That moment in the rubble, Lou/Boyd backstory from ICoS

Ok, I originally wrote this (IMO terribly embarrassing) story back in 2011 for The Slash Pile’s Anthology in the winter; it was called Presents and had to be holiday-themed in some way. You can still find the anthology nowadays but apparently  it’s a bit more difficult now. Some readers had found this old story and mentioned how difficult it was to find. Since some people may want to read this, I thought it was only fair to share it.

It’s not terrible, really. I don’t know why I’m so embarrassed by it uggghhh but I ammmmmm ugggggggghhhhhhh OTL

But I make it a point to share even things that embarrass because it’s true that I wrote it and it’s part of my progression as a writer so pretending it didn’t happen doesn’t make it not have happened. Also, lbr. I think everything I write sucks so, by my measure, I would never share anything and some people may find that problematic lol

So here you go. Below is what I sent them back then, in its entirety.

Welcome to a Lou and Boyd backstory for In the Company of Shadows. Have fun and happy reading! (?)


Title: That moment in the rubble
Author: Ais
Rating: R for swearing
Warnings: Swearing. Fluff? And light kissing-type scenes. Also, this is a Lou/Boyd back story for In the Company of Shadows. You don’t need to have read ICoS or know anything about it to read this.

That moment in the rubble

In the Company of Shadows back story by Ais

“You’re gonna fall in that water one day and I ain’t gonna do a thing to stop it,” Lou called up to Boyd. It was a lie, of course. He knew he’d end up jumping in the filthy water in some ridiculous and unnecessary rescue attempt but he figured he’d keep that part to himself. “Get your ass down here, man. It’s gettin’ cold.”

“You’re such a wuss,” Boyd said from atop his favorite pile of rubble. Crater Lake spread before him; stagnant water that filled a massive hole one of the bombs had created just off center of the city.

When he looked down at Lou, the sky silhouetted him. The sun was setting behind the clouds, turning the ever-present grey to deeper silver. The half-crumbled buildings lining the street framed him perfectly as he balanced on a looser chunk of concrete, one hand held out as counterweight.

It was that teasing grin Boyd gave him that had probably done Lou in all those months ago– the way it stretched Boyd’s full lips and made his golden brown eyes spark. Boyd’s blond hair swirled in a stirring of wind that Lou couldn’t feel down here on the ground, and with it Boyd tilted his head to look out at the water once again.

“I’m waiting until I can’t see the color anymore.”

Lou made a face at Boyd and kicked a rock into the water. Crater Lake was nothing but foul-smelling water that slowly killed the scavengers and Ferals, as far as he was concerned. They were the only ones stupid and desperate enough to drink and bathe in it. But Boyd loved the browns and greens of it; the way it stained a near-red at just the right moment of sunset and looked nearly black afterwards.

He wanted to be irritated with Boyd but he couldn’t be, not entirely. Not when he looked at Lou like that.

“It’s freezing, dude! If you’re gonna make me stay out here forever you might as well come keep me warm.” He accompanied the drawl with a distinct waggling of his eyebrows.

“Maybe you could try eating more,” Boyd said lightly, though he seemed amused.

He didn’t acknowledge Lou further as he watched the water. A few ripples stirred in a breeze that pushed his hair from his face and made the concrete he stood on shift. After a moment he sat down, making it obvious he had no intentions of leaving any time soon.

“Not everyone has money to eat,” Lou replied dryly and peered at his best friend from under his fall of unruly blond curls. He edged closer to the pile of rubble and carefully hopped onto it, picking his way slowly to where Boyd sat.

“I know.” Boyd turned his attention to Lou and reached out a hand to help. “That’s why you should eat more of the food at my house, you idiot.”

Lou curled his cold, stiff fingers around Boyd’s eagerly, squeezing them and smiling at him before sitting down close to him. “I don’t want nothing your mom buys. I’ll get stuff on my own.”

He put an arm around Boyd’s shoulders and huddled close, staring at his friend intently in the increasing darkness. “I wish we could just get a place of our own anyway… you know, like how I talked about?”

Slipping an arm around Lou’s back, Boyd watched him for a long moment before he sighed and looked away. “I know,” he said quietly. “But we don’t have any money, Lou. And it’s difficult finding consistent utilities, even clean water. The house is paid for and it just… doesn’t make sense to move away from it yet. My mother’s barely home anyway and there’s plenty of room for us, so in a way it is our place…”

Lou reached up and brushed his fingers against Boyd’s cold cheek, turning his face toward him again. He always felt a secret thrill at being able to touch Boyd so easily, especially when he saw the way his friend was so uninterested in interacting with anyone else.

“But I could make it work,” Lou insisted. “I’ve been saving, scraping together money. We could get a little room together somewhere and.. I could get a real job and everything.” He hardly hesitated, unable to stop the headlong rush now that he was finally saying the words that had been burning in his chest for the past several months.

“Wouldn’t, I mean– I know you’re used to that nice house and all but…” He stopped at Boyd’s stare– interested but not understanding fully– and ended up trailing off after all. He shrugged, dropping his hand and looking away glumly. “Never mind. It’s dumb, I guess.”

Eyebrows drawing together, Boyd tilted his head. “No.” He grabbed Lou’s free hand in his and absently ran his thumb along the palm. “What were you going to say?”

Lou glanced down at Boyd’s hand and felt his heart speed up as it always did when Boyd touched him. He looked up at Boyd, glad that the shadows would hide the reddening of his pale face. “I was hopin’ that you’d be happy just… having a place with me. Just to call our own, right? But it’s stupid, I mean you wouldn’t wanna live like that… I just got used to it after my parents died and all…”

He felt stupid saying all these words aloud. Asking for something he was unlikely to get.

“No, it’s not that.” Boyd shook his head, his tone confused but gaze searching Lou’s. He squeezed Lou’s hand reassuringly. “I think I’m just too practical. It’s not the place that matters to me so much as it is spending all my time with you. Why should you have to waste your time saving up for something we already have? The house is just a shelter, although it’s possible I’m reluctant to leave since it’s the last connection I have to my dad.”

Boyd always did that; talked like he was older than he was. It was probably all the reading he did in his off time.

“But I’d rather you didn’t have to get a job so I could be around you more and I’d rather we didn’t have to scrounge constantly for food and utilities when we have it there. If we don’t have those stresses in our lives, we can spend the energy and money on something else that’s more exciting.” He paused and tilted his head again, the confusion growing and mixing with honest curiosity. “Is that selfish of me?”

Lou was silent for a moment, although the melancholy that had almost managed to overcome him melted into a pleasant, warm feeling that spread throughout his body. A small smile formed on his mouth and he clasped Boyd’s hand between both of his.

“No.” He rubbed his hands against Boyd’s in an effort to warm it. “It’s not.”

He looked up into Boyd’s eyes, studied him and then looked away again. He could feel hope building inside him. He normally tried to quell it, tried to tell himself that the things Boyd did and said were because they were best friends. Not because he was like Lou…

“What kind of exciting stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Boyd said, a quirk of a smile crossing his face. “We could take a trip… My dad left me some money that my mother said would be used to buy a car later. We could see the rest of the country. Or…” He shrugged, apparently at a loss. “What would be fun?”

The idea of exploration and adventure had always intrigued Lou, but the idea of spending weeks, months, even years alone with Boyd on the open road was exhilarating. He pictured them camping out under the stars, staying in trashy motels, sleeping close together to fend off the cold…

He shook his head, a wry smile widening on his lips. “You don’t wanna know what I think would be fun.”

Boyd leaned closer and smiled. “Try me.”

Lou bit the inside of his lip and studied Boyd. “I could show you.”

“Sure.” Boyd glanced around as if trying to determine where Lou would take them.

Lou hesitated for a long moment, growing stupidly nervous and hands shaking slightly as he studied his friend. He’d tried to find a way for a long time, tried to hint at it, joke– do something to let Boyd know, but…

He grabbed Boyd’s chin suddenly and leaned forward, pressing his mouth against Boyd’s in a chaste kiss. He closed his eyes and his heart thundered, disbelief with what he was doing coursing through him even as he pulled away. He couldn’t quite meet Boyd’s eyes as he rambled, “Um. Yeah. So are you done here now?”

