The Concept of Love

A Jet Set Radio Future fanfiction by Bagatelle


His body is soft, warm against mine as he sleeps.

He's way, way taller than me, so we're in his bed: in his room, 'cause mine smells like dog and isn't as cool as his is, anyway. He's got posters strewn all over the place, up the walls and on the ceiling: hot chicks, fast cars, sweet underground bands that you only hear on Jet Set Radio. Piles of crinkled magazines on the floor, and his laundry in the corners: one pile clean, one dirty. Though I can't tell the difference from here. All his clothes look alike to me.

Not that I care or anything. I know he'd look good no matter what he wore.

His hand is flat against my pecs, almost feeling me breathe, inhale, exhale, the rise and fall of my chest as I lie sleepless next to him, wrapped in his shirt (oversized, on me). His palm is big—broad and flat, like a man's hand should be, I guess—and his fingers are thick, his knuckles round and bulging. But they're soft, all parts of him are soft, especially his hair, curling against the side of my face, close enough to smell, close enough to kiss. I breathe in its scent: it smells like sweat, a little, from his race this afternoon with Beat, and like his shampoo, which I know he only uses once a week, but I don't care. He can't afford to buy enough to use it more than that, 'cause he has to keep us all fed.

My hands, in contrast to his, are tiny, almost a knuckle and a half smaller than his, and he teases me for it all the time but I know he doesn't really mean it in a cruel sort of way. He's a little like my dad used to be, if I recall correctly: he always makes fun of me for being less manly than I should be, but he just does it 'cause he likes it when I pout. Dad, on the other hand, used to mock me constantly for being short, and for never picking up girls, and for having such little hands and little feet: never manly enough, I was never good enough for him, never good enough to be his son. Now, he—the man beside me—chides me for being careless, and for being slow, and for not having leg hair. Which he has an abundance of, might I mention? But he's different than Dad, 'cause he doesn't really mean it, while Dad always did.

That's one of the reasons why I left home, I guess. 'Cause I hated being picked on by my own dad so much. I hated not being good enough, like I wasn't worth caring about. Like I was some urchin, off the street, pretending like I had the same blood as him just so I could have a place to crash.

…Dad would ride my ass for this: for thinking that Tall and Blonde's body is soft, and for liking it as much as I do. For lying in bed beside another man. A man named after a vegetable, for Christ's sake. A man who just fucked me, hard, not six hours ago. Hell, I'm still wet from it. Still a little hot, too. Just a little. Dad would…no…he would hate me for this. For not being what I'm supposed to be. For not getting a girl who's as hot now as my mom was thirty years ago: before she rolled down the wrong path and wound up picking up a stray piece of ass. About fourteen years before she and Dad made shitty old-timey music together and came up with me, the forsaken child of a cynical conformist and a neo-hippie. I was expected to do great things, my dad told me when I was seven, as we drove away, moving to Tokyo-to and leaving my unfaithful Mom behind: I was gonna grow up, get a fine piece of ass, and continue our bloodline. 'Cause according to him, I was gonna do what I was supposed to do. That was the only purpose that I was to serve in his life. To let his name live on by marrying some numbskull who would probably end up cheating on me and getting knocked up by some other dude, anyway. He didn't care if my feelings got hurt. I guess 'cause real men aren't supposed to have feelings, or some horse shit like that.

…But hell, you know, ever since I was about eleven, I sort of stopped doing what I was supposed to do, anyway. 'Cause at that point, it had been four years since Mom made her mistake and Dad took me away, and I had been putting up with his bullshit for the entirety of those four years. Plus, then, it was only a few months post when I got my first pair of skates: bought with eight months of saved allowance, which was supposed to be used to take girls out. But hey, what can I say? The street called me, and so I went to it. Wound up here, five years later, age sixteen and seven months, with the GG's: the best family I've ever known. The only true family I've ever known, in my honest opinion.

Corn, still dreaming, lets out a long breath and sort of snorts a little in his sleep, and I glance over at him, see him lick his lips unconsciously. Ohhh, crimeny. His lips. Yeah, I could make fun of him for that, if I really, really wanted to piss him off. Soda does it all the time already, and Beat laughs at the jokes Soda makes. Rhyth laughs, too, which kinda pisses me off. I thought girls were supposed to feel more than guys did…? Be more sensitive and all that jazz? More compassionate? Bullshit. I've never seen her comfort Corn in all my life spent as a GG. She's too focused on me, wanting me, chasing me, though I'll never turn and go to her. She's the one my dad wanted me to get. Maybe not exactly the same, but still, I know she's hot, and I know she's about as air-headed as my mom was at sixteen. All of my dad's requirements have been met. But I don't want her. And Beat and everybody else is so confused about that, but I don't give a damn.

I know what I want out of life, and it's not what Dad chose for me.

…Crap, I thought off topic. Oh, yeah, his lips. Hell. Sweet fuckin' hell, I lust for his lips, even if he doesn't like them all too much anymore. He's really sensitive about them, like Soda's sensitive about his Jew nose (did I just think that?), and Beat's sensitive about his big ears, and I'm sensitive about how short I am. Everybody teases him about them, though not always to his face, which also pisses me off. It makes me kinda sad, too, 'cause I know what it does to him when he gets to thinking about them laughing behind his back about something he can't control in the slightest. He used to like his lips, you know? 'Cause he has his mom's lips. Probably the only thing he got from her, and now, he gets shit pushed in his face for it. He's still not exactly comfortable with kissing me, at first, but then he gets into it and he seems to forget himself, which I think is good for him. The guy needs a break from himself every once in a while, you know? Everybody does.

His hand twitches a little on my chest, tangling in his stolen shirt, and he grunts and turns his head so that it's facing the other way, and I get a faceful of that sinfully silken hair, freshly washed this morning. I incline my head toward his ceiling, staring at the posters of topless lady Rudies he's torn out from underground mags and hung all over the place. I could get turned on by that, I guess, if I thought hard enough about it. Hmmm. If not, I could fake it, and no one would ever know but me. I mean, that's kind of how this all started, anyway. I remember him showing me a magazine a while ago and asking me what I thought, and I guess I realized then that tits weren't really my thing. Of course I lied to him, I mean, I'm not that stupid: not even then, I wasn't. But then again maybe I was, 'cause he started inviting me in to jack with him over his girlie mags and I accepted his invites without thinking twice about what would be expected of me. So then, once I realized, and when I couldn't perform on cue, I started watching him out of the corner of my eye. That was the only way I could get it up, you know. Watching him, and his face, and his lips.

And imagining him looking that way 'cause of me.

