Snafu should've known something was wrong from the get go, the hint being how Christenson and Burgin were both on either side of Leyden, who still had Jay behind him, and how they all showed up as one unit next to where he was sitting in the common room. He took one glance at them and went back to reviewing a mail-order catalog someone had left on the living room table.
"Snaf." Burgin sounded hesitant, like he was gauging Snafu's reaction. "You may want to avoid Sledge for a while."
Snafu grunted, making sure to emphasize that he was ignoring them by shuffling back and forth through the pages. Like they had even needed to say it: He'd been making it a point to keep his distance from Sledge. Lunch time at the cafeteria had been a fluke. Sledge had caught him leaving Anthropology. As soon as he could, he had made sure to slip away as soon as Sledge was distracted. He just … he didn't even know anymore. He was all for putting everything behind him but then Leyden had to go confessing to him and then his damned mind kept thinking foolish thoughts.
"Snaf, he knows."
Snafu went rigid instantly, hand frozen on the page and he feelt every muscle in his body tense up. He swallowed thickly, mind processing the implications of it all. And after the few seconds of blissful shock, he felt a surge of panic rise. He snapped his head up from the magazine, rising up from the couch in one swift movement.
"What the fuck do you mean?" Snafu was regarding them with roaming, wide eyes, pupils blown. It was almost fascinating how different Snafu looked when he was panicky; it was a weird emotion that Leyden thought didn't exist in Snafu's repertoire. He was rigid where there was usually fluidity. He always knew that Snafu had the potential for self-loathing but this was something totally different.
"Snaf." There was something commanding, yet small, in the way that Burgin addressed him, attempting to placate him but Snafu would have none of it. He'd act aloof but it was obvious that he couldn't feign it, not anymore. He had retreated to anger and Leyden could feel how much danger was permeating in the air around him.
"How the fuck does he know?" Snafu continued, shaken. He looked trapped, barring his teeth. "Fuck, Burgie, who told him?"
"--That's not the point, Snaf," Leyden would be ever eternally grateful for Christenson's (though unintentional on his part) defense. "You're going to have to talk to him."
Snafu was muttering some kind of mantra that consisted mostly of expletives and a few death threats. He looked about ready to push them out of the way and charge out of there and sure enough, Leyden moved just in time to avoid being jammed into the wall as Snafu moved past. Snafu's lips drew shut, his gaze challenging as he raced up the stairs.
"Snaf, where are you even going?"
"To get the hell out of this damn place!"
Burgin sighed, next to him Christenson frowned. Jay just placed his hands on Leyden's shoulders.
"How did I know that wasn't going to work?" Burgin observed, knowing full well that if they tried to follow, they'd only make it worse. "He's going to kill himself at this rate and if not himself, then the next poor soul that walks right up to him."
"Not much else we can do. It's all up to them, now," Christenson finished, though he hardly sounded pleased with the outcome. "We just better hope no one is around, Romus."
Christenson never called Burgin by his first name, even with all the years that Leyden had known them--that was terribly ominous. Jay must've sensed his apprehension because those hands on Leyden's shoulders kneaded appealingly.
"I can't say that telling Sledge was one of your greater ideas." The flat looks that Burgin and Christenson leveled his way assured Leyden that yes, they agreed with Jay. “But hell, it was going to happen sometime. Better telling Sledge now than have them pining over each other one-sided like they've been doing for the past couple of days."
"--If you count two weeks as a couple of days. But you're right, ain't nothing we can do now but wait." Burgin sighed once again, then stopped when he noticed the clock. "Shouldn't Sledge be out of class by now?"
Sledge was never good with clutter, never good with a head full of unsorted thoughts. Even with all the revelations that were presented to him, he needed to sit down and think things through. This was all about putting things into perspective; things just needed to be sorted through, his mind needed to be cleared. He couldn't face Snafu otherwise--his mind was too preoccupied with the buzzing of too many new thoughts. So there he sat, tapping his pencil over his notes in the library, studying only in appearance.
