Summary: When Cory is (mistakenly) diagnosed with cancer his last wish is for his two best friends to end their three year feud and apologize. So Skyler convinces Daniel to pretend they're okay and dating. Things get complicated, and if life was a romcom Daniel is not Renee Zellweger. Part of the Second Star 'Verse.
Pretend Anti Boyfriend
The headache Daniel woke up with made him regret his entire life. When he opened his eyes the morning sunlight was painfully bright, searing into his corneas like lasers. He slammed his eyes shut and let out the world's most pathetic groan. This was it. This was how he was going to die. Daniel wondered where his eye shades were. If he was going to die, then he was determined to sleep through it.
Through the haze of pain that was his existence Daniel tried to get his bearings. Last night was a weird blur. He vaguely recalled heavily drinking and that was about it. He could still taste the whiskey on his tongue. He gagged a little, barely refraining from throwing up in his mouth. So that was kind of a win.
He was a mess. Blacking out, really? This was a record low. Daniel cracked open his eyes into little slits. He glanced at the alarm clock on the nightstand. It was almost eight. He had little more than an hour to make it to first period. He rolled over to get up and was then immediately hit by a wave of exhaustion. With a low groan he shoved the blankets over his head, closed his eyes and passed back out.
Daniel was woken up from a dream where he was trapped on a raft in the ending of Titanic. Leonardo DiCaprio kept banging his fist and demanding to be let on. He awoke in complete confusion wondering why he felt the urge to listen to Celine Dion and he didn't understand why he kept hearing pounding. It took an embarrassingly long length of time for Daniel to realize the pounding was in fact knocking coming from his dorm room door. He jumped out of bed and was brought up short by a burst of dizziness. He felt like he had survived a nuclear explosion. His head was killing him. Daniel slept with his contacts in and they were having trouble finding their way back to the center of his eyes.
"One second," he called, grimacing at the wrinkled clothes he was still wearing from yesterday. On his way to the door he tripped on a shoe and stumbled into the desk with a bang. "Fuck me," he swore, rubbing his shin. "Get your shit together, Daniel."
Daniel opened the door and promptly slammed it shut. The door caught on Skyler's shoe wedged in the doorway. Skyler peered into Daniel's face looking like a handsome devil with his sunglasses and loosened tie. He openly smirked at Daniel's death glare. Daniel wanted to punch him.
"Good morning, sunshine."
Daniel narrowed his eyes. "What the hell are you doing here? And why are you wearing sunglasses inside? You look like a vampire."
"Very funny, Tiny Tim," Skyler growled, pushing open the door and breezing past Daniel.
He stood in the middle of the room looking around at the posters of musicals, the CD collection and pictures hanging on the mirror above the dresser.
Daniel took a minute to let how surreal this was sink in, Skyler here in his room and it was a flashback to happier times that were better left in the past. He ran a hand through his hair and then made a face at the handful of curls. He needed to shower, fix his hair and shake off this hangover.
"I don't have a lot of time," Daniel. said, snapping his fingers in get a move on gesture. "What do you want?"
"Calm down, eyebrows."
Daniel's hand flew to his thick brows and he scowled, "Get a life, Frakenteen. Now what do you want?"
"You don't remember last night?" Skyler asked, a devilish grin taking over his face.
"Stop smiling like that. I've been calling you the Prince of Darkness in my head and that's not making it any better," Daniel pointed out.
Skyler pushed his sunglasses up into his hair, regarding Daniel with those cool blue eyes. "So that's a no."
"I blacked out if you must know," Daniel admitted reluctantly. "Which is something I never do, so don't even start. Did you roofie me?"
Daniel shrugged. "It's a dick thing to do, so I couldn't put it past you."
"I'm two seconds away from shoving my foot up your ass," Skyler hissed pointing at him, rather dramatically, Daniel couldn't help thinking. "You might want to check your Facebook."
A chill went down his spine at the words. Daniel prayed he didn't post something stupid during his night of drunken shenanigans. If his parents saw anything incriminating, then his life was over. He snatched his phone off the floor ignoring the new picture on the lock screen. It was two different hands coming together to make a heart. One of the hands looked suspiciously like his own. He dismissed the thought quickly navigating to the Facebook app. He didn't have to look hard. It was there at the top of his newsfeed:
Daniel Thorpe is in a relationship with Skyler Phillips.
He barely noted his phone falling from his fingers. The shock hit him like an exploding bomb. His ears were ringing and Skyler was talking to him, but it sounded like he was a million miles away. A memory came to Daniel with a sudden clarity that made him gasp. He recalled him and Skyler giggling, fingers running through his hair and a promise sealed with a kiss against his throat.
Daniel didn't register his fist swinging until Skyler was dodging to the side with a startled yelp. He weaved around the next punch and glared at Daniel.
"Will you stop trying to hit me!" Skyler growled, looking like he was a moment away from swinging back. "What is your deal?"
"What is my deal?" Daniel asked incredulously. "Let's talk about the fact that everyone I know thinks I'm dating Voldemort's lookalike!"
Skyler narrowed his eyes. "You want to climb on a stool and say that to my face, Tiny Tim."
"You are the worst thing that's ever happened to me," Daniel declared, bending down to scoop up his phone off the ground.
Skyler scuffed his foot on the ground. "Aw, shucks."
"I can't believe this. I have a boyfriend." Daniel was trying and failing to keep the panic out of his voice.
"You have a boyfriend?" Skyler asked. If Daniel didn't know any better, he'd say that Skyler sounded almost betrayed.
