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Tell You 'Bout My Best Friend

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Eric fully expects it when Hyde and Donna pull him aside to ask whether or not Buddy is really gay. That doesn’t make him exactly comfortable with telling them what had just happened.

“Well,” he hedges, “I don’t really think it’s my place to—“

“He’s gay!” they decide triumphantly.

Part of him just wants to cut his losses and run, but they don’t seem to be freaking out, and it is nice to have someone who knows that he could talk to about it. Maybe they can help.

“Okay guys, hypothetical situation… crazy scenario, wouldn’t happen in like, a million years—” c’mon Forman, you can do it. “Let’s just, let’s say, okay,” he pauses. Here goes: “That Buddy made a move on me.” He hopes the WHAT DO I DO?!?! comes across loud and clear.

“Eric, he’s not gonna make a move on you if he knows you’re straight,” Donna responds like this is the simplest problem she’s ever heard. Which doesn’t really help him whatsoever with anything. In fact, Eric is more confused than ever. Does Buddy know something I don’t?

Hyde is, characteristically, even less helpful. “I dunno, I mean Forman is pretty irresistible,” he says with a sarcastic leer.

‘Whatever,’ he thinks, “I don’t think he’ll make a move on me again.” He did make it pretty clear—

“Again?!” Donna and Hyde shout. Apparently, Eric said that out loud.

“Or, for the first time,” he backtracks. Time to get out of there. “I gotta go.” It takes every ounce of self-preservation to walk calmly back into the house. Whatever he hoped to accomplish by telling them, he clearly failed.

~~~

He spends the night replaying the past 24 hours trying to figure out what exactly has him so anxious. He knows Buddy wouldn’t take advantage of him, even if he did flinch (a lot) during the really uncomfortable drive back to his house. And he doubts his friends would beat him up for getting hit on; it’s not like he reciprocated.

Right?

Did he send off gay vibes or something? He pores through every touch, every laugh, every ride around town in that damn car, everything that could possibly have made him seem anything but straight. In retrospect, he could maybe see from Buddy’s perspective where the confusion would be.

‘I just thought that—‘

‘But why would you think that?’

‘Because we’ve been spending so much time together.’

‘Because we’re friends! I’m… I’ve been friends with Hyde for years and I never put the moves on him!’

Buddy laughed. ‘Who could blame you? That’s guy’s a jerk.’

‘Yeah, well— yeah, but that’s not the reason. It’s because I’m not gay.’

‘Right.’

He knows Buddy didn’t believe him, and about the seventh or eighth time he’s scrutinized the conversation in his head, he doesn’t quite believe himself either. ‘I’m not gay because I’ve never hit on Hyde, and I’ve never hit on Hyde because I’m not gay?’ Buddy would probably have a fancy term for that, something like circular reasoning or whatever it is smart people say about these things. And even if he were gay, he wouldn’t hit on Hyde because, well, yeah, Hyde’s an ass.

If he were gay… Eric doesn’t want to go there, and besides, he doesn’t need to. He has Donna. He’s in love with Donna, has been his entire life. And he finally gets to be with her. Crisis averted.

Except what he said to Buddy before The Kiss still holds true. Every time he’s with Donna he feels like he has to perform, like everyone’s watching to see how he’ll fuck it up, and when it’s just the two of them, he’s fine right up until the point it’s time to make a move. There’s so much pressure to be the perfect boyfriend and all he can manage is one make-out session.

It’s not like he hasn’t noticed how cosy Donna and Hyde have become, either. The way they sit a little too close, or how find ways to separate themselves from the ‘scary kids’ (though he doesn’t blame them), or the fact that Hyde not-so-subtly wants in her pants— it all just drives home the fact that maybe he’s not the best guy for Donna. It’s not like he even noticed he’d been ignoring her until days after he started hanging out with Buddy.

If he’s being honest with himself, he doesn’t really think about anyone but Buddy when they’re together. He’s his best friend, and sure it started out as totally about the car, but the past few days have made him feel so free. He doesn’t have to perform when he’s with Buddy, he can let it all hang out and know that Buddy’ll just laugh and keep driving.

But maybe that’s just an act too? Maybe Buddy only wants to jump him— if so, he’s unbelievably patient. It’s not like Eric is rich or popular or cool or anything, and as Jackie is always very quick to point out, they’re breaking all sorts of norms by being friends. It just doesn’t make sense for it to be anything other than Buddy coming onto him. But then why would he think Eric would say yes in the first place?

By the time his alarm rings, he hasn’t really answered any of his questions except for one: he has to talk to Buddy.

~~~

“Hey, Buddy!” he calls as they enter the parking lot. He can’t exactly start off with, ‘hey why’d you kiss me is my entire life a lie are we still friends?’ so he sticks to something neutral. “I’m gonna need those chemistry notes back.”

“Oh, yeah.” Buddy’s face falls. Okay, maybe not so neutral after all. “Listen man, if you don’t wanna be my lab partner anymore then I’ll, I’ll understand.”

“No! Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.” God, he’s screwing this up already. “Look, we’re still friends.”

“Really?” Buddy moves a step closer.

“Yeah.” Eric moves in too. “Actually, Buddy,” here goes nothing, “I wanted to ask why, umm, why— why. umm… me.”

