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You Don't Need To Be

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By the time Pete drags his ass out of bed, Jonesy and Beaver have already packed up their gear and headed out to do some hunting. Even Henry was up and at ‘em if the empty spot next to him was anything to go by. Despite having a standard nine to five like everyone else in the world, Pete would never be a morning person and being up here at Hole in the Wall was definitely no exception to the matter.

But it was nearly eleven o’clock and the heady aroma of coffee and something Pete could only describe as Mama’s cooking was coaxing him out of bed. He didn’t even bother to throw on proper clothes, deciding his long johns were good enough, and padded down the hall towards the little kitchenette of the cabin. The main room of the cabin wasn’t as cold as Pete was expecting and was pleased to see Henry had built a fire. Speaking of which, Henry was currently by the stove fixing up some bacon and eggs while the coffee pot hummed noisily beside him.

Pete watched Henry for a moment as the bacon crackles and the coffee boils. Henry had some sweatpants and a flannel shirt on, having the foresight, as well as decency, to bundle up a little. He’s not surprised Henry isn’t out hunting with Beav and Jonesy. Henry wasn’t particularly fond of hunting these days and him and Pete had to take a trip up to Gosselin’s shortly anyway to pick up a few supplies.

They had come down in Henry’s Scout with most of their provisions, but there were a few perishable items they still needed. The first thing that came to Pete’s mind when Henry had brought it up last night was beer, of course. Beer was always first and foremost, but only when Pete was up here. At least that’s what he told himself. It wasn’t because of the fact that he was an alcoholic, though Henry being the shrink he is would say otherwise. That wasn’t up for debate right now, but Pete must’ve been projecting his thoughts loudly enough for Henry to acknowledge him.

“Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty,” Henry called out over his shoulder without turning around. “Was it the bacon or coffee that woke you up?”

“A little bit of both actually,” Pete replied, walking over towards the kitchenette.

There’s a rag resting on one of Henry’s shoulders that he yanked off swiftly to wrap it around the pan handle. He shut off the burners, juggling a pan in each hand, and set them down on the island to let them cool for a moment. Pete watched as Henry reached up into the cupboards to retrieve a couple of plates and set one down in front of Pete as the groggy man took a seat on one of the old barstools that had been there since their childhood when Lamar, Beaver’s dad, would take them here.

“Well, it is the quickest and easiest way to wake up any man or child,” Henry mused, letting himself grin a little.

Henry’s smile was always special to Pete, seeing as how it was such a rare commodity. They’ve all lied to themselves about a character flaw at some point or another, and Henry pretending he was happy and everything was okay was a lie he told on occasion. But every once in awhile he’d forget all about that and a genuine laugh or smile would shine through all the bullshit. It was so bright that it almost made Pete forget about his own problems.

“That some sort of fancy pants shrink statistic or something?” Pete asked as Henry started to fix them both a plate of bacon and eggs.

“No, that is just common knowledge. Something you’ve seem to have lost over the years,” Henry remarked, shooting Pete a look over the rim of his glasses.

He truly was a sight, Pete mused. He assumed Henry had been up for quite some time, but his hair was still a mess and his horn rimmed glasses rode low on the bridge of his nose, giving him an owl-like façade. It made Pete wonder just how much Henry really needed the glasses. Either way, Henry was still handsome, albeit in an odd way Pete couldn’t really describe. Maybe it was because Henry was his childhood friend and he found him attractive in an endearing way. It could also be because Henry was the smartest out of all of them and said fancy words normal people hardly used.

Most people said neether, but Henry said nyther and that impressed the hell out of Pete.

“Bite my bag,” Pete retorted, even though he was smiling now too.

“Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Henry observed sarcastically.

“What can I say? I'm not used to waking up in an empty bed,” Pete boasted as Henry slid his plate over to him.

“Why? Because you always leave before they wake up?” Henry jabbed.

