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the memory of my angel (could never cause me pain)

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When your friend’s marriage falls apart and they have to start renting a new apartment, you’re apparently meant to help them move. Whether this holds true when you like their soon-to-be-ex-wife better than them, and you actually think they’re being a total sad sack about the whole thing, is up for debate. Misery loves company and all that shit. Everything else aside: there is no reasonable definition under which Daniel could really be considered Johnny’s friend, which is why he elects to sit on his ass, half-heartedly label boxes, and leave the job of hefting them downstairs and outside to the van for the man himself.

He’s in the bottom of the closet, underneath suit jackets and pants that are way above his pay grade to be dealing with, and tugging out stacks of high school yearbooks and old photo albums. They get tossed over his shoulder one by one out onto the floor behind him, each hitting the ground with a gratifying thud and making a formless mess across the entire bedroom floor, until eventually he runs out of projectiles and has to creak around on his knees to shove them roughly into a cardboard box. In an effort to just get this over with he tries to pick up as many at one time as his hands will physically allow, which works pretty decently for about half the pile before eventually he fumbles, grabbing too many by the spines at once in such a way that they all kind of flap open.

Two books just clatter to the floor, but there’s another one that spits out a loose photograph in the process. He chucks the books in blind and grabs the picture, and has almost closed the pages of the photo album back around it before his brain manages to process what it actually is.

It’s an old Kodak print, the kind you used to get developed at the grocery store. The figure is still clear though; a young Daniel LaRusso himself. He can’t more than, what, twenty? Twenty one? Still got the damn bambi eyes but without the baby deer legs; his frame filled out a little beyond what Johnny ever remembers seeing in high school. But fuck if he can’t see it now, kid in the photo wearing low-hung sweatpants and shit all else. There’s planes of smooth olive skin, skimming tight muscle over arms and chest and feeding down into the dark vee of his pelvis.

LaRusso always was a little shit but who knew he had this in him. He’s on some floor, the rubber matting of gyms the world over under his ass, with one leg crossed under him and another propped out - the kind of boneless position you’d fall into with a grunt. He’s got his head tilted; the tendons in his neck are sharp lines pointing downwards; and he’s looking at the camera through a thick fan of lashes.

Perhaps most notably, his mouth is parted just a little where his tongue pokes out to wet it, lips dewy and swollen and red. Johnny’s brain registers that this is probably the result of a recent hit to the face.

His dick registers something different.

“Fuck,” he mutters, and cups himself through his jeans.

“Hey, Johnny?”

He jumps what feels about a clean foot in the air, and drops the picture. It flutters to the carpet in a gentle see-saw motion and lands face-side up. Daniel’s voice is on the stairs.

“Amanda’s gonna be back in twenty,” he calls. Then, because god hates Johnny specifically: “You ready with the next load?”

Jesus, he thinks.

“Jesus,” he shouts back, “hold your fucking horses!”

 

-

 

So he takes the picture home.

Obviously.

He folds it into his front pocket with the best of intentions, and tries valiantly to forget about it. They share a beer at LaRusso’s new place in the manner that television and movies dictate is tradition, and then Johnny claps him on the shoulder and excuses himself to go back to his own shitty bachelor apartment where he at least has, like, art on the walls.

For a given value of art.

He distracts himself. Takes out the trash, heats up a can of soup for dinner, wipes down the counters, has another beer. Then he jerks himself off with one hand and hides the photograph under his mattress. When in the 80s, right?

But he pulls it out again, afterwards. Just to look.

There’s something he keeps getting stuck on. He knows it’s in the face, because - well. He’s got eyes and, shit, so does this jailbait edition of LaRusso. When Johnny holds the photo up close and squints he realises that even though they’re dark, the overblown white values from the flash on whatever piece of shit disposable camera this once came from make it clear that its not all just their colour; the pupils are overblown. Johnny briefly considers getting into his car and driving it directly into the ocean.

But the longer he stares at the photograph, the more he can’t help from making comparisons. He pictures Daniel now, the version he’s been around way longer than he ever really was the one that looked anything like this, and of all goddamn things he ends up stalling on how there’s no creases round the eyes. He can’t imagine this face folding right, not into the same kind of shapes he’s gotten used to, not into what he knows is the full range of available flavours.

His first thought in that closet - which, ha, try harder - had been that this young face is kind of familiar, but at the risk of sounding like a little bitch he’s realised that he never actually really knew it. And if he’s being honest, he’s not sure the young man in this photo would be worn down around the edges enough yet to put up with Johnny’s crap.

Johnny draws his thumb over a the ghost of a cheekbone and thinks about how much fucking easier it would be if this was the only version of this face that got to him, or at the very least the only one that got him hot.

 

-

 

Johnny’s been putting in steady effort to grow a conscience over the last couple of months so he pregames by watching Point Break and Die Hard, and then when it comes time to review the lesson plan he’s been bullied into writing he mildly exaggerates his difficulty using email to wrangle an invitation back to LaRusso’s place.

His would-be reverse heist fails almost immediately.

“Wow,” Johnny remarks. “You got rid of those boxes fast.”

Daniel has his back turned, spooning ground coffee into a French press. Amanda got the Keurig in the divorce. “Yeah, kept tripping over them.”

They sit at the table and fight over the necessity of warm-ups and the ethics of Survivor as a training tool. Over the course of the next hour Johnny makes three separate trips to the bathroom, peaking into a different room off the hallway each time, before he gets ambushed on the return and asked what the hell is happening.

“Do you have a bladder infection or something?” He’s got his arms crossed and eyebrows arched.

Oh it’s categorically something, for sure. “I think your creamer is out of date.”

“It is not. I bought for you coming,” he states, then does a pissy little frown like he didn’t mean to.

Any other day and Johnny would be circling back to that. This one, and he’s just glad for the distraction. He digs the photo out from his pocket.

“This was in the trunk of my car. Must of fallen out one of the boxes.” Johnny said he was trying to develop a conscience, not that it was going well.

Across the mat or across this beige little apartment, LaRusso looks at him like he can see right through him, down to his guts and his bones, same as always.

Johnny flounders to fill the silence. “Your, uh. Mom? She take that?”

Daniel sniffs at the air like a cartoon poodle. “God, no - the girl I was seeing at the time. She was sweet. And thought karate was hot, which was a nice change of pace. Wanted something to, you know.” Hands in the pockets of his slacks, he shrugs. “Remind her of me.”

The sudden realisation that Daniel is attempting to look supremely fuckable in this image on purpose hits him like a truck.

If you look at it one way, the awareness is very reassuring - this is an intentionally provocative photograph so Johnny isn’t that off base getting horny about it, good to know. The hits to the head during his late teenage developmental stages didn’t scramble his brain tissue that bad. On the other hand, this is damn near soft core porn that Daniel made for consumption by someone that was explicitly not him, and it’s one thing to be a nut job with a fight or fuck response for the guy and another entirely to stick his nose where it isn’t meant to be. He’s not the kind of dude who peaks into changing rooms and if you turn your head and squint this is basically the same difference.

“You probably want this back.”

“Nah, keep it.”

“Even though I -,” Johnny starts, only to immediately receive a look of disbelief, “- will stop talking.”

“Turnabout is fair play,” LaRusso offers, all jumped-up and cocksure, and pushes off the wall to walk back to his highlighters and indexed exercise timetables.

It takes a couple of seconds for that to process. Johnny is still standing in the hallway, waiting for his neurons to start firing again.

Daniel continues, breezy, calling back over his shoulder. “What, you boxed up all those yearbooks and didn’t notice which pages I used to fold the corners on?“