Uniquely Flawed Logic

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12. Weather the Storm

There were some knocks at his bedroom door, but because Wes had decided to be in a pit of depression (and because his mom was the only one home, and she wouldn’t ream him out for it) he was not going to answer it.

“Wes.”

No Gina. There would be no more talking. There would be no more feelings. Today was all about him not interacting with other people.

The second set of knocks were a little more insistent.

"Mi-iiiike,” Gina whined.

“No.” Wes narrowed his eyes at his gateway to the outside world. “That will not work.”

He gave the door one last glare to let it know who was boss before seeking out his- Where was it? Oh, desk.

“You know why?” Wes continued, dipping his spoon into a pint of coffee ice cream. “Because today is moping day. Today, I am going to mope, and I am going to sulk, and I am going - and this entirely theoretically only in the way that it saves my masculinity, because it’s totally going to happen - I am going to cry.”

He shoved a spoonful of the creamy goodness into his mouth and savored the sweet taste followed by that bite of caffeine. So good.

“And then?” He said after a few spoonfuls, because he had kind of forgotten where he was in his monologue. “I am done. I am done with this. This.”

He motioned to himself and the chaotic room around him, blanket fort off kilter (shut up, it was for comfort) and empty Oreo containers littering the floor betwixt his sporadically placed tissues, which he might have been throwing at the TV when the characters did something particularly Nick-like.

He motioned to all of it with dramatically spread arms, as though Gina could see him.

“There will be no more…this,” Wes declared. “I’m sick of it. Sick of being sad. So I have decided,” he explained, settling on the edge of his bed. “- that today there will be far too many calories inhaled, and ridiculous pajama pants worn, and brains rotted out from horrible, over-sappy romance movies. And then,” he said, thrusting his spoon in the air to emphasize this. “I will set fire to all the stupid poems and flowers and pictures and all of it, and I will move on and be AMAZING.”

Wes had all the items in-question packed up neatly in a box under his bed, including some of Nick’s old t-shirts that had made their way over to his house, and some of his discarded pirate-bear sketches, and the receipt for the gift shop hat from New York for some reason, that Wes had kept because he had gotten a crowd of strangers to think Nick was stupid and for no other reason.

Wes shook his head and tried to get back on track, waving a hand at his closed door, not even sure if Gina was still on the other side.

“I have decided amazement will ensure. I will be unable to achieve higher levels of day-to-day life involvement, for I will have reached the top. I will see the mountain’s peak,” he declared, hopping atop his bed, waving his spoon in a mad flourish. “I will perch upon its edge with my arms spread wide, banner waving and trumpets blowing, hollering into the wind, because I am a winner.

“And then,” he continued, collapsing his legs underneath him and flopping back onto his bed, ankles crossed. “When the metaphor has been achieved and I muster the courage to move on, to live, because this is high school god damn it and clearly, not the end of the world,” he pointed at the door. “I will go forth and be the most stunning example of human existence that the peons of peons will have ever dreamed to conceive.” He threw an arm over his eyes dramatically, and were Annelea there, she would have been proud. “Their eyes will burn with the might of my radiance, and I will step upon their broken egos and crushed dreams and all their depravity and leap into Godliness.

“And Nick, god damn, Roman will be so depressed, will so rue the day he spurned my amazement-” He paused and threw a glare at the door. “Despite the fact I earned my fate, shut up,” and then continued. “That he will be forced to cry for the rest of his miserable life, that is how stupendous I intend to be.”

Wes discarded his half-eaten pint of ice cream onto the nightstand and sat back, contemplating his life, waving a finger around as though conducting an imaginary symphony. “You know like, this feeling and experience stuff, it makes you stronger. I think I’m going to really grow from this.” He patted his chest. “Like, internally. I feel I have grown. This will be the depth of emotions for me to draw on when I need to be all artistic and crap.” He turned and buried his head into his pillow, mumbling stubbornly into its soft and caring folds, “I will be glorious.”

There were a few painful seconds on completion of his speech where Wes almost believed he had given it to an empty doorway.

Which was sad, because he had worked really hard on it. He had plenty of free-time, now that Nick was no longer a part of his existence.

After an unsteady pause, there was an inevitable, if undeserved, sigh.

Wes could hear Gina thump her forehead against the outside of his door, a universal sign of self-disparagement. “Okay, so we clearly left you alone for too long.”

“Shut up,” he mumbled, shaking a fist at his door.

Wes could survive for ten minutes without someone else’s interference. Because he was amazing.

It was like she hadn’t even listened to his spiel at all.

“Dude, I thought that was good.”

Wes perked up instinctively at that voice, before he remembered he was supposed to be moping and happiness had no place in that.

