One: Grease Monkey
Every night, Vert found himself going to sleep later and later. There wasn't any particular reason for this. He'd always enjoyed the night, and now, with the Battle Force 5 living in his warehouse, night was about the only time he got any peace and quiet.
So, at maybe two or three in the morning, Vert was working away on a motorcycle crammed into the back of the warehouse. Unlike the others, he had plenty of vehicles in his garage, not just the one Sage had given him. Most of them were junkers he'd used to work on as a kid, but others belonged to people in Handlers' Corners. He was the only mechanic for over fifty miles, and he was always happy to lend a hand.
Except for tonight, when he really had no idea what was wrong with this bike.
With a sigh, Vert set down his screwdriver and went back to digging through his toolbox. A dozen different tools – some old, some new, some alien – stared back at him, but Vert was missing the one he needed. His socket wrench.
Vert glanced around the floor for the wrench, but it wasn't anywhere to be found.
Now where did I put it…?" he muttered.
The wrench appeared in his vision, held by a slim hand. Vert follow the hand to the arm and then to the face. It was Zoom.
"Hey, Zoom," said Vert. "Thanks." He took the wrench and went back to work. Maybe now he could fix the suspension on this damn bike.
"How many cars and bikes do you own, dude?" asked Zoom.
Vert hummed. "Oh? This one isn't mine. It belongs to Craig – you know the guy who brings his cat to Zeke's Diner? He keeps a sidecar just for her. Suspension on the bike went wonky yesterday. He wanted me to patch it up."
"Seriously?" said Zoom. He sounded impressed. Vert glanced up to see Zoom leaning against one of the metal barrels in the garage. He was in a shirt that was four sizes too big for him and it kept sliding off one of his shoulders. Vert caught himself staring at the expanse of collarbone and quickly went back to his work. His cheeks were hot. He hoped Zoom wouldn't notice.
"What about the others?" asked Zoom.
"Uh, the pink corvette is Mrs. Appleby's. She's one of the elementary school teachers. The moped belongs to her teenage son, Howie. Kid can't get a licence due to his epilepsy, so she bought him a moped with a belt," said Vert. "There's also the BMW – that's Officer Grant's. He was Johnson's partner before Johnson became Sheriff."
"Wow," said Zoom. Vert studied the suspension closely. He thought he finally had figured out and fixed the problem.
"Yeah, well, I lived here most of my childhood, so," said Vert, shrugging. He reached up and turned the key. When the engine rolled over, the bike began to shake violently. Vert cursed and shut it off before it came apart. "Dang it," he said. "I thought I had it there."
Zoom stood properly and padded over to Vert. He crouched down next to Vert and grabbed one of the pairs of pliers in the toolbox.
"May I?" he asked. Vert leaned back and gestured for Zoom to go for it.
Zoom reached in between the frame of the bike, pulled back a few wires, and tucked them back into other slots along the frame. Then, he grabbed some wire and a fastener from the toolbox and fastened the electric wires into place.
"Try it now," said Zoom, leaning back.
Vert narrowed his eyes at Zoom. There was no way it was that simple. He reached up and turned the key. The engine rolled over and rumbled in the otherwise silent garage. The bike didn't shake.
"You're kidding me," said Vert. The disbelief naked in his voice and on his face.
Zoom laughed. "Just some crossed wires, dude, it happens."
Vert shook his head. A smile tugged across his face and he turned to look at Zoom. Zoom grinned at him, his eyes bright and a laugh in his breath.
For a second, Vert couldn't breathe. Couldn't find it in him to do anything but stare. Then, when Zoom's expression faltered, Vert managed to unfreeze himself. He broke into a wide grin, reached out, and clapped Zoom on the shoulder.
"Nicely done," he said. "What do you say you help me with the rest of these? Maybe together we can get them all done by tomorrow night."
Zoom gave Vert a thumb's up and leaped to his feet. "Sounds good! Which one should we start on?"
