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Dogs Are the Best Wingmen

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There was a dog barking outside.

Hal blearily turned to face his alarm clock. The green numbers burned ruefully back: 5:28 AM. Great. Awesome. He actually goes to sleep early for once (if you consider 2 AM to be early), and some higher power decides to wake him up. Maybe he was just destined to be nocturnal, suffering in a diurnal world.

Groaning, he grabbed his glasses and stumbled over to the window, sticking his head out to find the source of the commotion. It turned out that his gundam shirt was good for pajamas, but not good for protecting against the cool morning air (and not even good for wearing out in public), with the light breeze making Hal rub at the goosebumps forming at his arms.

Squinting across the street, he could just make out the vague shape what appeared to be a husky absolutely losing its mind in a neighboring apartment complex. Hal sighed, which was barely audible over the husky’s yodeling; he loved dogs, this one no exception, but he had to go in to work tomorrow and this was his one guilt-free day of sleep before he died of coffee intake, or something.

Suddenly, the husky was pulled down off the window, and Hal saw a man frustratedly directing commands to it to get it to stop. Or, at least he assumed they were commands; from his position, it just kind of sounded like various “hggrrr”s and “gghhrrrg”s.

The man that presumably owned the dog had messy brown hair that was long enough to reach his shoulders, but stuck up at an unnatural angle, probably because he just woke up. He also had a nice voice, from what he could hear, and he was wearing just a loose tank top and boxers which did nothing but accentuate his nice arms and - oh. Oh no. Hal was- he was staring. Hal suddenly felt very inappropriate, spying on this mystery man who was very much his type, and tried to look away.

In pointedly trying not to check out his attractive neighbor, he noticed that a handful of other people in their apartment complexes were also spectating, though their gazes were more I’m-irritated-that-I-was-woken-up-at-assfuck-o-clock than I’m-having-a-gay-crisis-oh-wow. The man noticed everyone staring and looked sheepish, hunching his shoulders and keeping his gaze down. Finally, he managed to wrestle the husky away from the window, and quiet it down somewhat. Hal accidentally made eye contact for a split second, and before he got the chance to respond like a normal human being who knows how to socialize, the man slammed his window shut and disappeared from view.

The onlookers grumbled and went back inside, and Hal did the same, flopping back onto his cheap mattress. Might as well get some sleep while he had the chance.

 

 

Hal woke up once more, thankfully at the time he wanted. Well, no, if he woke up at the time he truly wanted, he’d sleep in until one PM. As it were, he was groggily staring up at his ceiling, listening to the Neon Genesis Evangelion opening blare from his alarm clock. Hal didn’t believe the claims that setting anything as your alarm noise would make you hate it, but he was kind of starting to feel the annoyance. He really had to change that before he started to despise A Cruel Angel’s Thesis, otherwise he’d get sent to jail for anime crimes, or something.

He tried to go through his morning routine as quick as possible, showering, brushing his hair, and getting dressed in clothing suitable to the public eye all in the span of about twenty minutes. Walking into his barebones kitchen, he took out a package of instant ramen out of his pantry (it was mostly instant ramen, anyway) and stuck some poptarts in a toaster. Venturing a glance at his sink, he was met with an overload of dirty dishes that were left to soak, but never to be washed properly. Alright. No plate for the poptarts, then.

In the middle of lifelessly eating his undercooked ramen and overcooked pop tarts with a side of cheap instant coffee(he was healthy, ok), his phone rang, the caller ID simply reading: Mama. Hal fumbled to reach his phone, and within three rings, he was happily speaking to his mother, though at the expense of a pop tart that was now broken in two on his lap.

“Hal? Sweetheart, how are you?” A pleasant British accent floated through the phone. Though there was some interference, there was no doubt that this was his mother. Hal could almost picture the scene: Strangelove, contentedly sitting at the dinner table, reading a newspaper while Joy cooked in the background, probably making pancakes.

“Hey, mama! I-I’m fine, just a little tired.” Hal stifled a yawn.

“Sweetie, you know you need to go to sleep earlier.” There was a faint murmur in the background. “Joy agrees too.”

“I - well, no, you’re right, but I did go to sleep early this time! There was just this dog across the street that woke just about everybody up at maybe, like, 5 AM or so.”

“Mmhm. And when did you go to bed?”

“Um….. two o’ clock…”

“That’s what I thought.” Another faint murmur. “Joy has some criticisms of your sleep schedule, and asks if you’re eating well.”

Hal anxiously glanced back at his ramen and poptart that was probably only providing sodium and sugar to his diet, the latter of which would probably leave a chocolate stain on his jeans. “Uh. Yeah. I’m having, uh. Pancakes.”

A surprised noise. “Oh! How lovely. Joy just made us the same thing - yes, dear, he’s having pancakes.” Hal felt a small sense of pride at correctly guessing his mothers’ daily routine, as well as a small twinge of guilt for lying so blatantly. “Well, Hal, I hope you have a nice day. Remember to - yes, darling, I know they’re not as good as your pancakes - Remember to stay warm, and try to mind your manners. I love you.”

“Bye, love you too!”

The line dropped dead, and Hal was suddenly aware of how quiet his apartment was, and how lonely. Hal found it hard to live so far away from his two mothers - after graduating from MIT, he’d gotten some temporary internship at some company writing code, leading to a low-end tech job, but both Joy and Strangelove had decided to move back to England together. He missed them, not only because he loved them dearly, but, well… they were kind of the only things resembling friends he had. Did they count as friends if they were his moms? Probably not, huh.

As he left his small apartment, he found himself distantly thinking that England was four hours ahead of Massachusetts. His mothers were relaxing, eating pancakes at 11 AM. Hal couldn’t help but be jealous. Well, he’d at least try to follow his mother’s advice and have a nice day.

Chapter Text

Hal did NOT have a nice day.

He was utterly exhausted, in part from his unhealthy amount of sleep, but also in part to his awful supervisors. He’d spent more time doing coffee runs and copying papers than he had actually sitting down and coding something. He did not run away from his abusive father to live with his mothers and graduate from a prestigious school only to spend his time taking staples out of packets.

Hal could barely register the JPop playing through his headphones, he was so tired. He should be the one running the place, not them. Hell, he’d probably code circles around all of them; just yesterday one of the guys couldn’t find the bug in his Java scripts and spent a whole hour ironing the whole thing out. His fingers twitched. He probably could’ve rectified the situation in a few minutes, given the chance, but instead he was relegated to meaningless tasks, while the rest of them -

And as quickly as that train of thought started, Hal squashed it, shaking his head as if to clear it. He - they - there was probably a good reason they kept him on hold. Why would he assume that he’s any better than the rest of them? That - that was selfish. He should stop being so - so selfish. God, he was awful, wasn’t he?

Hal got off the bus, letting muscle memory carry him through the park on his way home as he mulled over his day. Jesus, he should be thankful that someone decided to take him on, right? He had no right to criticize them, since they were so generous to him.

Distantly, a dog started barking, and a man began to frantically shout and whistle repeatedly, sounding distressed.
Why did he always act like such a fuck up? God, he should just be happy with what he has.

The barking got closer.

In fact, did he even deserve what he had now? He could hear his father’s voice echoing in his head, saying that he should be grateful, since it’s more than what he deserves. His mom always told him not to believe him, but wasn’t Huey right? Hal was just a stupid, selfish, piece of -

“AUGH!” Hal screeched disgraceful, feeling something large, strong, and furry barrel straight into the back of his knees, making him flail and directly faceplant into the hard concrete. Pain immediately shot through his nose, and dazedly sitting up, he could just about make out a blurry red blotch on the sidewalk where he’d fallen. Oh, and his glasses had gone and skittered away somewhere. Great.

His only consolation was that said large, strong, and furry being happened to be an incredibly friendly husky, who was currently licking his sore forehead. This only hindered him as he searched around on the concrete for his lost glasses, but hey, small mercies.

“...Rex! Where did you go! Rex?” The shouting from earlier grew closer, and from what he could see of the husky that was currently obscuring his entire field of view... yes, the tag did say Rex. Turning his head towards the source of the sound, he saw a blurry man that looked… suspiciously like the man he’d seen last night. Ha. Ha ha, yeah right.
“Holy- Rex! What did you do? I am so sorry, are you alright-” The man seemed to stop for a second and stare, but Hal couldn’t read his expression without his glasses. After a moment of dead silence, save for various dog sound effects, the man slowly approached Hal.

“Ah… Hello. I-I’m very sorry, but could you help me find my glasses?” Hal was still uselessly pawing at the gravel, probably getting himself dirty in the process.

“Glasses?” The man echoed back.

“Ah, y-yeah, they’re like - this big, and they’re round, with-” As if only just then processing what Hal said, the man seemed to snap into action, surveying the park before zeroing in on the location of his glasses. Retrieving them dutifully, he handed them back to Hal, who put them on and- oh, lord.

This was absolutely the same man from last night.
Usually, seeing people from a distance made their facial features blurry, and the mind filled in what it wanted to see, when in reality they didn’t look as good as one expected. However, in this case, Hal realized he was only more gorgeous now that he was in clear view. Today, he was wearing a light hoodie partially zipped up with a tight black tank top underneath, with jogging pants. His hair was windswept, probably from running, and he was panting slightly. Hal still couldn’t read his expression, though. He might as well still have his glasses off; god, he was bad at reading people. Was he - upset? Confused? Why would be confused? Why was he so handsome?! Hal tore his gaze away and hoped that face planting onto the sidewalk was a good coverup if asked why his face was so red.

Hal’s nose showed no sign of stopping its trickle of blood, and he instinctively went to wipe it on his sleeve, but stopped himself just short of it once he realized that this outfit was basically his only set of work clothes.

“Sorry to bother you again, but, ah, do you have any tissues? My nose is, well, um. Yeah.” Great attempt at flirting, Hal. A real 10 out of 10. The man only blankly blinked back.

“Tissues?”
“Yeah, um. I hit the pavement pretty hard.” The man once more seemed like he was jolted out of a trance, and immediately started digging through his pockets, coming up with a few wrinkled tissues. Hal thanked him profusely as he wiped his nose, trying to stop Rex from nosing curiously at him. The man stared for another long while, before slowly, deliberately taking out a pen and scribbling something down.

Hal was a bit preoccupied with stopping his nose from bleeding, but he felt something get shoved into his hand, and just as soon as he’d arrived, the man had clipped a leash on Rex, turned around, and briskly walked away.

Hal couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. Had he fucked up yet again? Had he ended a relationship before it even had a chance to start, romantic or otherwise? That fall was pretty embarrassing, huh… god, he was stupid for even entertaining the notion that a guy like that would want to talk to a guy like- like him.

Dejectedly, he looked at what the man had thrusted into his hand. There was another crumpled ball of tissues, but on top of it, there was a small, wrinkled slip of paper. On it, in terrible, blocky handwriting, there was one word:

“Dave”

And beneath it, a phone number.

Chapter Text

As soon Rex trotted happily through the doorway, Dave slammed the door shut and sank to the floor groaning, with his head in his hands. Rex paid no mind to his owner’s misery, and cheerfully slurped from the dog bowl as Dave considered tossing himself out a window.

He had fucked up that particular social interaction. Badly. It’s just - he was so cute, could you really blame his brain for locking up? Well, yeah, actually, that was entirely his fault. It was probably a side effect of isolating yourself from society for years on end, that the moment you see some vaguely attractive person your thought process fizzled out.

Shucking off his sweaty clothing, Dave patted Rex absentmindedly before stepping into the bathroom to take a shower, letting the warm water wash away all the grossness from that day’s workout.

The thing was, that guy in the park wasn’t just some “vaguely attractive person.” He was - god, he was just beautiful. Dave hadn’t met many people that made him able to stop functioning completely like that. Even with his face vaguely fucked up from what looked like a painful meeting of his face with the sidewalk, he still looked so kind, so sweet, so shy. He had such nice gray eyes, and his hair looked so soft like - like, angel wings, or some shit. Just because he owned multiple volumes of poetry didn’t mean he could write it, god dammit. It’s not like he’d had many opportunities to write sonnets about love at first sight.

Shampooing his hair with more force that was strictly necessary, he grumbled to himself, analyzing every moment of the conversation. Could it really be considered a conversation if he literally said, what, two words? That poor man probably thought Dave hated him, when in reality, he was focusing more on keeping his legs from wobbling than saying coherent words. He’d done the thing again, too, didn’t he. The whole repeating words thing. People said it made him sound “aloof” and “detached,” but in reality, he probably just sounded like a dumbass. Tissues. He’d straight up echoed the word “tissues” back to him, like he’d never heard of the damn things.

Dave thunked his head against the shower tiles, trying to drive his thoughts away. It’s just that, well, everything about him was adorable. His smile made him feel… things that he didn’t even want to unpack. Thunk. And his voice had a shyness to it that made him want to- to- he didn’t even know. Thunk. He’d even pushed his glasses up his nose! The gall! It was so unbelievably cute. Dave wanted to punch something, tear the showerhead off, rip the tiles off the walls and toss them like daggers… In the end, he settled on continually thunking his head against the wall and squeezing a sponge alarmingly hard.

He’d given him his number, hadn’t he.

He didn’t even know his fucking name.

With exasperation strong enough to destroy a lesser man, Dave toweled off, fed Rex, and slipped into bed.

He vowed to spare himself the embarrassment and never talk to that man again.

 

Only a few hours past midnight, Dave woke up in a cold sweat, somehow feeling like he’d just been dunked in cold water and like he just took his first breath in years at the same time. Shakily, he ran a clammy hand down his face, trying to calm himself down.

Thankfully, tonight’s nightmare wasn’t too bad, if you counted nigh-on panic attack levels of shaking “not too bad.” At least it hadn’t gotten to the point where Rex started howling to god knows who because he thought his master was dying of a heart attack. One night awoken by a rowdy husky is one thing, but two nights in a row? His neighbors would start a petition to get him kicked out.

Standing up on wobbly legs, he teetered over to the window for a smoke. It turned out that Rex was already waiting near the window, and Dave thanked whatever gods there were that he’d woken up before Rex started screeching again. He opened the window, and let the cool breeze wash over him as he took out his lighter.

Glancing around the street, he noticed that most lights were out in both his apartment complex and the one across the street. There was one light on, however, with the silhouette of a man…

Jolting, Dave nearly dropped his lighter down the three stories as he realized who exactly he was making eye contact with.

Standing in the window across from his, breeze ruffling his hair, was the incredibly cute guy Dave had made a fool of himself in front of earlier.

He looked shocked, like he’d just been thinking about something before being interrupted. Dave was about to turn tail and run, before the man’s face broke into an awkward yet earnest grin that Dave couldn’t help but return.

Looking like he suddenly got an idea, he excitedly held up his thumb and pinky up to his ear, mouthing something. What??

“What?” Dave said, probably not loudly enough to be heard. Looking determined, the man started a vague game of charades that involved him falling, putting on his glasses, wiping his nose, writing something down, and then ending with the hand next to his ear again. Dave had never felt so lost.

Throwing his hands up in mock exasperation, he disappeared back into his apartment. Dave had a moment where his brain repeatedly screamed YOU FUCKED UP, until the man returned, pointing insistently at a cell phone.

Oh.

Trying not to look too desperate, Dave found his old clunky cell phone buried under several weeks’ worth of laundry, with about a few dozen notifications.

6:32 PM

?: Hey! I’m the guy you saw in the park. My name is Hal! :D

7:40 PM

?: Hi!