The smile Buddy gives him reminds Eric why they’re friends. “I dunno, man, it’s probably… it’s probably the same reason that Donna likes you, you know. You’re smart and sensitive and,” he pauses to find the right word. He decides on “nice-looking.”

Huh. Eric hadn’t really thought of any of those as being actual reasons. “Okay, first of all, I’m not really that smart. Those notes I gave you? Copied. Okay? And as for sensitive, sometimes I can just be downright mean.” This is good. Clearly this means that Buddy doesn’t even know him, right?

Buddy just laughs. “You’re so cute!”

“Well that is—“ hmm, no argument there. “Well, I guess I am!” Buddy laughs and he laughs with him. It’s then he realizes that Buddy has been flirting with him. And when they’re only inches apart, he realizes he’s been flirting back.

Well then, that answers that question.

Buddy seems to notice how close they’ve gotten at the same time, because his smile falters. “I’m sorry I kissed you.”

Maybe Eric’s been smoking too much pot and his brain is fried. That’s the only reason he can come up with for asking what he asks next. “Are you sorry because it was a mistake or because I freaked out?” The slack-jawed, wide-eyed look Buddy gives him is cut off by his friend glancing around the parking lot and noticing the people who still haven’t left school grounds.

“Maybe we should go somewhere else.”

Eric huffs in relief. “Yeah! Dude, come back to my house, we’ll hang out in the basement.”

That doesn’t seem to be what Buddy meant. “Won’t all your friends be there?”

“We can stop by my room first, if you want.”

Buddy raises an eyebrow. “I’m not sleeping with you.”

Eric blushes. That’s not what he meant! “I uhhhh…” Wait, why not?

Buddy slaps his back jovially. “I’m kidding!” Eric releases a relieved breath. When it occurs to him that that could also be construed as Buddy hitting on him, his friend’s already heading to his car.

It’s a good thing Eric has to follow him in the Vista Cruiser, because he’s not sure he can handle being alone with the other boy right now.

~~~

When he pulls up beside the Trans-Am, Hyde fixes Eric with an evil smirk.

“Patched things up with the boyfriend, Forman?” he asks loudly as soon as his door is open.

Donna, who’d come up from the basement, punches Hyde in the arm and hisses, “be nice!”

Eric suddenly realizes how totally and completely awful an idea this was. Luckily, Buddy sees his distress and jumps into the conversation.

“Actually, Eric and I need to go over something for chemistry, but it should only take a few minutes.”

When Buddy heads into the house, Eric just kinda stands there still in panic mode before running after him inside. “Right, chemistry, I should— yeah!”

He tries to ignore how his friends burst out laughing.

Buddy is sitting rigidly on his bed when he comes up but he doesn’t seem as tense as Eric feels. “You know, your friends are kind of awful.”

Eric launches dramatically into the right side of his bed face-down. “Yeah, they can be assholes, but they’re not so bad.” He flashes back to his conversation with Donna and Hyde. “Actually though, umm, Hyde might not have been kidding about thinking you’re my boyfriend.”

Buddy lies out on his stomach as well and turns his face towards Eric’s. “Why would he think that?”

“I may have accidentally confirmed their suspicions that you’re gay?”

If the muffled sound Buddy makes when he turns his head away was a response, Eric didn’t catch it. He does hear a soft question that comes across as hopeful but vulnerable. “Am I your boyfriend?”

Eric sits up. How the Hell did he not realize that he’s currently in bed with another guy talking about being gay? It’s quite possible that Eric is fuck— screw— in a really awkward and potentially dangerous situation that has nothing to do with sex whatsoever what are you talking about?

“What? No, I told you I’m… well I mean… at least, I don’t… I’ve never… ummm…” Looking back, everything they’ve done up to this point seems a lot more intimate than just friends. In fact, maybe Buddy’s been his boyfriend this whole time and he’s just now realizing it. Eric flops back down and stares at the ceiling. “Fuck, man, I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.”

The bed starts shaking. He faces Buddy to realize the guy is laughing. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t—” He lifts his bright red head up and continues cackling. “I shouldn’t laugh.”

“What the Hell is so funny?!”

“It’s not,” Buddy replies finally, giggle fit subsiding. “It’s not funny. I know you’re probably really confused right now. It’s just, you don’t even realize how cute you are when you get flustered, especially since I was pretty much convinced that your answer was a flat-out ‘no’. This hasn’t exactly been easy for me either you know, putting myself out there and getting rejected only to find out I might actually have a chance yet. I just, needed to release all that pent-up energy.”

Oh. Eric hadn’t actually thought about what he’s been putting Buddy through by being so defensive about this. He doesn’t care at all that Buddy’s gay, but he knows that a lot of people do, and he’s not being the most supportive friend right now by freaking out on him.

“I’m sorry, Buddy.”

“It’s okay.” Buddy smirks as he scoots closer. “Maybe we could release some pent-up energy together?”

He should shut this down right now. He’s not ready for this. He’s not even near the vicinity of close to ready to do anything with Buddy— and totally doesn’t want to whatsoever he’s not in any way interested at all! But for some stupid reason, his head doesn’t get the message, because he’s nodding, and how the Hell did he get here?

The kiss Buddy places on his lips isn’t like the first one. The first one had been sensual and firm and insistent. This one is tentative and light, allowing Eric to back out at any time. He lies there frozen as Buddy leans further over him to get his mouth in a better position. After a few more pecks, Eric finally says the Hell with it and starts kissing back. He’s still really hesitant, but he likes what he’s feeling. Kissing Buddy isn’t like kissing Donna. The pressure to perform isn’t coming from his make-out partner or society or his own expectations about how a relationship should go; the pressure is coming from his own curiosity about the way their mouths fit together, the surprising softness of Buddy’s lips, the silent understanding that Eric can stop any time he wants.

He can stop any time he wants. So he doesn’t.

Well, he doesn’t stop until Kitty calls up the stairs a minute later asking if everything’s okay. Buddy wisely pulls off immediately and gets out of the way of Eric’s panicked flailing. Suddenly, reality comes barging through his bedroom door in the form his mother, who luckily doesn’t notice that his chemistry notebook is upside down when he picks it up off the floor.

“That makes sense!” Buddy ‘responds’ cheerily before pointedly noticing their visitor. “Oh, hi Mrs. Forman!”

“Hello, Buddy, always glad to see you here! Did you boys need anything?”

“Nope!” Eric spits out quickly, “we’re good, everything’s fine, don’t need anything, just doing chemistry!”

Kitty glances at him oddly for a second before ignoring his anxiety like she does everything else. “Are you sure? You want me to bring you up a snack?”

“Actually,” Buddy answers, “I was just leaving.” He stands up and throws his backpack over his shoulder, not even bothering to put his textbook back in it. “Thanks for the notes, Eric. Nice seeing you, Mrs. Forman!” And with that, he’s out the door.

“He’s such a nice boy! You should have more friends like him!”

Eric sighs. “Sure, mom. I’ll be in the basement.”

“Okay.” He knows she wants to ask if everything’s alright, but thankfully she doesn’t. He’s not quite sure he could lie to her about it right now if she did.

