theo tate &. kit esposito
feb 20 2021
You made plans and I made problems
Theo was going to be sick. That was the point he was at now - on the precipice of maybe fainting, or at least turning to the nearest trash can and depositing his breakfast into it. At least then he'd have room for the lunch he'd packed - in the backpack he wore, tucked alongside a picnic blanket and some bottles of beer that he was fairly certain he wasn't allowed to have in the park but, did it really matter and would anyone be looking and he definitely needed a tiny little bit of liquid courage to get through this. Whatever this was going to be.

Whoever had won his date at the auction hadn't come forward until mid-week, and even then it hadn't been with any information that Theo could use to actually figure out who they were. There had been some - teasing? Joking? - suggestions that Kit had won it, but when Theo had investigated he'd been met with confusion and distraction, and then - well, there'd been actual distraction, in the form of Kit kissing him on the slopes of Tahoe, and then kissing him again in the cabin, in the bar, everywhere, and of course a lot of Theo kissing Kit, and staring at Kit, and laughing, and showing up at Kit's place with high socks to belatedly celebrate his birthday, and pinching himself, and trying not to screenshot messages where Kit said things like I'm gayest for your thighs and butt.

And now, fuck, Theo had a date with a stranger(?) who was maybe expecting an actual date, because at the time Theo had submitted his little idea he hadn't been aware that the guy he wanted to date actually also wanted to date him as well, and hadn't thought to note that the date would be platonic. On top of it all, whoever it was had spent five hundred actual dollars - which, technically was a really amazing donation to a good cause, but Theo was both flattered and horrified. What was he even supposed to do?

After jokingly but not entirely jokingly asking Kit to hang out nearby in case it did appear that Theo was going to be on a date with a serial killer, he'd taken up a position where he'd promised to meet them - at the north side entrance to the park, closest to the buffalo and bison, where they could find a cute patch of grass to have a picnic before making their way to the lake. Only Theo wasn't thinking cute anything at that moment, because he was much too busy tugging at the collar of his shirt and trying not to hyperventilate, staring at everybody who walked past in an awkward are you - here to see - me? No? Oh no, ignore me, I'm sorry, carry on.

Theo looked like he was going to be sick. Sick sick. Heaving out some undoubtedly huge meal that could've only come cartoonishly from the belly of that shark from Jaws, breakfast meats and breads and eggs and someone's discarded license plate. Not for the first time since he'd set up this little charade, Kit felt sort of guilty. It wasn't the kindest thing he'd ever done, jokingly convincing Theo some cannibalistic backwoods serial killer who was also unfathomably rich and unfathomably made it through Sam's probable litany of background checks had somehow won Theo's bid at the charity auction. Elon Goggins, rich suitor, equally likely to kiss Theo's hand as he was to take a nice big saucy bite. Ridiculous, but Theo'd seemed like he was almost ready to believe him up through the very last text he'd sent him, another morphthing manip of Elon Musk and Walton Goggins captioned with 'he's ready 2 [m]eat u'. Almost ready, yet stubbornly committed to following through on his obligation to the auction, to go out on a date with a wealthy stranger, to show them a good time in the name of his unquashable charitable spirit and lawful/neutral good alignment. Not even Kit's anonymous emails wherein he'd pretended to be Elon Goggins to set up their initial meeting, believable but with an undercurrent of something not quite right could deter him.

But Kit knew it wouldn't. Theo's ridiculous tendency to follow through on promises, even promises with potential serial killers, even promises that'd land him in a romantic row boat ride with potential serial killers or sharing a meal of his own thigh meat with potential serial killers, because it just wouldn't be right otherwise was reason #? why Kit was more than just a little obsessed with him. Enamored. Besotted. Grossly engrossed. Not enough to show mercy on him, however, and drop the act before their big Saturday Date, because Kit was an asshole. And he could've, because Kit was actually Theo's 'blind auction date' thanks to the generous donation on his behalf by some anonymous benefactor that somehow knew Kit was painfully into Theo before even Theo knew he was painfully into Theo. Each time he deeply considered coyly mentioning the real details behind Theo's date scenario, though, he found himself swerving around that confession at the last minute and diving face first into more Goggins jokes instead. Because it was funny.

And because he really wanted to see the look on Theo's face when he made the grand reveal. Hopefully Theo wouldn't punch him. Hopefully Theo wouldn't realize that he was fully justified in punching him.

But for now, Kit wanted to keep up the ruse. And Theo still looked sick, and panicky, and was desperately eyeballing every single stranger that walked by him in the grass, visually disappointed that these totally normal looking people weren't his (platonic) date for the afternoon. Kit decided to put him, partially, out of his misery and loped up to him from his super obvious hiding spot behind a nearby tree, clapping him on the shoulder, morphing the gesture into a casual arm draped around his neck, and pressing an easy kiss to the (overheated) crest of his left cheekbone. "Still hasn't shown up, huh? How late is he? Super fucking rude, am I right, leaving a babe like you to wait. Still want me to stick around, just in case?" Asshole. He was such an asshole. But Kit just couldn't help himself.