He focused on his memories of Snafu first, how over the course of two years he'd suddenly gotten used to Snafu's quirks and habits, had just accepted his roommate after a while. It just seemed natural at the time, even with the haze of being in love with Sid having fogged over his mind. He could still remember, vivid as a shock of color in a sea of gray, the first time they'd laid eyes on each other. He had been weighed down by the boxes in his hand and bags on his shoulders and Snafu had looked up with a raised brow from where he'd been smoking on Sledge's future bed. How he'd watched him struggle, not bothering to move before Sledge ended up just dumping the boxes on his bed and almost crushing Snafu anyway.
To be fair, he had tried warning Snafu, but Snafu hadn't moved--antagonizing him on purpose, expecting Sledge, like everyone else, to leave. When Sledge had ended up dropping his things near him, irritable from having been lost in the rush of his first day moving in, Snafu had barely dodged. He had put out his cigarette on a cup on the nightstand and locked eyes, and those steely grays, set in an otherwise aloof face, were what burned brightest in Sledge's memory.
Sledge mentally cataloged the following weeks in his mind, how, despite how difficult Snafu was personally, he'd adjusted instead of giving up. Back then, it wasn't because he necessarily liked Snafu. Sid could've easily testified to that given all the angry texts he'd been sent. It was just that Snafu never went too far. He never viewed Snafu as someone necessarily dangerous or a threat. He was just a bit eccentric, sarcastic, and fond of deadpan. Snafu was just Snafu; he wasn't as socially inept as people often believed. Sledge could honestly say that Snafu almost tried to make it a point to not give a shit, almost so that people wouldn't be predisposed to bother with him.
Sledge couldn't see any instances of Snafu being overly affectionate. He couldn't think of any time that Snafu had given any real indication that he even felt that way. He leered and cut into everyone's personal boundaries, not just Sledge's. Snafu had girls too, a few flings here and there, and none of them had remotely looked like Sledge.
He frowned outwardly, failing to really see anything besides Snafu being Snafu. Until he recalled the night Sid graduated.
Snafu had ditched the party early, stayed with him the entire night, drinking and talking like it hadn't been a big deal. Snafu had actually comforted him when he'd been depressed over his unrequited feelings for Sid. He'd even tried placating him.
Sledge felt the pencil drop out of his hand, Snafu ... had comforted him?
And that's when it hit him, like a stopper being taken too quickly out of a container and the chemicals had rushed out to hit him in the face.
There it was right in front of his eyes.
He was so focused on Sid he hadn't even noticed it but looking back on it: the animosity towards Sid, how Snafu only ever seemed to listen (and only partly) to him, how in his own ways, Snafu had always made sure to watch out for him.
The problem was, now that he could see it, how did he feel about Snafu, in return?
Sledge was over Sid--it still hurt a little thinking about it and he was never going to be completely over him but he wasn't as depressed as he was before. He'd barely even given it thought.
Something about how Snafu had sealed himself away actually hurt him. He wasn't used to this; wasn't used to this weird silence and sudden space that Snafu had given him.
If he were honest with himself, he could see that Snafu had always been present when he was needed, even at times when Sid had failed to be.
Snafu, who humored him, and he humored in return. Snafu, who spent his first paycheck at the clinic on dinner for the both of them. The same guy who always slept in Sledge's bed, except for when Sledge was out of town. Snafu, who only under Sledge's bribing could be polite and well-mannered enough that on the rare occasions his parents did visit, they had a completely different outlook on Snafu then everyone else did.
Snafu who said one thing but did the opposite and yet was always on Sledge's side no matter how much it looked like he wasn't at the time.
Sledge swallowed dryly, feeling his heartbeat thud in his chest. The sound of it filling up his own ears, he could feel the dust settling in his mind. It was suddenly so simple, he had to laugh at himself.
He liked Snafu back. He relied on him and needed him more than he did Sid. He may even be on his way to loving him.
It had been right in front of him the entire time.
Sledge rose, jamming his things into his bag, barely remembering his phone as he hurried out.
He needed to find Snafu.
Snafu lit his last cigarette in the pack, tossing the empty box off of the roof, grimacing. He was not about to go back in just to get a (very badly needed) smoke, especially if Sledge was going to be returning soon. He almost had to stop himself from unintentionally chomping on his cigarette.
"Need a smoke, bud?" Snafu had long ago stopped questioning George Luz's sudden appearances. He was actually on good terms with the upperclassman, usually. Today he just stared straight ahead and willed him to go away.
