“I hate you.”
Pyunma hid his smile, easy to do with water weighing Jet’s hair down over his face. “Uh huh.”
“I fucking hate you. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”
“Just come here.”
If anything, Jet’s look darkened even further. But he still sloshed through the water until he and Pyunma were chest to chest. Pyunma just wrapped his arms around Jet’s waist, tucked under his wings. “Ready?” He waited for Jet’s terse nod before letting both of them fall backwards.
Jet jerked as soon as they were underwater, his wings flaring in panic. Pyunma tightened his hold, gently stroking what skin he could reach. “I’ll keep you up. Just focus on moving.”
The words must have been understandable even through the water because Jet blinked at him through the waving mass of his hair. He was still for a moment before he spread his wings, the red of his feathers even brighter against the iridescent blue of Pyunma’s scales, and slowly, carefully, figured out how to swim again.
“I told you,” Jet said. His smugness at being right was almost drowned out by how nonplussed he was.
“I thought you were kidding.” Pyunma put down the bag of groceries he was holding and stepped over the still-packed boxes in the living room to study the writing on the wall.
The literal writing on the wall. It dripped red and thick down the off-white wall, a scene straight out of a horror movie. Except it was a bright ‘Hello’ scrawled in what Pyunma could tell, now that he was closer to it, was strawberry jam.
They’d been gone all of ten minutes, taking a break of settling into their new apartment to pick up groceries at the bodega two blocks down. More than time for someone to break in, but that someone would’ve been stupid to ignore the TV, unconnected to anything, or the mp3 player sitting on the kitchen counter. And Jet really had told him.
“You had to find a haunted apartment, didn’t you.”
The birth certificate proclaimed that Vincente Esposito was born to Francesco Esposito and Gracia Caro Palomo February 2nd, 1942. It wasn’t hard to figure out whose it was – aside from the birthday, Jet’s current legal name was Vincent – but Pyunma couldn’t think of any reason Jet would hand him a copy of his original birth certificate out of the blue. The flyer scowled at him, waiting for some sort of reaction.
“So what’s this for?”
Jet ducked his head a little, his scowl deepening. “It’s stupid.”
There was a note of uncertainty in his voice, mostly hidden under the irritation, that you wouldn’t notice if you didn’t know him well; Pyunma’d heard that note too often to miss it. “It can’t be that stupid if you bothered to hunt it down. How’d you get the hospital to give you a copy?”
“Said it was my grandfather’s.” Jet relaxed slightly and shrugged. “I don't know, I guess I want someone to know. And you won’t make a big deal out of it.”
Translating that from Jet-speak turned it into a pretty big declaration of trust. Pyunma accepted it with a nod. “Alright. Tell me.”
“Dinner is served,” Jet announced, already digging through the bag as he walked into the kitchen. “What do you want to start with?”
“Egg drop soup?” Pyunma hazarded; he’d been dragging his things into the bedroom when Jet placed the order, so the contents of the delivery bag were a mystery. All the same, Jet passed over a container of soup with a grin before unloading everything else onto the floor in front of the couch. “We’re going to need to get a table at some point.”
“We need a bed first.” The matter of fact statement was delivered with a light leer before fading into something a little more serious. “The air mattress isn’t bad, but my friend’s gonna want it back eventually.”
“You could’ve gotten a bed.”
“Yeah, I guess. It’s just…” Jet glanced away, fiddling with his chopsticks. “It’s ours, right?”
Which… yeah, Pyunma knew where Jet was coming from. When he was accepted to Columbia, moving in with Jet rather than living in the dorms had seemed like an obvious idea. The time in between was too swept up in the details of moving between continents for the idea to settle too much, but now, sitting in the nearly empty living room, the fact that it really was theirs was settling in. No more only seeing each other at Prof. Gilmore’s or in flying visits between countries.
Pyunma put the soup to the side and pushed himself up. “How comfortable is the air mattress?”
Jet made a garbled noise around the eggroll in his mouth before hurriedly swallowing. “It’s pretty good. Tired from the trip?”
“Nah. Just figured we don’t have to wait until we go furniture shopping to break in our place, and we never have much luck with couches.”
Storm clouds gathered in the sky, a promise of relief to the humidity that had soaked the city over the past few days. The heavy air was still a relief when Pyunma stepped out of the crowded restaurant. Especially when he saw Jet slouched against the wall a little ways from the door, smoking and staring into space.
