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I'll keep all my emotions right here (and then one day I'll die)

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Mako walked offstage. A couple of people noticed him leaving and clapped politely. The rest were too wrapped up in their own conversations, having decided early on that he wasn’t funny enough to pay attention to.

He could have stopped and get a free drink at the bar- the gig didn’t come with pay, but it did come with that as a perk.

It was a bad idea, though. The last time he’d stuck around after a show, he’d been thrown out of the bar for being too rowdy. And he hadn’t even been drunk. It had been completely unfair.

Still, the last thing he needed was the bar owner deciding not to book him again.

Instead, Mako started walking home, checking his phone as he did. There was a message from Aria, asking how the show went, and eight new fish memes in the Chime group chat.

Mako concentrated for a couple of minutes on finding a good fish meme to add to the chat. When that was done, he finally replied to Aria, “killed it as usual *fingerguns*”.

She replied back a moment later, “😎👉👉”.

Mako sent back “show off” before locking his phone and putting it in his pocket.

Of course, he didn’t even manage to walk for two minutes before he pulled his phone out again. Walking alone was boring.

He’d planned to just scroll through twitter, but the group chat had new messages, so he looked there first.

Cass (Mako glanced at the screen name, noting that they were using he/they today) was trying to round up people for a bar night at RAMS.

Mako considered whether to go. He wasn’t really feeling it, but he didn’t really have a reason not to go.

Lazer Ted texted Mako directly before he responded to the group chat, “yo I know ur not busy after ur gig 2nite get ur ass down to the club”.

“I could be busy with my new groupies” Mako replied.

“Aw man if you have groupies bring them to the club, they’ll join my groupies, we’ll be co-groupie-ees”.

There wasn’t really any possible response to that other than “ok sure ill come”.

Mako didn’t bother responding to the "😎🕴️👯🍻🐙" that Lazer Ted sent back, instead switching over to the group chat and saying that he’s in.

RAMS was on the same subway line as Mako’s place, just a couple of stops down, so he didn’t have to change course. He got on the subway and pulled up his notes app. His current material was about as punched up as it was going to get, but that just meant that he needed to write new stuff, better stuff.

Sitting on a train trying to be funny alone sucked, though. This part was always easier back when he was doing it with Larry.

That line of thought was bullshit, though, so he went back to trying to write jokes.

By the time the train got to his stop, he’d written exactly zero jokes, and he was ready for a drink.

It only took him a couple of minutes to walk to RAMS. It took longer to actually find his friends inside the crowded bar. He finally spotted Lazer Ted and Cass at a table.

“Hey!” Mako said, grabbing the last empty stool at the table.

“Mako!” Cass greeted him, looking relieved. Mako got the vibe that Lazer Ted kind of annoyed Cass, for some reason.

“Hey man,” Lazer Ted said, “how was the gig?”

Mako stopped himself from wincing. Instead, he shrugged and said, “Same as usual. It was a hard crowd tonight, but my jokes were fire as always.”

“They just don’t appreciate what they got. Don’t know a star when they see one,” Lazer Ted said. “I get that. That’s why I got so many businesses. Got to get the name out there, got to stay on that grind.”

“Yeah, Mako. It’s hard out there on the stand-up circuit. You’re good though, you just need to keep working at getting your name recognition up like Lazer Ted said,” Cass added.

Mako didn’t point out that Cass knew nothing about raising name recognition. He knew that that would be going too far, that they’re just trying to help. Cass would probably give anything to have less name recognition, at this point.

“Sure,” he said noncommittally. “Am I early or something? Where’s everyone else?”

“Aria said her and Jacqui are running late, and AuDy’s here somewhere, grabbing us drinks. You stole their chair, by the way.”

Mako rolled his eyes. “I need to grab myself a drink anyways, I’ll duke it out with AuDy when we get back.”

Mako left before Cass could suggest an alternative plan that didn’t involve leaving them alone with Lazer Ted. Cass needed more Lazer Ted in their life, to counteract his family’s influence on him.