"I'm talking about you!" Daniel looked down at his phone, scrolling through the notifications, 198 text messages and 52 missed calls.
Skyler cleared his throat and said after a beat, "I knew that."
"Oh, God," he moaned, opening up the message app that had been set on do not disturb at some point. There were a combined fifteen messages from his parents. Fourteen of them was from his mother alone.
What! I thought you haven't spoken to Skyler in years.
I'm so happy for you.
How did this happen?
Are you going to call me back?
It's not nice to ignore your mother, sweetheart.
There were other texts from her, mostly sent last night and only a couple this morning. Daniel ignored them and moved on to the single text message sent from his father.
We need to talk.
Daniel rubbed his face and closed the messaging app. That was a conversation he was not looking forward to anytime soon. He looked at Skyler who was scrolling through his phone with a little smile on his face.
"We have almost 2,000 likes on our relationship post," Skyler said. Daniel wondered if he was about to fist pump the air in glee.
Daniel wanted to throw his phone at him. Instead, he took a deep breath and prayed that he was still dreaming before saying, "You're taking this awfully well."
"Am I supposed to be freaking out like you, Frosty the Shortman?"
"Your breath smells like old bus sheets and train smoke."
Skyler blinked at him, bored. "Are you done queening out?"
"I will kick you in the nuts."
They had a long stare down before Skyler rolled his eyes. "People have been thinking we're dating since we were kids. This is just an extension of that."
Daniel leveled him with a flat stare. "You say that as if I'm not going to change my relationship status back to single and tell everyone this was a prank. Which it was. The most hilarious one the devil has ever played."
Skyler let out a sigh. "I'm not sure if that hair gel has seeped into your brain and damaged it but we're not doing this for fun."
"You're going to have to clear that up for me," said Daniel, wondering if it was too late to claim he had been hacked. "I only remember bits of last night but I know this was your sick idea."
Skyler rolled his eyes. "First of all, chill out. Bring that attitude down three notches, short stack."
"I want to throw a brick at you or something equally as heavy."
"Classy," he replied, dryly. Then Skyler said slowly like he was talking to a child, "Newsflash I don't like you either. We're doing this for Cory. My best friend doesn't need your shirt right now."
Daniel could feel his eye twitch. "Don't talk down to me."
"Would you prefer I crouch so I'm at your height?"
Closing his eyes, Daniel silently counted backward from ten and asked through clenched teeth, "Care to enlighten me why you think pretending to date would be beneficial to Cory?"
"You saw the look on his face when I told him we're boyfriends."
The night might have been a blur after alcohol was involved but Daniel could remember the gleeful expression and joy Cory practically vibrated with at hearing the announcement, the lie. Skyler gave him a knowing look as the clarity washed over his face.
Daniel shook his head, dismissive. "He's been angling for us to date since we were freshman."
"I'm willing to lie if we can keep that look on his face," Skyler said. He looked away and his eyes were shuttered. "That boy has too much on his plate now to worry about us."
"And what?" said Daniel, narrowing his eyes. "We just keep up the lie. He'll find out the truth. This is ridiculous."
Skyler rolled his eyes. "Of course we don't lie forever. We just have to do this for a month or two, then we'll mutually break up. Cory will understand but he's ecstatic that we're even giving this a shot."
Daniel made a face. "Do you think this is fucking Make a Wish? This is my life we're talking about."
"You forget Cory won't have a life for much longer," Skyler snapped.
The truth hit Daniel like a slap and he said, "That's low."
"I will do anything to make that kid happy even if it's this one thing we both hate."
It was such a ridiculous thing to lie about, but remembering the outright happiness that transformed Cory's face when he found out was incredible. It was a drastic shift from the broken boy who confided in Daniel he had cancer, shadows in his eyes and tears threatening to fall. As far as doing things to help Cory deal with beating this, lying to him about being in love was minimal. The lie was annoying and going to be ugly to manage, but no one was being harmed. Well, except for Daniel's reputation.
"If I'm in let's agree on `breaking up' after two months," Daniel said, watching Skyler's face carefully.
A slow smile formed on Skyler's face. "Three months," he immediately countered.
Daniel crossed his arms. "One month."
"Well that's just petty," said Skyler, shaking his head. He let out a breath. "Fine. We'll call it off publically after one month. Happy?"
"Ecstatic," he deadpanned.
The longer they talked the more Daniel wouldn't to karate kick Skyler across the face. This was going to be a long month. If it brought Cory even a little happiness at seeing them together then putting up with the prince of hell was worth it.
Daniel clapped his hands and said with false cheer. "Now that we've got the contract for my soul ironed out, you can go now. Shoo! Be gone back to the Netherworld."
Skyler took a seat on the bed. He pulled out his phone and began scrolling through his texts messages. He looked up with feigned surprise when Daniel picked up a book, holding it up to throw at him.
"Oh, I thought you were getting ready." He nodded to the clock on the nightstand. "We're kind of pressed for time here."
Daniel went very still. "Excuse me?"
Skyler frowned. "We just had a whole conversation where we agreed to fake date."
"I thought you meant in name only!" Daniel's voice went high in surprise. "You actually want to go out and be seen together."
"That's generally what dating means," Skyler said slowly. He cocked his head. "You used to be the smart one."
"I will put my hand through your chest."
"Not how fisting works, but kinky."
"I hate you."
"You say the sweetest things. Ditto."
The pros and cons of continuing the verbal war were lengthy and unfortunately Skyler wasn't wrong; Daniel was pressed for time. An annoyed growl was aimed at Skyler before Daniel sprinted to the closet to grab a clean uniform. He made a beeline for the bathroom without giving the other boy a second glance.
