Raphael was one-hundred and fifty percent certain his life was over.
His brothers kept throwing him bewildered looks, staring between him and Casey as though trying to form a connection that wasn't there. Going over what they knew in a new light, and drawing lines between every interaction they had seen so far and the bombshell Casey dropped on essentially the entire town, and wrapping their minds around the idea of Raph and Casey actually being Raph And Casey.
"I need some air," Raph said abruptly over Leo's fourth attempt to draw him into conversation, standing up so sharply that he bashed his knee into the tabletop and rattled the glassware. "Shi – shoot. Sorry. Jones, you wanna come with me? For some air?"
"Dude, the food'll be here soon."
Raph's murderous intent probably showed on his face, because Mikey stood up a second later. "I'll go with you guys."
"Oh, god, please don't leave me here," Woody said very quietly, scrambling out of his chair to follow them.
Which is how Raph found himself pacing the parking in the warm country night air, hands folded into tight fists at his side. Woody and Mikey were sharing a cement parking block, sitting with their knees folded up by their chins and watching Raph's back-and-forth march with solemn eyes. Casey was leaned against the wall without a care in the world, and it made Raph want to grab him by the shirt and shake him.
"That was your move?" he bit out. "Faking an engagement? Jesus Christ, Jones!"
"Hey, I didn't see any of you comin' up with any brilliant ideas," he shot back with a scowl. "And it ain't like I had days to think it over!"
"C'mon, Raphie, it's not Casey's fault," Mikey interjected before Raph could give voice to any one of numerous scathing retorts. He looked pale and worried for him, face a wash of tired yellow from the buzzing streetlight overhead. "We were all pretty much put on the spot back there. At least the thing with Lisa is taken care of."
"Okay, but this is – "
"A lot better," Woody said calmly. When Raph cut a glance at him, he added, "You're in complete control of the situation now. When we get back to your place, we'll explain the whole thing. Just play it cool through dinner, alright?"
"Yeah!" Mikey piped up, looking exhaustively relieved. He tilted a shining look Woody's way. "There's nothing to worry about, bro, we'll sort this out first thing once we're home."
Except that the first thing that happened once they got home was Leo, successfully cornering Raph alone on the back porch. Woody shot him a sympathetic glance over Leo's shoulder but ultimately abandoned him to his older brother's mercies in favor of following Mikey around like a second shadow. Goddammit.
"Dude," Raph headed him off, "it's been a night, okay, just – "
"Look, I know you don't want to talk about it," Leo said with a firm hand on Raph's arm, curtailing his attempts to get the hell out of dodge. But it was less that and more the earnest look in his wide almond eyes that kept Raph's feet rooted reluctantly to the floor. "I know that you probably had planned to tell us the news while we were together for the holidays, and I'm really sorry Elizaveta made it necessary for you to announce your engagement the way you did."
Raph wanted to sink through the floor and disappear for maybe the rest of his life. Hoarsely, he said, "Leo, that's not – "
"Just hear me out," his big brother insisted, and somehow his expression only got more sincere. "I've – been texting you a lot recently about a guy I met on campus. Usagi. Remember?"
Raphael hazarded a nod, and shifted so that Leo's grip on his wrist was less of a grab and more of a hold. Leo nodded back, as though he needed the encouragement, and took a deep breath.
"I like him," he blurted, cheeks coloring. "I like him a lot."
"Oh," Raph said, eyes huge in his face. Leo was still nodding, looking equal parts panicked to have said it out loud and relieved to part with the confession. He was staring at Raph like Raph had all the power to destroy him with a single word or harsh look, and Raph found he didn't care for that shit at all. "Look, man, that's – whatever, you know? You didn't really think we'd care, did you?"
"I don't know," Leo said quietly, letting go of Raph's arm. "I mean – I told myself I was being stupid, but – "
Raph could feel himself start to frown thunderously at the idea that Leo could tote around the ridiculous concept that his family's love for him was conditional. And maybe it was a little hypocritical, since the same quiet worries had circled Raph's head, too, back when he was first irreparably charmed by the most obnoxious roommate in the history of UCLA – but at the same time, it was different. It was Leo.
