Chapter 1: i like your eyes, they say you're true
It was something he thought about a lot, especially as the father of two quickly growing boys. He had been ten when his dad pulled him aside, the sounds of Link giggling and video games leaking from the extra room. "Boys don't do that" he told Rhett after catching the boys run inside with their hands locked together tight. His cheeks had burned and he nodded solemnly before stalking back up the stairs. He played that moment over and over, how it had settled in his belly.
All the years he had inched away or froze when his best friend would run through a crowd and throw himself at Rhett’s weedy chest, or reach for his hand as they drove home after a long night together. Watching the light and joy, the pureness that was the little boy who had enthusiastically asked him to spend the night fade into a grown man, tired and worn ate at him.
Rhett thought about his boys missing out on that closeness, bending in to press their heads with their best friends and sharing a giggle. Knowing the anchor of their best friends when they felt like they were floundering. He waited, waited months as the show started to flourish, their numbers started to grow. Rhett reached under the desk as their crew worked around them to set up the camera and lights and pressed his palm to Link's.
He had to bite his lip to stifle a laugh when Link’s eyebrows shot up. Rhett linked their fingers, one by one until he gave his friend’s hand a tight squeeze of reassurance he hadn’t been able to give him for all those wasted years. Link beamed the wide toothy grin of that little boy who had always made his love known and Rhett’s grin matched.
Chapter 2: you say i wanted you to be proud of me
On the mantle is a framed photo Christy likes to take her time dusting . Link is small, so small compared to the rocking chair he's standing beside. He's got his hand in that of an older woman Link told her was a great aunt. She relished in those stories, his accent honey thick like they were kids back in North Carolina. He's wearing a gray teeshirt with a giant smiling tiger across the chest. It's obvious it's not the small boy's, it falls past his waist like an oversized dress.
Jessie showed her a picture once of Rhett as a child in the same shirt. It was a knowing smile between them that said it all. They spent a lunch comparing pictures, Rhett in teeshirts stretched at the shoulders sitting too high on his waist, hoodies that swallowed up Link's hands with too long sleeves.
In a photo album tucked in a bookshelf is a picture of Lily tucked into Rhett's side, eyes wide and owlish making her look so much smaller next to the giant frame of the man beside her. She's wearing the gray teeshirt with the tiger, soft and nearly threadbare but it swallows her feet and covers her knees.
She has one of Lincoln in the gray shirt with the smiling tiger from the year he dressed up as Link for Halloween. Link had been flustered, but his face read awe and honor watching his boy trying to perfect the tired accent of his overworked dad. Christy put the album back into the shelf as her kids piled into the room and climbed onto the couch, each stretching out.
She just smiled as Lando trailed behind dressed in a gray teeshirt worn to the point it was nearly see through falling past his knees. "What are we watching?" He asked.
Chapter 3: you were looking at the sky
They didn't get to do it often. Link looked forward to it more than he liked to think about. To be honest, any chance to see real, raw Rhett, his Rhett, was something he looked forward to.
He's taken over driving this morning, he's been up since before the sun working on ideas and plans that usually rush through his brain when it's been one of THOSE weeks. Usually he can fall asleep without a second thought, and just the very idea of Rhett's evergrowing collection of sleeping Link pictures puts a ghost of a smile on his lips.
This? Jumping in the car to head towards San Diego before any sane person would be awake, this is actually when they have the best ideas. Turning off Hollywood and the internet for a day does them a world of good, Link tells himself. Even if all their best ideas aren't really that great.
He admired Rhett's height when they met all those years ago, and nothing like a wet suit on those long limbs to remind him how big his friend actually is. Rhett had fumbled to the car, grasping a thermos of tea tight in his grasp, the usually tall and proud sandy blond hair loose and hanging in his eyes. The brighter the sun gets, Link can see the flecks of white and silver that had slowly started to spring up as time went by.
He doesn't have to say anything, but the nudge of a bony elbow in his side tells Link he was caught staring. "Gonna shower first?" Rhett's deep voice is deeper than usual from lack of use.
"Yeah, yeah I am" Link nodded grabbing his bag from behind the driver's seat. "Gonna bring the -" he squints and pauses as Rhett tossed a mexican blanket over the guitar case he had wedged in the backseats.
"Later" Rhett nodded squinting back at Link. Usually he would announce he was in fact normal height, he wasn't some midget. But outside of the internet, away from crowds and their families he likes being "the little one". Sometimes he craves the safety he had as a kid being able to hide behind Rhett. Some of his best childhood memories are of when he had to crane his neck looking up just to see Rhett was looking back at him.