Was that Cooke? Why was Cooke here? Judging by the volume, his comment hadn’t been aimed at the door (and therefore Wes) but to Gina or…whoever else was outside his room. Wes should probably ask. So he could know who he was ignoring/making a fool of himself in front of (as though that were new hahaha- oh, his life hurt sometimes).

“It was…different.”

This time Wes didn’t feel bad for taking interest in his doorjamb.

Steve? Why the hell was he-? Who else did they have back there?

“Is Nick back there?” Wes mumbled, half-afraid to ask and already burying his head underneath his pillow. “No wait, he would have already called me a stupid girl by now, because that’s what he does.”

Or he just skipped the middle man of critiquing Wes’s behavior and attacked Wes himself, like how unimportant and insignificant he was and clearly, people should only hang out with him to get a good lay. Or if they needed help reaching something up high. Or needed another dude to stand in the background and smile.

That was the accumulation of his positive assets. He literally had nothing else.

Except whatever Gina saw in him, though to his knowledge, she could find being tall and smiling the most desirable qualities in a man.

That was it; all other tall-and-smileys were going down.

“You two,” and that was Gina’s take-charge voice. “-stop encouraging him.”

Maybe that was something else she liked. A man she could order around.

It all makes sense now.

“Does this happen often?”

That was Petrovski again. Seemed kind of rude of them to have a conversation about Wes when he was right there.

Sure, there was a door in the way, but sound carried damn it.

“Only when…” Gina began, but Cooke was the one to bring it home.

“On Nick days,” the blond declared.

There was a steady pause where none of asked asking for a definition of the so-declared ‘Nick days’, because apparently all of them were familiar with the days and the behavior they inspired and unmistakably everything in the whole wide world made the most epic of sense.

Wes reached out for his pint of ice cream. Ice cream wasn’t confusing, or mean to him.

Ice cream was his friend.

“That’s it,” Gina said, annoyed, and then the door burst (not-really-it-just-opened-slowly-but-burst-sounded-more-dramatic) open, revealing things 1, 2, and 3.

Gina marched into the room first, the leader of their little expedition and Wes kind of (okay, totally) pulled his legs up on the bed to give her room to sit down, all the while giving the appearance of absolute apathy and taking in another spoonful of ice cream.

“Dude,” Cooke cheered, eyes glued to the area of poorly draped sheets and mountains of pillows. “Blanket fort, awesome.”

Without looking up from his dessert Wes offered up his hand in primo high-five position, pretty sure Cooke didn’t bother looking his way either as they completed the maneuver, too in awe of Wes’s blanket masterpiece.

Gina made and unimpressed sound while Steve lingered near the door, uncertain of entering such sacred territory but Wes semi-motioned him in with his spoon (might as well, but not all the way, he was still objecting this).

The teen narrowed his eyes at Gina. “Anyone else coming out of your clown car of unnecessary nosiness?”

“Think of it as totally-validated concern,” Gina chirped back, far too smug.

Behind her, Cooke was looking back and contemplating the door in confusion, pondering the existence of the mentioned clown car. Somehow having figured this out, Steve shook his head ‘no’.

Really? Just- really?

Those two were like, the most opposite like opposites (so they were both guys and they both played football and they both liked video games and whatever, Wes’ point still stood) so how was it that somehow they had come together when Wes wasn’t looking? How was it that they understood each other, and became bros, and Cooke didn’t hate Steve and Steve wasn’t like “Ph-sha Cooke Evans, waste of space, beneath me, dear God Wes, why do you hang out with such stupid people?” and they, in just that one little interaction, had a working relationship. They were cool. They were chill.

Why was Nick making everything so difficult?

Damn it, this was the kind of crap he was supposed to be done with.

Wes sighed and went for another bite of ice cream, only to come back with an empty spoon. In his distraction, it seemed Steve had oh-so casually taken his pint away, leaving Wes with no distractions and three people staring him down with the “This will not stand” face.

“This will stand,” he informed them anyway, because he had to try.

He didn’t even get a confused face from Cooke, he didn’t even get to object when shoes were forced upon his feet and a sweatshirt was thrown over his head and Oreos- noooo, Oreos- were stolen from his grasp and he was hauled out to Gina’s car, moping and whining and refusing to surrender or aid their horrendous deeds.

Which…you know, turned out to not matter all that much because Steve just carried him out of the house.

Wes wasn’t sure what part of it disturbed him most when his mom waved goodbye to him from the door, far too cheerful for someone who had just witnessed a kidnapping.

See earlier statement, ice cream was his friend. His current “friends” were stealing him away somewhere against his will and made fun of his pants. They weren’t ice cream so clearly, they weren’t friends.

