The components of Tommy's dreams, when taken by themselves, weren't overly strange. They broke down into three relatively simple categories: 1) Food (Tommy often dreamt of the food he had eaten, the food he had yet to eat and the food he wished someone would hurry up and invent); 2) Merton (whose dream-self kept a running commentary about the sub-standard symbolism of Tommy's dreams) and; 3) Sex (because, hey, he was a teenage boy, earnest Boy Scout vibes or not).
The problem came about when the three categories decided to save on time, space and energy and stage a co-production in Tommy's head. Tommy could have handled a joint appearance of food and Merton; in fact, dream-Merton was often found concocting wild schemes to take out the Giant Chicken of Doom that haunted Tommy's dreams after a night of greasy indulgence at the Hungry Bucket. Tommy wouldn't have minded food and sex hooking up, either: he was rather fond of his maple-syrup dipped Stacey dreams.
But this, this--
Tommy sprawled out on top of his usual table at school, Merton sitting cross-legged beside him and drawing runes on Tommy's bare chest with ketchup (dream-Merton had nothing to say about the symbolism in that dream, sub-standard or not). Or: Tommy ordering a plate of chicken and getting served naked-Merton on a silver platter instead. Or: the dream about the coleslaw that Tommy was determined to suppress, repress, deny. Tommy didn't know what his subconscious was getting up to; he didn't want to know--all he really wanted by this point was a night's sleep that didn't leave him hungry and horny when he woke up in the morning.
The dreams were starting to make Tommy surly. He had snapped at Merton for ordering chicken fingers. He had growled at Merton for drinking through a straw. He had whined most piteously when Merton pulled whole, round beets out of his lunch bag. Merton, not being an idiot, had come to the conclusion that Something Was Wrong. Of course, weird food/sex dreams hadn't been Merton's first guess as to what was happening--but Tommy suspected that Merton would get around to that hypothesis shortly after Tommy finally jumped him and whatever sexually-suggestive food he happened to be eating at the time.
Four narrow white fingers folded over Tommy's shoulder. Tommy bit back a startled curse and reluctantly turned to face (i don't want to have sex with him, i don't want to have sex with him, nuh uh) Merton. His rotation brought Tommy directly into Merton's personal space and suddenly they were standing so close that Tommy could feel Merton's chest rise with every breath he took. Tommy's eyes darted around nervously--did he always stand this close to Merton? Had anyone noticed? Oh, God! had Stacey?--and took an ever. so. subtle. step backwards.
Which didn't help at all because suddenly, Tommy had a good, clear view of his best friend--and since when had Merton begun wearing such form-fitting shirts? Tommy wondered hysterically. Visions of nibbling on the curve of the ribs that shirt did nothing to hide gleefully sprung to life in Tommy's head. "Merton!" Tommy hissed urgently, "this is a public place, if you haven't noticed!" He ignored Merton's stunned surprise as Tommy tore off his own jacket and proceeded to stuff Merton into it.
And suddenly they were sharing personal space again as Tommy tugged the zipper of his jacket up as high as it could go, ignoring Merton as he batted at Tommy in protest. People were staring at them--don't panic, don't panic!--and Tommy offered up a sickly smile: nothing to see here, people; move right along. And he was so screwed, because Merton looked really, really good in his jacket.
"Tommy!" Merton said, voice sharp with impatience.
"What is wrong with you?" Merton demanded, hands on his hips and fingers following the curve of his pelvis towards--
Tommy swallowed heavily and closed his eyes tightly, waiting for the image of Merton haloed by the school's cheap fluorescent lights to fade. I am cool, Tommy reminded himself, I am calm, I am collected. And wow, Tommy thought as he opened his eyes, Merton's neck sure did look nibble-worthy. "Wrong?" Tommy said as innocently as he could manage, "what makes you think that something is wrong?"
Merton's eyebrows arched: are you serious? Merton's hands abandoned their perch on his hips as he began ticking off his replies to Tommy's question. "For starters: the fact that you didn't notice Stacey just now."