10:28 PM

?: Helloooooo ^^;

2:38 AM (3 missed calls)

?: Pick up your phone!!
?: Hey!!!!!!!!
?: Is your phone on silent????
?: Ahh, shoot.
?: IT’S CHARADES! CMON
?: Oh no am I racking up your phone bill?! D: Sorry I’ll stop now haha

Taking a deep breath, he returned to the window and texted him back.

2:43 AM

D: hey. sorry about that
?: !!!!!!!!

He briefly glanced out his window, only to meet a beaming smile from the guy- no, Hal. Fuck, he was cute. Dave added him to his contacts as fast as he could, which only consisted of “dont answer” (Eli), “DONT ANSWER” (his father), “youre on thin fucking ice” (George), “mom” (mom), and a few other miscellaneous numbers.

D: so youre hal?
H: Yep! Hal and Dave, huh.

Dave chuckled to himself a bit.

D: thats a good one
H: Oh, yeah. Maybe we should take a trip to Jupiter or something. ^^

D: so. why r u awake
H: Oh! No real reason, haha. I’m just nocturnal. Like an owl!
H: Plus your dog is super cute and I was watching her through the window.
H: I hope that’s alright. 3’:

Dave had no clue what the weird symbols Hal kept sending him meant. Maybe his keys were acting up, or something.

D: actually rex is a guy. hes a real gentleman i promise, today was an exception
D: i never actually apologized for today either. im sorry rex knocked you over, he gets excited. im also sorry for just staring like a dumbass instead of actually helping you out
D: hope your nose is ok
H: Don’t worry about it! I could never hate a dog and you certainly didn’t do anything wrong either. My nose didn’t bleed for that long either so it’s ok

Dave mentally fortified himself. He had an idea. A stupid, idiotic, bad, bad, bad idea.

D: hey would you consider coming over right now? im not really doing anything and you could fix your bad first impression of rex

He didn’t dare breathe until he got a response.

H: Sure!! I’ll be right over :)

When he looked up, Hal was already gone from the window.

Chapter Text

Dave spent a long moment staring at his phone in stunned silence.

Then, all at once, he was hit with joy, anger, and fear all at the same time. Mostly fear. On one hand, Hal actually wanted to talk to him?! The scary looking guy who hasn’t shaved in, like, 3 weeks? And seems to know only two words of English? But on the other hand, what the hell was he thinking, inviting over a cute guy?! Dave took in his surroundings. His apartment was awful, not in the sense that it was dirty, but it had almost nothing in it. Well, except for his pile of cardboard boxes in his room. And his shitty sci-fi movies, also in a cardboard box.

Panicking, he did the only thing he could think of: grab 2001: A Space Odyssey from his room and toss it into the DVD player, because sitting in dead silence with a hot stranger would probably kill him. Rex cocked his head from his dog bed, watching his master pace frantically.

Dave wandered over to the door, wondering how long it’d take Hal to get here. He was staring at his phone for a while, after all. Who knows how much time had passed? Maybe he’d meet him in the hallway outside his apartment? Was that good host etiquette? Opening the door, he-

“YEAURGH!” Dave jumped when he heard a yelp, nearly snapping the knob off of the cheap door. Standing out in the hallway, looking flushed and very surprised, was Hal.

“Did… you just say ‘yeaurgh?’”

“I- uh- maybe?” Hal’s face turned pink. It was adorable. Dave could feel his heart rate pick up.

“So- ah- I’m Hal, then. Well, you already knew that, but I guess, nice to meet you?” He extended a jittery hand, which Dave took a little too eagerly. He ventured a grin, which was repaid with a beaming smile from Hal. Jesus, Dave felt like he was going to evaporate.

“Nice to meet you too, Hal. Come in, Rex is inside, just don’t be too loud because-”

“Ah!! DOG!” Hal yelled, completely missing what Dave was trying to warn him about. Rex’s ears immediately perked up, and before Dave could try and save him, Hal was suddenly toppled over by approximately 70 pounds of pure dog.

Dave caught him on instinct, then started panicking when he realized he was practically cradling Hal’s light body in his arms. Hal didn’t seem to notice, as he was preoccupied with Rex trying to eat his glasses, when he suddenly froze and scrambled back upright. Rex circled his legs, wondering why he was no longer receiving attention. Dave noticed Hal’s ears turned pink when he blushed.

A silence fell over the two. Dave remembered why he cut himself off from society. His saving grace was the sounds of vague sci-fi cutting through the awkwardness. Hal immediately lit up, wandering over to the TV.

“Oh, wow! A Space Odyssey is playing? What a coincidence!” Hal remarked, sitting on the couch.

“Uh, yeah.” The box for the DVD was literally sitting on the table in front of Hal. Sitting down next to him, Dave sneakily put it away somehow without Hal noticing. Hell yeah, he’s still an espionage master. Or maybe Hal was just unobservant.

Hal was watching the TV in a way that one might watch a movie that you’ve seen countless times before, but still loved. Dave was mostly watching Hal, the way the movie was reflecting off his glasses, how it looked like he was subtly rehearsing the lines along with the characters on screen.

“You know, I was actually named after this movie,” Hal said absentmindedly, still watching the screen.

“Your parents named you after an evil, murderous computer? They must have hated you.” Dave’s attempt at a joke fell flat as Hal seemed to wince. He wanted to punch himself.

"Well. I know my father did, at the very least.” Go figure. A fellow man with daddy issues.

“I’m gonna kick his ass.” Hal looked surprised, then let out a short, wheezing laugh. It was wonderful.

“You don’t have to do that, oh my gosh! I just- he’s out of my life now. My moms came and got me a while ago, so he doesn’t bother me anymore. Though, sometimes, I-” Hal seemed to stop himself, looking embarrassed.

“S-Sorry. Here you are inviting me over to pet your dog, and I just start dumping my garbage all over you. I’m sure you don’t want to be bothered by this, you seem like a pretty chill guy.” Hal avoided eye contact, gesturing vaguely at Dave’s body.

Looking down, he saw that he was still in boxers and a t-shirt.

Shit.

“....Yeah. Chill.” Dave ran a hand over his face, desperately trying to quash the embarrassment of being still in pajamas while trying to make it seem intentional. “Listen, I know I invited you over to see my dog, but I want to get to know you, too. Say all you want.”

Hal seemed shocked, staring at him. “I… you want to get to know me? OK…” he murmured.

“Well- I graduated from MIT about a year ago, and after a short internship, I'm working at that one tech place down the street. You know it, right?” Dave nodded along, trying to make it seem like he left his house more than 40 minutes per day. Thankfully, Hal just continued talking.

“It’s not the place I’d like to be working at, but it pays decently, so it’s alright. I only moved here recently, though, so… you’re kind of the first person I’ve talked to in depth.” Hal turned to face him, cracking a shy smile that Dave couldn’t help but return. He wondered if it was possible to die of sweetness.

“That’s enough about me, though. What about you, Dave?” Dave’s smile instantly dropped. Well, shit. He should’ve seen this coming- naturally, the conversation would’ve eventually switched to him. Dave desperately tried to think of something that would be seen as socially acceptable. Generally, drinking yourself to sleep because of nightmares and being a hermit were considered pathetic.

“...I lived in Alaska, maybe five years ago, before i moved here,” Dave started, trying to play it safe. Hal cocked his head, not unlike a dog.

“Alaska! That’s pretty far from here, don’t you think? What was it like?” Hal asked, incredulous.

“Well, it was… empty.” Don’t mention your shitty mental health issues. “Lotta snow, closest human beings were maybe, I don’t know, 20 miles away? Just me and my dogs.” Dave closed his eyes, smiling a little. “I had about fifty dogs, at my peak.”

“I- did you say fifteen?”

“Fifty.”

“... Fifty.” Hal had a look on his face that looked like he’d just seen the holy grail. Dave chuckled.

“I’ve got pictures, if you wa-” Dave was cut off with Hal nodding frantically, looking like he was trying to suppress a huge grin.

Getting up to grab his phone, Dave grappled with the idea of putting some god damned pants on. Wouldn’t it be weird to just change clothes while a guest was over? Yeah... yeah, he’ll just stay in his boxers. Hell yes. Master of social interaction, David Sears.

Dave returned to the couch, only to stop dead in his tracks as he was met with Hal peppering Rex with kisses, cooing. Dave’s heart hammered in his chest.

Rex was also sitting directly in his spot.

Feigning annoyance, he hefted Rex up, ignoring his squirming and whining. Dave reclaimed his seat, plopping Rex back down on their laps, with Rex’s tail wagging wildly and batting Hal in the face repeatedly. He looked absolutely ecstatic.

Dave scrolled through his photos while Hal tried to push Rex’s tail away from him. Even though the photo he was looking for was from years ago, it didn’t take long to find, considering Dave only had a handful of photos. Half of them were blurry photos taken accidentally.

“Here,” Dave grumbled out, facing the phone towards Hal. The photo was of maybe 20 dogs all clumped in front of his fireplace, with his thumb partially obscuring the camera.

Changing to another photo, it depicted him looked annoyed, framed on all sides by huskies. Rex was clinging to his head, licking his hair. Hal stared at the pictures, eyes bright and amused. They were a really nice gray color.

“Wow, you weren’t kidding! That must have been amazing…” Hal said, voice filled with wonder. Dave huffed somewhat bitterly.

“I guess it was nice to begin with, just me and the dogs…” Dave sighed, melancholy. “But, after a while, I actually started to miss the rest of society. Which is weird, because that’s the last thing I thought would happen. I thought getting mauled to death by a polar bear was more likely.” Or drink himself to death, he thought grimly. Hal let out a short, sweet laugh, immediately dispelling the beginnings of his dark mood.

“So, I reluctantly sent all the dogs to new homes, but kept this dramatic idiot here.” Dave patted Rex fondly, who was currently drooling on his thigh. “He can’t even be ten feet away from me without howling his lungs out; sending him away was out of the question.” Rex snuffed, rolling onto his side. Looking up, Hal actually looked kind of… misty-eyed?

Noticing Dave’s odd look, Hal blinked quickly a few times. “I just… I can’t imagine having that many dogs, and then having to give them away-!” Dave awkwardly patted his shoulder, feeling utterly bewildered. “And then… having one dog that loves you so much… Man, they should make a movie about that, it’s so nice! I-I’m fine, though. Please, continue.” Hal gave Dave a watery smile, absentmindedly patting Rex.

“I - uh, yeah, if you say so. Basically, I missed society, and moved back to New York with my dog. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, or something.”

Hal nodded sagely. “Yeah, wormwood does weird stuff.”

Dave hummed in assent. He- wait, what?

“Wait, what?” Dave turned to face Hal, completely confused.

“Oh, I was responding to what you said. Y’know, absinthe makes the heart grow fonder?” Hal looked genuine, despite the fact that the words coming out of his mouth were utter nonsense.

“Hal… I think it’s absence, not absinthe.”

“Are you sure? I’m positive it’s absinthe. Because, like, absinthe is an alcoholic beverage, which has the somewhat psychosomatic effect of behavioral alterations. Altered states of consciousness, and all that. So, you might become fonder when you consume it!”

Hal elaborated when Dave continued to stare, pushing up his glasses and flushing. “I- Y’know! The main ingredient in absinthe is wormwood, which has chemical compound thujone. It can have hallucinatory and/or anesthetic effects in high doses, and…”

 

Dave spent a long while just chatting idly with Hal, movie long forgotten. Hal didn’t even comment when the movie ended and “DVD” clearly blinked on the screen.

Hal quietly told Dave about how he had a stepsister, but hadn’t seen her in years. How he hadn’t seen anyone in years, really. In return, Dave told Hal about Eli, as much as saying his name inspired hatred in him, and George, who were both off doing god knows what.

At one point, Rex’s tail slapped the glasses clean off Hal’s face, sending them skittering across the floor. Hal started laughing, and Dave couldn’t help but join in. God, when was the last time he’d smiled this much in one sitting, not to mention actually talked about himself? This was… wonderful. Hal was so easy to talk to, so sweet. Not to mention easy to look at, too.

As time went by, Hal started leaning more into Dave’s shoulder. It was probably because he was tired, but Dave could hope it was for other reasons regardless. They ended up half lying down, half trying to keep some semblance of sitting up, squished together with Rex on the couch.

Dave glanced at the time on his DVD player: 4:36 AM.

That was the last thing he remembered seeing before falling asleep.

 

Dave awoke slowly, feeling the sun on his face, a heavy weight on his side, and a dull radiating pain when he tried to turn his neck to look around. Rex was happily snoozing in the sunlight streaming through the window, a dog toy lying next to him. And, on top of Dave lay Hal, clutching at his arm and drooling a little. His glasses were still on the floor.

Dave made an important discovery that day.

Hal snored.

Chapter Text

The printer in Hal’s office clunked dutifully, printing out some useless document for the hundredth time that day. The chatter of coworkers buzzed in the distance, but Hal didn’t register any of it.

It had now been a few days since the Incident, and Hal could get neither that nor Dave out of his mind. Even now, despite him being at work, Hal was utterly lost in thought instead of focusing. The dingy little office seemed so bleak, so uninteresting because the incredible man across the street took an interest in him. That, and also because his boss wouldn’t let him put any figurines on his desk.

After leaving Dave’s apartment that morning, Hal had felt an awkward aura around them that Hal couldn’t seem to shake. He’d felt scared that it meant the end of their just-beginning friendship, but to his extreme surprise, Dave texted him again just hours later, with no signs of ill will, like calling the police on Hal for being creepy. Or he was playing the long-con. Catfishing in real life, so to speak.

They had been texting almost non-stop since then, Hal absolutely disregarding the no-phones rule at his workplace. (Not like he did anything that important, anyway.) He’d only been to Dave’s apartment one other time, where he tried to surreptitiously watch Gurren Lagann with him. Dave, for his part, didn’t react negatively, which was already better than what Hal expected.

As if on cue, from his pocket, his phone played a short jingle, jolting him out his thoughts and making him accidentally kick the printer. That- that was the text notification sound he’d set for Dave! Dave was texting him again!

He found himself wondering whether it was weird to set a custom ringtone for someone a day after meeting them, but his worries were soon quashed as he opened Dave’s text excitedly.

12:50 PM
D: thought youd like this

Attached to the text, was a photo of Rex gazing militantly out of Dave’s apartment window, at some other apartment across the street. Dave’s thumb was once again obscuring part of the photo.

D: hes been watching ur apartment all day. i think hes in love

Hal suppressed a gasp, opening the picture back up hurriedly. Upon closer inspection, it did seem like yes, Rex was staring at Hal’s apartment. That orange blotch in the window had to be his Goku poster.

Immediately, Hal felt his eyes start to prick, sniffling loudly. Was it pathetic to cry over a singular picture of a dog? Probably. Well, when his childhood was filled with mostly abandonment and systematic abuse, he had to learn to appreciate what little happiness came his way.

12:51
H: TELL REX THAT IM IN LOVE WITH HIM TOO
D: damn. whens the wedding
H: RIGHT NOW!!!!! 3’’’:

The printer dinged, signalling that it was finished with the documents Hal was supposed to be getting. Oh, yeah, he was supposed to be doing work. Before he could dwell on that thought, his phone also dinged, as Hal forgot all about working again.

12:52 PM
D: well ill be sure to be best man
H: To me or to Rex?
D: both

Hal felt himself start to grin despite himself. Talking to Dave never ceased to make him smile, and given that they’d been talking a lot recently, Hal was in an exceedingly good mood. In fact, this was probably the most he’d socialized in the past few years, given that most of his life he’d go to school or work, then sit in his room for the rest of the day.

