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[ what matters most ]|
He spent three hours walking around looking for Susan. She wasn't at his flat, clearly, and she wasn't at her flat, and she wasn't at Sally's, and she'd never be at Jane's. She wasn't at Sally's salon, and she wasn't at the pub, and she wasn't anywhere they'd ever gone together that he could think of.
When he returned home he found Jeff sitting on his stoop, jacket in his lap and his shirt wrinkled, and Steve smiled for the first time since discovering his Dick Darlington had been speaking to Susan's Giselle, when the real Giselle had never been on the phone with anyone at all anyway.
"Was just about to go home," Jeff said with a small smile when Steve plopped down next to him. "Thought things maybe ended well since you weren't home."
Steve shook his head and clasped his hands in front of him. "No. Ended <I>well</I>'s not really in this equation. Though, I was hoping 'end' wouldn't be in it at all."
Jeff's arm came around Steve's back and his hand rested on his shoulder, squeezing lightly. "Sorry, mate. I'm sure in the morning..."
"The thing is, Jeff," Steve started, frowning and pausing to formulate his words. "Why <I>did</I> I give Yvonne my number?"
Jeff looked at him and raised an eyebrow. "I don't know."
Steve absently began picking at his nails and leaned into Jeff's arm. It was funny to find that while he was so used to being the comforter, it turns out that Jeff can hold that title pretty well himself. Just his presence was enough to make his head stop spinning enough to think logically. "I liked it," he said softly, chewing on his lip for a moment. "The attention. I liked it."
Jeff sighed beside him and Steve felt him bury his nose into his bicep for a moment before muttering against his sleeve. "Who wouldn't? Pretty lady like that? Any man likes the attention, Steve. It doesn't have to mean anything."
"What if it does though," Steve asked softly. "What if Susan's right? What if the honeymoon really is over, and this is how it'll be from here on out? What if it's not enough? For her, for me, for either of us."
Jeff's mouth curved into a smile and he lifted his head. "You're fretting too much, Steve. Things cool off. It's natural progression."
"Yeah?" Steve frowned and planted his hands on his knees, pushing himself up and turning to face Jeff as he stood as well. "What if it's not?"
Jeff shrugged, smiling up at him. "Then we'll deal with it, won't we?"
"<I>We</I> will, huh?" Steve smiled, resting a hand on Jeff's shoulder. "You're a good friend, Jeff."
Jeff ducked his head and let Steve pass him, following him into the hallway of Steve's flat. "Did you want to be alone," he asked, leaning against the wall as Steve fiddled with the keys to his door.
"Not really," Steve said, feeling tired and out of sorts. His head was spinning with a million thoughts a minute, and he knew from lots of practice that the best medicine for that particular predicament was Jeff. The man was a livewire of nerves, but he had a calming effect on Steve like no other. Perhaps it was just by comparison.
Steve handed a Guinness to Jeff and settled into the couch beside him, feeling his bones sinking into the cushions and wondering if his couch was that comfortable or if he was just that pissed. Three beers didn't usually effect him this much, but it <I>was</I> Guinness, and he <I>was</I> stressed. At the moment for him it's a little hard to determine whether the spinning in his head was from his relationship unraveling so unexpectedly or from the alcohol traversing through his bloodstream.
"So where's Julia?"
Jeff grimaced. "Home."
Steve leaned forward, studying his friend. "She's angry with you?"
Jeff shrugged. "Miffed, I'd say."
Steve sighed. "Because you're here."
Jeff smiled and looked at him. "Doesn't matter."
Steve shook his head. "Listen, Jeff, I don't want you messing up your relationship over something as idiotic as this."
"It's not idiotic," Jeff said, looking slightly angry. "You love Susan, and you're upset. It's not idiotic to be there for friends." He shook his head, sitting back on the couch and staring straight ahead. "You're always there for me, it's time I return the favor."
Steve reached out and laid his hand on Jeff's knee, squeezing it. "You're a good friend, Jeff. You've always been there for me."
Jeff shrugged, staring down into his Guinness. "It's not as though she's really angry with me. She just doesn't understand why I'm on your side of things."
Steve frowned. "My side?"
Jeff nodded. "She feels it's your cockup, so anything you're feeling is deserved."
Steve nodded, his hand slipping off of Jeff's leg and returning to his glass. "She's right."
Jeff shook his head. "Doesn't matter. You're still my mate."
Steve shook his head. "You should go to her. I don't want you ruining your relationship with her over me and my cockup."
Jeff exhaled loudly, looking at Steve with annoyance on his face. "It's my decision, Steve."
Steve raised an eyebrow at him. "I know, Jeff. I just don't want to be the reason--"
Jeff waves his hand dismissively. "You're my best friend, Steve. Only true mate I ever had. You matter to me more than she ever will."
Steve felt a warm wave wash over him and blinked as he felt tears immediately spring to his eyes. "Jeff."
Jeff looked at him and laughed. "It's true."
Steve reached over and took his hand, frowning down at their hands. "You're mine as well, you know."
Jeff laughed again. "Obviously."
Steve smiled and took a deep breath, looking up at Jeff. "You know, we're not supposed to talk like this."
Jeff frowned. "Like what?"
Steve laughed. "We're supposed to talk about breasts and nipples, and beer and football. Not feelings. It's not what men do."
Jeff shrugged. "We're drunk."
Steve laughed again. "True."
"American men do," Jeff said, raising an eyebrow at him. "I've seen it. On the tele. American men talk about their feelings, hug each other."
Steve smiled. "Are you asking for a hug?"
Jeff cocked his head to the side, contemplating. "Would it really be so awful if I were?"
Steve frowned, dropping Jeff's hand and leaning over to set his mug of Guinness on the table. Turning he looked at Jeff and studied his face. "No, I don't think it would be."
