”Which one of us is jumping?”
Stefan could feel his lips start to move without him wanting them to, and he knew he was going to tell Colin to jump unless he did something to stop himself. So he rushed forward and silenced himself by pressing his lips hard against Colin’s, keeping his mouth occupied until the urge to tell Colin to jump to his death faded away. When he felt it was safe he stepped back, burning up all over from the realization of what he’d just done.
Colin just stared at him for a few seconds. ”Wow. That’s a… that’s a first, I think? You’ve never done this before, have you?”
Stefan felt like he was going to just melt into a hot puddle of embarassment. ”That bad, huh?”
”I don’t mean like that, it’s just… can you do it again?”
Stefan looked down at his feet, which had started to literally melt, just like he expected. He cleared his throat. ”I’m sorry, what?”
Colin stepped closer and grabbed him by the chin, forcing him to make eye contact. ”Can you kiss me again?”
It felt like actual butterflies were flying around in his stomach, but somehow he managed to keep eye contact with Colin. ”Do, uh, do you want that?”
”Stefan, do you want that? And can you go through with it if you do?”
Go through with it? Stefan let out a long shaky breath. Did he mean like… all the way, go through with it? And… was that something he wanted?
It only took a split second to realize that, yes, he absolutely wanted that. He could feel the desire rush from his toes to his fingertips. This wasn’t at all like when his body got the strange compulsion to tell Colin to jump. This was his wish. He wanted it so bad he might just spontaneously combust if he didn’t get it.
So he pushed his lips against Colin’s again, this time with the addition of throwing his arms around Colin’s shoulders.
Colin moaned into the kiss and grabbed Stefan by the hips. He pushed their bodies closer together, and Stefan could feel how his body started to melt together with Colin’s at every point of contact.
When Colin broke the kiss he started to laugh. ”Is this seriously how we break the loop?”
Stefan didn’t understand what he was talking about, and he didn’t want to understand. ”Could you please just fuck me already?”
Colin snorted and smiled at him. ”I can’t believe you just said that.”
Neither could Stefan. ”I, uh, I mean, if you don’t want-”
He was cut off by Colin’s lips against his again, and the rest of the night was a blur of wild sensations he couldn't even begin to wrap his head around. Time was a construct that didn't make any sense at all right now. Later Stefan wouldn't be able to tell how long he and Colin had sex, it could have been ten minutes but it could just as likely have been ten hours. Each time Stefan came he couldn’t quite tell if he was orgasming or dying, and eventually he just blacked out.
Stefan woke up by a loud clattering noise that probably came from the kitchen, except it didn’t sound like it came from downstairs like it should have. He opened his eyes and realized with a start that he wasn’t in his own bed. He was laying naked on a big sofa, and it took him a moment to remember where he was and how he got there.
He sat up and quickly scanned the room for his clothes. He spotted his trousers by the other side of the room and went to get them. He had just managed to put them on when he heard the door opening, and he spun around with wide eyes.
Colin was standing in the doorway, giving Stefan a nod. ”Morning. I made pancakes, if you want to join us for breakfast.”
Stefan could hear a buzzing sound in his ears and felt his vision start to go blurry. He quickly sat down on the floor to stop himself from falling over if he fainted. When his vision returned to normal he saw Colin sitting in front of him.
”You okay, mate?”
”I, uh…” Stefan averted his eyes. ”Last night… was… was that real? Did I really..?”
Colin’s lips turned into a small smirk. ”You kissed me, yes. And then you begged me to fuck you. So I did.”
Stefan whimpered and covered his face with his hands while taking a deep breath. ”God, I’m so sorry! I… I should go, I’m so sorry!”
”Hey.” Colin put his hands on Stefan’s shoulder. ”Don’t be sorry. You broke free from the flowchart, and you helped me do the same. I actually made pancakes today. I always feel compelled to eat some shitty cereals for breakfast, but today I didn’t. Today I choose to make pancakes. Do you even realize how big that is?”