God, he was getting clammy. He could feel it - perspiration on his palms, his forehead, even, somehow, behind his knees. This was torture. And the worst part of the torture wasn't that he had no idea who it was that had spent all that insane money, it wasn't that everybody else had maybe been in on a joke to tease him or excite him about the possibility of Kit winning him, but now - now the worst thing was that whoever it was was late. And they hadn't emailed him, or texted him, or let him know that anything was wrong, or that they just weren't going to show up.

He'd gone far beyond suspecting Kit and settled entirely in obviously, Kit had said I was too expensive, and five hundred dollars is way too much, so-- Naturally, it had to be a Goggins. Or someone like a Goggins, but hopefully not too much like a Goggins, hopefully just a busy but wealthy person who hadn't been looking for anything other than maybe a nice hang.

Theo was three seconds away from falling into full hyperventilation mode when Kit burst out of nowhere (out of a hiding spot that should have been obvious to Theo but wasn't) and sprung onto him. Theo looked like he quite literally would have jumped out of his skin if he'd been in a Looney Tunes cartoon, but the kiss to his cheek stole a bit of breath from him and he flushed, pleased, equal parts happy and relieved to see Kit and embarrassed that he was witnessing the most recent time Theo had been stood up.

"Pretty late. I don't know, maybe something happened." Theo answered, gripping the straps of his backpack tighter by the second, tugging his hands against them up and down in the most worried wringing motion he could muster. He winced at Kit. "Or maybe - he like. Saw me. And. You know. Was like, ew, definitely not." Theo laughed with self-deprecation, rolled his eyes at himself, and let out another deep huff. "I'm so anxious I think my heart's gonna just clear out. Just pop out of my chest and walk off somewhere. But, yeah, stay? I probably shouldn't wait much longer, it's getting stupid."

Also, Theo thought, maybe if whoever rich Goggins who bid on him didn't show, he did have a nice picnic planned, and the person he'd most like to spend said picnic with was standing close to him, just a kiss away.

Kit's smile faltered in a really, really obvious way. An 'ah, fuck' kind of way. Luckily Theo wasn't paying him close attention, too caught up in his anxiety spiral to do much more than pause, appreciate his kiss, and resume said spiral. "'Ew, definitely not'? Ew, definitely not. I'm putting my money on our wealthy donor spotting you from a distance and realizing with horror and delight that you're too big and succulent for the roasting pan he'd prepared. He probably ran off to the closest Williams Sonoma for a larger le creuset pot." Which was very helpful encouragement on Kit's part, but Bae's mounting terror over his date potentially being a literal cannibal was far less concerning to Kit in that moment than Theo twisting over the notion that he was anything less than supremely fucking gorgeous. Any self-respecting cannibal would've gone nuts over his fleshy bits. Or not so fleshy bits, in Theo's case, because there wasn't a spare ounce of fat on him and Kit took a leisurely appreciative look both to (unnecessarily) confirm that fact and just because he could.

Hmm. Yeah, the evidence certainly seemed to support his hypothesis—

—that he was acting like a shitty boyfriend, letting Theo sweat and squirm and fidget with unease in favor of eyeballing him like a perpetually horny monster. Which, true, but time and place. Time and place. "Something for sure happened, and you know how wealthy people are. Messaging you that he was running late probably didn't even occur to him, you're just supposed to wait here until he can be bothered to show up." Kit should just tell him, now, before he accidentally made things even worse by failing to appear at the park entrance as a completely different person who was rich and important and keen on taking a bite out of Theo. One out of three, he could handle. Cloning himself? Not so much. But, maybe, just a little longer? After he coaxed Theo out of his low simmering panic attack, after Theo's heart was not quite so likely to sashay out of his chest cavity and make a run for it. Then Kit would tell him. And fully expect a smack.

"How about we sit down somewhere? Somewhere in the shade, but close by, if that asshole ever feels like gracing us—you—with his presence? To me, being excessively late means forfeiting all claims to picnic meals and exclusive access to smoking hot picnic date. Thoughts?"

It was easy to realize that it was stupid to feel both so anxious at the fact that whatever Goggins had won him hadn't shown, and a little bit hurt that said wealthy stranger hadn't appeared on time, hadn't messaged or emailed to say that he was late, hadn't done anything. It wasn't like Theo had been actively looking forward to the date as opposed to the reality of how deeply he'd been dreading it, so really having a no-show was the ideal scenario. But it was, naturally, deeply embarrassing, and Theo knew wholeheartedly that Kit would never think he was a loser - believed in every reassurance he'd ever given him, before and after and before they'd become a thing again.

Despite all of that, it still flustered him, still pulled a little at the insecurities he'd built up over the years - many of which he had good coping strategies for, and some that just enjoyed burrowing in to settle there. Kit talking was doing a good job of stilling those thrumming vulnerabilities, distracting both by being funny - and horrifying - and kind, and warm, and encouraging. "Yeah, you're probably right. It's really rude." Theo agreed, nose wrinkling in the way it was wont to do when he was getting a little stroppy about something, but it settled because - there was no point to it, there was nobody around to get stroppy with, and if his date eventually showed up Theo knew he'd say oh, no worries, it's fine! and grin and bear it.

