[community profile] mini_nanowrimo: week 4

Nov. 24th, 2008 12:14 am
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[personal profile] fandomfrom3
"I don't think this is working out," Nick said.

Michael had been lying on the couch, leafing through a Whitman collection and absentmindedly kneading Dervish's fur, but at those unexpected words he went still. The cat purred on, ignorant of the sudden mood shift. "What?"

Nick stood in the bedroom doorway, classic jeans and t-shirt chic, hands in his pockets and hair in his face. He looked completely jumpable. "I don't think this is working." He stared at the floor. "I think we should break up."

It wasn't like Michael had never heard those words before. Sometimes he'd even said them himself. Nick wasn't his first boyfriend; Nick wasn't even his first serious boyfriend. But the fact was he honestly hadn't seen it coming this time. Nick was great – smart, funny, laid back, really fucking gorgeous – and they had a good time together, they fit well together, they were comfortable together. Michael had even gotten used to Nick's psychotic cat.

"It's not you," Nick said. "It's not me, either, really, I don't think. I like you a lot, Michael. I like being with you. It just seems like this is a bad time for both of us, you know? I mean, my work, your school, rent, my dad – it's kind of a crazy time."

"I guess I get your point," Michael said, not lying. He did see what Nick was getting at. Their lives were hectic right now.

Dervish meowed her irritation at the lack of attention and pushed at Michael's hand with her head until he started petting her again.

"And, you know, I love you. But when the timing's off – sometimes love isn't enough to make things work out, right?" Nick spread his hands helplessly. "I wanna stay friends with you. I don't want to miss out on having you in my life. And maybe sometime down the road we can make it work out, being an us...but not now."

"Yeah," Michael said slowly. He watched Dervish intently, because if he looked up he might see Nick's face, and that might hurt a lot right now. Then he said, "I don't want to lose you, either. I'd like to stay friends."

Nick sounded relieved. "Good." He came over to the couch and pried Dervish off Michael's chest; she protested loudly, dug her claws into Michael's t-shirt, and hung on for dear life, but eventually Nick managed to extricate her. He put her on the floor and she immediately bolted for a hiding spot behind the TV. Nick took her spot, sitting comfortably on Michael's chest – and, thankfully, throwing most of his weight on the back of the couch – and said, "You're kind of the best boyfriend I've ever had."

"Only kind of?" Michael raised an eyebrow. "My family adores you, you know, what am I supposed to tell them?"

Nick shrugged and pulled gently at one of Michael's braids. "I was thinking I should probably move out," he said. "My buddy Ian was looking for a new roommate anyway, I could call him."

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." Michael traced a pattern on the leg of Nick's jeans. Ian was a good guy, he'd make a good roommate.

"Only his complex doesn't allow pets?"

Michael paused. "Are you asking me if Dervish can stay with me?"

"If you don't mind. She needs a good home," Nick said defensively, "she already adores you, and anyway it would give me an excuse to come over and see you a lot. Not that I'll need an excuse, really."

"Mmm. Yeah, fine, she can stay here."

"And I'll keep paying my share of the rent 'til you find another roommate."

"Thanks," Michael said. "I appreciate it."

Nick leaned over, kissed him lightly. "You're gonna be okay, Michael," he said. "And, I mean, I know you always are – but I mean really okay. Seriously okay."

"Sure," Michael said. "And one day it's gonna work out with someone."

"Maybe it'll even be with me."

Michael smiled a little. "May be."

Nick kissed him again, climbed off him. "I do love you," he said, uncharacteristically soft. "And I am sorry about this."

"Don't be," Michael said. "Do what you gotta do, right? And maybe it's all for the best."

Because Michael Taylor was always okay. It was part of who he was.

"I'll call Ian," Nick said. "And then...I guess I'll start packing. You can go back to reading."

"Sure," Michael said, but when Nick disappeared into the bedroom he didn't pick his book back up. Instead he lay there on the couch, stared at the ceiling, and mentally tried to pinpoint the moment they'd lost control of their relationship, but instead all he could think about was the day he'd first met Nick.

"I am so screwed," he told the ceiling.

"What?" Nick called from the bedroom.

"Nothing. I was talking to myself."


*~*~*


Thump, thump.

Liam's head hurt.

Thump, thump.