"I'll leave this for you here just in case, then." Luz sounded undeterred, placing something on the table behind him. "Want me to deliver a message to the concerned people who sent me here?"
"Yeah, fuck off," Snafu grit out, stiffening once again. Luz just shrugged, barely visible from the corner of his eye. "I ain't in the mood, Luz."
"I figured. Worth trying, anyways," Luz remarked wryly, amused despite the situation. "Let me know if you need to get smashed later."
Snafu didn't even bother with a response, ignoring how the metal door clanged shut after.
He couldn't avoid Sledge forever; the past weeks had shown him that. He just had to get out of there. He couldn't take facing Sledge, he could deal with rejection from just about anyone. Hell, he made it a point in some cases but not from Sledge. He felt something vice-like gripping at his chest at the thought.
He swallowed dryly, accidentally inhaling some cigarette smoke, the burn unpleasant.
He coughed, knocking a fist to his chest.
He was going to kill himself at this rate.
The door swung open again and Snafu, eyes watering, couldn't take another attempt at being 'cheered up'. He threw the cigarette butt to the floor, mouth open, face contorted and ready to just rip someone a new one and--
"Hey." The door closed with a final note behind Sledge. He placed his bag down on the floor. "Can we talk?"
Snafu felt his mouth twist up, eyes narrowing, and forced his tone flat: "Do whatever the hell you want. I ain't gonna say I'm listening, though."
Sledge raised a brow, jaw setting. Snafu knew that look. Sledge was not in the mood for his usual bullshit.
"Were you ever going to tell me?" Jesus, count on Eugene to start with the damned hard questions right off the bat. Snafu crossed his arms.
"None of yo' business," Snafu snapped immediately, gaze steeling. He felt the feeling in his chest increase, the prickling sensation running down to his palms. "Don't fucking talk about it."
"I can't just ignore it." Sledge actually sounded hurt; looked it, too. Snafu was determined not to let it get to him: He'd spent too long keeping everything all bottled up. "Why the hell can't you're just talk to me about it?"
"Because it doesn't fucking matter," Snafu argued, pushing down the desperation that was starting to bubble in his mind. "Just drop it."
"It's about you and me, of course it fucking matters." Sledge had that slow burn to him. Once pissed, it was hell to pay. Snafu didn't even blink before Sledge stomped over, hands fisted at his sides. "You are not going to tell me to forget this. I hold too much respect for you and like you too fucking much for you to just pretend this all away."
Snafu only responded with a mean quirk of his lips. "You're just lonely cause Phillips is gone."
He didn't want to focus on what Sledge was saying, he couldn't. He wasn't even able to look away from Sledge, seeing the distant fire in his eyes.
"I barely call Sid anymore, you of all people should know that. You're not some replacement for him. Don't you dare act like you think otherwise." Sledge's voice bounced off of the fence and the bricks around them. Snafu could see his reflection in his pupils and he felt the air leaving his lungs. "Merriell, would you just tell me if it's true or not? Can we please just talk about this?"
There he was, trapped, nowhere to run but into Sledge. He felt remarkably tense, like he was on trial.
"You want to know the goddamn truth? I'm in fucking love with you." Snafu found himself spitting it out more than he meant to. "You have no fucking idea how much I feel for you. You can't just come up here and suddenly act like it, Eugene. I ain't stupid to your damn schoolboy crush. That's shit compared to what crazy damn thoughts you take up in my head."
Sledge regarded him for a moment, backing away slightly. Snafu waited, what he'd wanted so long to avoid, Sledge's eventual retreat away from him when he finally realized that it simply wasn't worth it t--
"Suppose I agree with you that I don't feel like that yet," Sledge prompted before fixing him with that stare again. "That doesn't fucking mean I don't like you back, just give me some damn time to catch up. I've spent two weeks moping ‘cause you didn't pay attention to me. That's more than I ever spent on Sid. Just because I don't feel that strongly for you now doesn't mean I'm never going to."
Snafu allowed himself a raised brow and, despite it all, some hope: "What're you saying?"
"I'm saying that despite what everyone says, I know you and you know me. You're not Sid, you never will be." Sledge gave him a small smile, leaning slightly towards him. "And I don't want you to be. I like you, Merriell Shelton, and I want you to ask me out."
