Tommy limped across the length of the lair and lowered himself onto Merton's bed with a pained hiss. He watched Merton sourly from under half-lowered lashes. The other boy seemed determinately unconcerned with Tommy's less than cheery mood--but he was, Tommy noticed, staying out of range of Tommy's still slightly fuzzy hands. Tommy stared down at the hands in question and scowled.
"I wish," Tommy said, "that you'd stop with the kicking, Merton."
Merton's eyes rounded, shining with bewildered innocence. "But Tommy, it was an emergency and the old foot-to-the-groin manoeuvre is a surefire way to get you wolfy in a speedy manner befitting the utmost seriousness of--"
"Merton," Tommy said firmly, "it was a cat."
"It was an unusually--dare I say unnaturally--large cat," Merton countered defensively. Merton assessed Tommy's reaction from the corner of his eyes. Seeing as Tommy didn't look overly impressed, Merton rushed into meandering academic mode: "Indeed, cats have long been associated with the mystical. From ancient Egypt to India, China to South America to mediaeval Europe, the ancestors of our furry little 'friend,'" Merton hooked his fingers into air-quotes, "have earned quite the reputation for themselves."
Tommy shook his head and blinked. "It was just a kitten," he said--and Tommy would never cease to be amazed at the information Merton had stored in his head and his uncanny ability to draw upon that well of knowledge to defend even his oddest of actions.
Merton looked stunned. "A kitten? A bundle of demonic energy, you mean! It bit me, Tommy!" Merton climbing protest broke into a whine. He hugged his hand to his chest and pouted at Tommy.
"I'm about ready to bite you myself," Tommy muttered.
"Beg pardon?" Merton said, eyebrows curving inquisitively.
"Nothing," Tommy said. "I'm serious about the kicking, though. There's gotta be a better way. Another year hanging out with you, and I'm never going to have to worry about having kids."
Merton's lips pursed. "About that--"
"Merton!" Tommy said, voice loud with irritation. He took a deep breath and counted to ten. No, still annoyed. Counted to fifteen. Twenty. . . Twenty-five. . . By the time Tommy reached one-hundred and opened his eyes again, Merton was hovering in front of him. Tommy tilted his head back to look up at his friend. "Are you a genius or not?"
"Am I a genius or not?" Merton huffed, offended. "You wound me, Tommy. Of course I have another option, but I doubt you'll like it any better." Merton sighed and bit lightly at the edge of his thumb. "Werewolves 101, Tommy: what makes you wolf out?"
"The full moon," Tommy said promptly. Merton's rolling hands urged him to continue. "Pain. Fear. Anger. Lu--" Tommy faltered as Merton nodded, "--st." Tommy cleared his throat. "Merton, you're a guy," Tommy protested. "You're a good friend and all, but you aren't really my type." There: that was nice and diplomatic and soothed over a potentially awkward moment.
Or not, because Merton was talking again.
"Oh, please," Merton said, rolling his eyes. "You're easy, Tommy, and I haven't been your friend this long without picking up on a few of your sweet spots."
"I'm easy?" Tommy gaped.
Merton nodded comfortably, as if this wasn't one of the weirdest conversations they'd ever had. Then again, Merton got flustered over the most common of everyday occurrences and could be the very picture of calm when it came to the extraordinary (he hadn't even blinked when he brought up the flea bath idea for the first time). "You are a very tactile person, Tommy--and what with your wolfy sensitivity. . ." Merton trailed off delicately.
Tommy flushed. "Nuh uh, Merton. There's no way--" Tommy began firmly and gasped as Merton leaned in close and--breathed lightly across the shell of Tommy's ear.
Merton rocked back on his heels, smirking, as fur flowed across Tommy's face. "You were saying?" he said and buffed his nails across his shirtfront.
"That doesn't count," Tommy said, his voice rough. "You surprised me, that's all."
"Oh, really?" Merton said--and damn it, Tommy thought, he should have learned better than to challenge Merton on anything wolf-related. "Well, then, it seems that another test is in order." He looked at Tommy's furry hands meaningfully. "I'll be at my computer until you. . . calm down. Then we can end this argument for good."
"I'm not so sure this is a good idea," Tommy said. He stared at the trim line of Merton's back and the shadows gathered under the line of his jaw as Merton paused to peer at Tommy over his shoulder. Tommy had thought Merton to be smart and amusing, excitable and vulnerable but never before had he considered Merton to be dangerous. Tommy was definitely making up for oversight now.
"It's either this or the tried-and-true method," Merton said.
"I'd almost prefer the groin shot," Tommy muttered--because this was weird and this had to change things, didn't it?
Merton's shoulder rose minutely. "Whatever you want, Tommy."
Tommy rose to his feet, too agitated to sit still. "What is with you, Merton?" Tommy demanded. "You can't even talk to a girl without getting all flustered, but you're perfectly fine with the thought of getting me--excited." Tommy nearly choked on the last word, and that was wrong, too. Tommy was the one who got the girls and joked about sex and dating with the guys from the team, and he shouldn't have been so twisted up over talking about this with Merton.
Merton twisted around to fully face Tommy. "This is different, Tommy. You're my best friend and I trust you with--" Merton's brow furrowed as he searched for the right word. He waved his hands about expansively: "everything," he said explosively. "I trust you with everything, Tommy."
Did he trust Merton with the same? "Okay," Tommy said slowly, "okay." And yeah, Tommy decided, it was okay. He'd finally relaxed enough that the wolf was releasing its hold on Tommy's body and folding back under his skin. Tommy opened his arms, squared his shoulders and firmed his jaw: "do it."
Tommy frowned as Merton began sniggering. Merton looked at him from under his lashes and upgraded from sniggering to outright laughter. Merton doubled over, shoulders shaking. "Sorry," Merton gasped long moments later, "I know this is one of those meaningful moments that helps define a friendship and whatnot, but--your voice, Tommy!"
Tommy had been on his way towards being insulted, but he found himself smiling now. He had gone about things a bit dramatically, Tommy admitted. "Could you not make fun of me at a time of emotional vulnerability?" Tommy said with mock-outrage.
Merton wiped at the corner of his eyes. "I'll try to refrain myself," he promised. Merton straightened his lips into a solemn line. It took a few seconds for his lips to stop quivering with amusement. "Better?"
"Better," Tommy agreed. "And you know I'll get you back for this eventually."
"I know," Merton said and slid easily into Tommy's personal space.
They had stood like this a thousand times before, but Tommy found himself squirming now. Merton shot him an fondly amused look that challenged Tommy not to make any more of an idiot out of himself than he already had. This was just another chapter of insanity in Tommy's life, and he'd deal with this just as he had everything else. Tommy's self-reassuring thoughts stumbled to a halt. He bit back a startled cry as Merton's hand slid up his shirt to rest at the small of Tommy's back. Merton's hand was soft and cool and sent shivers throughout Tommy, radiating outwards from the point of contact.
Merton's shoulder bumped against Tommy's as he leaned inwards, whispering into Tommy's ear: "this doesn't have to mean anything," he said and softly dragged his fingernail down the line of Tommy's spine.
Wide-eyed, Tommy could only gasp as the wolf expanded to immensity within the confines of his skin and flowed outwards.
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