Notes: Okay. First and foremost, I was too lazy to ground this solidly in the canon timeline. Chapter one probably starts after Episode 14, I guess? I dunno. Doesn't matter so much, really.
There seems to be some confusion even on the all-knowing Internet about whether Joey and Psy are in middle school or high school. The manga is set in middle school, but the anime...? There is some room for debate there – and this story is anime-based, so for purposes of this fic, we're going to roll with early high school. "Early" as in just-slightly-out-of-shota range, haha... Also, naming their school 'Center City Central High' is a joke because I couldn't figure out what their school is really called.
Psy is a lot more complicated to write than I thought. I hope the whole premise fits him adequately, because it does do a bit of stretching with his character right off the bat. Did my absolute best to not let it slide over into genuine OOC, but... well, you'll be the judge.
I don't hate Lina. For a blond, pretty cheerleader there's a surprising amount to like about her, and how Joey feels is pretty unavoidable canonically speaking. There may even be Joey x Lina in the continuations of this fic someday. But Psy x Joey will always be the main focus.
Okay. Heroman fic, GO!
The Best Laid Plans: Learning
By Akaitsuru RedCrane
Psy knew he was not exactly the most calculating of people, or even all that good at thinking ahead half the time. His emotions tended to get the better of him in the clutch – and as if he wasn't well enough aware of that fact already, his leg tended to remind him every morning when he had to hobble rather than leap out of bed. However, in this case, his own streak of impulsiveness was actually what had prompted him to reason things out as carefully as he was capable of. Without a strategy, it was obvious the whole idea would never work; creating a good game plan and sticking to it was going to be the only way to stay out of trouble while still achieving what he wanted. For once, his daredevil tendencies had been countered by the knowledge that screwing up might result in much worse than a shattered bone. Broken friendships couldn't be mended even by months on crutches, after all, and Psy valued his friends far more highly than his own physical well-being.
He'd gone over the situation long and hard enough to consider all the potential paths toward his aim. The status quo drove him crazy on a regular basis, so he found himself mulling over potential ways to change it at the oddest times – not just while being bored in class or during lulls minding the counter at the skateboard shop, but during the climaxes of comic books, in the middle of haranguing Professor Denton, even in the shower as shampoo was running into his eyes. There was only one really plausible mode of operation that he could figure out. He had, at last, seized the idea on the chance it might stop him from continuing to zone out while brushing his teeth every morning.
Actually, deciding how to do it had ultimately absorbed a lot more of his time than considering if he should. Because even more than he was a hothead, Psy was one of those people who was willing to do whatever it took to reach the goal in front of him. Really, the only thing making it complicated this time was the fact he wasn't driving for any normal sort of score, victory or trophy; those, he had some practice with. This time his aim was a person: his childhood best friend and budding hero to all of Center City, Joey Jones. And that, as far as Psy was concerned, was enough to change every rule of play he'd ever lived by.
The bleachers had been left out around Center City Central High's football field, which was a wide grassy expanse enclosed by nine-foot high chain-link. Almost entirely surrounded by the thick, brushy woods which insulated the school from outlying housing developments, after evening practice the area was as quiet as anywhere in Southern California ever got. The trees grew right up against the west side of the ground's fence, shading over the aluminum benches even at high noon; this late in the day, the live oaks' long shadows completely overtook the western half of the field.
The bleachers themselves – thanks to their team's habitually high placement in state tournaments – were brand new. A particularly nice model with rectangular, almost fully enclosed benches, they were also motorized for easy storage. Each bank sported a control panel that allowed the seats to be retracted into small, vertical units, which could be kept collapsed flat against the fence or wheeled away until needed again. Thanks to having an open exhibition game earlier in the afternoon, however, the stands hadn't been put away yet, and likely wouldn't be now unless there was some pressing need. The regular football season was poised to start, and CCC High had plenty of fans ready and waiting to fill these bleachers at a moment's notice.
For now, though, there were only two figures disturbing the stillness of the late summer evening, and even they were barely visible from most directions. Due to the way the bleachers were situated, the overall effect of stepping behind the westernmost bank of seating was like entering a secluded cave facing out onto the forest: the support beams and undersides of the benches concealed from forward, above, and to the sides, while the woods' closely packed tree trunks and thick undergrowth against the fence in back let in some light, but not much else. Psy could see why this was such a popular make-out spot from August's pre-season onwards. It was about as romantic and well-concealed as you could get within the actual boundaries of the school – only the fact that it was already dinnertime was keeping the place so private at the moment.
