Series Title: Variance
Summary: Series of ideas/vignettes, long and short, that didn't fit in anywhere else. A mixture of 'deleted scenes' and bridging the gap between "Zero Zero" and "Variance"
Series/Sequel: All happens chronologically between "Zero Zero" and "Variance".
Rating: M? References to sex, nothing explicit.
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters.
A/N: So yeah. This is an attempt to fill in the gaps and 'stuff that was made too arbitrarily easy' in my own stuff, so basically someone fix-ficcing themselves. Which is odd, but I guess an inevitable result of writing over the course of years, with later-years-Enness having a lot, lot more experience of life and whatnot. Some of these are just bits of conversation that I could hear but couldn't contextualise or write much more around, so they're in here for whatever laughs or fulfilment people may get from them.
Title: Everything (As It Moves)
(Perspective shifts; should be fairly obvious, shout in comments if it isn't)
It's easy to be brave sometimes. It's easy to be sure of yourself when it's just you and him sitting alone on a couch, three beers in, still on that high that you get when you've just kissed someone for the first time. To say 'He's the one', and blithely ignore the fact that your gender pronouns have changed drastically in less than 24 hours. Waking up the next morning with him still in your arms and, once that moment of a happy glow has passed, going through the 'Dream? Nope. …oh crap' thought process; that's a little bit harder to deal with.
That's why, by the time Eric wakes up the next morning, I'm already showered, dressed and on my way out the door. When his eyes flicker open and he sees me, and I can see the thought process going through his head – 'Dream? Nope. Yay!' – and the smile that slowly spread across his face, his happiness more pure than anyone else's I've ever known, it pulls me back in for a moment. Brave again, so when he says "Lunch?" I can't reply with anything but "Absolutely". And then…well, then reality hits.
Sleeping on a couch with 170lbs of Matthews on you is not, it turns out, the key to a good night's rest, so I stop into the Students' Union for a coffee before my first class, and there's Topanga, coffee in hand, getting ready for her day as well. She greets me, just like normal, and asks in that casual-but-nosy way why Rachel showed up at her dorm room last night for no apparent reason, and it all kinda sinks in. That telling Topanga why Rachel was upset means telling her that I kissed Eric. And that leads to her asking a whole load of questions that I really can't deal with – hell, questions I don't even think I can answer. Am I gay? Are me and Eric a couple now? We spend all our time together as it is; what would we even do as a couple that we don't do now? Except that *that* particular line of thought leads somewhere I'm even less sure about.
At this stage, I've already bluffed my way past Topanga ("I dunno why she left. Girly problems?" Claim utter ignorance about women and their emotions and they'll never expect you to deal with anything complex), and I'm sitting in class still mulling over all of this. Normally, sitting in class is the easiest way to distract myself – go onto auto-pilot, take a few notes, keep my brain from turning over the same stuff again and again until it drives me nuts. But not today – today, I keep going back over it all in my head, wondering what the hell I'm going to do. I kissed Eric. *Eric*. And I told him I love him which…well, I do. He's the best friend I've ever had. He knows me better than I know myself sometimes, and I literally can't imagine my life without him. I had just never really thought about what that meant before. I mean, I guess I knew he was attractive. But I hadn't exactly lain awake at night thinking about kissing him; it wasn't until last night, when everything seemed so messed up and I just needed someone to cling to and he was there, just like he's always been there, that I took it that step further. And god help me, even now I don't know why I did it. It just felt…right.