Come to think of it, I don't really remember how we first hooked up. Maybe he was crooked from the start, you know? I think he just kinda caught me looking, one day, and he, being as weird as he is, asked me if I wanted to try something else and I agreed, of course, 'cause I had wanted it all along. Ohhh, crap. But I didn't know why, back then. I didn't understand why he would indulge me like that, after all those months of thinking he was straighter than a dollar bill.

…It's fine, now, though, so whatever. The point is…he shared girls with me, we shared boys with each other. Hahaha…that sounds so dirty. Well…I guess it is. But I was the only one he ever showed his magazines to, which I think must mean something positive. Maybe that he respects me more than I think he does. Or maybe that he thinks I'm special. Maybe he just did it 'cause he thinks I'm cute, like Rhyth does. And his crooked mind wanted to be more intimate with me. Can that be considered male bonding, though? Jackin' it together on the cold carpet of a room that smells like sweaty socks? I guess so. It was his idea of it, anyway. But I don't know. Maybe he was sneaking looks at me, too. Pretending, like me, all the time.

…No.

…No, that's not true, no matter how bad I wish it was. I know that he came before, and it had nothing at all to do with me. It was about Gum, I know. It started with the way he looked at her during one of our runs a long time ago. He kept staring up her skirt, watching her chest when she raced against Jazz along the rails. He wore his hat low that day, and when we were back in the garage that night, I remember passing by his room and hearing him choke:

"I'm gonna cum, Christ I'm gonna fucking CUM—!!!"

And then Gum, screaming. "You IDIOT!!!" she said, and I backed away from the door, in shock that I had heard such things. "You fucking IDIOT!!! Don't you DARE do this to me!!!"

And I heard him groan, like he does against my back, now, and I heard her shriek again and slap him, hard. She stepped out about a minute later, dressed, her hair a mess, and she stormed past me without even glancing in my direction. She never really gave much of a shit about me. And I guess, to her, Corn was just a quick fuck, 'cause he was usually horny back then, anyway. Maybe girls get horny, too, and they have a harder time 'cause they can't jack it. I don't know. I've never really thought about that.

Whatever the reason, though, Corn came, and Gum got really pissed at him for it. It took me a while to figure out why, mostly 'cause I guess I am pretty dumb, but also maybe 'cause I just didn't want to think she could have such cruel thoughts hidden in the back of her mind. Even though she can be a real bitch sometimes, I wanted to think that…she still had a warm, feeling heart. You know? She wanted to fuck him, to get her release, but she didn't want him to cum in her, 'cause…ugh, well, you know what that does to girls. At first I thought, you know, that was okay…I mean, who wants that? Who in their right mind wants a baby when they're still young enough to be a Rudie in a cool gang like the GG's? But then, I started thinking a little harder about it, and I thought it might have been 'cause she thought Corn wasn't good enough to be her baby's daddy. Or 'cause she thought…he was ugly.

'Cause since that one time, I've heard her with Beat, and he cums in her and she groans with him.

…I don't know. I don't think he's ugly, obviously. And if I were a girl, I'd probably like it if he knocked me up. 'Cause, I mean…out of all of us…he's definitely the most weathered, and the most able to be a good father. He takes care of all of us, after all. If one of us gets hurt during a run, it's Corn we go to for help wrapping our injuries. He calls to us if we start straying too far from the group, just to make sure we all stay together. He pays for our food out of pocket, 'cause he's the only one of us who has a job. There's no denying that he works hard to keep us all coming back to the garage, day after day, month after month. I don't think anybody's ever thanked him for that.

Damnit. He deserves to be thanked.

Christ, well, I guess that's my problem, though. Always thinking about what he deserves, but never really acting on any of it. Shit, I'm too shy around him, even now, to ever say anything relevant. I don't think he really cares too much about that, though. I mean…he likes me for what I've done for him…he likes me for being who I am, too, even though I'm pretty damn retarded more often than not. Maybe he needs that in his life, though. Some idiocy amongst the seriousness. He tries to act like a kid, but we all know that he's getting older. He's twenty, now, for God's sake. The oldest of us all. Which I guess is why he's the leader. The "leader". Beat kind of took that from him, didn't he? When Gum decided she wanted him instead. I guess that makes you leader material: getting the hot chick.

That's pretty bullshit, if you ask me. Beat's never worked a day in his life.

I'm cold, so I move over a little and press into him, and he grunts and rolls over again, wrapping himself around me, throwing the dirty sheet over me unintentionally. He's wearing underwear, like me, tired from us earlier. But we both decided not to sleep naked. That seemed creepy, for some reason. Hah. I have no idea. I feel the cotton of his shorts against my leg, and it makes me think of this. Of course, I've got one of his Rudie shirts on—got his name plastered over my chest—so…you know.

His body is lean and comforting against mine, and I kiss his lips and love how warm they are. I see him smile faintly in his sleep when I pull away. Christ, I hope that he's dreaming of me.

…His face is scary, a little, I suppose. Not ugly, hell no, nowhere near ugly. He hides half of it under his hat, though: his hair, his bright blue eyes, all of his personality. All you can see with it on are his nose and his mouth, which are covered in scars, and are without a doubt the scariest parts of him, especially when they're all that you can see. His skin, hell, most of his body is imperfect, like all of us are. Scars everywhere, from skin scraped off in years past. They decorate his nose, his arms, his legs, his chest. His nose is a little crooked, in fact, from falling off rails and breaking it so many times. I remember being there, once, when he did that. He was so humiliated. Not 'cause he had broken something, not even 'cause he was gushing crimson all over the sleeve of his jacket. It was 'cause he had fallen at all, and I guess he thinks that leaders aren't supposed to fall. I didn't care, though. Nobody did. We were all just worried 'cause he was hurt, which in turn made him pissed. He didn't want our sympathy. Not for falling. His face was red and I think he might have cried, a little. Maybe more 'cause he was pissed, though, than 'cause it hurt as much as it looked like it did.

He didn't want us to think he was weak, 'cause he needed our support when he was hurt. Shit. I hate that he thought like that. Problem is, I'm pretty sure he still does think that way, and there's next to nothing that I can do about it except silently hope that he feels better soon.

…I'm feeling kinda sad, now, thinking about him crying. Shit. He cried alone, then. Nobody who's surrounded by this many people that care about them should have to cry alone, and hold tissues against their own bloody nose while everyone else is off dancing and grooving to sweet tunes courtesy of DJ Professor K. Ugh, I feel like such an asshole for making him do that. He wouldn't give me a moment's peace, if I broke my nose: he'd be sitting in my room with me until it stopped bleeding, holding my bloody, snotty tissues in one hand, a box of fresh ones in the other. And after it stopped, he'd help me into bed, and he'd come back not two minutes later with painkillers and a bag of ice for me to rest against my hot, aching face. A part of me thinks that he'd talk to me until I fell asleep—not even make me talk back, just…talk, to give me something to listen to, something to keep my mind off of the pain—and then that he'd sit with me while I slept, in case I needed a different ice pack or more painkillers a few hours later.

