A/N: Just one more chapter after this! Thanks to those who have reviewed - looking forward to hearing what you guys think of the developments in this chapter.
Pretending to be interested in Jacky and like everything was okay with Gunther took up most of Kick's energy, and what little was left was devoted to listening to Jacky's plans for the big homecoming stunt. Kick heard her talking about his forthcoming glory as if he was trapped beneath miles of dark water, and he couldn't imagine actually doing any of the things she had planned for him, but he also couldn't imagine not doing them. He felt like he was between two blurred and distorted versions of his life, unwilling to completely reside in either of them.
He spent his free hours in Jacky's bedroom, trying to get interested in at least the physical side of what she offered as a companion, but his body was uncooperative. Jacky hardly seemed to notice, or maybe didn't want to make him feel bad about it, and she was content to sidle up to him and play with his hair while she raved about whatever. She was just as enthusiastic about cuddling as Gunther, but she wasn't very good at it. She fidgeted constantly, and she had bony shoulders, lots of sharp angles. She did have one quite pillowy area, but Kick didn't want to bury his face there, which meant things about him that he could no longer deny, though it was too late to tell Gunther or even Jacky so.
Some afternoons he spent with Gunther, when Laurence wasn't around. They didn't go to Gunther's room or to Kick's, just walked around the park and made vague plans about stunts without ever actually doing anything about them. They didn't talk about Laurence, or Jacky, or what would happen to Kick if he actually did another stunt that wasn't quiet enough to be rendered pointless. Kick knew Gunther was thinking about all of that, too, but for once he seemed as intent to hide his feelings as Kick was, and they talked more about schoolwork than they ever had.
"What'd you get on that vocab quiz?" Kick asked one afternoon when they were lingering at the park as the sun went down, Gunther sitting on a swing that was squeaking under the weight of him and Kick standing with his hands in his pockets, kicking rocks out of the sandy swing set enclosure.
"Um, a ninety-two, I think?" Gunther said, looking up from the sand he'd been toeing. He was holding the chains on the swing with both hands, and the fact that he way way too big for the thing just made Kick want to kiss him that much more than he usually did. It was eating at Kick's stomach, all the things he wanted and couldn't have twisted up there in a painful knot.
"Cool," Kick said after an awkward silence, and they looked away from each other again. Kick sighed and stared at the horizon, the last of the sunset-orange fading to dark blue. He'd have to go home and eat an awkward dinner with his family, everybody quiet except for Brianna, who was determined to act like everything was normal when they were all together.
"Kick, you know, you don't have to do me the favor of hanging out with me," Gunther said, suddenly angry, all of those feelings that he'd stuffed back down bursting out of him. Kick looked at him, wide-eyed.
"I mean, obviously you'd rather be with Jacky," Gunther said, standing. "Obviously you're bored. It's okay. Maybe we're just too different now –"
"Maybe you just wish you were with Laurence," Kick said, panic ratcheting around in his chest like a mouse in a maze, trying to find a way out.
"At least Laurence talks to me!"
"I'm talking to you!"
"Yeah, about vocab quizzes. Since when do you care about quiz scores?" Gunther groaned and turned away from Kick, pulling his hands through his hair. It was getting longer, but it was still shorter than he'd ever kept it when they were kids, and Kick still wanted to touch it, to see what it felt like now.
"What do you want me to talk about?" Kick asked. "You want me to tell juvey anecdotes? About how my friend had to chew a guy's ear to shreds to stop him from tearing his clothes off?"
"God, are you serious?" Gunther turned back to him, and he looked so sad, which was why Kick never wanted talk about this stuff. "Kick, I. That didn't –"
"No, it didn't happen to me! It wasn't even that bad, most of the time. But that's how I spent my summer, while you were skipping around with Laurence, so excuse me if I don't want to relive the experience."
"Don't say skipping around," Gunther said, pointing a finger at Kick. "Be mad at me if you want, but don't act like a bigot."
"Like a – Jesus, you know what? Maybe we are too different now."
"That sucks, Kick," Gunther said, shaking his head. "Because you seem really unhappy."
"Right, and you're just as happy as a fucking clam," Kick said. His fists were curled, but he knew he'd never actually hit Gunther, or vice versa. They were up in each other's faces, anyway, as much as possible with their height difference. Kick could smell Gunther's gum.
"You think I'm happy like this?" Gunther said.
"Well, with Laurence, yeah, you seem pretty happy."
"You're so stupid!" Gunther said, and that hurt, badly, because he'd never actually insulted Kick, no matter how much Kick was asking for it. Kick turned away, and Gunther groaned. He grabbed Kick's shoulders but didn't turn him around.
"You don't want to be my friend anymore," Gunther said, still holding him. "Say it."
"No! I do. I just want things to go back to the way they were before."
"Yeah, well, that's not going to happen, Kick. And I wouldn't want that, anyway. I like who I am now. I just want you to feel the same way."