But what does it mean? It's not that I have a problem with girls. I've slept with girls in the past, and liked it, but…well…OK, it's never completely blown me away. But that's just because I haven't found the right girl, right? I mean, kissing Eric felt nice and everything, and we spent most of the night making out, so there was some…grinding action, and that was also pretty nice. But god, I can barely even think the words to myself; I can't even imagine what the next step would be like, and even though it's not like it completely turns me off, it doesn't exactly turn me on either. But then, I didn't know how much I'd like kissing Eric until I tried it…
Man, two classes into my day and I've written about 28 words of notes in total. I'm a mess. And now I have to meet Eric for lunch, which is just going to be beyond weird. I mean, what do we talk about now? What would we talk about if we were a couple? I've never had a girlfriend who lasted longer than a couple of weeks, so while I'm not exactly totally new to this, at the same time I'm hardly experienced. All Cory and Topanga seem to do is talk about how deeply in love they are and plan weddings, and I can't ever see me and Eric doing that kind of crap. And all Shawn and Angela ever seemed to do was make out a lot in public, and I *really* can't see me and Eric doing *that*. Jesus, I can't even talk to Topanga, one of the nicest people on the planet, about this – I sure as hell don't want every random gawker in this college looking at us. And what would we say? The thought of introducing Eric as my…'boyfriend'…I can hardly think the word. What're the odds of me ever actually managing to say it?
When I finally see him again, Eric doesn't look half as torn up as I feel. He actually looks as normal as he ever does – he smiles and waves to me, pointing at the sandwich he's already bought for me, and even though he'd do this on any other day, I still find myself looking around and walking that bit quicker over to the table, and I know he notices this from the way his eyes darken, just a little, and from the way his "Hey!" is that bit less exuberant than normal. I manage to greet him back, and then we sit in silence for a few seconds before he asks about my day, and I'm about a minute into the most awkward small-talk we've ever made when I pull myself up short. We've lived together for over a year and we've never been this weird around each other before.
"What are we doing here?" I say, finally broaching the subject.
He looks at me like I'm an idiot and takes on the tone you'd use talking to a five-year-old. "We're eating lunch, Jack. It's a delicious meal between 'brunch' and 'second lunch'. Well, technically, I'm eating lunch and you're tearing your food into tiny chunks on your plate."
Ordinarily, that'd make me smile at least, but today I just can't. "This is beyond weird, huh?" I say, not even sure what I want to hear, not sure there's anything he can say that would make it not be. He laughs and smiles. "Yeah. It really, really is." And I wish I could smile back and just get over this, but sometimes things aren't that easy.
"Eric, I…I don't think I can do this. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"
And with that, my bravery deserts me completely. I stand, grab my bag and hightail it out of the Union like I'm being chased by wolves. And as I throw one last glance back at the table I see his face, the absolutely shattered look on it, and I feel like I'm about to get sick right there. By the time I've stumbled far enough away for my heart to stop pounding, I'm halfway across the campus. I sit on the first bench I see, bury my head in my hands and wait until I don't feel like I need to vomit any more. What the hell am I going to do? I don't want to hurt Eric. The thought of making him feel this bad physically hurts me. But I don't know if I can be what I think he wants me to be. How would I ever tell our friends? Could I ever do what all the rest of them do so easily – could I hold his hand in public? Could I kiss him? Could I even smile at him and eat lunch like a normal human being instead of having an embarrassing public freak-out?
But if I don't wanna do this, why is it a hard decision at all? Well, that's easy. Because it's not just about not hurting him. There's a part of me that wants this. Wants to see what it's like to be more than Eric's friend. Wants to know what it's like to spend every morning waking up with that glow I had today, for about half a second, before I let myself start thinking. Wants more than anything in the world to just kiss him again.
Be with Eric. Don't be with Eric. Kiss him. Don't kiss him. Is it too late to go back to how things were? How do you live with someone if you kiss them and tell them you love them, then don't follow through on it? How do I live without him if I can't live with him? What if I don't want this? God, what if I *do* want this? Am I actually sitting here thinking about a relationship with *Eric*? What would Shawn say? What would my stepdad say? What…what would Chet say? But if I can't do this, what do I do instead? Duck season, wabbit season, duck season, wabbit season, over and over and over.
I couldn't be his friend any more. You don't come back from something like that. Which would mean moving out, which would mean seeing far, far less of Shawn. Which isn't something I want, but man is that the *worst* reason to like someone – that you'd be homeless and cut out of a small clique without them.