"Hell yeah, you were being stupid. Look, as long as he's a good guy, as long as he doesn't – " He thought of Bradford and the end of Mikey's sophomore year and abruptly saw red. Thought of the man Leo had his eye on doing anything similar, and his fists clenched so hard it hurt. " – hurt you, y'know, in whatever way, then it don't matter. Not a lick. And our brothers and dad and Uncle L will all tell you the same thing. You know they will."
There was a sheen to Leo's eyes that looked like it might be tears, but he chuckled warmly. Rubbed his face with the sleeve of his shirt and hitched up a smile so wide it probably could have left a permanent impression.
"Well – that's why I wanted to talk to you," he said. "To say thanks."
Something close to dread pooled in the pit of Raph's stomach. "Thanks?"
"Yeah. I was scared, but you made it less scary. You've always been so much braver than me."
Fearless Leo's eyes shone for a split second before he moved forward a swift step and tugged Raph into a solid hug. They were about the same height, Raph realized dimly, and wondered when that had happened. It was autopilot to put his arms around Leo in turn, and he only got squeezed tighter for his troubles.
"I'm going to talk to father before I go back to school. Thanks, Raph, really."
Raph closed his eyes, and allowed himself an inward and heartfelt, Fuck.
"There is no fucking way we can call it off now," Raph said, waving his hands wildly. "No fucking way."
He had called an Immediate Emergency Meeting, which was why they were all clustered in the back shed, AKA Mikey's childhood art studio. The overhead light was still swinging from the fifth time Casey had smashed his head into it, and subsequently Casey was rubbing his forehead and cussing under his breath.
Similarly, Woody was only half-listening; eyes roving the room like he was trying to commit ever inch of the dust-covered space to memory, lingering on old painted canvases and listing sculptures like there was treasure to be found among them.
Raph had Mikey's full attention at least. His little brother was perched on the workbench, watching him with wide, worried hazel eyes.
"Well," he said slowly, "it's still okay. We'll just ride this thing out, y'know? I mean, we're only gonna be here for the rest of the week, right? And then when we go back to school everything will go back to normal, you can call and say the two of you broke it off or something. Right?"
"I – yeah, I mean." Raph ran an agitated hand through his hair, forcing himself to calm down. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right."
Mikey beamed at him, tension easing out of his shoulders. Raph was unspeakably grateful, for the millionth time in his life, that he could always count on having Mikey on his team. Things never seemed as bad with him around.
"So you and Case just gotta act couple-y until then! No problem!"
Casey snorted, and Woody whipped around with a delighted expression. "'No problem'? Mikester."
"What? What'd I say?"
Raph prayed that the shitty lighting in Mikey's shed would be enough to hide the way his face turned red. From the coy look on his little brother's face, and the amused look on Woody's, he knew that was probably a fool's hope.
Casey was still rubbing his forehead but he was watching Raph closely now, with something measured and thoughtful in his eyes.
Later, in the relentless quiet of Raph's bedroom, the scattered feet between his bed and Casey's cot seemed to stretch into miles. It was nothing like their first night there – nothing like every night for the past few months in their dorm room at school – when they could stay up and talk about anything, cradled safely in the dark as they learned to navigate each other's pitfalls.
It was uncomfortable. The learned familiarity was gone. Raph was grasping for it at the corners.
Casey's cot creaked as he rolled over, and his voice drifted through the space between them cautiously.
"Raph? You awake?"
With the blanket pulled up around his ears, Raphael pretended not to be.
Raph went slinking out of the house early the next morning. He waved to Uncle L when he passed him in the kitchen, put together a quick breakfast of leftovers out of the fridge, and crept out the side door into the yard while the sky was still more dark than light.
Father would have started the chores already. Raph wouldn't see him until lunch. He wanted to talk – it's obvious he wanted to talk – but he had always given his kids the whole of his faith, and probably trusted Raph to come and find him on his own when he was ready.
Fat chance of that.