~~~

It should be a giant flashing clue as to what’s going on that he doesn’t realize making out with Buddy probably counts as cheating on Donna until he sees her and everyone else.

“Well, well,” Hyde starts, because of course he does. “Looks like Elton John finally decided to join us.”

“Silly, Hyde,” Fez chides, “that’s Eric!”

Jackie scoffs as if Fez had never spoken. “For the last time, Buddy Morgan is not gay!”

Eric continues staring resolutely at the floor.

“You okay, Eric?” Donna asks with a hand on his shoulder and a grin. “He didn’t hit on you again, did he?”

“AGAIN?!”

His self-preservation instinct finally kicks in. “What? Pssh, no! Of course he didn’t make a move, we were just, you know, going over chemistry notes. Because we’re lab partners. That’s it, nothing more, and that reminds me I have homework…”

“Oh my God, he totally hit on you again!”

“Look, can we just drop it?” This is getting way out of hand. Normally, he’d simply brush it off and move on, but it’s all still so fresh in his mind and he really should talk to Donna about this in private.

“Holy shit, man,” Hyde barrels on, seeming oddly impressed. “Did he kiss you?”

“Wait,” Kelso adds, clearly still trying to catch up with the conversation, “Eric, you’re gay? I thought you had the hots for Donna.”

“You guys, c’mon. They’re just friends!”

“GUYS!” His friends look at him in amazement but he just doesn’t give a fuck anymore. “Donna, can I talk to you outside?”

He wishes he never had to see the look of shock and realization that crosses her face. “Uhh, yeah. Yeah, let’s just…” She swiftly exits and he trails after her with a slam of the basement door.

“Eric, what’s going on?” He can only tell she’s upset because he’s known her so long; her eyes betray her concern and disappointment, but little else. It’s the set of her arms that gives her away.

He sighs. “I think— I think I cheated on you.” ‘Again’ his brain supplies oh-so-helpfully.

She nods her head but doesn’t look at him, silent for quite a few seconds. “With Buddy?”

“I’m sorry,” he forces out before clearing his throat. He starts walking towards the Vista Cruiser, sitting absently on the hood. “I don’t even know how it happened. Last night, umm… we were sitting in the parking lot and he kissed me, which is why I was so off yesterday. And today, I confronted him, and I just wanted to know why he kissed me of all people and the more we talked the closer we got and suddenly he was kissing me again and I maybe kissed him back.”

She exhales loudly, shaking her head as she leans against the hood next to him. “You know, I thought you were just oblivious, and that’s why we’ve been moving so slowly, but it’s actually because you were trying to force it, isn’t it?”

“What? No. Donna, I still love you. Alright? I’m not gay, I’m just really, really confused.”

“Join the club. Look, Eric, I don’t care if you’re gay. I won’t tell anyone. I can’t say the same about the rest of them, but if you wanna keep pretending that you and Buddy are ‘just friends’ then that’s fine.”

“Donna, please,”

“But I can’t do this. I— I need space right now.” She stands upright and starts walking home. “Don’t follow me or I’ll kick your ass.”

“Donna!” No, damn it, he can’t lose her over this. “Donna, please! C’mon!” She doesn’t even turn around.