”Colin, I don’t-”
Colin leaned forward and kissed him. It was soft and soothing, nothing like the feverish kisses Stefan remembered from last night. When Colin ended the kiss he smiled at Stefan. ”Come now, before Kitty eats them all.”
Stefan’s eyes widdened. ”Shit, Kitty! Does she know..?”
”Yeah, apparently she came to check on us right when you started kissing me. Don't worry about it, we talked before you woke up. She doesn't approve of me spiking your tea, but she’s cool with the rest. I'd apologize for the tea, but it's not like I had much of a real choice. You remember when you said ’no’ to come work at Tuckersoft, right?”
Stefan frowned and nodded. ”Yeah. I don’t know why I said that.”
”Because someone else made you say that. Just like someone tried to make you either jump or tell me to jump last night.”
A cold shiver ran down Stefan’s spine. ”I almost told you to do it. But I couldn’t... I couldn't do that again.” He inhaled sharply as he realized what he’d just said. ”I watched you jump before! I was there when Kitty saw your dead body, and then I told her about it later, but she didn’t remember.”
Colin nodded. ”Because you and I can remember things from different timelines. Kitty never remembers, which honestly is both a curse and a blessing.”
Stefan pressed the heels of his hands against his tightly shut eyes. ”I… I killed you too, didn’t I? After I… killed my dad.”
”Hey, I don’t blame you for that, and it doesn’t matter anymore. You haven’t felt any of those weird prompts since last night when you kissed me, right?”
Stefan tried his best to take deep breaths and calm his thoughts. ”I… no? I don’t think so...”
”Like I said, you broke out of the flowchart. They can’t control you anymore, you decide what you want to do now. No one else.”
”Okay, uh…” Stefan glanced up at Colin, offering him a weak smile. ”Well, then… pancakes sounds like a good first step."
”Great!” Colin stood up and extended one hand to Stefan.
”You go ahead, I’ll just, uh, I’ll finish getting dressed.”
Colin nodded before leaving the room. Stefan managed to find the rest of his clothes, somehow spread out over the whole room, and with his heart beating almost painfully hard, he made his way to the kitchen.
The baby, Pearl, was sleeping in a carrier basket that had been placed on one of the four chairs at the table. Kitty sat next to Pearl, and Colin opposite her. Stefan took the last empty seat, next to Colin.
Kitty looked up from the magazine she'd been reading. ”Good morning. How’s the hole?”
Stefan could feel his face heat up instantly. ”I’m sorry, what?”
”The hole. Did you manage to get out of it?”
”Right! Yeah, I think so.”
She smirked. ”Good for you.”
Colin handed him the plate with pancakes. ”After breakfast I’m thinking we go back to your place, and I take a look at your code. Sounds good?”
”Yeah, that would be great. Thanks.”
They ate their pancakes in silence, which didn’t help to calm Stefan’s nerves at all. Colin and Kitty continued to read their magazines as they ate, both seemingly unbothered by his presence, but Stefan still felt as if he was intruding on them and their relationship by being here. After what felt like an eternity both he and Colin had finished eating.
Colin stood up and leaned over the table to kiss Kitty. ”I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
Kitty kissed him again and raised her eyebrows. ”Yeah, you better, it’s your turn to cook tonight.” She looked over at Stefan with a smile. "I'm guessing you'll visit us again?"
Stefan stood up and glanced at Colin. "I guess so?
"Great, I'd love to get to know you better." Kitty winked at him, and Stefan had no idea how to respond to that.
Colin snorted and threw an arm around Stefan's shoulders. "You ready to go?"
Stefan didn't trust his voice, so he just nodded.
For the whole bus ride it took to reach Stefan's home, Colin kept talking about safe and mundane topics, and Stefan was very grateful for that. He didn't feel ready yet to adress whatever was going on between him, Colin and Kitty, and he didn't know if he'd ever really feel ready to talk more about multiple timelines and everything that that implied. He felt like his sanity had been hanging by a thread since he woke up this morning, but he was slowly beginning to relax and feel more grounded as he and Colin continued to talk about what music Stefan had been listening to since he got Colin's recommendations.