What sounded like the much better option was already out of Kit's mouth, and Theo only gave one hesitant glance down the path - just in case a Goggins was grinning toothily at them - and then returned a look to Kit with a warmed smile. "Absolutely. I mean, hopefully he doesn't overhear, but I'd prefer to have a picnic with you, anyway." Obviously. He'd tried to say it casually, but Theo was gazing at Kit again with his usual gazing at Kit face, the one he'd been wearing all week, shiny eyes and wide smile, and he stuffed his anxiety down a bit more, gripped Kit by the hand and turned towards the nearest patch of grass, and then... halted.

"But." He winced, and looked over his shoulder at Kit, all those anxieties he thought he'd controlled swelling up suddenly. "He - he spent so much money. If we start on the picnic and he shows -" Oh my god, Theo couldn't begin to imagine the horror. Theo's free hand slid through his hair, a nervous tic. "Maybe I should just send him one more message. Just like, hey! I'm... gonna go..." Theo froze up, staring again at another poor stranger further down the path, someone carrying a bouquet of flowers, someone looking in their direction (past them, at a girl a few feet away, but in his panic Theo couldn't tell). "Fuck, fuck, Kit."

Okay, they were making progress. Slow progress, because apparently contending with Theo's multifaceted auction date jitters wouldn't be as easy as providing the usual reassurances and saying, essentially, fuck that (imaginary) guy, take me instead, but progress was progress. "Of course I'm right, have you ever known me to not be right? That's rhetorical, don't answer that." Theo's nose was doing that cute little scrunchy thing it did when he was in a mood, though it smoothed out before he could quite manage to reach over and flick it in a playfully reproachful kind of way. Knock it off, he wanted to say, as much to Theo's entire anxious Vibe as Theo's nose, but even lighthearted flirtatious teasing at this point felt a little callous. Especially now that the effects of his mostly harmless prank weren't so readily nudged to the wayside, like he really genuinely thought they'd be after so many minutes of no Goggins in sight and Kit right there, cheerfully pitching an alternative picnic date.

No matter what Theo said. Or how Theo looked, gazing at Kit with his gazing at Kit face—his favorite new Theo face because it was so open and sappy and did really violent things to Kit's insides each and every time Theo aimed it his way—no matter what, Kit knew the battle hadn't been won. But when Theo went for his hand, a gesture so familiar by now that it almost felt weird not holding hands whenever they were in range, Kit went for his too. Let their fingers tangle. Let Theo point them toward some sunny spot of grass he'd probably been eyeballing since he'd gotten to the park, and nearly tug on their interlocked hands to draw them over until he just. Didn't.

There it was. Theo's Anxiety's Final Form.

"It wasn't that much money..." he started, stopped, because it was that much money—particularly to two dudes who thought twice about throwing fifty bucks around. Or should, in Kit's case, whose bank account balance was still a negative number. " a rich guy, I mean. Chill. If, if he shows up and wants to fight about it, we'll fight about it." It wasn't exactly hard to project confidence in his words, knowing Mr. Goggins probably wouldn't manifest out of a swirling cloud of irony just to spite him and his plans. Probably. And if he did, Kit would SO fight him. "If it'll make you feel better, toss him a message. Or give me your phone and I will, because I know you'll just ramble and apologize instead of being like 'sorry bro you missed out on a tasty cut of Theo. Your loss, peace.' Which pocket of your dorky backpack is it in, here, let me—"

Kit blinked at him, uncomprehending, when Theo suddenly went stiff and it took him a second to follow his eyeline toward a dude carrying what appeared to be an armload of flowers. When realization dawned on him, he had to cough to cover the laugh that promptly burst out of him because Theo had slid smoothly back into panic mode and he couldn't, couldn't be that unkind. "If he asks, I'll say I'm your emotional support person and hand holding is your hysteria coping mechanism." He could only be slightly unkind. But Kit waited patiently as the guy ambled casually past them and into the arms of some girl, barely sparing a glance at the two of them and probably only because Theo was staring at him, stricken, like he'd seen a ghost. "Not a Goggins," Kit noted quietly, trying not to smile.

Kit's attempts at easing his doubts were causing a fluctuation of reassurances within Theo. On one hand, he was right - whatever rich guy had spent five hundred dollars on him and then decided not to show was rude, it was pointless, Kit was right there, had appeared and shown up and been nearby just like Theo had asked from him, was smiling and putting up with his ridiculous anxieties despite how annoying it was sure to be, was telling him to just come and picnic with him. As it had already been established on multiple occasions, Theo was smart but incredibly stupid, and couldn't quite latch onto the fact that - yes, picnic, date, Kit.

