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Lover's Cross

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His father had once told a much younger version of Pete that ignorance was bliss. And when he’d asked him what ‘ignorant’ meant, he just smiled and handed him his orange juice. And as he usually did, Pete did not press the subject any further. Instead he’d sipped on his juice.

Pete had been feeling nostalgic lately. And not in the good way--no, this made him feel sick. His throat would close up and it would be impossible for him to catch his breath. He blinked, squeezing his eyes shut for a second or two as he continued walking up and down the kitchen area in his apartment. He pressed his thumb against the side of his nose. He was getting that feeling you get when you drink too much soda and the fizz sort of creeps uncomfortably at your nose, giving you a weird half-headache. Just a tiny echo of the usual hang-over he’d wake up with.

This Tuesday morning there was no real hang-over...just the phantom memory of one that his brain put on because the feeling of waking up without one was just too uncomfortable.

He shot Jonathan down at least a good 4 times before the man had somehow wormed his way into Pete’s affectionate heart. Coming up on a year in just a few short days and Jonathan was standing in their apartment and calling-in sick to excuse them from a nice Holiday work party at his office.

Pete scraped his thumbnail down his lip and thought about how the speed-limit for the busy street near them had gone down some but the yellow car he spotted through the large window didn’t seem to care.

“Done is done.” Jonathan flung the home-phone onto the couch and looked up with an expectant face.

“Do you want a ‘thanks’? I didn’t ask you to do that-” Pete went on the defensive but that only seemed to piss his boyfriend off.

“But I had to do it. Ain’t worth a shit if you say thanks or not, Pete. Tender is the night, babe and I can’t have you inebriated in front of my co-workers again and turning that mood into...that." He vaguely gestured to Pete with an exhausted sense of familiarity.

“I was barely drunk, John. No one noticed-”

“Janine asked me if you were in A.A., Pete!” Jonathan sighed with restrained irritation. Pete fell silent and turned away from the conversation. “Look, I know that you’re trying...I know that-”

Pete pursed his lips together. “For your sake. I don’t personally think it’s a problem, John. You want me to drink a little less, yeah-I can do that, no problem. But swearing it off entirely just because your secretary thinks two beers is A.A. worthy?”

Jonathan groaned and leaned against the small counter. “You had more than two and you Goddamn know that so I won’t pick on that comment.” He rolled his eyes and ignored Pete’s returned gesture. “Do you really want me to be doing this for you for ever?”

Pete turned on his heels and cocked his head to the side.

“Meaning, having to pick you up from parties you can’t drive yourself home from, take care of you because you won’t do it yourself? Goddamn defend your actions to my concerned co-workers?” Jonathan waved his arms about and shook his head. “For every night you spent sober and laughing with me, there were at least six nights spent with me worrying about whether or not I’ll have to keep turning you on your side so you don’t choke on your vomit!”

Pete blinked away some stress tears, a habit he seemed to have picked up from ol’ Jonesy, who was bound to flow some out whenever he got too passionate. It could be a stream just as strong as Beaver’s road-side pisses. “If I make you so miserable, than yeah I’d rather you leave.”

John let out one of those incredibly frustrated groans again. “Pete, I’m not accusing you of trying to make my life hell-”

“But it’s exactly what you’re saying-” Pete stepped forward and made eye contact with his boyfriend, who looked to be at some sort of tipping point.

“Not it’s fucking not!” John had somehow managed to take the few steps needed to being face-to-face with Pete. “I just want you to get better.”

Pete shook his head. “Won’t be hard considering, I’m fine. I don’t have a problem.”

John shocked them both by raising his hand and slapping Pete across the face. The sound was a loud and horrible smack of hot skin.

Pete recovered instantly yet slowly at the same time. He raised his face again and made dreaded eye contact. “Get out.”

John stepped back and swallowed. “I’m so fucking sorry, Pete. I just-...You’re right. I should go.” he seemed to give up on this justification and started walking around their apartment. With Pete’s watchful and conflicted eyes following his every move.

