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KH AU:: Through Thick and Thin Ch. 10

This is it, you guys. The penultimate chapter. Aeleus's and Ienzo's arc has been wrapped up. (Well, mostly -- they'll be in the final chapter too, of course! I'm pretty excited to write them in this next chapter, aha. I have plans for them.)

But I still can't believe that this is almost the end. I have never written anything as long as this before -- 56,346 words. It'll be over 60k when I write the final chapter. That's a metric fuckton of words. And I've never completed a full chapter story before, unless you count the three-part series of Wild Card, which was originally supposed to just be a one-shot.. It's kind of staggering. I've just poured so much into this story, these characters have practically become my own, and I can't believe that this long ride is almost over.

You know, I had no idea where this was going to go when I first started. I had no idea if I would even be able to complete it. I'm not very good with staying on task. But I'm actually doing this. I'm hesitant to write this last chapter, almost -- I just hope I can do it justice. It's the final chapter.

...I think I need a moment.

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The three days stretched into a full week of being bedridden, too nauseous to crawl out of bed, too weak to even think about attending class or doing anything remotely resembling work. On the seventh day, Rudol awoke from yet another fitful nightmare with thoughts of Dilan swarming his mind, but he could feel a remarkable difference. His fever had broken at long last, he'd been able to keep down the chicken soup Lumaria had made for him, and he could feel his limbs regaining strength.

"Thank god," he muttered to himself. The virus had affected him strongly, and he was grateful that the worst was over. He breathed a sigh of relief and laid prone in his bed with his eyes closed, trying to clear his head and not think about much at all.

Unfortunately, that was much easier said than done. He felt a tiny prickle of worry flare up in the back of his mind. He'd missed a full week of classes, which wouldn't really be a big deal (god knows he skipped lectures loads of times in the past and still managed to do well enough) if it weren't for the fact that he no longer had anyone to borrow notes from in Eastern Religions, plus he'd already been slacking off on schoolwork because he had to work—

Shit. His eyes flew open, and he bolted upright in bed. Not only had he missed a week's worth of classes; he also missed a full week of work. That was a week's worth of pay lost. He had two days left to pay off his debt, or else Seifer and his lackeys would have his head on a silver platter. He was at least $200 short. A vision of being reduced to a bloody pulp in some sketchy back alley popped into his mind, and he wouldn't have told his mum that he loved her before he died, never mind Dil—

Rudol could feel panic constricting his chest once more, and he buried his head in his hands, a steady stream of cuss words spilling out of his mouth. "Oh god, I am so fucking screwed," he moaned. "What the bloody hell am I supposed to do now? Shit."

This wasn't helping him any. He took another deep breath and tried to calm himself down. "Okay. Okay. There's got to be some way you can sort this out. $200. Two days. You can do this." He was strongly tempted to slip back into his old habits. Go out to the bar, get completely pissed, fall into bed with some guy, and swipe some money from his wallet before vanishing into the night. Easy.

The more he thought about it, the more appealing the idea became. He'd almost talked himself into it when an image of Dilan surfaced unbidden, and he suddenly felt sick to his stomach.

"Okay, maybe that's not such a good game plan after all. Think, Rudol. How can you miraculously manage to make $200 in two days?" He rubbed his forehead wearily. This wasn't happening to him. Not now. It was impossible, there was no way he could possibly—

Unless… but no, it was madness to even consider… but he was desperate…

Rudol swung his legs over the edge of his bed and stood up, crossing the room purposefully. He stood on his tiptoes to reach for the wooden box concealed on top of his wardrobe, his heart thumping in his chest. He carefully slid off the top of the chest and gazed at his most prized possession, neatly centered on a certificate of authenticity: his unopened, mint-condition, cellophane-encased deck of Jerry's Nugget playing cards.

He'd had these cards since he was sixteen, when his grandfather entrusted him with them. Since then, he'd never gone anywhere without them. They were the one thing that always, without fail, accompanied him when traveling to and from England and the United States. Hell, he always made it a point to keep the deck in his carry-on because he was paranoid that he would lose his luggage or something devastating would happen if he kept them in his suitcase.

He swallowed around the lump in his throat and glanced at his laptop. He could fetch upwards of $200 for this — probably even more, come to think of it. But the mere thought of parting with it made his stomach clench uncomfortably. Or maybe that was the fact that he'd barely eaten anything at all within the last week, given that he couldn't keep much down.