Liam's head hurt and his mouth tasted evil.

Thump, thump.

Liam's head hurt and his mouth tasted evil and he needed to throw up and his lips were drier than the Sahara Desert and oh god who'd turned the lights up so brightly and why wouldn't that pounding stop?

Thump, thump.

Cursing under his breath, Liam slowly and painfully dragged himself more or less to an upright position. He was on the floor, he noted distantly; apparently making it to the bed or the couch hadn't been an option. He couldn't really remember much about last night, which neither surprised nor bothered him. He considered the possibility of standing up.

Thump, thump.

Why wouldn't that godawful pounding stop? Irritated, he dragged himself to his feet, stood very still for a moment until the room stopped spinning, and staggered to the kitchen.

The drawer by the sink was empty, and he slammed it shut furiously. What the hell. He'd bought a new stash and put it there just yesterday, hadn't he? Well, maybe not yesterday. But recently. He clearly remembered that.

Thump, thump.

How the hell could he be out already? Furious, he grabbed the last bottle of whisky from the counter and took a long drink, which at least helped with the nasty taste in his mouth –

Thump, thump.

– if not with that annoying pounding in his head –

Thump, thump.

"Liam, I know you're in there and I'm not going away so you might as well open the damn door!"

Oh. Maybe it wasn't in his head. Keeping the whisky bottle firmly in hand, he stumbled back into the front room, undid the locks on the door – which was more difficult than it probably should have been – and opened it. "Ryan," he greeted, and took a swig from his bottle.

"Liam," his brother answered with an obvious lack of pleasure. He pointed at the bottle. "You know it's like two in the afternoon, right?"

Liam shrugged. "Hair of the dog. What are you doing here?"

"I'm worried about you. Can I come in?"

He shrugged again. Held the door open to let Ryan in.

Ryan looked around the cramped, dirty apartment with clear distaste, then said, "How are you paying for this?"

"What?" Liam staggered over to the couch, sank down to a seat.

"I heard you lost your job." Ryan didn't sit down. Liam suspected he was afraid to.

"Uh. Yeah, I guess I did...it was a shitty job, anyway." He'd gotten fired, actually, for coming in shitfaced. Not that he was going to tell Ryan that. Ryan wasn't half as judgmental and prone to freaking out as, say, Tommy, but he was still Liam's older brother and still not at all pleased with how Liam's life was turning out.

"So how are you paying your rent?"

Liam examined his watch, a birthday present from Paul two years ago. "I have savings."

"Which I kind of doubt you're spending on things like rent. I mean, who needs to pay their bills when you can buy more alcohol and drugs instead, right?"

Liam shrugged and took another drink.

Ryan sighed. Loudly. "Go take a shower," he said. "Put on clean clothes. Or at least the cleanest clothes you can find. I'll take you to lunch. When was the last time you ate something?"

"I'm not hungry," Liam said. "Thank you for worrying about me, but please just go away, okay?"

"William Andrew Donnelly, get your scrawny ass in that shower."

"Fuck you."

"Lee!" Ryan grabbed him by the shoulder, shook him roughly; Liam almost dropped his whisky. "Paul's dead," Ryan said harshly, and Liam did drop his bottle. It crashed to the floor and shattered. "He's not coming back. And I'm sorry, but you sitting around killing yourself slowly doesn't fix anything!"

Hands shaking badly, Liam slid off the couch and started picking up bits of broken glass.

He hadn't cried when Paul died. Hadn't cried at the funeral.

Had hardly been sober since.

"Liam, you can't keep doing this to yourself," Ryan said. He sounded like he was almost crying. Why? "You can't keep doing this to us."

Liam gave up and dropped the glass, ducked his head down to hide in his knees. Why did they care what he did, anyway?

"Does it help?" Ryan demanded. "I mean, for you, Liam, does being constantly out of your head help? Does it make it stop hurting?"

He didn't look up, but shook his head a little. If he was honest, no. Even when he was stoned he woke up knowing Paul wasn't there anymore, and it hurt. But it was better than the alternative.

Wasn't it?

Liam didn't remember what it was like to be sober.

"Then why do you do this?" Ryan begged.

Because facing the world without a shield was a terrifying idea, Liam thought, but what he said, in a miserable, broken whisper, was "I don't know anymore."