Mako glanced around the bar, finally spotting AuDy. It helped that his friend was tall and fairly distinctive looking.

Mako caught AuDy’s eye and tried to push through the crowd to get to them. It was difficult at first, then promptly became easier when AuDy made their way over to him and then pulled him through the crowd to their previous spot. AuDy had a way of moving through crowds as though they didn’t exist. They just expected everyone to move out of the way for them, and people inexplicably did.

It definitely wasn’t due to any charisma on AuDy’s part, though. AuDy had always been too blunt to bother caring about making strangers feel friendly towards them, and the four years they’d been away since graduating had only made them worse, somehow.

Mako loved his friends, but they were all so freaking weird. It was hard, being the only normal one sometimes.

“Hey, AuDy. How was your day?”

“We are no closer to preventing total planetary extinction than we were yesterday.”

“Well, at least you’re trying!” Mako said cheerfully. The trick to conversations with AuDy was to just filter out the doomday talk and not worry too much about it.

“How’s your comedy going?”

“Same as always.”

“I’m glad you’re doing what you love, and not working for a soulless corporation.”

“I think that was a dig at at least half of our friends,” Mako pointed out.

AuDy shrugged.

The bartender, Jim, came over soon after. Mako ordered a blowjob, partly for the name and partly for the sugar content. AuDy ordered Cass’s boring beer, Lazer Ted’s blowjob, and a tarp for themself.

When they got back to the table, Mako high-fived Lazer Ted for also getting a blowjob, then stole AuDy’s stool before they could sit down.

AuDy stared at him, attempting to intimidate him into giving up the barstool. Mako stared back.

After a minute of that, Cass said, “let’s just try and grab a bigger table, okay? We’ll need more room for Aria and Jacqui anyways.”

“Nah, man, I kind of want to see how this ends,” Lazer Ted replied.

Mako continued staring at AuDy, AuDy staring back at him.

Finally, AuDy grabbed Mako's stool and tipped it over slowly. Mako managed to get his feet down on the ground in time so he didn't fall over, but AuDy successfully stole the barstool out from under him.

"That's cheating!"

AuDy shrugged, clearly not concerned.

Before Mako could continue arguing the point, he was interrupted by Aria joining the table. She looked tired.

"Aria!" Cass said. He got up and hugged her.

"Hey guys," she said.

"No Jacqui?" Mako asked.

Aria sighed. "No, she's busy."

"That's a polite way of saying the two of you got into a fight," AuDy pointed out.

"If you don't want to talk about it, you don't have to," Cass put in, glaring at AuDy.

"If you need love advice, you've come to the right place. Lazer Ted knows all about how to please the ladies. Or the gentlemen or gentlefolk, Lazer Ted doesn't discriminate."

"Thanks Ted, but I think Jacqui just needs some space right now. What with Jill being back in town, we're both on edge a bit."

Cass squeezed her on the shoulder, and she smiled at them.

Now that finding a bigger table wouldn't mean giving in to AuDy, Mako glanced around the bar. It was still as busy as before, but before he looked back at their table he spotted a familiar face.

"Hey guys," he said, probably interrupting someone in the process. "Is that Tower Chalet?"

They all glanced over at where he was looking.

"Maybe?" Cass said.

"Oh man, that definitely might be your boy."

"He was never my boy!" Mako protested. "It was always casual."

"Yeah, you two were making the beast of two backs real casual-like."

"Ted, please never call it that again," Cass groaned.

"What would you prefer? Canoodling? Making love? Fucking? Doing the dirty?..." Lazer Ted started listing off euphemisms for sex.

Mako stopped listening as the tall guy stepped on someone's foot, then turned to apologize and elbowed someone else in the face in the process.

"That's definitely Tower," Aria said.

"I'm going to go talk to him," Mako said, not bothering to wait for anyone to offer to come with. He kind of wanted to talk to Tower alone.