"I still like you," Kick said, mumbling, the word love spiraling through his head like a taunt.
"I was talking about you," Gunther said. He gave Kick's arms a squeeze, and Kick let his eyes fall shut, because Gunther couldn't see his face, and wouldn't be able to read it in his pained expression, how much he'd missed this: being held tightly by Gunther. "I want you to like who you are," Gunther said. "You used to. That was my favorite thing about you. You knew exactly who you were and what you wanted, and nobody was going to tell you otherwise."
"Yeah, well, all they do anymore is tell me otherwise," Kick said. "And they lock me in jail for it, too. So forgive me if I'm not as enthusiastic about it as I used to be."
Gunther turned him around then, and Kick tried to make his face hard. He couldn't, because Gunther's was so soft, and he smelled good, and his hands were on Kick's shoulders.
"I know it's been hard," Gunther said. "It's been hard for me, too. You think I had a good summer? All I could think about was how they'd locked you away and how I hadn't even let you apologize, how you probably hated me—"
"I could never hate you," Kick said, shaking his head. He wanted to put his hands on Gunther's chest, or wrap around him completely and hide his face against the pound of Gunther's heartbeat. "Never," he said, letting Gunther look all the way into his eyes, where he'd see this was true.
"The only reason Laurence and I started hanging out was because he could tell I was miserable and he wanted to be there for me," Gunther said. Kick scowled.
"He probably had his eye on you the whole time."
"So what if he did, Kick? Don't I deserve that? Somebody who wants to be with me?"
Kick had to look away from him then, or risk letting him see everything else that was true, that Kick wanted him more than Laurence or anyone else ever could.
"I still say you could do better than him," Kick said. "He's like a noodle with arms and legs."
"Don't be mean. And don't even get me started on your girlfriend."
"Jacky's not really my girlfriend," Kick said, mumbling.
"Well, whatever she is. Your person who you make out with after school. Jacky, Kick? You could have any girl in school, and you pick her?"
"I can't have any girl in school," Kick said, rolling his eyes.
"Yeah, you could! Well, except Kendall, maybe. She's too smart for your crap."
"Yeah," Gunther said. He backed away from Kick, shaking his head. "Like, I wonder if Jacky knows she's not your girlfriend? I'm gonna guess no, since she goes around bragging to everyone that she is."
"That's terrific," Kick muttered, humiliated by the thought. "But, no, um. Mostly she's just helping me with this stunt."
Gunther looked devastated, and Kick realized too late that this would hurt him more than the idea of Kick having romantic adventures with someone else.
"A stunt?" Gunther said, weakly.
"Yeah, but – it's kind of crazy." Kick had been wanting to tell Gunther about Jacky's insane idea for a homecoming stunt since he first heard her describing it in the juvey visiting room, if only to have an excuse not to do it. If Gunther knew how risky the stunt was, not just legally but physically, he would miss the homecoming game just so he could lock Kick up somewhere and keep him from doing it. That was what Kick wanted much more than doing the stunt, even if he'd had a guarantee that he would survive it unscathed: he wanted to hide somewhere, away from the roaring crowd, with Gunther's arms around him. He wanted Gunther to not let him go.
"Well, you guys have fun," Gunther said, starting to cry now, backing away. "Just don't. Don't let her set anything on fire. She can't, ah. I don't trust her not to hurt you."
"Jacky's not even remotely capable of hurting me," Kick said, though he knew Gunther was talking about the fact that she might end up burning him alive, not breaking his heart.
"I gotta go," Gunther said, sniffling and wiping his face with the sleeves of his letterman jacket. "I'll see you around, Kick."
Kick watched him go, waiting for him to change his mind, knowing that he wouldn't. Gunther was too smart for Kick's crap. He and Kendall had that in common, and Gunther was wrong about the rest of the girls at school, even if they did enjoy gossiping about how dangerous little Kick Buttowski had grown up to be. There was only one person who wanted to get close to him anymore, and she was the one who was probably going to end up setting him on fire.
Kick and Gunther stopped hanging out altogether after that. Kick would see Gunther sometimes in the halls at school, with Laurence, and Laurence might dare a look in his direction, ducking his eyes away when he saw the death stare Kick was giving him, but Gunther pretended not to notice he was there. He didn't look happy, and the small comfort took in Gunther's unhappiness just made him feel terrible. Jacky continued making grand plans for Kick's homecoming stunt, and Kick paid less and less attention to what was coming out of her mouth. He just nodded and lay there on his back in her bed, trying not to shudder when she touched him.
The week of homecoming arrived, and Brad came home for his fall break, lugging three damp bags of laundry into the foyer. Kick was on the couch with Brianna, staring at some teen soap opera that she watched every Thursday night. Their father was staying late at work, as had become his habit, and their mother was reading upstairs in her bedroom, where she usually hid until dinner.
