Unfortunately for Johnny, Daniel's bedroom window directly overlooked the sidewalk behind the South Seas apartment building, where Johnny had been pacing back and forth for fifteen minutes. His voice from above startled Johnny so bad he whipped around with both fists raised.
“So are you gonna come in, or are you gonna fight the mailbox?”
Johnny dropped his fists and looked up. The sun was just cresting the building, so he had to squint, which was infuriating. The sun in your eyes was no excuse for letting an enemy get the drop on you. Daniel was leaning out the window, both arms folded on the sill like he’d been comfortably settled there for hours. He was smirking.
“What?” Johnny demanded, even though he’d heard just fine.
“You heard me,” said Daniel. “Quit wearing a ditch in the sidewalk. The gate’s open, come on in.”
Johnny scowled. “I don’t want to come in, asshole. I’m just waiting for someone.”
Even from the second floor, Daniel’s eyeroll was clear. “Right, okay. Got a lot of friends who live around here?”
Johnny ground his teeth. He didn’t have an answer for that, so he didn’t give one.
Daniel shrugged. He was wearing some kind of sleeveless shirt that made the motion of his tawny shoulders look smooth and effortless. “I’m frying bacon, if you want some.” And, a second later, just as casually, “My mom’s not here.”
Johnny already knew that. He’d checked for her car. “Whatever,” he said. “I don’t need your bacon.”
There was a grin in Daniel’s voice. “Nobody needs bacon, Johnny, but everybody likes it.” He leaned back and drummed his hands on the sill. “Anyway, come in if you want. I don’t give a shit.” He pulled the window shut and disappeared from view.
Johnny wasted a bit of time putting another groove in the sidewalk, just to make sure he didn’t seem eager, then went around the front of the building and through the gate. He checked over his shoulder on the way, just in case, but there was no one outside, and no one in the courtyard either, thank Christ. Despite all that pacing, he still hadn’t figured out how he’d play it if Daniel’s creepy little sensei was hanging around. Probably make a fucking idiot of himself again.
He’d never been to Daniel’s apartment before, obviously, but it was easy to figure out which door was his. There was his bike propped outside, for one. Johnny took the stairs to the upper level two at a time, then hesitated at the top. Should he knock? Should he just barge in? He rubbed his palms down his jeans, drying them off. He’d worked up a bit of a sweat on the sidewalk.
The door swung open before he could decide, letting out a waft of bacon smell. Daniel stood there, barefoot and in shorts, one hand on the knob. He looked relaxed, but he was standing back. “Hi,” he said.
Johnny clenched his jaw. Yeah, Daniel should be standing back. He was really just going to let Johnny into his house like this? On a Saturday when he was alone? Even if they’d been on almost-speaking terms for two months now, that didn’t mean much. Daniel looked so tiny, just a ridiculous shrimp of a kid, twiggy and big-eyed like a cartoon. For all he knew, Johnny could do anything. He could throw Daniel out a window or stick his head in the microwave. He could break Daniel’s legs and drown him in the toilet. No one would even know. What a moron.
“Hi,” Johnny said.
Daniel hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Bacon’s almost done.”
“Okay,” Johnny said.
“Wanna come in?”
Johnny hesitated. He didn’t really have another option, did he? Regardless of what he actually wanted. It would be more cowardly to leave at this point. “Okay,” he said.
Daniel stepped aside, inviting Johnny in with a little gesture of the wrist that made Johnny’s stomach tighten like a fist. He obeyed instinctively, body moving forward the way it did practicing kata, conditioned to respond no matter what his brain was doing. He saw that the shirt Daniel was wearing was a ratty, washed-out sweater with the arms cut off, ragged and soft at the edges. The vee of the open neck showed his collarbones.
Daniel stepped in close and Johnny startled back, bumping into the wall, before realizing he was just closing the door. Thankfully, Daniel either didn’t notice or decided not to comment. The latch clicked shut. Johnny swallowed, slinking along the wall a bit. His mouth watered from the bacon smell.
“I’d offer to take your jacket,” Daniel said, “but I think I already did.”
The words made Johnny’s spine snap straight. His eyes darted to Daniel’s. Somehow, despite how obvious it was why he was here, he hadn’t expected Daniel to just say it like that, outright. Wasn’t there a ritual to this kind of thing? Some language of veiled bullshit and sidestepping that everyone other than Johnny always seemed to understand without even trying? Charging ahead like a bull, taking control before his opponent could get the upper hand, that was his move. But Daniel was standing there looking back at him, calm as anything, a little smile tucked at the corner of his mouth, and that bossy animal instinct in the back of Johnny’s head was telling him he’d already been bested. Just like that, right out the gate, before he could make a single move.
