we should probably talk (GH pt 2)

As it turns out, making out with both your mate and one of your oldest best frenemies does not inherently solve all of your problems. Who would’ve thought.

After, they’d agreed that it was probably for the best if they took the rest of the weekend to think about things then got back together to talk, which left Tate with over forty-eight hours to deal with.

He calls Dirk once he gets back to his old apartment to tell him that something has come up and he won’t be able to come back. It isn’t exactly pleasant, but apparently Larry has also talked to Dirk and isn’t ready to retire yet. So somehow, they part amicably enough.

One tiny mess cleaned up in the garbage heap he’s made of his life.

That night, he stretches out in his bed – the one that was made for adults, and not kids plus a small mountain of stuffed animals – and plays those few minutes over in his head. The way something had seemed to slot into place when Ari had kissed him, then again when he’d kissed Kyah.

It wasn’t something he’d heard of before, having two mates, but who knows. Everything else was already so fucking weird, why not this too?

He rolls over – because he can do that in his bed – and grabs his phone. It takes him a couple of tries because it keeps opening up his individual messages, but eventually he gets it and sends one word.

Group Message with: Kyah, Ari

> Night

Tate doesn’t expect a reply from either of them. Only after it’s sent does he wonder if he crossed a line. Made things weird. But as if in response to his thoughts, his phone vibrates softly, then again.

Group Message with: Kyah, Ari

Ari > Oh good you beat me to it I was in the shower trying to decide if I should or not.

Ari > Night you two

He smiles at the screen and goes to put it down, but it vibrates again.

Group Message with: Kyah, Ari

Kyah > You two are both ridiculous and I have to be up tomorrow 🙄 Night

His smile breaks into something stupid because he knows that eye roll.

After giving it another minute to see if anything else will come through, Tate rolls back onto his stomach. He falls asleep, phone still in hand.

The next morning, he showers, changes into something decent, and goes to meet his death. He walks, because the weather is nice and it feels right.

It feels right to be back. To have this dirt and grass under his feet.

When he reaches the front door, he flounders. It’s open like he expects, though – the glass storm door only closed to keep the bugs out. Taking a breath, Tate pushes the door open and steps inside.

Layers of warm, familiar smells hit him all at once. Almost twenty years of memories, in this house, and the scents are fresh. Alive.

He hears the faint creak of the floor a second before Reuben says, “She’s not here.”

“I- oh. That’s um- I mean it’s not like she was expecting me. I only got back last night.”

“I know.”

“You know,” Tate echoes quietly.

“I’m not sure if she does. If I were you, I think I’d hope not.”

He swallows and nods.

“So.”

“So?”

“Did you figure out whatever you needed to figure out?” Reuben nods for Tate to follow, going not to his office like Tate expects but to the couch.

They sit on opposite sides of the giant sectional. More memories, only this time it’s like sinking into them. Tate inhales slowly then breathes out a sigh. “I think so.”

“And you’re back.”

“I’m back.”

Reuben nods, his focus almost palpable. It makes Tate wonder what he sees.

“Hey can I-” Reuben’s eyebrow arches, daring him to finish that question, and Tate huffs a laugh. “Is it possible to have two uh. Mates?”

A second dark eyebrow raises to join the first. “Two? Son, you ran away from one. And now you want two?”

Tate laughs. He can’t help it, hearing how it sounds when put like that. “I don’t want two, but I think it might- I might-” he sighs. “Look ok you can’t tell anyone please like. Including Astrid. And yeah. I know, that sounds bad. I’m gonna talk to her. But all of this just happened and I have to figure out what’s going on, not because of me but because of Ky- ah,” he finishes weakly, once he realizes that he’s already said too much.

“Oh. Shit.”

“Yeah that’s uh, pretty much how I’ve felt since I woke up this morning. Like I’m not upset about it, even though part of me feels like I should be because of, y’know, everything. But it kind of just… makes sense.”

