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If There's a Place I Could Be

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Two hands form a heart over a rainbow flower. If There's A Place I Could Be is written in black text in the bottom center

July 3rd, 1985

Remy sat in his closet, hands pressed against his ears in a futile attempt to block out the noise. Tears streamed down his face as he could hear his parents’ continued argument. His mother was acting out again, because of course she was, and his dad was trying to deescalate the situation, which only ever wound up Mom more. The screaming started up, and Remy flinched, desperate for the continued argument to stop, just for a second, just so that he could feel safe enough leaving his closet to go to the bathroom.

He knew, though, that he was going to have to wait for a while to get anything he wanted, let alone that.

 

September 8th, 2000

Remy looked around the campus he was on with a sigh. He really didn’t know why he was doing this. College just seemed like one of those things you did just because; it wasn’t like he was going to get a job just because he had a degree. But here he was, at his parents’ insistence.

He was sipping his coffee on a park bench, watching the leaves on the trees. He had some time before his next class, and it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. “Pretty, isn’t it?” a man asked from behind him.

Turning, Remy found a man with a curly mop of red hair and bright green eyes. “Yeah, I suppose,” he said, looking back at the leaves.

The man sat down next to him with a smile. “My name’s Emile,” he said.

Remy offered his hand. “Remy.”

“Nice to meet you, Remy,” Emile said. “Mind me asking why you look so down in the dumps?”

Remy shook his head at Emile and said, “It’s nothing important.”

“It’s affecting you, so obviously it has to be important,” Emile said with a frown. “Everyone’s feelings are important, no matter what they are.”

Remy inwardly sighed and outwardly bristled. This guy was clearly intent on making friends, something that Remy didn’t want, or need. “Please. That’s the sort of thing only overly-sensitive people think. Normal people don’t need to talk out their feelings every second of the day.”

Emile blinked. “I was just trying to strike up a conversation,” he said, and his eyes looked hurt.

“Have you considered that not everyone here wants to be your friend?” Remy asked, sipping his coffee.

“Well, not everyone has to be my friend, but you’ve hung on the outskirts everywhere I’ve seen you during orientation,” Emile said. “I figured you might want to know one or two people here, just to have a familiar face around campus.”

“Touching, but I’ll be fine,” Remy grumbled. “I don’t need any friends.”

“I don’t believe you,” Emile said simply.

Remy jumped like he may has well have been stabbed. He snarled at Emile. “You don’t know anything about me! Why would you even suggest that you know my social habits better than I do?!”

Emile had his hands held up in surrender, his eyes wide. Remy sighed. This kid clearly had lived a very sheltered life. Someone had to toughen him up so he didn’t break the hard way the second someone pushed back against him. And Remy didn’t know anyone else on this campus who might be able to teach the kid anything about life, so it looked like if he wanted Emile to not get destroyed on campus, he would have to be the one to toughen him up, bit by bit. “I’m sorry,” Remy said. “I don’t...have good experiences with people trying to be my friends in the past. No one stuck around longer than it took for them to get blackmail material on me.”

“That’s terrible,” Emile gasped.

“That’s life,” Remy said, voice dull and hollow. “If you want to be my friend, I guess you can try. Just don’t be surprised if I don’t follow you when you jump off a bridge.”

Emile sat there in stunned silence for a second, before he whimpered out, “You never did answer my question.”

Remy ran a hand through his hair and took another sip of his coffee. “Why I’m upset? I don’t want to be here. College is just...extra school that you go in debt for. I don’t know what I want to do with my life; I’m taking business classes because I had a knack for math in high school, but so far the textbooks I’ve read haven’t taught me anything. I don’t have anyone on this campus that I know, and you’re the only person who’s even bothered to stick around me for longer than twenty seconds. No friends, no learning, and thousands of dollars of debt. That’s why I’m upset.”

Emile shrugged. “Well, why are you upset about having no friends if you don’t want any friends?”

“What?” Remy asked, glancing over.

“Why are you upset about having no friends if you don’t want any friends?” Emile repeated. “That would seem like a blessing, wouldn’t it? Not having to deal with people faking being your friends after high school?”

Remy shrugged. “I appreciate company. Not friendships, but I don’t like being stuck with my thoughts all the time.”

“Well, there are a couple people who I know who are throwing parties later, if you ever want to...you know...party? Have something to do outside study and not make friends?” Emile offered.

Remy glared at Emile. “And now you’re mocking me?”

“What? No!” Emile said. “You said you didn’t want to make friends? So I just...aw, shoot, it wasn’t supposed to come out that way!”

Remy scoffed. “Emile, you clearly don’t have the right social skills to be compatible friends with me. I suggest finding someone else to hang around with, because I’m certainly not your ‘pal.’”

“Actually, provided you don’t mind, I’d like to stay right here, talking to you, thanks,” Emile said, pulling out a book from his backpack and settling into the bench with a sigh. “We don’t have to be friends, but I’d still like to be a familiar face to you.”

Remy blinked. This kid...wasn’t backing down? Remy assumed he’d scurry away and regroup and Remy would have some time to figure out how to toughen Emile up, provided he came back. But he was...staying? Even after Remy had snarled at him? “Why?” Remy asked, before he could stop himself.

Emile looked up from his book, briefly shocked, before he smiled. It was soft, and kind, and nothing like Remy had ever seen directed at him before. “Because everyone deserves to be comfortable, and familiar faces tend to make people relax a little more.”

Remy frowned. “I don’t...I don’t understand you.”

“That’s okay,” Emile said, turning back to his book. “Learning to understand other people is half the fun of making friends.”

“But...I don’t want to make friends,” Remy said.

“Okay,” Emile said. “But would you want to make a friend?”

Remy scoffed. “Changing the noun in question from plural to singular does not change my sentiment.”

“It was worth a shot,” Emile said, smiling into his book. “I figured I may as well try. And it didn’t work, but now I know where you stand.”

Remy shook his head. “An optimist,” he muttered. “Of course you’re an optimist.”

“Why would that be a bad thing?” Emile asked.

“Because there’s not a silver lining to any and every situation,” Remy said, wrinkling his nose. “And I fear for the sanity of anyone who believes otherwise, because clearly, their head must not be on straight.”

“What situations aren’t there silver linings in?” Emile asked. “Every time something bad happens, it leads to something else in someone’s life, and sooner or later that ‘something else’ is something good. Something that you wouldn’t have gotten without the bad.”

“You don’t know that for a fact,” Remy warned. “You could have even gotten to the good thing faster without the bad.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Emile said. “After all, you might never have met me or anyone else on this campus if you didn’t come to college.”

Remy barked a laugh. “That full of yourself, are you?” he asked Emile.

“Well, I’m not saying I’m the epitome of good things, but a friend is always a good thing in my book. Or even just a familiar face. I’ll be around, you know. And I’m always up to help if you need a hand,” Emile offered.

This kid was sickeningly sweet, and Remy didn’t know how he had tolerated that attitude for this long. “Whatever,” Remy brushed off. “I’m fine on my own. Be a familiar face if you must, but we are not friends.”

“If you say so, Remy,” Emile said.

“I do say so, Emile,” Remy said, voice dripping venom on Emile’s name. “I need to head to my next class soon.”

“If you have a phone, we can exchange numbers?” Emile asked hopefully.

Remy arched an eyebrow. “That desperate to pester me, huh?” he asked with a sigh. “Yeah, I have a phone. Don’t really feel inclined to give you the number, though.”

“Oh,” Emile deflated, and Remy didn’t expect to feel bad for making a jab at the kid, but he did.

He groaned. “You’re making this hard,” he griped.

“What, being alone?” Emile asked.

“Not caring about anything here,” Remy grumbled. “Granted, the caring is in the sense that I hate this place and most if not all the people in it, but I was hoping I could just...apathetically make my way into getting a degree and moving on from this hovel.”

“You worry me,” Emile said.

“Do I?” Remy asked. “How so?”

“Well, I know we’ve only known each other for like, ten minutes, but I’m studying psychology so that I can become a therapist and—”

“Hold up, hold up, hold up,” Remy said. “Hold. Up. You’re studying to become a shrink?”

“Uh. Yes?” Emile said, tilting his head to the side. “Is that a problem?”

“It means we definitely can’t be friends. I don’t need you shrinking my head every chance you get to try and get me to reveal my ‘troubled past’ or find out that I’m secretly in love with my mother, or whatever. No, thank you. I hate shrinks and I loathe therapists.” Remy took another sip of his coffee, but it tasted bitter on his tongue.

“Why?” Emile asked. “They’re incredibly helpful.”

“I don’t need ‘em,” Remy scoffed. “Everyone I’ve ever met who’s talked to me for a while is like, ‘Oh, you should go see a therapist!’ And that has been the end of many a small friendship. I don’t need a therapist. Never have, never will. Just because I was the baby in the line of three, doesn’t mean I was neglected or some crap.”

“Wow,” Emile said. “Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there, for sure. But, uh, if you don’t want me to...uh...listen, that’s okay. I wouldn’t ‘shrink your head’ if I were your friend, though. Number one thing I’ve learned from talking to therapists when I ask them about what the job is like is that you can’t be a therapist to your friends. You’re too attached to the situation to make an objective observation and help the person see things from another perspective. You’re not in trouble when it comes to that, if you want me to be more than a familiar face.”

“Well, I don’t even want you to be a familiar face, you’re the one who keeps insisting on talking to me,” Remy griped. “No one ever seems to get that I just want to be left alone!”

“Well, I know extroverts don’t understand that,” Emile said. “I’m an...eccentric introvert, I guess? So I understand wanting alone time, but you’ve been alone for at least a week and a half. That’s...not necessarily healthy.”

Remy put down his coffee and groaned into his hands. “Oh. Come on. You care. Too much. You don’t even know me!” he exclaimed, turning to growl at Emile directly. “Why would you even try to get to know someone who is very obviously trying to push you away?!”

“I like the challenge, and I worry about what being isolated does to a person,” Emile responded, without missing a beat or flinching. “If you want to be left alone right now, just say so, and I’ll leave you to get to your next class or wherever you need to go. But know that when I see you again and it’s clear that you’re just hanging out and not doing anything important, I’ll come back to talk to you. Because you’re definitely on my ‘potential friends’ list now, if for no other reason than spite.”

Remy snorted at that. “Yeah, whatever. You keep telling yourself that you’re making a difference, talking to me. If it makes you sleep easier, you can call us friends. But I don’t consider you anything more than the guy who won’t shut up about friendship and being alone.”

“I can live with that,” Emile chirped, standing up. “I really have to get to my next class, but it was nice to meet you, Remy! I hope that maybe I could see you in the student lounge sometime, or maybe on the quad? I’d love to continue our discussion about whether or not friends are beneficial!”

And without another word, Emile left, humming something to himself as Remy watched on. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to toughen up Emile. He was entirely too cheery for Remy’s tastes, and he couldn’t imagine what Emile’s poor roommate must deal with. He just hoped that the guy was more patient than Remy was, because otherwise they might have a homicide on the campus.

Chapter Text

July 7th, 2000

Emile was talking to some of his high school friends as they hung out by the pool, just enjoying their last free summer before college started. “Any plans when you go to college, Faith?” Emile asked.

“I don’t know,” Faith shrugged. “Finding a boy might be nice, but it’s not at the top of my list. You?”

“Finding a boy would be nice,” Emile agreed. “But I’m not looking for a Mister degree, either.”

Faith laughed and Peter shook his head. “You’re gonna get into some chaos, Emile, I just know it,” he said. “You’re that kind of guy. Not a bad thing, just...a thing.”

“Hey, I know you guys think I’m crazy, but I still say that chaos finds me, not the other way around,” Emile defended.

Faith shook her head. “You seek out people to be your friend, and they bring chaos with them. If anything, it’s a combination.”

“All right, you’ve got me there,” Emile conceded.

 

September 10th, 2000

It was two days before Emile saw Remy again, and when he did, it was when he was with his friend Clara. “Remy!” he exclaimed, walking over. “Good to see you again!”

“Emile!” Clara yelped, running after him. “Don’t bug him! He’s in my business class, he’s mean and a huge stick in the mud!”

“Come on, Clara, that’s my potential friend you’re trash talking!” Emile said, giving Clara a look that roughly equated to play nice. Except there was no please or any other option, really. “How have you been doing, Remy?”

Remy looked up and rolled his eyes. “Oh, joy. It’s you again.”

“Well, yeah, I told you I’d talk to you again if I saw you!” Emile said, swaying from side to side, and grinning. He was happy he had accidentally run into Remy again. He was worried he might have to fabricate an excuse to get to Remy again. And he didn’t want their relationship to be built on lies, not ever but definitely not in the beginning, where all the important stuff came around.

“Emile, he clearly doesn’t want to talk to us, we should just go—”

“Don’t be silly, Clara!” Emile exclaimed. “He doesn’t have any friends! Someone has to break the ice!”

Clara hesitated. “Well, maybe you can break the ice with him, but I’m not in the mood to be insulted again, so I’ll go hang with our other friends, if you don’t mind.”

Emile waved her off. “Yeah, sure. I’ll see you at lunch.”

As she walked away, Remy sighed. “You’re pushing her away,” he warned. “If she thinks you favor me over her she won’t want to be your friend anymore.”

“Well, I don’t typically favor any one friend over the others I have, so we’re all good!” Emile said, sitting down in a chair next to Remy’s.

“I said ‘she thinks,’” Remy pointed out. “Not what you actually do.”

“You’re really determined to rub me the wrong way, aren't you?” Emile asked with a little laugh. “I hate to break it to you, but that’s pretty hard for anyone to do.”

“You’re an only child, aren’t you?” Remy asked. “Otherwise everything I’m saying would get under your skin a little more. Because this is all stuff my older siblings would point out to me.”

“They don’t sound very nice,” Emile said with a frown.

“Eh,” Remy said with a shrug, “They didn’t use so many words, and they were a little less blunt about it, but they always made good points in the end. Or, Vanessa did. She’s the one who told me my friends were only friends with me so they could get dirt on me or it was because of a dare.”

“That...that sounds horrible,” Emile said.

“You get used to it,” Remy shrugged. “My only real friend when I was younger was my older brother Toby. Then he moved away to college, and...” Remy sighed. “I’m all that’s left.”

“I’m sorry,” Emile said softly. “It always hurts to lose a friend.”

“He doesn’t even write anymore,” Remy said, eyes distant. “He said he would and one day, he just...stopped.”

“Do you have any idea why?” Emile asked.

Remy shook himself with a jerk and sighed. “Yeah, but it’s private. It’s a family matter.”

“Okay,” Emile said. “But I’m always here if you want to talk.”

Remy gave Emile a half-hearted glare, before returning to the book that he had been reading.

“So you’re not from the area, are you?” Emile asked.

“What makes you say that?” Remy asked.

“Well, you’re hanging out on the campus on a Sunday. Most people who I know would not go to a college campus on a Sunday morning just for fun,” Emile said. “Which dorm do you stay in?”

Remy didn’t respond for a good minute or two. Then, he sighed, and muttered, “East Benz.”

“Really?!” Emile asked. “So do I! What floor?”

“Fourth,” Remy sighed.

“Oh, that explains it! I’m on the second,” Emile said. “Still! It would nice to visit your dorm room sometime, maybe? Or you could come to mine! We could hang out and stuff!”

Remy scoffed. “Why would I want that?”

Emile tried to not let that sting, but it was hard. It was clear that Remy had been through some rough things in his life, so it was a small wonder he was trying to distance himself from everyone and everything. But Emile knew that would destroy even the toughest of people, and he wanted to stop that spiral before it got too far. Remy certainly wasn’t making it easy to be around him, though. “You know what? You’re right. You wouldn’t want that, because you don’t want friends. Forget I asked,” Emile said, wilting in his seat.

Remy looked over at him and rolled his eyes, groaning. “Don’t look so put out about it, kid, I’m trying to ease you into the real world. The real world is full of bumps and sharp turns and things that will hurt you. You can’t always get what you want.”

“Yeah, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need,” Emile said, looking at Remy.

“You don’t need me,” Remy scoffed.

Emile shrugged. “How do I know that, if you won’t even let me get to know you?”

Remy looked Emile over, and Emile resisted the urge to squirm under the scrutiny. He wasn’t nervous because a cute boy was looking him over. Or, that wasn’t the only reason. He really wanted Remy to give Emile a shot. And if not squirming under his gaze was what it took to get Remy to listen to Emile, then Emile would make sure he didn’t move an inch. “You’re really not going to give up, are you?” Remy asked with a sigh.

“No,” Emile said, completely honest. “I want you to have someone you can go to on this campus, no matter who it is. Even if it winds up not being me, everyone deserves to have a shoulder to lean on.”

“Not everyone,” Remy sighed, closing his book. “What do you plan on doing to pass the time?”

“I was thinking we could walk around town, get to know where we’re living for most of the next four years a little better,” Emile offered.

“I have nothing better to do,” Remy sighed, packing up his book into his backpack next to his chair and slung it over his shoulder. “Do you have a car or should I take this back to my dorm?”

“I have a car!” Emile said. “So, does that mean you’re coming?”

Remy sighed. “Yes, Emile. I’ll join you on your walk around town center. But only if we don’t have to walk to the center of town, because that would take an hour.”

“No, we can just drive down there and window shop,” Emile said, standing up. “Come on, I’ll show you to my car.”

Remy was probably rolling his eyes at Emile’s enthusiasm, but Emile didn’t care. He was so excited to get Remy to join him that he was practically skipping on the way to the student parking lot close to the East Benz dorms. “Ease up on the enthusiasm,” Remy said once they were at Emile’s car. “I agreed to walk around town with you, not marry you.”

Emile shook his head fondly. “Look, I’m excited, and I get to be excited. If I choose to express that, then that’s my choice.”

Remy blinked in surprise. “You really are a shrink,” he muttered. “That’s just great.”

“I know, right?!” Emile asked, getting in his car as Remy did. “I’ve wanted to be a therapist since I was twelve.”

“Do you even know what sarcasm is?” Remy asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Emile said, turning to Remy with a grin as he pulled out of the parking lot. “But I choose to ignore yours.”

Remy laughed in shock and Emile grinned wider. “That’s not nice!” Remy exclaimed.

“Since when do you care about nice?” Emile asked. He felt a little mean for asking it, but really, if Remy wanted to play hardball then two could play better than one. He just hoped that Remy might mellow out, because he doubted he could play hardball forever. But he really didn’t want to lose Remy as a friend, especially considering what he now knew about Remy’s views on friends.

Remy stared at him in shock, before he actually smiled for the first time, and Emile very nearly crashed the car from staring. “Touché, kid. Touché.”

They made their way to town center quickly, and Emile parked the car at the edge of a parking lot by an abandoned building on Main Street. “Shame that no one’s using this building,” Emile sighed.

“I know,” Remy agreed. “It’s prime real estate, too. Like, Main Street? You could make a prime coffee shop or bookstore out of this place.”

“What would they call it, do you think?” Emile asked.

“Well, if it were some coffee shop, it’d probably be a dumb pun, like...I dunno... Sleep Easy.”

“‘Sleep Easy’?” Emile asked.

“Like speakeasy, the places where you could get alcohol in the Prohibition era? You know. The coffee’s so good it should be illegal,” Remy laughed. “That kind of dumb pun.”

“Oh, but that’s not dumb, that’s really cute!” Emile exclaimed.

Remy snorted. “You’d be exactly the kind of customer that would lap that sort of thing up,” he said. “And no, that’s not a compliment.”

Emile frowned. “Remy, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but...you’re kind of a mean person.”

“Just figuring that out now, are you?” Remy asked.

Emile started walking, and Remy followed him, which seemed like a victory, but Emile wasn’t so sure anymore. “So why are you hanging around me? If you’re a mean person and you don’t like me, why would you stick around? Why me?”

Remy leaned down and picked up a rock that was lying on the concrete, tossing it in his hand over and over. “Well, for one, you’re the only person who’s made an effort to be around me to the point where the annoyance at you being around is less than the annoyance at you making an effort to be friendly with me constantly brushing you off. For another, someone needs to toughen you up to the harsh reality that is...well, reality. And I don’t trust that job to anyone I don’t know. I don’t know anyone else on campus, so that falls on my shoulders. For a third, well...if eye candy wants to hang around me, I certainly won’t object to a pretty boy hanging around where I am,” he threw the rock at the concrete and the two of them watched it skip and skitter across the sidewalk in front of them.

“I-I’m sorry, did you just call me eye candy?” Emile sputtered, brain grinding to a halt.

“Yeah. I’m into men, virtually exclusively, I’ve found. If you have a problem with that, say something now rather than later and we can forget this whole friendship ever even started,” Remy said.

“No, no, that’s not it at all! I just...didn’t expect you to be gay. Heteronormativity at its finest,” Emile laughed.

Remy glanced at him. “You’re gay too?”

“Bisexual,” Emile corrected, “But yeah, under that umbrella.”

“Sweet,” Remy said, flashing another genuine smile.

Emile found himself blushing at Remy’s smiles, and he was inwardly a little worried. Even if Remy was gay, Emile wasn’t sure Remy was the type of guy he could be happy living with. Arrogant, stand-offish, degrading? No, he didn’t want to be with a man like that. Why did he have to be so cute?

They walked until they got to the stores, and both of them started talking back and forth. Remy was very closed off at first, but he started to open up the more they were out and about. When they finally had to get back to the car, it was because all the stores were closing and it was past dark. “This was fun,” Remy said as they walked back.

“I’m glad,” Emile said, smiling a little. “Would you be willing to do it again?”

“Yeah, probably. Not with like, a gigantic amount of people, but definitely with you,” Remy said.

“Does this make us friends?” Emile asked hopefully.

Remy paused in his walking and turned thoughtful. “Well, you’re more than a familiar face, now,” Remy said. “But I wouldn’t necessarily use the word ‘friend.’ Acquaintance, probably.”

“Okay,” Emile said, laughing. “I’m very happy you’re my acquaintance, then.”

Remy ducked his head away and scrunched his shoulders up, but Emile could have sworn he heard Remy mumble, “Me, too.”

Chapter Text

August 20th, 1998

Remy bit his lip and tried not to cry as Toby packed up the last of his stuff to go off to college. When Toby turned around Remy walked up to him and hugged him tight. He didn’t want to be left alone to fend off his parents himself, but he knew he didn’t have a choice in the matter. “Promise you’ll write to me?” he asked. That was the one comfort he knew Toby could give him.

“I promise, baby bro. I’ll write every day if that’s what will make you feel better,” Toby said, ruffling Remy’s hair. “I know Mom and Dad can be a bit much, but you’ll be fine. You’re sixteen, now. You can handle it.”

“I hope so,” Remy said.

“I know so,” Toby replied with a grin. “See you at Thanksgiving, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Remy said, giving Toby a wave before Toby got in the car and Mom and Dad drove him away to school.

 

September 13th, 2000

Remy sighed as he sat in his dorm room, pouring over his textbooks. He was trying to study hard, honestly, he was, but he was having such a hard time focusing, that he really couldn’t do much of anything. It wasn’t like any of this was new to him, and anything more advanced he wanted to look up was only a computer away. He shook his head and closed the books. It was about time for dinner, he was hungry, and he needed the break this would give him desperately.

He walked out of the room and headed to the elevator, getting in and hitting the button for the ground floor, leaning against the back wall as he waited to get downstairs so he could head to the cafeteria.

The elevator paused on the second floor, and Remy sighed as the door opened and Emile was on the other side. “Remy, hey!” Emile exclaimed. “Fancy running into you!”

“Yeah, shocker, we live in the same building and we both use the elevator at the same time,” Remy said, rolling his eyes.

Emile stepped in and the elevator doors closed. “I’m heading to the cafeteria to get dinner. What about you?” Emile asked.

“Same,” Remy said. “Just couldn’t focus on my homework, and it’s about time for dinner anyway. I could use the excuse.”

Emile laughed and Remy just briefly smiled, before Emile looked over at him. “What about your homework is making it hard to focus? Maybe I could help?”

“Doubtful,” Remy said. “I just know everything in there, you know? It’s...it’s boring. It’s impossible to focus on when I know all of it already. And I don’t even know why I’m taking notes because I’m only writing down what’s already in the book. Which, as I said, I know anyway. I’m bored out of my skull.”

“That’s no good,” Emile said, and they both walked out of the elevator when it hit the ground floor, both of them heading outside to walk to the cafeteria. “Isn’t there something that you’d like to study that you don’t know?”

“Meh,” Remy said, shrugging. “There’s stuff it could be fun to learn about, but I don’t like learning for grades on principal. It feels wrong to be told you’re smart or you’re stupid based on how quickly you can retain information.”

“Yeah, grades are...not fun,” Emile said. “But you must get good ones, if you know everything?”

Remy barked a laugh. “No. My professor hates me, because I’m always sitting in the back of the class, knowing the answer to every question and I play video games on my laptop with earbuds in when I can’t stand listening to him drone on and on. He gives me good marks for notes, but he’s implementing participation grades, just for me.”

“Ouch,” Emile said, wincing. “That’s...not good.”

“Tell me about it,” Remy sighed, looking over at Emile. “I don’t even know why I’m going to college.”

“To get a degree which will give you a solid job?” Emile asked.

“Getting a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job, not in this economy,” Remy said, shaking his head. “College is a bunch of extra hoops I’m not interested in jumping through. But my parents made me apply, and shipped me off here. I’m not getting a bunch of financial aid, but I’m paying out of my own pocket anyway, not my parents. They put my brother and sister through college, they really don’t need to worry about me as well.”

“They don’t need to worry about you or you don’t want to owe them?” Emile asked.

“Both, I guess,” Remy said with a shrug. “I never like owing anyone anything. Too much risk with too little reward.”

Emile frowned. “My parents are helping me through college, because I can’t get a job that really...gives me that boost that I need.”

“Oh, I’m working at the Starbucks nearby to pay what I need to pay immediately for stuff, everything else is going to be loans once I need them. As of right now, I only have one or two that I need to worry about. I’ll freak out more later, when they get into the tens of thousands of dollars, you know?” Remy said.

“Wow,” Emile said. “You’re going to school full-time and working part-time? How do you balance that?”

“Very carefully,” Remy said as they entered the cafeteria. “I assume you’re going to want to eat with me, since you never seem to leave me alone?”

“I’ll only eat with you if you’re comfortable with it,” Emile said.

“No skin off my nose either way,” Remy said with a shrug. “Plus I get someone to gripe to, so sure. We can sit together.”

Emile beamed at that and immediately said, “I’m gonna go grab a pizza, meet you by the sunroof?”

As soon as Remy agreed Emile was off like a shot. Remy went to the salad bar, before he grabbed some things for a turkey sandwich, and then went over to the sunroof, which was really glass on three sides of the wall plus the roof, protruding outward from the rest of the building. The view was nice enough, Remy supposed, but he wasn’t sure why Emile was so over the moon about sitting here. Because he had seen Emile here multiple times, it wasn’t like he never got to sit over here, after all. It was weird. In an endearing way, admittedly, but still weird.

Remy was starting to pick at his salad as Emile came over with two slices of pizza and a huge grin. “I’m happy we get to eat together!” he chirped.

“Why?” Remy asked. “I openly admitted I’m using you as the person I gripe to when whatever I need to gripe about comes up. That’s usually not seen as an attractive quality in conversation, or friends.”

“I like to think it means you’re comfortable enough to express that you don’t like something,” Emile said with a shrug. “Really, it takes a level of trust to gripe to someone, even if that trust is just, ‘They won’t cut you off in the middle of talking’ or ‘They won’t get upset if you get upset.’ And I’m wanting to become a therapist, after all. Listening is kinda what I do.”

Remy gave Emile a you’ve gotta be kidding me look. “You don’t let anything get you down, do you?”

“Oh, I can get sad!” Emile chirped. “But I choose to focus on the positives as much as I can, so I don’t have to be sad nearly as much.”

Remy frowned, continuing to pick at his salad. “This is ridiculous,” he sighed. “Why are you like this? Are you just this annoyingly optimistic with everyone you meet? Or are you being this cheery purposefully to spite me?”

Emile blinked. “I...don’t know what you mean? Why would I be cheery to spite you?”

“It’s something people do, you know? Smile in the face of their biggest fears, say ‘You don’t scare me’ until they actually believe it, that sort of crap,” Remy said, waving his fork around. “Except you can apply it to people too.”

“Huh,” Emile said. “I’ve never considered it that way before. I’m not being happy to spite you, though, it’s just genuinely hard to get me down.”

Remy pulled a face. “Great. Just great. So I can’t even get you to stop.”

“Would you...want me to stop?” Emile asked.

Remy stared out the glass to the campus of the college, where the sun was just beginning to set, and lots of kids were still running around, having fun right before their dinner. “I don’t even know,” Remy said, more to himself than to Emile. “Anyone who’s been that cheery to me before has always been faking it. I don’t know what I’d do if someone were actually, seriously that cheery all the time.”

Emile put a hand on Remy’s free one and Remy snapped back to the present, finding Emile looking at him with concern. Remy scowled and freed his hand. “Forget it. Be as cheery as you want. Just don’t expect me to do the same.”

“You know, Remy...” Emile trailed off. “...You can give me any secret and I’ll take it to my grave.”

Remy shrugged. “Okay,” he said. But sharing secrets was dangerous, and he only ever did it sparingly even with people he trusted, so he didn’t say anything else.

Emile waited for a minute, eyes flickering over Remy’s face before he turned back to his pizza. He took a massive bite that gave Remy sympathetic heartburn and he tried to ignore it by finishing his salad and moving to his sandwich. When both of them had finished their dinners, Remy propped his head up with one hand. He hated to admit it, but he was starting to get used to Emile’s company. And he had to be more interesting than the textbooks that Remy had been staring at for hours. So he braced himself and bit the bullet. “Are you doing anything else tonight?”

“Not particularly,” Emile said. “I thought I might go on a run, or something, because my DnD group had to cancel this week, but I hate running, so I’ve been looking for an excuse to do anything else. Why?”

Emile’s eyes were wide and hopeful, and Remy inwardly cringed. He hated that he was giving in this easily, but he needed to do something that wasn’t studying. “Maybe we could hang out? Like, maybe not in each others’ dorms, not if you want to do something besides study or let me gripe, but...I don’t know. It’s something to do, you know?”

“Yeah! I’d love to hang out with you!” Emile exclaimed.

“Great,” Remy sighed. “You don’t have to shout about it, though.”

Emile laughed and shrugged unapologetically. They both grabbed their now empty trays and put everything in their respective places to be cleaned or thrown away. Then, they headed back to their dorm building. “So do you want to hang out in one of the commons?” Emile asked. “Or we could always go to my room, if you wanted.”

“Your room is probably a good idea,” Remy said. “You don’t have a roommate, do you?”

“No. You?” Emile asked.

“Yeah,” Remy sighed. “He’s almost never around, but he’s still there as I’m going to bed and when I wake up in the morning.”

Emile shrugged. “Could be worse, I suppose. He could be there all the time.”

“Yeah,” Remy sighed.

They went to Emile’s dorm room and Remy blinked in surprise. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but a room covered in cartoon posters and a bed full of pillows wasn’t very high on his list. “I...wow,” Remy said. “You went ham on the decorations.”

“Yeah,” Emile said with a little shrug. “There wasn’t going to be anyone else on the other side of the room, because housing happened to have a couple openings from people winding up not going here, and I happened to be lucky enough to get a room to myself. So I thought, I’m gonna make the room well and truly mine, you know?”

Remy didn’t really know, but he nodded regardless, because getting kicked out wasn’t high on his list of wants at the moment. “So...Emile, I’m guessing you watch cartoons,” he said, nodding to the posters.

“Oh! Yeah,” Emile agreed. “I think they’re fun, you know? And they can teach adults things too, not just kids! Whenever I’m a therapist, I’m probably going to use cartoons as analogies for whatever I’m explaining to a patient about.”

“Why?” Remy asked, sitting on the bed on the side of the room that was completely undecorated.

“Why not?” Emile asked. “If it helps people get better, then why wouldn’t I use it?”

“Because it’s...childish?” Remy asked. “Frankly, I think using cartoons as therapy is a little ridiculous.”

“Oh...” Emile said, doing that wilting thing again. “Well, I guess you wouldn’t be very receptive to my kind of therapy.”

“I’m not receptive to any kind of therapy. I don’t need therapy,” Remy said.

“Right,” Emile mumbled, nodding. “So...uh...what about your textbooks specifically is driving you up the wall?”

Remy, relieved for the change in topic, delved right into all his problems with what the book taught, noticing Emile bringing out and hugging a stuffed teddy bear, and cheering up after he did so. Remy found it a little weird, but chose not to comment. He hated when Emile did that wilting thing. It made his stomach twist in a way he found was decidedly unpleasant.

Chapter Text

September 3rd, 1989

“Hi! What’s your name?” Emile asked the shy boy who was standing by the slide on the playground.

“...Casey,” the boy mumbled.

“I’m Emile! Do you want to play a game with me?” Emile asked. “We could be friends!”

“I’ve never had a friend before,” Casey said softly. “How does being friends work?”

“You can figure it out as you go!” Emile exclaimed. “All my friends just like playing with me and sometimes reading with me! Maybe you want to do something different, but those are the big things that most of my friends do! We could play tag, if you want?”

“Sure, I like tag,” Casey said, smiling.

“I’ll be ‘it’ first! You have a ten second head start, better make the most of it!” Emile exclaimed.

Casey grinned and ran off, leaving Emile to count, before taking off after his new friend.

 

September 15th, 2000

Emile smiled at the man who he was sitting next to in the local coffee shop, who he was quickly becoming fast friends with. Remy was pouring over his business textbook with a sigh. “I mean, I know ninety percent of the stuff in this book! I don’t understand why I’m going to college!” Remy complained.

Shrugging, Emile said, “There has to be some reason, right? Something that you really want to learn?”

“Not really,” Remy sighed. “I don’t know why I’m wasting money when I’m not even gonna learn anything.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t go to college,” Emile said with a shrug.

Remy sat back in his chair and hummed. “You know, you may have a point…” He shook his head and sighed. “But what would my parents think?”

Emile leaned back in his chair and scratched his head. “Who cares what they think? You’re going to school on your dime, not theirs. If you don’t want to go into debt and you don’t think you’re going to learn anything, why stick around?”

“To be out of my parents’ house?” Remy asked with an incredulous laugh. “I mean, it’s not like they’d let me go back to live with them without having a job.”

“You have a job,” Emile said, gesturing to the coffee shop they were in.

“A real job, Emile,” Remy scoffed. “If rent is too expensive, they definitely won’t help, unless I’m making, like, six figures a year and I still can’t afford housing near wherever I work.”

“That’s terrible!” Emile said. “They’d make you homeless just because you’re working your tail off as a barista and not...whatever else they want you to be?”

“They were upset enough I went into business, and not accounting,” Remy said with a laugh. “But I would kill myself left to my own devices as an accountant, and I figured they’d rather have a semi-miserable kid over a dead kid. Though, I don’t know...they already have their golden boy, and that’s my brother Toby.”

Emile stared at Remy in complete shock. He was talking like this was just life, like he was discussing the weather, and not shaking Emile’s entire perception of his new friend to his very core. Suddenly, a lot of the things he said were making an ugly picture. An incomplete picture, but an ugly one nonetheless.

“Enough about me, though, what about you?” Remy asked.

“What about me?” Emile repeated dumbly.

Remy jabbed at Emile’s textbooks with a laugh. “Learning anything new from your textbooks? Psychology, all that good stuff?”

“Oh, uh, yeah...” Emile said. “Learning a bit. I don’t want to bore you with the specifics, though.”

Remy waved a hand. “Eh, psychology is somewhat interesting to me. What parts are you specifically going over?”

“Uh, currently, childhood development,” Emile said.

“Ah. Yeah. Not a huge fan of that one,” Remy replied. “So maybe spare me the details on that chapter.”

“Sure,” Emile said, nodding. He knew enough about Remy to avoid talking about this latest revelation just yet. But that left Emile with another problem. Namely, what to talk about. “Uh, that means I don’t really know what to talk about, though.”

Remy rested his arms on his books and his head on his arms. “Uh...you could talk about...pretty much whatever, really, I’m not picky.”

“Just so long as it’s a topic that adults could reasonably talk about without strange looks, right?” Emile asked.

“Hm?”

“I mean, would you really want me to ramble on about cartoons?” Emile asked. “You certainly didn’t seem to enjoy my room all that much, what with all the cartoon stuff everywhere.”

“Oh,” Remy said, grimacing. “I mean...do you want to talk about cartoons?”

“Not if the other person won’t enjoy them,” Emile said.

“It’s not that I don’t enjoy cartoons...” Remy scratched his neck before hanging his head. “Okay, yeah, it’s that I don’t enjoy cartoons. But I’m in no position to complain because I have a minor obsession with comic books. So you can talk about cartoons if you want to, so long as I can talk about comic books.”

“You have yourself a deal,” Emile said. “Still, cartoons is a pretty broad topic. It’s hard to narrow down what to talk about without something else to build off of.”

“The same is true with comics,” Remy pointed out. “Have you ever tried to piece together a comic timeline? It’s a horror show.”

“I’ve never gotten into comics for that exact reason. I have no idea where I would start!” Emile exclaimed. “There’s so many superheroes, and so many variations of the same ones, and so many timelines and stories within those variations! It’s...it’s completely jumbled! It makes no sense to me!”

“Yeah, well, comics definitely aren’t for everyone,” Remy said with a little smile.

“Same with cartoons,” Emile said. “Everyone has different tastes.”

“Yeah,” Remy said.

“The problem is when you start bashing people or their interests just because you’re not into them,” Emile said. “Like...you know, saying something is stupid or childish, or just not worth your time.”

Remy frowned briefly, before recognition crossed his face. “Oh. Oh. You’re referring to me.”

“Just a little bit. You’re not the first to say that cartoons are for children, and you won’t be the last. But you might have been the meanest to date,” Emile said.

Remy rolled his eyes. “I was trying to be kind. If that’s the meanest thing you’ve ever heard about your interests, you must be the most sheltered kid ever.”

“If that’s the nicest thing you could manage, then maybe you shouldn’t say anything about cartoons,” Emile said. “Because that was really mean. That hurt me. I don’t like the way you said it, and I don’t like how you’re brushing it off now.”

Remy huffed and crossed his arms, saying, “Well, someone clearly can’t take a joke.”

“That wasn’t a joke!” Emile exclaimed. “And if you were trying to make it one then it definitely fell flat! Why can’t you acknowledge that it hurt me?”

“I’m just trying to prepare you for reality,” Remy scoffed. “If you can’t understand that then you’re clearly not ready for it yet.”

“Reality isn’t just people being mean to each other all the time!” Emile exclaimed, very nearly reaching the end of his rope. He started packing up his books. “You know what? Maybe you were right. Being friends is not a good idea. Clearly, you aren’t ready to own up to your mistakes and I have friends who respect me and my interests elsewhere.”

Remy blinked at Emile in shock.

Emile just felt that much more irritated that Remy didn’t even say anything. “Good luck with college,” he growled. “Maybe one day you’ll learn what friends really are. I hope that you manage to find some people who make you happy.”

And with that, he stormed out of the coffee shop. The door opened after him and Remy called, “Emile?”

Emile didn’t even slow his stride. Rushed footsteps came after him and a desperate hand grabbed for his wrist. Emile wrenched it free and levelled Remy with a glare. “Am I a joke to you?” he asked.

“What? No!” Remy exclaimed.

“I get that you might not like that I’m an optimist, but you don’t have to tear me down every chance you get! I’m trying to be your friend, I’m trying to be nice to you, but you make it near impossible every time you open your mouth!” Emile’s vision blurred with tears. “I want to help you feel less lonely. Because whether you admit it or not, I know you need some form of company. Everybody does! I want to get to know you! You seem like a really interesting guy! But if you keep on insulting me and my interests, then I can’t be friends with you. I can’t even hang around you. Because I need to make sure that my mental health and my happiness comes first. I have to be my first priority. And if you’re going to hurt me, then you can’t be a part of my life.”

“I...” Remy had a myriad of emotions flitting across his face. “I’m sorry. I...I never really had friends. Before. I don’t know how I’m supposed to act around them. I don’t want to hurt you, honestly. I just...don’t know where the lines I shouldn’t cross are.”

“You want to toughen me up,” Emile said. “By definition, that’s going to hurt me and wear me down more and more until I can’t take life the way it is any longer. And I rather like my life the way it is.”

Remy looked lost. “I want to help you,” he said. “Don’t you see? I’m trying to help!”

Emile shook his head. “I don’t think I’m the one who needs help in this situation, Remy.”

Remy frowned. “What, you think I need to see a shrink?”

“I think that if you’ve never had friends before, you shouldn’t decide that you know everything about friendship and that you can make decisions for the people who you’re trying to become friends with,” Emile said. “And whether or not the help you get surrounding friends is professional, you need to learn about what friendship really is.”

Remy let his hand drop. “But...but...how do I get friends, so I can learn?”

“Well, maybe if you stopped acting like an arrogant know-it-all people might approach you more,” Emile hissed.

Remy reeled back like he had been slapped. “Is that...is that how you see me?”

Emile blinked rapidly as his tears fell. “I know it’s how most of my friends see you! They’ve asked me more than once why I hang around you! And I always told them it’s because I thought I saw some kindness inside you. But clearly,” his voice cracked. “Clearly I was wrong.”

Remy opened his mouth, but no words came out.

Emile turned and continued to walk back to the campus. It was about half a mile, it couldn’t take that long to retreat to his room and cry for a little. He heard Remy retreat back to the coffee shop, and he hoped that Remy would stay there to lick his wounds, or at least leave Emile alone. He needed time to regroup, to decide what he was going to do about Remy. He wasn’t sure he could still be friends with the man, as much as he wanted to be. Remy would need people around him sooner or later, and Emile wanted to help. He always wanted to help, but he had to learn to detach himself from situations, so that he didn’t burn out being emotionally invested with everyone he met. Therapist or not, that was a skill he needed to learn.

He heard running behind him, and Emile rolled his eyes, moving to the right side of the sidewalk, staring resolutely at the buildings on the opposite side of the street, and not acknowledging the slowing footsteps as the person fell into Emile’s rhythm of walking.

“Sooner or later you’re going to have to acknowledge me, Emile,” Remy warned.

Emile just kept staring across the street.

Remy’s hand brushed against Emile’s, before Remy apparently thought better of it, and his hand retreated. “Emile, please, just look at me.”

Emile glanced over to find Remy hiding his eyes behind his blonde bangs. “I...I wanted to hurt you, yeah, to toughen you up. But that’s no excuse. And...for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I’m realizing that was wrong. I just...” he sniffled, and lifted his head, and Emile was surprised to see tears in Remy’s eyes. “I want to be your friend. And I’m terrified, because the last time I was friends with someone who wasn’t my brother, they absolutely crushed me. I...I don’t want that to happen again. My brain keeps screaming that’s what’s gonna happen if I get close to you...” He shook his head. “But you know what? I think that it’s worth the risk. I...I want to be your friend, Emile. I’m so sorry. Please, please just consider my apology when you decide whether or not we can be friends? Because I’m truly sorry.”

Emile’s resolve wavered and he nodded, offering Remy a small smile. “Okay,” he said. “We can give being friends another shot. But you’d better believe that I’m roping you into doing DnD and watching cartoons and a bunch of other ‘dorky’ stuff.”

Remy cringed, but nodded. “Thank you,” he breathed.

Emile nodded back, and they walked back to campus together.

Chapter Text

December 23rd, 1985

“I’m so sorry that I had to do that, sweetie, but you know it’s for your own good,” his mom said. “You can’t go around hugging everyone you see, it will give someone the wrong impression.”

Remy sniffled a little but pulled up his pants and nodded. He had only hugged his older cousins because he was happy to see them, he didn’t understand what the big deal was. But maybe it was some super secret adult thing. Remy didn’t know. If hugging people got him in trouble with a spanking, though, he definitely wasn’t going to hug them anymore. Even if Magenta begged, even if Nate chased him around the house.

He wasn’t going to get in trouble again.

 

October 14th, 2000

“I really don’t think this is a good idea, Emile...” Remy said. His heels were digging into the grass as Emile dragged him by the arm over to where a group of people were already chatting and laughing.

“Come on, Remy. You don’t have to be friends with any of these people, but as my friend I want to introduce you to my other friends,” Emile said.

“But...but you know what happened with Clara, what if it turns out that I insulted more of your friends?” Remy asked.

“Then you can apologize and work to make amends, Remy, it’s not that hard,” Emile said, tilting his head to the side with puppy-dog eyes. Remy hated those puppy-dog eyes; they were near impossible to say no to. “Please? Just give this a shot.”

Remy inwardly sighed. “I’ve...I’ve never really gotten in trouble before for what I’ve said. At least, not in the regular way most kids do when they backtalk. I...I don’t have experience with ‘proper apologies’ as you called them.”

Emile stopped and turned to face Remy fully, and Remy scratched the back of his neck. He was still terrified of Emile going ballistic over something Remy did. Even if last time they had fought Emile only left the situation, what would happen if that wasn’t possible? What would happen if Remy pushed beyond the point of no return? Emile was proving to be a good friend, someone who Remy could trust with the little things. He didn’t want to lose that. “Remy, I’m not mad with you, okay? If you need help apologizing, then I can help you. But I don’t want you shying away from talking to people just because you said some things you shouldn’t have while trying to defend yourself.”

Remy sighed again, outwardly this time, and nodded. Emile had a point. He always had a point. “Just...just promise me that you won’t leave me alone with these guys if I don’t feel comfortable with that?”

“Of course,” Emile assured. “I would never dream of hurting you, and that includes scaring you.”

Remy knew that was true, much as it confused him. He nodded, and together they walked over to Emile’s friends, who grew quiet when they all saw Remy. Remy cringed—had he really given off that much of a bad impression? “Guys, this is Remy,” Emile said, gesturing to him. “I invited him to play frisbee with us today. I hope you don’t mind?”

“I don’t know, Emile. You know we love you, but...sometimes the ‘friends’ you pick up off the street and take home with you aren’t the best. You don’t have the best judgement for who will or won’t hurt you,” one of the guys said.

Remy flinched. “You’re...Xavier, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Xavier said, leveling Remy with a glare. “And I don’t appreciate what you said about my girlfriend.”

“I’m...I’m really sorry about that,” Remy said. “I don’t have any good reason to have said what I did, because there is no good reason to insult anyone. Emile’s been teaching me that. Um. I...never really had a lot of friends growing up—”

“—Shocker,” Xavier said.

Remy’s eyes stung with tears. “Which means that I don’t know where the lines I shouldn’t cross are. You don’t have to be friends with me. That’s fine. But Emile was trying to be nice to me by inviting me to play with you guys. Don’t insult his judgement just because I’ve been a real...well, you can fill in the blank with whatever word you choose. They’re all pretty accurate.”

Xavier stared him down and Remy wanted to crawl under a rock and die right then and there. “Emile, I’m starting to think this was a bad idea,” Remy said in a pained whisper.

“Oh, yeah, you definitely shouldn’t have shown up,” Xavier growled, taking a step forward.

Remy flinched back and away, bringing his hands up to block an attack. His breathing was picking up, and he was wondering if this was it. Would Emile decide that Remy was a lost cause? Would Xavier punch him in the face? He certainly deserved it. He was so stupid—he should have stood his ground when Emile first invited him to this and said no. His foot slipped on a small rock as he tried to get away, sending him crashing to the ground. And great, now he was definitely crying, and panicking, and he didn’t see a way out of this. He was supposed to stay unattached so this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. This was why he didn’t make friends, he was too much of a crybaby, no one would ever take him seriously if he just kept crying at every obstacle he faced.

Now there were hands on him and Remy couldn’t get away, his whole body hurt from hitting the ground and he was having a panic attack and this was officially the worst day ever. Someone was saying his name, but it sounded distorted, like he was stuck underwater, or maybe behind a pane of glass. He kept his eyes screwed shut tight and rode out the wave of panic the best he could, and when he felt like he could breathe again he opened his eyes, just a crack. It was Emile who had put hands on his shoulders, and all of Emile’s friends were staring at him, including Xavier. “You good, man?” Xavier asked.

“Fine,” Remy lied. “I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine,” Clara said.

“Clara,” Emile warned.

“Just tripped, I’ll be fine. Just a little sore,” Remy said.

“Yeah...no. You looked like you were convinced Xavier was gonna slug you,” another guy said. “Which, I mean, maybe he gets angry but he doesn’t hit people.”

Remy sat up, but noticed that Emile’s hands didn’t leave his shoulders. “Okay, everyone, your concern is touching, but I’m fine,” Remy insisted. “It was a tiny panic attack. It happens sometimes. We can all move on.” Stop pressing the issue, please.

“If you’re sure?” Emile asked.

Remy gave him a smile and a nod. “Yeah. I’m gonna hurt for like, twenty minutes, but I can still play, if you guys will have me. If you don’t, though, I get it.”

