They were finally back on Earth. After so many trials to get here, at last, everyone was relieved. It had been quite an adventure. Dakota and Cavendish said their goodbyes to Milo and his friends, just barely dodging the tree that came down on the ship behind them. Thankfully, nobody felt as though they’d be going back to space anytime soon, so it didn’t bother them too much.
Cavendish looked over as Dakota made noise as he stretched.
“Ahhh…” He exhaled, folding his arms behind his head. “So, what do we do now..?” It sounded as if he were looking for suggestions.
“Well, there were mentions of a sandwich, I recall..” Cavendish provided with a shrug.
Dakota’s brows raised above the rims of his glasses. “Ohh. Yeah! Right! I almost forgot.” He smiled. “I’m surprised you remembered.”
“I’m surprised you forgot.”
Dakota waved a hand. “Ehhh. It’s been a long day.” He paused in thought and attempted a correction “Days? Time’s weird in space..”
Cavendish made a hum in agreement, clasping his hands behind his back. Things still felt a little strange between them, at least to Cavendish. He’d saved the world yet again, and while that felt good and satisfied his desire to be useful and heroic, the road to getting there hadn’t been the best. He never should have let his need for fulfillment come between him and Dakota. He’d convinced himself going their separate ways had been for the best. Wiping his memory after going rogue would have protected him if anyone came to question him. It was foolish of him. Despite his occasional remarks, Cavendish knew the two of them were better together. Dakota tried to tell him that but he wouldn’t listen. Ever so stubborn as he was, he felt he was better on his own. He’d still been sour from the thought of Dakota not taking his word as fact. They could have worked it out. He could have been less rash… Oh, it’s not as if it really mattered anymore. Things had turned out fine in the end. Still, he felt as though he needed to make it up to him. Lunch wasn’t really good enough as far as most apologies go, but it was a start. And it was their thing. Cavendish hadn’t realized until just now how much he missed it; how much he’d missed him.
“So…?” Cavendish prompted hopefully.
Dakota seemed to regain his train of thought and popped up. “Oh! I--Yeah! As if I’m gonna say no to food…”
Cavendish tried not to seem so elated. It was just a sandwich. But he was thrilled at the prospect of getting back to some normalcy. Being on his own, without him, just had not been the same. He didn’t have much time to reflect while they were deep focused on the rescue mission, but he sure was reflecting now.
They began walking off until they found sight of their van. It was lucky that they managed to touch down right by the ship’s original landing site, or else they might be wandering around trying to find it. He rummaged around in his pockets for the keys.
Upon opening the door, Cavendish was struck by a foul odor that Dakota seemed to be immune to. He attempted to wave it away as he slid into the passenger side. He was surprised he hadn’t noticed it earlier “What on earth is that ghastly stench?”
Dakota hopped in and shut the door. “What are you talking about? It’s always smelled like this...Maybe if you hadn’t been gone so long, you’d still be immune.”
Cavendish’s brow narrowed. That stung a bit, but he was determined to not let it get to him. Dakota had earned a snipe or two. “...When’s the last time this was cleaned?”
“I don’t know, how long have you been gone?” Dakota raised a brow.
Cavendish raised both hands in defeat. “I’m only saying that our vehicle should not have a ‘normal’ smell…” He glanced around the back, noting the cargo area was trashed. He had noticed this shortly before they’d taken off in the ship but there had been far more pressing things at hand to care. “...and something needs to be done about that…”
“Well, now that you’re back, you can help! You know, it’s not easy doing the work for two people.” He rolled his eyes. “Do you have any idea how much garbage there is in this city? And Doof isn’t exactly a model stand-in...”
“What do you mean ‘two people’?” Cavendish’s brows raised and Dakota’s annoyance seemed to fade to a more bashful look as he started up the car. “Didn’t you report me? Guidelines strictly state--”
Dakota splayed his fingers, hands still on the steering wheel. “Obviously, we’re both terrible at following guidelines…” He gave Cavendish a once over, “Though, you were a surprise…”
Cavendish folded his arms, more from a vulnerability than an annoyance. “Still, I can hardly--”
“Come on, Cavendish. You had to know I was never gonna report you.” Dakota said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Well, why not? You could have had a new partner--”
Dakota looked exasperated. “...Do I look like I want a new partner?” He waved a hand. “Seriously. I literally dedicated an entire island to you, and you’re going to make that suggestion…” Cavendish looked embarrassed, so Dakota was willing to let it slide. He could see he was feeling bad for leaving him on his own and perhaps didn’t understand why Dakota wouldn’t accept what were his terms of resignation. He sighed. “Look, turning you in, even in just verbally, would mean you weren’t coming back...So, I didn’t. I couldn’t give up on finding you. What kind of friend would that make me?”