"No," he said aloud, shutting the lid and hugging the wooden box to his chest. "Absolutely not. I mean, I love these cards more than I love my own mother." He immediately cast a guilty look at the framed photograph of him and his parents on his desk. "…Sorry, Mum."

Rudol closed his eyes, his head swimming. He'd never been so conflicted in his life. Giving up his Jerry's Nuggets was like giving up a piece of his soul. But then again, if he didn't get the money he owed in time, he would be as good as dead anyway.

Maybe he should just go back to Plan A. Yes. That would be best.

That is, if it weren't for the gnawing guilt that ate away at him every time he thought of doing so. He made his decision.

"Do it for Dilan," he whispered for strength, and sat down at his computer before he could change his mind again.

------------------------

Dilan pulled out a seat at the kitchen table and straddled it, folding his arms along the back of the chair and resting his chin on his hands. He frowned, his brow furrowed, musing about the lecture he had just returned from. Rudol's seat was empty just as it had been all week, and his absence didn't go unnoticed by Dilan. He didn't know why he felt so dejected when he glanced over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of that familiar head of blond hair and found that it was missing for the third time in a week.

He'd just managed to convince himself that his reaction was only because he was curious as to where the bastard could be when Aeleus entered the room and made a beeline for the fridge. His roommate pulled out a beer from the crisper, and Dilan quirked an eyebrow.

"Bro, it's only noon," he pointed out.

"It's never too early for booze," Aeleus replied, downing half the bottle's contents in a single draught. "And Ienzo's trying to get me to help him pick out an outfit for the concert tonight. I can't do this without being hammered."

Dilan sniggered. "Sucks to be you. Toss me a beer too, god knows I'll need it if this train of thought continues."

"Yeah, what's that about anyway?" Aeleus asked, grabbing another beer from the fridge and tossing it Dilan, who deftly caught the bottle with one hand. "You look like you're about to slit your wrists."

"No I don't, fuck you, man. S'nothing. Rudol was absent in class again today, and I was just wondering where the hell he was."

"You're still thinking about the little fuck?" Aeleus shook his head. "It's been a month and a half since he dumped you, dude. Move on already and go get laid, like he already has. Get over it, you can't keep dwelling on it. The guy was a dick, he's not coming back."

Dilan brooded, Aeleus's advice cluttering his thoughts. "Yeah," he finally said. "Maybe it's time to give it up already. Move on with my life. God knows he already did," he added bitterly, but his knuckles were white from clenching the top of his chair. "He doesn't deserve me or my time. He's just not worth it. And you're right; I'll feel better once I get some." Speaking the words aloud was strangely liberating, and he could feel the tension leaving him. He relaxed his grip on the chair and busied himself with his beer.

"Okay," Ienzo announced briskly as he trotted up to the two of them, shirtless and carrying a different top in each hand. "While I cannot fathom even asking you two imbeciles for an opinion on the matter, I am forced to do so due to the severity of this quandary."

"Aeleus," Dilan said mildly, acting as if he hadn't even heard Ienzo. "Why is there a half-naked midget in our apartment?"

Ienzo threw him a disgusted look and continued, "I'll keep it simple enough so that your fashion-challenged brains can process it."

"Oh, this is rich. I feel so much better already," Dilan announced, popping open the cap of his beer and taking a swig. "I can already tell that this is gonna be quality entertainment."

"Dilan. Would you kindly do me a favor and shut up ?" Ienzo replied, doing his best to keep his poise intact. "Now, here's what I'm thinking of wearing to the concert tonight." He gestured at his dark, skinny jeans, pointed boots, and expensive leather belt.  "Which shirt do you think goes better with the ensemble?" He held up the two shirts for inspection.

"I dunno," Aeleus said, looking alarmed at being asked his opinion. "You're asking me for fashion advice?"

"Aeleus. This is the most important night of my life. Not only am I going to see Flaming Oceans live, I am also going to meet Myde afterwards. Myde. That is, if your friend Braig can be trusted to be reliable, which I am beginning to doubt, as he is exceedingly sketchy. Regardless, this is a defining moment in my life. Now, which shirt goes better?"

Aeleus squinted at them, still baffled. "Aren't they the same shirt?" he finally asked, scratching his head in bemusement.

"No, idiot, they are not. Can you not see the studded cuffs of the shirt on the right and the embroidered detailing on the pocket of the left shirt? They are totally different."