Christ, he's so fuckin' good to me. I guess it means that he loves me or something. That's nice. Crap, that's really nice. Shit. I don't even know if my mom ever loved me, really. Since she never came after me or anything: never called me or wrote to me, never even tried to get custody of me again once Dad took me away. And Rhyth just has her crush on me…that's not real love, you know. That's bullshit girl love. Holding hands and shit, walks in the park, spending money on pointless things that she won't even remember in two weeks, you know…dumbass crap like that. That's not love: that's not hot animalistic kisses, and sweaty hair and frantic hands…that's not sitting together and talking about how shitty life is, and then fucking so you can both feel better about it. That's not sitting together on the couch and falling asleep on each other, and it's not waking up and finding out that your significant other drew happy faces on your ass with a permanent marker while you were asleep. And in regards to that, a crush is not getting your ass vandalized, then laughing with your other half about it. A crush is just some made-up thing that doesn't mean anything to me, or, really, to any other boy.

…But, seriously. Wow. I've never even thought about this. Just thinking all this time, I guess, that we were just doing this 'cause it felt good, and 'cause we're so human that we need to have sex to be whole, or some fucked up stuff like that. Never that we're so human that we need to love each other to be whole, 'cause that's not how human logic works.

Maybe Gum felt empty when she and Corn fucked. Maybe she just didn't love him, and she loves Beat, and that's why she lets Beat cum in her and doesn't get pissed to the extreme. I guess you could say it's the same way for me, only I love…

…I love Corn.

…That sounds weird. Kinda funny, actually. I love Corn. I've actually never eaten corn, you know? Not even popcorn. I've never even seen corn, in real life. In magazines, and on TV, yeah, maybe once or twice. But never in real life. There's city all around us, and I've never been in a supermarket. I'll bet Corn would get some for me if I asked him, though. But that sounds like such a stupid thing to ask, so it probably is stupid. I don't know. I have a hard time determining what's dumb and what isn't, so usually I say the dumb stuff without even realizing it, and then everybody laughs at me. But maybe I deserve to be laughed at. I mean, I've never seen corn before in my life. That's pretty wild, right? Pretty outrageous.

It'd be weird if I wound up eating it and not liking it. Or being allergic to it or some other weird shit like that. Part of me thinks Corn would laugh at me if that happened. That he'd laugh, and then he'd eat the corn himself. Cannibalism. Heh. Like Gum, chewing gum all the time. Like me, if I ever got a yo-yo. But that's kinky, Corn would say, and laugh some more. It's different, I guess, though I don't really understand why. I don't even know why it's kinky. It just is.

…He has pictures of us skating together—of all the GG's, having a good time—posted on the walls in the bare spots between the posters, held up by I'm guessing masking tape and thumbtacks and other nameless substances. I can barely see them in the dimness surrounding me, but I know they're there, 'cause I've seen them in the light. It gets really dark in his room. Huh. We always fuck in the dark. In the blackest part of his room, under his sheets, and sometimes he's still wearing his hat. Sometimes he lets me wear it, which I enjoy. It's warm and smells like him: like sweat and shampoo and man. Male pheromones, I guess it is. But damn, I only get that buzz from him. I wonder why. I wonder why he doesn't like me to see him naked.

Shit, even before we hooked up, I never saw his dick, even though we were pantsless more often than not when we were together in his room. He faced at an angle, away from me, just enough so that I couldn't see, but also just enough so that I could stare at the side of his face when he came. When his jaw quivered and his lips parted, and his eyes squeezed shut like someone had just shoved something hot into him. I saw his ass enough. Maybe that's why he's so self-conscious, though. He's really skinny. I think he told me once…a hundred and thirty pounds. And he's six-four. Six-four. I'm four-fuckin'-seven and I weigh a hundred and twenty-three, give or take a few pounds. He tells me he likes me this way, though. A little pudgy around the middle. But still, I mean, I can feel how angular he is when he rubs up against me—could count his ribs with my eyes closed, no problem. Is he disgusted by that? By the fact that he's bony? I hope not. I find it sexy, to be completely honest.

He could still move like a fucking cat if he weighed fifty pounds more. It doesn't matter how thin he is, or how fat, or how big his lips are. Christ, it's kinda concerning, thinking that he's worried about that sorta thing, 'cause he thinks I care.

…Of course I care, though, I mean…I'm glad that he is this way, after all. I'm glad he's skinny as a rail, and I'm glad his nose is crooked, and that his skin is scarred, and that his lips are full and sweet. 'Cause those are the things that make him beautiful, whether or not Gum or anybody else—even Corn himself—sees it like that. I care, just…not in the way that he thinks I do.

He trembled in his sleep just now, and I can see his eyebrows furrowing, his mouth clenching. Shit, is he having a nightmare? I don't want him to. I have them all the time, I know from experience how scary they can be. Fuck, his hands are cold, his face is flushing. Scared for him, I reach over, cup his hands in mine, hold them—freezing!—against my chest, try to warm them up. His chest heaves, spine bending, curling in on himself a little. What could he be dreaming about? I don't think he's ever told me one of his dreams, so I have no idea. Part of me wants to wake him up, but the rest of me knows how pissed he'd get if I stirred him before nine in the morning. It's well before three, right now. Nowhere near his time.

Corn always gets up at nine. Most of us sleep until at least eleven, or even 'til noon. He goes out, though, that's why he needs to get up earlier. He goes shopping for frozen pizzas and bagel bites and Hot Pockets, and medical supplies and, every now and then, maybe a new piece of clothing for one of us: a special treat from the father figure. It's me a lot, though. I get a lot of gifts from him. I have a few extra pullovers that he's gotten for me, and some other sunglasses. Not that I don't like them or anything—I do—but nobody else knows we're like this with each other, so I can't exactly wear them around. People would get suspicious. I wear my ratty, dirty blue one that I stole about three years ago all the time, and everyone else looks at me and laughs, but it's better than the other kind of laughter.

I go out with Corn sometimes, but I never go into the grocery store with him. I guess I should: I mean, it'd be good for me, to actually see some vegetables…some corn, cucumbers, tomatoes…shit, I'd love to see a strawberry. I've tasted those before, in a snow cone, and they're good. I don't know. Maybe I'm afraid to go in there. It's like conformity, or something: giving your money to a corporation, buying its sinful products. Even though I know, we have to eat to survive. Still, though, I don't go in.

