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Flo's Shows

Chapter Text

Flo’s Shows benefitted from a small loophole in the town’s ordinances that made it the only strip club in New York State to feature full frontal nudity. The town was unable to rally enough support to change the ordinance that permitted the nudity but did pass a bylaw prohibiting the advertisement of such. As a result, full frontal nights were limited to Mondays (when male dancers would go full monty, assuming that women in this nearly nowhere-burg were left with nothing to do while their husbands and boyfriends watched Monday night football) and Tuesdays (when female dancers bared all). In other words, the two, historically, slowest nights for strip clubs. Even Sundays tended to be more popular as those were often days spent at church and with family and naturally led to people needing to blow off steam with booze and boobs.

The regular dancers refused to go full frontal. They made plenty the other nights and could easily dance at any of the other strip clubs in the nearby towns and cities, as they were plentiful. So Mondays and Tuesdays, as a result, featured dancers from the nearby college. They were recent graduates who had stayed on to work at the college, as they like to retain their own, and wanted to supplement the entry level salaries they earned (although with the excellent benefits that all employees of the college were offered) or current students. Current students because the very best on-campus jobs were reserved for the work-study students (as they should be everyone was quick to follow up with) given that the college admitted a disproportionate number of Pell Grant students, those with the greatest financial need. Also, at Flo’s Shows there was no stingy twenty hour per week work limit as there was with on-campus jobs.

It should be mentioned that Flo’s Shows was, in fact, started by an alumna of the college. Flo herself graduated in 1980, just over a decade after the college moved from being a women’s college to co-ed, which occurred in 1969 as though an acknowledgement by the board of trustees that the sense of humor of its student body would never mature. As a result, and a lesser known fact, Flo’s Shows was also very likely the only strip club that was run like the co-op Flo had lived in during her years as a student at the college. So dancers served as bartenders and waitstaff on days they didn’t dance and everyone was paid a living wage, rather than the below minimum wage that tipped employees usually earn.

The college. Hammer College. It was located in what had been a beautiful town along the Hudson River, the last stop on the Metro North railway and mid-way between Manhattan and the state capital. The town was, like most of the towns along the Hudson, rich with 19th century history, but given that its main industries had been shipping and whale rendering, was fairly devoid of any industry now. Most people in the town either worked for the college or, as the college had a student body just under three thousand was not a large employer, enjoyed the relatively low cost of living and made the ninety minute commute to New York City for work. The town tended toward being conservative, like much of the state, although a light red compared with the deep red pockets elsewhere in the country, and Hammer College tended to attract students who were so progressive a shade of blue to describe them has not yet been discovered. As one might guess, town-gown relations were strained.

Hammer College was founded in the late 1800s as the first college in the country for women. It was founded by Markus Hammer, who was generally known as the black sheep of the Hammer family. While the other Hammer brothers pursued more traditional paths to make their fortunes, and yes, still contributed philanthropically as the Hammer Brothers Hospital in the town could attest, Markus Hammer followed his dream of becoming a beer brewer. And then when his brothers married and had children, he founded a school so his nieces pursue something other than, or in addition to, becoming society wives. School legend was that the first building built on the campus, which had originally housed the living quarters for the female students and their servants as well as the classrooms and dining room, had been built with hallways wide enough that, in case this experiment of a college for women failed, beer kegs could still be rolled down it should Markus have to convert the building to another one of his breweries. The other school legend was that that hallways were built wide so that two women wearing hoop skirts, as was the fashion of the day, could pass each other. Whichever was true, the hallways were indeed wide enough to roll a keg down them.

As Mondays and Tuesdays at the club were entirely populated with performers from the college and since Flo allowed dancers to do whatever they wished with the time alloted on stage so long as they showed the requisite flesh (she would shrug and say in her low gravelly voice “what do I care, it’s their tips on the line”) Mondays and Tuesdays were not only the only full frontal nudity nights but also the nights of the most performance art-style erotic dancing one had ever seen in strip club. Or so Armie thought as he watched a lithe blonde girl, no, woman, he corrected himself, dance around in a black bodysuit with a huge cutout for her torso, groin, and butt to Liz Phair’s Fuck and Run. He had come to Flo’s Shows not because he typically enjoyed strip clubs, he didn’t as a rule, he found them anxiety-provoking and sad, but because he had received a frantic text from Nick who had heard about the full frontal nights online somewhere - Armie didn’t like to question where online Nick found out about the shit Nick found out about - and had begged Armie to check it out. And Armie was missing his friends back in Los Angeles and was more willing than usual to go on a Nick-instigated adventure to report back. Liz had merely responded to the group text with an eye roll emoji and a reminder to break his twenties for singles before he got to the club, as Liz was nothing if not a great planner even for plans of which she did not totally approve.

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Armie had grown up with stories of Great Uncle Markus that were meant to be warnings by well-meaning but narrow-minded relatives. He took these stories not as cautionary but rather as aspirational tales. What could be done with the Hammer name if only someone had the courage.

Armie had done what was expected of him but with his own flair. He had attended a good school, UCLA, and pledged a fraternity in his first year. He had stayed at UCLA for graduate school, earning his MBA from the Anderson School of Business. He flown under the radar as much as possible even given the proximity of the school to a museum bearing his name where nearly ever art history major worked as a docent.

He had pledged a fraternity but also volunteered each year to lead the organization in the federal- and state-mandated “do not rape” trainings. He was proud that under his guidance sexual assault allegations had risen - a paradoxical effect of having an atmosphere that felt safer for survivors.

He had earned his master’s of business administration but had done so with a focus on nonprofit management.

He had done what he needed to to make his family happy but he also knew he planned to get the hell out of Los Angeles as soon as he was able. Hammer College represented something of mecca to him. A promised land where the weird side of the family could thrive.

He had stayed in Los Angeles after his MBA, refusing the money available to him through his trust, and living like other people his age, in a small two bedroom with Nick and Liz, his closest friends whom he had met during orientation his first year and remained inseparable from during the four years as undergraduates. Armie had worked in the finance department of a small start up that was trying to do for charitable giving what uber had done for driving. Nick and Liz had each gone to work immediately after earning their bachelor’s degrees. Nick was at a talent agency where he had been recently promoted from assistant’s assistant to plain assistant. Liz was also working as an assistant but to an influencer while also trying to build her own personal brand. Both were such uniquely-LA jobs that when Armie got an offer to work for the Hammer College endowment (a job that he was three-quarters qualified for and one quarter getting due to his name being on the plaque at the entrance gate), he knew he would not be able to convince Nick and Liz to move with him. They all understood that this was Armie’s dream job and he should pursue it. They all understood it but all three were sad to see the band break up, as it were.

Armie had been lonely upon moving. He couldn’t befriend the students. Most of the faculty and staff were much older than he was and had partners and children. They were friendly, but not friends material. The alumni who had stuck around to work for the college were mostly all friends with each other or with current students and tended to work in positions that were a bit below his, making him their supervisor. He was too young for the regular employees and too old for the recent graduates. He was in a town that had been the site of the ratification of the State of New York and had once been the second capital of the United States, but had not had much going on since revolutionary times. It was too far from New York City to go after work on weekdays and, besides, he didn’t know anyone there. This was to say Armie was lonely. Lonelier than he had been in the eight years since starting college.

He relied on the near constant communication via group text with Nick and Liz. Armie and Liz started texting every morning when Armie got to work at 9 AM and Liz headed to her 6 AM yoga class. Nick would join them later after he woke up, often skimming the texts too quickly (once mistaking a conversation about the new incense Liz was discussing on her Instagram story for incest which lead to a back channel individual text to Liz offering her support and to pay for Postmates that night as well as a link to RAINN and a screen shot of proof of his contribution to the organization using the app Armie used to work for). Liz and Nick would text long after Armie had fallen asleep and Armie would catch up, much more thoroughly than Nick, at the gym the following morning. Mostly the texts between Liz and Nick were Liz begging Nick to call with a fake emergency to get her out of a bad date and Nick listing off Netflix new releases while Liz took an uber home so they didn’t waste any time deciding what to watch once Liz was home and she had taken off her shoes, bra, and make-up, in that order. Armie missed the us of them.

So when Nick had texted with an SOS 911 and a link to a review of the food at Flo’s Shows from the college newspaper (its menu was primarily vegan, another rarity in the stripping world) that mentioned the full frontal nights (an honest review did not count as advertising per the town’s bylaws), Armie was more willing to check the place out than he would have otherwise been. And when Armie looked around for a waiter to refill his drink and he saw the blonde with the bodysuit-minus-the-torso with her head on the shoulder of a curly dark haired boy with bubblegum pink lips, Armie felt a pang of wistfulness for his friends rather than annoyance at what appeared to be his waiter talking with his friend rather than refilling Armie’s beer.

Hammer Breweries no longer exist. The exact recipe for whatever beer it produced had been lost to time. At the college, one year, a group of students formed an independent study for credit (such things were permitted and they even had a “create your own major” option, with the caveat that the requirements students set for themselves in designing their own majors were nearly always more rigorous than the pre-fab majors) to try to reproduce the beer that Hammer Breweries brewed based on primary and secondary sources. The course was cross listed in the history and chemistry departments and the resulting beer brewed was deemed disgustingly sweet by all involved. One student remarked, and was quoted in the school newspaper, “it tastes like a beer version of Manischewitz.” Several letters were written to the editor and published in the next edition of the newspaper debating whether that remark was anti-Semitic, and if the religious and ethnic identity of the student who said it mattered, and whether cancel-culture was going too far if we were willing to cancel a student for internalized anti-Semitism, and who should bear the emotional labor of educating Jewish students about their internalized anti-Semiticism.

So Armie wasn’t drinking a Hammer beer that night as those no longer existed. And, it seemed, for the better of all involved. Whereas most strip clubs sold piss-water beer, Flo’s served only local beers, full of dank hops and alcohol. Armie was no stranger to strong beers, coming from the land of the dankest IPAs. Because he was so used to the Big Beer low ABV light lagers that most bars in the town served and was used to drinking bourbon when drinking alone at home, he had sort of mis-paced himself with the pints of Captain Lawrence Tears of Green that by the time Fuck and Run had finished playing and he was looking around for a waiter for his fourth refill, he was feeling tipsy. And tipsy made him happy but nostalgic.

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Armie was holding his empty pint glass in his hand and gazing at the young woman and young man as they were wrapped up in each other and talking intently. The young woman caught him staring. Armie was too tipsy to care. Besides, he wasn’t staring, he was trying to get their attention, with his eyes. No, he definitely wasn’t staring at the beautiful young man with the mischievous curls that refused to stay put, no matter how often he tucked them behind his ears, and the emerald green eyes that looked like he could easily drown in them. Not staring because what would be the point when it seemed clear that this man and this woman were enamored of each other.

The blonde nudged the brunette in Armie’s direction and Armie watched as slender porcelain skin that peaked out from skinny gray jeans and a black hoodie at least two sizes too big for the young man sauntered over. The thought vaguely tiptoed through Armie’s hazy mind that this kid must be burning up wearing a hoodie. Armie was wearing a t-shirt with his jeans and he was sweating. And he was sweating before he laid eyes on the kid, thankyouverymuch.

Armie tried to summon his cognitive abilities because the kid was now standing beside his table, the index finger of one hand twisting the drawstring from the aforementioned hoodie tightly around it and Armie was beginning to worry that he was cutting off circulation entirely. Then he looked up to see the kid worrying his lip between his teeth and he immediately had some of the same concerns he had for the kid’s finger. He wondered if he would survive tonight with all appendages and body parts intact. Armie’s mind began to imagine other body parts on the kid before he shook his head slightly to bring himself into the present because the kid was looking at him from under these impossibly long eyelashes and saying something. Something. What was the kid saying? Armie could hardly hear over the noise of the next act, which was a woman dressed like Liza Minelli from Cabaret but stripping to the beat of Queen’s We Will Rock You. Armie smiled at the kid, he knew he had a good smile, a warm smile, bared his pointy canines because his toothy grin is his genuine smile, and vaguely gestured at his empty beer, and hoped this was all sufficient answer to whatever the kid was saying. It seemed to be because he gave Armie a short nod and ambled off, pulling the sleeves of his oversized hoodie over his hands.

Armie turned his attention back to the stage and tried to get his mind and breathing, which somewhere along the way had become heavy and erratic, under control. Jesus christ, man, he thought to himself, only you would come to see strippers and get turned on by the waitstaff. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and tried again to focus on the stage. It’s not that the dancer wasn’t lovely, she was, and it wasn’t that the performance wasn’t creative and riveting, although it was nothing compared with the blonde woman in the bodysuit-sans-torso. Armie began to wonder if she made that bodysuit herself, had it custom made, or had found a place to purchase it as is. He was deep down that rabbit hole when a beer appeared under his nose and he looked up to see the young blonde woman standing beside his table, now wearing a blazer buttoned over the bodysuit that could have been a short dress and fit her perfectly everywhere else so he knew she wasn’t just wearing something oversized. Oversized. The way the waiter’s hoodie had been. The waiter who was standing beside her, his hand clasped tightly in hers, his brows furrowed up into a worried expression, and his lips, not between his teeth this time, forming a pretty pout on his stupid gorgeous face.

Too late Armie realized bodysuit was talking to him and talking emphatically, gesturing at the kid. The music was still loud and for some reason his heart was pounding in his ears. He registered that the pitch of her voice inflected up before she stopped speaking. She was asking a question. God, he hoped she was asking a question and didn’t have that vocal tic that too many young women have that make everything they say sound like a question because they’re acculturated to believe confidence equals aggression. She seemed too feisty, her performance was too incredible, for her to be afflicted with the internalized misogyny of her peers. So he flashed his toothy grin again and noticed that the boy’s eyebrows relaxed, and he nodded vaguely, saying, “Erhm, sure, yeah.” He hoped that was sufficient, that a question had been asked and it was a yes or no question, and that it hadn’t been could they cut his organs out to sell on the black market. He glanced between the two of them, they were a gorgeous couple, and decided even if he had just agreed to give away his kidney, it was okay, they could have it. His stammered reply seemed to be appropriate if the huge grin on the blonde’s face and the shy but almost goofy smile that the brunette hid in the blonde’s shoulder was any indication.

At that moment Armie’s cell vibrated and lit up on the table in front of him and he glanced down to see an incoming text from Nick. The dancer and the waiter noticed too and the waiter gave a shy wave and another one of those smiles as they turned around and walked towards the bar. The dancer glanced over her shoulder and winked at Armie before turning back around.

Armie picked up his phone and read Nick’s text: “So? How was it? C’mon man don’t hold out on me! Details.” He sighed as he began to compose a response. How could he possibly describe tonight?

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Armie liked football even if he increasingly felt morally corrupt watching it. Still, with no friends in New York, watching football was a great excuse to get out of the house and go to a bar and just be around other people for a while even if their interaction was kept to a minimum of grunts in response to the action on the screen. Grunts shared between nearly exclusively men. So Armie got it, he really did, why Flo chose to feature male dancers on Mondays. It just meant that on this particular Monday, Armie had to choose between two enjoyable activities outside his home when there were so many empty days in his week. Because Armie wanted to go back to Flo’s. He might dislike regular strip clubs. He might never go to Flo’s Wednesday through Sunday. But the quirky show the women from the college put on last Tuesday? That he would happily return to, which he was, hoping that the male dancers were at least half as creative as the female dancers.

Plus, he wouldn’t mind seeing that waiter again. Even if he did have a girlfriend.

In all honesty, Armie had forgotten that in the school newspaper review of the vegan food at Flo’s (which he had yet to try! It had gotten a very positive write-up - four stars, their highest rating) it had mentioned that Flo ran Flo’s like a co-op and everyone took a turn at every job. And in all honesty, even if Armie had remembered those words, he wouldn’t really have known what they meant. There had been fraternities and sororities in his undergraduate experience, no co-ops. But he hadn’t remembered because he had read the review on his phone from a link Nick had texted and had only skimmed it enough to get the gist - there would be fully naked bodies on display and Nick wanted, no needed, to live vicariously through Armie. Or, in Nick’s words, Armie needed to “do some recon to see if this place is worth putting on the itinerary for when we visit.”

So as Armie slid out of his uber at 7:55 PM the next Monday, he was hoping to see that waiter again. His girlfriend had seemed nice too.

He had had to call Flo’s to find out what time the dancing started because they didn’t have a website and a drive by the club had confirmed they were adhering to local bylaws and not advertising their full frontal nights, not even what time they started.

When asked about whether Flo wanted a website listed at the end of the review for interested parties to get more information, Flo responded, in her gravelly voice, “Don’t have one. What’s the point? If you’re getting on the world wide web looking for strip clubs, you might as well cut out the middleman and go right for porn. No, strip clubs are not for online people, they’re for in-person people.” When asked how people could get more information, Flo informed the reporter, “They can call. Number goes directly to my cell phone, which I put on vibrate in my front pocket like the rest of you perverts.” That got edited for space down to “Call for more information: 845-633-4543”

So Armie arrived right before the stripping started. Just enough time to grab a beer and settle in at a table. He couldn’t get as close to the stage this time since the women around the stage were already in a crowd three deep. He hoped sitting at a different table didn’t put him out of that waiter’s serving jurisdiction. Do waiters keep the same sections night after night? He wondered. He could see some benefits, kinesthetically, that learning the exact layout of the tables could make things more efficient. But would it get boring?

He was interrupted from his deep thoughts on how to optimize for food service efficiency while also preventing burn out by the high pitched squeal of the women surrounding him. They all started chanting “Sweet Tea. Sweet Tea.” And Armie was about to wonder if there was a secret community of thirsty Southern ex-pats who lived in town when the first notes of Josh Ritter’s “Getting Ready to Get Down” started playing and that waiter, decked out in tear-away jeans, a checkered flannel that had snaps instead of buttons, a bandana, a cowboy hat, and cowboy boots slid his way on stage and started a line-dance strip tease. The decibel level in the club rose exponentially as the women literally pelted him with singles, fives, tens, and even a few twenties. If Armie didn’t know that money wasn’t actually made of paper, he would have been concerned for the paper cuts sustained from the women making it rain like a veritable monsoon.

And no wonder. The kid was gorgeous. Armie was entranced as more and more of the perfect pale skin was revealed. He thought he spotted some freckles here and there and that was just sexy-cute. He dragged his eyes from his small and rosy nipples down to where a dusting of hair created a trail from the kid’s navel down to his. Yup. The kid was tall, not as tall as Armie of course, he was practically a giant, but tall and slender and his cock matched his body perfectly. And his ass was perfectly small and pert and framed on top with a dimple above each cheek. Yes, Armie sighed to himself, basically perfect. And, understandably, taken. Who wouldn’t snatch him up if given half a chance?

As the song was winding down, Armie felt a presence next to him. He looked and standing beside him was the blonde dancer from last week, the girlfriend. Tonight she was serving as waitstaff. She grinned happily at Armie. “I’m surprised he likes country,” Armie shouted over the music.

“Americana,” she responded in a decidedly not-American accent.

“Huh?” Was Armie’s intelligent reply.

“Josh Ritter is Americana, not country,” she responded.

“Oh.” Armie continued his erudite contributions. And then added, “Well I’m surprised he knows how to line dance.” Armie knew how to line dance after Liz dragged him and Nick to lessons she got on groupon after reading an article a few years ago that line dancing was going to be to the late 20-teens what swing dancing had been to the 1990s. The article had been propaganda by the line-dancing lobby and wrong.

“Oh. Yeah. He played Curly in high school,” she explained. And, at Armie’s confused face, explained further, “In Oklahoma. The musical. He went to a performing arts high school.” Finally Armie realized that he must look baffled rather than impressed so he fixed his face and the Irish lilt stopped.

“Well he’s very...talented. Yeah. So.” Armie stumbled over his words. “How long have the two of you been together?” He was trying to not make the experience of watching her boyfriend ass-naked on stage any more awkward than it had to be because left alone it was plenty awkward.

The young woman seemingly choked on her own saliva as she sputtered, “What? Together? No, lord, no we’re not together. That’d be like...just no.”

“Oh.” Armie didn’t know what to say. They way the two of them had been cuddled up every time the woman wasn’t on stage, they certainly seemed like two infatuated lovers. Although, as he thought about the easy familiarity he shared with Nick and Liz, maybe it wasn’t so hard to believe they were just friends. That was quickly followed by the thought, oh, this changes everything. “He’s very talented,” Armie repeated, at a loss of where to go from here.

“Yeah, he is,” the woman beamed with pride. “Line dancing isn’t exactly his thing, but you gotta give the people what they want.” She gestured around at the women, continuing to throw money on the stage even as the dancer, Sweet Tea Armie guessed he was called, was picking up his clothes. Armie nodded in assent, the choice clearly brought him good tips. “If you stay to the end, you’ll really get to see him in his element.”

“Oh he’s going on again?” Armie’s stomach did some sort of belly flop.

“Yeah, there aren’t as many male dancers so Flo has them double up,” she explained. “We keep trying to tell her that dividing the nights reinforces the gender binary but -” and then she cut herself off with a squeal while she made grabby hands at someone behind Armie. “Timmy!” She squeaked. “Look who came!”

Timmy, Armie realized this was his actual name, and now dressed in his jeans and hoodie, came to stand beside the young woman and wrapped his arm around her waist and smiled with a grin that threatened to split his face in two. “Hey man,” he greeted Armie.

“Hey, really fantastic performance,” Armie enthused and then realized he had no chill and tried to appear nonchalant as Timmy lifted his free hand to the back of his long pale neck and rubbed it nervously.

“Yeah, that’s, yeah, thanks.”

Armie realized sitting further back from the stage had its benefits, like getting to hear what was being said to him.

“Pony,” the blonde giggled. “He thought we were dating!”

“What?” Timmy laughed a breathless laugh that Armie found absolutely endearing. But then his expression changed, like a cloud blown across the sun. “Wait, if you thought we were dating, why did you think Saoirse asked you to come tonight to see me dance?”

“I - wait, what?” Armie was beginning to piece together maybe what had been said the last time he was at Flo’s. He hadn’t agreed to be disemboweled so that Saoirse, as it seemed the blonde’s name was, and Timmy could sell his organs at profit but he agreed to come back. Something he was planning to do anyway. “I, I actually couldn’t hear a word either of you said last time,” Armie admitted. And immediately regretted it because worry lines appeared on Timmy’s forehead and his eyebrows were doing that furrowed thing that was charming but not at all the effect Armie wanted to have. But what else could he have said?

Timmy quickly excused himself with the explanation that he needed to prepare for his next strip tease and left with a tight hug with Saoirse. Armie looked up from his table at Saoirse apologetically. She followed Timmy with her eyes and then looked back at Armie and shrugged. “Can I get you anything? She asked in her role as server and Armie ordered another beer and asked that she keep them coming. So by the time Timmy was up on stage again, he was well and truly drunk.

Timmy walked on stage dressed in Chuck Taylors, slim cut black slacks, a white collared shirt, and, over the shirt, an oversized sweater with a pattern that reminded Armie of Bill Cosby from the Bill Cosby Show Armie had watched in reruns growing up, back when the man’s awful behavior had still been swept under the rug. No music played. Timmy stepped to the middle of the stage, under the spotlight, and began, “So if I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him…” and continued all the way through, “You’re an orphan right? Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a shit about all that, because you know what? I can’t learn anything from you I can’t read in some fuckin’ book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. And I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t wanna do that, do you, sport? You’re terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief.”

As he spoke, he undressed just like one would if they were undressing at the end of a day at work, and talking one might if they were talking to a partner who was in the room with them while they recounted their day. Except with power. And emotion. And something else that was unnameable.

If it had been physically possible, Armie’s jaw would have hit the table. The kid was giving one of the best monologues from a film ever and he was good. Like really good. The emotion behind his voice, especially at the end was so moving, so believable. As Timmy left the stage, still with plenty of cash but not as much as his previous performance, Armie heard that lilting voice behind him again. “He majored in drama, he uses these nights to practice for auditions or just to continue to challenge himself, you know?” Armie nodded as if he knew.

Once Armie had recovered his faculties and Timmy was once again dressed in his jeans and his hoodie, the three of them sat around the table drinking one last beer before Armie had to leave and the other two had to bus tables and clean up. Armie marveled at how different Saoirse and Timmy were from his friends in LA and yet their camaraderie reminded him of home. He missed that so much and wanted to find something like that here in New York. When there was a lull in the conversation, he pointed across the table at the two close friends and said, what made perfect sense in his mind, “I want to be in you.”

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“I want to be in you.”

As the words left Armie’s mouth, he frowned. He knew they sounded wrong somehow. Timmy, who was tilted back in his chair, only two of the four legs on the floor, threw his head back and guffawed. He sat back up, all four legs on the ground, and said, “Okay big guy, I think we need to cut you off.”

Armie nodded, this sounded reasonable.

“How’re you getting home?” Saoirse asked.

“Took an uber here,” Armie started. Saoirse and Timmy made eye contact and had seemingly a whole conversation within few glances.

“Yeah, I’ll take you home,” Timmy offered. “It’ll be hard to get an uber at this hour on a Monday way out here.” Armie knew from experience that being so far from a major city meant that wait times for rideshare services were often twenty minutes or more during odd hours. Plus, he wouldn’t mind spending a bit more time with Timmy.

Timmy stood up and walked around to the bar and filled a glass with water and placed in front of Armie. “Drink this while I get my things.”

Armie looked over at Saoirse as she stood and began to bus the tables nearby. “D’you need him to help you clean up?”

She looked up, surprised, “What? No, it’s fine. The other servers have done most of it. Just a few odds and ends before I’ll head out myself.” Armie nodded and focused on drinking his water and sobering up.

“You ready?” Timmy popped back out from seemingly nowhere. Armie guessed his efforts to sober up weren’t going as well as he hoped. He stood up, surprisingly steady, and followed Timmy out to his car which was a bubble gum pink VW bug. Armie raised an eyebrow at Timmy and Timmy shrugged. “I bought it used and got a great deal on it.” And then muttered under his breath, “And I like it.”

Armie caught his eye and smiled. “It suits you,” he said. And then, definitely without his permission, “It matches your lips,” followed. The alcohol may have disconnected the filter between his inside thoughts and his outside words but the smile that spread across Timmy’s face was well worth any initial embarrassment he might have felt. They made eye contact and Timmy caught his bottom lip between his teeth and looked down at his phone while he slid into the driver’s seat. Armie folded himself into the passenger seat. These small cars were not built with someone of Armie’s stature in mind. He reacted with surprisingly quick reflexes as Timmy tossed Armie his phone. He looked down and saw it was unlocked and opened to the maps app.