“You sure are feisty this morning,” Pete commented, a look of perplexed fascination on his face as he stared at Henry and took a bite of his eggs.

“I haven’t had my coffee yet,” Henry said offhandedly as he dished out the rest of the food onto his plate.

“You didn’t have to wait for me,” Pete offered, but he couldn’t help but feel a small tinge of gratitude by the fact.

Much like Jonesy, Henry was pretty selfless when it came to courtesy.

“I know,” Henry acknowledged, making a vague gesture with his hand.

Pete caught the hint of a blush on Henry’s cheeks before the taller man turned around to put the pans away in the sink to clean later. Pete picked up the ketchup bottle on the counter and squirt some onto his eggs after a few bites of having them plain. Henry had already set out a couple of mugs on the island and brought the coffee pot over to pour them both a cup.

“How do you want your coffee?” Henry asked, eyes darting up quickly above the rim of his glasses to meet Pete’s gaze.

“Like my sense of humor,” Pete replied cheekily.

“What? Tasteless?” Henry cracked.

“You’re so hilarious,” Pete deadpanned, rolling his eyes.

“How else was I supposed to answer that?”

“Dark and bitter?” Pete supplied, but even that was a stretch by Pete’s standards. Henry made a face akin to a cringe and Pete offered a weak grin. “Yeah, okay, maybe you were right.”

“You’re sense of humor may be bland, but I still love ya,” Henry assured, leaning over the counter to pat Pete on the shoulder tenderly.

He slid a mug over towards Pete who accepted it gratefully and immediately took a big gulp of it. It burned a path down his throat and it was way too strong, even for Pete’s liking, but damn did he need it. He was still a little hungover from last night and having Henry here to pick up the pieces really was a godsend. Pete didn’t deserve him. Just like they didn’t deserve Duddits. But that was for another time. Pete was brought out of his musings when Henry took a seat next to him with his own cup of coffee and breakfast.

“Thanks, H,” Pete said ardently, looking over at his friend with a soft, sleepy smile.

“Yeah, no problem man.”

Henry didn’t have to ask Pete what he was thanking him for because it was pretty broad answer, to be perfectly honest. Thanks for breakfast, for the coffee. Thanks for being my friend and dealing with my bullshit throughout the years. Thank you for not taking up the Hemingway Solution years ago and leaving me alone in this piss ache world. It was all laid out there for Henry to hear, right at the forefront of Pete’s mind. Pete didn’t even realize he was doing it. He rarely did these days. It’s like he was a teenager again.

“Wanna head out after breakfast?” Henry went on to ask, blowing on his coffee before taking a sip.

“Sure,” Pete concurred, perking up a little after getting some food and coffee in his system. “What do we need?”

“Just the essentials. Hot dogs, mac n’ cheese, milk…”

“That include beer?” Pete inquired.

It was mostly meant as a joke, but they both knew better.

“After how much we went through last night, I’d say it’s safe to assume beer is also on the list,” Henry said with a small hum of amusement.

He wouldn’t bring up Pete’s alcoholism so long as Pete didn’t bring up his suicidal tendencies. They can just laugh and pretend they aren’t fucked up together out here at Hole in the Wall. This was a place where they no longer had to worry about shit like that and once they came back from Old Man Gosselin’s and Jonesy and the Beav came in from hunting, they’d all build a fire and talk about the Duds. None of them were fessing up to it, but Henry knew they had all been thinking about Duddits lately.

“Maybe we can pick up something a little stronger,” Pete suggested, the corner of his mouth curving up on one side in a mischievous half grin. “You know, something just for us when the other two go to bed.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Henry asked with a questioning gaze.

He didn’t need to read Pete’s mind to know what he was getting at, seeing as how they were doubling since there weren’t enough rooms for all four of them. They always shared a bed when they were up here and Henry was no stranger to waking up with a blitzed and drooling Pete wrapped around his body. Surprisingly, it didn’t happen last night, but Henry suspected tonight would be the night if he let Pete have his way. That was the least of his worries, however.