Actually, you know…thinking about it…I guess I don't go in because it'd feel like some sort of date, or something, if we went in together. I don't know…but…Corn just doesn't seem like the kind of person who'd take his love interest out on dates. I guess it's 'cause I've been with him like this for so long, and 'cause I've known him for longer…but…the thought of going in there with him is just kinda awkward. Like people would stare at us, and know that we're…ugh, I can't even say together, it just doesn't seem right. Like…they'd know that we've fucked, or something. They'd see the dirt, I guess. And if he goes in alone, he knows that he's gonna be safe. So I do my part while he's inside: I stand around the front entrance and people throw change at me 'cause they think I'm a vagabond. I give it to Corn when he comes back out, and he saves it in his pockets so he can buy more food, and more shampoo, 'cause I love that smell. He never laughs at me for giving him change. I guess maybe he thinks I'm a vagabond, too, 'cause my pullover is so shitty. Maybe that's why he buys me new ones. Or maybe it's just 'cause he loves me or something.

I do wear the pullovers he buys for me. I wear them when we're alone in the garage: when we can sit together, close, and watch television, and he lets me lean into him and he wraps his arm around me, squeezing me, like if he's not holding on tight like that, I'll float away or something. I get his smell all over them, and then I sleep in them, curled in against myself and loving how safe I feel. They're like baby blankets, to me. 'Cause I mean, we don't get to do this all the time, so I have to compensate for it more often than not by bringing little pieces of him to bed with me.

He let me sleep in his jacket, once. I drooled on it and he got pissed and took the jacket back.

…Oh. He stopped cringing. But he still looks uneasy. Ugh, I hate the thought of him having a bad dream. 'Cause he won't tell me what it was, even if he does remember it in the morning. Which I know is weird, 'cause he tells me most things that happen to him. He's told me a little about his life before the GG's: cute stuff about when he was younger, like about how his mom—his mamma—gave him his nickname. His real name is Cornelius. Cornelius Pennington.

"What the hell kind of mother names her son Cornelius?" he asked me, frowning. I said nothing, 'cause I think Cornelius is a wonderful name. It's better than mine, anyway At least his sounds regal. Cornelius Pennington. Cornelius-motherfuckin'-Pennington. I could say that all day and never get tired of it. My name, you say it once and you think of shit: you get a bad taste in your mouth. Sebastian Brown. Ugh. That's the worst color. It's not even really my first name that bothers me so much, I guess: it's more just the last name. Brown. Christ, I can't think it without wanting to hurl. Cornelius Pennington, Cornelius Pennington, Cornelius Pennington…gotta wash the shit outta my mind, now. Cornelius, Cornelius, Cornelius…Cornelius Pennington. I swear to God. That name is like…like putting butter and sugar on a slice of bread and eating it. Pennington,Pennington, Cornelius PenningtonSebastian Pennington, Cornelius and Sebastian Pennington…ohhh, man, butter and…

…Umm…

…Yeah…uh…so anyway, that's his name. You can get "Corn" already, from the beginning of that, but he said that when he was little, corn was the only vegetable he would eat. Hence, his nickname. I find that endearing. I like to think of him when he was younger: little Corn, pre-skates Corn, before he got his hat and started hiding himself behind it. He blushed when I told him how cute I thought he must have been. He told me all little kids are cute, so their parents don't kill them when they fuck up. I laughed at first, but then he was quiet, so I sort of faded out and we just sat there together for a while, solemn.

Shit, he told me his dad used to sing him lullabies. Even, all the way up to when he was almost a teenager. Before…before the accident. His parents died in a car crash when he was twelve, you know. Ugh, it must've been awful. They loved him so much. He spent four years in an orphanage before he ran away and went out to start a gang of Rudies, and I know he hated it there. He's told me stories about why some of his scars look less natural than others do, and I believe each and every word he says to me. He also told me that for a few years, he had to sing to himself—had to remember his dad's voice, shaping the words—before he could get to sleep. I cried, thinking about that.

I remember I asked him to sing to me once, and he called me a shithead and slapped me. It was kinda insensitive, though, so I guess I deserved it.

It still hurt, though. Still left a mark.

…He asked me once where my nickname came from, and I told him to guess. He said it was 'cause, even though I run away a lot, I always, always come back. It was true, you know. He's smart like that. My dad used to call me Yoyo, just like his mom used to call him Corn. I would run away, try to find Mom when Dad would hurt me, but I would always be back home the next day, 'cause I was hungry or cold, or just too scared to be out on the streets by myself. Saying "yo!" a lot just kind of came to be after I started out on the streets for real and was looking for a gang. I don't think that way, most of the time. If I'm talking to somebody, I do, but…like, right now…I haven't thought yo except for twice, now. Just considering it. It'd get kinda annoying, to think it all the time. I get tired of saying it, sometimes, but Corn smiles when I say it, so I do it for him. 'Cause I like him smiling, even if it's 'cause he's laughing at me.

His hands clench around mine in his sleep, prompted by some sub-conscious need, and I turn to look at him again. His hair is falling in front of his left eye, the right exposed, yet gently shut. My eyes trace down his cheek, over his jaw, his neck, the angles of his shoulder and back. My lips have met all of these places. It's hard to ever look at them, though, 'cause it's always so damn dark in here, and he never takes his shirt off when the lights are on. He won't let me call him handsome, 'cause he says I can't make that judgement if I've never seen him naked before. I guess it's 'cause he has some kinda complex going on, where he doesn't want to be complimented about anything save his skills as a Rudie, 'cause…I guess he thinks he doesn't deserve it…? I don't know. Ugh, it's probably 'cause he's heard everyone else, whispering behind his back. It's gotten worse since Beat took over the spotlight again, too. Everyone is more relaxed, now, and they think they can get away with it…which they do, 'cause Corn never confronts them about it. He tries to act like he doesn't hear it, but then things like this happen between me and him, and I can tell that he's really, really hurt by it. That's why I tell him that he's handsome. But he brushes it off, like he doesn't think that I actually mean it, and his eyes get cold and he doesn't look at me again until I kiss him and tell him that I want him to fuck me.

I do mean it. I think it all the time: whenever he smiles at me, whenever he laughs…whenever I get to see his eyes, shimmering, blue, so blue, like the sky used to be here in Tokyo-to. Whenever he's asleep, like now, and I start wishing that everyone else would respect him more. He's always handsome. Always has been. Always will be.