"You really think your key fell down back here, huh?"
A soft and yet habitually buoyant voice whispered from behind the tall ex-athlete. Joey Jones peeked around his friend's shoulder at the web of metal struts crisscrossing off into the dimness and squinted, as though faintly dubious of the wisdom of crawling back in there. Psy glanced at him, saw the way the other boy's profile was being set afire by a stray sunbeam, and quickly turned back before he lost his nerve to go through with what he'd sarcastically dubbed 'Operation Friendly Persuasion.' They hadn't even gotten under the bleachers yet, he couldn't be getting jittery already!
"Yep. I've looked everywhere else between my place and the classroom, so it must have fallen out of my pocket while I was watching the game here today." Psy let a grimace cross his face, like he was thinking about what his part-time manager would say if he found out. "Man, I've gotta get that thing back before work tomorrow so I can open the store..."
"Don't worry." The tiny suggestion of reluctance left Joey's posture when he remembered that Psy had asked him for help, and was relying on him at this very moment. "I can see how it'd be hard for you to move around back here with your leg, but with both of us looking I'm sure we'll find it in no time!"
Psy left his crutches against the fence nearby – there would be plenty of handholds inside if he needed them – and followed Joey as the younger boy ducked into the labyrinth. The pair began threading their way tentatively among the bars, slithering over, around, and through the lattice of bleacher framework. It was not actually as difficult to make progress as it had looked at first; there were actually wide open clearings and bays at regular intervals. Most of these are just the right size for two people to sit in – if they're close enough together, Psy thought, half sardonic and half anticipatory even while he tried to avoid smacking his limbs into any inconveniently placed struts. His limp was always a nuisance, but he felt it with particular acuteness now.
"Where were you sitting?"
Joey called back to him. The blond boy was already a few yards ahead, scuffing carefully in the dirt, his thin legs moving with considerably more grace than Psy was capable of with his handicap. A black rod just at forehead level grazed through the taller teenager's bushy hair when he ducked just in time to avoid stepping into it.
"Toward the middle, I don't remember exactly where."
Not strictly true, as a matter of record; for some reason, Psy remembered his seat number rather precisely, B-27. Maybe it had stuck so firmly in his head just because he knew he was going to have to lie about it later. Having grown up simply and openly stating his mind since he was old enough to talk, the skateboarder wasn't the best liar, any more than he was fantastic at scheming; a sudden sheen of sweat slicked his palms at the thought that he could never pull this heist off, and shouldn't have even started trying. It wasn't that he was going to outright deceive Joey, but there were certain bits of Operation Friendly Persuasion that did smack of an uncomfortable amount of dishonesty. Objectively speaking, maybe it wasn't that different from keeping Joey and Heroman's connection a secret from Holly... but misleading Holly was something he'd considered justifiable from the age of seven or so, when she'd told him she'd give him some gum only to turn around and stick it right in his hair.
Yeah, this is in a whole 'nother league from mouthing off to that monstrous sister of his. She'd be mad. He'll be... hurt.
The image of Joey when emotionally injured – something Psy had seen all too often while they were growing up together – filled him with the same sense of angry rejection as watching somebody kick a puppy. Despite how obsessively he'd worked over his plan, the boy was only seconds from reaching into his vest and pulling out the "missing" key when Joey, noticing how far he was lagging behind, paused and then subtly doubled back. Keeping searching eyes on the ground the whole time, the blond didn't offer any physical assistance in clambering over the bars – they'd been friends far too long for Joey to injure Psy's pride like that – but he did stick much closer to the tall teen's side in case he happened to need any help. That silent kindness reminded Psy quite keenly of his motivations for dreaming this strategy up in the first place... not so much calming his doubts as burying them beneath a lot of other confusing desires.
In any case, his hand gave up on his vest pocket and went back to grabbing struts for support, moving him forward a skipping hop at a time. One eye very firmly planted its gaze at the nape of his best friend's slender neck and refused to budge as Joey picked his way along next to the other teenager. The lack of breeze under the bleachers was making the younger boy sweat just a bit, a faint sheen visible above the collar of his t-shirt; Psy found it embarrassingly fascinating.