*~*~*


"Michael," Irene said, dropping into the seat across from him rather more dramatically than was actually called for, and dumping a double handful of shopping bags on the café table. "I'm late."

"You're late," Michael agreed. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

She shrugged, tossed her hair over her shoulder. "Sorry, I got held up at Firefly Jewelry. Are you going to eat that?" she asked, poking at the remaining fries on his plate.

"Yes, but help yourself anyway. Firefly Jewelry?"

"On Newbury Street?"

He blinked. "Do you seriously have the money to shop on Newbury Street? Because if so, hi, what are you buying me for Christmas?"

She made a face at him and popped a fry in her mouth. "No, I don't have the money to shop Newbury, but I like to torture myself with all the pretty things I can't buy. But! I did get some Christmas shopping done. Not there. Including your gift. Don't you dare look."

Irene had talked in fragments since Michael had met her, and he didn't bother commenting on it. "How did the fashion shoot go?"

"Fine. Models are divas. That's not news." She sighed. "It was a paycheck, anyway."

"Yeah, I need a few more of those."

"How's David? Couldn't make lunch?" She took another fry.

"No, uh..." Michael cleared his throat. "That's over. We broke up."

"Really?" Irene looked up at that, really paid attention. "That's too bad, you two were good together."

"Yeah, well. It was a while ago. We should really talk more often so you know these things."

She ignored that. "I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner! What happened?"

He took a drink from his Coke. "He got a job in London. I wasn't going to move overseas and he didn't want to do the long-distance thing so...we broke up. Best thing for everyone, you know?"

"You have the most ridiculously civil breakups of anyone I have ever met," she said, a little sullenly, and he laughed –

"It's to compensate for the fact that you have the most ridiculously dramatic breakups of anyone I have ever met."

"Yeah, whatever." She waved a waiter over and ordered her own soda and "more fries, please".

When the waiter was gone, Michael asked, "Are you really not going to eat anything but fries?"

"I've been snacking all day, I'm not that hungry. But I can't resist their fries." She sighed again, sat back. "So. Off the subject of miserable love lives. How's work? You have any shoots lined up or are you finally going to give in and join me in photographing for pop media?"

He snorted. "I actually do have a job lined up – there's this indie rock band that wants me to do the photos for their liner notes. They're paying pretty well, so I guess they've got a decent following for not having a label."

"Ugh! That sounds fun, I hate you, I have to take pictures of stick-thin models wearing trendy clothes." Irene made a disgusted face, then immediately beamed at their waiter as he put a glass of soda in front of her. "Thank you! Anyway. You're a good photographer, Michael, you deserve to be working regularly. You could be a staff photographer somewhere – "

"I really don't want to be a staff photographer somewhere."

"It'd mean regular paychecks," she pointed out.

"It'd mean not being able to turn down a job if I really, really hate the other people involved," Michael pointed back.

She thought about that, then said, "Yes, that is the part of my job I despise the most. But still. It's part of that whole whatdoyoucallit thing. Growing up."

"I like being independent," he told her. "I like choosing what jobs I'll take. I like choosing who I work with. And I have enough inherited money that I can afford to be independent, and turn down jobs just because I don't want to work with someone."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Rich kids suck."

"And you're implying that I'm the immature one here?" He laughed. "If I wanted to be a real grownup I wouldn't be a photographer."

"Well, there is that." She accepted her fries from the waiter and bit into one. "Plus there's me around to remind you why staff work sucks."

"Exactly! That's why I hang out with you." He paused. "And you hang out with me because...?"

"Because of all my college friends, you are the least annoyingly demanding."

"Thank you," Michael said, and laughed. "I try my best."


*~*~*


When Michael arrived, the members of Black Sunshine were already in his studio and waiting. And, apparently, killing time by running through their setlist. He could hear the guitars and drums before he walked into the studio.

"Hey. Michael Taylor? I'm Roden MacCullum, the band's manager – we spoke earlier?"

"Mr. MacCullum," Michael greeted, shaking the lanky man's hand. "Glad to finally meet you in person."

Roden MacCullum flashed a (fairly attractive) charming smile. "Please, call me Roden. I hope you don't mind – we got here early, your assistant let us in, the boys thought they'd make use of the time to work on a couple songs.

Michael smiled back. He couldn't help it. "Not a problem. You want to introduce me to them now?"