"Hey dillweed, butt face," Brad greeted them when he walked into the living room, his hands in the pockets of his fake leather jacket. He stared at them for awhile, frowning. "What the hell is wrong with you guys?" he asked.
"Nothing," Brianna said sharply, her eyes still on the television. "Move. I'm watching my show."
Brad turned toward the television and frowned. "Dillweed?" he said, nudging Kick's leg with his boot. "Why are you watching Gossip Girl?"
"I'm not," Kick said. "I'm just sitting here."
"Kick is depressed," Brianna said.
"What? Maybe Mom and Dad are too caught up in their own crap to notice, but I have!"
"Why is dillweed depressed?" Brad asked, frowning more deeply. "And what's this crap that Mom and Dad are caught up in?"
"I'm not depressed," Kick said, glaring at Brianna. The last person he wanted to talk about this with was Brad, and she should know that. She sighed.
"You'll see," Brianna said to Brad. "About Mom and Dad, I mean. We're having a family dinner tonight," she said, elbowing Kick.
"Well, duh," Brad said. "Mom is making my favorite, to honor my homecoming. Meatloaf." He made a cha-ching motion with his arm.
Kick got up from the couch, throwing down the pillow he'd been holding and heading for the stairs. Brad slapped the back of his head as he walked past.
"Clarence, what the hell?" he said. "Where are you going?"
"To the bathroom, if that's okay with you." Kick's stomach was pinching up just from the sound of the word homecoming. Mellowbrook High's homecoming game was the following night. Gunther would be there, on the field, playing offensive tackle, and Jacky would be there with her ramps and her illegally souped-up motorcycle. Kick didn't know where he would be tomorrow night, still hadn't decided if he'd rather chicken out and lose the last person who actually admired him or go through with it and lose his freedom, and possibly his life.
Kick's father arrived home an hour later, and everyone was called down to dinner. Brad was freshly showered and in a great mood, doing most of the talking as Kick and Brianna sat listlessly at the dining room table, watching their parents set the table and lay out the food.
"I'm pretty much making straight A's," Brad said, almost definitely lying, his mouth full of dinner roll. "So I'm still the brains of the family, in case anyone was wondering."
"That's nice, honey," Kick's mother said, not really listening. She had her elbows on the table, and she hadn't touched her food yet. She was looking down at the other end of the table, where Kick's father had adopted a similar posture.
"Kids," he said. "Now that you're all here, there's something we need to tell you."
Kick looked across the table at Brianna. They both pretty much knew what was coming, but she still looked stunned, and Kick was pretty sure he did, too. Kick looked down at his plate when his parents started talking about how his dad was going to be moving out for awhile, and how it was not necessarily permanent, and how it was nobody's fault. Kick knew that wasn't true. There had been one major source of stress in the household for the past few years, and it began and ended with a 'K.'
After dinner, Kick went to bed without bothering with his homework. He didn't even put the lights on or get undressed, just took his shoes off and lay down on top of the blankets, staring at the ceiling. When he heard a soft knock on his bedroom door he was sure it would be Brianna. He didn't answer, didn't feel like sharing any feelings or listening to her try to convince him that this wasn't his fault. The door opened anyway, and it wasn't Brianna, it was Brad, still wearing that stupid jacket.
"Hey, dillweed," he said, whispering. He left the light off and pulled something from inside his jacket: a bottle. "Want some?"
"What is it?" Kick asked, sitting up.
"Something a little stronger than Cheetah Chug. I figure we could both use some after that delightful family meeting."
Kick knew Brad was upset, too. He hadn't even finished his meatloaf, just sat there looking angry, pushing pieces of it around on his plate. Brad sat next to him on the bed, and Kick accepted the bottle when he passed it over, wincing and choking when he drank from it. He knew it was alcohol, and he'd never tried any before, but he hadn't expected anything that so closely resembled the smell of lighter fluid. Brad laughed and drank some himself.
"It takes some getting used to," he said. "But it will make you feel better. Trust me."
"Jesus," Kick said, coughing and wiping his mouth with his sleeve as the liquor burned down through his chest, lighting small fires there. He reached out again, not wanting Brad to think he was a wimp. "Give me some more."
"Atta boy," Brad said, passing the bottle back to him.
They drank in silence for awhile, the fires that the booze had started inside Kick warming him until the feeling was nice, like flying through the air without actually having to move. He slumped back against his pillows, feeling a little dizzy, but it wasn't bad, the kind of disorientation he used to crave, when he was getting it from back flips, or Gunther's hands sliding over him.
"I haven't seen you since you busted out of the clink," Brad said.
"I didn't bust out," Kick said. "My sentence was up. They released me."
"Yeah, dillweed, that was a joke. So, like." Brad thumped the bottle against his knee, staring at the floor of Kick's bedroom. "Was it pretty terrible? In there?"
"It was fine," Kick said. "I survived. That's what I do. That's my thing. I survive." He hadn't really meant to say that, because it was the kind of thing that would make Brad laugh at him, but Brad didn't laugh, and Kick was glad he'd said it. Talking felt easier than it normally did, and he found that he wanted to say a lot more. "So obviously Mom and Dad are splitting up because of me," he said.