"Kinda glad you couldn't make it to the match today," Psy said, in a rather desperate bid to take his mind off of the anxiety and... other sensations uncurling low in his stomach. "I wanted you to come, but the team's pretty much gone down the tubes since Will left. Was pretty damn hard to watch, they better get it together before we start playing games that count."
"Yeah, I heard that we lost." The tense way Joey gripped the straps of his backpack belied the soft reply, and Psy mentally kicked himself: Joey was still blaming himself about Will, silly as the sentiment seemed to the skateboarder. "Lina told me."
"Certainly wasn't from lack of effort on her part, I can say that. The Cheer Squad's got it going on this year, as usual." Wanting to coax the sadness out of the blond's voice, Psy eagerly jumped on the topic of Joey's much-beloved girlfriend. "Can't expect those cute skirts to completely make up for a missing quarterback, but they go a long way – "
The other boy surprised him, though: "I'm sure they're missing you just as much as they're missing Will, Psy."
"Heh... Touched that you think so."
"No, I mean it!" Joey turned around for a second to give him an emphatic nod. "You were always so cool on the field. Seriously. It was awesome just to... to watch. I was – I mean, everybody was so upset when you couldn't play any more..." He sighed suddenly, wheeled away again as though he didn't feel he was getting the point across. But Psy was intrigued to see there was a little bit of pink dusting his friend's cheeks, visible even with the dim light. "Well. It's not just me who thinks you were great. Lina said she and Will agreed on it too."
"Were great? You mean I'm not great now?" Hiding how moved he really was, not to mention the hope this little exchange had aroused – maybe this idea isn't so impossible after all – Psy puffed up his chest and pretended to swagger as much as the confined space would allow. "Haha. Seems you and Lina are talking a lot, anyway. How're you two getting along otherwise?"
"It's going really well. At least I think so."
"Oh yeah?" Something glinted in a patch of withered grass; Psy reached down, picked up a lost quarter, and took advantage of it to put one arm around Joey's neck and drop the coin into his friend's hand. "I saw the first date, what'd you do for the second one?"
"Movies. Where I knew you guys couldn't spy on us without causing so much trouble they'd ask you to leave. Lina picked what we saw, and I think she enjoyed it a lot." This time Psy detected more than a hint of the dreamy happiness that normally colored his friend's voice when he talked about having fun with the cheerleader. "You know... last weekend, we... um..."
Walking in tandem with Joey, the brown-haired teenager accidentally put his lame foot down a touch too hard and felt a spike of fire jolt up the back of his leg. It complimented the torment of his mixed feelings, hearing the object of his unknowing affection talk about someone else with that tone of bashful excitement. He swallowed the pain and an instant of dizziness, straining to hear Joey's next words.
"We held hands," Joey finally continued breathlessly, which actually would have made Psy fall over had he not already been using the other boy to support himself. "Really held hands, I mean, not like that time we were running away from you all at the mall. I couldn't believe it..."
"My god, you held hands? In public? Maybe you oughta be looking for a ring or something!" Relief was crowding into Psy's voice, but he prayed Joey wouldn't be able to identify it under the teasing. "I mean, that's nice, buddy, it is. But if that's all you've gotten around to in the last couple of months, maybe I should be even more worried about you than I already am!"
"Who says we have to rush things?"
Suddenly heat was positively radiating off Joey's face, and he ducked out from under Psy's arm to bounce a few steps ahead.
"Rush things? Dude, this is twenty-first century California, not one of those 1800s romance novels they've been putting us through in English class." Something clicked in the back of Psy's mind, a little flash of insight that he'd occasionally experienced on the football field when the ball was about to come within reach: time to make his move. "Say... do you actually know how to... handle a girl?"
"What do you mean...?"
Joey obviously had a good idea about what Psy was asking, but from the way he stood still with his back turned, and the slight edge in his voice when he spoke, he was also obviously wishing that his suspicion was wrong.
"Come on, you know." Now that he'd actually put the plan in motion, Psy wondered if he sounded any more casual than Joey did. "Kissing, stuff like that."
"Er." The blonde boy started moving again, but awkwardly. "Yeah. Yeah, of course I know. We had, uh, Sex Ed, the end of last year, remember?"
"Haha, how could I forget? Ms. Collins was even more embarrassed than we were." The taller teenager stepped carefully over yet another a metal beam in his way, kicked in the dust near the fence like he was continuing the search for the key. But he was really watching Joey, gaze being drawn continually to the creases in his jeans at the back of his knee, the way the black fabric's seam clung to the outside of his friend's thigh all the way up to the edge of the t-shirt hanging from his thin hips. "...Not quite what I meant, though."