Reuben is nodding, although it seems to be as much in response to his own thoughts as what Tate is saying. “Well, I still have life insurance on you for whichever one of them gets you first – her parents or Astrid.”

“Wooow, gee thanks Pops.” Tate replies, laughing even as he rolls his eyes.

“Oh god, why do you have to do that?” Reuben drags a hand over his face, but Tate can see that he’s also laughing. “It’s so much easier when I don’t have to think about it, because then I also don’t have to think about the fact that I know what you two were doing in high school and college.”

Immediately, Tate’s face heats. “Ok ok you win, fuck.”

The look Reuben gives him says of course I do. “Look, I won’t say it isn’t possible. And if anyone was going to somehow have two, it would be you, Tate. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with as much love to give, and lord only knows it’ll take both of them to keep you in line.” From anyone else, that might hurt. But it’s Reuben and he’s smiling so instead Tate just takes it for what it is – the truth from someone who’s known him his entire life.

“Any words of alpha wisdom?”

“You want kids?”

“Sir?” Tate splutters.

“Yeah. Exactly. Please don’t make me have this conversation with you again – it was bad enough the first time. Something to think about, though.”

“Great, thanks,” he replies, strained.

Reuben laughs and shakes his head. “You want my advice? For real?”

“Well, yeah. You’re kind of all I’ve got there, when it comes to how to do… all of this.”

The look he gets in response isn’t one he sees often, and generally when he does, it’s directed at Astrid or Shawn. Familiar and fond. “Listen more than you talk. To what they say, and to what they don’t, but be careful about making assumptions. Especially for the first five, ten years. And even then, when there’s any doubt in your mind but especially when there’s not, check.”

Tate just blinks at him. “That’s… it? That’s the same thing you’ve always said.”

Laughing again, Reuben runs a hand over his head. “Yeah. And why do you think that is?”

He frowns, thinking. “I don’t know, honestly. I mean that’s what I try to do, but-” he shrugs.

Reuben leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees and letting the full weight of his gaze fall on Tate. “You’ve gotta give trust to get it, Tate. If people can’t trust the things we say and do – if they don’t trust that we’re paying attention and that we care, that they can’t rely on us so we can’t rely on them – what else do we have?”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing.”

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Tate sinks into the couch and sighs.

“Astrid should be back in a few hours if you still wanna talk to her today, but you know how she and her mother both get after dealing with people for too long.”

At this, Tate laughs. “Don’t pin this on Jenna. She’s every bit your daughter in that aspect, and your next in line for continuity as much as anything else.”

“And your alpha, so you should probably go come up with a better apology than whatever shit you didn’t have planned when you showed up here.”

He doesn’t even try to argue – he just laughs some more, and then when the laughter subsides, they talk about nothing until he thanks Reuben and walks home again.

Tate isn’t sure if he feels any better by Monday evening. Work passes in a weird blur. A mix of catching up and feeling like he hadn’t missed a thing.

For what has to be the thousandth time, he checks his watch. 4:49pm. Good enough.

He closes his computer and walks out, waving and mumbling automatic niceties where necessary, but his mind isn’t in any of them.

There is no traffic, just like it’s barely worth it to drive home. The beauty of weird werewolf communes, he guesses. Reuben owns nearly everything in town and plenty outside, and everyone around is pack for the most part. Makes life easier.

It’s 4:56 when he parks in front of his apartment, and 5:00 by the time he strips and gets in the shower. They’re supposed to be meeting for dinner at 5:30, but again. No traffic. Restaurant isn’t far.

A part of him – an anxious, frantic part – wants to crawl out of his skin. Needs to not be in his head. To not have to feel whatever happens next.

He thought about it like he was supposed to. He’s going to do what Reuben said. To listen. And then to accept whatever is said.