He packed himself an over-night bag and stopped just as soon as he hit the kitchen. “Listen Pete, I love you. I just want you to be healthy but I won’t fight for this love if you won’t at least...meet me in the middle.”

Pete pursed his lips and shrugged. John soaked that ‘answer’ in and lifted his bag from the table. “Ok, well...I’m gonna stay over at a friends. Give you some space.”

Pete still didn’t speak and watched the guy shut the door behind him. “Fuck.” was all he muttered as he glided his way towards the phone sitting on the coffee-table. He dialed quickly and tapped his fingers against his side.

“Hello-”

“Beaver, can you come over, buddy?” Pete tried not to let the anxiety bleed into his voice but the Beav was always unusually great at knowing how all his friends felt by just like 3-words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beaver Clarendon, 5′6 and with a bead of sweat dripping down his temple against that long hippie-hair, stepped inside with happy determination. There was a jar of fresh peanut-butter in his hand and the mission for him now was to find two clean spoons.

Pete felt mounds of stress leave his body just from seeing his pal. He solemnly followed the man and took a seat at the counter to wait.

“My Spidey-Sense was correct, Pete.” Beaver wiggled one of the spoons and pulled up a stool across from Pete, even though Pete knew those kinds of chairs bothered him. Beav continually slouched in life but a little back support helped a little. Pete lifted a brow and opened the jar. “I told Jonesy that we would need to buy an extra jar.” He smiled with pride.

Pete chuckled and broke the perfect top of the butter with his spoon and ate a full on glob. “I think I fucked up something great, Beav.” He swallowed, with struggle, and bite into his cheek. “Even when I think things are gonna be ok--hell, maybe good--some part of me has to lose anyway.”

Beaver frowned and opened his mouth.

“Jonathan left. Say’s he’s concerned about me but he got all kinds of frustrated with me and slapped me across the goddamn face. A total fuckarow.” He shook his head.

Beaver rolled his lips and looked as if he wasn’t sure how to bring up what he wanted to say. “Did a specific incident cause his ‘string-to-break’?”

Pete would’ve been a little offended if this had been maybe Jonesy or Henry-- and even so not much with them either--but the Beav was gentle. “If you’re asking if I got drunk and did something stupid, answer’s no.”

Beaver nodded.

“The answer is I got drunk and did several stupid things throughout the entire relationship, if you ask John.” Pete scoffed and licked the spoon as Beaver went in for a large scoop.

“And if I ask Pete Moore?” Beaver gave a gentle smirk.

“He’s overreacting.” Pete frowned.

Beaver hummed and took the liberty of feeding Pete a larger spoonful of the peanut-butter with his own utensil, which Pete knew was his way of preparing him for hard words. He didn’t mind so much if they came from the Beav so Pete cleaned the spoon and watched him settle it back down on the counter.

“He shouldn’t have slapped you. I hate that shit.” He shook his head, straying black hairs flew about him. “But...-” Beaver looked up with wide eyes which said ‘Please, don’t make me say it.’

Pete rolled his shoulders back.

“I can be frank, Pete, if that’s what this calls for. I don’t want to be but--Hell, I’ll be goddamn Elmo from the Muppets and give you a reason why you should stop drinking starting with each letter of the alphabet, if I thought it would help-”

“Elmo was from Sesame Street.” Pete took another dip into the jar.

“Same thing.” Beaver chuckled and rolled his eyes. “A is for-”

“A.A.?” Pete scowled and Beaver felt a burning in his stomach.

“I was going to say, A is for Apple Juice comes in a cuter package but...” Beaver stuck his tongue out and enjoyed Pete’s little grin. “I say we invite the gang over for dinner? I can whip something up with whatever you got here.” Beaver hopped off the stool and began going through the cabinets.

“Beer?” Pete made the snide and self-deprecating joke and Beaver hummed.

