Fero walked between Lem and Emmanuel. He always seemed to end up there, no matter how much he tried to give them space when they invited him to hang out with them. He’d start off walking on the side or even behind them, and then somehow along the way he’d find himself between them again.
For a couple that had taken so long to get together, he would have thought that they would have wanted to spend more time alone. It felt like they invited him on practically every date they had. Not that it wasn’t nice, Fero supposed, that his best friend’s boyfriend was making such an effort to be friendly, or whatever. He should probably be more grateful instead of weirded out. It was just that if he’d been dating either of them, he wouldn’t have wanted a third wheel on every romantic evening.
Not that he thought about either of them like that, of course.
He and Lem had been friends for a million years, ever since Lem had snuck in, late, to what turned out to be the wrong class in their first year of college and had been too embarrassed to sneak back out. Fero had taken pity on him, and offered to give him the notes from the previous classes Lem was obviously missing. It had taken Lem almost a month to admit that he wasn’t actually an ecology major at all.
“Then why did you keep taking my notes!” said Fero.
“I don’t know!” said Lem, “It was just so nice of you to keep giving them to me, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful! And it was a nice excuse to see you, too.”
Lem had blushed then, the sight of it momentarily distracting Fero from his anger.
“You could have just asked to hang out,” said Fero.
“Well it sounds so easy when you put it like that,” said Lem.
“It is! Here, I’ll show you,” said Fero, “Hey, Lem, do you want to hang out later?”
Lem’s blush deepened. “I- Yes, that would be lovely.”
“Cool,” said Fero, feeling his own cheeks heat slightly.
It was just the kind of effect Lem had on him, sometimes. There wasn’t anything to it.
“Fero?” said Emmanuel, touching Fero’s elbow.
Fero blinked. “Yeah?”
“I said, do you want to come in for coffee?”
“No thanks,” said Fero, “I’m not thirsty.”
Emmanuel huffed a laugh. “Right. If you’re sure.”
“Course!” said Fero, “I’m sure you guys want some of the night to yourselves.”
Behind Emmanuel, Fero could see Lem blush. He forced himself to look away, back to Emmanuel’s face. Emmanuel smiled down at him, putting a hand on Fero’s shoulder.
“We do both enjoy your company too though Fero,” said Emmanuel.
Fero felt his cheeks heat and he quickly looked away. “Yeah, why wouldn’t you? I’m great!”
It wasn’t as though he wanted to leave, really. He would have liked, very much, to follow them inside and curl up on the couch next to Emmanuel and verbally poke at Lem until Lem spluttered in the way that made Emmanuel laugh in the one particular way, and reach over to pat Lem’s arm. It totally derailed whatever their argument was, when he did that, but Fero found that he didn’t mind. There was a warmth to Emmanuel’s laugh that he liked to hear.
But, in a more practical sense, he would rather not watch them together on the end of their date. Seeing them together like that gave him this strange, twisting feeling in his stomach.
“Plus,” said Fero, “I’m not dating them, so it would be weird if I did always go in, right?”
Adaire nodded, her attention more on her phone than what Fero was saying. He peered over the top of the screen, catching Hella’s name before Adaire snatached the phone away.
“What?” said Fero, “I just wanted to see!”
“It’s just Hella,” said Adaire.
“If it’s just Hella, then why do you care about me seeing it?”
“Because it’s none of your business,” said Adaire.
“Why, what are you talking about?” said Fero.
“How annoying it is when people try to look at your phone all the time.”
Fero huffed a breath, flopping backwards onto the overly-soft coffee shop chairs. He wriggled around for a moment, finding a comfortable spot and stretching out. Adaire shot him a look.
“What are you really talking about?” said Fero, “Is it… Adelaide?”
Adaire rolled her eyes. “No.”
“ No ?”
Adaire let out a breath. “Maybe.” She paused. “Hella’s worried about what she should wear on their date.”
Fero made a face. “Why’s she asking you?”
“Because I was a fashion major.”
“I thought you studied medicine.”
“I did,” said Adaire.
Fero made a face again, stretching close enough to touch the cushion of the couch Adaire was sitting on. Adaire frowned, but did not otherwise react.
“Okay doctor fashion,” said Fero, “It still feels kind of weird for her to ask you though.”
“It’s not weird,” said Adaire, “We’re friends.”
“Good friends,” said Fero.
“Yes,” said Adaire, “Good friends like you and Lem are good friends.”