There was a beat as Dilan and Aeleus studied the two shirts.

"…Nope, they still look the same to me."

"Oh, I give up!" Ienzo said, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration. "It was pointless to ask. The both of you are monosynaptic boors whose intellect is rivaled only by microorganisms."

"What," Aeleus and Dilan said simultaneously, staring at him with twin expressions of blankness.

"Point proven," Ienzo said, smirking and turning on his heel.

Dilan shook his head in disbelief as he watched Ienzo return to the bedroom to continue perusing his clothes. "God, he always has to get the last word in, doesn't he? Little bitch."

------------------------

His hands still shaking, Rudol dressed himself, donning real clothes for the first time in days. He grimaced as he pulled on his jeans; after living in nothing but sweats and boxer shorts, the denim fabric felt unnaturally stiff and rough, constricting his legs. He zipped up his hoodie and glanced at the clock.

12:30, Friday afternoon. L'Erena and Lumaria would be lounging around at the usual spot where the three of them met after class on Fridays. After making sure that he had his key and all of the essentials, he left his room to join them.

God, fresh air felt good. It was a sunny day with a gentle breeze, and the good weather lightened Rudol's spirits in spite of himself. He scanned the grassy quad and found them reclining in the shade of a large, leafy tree. Lumaria was painting his nails while L'Erena laid on the ground with her head in his lap, talking animatedly. Rudol smiled at the sight and strode across the lawn to meet his friends.

"Oi!" he shouted as he neared them, causing the two to look up in surprise.

L'Erena's eyes widened and she sat bolt upright, knocking aside Lumaria's hands and banging into his chin. She ignored his pained cries in favor of shrieking, "Rudy!" and holding her arms open for a hug. Lumaria joined her in clamoring for Rudol's attention the minute he noticed the blond, forgetting all about his ruined manicure and injured chin.

Rudol laughed, leaning down into L'Erena's hug and bestowing one on Lumaria as well. "S'good to know I've been missed, at least."

"Of course you have! We're one person short of a trio without you here!"

"You're still looking a little peaky though." Lumaria frowned as he pulled away from the hug. "Are you sure you're feeling better?"

"Eh. My fever broke, and Student Health Services says the worst is over." Rudol wiped his brow with his sleeve and sat down on the grass. "But I couldn't stand being shut up in that room any longer. I need my life back to normal again. I just want things back to the way they were. Speaking of which," he added, "can I bum a fag off of you, Rennie?"

Lumaria clucked his tongue in disapproval. "Are you sure you should be smoking if you're still not feeling so hot?"

"Of course I should! C'mon, it'll make me feel better. Give me that at least, Lulu."

L'Erena dug around in her satchel for her customary pack of Marlboro Lights and tossed them to Rudol. "You can keep them," she noted. "I'm trying to quit."

"You're trying to quit?"

"Yeah," she said, smiling faintly at nothing in particular as she tipped her head back and gazed up at the clouds. "Nami doesn't like me smoking, so I promised I'd stop for her. She refused to kiss me whenever I smoked."

"You're mad," Rudol told her, but he couldn't keep from grinning. L'Erena was head over heels for her girlfriend, and it touched him. If anyone deserved love, it was her, after years spent pining after straight girls who never loved her back. And now, the object of her affections was equally smitten. Even if he was less than lucky in love at the present, he was glad to see his best friend so happy with someone else.

"Hey, people do crazy things when they're in love."

"I know, but I never thought I'd see the day where you'd willingly quit smoking." Rudol pulled a lighter out of his pocket and lit up; while L'Erena's actions were noble, he had no intention of quitting anytime soon.

"Yeah, well…" She looked down from the sky to glance at him, the ghost of a smile still glimmering on her face. "Sometimes love means being willing to change for that person. It means loving them enough to be a better person for them, even if it hurts."

Rudol nearly dropped his cigarette but quickly recovered, lifting it to his lips and taking a drag to steady himself. L'Erena's words chilled him to the bone. While she hadn't been speaking about him necessarily, the message still hit him hard, like a bullet to the chest. As much as he hated to admit it, it was time to face the truth. He finished his cigarette in silence, scarcely listening to Lumaria speculating with L'Erena about the possibilities of reaching second base with Nami. When an opening in the conversation arose, he took a deep breath and screwed up all his courage.