“Take that attitude and use it to chop up this Onion, please.” He tossed the vegetable and almost nailed Pete in the eye.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The night was a trying one for Rhonda. The home was practically dead apart from the terribly busy sounding quick taps of a keyboard in the other room. And though it was a soft sound, it didn’t stop it from slowly driving her insane. Her stomach turned from the mixture of anger and nerves that were boiling inside her.

So instead of slamming her head into her palms and letting out the emotions, she composed herself. She sat straight and tall, threading her slim fingers together. She copycatted those relaxing breaths Henry had once taught her.

Rhonda rarely treated herself, as Henry tried to tell her many times. Though he was never quite able to put it so lovingly. Where she was soft, he could be so blunt. And it went both ways. However tonight while her anxiety was running it’s high fever, she decided to pour a glass of wine for herself and Henry, whenever he decided to come into the room. As it poured, she tapped her nails in a small beat on the counter.

Just as the last drop splashed in the glass, she heard the door to their office close gently. She hated the way it made her grin with pride. Like just getting out of that room should be applauded. That sound was tragically one of her favorites. It either meant that Henry was giving himself a break from throwing himself into his work or he was feeling joyful enough for husband-wife activities. Either way, she’d be met with him again and instead of pondering why they were even still together. But soon, she wouldn’t have to do that anymore...

“Did you sign the divorce papers?” She tipped her chin and frowned at Henry, who looked exhausted.

He scratched the back of his neck and sighed. “I will, I promise. I just-”

“It’s just a signature, Henry.” She didn’t want to push him, even still after their bickering, but she felt strongly that things would be better once it was done. “Did we not come up with this decision together?”

Henry swallowed. “We did, Rhonda. I know that and I will get to it.” He urged her with genuine eyes, she softened.

“Bridges burn when people joined by them have changed, Henry. You told me that and now it’s about us.” Rhonda felt her stomach roll. “I want to burn this bridge. Go back to a relationship where I don’t feel like your martyr. Friends.”

Henry nodded. “So do I, Ronnie. Believe me. I never met for this...-look, It’s just hard to accept that I couldn’t make this marriage work.”

Rhonda looked up at him with curious eyes and asked a question which had been plaguing her mind for several months now. “Is it my fault that your depressed? It seems like our relationship-”

Henry didn’t let her finish. “Don’t do that to yourself, Ron. It ain’t you. It’s me.-”

“You never seemed to want to be close enough with me.”

“Not just you, Ronnie. I just don’t think I’m wired that way, that’s what the ol’ Doc says anyway.” Henry tapped his own temple and she rolled her eyes.

“You can’t just consult yourself, Henry. I’ll say that for the last time.” She sipped her glass of wine. “It’s just...watching you fade inside yourself these past months has been painful for me too. Seeing yourself pull-out of it for your friends but not me-”

“Rhonda, it ain’t like I just up and cure myself for them. That’s not how it works-”

“No they cure you, for the while you’re with them. It’s not something I could ever do, huh? Lift the darkness for a little bit.” She shrugged and blinked down at the counter. Henry didn’t say anything else. “By the way, Beaver called. He wants you to come over to Pete’s for dinner. Says it’s an emergency.” She cocked her head towards the answering machine.

Henry felt so horribly guilty, knowing he’d be leaving for them instead staying for Rhonda. He couldn’t help it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Beaver had been able to brief Jonesy on the situation, considering he picked up with the home-phone they shared. But Henry hadn’t answered so he just gave Rhonda vague details and hoped to catch him right at the door to speed him through Pete’s day.

The thing about them was, well the five of them--Douglas, Pete, Beaver, Jonesy & Henry--were the closest best friends in the world.

Jonesy and Beaver had hooked up around high-school, maybe early Junior year? And been a couple ever since.

Henry and Pete...they’d been entertaining to watch. Sure, they started hooking up a bit before the other two but they had just never said anything about it so it’d been shocking to find out. It was kind of a strange off-and-on thing. Then they’d sort of became a legit couple for a good while only to break up around the beginning of Henry’s first college year. But there was never any bitterness carried between them. They were still best friends.