Ari kissed him. Kyah kissed him. That was already more than he ever expected, but then last night Ari had texted both of them to say goodnight, albeit after Tate had already fallen asleep, and he’d woken up to a message from Kyah criticizing Ari’s terrible sleep hygiene – news to Tate – and confirming they were still having dinner because she didn’t plan anything to make, so if they’re bailing which one of them is buying her food to make up for it?

Tate had just smiled and replied that he’d be there.

And here he is, eleven and a half hours later, sitting in his truck outside of the only restaurant/bar in town like he hasn’t ever been inside before.

A knock on his window jars him out of his thoughts and into the present. Kyah, looking at him with one eyebrow raised in what he’d call judgment if he didn’t know it’s just her default questioning face.

He pulls the keys out of the ignition, grabs his phone and wallet from the cupholder, and opens the door.

“You good?” she asks.

“I’m fine.”

“You sure? Because you looked like the void was winning that staring contest.”

Tate snorts and follows her toward the door.

“C’mon, Ky, you know me. I’m always fine.”

“Yeah. I know you’re an awful liar, too. And before you try to argue, I’m paying.”

“Yes ma’am,” he says indulgently, reaching over her to grab the door.

The look she gives him is something like scathing, but he’s used to it. And now, she’d kissed him. Is having dinner with him, and Ari. It’s lost some of the sting.

Their phones vibrate in unison.

Group Message with: Kyah, Ari

Ari > back right corner

Tate exhales a relieved breath and turns to see Ari, already perched on a stool.

“Ladies first,” Tate says, waving her toward the table. Because that’s how it was – Astrid led, Kyah followed, and Tate brought up the rear.

“Don’t you dare start that weird, date-y shit, Hansen.”

“Fine. Fuck you then,” he replies, laughing as he steps around her. From across the room he can see how Ari’s face scrunches in confusion, and then Kyah shoves him with her shoulder as she passes and that only makes him laugh harder.

“Do I even want to know?” Ari asks when they reach the table.

“He’s an idiot, but that’s not news,” Kyah says flatly, sitting in the other seat against the wall.

“At least that’s what she’s been telling me for almost twenty years now,” Tate agrees amicably, taking the last stool. It means his back is to the room, but he doesn’t care. Not here, at least. Everything he’s interested in is sitting in front of him anyways.

“I uh, went ahead and ordered stuff? Hope that’s ok? But I didn’t eat lunch and-“

“As long as you got-“

“Yeah, I got you cheese sticks,” Ari says, smiling and rolling his eyes.

“You’re sharing,” Tate says, just to watch Kyah glare at him.

“Aaaaand here we are.” Randi – one of the whopping four people who worked the front here – sets down a stack of plates and napkins followed by a basket of mozzarella sticks and another of loaded fries. “You two fine with water, or do you need something else? And do y’all need another stool? I didn’t realize it was you two coming or I would’ve put y’all at your usual table.”

Because they had one of those. It was the Family’s table, tucked away in a nook that has a full view of the room without being overly noticeable.

“Nah, but thanks Randi. We’re fine here. Astrid’s not coming, at least not that I know of, so-“

“Oh hush,” she says, smacking his arm lightly. “You know that table’s just as much yours too.”

Across the table, he can see the way Ari’s eyes narrow just slightly. Tate nudges his ankle with his toe and smiles at the look of surprise on his face.

“We drinking or not? You two are the ones with big important grown-up jobs.”

And it was true, sort of. He isn’t sure if Ari even knows yet, but Reuben’s old assistant went on maternity leave and has no plans of coming back. Reuben had told him the day before, as he’d left. Almost like a threat; don’t do anything else to fuck up my calendar, Hansen, he’d said, smiling.

Kyah, there was no denying. She works with Jenna at the hospital, trying to pick up everything she knows and everything she doesn’t.

But Tate? He just handles Reuben’s acquisition and development. It’s like growing anything else, Reuben had said helpfully when Tate had said he didn’t know the first fucking thing about real estate or property management. He sets his own hours, more or less, and has always been just as likely to work from noon to eight at night as he is to be there at seven in the morning.