It was harder, getting through the crowd without AuDy, but it helped that people were giving Tower a bit more space. He was nowhere near as intimidating as AuDy, but most people had the sense to give the awkward giant a bit of room.

It was like seeing a sexy giraffe, Mako thought. Not that giraffes were sexy, but Tower did have a nice neck. It was sensitive, too, Mako remembered.

He cut that line of thought off before reaching Tower.

"Oh wow, Mako!" Tower said. He looked genuinely excited to see Mako. Mako smiled in return.

"How've you been?" Mako asked. They were closer to the DJ now, so Mako had to shout a little to make himself heard.

“Good! Really good. I just moved back home. My old job was really nice, but I missed living here. And then I got this great job opportunity and, well, now I’m back here.”

"Nice! You know, you definitely made the right choice. Best city in the world, right here," Mako grinned.

“I heard you’ve, like, a big deal now too? You have a comedy show with Larry that’s doing really good? That’s so cool!”

Mako could feel the grin leaving his face.

“That’s not—we kind of stopped working together a few months back. The whole double act thing was holding us back, you know? Too much of a good thing and all that?” Mako faked a laugh.

“Aw, that sucks. You guys were so good together!” Tower said. “I remember back in college, you two would crack jokes during class and make me laugh so hard I’d get in trouble. I always thought you two would have some sort of late night show together someday.”

“Yeah, well, people change,” Mako said. “Enough about Larry, he’s boring. Tell me about your new gig!”

Mako smiled and laughed in all the right places as Tower told him about his job, but he was too distracted to actually listen to what Tower was saying. He couldn’t stop thinking about back in college. Back when he and Larry were partners in crime. Back before Jorn called to tell Mako that he was holding Larry back.

When Tower was done with his story, Mako took the chance to say, “hey, I’ve got to get back to my friends over there,” gesturing vaguely in the direction of their table, “but it was really great seeing you again!”

Tower’s face fell slightly. Mako felt bad about not inviting him to join the group, but he just couldn’t deal with him right now. He didn’t want to talk about the good old days.

“Hey, give me your number, okay?” Mako added. “We should meet up sometime, catch up more.”

Tower’s grin returned at that. “Definitely. I’d really like that.”

They traded numbers and said their goodbyes before Mako headed back to the group.

When he got back to their table, the group was in the middle of an animated debate.

“-know him,” AuDy was saying.

“I don’t need to get to know Ibex any more to know that he’s bad news,” Cass said vehemently.

“Yeah, fuck Ibex,” Mako put in.

“That’s what I’m saying!” Lazer Ted agreed. “Orth was definitely fucking Ibex way back when.”

“Aw man, not this again. Don’t try to pull me in to agreeing with you about your crazy forbidden love conspiracy theories.”

“But like, man, it would be so romantic. Like some of that Professor X and Magneto friends to lovers to rivals shit.”

“Didn’t Magneto shoot Professor X?” Cass asked.

“Exactly,” Lazer Ted said knowingly. “It’s real romantic, that whole redemption arc thing. Exactly Ibex’s vibe.”

“Can we stop talking about this? They’re like my dads. I don’t want to think about my dads shooting each other and then pining for 50 years.”

“Fuck dads,” Mako added reflexively.

“Oh, yeah, those dads are both a bit of alright. Wouldn’t mind being in the middle of that sexy sexy brooding dad sandwich.”

“Why did I come back here? I could have been having a nice conversation with Tower about his new job instead of hearing about all the ways you’d like to fuck Ibex.”

“Tower has a new job?” Cass asked, gratefully seizing the opportunity to change the subject.

“Yeah, he just moved back to town,” Mako replied.

“What’s he doing?” Aria asked.

“Something boring, I kind of tuned it out,” Mako replied.

Cass shook their head at him, clearly disappointed in his social skills.

“You going to meet up with him again? Meet up and make sweet, sweet love?” Lazer Ted asked.

