What stunts were to Kick, cuddling was to Gunther. He was always on the lookout for something to cuddle: animals, stuffed toys, pillows, and, increasingly, annoyingly, Kick.
"Gunther, what is happening right now?"
They were on the couch at Kick's house, watching some footage from the previous weekend, when Kick jumped Agatha Gorge on his bike, with the help of a modified diving board that they stole from the neighborhood pool. Kick spent a week at the Mellowbrook Juvenile Detention Center for the theft of the diving board, which was why he was only now seeing the tape. It was hard to concentrate on his awesomeness with Gunther leaning against him, hugging his arm and resting his chin on Kick's shoulder.
"We're watching the video," Gunther said when Kick just stared, waiting for Gunther to realize what he was doing. "Do you need a bathroom break or something?" His grip on Kick's arm actually tightened as he asked. "Want me to pause it?"
"Gunther." Kick looked down at the death grip Gunther had on his bicep.
"Wha – oh." Gunther laughed self consciously. "Sorry." His fingers uncurled from Kick's arm one at a time. He lifted his chin from Kick's shoulder and continued sitting a little too close for comfort, but Kick could deal with that. The principle of the thing didn't bother him. Gunther was Gunther; he'd always been grabby and eager to snuggle the shit out of life. It was just beginning to become physically uncomfortable to have Gunther all over him all the time. They were fifteen, old enough to prosecute for the misdemeanors that were necessary for most of Kick's stunts, and Gunther had gotten huge over the summer, six feet tall and two hundred pounds of fat that was actually transitioning into muscle in some areas. Kick had gotten stronger, too, but only in his arms, and only because he obsessively worked out. He was still short, barely clearing five four, and everything but his ass was smaller than he'd like it to be. He couldn't bear the weight of Gunther, not just physically, but because Gunther's considerable bulk was another cruel reminder that Kick was a shrimp compared to him and most of the other guys at school.
"I just missed you is all!" Gunther blurted after a few minutes of awkward silence, his meaty shoulder still pressed to Kick's. He grabbed Kick's arm again and squeezed. "Kick – a whole week! They've never – they'd never put you away for that long before."
"Yeah, well." Kick sighed and kept his eyes on the screen. Gunther sounded a little broken up, and Kick wasn't in the mood for a cry fest. That week wasn't exactly a walk in the park for him, either. If he was a shrimp at school he was a fucking krill in juvey. He longed for the days when he would just get scolded when his stunts went awry or involved stolen property.
"Maybe we should tone it down for awhile," Gunther said, and he snuggled closer, his arm sliding across Kick's chest. "You know, just, lay low until the cops stop keeping such close tabs on what you do?"
"Maybe you should tone down the physical affection, buddy," Kick said, still staring at the video. It was a lame stunt, not worth the jail time, and the last thing he wanted was to let it live as his legacy for any longer than necessary. Gunther released his arm and moved away, his fat hands dropping between his knees.
"Sorry, Kick," he said, so pathetically that Kick groaned and rubbed a hand over his face. He scooted over to Gunther and put an arm around him.
"It's alright," he said. "I'm just in a shitty mood. Forget it."
"The video didn't turn out that good," Gunther said, sniffling. "My fault."
"No, it's not the video. It's the stunt – it's too basic, you know? I mean, the Gorge is big, yeah, but it's so one note. I need to come up with something really outrageous, something brand new."
"It's got to be legal, though, okay?" Gunther said. He grabbed Kick's hand and pressed it between both of his, which were sweaty and overly warm, like always. "Please, Kick? I can't watch them lock you up again, I worry about you the whole time –"
"Gunther." Kick groaned. Like he wasn't getting enough of this from his parents. "It's just juvey hall –"
"Kick, you've got a black eye!"
"Yeah, for the eight millionth time in my life. You see me with black eyes all the time."
"But it's different when someone – hit you."
Kick pulled his hand free from Gunther's sweltering grip and touched the tender skin around his left eye. It was starting to go green around the edges, the purple fading to dark pink: progress. He was being a smart ass when he got punched, asking for it. He just couldn't keep his mouth shut when someone taunted him for being small, even if they were a massive skinhead criminal in training.