So he can afford a late morning.

“Yeah fuck it,” Ari says. “Can I get uhhhh a gin and tonic?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart. Any preference on the gin?”

Ari leans to stare at the back of the bar. “Uhh if you have Hendricks, great. If not I’ll live with Bombay.”

Randi smiles at him and turns to Kyah. “Your regular?”

Kyah nods.

“I’m not even gonna ask you because I have no idea what kind of dinner thing you’ve got going on here-” she says, gesturing between them, “-so I’m not gonna make you say it out loud.” Randi pats Tate on the shoulder, then walks away.

“What the fuck?” Ari whispers, barely loud enough to be heard over Kyah’s laughter.

“Oh man, I never want to forget that right there,” she manages, as much giggle as words.

Tate rolls his eyes but smiles. “It’s-“

“No, don’t tell him– it’ll be funnier if he just sees. Hang on, here let’s see- Ari what do you think Tate drinks?”

Ari looks at her and shrugs. “Things generally served with paper umbrellas?”

She stops laughing immediately and looks at Tate. He shrugs helplessly.

How? How do you know that?”

“I mean why else would she be weird about it? Wait, does he get white girl wasted on like one of them too? Is that the other part of the joke?”

Kyah sighs sadly. “No.”

“Now Kyah, on the other hand-“

“Choose your words carefully, Tate,” she says, reaching for a mozzarella stick that she carefully pulls in two.

He winks at Ari and snatches the other end of the mozzarella stick from her fingers. It’s another one of those things he’s done since they were kids – that he does without thinking – and it’s in his mouth before he even thinks about what that might mean.

“Hey! That was mine. You could at least get your own.”

“Could. But maybe I wanted yours,” he says around his mouthful of molten cheese. “I mean, isn’t that why we’re here?”

Kyah sighs and grabs another mozzarella stick. This one she just bites, her eyes on the table.

He looks at Ari, who snags the basket of fries and pulls a few free.

“Cool so uh, this is going well,” he mutters.

The silence stretches until Randi comes back with their drinks. When she asks for their orders, all three of them look surprised – like they’d all somehow forgotten that dinner was also part of this.

“Or I can come back?” she offers, looking like she’d very much prefer to be anywhere other than witnessing their silent standoff.

“I’ll do the Texan,” Tate says, without a glance at the menu.

“Fries?”

“You know it.”

“Kyah?”

She sighs. “Same, add jalapenos.”

“And for you?” Randi asks, turning to Ari.

“Uh, yeah. Sure. That.”

“Fries with yours, or do you want something else?”

“Uhh can I do mac and cheese?”

“Mhmm. Anything else?”

“I’ll take another one of these at some point?” Tate says flatly, holding up his glass. It was already half empty. Fucking ice. This is exactly why he smokes. Why he should have before he came to do… this. Whatever was going on. The not-talking.

“Sure thing,” Randi says, without so much as raising an eyebrow.

“Classy,” Kyah mutters once Randi is gone.

“Yeah? And what’re you gonna do about it, exactly?”

“Nothing, I’m just saying.”

“You’re just saying. Because you’ll talk about this, but not-“

“That’s not even slightly the same thing.”

“No?”

“Obviously not. But Tate, I can’t just- especially when you-” she says, in frustrated starts and stops.

“You can’t what when I what?”

Kyah sighs loudly and takes a sip of her drink.

“And you said you were worried about being left out,” Ari says, looking at Kyah.

“Left out of what?” Tate asks.

The two of them exchange a look, and then Kyah shrugs.

“She was worried about losing me to you, I guess. Which is hilarious since you two are like, an old married couple.”

Kyah opens her mouth to protest and Tate chokes on his drink. Somehow, the burning in his lungs turns into a laugh, as much at the indignant look on Kyah’s face as it is at the strange accuracy of Ari’s statement.