He stumbles to catch up with the broad steps trained by years to be just a little bit shorter, losing his balance in the sand. "Last person in the water has to buy breakfast!" Rhett calls before his shadow is gone. He's left in the sand watching his best friend disappear into the water.
Link sits with their stuff now, his knee twinges to remind him he's not exactly 36 anymore. He watches for Rhett's head to pop up out of the dark whenever he crashes and burns. Waits for him to stalk towards the little indent Link has made in the sand, to stand over him and drip ice cold water on his best friend as the gray haired man shrieked. He loved those moments, the moments their laughter blended together and made a noise that sounded better than any Wax Paper Dogz song.
"I got this idea" Rhett's teeth chattered as he stood over Link toweling off "I got a few ideas. For songs mostly. We still working on that?"
"Said we were" Link answers, hand up to shield his eyes so he can actually see his best friend. Eyes wide, cheeks tinted pink with excitement. There are new lines under his eyes that tells Link maybe Rhett didn't sleep too much either. Lines that weren't there the first time they had ever paddled out into the water.
"Come on then" Rhett tossed the damp towel over his shoulder and started gathering up their things as Link yawned. "You're buying breakfast"
Chapter 4: a sorta fairytale with you
He was 12 when he really noticed Link. He knew what his best friend looked like, he just didn't spend too much time staring at him. That was weird. They were outside in a line with their classmates, lined up to go into the auditorium to witness the yearly talented show. His best friend had a crowd of kids around him, Rhett only knew Link was the one hidden by the high pitched squeal of his giggles that filled the warm night air that rung over the hum of conversation going on around them and the buzz of crickets.
He was tall enough to peer over shoulders and met Link's wide shining eyes, his arms flailing, hands moving as he told some story for the hundreth time that night. "Line is moving, son" Rhett's dad rested his hand on his son's broad shoulder as his eyes stayed locked on his friend who seemed to glow under all the attention. It was brief, the twitch at the corner of Link's lips as the crowd dispersed and left the smaller boy at his mom's side.
He was his friend again. He was his Link, staying at his side, hiding into the cool of Rhett's lanky shadow so they could sit together.
He was 17 when he walked out of the bathroom at a summer graduation party, scanning the tops of friends heads for the familliar dark brown hair. He heard that giggle that coursed through his veins, that he had memorized even as it started to mellow and deepen with years. Rhett followed it through the crowd. He ghosted the doorway to not interrupt Link's audience. They were wide eyed and enraptured as he talked with his hands and different voices, beaming under their praise and laughter.
"Rhett!" Link waved trying his attention "hey brother!" It took him a minute to pull himself back to the moment, to the room, where the crowd had parted like the Red Sea for him to take his rightful spot next to his best friend.
Link had changed the summer he went away. His jaw was sharper, the shadows under his eyes darker. He was weighed down with the promise of the future they were supposed to have all planned out. He noticed the fuzz along his jaw and the way the light slowly dimmed from his eyes. He wasn't HIS Link anymore, the high pitched giggles or wide eyes that always ran behind him for safety when Link was intimidated or scared. He just sometimes reached out to link his pinkie with Rhett's to remind his friend he was really still there.
He makes a living reacting to Link. They live in each other's pockets miles away from home. Link falls easily into his character, silly and absentminded to his gruff and serious. Link starts to become a blur of colors, too loud laughter and jokes that make Rhett roll his eyes. Sometimes his pinkie will lock with Rhett's under the desk as they film. Never more than a few seconds, its as grounding as a slight slip of accent or mischievous twinkle in his eye. His Link is still there, waiting for the camera to go off and everyone to go home.
He remembers in high school how they passed a joint back and forth to work up the courage to perform with the band as they wait in the darkness onstage. The air around them is thick with chatter and excitement, they had discussed doing this for years. First they traveled reciting their edited life stories for laughs and applause, then they slowly worked in songs from their past, eyes meeting as they sang Merle from slightly rusty memory. Some things you never forget.
This is them, now. He doesn't get a lot of time to really take in and appreciate the man who has been by his side since childhood. Link's laughter is still loud and sincere, his smile still crinkles the corners of his eyes in reaction to a roar of applause from the crowds that keep getting bigger and bigger. There's no joint now, pre-show. It's a quick squeeze of sweaty palms, a nervous laugh and the lights are up.
But opening night, he watches. The proud square of Link's shoulders as he steps forward to welcome the people who pay to see them banter like an old married couple. That twitch at the corner of his lips as he turns to get Rhett's attention. And for a brief moment, those wide glittering eyes that had made a home in his heart all those years ago.