“Nah, man,” Xavier said. “I was letting a grudge override my better judgement. You apologized for your actions, that’s the end of that.”

“Really?” Remy asked, unable to hide his surprise.

Xavier nodded. “I might not be happy with you for a little while yet, but you can play with us if you want to.”

“Huh.” Remy blinked. “I’m not used to that, but sure, let’s play.”

Emile lightly touched Remy’s arm as everyone spread out while Clara grabbed a frisbee. Remy followed Emile to where he was starting as Clara tossed the frisbee in the air a few times. “You know, I think you scared Xavier pretty bad. Scared all of us, really.”

“Oh. Sorry,” Remy grimaced.

“Not something to apologize for,” Emile said softly. “But are you okay? Remy, that sort of response, the panic attack and the flinching away...you wouldn’t happen to...have a history of abuse? You don’t have to answer, but I worry.”

“I wasn’t abused, Emile,” Remy said, watching as Clara threw the frisbee across the quad and Xavier caught it. “Never had that sort of problem growing up, don’t worry. I just...had a panic attack from slipping and falling. It startled me more than I anticipated, I guess.”

Emile bit his lip. “You know, I worry about you Remy.”

Remy bristled. “I know. It’s honestly a little annoying. It was endearing at first, but I feel like you’ve been crowding into my space lately.”

“Have I?” Emile asked. “I’ll back off if you want me to. But you know, I’m always here if you want to talk.”

“I know,” Remy said as the frisbee got tossed their way and Remy caught it, before flinging it across the quad, causing several of Emile’s friends to rush after it. “You constantly remind me of that fact.”

Emile looked...not hurt, and not worried, but some combination of the two. Remy ran a hand through his hair with a sigh. “What did I do this time?” he asked.

“You just...called me caring annoying. I don’t mind backing off if I’m crowding you, but friends caring about other friends isn’t annoying,” Emile explained.

“Ah,” Remy said. “I...don’t know how to respond to that, in all honesty.”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to,” Emile said. “Just...make sure that you’re not pushing everyone away, preferably sooner rather than later.”

Remy idly nodded before the frisbee flew wide and both him and Emile rushed after it. Remy certainly wasn’t left alone to his introspection, but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t thinking. Everything he had been through, the yelling, the spanking, the neglect...that wasn’t abuse. Not in the sense that he had ever heard of. Spanking was discipline. Yelling just happened when people lost their temper. And the neglect...well, his parents had three kids. Someone had to get lost in the shuffle every once in a while. That didn’t point to abuse, right?

Sure, he may have been scared of Xavier hitting him, but he wouldn’t admit that to the others. They didn’t need to know about his problems, he didn’t need to burden them. And besides, if Emile had a real reason to worry, Remy doubted he would ever be left alone, when sometimes, that was exactly what he wanted.

He ran a hand through his hair again before catching the frisbee and tossing it to Emile, who was halfway across the quad. Playing around was fun, he had to admit, but none of these people were his friends, save Emile. He didn’t want friends beyond Emile, though. He barely wanted Emile to be his friend, half the time. He was nosy, constantly asking questions, and getting excited over things Remy didn’t understand. But then he’d hug Remy after they had talked for a while, or offer Remy half of the giant cookie he had gotten in the cafeteria when he noticed Remy’s stomach snarling, or even do something dorky like show Remy how to make flower crowns so once spring came around they could “be prepared,” and yeah, Remy had to admit that being friends with Emile also had its perks.

When everyone was pretty much done playing for the time being, they all reconvened at the edge of the quad, and chatted with each other for a little while. Apparently, half the people in this group were part of Emile’s DnD game, and the other half were those friends’ friends. Xavier came over to Remy and asked him softly, “You sure you’re okay, man? I didn’t mean to give you a panic attack.”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Remy brushed off. “It takes a little more than some aggression to hurt me. I was more startled about falling than I was at you being angry. And you had every right to be angry.”

“Bea is the love of my life, so yeah, I was more than a little upset when you insulted her. But Emile has talked about you before. He says that you don’t make friends easy. For whatever reason, you mostly prefer to be alone. And I respect that because you obviously have your reasons. But if you’re trying to isolate yourself, man, that’s not healthy,” Xavier said.

“I’m not trying to isolate myself,” Remy shrugged off. “At least not on a conscious level. Friends are a lot of work, and I usually don’t have the energy to put in what other people want to get out of it. It saves both parties a little time and energy.”

“Okay, edgelord,” Xavier said with a little laugh. “But if you ever want to, like, hang out with people without really needing to know them, a friend of a friend is gonna be throwing a killer Halloween party, and I know Emile’s going. The two of you could hang out, maybe he could introduce you to someone you get on with. Who knows? Point is, everyone’s invited to the party, and between you and me,” Xavier’s voice dropped to a whisper, “They’re bringing the good booze.”

Remy hummed. “I might go. Especially if I can see Emile drunk. That would be hilarious.”

“Yeah, man,” Xavier laughed. “Between you and me I’m bringing a video camera, just so that I can show people how trashed they get at parties.”

Remy chuckled. “Sounds like fun, you’ve got me. I’m in.”

Chapter Text

June 20th, 1999

Emile was reading one of his summer books that he needed to go over before senior year started when it hit him. He was going to be a senior this next year. After that, he was going to go off to college. Sure, he knew that on some level before, and he had started the process to apply to a couple colleges already, but that was real. It was almost now at this point. He didn’t know how exactly he was going to handle that.

The thought of being on his own at college, even if his parents were only a phone call away, terrified him. It would be a dry-run of being an adult. He wasn't ready for that! He had barely turned eighteen! That was going to be hard, and scary, and he definitely wasn't ready. If college was anything like the movies, he was in huge trouble. His parents said that it wasn’t, but he didn’t know. A lot of his friends’ siblings seemed to disagree.

 

October 31st, 2000

Emile laughed as Remy practically skipped next to him as they walked to the frat house holding the Halloween party they had both been invited to. “I’ve never been to a party before,” Remy said, hands flying every which way. “Like, obviously I’ve been to birthday parties, but that was like, when I was a little kid. I’ve never been to a proper party before.”

“Do you think you’re gonna enjoy it?” Emile asked, feeling his amusement bleed through into his tone just a bit.

Remy seemed too preoccupied to notice. “I think it’s going to be amazing,” he declared. “This will be my first chance at getting to try alcohol, too. I’ve never had it before.”

“Well, we’re both underage, so I’m not really surprised,” Emile pointed out. “But I’ll be the one carrying your drunk butt back to East Benz, got it.”

Remy stuck his tongue out at Emile before turning to face forward again and he laughed. “You’re gonna drink too, I bet.”

“I might drink,” Emile allowed. “But I doubt I’ll be getting drunk.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Remy said. “Here we are!”

They walked into the house and Emile was immediately assaulted by the sounds of the bass playing from the speakers, the smell of alcohol everywhere, and the sight of all the people in the house dancing, or making out, or flirting. Remy looked around next to him uncertainly. Emile inwardly was a little surprised. When Remy had said he had never been to a party before, Emile hadn’t realized he had never been to a party like this before. He thought that Remy might have gone to one on a smaller scale. But no, his friend was apparently sheltered when it came to this area of life. “I’d recommend staying away from the punch,” Emile advised. “Sure, it’ll get you drunk, but you don’t know how much alcohol is in it. You have to be careful. I’d advise grabbing a beer if you have to have a drink. Which, you know, you don’t.”

Remy glanced over at Emile. “It’s my first party, do you genuinely believe that I’ll be staying away from the alcohol?” he scoffed.

Emile shrugged. “Hey, I’m just saying,” he replied.

Remy rolled his eyes and made his way to the kitchen, presumably looking for the alcohol. Emile glanced around until he saw Sasha, the girl who had invited him in the first place. “Sasha!” he exclaimed, waving and walking over to her. She gave him a hug and they started chatting over the sound of the music. Emile knew it might be quieter upstairs, but he also knew that upstairs would be where the others would be getting busy. He wanted to avoid those noises if he could, even if it meant speaking over the bass.

Emile soon found himself doing the rounds with lots of people he had seen across campus introducing themselves to him. He smiled and shook their hands or hugged them as they saw fit, and when he was done with that, it had to be an hour and a half that had passed. He walked past where everyone was dancing and found the stairs to the upper floors being occupied by a moping Remy.

Immediately worrying that something was wrong, Emile walked over and leaned against the wall next to the steps, nudging Remy’s foot with his own. “Hey there, handsome. Something up?”

Remy looked up at Emile slowly and he giggled a little. “You know, I didn’t really understand what people meant when they said...when they said that alcohol is a depressant, but I think I understand better now.”

Emile frowned. “You feeling okay?”

With a hiccup, Remy shook his head. “You know...you know how I say I wasn’t abused?”

The hair on the back of Emile’s neck stood on end. “Yeah, I know. You’re pretty adamant that they didn’t hurt you.”

“Oh, they hurt me,” Remy said, chuckling hollowly. “But it wasn’t abuse. Not like, how you learn about in school, with the hitting or sexual situations. Never like that. But they hurt me, and I don’t exactly get along with them. And I’m trying to forget about them, but like...” Remy waved the near-empty beer bottle around, “This is just making me think of them more.”

“Then maybe you should stop drinking,” Emile said, gingerly taking the bottle out of Remy’s grasp.

“You’re really smart, Emile,” Remy said. “How did you get to be so smart?”

“I read a lot as a kid,” Emile said with a smile. “Do you want to get out of here?”

Remy shrugged. “I dunno. Was kinda hoping I’d get lucky.”

Emile laughed. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen tonight, Remy. You’re more than a little drunk.”

Remy sighed. “You’re smart, Emile,” he slurred. “It’s like...like you know all the secrets of the universe.”

“I don’t know about that,” Emile said, holding his arms out as Remy swayed to his feet. “But I like to think I know a lot.”

Remy stumbled forward and Emile barely caught him before he toppled to the floor. “Can you tell me why...” Remy whimpered, “Can you tell my why they never loved me as much? Why they always preferred Vanessa and Toby?”

“I’m sorry, Rem, but I can’t,” Emile said.

“Who’s Rem?” Remy asked.

“You are, if you don’t mind the nickname?” Emile asked.

“Nah, ‘s cute,” Remy slurred. “An’ you’re cute, even if I’m not. So it makes sense you’d say it.”

“I’d argue that a lot of people on both sides would find you cute,” Emile said.

“I’m not cute!” Remy exclaimed. “I’m tough!”

Emile did his best to stifle his laughter. “And you also can’t hold your weight in alcohol,” he teased. “Come on, we can get out of here.”

“Why?” Remy asked.

“Well, you’re drunk, and you look a bit like you’re about to cry, and I don’t think you’d want anyone seeing you cry if you were sober,” Emile said. “So I figured we could get you somewhere more private.”

“Gotta pee first,” Remy said.

Emile shook his head. “Of course you do. You know where the bathroom is?”

“Yeah,” Remy mumbled. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

And with that, he was gone. Emile hung by the stairs, nodding to the people who went by that acknowledged him. Almost everyone at the party was drunk, and Emile was starting to remember why he found so many high school parties boring.

A minute passed, and Emile was still waiting for Remy to come back. How long did it take to pee while drunk? Surely, not that long. Not unless you drank a two-liter bottle of soda or something.

Five minutes passed, and Emile was starting to worry. What had happened? Did Remy leave without Emile? Did he get lost in the crowd and couldn’t make his way through to the bathroom? Did he fall and hurt himself somehow?

Ten minutes had passed, and Emile was making his way through the crowd in an effort to find Remy. He knew the bathroom was right next to the kitchen...he pulled up short as he saw a clearly-still-very-drunk Remy chatting with a college junior who had a look in her eye that Emile didn’t like. Emile walked over and slid his arm around Remy’s shoulders. “Hey, Rem, there you are, I was looking for you!” Emile laughed. He turned to the junior and flashed her a fake thousand-watt smile. “And you are?”

“Jasmine,” she practically purred. “I was just talking to Remy here about how he must clearly work out. He’s quite an attractive man.”

“That he is,” Emile agreed. “I’m very happy that I’m a part of his potential dating pool.”

Jasmine blinked once, twice. “Sorry?”

“Haven’t you heard? All the hot ones are gay,” Emile said with a wink. “Anyway, Remy and I should get going. We have a date with some movies after this, right, Rem?”

“Mm,” Remy hummed. “Halloweentown, please?”

“If that’s what you want,” Emile agreed. He smiled at Jasmine. “It’s nice meeting you, though!”

He made a quick exit with Remy in tow, and once they were outside, Emile let himself relax a fraction. “Why’d we leave?” Remy asked.

“That junior was flirting with you,” Emile said. “And it didn’t look like she was going to take no for an answer, so I got you out of there.”

Remy giggled. “You said...you said we had a date. Like...like we were dating or something.”

“I said we had a date with movies,” Emile said. “And I meant what I said, we can watch whatever movies you want. But just saying we have a date with movies doesn’t mean we’re dating.”

“Oh,” Remy pouted. “Shame. You’re pretty cute.”

Emile stopped stock still as he stared at Remy in shock. Remy swayed around to face Emile. “What? I can’t be the first guy to say that you’re cute! If my parents wouldn’t give me hell for it, I’d date you.”

“You’re drunk, Remy, we should just get you to bed,” Emile said. “Come on, you can sleep in my room tonight, if you want.”

“Like a date?” Remy giggled.

“Like a friend making sure your roommate doesn’t hate you in the morning,” Emile said. “Come on, we’re getting you to bed.”

“What about Halloweentown? You can’t forget about the movies, Emile.”

Emile inwardly rolled his eyes. He didn’t imagine Remy being a stubborn drunk. “We can see if it’s on TV in the Commons, but if it’s not, we’ll have to wait until we can rent it from the library.”

“Aw, that’s no fun,” Remy griped. Emile nodded along to Remy’s rant all the way back to East Benz. “...And if you think that I’m not gonna rent it just for us to watch, then you’re dead wrong!” Remy declared as they walked inside the dorm building and made their way to the elevator.

Emile shook his head fondly as they went to his floor and Emile helped Remy into his room. Remy sat down on the spare bed Emile had and he frowned, patting the mattress. “Y’know, I used to have a stuffed dog.”

“Did you?” Emile asked.

“Mhm,” Remy said. “His name was Bones. But my parents would take him away if I did something wrong, and no matter how much I cried they wouldn’t give him back. And one day they took him, and they never gave him back.”

“That’s terrible, Remy,” Emile said.

Remy nodded. “I miss him, sometimes, still,” he said. “I think Toby found him one day, but he never gave Bones back to me. Don’t know why.”

“Maybe he wanted to keep your parents from finding you with him and throwing him away,” Emile offered.

“Maybe. Sounds like something Toby would do,” Remy agreed. He kicked off his shoes. “You’re really, really smart Emile.”

Emile offered a small smile to Remy. “Thanks, Rem. That means a lot. Now why don’t you try to sleep for a bit?”

Remy nodded and laid down on the mattress, promptly passing out. Emile changed into his pajamas, but he had a lot harder time falling asleep. Remy had said he had feelings for Emile. No, he just said he would date you, his mind said. That doesn’t mean he has feelings. It’s a hypothetical situation. And he probably only likes you aesthetically, anyway.

...But he still likes me aesthetically, then, he replied. How do I respond to that?

He didn’t know. He didn’t know how to respond to anything that Remy had said that night. He had told Emile some of his deepest, darkest secrets, and he probably wouldn’t even remember it in the morning.

...Well, if he didn’t remember, that was good, right? Because Emile didn’t have feelings for Remy. And this way he wouldn’t have to let Remy down easily, or at all. He could wave off anything Remy remembered as a dream. It was a little scummy, but Emile didn’t know what else to do. He certainly didn’t know how to react to the thought that Remy might have liked him.

Chapter Text

August 24th, 2000

Remy gripped one of his arms with the other as he stood at the threshold of his new dorm room in college as his mother whined and wailed and generally put on a display of the overly-attached, they-grow-up-so-fast mother. He stood there with an awkward half-smile on, waiting for her to finish her spiel as she crushed him in a hug, and then made her excuses to leave.

His dad was a lot less emotional, giving him a simple smile and a, “Make us proud, son,” before he was gone.

“Your parents are quite the pair,” his new roommate said from inside the dorm.

“Tell me about it,” Remy grumbled, closing the door. “I’m so glad I get to be away from them for a while.”

 

November 1st, 2000

Remy woke up with a killer headache as someone opened the blinds. “Ugh, d’you have to do that?!” he griped, not opening his eyes and turning away from the window.

A voice, that decidedly did not sound like his roommate, laughed. “Oh, yeah, the hangover has set in. Do you need some ibuprofen?”

Remy’s eyes shot open, and he turned to face Emile, who was still standing in front of the window. He squinted and grimaced. “Ugh. Please?”

Emile silently passed Remy a pill bottle and some water. Remy grunted his thanks after he swallowed. “Ugh. What happened last night?”

“You got pretty drunk is what happened,” Emile said. “You could barely stand by the end of the night.”

Remy groaned and fell back onto the bed. Honestly, sleeping more sounded pretty good right about now.

“Hey, no, we gotta get breakfast, Rem,” Emile laughed. “I know you only have afternoon classes, but you need to eat.”

“Mmph. Says who?” Remy asked.

“Says the shrink-in-training who knows a balanced diet is a key factor to maintaining good mental health,” Emile responded matter-of-factly. “Come on, up. I doubt you’ll be the only one arriving for breakfast in what you slept in last night.”

Remy got off the bed, swaying ever-so-slightly. “Ugh, hangovers are nasty,” he grumbled.

And, of course, to make things worse, Emile looked immaculate; the only thing that could be considered “out of place” was his hair, and that wasn’t out of place so much, because his curly mop could never be tamed. Remy felt like a mess, probably looked like a mess, and Emile looked ready to go to work wherever he might end up. “I didn’t say anything embarrassing, did I?” Remy asked.

“Embarrassing by your standards, or mine?” Emile asked, letting Remy outside the dorm room.

“Mine,” Remy said, wincing as the sounds of the second floor dorms filled his ears.

“Well, you talked about an old stuffed animal you used to have named Bones,” Emile said with a shrug.

“Oh, I almost forgot about Bones,” Remy said. It wasn’t quite true, but he had almost put the hurt of his mind, at the very least. “Anything else?”

Emile hummed. “Not that I can think of?”

“No talk about crushes or anything?” Remy asked.

Emile laughed. “No, not that I can think of.”

“Okay, good,” Remy sighed. “I had a crazy dream last night where I said I would date you, and I wasn’t sure if I had actually just been drunk.”

“No,” Emile said, shaking his head. He stared forward as they waited for the elevator. “Just a dream, Remy, nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, you believe that means you secretly do have a crush on me.”

Remy laughed. “Oh, as if! You’re so not my type,” he lied. He wasn’t even aware he had a type before today, but clearly, with George in high school and now Emile, he was into the nerds and the geeks. Emile wasn’t full-blown crush, not yet, but he was certainly up there on Remy’s potentials. And when a geek trumped the members of the football team or the swim team, you knew you had a problem.

Emile laughed a little. “Are you sure? Brainiacs are the future!”

“You’re cute, Emile, don’t get me wrong,” Remy said, as the elevator doors opened and the two walked in to find two other people already waiting. “Just not my type. Personality-wise.”

“So what is your type?” Emile asked, grinning. “I might be able to set you up.”

“Ah, no thanks,” Remy said. “Friends are enough for me right now.”

“And later?” Emile asked. “If you decide you want to look for someone?”

Remy blew out a breath. “I’ll go up to whoever I like and say, ‘Hey, I’m going thousands of dollars into debt to get this one paper certificate that won’t guarantee me a job but I was told to get anyway. Want to suffer together?’”

Emile laughed as they left the elevator. “Well, that’s an original pickup line, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But seriously, what do you plan on doing after this semester?”

“What do you mean?” Remy asked.

“Well, midterms are like...next week, Remy,” Emile pointed out.

“Wait, what.”

“Yeah, they’re next week,” Emile repeated, as ice entered Remy’s bloodstream. “Did you forget?”

“Yeah,” Remy said, voice pitched an octave and a half too high. “Oh man, like, I’ve been saving all my cash from the job to pay for the next semester, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. I might have to take out more loans than I thought. Oh man. Oh no.”

Emile put a hand on Remy’s arm. “Hey, deep breaths, Rem. Don’t want to go into another panic attack.”

Remy made a pained noise that roughly translated to too late. He tried to breathe, but his chest felt far too tight. He couldn’t, like, at all.

Emile led him to the cafeteria, by which time Remy’s brain had finally sputtered to life again. “I can’t do this,” he mumbled. “I can’t...I can’t...I can’t do this.”

“Hey, Rem, you’ll do fine,” Emile said. “You said yourself you know everything in your classes!”

“No. No, I mean I can’t do this,” Remy said, waving his hands around the cafeteria. “I can’t do college. Not for three and a half more years. Emile, it’s going to kill me. I’m going to die if I keep trying to go to school. I’m gonna grow bored, or I’m gonna grow even worse mental health-wise than however shaky that is right now. I can’t do that. I can’t stand it here. College...can and will kill me.”

Emile visibly swallowed as they both went over to the waffle maker and Remy went first, pouring the batter into the waffler and closing it tight. “Then you really shouldn’t be going to college, Remy. If it’s hurting you, then definitely do not keep coming here.”

Remy sighed. He knew Emile had a point. He knew that. But still... “My parents—”

“—Under no circumstances will be your excuse to stay in a place that is literally going to kill you,” Emile said sternly. “If this is going to drive you to jump off a building, or hang yourself, or do something stupid so you go out as a martyr, then don’t keep doing it.”

Remy stared at Emile in shock and confusion until the waffler dinged. He grabbed the waffle, grabbed whipped cream, and sprinkles, and started making his signature mess of a breakfast. “This is going to come across as really insensitive,” he warned Emile. “But...you genuinely care. Why?”

Emile poured waffle batter in the waffler silently before sighing. “I’ve lost too many friends to suicide already.”

“Friends? As in, plural?” Remy asked.

“Yes, Remy. Friends as in plural. High school was not a kind place. Nor was middle school, for that matter, but high school was the final straw for both of them,” Emile said. “Almost lost a third, too. Walked in on her popping pills like they were after-dinner mints.”

“I—” Remy didn’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry.”

“At least I caught the final one in time,” Emile said with a bitter smile. “She didn’t speak to me for a long while after that. Emailed me right before I went off to college, thanking me. She had finally found medication that actually worked for her. Didn’t get a chance to see her before I left, but we’ve been talking about seeing each other over winter break.”

“I hope you get that chance,” Remy said.

“Me too,” Emile sighed. “But Remy, please. If college will kill you, drop out of college. Your parents do not take priority over your mental health. What’s keeping you from dropping out, other than your parents opinions?”

“Finding a place to stay,” Remy said.

“I’ll help you find a roommate who can pay rent, I know a few people around campus who are desperate to live nearby but not in the dorms. What else?”

“Money for food, transportation,” Remy said.

“If you’re not paying for college you should have enough money so that you can buy the food to get you through, even if you no longer have a meal plan. We can get you a bike, or figure out the bus routes needed for you to get to Starbucks to work,” Emile said. “And if necessary there’s other options around the city that I know are hiring.”

Remy had never seen someone angrily pour syrup on a waffle before, but watching Emile do just that was an experience. “Emile...why would you do this for me? Like, I get the whole wanting me to drop out so I get to be your friend still and I don’t wind up dead thing, but that doesn’t mean you have to help me figure everything out.”

“I’m your friend, Remy. Of course I’m going to help you,” Emile said. “That’s what friends do. They help each other.”

“But...but this feels like going above and beyond,” Remy said, wincing as someone shouted something unintelligible across the cafeteria. “Like, most friends support their other friends’ decisions, but you’re actually mapping out how I would live if I were to genuinely drop out.”

“Friends can and should help you prepare for the future if you need help, or even just want help. If they’re able to offer help, they should, in my opinion,” Emile said.

They moved further into the cafeteria to eat, and Remy was thankful that Emile chose one of the darker parts of the cafeteria, away from the windows and the sunroof. “What’s going above and beyond, then?” Remy asked.

Emile shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think there is an ‘above and beyond’ with friendships, but if you need a threshold, how about...moving in with you and getting a part-time job so you can afford the rent and food?”

“That’s definitely above and beyond,” Remy said.

Emile turned thoughtful, poking at his food. “Is it, though, actually?”

“What do you mean?” Remy asked, frowning and taking a bite of waffle.

“I mean, that’s something I could definitely do. It sounds like a good idea, actually,” Emile said.

Remy choked on his waffle piece, before coughing violently and swallowing the rock that had returned to his mouth. “You serious? I thought...I thought you would want to like...see your friends over the holidays, and your folks. You seem like you’d be close to your folks.”

“Well, I can still see them over the holidays,” Emile reasoned. “But this just means I wouldn’t be moving back home over the summer and then moving again when it comes to sophomore year. I can visit my parents without having to live in their house. We could get a two-bedroom apartment, split the rent and food over the summer, and I could handle the rent during the school year while you worry about food. It could work.”

“Emile,” Remy said. “You’re literally saying you would move in with me. For no other reason than I can’t afford my own place on part-time minimum wage.”

“That’s not the only reason,” Emile said. “It would help me save on room and board, too. Less student loans for me.”

Remy laughed incredulously. “So, is this it? Is this a thing that we’re doing? You’re going to move in with me? I thought it’d be one of your friends.”

“Well, most of my friends would go home in the summer, when you need the most help,” Emile reasoned. “And besides, do you honestly think you could get along with any of my friends long enough to actually share living space with them? I know that your own roommate bugs you a whole lot, because you spend so much time in my room, where you don’t have to deal with anyone but me. And if we can stand each other most days when we don’t have classes and you don’t have to go to bed, yet, I think we can handle living in a place at a point in time where you’re going to work and I’m going to school and going to work. I’ll have to talk to my parents about it, of course, but they aren’t going to say no. They just need to know why my tuition is less than it used to be.”

“So...that’s a yes?” Remy asked.

“Yes,” Emile said with a grin. “You drop out of college, and we move in together.”

Remy whistled under his breath. “Okay, then,” he breathed.

Chapter Text

November 20th, 2000

“You’re absolutely sure you’ll be okay over Thanksgiving break?” Emile pressed Remy.

Remy rolled his eyes. “Yeah, Mom, I’ll be fine,” he said with a little scoff. “I don’t have to talk to my parents about dropping out of college, or moving out of the dorms, and my siblings don’t know either, so they can’t spill the beans. It’ll be five days of sleeping in my parent’s house and wishing they didn’t host Thanksgiving dinner for my family every year so I don’t have to be swamped by my cousins and aunts and uncles. I’ll be fine.”

“If you’re sure...” Emile said. “Just know my parents’ offer stands. They wouldn’t mind feeding five mouths instead of four.”

“I know,” Remy said. “But you don’t have to worry. I’ll be okay. I promise.”

 

November 23rd, 2000

“So, let me get this straight,” Emile’s dad asked. “You met a boy in college, became friends with him despite his great reluctance to do so, and found out that he would hurt himself if he continued going to college, so you decided to offer to move in with him, and take on a job so that you can help with rent? And we have to pay less for your tuition because you’ll be living off campus?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Emile said. “Remy hasn’t dropped out officially, yet, but he’s working through the papers and trying to find a second job to help in addition to Starbucks that means we won’t have to stretch our money as thin.”

“That’s amazing, Emile,” Dad said. “I can only see you doing that sort of thing. But it somehow makes complete sense when it’s you doing it.”

Emile ducked his head and continued to help peel potatoes for the Thanksgiving dinner. “I’m just really worried about Remy, honestly,” he said. “He had to go back to his parents’ for Thanksgiving because we don’t have the apartment yet, and they don’t know that he’s dropping out of college yet.”

“Wait, what? What do you mean, ‘they don’t know’?” Dad asked, placing a hand on Emile’s shoulder.

“I mean they don’t know, Dad,” Emile said. “His parents aren’t very supportive. He was going to college on his own dime, not theirs, because he wanted to go into whatever major he wanted. And he’s told me before that...that his parents favor his siblings over him.”

“What?!” his dad asked.

“He’s said it in passing multiple times, Dad. Even if it’s not true, he genuinely believes it, and based on everything else I’ve heard about his parents, I’m inclined to believe him on this,” Emile said, biting his lip.

“Well why couldn’t you invite him over here, then?” Dad asked.

“I tried!” Emile defended. “I said he was welcome to come home with me if he wanted, but he said he didn’t want to impose, and that his parents were expecting him home anyway. They don’t even know whether or not he has friends at college, Dad. He was worried that they might cut him out of the family if he didn’t go home, because the dorms definitely close over Thanksgiving, and they’d assume he’s gay if he decided to have Thanksgiving with us!”

“Is he gay?” Dad asked.

“Dad...I’m not comfortable sharing his preferences without his permission,” Emile whined in a whisper.

“So, that’s a yes, then,” Dad said knowingly.

“Yes. He’s gay, told me himself. Something tells me he doesn’t care who knows it, but his parents don’t. And I don’t think he’s anywhere near a safe enough spot to tell them,” Emile hissed.

“Tell that boy that if you two don’t have an apartment by Christmas, that he’s welcome over here. Those people sound like horrible family, and his parents ought to be ashamed of what they did to him,” Dad said firmly.

“Thanks, Dad, but we already have the money for a safety deposit and first month’s rent, it’s more a matter of me finding a job after the Christmas rush,” Emile said.

“Should I make a couple calls?” Dad asked.

Emile shook his head. “I don’t think so. It’s going to be a low-level retail-type job that I get, because that’s what I can work with school. No need for you to pull strings if I can’t even take the opportunity to use them.”

“Just remember, all you have to do is say the word,” Dad reminded him. “I’ll put my ear to the ground and see if anyone needs help out there.”

“I know,” Emile said. “Maybe when grad school happens, depending on how many classes I have to take. For now, though, I’m content working at, like, Target or something.”

“Who’s working at Target?” his mother asked from the edge of the kitchen.

“Hey, no, out! We don’t want you burning any of the food!” his dad said, playfully whipping a dishrag at her.

His mother took one step backward until she was out of the doorway to the kitchen, before crossing her arms. “Who’s working at Target?” she repeated.

“Well, it’s one of the places I’ve applied to,” Emile said. “Nothing definite. But...my friend Remy and I are going to be getting our own place off campus, and that’s my way of helping to pay the rent.”

“Oh,” his mother said, surprised. “Would this be the same Remy you told us about at the beginning of the school year?”

“Yeah, the one and the same,” Emile said. “College is killing him, but his parents aren’t nearly as supportive as you guys are, so I’m going to help him with rent on a place so that he doesn’t have to keep going to school.”

“Oh, okay then,” his mother said. “If you ever fall short the money for food or anything like that over the summer, let your father and myself know. We’ll come over armed with half a grocery store.”

Emile laughed. “I hope that won’t happen, but I promise to let you know. And when we can afford a landline, I will call you still. Until then, letters are going to be my new best friend.”

His mother smiled at him. “I really hope this works out for the both of you, Emile.”

“I do too,” Emile said, smiling.

“Now, I’ll go back to talking with your grandfather, you two just make sure that nothing ends up burning.”

“Will do, Mom,” Emile said with a playful salute.

She shook her head fondly and left sight quickly. Dad nudged him. “So, are you going to tell me more about Remy? We only really know his name, at this point.”

“Well, he’s got a pretty hard exterior,” Emile said. “It’s very hard to get past that, honestly. But he’s kinda sweet once you get to know him. I say ‘kinda’ because his parents did a number on him. But I’m slowly teaching him people skills, and he’s actually really good at making conversation, even if he doesn’t always read people correctly. He’s learned to not play off hurt feelings as a joke, by now, which is a huge improvement.”

His dad smiled at him and Emile offered a confused smile back. “What?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing,” his dad waved off.

“I’m sure it’s not,” Emile said. “What is it?”

“You seem rather fond of him,” he said.

“Well, yeah, he’s my friend,” Emile said, shaking his head as he started to mash the potatoes. “I don’t see your point here.”

“You’re bisexual, Emile,” Dad said. “He’s gay. You’re both in each other’s dating pool. You’re moving in together. Are you two...involved at all?”

“What?” Emile asked.

“There’s no shame in it if you are,” Dad rushed to assure him. “You just appear to be very fond of him.”

“Yeah, like, as a best friend thing, not in an I want to date him thing! I mean, he’s cute, sure, but like...he’s not...he’s not very nice, still. Like, he’s made so many improvements, and I’m proud of him for that, but I don’t think I could be with him the way he is right now,” Emile said. “He’s still mean sometimes. And I know that no one can be nice one-hundred percent of the time, even I’m not nice that much. But...I’m mean at maybe ten percent of the time. He’s mean, like, forty percent of the time.”

“Ah. I understand why you don’t like that ratio,” Dad said knowingly. “You always were the type who wouldn’t hang around the mean kids unless you could make them a little less mean.”

“Yeah. And I never dated anyone who didn’t act nice to people they didn’t know, because everyone deserves kindness,” Emile added. “Remy isn’t quite there yet. I like to think he could get there, but he isn’t right now.”

“He most certainly could get there, with you as his teacher, I have no doubt about that,” Dad said. “But he has to want it, first, and that’s the key to getting real progress.”

“I know,” Emile said. “And he doesn’t want it. At least, he doesn’t want any friends outside me. Has too many bad past experiences, apparently.”

Dad sighed. “Those are the hardest ones to gain trust from, Emile. I sincerely hope you never take advantage of the trust this Remy puts in you.”

“I would never dream of it,” Emile said with absolute certainty. “Remy is my friend, and I would never want to hurt him, ever.”

“Good,” Dad said with a nod. “Now, at the same time, you can’t be his therapist all the time, either. He needs a friend, not a clinical perspective. An outside view is healthy in moderation, but you have to make sure there is just that: moderation. It’s crucial to any friendship that you have an agreement that when it comes to priorities, each of you come first in your own respective lists. I know you want to help, Emile, and I know it’s hard to see people self-destruct. But if you’re not in a position to be helping that person without damaging yourself, the both of you will only end up more hurt.”

“I know all this, Dad,” Emile said patiently.

“I know you know it. But a refresher never hurts,” Dad replied easily.

Emile sighed and nodded to show Dad he understood, and they went back to cooking. Emile mashed the potatoes while Dad handled the gravy, and both of them kept one eye on the oven to make sure the turkey was being cooked properly. Emile took the cranberry sauce while Dad handled the corn, and soon enough, they had enough food prepared to feed themselves, Emile’s mom, and his grandfather.

Together, he and his Dad set everything up at the dinner table, and Mom and Grandpa came in as they heard the shuffle of feet and plates. “It looks amazing, as always,” Mom said.

Emile beamed. It wasn’t easy to set everything up for Thanksgiving, but it was worth it. And every year, he was becoming a bolder and better cook.

They sat down, said grace, and started to eat. Conversation was light, mostly about Emile’s time at college, the friends he had met, and his plans for the future. He mentioned that he was planning on moving in with Remy to his grandfather, but wisely chose to leave out the part about Remy’s abuse, and didn’t even touch the subject of him being bisexual. As much as he absolutely adored his grandfather, he did have a few...less than savory views on the queer community.

Once dinner was over, Dad and Grandpa went to the living room to watch the football game, while his mother pulled him aside, her face worried. “Emile, can we talk about your friend Remy for a minute?”

“Sure, I guess,” Emile said. “Should we go to my room, or something?”

“Somewhere private is best,” his mother agreed.

They went to his room and Emile sat on his bed, watching his mother pace the length of the room after the door was closed. “Are you certain that you want to move in with this friend, Emile?” she asked.

“Yeah, Mom, I’m sure.”

“You’re not just doing it because you think it will be better than the dorms? You’re aware that you’ll have to pay half the rent and utilities, and maybe even the food that isn’t covered by your meal plan?” Mom clarified.

“No, I’m not trying to escape the dorms, Mom. I’m doing it to help Remy, so that he doesn’t kill himself from overworking and stress. I know I’ll have to work hard over the summer, and even during the school year, to ensure that rent is paid. I know the risks.”

“And you know that Remy will hold up his end of the bargain? He won’t just skip out on you the second he gets the chance?”

“He doesn’t have a choice, Mom. I’m the only option he has if he doesn’t go to college,” Emile said.

Mom looked a little upset but nodded. “If you’re sure, then you have my blessing. Just, be careful, Emile.”

“Always, Mom,” Emile promised.

She left the room and Emile’s cell phone rang. He answered it without a second thought. “Hello?” he asked.

The shaky breathing on the other end of the phone made his hackles rise. “E-Emile...” Remy stammered out. “I...I thi-think I need help...”

Chapter Text

August 4th, 1986

Remy was as happy as a clam while he worked on sandcastles with Toby at the beach. His parents had decided to take a day trip, and Remy had spent the entire time he got the chance to build sand castles, which were getting more and more intricate. Vanessa was playing in the water, and Mom was reading while Dad dozed in a beach chair. “This is fun!” Remy exclaimed to Toby. “Do you think we can do this again sometime?”

Toby shrugged. “I don’t know. That kinda depends on whether or not Mom and Dad would go for it.”

“What about when we’re older, and Mom and Dad don’t have control over us? Can we go then? Just us?” Remy begged.

A dark look passed over Toby’s face, but as soon as it was there, it was gone. “Mom and Dad will always have control over us to some extent, Remy. The sooner you learn that, the better.”

 

November 23rd, 2000

Remy’s breath could only come in gasps as he frantically dialed the number he had accidentally memorized recently from calling it so many times. He waited as the phone rang, and rang, and... “Hello?”

If Remy could breathe, he would have sobbed in relief. As it was, the words were getting caught in his throat. “E-Emile...” Remy stammered out. “I...I thi-think I need help...”

“Remy?” Emile’s voice was so filled with concern, Remy cried harder. “Remy, can you explain what happened? What’s wrong?”

“Th-th-they know, Emile. They...they know. I-I...I slipped up, and they know, and what if they kick me out, Emile, I have no way of getting back to college if they kick me out, I don’t even have a car—”

“Okay, Remy, breathe for me, can you do that?” Emile asked. “In for four seconds. Hold for seven seconds. Out for eight seconds. I can do it with you, okay? In, two, three, four...”

Remy did his best to even out his breathing with the instructions that Emile gave him. When he felt less like he was about to get sick, he whimpered out a, “Thank you...”

“It’s not a problem, Rem. Can you tell me what happened?” Emile asked, his voice calm and not betraying a single thought that might be running through his mind.

“Va-Va-Vanessa...Vanessa was talking about how she was working after college, and how her Biology degree was getting her places. A-and Toby...Toby was talking about how he was enjoying learning about graphic design. Nate and Magenta were both talking about their senior years of college, they’re twins, so they wound up graduating the same year...But my grandmother and grandfather noticed I was being quiet, and they asked me why, and didn’t I enjoy college. Except...except I could never lie well enough to fool them, Emile, and I said I did, but they didn’t believe me.

“And when my grandfather called me on it, my mom and dad started sending me dirty looks, like they wanted me to behave, except I was trying to behave, Emile, you have to believe me! I was trying to be good, for once in my miserable life! And I admitted that college wasn’t super fun, and studying business wasn’t super interesting, and that’s when my mom cut in saying she knew that I should have been an accountant, because then I would feel ‘fulfilled’ for going to college. And I said that wasn’t it, and she asked me how I could be so sure, and I lost my temper, like an idiot, and said that the workload and the pressure and the environment was going to drive me to suicide if I wasn’t careful. And that...that...that was not the right answer, Emile.”

“What did she do?” Emile asked, and Remy swore he could hear some anger in his best friend’s voice.

“She...she said that I should be more careful, then. Maybe change my major,” Remy spat, voice bitter. “And I asked her if she wanted me dead over me happy. And that stunned the whole table into silence. Toby tried to descelate the whole situation, and Vanessa tried to distract Mom, but it didn’t work, Emile, it didn’t work. Mom stared at me like I had slapped her. Grandmother and grandfather were furious. At me, of course, because I’m the problem in this situation. I lost my temper, I was disrespectful, and I needed to watch my mouth.

“And as if that weren’t enough, then Nate asked me what I planned to do if college was gonna kill me. He asked if I had a backup plan. And Mom repeated the question in a mocking voice. And I snapped that I had a job, I was paying my way through college so I could pay for an apartment and utilities and food with a little help, and that I had found help, so I wasn’t going back to college after the end of the semester.” Remy laughed hollowly. “The one time that I actually had a solid plan for my life that they could be proud of me for, was apparently the one time they didn’t want me to be put together. They wanted me to back down and continue going to college, Emile. They wanted to drive me to suicide! How was I supposed to respond?! Don’t I...don’t I have a right to be angry over that?!”

“You absolutely do,” Emile said. “You have the right to be angry over a lot more than that. You shouldn’t have to ‘watch your mouth’ as you called it. You’re an adult; you have a right to your opinions, to your life choices, to your everything. The fact that they’re trying to dictate your life is cruel and domineering. I don’t approve.”

Remy wasn’t aware how desperate he was to hear those words until they had actually came through the cell phone’s speaker. He choked on a sob. “So they...they said that I was going to go to my room, and I wasn’t allowed out until I saw that college was ‘the right thing’ for me, or until the end of Thanksgiving break, at which point they’d drive me back to college anyway. They’re trying to kill me, Emile. My parents are trying to kill me.”

There was a knock on Remy’s door and Remy gasped, bolting upright in bed. “Who’s there?!” he hollered.

“Rem, it’s Toby, can I come in?” Toby asked.

“I’m...I’m kinda in the middle of something!” Remy said.

“Remy, what’s going on?” Emile asked.

“Toby’s at the door,” Remy mumbled.

“Rem, I know you’re on the phone, or else you’re ranting to yourself about what happened, and I know you. You never rant about things that have already happened. I want to talk to you, and to your support system, if you’re willing,” Toby said.

“Are you okay talking to Toby and me, Emile? If I put you on speaker and let him in the room?” Remy asked.

“Yeah, of course, I’d love to meet your brother,” Emile said.

“You can come in!” Remy called through the wood.

Toby walked in and shut the door quietly, walking over to Remy as he put the phone on speaker. “For what it’s worth, Rem? I don’t agree with Mom and Dad in the slightest,” he said, sitting down on the bed next to Remy and giving him a one-armed hug. “Who’s your friend on the phone? The guy you’re going to move in with?”

“Yeah, hi, my name’s Emile,” Emile said. “I take it you’re Toby? Remy’s spoken highly of you before.”

Toby laughed, a sweet sound that reminded Remy of the taste of coffee in the fall, as it worked to warm you to the core. Both those things seemed to have the same effect. “I’m flattered,” Toby said. “I wish I could say the same, but Rem here hasn’t spoken much about college at all. Although considering what he said at dinner, I’m hardly surprised.”

“If I said anything about Emile they’d assume he’s my boyfriend,” Remy muttered.

“Is he?” Toby asked.

“No,” Remy said. “Like, he’s cute, and he knows I’m gay, but he’s not my boyfriend. And Mom and Dad would flip if they found out I was gay for real, and it wasn’t just a phase when I kissed James on the playground when we were five.”

“Okay,” Toby said, nodding. “You seemed pretty panicked on the way up here. Was I misreading the situation or did Emile help you calm down?”

“Emile helped me,” Remy said, feeling like he was five years old and hiding from his parents after they were fighting, with Toby helping him stay calm, a rock in a pitching ocean he was stuck alone in.

“Thanks, then, Emile,” Toby said.

“Hey, I’m just happy Remy called me. It’s always a relief when he decides he can ask for help with something that’s clearly bugging him,” Emile said.

Remy objected with a weak, “Hey,” but Toby just laughed and agreed. “Sorry, baby bro, but you do kinda bottle yourself up and never ask for help, under any circumstances.”

“Not every circumstance,” Remy sulked.

“Maybe not every circumstance, but most of them, I’ve found,” Toby said matter-of-factly. “Not that I blame you. Mom and Dad the way they are, you had to learn to rely on yourself a lot faster than you should have.”

Remy grumbled nonsense and buried his head in his knees, still holding his phone up so both he and Toby could hear it.

“Rem? Do you want to explain what Toby meant by that? Or is that a conversation for another day?”

“Let’s table that one for now,” Remy said. “It’s...a very long story.”

“All right,” Emile said, but he sounded reluctant. “Toby, how likely are your parents to uphold that Remy needs to stay in his room if he decides that he will drop out of college?”

“Oh, they’ll uphold it,” Toby growled. “I tried to talk them out of it, but no dice. I at least got him bathroom privileges.”

Remy groaned.

“Well, then I suggest we come up with a plan of attack,” Emile said. “Rem, how well can you lie to your parents?”

“Well enough, usually,” Remy said. “Why?”

“Tell them you plan on going back to college, at least until the end of freshman year. That’ll get you a free ride back to town. Then, once you’re here, we move all our stuff into the apartment we’re renting, you drop out, and you never have to speak to your parents again,” Emile said. “Obviously, you can talk to them later down the line, but no one will force you to. Toby, I hope you won’t force him to?”

“Nah,” Toby said. “Rem’s been through too much crap. Vanessa and I too, but Rem got neglected as well as manipulated because our parents seemed to forget he existed. I won’t make him talk to them. Ever.”

“Good,” Emile said, and Remy got the sense that Toby had just passed some silent test.

“I have a question,” Remy said, resting his head on his knees but not burying it again. “What happens if they don’t believe me? I don’t want to be stuck without food for the rest of the long weekend.”

“I’ll smuggle food up to you if you need, but I don’t think you’ll need it,” Toby said. “Even if you can’t convince our grandparents you changed your mind, you can convince our parents once our grandparents leave. Tomorrow morning you can come out and give the spiel, and you’ll be good to go for the rest of the weekend.”

“Promise you won’t tell them about this conversation?” Remy asked.

“Remy, the only way I would tell them about one of our private conversations is if you were about to hurt yourself. Even then, I might not, because they might not react well. I’d just get you somewhere safe myself. Believe me, I won’t tell our parents,” Toby said.

Remy smiled. “You’re the real MVP, Toby.”

Toby just laughed in response. “Do you want me to write to you again?”

“Sure, when I get the new address I can call you, or write you, or do something to let you know, sound good?” Remy asked.

“Sounds like a good plan, yeah,” Toby agreed.

Emile cleared his throat over the line and Remy jumped. “Sorry, Emile, I forgot you were there for a sec.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Emile said. “Do you need me still, or should I go?”

“I think I’ll be okay the rest of the night, Emile. Thank you for metaphorically talking me down off that ledge,” Remy said.

“It’s my pleasure, Remy. So long as I know I can help, I want to,” Emile said.

Remy huffed a laugh and said, “You’re too nice.”

Emile retorted with his usual response. “You’re too cynical. Talk soon?”

“Yeah, talk soon,” Remy agreed, hanging up. He turned to Toby. “Thanks, by the way. You’ve been a better big brother than I could have ever asked for.”

Toby just offered Remy a grin. “Well, duh. I’m pretty great, after all.”

Remy laughed and shoved Toby’s shoulder. “Shut up!”

Chapter Text

April 16th, 2000

Emile sat outside the hospital room, tears drying on his cheeks. He had used them all up, waiting to see if Alex would wake up. “Come on, Alex, please,” Emile murmured. “I’ve lost too many friends already, I don’t want to lose you too.”

Alex’s parents came over to him and they had a brief chat, mostly them thanking him for visiting Alex when he did, because otherwise...well, none of them wanted to think about what could have happened.

It stung when Alex was finally awake and Emile was immediately yelled out of the room. He had just wanted to make sure Alex was okay! He had lost too many friends to suicide that year already, he didn’t want to lose another! Still, he just hoped Alex would recover. Even if they never spoke again, Emile was just glad Alex was alive.

 

November 27th, 2000

Emile felt relief flood through him as he was sitting on the outside steps of the dorms and found Remy getting out of a small sedan, looking none the worse for wear. “Rem!” Emile exclaimed, running over and hugging him. In an instant, he was holding Remy at arms length to poke and prod at him. “Are you hurt? Did they do anything to you?”

“Emile! Emile, I’m fine!” Remy exclaimed, swatting Emile’s hands away and huffing. “No need to mother hen me!”

It was then that Emile noticed the car was still parked, and Remy’s parents looking out the window. Emile pointed and said, “Are those your parents?”

Remy sighed. “Yeah. You want to meet them?”

“No, I’m okay,” Emile said. His voice dropped to a murmur as he said, “They’re making sure you call off the apartment?”

“Yeah,” Remy said at normal volume. “About the whole apartment thing...I’m not sure if I want to go through with it anymore. At least, not right now, you know? Maybe sophomore year, if we don’t have to live on campus.”

“Aw, you sure?” Emile asked. “Because if it’s a matter of rent, I got a call back from Target for an interview...”

“No, it’s not rent. I just think I want to give it until the end of freshman year,” Remy said, and Emile could see how pained he was saying those words. “You know, see if college really might be better if I...if I changed my major.”