"Rennie, Lulu," he said formally, "I have a confession to make."

"You're not a natural blond?" Lumaria guessed right off the bat, leaning forward in eager anticipation.

"What? No, of course—"

"You're secretly a gay pornstar!" L'Erena chimed in.

"I wish. And technically, I'm not gay, I'm omnisexual. There is a diff—"

"Come to think of it, isn't there some gay pornstar with blond hair and piercings that looks an awful lot like him?" Lumaria asked conversationally, turning to L'Erena and ignoring Rudol entirely.

"Don't ask me, I wouldn't know. Lesbian and all, you know."

"Well, if it's not that, then it has to be that you're moving back to England. Oh my god, Rudy, why didn't you tell us?!"

"No, it's none of that!" he cried in exasperation. "Bloody hell, would you let me finish?"

"Okay, shoot."

Now that he was given the opportunity to complete a sentence, nerves took over once more. "I think… I think I'm in love with Dilan," he confessed, the words rushing together in his haste to get them off his chest.

There was an exceptionally long pause as his two best friends stared at him, before Lumaria smacked himself upside the head and broke the spell.

L'Erena rolled her eyes. "Well, it took you long enough," she said, sarcasm dripping from her every word.

"Hate to break it to you, Rudy, but we knew that long before you did. You're not exactly the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to matters of the heart."

"I beg your pardon, but I get a lot more action than either of you do," he retorted indignantly.

"Matters of the heart, not matters of the dick, dweeb."

"Besides, you're not even getting any right now anyway," L'Erena added in her usual blunt fashion.

Rudol winced perceptibly.

"Oops," L'Erena said guiltily. "Nami says I can be too callous sometimes. I'm trying to work on it." The same dopey grin that always surfaced when she thought about Nami reappeared.

"She said that? When?" Lumaria asked, always keen for a bit of gossip.

"After I hung up on you when you called me in the middle of our date a few days ago, Rudy," she replied, nodding at Rudol. "I'm sorry about that, by the way." She squeezed his shoulder affectionately.

"I know. You already called me to apologize like five times already." He grinned at her, but the smile soon slipped off his face and was replaced by a worried frown. "But… if I do, you know, love him… then what do I do now? I fucked everything up so horribly that I don't even know if he'll ever take me back." Gloom settled down on his shoulders once more. "And I can't even blame him if he didn't. What do I do?" He looked up at his friends, his face pain-stricken.

L'Erena sighed and ran her fingers through her slicked-back hair. "You've got a lot of fixing to do, that's what."

"But hey, we're here for you. You don't have to do it alone; we'll help you figure it out. 'Cause that's what friends are for." Lumaria smiled and extended his pinky fingers in their familiar gesture.

Hope flickered within Rudol once more. "Okay," he said. "We'll do this together." He grinned as he interlocked pinkies with L'Erena and Lumaria and shook on it.

------------------------

Aeleus didn't think he had ever seen Ienzo as happy as he was at the moment. He definitely had never seen him with an expression of such complete and unbridled joy on his face. The Flaming Oceans concert had just ended, and Ienzo was still bright-faced and starry-eyed. Braig had managed to get them backstage and left to go find Myde. He'd warned them that the introduction would be brief, but Ienzo was still over the moon. Aeleus watched as he tried to regain his composure, rearranging his face into a carefully blank mask. It wasn't working.

"Ie," he said cautiously, uncertain about whether or not he liked this new Ienzo. "You're not going to do anything stupid, are you?"

"I resent your blatant insinuations, Aeleus. I don't do stupid," Ienzo replied scathingly, giving him one of his trademark withering looks. Aeleus breathed a sigh of relief; the old Ienzo he knew and loved was back. "I believe you and Apeface have that particular area of expertise covered. No, I am simply going to greet him, we will have a simple and pleasurable chat, and then we'll be on our way. Easy as pie."

"Pie?" came an unfamiliar voice from the far side of the room. "Did someone say pie? I distinctly heard 'pie.'"

Aeleus turned to find the source of the voice. Braig had returned and was standing next to a figure who was unmistakably Myde, his hand in the rockstar's back pocket and a wide smirk on his face. Aeleus did a onceover, scanning Myde from head to toe to see what it was that had Ienzo so captivated by him, and was thoroughly unimpressed. It was one thing to see him up on the stage, surrounded by strobe lights and multicolored laser effects; it was another thing entirely to see him offstage and face-to-face, when he only had the glitz and glamour of his wardrobe to mark his stardom. And as Aeleus had amply proved that he knew nothing whatsoever about fashion, he didn't see the appeal.