The door slammed behind him and Daniel put his back against it, finally exhaling the breath he felt he had been holding all this time. It was typical Skyler to come waltzing back into Daniel's life and throw the whole thing out of whack. They used to call it a Skyler Storm – the singlehanded ability of Skyler's to torpedo any best laid plan into oblivion. Time hadn't dulled his power of chaos.
Daniel used to find it endearing. That was then.
It took a minute to shake off the lingering sentiment. Brooding was not on his list of things to do. At least not right now and on his own. That's what he paid his therapist for. Daniel jumped into the shower.
It didn't take long for the hot water to do the trick. Ten minutes later, Daniel felt alive and almost human. The hangover lingered only as a slight throb in his temples. He finished combing his hair into place, stepped out of the bathroom and abruptly stopped. Skyler was laid out on Daniel's bed with his phone up and angled to capture the morning light for a selfie. It was then that Daniel knew he had walked into Hell.
"You're going to need a photoshop app and a prayer to make that selfie look good."
Skyler looked past the camera, lips curling into a lazy grin. "You finally tamed your curls into submission. Only took you half an hour."
It hadn't, but Daniel was not about to dignify that by checking the clock. "Not all of us want to roll out of bed and go."
"You look like a gay Clark Kent."
"And you continue looking like you wandered off the set of Dracula," Daniel fired back, then scooped up his backpack off the desk. The glare he sent Skyler was chilly. "Let's get on with this farce."
Skyler jumped up off the bed with a laugh. "Farce? Somebody is going for a 1600 on his SAT's."
"Already took them. I got a 1530."
Skyler looked at him appraisingly as Daniel fished out the key from his bag to lock the dorm room behind them. "I guess that gel hasn't totally fried your brain cells."
Daniel imagined taking the key and stabbing him. It made him smile. Skyler saw it and took a step back. He obviously hadn't lost his survival instincts. Good for him. Fortunately for Daniel's headache they only managed to snap at each other three times before they joined the rest of the student body in the dining hall.
They walked in together and people openly stared. One would think they would either be too focused on breakfast or doing homework last minute, but this was a small school and everyone loved drama. The stares were annoying and made Daniel feel horribly awkward like he was back in first year and didn't know how to fit in.
"Want to grab a bite?" Skyler gestured to the far wall to the line where food was served buffet style.
Daniel grimaced. "Too hungover. I just need water."
A glance confirmed that Skyler didn't appear terribly bothered by the attention. His hands were in his pockets and he looked around as if he was almost bored by it all. Daniel jabbed Skyler's side with an elbow, cocking his head toward a table where his friends sat.
"Am I hallucinating?" Dean asked, gesturing at them with egg covered prongs of a fork. "I thought you two hated each other."
They had barely sat down and Daniel looked at him blankly. "Can I put my backpack down first before the interrogation?"
Sasha snorted. "You didn't reply to our texts last night. You had to know this was coming."
A charming grin took over Skyler's face when Sasha aimed an expectant stare his way. "I plead the fifth."
"Keep that up," Dean said with a wide grin. "Between that video on YouTube and the rumors about you two people are going to give you shit all day."
An ice cold feeling went down Daniel's spine. He tried and failed to keep his voice from cracking. "What rumors?"
Dean and Sasha traded a look. It was Sasha who said hesitantly, "Well, some dudes on the tennis team apparently used to room next door to Skyler back when you used to go here. They remember you."
"What exactly do these guys `remember'?" Skyler demanded, making air quotes with his fingers.
Dean took a sip of orange juice and stared at him over the rim of the glass. "You guys were best friends until you stole his boyfriend and got kicked out after getting caught screwing in the dorms."
"And now you're dating." Sasha touched the screen of his phone, sitting on the table and open to Facebook. "Word is spreading fast."
Daniel grimaced. "What are people saying?"
"That it's a thin line between love and hate," Dean grinned. He looked at them slyly. "So I guess you two kissed and made up?"
Daniel narrowed his eyes. "For being straight you're awfully interested in my love life."
"Sounds like deflection to me."
"Sure does," Sasha agreed, nodding at Dean and then he looked at his phone and his fingers tapped away to comment under some random Facebook post. "You might want to get used to the questions. Inquiring minds want to know."
Skyler draped his arm over Daniel's shoulders. "It's exactly what it looks like. We had a problem and we talked it out. It was a very successful talk."
Daniel was having trouble concentrating because he was now extremely aware of Skyler's thigh pressed flushed all the way down the length of his own. He wanted to die. Dean glanced over at Sasha's phone that was now open to Twitter.
"Just so you two know," Dean said. "That video made its way all over social media. You've gone viral."
"Really?" Skyler and Daniel both said at the same time.
Daniel sounded mortified, while Skyler's excited tone was completely delighted. He shot Skyler a betrayed look. It was just like him to bask in the attention. Why couldn't he just sign up for the clown rodeo already? Sasha waved his phone at their faces. A tweet was pulled up with their video embedded from YouTube and retweeted by Tina Fey.
Daniel's jaw dropped and he said faintly, "It has over a hundred thousand likes."
"That's awesome!" Skyler said cheerfully.
Sasha liked the tweet and looked up at them with a smirk. "I can't believe we're in the presence of two celebrities."
"Stop, you're making me blush," Skyler replied, and then exaggerated a fake shy smile, shoving his face into Daniel's shoulder to hide it.