Cavendish frowned, truly touched by his devotion but the knife twisted deeper knowing that he did not deserve it. He had not been good to him. Even now, he couldn’t seem to even say the right things. How hard was it to just thank him for all the trouble? He didn’t know how to respond and chose to glance around at his surroundings as a distraction. Through the various fast food wrappers, he picked up a flyer, noting several others gathered under his feet. They were ‘Missing Persons’. For him. Cavendish could have cried right there.
“Oh, Dakota. I’m so very sorry…”
Dakota looked over at him, clutching the piece of paper. He felt a little embarrassed, Cavendish knowing how far he’d gone to reunite with him. He rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah, forget about it… You’re Cavendish…”
“That doesn’t actually mean anything…” Cavendish replied.
“It does to me..” Dakota argued softly.
They arrived to what Cavendish could only assume was Dakota’s favorite sandwich shoppe and they both got out of the car. Dakota was smiling, which was nice, but Cavendish still felt a touch insecure. He couldn’t help prompting him for some reassurance.
“You’re certain you’re not still cross with me?” He clasped his hands together with a hopeful look. Dakota seemed to notice his sincerity and gave him a soft gaze. Cavendish wasn’t sure what it meant. Unbeknownst to him, Dakota was actually finding him adorable right now.
“Is that your way of asking if I’m mad?”
Dakota snorted and gestured with his head at the restaurant in front of them. “Trust me. Once I get a sandwich in me, I don’t think I could be mad about anything. Let’s go.”
Dakota walked ahead and Cavendish ran to catch up with him, going on about how his answer wasn’t adequate. He knew he was trying to let him off the hook but Cavendish very much wanted to be left on the hook. He didn’t want things to merely go back to how they were before. That was part of the problem. He wanted Dakota to know how much he meant to him, that things would be different. Cavendish, as much as he could, would make an effort to be less self-centered and take his feelings into account. But that’s not something you really say...especially not in a public dining setting where it’s uncertain how the other will respond. Cavendish was aware that at times, even as well-meaning as his words are, can be taken the wrong way. He was so bad at this. His self-defense mechanism was insult-based...That was also something he needed to restrain. It was nerves.
He took a breath. This was important. He had to get them back on track. Or, on a new track. He had to get them somewhere. First, into the sandwich shoppe. He scrambled to open the door for him like a proper gentleman. Dakota didn’t notice until the last second when he walking through, giving him an intrigued look as he followed.
Cavendish started up a casual conversation. “Well, if nothing else, I’m certain you must have enjoyed the breather.”
It took Dakota a second to understand what he meant, but he replied shortly after. “Ah, It wasn’t as glamorous as you might think…”
“Come now, you’re always going on about me being, oh, how did you call it?” He used finger quotations. “A nag.”
That earned a laugh from Dakota and Cavendish admired the look before he opened his eyes. “Believe it or not, I actually missed that...Too much freedom. Not a good thing.”
“You actually missed me?” It was a dumb question. Cavendish knew the answer, most of him did, anyway. The evidence was clear enough. Though there was that small seed of doubt in the back of his mind that would grow until he heard him say it.
“That’s a question?” Dakota asked incredulously.
“Yes, of course that’s a question!” Cavendish said back.
Dakota folded his arms and looked away from him, turning his body but only as much as he could so he could still view him in his peripherals. “I don’t know, did you miss me…?” He seemed almost childish. They both could be that way sometimes.
“I asked first.”
“Well, I asked second..”
“...Are you guys gonna order?”