"Right! Let's go."

When they stepped inside, the drummer crashed to a halt, noticing them immediately. The rest of the band took another couple bars, but stopped and gave apologetic smiles.

Michael sized them up quickly.

Four men, lead singer plus two guitarists plus drummer, late twenties to mid thirties maybe, all in basic jeans-and-T-shirt combos. Well, Michael assumed they were all dressed that way – he couldn't really see what the drummer was wearing. All fairly attractive. The height difference would be a problem – the lead guitarist was at least a foot taller than the bassist. And the astonishingly ugly duster the lead guitarist was wearing would have to go or it would be the only thing anyone remembered of these pictures.

"Guys," Roden said. "This is the photographer, Michael Taylor. Mr. Taylor...the band. Kyle Dempsey, lead singer, Liam Donnelly, lead guitar, Johnny Nolan, bass guitar, Patrick o'hArgain, drummer."

"Call me Michael."

"Nice to meet you, Michael," Kyle said amiably. "You're gonna take pictures of us?"

Master of the obvious. "That's what you're paying me for," Michael answered cheerfully, and started to check his equipment.

This afternoon was going to be interesting.


*~*~*


1. Because she always wants what she thinks is best for the people she cares about. And contrary to what some people think, she does care about Buck.

"You should go out with Rick Everett," she told him over lunch one day.

He blinked at her. When it was clear she wasn't going to elaborate, he said tentatively, "Isn't this more Zanna's terr—"

"He suggested it, but I think it's a good idea. You'd be cute together. And Rick's pretty okay."

Resounding approval, he thought, except that for Candy it kind of was.

"And then we could double date," she chirped. "Won't that be fun? You and Rick, and me and Suzie!"

"Uh, Candy, aren't you – " jumping things a little?

"Zanna says Rick thinks you're cute," she added in a faux-confidential tone.

Well. In that case.

"Are you going to finish your Coke?" Candy asked.


2. Because when push comes to shove, she pushes back harder.

"I will not put up with this!" she snapped, looking so completely outraged that he almost wanted to laugh, despite feeling more completely miserable than he ever had before.

"Candy – "

"He cannot get away with this, Buck! I won't allow it!"

"Candy – "

"Who does he think he is?" she fumed. "This is outrageous. This is beyond outrageous. No one cheats on my best friend and gets away with it!"

"Candy."

Honestly, he didn't really want her to stop. It made him feel a little better, to know that someone was so completely on his side.

She tossed her hair and dropped her clipboard on top of all her textbooks – which he was, of course, carrying for her – and said, "I'm going to go give him a piece of my mind! Wait here."

That, on the other hand, might be going too far. "Candy!"

But she was already gone.

He chased her through the school – damn, but the girl could move. It probably didn't help that he was still carrying her books, on second thought, but it was a little too late to do anything about that. He caught up with her in front of Rick's locker, where she was already berating a shell-shocked Rick.

"You do not cheat on my best friend! What on Earth is wrong with you? You have this fantastic guy who's completely committed to you and you cheat on him? If my girlfriend were as stupid as you, I'd dump her right then and there – do you have any idea how lucky you are that Buck has been wasting his time with you?"

"Um," Rick squeaked.

Buck couldn't help being a little satisfied that for once, it was someone else Candy wasn't letting finish a sentence. Plus, seeing his cheating (ex-)boyfriend so at a loss for words because of a girl half his height was just really, really funny.


3. Because she knows when to not be around. Sometimes, anyway.

So, he was spending the evening with Tank, doing a guy's-night-in thing. Buffy on DVD and double fudge brownies, who needed anything more? And they were having fun, cheering on Buffy, bitching about their pathetic love lives, and Tank seriously had to do something about his crush on Zanna soon or Buck was going to have to strangle him, best-guy-friend or not.

His phone rang halfway through "Once More With Feeling" and he kind of picked it up without checking the caller ID first, and the next thing he knew Candy was complaining that Suzie had bailed out on their date for some kind of family thing and then inviting herself over while Tank (who didn't hate Candy but also didn't particularly like her) was desperately miming at him no no no over and over again. What could he do?

He said, "Well, Candy, actually – "

"Great!" she said. "I'll be over in half an hour!"

Tank shook his head sadly as Buck hung up the phone. "Man," he said, "We gotta teach you how to say no."