Eventually the bus reached their destination, and after a short walk from the bus stop they stood in front of Stefan's house. Stefan held his breath as he tried the door handle, hoping his dad wouldn't be home, but the door was unlocked. He glanced at Colin before he opened the door completely and walked inside.
"Stefan!" His dad rushed forward and gave him a hug. "Thank God you're okay, where have you been?"
"He came over to discuss some problems he's been having with the game, and then I let him crash on my couch."
His dad released him from the hug and turned his attention to Colin instead, extending his hand towards him. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've met? I'm Stefan's dad, Peter."
Colin shook his dad’s hand. ”Colin. I’m here to help with the game.”
”Colin?” His dad glanced at him. ”The Colin?”
Stefan's cheeks were already burning from Colin's mention of his couch and the memories of what had really happened there, but his dad's comment somehow made him blush even more. ”Yes, dad.”
”Colin Ritman!” His dad chuckled. ”It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Stefan’s told me so much about you."
”Dad, we really need to go work on the game!”
”Right! Let me know if you boys need anything.”
Stefan hurried up the stairs and into his room, Colin followed closely behind him, closing the door once they were both inside.
"I'm so sorry about that."
Colin smirked at him. ”Don't worry about it, I already knew you were a major fanboy. It doesn't bother me." He walked past Stefan and sat down in front of the computer. "Show me your code."
Colin easily solved both the problem Stefan had encountered the day before, and a couple of bugs he wasn't even aware of. After that they worked together on refining and adding to the code, and for a couple of hours it went really well, but eventually the game crashed and neither of them could figure out what had caused it.
”Fuck!” Stefan could feel his heart start to beat faster, and even though it didn't feel like an intruding prompt this time, he really wanted to smash his computer to pieces. He exhaled loudly and dragged his hands through his hair to prevent himself from giving in to the temptation.
”I think it’s time for a break.” Colin walked over to the bed and laid down on his back before patting the narrow space next to him. ”Come on.”
Stefan’s eyes shifted to the closed door before focusing back on Colin. ”Shouldn’t we try and fix the problem?”
”Nah. Sometimes the best thing to do is just do nothing. Take a break from the code, and let your unconscious solve it for you. That always works for me. And you've already finished the game multiple times, so your unconscious should definitely know how to fix it.”
”Okay, uhm.” Stefan stood up and walked over to Colin. After one last look at the door he climbed into bed and laid down next to Colin, with his head on Colin's arm. His heart was still beating fast and hard enough to hurt, and Colin's mention of multiple timelines made his thoughts wander towards places he'd rather forget about.
Maybe Colin could sense that, because he hugged him closer and looked him deep in the eyes. "Don't go down the hole again, mate. Stay with me."
Stefan focused on Colin's eyes and forced himself to take deeper and slower breaths until eventually he managed to calm down enough to form words. "I... I just don't know what to do... about all these memories." He took a deep shuddering breath. "I remember the sound of when I cracked open your skull. And the smell of blood and other things from when I cut up my dad. And the feeling of falling through the air after jumping off your balcony. And the-"
Colin cut him off with a long kiss before going back to looking him deep in the eyes. "I know you're scared, but none of that matters now. None of it happened in this timeline, you and I are the only ones who know about any of it. If you want to talk, I'm here for you, but if you don't want to think about it yet, or ever, you don't have to."
"I... I don't know what I want. It's just too much."
"Should I choose for you, then?"
Stefan nodded. "Yes, please."
Colin hugged him closer and kissed him again. "Then we try and forget about it, at least for now. Let's focus on what's happening now instead."
Stefan didn't understand how Colin could be so nonchalant about the whole thing, but his calmness made Stefan feel like it really didn't matter what had happened before this moment they were sharing right now. "Okay."
"Great. So, to change the subject... can we talk about last night?"
Stefan surprised himself by not wanting to look away, despite feeling like Colin's piercing eyes could look straight into his soul. "Yeah, we probably should."
"Right. So, I like you. And I really enjoyed last night. But I was wondering if you're still interested in doing things like that together, now that you're sober?"