…I glance over and catch the sight of a red pullover on the floor—mine, one of his gifts. I was wearing it yesterday, 'cause like I said, we were alone in the garage and I didn't have to stand the risk of somebody asking me why I was wearing something Corn had bought for me. They would ask—they'd be curious—'cause nobody else ever wears the clothes that he buys for them. They all shoplift if they want something. I guess it's 'cause he never seems to bring back anything that they like, but still, it's kind of tough for me, 'cause I want to show him that I appreciate him spending his hard-earned money on me, but I hardly ever get the chance to. I don't know. Maybe I could start wearing two pullovers, or maybe I could lie to everyone else about where they came from. I doubt they'd believe me, though. I haven't shoplifted in years. If I did, I would brag about it.

We were alone yesterday 'cause everybody else wanted to go out and hit the streets. I'm not saying that we didn't want to go, but if everybody else in the garage is leaving, both of us will usually want to stay behind so that we can have our time together. Nobody ever catches that hint, I guess. They just think that he's being moody, and I'm being a poor sport, 'cause I never win any races or contests or anything that we have together. They let us alone, which is pretty much the best thing they can do for us, so I guess it doesn't really matter what they think.

Once they were gone, he went to make us dinner, and I went and changed into the red pullover, just 'cause. He made macaroni out of a box, which I don't really like but which I ate anyway, 'cause I don't dare ever to complain. He only ever makes dinner for me, after all. With everyone else here, it's always takeout or delivery. I guess 'cause it's more romantic if he makes it for me and sits with me, watching me while I eat. No, it is more romantic. It is. He does a good job of setting the atmosphere, which is good, 'cause he's not exactly the best cook in the world (hence, stuff outta boxes and cans is the best I can expect from him). Which is okay, I mean, I burn Hot Pockets when I make them, and there's fuckin' instructions right on the box. What kind of an idiot burns Hot Pockets? I mean, Christ, how stupid can you get?

…I also don't complain because…some deep part of me thinks that he's getting tired of the GG's, but I hate to ever admit to myself that he might be having that thought. Still, though, I think he might be considering leaving us, soon. 'Cause it's not like it used to be: where everyone was cool with each other, and nobody dared to front Corn, and everybody respected him 'cause they accepted the fact that he was the oldest, so he was the boss, and he was in charge. Christ, though, we all got so cocky, especially Soda and Beat. Well, actually, Soda's always been kinda rough around the edges…but, I mean, Beat used to be cool, and he used to really seem like he understood exactly what everyone else needed to get through tough situations. He's like a lot of the rest of us, you know: came from a broken home, I guess you could say. Of course, everyone always thinks they have it the worst…but I know Beat had it as hard as the rest of us. His dad blamed him for what happened to his mom, after all. Dying while she pushed him out. That's such shit, and I feel bad for him…but still, you know, that doesn't give him the right to be an asshole. Since he hooked up with Gum, he's been prancing around the garage like he owns the place, and I know it really gets on Corn's nerves, even though he's way over Gum. It really bums me out, thinking about him leaving. I don't know what I'd do if I woke up one day and he was gone.

…Maybe he'd tell me, though. Maybe he'd let me go with him. I don't know. I can't say for certain. I mean, the guy doesn't even trust me enough to believe me when I tell him that I find him attractive. Why the hell would he bother to drag my stupid ass along with him on his exodus?

God, I don't want him to leave. I remember thinking that even yesterday, while we sat on the couch in front of the television and ate our macaroni, watching public service announcements and mindless TV dramas. He let me sit close to him, like he does when we're alone, and leaned his head on mine when I pressed into his shoulder: grabbed folds of his jacket, felt him squeeze my shoulder with his big hand, running his thumb over the embroidered sleeve of the pullover. We sat there, like that, for about an hour, neither of us paying any heed to the TV. Then he reached under my arm and started touching my nipple through the fabric, and I shuddered and felt that rush only he can give me. My nips got hard and my balls started aching, and above me he kissed my hair and told me we should go to his room. We went, and we made out for a while in the dark, me reveling in his lips and the feeling of his fingers pinching at my nipples, making me flush and get a hard on. He had some music on, soft trance with a steady beat, and he kissed down my chest and licked my navel, whispered words, dirty things to me. He talks dirty to me all the time, in a low, careful voice, and it's scary and exciting at the same time: sends my blood pulsing through me, makes me want to feel him closer to me. Oh, God, yeah. Then he got undressed: peeled his shirt off, kicked his pants away, and I grabbed him, damn, 'cause he's so beautiful, even when I can't see him. He grabbed me back, threw me onto his bed, and it was just us, alone with the steady beat of the trance music.

…Sometimes I really wonder, you know, what everybody else would say if they ever found out that we fuck each other like this: whenever they leave us in the garage, whenever everyone else is sound asleep and neither of us wants to sleep alone that night. I think to myself that they'd laugh, and be disgusted, and hammer us with insults and the like. It makes me sad, 'cause sometimes it hurts so bad to keep myself from hugging or kissing him when they're around that I want to cry. But hell, if he holds it back, I suppose I can, too. Even though I'm nowhere near as strong as he is.

Shit.

I shudder and roll back over, to face him once more. Oh, crimeny! He's awake.

And he's smiling.

"…What's the matter, kid?" he asks, his voice soft, just like the rest of him. Ohhh. "Can't sleep?"

"Yo, I haven't yet. Gotta calm down, yo. You know what I'm sayin'?" I reply, smiling back.

He nods, grins. "What time is it?"

"Around five, yo, I think."

"Hmmm."

He's quiet for a while, staring at me, then he sits up and pushes his hair out of his face, scratching his neck as he yawns. "…Well…I don't have work today, soooo…I guess…what do you wanna do? You wanna go out?"

I blink. "And do what, yo? It's still dark out."

"We could roll for a while. And who cares? It's sweet when it's dark. We can go to that snow cone place you like up in the Heights," he suggests, sliding out of bed and walking across the room to his apparently clean clothes. I can just see the outline of his almost-naked, lanky figure in this light, and I beam to myself. "…Or we could catch a movie or something, I dunno. It's what you want, today, kid."

"Why?" I demand, furrowing my eyebrows at him before I get up myself and head over to where my clothes from yesterday are still strewn all over the floor. He shrugs, staring at me as I pull his shirt off and toss it into his pile of dirty laundry.

"Eh. I guess 'cause you've been cool to me lately."

I'm so damn confused. "What does that mean?"

He laughs and pulls some pants on, zipping them up over his bony hips and searching through the pile for a shirt he likes. "Just what I said. You know what I mean, Yoyo." No, actually, I honestly don't. But at this point, it's a lost cause. He pulls on yet another of his custom yellow Rudie shirts, with his name ironed onto the front in big red letters. Then he blinks over at me, watching me pull my shorts on. "…You forgot to say 'yo', by the way."

"Yo, my bad," I mumble, and he laughs again, under his breath. "…I dunno. It's too early, yo, I'm too tired to roll right now."

"I'll chain with you."