H: Um, I know I already came over the other day, but do you think I could go see Rex again?
H: Gotta plan the wedding and all.
D: you just want me for my dog dont you. anyways of course you can stop by
H: ヽ(;▽;hjlkfd

Hal quickly shoved his phone out of sight as his boss strode by and tried to make himself look… productive. He had a feeling him pantomiming pressing buttons on the printer didn’t quite cut it, as he felt his boss’s sharp gaze boring holes into him, but thankfully he moved on without a word.

12:54
D: that ones even more confusing that usual, everything ok
H: SORRY my boss almost caught me ^^; I meant to type ヽ(;▽;)ノ
H: I’ll see you soon!

Hal had a few easy coding assignments he blasted through, then spent the rest of his workday sitting around trying to make origami out of the post-it notes in his desk. He purposely chose his workspace to be far away from his fellow coworkers, both out of social anxiety and also because one of the guys was constantly complaining about going to the bathroom, and frankly, Hal didn’t need that in his life.

When 4 PM rolled around, Hal rushed to Dave’s apartment as early as he could, not even changing out of his work clothes. Stepping out of the elevator and turning the corner of the hallway, he came face to face with Dave’s door, and was about to knock, when-

-a loud crash came from inside Dave’s apartment.

Hal tensed, but before he could call out, the crash was followed by several barks, what sounded like frenzied running from both human and animal feet, and frantic scolding.

Hal considered leaving and coming back later, because obviously something was happening, but, what if Dave needed his help? He could help clean up, and not be an annoyance for once. But, on the other hand, he might just stand there like an idiot while Dave got angry at him, and then cry.

The commotion from within the apartment suddenly stopped, and Hal realized with horror that his renegade hand had already knocked on the door.

“...Hal? The door’s- FUCK” Hal winced, hearing Dave’s muffled frustration from within. After a moment, Dave opened the door.

In a word, he looked… disheveled. He had a very tired look on his face, coupled with hair that looked unbrushed and a wrinkled t-shirt with sweatpants. Not to mention, he was sprinkled in various places with dog food pellets.

Hal took one look at Dave’s state, and utterly failed in holding back his laughter. Dave rolled his eyes, looking embarrassed and crossing his arms.

“I- I’m sorry, it’s just, you look -! So funny-!” Hal managed to choke out, between wheezes. Without thinking, he reached up and brushed a crumb out off of Dave’s cheek, noting the rough texture of his stubble.

This turned out to be a mistake, however, as Hal’s brain grinded to a halt and he clamped his mouth shut, realizing he was literally caressing Dave’s face. Dave flushed, looking flustered, and Hal quickly ducked his head down before shakily entering.

… Well, if Dave looked “disheveled,” then his apartment was downright catastrophic. Even more dog food was strewn in places Hal had previously thought impossible, such as in the sink and on top of shelves, which were inexplicably both taller than Rex, so some sort of miracle must have occurred. Moreover, Hal could almost trace a path of how Rex must have ran from the things strewn about.

Hal looked at Dave in confusion. Dave only pointed off to a side room, where distinct snuffling and crunching could be heard.

“He somehow got into the closet, which was locked, and took out the entire bag of dog food and ran around the place with it.” Dave gestured vaguely to the rest of the room, running a hand through his hair exasperatedly. “I’ve been trying to catch him for hours now… I forgot to text you and tell you not to come. Obviously, the place isn’t really… guest-ready.” Dave looked over at Hal, somewhat guiltily.

“I… Dave, it’s fine, it really is.” Hal smiled at him, pushing up his glasses. God, he should stop doing that. “I enjoy spending time with you, even if you are covered in dog food.”

Why did he say that? Hal tried to mask his horror at himself by laughing it off, giving Dave an awkward grin. Dave had an odd look on his face, like he was trying to hide something. He’d been looking at him a lot like that, but Hal couldn’t even begin to fathom what he could be hiding, other than possible hatred. And he’d rather not dwell on that.

“U-Um, here, let me see if I can catch him.” Hal desperately tried to change the subject, walking over to the room where Rex was.

“Wh... I appreciate the effort, Hal, but if I couldn’t get a hold of him, I kind of doubt-” Dave was cut off by Hal lowering to his knees, spreading his arms in an open gesture, and yelling into the room, “Rex!”

Almost immediately, Hal heard an excited whine and the papping of paws on hardwood as Rex almost flew out of the room, and into Hal’s arms. Dave only stared in shock as Hal barely avoided being bowled over by Rex yet again.

“Jesus, I think he really does love you,” Dave remarked, striding over to them and wrestling what appeared to be the mangled remains of a bag of dog food out of Rex’s mouth.

“What can I say? We’re soulmates,” Hal tried to say around Rex slobbering all over his face. He was spared when Dave hefted Rex off the ground, giving him a moment to wipe himself off.

“You are an awful young man,” Dave grumbled, Rex only licking his face in response. Hal watched as Dave walked over to the corner, kicking aside a few cardboard boxes on the way, and placed Rex facing the wall.

“Sit.”

Dave then came back to rejoin Hal, with Rex staying in the corner, effectively putting Rex in time out. Hal stared at Rex, then at Dave, then at Rex again disbelievingly, before bursting out laughing.

Dave grinned at him, offering Hal a hand. Hal let himself be pulled up from the ground, the fact that he was holding Dave’s hand registering in the back of his mind as he nearly doubled over from the image of putting a dog in the corner. Rex only sat militantly in the corner, staring single mindedly into the white walls.

Hal slowly calmed himself down, looking up to meet Dave’s eyes. He was still smiling at him fondly, making Hal’s heart skip a beat. Dave had such a nice smile… he usually looked stoic and grumpy, but right now his face melted into a look of openness. Hal wanted him to do that more often.

Dave removed his hand from Hal’s grasp - which, oh god, he was clutching Dave’s hand that entire time - and clapped his hand on Hal’s back, rubbing it a little. Just that amount of contact had Hal’s head go fuzzy, and he leaned into his touch.

“C’mon, let’s get this shit cleaned up.”

 

Hal didn’t mind helping Dave sweep up at all, despite Dave’s numerous apologies. It was actually kind of… fun, since Dave was there.

It was absolutely bewildering how much Hal liked Dave. He spent every day after that looking forward to seeing Dave, and every day, Dave seemed to look forward to seeing him too. Hal would be nervous that he was bothering him, but in all honesty, his liking for Dave overrode his anxiety. At least, while he was with him.

When he was away, that changed. Hal spent many sleepless nights zoning out, thinking about, predictably, Dave. Where he’d usually be watching anime and maybe having a mild panic attack every now and then, he now mostly spent his 3 AM’s worrying about what Dave felt about him, and how he felt about Dave.

The embarrassing truth was… Dave made him really, really happy. Being around him made him feel shaky and tingly and heavy and light all at the same time- and he didn’t need a degree to figure out what that meant. It was a feeling that he absolutely couldn’t get enough of, shown by the fact that he stopped by Dave’s apartment nearly every day.

It was already an extraordinary miracle that Dave decided to spend his time with Hal, given the fact that all he did was blabber on and on about anime, dogs, or any of the other stupid things he liked.

Romantic feelings were… out of the question. Hal, the stick-like nerd who pissed himself in middle school and constantly got shoved into lockers, despite him thinking that that was just a myth? The idiot who’d made only one friend in the last ten years and cried over dogs, anime, and his crippling guilt? The guy with way too much emotional baggage that no one should have to deal with? Not to mention, he was far from attractive. He looked like a mop in a hoodie and glasses.

He should feel lucky with what he had- and he did. He never made any sort of advancement towards Dave, and Dave did the same, not like he expected any different. He allowed himself to be happy with Dave, and life in general. He had a job, an apartment, a friend with a dog, what more could he need? This was already much, much more than he deserved.

These were the thoughts running through his head as he was called to his boss’s office one day. It was another uninteresting shift, with Hal getting everything done in record time and then sitting around doing nothing. In fact, his boss was pulling him away from texting Dave, so he was a little annoyed. What could he possibly what?

Hal met the stern gaze of his boss, only to be told:

“Hal Emmerich, you’re fired.”

Chapter Text

Hal slammed the door to his apartment shut, and slowly slid to the floor. Now securely away from the public eye, he let the dam burst on all the emotions he’d be suppressing.

Immediately, almost instinctively, Hal felt his shoulders start to shake. His heart thudded painfully in his chest, his lungs felt like they were being crushed, and he gasped for air as he finally allowed his anxieties to consume him. What the fuck was he supposed to do?! That job was the only source of income, rent in the city, was expensive, he thought he could handle this, dammit, but turns out he couldn’t even last it a full year on his own before fucking everything up irrevocably-

In a brief moment of lucidity, Hal realized that rent for the apartment was due soon. Rent that he couldn’t pay for, now that he was out of a job

A desperate, pathetic whine tore its way out of Hal’s throat, tears blurring his vision. Screwing his eyes shut as hard as he could, he clamped his arms around his sides as the sobs left him hunched over, nose grazing the hard, dusty wood of the floor.

He knew it. He should’ve known - he was just wasting everyone’s time, he was a waste of time, after all - every success he’d ever done was a mistake, everything was his fault - and suddenly Hal was drowning again, vision going black…

Hal managed to suck in a few heaving, rattling breaths despite the feeling that he was being crushed, forcing himself to choke down bile. A panic attack wouldn’t help anything… and neither would focusing on his fuck-up of his life.

He did his best to compose himself, raising himself off the ground, ignoring the dizzy sensation in his head and the urge to throw up. With shaky hands, he took out his phone, fumbling with the screen.

Throughout his entire life, only one, and then two people had ever supported him through thick and thin. Even when he was a broken child escaping from abuse, even when he couldn’t see through through his own perceived guilt, even when all he could do was lay in bed - they were there.

He did the only thing he could do: he called his moms. The phone rang twice, before being answered by a soothing, motherly voice.

“Hello?”

Joy answered the phone, sounding chipper albeit a little confused. Hal felt a small ray of happiness upon hearing her, but was cut short as a new wave of anxiety stabbed through him. He internally cursed his clammy hands and tight throat; he could keep calm, he could do this!

“Mom…?” Hal’s voice cracked the moment he opened his mouth, and he instantly knew there was no use in pretending anymore.

Distantly, he heard a metallic clang of something dropping on the ground over the phone. In the back of his mind he registered it was probably a trowel, since Joy insisted on growing a garden.

“Hal? What happened, are you alright? Tell me everything,” Joy’s voice slipped seamlessly from casual to serious, ready to evaluate the situation. Hal felt a dual sensation of relief over his mom helping it out, but guilt at being so pathetic he had to ask for help.

“Mom, I… I’m so sorry, but I lost my job, and - I’ll probably be evicted soon,” Hal managed to force out inbetween breaths, and he could almost see Joy in his mind’s eye, gripping the phone, her blue eyes narrowing. “I don’t know what to do.” He said with complete, raw honestly.

Hal could practically hear the gears turning in Joy’s head over the phone.

“Hal, sweetheart..." There was a moment of silence over the phone. "Honey, I'm not mad, I'm just worried. These sorts of things happen, and you're a good person, Hal, so this likely wasn't your fault."

"First, I can tell you’re upset by the situation, and I need you to be anything but.You need yourself to be anything but. Trying to tackle this now will only end in poor decisions, and as much as I know you’re more capable than you think, you need to relax.” Her voice turned gentler. “Wrap yourself in that dog blanket I bought you and watch some anime. Or, better yet, get started on that pile of dishes I know you have.” Hal let out a watery laugh at that, because, well, it was true. He could already feel himself starting to calm down just listening to Joy talk, and knowing the situation was in good hands. She understood. She always did.

Hal listened to Joy’s advice for an indefinite amount of time, taking mental notes all the while. It mostly boiled down to try and negotiate with his landlord, and if that didn’t pan out, line out references and seek out cheap apartments, all the while applying to new jobs. And above and beyond, don’t panic.

At one point, she asked him why he was fired, out of curiosity. Hal opened his mouth to answer, but oddly enough, he recalled he didn’t really get an answer. His boss said something about being distracted, maybe. Not meshing with the other coworkers. There was a long silence on the other end of the phone, where Hal grew increasingly uneasy. Was she going to chastise him? Instead of an expected scolding, however, all he heard was a murmur that sounded suspiciously like “bullshit” in Russian before the advice continued.

At the end of it all, Joy’s tone shifted once more from serious to soothing. “I’ll talk to Strangelove about this, so you don’t have to relay the situation again.” Hal felt some part of him relax, without him even realizing it was tense in the first place. Not that he didn’t like his other mother, not anything close, it’s just that - having to deal with the struggle of forcing the words out of his mouth again, shame coursing strongly through him, might be a little much.

“... Thank you, mom. So much.” He says his thanks with a hint of wobbling in his voice, something in his chest tightening painfully. “I love you both.”

“Of course, Hal.” Joy’s voice sounds impossibly gentle, nothing like the harsh tones she’d use to drill her students. This was a tone reserved for family only. “We’re always here if you need it, hon. We love you very much, and even though we can’t provide much support, physical or financial, I know you can handle this. You’re a smart boy. Love you too, sweetheart.” With that, the line went dead, and Hal felt his eyes well up once more for very different reasons than before.

Hal decided it would be a good idea to peel himself off of the hardwood, but before he could, his phone went off again; it’s the unique little ping Hal set for Dave, whenever he got a text from him.

5:12 PM

D: Hey I didnt see you leave work? Where are you

Hal hadn’t known the man for very long, but he was beginning to pick up on some of his mannerisms. Dave had actually bothered to attempt to use grammar, at least partially, which meant he was actually worried about Hal. (Hal learned this after Dave frantically texted him about Rex choking on a banana.) He felt a wobbly smile spread across his face despite recent events.

That smile was soon snuffed out, however. He… really did not feel like recounting the tale to Dave. He barely felt comfortable crying over the phone to his mom, let alone ugly-crying to his crush face-to-face.

5:13

H: Got fired

Hal pressed send reluctantly, feeling like the meagre handful of syllables was not even close to capturing the gravity of the situation. Nevertheless, Hal felt it was his duty to let Dave know, and this was all he could manage.

This time he actually peeled himself off the floor and dusted himself off. He already felt better, but his legs still wobbled haphazardly, and he knew if he thought about his situation too much he would end up crying on the floor again. Curling up with anime sounded wonderful, but he might as well done something useful. He set off to battle his disturbing pile of dirty dishes, trying to think of nothing as Joy had recommended.

It wasn’t like Hal didn’t have the skillset to get a decent coding job; in fact, he’d had a knack for it from a very young age. One of his favorite memories was Strangelove, hovering over a nine-year-old Hal, watching with pride as Hal showed her his very first program he’d wrote.

No, the problem lay in the fact that his college years were… troubled. Hal had went to college an anxious, depressed wreck of a teenager, plagued by the simultaneous high expectations and lack of care from his father who was funding his tuition.

Hal suddenly tightened his grip on a wet plate, causing it to skitter from his grasp and nearly shatter on the ground.

Halfway through his associate’s, he’d managed to get away from him and live with Joy and Strangelove, and while that was wonderful, they didn’t quite have the funds as Joy was just coming out of a long hospital stay. That, coupled with the stress of moving, guilt-tripping from his father, and just general anxiety, caused Hal to nearly flunk out.

That’s why he’d taken this job in the first place, to try and substitute a shoddy degree with work experience… but look where that’d gotten him.