“Type in your address,” Timmy asked, his voice softer, almost more tentative now that they were alone in an enclosed space.

When Armie graduated college, he may have ignored his trust fund and lived like any other recent graduate in a small apartment with his friends. However, upon moving, alone, to a new town, he accessed his trust to purchase a house. If he was going to live alone, he figured he may as well live comfortably. And, compared to real estate in Los Angeles, he was able to purchase a very nice colonial style home that had been remodeled in recent years. Armie appreciated that the initial floor plans of the house were maintained. He had a pet peeve when people said they liked colonial style homes but wanted the currently popular open-concept interiors. Then, he reasoned, you didn’t actually like colonial style homes. The downstairs had a spacious kitchen, complete with a breakfast nook, where Armie ate all his meals, so perhaps meal nook was a more fitting term, a formal dining room, which Armie had yet to actually use, a small half-bathroom, and a living room with a gorgeous fireplace. Upstairs there was a full bathroom and three bedrooms, one of which Armie had turned into a media room with a large television, another which served as a library and guest bedroom, and the final was a large master suite. The ensuite bathroom was Armie’s allowance to changing a bit of the original floor plan and the custom bathtub that ensured he could actually take a bath, not just soak one half of his body at a time, was the only change Armie had made to the recent renovations before moving in. The antique clawfoot tub that had been there had been lovely and given the master bathroom a bit more authenticity but was just unreasonable when one considered the size of the average person when the tub was constructed and Armie’s six foot five inch frame. He had the tub moved into the other bathroom on the floor for guests to use. Liz had threatened him with bodily harm if he got rid of it and she wasn’t able to use it when she and Nick visited. Although they had yet to do so.

When Timmy pulled up in front of the house, Armie asked if he wanted to come in. He couldn’t think of a reason to invite him in so he just let the invitation stand, like a brave little soldier staring down the enemy of potential rejection.

“It’s late,” Timmy said carefully. “I don’t want to disturb your roommates.”

Armie laughed in response and let Timmy know he lived alone. Those expressive green eyes widened in surprise and Timmy whispered, “Oh. Damn. Okay. Yeah sure. That would be, yeah.”

Inside, they sat together in the living room. It wasn’t quite cold enough for a fire but Armie used the excuse of having his first guest to start one. He poured them both glasses of water and they sat on opposite ends of the couch, their backs each propped against the arms, facing each other, their legs tangled up in the other's.

“I, um, what I meant back there. At Flo’s. What I said to you and Saoirse,” Armie mumbled over her name, hoping he was approximating the correct pronunciation. “That was about. So I just moved here. From Los Angeles where I was living with my friends, and I, yeah, I miss them. And you and… you two remind me of what I had with them. That’s what I meant. I want to be in something like that again.” He stumbled over himself trying to find the right words and then finished in a rush, “I don’t have any friends here.”

Timmy’s face went soft at that. “It’s cool, man. I mean it sucks to feel alone like that. That’s, I’ve felt like that, alone in something, and that’s, it’s no good. Friends, feeling a part of something, it’s important.”

“You’ve felt like that?” Armie asked softly and Timmy nodded. And then the floodgates opened and Armie started telling him all about Nick and Liz. How they met eight years ago and pretty much everything they had done since then. For his part, Timmy seemed engaged. He laughed at the appropriate times and made sympathetic faces when the story called for it. The next day, when Armie was playing back everything that had happened that night, with the usual creeping worry that comes after a night of talking while under the influence, he wondered if Timmy had actually been as engaged as he seemed or he was acting the part. From the little Armie had seen, he knew Timmy was a gifted actor.

There was a lull in the conversation, or, more accurately, a lull in Armie’s monologuing, and they both looked down into their empty water glasses. Timmy looked at the fire and then back at Armie and touched his shin with a socked foot. “Hey tell me a secret.”

“A secret?” Armie was uncertain what Timmy meant exactly. He had never had someone ask him to tell him a secret. And Armie, at least back in LA, was an outgoing gregarious kind of guy with no shortage of people with whom he had interacted so it was not from lack of experience. Timmy was just unique, as he was quickly learning.

“Yeah, something that no one else knows,” he paused, probably reflecting on the recent verbal vomit Armie had just spewed all over him about how incredibly and wonderfully close he was to his two absolute best friends for life, “Or very few people know.”

Armie paused and thought and then nodded to himself. Timmy smiled and glanced at him from under those impossibly long eyelashes and Armie wondered if he could somehow extend this moment and have Timmy look at him like that indefinitely. “Um, so, I love my family, you know? Of course I do, they’re my family. But I don’t like them,” he said tentatively and then repeated with more conviction, “I don’t like my family.”

If Armie hadn’t been as enraptured with Timmy’s expression before he spoke, he would have never noticed the subtle shift across his features. It was almost as though he looked disappointed. He wanted that first look back and he felt desperate to undo whatever it was he had done. “It’s that they don’t… approve. They don’t approve of me, my choices, the way I lead my life.” Timmy’s expression didn’t return to what it had been but a look of understanding replaced the disappointment and he nodded and Armie guessed that was better than nothing.

Armie nudged Timmy’s shin with his foot, mimicking Timmy’s actions and then repeated his own words back to him. “Tell me a secret.”

Chapter Text

The alarm clock on Armie’s cell phone jolted him awake on the couch. He reached around until he found his phone and hit the snooze button without ever looking at it. He pushed himself up and took in the living room in the early morning light. The room was a bit chilled from a draft that the flue in the chimney had been letting in ever since the fire died out sometime even earlier in the morning. Armie and Timmy had fallen asleep head-to-toe on the couch and at some point one of them had pulled the quilt that usually lived on the back of the couch over them both. Armie wasn’t in the habit of pulling the curtains in the living room closed at night since he hardly spent any time there, so the sun was granted full access to the room and woke him up in a way his alarm was unable to do. He looked over at Timmy. Or what he could see of Timmy. Timmy was wrapped up in the quilt with only a few rogue curls peeping out from the top. Armie idly wondered if Timmy could breathe from within his quilt burrito. After Armie’s alarm went off a second time, Timmy groaned and burrowed deeper into the quilt, the curls disappearing altogether. Armie unwound the quilt from around himself, closed the flue, turned up the thermostat, and went into the kitchen to make coffee as the first step of a multi-step process for recovering from a hangover. Armie thanked his past self for the foresight to shut off his “go to the gym before work” alarm last night before he and Timmy had passed out.

Timmy. Armie reflected on their conversation from the previous night. Timmy had confided in Armie his fears of not being successful as an actor. His fears stemmed from not only the fear that he wasn’t good enough - although Armie knew well that success in the entertainment industry wasn’t based on a meritocracy but good luck, connections, and only sometimes talent - but also because, having majored in drama, he had no other skills to provide him a safety net. Timmy had spoken so softly that Armie had to lean in closer to hear him, not that he minded, as he described his choice to focus his academic experience nearly entirely on theater and film as a type of trick to give him the courage to pursue his dreams with his entire self, heart, spirit, and mind. However, now that he was facing the reality of open call auditions, he feared he had made a mistake.

Armie had listened intently, murmured supportively in all the right places as Timmy had spoken, and had assured him that if it was a matter of talent, he would definitely find huge success. But Armie couldn’t relate. He had never known life without the cushy safety net that his family’s money and name provided. Yes, it was true that if he “failed” at moving away from his family and in his pursuit of something-Great Uncle Markus-y, he would have to return to the path his parents had intended for him, tail between his legs, and live the rest of his life with whispers around him about “that phase he went through.” But Armie was not relying on his dreams to come true to be able to support himself, to pay rent, to purchase food. He recognized his privilege as such and had kept it to himself, neither confirming nor denying he had ever felt what Timmy was feeling. If he had found Timmy physically desirable and enormously talented before, after their conversation, Timmy’s courage in pursuing his dreams stirred a much deeper attraction in him.

Armie put a kettle on the stove and brought water to a boil. He ground coffee beans, grateful for the thick interior walls in his home, although he doubted if anything would wake Timmy, and he removed the kettle from the heat and counted thirty seconds to himself.

The thing was Armie was great at flirting and one-night stands. He had even had a few short relationships, one in high school, a few in college, and an ongoing fuck buddy in graduate school. But in all those instances, Armie had pretty immediately fallen into bed with the person and, in those few times when it did happen, the relationship followed the sex. Armie had no idea how to move this blossoming friendship (oh god how Armie hoped that’s what this was, he was quickly learning that he was not a lone wolf, he was very much a pack wolf) into something more. And he wasn’t even sure he wanted to. Not that he didn’t want Timmy, nothing could be further from the truth, Armie referenced his recent thoughts about a deeper attraction being stirred, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Rather, he didn’t want to risk this potential friendship (again, if that’s what this was, please let this be what this was, Armie prayed to no one in particular) in pursuit of something else, not unless he was sure Timmy felt the same way. He definitely didn’t want to shoot his shot and for things to become weird. That would be more heartbreaking than never getting a shot at something more romantic than platonic. So, as Armie poured water over the coffee filter and then scooped the coffee grounds into the filter and slowly began to pour the hot water over them, he friendzoned himself.

Armie had been wrong, however. Something could wake Timmy, apparently, and that was the smell of coffee. Timmy stumbled into the kitchen, his curls still perfect on one side of his head and completely smashed to the other side of his head, and faint creases from the couch cushions and the quilt that had been wrapped tightly around him on his cheek. Armie quickly reminded himself of the decisions he had reached during his morning meditation, which is what he called the process of making coffee each morning.

“Coffee?” Timmy croaked, his voice still raspy with sleep.

“Coffee,” Armie confirmed with a smile. He grabbed two oversized mugs from the cupboard and filled them. “Milk? Sugar?” He asked, while hoping Timmy took his coffee black because he was definitely uncertain whether the milk he had in his refrigerator was still good. Timmy shook his head and made grabby hands at the mug in Armie’s hand. Armie’s grin widened and he handed the coffee to a grateful Timmy who first inhaled deeply and sighed happily and then took a sip and closed his eyes in apparent pleasure. A jolt of electricity shot through Armie’s body at the knowledge that he had brought that look of ecstasy to Timmy’s face.

“Oh man, you’re amazing,” Timmy breathed out. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Armie responded. “I can’t start my day without coffee, especially on,” he glanced down to check the time on his watch, “three hours of sleep. And a hangover. Which, about that. Uh, thanks for last night. I hope I didn’t...”

“Shut up, you were fine,” Timmy cut him off and flashed him a lopsided grin, his green eyes still sleepy. “But yeah, about that. Why exactly are we awake?”

“Work,” Armie answered. “I usually get up even earlier to go to the gym, but at least I had enough wits about me last night to turn off that alarm.” Okay, okay, Armie knew he had just friendzoned himself but he couldn’t help but mention that he exercised religiously, just in case.

Timmy responded by scrunching up his face in displeasure. And, then, suddenly, his face smoothed out as he looked at Armie, and asked where he worked. “At the college,” Armie shared and then glanced at his watch again. “I actually, uh, should shower, if I’m not going to be late.” Cold shower was step two on his cure-a-hangover list. Greasy diner breakfast at the local Greek diner (with the very original name “The Acropolis,” and nicknamed “The Acrop” by the local students) was step three. Diners, authentic Greek diners especially, were something that the East Coast had in abundance and were hard to come by on the West Coast. And, if the hangover was particularly bad and lasted all day, an afternoon or after-work run to sweat out the remains of the booze was step four. “If you want something to eat...I, uh, have some bread and I could make toast, or…” Armie stumbled over his words, fearful of being judged negatively for the paucity of the contents of his cupboards. He typically went grocery shopping on Wednesday so by Tuesday morning he was usually scraping bottom.

Timmy shook his head. “Nah, thanks though. I think I’m going to head home and grab some more sleep before I have to go to Flo’s tonight.” He paused. “After I finish this coffee.” Armie chuckled at that and Timmy looked at him. “But, hey, you’ve got yourself a grown up job to get to. Go shower, I don’t want to make you late. I can let myself out.”

Armie acquiesced because, yes, he didn’t want to be late and also there was something that felt intimate about leaving Timmy alone in his home, even if it was just alone on the first floor while Armie was on the second.

When Armie came down later, showered and dressed for work, with just enough time to stop by the Acrop for a western omelette and hash browns, he noticed that Timmy had washed both their coffee mugs and the Chemex and had put them to dry in the dish rack beside the sink.

Chapter Text

Armie went back to Flo’s that night. He had to. He somehow neglected to get Timmy’s number last night and hadn’t given Timmy his. Of course, Timmy knew where he lived but that would be a very unusual way for Timmy to get in touch with someone he had just met.

Also, Armie corrected himself, to himself, he hadn’t neglected to get Timmy’s number, he was too drunk to think of it last night and too taken with sleepy Timmy this morning to remember. Timmy, who had been sober and, presumably, not taken with what he looked and sounded like when he first woke up, was really to blame. Timmy should have remembered to make sure they exchanged numbers.

Unless Armie was misreading everything.

But he wasn’t. He checked in with Liz and Nick and gave them, word for word, everything that had occurred from the moment he went off-line upon arriving at Flo’s last night until he was seated at his desk that morning. They both agreed that he was not misreading the situation. Friendship was definitely on offer here. They did disagree about whether anything beyond friendship could potentially be present in Timmy’s feelings toward Armie. Nick thought Timmy definitely wanted to “bang Armie” (Nick’s words), which reflected Nick’s general approach to dating which was to assume everyone wanted to bang everyone else unless proven otherwise. Liz, who was by nature and by having natural amounts of humility in her DNA more cautious, definitely agreed that Timmy was interested in friendship but gave Armie her “proceed with caution” verdict about anything else. Together they both talked Armie off the ledge he had worked himself onto by believing the memories through his beer goggles were in fact being viewed through rose colored glasses. And, uh, his sleep-deprived hungover brain was misinterpreting everything from this morning.

Liz texted in such a way that Armie could hear her voice:

Armie, he drove you home rather than make you wait for an uber. He came inside and talked to you. He listened to you ramble. He didn’t make excuses and leave but spent the night. And he washed your coffee mug when I KNOW you have a dishwasher. He wants to be your friend. Stop being an idiot.

Armie responded with a Yes, ma’am which he did precisely because he knew Liz would hate it and felt gratified when she responded with a middle-finger emoji. There was something comforting about being able to know his friends well enough that, despite the distance, that he could push their buttons and get absolutely predictable reactions.

Armie turned his attention back to his job. Working with the endowment meant helping to identify stable revenue streams for the college. It surprised many that tuition hardly covered the expenses of maintaining the day-to-day operations of even a small college. As it was, nearly fifty percent of students did not pay full tuition. Some financial aid money came from government sources but the rest came from the college itself - the students paying full tuition also supplemented the tuition for students unable to afford the cost of going to a well-ranked private college. Colleges were expensive to run - the salaries of the faculty had to be competitive with that of other colleges ranked as high or higher than Hammer College and the maintenance of the buildings and appropriate renovations was another cost as some of the buildings dated back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Plus, there were the grounds as the campus itself was registered as an arboretum with the state and there were several beautiful gardens that required tending. Finally, there were the salaries of all the support staff, the folks who worked in student affairs, the clinicians who worked in the counseling and medical centers, the janitorial staff who cleaned the buildings, and the cooks who worked in the dining rooms; the cost was not small. Most of the endowment was made of stable gifts made by rich alumnae/i, meaning that these were contributions made on an annual basis, or very large one time contributions made in someone’s will. These large sums did not go directly into the college’s coffers but were invested and the college used the dividends and interest to maintain its operations.

Below the endowment were the offices for fundraising and these offices were mostly staffed by students. These students would make phone calls to alumni/ae and ask for contributions on a semi-annual basis - usually at year-end when people wanted to maximize their tax deductions by making a charitable contribution (like most colleges and universities, Hammer College was considered a non-profit and contributions made were tax deductible) and in June when the classes met for their reunions. Alumni/ae who were approaching a significant reunion (ten, fifteen, twenty year, etc.) were lobbied especially hard. Current students were effective in this role because they could talk with the alum about how meaningful their experience at Hammer was so far and how important it was that contributions be made so that a new faculty member could be attracted to the psychology department and oh! wasn’t psychology that alum’s major when they had been a student? And wouldn’t you know but that’s the major that the student on the phone was also pursuing!

Armie had not yet risen in the ranks to help manage the endowment investments, although he was often asked to research certain potential investments and create a report for the Board to review. But he also was not in the fundraising offices as he was not a student and could not wax poetic about how wonderful it was to study in the library (it was a gorgeous library complete with stained glass that looked like it belonged in some Italian cathedral) but it would be so much more effective to study there once the new computers were installed in the lab and a contribution of $100 would go a long way in getting those computers in there and, if the alum made that gift today, they would receive a tote bag as a thank you.

One of the responsibilities Armie did have was to comb through the quarterly class notes. The college published a quarterly magazine (creatively titled The Hammer College Quarterly, although just called the Quarterly by all involved ) in which the impressive works of current and former students and current faculty were highlighted. However, the back half of the publication was reserved for “Class Notes” in which alumni/ae wrote in with updates from their life - weddings, births, deaths, career successes. Currently the Class Notes featured updates from 1932, which were mostly obituaries, up to 2019, Timmy and Saoirse’s class. Every so often there was a true gem.

Class of 1951: We hope it’s ancient history by the time you read this, but our major news concerns an unfortunate upset. In late August, our beloved Peggy St. James (Silver Spring, MD) somehow pressed the wrong button on her recliner and POW! The thing catapulted her across the room, and she literally hit the wall. How awful to be betrayed by a secretly aggressive chair you thought was your friend! The rescue squad took her to the hospital, where they found she had a previous crack in a pelvic bone, a torn leg muscle, and other problems. At this writing, the ever-stalwart, ever-cheerful Peggy was recovering in a rehab facility in Washington DC, able to joke about her difficulties, and planning to join us for our reunion. Peggy has issued a warning to anyone reclining in an electrically operated chair. (Better not say electric chair.) Don’t ever let anything get between your arm and the recliner’s. Keep that control thingie well out of the way.

Armie looked through the class notes each quarter not to find stories like Peggy’s, although that did have him snorting his water onto his copy of the Quarterly, but rather to identify alumni/ae who were doing the type of work that could put them in the tax bracket where a hefty contribution to Hammer would be mutually beneficial. He identified these alumni/ae and cross-referenced their names and graduation years with the list of large contributors that the endowment maintained and, if they were not already contributing, identified a plan of how to most effectively solicit funds from them, ideally as an ongoing gift.

Armie enjoyed this part of his job. He enjoyed most parts of his job, in fact, but he knew it wasn’t cool to seem too enthusiastic about work so he tried to maintain some detachment when talking to others about what he did.

And he enjoyed his job but not so much that he wasn’t thrilled when quitting time came that day and he could go home change and head to Flo’s. As Flo was fond of saying, “going to a strip club is probably one of the best ways to spend your spare time besides taking a nice healthy shit. I mean you’re patronizing the arts for crying out loud! What could be a better use of time and money?”

Armie got to the club at 7:30 PM that night, hoping to see Timmy before things got busy. He sat at the same table he had sat at the previous night because it had a good view of the stage but allowed him to hear what was being said a lot more easily and hearing what was being said, Armie had determined, was crucial.

Armie also promised himself to go a bit easier on the beer that night. Waking up hungover was not something he wanted to make a habit.

As soon as he sat down, Timmy rushed over. “Hey!” He greeted Armie, his eyes searching his face for something. “I can’t believe I left this morning without getting your number...I mean, without giving you mine. If you want it. I just thought…”

“I was thinking the same thing all day today!” Armie cut him off. Timmy’s eyes immediately relaxed. Armie unlocked his phone, opened a new contact, and handed it to Timmy who entered his contact information and handed it back to Armie. Armie sent him a text: “Hey, it’s Armie” before looking more closely at Timmy’s name. “Chalamet? Is that French?”

The blush that flushed across Timmy’s cheeks and the tips of his ears was adorable as he nodded and shared, “Yeah my dad’s family. My full name is Timothee.” He pouted just a little bit as he pronounced his name. Which was just, yeah. It was nice.

“So you speak French?” Timmy looked at the floor and nodded. “Fluently?” If Timmy could have looked at the floor any harder he would have. He nodded again, almost like he was a kid being scolded. Armie felt like he had to make it better. Although what “it” was and why it wasn’t good right now was a mystery to him. “Timothee is a beautiful name, although I understand why you go by Timmy.” Armie hoped that telling someone their name was beautiful wasn’t stepping too far out of the friendzone. “My full name is Armand, so yeah. I get having to go by a nickname.”

Timmy looked up at him through his eyelashes and smiled shyly. “Armand?”

Armie smiled in response, “Yeah, it’s a family name. I’ve always gone by Armie.”

“Yeah I wondered about that. I thought maybe you had been really into GI Joe as a kid or something.” Timmy laughed and Armie joined him. A voice came over the loudspeaker announcing the first act for the night and Timmy shrugged at Armie apologetically. “I should go do my job. Can I get you a beer?”

“Thanks, yeah. And a glass of water.” Armie remembered his promise to himself to stay this side of sober. Timmy nodded and smiled and disappeared into the growing crowd as Armie turned his attention to the stage to watch the first performances of the evening.

Chapter Text

Armie enjoyed the performances that night which were sprinkled with small interactions with Timmy as he made sure Armie always had a full glass of water and that his beer was replaced as soon as Armie finished it. When it was Saoirse’s turn to perform, Armie told Timmy he was cutting himself off. “I drove tonight and I want to try to actually make it to the gym tomorrow,” he explained, winking at Timmy in effort to communicate that he wasn’t upset about not making it to the gym that morning. Timmy huffed a laugh, shaking his head, so Armie felt his message was received. Timmy refilled Armie’s water glass and stood by his table watching the stage.

Saoirse took the stage. She was wearing a bodysuit like she had been the week before, torso cut out in an hourglass shape that complemented her slender and beautiful figure, except this time it was a yellow bodysuit rather than black. She stepped to the center of the stage and stood perfectly still for a moment. The noise of conversations around her hushed, making the clattering sounds from the kitchen and bar seem amplified in contrast. Then, over the speakers, a reading of Dr. Suess’s Fox in Socks began. As children's stories often are, it was rhythmic and melodic. Saoirse began to dance to the beat implied, but not overt, in the reading of the story. Her movements were defined and precise, weaving together modern dance and jazz with pop-and-locking.

Timmy and Armie were both transfixed. When the performance reached its end, they applauded loudly, with the rest of the audience, and made eye contact, both incredulous at the performance. Timmy was still hovering by the table when Saoirse approached, covered in her long blazer. She ran up to Timmy, eyes shining and a huge smile on her face. “Did Greta come?”

Armie watched as Timmy’s face fell, his disappointment and regret clear in his expression. “No, Sersh, she didn’t. I thought it was a long shot…”

Armie looked back and forth between Saoirse and Timmy, confused. Timmy leaned into him and said quietly, “There’s a film professor at the college that Sersh invited to see her performance tonight.”

Saoirse pressed her lips into a thin line and narrowed her eyes, “She’s not a film professor . She’s a film director doing a visiting fellowship at the college.” And then, more to herself than to Timmy or Armie, “She’s only one of five women ever to be nominated for a directorial Oscar.”

Armie nodded as he said, “Your performance was...it was incredible. If she had been here, you definitely would have impressed her. You want to work with her?”

Timmy laugh-snorted, which Armie found totally charming, and said, “She doesn’t want to work with her! She wants to sleep with her!”

Saoirse huffed and crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked annoyed. “Why does it have to be either or? Why can’t I want to fuck her and work with her?” Although it was over something entirely unlike Liz, Saoirse’s frustration with the two guys reminded Armie so much of how she was often impatient with him and Nick. Armie figured she had a point and exchanged a look with Timmy and they both shrugged their shoulders in acquiescence. “Either way,” she continued, “She didn’t come. So fuck her.” She paused and then said, “Or not as the case may be.”

She leaned her head against Timmy’s shoulder and he wrapped her up in his long, slender arms and they stood like that for a minute. Armie felt a little unsure of where to look. He didn’t want to ignore them but also didn’t want to intrude on their intimate moment.

Saoirse pulled back suddenly and looked up at Timmy. “Pony! You’ve got to get going, you were supposed to leave early tonight!”

Timmy sighed and pressed his lips to her forehead in a kiss. “I know, I know. But I wanted to see your performance. Armie is right, it was incredible.”

Armie turned at hearing that and beamed at the two of them.

“Yeah yeah,” Saoirse muttered. “But you’ve got to go now.”

Timmy closed his eyes and nodded. “You’re right. You’re right. I’ll go cash out now.” He flashed a sheepish smile to Armie and spun around and walked toward the bar.

Saoirse looked at Armie and shook her head slightly. “He takes the early train into the city a few times a week for auditions.” Armie nodded because he knew that. “I don’t get why he continues to live here when he could just live with his family and save himself the terrible commute.” Armie raised an eyebrow at that so she explained, “He’s from the city...born and raised, the genuine thing.”

“Maybe he didn’t want to move back home after being independent while he was a student?” Armie offered and Saoirse shrugged a shoulder and nodded as if entertaining the possibility.

Timmy walked back over just then and hugged Saoirse again. “I’ll see you at home, yeah?” And she nodded in response. He turned to Armie. “Hey man, it was good to see you again. Sorry I can’t stay longer.”

Armie shook his head at the apology and then, without his consent, his mouth said. “Uh, hey, I live close to the train station. If you want to spend the night, I could drop you there in the morning. Save you the hassle of getting an uber or figuring out that mess of a parking lot.”

Timmy’s head shot up and he looked at Armie totally surprised - his eyes were wide and his mouth slightly opened. He quickly closed his mouth so he could bite his lip. Armie just didn’t know whether his surprise was a good surprise or a bad surprise. So Armie did what he always did when he was unsure of something, he kept talking. “You could take the guest room. It’s much more comfortable than the couch…” He held his arms in front of him and his hands with his palms up, as if in supplication.

Timmy spoke quickly, cutting Armie off, “That’s an incredible offer. But I don’t want you to have to get up that early.”

“I told you, I’m going to the gym tomorrow before work. This will ensure I actually get up and go, instead of hitting snooze a million times,” Armie countered.

Timmy seemed to consider. “I mean, okay… but you don’t have to drive me, that’s insane. I do the park and ride so I can come here directly from the station when I get back in the evening.”

Armie shook his head, “No that’s a ton of trouble. I can pick you up after work and then you can pick up your car from my place.”

“I really couldn’t - “

“Please, I insist.”

Saoirse was turning her head back and forth like she was watching a ping pong match and eventually rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You two are idiots.” And, with that, she walked away.