Dakota and Cavendish froze in place, their little tiff momentarily forgotten when they remembered where they were. They clenched their teeth and exchanged glances before shaking off the embarrassment to make their orders. Cavendish made to pay until he realized he was low on funds due to his rogue adventure, which he felt bad about. Dakota moved ahead of him to pay and Cavendish folded his hands, looking awkward until it was time to sit. Everything continued to remind him of the time that had past.
They sat down at a booth, across from one another, and waited. Cavendish felt silly about the earlier conversation. So, instead of continuing to be stubborn, he decided to come clean and just confess. “...Of course, I’ve missed you.”
Dakota ceased playing with the napkin dispenser to look at him. Cavendish just barely met his eyes. It seemed as if it had been what Dakota had wanted to hear by the way he lit up.
“I missed you, too!” He said with a big smile. He reached across the table and yanked his tophat by the brim, pulling it down slightly. “I missed that stupid hat.” Cavendish fussed and immediately went to fix it to its proper place atop his head and Dakota’s grin only got wider. As complicated as their relationship was, he would always miss this high strung idiot.
Cavendish figured it was his turn, but found himself getting a mite defensive. “It’s not stupid. It’s refined…”
Dakota snorted, “Refiiiined. My bad. I missed your stupid, refined hat.” Cavendish cocked a brow but he looked amused. So, Dakota took it one step further and snatched the top hat off his head and put it on.
Cavendish looked horrified, a palm over his grey hair. “What the devil are you doing? Give that back!”
“Hey. Hey, Cavendish. Hey, Cavendish. What do you think? Does it make me look proper?” He made a mockingly serious face and framed the collar of his tracksuit with his fists.
It didn’t last very long. Cavendish practically dove across the table to get it back. “It doesn’t work on you at all.” He sat back down, once again readjusting his hat and Dakota was just laughing. Vexed as he was, he enjoyed the sound.
“This, too.” Dakota said, now resting his chin on a fist. “I definitely missed annoying you.”
“Shockingly enough, I feel I’ve missed that, too.” He mirrored Dakota’s pose.
“Naaah. You?” Dakota replied in disbelief.
“I can hardly believe it, myself.” Cavendish admitted.
“That goes for both of us.”
“I miss having lunch together…”Cavendish went on. “ Lunch, dinner, etcetera… I cannot believe just how badly I wanted to have a meal with you again...”
“And I can’t believe how badly I needed you there to tell me to quit when I’m ahead…” He gave a half-smile. “...I actually missed you getting on my case. How weird is that?”
“I’d have thought you’d be relieved…” Cavendish replied. He always found himself pleasantly surprised when he learned how much he actually meant to Dakota. In his mind, it made almost no sense. Despite his own narcissism, Cavendish knew Dakota was a far better person than he was. He was brave, loyal, selfless and despite his lazy demeanor, flew into action whenever he was truly needed. Cavendish may not have said it and at times, forgot, when he particularly got on his nerves, but he had always admired this about him. He wished he could take back all of those times he’d ever called him a selfish human being.
“Yeah, you would think…” Dakota said, looking as though he might not understand it himself.
He shrugged, “So, why? Even I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with...And you, you’re so personable! I’m not even a good person.” He folded his arms and leaned back into the booth cushion.
Dakota frowned. That was when their food arrived. Things got awkward again. There was silence between them. It lasted for a few more moments before Dakota opened his mouth. “Cavendish…”
“I just don’t understand…” He admitted, looking down at his food.
Dakota thought for a few more minutes before a lightbulb in his head turned on. He got an idea. It was a very silly, stupid idea, but hey, it was something! He snatched his sandwich off his plate and thrust it in front of Cavendish’s face. “It’s like this sandwich!” Cavendish’s head snapped up, taken aback by Dakota’s exclamation. Dakota could tell he was confused, so he went on. “Okay. Okay. Okay. Look at this thing. This is you.”
“You are ...comparing me to a sandwich…?” Cavendish wasn’t exactly following.
“Now hear me out. See this? Beautiful, right? Looks great” He took a deep whiff and exhaled, “Smells great. Tastes great!” He paused for a second, realizing the parallel might make both of them feel a little weird. “Okay, ignore that last part. But point is, it’s a great sandwich.” He raised his pointer finger, “And this sandwich has a mission; satisfaction!”
Cavendish wanted to say something but he figured this was going...somewhere…? He also felt like Dakota might just be hungry.