"I... yes. Definitely."
Colin smiled and let one hand travel up under Stefan's shirt.
Stefan inhaled sharply. "Not now, though! I mean, I want to, but what if my dad finds out?"
Colin chuckled and stilled his hand. "Would you rather we continued this back at my place?"
"Um... yeah, I'd like that. But... what about Kitty?"
"Depends. Do you like both men and women, or just men?"
"I, uh... I don't know. I don't really have much experience..."
"Well... if you don't want Kitty around we'd have to wait until sometime when she's got other plans, I don't want her to feel like she's being kicked out of her own home, you know? But if you're fine with her joining us, you could come over tonight, if you want."
"Does she... want to join us? Do you want her to?"
"Yes and yes. But if you're not into it, that's cool too. And of course you don't have to decide right now."
Stefan licked his lips and gave Colin a quick kiss before answearing. "I'm into it. I think. I mean, I'd like to try it."
Colin flashed him a smile. "Great! Tonight or some other time?"
"Tonight. Um, if that's okay?"
"For sure." Colin kissed him again before he moved to sit up and get off the bed. "We still have a couple of hours before we need to leave. I want to take another crack at the code, are you feeling up for it?"
Stefan snorted. "Honestly, no. If you don't mind I'd rather just take a nap. Especially if you intend to keep me up late tonight again."
Colin winked at him. "Fair enough. I'll wake you up in a while, yeah?"
"Yeah." Stefan closed his eyes and soon after that he fell into a much needed sleep.
Four months came and went, and with a lot of help from Colin, Stefan managed to both hold on to his sanity and finish the game on time.
Stefan hurried down the stairs, and threw a quick glance at the clock before looking over at where his father was standing in the kitchen doing dishes. "I'm going over to Colin's place."
His dad turned around and walked up to him, drying his hands on a towel while he talked. "Right, today's when they're going to review your game, isn't it? You're gonna watch it together?"
After a few awkward seconds his dad gave Stefan a quick hug and pat on the back. "I'm really proud of you. You know that, right?"
"Yeah..." He nodded and started walking towards the door, but halfway there he stopped. After taking a deep breath he turned to look at his father. "Dad? Can I tell you something?"
"Of course." His father took a seat at the table and Stefan sat down opposite him.
"I... I really like Colin."
His dad chuckled. "Yeah, I've noticed."
"No, I mean... I really like him. I think... I think I might be in love with him."
His dad reached out across the table to put his hand over Stefan's. "You don't need to look so worried. I figured that out the first time you brought him over here, and I'm happy for you."
Stefan frowned. "What?"
"It's obvious that you're much happier nowadays, and while I'm sure the medication and counselling played big roles in getting you there, I think it's obvious Colin has been a big positive influence in your life." His dad's smile turned into a frown, and he sighed. "Stefan... I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like I would... have a problem with that."
He didn't need to specify it, Stefan knew his dad was thinking about all the arguments he and his mother used to have about Rabbit and things like that. Stefan had been so busy blaming his mother's death on his father's hang-ups about what boys should or shouldn't like, that it wasn't until just now he realized that his father might have been doing the same thing this whole time.
He couldn't hate his father any more. He'd gone back in time and his mother still missed the train even when his dad didn't hide the toy, which meant it wasn't his dad's fault at all. He wished he could tell his father that, and relieve him of his guilt, but there was just no way to explain how he knew that. So instead he just squeezed his dad's hand and offered him a smile.
"It's okay, dad."
His dad squeezed his hand back before clearing his throat. "I'm planning on taping the review, so you can watch it later in case you miss it, but if you want to watch it with Colin you should get going."
"Yeah." He stood up and gave his father one more quick hug before leaving.
Kitty was laying down with her head in Colin’s lap, and a sleeping Pearl on her chest. Stefan sat on Colin’s other side, leaning his head against Colin’s shoulder. Everyone except Pearl was looking at the tv screen, watching the news and waiting for the review to come on. Stefan tapped one foot against the floor impatiently, and when the segment started he couldn't help but bite his nails.