Both Armie and Timmy watched her retreating back and then turned back to each other and the argument - was it an argument? - they were having. Eventually they decided that Timmy would sleep at Armie’s and Armie would drive Timmy to the train station in the morning and pick him up in the evening. In other words, Armie won the argument. He reluctantly agreed to let Timmy bring him back bagels from the city after Timmy learned that Armie had only ever eaten bagels on the West Coast and was “honestly not a fan.”

“That’s because you’ve never had a real bagel, Armie,” Timmy countered.

Chapter Text

Armie got to his house first, as Timmy was going home to grab the things he would need for the night as well as the next day for his trip into the city. Armie parked his Jeep and quickly looked around to make sure any mess was swept into a closet and that his lazy Sunday playlist was playing softly through the speakers he had throughout his house. Nevermind that it wasn’t Sunday and with his heart beating the way it was, he wasn’t feeling lazy at all. Timmy was spending the night a second night in a row and this time on purpose. He dashed upstairs and changed into pajama pants and a perfectly worn t-shirt. He ran back downstairs and walked over to the bar cart he had set up in the living room and poured himself a healthy amount of bourbon. He knocked back about half of it immediately and was sipping on the remainder when Timmy pulled up in his pink VW bug. Armie loved that car. Well, he loved it for Timmy.

Armie quickly moved to the kitchen so he would have to walk the longest amount possible to get to the door when Timmy rang the bell. So it wouldn’t seem like he was hovering by the living room window waiting to see Timmy’s car pull up. Even though he most definitely was.

“Hey man.”

“Hey.” Timmy grabbed him in a hug and then seemed to search Armie’s face to make sure he hadn’t crossed some boundary. Armie knew guys could be weird about hugging other guys. He wasn’t. He smiled broadly at Timmy and was glad to see Timmy’s smile reach his eyes.

Armie gestured to his glass, still partially filled with amber colored liquid and asked, “You want a nightcap?”

Timmy snorted. “Armie, you are such a grandpa. Who even says nightcap?” Armie shrugged. He wasn’t embarrassed, he knew he had the habits of an older person sometimes. Timmy’s eyes widened, however, when he realized what he had said. “Shit, I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was… I hardly know you and I -”

Armie cut him off. “It’s cool. No worries. I totally am a grandpa. I put on slippers and pour a drink when I get home. An old person before my time.”

“Still…” Timmy started, intent on apologizing.

“And I don’t mind if you tease me. Liz, Nick, and I are brutal with each other. It’s nice to feel like I’m developing those kinds of friendships here.” Armie paused. “If that’s what you mean by teasing, that is.”

Timmy nodded his head so emphatically that his curls shook out from behind his ears and fell into his face. He pushed them back and Armie was jealous of Timmy’s hands at that moment, he wanted to touch his hair and see if it was as soft as it looked. “It totally was, Armie. Friendly teasing. I’m glad we’re at that point.”

“Me too.” Armie gestured to his glass again and to the bar cart. “So, can I get you a drink? I have a pretty full bar.”

Timmy’s eyes seemed to linger on Armie’s chest for a moment before tilting his head up to make eye contact. Or Armie could have imagined that. He knew this t-shirt hugged him in all the right places but he was probably wishfully imagining that Timmy noticed. Timmy licked his lips before saying, “Uh, drinking right before bed messes with my sleep and if I don’t sleep, my infinitesimal chances with these cattle calls will decrease to absolute zero.” Timmy seemed apologetic, again, like Armie would take offense to his decision not to drink.

“Can I get you water instead?”

Timmy nodded. “That would be great thanks.”

Armie walked back to the kitchen, placed his drink on the counter and got a water glass from the cupboard. Timmy followed him. “I’ve got regular filtered water in the Brita and Perrier.”

“Uh, Perrier, please.”

Armie reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle, twisted it open, and poured it into the glass, handing it to Timmy. “Thanks.”

Armie took Timmy upstairs and showed him the library/guest room and bathroom. Timmy immediately walked over to the bookcase and started looking through the books. Armie approved. He always scoped out someone’s bookcase if he ever had the chance. It was more telling than snooping through someone’s medicine cabinet. Admittedly, he did that as well. Armie dropped into the big easy chair he had in that room for reading and tried to take only furtive glances at Timmy’s ass as he was bent over looking at the bottom shelf. It’s not like he hadn’t already seen Timmy naked so he could easily visualize what was under his jeans. A little too easily, actually.

Timmy sharply inhaled and pulled a book off the bottom shelf. Armie craned his neck to see what he had pulled but Timmy answered the unspoken question first. “Jeanette Winterson...her writing is just so…” He turned so Armie could clearly see his well-loved, worn, copy of Written on the Body in Timmy’s hands.

“Poetic,” Armie supplied.

“Yeah, but also accessible in a way that poetry sometimes isn’t.” He continued. “I read Sexing the Cherry for class and then immediately went out and bought all her books I could get my hands on but this,” he shook the book gently for emphasis, “is my favorite.” Armie beamed at him, like he had written the book himself. Timmy flipped open the pages and Armie knew he had underlined this book. He didn’t always underline when he read but if the prose was particularly beautiful, it was hard to resist. Timmy smiled, almost to himself, “This is my favorite line, perhaps from any book, ever.” Armie felt his eyebrows raise in question but before he could ask, Timmy began, “Why,” and Armie joined him, “Is the measure of love loss?”

Timmy dropped backwards onto the bed, the book still in his hands, and turned his head to look at Armie. He propped his head up on his hand and they began talking, much like they had the night before.

Armie learned that Timmy and Saoirse lived together in a house, about the size of Armie’s, but with four other people. Timmy shared that Flo would always say, “Roommates are like spiders. Useful, but you don’t really want them living with you. Who wants to live with someone who makes their home with their ass?” Armie also learned that Timmy and Saoirse worked more hours at Flo’s than the typical dancer/waitstaff. They had both worked there when they were students and Flo had been happy to keep them on and give them more hours and responsibilities once they had graduated. Armie shared with Timmy that his “grown up job” as Timmy referred to it was at the college and noted that even if the starting pay wasn’t great (Armie was earning substantially more than starting pay as he had a graduate degree and previous work experience) the benefits were great. Timmy seemed pensive at that. “Saoirse’s still on her parents insurance but Flo gives me an extra stipend each month so I can purchase mine on the marketplace.” He paused and then, “Retirement plans are great but, like, I’m too young to be that responsible. I’m more focused on making money for right now. Besides...what if I never make it to retirement? Then all that saved money’s gone to waste.”

Armie thought for a moment before answering, because he honestly never really had to think about these things. Sure, he appreciated the 403(b) plans the college offered, but anything he put into that would amount to pennies compared to his trust and what he stood to inherit. And still, even recognizing he would not ever need to worry about retirement and whether social security would still be in existence when he retired, there was something slightly morbid about Timmy’s reasoning. Before he could say, or ask, anything, Timmy furrowed his eyebrows so they were pointed up and asked, “What’s this?” referring to the music that was still playing softly throughout the house. Their conversation then shifted to music, identifying where they had overlapping tastes and where theirs diverged.

Hours slipped away the way they do when one is completely engaged in the present experience. Eventually, Armie noticed the time and reminded himself and Timmy that they both had to be up and performing their best the next day. Timmy yawned and agreed. He opened his bag and pulled out his toothbrush and was about to make his way to the guest bathroom when Armie folded him in a hug and said goodnight, partially into his ear and partially into his curls, which were as soft as he had imagined, if the hairs tickling his nose were any indication.

They had agreed to leave with enough time for Timmy to make the 6:34 train and when Armie’s alarm went off, he heard Timmy in the guest bathroom shower already. He pulled on his gym clothes, grabbed his gym bag with his work clothes in it, and stumbled, still half-asleep, downstairs. He admitted to himself that if Timmy weren’t depending on him, he would have dragged ass a lot more as he usually did on gym mornings. He started making coffee and began to eat a granola bar. Timmy had told him that he usually grabbed breakfast at Grand Central Station on his way to auditions because he found he couldn’t eat much that early in the morning. Armie had learned the hard way that he couldn’t exercise on just coffee, so he always had something before he went to the gym.

Armie hadn’t noticed the shower turning off, it was hard to hear it all the way downstairs, so he startled a bit when he heard Timmy’s footsteps on the stairs. He poured the remaining water over the coffee and turned around, “Good morning!”

“Morning,” Timmy grunted, still half-asleep despite the shower. Armie noticed how his curls were tighter and shinier as they were still damp from the shower.

“Coffee?” Armie offered.

“Please,” Timmy croaked.

Armie grabbed two travel mugs from the cupboard and poured the coffee evenly in both. Timmy moved to stand beside him and picked up one of the mugs to inhale deeply before screwing the lid on. Again, Armie was struck by a satisfied feeling that he had put that look of absolute ecstasy on Timmy’s face.

Moments later they were climbing into Armie’s Jeep, Timmy placing his backpack by his feet and Armie tossing his gym bag in the backseat. Without asking, Timmy connected his phone to the bluetooth and began playing music in the car. Armie pretended to check his side mirror to hide a smile in response to Timmy feeling so obviously at home. As they pulled up to the station, Timmy reached into his bag to pull out headphones and switched his phone over to that bluetooth. Armie cleared his throat and said, “So, um, I’ll pick you up this evening? Just send me a text to confirm that you’re on the 5:54 train?”

“If it’s not a -”

“Like I said, not a problem at all.” Armie interrupted.

Timmy shot him a grin and nodded. “Okay,”

“Okay. So, uh, break a leg?” Armie wondered if that still worked for auditions. Based on Timmy’s grin widening even more, he guessed it did.

“And tonight, you’re going to try real bagels!” Timmy crowed.

“If it’s not a -”

“Like I said, not a problem at all.” Timmy and Armie mirrored their interaction from moments before without realizing it. “I always stop by Tompkins on my way back,” Timmy explained. “If they’re closing up, they’ll give me a bag of day-old bagels that they won’t be able to sell the next day. My roommates appreciate it.” He flashed Armie a smile and began to get out of the Jeep. He paused and turned around with eyes wide. “I’m going to buy you a bagel. A bagel sandwich. I’m not going to give you a day-old...not after you’ve been so…”

Armie put his hand over Timmy’s where it was frozen on the door handle. “I know. But, besides, if these bagels are as good as you claim-”

“They are!”

“Then even the day-olds must be better than anything I’ve tried before. So whatever you bring me, it will be fine, okay?”

Timmy nodded, curls flying everywhere again. “I should really, uh, I can’t miss my train. See you tonight?”

“Tonight,” Armie nodded. Timmy hopped out of the Jeep and slipped his headphones on his head and walked towards the station. Armie watched him until he disappeared in the crowd.

Chapter Text

Timmy and Armie fell into an easy routine. Nights before Timmy had auditions, Armie would come to Flo’s for dinner and drinks and entertainment. Timmy would then spend the night at Armie’s and Armie would drop him at the train station in the morning on the way to the gym and pick him up in the evening on the way home from work. If it meant Armie stayed at work forty-five minutes after everyone left on those days, so be it.

Timmy also spent a lot of weekend days at Armie’s house. He said the comparative quiet helped him study lines. He often wound up spending the night on weekends too.

Armie was increasingly more convinced that Timmy didn’t have any feelings for him beyond friendship. Sure they cuddled together when watching TV. Armie had never seen The Office much to Timmy’s dismay. And Timmy had never seen Parks and Recreation much to Armie’s horror. They had both seen Brooklyn Nine Nine . They were alternating between watching the three shows on Armie’s large television and often, claiming he was cold, Timmy would cuddle up with Armie.

Armie had learned that Timmy was always cold. Hence the hoodies he wore at Flo’s when he wasn’t dancing.

And yes, sometimes they fell asleep in the same bed after having long late night conversations. And in the mornings Armie would wake up to find Timmy wrapped around Armie’s body like Armie was a mother chimpanzee and Timmy was the baby.

In other circumstances, Armie would assume all this meant Timmy felt for Armie what Armie felt for Timmy, despite Armie’s best efforts to ignore his feelings. Because, after all, Armie was physically affectionate with Nick and Liz but never like this.

But, and this was the major point, Timmy was like this with Saoirse. His best friend. And Armie knew Timmy didn’t have feelings beyond close friendship with Saoirse. Saoirse was still pining for Greta.

And yes, this also meant that Armie had fallen in with Timmy and Saoirse’s close friendship, just like he had hoped. He still texted Nick and Liz daily but often his texts were full of stories about him, Timmy, and Saoirse.

Like the time they walked over the City Bridge. Maybe you had to be there, is what Armie wound up concluding when Liz and Nick didn’t pee themselves laughing. What had happened was, Saoirse, Timmy, and Armie just wanted to walk over the bridge. It had been privately owned for years and damaged by fire at some point. It was closed to pedestrians and cars, but there were no physical blockades, just “No Trespassing” signs posted here and there. The three of them were convinced, on a crisp autumn day, that the bridge would provide truly majestic views of the river with the colorful fall foliage hugging it on each side. And it did, until the police showed up and arrested them. Turns out that while there were no physical blockades preventing them from getting onto the bridge, there was a silent alarm, which they had tripped, and the owner called the police. They were all taken in to the police station, where the owner decided against pressing charges. He had just wanted to send those crazy kids from the college a message - the world was not entirely theirs for the taking. They were released with a stern warning. And all three of them felt relieved but also vaguely disappointed that they had not had mug shots taken.

They stopped by Target on their way back to Armie’s house and purchased poster board and markers and an Instamax camera. Now there were makeshift, homemade mug shots of Timmy, Saoirse, and Armie hung along Armie’s mantle. Which started a tradition of taking goofy photos with the Instamax and hanging them up with the others.

None of this seemed to be appreciated by Nick and Liz. Nick just responded encouraging Armie to think how much worse it could have been had they been people of color caught trespassing on the privately-owned bridge. And Liz agreed.

Armie never missed a Monday or Tuesday at Flo’s. He got to know all the dancers and while he always enjoyed whatever he watched, Timmy was his favorite. Every Monday he would open the night stripping to a song - a crowd pleaser - and close the night reciting a monologue while he removed his clothes. Armie would be hard pressed to identify a favorite performance, they were all so good. But, okay, if you made him choose, the night that Timmy stepped on stage dressed like the Emcee from Cabaret and danced to The Highwomen’s “If She Ever Leaves Me.” He loved that strip tease not only because that outfit, Timmy gender-bending was obviously a thing for Armie, he quickly realized, but also because that song had been the one that had been playing the second time Timmy spent the night at Armie’s (the first time he planned to spend the night - Armie differentiated those two first nights in his mind) and interrupted himself to ask what that song was. Timmy knew about this song because of his friendship with Armie and that made Armie’s chest burst with warm pride.

That night, as usual, Timmy went back to Armie’s house. And perhaps their conversation then prompted Armie to do what he did at work the next day.

The next day had been a Board of Trustees meeting. As always, a reporter (usually a current student at the college) for the Quarterly was in attendance. Today the reporter was Mimi Popovich. Mimi was a year behind Timmy and Saoirse, currently a senior. Her sister, Nikki, had graduated the year ahead of Timmy and Saoirse. The Popovich sisters were known at the college for their ruthless practicality. They both wanted to be journalists and, so, majored in English. But they also knew that journalism was dying a slow and painful death and so they each double majored. The sisters figured their second majors would not only provide some back up in the event that journalism as a field went entirely belly up but also would provide areas of expertise that they could use in marketing themselves. Nikki’s second major had been computer science and Mimi was completing her second major in urban studies. So it was good fortune, so to speak, that Mimi was at the Board meeting when they were discussing the new urban revitalization program that had come to the town.

Armie had a soft spot in his heart for the Popovich sisters. Nikki had been the one to write the food review of Flo’s for the school newspaper, which Nick had found somehow (Armie still hadn’t gotten, or wanted, the details of how), and ultimately brought Timmy and Saoirse into Armie’s life.

The town had hired a city planner to bring more businesses and industry to the downtown, which was filled with vacant storefronts and historic buildings at risk of falling into disrepair. So far, the only progress that had been made in revitalizing the downtown was the hanging of banners from all the streetlights announcing the new Business Improvement District (BID).

The Board was discussing whether the college should be involved with the BID and, if so, how. This conversation involved reviewing the mission statement for the college and for each of the committees that served the college. Armie understood that mission statements were a part of the culture of higher education and he wasn’t against them per se. But discussions of mission statements (and goals, and objectives, and measurable outcomes) often took the place of action. More than anything the Board wanted to find a way to brag about everything they were already doing to help the failing town, but were struggling to identify what exactly the college’s contribution to the surrounding town’s economy had been.

It was with this sentiment - being bored, frustrated, and distracted by the memory of his conversation with Timmy - that Armie muttered, “You know which alum has a thriving local business? Flo, from the class of 1980.” He didn’t know Flo’s last name, or if she even had one. “But I bet the Quarterly would never do a profile on her.”

Armie’s sudden warm feelings towards Flo (not that his feelings had ever been cool, he just hadn’t considered her much beyond the name on the club and the anecdotes Timmy and Saoirse had told him, he hadn’t even met the woman in person) had developed after he learned how much she did to help those who worked for her.

The conversation had started when he and Timmy were cuddled together in Armie’s bed, as friends do, the night before. Armie thought back to the very first night Timmy stayed over (the one that was not planned). He nudged Timmy with his shoulder and Timmy looked up at him from where he was nestled against Armie’s chest, again as friends do, and Armie said, “Tell me a secret.”

Timmy’s eyes had widened and Armie had read anxiety in them followed by relief. Timmy had sat up and turned around so he was facing Armie. Armie stayed lying down, his head on a pillow while Timmy crossed his legs and leaned forward. “I’m an orphan.”

Chapter Text

I’m an orphan.

Armie’s eyes went wide at this confession. How hadn’t he known?

“Nobody knows,” Timmy continued. He flushed red, Armie mentally chastised himself for finding this cute, and said, softly, “Well not nobody, but nobody here. Nobody from Hammer. Nobody except Flo.”

Timmy went on to explain how he had been at home, as usual, between his junior and senior years in college. By home, he meant his family’s place in France. “My dad’s French,” Timmy said by way of explanation. Armie already knew Timmy was part French but let his story unfold without interruption. “Was French,” Timmy corrected. Timmy talked about the phone call he received, which he first ignored since it was from an unknown number, when he was out at a nightclub with local friends. He recalled his friends rushing to get Timmy to the hospital. To this day, Timmy is uncertain how exactly he got there. Being detained in the waiting room, not being told any details, anything really except there was an accident. Sitting there for hours surrounded by his friends, his summer friends, whom he had grown up knowing but not in the way he knew his friends from NYC, or even from college. Timmy recalled sitting in the hospital waiting room, all of them in their club clothes, wondering what others in the room must be thinking. “They all probably thought we were there for a friend who overdosed or something.”

Timmy described the look on the doctor’s face as she approached their group and his wishing that she would disappear, or approach one of his friends instead, for this all to have been a misunderstanding. But it wasn’t.

Just as Timmy can’t remember the trip from the club to the hospital, he can’t remember how he got home that night. Or that morning, by that point. He had been home in France without his parents before - they would sometimes travel, taking advantage of their proximity to everywhere else in Europe, leaving Timmy behind once he was old enough and if he wasn’t interested in joining them.

He would come to regret not joining them each and every chance he had. Even if his refusal to travel with his parents had been understandable, just a normal teenager wanting to be separate and individuated from his parents. He was supposed to have many more years with them. He was supposed to come to appreciate them again as their relationship evolved from child and parents to adult and parents. He would never get that.

At least his parents had left their affairs in order, Timmy shared with a bitter laugh. Their wish was to be buried in France. It was that burial in France that turned their death into a secret that Timmy kept. He didn’t know how to contact his friends from NYC to tell them his parents had died and the funeral was in France. What twenty-year-old knows how to make that phone call?

Even if the funeral had been in NYC, Timmy still didn’t know if, or how, he would have made those calls.

His friends from college were close friends, especially Saoirse. But if he couldn’t manage to call friends he had known since nursery school or even for the seven years since his freshman year in high school, during which he had bonded with his classmates through the trust exercises they were put through in their acting classes, how could he call people he had known for less than four years with this news?

It felt so uncomfortable. And everything at that point had been uncomfortable, painful, and unavoidable. This was discomfort he could avoid, and so he did.

He did give a eulogy at the funeral. Only one. It was a joint funeral. The idea of two separate funerals, doing something so painful twice, was abhorrent. His parents had been so in love with each other, Timmy had seen them bicker but never fight, not really, that the idea of separating them just for the funeral rites, even though they would be buried side-by-side, was unimaginable.

Timmy gave a eulogy because now he lived in fear of regret.

The corner of Timmy’s mouth twisted up into a semi-smile as he told Armie, “It wound up reading like a dating profile, but for parents. I just kept imagining all these kids who had died. How their parents had gone through the pain I was going through but more because at least I was supposed to lose my parents, even if it happened about thirty years earlier than it should have. But those parents, they weren’t supposed to lose their kids. None of it is supposed to happen like this. But there are all these dead kids and now there are my dead parents. And they were such good parents, like they were so fucking good at being parents, I couldn’t help but think, what a waste. And so, like I’m not sure I believe in heaven or an afterlife or any of that? But if there is one, yeah, that’s where my parents are and hopefully they get to still be parents.” He paused and looked down and then back up. The corner of his mouth wasn’t twisted up anymore, and his lip was quivering. “Even if...even if it’s not to me anymore.” Timmy figured the dead kids would appreciate his parents and wouldn’t take them for granted, the way he had.

*

(If you’ve skipped to here - welcome! Well done taking care of yourself. What you need to know is that Timmy has kept his parents’ death, which occurred in France between his junior and senior years in college, a secret from his friends because if felt too painful and awkward to tell them.)

*

His parents’ apartment in Hell’s Kitchen was sold, with the help of their lawyer, so that Timmy wouldn’t have to worry about the mortgage. The proceeds were placed in a trust for Timmy to use for his remaining education and living needs. Timmy had used some of the money left to him for his tuition for his final year, but he hadn’t wanted to touch the rest of it if he could avoid it. Living expenses for a recently graduated drama major seemed like a frivolous way to spend what his parents had worked their lifetime to save. So, when he returned to Hammer College that August, he applied for and got the job at Flo’s, as they were always desperate for male dancers for Monday night full frontal. He eventually approached Flo, confided in her what had happened and she promised to keep his confidence. “Secrets in families are like assholes,” she told him as she gave him more days to work and a stipend for health insurance and hired him nearly full-time as soon as he graduated. “One good one keeps everything running smoothly, more than one and you’ve got shit everywhere.” She also gave him the title of Assistant Manager so she could justify paying him more per hour and so it would look good on his resume, should he ever need it.

By the time Timmy finished talking, tears were pouring down his cheeks and he was gasping to breathe through sobs that wracked his entire body. Armie pulled him down and back onto his chest and wrapped his arms around him and rubbed his back with an open palm. He didn’t say, “It’s okay” because wasn’t. He just held Timmy as he cried for as long as he needed to.

Eventually Timmy’s sobs turned into whimpers and eventually those whimpers turned into hiccups and finally, although Armie had no idea how much time had passed, Timmy was quiet. Armie assumed Timmy had cried himself to sleep. Which was understandable and Armie was honored by the trust Timmy had shown him tonight through his vulnerability. Timmy crying himself to sleep in Armie’s arms? Armie hated, absolutely hated, that the world had unfolded in a way that would make Timmy cry like that, would make him face such unimaginable loss at such a young age, but since it had, there was nowhere else Armie would rather be than holding Timmy in his grief.

But then Timmy shifted, he looked up at Armie, the green of his eyes more remarkably beautiful by the contrast from his eyes being bloodshot and framed by red puffy rings. He managed a weak smile and a watery laugh. “Okay, big guy, now you tell me a secret.”

Armie gulped. He had originally asked Timmy to tell him a secret knowing the tables would get turned on him and he had finally decided tonight was the night he was going to tell Timmy about his feelings for him. Even if it meant risking their friendship.

Which would be completely and utterly inappropriate given what Timmy just shared.

He absolutely could not.

He then remembered Timmy’s brief look of disappointment the first time they had this secrets conversation when the secret Armie shared was that he loved his family but didn’t like them. And it all came together. And Armie felt like the biggest idiot even though there was no way for him to have known. He realized it was a privilege to have family to feel this way about.

He started with a piece of information he realized he didn’t think Timmy had before now. His last name. Even when they were arrested, the police officers didn’t mention Armie’s last name more than once or twice, and never loudly. In fact, Armie remembered, he was annoyed at them because they kept calling him Armand. And Timmy had giggled every time, which went a long way in helping Armie feel less annoyed.

He cleared his throat. “So, uh, my last name is Hammer.”

Timmy’s eyes widened in response and his mouth formed a perfect “o” shape but he stayed silent and waited for Armie to continue.

Armie spoke about his distant relatives. He knew that Timmy knew a great deal about Markus Hammer, all the students at the college did, the information laced the Kool Aid they served in the dining hall. So Timmy had been aware that Markus had brothers, as the hospital in town was named for them: Hammer Brothers Hospital. But given the understandable pride the college as a whole had in their founder, it wasn’t common knowledge amongst the students and alumni/ae that Markus had been an outcast of the Hammer family, even though Markus’ brother Armand had deigned to send his daughters to Hammer College. So Armie gave Timmy the other side of the Hammer family history, the Armand Hammer side.

Armie told how the Armand Hammer side of the family eventually moved to California to expand from the imports and exports business that had made the family incredibly wealthy when they were in New York to also include the oil industry, which made the family obscenely wealthy. Armie described his childhood, many many generations now removed from the original Armand Hammer. His childhood filled with everything and anything money could buy but very little affection or attention from either parent. His parents were too busy with the family business - by now a major corporation that was a parent company for many familiar brands - or attending galas, fundraisers, and other events to maintain the family’s status and reputation.

A family in which Armie didn’t have to hide who he really was because no one cared enough to ask. As long as Armie did what was expected of him: attend a parochial school followed by a university that had at least one building bearing his name on the campus and wasn’t Hammer College (Armie like to joke that his parents avoided arrest in the college admissions scandal because their bribery had been above-board), study business, and then continue the family legacy both by going into the family business and by getting married and having at least an heir and a spare. And Armie had towed the line, he hadn’t given his family any cause for concern. They even excused him not going into the family business immediately after earning his MBA because it made sense to have some work experience so the nepotism involved in hiring him would be a shade more subtle. Until he announced he would not be going into the family business and that he had accepted a job at Hammer College and was moving to the Hudson Valley of New York.