Vert guided Zoom to the corvette and tried not to think too much about the over-eager way Zoom looked at him, or the butterflies in his stomach whenever he caught Zoom looking at him like that.
The battle zone was a veritable playground. Giant criss-crossing steel beams and bars soared high overhead. Their stability posts turned the ground into an obstacle course. And, of course, the battle key was high above the Battle Force 5 – perched atop one of the highest points of the structure.
"We have to get that key," said Vert. He wretched his steering wheel hard to the left. The Sark were coming from all directions. And it wouldn't be long before Zemerik figured out how to get to the key.
"How?" asked Spinner. "It's not like any of us have wings."
"He's right," said Stanford. "And not even Zoom's bike is thin enough to get through all that."
Vert gritted his teeth and swung around another pole. He extended the Saber's blades and jerked the steering wheel again. The Saber and he went spinning. They sliced through Sark after Sark until Vert slammed into another pole.
He groaned and rubbed his head.
"The Chopper won't fit, but one of us will," said Vert.
"I'll do it," said Zoom.
"Not happening," said Vert. He jerked the Saber around and sped off toward Zemerik. The Chopper pulled up alongside him. Vert could see Zoom frowning through his helmet.
"I'm small and fast," said Zoom. "That's the whole reason I'm the scout. I'll ditch the Chopper, get Spinner to drive it or something. I'll climb up, grab the key, and jump back down. Easy peasy."
"Yeah, easy peasy," said Spinner. "Until you fall to your death and we have to explain to your parents what happened!"
Zoom snorted. "Well lucky for you, I don't have parents."
"That's a tad morbid," quipped Stanford.
"Whatever," said Zoom. Vert saw him roll his eyes. "Look, Vert, I can do this. Just gimme a chance, dude."
Vert scrubbed a hand over his face. Swung the Saber around yet another pole. He only had a few seconds to make this decision and, quite frankly, he couldn't think of anything else that sounded half as good.
"Fine. Go," said Vert. "Stanford, watch his back."
"Right then, let's drive," said Stanford. Stanford and Zoom sped off to a point where Zoom could climb up the steel latticing more easily.
"Everyone else, spread out. Let's keep Zemerik and his Sark busy long enough for Zoom to handle this," said Vert. Agura went left, Spinner and Sherman went right, and Vert went straight on – right after Zemerik.
"Organic, you will pay for your tactics," said Zemerik. Zemerik and Vert drove straight at each other. Their cars collided and spun off. Vert swung back around to drive into Zemerik again. Other Sark were piling up around them.
"Get that battle key," said Vert over the coms.
"I'm on it!" Zoom shouted. As Vert swung the Saber around again, he caught sight of Zoom deftly scaling the steel latticing. Stanford and the Reverb were down below, next to the parked Chopper. Stanford laid cover fire – blasting the Sark that came close. A few were crawling up toward Zoom, but they weren't nearly as fast as he was.
Vert turned his attention back to Zemerik. He opened the blades on the Saber and drove straight at Zemerik's side. His vehicle shrieked from the impact. The blades cut deep toward Zemerik. Then Zemerik was shooting off at top speed.
Vert gave chase. He swung around the steel poles as best he could. Slicing apart Sark and tearing into terrain whenever he had to. The Buster was off dealing with Zug – Vert could see them battling it out in his peripheral vision. Agura had her hands full trying to keep Sark off the steel latticing. A few had slipped by her. These ones were closer to Zoom than the others.
"Spinner, Sherman, get a concussion bomb up there. Don't let them get to Zoom," said Vert.
"You got it," said Spinner.
Vert got slammed by two more Sark. He spun the Saber around, shredding their cars and robotic bodies. A deep boom erupted across the battle zone.
"Woah!" Zoom's shout came over the coms. Vert looked up, eyes wide as he focused on Zoom's form. He was tiny from so far away. But still, Vert saw him wobble. Heard Zoom shout again over the coms. Then he leaped, grabbed the key, and fell straight down through the latticing.