Merton smirked when Tommy jumped at the sound of his would-be girlfriend's name. She was standing at her own locker, surrounded by a group of her fellow cheerleaders--all of whom were looking right back at Tommy with expressions of dawning comprehension. He gulped and turned back to Merton.
"Secondly: your sudden intense interest in my wardrobe." Merton gestured meaningfully at the jacket hanging about his body. "Thirdly--"
Deep breaths, Tommy told himself, deep breaths. Okay, no, forget that because deep breaths flooded Tommy's senses with the scent of Merton: spices and candle wax, hair gel and laundry detergent, warm skin and a lingering whiff of chicken from lunch--and Tommy really, really needed his jacket back right about now.
"You looked--cold," Tommy said, squirming his way behind his half-open locker door.
"Your concern for my comfort is touching, Tommy, really--but I think you nearly wrenched my arm out of its socket," Merton complained. Merton took a step closer to Tommy. His eyes slitted when Tommy whined and scuttled backwards. "I think that I should brush up on my psychology--as someone obviously needs some serious therapy," Merton said. "You've been acting weird for weeks now, Tommy."
"I'm not crazy," Tommy hissed. He didn't need Merton's incredulous huff to realize what a dumb thing that was to say because: 1) Merton knew Tommy better than anyone else in the whole world; 2) Tommy wasn't exactly a world-class liar (he wasn't even in Merton's league, most of the time) and; 3) wriggling his way into his locker to avoid physical contact with Merton didn't send out "I'm good, I'm sane" vibes. Still, though, better that Merton think Tommy nuts than have him realize what was really going on in Tommy's head.
"I didn't say that you were," Merton protested. "Implied it, maybe; said it--no," he added. Merton's (pink, pink, oh so clever) lips pursed doubtfully. "Maybe you're sick. You haven't been eating well--and I've never seen you look at a plate of chicken like that before. C'mere," Merton said and scowled when Tommy shrank back from his hand. "Tommy!"
Well, hell, was there any questions as to who was leader of this particular pack? Merton's hand was cool and dry against Tommy's forehead. Tommy sternly reminded himself that this was the real world, and no he would not suck on Merton's fingers. He also, not so absently, noted that Merton really did have suckable fingers: well-shaped with neat, smooth nails--and what Tommy wondered wildly, had he done to his mind to have it turn on him so completely?
"You do feel a bit hot," Merton said--
Well, yeah, Tommy agreed: those weird sex fantasies did tend to get the blood pumping and Merton's hand was still resting against Tommy's face, and it wouldn't take much effort at all to reach out and twist Merton about until he was caught up between the lockers and Tommy's body and Tommy could almost feel Merton's hands braced against his shoulders, see Merton's wide-eyed stare and--
Tommy blinked as Merton sharply poked him in the chest. "You're wolfing out," Merton whispered urgently. ". . . And destroying school property," Merton added when Tommy guiltily hid his paws within his crossed arms. "Explaining this one is going to be fun," Merton said, running his index finger down the deep grooves Tommy had left in the locker door.
"Like you don't enjoy the challenge," Tommy said.
"Maybe," Merton grinned, "but explaining away a werewolf sighting in the middle of the school's hallways might be a titch beyond even my impressive talent for prevarication." Merton took Tommy by the elbow and gently pulled him free from his cramped perch in the locker. "We'll just tuck you into bed, nice and snug, and everything will be just fine come morning."
"Bed?" Tommy repeated dumbly. "You want us to go to bed? Now?"
"Hookay," Merton drawled. "Might this be an example of the early onset of werewolf dementia?" He rolled his eyes at Tommy's expression: "you Tommy, not us--as you obviously need the extra sleep."
"I knew that," Tommy said, flushing.
He didn't really think that Merton was right about this one, but Tommy wasn't about to argue with the other boy--not when doing so would most likely involve more pointed looks and probing questions from Merton. Tommy bit back his sigh at the heat of Merton's hand on his arm and let his best friend pull him down the hall, towards the door and home.