I don't know how long I sit here for on that bench, staring blankly ahead, going in endless circles through all the reasons why this is a terrible idea, and all the reasons why I really don't care. All I know is it's getting dark when a voice breaks into my reverie.
"Mr. Feeny?" Because sure enough, it's him, briefcase in hand and a puzzled look on his face.
"I didn't mean to disturb you. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I was to hear about your father." Man, with everything that's been going on, Chet has actually dropped to the bottom half of my mind for the first time since he died. I guess processing more than one life-changing event at a time is beyond me.
"Thanks Mr. Feeny." I'm not really sure what you're meant to say beyond that. Even at the funeral all I could do was shake people's hands awkwardly for a moment then try to move away fast.
"Are you doing alright? You seem a little dazed. I said your name three times before you even looked up."
"Huh? Oh, I'm…I'm fine. Just thinking, that's all."
"Hmm." He doesn't believe me, I can tell that much, but he seems to decide not to push it. "Well, I'll leave you to your thinking. Though I'd advise that somewhere warm and indoors might be a more comfortable place to do it. At times like this, it's often best to be around other people."
"Right, sir. Thanks." And I should leave it at that, but as he's walking away I decide to take another chance. I'm already in about as much of a mess as I can be in, and all the others swear by his advice. "Actually, Mr. Feeney?"
He's a few steps away, but he turns immediately and walks back, waiting for me to continue.
"About 'other people'" ooh, smooth segue, Hunter, "…have you ever…have you ever liked someone, but not known what to do about it? I mean, someone you were really close to, but didn't know if you two could make it work?"
"Hmm. This wouldn't have anything to do with Ms. McGuire, would it?" I stay quiet; I don't want to lie to him, but if I tell him what I'm actually thinking about, he might actually keel over right here in front of me, and frankly, I've had enough of that lately. After a moment, he continues regardless. "I'd wonder why it's a problem. Not every relationship begins with perfect, true, undying love on both sides, and not all of them ever reach that point. None of them are ever free from hardships and many do, unfortunately, end. That risk, for better or worse, is part and parcel of all relationships."
"But what it even risking it caused problems? Like, giant, impossible-to-get-around problems? What if it meant opening a whole load of doors that can't be closed again?"
He considers this again for a moment. "Then I'd say that obstacles are another unfortunate part of relationships, and life in general. Nothing worth having comes easily, Mr. Hunter. If it did, then we wouldn't appreciate the things in life that are truly worth appreciating. And every problem can be overcome, eventually. Some of them just take a little more work than others."
I try not to sigh too obviously. This is exactly what I knew already. Risk and reward, problems and effort, it's all a great big balance and you can't have one without the other. But knowing this doesn't make what I'm going through any easier, and I can't ask him anything more specific without him realising what I'm talking about, so I decide to let him go. "Thanks Mr. Feeney. I think I just need to spend some more time thinking it all over."
"Fair enough. Goodnight, Mr. Hunter." He starts to walk away again, then stops and turns once more. "I will say this, though. Take it from someone who knows – when you're old, it's not the times you risked everything and lost it all that you'll look back on with the most regret. It's the times when you sat back, did nothing and let something potentially wonderful pass you by that will keep you awake at night. I wish you the very best of luck, Jack."
I stare after him as he strolls away. OK, fine, he's good. No wonder they all swear by him. He's right; of course he's right. Just because this all might end in a horrible, horrible mess is no reason not to at least try it. But if I am going to try, I need to be strai…honest with Eric first. I spend the entire walk back to our apartment thinking about what I'm going to say, and praying that he's going to be there, and sure enough when I open the door he's slumped on the couch eating a cookie and watching TV, looking utterly dejected. When he sees me, there's a flash of something – fear? Anger? Remorse? – but the mask is back up within a second, and he seems calm enough as he stands and starts to grab his jacket.