There was an awful moment were Vert was frozen in place. Then, he swung the Saber around, floored the gas, and took off toward Zoom.
The Saber reached him just in time. Vert opened the seat pod. Stood. Held out his arms and… there. Zoom dropped neatly into his arms. The force sent Zoom and Vert sprawling into the seat.
"My hero," said Zoom. He was a little pale and clung hard to Vert's shoulders. Vert didn't bother kicking Zoom out of the Saber. He closed the pod, hit the gas, and drove around Zoom.
"We got the key, let's move," said Vert. "Spinner, get the Chopper."
"Remote control time," said Spinner, a cackle in his voice. The Chopper moved of its own accord. All five vehicles shot through the portal and were back on Earth moments later.
Stanford hopped out of his car to close the portal. Then, he seemed to notice the position Vert and Zoom were in.
"Aren't we cute?" cooed Stanford.
Vert rolled his eyes.
"We really are," said Zoom, grinning. He draped himself across Vert more completely.
"You gonna get off?" asked Vert.
Zoom leaned up close to Vert until his face was only an inch from Vert's. "Not until the third date," he said, winking. Then he leaped out of the Saber and touched down on the desert.
Vert went red at the words, choking on his own spit. The rest of the team was howling with laughter.
"You should see your face!" said Spinner between cackles.
Vert stared at Zoom. He grinned, shrugged, and hopped on the Chopper.
"Race you home!" he said, and he took off across the desert.
Vert tapped his foot impatiently against the concrete floor of the garage. He started pacing – ten steps one way, turn, ten steps the other way. He curled his hands together in front of himself. Then behind. Then in front again. He stopped pacing, scrubbed his hands through his hair, and sighed. Vert slumped against the Saber, staring at the entrance to the garage.
Where was Zoom? He was late getting back from his evening jog. The sun brushed the horizon and sent orange and yellow rays flitting across the desert sand. Vert rubbed at his arms as a breeze whistled through the open garage doors.
He sighed. The one day Zoom was late was the one day Vert wanted to ask him something. Vert groaned and scrubbed one hand across his face. This was perfect.
Zoom rounded the corner into the garage a few minutes later. Sweat clung hard to his skin and left him smelling a bit ripe. His hair was plastered to his forehead, despite the headband, and he was breathing hard.
Zoom grinned when he saw Vert, and Vert managed a trembling smile of his own. This is it. For weeks now, Vert had stuffed this thought from his mind, leaving him shaken and frustrated by his own emotions. But not anymore. He'd weighed the pros and cons, fought to understand his own feelings, and he had finally decided to just go for it.
He was going to ask Zoom out tonight if it killed him.
Pulling his earbuds out of his ears, Zoom said, "Hey, Vert. Everything okay?"
"Yeah," said Vert, his smile brightened and he forced himself not to fidget. "I just uh, wanted to ask you something."
Zoom tilted his head to one side, brow furrowed. "Oh?"
"Yeah, yeah," said Vert. He took a deep breath. "Listen, uh, this is probably going to sound crazy." He rubbed the back of his neck. "But uh. I wanted to. You see…"
Zoom raised an eyebrow at Vert, an amused smile spreading across his face. "You okay?"
Vert blinked. "What?"
"Are you okay?" asked Zoom.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I just really wanted to ask you something," said Vert. His shoulders slumped. He sighed. There was no way he was going to be able to do this. He'd tried so hard but now, standing in front of Zoom, he couldn't find the words.
"Vert?" asked Zoom. And the way his frowned at Vert, all concern and worry, was downright adorable.
Vert sighed. "Never mind." He walked passed Zoom and headed back for the elevator.
Ten steps later, Zoom caught his wrist. Vert turned and looked at him.