On the other hand, Theo felt - embarrassed. Which wasn't to say Theo didn't feel embarrassed on a daily basis, but this one had a bit of a sting to it - that Kit was there to witness his embarrassment, and Theo's anxiety loop had swept all the way around to what if Kit thinks this is really lame, and is embarrassed because I'm embarrassed, and somehow ends up thinking that Elon Goggins was right not to show up because I'm just generally kind of embarrassing.

The embarrassment loop was worse than the anxiety loop - it grew exponentially with every passing second, until Theo's flushing couldn't relax itself back to a normal color, even when the poor guy with his flowers and his girlfriend had walked by and Theo's shoulders had relaxed somewhat.

"Not a Goggins." He repeated, and this time sunk forward a little, humiliation running rampant, swinging about so he could momentarily shove his red hot face into Kit's shoulder. Theo stayed there for just half a moment, until he finally rose up back to a stand, straightened, forced himself to smile in a way that didn't quite reach his eyes, and started pulling at Kit's hand so they could make a - very hurried, very urgent - walk away from where Theo had been waiting for way too long towards some sloping sun dappled grass nearby, near the water.

"Sorry, this is so lame." He managed finally in a rushed exhale, and as soon as he was at the grassy spot Theo began swinging his backpack off, setting down the blanket he'd brought, avoiding Kit's gaze a little lest he reveal his presently still too acute self-consciousness. Not attractive, thought Theo. "Grab a beer, I brought some - and snacks, and stuff. And my phone is - it's just, like, here," Theo tapped at the side of his backpack, relinquishing control to Kit so he could email the mysterious Mr. Goggins. "Just don't say anything too mean. Maybe he got in an accident or something. Something dramatic."

One step forward, two steps back. Patience wasn't commonly a virtue ascribed to Kit Esposito, often known to pick up new hobbies, interests, tv shows, people, identities, careers, whatever in a whirlwind of enthusiasm, obsess over them for about a week on average, and drop them instantly when they failed to maintain his attention or he wasn't effortlessly good at them. Exactly like a five year old with a new toy - his mental toybox of used and discarded nouns was probably overflowing. But whereas Kit of the not so distant past might've gotten frustrated with Theo's reluctance to let his pretend cannibal date go, get over the irrational feelings of rejection and segue flawlessly into a romantic picnic with a more than willing partner, Kit of the present just felt... endeared.

And guilty. Obviously guilty. 60:40 split between endeared and guilty. (Not the point.)

Theo mashed his face sullenly into Kit's shoulder, partially concealing the shame blush that was still likely visible from space and Kit made a low consolatory noise, ready to gather him up for a hug that might assuage some of their combined negative feelings. But he levered himself away instead, too quickly, shooting Kit the most unconvincing smile before yanking him into movement away from the trail, over to a perfectly pleasant stretch of grass. He was trying, Kit had to give him credit for that. And if he knew Theo slightly less, he wouldn't have been so bothered by the fact that Theo wasn't making eye contact as he busied himself with shrugging off his backpack, spreading the picnic blanket and unpacking supplies. Kit watched him with a speculative frown for an extended beat but dropped down onto the blanket and reached for the proffered backpack side pocket in lieu of saying anything. Nudging Theo back into equilibrium (happy, genuine, chatty, eager) was going to be more of an endeavor than he'd originally anticipated. More than his lame jokes, quirky conversation topics and physical affection could subdue, hogtie, and gently strangle into submission.

Which left him with one option: getting punched in the face. Theo's phone was locked but Kit bypassed the lockscreen with barely half a thought, suddenly a capable Hackerman because he'd draped himself around Theo and spied over his shoulder enough times to witness the manual input of his passcode. From there it was easy to navigate over to his email, less easy to ignore how much he wanted to creep on his inbox and sent folders, slightly easier to mentally smack himself back into action and tap the 'compose' button. Kit narrated as his fingers swiped lightning quick across the screen, "Dear FerrariMan85 (dope name), I hope you haven't been maimed in a horrific traffic accident and are lying in pieces on the street somewhere. If so, I'm totally sorry. Maybe we could reschedule this auction date when your limbs have been sewed back on. If not, and you're intact wherever you are, kindly fuck off for being mega late. I'm cancelling on you. No refunds. Regards, Tasty Cut Theo Tate (way out of your league anyway)." Aaaand send.

He really didn't like this part of himself - the part that found himself caught up too often than not in dwelling on self-consciousness and embarrassment. Really, this should have been much more of a blessing than he was giving it credit for. He should have been relieved. Theo battled it internally, fully aware that he was being ridiculous, that it would settle eventually, that Kit wouldn't look at him differently now that he'd witnessed him being stood up. That was the most ridiculous of all of Theo's ridiculous thoughts, but the one that had stuck hardest, refusing to budge no matter how many times Theo tried to dislodge it.

It wasn't exactly fair on Kit to think that either, he knew - not when Kit had shown only wonderful, deep, perfect interest in him for longer than Theo had even realized he'd been showing it. But maybe if he thought about it with some time, he understood that a part of him worried that they would fall back into where they'd been in 2018 - back to friendship. Theo had Snoopy walked into friendship with Kit without complaint, but now he wasn't so sure he'd be happy doing that - no, he wasn't not sure about it, he knew for a fact that he'd have shriveled up and disappeared into a fine mist if that became an option on the table again, and a misted Theo wasn't exactly what he wanted to change into.