Eyes widened and cheeks pink, Boyd looked more surprised than anything. He brought one hand up to his lips and maybe Lou imagined he could feel Boyd’s heartbeat pound through their still clasped hands.

“Lou…?” Boyd asked uncertainly.

Lou stood up, once again shoving his hands in his pockets as he looked around. The night people were starting to come out and he didn’t want them hounding Boyd for money, getting violent and nasty when he said no. “Let’s get out of here, huh? The weirdos are waking up.”

“Uh,” Boyd said, looking confused before he glanced around distractedly. “Oh. I suppose they are.” He stood but searched what he could see of Lou’s face in the failing light.

The wind picked up, growing far colder now that even the hint of sun was gone, and for a moment Boyd’s expression was covered by the hair blowing into his eyes. Lou wanted to reach out and touch his hair, wanted to run his hand down Boyd’s cheek and more than anything he wanted to lean in and kiss him again. That brief brush of their lips had been entirely too short and entirely too thrilling, and even as awkward and uncomfortable as he felt he found himself having a hard time keeping his eyes from focusing on Boyd’s mouth.

He shifted away from his friend a little further, as if putting that minuscule distance between them would change anything.

Using a hand to pull his hair back into a ponytail and away from his face, Boyd gave Lou a long look. Lou didn’t meet it, staring stubbornly instead at the streets below them. After a moment Boyd started down the side of the pile of rubble and said in a tone that was a little more like usual, “You’re definitely coming to my house, though. It’s too cold for you to be outside and I intend to force tea on you.”

The fact that Boyd wasn’t angry was a good sign but something in Lou fluttered nervously anyway. He didn’t want to talk about it out in the open where people who already harassed them would have more ammunition. In truth, even though he was the one who’d initiated the contact, even though he wanted to do it again, he was afraid of the conversation that might follow.

It was all well and good to have imagined doing this sort of thing for awhile now and to have come up with a number of scenarios where it would all end well– but actually being at this point he was suddenly all too aware of the fact that he could have just ruined everything. Because even if Boyd didn’t kick him out, if they got back to the house and Boyd said there was no way in hell he’d ever be interested, it would feel just the same as if he did.

And anyway, who wanted to sit around talking about feelings?

“Bah, I don’t want your gross jasmine tea,” he said instead. His hands swayed out, balancing him as he picked his way over the rocks. “But I’ll drink it if you insist. And if you give me those little butter cookie things you somehow keep finding even though no one has them no more.”

Boyd slid down the rest of the way and hopped to the ground, turning to look up at Lou with a mischievous grin as he waited for him. “I have my ways,” he said cryptically, his hands shoved in the pockets of his trench coat.

Although the coat was already a year old and Boyd wore it constantly, it was in surprisingly good shape. Lou liked that Boyd wore it. He thought it made him look dark and mysterious, which to Lou made Boyd look really good, and he hoped to others may give him a bit of the intimidation factor that Boyd lacked on his own.

For all that Boyd wasn’t very social, he was too trusting. He wanted to believe in other people even when they didn’t give him good reason for it. Because of that he had the makings of someone who could be hurt really badly. It made Lou feel protective of him.

“And,” Boyd added in a long-suffering manner, “I suppose I can do without a few extra cookies if that’s all it takes to get you to come home with me.”

Lou smirked and dared to thread his arm through Boyd’s. He could feel the heat of his friend’s body rolling off him, caught between the two of them. It felt intimate and important.

“I’d come home with you for less than that,” he drawled. “I’m cheap and easy.”

Boyd laughed and leaned against Lou, resting his head briefly against Lou’s shoulder. “Well,” he said in amusement, “that’s good to know.”


They didn’t talk about the kiss that night because that was the way it seemed to go with them. They didn’t talk about the things that were too difficult to put in words. They didn’t talk about the things that were too awkward.

Part of it was they didn’t have to; they knew each other so well that one would know if the other was upset about something and really that was all that mattered. But part of it was also that they’d never learned to be that open.

And if there was one thing Lou didn’t ever want, it was to lose Boyd. He wasn’t sure if pushing the topic would do just that. If that stolen kiss at Crater Lake would end up being all he ever got, that was enough.

So they didn’t talk about the kiss that night or that week or even the next. Lou caught Boyd eyeing him contemplatively sometimes, when he thought his friend wasn’t looking, and Lou caught himself doing the same even more in return.

That important moment surrounded by rubble remained unspoken but just as impacting as if it were a fence dividing each room in two.


It may have continued that way indefinitely if it hadn’t been for the night a few weeks later.

Boyd had been beating Lou at video games all day and it was starting to become irksome. Lou was usually the one with more wins than loses– and to make matters worse, Boyd was in such a good mood that he was starting to gloat.

“Got you again!” Boyd boasted, looking over with what Lou felt was far too smug of a grin. “Are you even trying today, Krauszer?”

“Shut up!” Lou jerked the controller into a better position and settled back against the couch. “I’m just letting you win ’cause you usually suck so hard at this.”

Boyd chuckled. “If you say so.”

Their characters reset on screen.

Lou tried to pay attention to the game, he really did. But as had been happening far too often of late, he was distracted by Boyd’s proximity. When they hit the buttons a little too enthusiastically their arms brushed against each other. When Boyd was concentrating so hard, his eyebrows furrowed and his lips pursed and all Lou could think about was how he had kissed those lips.

He was just wondering whether anything like that would happen again when Boyd let out a crow of victory and actually punched one fist into the air. The cocky bastard. Lou looked at the screen and saw that he had lost horribly again.

“This is nearing the point of being sad.” Boyd canted his eyebrows up, eyes sparking with teasing. “If you’ve stopped being a challenge I may have to pack up this game and find someone else to play with.”

Lou knew Boyd was just talking about the game but he felt a hiss of jealousy at the idea of Boyd being around someone else. Combine that with Boyd’s self-satisfied glance and the frustration Lou had been feeling, and all of a sudden it was too much.

Lou snatched his glass of soda off the coffee table and dumped it right on Boyd’s head.

It was worth it. The shock on Boyd’s face; the way his eyes widened comically and the controller fell from lax fingers.

It was completely worth it.

With his own overbearing smirk, Lou quickly reset the game and started attacking Boyd’s character viciously. In no time the character was dead and Lou was already starting to reset again.

“How’s that?” Lou demanded smugly. “You gonna be a little bitch about it now?”

Recovering himself, Boyd suddenly tackled Lou from the side. The two of them wrestled with each other, Lou holding the controller out of Boyd’s reach and still hitting whatever buttons he could while Boyd tried to crawl up his friend to snatch the controller away. Lou laughed as he shoved Boyd away by his forehead, by his shoulders, and soon Boyd was laughing too even as his character died again.

Boyd called Lou all manner of names his uptight mother would never have approved of and Lou informed him of this. They ended up collapsed on the floor against each other, Boyd blanketing Lou in a tangle of limbs with his forehead resting against Lou’s chest. They were both panting to catch their breath and it took a moment for Boyd to retort:

“She would if it was said to you.”

Lou couldn’t help a low snicker. He grinned at the ceiling, feeling rather pleased with himself as he always was when he thought of how the senior Beaulieu disliked him. “True enough.”

When Boyd finally looked up through his mussed blond hair, Lou felt an illicit thrill in his stomach. His hands jerked at his sides and he barely caught himself from reaching down to touch Boyd, to pull him close and kiss him again.

Something must have shown on his face because all of a sudden Boyd got a peculiar look. His eyes narrowed with his lips just barely parting. After a second that lasted an eternity, Boyd suddenly ducked his head and pushed himself up.

“I need a shower now thanks to you, spoilsport,” he muttered. He was gone before Lou could respond.

Lou was left lying there, feeling frustrated and just as confused as Boyd so often seemed. He grimaced and scrubbed at his face, wishing not for the first time that he had never developed such feelings for his best friend in the first place– and at the same time content with the knowledge that he had.