“Ky,” he says trying to stop laughing. Now isn’t the time. “You know that’s why- I wasn’t gonna come back. I was gonna let you two-“

“Wait, what?” She sits up, eyes locked on Tate’s. “You were gone?”

“Yeah? I… went back to Illinois. To the-” he shakes his head. “I was gonna stay. Let you two do your thing.”

“Well that explains why Astrid is so pissed. What the fuck?”

“Yeah I’m with Kyah on this one. Like. Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea how this is gonna work. But you shouldn’t have to leave just because of like, me.”

“I would, though,” Tate says softly. “If that’s what you needed to be happy. Either one of you, really, but-” he looks at Kyah, who has gone entirely still.

“Tate-” Her tone is strange and familiar all at once. Disbelieving and soft.

“I know I’ve done it too many times on accident, but I’d never hurt you on purpose. And if that’s you two without me, well-” he shrugs.

“You’re an idiot,” Kyah says with a tiny scoff. “You can’t just walk away from- Tate look. You found Ari and like- no, finders keepers doesn’t apply to people, but you can’t just walk away. That’s not- no. Just no. I won’t let you.”

“You won’t let me?” Tate echoes, one eyebrow raised.

“No, Tate, I’m not.” She takes a breath. Looks away and takes a sip of her drink, looking more frazzled than he’s maybe ever seen her.

He opens his mouth to say something – to comfort her, a part of him thinks – but she holds up a finger to stop him.

His eyes follow the movement of her mouth as she releases the straw and says, “You can’t,” barely more than a whisper. “When you were gone it was like- Something was just missing.

Out of the corner of his eye Tate thinks he sees Ari nodding, but he can’t tear his eyes away from Kyah.

“What are you saying, Ky?” he asks softly.

She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “That I don’t know if I can do… this. What you two seem to want. And I don’t know for how long. But either way, you can’t go again. Please. I need you to promise that-“

“I promise.”

“Ok,” she says, her gaze not wavering from his.

“Ok.” He grins at her and nudges Ari’s ankle under the table with his toe. “There anything else?”

She laughs – one sharp, sudden ha! that Tate knows too well. “Yeah. My parents can’t find out about this. Not- not any time soon, for sure. I don’t know. I have to be the one to tell them, but that’s-“

“Ok,” Tate agrees again. “Whatever you say. You know I don’t go out of my way to talk to them, so…”

Kyah laughs again, softer this time. “Yeah, I know. That’s part of the problem. And I’m not saying it’s you. It’s definitely… them. But they’re my parents, so it’s complicated.”

This time, Tate does look away to meet Ari’s questioning glance. No parents, no problem; that still didn’t mean either of them wanted to cause a fuss with Kyah’s, though.

“I know,” Tate says quietly. “Anything else that’s got you worried right now?”

She shifts in her seat, picking apart another mozzarella stick but not eating any of it. “Nothing that’s… I don’t know, first date appropriate? Early relationship material? I don’t fucking know, Tate. All of this is-” she shrugs, frustrated.

He hooks his other foot behind her calf under the table, watching her face for any signs of discomfort. To his surprise, Kyah just angles her leg so her toes come to rest against his calf in something like easy acceptance.

“And what about you?” he asks Ari, almost more curious about his answer than Kyah’s.

Ari chokes on a bite of food, clearly not anticipating the focus of the conversation to shift so quicky.

“Damn, choking already. Doesn’t bode well for you, Tateycakes,” Kyah says, the corners of her mouth curling up into a wicked little grin.

Tate feels the tips of his ears heat and grabs his own drink, downing the rest of it as quickly as possible.

“Well there’s that, for one,” Ari says, voice rough. “I dunno, like. This is fine. Especially when it’s you two like- doing your thing, I guess? When attention isn’t on me? But I uh. One on one, especially if it’s not somewhere I can like… easily get out?”