He doesn’t bother returning to the basement, he just shuffles up the stairs and locks his bedroom door. He eventually falls asleep in the bed which only a few hours ago he was sharing with Buddy, the guy who may or may not accidentally be his boyfriend.

~~~

The last thing he wants to do in the morning is go to school, but he doesn’t have the energy to trick Kitty into thinking he’s ‘sick’. Of course, if his stomach keeps its promise to spew on the first person he sees, he might not have to fake it.

As he pulls out of his driveway, he can’t decide whether it’s a good thing or a freaking awful thing that he always picks Hyde up first. Thankfully, Hyde just grunts as he gets in the passenger seat, and doesn’t speak until a few blocks away from the Kelso residence.

“So are you and Donna…”

Eric’s grip tightens on the steering wheel. “I don’t know, Hyde. I still wanna be with her, but I screwed up pretty bad.”

Hyde raises an eyebrow and stares out the window. “I’ll be damned.”

“Look, can we just, not talk about it? Ever? I’m freaking out as it is.”

“Man, relax, okay? So you’re gay, big deal. It’s not like I’m gonna tell anyone.”

“I’m not—” Eric lets out an exasperated sigh as he pulls into Kelso’s driveway. “I don’t know what I am. Just drop it.”

“Alright,” Hyde mutters before lowering his window. “C’mon, dipshit, we ain’t got all day!”

Kelso, of course, will not get the hint to drop it. “Are you gonna stop driving us to school now that you’re with Buddy?”

Eric makes a face at him in the rearview mirror. “I’m not ‘with’ Buddy. I haven’t talked to him since my fight with Donna.”

“I just don’t get why he wants you and not me! I mean, I’m really good-looking. He should be all over me!”

“Kelso,” Hyde interrupts, “it doesn’t— never mind.”

“Will you just promise me that you won’t tell anyone? No one knows even knows about Buddy—“

He smacks Hyde in the chest when the fucker snorts.

“I don’t care that you’re with Buddy now, man, I just think you should spend time with us too. We were friends first!”

Eric pulls the car into park, before turning to look at his friend thoughtfully. Every once in a while, Kelso surprises him. Instead of freaking out about his friend potentially dating a guy, he’s more concerned about how it affects their friendship.

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I’ll try and be around more. Just, keep this between us, okay? I don’t wanna get my ass kicked.”

“We’ve got your back, Forman,” Hyde smiles before his face falls with a cough, “I mean, you know, figuratively speaking.”

“Oh my God…” Eric groans.

~~~

Fez just shakes his head and mutters, “oh, Eric,” and Jackie slaps him “for compromising Donna’s virtue like that.” Donna doesn’t give him the time of day.

As much as he feels like he’s breaking news waiting to happen, no one else in the school seems to notice how drastically his life has changed the past two days. The morning drags on with surprisingly little consequence until his last class of the day: chemistry.

He wants to be mad at Buddy, but he can’t. This is his own problem; Buddy didn’t force him to start falling for him, he just set it in motion. He wishes he didn’t have to see the way Buddy’s smile fades as soon as he recognizes Eric’s expression, though. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Not here.”

“Fair enough.”

They work through their lab in silence. About half an hour in, he caves and murmurs what’s been bothering him all day. “I think Donna broke up with me.”

Buddy’s hand tightens on the flask he’s holding. “Because of me?”

Eric nods. “I told her after it happened.”

“Oh.” Buddy can’t suppress the smile that overtakes his flawless face. Eventually, Eric smiles back. “So does that mean…”

“I… umm… I don’t know… what, exactly, it means,” he responds nervously, scribbling data in his lab notebook, “but I think my friends would be okay with it.” His lab partner’s smile widens as he returns to the reaction in front of him, and the two share a companionable silence until the bell rings. As they exit the building, Buddy pulls him aside.

“Do you wanna come over to my place?”

“Uhhh…” At first Eric isn’t too thrilled about that idea, wanting to take things glacially slow, but then he thinks about how awkward it’ll be with his friends after his fight with Donna. “Actually, yeah, that sounds great. Just let me drop off those idiots,” indicating the rapidly approaching figures of Hyde and Kelso, “and I’ll be there.”

Buddy grins, and before he knows what’s happening, Eric finds a kiss on his cheek and his not-boyfriend swaggering to his car. Hyde lets out a catcall.

“Fuck you, Hyde.”

“No thanks, man. That’s what you have Buddy for, remember?”

Eric rolls his eyes but can’t help a faint smile from taking residence on his face. His friends are assholes, but they’re his friends.

~~~

This is the second time he’s been to Buddy’s, but he will never get over how it takes up roughly the same space as his, Donna’s, and their other neighbor’s houses combined. A maid (Stella?) answers the door and calls up to Buddy, who hurries down the staircase with easy grace. He pulls Eric inside with a chaste yet deliberate peck on the lips. Stella shakes her head but says nothing as she goes about her business, clearly used to his antics.

“Sorry,” Buddy says, putting some distance between them. “I keep forgetting how uncomfortable that makes you.”

“Pssh,” Eric scoffs, shifting his weight the slightest bit closer. “I think I’m getting used to it. Except for the whole, in front of other people thing.”

Buddy lets out a small chuckle before taking his hand. “I get it. Honestly, Stella’s the only one who really knows about me besides you. Well, and your friends now.”

“They won’t tell anyone, I promise.”

“I’m not scared, Eric. I know I should be, but I’m not.”

Eric nods. “Well, I’m scared,” he says offhandedly with a smirk. “Petrified is more like it.”

“You’re so cute,” Buddy mumbles against Eric’s lips, the traces of a smile melting into a deepening pucker. Tentatively, Eric responds in kind with an open mouth inviting Buddy’s tongue to enter. They stand in the foyer making out for a moment before Buddy lets up and tugs at their still entwined hands, an indication he wants to move to his bedroom.

Eric audibly gulps before squeaking out, “Can we umm…” He coughs. “Can we, maybe, take this slow?”

Buddy answers with one last kiss to his cheek before disentangling and moving a step away. “Of course! I hope I’m not pressuring you or anything! We can go as fast or as slow as you want.”

He huffs in relief. “Thank you.”

With a nod of his head, Buddy points a thumb towards the stairs. “So do you wanna go up? I just got the VES if you wanna—“

“YES!” he calls out, already racing towards the staircase. He vaguely hears Buddy chuckle behind him.