He’d already spent months agonizing over and denying what he felt. At this point he was tired of it all and knew that this was just the way it was going to be.

Knowing that it would be better to just go to sleep and try to deal with the awkward situation in the morning, Lou finally pushed himself to a stand and wandered to the bedroom. Boyd tended to take long showers anyway.

Ever since they were children, Lou had spent many nights sleeping over at Boyd’s the same as Boyd had slept over at Lou’s. Although the Beaulieu household had extra rooms upstairs, Lou had always slept in Boyd’s bed with him.

When they were kids they had done so because Lou had been afraid of the dark but had been too proud to admit it. As they’d grown older, the sleeping arrangement had remained. It must not have occurred to Boyd to demand anything different and Lou hadn’t wanted to lose the excusable intimacy it afforded.

Lou was distracted when he laid down to sleep so he was still awake later when Boyd walked in. The weight of Boyd’s body depressed the mattress, jostling Lou faintly. He was overwhelmed by the fresh smell of his friend and, worst of all, imagining what Boyd would have looked like in the shower– wet and naked and flushed from the heat.

Shit, he thought and squeezed his eyes shut. Why did he always do this to himself?

There was a long time in which he didn’t hear anything but Boyd’s breath, slowing as the minutes dragged on. Lou tried to sleep, he really did, but that night he wanted so badly to turn on his side and face Boyd instead.

He started wondering if maybe he could do it after all. Maybe he could say he was just so dead asleep he didn’t realize he’d rolled over in the night and, well, if they ended up against each other then it wasn’t his fault. The bed was only so big, after all.

He was contemplating that and wondering how to go about it believably when he realized with a start that the shifting he heard wasn’t Boyd turning in his sleep or even getting up to leave. Instead, he was rolling toward Lou. His breath was warm against Lou’s neck, sending a thrill down his spine that ended with a flutter in his stomach.

He tried to hold himself still when he felt Boyd hesitate and his breath quicken, and saw Boyd’s arm descend in front of him. He didn’t move when Boyd hovered over him. He tried to act like he was asleep. He didn’t dare open his eyes all the way but he watched Boyd through his eyelashes.

He could just barely make out Boyd’s expression through the contours of the shadows. The only light in the room was cast by the strip of streetlight that shone through Boyd’s partially open curtains.

Lou felt his heart thundering in his chest and watched his friend watch him. He told himself not to move, not to question anything, even when Boyd reached out and ran his fingertips lightly across Lou’s lower lip. Lou may have been able to follow his own order if Boyd hadn’t then hesitated and brushed their lips together.

Lou was so surprised he couldn’t help jumping in place, his eyes snapping open to meet Boyd’s startled, widened eyes. Boyd jerked back and sat up, looking at Lou with such guilt he seemed like a child who was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. It would have been amusing another time but as it was, Lou was too shocked.

“You kissed me,” he said stupidly.

“I–” Boyd started, shifting further away. “Lou– I…” His mouth stayed open but he seemed at a loss for words.

Lou sat up fully, the sheets falling to pool in his lap. He brought his hand up to his lips much the same as Boyd had that first time and looked at his friend in wonderment.

“You did mean to.”

It wasn’t a question, didn’t really need to be because how could that have been an accident?, but he was still so surprised by the action that he couldn’t help stating the obvious. It came out partly accusatory, as if to fend off any excuses of sleep-kissing.

“Of course I did,” Boyd said in mild exasperation.

“Why?”

“I–” Boyd paused and started again, gaze not quite meeting Lou’s eyes and yet still drawing back to his lips. “I don’t know, exactly.”

Unwilling to let Boyd get away with that after such a long time of wanting something like this to happen, Lou leaned forward. His hands braced against the mattress.

“Did you like it?”

Boyd’s cheeks flushed slightly, just a hint of color in the otherwise monochromatic night, and he ducked his head. “I don’t know…”

Now he wasn’t looking at Lou at all. But it was only embarrassment Lou thought he saw, nothing of disgust.

Eagerness surged through Lou and he crawled forward until he knelt in front of Boyd, cupping Boyd’s cheeks between the warmth of his hands. Boyd’s eyes darted up of their own accord and when their gazes met, Lou felt his heartbeat stutter in his chest.

Without planning to, his thumbs brushed gently along Boyd’s cheekbones. Boyd stayed mostly still, not pulling away but not exactly moving closer either. In his peripheral vision, Lou saw Boyd’s long fingers twitch and, after a moment, felt them rest on his thighs.

“Well if you don’t know either way we gotta fix that.”

He dared to slide his thumb down, running it along the indentation at the edge of Boyd’s lips. Boyd’s breath caught and his fingers twitched against Lou’s legs.

“What do you suggest?” There was something undeniably shy about the way Boyd sat there huddled in bed, looking to Lou for the lead.

It sent a thrill through Lou. It made him feel important.

“Trying it enough so you know.” Lou tried for confidence but was too distracted by the heat and proximity of Boyd.

Boyd hesitated, staring into Lou’s eyes. For a moment Lou thought he was going to pull away and this whole thing was going to end in failure. But then he nodded faintly.

“Okay.”

For a moment Lou wondered if he was dreaming all this but surely this level of excitement wasn’t possible when asleep.

He leaned forward, continuing to meet Boyd’s eyes until it felt strange and awkward to do so. He hesitated, watching the fluctuation of color in Boyd’s eyes and the way his eyelashes dusted his cheeks every time he blinked, and then closed his eyes and decided to go for broke.

This time when their lips met it was at a better angle. One of them released a breath or maybe both of them did in sync.

When Lou’s hand slid in Boyd’s hair, Boyd let out a quiet, understated sound that sent a shiver through Lou. When Boyd touched Lou’s cheeks, hesitant at first and then with more confidence, Lou felt his own fingers tremble.

Their lips brushed each other, short and chaste at first until it progressed to something deeper. Lou felt dizzy with the moment and feeling Boyd’s breath washing over him. He could smell the conditioner Boyd had used and could feel the dampness of Boyd’s hair against his fingertips.

Again and again they kissed, until Lou couldn’t think clearly. Soon Lou had Boyd’s lower lip rolling between his own and Boyd inhaled sharply, his fingers gripping Lou’s shoulders. It was heat and intimacy and trapped breath and Lou felt like he was flying.

It felt like hours later when they pulled apart. Electricity sang along Lou’s lips as their eyes met.

“So?” Lou’s voice surprised him with how thick it was. He couldn’t help playing with Boyd’s hair; turning the strands over and over between his fingers. “Did you like it?”

Boyd smiled, running long fingers along the nape of Lou’s neck. Fire was left in the wake of that gentle touch.

“I did.”

The whispered confession left Lou as breathless as if it had been a shout that gleaned all the air from the room.

Lou grinned back. “Good,” he said in relief, and then to protect his reputation he said more confidently:

“Good. I knew you would.”


“What’re you doing up?”

Boyd looked up, startled, from where he’d been sitting on the edge of the couch. He was leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees. It was over a week after the second time they’d kissed and Lou had been staying over even more often than usual. The way Boyd looked a little surprised made Lou wonder if, somehow, Boyd had forgotten his presence.

Boyd smiled at Lou but there was nothing genuine about it; it seemed more rote than anything.

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No.”

Lou padded into the room and paused next to his friend, staring down. He recognized the somber darkness in Boyd’s eyes; the way he wouldn’t quite look up fully and his shoulders hunched as if protecting himself from injury.

As it always did, a flare of protectiveness and indignation shot through Lou. He crossed his arms and didn’t stop the frown from overtaking his mouth.

“What’d she do?” he demanded.

Boyd smiled again, a sad twist of his lips, and shook his head as he leaned back. “Nothing. Sorry, it’s nothing.”

The frown became an outright scowl. He stood his ground over Boyd like he was preparing for battle. “Like hell it’s nothing! That bitch said some shit to you again, didn’t she?” He grabbed Boyd’s shoulders, the sudden movement causing Boyd to look up at him.