Dean grinned like he was watching a Hallmark movie. "You guys are adorable."
Daniel laughed lightly and it sounded extremely hollow to his ears. "Adorable, really? We're cute at best."
Skyler snorted, pushing his nose into the hair at the nape of Daniel's neck. His breath was warm. "I'll accept adorable. He's not wrong."
Under the table Daniel stepped on Skyler's foot, hard. Satisfaction was watching Skyler grimace and pull away, fighting to hide the pain. Daniel sighed happily. It really was the little things that brought him joy. That would teach Skyler not to overstep himself.
Sasha was looking around the room with a frown. He glanced at his watch and asked, "Where's Cory? He's usually here by now taking down a stack of pancakes."
Daniel could feel Skyler stiffen next to him. They traded an uneasy look between them. Daniel might be out of practice with reading the other boy's facial expressions, but in that one glance they were in agreement. Cory's sickness was his to share and they would be with him every step of the way. It was why they were doing this.
"I don't know," Daniel lied. "He's probably sleeping in."
Dean shrugged. "That boy can't resist food. I'm sure he'll be down soon."
"You know, I'm going to go check in on him," Daniel said abruptly.
The three of them looked at him in surprise when he suddenly stood up. The room felt too small, like the walls were closing in and it was getting harder to breathe. This was all too much. He needed Cory to make the world make sense again. Skyler swept his things off the table and stood up too.
"Wait, I'll come with you."
Daniel frowned. "You really don't have to."
Skyler cut his eyes at Dean and Sasha, who were watching them like a tennis match, and a slow smile formed. "But I want to."
Daniel got the hint. They had an audience. He stapled a smile on his face. "I wouldn't mind the company then."
Fingers skimmed the side of Daniel's wrist, sliding down into his palm until they're holding hands, and it came so naturally that Daniel hadn't even felt it happening until Skyler's fingers interlocked through his. Daniel wanted to bite his arm off like a coyote.
"Lead the way, captain," Skyler said.
It was hard enough not to stare at their joint hands and it was even harder to ignore the eyes following them out of the room. Daniel even saw a camera flash go off. He fought back a scowl. Whoever upload that video was going to have a meeting with the heel of his boot.
"You know, when you frown like that you get the tiniest wrinkles between your eyebrows."
They were alone in the hallway now, so Daniel shook his hand out of Skyler's quickly. "I'm only frowning because your hand felt cold." He looked at Skyler with a little smirk. "Vampires don't have a pulse so I should've expected it."
"I'm probably the only person who has ever held your hand." Skyler rolled his eyes. "The only thing you regularly hold is a number two pencil or your dick."
Daniel forced himself to think happy thoughts or he might do something reckless. "A number two pencil is thin but it's wooden." He cocked his head. "I imagine it could still work as a stake through the heart."
Skyler snorted. "Bring a step ladder with you to even reach my heart, Mighty Mouse."
They walked through the main hall with its high glass windows and white marble floors. The sea green walls were painted with murals of countryside landscapes. Daniel paused mid step and stared at Skyler. "There's a lot of sunlight in here. I've seen Interview with the Vampire. You might combust."
Shaking his head, Skyler walked through the hall with Daniel following a step behind. "Wow. Good one, Strawberry Shortcake."
"I can't believe we're actually going through with this." Daniel laughed suddenly but it lacked any real humor. He felt like he was going to have a panic attack. "We can't even go five minutes without insulting each other."
Skyler sighed. "Will you relax?" He pinched the bridge of his nose. "You're over thinking things. We're not faking a marriage for a green card. We got this."
There was a sort of rueful smile on Skyler's face that Daniel didn't try to figure out. Daniel just stared back at him uncertainly, thinking longingly of his plans for a blissful senior year. He scratched the back of his neck and said, "If we get caught—"
"Daniel—" Skyler interrupted, then cut himself off with an exasperated noise. He looked both ways to make sure they were still alone in the hall. They were near the dorms and mostly everyone was at breakfast by now. Skyler seized Daniel by the shoulders and he was forced to look up into those clear blue eyes. "You're getting stuck in your own head. Even if we do get caught. I'll take the blame. It was my idea anyway."
Daniel was gripped by simultaneous urges to duck away from Skyler's hands and punch him square in the mouth, but his body suddenly seemed fixed in time and space and all that happened was him blurting out an incredulous, "Really?"
"Yes, really," Skyler said, smiling now at Daniel's visible disbelief.
"Why would you do that?"
Skyler looked heavenward and stepped back, crossing his arms over his chest. "I think this will make Cory happy. I'll do anything to put a smile on his face. Even this."
Daniel adjusted his tie. He needed to do something with his hands. Anything to take his mind away from having Skyler that close to him. It made him remember the past and those memories were better left buried.
"Aren't you just a saint," Daniel said.
"It's not like this stunt will get me kicked out of school," Skyler pointed out, pushing past Daniel to continue down the hall. He turned back after a few steps and his eyes were dark when he said, "Again."
There was nothing else to say after that. They walked together to Cory's room in silence. They were both physically here but they might as well be a thousand miles away. There was a chasm between filled with precious moments and widened by heartache and sorrow. There was no getting over it and Daniel knew he didn't want to. What was done was done and no matter what he was pretending, Daniel's future didn't include Skyler.
It was a short walk from there to Cory's room. Daniel only knocked once before the door was flying open and Cory was standing in the doorway with a frazzled look. He was in jeans and an old Quidditch jersey, shaggy hair in disarray. His expression lit up when he saw them.
