognizes this as something she's always been too good at recognizing. His voice is hoarse; hoarse in that way it always is when lying isn't even a conceivable option. This is how she understands—he recognizes it, too (perhaps better than her), and so Ellie tucks away all her insecurities and anxieties and trepidations, and she coaxes gently, "You want to do everything with him, don't you?"

"Yes," Jaime breathes. "Yes."

"Oh, Jaime," is all Ellie can say. She feels a little bit like crying, then, because—because she's not all tough-as-nails and hard exterior, is she? And here these two are; these moronic, immature, wonderful boys—so, so lost, the both of them, in ways imperceptible to each other, so similar in what they feel and so different in what they make of it.

"It doesn't have to mean anything, Jaime," she finds herself saying. "Boy or girl, straight or gay or whatever—it doesn't matter."

"Ellie. Ellie, you know I can't—"

"But you can. You can, Jaime, he—" she laughs, loud and open and giddy, "he makes you happy. You know what that means?"

It takes him a while, but he eventually answers:

"Yeah. Yeah, I do."

773-378-2197: Can we talk?

Received at 16:42, May 20th, Thursday.

773-378-2197: Yes, I know I'm an idiot.

773-378-2197: But please. I need to talk to you.

Received at 20:16, May 20th, Thursday.

773-378-2197: You know if you don't reply, I'm eventually just gonna search you out or something.

Received at 06:58, May 21st, Friday.

You have one new message.

"Okay, so. Hi. Long time no see. Um, you know, I was with Ellie the other day and we were just talkingGod, I hadn't talked to her in ages, and, well, we were talking about Cathy andwell, not exactly Cathy. I mean, yes, Cathy, but it wasn't justwe talked about a lot of things, actually. Important things. Yeah, so I"

Message deleted.

You have one new message.

"Sorry, that last one didn't exactly go according to plan. Got a little side-tracked. Anyway, uh, justcall me, would you? Iyeah. Just. Yeah. Bye."

Message deleted.

"No good?" Ellie questions, idly twisting the straw of her juice-box between her fore-finger and thumb.


"Well, you didn't expect it to be easy, did you?" she reasons.

"Hell no," Jaime answers, sullen. "Could've given me the benefit of the doubt, though."

"'Benefit of the doubt is a favourable judgement given in the absence of full evidence,'" Ellie quotes. "There was no absence of evidence, Jaime."

"If he doesn't give me some leeway, I can't do shit, Ellie. I can't make anything right."

"I get that, but you've got to give him time. Listen," she abandons her juice-box to gesture at him emphatically, "put yourself in his shoes. Terry's been head-over-heels for you ever since I can remember, stuck in the friend-zone for years, right? Then, Eric comes along and he finds himself sort-of-maybe-a-bit getting over you—and then you trample all over it by bringing up your insecurity issues—"

"I resent that—"

"—and claiming that, of all things, he doesn't give a shit about you. What do you think that did to him?"

Jaime sinks down into his seat, shame-faced.

"Jaime, I know you've got issues of your own to deal with. And I'm behind you all the way in this," she says, "but when I said you fucked this up colossally, I meant it."

He groans, leaning forward until his forehead collides with the hard wooden surface of the table with an audible thump.

"What," Jaime says, voice muffled, "do you suggest I do, then?"

"Grovel. Grovel to epic proportions, Jaime."

He doesn't reply—doesn't show any visible sign of having heard her at all. Ellie sighs, acknowledging his stunted response (if even that) as stubborn denial. Of course, she thinks acerbically, of course Jaime Frosbery thinks it's beneath him to grovel.

But then, she notices the set of his shoulders, oddly determined and sort of tense with energy and not at all slack or hopeless. When Jaime raises his head, his eyes are marginally wider than usual, unseeing and unblinking. Ellie grudgingly admits to knowing this look—it's the look she'd noticed on the night of the frat-party. In the morning, she'd woken up to a very distressed phone-call, and thirty minutes later, she'd found herself sitting awkwardly in the police department, Jaime grinning sheepishly at her from behind bars with a disgruntled Terrence next to him.

"No," she says immediately. "I'm sorry I mentioned it, alright? Just, no."

"But I thought you said—"

"Never mind what I said. Whatever it is you're thinking, stop thinking it."

"It's Terrence, though," he says quietly.

She pauses, and then starts rummaging through her rucksack. She viciously thinks, Screw it, and then, God help me. Ellie fishes out a blank piece of paper and a ball-point pen.

"If you're going to do this," she says, the click of the pen sounding strangely ominous, "you're going to need his address."

The chicken tastes sour, Terrence thinks absently, nose crinkling as he reluctantly tears off a piece from the leg.

It's been a week. Terrence acknowledges this with an impersonal, bleak sort of callousness; it's the same brand of forced indifference he's been imposing onto every other thought of his these days—My cell-phone's broken and Ellie hasn't called for days and I failed my physics exam are hardly distinguishable from the sky is blue and the grass is green.

And maybe Jaime is an idiot, too. That one doesn't sound quite so mundane, though.

The steady hiss of tap-water is a welcome sound to his ears. Washing dishes isn't much more than a constant repetition of lather, rinse, dry, and the monotony of it is unexpectedly comfortable in all its familiarity. After all, not much in his life has been familiar as of late.

"Come on, you call that dish-washing? Put your back into it, mate."

