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Borrowing Trouble

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The joke was funny. Rob knows it was funny. It got a huge laugh from the audience, and if Rob had been approving the jokes for this episode he knows he would have made sure it got in there.

None of which stops his brain from fucking obsessing about it all evening, from watching David joke with the producer and director and thinking what if, what if, what if?

It's stupid to be worried. Sure, David likes doing the panel show thing, and he's good at it, of course he is, he's fucking brilliant. But that doesn't mean it's all he'll ever want to do. It doesn't mean he's tired of sketch comedy or Peep Show. Doesn't mean he's tired of Rob.

Does it?

But they're so godawfully polite around each other, these days, so weirdly distant. Robert loves his life, but there's part of him that misses the Cambridge days, when they lived in each other's pockets and ate and breathed comedy, when they wrote until three in the morning and then fell asleep on each other on David's shitty university mattress. They'd been in sync with each other then. The comedy still comes, now, but the friendship...

Maybe they've killed it.

Robert makes small talk with Miranda in the pub, trying to focus on the here and now. 'Don't borrow trouble,' his gran used to say, and he's well aware that allowing himself to think about this is basically going to the bank and saying, 'I'd like £4385843753843 worth of trouble on loan, please and thank you.' Miranda is a good person to distract himself with, because she actually requires her conversational partners to participate (unlike whoever it is David's been roped into talking to down at the other end of the table). On the other hand, she's also a rather terrible person to distract himself with, because they've just spent a week living in the same house and have really run out of things to say.

Maybe he should just go home. He wants to go home – wants to kiss his wife and his daughter, wants to sleep in his own bed, wants to catch up on the hundreds of emails no doubt awaiting him.

But he doesn't go, just stays and chats awkwardly with various people until some of them start giving exaggerated yawns and grabbing up their jackets, and then somehow this triggers a mass exodus and soon enough he and David are alone, sitting at opposite ends of the table.

This is not a metaphor, Rob tells himself sternly, but he's relieved when David picks up his pint and moves down three chairs so that they're sitting across from each other.

"Hey, stranger," Rob says, trying to sound casual and amusing. David laughs.

"Come here often?" he says, rolling his eyes. But then he sobers, and gives Rob a direct look. "What's wrong?"

Rob sputters. "What? Nothing."

David's left eyebrow shoots upwards. "Right. Try again."

"No, really, nothing."

"And I might believe that if I didn't know you like I do," David says. "But you've been off all night, and you're still here instead of at home, so something's on your mind. What is it?"

Rob opens his mouth, and then shuts it again. Too many things spring to his lips.

I missed you.

I don't know if I've fucked things up between us somehow.

I'm terrified that someday you'll realize you're better than me and leave.

He can't say any of them. Instead he says, "You said once... that you and I, we don't fight, because if we did, we'd say things neither of us could ever forget. Do you remember that?" David nods. "Well, this is one of those things."

That ought to be the end of it, because he knows David isn't exactly going to jump for joy at the thought of a shared emotional realization. Except instead of accepting it David frowns, his crooked mouth turning down at the corners, and says, "That's bullshit."

"Sorry?" says Rob.

"No, I'm sorry," David says prissily. "I'm sorry that I'm just a mere mortal, that I haven't been admitted to the exclusive angelic host of husbands and fathers, the club where you spend all of your waking moments these days." He's gathering steam now and Rob flinches back from the onslaught of David's razor-sharp words. "I'm sorry that I'm apparently not trustworthy enough to hear whatever's bothering you, sorry that I can't possibly know enough to help—"

Rob says, without thinking, "I just don't want you to leave me."

David stops talking abruptly. Rob feels his face go hot, and he decides that as soon as he gets home he's just never coming out ever again.

"That's what's worrying you?" David asks incredulously. "That stupid joke?"

"I, well—"

"Because it's, it wasn't meant to be a fucking jab, I thought you'd know that, and—"

"No, I know," Rob says, "of course I know that. But you're so bloody good at this stuff, and it's, I mean. You don't need me," he finishes wretchedly.

"You idiot," says David. "Of course I need you. Don't you know that I—" He cuts himself short, biting his lip, his expression gone from exasperated to nervous in a split second. Rob feels a flash of something strange and surprising settle in his stomach, because that had sounded, rather shockingly, like a declaration.

"A-are you saying that you—"

David looks down at the table, then determinedly drags his gaze back up. "I do. Always have."

"Oh," says Rob stupidly. "David, I don't— I—"

David's face is extremely red. "I know," he says hurriedly. "I know. But it's not about that. Well, I mean, it's about that, but it's not— you don't have to—" He stops, swallows, and starts again. "I need you as a partner. That's not going to change unless you want it to change."

"I don't," Rob says, still reeling a little from the knowledge that David has feelings for him. "I don't want it to change. It just seems like you don't really want to be around much anymore."

"It's been... difficult lately," David says. "You've got your family, and I, I can't be part of that, and—" Rob starts to say something, but David holds up a hand and Rob swallows the words. "And it's okay that I'm not part of it," David says. "I'm sorry for being an arsehole about it. I'll try to do better."

"First of all," Rob says, "you are absolutely part of my family. Second of all, don't you dare apologize for— Jesus. I'm sorry that I can't— I didn't— I had no idea."

"I didn't want you to know," David says in a very small voice.

"You did a good fucking job," Rob says, unexpectedly sincere, and then their eyes meet and they both break up into laughter. Something eases in Rob's chest. Before he can overthink it he says, "I miss being your friend."

"Me, too," David says simply, his laughter dying down to a sad smile. "Can we try again?"

"Yeah," Rob says. "I'd like that. Look, what are you doing tomorrow?"

"I, uh," David says. "Nothing that I know of."

"Come over, then. Be Uncle David. No work allowed."

David smiles. "Yeah, all right. Sounds good."

"Excellent." Rob tips his glass, clinks it against David's. Then he smiles. "Of course, you know what this means."

"Oh, god," David says. "What?"

Rob's grin goes wicked. "I now have a whole new gender to set you up on dates with."

David gives an exaggerated comic grimace. "If you start with that, I'm locking you in the Bubble house again, permanently," he says, but he's smiling, and Rob decides tentatively that things are maybe going to be okay.