Again - all of it was unfair, and based only in Theo's own suddenly very powerful self-consciousness, but it was easing, because Kit was sitting down on the blanket, and Kit was taking his phone, and Kit would handle it. And then Kit started talking, and Theo started smiling, because god Kit was funny - he always made him laugh, no matter what, no matter how terribly Theo felt, Kit could always draw at least a smile from him. And then reality set in, because - oh my god, Kit was saying what he was typing, and Theo had been half in the midst of pulling out some fruity treats from within his backpack to suddenly turn a horrified look Kit's way.

"No, wait, what!" Backpack thrown aside, Theo basically tackled Kit - or threw himself onto him, scrambling for his phone and half draping over Kit's lap in the process. "You did not just send that." He gaped at him, the blush returning with a vengeance. "Kit. What did I say about too mean. Oh my god."

The distressed squawk, he expected. Sooner, maybe, than it actually came - a second or two after he'd touched 'send' and the whooshing sound effect of Theo's doom promptly keyed him in to the reality that Kit had just told off his rich cannibal date in a very un-Theo like way. Because Theo had let him continue typing unimpeded way longer than he thought he would, his only source of confidence at the time that Theo's back was turned and he seemed temporarily engrossed in digging out the picnic snacks from his dork satchel. And, maybe, that he trusted Kit with his phone which was, honestly, entirely his own fault. Theo knew better. Normal Theo knew better. Embarrassed distracted Theo, potentially not, and Kit made a note somewhere in his brain to absolutely never take advantage of that fact. Uh, again.

But the tackling, that 100% took Kit by surprise. He was all set to hand Theo his phone back, cocky and entirely unapologetic like an asshole fully prepared to meet the consequences of his actions head-on because he'd pushed the lever detonating the giant pile of cartoon TNT himself—and then he had a lap full of agitated Theo. "Hey, hey, watch it!" There was a flurry of flailing limbs all around him and Kit narrowly avoided getting an elbow to the throat as he held Theo's phone high above his head, just out of reach of Theo's desperate grabby hands. "Calm blue ocean. Calm blue ocean!" he yelled, laughter obvious in his voice. Keep-away was a game he was all too familiar with as a (mostly) reformed high school jerk. Once he'd composed himself somewhat Theo resorted to staring at him, aghast, like Kit had personally signed his death warrant and Kit bit his lip to maintain a straight somber face to match his subsequent explanation, "It's too late, my dark duty is complete and now you're free from any immediate danger of being chewed on. Can't promise he won't hunt you down later for fully justified retribution, but hopefully I'll be there with my bat to defend your honor. And the integrity of your meaty drumsticks."

Right on cue, Kit's own phone chirped loudly with a new notification. Slowly, like Theo was a spooked prey animal, Kit lowered his arm and deposited Theo's mobile into his waiting hands, then slung that same arm haphazardly around his waist to encourage him to settle more fully into his lap. "Hold any outrage, please, I need to check my phone." It was an awkward reach with less maneuverability afforded to him by Theo's warm body wrapped up in his but Kit managed, digging the phone out of his back pocket and tapping through menus with his one free hand. "Wow," he said after a minute of seemingly skimming something on his screen - the email he'd literally just sent himself - and met Theo's eye with both eyebrows raised before tilting the screen toward him in explanation. "I'm a rude bitch. Tasty Cut Theo Tate's right about one thing, though, he's way out of my league."

Would it have been harder to be cranky with Kit had he not ended up sprawled in his lap, and had Kit's arm not wound its way around him like it had? Maybe. Although Theo did find it exceedingly difficult to ever get cranky with Kit, even when he ignored his polite requests to be nice to whatever stranger had stood him up, even when he teased him incessantly. In fact, the incessant teasing was one of the things Theo liked most about Kit - even the game of keepaway had left him a little breathless in not an entirely horrified and mortified way, and now snuggling up against him like he was kept his thoughts from spiraling too far too quickly.

Obviously, Logical Theo understood that Kit's email would be read and it would be clear it hadn't come from him. Logical Theo also deduced that, had they really given enough thought to the whole Kit won your auction date theory? So much else had distracted him from it that he hadn't dwelled, and then contact had started coming through, and Theo had been - again - well enough distracted to not put too much stock in a ridiculous email handle, or the manner in which the would be Goggins had been talking to him, with just a little undertone of something off.

And now Kit's phone had alerted at the same time as the email sending, and Theo - holding his own phone clutched against his chest, heart still rapidly winding down from that near panic attack, soothed by Kit's arm and Kit's voice and Kit's general everything shifted a little where he sat and set a deadpan stare at Kit's face.

The cogs in his brain worked. Slowly, for once, for someone who was apparently smart.

The cogs whirred. Theo stared. Kit handed his phone over, and there on the screen was that email. Theo's gaze moved from the phone to Kit's face in one slow, sweeping movement, his lips pinched a little, brows furrowed deeply.

