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In whatever form it manifests

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Things weren’t going to be perfect. Realistically, Jake knew that. But they were… better, weren’t they? That’s what he told Rich last night at least, when he turned up at his door balling his fists at his sides, mumbling curses and apologies - and, well, if Rich had turned up at his door with damp cheeks and a red nose, Jake certainly didn't say anything.

It had been a few months since both of them had been discharged from the hospital (Rich against Jake’s wishes because he’d never been better, dude.) and Rich spent most of his time at Jake’s apartment after a two week grace period in which he completely ignored him.

Jake managed to put that to rest very quickly though, because the week after when Rich had showed up swearing and mumbling apologies, repeatedly telling Jake he didn't deserve him, Jake had kissed him to shut him up. And, well, the feelings were definitely mutual, Rich didn't have to waste time confirming that.

After the hospital, their bones were only a little broken but, damage wise, they were the least of their worries. Jake was out of the casts but his legs were still weak - he kept crutches and a wheelchair in the apartment but he tried to use them as little as possible.

He wasn’t sleeping well at all, and he was reminded of this whenever Chloe poked him awake when she took him to physiotherapy.

He didn’t eat much unless someone was visiting him, mainly because he found it too tiring to get to and from the kitchen for something that seemed trivial.

He still wasn’t used to living alone and often had kicks of anxiety just remembering it (Although the smaller apartment didn't drive him quite so insane as the house did. There were no memories here of his parents and he liked to see it as a clean slate. A very cramped, kind of depressed looking one. But still a clean slate).

Jake also knew that Rich was sleeping less, maybe even less than him. Every time he saw him, the bags under his eyes seemed to get heavier and heavier until he was almost black and blue, but the guy would just brush it off ever persistent with the I’m fine rhetoric.

He held himself differently too, that was a big one for Jake because it meant Rich wasn’t just tired, he was uncomfortable. He looked like he was constantly trying to revert back into a relaxed position, but instead he got more restless every time, often scratching the marks on his arms and gripping at his hair.

On top of the nervous habits, Jake often caught him trying to hide things (bruises, burns, tired eyes), mainly his lisp.

Which, okay, is understandable - Jake knew what the kids were like at school, he knew if Rich was scrawnier and didn't have a reputation as that kid he’d get the shit kicked out of every day just for talking weird.

No. Not weird. Rich wasn’t weird. Rich was amazing. Jake had to remind him of that, so, usually when it was just the two of them, Jake made sure to encourage Rich to say as many S’s as possible, phrasing the conversation so expertly sometimes he was even proud of himself.

That’s what he was doing last night. When they were sat on his bed, Rich tracing circles on the sheet with calloused fingers and Jake trying desperately to wipe the pained expression off his face.

To no avail. Rich just… wasn't going to talk.

“You, uh… want something to drink man? Maybe some soda?” He tried to laugh but it died on his tongue when Rich just shook his head, his eyes still on the circle he had all but engraved in the mattress.

“Are you tired?” Jake gestured to the bed underneath them, “What’s mine is yours, dude.” Nothing.

Jake sighed, exasperated - tired from therapy, tired from not talking, getting tired of Rich.

Don't lose it, he clearly doesn’t need your shit right now Dillinger.

“Do you want to talk about, then? I, uh…” He scratched his head, then decided there was only one real reason that Rich could be here. The same as always. “I’m guessing it’s your Dad.”

He’d expected eye contact, at least. If not then maybe a flinch - an indication that Rich really didn't want to talk about it. Instead he was greeted by a huffed laugh and an ever so slight eye-roll. Then nothing. Full circle. Every time.

Then he was laughing. Jake was laughing. Jake had lost it.

“Jesus fucking christ, man.” He tried to stand up quickly, stumbled and cursed. His legs almost giving out. That’s when Rich finally decided to look him the eye, starting to move to support him.

No.” Jake hissed, leaning against the door-frame for support. Rich didn't move. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not-”

“Neither are you!” He hadn’t meant to scream it, and he was grateful the walls weren’t thin. His hand was balled in a fist against the frame and his chest felt tight. Rich seemed to shrink under his gaze and Jake lowered his voice, but kept a stern tone. “Neither are you-” his voice cracked, fuck, “neither are you, and you won't tell me why.”

Still nothing. He tried to stand up straight and keep his voice steady. He was shaking, but he didn't know why. “We- We’re-” deep breath. “We’re together now right? We tell each other things. We open up.” The word ‘together’ seemed to pique Rich’s interest. “Just like before.” And with ‘before’ it was gone again.

He heard Rich sigh and he mirrored it. God, he was tired, He was just so tired.

“Whatever, man.” He said, his voice smaller than he thought was possible; he tried to swallow down the lump in his throat. “I’m sleeping on the couch.” Because, god, he might be an asshole, and a tired one, but he wasn't gonna kick his best friend onto the couch.

He only just heard it then, when he was reaching for his crutches in the corner.

“I love you.”

He wasn't sure why his head shot up. Or why his mouth hung open. Or why he shuffled closer until he was sat next to Rich on his bed, staring at him.