Boyd’s expression tightened and he started to look away again but Lou was too used to that particular brand of avoidance Boyd used when he was uncomfortable. His grip tightened on Boyd’s shoulders as he shook him. “Didn’t she?”

There was an extended pause and then Boyd sighed heavily. He still wouldn’t meet Lou’s eyes but at least he answered this time.

“It’s not that, really. It’s just… it’s coming up soon.”

Lou didn’t have to ask what ‘it’ was. They both knew; they’d both experienced the same life-changing loss. He stopped, surprised he hadn’t realized the proximity himself, and sat down heavily next to Boyd.

He couldn’t think of anything to say other than, “Oh.”

Boyd glumly studied his hands resting in his lap. “I didn’t think it would matter anymore, a few years out. I thought I’d get over it.” The words lifted on the edges; turning questioning and uncertain. There was a long, charged silence before he added more quietly, “But I guess I haven’t.”

“Well,” Lou said at length, reaching over to jerk Boyd against him with an arm around his shoulders. Boyd let him and rested his head on Lou. “Your dad was pretty cool. He’d probably be kinda pissed at you for being so sad about it.”

“Maybe.” The slightest unsteadiness in Boyd’s voice that he was obviously fighting against showed that he wasn’t entirely convinced. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his face into the crook of Lou’s neck. With a shift he turned and held Lou close.

“I miss your parents too,” Boyd admitted in a muffle.

Lou felt the same flare of recklessness, pain and anger he always did when he thought about how his parents had been killed in the war. He wrapped his arms around Boyd and held tight, maybe too tight, because thinking about them always made him terrified he’d lose Boyd like that too. Just wake up one day and he’d be gone, the same as with them.

It wasn’t fair, he thought angrily. It wasn’t fair that people who were decent like them died and the evil bitches of the world like Boyd’s mom managed to make it through just fine. Probably because she was busy shoving everyone else down to get on top where it was safe.

He kissed the top of Boyd’s head without thinking and then rested his cheek against his hair. He felt Boyd’s arms pull him closer.

Boyd was the only one he wanted to be this way with; the only one he could hold and let his guard down without fear of reprisal or mocking.

The only one he cared about like this. The only one he ever would.


Snow filtered down from the sky, fluffy and white and moving about unpredictably. Boyd was bundled up in layers and layers of sweaters and scarves and jackets. The mittens he wore were old and worn out; Lou still remembered when he got them years ago. They hardly fit anymore but Boyd didn’t really have the money to get anything new and he didn’t seem to care.

With his head tilted back and eyes squinting against the blinding white of the sky, Boyd was in a cheerful mood. Palms up and held out, his mouth wide open and tongue sticking out, he sought to catch the snowflakes before they could drift to the ground. He was so distracted he didn’t see Lou bend over and, with an evil smirk, form a snowball.

Boyd was nearly knocked over with the power of the snowball slamming into him. He stumbled, indignation turning his eyes wide and pulling a strangled shout from him. Before Lou had properly prepared himself he was suddenly met with a mouthful of cold, wet snow in retaliation.

“Oh you’re gonna get it for that, Beaulieu!” Lou shouted, bending down to gather more snow.

Boyd laughed and rained snowballs on Lou as he wadded a particularly large ball of snow. When he was ready, Lou covered his face with his scarf almost completely and then grabbed the huge mound of snow between both hands and took off running.

His feet slipped against the rise and fall of snow and Boyd looked at once alarmed and delighted as Lou approached. Boyd threw another snowball to deter Lou but when he saw that it wasn’t effective, he suddenly turned and started to sprint away.

Boyd nearly made it to his front door when Lou caught up to him, tackling him to the ground. Boyd landed with a whump, his breath straining out of him and not fully returning as he squirmed and laughed and pleaded:

“No, no, wait, Lou–“

Lou finally got his hands beneath all those layers and, without giving Boyd a chance to defend himself, shoved the huge ball of snow down against the bare skin of his back. Boyd jerked and actually shrieked, ‘like a little girl’ Lou later teased him mercilessly.

“Shit!” Boyd gasped, trying unsuccessfully to arch and roll his back to keep the snow from melting all over him. Lou laughed wickedly and finally took enough pity to move off. Boyd was up immediately, jumping around and trying to hold his shirt out from his back while snow filtered from beneath his clothing in a fluffy white trail. “Shit, shit, it’s cold–“

Mister Beaulieu,” Lou said in the scandalized tone their teachers had used in the past. “That isn’t the sort of language I expect to hear from your mouth!”

“Whose fault is that?” Boyd retorted almost sullenly. The snow must have been gone because now he was standing very still in a peculiar position, his back arched as if to keep even a drop of icy snow from touching him.

He was right, of course. The teachers had only ever acted like that when Lou had convinced Boyd to do something stupid or had otherwise gotten him in trouble. Boyd was typically too good of a student to get in trouble on his own. Or, as Lou often considered it, he was too lame. The same went with swearing.

He was about to shoot something witty back when he heard a door open across the street. Boyd’s old biddy of a neighbor appeared in her doorway and actually shook her fist. He didn’t think anyone ever did that shit outside of cartoons.

“You boys stay quiet over there!” she shouted in her reedy voice, her face all cranky and crackly and filled with wrinkles. “This is a good neighborhood! The way you two act is unseemly!”

Lou scowled at her and flipped her his middle finger. She gasped, hand jerking to her chest, and said in an even better scandalized tone than Lou’s:

“Why, I never!” (Really, did anyone actually say that either?)

“Yeah ya have,” Lou called back with a shit-eating grin. “Just the other day I did the same. You already losing your mind, you nosy old hag?”

Mrs. Hensley’s face turned bright red, which was rather impressive Lou thought, and her mouth opened and closed as if she couldn’t decide how best to ream him. Let her try, he thought fiercely. He’d stood up to far worse than a bitch of a lady older than the Constitution.

“You just watch, boy! I’ll call the cops on you. I’ll do it on both of you!” She turned an accusatory glare over Lou’s shoulder to settle on Boyd, as if she blamed him for Lou’s presence. “Neither of you belong here.”

Without waiting for a response she disappeared inside her house, shutting the door pointedly firmly; like the little old lady version of slamming it without wanting to cause any damage.

Lou shouted, “Yeah you better run, you stupid bitch!”, feeling heady and triumphant. He would have said something more but then he felt Boyd’s hand at his arm and turned, not surprised to see Boyd looking highly uncomfortable.

“Come on, Lou. Let’s go inside.” He wasn’t quite meeting Lou’s eyes, again, which at the moment annoyed Lou more than anything.

“You’re such a fucking pansy,” Lou complained, although he let Boyd drag him back into the house. “You gotta stop giving such a shit about what these nosy old broads say. You pull this with your mom all the time.”

Boyd’s lips tightened and his back was very straight. He shut the door too carefully, which told Lou that he was using the movement to hold onto his control. He knew he was upsetting Boyd but at that moment he didn’t care– at that moment he felt reckless with it.

He wanted to make Boyd grow some thicker skin. He wanted to make him stop caring so much when all it did was hurt him.

“Why do you care, anyway?” Lou pressed angrily when Boyd didn’t respond.

He yanked his gloves off and threw them down, already moving to work on the rest of his layers. The snow fight outside soured in his mind immediately and he took great pleasure in making a mess all over that bitch Vivienne’s perfectly maintained floor.

Boyd didn’t answer at first, instead removing the layers of winter clothing and then heading toward the kitchen. That only made Lou angrier so he stormed after him, grabbing him by the shoulder and yanking him around so they faced each other.

“Why?” he demanded even as he only then noticed the strain in Boyd’s expression. The tightness around his lips and the slight glint in his eyes.

Boyd shook Lou’s hand off him impatiently. “Why do you care that I care?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Lou demanded indignantly.

“You always get so mad out of nowhere,” Boyd said rather than answer that question. “You know this is how I am. You know it. So why do you keep getting so angry?”

“Because you just accept all the stupid shit people say about you! You act like it’s your fault and it pisses me off.”