"Don't be stupid, Kick. The world doesn't revolve around you."
"When they fight, it's about me."
"Always? Every single time? You're there for all their fights?"
"Don't try to make me feel better," Kick said, reaching for the bottle again. "Not with lies, anyway. You know and I know that I'm their problem. Maybe I should just take off for good. Tonight," he added, thinking of the homecoming stunt.
"I knew you'd be a dramatic drunk," Brad said, snatching the bottle back when Kick was in mid-sip. "But listen to yourself. You're gonna run away from home because things aren't going your way for once?"
"You got away with a lot for a long time, Kick. You were like, invincible. Guess what, asshole? Some of us never got to be that kid, and everybody has to grow up. Remember when Brianna thought she was the hottest shit on the planet? Now she pukes up her meals because she thinks she's fat."
"What?" Kick leaned off of his pillows too quickly, his stomach lurching as it tried to catch up. "What the hell are you talking about? She told you that?"
"No, but I've heard her. She's worried about you being depressed, and I'm the only one who bothers to notice her starving herself, and I'm not even here-"
"I've noticed!" Kick said. The room was spinning, his head floating above his body, which had suddenly grown way too heavy, sluggish. "Her, she – her ribs, you can feel them, and the only thing she eats are those vegetable shakes-"
"Yeah? Well, congratulations, brother of the year. What are you doing about it? Moping around because Mom and Dad have the nerve to get upset when you get sent to fucking prison? Wake up, Kick. We've all got problems."
"You don't understand," Kick said, shaking his head. He wasn't drunk enough to tell Brad about Gunther, but he wasn't going to let him go on thinking that Kick didn't care about anyone but himself, even if that was the way he'd been acting. "You've got no idea what I'm going through."
"Who the hell does? You don't talk to anyone. Brianna told me you're not even friends with Gunther anymore."
"That's none of your business," Kick said. He grabbed for the bottle, but Brad held it out of his reach.
"She said you have some creepy girlfriend who helped you get arrested," Brad said. "I hear she's pretty hot, but Kick, it's not worth it. You need to get your shit together. If Mom and Dad are really splitting up, Bree is gonna take it the hardest, and she's already a mess. You're the one who's here, and you're the one who's going to have to take care of her. Don't make it the other way around, because she can't handle that shit, and she doesn't deserve it. Be a fucking man, Clarence." He gave Kick the bottle again, and scoffed as he watched him gulp from it.
"You want me to be a man?" Kick shoved the bottle back into Brad's hands. "Okay. How about I start by kicking your ass?"
"Wow," Brad said, standing. "Is this the way you treat everybody who bothers to try to get through to you? No wonder you don't have any friends anymore."
"Get out of my fucking room!"
"With pleasure, dillweed. Jesus, sleep it off. I'll talk to you in the morning."
Brad left, and Kick pulled himself up from the bed, seething. He'd intended to go after Brad and beat the crap out of him, though Brad was still twice his size and still fought dirty whenever he got the chance, but the room was swaying, and he could barely take two steps before he was dropping down to the carpet on his knees. He gritted his teeth and tucked his chin to his chest, punching the ground. Brad was wrong, and an asshole. It was easy for him to say, all that stuff about Brianna; he was off at college, what the hell did he know, what did he care? Kick punched the floor again, and again, and realized that he didn't just want to kick Brad's ass, he wanted to beat up this whole house, the four walls that had kept him prisoner since he'd lost the right to fly through the neighborhood with Gunther at his side, catching the whole thing on tape.
"Gunther," he said, slumping over onto the floor. He still felt too heavy, and moving even a little made his stomach lurch, but he was tired of lying around like a slug, letting things happen to him and doing nothing about it. He missed a lot of things about the way his life used to be, but none of them came close to how much he missed Gunther. He pulled himself up off the floor with a groan and stumbled toward his bedroom door. It was late, and he was wasted, but tomorrow was homecoming, and if he was going to do anything about the mess he'd made, he had to do it right away.
Sneaking out of the house was easier than he'd expected. Brad was blasting music from his bedroom, which provided a good cover as Kick carefully crept out the front door, into the yard. As soon as the cold night air hit him he felt partially revived, and he took off running, the wind burning against his cheeks. It felt like it had been weeks since he'd even moved, though he'd been getting up and going to school, going to Jacky's house, going through the motions. None of it counted for anything without Gunther.
Kick was almost drunk enough to pound on Gunther's door without sparing a thought for what his parents would do if they found Kick outside at this hour on a school night, but he caught himself at the last second and stumbled around to the side of the yard that Gunther's bedroom window looked out on. He rummaged around in the bushes, found a suitably sized pine cone and threw it against Gunther's window. Nothing happened. Finding the pine cone again took some time, but when he did he pitched it at the window again, harder this time. He was trying to figure out where it had bounced off to this time when he heard the window opening.