~~~

After a supremely awkward dinner with Buddy’s mom, followed by Eric’s car refusing to start, they pull into the Forman driveway only to find Donna waiting on the porch.

Buddy looks at him with sympathy. “Do you want me to go or do you need me here?”

Eric sighs. “Nah, I should do this myself.” He finds it easier than before to pull Buddy into a quick kiss, but he’s hyper-aware of Donna boring holes into the back of his skull. “See you tomorrow?”

“Of course.” Eric takes a second to center himself before getting out of the car and taking his place beside Donna to watch Buddy pull out of the driveway and return home.

“He’s cute, I’ll give you that,” she manages after a silent minute has elapsed.

“Yeah,” he responds, unable to keep the hint of a fond smile out of his expression. “He kind of is.”

“Shit, you’re really gone on this kid, aren’t you?”

He dares to look at her. “I’m sorry.”

She rolls her eyes before putting an arm around his shoulder. “It’s okay. I really should have seen it coming.”

This prompts a sputter and wide-eyed glance from Eric, because what? “What do you mean?!”

Donna laughs. “You know what I mean. You were friends with this kid all of three hours and suddenly you barely remembered you had a girlfriend? We didn’t see you for days. And before that, you and Hyde were always uncomfortably close. Hell when we went to that concert in Milwaukee you said that I was ‘so cool’ for being okay with gay guys.”

“I’m not gay,” Eric argues half-heartedly. “I’m just, not… straight.”

“Whatever, the point is I get it, alright? I’m not mad, I was just… hurt. That was a dick move.”

“Literally!” he snorts out automatically, sending them both into a bout of incredulous laughter that has them leaning on each other to stay upright.

“At least you can joke about it now. That’s progress!”

“Huh.” He tries to process that for a minute, the fact that he’s come to terms with it enough not to let jokes about it bother him.