“Well, maybe it’s because I know it is!” Boyd nearly shouted back, hands clenching at his sides and eyes flashing with something Lou couldn’t really decipher.

Lou shoved Boyd, making him hit the wall. “How? How is her being a stupid bitch your fault?”

“I don’t know!” Boyd yelled back, his voice raising. His eyes were glinting more now, his hands jerking up to wrap around Lou’s arms. “I don’t know but I know it is.”

Lou realized with a dawning sense of horror that it was tears Boyd was holding back. The anger he’d been feeling was gone as suddenly as it had come, replaced by confusion and, with understanding and suspicion that drove a stake of ice through his stomach, anger again at a different source.

He couldn’t help clenching his hands on Boyd’s arms. “Did she come by today?”

Boyd grit his teeth but then he was nodding, the tears making his eyes bright and pained. He tightened his hold on Lou and tilted his head down, long blond hair falling forward over his shoulders to hang in the air between them.

“I know it’s stupid,” he said, voice thick even as he clearly struggled to hold it in. “I know you don’t want me to care but she’s my mother– she’s my mother and she’s all I have left– And when she comes by…” His breath drew in a little too quickly and he swiped at his eyes and nose almost angrily, as if disappointed with himself for the display. He was silent a second but before Lou could say anything he continued.

“Lou.” He looked up, his honey brown eyes reddened and glistening; his cheeks smeared with the beginnings of wet tracks. Even as Lou watched, Boyd’s eyes grew brighter and his expression twisted.

“Sometimes when she comes here she looks at me like she wishes I would die.” His voice caught and strained. “Like– Like she’s disappointed to find me still alive. Like I’m nothing but a mistake. She as much as said that today.” Even as Lou hissed and couldn’t help pulling him closer, Boyd said, pained, “And I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. I don’t know why she hates me so much or how to make her stop.”

Lou sighed and when Boyd shoved the beginning of tears impatiently off his cheeks and buried his face in Lou’s shoulder, he allowed it. He wrapped his arms around Boyd in return and glared at the wall over Boyd’s back, thinking about how much he’d like to punch Vivienne in the face.

“That’s what I keep telling you– you didn’t do nothing wrong. She’s just a fucking idiot.”

There was some sort of movement, although whether Boyd was shaking his head or nodding Lou didn’t know. He only tightened his hold on Boyd and sighed again as he felt the way Boyd was struggling so hard to maintain a semblance of neutrality.

He knew Boyd would be angry with himself later for even this much of a release– he was always trying so damn hard to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Even though he leaned on Lou more than anyone else it seemed like with things that really bothered him he always tried to fix it on his own first.

Like he didn’t want to be a bother to anyone even if he was falling apart.

The way his stupid bitch of a mom always made him feel guilty for his own existence, that was probably exactly what Boyd thought.

“Look, it’ll be fine,” Lou assured Boyd, resting his cheek against Boyd’s hair. “You’ll see.”

There was a beat of silence in which Boyd’s breath evened and his hold on Lou tightened. He didn’t move from the safety Lou’s arms offered, and when he spoke it was muffled against Lou’s collarbone.

“I know it will, Lou, because you’ll always be here.”

Lou smiled and wondered if Boyd could feel it through his hair.

“Damn right, Beaulieu. Nothing will ever keep me away.”

Boyd’s arms strengthened around him even further at those words. They stayed there, holding each other and saying nothing, until Boyd finally pulled away. As Lou had predicted, his reddened eyes were squinted. A disgruntled frown stained his features and he scrubbed at his face as if impatient to remove any evidence of his momentary weakness.

“Sorry,” he muttered thickly, not meeting Lou’s eyes.

“There, there,” Lou said lightly, a grin pulling at his lips. He patted Boyd on the head as if he were a child. “All better now. How would you live without me?”

Boyd snorted and smacked Lou’s hand away from where it was starting to ruffle his hair. “I wouldn’t.”

Lou smirked and yanked a startled Boyd back against him, arms wrapped in a hug around his neck. He smacked an overly wet kiss against his cheek just to mess with him and felt rather satisfied when it elicited an indignant yelp. He held him close even as Boyd struggled, both of them knowing Boyd wasn’t putting that much effort into it but keeping up appearances anyway.

“Well,” Lou said smugly, his smile widening. “Then it’s a good thing you’re stuck with me for life.”


“What’d you get me for Christmas?” Lou asked keenly, leaning against the back of the couch to peer over Boyd’s shoulder. Lou saw that he was in the middle of some god awful book that was a thousand pages longer than it had any right to be.

“For the last time,” Boyd said with the long-suffering tone he’d perfected over the years, “you’ll have to wait and see.”

Lou scoffed and dropped his arms over Boyd’s shoulders. “Boring. You got no sense of holiday spirit.”

“You don’t have any,” Boyd corrected a bit primly, Lou thought. The observation was lost the second Boyd looked over his shoulder with a growing smile. “It’s really bothering you, isn’t it?”

He sounded so smug, the little bastard.

Lou scoffed with all the disdain he could muster and straightened. “I don’t give a shit. You don’t even gotta get me anything.” He crossed his arms and tilted his chin up. “After all, I didn’t get you anything.”

The proclamation didn’t serve to do anything except make Boyd’s smile grow foxier. “Oh really?” he drawled, drawing the word out with great interest. Lou didn’t think he liked the way Boyd’s eyes sparked quite that mischievously. “So you don’t want anything after all?”

Lou hesitated and cursed himself for trying reverse psychology on Boyd. It never worked. And he never learned.

Boyd snickered before Lou had managed to gather the proper retort. That only served to make Lou grow more indignant.

“What? I don’t. I don’t even want any stupid crap you’d give me. I bet it’d suck.”

“It’s possible it would have sucked but now you’ll never know.”

The tone of Boyd’s voice and the way his eyebrows tilted up made Lou’s throat go dry– made him suddenly doubt whether Boyd was quite as shy about the way they’d been messing around as he’d thought.

They’d mostly only kissed and done little more. It wasn’t for lack of wanting, but something kept seeming to go wrong whenever the chance for more arose. And maybe more than that, Boyd still seemed sort of uncertain about this new aspect of their relationship and when it came down to it Lou didn’t know what the hell he was doing. So that didn’t help.

Something passed across Boyd’s face and his smile became something of a smirk. He set his book to the side and turned around to kneel backwards on the couch. His finger beckoned Lou closer. “Come here and I’ll tell you what it was going to be.”

Inexorably, Lou was drawn nearer; heart thudding in his chest and skin alight with anticipation. He watched Boyd’s dancing eyes for a moment before dropping his hands to brace against the back of the couch and lean forward.

“I had a plan,” Boyd breathed, the heat of his breath causing Lou to shiver. “I was going to go to the store and…” He paused there, letting Lou’s anxiety rise and heightening it further when he moved so close his lips brushed Lou’s ear. “Buy you a vacuum.”

It took a second for the ludicrous words to pass through Lou’s mind, and the second they did he jerked back. The way Boyd was grinning was obnoxious enough but when he burst out laughing, Lou growled and pulled Boyd into a noogie.

“Dirty, rotten, teasing bastard!”

“You’re such a child,” Boyd said laughingly and Lou jumped over the back of the couch to land with a thump on top of his best friend. The breath whooshed out of both of them.

“Am I? I’m a child? Guess I gotta do childish things then.” Before Boyd could respond, Lou was pushing him onto his back and tickling him mercilessly.

“Augh!” Boyd shouted, squirming beneath Lou and trying unsuccessfully to shove Lou’s hands away. “Stop, stop!” He couldn’t seem to stop laughing, his head thrown against the cushions and shaking back and forth. His feet twitched and slid against the couch and Lou smirked evilly.

“Not so high and mighty now, are ya, you little rat bastard?”

Boyd’s response was to laugh and gasp for more breath and laugh again. He tried to tell Lou to stop again but the word was lost in the laughter, until his eyes were bright with it and tears of mirth started to leak from their corners.