He cleared his throat and squared up his shoulders. No predator went down without a fight, even after losing the first round. “Yeah. I want it back. You better not have spilled mustard on it or something.”
Daniel shook his head. “Course I didn’t. Didn’t even go through the pockets. Hold on.” He spun on his heel and vanished into one of the doorways along the hall. These days, Johnny noticed with uncomfortable relief, he was barely even limping anymore. Johnny let out a breath and scrubbed his hands down his jeans again. He dug his fingernails into his thighs. There was adrenaline hammering through him like the final minute before a match. Usually he liked that - it made him feel huge and strong, unbeatable. That’s not how it was making him feel now.
Daniel came back a second later, Johnny’s jacket in his hands. Johnny twitched, almost lunging forward to snatch it, before he checked himself. Play it fucking cool, asshole. He kind of expected Daniel to pull some punkass move at the last second, try to play keep-away or hold it up to show Johnny he’d drawn a big dick on the back or something, but he didn’t. He handed it to Johnny and said, “Thanks, man. I appreciated it.”
Johnny, unbalanced, nodded. He gripped the cool leather, relieved in some primal way to feel its familiar texture and weight again. He’d felt naked all last night and this morning without it. Even though they were inside, even though Daniel’s apartment was warm, he quickly shrugged it on over his t-shirt.
Daniel watched him, head cocked. His mouth was a crooked shape, half-smiling. “Looks better on you than me anyway.”
Rearmored, Johnny finally felt capable of a counter-attack. He snorted. “You looked like a little kid.” Too late, he regretted it. Too honest, too willing to acknowledge the reality of what had happened. How they'd - how he’d - Well. Whatever. It didn’t matter, did it? It was the truth. Daniel had been tiny in it, the shoulders too wide, the sleeves too long. He’d done up the zipper and tucked himself down into the collar, huddling against the cold beach wind. He’d looked up at Johnny, hair wet on his forehead, and Johnny had looked away, practicing scorn or something like it. Daniel’d said ”Thanks, man,” then too.
It wasn’t a big deal. Johnny hadn’t needed to wear it anyway. He’d been warm from the fire, warm from beer, warm from Ali giving him a look that, for the first time in months, wasn’t sheer disgust. Maybe it was just because he’d handed Daniel the jacket, but maybe not. Maybe it was because he’d kept his temper in check even with Daniel down the beach like that, crowded by admirers, drunkenly showing off his crane technique in the waves. Johnny had watched him by the light of the moon and the fire and the headlights from the parking lot, how he fell over in the surf again and again. Every time, he came up laughing harder, splashing and whooping, wrestling someone else into the water with him. He made it look so easy, getting people to like him, to do crazy shit with him. Not in a million years could Johnny have talked half their senior class into going swimming in February. Not in a billion would he have thought to do so by being deliberately shitty at karate in public.
“Yeah, well,” said Daniel now. He didn’t sound offended. “Someday I’ll actually be able to grow a beard and then you’ll be sorry.”
Johnny said ha. It came out weak. He cleared his throat and peeled off the wall. He had his jacket. He was in Daniel LaRusso’s apartment at eleven on a Saturday morning, he had his jacket, and he needed to get out of here before everything went to shit. He couldn’t afford to be weak. He tossed his head, rolling his eyes. “Good luck with that.”
Daniel’s gaze cut sideways. Not like he was mad, but like he was giving Johnny a false opening. Inviting him to make a move. His jaw shifted, parting his lips, and the bump of his tongue appeared in his smooth cheek, rolling there for a moment. It was a calculating sort of face, just for a second, before his eyes slid back to Johnny’s. “I don’t know,” he said, voice low. “Didn’t seem like you had any criticisms about my face last night.”
The breath stopped in Johnny’s chest. Fuck. This is exactly what he’d been - Concerned about. Terrified about. Didn’t Daniel know anything? He could have just let Johnny collect his jacket and leave. He didn’t have to do this to both of them.