From where he'd hunkered down on Kit's lap, Theo looked a little squished, still holding his phone to his chest. As realization sank slowly through him, his grip loosened, phone dropping against his legs and then the blanket they were sitting on.

"I..." Theo started, "Can't..." He squirmed away, a high-pitched tone to his voice that made it seem, perhaps, like he was torn between shouting and laughing, and then Theo was on his feet, hands covering his face that was hot, back turned to Kit while he tried to collect himself. "Believe you." Kit had tricked him. Kit had tricked him and he'd fallen so easily for the most ridiculous ruse in the history of ridiculous ruses. Theo couldn't say he was mad. He was - about to tip into hysteria, maybe, but he was still stuck processing like his brain had turned into the rainbow spinning wheel of death.

A sucker punch to the face would've been more merciful, but Kit should've recognized at some point during his lax planning process that Theo just wasn't that guy. He wouldn't rush into decking a stranger even if the stranger blatantly deserved it, he'd just smoothly transition into his Mom Persona and lecture them, loudly, about their personal choices and demand they stand in a corner for a time out. If that was what Kit had to look forward to, when the shock of his misdeeds eventually wore off, honestly he'd rather drown himself in the nearest available water feature - ocean, lake, puddle, drinking fountain.

Gauging where Theo was at on the emotional scale without any visual cues was tricky, Kit couldn't steal peeks at his (guileless, uninhibited, beautifully honest) face for cheat codes and he found himself momentarily floundering without the ability to quickly mash up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start. Because Theo had catapulted himself straight out of his lap, shrugged off Kit's arm, and pivoted away from him to bury his personal cheat code manual in his hands and shriek at him. Which was sort of a clue, better than nothing at all, except he didn't sound... angry?

Kit figured he should jump on that. Put out the bath & body works candle carelessly placed too close to the flimsy drapery before it caught the entire house on fire and Theo was stomping off in a (fully justified) temper tantrum. I'm sorry, I just thought it'd be funny? No, probably not the right route. Probably actually the route that'd lead to Sad Ending #4 in this Theo dating sim. Even if it was true. I'm sorry, I'm a piece of shit? Closer, also true, and gentler on Theo's raging vulnerability. Maybe a good jumping off point that'd segue nicely into grovelling, which he should also likely do if he wanted to hold on tight to the healthiest relationship he'd ever had. The relationship that was barely a week old. Pretty pathetic, bro.

"I'm, uh. I didn't actually mean for it to go this far? In my defense?" Yikes, not exactly the apology he'd conceived but as usual, his mouth had a separate smaller dumber brain that acted completely on its own. Kit just sort of stared helplessly at Theo's back, still sprawled out on the blanket, still with a shred of hope Theo'd just come barreling back into his lap and they could feed each other picnic finger foods and collectively forget Kit was a moron. "I take full responsibility for making you feel terrible, though, I'm sorry, you were just - so cute and nervous. And I couldn't help myself." God, he was cruising for an emotional bruising. "When you blush it triggers something in my monkey brain and higher reasoning skills fly out the window. Have I said sorry enough? I can keep saying it."

The last few weeks had been, admittedly, full of unexpected rollercoasters of emotion. Numero Uno being Kit kissing him on the side of a snowy Tahoe mountain, and all the kissing that they'd done since then, and the soft words and encouraging I'm into yous and everything that had followed. That was the peak, the highest point of the rollercoaster, the part where Theo's heart nearly beat through his chest from excitement and thrill. The lowest points weren't even on the rollercoaster, because it was a stupid analogy since all rollercoasters were fun from start to finish, at least according to Theo, but off in the sticky theme park bathroom. This moment was not in a toilet paper strewn theme park bathroom. It was still on the rollercoaster, just in one of those dips that would have had Theo's stomach doing the uncomfortable kind of somersault that was only on the brink of the good kind of somersault, the one that happened when he and Kit kissed.

No, this was — stupid. Unbelievably stupid. He truly couldn't believe that he'd fallen for it, not after everyone else had been seemingly so confused at the fact that Kit had won, then hadn't won, and Theo had just bought it and fallen into his anxiety trap without a second of hesitation. It was partly his fault for getting so worked up, for not doing a little more digging, for not wheedling it out of Kit like he knew he could have done if he'd just thought for two seconds and hadn't let himself get so easily distracted so often by Kit's laugh, Kit's face, his shoulders, his hands, everything.

So, yes. It was partly his fault. It was also definitely a lot of Kit's fault, for letting it go on so long, for watching him while he squirmed and enjoying every minute of it. Theo let out a huff that did, actually, sound a little angry, a little annoyed, a little worked up. But it really took far too much to push Theo into actual serious annoyance and definitely much more actual assholeishness to push him into anger territory, and the adrenaline rush that had come from humiliation turned more humiliation turned some relief was sweeping him hard towards disbelieving laughter.