“You gonna piss your pants?” Lou asked, probably too interestedly. As if spurred by his words, Boyd suddenly managed to twist away and flip Lou onto his back.

He hovered over Lou, face flushed and eyes shining. Long fingers curled against Lou’s so that their hands clasped without either of them planning it. Boyd was grinning and Lou was grinning back, and when their eyes met the world stopped moving around them.

There was a buzzing in Lou’s ears that he didn’t understand but he knew was connected to this moment. He leaned up even as Boyd leaned down and they met in the middle, neither of them conscious of the choice but unable to deny it all the same.

They were lost in the feel of kissing each other. Lou buried his fingers in Boyd’s disheveled hair and Boyd fell to brace on one arm. Even when their mouths separated, their faces hardly parted. Eyelashes dusted the view of each other’s eyes so close while warm lips brushed against cheekbones and jaws.

It felt incredible to be touching Boyd like this and to feel his touch in return. Lou’s heart pounded, rushing excitement through every centimeter of his body with the tingling of his blood. He could feel Boyd’s lips and the occasional warmth of his tongue. Now and then one or both of them let out a quiet hiss of a moan.

When Lou’s hands stilled on the small of Boyd’s back, he could feel Boyd’s muscles quaking to hold him up. Without thinking he pulled down and Boyd fell on top of him with a startled sound. With their bodies in alignment they both gasped. Boyd’s head tilted up, his pale skin flushed a heady pink.

Their eyes met again and Lou nearly felt out of his body knowing that this was Boyd on top of him. Knowing that he was the reason those golden brown eyes had dilated and those full lips were parted and red. Knowing that he could touch Boyd anywhere he wanted and that it was Boyd’s fingers sliding back through his hair, leaving fire in their wake.

After so many months of dreaming and fretting about it, it seemed impossible that they’d come to the point where this could happen. If he’d known Boyd would let him do this and it could happen even after they’d been complete idiots like only a few minutes before, then he only wished he’d kissed Boyd earlier.

He couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face; couldn’t help the warmth that burned him from the inside out and made him nearly tremble from the very thought of being this close to Boyd.

Before either of them could think too clearly Lou was capturing Boyd’s face and pulling him in to kiss again and again. Every time he started to pull away he felt the addiction grow; the need to feel Boyd against him. To reassure himself that this was happening, this was really happening, and it wasn’t some sort of crazy dream.

Boyd made a noise that was muffled by their shared breath but Lou thought he could feel a smile pressing against his lips.

They stayed that way for awhile; bodies alight with fire, tingling and electric and tied into the contradiction of hard and soft that comprised their touch now.

At length they finally stopped. Lou kissed Boyd on the forehead, soft and full of wonder still at being this close. Boyd smiled faintly and let Lou pull him closer until his body was a warm weight pressing Lou into the couch.

They were silent a moment until Boyd chuckled suddenly.

Lou ran his hand down the curve of Boyd’s shoulders, reveling in the feel of his silky hair bunching and smoothing beneath his palm.

“What?”

Boyd’s amused answer was nearly lost, muffled as it was against Lou’s shoulder.

“If I had, you’d be sorry now.”

It took a moment for the words to filter through Lou’s addled mind and even when they did he couldn’t think well enough to make sense of them.

“Huh?”

“Earlier, you–“

Boyd pushed himself up so their eyes could meet again. When he saw Lou’s expression he fell silent and his smile grew, becoming something fond and warm like a fire on a cold night. A quiet chuckle rumbled through his chest and caught against Lou’s skin. He kissed Lou on the cheek and then again on the edge of his lips.

“Nothing.”

“Hmm.” Lou tried to sound suspicious but it didn’t last in the warmth of the moment.

They settled against one another again and Lou closed his eyes to the contented feeling of Boyd sifting fingers through his curly hair.


Lou kicked angrily at the garbage can, feeling immensely satisfied when it toppled and spilled its contents with a thud on the alleyway floor. He felt his ribs creak in the movement and his side pull but he ignored it.

The place stank to high heaven and he considered ripping the bag open to make an even larger mess. The pristine snow was dotted with debris now and he found himself wanting to dirty it further. He was just stalking over to the second garbage can when a girl a few years older than him suddenly popped her head out of a window on the second floor.

“Hey!” she shouted furiously, her hands gripping the windowsill like she was barely stopping herself from jumping out and ripping him apart. “The fuck do ya think you’re doing?”

He looked up at her, taking in her tan skin and mouse brown hair. He could tell she was old enough to be filling out, judging by what he could see beneath her tank top. She had to have been freezing, leaning out as she was into the winter air, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Got a problem, Princess?” he sneered. He ignored the pain on his cheek at the movement and the way he couldn’t see her fully through his puffed up eye.

“Yeah I got a fucking problem,” she shot back, leaning out the window so far she seemed in danger of falling out. Her fingers made indents in the snow piled on the sill. “You’re making a mess out back my da’s shop!”

Lou realized he recognized her; the mousy girl who occasionally hung in the back of the tattoo parlor below where she was standing. It was one of the few tattoo shops in Lincoln Square and Lou had been inside it before when some of his older friends were getting inked.

He’d always wondered about the location. Most of Lincoln Square was too full of itself to let tattooed hooligans run around when Bedford and and the Barrows were close enough to shove them to instead. Probably why this shop made it, hovering as it did near the border streets.

The thought inexplicably made Lou angrier. What were they trying to do, act like they could fit in with the Lincoln Square wannabes who themselves were wishing they could claim All Saints or Cedar Hills but were too poor and common to make it? Everyone was looking up that ladder like a god damn idiot, acting like once they were at the top everything would be just fine.

Fuck that, he thought viciously. He pointedly met her eyes as he shoved over the other garbage can. A spray of garbage hit the back door of the tattoo parlor, staining the door and the snow with something so nasty and molded he couldn’t even identify it anymore.

Spots of color rose sharp on her cheeks and she growled, actually growled like an animal. “You little cunt, I’m gonna–” She pushed away from the window and was gone in the middle of the curse, presumably storming downstairs.

Lou didn’t care. Let her come, the dumb bitch. He stood where he was, arms crossed and expression mutinous. When the door flew open a few seconds later and she nearly fell right over the garbage can, he outright laughed at her.

Furious, she launched herself over the garbage and slammed into him. He could have evaded her but he didn’t– he wanted this. He wanted a release from the pent up frustration he felt.

He’d planned to catch her and throw her down but the way she’d nearly fallen meant her weight was way lower than he was expecting. She hit him below his center of gravity and before either of them knew it he had fallen on his back and nearly cracked his head against the icy pavement. She was on him immediately, trying to bite and scratch and fight like a wild thing, but Lou was used to this type of scuffling.

He had to be, the places he frequented.

He fought back, unleashing everything he’d been forced to hold back before. She was shouting at him and he was shouting back, and the conversation they were having wasn’t the same one at all. He was saying all the things he’d wanted to say before, all the things he couldn’t, and maybe she was doing the same in return.

She’d just gotten her freakishly long girl nails wrapped up in his hair and was yanking his head back while he kneed her in the stomach when a voice struck the alleyway like a crack of thunder.

“What are you doing?”

They both froze immediately.

Lou started to try to scramble away, figuring it was the damn fuzz called out to make sure this area of Lexington was kept respectable. The girl scrambled back too but she looked more like a dog that had just taken a shit on its master’s favorite shoes and knew it was in a heap of trouble. Getting his feet under him, Lou was ready to run when he finally realized it was just the owner of the tattoo parlor glowering at them, not some cop at all.

The knowledge restored some of his bravado and Lou straightened as best he could with the whole upper half of his body feeling like tenderized meat. He lifted his chin defiantly and he glowered at the owner.

The man looked between the two of them evenly before finally settling on the girl. He glared at her even worse than he’d glared at Lou, which made him feel vindictively pleased. Good. Let her get her ass handed to her this close to the holidays. Maybe they’d even take away some of the little princess’s gifts that probably took up a whole room on their own.

Like she deserved them. Like any of these assholes deserved it any better than Lou or Boyd–

“Jasmine,” the owner said sharply. The man’s voice was like a crack of a whip.