"Kick?" Gunther said, whispering. He was rubbing his face, shirtless in his flannel sleep pants. Kick stood there in the yard, swaying and beaming up at him. Gunther's hair looked especially fluffy, and Kick knew from experience that it would crackle with static if Kick rubbed his hand through it. "What are you doing?" Gunther asked in a hiss when Kick just stood there smiling like an idiot.
"Gunther," Kick said, trying to project his whisper like a shout. "Hey! How are you? Are you good? You look good."
"Kick, it's like three in the morning," Gunther said, groaning. "Are you – are you drunk?"
"Um, a little. My parents are getting divorced. Brianna is puking, and Brad hates me, and Jacky is gonna kill me for real this time, but it's okay, Gunther, it's okay, because I still have you. Don't I? I mean, if I really need you? And I think I really need you, okay, right now, I just really, really-"
"Shh, Kick, okay," Gunther said. "Stay right there. I'll come down and get you."
Kick lost his balance when Gunther was out of sight, and laughed at himself deliriously when his ass hit Gunther's lawn. He leaned back until he was spread eagle in the grass, staring up at the stars. They were fogged over with thin clouds, dim and far away. Kick grinned when his view of the stars was replaced by Gunther's concerned face. He was wearing a t-shirt now, holding a coat.
"Kick, what are you doing? It's like zero degrees out here." Gunther helped Kick up to a seated position and wrapped the coat around him. It was Gunther's, and it was huge on Kick. It felt big enough to live inside like a house, and he tried to pull Gunther into it with him.
"Hey, um, I love you," Kick said, letting his cheek press to Gunther's, his eyes getting wet just from the smell of Gunther's skin. "It's supposed to be this big secret, but I don't even remember why, so you should know. I love you, not Jacky, God, never her, and you don't love that bean pole guy, do you? You love me more, right?"
"Kick, you smell like a wino," Gunther said, lifting him up into his arms with a groan. "God, and you're shivering. Where have you been? Come inside before you freeze to death."
"You love me, you do," Kick said, mumbling deliriously, his eyes closed on Gunther's shoulder as Gunther carried him inside. "I know you do," he said. "I can feel it. I can smell it. I can't even be alive if you don't love me, and I'm alive, so you must love me, unless I'm dead. Sometimes I kinda feel like I died and no one told me."
"Shh," Gunther said, petting the back of Kick's neck. "You have to be quiet while I carry you inside, okay? Kick? Or my parents will hear-"
"Okay, yeah, shh, I can be quiet."
He fell asleep while Gunther carried him up the stairs, which made staying quiet easy. When Gunther put him in his bed, still wrapped in the coat, Kick woke a little, moaning. Gunther's face loomed over his, worried and exhausted, and Kick grabbed Gunther's ears when he started to move away.
"Gunther?" he said
"Yeah, Kick?" Gunther's voice was small, hopeful, and Kick wanted to give him everything, but every time he put his hands out he found they were empty.
"I need to throw up," he said.
"Okay – wait – I'll -"
Gunther raced across the room to get the trash can that sat near his desk, and almost made it back to the bed in time. He moaned and caught Kick's helmet before it could tumble into the trash can along with his puke, and Kick was vaguely aware of Gunther setting his helmet on the bedside table, where it would be safe. He spit into the trash can and let Gunther smooth his hair off his forehead.
"All done?" Gunther asked, his voice still soft and small.
"I think so," Kick said. He groaned and wiped his mouth. "Gunther, ah, I'm sorry-"
"I know," Gunther said. "Shh, just. Hang on, I'll get you some water."
Kick had forgotten how cozy Gunther's bed was in the middle of the night, just beneath a big window that the moonlight spilled in through. He still felt hazy and out of control, but by the time Gunther returned with a glass of water, the room had stopped spinning. Kick let Gunther prop him up and help him hold the glass while he drank.
"Thanks," Kick said, breathless when the glass was empty. He flopped down to the bed with a moan. "I love you," he said, his eyes closed, because he was afraid to see Gunther's face and know for sure that hearing that didn't mean much anymore. "Did you hear me, before?"
"I heard, Kick," Gunther said. He helped Kick out of the coat and under the blankets. At some point, Kick's shoes had been removed; Kick didn't remember that part. "Is what you said about your parents true?" Gunther asked as he settled down beside Kick, snuggling up against his side. Kick moaned and rolled over to throw himself at Gunther, grabbing as much of him as he could and holding on tight.
"It's true," Kick said, mumbling, his face buried in Gunther's chest. He could hear Gunther's heartbeat, and it made his eyes wet again. "And it's my fault."
"Oh, Kick. You know that's not true."
"All I've done is mess everything up. Gunther, God, can I just stay here? I don't care what happens, I just want to stay right here, please, let me stay here."