He isn’t looking at Tate – isn’t looking at either of them – but Tate knows that he’s the one it’s directed at. That Ari and Kyah hang out regularly without anyone else around. But he also… gets it. Kind of. From the little bit Ari has said, he can see how he’s the threat.

Moving slowly, his hand inches across the table until the backs of his knuckles brush against Ari’s, their fingers not intertwined, but one step away. Ari looks at him. Doesn’t pull away.

“So what if we try like, sticking to public stuff or my place? That way you can leave when you want?” he asks.

Ari doesn’t smile, but his face softens into something that’s almost better. “Yeah?”

He nods and lets his pointer finger creep around Ari’s pinkie. It tightens around him, and Ari smiles.

“Other than that, I really don’t know. I’m a fuckin’ mess, honestly. Probably gonna be with both of you. I don’t even know what to expect, it’s been so long since I tried to-” he shrugs. “I want to, though.”

“Ok,” Kyah says, letting her fingers twine into Ari’s other hand where it rests atop the table.

“What about you?” Ari asks, meeting Tate’s eyes.

Tate blows out a breath. Looks over his shoulder to see if Randi is anywhere nearby with his drink.

“Should I answer this for you?” Kyah asks.

“Be my guest, if you think you can do it better than I can. ‘s probably accurate.”

She gives him a little half smile and turns to Ari. “I’m not sure if you noticed, but Tate’s massive. That’s to make room for all the anxiety. It’s worse when he’s stressed out and/or when he’s not getting laid regularly, which is why he’s looked like he wants to puke this whole time. Normally he, y’know-” she says, holding two pinched fingers to her lips, “-but apparently he didn’t before this which means he thinks it’s important, which is kind of cute, not gonna lie. Looks like he’s gonna cry when he sees a baby animal that he thinks is too small, which is most of them because, massive. Ruts late spring, pretty much like clockwork, about a week after Astrid, which I have no idea how they managed that. Aaand he’d probably let himself go feral and die before he did anything to hurt either one of us, to the point that if we don’t keep an eye on him, he might hurt himself trying not to.”

Tate swallows, feeling more than a little exposed, and lets his eyes drop to the table when she looks at him.

“How’d I do?” she whispers. “Too much?”

He takes a slow, measured breath, then faces her. “No, I’d say you pretty much hit all of it.”

The smile she gives him is one he’s seen before, but never directed at him. It’s genuine and bordering on shy.

“Alright,” Randi says from behind him, “looks like y’all might be ready for this now?”

He twists on the stool to see a tray of food balanced on one arm and his drink in her other hand.

“Yes ma’am,” he says with a rough laugh, extending a hand to take the glass.

She passes out the rest of their food, confirming everything came out ok before leaving them alone again.

“Think she’ll say anything?” Kyah asks, sounding tense.

“Who, Randi? Not a chance. She’s good people,” Tate replies.

Kyah nods, her expression tight.

“Damn this is uh. A lot of food,” Ari says, staring at the basket in front of him.

“It has ‘Texas’ in the name, what’d you expect?” Kyah replies, smiling again.

“I honestly didn’t even really pay attention to what I was getting. I just heard you two get it and panicked but I didn’t want more fries, so-“

They both laugh, and everything seems to release a tiny bit more. Conversation shifts to easier subjects, when it happens at all; eventually they all just slouch in their seats, impossibly full.

“He steal your food?” Randi asks Ari when she appears again.

Ari gives her a wry little smile and says, “Yeah I dunno what happened. One second it was there and the next it was gone.”

“Y’all need anything else? Dessert?”

Tate groans, pained, and Randi laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

“You know I’ve gotta ask.”

“I know. Just don’t say there’s pie. Please.”

“Well it just so happens-“

He lets out a dramatic whine and drops his head into his hands.

“There’s always a box.”

“God you’re the worst. Fine. It’s a breakfast food.”

