it's guy love that's all it is Who: Daniel and Faisal What: BFFs reunited Where: Pax Letale (mostly Daniel's apartment) When: February holy backdating, Batman! Rating: I for Immaturity
Faisal was a man who lived his life by lists. He couldn't remember a time before them. Whether they were written or not was immaterial, it was the listing itself that mattered, the rearranging of the world into orderly, neat columns and categories. Whether or not he ever did anything with the lists was, likewise, unimportant. It was a source of constancy, no matter the state of the world or his life. Thus far, California had already been split into several subcategories and a few sub-subcategories as well, though he had only been there for less than two whole days. This was all fairly par the course for him when it came to relocating. Everything was going to schedule, nothing had been lost or broken in the transatlantic move, and so far he seemed to be readjusting well to living with sunlight and warm weather and people who actually greeted strangers out of the blue.
So, really, there wasn't much of an excuse for his mind being elsewhere. But that didn't change the fact that it was. Though he might go through his mental checklists backwards and forwards, though everything seemed to be going perfectly according to plan, he still couldn't help the feeling that nonetheless things were somehow off balance. It was only by a stroke of luck that he managed to maintain his own balance, so preoccupied with texting his former flatmate to check once again that nothing had been left behind that he nearly walked straight into someone else coming in the main door as he was going out.
"Sorry," Faisal said automatically, already tucking his phone back in his pocket and about to walk on without a second though, before happening to glance up. "... Daniel?"
Daniel was in mid-sentence when he saw a face had not seen -- in non-pixelated, juddering Skype form, at least -- in far too long. He did not so much as finish the word on his lips. His thumb slid over the screen of his phone, ending the call and putting his phone into his pocket in the same fluid motion. Black eyes went wide; the broad grin that crossed his lips seemed wide enough to split his stubbled face.
"Faisal?" His arms went wide; he nearly pounced on the smaller man, enveloping him in a rib-bruising hug. "Holy shit man, is this real life?"
“I don’t know. Last time I checked it was.” His mind was still valiantly attempting to surface from the shock, his body was possibly about to be very enthusiastically crushed, but through it all Faisal laughed, grinning like a maniac and returning the embrace just as happily. It had been, what? Five years? More?
“What are you doing here?”
"I live here!" Daniel released him from the hug, but still clasped his slender arms, squeezing him as though reassuring himself of his friend's presence. "What are you doing here? Wait, are you back? Like for good?" He pointed to the building, excitement raising his voice enough for Stephan, deep within the lobby itself, to level a withering look at them both. "Wait, are you movin' in?"
“I just moved in yesterday,” Faisal finally managed to get out, answering the last question first, still too excited to fully process everything. It didn’t make sense. The odds were too ridiculous to be feasible. “This is-- It’s-- I knew you were here, but I didn’t know you were
How long have you been here?”
"Oh, not long," Daniel said. "A month or so, maybe? The building's really new, I'm sure you've noticed there's barely a handful of us so far. Makes building get-togethers kinda interesting. But whatever, forget all that. You need help unpacking or anything?"
At last Daniel caught Stephan's furious look. His hand tightened on Faisal's arm again, and he pulled him along, moving them both out from in front of the lobby doors. "Okay, where were you headed, and can I go with you, or should we got upstairs and crack open some liquor and catch up right now?"
It took until Daniel’s physically dragging him along for Faisal to notice the annoyed expression of the concierge and he shot him what he hoped was a sufficiently apologetic glance before turning back to the far more important business at hand. “I was just going to run to the store, but that can wait. I want to know everything. It’s been years. What have you been up to?”
"Oh, you know," Daniel drawled. "The usual. Got arrested, ran into Aurora again -- you know she lives here, too? -- tryin' to get a self-defense class started for the building… if you know anybody who's interested, let 'em know?
"Other than that, just work, really. My clients' placement rate is higher out here. People seem a little more willing to give ex-cons a chance than they did back home. It's good to see. Maybe I'll learn some stuff here I can take back there. If I go back." He beamed brightly. "I'm kinda likin' it out here. What about you? You think you'll stick around? You workin' out here?"