Damn him. I look up at him when I've got the red thing on around my neck and I'm putting my arms through the sleeves: see him moving closer to me, pulling his jacket on. He stops and flattens his hair with his fingers before he shoves his hat on, and he looks at me through the visor and watches me pout at him, loving it.

"…I can't find my glasses, yo."

"It's still dark out."

"Yo, it ain't about the light. It's about comfort, yo, and feeling complete." I hesitate. "…And matching this shirt."

He smiles and shakes his head, goes to pull his skates out from under his bed. I fumble around on the floor, searching, and I can feel his eyes on me from over by the bed, watching me struggle. "…Hey…kid, why don't you turn the light on?"

I sigh, shake my head. "…'Cause you don't like me to look at you," I murmur, the words automatic. A moment later, I realize how cold that sounds, and I get up and turn the goddamn light on, staring at him buckling his skates. I can't see his fuckin' eyes, and I hate it. Jesus Christ. I walk over to him and kneel beside him, wait for him to finish what he's doing. God, he probably thinks I'm an asshole like the rest of them, now. My mouth trembles, terrified. Ugh, I'm pathetic.

His lips tense. "…What, so, you think I don't have any self-esteem?" he breathes. "Is that it?"

"No…no, Corn…yo, I think you're content with yourself…"

"Well good!" he snarls. "'Cause I fuckin' am! I just don't want you looking at me like you think I'm hideous and fuckin' that up!"

…Shit.

…Oh, shit, I'm gonna start crying. Ohhhh…come on…not now…ugh…! Fuck, fuck, fuck…! He's staring at me through that visor, I can feel it. Watching me snivel and fail to keep my lips from shaking."…I…I w-wouldn't, yo…Corn…Corn, I l-love you…I wouldn't f-fuck with you like th-that…Christ, yo, I just…I just want you to t-trust me, yo…"

He turns his head away, his mouth a thin line, staring at his skates. I crawl away, looking for my glasses, and I find them beside one of his magazines. I put them on and sit there, rubbing at my face, hating myself for being so stupid. It's like I said, you know…I really can't tell what's dumb and what isn't, so I always say the dumb crap before I know whether I should or not. I always screw things up like this. And it's complete shit, 'cause I really can't handle something like this right now: him being mad at me, him thinking that I don't care for him anymore.

…Christ, I just realized that I've never said that to him before. I love you. And I just said it. Just now. Without even thinking.

He lets out a long, affected sigh. "…Are we gonna go, then?" he asks me, his voice like velvet again. "You want a snow cone, Yoyo?"

I sniffle and get up when I feel his hands on my shoulders, squeezing, reassuring. "…Y-yeah…" I mumble. He hugs me tight into his chest, so damn forgiving, and leads me out of his room. His wheels are smooth on the floor, so quiet when we go down the hall to my room, where my skates are waiting to be put on.

…I chain with him, like he offered: not really 'cause I'm tired…mostly 'cause I just wanna feel him holding my hand while he leads me through the city, kinda slow on the sidewalks, skipping all the sweet rails for my tired ass's sake. It's a little cold out, 'cause the sun hasn't been out in so long, and the wind tears at my face even when we go through alleyways, so I have to put my hood up. I've never been out at this time before. It's a new experience, suitable I suppose 'cause it's being shared with Corn. It's fun even though I'm exhausted, and when we get to the snow cone shop, it isn't open yet but I don't care 'cause he kisses me in consolation.

"You wanna wait two hours for a snow cone?" he asks me, dead serious. I shake my head.

"I need caffeine, yo. I'm gonna pass out and you're gonna have to carry me home if I don't get some soon, yo," I respond. He smiles, gentle. I hope he's forgotten our little spat.

"What's your pleasure? Coffee, pop, tea?"

"Some pop, yo," I plead. "I'll share with you, yo, if you want."

"You don't have to."

We head for the grocery store, still chaining, and there's nobody outside, but I still pull back when we reach the doors. It's not a fuckin' date.

But he looks at me funny. "Come inside," he tells me, like he's shocked that I still want to stay out here. I return his funny look.

"Why?" I ask. He pushes his hat back and stares at me with those big blue eyes.

"…'Cause I don't want you to fall asleep out here on the cement," he says. But it sounds so clear, so honest while I'm looking into his eyes. My knees buckle, affected, and I have to skate toward the door real quick after it happens to hide it. He saw it, though, 'cause he smiles and swats my ass when I skate by. "You little douche," he says, laughing at the yelp I let out when he hits me, and at the way I blush and rub my stinging rear.

…I know it might not be a big deal for anyone else in the universe, but…the supermarket. Holy mother of God. From the moment we roll in, I'm awestruck. The tiles are big and slick, freshly waxed, wonderful for our skates, and the lighting is dim, the entire place flooded with rich, warm colors that just make me feel right at home. We skate together through an entire aisle full of milk and cheese and yogurt and butter and ice cream, and my head is spinning already. I've never seen so much food stockpiled in one place in all my life. Steaks and hams and frozen peas, squash and carrots, cookies, chips in cans, beans, mustard, bottles of water and pop, coffee beans, tea bags, boxed rice, pizza bagels, potatoes, popsicles, cakes, bread, doughnuts, fruit…! Christ, it's insane! My mouth is watering, and we have to go slow past everything to take it all in. He watches me as we do, amazed by my reaction, amused when I pick something up to look at it and then so quickly move on to the next thing, spouting nonsense and asking questions about each thing.

"Hey, wow, ohhh, they still make these? Yo, I used to eat these when I was a little fucker!"

"Mmm-hmm. Me, too."

"…Ah, yo, check this out! Ugh! Yo, who the hell would eat that?!"

"I dunno, kid."

"Hmmm…oh…yo, Corn, what's a Calorie?"

"…I dunno."

"…Sodium?"

"That's like salt, kid."

"Oh. Hey, what's cholesterol, yo?"

"…That's the shit that gives you heart attacks."

"…Ohhh. Eww, shit, yo, that's nasty. Why would you eat something that had heart attack shit in it, yo?"

"I dunno. 'Cause you're hungry? Or 'cause you don't care, I guess."

"…"

"…I seriously don't know, kid. Don't look at me like that."

"…Jesus, you're smart, Corn."

…He grabs me a bottle of grape pop when we're in the soft drink aisle, but we continue our weave through the store, me staring at and drooling over everything I see. I stop for a long time in the produce section, looking with glazed eyes at the strawberries, the oranges, the tomatoes, the cucumbers…the corn. Hah! He's probably laughing at me, but I think that it's beautiful. Jesus, I've never seen anything that looked so perfect in all my life. It's on sale, too: five pieces for a dollar. He watches me stare at it for the longest time, watches me touch it, smell it, flash grins at him, and then—to humor me, I suppose—he grabs a bag and drops about ten of them in there, giving it to me to hold while we skate toward the registers. Holy hell, I've got a bag full of real-life corn! I'm seriously the happiest boy alive.