True to his word, Merton had brought Tommy home, tucked him into bed, plugged in a night-light and set a teddy bear into the circle of Tommy's arms. Tommy had followed Merton's enthusiastically dictatorial commands docilely--more concerned with arguing with his libido than with Merton. It really shouldn't have been so hard to remember not to pull Merton into bed with him (because he was not gay, not attracted to Merton and not turned on in the slightest by the sight of Merton puttering around comfortably in Tommy's room).
The back of Merton's shirt rode up as he stretched for Tommy's window-shade. Tommy stared at that narrow stripe of pale, pale skin and could almost feel Merton shiver when Tommy pressed his mouth to the small of his back and--the teddy bear's button nose flew halfway across the room as Tommy bore down on the stuffed animal (not turned on, not turned on, nope, no way). Merton yelped and wheeled around to face Tommy. Tommy plastered on a look of dumb innocence and shrugged helplessly.
"They never talked about this in my books," Merton muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Sorry," Tommy said and adjusted himself against his pillow in a pose that best showed off his arms and chest.
"Is there something wrong with your eyes?" Merton asked.
"Huh?" Tommy said before realizing--oh man, he was--he was fluttering his eyelashes at Merton! Could he be any more pitiful? Any more obvious? . . . Was it working? No, Tommy reminded himself sternly--he didn't want it to work because he was not interested in his best friend like that and Merton sure was adorable when he was looking at Tommy as if he were crazy. And he had not just thought that--except he had and he was and "I am so screwed," Tommy groaned.
Merton worried at his thumbnail for a moment before rolling his shoulders back into a straight line. He marched towards Tommy and settled on the edge of the bed (oh yeah, I've still got it, Tommy crowed). "Tommy," Merton said, cleared his throat and started again: "Tommy, we are best friends, right? You know that you can tell me anything and--did you realize that there's someone sitting on your dresser?"
Tommy blinked. "What?"
"A person, Tommy: say, five foot, purple suit, big mustache. Can't miss him," Merton said with exaggerated calm. He barely had time to squeak his surprise before Tommy sprang forward and thrust Merton behind him. "Careful, Tommy," Merton whined, "you know how easily I bruise."
Tommy ignored his best friend because there really was an odd little man in a purple suit watching them. It was all just too much. Already agitated beyond measure, this new bout of oddness in Tommy's life was enough to send energy coursing through his body and the wolf spilling outwards. "Who are you?" Tommy growled--and gee, his fur really was sensitive where Merton's hand was ruffling it and what the hey, voyeurism was a well established kink and if Mr Weirdo wanted to watch, who was Tommy to argue--
"I am. . . The Subtextualist!" the former Mr Weirdo proclaimed.
Tommy blinked (not thinking about sex, not thinking about sex, get rid of the weirdo, then think about sex). "The huh?"
"Oh," Merton said, looking from the Subtextualist to Tommy and back again. The Subtextualist nodded at him, grinning whitely. "Oh," Merton said again. He made a garbled noise that sounded like a cross between a snicker and a gasp.
"Indeed," the Subtextualist agreed meaningfully.
"Would someone tell me what's going on?" Tommy demanded.
Merton cleared his throat. "Subtext," he said in his best lecturing tone, "the underlying meaning; the gap between what people say and what is on their minds." Tommy shrugged helplessly (what did English class have to do with anything? he wondered mournfully). Merton pursed his lips thoughtfully: I'm brilliant, you're not, but I'll try to phrase this in a way you'll be able to understand, his expression said. "Think--the X-Files' Mulder and Scully: all the sexual tension left bubbling away under the surface--"
"Like you two!" the Subtextualist said cheerily, waggling his eyebrows.
Tommy choked. "We do not have any sexual tension!"
"Sure you do," the Subtextualist disagreed. "The constant touching, the meaningful looks, the double--and even triple!--meanings behind your words, the frequent incidents of bondage. . . I could go on." He sighed dreamily.
"Merton," Tommy protested, "tell him!"