“So, okay…” He said before taking a very large bite. He started to speak with his mouth full, things that were a bit inaudible, but Cavendish patiently waited. “Mmm...delicious!” He licked his lips. “See? That was really good. Good, but uh-oh, what’s this?” He glanced down at the plate in with a false gasp. There was juice and dressing and bits of tomato and lettuce that had fallen out mid-bite. “Look at this mess. I mean it’s everywhere. Plate. Look. There’s even some on the table.” He glanced down at his clothes. “Some on me..” He glanced back up at Cavendish and shook the sandwich at him, inadvertently making even more of a mess. “Point is, as messy as this sandwich gets, that doesn’t keep me from wanting to eat it… Yeah, there’s some trial, but I end up happy in the end, cause I love…” He paused in shock, realizing Cavendish was just staring at him. “...sandwiches.” He had definitely gone way too far with this analogy. He’d just wanted to cheer him up! “...Maybe that got too real...and I think I’ve said sandwich way too many times. It just sounds weird now….Sandwich. SANDwich. SandWICH. Yeah, I’m done saying that for today…”
“Did you just..?” Cavendish finally spoke.
Dakota stuffed his mouth with another large bite of sandwich so he wouldn’t have to talk. He gave him the gesture of ‘I can’t talk, I’m eating’
“Dakota!” He tried again but Dakota held up a finger and then pointed to his mouth as he continued to chew.
He was stalling. His idea had backfired and he had to come up with some way out of this.
Cavendish, on the other hand, was sitting there perplexed. He couldn’t even touch his sandwich, being far too distracted by the words that came from his partner’s mouth. He felt like he understood what he was trying to say towards the end and felt flattered. But when he went on, his heart seized in his chest. He didn’t know what to say or do. He did know he wanted clarification. Surely, Dakota couldn’t have meant it the way he was interpreting. Surely not. That would be silly. It wasn’t as if the thought hadn’t come across Cavendish’s mind...numerous times. But he could have. Perhaps they both…. Oh, he needed to stop thinking. If he didn’t, he was liable to become a flustered mess.
By the time Cavendish had finished lecturing his mind space to behave, Dakota had finished eating. Good. Time for answers.
“What was that?” Cavendish asked.
“What was what? I was eating…” He replied. “You’re always saying its rude to talk with your mouth full. Look at me, taking your advice..” He gave him a cheesy look, one he normally used for getting out of trouble.
“You know very well what I’m referring to.” Cavendish got agitated when Dakota decided to play dumb. “Your little speech..”
“Ohhh, that!” He exclaimed, glancing around every which direction as if he could pull excuses out of thin air. “...uhhh, what about it…?”
“It was quite the confession...What exactly did you mean by it…?”
“Depends. Which answer is gonna get me in less hot water…?”
“Dakota…” Cavendish warned.
Dakota’s shoulders shrugged defensively, “Well, what do you want me to mean by it..?”
Cavendish gave him a look, “What do I want you to---? Obviously, I want you to mean what you mean. I wouldn’t want you mean something that you only thought I wanted you to mean. That is what I mean...”
Dakota blinked for another few seconds, “Now there’s another word I’m gonna have to take a break from...I’ll be honest. I have no idea what you just said…”
Cavendish groaned in frustration. Dakota never made anything easy for him. It was so irritating. “You and I certainly are made for each other. Neither of us can ever say what we truly--”
“--Don’t say ‘mean’ again” Dakota interrupted, taking a few sips from the shake he’d nearly forgotten about..
“...Feel.” Cavendish finished.
Dakota stared at him, his paper cup settling back on the table comically and straw hanging out of his mouth. Cavendish leaned over and pulled the straw from his lips to stick in back into the cup. It was a bit daring. Dakota eyed him up and down before asking. “Now what’s that mean…?”
“I do believe we were swearing off that word…” Cavendish picked up his own sandwich at this point. He took his first bite, feeling quite proud of now being the one to leave the other guessing. He deserved it for not giving him a straight answer. He knew he was, perhaps, being a hypocrite but was far too gleeful to care.