“Atta boy. You two want any, or is it um-?”

“Oh uh-” Ari stumbles.

“I think just the one?” Kyah says.

“Fair enough. Just wanted to check. All separate, then?”

“On one, actually. And I’ll take it.” Kyah, again.

Only once Randi’s footsteps have receded does Tate look up again; he finds both of them with the same evil grin on their faces and drains the rest of his drink, desperately hoping it’ll help.

“If I’d realized this was gonna be this much fun, I might’ve done it years ago,” Kyah says without looking away from him.

“Yeah I think this might eventually work out after all, if he’s this easy to get flustered.”

“Oh he is. Thanks, Rand,” Kyah says, reaching across the table for the bill. She only glances at it before passing it back with her card.

Once everything is settled, they file back out with Ari in the lead and Tate in the rear.

“Is that why you’ve always gone last?” Kyah asks over her shoulder.

“Hm?”

“To stare at my ass?”

“No,” he says, because it’s the truth. At least, not since they were teenagers. Not until now. It had felt too off-limits. Wrong.

She spins to face him, walking backwards into the dark parking lot, and catches him by the belt loop.

“Someone’s feeling bold,” he says quietly, letting her pull him in close.

“Just… testing. For science.”

“Uh huh.” He ducks far enough, but leaves it to her to close the distance and sighs softly when she does. “And what are the results, doctor?” he asks when they part.

“Inconclusive. We’ll need to schedule a time to take another sample,” she replies, smiling. And then she turns toward Ari and pulls him into a hug. Her arms are still around his neck when she kisses him; it’s entirely different from the way she kissed Tate, but a moment after he realizes that, he also realizes it doesn’t bother him.

When they part, she almost seems to dissipate. She’s still there – Tate can smell her – but she’s drifted silently out of the way so it’s essentially just the two of them. Him and Ari. Tate takes a step forward, then stops. He doesn’t want to push. To crowd.

“Put your hands in your pockets?” Ari’s bottom lip is caught between his teeth, clearly on edge with whatever he’s thinking.

But Tate does what he asks, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and wrapping his fingers around his wallet and phone to keep them there.

Ari closes the gap between them, leaving mere inches of space. He looks up at Tate, his eyes like the first signs of fall – all green and amber and honeyed brown. His forehead drops to Tate’s chest and he exhales slowly, his breath hot through Tate’s shirt.

He lets his own head drop so his nose and mouth rest on the crown of Ari’s head and each breath fills his lungs with the smell of him. And this – this is what he’d been missing. Not Kyah, because she’s always been there, but Ari. Like the counterweight for a scale in which he’s the balancing point.

Lips press to his chest, just above his heart, and it takes all Tate has not to move. Not even to chase more, but just to fold his arms over Ari’s shoulders. To keep him close.

“You left your pie inside.”

“Huh? Shit.”

Ari laughs, and Kyah materializes again doing the same.

“I got it,” she says, the little styrofoam box in hand.

He looks back at Ari, who’s watching him instead of Kyah.

“Talk to you tomorrow?”

Ari nods, that same soft look on his face. He reaches up to touch Tate’s jaw. “Try to actually get some sleep?”

Turning his face into the contact, Tate kisses Ari’s palm and says, “Yeah. I’ll try.”

Before he can move, and only for a moment, he finds himself trapped between them. Kyah is a warm weight against his back as she pulls one of his hands free, places the box in it, and kisses his spine. And then, she’s gone.

Ari gives him one last smile before he also takes a step away and all three of them finally leave in different directions.

When he gets home, Tate drops the to go box on the kitchen counter and pads into the bathroom. He types out a message while he brushes his teeth, then erases it. He stands in front of the shower debating if it’s worth the half hour he’ll lose in the morning to go to sleep with the smell of both of them lingering on his skin and types out another.

It is, he decides, retreating to his bed. He stretches out under the blankets and taps send.

> Thank you

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