Fero opened his mouth and then shut it again. It wasn’t worth arguing with Adaire about that, even if he and Lem were in a totally different spot to her and Hella. After all, he and Lem really were just friends. Just good friends, who lived together. Friends who were such good friends that they invited each other along on their dates because they liked hanging out so much. Just regular, normal friend stuff.
Adaire finished typing, setting her phone face down in her lap. “So are you going to tell him?”
“Tell who what?”
“Are you going to tell Lem that you don’t want to keep going on dates with him and Emmanuel?”
“They’re not dates,” said Fero quickly, “I’m not dating them so it’s just hanging out.”
“That doesn’t count,” said Fero, cutting her off, “that was halloween.”
Adaire raised her eyebrows.
“It was halloween!” said Fero.
Halloween didn’t count, obviously . It was just the result of going with Lem and Emmanuel as a group costume of Superman-Batman-The Flash, and sitting close together for warmth on Throndir’s back porch, and feeling both of them pressed either side of him.
“This is nice,” said Fero, feeling warm and sleepy despite the cold seeping in through his thin costume from the stone bench seat, “I wish I had a tall boyfriend all the time.”
“I’m tall,” murmured Lem above him.
“Yeah, I know,” said Fero.
He felt the rumble of Emmanuel’s laugh against his side. Fero smiled, curling his fingers in their costumes to bring them closer to him.
“I’m tall too,” said Emmanuel, “Compared to you.”
“Well you don’t have to rub it in,” said Fero.
There was a pause, and Fero could feel Lem shift slightly, his arm reaching to touch Emmanuel around Fero’s side. It felt good, to be surrounded by both of them, warm and safe. Fero felt his eyes drift closed, his hands still curled loosely in their costumes.
“Fero,” said Emmanuel softly.
His memory was a little blurry there, still half-asleep, but he remembered leaning up to them, feeling both of them kiss him back in turn as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
Adaire was still looking at him. Fero’s cheeks flushed.
“Don’t you have to go back to work?”
“Probably,” said Adaire. She stood stepping towards the counter before she looked back over her shoulder at him. “Emmanuel’s shift doesn’t start for another hour.”
“I don’t care,” said Fero, “I’m not here for any reason , this place just has comfortable couches and good smoothies. I’m not here for Emmanuel .”
“Sure,” said Adaire, “but if you want to stay here until his shift starts, you’re going to have to buy something else.”
“Pining tax,” said Adaire, “you’re bringing down the mood of the whole place.”
“I’m not pining ,” said Fero. He paused. “I guess I’ll have a banana smoothie, but only because I feel like it.”
“Sure,” said Adaire, “Coming right up.”
Emmanuel’s face lit up on seeing Fero as he arrived. “My favourite customer!”
“ Thank you!” said Fero.
Emmanuel laughed, his hand brushing Fero’s shoulder as he passed. “Lem’s going to stop by later.”
“Oh, okay,” said Fero, “I’ll just wait for him then.”
Emmanuel nodded. “We were thinking of going to that Indian place for dinner, if you’d like to come along.”
“Sure, okay,” said Fero, “I mean, unless you guys would rather go by yourselves?”
“I wouldn’t have invited you if we both didn’t want you there,” said Emmanuel.
“Yes you would,” said Fero, “you’re too nice.”
“I’m not that nice,” said Emmanuel.
He gave Fero an indecipherable look. It’s indecipherableness didn’t stop Fero from blushing. Luckily the lunch rush began, distracting Emmanuel (or Adaire) from any confusing follow ups.
Lem arrived after the lunch rush was over, laden down with thesis research and teetering on the edge of panic about it, as usual. Fero bullied him onto one of the couches, got him a cup of tea - which Lem would largely ignore but that Fero knew he liked to have near him while he worked anyway - and curled up beside him, nodding along as Lem poured out his worries into Fero’s ear.
“But they’re not actually going to kick you out,” said Fero, once Lem had started to repeat himself, “and even if they did, they don’t send you to jail for an unfinished thesis.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” said Lem, his body tense.
Fero huffed a breath, sliding his arms around Lem’s waist, forcing him to sit back against the couch cushions. He leant his head against Lem’s shoulder as he felt Lem’s muscles uncoil themselves, not completely, but enough to signal that Lem had calmed.
“You’re not even close to your deadline,” said Fero, “and Devar said that your supervisor said you were on track. You’re fine, it’s going to be fine.”
“But what if it’s not?” said Lem.
“Then you’ll still be too tall for long road trips and use the last of the milk without telling me and always carry emergency bandaids,” said Fero, “You’ll still be you . You’ll still have Emmanuel. You’ll still have me.”
Lem let out a breath, turning his head to look at Fero, their faces so suddenly close together that Fero very nearly flinched.