"Come in," Cory said, already turning back to dig through the pile of clothes on his bed. "I thought you were my parents. They're waiting on me outside."
Daniel peered around the disaster that was Cory's room. It looked like a tornado had hit it. "What happened here?"
"I'm looking for my lucky underwear," Cory replied, tearing through the drawers of his bedside table. "I got to the third base with Rashida Jones last summer when I wore those. And that time I won the spelling bee in English, I was wearing them too."
Skyler made a face. "This is TMI."
Cory discarded an old pair of boxers over his shoulder. He peered at them with a slowly growing smile. "I saw Facebook. Congrats on coming out."
"That doesn't mean what you think it means," Daniel said.
"When you have your first kid I want it named after me." Cory rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "What do we think about the name Corinth?" He saw the expression on their faces and winced. "Too biblical?"
It took a minute for Daniel to find his voice because wow. "You're jumping the gun, big guy. You might want to find your underwear first."
Skyler pointed to a pair of black boxer briefs hung on the back of a chair. "Are those them?"
Cory ignored his disgusted stare and plucked them from the chair, holding them in the air triumphantly. "Thanks, dude! I knew your eagle eyes was up for the job." He grinned at them, eyes going all crinkly at the corners. "You would make a terrific cat burglar."
"We just came to check on you," Daniel started to say and then stopped when Cory whipped down his pants. "Are you not going to go into the bathroom to put those on?"
Cory cocked his head. "For what?"
"Did I walk onto the set of Magic Mike?" Daniel muttered, spinning around to give him privacy. He shot Skyler a glare and the other boy rolled his eyes, before turning around also.
"Aw, got him trained already?" Cory said teasingly. They could hear him stumbling around behind them to change underwear. "That's adorable."
Skyler smirked at Daniel. "What can I say? Anything my baby wants."
Daniel almost gagged. He changed the subject otherwise he would throw himself from the window. "I'm surprised you're not hungover."
"Oh, please," Cory laughed. "I barely drank. You two were the ones who got white girl wasted last night. You were throwing back shots and giggling—" He checked his phone suddenly and swore. "Okay, we'll do the catch up game later. I got to jet and meet the folks before my dad storms the halls like Thanos."
"Doctor's appointment?" Skyler asked.
Anxiety flashed in Cory's eyes before it was gone. "Yep," he said, sitting down on the bed to put on his Converse. "The folks got me in with a doc to run more tests for a second opinion."
Daniel put his hand on Cory's shoulder and squeezed. He wanted to transfer all his strength and health into that touch alone. Daniel kind of wished he could go back in time before he found out how cruel the world could be. This wasn't fair. He had to tell himself quiet, quiet.
"We're here for you if you need anything," Daniel said. He patted Cory's shoulder and then put a little distance between.
Skyler nodded. "You can count on us."
The sincerity in Skyler's voice was real. It had been a long time since Daniel had heard him sound so sweet. Daniel might not want to be friends with Skyler, but at least Cory had someone else in his corner to count on. Cory's eyes were wet.
"Thanks, guys." If his voice cracked a little, no one commented on it. "I'll be fine. Go reenact Bareback Mountain somewhere else."
They laughed and made themselves scarce while Cory called his parents. They shut the door behind them and headed to the wing where the classrooms were held. The halls filled up as their classmates began their trek to homeroom. It was loud and boisterous and it was Daniel's favorite time of the school day. The classroom doors were open with teachers standing in doorways as quiet monitors, greeting students and calling warnings when boys got too rowdy.
Daniel stopped in front of his homeroom. Skyler stood close and Daniel was keenly aware of the eyes watching them. They had become the talk of the school overnight and everyone wanted to see what their next move was. It was aggravating. This was not how he wanted to spend his senior year.
"Everyone is watching us," Daniel said quietly. He was leaning into Skyler, appearing as if he was saying goodbye. "I hate you for this."
Skyler chuckled. "Then let's give them a show."
And Skyler kissed him.
It was a soft gentle press of Skyler's lips against his and it was honestly the last thing Daniel had been expecting. The shock disabled his senses. He couldn't think, let alone respond and he was barely aware of the catcalls in the hallway. Several seconds, several infinite seconds, passed before Skyler pulled away and Daniel's eyelids fluttered open. When did he close his eyes?
"Alright, boys get to class!" Mr. Mancini called from down the hall.
Daniel opened his mouth to say something scathing at Skyler, but stopped since his tongue felt like it was tied into knots. Skyler saw Daniel's brain wasn't quite firing on all cylinders and he grinned like a villain.
"I," Daniel swallowed. Why was his voice so high? "I'm going to Calc."
"I'll see you later," Skyler drawled, before turning on his heel and joining the crowd journeying to class, now that the show was over.
Daniel walked into his classroom, rubbing his chest with a frown. His heart felt tight like someone was squeezing it. He wanted to march back into the hallway and throw his Calculus book at the book of Skyler's head, knock that smarmy grin right off his stupid smiling face. He was the worst thing in Daniel's life right now.
Mr. Mancini was notorious for being strict so Daniel was able to avoid talking about Skyler or that damn video. He avoided the curious glances shot his way. This school should just ban cell phones. Maybe put them together in a pyre and burn them all like Luke Skywalker did to Vader in that one scene from Return of the Jedi.
It hadn't even been twenty four hours and already this whole thing was turning into a pain in his ass. Daniel was having trouble concentrating and he couldn't quite put his finger on why. The sound of Mr. Mancini's lecture was a dull drone as his thoughts raced. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Rylan Fuller show the boys around him something on his cell phone.