His trust fund was iron-clad so no matter how angry his family was, they couldn’t touch it. Besides, something like that would make the news and arguing about money was just so gauche, the Hammers would not do it. So they told him they disowned him, wanted nothing more to do with him. And Armie wasn’t sure exactly what that meant - maybe it meant cutting off communication - but Armie hadn’t spoken to his family much before this so he really didn’t notice much of a difference. However, just because there was no discernible difference in his daily life, it didn’t mean that it didn’t hurt.

He had done what would have made any other parents proud. Attended a prestigious university for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees (that he probably most likely would have gotten into solely on the merit his grades and extracurricular achievements), worked a good job until accepting a prestigious job at one of the top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the Northeast (that he probably most likely would have gotten an offer for solely on the merit of his degrees and previous work experience). A college, it bore repeating, that had the family name on it. And for that he was disowned.

His parents didn’t even know he was queer. That disclosure would have certainly come with its own separate disowning had his parents ever even inquired about his personal life (they hadn’t - they figured his youth was for sowing whatever wild oats he had and they would have started asking him about it now that he was older and expected to be more serious about whom he dated but he was already disowned). But at least, with his religious upbringing, Armie could understand that. It was terrible thing for parents to reject their queer children, but at least it was a thing that other queer people had gone through and could relate to. There was community in that trauma. Armie was totally alone in the rejection he experienced. No wonder he had clung so tightly to Liz and Nick and now Timmy and Saoirse.

As Armie’s voice grew hoarse and he stopped talking, having come to the end of his tale, he felt Timmy’s arms wrap around him and squeeze him tightly. And the two of them lay there, each orphaned in their own way, searching for family in their friends and slowly becoming each other’s family, whether they truly realized it or not.

Chapter Text

The Business of Dance
What makes a dancer become a business owner?

For Florence (Flo) Joyce ‘80 it was a matter of necessity being the mother of invention. Flo matriculated at Hammer College in August 1976 with the intention of being a dance major. “I was pretty light on my toes, at the time, if you can believe that,” Flo shares with her signature gravelly voice. It was the end of her first year when she and her roommates (Flo lived in Josslyn House during her first year at Hammer before moving into Ferry Cooperative House) decided to celebrate the end of final exams by streaking on the hill behind Sunset Lake. “Wouldn’t you know, graceful as I was back then, I slipped and went ass, it was a much smaller ass at the time, mind you, over tea kettle.” When Flo tried to get up to walk back to Josslyn House, she found she couldn’t put any weight on her ankle. “Being a dancer, you know your body, and I knew right then that I was up shit’s creek without a paddle.” Indeed, Flo suffered a career-ending ankle fracture.

When she returned to Hammer for fall semester in her second year, 1977, she changed majors to Philosophy. “People always asked what I would do with a philosophy major. And I would always say, ‘Philosophy teaches you how to think and, if you ask me, the problem with the world is we've got too many do-ers and not enough thinkers.' That’s become more and more of a problem, again if you ask me, which, of course, no one does.’” What is unspoken is that philosophy teaches a person how to think about problems, more specifically. And, when she graduated, Flo had a number of problems to consider, some practical and some, well, more philosophical.

The first was, how was Flo going to support herself? “Sure we need more thinkers in this world, but there are not a lot of jobs for thinkers, these days or even back then. Then, everyone was talking Wall Street, investments, finance, and good god if the US wants to remain a superpower, although I'm not sure where I stand on that, start using that as a form of torture. [Expletive deleted] boring me to death, goddamnit.” It is the age old question, one that Hammer College in 2019 is facing more than ever before - what is the value of a liberal arts education? Are we preparing our students for success in the world following graduation?

The second, more philosophical question, was how to make dance, and the arts more generally, accessible to the broad public? This had been a focus of Flo’s senior thesis: what purpose do the arts serve in modern society and, if there are benefits to society, how to ensure the arts benefit those who might need it most? Flo wanted to bring the arts to the people. And what better people to serve than those living around the college? “We’ve got this great college up on a hill here, where good stuff, really good stuff, is being created but what good is creation if it exists in a vacuum? If our neighbors don’t feel welcome or comfortable engaging with what’s being created, for whom are we intending it?”

It was with these concerns in mind, that Flo opened her business, “Flo’s Shows.” Flo, herself, is first to admit that her business, at first blush does not seem to promote the arts in traditionally under-resourced populations. Flo’s Shows, is in fact, a strip club. “Can’t put lipstick on that pig, honey, you’re going to just have to say it,” Flo asserts. “It’s not burlesque, it’s not erotic or exotic dancing, or whatever folks are calling it these days to make themselves feel like they’re not going to a strip club. It’s a strip club, and you’re just going to have to say it in the hallowed pages of the Quarterly.”

It is a strip club, but speak to the dancers and the patrons, and you will learn it is so much more than that.

Flo’s Shows recruits about fifty percent of its employees from the college. The other fifty percent are locals, mostly born and raised nearby and about seventy percent of those employees do not have any education beyond high school. The rest are a mix of those who have completed some coursework or an associate’s degree at the nearby community college and some who are students at the public university across the river.

Flo understands that the strip tease is simply another form of dance. One that has been rejected as an art form by those who guard the gates to what is considered Art, but it is an art nonetheless. “It’s all about perception. Look at hamburgers! They were a food you ate at home or at a fast food joint. Now you go to a place in the city and they charge you upwards of twenty bucks and for what? A hamburger, same as my dad used to make on the grill. Sure maybe the meat’s a little fancier or the sauce or the bun, but nobody’s gonna argue that a hamburger isn’t a hamburger. Same thing with dance. Strip tease is dance, maybe it’s not your twenty dollar hamburger of dance, but it’s still bringing dance to people who can’t get to the city or can’t afford tickets to the ballet.” It brings to mind the age old question of what is the true nature of reality and, as Flo speaks, one cannot help but remember Plato’s allegory of the cave. The shadows we see representing dance, look like ballet, or modern dance, or jazz, but step outside the cave and we can be more flexible in our thinking as we recognize that dance is much broader than what we saw reflected on those cave walls.

It is no coincidence that this profile comes to the Quarterly as efforts are being made in town to revitalize the downtown by bringing more business to this area. Much like we do not always consider strip tease when we consider The Arts, we do not always consider a strip club when we think of small locally-owned and operated business. But when it comes to the town’s economy, and when we think back to the first question Flo asked herself upon graduation from Hammer, the one about supporting herself, we learn that a strip club is a reliable source of income for this alumna and it contributes greatly to the local economy. “Look, I’m not gonna give you the details, some of that is public record, so have fun researching, I’m sure Jo Stevens - Is she still at the college? She is? Great - I’m sure she’ll help you with that. but if the president doesn’t have to release his tax returns, I don’t see why I should.”

What’s next for Flo and Flo’s Shows? “Well I wouldn’t mind retiring sometime this century,” Flo admits. When I ask her about any specific plans for retirement, she looks at me confused, as though it should be obvious. “Why I’m gonna move to Arizona and follow around the Indigo Girls, like kids used to do with the Grateful Dead. What did they call ‘em? Deadheads! What would they call me? Girlhead? Ha!” Why the Indigo Girls earns me another stare. “They’re only the greatest musical group ever, dead or alive. What are they teaching you kids these days?”

-Mimi Popovich ‘20 Mimi is an English and Urban Studies double major.

Chapter Text

The morning after Timmy confided in Armie that he was an orphan, Armie woke up, just before his alarm, wrapped up in Timmy’s long, lean limbs, his curls tickling Armie’s nose. And Armie wouldn’t have it any other way. He felt truly honored that Timmy would share with him something he had not shared with anyone else in his life. There was a warm feeling that started in his chest and spread throughout his body when he truly thought about this bond they now shared.

Yet, as good as Armie felt to be The One Timmy trusted with this secret, was it best for Timmy that Armie was the only one who knew? Timmy had been alone in his grieving while he was surrounded by people who cared about him, who loved him. People who had known Timmy much longer than Armie had. People who would want to know. People whom Timmy was depriving, in a sense, the opportunity to truly be a friend to him during a time of greatest need.

At that moment, Armie’s stomach rumbled, signalling it was sick and tired of being ignored. Armie sighed softly and extricated himself from baby chimpanzee!Timmy. Timmy, for his part, grumbled and rolled over to wrap himself more tightly in the duvet now that he was losing the comfort of Armie’s arms wrapped around him and the warmth of Armie’s body heat. Armie chuckled softly to himself. Normally, Armie would never leave Timmy, or anyone, in bed to wake up alone after opening himself up so entirely, but Armie also knew that, even dead ass asleep, Timmy’s nose for food and coffee was the only thing more powerful than his ability to sleep in late and to sleep through nearly anything.

Armie basked in the knowledge he had about Timmy, pieces of who he was that Armie collected like Timmy collected his beloved sneakers. Things like Timmy’s penchant for double or triple texting, his throwing up of a peace sign over his shoulder as he would dash from Armie’s car to the train station in the morning (and who still used a peace sign in this day and age? Timmy that’s who, and Armie loved it), or that Timmy would fall asleep with his socks on but kick them off in the middle of the night which meant whenever it was laundry day, Armie would inevitably find himself washing a bunch of Timmy’s socks along with the guest room sheets (or Armie’s own sheets given that they often shared Armie’s bed, as friends do). Armie collected these bits of Timmy knowledge and hoarded them.

Armie had done a better job of keeping his kitchen stocked after the first two times Timmy spent the night, especially now that both Timmy and Saoirse were spending so much time, both day and night, at his house. He didn’t mind feeding them, if it kept them over at his place and spending time with him. Not that Armie thought their friendship was based on him having his own place, well-stocked with food and booze. Certainly, he didn’t think that of Timmy, not after last night, but he also knew it didn’t hurt.

Armie pulled a hoodie on before raising the thermostat from a sleeping temperature to a warmer, awake, temperature, and jogged down the stairs to the kitchen. He set to work frying bacon and cracking eggs into a bowl for an omelette. He had some leftover vegetables that had been cut up for a stir fry the night before but hadn’t made it into the wok as well as some grated cheddar. Armie personally disliked the taste of the pre-shredded stuff compared with what he thought of as “real cheese” but he had scraped his knuckles so many times trying to grate cheese himself, that he was fine settling for less-than cheese. It was one of the concessions to having hands the size of baseball mitts. In other circumstances, such large hands were a benefit, or at least his previous sexual partners had seemed to think so. Thinking about his hands on Timmy’s slender frame immediately brought a flush to Armie’s cheeks as he mentally chastised himself for thinking such thoughts about a friend, a friend who was clearly going through a very difficult time.

As usual, when Armie made an omelette, he struggled to keep it intact and it wound up being scrambled eggs with vegetables and cheese. Oh well.

As Armie was pouring the last of the water over the coffee, and the toast popped up from the toaster, he heard Timmy amble down the stairs. Timmy’s gifted nose not only alerted him to food and coffee as a natural alarm clock but also had impeccable timing, ensuring he arrived in the kitchen just as everything was ready to be plated. Not that he didn’t insist on cleaning up since Armie tended to cook, but it was remarkable that he never showed up in enough time to help grind the coffee beans or even ensure that the omelette remained intact and didn’t devolve into some sort of scramble.

Timmy grinned at Armie, only his puffy eyes betraying the emotional confession from the night before, and grabbed coffee mugs, plates, and forks and set them on the counter. Since neither of them stood on formality, and certainly not with each other, they each grabbed a plate and loaded it up with food, poured coffee, and sat in the breakfast/all-meal nook and ate in comfortable silence for a minute before Armie cleared his throat.

“Thank you, uh, so much for…god it feels weird to be thanking you for this but, ehm, oh what the fuck, thank you for trusting me and opening up to me last night about your, um, parents.”

Timmy glanced up from his plate and looked at Armie through his messy curly bedhead and flushed pink and looked back down.

“I mean, I guess what I mean is that it really means a lot that we’ve become such good friends, that, yeah, that you felt you could tell me.”

Timmy, put his fork down and looked up again, his eyes narrowed and he tilted his head, as if he was waiting for Armie to continue. “I, well as you know, I had been pretty lonely here since moving. I never thought that I would meet anyone, yeah, anyone whom I could feel as close to as I did with my friends back home but meeting you...you and Saoirse. Um, you’ve really changed that. So, uh, thank you.”

Timmy nodded his head and picked up his fork and continued eating. Armie took a deep breath and drank his coffee while he contemplated his next words.

“So, um, speaking of Saoirse.” Timmy glanced up again but kept eating. “She really loves you, you know?” Timmy opened his mouth like he was about to say something but Armie cut him off at the pass. “No, I know not like that but she loves you as much as I’ve ever seen someone love someone else. And I know you didn’t ask for my advice but I’m going to give it to you anyway. I think you should tell her.”

Timmy narrowed his eyes again, holding eye contact with Armie, finished chewing what was in his mouth and set his fork down. He picked up his mug and took a swallow of coffee and placed it back down. “You’re right.” Armie let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. “I didn’t ask for your advice.”

And with that, Timmy stood up, walked to the door where his keys and wallet were in the catch-all basket on the table in the foyer and his jacket was hanging on a hook. He grabbed his things and walked out of the door.

Oh. Shit. Armie realized he had fucked up. Timmy had not asked his opinion, he had only asked him to be there and to listen and offer support. Fuck. He needed to make this right. He knew Timmy and Saoirse would both be working at Flo’s that night since it was Tuesday so Saoirse would be dancing and Timmy would be serving so Armie went to the club in hopes of being able to see Timmy and apologize.

The club was busier than it had been in a long time and it was hard to even catch a glimpse of Timmy. Despite Armie sitting at his usual table (he loved that he had a usual table, it made him feel like Norm from Cheers except, you know, not like Norm at all) and despite the fact that every other time Armie had sat here, Timmy had served him, someone else was waiting on Armie that night. Someone else who was definitely not-Timmy. It seemed like Timmy was avoiding him, not that Armie blamed him.

The crowd, the noise, and the terrible feeling that he had fucked up started to get to Armie and he started to feel panicky. He needed a breath of air. As he walked outside the club, he noticed Timmy and Saoirse embracing by the dumpsters. “Good,” Armie thought. “He’s taken my advice and is telling her.” Given that Armie already knew Timmy’s secret he didn’t feel too badly about moving a little closer. Close enough that he could hear what was being said. Except what was being said is not what he expected, not at all.

Saoirse held Timmy tightly in a hug and Timmy had rested his head on her shoulder, stooping down a little to make it work with the height difference. Timmy had his eyes squeezed shut as he spoke, “Why can’t he like me as more than a friend?”

Saoirse tightened her arms around Timmy and said gently, in her beautiful lilt, “Are you sure he doesn’t? He’s so flirtatious with you.”

Timmy shook his head as hard as he could given the confines of having it wedged where Saoirse’s neck met her shoulder. “No, no he doesn’t. If he did, why would he always tell me…”

At that moment Timmy mumbled something and Armie wasn’t close enough to hear. He realized then that he had crossed the line between overhearing and eavesdropping so he turned and walked back into the club so he could make sense of what he heard.

The sense that he made was that everything made sense now. He felt he had really put it out there as clearly as he could without actually coming right out and saying he had a crush on Timmy. He loved Timmy. He loved Timmy as more than a friend. He had been quite clear. And the fact that Timmy hadn’t reciprocated in the slightest?

Armie had assumed it just meant Timmy didn’t think of him as more than a friend. But now it was clear. Timmy didn’t think of him as more than a friend because Timmy had a crush on someone else.

Armie knew Timmy’s romantic history as well as he knew his own. Because friends talk about these things. From the time they met, Armie had always used Liz as his beard for family functions. Liz didn’t mind because she appreciated the networking opportunities. And Armie, who was in general against lying about who he was, knew that his family would cut him off before his trust fund was available to him and he really needed their financial support. Armie comforted himself with a quote from his favorite TV show, “it’s not lying when they make you lie; when the only truth they can deal with is their own.”

Armie himself had been in one serious relationship, during college. And he had loved Ben but hadn’t been in love with him. So when they broke up after graduation because Ben was going to Boston, no Cambridge as he always corrected everyone, for his Master’s of Public Health and Armie was staying in Los Angeles for his MBA, Armie was sad but not heartbroken. Or, maybe, his heart hurt more than he cared to admit because after that, he stuck to just hooking up. He told everyone (everyone being Liz and Nick) that his decision was due to knowing that he would eventually leave Los Angeles (in four years if you count the time for the MBA and then two years working before the job at Hammer College opened up) so what was the point of getting into a relationship?

Timmy had been the first person he had seriously considered wanting a relationship with since Ben.

Armie knew that Timmy had dated a boy, Ryan, when he was in high school but, despite attending a performing arts high school where everyone was some form of queer, Ryan was too nervous to be out about their relationship. Until he worked up the courage to surprise Timmy at their senior prom where they danced in front of everyone. But then they went to separate colleges and now that Ryan was out and proud, he wanted to take advantage of all the dick now available to him and asked Timmy for an open relationship. But Timmy, who had grown up with monogamous parents who remained very much in love until well…, wanted a monogamous relationship and so they ended things. During college, Timmy had met a guy, Ian, who said all the right things about love and commitment and having a future together and Timmy had fallen hard and they dated. They dated until Timmy surprised Ian over Spring Break during their sophomore year (instead of spending it with his parents, another regret Timmy carried around with him) and walked in to find his boyfriend in flagrante delicto with the lead tenor from Hammer College’s most popular a cappella group. In his heartbreak, Timmy had reached out to Ryan, who had at least never lied to him, and they were fuck buddies for a time until the distance became too much and, now that Armie knew more about Timmy, Timmy’s parents died and he isolated himself in some form or another from everyone.

But now Timmy clearly had a new crush, and good for him, honestly. Although, incomprehensibly, the crush wasn’t returned. Which Armie understood not in the slightest. If someone was lucky enough, was hashtag-blessed, in the truest sense of the word, enough for Timmy to be attracted to him, who the fuck wouldn’t throw himself at Timmy? Who wouldn’t fall to his knees in gratitude?

Well now the image of being on his knees in front of Timmy was seared into his mind. Armie ordered another drink at the bar to clear his mind of that particular visual. It wasn’t respectful. Timmy had just demonstrated to him what a good and close friendship they had developed and Armie wasn’t going to risk that because he couldn’t manage his own unrequited crush. No, he would be happy for his friend. His good friend, maybe even becoming a best friend, was opening himself up again after experiencing an unimaginable loss and suffering through that alone. Armie would be happy for him, he would be supportive, and he would keep his totally inappropriate-for-a-friend thoughts to himself, buried in the deep recesses of his mind only to be brought forth in the privacy of his own bedroom, or shower, or couch, or...

Chapter Text

A few weeks had passed since Timmy confided in Armie that he was an orphan, which meant that a few weeks had passed since Armie had learned (through overhearing, not eavesdropping) that Timmy had a crush on someone else and that was why he was so unresponsive to all the ways Armie made it obvious that he was so clearly into him.

Not much had changed between them. They were still nearly inseparable and continued their routine of Timmy spending the night whenever he had auditions in the city the next day and Armie dropping him off and picking him up at the train station. They still cuddled while watching TV together. They still sometimes slept together. Armie checked himself each and every time they fell asleep in the same bed and he was certain that he remained asleep well and truly on his side of the bed all night and it was Timmy who wandered in his sleep until they were wrapped up in each other. Or, rather, Timmy was clinging to Armie and Armie just had to wrap his arms around Timmy to keep him secure.

Now that Armie knew about the loss Timmy had suffered, and suffered alone, he thought he better understood why Timmy cuddled with him. The poor kid was starved for love and touch. As much as Armie thought of Timmy as a baby chimpanzee when he slept, Armie realized that made him the mama chimp. Timmy just wanted his mother, Armie concluded. He knew that Timmy had been close to his parents in a way that Armie thought only existed on TV and in the movies. Timmy had been able to turn to his parents for comfort and they provided it, without question or hesitation, and that comfort was both emotional and physical. It all made sense.

One thing that did change was that Armie tried to make Timmy feel better about his unrequited crush, without letting on that he knew about the aforementioned unrequited crush. Because he had overheard and didn’t want Timmy to think he had eavesdropped.

So Armie would say things like, “You know what I love about you? You’re so smart, like is there anything you don’t know? But not just smart in that you know so many things, you’re creative too. And you don’t even realize it, how amazing you are. I just love that about you. And I know one day you’re going to make some guy so happy. He’s going to be the luckiest guy, the guy that gets to date you.”

For some reason, whenever Armie said things like that, it didn’t seem to make Timmy as happy as Armie felt it should so Armie assumed it was because Timmy didn’t believe how amazing he was. So Armie kept saying things like that, determined to, one day, make Timmy believe him. He was a man on a mission. Operation: Boost Timmy’s Confidence. Armie realized that if he was successful that would mean Timmy would get into a relationship with someone else. But Armie loved Timmy enough to want him to be happy, even if that happiness wasn’t with Armie.

Knowing that Timmy had no place to go for Thanksgiving, Armie offered to host a Friendsgiving on Thanksgiving Day at his house. After all, Armie had no place else to go either. Before being disowned, it was expected that he put in an appearance at his family’s Thanksgiving event, usually with Liz on his arm. But now, even if he hadn’t been erased from his family, Los Angeles was too far to travel for such a short holiday, especially given it was the busiest travel day of the year. No thank you.

As Saoirse was raised primarily in Ireland and identified as Irish, Thanksgiving held little meaning for her but a day spent with her favorite guys and eating her favorite foods? She was one hundred percent there for that.

It had also been a few weeks since the Quarterly had been released with the profile of Flo. And it was then that disaster struck.

Armie had really intended for the profile to only benefit Flo, her employees, the college, and the college’s relationship with the surrounding town. He had no idea that it would backfire so spectacularly.

And, being fair to Armie, it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to predict what happened.

And, to be accurate, the outcome of the article did benefit Flo. It was everyone else that got the shit end of the stick.

It was the first time Armie had seen Timmy truly angry. Sure he had made that biting comment about not asking Armie for advice, but that wasn’t really anger. No, the day Armie showed up at Flo’s after work (he had taken to just going directly to Flo’s and hanging out, and sometimes helping out, while they got ready for the night) and Timmy met him, eyes narrowed, and his whole body vibrating. That was the day Armie saw Timmy truly angry.

Timmy pointed at Armie when he walked in. “You, get your ass into the office right now,” Timmy commanded with a low voice that made Armie feel...well now wasn’t the time for that. Armie followed Timmy into the small room that Flo called her office. There was barely room enough for Flo, Timmy, and Armie. It was filled floor to ceiling with papers as Flo still did everything from payroll to taxes by hand. Remember, “strip clubs are for in-person people.” Also, Flo didn’t like computers. “Don’t trust the damn things. I didn’t before and I certainly don’t now that this snapbookgram got Trump elected.”

Armie folded himself into one of the chairs in the office and Timmy did the same. It was easy to forget that Timmy was a tall guy because compared with Armie, well, anyone seemed small.

With that same low and commanding voice that did Things to Armie, even though it was really still not the time, Timmy spoke to Flo, “Tell him. Tell him what you told me.”

“Here’s how it is kid,” Flo began. “Big Strip has made me an offer. I guess you could say it’s an offer I can’t refuse. You could say that but I wouldn’t because quoting movies is for the unimaginative.”

“Big Strip?” Armie asked.

“Yep. Big Strip, nation-wide brand of strip clubs, real successful. They read that puff piece about me and now they want to buy me out.”

At this point, Timmy was vibrating with anger so hard that Armie thought he might explode. “What - what about us? What about all of us who rely on this job? Who rely on you?”

“Look, it’s how I always say, ‘Never leave coke, cash, or condoms on the table.’ What, you thought I was going to say liquor? Where’s the alliteration in that?”

“That’s what this is to you? This is just about money? You don’t care,” Timmy’s voice broke, “You don’t care about us?” Armie knew that Flo was the only other person who knew about Timmy’s loss and she had helped him so much. He could understand Timmy’s confusion that she seemingly so easily would sell out like this and cut him off from this job that he clearly relied on for so many things, not only money and healthcare, but also community and family.

Flo seemed to soften at that. “It’s not that I don’t care, hon, you know I do. But Timmy, kiddo, I’m not getting any younger. Neither are Amy and Emily. I want to be able to retire while I still have enough kick in me to enjoy it.”

“Amy and Emily?” Armie asked. “I didn’t know you had children.”

Flo’s expression immediately hardened again. “Amy Ray and Emily Saliers.” And hardened further still at Armie, and now Timmy’s, still confused expressions. “The Indigo Girls? You boys sure you’re queer?”

Armie felt defensive and angry now. Partially on Timmy’s behalf and partially on his own, after all Flo’s had become his home away from home and he didn’t want to lose it either. This is not at all what he had intended when he suggested the profile for the Quarterly. “Yeah we’re queer, we just don’t have the musical taste of a forty-year-old lesbian.”

“You watch your mouth. The Indigo Girls have been fighting for your rights since before you were born or thought of.” Flo spat out.

“Flo are you queer?” Armie wondered.

“I’m not and I don’t see why you would think that,” Flo stated calmly. “I just know damn good music when I hear it. And I like ‘em. Like what they stand for.”

“How can you say you like what the Indigo Girls stand for and in the next breath tell me you’re selling out to Big Strip?” Timmy demanded.

“Look, I don’t love the idea of Big Strip either. I built this shithole from the ground up and I don’t like someone coming in and fucking it all up. But this is serious cash money, Timmy, and if I don’t get another offer that can meet it, I don’t feel like I have a choice. It’s take the money and retire or sit on my keister in this club until the day I die.”

And that was how Thanksgiving dinner became a strategy meeting for how Armie, Timmy, and Saoirse were going to raise enough money to buy Flo’s Shows.

Chapter Text

Before the Cash Crisis (as it was now called) Armie had issued formal invitations to Thanksgiving complete with the following dress code: If your waistband is anything other than elastic or drawstring, you’re overdressed. Special dispensation will be made for mumus or kaftans worn instead of pants.

That last bit had been added for Saoirse after she protested that the assumption that everyone would wear pants not only maintained the patriarchy but it was also a symptom of it. The biggest lie ever told, she insisted, is that dresses are uncomfortable.

Armie had been tasked with the grocery list as Timmy and Saoirse needed to work the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which was a popular time for bars and strip clubs as everyone escaped for one last reprieve before enforced family social time. Armie sent several texts ensuring that the amounts listed were correct. Timmy and Saoirse had lived in the Hammer College co-op and were used to cooking meals for the twenty-one residents. He reminded them that there would only be the three of them. Liz and Nick would FaceTime in to discuss the Cash Crisis strategy but, as he reminded Timmy and Saoirse, would not be eating any of the food they were cooking. Eventually Timmy responded to their group text:

”Aaaarrrmmmiiieeee! The whole point of Thanksgiving is the leftovers (and the glorification of colonalism and genocide). Stop asking questions and just trust us on this."