Johnny opened his mouth to say, well, anything. To make even the thinnest, shittiest denial or threat. Whatever would get him out the door fastest while leaving no doubt in Daniel’s mind about the consequences for running his mouth to anyone. Johnny really could drown him in the toilet if he had to. He could feel it already, exactly how he’d move. How he’d blow Daniel’s knee out again with one quick kick, get him in a headlock, get him on the floor. Shake him, put their faces close together so Daniel wouldn’t be able to look anywhere else. Tell him - tell him -
But he shouldn’t have to. If anyone found out, they'd both be sunk. Daniel would lose Ali for sure. He’d lose… Johnny didn’t know what else. He couldn’t imagine Daniel’s excitable, goofy mom turning him out on the street. He couldn’t even imagine Daniel really giving a shit if the whole school stonewalled him. And besides, it hadn’t been Daniel who’d let Johnny wear his jacket in front of everyone, like some kind of accidental declaration. It wasn’t Daniel’s stepdad who'd, at best, disown him on the spot. Maybe Daniel actually had a lot less on the line, here.
Johnny realized he was standing there silently with his mouth open. Daniel was looking at him, some kind of expression going across his face Johnny couldn’t read. A few expressions, actually, one after the other. They finally settled on one Johnny really didn’t like the look of. He didn’t move backwards when Daniel stepped closer, but only because his whole body had torqued down in total panic. His feet were welded to the floor.
“Well?” Daniel’s voice was low, his chin tipped so he was looking at Johnny through his eyelashes, like a dare. “Isn’t that why you came over? To tell me to keep my mouth shut?”
Johnny took a sharp breath. There it was, his opening. “Yeah,” he said. And then he swallowed and said it again, so it actually sounded like he meant it. Daniel wasn’t convinced, if the mocking angle of his mouth was any indication. Johnny’s fists clenched at his sides. He flicked his gaze down, calculating the trajectory to Daniel’s kidney, to his knee, to the floor.
“What are you gonna do, try to beat me up?” Daniel took another step. “Again?”
Johnny’s heart hammered in his chest. He was starting to tremble from adrenaline. “If I have to,” he said. It came out in a croak.
Daniel snorted. “If you have to. Listen, I know this is crazy, but have you ever tried talking about your problems instead of hitting them?”
“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” Johnny said.
Daniel reached for him. Johnny stopped him with an open-handed block so instinctive he only knew he’d done it once Daniel’s answering strike came, a blow that didn’t hit where Johnny tensed to receive it, in the chest, but on his raised forearm, knocking it aside. For a long second, they stood frozen at an impasse, arms braced against each other. Johnny heard his own breathing coming loud and sharp, nothing like the controlled rhythm he’d trained so long to learn.
“Stop it,” said Daniel, not sounding so controlled either. His eyes were huge, dark and wide. “We’re not enemies.”
Johnny bared his teeth. His mind spun, chasing its own tail. He had to get out, he had to get away from this situation, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. It was only a couple steps to the door, he could jab Daniel in the solar plexus and bolt, no real harm done. He knew he could do it, he told himself to do it, but he didn’t move. He just stood there, shivering like a dumb horse. This, he thought, was exactly why Sensei had tried to kill him. Because he was a broken piece of shit who needed to be put out of his own misery. No good to anyone, especially himself.
Daniel’s hand turned, opening from its fist, and slowly wrapped around Johnny’s wrist. He was standing so close, nearly as close as he’d been last night, when Johnny had... When they’d…
And then he came even closer, pulling Johnny’s arm down harmlessly between them, and his other hand touched Johnny’s side, just beneath the open edge of his jacket. Johnny made a noise he’d never heard himself make before, a strangled stuttering whine. He watched Daniel’s mouth go from parted to grinning, then he watched Daniel’s tongue come out for just a second, wetting his lips, then he watched Daniel go up on his toes. After that, he didn’t see much of anything, because he’d closed his eyes. If he didn’t see it coming, it didn’t count, did it? It could be anyone doing this.
But it wasn’t. It was Daniel leaning into him. Unmistakeably Daniel’s wiry little body against Johnny’s chest, his hand flat on Johnny’s ribcage, the smell of his sweat in Johnny’s nose. Without a doubt, Daniel stopping with his mouth so close to Johnny’s that Johnny could feel the hot damp of it. Daniel’s voice, quiet and rough, saying, “Hey. Hey, look at me.”
Johnny didn’t, at first. He breathed and he shivered and he tried to pretend he was anywhere else. But more than anything, more than he wanted to vanish into the safe dark of nothingness, he wanted to remember what Daniel’s mouth tasted like. He cracked his eyes open.
Daniel was so close he was just a blur, just tanned skin and a flash of white teeth. “Hey,” he said again, soft in the tiny space between them. “There you are.”
“Shut up, LaRusso,” Johnny whispered, and Daniel kissed him.