“I suppose that’s true,” said Lem. He frowned. “Wait, I don’t always use the last of the milk.”
“You do so,” said Fero, “You did it yesterday.”
“No I didn’t, I put it back in the fridge.”
“The carton was empty,” said Fero.
“Well maybe it evaporated.”
“Milk doesn’t evaporate ,” said Fero.
Their argument continued, interrupted periodically by Adaire telling them to quiet down, until Emmanuel began to close up the cafe around them.
“Fero agreed to come to dinner with us tonight,” said Emmanuel.
“He did? said Lem, a blush rising to his cheeks, “I didn’t- that was easy.”
“Why would it be hard?” said Fero, “I like you guys.”
Curiously, Lem’s blush deepened. “Oh! Well, we, uh, we like you too.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’re going to dinner together,” said Fero.
“Yes,” said Emmanuel, “it is.”
Fero helped clean the floors and Lem, theoretically, wiped the counters, although he seemed to do more leaning over them to talk to Emmanuel than actually moving the cloth back and forth.
Every time Fero opened his mouth to tease Lem about it, there was something in Lem’s expression that made Fero’s throat feel too tight to speak. Probably he was allergic to whatever chemicals they put in the floor cleaner.
They walked Emmanuel back to his place so he could change before dinner. As always, no matter where Fero tried to walk, he ended up in between Lem and Emmanuel, their hands brushing his as they walked, derailing whatever train of thought he was on.
Fero’s phone buzzed as he and Lem waited outside Emmanuel’s.
Doctor Fashion : Fero. You should tell them.
tell who what
Doctor Fashion: Lem and Emmanuel.
Doctor Fashion : Hella and I aren’t friends. Adelaide and I are both dating her.
Doctor Fashion : Since five minutes ago, I
Doctor Fashion: wrsfdkbdgk
Doctor Fashion : hello fero this is hella pls stop disturbing my new gf when i am trying to kiss her thx
Doctor Fashion : Sorry, I have to go.
Doctor Fashion: But you should tell them. I have a feeling it will work out.
“Weird,” said Fero.
“What’s weird?” said Emmanuel.
Fero looked up, his breath catching in his throat. There wasn’t any reason for it - he must have seen Emmanuel in that particular shirt a million times by now, but there was something in the way the streetlights hit his face, drawing him into focus as he stood beside Lem, that made Fero’s heart stutter in his chest.
“I, uh,” said Fero, “You know, actually, I have to go.”
“What,” said Emmanuel, “Fero, is everything okay?”
“No- I mean, yes, everything’s fine, I just- I have to go,” said Fero.
“Wait, but what about our date?” said Lem.
“Just because I’m not there doesn’t mean you can’t go on a date,” said Fero.
“No,” said Lem, “What about our date?”
Fero blinked. “Our date?”
“Yes,” said Lem, “the date we were literally just about to go on? You can’t tell me you had other plans, I’ve been with you all afternoon-”
Emmanuel put a hand on Lem’s arm, making Lem stutter to a stop.
“Fero,” said Emmanuel, his voice soft, “Did you know we were asking you out on a date?”
“No!” said Fero, his voice loud enough to echo in the street.
“ What ?” said Lem, turning to Emmanuel, “but you said-”
“I thought I had,” said Emmanuel.
“Well you didn’t,” said Fero, crossing his arms, “we have dinner all the time , why would I think this time would be different?”
“Because I thought I was being clearer than Lem, I suppose,” said Emmanuel.
“What?” said Fero, looking to Lem.
Lem blushed, his hands fluttering through the air as he gestured. “I, well, you see, the other times, when I asked if you wanted to get dinner with us, what I meant was- what I had been trying to do was-”
“He’s not very good at asking you out,” said Emmanuel.
“He’s not good at asking anyone out,” said Fero, “it took him like twenty tries to ask for your number, even.”
“And I hear he had a similar trouble with you,” said Emmanuel. He huffed a laugh. “Although it seems I am not much better.”
Fero frowned. “But Lem’s never asked me out.”
“What!” said Lem, “I have been trying - Emmanuel, tell him, I’ve been asking you out since we met !”
“No, you haven’t,” said Fero, “You lied about having a class with me and then I asked you if you wanted to hang out!”
Emmanuel looked as though he was struggling not to laugh. “You didn’t tell me that you lied about having a class with him.”
“Well, that’s not- I mean, it was an accident, the first time, and then I just kept going back so I could keep seeing him, because I-” Lem broke off, his blush deepening. “I did, actually, think we were dating for like two weeks-”
“What!” said Fero.