Mako shoved him in the shoulder. “Ugh, no, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?” AuDy asked. “You two are inexplicably attracted to each other, you’re single, and he pretty clearly wanted something more back when you two were hooking up before.”

“Inexplicably attracted- no, whatever, that’s not the part I’m going to argue with you about,” Mako said, deciding not to pursue it. “He doesn’t want to date me. He wants to talk about the good old days.”

“Well, it’s not like you’re interested in what he’s doing now, and you two do have to talk about something,” Aria pointed out.

“Right. I’ll just go over and relive the good old days with Tower, talk about how funny Larry and I used to be and what a shame it is that we aren’t working together. Then maybe I can bring him to a gig with me where nobody laughs at any of my fucking jokes. It’ll be such a barrel of laughs. Because who doesn’t want to get with an old has-been, the boring half of an old comedy duo?”

His friends were all staring at him. Great.

“Aww, buddy,” Cass said. “Can I hug you?”

“I don’t need your fucking sympathy,” Mako said. “I know what my life is. I get that there are tons of other aspiring comics, and I’m not special, and I just need to keep working until I get my big break.”

“That’s bullshit,” Aria said.

“Easy for you to say. You’ve been famous since you were a kid.”

“Exactly! That’s why I know it was bullshit. There were tons of other teenage girls who were just as skilled as me, who worked just as hard as me,” Aria said. “Nothing in life is a meritocracy, the comedy scene included. Doing well in these types of careers is half luck and half privilege.”

Cass was nodding along to what Aria was saying.

“So what. I should just give up?” Mako asked.

“That’s not what I’m saying, and you know that,” Aria protested. “Mako. You’re good. Just because your shows aren’t going well right now, that doesn’t mean anything about whether you’re funny. It just means you’ve had shitty audiences.”

“Larry would be able to get them to laugh.”

“You and Larry are functionally interchangeable. No one who finds you dull would think that Larry is funny, and vice versa,” AuDy said. “Kick me under the table all you want, Cass, that doesn’t stop it from being true.”

“Jorn likes Larry better than me,” Mako said. He knew he sounded whiny, but he couldn’t get himself to stop.

“Jorn is a slimy, no-good bastard of a used car salesman,” Lazer Ted said. “He just broke you two up because he couldn’t handle that much of a good thing.”

“For once, I agree with Ted,” Cass said.

“Mako. Mako, listen to me. Jorn didn’t want to sign you because you’re a small angry man- Cass stop kicking me- who delights in chaos and has never listened to an authority figure in your life. You’d make his job hell.”

Mako found himself actually smiling at that one. “I would.”

“You know, I read over that contract with Larry,” Aria said. “It’s bad. Like, my contract with EarthHome bad.”

“I don’t know what he was thinking, taking it,” Cass said.

“He was thinking that he has little brothers and stand up comedy doesn’t pay,” Mako said. “You can’t really blame him for that.”

“Gotta stay on that grind,” Lazer Ted said. “He’s a good guy, he knows that you’ve got to take care of the folks back home.”

“I don’t understand. Why are we comforting you, if you’re not mad at Larry?” AuDy asked.

“Because I’m annoying and whiny and self-centered, and I miss people thinking I’m funny and I miss our old act and I miss my best friend.”

“Buddy,” Aria said, holding her arms out. Mako didn’t protest this time, letting himself be hugged. He could feel Cass joining in. Lazer Ted made some crack about the group hug train coming to the station before ruffling his hair. AuDy did that thing of theirs where they loomed over the group hug, somehow managing to convey their participation without having to touch anyone.

Aria’s shoulder was wet, and Mako couldn’t understand why until he figured out that it was coming from him.

Mako hated crying in public, where people could see him, but he wasn’t that concerned this time. His friends knew what a mess he was.

After a bit, he broke free of the hug, managing to step on somebody’s foot in the process. “Do any of you have a tissue? I’m a bit of a mess, right now.”