Last night, Johnny had been the one doing this part. The one with his hands up under the jacket, on Daniel’s waist, crowding him back against a wall in the shadows. He’d been drunk then, and Daniel had been too, which seemed at the time like a foolproof excuse. Halfway to the parking lot, no one watching, distant music from someone’s radio still drifting across the beach. Daniel looking back at Johnny over his shoulder. Johnny’s feet sinking in the sand as he caught up and grabbed Daniel’s arm, the little stumbling rush as they hit the warm concrete wall of a changing room. Daniel turning, going almost pliant. Tipping his face up, letting Johnny lean over him. They hadn’t said anything, not then and not after. Daniel had taken everything Johnny could give him and then some, knotting his hands in Johnny’s hair and squirming under him, panting loud and wild.
It was the jacket, that was all. It had gotten Johnny’s wires crossed, seeing Daniel swallowed up in it like that, kind of catastrophically pretty in the firelight, laughing with everyone else when Johnny made a joke. Johnny had let Ali wear it sometimes too, back in the day - it’d made his chest cramp up the same way. It was his armor, he’d earned it, and putting it on someone else, someone small and tough and beautiful the way Ali was, the way-
Daniel bit his bottom lip. Johnny gasped, startled. It made all his frozen muscles unlock.
“Okay?” said Daniel against his mouth. His hand slid up the ladder of Johnny’s ribs to flatten just above where Johnny’s heart was banging like a drum, as though he could sense it in there, the way it was trying to fight free. And because Johnny couldn’t answer a question like that, not ever, he did the next best thing he could. He opened his mouth and let Daniel do whatever he wanted.
A while later - a long while - Daniel tipped his head away, breathing heavy. Johnny stood there dizzily, thinking nothing. His mind was blank, clear, burnt clean. His mouth was tingling, his tongue so sensitive that the back of his own teeth felt foreign. Somehow his hands had ended up on Daniel’s hips.
It took a long time for the panic to come back, to rise through the veil of pure wondering calm that had enveloped him, but it did. It trickled in like icy water - slow, inexorable, numbing. Before it could get a foothold, before it could flood him, Johnny struck first, operating on a thoughtless instinct. His voice came out raspy and uninvited. “You’re such a fucking fag.”
There was a beat of silence, then Daniel laughed. It was a quiet little sound that made the hackles rise all over Johnny’s body, threatening as a snake’s rattle.
“Say it again,” Daniel murmured. He was still close, deadly close, his cheek brushing Johnny’s. His fingertips pressed hard into Johnny’s chest. Not quite a push. His tone wasn’t a challenge either, but Johnny wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t make him want to push back. He bit the inside of his cheek, prickling with obscure shame. Daniel didn’t move, and Johnny couldn’t figure out what to say. Instead, slowly, he tipped his head back down. Their mouths were only an inch apart anyway, and it was easy to let his lips touch the corner of Daniel’s again, right there and already wet, already familiar. Apologetic. It was the right move. He realized that immediately when Daniel kissed him back, hungry and quick, as if he’d just been waiting for Johnny to make the right choice.
This time, Johnny was aware of his hands moving, how they squeezed Daniel’s sides. How his thumbs found the twin ridges of Daniel’s hips beneath the waistband of his shorts and rubbed along them. He was aware of Daniel’s tongue in his mouth, and Daniel’s thigh between his, and how hard his own dick was. How hard Daniel’s was, pressed between them. Awareness gave him the option of choice, or maybe just the illusion of it. He pulled Daniel in.
Another long while passed.
“Wait, wait,” Daniel gasped eventually, pulling back.
Johnny followed him, instinctive about it, until he caught himself with Daniel’s whole weight leaning back in his arms. He swallowed, hot-faced, giddy with vertigo. He couldn’t stand it, their mouths being apart like that. It was wrong. He felt rabid, weightless. “What?” he said, trying to keep his voice level. “What, LaRusso?”
Daniel panted, “The bacon.”
Johnny blinked. He checked his senses back into the room around them. There was smoke, and a burning smell. “Oh.” He straightened, letting go of Daniel’s waist, but caught him again before he could stumble. “Right. Bacon.”
Daniel didn’t move away. He stood in the circle of Johnny’s arms, his hands on Johnny’s shoulders. For the first time ever, Johnny thought he looked… shy.
“You wanna stay?” Daniel said. “It’s probably still salvageable. And if not, the rest of the pound’s in the fridge.”
Johnny thought about it. He looked at the flush on Daniel’s cheeks and the mess of his hair, the wet pink of his mouth. He thought about going home, or to the beach, or to the mall. Doing the same old things he’d been doing for two months, alone and miserable.
He shrugged. “I could eat,” he said.