"Really?" The relief in Joey's voice was a little too bright, and he whirled so suddenly Psy almost stumbled in his haste to move his eyes somewhere less incriminating. "Um, I mean... but you just said..." The boy's exuberance quickly lapsed into confusion, and then, very timid but very distinct curiosity. His turquoise eyes were huge, a stark contrast to his small voice as he tensely thrust his hands in his pockets. "But what did you mean, then...?"
Psy chuckled, knowing it would come off as a comforting gesture to his friend, rather than the sign of self-mockery it really was. God, Joey, it's moments like this... you're killing me. I didn't used to get why other guys thought shy girls were pretty – always thought tough was my thing – but man, do I ever see the appeal now.
"I guess I'm kinda going for the same point, but not really. I mean, look, Sex Ed's all about biology, right? 'Miracle of Life' type stuff." Both boys gave a reflexive squirm at the mention of that particular video, but Psy attempted to keep going. "Hormones acting up, cells dividing. The basic mechanics. They don't..." He had to swallow at last, break his gaze off from Joey's intently absorbed one as though continuing to scan the dust. "They don't talk about the important things. Like what feels good. What hurts. How you deal with all the crazy emotional things that happen. Am I right?"
"Ahhh..." Psy glanced stealthily at his friend through his eyelashes and saw that the other boy now had his chin in his hand, considering with utmost seriousness. "Yeah, you are right, they don't talk about that. I, um. I don't really know anything about that stuff at all, actually..."
His face fell, worry making itself known in the downward sweep of his eyebrows. Psy had seen that look quite a bit lately – it ambushed his friend every time he started to question his own strength and direction. He hated seeing that expression on Joey, but it did mean he was getting through on this particular occasion.
"What should I do? Lina's... so..." Joey's voice trailed off, but the missing words hung in the air between them anyway: Lina's so important to me. "I mean, even just our first date was really hard because I didn't have a clue how to go about it at first! This is even... more... er. Difficult." Joey lifted his head, the bent eyebrows making themselves into a plea in Psy's direction. "I don't want to hurt Lina..."
Seriously. Just killing me. Psy's gentle grin was the direct inverse of what he was really feeling: rather like he had just skated off the edge of a cliff and was waiting to see what the damage would be like at the bottom. But a smile and an encouraging joke where what his friend would be expecting under the circumstances, so... "I tooooootally just got you to admit you wanna do it with Lina."
"WHAT?" Red shot from the collar of Joey's jacket to the tips of his ears once again. "That is not what I was – "
The tension behind Psy's eyes eased a little bit, and he was actually able to laugh without having to try too hard. Joey was simply, terribly cute when he was embarrassed... always had been. The former football star's shoulders pushed up against the fence as his best friend advanced a few mock-threatening steps toward him, Psy's weight balancing on his good leg and hands going behind his untamed mop of feathery brown hair as he leaned backwards to get out of the way.
"I know, I know, I'm kidding, I'm kidding." Joey came to a halt and crossed his arms, pouting just a little. "But... she's a big girl, she might want to do some of that stuff with you, after all. And you do want to treat her nice if she's interested, yeah?"
"Of course I do." The perplexed frown on the smaller teenager's face deepened. "I just... don't know how to, it looks like. That's not good."
"Hey, I didn't bring it up to worry you. Or even just to tease you." Psy let his right fist drop, held it behind his back for a second where Joey couldn't see it clenching in hesitation. "I was just wondering if you had any clue about the subject."
"Well, I don't, I guess." The fledgling hero glanced away, put his own hand behind his head as though in unconscious imitation of his more confident friend. The pose made Joey look even skinner and more insecure, though, if that was possible; the black backpack straps cutting across the thin material of his t-shirt emphasized how thin he was. "I don't really know where I could start to get a better idea, either... It's not like this is something I can talk about with Grandma, or Professor Denton, or even Mr. Hughes!"
Agent Hughes? Psy blinked at both the mention of the name and his own unexpected rush of irritation – jealousy? – but succeeded in putting the topic out of his mind for the time being. He had to focus here. This was the crucial point. He sensed that the time had come to either leap for that ball or let it slip through his fingers, whatever the consequences.
"Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you let me..." His fingers curled behind his back one more time, and then, quite slowly but with perfectly steadiness, lifted to place themselves on Joey's closest wrist. "I mean, I could show you."