And so Henry married Rhonda and Pete had fling after fling until he landed on that Jonathan fellow.

“He slapped him?” Henry whisper-yelled to Beav as he took off his jacket by the front-door. Jonesy and Pete were joyfully bickering about some horror movie that Jonesy was trying to beg him to watch. Henry peeked over Beaver’s head. “I gotta talk to him about this-”

“Hey I didn’t stick the dime in ya so that you could throw Pete a ride. I just told you so that you would know enough to make the night better. Without directly talking about it just yet.” Beaver waved his hands around.

Henry rolled his eyes but suddenly surged forward and stuck his hand into Beaver’s jacket pocked to produce a physical and literal dime. “Hey!”

Henry smirked. “Too late, Beav. Dime’s already in the slot and the ride is coming. But I’ll wait, ok? You can’t ask me not to talk to him about this. We’re all going to have to at some point.” Henry frowned and Beaver nodded with understanding eyes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Get off!”

Jonesy shrieked as he wrestled Beaver who’d just pulled his finger from his mouth and was ready to stick it into Jonesy’s ear. Only, when they heard Pete coming back from the kitchen, they paused.

Jonesy took the chance to kick Beaver off, knocking the tiny man over the back of the couch and onto the floor. “Bitch-in-a-buzzsaw!” He whined.

Pete chuckled and plopped down teasingly onto Henry’s lap in the arm-chair he liked so much. It wasn’t an uncommon thing at all for any of the four of them to be affectionate like that with each other.

But Beaver knew it would only make Henry want to speak about the situation again. Henry was far too soft on Pete and for him, that meant he wanted to bluntly offer help.

“So, you think Jonathan is coming back...tomorrow?” Henry asked, gently. The room suddenly filled with tension as Beaver still laid flat against the floor on his back.

Pete frowned and wiggled a little in Henry’s lap. “Probably. What he’s going to do, I don’t know. Part of me thinks the break-up is inevitable but...man, I don’t know that I could afford this place without him.” He chuckled, like it was funny but no one else joined in. “Tough crowd. Look guys, I’ll be fine.” Pete shoved himself off of Henry and stood. “I don’t need the pity.”

Jonesy gave him a look of genuine love. “It’s not pity, Pete. We just love you-”

“And think I’m a drunk, yeah.” Pete laughed bitterly and went to lean against the kitchen counter.

Henry desperately wanted to come back at Pete with how they just wanted to help him but he figured it would only serve to piss him off. There’d have to be a way to ease him into the ‘help’ discussion.

“Hey, if worse comes to worst, I could move in with you and help out.” Henry copied the laughter and felt the concern turn on him; exactly what an exhausted Pete needed. “Divorce papers gonna be signed soon-” He selectively explained without mentioning he was the one stalling it. “File that in the ‘pity’ section of your memory warehouse.” He tipped his chin to Jonesy as he stood as well.

Pete frowned deeply and felt a rush of relief that surely made him feel guilty.

“How’s Rhonda feeling about everything?” Jonesy sat up straighter and Beaver finally picked himself up off the ground. He placed his ass right on the edge of the couch’s top, near where Jonesy’s head was.

Henry shrugged.

“How are you feeling?” Beaver adds, scooting over slightly so Jonesy could lean his head against his lower-back...grossly adorable.

Henry bit into his cheek and reminded himself that he’d asked for this turn of attention. He thought about the newly-noticed feeling of walking the floors of his home as if it were just some small town he was passing through on a longer journey. “I’m fine. Managing everything.” was the answer he decided to go with.

It did not impress any of them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A small glass of perfume sat on a dresser. It was the small and delicate glass with a large daisy stopper blocking any leakage.