And now he was stuck in this cold, unforgiving city, with next to no friends nearby to crash with or even to provide moral support.

Hal sighed, wiping up the puddle from the ground and checking the plate for cracks.

The door to his apartment was suddenly flung open, banging loudly against the wall and causing Hal to drop the plate again. Turning to face the entrance, he was met with a panting Dave wearing a grim expression.

That grim expression quickly melted into surprise, and then sheepishness at noticing the loudness of his entry, and cracked plate between Hal’s legs.

“...Dave?” Hal’s voice came out both surprised and amused, as Dave gingerly shut the door behind him and approached Hal.

“I… sorry. I didn’t really think about that.” Dave mumbled, helping Hal pick up stray chips from the plate.

“Yeah, I can see that.” Hal grinned cheekily at Dave, the man grumbling and rolling his eyes in response. He suddenly seemed to remember why he barged in with such vital importance, however, as he eyed Hal with worry.

“Hal, you told me… you got fired. Is that true?” Hal immediately felt like someone had poured water on him, feeling an icy-cold sensation run down his spine.

“Y… yeah, it is. Because of, well, actually, I’m not sure what.” Hal rubbed the back of his neck, feeling himself blush and refused to meet Dave’s eyes. “I’m not sure what I’m gonna do now, honestly.” Admitting the complete, plain truth of the matter hurt, but it needed to be said. Hal genuinely had no clue how to handle this situation, obviously shown by the fact he had a panic attack and was doing dishes instead of facing the larger problem at hand.

Hal was suddenly struck with a realization, one that hurt just as bad as being evicted.

“Dave, I - I’m gonna have to move out. I don’t have the money to live in this apartment for much longer, and all the cheaper ones are farther away, and…” Dave’s brows furrowed together, alarmed. “What I’m trying to say is that I probably won’t see you much anymore.”

A silence fell over the two, Dave’s hand freezing midway of grabbing a piece of the plate. Hal twiddled his thumbs, feeling his heart rate picking up again.

Dave looked like he’d drawn the conclusion halfway through the conversation, but hearing it confirmed out loud made him look downright thunderstruck. The words hung in the air, weighing the room down with tension that Hal couldn’t understand. This was the most emotion he’d seen out of Dave to date; he’d only known him for a couple weeks; he couldn’t be that torn up over Hal leaving. Hal was, of course, because Dave was his best friend and only friend in a long time, but that was only true for him.

“Looks like I’ll finally be out of your hair, huh. Can’t say I won’t miss Rex, though.” Hal attempted a smile, but Dave only scowled further.

“You don’t have anyone to live with? Nearby?” Dave’s face darkened, and Hal suddenly couldn’t read a single emotion of his. Was he mad?

“N… No, not really. I’m gonna have to figure it out on my own.” It was a daunting task. Packing up and moving on its own sounded nigh-on impossible, since he couldn’t bear to throw away any of his possessions. And he had a lot of junk strewn about. Dimly, he wondered what Dave thought of his messy, vaguely anime-themed apartment. He’d wanted to bring him over, but not in these circumstances; and it looked like he wouldn’t have another chance.

Well. At least the pile of dishes in his sink was now a reasonable size.

Dave abruptly grabbed and squeezed Hal’s shoulder, Hal meeting his intense gaze.

“Hal.” Hal swallowed, feeling his sharp blue eyes pierce straight through him. “Come live with me.”

Hal’s brain immediately ground to a halt, his eyebrows shooting up to his hairline. He... He couldn't have heart that right. Right? He desperately searched Dave's face for any sign of joking, or insincerity, but the man's face was painfully open. Dave almost looked surprised as well, like that was completely an act of impulse.

“I... Oh, ha, that's- funny-" Hal tried to say, twisting his face into some sort of smile, but he was cut off.

“You said you didn’t have anyone to stay with, right? Well, I live right across from you, so it’s not too far, and you like Rex, and we’re - friends, so…” The words spilled from Dave’s mouth in a rush, like he couldn't hold them back and wasn't thinking about them before they flew out, before quickly petering off. He looked so genuinely earnest, like whatever answer Hal gave him would genuinely affect him. The tips of his ears were turning pink, Hal noticed with wonder.

“I… Hal, I just don’t want you to leave.” Dave ducked his head suddenly, trying to hide his embarrassment. The tips of his ears still stuck out from under his hair, and they were rapidly changing to red.

Hal instantly felt his eyes begin to water again, feeling like his chest was full to burst. He felt light and heavy at the same time, like he needed to lie down but also wanted to jump out the window and fly away, high on this golden feeling. He couldn't understand this. This simply wasn't possible. This was - too good to be true.

Clapping his own hand on Dave’s shoulder, he smiled wider than he’d had in years.

“I’ll - I’ll think about it.”

Chapter Text

As nerve-wracking as “I’ll think about it” sounded, it only took Hal about 10 hours to decide. Dave was filled with a constant, underlying mix of anxiety and regret until he received a jumbled mess of a text 3 AM, which he chastised Hal for (despite the fact that he was also awake at 3 AM, zoning out and watching terrible sci-fi reruns on TV).

The text was filled with typos and run-on sentences, which made Dave frown, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. Hal was usually meticulous with his texts, and given that there was also a lack of those symbol...smiley things, it meant Hal was probably stressing out about this. Worried, he cast a glance at Hal’s soon-to-be-not-his-apartment window, only to find the lights off.He texted back that yes, of course the offer was still open, while trying not to sound too desperate.

After a few days of Hal wrapping up loose ends with his job, his landlord, and the like, he helped Hal finish packing his things, with Dave handling harmless stuff like clothes and Hal diligently stowing away little… action figure-like things delicately like they cost a fortune.

And, just like that, Hal entered Dave’s life.

Dave was constantly filled with a tingling, exhilarating feeling over the fact that Hal, of all people, would be staying in his apartment indefinitely. (He didn’t mind the smoke, thankfully.) The thought of being able to see Hal’s face, hear his laugh, and just exist alongside him for a large portion of the day made him want to scream from a roof and also lie down to quell the overwhelming feeling inside of him.

Though, something felt… off.

Throughout packing, Hal became increasingly quiet and withdrawn, which worried Dave, but he just chalked it up to sadness at leaving his home.

After lugging all his belongings across the street, up the elevator (it was the first time he’d used the elevator, despite living on the seventh floor), and down the hall to Dave’s apartment, Dave’s worries only grew. Rex, of course, greeted them with all the joy his excited dog body could muster. Dave half expected Hal to drop everything and tackle Rex head-on, but Dave didn’t have to catch any falling bags as Hal only gave Rex a half-hearted pat before dumping his things unceremoniously by the couch.

At this point, the sun had already gone down. Dave didn’t have a spare room for Hal to stay in, so it was with an acute sense of guilt that he set up the couch with pillows and blankets, bid good night to Hal, and passed out in his own room.

Dave, mercifully, awoke peacefully without any horrible nightmares that would scare Hal off immediately after moving in. Leashing up Rex for a morning run, he paused for a moment to glance at Hal’s sleeping form.

A glance turned into a full-blown stare, as Dave felt his face heat up as he watched Hal’s chest rise and fall peacefully. Dave was reminded of the first night Hal had visited; like before, Hal’s face looked impossibly peaceful. He looked about ten years younger this way - in this state, Hal’s jittery, nervous disposition was wiped away, leaving a clear, untroubled expression. He was still snoring, of course.

One arm was thrown back over the arm of the couch, while his other hand grazed the floor where his laptop was. His glasses were still perched on his head, though in danger of falling off, and his legs were tangled haphazardly in the blankets and slung over and off of the couch.

Distantly, Dave registered the fact that Hal hadn’t even taken off his glasses - let alone changed his clothes - and the fact that he’d presumably been on the laptop up until falling asleep as worrying. These feelings were drowned out by the sheer endearing state of his friend, and any leftover concern was washed away by a wide, shaky smile Dave couldn’t suppress.

Dave returned after about an hour, feeling worn out (and sweaty). The clacking of the door caused Hal to look up from his laptop, hand raised in greeting, only for him to freeze completely as his face gained an expression that read as distinctly embarrassed.

He shook off whatever reservations he had quickly, however, and greeted Dave with that shy smile he loved so much. “Hey, Dave!”

Rex padded over the water bowl, slurping messily, with Dave mirroring him and pouring himself a glass of water from the kitchen. “Hey. Sleep well?”

“Oh, yeah! Thanks for asking. I… had breakfast already, so don’t worry about me.” Dave chugged the glass and thunked it back on the counter, turning around to continue the conversation only to find Hal once again glued to his laptop.

Dave frowned, and immediately mentally chastised himself for it. He shouldn’t assume Hal living in his house meant he’d devote every second of his free time to Dave - he had his own work to do, surely. Even then… he couldn’t blame Hal for wanting to maintain his distance.

“So… what’re you doing?” As much as his conscience hissed at him for it, Dave couldn’t help but lean over the couch to peek at the screen, suppressing the urge to bury his face in Hal’s soft hair. He half expected Hal to be engrossed in one of those weird cartoons he talked about so much, but was instead met with a dozen tabs filled with job websites, advice boards, and even a WikiHow article.

Hal seemed surprised by the sudden closeness, but seemed to accept it with a bewildered calmness. “Oh, y’know. Job stuff. I’m doing my best to get out of your hair as soon as possible, heh,” he mumbled, punctuating the sentence with a self-deprecating laugh.

Something inside of Dave tightened, and he was filled with an urge to pull Hal away from his work to spend some time together. It wasn’t fair at all that this happened to Hal, of all people… Hal, the guy that cried over his dog stories, buried his face in his hands when he was embarrassed, and seemed to like Dave despite his gruff nature.

As much as he didn’t want to, he ended up leaving Hal to his own devices in favor of a shower. It was natural he’d want to get going on looking for another job, and Dave was just craving human interaction like an emotionally stunted idiot again.

However, Dave became increasingly alarmed when Hal worked for the next hour, then the hour after that, and the hour after that, seemingly endlessly.

Several times Dave would wander around his apartment for whatever reason, only to jump at noticing Hal still sitting on the couch typing away. It looked like Hal was trying to curl up on himself and take up as little space as possible, like him just being there was some sort of horrible sin, leading to Dave not noticing him most of the time.

It was completely at odds with whenever Hal had come over in the past. Instead of barely concealed nervousness, there used to be elation (and still some barely concealed nervousness). Instead of quiet, there used to be constant chattering about some new show, until Hal would shut himself up and Dave had to coax him into sharing more with a few gentle.questions.

Plus, Hal constantly had a look of… distress. Whether it was distress caused by job prospects, social anxiety, or just general distress, Dave didn’t know, but he knew he hated how it’d replaced Hal’s usually smiling face.

Evening rolled around, and worryingly but not surprisingly, Hal was still on his computer. Dave absentmindedly stroked Rex’s head while sitting at the kitchen table, before abruptly getting up, Rex making a startled huff in response.

This was getting ridiculous. Hal hadn’t gotten up to do anything besides work in hours, and apart from breakfast, Dave hadn’t seen him consume anything but coffee. It was time to take matters into his own hands.

Rifling through his cabinets and fridge, Dave tried to brainstorm whether or not making the man dinner would be weird or not. It was just the most convenient thing; Hal was probably hungry, Dave was hungry, it worked out perfectly! And the guy literally lived with him now, so it’d be easy to play off as perfectly heterosexual business.

Thankfully, it wasn’t that time of week where Dave was running short on food and had to eat toast and microwaved dinners. Hal would probably appreciate a stir fry, right? The guy really needed to get some decent food in him. He was painfully thin, so much so that Dave could probably lift him up like a feather. Well, he could do that with most people anyway, but especially so with Hal.

Shortly, the kitchen was filled with the scents of garlic and curry powder, and it wasn’t long before Dave was spooning the contents of the pan into two plates.

Now came the hard part: convincing Hal to come eat with him.

He set up the table, then marched like a man on a mission over to where Hal was still sitting.

“Hal.”

Hal looked up from his screen, looking surprised. “Oh, hi Dave! I saw you cooking, it smells really good!” He smiled, which made briefly weakened Dave’s resolve before he mentally slapped the emotion out of himself. This was an important mission, and this was not the time to get distracted by how cute Hal was.

“Yeah, I made some for both of us. Stop working and come over and eat.”

Hal’s smile immediately dropped off his face, and took on an expression that looked like he was experiencing a fight or flight response coupled with about half of the seven stages of grief at the same time.

“I… Dave, you really didn’t have to. It’s a waste.” He looked almost like a sad puppy, hunching in on himself and gazing at Dave guiltily.

“It’d be more of a waste if you didn’t eat it while it’s still hot.” Dave stood his ground, crossing his arms. It might not be his business, but this man needed to take care of himself. Hal seemed to weigh his options, barely biting his lip.

“... C’mon, Hal. What harm could ten, maybe fifteen minutes of eating do?”

After a few more heavy moments, Hal let out a heavy sigh of acquiescence, gingerly placing his laptop off to the side and taking the hand Dave offered. Dave misjudged how light Hal was and ended up pulling too hard, making Hal stumble right into Dave’s chest as he rose.

Internally, Dave’s brain muttered a soft oh my god before abruptly pulling away and attempting to stride naturally towards the kitchen. He’d held Hal before, when Rex knocked him over and he caught him, and it wasn’t even a huge deal to begin with, but he could still feel his face heating up. This was - stupid. Emotions were stupid, Dave was stupid, everything was awful and too vulnerable and Dave wanted it to stop immediately.

Or maybe, that voice within Dave continued, you could continue holding him. And he could hold you back, and he’d smell so nice, and maybe you could feel him smile against your chest...

And Dave snuffed that out as quick as he could, grumbling internally as he pulled out Hal’s chair (like a gentleman) before taking his own seat. He was getting too damn old for these “crushes.” He was a thirty-some year old war veteran, not a middle school girl.

Unaware of Dave’s internal turmoil with himself, Hal still seemed like he felt guilty over just daring to exist in Dave’s field of view. He looked a little like Rex did, that one time when Dave came home from bar hopping to discover all of his cardboard boxes were torn to shreds.

Dave put down his fork immediately after picking it up, sighing.

“Hal, what’s going on here.” Hal’s expression immediately ramped up from guilty to panicked, and Dave mentally backpedaled. People often told him he looked scary or came on too strong, and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt Hal.

“Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not mad.” He raised a hand in a placating manner, Hal relaxing marginally. “You’ve been skittish all day. Is… something bothering you?”

“Ah… well.” Hal rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. “I just don’t want to use up your food, I guess? I mean, I’m already imposing so much. I don’t want to be more trouble than I’m worth, haha.”

Dave fixed an incredulous stare on Hal, searching for a hint of humor, but could find none. That… didn’t make sense at all. Was he serious?

“I… what? Hal, you live here, at least for the time being. What were you planning to do, order takeout each day? Just starve?”

Hal stayed silent, face slowly turning pink.

“The hell did you even have for breakfast?”

“Um… I took some granola bars from when I moved out?”

Dave stared at Hal for a few more moments, before sighing. “Hal, you have to take care of yourself. And if you won’t, by god, I will make you.” Hal huffed out a short laugh at that, looking self-conscious.

“Still, Dave, I really feel bad for making you do all this for me. Like, I’m wasting your food this way, and I wasted your time since you cooked it…” He gestured vaguely with his hands as he spoke, as if trying to brush away Dave’s concerns. “Are you sure you don’t want me to pay any rent? I really don’t want to be a burden on you. At least, not more than already am.”