The girl started guiltily and shoved her balled up fists in her pockets. She hung her head, brown hair falling forward. Her bare arms were turning pink in the cold but she didn’t shiver. Not yet, anyway.

“What the hell is all this?” He gestured to encompass the scene he’d walked into.

“Nothing, Da,” she mumbled sullenly.

“Nothing?” he echoed pointedly.

He turned to face her fully and Lou figured that was a good time to jet. He started to walk away but didn’t get far before a large hand suddenly gripped the back of his collar and yanked him backward. He stumbled, hardly able to catch himself when his feet slid on a patch of ice. He twisted immediately but the man only grabbed him by the arm and dragged him closer.

“Let go you fuckin’ pedophile!” Lou shouted furiously.

Jasmine’s head snapped up and for the first time he noticed she had dark green eyes ringed in hazel. “You take that back!” she yelled, jumping forward to try to punch him or scratch him or whatever it was girls did. “My da’s not a damn weenie-wagger–“

“Jasmine, I told you to stop talking that way,” her dad snapped and she snapped back immediately, “Stop calling me by that stupid girly name!”

“Leave me outta your family bullshit!” Lou twisted and yanked and was about to get away when the much larger, heavier man grabbed Jasmine and Lou by a powerful hand on each and wrenched them apart. Lou nearly fell over but caught himself.

“Kid.” The owner stared down at him like all the law he needed was in the size of his body and the power of his glare. “What’s your name?”

“What’s it to you?” Lou shot back snidely.

The owner’s face pinched like he’d eaten something bad.

“My girl give you those?” He jerked his chin toward the bruises Lou figured must be on their way to red about now. Tomorrow they’d be a nice violent, purple-blue.

Jasmine stiffened indignantly. “He had those when he came by! I didn’t do that at all.” She paused and then added proudly, “But I did give him that cut and I’d’ve given him more–“

“Jasmine,” the owner admonished, releasing her arm suddenly enough that she stumbled. She took a few steps back, sullenly rubbing her arm where he’d been holding her. “It’s not good to get in fights. You need to learn to deal with arguments a better way.”

Chin lifting defiantly, she pointed at the garbage cans. “But he was making a mess, Da! And he was a right cunt about it when I told him not to–“

“Jasmine Eden Seawell,” he cut her off, starting to sound angry now. “What have I told you about that language?”

“What’s it matter?” she demanded recklessly, eyes brightening and flashing at the same time. Her fists curled at her sides and she stepped forward like she wanted to fight. “You’re just gonna send me back to the ‘Dust first chance you get anyway! That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

So she was from the Industrial District, Lou realized, and probably on the end right up against the Barrows judging by the mouth on her. No wonder she had an attitude; that was one of the shittier areas Lexington had to offer.

Her dad stopped, his expression looking all shocked and stricken, and Lou wished he would let go of him already so he could just get out of here and not have to witness this embarrassing display. He didn’t know what ass end of the bed he had to have woken up on to have gotten such a shitty day but he was ready for it to end already.

As if hearing Lou’s grumbled thoughts, the owner suddenly released him. Lou darted out of range immediately, glaring at him. He rubbed his arm just the way Jasmine had. Before he could take off, the owner fixed him with a heavy stare that somehow left Lou rooted to the spot.

“Listen, kid. I’m not going to come down hard on you since I can tell you’ve had a bad day already.” He jerked his chin toward the bruises on Lou’s face and the way he held himself just so, to keep his tender ribs untouched. “But you have to learn to pick your fights. If you don’t, one of these days you’ll get into one you can’t get back out of.”

Lou scoffed, full of disdain and disgust, and didn’t bother hiding any of that when he looked pointedly over at Jasmine. “Why should I be scared of a little bitch like her? All she’s got going for her’s her stupidity and the fact she don’t cut her nails.”

Predictably, Jasmine snapped straight like a riled cat, all raised back and wide, glaring eyes. She was about to launch herself at him again when her dad sighed heavily, the long-suffering sort Boyd always seemed to use around Lou, and grabbed her by the arm. He looked at Lou like he was going to say something more but then just shook his head and turned.

Giving him up for a lost cause.

It infuriated Lou. That asshole thought he was better than Lou, too, didn’t he? Looking down on him just like everyone else– acting so superior.

But even as much as he wanted to lash out, he wasn’t stupid enough to attack a full grown adult twice his size. So he settled with scowling at him and flipping Jasmine off, and turning his own back pointedly like they were beneath him too. As he walked away he heard the owner telling Jasmine to knock it off and that they needed to talk and for a moment he felt angry all over again.

It wasn’t until he’d stalked his way through the streets and brooded on the bus and was stomping back to Boyd’s that he realized the owner reminded him a bit of Boyd’s dad. Not as nice or energetic, maybe, but the same sort of even temper and extensive patience. Maybe that was what was making him even angrier, and maybe that subconscious thought was also what led him to Boyd’s door when he would have been better to stay away for a bit first.

He stopped on Boyd’s porch and thought about turning and leaving but before he could the door jerked open suddenly. Lou jumped, startled, and looked over his shoulder.

Boyd’s hand gripped the doorknob, his other hand pressed against the door frame as if he’d needed something to brace himself against with the force he’d put into opening the door. He was looking at Lou with eyebrows twisted up and lips slightly parted– and maybe it would have been fine but his eyes were burning into Lou like he was scared and trying not to show it.

Without conscious thought, Lou turned and walked into the house while Boyd silently stepped to the side. Boyd shut the door behind them, hovering there a moment with his hands coming together in front of him like he didn’t know what to do with them. Lou didn’t understand at first why Boyd looked so worried but then he thought to look at the clock.

Past midnight.

He’d told Boyd he’d be over by eight at the latest.

“You were late,” Boyd said, hushed and a bit hoarse and not moving from behind Lou.

Lou hesitated, at once wanting to demand why it mattered and wanting to apologize for not calling. As if he could have called, anyway. Those fucking Outlaws had flared up recently, getting aggressive even on Lincoln Square’s border with Vickland and Crandall Park– like they owned the whole damn city. He wanted the South Side Boys to move further north and wipe out the whole lot of them already.

“I guess,” was all he said aloud.

Boyd only had his reading light on and the curtains were drawn, which was why Lou hadn’t expected the door to open. He’d thought Boyd was asleep. He wondered now if in the relative darkness of the hallway Boyd would miss the way he held himself and the bruises on his face.

No such luck.

Boyd was there at his side, fingertips ghosting over his cheekbone where one of the Outlaws had punched him and knocked him down. Standing so close, Lou could see the way Boyd’s honey brown eyes darkened with worry; the way his lips drew in and his eyes darted across Lou as if searching for more injuries.

He didn’t say anything at first; just ran his fingers across Lou and then walked away. Lou stood still for a moment, not having to ask where he’d gone.

This was a routine of its own and they both knew it.

As he heard the rolling sound of drawers and doors opening and the scritch of ice popping out of its plastic container, he looked around the living room. He felt dark and wild, still. Restless. He could hardly stand still, being in this room where he’d had plans for the holiday. Plans he’d been so excited about earlier, before the bullshit that was his day had truly begun.

Before he’d made up his mind about whether to sit or stand, Boyd came back into the room with a damp cloth filled with ice. He glanced at Lou and then the couch and Lou followed the unspoken request, knowing there was no point in doing otherwise.

Boyd was damn stubborn when he had a mind to be, and that mind seemed to rear up whenever he thought Lou needed help.

Sitting down next to him, Boyd cradled the ice-filled cloth carefully in one hand. The other lifted, his gentle and warm palm pressing against Lou’s undamaged cheek. Lou tilted his face in the direction Boyd wanted, but when Boyd tried to catch his eye he purposefully looked away.

He could feel the ball of dissatisfaction boiling within him. He didn’t want to be anything but angry right now, no matter how good Boyd’s touch felt on him.