His sandwich was fairly smaller in comparison to Dakota’s, so it didn’t take him very long to finish. It was the longest Cavendish had ever had a silent moment with Dakota in proximity. Dakota seemed to be out of it up until Cavendish was tossing their garbage. Dakota scrambled to follow him out the door.
“Cavendish! Cavendish!” He called and caught his breath when he finally got him to stop. Cavendish waited. “You weren’t just going to leave me back there--”
“Why, of course not. Come along, Dakota. We should be getting on..” He folded his arms behind his back, but Dakota was quick to grab one of them to spin him around.
“Heeeey. You’re acting weird. Is this us now? Are we just weird?” Dakota asked.
Cavendish rolled his eyes and tilted his head. “...And you’re under the impression we ever maintained a sense of normal?”
“Oh, you know what I mean…”
“I’m afraid not. And if you’re not going to say it, I’m certainly not going to say it. Even if it is obvious that the two of us clearly have some sort of--”
Silence reigned as Cavendish’s mouth was immediately occupied with Dakota’s. His eyes popped open and his annoyed expression had been replaced with one of surprise. It all happened so fast that his brain forgot to provide him with the idea that he should be kissing back. But then it was over!
“...f-fancy..” Cavendish finished his sentence despite himself, looking down at his shorter partner who looked a little unsure.
He raised a brow. “You thought that was...fancy..?”
Cavendish immediately shook his head and waved his hands. Good lord. He could hardly speak. He tried to formulate a response but it was no good! All he could manage was “ Nononono, You--I--Mm---Balderdash..”
“Okay...maybe this was a bad idea…” He began to step back. “I’m sorry, I just thought you...and me….what I said--” He stopped talking when he felt two fists on his collar pull him forward. He needed to brace himself not to collide against Cavendish’s chest. He blinked. “Alright, Now I’m confused…” He angled his head upward. Cavendish himself looked like he had no idea what he was doing, like he’d pulled him in on impulse. “Yeah, that face isn’t helping…” He felt Cavendish take a deep breath. He knew from experience that was him trying to ground himself. Dakota decided to offer a little help. He lifted a hand and placed it on Cavendish’s cheek. It did something because he glanced down at him. “Hey, did I break you..?”
“You fancy me…” Cavendish spoke. It was more of a statement than a question, but Dakota still answered as if it was.
“Uh, well, duh...It’d be a little awkward if I went and did that and I didn’t…”
Cavendish stared blankly ahead, still piecing it all together. “You fancy me….and I ...fancy you. We fancy each other. How have I been so blind?!” Dakota was tempted to say something but allowed Cavendish to go on with his epiphany, “I’ve been so bloody daft all this time!” Dakota was tempted for the second time but Cavendish was suddenly hugging him tight, which was nice, so he stayed silent and enjoyed it. “Oh, Dakota! Sweet, sweet Dakota!” He spun him around once before setting his feet on the ground again. “Brilliant! Haha!”
“Cavendish!” Dakota had to laugh. One of his favorite moments was seeing Cavendish happy and he looked ecstatic. What’s more, it was about him! He really hadn’t seen that coming. Though he did seem a bit manic, so he grabbed onto his shoulders to calm him down.
“...I thought you were gonna freak out. You kinda still are… but you know, less shouting..”
“Why on earth would I shout at you..?” Cavendish asked.
“Statistics..” Dakota shrugged. He had been so sure if he’d ever conjured up the guts to tell Cavendish about this, rejection was inevitable. And not just rejection, hard rejection. Maybe he just overthought it in his head. What happened today was a complete accident. Dakota considered it a miracle that he didn’t wind up paying for it. “Guess I shoulda given you more credit..” Cavendish surely wouldn’t have put up with him this long if he didn’t have some kind of interest in him.
“Understatement of the century...It can’t be so surprising. We’ve known each other for such a long time. So many experiences. Adventures…”
“...Sandwiches…” Dakota had to add, before silently admitting the word still sounded weird.
“Quite.” Cavendish agreed. “And considering all of that, everything you’ve done for me, all the sacrifices you’ve made, the recognition you never sought after...Oh, how was I not supposed to be drawn by that?”