Emile blinked and several different swears came to his mind as he realized that Remy's parents must have pressured him into doing just that if he came back. “Well, you’ve been taking general education stuff, so you don’t have to worry about not having the wrong credits,” he improvised. “What do you think your new major will be?”

Remy’s mother wasn’t remotely discreet as she looked out the window of the car, but Remy was standing just so, meaning she couldn’t see the absolute pain and heartbreak on his face as he said, “I was thinking accounting.”

Emile nodded. “Well, that certainly seems like something you would find a stable job in,” he said. “Do you want to hang out for a bit?”

“Sure. Your dorm or mine?”

“How about mine?” Emile asked.

Remy’s shoulders sagged with relief and he nodded. “Thanks for being understanding about the apartment,” he said, as they walked through the front doors to the dorms.

As soon as the door was closed and Remy’s parents were gone, Remy’s legs buckled and his eyes were filling up with tears. “I hate them,” he whispered. “I hate them I hate them I hate them.”

“Frankly? I don’t blame you,” Emile said. “Come on, let’s go to my dorm.”

Remy let himself be led to Emile’s dorm, and when they were finally there, Remy broke down crying. “They said I had to change my major if I came back, Emile,” he said. “Because clearly I wasn’t going to go anywhere with a business major. I wasn’t ‘grateful enough’ for the chance to go to college.”

“That’s bull,” Emile said. “Deciding that college isn’t for you doesn’t mean that you’re ungrateful. And who cares whether you’re grateful or not anyway? It’s not like they’re paying for it or anything!”

Remy shook as he collapsed onto the free bed in the room. “They...they’re trying to kill me Emile. I don’t know if they understand that, but they are. And you know what? They’d blame me for that too, if I went off and killed myself.”

Emile gently placed a hand on Remy’s shoulder and said with absolute firmness, “Good thing you’re a convincing liar, then.”

Remy offered a small smile. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Emile smiled back. “You know, I wasn’t lying about Target calling me back for an interview. I may get a job, one of their long-term workers is going on maternity leave and they’ll need someone who’s willing to work odd hours, because she did stocking. And I’m perfectly okay getting up in the middle of the night to go to work, so long as it gets us rent and I don’t fall asleep in class.”

“What makes you so sure that they won’t just keep on one of the holiday workers, instead?” Remy asked.

“Well, I don’t know if they’d rather keep one of the holiday workers, but I have wicked interview skills, I kinda doubt that most of the holiday workers would even expect to be held on to after the rush. And if they don’t even work like their job depends on it, that just increases my chances,” Emile said.

Remy blinked. “You’re relying on others’ poor work ethic to get a job?” he asked.

“Well, yeah,” Emile said with a shrug. “I was only ever a lifeguard before. I don’t exactly have a full resumé that they can look through.”

“That’s not a very solid plan,” Remy warned.

“I know,” Emile said. “But it’s the best plan I have.”

Remy sighed and ran his hands down his face. “Maybe this was a bad idea,” he mumbled. “Maybe I should just listen to my parents.”

“No,” Emile said. “No, don’t say that, Remy.”

“Why not? They’ll always try and control my life. Even if I try to leave them, they’ll always haunt me. What’s the use in trying if you can’t even get rid of what’s bothering you?”

“Remy, don’t say that, please,” Emile all but begged. His hands were shaking at his sides. He couldn’t lose another friend. Not again. Not again. He didn’t want to say goodbye.

“It’s true, though!” Remy exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “They’re never going to leave me alone! Not unless they don’t know where I live! And the only way they wouldn’t know that is if I cut off all communication with all of my family! Including Vanessa, including Toby! And I don’t want to stop talking to Toby! But if I keep talking to him, my parents are going to find out where I live somehow, and I! Can’t! Live! Like! This!”

Emile grabbed Remy’s hands in a desperate attempt to grab Remy’s attention. “Remy, please,” Emile begged. “Please, please. We’ll figure out a way to keep you safe. You won’t have to deal with your parents but you can talk to your brother if you want to. We’ll find a way. I’ll find a way. Just, please. Please don’t talk like there’s no hope.”

Remy yanked his hands free of Emile’s grip. “Emile, I know you’re attached to me, but you really shouldn’t be. I’m broken, I have too much baggage. It would be easier for all of us if you stopped talking to me and I did something drastic.”

Emile shook his head. “No. No, I will not let you hurt yourself, Remy. And if you insist on trying to bash your brains in or jump off a building, then I’m going to send you to the local hospital.”

“I don’t need ‘help,’ Emile!” Remy snapped.

“Yes you do!” Emile shouted back.

The whole room fell dead silent. It seemed like the world had stopped. Emile couldn’t be bothered to care. Tears were streaming down his face. Remy was glaring at him. “No. I don’t,” Remy’s voice was soft, but deadly. “And if you say I do again, then I’m calling off the move.”

Emile’s breath was ragged. “Fine. I won’t say you need help,” Emile said. “But I will say that most people don’t consider themselves broken. Most people don’t have that sort of baggage that you have. Most people don’t have their parents trying to control every last aspect of their life. Most people aren’t suicidal. Because that’s what you are, Remy. You think you’re better off dead. Even if you don’t have a plan, you’re suicidal. And...and I don’t want to lose another friend. Not again. So maybe you don’t need help. Maybe you can struggle on your own. But how much longer will you muddle through until you break? Until you decide that being dead has every benefit and being alive has none? Until you actually try to kill yourself?! Maybe you don’t need help, which I disagree with, but for the sake of your argument let’s go along with it. If you don’t need help, but you were offered help, offered a chance to let go of some of that baggage, offered a way to lighten your load, wouldn’t you want that? Wouldn’t you want to feel better?”

Remy stared at Emile a long, long time. Emile thought that Remy was finally seeing Emile’s point. Maybe he’d agree. Maybe he’d say he would at least try. Maybe he would at least back down off the ledge again. But maybes weren’t anything to base hope on. “How do I know that I’d still be me?” Remy asked. “If they pump me full of meds and make me talk about my feelings, I’ll just be a zombie. Being hurt is better than being nothing.”

Emile ran his hands through his hair. “Are you genuinely that thick?! Do you not understand what you’re doing here?! You’re killing yourself, Rem! You say college is going to kill you! You and I make a plan to fix that, at least so that you can stick around a little while longer, and then your parents come into the equation and mess everything up! You don’t have to deal with your parents if you don’t want to! Tell them a false address, tell them that you don’t want to see them ever again and kick them out, hell, file a restraining order! You don’t have to go through medication and therapy, not if you’re not ready, so long as you take the stressor out of the equation! And for the record, medication that works correctly won’t make you feel like a zombie, it’ll make you feel like a healthy person! Which, if you ask me, is way better than being hurt! You say your parents and college are trying to kill you? Well, you’re doing it to yourself as well! How can you not see that?!”

Remy stared at Emile with such betrayal in his eyes that Emile was pretty sure Remy might launch himself out of the window there and then. “I don’t need a therapist,” Remy said. “And I don’t need medication.”

“For crying out loud, Remy,” Emile said, running his hands through his hair. “You’re a classic case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder! PTSD! Do you know what PTSD is?”

“It’s that thing that soldiers get from war. But I’m not a soldier,” Remy said.

“No, but based on what I’ve gathered from your life, you grew up in a war zone,” Emile ground out. “Your parents are not good people. You have every right to hate them. But don’t let them dictate your life. If you keep repeating their rhetoric about how you don’t need a therapist, how you don’t need meds, how you’re too strong and that those things are a sign of weakness, you’re letting them win. Spite them. Admit that you sometimes need help. Maybe don’t get meds and a therapist. Maybe only get one or the other. But don’t let yourself waste away because of something said by the very people you hate in the first place.”

Remy stared at Emile again. “You genuinely care,” Remy said, sounding almost...mystified.

“Yes, Remy, I do,” Emile said.

“Why?” Remy asked.

“Because you’re my friend, idiot. I want to see you happy. Friends want to see their friends happy, and want to make sure they’re safe, and living well.” Emile shook his head. “But I’ll tell you this: no matter if you’re my friend or not, I have to take care of my own mental health first. And if you refuse help, you know what’s going to happen?”

“What?” Remy asked, tilting his chin up.

“Then I’ll cut you off,” Emile said. “If you’re going to hurt yourself, and me in the process, then we can’t be friends anymore. That’s the way this works. I’m my first priority. You should be your first priority. And because I’m my first priority, and you aren’t, then if you’re going to hurt me I won’t be able to handle you.”

Remy blinked. “You serious?” he asked. “You would...leave me out to dry?”

“You’d be doing that to yourself,” Emile said. “I’ve given you plenty of opportunities to get help. You’ve turned every last one of them down. Get help, or at least get rid of your parents. If not, and you keep spiralling, I won’t be able to catch you. You’ll hit rock bottom and have to climb your way back up on your own.”

Remy stared at Emile long and hard. Emile met his gaze. Slowly, Remy’s eyes drifted away and he sighed. “Do you know any shrinks around here who deal with that...PTS-whatever thing you talked about?”

“As a matter of fact, I have found a few from studying psychology and asking around about resources,” Emile said. “Would you want a list of different people you can try?”

“...Yeah,” Remy said. “If it means I can still be friends with you, then yeah.”

Chapter Text

October 8th, 1996

“Remy? Remy, I know you’re in there,” Toby said, knocking on Remy’s closet door.

Remy just shoved a fist against his mouth, forcibly holding back the massive sobs that threatened to break loose. “Go away!” he choked out.

“No,” Toby said. “Listen, Rem, what those kids did was scummy. It’s not fair by anyone’s standards. If you told someone, maybe—”

“No one listens to me,” Remy said. “They all say I need to ‘walk it off.’ Well, I’m tired of walking it off! No one asks me if what everyone else does is hurting me, they don’t care! All they care about is that the school’s precious reputation remain unscathed.”

“Remy...” A beat. Toby sighed. “Would you be willing to come out to play a couple video games? No talking, just playing.”

With a grunt, Remy stood in his closet and pushed the door open. “Can we please play on the Genesis?” he asked.

“Yeah, whatever you want on the Genesis is fair game, buddy,” Toby said, wrapping a reassuring arm around Remy’s shoulders as he guided Remy out of the closet.

 

December 13th, 2000

Remy sat in the waiting room with his right leg bouncing like a jackrabbit. He didn’t like this, but he knew he had to do it if he wanted to stay Emile’s friend. That was the only reason he hadn’t left the office yet. The thought of therapy still made him tense up, but at least he could stay Emile’s friend, and they could continue the process of moving in together.

When the woman came out of the office and said in a soft voice, “Remy?” he stood, even though that was the last thing he wanted to do.

She smiled at him and Remy shifted where he stood. “My name is Kim. Why don’t we talk in my office?”

“I...okay,” Remy said, following her inside.

“Take a seat wherever you like,” she said, gesturing to the couch and chairs scattered around the small space.

Remy sat down in a corner on the couch and Kim sat across from him with a clipboard. “Now, usually I don’t write things down during sessions, but in order to get to know you, and keep some information on you, I’ll need to write a few things down. Nothing serious, just general background information,” Kim assured him. “I keep any notes in future sessions vague enough that even if your information was subpoenaed, they wouldn’t learn much of anything from it.”

“Okay,” Remy said. It didn’t help him relax much, but he supposed that in the future it would be good to know that his deepest, darkest secrets couldn’t be seen by police for any reason.

“Now, basic things. I know your name, date of birth, insurance, and all that, but I want to know a bit more about your background that doesn’t come with all the insurance claims,” Kim said. “Can you tell me about your family?”

Remy stiffened. “Well, they’re kinda why I’m here. My roommate insisted I try this, but it’s because of my family. I don’t really...like talking about them.”

“Well, let’s start with some easy questions then, nothing too deep. Mom and Dad together or separated?”

“Together,” Remy said.

“Any siblings?”

“Two, an older sister and brother. I’m the youngest,” Remy said, relaxing a little. These questions were easy to answer, it wasn’t nearly as bad as he expected it to be.

“Any history of alcohol or drug abuse, in you or your family?”

“Never,” Remy answered.

“Okay,” Kim said, writing a few things down on her clipboard. “Let’s move on.”

“Okay?” Remy didn’t know what to expect, and he tensed up again.

“Have you ever been to a therapist before?” Kim asked.

“Uh, no. I’ve never really thought I needed...one...” Remy cleared his throat, looking away.

“So why are you here, today, if you think you’re fine?” Kim asked.

“My roommate, he...uh...disagrees. About me being fine. He’s a psych major in college, and he says he recognizes symptoms of PTSD in me. He also says I’m suicidal,” Remy said. “Which, I disagree. I’m not about to go and jump off a building. I just wish that I could...not exist sometimes.”

“Your roommate is very perceptive, then. I can see certain signs that may point to PTSD, but of course I’ve known you all of five minutes. Wanting to not exist is a sign of suicidal ideation, it’s typically the first step in the process. Not enough to send you to the hospital, unless you believe you are going to harm or kill yourself between now and the next time we meet?” Kim asked.

Remy mutely shook his head.

“Then we won’t be sending you there,” Kim said, continuing to write. “What do you think the problem you’d like to solve in therapy is? You’ve said your roommate’s view, what about your own?”

“I...I mean, everything’s fine,” Remy said, sitting on his hands. “I’m dropping out of college so I feel less depressed, I have a steady job to help with rent, I don’t have any reason to come here, I don’t think. Life’s...life’s good.”

“Life may be good, but how do you feel? Do you feel good? Do you feel like your life is going in the right direction?” Kim asked.

Remy looked around the room, desperate for an escape, but he couldn’t see one. He didn’t know how to trust this woman who he had just met, but he knew that if Emile were here, he would want Remy to be honest. “I...I don’t know what to feel,” he admitted. “There’s...just...so much...and I can’t handle it all, at least, not on my own, but then Emile said he would stop helping me if I didn’t come here, and...and I need his help. So here I am.”

Kim kept writing and nodding. “I think then, that most of our treatment at the start will be helping you to identify and process your emotions. Beyond that, though, is there a long-term goal you’d like out of therapy?”

The words were out of Remy’s mouth before he could stop them. “Make me feel like a normal human being for once?”

Kim’s writing stilled, and she looked up at him. “What do you mean by that?”

Remy was shaking, and he stammered out, “I-I-I...I guess I-I don’t...I don’t know...”

“Well, what is a ‘normal human being’ to you?” Kim asked.

“Someone who isn’t scared to make friends,” Remy said with a shrug. “Someone who doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night from a noise that they can’t identify. Someone who can smile and actually mean it most of the time. Someone who just...who just acts normal, you know? Someone who’s not scared.”

Kim put her pencil down. “Remy, based on what you just told me, I think you realize on some level that you do have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress. You recognize that your responses aren’t the norm for most people, and these responses are generally distressing to you. We can work on helping you process these feelings and others, but you’ll need to place some trust in me, and acknowledge that you’re safe here.”

Remy took a shaky breath. “That...that could take a while,” he admitted.

“I’m willing to wait as long as needed,” Kim said. “No matter how long it takes for you to trust me with the bigger things, I am willing to wait and help you tackle smaller problems in the meantime.”

“Okay,” Remy said.

They talked for the rest of the forty-five minutes, mostly about Remy’s mood as of late and how the move was going. Remy didn’t truly relax until the time was up and he left the office to find Emile in the waiting room, reading a magazine. He looked up with a smile. “Hey. Everything go okay?” he asked.

“Y-yeah,” Remy said. “I think so.”

Kim retreated to her office as Emile and Remy walked outside to Emile’s car. Snow was starting to drift down from the sky. Remy looked up and sighed. “I’m still not sure about this whole thing, Emile.”

“But you’re trying, and that’s what counts,” Emile said, sending Remy a smile. “And I’m really relieved that you’re trying.”

“I still don’t know, Emile...it just takes...”

“Time?” Emile asked.

“Trust,” Remy said. “It takes a lot of trust that I don’t have in her. I trust you.”

“I’m not a licensed therapist, not yet,” Emile said. “And even if I were, I wouldn’t be able to have you as a client.”

They got in Emile’s car and Remy attempted to warm his hands as Emile got on the road to their apartment. “But it’s...I mean, she just...I don’t know her, Emile!”

“Remy, that’s the point,” Emile said. “She’s there to hear what you have to say, and to offer you new perspectives on how you perceive the world around you. If she knew you, like, really knew you, personally, she wouldn’t be able to offer you an objective view.”

“I told her I wanted to feel like a normal person,” Remy admitted. “I didn’t want to, it just sorta...happened. And she said she was willing to wait until I was comfortable around her to go into what my parents did, but...I don’t want to. I don’t need to. I don’t need a therapist.”

“No, you don’t need a therapist,” Emile agreed. “You need the tools that will allow you to process the emotions you’ve bottled up all these years that will sometimes overflow and cause you to self-destruct. You know who will teach you those tools? A therapist.”

“Emile,” Remy whined. “I don’t feel safe talking about what happened all those years. No one who I told ever believed me before I told you.”

“Well, then Kim will help you feel safe, and then she can help you with your trauma. This is what therapists do, Rem. Give her a chance to do her job. You might be surprised with the results.”

Remy sighed. “I just...I want to talk to you, Emile. Not a stranger. I want to talk to you.”

“You can still talk to me, Rem,” Emile said. “But you can’t use me as your therapist. That requires an actual therapist, who, I will repeat, doesn’t know you personally. That’s what the whole point of therapy is.”

“Emile! You’re not listening to me!” Remy exclaimed.

“I’m listening to you fine, Remy. I’m just not giving you the answer you want. And no, that answer will not change,” Emile said, pulling into the parking lot of their apartment complex.

Remy huffed and got out of the car, following Emile inside. “Why? Why won’t you help me?”

Emile turned and stared Remy dead in the eye as they walked inside their sparsely furnished apartment. “Do you really want to know the answer to that question, Remy? Do you really want to know why I can’t be your therapist, outside the fact that I’m not licensed?”

Remy nodded.

Emile took a breath. “Okay. You? Telling me that stuff about your past? Hurts me badly. There isn’t a night that goes by after you’ve told me a deep, dark secret that I can sleep easily. You trusting me is great. It’s fantastic. I’m honored, and I would never break that trust. But it still hurts. Because I know you. I want to help you. I want to go back in time and change the past so you never have to deal with what you did. But I can’t. And that kills me. I’ve been learning how to distance myself from clients, for whenever I can start seeing people, but that’s the thing. You’re not a client. You’re my friend. I’m already attached. And I don’t want to distance myself. But it hurts me to hear about all the things you’ve been through. So to keep my sanity intact and hopefully restore some of yours, I’m having you see a therapist. It doesn’t even have to be Kim, if you think she’s a bad fit. You just need to see someone.”

Remy was stunned into silence. “I...I hurt you?” he asked softly.

Emile nodded. “It hurts knowing what you went through, and knowing that every time someone brings something up that triggers a memory, you’re just going through it again. Not badly enough for me to show it, and not badly enough for me to see a therapist myself. At least, not yet. But I know my limits when it comes to someone confiding in me. And Rem, you’ve been toeing those limits since Thanksgiving.”

Remy felt like he might cry. “I didn’t mean to...”

“Ssh, I know, I know,” Emile said hugging Remy close. “I know you didn’t. But that’s why I’m getting you a therapist. Because you need a healthy release. And I need to be there for you in other ways.”

Remy clung to Emile like a liferaft. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried over hurting another person; he had taught himself to not care in highschool when the bullies got meaner, and he had to fight back. Caring enough to cry wasn’t a pleasant feeling in the slightest. But he hoped it was a good sign. After all, if he felt remorse for hurting other people, maybe he would do it less, and he could see if any of Emile’s friends would be willing to get closer to him. Maybe he could expand his support system. Maybe he could get more help.

Maybe he could learn how to ask for help in the first place.

Chapter Text

May 3rd, 1993

It was Emile’s birthday, but all he could do was sit on his bed and cry. His heart hurt, because one of his friends was sick, and wasn’t getting better anytime soon. And Emile was worrying himself sick worrying over her. When there was a knock at Emile’s door he went over to open it, finding his dad on the other side. “What’s wrong, Emile?” Dad asked.

“You know what’s wrong,” Emile said. “She’s not getting better. If the fever doesn’t go down, they’re gonna take her to the hospital.”

“And she’ll get the treatment she needs there,” Dad said. “Emile, you can’t worry yourself sick over every friend you have, or you’d never feel okay.”

“But—”

“No but’s,” Dad said. “You have to be your first priority, Emile. You can’t put other people’s health over your own, not when it’ll hurt both of you in the long run.”

“She’s really sick, Dad,” Emile sniffled.

“But she’ll get better,” Dad said. “And in the meantime, you have to take care of yourself. Stop obsessing over whether or not she’ll be okay. Enjoy yourself, and don’t feel guilty for it. You should always be your first priority, Emile, never forget that.”

 

December 14th, 2000

Emile was working on making breakfast in the kitchen when he heard Remy stumble out of his bedroom with a groan. He inwardly shook his head with a laugh. Remy was definitely not a morning person; at least not when he stayed up late. And he didn’t know how late Remy was up last night, but judging how Remy immediately gravitated towards the coffee machine, it was a late one. “How bad?” Emile asked.

Remy grunted as he leaned against the kitchen counter, observing the coffee pot.

“Wow, that bad huh?” Emile laughed, finishing spreading cream cheese on his bagel as he moved to the refrigerator to grab some milk.

Remy didn’t acknowledge anything else until the coffee pot had finished filling with Remy’s magic elixir, at which point Remy immediately poured a cup and drank half of it in one go.

“Oh. Worse than I thought,” Emile said. “You good, Rem?”

“Mm,” Remy hummed. “Couldn’t stop thinking.”

“About?” Emile prompted.

Remy sighed, turning to the coffee pot. “Need more coffee.”

“For the conversation, or to function?” Emile asked.

“Yeah,” Remy said, pouring more coffee into his cup.

“Geez, Rem, how late did you stay up?” Emile asked.

All Emile got in response to that was a finger as Remy drained his cup of coffee. He gasped when he finally came up for air. “Okay,” Remy said. “The first buzz should be hitting shortly. Once it does, we can talk.”

“You’re a disaster, Rem,” Emile said with a shake of his head. “But yeah, I’ve only got afternoon classes today, and I haven’t heard back after my interview yet.”

Remy grunted and went to their small cupboards, looking for something to eat. Emile knew that Remy hadn’t been going to as many of his classes, especially not after midterms, in order to pick up more shifts to help pay for rent. But Emile could have sworn that sometime soon, something important was supposed to happen in one of Remy’s classes. Could that be what was keeping him up late?

Emile shook his head and walked into their small shared space in the apartment, currently being occupied by cardboard boxes to serve as a table. He sat on the floor and put his breakfast and milk on the boxes. The bedrooms had come with beds, which Emile was thankful for, but he wished that the entire apartment had come furnished, sometimes, even if it would have been more expensive. Sitting on the floor all the time just wasn’t gonna cut it.

Remy collapsed on the floor next to him, stuffing a granola bar in his mouth. Emile tried to brush Remy’s hair with his fingers, but Remy had so many cowlicks it wasn’t even funny. Emile wondered how much hair gel Remy used to keep his hair in place on bad hair days like these.

When Remy swallowed the last of the granola bar, he kept his eyes trained on the table as he said, “I was up until almost four in the morning.”

“I...why?!” Emile asked. “It wasn’t for classes, was it?”

Remy shook his head. “I just...couldn’t sleep. I don’t really know what I was feeling, but it wasn’t pleasant.”

“Were you happy? Sad? Angry? Confused?” Emile gently asked.

“All of those, save happy, rolled into one, I guess,” Remy said, brows knitting together, even though all the while he never looked at Emile. “I just...couldn’t stop thinking. About last night.”

“About therapy?” Emile asked. “Because if you don’t think that Kim is a good fit, we can find someone else...”

“Not about therapy,” Remy said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about...about...how you said...said that I...hurt you.”

Emile blinked. He couldn’t think of anything to say, really. He had told the truth, and he knew Remy hated it when he sugarcoated things. But clearly, this was affecting Remy differently. And judging by the way Remy couldn’t even look Emile in the eye, he was pretty sure the effect was a negative one. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Remy choked on a laugh. “I thought you didn’t want to be my therapist.”

“I don’t. But I want to be your friend. And if you trust friends enough, you can tell them your secrets. You just can’t unload everything on them and expect them to magically fix it,” Emile said. “So. I’ll ask you again. Do you want to talk about it?”

“...I cried,” Remy admitted. “I’ve been crying a lot lately, and I don’t know where it’s come from. The last time I cried like I did last night, I was in the ninth grade and someone who I thought was my best friend exposed me to the whole school for brownie points from the popular kids. I felt the same level of hurt as I did then. But...the hurt wasn’t directed at you.”

Emile frowned. “Who or what was it directed at?”

“Myself,” Remy said. “I just...I got so angry with myself, because the last thing in the world I wanted to do was...was hurt you. You’re my best friend. I hadn’t had a best friend in years, unless you count Toby, and neither of us were very touchy-feely, even then. And then I got sad, because I had done all of this, and you never spoke up about it. And what if that meant I made it feel like you couldn’t speak up about it? I’d played off hurt as a joke one too many times before, you wouldn’t know that I had realized that was wrong unless I genuinely apologized and told you I realized it was wrong. And! On top of that! I was super confused, because why should I care, right? The whole point of me pushing everyone away was that I didn’t care. But I realized last night...I do care.

“I care about you, and I care about your friends, and in order to convince myself I don’t care, I make them hate me so caring about them feels pointless. But it doesn’t work. And...and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but at least right now, I do need a therapist. Like, don’t get me wrong. I don’t like shrinks. I get uneasy when someone literally has been trained to pick your brain apart, but I need that as part of my support, and I need support beyond you and the therapist, too, because I only see her once a week, maybe, and I can’t just go to you the rest of the time, because I don’t want you to burn out, and I realized I need to have some of my own friends, even if they’re also your friends, because they could be part of a support network too, and obviously I can help them, friendship isn’t just a one way street, right? And I mean—”

Emile cut Remy off with a hand over his mouth. “Remy, slow down, I can barely understand you when you’re talking that fast. And please, end your sentences with a period once in a while, you need to breathe.”

Remy stopped mumbling into Emile’s hand and Emile let his hand drop. Remy took a deep breath. “I...I really don’t want to hurt you, Emile. And I’m super sorry that I did. And...I’m willing to do what it takes to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Emile sat there in silent shock. Clearly, he had misjudged how much progress Remy had made over the past couple months. He genuinely cared about Emile. And while he might not care for others, not yet, he wanted to learn. And Emile felt a swell of affection and pride at that realization. “It won’t be easy,” Emile warned. “If you want me to call you out whenever you make a bad comment, it’ll happen frequently, possibly enough for you to get defensive. The key is to put that defensiveness aside and listen to what the other person is telling you, when they say that behavior is unacceptable.”

“Yeah...I...I figured. I’m not exactly good at reading a room, unless it’s to figure out how to make people hate me,” Remy said, scratching the back of his neck.

“And you’re willing to put in the work to change that? You genuinely want this?” Emile asked.

“I...yeah. I want to have friends again,” Remy’s voice was small, and soft, and fragile, and it broke Emile’s heart to hear it.

“Good. Then I can be your tutor,” Emile said. “We can hang out on campus if you want, or drive around town, or do whatever. But know that if you do something that I don’t think is kind, I’ll call you out. In front of whoever’s there. Not to shame you, but so you know that isn’t okay, and the people around you know you’re trying to learn.”

Remy nodded. “I don’t like the thought of that,” he admitted. “But if that’s what I need to do to get better, then I’ll do it.”

The swell of affection hadn’t dimmed in Emile’s chest any, and he smiled softly at Remy. “Thank you for being willing to try,” he said. “I know you won’t know how to do everything right off the bat, and I’m willing to go over things with you if you need or want an explanation. But the fact that you’re trying at all is a good sign. I’m proud of you for that.”

Remy’s eyes widened and they snapped up to meet Emile’s gaze. “You’re...what?” he asked softly.

“I’m proud of you,” Emile said. “Haven’t you ever had someone be proud of you before?”

“Maybe when I was really little,” Remy said. “Never once I grew past, like, seven. No one ever told me they were proud of me, unless I asked, and even then, it felt forced, or like they didn’t want me to prompt them.”

“You know, there are days where I’d love to strangle a majority of your family,” Emile said matter-of-factly.

Remy blinked. “That may be the first aggressive thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“And what’s more, it’s true,” Emile said with a bitter smile. He stood. “I’m getting dressed, and when I’m done and you’re out of your pajamas, we can figure out what to do today, sound good?”

“Don’t you have DnD tonight?” Remy asked.

“That’s tonight,” Emile said. “I’m free until my afternoon classes. And after that, we can always have dinner together.”

Remy did a double take. “You know, you keep talking like that, people will start to think that we’re dating,” he said.

Emile shrugged. “Eh, I don’t have a problem with people knowing I’m bisexual. You don’t seem to have a problem with people knowing you’re gay. If people ask if we’re dating, we can just be honest and say no. Unless, of course, you need to get any creeps off your back, in which case I will happily play your fake boyfriend until they leave.”

“You’re too good to have me as your friend,” Remy said, waving Emile off to his room. “I don’t know why you chose me as a friend, but I’m glad you did.”

“Me too,” Emile said with a smile, going to his room and getting dressed.

As he picked out what shirt he wanted to wear, he was left wondering why Remy brought that up. Having dinner together was something friends did all the time. And it wasn’t like that phrasing was dating-exclusive. He didn’t understand why Remy felt that needed to be pointed out. Who cared if people thought they were together? So long as Emile and Remy knew the truth and no one tried to hurt them, where was the harm in it?

“One of life’s greatest mysteries,” Emile chuckled to himself. “The enigma that is Remy Picani, with his best friend Emile Thomas.”

In all seriousness, though, he did wonder. He wouldn’t ask Remy about that right away, not after Remy had opened up to him so much already this morning. It wouldn’t be fair to him. Maybe another day, he decided. He walked out of his room to find Remy wearing that same leather jacket he had gotten recently and refused to take off whenever they went out. Emile laughed. “Where to?” he asked.

Chapter Text

June 13th, 1998

“You need a real job, Remy,” his mother told him, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

Remy felt crushed. He had just gotten his first job as a barista at a local coffee shop, shouldn’t Mom be happy for him? “This is who was hiring, Mom,” he said. “No one wants a summer intern who’s not even out of high school.”

“Well, I suppose it’ll do for now,” Mom said. “But you can’t expect to do that forever.”

“I know,” Remy said, nodding. “But this is a good start. It’s something to put on my resumé and it’ll give me a little cash to spend, so I don’t have to ask you and Dad for a loan.”

That worked just like Remy hoped it would, and his mother nodded in approval at him. “Good for you, then,” she said with a smile. “This is a big step for you.”

“Thanks,” he said with a smile, even as he thought, Why couldn’t you see that in the first place?

 

December 16th, 2000

“It’s official!” Remy exclaimed, walking up to Emile and hugging him. “I dropped out of college!”

Emile laughed and hugged Remy back. “Now that you’re not going to school, what will you be doing?” Emile asked.

“I’m working at a second coffee shop now,” Remy explained, “It’s something I’m good at and if I’m good enough I could get promoted to manager.”

“That’s great, Rem,” Emile said. “I’m happy for you.”

“Yeah, I just feel...freer, you know? Like I could do anything! I knew all the stuff they were teaching me in business school, so maybe if I get good enough at making coffee I can start my own shop. That’d be cool, don’t you think?”

Emile smiled. “That sounds exactly up your alley,” he agreed. “Especially the manager part.”

“I know. Like, that would never happen at Starbucks, but this is a slightly smaller, local chain. Like, only really in this state sorta thing. Still big, but not huge, you know? If they like me, if I can make them like me, I could get paid more with the promotion and quit the Starbucks job entirely.”

“And the paperwork came through in the mail today, huh?” Emile asked, rounding Remy to get a closer peek at the letter Remy was holding.

“Yeah,” Remy agreed. “They told me I didn’t have to go to class after Monday, which was a relief because there was supposed to be a huge test yesterday and it no longer impacts my grade, because I have no grade anymore! I’m free!”

Emile laughed, and Remy grinned. “Well, then, Mister ‘Free Man,’ what are you going to do to celebrate this occasion?”

“I want...to go clubbing,” Remy said. “There’s a club on the outskirts of town I’ve wanted to go to for weeks, but I never got around to it. But tonight, I have a little bit of spare money and no worries, and I want to go clubbing.”

“Sounds like a plan, I guess,” Emile laughed. “You can have fun with that.”

“I’m dragging you along, you know,” Remy said. “It’s eleven, we can have dinner and then head out.”

Emile blinked in shock, and Remy rolled his eyes. “Yeah, of course I’m taking you with me, you have the car.”

“Oh, you want to use me for my car. Nevermind, I completely understand now,” Emile said, words dripping sarcasm.

Remy shoved him playfully and Emile grinned. “You seriously want to go to a club, you’re gonna need a fake ID, you know,” Emile said.

“Nah, that’s the great thing about this club: they allow people under twenty one, you’re just not allowed to buy alcohol. I can get all the cute boys to buy me drinks,” Remy said with a wink.

“Right, because that will end so well,” Emile said, rolling his eyes and wrapping an arm around Remy’s shoulders. “I’ll make us both sandwiches and then we can try the club, okay?”

“Sure. Hey, where were you all day, anyway? You never arrive home after ten,” Remy said.

“I was visiting my parents, remember?” Emile asked. “Just took the day to drive down there, and headed back here starting at like...I dunno, nine? I didn’t eat a whole lot at dinner, though, and you’ll need food in your stomach when you decide to get pretty boys to buy you drinks, so sandwiches it is.”

“Cool. Also, you’ll need to change,” Remy said, guiding Emile inside the house. “I don’t care how cozy your sweater is, you’re gonna get hot, and you’re not gonna get in if you wear that. We’re getting you some new threads.”

“Okay,” Emile said in that voice that Remy knew meant Emile was just humoring him.

Nevertheless, while Emile made sandwiches, Remy raided Emile’s closet and pulled out an outfit that would actually pass for cool. Skinny jeans, and a faded white band T-shirt. Remy tossed a pair of plain socks on the bed and placed Emile’s sneakers at the foot. He walked out. “I’ve got an acceptable club outfit for you on your bed,” he said, smirking. “And it involves those skinny jeans you insisted you’d never find a use for.”

Emile groaned but passed Remy a sandwich, which he immediately tore into. “I’ll get changed,” he allowed. “But you had better be ready for me to whine.”

Remy just grinned and waved Emile onward. When Remy’s sandwich had been finished and Emile came walking out, Remy stood there shocked for a moment. He hadn’t anticipated Emile looking hot in the outfit he’d picked out. Cute, sure. But hot? Completely out of left field. “You chose my socks for me? Really?” Emile asked.

Snapping back to life, Remy shook himself. “Yeah, I didn’t need you ruining your look with cartoon socks.”

Emile pouted. “What’s wrong with my cartoon socks?”

“They’re not exactly the kind of socks you would want to wear at a club, Emile. They won’t score you any points with the guys. Or the gals, for that matter.”

Emile just sighed, ate his sandwich, and then they were on the road. Remy had his chair tilted back and his fingers were laced together behind his head. “Today is a good day,” he said.

“I’m glad you think so,” Emile said. “Were you waiting for me to come home to share the news that you dropped out?”

“Eh, only a little,” Remy said. “I wasn’t, like, watching the window, but I didn’t want to go to sleep before I shared the news.”

Emile shook his head. “And you call me the nerd in this friendship.”

“You are the nerd in this friendship,” Remy said.

Emile laughed as they pulled into the parking lot. “You keep telling yourself that,” he said.

They got out of the car, flashed their IDs to the bouncers, and were let inside with minimal fuss. Remy felt the bass of the music thrum in his chest, and he grinned. He turned to Emile, who was already looking around the crowd, no doubt trying to spot someone he knew. Remy tapped his shoulder and almost-shouted, “I’m gonna go have some fun. Meet by the bathrooms in two hours to see how we feel?”

Emile nodded and Remy started moving through the crowd until he was on the dancefloor. Now, Remy didn’t know the specifics of dancing, but he knew how to sway his hips in just such a way that it would attract attention. He worked his way through the crowd doing just that, catching the attention of several girls, until he noticed one muscled man standing on the edge of the dancefloor, watching him. Remy put on a flirty grin and crooked his finger a few times.

The man offered a smile of his own and walked over. He was about as tall as Remy was, and the second he came over, he said, “Name’s Chris.”

“Remy,” Remy said, offering his hand. “Care to dance?”

Chris took Remy’s hand and they started to dance together, the beat of the drums matching their movements around the dancefloor. Remy noticed that several of the girls who were watching him before were now giving him dirty looks, but he didn’t care. This wasn’t a gay club, but it had the best reputation for being gay-friendly. And no one could kick him out for dancing with a man.

As one song bled into the next, Remy and Chris continued to dance, until they were near the bar and Chris asked, “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Sure, why not?” Remy replied with a laugh.

Chris went to the bar, and came back with two beers, passing one to Remy. “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” Chris asked. “You could certainly go to any gay bar and be the star of the show.”

“You flatter me,” Remy said, taking a sip of his beer. “I just dropped out of college. Figured I’d have a little fun on one of my off days before I start up my second job, to help with rent around here.”

Chris whistled. “Special occasion, then,” he said with a sly grin. “Here with anyone, or did you come over by yourself?”

“Friend drove me over here, but he’s nobody,” Remy said looking around. He pointed to where Emile was at the edge of the dance floor, talking to a girl. “He’s actually getting some action of his own, by the looks of it.”

Chris laughed. “You think he’d be okay if you went home with someone else?”

“I mean, I’d probably have to tell him, but I doubt he’d really mind,” Remy said. He arched an eyebrow. “You offering?”

“If I am?” Chris asked.

“Meh. I’m not looking for anything serious,” Remy said, waving a hand. “We finish our beers and still get on, we can dance more, and if I like you we can go to yours.”

“Sounds fun,” Chris agreed.

The two of them talked as they finished their beers, and when they were done they headed back out onto the dance floor. Remy could feel a buzz settling in, but also just a tad bit of exhaustion. It had to be around midnight by this point, and usually he’d be asleep soon. But he couldn’t be bothered to care about being tired.

After a particularly quick song, which left both Remy and Chris breathless and laughing, Chris kissed Remy softly. Remy kissed back, enjoying the sensation. This wasn’t his first kiss, but it had been a while, and he forgot how good it felt. As Chris pulled back, though, something or someone caught his eye from behind Remy and his eyes widened and he cursed.

Remy turned to find a girl stalking over and fuming. “Chris?! You said you were hanging out at a friend’s tonight?!” she shrieked.

“Bianca, you said you weren’t going to be back until tomorrow evening!” Chris said.

“Is this what you do every time I leave? Go to some club or another and convince someone to come home with you?!” she demanded.

Remy looked at the scene with horror. “You have a girlfriend?!” he asked Chris.

“Not for much longer, he doesn’t!” Bianca exclaimed. “And who exactly are you?!”

“Uh, Remy. Picani. I just wanted to have a little harmless fun, I didn’t realize that Chris might be taken,” Remy stammered out.

Bianca snarled at him. “Sure you didn’t,” she growled.

“I didn’t!” Remy insisted.

“He genuinely didn’t know, Bianca, leave him out of this,” Chris said, putting an arm between Bianca and Remy.

Bianca turned back to him and grabbed him by the bicep. “You and I are going to have a very long talk,” she growled, leading him off the dancefloor.

Remy felt like he needed to take a shower after that realization. He felt like filthy scum, even though he didn’t know that Chris had a girlfriend. He stood there on the dancefloor in shock before deciding to head to the bathrooms. He kinda had to pee, and anyway, that’s where he and Emile were supposed to meet up when they were going to check in.

After doing his business, but before he was done washing his hands, Emile came into the bathroom. “Hey, how are you faring?” Emile asked.

“The guy I was flirting with apparently had a girlfriend,” Remy said.

“Ouch,” Emile said with a sympathetic wince.

“Yeah,” Remy said, sighing. He still felt a little buzzed, but his mood was significantly dampened after learning this new information. “I kinda want to dance more, but dancing’s no fun without a partner, and I don’t know if any other guys here are interested in men.”

“There’s always me,” Emile joked.

Remy huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I guess so. No offense, though, Emile, but uh...I think I’d rather dance with someone who isn’t my best friend. I don’t want people thinking we’re an item.” That thought made Remy uncomfortable in ways that he couldn’t quite articulate. He hoped that Emile wouldn’t try and read into it, though.

Thankfully, he didn’t seem to. “Yeah, I guess not,” Emile said. “No way to get some people interested in you if they think we’re already a thing.”

“I mean, we could always say we’re not exclusive, but I do agree that it would be easier to just avoid that beast all together,” Remy said.

“Wanna go home?” Emile asked, tilting his head to the door.

Remy considered. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m ready to sleep.”

Chapter Text

December 23rd, 1994

Emile hugged his cousin Ella as she barreled towards him, nearly sending them both sprawling flat on the ground. “You’re getting really big, Ella. Pretty soon I won’t be able to pick you up anymore!”

“Aw, no!” Ella exclaimed.

Emile laughed. “I said ‘pretty soon,’ meaning you should milk it while you can,” he said, picking Ella up and settling her on his hip.

She shrieked with laughter and Emile grinned. He enjoyed having this time to spend with his family. He wondered if he would have a family of his own some day, for a brief moment, but he put that thought out of his head. That was something to worry about in the future. For now, he could just enjoy the family he currently had.

 

December 24th, 2000

Emile admittedly felt a little scummy. He had tried not to, because Remy had insisted he would be okay, but he still didn’t want to leave his friend alone in their apartment for Christmas break. Remy wasn’t going back to his parents’ place, thank goodness, because Emile wouldn’t have been able to let him go there alone in good conscience, but he refused Emile’s invitation to come home to see his parents and celebrate Christmas with them.

Still, Emile was trying to not let it get to him. Christmas was when all his extended family on his mom’s side went to his grandfather’s, meaning he’d get to see his cousins, aunts, uncles, and everyone in between! He was getting to sit on one of the couches and talk to his mom’s biological brother, and just talk about everything that had happened over the course of the last semester. “...And they tried to force him to switch his major!” Emile exclaimed. “Like, sure, if he wanted to do it himself, I would have supported him, but if his parents were making it a part of the deal for him getting their continued support? That’s a below-the-belt shot.”

“Yeah,” his uncle agreed. “It sounds really tough. I’m glad that you’re there for him.”

Emile shrugged. “I like to think he would have done this sooner or later without my help, but part of me knows that even if he tried, he wouldn’t have gotten this far. Honestly, that scares me, you know?”

“What scares you?” one of his younger cousins asked.

Emile craned his head back over the top of the couch to find Ella standing there, staring at him. “How little options my best friend had in this hypothetical situation I set up.”

“Why are you worried about your best friend in a hypothetical situation?” Ella asked.

“Because if one thing went wrong, it could have been the real situation. I get it’s in the past, but that doesn’t stop the feeling of cheating death.”

Ella squinted at him. “You’re weird, Emile.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Emile waved off. “But what I feel is what I feel. Can’t exactly help it.”

Ella shrugged and walked away, and Emile turned back to his uncle, to find himself the subject of a searching stare. “...Can I help you?” he asked.

“Cheating death is an interesting word choice. Did you cheat death?” his uncle asked.

Emile shrugged. “Some days it definitely feels like that.”

His uncle whistled. “Good thing you’re friends with this guy, Emile. You have to be the best support he could ask for.”

“Eh,” Emile said with a shrug. “A professional could probably give him more help, if only he’d willingly reach out and accept. But yeah, I’m really glad that I got to move to an apartment with him. Less loans for me, and less depression for him.”

“And you both can afford rent?” his uncle asked.

“Yeah,” Emile said. “He’s picked up a second job at a local coffee shop out there, so he’s working two barista jobs for a little extra cash. I’m starting a new job the second of January at Target, so we can both pay for rent, and I can help with food if needed.”

His uncle nodded approvingly. “Then it seems like you have everything set up,” he said.

“Yeah, I’m actually really excited,” Emile said.

“What do you think you’re going to do when you graduate?” his uncle asked. “Are you planning to continue living with your friend? Especially if he can’t afford his own place?”

“I hadn’t thought about that...” Emile said, words soft and trailing off near the end. “I guess I might, or at the very least I’d help him get a new roommate. But I wouldn’t worry about that for a while yet. After all, I’m going there for three and a half more years at least, before grad school comes around. Hopefully by that time, even if I do need to move, he’ll be more receptive to knowing people other than me.”

“That sheltered, is he?” his uncle asked.

“I don’t think that’s the right term,” Emile said. “He’s certainly been exposed to plenty of ugly things in his life. ‘Closed-off’ would probably be a better descriptor for it.”

His uncle leaned forward. “How ugly are we talking?”

“I’m not comfortable going into specifics, because I don’t have the full picture, but ugly enough,” Emile said. “He worries me a lot. Thankfully he’s safe over the course of the break, but I wish he would have hung out with some friends, or came here with me as a friend. Honestly, no one should really spend the holidays alone if they don’t want to. And I’m almost positive he doesn’t want to.”

His uncle frowned. “Did you try and insist?”

“If I had done that, he probably would have stormed out of the apartment and never returned,” Emile sighed. “So I’m stuck offering the same things over and over in the hopes that he’ll take them.”

His uncle chewed his cheek but nodded, and soon it was time for dinner. The whole family gathered around the table, enjoying the meal and each other’s company. Emile was mostly successful in keeping the attention off him and Remy with their living situation. Not that he didn’t enjoy talking about Remy, but he didn’t want his whole family scrutinizing his friend when Remy wasn’t even here to defend himself.

They all eventually finished dinner, and then it came time to open up gifts. His cousins mostly got things for their hobbies, like sketch pads and charcoal, or notebooks for writing. One of the boys, Johnny, even got a book full of science experiments to try. They went from youngest cousin to oldest, and soon enough it was Emile’s turn to open whatever he had gotten. His parents came over first, and his dad was snickering as he passed a brown package over to Emile. “This came in the mail for you the other day,” he said. “It had to be a day or two before you came home.”

Emile looked at the return address and groaned. “Remy. Of course he would send me something so I wouldn’t object to him spending money on me in person.”

He opened the package with scissors, to find something wrapped up in wrapping paper inside. He frowned, tearing into the paper. His entire face lit up when he saw what Remy got him. “Oh, it’s She-Ra episodes!” he laughed. “I don’t believe it!”

His whole family laughed, but he just held the gift close to his chest. His family had never heard Remy insult Emile’s interest in cartoons, but this meant that he was coming around to the concept of Emile liking said cartoons. He was changing, even if it only meant keeping his opinions to himself and indulging Emile in this particular field of interest. Which was huge, in Emile’s book.

After setting that gift reverently to the side, Emile opened the presents from his parents (a cartoon-themed calendar), his aunts and uncles (fuzzy socks, and a few novels he had mentioned he’d been meaning to read), and his grandfather (an age-old classic of a leather notebook), and let the adults exchange gifts while he looked around for a pen, so he could start up his new notebook.

He made a triumphant noise when he found one hiding behind the punch, forgotten with some company logo on it that Emile didn’t recognize. This was a pen that wouldn’t be missed, and he decided he may as well use it to start off his new journal. He found a small corner in his grandfather’s house where he was unlikely to be disturbed, and opened up the journal to the first page. The trick with this would be figuring out what to write. He didn’t do traditional journalling, talking about his day in a “Dear Diary” sort of fashion. But he didn’t always repeat what he had done in previous journals, provided previous journals even had a theme. Emile had been getting these from his grandfather for literal years, he knew it was coming, and yet he hadn’t figured out how he was going to fill up this journal yet.

In an instant, a solution hit him over the head. He could write imaginary letters to his friends in order to sort through his emotions, and anything else that happened to occur between whenever he last wrote through to the present. And he knew exactly who his first entry would be to:

Dear Remy,

Thank you for the She-Ra episodes, it really means a lot to me. I know you would shrug it off as not being a big deal, but it's definitely huge to me. I know you aren't a fan of cartoons, and I know that trying to keep all of my cartoon paraphernalia in my room still makes you feel weird sometimes. So you getting these for me really means a lot. I know we don't have a TV yet, or a VHS player, but knowing you, you thought about that and have something else in store for whenever I get back home.

I know you don't want me to, but I do sometimes worry about you, Rem. Like, a lot. You said you would be fine on your own for Christmas, but you did that thing where your eyes dart around the room before you look back at me, and that always happens before you lie to me. You would have been more than welcome to spend the holidays with my family. No one would have even assumed that we were a couple, provided I said off the bat that you didn't have family to celebrate Christmas with.

Still, I respect your decision. And I know not everyone would want to go to Mass at church early Christmas morning. I barely enjoy that, and the only time I do properly have fun is near the end, when I'm finally alert enough to enjoy the songs that everyone is singing.