Jet’s answering grin was bright and infectious. “Like hell.”
Pyunma laughed, his own smile wide enough to hurt a little, and went to pull Jet into a kiss. It wasn’t a very good kiss, given that neither of them could stop grinning through it, but Jet still made a pleased sound when Pyunma didn’t let go afterwards.
“Seriously, anything wrong?”
“Nah.” Jet flicked ash off his cigarette, glancing over Pyunma’s head back towards the door. “I just needed a break from in there.”
“I hear you.” He reached up and snagged the cigarette, dodging Jet’s halfhearted swipe to take a long drag. Somehow, the party going on inside made things seem far more real than the small ceremony they’d had the night before. Considering how he’d spent a long time not expecting to survive the fighting – before or after Black Ghost – sneaking out of his own wedding reception to have a quiet smoke with his husband never would have crossed his mind.
And he was not going to get tired of saying that, his husband.
Judging by the look on Jet’s face, soft and happy and a little amazed, he was thinking something similar. “We really did it.”
Light glinted off their rings as Pyunma linked their hands, holding tight. “Yeah, we really did.”
Jet woke up with a start, blinking up at Prof. Gilmore and Pyunma’s concerned faces hovering above him. He took a minute to unscramble the mess of sensor afterimages in his head before he said, “The new sensors are pretty strong.”
Tension eased from Gilmore’s shoulders at the statement, and he patted Jet’s shoulder. “We can adjust the sensitivity until you get used to them. Come down to the lab when you’re feeling steady again.”
As Gilmore clambered to his feet, Jet looked up at Pyunma. “Why am I in your lap?”
“You fainted. Straight into my arms.” The tease has a sympathetic edge to it; Pyunma’s own sensor upgrades had gone haywire before. “If you wanted my attention you didn’t have to go to such extremes.”
“You’re face is extreme,” he muttered, snuggling back into Pyunma’s lap and closing his eyes.
“Not gonna get up?”
“I know that look.”
Pyunma looked up as Kabore slid into the seat across the table, setting two mugs down. “What look?”
“Wistful. Adoring.” Kabore’s grin took a teasing edge, and he poked the letter Pyunma was holding. “Did you meet a girl while fighting evil?”
Pyunma snorted, letting the letter drop to the table. “Hardly. It’s from 002.”
“Really?” Surprise crossed Kabore’s face for a second before he asked, “He’s doing better, then? He was still in bad shape when you all left before.”
“He’s fine.” A fond smile curled over his lips when he glanced back down at the letter and skimmed over the end of Jet’s scrawled rant. “Getting himself into as much trouble as ever.”
“Good to hear.” Kabore sipped his coffee. “You didn’t deny being wistful and adoring.”
Pyunma shifted uncomfortably, his mind cycling too fast to sleep despite his body’s exhaustion. The silence of the medbay pressed against his chest and left no distraction from – he pulled the trigger, how could he pull the trigger – from his thoughts.
“I can hear you thinking from over here.”
And who’d have thought he’d ever be happy to hear 002 start complaining? “So sorry for keeping you up.”
“My leg’s doing that. Tell me about him.”
002 sighed, and there was a rustle of sheets. When Pyunma looked over, the younger cyborg was sitting up, looking pale and pained. He only sounded grouchy, though, when he said, “Neither of us is getting any sleep, so tell me about him.”
Pyunma pushed himself up slowly, feeling pain twinge through his own body as he moved. “You want to hear about the person who shot you?”
“Your friend didn’t shoot me.”
Considering everything that had happened over the past few days, the amount of conviction in 002’s voice was almost absurd. But it was enough to push Pyunma’s mind past the Cyborgman to better memories.
“Mamado and I grew up together.”
Pyunma batted Jet’s hand away from his stomach. “Stop that.”
“Nah.” Jet stretched – and Pyunma might have watched him a little too intently, letting languid movement replace months of stillness in his memory – and resettled with his hand on Pyunma’s chest, fingers tracing the scales there.
“I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be the clingy one right now.”
That earned a tired snort and a leg thrown across his thighs. “‘m not clingy.”
“Uh huh.” He pressed his face into Jet’s hair, hiding his smile as Jet grumbled. “If you want to get some sleep, I’m not going anywhere.”