It sat there, absolutely still, as a pair of hands quickly picked and pulled from the array of products sat around it. But with that speed came clumsiness and the hands just darted to fast on the pull-back of his watch and down came the bottle. Knocking it off the counter and revealing the ring of dust that had been living underneath it.

Henry paused for a moment before peeking over the lip of the dresser to find the tiny bottle. The rounded broken piece was rolling just the slightest bit while the rest of the tiny shards bathed in the small puddle of the scent leaking out.

Henry had given that perfume to Rhonda as a small Valentine’s Day gift about a year ago. Kneeling down, he intended to start cleaning the mess up but he hesitated. The tip of his finger laid frozen in the burgundy puddle as a wave of emotion fell upon him. He’d been holding back on truly coming to terms with what his mind and body ached for. But looking at the old shattered gift on their hardwood floor...the gate was opened without his permission.

A flood of tears finally broke past his eyes and rolled down his cheeks, the heat from her previous restrain could almost burn his skin. He thought about the time one of his ‘work friends’ said he couldn’t imagine Henry ever crying, he seemed far too straight-headed for it. Henry didn’t really know what that meant.

But in this instant he was near hysterical. His breathing was rapid and short as it became harder for him to push-back the devastation. More then anything in his life he wanted to call Pete, Beav or Jonesy...Douglas would always be able to make him smile. He wanted to hear their voices. But at the same time he was desperate to shove them away from this side of himself entirely.

The palm of his hand curled over his mouth in an attempt to block some of the sound from breaching the thin walls of their home. He did not want Rhonda to her any bit of this breakdown, she didn’t need to see him so...sad. It would just be too hard for them and she didn’t need anymore stress so Henry just needed to be strong, he was usually extremely good at that. It was enough that he’d been allowing this to burn his insides. There’d be nothing more now.

A deep breath or two and he was off the floor and on his way to collect the dust-pan and broom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What are you doing?” Pete squinted as he walked briskly to the front of his apartment building where Jonathan was sat, hands shoved in his pockets. He’d been gone for a good week.

“I wanted to see you and....-” He pointed his thumb at the door behind him. “I’m locked out of the building.”

Pete rolled his eyes and got his own key from his pocket as John stood and followed behind him. “Where’s your key? You should still have it....where did you end up staying by the way?”

The man behind him went quiet again in that eerie way could really freak Pete out sometimes. “Forgot it here. And I um...-I went to Marty’s.”

Pete nodded and worked on getting inside the building and strolling on up to the apartment that should still be referred to as theirs.

“I thought maybe enough time had passed for us to try talking again.” John swallowed nervously and allowed Pete to escort him inside their place. “I actually tried coming by last night but you weren’t here so I went to that place-umm...Sully’s.”

He shrugged like it was no big deal but he knew for certain that it was an explosion waiting to happen. Pete looked at him with fury as they got to his door.

“You went to the bar to look for me?” He glared and it felt as if his stomach was suddenly tied in a huge knot.

“You can’t blame me!” He went straight into defense and followed the man further into the lonesome apartment. The air grew with tension as his partner chose not to speak and instead went about the place doing small clean-ups. This only made John feel even more angry. “You honestly can’t blame me.”

“I’m not some sorry man that you need to look out for, John.” He suddenly turned from his position at the sink. “I don’t go out drinking just because we had a fight. You make me sound like such a...-loser. Do you realize how belittling it is that you consistently treat me like that?” He threw down a dish-towel and swallowed a lump in his throat.

“I’m just stressed so I worry. Give me a break.” John ran his hand through his hair and sat down on the couch, hoping that the fight would ease up.

“This is just not a good time for us, John.”

John opened and closed his mouth, deciding to just tilt his head back and sigh. “I don’t think it’s a good time for you.”

Pete scowled at that comment and looked freshly betrayed yet again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jonesy was in the midst of the most vivid dream he’d had since he was fifteen, when two or three wet-dreams about Beaver had ushered him into manhood and repressed homosexuality.

But this was the most horrible dream he’d ever experienced. Nothing came close to the sickening feeling it brought.