I hope that you're having a good Christmas, though. Whether you find someone who's still in town and has nowhere to go, like you, or you volunteer somewhere because it's Christmas and you'd rather not be alone, even if that means just going to the soup kitchen, then I hope that you have a good time.

I really care about you, Remy. And I know that you'd scoff and roll your eyes if I told you as much, but I really do. And I hope, one day, you'll let me say it without you being uncomfortable. Maybe you'd even say it back.

I know you'll never see this, but take care, all right?

Emile

That done, he slid the pen in the little spot next to the back cover that had a piece of elastic made for holding pens or pencils, and sighed as he looked up and around the house. No one seemed to be looking for him, which was admittedly a little surprising. Usually he got carried up and away in his writing and he wouldn’t come back to the present for at least half an hour.

He walked back to the living room, and his dad glanced over. “You good, Emile?” he asked.

“Breaking in the new journal,” Emile said sheepishly, waving it in the air. “It needed to be done, and now at least I know what I’m going to do with it.”

His grandfather smiled approvingly and Emile smiled back. He settled onto the couch again, next to where his gifts were, and his thoughts kept drifting back to Remy. He really hoped that Remy was having a good time, whatever that entailed for him. Remy deserved to be happy. Everyone deserved to be happy, but considering all the work Remy had put in over just the past three months in trying to be a better person, Remy extra-deserved it.

I hope that you have a good Christmas, Remy, Emile sent out the silent thought. And I hope that you won’t be alone.

Chapter Text

July 13th, 1985

Remy watched the man panhandling on the island in the middle of the street with a frown. “Why’s he asking for money?” he asked.

“Because he’s homeless, or close to it, probably,” Toby told him, nudging him in the middle of the sedan.

“What does homeless mean? Like, doesn’t he have a place to live?” Remy asked.

“Not everyone does,” Toby told him.

Remy stared at Toby in shock. “Why not?!”

“Because some people are just lazy and can’t hold down a job,” his mother said from the front of the car.

Remy was stunned into silence. People would actually live...on the street, or wherever? They would be...without a house? He didn’t understand. Wouldn’t people on the street not be lazy, and want to find a place to stay?

As their car moved on, Remy sat forward again and supposed that this had to be one of those adult things that he just didn’t understand yet. He was finding a lot of those recently.

 

December 25th, 2000

Remy would never admit it to anyone, and especially not Emile, but he was feeling lonely. This would be his first year celebrating Christmas without his family...well, ever. And he had no idea how bone-crushing the feeling of being alone would become.

He wanted to get up, to do something, to keep busy, but most places, if not every place, was closed today because it was Christmas. He had cut off contact entirely with his parents when he moved, so he wasn’t about to call them, or even explain why he wasn’t there. Toby had a cell phone, but his number must have changed, because the voicemail on what used to be his number now sounded like a teenage girl had recorded it. In Spanish. To make matters worse, Toby hadn’t gotten Remy’s new address yet. Remy had called him the day they had finally finished the move, only to hear that infernal message in Spanish. He had called the number once or twice since, but the voicemail remained the same.

Today, feeling particularly lonely, he called up the phone once more out of curiosity, but instead of getting that voicemail, he actually got someone picking up. “Hello?” the girl asked, accent thick. “Who is this?”

“Oh, nobody,” Remy sighed. “I thought this was my brother’s number.”

“I only got this number the beginning of the month,” the girl said. “It must have belonged to your brother before.”

“Must have,” Remy echoed hollowly.

“I am sorry,” she said. “I wish I could help you more.”

“I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a Toby Picani?” Remy asked.

“No. Is that your brother’s name?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s my brother.”

“There was a woman constantly calling me when I first got the number. Speaking about how she was meant to be with your Toby. After I answered her calls instead of letting it go to voicemail, she stopped calling. But he must have changed his number because of her,” the girl paused. “I hope you have a Merry Christmas.”

Remy choked on a laugh. “Yeah, you too. Merry Christmas.”

The girl hung up and Remy did the same. He pressed his phone against his forehead. His number had changed after he got off his parents’ plan. It wasn’t like Toby could call him, and he didn’t have Toby’s number, and he didn’t know where Toby was going to school. He hadn’t thought to ask for the address at Thanksgiving.

Tears burned his eyes like fire and he silently sobbed. All he wanted to do was talk to his brother, was that too much to ask? Apparently. He stood up abruptly and went to his room, screaming into a pillow as tears scorched down his face. He took a deep breath, and then another. He looked around his room, desperate for something, anything, to do.

Emile must have gotten his gift last night; he told Remy that his family opened presents on Christmas Eve. What he didn’t realize was that Remy had saved up a little extra money, enough to afford a crappy old TV and a slightly newer VHS reader. Well, not immediately. He’d be able to afford them tomorrow, when the after-Christmas sales started. But when Emile came back, January second, he’d be able to watch She-Ra to his heart’s content.

Despite himself, Remy smiled. Emile was adorable when he got excited about something. He sincerely hoped that Emile never lost that enthusiasm, even if it had to be over something as dorky as cartoons. But Remy would be able to watch sports whenever the mood struck, and Emile would get to watch his cartoons, and everything would be okay in the end. Or at least, as okay as anything could be. He still couldn’t call Toby, and he couldn’t write, and asking his parents would be completely pointless. Vanessa would undoubtedly just tell his parents where Remy now lived and what he was doing, so she wasn’t an option.

Wow, he really should have gone to hang out with Emile, even if he knew absolutely none of Emile’s family. That would have been less depressing than this. How pathetic was he, sitting alone in his bedroom, in his empty apartment, crying over the fact that he had lost contact with his brother?

He stood up, grabbing his jacket, putting his cell phone in his pocket, and headed out on a walk after locking the apartment. He had no idea where he was going, but he couldn’t sit still any longer.

The weather was freezing, most likely in the literal sense. Remy shivered, despite wearing the coat that had actual insulation rather than his typical leather jacket. And Emile could mock him for wearing that thing all he wanted, but that would not stop Remy from wearing it. It was a comfort, in addition to fitting in exactly with his preferred aesthetic. What he would have loved, though, was a leather jacket with actual insulation, like fleece or something, on the inside, for when winter came around. He couldn’t just keep on like this and not be able to wear his favorite jacket when the snow started falling. It wasn’t fair that he had to drop his aesthetic for practicality.

As he continued to walk, he noticed he was approaching the local homeless shelter. He rolled his shoulders and sighed. Sure, it wasn't exactly what he had planned when he woke up this morning, but it had to be something, didn’t it? Helping other people always made Emile happy, and maybe it could do the same thing to Remy.

He walked into the shelter, finding a majority of the tables full of people, in various stages of disarray. “Can I help you?” an unfamiliar voice asked him.

Remy turned to find an older man looking him over. “Uh, maybe?” Remy asked. “I was wondering if there was...um...any way for me to help out today? I was...I was kinda walking around, and I saw this place, and I figured, well, maybe I could help in some way, you know?”

The man smiled at him. “Well, we could use one or two people in the kitchen. Most of our volunteers are out of town.”

“Okay,” Remy said. “What do you need me to do?”

The old man motioned for Remy to follow him, and Remy did so. “All I need you to do is pass out meals to the people who come in and ask for them. We haven’t quite gotten to when we give away lunch, most of the people in here are waiting for it. I can have someone else cook the meals, so you don't have to worry about burning anything.”

“Uh...thanks,” Remy laughed. “I’m afraid I’m not much of an enthusiastic cook on the best of days. Too much work, most of the time.”

The old man smiled at him. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever volunteered at a place like this before?”

“Uh, no. Not really,” Remy admitted.

“I thought not,” the old man said. “But that’s okay, we all have to start somewhere.”

“Yeah...” Remy said.

The old man looked him over. “Not much of a talker, are you?”

“Not usually, no,” Remy said. “Not around people I’m not familiar with.”

“Well, a lot of the volunteers here would press you to talk, but if you tell them you’re not comfortable talking, most of them should leave you alone. As always, there are a few persistent people, but if you tell them to back off enough times, they will,” the man said.

“Not always,” Remy laughed. “I live with my best friend, and the only reason he’s my best friend is because he wouldn’t leave me alone for a while after we first met.”

“Huh,” the old man said. “There’s a regular volunteer here, Emile, who has a similar story, from the other perspective. You wouldn’t happen to be Remy?”

“That’s me,” Remy said. “Emile volunteers here?”

“He helps the kids with their homework sometimes. It started usually when his best friend was busy with work, and he couldn’t stand an empty apartment. But once a week became twice, and twice became three times, and now he usually comes around some time between when school lets out and seven or so, to help the kids who are struggling,” the old man said. “He said that he thought you’d never be caught dead here.”

Remy turned red. “Usually, he’d be right,” Remy said, ducking his head. “I didn’t have any plans to come here. I just couldn’t stand the empty apartment, like he couldn’t, and I started walking, and I wound up here.”

The old man stopped at a back door and smiled at Remy. “Well, I am very glad you did. If you don’t mind working here, you might even find yourself coming back.”

Remy shrugged. “I really don’t know. I don’t know what any of this entails, so I don’t know if it’s for me or not.”

“Well, you’ll find out soon enough,” the man said, pushing open the door and walking in to a kitchen. “Put on a hair net and gloves,” he instructed. “I can show you the ropes from there.”

“Bernie!” a young woman called. “Are we starting up lunch yet?”

“Five minutes!” Bernie called back. “We have a new volunteer, and he needs to get ready!”

“A new...on Christmas?! We never get new volunteers on Christmas!” she said, walking over.

Remy snapped a hair net over his head and tugged on gloves.

“We do today,” Bernie said. “You know Emile’s friend?”

“Yeah, the one who he’s always saying would never show up here, even if he needed the help instead of giving it?” she asked, cocking a hip.

“Well, he was wrong,” Bernie said. “Remy, this is Amelia. She’ll teach you the song and dance of passing out food.”

“Okay,” Remy said, following her to the front of the kitchen, where plates and food were stacking up. “Okay, confession time...I have never done this before in my life, what do I do?” he asked her.

“Just make plates based on what each person wants. Sometimes they’ll tell you, sometimes they’ll point if English isn’t their first language. One main dish for each person, and two sides, plus a desert, if they want it,” Amelia said.

Remy looked at the food waiting for them, and looked over to where two guys were joking as they cooked more. “Do you really have enough food for that?”

“We scrape by,” Amelia said. “It’s first-come first-served. Usually we have just enough to last the hour and a half we offer lunch.”

Remy cleared his throat. “That sounds...difficult,” he said.

“It is,” she said. “But we manage. You’ll catch on fast enough, if you’re anything like Emile says you are, you’re a quick study.”

“I mean I guess...?” Remy said.

“Well, we’re about to find out,” Amelia said. She rang a bell that was resting on top of the display, and people started rushing over to get food.

Remy found himself busy enough that all thoughts of his family and his current situation left his mind. But he also found himself busy enough that he was barely scraping by to get everyone their food, and he was a barista two times over! Everyone was civil enough, but he barely had enough time to pass out one plate before the next person was already ordering.

When lunch was over, the volunteers all left the kitchen, but Bernie stopped Remy before he could follow the others to wherever they were headed. “Emile was asking me to keep something here,” he told Remy. “He said it was a surprise for you, and he said that if on the off-chance you did show up here, I could give it to you before he got back.”

Confused, Remy followed Bernie to a back office. He was handed a package covered in Peanuts wrapping paper, and Remy muttered, “Of course,” with an eye roll and a smile. He tore into it to find...a new jacket. It was similar to the leather one he had at home, but this one was lined with thick fleece. “Unbelievable,” he said. “How did he know?!”

“He said you mentioned it in passing while the two of you were walking around town,” Bernie said. “He picks up on details like that.”

Remy held the jacket close and could feel himself getting weepy. “I don’t know how to thank him,” he muttered.

“And that’s his Christmas present to you,” Bernie said. “He said he had a surprise for your birthday planned, as well.”

“I...what?!” Remy asked in shock.

“He said your birthday was New Year’s Eve?” Bernie asked. At Remy’s nod, he said, “Well, I know he had something planned for that. Don’t know what it is, but keep an eye out.”

Remy was shocked. Yeah, Emile was generous, he supposed, but this almost seemed like too much. He had no idea what that surprise was, but he knew he’d be lucky, whatever it was. Emile would make sure he felt special. That’s just what he did. Remy really didn’t deserve him.

Chapter Text

December 31st, 1999

Emile was excited. It was the final minutes before midnight, before an entire new millennium started. Not many people would get to say they lived through that and remembered it, one day.

As the minutes turned into seconds, Emile and his family watched the ball get ready to drop in Times Square on TV. He couldn’t imagine what sorts of things would happen not only in the new year, but in the whole of the two-thousands. He knew he was going off to college in the fall of two thousand-and that was a weird thought, not have nineteen in front of the number-but there was so much he didn’t know about the future. And while that scared him a little, he was also incredibly excited.

When the ball dropped and his whole family cheered, Emile grinned. He couldn’t imagine what he’d be doing next year today, but he hoped it was something great.

 

December 31st, 2000

Emile drove into the complex’s parking lot with a smile on his face. He had told Remy that he would be coming back the second of January, but he had been planning to surprise Remy by coming home a little early. His parents had understood and let him go on the condition that he call them the morning of the first. The rest of his family griped a little but still let him go with minimal fuss.

Getting out of his car and grabbing his things from the backseat, he climbed the stairs to their apartment and knocked on the door. He could hear footsteps, and then the light by the peephole dimmed, and the door was opened by a very confused Remy. “Emile? You weren’t supposed to be back for another two days!”

“Yeah, well, I thought I’d surprise you, seeing as how it was your birthday and all. Didn’t want you to spend it alone,” Emile said, walking in and putting his stuff down in his room. He walked back out and noticed the TV along with the VHS player. “I was wondering if that was gonna be here or not.”

“Yeah, well, no point in buying you cartoons you can’t watch,” Remy said with a shrug. “I really like the jacket you got me.”

Emile’s eyebrows shot up. “You went to the shelter?”

“Wound up there after a bit of a walk,” Remy said with a shrug. “Helped with the lunch rush. Gave me something to do, and let me stop thinking about other things. Now, back to the original question: why are you here?”

“Like I told you, it’s your birthday, I didn’t want you to be on your own on your birthday, that’s just no fun!” Emile exclaimed.

“So you...drove two hours just to make sure I wouldn’t be alone?” Remy asked, eyebrows furrowing together.

“Yep!” Emile chirped. “Anything you want to do to celebrate? We could eat out for dinner tonight, I have a little spare cash.”

“No, no, hold up,” Remy said, holding up a hand to stop Emile from continuing to talk. “You. Drove two full hours this morning just so I wouldn’t be alone all day?”

“Technically it was more like two and a half. Traffic was killer,” Emile said with a shrug. “Why, is that a big deal?”

“Is it a big deal?” Remy repeated dumbly. “You’re giving up time with your family to be with me!”

“Yeah, I know,” Emile said. “I made the decision, Rem.”

“But...why? You don’t exactly get to see your family often,” Remy said.

“Yeah, and your birthday only happens once a year,” Emile said. “I wanted to make sure you had a happy nineteen.”

“...Am I really that important to you? That you’d give up more time with your parents just to celebrate my birthday?” Remy asked, his voice soft and small.

“Of course, Remy,” Emile said. “Of course you’re that important, you’re my best friend, and there’s no one I’d rather spend New Year’s Eve with.”

Remy walked over and hugged Emile tight. Slowly, Emile brought his hands up to hug Remy back. Hugs from Remy were special things, not to be taken lightly and rarely given out. But he always put his all into them. Squeezing tight, but not so tight that Emile couldn’t breathe. Sometimes he’d rest his head on Emile’s shoulder, and sometimes he’d whisper something he wanted to say to Emile, but was too scared to say aloud. “I love you,” Remy whispered. “I don’t know how else to say that. Not in a, ‘I’d date you’ way, you know? More in a...‘you’re my best friend and if anything happened to you I’d be devastated’ sort of way.”

Emile smiled and a chuckle slipped out. “I love you too, Remy.”

Remy held Emile tighter and Emile savored the sensation until Remy’s grip went lax, and they parted. Emile smiled softly at Remy, who was swiping the tears out of his eyes. “So, my question still stands: do you want to do anything for your birthday?”

Remy shrugged. “I guess dinner would be nice, yeah.”

“Then we’ll have dinner,” Emile said with a smile. “Anything you want to do until then? Do you have to work?”

“No, I don’t have to work, I’m not on Starbucks’ schedule today and the local shop is closed,” Remy said softly.

“Okay, that gives us the afternoon to do whatever you want,” Emile said.

Remy’s head dropped towards the ground, and Emile could tell he was choking back more tears when he asked, “Emile, I know you don’t want to be my therapist...but can I vent for a second?”

“Of course,” Emile said, putting a hand on Remy’s shoulder. “What’s wrong?”

“Toby...” Remy made a choked sound. “Toby doesn’t have our address. He doesn’t have my phone number. And I...I don’t have his. His ex-girlfriend apparently stalked him and he had to change it, and I obviously was not welcome back home at Christmas, so I couldn’t talk to him about that then...he’s gone, Emile. I lost all contact with him. I wanted to at least call and tell him Merry Christmas, but I didn’t get to, and I know that he doesn’t know where I am, but I was still hoping that somehow...somehow, he’d find out, and he’d be able to...to wish me a happy...birthday...but...” Remy was outright crying now, albeit trying to muffle the sounds. “But he can’t. And...and I don’t know what I’m going to do, Emile. We were never the closest brothers in the world, but he cared about me, he was my best friend, and...and I miss him...”

“Aw, Rem...” Emile bit his lip. “Is it okay if I hug you?”

Remy nodded and Emile hugged him fiercely. “This is not your fault,” Emile said with certainty. “And it hurts, and I know that the pain you’re going through must be overwhelming. It really, really sucks. But you know what? I’m sure that Toby is out there, somewhere, wishing you a Happy Birthday anyway. Even if he can’t call, and he can’t write. He knows it’s your birthday, and I bet he’s trying to psychically send good vibes your way.” Remy laughed at that, and Emile smiled. “You’ll be okay, Rem. It’ll hurt, but you’ll get through it. You’re impossibly strong.”

Remy nodded into Emile’s shoulder, and Emile just sighed into Remy’s. “You can hug me as long as you need, I really don’t mind,” he said softly.

They stayed like that for a long while, Emile hugging Remy as Remy quietly cried. He was mourning a loss, and Emile understood that. Remy would need time. And occasionally, this might resurface and he might get hurt again. But Emile swore that he would be there to help Remy as much as he could. After all, isn’t that what best friends did? They helped each other when they were hurt, they let each other cry, they shared secrets and ambitions and plans for the future. And while this may have changed Remy’s plans, Emile was certain that Remy could get through it.

When Remy finally whimpered out a, “I feel better now,” Emile let his hands drop and took a step back. Remy wiped at his eyes and heaved a sigh, but he seemed a lot more level. “Thanks, Emile,” Remy murmured. “I didn’t expect this to have as much of an impact on me as it did, but...”

“Hey, you’re allowed to feel what you feel, and however much you feel that is a valid feeling,” Emile said. “You’re gonna be okay, but it’s all right if you’re not okay right this minute.”

“You sure?” Remy asked uncertainly. “It’s really okay to...not be okay?”

“Yeah,” Emile said. “It takes a while to feel okay sometimes. That’s normal.”

Remy sniffled and nodded. “Okay then. If it’s...if you don’t mind, I’m gonna...uh, take a nap, I think. Just sleep some of the exhaustion off.”

“Yeah, knock yourself out,” Emile said with a smile.

Remy groaned. “That was terrible, Emile,” he grumbled, heading to his room.

Emile just laughed. “I’ll be watching She-Ra if you need me.”

Remy grunted and closed the door to his bedroom, and Emile grabbed his VHS tapes, putting one of them in the player and bouncing excitedly as it began to play the opening.

When two episodes had gone by, and Emile had seen neither hide nor hair from Remy, he knocked on Remy’s door. “Rem? You up?” He waited a minute, then knocked again. “Remy, can I come in?”

There was shuffling, and then the door opened an inch, Remy rubbing his eyes on the other side. “I was sleeping,” he grumbled.

“Yeah, it’s been an hour,” Emile said. “Your sleep schedule is already getting messed up by me letting you sleep that long.”

Remy grumbled again. “Want to sleep more.”

“Well, you can’t do that, but if you want, I have some novels I got at Christmas, you could go through those and figure out what you like?” Emile offered.

Remy grunted but left his room, which Emile counted as a win. He picked up the novels he had placed in his own bedroom and brought them out for Remy to inspect. “You can have your first choice, just don’t spoil anything for me.”

Picking a random book from Emile’s hands, Remy slumped to the floor and started to read. Emile rolled his eyes fondly and grabbed his own book to read, musing that they needed to invest in at the very least two chairs in terms of furniture.

They must have read for several hours, because when Emile came back to the world around them after finishing the novel, the sun was setting. Remy was still engrossed in the book he had picked out, and Emile lightly nudged Remy’s foot with his own. Remy quirked an eyebrow in silent question, glancing up from the book in his hands.

“Want to go get dinner now?” Emile asked. “Sun’s setting.”

“It’s winter, the sun sets at four in the afternoon.” A beat. “Sure, why not.”

“We don’t have to eat it right away,” Emile pointed out as they got ready. “We could get take-out.”

“Nah, if we’re gonna eat out we may as well actually eat out, as in, at the restaurant, you know?” Remy said.

“Okay,” Emile said. “Anywhere in particular you’d want to eat? Considering that lots of places would be closed on New Year’s Eve.”

Remy shrugged. “I know places that aren’t bars but have bars will be open,” he offered.

“What sort of places like that are there around here?” Emile asked.

Remy shrugged. “I’m not sure. We could always just drive around and look? I’ll help you with gas money in return for that.”

Emile hesitated. He didn’t want to just drive around for no apparent reason, but if Remy would pay for gas money... “Okay, fine, we can figure out a place to go by driving around,” Emile said, grabbing his car keys.

Remy hummed and paused. “Actually...”

“Actually?” Emile asked.

“I mean, we know the shelter’s going to be open, right? And the food there is edible, and the workers get to eat after they’ve helped with dinner,” Remy said.

“Are you suggesting that you want to volunteer at the shelter on your birthday, when you could be doing absolutely anything else?” Emile asked in surprise.

“It’ll give me a distraction,” Remy said. “Better than most things would. And I’d still get to talk to you, and we’d get to eat, and I’d feel a little accomplished for doing something today.” He paused. “Is that weird?”

“No, no, it’s not weird,” Emile rushed to assure him. “It didn’t seem like something you’d want to do on your birthday, but if you want to do that we can walk to the shelter and help out.”

“Cool,” Remy said. “I was wondering what it might be like to help alongside you, instead of when you’re not around, and this solves that mystery quicker, too.”

“Yeah,” Emile agreed. Inwardly, he felt a swell of affection for Remy. He was starting to learn how to care about other people, outside his circle. Even if it wasn’t often, even if it was about him and his questions, he was learning. And Emile was incredibly proud of him for that.

Chapter Text

September 13th, 1985

Remy laid back on his bed, studying the cracks in the paint on his ceiling. He wanted to sleep, but he was finding it hard without his blanket. He’d had it for as long as he could remember, but his parents had hidden it away somewhere today, and they had refused to give it back. He had begged, he had offered to do anything for its return, but still they refused. And when he was left on his own, he had cried.

He grabbed Bones and snuggled the dog close to his chest. At least he still had Bones, he definitely didn’t want Bones to be taken away, ever ever ever. Next to his blanket, Bones was his biggest sense of comfort. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Sooner or later, it had to work, and then maybe tomorrow he could set out in search of his blanket.

 

January 3rd, 2001

Remy had few rules in his life that he would not listen to, and even fewer that he would discard entirely. And rule number one, that he had made when a young kid, ignored time and time again, only to get hurt, time and time again, was “don’t get attached.” Don’t get attached to that toy, Mom and Dad will take it when they think you’ve outgrown it. Don’t get attached to that animal, its owner will eventually have to take it home and Mom and Dad would never let you get a pet of your own. Don’t get attached to people, if you think you’ve made friends with them they’ll crush your very soul when you least expect it and Mom and Dad will say it’s your own fault.

He had been pretty good at following that rule starting in high school, but even then, he only lasted three and a half years with that rule before he had realized he’d thrown it out the window. Emile came along, and he got attached. Worse, he got friendly. He couldn’t imagine what his past self would say to him right now, but he knew it would be something along the lines of being an idiot.

And now, he was breaking another one of those rules, which was “tell no one.” Because here he was, spilling his guts out to Kim, explaining how he had grown attached to Emile and how he didn’t even realize how much the man meant to him until their first therapy appointment and what Emile had said afterwards. “...And I guess it’s a good thing, you know? Most people would say that it’s good I’ve made a friend, and that I want to make more friends, even if it’s just so I can have a safety net. But in my past experiences, friends have only ever tried to hurt me, sooner or later.” Remy scratched the back of his neck. “I still don’t even know why I’m explaining this to you, because one of my other things was that I didn’t want to tell anyone about this. They’d see it as a ‘problem,’ when it’s not. It’s just how I live.”

Kim sat there and nodded as Remy talked, and when his hands fell back into his lap, which they had both realized meant he was done talking, Kim spoke. “Different people certainly do have different ways of living, Remy, but humans are social animals. We need other people around us, who know us, and who can interact with us, if we want to stay stable.”

“Everyone says that, but there are days where I find that so hard to believe. Humans are cruel, we hurt each other for sport, and laugh when someone cries over something, and we’re often forced to hide parts of ourselves we don’t want to be mocked for, because being mocked is a genuine concern,” Remy said. “And, like, I know Emile won’t hurt me. At least, not on purpose. But I don’t know if that’s the case for anyone else, not for sure. I don’t want to put myself out there only to get crushed again.”

“And yet you still want friends?” Kim asked.

Remy nodded with a sigh. “I want to skip past the rocky part where you don’t know much about each other and just know right off the bat if I can trust them or not. But I’m not the best judge of character.”

“And every relationship has that rocky part. From what you’ve told me you and Emile had quite a bit of clashing at the beginning of your friendship?” Kim asked.

“Yeah. Mostly because of me. I’d do something that hurt his feelings, or else I’d just try and push him away so I could be alone, but he didn’t give up. He kept trying to talk to me. And eventually I gave in, and he’s a good guy,” Remy said. He shrugged. “I got lucky. He wasn’t trying to get close to me to exploit me.”

“Is that how you see most people? Out to exploit you?”

Remy shrugged. “I mean, I guess. That’s how it was in the past at least, you know? And people don’t really change all that much, unless they make an active effort. And I never saw any effort from them.”

“You’ve never seen what these potential friends might have been doing by themselves to make them better people, either,” Kim pointed out. “Just because it doesn’t happen when you’re around doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.”

“I know that,” Remy sighed. “But it seems...insincere.”

Kim pursed her lips. “You know, Remy, there’s not much else I can say except to tell you that you’re going to have to take those chances in your life. And yes, there are going to be times where you’re going to make mistakes, or misjudge someone, or say something you shouldn’t have. But that’s not a good reason to not take a chance. College students are much more forgiving than high school kids, I’ve found. You might find that more people are like Emile.”

“No one’s like Emile,” Remy said. “He’s a beast unto his own. No mere mortal would be able to get me in this seat.”

Kim laughed, and Remy smirked. “Well, we do crazy things for the people we love. And obviously, it doesn’t have to be romantic love, either.”

Remy agreed quietly. “I’m...I’m coming to terms with that one, at least. That you don’t have to love someone romantically to do kind things for or with them.”

“Did your family not do those things with you?” Kim asked. “Because that outlook is typically not something one has to learn.”

Remy laughed, a harsh and bitter sound. “That’s a good one, my family doing kind things for me. Toby might have, but Mom and Dad? Didn’t remember that I existed half the time.”

Kim frowned. “They neglected you?”

“I mean, I don’t know.” Remy shrugged. “They made sure that at the end of the day I had food, and water, and a place to sleep.”

“But did they hug you? Did they give you reassurance when you were hurt? Did they make sure your emotional needs were met?” Kim asked.

“What...what are emotional needs?” Remy asked. “I don’t...because we weren’t very touchy-feely in my house, but...”

“Emotional needs are things such as feeling safe, feeling loved, feeling special in someone’s eyes,” Kim said. “Physical touch can be one way to express love, but you don’t need to hug someone all the time in order for them to help you meet your emotional needs.”

“Uh...” Remy wracked his brain for something to say that wouldn’t sound bad. “I mean...my brother...Toby would help me with those.”

“But not your parents?” Kim asked.

Remy inwardly cursed himself. “Does it really matter who’s meeting those needs, so long as they’re met?”

“Yes,” Kim said. “Your brother should not have had the responsibility of taking care of you.”

“Well, he didn’t—”

“—Emotionally, Remy. Taking care of someone physically or emotionally should not fall on a siblings shoulders, especially when that sibling is a child themselves. That was your parents’ responsibility. One which, evidently, they neglected.”

Remy swallowed. “It wasn’t that bad...other people have had it way worse than me...”

“Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that what you experienced wasn’t bad,” Kim gently said.

Remy looked around, and saw their time was almost up. “Uh, quick question before I go...”

“Yes?” Kim asked.

“How do I...explain this to Emile? Like, he asks me about our sessions, and I share whatever I’m comfortable with, but if I...if I don’t want to unload all this trauma on him so I don’t hurt him, but I do want to share the concept...how do I do that?” Remy asked.

“Introduce the subject, either off-hand or outright, depending on what you think Emile would prefer,” Kim said. “Once you give him the basics, allow him to ask his questions. You obviously don't have to answer any of them, but he won’t ask a question that he isn’t comfortable hearing the answer with. He’ll make sure you’re not overstepping his boundaries by stopping you if he gets uncomfortable, and not asking questions that may upset him in the first place.”

“That’s it?” Remy asked dubiously.

“That’s it,” Kim said.

Remy leaned back in his seat. “...Why does that feel so obvious in retrospect?”

“Hindsight is often twenty-twenty vision,” Kim said with a regretful smile.

Remy sighed. “I should have known all this stuff already,” he groaned.

“I won’t say that you shouldn’t have,” Kim said. “But I will say that you didn’t. No one was there to teach you. And while the best time to plant a tree may have been twenty years ago, the second best time is today.”

“What does that even mean?” Remy asked.

“You may have been ‘supposed’ to have learned this already, but you didn’t. So the next best thing to learning it back then is learning it now,” Kim explained.

“Oh. That makes sense, I guess,” Remy said with a shrug.

Kim smiled at him. “One thing at a time, Remy, remember? That’s what we’re working on. Find one thing to focus on and work through that. Don’t let all your worries overwhelm you.”

Remy nodded, they both stood, and Remy walked out to find Emile waiting, as per usual. “Hey, how’d it go?” he asked.

“Pretty well, I think,” Remy said. “I’m realizing some stuff about my family.”

Emile stiffened, but Remy pretended not to notice. “Oh?” Emile asked.

“Yeah,” Remy said as they moved through the parking lot. “Apparently my parents could be considered emotionally neglectful. Which I didn’t even realize was a thing.”

Emile blinked. Remy looked him over. “You okay?” he asked.

“There are days where I would absolutely kill your family in a heartbeat,” Emile replied.

“Don’t kill Toby, at least, he did a lot of the stuff my parents didn’t. And he didn’t have to, he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Remy said.

“It was the right thing to do, but it shouldn’t have been his responsibility,” Emile said. “Nor should it have been yours.”

Remy sighed. “Yeah. I know. But at least I had someone looking out for me, you know?”

“Too small a consolation, in my opinion,” Emile said, practically snarling. “What kind of parents would do that?”

Remy felt nausea build in his stomach. “Hey, listen, they weren’t all bad, Emile.”

“Right,” Emile said, voice dripping sarcasm. “Because people responsible for child neglect must have some redeeming qualities, like kicking puppies or tax evasion!”

“Emile!” Remy exclaimed. “That’s crossing a line!”

Emile was shaking. He ran his hands through his hair. “I can’t...I can’t believe that they would do that to you, Rem. I just can’t. It’s cruel and unusual, and it’s not fair at all to you. You deserve to have parents who love you. Who respect you. Who treat you like a human being.”

“They did treat me like a human being,” Remy said.

Emile silently got in the car.

Remy turned red and got in the passenger seat. “Emile. I haven’t judged you or any of your quirks in a while. Because that crosses a line for you. Well, you talking about my family, and my parents like that crosses a line for me. They weren’t the best, and yeah, I’ve cut contact with them for the time being while I can get my bearings back, but you bashing them isn't going to endear me to you any!”

Emile gripped the steering wheel tight as he started to drive. “Remy...I’m trying real hard to bite my tongue right now. I want to respect your wishes. But what you're saying is making me angry. You shouldn’t have to defend your parents. Because they shouldn’t have to be brought into question over this in the first place. But they are. Just...let me be mad.”

Remy sat there in stunned silence. “I’ll let you be mad, but I disagree with you.”

“I’ll allow that,” Emile said. “So long as you allow me to blow off steam once we get home.”

“Of course,” Remy said.

Emile nodded, and they drove the rest of the way back to their apartment in silence.

Chapter Text

June 5th, 1985

“Now come on, Emile, the polite thing to do is to apologize,” his mom coaxed.

Emile stared up at her with a stubborn frown. “He shoved me first!” he said, accusing the boy standing in front of him, his own mother behind him.

“But shoving back is not the answer,” his mother reminded. “Apologize, please.”

Emile sighed but turned to the boy. “Sorry,” he sullenly muttered.

The boy didn’t say anything until his mother nudged him and he said the same. They both walked back to the playground they had been on and looked at each other. “Can we agree that apologizing is dumb and just play tag or something?” the boy asked.

Emile nodded. “Works for me. Saying sorry is only for when you really mean it, anyway.”

 

January 7th, 2001

Emile couldn’t deny that things were awkward after Remy’s latest therapy session. He wasn’t proud of it, but he had been trying to avoid Remy the past couple of days so that they didn’t wind up in an argument, or worse, a screaming match.

Of course, things couldn’t stay like this forever, with Emile avoiding Remy and Remy just in general being very quiet and walking on eggshells. It was like he was expecting to be hurt, and it made Emile’s blood boil. So on a day where both of them were exhausted from long shifts, and Emile was stressing over his homework, and Remy was worrying about how much food they had in the refrigerator, Emile slammed a door, Remy jumped a foot and immediately snapped back a, “Hey!” and the dialogue began. “You can’t just slam anything you want when you’re angry, Emile! You know I don’t like loud noises!”

“Yeah, and you’ve never told me why, which leads me to a few unsavory ideas, which is what’s making me angry in the first place!” Emile snapped.

Remy growled. “We’re low on food and we barely have enough money for rent, and you’re angry about something that happened years ago?!”

Emile stilled. “So it did happen?”

“Yeah! My mother had a bad habit of getting angry and slamming doors and yelling! Sometimes at other people, mostly just in general! She’d mock whatever anyone said that set her off, and she’d stomp around like she was out for blood!” Remy’s breath heaved in his chest. “She demanded respect, and perfection, and when she didn’t get it, she’d get angry! That’s normal!”

“That’s not normal, that’s horrifying!” Emile exclaimed. “You’re acting like a living breathing doormat when it comes to your parents! You deserve respect!”

“No I don’t!” Remy said, tears streaming down his face. He couldn’t even hold his scowl in place. “What kind of brat who can’t even be thankful for what his parents did to him deserves respect?!”

It was then that Emile realized he had miscalculated. Remy would talk big and pretend that nothing bothered him, but underneath that, he was still a person who can and did get hurt. And this was clearly a touchy subject. “Everyone deserves respect, Rem. Everyone deserves to be loved unconditionally. And not just from one or two people, either. Everyone deserves respect from everyone else. While they may not be loved by everyone, most people are loved by several other people, in one way or another.” His voice was measured, trying to avoid shouting, and he just hoped that Remy wouldn’t interpret that as anger at him. Emile tilted his head to the side. “Mind explaining why you don’t agree?”

“I...I don’t...” Remy stammered. “I...my parents...my parents don’t have to respect me. I have to respect them. That’s how that works. Respect doesn’t have to be a two-way street.”

“Yes it does,” Emile said firmly. “Remy, everyone, no matter how big or small, gay or straight, young or old deserves respect. Because they’re people. Living, breathing people with all their own experiences, their own emotions, their own opinions. They’re sentient beings. They deserve respect.”

“But...but then...then...why couldn’t...why couldn’t my parents...respect me? If you’re right, then that means my parents...my parents were wrong,” he whispered the last word, glancing around fearfully, and it broke Emile’s heart, dimming the fire that had been burning there not even minutes before. He needed to take the gentle approach, while still being straightforward.

“Yes, it does. Because they were,” Emile said firmly. “Listen, Rem. I’m sorry, but your parents weren’t good people. They treated you badly. They hurt you. If they don’t treat you with respect, then they aren’t respectable in my eyes. Full stop. Everyone deserves respect. Everyone deserves to be loved, and be taught to love, not to fear. Because that’s what they did to you, Rem. They taught you fear instead of love, and you’re paying the price for it.”

Remy’s eyes filled with more tears, as he said in a lost, broken voice, “They said they loved me...”

“Maybe they do. But they certainly don’t show it in acceptable ways,” Emile said, taking the few steps needed to cross the kitchen and wrapping his arms around Remy.

Remy hugged Emile back, sobbing into his shoulder, and Emile just hoped that whenever Remy calmed down, he would take what Emile said to heart, so they wouldn’t have to repeat this conversation over again. He hated when they went through the low in the cycle, where Remy was convinced his parents weren’t that bad, that he was overreacting and being a brat, that this, that, and the other thing were what Emile was wrong about when really, those were all signs that a family genuinely cared for you.

He wanted to destroy Remy’s parents, and maybe his grandparents as well, because clearly, they had to get it from somewhere. His siblings and aunts and uncles and cousins got a pass...for now, at least. Emile wouldn’t destroy Toby, ever, because Remy cared about him too much, and he didn’t know how the rest of his family reacted to Remy’s parents’ outrageous demands. But his parents could rot. And Emile knew that wasn’t productive, and Remy probably wouldn’t want to hear it at this point, so he kept that sentiment to himself.

After some time of them just hugging, Remy broke the hug apart, sniffling and looking away, crossing his arms. “Emile...I think my parents neglected me. Like, the actual legal definition.”

Emile felt the need to fight dim down into nothing, leaving only charred remains of the fire behind. “I know,” Emile said softly.

“You don’t,” Remy said, sniffling. “You have parents who genuinely love you and would never do anything to hurt you, even accidentally. You don’t know the half of what I’ve been through these nineteen miserable years.”

Emile winced. “No, I don’t. I said I know in reference to the fact that what they did was neglect. And emotional abuse.”

Remy sighed. He uncrossed his arms, letting them lay limp as his sides. “I’m tired, Emile. I’m so tired.”

“It’s okay to be tired,” Emile said, “So long as you don’t give up the fight entirely. Take a step back, regroup, and tackle this problem a different way.”

Remy laughed, voice still thick with tears. “Every day, you sound more and more like a shrink.”

Emile laughed with him. It felt like the sun was finally beginning to peek through the clouds. “Yeah, well. I suppose that’s a good thing, considering that I want to be a therapist, right?”

Remy rolled his eyes. “You may see it as a good thing, but I’m not so sure.”

“That’s okay,” Emile said, patting Remy’s arm. “So long as I know it’s a good thing, then you can think what you want. It’s my life, so my opinion is the one that matters most.”

Remy blinked. “See, I understand that in concept, but in practice...that’s never been the case. How does that work?”

Emile shrugged. “I’m not sure, it just...does? Like, I want to do something so I weigh the pros and cons, and if I think it’s a good idea, then I do it.”

“And you just...do it?” Remy asked. “There’s no...”

“No what?”

“No one saying it’s a bad idea, or forbidding you from doing it, or whatever?” Remy asked, waving his hands around.

“No. I mean, yeah, sometimes my friends call me a ‘grade-A dumbass’ but like...that’s just friends joking around together. It’s all in good fun, we’ve established it’s not said as an insult, and if I still want to do the thing, they won’t stop me,” Emile explained.

Remy frowned and shook his head. “That sounds...weird. Unnatural.”

“It’s called independence,” Emile said. “And not everyone gets the same amount of it. You’ve never had any and now, all of a sudden, you have all of it. No one can tell you what to do. If you wanted to you could up and quit your job. You could travel the country with nothing to your name but the van you’re using and an old worn-out guitar. And that’s probably...really overwhelming.”

“Yeah,” Remy admitted, running a hand down his face. “I never know if what I’m doing is the ‘right’ thing. Not in the sense of morals, but more in the sense of if I’m going in the direction I’m supposed to be going.”

Emile winced. That sounded particularly difficult, and he knew that a lot of adults struggled with that. “You don’t have to know that, not right away,” Emile said. “You might never know, and that’s okay. So long as you’re happy where you’re at, you have to be doing something right.”

Remy let out a breath and nodded. “I’m...I’m sorry for yelling earlier.”

“So am I,” Emile said. “And I’m sorry for slamming the door.”

Remy waved him off. “All things considered, it’s not the worst thing you could have done. And it got us talking again.”

“Still, I caused a flare-up in your trauma. That’s...really not cool,” Emile said.

Remy shrugged. “I won’t hold it against you,” he said.

“You’re being too kind,” Emile said.

“Nah,” Remy said. “If anyone else were to do that, I wouldn’t have forgiven them so easily. But this is you we’re talking about. You never hurt me on purpose, rarely do it on accident, and always apologize if you do.”

Emile blinked. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. Obviously, he didn’t want to hurt Remy, because he didn’t want to hurt anyone. But at the same time, Remy saw that as a big deal. And now Emile knew why, and it made his heart break more. “Of course,” Emile said. “That’s the right thing to do.”

Remy’s smile was a bit bitter. “You see, you say that, but not everyone agrees. That’s why you’re so important, Emile. Because you see those things that might hurt me as things that might hurt me. And rather than taking your chances, you avoid them. You’re...you’re important. To me.”

Wow. “You’re...putting a lot of faith in me,” Emile said.

Remy shrugged. “I like to think that you would have the same faith in me. If not now, then one day. When I know what I’m doing when it comes to making friends, and being a normal human being.”

“Rem, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years,” Emile said, giving his friend a small grin. “It’s that there’s no such thing as a ‘normal human being.’ No need to strive for something that doesn’t exist.”

“What should I strive for instead, then?” Remy asked.

Emile shrugged, looking around. “Why not being happy where you are? Being happy with who you are? Just...loving the moment. That’s always been my goal in the past, and I think it worked out well for me.”

“You think so?” Remy asked.

“Yeah, I do. I mean, I’m happy to be here with you, and studying all the while to follow my dreams. It’s nice,” Emile said. “And while it’s not the perfect situation, and we definitely need to figure out where to cut back in expenses so we can afford more food, and maybe a chair or two, it’s nice. I’m not sure if there is such a thing as a ‘perfect situation’ in all honesty. So I just relax, remind myself of why I’m happy, and just like that, my mood improves, and I’m content.”

“Wow. You...clearly do not have that many mental health issues,” Remy laughed.

Emile shook his head. “You worry me, Rem. I’ve had my bad days, but it’s true that I haven’t struggled with depression, or PTSD, or anxiety to the degree you have. It’s still a therapeutic technique that helps, though. I’d recommend trying it.”

“Right, because that will solve all my problems,” Remy sighed.

“It’s not meant to solve all your problems.”

“I know it’s not, I’m just not looking forward to trying it,” Remy said. “But for you, I’ll give it a shot.”

Chapter Text

October 5th, 1998

Remy didn’t know why he was so obsessed with this. He had seen girls in dresses before all the time. He didn’t know why he was noticing it a lot more today, but all the girls in high school wearing skirts and dresses...he was having a hard time not staring.

A couple kids called him out for staring and laughed, and he quickly moved away, trying to become invisible. If his parents found out about this, he was as good as dead. Ironic, considering he thought they wanted him to like girls. Life wasn’t fair, he decided. If he had been born a girl, maybe he would have gotten a little more of a chance. His mother always doted on Vanessa, so maybe he could have gotten her attention that way.

Life wasn’t fair. But maybe, one day, if he was lucky, he would get to find someone in his life who was fair.

 

January 30th, 2001

Remy was wandering down the thrift store aisles with Emile, looking at everything he could, within reason and within Emile’s patience levels. He pointed to a chair sitting on top of a table which looked a little worn but still functional. “No,” Emile said. “No upholstery. You never know what creepy-crawlies might have made their home in there.”

“It might be hard to find something with no upholstery,” Remy pointed out.

Emile sighed. “Fine. Limited upholstery. In the sense that rodents wouldn’t be able to fit in them.”

“Cool,” Remy gave Emile a thumbs-up. Something caught his eye behind a bookshelf and he darted between it and whooped. “Emile, get over here!”

“What?” Emile asked, walking over. “And could you please not yell? It’s not that big of a deal, I’m sure.”

“Oh really?” Remy asked. “A four-chair and card table set for only twenty bucks isn’t a big deal?”

“Get out,” Emile said, checking the price tag. “And the chairs are included?”

“They’re tied to the table, Emile, and none of them have seperate price tags. They’ve gotta be together. Plus, it looks almost new, so no chance for mice or bugs!” Remy cheered. “We don’t have to sit on the floor any more!”

Emile and Remy high-fived, and immediately got to work lifting the table and carrying it to the check-out. They might not have been able to haul it around with them if they looked for any more furniture, but they definitely weren’t losing this to some other desperate pair of college-aged kids trying to furnish their apartment.

They got a couple weird looks carrying the table and chairs out to Emile’s car, but they managed to stuff the foldable chairs in the trunk, and stuck the table in the back of the car. “Should we look for anything else?” Remy asked Emile, once they had closed and locked the car.

“I mean we may as well,” Emile said with a shrug. “Even if we don’t find anything. It would be nice to get a TV stand, although I don’t think we could fit that in my car along with the table and chairs.”

“True,” Remy said. “But we might be able to find clothes or books we might like.”

“Also true,” Emile said.

The two of them walked back inside, this time looking more at the clothes than the furniture. Remy laughed every time Emile showed interest in a sweater or a sweater vest, not really poking fun but more just saying how predictable that was. Something was bugging him, though.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, exactly, but standing in the men’s section and looking at typical T-shirts and jeans and button-ups felt...wrong, somehow. Something in his mind was begging him to check out the women’s section, to look at the dresses or at least the skirts, to look at pastel or bright colors, instead of the same-old same-old neutral tones that the men’s section always had. He looked over there to find a few women looking through the section, and he inwardly sighed. He wouldn’t be able to go over there to look at dresses, not if other people were already over there.

But wait, he wasn’t supposed to want those things anyway, right? He was a man. He definitely wasn’t a woman, so he had to be a guy. And guys didn’t wear dresses or skirts unless they were in drag for some reason, and Remy wasn’t the type to dress in drag.

“Remy?” Emile asked, placing a hand on Remy’s shoulder.

Remy snapped back into the present and looked at Emile. “What was that? What did you say?” he asked.

“You okay? You seemed to zone out there,” Emile said.

“I’m fine,” Remy said, even though he felt anything but. He felt like his voice was too deep, and he hated the fact that his clothes weren’t form-fitting, and his form in general felt wrong too. “Just got caught in my own head.”

Emile looked doubtful, but Remy just shrugged. “Look, even if there’s something up, I don’t know how to explain it,” he said.

“Okay,” Emile said, seeming slightly more appeased by this answer. “Do you see anything you like?”

Remy looked around. He shifted through the button-ups, because he needed some formal wear occasionally, and found a light, pastel blue shirt that was maybe a little tighter than his normal shirts, but nowhere near too small for him. “I like this,” he said, daring Emile to question him.

“Not what I would have seen you going for, but okay,” Emile said. “I know you have dress pants, or at least dark pants that can pass for dress pants, so I suggest if you have no interest in that, that we skip that area of clothing.”

Remy nodded, and they went from the shirts to the casual pants. Remy rolled his eyes at the argyle sweater vests Emile had picked out. He certainly looked like a basic man with basic fashion tastes who wanted to be a therapist.

They got to the jeans, and Remy immediately knew what he had to get. He couldn’t stand all his jeans being...not baggy, but not tight enough. He did well enough with his pairs of skinny jeans when he went out to flirt with guys, but he really wanted something tighter. Something that showed off his butt. He didn’t know why, but he really wanted something along the lines of what Emile’s feminine friends sometimes wore when they went to a party. Tight jeans that showed off everything they had to offer.

As Emile looked through the jeans for something that might be suitable for casual workdays, something that could get dirty, Remy was fishing through the jeans looking for something that would fit his hips but still show off what he wanted to flaunt.