”So, Robin. Bandersnatch, hit or miss?”
”I guess they never miss, huh? Tuckersoft does it again, it’s a fantastic game! Easily a 4 out of 5.”
”Still no five stars in sight?”
”Well, Leslie, mechanically speaking the game is practically flawless. But after playing through it multiple times, and getting what I think is every ending, it still feels like it’s missing something I can’t quite put my finger on. But! I have really high hopes for Tuckersoft’s next game that Stefan Butler and Colin Ritman are working on together. It’s called ’Sahn Juhnehperro’, and it’s said to expand on the gameplay of ’Bandersnatch’, while also bringing some new elements and a newly written story to the table. I can’t wait to play that one, if it lives up to the hype it might very well become my first five star review!”
”Thank you Robin, that certainly sounds interesting. Now, over to-”
Colin picked up the remote and turned off the tv before smiling at Stefan. ”Told you he would love it.”
Stefan felt his cheeks burn from the praise, but he smiled back. ”I’m just glad we can finally move on from ’Bandersnatch’ and focus on other things now.”
Kitty looked up at Stefan. ”Speaking of ’Sahn Juhnehperro’, Colin told me you’re planning to write the main characters to be lesbian lovers?”
”Well, I mean, it’s all subtext, and only explored in certain paths. You might not even notice unless you know what to look for. But I really think it adds an important layer to the characters and the story.”
Kitty smiled. ”That’s really cool.”
Stefan smiled back. ”You should try it, once we have a stable build of the game.”
”Yeah, I’d like that. 'Bandersnatch' was cool, but I also think I'll enjoy 'Sahn Juhnehperro' more."
"You played 'Bandersnatch'?"
Colin snorted. "Of course she did, she's played all the games I've been working on." He smirked at Stefan. "Even the Commodore ones."
Stefan blushed at being reminded of their first meeting, but he smiled at Kitty. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you're an even bigger fan than me, since he's your boyfriend."
"It's not a competition. And he's your boyfriend too, isn't he?"
Stefan shot Colin a wide eyed look, and he might be imagining things, but it looked like Colin was blushing slightly.
"I don't know, am I?"
"I-I'd like that. I mean, if you'd like that?"
Colin kissed him softly and smiled. "Yeah. I'd like that."
The mood was interrupted abruptly by a whine from Pearl, and seconds later it became apparent that she needed to get her diapers changed.
"I've got her." Colin picked Pearl up from Kitty, and Kitty sat up so Colin could stand.
Once Colin and Pearl had left the room Kitty smiled at Stefan. "Sorry for springing that on you, I thought you guys had already discussed it."
Stefan smiled back. "No, I'm glad you brought it up."
Kitty laid down again, with her head in Stefan's lap this time. "Are you staying the night?"
"If that's okay?"
"Sure. Have you seen 'Tron'?"
"Yeah, I love it."
"Colin's been talking about wanting to rewatch it, so I was thinking maybe we could rent it tonight. If you want to?"
Stefan smiled and nodded. "Definitely."
Later that night, after dinner and after the movie, Stefan waited until he could hear light snoring coming from Kitty’s side of the bed before he whispered. ”Colin?”
”Everything about this is just… it’s like a dream come true? I can’t really believe it.”
Colin turned his head to kiss Stefan’s forehead. ”Go to sleep. We’re supposed to be interviewed about ’Sahn Juhnehperro’ tomorrow.”
”No, seriously. It’s too good to be true. I even told my dad about us today, and he actually said he was happy for me.”
”Why do you make that sound like a bad thing?”
”It’s just… how can we be sure we’re really making our own choices? What if we’re still just following some script?”
Colin turned to lay on his side, putting an arm over Stefan’s chest and pulling him closer. ”Even if we are… does it really matter? I quite like this timeline.”
Stefan sighed but cuddled closer. ”Yeah. Yeah, me too.”
”Great.” Colin gave him a long, deep kiss. ”Now, are you gonna go to sleep, or do I have to tire you out first?”
Stefan licked his lips and leaned in to whisper in Colin’s ear. ”Choose for me?”