"It's cool, I was just heading out anyway."
"Eric, wait. We need to talk."
"Jack, it's fine, really. Last night was a once-off. You were upset about everything that had happened lately, it doesn't have to be a huge deal."
"But it is! It *is* a huge deal, Eric. And I'm sorry that I'm freaked over this, but I…it just…ah, hell."
And crossing the room in two steps I grab him and kiss him again. It's everything it was the night before – it feels right. It feels natural. Of course, at this point he pushes me gently away from him and it starts to feel a little less magical, but that's beside the point.
"Jack…what are you doing?"
"I have absolutely no idea. All I know is I've spent half my day wanting to do that."
His face is impossible to read – it seems to light up a little as he hears that, but it's still pretty guarded. He can sense the 'but' that's coming. "And the other half?"
I sigh. "Look, Eric…I don't know what I want. I know I don't wanna be Cory and Topanga. I don't know what it means that I feel this way about you. I know I can't see us holding hands in the Union and sipping coffee any time soon. I know I'm unbelievably freaked out by the idea of telling people, or of having to put any labels on this, or of what comes after kissing you." I move my hands up to his face as I continue. "But I know…I know that I love you. I know that I want to see where this goes, even though I have no idea where that is. Before last night, I wouldn't have even dreamed about this, but now…it just feels right. I don't have the slightest clue what I'm doing, and that scares the hell out of me. But I think I want this."
His face stays unreadable for most of what I'm saying, but as I reach the end, he starts to smile.
"That take you long to rehearse?"
"About half an hour. I walked home the long way, just in case." And I can feel that lift in my stomach, the smile spreading across my face so far it almost hurts, reflecting what I can see in Eric's face.
"It was good. Emmy-worthy. You should start putting together a reel, man. One of those 'For Your Consideration' tapes."
I laugh at this, and there's a moment of truly comfortable silence between us. But I have to break it.
He slides his arms around my waist and smiles. "Look, Jack, no one wants to be like Cory and Topanga, not even them. They're freaks of nature and both of them know it. And couples that hold hands in the Union over coffee are saps. And I'm not sure about any of this either – OK, I'll admit, I've maybe sorta had a thing for you for a while. That doesn't mean I'm any better at this than you are. The 'telling people' thing, the sex, that's all just as scary for me."
"So I'm an idiot for worrying, basically?"
"Basically? Yeah." And he leans in and kisses me, softly, and it suddenly feels a whole lot simpler. Of course, I still have stupid questions.
"So what do we do from here?"
He breaks away from me, takes my arm and pulls me towards the couch, sitting down first and pulling me after him so I end up half-sprawled across him, my head resting on his shoulder, his arm around my back. Then he picks up the remote, turns the TV back on and smiles down at me.
"We watch TV, and do exactly what we'd normally do on a Tuesday night, and…just kinda see where things go from here."
"Huh. Cool." And really, it kinda is. After a minute, something occurs to me, and I move back a little to look up at him. "So, Eric? Are we, like, dating now?"
He looks incredibly thoughtful for a few seconds, using his free hand to stroke his chin. "Hmm. I dunno, Jacky. I think for us to be dating, you need to be spending more money on me. Or I need to be spending more money on you. I'm not really sure of the etiquette. Maybe we both need to be spending more money on each other? Hey, we could make each other's rent payments! That'd work, right?"
I grin. "Can't fault that logic."
"No sirree. Ooh, or, one of us needs to win the other some kind of stuffed animal at a fairground. Is there a fair in town?"
I smack the back of his head lightly, then snuggle down more into his chest. It's still weird how normal this feels, but I'm trying hard not to over-think it.
"OK, now you're just making fun of me," I murmur, and he puts his arm around me that bit tighter in response.
"I think you're my boyfriend."
"Yeah, kinda. What do you think?"
"I guess I think you're my boyfriend too."
There's another moment's silence before I speak again.
"This is still totally weird though, right?"
"Oh, like you wouldn't believe."