Immediately, Faisal honed in on the most important part of Daniel’s speech.
“You got arrested?!?”
Now it was his turn to raise his voice and draw an unimpressed look in return, though he quickly brought himself back under control, pinching the bridge of his nose and drawing in a deep, perhaps overly-dramatic breath before continuing. It was a mannerism he had had since childhood and one that was no doubt quite familiar to Daniel. “Wait. Don’t tell me anything yet. This definitely needs alcohol.”
Daniel laughed, long and loud. "It absolutely does," he said. "Damn, I missed you." He clapped his hands together, rubbing them like a cartoon villain. "So yes. Booze and talking. I've got booze. Or you were goin' to the store, I can drive you, we can talk."
Chris's name danced at the tip of his tongue, but Daniel dutifully bit it back. There was too much else to say, too much else to ask, and everything was still too new and raw to expose to Faisal's piercing gaze just yet. Later, he told himself. Later. His hand tightened on Faisal's arm. "Let's go. What d'you drink these days? I've got scotch and vodka, but I dunno what fancy Cambridge boys like."
“Actually,” Faisal began, slipping momentarily into a posh English accent, “Cambridge boys have rather gone off scotch and vodka, at the moment. They prefer to slum it and raid their best friend’s fridge for beer.”
He was grinning while he said it, but the comment about the arrest was far from being forgotten. No matter his expression and joking demeanor, it was still playing on his mind and a thorough line of questioning was already being drawn up. Daniel wouldn't get through the day without giving him a full account of it, like it or not.
“Lead the way. I want to see your flat.”
Daniel was still cackling at his friend's accent, utterly unsuited as it was to the boy he had known for so long, as the pair of them strode through the lobby and past Stephan's unblinking stare. He bypassed the elevator and went straight for the stairs; as they walked, he made brief mention of the time he had gotten stuck inside it with a fellow tenant. For the moment, no other details were forthcoming. Instead he darted from one topic to another, asking questions and nearly talking over them in his excitement, offering Faisal little opportunity to answer. Until at last they were inside Apartment #209, a corner one-bedroom that was every bit as messy and well-loved as his childhood bedroom had been.
"Now beer," Daniel said, leaving the door standing wide for his friend to pass through, "I've got in spades. Even found some Sweetwater 420 at the local craft place."
He left the refrigerator door standing open, as he had the apartment door before it, too boyishly happy to care about even the smallest concessions to adulthood and responsibility. Inside the fridge was indeed a fairly impressive selection of beer: a six-pack of bottled Guinness, another of Corona, the aforementioned Atlanta-based craft brew, and finally, a large bottle of raspberry lambic.
"What's mine is yours," he said, and turned to procure two thick-walled pint glasses from the depths of his cabinets.
“Look at this. Real beer. Good beer. You know, it’s almost like the contents of an actual adult’s fridge. Bravo, Daniel.” (To tell the truth, he honestly was the slightest bit impressed, even if his tone was joking. Neither of their palates had been particularly refined the last time that the two of them had really gotten down to any serious drinking and the array of alcohol currently on offer was definitely a step up.)
He grabbed one of the craft beers as he spoke, already half-comfortable in a place that wasn’t his, but still felt familiar nonetheless. It felt like the past: comfortable, safe and full of defined lines and roles. Daniel did dumb things, he critiqued them, and they both laughed about it later. It was one of life’s constants.
“So about this whole being arrested thing…”
Daniel reached out, bottle opener in hand, and cracked open the beer in Faisal's hand. He caught the cap before it fell, tossing it to the countertop before opening another Sweetwater 420 for himself. He left the glasses sitting out, well within reach, but already forgotten for his own part.
"Yeah, about that…" Grinning, Daniel clinked the long neck of his bottle against Faisal's own. "So there was this Trump protest at LAX, right? About the executive orders and the ban and shit. And I went there and shit got rowdy." He shrugged, and padded out into the living room, motioning for his friend to follow. "Cops got pepper spray out and I got in front, obviously, like a fuckin' gentleman. There's a chick here, BB, you might've seen her posting on the forum? She was there, so. I took a face full of pepper spray, she ducked behind my back, we both got arrested on some bullshit charges. I got community service. Nothin' too big.”