"You remember once, how I said patience was a virtue and you said it wasn't one of yours?" asked Zoom. He didn't let go of Vert's wrist.
"Yeah," said Vert. He frowned. What was going on?"
Zoom's cheeks were pink as he spoke. "Well, it is one of mine. But even I'm not this patient, Vert."
Vert paled. No. There was no way Zoom had figured it out. No way Zoom knew. Vert had worked so hard to keep his feelings to himself. So very, very hard.
"What?" Vert managed, his voice a terrified croak.
Zoom took a deep breath, grinned at him, and said, "Do you wanna go out some time? Like, on a date?" Now, Zoom released Vert's wrist. Zoom bit his lip and fidgeted with his hands.
Vert stared. Jaw dropped and eyes wide. "You… I…" He shook his head to clear the pounding in his ears.
"Oh," said Zoom. His face fell. And wait, no, Vert hadn't said no, that's not why he'd shaken his head.
"Yes!" said Vert, perhaps a bit too loudly and enthusiastically. But he didn't care. Couldn't care. This was Zoom and he was not going to lose this opportunity.
Zoom lit up at Vert's words. "Seriously?" he asked, a wide grin on his face.
"Seriously," said Vert. He could scarcely breathe over the heavy pounding of his heart.
"Awesome," said Zoom, pumping a fist into the air. "Friday? Dinner?"
Vert grinned. "Sounds great."
Zoom bounced on his feet. Then, biting his lip, he stepped forward. Zoom came up on his toes, pecked Vert's lips, and danced backward a few steps. Vert stared.
"See you then," said Zoom, somewhere between shy and cocky. Then he turned and headed for the stairs.
Once Zoom was out of sight, Vert leaned against the Saber and grinned. He let his fingers brush his lips, which still tingled from the split second contact.
Yeah, he was in way over his head. But he found, at the moment, that he didn't much care.
Four: Sparring Practice
After being thoroughly trounced by the Vandals in physical combat and saving the zone by the skin of their teeth, Vert decided that the team (including himself) was in need of some sparring practice and some new moves.
Thus, Zoom had been elected sensei for this training day, in order to teach every a few new moves in case they ended up in another physical fight.
"I don't see why this is necessary," said Stanford, his voice rising into a whine. "We all made it out of the battle zone in one piece."
Vert sighed. "We did this time. But it was too close for my comfort. We need to practice. We won't always have our cars to rely on – that zone proved as much," he replied.
"Yes, because this isn't one big excuse to roll around on the mats with your boyfriend," said Stanford. "I see through your excuses, love."
Vert flushed. Felt the tips of his ears and his neck go red. "That's not even remotely what this is about!" he protested. But even as he said, his brain betrayed him with some particularly vivid mental images. He shook them off, rubbing a hand over his mouth.
"Stanford, lay off," said Agura.
Spinner added, "Yeah, Stanford. If you're going to tease Vert, talk about how absolutely and hilariously awkward he is around Zoom when he's shirtless."
"Or how Zoom can steal his wallet out of his back pocket without Vert noticing," added Sherman.
Agura smirked. "Or how Zoom has been staring at Vert for like five minutes and no one's noticed," she added.
All heads immediately swung toward Zoom, who was leaning nonchalantly against the Reverb. He raised an eyebrow when the others turned to stare at him, but didn't seem at all bothered by the looks.
"What? I'm dating him," said Zoom. He grinned and folded his arms. "I'm allowed to stare."
Vert felt his face growing hotter and hotter. He scrubbed a hand through his hair and sighed. "Guys, come on," said Vert. "We have work today."
"Sure thing," said Zoom. He pushed off the Reverb and walked to the centre of the mats they'd all laid down. The others all fell in line around him, watching.
"All right," said Zoom. "I'm going to teach you guys some basic Aikido moves. Aikido is all about taking your opponent's strength and momentum and using it against them. The Vandals are bigger than all of us." He paused. "You know, except for Sherman." That got a few chuckles. "So you need to know how to make that work against them."