Armie really didn’t mind it at all when Timmy whined his name like that, in text or in person. So he did what he was told and purchased the obscene amount of groceries. In retrospect, going to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving was probably not his brightest moment, but they were in a crisis, a cash crisis to be exact, and he wasn’t at his sharpest.

He realized, of course, that with his trust, he could easily match Big Strip’s offer to Flo and that was the back up plan. But they had all already agreed that given that the mission of Flo’s was to bring the arts to the people, to the extent that through crowd-funding Flo’s could belong to the people, that would be the best outcome. Armie still had some plans of how he could use the Hammer family (Armand Hammer branch) money to fund a strip club, even if he wouldn’t outright purchase it.

Wednesday night, after work, Timmy and Saoirse came to spend the night so they could get a jump start on cooking early in the day. When Saoirse offered to take the couch in the media room, so Timmy could have the guest room, Armie simply said, “No that’s okay, you take the guest room. Timmy can sleep with me.”

Saoirse rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath about idiots, while walking into the guest bathroom to do her nighttime skincare. Armie assumed that whatever she had said about idiots was a quaint Irish saying that he couldn’t properly understand without the appropriate cultural context. So he let it go.

Thanksgiving morning was a flurry of activity with Timmy and Saoirse taking charge and putting Armie to work lighting a fire and chopping vegetables, especially the onions and shallots because they made Timmy cry too hard and Armie had feelings about Timmy crying even if only over an herbaceous biennial plant in the amaryllis family. Armie tried hard not to think about this only being Timmy’s second Thanksgiving without his family. He had been reading about grief (totally a thing a person would do to make sure they provide good and appropriate support to a friend who had suffered a significant loss) and remembered that milestones such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries were especially difficult, until they were less difficult and then that was difficult in its own way.

Finally, all the food was ready to be served and the formal dining room was having its inaugural dinner. Armie had found a Spotify playlist called “JAZZ - the good kind” and put it on low. They put Armie’s laptop on the table and called Nick and Liz on FaceTime. Nick and Liz were eating In n’ Out which they had Postmates’d since neither of them cooked. It was nice to have everyone Armie cared about together for the holiday - one of the surprising benefits of how technology had changed the world.

Liz got right down to business by reviewing the agenda she had sent out to everyone two days prior.

Saoirse had done research into Big Strip as knowing your enemy is half the battle. She shared that she learned that Big Strip had at least one club in each of the forty-eight contiguous United States and tended to be strongly positively correlated with the number of churches in the region.

“Now,” she cautioned, “We all learned in statistics that correlation isn’t causation but we can make some inferences about the type of customer attracted to a place like Big Strip.” They knew she referred to people like those who lived in the area surrounding Hammer College, those who regularly wrote letters to the editor of the local paper complaining about the “socialist queers up on the hill” and touting their Bible-thumping beliefs all while spending their paychecks coveting someone who was certainly not their spouse. She also added, “What Big Strip offers is a uniform experience, no matter which of their clubs you go to. Every night you’re guaranteed to see at least one blonde, one brunette, one ginger, and one woman of color perform. The songs played are all dance remixes of the Top 50 Pop Songs from that week.”

As they discussed Saoirse’s research, they realized an important part of the campaign would be to help the surrounding town realize what they would be losing if Big Strip took over. Just as the folks from town preferred the bar JP Skidoos to the Applebees that tried to open up and had to close, because they felt ownership with Skidoos, because they all knew JP, having gone to high school with him or seen his kids play in Little League with their kids. The town had to begin to see Flo’s as part of the town’s history and culture, not only as part of the college.

Timmy talked about that strategy, which had been his task. Besides Monday and Tuesday full frontal nights, all the dancers were locals. Timmy, since he worked there nearly full time as the assistant manager, knew the dancers best of any of them. Or, more accurately better than Saoirse, since Armie only went to Flo’s on other nights to hang out with Timmy. And Saoirse. To hang out with Timmy and Saoirse. And, well, Nick and Liz still hadn’t visited so they clearly didn’t know any of the dancers at all.

Timmy hoped that he could get the dancers involved in the campaign to save Flo’s. He had done research on what it was like to dance at Big Strip and had learned that while the salaries they offered were competitive compared with other strip clubs, the salary nowhere nearly matched what Flo paid. Nor did the dancers have the freedom to choose their own outfits and music the way they did at Flo’s. Timmy thought those arguments could easily get the local dancers on board and their campaign could use them to remind the town that anyone who went to a strip club went to Flo’s and while they were there they managed to forget all the ties to the socialist queers at Hammer College. The only difficult thing was that in raising enough money to match Big Strip’s offer to Flo, they would also have to ensure they could continue to bring in enough revenue to keep operating expenses as they were. In other words, none of the dancers could be asked to take a paycut or they would risk losing their support and never gaining the support of the town.

This brought the discussion around to fundraising and funding the business. Armie felt like this was his moment to shine since he had literally gone to school for this very thing. He was vaguely aware that he wanted to impress Timmy but didn’t examine that feeling any more closely.

“To start with, I did some research on the Business Improvement District, with some help from our friend Mimi Popovich. We learned that the BID has done more than put up self-congratulatory banners. To stimulate the local economy - “ Armie had to pause while Nick snarfed his animal style burger in response to the word “stimulate” - “Ahem, to stimulate the local economy, they are offering business grants to support locally owned businesses, of which we qualify for several. Or we will once we form an LLC.” He looked at the laptop. “Nick and Liz, Timmy, Sersh, and I have already discussed forming an LLC and we agreed that it would be up to you if you wanted to be a part of it. After all, you are helping us save this business, you deserve to have some skin in the game. We could work out a profit sharing contract that would appropriately compensate you for your work in funding the business but limit your claim to profits made beyond, let’s say, the first year of business after we formalize the buyout.”

Nick and Liz glanced at each other and shook their heads. “No Armie,” Liz said gently. “Just seeing you finally happy in New York is payment enough.”

Nick nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah man, I haven’t seen you this excited about something since… well, ever.”

Timmy and Saoirse beamed in response, it made them feel warm and happy to know their good friend was loved as much as he deserved by his chosen family.

Armie just nodded in response, unable to find the words to convey what he was feeling. “Yeah, thanks guys, so um, as I was saying, the three of us qualify for a number of business grants as we will be woman-owned,” he gestured to Saoirse, “and LGBTQ-owned,” he gestured to the three of them and continued, “it seems the city planner they hired has a lesbian daughter and insisted that LGBTQ identity be made one of the qualifying minority identities for the business grants.” Everyone nodded in understanding. “And finally, we’re immigrant-owned.” He gestured to Saoirse again.

“Armie! I’m not an immigrant. I have dual-citizenship.” Saoirse argued. “Plus I think those grants should go to immigrants of color, it’s not exactly like I’m discriminated against even in Trump’s America. Well, not for being an immigrant at least.”

Armie shook his head gently. “I agree with you in principle, Sersh, but according to the paperwork that we would be required to complete for the grant, you do qualify as an immigrant. I understand that you’re not marginalized in the same way as immigrants of color, I do, but if it’s a matter of saving Flo’s…”

“I agree with Sersh,” Timmy said. “Let’s not apply for that grant and apply for the others. If it comes down to losing Flo’s or applying for the immigrant-owned business grant, then we’ll do it. But let’s see if we can’t do this without it.”

Armie nodded in agreement and turned the floor over to Liz, who had tasked herself with social media strategy.

“We’re really doing this at an opportune time,” she began. “Giving Tuesday has become nearly as popular as Black Friday, which at this point is its own holiday, and Cyber Monday.”

Armie had been very disappointed to learn that Cyber Monday was about shopping online and had nothing to do with cyber sex. Leave it to capitalism to ruin the meaning of cyber for everyone.

“So starting tonight, when the Black Friday sales start, we’re going to start to blast everyone’s feed with Flo content and start to place the fundraiser on everyone’s radars for Tuesday. The drawback is that you’re not a non-profit so the contributions won’t be tax deductible. That’s a drawback but not as big as you might think. We tend to see the most giving on giving Tuesday within our age group, 25 to 34 year olds,” she flashed an apologetic smile to Saoirse who was 22 and Timmy who was about to be 22 next month. “Within that age range, very few people can afford to give so much that they are deducting their contributions from their taxes. Most people this age are taking the standard deduction, which is $12,200 this year. So I suggest we do an ‘empty your Venmo’ fundraiser. These have become very popular because, for the most part, the money sitting in someone’s Venmo, is money they can afford to live without, and when targeting people for charitable contributions, helping them realize they can afford to live without the money they are donating is the biggest hurdle.”

They discussed the details of how such a fundraiser would be managed but everyone agreed it was a great idea and Liz appeared quite pleased with herself and what she was able to contribute to the strategy. Liz would send them graphics for branding that could be easily shared not only among themselves and their own social networks but also with the local dancers who would be asked to help bring awareness to the fundraiser.

Last, but probably not least, was Nick. As Nick was an assistant (formerly assistant to an assistant) at a talent agency, his job had been to identify a celebrity, or celebrities, who could signal boost the fundraiser. And he had to do so without putting his job at risk. He was definitely not allowed to take advantage of the access he was granted to celebrities’ personal contact information for his own gain, or for the gain of a random (to everyone else) strip club. However, he was allowed to list his agency affiliation on his Twitter profile and somehow he had earned a coveted blue check mark beside his name which made listing the agency he worked for believable.

“Okay guys,” Nick began and Soairse cleared her throat. “Um, okay...folks. Here’s what I’ve got. I reached out to,” and then he named an actor that put puzzled expressions on everyone’s faces. “C’mon, you know him. He is always liking bondage shit on Twitter and getting in trouble for spouting off his opinions.” Everyone remained puzzled. “He was in that movie, you know, the gay one?”

Saoirse muttered “Rude.”

“Guys, I mean, folks, the movie, where the kid fucked the peach? Armie! I know you know the one, don’t think I don’t always see it listed under recently watched in our Netflix account. You have such a thing for the peach-fucking kid.”

Armie turned a shade redder than the cranberry sauce and shot daggers through his eyes at Nick. “You mean Call Me By Your Name?” And immediately Saoirse and Timmy nodded in recognition. Armie, in his embarrassment, missed the meaningful glance that Saoirse gave to Timmy in response to Nick’s revelation that Armie was attracted to that lanky, dark haired, green eyed actor who did bear somewhat of a resemblance to Timmy.

Nick snapped his fingers. “Yep! That’s it! Call My By You… it doesn’t matter. This is the other actor, the one who played the love interest.”

“Oliver,” Timmy, Armie, Saoirse, and Liz said in unison. When everyone looked at Liz, she shrugged her shoulders, “What? It’s always in the recently played list and it’s fucking hot.” Everyone, except for Nick, nodded in agreement.

“If we’re done discussing the wank merits of the movie, may I continue?” Nick asked before he proceeded without waiting for a response. “So we know the guy is open-minded if he is willing to play gay,” he held up his hand to stop what he knew was about to happen, “okay okay okay, or maybe he really is gay but only with his costar, believe whatever you want. We know the guy is open-minded sexually, he’s a supporter of women’s rights, and I thought this cause just might hit him in the right place.” He paused dramatically and everyone leaned forward, except Liz because it would have made no sense to lean closer to the screen. “And I was right! He’s willing to signal boost the fundraiser on Twitter and he said he would make a large donation himself to get the ball rolling...hey speaking of balls did you hear that they had to remove his balls in post because his shorts were so -”

“THANK YOU NICK,” Armie’s voice boomed, cutting him off. Nick was a great guy but sometimes didn’t know how to read a room. “Speaking of donations. I know we agreed that using my trust would be Plan B...or I guess Plan C since Plan B is now applying for the immigrant-owned company grant. But I want to at least match whatever funds we’re able to raise through our strategy. Not the grant money, just what we earn in fundraising. Will you let me at least do that?” He looked to Saoirse and Timmy who were both the major shareholders in this venture and both nodded. And with that, the Cash Crisis Strategy Meeting was adjourned and everyone went to help themselves to pie and bourbon.

Chapter Text

The day after Thanksgiving was historically the busiest night for strip clubs, according to one article in a peer reviewed journal. It made sense, the need to escape into fantasy after all that enforced family time and, if one was so inclined, that absolute madness that was Black Friday.

Armie, Timmy, and Saoirse had a leisurely brunch of Thanksgiving leftovers. Timmy had been right, Armie concluded, the leftovers were the best part of the holiday. Of course, Armie thought, Timmy was right about so many things. After brunch, they all dozed in front of the fire until it was time for Timmy and Saoirse to have some coffee and pie and go to Flo’s to get ready for the rush.

Armie stayed behind at his house to finish cleaning up. It had mostly been done at that point but given that no one wanted to wash any dish that wasn’t absolutely necessary to wash, they had been running loads through the dishwasher. There was one last set of clean dishes to unload and one last set of dirties to run through. Timmy and Saoirse may have been geniuses in the kitchen when it came to cooking but cleaning as they went was definitely not a skill either had developed yet.

When Armie got to Flo’s, he let himself in as he usually did these days - Saoirse and Timmy would leave the door unlocked for that specific purpose. He followed the sound of their voices (Flo’s had great acoustics) to backstage where they were queueing the music for that night’s dancers and talking about plans for Timmy’s birthday, which was in a month. Armie already had plans for what he wanted to get Timmy as gifts. He assumed that Timmy had always gotten fewer birthday presents than he deserved because his birthday was so close to Christmas and because Armie thought no amount of birthday presents could really come close to what he thought Timmy deserved. So Armie had planned basically a gift bonanza for Christmas and Timmy’s birthday to make up for the twenty previous years of insufficient gift receiving. It was the sort of thoughtful thing a good friend would do.

“Yeah so Pauline said she’s going to come for Christmas and stay through my birthday.”

“Oh yeah? She’s going to come here? Wouldn’t it make more sense for you to go to the city?”

“Um, no, no actually she said she wants to see what my life is like up here. And, uh, and plus you know Armie’s planning that big Christmas thing. I want to be there for that since, well, since he doesn’t have any other family to spend Christmas with.”

“Yeah, yeah sure, that’s why you want to spend Christmas with Armie.”

Armie was so confused by so much of what he heard. What was Saoirse implying about his Christmas plans? And who was Pauline? Armie thought he knew all the names of Timmy’s friends. He had never heard of a Pauline. A feeling that would be described as jealousy surged through Armie. It wasn’t jealousy because a friend would not be jealous of their friend having a friend he had never heard mentioned, even if, or especially if, that friend was close enough to earn both a Christmas and birthday celebration invitation.

Armie would later blame that feeling that was not jealousy for interrupting Timmy and Saoirse’s conversation with, “Who’s Pauline?”

Timmy looked at Armie with a confused expression, his eyebrows furrowed, and responded, “My sister.”

Armie’s surprise dislodged the filter that lived between his inside thoughts and his outside words and blurted out, “You said you were an orphan.”

At that moment several things happened simultaneously.

Timmy’s eyebrows scrunched up even further on his forehead, his eyes widened and filled with tears, making them look like ponds reflecting the deep green leaves of the trees around them, if anyone had been paying attention in that moment to Timmy’s eyes. (Armie was.)

Saoirse’s mouth gaped open and her eyes also widened to saucers. No one was paying much attention to her eyes so further detail has been lost to history.

Armie felt his face flush as anger and hurt filled him from his toes slowly creeping up his body until it reached his head and his mouth, the filter between which had just left the building at this point and taken an uber home.

It rarely happens in real life that three people speak at exactly the same time, but on that Black Friday, life imitated the movies as they all spoke at once:

“Wha-what does having a sister have to do with being an orphan?” Timmy’s voice was an octave higher than normal and cracked as he spoke, tears threatening to spill forth from those green pools.

“You! Your parents died? When? Why didn’t you tell me,” Saoirse demanded in a voice that somehow conveyed both hurt and the gentle nurturing she would have given Timmy had he ever called her or sat her down and told her.

“I - I can’t believe I’m in love with someone whom it seems like I don’t even really know!” Armie shouted.

If a record had been playing, it would have scratched then stopped as the two friends both turned to look directly at Armie.

Saoirse muttered to herself, “Fucking knew it.”

Timmy’s voice couldn’t possibly go any higher so it stayed right where it had been and cracked again as he squeaked, “You’re in love with me?”

“I - I thought you were an orphan,” Armie nearly whispered. And then, more loudly, “Yes, I’ve, um, had feelings for you.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Timmy whispered.

“I thought it was, it was obvious,” Armie stated, simply.

“Fucking was,” Saoirse muttered again.

Timmy sunk his teeth into his bottom lip and looked down for a moment. He took a deep, shaky breath, and said, “No, Armie, it wasn’t. It was...it was really fucking confusing if you want to know the truth.”

“Yeah, the truth would be nice,” Armie said bitterly and Timmy flashed his eyes at him.

“The truth? You cuddle with me, you spend all your time with me, and as soon as I start to have any hope, the fucking second I start to think that Sersh is right and you are into me too, you make very clear, very fucking clear we’re just friends.”

“But - but… how? What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m talking...I’m fucking talking about how you make sure to remind me at every turn how grateful you are to have me, to have us, as friends. You make sure I know how much you miss Liz and Nick and how great it is that our friendship reminds you of what you left in LA.” Timmy spat out. “Oh! Oh! Let’s not forget, let’s not fucking forget for one moment all the times you’ve told me how special, how wonderful I am, getting my hopes so high, only to free fall to the ground when you let me know how lucky some other guy is going to be.”

“Wait, wait a second,” Armie started.

Timmy, expecting Armie to argue back, said “What?” in that deep commanding tone he got when he was truly angry and that also did Things to Armie.

“You said ‘when you think Sersh is right and I’m into you too?’”

“Sersh is always right,” Saoirse continued her running commentary.

“Yeah, that’s what I said,” Timmy shot back, in a tone that belied and what of it?

“You’re into me?”

“Speaking of bloody obvious,” Saoirse murmured.

“Yes, I’m fucking into you.” Timmy responded and everyone fell silent. “Wait, so why are we arguing?”

It took Armie a moment and then he recalled what started this whole thing. “Because you lied about being an orphan. You have a sister.”

Timmy rolled his eyes. “Armie an orphan is someone without parents. It doesn’t mean I don’t have any family. But, my parents they… they both died.” He gestured around as though to demonstrate the clear lack of parents.

“Jesus fucking christ, Timmy, you could have told me,” Saoirse chimed in and Timmy shot her an apologetic look mixed with one that, from their years of close friendship, she knew communicated, yeah we’re going to have to talk about this.

“So, so there’s a sister, this Pauline and what? A whole family of Chalamets?” Armie was still trying to make sense of everything.

“And Flenders.”

“Who’s Flenders?”

“My mom’s side, Armie,” Timmy sighed.

“Timmy, you say the word orphan and people…I’m going to assume you’re alone in the world,” Armie tried to explain.

“So we’re fighting because when I opened up to you and told you something I had literally told none of my other friends, I didn’t do it perfectly?” Timmy’s voice was trembling again. “It’s, it’s not like I have a lot of practice with this. And you, you’re angry because you thought my life was worse than it is? Let me tell you Armie, it’s already pretty fucking bad. And what? You thought I was more alone than I actually am? Because I feel pretty fucking alone.” He brushed the tears that had spilled over off his cheeks. “Or I did, until I told you, and then I felt less alone. But I guess I was wrong. Because I somehow fucked this up.” He gestured between them.

“Yeah,” Armie said sadly, his own voice threatening to crack. “I guess you did.” And with that he turned and left.

Only, he didn’t get far. He made it back out to the stage and bar area and sat down at his usual table and dropped his head into his hands and wondered how everything had gotten so fucked up so quickly.

He could hear Timmy and Saoirse talking, although he couldn’t make out the distinct words and he felt he had done enough overhearing for the night. He then heard Timmy crying and it took everything in him not to rush backstage to...what exactly? He no longer knew his place in Timmy’s life. Before today, he had been so secure in their friendship. And sure he wanted more, so much more with him, but since he had believed Timmy wasn’t interested, he was simply happy to have Timmy’s friendship and his own fantasies for the times he was alone. Armie got lost in his own thoughts and self-recrimination for fucking everything up - which he had tried so desperately to avoid. His worst fear, losing Timmy entirely, was coming true.

Not to mention, he was still angry. He felt a bit lead on, emotionally. Like Timmy had chosen to leave out of his story his sister and a whole slew of extended family, for what? To tug on his heart strings? Gain his sympathy? It’s not like losing his parents was any less traumatic just because he had other relatives, but Armie still felt that Timmy hadn’t been entirely truthful with him and honestly that hurt. Armie had never figured Timmy to be a liar. Armie conveniently ignored that he, in his own way, had not been entirely truthful with Timmy.

Armie was so lost in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice when the voices and crying backstage stopped. He startled to realize Saoirse was standing next to his table with two glasses of bourbon in her hands, offering one to him. He accepted it with a grateful look and gestured for her to sit down in the other chair. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying alongside Timmy. “I sent him home.” She said quietly and Armie nodded in acknowledgement. They sat in silence, each sipping their drinks for a moment.

Armie finally spoke, his voice hoarse with emotion, “So he forgot to tell me he had a sister and he forgot to tell you his parents died.”

Saoirse paused and took a breath and let it out slowly. She looked Armie directly in the eyes and said, “He didn’t forget to tell me. He chose not to.”

Armie broke her intense gaze and looked down at the table. “Oh yeah, yeah okay, that’s worse.”

“Yeah, it is Armie,” she responded gently. More gently than he deserved. She continued in the same gentle voice but what she said packed quite a punch. “And you forgot to tell him you’re in love with him.”

Armie looked up from the table, his forehead wrinkled in confusion, his lips turned downward in a frown. “I didn’t forget to - oh! Oh.

Saoirse sighed as if to say, fucking finally. “Exactly. Now go to him. And tell him I’ve got him covered for tonight.”

Chapter Text

Armie’s heart was racing as he quite literally ran from the club to his Jeep in the parking lot. It was a day-after-Thanksgiving miracle that he didn’t get into an accident as he barely adhered to traffic laws driving to Timmy’s house. He was grateful that most of their housemates were out of town for the holiday and that Timmy shared his room with Saoirse, who would be at Flo’s all night.

Armie knew they had to talk but he was hoping things would go beyond talking. Either way, they needed privacy.

Armie’s Jeep screeched to a halt in front of the house and he remembered to unlock his seatbelt only after he was forcibly prevented from getting out of the vehicle by the belt snapping him back into his seat. He slammed the door shut and ran up the path to the front door. His hands shook as he tried to fit the key in the lock.

He had a set of keys to Timmy (and Saoirse)’s house because that’s what friends… Armie was actually beginning to realize that, no, many of the things he and Timmy did together weren’t things that friends did. It’s not like Timmy had a cat or a dog or a plant that needed tending if he was ever out of town (which he wasn’t) and it wasn’t like he didn’t have a million housemates who could have helped him if he did.

Armie finally finally got the door open and bounded up the stairs. He stood outside Timmy’s door wondering if he should knock, to be respectful but also risk being rejected, or just let himself in. In the end, he knocked and got no response. Raising his eyebrows at that, he slowly opened the door and saw Timmy face down on the bed, his curls splayed out across his pillow, his headphones over his ears, which was obviously why he hadn’t responded to Armie’s knock, and a bunch crumpled tissues beside him. Armie’s heart broke a little. He had done this.

He walked over to the bed, placed one hand on the headboard for balance, and slowly and softly placed his hand on Timmy’s shoulder. Timmy startled and looked up, through his long eyelashes that were glued together with tears, from red-rimmed and puffy eyes that betrayed every emotion - surprise and relief warring there now. He pulled his headphones around his neck.

“Shit, Armie, you scared me.”

“Sorry, I - I knocked but you didn’t, you had your headphones on,” Armie apologized.

“S’okay,” Timmy mumbled looking down and twisting the cord from his hoodie around his finger. Armie was reminded of the first night he saw Timmy and knew he had been fucked for him since that very moment. Timmy looked back up, cautious hope filling his eyes. “Why are you here?”

Armie sat tentatively on the edge of the bed, his palms sweaty and his stomach filled with butterflies, and Timmy rolled to his side and propped his head up on his bent arm. “We need to talk,” Armie said in a low tone. Timmy groaned and rolled back onto his stomach and Armie’s own stomach sank. “Why are you, what’s wrong?”

Timmy pulled his head off his pillow, his eyes filled with tears now, and said, “I thought we would be able to, I thought we could still...Armie no good conversation has ever started with ‘we need to talk.’”

Armie’s eyes widened in understanding and it was all he could do to not laugh, both in relief and at how much miscommunication had happened and was still happening between them. “No, I didn’t mean. I’m sorry. That came out wrong. Apparently we, I, suck at this communication thing. What I meant was, I should have said, I came here to apologize and I was hoping we could talk.”

Timmy sighed and rolled back to his side and looked up at Armie expectantly. Armie went on to acknowledge that he had friendzoned Timmy all while, yes, having more-than-good-friends feelings for him. He explained why he had eliminated the option of pursuing Timmy for something more than friendship, both because he hadn’t wanted to risk losing what he had and because he had overheard Timmy and Saoirse’s conversation outside Flo’s, which now, in retrospect, he realized was about him. He explained that he hadn’t realized how confusing his behavior was as a result of his conflicting emotions and he hadn’t intended to effectively gaslight Timmy. He apologized.

Timmy sat up and faced Armie, pulling his knees to his chest and resting his cheek on top of them, as he spoke. Timmy in turn acknowledged that, while he didn’t feel he had lied to Armie, there were parts of his story that he could have been more clear about. Timmy shared that while he didn’t intend to mislead Armie, perhaps he did so unconsciously because he was afraid Armie would think him weak if he knew he had other family, including a sister with whom he was very close. Would think him weak both for his strong reaction to losing both his parents at once, which now that he was saying it aloud was perhaps an exaggerated fear, but also for being too afraid to tell any of his friends. As he talked he fidgeted with his headphones, finally removing them from around his neck and placing them on the bed, and with his hoodie, continuing to twist the string around his finger, and pulling the hood up on his head. When he finished speaking, they both sat there in silence gazing at each other.

Finally, Timmy broke the silence. “And you’re in love with me?” he asked, looking up through the mess of curls, pushed down into his face by his hood.

“And I’m in love with you,” Armie affirmed.