Faisal followed him into the next room, glass forgotten for now. The moment called for more casual and immediate drinking. He plopped onto Daniel's couch without an invitation, already muttering under his breath. It was as clear a sign of irritation as he might give, but generally few people got to see it. Daniel, as always, was an exception to nearly every rule.
"Nothing too big. Of course not. Only getting arrested. God, what were you thinking?" He paused to drink, managing to make even that look fairly pissy. "Oh, that's right! You probably weren't."
The tone and expression were annoyed, but Daniel, as one of the elect few, had known Faisal long enough to know it didn't really mean anything. Considering his own family background it was easy enough to guess whose side he was on. He was still allowed to grumble about it though.
"Seriously? Pepper spray?"
"Yeah, fuckin' industrial-grade." Daniel dropped onto the couch beside him, the thick, dark cushions sinking comfortably with the motion. He spoke with hand gestures and little waves of his bottle, as though he might sketch out the scene in the air itself. "You know that shit that looks orange when it comes out, like red clay in liquid form. It's crazy thick. I wasn't thinking, obviously, cos I should'a taken some milk or watered-down Maalox or somethin' but I really didn't think they'd do all that..."
He tipped back the bottle, still grinning as he drank.
"You know, do you ever stop to consider that maybe I don't want to know all the gory details?"
Of course not. Because of course Faisal always did want to know all of the details, gory or otherwise. No matter how he might fuss or complain, in the end he always wanted the full story. And Daniel could be a surprisingly competent storyteller, especially when it was a story in which he played a starring role, preferably as the hero.
“And that’s it? They pepper sprayed you out of nowhere? You’re sure they didn’t have any… incentive?” After all, Faisal was well aware that Daniel could also have something of a talent for inciting reactions in others, more often than not with less than favorable outcomes.
Daniel cut his friend a sidelong look, one corner of his mouth quirking just as sharp as his gaze. He could not help but laugh. "Look. I didn't start it, I just finished it." Technically the riot cops had finished it, but this made a far less interesting tale, and certainly did not mesh with Daniel's perception of events. Though some part of him knew this, he continued without a single pause.
"Some asshole beside us threw something, a rock or some shit, and it hit an officer. Shit kinda hit the fan, so I was tryin' to get BB out of the crowd, and then there was this guy with a fuckin' swastika on his jacket, so…" He shrugged. "Don't tell me a guy like that doesn't deserve to get his nose pushed back."
“And lord knows, you were the only one there capable of properly doing it.” He rolled his eyes as he spoke, but there was fondness in his words and his smile. It felt good to be doing this again. Some things didn’t change, even if now it was him quizzing Daniel on why he’d gotten arrested rather than detention. The drinks had also noticeably improved.
“You’re an idiot, but I’ve missed you.”
"Yeah, I know it." Daniel grinned, and there was something softer in it than there had been before. He inched closer to Faisal on the couch. After the briefest hesitation, he wrapped his arm around his friend's shoulders, squeezing him tight as he pulled him in close. "I missed you too, man." He let him go, but did not move any farther away. His thumb toyed with the wrinkling label on his beer.
"So really," he said, his voice almost tentative. "What was Cambridge like? Aside from crazy boring without me, I mean."
Faisal didn’t move away again, even after being released from Daniel’s one armed embrace. After years of constantly holding himself at a distance from others, years of polite restraint and firmly self-enforced barriers, it was good to finally be able to let his guard completely down and simply enjoy the company of someone who was closer to him than his own brother. It went beyond being merely comfortable or right. It was, in a sense, home condensed into one fleeting gesture. Almost imperceptibly, the lingering remnants of long-pent up tension were beginning to leave and he sighed softly.
“Wet. Grey. Intellectual. And boring, obviously.” A pause as he took a contemplative pull on his beer, then fell to fidgeting with a loose thread on the cuff of his sleeve. “When you were a kid did you ever feel like there was this idea of what your life should be? Not ‘one day I want to be an astronaut’ or anything like that. More a vague impression of something -an environment maybe, an actual place, a feeling, I don’t know- that was right.” The thread was getting longer and longer the more that he worried at it, but refused to be yanked out completely. “I’m not sure that that even makes sense, but in a weird way being there felt close to that. More than Harvard anyway.”