And because it was moping day, Wes didn’t feel bad for thinking that at all. Nor did he think about buying his “friends” ice cream because of it.

Nor did he wonder about where they were going.

Because his moping could be mobile, and that was just how he rolled.


Surprise of all surprises, they ended up at the Lakeside. Wes’ bigger question, rather than why they were there, was why the hell didn’t they bother locking the doors on the weekend?

Like, the drama club practiced on weekends all the time, but it was never scheduled. They didn’t really have permission, but then again they obviously didn’t need it because the building wasn’t ever locked. Not even the auditorium, full of expensive sound equipment and light equipment and microphones and props and costumes and sets and a bunch of other things that were probably very costly. No, by all means, let’s put a bunch of teenagers on the honor system. Clearly, everything will turn out okay.

The most frustrating part about all this, was that it had.

Sort of made Wes want to punch everybody in the face. Not the school administrators specifically, just everyone.

“Take me hoooome," Wes whined, drawing out the ‘o’ sound for as long as possible to add to the annoyance.

If he had to suffer, they had to suffer. Everyone would suffer.

Except he couldn’t reach everyone, so he had to stick to Steve and Cooke (because Gina had ducked out of sight as soon as they had hit the hallways, running off somewhere that Wes should probably care more about).

“Seriously guys,” Wes began, swiping at Steve’s back. The moment it had become obvious that Wes had no intention of walking, Petrovski had just slung him over his shoulder while Cooke made unhelpful (and un-humorous, as far as everyone who wasn’t Cooke was concerned) commentary. “I have money. I will give you money. Or better yet,” he twisted his head to get a better look at Cooke who- yes, he had a camera. Where the hell had he gotten a camera?

Whatever, that wouldn’t deter negotiations. “Ice cream?”

Because Cooke loved ice cream almost as much as he loved painting things. Speaking of which-

“We could repaint my room.”

“Seriously?” Cooke asked, dropping the camera down for a minute so he could look at Wes himself, bouncing on the balls of his feet in half-contained enthusiasm. “Dude, we could do so many colors.”

“Focus,” Steve said quietly, giving Wes’s leg a warning pat.

Cooke, curse him, remembered what he was supposed to be doing and pulled the camera back up, shaking his head sadly.

“Sorry Wes,” the blond said, twisting the camera a bit. “Orders are orders.”

“Besides,” Steve continued. “This is to help you.”

“Are you going to punch Nick in the face?” Wes asked, half-serious and a hundred percent hopeful. “Because that would make me feel better. You didn’t have to drag me out of the house to do it though; you could have just got it on film.” Wes tilted his head, feeling the blood creep ever so slowly into his brain. “And then it would be immortalized forever. I could watch it, whenever I want.” He waved a hand at their blond cameraman. “Is that what we’re doing?”

“No one’s getting punched in the face,” Steve muttered.

Cooke wasn’t entirely successfully in withholding a depressed sigh at the thought (honestly, Cooke was becoming number one right now, with his love for blanket forts combined with his desire for Nick-related violence).

“Just a little punching?” Wes asked, still optimistic. “You don’t have to go for the face, the stomach and balls are also acceptable.”

"Dude.” The wounded reply came from Cooke- okay, so there was the line for Wes.

He could feel Steve sigh, all slow and gradual-like but not leaden with annoyance. Just, almost-there-ness.

The-things-I-do-for-you-ness.

Stop-being-so-silly-ism.

“No violence,” he asserted.

Before Wes could push this point, there was turning and a doorway (which was a vindictive jerk-face and smacked Wes in the head). They took a few more steps before Wes was plopped back onto his feet and gently pushed into a chair situated in the middle of an empty classroom.

All the desks were pushed up against the walls, leaving his position isolated. Directly behind his chair, aimed at the wall to his right, was one of those digital projectors; currently dazzling the blank wall with a big square of white light.

There were some footsteps at the door as Gina re-entered the scene, smiling and wiggling her fingers in greeting before and taking a seat in front of Wes. It was off to the side, right next to a tripod Cooke had secured his camera to, and was now attempting (and failing, it was a little endearing to watch Steve help the blond untangle himself from all the wires) to hook up to a laptop that was off to the side, placed on another desk.

Once Cooke had been successfully freed from his electronic cord confinements, Gina took over camera/laptop hookup duty (with Cooke mildly pouting in the background, arms folded in protest) while Steve checked the connections on yet another laptop. This one, it seemed, was feeding into the projector.

When they all got settled (and Cooke had snuck Wes some Oreos on the down low), Gina pulled out a handful of note cards, combing through them until she found the appropriate one.