He found a pair of black skinny jeans, which he knew were just this side of uncomfortable and ill-fitting. They had a few thin spots, but Remy could work with a distressed look. He checked the price tag. Two bucks. Complete score.

Emile looked over at what he pulled off the rack and he arched his eyebrows. “Are those gonna be too tight?”

“Nope, they look perfect,” Remy said. “I notice some of your friends wear jeans like these to party, maybe they’ll work for me, too.”

“Whatever you say, girl,” Emile joked.

Remy didn’t know why, but something in his chest settled at that and he visibly relaxed. It just felt...right.

Emile picked up on it, too. “What? What did I say?”

“I...don’t know,” Remy said, frowning. “I just...guess that you not judging is good. Helps me feel more at ease.”

“Right...” Emile said, and Remy knew he wasn’t buying it. “You know, if you ever want me to call you something besides Remy, you can tell me?”

“Nah, Remy’s fine. So’s Rem, for that matter,” Remy brushed off. “I’m not a transgender woman shoved deep into the closet. I just...don’t always like having to be...like, super masculine to be seen as a man. Why can’t guys wear skinny jeans or pastel colors?”

“Understandable,” Emile said. “I never picked you out for that type, but then again, you never struck me as a super manly jock. Just like...your average dude on a college campus.”

“Yeah,” Remy said, although the word “dude” was leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Like something was inherently wrong about it. He’d felt this way before, vaguely, but had never put much focus on it until now. He knew it would probably disappear tomorrow, but today, he was going to have issues.

“Hey, Rem,” Emile said. “You have any idea what jeans would be good for work and can still, you know...fit me?”

“We can see if there’s any good work pants here,” Remy allowed. “Let me see.”

Having a task to complete definitely made him feel better. He helped Emile pick out a pair of jeans and they went to the front of the store to buy the clothes they had found. Then, sticking them in the back of the car, Remy and Emile got ready to go home. “I’m so excited to have chairs,” Remy laughed. “I never thought I’d see chairs as exciting.”

“I know, and a table!” Emile exclaimed. “An actual table! That we can sit at with those chairs! It’s great!”

“Is this what adulthood is like?” Remy asked. “Just a series of getting excited over little things like being able to afford chairs and a table?”

“I’m not sure,” Emile said with a laugh. “But I do know that if it is, we’re gonna be super excited when we can upgrade from an apartment to a house.”

“That’s a thing we can do?!” Remy asked.

“Either together or with significant others, yeah,” Emile said. “I wouldn’t be able to get a townhouse on my own, and I doubt you could either, but one day, it might be cheaper to have a mortgage than to rent, and you know what? That could be pretty exciting. Having a whole house! Like, imagine all that space!”

“Space to raise kids,” Remy mused.

“I’m not sure about kids,” Emile laughed. “Although I have considered donating my sperm before.”

“Why?” Remy asked with a laugh.

Emile shrugged. “I just figured that if people want to have kids, but either don’t have someone in their life willing to be a sperm donor, or their partners just have...other issues...then I could help them out, you know?”

“You don’t even get paid for it, though!” Remy exclaimed.

Emile shrugged. “So? I’d get to help people. That’s sort of what I do. And...think about it. It’s super easy to do.”

Remy grew quiet. Emile was serious about this, which confused him. Still, he wanted to show his support somehow. “You know what? If you want to do it, you should do it,” Remy said. “You’d be a catch for the ladies at the bank, I’m sure of that. Just...I don’t know. What happens if those kids get in trouble somehow? Would they call upon you to help them, since you’re biologically family?”

“I doubt it,” Emile said. “Even if I was a public donor, I never even have to know if someone used it or not. And I wouldn’t demand like...visitation rights or anything. These women could have kids, and raise them either on their own or with their partners, provided they have partners, you know? And I never have to be a part of their lives, outside being the person who donated the sperm to help them conceive.”

“Just like that?” Remy asked.

“Just like that,” Emile agreed. “Go in, donate, leave, and I never have to worry about it again. And I get the opportunity to help people, without much, if any, effort.”

“Huh,” Remy said. He supposed that was in character for Emile. “You should do it sometime, if you want to.”

“I’d have to consider it more,” Emile said. “But yeah...if I decide I want to do it, I will.”

They lapsed into silence until they got back to their place, and then they worked on getting the table and chairs inside their apartment. They set it up and high-fived, before grabbing their new clothes from the car.

Remy immediately scurried into his room, stripping himself of the jeans that felt wrong and the shirt that seemed too dark, too cool-toned to have any sort of life in it. He pulled on the new jeans and grabbed a loose, flowy shirt that was almost too big for him, and he walked out of his room, heading to the bathroom to see his reflection.

Inspecting himself, he did look...somewhat feminine. Not overly so, but the jeans did show off his butt more, and the shirt mostly hid the fact that his chest was flat. He gave himself a small, somewhat uncertain smile. If this was the closest he could ever get to feminine, he would take it. It made the feelings bearable, for the most part, and made him feel confident.

He walked out of the bathroom, and Emile gave him a once-over from their new table. Remy was worried he might say something about the outfit, something that would make Remy need to tear it off immediately, but Emile just smiled. “Looking good, girl.”

Remy laughed, and the tension left his shoulders. “Thanks, I know!” he said, flashing a genuine grin.

Chapter Text

January 23rd, 2001

“Ew, Valentine’s Day is coming up,” Remy said, checking their calendar and wrinkling his nose.

“What’s wrong with Valentine’s?” Emile asked.

“It’s an excuse for people to raise the price of roses and chocolates and if you so much as think that it’s not a big deal, you get two dozen people in your face trying to tell you otherwise,” Remy said. “Commercialism at its finest.”

Emile laughed. “I like Valentine’s. It’s a day where you can show who you love without any worry about being shamed or picked on for it, because you’re supposed to be a sap on Valentine’s day.”

“Of course you’d see it that way, you’re bi,” Remy scoffed. “You don’t have to hide your romantic intents from the world if you want to feel safe.”

Emile was stunned, and when the silence prolonged, Remy went back to whatever he had been doing before. But Emile was still reeling. Did Remy not...feel safe pursuing love most of the time?

If that was the case, why did he tolerate Emile being close with him?

 

February 14th, 2001

Emile saw Remy wearing that outfit again, the one that he had worn when they had gotten back from the thrift shop. He didn’t know what that outfit signified to Remy, but it was certainly important. Emile smiled at Remy as they both worked around each other for breakfast. “Morning, girl,” he said casually.

Remy nodded, almost as if he didn’t realize Emile had used “girl” for him...her? No, Remy said he wasn’t a trans woman, so it must have been him. Emile continued to butter his toast until Remy said, “You know, you can’t just call me girl in front of your friends or at my work.”

“Well, if you start doing it to me, too, everyone will assume it’s an inside joke or something. And it seems to make you comfortable, and I want you to be comfortable,” Emile said.

Remy turned to him, and Emile winced at the look on Remy’s face. “Still, I’d rather not risk it just yet, you know? Just using ‘Remy’ or ‘Rem’ is fine.”

The fear in Remy’s eyes hurt Emile. “Okay,” he said. “Should I avoid pronouns?”

“Nah. I’m still a guy, Emile. I just feel more feminine today,” Remy said, pouring himself coffee. “He and him are fine. Maybe avoid calling me ‘dude,’ because that just feels weird, but I’m not picky about pronouns.”

“Have you ever considered...you might be trans?” Emile asked.

“I have,” Remy said. “And there are days where I wish I had been born a girl. But it more has to do with how my mother treated Vanessa, I think. It’s not even a permanent thing. I don’t always wish that, I don’t even wish for it often. Today I just...I don’t know. I feel more like indulging my feminine side.”

“Okay,” Emile said. He didn’t think much more of it. He had heard some individuals talk about people who didn’t feel like a guy or a girl, but Remy had said he felt like a feminine guy, so he didn’t identify with...whatever they called that label. He hadn’t come across it often. “Got any plans for Valentine’s today?”

“Not really,” Remy said. “We could go to the club, but that hasn’t been as much fun lately. I don’t have anyone who’d be willing to be my date, either, so I’m probably just gonna be stuck here for the night.”

“Who says that you’ll be stuck here for the night?” Emile asked. “If you don’t have plans we could go out together as friends.”

“On Valentine’s Day?! Are you crazy?!” Remy asked.

“I mean, people have called me crazy before, but I don’t understand the correlation here,” Emile replied simply.

“People will think we’re a couple, Emile!” Remy exclaimed.

“And that’s...a bad thing?” Emile asked.

“It’s not bad, but it’s not...it’s not good, either,” Remy said, looking away and blushing deeply.

“Why are you so embarrassed?” Emile asked. “You don’t...see me being around as a bad thing, do you? It’s not that you don’t want to associate with me?”

“It’s not that at all!” Remy exclaimed. He crossed his arms. “I love getting to hang around with you! It’s just...on Valentine’s, people will definitely think we’re an item.”

“But you’re not trying to get any guys to date you as of late, so why is that a bad thing?” Emile pressed.

Remy threw his hands up in the air as he exclaimed, “Because maybe I want that to be the case and it hurts when I remember it isn’t!”

The apartment fell silent. Emile stood there, thoroughly shocked. How was he supposed to respond to that? He stood, rooted in his spot, unable to move. Remy was staring at him expectantly, before his eyes dropped to the floor. “You don’t feel the same,” Remy said, voice hollow.

“Rem, I—”

“No, it’s okay, Emile,” Remy said, hugging himself. “I knew it was a long shot anyway. After all, you’re always so insistent that we’re friends. Nothing more. It’s fine that you don’t feel the same way.”

“I...just because I don’t have feelings for you like that, Rem, doesn’t mean I don’t care about you,” Emile said. “You’re my best friend. And I know that might not be what you want, but it’s no small feat, either. I wouldn’t suggest dinner out on Valentine’s with just any friend.”

Remy took a shaky breath and Emile could feel his heart starting to break. He hoped that Remy wasn’t regretting being friends with Emile. “I’m so stupid,” Remy muttered, voice choked up. “I told myself, no catching feelings. And what do I do? I get feelings and make a fool of myself, on Valentine’s Day no less.”

“Hey, Remy, no,” Emile said. “You’re not stupid, and you didn’t make a fool out of yourself, okay? It’s all right. I just...I don’t...I know this probably doesn’t help right now, but this doesn’t change anything. You’re still my best friend.”

“You’re right, that doesn’t help,” Remy spat, but the venom didn’t seem directed at Emile. “I need...I need some time. Do you...don’t you have a shift today?”

“Yeah,” Emile said. “Yeah, I do. I’ll be out of your hair soon enough.”

Remy sniffled, and Emile reached out a hand, but Remy flinched away. He grabbed his coffee, grabbed a granola bar, and retreated to his room. Emile watched him go, feeling a heavy weight settle in his chest. There was nothing he could do to help Remy right now. When he got back from work, maybe they could talk as they watched TV. But Emile had to eat and run.

So that’s what he did. He ate his toast quickly, put the plate in the sink, changed into his uniform, and left the apartment. After the door closed, faint screaming could be heard, and tears welled up in Emile’s eyes. He didn’t mean to hurt Remy, not ever, but especially not like this. He was worried. He really didn’t want Remy to do anything drastic while Emile was gone, but there wasn’t anything he could do.

Still, today was a Wednesday, and with any luck, Remy would be able to talk about this in therapy. Emile hoped that Remy would hold out that long as he got in his car and drove to work. He had classes afterwards, and the next time he’d be home was when it was time to give Remy a ride to his therapy appointment. He had been hoping that they might be able to do dinner afterwards, but clearly, that wasn’t going to be good for either of them.

Emile spent the whole day thinking about Remy with worry. Remy had a shift at work for the lunch rush, but other than that he wasn’t doing anything. That left him with a lot of time to think, a lot of time to do something drastic if he decided it was time for that. Emile nearly snapped his pencil in two in class when he realized that Remy could very well be hurting himself as he sat here, taking notes.

Swallowing thickly, the second class was over he sprinted out of there, getting into his car and driving home. He sprinted up the apartment steps, tears clouding his eyes. He flung the door to the apartment open wide, and called, “Remy?!”

He got no immediate response, and his heart leapt into his throat. He closed the door, setting down his stuff at their table. He turned to find Remy sitting on the floor in front of the TV, eyes glassy. “Remy?” Emile asked, walking over and crouching down in front of him. “Remy, are you okay?”

Remy finally seemed to notice his presence. “Emile?” he asked. “Class over already?”

“Yeah, we’ve gotta get to therapy soon,” he said. “You okay?”

Remy looked away from Emile and sighed. “I’ve been thinking about what you said this morning,” he said. “And...and I’m glad that even if we can’t be together, we can still be friends. Because...because I don’t want to lose you.”

Emile sagged in relief. “Good,” he said. “I was worried all day that you would do something drastic.”

Remy snorted. “Nah. I’m not really the self-harm type. Besides...” Remy trailed off. “I’m not sure if you want to hear that, actually.”

“Besides what? It’s okay,” Emile said, standing and offering Remy a hand.

Remy took it and stood. “I knew that if I hurt myself you wouldn’t approve,” he said. “And you’d blame yourself. And I don’t want that.”

Emile smiled softly. “You think of me with that?”

“Is that weird?” Remy asked.

“If it keeps you from hurting yourself, I’m all for it,” Emile said. “I don’t think it’s weird at all. Plenty of people have lists of reasons not to harm themselves or others.”

“Ah. So I’m not unique in this scenario,” Remy said with a chuckle.

“Not a bad thing,” Emile pointed out. “It means you can relate to other people and they might be able to help you add to that list.”

“Mm,” Remy hummed.

“Remy...you’re not drunk, are you? Or high?” Emile asked.

“No,” Remy said. “I did have...a very long nap this morning, and then worked a three-hour shift, and then came home and sat down, and slept more, I guess. So I’m just...very very groggy.”

“Do you still think you’re up for therapy?” Emile asked.

“I don’t know, but I know I need to talk about this morning with someone,” Remy said. “So I guess I’m going.”

Emile paused. He didn’t want to apologize to Remy, because he wasn’t sorry about being honest about how he felt in their relationship. But at the same time, his heart ached to see Remy like this. “Hey, Rem?” Emile asked.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t beat yourself up over this, all right?” Emile pleaded. “I’m glad you told me. That’s better than suffering in silence while I take you on pseudo-dates that wind up hurting you more. And if you want, we can stop going out for dinner together as much, if you think that would help.”

Remy shrugged. “I can’t guarantee I won’t beat myself up,” he said. “But I don’t want us to stop the dinners. Maybe just...once a month or so instead? Make it a special treat, maybe invite some of your other friends. You know, make it feel less like a date.”

“I can work with that,” Emile readily agreed. “You ready to go?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Remy said with a sigh. He grabbed his leather jacket and Emile laughed. “I almost regret getting you that thing, you’re gonna wear it through.”

Remy made a concerned noise. “But I love it, you can’t say you regret getting me something I love!”

“I said ‘almost,’ Rem,” Emile said. “And besides, I’m not the one who’ll have to buy you a new one when you wear through the old one you have now. That duty will fall onto you. Or your significant other at the time, who knows.”

“I don’t really want to think about significant others at the moment, Emile,” Remy sighed.

“Fair enough,” Emile said.

They drove to the office that held the therapy practice, and Emile dropped Remy off before going to the store and buying the cheapest candy they had left, a bunch of Tootsie Pops tied with ribbon. Hopefully Remy wouldn’t take the peace offering too poorly.

When he got back to the therapy practice, it was just as Remy was walking out of the back office. It was clear to Emile that Remy had been crying somewhat. But he smiled when he saw Emile, which Emile would take as a win. “Hey, I got you something that we can share, if you want,” he said, offering the bouquet of lollipops out to Remy.

Remy laughed, genuinely, and took a grape one from the bunch. “Sure, why not, you dork,” he said.

Emile grinned and took that, too, as a win. “I would argue that you’re the bigger dork.”

“You keep telling yourself that, girl,” Remy said with a grin. “But I’ll always know the truth. You’re the best worst dork I know.”

Chapter Text

February 14th, 1999

Remy sighed. Another Valentine’s, another reminder that he was alone and couldn’t ever tell his parents why he never came home with any girlfriends. He hated Valentine’s for years, now, ever since he realized that his parents saw being gay as “bad” and that he wouldn’t be accepted if he brought home a boyfriend.

Toby had called briefly to say hi to his parents, but Remy didn’t get the chance to say anything. This sucked. He felt well and truly alone. Would there ever be someone out there who decided he was worth the trouble? He doubted it.

He didn’t even know why he was bothered. He didn’t want friends, so significant others were definitely out of the question. He just needed to focus on studying. Then maybe he could get out from under his parents’ thumb.

 

February 24th, 2001

Remy couldn’t say he had been surprised by Emile’s reaction on Valentine’s Day. Honestly, he was more surprised that Emile said he still wanted to be best friends than the fact that Emile wasn’t interested. That had come out of left field, to be sure.

Lying on his back in bed, Remy contemplated the merits of getting up. He had no shifts today, which meant if he wanted to he could just sleep the entire day. But no, Emile probably wouldn’t like that, so he got up and out of bed.

He walked into the kitchen and sighed, looking around somewhat despondently. Emile had taken the weekend to spend time with his parents. A two hour drive both ways, Remy doubted he would ever be that dedicated to stay in touch with his family. But if Emile needed a break from him, well, Remy wouldn’t exactly blame Emile for that.

Of course, without Emile there, and no shifts at work, Remy was left with nothing to do, and he was restless. Too restless to even go help at the shelter. He’d be pacing around or getting caught in his own head and he definitely didn’t want to make the people at the shelter have a harder time than necessary.

He passed most of the morning just by pacing the apartment. By the early afternoon, he grabbed his coat and decided to walk outside, if only so that he didn’t wear a hole in the floor.

Time passed a little quicker as he explored the town. There weren’t a lot of places to go, but he was focusing more on the getting there, anyway. And besides, if he was going to live here a while, he may as well learn where everything was and how long it took to get there on foot, because affording a car wasn’t an option just yet.

He ignored when tears welled up in his eyes from the remaining grief he was getting from this whole situation. He ignored the utter ache in his chest when he thought about Emile’s smile. He ignored the braided string of anger, jealousy, and devastation when he thought about Emile’s affections going to someone else. Emile didn’t want him. He had to accept that and move on. And the sooner he got over it, the sooner he could have a different relationship. One with a guy who genuinely loved him, and wasn’t just trying to spare his feelings.

After a while, the sun had started to set and Remy’s stomach was snarling. He walked to the nearest fast food place, grabbed something quick to eat, and moved on. He found himself gravitating towards the buildings just off the college campus. He knew they were having parties virtually every night. Maybe he could find someone to take his mind off Emile.

Maybe he could drown his sorrows in alcohol. After all, that was what would happen if he drank, and he wasn’t known for his self-control.

He laughed. He really was messed up. He didn’t want to start abusing alcohol, especially when he wasn’t even twenty yet.

As he walked past most of the houses, he saw someone dash out of one of the doors. “Yo, Remy!”

Remy turned to see a guy who he didn’t recognize jogging up to him. “You are Remy, right? Emile’s friend?”

“The friend thing is debatable right now, but yeah, I know the guy,” Remy said.

“Thought so!” the guy said triumphantly. “The two of us share a psych class. I needed the credits in social sciences, and he seems to be really into that kind of stuff, and we kinda hit it off. He talks about you a lot, man.”

“Does he?” Remy asked, feeling like his voice was hollow but unable to do anything about it.

“Yeah,” the guy said. “He talks about you all the time, like he’s super proud of you. And according to him, you seem like a pretty cool guy. What has you wandering the streets tonight?”

“Emile and I share an apartment, and he’s visiting his folks today and tomorrow. I don’t like the silence in our apartment,” Remy said.

“You two...a thing?” the guy asked in a low whisper. “I don’t wanna out you, but I know he’s bi, and between the two of us, I’m questioning.”

Remy laughed. “No. I wish,” he said. “He’s cute, and sweet, and kind. But he’s not interested in me.”

“That sucks, man,” the guy said. “Name’s Theo.”

“Nice to meet you, Theo,” Remy said with a sigh. “Any particular reason you came out here yelling my name as you saw me pass by, or were you genuinely curious about why I’m on a walk?”

“Well, some of my friends and I are having a party in like, twenty minutes,” Theo said, pointing over his shoulder to the house. “If you don’t have anywhere to go, and you don’t want to be alone for the rest of the night, you’re welcome to hang out.”

Remy considered. This was a chance for him to make his own friends, do his own thing. He relied on Emile’s social circles too much, most of the time. His therapist Kim said he should get out more, find his own people. This could be his chance. “You know what? Sure, why not.”

Theo grinned and slapped Remy on the back, guiding him inside the house he and his friends shared. Just by looking at it, Remy could tell it was more of a fraternity than just a couple dudes splitting rent. One guy was hooking up speakers, another was working on making punch. Theo guided Remy to the couch.

They talked a little bit, mostly about Theo’s classes and how he was graduating next year. Remy nodded along, occasionally asking a question or two here and there.

People started to trickle in, and Theo went to grab a beer, but the two of them kept talking. Remy liked Theo well enough. He was sweet, but also a little cocky. He had the confidence to pull off anything he wanted, but the morals to keep him from just destroying anyone who came across his path, and Remy respected that.

As Theo drank more, his stories got more outlandish, causing Remy to laugh. The more they talked, the closer together on the couch they were. Other people would come and go from where they were sitting, mostly to use the other half of the couch to make out for a minute or two before finding somewhere else to continue.

Theo had his hand on Remy’s knee and was telling the story about how he first realized he might be bisexual because of some jock on the football team. Remy was laughing as Theo went into a rather in-depth description of the guy. The kind of guy Remy would have drooled over in high school. But as his laughter died down, and Theo was chuckling softly, he noticed they were close enough that Remy could feel the heat radiating from Theo’s body. He looked at Theo’s eyes, sparkling in the dim light from the kitchen. Theo was looking back at him, and both pairs of their laughter trailed off completely.

Remy tilted his head to the side, and Theo leaned in a little more, and their lips came together in a desperate crash. Remy’s lips moved in time with Theo’s, and Theo was laughing again, causing Remy to giggle, and as Theo wound up being more on top of Remy than anything else, Remy gently pushed him off. Theo was briefly confused, until Remy whispered in his ear. “Do you have your own room? Somewhere a little more...private?”

Theo grinned at Remy and nodded, grabbing his hand and guiding him upstairs. His room was at the end of the hall, and as soon as Theo closed the door Remy was kissing him again. He was wild, and desperate, and needed the distraction. “Tell me you have protection,” Remy murmured in between kisses.

“That, and lube, don’t worry,” Theo said, trailing kisses down Remy’s neck. “I’ll make sure you don’t get hurt.”

Remy was pulling at Theo’s shirt, desperate to feel a little more skin, to feel the heat radiating from his body. His build felt wrong, nothing at all like what he imagined Emile to feel like, but this wasn’t Emile. This was a one-night stand that neither of them needed to do anything about after the fact.

Theo pulled down Remy’s pants and Remy felt his heart leap into his throat. “Wait...wait,” he breathed.

A little reluctantly, Theo pulled back. “What’s up?”

“It’s...um...this is my...uh...”

“First time with a guy? Mine too, but I know how this works,” Theo said, moving back in to kiss Remy.

“No...no. Theo. Stop. It’s my first time. Ever,” Remy said.

Theo pulled back. “Really?” he asked.

Remy swallowed and nodded. “I’ve...like...done stuff by myself, but never with...with anyone else.”

“You’re a virgin,” Theo filled in.

“I...yeah,” Remy agreed. “And I’m a little...scared.”

Theo pulled back completely, and he scratched the back of his neck. “Oh. I don’t want you to be scared your first time, man.”

“I mean, isn’t that normal?” Remy asked.

“Nervous? Yes. Scared? No. You shouldn’t be scared about your first time, or any time after that, for that matter,” Theo said. “Pull your pants back up.”

Remy did so, turning crimson. “I’m sorry,” he stammered out. “I thought...I thought I could do this, I’ve seen it done often enough, but I just...”

“Hey, Remy, it’s okay,” Theo said softly. “Let me give you some advice. No matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, whatever? You shouldn’t be scared over having sex with someone. It’s something...super intimate. It’s seen as special in just about every culture out there. So of course, you’re going to be nervous when you do it with someone new, especially if you grew up in a strict household, or you had to find out that you were gay through the Internet. Nervous is normal. But you should never be scared. If you’re scared about having sex with someone, you’re not ready. And that’s perfectly okay.”

“What...what should I feel, then, for my first time?” Remy asked.

“Like I said, nervous is normal,” Theo said. “But your confidence should outshine those nerves. You should be sure that this is something you want, that you’re okay with sharing this part of you with someone else. That you don’t mind being vulnerable around them. And some people can be that comfortable with someone for a one-night stand. Some people can’t. And both ways are fine.” Theo put a hand on Remy’s shoulder. “When you’re ready, you’ll know. And whether that’s with a one-night stand or a significant other, whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, you should always feel sure of yourself.”

“I...okay.” Remy swallowed. “I really am sorry.”

“No hard feelings, Remy. I wasn’t looking for anything serious, I can always find another guy...or girl. You just make sure you’re okay after this experience, all right?”

Remy swallowed but nodded. “Thanks. For the advice, and for being understanding.”

Theo nodded with a smile, and kissed Remy softly, one last time. “If you ever decide you want to have a little fun when you’re ready, feel free to stop by. Or, you know, talk to Emile and see if he can pass the message along, if it’s before the end of May.”

Remy nodded. Theo left the room, and Remy followed, breathing shakily. He had thought he was ready. He thought being a little scared was normal. But apparently, he needed more time. Theo said that wasn’t a bad thing, but it had Remy thinking. How would he tell when he was ready with someone? Who would that someone be? He had no remote clue, and that terrified him.

He left the party soon after, walking home alone in the cold night. He hoped that Theo had a good time tonight with another guy...or girl, like Theo said. Remy knew that he wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon.

Chapter Text

October 24th, 1995

Emile couldn’t understand what his friends were laughing at, especially considering that they had just been yelled at by some particularly nasty seniors. “What?!” Emile asked. “What’s so funny?”

One of the girls wheezed and said, “You acted just like my big brother does when someone tries to mess with me!”

“Hey, Big Brother is always watching!” one of the guys said. “And it looks like he possessed Emile and he got some of that protective streak running through him!”

They all laughed more, but Emile was just plain old confused. “I didn’t want you guys to be harrassed, how it that a protective streak?”

“That in and of itself isn’t,” the girl said. “But the way you talked to them like a disappointed authority figure is classic big brother energy.”

Emile shook his head. “I don’t understand you guys,” he said.

“That’s okay, Emile,” the guy said. “We love you anyway.”

 

March 13th, 2001

Emile was just about to head home after classes, when one of the guys in his Psych class, Theo, ran up to him. “Hey, wait, Emile! Hold up!”

Turning with a smile, Emile waited for Theo to catch his breath. “What’s up, Theo?”

“I just wanted to talk for a minute or two,” Theo said. “Did you know that I saw Remy a couple weeks back at a party at my house?”

Emile blinked, unsure as to where Theo was going with this. “No?”

“Oh, man, he didn’t tell you any of that?!” Theo asked.

“Tell me what?” Emile asked, starting to feel his heart race.

Theo glanced around to make sure no one was listening before he stage-whispered, “You told me he was a fun guy, Emile, but you never told me he’s a fantastic kisser!”

Emile felt his thought process completely stop at that declaration. Did he hear that right? Surely, he must have. And Remy had been acting differently lately. Not more secretive, or anything like that, but he was trying to go the extra mile to be nice. Emile wasn’t sure what had brought that on. Could this have had something to do with it? “You kissed him?”

“Well, we kissed each other,” Theo said. “It was consensual and everything, man, but that night...it was completely crazy. He...we...well, we almost went all the way, if you catch my drift.”

Emile short-circuited and his jaw dropped open. “You did what?!”

“Easy, Emile! Nothing serious happened!” Theo said, holding his hands up in surrender. “He was scared, and I told him he shouldn’t be scared when he wanted to do it with someone. Don’t tell him this, but I think that’s the farthest he ever went with someone else. Like, pants were going down and everything before he froze like a deer in headlights. I gave him some advice about what he should expect his first time with someone new, and we went our separate ways. But...I don’t know, man, I’m a little worried about him. Do you think you could like...pass on a message for me, or at least give him my number? I want to make sure he’s doing okay.”

Emile felt a streak of red...green...hot...sickening... something rush through him as he fought the instinct to say “no.” He shrugged. “I’ll see what I can do?” he asked. “Are you two...like...a thing? Or do you want to be?”

“I dunno, man. I think that really all depends on how he feels about it,” Theo said.

That made Emile feel even worse, and he couldn’t even articulate why. “Oh. I just thought...if you two tried stuff...you would be a little more serious.”

Theo shrugged. “It was gonna be a one-night stand, both of us had that in mind. But...yeah...he wasn’t ready. And that’s cool and all, but then he slipped out without another word, and he just sorta...disappeared. Completely off my radar. And, well. I worry.”

Emile nodded. “Yeah. Uh. Sure. I can talk to him, see if he wants to talk to you,” he said.

Theo grinned. “Thanks, Emile. You’re a real good guy.”

Emile felt his blood pressure rise as Theo ran off, high-fiving some of his friends. He had thought that he and Remy were good. He thought that they had everything worked out after Remy’s little declaration. But then Remy went on a rebound of sorts, and didn’t tell Emile? Emile was under the impression that Remy told him everything.

As he went back to the apartment, Emile tried to fight down the bile that was creeping up his throat. Theo was a good guy. Nice, funny, sometimes a little too confident for his own good, but at the end of the day he was good. Except Emile knew he was questioning, not entirely sure if he was bi or not, and if he and Remy had something, and then Theo decided he didn’t like guys, Remy would be crushed. He’d feel cast aside and he could potentially spiral. Emile didn’t want that.

When Emile got back, he headed to his room, dropping his stuff on the bed and resisting the urge to throw his shoes. He had no right to be mad. This was Remy’s private life, Emile had no say in what Remy shared about it. He ran his hands through his hair and whined. Why did this have to be so hard, then?

Remy knocked on Emile’s door, and Emile’s head shot up. “You good, Emile?” Remy asked, like nothing at all was wrong in the world.

Emile worked his jaw, trying to keep from grinding his teeth. “I talked to Theo from my Psych class today.”

“Oh?” Remy asked. “He say anything interesting?”

“Yeah,” Emile growled. “He said he threw a party a couple weeks ago, and you were there.”

Remy frowned, before his eyes widened. “Oh, that Theo! I forgot he was in your Psych class! How is he?”

“Worried about you, apparently,” Emile grit out. “Because he said you two almost slept together and he hasn’t heard from you since.”

Remy froze, getting that deer in headlights look that Emile knew all too well. “He said what?!” Remy asked.

“Yeah! He said that you two nearly slept together! And you haven’t even let him know that you’re okay afterward!” Emile said, making wide, sweeping gestures. “Listen, Rem, it’s none of my business who you sleep with unless you want to make it my business and tell me, but come on, at least let the guy who you did do it with know that you’re okay!”

“We didn’t do anything!” Remy exclaimed. “We made out a little! That’s it!”

“Oh, really,” Emile spat. “Making out is ‘nothing’ in your book? Do you really think that little of romantic and sexual partners?”

“I didn’t mean it like that and you know it!” Remy exclaimed.

“Oh? And how did you mean it, then?” Emile asked.

“Why do you even care?!” Remy asked. “Like you said, it’s none of your business who I do or don’t sleep with!”

“I thought we were friends!” Emile exclaimed. “I thought you trusted me!”

“I do trust you!” Remy shouted back.

“Just not with this!” Emile growled.

Remy ran his hands through his hair. “There is no ‘this,’ Emile, that’s what I’m saying! We almost had sex, so what?! We didn’t actually do it! Theo gave me a little advice, and let me leave. I don’t have his number so I didn’t call him, and I don’t know his schedule so I haven’t gone by his house to talk! I’ll drop him a line! But that’s the end of it!”

Emile’s hands were balled into fists and he was shaking. “Why would you even do that to someone, though? I say I’m not interested in you, so you mope for the next two weeks until you can find some random guy you can charm into bed and be done with the next morning?”

Remy turned red. “You know full well that isn’t what happened!”

“Then what did happen?!” Emile asked. “Because what you did sounds suspiciously like some sort of rebound!”

“I don’t use people, Emile, you of all people should know that I’ve been getting better about being kind! And I especially don’t use people for sex! Theo and I ran into each other, I went to his place, he and his buddies threw a party, we got along well enough, and we were going to agree to a one-night thing!” Remy’s breath was heaving in his chest. “I thought you had more faith in me than that.”

A pang of guilt resonated in Emile’s chest. “I don’t know you in that area of your life.”

Remy scoffed. “Shocker, considering you turned me down.”

“I’m sorry,” Emile said. “Not for turning you down, but for reacting the way I did to hearing about the party. I just...I don’t want you getting hurt. Theo just wants to experiment. You seemed like you were looking for something serious when you talked to me. And if he decides he doesn’t want to use the bi label, and sticks to girls, well, he could dismiss you. And we both know that you get attached when given half the chance and a friendly environment. I got angry at Theo at first, and then I got angry at you, because I thought if something like what you did were to happen, you’d be comfortable enough to tell me. Especially considering Theo said you seemed rattled.”

Remy shrugged. “I might want something serious with someone one day. Someone who I trust, and who I have romantic feelings for. But I was feeling restless, and I couldn’t stand our empty apartment, and Theo was good company. I thought I was ready, and I wasn’t, so we stopped. That’s what happened. That’s all that happened, Emile.”

Emile turned a little pink. “I guess I sounded like some sort of jealous ex, huh?”

“Just a bit,” Remy said with a shy grin. “Don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you. And just so you know? Theo? Is a good kisser. I don’t know what he said about me, but he knew what he was doing.”

Emile felt that same sharp feeling in his chest as when he was talking to Theo. It felt almost like...but it couldn’t be... “He said you were a fantastic kisser,” Emile supplied.

“Oh, nice!” Remy said with a genuine grin, and Emile felt his heart ache more. “Good to know. I can get all the boys if I’m a fantastic kisser.”

“No hard feelings?” Emile asked.

“Yeah, don’t worry. I get how finding out your best friend not telling you everything could shock you when you’re used to something different,” Remy said with a shrug. “Now, I need to get ready for my evening shift. I hope your studying goes well tonight!”

Emile stood there in silence until Remy left the apartment, at which point, he left his room and began to pace. Remy kissing Theo and Theo kissing Remy rubbed him the wrong way. Remy nearly being sexually active almost gave Emile a heart attack, and thinking about him kissing anyone, let alone doing anything more, made his stomach churn uncomfortably. Where had this come from? Remy was his best friend, not his brother! This protective streak made no sense! It had no basis in their relationship to each other!

Remy could hold his own in the world, and while Emile had experienced the “older brother protective streak” with his friends before in high school, where he found that name for it...he hadn’t gotten that with Remy before, save for their first Halloween party when Remy was very drunk and getting hit on by someone who was dangerous. Theo wasn’t dangerous. Theo was a good guy, even if he played fast and loose with emotions sometimes. So why was Emile afraid?

Involuntarily, his mind removed Theo from the equation of kissing Remy, and replaced him with several other guys they knew, and Emile felt more nauseated at each option. Until he froze in his pacing, because his brain had replaced Theo with himself, and the nausea immediately went away.

Oh. Oh, no. Oh no no no no. This wasn’t protectiveness. This was possessiveness. Emile was feeling possessive over Remy. But...this wasn’t possessiveness in the sense of being replaced as a best friend. This was possessiveness in the sense that Remy should be his, and that no one else should get to lay a hand on him without Emile’s say so. He was acting like a jilted, jealous lover. He was in love with Remy.

How was that for irony? Remy had feelings for Emile, and Emile didn’t realize he might feel the same until Remy had apparently moved on. Except...these feelings, this possessiveness hadn’t come up at all before, when Remy would flirt with guys. This was new. Like, he was being extra nice and making the effort to be kind to others new.

“Oh, shit,” Emile muttered. “He just became my type.”

Because that’s what his type was. They weren’t perfect, because no one could be. But they tried their best to accommodate others, and made sure that no one was left behind, and they were, overall, just plain kind. And Remy making that extra effort as of late flipped the switch in Emile’s brain. He was in love with Remy.

He was so screwed.

Chapter Text

February 24th, 2001

Remy slipped into the night relatively seamlessly, even though he shivered in the cold rain that was starting to settle in. Maybe he shouldn’t have walked all the way to the college campus area. Even Emile drove there every day, and it took him fifteen to twenty minutes to get there on a good day. It would take over an hour to walk back home.

Oh, well, live and learn. Theo’s words were bouncing around in his skull, and he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react to them. It was certainly sound advice, but how did he apply it?

More importantly, how did he know if he was ready with one person but not with another? How did he know that one specific person was the one he wanted? How did he differentiate between the need for a distraction and the need for love?

He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to find out.

 

March 31st, 2001

“Are you sure about this?” Emile asked, breathless in between their kissing. “Like, really sure?”

Remy lightly nipped Emile’s neck, causing him to shudder, and Remy smiled. “Emile, there’s nothing I’ve been more sure about in my entire life.”

“Okay...okay. I just know you got nervous before, and I didn’t want to pressure you into anything...”

“Good thing I’m asking then, isn’t it?” Remy teased.

“Remy...Remy. Hang on,” Emile said, as Remy dragged Emile to their bedroom. Remy turned around, and he could see the clear worry in Emile’s eyes. “You’re not scared? You’re not pushing yourself into this?”

Remy softened and pulled Emile in for a tender but desperate kiss. “I’m sure, Emile. I want this. I want you.”

“Okay, then,” Emile said, and together they fell onto Remy’s bed, already laughing.

Remy bolted upright in bed, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes to check the time. Seven AM. Dammit, he thought. Not again.

He’d been getting dreams about Emile and him being together with increasing frequency for the past couple weeks now, and it was waking him up at all hours of the night. To make matters worse, once he woke up past six, he was up for the day. He was almost always awoken by a “fade to black,” but the most annoying times where when he wasn’t, and he woke up in the middle, realizing it was a dream and feeling miserable.

He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up with a stretch. No use in trying to fall back asleep when he couldn’t, right?

When he walked out, he found Emile stumbling around the kitchen, slightly coherent but not nearly as much as he usually was when Remy first woke up. “Oh, so you do have days where you’re not a morning person,” Remy laughed. “I was wondering.”

“Mm. Didn’t sleep well,” Emile muttered. “Whatever you’ve been dealing with that’s keeping you up must be rubbing off on me.”

Remy felt an icy tendril of terror down his spine. I certainly hope not. “Bad dreams?”

“I can never remember,” Emile said with a shrug. “You?”

“I remember pieces,” Remy lied. He remembered every graphic detail of every last dream. This was driving him nuts. Emile wasn’t even interested in him, he had said so himself. “Nothing important.”

Emile just nodded as Remy held his breath. “Yeah. Hey, random question for you, because I haven’t been able to get this out of my mind.”

“Yeah, shoot,” Remy said, heading to the coffee pot.

“Let’s say if you were serious with someone. Like, you wanted to date them and they wanted to date you, right?”

Remy didn’t like the direction this was taking, but he said, “Yeah?” anyway.

“What would your ideal date be? Maybe not like, a first date, but just a date in general?” Emile asked.

Remy felt his stomach twist in an uncomfortable way. “I don’t know, I guess something dorky and basic, you know? Like dinner and a movie. Why do you ask?”

Emile looked a little pink around the ears as he said, “I was just wondering one day, and it refused to leave my mind, so I decided to put it to rest.”

“Oh,” Remy said. Inwardly, he sighed in relief. Even if he had new fodder for his imagination, with Emile trying to take him on the perfect date, Emile was just curious. That was normal. Emile got curious all the time. It was par for the course. Of course, the fact that he had to ask about Remy’s romantic life did hurt a bit. Just because he still did love Emile, and he knew that Emile couldn’t feel the same. “Any reason that popped into your head?”

“I mean...” Emile shrugged. “Maybe I have a little bit of interest in this one guy...”

“Shut. Up,” Remy said, his brain making a record scratch noise. “You like someone?! Who is it?!”

Emile squirmed. “It’s a little embarrassing, not because of who he is but because of where we are relationship-wise...and I want to see if it lasts beyond a fleeting crush...” he said.

Remy felt his heart be torn into shreds as his brain simultaneously tried to put the pieces together. “Come on, you can tell me, can’t you? This isn’t some revenge on me for not telling you that I was trying to get busy the weekend you were out of town?”

“No, it’s not revenge for that,” Emile was quick to assure. “I just really don’t feel ready.”

“Can you give me hints?” Remy pleaded.

Emile laughed a little, clearly nervous. “Well, he loves coffee. Sometimes it feels like all he does is sleep and drink the stuff. And he’s...he’s trying super hard to be kind to everyone he meets. Like, he always did have it in him to be kind, but he didn’t always use it. Now he is, and I’m...super proud of him for that.”

Remy could feel his heart skipping beats. Emile sounded like he was describing Remy. But, that definitely couldn’t be. That couldn’t be the case, because Emile said he wasn’t interested.

Yeah, a month and a half ago, his brain helpfully pointed out. And a lot can change in a month.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were describing me,” Remy teased.

Emile blushed a dark red, and Remy knew this was going one of two ways: he had either hit the nail on the head, or he was close enough to another one of Emile’s friends that Remy wasn’t sure he knew about. And...no matter what he wanted to hope, he was pretty sure Emile wasn’t describing him. “Is this one of your high school buddies? You know, someone you might see over spring break?”

“What?” Emile asked dumbly, before he stammered out, “Uh, y-yeah. Kinda. I’m definitely gonna try and see him over spring break. Even if I’m too chicken to confess to anything, I like getting to spend time with him.”

“You should tell him you like him,” Remy said.

“You...you think so?” Emile asked.

Remy nodded. “Look. You might not love me, and I’m coming to terms with that. Slowly, but surely. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop loving you, necessarily, but if you’re happier with someone who’s... not me, well, then, I want you to be happy.”

Emile smiled weakly. “Don’t get over me too quickly. If you’re lucky, I might catch feelings back.”

“If only,” Remy sighed. “Look, Emile, I’m not offended that you don’t like me. Did it hurt? Yeah, but lots of love hurts. It’s not that big of a deal. Is this your way of saying you have feelings for me?”

“Well, no, but...”

“No but’s,” Remy said. “I can’t make you love me. And it’s fine that you don’t. Just...if you’re happy with this guy, then be with him. Have fun, go on a date or two. You have my blessing. Not that you need it, but if it’ll make you feel better about this, you have it.”

“I...okay,” Emile said, and his voice was small. He took a deep breath, and said, “What are you planning on doing while I’m on spring break? Like, where I go depends on the hours I get, but do you have any plans?”

“I’d love to go to the beach someday, but probably not during spring break. All the college kids are gonna be swarming the place. I guess...I don’t really have any plans,” Remy said with a shrug.

“Then if I have bad hours, why don’t we go out to dinner some night? It’s been a while since we’ve done that,” Emile said, voice growing a bit more confident.

Remy was quiet as he took a long sip of coffee. Then, to be funny, he smirked. “Only if the guy you’re interested in wouldn’t mind,” Remy said with a wink. “Wouldn’t want to get you in trouble with your future boyfriend.”

“Somehow, I don’t think he’ll mind,” Emile said with a laugh. “So dinner. Anywhere in particular you’d like to go?”

“Doesn’t have to be anywhere big,” Remy said. “We could share pizza at any of the joints around here and I’d enjoy it.”

“Cool,” Emile said with a smile. “It’s a date, then!”

“Careful, Emile. Like I said, if you keep saying that, people will think we’re dating.”

Emile laughed, a genuine sound that made Remy grin in response. Things seemed to be returning to normal for them, which Remy was super happy about. Yeah, they might not be dating, but he and Emile were proving inseparable, and that...comforted Remy in a way he couldn’t describe. Like, the world could be ending but at the end of the day he would still have Emile, and that was all that mattered.

“I have class,” Emile said, grabbing the last of his breakfast and heading to his room. “I’ll see you after work?”

“Same bat time, same bat channel,” Remy teased.

Emile stared at him a moment, before squealing and crushing Remy in a hug. As soon as he had done that, though, he had moved to his room, yelling, “I don’t have time to appreciate that properly right now but know that I appreciate it!”

Remy laughed and waved to Emile on his way out of the house. He sighed when Emile was gone, and poured himself a second mug of coffee. He had to get going to work soon, too, so he decided to stick to coffee and toast for today. Remy laughed to himself. Emile had two people in his life who only sustained themselves on coffee and spite? It must have been a very small world indeed.

Remy’s heart wasn’t even hurting anymore, he was so happy that things were going back to normal, and he was excited that Emile was excited for spring break. Plus, they’d get to go out to dinner together, which they hadn’t done in ages. Remy wondered why that had stopped, especially when he said that he didn’t mind it after he confessed his feelings. He felt like it was around the time after he had talked with Theo. He had never known a person to be nice to him just because. Toby was his brother and was obligated to do that to a degree. Emile was nice to him out of spite at first, and then out of attachment later. But Theo was kind to him without even knowing him well, and it opened Remy’s eyes.

You could be kind to someone without them being kind to you first. You weren’t obligated to be nice, but if you were nice, people would appreciate your presence more. And on top of that, being nice just...felt good, sometimes. And sure, sometimes being sickeningly sweet and nice to people in retail was done out of spite, but the shy ones or the people who were very clearly having a hard time? If you smiled at them, or wrote them a nice note on their coffee, it made a world of difference. And he found that he liked doing it more.

Sure, it took more effort. Sure, it didn’t come naturally to him. But all things considered, he didn’t mind making the effort to be a little nicer. If he could be a tenth as nice as Emile was, he was sure he could make friends with little to no issues, just by being kind and striking up a conversation. That was new, but it was something he wanted, and something he was willing to work for.

He was going to do this. He was going to tackle the day with a smile on his face, because the world was finally making sense again, and he could handle anything that came his way. Spring break also danced at the corners of his mind, making him smile as he pulled on the lighter of his leather jackets. Dinner with Emile. Even if that wasn’t as a date, if he really wanted to, he could pretend it was. Not that he would really need to, though. He and Emile were best friends, and he was more than happy with that.

Yeah. The world was finally making sense again.

Chapter Text

May 5th, 2000

Emile redid his tie for the ten thousandth time, setting it flat against his chest and fiddling with the end of it. He knew he looked good enough, but he was still worried. When he walked downstairs, his mother fawned over him. “Oh, you look so handsome, Emile!” she exclaimed. “Absolutely perfect for prom!”

“Thanks, Mom,” Emile said with a sheepish, mildly flustered smile.

She drove him out to the hotel that was hosting the party, and Emile grinned when he saw his date waiting for him under the awning. Charlie was in the closet to his parents, still, so they couldn’t arrive together, but they were definitely each other’s dates and no one else’s. Emile gave Charlie a quick peck on the lips and asked, “You ready?”

“Let’s dance,” Charlie said with an eager smile.

 

April 3rd, 2001

Emile was impossibly proud of himself. Not only had he managed to acquire a date with Remy, but he had managed to keep a majority of the contents a surprise. He drove Remy to the minigolf course with a grin of his face. When Remy saw where they had pulled up, he whistled. “Emile, are you trying to ruin our friendship? Minigolf never ends well for anyone involved.”

“You’ve never played minigolf with me,” Emile said, laughing. “I guarantee you I can make it fun, and still kick your butt.”

Remy stared at Emile in shock before popping the collar on his leather jacket. “Okay, you’re on.”

Emile grinned and paid for both of them to play. Remy protested but Emile wouldn’t budge. “It’s my treat, Rem,” he insisted. “No reason to kick up a fuss, because I’m not changing my mind.”

Remy stared at Emile for a long second before he picked out a golf ball and putter. “Oh, fine,” he said. “But if we do anything like this again, I’m paying, understood?”

“Absolutely,” Emile said, with a playful salute.

Remy laughed and shook his head. “You’re such a dork!” Remy exclaimed as they moved from the entrance towards the first hole.

“Maybe so, but that’s one of my best qualities!” Emile said with a grin. Remy laughed and shook his head. “Do you want to go first or should I?” Emile asked.

“You paid for this thing, I’m not letting you wait for a turn,” Remy said. “You go first.”

“Okay, okay,” Emile laughed, placing his ball on the tee and carefully hitting it towards the hole. He wound up about an inch away and he staggered back, making gagging sounds. “Oh, no, I’m dead! My reputation as a good minigolf player is ruined! I’m dead!”

That had the desired effect of getting Remy to laugh. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone,” he said in a stage whisper.

Emile grinned as Remy took his first shot, which was a little too far to the left of the hole. Emile got his in the hole in two, Remy in three. Their conversations were mostly consisting of laughter and Emile over-dramatizing every single shot while Remy just laughed and called him a dork every time.