“No,” Pete answered honestly, laughing like the goof he is. “That’s exactly why it’s a good idea. Ain’t that what they call a paradox or somethin’?”

“I believe it’s called an oxymoron,” Henry pointed out as they ate.

“Whatever it is, we should do it,” Pete enthused, a hint of giddiness coating his words. “It’d be like when you stayed the night at my house and we got into my dad’s stash.”

The incident in question took place during Junior year of high school and even though they mainly had sleepovers with all five of them, that’s including Duddits, they still had their own one on one sleepovers. This night in particular consisted of Henry and Pete getting thoroughly sloshed and making out with each other. Though, making out was an umbrella term for sucking face and giving each other sloppy hand jobs on the floor of Pete’s bedroom.

“We don’t need alcohol to do that, Pete,” Henry told him in earnest, setting his fork down and glancing over at his friend. “Unless it’s easier for you that way.”

Pete gave him an inquisitive look, furrowing his eyebrows in a worried expression. He let his fork softly clink against his plate of mostly finished food and looked down at his steaming coffee mug. Pete could sense Henry’s disappointment if his tone didn’t already spell it out.

“It does make it easier, but not for the reasons you’re thinking,” Pete clarified with a more serious tone now. “I just need a little bit of liquid courage is all.”

“Pete…” Henry sighed, exhaling through his nose like a disapproving parent about to scold a child. “There’s nothing I don’t already know about you and you don’t have to feel self-conscious around me. You don’t need to be brave. You don’t need to be anything but yourself.”

“You gonna start telling me that my repressed sexuality has something to do with my inability to maintain a relationship?” Pete remarked with a humorless laugh, using sarcasm as a defense mechanism.

“No. I'm not obligated to discuss that right now since I'm not on the clock,” Henry shot back, sipping his coffee casually. “Now shut up and eat your breakfast. There’s a storm rolling in and we’ll both be crucified if we don’t get Beav’s goddamn mac n’ cheese.”

Pete let himself crack a smile at this. It’s strange how nothing ever really got to Henry, yet he was always the one wanting to call it quits and check out early. The voice of reason of the group and here he was contemplating suicide even when he had plenty of reasons to keep going. He had people who loved him and whom he cared for a great deal. The thought of Duddits finding out Henry decided to end his life was enough to make his stomach knot up with guilt. Henry couldn’t bear to imagine the pained wailing of a sweet, tender soul like the Duds. That day at Tracker Bros. had been enough to convince Henry otherwise. That, and now this.

“Thanks, H,” Pete reiterated, reaching over to lay a hand on Henry’s leg. This prompted a bashful yet grateful owl-eyed look from Henry. “Don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well, you’d probably have to start by learning to cook for yourself,” Henry offered with a pinch of sass, letting himself enjoy the moment rather than dwelling on it further.

“Or you can just teach me.”

“Yeah, but then I’d be useless to you.”

“I can think of a few things you’d be useful for,” Pete said suggestively and boy did he love the way Henry seemed to pale at the implication.

It was the most giddy and alive Henry has felt in a long time and considering Pete was the one taking initiative, without alcohol mind you, made Henry’s heart beat just a tad out of tandem. This right here was enough to keep Henry going if nothing else and, damn, was it a good reason. Henry laid a hand over the one resting on his thigh and gave Pete a shy, genuine smile as he hid behind his horn rimmed glasses.

“You’ll have to show me later.”

Pete returned the smile, his teeth peeking out from between his lips just a little, and turned his hand over in Henry’s hand. He threaded his fingers with Henry’s and squeezed tenderly as if to reassure that he was real, that this was real. And Pete truly did feel like Henry’s anchor, keeping him here in this moment. Bashfully, Pete leaned over and gave Henry a soft, little peck on the lips, feeling like a teenager again.

“Deal.”