Snafu just felt himself relax, his bones relaxing. Something uncoiled in his stomach and he felt his lips quirk up slightly. Sledge waited for his response, eyebrow raised. Snafu almost thought it was useless, they both knew his answer.
"Well, Sledgehammer, guess you're my bitch now." Sledge rolled his eyes, snorting back a laugh and elbowed him. Snafu caught him by the arm and yanked him forward slightly.
Sledge opened his mouth in surprise when Snafu jammed his lips on his inelegantly. He tasted like everything Snafu expected him too: Coffee, with a hint of those damned granola bars he was always munching on. Their teeth clacked and it was hardly romantic at all but when he pulled away, Sledge actually looked a little pink and maybe things were going to be ok after all.
"You taste like cigarettes," Sledge complained but his sheepish grin ruined the whole statement. He didn't fight his way out of Snafu's grip. Instead, he placed his hand almost experimentally on top of Snafu's.
Snafu was grateful for the empty rooftop. He may or may not have moved his hand to properly hold Sledge's.
"I'm still going to kill whoever told you," Snafu said, making sure to pocket the cigarettes from the table and tugging Sledge along with him.
"Yeah, I don't think so," Sledge remarked with a sigh, pulling him back so they could stay on the rooftop a little longer. "Like hell I'm ever going to tell you who it was."
"I have my ways, Eugene." Sledge laughed and just elbowed him again, unaffected, mouth open to retort if it wasn't for the door opening and both of them dropped their hands like they'd been caught.
"Told you they'd be fine." They didn't even have to turn to identify who it was but they both spun around anyways. Sledge was still smirking slightly, regarding the motley group in near the door. Burgin and Christenson looked apologetic in the front, Luz with his hand on the door knob, along with Grant and Tab, determinedly less so. Leyden was still hiding somewhat behind Jay, who was sporting his usual smirk and next to him was Babe, who looked more amused at Leyden's human-shield scenario than what was actually happening in front of him.
"Man, we have a really gay dorm," Tab lamented, shit-eating grin present. Next to him, Grant sniggered. "No, seriously, I think there's something in the water."
"You're just pissed I won't play grab-fanny with your sad ass," Luz quipped easily, before turning to Burgin with an over-exaggerated plea. "Can we please leave before this gets any more like a soap opera? I feel my testicles retreating."
"Fuck you all. We're not your dancing monkeys. Get the fuck out of here so I can get to second base." Even Leyden could pick out the lack of malice in Snafu's voice. Sledge immediately flushed but remained where he was standing.
Burgin and Christenson exchanged glances while Babe and Tab exchanged loud guffaws.
"Yeahhh, let's leave them alone." Sledge noticed they both made sure to smile approvingly in their direction before leaving, the others trickling behind them. Only Leyden turned with a small grin before being tugged away by Jay and kicking Babe loudly in the stairwell.
Snafu snorted, but Sledge could see some fondness in his gaze before he turned to face him again.
"How about we just get to a home run and skip all the--" Sledge just started kissing him to end the conversation right there. Snafu didn't seem to particularly mind.
Sledge had a sneaking suspicion that was probably what he'd been going for all along, anyway.
Leckie ignored the shrill cry from where Webster was parking the car with Liebgott. Skinny snickered and Hoosier just took a drag from his cigarette.
"And that’s supposed to be their version of affectionate?" It was said more like a statement than a question, which spoke volumes about what Leckie already knew of Webster's relationship. Hoosier glanced over to the car and back to Leckie.
"So how's letting go feeling, Pa?" he prompted, both of them still following Skinny into the restaurant. "I noticed you and Web have finally established some boundaries."
"We still brush each other's hair and paint each other's nails," Leckie answered, solemn save for the grin on his face. "We just don't arrange our closets to match outfits, anymore."
"Ugh, I don't want to picture that," Skinny interjected from ahead, following the cute hostess a bit too closely to their table in the back.
"But Skinny, it's how I get all dolled up for Hoosier," Leckie called, for emphasis. He held out a chair for Hoosier, who took it with an eye roll. "I have to look my best."
"Doesn't matter how you look in the end, now does it?" Hoosier murmured, stubbing out his cigarette on a coaster. "You get fucked, anyways."
"And for that I love you," Leckie returned breezily, though he made sure to catch his eye. He knew he was grinning a little goofy from the way Skinny was pointedly making gagging noises. "Among other things."