"Of course you can stay," Gunther whispered, kissing Kick's forehead. He thought Kick was only asking to stay for the night. Kick meant forever. He never wanted to move away from the steady pound of Gunther's heartbeat, the safety of his arms, the fortress of blankets that had been warmed by his body.
He didn't mean to fall asleep, had so much more to say, but when he opened his eyes again the bluish hue of dawn was glowing through the window behind him. His head was pounding and his eyelids felt too fat, achy. He moaned and closed his eyes again, rubbing his face on Gunther's chest as he squirmed closer to him, his legs sliding against Gunther's under the blankets. Gunther was fast asleep, his arm like a fallen ceiling beam across Kick's shoulder, pinning him in place. Kick didn't mind, and he was quickly asleep again, despite his headache.
When he woke again, Gunther was still beside him, but he was awake now, propped up on his elbow and pressing the back of his hand to Kick's forehead as if to check his temperature. Sunlight was pouring through the window, afternoon bright, and it made Kick squint and pinch his eyes shut again, his head throbbing with pain.
"Are you finally awake?" Gunther asked when Kick clutched at him, pulling the collar of Gunther's t-shirt over his eyes to try to block the sunlight that seemed to seep in past his closed eyelids.
"No," Kick said. His voice was grittier than normal, and he couldn't entirely remember how he'd gotten into Gunther's bed, but he was endlessly, enormously glad to be there. "What time is it?"
"Noon!" Kick squinted up at Gunther, his eyes watering from the burn of the sunlight. "But it's a school day. It's homecoming! They won't let you play tonight if you don't go to school."
"I don't care," Gunther said, laughing. "My parents left for work, and there was no way I was leaving you here alone." He ran his fingers through Kick's hair and down the back of his neck. Kick moaned and pressed his face to Gunther's neck, closing his eyes again.
"But you love football," Kick said, feeling terrible.
"I like football," Gunther said with a shrug. "I love you."
"You do?" Kick lifted his eyes again, and Gunther smiled.
"Don't act like you didn't know the whole time," Gunther said.
"I – but – what about Laurence?"
"Laurence is my friend, Kick. We met through the GSA. Everyone at school assumes we must be boyfriends just because we're both - you know, but that's stupid. Sometimes I think Laurence wishes we were, but I just – I couldn't. Not while I was still thinking about you."
"I couldn't with Jacky, either," Kick said. He sat up on his elbow, the pounding in his head intensifying. He gritted his teeth and ignored it. "Do you remember when we were kids and she made that life-sized Kick doll?"
"Yeah," Gunther said, wincing.
"That's basically what I was when I was with her. I mean in terms of, uh. Physical responses. If you know what I mean."
"Then why'd you tell me-"
"'Cause I was jealous!" Kick said, cupping Gunther's cheeks. "You knew that. I was lying to you, because. Because I was scared." He let go of Gunther and sat back, letting that sink in. Gunther had always loved him because he wasn't afraid of anything, and it was a cruel joke that Gunther was the one thing that terrified him. Gunther slipped his arm around Kick and drew him close again, back down against the pillows.
"I know," Gunther said.
"Yeah, Kick. You're not that good at hiding what you're feeling. Not from me, anyway. I mostly got mad at you because you were being so stubborn, and I felt bad, too, because I shouldn't have tried to pressure you to tell people about us just because I was feeling insecure." Gunther took a deep breath, and when he let it out Kick felt like it was sinking into him, all of Gunther unknotted tension.
"I'm an asshole, though," Kick said.
"Yeah, sometimes," Gunther said, and Kick grinned. "But I found this corner where you didn't feel comfortable and backed you right into it. Then, oh, God, Kick, I was so mad at you, but when they shipped you off to juvey for three whole months, it was like torture. I should have let you explain-"
"The only thing I wanted to explain was that I know I acted like an idiot, and I'll do anything you want," Kick said. He couldn't believe how easy this felt, like sailing through a perfectly executed jump, nothing left to do but land, washed in sunlight and warm against Gunther's side. "Anything, God, I should be so lucky to take you to prom-"
"I don't really want to go to prom, Kick," Gunther said, rolling his eyes. "I mean, I wouldn't turn it down, but that's not the issue."
"I know, I was a jerk, I was insensitive, I was defensive and-"
"Well, yeah, but the real issue? It's dumb, you'll laugh, but do you remember in gym class, back in middle school, when we had to have dance partners?"
"Uh?" Kick wracked his brain. "Oh – um, yeah. Me and Kendall won, right?"
"Yeah, you won," Gunther said, sitting up. "And you were awesome together, and she wore a freaking Viking helmet, Kick! I was so jealous, and next year you started kissing her after school, and I told myself I'd just have to live with it, that it would never be me. I couldn't believe it when you kissed me, that day when you were sick. I thought maybe you were just feverish, delirious or something, and then every time afterward, it always felt like a dream, like something that was almost happening against your will. I guess I'm just especially sensitive about, um, not being the one who's allowed to dance with you."
