Ten Years


Gift fic from The Aero Project giftfic thread.

Fang orders the steak and chips, with a side salad. Dylan has an aversion to eating large chunks of meat so he orders the lasagne. Both of them drink cokes, large. Dylan holds the ice, because it's way too cold outside as it is, and he doesn't need to be colder.

Fang just smiles. "Antarctica was cold," he says. The waitress gives him an admiring glance. Antarctica is foreign and exotic after all, and Fang looks it, even if his accent is a giveaway that he's a native. Dylan just shrugs, and wanders off to take a seat. Years ago he'd figured out that his flockmates were a bit strange and he no longer questions it. Besides, there are more important things to discuss, after all, that's why he's invited Fang here.

They're meeting again ten years to the day after The Split, and it's the first time he's seen Fang in five. A few things have changed in those ten years– they're that much older if not wiser – a few things are still the same. The waterside greasy spoon still smells faintly of rotting fish, the sea and unwashed people. The walls are covered with tacky sixties memorabilia, and other than a little aging nothing's really changed since ten years ago. Things have yellowed a bit, the windows covered in that much more grime, and the waitresses have that much more make up on covering deepening wrinkles. This place is tradition, though, so they come here and eat the same sandwiches, made by the same cook, probably served on the same plates as last time. That chip on the plate certainly looks familiar.

Dylan still fits the descriptors of a decade ago, dark blond and blue eyed, six foot plus. A decade ago he was a few months old in a teenager's body, piling inexperience on top of awkwardness. He's filled out a bit, and is more comfortable in his skin. He's learned a bit more about people, and how he should behave, has learned to think before doing. He's capable of observing more of the world around himself now, can see more than just ... her.

Ten years ago, physical awkwardness hadn't been Fang's problem. Instead, he'd been plagued by the emotional awkwardness that came with having all these feelings and not being able to talk about them with someone or deal with them at all because there was no one to tell him that this was okay and normal and he'd never learned to say stuff like that. And besides, how much of a fucking idiot did you have to be to let someone see your weaknesses when you grew up in the School. He'd left, when it got too much to deal with. And then he'd gotten over it.

In his time away, he learned a few things – how to truly stand on his own feet, be his own person, not just one-half or one sixth, just Fang. Then when he got back, came home, it was an equal, not just a shadow.

Max hadn't changed. But that was okay. Max wasn't here.

They didn't talk during the meal, something that hadn't changed. This was a Flock Thing, and Dylan had accepted this oddity, despite never knowing hunger. Once they were done, he did offer to get refills, and Fang accepted. You could talk over drinks.

He waited for Dylan to return, staring out the window into the bay.

Dylan nudges his arm with the glass of coke, and Fang takes it. Dylan also holds out a napkin, with a number hastily scrawled on it in purple ink. Fang eyes the waitress at the bar, who blushes and busies herself with glasses.

Fang raises an eyebrow. "Not my type," he mutters. But he does take the napkin and tucks it in his jacket. He won't call her, but it pays to not offend the staff.

Now it's time for the serious conversation. They catch up on the Flock Gossip. Max is here for some political thing, and she's speaking. Dylan still follows her around, and in his spare time he's doing a psychology degree. He takes a few papers with Gazzy, when he's got time. Gazzy's fine, by the way, has a girlfriend, nah not serious. Gaz and Angel talked on the phone last week, she's loving Australia, and is extending her trip another three months. Fang saw Nudge last, she's had another setback with the launch, and is running around like a madwoman, enjoying every minute.

Guiltily, both confess they haven't seen Iggy in a while, but they do call the nurses, and it's hard being in the same room with him after The Accident. He's just not Iggy anymore.

Fang finishes his drink. The ice has long since melted and the last inch is watery and a bit warm. Dylan's glass got taken away at least half an hour ago. The waitress bustles over before the glass is even back on the table, and hurries it away with a pointed glance that says they've probably outstayed their welcome. The rest of the place is almost packed up, it says, and I'm ready to get home.

They pay and leave.