His eyes flicked back to Myde's face, and he couldn't help but notice that the kid was wearing sunglasses. Indoors. Despite the dim backstage lighting. He looked like a total tool.

"Yeah, pie's good," Myde finished inanely, tipping down his sunglasses to peer over the lenses at the two of them. He smiled, then pushed the sunglasses back up once more. "Hey," he said easily, slipping his hands into the pockets of his rhinestone-studded jeans. "I'm Myde. But… you probably already knew that. Anyway, nice to meet you."

"Hey," Aeleus said curtly, lifting his chin in greeting. His arm was still firmly and protectively wrapped around Ienzo's waist, marking him as his possession. "I'm Aeleus, and this is my boyfriend, Ienzo." He stressed the word 'boyfriend' for added emphasis, although he wouldn't have been surprised if they went right over Blondie's head. He was probably high off of hairspray fumes, judging by the pie comment. Lord knows how many cans he went through a day to keep that mulhawk standing.

But maybe he was just being resentful, because a starstruck Ienzo was staring at Myde with a bug-eyed expression on his face. "Ie? You gonna say hi?" He nudged Ienzo, who was frozen to the spot.

Ienzo seemed unable to find his voice. He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut abruptly. He finally blurted out, "Can I hold your hand?"

Aeleus buried his head in his hands. Braig burst into raucous laughter.

"Uhhhhh… kay?" Myde looked surprised but rather gratified and extended his hand.

Ienzo took it with reverence, as if unable to believe this was actually happening to him. He needed confirmation that he wasn't just daydreaming or conjuring up a hallucination. "This is real," he muttered to himself in awe. "I'm not dreaming. Myde's actually standing in front of me."

Aeleus slowly banged his head against a wall. Braig was bent double, practically in tears from laughing so hard.

Myde dropped Ienzo's hand and took off his sunglasses to glare at Braig. "Braig. Not cool, man, not cool." He turned back to Ienzo with a roll of his eyes. "Ignore him, he does this all the time."

"What, break out into laughter at random intervals like a maniacal hyena?" Ienzo said without thinking, then instantly clamped a hand over his mouth, unable to believe that he just said that to his idol.

Myde laughed. "Pretty much, yeah."

Ienzo relaxed slightly. "Well, I can at least sympathize with you on the idiotic boyfriend front, seeing as how mine is apparently determined to put a dent in your backstage wall with his head. Aeleus, I realize that there is very little cranial damage that can affect your brain due to your abnormally thick skin and the fact that your brain is little more than the size of a peanut. However, I do think that it's prudent that you cease banging your head against the wall. You wouldn't want to cause any unnecessary damage to it." Aeleus raised his eyebrows at him but stopped nonetheless. Ienzo gave him a look in response. Aeleus was actually thankful that Ienzo was belittling him once more; it meant that he was back to normal for the time being. Fangirl Ienzo both terrified and embarrassed him.

"Boyfriends," Myde lamented. "Why do we put up with them?"

"Lord knows why," Ienzo said dryly, but he couldn't quite hide the foolish grin that was overtaking his usually stoic expression. Aeleus swore he could hear a tiny little voice echoing in Ienzo's hand that went something like ohmygod I'm bonding with Myde!

"Aw, it's because you loooooove us," Braig butted in with a wide smirk, slinging his arms 'round both Myde's and Ienzo's necks. Ienzo delicately tried to shrug Braig's arm off of his shoulders, but the greasy-haired boy had a tight grip.

"No. No, I don't," Myde deadpanned, attempting to keep a straight face.

"Yes you dooooo," Braig sing-songed, still grinning teasingly.

"Okay, fine, you got me," Myde relented, but he couldn't help smiling either. "I love you. Guess the cat's out of the bag now."

"Score." Braig released his grip, much to Ienzo's relief. Myde scrunched up his face at him in response, and Braig smirked, leaning into kiss the tip of his nose. "Just don't forget about that publicity appearance, loverboy," he reminded him.