“Absolutely not. I’m not going to make you pay when your funds are obviously already so tight.” Dave’s tone softened, feeling a little embarrassed but pressing on nonetheless. “And it’s not a waste if it keeps you happy and healthy.”

He spoke softer, trying to hide his most likely blushing face. “You’re a friend, Hal. A good one at that. You are not a burden on me.”

Hal squeaked, his face quickly darkening to a splotchy red, before he awkwardly picked up a fork and jabbed it at a piece of chicken.

“If you say so…” He mumbled, fidgeting with the fork.

A tense moment of silence passed, before Hal meekly spoke up once more. “...Really though, Dave. Thank you. So much.” Dave felt his heart swell at the sincerity in Hal’s voice, smiling crookedly as he watched Hal shove a piece of food into his mouth to try and mask the sentimentality of his statement.

His eyes suddenly widened, looking at Dave with amazement. “Wow, this is incredible!” Dave felt himself fill with pride. Usually he didn’t care what other people thought, but… Hal was different.

“Jeez, Dave, if I knew you were this good of a chef, I would’ve asked you ages ago to cook for me.” The teasing tone to Hal’s voice was a welcome change from his nervous, quiet disposition earlier. “Where’d you learn to cook like this?”

“Cook, huh? Well I learned this specific recipe from a guy who trained me in the military.”

“Really… What was that like?”

The atmosphere between them was comfortable as they chatted and ate. Miller knew how to make a damn good stir fry, that was for sure. Though, Dave was the one that actually cooked it this time around, so he gave himself a pat on the back on that front.

It didn’t take them too long to finish up, and before Hal could even think of returning to his couch to work more, Dave dragged him off to his room. (He tried to not think about the implications of how that sounded.)

“Dave? I… should be getting back to work…”

They stopped in front of the door to Dave’s room, Hal looking confused.

“C’mon, it won’t be that long. Didn’t you say you wanted to watch that one cartoon?”

“Anime.”

“Yeah. The one with…” Dave panicked internally, having forgotten any and all anime Hal had mentioned in the past. Shit, he was an awful friend. “With… the robots?”

Hal’s eyes immediately lit up in a way that made Dave’s knees feel weak. “Oh my gosh, do you mean Mobile Suit Gundam? Dave, you absolutely have to watch it, it’s a classic!” Hal seemed to fumble with his words for a moment, his mouth not being able to keep up with his brain’s excitement, which Dave couldn’t help but smile softly at. This man was too cute.

“I- okay, hold on! I’ll grab my laptop, I have the whole thing downloaded, you go sit down or something…” Hal’s voice grew fainter as he scurried away, and Dave sat down on his bed.

He probably should’ve cleaned his room beforehand; he usually tried to keep the rest of his apartment clean, but his room fell a little by the wayside. The blankets were messy, a large pile of laundry was halfway visible in the corner, all his nerdy literature was in plain view on his bookshelf… well, it was too late now to make a good impression. Backing out now would likely make Hal sad, and he’d rather run naked through barbed wire than be responsible for a frown crossing that delicate face.

Hal returned, quickly settling in next to Dave while he rapid-fire listed off facts. Dave listened with rapt attention, maybe not quite understanding words like “tsundere” and “senpai” but he loved listening to Hal ramble about things he loved.

He didn’t know why Hal was so self conscious about “being a burden” and “wasting his time,” and he desperately wanted to fix his anxieties even though he knew he couldn’t. Hal was wonderful, and Dave was truly blessed to have him in his home. Maybe it was just a part of his personality, or maybe somebody treated him poorly enough to make him feel awful about himself… all Dave knew was that if it was the latter, Dave would find the asshole and beat the shit out of them. Maybe he was being too protective, or getting too attached. (Probably, actually.) Regardless… Hal’s smile was something worth protecting.

God. When did he become such a sap?

They binged a good amount of episodes, the Japanese dialogue only punctuated by random snippets of information from Hal, or a question from Dave. The sun set as they watched, framing Hal in a golden glow, before all that illuminated them was the screen from the laptop. Dave’s arm was slung across the back of the pillows, but if he just closed his eyes and ignored reality, he could pretend he was holding Hal.

That is, until disaster struck.

In a sense, Dave should’ve seen this coming. He was feeling some heavy déjà vu, and soon realized the source of it when in a cruel twiste of fate, Hal once again slumped over on Dave’s shoulder and fell asleep. Except this time, Dave was left awake to deal with his hammering heart.

Shit.

Gently, with the speed and patience of a sloth, Dave slowly inched the two of them down, until they were nearly lying flat on the bed. Good, now all Dave needed to do was slide his arm out from under Hal, and escape out the window, or something.

At that exact moment, a black nose poked its way through the crack in the door, followed by a white snout. With a quiet snuffle, Rex made his way into the room, gazing doe-eyed at Dave.

“Shoo!” Dave hissed at Rex, knowing he’d probably try and lie down on the bed, which he was very much not allowed on after slobbering on Dave many a night. “Go away!”

He tried to speak as quietly as possible as to not wake Hal, but Rex seemed to ignore his quiet instructions and hopped on the bed. Dave’s eyes widened, realizing his fate a moment too late; Rex huffed and flopped down on both Hal and Dave, trapping them both there

God, he swore this dog was doing this on purpose to mortify him. There was no good outcomes to this; if he let Rex stay, he'd have to... deal with this. If he tried to nudge Rex off, he’d probably get huffy and jostle Hal, waking him up. He was effectively, one hundred percent stuck.

Hal then made the softest noise Dave could imagine, nuzzling his face into Dave’s neck, and slung one arm around Dave in a sleepy haze. Hal’s glasses poked uncomfortably into his skin, and his stubble rasped around his collarbone, but Dave found he didn’t mind at all. He was filled with nothing but pure affection for this nervous, skinny, awkward, beautiful mess of a man.

Well.

He supposed there were worse places to be stuck.

Chapter Text

Things weren’t looking good for Hal. Job searches were yielding absolutely nothing, despite him working tirelessly for something, anything, outside of going back to customer service. (He never, ever wanted to relive those days.) It was beginning to feel like Hal would live there forever.

As it stood, he might as well actually clear his stuff from around the couch and store it in a spare closet Dave offered him. He reminisced fondly, thinking about the warm smile Dave had while offering him the storage space, and how he’d clapped him on the shoulder, Hal absolutely melting under his palm.

No, he thought firmly, he had to clean his things and he wouldn’t be swept up thinking about Dave again. He’d been reluctant to put his stuff away before, since it kind of felt like he’d be staying there permanently, but that was becoming closer to the truth with each passing day. Plus, he was taking up Rex’s floor real estate, so that was why he was spending the better part of the evening transferring and actually organizing it so he wouldn’t have to grab crumpled t-shirts out of a trash bag.

Hal was lost in thought as he methodically hung up his clothing, not paying full attention to what he was doing. Despite all the reassuring from Dave, he couldn’t help feeling bad for taking up Dave’s space. He was sure there were countless other people the man would like to stay with him other than his awkward, nervous self, and he already took so much time out of Dave’s day.

Also, he thought, restlessly waving his hands to punctuate his own musings, the man was unemployed! Dave offhandedly mentioned receiving unemployment benefits, something about government benefits (Hal kind of zoned out on that one, he was into coding math, not economics math), but he must be struggling to support Hal.

Hal felt his hand smack something and he let out an undignified squeak, fumbling to catch the lamp he’d nearly knocked over in his intense contemplation. He sighed, sheepishly pushing his glasses up and feeling embarrassed despite Dave and Rex being out for a run and unable to see him be an idiot.

He puffed out a sigh, resuming his work. The act of hanging up clothes was soothing in a repetitive, mindless way, and Hal found himself calming down from his previous worries… only to be swept up in thinking about Dave again despite his best efforts. That seemed to be happening more and more often now.

Despite his hastiness to move out already... it wasn’t because living with Dave was insufferable. No, actually, half of his worries came from Hal’s enormous crush on the man, with his infinite kindness and stupidly good looks.

Dave had extended an endless amount of patience towards Hal, coaxing him away from his work often to watch terrible sci-fi movies, or sit through an anime marathon, or to make him delicious food. Hal, of course, needed to work, but… when that rugged face melted into an expression of open gentleness, how could he say no?

He wasn’t just doing it out of politeness, either. Either that, or he was a gifted actor. Bewilderingly, he seemed to tolerate all of Hal’s endless chatter and the fact that he was just inherently… a nuisance. In fact, most of the times Dave asked him to elaborate on a plot point of an anime, or encourage him to talk more, Hal had stop himself from asking if he was making fun of him. It’d been this way before Hal moved in, but now that Dave was subject to Hal’s idiot self more often, Hal thought he would’ve snapped by now.

Of course, Hal also had to admit it… The man was gorgeous. Hal was glad he could actually meet his eyes now, instead of blushing and sputtering out nonsense. Well, he still did that, but marginally less now.

Whenever he smiled that soft smile or laughed that quiet, rich, beautiful, gorgeous, amazing laugh, Hal thought he would die. He even caught Dave coming out of the shower a couple times, hair plastered to his head and muscles on full display, and Hal thought he was going to fall into his grave right then and there.

… Sooner or later he would do something stupid to mess it all up, and then he’d be thrown to the curb with nowhere to go.

Hal finished stuffing his things in the closet, stacking the final few cardboard boxes Dave donated to him on the ground, except for one: his box full of prized anime figurines. If Dave ever found them and looked through them thoroughly, he’d think Hal was even weirder than he currently thought he was, and Hal couldn’t take Dave making fun of him like his classmates in middle school. He shuddered, thinking on the days of being called a pisspants weeaboo. No, he’d just have to shove the box completely out of sight, on the top shelf. It was a little too high for Hal, and he could only just barely push the box up from standing on the tips of his toes.

Without warning, the door opened and Rex came barreling in barking, making Hal flail around and lose his balance. In his clumsiness, he slapped a previously unseen shoebox off the shelf, its contents spilling all over the floor.

Dave strolled through the doorway, combing a hand through his hair and looking effortlessly beautiful as usual. “Hey, Hal, I’m back-” He froze mid step, scanning the mess strewn about the floor before locking eyes with Hal.

Hal immediately felt a cold feeling run down his spine, subconsciously bracing to be yelled at.

“Dave!” He yelped, pushing up his glasses to just have something to do with his hands. “I am so, so sorry, I didn’t mean to spill this over, it was an accident, I’ll clean it all up, I promise-” He was waving his hands around erratically again, which was only exacerbated by how worried he was. Was Dave going to yell at him? Kick him out? God, what was in that box? Casting a glance at his feet, he saw various photos, scraps of paper, and other paraphernalia littered about. What if he just ruined priceless vintage photos that couldn’t be exposed to air? Or- or maybe he spilled ashes of a fallen comrade everywhere?!

Hal’s apologetic babbling was cut off by Dave chuckling, patting Hal on the shoulder. It took Hal by surprise, and that combined with the sheer strength Dave contained in one hand made him struggle not to be knocked over.

“You look like you thought I was gonna throw you out the window, Hal.” Hal decided not to mention that he definitely considered that a possibility. “Don’t worry, there was nothing important in that closet-” Dave glanced down at the floor, only to cut his sentence short and do a double take.

An odd look came over his face. “You go sit down or something, I’ll clean this up myself.”

Hal cocked his head in confusion, watching as Dave bent down to gather up the bits and pieces. “What? No, I can do it, I was the one who made the mess in the first place-”

“No, really, Hal, I got it-”

“Don’t be silly! Let me help out-” Hal kneeled down to pick up a photo, and immediately, it felt like his heart stopped beating.

In his hands, he held a high school photo of Dave.

The photo was grainy, the colors washed out by time, but the piercing eyes staring back at him undoubtedly belonged to David. His hair was shorter and choppier, like he’d tried to cut it himself, and there was a band-aid across his cheek like he’d gotten into a fight recently. He looked indifferent to having his photo taken, but there was a subtle  glint in his eyes, daring anyone to challenge him.

He looked… less tired. Younger. A window into a different time.

Dave blanched, moving to grab it from Hal’s hands. “Hal, give that to me-” He was cut off by Hal making a pathetically high-pitched squeak, curling in on the photo.

“Dave…!” Hal gasped, feeling like he might cry. “You… you were so cute!”

Dave’s face went from pale to pink quickly, and he huffed, embarrassed. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can I have it back now?”

Hal reluctantly let Dave peel the photo from his grasp, already missing it. Dave was adorable! He must’ve been, what, seventeen? Sixteen?

… What if Dave had baby pictures?

Hal grabbed Dave’s shoulders with a sense of urgency, meeting his confused eyes. “David. David Samuel Sears. You have to let me see more.”

Dave fixed him with a stern stare. “One, there are memories here I don’t want to unearth. Two, that’s not even my middle name. You don’t know my middle name, Hal.”

Hal shrugged, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly. “Well, it was worth a guess. You don’t look like a Samuel anyway.” Dave exhaled a laugh, trying to hide a smile.

“… It’s reasonable you don’t want to go through these, I understand.” He was being selfish. Hal was being selfish with wanting to see the photos, and he needed to stop.

“Can I just see a few, though?” The plea tripped out of his mouth without Hal intending, making him scream internally. Please, god, when will he shut up.

Dave seemed to reason himself, worrying his lip between his teeth in thought. (Hal tried not to get distracted.) He glanced back at Hal one last time, and that broke down the last of his reserves.

“...Fine,” he relented, Hal letting out a whoop of jittery excitement.

But,” he continued, cutting of Hal’s celebration, “you have to let me pick the photos.”

“Alright, alright, I’ll settle for a guided tour,” he sighed dramatically, Dave lightly punching his arm in response. Truthfully, Hal was incredibly excited to learn more about Dave’s past. The man hardly talked about himself, and Hal was dying to know more.

Dave shuffled most of the photos together, and started rifling through them, discarding most of them back into the shoebox after consideration. He was oddly cute like this, furrowing his brow and staring intently at each photo like they were a situation to resolve. Hal stayed true to his word, making a point of not sneaking a peek at any discarded photos.

With great reluctance, Dave handed Hal a photo, which he snatched up, practically vibrating with excitement.

The photo depicted a young Dave, perhaps ten or eleven, framed by a younger boy with one eye and one that looked just like him, all bearing the same grim expression for being dressed up for a photo. Dave was wearing a simple white button-up and tie, the younger opting for a more suit-like ensemble, and other looking like he was just barely wrestled into a shirt. Dave said he had two other brothers, right? George and Eli? Dave and presumably Eli looked strikingly similar - of course there were obvious differences, like Eli being blonde, but if the photo was black and white Hal wasn’t sure he could tell them apart at all.

Hal cooed enthusiastically at the photo, eyes going wide. Dave only grumbled in response, face going pinker as he feigned irritation.

They spent the better part of the evening sitting on the ground, poring over the old memorabilia. Hal was handed a slew of photos, ranging from a blurry photo of Dave’s mother with a lipstick mark in the corner (“Don’t smudge that, that’s actual lipstick,”), to the elusive baby photos of chubby, sleepy infant Dave. Hal spent a few minutes on the ground squealing and kicking his legs excitedly while Dave covered his face in complete mortification when that photo came around.

Hal felt like he was filled with liquid sunshine learning more about Dave, and committed all the facts he learned to his long term memory immediately out of sheer willpower. Plus, being near the man, having their fingers brush as they passed photos, and joking around so casually was indescribably wonderful. Dave lightened up as well, dropping his reservations from before and starting to open up.