Daniel looked to his right when Jeremy Reed dropped his phone. He reached under his desk to grab it and that's Daniel saw it was opened to Instagram. He frowned at the whispered conversations going on behind Mr. Mancini's back, while he wrote on the board at the front of the classroom.
Something was up. Jeremy tapped his phone and reached over to get Daniel's attention to look at it. It was Cory's Instagram profile pulled up. On it was a picture posted minutes ago and the caption read Fuck cancer. I got this.
Well that was a hell of a way to announce it.
The dining hall was louder than usual today. News of Cory's illness spread like wildfire. Everybody wanted to know more information and since Daniel was his best friend they thought he was a prime source. He didn't last three minutes before making a hasty retreat. It was the beginning of September and the blistering summer heat was making way for the cooler fall weather.
It was surprisingly deserted in the outdoor courtyard behind the main building. The dining hall was the place to be apparently. Boys were worse gossips than girls. Daniel would go to his grave saying that.
Skyler was sitting on the wooden table top, staring off at the track and sports field in the distance. It was a nice view. Daniel had sat there a time or two to watch the lacrosse team practice after school. The expression on Skyler's face was wistful. It took a minute for Daniel to even make the connection. Once upon a time, Skyler had been on the lacrosse team. He had forgotten about that. Daniel cleared his throat to get Skyler's attention.
"If we're going to do this, we need to set some ground rules here."
Skyler barked out a laugh. He was looking at Daniel like he started speaking another language. "Excuse me?"
Daniel arched an eyebrow. "You heard me, Edward Cullen. I want us to be clear about what this is and where we stand."
It looked like Skyler was trying hard not to burst into a full blown grin. He made his face serious, straightened his shoulders and nodded like he was in a business meeting. It wasn't quite successful because Daniel could see his lips twitching.
Daniel narrowed his eyes. "First things first, I don't want you to kiss me anymore."
"What the hell?" Skyler said and he looked so surprised, Daniel thought he was about to fall off the table. "Nobody is going to believe this is real if I can't kiss you."
"You can kiss my cheek or my forehead."
Skyler really did laugh in his face then. "On the forehead. What are we, five?"
"A forehead kiss is sweet and endearing," Daniel explained patiently. "Thrilling almost. Sometimes thoughtful. It's not as intimate as a kiss on the lips, but when you look in their eyes every feeling is laid bare."
"Well, damn," Skyler said, fanning his face with his hand. "That sounds damn near erotic."
It was stolen from a theater script for a musical he auditioned for last winter, but Skyler didn't need to know all of that. Skyler watched him and Daniel tried not to squirm under that intense stare. His eyes were so blue. Sometimes it felt like Skyler could see through him.
"And why can't I kiss you on the lips exactly?"
Daniel folded his hands together, resting them on the table. "This relationship might be fake, but when I kiss someone I want it to be for real."
Skyler studied him carefully before nodding. "That's fair. Then in that case, when I join the lacrosse team you have to come to all my games and watch my practices."
"Then you have to come to my Dappertones performances."
"Oh, my God!" Skyler laughed. "You're still in that?"
Daniel reached into his bag and then threw a pen at Skyler. He missed. It only made Skyler laugh harder. Daniel's lack of athletic ability was something to be awed at. He was even awful at playing catch. The kids in elementary had given up throwing him stuff during PE, walking across the gym to physically hand him a ball. It was humiliating.
"Bill Compton, are you finished?"
Skyler wiped a tear from his eye. "Oh calm down, Sir Short-a lot."
"I hate everything about you," Daniel said between clenched tight.
"The feelings mutual," he replied with a wink.
"Even when this ends we can never tell anyone this relationship is fake. The humiliation would send me into a shame spiral."
"Agreed. We would both never hear the end of it."
Daniel could feel himself relax a little with that. At least that was one thing they both agreed on. People had short memories but if word got around, all it would take was one social media post for it follow them the rest of their lives. They would probably end up on the Ellen show just so she could laugh at them in front of a live studio audience. Daniel shuddered. He would die first.
The drama of today almost made him forget it was Tuesday. Daniel didn't want to mention it but they had a deal. "The Dappertones are performing after school in the senior commons. I expect to see you there."
Skyler placed his hands over his heart, batting his eyes. "Oh, gee. That sounds swell. I'll be there with bells on."
"If you trip and fall into a pool of holy water on the way, I won't hold it against you."
"Would I by chance be tripping over the stool you use to reach the sink?"
Daniel wiggled his fingers in a little wave. "You're dismissed, Lestat."
"Carry on, Frodo." Skyler stood up and put his sunglasses on in one smooth motion.
It was just like one of the undead to be graceful. Skyler wandered down the path that led back into the main building. Daniel finally sighed when Skyler turned the corner out of sight. It felt like he could let his guard down now. It was difficult being around Skyler. The feelings Daniel had run deep and they were complicated. He just wanted them to stay buried. It was too late to unpack all of that hurt.
The iPhone on the table lit up with a call. Daniel grimaced at his dad's picture on the screen. He might as well get this over with. With a tap he answered the phone, realizing belatedly that it was a FaceTime call when his father's face appeared live on the screen. Daniel's smile looked frozen.
"Dad, hi!" he said, smoothly recovering. "I meant to call you back earlier. Been a little busy today."
William Thorpe was a former marine, Harvard Law graduate and current United States senator. As far as looks, he was basically Daniel just add twenty nine years and a hundred pounds of muscle with a beard. Daniel loved him and all, but his father was intimidating.