“That’s good,” Donna agrees without needing to hear his inner monologue. Her hand brushes along his back as she walks around him to the driveway. “Because if you freak out on us every time we rag on you and your boyfriend, I’ll be seriously worried about you.”

~~~

When they return to school after winter break, Eric is painfully aware of people whispering rumors (albeit perfectly true) that he’s sneaking around with Buddy Morgan. Thankfully, his friends are gracious enough to shut them down without either confirming or denying anything. He and Buddy are extra careful about how they interact at school nonetheless. It bothers him more than it used to when people say ‘faggot’ or ‘homo’ or ‘queer’ or actually a lot of fairly creative phrases that mean if he were to ‘come out’ as Buddy calls it, it would not be easy.

By February, most of the rumors have died down, but suddenly they have bigger problems: Laurie catches them making out.

Eric has no fucking clue why she’s even home right now (probably flunked out for good this time), but it’s kind of irrelevant to the fact that she barges in on him and Buddy making out on his bed. Shirtless. With Eric finally emotionally prepared to— and halfway in the process of— removing Buddy’s pants.

Some part of him always rejoices when he can wipe the perpetual smugness off her face, but most of him is scrambling to get as far away from the boy in his bed as possible. “LAURIE WHAT THE FUCK?!”

“Oh my god.”

“GET OUT!”

“OH MY GOD!” She barks out a triumphant laugh. “Just wait till I tell mom and dad!”

“No! Laurie, I’m serious you can’t tell anyone!” He throws Buddy’s shirt at him while he puts on his own. Of course, Buddy’s still in the process of buckling his belt when all hell breaks loose.

“What’s going on in here?” Kitty calls from the outside the room only to come to a stop in the doorway and put her hand to her heart. “Oh good Lord…”

“Mom!” Shit shit shit “I— umm…”

Kitty forces out her characteristic cackle to keep some illusion that her worldview isn’t shattered. “Sorry, boys, I didn’t know you were trying on clothes. Laurie, c’mon. Let’s give them some privacy.”

Laurie looks at Eric and snorts. “I don’t think privacy is—“

“Laurie.” Their mother is using her serious tone. This is not good. “Leave them alone. Eric, when you’re done dressing come help me in the kitchen. We’re making pie!” It’s almost scary, how quickly she can change her tone. Mercifully, Laurie is just as aware how much of a bad idea it is to contradict her when she’s like this and follows her out, closing the door behind them.

“Yeah, I’m gonna die,” Eric concludes, nodding his head.

Buddy— who managed to put his shirt on during the heated exchange— sighs as he gets off the bed and walks towards his boyfriend. “You’re not gonna die.”

The sardonic snort Eric gives doesn’t do justice to how wrong he is about what’s going to happen. “You haven’t met Red.”

“Well, maybe I should,” Buddy counters. “You met my mom— who is definitely the scary one. It’s only fair I meet your dad.”

Eric shrugs off the hug Buddy tries to give him and retreats to the door. “Yeah, but we didn’t tell your mom. My dad will find out and he will kick my ass.”

He’s come to recognize the half-laugh Buddy gives off as a defense mechanism, his way of steeling himself to seem okay with things he’s really upset about. “Right. I should go.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Buddy opens the door anyway and starts walking. “Buddy! Buddy, wait!” He finally convinces his feet to follow down the hall and turn Buddy around at the top of the stairs. He laces his hands through Buddy’s. “Can we not fight right now? If it’s that important to you, you can stay for dinner.”

Buddy plays with the hand in his absently. “I don’t wanna be your dirty secret, Eric. I get why I have to be, but I hate it. I just think it’ll be easier if he can see me as a real living person instead of some monster that stole his son.”

Eric plants a heartfelt, hopefully soothing kiss on Buddy’s cheek. “You’re probably right. He won’t kill you as gruesomely if you’re already seated at the table. It’d get in the way of eating.” They chuckle, and Eric tugs at Buddy’s hands to follow him down the stairs.

He coughs awkwardly as he stands next to his mother, who is studiously ignoring him for her pie. “Oh, good, you’re here. Crack those eggs for me, will you dear?”

“Mom, Buddy’s staying for dinner.”

Kitty stills. “Oh. Eric, I don’t think that’s—“

“Mom, please.”

“Your father will be home in a few hours.”

“I know you’re upset with me right now, but just give him a chance.” When his mom refuses to look at him, he stills her working hands and pulls her into a hug. “Please?”

She sighs, rubbing her temples. “Buddy, do you mind getting out the flour and sugar?”

The boys let out twin huffs of relief. “Sure, Mrs. Forman! Where are they?”

The three bake in tense silence, then move on to cooking dinner in slightly less tense silence, and by the time Kitty is two glasses of wine in and the table is set, she seems to have more or less adopted Buddy as her own, only glaring at him when he gives Eric an adoring look. Laurie comes into the kitchen and the shock she exudes has Eric beaming.

“Buddy Morgan, don’t you have little boys to molest?”

“I have the night off,” he deadpans while Eric and Kitty watch in horror. “How’s the syphilis?”

Kitty sputters wine into Eric’s dropped jaw, which, eww. But more importantly, Buddy is officially his favorite.

“I don’t have syphilis.”

“Then I guess you don’t need the cephalosporin on the bathroom sink. My mom’s a doctor, I know my pharmaceuticals.” Laurie just gapes helplessly as Kitty gives her the look. Buddy continues on. “I figured since we’re outing people you’d want them to know.”

“Alright, now stop it, you two,” Kitty tries, but they ignore her.

After quite a few moments, Laurie steps into his space. “I don’t tell Red about you, you don’t tell him about me.”

Buddy extends a hand, which she shakes. “Deal.”

Laurie smiles at Eric. “I like this one. You should keep him.”

Kitty downs her glass, mutters something she probably wouldn’t want repeated aloud, and downs another one, just in case. Eric just follows Buddy to the table and puts a hand on his back. “I have the best boyfriend ever,” he whispers excitedly. Said boyfriend glows at the sentiment and visibly fights the urge to kiss him.

Red doesn’t even do a double-take when he sits down. “I thought I said no degenerates at the table.”

“Red,” Kitty chastises. “This is Buddy Morgan, Eric’s… friend.”

Red looks impressed. Buddy looks chagrinned but charming. Laurie looks cautiously amused. Eric is mortified.

“Buddy Morgan, huh?” He turns to Eric with a cocky smile. “Well, son, glad to see you can actually make decent friends. How’s your father, Buddy?”

The room deflates as dinner becomes slightly less terrifying. Eric never forgets that something could go wrong any minute, but by the time he’s escorting Buddy to the front door, it hits him that they survived dinner with his parents! Buddy opens his mouth to say something, but Eric just takes the opportunity to shove his tongue into it. The guy laughs as Eric pulls off with as much bravado as he can muster. “You’re fucking magical, you know that? Like, that shouldn’t even be possible. Hell, my family likes you better than they like me!”

“He’s not wrong!” Red calls out as he passes into the living room. They try their damnedest not to flinch apart, but if he noticed anything he doesn’t comment.

“Thanks for letting me crash your dinner, Mr. Forman!”

“Any time, Buddy.”

“See ya later, Eric,” Buddy says with a smile that promises Eric’d be shirtless right now if they were alone. He graciously shuts the door behind him before Eric can get any hornier.

“Eric…” Red intones as he turns towards the stairs. Ahhhh, crap. He reluctantly comes into Red’s line of sight.

“Yes, sir?”

“He’s a good kid.”

Eric nods, and when he doesn’t seem to be continuing, resumes his path towards the stairs. He tries not to smile, because did his dad just approve of his boyfriend?

“Oh,” Red adds when Eric’s halfway up. “And next time I see you within an arms-length of each other, I’m shoving a foot up each of your asses.”

“Yes, sir,” Eric squeaks out as he runs the rest of the way to his room. Safe behind his door, he assesses the situation. At least Red doesn’t hate Buddy. He just, never needs to find out they’re more than friends.

It doesn’t hit him until later that there’s a pretty hilarious unintended innuendo to what his dad just said, and he laughs about it for probably the next half hour.