“You know, this means you owe me photos of you as a kid too, right?” Dave remarked as they neared the end, raising an eyebrow cheekily. Hal immediately flushed, thinking back to his gangly, awkward, acne-ridden middle school self.

“Urgh, you’re not missing much,” he waved his hands, trying to dissuade Dave. “I looked about the same, except now I have less acne.” He paused, trying to think of what else had changed. “And, uh, no more braces I guess?”

Dave made a shocked noise, his jaw dropping before a wide grin crossed his face. “Wait, hold the goddamn phone. Braces? Are you kidding me?

Hal flushed, immediately regretting everything. “You know what, actually, forget what I just said.”

“No way. You legally have to show me now,” Dave shot back teasingly.

Hal snorted, smacking Dave’s shoulder lightly and making him chuckle. “Oh, shut up! Not like you have a leg to stand on, Mr.-”

Hal’s hand landed on an errant photo that they’d both missed, losing his balance a little as his palm slid across the floor before righting himself. Without thinking, he plucked it off the ground and peered at it.

This photo depicted an older teenage Dave, clad in a bandana, a loose tank top and dog tags. Next to him was a pale-haired boy wearing about the same thing, his arm fondly slung around Dave’s shoulder as they both grinned mischievously. In the background, a middle aged blonde man missing an arm in glared at the camera through his sunglasses.

Hal made an inquisitive noise, flipping the photo around to show Dave. “Who are these guys?”

Immediately, Dave’s face lost his easy smile, hardening into an alarmed expression.

Hal lowered the photo, furrowing his brow. “...Dave?”

Dave seemed to snap himself out of a trance, snatching the photo out of Hal’s hands abruptly.
“...’S nobody, don’t worry about it,” Dave mumbled, stuffing everything back into the shoebox and standing up, avoiding eye contact. Hal felt something in his chest tighten, peering worriedly at Dave’s grave face.

“Dave - I’m sorry, I-”

“Hal, I said don’t worry about it.” Dave cut in sharply, sounding like he was in pain.

He could only watch as Dave took the box into his room, closing the door behind him with a final click.

Hal was left in silence, with only his regret to accompany him.

 

 

With nothing else to do, all Hal could do was pace restlessly around the apartment. He couldn’t focus on work, and he couldn’t even focus on anime, which he relayed to Rex frustratedly. Rex was a very good listener, but he couldn’t help in this situation.

Dave’s bedroom door remained firmly shut, a monument to Hal’s fuck-ups.

After a few more hours of driving himself insane with his own thoughts, Hal retired to bed early. Repeatedly analyzing every minute action of the evening wouldn’t help anything, as the damage was already done; maybe everything would be better in the morning, and he and Dave could laugh it off.

 

 

As it turned out, life had different plans for him.

At around 3 am, Hal was awoken mid-snore by a wet nose being poked directly into his ear. He mumbled, groggily flopping his hand onto Rex in some sort of semblance of a pet, not even opening his eyes.

Usually that was enough for Rex, but this time, he bit down on Hal’s shirt sleeve and tugged with all his husky might, which was a lot considering he was a dog.

That got Hal’s attention. He reluctantly sat up, untangling himself from the couch and finding his glasses. Rex came into focus, looking unusually agitated.

Hal kneeled in front of him, concerned. “What is it, boy-” He was cut off by Rex dragging him once more, making him actually fall this time. Rex whined at him as if admonishing his clumsiness as Hal dusted himself off.

“OK, alright, I get it-!” He hissed, following Rex down the hallway, only to be led to… Dave’s bedroom door.

Hal blinked at Rex as if to will Rex to explain himself. Rex blinked back, waiting expectantly.

Hal huffed, realizing the ridiculousness of the situation and turning on his heel. It was 3 am, he was trying to communicate telepathically with a dog-

Hal froze in his tracks, hearing a sound come from Dave’s room. A quickening of breath, a gasp.

And then, a sob.

This wasn’t the first time Dave had had nightmares since Hal came over. Hal had heard Dave’s breath shudder and heard him rustling around, but before Hal had just bit his lip and tried to stay in his own lane. But… this was the first time he’d heard Dave actually cry out in his sleep.

Rex stared at Hal expectantly, as if wanting him to go in and help. Hal’s eyes flicked back and forth, trying to decide what to do. On one hand, Hal couldn’t bear it if Dave yelled at him, furious at Hal invading his privacy. On the other hand… Dave was suffering.

Dave made a noise that sounded like a whine, almost like he was in physical pain.

That settled it. Hal steeled his resolve and quietly ventured inside, tailed by an anxious Rex. It took a moment for Hal’s eyes to adjust, but the sight inside made his heart clench.

Dave was lying on the bed, drenched in sweat, blankets and sheets bunched up everywhere around him. Now that he was closer, Hal could hear Dave whimper more, each distressed noise punctuated by a twitch. His face… it looked like Dave was being tortured, and it broke Hal’s heart.

Gently, as gently as Hal could, he shook Dave’s shoulder to try and pull him out of whatever awful nightmare he was having.

Nothing happened, and Hal knitted his brows together as Dave continued to mumble.

“Dave-!” He whispered, shaking him more urgently. Rex peered at him from the other side of the bed, monitoring his efforts.

Without warning, Dave shot up in bed, making both Hal and Rex yelp. He merely sat there for a few moments, panting heavily.

Slowly, he turned to face Hal, and for a few agonizing, heart-wrenching moments, Hal could’ve sworn Dave didn’t recognize him.

As soon as it happened, it’d passed, and suddenly Dave was hunching in on himself, his breaths coming faster and choppier, and oh god, Dave was crying again-

“Dave- Oh, David-” Hal croaked out, feeling like it was painful to speak, his hands shaking as he gently grasped his shoulders. Dave leaned into his touch, not even having the mental reserves to resist, and Hal bundled him up in his arms as tightly as he could. Dave shook in his grasp, burying his face in the crook of Hal’s neck as he choked back wails.

Hal could feel his heart breaking in two over and over again with each concealed sob, each tear seeping through his shirt; it was stupid, it was incredibly stupid, but he felt himself get teary-eyed along with him.

“Shhh, shhh, Dave…” Hal could only rub Dave’s back as soothingly as he could and murmur meaningless nothings to Dave as he tried to calm down.

“Th-They… They didn’t deserve it…” Hal could barely hear the croak of Dave’s voice, jolting in surprise.

“I - Hal, they - Frank -” Dave’s breathing started to quicken again, and Dave finally met Hal’s eyes. Hal felt like he could barely breathe, staring directly into Dave’s blotchy, tear-stained face, his eyes hiding undeniable misery and regret.

Hal was outright crying now, cupping Dave’s face in hands. Dave pushed into his touch once more, leaning in close to Hal until he could see every droplet stuck to his lashes.

Finally, it felt like they had no more tears to shed, and Dave extracted himself from Hal’s grasp, hunching over on himself and hanging his head.

“...Hal.” Hal straightened somewhat, hanging on Dave’s every action.

“I… Fuck, this is so hard…” He fisted his hands in the blankets, looking off the side as if asking for help. He gave himself another moment to gather his thoughts, before speaking once more.

“Hal. I… I’m sorry you had to see me like this. I don’t know why I thought this would work, us living together, and one way or another it was all going to blow up in my fucking face, but I guess…”

“I guess I was being selfish, Hal. I - I like you a lot, I enjoy your company more than you could ever know, and I wanted to have you closer. I thought I could deal with all my - all my bullshit, but I can’t, and... I’m so sorry you had to be caught in the crossfire like this.”

Dave heaved a heavy sigh, one laden with remorse. “That photo... I guess it was all it took for me to lose it again. I can’t even cope with one fucking photo, Hal, this kind of shit is why I moved to Alaska- I just can’t deal with anything, because I’m fucking pathetic, and I can’t- Hal, I’m an absolute mess of a man, and you don’t deserve-”

“David.” Hal cut in, sharper that he’d in tended. Dave whipped his head up, shock written clearly on his face.

“Dave, you are not pathetic, you are not selfish, you aren’t any of the things you’re saying - you’re a wonderful man. I know you’ve been through a lot, more than I could ever comprehend, but even so, that does not bother me, and I can’t begin to express how much I feel that way.”

His tone became hushed, leaning forward to place his hand on Dave’s. “You’re the very best friend I’ve had in a long while. Do you really think I’d think that way about you?”

“... And, well. I like you a lot too, David.”

“... Hal, I want you to know that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and it sure as hell won’t be the last. Plus, I’m like a fucking minefield - I’m hard to talk to, hard to understand, just... If you’re just saying this because you can’t afford to stay anywhere else, I get it, I have some connections I could probably-”

David.” Hal cut in again, even firmer this time. “David - David Robert Sears.” That finally got a smile out of Dave, making Hal grin tearily in response.

“I want to stay here. With you,” he insisted, with more conviction to his words than anything else he’d ever said.

A look of unspeakable gratitude flashed through Dave’s eyes, and he took Hal’s hand in his as a jubilant, thankful, beautiful smile spread across his face.

Hal laughed, just to release some of the happiness that was bubbling up inside of him, the two of them leaning closer and closer until their foreheads were touching.

And, like that, they were kissing.

Hal wasn’t sure whether it was him leaning in closer, or maybe it was Dave, but their lips had brushed and that was all they needed.

Dave’s lips were slightly chapped, his stubble scratching against Hal’s, but the kiss itself was gentle. It was almost like Dave was afraid he’d scare Hal off, and it made Hal’s heart sing. He tasted like cigarettes and cheap whisky, and Hal had never tasted anything better.

Hal deepened the kiss, pushing harder; he felt light and bubbly and he wanted more. Dave suddenly grabbed Hal and flopped backwards, taking Hal with him and making him yelp in surprise.

They both laughed breathlessly, taking a moment to just appreciate each other. Dave looked content under Hal, looking at him like he was the best thing he’d ever seen, his blue eyes soft and open. Hal blushed and looked away, feeling like he didn’t deserve being looked at like that, before Dave dragged him down by the shirt collar for another kiss.

Hal felt like his head was swimming, and it was so late that he didn’t even have the mental resources to comprehend how and why this was happening. All he knew was that he was so, so, indescribably happy.

“...Dave…” Hal said, barely above a whisper. Dave shushed him by pressing a finger to Hal’s lips, Hal’s eyes crossing just to look at it.

“Tomorrow,” he rumbled, looking fond. “We can talk about it tomorrow. For now… stay with me.”

Hal smiled, feeling warm all over. “Of course.”

It took a moment for them to get comfortable, Hal having to wriggle under the blankets and contort himself in such a way that they were both cozy, but it ended with them both on their side, Dave’s arms around Hal and his face buried in his hair.

Almost on cue, Rex hopped on the bed and flopped on the two of them again, Dave not even bothering to admonish him as they both laughed.

“Tomorrow,” Hal whispered. A promise.

Dave kissed the nape of Hal’s neck in response, mumbling something inaudible as Hal slipped into unconsciousness, feeling warm and happy and good.

Chapter Text

Dave woke up to the feeling of something warm and wet on his face, his face scrunching up in response.

Oh, god.

Rex!” Dave hissed, elbowing him off the bed. Rex grumbled as he trotted out the door, with Dave grumbling right back; that wasn’t the first time this’d happened, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Dave practically chased him out on instinct now.

Dave heard a quiet murmur behind him, followed by the shift of blankets, and he tensed, whipping around only to have his heart melt. Hal was curled up on himself, form lost in the folds of the blankets with his hands by his face like a baby. Still snoring, of course.

Hal snorted softly, before fluttering his eyes open and settling his unfocused gaze on Dave.

He gave a small hum of confusion, before being shushed by Dave. He’d consider kissing his forehead, but he was still covered in dog slobber, after all.

“Go back to sleep, Hal,” he murmured softly, carding his hand through his hair. Hal hummed again, giving Dave a big dopey smile and closing his eyes once more. Dave felt like the wind was knocked out of him, seeing such an adorable display.

Hal soon went back to his snoring and left Dave alone with his thoughts, leaving him no choice but to face the truth of what had transpired.

Last night, he was socializing like a normal human being and sharing memories, but had somehow dissolved into a total shutdown, followed an awful nightmare, etc., the usual. Dave ran a hand over his face and grunted, ashamed at his own ability to function as a person. He didn’t even remember the nightmare anymore. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to this by now, but it’d disturbed Hal.

But, he didn’t cuss him out for overreacting for a simple picture, show fear over his breakdown, or worse, move out immediately. No, in fact, he’d…

Dave immediately flushed, clapping a hand over his mouth to hide his giddy smile. They’d shared a kiss-! Well, a really teary, out-of-practice kiss, but a kiss nonetheless. And Hal had stayed with him, this time on purpose.

Shuffling out of bed, careful not to wake Hal, Dave methodically stretched and popped joints on the way to the fridge.

He owed Hal an explanation for what had happened. He’d given a garbled, weepy mess of a monologue, but he deserved an actual one, if only to avoid that sort of situation in the future.

He groaned as he peered in the fridge, dreading the conversation. He usually did exactly the opposite of opening up, which was becoming a shut-in who only talked to his dog. Maybe the conversation would go better over food?

Breakfast in bed was cliche as all hell, and Dave could hardly believe himself as he took out vaguely breakfast-looking items. Pulling out the orange juice, he gave it a stern gaze before deciding to take a quick swig straight out of the carton. Hal wouldn’t mind, right? Though, he was never awake early enough to see him be disgusting, so it was up in the air.

 

Dave had just finished a stack of very respectable pancakes, before hearing a commotion coming from his room. Muffled by the door, all he could make out was a yelp, a thump, and a dog grumbling.

It didn’t take much thought to figure out what had happened. Grabbing a towel off the counter, he precariously balanced the pancakes along with silverware and juice, stepping around Rex as he grumpily left the room for the second time that day. Hal’s head whipped up, pausing in the middle of wiping his face of dog drool and blushing.

“Uh… Dave, I can explain-” Dave raised a hand before Hal could answer, nodding in understanding.

“Trust me. I know.” Hal laughed and Dave tossed the towel at him, expecting him to catch it. Dave turned out to be completely wrong on this assumption, Hal missing it coming entirely, until the thing slapped him directly in the face. Dave froze, simultaneously baffled at Hal’s inability to see flying objects and guilty at whipping a towel right into his face.

Hal only laughed, much to Dave’s relief, and mopped himself clean until noticing Dave’s culinary masterpiece. Dave set it on his lap, feeling maybe a little too proud, but they really did look like nice pancakes. He’d even included syrup and a cliche pat of butter, he might as well get his own cooking show.

Hal said nothing whatsoever, eyes wide and filled with confusion as he stared at the pancakes, at Dave, then back at the pancakes.

Dave blinked. “...They’re for you, Hal,” he offered, and Hal immediately lit up in response. This man was too much, sometimes.

“I- David -” Hal seemed to be at a total loss for words, staring at Dave with that adorably, painfully grateful face. He always gave Dave that look whenever Dave did anything vaguely nice for him, like he’d just taken a bullet for him, and it deeply troubled Dave that Hal thought he wasn’t worth a simple stack of pancakes. Even if they were really good.

“God, these are amazing,” Hal muttered incredulously around a mouthful of pancake, looking very much like he was just barely holding himself back from stuffing his face. Dave couldn’t help but preen a little, proud of his handiwork.

Dave only watched Hal as he ate, noticing the graceful motions of his hands, the subtle shift in expressions on his face, they way he’d smile when their eyes met… Hal was wonderful. It only made him dread the coming conversation more.