Suddenly he was knocked onto his back by Timmy surging up and forward and capturing his lips in a kiss. Their first kiss, Armie realized. He pushed his fingers into Timmy’s curls, pushing the hood off his head, as his thumbs caressed the twin cliffs on either side of Timmy’s face, called cheekbones when they were on other mere mortals. He pulled Timmy in closer and deepened their kiss, licking into his mouth. Timmy bit down gently on Armie’s bottom lip, eliciting a deep groan from Armie, who laid back on the bed, pulling Timmy on top of him.

Armie kept one hand in Timmy’s curls to hold him close and let the other trail up and down his back. Timmy whimpered, a sound that was so much sexier than Armie could have imagined, and not for lack of trying. Timmy pulled back, sitting up with his legs straddling either side of Armie’s hips, and quickly pulled off his hoodie, revealing the thin t-shirt he had on underneath. Armie gazed up at him and quickly decided this was a view he would never tire of. Armie pushed himself up to sitting and Timmy hunched down, and slid his fingers into Armie’s hair, pulling it just a little to bring Armie back into a punishing kiss. As Timmy ground his hips against Armie, they both groaned. Timmy kept one hand firmly entangled in Armie’s hair, while he let the other rest on his chest, just above where Armie’s heart was threatening to beat out of his chest, and twisted his fingers in Armie’s sweater. Armie let his hands drift down Timmy’s back and cupped his ass, pulling him in closer, as they both continued to thrust against each other. Timmy was letting out little moans and whimpers, like he was unaware he was doing so, and Armie felt himself harden even more in response.

Armie shifted his legs so that one was between Timmy’s and Timmy pushed him back down on his back and laid his whole weight on top of him. They continued to kiss and grind against each other, like teenagers making out. Armie tilted his head and began placing sharp little bites and soft open-mouthed kisses on the ivory tower that was Timmy’s neck. Timmy whimpered again and then began whispering, “Please, please, please…”

Armie pulled back to look at Timmy’s face and whispered in return, “What do you want?”

Timmy leaned forward with his eyes closed to kiss Armie on the mouth and whimpered when he realized Armie had pulled back even more. “What do you want, Timmy,” his voice was husky with need. “Tell me what you want.”

Timmy kept his eyes closed. “You, fuck, just you.”

“You have me.”

He opened his eyes and Armie was suddenly looking directly at this dark haired sloe-eyed beauty. Armie let out a growl and reached up to kiss him while gently pushing him on the shoulders and onto his back. He held himself up on his forearms and brushed his thumbs across Timmy’s cheekbones and down along his jawline, following the path his thumbs were taking with soft kisses. Timmy moaned and thrust up attempting to find some friction against Armie, but he was hovering above him, wanting to avoid crushing his smaller frame with his weight. In response to Timmy’s whine, Armie began moving down his body. Timmy gripped the footboard behind him with one hand and twisted the fingers of the other hand in Armie’s hair, tugging slightly whenever Armie did something that elicited an especially deep moan from him.

Armie had seen Timmy entirely naked countless times, but as he pushed his shirt up, he felt like he was unwrapping a present, worshipping every inch of skin that was revealed, caressing it and following his caresses with his mouth. He took one rosey nipple into his mouth and then the other, kissing and nibbling until they both stood up in peaks. Armie kissed down his chest and licked over his ribs and buried his face in the soft of Timmy’s stomach and just inhaled. He placed his hands on Timmy’s waistband and looked up at him. Timmy opened his eyes in response to the pause in movement and smiled in consent but also made grabby hands at Armie, whole followed the trail he had made down Timmy’s torso back up until they were kissing again.

Timmy grabbed the hem of Armie’s sweater and began to pull it up. Armie, getting the message, sat back on his heels, his knees on either side of Timmy’s hips, and pulled off his sweater and the shirt underneath in one swift motion. Timmy attempted to sit up as much as he could and pulled his t-shirt the rest of the way off. When he laid back down and gazed up at Armie, his eyes were glazed and his pupils dilated in arousal, and he ran his hands down Armie’s chest, pulling a little on his chest hair. Armie groaned and rested his forehead on Timmy’s shoulder and began to grind against Timmy’s hip. Timmy kept one hand gripping Armie’s chest hair and the other traveled lower and he began trying to unbutton Armie’s jeans one-handed. Armie quickly got with the program and rolled off of Timmy and unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans and tugged them and his briefs off, kicking off his shoes and socks in the process.

Finally naked, he stood beside the bed for a moment as he watched Timmy’s gaze trail down his body appreciatively and he lay back down beside Timmy and began to finger the button of his jeans. Of course, Timmy was wearing skinny jeans with a button fly and did little more to help Armie than raise his hips as he gripped the footboard with both hands. Armie wiggled Timmy’s jeans and, well he wasn’t wearing anything under them, so just his jeans down his body while murmuring, “Off, off, off.”

Again, although Armie had seen Timmy naked before, once he finally had him fully naked, he gazed at him. He had never seen Timmy naked just for him, his cock hard and leaking, his long slender legs falling open, goosebumps all over his skin. Armie wanted to devour him. He looked at Timmy as he wrapped his fingers around his cock and Timmy nodded, his mouth parted in a small smile as he panted lightly. Armie slid down between Timmy’s legs and wrapped his lips around the head of Timmy’s cock, moaning at the taste of him. “Fuckkkkk Armieeeeee,” Timmy moaned. Armie grinned around him and opened his mouth so that Timmy’s cock was just resting on Armie’s tongue and he looked up at Timmy with a glint of mischief in his eyes as Timmy whined and made small thrusts that pushed and pulled his cock along Armie’s tongue. Armie closed his lips around him again, swirling his tongue around the head, sinking down to take as much of him in his mouth as he could. Timmy moaned and let out a litany of curses, “Fuck, yesyesyesyes, fuck, oh god, yes, Armie” as his voice broke and he continued his small thrusts into Armie’s mouth.

Armie eventually pulled off his dick and rested his head on Timmy’s thigh, catching his breath and trying to slow his rapidly beating heart. He could hardly believe he was in Timmy’s bed and Timmy was naked and writhing underneath him. He inhaled the musky scent he was quickly coming to associate with Timmy, with aroused Timmy, and placed kisses on the soft skin inside his thighs and moved his mouth to his balls, mouthing them and taking one and then the other into his mouth, as Timmy groaned. Armie then licked and nibbled his way downward toward Timmy’s hole, as his tongue trailed from his balls to his hole, Timmy’s hands came flying off the footboard and one landed on Armie’s shoulder, digging his fingernails into the skin there and the other gripped his hair, while he yelped.

Armie looked up and asked, “Okay?” Timmy nodded almost violently. “Yes, yes, fuck, very okayyy.” Armie grinned and returned to eating Timmy out. He held Timmy’s ass open with his hands and licked around the rim and, when Timmy was more relaxed and pliant, made his tongue into a point and pushed in. Timmy’s cock was leaking precome all over his stomach and he was panting and whispering “Oh, oh, oh” over and over again. Armie was harder than he could recall being recently, or maybe ever, and started grinding his hips against the bed, trying to seek some relief for himself.

“Armie,” Timmy groaned as he tried to pull him up. As much as Armie could have spent the entire night rimming Timmy, he complied and scooted up, bracketing Timmy’s head with his arms and brushing the now sweaty curls off his forehead. Timmy sat up a little and captured Armie’s lips with his own, slipping his tongue into Armie’s mouth and chasing the taste of himself. They both moaned softly and kissed for a while, which would have given them both an opportunity to cool down, if it hadn’t been so hot. Armie honestly could not recall when just making out with someone turned him on as much as anything else could, and it’s not like Armie had a history of boring vanilla sex. Eventually Timmy pushed gently on Armie’s shoulder, signaling him to lie down. Armie rotated on the bed so his head was resting on the pillows and Timmy laid his body on top of him. Armie’s arms wrapped around Timmy’s petite frame and pulled him as close to his body as possible, almost like he was trying to pull him inside himself.

Timmy latched his beautiful lips to Armie’s neck and began kissing and sucking; Armie was certainly he would be left with at least one mark and he did not at all mind being marked by Timmy. As Timmy kissed him, his hand caressed his chest and stomach and eventually wrapped around Armie’s cock, stroking it gently. Armie groaned and thrust up into Timmy’s hand and pulled Timmy by his hips even closer to his body. Timmy’s long, delicate fingers, trailed down Armie’s dick to his balls, feathering over them, until they reached their desired destination between Armie’s legs. Armie felt his legs fall open, granting Timmy the access he clearly desired. Timmy circled Armie’s hole softly a few times before bringing his fingers up to Armie’s mouth. Armie sucked them in, swirling his tongue around them just as had with the head of Timmy’s dick, making Timmy moan. Timmy removed his fingers and brought them back down between Armie’s legs. As he pushed in with the tip of his index finger, Armie groaned, “Yes, yesssss.”

Timmy took that as a cue to slide down Armie’s body. When he was settled between his legs, he reached over to his bed stand and, with a practiced move, opened the drawer and grabbed a bottle of lube without looking. He drizzled some on his fingers and placed them back at Armie’s hole. Armie sucked in a breath at the cold against his heated skin. Timmy caressed Armie’s stomach soothingly with his free hand and whispered, “Shhh, it’ll heat up.”

Timmy pushed his finger further in while taking Armie’s cock in his mouth. Armie knew he was letting noises that were barely human spill from his mouth but he didn’t care to try to hold back. He felt another finger circle him and begin to press in to join the first as Timmy sunk his mouth further on his cock. With a mouth that looked so sinful, it was barely a surprise that Timmy was gifted at blow jobs. He felt Timmy’s fingers crook, looking for that spot and when he found it, Armie let out a deep, “Fuckkkkk.” With his mouth on Armie’s cock and his fingers teasing his prostate, with every thrust forward Armie sank deeper into that hot wet perfection and as his hips rocked back, Timmy’s fingers rubbed harder on his sweet spot. He was in heaven and allowed himself to float along on the waves of pleasure while he fucked himself on Timmy’s fingers and down Timmy’s throat. Before long, Armie felt that telltale sensation pooling in his stomach and the feeling that he was about to fly apart into a million pieces.

“Tim-timmy,” he rasped. “I need...I’m going to.”

Timmy pulled off of Armie’s dick with a “pop” and looked up at him from under his unruly curls with a small self-satisfied smirk playing on his lips. “What do you want? Tell me what you want, Armie.” He mimicked Armie’s words from before, his voice hoarse from when he had been deep throating Armie’s sizeable cock. Armie propped himself up on his elbows and gazed down at his lover. “Fuck me, Timmy.”

Timmy caught his bottom lip between his teeth and dropped his forehead down on Armie’s thigh and he groaned. “Yes, yes, I can, yes.” He continued to finger Armie, keeping away from his prostate, but adding another finger and scissoring them apart. His free hand reached over and opened the drawer again. He fumbled around blindly before cursing and gently pulling his fingers out of Armie.

“Shit, I’ve got to, I know I have… fuck.” He scooted over to the side of the bed and went through the drawer in earnest, moving around moleskine journals, pens, papers, until he let out an “Aha, I knew I had...it’s been awhile and I...I wasn’t expecting…” Armie laid a hand over Timmy’s, which was holding a box of condoms, and smiled at him in reassurance. That was all it took for Timmy to stop talking and start moving. Given that his hands were messy with lube, he handed the blister pack to Armie who opened it and slid the condom on Timmy’s dick, grinning at him and taking the opportunity to stroke him a few times.

Timmy moved back between Armie’s legs and Armie looked up at him in disbelief. He couldn’t believe that this angel he had been fantasizing about for the past several months was actually about to fuck him. He felt Timmy position his cock at his entrance and Armie grabbed his legs behind his knees to hold himself open. As Timmy began to press in he moaned and saw a big goofy grin spread across Timmy’s face, while his eyes remained closed. Armie couldn’t recall any sight epitomizing happiness quite like this before.

As Timmy began to push further in he opened his eyes and looked into Armie’s, as though checking to make sure he was okay. Armie, nodded to reassure him, breathing through the slight burn and pain that was all a part of the pleasure. When Timmy bottomed out, he paused, waiting to feel Armie relax. He rested his weight on one hand by Armie’s shoulder and reached between them to stroke Armie back to full hardness. Armie felt himself harden and relax simultaneously and then Timmy began to move in him. Armie let go of his legs, letting one wrap around Timmy’s slender waist and the other fall open. Timmy bent down and kissed Armie deeply before they both pulled back to breathe. “This okay?” Timmy asked.

“Mmmm,” Armie moaned. “Fuck, Timmy, yes, just like, god, fuck, right, yes, like, there, right there.”

“Armie, jesus, you feel so, uhhhh, fuck, so fucking tight,” Timmy panted. “God, fuck, I could, mmmm, forever, just inside you, yes, yes, like this.”

“Harder, Tim, god, fuck me harder,” Armie moaned as Timmy wrapped his arms around Armie’s shoulders and fucked into him. The obscene noises of skin against skin filled the room. “Oh god, yessss, fuck, fuck, you’re so, fuck,” Armie babbled incoherently.

“So good for me,” Timmy panted. “So fucking good for me.” And Armie felt his whole body tingle with warmth, like he was glowing, and he moaned in response. “You like that?” Timmy asked and Armie moaned again and nodded. “You like taking it so good? Just for me mmmm?”

“Yes, yes, just for you, fuck, babe.” Timmy sped up in response to hearing Armie call him babe. “Yes, yess, please, babe, don’t stop, just like, yes.”

“Fucking take it,” Timmy moaned as his thrusts became erratic. “Fuck, Armie, fuck, I’m gonna, fuck.” He reached between them and took Armie in his hand and started stroking him. “Please, fuck, Armie, god, come for me.”

A few more strokes and Armie began spilling over Timmy’s hand and onto his stomach, with a loud grown. At the feeling of Armie clenching around him and his hot come soaking his hand, Timmy moaned, “So good, yes, like that, coming so good for me.” And he fucked Armie through his orgasm.

When Armie was done coming, Timmy made to move like he was going to pull out but Armie kept him in place, cupping his ass with one of his hands. “No, no,” he panted. “Please, want you to, fuck, please, come in me.”

Timmy nodded furiously and began to thrust again. Before long Armie felt Timmy twitch inside him and whimper, “Armie, Armie, god, fuck, so good, so good” before he collapsed on Armie’s chest. Armie wound his arms around him and held him tight.

Chapter Text

Armie was vaguely aware of Timmy extracting his long limbs from where they were tangled with Armie’s and getting up and leaving the room, before coming back minutes later with a warm, damp washcloth and wiping Armie’s skin tenderly. Timmy threw the washcloth to the floor and wrapped himself back up in Armie again.

Armie woke up with Timmy’s head resting just above his armpit and his long delicate fingers tracing designs on his chest. Upon feeling Armie stirring, Timmy grinned, Armie could feel his face moving against his skin and he grinned too. Timmy’s fingers reached up and outlined a spot on Armie’s neck. “I left a mark.” He laughed nervously and looked up at Armie through his thick, long eyelashes, as if gauging his response.

Armie pushed his fingers into the spot where Timmy’s fingers had been, relishing the small bit of soreness. He turned so that Timmy’s head was tucked under his chin, so he couldn’t see his expression. “I don’t mind,” he said huskily, “being marked by you.”

“Marked by me?” Timmy’s voice squeaked a little at the end as he tried to move his head to look into Armie’s eyes, only to be held in place by Armie’s chin. “What does that mean?”

Armie closed his eyes and took a moment. Impulsive Armie wanted to open up and confide in Timmy all his fantasies about him and all the kinky stuff Armie enjoyed doing when he had a partner who was open and willing. But Reasonable Armie knew they had literally just gotten together and that might all be a lot to lay at the feet of this kid and a lot to put on this brand new relationship. Impulsive Armie hated Reasonable Armie. Armie sighed, “It means...whatever you want it to mean. I just like...I like knowing, feeling, that I’m yours.”

This time, when Timmy tried to move his head to look up at Armie, Armie allowed him and was gifted with a goofy closed-mouth grin and a mischievous look in Timmy’s eye. And, yes, a closed-mouth grin should be an impossibility but Armie had learned not long before that Timmy could do seemingly impossible things with that gorgeous mouth of his. “You are you know,” Timmy said in a voice that could not contain his happiness.

“I’m what?”

“Mine.”

“Yours.”

“Yes, finally,” Timmy sighed with contentment. And, after a beat, “Am I?”

“Are you what?” Armie’s mind was a bit slow, being both dick-drunk and high on happiness.

“Yours.”

Armie wrapped his arms around Timmy and squeezed. “Now that I finally have you? Fucking yes, you’re mine.”

Time passed as follows (cue montage):

Armie pretty immediately texted Liz and Nick to set up a FaceTime call. When they realized this wasn’t to talk about the Save Flo’s campaign, Nick immediately worried that something was desperately wrong with Armie, after all, why would their group text not be sufficient? He sent more than one panicked text to the group text and individually to Armie, and Armie had to reassure him it was good news. When they finally did speak (Armie had to find a time that weekend when he and Timmy weren’t physically adjoined which was...challenging), both Liz and Nick were so excited for him that Liz pumped her fist in the air and Nick burst into tears. Happy tears, he clarified. Liz did give Armie a bit of a stern talking to about his reaction to learning that Timmy has a family and told him he had to stop imagining the world as written by Charles Dickens.

Timmy more or less moved into Armie’s home. This was not too different from how things had been before but it felt different, more meaningful, at least to Armie. However, Armie deep down hoped that this wasn’t going to be a slow-slide into cohabitation because Armie was a Grand Gestures Guy and did not want to be deprived of some future grand gesture of asking Timmy to live with him...or maybe get a new home together that would be all theirs… or… the possibilities were endless and now that Armie had freed space in his mind from all the fantasizing he had done about Timmy before, he had a lot of spare brain space for fantasizing about future Grand Gestures.

Any free moments they had were spent entirely naked or in various stages of undress, learning each other’s bodies and allowing all that hard work Armie’s brain had spent fantasizing about Timmy to go to good use.

Armie continued to go to work once the Thanksgiving holiday was over.

Timmy continued to work at Flo’s and go to auditions in the city when they came up, although there was a lull for the holiday season.

The team of Armie, Timmy, Saoirse, Nick, and Liz put their Save Flo’s plan into action. The actor-from-the-movie-where-the-kid-fucked-the-peach-but-not-the-kid-the-other-actor, who was probably not in love with his co-star from the movie but was definitely not-not in love with him either, despite being married with two kids and a dog, made good on his word and shared their fundraiser on Twitter. He initially caught some backlash, which was all par for the course given how outspoken he was about the things that mattered to him. The backlash was mostly fans who shipped him and the-kid-who-fucked-the-peach, who were upset that he was insisting on being heterosexual by, of all things, promoting a strip club. Until one of the fans did a bit more research and realized that there were male strippers who did full frontal at this strip club and suddenly all was forgiven and his support for the fundraiser was determined to be further evidence that he wasn’t entirely heterosexual and therefore, probably most definitely in love with his peach-fucking co-star. Honestly, thank goodness for the research skills and devotion of the fans because Team Save Flo’s met their goal pretty quickly after that. Someone had even made a meme with the water tower from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that read “Save Flo’s” rather than “Save Ferris” that nearly went viral. Liz had to do some quick damage avoidance (what one does when one is on top of her shit enough to avoid having to do damage-control and Liz was on top of her shit) to prevent the students at Hammer College from climbing the local water tower to paint “Save Flo’s” on it.

Timmy got the regular dancers recruited to the campaign and they even donated all their tips from the week after Thanksgiving to the fundraiser. Which spoke both to how valuable all Flo’s was to everyone, even the more traditional strippers, and how well Flo’s paid. It was, the dancers figured, a small sacrifice in the short-term to retain their livelihood in the long-term.

Times when Armie wasn’t at work or writhing around naked with Timmy, were spent applying for the small business grants, managing the funds raised (funds above and beyond what they needed for the purchase and for immediate improvements to the club were going to be invested, much like the endowment at the college but on a smaller scale) and drawing up a business plan for the club going forward that included ensuring they were raising enough money to continue to pay everyone and to fully digitize the club. As digital natives, Armie, Timmy, and Saoirse determined that one tradition of Flo’s they would not continue would be doing everything by hand and on paper.

Saoirse and Mimi Popovich did the research on business licenses and liquor licenses and all the other paperwork necessary for a business to operate. No one said anything but Armie, Timmy, Liz, and Nick were all hoping that Saoirse would give up her hopeless crush on Greta and see that Mimi absolutely adored their blonde friend. For as astute as she was about Armie and Timmy’s feelings for each other, she was almost willfully ignorant that Mimi was wet for her. Although, to be fair, it didn’t take any brilliant detective work on Saoirse’s part to deduce that Armie and Timmy were fucked for each other. Timmy had confided in her from day one when he first saw Armie at Flo’s and, well, Armie’s long, lingering, lust-filled gazing at Timmy whenever he thought no one was looking wasn’t exactly subtle. But no one was going to say that to her. Fuck no. They all valued their lives and limbs too much.

And so the next month passed. And before too long, Armie was officially on break from the college for the holidays. He was very much looking forward to Christmas and enacting part one of gift bonanza for Timmy and getting to meet the now-famous Pauline. He had specially purchased several cases of her favorite wine that was only available in France unless you had Hammer money at your disposal. He had a secret plan to get her drunk and get as many embarrassing Timmy-growing-up stories from her as possible. The way Timmy side-stepped questions about what he was like as a kid or in high school, Armie was convinced there was something mortifying there and he, for one, could not wait to find out. It could only make him love Timmy more, something he thought each day was an impossibility until the next one rolled around and oh! There it was, more love for Timmy.

Chapter Text

Pauline arrived on Christmas Eve. Armie was hosting - both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - because “it just made sense” according to Timmy. He had prepared a Feast of the Seven Fishes, having adopted the tradition after years of spending vigilia di Natale with Nick’s family. He had even emailed Nick’s mother for her linguine con vongole recipe. He had planned a honey-baked ham for Christmas Day in homage to all the Christmas Days spent with Liz’s family. The three of them had split their holiday time between the two families like a married couple. Armie couldn’t remember many specific Hammer Christmas traditions except dinner was always catered and there was always a formal portrait taken. No one complained too much when he stopped attending.

Pauline, annoyingly, was able to drink the aperitivi and digestivi and an entire bottle of the special French wine he had shipped in (for which she was very grateful and did not mention once that the red wine did not go with the fish dinner) without seeming even slightly tipsy. She was a locked vault when it came to embarrassing younger!Timmy stories.

She did ask Timmy about how saving Flo’s fit in with his goals of pursuing theater. Which was a very good question and left Armie kicking himself for not thinking to ask before. He had been so caught up in the excitement of the campaign, and then the two of them getting together, that he had completely neglected the fact that Flo’s was supposed to be a stop gap measure until Timmy got his big break. And, having seen Timmy perform monologues (while stripping) weekly for months, Armie had no doubt that big break would come.

He had no doubt, despite coming from Hollywood Land and knowing that talent was only a small predictor of success. Timmy was so talented, he made Armie believe in a meritocracy.

“Flo opened the club to bring dance to the people,” Timmy said thoughtfully.

“We do have a stage…” Saoirse began. “I mean it would be theater in the round if we did anything.”

“If we did anything,” Timmy stated. Armie’s thoughts were a jumble at this point. Evidently missing whatever superpower Pauline had, he was feeling tipsy having matched her drink-for-drink.

“What, so like naked community theater?” Armie’s words fell out of his mouth, fell over each other like bumper cars, without him thinking first.

Timmy’s lips quirked up on one side into a half-smile, half-smirk and Armie found himself lost in that expression that was so so Timmy. “Something like that.” Timmy then shrugged one shoulder and the topic was dropped.

Later that night, as they were going up to bed - Pauline sleeping in the guest room and Saoirse taking the couch in the media room and Armie regretting not getting the pull out couch he had initially considered for that room - and Pauline had kissed Saoirse on each cheek, something they each seemed perfectly accustomed to, and leaned in to do the same with Armie. Armie held himself stiffly and pursed his lips in the air on either side of her face, not wanting to somehow get the it wrong and figuring that too little was better than too much. Pauline leaned in even closer and, before Armie had time to think or react, given that he was bordering on beyond-tipsy after those last shots of grappa, and whispered, “Statistics. Youtube. Timmy. Look it up.” She paused and glanced at him through her peripheral vision. “But not tonight.” And with that she lightly smacked his ass and turned to give Timmy a long, close hug goodnight.

Tucked into bed a little while later - Armie liked to floss and brush his teeth every night, no matter how much he had to drink or how late it was or how a nearly naked Timmy was waiting for him in bed and possibly falling asleep at this very moment - Armie let his fingers gently glide up and down Timmy’s naked back. Timmy was lying on his stomach, half on and half off of Armie, with their legs tangled together. Armie let his hand travel below Timmy’s boxer briefs, pausing for only half a moment at the waistband, and down below to the dark, warm, slightly damp crevice to just rest on Timmy’s hole. As if testing a theory. He pushed in a little when Timmy’s hips canted back, as if in automatic response. Armie reached with his free hand for the lube, opening it with a practiced one-handed move, and drizzling some down Timmy’s crack and over his finger, before trying to push in. Timmy moaned softly and Armie stopped all movement and began to pull back when Timmy whined. He placed a finger over Timmy’s lips, “I’m going to stop if you can’t be quiet.”

Armie had learned quickly that Timmy didn’t like having his mouth covered. He didn’t mind, and even liked, begged for, Armie to wrap his large hand around that pale narrow column Timmy called his neck and squeeze gently, or sometimes not so gently, especially as he was coming. But he stiffened and his eyes went wide the first and only time Armie had placed his full hand, which easily spanned Timmy’s entire jaw, across Timmy’s mouth.

Timmy looked up at him with hooded eyes and nodded.

Armie fingered Timmy until he was fucking himself on Armie’s fingers and begging, through quiet desperate glances, for more. Armie wished he had a camera to capture that exact look to have for the moments when he doubted this was real. That Timmy actually felt for him what Armie felt for Timmy.

Instead of taking a picture, Armie gently removed his fingers and before Timmy could protest, Armie began sliding down his body and rolled Timmy onto his stomach. Timmy, instinctively got up on his knees. At the first touch of Armie’s tongue, one of Timmy’s hands formed a fist and flew up to his mouth where he wrapped his lips around a few knuckles and bit down, to keep from making a noise and risking Armie stopping altogether, which he had learned would definitely happen if he disobeyed a direct order. The other hand flew back to help hold himself open and the movement pushed his head down into the pillow. Armie risked Timmy whining again to sit back for a moment and take in the view of this slender frame, knees spread wantonly, back arched and ass pushed up into the air, and the mess of dark curls spread across his pillow, that bubble gum mouth stretched obscenely around his fist, panting gently. And before Timmy could complain, Armie dove right back in, eating out Timmy with a fervor usually only granted a really excellent steak.