The cold press of ice against his cheek made him automatically jerk, and just as automatically Boyd’s free hand slid into the back of Lou’s hair where he held him still. They were silent for awhile, Boyd’s stare burning into Lou’s face while Lou looked at the black reflective surface of the television. He thought about turning it on just so there would be something to distract them but the remote was too far away.

That, and such simple distraction techniques never seemed to work as well on Boyd as Lou would have liked.

He thought Boyd wouldn’t say anything because there were a lot of times he didn’t, probably knowing Lou wouldn’t really answer. When Lou showed up with money or the occasional wound, Boyd had learned early on that most of the time asking a question would only result in an evasion. But tonight just had to be different, to fit in with the rest of the day.

“Lou.” Boyd’s voice sounded abrupt after the silence. “What happened?”

Lou didn’t look at him, although he could feel the dark anger move over his own face.

“None of your business,” he snapped before he could stop himself, still caught up in memories of jeering and laughter and even that idiot daughter and father, acting all holier than thou in their stinking little place in the world.

He realized what he said when he felt Boyd’s hand go still; when the fingers at the base of his neck twitched and slid away. He looked over at that, a little startled himself at his own words and the cold way he’d spoken them.

He didn’t want to answer, didn’t want to say what it was that had him so pissed off because it would make him look stupid and weak. But when their eyes met he saw the way Boyd stared at him in that damn hurt way that Lou could never ignore.

It made it worse that it wasn’t an obvious expression; it was just something Lou knew from knowing Boyd so well. Even if Boyd was trying to act all blank faced and accepting, Lou saw it in his eyes.

That was all it took for his resolve to crumble. Maybe Lou would have hated himself for that, too, if it weren’t for the fact that he couldn’t be mad about things when it came to Boyd.

He let out an impatient scoff of a breath and jumped up from the couch, all restless energy and pacing feet. Boyd let his hands drop into his lap, holding the cloth carefully. Lou paced, back and forth, back and forth, growing angrier and more frustrated with each circuit.

“They stole your present,” he seethed suddenly. “They took my fucking money and stole your fucking present, and now I don’t got nothin’ because that was all I had.”

He could feel Boyd watching him and he didn’t know what he expected, really, but it wasn’t for Boyd to actually breathe a sigh of relief. “Oh, is that all?”

Lou’s eyebrows shot up and he rounded on Boyd. “Is that all?” he echoed incredulously.

He walked right up to the couch, crowding Boyd and glaring down. “That ain’t enough? They think I’m too weak or something–” suddenly he was pacing again– “and jump on me like it’s their goddamn business. I didn’t even do nothing! And now I don’t got a present for you for Christmas–“

“Lou,” Boyd was saying, a calming word that repeated and grew louder on the second and third time until he finally set the cloth of ice on the coffee table. He reached up and grabbed Lou’s wrists, forcing him to stop. Lou glowered down at him and Boyd only watched him back, tugging lightly until Lou finally, grudgingly, caved in enough to kneel in front of him.

Boyd leaned forward, wrapping Lou in a warm hug, and breathed into his ear, “I’m not happy that you were robbed but I’m happy that you’re okay. If all you’re worried about is losing my present…”

He tilted his head, his lips brushing Lou’s ear in a manner that didn’t seem purposeful or sexual; just intimate. “At the risk of sounding embarrassingly cliche, all I want for Christmas is you.”

And just like that, the resentment and impotence that had been eating at Lou’s insides all day like a shard of glass was gone. He tried to stay stiff-backed, tried to stay angry, but with Boyd holding him like he was the most important thing in the world and Boyd was keeping him all to himself…

He just couldn’t be angry anymore.

He hesitated, then faltered, and then it was his arms coming up to surround Boyd and pull him closer just the same. He let himself squeeze Boyd as tightly as he wanted and he burrowed his face in the worn cloth of Boyd’s shirt. He could feel Boyd’s heartbeat, strong and powerful, reverberating comfortingly through him.

He thought about Boyd sitting here, all alone in the house like he always was– worrying and trying to read a book and looking at the clock again and again as if to see if it really was past the point of Lou’s return. He wondered if he would have seen a bunch of calls from Boyd if his cell phone hadn’t been lost or stolen in the skirmish.

He wondered if Boyd had been scared the way Lou got scared about Boyd never returning, and he felt a pang of guilt. He’d been so angry about the whole bullshit with the Outlaws that he’d been slow about his return through the city– stopping to punch or kick at things and think murderous thoughts of anyone who looked even remotely happy along the way. He could have been back earlier, much earlier, even with the mugging involved.

“How come you never get mad at me?” Lou mumbled. He hadn’t meant to ask it aloud and he may have cursed himself for ruining this if it weren’t for Boyd’s answer.

“I could never be mad at you, Lou. You’re everything to me.”

Boyd sounded so honest and simple, like he was saying something obvious like snow was white or the Earth was round and vast beneath the sky. It made Lou’s fingers curl into the fabric of his shirt and his breath catch.

And just like that he remembered what was so different between them– remembered what made this feel so comfortable and right.

Boyd didn’t hate anyone for the things that had happened to him, not the way Lou did.

As fast as snapping his fingers or something equally mundane, Lou went from a family and money and a future to being kicked onto the streets just because some assholes in another country decided to let loose on Lexington.

And Lou hated them for it. He hated everyone.

He hated the way all these families ran around acting like it was their right to be so happy and he hated the way life just moved on for everyone else. There were days his anger wasn’t so bad but then there were days when everything just seemed so wrong. Days when it felt like this was all some cosmic joke that he was the butt of and it made him so angry.

It wasn’t like that with Boyd.

He didn’t hate his mom for being cruel, he didn’t hate the war for taking away his dad and Lou’s parents who he’d thought of like his parents too. He didn’t hate all those assholes who hassled him if he went the wrong way into a bad neighborhood, he didn’t hate the old bitch across the street who always acted like he was filth that needed to be watched. He didn’t hate the people who said bad things about him and treated him like crap at school because he wasn’t friendly enough in their eyes. He didn’t hate the people who acted like they knew him or could make stupid comments just because of his androgynous looks.

He didn’t seem to have that same propensity for hatred that Lou did and, truth be told, Lou didn’t get it.

Maybe it was because Boyd had a house and Vivienne, no matter how little she was around and how much she sucked at being a mom. Maybe those two things Boyd had that Lou didn’t made all the difference in the world.

There were times Lou wanted to resent Boyd for being so content with everything and times he almost did. But then he saw the way Boyd was so miserable sitting around silently, like he had no right to exist fully in this world. He saw the way everything changed when he walked in the room and Boyd saw him, and he knew it wasn’t as simple as Boyd being content with things. He was just better at hiding his anger, maybe, or maybe for Boyd he turned it into pain instead.

Whatever the case, times like this Lou realized it didn’t matter. The fact that Boyd didn’t hate the same meant he had that much more room to take in Lou’s hatred and make it go away. Whenever Lou felt like the world was against him and thought it would be better off destroyed, all he had to do was feel Boyd pull him closer and all of a sudden none of that was important anymore. None of that even fully made sense.

Why was the world so much better when he felt Boyd’s heart beating against him like this? Why was everything okay again even when it wasn’t okay at all?

Boyd shifted and Lou felt lips press into his hair on top of his head. Warmth suffused him, starting in his chest and spreading with his blood. He squeezed his eyes shut and ignored the way his muscles quivered from holding himself in this somewhat awkward position; ignored the way his knees ached to get off the hard floor and how his ribs hurt.

He didn’t want this moment to end any more than he’d wanted that moment in the rubble to end either, all those weeks ago now– the first time he’d been able to kiss Boyd like he’d wanted to for months. The first time he’d been able to make Boyd see the way it was for him.

When he felt those lips against his hair again, he recognized the warmth for happiness. When the two of them pulled apart just enough for Boyd to look down at him, all warm brown eyes and his attention on Lou like he was the only person in the world, he knew Christmas would be alright in the end.

And when Boyd sifted his fingers through Lou’s curly hair and smiled, something gentle and reserved for only Lou to see, he realized maybe he wasn’t so screwed by life after all.

Maybe he was actually very lucky instead.

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