"Eh?" Joey looked startled but not unduly so. The blond boy's eyes dropped to where Psy's hand was resting, and he didn't move... but he didn't pull away either. "You mean... You, ummm, you know about all that stuff?"
Psy worked to make his voice come out with its lightest, most casual tone. "Yeah, I know quite a bit, actually. I got asked out a lot when I was on the football team, it's kinda standard."
"Yeah, but..." Joey seemed rather fixated on Psy's tanned fingers. "Ah. Well..."
The taller boy had expected a rather protracted and blush-filled question and answer session about just how far he'd gone, and was bracing for the discussion of his qualifications. But Joey surprised him by skipping right over that preliminary and quietly going straight to the heart of the matter.
"You said, 'show me.'" Psy couldn't help but startle a little when Joey's hand reached up and landed firmly on his. "You and I... are both guys."
An early autumn breeze blew through the trees which hedged the field, creating a rush of white noise over which Psy could just barely hear his own heart thumping. Joey's eyes were completely shadowed by his sandy bangs, and there was no telling what was going on in his head while he continued to stare at the place his hand rested on top of Psy's. The skateboarder braced himself to get brushed off, a rather abysmal but not unexpected feeling swelling in his chest. He quickly started preparing a jocular apology he hoped would sweep the entire conversation neatly under the rug – not to mention his thoroughly considered answer to the "Are you gay?" question, which seemed like an inevitable follow up to this kind of rejection.
Then he noticed that the hand Joey was holding his with – his left – was twitching. The blond teenager's index finger was pressing rapidly and repeatedly against a small indentation between Psy's knuckles, like it was triggering a button. It was the same motion that would activate the controller to unleash Heroman when the younger boy held the disc in his palm. Like so many of his childhood friend's mannerisms, Psy knew this motion quite well too: Joey had developed this tick when he was thinking very fast about something extremely important.
"Can you still teach me even if we're both guys?"
The twitching stopped, and Joey looked up with – not revulsion or anger or even questioning – but the beginnings of hope. Psy blinked, staring into those brave blue eyes and finding nothing but innocent, nervous eagerness in their depths. It hit him, certainly not for the first time, just how vulnerable Joey was as a person; he'd known the other boy was in desperate need of acceptance from the minute they'd met, and that apparently hadn't changed even after creating the most powerful martial force on the face of the planet. If anything, becoming a hero had made Joey even more desperate for support than when he was just a poor orphan. Given that Psy was someone he trusted unconditionally, from Joey's perspective accepting Psy's offer was a way to get stronger and make everybody happy. Joey, in a very fundamental way, lived to please the other people around him. Psy's entire plan had always hinged on knowing this vital fact about his friend... and, even with the best of intentions, exploiting it.
Yeah, what about that? Psy considered. Am I taking advantage here, or helping? Even though he'd figured out the steps of simply getting what he wanted – namely, the opportunity to touch Joey in a more than casual manner – the darker boy had worried over the morality of it all without ever coming to a satisfying conclusion. Now that Joey had walked faithfully right into his plot, he found he still didn't have a solid answer. All I know is that I'm going to snap if I don't do this. I won't take him away from Lina, but if I can't get closer myself, I... feel like I might just have to stop hanging out with him altogether. And that wouldn't be fair at all. Damn it. I want to believe this is all in the name of friendship – fine, I'll make it about friendship and then I'll send him back to her!
The corner of Joey's mouth twitched, like he was biting the inside of it, and Psy came back to reality.
Well, little late to ponder now anyway, genius, if you don't follow through at this point he's gonna think you were yanking his chain in the worst possible way.
"The basics aren't that different, no matter who you're with. Don't worry about that."
Very slowly, Psy threaded his fingers through his friend's and tugged on his arm.
"Come here. I can give you lesson one right now."
Joey smiled waveringly, took two small but confident steps forward... and then almost had to be yanked the rest of the way. As he applied the necessary power to keep his friend moving, Psy shifted his weak leg and hooked it very loosely around the back of Joey's ankle, drawing it in along with the other boy so he couldn't escape too suddenly. The blond came to a stop within the arc of Psy's legs and studied him, their faces at exactly the same level thanks to the way the taller of the pair was leaning against the fence. Their hips and torsos were almost, but not quite, touching; Psy thought that was good enough to start out with, and ceased trying to bring his partner any closer.