Buck shrugged helplessly.


*~*~*


1. Because she always wants what she thinks is best for the people she cares about. And contrary to what some people think, she does care about Buck.

"You should go out with Rick Everett," she told him over lunch one day.

He blinked at her. When it was clear she wasn't going to elaborate, he said tentatively, "Isn't this more Zanna's terr—"

"He suggested it, but I think it's a good idea. You'd be cute together. And Rick's pretty okay."

Resounding approval, he thought, except that for Candy it kind of was.

"And then we could double date," she chirped. "Won't that be fun? You and Rick, and me and Suzie!"

"Uh, Candy, aren't you – " jumping things a little?

"Zanna says Rick thinks you're cute," she added in a faux-confidential tone.

Well. In that case.

"Are you going to finish your Coke?" Candy asked.


2. Because when push comes to shove, she pushes back harder.

"I will not put up with this!" she snapped, looking so completely outraged that he almost wanted to laugh, despite feeling more completely miserable than he ever had before.

"Candy – "

"He cannot get away with this, Buck! I won't allow it!"

"Candy – "

"Who does he think he is?" she fumed. "This is outrageous. This is beyond outrageous. No one cheats on my best friend and gets away with it!"

"Candy."

Honestly, he didn't really want her to stop. It made him feel a little better, to know that someone was so completely on his side.

She tossed her hair and dropped her clipboard on top of all her textbooks – which he was, of course, carrying for her – and said, "I'm going to go give him a piece of my mind! Wait here."

That, on the other hand, might be going too far. "Candy!"

But she was already gone.

He chased her through the school – damn, but the girl could move. It probably didn't help that he was still carrying her books, on second thought, but it was a little too late to do anything about that. He caught up with her in front of Rick's locker, where she was already berating a shell-shocked Rick.

"You do not cheat on my best friend! What on Earth is wrong with you? You have this fantastic guy who's completely committed to you and you cheat on him? If my girlfriend were as stupid as you, I'd dump her right then and there – do you have any idea how lucky you are that Buck has been wasting his time with you?"

"Um," Rick squeaked.

Buck couldn't help being a little satisfied that for once, it was someone else Candy wasn't letting finish a sentence. Plus, seeing his cheating (ex-)boyfriend so at a loss for words because of a girl half his height was just really, really funny.


3. Because she knows when to not be around. Sometimes, anyway.

So, he was spending the evening with Tank, doing a guy's-night-in thing. Buffy on DVD and double fudge brownies, who needed anything more? And they were having fun, cheering on Buffy, bitching about their pathetic love lives, and Tank seriously had to do something about his crush on Zanna soon or Buck was going to have to strangle him, best-guy-friend or not.

His phone rang halfway through "Once More With Feeling" and he kind of picked it up without checking the caller ID first, mostly because he was halfway hoping it was Gary, the cute guy from his swim team, and the next thing he knew Candy was complaining that Suzie had bailed out on their date for some kind of family thing and then inviting herself over while Tank (who didn't hate Candy but also didn't particularly like her) was desperately miming at him no no no over and over again. What could he do?

He said, "Well, Candy, actually – "

"Great!" she said. "I'll be over in half an hour!"

Tank shook his head sadly as Buck hung up the phone. "Man," he said, "We gotta teach you how to say no."

Buck shrugged helplessly. What was he supposed to do?

Candy showed up precisely thirty minutes later with signup sheets for next year's school musical, which she was already working on. She pronounced their brownies underdone and turned off Buffy so she could bitch about Suzie bailing on her. Tank made faces at her every time her back was turned, and Buck desperately bit his cheek and tried not to laugh.

"Uh, Candy," Buck tried to say when she paused to take a breath, "this is kind of suppo—"

"I really appreciate you letting me come over, you're like the best friend ever, Buck." She gave him a hug, and he, well, he just sort of melted. He couldn't throw her out after that, no matter how much she was intruding on his guy time.

And, bless her selfish little heart, somewhere around the time she was trying to convince both of them to sign up for the school musical despite Buck's inability to act and Tank's preference to stay behind the scenes, she started to realize that she was, in fact, intruding. Probably in large part due to Tank's less-than-veiled hints, but still.