He pays and we sit outside on the cold curb with the grape pop and the corn, me sipping at the bottle, him staring off into the distance at the sun beginning to climb over the horizon. The parking lot is cracked, almost void of cars, covered in bird shit and dried gum and litter and gasoline stains. Sitting here with Corn, though, it's gorgeous, like the Grand Canyon of Tokyo-to: majestic and fantastic, something I'll never forget. He flips his visor up and looks over at me, watches me drink the pop and bob my head to some imaginary beat. His hands are gripping the curb, hard.

"…Does it bother you?" he asks, quiet, sad. I look at him in semi-surprise, pull the pop away from my mouth and meet his gaze.

"What, yo?"

He furrows his eyebrows, frowning. "…That I don't…like you to look at me…?"

I blush and set the pop down, afraid I might spill it. "…I…yo, Corn, I mean, I wish you would…you know…yo, it's just, we've been…doing this for a long time, yo, and I thought you might…you might trust me or something, yo, maybe to be telling the truth about you being…yo…y-…you know…"

He bites his lip and keeps staring at me, and it's a little unsettling to have all that pressure on me. I keep looking back, though, 'cause I hardly ever get to see his eyes, and those precious instances are few and far between. Then he lowers his head—ashamed?—and sighs. "…I'm not, though. I'm not. You just think that 'cause…well, 'cause you're you, and you're shit-crazy like that."

Well, he doesn't have to believe me, then, even though he should, 'cause I know what I'm talking about. He could be nice, you know, and fuel my delusion. That'd be probably the coolest thing anybody's ever done for me. I don't say any of this, though, 'cause I don't wanna sound greedy or selfish or anything. It's more about him at this point, anyway: about him being too sensitive to trust me. Christ, and I thought he was strong, you know…? Obviously, though, he needs even more support than I do. That's really upsetting. I can't be the strong one. I don't have enough balls.

"Yo, you want me to tell you I think you're ugly, then, yo?" I ask, the words soft, so as not to hurt him. He pinches the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb.

"…I don't want you to be upset about this," he mutters. "I mean, obviously it's not cool…if it makes you that mad, you know, mad enough to say shit like that…and, like, to judge me…shit, it's just not gonna work."

I blink at him. "…Yo, I just wanna know why you don't believe what I say, yo, but when everybody else starts talkin' shit, you listen. You get me, right, yo? I mean, yo, Corn, it's like you want an excuse to be distant or something."

His eyes are wide when he looks back up at me, and the sun is playing off of his thin face like goldenrod. I stare back, 'cause it's all I can do. He takes his hat off, and his hair flutters, messy, like strands of gold in the wind. "…What, then?" he asks me, his voice choked. "…If I show you…if I let you see me without a shirt on…will you feel better?" I want to say yes, but I just nod, 'cause it seems more sincere. He gives me his hat, and when I put it on my own head, pull the flaps tight down over my ears, he kisses my cheek. "…All right. Christ, Yoyo, all right."

He gets up and takes his jacket off, throwing it to me, still facing away from me as he grabs the bottom of his shirt and starts tugging it up over his torso. I wrap his jacket around my shoulders, careful to look at every new inch of skin granted to me, and I see all the ribs I've counted nameless times, his spine, his shoulder blades, his toned arms, the sag of his pants. He shudders and turns around, holding his shirt tight in his clenched fist, and he's flushed and shaking a little when he looks at me again. Why is this so hard for him…? There's nothing, nothing at all wrong with him. His chest starts to heave when my eyes run over his figure, taking in the vague strength of his pecs, his broad shoulders, the blonde hair around his navel that leads down into his pants, almost like an arrow. His nipples are hard from the cold. Christ, and he's flawless.

I shiver, and he rips his shirt back on, his face beet-red and terrified. He skates back over to the curb and sits, and I give him his jacket back but withhold his hat, watching how flustered he is in very rampant confusion. I have no idea what he thinks could possibly be the matter with him. And I tell him this, even though it makes him hide his face in his hands and shake his head.

"…I knew you would do this…shit, Yoyo, I can tell you're lying…fuck, I can't believe I just did that…"

…I wonder, watching him tremble and curl in on himself, if he thinks he's such a terrible sight 'cause of something that Gum did. Maybe he had the same thoughts that I did, though, you know? Maybe he wanted to be a dad, and it cut him up real bad 'cause she thought he wasn't pretty enough to get her pregnant. Like he didn't deserve it, or something. What a bitch. What a fucking bitch she is. I could punch her for this. Start a fuckin' fight with a girl, scare the hell out of her and everyone else, 'cause they need to get shaken up and put back in their places. Christ. I could kill them for doing this to him. For making him so unstable. 'Cause God knows he never used to be like this. He used to spit on cops and push people out of his way, and he'd break somebody's arm if they so much as thought shit about him. He could just tell, you know? He could just tell that they were stepping off.

And people used to respect him for that.

My knuckles clench at my side, aching, burning. Shit, I don't want him to be like this. I want him to be bold, and pissed, and strong, and to know that he's sexy and flaunt it, like he used to before Gum fucked it up.

I grit my teeth and punch him in the face, my eyes stinging.

"Goddamnit, Corn, don't be such a pussy!" I spit. He falls over, unprepared for the blow, and stares up at me through his bangs, wide-eyed, shocked. I push the words out through threatening tears. "Yo, you never used to be such a coward! You used to take assholes down, yo, if they just looked at you funny! You used to moon the Rokkaku, yo, and race all-out against girls, and if they still beat you you'd give 'em respect, yo, 'cause you knew it was all about skill, and honoring Rudies for who they were, not what they were! It's still about that, yo! Still about respect, for yourself, yo, and for everybody else! Yo, it ain't about pride, or feeling sorry for yourself, yo, 'cause that shit gets in the way, and fucks damn good Rudies like you up! It s-screws the rest of us over when people who don't deserve to be on top step on the backs of people like you, yo, 'cause you lost faith in yourself over some race, or some girl, or some spill you took. N-nobody's fuckin' perfect, yo. Nobody's ever gonna be the best. You gotta accept that and move on, yo, 'cause you're the only thing h-holding the GG's together right now, you know? You gotta say 'screw that' and just learn to l-love yourself again, yo, like your cocky ass used to when you were eighteen and I f-first met you. You gotta push people over and smack 'em in the face if they're being shitheads, and get 'em back to w-where they belong, yo. F-f-fuck, Corn…" I lose steam here, can feel my face burning with tears. He's still staring at me, still down on the cement, though he starts to get up when I hesitate. "…I j-just want it to be…like it used to be. I j-just want it to be cool, yo, and fun, and not about all this b-bullshit anymore. Yo, I want S-Soda to shut up about you, and somebody to kick B-Beat in the balls…and yo, Corn, I w-want you to understand the concept of l-love, for once in your life…kuh-'cause I love you…and I want you to know w-what that m-means…"