Hiding in the horse barn, Raphael leaned against the wall and put his head in his hands and tried very hard not to lose his collective shit.
If the thing with Lisa wasn't bad enough, now he's fake dating a guy he wants to actually date, and it's fake going really well, apparently, because they're fake planning to get married.
He suckered himself into this situation in the first place, inviting Casey along for the visit home, but the kicker is he can't even really bring himself to regret it. Not when the alternative would have been Casey on his own back in California.
He's had a good time, Raph thought, and didn't want to take a moment of it back.
"Yo," Casey said abruptly, drawing Raph's head up sharply. His sleep-touseled friend was in the wide doorway of the barn, looking distinctly unimpressed with him and the world and wakefulness in general. "Are you seriously avoiding me? Weak as hell, man."
Raph could only stare at him, trying to find his footing in this conversation he was desperately unprepared for. Casey took pity on him after a moment and gestured over his shoulder.
"My buddy showed me where you were. I named her Chompy by the way, on account of the hole she chewed into my shirt the other day."
Raph followed his hand to the fence opposite the barn, where the newest addition to the family sheep was gazing dolefully at them through the gap in the wooden posts. He blinked, and looked back at Casey, and said, "You can't name Mikey's sheep Chompy. That's a stupid name."
"Oh, yeah, you're all named after like, artists and shit. Okay, fine in keeping with family tradition, she can be Chompy Picasso."
"No. Just – no. I'm gonna. Hold on."
He dug his cell phone out of his pocket and sent a text to Mikey; who was probably still up at ass o'clock in the morning after having not gone to bed in the first place in favor of a sci-fi movie marathon with Don and Woody.
Sure enough, Raph got a reply almost immediately.
case is tryin to
name ur lamb
! thats the best
name EVER tell
him thx omfg
"Okay, well, it's official," he said, pocketing his phone again. "I don't know any of you. You're all total strangers. Get out of my house."
"Pfft. That makes this engagement a little weird, don't it?"
Raph didn't flinch, but it was a close call, and he jerked his eyes away to stare at the wall, and then the ground. He didn't want to talk about, didn't know why he thought he could avoid it, wanted for there to be a way to go back and face Lisa from the beginning the way he should've – the way she deserved – instead of hiding from the situation like a coward.
He should have –
"Raph," Casey barked, "stop freaking out, Jesus Christ!" His tone was sharp, but mostly without anger, and the steps forward he took were hurried. "I'll slap you in the face to snap you out of it like in every bad Lifetime movie you've ever seen, don't even try me."
"You don't watch Lifetime movies."
"Fuck you, you don't know what I watch." Casey punched him in the shoulder, just hard enough to leave a residual ache there after his fist fell away. "And I don't know what bullshit is running through your head right now, but we're fine. This whole thing was my fault, and I'll deal with it. So quit acting like the world's comin' to an end, you moron."
Raph risked a glance up at him, disbelieving. Casey looked ready to throw another punch, agitated in a restless way that spoke more of worry than anything else.
And Raph felt like a moron.
"Fuck. Case, look – "
But they were both interrupted by the dark head of a dapple grey stallion as it leaned over the door of its stall to see what all the commotion was about. It flicked an ear and shook out its mane before craning a long neck over to inspect Casey curiously.
"Holy shit," Casey said, completely side-tracked as he stared at the approaching horse with wide eyes. "There's a monster in your barn."
"This is Spike." Raph patted him fondly. "He's nosy."
"Yeah, I'll say." Casey put out his hands cautiously, and Spike leaned his nose into the cradle of his palms, snuffling wetly around for treats. "Ew," Casey added, delighted.
Raph watched them for a minute, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"So," he ventured, "we're good?"
"Yeah, man. We're good. Unless you keep acting like an idiot, goddamn."
Spike lipped at the hem of Casey's shirt affectionately. Casey squawked, and Raph's heart did a complicated flip in his chest.
Raph's brothers, and his father, and his uncle all approved of Jones, whether the knew the full truth about the situation or not—but it was something else, something important, that his horse approved of him, too.