"I still hate dancing," Kick said, sliding his arm around Gunther's massive shoulders. "But I will dance with you in front of the whole damn school in a tutu if that's what you want."
"Of course that's not what I want!"
"I know, that's not what I'm saying -ah." Kick climbed into Gunther's lap, took Gunther's hands and brought them to his hips. Gunther's cheeks turned pink, and Kick kissed one, then the other. "It was like a dream to me, too," he said. "And then, when I was away from you – everything's just been a goddamn nightmare since I lost you."
"Kick," Gunther said. He pressed his face to Kick's and let him look all the way into his eyes, at the twelve different shades of blue, overlapping between flecks of gold. "You didn't lose me."
"Can I kiss you?" Kick asked, his lips already lowered over Gunther's, their breath mixing together. Gunther huffed and nodded.
"Yeah, Kick," he said, his eyes falling shut. "Yeah."
It was like being able to exist outside of time, skipping out on school and far away from family drama, kissing Gunther until they were both sweating a little, helping each other out of their clothes. Kick had been naked in front of Gunther before, but not since they were kids, and he reached for his helmet, which was still sitting on the bedside table. He put it on and sat Indian-style on Gunther's pillow, blushing as Gunther took him in.
"Don't look at me like I'm a pile of hot wings," Kick said, crossing his arms over his chest. Gunther's grin came slowly, his eyes still bouncing around Kick's body like pin balls, like he couldn't decide what he wanted to look at most.
"I can't help it," Gunther said, crawling over to kiss his nose. "You make my stomach growl."
"Since when is it flat?" Kick asked, running his hand down to touch it. "Not that I'm complaining."
"It's not flat," Gunther said. "It still jiggles. I was so miserable with you, I didn't really have an appetite. Not my usual one, anyway. Plus, they worked the heck out of us at practice this summer."
"You're gonna miss your big game," Kick said. "It's my fault."
"I'm pretty sure it's gonna be worth it," Gunther said. He was naked, too, blushing, too, and he seemed like he wasn't sure what to do with his hands, where to start. Kick slid down underneath him, onto his back, smiling the way he always did when he had an idea for a new stunt.
"Will you coordinate if I give you the basic idea?" Kick asked. "Like old times?"
"Like – uh, yeah, yeah, I will," Gunther said. His face was bright red as he settled down onto Kick, both of them sucking their breath in when they pressed together, ankle to shoulder. Gunther was heavy, but Kick fought his way up onto his elbows and put his lips against Gunther's ear. He told him what he wanted to do in two breathy words, and Gunther moaned, his eyes falling shut.
"I duh – don't know if that's-sssah, such a good idea, Kick."
"Trust me," Kick said, licking Gunther's ear, his hand worming down between them until Gunther gasped. "It is."
It was like their best stunts always were, exhilarating and effortless once they'd worked out the angles, Kick pushing his body to the brink and Gunther holding on tight, keeping him from falling too far. Gunther was bleary-eyed and astonished, staring up at Kick like he was a shadow passing over the sun, and when Kick needed to be caught, Gunther was there, his fingers digging in between Kick's ribs. Kick was liquefied by how good it felt, better than he'd dared to imagine, all the addictive adrenaline of a record-breaking, once in a lifetime stunt, and after he'd crashed Gunther hovered over him, kissing his panting mouth, his hand pressed over Kick's heart. They peered at each other almost nervously, eyelids heavy, and Kick laughed first, giddy and delirious, feeling like he'd just cheated death. Gunther laughed in a huff and licked sweat from Kick's temple.
"Are you okay?" Gunther asked, whispering, like the thing they just did was in the room with them, some danger lingering.
"Yeah," Kick said. "Are you?"
"Fuck, Kick," Gunther said, and Kick laughed, because Gunther almost never cursed. "Yeah, I'm, um, I'm definitely okay. You're not sore or anything?"
"A little," Kick said. He flexed, stretching his arms up over his head. "But it's the good kind of sore. Definitely the good kind."
"You're such a masochist," Gunther said, softly, like this was an endearment.
"Yeah, lucky you," Kick said. He flexed again, watching the way Gunther's pupils fattened, his lips parting. "That means you can do whatever you want to me."
"All I want to do is take care of you," Gunther said, shaking his head and pinning Kick's hands to the mattress.
"Yeah, I know," Kick said. He leaned up to pull Gunther's bottom lip between his teeth. "And this is a whole new way you can do it. Do it again, okay? And again, and again, and just, God, until I can't even walk-"
"Kick, you're crazy," Gunther said, groaning, but he still had Kick's hands pinned, and his mouth was wet when Kick kissed him, Kick's legs coming up to wrap around Gunther's back. "There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, you know," Gunther said, whispering this against Kick's mouth. Kick shook his head.
"Not this," he said. "I'm never gonna get enough of this."