Of course he loved him. They were a couple, that's… that’s what couples do. They love each other.

But of course, as always with them, it wasn’t that simple. And Jake realised just that when Rich started to cry. Right there. Right in front of him. He’d never done that before. He had never cried in front of him before.

Rich had never said ‘I love you’ before. Not to anyone, Jake thought, not even his family.

“I’m sorry,” Rich was hiccuping and his face was red. Jake didn't need to be told twice. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’msorryI’mso-” When he became more and more hysterical, Jake wrapped his arms around his shoulders, bringing him into his chest. “I’m sorry, please don't- don’t go-”

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

“Stop it, stop, I’m not going anywhere.” Jake didn't know what he was telling him to stop doing, crying or apologising, but he wanted him to stop. Rich was balling one of his fists in Jake’s t-shirt and trying to stifle his crying with his other hand - he didn't want Jake to see him like this, shaking, struggling to breathe.

Jake was quiet, thinking it best for Rich to just let it out.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that, I- I shouldn’t have- oh, shit, I-”

“Hey...” Jake pinched Rich’s chin, and lifted his head up, suddenly feeling a very heavy, very uncomfortable weight on his shoulders at the look on Rich’s face. He was terrified. “Look at me...”

Rich slowly manoeuvred himself into an upright position, shifting ever so slightly closer, trusting Jake to tell him if he was uncomfortable. Jake wasn’t. Rich wiped his eyes and sniffed before clutching at the hand by his face. “Fuck, I-”

“I love you too, you dumbass.” Rich froze, but tightened his grip on Jake’s hand. “And,” Jake breathed a shaky laugh and smiled wide, if a little strained, suddenly feeling his own face heat up and tears forming in his eyes. “I swear to god, if that was another apology, I’ll kick your ass.” He swiped his thumb under Rich’s eyes, wiping away what remained of his tears. “You ain’t too slick for that.”

A laugh bubbled in Rich’s throat, but tears started falling again and he wiped them away (deciding to let the ‘ain’t’ thing slide for the moment.) Jake took the moment as an opportunity to discreetly blink back tears of his own. Of course he could cry in front of Rich but he still didn’t particularly like to. He moved his hand to the back of Rich’s neck, carding his fingers through his hair. “Is that what all this was about?” He breathed. “You… not talking to me?” He tried not to sound relieved, not until he was completely sure.

Rich laced his fingers with Jake’s, smiling. Smiling. He was smiling.“I, uh…” He finally looked at him, really looked. And Jake took in every one of his features - his eyes were shining under nothing but the dim glow of Jake’s lamp. His hair, messed up and falling in his face, tickling his nose. His lean shoulders, no longer shaking but bent in Jake’s direction. The burns on his face, fading but still present, looking a lot less angry in this atmosphere. His cheeks, lightly dusted with freckles and scars, finally, finally, pulled into a smile. “I didn’t want to say anything I’d regret and, well…” He trailed off, coughing lightly.

Jake felt his heart twinge slightly, “Do…” Rich looked at him. Jake frowned. “Do you regret it?”

Rich’s smile faltered then and his body sagged slightly, “Jakey D…” He untangled his hand from Jake’s and brought it to his cheek before moving forward, perhaps a little too quickly.

Then his hand was in Jake’s hair and Jake was moving his own hand to Rich’s waist, pulling him onto his lap, his legs still hanging off the edge, and kissing him.

“No,” Rich breathed, when he could, furrowing his brow. “No, no, no of course I don’t.”

Jake smiled between Rich’s, arguably impatient, kisses. “Good,” he breathed, “good, because, god- oh my god Rich I love you too,” He says it more like a realisation and he actually fucking gasps into the next kiss. “I love you so much.

And, maybe, maybe it was too soon to say it. Jake wouldn't know - his only other serious relationship was Chloe and, from the start, he’d resigned himself to the fact that, while he really, really, liked Chloe, he could never love her.

He didn't have any examples. He didn't have anyone to ask for advice. But, shit, he’d be damned if he didn't love Rich, whether it be whatever-the-fuck-he’s-feeling-right-now or something simpler.

In whatever form it manifests; He loves him.

When the incessant kissing finally subsides to tired whispers of thank you's and I'm sorry's and I love you's, Jake moves Rich off of him and crawls into bed, ignoring the aching in his thighs.

He checks his watch before taking it off and chuckling, 3 am.

“What is it?” Rich says around a yawn, turning so his back was to Jake, removing his t-shirt. He leaned over himself slightly, tugging his binder over his head (with a little help from Jake) before replacing it with a sports bra he had brought over. Rich yanked his shirt back over his head before pulling back the covers on the other side.

“Nothing,” Jake says. He stretches his arms before pulling Rich into bed, smiling. “We’re just lightweights, is all.”

Rich smiles as he turns on his side to face Jake, tangling their feet hesitantly. “Is-is this okay?”

“Of course it is, why wouldn't it be?” then he’s being pulled closer so his head rests on Jake’s chest, “Is this?”