Merton shrugged, looking almost bashful. He toyed with the hem of his shirt and looked at Tommy from under his lashes. "I don't know, Tommy," Merton said slowly, "I think I have to go with the supernatural creature of the week on this one."
"You think we have sexual tension?" Tommy gaped. Well sure, they were almost sitting on top of each other in Tommy's bed and Tommy knew the feel of Merton's skin from memory alone and could pick out his scent in a crowd and--oh, boy, Tommy thought.
"Well, obviously," Merton rolled his eyes.
"Why didn't someone tell me about this?" Tommy demanded plaintively.
The Subtextualist shared a long-suffering look with Merton. "What do you think that I've been doing for the last few weeks, kiddo?"
"You!" Tommy said in sudden understanding, "you've been messing with my dreams!"
The Subtextualist shook his head. "I just brought certain things to your attention. The dreams are your own interpretation of that stimulus." There was something like awe in his voice when he continued: "I thought that I'd seen it all--but I must admit, that coleslaw bit was ingenious. Disturbing, but ingenious."
"Coleslaw?" Merton echoed. "Forget it, Tommy--I rescind my offer. You can just deal with this one on your own." He sniffed irritably. "Whatever happened to whipped cream and chocolate? It just figures that I get stuck in a sex fantasy involving coleslaw."
"There was no coleslaw!" Tommy shouted. He blinked when he caught up with the rest of Merton's rambling complaint. Tommy turned a speculative gaze on his friend. "What exactly were you offering to help me with anyway?"
"I certainly wasn't offering to help you work out your cabbage issues," Merton said. Tommy waited expectantly. Merton sighed. "No, Tommy, I didn't know you were having a sexual identity crisis."
"I'm not--" Tommy began hotly. He subsided when Merton and the Subtextualist both shot him disbelieving looks. Tommy turned his glower on the purple-suited freak on his dresser. "So, what: do you feed off of teenage angst or something?"
"I'm rather fond of pizza, actually," the Subtextualist said. "The subtext business is something in the way of a hobby. My fellow subtextualists and I actually have a clubhouse set up a ways down Millar Lane--never mind that," he said when Tommy growled. He shot a look at his watch. "Well, I must be off. Subconsciouses to explore, revelations to set in motion."
"Wait--!" Tommy began: what about the dreams? And how was he supposed to look Merton straight in the eye after this? The Subtextualist ignored Tommy's cry--nothing worse than a rude monster/creature/supernatural freak of the week--and disappeared in a puff of purple smoke. "Just great," Tommy muttered.
"Well," Merton said brightly, "that was certainly an informative several minutes."
"You don't seem very upset about any of this," Tommy accused. It was true: Merton was still comfortably pressed up against Tommy's side, his leg folded behind Tommy and his chest brushing Tommy's arm ever time he shifted.
"I'm undeniably hot--it's a burden I've learned to live with--" Merton squawked as Tommy squirmed around to better bat at his head. "Easy! Easy!" Merton protested, falling back as he dodged Tommy's paw. "I'm just relieved to know what's been bugging you--I thought you were getting ready to ditch me," Merton said.
"Getting ready to jump you, maybe," Tommy said, flushing--because maybe Merton hadn't freaked but this was still weird and he had been having dreams about sweaty, naked Merton and that wasn't something you just got over in the space of an afternoon. "But--we're okay?" Tommy asked.
"I've been dealing with our subtext just fine up to now," Merton said.
"So you're--that is, I'm--we--?"
"Recognizing that we have a certain--chemistry together doesn't mean that we have to do anything about it," Merton reassured him. He patted at Tommy's knee (subtext! Tommy's mind screeched gleefully--subtext!). "I'm not hitting on you, Tommy," Merton said patiently when he noted Tommy's expression. His own turned sly as he continued: "and I won't ask any questions the next time you dive for the nearest strategically located piece of furniture or shrubbery."
"Thanks," Tommy said dryly.
"What are friends for?" Merton said and leaned in to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Tommy.
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