As she opened her mouth, Wes said. “No.”

In response, she gave him her best disgruntled face, with Cooke pouting and Steve gifting him a patient look, but Wes waved them off.

“No. Maybe ‘yes’ before, but there are cameras that are hooked up to computers and given that I do have just the tiniest slivers of self-preservation, I’m going to go ahead and pass on whatever it is we’re-”

“Do you trust me?”

Gina cocked her head to the side, innocent, but depriving none of the weight of her words. Right to the point, right to the core of the issue, because yes, this whole deal stunk of bad ideas and possible misery, but Wes did, and always would, trust Gina.

Hell, he trusted all of them. And Petrovski trusted the hell out of him.

The very least Wes could do was hear them out. Give…whatever it was they were doing a shot.

Wes nodded slowly, once. It was all he needed to do.

A smile broke across Gina’s face, relieved. “You want to feel better right? You want to get rid of all-”

“This,” Cooke interjected happily, in reference to Wes’ earlier comments.

Gina nodded. “Yeah, you want to get rid of all that bad energy right? That weight. Well, you’re going to do it. You’re going to get rid of it all and we’ll record it and then we’ll destroy it; destroy the physical manifestation of this thing that’s weighing you down and…”

Something in Wes’ chest tightened at the earnestness. They were so thoughtful, they were trying so hard-

She shrugged hopelessly. “Honestly, it won’t make it all go away just like that. But we figured-” She motioned to her two co-conspirators, both agreeing, both trying- “-that maybe it could help. Just a little. And if it did, then it’s definitely worth trying. Okay?”

She smiled again and damn, damn he loved her.

“Okay,” Wes echoed.

He promised to himself that he would match their efforts, he would try as hard as they were.

Gina gave him a knowing smile, corners of her mouth tucked up coyly as she looked at him over the edge of her cards.

“Alright,” she chirped.

That seemed to be Steve’s cue to do some button clicking. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the blank wall beside them was decorated with a large picture of musical rehearsal, emitting from the projector.

It was from a time Wes and Mr. Powel had stayed behind to work with the slower-learning dancers. Of course, this was just the nice way of saying Seth and Nick.

In the background, Wes could see Mr. Powel talking to Seth about something, maybe the proper footwork for a jazz square, again, but the picture mostly focused on Wes and Nick. In it, Wes was trying desperately to show his friend how to do a certain move, almost certain at the time that the information was going right through one ear and out the other, because honestly, Nick sucked.

So many times Wes had to stay behind after rehearsal to re-run a certain part of a routine that was giving Nick trouble. There had been so many patient nights where they’d work for hours and then poof, it would all magically come together, and Nick would buy them dinner at McDonalds (because Wes had earned it).

They’d stake out a booth and Nick would ward off any of the theater-haters while Wes tried to catch up on homework and eat and talk all at the same time. They would stay for as long as they could, because Wes knew Nick wasn’t always fond of home, even if he never said it, he just, knew. And Wes would get home late at night and sometimes he would practice his dancing and sometimes he would try to figure out singing and sometimes he would just laugh at the comics that Nick had drawn and snuck into his notebook, adventures of dancing ninjas that saved the world alongside swashbuckling pirates, gifted with melodious tones and fancy-free footwork. The ladies (and later on, the gents) threw themselves down at their feet, but the ninjas and the pirates were too busy to entertain relationships.

There were too many things to do. Too many shows to give.

Now, to think back on it, maybe it had all stood for something. Something other than Nick being bored and wanting to “Share his artistic talents with the obviously un-gifted”.

“So,” Gina began, somehow recognizing Wes’s little trip down memory lane. “What’s this a picture of?”

Well, obviously- “Teaching Nick how to dance.”

Gina rolled her eyes. “And what do you think of when you see it?”

“Is the next question, ‘How does it make you feel?’ because-”

Her eyes narrowed. “Wes-”

“Ninjas,” was the first word out of Wes’ mouth. “And uh…pirates. McDonalds, dancing, and jazz squares. Lots and lots of jazz squares.”

“Okay,” Gina replied, and apparently his answer satisfied. “Now how does it make you feel?”

“I knew it.” Wes glared at her, but there was no heat behind it. “I dunno. Like, how do I feel seeing it? Or just like…” He cocked his head to the side. “Safe, I guess. And happy.”

He turned to get a better look at the picture. Nick’s eyes more attentive than Wes had ever thought they could be, studying the dancer and attempting to mimic the move. Not frustrated, not angry, just…focused. On Wes.

“Those were good times,” Wes mumbled, thinking back on the pile of comics he had secured in the bottom drawer of his desk, far away from the things he had doomed to fire. Those were a good laugh; there was no point in destroying them. They weren’t important.