~~~

It occurs to him in April that he’s had it pretty damn easy so far. While the details of his relationship are strictly taboo outside the basement (‘Eric’s good friend’ is the phrase Kitty’s settled on for extended family), no one he’s close to has freaked out about it since. Buddy came out to his parents like it was a comment on the weather and his parents more or less accepted it as such. The rumor mill’s been quiet, the sky isn’t falling— it’s as if he’s just another beloved character in a sitcom only no one talks about his ‘friend’. He knows objectively that the other shoe could drop any moment— has been waiting for it since Buddy first kissed him— but the fact that it doesn’t seem to be coming leaves him more and more confident in his relationship as the months go by.

And yet, he never truly understood how lucky he was. Because that spring, Buddy takes him to a gay bar in Milwaukee. Eric gets introduced to Buddy’s gay friends, and he hears from them horror stories of their parents disowning them, being harassed by the police or by random people on the street, friends being sent to ex-gay therapy or worse, killing themselves or being killed.

Just when Eric thinks he can’t take any more, Buddy tells the story of how he got kicked out of Catholic school in eighth grade. Officially, Buddy got expelled for fighting, by which they meant he got cornered in a hallway, five-against-one, as his crush and his crush’s friends beat him within an inch of his life. Eric stands up from the table too quickly and starts feeling dizzy as he bolts for the door. Outside in the still-chilly April fog, body trying to dry-heave and gasp for air at the same time, he processes the sheer hatred his boyfriend has endured.

“Hey,” Buddy coos as he sidles up beside him, arm thrown over his shoulder. “It’s okay, Eric. I’m fine.”

He leans into Buddy and forces himself to calm down. “How do you do it?”

“I don’t know if you remember, but when I first started going to public school, I was scared shitless. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, wouldn’t go anywhere, I just did my work and went home. People thought I was just being an aloof rich kid so they treated me accordingly, but really I just didn’t want a repeat of my old school.

“But then, I met my first boyfriend, and he showed me that it’s possible to be gay and happy, and that there will always be people in my life who love me for me. And I realized that I have nothing to hide. Slip-ups with you aside, I learned not to be so obvious about it, but I stopped caring whether other people approved or not. He gave me my confidence back.”

Eric tries to comprehend the beauty that is the man next to him. He has so many questions, but he settles on, “What happened between you two?”

Buddy laughs. “We were good together, but we grew apart, then he graduated and it just wasn’t worth it to stay together. Totally normal break up.” Eric didn’t actually expect that. Buddy seems to intuit this because he continues. “I didn’t tell you about my old school because you were already so freaked out about us in the first place, even though you had probably the most anticlimactic coming out ever. I wanted you to think it was possible to be happy with a guy, because it is.”

“So then why’d you tell me now? I kinda liked thinking the worst that could happen was Red kicking my ass.”

“Because I trust you,” he says as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. Maybe it is. “Also, if you’re going to be around other ga— not-straight people, you need to realize how lucky we are.”

Eric swings around so their bodies are facing each other, foreheads butting. “I did luck out with you, didn’t I?”

Buddy blushes. It’s rare enough that Eric suddenly forgets where they are, because all he wants to do is kiss him senseless. Miracle upon miracles, no one in this borderline abandoned part of town seems to notice or care. Yep, Eric’s officially the luckiest guy ever.

~~~

Their luck momentarily runs out a few weeks later. Some idiot decided that putting Destroy and Giveback in the same chemistry lab was a brilliant idea, and apparently it’s Buddy and Eric’s turn to have an experiment sabotaged. The teacher has stepped out into the hallway to talk to a colleague, so the jocks come over to their workstation and pick up their thermometer. Buddy and Eric are too busy being totally amazed to notice until Buddy reaches absently for it and can’t find it. They hear it snap, the liquid metal pouring out onto the floor, and then, “I believe this is yours?”

Now Eric, he’s used to this bullshit, so he takes the broken thermometer and looks for something to chase the mercury around so no one dies. Buddy, however, is not having any of that.

“What the fuck? Are you two serious right now?!”

Giveback laughs. “Look man, the little faggot’s upset.”

If the name bothers him, he doesn’t show it. “You realize mercury’s poisonous right? You just put everyone in this room in danger!”

“Boo hoo,” Destroy snarks. “You put this room in danger every day when you swish in here, fairy boy.”

Eric hasn’t picked up all the mercury, but that’s the last straw. Something in him snaps, and he doesn’t care anymore who finds out. Hell, he wants them to know, because no one talks to Buddy like that and gets away with it. Not after what he’s been through.

“Leave my boyfriend alone,” he threatens, standing in front of Buddy almost in a parody of a superhero. The bullies’ jaws drop.

The teacher chooses this moment to walk in. “What’s going on in here?”

Giveback finds his words first. “It turns out Forman and Morgan are homosexuals.”

“Bisexual,” Eric mutters, as he has ever since Buddy taught him the word, “I’m bisexual…”

“Is this true?”

“These two broke a thermometer and spilt mercury all over the lab,” Buddy breaks in. “Don’t you think that’s the more pressing issue?”

The teacher has the courtesy to look concerned. “Has it been disposed of properly?”

“Mostly,” Eric answers. “Although they might wanna go to the nurse, because the stains on their arms are the rest of it.”

Buddy snickers behind him, and when he turns to face him, all he sees is love staring at him.

Love. He’s in love with Buddy. And he doesn’t care who knows it.