“And by that point it was sort of too late,” said Lem, sighing, “I couldn’t exactly say anything about it at the time.”
“Yes, you could have,” said Fero.
“Oh really,” said Lem, “And what would you have said?”
“I would have said yes!” snapped Fero, then covered his face with his hands. “Uh. Actually, forget that, no, I wouldn’t have, you’re awful and-”
Fero jumped as someone put a hand on his shoulder.
“Fero,” said Emmanuel, his voice soft. “Fero, look at me.”
Slowly, Fero lowered his hands from his face. Emmanuel was looking down at him, a soft smile on his face.
“I apologise for not being more clear,” said Emmanuel.
Fero took a breath in and then let it out slowly. His eyes drifted from Emmanuel’s kind face to Lem’s shocked one.
“Have you really been trying to ask me out?” said Fero, his voice coming out much smaller than he’d meant it to.
Lem nodded, swallowing hard. “I- since before halloween.”
“ Halloween ,” whispered Fero.
“I thought, after that… I thought I’d managed to do it,” said Lem, “And then you wouldn’t even talk to me about it-”
“I thought you’d be mad at me for kissing your boyfriend!” said Fero, immediately feeling himself blush as Emmanuel squeezed his shoulder.
“He wasn’t mad,” said Emmanuel, “And neither was I.” He paused. “It seemed as though you were mad at us , after that.”
“I am!” said Fero, “Or, I- you kept asking me to come with you to things, and being nice, and-and-and- making me feel things!”
Lem took a step forward. “Feel-”
“Things!” said Fero. His hands flexed at his sides, and he looked back up at Emmanuel. “Do you- Are you really both asking me out?”
“Yes!” said Lem.
Emmanuel nodded. “If you don’t want to, we can go back to having dinner as friends. We simply… we like being around you.”
Fero’s throat felt tight, and he swallowed. His voice, when he managed to find it again, was rough.
“I… yeah. I like being around you both too,” said Fero, “I guess, I- Having dinner with you both, as a date, sounds okay.”
Lem made a face. “It sounds okay ?”
“Okay sounds good to me,” said Emmanuel.
Fero pressed his lips together. The odd squirming sensation he often felt with Emmanuel and Lem was back, but this time it was diffused with heat.
“So, are we going to dinner or what?” said Fero, “I am ready to be romanced by you guys, or whatever.”
Emmanuel laughed. “That’s good to hear.”
His hand fell from Fero’s shoulder, quickly tangling with Fero’s.
“Lem?” said Emmanuel.
Lem blinked. “Oh! Right.”
He stepped towards Fero, taking Fero’s other hand.
“This is ridiculous,” said Fero.
“Do you want me to…” said Emmanuel, his fingers relaxing around Fero’s hand.
Fero tightened his grip. “No, it’s fine.”
“Good,” said Lem, “Because I’ve wanted to do this for like five years.”
“You wanted to hold my hand for five years?” said Fero.
Lem blushed, and Emmanuel leant over Fero’s head to kiss Lem’s cheek.
“Well I think it’s very cute,” said Emmanuel.
“You would,” said Fero, “you’re biased.”
“Now, so are you,” said Emmanuel, leaning down to kiss Fero’s cheek.
Fero let out a squeak of surprise, stumbling as Lem leant down after Emmanuel to press a light kiss to Fero’s lips.
“I wanted to do that for five years too,” said Lem quietly.
Fero chest felt tight. “Me too, I think.”
“You don’t know?”
Fero shrugged. “I guess it was just in the back of my mind instead of the front. It’s not like I ever thought you’d want to kiss me back .”
“Well,” huffed Lem, “I do.”
“Well I know that now ,” said Fero, “next time, just tell me that you want to kiss me.”
“Okay,” said Lem, “I- I want to kiss you.”
“Yeah, just like that,” said Fero.
Lem huffed. “I changed my mind, I don’t want to kiss you any more.”
“That’s okay,” said Emmanuel, “I do.”
He kissed Fero, just as lightly as Lem had but his touch lingering for a moment longer, stealing Fero’s breath away. Fero leant towards him, leaning his forehead against Emmanuel’s shoulder for a long moment, his heart feeling overly full.
“We’d better go to dinner otherwise we’ll never get there,” said Fero.
“I suppose we should,” said Emmanuel, “Come on.”
They walked together towards the restaurant, Fero in between them.
Little Bird: i GUESS u were right abt this ONE thing
Doctor Fashion : I’m right about everything.
Doctor Fashion : And, also, you’re welcome.