Spinner said, "But what about Muay Thai? I want to know how to punch someone through a wall!" He grinned.
Zoom shook his head. "Muay Thai is the most deadly martial art known to man. Even I don't rely on it one hundred percent of the time. Muay Thai is all about strength and power and brutality. If you have to cripple someone to take them out of a fight, then you do."
Spinner paled. "Seriously?"
"Seriously," said Zoom. "Agura, you wanna come over here? We'll show off a basic throw."
Agura stepped into the centre area. She came at Zoom hard and fast. Zoom side-stepped her, caught her wrist, and flipped her onto her back.
"Oooh, that looked like it hurt," said Spinner.
Agura grimaced and stood. "I'm good."
"Let's get to work!" said Zoom.
For the next hour, Zoom walked everyone through a handful of throws, blocks, and redirects. Bit by bit, each of them of them picked up the moves. Spinner was surprisingly good at the throws. Within twenty minutes, he'd tossed Stanford twice, which had led to a lot of laughter.
At the end of the hour, Zoom got everyone off the mats again and grinned at them.
"For this last part, we're going to bring it all together," he said. His eyes fell on Vert. "Vert, you wanna join me?" If possible, his grin widened.
Vert swallowed hard. There was a mischievous light in Zoom's eyes. A quirk to his grin that made Vert a little worried. Maybe for his safety, maybe for his dignity. He wasn't sure which. With a hesitant nod, he joined Zoom on the mats.
"This can only end badly," said Spinner.
Stanford was smirking. "Someone get a camera."
Vert sighed. Yeah, he'd expected them to say as much. But he'd hoped they'd refrain. Or at least keep the less… PG comments to themselves.
"I'm going to come at you, your job is to deflect me, then attack back," said Zoom. "If you can manage a good hit, you win. If I pin you, I win. Deal?"
Vert raised an eyebrow. "I don't even have to pin you? I just have to hit you?" he echoed.
Zoom's grin turned a touch mischievous. "Yup."
This could only end badly.
Vert nodded and shifted into a defensive stance.
Zoom grinned and came at Vert.
Vert dodged the first hit by going left. Another back-step to avoid the second. A kick over his shoulders had him flailing to the ground. He scrambled back. Avoided a downward kick. Jumped back to his feet.
Zoom got faster and faster. Vert realized, quite suddenly, that Zoom had been holding back a lot lately.
Vert ducked the next hit and blocked a kick. Zoom's eyes went wide. Vert grinned, shoved back his leg, and came at Zoom.
But Zoom was just too fast. He dodged all of Vert's hits without even trying, dancing Vert across the mats with ease. Then, just as Vert thought he had Zoom, Zoom ducked, gave a spinning kick and-
Then Vert was on his back. Zoom above him with a smirk on his face.
"Hi," said Zoom. Vert stared up at Zoom, unable to find any words. Faintly, he was aware of the snickers around him.
"Uh," said Vert.
Zoom leaned back, stood in that languid, effortlessly grateful way of his. He held out a hand to Vert.
"Looks like I win," said Zoom.
Vert took Zoom's hand and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. "Looks like," he said. "So, uh, what were the stakes?"
Zoom grinned. Let his hips shift as he stepped back. "I'll think of something."
Vert swallowed hard. Oh, he didn't stand a chance.
It was maybe two in the morning on a cool night. Vert had all the windows open in the garage to let the breeze blow through. Next to him, the radio played a languid song, reminiscent of the music his mom used to teach him to dance.
Vert picked up the radio – wireless, thankfully – and carried it out into the night air. He set it down and leaned against the outside of the warehouse. He stared up at the stars and let a small smile spread across his face. He spotted a handful of constellations – Ursa Major, Orion, even a couple of astrology signs.
Standing here, out in the desert, with only the radio for company, Vert felt at peace. All thoughts of the Vandals, Sark, and battle zones far away.