~~~

Eric’s boyfriend is an asshole. Okay, maybe asshole is a strong word (and suggestive), but still.

He knows Eric hates surprise parties, so what does he do? Even after he’s finally convinced his mother that eighteen is too old for a birthday party, Buddy corrals everyone into the basement, and they almost give Eric a heart attack when they jump out at him. Admittedly, Buddy is clearly a superior planner to his mother for this type of thing; he actually didn’t see it coming. Nevertheless, it’s the principle of the matter.

And Buddy knows exactly what he’s doing because he has an impressively sinister grin. “Happy Birthday, Eric!”

Part of him wants to be pissed off, because seriously? But it’s Buddy, and it’s significantly more low-key than his other birthdays, and hey, he managed to keep Laurie away.

He laughs, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re such a jerk.”

“Yep! That’s what you keep me around for.”

“No, that’s what I keep Hyde around for.” Hyde lets out an agreeing cackle. “You know why I keep you around.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Red interjects before things leave PG territory. “Let’s just have the damn party.”

It goes pretty well, all things considered. His parents give him a bunch of stuff for college in the fall. It makes him a little anxious, but he doesn’t show it. His friends get him a bunch of random stuff, including a ‘decorative vase’ and a wink from Hyde, and some passive-aggressive haircare products from Jackie. Donna somehow managed to find a replica lightsaber. She’s his best friend, hands down.

If Buddy got him anything, he doesn’t know what it is yet. The seven of them have been chilling in the basement for a few hours when suddenly everyone gets up at once with a meaningful glance.

“You guys leaving?”

“Yep,” Jackie responds tightly. “We’ve got a thing to do somewhere. Happy Birthday!”

The rest of them chime in with hurried ‘Happy Birthday’s before scurrying out the door, Kelso stage-whispering “go! go!” And then Eric knows what’s happening because he’s alone in the basement with his boyfriend.

“I uhh… figured you wouldn’t want anyone here for your present,” Buddy explains cheekily.

Eric blinks. Oh, hell yes. “It’s… it’s that kind of present?”

Buddy pauses, his features softening a bit, then reaches under the couch for a small box. “Actually, it’s a two-parter. I think we should do this one first.”

He takes the box and opens it nervously. Inside is a key.

“A key?”

“To our apartment,” he beams. “I know you’ve been hedging on that apartment in Milwaukee even though you start there in the fall, so I put up the down-payment and a few months rent.”

“Oh.” He doesn’t know what to say. It’s been kind of a sore topic; they’re going to separate schools after they graduate. Eric’s staying local and Buddy’ll be on the east coast at some fancy school for rich people. He thought that maybe if he didn’t have anywhere to live, he wouldn’t have to go. It wouldn’t be real.

Wait, did he just say— “our apartment?”

If it were possible for Buddy to smile wider, he would. He certainly tries. “Well, I have to live somewhere during breaks! There’s no off-campus housing where I’m going. And it’s not like I plan on being gone forever.”

“I love you.” He kisses his boyfriend passionately and urgently. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too,” is Buddy’s breathy response. “And now, part two.”

Eric’s eyes widen. “What’s part two?”

His body responds automatically to Buddy’s salacious look. “I’m gonna blow you.”

“Oh, FUCK yes!” He drags Buddy down on top of him on the couch and the two begin fervently making out. They make quick work of unbuttoning each others’ shirts, disconnecting their mouths just long enough to remove anything in the way of chest touching chest. Eric groans when Buddy starts grinding into him, kneading the guy’s ass with roaming hands.

Buddy pulls off and starts unbuckling Eric. Just when he gets Eric’s pants past his…

“ERIC!” Kitty wisely doesn’t come any farther than two steps down to call for him. “Sweetie, I need you to come up, your grandma’s here!”

“What? Why the hell is grandma here?!” Mood effectively killed, Buddy gets up off of him and begins putting his shirt back on as Eric redoes his belt.

“I don’t know, she just pulled up! Buddy, would you be a dear and help us?”

“No problem, Mrs. Forman!” She disappears back up the stairs.

“Ugggghhhh, why is this my life? Just so you know, the next few hours are gonna suck.”

Buddy hands him his shirt. “It’s okay, I can handle a few hours of sucking.”

Eric punches him playfully in the shoulder. “You’re not helping!”

“Sure I am! Mrs. Forman said so!”

Eric shakes his head and plants a quick kiss on his asshole boyfriend. “Thanks, Buddy.”

A few more kisses later, Buddy whispers, “Happy Birthday, Eric.”

When they hear his grandmother’s distinct voice above them, they chuckle and ascend the stairs, ready to face whatever fresh awkwardness awaits them.