"Would you believe this isn't my first time seeing you today."
Daniel grimaced. "You saw the video?"
"Everybody has seen the video."
"We were running lines," Daniel lied. He hated when his dad spoke with that quiet tone where Daniel couldn't tell if he was disappointed or not. "It was a scene from a play we're doing. It wasn't serious."
William nodded and Daniel could see the framed pictures of their family behind him. It looked like he was back in his office in Washington.
"I figured it was something like that after I saw your Facebook post. Congratulations, kiddo." When he smiled William looked ten years younger and Daniel loved it because it was real, not his politician smile. "You know it's an election year. I heard word that my opponent was about to run that video in an ad to attack my family values."
Daniel winced. "Let me guess, if you can't even raise a kid to behave then how can you manage a state?"
"Bingo," William replied. There was pride in his voice. "We have two months until elections and they're getting desperate. When I saw your relationship status I figured you boys were just playing around. You know how fast the internet works. Commenters are already swarming the blogs with screenshots of your relationship post. The staffers say the ship name for you two is Dyler."
"I'm not sure how to process that," Daniel said weakly. His head was spinning.
"It's a lot to process. Expect a lot of new friend requests on social media. Be wary of anyone fishing for info."
This was starting to get a bit intense. "I hope I didn't cause trouble for you."
William's face softened. "Never. At least the internet knows my kid is a looker."
"Dad," Daniel groaned, but he was smiling. "Be less embarrassing."
"Seriously, you're good. It's nothing I can't handle. Just please try and keep a low profile." He held up a finger and mouthed one more minute to someone off screen. "Give my best to Skyler. I'm glad you two made up. I want to see him at my reelection party. I haven't seen that boy in forever."
Daniel tried to hide his horror and his smile became strained. "Sure, Dad. Will do."
"I have to go, but please call your mother before she flies upstate and marches into your school."
That was another conversation he had been avoiding. Daniel nodded, crossing his fingers over his heart. "I promise. Bye, Dad."
"Bye, buddy. I love you."
Daniel dropped his phone and collapsed over the table with his chin on his arms. He hit his forehead against the table with a thud. This day had gone from bad to worse and it was barely noon. Maybe if he stood next to a pole he could get struck by lightning. A coma sounded a lot better than this Twilight Zone episode his life had suddenly become.
The teachers hadn't said anything yet but Daniel could see they were worried about him. This was the second day in a row where he floated through class in a daze. He felt like he was a million miles out of his body. The Skyler thing was a small reason, but the majority of his thoughts were centered on Cory. He hadn't seen him since this morning and it was radio silence from his phone. Not a single text message all day.
Skyler gave his hand a little shake as they walked through the hallways after classes were done for the day. Daniel was so distracted he hadn't even realized they were holding hands, as they followed the student body to the senior commons for the Dappertones performance.
"You better get your head in the game," Skyler said. "You have a song to sing. If you suck, then I'll be embarrassed for you."
That snapped Daniel right out of his funk. He glared at Skyler's smirk. "The sun will be down soon. I'm sure you need to feed on some poor virgin. What should I tell people when they notice you're not at dinner?"
"Tell them I went to fetch some tar or molasses or whatever it is you use to tame those ramen noodle curls."
"Go play in traffic.
"Do me a favor and have a nice glass of bleach before bed."
Skyler smiled and it was completely fake. "This is fun."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "This was your idea. Remember."
Surprisingly Skyler didn't have a comeback at that. Daniel took his victory where he could. They trailed between the students entering the large room seniors normally relaxed in. Boys were carefully moving furniture, leaving a scuff on the hardwood floor was a no no, and space was quickly filling up as the Dappertones took position in the center of the room.
Skyler touched the pad of his thumb to Daniel's forehead, feather light, and then sealed his mouth over the spot. He pulled back to look Daniel in the eyes.
"Break a leg."
Daniel looked him up and down. "I know you mean that literally, but thank you."
Daniel watched him join the other students against the walls. The couches were packed and boys sat in groups on armchairs, crammed into whatever space there was left. The Dappertones formed up even as Daniel took center spot in the first row to complete the even dozen.
The room came alive as they started the iconic beat to Under Pressure by Queen. It was always a crowd pleaser. Sasha skipped from his place in formation playing up the beat as the glee club's melody formed around his beat boxing.
The audience clapped along as Dean led them into the intro. "Doo buh dum ba beh beh."
Dean pointed to Daniel and they sang the first verse in harmony, "Pressure pushing down on me. Pressure pushing on you, no man ask for."
This was what Daniel lived for. All his burdens were laid to rest as he performed. He never felt more alive than when he sang in front of people. The feeling was electrifying, addictive and the thrill was like skydiving with no parachute. Seeing his fellow classmates clap along to the song made him smile so hard it hurt.
When they moved into the bridge of the song the crowd cheered, as the Dappertones proceeded to wow the room with their choreography. This was Sasha's area to shine. He went into a freestyle as they sang, flipping off furniture and waving his hands in rhythm to amp up the crowd's energy.
Sasha pounded at the floor when Dean and Frederick sang the chorus, "It's the terror of knowing what this world is about watching some good friends scream, `let me out'."
Dean reached out for Sasha's hand, smoothly lifting him up and he spun around in a dancer's turn to rejoin the formation.
"Can't we give ourselves one more chance. Why can't we give ourselves one more chance." Dean placed his hands over his heart and closed his eyes, singing each note with heartfelt feeling.