"What should I – "
"Relax." Joey was taking little breaths through his nose which were already starting to sound suspiciously anxious, and Psy's mouth quirked up in an irrepressible, affectionate grin. "Just relax, man. That's the rule I'm going to repeat most often, and the one thing I want you to remember if nothing else works out, hear me?"
The skateboarder smiled fully once more, and despite his own hesitations and concerns clamoring to make themselves heard in the back of his mind, this time the expression was completely genuine. Yeah, now he was sure of it: he could at least teach his friend one or two things that would come in handy someday, no matter where this whole situation went in the end. Plus, he was really just happy for the first time in weeks. Joey was here, alone with him; it was peaceful and intimate beneath the bleachers, and his sensitive best friend hadn't exploded or panicked yet about any of this. Psy was an optimistic person by nature, and he was ready to take these promising signs as a good foundation to build on.
Or maybe the first shaky steps onto a flimsy bridge over the abyss, but whatever.
"Alright. This is how it should go down." Psy adopted a trace of the matter-of-fact voice he used when teaching first-time 'boarders at the store, or when confirming the details of a well-laid-out Heroman operation. "If you're relaxed, she's relaxed. You don't wanna be doing anything that freaks either one of you out to begin with, anyway, so just chill. Pay attention to her reactions, but don't overreact yourself."
Actually, there was a little core of Psy that wasn't taking his own advice very well, but fortunately Joey didn't seem to be aware of that.
He brought his hand up to Joey's face, melted at how willingly his friend accepted a caress to his cheek, even though his aquamarine eyes were hugely wide like he was taking mental notes.
Psy tucked one lock of sandy shoulder-length hair behind Joey's ear, running a fingertip over the curve as he passed.
"Let it happen naturally – !"
Joey suddenly surged forward, completely of his own volition, and pushed his lips against Psy's. There was far more strength in that thin little form than even Joey was aware of, thanks to his and Heroman's recent adventures; with a start, Psy realized he was actually being shoved against the fence behind him rather forcefully. The former athlete felt a knob of his spine grinding into a particularly protruding kink of chain-link and made a little hiss of discomfort without meaning to, which caused his friend to snap back as quickly as he'd started.
"Was that ba – "
"No no nonono. Wasn't bad." Psy put on his best smirk even as he mentally winced for not being prepared to enjoy that experience – it was Joey's very first kiss, after all! Even though his back was definitely bruising. "Nice... initiative! Might be a good idea to pay a little more attention to, uh, physical circumstances, though. Getting pressed too hard against something like this would hurt a girl a lot more than it bugged me. Being aware of your surroundings and not just what's going on right in front of you is important, too."
"Ah, gotcha." A charming flush, quite different from his normal expression of embarrassment, was creeping along Joey's cheekbones and across his nose. "This is... a lot like combat training. I mean... don't you think?"
"I have heard that 'love is a battlefield,'" laughed Psy, surprised at the rather apt comparison. "... Don't think Heroman needs this kind of practice though."
The very image made Joey give a snicker of amusement, completely bringing down his guard. This time his brown-haired friend was more poised to act appropriately. Before Joey had time to tense again, Psy got a palm around the back of his neck and drew their lips together once more. He held his friend delicately but firmly to him to produce just the right amount of pressure; his fingers slid into the silky blond of Joey's hair, parting and pulling at it softly while his other hand reached out and took his friend's palm in a reassuring squeeze.
Joey's pulse spiked with the initial surprise. Psy could feel it trilling where his thumb rested, a swift rhythm rushing just behind the other boy's jaw. The fledgling hero recovered quickly, though, and let his body shift so he was lying full against Psy's chest – not too heavily this time, weight balanced on the balls of his feet even as they pressed close to one another. His free right arm went around Psy's torso, slid in between the ex-athlete's spine and the fence to gain a grip on the chain-link. This cushioned the hard place that had bothered Psy earlier; the tall brown-haired teen smiled glowingly against Joey's mouth at the sweetness of the gesture.
Maybe I don't have that much to teach him after all –
Still stroking and playing with the honey-colored ribbons of Joey's hair, Psy tilted his head a little more, nudging his nose against the smooth skin beneath it and inhaling a deep breath of Joey's subtle, unique scent. Thanks to being near Heroman's lightning-powered equipment so constantly, the robot's human controller had started to smell like ozone himself; even this late on a warm day, the teenager still had a clean tang about him, the perfume of cool rain hitting hot pavement just before a storm. Psy had detected it before, especially when they had just finished drilling or fighting, but this was his first chance to enjoy it uninterrupted. The experience was – and Psy wanted to laugh at his own brain's propensity for lame jokes at a time like this – completely electric. Nobody else in the world smelled like this, only his own heroic best friend. He'd been waiting to get this close for so long...