Fake dating, he reminded himself viciously, knowing already that the reminder wouldn't stick.
The day before Thanksgiving, there was a big dance hosted at the rec center for the young adult crowd. The six of them took Uncle L's truck, tired of being cooped up at the farm, and if the drinks provided weren't spiked Raph would spike them his damn self.
"You see Lisa anywhere?" he asked, leaning against the wall next to Casey with a cup of warm punch.
"Am I s'posed to be lookin' for her?"
"I owe her an explanation."
"You don't owe anybody shit, bro, but I'll keep an eye out."
On Raph's other side, Donnie straightened so abruptly that it got Casey, Raph and Leo's – from the other side of the refreshments table – attention all at once. And before any of them had a chance to so much as open their mouths, he was pushing off the wall and striding through the crowd with vicious intent, looking ready to steamroll any number of people out of his way.
"What the heck," Leo said, frowning. He was searching the room for the source of Donnie's sudden beeline, and found it moments before Raph did.
Something ice-cold and toothed reared its ugly head in the pit of Raph's chest at the sight of Bradford dragging his little brother out the back door. With a bitter taste in the back of his throat, he dropped his cup and shoved his way across the dance floor after Leo.
The back was for deliveries, with a wide gravel drive and a small storage shed. It was much quieter and darker out there, where the lights and the music and the dull roar of conversation from the party they had left behind were distant and muted.
Donnie was boxed in the doorway, frozen, with a hand over his mouth. Leo all but picked him up and moved him out of the way, face dark with furious fear, but after a second to take in the scene, he was motionless, too.
"What the fuck," Raph blustered, shoving past, "move, don't just – "
"Holy shit," Casey said from behind him.
Bradford was crumpled on the ground, a bloody hand trembling over his broken nose. His lettermen's jacket was stained with it, his cronies standing well back, and Woody was lowering his hands as Raph put the pieces of the scene together into a cohesive picture.
Holy shit was right.
"Keep your hands to yourself," Woody said mildly, eyes cold as he looked Bradford over. "I really don't want to have to tell you again."
He looked like he really wanted to have to tell him again.
Reaching out without looking away from Bradford for a second, Woody gathered Mikey up under his arm, curling the smaller blond in tight against his side. Mikey's eyes were wide but it was wonder in his face, and the beginnings of delight, and any shadow of that awful misery from moments earlier was burned completely away.
"Dude," he whispered adoringly, "You're a ninja."
Woody's icy expression gentled for him, almost absurdly, and if Raph looked to his left he'd see Donnie looking smug as shit at having been right about something no one else could have guessed from the very beginning, again. "Something like that. My aunt's an MMA fighter. She taught me a lot. I took lessons for a few years, too."
"Holy cats! Woody! That's, like, maximum rad!"
Grinning down at him, Woody said, "Anyway, weren't we about to go dance?"
With a gasp, Mikey snatched up his hand and tugged him back toward the door. He looked surprised to see his brothers there, but he greeted them with a smile that didn't shake, and Donnie touched Woody's arm for a moment of exhaustive, wordless thanks.
Woody shook his head with a stubborn glint in his eye, squeezing Mikey's hand tighter.
"Message received," Leo said with a grin, and Raph watched Donnie take a mean delight in locking the back door behind them when they returned to the party. Not that he was worried about Bradford showing his ugly face anywhere near Mikey again anytime soon. He owed Woody a drink or ten for that.
"Dude," Casey said, "what the hell is up with that guy? Why's he got it in for Mike?"
There was a wet floor sign and a disgruntled janitor cleaning up the spilled drinks Raph and his brothers left behind earlier. Raph went in search of a new spot to stand in.
"You know the movie Carrie?"
"Same deal. Except instead of pig blood there at the end, Bradford got him up on stage in the middle of the homecoming dance and outed him in front of god and everybody."
"I got suspended that night for two weeks for beating the shit out of Bradford, but dad gave the principal so much hell she brought it down to one." Glancing sidelong at Casey, Raph added, "Mikey got bullied after that, bad. Not for long, I mean, he doesn't have three big brothers for nothing. But it left a mark on him, y'know, it really did some damage."