A deep sense of hot-dread ran through the stained-glass universe and burned Jonesy to his sheets. He was aware of that fact. He was dreaming but he couldn’t quite escape it. It felt thin but thick enough to pull his consciousness back into it every-time the need to wake felt strong.

He could still feel those silky sheets that he shared with Beaver against the sweat on his back but he could also see a hallway filled with pictures in front of him. Something in his mind knew that he was home...enough so that those sheets sticking to his back started to feel like the dream.

He shuffled across the hard-wood in knitted socks and didn’t make it very far before he suddenly appeared in the office. His office? Henry’s offfice.

The Jonesy that still laid in bed with the Beav twitched in his sleep as the Jonesy standing in Henry’s body shook himself. He was just standing in him? A looker. One that Henry apparently couldn’t feel.

He could smell the ink and coffee coated cups lingering around the place. There was a drawer cracked open, a lock that would usually keep it closed was on the desk, and inside was a shot-gun. Not used, barely touched, just laying there against some forgotten patient notes...deadly ironic, Jonesy thought.

Jenry; Jonesy could chuckle at thinking of this being as such a name but something devastated his body and mind too quickly.

He was being dragged along a potential suicide attempt.

It was horrifying and inescapable. His bed was so near yet so far off in another world. He didn’t want to go back to it though. He couldn’t rest a wink if he thought this was real.

Some part of his brain screamed out ‘Dial 1-800-HENRY’ but nothing came to be...

He woke up in an instant, hand coked in a gun-shape against his temple--He screamed and sat up, looking next to him to see Beaver with the same gesture to his temple.

Jonesy shoved him, hard. Beaver nearly fell off the bed and screamed for himself. “Fuck me Freddy! You almost gave me a heart-attack.”

“Did you have that dream?” Jonesy wasted no time but Beaver just looked clueless as ever.

“What dream!?”

Jonesy sighed, skin still burning and wet. He felt another rush of devastation and was haunted by the image of him & Beaver; asleep, side by side, with matching fake ‘hand’-guns to their temples. “Get up.”

:

:

:

Henry answered the door in his boxers and a long sweatshirt that was most definitely a last minute addition before answering the door. He was dazed but awake. That was enough to chill Jonesy.

While he took in the fact that his best friend was in fact, ok and alive, Beaver rushed to Henry’s phone and called up Pete.

“Is Rhonda here?” Jonesy choked out some words finally and pushed himself inside fully, trailing after a confused Henry.

“No. She’s staying with a friend.” Henry shrugged and padded about the hardwood with his arms crossed. “What’s with the late-night visit?” He asked, casually.

Part of Jonesy now felt stupid. Maybe the dream really had just been a...dream. And he was being completely ridiculous by coming over. His brain was waking up with the white-noise of TV static.

Beaver approached from their side and wiggled in his pajama pants. “Yeah. What’s going on, Jonesy?”

:

:

:

He waited until Pete came about to fully explain the situation at hand, carefully choosing his words as to try not to freak anybody out or...embarrass Henry.

The man tipped his chin down and sighed as if he were far beyond the year in life he currently was. He scratched the back of his neck and tried to ignore the concerned and painful looks from his friends. “Look...”

That one word was confirmation enough. The three of them sank into their seats and each felt a horrid wave of deep pain.

“I’ve fallen into this...-intense depression.” He tried to calmly explain the one thing he had never planned on telling them. “Don’t ask me exactly when it started, I’m not sure but...I was always ok at taking it day-by-day, y’know?” He rolled his lips together and felt his brain go on and on; ‘What’s wrong with me, Doc?’

“This whole thing with Rhonda has...well it’s not helping much.” He bitterly chuckled. “I just wanted to make it work. But it ain’t goin’ my way. Hell, sometimes I don’t want to get outta bed...”

Beaver looked positively sick to his stomach.

“But I’m better with you guys...always better.” Henry finally looked up and happened to lock eyes with Pete. There was a rush of affection for the younger man who was going through a special pain all his own.