"You should have just said," she told Buck with mock irritation. "I can entertain myself for an evening. I have things to do for the drama club anyway. You need to speak up more!"

"But I – "

"Have fun with Tank. He's kind of cute," she added doubtfully. "I'll see you tomorrow, bright and early!" And she was gone before he could even try to point out the complete ridiculousness of implying that anything would ever happen between him and Tank.

So instead he laughed and went back to Buffy.


4. Because he kind of envies her.

He'd never been the guy people really noticed, since long before he had Candy interrupting him on a daily basis. He was quiet, kind of dorky, not one to like being the center of attention. He always had an instinctual, bone-deep feeling that nobody really cared what he thought about any given topic.

Maybe that was why he got along so well with Tank, who was never really comfortable unless everything was set to music.

Ever since he and Candy became friends and he became her unofficial assistant, he could see firsthand what it was like to be so completely sure of yourself, to have opinions and be confident that the rest of the world should know and share in them. And it was...deeply attractive. He started trying to voice his own opinions – which didn't always work, admittedly; as many good qualities as Candy had, listening to others wasn't listed among them – but sometimes it worked; sometimes people heard him; sometimes he could even finagle Candy into hearing him.

Even if she didn't always realize that was what she was doing. Maybe especially when she didn't realize that she was listening to – even agreeing with – what he thought about something.

But that didn't matter.

What mattered was that even when she really ticked him off, he always wanted, on some level, to be her. Or to be like her, at least. To not be afraid of anything.

On some level, he always hoped that by following her around and being her friend and helping with every cause she happened to pick up he would somehow figure out how she did it.

It hadn't happened yet, but he kept hoping.


5. Because she's his best friend.




*~*~*


1. Because she always wants what she thinks is best for the people she cares about. And contrary to what some people think, she does care about Buck.

"You should go out with Rick Everett," she told him over lunch one day.

He blinked at her. When it was clear she wasn't going to elaborate, he said tentatively, "Isn't this more Zanna's terr—"

"He suggested it, but I think it's a good idea. You'd be cute together. And Rick's pretty okay."

Resounding approval, he thought, except that for Candy it kind of was.

"And then we could double date," she chirped. "Won't that be fun? You and Rick, and me and Suzie!"

"Uh, Candy, aren't you – " jumping things a little?

"Zanna says Rick thinks you're cute," she added in a faux-confidential tone.

Well. In that case.

"Are you going to finish your Coke?" Candy asked.


2. Because when push comes to shove, she pushes back harder.

"I will not put up with this!" she snapped, looking so completely outraged that he almost wanted to laugh, despite feeling more completely miserable than he ever had before.

"Candy – "

"He cannot get away with this, Buck! I won't allow it!"

"Candy – "

"Who does he think he is?" she fumed. "This is outrageous. This is beyond outrageous. No one cheats on my best friend and gets away with it!"

"Candy."

Honestly, he didn't really want her to stop. It made him feel a little better, to know that someone was so completely on his side.

She tossed her hair and dropped her clipboard on top of all her textbooks – which he was, of course, carrying for her – and said, "I'm going to go give him a piece of my mind! Wait here."

That, on the other hand, might be going too far. "Candy!"

But she was already gone.

He chased her through the school – damn, but the girl could move. It probably didn't help that he was still carrying her books, on second thought, but it was a little too late to do anything about that. He caught up with her in front of Rick's locker, where she was already berating a shell-shocked Rick.

"You do not cheat on my best friend! What on Earth is wrong with you? You have this fantastic guy who's completely committed to you and you cheat on him? If my girlfriend were as stupid as you, I'd dump her right then and there – do you have any idea how lucky you are that Buck has been wasting his time with you?"

"Um," Rick squeaked.

Buck couldn't help being a little satisfied that for once, it was someone else Candy wasn't letting finish a sentence. Plus, seeing his cheating (ex-)boyfriend so at a loss for words because of a girl half his height was just really, really funny.


3. Because she knows when to not be around. Sometimes, anyway.

So, he was spending the evening with Tank, doing a guy's-night-in thing. Buffy on DVD and double fudge brownies, who needed anything more? And they were having fun, cheering on Buffy, bitching about their pathetic love lives, and Tank seriously had to do something about his crush on Zanna soon or Buck was going to have to strangle him, best-guy-friend or not.