He frowned, glancing over at Daniel for a second. “That really didn’t make any sense, did it?”
Daniel was shaking his head before the question was fully formed. He did not give voice to the satisfaction he felt that this illustrious, faraway institution had been, of all things, boring. He did not let himself take too much pride in the fact that his friend had returned, that they were once again together, as was right and good. Instead he held on to the very real disappointment he felt for his friend, that he had found something so suited to him and, for whatever reason, had had to let it go.
"Nah," he said, "I get you. I don't think I've ever really found it? Not yet, anyway. But I've always had an idea." He shrugged. "One of those things, you know it when you see it." He tipped the long neck of his bottle toward his friend. "I'm glad you did. So why'd you leave, if it… if it was right?"
“I got a new, better job. Or maybe I just got tired of room-temperature beer. Or maybe I just wanted to be somewhere with good Mexican food for a change.” Faisal gave an answering shrug, tipping back the remainder of his beer in one long swallow. In this instance, flippancy was easier than admitting outright that part of him still wasn’t certain why he had left the UK. And that uncertainty was unsettling. “Besides, I never said it was right, only that it was close to it.”
"Well now you're just splittin' hairs," Daniel said. But he smiled all the same, rising from the couch as he polished off his own beer. "Speakin' of Mexican food, I'm well on my way to makin' a mean tamale, if I do say so myself. Still perfecting the recipe, but I'll get there…" He tried and failed to stifle a widening grin, his thoughts turning to Chris, as they seemed to with increasing frequency.
"You want another one?"
“If you’re getting up,” Faisal replied, looking around for a moment before finally setting his empty bottle down on the rather battered coffee table. (It seemed that he had forgotten,or at least glossed over, the memory of just how much Daniel’s surroundings tended to look like a warzone even at the best of times.) He turned to watch his friend as he made for the kitchen, turning each gesture and comment over in his head as he continued to attempt to fill in years and years of blanks. Status updates and the occasional email could only do so much.
“So what have you been up to, then? Other than making tamales and going to court, obviously.”
Daniel shrugged, returning with two freshly opened bottles and a bag of tortilla chips. "Not much, you want the truth," he said. "Dodgin' mom's calls cos she keeps wantin' to know when I find a 'church home.' Like I'm lookin'." He dropped down onto the sofa again, passing Faisal his beer. "Most of my down time is either at this self defense class I got goin', or with this guy I met one of my first days here." He flashed a wolfish grin. "He's playin' hard to get and you know how I feel about that."
The comment produced a stifled groan and an eye roll from Faisal. Unfortunately, he was only far too aware of how Daniel felt about that. After all, he’d only been putting up with it for the past two decades or so. From the earliest pursuits, to high school conquests, to the infamous Suit Incident, he had heard it all; listening with a mixture of annoyance, fond indulgence, and something suspiciously close at times to jealousy. Though that last had thankfully not reared its head since since he had been a teenager, innately leery of anyone who might encroach on their friendship.
“Well, go on. Either you tell me about it now or you tell me about it later. It doesn’t make any difference to me,” he said, visibly settling back for the long haul.
"It does," Daniel insisted. "An' I dunno how much I wanna say just yet anyway. I think I've got a good thing goin' and I don't want to fuck it up." He nudged Faisal's arm with the cold bottom of his fresh beer bottle. "What about you? You meet anybody across the pond? Got somebody here? All work and no play makes Faisal a dull boy, y'know."
For a moment the only reply to Daniel’s questioning was an annoyed glance. This part of the conversation was likewise only too familiar and he really, really didn’t want to get into it at the moment. “No. To all of those. But, trust me, my family is trying to fix that. The closer that thirty gets, the more nice Egyptian girls they find to put in my way. Don’t you start too.”