“How about this one?” Gina said.

Wes realized that they were moving on now, and no one was staying behind just so he could daydream. He shook his head and looked back up at the wall, flushing once he took in the picture.

“Where did-?”

“Russel,” Gina and Cooke answered at the same time.

Steve just shrugged in response, leaving Wes with nothing but an embarrassing picture of him and Nick during one of Seth’s Halo-a-thon’s. It was a guys’ night (Russel included despite an impressive amount of protesting, Aaron had dug out the puppy-eyes because he had wanted Russel to spend time with him).

Unfortunately, with all of them present there were five guys and only four controllers, meaning one person had to sit out every round. While Russel had graciously volunteered to sit out, well, all of them, they had ultimately decided they would just take turns.

Which meant when it inevitably became Nick’s turn to sit out, he refused to be without entertainment, and since a Nick without entertainment was pretty much hell for the rest of them…

Yeah, the fact that it was a unanimous decision for Wes to play that round from Nick’s lap, while at the time a necessity, had still been…creepy. But Nick had been appeased, and no one had spitballs or rubber bands or paper clips constantly hurled at their faces for a good ten minutes, so he hadn’t complained.

The picture Russel had snagged (and that would explain why he had died so many times that round, he wasn’t even touching the controller) featured Nick sitting on the ground with his back resting against Seth’s bed, arms wrapped around Wes’ waist as the teen leaned into him, tongue poking out the side of his mouth as he concentrated on the game. Nick’s head rested lazily right behind his ear, nuzzling that spot, just so he could dole out unhelpful criticisms.

Wes flushed as remembered the feeling, how awkward it had felt at the time but…well, nice, to be held (because he had always done the holding with Gina) and how safe and comfortable it had been. How not-so-bad, it was.

Or, at the time, it had been not-so-bad, but he wanted it now, he wished he could have it now.

Damn it.

“And how does this make-?”

“Sad.”

Gina paused. Actually, all three of them held still, and Wes could feel their eyes boring into the side of his face as he studied at the picture.

He tried to shrug; he did, because he needed to. But it was hard.

“Just-” He sucked in a breath, shaking his head and looking back at Gina, imploring her to stop, please, he got it, he was a screw up. “Sad.”

“Sad because of something you lost?” Gina elaborated, because this was supposed to be painful. It was supposed to just…rip the scab off.

"Yes.” And no, no he would not cry, damn it.

That may have been on the plan for the day, but he wasn’t going to do that now, not on tape, he didn’t care-

It got worse before it got better. And that better be frickin’ true because Wes would be pissed if he went through all this shit only for it to pull him down deeper.

“…I think we’re done with the pictures,” Gina finally allowed.

Steve pulled the photo down, leaving behind that large square of light. Somewhat comforting in its bleakness.

“Almost done,” Gina promised.

Wes knew she wasn’t lying, not that he would have ever thought she would just- the truth there, the open honestly.

They were almost done.

“But this is the hard part,” She explained, pulling out another flashcard and tapping them against her knees. “You need to tell us how you feel. Tell us what went wrong.”

“Oh,” Wes mumbled, running a hand across his face, feeling tired. Just, really tired. “Is that all?”

“Wes-” There was a warning sound, but he waved it off.

“No, no I get it. I can do this.” He resituated himself in his chair, trying to sit a little taller, shaking out his shoulders. He looked into the camera, into the thing they were going to destroy.

So here’s what happened, I guess.” He turned his head towards the side, fingers tapping impatiently against the side of his chair. “There’s this guy. No, screw it - that sounds stupid.” He took a breath and looked back at the camera.

“There’s Nick. And he’s stupid and he’s impulsive and he’s...Nick, but he’s also…”

He cursed under his breath. He didn’t do this, he didn’t talk, that wasn’t him but he- “He’s also Nick. And yeah, he’s dumb but he’s Nick and he does Nick-like things. And sometimes they make me mad and I just want to kill him, and sometimes they’re dangerous and I want to tie him up in a corner full of soft and un-harmful things and make sure he’ll never get hurt, and sometimes…”

His hands came up and he didn’t know what to do with them, so he ran them through his hair just to keep them occupied. “Sometimes he’s just…the best right? In like, addition to you.” He quickly clarified and threw Gina a meaningful look, but she was only smiling, and that was pride on her face.