Pete was the first to shoot over and basically fall into Henry’s lap, wrapping those long arms around his anxious body. Beaver and Jonesy followed in seconds.

They were one sad little dog-pile...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Jonesy wouldn’t take no for an answer. He insisted that Henry move in with Pete after the divorce papers were signed. Rhonda was going to take the home and he was on his own, which was no struggle considering the money he made, but money wasn’t the center problem.

Mental fucking health was. SSDD. A mantra....that always helped.

Jonathan was fully moved out by that point and Pete never confirmed their state but it was pretty obvious what had happened.

Douglas had called Henry’s home phone shortly after that dog-pile had ended. He brightened the room with his voice all the way from back in Derry. “Ennie!” He’d cried happily, always knowing exactly when he was needed. He’d called to check on him...Their best pal was a better man than all of them, inside-and-out...and they would always feel this way.

Henry knew it was the right thing to do, moving in with Pete. Maybe it’d give him a chance to talk about the drinking topic again...

“Remember that time, Junior Year, you got one of your flickers and we were trying to hook-up in my old car and I banged my head on the steering-wheel and then you accidentally elbowed us into reverse?” Pete asked as he set down a smaller box onto the counter...their counter.

Henry chuckled. ‘Flickers’. That had been the word they’d ended up using to describe the rare moods in-which Henry found he wanted to do something...sexual. He just wasn’t the kind of person who felt comfortable doing things like that. It was part of the reason Rhonda thought he was repulsed by her...or that she wasn’t good enough because they’d only get ‘sexy’ once every sixth months or more.

But back when he and Pete were...-not dating, they’d never referred to it like that...but...being with each-other....he understood. Pete always understood Henry in a way that no one else could.

Pete Moore never cared that Henry wasn’t interested in sex, nor dating. It had been complicated, for sure, what they’d been in those days. More than friends sometimes but never a couple.

It was just that they kinda slept with each other pretty rarely--at least once for each year in high-school--and occasionally cuddled closely or held hands in private.

Again, complicated.

“Oh yeah.” Henry chuckled. “Man, we were pretty stupid back then.”

Pete rolled his eyes. “I was. Still am. You were far from it and that still stands now.” He curled his hand around the fridge door and grabbed a bottle of beer, purely out of instinct, if Henry had to guess. He plopped down onto his couch and smiled, no teeth.

“Who’s helping who here, Pete?” Henry fell onto the spot next to him, arm on the back of the seat and one leg over the side. His eyes fell on the bottle which was still sweating in his best friends hand. Pete tried to pull away, both physically and mentally which was common in confrontations like this.

But Pete wasn’t a patient. So Henry was free to gently lean over towards the floor and scoop up the mans legs and rest them over his lap as he scooted closer. With a wave of affection, Henry adjusted them both comfortably and patted Pete’s legs.

“Before he left, John got super pissed and said I was a burden.” Pete set the bottle down but kept his longing eyes on it. “I know that’s true.”

Henry sighed, tipping his chin to the ceiling. He gathered some courage and looked back to Pete. “Maybe to him, Pete. Just the same as I became one for Rhonda.”

“That fucking sucks. You’re great at this, buddy.” Pete chuckled and looked back to his bottle on the table.

Henry slapped Pete’s leg. “But we’re not burdens to each other and we’re gonna help each other.” He gripped his leg harder now and spoke in a genuinely heart-felt tone. “And we’ve got Beaver and Jonesy for support-”

“Beav’s gonna spend all his money on peanut-butter for us sad-sacks, huh?” Pete wiggled his legs and suddenly looked extremely exhausted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It took four-weeks of fighting for Henry to convince Pete to go to at least one A.A. meeting. With the promise of the compromise that Henry make an appointment with a nearby therapist.

He really hated that idea. It made his skin crawl with embarrassment. ‘Hey, Doc. Me? Oh, I’m a Psychiatrist who apparently can’t handle his own problems.’