A wispy bit of Psy's overgrown bangs tickled Joey in the process of shifting angles. The shorter boy half-giggled, drew back automatically to shake free of the tangling strands, but returned to the kiss almost immediately, obedient to the gently insistent fingers cradling the back of his head. Lifting their clasped left hands, Psy guided Joey's to his shoulder, and then used his newly freed limb to sweep down the smaller boy's side. Slightly protruding ribs slipped by under his touch, skin separated from skin by only a light layer of fabric; when the skateboarder's hand settled in the hollow beneath Joey's backpack, just above his waist, a shudder moved through the slight frame. Something in the boy's throat hitched momentarily, made him let out the faintest of moaning noises against Psy.
Wow. This is already getting a little...
Psy realized his legs were aching to wrap closer around Joey's, and there was a groan building in his own throat. More than anything, he wanted to get the other boy's mouth open, see if the inside of it tasted as sweet as he'd always been forced to imagine whenever he saw Joey eat ice cream. On some level he'd been waiting years to find out the answer to this idle thought, and getting between those pale pink lips would be so easy right now... Combing his hand carefully out of his friend's blond hair, Psy moved to take the pointed chin between thumb and index finger. Their embrace tightened a little as he shifted his chest against Joey's, making sure he was leaning down far enough for easy access to a deeper kiss.
The younger boy was shivering, though. Those crystal blue eyes, which had been gradually fluttering closed until just a moment ago, were now fully open and looking away from his; the lithe body which had been starting to melt against him had gone strained and unresponsive. Sensing the change in mood, rather than using his position to slip his tongue into Joey's mouth, Psy instead applied just enough pressure to considerately move their faces apart a little. He'd expected this kind of shyness to come up when things started to progress too fast, and was only glad he'd stopped himself before taking a step Joey wasn't ready for. Now that he'd managed to convince his friend to try this, they had plenty of time ahead; it wasn't worth risking that by trying too hard all at once. Loosening his grip enough to calm them both while still being supportive, Psy started to apologize –
But Joey was the one who spoke first.
"Did you hear something?"
"What?" Psy had trouble even processing the words for an instant, they were so far what he'd been anticipating. "What do you – "
He blinked, swallowed, tried to get his brain to focus on the outside world again. And then he did hear something. Very distinctly.
"I think that's the – "
An extremely loud and jarring warning siren made both of them jerk upright in automatic terror. Joey's head snapped left and right, searching for the source, but Psy already knew exactly what it was, even though he didn't want to believe it could be happening now. When he shot a glance through the leafy canopy of the woods beyond the fence he was shocked to see the confirmation of his fears: the scattered clouds from earlier in the evening had multiplied into an almost completely overcast sky, and it was getting darker by the minute.
Why the hell didn't I notice that earli – oh, right.
"It's gonna rain, they're closing the bleachers!"
The alarm seemed to be blaring everywhere, but the ominous clanking noise which abruptly joined it was definitely coming from back the way they'd originally entered. Psy gave Joey a little shove in the opposite direction – more out of protectiveness than because the hero actually needed it – and started bounding that way himself, eyes fixed on the gray light at the end of the seating tunnel. The broken bones in his leg protested dangerously every time he stretched left, but there was nothing he could do about it beyond the muttering the occasional curse. In between flashes of agony he had to tell himself, very clearly, that although there was a need to hurry he was not allowed to panic; falling down or getting hit by something was going to be far worse than taking the time to find a safe step forward.
That advice held up very well until he noticed that the collapsing banks of stands were gaining on him. Quickly. Sweat slicked his palms when he made the mistake of peeking over his shoulder at the oncoming machinery; he reached up into shadow without thinking, missed getting a good grip on the next handhold, and felt his fingers slip off of it just as he threw his weight forward. Staggering right in an effort not to put all the strain of tripping on his left leg, his ankle went under some arcane tangle of rebar which he couldn't see... through a set of loose joints at the base of a major support pole... and locked, throwing him to the ground. Before he could even attempt to scramble to his feet again, his leg checked excruciatingly and he had to stop moving. He knew he was stuck without even looking.