His phone rang halfway through "Once More With Feeling" and he kind of picked it up without checking the caller ID first, mostly because he was halfway hoping it was Gary, the cute guy from his swim team, and the next thing he knew Candy was complaining that Suzie had bailed out on their date for some kind of family thing and then inviting herself over while Tank (who didn't hate Candy but also didn't particularly like her) was desperately miming at him no no no over and over again. What could he do?

He said, "Well, Candy, actually – "

"Great!" she said. "I'll be over in half an hour!"

Tank shook his head sadly as Buck hung up the phone. "Man," he said, "We gotta teach you how to say no."

Buck shrugged helplessly. What was he supposed to do?

Candy showed up precisely thirty minutes later with signup sheets for next year's school musical, which she was already working on. She pronounced their brownies underdone and turned off Buffy so she could bitch about Suzie bailing on her. Tank made faces at her every time her back was turned, and Buck desperately bit his cheek and tried not to laugh.

"Uh, Candy," Buck tried to say when she paused to take a breath, "this is kind of suppo—"

"I really appreciate you letting me come over, you're like the best friend ever, Buck." She gave him a hug, and he, well, he just sort of melted. He couldn't throw her out after that, no matter how much she was intruding on his guy time.

And, bless her selfish little heart, somewhere around the time she was trying to convince both of them to sign up for the school musical despite Buck's inability to act and Tank's preference to stay behind the scenes, she started to realize that she was, in fact, intruding. Probably in large part due to Tank's less-than-veiled hints, but still.

"You should have just said," she told Buck with mock irritation. "I can entertain myself for an evening. I have things to do for the drama club anyway. You need to speak up more!"

"But I – "

"Have fun with Tank. He's kind of cute," she added doubtfully. "I'll see you tomorrow, bright and early!" And she was gone before he could even try to point out the complete ridiculousness of implying that anything would ever happen between him and Tank.

So instead he laughed and went back to Buffy.


4. Because he kind of envies her.

He'd never been the guy people really noticed, since long before he had Candy interrupting him on a daily basis. He was quiet, kind of dorky, not one to like being the center of attention. He always had an instinctual, bone-deep feeling that nobody really cared what he thought about any given topic.

Maybe that was why he got along so well with Tank, who was never really comfortable unless everything was set to music.

Ever since he and Candy became friends and he became her unofficial assistant, he could see firsthand what it was like to be so completely sure of yourself, to have opinions and be confident that the rest of the world should know and share in them. And it was...deeply attractive. He started trying to voice his own opinions – which didn't always work, admittedly; as many good qualities as Candy had, listening to others wasn't listed among them – but sometimes it worked; sometimes people heard him; sometimes he could even finagle Candy into hearing him.

Even if she didn't always realize that was what she was doing. Maybe especially when she didn't realize that she was listening to – even agreeing with – what he thought about something.

But that didn't matter.

What mattered was that even when she really ticked him off, he always wanted, on some level, to be her. Or to be like her, at least. To not be afraid of anything.

On some level, he always hoped that by following her around and being her friend and helping with every cause she happened to pick up he would somehow figure out how she did it.

It hadn't happened yet, but he kept hoping.


5. Because she's his best friend.

Maybe it is just that simple. Is that such a bad thing?

The weekend before school started, they holed up at her house for one last end-of-summer sleepover with popcorn and cheesy movies and Candy's stack of back-to-school activities and controversies. Heather Has One Mommy and One Daddy. The first issue of the school paper. Coach Addison's baby shower. ("Yes," he assured her, "I reminded Gary about our gift.") The school musical. (He finally promised to audition, but nothing more concrete than that. Maybe he could get an ensemble part. Or work on the costumes.)

She asked him about how things were going with Gary and he asked after Suzie. They threw popcorn at each other and raided the kitchen for her mom's fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies. They discussed the upcoming school year and decided to make an effort to support Heartsville in its less successful sports endeavors, like football. He asked what the rules of football were, and she tried to explain them as best she could – he had a feeling she didn't know, either. But she said there was dancing involved, so that could be fun? And Tank would probably tag along, and he'd convince Zanna, and wherever Zanna was there was usually a crowd.

She was already making plans for prom.

Sometimes Buck was pretty sure his best friend was crazy.

But he loved her anyway.

After all, she was his best friend.
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