The fingers on his chest froze for a split second before Jet curled his arm over Pyunma’s chest and held tight. “Damn right.”
Pyunma nudged the bedroom door open with his foot, his hands taken up with the mugs he was carrying. “Hot chocolate’s ready.”
Jet didn’t move from his sprawl on the bed. Pyunma might’ve assumed that he hadn’t heard it, given the headphones he was wearing, if he hadn’t known how good Jet’s hearing was. He set the mugs on the bedside table and leaned over to run his fingers through Jet’s bangs. It was enough to pull Jet’s attention to him, eyes dark and face pinched. “Want to talk about it?”
Jet scoffed, but tugged Pyunma down to sit. He curled his arms around the other cyborg’s waist and pressed his face against his hip.
What little amusement Pyunma had felt evaporated at the move. Stroking over Jet’s hair served the double purpose of soothing his boyfriend and pushing off the headphones; the sound of guitars spilled out until he managed to find the mp3 player. “Hey. Talk to me.”
“Nothing to talk about,” Jet muttered. “Just want the storm to end.”
Pyunma glanced up at the window, already knowing the shade was shut against the storm going on outside. “I thought you liked snow.”
“I like snow,” Jet grumbled, pressing closer to Pyunma’s hip. After a moment, he added, his voice a little softer, “I don’t like blizzards.”
Pyunma kept petting his hair, remembering the feel of snow against his neck when they were coming back from getting groceries. “At least we got in before the worst hit, right?”
Jet’s arms tightened. “Not everyone does.”
“When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
Pyunma had heard that old saying about looking into the abyss, but he’d never quite considered applying it to a situation like this. Probably not a fair thought, but when he’d tried to understand 002, he’d underestimated just how much 002 returned the favor; he’d also underestimated how horrible 002’s ideas could be.
“You’re going to get shot,” he told the flier as they climbed into the torpedo tube.
002 just barked a laugh and said, “They’re not going away, and you want to get out there and do something as much as I do.”
And he was right, the anxious itch in the back of his mind easing as 002 contacted the bridge; Pyunma didn’t have to admit it out loud, though, so he just smiled as he tightened his grip around 002’s hips and said, “You’re just a horrible influence.”
“Is this legal?”
“What?” Francoise leaned closer to Pyunma, oddly unwilling to take her eyes from GB and Chang’s discussion on whether the ceremony should be performed by Elvis or Frank Sinatra.
Pyunma shifted beside her – probably elbowing Jet again, trying to get him to stop laughing – before elaborating. “Neither of them are American citizens. Can they legally get married here?”
Francoise could feel her forehead crease at the question. “I’m not sure it’s legal for two men to get married here.” That wasn’t a topic anyone thought to update her on. She was sure, though, that GB and Chang weren’t about to let that stop them.
They’d stopped here because everyone was climbing the walls, snapping and arguing as they made their way home. For the sake of their continued good health (Pyunma would kill anyone that damaged the Dolphin during an argument), they’d decided to make a pit stop at the nearest city.
The nearest city had been Las Vegas.
They’d scattered almost as soon as they’d booked hotel rooms, eager to spend a few days not in each other’s pockets and planning to meet back at the Dolphin in three days. Barely a day had passed before GB had contacted everyone, panicky and excited and insisting that everyone had to come meet him, it was important, as soon as possible!
More than a few of them quickly hid guns when everyone arrived at a small chapel instead of a Black Ghost attack. Francoise was fairly certain the minister thought they were a very strange gang.
GB and Chang met them in front of the chapel, happy and beaming. Jet had taken one look at their matching ‘I <3 Las Vegas’ t-shirts and burst out laughing.
He was still laughing even as GB and Chang arranged themselves at the front of the chapel (they’d gone with Frank Sinatra; Francoise couldn’t help but approve). She tuned out whatever Pyunma was doing to quiet him, even tuned out what the minister was saying, and just… watched.
Chang and GB didn’t look like they were paying any more attention to the minister than she was. GB had a bouquet tucked under one arm, his free hand clasped in both of Chang’s, and they were smiling at each other. Not the wide, beaming grins they’d greeted everyone with, but something quieter and far more content than Francoise could remember seeing either of them.
She couldn’t help it. She sniffled.