When Timmy was rocking back onto Armie’s face and he was open and pliant and Armie was able to slide two fingers in alongside his tongue, Armie reached over and grabbed a plug from the drawer beside his table. He gently worked it into Timmy, pressing on it gently, once it was in place, knowing it had pressed up against Timmy’s prostate when he heard a strong huff of air and a gentle whimper in Timmy’s throat that Armie didn’t think really counted as disobeying his directive to stay quiet.

Armie dropped beside Timmy who rolled over to face him. Armie took in the absolutely wrecked look on Timmy’s face and noted and recorded the look that passed across his features when he realized what Armie was silently asking. Timmy reached for the lube and slicked up his fingers before reaching between Armie’s legs, which fell open as soon as he heard the snick of the bottle opening, a Pavlovian response.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, they had talked and realized neither had been intimate with anyone in the last three months, about the amount of time they had known each other. Twin face-splitting goofy grins bloomed on each of their faces at the realization of what this meant. Of all of what it meant. They got tested and had nearly thrown out their condoms until they realized they could be used on Armie’s vast toy collection when they didn’t feel like washing one in the middle of sharing.

Armie had also confessed to Timmy that this particular fantasy definitely fell under the rubric of “being marked by Timmy.” A fantasy that was nearly a daily reality. A reality whenever he wanted it to come true. And, as fantasies go, they rarely live up to our brain hype, but in this instance, reality was far greater than the sum of the parts that had figured into Armie’s imagination.

Timmy quickly opened Armie up and slicked himself and slid in. As he moved in Armie and rocked his hips in counter motion to Armie’s, the plug brushed up against his prostate. A groan began to escape his mouth and he leaned forward and bit down on the junction of Armie’s shoulder and neck hard. Armie had flung his arm across his face, even though he knew Timmy liked to watch him as they fucked and to see his eyes, but these were extenuating circumstances, and Armie bit down on his forearm to prevent himself from breaking his own rule.

Pants and the slapping of skin-against-skin filled the room.

Timmy’s thighs began shaking and his thrusts became erratic. Armie reached between them and began to touch himself. It only took a few tight, rough strokes before he was spilling, hot and wet, across his chest and Timmy’s stomach. At the clenching of Armie’s tight heat, Timmy came too, finally breaking the near silence with a groan and collapsing on Armie. Armie, a stupid satisfied smile across his entire face, reached down and gently worked the plug out and Timmy moaned slightly. After a few beats, Timmy pushed up on his arms and Armie turned on his stomach. Part of being marked by Timmy was trying to keep as much of him inside as possible for as long as possible.

Timmy went to the ensuite bathroom to grab a warm damp washcloth and cleaned them up as best he could. He pushed himself under Armie’s arm and part of his body. He had long assured Armie that this position, of being wedged under half of Armie, didn’t crush him and was, in fact, comforting. “Like a gravity blanket. Like a heated gravity blanket.”

Just as Timmy’s breathing began to even out, Armie whispered in his ear, “What’s this I hear about a statistics YouTube video?”

Timmy, groaned, betraying whatever was about to come out of his mouth as a lie. For such a gifted actor, Timmy was a shit liar. “All that trying get Pauline drunk and that’s the best you could get? Some dumb video that was a project for my high school stats class? Whatever, nothing embarrassing about it, except I’m awkward and gangly.” He paused. “More awkward and gangly,” he clarified. “Psh, it’s nothing.”

Armie made a mental note to check out the YouTube video as soon as they woke up in the morning and gift himself a special Christmas gift.

Just as he was beginning to feel the welcome arms of sleep wrap around him, he was jolted awake by worries about his Christmas gift to Timmy. As previously mentioned, he was a Grand Gestures Guy. He was suddenly worried that despite the evidence, the clear evidence that Timmy was as into this as Armie is, that his gift would somehow scare Timmy off. Under the Christmas tree downstairs - selected at a cut-your-own place by Timmy and cut down by Armie and decorated by Timmy and Saoirse, and, later, Pauline, when she arrived with a few ornaments from Timmy’s childhood, which made them both cry and cling to each other briefly - sat a top-of-the-line turntable and matching speakers. It was both the money Armie spent that worried him about Timmy’s reaction as well as the anticipation of Timmy’s reaction to his birthday present which was less expensive but much more personal, an entire (small...smallish) library of albums that he knew were Timmy’s favorites, many of which are rare or special expensive editions. And here it wasn’t the money Armie spent on him and more the very personal nature of giving someone music. In a sense, Armie felt fucked from both ends, the Christmas present might be too much due to cost and the birthday present might be too much due to intimacy. And cost. Well, Armie figured, he was all in at this point and better Timmy know sooner than later what kind of boyfriend he had. Boyfriend. Armie fell asleep with a smile on his face thinking of that word.

Armie was woken on Christmas morning by the doorbell. And any worries from the night before about being Too Much quickly vanished as he learned that his boyfriend was also a Grand Gestures Guy. Because standing on his doorstep, giddy with being overtired from a brutal red eye, were Liz and Nick, and standing behind him, with a grin tinged with anxiety clear in his voice, was Timmy saying, “Merry Christmas, Armie.”

Chapter Text

Christmas Day was spectacular, at least from Armie’s perspective. And even though he knew he was wearing rose-colored glasses, he believed that everyone else’s experiences weren’t too shabby either. After going all out with cooking from scratch for Christmas Eve, Armie had deigned to purchase the honey-baked ham from the store. He usually didn’t trust anyone else to take care of his meat with the respect he felt his guests deserved (and yes, he understood all the myriad ways that could be a double entendre and didn’t care) but he had promised Timmy and Saoirse that he would take it a bit easier for Christmas Day and be more present with all of them, leaving only the side dishes to be prepared. Now that he realized that Timmy had been planning to surprise him with Liz and Nick’s visit, he was grateful he wouldn’t have to spend the entire day in the kitchen.

They each took charge of a side dish, including Liz and Nick, for whom Timmy had secretly purchased their required ingredients. While Liz’s requests for the liquor and mixers for a signature Christmas cocktail wouldn’t have raised suspicion (it was really just a Boulevardier with a spring of holly as a garnish), Nick’s list of sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar, and marshmallows would have been a dead giveaway.

So after bagels (Pauline had arrived from the city with at least one suitcase full of Tompkins bagels), coffee, and gratuitous kissing between Armie and Timmy (gratuitous to everyone else, Armie simply figured he had to thank his boyfriend for his incredible surprise appropriately), they all took to the kitchen to begin preparing dinner. Or, everyone except Liz and Pauline did as their contributions, cocktails and dessert, wouldn’t be needed until later. Once everything was in the oven or safely simmering on low heat on the stovetop, they all gathered by the tree to open presents.

Armie was glowing with happiness. Everyone he cared about, his entire family essentially, was under one roof. Liz stopped them all before they dived in to remind them to take a photo. Although Armie and Nick teased Liz mercilessly about her need to document everything, they were always grateful when they had photos to commemorate the experiences they shared, both big and small. The coming together, for the first time, of Armie’s west coast and east coast families was certainly an occasion worth documenting. Just as Liz was asking Armie to do the selfie honors (he had the longest arms, after all), Saoirse called out, “One moment” and went dashing upstairs and clamoring back down with her DSLR and tripod in hand. Liz shot her an appreciative and admiring look as she went about setting it up. Once they were all in place, Saoirse hit the remote shutter. They took several regular photos before hamming it up and making goofy expressions and finally took one of Armie and Timmy kissing deeply while the group around them reacted.

Finally, after all that, it was time for presents. Except, suddenly, Armie felt terribly that Nick and Liz wouldn’t have much to open so he made everyone wait while he printed off pictures of what he had shipped to them in Los Angeles and stuffed those papers into gift bags he had lying around. Years of being friends with Liz had taught him to never throw away a perfectly good gift bag after one use. Sure, he only had gift bags with “Happy Birthday” themes but, he figured, in theory, Christmas was a birthday celebration.

Finally, again, they were ready for the presents. Armie didn’t think that all his delaying was anxious avoidance in anticipation of Timmy’s reaction to his gift. It could have been or it could have been Armie’s usual over-the-top way of making sure everyone was taken care of.

Pauline had bought everyone lovely cashmere sweaters and Liz had raglan t-shirts made with the “Save Flo’s” watertower meme that had gone nearly viral to celebrate their team work. Armie had gotten Saoirse a really nice camera bag and some additional filters she didn’t yet own and Timmy, keeping with the photography theme, gave her an Instax camera and what would probably be a year’s worth of film. Saoirse gifted everyone with special editions of their favorite movie on Blu-ray or their favorite book. Liz and Nick didn’t know much about Saoirse beyond her role at Flo’s and that she was a very important person to Timmy and therefore, by transitive property, Armie. The one thing they did know about her was her undying and unrequited crush on Greta so they printed and bound all of the screenplays of her previous films and also gave her the accompanying Blu-rays.

Armie had given Liz a beautiful gold necklace with an E hanging sideways, which she had said she wanted after seeing a favorite character on TV wearing one. Armie, being Armie, had it custom made with peridot gemstones, her birthstone, decorating it. Armie had given Nick a “rare beer of the month” club membership, for the next five years.

Nick and Liz had created and printed a book for Timmy titled The Armie Hammer Operating Manual: Tips and Tricks to Keeping Our Gentle Giant Happy and Healthy. It was filled with photos, anecdotes (mostly written by Nick), and suggestions (mostly written by Liz) such as “Do not let Armie mix tequila and bourbon no matter how emphatically he assures you he’s fine. In fact, the more emphatic he gets, the more worried you should be.” Armie watched as tears filled Timmy’s eyes and as he gave Liz and Nick each a long, tight Timmy-brand hug. The gift conveyed a passing-of-the-torch. Not that Liz and Nick wouldn’t always be critical characters in Armie’s life but they were no longer close enough to keep an eye on his heart day-to-day and they wanted Timmy to know they both trusted him and would fly across the country to break him if so much as a hair on Armie’s head was harmed (non-consensually). Timmy was moved by the welcoming to the family and by the faith placed in him.

Nick and Liz had a similar gift for Armie. They had created a photo album of all their years together, starting with freshman year at UCLA. Each set of photos was accompanied by a story filled with memories, both happy and sad, that wove together the history of them. Armie flipped through the pages with trembling fingers, Timmy’s head resting on his shoulder, while everyone watched in silence, except for the faint clicking of Saoirse’s camera shutter. When he got to the last page, he looked up at his friends with tears in his eyes. “Nick, Liz,” he said, his voice thick with emotion. “Get over here.” He stood up and grabbed them both into a group hug as they laughed and ugly-cried together.

When they had all calmed down, Timmy was sitting in Saoirse’s lap with his feet draped across Pauline, who was sitting beside them. Armie repeatedly glanced nervously between them and the remaining gifts under the tree. He bounced a little on his toes and shook his arms, like a swimmer preparing to dive. Timmy wasn’t paying attention, he was scrolling through the photos Saoirse had already taken that day. Armie kneeled by the tree and picked up the gift boxes he had for Timmy. Timmy looked up just in time for Armie to lay the first box on his lap. Timmy’s eyebrows furrowed together at the weight of it but he quickly began opening the wrapping paper and then gasped, “Armie! You shouldn’t - “

“Um, well, I did, so.” Armie wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and quickly retrieved the second, bigger, box from under the tree. “And, uh, there’s this too, so before you, just, yeah,” he mumbled and placed the box on Timmy’s lap. Timmy had quickly handed the first gift to Pauline, who was looking at it more closely, with Saoirse who had leaned toward her behind Timmy’s hunched forward posture. Timmy looked up at Armie with worried eyes and Armie took in a deep breath and let it out slowly and nodded for Timmy to open the gift. Timmy slid his long, elegant, finger under the seam of the wrapping paper and under where the tape was holding the two edges together. When the box underneath was revealed, he sucked in and let out a whisper, “Armie.”

Armie held up his hands up and quickly said, “Before you say anything. I just, I know how much music means to you, how much you love it. And I just, I thought you should be able to listen to it as it was meant to be heard.”

Timmy looked helplessly around at everyone else who was smiling at the two of them. “But this is just so much, Armie, I can’t - “

At that moment, Nick spoke up. “I mean, to be fair to Armie, you did, like, fly me and Liz out to surprise him.”

Timmy looked at Nick, “But I didn’t pay for your tickets, I just helped, I just - “

Nick continued, “You didn’t pay for them entirely but I can assure you that your contribution plus all the time you spent arranging everything, is equitable to Armie’s gift.” He glanced at Armie and shrugged as if to say I’m trying, man.

“It’s not a competition,” Liz said softly.

Nick sat up straighter and patted Liz on the shoulder. “Yeah, what she said.”

Saoirse, upon taking a closer look at the turntable and speakers, punched Timmy in the shoulder, hard. “Shut up Timmy. Are you kidding me? Accept this gift with grace, because I can’t fucking wait to have this set up in our room.”

Armie smiled gratefully at her. Nevermind that he was hoping that in the not-so-distant future, Timmy would have this music system set up in his house, their house; he would take all the support he could get.

Pauline squeezed Timmy into an awkward sideways hug on the couch. “You deserve it, baby brother.”

Timmy looked down at the torn wrapping paper and boxes on his and Pauline and Saoirse’s laps and back up at Armie with a bashful smile on his face. He gently moved the boxes to the ground and stood up. He took the two steps over to where Armie was standing with his thumbnail in his mouth looking like a puppy who is uncertain if he’s about to be scolded or given a treat. Timmy cupped the back of Armie’s head and attempted to bend him backward in a romantic movie kiss but Armie’s socks slid on the hardwood and they both ended up in a pile of tangled limbs on the floor. Timmy and Armie laughed hysterically, Pauline leaped up to throw her body over the gift boxes to protect them, Nick guffawed as he peeked out from between his fingers while his hands were over his eyes, Liz hid a huge grin behind her drink, and Saoirse snapped away like a paparazzo, muttering “these are definitely going to make next year’s photo album.”

Suddenly an oven timer went off and just like that everyone was off to the kitchen, leaving Armie and Timmy to detangle themselves. But, before they got up off the floor, Timmy kissed Armie and said, “Thank you. That was, it is a really thoughtful gift. I should have just said ‘Thank you.’”

Armie closed his eyes in response and shrugged his shoulders as best he could being laid out flat on his back with Timmy on top of him. “I know it was a little over-the-top. I- I was actually a little nervous about your reaction.” He opened his eyes to gauge Timmy’s reaction to this and was rewarded by Timmy scrunching up his face adorably in obvious embarrassment. “Oh, Armie, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay, your reaction was genuine. You don’t need to apologize for that. Like I said, I kinda, well I expected it.”

“If you expected it, then why...why did you -”

“Because this is me, Timmy, and if we’re going to...date, be together...I like to give the people I, uh, care about presents. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else.”

Timmy nodded at that, his curls flying forward and tickling Armie’s face. “Yeah, I get that, yeah. Just like, don’t make it an everyday thing? Because, I can’t - I can’t compete and,” he paused to take a deep breath and Armie took the opportunity to cut him off.

“It’s not a competition, Timmy, it’s not about who can spend the most money. You helped make sure my family could be here today, and that’s like, that’s, you can’t put a price on that, okay? But, yeah, only special occasions otherwise it stops, it’s just not as special.”

“Okay,” Timmy breathed out and then closed the gap between them, capturing Armie’s lips in a deep kiss. Armie ignored the way the hard floor was digging into his spine and kissed back until they heard Nick call from the kitchen, “Hey guys, stop it with the baby-making and get in here to help!”

They laughed as they helped each other off the floor and laughed harder when they heard Saoirse very seriously say, “Nick, you do know that’s not how babies are made?”

The rest of the day was a haze of good food, drinks (Liz made an incredible Boulevardier), and Die Hard marathon. Neither Armie nor Timmy was an especially strong Die Hard fan but they had just finished binging Brooklyn Nine Nine and they were especially big fans of Peralta. So Die Hard it was.

At the end of the night, Saoirse solved the problem that had been nagging Armie in the back of his mind all day: where everyone was going to sleep. She had brought her air mattress over and set it up in front of the fire and Nick and Liz agreed they were fine sharing it. To which Armie said, “See good friends do share beds!”

And Nick responded, “Sure they share beds, they don’t cling to each other like a baby and mama chimp all night.” And that made Timmy blush the prettiest shade of pink and bury his face in Armie’s chest until he realized Armie had been the one to sell him out to his friends like that and turned and buried his face in Saoirse’s neck instead, while Armie glared at Nick for allowing that piece of information slip. Nick looked innocently between Armie and Liz who both shook their heads in disappointment at him.

To take the attention off of Timmy, Saoirse pointed out, “Two friends, forced to share a bed on snowy night...that sounds like the beginning of some cheesy rom-com.” And Liz looked horrified and Nick turned beet red. To this day Saoirse maintains that more than once during their stay she heard what she called “sex noises” coming from the downstairs. After they left, she promptly replaced her air mattress because “no amount of sage can cleanse hetero sex off of a mattress and no one needs that kind of energy fucking up their lives.”

Chapter Text

The days between Christmas and Timmy’s birthday were some of the happiest Armie could remember and he had been dating Timmy for nearly a month or so that was saying something.

Liz and Nick grew to be as comfortable around Timmy and Saoirse as Armie was and Armie, now that he knew of her existence and had met her, came to adore Pauline.

They laughed until they nearly peed as Nick shared stories about how his three-year-old niece called her “bagina (sic) spooky.”

They did an escape room and Timmy was so anxious in anticipation, he called it a “panic room” the whole day leading up to it and Pauline actually peed herself (just a little) when an actor playing a zombie popped out from seemingly nowhere.

Still, nothing compared to Timmy’s birthday.

Armie had wanted to make reservations at the culinary institute on the other side of the river where the students, who would graduate to be some of the best trained chefs in the country, ran a restaurant where they practiced managing a kitchen and producing five-star cuisine. Timmy, however, wanted to spend his birthday dinner at Flo’s eating their well-reviewed (by the Hammer College newspaper) vegan cuisine and watching his friends perform.

Nick was fully on-board with the plan to go to a strip club rather than an upscale restaurant. Everyone else was decidedly neutral and willing to do whatever Timmy wanted for his birthday.

Armie, of course, wanted Timmy’s day to be exactly how he wanted it but there was still a nagging sensation in the back of his head. The same one that came up when Timmy had spoken to Pauline about doing theater at Flo’s, if or when they purchased the club. Armie loved Flo’s nearly as much as Saoirse who loved it nearly as much as Timmy, but he still worried that Timmy was giving up his dreams for his loyalty to the club. Considering how much Flo’s, and Flo herself, had given Timmy in the last year and a half, including Armie himself, the loyalty wasn’t misplaced but Armie did wonder if it was necessary. If someday Timmy might come to resent the club and, by association Armie. What was the cost to Timmy of the three of them purchasing the club?

But Armie shoved those worries into a box which he then placed in the dark recesses of his mind that he hardly ever visited. The same place he put the box that contained his feelings about missing his family.

Besides, Flo’s was the perfect location for the gift Team Save Flo’s had for Timmy.

But first, Armie started Timmy’s birthday the best way he knew how. Waking Timmy up with his cock hardening in Armie’s mouth. To Armie there was nothing hotter than feeling Timmy’s cock come to life and knowing “I did that.” He relished the way Timmy began small thrusts into his mouth even while still mostly asleep and he grinned around Timmy’s girth the moment he felt Timmy wake up with a whimper and a whispered, “Armieeeee.” Armie pulled off his cock and looked up into Timmy’s eyes, hooded with remnants of sleep and lust. “Happy birthday,” Armie rasped and he kissed his way up to Timmy’s face, following the map of freckles that lead the way from his slender thighs, up his stomach, across his chest, trailing along his neck and ending with the one just to the left of Timmy’s perfect pout. Armie pulled Timmy on top of him as he kissed him deeply and felt Timmy’s hardness as he rutted against his thigh. Timmy had a thing for Armie’s thighs, maybe because they were so different from his own - thick and muscular and hairy - and so masculine.

Armie placed his hand on Timmy’s hipbone to slow his thrusting. “Let me take care of you,” he whispered against Timmy’s neck and felt Timmy nod rapidly in response. He wrapped his hands around Timmy’s waist, that his fingers could almost touch each other never ceased to thrill him, and helped Timmy shuffle himself up Armie’s body so his knees were on either side of Armie’s neck. Timmy took his cock in hand and teased Armie, painting his lips with precome and eliciting a deep moan from Armie. Armie opened his mouth and looked up at Timmy who finally thrust his dick between his lips. He slowly moved his hips back and forth as Armie ran his hands up and down Timmy’s sides. Timmy slid one hand into Armie’s hair and gripped tightly and placed his other hand on the headboard. Armie groaned, he loved it when Timmy fucked his mouth, the harder the better. And Timmy did not hold back this morning. Armie was choking on Timmy’s cock, tears streaming down his cheeks and saliva running down his chin. His voice would be wrecked for the rest of the day. A steady stream of expletives spilled from Timmy’s mouth the entire time, as though he couldn’t help it and wasn’t entirely aware of it. And if you asked Armie, this is what he hoped heaven would be like. When Timmy came, and it didn’t take long - he got off on this just as much as Armie did, which may be why Armie loved it so fucking much - he was so deep down Armie’s throat that Armie hardly tasted him at all. Timmy slid himself out of Armie’s mouth, his thighs still trembling from the powerful orgasm. Armie reached up to cup his hand around the back of Timmy’s head and rolled them so Timmy was on his back and Armie was lying partially on him and partially next to him, not wanting to crush the birthday boy.

Timmy lifted the corner of the bedsheet and wiped Armie’s face and kissed him. “I’m really liking the features on the new alarm clock,” he said with a goofy grin and Armie huffed out a laugh in response.

“Fuck Timmy, look what you do to me,” Armie said with a hoarse whisper as he placed Timmy’s hand on his rock hard leaking cock. Timmy closed his eyes and moaned as he brought his fingers to his mouth to taste Armie’s precome and Armie whimpered in response and let his forehead drop to Timmy’s shoulder. Timmy lazily ran his hand up and down Armie’s length, not giving him enough pressure to provide any type of relief. Timmy pressed his lips against Armie’s ear and whispered, “Come on me.”

“Fuuuuck,” Armie hissed and replaced Timmy’s hand with his own, stroking himself rough and hard, just like he liked it. Timmy pulled back from him a bit so he could watch as Armie’s muscles tensed and were covered with a fine layer of sweat as he hurtled closer and closer to orgasm. The tip of Timmy’s tongue peeked out from the corner of his mouth and that did Armie in, coming all over Timmy’s hip and belly. Armie wrapped his arms, still shaking from his orgasm, around Timmy and inhaled the delicious combination of Timmy’s tea tree oil shampoo (he swore up and down it was the only thing that helped his curls avoid total unruliness and mayhem), their combined sweat, the scent of sex, and something that was entirely morning-Timmy that Armie believed if it could be bottled and sold, he would make more money than his entire family had, combined. Timmy dragged his fingers through Armie’s come and sucked on them, grinning wickedly at Armie. “Happy birthday to me,” he gloated as he winked at Armie. Armie groaned again and burrowed himself closer to Timmy.

They remained cuddled like that, using their body heat to stay warm as the sweat on their bodies cooled, until the scent of coffee and Liz’s homemade waffles wafted upstairs and under the door jam of Armie’s room. Timmy’s stomach growled in response and Armie laughed, “I guess we should get up and shower.”

Timmy pouted. “No, waffles first, then shower.”

“But…” Armie began and Timmy cut him off. “Like they don’t all know what we’ve been doing up here anyway.” Armie conceded the point and found his pajama bottoms and a t-shirt and tossed Timmy his. They walked downstairs and even though they knew that everyone else knew what they had been up to and everyone also knew that Timmy and Armie knew that everyone knew, they were still a bit sheepish as they entered the kitchen, until everyone broke out into a rousing, if a bit off-key, rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

The dining room table was set with stacks of waffles, fresh coffee, and a ridiculous number of wrapped presents, the number made ridiculous by Armie’s contribution to the pile. Of the carefully curated vinyl collection that Armie had purchased for Timmy, the crowning achievement, in Armie’s opinion, was the special edition movie soundtrack that came on peach colored and scented vinyl. Armie had gotten the actor who had helped them raise money to save Flo’s to sign it and the actor had gotten his co-star, of the peach-fucking fame, to also sign it. All of which provided additional evidence that the two co-stars were more than just co-stars. After all, the actor who was helping save Flo’s was located in Los Angeles and the peach-fucking actor was located in New York City and yet the exchange of the vinyl from one actor to the other and back to the original actor happened so quickly that surely that must mean...well it could mean a lot of things, including a willingness to drop a small fortune on FedEx next-day delivery, but other theories made for great conversation over waffles and coffee.

However, the most special present of all came that night at Flo’s. Partway through the night, the strippers pulled Timmy up on stage and sat him in a chair while Armie swaggered out onto the stage. To the crowd, and Timmy, it looked like Armie was about to give Timmy a birthday lap dance. Except Armie did not dance in public (or in private for that matter) ever. Instead, he was quickly joined by Saoirse, Liz, and Nick, while Pauline filmed them with her phone. Armie grabbed a microphone from one of the strippers and announced that thanks to their fundraising efforts and the small business grant they won due to being an LGBT-owned business (they did not receive the grant for being a woman-owned business since only one third of them identified as a woman, whereas they all identified as queer) and Armie’s matching of the fundraising, they had raised enough money to save Flo’s.

Chapter Text

The celebration that erupted across the club with the news that the plan to buy out Flo was fully funded lasted well through New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day saw Nick and Liz departing back to Los Angeles, traveling with promises from Armie, Timmy, and Saoirse to visit them. When hugging Armie good-bye, Liz reiterated one last time her appreciation for Armie’s decision to keep the original clawfoot tub and move it into the guest bathroom.

New Year’s Day also saw Saoirse, Timmy, and Armie in a business meeting with Flo. They met at a four-top by the stage as Flo’s office wasn’t big enough to hold all of them and spread out the necessary paperwork. As they made their offer to Flo, a fly on the wall may have reported that there was a tear of pride, happiness, relief, or all three in her eye, but since Flo’s kitchen always always earned an “A” rating from the health department, there were no flies present to witness any emotion that may or may not have been present.