But, strange as it seems, as long as we're in this together? Being braver is easier than I would have thought this morning. I haven't the slightest idea where this is going, but this part right here? Feels pretty nice to me.
"Do you even know what you're doing here?"
"…I may have watched a few movies."
"…I really don't know if that's a good or bad thing."
"Get back to me in 20 minutes?"
"You moved the beds together?"
"I had a key to the apartment cut for you and everything."
"…Eric, I already have… I mean that's…" "That's really sweet of you."
As I let myself into the apartment, Rachel is on her way out – hair done up all nice-like, proper make-up, new dress on, and that vanilla perfume she only uses on special occasions.
"Hey, pretty!" I greet her. "What's up with you?" She grins and gives me a peck on the cheek.
"Aw, thanks Eric. I met a guy this morning at the Union – we got talking in the queue and he asked me out."
"Yeah, kinda, but he seemed nice, so what the hell. It's dinner and a movie; worst case scenario I still get to eat and watch a flick." She smiles even wider. "Though honestly, with my track record lately, I'll be doing well if he's not making out with the usher by the end of the previews."
"I just wish we could do what normal couples do. Go to the movies without worrying what the people there will think. Eat a meal in a restaurant without having to worry about running into someone we know."
"We could just go have sex instead?"
"Well, it is Tuesday."
"Rachel! Rachel!" She doesn't hear me the first few times, so it seems logical to go full-out 'Khaaaaan!' on her ass. I drop to my knees as I scream "RAAAAACHEEEEELLLL!" across the quad. She turns – well, OK, most people turn, but they're not important. For a second or two she mostly just looks startled; then her face softens a bit and she smiles, walking back to where I'm kneeling.
"Hey Eric. What's up?"
"Oh, nothing much. Just the usual, ya know? I was just wondering if you felt like grabbing a coffee?"
Three minutes later, full of conversation that dances around the subject, we're sitting in the Union gearing up for a Serious Talk.
"So, haven't seen you around much for the past few days. Missed you in Economic Policy on Friday."
"…Eric, you *never* go to that class. And I was there on Friday!"
"Yeah, I know. But normally you chew me out for not going on your way out the door, and then tell me what happened when you get back. It's a comforting routine."
She smiles. "I've missed you too Eric. It's just…at first, I needed some time. Then it just felt kinda awkward moving back in again, and I figured you guys would need some space. Did you work everything out in the end?"
There's something I can't quite place in her voice – on the one hand, she sounds genuinely interested, and I think the part of her that's our friend is hoping for a positive answer. But I can't shake the feeling that there's another part of her that would like to hear that we both realised we're far more in love with her, and want things to go back to just how they used to be. Thing is, while I can't exactly blame her for the second, I can't keep the giant smile from my face as I confirm the first.
"Yeah. They really did. We're…well, I'm not sure what we are, but the word 'boyfriend' was thrown around a few times."
For just a second, her smile wavers, and a part of me will always wonder whether she's sadder about the loss of me or Jack. It only takes her that second to get it back together though, and to reach out and rub my arm, and to give a truly genuinely smile as she says "I'm really happy for you. Both of you." Because Rachel? Is a whole lot of awesome.
"Me too. We're not exactly planning a double-wedding with my brother and sister-in-law, but yeah. Things worked out." It doesn't take a lot of effort to match her smile. I take her hand and fix her with my best 'convincing' stare. "Rachel, move back in with us. Look, I know it's a little strange. But we miss you, and we really want you back. C'mon, you've always been the prettiest one there after me, and Jack can't really pick up your slack for that much longer."
She laughs at that, but looks sad. "Eric, thank you. I miss you guys too, I really do. But look, I want to be honest with you. I think it's time for me to move on. I think I need to live somewhere where I won't feel like a giant third wheel. But if you guys will let me stay in my room while I look for a new place, I'd really love to move back in – for now, at least."
I wrap her in a giant bear hug, pulling her down onto the couch.