He sighs, dumping the plate onto the dish-rack with a loud clatter.

When's it going to get better? Terrence wonders idly. He supposes he shouldn't bother.

The shrill ringing of the phone startles him out of his stupor. He makes his way over and hastily snatches up the receiver.

"Terry, hello."

"Ellie? Is that you?"

"Of course it's me, dufus, who else would it be?"

Maybe J—he quells the half-formed thought with a decidedly brutal inward smack to his brain.

"Well, no, it's just—you haven't called in—"

"Listen, can we talk about all that later? I think you'd better let me in first."

"Let you—are you outside?"

"Yeah. Your neighbours are starting to look at me funny."

"How long have you been out there?"

"Long enough. I can see your bedroom window from out here, I think."

"Well, why in the world didn't you call earlier?" he demands, throwing open the door to his bedroom and promptly striding over the balcony. "Or you could've told me you were coming, I would've—oh."

"Wellgottogoseeyoubye" she bids a quick farewell, and then promptly hangs up.

Ellie, you absolute nutter. You were never the one standing outside my bedroom window.

It's been a while since he's seen Jaime—well, no, it hasn't, in all truthfulness. It's hardly been a week, but what is and isn't doesn't seem to matter, now. Not now, when Jaime is right in front of him, grinning and waving and Jaime, all disheveled hair and loose limbs and bright eyes—it's all so shockingly familiar it borders on painful in its intensity.

"HI, LONG TIME NO SEE," Jaime shouts up at him, apparently oblivious to the curious stares of his neighbours.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?" Terrence shouts back.


"DEEPLY," he answers, unable to help the grin stretching across his lips.

When Jaime laughs, it's deep and rumbling and unguarded, and the grin inevitably softens into gentle smile. It's not going to get better, Terrence thinks, and his smile falters.

"WAIT, I'LL LET YOU UP," he says, but Jaime vigorously shakes his head at the offer.

"NO, WAIT, STAY," he shouts. "DON'T GO YET."




"THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE, TERRENCE," Jaime replies cheekily, but Terrence can recognize the nervousness underneath the jocundity. "BESIDES, THEY'RE GOING TO THINK WE'RE CRAZY TOO AFTER I'M THROUGH WITH THIS."

He's sure he's going to regret asking—he always is, when it comes to Jaime—but Terrence questions anyway, "THROUGH WITH WHAT?"

The nervousness seems more prominent now, etched into the wavering line of Jaime's lips and furrow of his eyebrows. He breathes in, and Terrence feels trepidation and anticipation wash over him at once.

Nothing could have prepared him for this, though.


What thewhat is he doing? Terrence thinks frantically, leaning forward against the balcony railing.

"I LOVE THEE TO THE DEPTH AND BREADTH AND HEIGHT," Jaime continues, heedless of Terrence's flailing.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Terrence shouts. "JAIME—"






"NO! NO, I WILL NOT LET YOU COMPLETE IT, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?" Terrence yells, his voice curiously high. It's embarrassingly close to breaking, he fears.




All he remembers of Ellie's birthday is getting sloshed to the point where it hurt to blink.


The pseudo-speech jerks something awake in him, some long-forgotten, hazy memory of club lights and the inviting warmth of Jen's shoulder and Jaime on his knees, and then—"WHOA, WAIT, YOU REMEMBER ALL OF THAT?"



"BUT YOU DO," Jaime says, and his smile has never been more endearing. "THAT'S ENOUGH, ISN'T IT?"

"OKAY, FINE, WE'LL—WE'LL TALK, OKAY?" Terrence says in a bid of desperation, feelings the warmth of his face, and he knows with certainty that it must be worse than an overripe tomato. "JUST—COME UP, AND WE'LL TALK."



"YOU HEARD ME," he persists, mouth unsmiling and eyes earnest. "I'VE MADE ENOUGH MISTAKES AS IT IS, I WON'T LEAVE ROOM FOR ANY MORE."

"Jaime, what are you talking about...?" Terrence murmurs, more to himself than to anyone else.


He nods shakily, knuckles white as they grip the railing.

"I'M SORRY. I CAN'T SAY IT ENOUGH, OKAY? I'M SORRY I'M AN IDIOT, I'M SORRY I'M A LIAR, I'M SORRY I'M A COWARD WHO RUNS AWAY ALL THE TIME. I DON'T—I WON'T DO THAT, I DON'T WANT TO ANYMORE. YOU PROBABLY THINK YOU DESERVE BETTER, AND YOU—" he swallows, "YOU WOULDN'T BE WRONG, YOU KNOW. YOU WOULDN'T—YOU'RE AMAZING, YOU'RE JUST—I CAN'T EVEN—" he shakes his head, laughing nervously, "BUT I STILL, I WANT—IF YOU STILL WANT ME, THEN..." he swallows again, and for a moment, Terrence thinks he might cry. He doesn't, but when he speaks, his voice is soft. "I want this. I'll always—you. You make me happy."

Things go quiet around them for a while, and then—

"Come up here," Terrence mouths.



There's a moment—just a brief, fleeting one—in which Terrence thinks he can hear the sound of Jaime's breathing, his heartbeat. It passes, and when he looks again, Jaime is smiling his ever-present smile again.

It's not going to get better, Terrence thinks, but somehow, that's alright.