"Kick – ah – Jesus – just be still for a second." Gunther pulled back to give him a worried look. "Don't you need to call home or anything? Do your parents even know you're here?"
"They don't care," Kick said. He wanted nothing less than to talk about them right now. "I'm like a wild animal that's been tearing up their house. They're probably just relieved that I finally got loose."
"Don't be ridiculous," Gunther said. "What if your mom came looking for you this morning and saw that you were gone?"
"She'd just assume I left for school early," Kick said, getting annoyed. "Trust me, it's fine. My cell phone's in my pants pocket. Check it if you want. I bet she hasn't even called."
Kick rolled his eyes when Gunther actually went searching for his pants, flicking through the mess of clothing that they'd thrown onto the floor until he found them. He dug into the pockets until he found Kick's phone, and raised his eyebrows when he saw the screen.
"What?" Kick asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"You were right, your parents haven't called," Gunther said. "But someone else has, about eight thousand times."
"Brianna?" Kick asked, sitting up fast, feeling terrible. Gunther shook his head and showed Kick the phone.
"Jacky," he said.
"Oh, Christ," Kick said. He took the phone and threw it back onto the floor. "She's probably wondering why I'm not at school. I'm supposed to do that stunt tonight."
"What stunt?" Gunther asked. Kick sighed and lay down again, tipping his knees open, hoping his nakedness would be distracting, but Gunther was still frowning, waiting for an answer.
"My homecoming stunt," Kick said.
"Which is what?" Gunther asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Um, this thing she came up with. It'd be pretty cool if I could pull it off. It involves her mom's boyfriend's motorcycle, and, uh. The football field."
"I know, I know! I'm not supposed to do any stunts, I'll get arrested, they'll send me to real prison, I know. It's just – Gunther, I feel like myself again. And I want to fly, for real, I want to hear everybody cheer when I make it through the goal posts."
"You aren't seriously considering this, are you?" Gunther asked, looking stricken. Kick groaned and pulled the blankets up over himself.
"I was," he said. "Before this morning. Before last night."
"What, as some way to get back at me?" Gunther asked, scowling. "By getting yourself arrested? Or, God – Jacky doesn't know anything about engineering, she can't build a ramp that wouldn't kill you-"
"I didn't want to get back at you," Kick said, pulling Gunther down to him, under the blanket. "I just wanted to get you back."
"Kick, you always had me," Gunther said. He moaned and rolled Kick into his arms, setting off a spine-length row of prepare-for-launch sensors when his leg slid up between Kick's. "Always, and you always will. But you know you can't do this, right? I can't lose you again, I can't watch them put you in real jail, oh, God-"
"Shh, I won't," Kick said. He pet Gunther's hair, wondering why he felt like he was lying to Gunther, like he was still going to do the stunt. He couldn't; of course Gunther was right, and he didn't want to go to jail, certainly didn't want to die at the hands of Jacky's sloppy engineering. Still, he couldn't stop thinking about the smell of motor oil burning out into the air behind him as he flew over the field, the crowd gasping, everyone below forgetting to breathe as they watched him fly.
He pushed away his thoughts of stunt-related glory and lost himself in what was going on under the blankets. Gunther was clinging to him like he'd never let him go, pushing his choppy breath into Kick's mouth when it opened for him. It was different the second time, no heated whispers or hesitation, and Gunther wouldn't let Kick take control, not that he tried very hard. Kick liked this, too, flopping back and going boneless, letting Gunther figure out all the twists and turns, just flying while Gunther held his arms against his sides. The growling noises Gunther made were like subtle warnings about what he was capable of, how hard he would fight to keep Kick safe if he had to. Kick's answering whimpers might have been interpreted as his consent to let Gunther take care of him, to hold him in place and make him fall apart until he was too tired to even open his eyes all the way, let alone move out of Gunther's grip. Gunther was soft with him afterward, mopping the sweat from his forehead and kissing him everywhere, worshipful.
"Are you okay?" Gunther asked, and Kick nodded, his eyes closed, sleep already closing over him. "Are you sure?" Gunther pulled one of Kick's eyes open gently. "You're kind of – convulsing."
"It's the good kind of convulsing," Kick said, his tongue heavy as aftershocks traveled down his legs and back up again. "Definitely the good kind." He pulled Gunther down to kiss him in demonstration, and curled up against Gunther as his arm wrapped around him.
"I feel like I should sing to you or something," Gunther said, petting Kick's back, his arm, his cheek.
"You always had a beautiful voice," Kick said, so tired that he wasn't even sure if he was joking or not. He fell asleep before Gunther could come up with anything to sing, or maybe he sang to Kick the whole time he rested. Kick was deep down in the dark of his dreams, and he couldn't hear anything, his body throbbing with exhaustion, clicked off, defenseless inside the warmth that had curled all around him. Even in the far away place where his sleep had taken him, Kick knew: that warm feeling was Gunther, and this was the one spot in the world where he could be too weak to move and still airborne, floating through the clouds.