"In three months you'll be sixteen," Gunther said, practically hyperventilating. He recaptured Kick's hand, and Kick was too tired to pull away, or to shrug Gunther's arm off when he tugged Kick against him. "You know what that means," Gunther said, squeezing him.
"Yeah." Kick grinned at him. "I'll get my driver's license. That's a whole new world of stunts, my man."
"Kick!" Gunther shook him by the shoulders. "That's not what I meant and you know it. If you get booked for vandalism or something they could wait three months to hold your trial and sentence you as a sixteen-year-old! That means they send you to Harrisville, with the sixteen and up offenders. Sixteen and up, Kick!" Gunther shook him harder, making him feel like his brain was rattling around inside his skull. Kick scowled at him.
"You're sitting around worrying about this?" he said. "Working it out? Don't waste your time. I'm not getting caught again."
"Kick, you're good at a lot of things, but not getting caught isn't one of them."
"I'm not good at a lot of things," Kick said. "I'm good at one thing: stunts. So don't tell me I need to 'lay low,' okay? You know me. I don't do laying low."
"You're so stubborn," Gunther said, mumbling. He let go of Kick and moved to the far end of the couch, scowling at the video as it played out on the screen. It was the slow motion edit of Kick flying over the Gorge on his bike, some Top 40 song that Gunther was into this week playing over the video. Kick watched himself fly, feeling like he was in free fall.
"I can't deal with you trying to sabotage me, too," Kick said while Gunther stewed in silence. Lately everyone was out to get him. His parents were full of threats about sending him away to military school, and though he'd learned that they didn't mean it, he could see the way that they looked at him changing. They used to tolerate his stunts, accepting this as part of his personality. Then the police got involved.
"I'm not trying to sabotage you," Gunther said, and when their eyes met his expression was soft and forgiving again. Gunther never stayed mad for long, at least not where Kick was concerned. "I'm trying to – to save you."
"Save me?" Kick scoffed. "I don't need saving. What are you talking about?"
"We're not kids anymore, Kick! There's, like, consequences for our actions! And I know you still think you're invincible, but I – I've grown up, okay? I always worried about you, but this is different. When you go away, when you come back – you're different."
"You're crazy," Kick said, and his cheeks got hot, because he knew Gunther was right. Even Brianna had noticed. This was his fifth trip to Mellowbrook juvey, and he got a little angrier every time he returned, a little more determined to break his promises about staying in line.
"I'm not crazy," Gunther said. He sounded so sad, and Kick could feel it in his chest, like a bite Gunther had taken out of him. "I know you better than anyone, and I know you'll never stop jumping over gorges, but you can't just do whatever you want anymore. People in town – some people – they want you to learn a lesson, you know, because you smashed through their garage doors or crash landed on their rose bushes, and maybe they thought it was cute when you were a kid, but –"
"You know what?" Kick stood from the sofa, his hands curling into his fists. "I think you're the one who wants me to lay low and tone it down. This isn't about the town, or the police, or my parents – those are just your excuses. You don't want to be a part of this anymore. You're afraid you're going to get in trouble."
"What!" Gunther's eyes went huge. "No! I never, it's not that –"
"Admit it, Gunther!" Kick jabbed his finger in Gunther's face, wishing he could get himself to shut up, but he was pissed off and Gunther was pushing all his buttons. "You're just humoring me. You'd be perfectly happy if I packed everything up and never did a stunt again, if I just sat here on the couch and let you pet me like I'm your fucking lap dog or something!"
They were both speechless in the wake of Kick's outburst, Kick panting his breath out and Gunther staring at him, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. When he stood, Kick actually thought he might punch him, but he just turned and walked toward the front door without a word.
"Gunther, no, wait."
"No, I –" Gunther's voice was very small, as if someone had stepped on it. Kick ran forward to stop him, grabbing his arm. Gunther could have brushed him away like a gnat, but he stopped in his tracks, staring at the ground.
"Hey, I'm sorry," Kick said, holding Gunther's arm with both hands. "I didn't mean that –"
"I know," Gunther said glumly, his eyes still on the ground. Kick tugged on his arm, trying to get him to look up.