A hand slipped into hers; she looked to her left. Joe wasn’t looking back at her, but gently squeezed her hand. Across the aisle, Albert did send her a small smile as he handed Dr. Gilmore a handkerchief, and Junior held Ivan up higher to get a better view. She glanced to her right; she couldn’t tell if Jet was still holding back snickers, but he’d wrapped his arm around Pyunma’s shoulders.
She looked back up front, holding in another sniffle, and returned Joe’s hand squeeze as Chang and GB kissed.
* * *
“You could have given us some warning,” Albert said as they left the chapel, making room for the next wedding party.
Chang waived the complaint. “It was spur of the moment. We were lucky they had an open slot.”
“Still, we could have at least dressed up if we’d known,” Francoise said.
“I don’t know, Frannie. The bride looked lovely.” Jet shot a grin over his shoulder at GB, only to get hit in the face with the bouquet.
“I’m sure the next bride will be even lovelier, right 008?” GB answered, smugly draping an arm over Chang’s shoulders.
Francoise fell back to walk next to Junior and Pyunma, briefly considering saving the bouquet from Jet – it didn’t deserve to be battered over GB’s head like that.
“I’m sure the wedding will be lovely,” Junior told Pyunma, voice dry as the desert.
Pyunma chuckled. “I’m sure.” His face took on a thoughtful edge, and he bumped Francoise’s shoulder. “Maybe someday, right?”
Francoise felt herself blush, but couldn’t help glancing back to Joe. “Yes. Maybe someday.”
Pyunma let the door slam shut behind him, dropping his messenger bag the moment he was in the apartment. “Can we afford bail?”
“Only if you don’t want a new filtration system,” Jet said from the kitchen. “What happened?”
“My classmates are idiots.” Pyunma dragged his hand over his face as he walked into the kitchen. “They keep forgetting that societal norms change and try to interpret…” he trailed off as he finally saw Jet. Saw Jet’s back, since he was digging through the fridge, but that just made the well-fitted slacks more obvious. “Jet?”
“Yeah?” Jet straightened up, two bottles of beers in hand. Pyunma absently accepted one, eyes sweeping over Jet’s body. Took in how the dress pants and waistcoat accented the length of his legs and the lean lines of his torso, how he’d tamed his hair into a spill of loose curls.
Pyunma stepped forward, pressing Jet back against the counter and setting his beer down in the same movement. “You look good.”
Jet laughed and draped his arms over Pyunma’s shoulders, his own bottle pressing cold between Pyunma’s shoulders. “I had a live gig today. They want us looking nice.” Jet tugged him forward until his could nuzzle down into Pyunma’s hair. “So, you had a bad day?”
Pyunma tilted his head back, returning the nuzzle with a slow kiss. “Well, now it’s looking up.”
“You’re not allowed to give me grief next time my legs get screwed up,” Jet said as he came downstairs, a set of crutches tucked under his arm. “What even happened?”
Pyunma winced as Dr. Gilmore finished disconnecting his leg; the sudden lack of sensation below the knee was more than a little disconcerting. “It’s just a malfunction.”
“His propulsion system is clogged with kelp,” Dr. Gilmore filled in, his voice flat.
Pyunma closed his eyes, counting down. He reached two before Jet started cackling.
* * *
“You need anything?”
Jet dropped onto the bed and gave Pyunma an arch look. “Admit it, you’d find this hilarious if it happened to me.”
Pyunma ignored him, flipping the page in his book without reading it. Jet made an exasperated sound and grabbed the book.
“Seriously,” Jet said, tossing the book towards the foot of the bed, “it’s not that big a deal.”
“Kelp, Jet,” Pyunma finally snapped. “I got taken out by kelp.”
Jet shrugged. “Yeah, and the first time I flew outside the lab I got stuck in a pine tree.” Pyunma let out a laugh at the mental image despite himself. Jet grinned and scooted closer, curling his arms around Pyunma’s waste. “See? Hilarious.”
Pyunma stared at his phone, torn between dismay and glee.
On the one hand, class was cancelled. As much as he was enjoying college – and two years in, it still gave him a thrill that he was there, when he never would’ve thought he’d get the chance growing up – he didn’t really like dragging himself halfway across New York to get to his eight o’clock class.
On the other hand, he’d only gotten the txt telling him class was cancelled just as he stepped out of the apartment. It was just after seven on a Friday, that was his only class of the day, and he was now unnecessarily awake. And, unlike Jet, he wasn’t able to fall asleep if he stayed in one spot for more than five minutes.