A soft cough to his left. Vert turned his head and saw Zoom standing there in his pyjamas. A loose t-shirt and a pair of shorts. Vert nodded to Zoom.
"Hey," said Zoom, his voice a bit hoarse from sleep.
"Hey," said Vert. His voice was soft in the quiet expanse of the night.
Zoom wrapped his arms around himself. "You're up late."
"Yeah, couldn't sleep," said Vert. He looked back up to the stars. "Good work today, with the Red Sentients." It'd been a close battle. Zoom had managed to take out two of the Red Sentients by himself when the others had gotten cornered.
Zoom nodded. "Thanks." He bit his lip. Neither man said anything for a few minutes. The silence wasn't necessarily awkward, but Vert didn't think it was terribly comfortable either. Vert was still keyed up from the battle zone. From watching Spinner and Sherman get tossed from the Buster into the dirt, to watching Stanford's guns get sliced in half, it had been a crazy zone. If it hadn't been for Zoom, Vert didn't think they'd have gotten out in one piece.
"What are you listening to?" asked Zoom. Vert glanced at Zoom.
"Hmm?" he said.
Zoom nodded to the radio. "The music. What is it?"
"Oh!" said Vert. He tipped his head to listen. "It's an oldies' station, my mom used to love it. I just like how peaceful it is."
Zoom swayed a bit, grinning. "Feels like you can dance to it." He glanced at Vert. "Slow dance, I mean."
Vert bit his lip. Yeah, it did. Was that a hint? Probably. "Do you want to?" asked Vert.
Zoom blinked. "What?"
Vert took a deep breath. "Do you want to dance?" he asked again.
"Yeah, sure," said Zoom. His smile softened – a grin turned into something quieter and infinitely more affectionate. Vert felt his heart stop. Felt his tongue grow thick and clumsy in his mouth. He swallowed hard and licked his lips.
Taking a step off the building, Vert held out his hand to Zoom. With a smile, Zoom took it and let Vert lead him a few steps into the desert. Vert pulled Zoom close, feeling the tips of his ears heat. Zoom smiled at him, two parts shy and one part hopeful.
Humming in time with the music, Vert lead Zoom in a little dance. The two twirled together, shifting back and forth as they spun in the desert. Zoom slipped his arms around Vert's neck, pulling him closer. Vert let his hands drift to Zoom's waist.
In that moment, Vert didn't think about the fate of the world or the war they were still fighting. He thought only of Zoom, of this moment, and of how tight his chest felt, looking into Zoom's eyes as they danced in the desert.
Then, Zoom leaned up, closing the last few inches between them. He pressed his lips to Vert's. Vert stopped dancing. Tugged Zoom flush against him and deepened the kiss. Zoom made a noise in the back of his throat and tugged at Vert's hair.
The two pulled back, breathing hard.
"Wow," said Vert. He pretended he didn't hear how hoarse and husky his voice was. Zoom smiled at him. The softness in his eyes took away Vert's voice once more.
"We should head inside," said Zoom.
Vert blinked. "What?"
"It's late," said Zoom. His fingers threaded through Vert's hair absently. "We should head inside. Go to sleep. Got a war to win, remember?"
Vert blinked. "Right, right."
Zoom traced one hand back around to Vert's face and ran his thumb down Vert's chin. He stepped back, letting Vert's hands fall from his waist.
"It's been a long day," said Zoom, tilting his head. The softness in his voice gave way to his usual mischief. "I could use the company."
Vert blinked. Then he blinked again. Realization dawned as Zoom turned and walked back into the warehouse. Vert caught the tail end of a smirk forming on Zoom's face.
Company while he slept? Vert flushed hard. Oh.
Well. He could do that.
Picking up the radio, Vert followed Zoom back into the warehouse, ears burning and heart pounding in his throat.