"I'm just frustrated," Kick said. "I just need – a new stunt. Something really inspired. Help me think of something, alright? You can be, like, my legal advisor. You can make sure I won't get arrested." He wasn't sure how this would work, because 'legal' stunts were about as exciting as censored pornography, but he wasn't going to let Gunther spend another night worrying about what would happen if Kick got sent to real prison. Gunther smiled when he looked up, but there was sadness in it, and Kick knew Gunther wasn't buying his sudden interest in legality.
"Okay, Kick," Gunther said. His voice was still half-broken, small. "I'll help you think of something."
"I'm thinking water," Kick said. His own voice was kind of pinched, which was annoying. "Maybe water and fire combined."
"Fire?" Gunther sighed and closed his eyes. "Kick –"
"Okay, maybe not fire, but water, definitely." Kick stepped backward, pulling Gunther along with him. "Come on," he said. "Let's watch the rest of the video."
"I don't mean to be touching you all the time!" Gunther blurted, looking distressed. "It just happens."
"Oh – don't worry about it." Kick rubbed the back of his neck, still holding Gunther's arm with his other hand.
"I don't want to make you uncomfortable," Gunther said. His composure was rapidly deteriorating; Kick could feel him shaking. "I don't want to be – weird – like that – but I think I just am."
Gunther wilted and dropped his gaze to the floor. He looked like he was waiting to be hugged or thrown out. Kick was reeling. He'd been pretty sure that Gunther was 'weird like that' since they were kids, but he never thought – never –
"It just makes me feel small," Kick said, pushing the words out fast. A flush spread over his skin when Gunther looked up at him with surprise. "Sometimes," Kick added, muttering.
"Oh, Kick," Gunther said, so softly that Kick got goosebumps from sheer embarrassment. "You – I – I mean, I know you don't appreciate it right now, but I, I – I love that you're small!" He lifted Kick off the ground and yanked him against his chest for a crushing bear hug. Kick coughed against Gunther's shirt, trying to regain his breath as Gunther hummed to himself and rocked him in his arms, radiating happiness
"Well," Kick said, coughing again. "I guess I'm glad you're big." He felt dumb saying so, but it was true. He shouldn't love the fact that his best friend was enormous, thereby making Kick look and feel that much smaller in comparison, but he did like it. He'd never really thought about why until now, and he still couldn't put his finger on it, but it was good, all good. He looked up into Gunther's face, and Gunther's expression of pure joy made him blush.
"Put me down, maybe?" Kick said.
"Oh – sorry!" Gunther laughed nervously, and his face turned red, too. He put his arms behind his back and looked down at his shoes, toeing the carpet. "Um, you wanted to watch the rest of the video?"
"Yeah." Kick took Gunther by the elbow and led him back over to the couch. When he sat, Gunther crowded him as usual, but he didn't seem to know what to do next. He was fidgety, still blushing hard, his leg bouncing. Kick cleared his throat and steeled himself. He didn't want to be responsible for Gunther checking his affection. Kick was never going to change: he would always push the limits and only think about the consequences when it was too late, no regret, covered with scars. Gunther wouldn't change, either, not if Kick had anything to say about it.
"So, here," Kick said, avoiding Gunther's eyes as he reached over and pulled Gunther's arm around him. Gunther's body heat was verging on actual humidity, and he only hesitated for a moment before going all in. He wrapped his other arm around Kick, too, pulling him so close that Kick ended up with one butt cheek in Gunther's lap, his right leg sliding across Gunther's thighs. Kick was roasting inside his clothes, not sure if he was indulging Gunther or himself as he let his weight rest against Gunther's side and brought his hand up to cover Gunther's, which was resting on the pudge of Kick's stomach. Gunther was humming with glee again, rubbing his face against Kick's helmet.
"Don't take this the wrong way," Gunther said. "But you are so cuddly. I could cuddle you forever."
Kick grunted, too embarrassed to respond. He wasn't sure what was happening, but he was tired, and Gunther made a good pillow, warm and soft and purring with contentment as Kick relaxed into his arms, his cheek resting on Gunther's pillowy chest. Whatever this was, he had to admit: if anyone was going to make long term cuddling plans around him, it had better and always be Gunther.