Still, he might as well take advantage of his sudden free time. Preferably by having something more substantial than the toast he’d made before. He dropped his bag back in the bedroom and paused by the bed to run a hand through Jet’s hair. “Hey. You want breakfast?” Jet just made a snuffling sound and curled tighter around the decoy body pillow. Pyunma chuckled and ruffled his hair again before heading out to start breakfast.
He was just pouring the second batch of pancakes onto the griddle when he heard movement from the bedroom. He wasn’t surprised when arms wrapped loosely around his waist a minute later, just made sure his arms didn’t get pinned as Jet draped himself over Pyunma’s back. “Morning.”
Jet made a noise that might’ve been a greeting before offering a much clearer, “Pancakes?”
Jet settled his head down on Pyunma’s shoulder, watching him flip the pancakes. “Is today something?”
“Nah. Just felt like making them.”
“Mmph.” Jet tilted his head, nuzzling into Pyunma’s hair. “Best boyfriend.”
“Yeah, and someday you’ll say that when food isn’t involved.” All the same, he turned and caught Jet in a lingering kiss until the smell of burning food sent both of them scrambling for the griddle.
Jet woke up to the sensation of fingers tugging though his hair. He blinked at the muted television – he remembered sitting down to watch a movie – and listened to Chang and GB arguing in another room. Signs of safety noted, Jet relaxed and focused on the soft touches.
Which took on a distinct petting aspect as whoever he was using as a pillow noticed he was awake.
“Sleep well?” Pyunma asked, amused affection lacing his voice.
“Nghfp.” He nuzzled against Pyunma’s leg – he distantly recognized that he should feel weird about falling asleep in anyone’s lap, but he was too comfortable to care just then – and asked, sleep slurred, “Whaddya doin’ to my hair?”
“Braiding it.” He laid a long, thin braid over Jet’s neck as evidence. “Want me to stop?”
Jet tilted his head enough to give Pyunma a narrow-eyed glare. Pyunma just chuckled and nudged his head forward again, nails scraping over Jet’s scalp as he started a new plait. Jet shut his eyes and let the warm tingles of Pyunma’s touch and the distant voices of his teammates lull him back to sleep.
“The theatre in town is showing Gojira later this week,” Pyunma commented as he started the Dolphin’s pre-flight checks.
“Yeah?” Jet considered that as he slid into the copilot seat. “Man, I haven’t seen that since it was first showing in the States.”
“Want to go see it?”
“Sure, if we get back in time.” He glanced back over the bridge, still empty besides the two of them, before starting his own checks. “We should see if anyone else wants to come.”
Pyunma was silent for a long moment before he leaned over and touched Jet’s shoulder. “I meant would you like to go see it as a date?”
Jet froze as he processed the question, a curl of pleasure vying with butterflies for space in his stomach. “You’re seriously asking me out before we go on a mission?”
“Well, I was going to ask earlier, if someone,” the soft touch on his shoulder turned into a light shove, “hadn’t spent the morning arguing with 006.”
“He doesn’t appreciate my culinary genius,” Jet said, ignoring Pyunma’s answering snort of disbelief. The two of them fell back into the flight check, familiarity making the process smooth and silent until Jet asked, “Grab dinner before the show?”
“Of course. System checks are done,” he raised his voice as the cockpit door opened. “Ready to launch.”
“Oh no,” Francoise murmured, her voice full of amusement and exasperation, as Pyunma excused himself and slid out of the booth.
“Not a word,” Pyunma said, not looking back as he headed for the bar.
Junior leaned down, pulling Francoise closer to his side so he could quietly ask, “Is something wrong?”
The glance Francoise sent him showed she wasn’t fooled in the slightest, but she leaned into his side just the same. “Just watch.”
He did. Pyunma made a beeline to where Jet waited at the bar, the woman on the stool next to him leaning in close. Pyunma wrapped his arm around Jet’s waist as he joined the conversation, and while Junior couldn’t see his face, the woman suddenly leaned back.
“Does this happen often?”
“Not as often as it used to,” Francoise admitted, turning her attention away from the couple at the bar. “I think they’ve talked about it.”
Junior glanced back at the bar, took in that Jet had curled his hand over Pyunma’s even as he finally got the bartender’s attention. “I think,” he murmured, “that they understand each other.”