Jeff's face registered surprise as Steve leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his frame, pulling him into a warm embrace. He laughed slightly and wrapped his arms around Steve and turned his head into his neck. "Imagine what Patrick would say."
Steve laughed and pulled slightly back, his arms hanging loosely around Jeff's small frame. "Patrick probably doesn't even know what the word hug means. He probably thinks its foreplay."
Jeff grinned. "It usually is."
"Well unless you're planning on kissing me, I think we're safe," Steve said, smiling.
Jeff's face went slack and his eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "I--" He cleared his throat loudly and let his arms drop from Steve's torso. "Nipple!"
Steve frowned, pulling back. "I beg your pardon?"
Jeff began to giggle, looking away. "Nipple, I said. Nipple, and breast. And football. Beer."
Steve's hands rested on Jeff's legs as he studied him for a moment before commenting. "Jeff, what are you nattering on about?"
Jeff's face was turning a lovely shade of pink and his eyes darted everywhere but at Steve's face. "Breasts."
Steve shook his head. "Jeff--"
"You said kiss," Jeff said, still not looking at him, drawing a leg up and placing it between him and Steve, forcing Steve a bit further back from him. "You said kiss, and so of course my mind went immediately to--"
Steve frowned. "I was making a joke, Jeffrey."
Jeff shook his head. "But you said it. You said kiss. You said I wanted to kiss you."
Steve shook his head. "No, Jeff. I said as long as-" Steve paused, frowning and shaking his head again. "I didn't mean you were going to. I was joking, Jeff. I didn't mean you <I>wanted</I> to."
"But I do."
Steve watched as Jeff's eyes bulged and his face turned five different shades of red before his hands shot out and shoved Steve's chest away and he bounded off of the couch. He was speechless as he watched Jeff walk around in a circle, searching for only God knows what on the floor. "Jeff--"
"I didn't mean it. I like nipples! Breasts! I'm a breast man! Breasts, breasts, breasts--"
Steve stood and grabbed Jeff's shoulders steadily in his hands. "Jeff. It's me. Steve."
Jeff looked at him, his eyes frightened as his body seemed to shrink away from Steve's grasp. "Thighs."
Steve's eyes met Jeff's and held them as he breathed in slowly through his nose. "Jeff?"
Jeff made a whimpering sound and he nodded. "What?"
"You want to kiss me?"
Jeff's eyes closed and his head hung. "Yes."
Steve's hands dropped from Jeff's shoulders and he took a step back. "I--"
Jeff grabbed his coat from off of the couch and clutched it in his hands. "Of course, not really. I don't <I>want</I> to. It just-- it flashed. You said kiss, and it-- flashed. I didn't mean to think it."
Steve would have thought he'd be a little more distressed about this, but to his surprise he found himself flattered. He smiled at Jeff and reached out to grasp onto his sleeve, laughing as Jeff yelped and yanked it away. "Jeff. It's okay."
Jeff shook his head. "It's not okay! You're my mate, not my--"
Steve stepped forward. "I think everyone must have wondered at one point in time," he said quietly.
Jeff stopped breathing. "Wondered what?"
"What it would be like to kiss their mate. There's obviously some sort of attraction between the two of us." Steve shrugged, frowning in confusion. "I don't know that <I>I</I> have, but-- it's not that weird to me that you should wonder."
Jeff let out a shuddering breath and stepped closer to him. "Wonder now."
Steve's eyes flicked up to meet Jeff's. "What?"
Jeff nodded, taking a deep breath. "Wonder now."
Steve shook his head. "I don't understand--"
Jeff's eyes widened and Steve could practically hear the frantic pace Jeff's heart was racing at, but he remained mere inches in front of him. "What it would be like to kiss me. Think about it now."
Steve frowned. "Now?"
Jeff dropped his coat and stepped forward suddenly, reaching up and pulling Steve's head down and mashing his lips to Steve's. Steve let out a surprised grunt but didn't step back, feeling Jeff's hand travel up his neck into his hair. He felt a shift within him and found himself kissing Jeff back, uncertainty and something else coursing through him. He felt Jeff's tongue swipe over his lips and he'd wonder later at how quickly he'd opened his mouth to allow access in response.
Just about the time Steve was starting to allow himself to shut off the side of his brain that was still operable Jeff was pulling back and rubbing a hand over his face. "Right then."
Steve opened his eyes slowly and looked through the haze at the man he'd thought of as his best friend for the past however long it had been. "Yeah."
Jeff cleared his throat, unable to meet his eyes. "I have to talk to Julia."
Steve nodded. "Right."
"I..." Jeff sighed, finally looking up at Steve. "We've fucked things up now, haven't we?"
Steve was barely able to shrug his shoulder. "I'm not sure. Of anything really."
Jeff nodded. "I have to talk to Julia."
Steve nodded. "Yeah. To fix things."
Jeff's smile was small and sad. "To end things."
Steve's eyes widened. "Really?"
Jeff nodded. "Whether you and I-- clearly Julia and I-- I have to talk to her."
Steve nodded. "I have to find Susan."
Jeff cleared his throat again and stepped towards the door, keeping his eyes trained on Steve. "Steve?"
Steve jerked his head to look at Jeff. "Yeah?"
"You still matter the most to me of all the people I know," he said quietly. "No matter if we stop talking from now on. You still matter the most."
Steve took a deep breath, nodding. "You as well, Jeff."
Jeff nodded, stepping into the hallway that led to the door. "We'll talk tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, Jeff," Steve said, his voice sounding hollow and like a strangers. "Bye."
The door closed for the second time that night, and this time Steve didn't follow. He sat down on his couch and wondered to himself if he'd ever be able to fix things with Susan now. Then he wondered if he still wanted to.