"I've put up with your ass for how long?" Hoosier remarked but he let his hand settle next to Leckie's with a slight tilt of his lips. "Of course you love me, you dumbass." It felt like the confirmation of something. Leckie couldn't help but feel the grin growing on his face.
Things were different now between Leckie and Webster, that was true, but they still had each other's backs. Sure, they didn't do what Hoosier called, "That creepy gay-but-not-gay friend-thing,” anymore, and there was far less time spent together but still, Leckie let his arm go around Hoosier's shoulder, making sure to nod to Webster as he and Liebgott finally shuffled in. Webster nodded back with a slight smile, seating himself.
They'd been through one hell of a past couple of months and Leckie was perfectly content with where everything had ended. Leckie and Webster exchanged looks. It felt like understanding that they both knew where things would probably end. Hoosier moved his hand to grab the menu as Webster fixed Leckie with the same expression the day that he’d come to apply as his roommate, curious and amused, and Leckie wasn't going to admit it out loud but maybe he did get a tad wistful at it.
"Hey, Leckie, stop staring up my fucking date. You got your own, already, " Liebgott bitched, making sure to level that one glare he still only reserved for him. Webster broke away first, eyebrow raised, lips grimacing in Liebgott's direction.
"Jesus, are you always going to treat him like that..." Leckie was already drowning him out.
He snorted and leaned back in his chair, turning to look over Hoosier’s shoulder at the menu. There was eventually going to come a time when Webster would move, or Leckie, but they had a while to go. And he highly doubted David Kenyon Webster would be out of his life so easy. Instead, he ignored the way that Skinny had decided to sing, loudly, Vitamin C's Graduation, and finally revealed, content: "Letting go feels great, Ma."
Skinny continued to sing background music, only pausing once to read something on his phone before starting up even louder. Liebgott and Webster had simmered down slightly and Hoosier ordered a particularly strong White Russian. Leckie just lounged back, perfectly content with the company present.
Skip Muck leaned back on his palms, legs in front of him, channeling the same smug air of someone who had a plan go perfectly well. Runner helped himself to a beer across from him, sitting cross-legged while Chuckler flipped burgers at the grill. Penkala went over Babe's text again on his phone, disbelieving. Malarkey swatted at another mosquito, still irritated they had to go to a picnic in the park instead of just eating at home. He wasn't even going to think about how everything had worked exactly how Muck and the others predicted.
"I can't believe it actually happened." Penkala sounded almost beside himself in shock. "You guys didn't even DO anything."
"Hey, I resent that. I'm the one who mentioned it all to Skinny," Runner argued, mirroring Muck's expression. "And he's the one that mentioned it to Hoosier and he mentioned it to Leckie."
"None of you even know Sledge," Penkala reminded, still eying everyone incredulously. "There was no way any of you all were involved in that."
"Details." Chuckler flipped another burger. "We're just that good."
Penkala opened his mouth, thought better about it, and just pocketed his phone. He knew a losing battle when he saw one.
"Jesus Christ, are these mosquitoes all racist against Irish people, or something?" Malarkey pulled his hand away with a grimace as he inspected another dead mosquito. "Why aren't they eating any of you guys?"
"They're not racist, they probably just love you," Runner commented, chuckling and flexing his bare arms. "It's that hair, Malark, they love guys with red hair."
"Fuck you." Malarkey reached for the nearly empty bottle of repellent and doused himself. "You guys are doing something, I swear to God."
"It could do with the fact you doubted me, oh non-believer." Muck batted his eyes at him innocently. Malarkey frowned and wiped his hands on Muck's pants. "Gross! I don't want your bug guts!"
Malarkey, triumphant, grabbed Muck's beer on the ice-chest.
"Anyways, I think congratulations are in order, " Muck continued, opening said ice-chest to find another can, holding it up. "Cheers to us for being the best friends ever."
"I'll toast to that." Runner held up his bottle, Chuckler as well. Only Penkala crossed his arms, grimacing.
"Come on, Penk, you can at least agree we’re all awesome friends, right?" Penk sighed loudly and grabbed the can Runner offered him.
"You damn micks," he remarked, holding it up along with theirs. "Peer pressure from you all will be the death of me."