Kit's apologies helped. Especially because Theo could hear it in his voice — that he really hadn't intended for it to get this bad, that it all wasn't to make fun of Theo, to actively mortify him. Theo spun around, stern teacher face already slapped on. "I can't believe you." Was there almost a finger wag in there? Maybe. "You're — you're —" Christ, he couldn't keep it together. The stern facade was failing. He was turning hysterical, mouth twitching into laughter even as he fought against it. "You're just — a fucking — butthead." That's the ticket. Theo let out a yelp of laughter and slapped a hand over his face again, the words coming rapidly now. "I can't believe I fell for it. I can't believe you got me. I'm gonna die. Do you know how many gray hairs you just gave me? Look, look, I bet you can see them." Theo was tugging a hand through his hair, mussing it beyond belief, trying to prove his theory, certain there'd be a Rogue-esque white streak waiting in there for him. He tried not to grin at Kit, but he was grinning at Kit. And then, soberly, tried to say, "You deserve the biggest pinching of your life."

Kit was relieved, so relieved to not be stuck in a sticky theme park bathroom. For one: gross. For two: emotionally devastating. As much as he probably deserved Theo's wrath, and anger, and disappointment, and guilt-laden phrases like 'why would you do this to me?' or 'you humiliated me' or 'this isn't something you do to someone you care about'—as much as he definitely deserved all of that, if Theo wielded even one of those deadly weapons in his direction Kit would spontaneously combust. This whole scenario had started out as a lighthearted prank, a way to take a simple joke about cannibals thirsting over Theo's thighs a little further to poke at his nerves, surface level nerves without accidentally slip 'n sliding deep into Theo's insecurities instead. But the slip 'n slide presented itself, tempting, taunting, bottoming out into a giant inflatable pool full of strawberry jello just as syrupy sweet as Theo's blush and Kit had never been good at telling himself 'no.' Was that a valid excuse to fuck with his boyfriend's (thinking that still felt surreal) self-esteem? Absolutely not. Did he regret it? Answer unclear, ask again later.

Because Theo wasn't upset. He wasn't upset. Kit had edged perilously close to his own slip 'n slide with an inflatable pool of suffering-flavored jello at the end until Theo finally turned back around, heart-stoppingly grim for all of two seconds before the mask slipped and promptly fell off. Then, laughter. Kit hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath until it escaped him all at once in a rush, a sharp exhalation of both disbelief and amazement. Theo was laughing, Theo was yelling at him but smiling that infectious sunshiny smile that made Kit's heart skip at least three beats and tugging at his hair and threatening to pinch him and calling him a butthead and. Kit was back to shouting no regrets inside the echo chamber of his own skull, giving his disapproving moral compass the double bird as it receded back to the murky jello swamp from whence it came and. God, he so did not deserve Theo Tate.

In no way would he ever deserve Theo Tate. Even if he rescued a dozen baby orphans from natural disasters on a daily basis from now until death (optimistically no more than 10-15 years in the future) Kit would never be able to dig himself out of the karmic sinkhole he'd strolled willfully into the second he'd kissed Theo on that mountain in Tahoe. And that thought process was probably super fucking obvious, written starkly across his face as he stared in wonder up at Theo, his mischievous grin, fingers still twisting in his own hair and fucking it up in a distinctly bedroom-esque mess and Kit's breath caught again.

"You're right, I forfeit any argument to the contrary, please get back down here and give me the punishment I so richly deserve." He sounded too enthusiastic to even semi pass as contrite, no matter how much he batted his eyes beseechingly up at Theo - the gesture was immediately canceled out by the eager way he patted at his lap, keenly willing it to be full of Theo again.

The pinching would have to come hard and fast, before Theo could let himself get caught up in the universe that was Kit's face. Kit's face that had looked a little terrified before he'd broken down into laughter, a look that hurt a small part of Theo's heart, because he'd never want Kit to be concerned that Theo was going to lose it with him, even if Kit deserved it a little. But then it was Kit's face that looked at him in wonder, and Theo only caught a glimpse of it, too caught up in his own laughter and the way he was tugging his hands through his hair to see it for the entirety of its existence, not before Kit had slipped back into cocky and batted his eyelashes at him and that — that Kit face was another one of his many, many favorite Kit faces, but the wonderment one had knocked through him like he was a bowling pin and Kit a cannonball.

Was that aimed at me? The distant thought barely registered, but the feeling that came along with it was there. While Kit thought about how in no universe he ever deserved Theo, Theo was busy thinking about how in no universe did he deserve Kit — even the terrible prankster Kit that had sent him spiralling into anxiety all Saturday. And, speaking of that terrible prankster Kit, Theo had a punishment ready for him, and even though Kit was now asking for it, Theo couldn't exactly say no. Not with that bat of his eyelashes, not with the way he patted at his lap.

"Oh, yeah, you sound really repentant." Theo quipped back, half a second from getting into full bossy Theo mode by putting his hands on his hips, but instead he fought against another grin and all but dove forward back onto Kit's lap, so he could do something in between a tackle and a hug and so he could follow through on his threats by finding skin on Kit's arm to give a very light, very barely anything pinch. "Take that." Theo declared, as if it was a dastardly thing he'd done, and then he patted his hand down Kit's arm to smooth the spot he'd pinched, and leaned close to press his forehead into Kit's own.