Then without missing a beat Daniel stepped away from the formation, his arms sweeping out in a broad gesture and sang in a clear tenor, "Because love's such an old fashioned word. And loves dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night. And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves."
"This is our last dance," The Dappertones sang the remaining chorus and with embellished emotion.
Through the crowd, Daniel caught Skyler's eye by accident. It was fleeting but there was an expression on his face like he was lost or confused and he looked at Daniel as if he were a stranger.
It was gone before Daniel could pin it down and by then he was singing the last lines, "This is ourselves under pressure."
The crowd was swarming them before the last notes faded away. Panting and eyes alit with the thrill of performing, the Dappertones were giddy with success. They waved off the shouts for an encore. Daniel took a bow for some classmate's Snapchat story and posed for a few selfies. Skyler found him in the middle of the party the room was rapidly turning into. Daniel was so happy he had a genuine smile on his face when he saw Skyler.
Skyler pulled him into a hug and a few people whistled and someone patted Daniel on the back. It felt like so many things were happening at once. Daniel's heart was pounding hard and it hurt but in a good way.
"It's like you guys are freaking rock stars," Skyler said. He was shaking his head, kind of in disbelief of it all. "Is this staged? Are we being filmed or something?"
"If we were alone I would sock you right in the mouth."
A grin formed on Skyler's face. "Is this anger coming from not being tall enough to ride rollercoasters yet?"
Daniel weighed the pros and cons of decking Skyler but vampires were notoriously strong. That fight could get ugly. The noise in the room abruptly picked up. It sounded like something was going on. It was hard to see with the room being so full. The commotion only grew louder when Cory of all people jumped on the pool table, pushed against the far wall under the portrait of the school's founder. He held his phone up to his mouth, tapping it twice like a microphone.
"My results were mixed up," Cory said as the room quieted. A blinding grin split his face. "False alarm! I don't have cancer!"
What the actual fuck.
It was like a bomb went off. The room shook from the force of the cheers. It was pandemonium. People were hugging, they dragged Cory off the pool table and into a crowd of ecstatic well-wishers. Someone turned on music to celebrate. Relief made him feel weightless and Daniel felt kind of like crying from the sheer joy of it all.
Skyler smiled like he had seen a miracle. It was wide and bright and when he looked at Daniel it turned brighter like he was watching a star shooting across the night sky. He leaned in to talk over the noise of the room.
"This is amazing! I think." He paused and then licked his lips, sighing a little. "I think I'm going to tell Cory the truth. This is like a sign. This whole thing was stupid."
Skyler took off before Daniel could get a word in. He slipped through a break in the crowd leaving Daniel standing there feeling like the world was off kilter, like he was missing something important. He pulled at the nagging thought. Coming clean to Cory should send him jumping up and down. So why did Skyler telling him the truth leave Daniel feeling so uneasy?
Then it hit him. The voice of Daniel's father echoed through his head, you have a ship name and keep a low profile and I want to see him.
Daniel's body was frozen but his thoughts were flying at light speed. There was no way in hell he could end his fake relationship now. There were too many eyes on them. His dad's career was even banking on this. This had somehow gone beyond pleasing Cory. All it would take was an anonymous tip to the blogs and it would shine an unnecessary light on his father's campaign. Not all publicity was good publicity, no matter how that saying went. He needed to stop Skyler. Daniel was moving before he even registered it, parting the crowd like a man on a mission.
It was like he had super strength. Daniel was pushing past people like they were paper dolls. Adrenaline was quite the enhancer. His blood was pumping and he swore he could hear it rushing through his veins. He needed to stop Skyler before—
Then he saw them. Skyler was hugging Cory and ruffling his hair, beaming like a kid on Christmas morning. Daniel was between them in two steps. He cut in front of Skyler, throwing his arms around Cory. No matter the panic he felt, Daniel was genuinely glad to know Cory was going to be okay. He pulled back to study Cory's glowing face.
"I don't care how. I'm just happy you're fine," Daniel grinned.
Cory's laugh was light and it was the best sound Daniel had heard all day. "You and me both."
Skyler stepped beside Daniel, giving him a strange look, and then said, "Listen, Cory. There's something I want to tell you—"
Daniel wrapped his arm around Skyler's waist and pulled him in abruptly, so their sides were pressed flushed together. Skyler leveled Daniel a startled look that he ignored, leaning in to kiss Skyler's earlobe to disguise his whisper, "You tell him anything and I'll tell him about the time you had a wet dream in his bed when we were fourteen. Now smile, baby."
"I wanted to say," Skyler said again, smiling disarmingly at Cory's confused expression. "You better sue that doctor for everything he's worth."
A sharp smile tugged at Cory's lips. "My dad is already on it."
Skyler wrapped his arm Daniel's waist. "That's just insane. People can really surprise you." He looked at Daniel and his eyes were big and round with pretend innocence. "Right, sweetheart?"
Daniel's throat suddenly went dry and he managed to choke out, "Right?"
The heat of Skyler's hand pressed against his hip felt like a brand. Daniel wondered if he just made a deal with the devil. Without a doubt this entire thing was going to come back and bite him in the ass. Right now he was out of options and it was better to dance with the devil you know. Daniel hoped everyone would forgive him for lying. If not, then may the bridges he burned light the way.
[end part ii]
It's been years since I posted anything to this site and I regret that it took me so long to remedy that. I have endings in store for all of my ongoing stories. I've completed one of them so far and I'm actively working on the others.
Thank you to everyone that emailed me. I'm afraid I didn't reply to all of them but know I enjoyed reading them. My email address is as always firstname.lastname@example.org
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