The wind's loud, howling around the buildings, carrying sea spray and a bit of rain. Fang leads the way to his hotel. It's a lot closer. Max refuses to stay in anything less than four star, Dylan follows Max. Fang just doesn't care. Oh, he knows that if Max knew her were here, he'd have a room with double beds and a Jacuzzi, but she doesn't know he's in town.

He kinda likes it that way. Less arguments.

She still refuses to accept that he's grown up a bit. She hasn't.

Somehow, this is all his fault.

His hotel room is nothing to write home about. Two single beds, a bathroom, a kitchenette in one corner and a tv. This place doesn't do room service, nor internet. The decor is eighties, and the neighbours are noisy. It's cheap.

They peel off layers, and leave the bathroom dripping. Dylan claims the other bed, and they both stretch out, getting warm.

Fang leaves Dylan to start the conversation. It'll be about Max. It always is. She, and the Flock, is what ties them together.

"She's seeing someone." Dylan begins.

"Good for her." Fang replies.

"I don't like him." Fang looked at Dylan, leaving the silence to ask the question -' what is it this time?'. Dylan hadn't liked Adam or Michael either. "He's a geneticist. Studied under Engels."

Ah. Engels. That rat-bitch had been one of the few to escape the sinking ship that was Itex with their freedom and bank balance intact. She'd spent the last decade with her nose clean. At least on the surface. No one could prove anything.

"Max know?" He asked, closing his eyes and lying back down. He suspects the answer, and doesn't like it.

Dylan shrugged, and confirmed it. "We told her. Dunno if she listened. She doesn't listen to anyone else. Never has, never will."

He sounds resigned. Fang knows that sound. That sound is why he left the second time.

"Why do you stay?"

Dylan didn't reply. It took a minute for Fang to realise how upset Dylan was. He hadn't moved, hadn't made a noise. Tears were making tracks down the sides of his face, dripping onto the pillow.

Fang knew then, and felt oddly touched. It wasn't really about Max this time, nor the Flock. Dylan needed an out. He needed to get away. And he, Fang, though they hadn't always seen eye-to-eye was the only person Dylan trusted to take him away from the Max-run circus that was his life.

"I'm heading to Oklahoma tomorrow." Fang said. "Got a nature festival thing. It's run by a friend. You can come along, if you want."

Dylan sighed, and wiped his eyes. "'Kay. Need a break."

"You'll have to fly with your own wings, there and back. Think you can manage that?"

Dylan snorted. "You bet. And better than you."

"In your dreams."

When he wakes up the next morning, Dylan's gone. Be back at seven, says the note. It's half-six. Fang's ready to leave by seven. At seven-oh-five, Dylan drops into the carpark, scattering loose gravel and newspaper pages. He's got a bag on his back and is dressed to fly.

They don't talk for the trip. There's nothing really to talk about, no safe topics left.

They don't talk for the festival either. Fang's dragged off by his friend, and Dylan wanders the grounds, basking in the sheer normality of people just wandering around. There are families with their kids, groups of teenagers and the odd couple making out under the trees. A vanload of old people doddle around together arguing loudly.

There are no suits, no speeches, no bodyguards, no autograph seekers or hangers on. Dylan hasn't felt this much like a person instead of an object in years.

They're sharing a tent that night, one of dozens set up in the park. Dylan hasn't stopped smiling since he arrived at dinner, and Fang looks relieved.

"Not bored out of your mind then? Sorry I got dragged away, Janie's very... enthusiastic." Fang apologises.

Dylan chuckles. "Yes, she cornered me at dinner, and apologised too for leaving me all by myself. It's okay, actually. Just wandered around. People watched. Got some ideas for my next assignment."

Fang looks slightly puzzled for a second. "Assignment?"

"Half way through a psych degree."

This is something they can talk about, without arguments. Fang's the only one who hasn't learned up in college (or design school like Nudge) since The Split, preferring to be out there doing than in a classroom talking about it. Dylan's had the time, following Max around, and they can talk about their experiences.

It's not until one in the morning that they realise they've been talking for three hours straight with no arguments.

Maybe, Fang thinks, they've got more in common than they realise.