They got to the dreaded windmill hole and Emile whistled. “This one is tough, no matter what course you go to,” he said.

“Tell me about it,” Remy said. “I had the biggest problems with these as a kid. You get it in the windmill, it’s as good as a hole-in-one, but you don’t, and it takes you four more strokes to get it in the hole.”

“And that’s provided the shot doesn’t land you right back at the tee where you started,” Emile said sagely.

Remy turned to him with a laugh. “Get out. That happened to you?!”

“Several times,” Emile said with a laugh. “I’d go to the beach with my parents as a kid, and they’d have minigolf places by the dozens. Not many of them had windmills, but the ones that did were vicious courses.”

Remy squinted. “Is this hole where our friendship ends?” he asked. “Did you get good at the windmill holes?”

“It’s been a while since I’ve done minigolf,” Emile said. “But yes, I did learn the trick for most windmills. But I can tell you the secret, if you want?”

“Please?” Remy asked.

“Okay, you see how fast the windmill is going? It’s not super quick, right?” Emile asked.

“Right,” Remy said, brows furrowing as he looked at Emile.

“Well, you don’t want to hit the ball super hard, because you’ll lose control of the direction.” Emile pulled his golf ball out of his pocket and placed it on the tee. “Based on the speed of the ball I’ve seen on the other holes, and the speed of the blades, if you hit the ball with a normal amount of force, it should pass through the blades unharmed if you hit the ball about halfway between the blade coming down to cover the hole.”

“Let’s put your theory to the test then,” Remy said with a slight smirk. “Care to make a friendly wager?”

“I’m listening,” Emile said with a grin. He doubted Remy would do something like bet a kiss, not on a first date, but his bets were always interesting.

“If you’re right about your theory, and your ball passes through the windmill with no problems, you can pay for whatever you decide we’re getting for dinner and I won’t kick up a fuss, since it’s clear you want everything to be your treat tonight. But if you’re wrong, I get to argue for the right to pay for dinner, and I pay for a scoop of ice cream for each of us before we head to dinner, because I saw they sell scoops here and I’m a sucker for a good ice cream cone,” Remy said.

“Oh, the stakes are high!” Emile said, laughing. “All right, you’re on! And just to sweeten the deal, I’ll pay for ice cream once we’re done if I win the bet, since you said something.”

“I knew I should have just said I’d pay for half of dinner,” Remy said. “Fine. The bet’s on.”

Emile lined up his shot, waited, just to make sure the speed of the windmill stayed the same, pulled the putter back...and hit the ball.

They both watched intently as the ball rolled up to the windmill. The blade came down over the hole...the ball kept rolling closer...and just as the last of the blade moved to reveal the hole in the windmill, the ball rolled up and into the passageway. Remy’s jaw dropped and both of them ran around to the other side. The ball was heading into the dip in the turf, closer, closer...and it was in. “Hole in one!” Emile cheered, throwing his free hand up in the air. “I’m paying!”

Remy shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, I gotta try that trick,” he said, moving back to the tee. Emile retrieved his ball and wrote down his score, watching at the edge of the hole as Remy lined up his shot, hit the ball, and just barely got it into the windmill before the blade passed. But the ball rolled into the dip dutifully, and circled the hole, before falling in. Emile whistled. “Way to go, Rem! You got a hole in one too!”

“Yeah, thanks for that little trick,” Remy said grabbing his ball and walking with Emile to the next hole. “That’s good to know about this course, even if it doesn’t apply to others.”

“Eh, it takes a lot of trial and error, most of the time,” Emile said. “After a while, you grow to predict how much force and time you need, on any course, not just the one you learned on.”

“Huh,” Remy said. “Good to know, I guess.”

“I know, you’re probably wondering about the real-life applications about being able to accurately predict how hard to hit a golf ball on a minigolf course,” Emile laughed. “There’s isn’t much of one, but it’s fun to know on the rare occasions that you do go minigolf-ing.”

Remy chuckled and Emile grinned. This was fun. He was having a fun time. He was on a date with Remy and having a good time, and no one was taking below the belt shots, or making any jokes in poor taste, or anything like that. Emile was pleasantly surprised. Remy didn’t seem to be purposefully being on his best behavior...this just seemed to be how he behaved normally.

Maybe Emile had misjudged exactly how much Remy had grown. He was surprised. Pleasantly surprised, to be sure, but surprised nonetheless. They continued to make their way through the minigolf course, and when they reached the final hole, Emile shared a look with Remy. “You ready for this?” he asked. “Because once we pass this hole I’m buying you ice cream and dinner.”

Remy groaned, but he was smiling as Emile lined up his shot. It swung a little wide to the right, and Remy took his turn, getting a hole in one with a cheer. Emile grinned and marked it down on their scorecard, before getting his ball in the hole with a second stroke.

They returned the golf clubs and Emile bought them each a scoop of ice cream from the vendor by the entrance. Remy shook his head. “You know you didn’t have to insist on getting me 'Rocky Road.' I would have been just as happy with vanilla, and that’s a little cheaper."

Emile took a bite from his chocolate ice cream with a smile. “But I wanted to make sure you got what you wanted,” he said. “You deserve to get something you would enjoy!”

Remy shook his head. “Emile, that’s sweet of you, but really. You can’t just pay for everything whenever you want.”

“You’re right,” Emile said. “And next time we go out you can pay. But for now, I’m buying us this night out.”

Remy shook his head but didn’t argue further, and they finished their ice cream, before Emile drove them to Remy’s favorite pizza place in town. Remy scoffed as they pulled up. “You know, Emile, if I didn’t know any better I would say you like me, taking me all these places.”

Emile laughed genuinely at that. Remy really knew how to make him laugh. “Come on, let’s just go inside and eat,” Emile said.

They got out of his car and got a small table for two near the back of the restaurant. Emile wanted to make a move, but he also didn’t want to spook Remy, so he restrained himself to just smiling frequently and making puns about the pizzas they served. Remy rolled his eyes at every last pun, but he chuckled at a few of them, too.

When their pizza came out, pepperoni on one half and veggie lover’s on the other, Emile quickly took a piece of pepperoni to keep himself occupied. He didn’t want to start blabbering nervously, not when the date had gone this well so far.

Remy was chewing on a piece of veggie lover’s, and Emile knew he was making heart eyes, but he couldn’t stop. Remy looked up and noticed, turning pink. “What?” he asked.

“It’s nothing,” Emile said, looking away and blushing.

“No it’s not, tell me,” Remy said.

Emile shifted in his seat. “I’m just...really glad that you agreed to come out tonight with me.”

Remy chewed the piece of the pizza currently in his mouth, swallowed, and said, “That’s gay, Emile.”

Emile burst out laughing, and a few of the other customers sent him dirty looks. He was left wheezing in his seat as he said, “Yeah, I guess it is.”

The sun had set by the time they had finished their pizza, and Emile and Remy walked back to Emile’s car in companionable silence. When they got in and Emile started to drive, Remy hummed. “Tonight was fun,” he said simply.

“Yeah, I agree,” Emile said. “We should do it again, sometime.”

“Definitely,” Remy said.

Emile’s heart soared. Remy liked the date! He said he would go on another one! This was a rousing success! Emile grinned as he drove. “I’m glad you agree,” he said at Remy’s questioning look.

“Ah,” Remy said. “Well, of course I do. After all, this isn’t something you do just any night, you know? It’s special.”

Emile smiled softly. “Yeah, but it’s a good kind of special.”

“Definitely a good kind of special,” Remy agreed.

When they got back to their apartment, Emile hovered by the doorway as they walked in. What did he do? He didn’t want to scare Remy with a kiss, but he didn’t want to just retreat to his room without saying or doing anything else, either. “...Hug?” he eventually asked.

“Sure,” Remy said, frowning.

Emile hugged Remy tight and when he broke apart, he smiled softly. “I really enjoyed tonight,” he repeated. “Night, Remy.”

And with that, he left a very bewildered Remy so he could get ready to go to bed.

Chapter Text

February 12th, 1995

Remy tapped lightly on Toby’s door, almost afraid to approach his brother, even though he really needed to. Toby looked up from the book he was reading, and smiled, and Remy felt some small part of him settle at the expression. “Hey, Rem. Something up?” he asked.

“Uh...yeah,” Remy said. “Can I come in?”

Toby nodded, and Remy walked in, closing the door behind him with a soft click. Toby’s eyebrows rose. “Wow, this must be serious,” he said. “You never close the door unless you don’t want Mom or Dad snooping.”

Remy shifted uncomfortably. “Toby...I...I think I have a crush on someone, and I don’t know what to do!”

“Oh, well, that’s okay!” Toby said. “What’s her name?”

“It’s...uh...his name is George. He’s in my Geography class,” Remy blurted.

Toby blinked, before moving to sit on the edge of his bed and pat the mattress next to him. “Sit down, Rem, we can talk about it.”

“Promise you won’t tell Mom and Dad?” Remy asked.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Toby said solemnly.

 

April 11th, 2001

Remy was giggling at a story Clara was telling him about what she had done over spring break. He would be the first to admit that they had a rocky start, but they slowly became friends through Emile’s gentle coaxing and prodding, and after various apologies from Remy, ones that he actually meant. Now, they had a pretty strong friendship, strong enough that Clara was willing to admit that she had participated in the worst drinking game of her life when her and her friends took a shot everytime someone in a cheesy rom-com upped the unresolved sexual tension.

Emile was hanging around nearby, and a few of their other friends were all here as well. It wasn’t their apartment, though, it was actually Theo’s house that they had come to. Theo had wanted to check up on Remy, Emile had come with, and a few of their friends were already over there, so they decided to throw an impromptu party.

As Clara got into a particularly funny bit, about how Benny had taken two shots instead of one and wound up laughing so hard he fell out of his chair and couldn’t get up for a solid minute, Remy laughed hard himself, until he felt a hand brush against his shoulder, and looked up to see Emile standing there. He grinned. “Something up?” he asked.

“Just wanted to see how you were holding up,” Emile asked.

“Oh, we’re good,” Remy said, gesturing to Clara. “She’s an amazing story-teller.”

“You’re a great audience,” Clara laughed back.

“Yeah, he’s a great listener, when he wants to be,” Emile laughed. “But all too often he doesn’t want to.”

“Hey,” Remy objected.

“Sorry, babe, but it’s true,” Emile laughed.

Remy’s brain made that record scratch noise, and he frowned. “What did you just say?”

“What, bad nickname?” Emile asked, frowning. “I thought, you know, you wouldn’t mind, being boyfriends and all...”

Remy blinked uncomprehendingly at Emile. “Boy...friends...?”

“I...yes?” Emile asked, frowning.

Remy just frowned deeper. “That isn’t a very funny joke, Emile.”

“What? Remy, this isn’t a joke, I genuinely thought...” Emile looked crestfallen. “No, we...we went on a date! You had fun and laughed and I paid!”

“When?!” Remy asked. “We never did that!”

The whole room had gone silent as the two stared each other down. Emile’s eyes were filling with tears, and he took off his glasses, wiping at his eyes. “No...no, we did...I didn’t dream it...”

“You had to, because we never went on a date!” Remy insisted.

“No! I remember! We went to the minigolf course, and we made that bet, and we had pizza afterward, and you made a gay joke when I got sappy! That wasn’t a dream!” Emile practically demanded.

Remy blinked again. Took a breath. Took another. Opened his mouth to speak, only to have nothing come out. Eventually, he just squawked, “That was a date?!”

“Yes!” Emile exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. “Yes, Remy, that was our first date! Or at least...I thought it was...” He turned away, starting to cry. “Clearly, you didn’t think so.”

Remy couldn’t figure out how to respond to that. “That counts as stuff you can do on a date...But...but this is me we’re talking about!” Remy exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “I’m not...I’m not boyfriend material, I’m not worth sticking around for!”

“Yes you are!” Emile exclaimed.

“But...I don’t understand,” Remy said, blinking, frowning. “Why would you want to stay...with me? I hurt you. I tried to break you. Why would you stay?”

Emile shrugged. “Do I have to have a reason?”

“Most people tend to,” Remy said, crossing his arms. He was crying now, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Okay, here’s one,” Emile said, leaning forward and kissing Remy chastely on the lips for half a second, just a ghost of a feeling, before Emile pulled back. “I love you.”

Remy stared at Emile in shock. “But...what?!” he whispered. “I’m not...what?! I’m just...me!”

“Oh, that’s the point, you idiot! Don’t you understand?! I realized that I loved you too late!” Emile was almost shouting. “And then I thought I might have a chance! I thought you realized I was asking you out! I thought you were up for giving ‘us’ a shot! But no! Apparently, I was wrong! Again!” Emile crossed his arms, backing away from Remy.

Remy moved forward without realizing he was moving, and Emile shied away from him. Remy couldn’t hide the hurt on his face, but he gently took one hand, and cupped Emile’s cheek, turning him toward Remy. Remy moved to fill the space between them, and slowly, brought his lips to Emile’s, giving Emile every chance to back away.

But Emile didn’t back away. His arms dropped, his lips moved with Remy’s, a little out of rhythm, but tender and sweet all the same. Remy could taste the salt from both of their tears and after a minute, he broke out of the kiss, eyes searching Emile’s face. Emile looked so broken, so desperate, and it broke Remy’s heart. He couldn’t believe that he had at one point wanted Emile like this. It sent a horrible feeling into the pit of his stomach. “Emile,” he said softly. “I don’t understand why you would want me, but if you’ll have me, I’d love to be your boyfriend.”

Emile’s face crumpled and he threw himself into Remy’s arms, sobbing. Remy shushed him and hugged him fiercely, unwilling to let go, lest they both fall apart into nothing. When they had both calmed down, and taken a step back, somewhat unable to look each other in the eye, Theo-and most of the people around them, honestly-started cheering and clapping. “Who won the betting pool?!” Theo asked. “It happened over spring break, y’all, who won it?!”

One of the quieter friend’s hands shot up. “I did! I totally called it, from the second they moved in together over winter break!”

Remy blinked, looking around. “I’m sorry...did everyone know that we were getting together except us?”

“Pretty much!” Clara said brightly. “There’s been a betting pool that actually extends beyond our friend group to most of the people the both of you work with who also go to our college. And of course, Mister Quiet over there won both of those, because nobody else bet on spring break.”

“Really?” Emile asked.

“Well, we all thought that Theo baiting you, Emile, was gonna make that happen a little sooner,” Clara explained. “We honestly expected the two of you to get together before spring break. Or at least, most of us did.”

“I hate. Every last one of you,” Remy said, gesturing around the room. “Every last one of you mortals. And don’t forget that Emile doesn’t count in that, because he’s an angel, and angels are not mortal.”

Emile laughed and pecked Remy on the cheek, causing Remy to grow bright crimson. “Stop,” he whined. “You’re not allowed to do that, it’ll ruin my image!”

“Oh, and here I thought you didn’t like being kissed,” Emile teased, giving Remy another peck.

“Emile!” Remy whined. “Nooo!”

“Yeees!” Emile replied, in a similar tone and dragging his vowels out just as much. “Come on, Rem, you know you love me!”

“Mm. Debatable,” Remy grumbled.

“Ooh, uncertainty this early in a relationship, you two are in trouble,” Theo teased.

“Are not!” Remy protested.

“Mm, I have to agree with Theo,” Clara said.

“Teasing is a healthy part of relationships,” Remy said. “It shows trust in the other person, and shows you where the lines you shouldn’t cross are before you say something that really hurts their feelings.”

Emile laughed. “For all your talk about hating shrinks, you’re certainly starting to sound like one.”

“Yeah, well, that’s your fault. And maybe slightly Kim’s, but you make me see Kim, so it’s ultimately your fault, still,” Remy said with a teasing grin.

Emile rolled his eyes as Remy blew a kiss at him. “I still say you seeing Kim is a good idea,” Emile said.

“Oh no, yeah, it is,” Remy assured. “It definitely is. Like, in a year or so I might be better and not need to see her as much or at all, because, y’know, we’ve gone through a lot of crap already and she’s helping me a lot, but right now...she’s a good influence, I guess? And a fresh perspective. One which I wasn’t aware I needed.”

Emile hummed. “So you don’t resent me for that?”

Remy draped himself over Emile’s shoulder dramatically and he said, “Mm, I resent you a little still.”

Emile burst out laughing and Remy wound up giggling too. “Okay, see, I don’t understand how you can call yourself cool still if when I make a joke, or I start laughing, you giggle in response.”

“I do not giggle!” Remy protested. “I chuckle!”

“No, you definitely giggle, Rem,” Emile said with a smile. “Chuckling is lower in pitch. Your laugh is too high to be considered a chuckle.”

“That doesn’t automatically designate it a giggle!” Remy exclaimed.

“Get a room, you two!” Theo said, cupping his hands around his mouth as he spoke.

Emile turned pink but Remy just stuck his tongue out at Theo before continuing to drape himself over Emile. “Are you going to continue to use me as furniture?” Emile asked, sounding a cross between annoyed and amused.

“What’s the matter, babe? Don’t like me being touchy with you?” Remy teased.

“You, sir, are the worst,” Emile said.

Remy pulled a face. “Don’t call me sir,” he said.

“Fine. You, ma’am, are the worst,” Emile said.

Everyone in the room laughed save for them. Remy smiled slightly and ducked his head, and Emile pushed some of Remy’s hair out of his face. Emile whispered in his ear, “Do you want me to call you girl?” he asked.

“Nah,” Remy murmured back. “Just don’t feel like being called ‘sir’ today.”

“Gotcha,” Emile replied, somewhat louder. “But I’m going to sit down now.”

He sat down next to Clara, leaving Remy to stand on his own. Remy stuck his tongue out at Emile. Emile did it back with a smug grin, and oh, boy, did Remy want to teach him a lesson. What kind of lesson, he wasn’t entirely sure, but he wanted to teach it, just to get Emile to stop being so smug.

Theo turned on music before walking over to Remy. “You know everyone’s known that you and Emile liked each other for forever, right?” he asked.

Remy shook his head. “I certainly know now, at least. Why would you agree to a one-night stand with me if you were convinced I loved Emile?”

“I wasn’t looking for anything serious,” Theo said with a shrug. “So if you wanted to run back to Emile, it would be no problem. I can find someone on either side who suits my fancy, and you can have Emile.”

“The love of my life,” Remy said, words dripping sarcasm.

“Hey, you never know,” Theo said. “People are getting married by the time they’re juniors or seniors, you guys could wind up falling in real love, not just like, crushes and infatuation.”

Remy looked at Emile, who had started laughing with Clara and resisted the urge to smile at the fact that Emile was now his dorky boyfriend. He wouldn’t want to say anything definite, but he certainly wouldn’t object to marrying Emile, at least, not right now. He knew the honeymoon phase was already swinging in strong, but if that passed and they still liked each other...enjoyed each other’s company...well, marriage seemed like the valid option. Except... “I’m not sure if we could get married, being a gay couple and all,” he pointed out.

“Well, it’s the twenty-first century, man,” Theo said with a grin. “Some laws? They’ve just gotta change eventually.”

Remy looked back at Emile, who was now laughing hard enough to have tears in his eyes. “Yeah,” he allowed. “Some things have to change.” He hoped that Emile was never one of them.

Chapter Text

September 17th, 1999

Remy was pacing back and forth in his room, trying to figure out what to say to his mother when he inevitably had to leave his room and ran into her again. When there was a knock on his door and his mother poked her head in, he was about to open his mouth to say he needed a little more time but she burst into tears. “Oh, Remy, baby, I’m so sorry! You know I love you, right? You know I would never want to hurt you! I just want you to be happy, and I know that going into business won’t help you.”

Standing stock still as his mother came over to hug him, Remy just let her, trying to figure out a response. “It’s...it’s okay, Mom. Really.”

“It’s not, it’s not!” she wailed. “Oh, can you ever forgive me?”

Remy’s stomach twisted uncomfortably, even as he hugged her and said, “Yeah, of course.”

 

April 26th, 2001

“Emile,” Remy mumbled into Emile’s chest from where they were cuddling on Remy’s bed.

“Yes, Rem?” Emile asked.

“I know that we live in the same apartment but...do you think we should like...share a bedroom?” Remy asked.

Emile propped himself up with one arm. "What do you mean?"

“I mean...I know it’s pretty early in the relationship still, but like...eventually. Do you think we should share a bedroom in the apartment?” Remy asked.

Emile shrugged. “Eventually, that seems like the natural progression of our relationship.”

Remy nodded.

“Why do you ask?” Emile tilted his head to the side. “I mean, like you said, it’s pretty early in our relationship...”

“Uh...I just thought...we cuddle in each others’ beds so much...” Remy shrugged.

“That’s because we don’t have a couch to cuddle on,” Emile said. “Besides, it’s kinda nice to get to visit your room every once in a while. After all, we almost always went to my room when you went to college with me.”

“Well, my roommate then was...kinda killing my motivation to bring you over. He wasn’t exactly the cleanest,” Remy said. “My new roommate’s almost anal retentive enough to be called a ‘neat freak,’ though.”

“Shut up,” Emile laughed, lightly whacking Remy’s bicep with the back of his hand.

Remy laughed and when Emile laid back down, Remy rested his head on Emile’s chest again. The full-sized bed was a little cramped with both of them on it, but Remy wasn’t going to complain. He got to share cuddle time with Emile, and Emile was an amazing cuddler. Not that he'd be caught dead saying that, he had a reputation to maintain. But in secret, alone in his own head, yes, Emile was an amazing cuddler.

All too soon, though, they had to get up. Emile for school and Remy for work. They had these brief moments in the mornings, and Remy loved them, but he wished they could have them more without worrying about hours at work or making it to class on time. One day, he knew. One day Emile would be out of school for the summer and neither of them would have to go into work, either because Remy or Emile called in, or their bosses actually decided to be generous. And then they could cuddle all they wanted.

And then there were other options besides cuddling...dates, movies, going to the beach...oh, Emile in boardshorts was certainly a visual...

“Earth to Remy, you in there?” Emile asked.

“Hm?” Remy asked.

“I need to change, I was hoping for something before I left?” Emile asked with a grin.

“Oh.” Remy blinked. “If you want a kiss, you have to earn it, lover boy.”

The sheer offense in Emile’s face after that one statement had Remy cackling. Emile pulled Remy up into a sitting position and pecked him on the lips anyway. Remy grabbed Emile’s arms and yanked him back down on the bed for a deeper kiss as they both laughed. Emile pulled away and grinned. “Listen. I do have to change out of my pajamas.”

“Yeah, yeah, go ahead and change,” Remy said. “I need to get ready for work too.”

Emile left the room and Remy watched him go. Now, where had he been? Oh, yeah, Emile in boardshorts...that’s it, he had to get Emile to the beach at some point. That visual needed to become a reality.

Reluctantly, he did slowly get ready for work. He wasn’t feeling super feminine today, but he wasn’t digging the whole masculine look either. It was whatever, he supposed, but it still felt a little weird to feel wrong and not know what right might be.

He walked out to the kitchen just as Emile was grabbing some granola for breakfast on the go. Emile kissed him on the cheek and said, “See you tonight,” and he was gone.

Remy had a quick breakfast and made his way to work, smiling softly, just thinking about him and Emile being domestic together. He hadn’t realized how much he might enjoy this. Making breakfast while sneaking kisses, cuddling in each others’ beds in the mornings or before they went to sleep, or even just during lazy afternoons.

The walk to work went quick when he was sighing dreamily and just thinking about all the fun he and Emile could have if they put their mind to it. He made his way back behind the counter, tied his apron on, and clocked in.

When he walked up to the counter, one of his coworkers, August, smiled knowingly at him. “Cuddles this morning?” she asked.

“Why ask when you know the answer?” Remy asked with a little laugh.

August laughed too. “Just making sure,” she said.

Remy shook his head. “You’re ridiculous,” he sighed.

The work slowly but surely started to pick up, and pretty soon he and August didn’t have much of any time to chat. He kept himself occupied replaying memories in his head, like the time a week ago he had walked in the door of his and Emile’s apartment, and had immediately been assaulted with one of Emile’s pillows. Remy had put down his stuff, calmly picked the pillow up off the floor, and promptly chased a squealing Emile around the apartment, whacking him mercilessly until he could grab another from his room, at which point the pillow fight of the century ensued, complete with jumping on beds and laughter and plenty of accusations of cheating on both sides. That had only stopped when it was time for him to go to therapy.

He turned to the next customer in line, saying, “Hi, can I take your order?” before he actually looked at who was standing there and he paled as he saw his mother.

August noticed him go stiff and she walked over. “Something wrong, Remy?” she asked.

Remy couldn’t get his mouth to work as his mother just glared at him. “Uh...no...no problem,” Remy squeaked. “Can I get your order?” he repeated to his mother.

“An explanation would be nice,” his mother snapped.

August looked between Remy and his mother and quickly moved Remy away from the counter. “Remy, why don’t you work the coffee machines for a bit? I’ll handle this woman and the other customers until you feel a little better, sound good?”

Remy nodded slightly.

“Okay. Now, who is she? Do I need to call Emile?”

“No! Don’t call Emile!” Remy blurted. “That’s...she’s my mother. I’m just a little...surprised that she’s here, is all.”

August’s eyes flashed with anger before she gave him a reassuring smile. “It’ll be okay, Remy. You just work the machines, I’ll handle her.”

Remy nodded again and worked the machines, filling everyone’s orders as he kept one ear on the conversation behind him. “Can I take your order, ma’am?” August asked.

“I’d like to speak with my son,” his mother hissed.

“I’m afraid that Remy is still on the clock, ma’am. I need you to either order something or leave,” August said, calm but firm.

His mother huffed some before she said, “Fine, I’ll take an espresso. No sugar.”

August said, “Of course. Can I have a name for the order?” and passed Remy the order when she got one. He dutifully made it, set it on the counter, calling his mom’s name, and leaving to work the machines before she could corner him into having a conversation. He was not getting in trouble with his bosses because his mother decided to be nosy.

Much to his chagrin, his mother stayed in the shop until he finally had to clock out and walked out from behind the counter. He walked outside and noticed it was raining. Great. Just what he needed, a walk home in the rain. “Remington!” his mother snapped behind him.

He just kept walking down the street, until talons disguised as nails dug into his bicep. “Remington, look at me when I’m talking to you!” she said.

There was no use in trying to get his arm free, but he tried anyway, because some things never changed. “What do you want with me?” he asked.

“An explanation! You haven’t called or written us at all since before Thanksgiving! And then I call that phone that your dorm room has, and I hear from some student that you dropped out?!” His mother’s fingernails dug into his skin.

“Mom, you’re hurting me,” Remy said, trying to free his arm.

“You haven’t answered my question!” his mother snapped.

Remy felt his eyes heating up and he growled. He hated that he was such a crybaby, he could never stop his tears even when he really tried. Around the time that he left high school, he stopped trying, and just tried to find somewhere to hide until he was calm again, but here? Here, there was nowhere to hide. “Mom, you’re hurting me,” he insisted.

His mother scoffed and let his arm go, and he rubbed it, glaring down at her. “I did drop out. Because college was driving me to suicide. Now I work two jobs and they get me through life well enough. I have friends, and the reason I didn’t come home at Christmas was because I knew you’d react like this if I told you I dropped out.”

“You said you would change your major!” his mother screeched, and a few passersby gave him concerned looks. “You said that you would go back to college, and change your major, and continue until you finished your freshman year!”

“Yeah, well.” Remy shrugged. “I lied.”

His mother went red in the face and Remy was starting to think he had miscalculated. “You think you can just lie to my face and get away with it?!” his mother shrieked. “You’re coming home with me, and explaining what you did to your father, and we’ll figure out what to do with you from there!”

Remy’s eyes widened and he took a half step back, searching his mother’s face for any sign of hesitation. There was none. “No,” he said.

His mother stood stock still. Remy resisted the urge to gulp. “Remington, this is not up for debate,” she said, voice taut with deadly rage that he knew from experience would snap and lash out everywhere if he did the slightest thing wrong. “You will follow me back to the car and you will be coming home.”

“...You’re right. This isn’t up for debate. I’m not going,” Remy said, voice quivering only a little.

“Remington Samuel Picani, you will come with me right now!” his mother demanded, voice shrill.

“You don’t understand. I live here now. This is my home. And I would thank you kindly to never demand I do anything again,” Remy said.

His mother’s nostrils flared and he turned and ran, listening to his instincts. His mother grabbed for his arm, but he moved it out of her reach. His feet hit the pavement harder, harder, propelling him forward faster and faster. He had to keep moving, had to keep going, had to get away just until his mother calmed down. When she was calm again they could talk, but not before. He didn’t want a screaming match, and besides, Emile said that arguing when people were angry never ended well.

His feet moved without him telling them to, dodging people on the street, making twists and turns around the town that he had grown to know but his mother did not. He had to get away. He had to make sure his mother didn’t know where he was going. She was yelling after him, but he pretended to not hear. It was hard to make out what she was saying, anyway, considering the blood roaring in his ears. He made a hard left, darting across the street, making sure that his mother was out of sight before ducking into his apartment complex. He made it to the doorway of the steps leading up to the upper floors before his legs gave out and he collapsed in a heap.

Chapter Text

July 6th, 1993

Emile tilted his head to the side as he read his book and he hummed in thought. “Mom?” he asked, looking up from his book to his mother, who was sitting across from him in the living room, watching some show or another on TV.

“If you’re going to ask for a puppy again, Emile, you know my answer,” she said with a smile.

“No, it’s not that. What’s a therapist?” he asked.

“It’s someone who helps people when they have mental illnesses,” his mom said. “So when some people get depressed or really anxious and they can’t stop on their own, they see a therapist, who can teach them how to feel better.”

“So...they help people?” Emile asked with a frown. “In this book the character doesn’t want to see a therapist.”

“Some people don’t like therapists, but they’re taught to help people,” his mom said.

“Oh.” Then, “Can I be a therapist? I want to help people!”

His mom smiled. “Emile, that sounds exactly like something you’d love to do.”

 

April 26th, 2001

Emile was whistling as he walked into the apartment complex, tired from classes and work but relieved that the day was over and he could relax with Remy. He made his way to the stairwell, but halfway there realized that something had been left on the floor. Emile tutted. If Aubrey had gotten lazy with the garbage again...

The unidentified lump shuddered and sobbed, and Emile’s blood ran cold. He knew that voice anywhere. “Remy?!” he asked, rushing over.

Remy’s face was streaked with tears, red and blotchy. His hands were shaking as he brought them up to shield himself from Emile, flinching. His eyes looked hazy, like he wasn’t entirely in the present, and Emile’s mind immediately supplied dissociation or flashback, likely caused by an unknown trigger. Get him upstairs and safe. “Hey, Rem, it’s me. It’s Emile,” Emile said, crouching down and gently grabbing one of Remy’s hands. “It’s okay, I’m gonna get you upstairs, all right?”

“Is she gone?” Remy mumbled, looking around. “She can’t discover that I live here, Emile. She can’t know where I sleep. Where I relax. Where I love. Who I love.”

“Remy, we can talk about all that when we get you upstairs, okay?” Emile asked. “Can you stand?”

Remy successfully pushed himself into a sitting position, but the second he moved a leg to get into a position to stand up, he was shaking so violently he collapsed again. His breathing was picking up and Emile’s brain was going into overdrive again. Panic attack. Possible paranoia, or phobia. Get him upstairs, work on reassurance. “Hey, Remy, it’s okay. I can help you, okay? We’ll get upstairs and we can get you better.”

“She can’t know, Emile. She can’t know,” Remy breathed, as Emile helped him stand.

“She won’t know, Rem, let’s just get you upstairs,” Emile said, leading Remy up the stairs and into their apartment. Remy was listing to the side as Emile closed the door and Emile guided the both of them to the floor, pulling Remy on his lap. Remy was still shaking, setting off all sorts of alarms in Emile’s head.

“Is she gone?” Remy mumbled again. “Where did she go? She was...she was chasing me...”

“Who is she, Rem?” Emile asked.

Remy’s breathing picked up as he stammered out “M-M-M-Mo-o-om. M-Moth-ther. My mother.”

If Emile’s blood ran cold before, it positively turned to ice now. “Remy, can you tell me what happened?” he asked.

Remy looked around fearfully, like his mother would come crawling out of the woodwork at any moment. “She found me. I don’t know how she found me, but she found me. Came to my shift today. Ordered a coffee and waited until I was off my shift to ask me what I was doing. She found out I had dropped out from some kid with a big mouth at college. And she grabbed my arm, and refused to let go for a bit, and...and she kept talking, and I kept responding, and she said...she said she was taking me back home, Emile. She said she was going to take me back home, and I was gonna explain to Dad what I did, and they were going to figure out what to do with me, and let’s be real, they’d probably force me to join the military because if I’m not going to college and not getting a real job that way, then obviously the next logical step is to ship me off to who-knows-where and pray I don’t get blown up, because yeah, that makes total sense, especially if you kid was suicidal going to college and was finally happy when he stopped trying to impress others and just wanted to be himself!” Remy’s breath was heaving in his chest. “So I ran. I ran and ran so she wouldn’t know where I live and she couldn’t catch me. She can’t know where I live, Emile, she’s gonna ship me off and away and I’ll never see you again.”

Emile kissed the crown of Remy’s head and said, “That’s not going to happen, Rem. I didn’t see any angry women stalking around nearby shouting your name. You must have lost her at some point. You’re safe.”

“I’m never safe,” Remy whispered, starting to cry. “I’m never safe, Emile, and I’m scared. I know I shouldn’t be but I’m so, so scared.”

“Hey, you’re absolutely allowed to be scared, that’s a scary thing,” Emile said, brushing some of Remy’s sweat-slicked hair off his forehead. “Come on, I can get you in your bed and you can just lay low for a bit until you feel better, sound good?”

Remy nodded and Emile stood, and carefully picked Remy up, staggering over to Remy’s bed and laying him down, taking off his shoes. Remy was asleep in seconds. Of course, immediately after there was a harsh pounding on their front door, and a rather unpleasant voice hollered, “Remington, I know you’re in there!”

Emile twitched as Remy’s forehead creased. “Ssh, it’s okay, Rem, I’ve got this,” he murmured into Remy’s ear. He stood, closed Remy’s bedroom door, and then opened the front one with his best fake smile. “I’m sorry, ma’am, can I help you?”

“Where’s my son?” the woman asked with narrowed eyes.

“I’m sorry?” Emile asked.

“My son. Remington. Remy. Whatever he’s calling himself these days,” the woman huffed.

Emile twitched again, making sure his fake smile was still in place. “You must have the wrong apartment number, ma’am, because the only people here are me and my girlfriend, Ramona.”

Remy’s mother narrowed her eyes at him. “I know you from somewhere...” she said.

“Oh! Well, I am one of Remy’s friends from college,” Emile said brightly. “We were talking about moving in together at one point to split rent, but that was before I got with my girlfriend. He and I hang out a lot, but I don’t really know where he lives nowadays. Sorry.”

“So he did drop out of college?” Remy’s mother snarled.

“I guess so!” Emile said, pretending to look shocked. “Didn’t you know? He moved off campus because he thought it might be cheaper. He mentioned that he didn’t like going to school and he picked up a second job, so I guess he dropped out in order to make ends meet, but I don’t know, ma’am. You’d have to take that up with him.”

“I was trying to,” she hissed, “Before he ran away in the middle of our conversation! And the people in this apartment building said that he lives here!”

“Well, gee, ma’am! Remy sure does visit a lot but he doesn’t live here!” Emile laughed. “His roommate, whoever they are, doesn’t keep things clean at their place, apparently, and he never wants me to come over to his, so whenever we hang out it’s here. Ramona jokes that we might want to make the guest room his room, but he doesn’t live here, ma’am. I’m sorry if anyone mislead you.”

Remy’s mother huffed. “Whenever you see him next, tell him I expect him to call. Maybe if he behaves I’ll give him Tobias’ new phone number.”

It took all of Emile’s strength to not strangle her then and there, but he just smiled and said, “I’ll try to pass the message along, ma’am.”

She looked him up and down. “What’s your name, young man?”

“Emile, ma’am. Emile Thomas,” he said.

She snorted. “Your parents must have a sense of humor, with a girly name like that.”

Emile twitched again, and he was really starting to hate this woman more than he had ever thought it was possible to hate someone before. “Is there any reason you were asking, ma’am?”

“I was just curious. Remington never talks about his friends much when he calls,” Remy’s mother said.

“Funny, he never talks much about his family, when he hangs out with me!” Emile chirped. “Anyway, my girlfriend Ramona is sick, and I’ve been trying to make her feel better. So if you don’t mind, I’ll be going back to helping her. Best of luck finding Remy!”

He closed the door without another word and growled. He hated that woman before, but he positively loathed her now. He waited by the door until he heard the slam of the complex’s door to the stairs at the end of the hallway, and then he went back into Remy’s room to check on him. Thankfully, Remy seemed to have slept through that whole ordeal. When he walked closer to Remy, though, he realized that wasn’t the case. “I’m glad you didn’t kill her,” he mumbled, blinking blearily. “But Ramona? Really?”

“Gimme a break, I had to tell her something!” Emile defended. “And I came pretty close to having to hide a body.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Remy repeated, sighing into his pillows. “I want to sleep, but I can’t. Not if she knows where I live.”

“Rem, I’m pretty sure I convinced her you don’t live here, you’re safe,” Emile assured.

“You say that now,” Remy said. “But you know what’s going to happen? Provided she can get away with it, she’ll camp out in front of the complex and see if I enter or leave at any point, just so she can talk to me about my behavior, and possibly chew me out a little more for dropping out of college.”

“Well, I won’t let her get away with that,” Emile said. “If you see her car, you let me know, and I can call the cops. Because stalking you is unacceptable behavior.”

Remy made a pained noise. “She has Toby’s number. His new number, Emile.”

“Yeah,” Emile agreed. “But is knowing his number worth more than your mental health?”

“You’re gonna say no, but...but he’s my brother, Emile. I love him,” Remy said.

“And he loves you too,” Emile said. “You know what that means? He would not want you dealing with your mother shipping you off halfway around the world just to get his number.”

“How do you know that?” Remy asked, turning to face Emile and tilting his chin up in challenge.

Emile stared down Remy’s scowl. “Because I love you. And I would never want you to go into danger just so you could talk to me. You know what would happen? Provided we both made it out alive, I would chew you out for being stupid enough to endanger yourself just to get to talk to me. And I don’t doubt Toby would do the same.”

The pout Emile got in return for that meant that he knew he was right, and Remy was desperate, and lonely. Emile sat down on Remy’s bed and asked, “Do you want to cuddle for a bit?”

“No,” Remy mumbled. “It won’t make me feel better about Toby.”

“But could it make you feel better in general?” Emile pressed.

Remy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I don’t really think so.”

“Well, it can’t hurt to try, right?” Emile asked.

Remy’s eyes were welling up with tears and Emile tutted. “Oh, it’s okay, Rem, c’mere.”

Without another word, Remy crawled into Emile’s lap and cried. Emile just hugged Remy tight, murmuring softly to him. That it was all right, that he was all right, that everything would work out and at the end of the day and they both would be okay, and safe, and so long as they were safe they could work on being happy another day. Emile desperately wanted Remy to feel better, but he knew that was going to take a lot of work yet. Especially if his mother insisted on bothering them both for a while longer.

Emile swayed from side to side ever-so-slightly as he could feel Remy’s tears tapering off. He knew that naps were generally not beneficial to someone’s sleep schedule, but if anyone deserved a nap today, then it was Remy. He kissed Remy’s forehead and continued to sway back and forth. “I miss him,” Remy mumbled into Emile’s chest.

“I know you do,” Emile murmured back. “But right now, your main focus should be you, and getting you better.”

Remy nodded slowly, eyes drifting shut. Carefully, Emile laid both of them down on Remy’s bed, and he cuddled Remy close. Today had shaken both of them, and they would definitely need some time to recover. But it would be okay. They would always have each others’ backs, no matter what.

Chapter Text

March 25th, 1999

“Toby?” Remy asked.

“Yeah, Rem?” Toby asked, and Remy’s heart ached at the familiar nickname.

“Why don’t you write anymore?” Remy asked. “You would write all the time before Christmas, but now it’s Spring Break and you haven’t even written once!”

“Oh...uh...” Toby cleared his throat. “I just thought our parents knew you better than I would, since I’m not here, you know? And I trusted their judgement, and...yeah, I didn’t want you to obsess over the letters.”

“I don’t obsess over the letters!” Remy objected. “They help me get through the rough patches, yeah, but I don’t obsess over them! Haven’t you gotten any of my letters?”

Toby tilted his head to the side. “You’ve been sending letters?”

Remy felt a little piece of him die inside. “I bet Mom’s been stopping the mailman from sending them to you somehow,” he grumbled.

“What?” Toby asked.

“Never mind,” Remy said. “You can just...not write. I won’t bug you about it again.”

“Remy...”

But Remy was already running up the stairs to hide in his room.

 

April 27th, 2001

Remy woke up the morning after his mother showed up with a pit of dread in his stomach. It was barely dawn yet, and Remy crept out of his room to the living room where there were two windows which looked out to the parking lot below. He peeked out of one of them, and sure enough, he could recognize the shape of his parents’ sedan, sitting on the edge of the street. He couldn’t see his mother inside, but as long as the car was nearby, she was around. He snuck over to Emile’s room and was barely inside the door before Emile was grumbling and sitting up. “Remy, what time is it?”

“It’s early, I know,” Remy said, wincing. “But my mother is outside.”

“She’s what,” Emile said. Fury entered his voice as he declared, “I’m calling the cops.”

“No! Don’t! Please!” Remy exclaimed. “I swear she’s not that bad! If I just talk to her for five minutes she’ll leave! We can go out together if you want, but we don’t need to call the cops!”

“Remy,” Emile growled. “She’s terrorizing you, and stalking you. That’s not okay. I’m calling the cops.”

“Emile, please!” Remy begged. “You don’t have to do that!”

“Yes I do!” Emile practically bellowed.

Remy jumped a good six inches and all the blood drained from his face. Emile’s eyes widened and he stood, approaching Remy, but Remy just backed out of the room before running to his own, closing it with his whole body and trying to keep his breathing steady. Emile and Kim had both taught him techniques that could keep his breathing calm and even, but they didn’t seem to be working right now. All he could focus on was Emile’s yelling, echoing over and over in his head. His face was on fire as tears scorched his cheeks, and Emile was knocking on Remy’s door. “Remy! Remy, I’m sorry, please, let me in!”

Remy whimpered and pressed his hands against his ears. Much as he would love to let Emile in, he was also terrified that if he did so, he would be in massive trouble. He had spoken out of turn, he had argued against what Emile wanted, and Emile had gotten angry because of it. That usually meant the second Remy gave in, he’d be getting at least an earful, if not someone unintentionally hurting him.

There was a pounding at the front door, and Remy flinched. Was his mother making a reappearance this early? It was probably barely six in the morning! Footsteps went to the front door, opened it, and there was rushed mumbling that Remy couldn’t make out. He strained to listen closer, and heard words such as “abduction” and “search” and “press charges.”

Remy’s breathing wasn’t getting any better. He buried his head in his knees. If his mother had gone to the police claiming he had been kidnapped...he was going to throttle someone.

Emile yelped and then there was more knocking at Remy’s bedroom door. “Mister Picani?” a gruff voice asked.

“If my mother is the one who called you, I’m not leaving this room!” Remy screamed, voice cracking. “I’m a grown-ass man, she cannot dictate my life!”

“Son, we need you to come with us,” the man said. “You’re safe, you don’t have to lie to anyone about how old you are.”

Remy growled and moved away from the door, grabbing his wallet from his nightstand and pulling out his ID from one of the front pockets. He opened the door an inch and saw a heavily-built man on the other side, wearing a police uniform. He offered his ID out. “I’m of legal age,” he snapped. “I don’t know what my mother told you, but this is my ID.”

The policeman took it, examined it closely, and scrutinized Remy. “You still need to come with us, son,” he said.

“On what grounds?!” Remy snapped. “No, seriously, on what grounds?! Am I not allowed to split rent with Emile over there?” he asked, nodding to his boyfriend. “Am I legally required to go to college? Are you a truancy officer?” He huffed, “I don’t care what my mother told you, I’m not. Going. Anywhere.”

“We need to verify your age, Mister Picani, and ensure that this isn’t a fake ID,” the officer said.

“Okay, I don’t know what my mother told you—”

“—You’re not coming with us,” the officer finished, grabbing Remy roughly by the arm. “Kid, I’ll handcuff you if I have to.”

“Bite me,” Remy huffed, trying to wrench his arm free.

The officer’s nostrils flared as he asked, “Care to repeat that comment?”

“Remy. Remy!” Emile exclaimed, from where he was barricaded from moving by another officer. “Don’t fight back on this one, I’ll come pick you up from the station as soon as they realize your mother was lying about you being seventeen and a runaway.”

Remy bared his teeth at the officer. “I’m a grown-ass man! You can’t tell me that you seriously believe I’m seventeen!”

“I’ve seen kids taller than you at sixteen,” the officer replied. “March.”

Remy was dragged, kicking and screaming, out of his apartment and into a waiting patrol car. He was unceremoniously thrown in the back, and he fumed in silence all the way to the station. When he was dragged into the station, his mother was waiting for him, and judging by her face she had been crying to some officer or another. “Remy!” she exclaimed, rushing over and trying to hug him.

“Get off me!” Remy exclaimed, shoving her away. “Why would you leave your car outside Emile’s apartment complex and come to the police claiming I was a minor?!”

His mother stared at him in shock, and he just kept his arms crossed, and his teeth bared. “An explanation would be nice,” he threw the words back in her face.

“Remy, you of all people should know that you can’t run away from your responsibilities!” his mother chided. “Your father and I were so worried!”

“Of course you would see it that way,” Remy breathed, before laughing. “Bite me, mother! I’m nineteen years old, I know what I’m doing with my life, and you are not going to be a part of it!”

His mother turned on the waterworks and suddenly everyone in the station was glaring at him. His mother kept wailing and trying to hug him and he kept shoving her away until the officers who had brought him in dragged him to a holding cell, presumably to stop a fight in the front. It wasn’t the classiest place he had ever been in, but it was away from his mother, so he could relax just a little bit. Two other guys were in there with him, one who looked like he was recovering from a bender, and another who Remy had no idea what he might be here for, but who had tattoo sleeves all up and down both arms. “Nice tats,” he said.

The man tilted his chin up at Remy. “Thanks. You mind my asking why you’re here?”

“My mother’s a nut job?” Remy laughed incredulously. “Claimed I was seventeen and a runaway because I dropped out of college and didn’t call her over Christmas.”

The man roared with laughter, causing the drunk to glare at the both of them. “Wow. That’s...certainly something,” the man said. “I’m here because my girlfriend and I got in a fight, and I was angry enough and stupid enough to punch the cop trying to get in between us.”

Remy grimaced. “Ouch.”

“Tell me about it,” the man said. “I really hope they just give me a fine and not, like, jail time.”

“Me too,” Remy said. “My...my friend and I got in a fight this morning too, before the cops showed up at our door.”

“Your...friend?” the man asked.

“Well, yeah. He and I split rent. We’re having some issues and frequent arguments about keeping the place clean, but at the end of the day, he’s still a friend. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes.” Remy leaned against the wall and sighed. “But my mother likes to ruin everything good I ever find for myself in the world, if it doesn’t fit her vision of what she wants for me.”

The man winced. “Oh, she’s one of those,” he said with distaste. “I hate those. The kind where if you so much as bring up getting a tattoo, they’ll start screaming that you’re ruining your life, that this isn’t what you want when in reality it isn’t what they want. I hate those types.”

“Mhm,” Remy hummed. “She’s... the worst.”

“You look beat, kid,” the man said.

“I look how I feel, then,” Remy mumbled.

The man checked by the door but no one was standing there. “You should probably get some rest, kid, especially if your mom tries to get to you.”

“Like I could sleep when she knows where I live,” he laughed.

The man shook his head. “I know it seems like the end of the world, but if you make it clear you want nothing to do with her, sooner or later she’ll back off.”

“You’ve clearly never met her,” Remy sighed. But even as he said it, he was already drifting off to sleep from exhaustion.

When he next woke up, it was to the door of the holding cell opening with a screech. “Mister Picani,” an officer regarded him coolly. “Please come with me.”

Remy stood and followed, somewhat confused. He was led to the lobby, and handed his ID. Both Emile and his mother were waiting for him on opposite sides of the lobby, and the officer said. “The ID is legitimate. Our apologies for disrupting your morning.” And with that, the officer left.

Emile and his mother were both starting to talk to him at once, but Remy just watched the police officer leave. When he couldn’t even pretend to be distracted anymore he sighed, looked between them, and winced as he realized he was still in his pajamas and had no shoes, and he’d have to walk outside like this. He held up a hand and Emile paused in his tidal wave of apologies, but his mother was still going on her tirade. He sighed and gave Emile a look that roughly equated to do you see what I have to deal with? and Emile snorted, nodding.