It gave him the strength to continue. “But on top of this he’s also Nick, and I’ve known him forever, so obviously-” Wes looked between Cooke and Steve, trying to get some support. “Obviously, that can’t be right. I have to be mistaken because he…”

Wes rubbed at his eyes again, trying to figure it out. “You do these things like investing heavily in someone and it’s…What if it’s for nothing, right? What if you mean nothing, because you’re the ‘nothing’ guy? Or the ‘nice’ guy, and that’s your label? That’s what you’ve got. And ‘nice’ guys work for girls, but they don’t…”

Wes sighed and shook his head, looking back at the camera. “But that’s not the point right? The point is, I had Nick, right there, right where I wanted him to be, but I didn’t want…”

His hands curled into a fist and he looked down at his shoes again, he didn’t want to do this but he did want to get better. “I didn’t want to put all of…this-” He motioned to himself and God, that was stupid, so stupid, but no one would see it so it was fine. “I didn’t want to put it all on the line when I knew he wasn’t going to be serious. That he wouldn’t want what I wanted. And you know what?”

No one was going to hold it against him when his voice caught in his throat, when his eyes got wet or his face flushed because he trusted them and they trusted him and it happened. “I was right. He doesn’t want-”

Wes pressed his palms against his eyes, trying to stop something just like, ridiculously embarrassing from happening.

He kept going. If he didn’t say it now, he never would. “And I probably deserved it, right? I acknowledge that it’s my fault. That I pushed. Even if I pushed more than necessary, even if I never had a shot, I at least-”

More head shaking, he was a frickin’ champion of the pathetic head shake. He should hold master classes.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know, so here’s the bottom line.”

Wes locked his eyes with the camera one last time, trying to bring it all home. “Nicolai Roman is a stupid idiot, but he is my stupid idiot. Even if he doesn’t think so, or want it, he will always be my stupid idiot, and he’s just going to have to deal with that very unpleasant fact for the rest of his days. And...”

Wes squeezed his eyes closed, everything tense. He was almost done, almost done- “While I am almost certain the fact he doesn’t want me probably won’t hurt forever, and that this…knowledge has made me act…”

“Like a dick?” Cooke offered.

Wes guffawed, pointing at the blond knowingly. “Yeah, like a dick. I don’t…”

This was it, this was the happy-but-sad part, this was the part where Wes had to let go.

He hated it, but it was time. “I don’t regret it. These feelings.” He shrugged. “I mean, I should, but I don’t.”

He gave the camera one last smile before turning it to Gina, who had given into the desire to cry (it was kind of her thing and loved it, loved the tears, loved the sincerity and empathy). She was beaming, all out beaming with pride as Wes finished his heart-wrenching confession.

“The end,” he declared, shaking a finger at the camera.

Cooke hit a button, probably to stop the recording just as Gina started clapping.

“That was amazing,” she gushed, running forward and throwing her arms around his neck.

What it had been was painful, but she didn’t need Wes to tell her that. He didn’t really need to tell any of them that. They knew.

Steve was the one who broke them apart, tapping a finger against the side of his laptop pointedly, while the other hand fiddled with the keyboard.

“Gina,” he said, and that was it, no instructions no reasoning no…

Gina gave Wes one last squeeze and a kiss on his forehead before skipping back to her seat, motioning for Wes to turn his attention back towards the projector wall.

“This part’s for your eyes only,” she explained, clasping her hands in front of her chest. She looked like she was about to say something else but she bit her lip instead, reaching over to pull Cooke away from his laptop, Steve herding both of them out of the room.

Well…that wasn’t disconcerting at all.

Wes turned back towards the projection, eyebrows furrowed as he tried to figure out what was going on. What? Where there going to be more pictures? Was this cheer-up time? A cheer up before the breakdown? Wes could really do with a pallet cleanser right about now. Maybe some pictures of kittens.

Ooo, ooh, they could have a inspirational photo montage of all the happy-drama club times to remind Wes of all the awesome things in life. Maybe there would be a dance, Wes loved those-

It wasn’t a picture.

It wasn’t a slideshow either, because Steve had opened up a media player.

Wes had about two seconds to process this before the wall was filled up with Nick, sitting in a chair much like his very own in an abandoned classroom, looking grumpily at the camera.

The date at the bottom corner clearly said today, the time stamp, maybe recent, Wes couldn’t tell because he couldn’t tear his eyes from the video.

He had the feeling he had just been bamboozled.

“This is stupid,” Nick drawled, appearing completely relaxed were it not for the nervous twitch of his fingers, drumming against the edge of the chair.

Wes knew that, Wes had done that-

“Nick-” That sounded like Russel, behind the camera, somehow mixing coaxing with threatening without any adverse reactions.

Nick threw a glare at him anyway. “This is stupid. I’m not smart. This would probably work on a smart person like-” he cut himself off, kept himself from finishing.