"You think Woody knew?"
"I dunno. I didn't tell him. And Mikey doesn't talk about it. Anyway, I don't think it matters. Anyone who looks at Mikey cross-eyed is gonna have fuckin' Bruce Lee to deal with, and I'm more than fine with that."
It wasn't hard to find them on the dance floor, swinging each other around wildly and laughing louder than the band could play. The Mikey of two years ago wouldn't recognize himself if he could see it, Raph thought. Dancing close with another boy in front of their whole small-minded town like there wasn't a single goddamn thing to be ashamed of.
That night, warm with the alcohol they picked up on the way home and groggy, Raph fell into bed with his clothes on. Barely a minute later, hands were shoving at his chest and shoulder, and Casey was muttering, "Scoot over, dude, I'm not sleeping on that fucking thing anymore."
At three a.m. it made sense, and Raph rolled over to make room for him.
A rooster call woke him up scant hours later, and he blinked painfully through a hangover into the weak sunlight beginning to poke its fingers through the windows of his bedroom.
His arm was slung over Casey's waist. Casey was drooling on his shoulder. His head hurt too much to process either of those things.
"Yer thinkin' too loud," Casey muttered softly, the words wincing and whispered. "Too hungover for that shit."
"Case – "
"I swear to god – "
"No, listen," Raph was saying stupidly. "I don't want to fake date you. It's driving me insane, I don't want to do it anymore. So that's why we should – "
With a soft cuss, Casey jerked upright. Raph had exactly one second to worry before his roommate was clambering on top of him, straddling his waist with a twisted comforter between them and leaning down with tangled hair and blurry eyes to kiss Raph quiet.
It worked like a charm – Raph shut right up. Casey kissed him for a lot longer anyway. Relentless, like there was something to make up for. Whatever it was, Raph was happy to give it, digging his fingers into his grip on Casey's arms, keeping him as close as he could until the last possible moment.
sorry abt dinner
the other night.
sorry about a lot
next time i visit
ill make it up to
You will do no
such thing. Next
time, I will make
it up to /you/. I
owe you that
And I hope you'll
introduce me to
your fiance. I
would like to
Contact saved as "Mona Lisa."
"What are you smilin' about?" Casey mumbled without lifting his head, word salad all but lost against Raph's collarbone.
"How do you know I'm smiling, you creep?"
"C'n just tell. What's up?"
Raph set his phone aside, and pushed a hand through Casey's hair.
"Wanna come home with me again for Christmas?"
"Pretty sure I have a standing invitation from your entire family to crash all your holiday get-togethers, loser." He slung an arm across Raph's waist and yawned. "Welcome to the married life. No getting rid of me now."
"We aren't married, dumbass."
"Fuck you, go back to sleep."
The two of them in one bed was a tight fit, but the cot was all the way across the room, they were still existing on the tender plane of the very barely not hungover anymore, and it seemed like a waste to sleep so far apart anyway.
On Thanksgiving Day, three things happen:
Mikey fucking outdoes himself, to literally no one's surprise, and the food is fantastic. He and Woody hold hands through most of the meal, and Raph and Donnie share a wry look when father surreptitiously passes Leatherhead, who has better lighting from his side of the table, the digital camera.
Leo comes out to the rest of the family, and it goes more or less exactly the way Raph thought it would. Leo's face is a pleased pink as he swipes through his phone at Mikey's tireless demands for pictures of Usagi.
Raph clears his throat halfway through dessert and manages to meet his father's eyes when he says, "There's something I need to tell all of you. About the, uh. Engagement. See, we were – Case and I, we were never really – "
" – sure about the wedding date," Casey cuts in smoothly, claiming a third slice of pumpkin pie. "We figured we'd put things on hold, you know, till we're done with school, at least. No sense rushing in, right?"
Mikey and Woody are grinning across the table at him. Casey is grinning around a mouthful of pie. Raph throws his last vestiges of caution to the wind and grins right back.