Plus One: Post-Battle Confessions
It had been a long day. The vehicles were half destroyed, Sage was collapsed in her recharging chamber, and everyone was draped across the furniture. Spinner and AJ were passed out, Tezz had curled himself up in the armchair, and the others were sprawled either on the other couches or on the floor.
Zoom was snuggled up against Vert's side on the loveseat, already fast asleep. It was going on eleven o'clock, and Vert thought he might be the only one awake.
Shifting, Vert wrapped his arm around Zoom's shoulders and let Zoom's head fall to his shoulder. He rubbed his thumb in a small circle on Zoom's shoulder and stared into the blank TV screen. A hundred thoughts drifted passed his head. Two battle zones in one day was brutal, but that also meant two fusions. It'd ended up being him and Zoom both times, due to the battle zones, and he knew they'd made it out by the skin of their teeth both times.
Seeing Zoom like this, exhausted and tense, even in sleep, reminded Vert of just how long they'd been fighting. It was over a year. Closer to two. They'd all grown close in that time, and while some battle zones were easier, others made them fear they'd walk out of the zone one member short of the Battle Force.
Vert tightened his hold on Zoom. His mind went back to the moment the Chopper had been wrecked. It's front wheels had been completely sliced off by Kyburi. Over and over he saw those few seconds replay in his head. The wheels getting chopped off the bike. Zoom going flying into Kyburi's vehicle. And her bearing down on Zoom.
All because the Skyknife had unfused at exactly the wrong time.
"Vert?" The voice was a mumble against his shoulder. Vert turned to see Zoom peering up at him with sleep heavy eyes. "You okay?"
Vert nodded. "Yeah," he whispered. He kissed Zoom's forehead. "I'm okay."
Zoom peeled himself off of Vert to stare at him. He tilted his head and furrowed his brow, lips pursed in that way they did when he was confused.
"I know today sucked," said Zoom. He slipped his hand in Vert's free one and squeezed. "But we're all here, right? That's what matters, dude."
Vert pulled his arm off of Zoom's shoulders. Gently brushed a few stray hairs from Zoom's face.
"Yeah, that's what matters," said Vert. His voice was tender, his eyes more so. He looked at Zoom and found that the tightness in his chest and the pounding of his heart wasn't so terrifying anymore. It was comforting to know that he cared so much. And as bad as this war was – as hard as they had to fight – he couldn't bring himself to regret it. He'd made too many friends, done too many amazing things, had too many incredible memories to regret it all.
And he'd met Zoom. And, god, he'd have never met Zoom if it wasn't for Sage and this war.
"You sure you're okay?" asked Zoom.
Vert leaned in and kissed Zoom, soft and gentle. He pulled back and rested his forehead against Zoom's.
"Yeah, I'm sure," said Vert. This time, he didn't bother to pretend his voice wasn't hoarse with emotion.
"Good," said Zoom. He squeezed Vert's hand again. Vert cupped the back of Zoom's head and stroked his hair.
And in that moment, staring into Zoom's eyes in a room full of sleeping friends, tucked onto a couch in the middle of nowhere, Vert knew he didn't want to be in any other place.
"I love you," said Vert, and his voice was hoarse and soft and thick all at once.
Zoom froze. Stared at Vert with wide eyes and parted lips. Vert stared back. There was nothing more to say. Nothing more to hide.
Then, Zoom broke into a wide grin. He closed the gap between them and kissed Vert with enough enthusiasm to throw Vert back against the couch. He climbed onto Vert's lap and cupped Vert's face with both hands.
Vert's hands fell to Zoom's waist and tugged him closer. The kiss deepened. Heat pulsed through their bodies – centred on their lips and hands.
When they pulled back, they stared at each other and tried to catch their breath.
"I love you too," breathed Zoom.
Vert grinned. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," said Zoom, and he grinned as well.
And Vert realized he'd been right, earlier. In this room, with this man, there was no other place he'd rather be.