Rich laughs, burying his face into Jake’s t-shirt and clinging to him lightly. He sighs. “Why wouldn't it be?”


Jake doesn't sleep that night, as per usual. But for once it wasn't the result of a panic attack, or the deafening quiet in his home.

No, this time was because Richard Goranski was snoring. It wasn't loud, and, hell, it was the opposite of annoying, because it meant that Jake knew he was sleeping - for the first time in months.

Jake was up with the sun, and he was starving. He untangled himself from Rich as carefully as he could, earning a grunt here and there but luckily no sign of him waking up. He watched the sun creep over Rich’s partially bare back and shoulders as he buried his face into the pillow. Everything was fucking baller-

Until he stood up, blacked out for a second, and almost hit the deck. Shit, he was wrecked. His only thoughts before he fell heavily back onto the bed was, thank god Rich wasn't there the first time it happened (he almost choked on a sub when he was out with Christine) and thank god he hadn’t seen it happen just then.

“...Jakey…?” Oh.

“Hey…” Jake breathed out sharply, gripping the mattress. “Hey, I’m OK - really!” he added at Rich’s disbelieving pout before closing his eyes until he stopped seeing stars. “I’m good, I’m just…”

“An idiot.” He whipped his head around so fast that the dizziness returned and he quickly shut his eyes. “And a hypocrite.” He heard Rich moving, shuffling, probably getting dressed. “I know you haven’t slept or eaten properly in days and if you can call me out on my shit then I can call you out on yours.”

He sighed. “I’ll be fine, I just need-” He stopped talking and rubbing his eyes when he felt something nudge his foot. Rich was gripping the wheelchair so tightly his knuckles were white, and Jake could tell he was still apprehensive about what happened the night before, more so now he was fully awake. That, however, didn't stop him from being a stubborn pain in the ass. “Richie, c’mon, babe, I don’t need that I can do it myself. I’m… fucking… fine.” He slurred.

“You just passed out on your feet and your stomach woke me up at five sounding like something from Alien vs. Predator,” Rich stumbled over the last words and Jake smiled, seeing that he was still a little embarrassed that The Real Richard Goranski was, in fact, a huge nerd. “You are not fucking fine and we’re going out for breakfast.”

As nervous as Rich looked, he sounded confident, and Jake knew he wasn't backing down. He also, as much as he’d like to deny it, loved the idea of eating a real breakfast with Rich, not some shitty burnt toast with cheap coffee that tasted like an ashtray.

He would have preferred it not to be in the wheelchair though. But, again, as much as he’d like to deny it, his legs were unbelievably sore from working them too hard, his head was swimming and it would be a lot faster to get around that way. He sighed and nodded towards Rich, already starting to shift into the chair. “Fine.”

“Do you-?” Rich started, a hand hovering over his boyfriend's shoulder, ready to help.

“I don’t.” Jake cut him off. Wincing as he settled back, gazing up at Rich. “I hate this thing.”

Rich scratched his neck and looked at him, also upset by their situation. “I know- I know you do but… But I’ve- You’ve got to take care of yourself man, you…” He huffed. And apologised. Again.

Jake rolled his eyes and leant forwards, snaking his arm around Rich’s waist and pulling him closer. He gazed up at his slightly surprised expression and hummed, still delirious with his lack of sleep, but competent enough to register the blush creeping up the smaller boy’s neck.

(Jake knew Rich secretly liked it when he was in the wheelchair, not because he knew he was hurting and needed it of course, but because he was finally the taller one of the two. It made him feel much better about his height, which Jake always told him didn't matter but, when you're 6'2”, it really doesn't matter. It was just nice to be the taller one sometimes.)

“How about you just tell me what you told me last night and I’ll forgive you- even though you’ve got nothing to be sorry for, man.” He squeezed Rich’s hip lightly. The blush reached his ears, but Jake still had a knot of anxiety in the pit of his stomach that needed to unravel. “That was it, right? Last night, I mean? That’s all you were worried about, nothing… nothing happened with your dad?” He regrets it as soon as he says it, cursing at himself for ruining a perfect day before it’s even begun.

But Rich just beams and bows his head, pressing a kiss into Jake’s hair, which must be a mess.

“I’m fine.” And for once, Jake believes him. Believes him and that stupid adorable dopey look he’s got on his face. “And… Jake?”

Jake’s cheeks are hurting from smiling and he can feel his cheeks going pink, so he does what any smooth motherfucker would do in that situation: he buries his face into Rich, at the perfect height to lean into his chest, to hide his blush. “Hmm?”

“I love you.”

Jake smiled again.

“Well, I was hoping for an all-expenses-paid trip to Sbarro on top of breakfast, but- ow!” Jake yelped dramatically as Rich flicked him on the head, before laughing again.

He tentatively wrapped his arms around Jake’s shoulders - ever wary of the scarring - bowing his head to plant another kiss right on the spot he’d hit.

Jake pressed his lips to the arm that was pressed against his cheek, smiling and closing his eyes.

Undoubtedly, the happiest he’d ever been. Perfect.

“I love you, too.”