He stares at me, his eyes huge, his face puffy where my fist kissed him. Then I see fire blaze deep down in him, furious, an eruption, and he lunges at me and grabs my throat tight between his palms, squeezing hard and rolling with me down off of the curb and into the parking lot. The open bottle of pop falls over and spills on the sidewalk, two dollars wasted. He screams at me and shakes me, his hands clenched around my neck, cutting off air. I claw at his hands and kick at him, shrieking back, but my feet are heavy 'cause of the skates and I can't hit him. He takes his hands off, knowing my limit when I start gasping for air, and he lets me breathe. Then he punches me in the eye, breaking my glasses in half, and he smacks them off with his open hand and punches me again, in the teeth, and then a third time on the side of my face. All while he's beating me, he's snarling indiscernible things at me and crying, crying like a motherfucker. Shit, I can feel his tears, falling on my throbbing face, and they hurt more than his strikes did. I sob and lay still, knowing that I can't possibly win against him from this position—from any position—and he looks down at me, wipes his nose, his jaw quivering. He's sitting on my stomach, looming over me, but he slides down my body and falls into me, kissing my bruising face and my bleeding lips and sobbing apologies, crying like I've never seen him before. He knows he's weak, he tells me. He knows he needs to grow some balls again and start taking charge, like he used to. He sits up and pulls me up with him, holding me into him with shaking arms and resting his face in the crook of my neck, where the hood of the red pullover is now torn and stained with grime and blood and soda pop. It hurts, it hurts so bad to be here right now. And yet, at the same time, it feels so good to have his arms around me, still supporting me, still loving me.

It's like I matter.

And to matter this much, to him, is like heaven to me.

…The sunrise is making everything pink and yellow, soft and beautiful, just like him, all around us. He holds me and cries, and I sniffle and sputter, trying to act like I'm less of a pussy than I actually am. The bag of corn survived our fight, luckily, but the pop is long gone, its trail of violet residue marking a path from the sidewalk down into the lot and descending a sewer opening. I want to fall asleep, right here, in his arms, warm in all these layers of clothing, my elbows skinned and bleeding, my throat aching, my face pulsing. It can't be more than fifty degrees, but it's so warm here with him, guarded by his tall, lean figure. I could pass out from exhaustion and make him carry me home, like I joked earlier, and I honestly doubt that he would mind at all. Ugh…I don't want to burden him like that, but damnit, my legs hurt, and my eyes…I don't know if I could make it all the way back to the garage, even if we did chain. I'm burning all over. I just want to sleep.

He holds my pounding head in his hands and sighs, sniffs, composing himself like men do. He strokes my hair—it's softer than his, I guess, but only 'cause I use more conditioner—and nuzzles my forehead, sets me back down on the curb and tells me he needs to take a run around the lot to cool off before we head home. He kisses my bloody mouth and speeds off, and the minute he rounds the first light post I crawl down the path of pop and vomit into the sewer opening. It's not much, just the pop I drank just now, but it's still horrible, and I start crying all over again 'cause it's just that bad. My constitution is too weak for something like this: fighting with him, having him beat me and yell at me like that. Christ, I've never seen him quite like that before, and before all this, when I used to see him get pissed about something, it was never directed at me. It's different, now, and it hurts more 'cause we're in this 200-mile-an-hour relationship. I'm sick now 'cause I'm thinking about him leaving, again, and leaving me behind, all 'cause of this. I would kill myself if he left me behind. Goddamnit, I would die without him there to prop me up.

I choke and gag and spit into the sewer, struggling to get it out before he comes back and finds me like this. I don't want him to know that this is making me sick. I don't want to ask him if he really is thinking about leaving us, 'cause I might find out that he is, and my heart would break. So I sit up and get back onto the curb, wiping my mouth on my glove and sitting stiff on the concrete, scanning the lot for him, ripping around parking spaces and grinding on the rails of the shopping cart returns. I realize when I see him that he left his hat here with me, and I gently pick it up in my shaking hands, staring at the cracked visor in quiet contemplation. I grab the bag of corn, toppled over beside me, and pull it closer so that I can feel it against my hip. I want to go home and sleep with him. No, I mean, not in that sense…just…literally. Fall asleep beside him in his bed, like I should have last night. Maybe he'll let me take a nap in there while he reads his magazines or something. It's inconspicuous if the lights are on and the door is cracked, especially when everyone else is awake. Nobody ever comes by his room anymore but me, anyway. Nobody cares but me.

…I guess I nod off or something, 'cause the next thing I know is that he's shaking me gently, urging me to stand up and taking his hat out of my hands. I let go sleepily and hand him the bag of corn when he asks for it, and he kisses me hard for a moment before he pulls away and takes my hand, guiding me up and away from the store. I hope he couldn't taste that I threw up just now, but I'm too tired to really do anything about it, so I guess it doesn't matter. He loves me again, that's all that's important.

The run back to the garage seems shorter than the run up into the Heights, though that's probably just 'cause I'm so far out of it this time. He chains with me all down the hallways and helps me out of my skates when we get back to my room: watches me yawn and fall back on my bed, too tired even to get undressed. He strips my pullover off for me and throws it into a corner: takes my gloves off, sets the remains of my glasses on my table. Pots yawns in the corner near where my pullover landed and watches us for a minute, then gets bored and falls asleep again. I blink up at Corn, struggling to stay awake, and he gently smoothes my hair and looks down at me through his bangs, his eyebrows furrowed.

"…Yo, Corn…I think…I think that you're a better leader than Beat, yo. And I think you could get them to respect you again, if you really tried, yo," I say quietly, yawning even while I'm saying it. "'Cause I mean, you're really smart, yo. Smarter than anybody else here."

He smiles.

"You're just saying that 'cause you're my bitch," he murmurs, and I laugh. He kisses my chest and kneels beside my bed, watching me close my eyes, and he whispers words, sweet things to me, with his hand clasped around mine. He tells me that he loves me, he loves me so fucking much…that he'll never ever leave me, and damnit, I believe him. There are hot tears in my eyes, but they're happy tears, I know. Happy that he loves me, happy that I'll never be alone again.

…He sings some nameless song to me until I fall asleep, like his dad used to do for him, and my heart is full and aching for him.