“You never say this stuff…” Dakota replied, feeling uncharacteristically shy. He was so used to his and Cavendish’s usual banter. The back and forth teasing some might consider flirty. But this? This was a Cavendish he’d only ever encountered in dreams. It was hard to process. “Come on…”
“Oh, but it’s true. I know I haven’t exactly been so transparent in the past, but I’ve gotten so very many things wrong. It seems I keep messing up. Most recently, leaving you behind. I want to earn what you feel for me” He clasped both hands around one of Dakota’s. “Until I truly prove I deserve it.”
“Hey, it’s not some kind of contest. You don’t gotta prove anything..”
“To myself, I do.”
Dakota looked thoughtful for a moment. “Well, now that you mention it, I guess there is one thing…”
“Anything at all. I’m your man!” Cavendish replied with a little too much enthusiasm. It made Dakota bite back a chuckle.
Dakota leaned forward, hoping Cavendish would catch his drift. To help, he closed his eyes. After a few seconds of silence, he opened one and then the other and huffed. “Cav, I am asking you to kiss me.”
Cavendish’s shoulder’s tensed momentarily, his eyes wide for a time before looking sheepish for being slow on the uptake. “Ohh...Yes! Of course! I knew that...I was merely preparing…” He cleared his throat.
“I’m sure you were…” Dakota gave him a knowing look. His inexperience was plain as day, but he found it so adorable. It was reassuring. Spending so many years with a person, you learn their tells and body language. He had no doubts looking at him now that he did want this. It made Dakota wish he had slipped up before today. He could have been kissing Cavendish far sooner.
“I was.” Cavendish pressed, detecting the skepticism in Dakota’s voice.
“Waaaaaiting…..” Dakota sang with a dumb grin on his face, leaning forward once again with his arms folded behind his back.
Cavendish’s brow furrowed at his partner’s teases. He straightened out his jacket and willed away the nerves he was feeling. This was a momentous occasion. He missed out on it the first time due to his accursed delayed response, and heaven only knows how long he’d been wanting to kiss those previously forbidden lips. He needed to savor this.
“...You’re taking an awful long time…”
Cavendish glared and grabbed either side of his irritating partner’s face, “Shut up, Dakota…”
“I would , if you would just---”
Silence. Dakota’s words were lost when Cavendish forced them back down his throat with a kiss. A proper kiss. It was most satisfying for him because it was one way he could actually get him to stop talking. There were other reasons, yes, but Cavendish was petty. Little did he know, he played right into Dakota’s hands, but either way, they both won.
Yes, this was so much better than the first. It was more lengthy and Cavendish got to run his fingers through those thick, brown curls that he’d admired since back when there were a lot more of them. Better late than never… They two of them were so stubborn, it could have been never for all he knew. He felt Dakota smile against his mouth and it made him smile, too. He was taken by surprise when Dakota jumped up and wrapped his legs around his waist. Cavendish nearly fell over but at the last second found the ability to support his weight. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d done so. Of course, circumstances were certainly different.
“What are you doing?” Cavendish asked, a little flush as he glanced at their surroundings to make sure they didn’t have an audience.
Dakota nuzzled his neck. “I’m doing what I’m doing…”
“Not in front of a food establishment…” Cavendish lectured.
“Then, take me to the van!” Dakota raised an arm and pointer finger.
“I’m not carrying you all the way there...You must be joking”
“And you call yourself a gentleman…”
“How dare you, sir…”
“Oooh, I dare..”
Cavendish dropped him at that point for a few reasons. One, because if he didn’t, he was certain they would both fall over eventually and two, Dakota was being a brat. They were going to garner attention. He fully expected a pout or two from Dakota, but he would be sure to make it up to him later. However, he should have expected Dakota wasn’t so predictable because the next thing he felt was him being scooped up into his arms when his back was turned.
“Then, I’m taking you to the van!” He exclaimed with a wide grin and began running. Cavendish screamed in surprise, barely having a moment to analyze what had just happened and scrambled to wrap his arms around Dakota’s neck.
“Dakota! What are you doing?! I swear if you drop me…!” His voice was more terrified than threatening and it was drowned out with Dakota’s laughter. Somehow, it was enough of a promise.
This man was so outrageous and out of control and Cavendish had only given him more reason to exercise those tendencies. He had no idea how he’d ever allowed himself to fall for such a man, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life with that adrenaline rush beside him.