Later on, the three of them would agree that Flo seemed as emotive as any of them had ever seen her and all came to believe she had never really wanted to sell her baby to Big Strip but also hadn’t seen another way to let go of her creation and retire. She never believed that someone who also shared her vision would have enough money, be business-minded enough, to buy her out so she could pursue her other dreams. There are saints and poets and they are often not the ones who raise capital and file business licenses.

They returned to Armie’s house where Pauline popped the cork on some very fancy champagne and they toasted their success. Pauline had to catch the train back to the city that evening and she and Timmy holed up in Armie’s study for a while murmuring to each other in French and Armie and Saoirse put his house right after hosting so many guests. Armie felt his stomach do a small flip as he noticed that Saoirse packed up her belongings and tidied as though she felt very much at home but didn’t touch Timmy’s belongings. Knowing her friendship with Timmy as he did, Armie had no doubt that she wouldn’t be shy about packing for Timmy while he was busy with Pauline. So the fact that she didn’t meant, meant that Armie’s stomach was twisted up with happiness. Timmy was staying.

Saoirse offered to bring Pauline to the train station on her way home. Armie gave her a big hug farewell and walked inside to give Timmy some privacy. His eyes were red-rimmed and shiny when he returned to the house and Armie pulled him into a big bear hug and buried his nose in his curls, gently kissing his head. Timmy began to actually cry, his shoulders shuddering with sobs, and Armie guided him up the stairs and into their bed. And Armie realized that at some point he had begun thinking of it as their bed and he wasn’t happy that Timmy was crying, not in the slightest, but he was happy to realize that.

Armie sat Timmy on the bed for a moment while he filled a glass of water in the bathroom and then pulled him into a lying position, spooning him from behind. Timmy rolled over and pushed at Armie until he was on his back and Timmy laid his head on the soft spot above Armie’s armpit and snuffled as his crying subsided. He sat up to drink some water and Armie shoved himself up into a seated position and against the headboard. Timmy rested against him and they began talking, reviewing the past week, laughing at the fun times they had together with their family, chosen and biological. As they spoke, Armie sunk his fingers into Timmy’s hair.

“I can’t believe Flo’s is ours,” Timmy said, his voice full of wonder.

“I know,” Armie’s voice rumbled through his chest and Timmy pressed his face closer against him.

“You’re back at work tomorrow?”

“Yep,” Armie popped the p. “Bright and early. I really should have taken tomorrow and Friday as vacation days.”

“It’s okay, I’ll probably be busy,” Timmy offered up, assuming that Armie was only sad at having not taken the extra vacation days so he could spend more time with Timmy. He wasn’t wrong.

“Yeah? You have auditions?” Armie was surprised that auditions would start so soon after the new year. From his years of living in Los Angeles, he vaguely knew that pilot season, and the non-stop auditions that accompanied it, was in the winter. He was right, it was in winter but didn’t start until mid-January. It didn’t matter because he felt Timmy shake his head “no” against his chest.

“I want to do research to see what we would need to do in order to produce plays at Flo’s.”

Armie’s finger, which had been twirling one of Timmy’s curls, the one that never stayed put and always fell into the middle of his forehead, around it, stopped and Armie carefully schooled his voice into one of casual nonchalance. “Oh yeah? You decided you wanted to pursue that?”

“Yeah,” Timmy murmured and then continued chatting about their time over the holidays. Armie commented in all the right places but couldn’t shake the dread that accompanied Timmy’s acknowledgment that he wanted to pursue theater at Flo’s. Armie had a sinking suspicion that there was not realistically enough time for Timmy to continue to travel to the city to audition, co-manage Flo’s, dance there, and run a small theater, even part-time, even if they increased his salary as an owner-manager and he didn’t have to dance any longer. And Armie was worried about which of those would be sacrificed when time limitations demanded it.

They fell asleep like that and sometime in the night they moved under the covers but remained cuddled up.

Armie woke earlier than Timmy, before his alarm went off, the next morning. He had weird, restless sleep all night. He couldn’t remember his dreams but he knew they were unnerving. He felt a pit in his stomach but his resolve was strong. He knew what he had to do, but it didn’t make it any easier. In fact, he tried to give himself an out.

He turned his alarm off and slipped out of bed and showered. He quietly got dressed and noticed Timmy had repositioned himself in the bed, rolled in the duvet like a burrito. Good.

Armie carried his shoes downstairs and started to boil water for coffee and popped a bagel in the toaster, before sitting down to put on his shoes. As he started to make the coffee he heard movement upstairs and the pit in his stomach grew. He knew Timmy’s capacity to sniff out coffee was more effective than any alarm clock, but he had hoped that their vacation schedule of sleeping late would override that very specific superpower.

Timmy ambled into the kitchen, his curls in disarray, and a sleepy smile on his face. Goddamn he was beautiful. “G’morning,” he said in his sleep-scratchy voice. Armie desperately wished he found Timmy just one tiny bit less irresistible.

Armie cleared his throat and said, “Good morning” before turning around. He tilted his head and furrowed his brows and took a deep breath in. “So, you’re still planning on spending today researching opening a theater?”

Timmy shrugged, still unconcerned, “Yeah, I thought I would see what licenses we would need, how contracts with community theater actors are usually handled. That sort of thing.”

“You really think this is a good idea?”

Timmy’s brows instantly knitted together and he reached his hand out to place it on Armie’s shoulder but Armie quickly turned around, paying attention to pouring more water over the coffee. “What do you mean?” Timmy’s voice was softly worried.

“I just don’t see how you’re going to have time for this, co-owning Flo’s, dancing, and auditions. Something’s going to have to give.” Armie forced himself to keep his voice steady and kind but firm.

Timmy sighed, “Yeah, probably. I can’t imagine continuing to put as much time into auditioning now.”

“But, but that’s your career you can’t give that up, you can’t just - just walk away.”

“Is it my career?” Timmy said, softly. “Armie, Armie, look at me.” Armie finished pouring the water and turned around, looking Timmy directly in the eyes. “It’s been years of me auditioning, hoping to get cast, hoping to get cast in something big enough to get my SAG card, and with no luck.”

“It is your career Timmy. You’re incredibly talented.”

“Sometimes that’s not enough, Armie. You know that, it’s talent plus luck, lots and lots of luck,” Timmy gazed at him, still unaware what was actually happening. “But it doesn’t matter. I’m not...it’s not like I’m bitter about it. Because at least I have Flo’s. At least I have you. You and Sersh.”

Armie turned again and poured coffee into his travel mug and a regular mug for Timmy, as if he wasn’t fully aware of what he was about to do. He swallowed around the lump in his throat and turned back to Timmy. “Flo’s isn’t a career, Timmy. It’s not, it’s not your career. And now it’s a distraction.”

Timmy pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and ran a hand through his hair and looked up at Armie through his long lashes. In another time, in another place, this would be flirting, instead this was Timmy trying to process what he was hearing. “A, a distraction? How can you say that?”

“C’mon Timmy, if Flo hadn’t been tempted to sell in the first place, if we wouldn’t have had to save the club, would you even be thinking about sacrificing your career, your real career, for some strip club in the middle of nowhere?”

“That’s! That’s some stupid thought experiment, that, that doesn’t matter, because she did and we had to and so it doesn’t matter. I’m still able to do theater, that’s what matters! Don’t you -“

Armie cut him off. “Theater? This, this isn’t going to be theater. I thought you were more ambitious.”

“You - you…” Timmy stammered, his eyes filling up with tears that threatened to spill over at any moment.

“What? Just because it’s not easy, you’re going to give up?”

The tears spilled over and Timmy wiped them away angrily, “Yeah, maybe I am ‘giving up’ as you say. Maybe if my parents were still alive and I could live with them, live off them, I could audition indefinitely, take parts that pay next to nothing, not have to worry about earning enough to live on, but that’s not my life. My life - “

“I could,” Armie began.

“No Armie, you can’t. I won’t let you.” Timmy was crying but standing his ground. “I, why can’t you see this is what I want? It’s not settling, it’s not - “

“Bullshit! Bullshit it’s not settling!” Armie was on the verge of losing his temper. He did not want to shout at Timmy. He didn’t want to do this at all. “I can’t let you - “

“You can’t let me? You can’t let me? You can’t let me?” Timmy’s voice rose in pitch and volume as he moved from incredulous to angry.

“Timmy,” Armie sighed. “You can’t sacrifice your career for Flo’s, for me.” He walked past Timmy to the closet and grabbed his coat and shrugged it on, shoving his wallet and phone in his pockets.

“It’s not, I’m not sacrificing my career. Flo’s is my career. I didn’t agree to be an owner lightly and fuck you for thinking I did.”

“You can’t be serious,” Armie muttered, half to himself but also intending for Timmy to hear him. He ran his hand over his mouth and said, “I can’t talk about this right now. I have to get to work.” He walked out the door and to his Jeep as he heard Timmy behind him. “Of course, get to your job, your real job, your career!”

Armie drove to work, keeping his mind purposefully blank. The reason he hadn’t taken additional vacation days after the college-closure days was that the college was in a big fundraising push, unusual for the beginning of the calendar year, in honor of having just celebrated fifty years of being co-educational. He was glad for the work to keep him distracted.

Armie was no stranger to caring so hard about his friends that he did things he felt were for their benefit even if it meant upsetting them or hurting Armie himself in the process. From his perspective, he would rather sacrifice the friendship for the friend and this was the best way he knew how to care for those he loved best. His friends were, by now, used to Armie pushing them off the metaphorical (or in the case of Nick during a Spring Break trip to Hawaii, literal) cliff for what Armie perceived to be their own good. And it was often with good outcomes, for instance a friend of theirs who was now sober thanks to Armie’s tough love. But Armie hadn’t yet learned that deciding what was best for someone else, with little to no input from that other person, wasn’t always actually in the other person’s best interest. Armie tended to operate with blinders on when he felt someone’s best path forward was at stake and especially if he believed he was in some way blocking that path. Armie would remove himself from someone’s life if he felt he was in any way contributing to anything less than an ideal outcome. He never stopped to consider that he, himself, could be part of someone’s ideal outcome.

Whether Armie realized that his approach very closely paralleled his own family, who had cut him off because they believed, without actually consulting him, that his job choice was doing a disservice to what he had been raised to do, was unclear.

At lunch, Armie walked off-campus. He considered briefly going to Cabablu, the coffee shop directly across from campus, but the idea of quiche and coffee reminded him too much of Timmy and so he kept walking a block further to The Dutch, which for unknowable reasons served Mexican food, or what passed for Mexican food in this town. Armie ate his black and white soup (cheddar cheese soup and black bean soup swirled together) and tortilla chips while listening to a true crime podcast to keep his mind off of Timmy. Unfortunately, the mix of Mexican fare and listening to a recounting of a murder mystery reminded him of the time he and Timmy, stoned out of their minds, couldn’t stop laughing about the Spanish term for underpants, ropas interiores, and using it in sentences trying to make the other man laugh harder until Timmy, clearly inspired by a recent Criminal Minds binge, said, “We’re looking for a psychosexually motivated killer who keeps ropa interiore of his victims as souvenirs” and Armie had laughed until tears were streaming down his face.

Armie shut off the podcast and focused on keeping his mind as blank as possible as he tried to finish his lunch. He left before finishing entirely, having lost his appetite.

Armie returned home after work and wasn’t surprised that Timmy’s bubblegum pink VW beetle was missing from the driveway. He wasn’t surprised to see Timmy’s shitty duffle bag missing from the floor of his closet or that all the hangers on which Timmy’s clothes had been hanging were empty. He was a little surprised that Timmy had also packed up and moved out his Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle shampoo and conditioner, but so it went. Their bed, his bed was neatly made and Armie sat down and stuck his hand under the covers at the foot of the bed and was caught off guard that Timmy had remembered to grab all his dirty socks from the end of the bed. Oh, except one. Armie grabbed it and held it to his face, falling backwards onto the bed. He finally let silent tears drip down his cheeks.

Chapter Text

Armie got drunk that night. Drunker than he had been in some time. It started with a six-pack of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, a decision which was not at all influenced by the fact that Timmy preferred sours to IPAs, but if it had anything at all to do with Timmy, it was a reminder that Timmy’s taste in beers was far too influenced by trends and not by taste and it would be no great loss to Armie if he suddenly couldn’t have Timmy in his life anymore. It started with a six-pack of 60 Minute IPA and went down from there, both in quality and ABV. By the end of the night, he was finishing what was left of the Yuengling lager in the refrigerator, while smoking a joint.

Friday morning, he called in sick to work. Twenty-four hour bug. After hanging up the phone, he groaned, pulled the duvet over his head, and fell back asleep.

Around noon his phone started blowing up with messages from Nick and Liz. Apparently, Saoirse had contacted them sometime after Timmy had arrived back home yesterday. This was a definite drawback to all their bonding over the holidays.

Armie opened one eye and glanced at his phone long enough to read:

NDS: ARMIE WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK DID YOU DO? Saoirse is scary when she’s pissed.
EC: Nick, stop calling angry women scary. Armie, FaceTime us now. We need to talk.

Armie slid his phone onto the Do Not Disturb setting and groaned again and fell back asleep. Until his phone started ringing. He had forgotten that he had set his Do Not Disturb to allow a second call within three minutes from the same person to ring through, mostly in response to Timmy’s worry about there being an emergency and Armie being unreachable. Armie cursed Timmy as he turned his phone to airplane mode. “Take that, motherfuckers,” he thought.

The part of Armie’s brain that wasn’t pounding with a hangover knew he was ignoring his friends because they probably had some valid points to make. Armie didn’t want to hear any valid points. He had made his decision and he wasn’t going to regret it or apologize for it.

And sure the hangover churning in his gut and throbbing in his temples felt like regret but Armie did a halfway decent job of convincing himself that he really only regretted how he had coped with losing Timmy, not with the fact that he had essentially pushed Timmy out his door without so much as a good-bye.

His vague plan was to buy out Timmy’s share of Flo’s so he would be free to focus on his real career. Now, he supposed, he would also have to buy out Saoirse’s share since she was clearly pissed at him and would side with Timmy. Understandably. He just hadn’t thought that part through very carefully. Oh well, he was thinking it through now. Kinda.

It was late afternoon before Armie felt less death-y enough to crawl out of bed and shower. He took three ibuprofen and drank several glasses of water, trying to raise the blood levels of his alcohol content, while the shower was warming up. He soaped up and rinsed and then turned the water as hot as it would go and stood under the scalding downpour for as long as he could tolerate. He then turned the water to its coldest setting for a minute before getting out.

Armie got dressed without really looking, throwing on whatever t-shirt, sweater, and pair of jeans were within grabbing distance. He didn’t bother with shaving or even trying to do something with his hair. He headed downstairs and made and ate some toast and drank more water and some coffee. Nothing was helping the sick feeling he had and he trudged back upstairs, a little at a loss with what to do with himself. Drinking too much and having nothing to occupy his time reminded Armie too much of when he had first moved here, before he had gone to Flo’s the first time.

He fell back on his still unmade bed, noticing how the sheets reeked of the beer that he had sweated during the night. He swallowed against the nausea that threatened to rise in his throat. Armie didn’t want to consider that he felt especially sick not only because he was hungover, but also because he missed Timmy and had maybe, just possibly, made a mistake the day before. He had tried all the healthful hangover remedies he knew; it was time to break out the big guns. Hair of the dog.

He took an uber to Flo’s. He chose Flo’s because he figured he would take a hair of both dogs - alcohol and Timmy, if indeed he was feeling so terrible about what he had done. He took an uber just in case a single hair wouldn’t do the trick and he wound up whole dogging it. And, with that, Armie decided he was finished with dog metaphors.

Also, fuck it, he was part-owner of Flo’s now, he may as well drink where he invested.

He arrived at the club early, just as it was opening and hours before the Friday night rush. He expected to see both Saoirse and Timmy running around finishing last minute tasks. But he only found Saoirse, setting out table tents advertising the drink specials. She immediately dropped the cardboard advertisements where she was and rushed over to him and punched him in the shoulder hard.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARMIE?”

Armie immediately rubbed the spot she had punched, the woman packed a wallop, and furrowed his brows together. “Sersh, what?”

“What? What? Don’t play dumb with me, Hammer.” She meant business.

Armie sighed and sank into a nearby chair, his shoulders slumping forward. He looked like he was closing in on himself. He looked up at Saoirse and searched her face, although for what he couldn’t quite articulate. “Sersh.”

“Don’t ‘Sersh’ me. Explain yourself. Tell me how Timmy went from being on top of the world to crying himself to sleep last night and refusing to leave his bed today.”

“Well it seems like, from the contact I’ve had from Nick and Liz today, Timmy told you what happened.” Armie just then realized he never switched his phone out of airplane mode and now the anxiety he felt at all the text messages, voice mail, and emails he’s missed from the day made him wonder if he could just toss his phone, get a new one, and start over.

Saoirse slid into the seat across from him. “Yeah but I want to hear it from you. I guess I’m the idiot here holding out hope that there’s some sense to be made of what you did because right now? From where I’m sitting? You helped him save the only place that still feels like a home to him and then kicked him out and for what? No good reason.”

“He is…was going to give up his career for this place. Flo’s was never meant to be his career.”

“Why not?” Saoirse demanded.

“Why not what?”

“Why was Flo’s not going to be his career?”

“Sersh, c’mon you can’t be serious.”

“Serious like a Trump possibly winning fucking second term.”

Armie swallowed, hard. “Because he’s meant to be an actor. He’s too talented to waste his gifts doing, what? Naked community theater?”

“What did he say?”

“What did he say when?”

“When you discussed this with him? It’s his career, his talents, after all.”

“I - I,” Armie was at a loss. “Okay, fine, I didn’t exactly discuss it with him. But you know Timmy, he would give up everything because of what? Some misguided loyalty to Flo? To me? To you? There’s nothing noble in sacrifice, that’s not love.”

“Maybe it’s not a sacrifice to him.”

“How could it not be?”

“Didn’t you sacrifice taking over your family’s incredibly successful business to waste everything handed to you and your talents at some tiny college in the middle of nowhere?”

“That wasn’t sacrifice, I never wanted -”

“Not sacrifice? Is that how you parents saw it?”

“Well no, they -”

“And what happened when they discussed it with you?”

“They never…”

Saoirse reached across the table and punched Armie again, this time slightly more gently but the spot was already sore, probably already forming a bruise, so it hurt. “Now go find him and fix this.” Armie nodded and stood up. He suddenly felt less hungover, even though he hadn’t had anything to drink yet. “Your uber will be here in,” she quickly checked her phone, “Three minutes.”

“Sersh, I...I don’t know what to, how to…”

“Yeah, yeah, thank me later when you’ve made this right. Name your first born after me or something.” She sighed and rolled her eyes, clearly done with trying to always fix things for these two idiots.

Armie let himself into their home. With six people living there, the front door was rarely locked. He knocked gently at Timmy and Saoirse’s door but didn’t wait for a reply before opening the door and walking in. Timmy’s duffle bag was thrown into a corner and opened but not unpacked. Armie tried not to take that as evidence that Timmy’s leaving wasn’t permanent. After all, he could have been too distraught to unpack. After all, didn’t Armie intended for Timmy to leave permanently, to sacrifice his own happiness and their relationship for Timmy’s career and, surely, much more long-term happiness?

Timmy was curled up on his bed in one corner of the room, facing the wall and corner the bed was jammed into. He had his baby blanket, the one he always slept with when he was sleeping at home, tucked around him and under his chin. Armie kneeled beside the bed and reached his arm out. His hand hesitated, hovering in the air an inch from Timmy’s back before making contact and gently rubbing up and down his spine. Timmy rolled over and looked Armie in the eyes. His own eyes were puffy and bloodshot from crying.

“Hey,” Armie whispered and pushed Timmy’s curls off his forehead, they flopped immediately back into the unruly mess they had been.

“Why are you here, Armie,” Timmy whispered back. “I-I can’t, if you’re going to-”

“Sh, no, it’s not like that. It’s. I think we need to talk.”

“Oh god, you’re breaking up with me? Why? What did I do?”

“I’m not, I’m not breaking up with you. Wait, why would you think that?” As if Armie hadn’t considered them basically broken up from the moment he made the decision that Timmy’s career was more important than their relationship.

“You said we need to talk! No good conversation ever starts that way.”

Armie bit his lip and glanced down for a moment. Timmy had a point, but “How else am I supposed to phrase it? We should talk.”

“And you just left yesterday morning and I never heard from you. I haven’t gone a day without talking to you since...since we met, practically.”

Armie sighed. “Yeah, that’s, that’s on me. That was a shitty thing to do...I, well, I’ve always, uh this is why we should talk. You should talk, I should listen.” Timmy nodded in response. “Can you - can I get in the bed with you?” Timmy rolled over and away from Armie, his back to him but Armie realized that this was as much as Timmy was willing to give him right then. He spooned Timmy from behind both since he couldn’t stand not to be in physical contact and also because Timmy’s full-size bed didn’t leave much room for two grown men, especially one that was Armie-sized, to be on it and not be in physical contact. Armie was surprised when Timmy rolled over in his arms and pushed until they were both on their backs, Armie’s arm wrapped around Timmy’s shoulders as Timmy twisted the cord of his hoodie around his fingers, which reminded Armie of the night he met Timmy.

Timmy took a deep shuddering breath. “I - I never said my goal was to be rich or famous.” Tears streamed down Timmy’s flushed cheeks, but his voice remained firm. “I just w-want to act.”

“But you could be.” Armie could not conceive of a world in which someone as talented and pure as Timmy wouldn’t make it. Even though he knew better. Even though he knew acting, like professional sports, was a winner-takes-all job and being good, more than good, at something didn’t mean you got to do it.

“That’s, that’s not the...spirit of Flo’s,” Timmy insisted.

“But you don’t have to have the same...spirit, the same values as Flo.” Armie paused, collecting his thoughts. “I know, I get it, she did a lot for you, but you’re not indebted to her.”

“Flo is my family. Flo’s is my family.” Armie paused at that. Remembering how he almost didn’t take the job at the college because the idea of leaving Nick and Liz was unfathomable. “Armie, you’re my family.” Timmy pulled his bottom lip into between his teeth and looked up at Armie with a slightly panicked expression, having just realized what he admitted given that their relationship was still a new one.

Armie’s heart both warmed and broke at this admission. He pulled from memory what he and Liz and Nick had discussed when he was trying to make the decision to accept his dream job. “And if I stand in the way of pursuing your dreams, that’s not love, Timmy.”

Timmy put his hand on Armie’s cheek. “Who are you to decide what my dreams are, Armie? You’ve known me for, what, a few months?” Armie paused and considered this as Timmy continued. “Like I said yesterday, maybe, maybe if my parents hadn’t died. But they did. And my dreams changed. Being famous for acting is less important than having- having a family.”

This really gave Armie pause and reminded him of what Saoirse had been trying to get through to him. Armie had never been a part of a family, his biological or chosen one, that had placed their relationships above career ambition.

“Even if, even if I could have both. Like I could continue auditioning and work at Flo’s and have you? Life is short. Is it more important for me to be well-known for doing the thing I love, the thing I’m most passionate about or is it more important that I do it? Cuz, it’s like, I get to do a lot more of it, if I just do it,” Timmy continued, his voice shaking less. “I could spend the rest of my career auditioning in the city or I could do Vanya on 42nd Street at Flo’s like I’ve been wanting to.”

Armie took in everything that Timmy had said and begrudgingly determined that it was TImmy’s life and he should maybe have a vote in what he did with it. He nodded. “Vanya on 42nd Street? Naked? Are you sure the Hudson Valley is ready for Mamet?”

Timmy sighed and tilted his head up and shot Armie a watery smile, “I think you really underestimate people. Everyone assumes Wednesday through Sunday nights are so different at Flo’s. That Monday and Tuesday is the only time the real art, the real dancing happens.”

Armie nodded at that. After all, just a couple of weeks ago, Timmy had dressed in lingerie - a silk teddy complete with garter and stockings and heels, to strip to Madonna’s Material Girl but without shaving any of his body hair or even his very faint five o’clock shadow (which had actually taken several days to even show up). He didn’t think the regular dancers, no matter how talented they were, were being that creative and envelope-pushing.

“You really think there’s that much difference in the audience night to night? Sure Mondays and Tuesdays are the only night people from the college come but the locals are there every night. And they don’t just put up with the artistic stuff to get to the nudity. And the girls, the women, the other nights aren’t just writhing around on the floor. Danni danced to Sissy that Walk and did voguing. Real voguing.”

Armie’s face broke out into a grin at that. “Watched a season of Drag Race did she?”

“Not a season, all the seasons”

“Even season one with the-“

“Even season one with the lighting. And Pose and Paris is Burning.

“Wow. Too bad she’s white-“

“As the driven snow. Yes, we had a chat about cultural appropriation afterward.”

“So you think Flo’s, you think the town is ready for full-frontal naked theater?”

“I do,” Timmy responded confidently. He looked up at Armie again and Armie could see his confidence waver. “But - but, you won’t be disappointed will you?”

“Disappointed? What do you mean, Timmy?”

“You won’t be ashamed of my lack of ambition?” Timmy broke eye contact, turning his attention back to his hoodie cord, still twisted around his fingers.

“Ashamed of you lack of ambition?” Armie repeated. “I- I could never. No, Timmy, you explained yourself perfectly. Doing theater at Fo’s is very...it takes a lot more guts, honestly, than, and also a lot more work. I couldn’t be ashamed of that. And, I had, I had never considered having a family, having love as something to strive for. In my mind, all I had ever known was, and I can’t believe I didn’t see how much I had internalized, but no, putting something else ahead of career isn’t lack of ambition.” Timmy looked back up at him and Armie closed the space between them and kissed him. He pulled back just enough to whisper against Timmy’s lips, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t’ve -”

“Shut up and kiss me, you idiot,” Timmy whispered back.

Later, after they had frantically peeled off just enough of each other’s clothes and Armie had quickly fingered Timmy open. After Armie kneeled on the bed as Timmy’s fingers scrambled to gain purchase on the wall behind his bed as Armie held Timmy closely against his chest, twisting the soft fabric of his t-shirt between his fingers, as he drove up into him. After Timmy had splattered the wall with come and Armie had bit Timmy’s shoulder to muffle his orgasm, aware that there were others in the house. After they collapsed into a sweaty heap with Timmy’s shirt pushed up under his armpits and Armie’s pants pooled around his ankles. After all that, Armie turned to Timmy, and grinned, flashing his perfectly white teeth, and said, breathlessly, “So I guess we need to research how we’re going to advertise full-frontal theater without breaking any local laws.”