Daniel laughed against the lip of his bottle. "Tell 'em thirty looks good," he said, gesturing down at himself. "We've got a longer shelf life these days. And you've got that baby face goin' for you. You'll be on the market as long as you wanna be, I think. They can chill out and wait a little longer for a grandbaby." He chuckled. "I'm not worried about all that, kiddo. I just think you deserve a little down time, too. Regular orgasms are good for the soul. Bet you'd focus on work a lot better with some of that tension gone." He poked an index finger into the meat of Faisal's shoulder.
“Your concern is touching, really,” he replied, squirming away from Daniel's finger and doing his best to look serious as he shot him another annoyed glance as he drank. But he couldn't help the way a smile still quirked at the corners of his lips. “Besides, what tension? Do I look tense? No. Being a responsible adult does not equal tense. So don't you start trying to hook me up.”
"You always look tense," Daniel said. He glossed effortlessly over the backhanded insult of "responsible adult," as easily as if he had not registered it at all. "If I didn't know any better I'd say it's your natural resting state." He honed in on that small twitch of a smile, pouncing at once. "Y'know, there's some eligible ladies in that self defense class I'm doin'. And I could introduce you around at the next event management throws for us. They've always got somethin' goin' on. And I wonder if Aurora knows anybody..."
“How did I manage for all those years without you?”
"No idea, kiddo."
The look on Faisal’s face was equal parts fondness and irritation now. He'd been pushed into questionable dates by Daniel before and was fully capable of resisting when he wanted to, but for now he would play along with it all. “You know it never works when you do this. Do you need a hobby that badly? Are you really this bored?”
"Hell no," Daniel said, laughing aloud. "I've got plenty goin' on. But you're my favorite hobby." He reached over and ruffled Faisal's mass of thick hair, leaving it standing in wild clumps. "And who knows? Maybe this'll be the one that does work. And then I could gloat for the rest of my life that I'm the one who got you fixed up. Your parents would really love me then."
The hair ruffling earned Daniel a sharp jab to the ribs with an elbow as Faisal tried his best to undo the damage, running a free hand back through his hair with a long-suffering sigh. “You actually do that and my parents might adopt you. But somehow I don't think your choices would measure up…”
Daniel was visibly pleased with himself, far more than he had any right to be. He laughed, but did not touch his friend's mussed hair again. "Probably not," he said. "I mean, unless your parents also have 'gives wicked head' pretty high on their list to find for you. And maybe they do, I dunno." He propped his feet up on the coffee table, pushing back to nestle into the couch cushions. "Seriously though, what do you want? I'm definitely gonna drag you to these events and all, but… are you really just wantin' to work and come home just long enough to sleep? You do need some balance in your life, man. Even if it's not me hookin' you up with somebody."
“Right now? I don't know what I want. I've only been back a few days. Give me a chance to get settled first, huh?” He laughed a little at the absurdity of it. Daniel must have gotten on the trail of his latest conquest a minute after stepping into the lobby. “Let me have one week, okay? Then I'll get back to you. Promise.”
Already Daniel was shaking his head. He was laughing as he did, of course, well aware of his own impatience and how easily it was projected onto others; all the same, he could not help but feel excited on his friend's behalf. "A week," he said, as though the very thought was impossible to grasp. He sighed, a melodramatic and much put-upon sound. "Okay, fine. You got one week and then whatever you want, I'm makin' sure you get. Dates, hookups, a trip to L.A. for some nightlife, camping out in the desert… you name it. You're gonna get a big welcome home present from me whether you like it or not."
“Well, if I'm choosing it I certainly hope I'll like it. None of your surprises. Remember what happened last time? And the time before that?” Faisal narrowed his eyes, poking Daniel in the arm as he spoke for emphasis. “I know what you can get like, buddy.”
"I have no idea what you mean," Daniel said. His gaze turned up to the ceiling, the bottle soon turned up to match. The impish gleam in his eyes spoke to a number of plans already being made, none of them wholesome, all of them wildly entertaining -- at least, in his estimation.
The look on Daniel’s face was enough to get a nice long laugh out of Faisal. It may have made him spill beer on his pants and upended half of the bag of chips, but by the time he collapsed back into the couch cushions he looked happier and lighter than he had in years.
“You are so full of shit. But I'm glad to be back.”