He’d have to tough it out though because Pete Moore was doing his best to explain that he could just stop drinking on his own....actually, the explaining was more like begging. It made Henry feel a mixture of guilt and devastation that his friend seemed so desperate to avoid the help.

Henry drove him to the meeting and did his best to calm him. But it was hard when for a moment in his passenger seat, Pete was back to being fifteen. Juvenile, joyful and without a dent in his innocence yet.

Henry had to blink a few times to ease that anxiety hiccup. “Different shit today, Pete. I know.” He put the car in park once they hit the lot and rested his heavy palm on the man’s knee. “But soon enough, it’ll become the new SSDD and then I’m telling you, Pete, I promise...”

Pete looked over at him with a terrified face.

“It won’t be shit at all anymore. You won’t have to struggle to get through a day without drinking. You won’t dread the meetings...” Henry vaguely gestured to the building. “You’ll be able to grow from this.”

Pete let out a long sigh and deflated into his seat, looking towards the building with a mixture of hatred and longing. “When’s your appointment?” He tilted his head.

“Thursday. You can drive me.” Henry lightly pinched Pete’s arm.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

{A Month Later}

“Hey, call it!” Pete flicked his thumb and flicked a coin into the sky with a bright smile on his face.

“Tails!” Beaver shouted from across the room.

“You always pick tails.” Jonesy rolled his eyes. “Heads!” He chuckled.

The gang had been called to meet at Henry & Pete’s apartment with the promise of a home-cooked meal and a good time. They were currently shoved into the living room and flipping to see which of the two were going to do the dishes.

Pete caught the coin and flipped it blindly onto the back of his palm. He glanced down at it but let several seconds pass in silence. Henry smirked to himself and tried not to beam at his friend.

“Jesus-Christ-bananas, tell us! I’m dying.” Beaver slapped his hands onto the counter.

Instead of speaking, Pete shyly slid the coin over to them.

It was red rather than silver and Jonesy & Beaver were met with no head or tail. Instead, the coin was showing a triangle which read ‘1 Month Recovery’

“They gave it to me yesterday-”

Beaver didn’t wait to hear the end, instead he hopped over the couch and into Pete’s arms. Thank god he was so tiny. Jonesy was quick to follow, just with a more gentle attitude.

When they pulled off, Henry proudly kissed Pete’s temple like it was something he did fairly often. Pete felt a rush of heat in his cheeks. “Lord, I will never drink again!” He beamed and Norman-Normal flew from his attitude as he pulled Henry in to kiss him on the lips.

The gang broke into hysterical laughter and enjoyed their great sense of pride.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I’m so fucking proud of you.” Pete mumbled as he served Henry his best cooked meal, a bowl of buttered noodles.

“Hmmm?” Henry looked up with soft eyes.

“I’m so proud of you for going to those appointments. We all are.” Pete sniffled and sat down across from him. “Jonesy was about the scaredest I’ve ever seen him that night of his dream. We all fucking were.”

Henry rolled his lips together and sucked in a noodle or two.

“Henry, the five of us...we need each other and if you-” Pete broke off with embarrassment.

Henry laid his hand atop his and gently rocked their grip. “I know, buddy. I know.” He felt a little choked up himself now too.

“You don’t know it all-” Pete swallowed and blinked about a hundred times to try and get rid of the tears. He laid his fork on the table, breathed deeply and held eye contact. “I love you, Henry....I’m in love with you.”

Henry sat back on his seat and smiled. “Oh Pete...” He chuckled.

“Don’t laugh, asshole.” Pete scowled but in good-nature. Both knew that if he were straight-up rejected, Pete would still try and laugh it off.

Henry leaned over the counter and caressed his cheek. Pete leaned into his hand with longing and second-guessing eyes. “It’s always been you.”

Pete let out a tiny little hiccup and smacked his own hand against the one on his cheek. “I should fucking hope so.”