"Pfft, what's life without risks?" Muck commented, unoffended, before announcing, "To us and the success of the shark names!"
"You mean to coincidences," Malarkey corrected, despite himself laughing. "And how fucking lucky you all are."
"Course we're lucky, we're fucking Irish," Muck agreed, easily enough. "So fine, a toast to us being really damn lucky and that coincidence thing."
Everyone drank up to that.
Nixon had to hand it to Snafu three weeks later when it was decided that Winters and Nixon were finally allowed to have Sledge over for dinner. Apparently and according to the history on his computer at work, while Snafu had no qualms befriending everyone in Sledge's family (and literally it was everyone--even people who looked like they were clearly only related by name) on social networking sites and putting his relationship status for the world to see, when it came to his legal guardian and his lover actually meeting Sledge face to face, Snafu was almost embarrassed. Snafu embarrassed. It was a strange concept to be familiar with.
Eugene Sledge was nothing if not polite, earnest, and good-natured. It was almost mind-blowing how different he was from what Nixon was expecting.
"Why couldn't you have turned out like him?" Nixon wondered loudly as Sledge and Winters shook hands next to them. Jones coughed, near the coffee table, Haldane no doubt biting back a smile himself. Speirs and his date--L-something, Lipton?--paused from where they were studying the bookcase Nixon and Winters had assembled.
"Shut up, Mr. Nixon," Snafu said, breaking the ensuing silence with his hand still on Sledge's shoulder. "You complaining about Uncle Dick's wayward cousin's child raising?"
"Nix." Winters had the warning tone on and Nixon held up his hands in defense. "What did we say about good behavior?"
Snafu gave him a smartass smirk, the kind he'd give Nixon when he was little and pretend to be hurt on Nixon's watch. It faded when Sledge elbowed Snafu, giving an apologetic look to them. He acted almost like Snafu was the one being introduced, Nixon found that oddly amusing.
"I'm sure you wouldn't like it all that much if Snafu was like me," Sledge insisted wryly, "I'm hardly as interesting."
"Just say sexy, Eugene. We know you thinking it." Winters had the patience to not look as disturbed at his nephew discussing sexuality as he should've been. Jones coughed again and that drew Snafu's attention away. "Hey, Ack Ack. Hillbilly."
He escaped leaving the three of them behind. Sledge was turning pink and fumbling slightly.
Winters just patted him on his other shoulder, disarmingly. "Welcome to the family, Eugene. I look forward to getting to know you more. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to check in on the kitchen. Nix, remember: Good behavior."
Nixon watched him go, eyes appreciative at the suit before going back to Sledge.
"Yeah, I think you're going to be just fine." He gestured to where Snafu was currently discussing something with Haldane and Jones, all gestures and fast words. "Despite my teasing, he'll look out for you."
"I know." Nixon noted that despite the blushing, Sledge was watching Snafu almost tenderly. It was almost cute, if Nixon wasn't so amused by it all and, you know, if it wasn't Snafu. Snafu snuck a look towards Sledge then turned when he noticed Nixon leering at him with a knowing grin.
"Well, I'll be," Nixon took another drink from his tumbler, before extending his hand. "Eugene Sledge, Lewis Nixon. It's very nice to meet you. You're going to have to stop by the clinic sometime. For non-professional reasons, of course."
"Wouldn't that be getting in the way of office hours?" Sledge questioned, shaking his hand, though from his tone he already most likely knew the answer to his own question.
Nixon just laughed, patting him on the back, tumbler full of Vat 69 sloshing.
Winters really didn't have to worry about Snafu. The kid had a good enough head on his shoulders if he could wrangle someone like Sledge.
Thanks again to my awesome crafters, jeanquirieplus for her amazing art which I still feel I am totally not worthy for. xlickthespark for her wonderful fanmix, binni for not only being my beta, but patiently listening to me go insane over this thing all summer. For all the support from everyone during various BoB/Gen Kill rewatches when I'd go on a tangent about how much I was fearful of this, you guys were all awesome, particularly everyone in the BoB ones, I LOVE YOU ALL. ochibi_glomper for being like I said, the best. Friend. Ever. and 'believing in me who believes in you' about actually finishing this, my first ever bigbang/venture into writing past 2k/working with a big ass cast of characters.
This has been a riveting ride, that's all I can really say.