Aw man... seriously? SERIOUSLY?
Joey, who had been hovering at his side as much as he could while trying not to fall himself, was now staring horrified back and forth between him and the long row of bleachers directly behind them. That bank had just started folding in on itself. The remorseless creaking of metal slats and bars scissoring together, compacting shut, drowned out almost every other sound. Since the seats were being collapsed in sequence, that meant the one they were currently under would likely start to go any second; the mechanisms moved slow enough that anybody capable of normal movement would likely escape without problems, but Psy was, of course, not in that category by any stretch of the imagination now.
After all the crazy shit I've been through with aliens and bio-weapons and Professor Denton's driving, I'm going to die for some half-baked scheme I thought up to get with my best friend. Another one of those chance rays of light flickered across Joey's face when the other boy moved past a tiny gap in the benches; his frantic expression didn't make him one bit less beautiful in Psy's eyes. ...Yeah. Yeah, that sounds about right.
"Joey!" The younger boy had crouched over him and was trying to get him loose, yanking hard at the metal slats imprisoning his foot since he knew Psy's leg couldn't take that kind of abuse directly. "Oi, Joey!"
The blond didn't turn or even begin to stop what he was doing, slender shoulders heaving as he tried to wedge the bolted jaws trapping his friend open through sheer force. Psy had to twist around and grab one of the teenager's elbows before Joey would pause to face him; there were tears threatening to spill from the younger boy's eyes when he did. Psy instantly and desperately wanted to flick them away with a comforting laugh, tell him to look on the funny side of this unbelievable situation – anything to make him stop looking like that. But he couldn't reach.
"You'd better go, pal."
He said it smiling still, as warmly and nonchalantly as he could while still being audible over the noise.
"You know I won't do that."
Joey shook his head in a frenzy, golden hair flying. The metal caging around them started to lurch.
"Look, Joey. You need to get out of here. Seriously, before you get hurt." Psy plunged a hand into his vest, pulled out that stupid, incriminating key and held it up as high as he could, hoping that his friend would get his drift. "See? The world needs Heroman – the world needs you in it a lot more than it needs me, okay?"
Joey gazed at the key in disbelief, his hands lifting to cup around both it and Psy's trembling fingers. A hum and a whirring noise started to vibrate in the air around them as the bank of bleachers they were huddled beneath was activated. The very first of the seats began to inch forward towards the pair of teenagers; deep, primal fear bolted through Psy as he sensed the steel tubing around his leg tighten almost imperceptibly. And then, keep tightening. He kept his gaze on Joey's face, though, willing him to see sense.
"That's why I won't go."
The tears started to fall, but instead of attempting to hide them or wipe them away, Joey abruptly snatched the key from Psy's grasp and shoved it into his own pocket.
"That's why I can't leave you."
A tiny motion; a click and a buzz that shouldn't have been so clear with everything happening in the background, but that somehow couldn't be missed.
"You should know that I'll protect you, no matter what."
Blue-white fountained out of Joey's pocket and backpack simultaneously, seeped into his turquoise eyes, and filled the darkly enclosed space with searing light.
"I'm supposed to be the hero here."
Psy started to flinch as the bleachers exploded, but stopped midway through. There was really no need: Joey already had his arms around his best friend, shielding and kissing him at the same time, while a certain giant robot put a fist through some very ill-considered athletic equipment. Instead, the former runningback just relaxed and philosophically let Joey's tongue take a few tentative flicks inside his mouth, lying dazed and passive while the storm clouds above opened up and started to pour rain on his face. He didn't have the energy to predict where things were going to go from here, but he was certain that it was all going to get very interesting from this point onwards. He definitely didn't mind that he wasn't going to be the only one planning and plotting things now, either.
I guess we both still have a lot to learn.
End notes: Motorized bleachers like those featured definitely exist. We had something similar at my high school, which is (naturally) where the inspiration for this chapter came from. Nothing this dramatic ever happened to me involving them, though. More's the pity.
I do have future chapters in mind. I know I say that about a lot of fics I've left unfinished, but it's always true, too. Any continuations for Best Laid Plans will likely be adult enough to go on my AFFnet account, which can be found at h t t p : / / anime. adultfanfiction. net /authors. php? no = 1296882054
Censored versions will stay here on ffnet though. Leave me a comment here (or there.) I like 'em.