His mother paused at that, looking between the two of them. Remy took the opportunity to say, “Yeah, I’m going back to Emile’s place, Mom, and there’s nothing you can do about that. I’m not going home with you, I’m not doing whatever you want me to do to ‘redeem’ myself in your eyes, and you can’t stop me.”

“You’ll never get Tobias’ number,” his mother threatened.

Remy laughed, and even though it felt painfully fake to him, his mother looked shocked. “Oh, I doubt that Toby would even want me calling him, Mom. After all, I only ever pestered him about everything, isn’t that what you said?”

Emile visibly twitched, fingers clenching and unclenching in a strangling motion at his sides.

“Don’t bother either of us again, Mom, Emile needs his time to study and I need to actually work if I want to uphold my half of rent,” he said. “Come on, Emile, let’s go. I still need to get my shoes from yours.”

Emile looked down, seemed to notice Remy’s bare feet for the first time, and snickered as he said, “Yeah, I can’t imagine walking around barefoot is accepted at work. Let’s go.”

They walked out of the station in minorly strained silence. “I’m really sorry for yelling,” Emile said once they were in his car.

“It is what it is,” Remy said with a shrug. “Not like I’m going to break up with you over it.”

“Remy, I traumatized you. I...that’s not okay,” Emile said, glancing over at Remy.

Remy shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Emile,” Remy said. “Give me some time and I’ll forgive you. It will take time, but provided you’re willing to give it to me...”

“Of course,” Emile said.

“Then it’s no worries,” Remy said. He bit his lip. “I really wish I could call Toby.”

“I’m sure you guys will find each other one day,” Emile said. “I doubt he’d just...give up on seeing you ever again.”

“I hope you’re right,” Remy mumbled, moping as he stared out the car window. “I just...could really use his support right about now.”

Chapter Text

April 14th, 1986

Emile was hugging his stomach and trying to cry as quietly as possible, but he wasn’t very successful at staying quiet. His mother looked at him in the rearview mirror of the car. “Emile, what’s wrong?” she asked.

Sniffling, Emile couldn’t even form a single sentence. He just managed to choke out a, “Jamie...” before dissolving into tears.

“Emile, you apologized for shoving him. That’s all you can do, sweetheart. Whether or not he chooses to forgive you, you’ve done all you can,” his mother said.

“M-my fault...!” he bawled.

“And you owned up to it, sweetheart. You have to let it go, now. It’s in the past.”

Emile whimpered and tried to stop the tears, but they just kept coming. He felt terrible for Jamie getting scraped up all because Emile had pushed him a little too hard in a game of tag. Jamie had a bloody nose from it, too, and he didn’t seem to want to forgive Emile much at all. He felt absolutely terrible, and never wanted this feeling again.

 

May 4th, 2001

It had been a week since they had last seen Remy’s mother. A week since the police came to their apartment. A week since Emile had yelled at Remy. And Emile still felt like the scum of the earth for doing it. Remy was flinching at every sound around their apartment from the door of the refrigerator closing, to the sound of the chairs at the card table being moved across the floor. Emile had worked hard to try and build an environment where Remy could feel safe, and then Emile lost his temper and all of that work had instantly been undone.

He initially wanted to blame anyone but himself. After all, if Remy couldn’t handle anything but a very carefully balanced environment and still feel safe, that spoke more to him than Emile, didn’t it? But then Emile was reminded that it spoke to Remy’s past, and his trauma, and the fact that Emile was trying to blame Remy spoke billions more about Emile than it did about Remy.

When the coffee pot hissed, it dragged Emile out of his thoughts and caused Remy to jump, again. Emile observed Remy a second too long as shaking hands poured coffee into the waiting mug, and Remy growled, “What?”

“Do...” words were getting caught in his throat, but Emile knew he had to ask this question sooner rather than later. “Do we need to talk about what happened last week?”

Remy scowled as he sipped his coffee. “I don’t see much of a reason to.”

“You don’t see much of a reason to?” Emile repeated.

“That’s what I said, Emile, yeah,” Remy said.

Emile stared at Remy again. “So you don’t see flinching at every sudden noise as a problem? You don’t think that maybe you shouldn’t jump whenever the coffee pot hisses, or when the TV’s static happens? Do you genuinely think that’s something that most people do?”

“Of course not!” Remy snapped. He sipped more of the coffee. “I’m talking to Kim about it, though.”

“Why her and not me, Rem?” Emile asked. “I’m the one who made you feel that way—”

“—No. Don’t you dare, Emile.”

“But I am! I’m the one who made you—”

“Emile Zachary Thomas, don’t you dare!” Remy snapped. “You’re not the one who hurt me! My mother is the one responsible for that!”

“I’m the one who yelled at you loud enough to make you hide in your room!” Emile exclaimed, tears coming to his eyes. “I’m the one who did that!”

“Yeah, and you’ve yelled before, both over good and bad things, and I might flinch a little but I never run and hide! The only reason I did it then is because the events with my mother were still fresh in my mind, and I made a connection between the two events that wouldn’t have been made if my mother weren’t stalking me! This is not your fault!” Remy declared.

Emile wanted to argue, to say that he shouldn’t yell at any time, that he never wanted Remy to feel unsafe and he had at the very least contributed to that, but Remy didn’t appear to be open to a discussion on that topic, so he shoved a shaking fist against his mouth and tried to fight back the overwhelming feeling of nausea he was getting. “Is Kim helping?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Remy said. “The breathing and stuff helps a little. And we’re going to be talking about the reappearance of my mother and how I draw parallels to my past from it the next time we talk, because we ran out of time last session.”

“Okay, that’s good,” Emile said softly. “I really am sorry, Remy.”

“Emile...” Remy huffed. “You have nothing to apologize for. Because you yelled last week, and you apologized then. I told you it might take time for me to forgive you, and I have, given the time you provided me. It’s in the past, mio amore, you don’t need to worry about it.”

“But—”

“—No. There are no but’s in this situation,” Remy said firmly. “Stop trying to make yourself the bad guy, Emile, because you’re not.”

“I made a mistake!” Emile exclaimed.

Remy ran his hands through his hair. “Exactly! It was a mistake! Only a mistake! You didn’t do it with malicious intent! You didn’t do it to scare me into submission, you didn’t do it to traumatize me and make me hurt! You did it because you were angry and you didn’t think through your actions! Does that mean you shouldn’t be held responsible? Of course not, but you already held yourself responsible! You already apologized! It’s in the past! Saying your a terrible person over this? Is inching into guilt-trip territory. Believing that past infractions can’t be resolved with a simple apology is obsession!” Remy’s breath was heaving in his chest as he grit out, “Even I know an apology should be enough, Emile. You can’t obsess over every single mistake you make, because no one is perfect, and no one should be held to a perfect standard.”

“But I should be held to a higher standard! I’m training to be a therapist, I should know better!” Emile exclaimed.

“Key word: training! You’re going to make mistakes, Emile! You’ll have to accept it, learn from them, and move forward,” Remy said. “You can set that bar for yourself as high as you like, but set it too high and all that will happen is you’ll hurt yourself. I don’t want that any more than you do.”

“Maybe I’m a masochist, you don’t know,” Emile muttered.

“Worst masochist in the world, if you’re going to fixate on every imperfection you have while trying to build everyone else up,” Remy said. “Because I can’t imagine a pain heavier than that.”

Emile shook, trying to come up with a reason as to why he shouldn’t be forgiven yet. He certainly didn’t feel like he shouldn’t be forgiven, not by anyone, let alone Remy. “I can’t...I can’t let it go,” Emile said. “Because I hurt you, after trying so long to avoid that. Even when I teased you I would never let a shred of ill-intent slip in. But when your mother came around...I couldn’t understand why you couldn’t see things from my perspective. And I got angry, and I wanted...I wanted you to shut up. To see things from my perspective, and understand why I was that upset. And I should have calmly asked you to see things from my side, instead of shouting you down.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Remy allowed. “But you already apologized for this, Emile. It’s time to let it go.”

“But...I don’t...I can’t...I hurt you!” Emile exclaimed.

Remy sighed, putting down his coffee cup and holding Emile’s face with his hands so they were looking each other in the eye. “Emile. I’m not debating with you on this anymore. You’ve been forgiven. You can hold onto that guilt if you want, because I can’t exactly stop you just by telling you no, but I forgive you. There’s no reason to harbor that guilt.”

“No reason?” Emile repeated.

“No reason,” Remy confirmed, going back to his coffee.

Emile watched Remy mutely. He didn’t understand how Remy could just...say that. It felt like he was disregarding his own safety!

“I know what you’re thinking, Emile,” Remy said with an eye-roll. “And no, this is not me disregarding my own safety. I’ve taken a good, hard look at the situation. And the fact of the matter is that you’re not a threat to me. You’ve worked very hard to prove that to me. I believe you when you say that you didn’t mean to yell. I haven’t talked about it with you yet because I knew you were going to blame yourself for it, and I wasn’t prepared for you externalizing that thought. That would remind me painfully of my mother, so that’s why I’m not, you know, voluntarily poking that bear. I’m talking about this with Kim. We’re working our way through some of the bigger problems I faced with my family. It’s okay. I don’t blame you for any of this.”

Emile searched Remy’s face, and was somewhat surprised to find he was dead serious. “Okay,” Emile said. “So, if you’re sure about this—”

“—I am absolutely sure,” Remy said.

“—Then there’s a question that I wanted to ask you that my family has been pestering me about,” Emile said, scratching the back of his neck.

“Provided it’s not a proposal, I’ll consider it,” Remy said with a smirk. “I just think it’s a little too soon to get married.”

“Agreed,” Emile rushed to assure. “No, my parents were wanting to meet you. I talked about you over Thanksgiving and winter breaks, obviously, so they’ve grown curious about you.”

Remy blinked. “And...do you want me to meet them?”

“I mean, yeah,” Emile said. “I think that even if we only wind up being friends in the end, my parents would like you.”

“And you’ve already met my mother, not that she liked you very much,” Remy laughed. “When were they hoping to meet?”

“Uh...Memorial Day weekend, provided neither of us were working. Which, I put in my request to have off that weekend anyway, because the sales and rabid PTA moms are going to kill me,” Emile said.

“Oh, yeah, I applied for off time then too, just because...I knew you were trying to get it off and I was hoping we could spend at least one day together,” Remy mumbled.

“That’s gay,” Emile snickered.

“You better believe it!” Remy exclaimed, waving his coffee mug around. “Honestly, Emile, what do you expect from me?”

“True,” Emile laughed. “So are you in?”

“Yeah, sure, why not, provided I get the time off,” Remy said. “It could be fun, I guess. And your parents couldn’t possibly be worse than mine.”

Emile squawked in shock before clamping a hand over his mouth until his entire body quaked with his laughter. “They’re not neglectful or abusive, although that doesn’t mean they can’t suffocate me sometimes,” he managed to say. “But yes, I doubt they’re worse than yours.”

Remy was grinning at Emile’s reaction. “What are your parents even like?” he asked.

“Uh...my dad’s a sports nut. Not, like, with numbers and statistics on teams, although he’s good at that. He just loves playing any and every sport, especially badminton, for reasons that I can’t understand. My mom’s a terrible cook, my dad has banned her from the kitchen, but it’s all in good fun,” Emile said with a shrug. “They both know I’m bisexual, and they don’t care who I’m with so long as I’m happy.”

“Okay...?” Remy said. “Anything else?”

“Honestly, my parents are an experience unto themselves. You just kind of...strap yourself in and get to know them as you go. I don’t think I could prepare you in terms of how excited they’ll be to meet you, or how insistent they’ll be that they will be cooking and you are not allowed to join them, because you’re the guest,” Emile said.

“But I like cooking!” Remy protested.

Emile blinked. “Rem, you eat granola bars for breakfast and instant ramen for dinner every night we don’t go out to eat.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t cook or that I don’t want to!” Remy exclaimed. “We can’t exactly afford quality ingredients yet, but when we can, I’ll prove to you that I can cook. And I will fight your parents on the right to help with dinner.”

“That’ll go over great,” Emile laughed. “Good luck with it.”

Remy grinned. “Thanks, I’ll certainly try.”

“You know what sarcasm is, right?” Emile asked, arching an eyebrow with a smirk. They sometimes had this conversation, quoting back to their first real time out together, and every time, it made Emile smile.

“Oh, yeah,” Remy said, finishing off his coffee and flashing Emile a grin that had Emile’s stomach doing flips. “I just choose to ignore yours.”

Chapter Text

March 25th, 1999

Toby knocked on Remy’s bedroom door, but Remy just sat against it, not allowing him in. “Remy, come on, talk to me, please?” Toby all but begged.

Remy didn’t reply.

“Rem, please. I want to talk to you,” Toby said.

It took all the willpower Remy possessed, but he managed to keep the door closed. Toby had been his one positive influence from someone who could pass as an adult for...as long as Remy could remember, really. And then his parents had to screw that up, and lie about Remy, and make Toby write less and less until he didn’t write at all. To make matters worse, if he got Toby to write him again there was no doubt in his mind that their parents would rake Toby over the coals for it.

Just once, for once in his life, Remy wanted an adult to like him, to be proud of him, to trust him. He wanted respect. Not that he deserved any, but he wanted it anyway.

 

May 26th, 2001

Remy played with his hands in the car, breathing very carefully so that he didn’t have a panic attack. Emile was constantly sending him glances, and even with music playing in the car, the atmosphere was tense. “You know, Rem, my parents are going to absolutely adore you,” he said.

“But what if they don’t?” Remy asked. “You’re not a mind-reader, you can’t just magically know if they’ll be okay with me dating you or not!”

“Maybe not,” Emile allowed. “But I do know that in everything I’ve done over the years, so long as it makes me happy and it’s not hurting anyone else, they’ll support it. And you make me... very happy.”

“But...but...I can’t even bring you home to my parents,” Remy said, cheeks flaring red. “Because I can’t even bring myself to tell them I’m gay.”

“That’s a safety issue, Rem. You’re not ashamed of being my boyfriend, are you?”

“Of course not!” Remy replied, hands balling into fists, ready to fight.

Emile slowly pried one of Remy’s fists open and Remy sighed, letting his grip go lax. “Then they’ll love you. Because you love me and I love you back, and you make me happy.”

Remy took a deep breath and let it out slowly, nodding. “All right,” he breathed.

Emile pulled to a stop at the curb and gave Remy’s hand a squeeze, stepping out of the car. Remy slowly opened his door and did the same, standing at the edge of a small lawn, while Emile spoke to a man and a woman who had to be his parents.

They turned to him, and he cleared his throat, scratching the back of his neck. “Nice to meet you, Mister and Misses Thomas...”

Misses Thomas stared at him for a few seconds, before turning to her son and asking, “Emile, when are you going to marry this young man?”

“Mom!” Emile exclaimed, going red as a tomato, and Remy wasn’t much better.

“Well, the way you speak about him, he clearly makes you happy,” she said. “When are you going to pop the question?”

Remy was torn between dying of laughter and embarrassment. Clearly, his fears about Emile’s parents not liking him were unfounded.

“Mom! I’m not proposing to him! We’ve been dating all of...like, a month!” Emile said.

“Never too early to start planning,” Misses Thomas said with an enigmatic smile.

“Yes, it is,” Emile said. He turned to Remy and said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Still not worse than my parents,” Remy choked out.

Emile choked on his laughter and Remy managed to crack a small smile. “You’re right, and I hate that you’re right,” Emile said.

“Your father and I made a whole plan to figure out whether or not we need to adopt your boyfriend and in two sentences you undo all our hard work!” Misses Thomas scolded Emile with no real heat behind the words. “Remy, we’re adopting you one way or another. If Emile doesn’t make you our son-in-law we are legally adopting you.”

Remy turned to Emile, squinting. “Did you tell them about my parents?”

“No details!” Emile rushed to assure. “But, they did sorta need to know why we were moving off campus, and over Christmas I mentioned that you were going solo...and they asked why...and...well, my parents know when I’m lying.”

“Everyone knows when you’re lying, honey, your poker face is terrible,” Remy said.

Emile sputtered and Remy’s smile grew into something more relaxed, more natural. “How dare you!” Emile exclaimed, putting a hand over his heart. “I’ll have you know that I have lied to you before and you haven’t known about it!”

“Okay, first of all, that’s not really something you should be admitting,” Remy said, holding up a single finger. “Second of all, I know you were lying about saying that blue shirt doesn’t make me look like a girl, I know you were lying about witnessing Theo and Clara’s drinking games, and I know you were lying all the way back on the day after Halloween when you said I didn’t say anything about liking anybody. Granted, the last one I realized looking back after learning your tells, but yeah, you suck at lying.”

Emile still looked offended and Remy just shrugged with a little smile. “Sorry, but it’s true.”

“You suck,” Emile said.

“I mean, if you ask nicely, but really? In front of your own parents?” Remy laughed.

“I—what? No! No, that is not what I—” Emile cut himself short as he blushed furiously while his parents both laughed.

Remy beamed proudly and Emile was both glaring daggers and blushing as red as Remy had ever seen him blush before. And he had to admit that making Emile blush was kind of fun. Not fun enough to torture him with it, but every once in a while he might make a jab.

When Mister Thomas finally came up for air, he put a hand on Remy’s shoulder and declared, “I like you already.”

Remy blinked in surprise and turned to Emile. Despite furious blushing, Emile said, “Yep, he really means that.”

“Oh. Okay,” Remy said. He wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that. He had never met any of his boyfriends’ parents before in the capacity of being a boyfriend, but the parents he had met were fiercely protective of their sons from any girl coming within a ten mile radius. But to make his boyfriends’ parents laugh genuinely, and to have them like him, for real...he was getting a little choked up.

Emile walked closer, until they could almost touch foreheads if both of them moved a few inches. “You okay?” Emile asked in a low whisper.

“Not used to...positive attention from people older than me,” Remy said.

“Theo gives you positive attention.”

“Theo is also still in college, and therefore by most people’s standards still a kid,” Remy shot back. “I mean like. Actual adults who have done their taxes several years in a row.”

“So like...people you perceive as adults while still technically being an adult yourself,” Emile filled in.

“I guess,” Remy agreed. “Regardless of semantics, I’m still surprised.”

“I said my parents would adore you, I’m not sure why you’re so shocked,” Emile teased.

Remy shrugged. “Uh...trauma? Or something?” he asked.

Emile sobered and nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. You saying stuff like that makes me want to hug you, though, I’ll warn you.”

“I won’t object to hugs from you...right now, at any rate.”

No sooner had he said that than Emile wrapped his arms around Remy and held him tightly. Remy offered a light hug back, knowing it paled in comparison to Emile’s hugs, but feeling like that was all he could give in the moment.

It felt like a scene from a rom-com, almost overused and most definitely too common for most people’s tastes, but to a select few, it meant the world. And to Remy, having a select few moments where he was allowed to take in Emile’s warmth, his scent, his everything in unfamiliar territory, well...he hadn’t felt this safe since before Toby went off to college.

That revelation made Remy stiffen minutely. He felt just as safe with Emile as he had with Toby, possibly more so. How was he supposed to understand that? How was he supposed to share that? Emile pulled away as Remy stiffened and Remy moved his hand down Emile’s back until he could grab Emile’s hand and interlace their fingers. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.

“You okay?” Emile asked again.

“Um. Yeah.” Remy scratched the back of his neck. “I’m fine since you’re here.”

That seemed to have a semi-successful message, because Emile gave Remy’s hand a squeeze with a warm, knowing smile, and Emile dragged him to the trunk, where their stuff was. “We can both share my old room, Mom,” Emile said. “Provided that’s okay with you, Rem?”

“Would we be...sharing a bed?” Remy asked.

“No, I had a bed I used for sleeping and then I had another one for guests, and to stuff massive amounts of pillows on,” Emile said. “We probably wouldn’t fit on one bed. We’re both pretty tall.”

Remy snorted. “True.” He took the suitcase Emile passed him, which he recognized as his by the distinct lack of cartoon-y stickers covering it. During this, Emile never let go of his hand, which Remy appreciated. Emile grabbed his own suitcase and closed the trunk, before taking a breath and saying, “Shall we go inside? At least long enough to put our suitcases in my room?”

“Oh, of course, sweetheart. Do you need any help with your bags?” Misses Thomas asked.

“I think we’ve got it, Mom,” Emile said with a small smile. He didn’t let go of Remy’s hand until they were in his room.

Remy wasn’t sure what he expected to see with Emile’s room. There was a stuffed animal or two, and pillows on two perfectly-made beds, but the paint was fading in different patches all over the walls, patches where posters must have been. The closet was open and empty, and there wasn’t anything on the desk in the room that screamed “Emile lived here.” It was...too bare-bones for him to really understand that Emile grew up in this house, slept in this room. It felt...wrong.

“Hey, Rem?” Emile asked softly.

Remy hummed.

“Can we talk a little bit about what you said?”

Remy turned to look at Emile, who had sat down on one of the beds, looking like he saw a ghost. “Yeah. Though I have to say, this room doesn’t look like an Emile Thomas room, not without cartoon posters and figurines and stuffed animals everywhere.”

Emile smiled, but it was strained. “You said you felt safe since I was here. What does that mean?”

Remy swallowed. He still wasn’t sure how he was supposed to share that. “It means...it means that you feel safe, in my head. Toby was the same way, when we were kids.” Remy began to pace, hands flying around his face as he tried to explain. “Toby was the one who made sure I was okay when Mom and Dad fought. Vanessa never did it, for one reason or another, but Toby would help me calm down and stay quiet and out of the way. So Toby grew to represent safety. He’s...yeah. He’s still safe, wherever he is, and the reason it was a sucker-punch when I lost him wasn’t just because I lost him, but I lost that safety too. But...but when you hugged me today, I realized that I get the same kind of comfort from you now. You just...you feel safe. I can’t describe all that entails or why you feel that way, but you do.”

Emile took a breath, and let it out slowly. “Oh...okay.”

“Is that bad?” Remy asked.

“No! No, it’s not bad,” Emile rushed to assure, standing up and walking over to Remy, taking his hands. “I’m honored to be your safe space. I just...I didn’t realize I was. I didn’t realize...that you trusted me that much. I guess that’s my bad for assuming, huh?”

Remy shrugged. “It’s whatever, don’t worry about it. I didn’t realize that I did that either, until like five minutes ago. And your parents seem really sweet, but I’m still lowkey terrified.”

“Oh, I know what will change that,” Emile said with a grin.

“What?” Remy asked.

Emile bounced to his bedroom door and hollered through the house, “Hey, Dad! Can Remy and I help with lunch?!”

There was a faint, “Sure!” from somewhere inside, and Remy blinked.

“Well, I didn’t expect him to agree that fast!” Emile laughed. “My dad loves to cook, and the more you cook with him, the more you get to know him. He’ll make sure you feel right at ease while you work. I’ve been learning how to make stuff from him, although I use shortcuts when I can. You might enjoy helping him cook from scratch.”

“Sounds fun,” Remy admitted.

“It is fun! Do you want to head down now and help figure out what we’ll be eating?” Emile asked.

Remy offered a small smile and a nod. “Sure, why not?”

Chapter Text

November 21st, 1987

“There, you see, Emile? It’s as easy as that,” his dad said, helping Emile stir the noodles in the pot.

“And when this is done we’ll have mac and cheese?” Emile looked up at his dad.

With a smile, his dad nodded. “We’ll have dinner, and we’ll have spent time together. And both of those things are extremely important, and good for the soul.”

Emile nodded sagely. He didn’t always understand what his dad was saying, but in this case it seemed really, really important. He hoped that one day soon, he would understand what “good for the soul” meant.

 

May 26th, 2001

Remy was laughing with Emile’s dad, and Emile was watching them both fondly. He was really glad that Remy had jumped on the chance to cook. He definitely knew how to slice and dice, and Emile was impressed. Now whether he could cook the things he was cutting up was another story entirely. “You don’t think we have stuff to make half a dozen cupcakes, do you?” Remy asked.

“We might, why do you ask?” Dad replied.

“Well...we kinda forgot to celebrate Emile’s birthday due to an...unfortunate situation up in town.”

“A...situation?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, we had so much of a situation we accidentally forgot about Emile’s birthday and didn’t get to celebrate,” Remy said sheepishly. “And then it came time to pay rent and we just...never celebrated. But I really want to fix that.”

Dad nodded. “We’ll be making cupcakes then,” he said simply.

“That’s...that’s really not necessary, Dad, we don’t have to celebrate,” Emile said.

“Of course we do, you’ve turned twenty! That’s plenty of cause to celebrate!” his dad declared. “Two whole decades on this planet!”

“You turned twenty? Not nineteen?” Remy asked.

“I was held back in kindergarten,” Emile waved off. “I hadn’t yet learned to read, believe it or not.”

“You didn’t know how to read when you were five?” Remy asked skeptically. “You?”

Emile shrugged. “Took until I was six for everything to click properly. Once I figured it out, I was quickly moving to the top of my class.”

“Ah,” Remy said. “You would have an origin story like that.”

Emile frowned. He had no clue what that was supposed to mean. “What?”

“Just...your brain seems to operate like a supercomputer, sometimes. You went from knowing virtually nothing to knowing virtually everything you asked about within the span of a year. You would. Because this is you we’re talking about, and you’re nothing if not extraordinary.”

“That’s gay, Rem,” Emile said, a smile tugging at his lips.

“We’re gay, Emile,” Remy pointed out.

“You’re gay. I’m bisexual,” Emile teased.

Remy rolled his eyes and shook his head, and Emile laughed, heart warming. He loved having little domestic moments with Remy, it made him think that they could stay together forever. He moved closer and kissed Remy’s cheek, and Remy turned red. “Stop!” he said, playfully swatting Emile’s arm. “That’s not playing fair!”

“Who said I intended to play fair?” Emile asked with a wink.

“If you’re not playing fair, you can leave the kitchen,” Remy said. “Because I need to focus on cooking.”

“Okay, boys, one of you grab a pot and fill it up with water, will you?” Dad asked.

Emile went to grab a pot, and Remy looked at the bowl they were using to mix ingredients for their meatballs with a frown. “The meatballs are missing something,” he mused.

“We added everything in the recipe,” Dad said.

“No, no, I know that,” Remy said. “But that won’t give the meatballs an extra kick in the tastebuds. It needs something else.” Remy stared at the bowl intently before saying, “Olive oil. Do you have any olive oil? I think we’ll only need like, two tablespoons.”

Dad silently passed Remy the bottle of olive oil and Remy poured in what looked to be about two tablespoons, mixing it into the meat in the bowl. Emile watched curiously. “You know, if this goes wrong, all the blame for the food tasting weird is going to land on your shoulders. Jokingly, of course, but still.”

“It won’t go wrong,” Remy said. “Let’s get these suckers in the oven and start cooking the rice.”

Emile pulled out a cookie sheet they would use to bake the meatballs on and watched in fascination as Remy near-expertly rolled the meatballs in seconds, putting them on the tray just so. Dad whistled. “You never told me your boyfriend knew his way around the kitchen, Emile.”

Remy was grinning as he worked. Emile said, “Dad, he only eats granola and instant ramen at home. I didn’t even know he knew how to cook.”

“Never judge a book by its cover, Emile. I would have thought you lived by that philosophy,” Remy teased.

Emile rolled his eyes. “I never said you couldn’t cook. Cooking wasn’t brought up between us until the day you agreed to come home with me.”

“You doubted me a little,” Remy said, squinting at Emile. “You were skeptical.”

“So I was wrong, what’s the big deal?” Emile asked.

“Nothing much, I’m just happy to know you’re not perfect,” Remy said. “Lowers the bar for my expected performance just a bit.”

“You know, no one expects you to be perfect, Rem,” Emile said.

Remy scowled. “My parents do.”

“No one who matters, then,” Emile said before he could stop himself.

Remy froze and rounded on Emile, hands coated in flour still as he crossed his arms. “Are you saying my parents don’t matter?”

“Are you saying that you still want to meet their standards after they made it very clear that they’d rather have you dead than happy?” Emile asked.

Dad choked and Emile winced. “That...I would say it’s not as bad as it sounds, Dad, but I’d be lying,” Emile sighed.

“Hey, my parents may be a little controlling, but they’ll come around,” Remy said. “Once I make it clear that this makes me happy, they’ll see that I can handle myself, and they’ll be glad I’m happy.”

Emile knew that wasn’t true. In all his twenty years of existence, people who he had met that were like Remy’s parents didn’t rest until they saw you as perfect, by their standards and not anyone else’s. Emile would treat them civilly, and with respect, but to him, their opinions meant jack. Clearly, though, Remy was clinging to the hope that his parents might come around.

Emile didn’t want to dash those hopes, but he also didn’t want Remy to be let down when his parents failed him again. And they would fail him again if they didn’t get their act together. Emile doubted they would even make an attempt to fix the rift they had created. To them, everything was fine and Remy was the problem child. He didn’t know how to respond. “If you say so,” Emile said.

“You don’t believe me,” Remy huffed.

“No, I don’t,” Emile admitted. “But there is always a chance, and if you want to hold onto that infinitesimal chance, then I can’t exactly stop you.”

“Infinitesimal,” Remy repeated. “You really think...you haven’t even met my parents properly!”

“I met your mother at the police station after they put you in holding,” Emile said. “And I was not a fan.”

“I take it this is the ‘incident’ in question?” Dad asked.

“Unfortunately,” Emile said. “Remy’s mother claimed he was a runaway staying at our apartment so that she could drag him back to his parents’ house and they could continue to dictate his life.”

“You’re making it out to be way worse than it was!” Remy protested.

“You were put in a holding cell, Rem!” Emile snapped back.

“Boys, please,” Dad cut in. “Clearly, this is a touchy subject for both of you. Take a step back and regroup before you try and resolve this, okay? Shouting at each other will get you nowhere.”

Emile huffed and Remy just silently turned back to the meatballs. Dad looked at Emile and arched an eyebrow, decidedly unimpressed with Emile’s behavior, and Emile wanted to hide his face in a sweater, or else just go to his room until he cooled off. But he couldn’t leave Remy alone, so Emile scowled back at him. Dad didn’t know the context of the situation, he couldn’t understand what the big deal was!

Dad just gave him that level, thousand-yard stare back. Emile hadn’t been on the receiving end of that one for a long time. It was usually his last warning before he got a talking-to. Inwardly, he scoffed. A talking-to. Like he didn’t know Remy better than his dad or even his mom did. They had known Remy all of two hours. Emile pat Remy’s shoulder twice and left the room. He was not having this discussion. It just wasn’t worth it. He didn’t want to explain why he was so angry, especially considering that he would have to go into Remy’s family life, and Remy didn’t like anyone doing that.

Emile stalked all the way to his room, and flopped down on his bed. He really wasn’t up for this as much as he thought he was. Maybe coming here for the weekend was a bad idea.

He stared at the ceiling for an indeterminable amount of time before there was a knock on his bedroom door. He flipped over onto his stomach and buried his head in his pillow. “Not now, Mom.”

“Emile, you haven’t stormed out of any room since you were fourteen years old. Something is wrong, and I know you’ll feel better if you talk about it sooner rather than later,” Mom said.

“No,” Emile repeated, burying his head in his pillow further.

His mom tutted. “You know, you’re acting an awful lot like how you described Remy in the beginning of your relationship,” she said neutrally.

Emile pushed himself off the bed, pacing and running his hands through his hair. “Yeah? Well I understand where he was coming from, now, so maybe it’s normal to act like that after meeting his fu—”

“—Think carefully before you finish that sentence,” his mom warned.

“He’s clinging to a hope that’s completely unrealistic! I’ve met people like his parents before, and all they want is for you to meet their expectations, no matter how impossible it is to reach them! He’s setting himself up for failure, and I don’t want to see him get hurt!” Emile growled.

“Then tell him where you’re coming from,” his mom said.

Emile laughed incredulously. “Don’t you think I would have already tried that?! He’s completely closed off to feedback!”

“Yeah, well, given your delivery of this little rant, it’s a small wonder he listens to you at all,” his mom said. “You’re not exactly being gentle.”

Emile scoffed. “Every time I try to be gentle, he shuts me down! He hates sugarcoating, but he also won’t listen at all when it comes to those two idiots he has the misfortune to call his parents!”

His mom stepped in front of Emile, and forced him to stay still. She gazed up into his eyes and smiled softly. “Emile, you can’t save everyone. Not everyone wants to be saved. And you have a long way to go before you know almost everything about helping people through past trauma. Have you ever considered that, maybe, he doesn’t like sugarcoating because he feels lied to? Furthermore, maybe his parents are a sensitive topic, one of the few where no matter what you do, you have to be gentle. Sugarcoating might not be the way to go, but you can’t just storm in and expect him to listen to you, especially when you’re acting the way you are right now.”

“Why can’t he understand that wanting them to be there is hurting him? He’s the reason he’s setting himself up for disappointment. And if they don’t change and he lets them back in his life, he’s going to get hurt worse,” Emile said.

His mom gave him a hug. “Honey, you can’t save everyone. No one expects you to. And if Remy wants to believe his parents can change, let him for now. It means he isn’t ready to accept your view on the matter yet.”

“What if he’s never ready?” Emile asked. “What if he continuously tries to convince himself his parents will change their mind?”

“Then you let him believe that, honey,” his mom said. “And if you can’t stand to watch him get hurt, then you walk away.”

Emile swallowed, but nodded. He didn’t like that prospect, but he knew that his mom was right. If watching Remy get hurt was going to hurt Emile, then clearly he couldn’t stick around forever watching Remy get worse and worse, over and over.

Chapter Text

November 4th, 1993

Emile swallowed and shifted on his feet as his mom looked him over. He must have been quite the sight, covered head to toe in dirt and blood. To be fair, Sully had started the fight, but something told him that Mom wouldn’t want to hear that right now. Sully had started it, but Emile had finished it. By shoving Sully into the side of the building, which happened to be where the metal gutter was, landing Sully with a concussion.

Finally, his mom took a breath. Emile knew this lecture was going to be long, but he didn’t know exactly how long it might be, and that’s where the real fear kicked in. He hoped he’d have time for dinner before bed, but judging by the look Mom was giving him, his odds weren’t very high.

 

May 26th, 2001

Emile finally left his room when his dad called up that it was time for lunch. He walked down the stairs to find Remy resolutely not looking at him as he sat at the table with a plate of meatballs with some sauce Emile couldn’t identify, and rice on the side. Emile sat down next to him tentatively, where another plate was waiting. Remy didn’t acknowledge him.

His mom and dad came in with plates of their own, his mom said grace, and they all started to eat. Remy went for the rice first, but Emile was curious and immediately halved a meatball, skewering it and humming in surprise. The olive oil brought a depth of flavor to the meatballs that he had never tasted before! “The olive oil was a good call, Rem,” Emile said. “I’m super impressed.”

Remy’s eyes flickered over to him for half a second. “You mean that?”

“Yeah! I’ve never had the meatballs taste like this before, and it’s absolutely delicious.”

Remy’s smile at that was small, and shy, but completely genuine. He wasn’t putting up a front, or playing up his emotions. He was genuinely pleased. And in Emile’s mind, he definitely should be. “It’s been forever since I’ve cooked,” Remy admitted. “I missed it.”

“Well, if this is what you can do with simple ingredients, we’ll have to invest in real food more often,” Emile said. “This is, without a doubt, the best meal I’ve had in months.”

“Emile!” Remy laughed, cheeks flaming red. “You’re gonna embarrass me!”

Emile shrugged and said, “Well, I’m just sharing my opinion,” before backing off and going back to eating.

The atmosphere in the room was slightly less tense after that, though no one really said much, aside from the occasional praise to Remy about improving the recipe. Remy ducked his head with a blush every time, but Emile could see that he really enjoyed the end result of his experiment. It got Emile thinking. Remy would make an excellent cook at a restaurant, or he could probably make new mixes for coffee at the smaller chain, if his managers let him. But food service seemed to be where Remy excelled. He knew a lot about business and math, but he enjoyed cooking. He tucked that thought away for later. He was sure he could make sense out of a half-baked idea at some point in the future.

“So, Remy, do you want to tell us a little about yourself?” Mom asked. “Obviously, you’re a wonderful cook, but outside that.”

Remy shrugged. “I mean, I kinda like sports. Not to the point where I’d be called a sports nut, but it passes the time, and it’s fun to play and to watch. I’ve read some...novels, and books, but uh...my biggest hobby by far has to be...uh...comics. Like, DC, Marvel, anything in between, indie companies, I love them all.”

“Oh, that’s nice!” Mom said. “Do you think you like comics as much as Emile likes cartoons?”

“I’m not sure if anyone could like anything as much as Emile likes cartoons,” Remy laughed. “But yeah, I’m pretty enthusiastic about them.”

“Who’s your favorite superhero? You can’t like comics without having some kind of favorite superhero. Or perhaps a supervillain?” Dad asked.

“How about an antihero?” Remy shot back. “Deadpool is by far my favorite comic series. Anything with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy comes in second, and first for everything DC, but Deadpool takes the cake.”

“He’s tried to explain the timelines to me, but I can’t keep up with them,” Emile said with a shake of his head. “It’s too confusing.”

“You just lack the ability to apply ret-conning,” Remy informed him. “That makes understanding timelines so much easier.”

Emile and Remy fell into banter about whether or not cartoons or comics were better that had them both laughing by the end of lunch. Everyone put their dishes in the kitchen to be washed later and Dad asked, “Do you boys want to do anything in particular? If you want, we can always go to the community center for a game of basketball or something similar.”

“Uh...if you don’t mind, Mister Thomas, I’d like to talk to Emile alone a minute, first,” Remy said.

Emile’s hair stood on end as his dad nodded. “If I hear shouting, I will come over to break it up,” he said. “You both are mature enough that I hope it won’t be a problem.”

That unspoken behave may as well have been written on a neon sign to Emile. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Remy led him upstairs, back to Emile’s room. Remy closed the door behind him softly and hissed, “How many times do I have to tell you, Emile, I don’t like you talking smack about my family!”

“It was a knee-jerk response,” Emile said, crossing his arms.

“The first sentence might have been. The rest certainly wasn’t,” Remy snarled.

“Well, what do you want me to do? Lie to your face and tell you I believe you when you say your parents will change?” Emile challenged. “Look, Rem, I don’t want to hurt you, but you’re setting yourself up to be hurt again putting that hope in your parents!”

“Yeah?” Remy asked. “You’re so certain they’re going to fail me, huh?”

“Every person I’ve ever met who has acted like your mother did never changed their tune. I’m speaking from experience, Remy! I don’t want you to get hurt anymore!”

“They can change!” Remy exclaimed. “They took Vanessa and Toby and I on trips when we were little, and they were doting and caring to all of us at one point or another. They have good in them, Emile! They have good days! They can get more good days if they only put in the effort!”

“Is it worth it, though?” Emile asked. “You’re ripping at the seams, a thread that’s slowly unravelling into insanity. You know your parents weren’t good to you, Rem. You’ve been over this with me and with Kim. But do you know what Kim might not have told you?”

“What?” Remy asked.

“Any good days that they had do not negate the bad days and the hell they put you through most of the time. If you believe they can be good? Then great. Let them prove it to you. Don’t force them to do anything, don’t be the one to reach out first. Make sure that they know you’re serious, you won’t back down, you’re your own person.” Emile shook his head. “You’re making excuses for them and putting all your eggs in one basket. What happens if they don’t come around?”

“They will,” Remy said with certainty.

“But what if they don’t? What happens if they only accept you to a point? They say that you can be who you want in terms of a job, but you can’t be gay, or you can’t have certain people as your friends? There’s always something with those types, Rem. Something will always keep them from being happy.”

Remy’s fists were shaking at his sides. He brought up a hand and Emile flinched, but Remy just pointed. “You know that you can act like a real ass, Emile? It’s not just me who has my moments, or my months!”

Emile took a deep breath, remembering his mother’s words about being gentle. “Remy, I don’t want to hurt you,” he said, holding his hands up. “I’m trying to be realistic, and I know you don’t like it when I sugarcoat things.”

“You talk about my family like they’re all scum,” Remy said. “Well not all of them are that bad, or bad at all! Toby’s the one who gave me ‘the talk’ when I told him I was gay! Vanessa always snuck me snacks if I was banished to my room for however long and I might have missed a meal! Nate and Magenta are angels! Not all my family is my parents, Emile, and even my parents have the potential to change!”

“But it’s only potential, Rem. I don’t want you taking all your hopes and putting it on potential. I don’t want your mom to keep stalking you. I don’t want your parents to ship you off to the military. I don’t want you getting hurt. I just...I can’t find the pretty words to explain why something won’t work!” Emile exclaimed. “I know it can’t work, but you disagree, and I can’t figure out how to get you to see it from my side!”

“I have seen it from your side!” Remy exclaimed. “I saw it from your side on Thanksgiving. When my mom came to me at work. When I put all my hopes on you and moved in with you. But you have extreme, visceral reactions whenever my family gets brought up that make me feel sick to my stomach. They’re not bad people, Emile!”

“They’re bad parents,” Emile insisted. “And bad grandparents. Your cousins and Vanessa are mostly off the hook for now, and Toby was never on it, but your parents? And grandparents? And the aunts and uncles who wouldn’t stand in your corner when you needed it? They’re hurting you, whether intentional or not, actively or passively. And I don’t want to see you hurt!” Emile’s eyes were clouding with tears. “I love you, you idiot! I don’t want to see you hurt!”

“But you hurt me too! When you say my family is evil and my parents are bad and toxic, that hurts me too! Because I want to believe that my family can be good! And you refuse to give them that chance!” Remy hugged own torso. “Maybe I give them too much of a chance, but you definitely give them too little. I could change, why couldn’t they?”

“Rem...” Emile trailed off. “You didn’t change. They tried to change you and you resisted, and you put up walls and fronts around yourself to get their approval, but you were always a kind, caring person at heart. That’s you. And they...they aren’t.”

Remy scowled at him.

Emile shook his head. “I’m sorry, Rem. But I can’t...this is one thing I can’t sugarcoat even if I wanted to. You deserve to know that your parents were hurting you. Are hurting you, even now.”

Remy crossed his arms. “So, what, I’m just supposed to go through life without parents? Without family? Without a safety net? Just free fall the second my mental health takes a dive and crash onto the pavement below?”

“No,” Emile said. “You can borrow my parents and family if you need. You have me, and Clara, and Theo, and Xavier, and all of our mutual friends as a safety net. The second your mental health takes a dive we’ll be there to support you in any way we’re able to.”

Remy kept his arms crossed, eyes growing glassy with tears. “But what if I don’t want you? What if I don’t want them? What if...what if all I really want is my parents there for me? My mother supporting my decisions, and my father praising my hard work?! What if I want that?!”

The last word was shouted at max volume, and Emile could hear his dad rushing up the steps. Emile swallowed. “Well, Rem...you can’t always get what you want.”

Remy’s face darkened and he bellowed, “Screw you!” just as Emile’s dad rushed in. “You don’t get to tell me who I can and can’t go to for help! Maybe I want to reconcile with my parents! Maybe you’re the one being controlling and demanding! You’re the one who’s hurting me, not them!”

“Okay, okay, break it up!” Dad yelled, stepping between them. “Remy, why don’t you go downstairs? I’m sure my wife can help you with whatever you might need at the moment. She has a much gentler touch,” the last part was said with a pointed glance at Emile. “It’s my turn to talk to Emile, now, for a minute.”

The look Emile was getting spoke volumes. He was in massive trouble. Remy huffed and left the room, and Emile braced himself for perhaps the sternest talking-to he would ever have in his life as his stomach sank.

Chapter Text

December 12th, 1987

Remy’s mother shrieked as she came over and pulled Remy away from the boy he had been playing with not five minutes earlier. “Mom?!” Remy asked.

“You can’t do that, Remy!” his mother said, clearly outraged. “You can not kiss any boy, ever!”

“But I like him, Mom! And the TV shows say you kiss people you like!” Remy protested.

“Remington, if you kiss boys you’re going to go to Hell!” his mother hissed at him.

“What?!” Remy asked in clear alarm. “Why?!”

“Because being gay is a sin! And no son of mine is going to grow up and be gay!” his mother snapped at him.

 

May 26th, 2001

Remy didn’t feel at all bad leaving Emile’s bedroom...for all of twenty seconds. By the time he got down the stairs to the first floor, he realized that Emile might be getting yelled at in a matter of moments, and that thought didn’t sit well with him. But it was too late to go back up, as Emile’s mom had already come over to him and insisted he come with her and take a seat in the living room. “I’m not going to convince you whatever my son did wasn’t wrong,” she told Remy. “But I will tell you that he means well. That doesn’t excuse his behavior, but it’s why he did it.”

Swallowing, Remy nodded. “I don’t like...he said that my parents are bad. That they’re scum. I don’t like it. They...they kept a roof over my head, and gave me food and water and made sure I had friends. They just want to look out for me.”

Emile’s mom nodded. “I don’t know the full story, dear, and I doubt Emile does either. He’s letting snap judgements dictate his decisions.”

“M-maybe...maybe I should call them,” Remy said. “Maybe...if-if I could get an apology for what happened in April, then maybe Emile would...would feel better about the whole thing. My mom didn’t mean to come across the way she did, she was just stressed.”

Emile’s mom wasn’t betraying a single emotion or thought she might be having. “Do you want to use our phone?” she asked.

“It would be a long distance call...I don’t want to add to your phone bill,” Remy said, pulling out his cell phone. “I can call from my own phone.”

“Remy, you wouldn’t be adding to our phone bill. And besides, if Emile has a point, wouldn’t it be safer to call from our phone?” Emile’s mom pointed out.

“I mean...if you’re sure it wouldn’t add too much to your phone bill...” Remy mumbled, trailing off.

“I regularly call people out of state, sweetheart, one more call is nothing,” Emile’s mom said.

“I...okay,” Remy agreed.

Emile’s mom showed him to the phone and he picked it up, dialling the familiar number that had given him so much anxiety in the past, and, despite still giving him massive anxiety, may have been his only hope now. It rang, and rang, and rang, and then his mother picked up with a fake-sweet-sounding, “Hello?”

“Uh...hey, Mom...” Remy said, voice a second away from giving out.

“Remy?” his mother sounded genuinely surprised.

“Uh, yeah...hi. Um...I just wanted to talk about what happened in April...I’m sorry,” Remy scratched the back of his neck. He had overreacted a bit, probably, with the whole “bite me” thing, so an apology was in order.

“Oh, sweetheart, it’s okay, I know you didn’t mean it,” his mother said.

Heat traveled down Remy’s spine, whether from relief or shame he wasn’t sure. “Thanks...um. My...my friend and I kind of had a fight today, and I had a point to prove, so I wanted to make sure there were no hard feelings between us?”

Emile’s mom gave him a look, a cross between confusion and concern. Remy just focused on the other end of the line, waiting with bated breath during a pregnant pause. “Of course there’s no hard feelings, sweetie, but you know your father and I know what’s best for you, right? You can’t be a barista for the rest of your life.”

“Yeah...yeah, I know. I’m working towards getting a different job,” Remy lied. He didn’t know of any openings in the area, and he could still pay his half of the rent well enough.

“Your father and I were talking, sweetheart, and we both agreed that you might need a little more structure in your life than we were able to provide.” A pause. Remy’s heart felt like it stopped beating. “If you want to do what’s best for you, we think joining the military would help so much.”

“And...and if I did that...would we...would we be good? You’d be...proud of me?” Remy’s voice was impossibly small.

“Honey, we’d be proud to the bursting,” his mother told him. Remy wanted to sob. He so desperately wanted to believe that was true. “Where are you? I didn’t expect to hear you call, and if you had a fight with your friend...?”

“I’m...um...I’m travelling with him during Memorial Day weekend. We both had work off and I thought there was no harm in it, but clearly, he had some opinions I didn’t know about...”

“Do you want to come home, sweetie?” his mother asked.

Remy’s heart was pounding in his chest. Honestly, he didn’t exactly want to go back to them, but he couldn’t stand the thought of going back to his and Emile’s apartment and living in silence for however long they stayed together, at least until the end of the semester, possibly longer. “...Yeah, a little,” Remy mumbled.

“Where can I pick you up, darling? Where are you?” his mother asked.

“Uh...I don’t know where we are specifically. If I gave you a city we could meet up there?” Remy asked.

There was a pregnant pause again on the other line. “Remington, you’re not lying to me, are you?”

“No, Mom, no. I’m not lying to you,” Remy said. He could feel himself getting choked up. “I made...I made a mistake. I just...I want to go home. I wanna see Toby again. And Vanessa. And I want you and Dad to be proud of me.”

Emile’s mom was looking him over in worry. Remy tried to ignore her stare. “...How about we meet up at that little pancake place you liked on our way to the beach?” his mother offered.

Remy did some mental math. That was about an hour away. He cringed inwardly. Emile wouldn’t drive him, but maybe Emile’s mom would? He would give her gas money. “I could probably be there in about an hour with good traffic,” Remy said.