Again, Dylan wakes first in the morning. This time he's not disappearing, although he's sure it would be less awkward if he did. But he doesn't want to lose that closeness-to-someone(-anyone!), that was there last night. Not just yet. It he gets up, it'll be gone. Dylan knows that Fang's not the type who gives things away easily, and he's not sure if he'll get that closeness again.

It's been so long since he's talked with anyone like a true equal. It feels like the first rain following a drought. So he listens to the sounds of Fang's breathing and the camp beginning to stir.

Fang wakes, and the spell is broken.

It's a little bit awkward as they climb out of the tent and they don't speak during breakfast. They're getting ready to leave when Janie pounces. She extracts a promise from Fang to be at the next festival, in another town the next weekend. Then she turns to Dylan.

"You'll be there too?" She says. It's not really a question, more of an expectation.

Dylan hemmms. "I don't know." He tells her. But he's not supposed to even be here. And next weekend is that gala dinner with a half-dozen senators and congressmen that Max is going to. He's been dreading it all month. "Thank you for the invite, of course, but Max'll want..."

Janie cuts in with a "But what do you want?"

Dylan gapes at her, as she smiles, hugs them both and disappears off to coerce someone else. Fang smiles wryly. "Yep, she has that effect on people."

He regains his composure. "Are you and her...?" Fang shakes his head.

"No. She's just a friend. A good one, though, one of the best."

They don't make the return flight in silence. Instead, they take up last night's conversation. They talk of past trips, and places they want to go. Dylan talks about a book he wants to write. The book based on Fang's blog was unbelievably successful, and he offers a few tips.

They don't talk about politics, or Max. She's no longer welcome.

They're over the greasy spoon by the water when Fang volunteers that Janie's not his type because, well, she's a she. Dylan's not as surprised as he thought he'd be, and he finds that he really doesn't mind at all. Nudge suggested something like it as the reason why Fang had left the second time around, causing The Split. It makes more sense than the official reasons Max had given them, which had been inclined to change at whim. They were probably all a bit true, but only just a bit.

Fang offered his hand, three thousand feet above the Hotel Max is in. Dylan took it. They didn't say goodbye – Dylan didn't want this day of freedom to end, not really, and Fang suspected a 'see you soon' would be more accurate.

"You know," Fang said, "You can give me a call if you don't want... if you need a break and want to visit another festival."

Dylan maked a face. "I don't want to intrude, Fang. This is your thing, and..." he trailed off.

"I do mean it." Fang stated. "You're not so bad anymore, you know. It would be good if you'd visit... I'd like you to."

Dylan nodded. "I'll... yeah, I'll call you. If I need to."

They headed their separate ways.

Dylan joined Max at breakfast the next morning, and she nodded a dismissal to his 'good morning, Max', before turning to her publicist, Anna, for her day's schedule. He doubted she'd noticed his absence.

Anna finally cornered him during the speech by a local environmental activist midday on Saturday. He handed in his resignation, and packed his things. Dylan just couldn't take it anymore – the pomp and ceremony and superficiality of the life that Max led. This was not where he was supposed to be. She was not who he was supposed to be with. She didn't want him around. He called himself ten kinds of idiot. He knew who did want him there, who did want to hear his opinions, who did care about what he thought. Someone who had understood without words what Dylan wanted and needed.

He ducked into Max's room to say goodbye and explain he was going to go. She looked up disinterestedly, and said 'bye, safe trip to Boston, say hi to Gazzy', before turning back to whichever proposal she was reading.

He was ushered out of the room before he could explain that he wasn't going to Boston and he wasn't coming back. It didn't matter – she wouldn't have listened anyway.

He set off for the festival that he knew Fang was at, and reached the campground just before sunset. The sight of campfires and tents and the smell of hotdogs and garlic had never been so welcome.

Fang looked up at the sound of air-though-feathers, and smiled an open, genuine smile. Ten years later he was looking forwards to travelling again with one of the flock, with Dylan.

Dylan grinned back. Ten years later, he'd figured out where he was really supposed to be.