Cass handed him one. He wiped his eyes and blew his nose. He still looked like a mess, he knew, with red eyes and mussed hair, but he felt a bit more human after that.

“Thanks,” Mako said. “I’m sorry, I’m a bit of a mess.”

“Who isn’t a bit of a mess?” Aria asked, sounding a little too intense. “Jacqui and I might be breaking up. Cass’s parents have a ten year plan for world domination that involves him marrying his roommate. Lazer Ted’s parents think he’s a young republican. AuDy disappeared off the face of the planet for four and a half years without warning any of us.”

“Hey, do you need to talk about what’s going on with you and Jacqui?” Cass asked.

“No, I’m- I’m fine. Let’s deal with Mako’s crisis first, mine can wait until our next bar night,” Aria said.

“Not to interrupt this, but Larry replied to the group chat a bit ago,” Lazer Ted said, holding up his phone. The group turned to look at him. “He said he wished he could be here.”

“See, Mako? He misses you,” Aria said.

“He’s just being nice,” Mako protested.

“He used that one emoji, like you’re sad on a desk in school,” Lazer Ted said. “That means he’s serious.”

Mako grabbed the phone from Lazer Ted to confirm which emoji he was actually talking about. Sure enough, the message said “wish I could be there 🙇🏻♂️”.

“Shit, that’s serious,” Mako said. He felt cheerier, just seeing that and knowing that Larry missed him.

“We should facetime him,” Aria suggested.

“We should not! He doesn’t need to know that I’ve been upset, that’ll only make things worse.”

“The lighting’s so shitty in here, he’ll barely even be able to tell you apart from AuDy,” Cass said.

Everyone laughed at that.

“Okay, fine,” Mako said. He sent the facetime request, getting more nervous by the second. It felt very important, suddenly, that Larry answer. As though whether Larry answered would be a test of whether he cared about Mako anymore.

Larry picked up before Mako could get himself too worked up.

“Hey, guys!” Larry said. There was something off about his voice.

“Larry!” Mako said. “You’re missing a crazy night at RAMS.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there!” Larry said. “I miss RAMS. The bars in this city are all super lame, and I don’t know any locals who can point me to the good nightlife.”

“We miss you too, buddy,” Cass said. “We needed your help earlier in teasing Mako. He ran into one of his old hookups.”

“Oh?” Larry asked. His voice sounded more normal now. Mako realized he’d sounded fake before, like he was forcing himself to be cheerful. “Who?”

“Tower Chalet,” Aria said.

“Holy shit. And you guys aren’t still teasing him for it? He had it bad for Tower, back then.”

“We didn’t actually have a chance to tease him, we were interrupted by-“ AuDy started. They were evidently tired of being kicked by Cass, as they hooked their ankle around his, stopping the kick in its tracks. Cass swung their leg back, taking the pair of them down.

As Cass and AuDy wrestled on the floor, Aria chimed in with, “yeah, we didn’t get too far into the teasing. We didn’t want you to miss out on it, since you’re the one who has all of the good dirt on Mako.”

Larry smiled at that, before launching off into a story about a particularly questionable escapade involving a surprise visit from Tower’s mother, several hickies, and a basket full of sex toys.

Mako checked the time. He was on in fifty seconds. He glanced again at his phone, at the good luck messages from Tower and Larry. He sent one back to Larry, wishing him good luck on his own gig later that night, before locking his phone and walking out on the stage.

Mako glanced out at the audience, expecting the usual clumps of people at tables, more interested in their company than in him.

While that still made up most of his audience, one of the larger groups towards the front caught his eye. They were staring at him, eagerly awaiting his performance. But more important than that, they were all his friends.

There was Cass and Sokrates and Maxine, Aria and Jacqui, Orth and AuDy, Jim and Lazer Ted. Everyone had come out to watch his show.

Mako grinned, suddenly more excited to do a show than he’d been for a while.