Sooner than Dave would’ve preferred, Hal was finished eating with the plate set off the side. He was looking at Dave curiously, his silence concerning. Though, something behind those round glasses told him he already knew what Dave was worried about.

Dave took a fortifying breath.

“...So.” He could already feel himself wanting to hide in a hole somewhere, but he didn’t want to back down now. “I assume you remember last night.”

Hal also assumed an expression of wanting to hide a hole, but stood his ground. “Of course.”

Dave leaned back, resting an arm on the back of the pillows to try and calm himself, Hal leaning into his arms. Not what he intended, but he let himself relish in the contact before starting.

“You’re a smart guy, Hal. I’m sure you can put the pieces together. The recurring nightmares, the fact I was in the army… Yeah.” Dave’s grip tightened on Hal’s shoulder without him realizing it, Hal merely nodding in understanding.

“I, uh, don’t really know where to start.”

“The beginning, maybe?” Hal offered, listening with rapt attention.

Dave carded his hand through Hal’s hair, pensive. “I guess. There’s a lot to sort through, so buckle up.”

“George and I joined the army because of our father. Not because he forced us or anything; we just couldn’t afford college and we wanted to get away from our dad.” Memories played through his head like an old slideshow, none of the images particularly happy.

“Our dad was a complete mess. Well, he wasn’t always that way - in the beginning, he really was doing his best, trying to raise us to be normal while also trying to cope with his own demons, but our mom wasn’t around to help, and after a while, he stopped caring about us. He’d cycle through weird periods of pretending we weren’t there, and drilling us like we were in the military. Once we hit 18, we got out of there as fast as we could.”

Hal cocked his head slightly. “Didn’t you have a twin brother?”

Dave huffed out a derisive laugh. “You mean Eli? He ran away from home when he was 17.” Bad, bad memories.

“George got off easy, barely seeing any combat, and went off to pursue politics or some shit after his service was over. I wasn’t so lucky.”

“I got stuck on the front lines of countless fights I didn’t give a shit about, constantly getting hurt because I didn’t give a shit about myself.” Dave absently traced old scars under his shirt, reminiscing. Hal’s eyes flicked to the scars littered on his arms, eyebrows furrowed.

“The only things that weren’t awful were two people I met there: Fox and Miller. Those were the people you saw in the picture.” God. Was there ever going to be a day when saying their names didn’t hurt?

“Miller was my mentor, and he taught Fox and I. Our first day, he told us most people he trained gave up after a week, and we found out why. He was a real hardass - he was always pushing us to our limits, making us do shit I thought they only did in army movies for dramatic effect. Barbed wires, tying limbs together, making us run through shit naked…” Hal laughed despite himself, a small smile crossing his face. “But, as much as he might’ve hated it, the old bastard cared about us, and we cared about him. Miller was more of a dad to me than my actual father was.”

Dave sighed through his nose, feeling a stab in his chest. “Fox… or Frank, was probably the first friend I ever cared about. I was never really the sociable type, and neither was he, but circumstance drove us together. He’d drag me out of the line of fire, I’d warn him about landmines, and we saved each other countless times. We were partners, and we knew that if we were ever put together, we’d have each others’ backs.”

“And then, I had to kill him.”

“We were on a mission together; sneak into an enemy building, grab blueprints, get out. It was supposed to be simple, but I kept making stupid mistakes, and long story short, he got gunned down. I couldn’t bring both him and the blueprints back to base. It was the mission, or him, and the mission always came first.

“He wanted me to kill him before those bastards could. And…” Dave ran a hand across his face, noticing that he was sweating profusely. Was it hot in here? Or was it too cold?

“David.” Dave jolted when Hal placed a hand on his thigh, coming to his senses somewhat. “Breathe.”

He realized he was hyperventilating a little, and took a moment to just close his eyes and calm himself before continuing. “Miller and I lived in Alaska for a while, and I would visit him from time to time. But, as time went on, I’d visit less often, and we’d say less to each other each time. Eventually, he died. I’m still not positive how; maybe he just got tired of living in a world that treated its people like shit and his body decided to quit it out of spite, leaving me alone out in the cold tundra.”

“And you know the rest.”

A long silence passed between the two of them, Hal’s hands repeatedly clenching and unclenching in Dave’s shirt. Dave expected to be more worried about what Hal would think, but mostly, he felt tired.

“David, I… I’m so sorry.” Hal’s voice sounded thick, like he was struggling to keep it together. “I know what it feels like to have a terrible father, I know what it’s like to be alone, but… god, I’m sorry.”

Dave gently pressed his face into Hal’s hair. He’d spent enough nights crying about this, and he was too exhausted to shed tears. “It’s not your fault, Hal. It’s in the past now, and I thought I was over it, but I guess… some things don’t go away. I just want to forget about it now.”

Hal scrubbed at his eyes, smudging up his glasses, and Dave smiled softly at him. Hal was so compassionate it hurt, always crying at everything. Definitely not the type of guy he expected himself to fall for, and absolutely not someone his father would approve of, but Dave didn’t care at all.

“Your dad was a piece of shit too, huh?” Hal nodded, wiping his glasses on the edge of his shirt.

“Yeah, ugh. My dad was… not very good at parenting. I got away from him, but my step-sister had to stay. I can only hope she doesn’t hate me.”

“I’m not sure how anyone could hate you, Hal.” Hal elbowed Dave gently in the side, more of an affectionate gesture than anything.

“Looks like we’re both pretty fucked up, huh.” Dave didn’t expect him to share much in common with some spindly, nerdy, adorable man, but it was comforting. Hal understood.

Dave’s gaze flicked to Hal, and in an act of pure impulse, he tilted Hal’s face towards his and kissed him. Hal made a noise of surprise before melting into the kiss, wrapping his arms around Dave’s neck and half-crawling into his lap.

Maybe he was still a little groggy, maybe he was just crazy, but things felt different between him and Hal. Closer.

It was a nice feeling, a sort of warm hum sitting in his chest, and it only made Dave kiss Hal harder.

Hal broke the kiss after a moment, grimacing. “Ugh, you taste like cigarettes.”

“What, can’t take one little smoke? It’s gonna be rough dating me, then.” Hal froze and immediately flushed, Dave clamping his mouth shut once he realized what he just said. They met eyes for a moment, locked in place, before they both grinned like fools.

Hal knocked his forehead against his playfully, Dave completely ignoring his glasses poking him. “Ugh, whatever. I’m sure I can deal.”

“Yeah, you better. Besides, you haven’t even brushed your teeth yet, and you don’t see me complaining.”

Hal’s face turned a blotchy pink almost comically fast, and Dave could already tell he was gearing up for an apology.

He shushed him before he could even open his mouth. “Hal, I was joking. I’m pretty sure I’d still kiss your cute face even if you ate rotten garlic.”

Hal snorted, smacking his shoulder. “Ugh, don’t say that! That’s groooss!”

“It’s true, though! What can I say, I can’t resist that nice smile, Mr. Brace-Face.”

“Excuse you, that’s ex Mr. Brace Face to you. And-”

Hal was interrupted by the noise of claws scratching at the door, and a quiet whine. Dave sighed, remembering the third, needy member of the household.

“Rex is probably getting antsy, I haven’t taken him out for his walk yet.” He reluctantly peeled himself away from Hal, only to be stopped by a hand grabbing the hem of his shirt.

“W-Wait! Uh… can I come along?” Hal’s eyes flicked to and from Dave’s face, looking adorably vulnerable. Did… did he not want him to leave?

“I mean, of course you can, but it’s not really… a walk. More of a jog.” He and Rex usually went for a quick mile or two; that constituted as a jog, right?

Hal’s expression scrunched into one of determination. “I can handle it! I won’t slow you down, I promise.” Dave found he couldn’t say no to him.

“Alright, sure. Rex likes you anyway, so this is a good idea.”

 

As it turns out, it was not a good idea.

Hal barely made it a single block before crying for mercy, wheezing as he struggled to remain upright.

“Th-This is what you call a jog?” Hal panted out between breaths, Dave grinning as he unleashed Rex. Honestly, this was kind of what he expected, the man looked like he was made of toothpicks held together with optimism, but it didn’t make it any less amusing.

Dave hauled him down by the neck to ruffle his hair affectionately, Hal making a wordless noise of complaint. “Well, we can take a break for a moment, I gotta go take care of something. Keep an eye on Rex for a moment.” Hal grumbled as he took the leash, combing his hair with his hand in a futile effort to fix it. Dave didn’t have the heart to tell him that Hal forgot to brush it in the first place, and walked into a shop with a grin on his face.

 

Hal was on the ground ruffling Rex’s face when Dave walked back out with an ice cream, the look on his face priceless. Dave proudly presented the cone to Hal, plucking Rex’s leash out of Hal’s grasp.

“Figured you deserved a treat after all that physical exertion.” Hal laughed as he accepted the treat, careful not to get any on his fingers.

“Geez, pancakes and now ice cream? You’re spoiling me, Dave.” He glanced Dave up and down, raising an eyebrow. “You didn’t get one for yourself?”

“I was thinking we could share it.” Dave smiled wolfishly, suppressing the urge to waggle his eyebrows cheesily.

Hal seemed to choke on nothing in particular, face turning bright red. “Dave-! Wh- I-”

Dave suddenly revealed a popsicle with a flourish, chuckling warmly. “Just kidding.” Looks like his sneaky sleight of hand had some useful applications.

Hal’s mouth hung agape for a moment, before bursting out laughing and bumping shoulders with Dave. “S-Stop that!”

“I can’t help it, you’re too easy to fluster!”

Hal made an annoyed noise that wasn’t even close to a word, unconsciously jerking his hand away from Rex to make sure he couldn’t steal it. This man really was too much. Too adorable, too kind, too pure, too… good for him.

“You’re really sure you want to date me?” Dave suddenly blurted out, immediately wishing he could punch the words out of existence.

“I - what? What are you talking about?” Hal broke into a laugh halfway through the sentence, looking incredulous. “Of course I-”

“Hal, I’m serious. Things like last night are gonna be a recurring event, and you’re gonna have to deal with that.” Half of his brain was screaming at him to shut up, but the other half was screaming that he was a mess that shouldn’t weigh Hal down.

Hal opened and closed his mouth a few times, before looking down pensively. Dave’s heart clenched painfully - leave it to his dumb ass to burn down a good thing before he could even enjoy it.

“... David, I understand what you’re going through, and I don’t think less of you at all for it. I’m willing to help you through anything that happens.” Hal sighed, looking exasperated. “Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t descended into a panic attack in front of you yet.”

Dave’s heart skipped a beat, surprised that Hal didn’t decide to dump him 3 hours into their relationship. “Yeah, I’m surprised it took me this long to have one.”

Hal smiled at him, and Dave somehow knew what Hal was trying to say. That he was sorry they were both this way, but maybe they could cope together.

He could get used to this.

Chapter Text

“Oh, come on, it’s so intuitive! You don’t see the little face?”

“Hngh… All I see is parenthesis and some weird symbols. How can it be a face? It doesn’t even have a nose.”

Hal spluttered, seemingly endlessly amused and pained by Dave’s confusion. “But that doesn’t - ok, ok. Please tell me you at least recognize this one.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s the smiley face? Still no nose, though.”

“I’m going to ignore that comment and count this as a win.” Hal sighed, shaking his head and pushing up his glasses, which Dave took as an opportunity to cheekily plant a kiss on Hal’s face and squeeze his hand. Hal rolled his eyes but grinned like a fool regardless, gently shoving Dave. Rex pushed his nose between them, as if unwilling to become a third wheel, Dave gently patting his head in reassurance.

They’d been dating for a little while now, about a week (6 days, 12 hours, and 34 minutes, but Dave wasn’t keeping track or anything, definitely not), and Dave was still filled with a bubbling glee every time he snuck a kiss, or touched his hand, or even… smiled at him. Well, most of that he’d done before, but now, it was different! It was like every time Hal came into his field of vision, he had an internal monologue of “Hal is so amazing. Oh shit, we’re together. We’re a couple, what.”

Dave never in a million years thought he’d be a romantic, but Hal changed things. He never thought he’d be able to live with someone, or even function in a relationship, but… he wanted to make Hal happy. He’d probably even go to one of those weird anime cons if it made Hal smile. Even if every nerd there smelled like body odor left to fester and ferment, Dave would bear it to see Hal’s joy. He’d probably smelled worse before, anyways.

Hal had learned since the last dog run, and now only came with Dave when he promised it was just going to be a leisurely stroll. This was one of those times, and Dave was childishly excited to be sharing the crisp spring air with Hal.

With them both loving dogs so much, the dog park seemed like a natural choice, and Dave watched as Hal absentmindedly thought to himself, gazing at a distant terrier run in circles. Not many people were around, thankfully, and he could relish the light breeze and warm air in peace. Hal was currently trying to convince Dave that the little random symbols in Hal’s texts were faces, not gibberish, which was obviously impossible.

Hal took a moment to tap at his cheek at think, before determinedly typing away once more. “Here, this isn’t a face, but it’s easy.”

Dave was dubious at first, but surprisingly he actually knew this one. He tried to hide a wry smile, pretending to squint at the phone. “...Less than three? What’s less than three? I don’t get it.”

“N- No! What?! You’re kidding me!” Dave couldn’t suppress a laugh at Hal’s genuine, pure anguish, Hal narrowing his eyes at him. “Ok, so you are kidding me,” Hal huffed, breaking away for a moment to tap more at his phone.

“Here! This is how you’re making me feel right now.” Hal proudly presented the screen to Dave, revealing an absolutely indecipherable combination of symbols and letters. This time Dave genuinely squinted at the screen, trading Rex’s leash for Hal’s phone so he could hold it closer to his face.

“Is that Russian in there? Hal, I don’t know Russian. How do you expect me to get this.”

“No, you’re missing the point! You don’t evaluate the meaning of the characters, you evaluate what they look like. As a whole, a-as a gestalt, or something.” Hal waved his hands around as if trying to frame an invisible box, like teaching weird face-symbol-things to Dave was a life or death situation. In one of Hal’s wild gesticulations, the leash slipped off his wrist, falling to the ground.

“Oh! Gosh,” Hal stooped to the ground to pick up the leash again, but something in Rex’s mind switched, and his tail slapped Hal in the face before breaking into a run to who knows where.

Oh no.

Dave’s head snapped up from the phone, suddenly registering the fact that Rex was currently happily trotting away. A sharp stab of panic cut through him and Dave quickly tossed the phone back into Hal’s hands, Hal making a gurgling noise of alarm.

Maybe he was overreacting, but he couldn’t help but think of the time he lost Rex in Alaska; hours of trudging through snow, growing more hopeless by the moment that his dog froze to death. It wouldn’t be as bad here, but he did not want a repeat of that situation.

He didn’t want to scare Rex into running away even faster, so Dave half-ran, half-dove to snatch Rex’s leash from the asphalt before his dumb, irrational, impulsive dog could do anything.

At the same time Dave’s hand grazed the leash, Rex barked and broke into a full on sprint, taking off across the park.

“Rex- NO!”

Rex darted past the onlookers, cleared the fence in one powerful, clean jump, and took off running into the street.

 

For a moment, all he could register was the gravel cutting into his hands and legs, and the clatter of Hal’s phone hitting the ground behind him. Blankly, he felt an odd sense of pride that his dog was strong enough to hurdle a 6-foot fence.

An overwhelming wave of dread suddenly hit him, washing out every other emotion, and Dave scrambled up and sprinted after Rex, vaulting over the fence just as easily.