Part of Wes wanted to be stupid enough to think Nick was going to say him, and part of him thought that was especially pathetic, and the other part of him really wanted to the first two parts to shut the hell up so they could all focus on the video.

“I’m not smart,” Nick finished, shrugged his shoulders like it meant nothing.

“Nick.” That one was Seth which…it wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t, they were best friends and hell, Wes had Cooke on his detail, so why couldn’t Seth be involved?

"Fine,” Nick muttered, glancing off to the side. “So what, I just…”

“Say how you feel. Tell us what happened.” That prompting was unmistakably Hope.

Wes didn’t notice when he had become perched on the chair’s plastic edge, fingers curled tight as he tried to anchor himself.

On screen, Nick rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he mumbled, but it was pretty obvious he was going to what they asked.

What they had already asked Wes to do.

“So…I like Wes Chang. Or I did or…” he trailed off, scratching the side of his head.

Wes’ heart sunk, it just, crushed- “Or, at least, I’m trying not to like him because…” he trailed off, looking into the distance as though trying to work it out in his head.

Wes reminded himself to breathe again.

Stupid, stupid, he was stupid-

Nick fiddled with his hands and avoided looking into the camera’s lens. “Like, I like Wes a lot more than I am honestly comfortable with. Because he’s a dude. He’s a dude and he yells at me and he sometimes tries to strangle me in the not-sexy ways-”

Wes choked; face lighting up, but his eyes stay glued to the screen.

“But for some odd reason he’s just…Wes.” The teen on camera ducked his head in a way Wes would call bashful. It made Wes want to reach over and hug him (because obviously Nick would respond well to that, stupid-).

On screen, Nick continued, “And I like hanging with him, and he’s not…bad to spend time with. Yeah, he’s good at making out, and he looks good, but it’s not about that.” He looked up at the camera seriously. “Not that it isn’t great, because that’s great, but-”

Nick sighed, and the last time Wes had seen him this honest and heartfelt was when Nick had serenaded him, one-on-one.

And also, alsoalsoalsoalsoalsoalsoalsoalsoalso- Nicolai Roman, if this was in fact not an illusion, had just admitted to liking him. For Wes.

“I uh…” the teen seemed to struggle for the right words to say and rolled his eyes, suddenly annoyed with himself.

He looked at the camera as though to challenge it, daring for it to call him stupid. “I have feelings for Wes Chang. I also have pants-feelings for him, but, strangely enough, that’s less important. And that might sound stupid and it might, like, be stupid, because the only way I could think of to keep him close was to make him mad. Because when he was pissed at me he paid more attention and- shut it Hope,” he threatened, jabbing a finger in what had to be the cheerleader’s direction. “That is legitimate reverse psychology shit right there, and it worked, I don’t care if it didn’t work for the right reasons-”

“Focus Nick,” came Russel’s very patient nudge.

Nick shrugged, remembering he didn’t have anything to prove to his people, for they were truly his people. They wouldn’t judge, they wouldn’t turn on him.

Nick sighed and looked down at his nervous fingers, putting on his best apathetic mask when he looked back at the camera. “And he may not want me, and he may spend the rest of his life with that perfect little girlfriend of his and that-” Nick shook his head slowly, jaw tightening. “Yeah, that sucks a hell of a lot and I guess it’s partially my fault for not like…”

“Manning up and putting yourself out there?”

Had it come from anyone but Annelea, Nick would have probably stopped his speech to punch the commenter in the face.

But it was, and he loved her (would always love her), so he just gave her a devilish smirk, like he was proud to be there with her.

“Yeah,” Nick said, puffing his chest out. “So I didn’t do that. And it blew up in my face and like a man,” he said this pointedly to where Wes assumed Annelea was. “I will own up to that fact. And even though it will probably hurt for a very long time…”

Nick cut off with a shrug and seemed to decide on a different approach.

Wes’ heart was in his throat at how close, how stupidly alike they could feel but never talk about it. That was such a perfect summation of them.

“Wes Chang is mine,” Nick declared. “And he might be uptight sometimes, and like yelling too much, but he’s also like…”

It got quieter as Nick became more open, and he was fidgeting again. “He’s goofy, and he’s a good friend, and he makes me happy. And while all this-” He motioned to the camera, to the projector Wes could now see behind him. “-is stupid, and losing him…like I ever had him, was stupid, I’m glad I got what I got.”

He stopped and drummed his hands against the top of his thighs, blowing out a small puff of air. “That good now?”

“Yeah,” Russel said, but Wes could only half-hear it. “That’s good.”

The screen goes blank and Wes was on his feet, looking frantically between the door and the wall and-

"Room 302,” the projection helpfully provided.