“Then I’ll see you there, sweetheart. I’m so glad you’re seeing sense. I love you so much,” his mother said.

Remy tried to not sob at that. “I love you too, Mom.”

When the line went dead, Remy put the phone back. “I have gas money, if you’re willing to drive me—”

“—Remy, if this is what you want, I’ll take you there for free. Where are you meeting up?” Emile’s mom asked.

“Uh, this little pancake place that my family would go to on the way to the beach. It’s about an hour away, and I really don’t mind paying gas money—”

“—You will not be paying me gas money, Remy,” Emile’s mom said sternly. “If you need this, you shouldn’t have to pay.”

Remy nodded. “Okay. Uh, my stuff is still in Emile’s room...”

“I’ll grab it,” Emile’s mom assured him. She smiled sadly. “I’m really sorry that you couldn’t stay with us longer.”

“Me too,” Remy breathed.

The next hour or so passed in a blur. Emile’s mom got his stuff, they got in her car, and Remy gave her directions to the pancake place. He was crying, just a little, but Emile’s mom didn’t mention it. He appreciated that.

They got to the pancake place in a little under an hour and he told Emile’s mom, “It took about an hour from our house to get here, too. She should be here any time.”

Emile’s mom gave his arm a pat. “It’s all right, dear, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

A car pulled into the parking lot behind them and Remy’s heart leapt into his throat when Emile jumped out of the driver’s side, stalking over. Oh, no. “Remy! What the hell?!”

“Emile, language!” Emile’s mom chastised.

Emile ignored her and stared at Remy. “What, I’m too despicable for you so you go running back to the parents who treated you like crap?! Is that what’s going on here?!”

Remy crossed his arms. “At least I know what’s coming to me when it comes from my parents!” he snapped.

Emile’s dad walked over and put a hand on Emile’s arm. “Emile, you need to let Remy make his own choice. You can argue your case until you turn blue, but at the end of the day, it’s Remy’s decision.”

“Yeah? Well, there may be a million decisions he could make in this situation, but this is the wrong one!” Emile exclaimed, removing his dad’s hand.

“Emile, don’t mess up your relationship with your parents just because of me,” Remy said. “I’m doing this, and you can’t change my mind.”

“Remy...Remy...they’re gonna kill you!” Emile exclaimed. “I can’t let you do that to yourself!”

“You’re not in control of my life, Emile!” Remy snapped. “You’re just as bad as you claim they are!”

Emile turned ash white and stood there, staring at Remy. “Is that...really...how you see me?”

Before Remy could respond in any way other than shying away from Emile, a familiar sedan pulled up and his mother got out, walking over with an aura of smugness around her. “Sweetheart, thank goodness you’re okay,” she said, coming over and hugging Remy.

Remy involuntarily stiffened and color returned to Emile’s face as he growled. His mother pulled away and looked around them. “Remington, are you going to introduce me to these people?”

“My ride,” Remy said, nodding to Emile’s mom. “My friend,” he pointed to Emile.

His mother’s face darkened. “I remember you from the police station,” she spat at Emile. “What did you do to my son?!”

“What did I do?!” Emile scoffed. “I helped save his heart before it shrivelled up and died from your treatment of him over the years.”

“Emile,” Emile’s dad warned as Remy’s mother gasped in offence.

“How dare you?!” Remy’s mother shrieked. “You’re the one who stole him from me, and put those silly ideas about quitting college in his head!”

“That was actually my idea,” Remy said quietly. “Emile gave me the means to do it.”

His mother held up a hand, and Remy fell silent. He really didn’t want this confrontation to happen, he had hoped that maybe Emile wouldn’t catch on to what was happening until Remy was already gone. She stalked over to Emile, who stood his ground and stared down at her with distaste. “You’re the one who convinced my son that I don’t care about him anymore,” she snarled.

“No, you did that yourself, with your blatant disregard for his feelings,” Emile said brightly. “I’m the one who was trying to help him figure out who he was beyond your idiotic plans for him.”

“Emile!” Emile’s dad hissed.

“If I’m going down as the enemy in Remy’s books, I’m going down in flames!” Emile snapped. “Because maybe, one day, he’ll understand why I care for him the way I do!”

Remy’s mother sneered, and Remy gulped. Oh, no. That was where this was going. “Are you gay?!” she asked with a sneer.

“Bisexual,” Emile corrected. “And currently in love with your son, yeah, before you ask. Not that it’s like he ever reciprocated or anything, but he was still kind enough to be my friend!”

“Well, not anymore,” Remy’s mother said. “I don’t want any child of mine associating with queers.”

Remy flinched as both of Emile’s parents spoke up in outrage. The voices were overlapping and distorting, and he recognized the beginnings of a panic attack. He was focusing on his breathing, as best as he could, but it didn’t seem to be working very well. He was shaking and crying and even as Emile’s dad and Remy’s mom fought, Emile’s mom was guiding him to sit down, and asking him if he was all right. Remy buried his head in his hands before his hands came up to tug on his hair and he bit back a sob. No one wants to be friends with a crybaby, his mind helpfully taunted.

“See what you did?! You gave your own son a panic attack!” Emile bellowed.

“Well it’s a small price to pay in comparison to what he would be getting if he continued to be around people like you and wound up in Hell!” Remy’s mother snapped.

Remy felt a hand on his back and he jumped, looking up to see his mother. “Come on, sweetheart, I’m taking you home.”

Chapter Text

July 4th, 1998

Emile watched the scene unfold in front of him in slow motion. Faith had told one of the bullies that she wasn’t going to take anything else they wanted to dish out, and the guy pushed her backwards. She stumbled back a step, but rushed forward, pushing back just as hard, and the bully staggered backwards two steps. He turned red, bringing his fist back to swing.

Faith reacted quickly, bringing her shin up to the guy’s crotch. Emile couldn’t even step in to try and break it up, he was in so much shock. He felt so utterly powerless. Not only to help, but to stop the fight from happening in the first place.

 

May 26th, 2001

Emile felt completely powerless. There he was, five feet away from his boyfriend who was in the middle of a panic attack, and Remy’s mother, the bitch, was trying to get Remy to come with her. Emile wanted to move forward, to comfort Remy, to change his mind, but his feet felt glued to the asphalt he was standing on. He felt like he might cry, or like his heart might shatter and he would never recover.

Remy was looking at his mom with a mix of fear and hope, like she could somehow save him or wave away all his trauma. The blood roared in Emile’s ears as slowly Remy stood on shaky legs, and hugged his mother. She walked over to Emile, and Emile just stood there, looking her over. She frowned at him. “I need to get Remington’s things,” she informed him.

“And clearly I need to get off this bad acid trip,” Emile said. “Because I’ve never known Remy to hug people he’s afraid of before. Ever.”

“Remy isn’t afraid of me,” Remy’s mother scoffed. “If anything, he’s learning where he fits in the family. It took him long enough, but he’s coming around.”

It was Emile’s turn to scoff. “Right. Because he would clearly tell you how he feels about you if it was anything remotely negative. Of course. There would be no backlash for that, I’m sure.”

“Of course not, I encourage all my kids to be honest with me,” Remy’s mother said.

“Bullshit,” Emile growled. “I bet the second they come to you with a problem you either make it their fault for not doing what you wanted them to do, or you guilt trip them into taking whatever they said back. Remy, how close am I?”

Remy was shaking and glaring at Emile. “Let it go, Emile,” Remy warned.

“You know me, Rem. I never let anything go until I feel like it’s been fixed. And this is not a solution. At best, it’s a band-aid over a bullet wound,” Emile said.

Remy’s mother tried to forcibly move Emile to the side, but Emile just stood in place, a smile slowly growing on his face. “You’re not getting Remy’s things, not if I have a say in it,” Emile said.

“You don’t have a say in it,” Remy’s mother snarled.

“Don’t I?” Emile asked.

“You don’t,” Remy said, voice sharp and angry. “Let it go, Emile. Let me go.”

“No,” Emile said. “Even if you leave with your mother, I will never stop thinking about you. I’ll never stop trying to write, to find you, to show you that I love you. I love you more than anything else in the world, Rem. And whether or not we’re just friends, or something more, we’ll always have a certain connection between us. And I, for one, am not willing to give that up.”

Remy’s mother sneered at him. “You’re going to burn in Hell,” she informed him.

“Hell will be fabulous, covered in glitter, and I’ll have any guy I could possibly want,” Emile replied without missing a beat. “Although, considering I’m Catholic, you know, I might actually be going to Heaven. I don’t think just being gay will land you in Hell. Purgatory, maybe. Maybe I’ll spend a little longer in Purgatory than I would have otherwise, but you know what? That’s completely worth it.”

“Emile,” Remy said. “Please, stop.”

“Why should I?” Emile challenged.

“Because I asked you to,” Remy said. “I’m not comfortable in this situation. I’m calling it.”

Remy’s mother turned to Remy. “Since when do you talk about your feelings?” she asked. “That sort of thing is completely unnecessary.”

“Wow, I see where he gets that from,” Emile muttered.

“What?” Remy’s mother asked, turning back to Emile. “What is that supposed to mean?!”

“Oh, nothing, nothing,” Emile said with a wave of his hand. “After all, I’ll respect Remy’s decision to not want to talk about it.”

“You’ll tell me what that meant, right now!” Remy’s mother demanded.

An idea formed in Emile’s mind and he widened his eyes with false innocence. “But ma’am, if I did that, I’d be considering you more important than Remy.”

“Remington answers to me,” Remy’s mother spat. “He listens to what I and his father have to say, and he can make his own choices once he’s listened to what we want him to do. He’s free to do whatever he wants, so long as it’s within our plans for him.”

“And there it is,” Emile said, feeling completely vindicated. “Remy is a second-class citizen in your eyes. You come first, and he comes second. Maybe third, or fourth, depending on what his siblings say, isn’t that right?”

“Children are to listen to their parents,” Remy’s mother growled.

“Yeah, when they’re twelve,” Emile said. “Remy is, to use his own words, a ‘grown-ass man.’ He’s old enough to make his own choices about his life, and you’re stripping that right from him. Children have to listen to their parents when they are still children, because their parents generally keep them from doing something stupid that would hurt the kids. But once that child is eighteen, they’re a legal adult, and they’re allowed—no, they’re encouraged to make their own decisions. If Remy makes the choice to go back to you, that’s his choice. But if you strip him of his ability to make his own choices, then you are the one in the wrong.”

“And yet you were trying to take away my choice earlier by saying I couldn’t go back to my mom and dad,” Remy said. “You’re a hypocrite.”

“Yeah? Well, at least I’ll admit to my mistakes, unlike someone in this parking lot,” Emile said, glowering at Remy’s mother.

“When did you admit you were wrong?” Remy scoffed.

Emile looked at Remy. “Every time I’ve yelled, or moved too fast, or made a sudden noise that scared you. When I tried to figure out the logistics of getting a giant sofa into the apartment and you informed me it would never fit through the door.”

“But not when it comes to my family,” Remy said. “You never say you’re wrong when it comes to my family.”

“I’m...not wrong when it comes to your family,” Emile said.

Remy made an offended noise. “You’re not even open to constructive criticism when it comes to your opinions on...virtually anything. Especially cartoons and my family, though.”

“Well, you hardly give evidence to support your claim that your family isn’t as bad as you claim, and you just get mean when you insult cartoons,” Emile said, crossing his arms. “And no, providing you with food and shelter doesn’t mean that your parents were good. That’s a requirement of being a parent. Not something optional you get when you behave, or because your parents feel ‘generous.’”

Remy’s mother snarled, “Move out of the way so I can get my son’s things and we can leave!”

Emile stared down his nose at Remy’s mother. “Ma’am, I say this with as much respect as I can muster, but go to Hell.”

“Emile!” Mom snapped at him. “You can’t say that to anyone!”

“Well, what am I supposed to say?!” Emile asked. “Should I give her a customer service smile and let her hurt Remy?!”

“Once again, you’re hurting me more than she ever has!” Remy exclaimed.

Remy’s mother turned, shocked, to Remy. “You don’t genuinely believe I’ve hurt you?”

“Wha—no! That’s the point!” Remy said, but Emile could see Remy’s tells, and he was definitely lying. And his surprise meant that he wasn’t doing it as well as he usually did. “You haven’t hurt me at all, and he’s hurt me plenty of times!”

“You know I can tell when you’re lying, Remington?” Remy’s mother said. “You’ve always had the exact same face when you lie, from back when you were four years old to now.”

“Okay, so maybe you’ve made me feel bad once or twice, but—”

“When?!” his mother asked. “When have I hurt you?!”

Remy looked like a deer in headlights. “At the coffee shop?” he said. “You scared me out of my wits. And at Thanksgiving, trying to get me to change my major—”

His mother cut him off again. “I was helping you!”

“No, mom. You weren’t,” Remy said, before clapping a hand over his mouth.

His mother was eerily still, and Emile knew that whatever happened next was going to get ugly. “Oh, I see,” she said. “I’m the villain, here. After all these years, you’re still ungrateful for everything I’ve done for you. I made sure you were happy, and that you would fit in with others your age! All those times you were upset when I might take some childish thing away from you, it only took you the next day to recover and it was like nothing ever happened! Do you want to be like your ‘friend’ here and be stuck in the past, watching children’s shows for the rest of your life? I was so relieved when you outgrew your comics phase. You would never have had friends if you had kept that up.”

Emile was ready to strangle Remy’s mother. Not even over insulting his love of cartoons, but for her blatant disregard of Remy’s feelings. It was completely unfair and cruel. Remy removed his hand from his mouth, but his eyes were glassy.

His mother scoffed. “Crocodile tears don’t work on me, Remington, and besides, no one likes a crybaby. They’ll train that out of you in the military.”

Remy was shaking all over, and he muttered, “So that’s where I am. A rock and a hard place. Fantastic.”

“Why are you even entertaining these people?” his mother asked. “We can get you new clothes, you don’t need anything in that suitcase of yours, anyway. Let’s go.”

Remy didn’t move.

“Remington,” his mother prompted. “We’re leaving.”

“I thought...” Remy cleared his throat. “I thought you said you’d be proud of me. Well, I’m doing what you wanted. Why are you still treating me the same as always?”

His mother scoffed. “You don’t get special treatment over your brother or sister. This is the way your father and I treat them, and so it’s how we treat you. Just because you make us proud doesn’t mean your place in this family moves.”

Remy blinked repeatedly. “But...but you always treated me like I was a problem child. If I listen to you, I’m not a problem anymore. I get my own spot at the table when we make decisions.”

“Remy, you clearly don’t know what’s best for you on your own. I’m glad you came to your senses and decided to listen to me, but you can’t be trusted to know what’s best for you. Toby and Vanessa barely know what’s best for themselves, after all these years. They get their opinions considered, but you have to work a while before you get to that point,” his mother explained.

Emile stayed silent, and didn’t move, even though he wanted nothing more than to kill Remy’s mom then and there. Remy was staring at her with hurt, and shock, and betrayal. “Even if you’re proud of me...you get the final say in my life? That’s what you’re saying?”

“Yes, you’re finally beginning to understand!” Remy’s mother exclaimed.

Remy looked down, before looking back up, saying, “No, Mom, I don’t understand. I don’t understand why you get the final say in my life.”

“Because I know you best!” his mother exclaimed.

Remy laughed. “Mom, you don’t even know that I can cook. You set me in front of the stove and said I was old enough to make my own food, and I found I had a knack for making meals, but you never once thought to ask how it was going. If you ever saw me eating something I made you accused me of ordering take-out, because there was no way I’d be able to make something like that, of course. You don’t know me. At all, I’d say. Why should you get to control my life when you don’t even know me?”

“Remington, don’t you dare backtalk,” his mother said.

Remy bit his tongue, pulling a face. “Yeah. No,” he said. “Misses Thomas, I’m sorry for having you drive me all the way out here. Clearly, this was a mistake.”

Emile’s heart soared with hope. “Does this mean you’re staying with us?”

“It means we’ll be having a very. Long. Talk,” Remy warned. “But if I’m not going to be respected at home, then I’m not going home. Sorry, Mom.”

Chapter Text

December 16th, 2000

When Remy walked out of his bedroom, he was immediately met by an almost-shriek from Emile. Remy winced at the loud noise and rubbed his head. “Was that really necessary, Emile?” he grumbled.

“Remy, you’ve been asleep nearly twenty four hours!” Emile exclaimed. “I was worried I’d have to call for an ambulance to take you to the hospital!”

“Oh,” Remy said, stretching. “No, this is normal. It happens when I get super stressed. My body finally thinks it can relax and I’m out cold for at least twelve hours.”

Emile blinked. “That’s terrifying.”

Remy shrugged with a laugh. “Relax, Emile. Everything’s good. It means I’m calm, cool, and collected.”

“Oh,” Emile said. “That’s good, then. Doesn’t mean you didn’t scare me when you shuffled out like a zombie.”

Remy laughed.

 

May 27th, 2001

Remy woke up to the feeling of someone playing with his hair. He frowned and stretched, feeling around where he was, only to find that wherever it was, it definitely wasn’t his bed. There was a laugh from above him. “Morning, sleepyhead.”

Blinking owlishly, Remy looked up to find Emile staring down at him with a soft smile. “Mm. Wha’time ‘sit?” Remy mumbled.

“Nine in the morning,” Emile informed him. “The day after you passed out in my mom’s car.”

“Oh,” Remy said. “Did I scare her?”

“Only a little,” Emile said with a laugh. “And she calmed down marginally after I explained to her that this happens with you sometimes after you get really stressed.”

“Why was I in your mom’s...” Remy’s question trailed off as he remembered yesterday’s events. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Emile said, blowing out a breath. “Not our finest moments, either of us.”

Remy sat up and rubbed his head. “Yeah...” he looked around to find himself in Emile’s old room at his parents’ place. “I’m kinda surprised my mom didn’t just grab me and forcibly haul me off with her.”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing my dad still plays sports and stays in shape, because otherwise she might have. Fortunately, he had enough muscle to successfully say, ‘I’ll fight you for him,’ and scare her into backing off,” Emile laughed.

“Would he have actually fought her over me?” Remy asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Emile confirmed. “Once you made it clear you didn’t want to be with your parents anymore, he was ready to fight tooth and nail for you to stay with us.”

“Why?” Remy asked. “Why me?”

“Because you’re super important, Remy. You’re like...practically my entire world,” Emile said.

Remy sighed and looked at Emile. “You have a funny way of showing that,” he said. “What with your constantly making me feel uncomfortable with comments about my family.”

Emile looked like he wanted to say, Am I wrong? but he didn’t add anything, just looked expectantly at Remy.

“Look, I doubt you’re wrong about them. Based on what my mom told me yesterday, I’m more inclined to believe you than her. But...the thing about that is that it hurts enough hearing it from her. You’re...you’re like...my safe space. The place where I’m allowed to be me. To be happy, or angry, or hurt. To hear that coming from you...when I’m expecting to feel safe around you...it doesn’t work. You make me feel safe. My family doesn’t. And when you bring my family into where I’m trying to feel safe...”

“It makes you feel uneasy at best, and unsafe at worst?” Emile filled in. “Sh—”

“—Language,” Remy teased. “You don’t want your mom coming up here and telling you to watch your language in the middle of a tender moment, do you?”

Emile sighed. “I’m really sorry, Remy.”

Remy shrugged. “You didn’t exactly know this before.”

“Because I refused to listen to you when you tried to explain,” Emile said.

Remy sighed, “Okay, true.” He paused. “But we’re good? Like, you’re not going to rant about my family more now, are you?”

“Not to you, or when you can hear,” Emile said. “I can’t guarantee that I won’t ever get mad if something with them gets brought up, but I’ll make sure to watch my tongue when you’re around. I can vent about it to my parents if I really need to, because they understand the situation now.”

“Then we’re good on my end,” Remy said. “Are you...mad at me? For trying to run back to my parents?”

“No,” Emile said. “I’m mad at myself for making you feel like that was your only choice, but I’m not mad at you.”

Remy climbed onto Emile’s lap, and hugged him tightly. “I love you,” he breathed. “Even when you scare me sometimes, I love you.”

“I love you too,” Emile murmured back, hugging Remy just as tight. “And I’m so sorry I ever made you feel unsafe.”

The bedroom door creaked open as Misses Thomas’ voice floated in. “Emile, is he—oh!”

Remy removed his head from Emile’s shoulder. “Just a hug, Misses Thomas, nothing untoward. We’ve worked it out.”

“Oh, good,” Misses Thomas said. “In that case, breakfast is ready for you both.”

She left the room and Remy climbed off Emile’s lap. “What would have happened if anything untoward was going on?” he asked in a hushed whisper.

“She would have told us matter-of-factly to lock the door next time, and make sure that Dad and her couldn’t hear us,” Emile replied easily. “And maybe would have teased us relentlessly for the rest of the weekend.”

“That’s it?” Remy asked.

“That’s it. What, were you expecting more...?”

“Fire and brimstone?” Remy asked. “Not in the ‘you’re going to Hell’ sorta way but in the ‘you’re having sex under my roof?!’ kinda way.”

“Rem, you’re nineteen, I’m twenty, it’s perfectly normal for anyone our age to be sexually active. My mom isn’t going to insist that we stop just because we’re in her and my dad’s house. She just doesn’t want to hear if anything’s going on, because who in their right mind would want to hear their family members getting it on?”

Remy nearly choked on thin air. “Was that last part really necessary, Emile?!”

“Maybe not, but it’s occasionally fun to catch you off-guard,” Emile lightly teased.

Remy shoved Emile as they walked out of the room and Emile stuck his tongue out at Remy with a smug grin. “I oughta teach you a lesson,” Remy grumbled.

“Good luck with that,” Emile said, sticking his tongue out at Remy again.

The second they were down the stairs, Remy french-dipped Emile and kissed him for a solid five seconds. When he came up for air, Emile was still in his arms, staring at Remy with wide eyes. Remy righted Emile and then sniffed the air. “Is that French toast I smell?” he asked, walking to the kitchen.

“Remy Picani, you don’t just get to dip me into a kiss and walk away like nothing happened!” Emile exclaimed indignantly.

Emile’s parents were laughing and Remy was grinning as Emile dashed over and gave Remy’s shoulders a firm tug, either trying to climb onto Remy’s back or else turn him around to face Emile, but he was unsuccessful in both endeavors. Remy turned his head to look at Emile, and Emile promptly kissed him on the nose. Remy short-circuited for a solid thirty seconds before he exclaimed, “Hey! Nose kisses are illegal! We agreed!”

“So is french-dipping!” Emile retorted.

“Mm, french-dipping was not in the rules whatsoever, and therefore free game,” Remy said with a careless shrug.

Emile huffed and crossed his arms. “You know what else isn’t in the rules?”

“What?” Remy challenged.

Emile’s fingers darted out and began tickling Remy’s sides, causing him to nearly shriek and burst out laughing. “Emile! No! Stop!”

Remy’s legs were shaking as Emile’s fingers retreated, and Remy mumbled, “I might pass out again.”

“Oh no! Are you okay?!” Emile asked, helping him stand.

“Don’t have the energy for tickle fights, Emile,” Remy breathed.

“Let’s get some food in you and then see what happens,” Emile said.

Remy hummed his agreement. “Seriously, is that French toast?” he asked.

“It is,” Emile’s dad said. “And for once Emile’s mother was in the kitchen and didn’t burn the entire place down!”

Emile’s mom kissed Emile’s dad and said, “You’re still never getting access to my garden again.”

“It was one time that I overwatered the tulips!” Emile’s dad protested.

“Yeah, and they started to rot and nearly ruined the whole garden, Dad,” Emile pointed out. Remy snickered.

“Okay, you hardly have a green thumb either, mister!” Emile’s dad accused.

“At least I admit it and don’t kill perfectly healthy plants because of it,” Emile said.

Remy watched the exchange with amusement, and he was somewhat surprised. He wasn’t even that uneasy about the playful arguing. He didn’t expect it to devolve into actual arguing or a genuine fight. Since when was that assumption no longer there? He thought, especially after his mother, he would be more on edge than this. Was it that Emile was here? His safety net was nearby? But Emile was part of the play-fight, which would have Remy on edge most of the time. He never wanted Emile actually getting mad. Something about where he was, or who he was with, just made him feel safe. Interesting.

Emile’s mom waved Remy over to her and said, “While our boys are debating, we get our pick of the food.”

Remy laughed at her conspiratory wink and they took french toast and began to decorate it with whatever toppings they chose. Emile and his dad were still going by the time Emile’s mom and Remy took a seat at the table. “I’m still willing to pay you gas money after yesterday’s...uh...failed reunion,” Remy said.

Emile’s mom sighed. “Remy, I’m not expecting gas money from you over that trip. It was something you needed. You needed to hear your mother wasn’t changing her mind. Save your money for a rainy day when you might actually need it. When you might need to pay someone else gas money for a less serious endeavor.”

Remy poked at a blueberry on his french toast and frowned. “That’s awfully generous of you, Misses Thomas. I don’t really know what to say.”

“Say you agree and leave it at that,” Emile’s mom advised. “There doesn’t need to be some huge declaration of gratitude on your end. The fact that you’re willing to pay me gas money tells me enough about your gratitude.”

“You’re sure?” Remy asked hesitantly.

“As sure as I’ve ever been on anything,” Emile’s mom said with a smile.

Remy smiled back and they went back to eating, before Emile and his dad walked in with plates of their own. “You didn’t even wait for us?” Emile’s dad asked.

“You two sounded like you might be talking for a while. And Remy missed dinner last night. I wanted to make sure he had some food in him,” Emile’s mom said.

“All right, you get a pass on that one,” Emile’s dad said.

Emile snorted as he sat down next to Remy. “Dad, Mom always gets a pass from you. Because we both know what happens when you try and push back, playfully or not. Mom always comes out on top. That’s just the facts.”

Remy smirked. “I see who’s in charge here,” he said.

Emile snickered. “Eh, they both have expertise in different areas, so they compromise a lot more than it sounds like. But if you were to ask who wore the pants in the relationship, with no other specifications, usually the answer would be Mom.”

“Yeah?” Remy asked. “Do you think we have that in our relationship?”

Emile shrugged. “Not really. At least, not yet. I might let you be in charge of cooking, if that’s what you want, and usually I’m in charge of budgeting whatever money we have after we pay the bills and rent, but I think we’re pretty evenly balanced in most areas of life. And we always come to an agreement before one of us does something for the other. It’s a balance.”

“So does that mean both of us wear the pants in this relationship, or are we both pants-less?” Remy asked.

Emile rolled his eyes. “I really hate you sometimes, I hope you know that. I did not need a visual of you without pants this early in the morning.”

“So, there is a time you’d like a visual of me without pants?” Remy asked, smirking.

“Not what I meant, and you know it!” Emile said, pointing at Remy.

Remy snickered and went back to eating his food, grinning smugly.

Emile grumbled but went back to eating as well. Remy inwardly smiled. Everything was right with the world again. He and Emile were okay, and they were having breakfast with Emile’s parents. It was quiet, it was calm, it was domestic. And he had to admit, he loved it. Like, a lot. Way more than he had ever expected to.

Chapter Text

June 23rd, 1998

“Hey, kid!” a protester yelled rather loudly as Emile was walking by.

Emile paused and turned to the guy. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked.

“You’re too young to be throwing away your life like this! You’re condemning yourself and you can’t be more than what, eighteen?”

“I’m seventeen, and Catholic, and pretty sure I’m going to Heaven no matter what you say,” Emile said.

The man sneered and Emile felt his stomach sink. There were others joining the man, all seeming ready to argue with him. Someone grabbed his arm and he looked over. Faith was guiding him away by the elbow. “C’mon, Emile, those types don’t even deserve the time of day.”

Emile turned to look back at the man, who was glaring at him until some other poor person walked up and he resumed his shouting at them. He winced. “Are there always people like that?” he asked.

“Not by the entrance, usually,” Faith said. “But yeah. One day, though, they’ll be the minority of the situation.”

 

June 1st, 2001

Emile was doing the dishes in their apartment with a small smile on his face. Ever since they had gotten back from Emile’s parents, Remy had been acting a lot more animated: getting excited about cooking, going off on tangents about how nice Emile’s parents were, them introducing him to badminton properly, Emile’s mom’s garden and how she grew a few ingredients to use in recipes (and asking if they could translate that to the apartment because then we wouldn’t have to pay for groceries as much, Emile! which Emile was still skeptical about).

It was a Friday, but Emile was officially out of school for the summer, which was very exciting. He could spend more time with Remy because working part time meant they both had a couple times a week where they would have nowhere in particular to be. He paused in washing. It was Friday, but it was also the start of June. Pride month. Emile had been to a pride parade or two, but he doubted that Remy had. And if they were careful, they could go out to one to celebrate!

He grinned. Oh, he’d have to go to the library and get on one of the computers to see if he could find a good pride parade nearby. He definitely wanted to introduce Remy to the joy that was pride parades!

As the last of the dishes in their apartment were drying, Remy walked in with his signature “work was awful” sigh. Emile strode over and gave Remy a light hug. “Hello, my love,” he said. “Would you be willing to go with me to the public library today?”

“I mean, I guess,” Remy sighed. “I’m really tired, though. Would it take long?”

“That depends,” Emile said with a shrug. “I’m not sure how easily I could get access to whichever site the pride parade information might be on.”

“Pride...parade?” Remy asked.

“Yeah, I wanted to take you to one. I figured you’d never gone before, and it’s super fun, and you get to be yourself with no judgement,” Emile said.

Remy’s blank expression had Emile confused. “Emile...what’s a pride parade?” Remy asked.

Emile blinked. “Have you really never heard of a pride parade before?” he asked. “I assumed you would have never gone, but you never even heard of it?”

Remy just continued to stare blankly at Emile.

Emile took a deep breath. “Okay, okay. The short version: a pride parade is where people who are gay or bi or trans or lesbian or whatever can go and celebrate who they are without worrying about what other people will think. If we went to one in a nearby city but not here, it’s unlikely anyone you don’t want to know you’re gay would be there. And they’re super fun! They have all sorts of pretty pride flags, and sometimes they have free buttons or stickers, and you can of course buy some stuff, too, from certain vendors, once the literal parade is over but the celebration is still going on. It’s really cool and I’d love to take you.”

“Emile,” Remy held up a hand. “Information overload.”

Emile pressed his lips together but he was practically vibrating in anticipation. He really wanted Remy to come with him. Remy did that blinking thing he sometimes did as he processed information, then looked at Emile. “And no one would fire us over going to this parade?”

“If we’re careful, no one will know we went to it, and no one who’s part of the parade would ever fire you for being gay,” Emile said with certainty.

“And...there’s like, no drinking or anything involved?”

“Not if you don’t have an ID,” Emile said. “Some vendors won’t sell to you at all until you’re twenty one.”

Remy hummed in thought.

“Would you...want to drink at pride? Rem? If you were able to?” Emile asked.

“I...don’t know. Alcohol is...clearly a depressant for me, and I don’t really want to be depressed at something you find fun,” Remy said with a shrug. “Honestly drinking is...kinda boring. Like, if I had some sort of food to go with it? Maybe. That could complement the food and make the meal taste even better. But drinking on its own is...eh. Not interesting. I’d only do it if I didn’t want to remember the night I drank.”

Emile relaxed at that. He knew that a drunk Remy had plenty of issues both with memories and in whatever situation the two of them found themselves in. If Remy decided he’d rather not drink, that was one less thing that Emile would have to worry about.

Remy frowned. “You’re relieved. Why are you relieved?”

Emile forgot that Remy could read him like an open book at the most inopportune times. “It doesn’t matter, Remy. Let’s just go to the library.”

“It matters to me,” Remy said stubbornly. “Why are you relieved?”

“Remy...” Emile sighed. “This is a conversation that is doomed to be really long and I really want to get to the library before it closes.”

Remy stood his ground, searching Emile’s eyes. Emile resisted the urge to squirm. “Why are you relieved?” Remy pressed.

“I’m relieved because you don’t want to drink,” Emile said.

Remy blinked. “Do you think I’m irresponsible around alcohol?” he asked, jutting his chin out in challenge.

“I think that considering both your past with your family and your identity you’re extremely likely to develop a drinking problem in order to self-medicate. That’s not healthy. Hearing that you don’t want to drink just because is a relief. Sure, hearing that you’d use it to forget a stressful night isn’t great, but you’re not going to become addicted to alcohol because of one bad bender,” Emile said.

“I’m perfectly healthy, Emile. Sure, my life wasn’t the easiest, but I wouldn’t resort to alcoholism.”

Emile ran a hand down his face. “This is why I didn’t want to get into this,” he muttered. He kissed the crown of Remy’s head. “I know you’re smart, honey. I know you know that alcohol isn’t an answer. But that doesn’t mean it can’t look tempting after a particularly bad day.”

Remy crossed his arms and Emile knew that Remy’s stubbornness was in full swing. “You’re dangerously close to controlling territory, Emile,” he growled.

“Controlling would be guilt-tripping you into not drinking. I’m just pointing out what I think about your statements. Not trying to guilt-trip anybody,” Emile placated.

Remy continued to snarl and Emile sighed. “Rem, I’m not your...I’m not your babysitter, I can’t tell you what you can and can’t do. I’m just trying to express my thoughts. It clearly came across wrong. For that, I apologize. But I would never intentionally want to guilt-trip you.”

“You were about to say you’re not my parents,” Remy growled.

“A habit I’m trying to kick,” Emile replied smoothly.

Remy ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t like it when you say that, Emile,” he warned.

“Which is why I’m trying to kick the habit. It won’t leave overnight,” Emile said.

“It should never have taken root in the first place,” Remy accused.

“You know what? You’re right,” Emile said. “It doesn’t do anything other than upset you and try to boost my ego. I shouldn’t have started saying it. But I did. So now the only thing I can do is try and stop it.”

Remy crossed his arms, scrutinizing Emile. Eventually, he sighed. “So, the library?”

“Yeah,” Emile agreed. “I can drive us over, or we could walk. It is a pretty nice day.”

“It’s a little hot to me,” Remy said.

Emile rolled his eyes. “Well, duh, you’re always wearing that leather jacket when you go out. You’re gonna overheat in that thing.”

“It’s a price I’m willing to pay for the aesthetic,” Remy said, face expressionless.

Emile sighed and walked out the door as Remy grinned and followed him. “You worry me, Rem. Like, a lot.”

“Aw, come on, the aesthetic is amazing! It makes me look cool,” Remy said.

“I would argue it makes you look hot, and not in the attractive sense,” Emile argued, even as he kissed Remy’s cheek. “Either learn to drink more water during the summer, or lose the jacket.”

“How much water would I have to drink, exactly?” Remy asked.

“At least eight cups,” Emile said.

Remy tilted his head back and groaned. “That’s so many,” he complained.

“The price to pay for the aesthetic,” Emile teased.

Remy scowled before grabbing Emile’s shoulders and leaping on top of him. Emile squawked and nearly fell over right outside the apartment complex, where two of their more...conservative neighbors were currently walking in. Emile waved to them. “Hey, Grace, Roy! How are you?”

They didn’t reply to him, not that Emile minded. He was a little busy trying to get Remy off him. Remy was laughing maniacally as he had his legs wrapped around Emile’s torso. “Remy, Remy! Re—oof! Remy! Don’t kick there!” Emile protested.

“I wouldn’t have to kick you if you didn’t squirm so much!” Remy argued.

“I am not a jungle gym! Off! Now!” Emile shot back.

Remy sighed and put his legs down. “I didn’t hurt your back, did I?” Remy asked.

“My back? No. My kidneys? Give me three to five business days,” Emile drily replied.

Remy winced. “Sorry.”

Emile waved off his apology. “Let’s just get to the library, okay?”

They got in Emile’s car and drove over, Emile immediately heading to the queue for the computers. When he put his library card on the list, he waited for a computer to open while Remy went to look at books. As soon as he was allowed to get on a computer, he did, waving Remy over. They went online and Emile searched for local pride parades. “There’s this one we could go to, it’s two towns over,” Emile said softly.

“Two towns over still seems kinda close,” Remy murmured.

“Well, there might be protesters around but I don’t know any people out here who would go out of their way to drive over there to wave around a sign about going to Hell,” Emile said. “And we don’t want to go too far away. It would be a one-day thing, it’s not like we have the money to rent a room at a hotel.”

“Okay, that’s a valid point,” Remy muttered. “Do we have to make reservations or anything? RSVP?”

“Nope, all we have to do is show up and not bring anything they don’t allow,” Emile said, grinning. “You’re gonna have a great time, Remy, I already know it.”

Remy shifted where he stood. “I guess I have to take your word on that, because I don’t have a reference point,” he said. “But I’m still not sure.”

Emile sighed and clicked around the site, making note of what the parade did and didn’t allow. “If you don’t want to go I understand,” Emile said. “But it would be way more fun with you, and I promise it’s safe.”

Remy chewed his lip. “I really want to believe you, Emile. It’s just...it’s hard. Not because of you, necessarily. It’s just hard in general.”

“Yeah,” Emile agreed. “I was super nervous my first Pride. A few protesters got close to me, tried to shout me out of going in. But my friends kept me moving, away from them, and I had the time of my life, getting to be myself, loud and out and proud of it for just a couple hours. And I couldn’t wait to go back to it the next year.”

“And you didn’t...?” Remy paused. “You don’t worry that the protesters are right?” He was hugging himself as he softly asked, “You know you won’t go to Hell for it?”

“Honey...” Emile chewed his lip, before standing and hugging Remy tightly. “They’re wrong, they’ve always been wrong and always will be wrong. It doesn’t matter who the protesters are, either. Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, or just plain old homophobes without much inclination towards any religion. They aren’t in the right. You won’t go to Hell for loving me or any other man. Okay?”

“Okay,” Remy said softly.

“Okay,” Emile repeated. “Now, are you going to come with me to Pride?”

Remy smiled softly and nodded. “I’ll give it a shot.”

Chapter Text

June 6th, 1986

Remy wasn’t entirely sure what his mother was glaring at the TV for. He was watching it play some boring news station or another, and there were a lot of people shouting, throwing things and picking fights, while rainbows and dozens of flags with different colors flew around in the background. His mother cursed under her breath, but Remy heard her.

Why was she so angry? Usually she didn’t get this mad, even if people were fighting. “They’re clearly wrong, why are they fighting against the truth?” his mother muttered.

Fight against the truth? Remy didn’t know what that was supposed to mean. What did rainbow flags and fighting have anything to do with truth?

 

June 11th, 2001

Remy’s first impression of Pride was that it was incredibly overwhelming. Remy’s second impression of Pride was that it was making Emile let loose, something Remy wasn’t sure was even possible until this point. Remy’s third impression of Pride was that it. Was. Awesome. Like, completely off-the-chain awesome.

People were surrounding them on all sides, some with pride flags, others with pins and badges, and some dressed like they were just going out on the town for a day. But all of them were happy, and laughing, and joking, and Remy wasn’t sure he had ever encountered so much positive energy in one place before.

Emile was standing next to him, beaming. He was currently looking around, for what, Remy wasn’t sure. Remy just hung next to him, unsure of where to go. He definitely enjoyed this, but he was so completely out of his element.

“Come on, girl, anywhere you want to go first?” Emile asked with a grin.

Remy’s cheeks dusted pink as he shuffled on his feet. He was wearing more feminine clothing today, his reasoning being that no one at a pride parade would care about whether or not he dressed masculine. He could probably go full drag and no one would bat an eye. But still, Emile calling him “girl” did something to his emotions that he couldn’t describe. “I’ve never been to a pride parade before,” he said. “I don’t know what there is to go to.”

“Okay, fair enough,” Emile said with a grin. “Why don’t we just look around at some of the stalls?”

“Okay,” Remy said, following Emile over.

He was surprised by how much of a social butterfly Emile was being. He was waving and high-fiving anyone in the general vicinity, yelling, “Girl, same!” whenever someone showed off bisexual colors, and generally putting himself out there in a way that Remy had only done anonymously in clubs before. Here, he supposed things were a little anonymous too, but it was still in broad daylight, where people could see them.

Emile walked up to one of the stalls, chirping, “Hi!” to the people on the other side.

Remy looked at the banner on their table and saw it was something for Catholics who were LGBT, and Remy inwardly shook his head fondly, because Emile wasn’t the most devout, but he did occasionally go to Mass. Of course he’d like people who were affirming in his faith. Remy looked around the other stalls curiously as Emile talked. He wasn’t really religious himself; he had too many bad experiences with his family’s church growing up to really put any trust in a higher power. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t curious about which denominations might be accepting.

Emile took a little pamphlet from one of the people and came over to Remy. “See any churches you like?” he asked.

“Not really religious,” Remy shrugged. “Bad experiences.”

Emile winced. “Yeah, understandable. Should we move further in?”

“Yeah, let’s do that,” Remy agreed.

They walked down the street and Remy looked around. There were a few big name corporations advertising here, but not very many. There were stalls for small book companies, and...he paused. There was one for a queer comics startup! “Emile!” he exclaimed, eyes lighting up. “Comics!”

Emile laughed and followed Remy over to the stall as Remy looked at the different illustrations they had. So many cool superheroes, and then some more realistic-fiction looking stories, and some high fantasy and sci-fi was scattered in there too. “Woah,” he breathed.

“You like comics?” the woman behind the stall asked with a small smile.

“Like is an understatement,” Remy said, eyes never leaving the pictures. “Are you guys selling these?”

“These comics are purely for display,” the woman said. “But we are starting up subscriptions as we’re gaining traction. We’re in a couple comic stores around, where do you live?”

“Uh...” Remy blinked, forcing himself into the present. “Fairview.”

The woman nodded. “We’re in the comics store there, yeah. That’s about as far out as we’ve gotten, though.”

“Hey, if it means I get to read you guys, then it’s fine by me!” Remy exclaimed.

The woman laughed and offered him a bookmark. “Here’s a little information on us, and our company name, of course. I hope you like what you read from us.”

“Definitely,” Remy said.

He was still starry-eyed and Emile gently dragged him away from the stall. “They have queer comics, Emile! Like, I know there’s some queer characters in bigger comics, but these stories...they have main characters who aren’t straight! Can you imagine?!”

Emile laughed. “Hopefully one day they’ll have cartoons like that, too. Then maybe I can understand what you’re feeling a little better.”

Remy was almost hyperventilating. “Pride is amazing,” he said. “I love this. Can we come back next year?!”

“We definitely can,” Emile laughed.

They continued to walk, Emile constantly chatting and greeting people still. Remy got a few nods, and he shyly returned them, holding onto Emile’s hand.

“Hey, girl! In the leather jacket!” a voice called from behind them.

Remy turned in surprise as another person who was wearing a full-on dress in light blue, pink, and white walked over. “I really dig your outfit, girl! You look fabulous!”

“Oh! Uh, th-thank you,” Remy stammered out, nowhere near his usual confident self.

“She and her pronouns for me. You?” she asked.

“Uh...” Remy hesitated. Why was he hesitating? What was so hard about this? “He and him, I guess?”

The woman looked him over closely. “It’s okay, girl, we all have to figure ourselves out in our own time. He and him work for you, that’s great, but if you ever want to switch it up, know that you can do that, you know?” she asked.

“Uh...yeah,” Remy said. “I...I don’t think I’m transgender, but uh...I don’t always like being called sir, you know? Sometimes it’s fine, others it’s just...suffocating.”

“Gender roles are suffocating girl, I getcha,” she said, nodding. “Nice to meet you. Tell your cutie of a boyfriend that I like his enthusiasm.”

Remy smiled and nodded, and she moved on. Emile turned to look at him. “Who was that?”

“Don’t know,” Remy said. “But she liked your enthusiasm.”

Emile laughed. “Oh! Well, that’s sweet of her!”

“She also called you a cutie, in case you missed it,” Remy said. “And she’s not wrong.”

Emile laughed, blushing. “Well, I don’t see what either of you see in me, but if enough people say I’m cute, then I guess I’m doomed to be cute forever, huh?”

“Not forever,” Remy said. “And some people might find you hot. I like it when you wear those skinny jeans. Those look really good on you.”

“Remy!” Emile hissed. “That’s not helpful!”

Remy laughed. “Oh, come on, Emile! You know it’s all in good fun!”

“Do I, though?” Emile asked.

“I should hope so,” Remy said. “After all, you’re the one who jokingly called me ‘hot’ first.”

“You can’t prove anything,” Emile said. “Plus, I’m pretty sure you’re the one who thought of me as hot first.”

“Yeah? I thought you were hot the day I dropped out of college and saw you in those skinny jeans for the first time, Emile. I’m not talking serious, I’m talking jokes. Get with the program,” Remy teased.

Emile snorted before clapping a hand over his mouth, shoulders shaking. “That early? Really?” he asked.

Remy shrugged. “What can I say? I know how to make anyone look good.”

“Shut up!” Emile laughed, starting to walk away.

“You know I love you, Emile,” Remy said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you look hot, because I love you either way.”

“And I, you,” Emile said, kissing Remy’s nose. “Which is why I argue you don’t need that leather jacket everywhere you go.”

“Excuse you, that’s not to make me look hot, that’s part of my aesthetic!” Remy protested.

“Either way it’s unnecessary, Rem,” Emile shrugged.

Remy pouted. “You’re no fun,” he declared.

“Well, I do try,” Emile said. “It’s my mission to make sure you know I’m a stick in the mud, after all.”

“But you’re my stick in the mud,” Remy said.

“Oh, you better believe it. I’m not leaving you for anything in the world!” Emile said.

Remy laughed and his stomach held butterflies. “You mean that?”

Emile paused. “Yeah, of course I do,” he eventually said. “Barring some unfortunate accident, a messy fight, or any more drama from any sides, I don’t see myself leaving you.”

“Like, never?” Remy asked. He didn’t know why he was pressing this issue, but something inside him just wanted to be absolutely certain that Emile was certain.

Emile looked down at the ground, shuffling on his feet before he kissed Remy softly, sweetly, and with so much adoration Remy was practically drowning in it. A few people around them cheered or whistled, but Remy paid them no mind. His only focus was Emile, when he pulled apart, resting his forehead against Remy’s as he murmured, “Like, never. Never ever.”

Remy wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that, so he blurted, “That’s gay, Emile.”

Emile laughed. “I love you too, Rem. Where do you want to go next?”

“Uh...food place, maybe? I could use a snack, if not lunch,” Remy said with a shrug.

“To the food trucks!” Emile exclaimed, causing Remy to laugh as they walked hand-in-hand.

Emile swung their hands lightly forwards and backwards as they walked, and Remy grinned. Emile, even when somewhat muted and calmer at pride, was still incredibly happy, and bubbly, and alive. He loved it when Emile seemed to come to life in a whole new way that Remy hadn’t seen before.

“What are you thinking about?” Emile lightly teased.

“You,” Remy said honestly. “You’re just...so alive. You’re completely in your element, and you’re so friendly and happy. You’re like a puppy experiencing grass for the first time. And it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, shut up,” Emile said, blushing. “I just really like Pride.”

“Yeah, I got that,” Remy said, nodding. “I don’t know why, it just seems to be something you’d like.”

Emile laughed and kissed Remy’s cheek. “It’s pretty great to not worry about PDA.”

“True,” Remy agreed, taking half a step towards Emile.

Emile squeezed Remy’s hand. “I’m super glad you came with me.”

“I’m super glad I came with you too,” Remy said. “Because I’m pretty sure Pride wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Emile grinned. “I mean, I’m sure you could have some fun without me...”

“But why would I want to?” Remy asked. “You make Pride fun...or more fun at any rate.”

“You mean that?” Emile asked.

“Of course,” Remy said. “I’m not sure I would want to go at all without you. You just make it...special.”

Emile squeezed Remy’s hand again as they approached the food trucks. “You flatter me,” Emile said.

“I’m speaking the truth,” Remy said. “Don’t sell yourself short, Emile.”

“Come on, what’s so fascinating about me that I make Pride more interesting?”

“You come out of your shell, like, entirely,” Remy said. “I’ve never seen you be so comfortable around a group of certified strangers before.”

“Well, the fact that I know they all at the very least support the fact that you’re gay and I’m bisexual and we’re dating helps,” Emile said simply. “I can go up to people and talk about you without having to just use your name and hope people assume I’m referring to you as a girlfriend.”

Remy sighed. “Yeah, I know you’ve felt weird about me visiting you at work because of that. Most everyone at my jobs know except for the managers, so as long as we don’t do obvious PDA we’re usually in the clear. But not having to worry about that at all is...”

“Freeing?” Emile offered.

“Yeah,” Remy agreed. “It’s definitely freeing.”

Emile grinned. “Aw, Remy, you like me!”

“Shut up!” Remy laughed. “You knew this for literal months!”

“You like me! You like me!” Emile repeated, practically bouncing up and down.

Remy sighed and rolled his eyes, but inside, he was smiling. When they first met, he would never have thought he could have ever made Emile as happy as he was right now, let alone enjoy it. But he was never so happy to be wrong.