The shirt is too yellow. It is the sort of bright garish color that looks good on exactly no one and it is too large, reaching almost down to Bert's knees. Across its front, someone has scribbled 'cunt' in black marker.
When Branden tells him to get ready, Bert turns around and climbs into the old wardrobe they have emptied to get better acoustics. The back of his shirt reads 'fuck my ass'. Quinn tries not to stare.
Jepha, cross legged on the ground, is fiddling with the tape recorder.
“I'm ready now,” Bert says.
Afterwards, Bert coughs into his hand, an abrupt hacking sound. When he moves his hand away, the palm is speckled with blood. Bert unconsciously wipes it on his left sleeve, where it leaves a tiny, reddish-brown smudge just above his biceps. Quinn has the strangest urge to touch it, his belly constricting sharply, unwantedly. No one says anything for a whole minute, but in Quinn's head Bert is still screaming. It sounds like a promise.
“That was– ,” Jepha says softly, “that was– wow.”
“So,” Bert says, “does this mean I'm in?”
They are sharing a secret smoke, sitting in that blind spot on Quinn's parent's back porch with their legs touching. Bert is rolling the cigarette expertly, folding tobacco into paper with easy fingers. When he takes a drag, his brows furrow in concentration.
Bert's fingers are so small.
Bert's presence is still unfamiliar enough that it sometimes catches Quinn unawares just how small Bert is. Bert acts like he is nine foot tall most of the time but he really is just this tiny little fuck, scrawny, sort of unfortunate looking, with bitten down fingernails and unwashed hair that just manages to cover his ears.
“What, dumbass?” Bert says and rolls his eyes.
Quinn quickly looks down at his shoes. “Nothing, asshole,” he says. “Gimme the cigarette,” he adds after a moment.
Bert doesn't move. When Quinn looks up, Bert's eyes are darker than he remembers them being, but maybe it is just the light.
“Wait,” Bert says, although Quinn isn't moving at all. And then: “Like this.”
Bert takes another drag. He turns around and for a second Quinn thinks he's going to blow smoke in my eyes, the little shit, but then Bert closes his eyes and presses his lips flush against Quinn's, soft and hot and a little sticky. Quinn is too stunned to react, his hands contracting compulsively on the rough fabric of his jeans, until finally Bert touches his shoulder, quick, reassuring, and Quinn opens his mouth without even realizing.
Quinn inhales. This was in Bert's mouth, Quinn thinks, and then: shit.
Bert draws away and Quinn coughs a little, the rush of blood in his ears suddenly loud and cacophonous. His lungs are burning. His face is burning.
“Moron,” Bert says, but it almost sounds shy.
All that Bert brings with him is a backpack. It is blue, or rather it was blue originally and is now various shades of dirt. There's a safety pin holding the fabric together where the zipper used to be. On the flap, Bert has scribbled a little heart in sharpie.
“Hi,” Bert says, and smiles blindingly. His knuckles around the backpack's handles are bone-white.
“Just put your stuff wherever you want,” Quinn says and makes a sprawling gesture. It's not like he has any particular system as to where he throws his stuff. He briefly wonders whether he should apologize because he didn't clean his room, but is afraid Bert will laugh at him if he does.
Quinn has known Bert for three weeks, maybe three and a half.
Bert comfortably squats down on a heap of Quinn's dirty t-shirts and starts digging through his ratty backpack.
Three weeks, maybe three and a half, and Bert moving in already seems like the most natural thing in the world, or maybe not natural at all. Necessary. There's a difference. Quinn has known Bert for three weeks and already he knows Bert is different, Bert is special. Bert is important. Bert will grab this shitty little town by the neck and fight and spit and rage his way out of here. Scream his way out of here, and Quinn and Jepha and Branden will be going with him, follow in his wake, hang on to the uneven strands of his dirty hair if they have to.
It's a feeling like running against a wall, and finally, implausibly, feeling the wall give way.
“Hey, “ Bert says from the floor, “hey, hey, hey, Quinny-Quinn. Quinnster. Quinnifer.”
“What?” Quinn asks.
“Don't zone out on me, fucktard,” Bert says and smiles, really smiles, open and rare.
“Dick,” Quinn returns automatically, and smiles right back.
When Quinn wakes, Bert's sharp little chin is digging into the spot on his back where his shoulder blades almost meet beneath his skin. Outside it is still the deep dark of the small hours. Bert's sleep-soft breath on his neck is damp and warm.
Shit, Quinn thinks. Shit, shit, shit, panic rising in his belly, or maybe something else, he can't tell.
Quinn does not move away.
(Later, much later, one time when he is so drunk that he actually tries to snort Dan's dirty socks up his nose but not quite drunk enough to try and attempt making a Zelda sandwich again, for which Jepha is really very grateful, Quinn will admit that he didn't sleep that night, just listened to their combined breaths, like an anchor, like the only real thing in the world.)
(Later, much later, Bert will admit that so did he.)