Wes dashed out of the room, only pausing to give Gina a kiss and patting the other two on the shoulder (or face or side, he wasn’t really sure) before taking off down the hallway.

He then promptly returned for Gina, because she was a part of this too, she mattered, and the he was off.

They came to a halt once he found the room that Nick’s posse was congregated around. None of them were surprised to see Wes and Gina. Russel was visibly gleeful and exchanging high fives with Hope and Seth, while Annelea lingered behind them with her arms crossed, smug but knowing look on her face.

They were all there except the guy he was looking for, the one-

“Yours is way longer,” Seth explained.

Which was really all there was to it.

Which meant, yes, Cooke hadn’t screwed up his laptop/camera duties and Wes had been bamboozled and his girlfriend was the most amazing-est girlfriend that ever did girlfriend and- wasn’t Annelea a part of the A/V club?

That made sense, though Wes wasn’t entirely sure what he was thinking about right now to be honest. His thoughts were getting a little hard to organize because the only thing he really, really, really wanted was for Nick to come out of the room.

After that, if non-degrading or humiliating or awful things happened, that would be swell too. But honestly, following their law of averages, even with the heart-felt video there was still 50/50 shot for this to go sideways because it was them and they sucked at things or ruled at sucking and Wes just really wanted to win-

About this time, the door behind Nick’s support group burst open. Honest-to-goodness-not-dramatized, burst open, and out prowled a livid Nick.

Wes’ heart sank (again, which was frankly very impressive considering the amount of times that had happened in the past day alone), at the sight of Nick glaring down his friends, two seconds away from ‘spitting mad’.

“What the hell?!” Nick snarled.

Okay, not what he had been hoping, that was fine. Maybe he couldn’t see past Russel and Seth, maybe Wes could still get out of this with dignity and self-respect- oh, alright, he’ll be realistic and just take the dignity.

Wes gently grabbed his girlfriend’s elbow, attempting to slowly edge back down the hallway.

It would have worked if Steve and Cooke hadn’t wizarded themselves behind him, both very adamant about his inability to retreat.

“Was that a joke?! Did you pay him? Did-?” Nick altered his yelling approach for quiet threatening, moving forward to grab onto Seth’s shirt. “I swear to god, if anyone sees that video…” He threw his arms up, turning and stomping away. “He has a girlfriend for Christ’s sake!”

“Who you could share,” Gina offered.

There was a devilish smile on her face, because they were silly boys and she knew things they could never hope to understand.

Just like that they were all frozen. And by that, Wes meant that only he and Nick were frozen because no one else was surprised by this (because they were stupid. The others, not Wes and Nick. Wes and Nick were amazing).

Nick ever-so-slowly turned around, stepping between Russel and Annelea as he studied the hallway’s newest additions.

And Wes…was not doing so well with the brain-functioning-thing right now. He didn’t know what to do. Was this the part where they ran at each other with open arms to embraced one another? Or would they have to sit down and work out Plan We-All-Date (which was just-yes, the best name ever)? Or should Wes give up and punch Nick in the face before his face could-?

“You should kiss now,” Gina continued, sounding very pleased with herself.

Apparently, that was all the motivation Nick needed, because seconds later Wes found his face full of face.

There were lips and arms and his Nick, his (okay, theirs, but that was for later) and there might have been some not-so PG sounds and the retreat of everyone else involved. There could have been cheering, but Wes wouldn’t know, because he had his Nick, and his Nick didn’t think he was worthless after all, and that was just all kinds of amazing.

Nick was where he was wanted, and he knew he was wanted, and there would be no more doubt, or anger, or fear-

“Seriously?” Nick asked when they broke apart for air, ignoring the catcalls and camera flashes from the other side of the hallway. “Power Rangers?”

And wait a…Reboot, reboot, try to figure out what the hell-

And then Wes remembered.

Instead of being defensive, Wes smiled, because his joke-gift pajama pants from Nick were awesome.

He patted Nick’s back. “It’s Morphin’ time!” he chirped, smile only growing at Cooke’s call of “Pterodactyl!” behind them, Seth joining in with “Mastodon!”

“No seriously,” Nick muttered, casting Wes’ pajamas a dubious look. “I leave you alone for like, five minutes-”

“Do not ruin this by talking,” Wes warned, running a hand through Nick’s hair.

The other teen narrowed his eyes. “What, are we already back to nagging? I did not miss-”

The next kiss was totally to get him to shut up. There was no other reason, no other awesome reason.

Eventually, when they came up for air, Nick rested his forehead against Wes’. “Okay,” he whispered, lips quirking up in a smirk. “I kind of missed it.”

And really, with sweet talk like that, no one should be surprised that the making out continued for quite a while.

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