A Fanfiction by Bagatelle

Maybe it was supposed to be a joke. But it couldn't be; jokes were his specialty, things that he always got. His sense of humor was limitless…so this couldn't have been a joke. He didn't understand it in the least. But he didn't understand a lot of things, so the fact that he didn't get it didn't scare him. It had happened in the first place: that was the thing that scared him the most.

Things like this weren't supposed to happen. At least, not until high school.

They had been sitting in the treehouse after school when it had happened. Bart, leaning against the wall, casually, with Milhouse beside him, had been reading a comic book while his best friend did his math homework. Mrs. Van Houten had said that Milhouse could only come over today after school if he brought his homework with him and had it done by the time he came home. If he didn't finish it, he wouldn't be able to come over for the rest of the month, and neither Bart nor Milhouse wanted that. So Milhouse was reduced to math problems while Bart got to read his comics.

It was warm, on that day; nearing summer, it was early May, and the signs of vacation were upon them already. Humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies, aching to cross that border between spring and summer. Bart yawned and stretched lazily and set his comic down beside him, casting a glance over at Milhouse. The blue-haired boy was chewing on the tip of his pencil, thinking for a moment before he wrote anything down. Bart stared at him with half-lidded eyes, thinking half-consciously, suddenly feeling very tired for no apparent reason. He knitted his dirty fingers over his stomach and curled his legs up (covered in scabs from playing outside day after day), watching Milhouse as he worked at the math problems.

Milhouse liked Lisa. Bart knew; it was obvious to almost everyone. And though he didn't really understand it (how could anyone like his nerdy younger sister?), he had sort of come to accept it, so much now that it was just another part of life. He would probably include it in a description of Milhouse without even thinking about it. Milhouse is ten years old. We've been best friends since kindergarten. He likes my little sister Lisa. Lisa knew, but she didn't like him back. Probably for the simple fact that he was Bart's best friend. Bart had considered this deeply on several inappropriate occasions—completely random times throughout his life, really, like during dinner or in the middle of a kickball game in gym class—and he wondered what Milhouse would do, if he realized that one of the only reasons why Lisa shied away from him was because he was so closely knit with her older brother. She had gone out with Nelson, for Christ's sake; of course she would go out with Milhouse, if only he shared her dislike of Bart.

Bart had decided not to tell Milhouse about this. Because no matter how much quieter things were around the house when Lisa was happy, he didn't think he would be able to stand losing his only friend over a girl again.

The wind blew gently through the treehouse, shuffling Milhouse's papers and prompting a sigh from the bespectacled fourth-grader. Bart felt a sudden, brief stab of pain in his stomach; one that always came at the thought of losing Milhouse, and he closed his eyes against it. Milhouse chuckled softly under his breath and muttered, "math sucks," his voice changing pitch as he obviously looked at Bart and thought that he was asleep. Bart decided not to spoil the illusion and stayed still, cracking his eyes open just a little to watch his friend again. Milhouse looked a little put off about something, now, like having Bart be so bored that he fell asleep was not exactly what he had planned in coming over today. Bart thought he detected maybe a trace of embarrassment, too; shame at always being a Mama's boy, having to do everything that his mother told him for fear of the consequences. But Milhouse's mother was not like Bart's; she was overprotective and always had to be right, unlike Marge, who was always much more laid-back and had learned when to just let things go from years of being married to Homer. Bart knew that Milhouse must envy him for that, and although he enjoyed the idolization, he felt guilt sometimes, too; deep down, to the point where he knew he would never admit it to anyone. Milhouse was his best friend, and he deserved to be just as happy as Bart was.

Milhouse growled something under his breath, and Bart saw his face tint pink for a second before he closed his math book angrily and shoved it to the side. He leaned back against the wall of the treehouse and looked ready to sit and wait for Bart to wake up before he did anything else. Bart, a bit surprised by Milhouse's irritated reaction to almost nothing, moved a little in his fake-sleep and let his head roll over onto his friend's shoulder. Surely now Milhouse would get the joke and laugh it off, and then both of them could go inside and eat something before blackmailing Lisa into finishing Milhouse's homework for him.

Milhouse's shoulder tensed a little against Bart's cheek, but he said nothing; did nothing to get Bart off of him. He let out a breath that sounded like it had been caught on something halfway up his windpipe, and Bart moved a little again, trying to urge Milhouse to get the joke, now, and push him off and laugh. He shivered in the warm afternoon air when a few more eerie seconds passed with no retaliating action on Milhouse's part to speak of. Something felt weird about this, Bart decided; Milhouse should have reacted by now, they should have moved on by now.

Come on, man. What the hell are you doing?

Bart, as a last resort, moved his hand gingerly and put it on top of Milhouse's. That strangled-sounding breath reached Bart's ears again, and he heard his friend's legs shift uncertainly, the short fingers trembling beneath his. Then Milhouse leaned his own head into Bart's, and Bart felt it.

Warm and butterflying in his chest was the feeling; fleeting and gentle and subtle, and it raced through his veins and pooled softly in his stomach. It was so brief; a split-second thing, like a funny thought that you could never remember later on. There one instant, gone the next, but it happened, and it scared him so badly that he pulled away himself, muttering, "hey man, I'm hungry, let's go see if Mom made cookies." He didn't look at Milhouse as he climbed awkwardly out of the treehouse, his face distantly warmed from that bizarre feeling that he himself had beckoned.

For that one, brief moment, he had wished that they could have stayed like that forever.

Jerking open the back door with shaking, sweaty hands, he ushered his best friend into the house and followed close behind, pausing for a moment to stare at the cheery blue sky and revel in the coolness of the air conditioning before he closed the door behind them and—he hoped—locked that mocking feeling outside forever.

The house smelled like oatmeal raisin.