"Ooh. Yeah." Myde chewed the bottom of his lip. "I should probably go to that. My agent's gonna pitch a fit if Lea and Isa are there and I'm not." He turned back to Ienzo, an apologetic look written on his face. "Hey, I know I just got here and all, but I really have to dash—"

"Oh no, that's perfectly fine," Ienzo said quickly, nodding in earnest. He was still rather dazed by everything.

"—so I'm sure I'll see you around, since our boyfriends are friends and all. It was good meeting you, Ienzo."

"Wait!" Ienzo said suddenly. He seemed to be fighting an inner battle with himself before bursting out with, "Can I get your autograph?"

Aeleus was sorely tempted to resume hitting his head against the wall but reined himself in. Braig let out a strangled noise that was originally supposed to be a guffaw, but Myde kept him in check by stomping on his foot before the sound fully left his mouth.

Myde himself looked slightly taken-aback but recovered quickly, splitting into an easy grin. "Yeah, sure! I'm flattered." He accepted Ienzo's proffered concert program and scrawled his name across the cover — and his cell phone number. "My digits," he said, nodding at the numbers. "Send me a text sometime, yeah? Maybe we can chill, if you don't mind getting away from the boyfriend sometime." His thousand-watt grin didn't even flicker despite the cool look Aeleus gave him, his eyes boring holes into his skull.

"I'd like that," Ienzo replied, the corners of his mouth twitching.

"Cool, I'll see you around then. I'll let you guys out the backstage exit – it's to your right."

"Got it," Aeleus said, placing his hand on the small of Ienzo's back in an unconscious gesture, guiding him to the door. "See ya, Braig." He purposely neglected to say goodbye to Myde, but the other was as blissfully oblivious as ever. Airhead.

"Later, dude." Braig lifted his hand in farewell. "So," he said to Myde as an aside after the door swung shut behind them. "That's the fangirl. Isn't he, like, a total freak?"

"I dunno," Myde said mildly. "I think he's kinda cool."

"You're just saying that 'cause he's all over you and inflates your already giant ego." Braig snickered.

"Braaaaig," Myde whined, wrinkling his nose. "I do not have an ego!"

"Sure you don't." Braig grinned wolfishly. "But c'mon, Mr. Rock God, you got an appearance to make."

"Okay, okay, I'm going!" They set off together, Myde periodically bumping into Braig's shoulder with every other step he took. Braig finally grabbed him around the waist in retaliation, and they dissolved into immature giggles.

Needless to say, Myde's agent was thoroughly displeased when the rockstar showed up ten minutes late, rather disheveled and looking far too pleased with himself.

On the other side of the door, Ienzo and Aeleus were walking in silence until Ienzo couldn't contain himself anymore and burst into chatter. "Oh my god, I can't believe I got to meet the Myde! And I got his autograph! And his number! Can you believe it?" He continued prattling on in an extremely uncharacteristic manner. Aeleus was still dumbstruck, so he did what he did best, as far as dealing with Ienzo went: kept silent. Ienzo suddenly stopped dead in his tracks, forcing Aeleus to double back in confusion.

Ienzo composed himself and took Aeleus by the hand, his own small, rather dainty hands engulfed by Aeleus's large palms. "Thank you," he said, his voice as gentle and sincere as the naturally dry and sarcastic boy could make it. He stood up on his tip-toes and wrapped his arms around Aeleus's neck to pull him down into a kiss. When he pulled back, he asked, "And how are you?" He was being remarkably un-self-absorbed for once, most likely out of sheer gratitude. "You barely spoke a single word the entire time. Are you okay?"

"I'm—" Aeleus was about to comment on how he didn't like that Myde gave him his number so casually, but he found that he… didn't care anymore. Ienzo had met Myde. They'd connected on some level, even if it was just a shared appreciation for their allegedly idiotic boyfriends. He'd even gotten his number. And yet, he'd chosen him, a hulking football player who couldn't tell his left shoe from his right, never mind know what counted as appropriate concert-going attire. Him. Not Myde. And in that single instant, all his worries melted away.  "—great," he finished, his heart feeling lighter than it had in weeks. "I am totally great."

And he meant it. He'd never meant anything as much as he did just then, and he leaned down to sweep Ienzo up into another deep kiss. He didn't care that they were in the middle of the street. He didn't care that it was a chilly night, or that strangers were staring, or that Ienzo would probably lecture him on the inappropriateness of such involved public displays of affection when they finally broke apart. All that mattered was that he had Ienzo, and he wasn't letting him go.