 

Panting both from physical exertion and panic, he scanned the streets. Not many cars around, which meant less danger. Not many people around, which meant less witnesses to ask. Low visibility, medium cloud cover, many potential hiding spots and routes...

He had no clue which direction Rex went.

Head swimming, he tried to tamp down the mental images flying through his mind and desperately tried to formulate a plan of attack. He could hear the fall of Hal’s footsteps coming near him, and glanced at him briefly.

He did a double take, taking in Hal’s full state of being with furrowed brows. The man was pale and almost shaking, eyes wide behind his glasses.

Hal opened and closed his mouth a few times before Dave immediately shushed him and grasped his shoulders. Hal was obviously on the edge of a panic attack, and Dave felt like shit for not being able to give him his full attention. But, with every second that went by, the chances that Rex would get hurt hiked up along with Dave’s fear, and them both breaking down wouldn’t solve the problem.

“Hal, go back to the apartment and relax, ok? I’ve got this under control, I’ve found Rex after he’s ran away before.” Yeah, after a full 26 hours getting frostbitten in the Alaskan tundra, but Dave tried to ignore that technicality.

Hal didn’t seem to be convinced, and honestly, Dave didn’t blame him at all. But, all he could do was squeeze his hand once, plant a chaste kiss on his forehead, and bolt down the nearest street.

 

 

“Rex!” Dave called, his throat burning. That marked what was most likely the thousandth time he’d called his name, as well as the 9 hour mark since Rex went missing.

Dave was currently wandering down some errant backroad, the sidewalk cracked and the buildings claustrophobic. The only light came from small streetlights, and Dave was finding it hard to not trip over his own feet and fall asleep on the pavement.

The sun had long since set. Dave blinked his eyes rapidly, trying to keep himself awake. He couldn’t even keep away his paranoia now; old memories swirled together with present fears, eating away at Dave’s composure. How was it that no one he’d talked to could remember seeing a dog run by? And how could there be no clues anywhere? It was like Rex just disappeared, and Dave was losing hope.

He’d texted Hal a plan of action to take while Dave was out looking, like calling shelters and all two of Dave’s friends, and had kept Hal updated. After a while, though, it started getting depressing texting “havent found him yet” over and over, and even more so since Hal never replied, which only made Dave’s spirits sink further.

Dave wiped his hand over his face, confliction melding inside him. He wasn’t angry at Hal, but god, he wanted to see his dog again. Rex had been his constant friend through Dave’s highs and lows. As stupid as it sounded, losing him, or worse, letting him die here seemed like a betrayal. He’d let enough people die; if he couldn’t protect his damn dog, what use would he be to Hal? To society as a whole? Hal was… important to him, and so was Rex. He had to be able to protect them.

Suddenly, Dave’s phone vibrated, nearly making jump out of his skin. Who in the hell could be texting him? The bright light from his screen burned at his eyes, but Dave could squint and make out the text, and he felt his heart race as soon as he saw who it was from.

New message from Hal!
11:46 PM
H: found himgn come 2 ve t near cornerstre

 

It took Dave a moment to decipher the text, and instantly felt his stomach drop and his heart squeeze. “Him?” Rex was alright? Not perfectly alright, since he was at the vet, but at least he was… alive? Who knew in what shape, though? And, Hal…

The vet near the corner store. Dave knew where that was. Pocketing his phone, he raced there with a single minded determination, trying to squash the emotions rising in him like bile.

 

After bursting through the door like a madman, the people behind the desk turning their eyes towards him, Dave quickly weaved his way through the clinic and found Hal, sitting by himself. The bright lights and sterile walls were making Dave antsy, reminding him of too many hospital visits, and he just wanted to know what the hell was happening.

Hal looked inconsolable, huddled in on himself and staring down at his feet shaking. Dave’s brain filled with white noise when he noticed the smear of blood on his shirt, and he kneeled down to meet Hal’s eyes. Hal refused to look at him, however, but mercifully got straight to the point.

“H-He just cut up his leg a bit and broke it, I-I’m not sure what on,” Hal stammered out, seemingly reassuring himself as much as Dave. Dave breathed out a sigh of relief he didn’t know he was holding in, a weight immediately lifting off his chest.

“I found him under a tree near the p-park on the other side of the city, a-and I did my best to carry him back here.” Dave’s eyes widened. He was dubious Hal could carry 20 pounds, let alone lug a dog that was half his weight.

“I, uh, told the shelters that we found him and then f-footed the bill,” Hal mumbled, still staring at the floor.

Dave was taken aback; there was no way Hal had enough money for a surgery. “Hal, no-”

Hal’s head snapped up and met Dave’s eyes for the first time, letting Dave take in his puffy red eyes and tear stains fully. “David, it was my fault he got hurt in the first place!” He quickly lost his steam, lip quivering before slumping on himself again. “I-I’m sorry… I should’ve been more careful…”

Dave felt his heart clench, gathering Hal into his arms and gently rubbing his back as Hal whimpered. He wasn’t angry before, but now there was absolutely zero chance he could possibly muster up any ill will towards Hal.

Hal hugged Dave back, sniffling. “I.. I’m sorry… I should be comforting you right now, Rex is your dog. I-I always do this, I always cry instead of doing anything, I’m sorry-”

“Shh, Hal… it’s ok now.” Still kneeling on the floor, he gently combed through Hal’s hair with his hand and felt a wet spot form on his shoulder. “That’s not even true, you’re the one who found him.”

“How… how can you not be mad?” Hal murmured quietly into Dave’s shoulder, muffled slightly. “I- something terrible could have happened…”

“But nothing did, so stop beating yourself up over it.” Dave said firmly, squeezing Hal a little tighter.

“Hal, look at me.” Hal pulled back and blinked at him, alarmed. “It’s in the past now. Alright?” Dave fixed him with what he hoped was reassuring. Honestly, it was advice he could stand to take himself.

The next hour passed by in relative silence; Hal at least calmed down but kept to himself, and Dave was still worried but willing to let him be. The vet told Dave that Rex would make a full recovery, but would have to stay the night for the time being, so Dave and Hal headed back to their apartment.

Walking through the quiet streets, illuminated only by stray streetlights, Dave cast his glance every so often to Hal. It seemed he seemed more tired than upset now, and honestly, Dave was tired too. He halfway wished he had a car, but honest to god, Dave would probably crash directly into his apartment with how drowsy he was. Dave watched as Hal rubbed his eyes, and stumbled on a crack in the sidewalk-

Dave reached out and caught him without even thinking, Hal swaying and peering drowsily at him. “Jesus, Hal, are you alright?”

“‘M fine… sorry,” Hal barely mumbled out, righting himself and dusting himself off sluggishly.

“It’s fine, I just don’t want you to fall.” A thought suddenly struck him. “Hey, y’know, I could probably carry you back. That cool with you?”

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, sure, yeah,” Dave wasn’t sure if Hal actually comprehended what he just said, but placed one hand behind Hal’s back and another in the bend of his knees, sweeping him off the ground in one fluid motion.

Hal let out a half embarrassed, half sleep deprived giggle of excitement, fisting one hand in Dave’s shirt and gently resting his head on Dave’s shoulder as they continued. As expected, Hal was extremely light, and Dave had no trouble carrying him the rest of the way back. Hal occasionally murmured something unintelligible or laughed in sheer tired giddiness, Dave smiling in response.

After scaling the stairs and a minute of the two of them fumbling with keys, Dave bumped the door open with his hip and made his way through the dark apartment, navigating mostly through muscle memory.

“Here, take that shirt off, Hal, it’s dirty,” he murmured, gently depositing Hal on the bed. He blushed as soon as he said it, but apparently Hal was too tired to make note of it, shucking his shirt off without complaint and flopping back onto the bed.

Dave sat down on the mattress and watched Hal’s skinny chest rise and fall for a long while, chuckling to himself when he started snoring. For some reason, Dave’s tiredness evaporated, and he was once again left with his thoughts.

It was dark, but Dave could still vaguely make out the room. There was Hal’s laptop, resting on the bedside drawer. A few of Hal’s shirts scattered on the ground, next to Dave’s. (An errant sock hung from the doorframe, somehow.) On the wall next to him hung a colorful cartoon poster, which Dave graciously gave permission for. Their possessions were starting to blend together; it hadn’t been long, but it already felt like Hal belonged here.

Hal was… good. He was always making sure to respect Dave’s boundaries, and the last thing he wanted was to be a burden onto Dave. Even just today, he’d somehow found the strength to carry a dog more than half his weight several blocks, and on top of all that, paid for his surgery, even though he was already low on cash. He’d been struggling so hard to scrounge some money together, and just fix up his life in general, but this probably put his progress back weeks, maybe even months. He didn’t deserve any of the shit life had put him through, what with his family life, and losing his job...

 

He didn’t want Hal to move out, but that’s exactly what he’d been trying to do this whole time. He felt a twinge in his chest, and gripped the edge of his mattress. Of course Hal wanted to leave, he didn’t want to feel beholden to Dave, and he certainly didn’t want to be stuck shacking up with him forever. It felt like Hal would be leaving just as soon as he came, but…

Dave had to call in a favor.

 

 

The phone only rang once before being picked up, despite the hour, a gravelly voice answering.

“Who is this. How did you get this number.”

“Yeah, ‘hello’ to you too, George.”

A pause.

“...Why are you calling me?”

“What, I can’t say hi to my baby brother every once in a while?”

“One, of course you can, but not at 2 AM. Two, you never would. Don’t tell me you drank away all your money again.”

“Uncalled for. Listen, I’ll get straight to the point. I’ve got a friend who’s in a bit of a rough spot, and I want you to give him a hand.”

“Oh, what surprising turn of events.”

“Just listen, alright? His name is Hal…”

 

“Hm. Good luck with that, bud.”

Hal looked up from his plate and snorted, almost choking on his food as he watched Rex wiggle on the ground, trying to eat an ice cube under the fridge. Dave huffed out a laugh at Rex’s antics before resuming washing dishes.

It was now a couple days since Rex got lost, and he was recovering well. Dave had went to pick up Rex the moment the vet opened the following morning, even before Hal woke up. Hal had opened his eyes to the sight of a wet nose and tongue before being knocked upside the head by the Rex’s cone, Dave grinning and leaning against the doorframe as Rex excitedly licked Hal’s face. After Hal had gotten out of bed, he and Dave fed him nearly half a bag of treats, cooing and petting him the whole while.

(“Dave, We’re spoiling him. Our son.”

“Aw, come on, he hates the vet. He deserves a little pampering.”)

Overall, Rex was shaken, but mostly very irritated by his cast and cone, as demonstrated by Rex’s current valiant struggle against the refrigerator.

Hal stared at the back of Dave’s head pensively, noting how the evening sun almost turned his hair gold. Dave had been acting… weird. It was like he’d been hiding something from him, almost? As uncharacteristic as it was, he was being skittish. He tended to end conversations preemptively, and was very quiet. Well, more quiet than usual.

Hal just assumed he was still mad at Hal for almost getting Rex killed, but didn’t want to seem like an ass, and Hal couldn’t blame him in the slightest. He’d expected Dave to punch him in the face, so this was already much better than expected. Hell, he still felt like punching himself in the face for that blunder. Hal was just glad dogs couldn’t feel vengeance or hatred, because he wouldn’t be able to take Rex shunning him too.

“... Hal.” It was almost like Dave read his mind, and Hal fumbled with his fork for a moment before sitting tensely.
“Uh, yeah?” Turns out Hal couldn’t make himself stay still for long, as he began to fiddle with his napkin.

“Look, I know you’ve been struggling to find a job and all that, and, well, I… you deserve better than that. You remember me telling you about my little brother George?”

“Y-Yes?”

“I, uh, guess he’s good with that networking crap. Unlike me.” Hal cocked his head to the side, completely lost.

“Um. I’ll get to the point.” Dave turned marginally towards him, Hal still unable to make out his expression. “I called him a couple nights ago to see if he could try and hook you up with a job. I didn’t tell you earlier, ‘cause I didn’t want to give you, y’know, false hope.”

“But. He got back to me, and basically… you’ve got a guy willing to take you in. Pay’s pretty good, too.”

Hal’s entire brain froze, desperately trying to reboot itself. “David - I - what? Are you kidding me right now?” Hal could scarcely believe what he was hearing, his brain actively shutting down and not processing the information. He stood up, stumbling against his chair and staring at Dave, who still hadn’t turned around.

“And… if you want, when you get together enough savings, I guess… you can move out. It’s your choice.” Dave’s voice was down to a mumble now, Hal barely able to make out his words. Dave had turned away from him again, vigorously scrubbing at a pot, as if he could shield himself from whatever harm Hal’s next words might bring.

That’s when it struck Hal.

Dave would be hurt if Hal left. He didn’t hook Hal up with a job to get rid of him; he did it because he didn’t want him to struggle, even if it meant him leaving. This whole time, he’d been trying to finally get out of Dave’s hair, move out, and not bother him anymore, when in reality, that was the last thing Dave wanted. He wanted Hal to stay.

And, Hal wanted to stay too.

Hal started to feel a smile spread across his face without meaning to. Shuffling out from between the table and the chair, he took several long strides and wrapped his arms around Dave’s middle.

“You idiot,” Hal breathed out, burying his smile in the back of Dave’s hair. “Of course I want to stay.” Gently, he kissed the nape of Dave’s neck and squeezed him tightly. It felt so nice to hold Dave. Why would he ever think he’d want to move out and see less of him?

Dave froze for a moment, entirely body turning rigid. Hal furrowed his brows, looking up and nestling his chin on Dave’s shoulder. Maybe he misunderstood…?

“Um. If it’s ok with you-”

Hal squeaked as Dave turned himself around in his arms, only catching a glimpse of his red face before Dave crushed his lips against his. Scrabbling for purchase, he closed his eyes and sighed as Dave backed him into the kitchen table, kissing him all the while.

One of Hal’s stray hairs tickled Dave’s face, making him laugh and break the kiss, gently resting his head on Hal’s shoulder. Hal could feel his own heart pounding, laughing in return just to release the shaky excitement settling into his limbs. He love, love, loved this man.

“...You mean it?” Dave half whispered, half grumbled into Hal’s ear, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Hal rubbed slow circles into Dave’s back, laughing into Dave’s chest.

“Of course, you- you loser,” Dave huffed in response, but he could practically hear the smile in his voice. “Y’know, you’re really just a huge sap, huh?” He rolled his eyes playfully, but still rested his weight on Hal, corralling him into the table.

“Jokes aside, Dave, of course I want to stay. You- you’re amazingly kind to me, you always make me smile, you’re gorgeous…” Hal didn’t mean to slip that one in, but thankfully, Dave only chuckled in response. “And. Well. I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you.”

Hal absolutely did not mean to say that, and he felt Dave twitch before he buried his head into Hal’s shoulder. Hal only knew he was blushing by the tips of his red ears in the corner of his vision, and he knew he was blushing like a fool too.

Dave turned his head, Hal shivering as his stubble rubbed up against his neck, and then yelping as Dave trailed kisses to his jawline and all over his face.

“You call me a sap, and then spring that shit on me? Hypocrite.” He said between kisses, taking a moment to just breathe, seeming unsure of his next thoughts. “Um. I’m not great with words, but, yeah. I love you too.”

Hal smiled and planted a tiny kiss on the tip of Dave’s nose, cupping his face in his hands. “You wanna go watch a movie and cuddle, or something? To capitalize on your sappy mood.”

“Shut up. And of course, babe.”

Maybe they could be good together. Two awkward, broken men loving, and being loved.

And one very good dog.