"I'm gonna get you so bad for this." Theo vowed, but with a giggle to his tone that suggested he'd never be able to commit to such a long term prank. The guy could barely play hide and seek without steadily losing it in a corner from pure anticipation. By this point, Theo had slipped his hands to Kit's sides, fingers twitching against them. "But for now..." The pinch that was promised had become a tickle attack. Theo dug his fingers in and went for it.

He'd asked for it, and Theo delivered, maybe with a little too much enthusiasm like a fully grown dog completely unaware that it wasn't a tiny puppy anymore but Kit wasn't complaining even as Theo's vault into his lap knocked him somewhat off balance and flopping onto his back. A position he wasn't in any hurry to adjust, half on and half off the blanket in the grass and residual moisture from an atmosphere that was constantly wet seeping in through his woefully inadequate long sleeved t-shirt and reminding him that winter in San Francisco was far from over because the view? The view was spectacular: Theo bent over him, mussed and vibrant and just a little bit sly as he rubbed idly at Kit's arms, his sleeves, nudging up fabric to deliver what couldn't even be qualified as a 'pinch' to his willingly capitulating skin. His own hands had settled naturally on Theo's thighs and lingered there greedily, squeezing, marveling in an unabashedly avaricious way that he still got to have this, that Theo'd forgiven him so readily and easily despite the wear and tear on both his dignity and self-confidence.

I'll make it up to him, Kit thought, resolute, just as Theo tipped their foreheads together and a pulse of fondness suffused through his system, temporarily unseating lewdness as his prevailing emotion of the moment. Thoroughly. In any and every way possible.

"Highly effective punishment, I promise to reflect on my actions and only consider doing this again when I totally forget about the consequences. Ideally, at least a week from now," he responded breezily, unconcerned with whatever glimmer of something in Theo's face that suggested this wasn't over, because he'd been effectively lulled into a false sense of security. Like a fool. Theo on top of him, straddling him, anchoring him like a really attractive weighted blanket had allayed the bulk of his unease, that maybe Theo had some residual hurt feelings he wasn't quite admitting to for Kit's sake, because the evidence simply wasn't there - not with Theo looking down at him like that and teasingly swearing his revenge with barely restrained laughter that indicated an utter lack of malice or guile.

Which just showed what he knew. Theo's hands skirting along his sides, then settling, holding, set off exactly zero alarm bells in Kit's brain. If anything, the gesture nudged fondness soundly back behind lewdness in Kit's emotional prioritization hierarchy. Kit stupidly assumed this touching was pregaming, a promise of even better things to come - like Theo fully angling himself downward and drawing close for 'I forgive you' kissing - and Kit made an eager sound to encourage this along, a little, conveying mindless consent. But the kissing never came. Instead, an ominous warning and—

a full-on assault against his unsuspecting nerve endings. "No, not fair!" Kit yelped, edging backwards further into the grass to escape Theo's merciless fingers, squirming and bucking and already laughing breathlessly because he was stupidly, ridiculously ticklish. Score one for evil genius Theo Tate.

The brief teasing touches he'd stolen against Kit's sides in the past had prepared him for the knowledge that he was ticklish — but Theo hadn't quite realized how ticklish, and his laughter dissolved into a yelp and a shout when straddling Kit's body became like trying to conquer an earthquake. But man it was worth it, and Theo was relentless, would be relentless, until he was satisfied that Kit had been punished just enough for the embarrassment that he'd put him through.

It was, obviously, not any real kind of punishment. There was a weight off of him, clear off of his shoulders, no concern at having to spend the day with a stranger when he knew his heart belonged to someone else and they had no chance, serial killer or otherwise. And now — the whole date he had planned, with Kit, would be perfect. He'd wanted so desperately to take him on it, had been disappointed but understood, obviously, when Kit had said that Theo's bidding had gone up too high. Theo wouldn't have been able to afford himself either, nor would he have been able to afford Kit if he'd submitted to it in the end.

Theo realized he needed to double check whether or not Kit had spent half a grand on him, and how he really should not have if that was the case, and Theo would try to save up enough to pay him for half of it, or something — but until then, he was much happier to tickle, and grin down at Kit's laughing face, at his squirming and the way he tried to knock Theo off. Before the new changes had happened to him, Theo wouldn't have had a chance to stay straddling Kit's hips while he bucked and squirmed — but he was much stronger now, and locked his thighs against him and kept him there, at least until it felt too cruel.

Then he loosened his grip and let himself get rolled off into the grass, releasing Kit's sides and letting his hands flop above his head, a big megawatt smile on his face. "Now maybe you'll think twice." Theo laughed, a little breathless himself from the effort it took tickling Kit, and then he was rolling onto his side and smiling with a shy hint of something else on his face, redness melting into appearance alongside the few freckles smattered over his nose and cheeks. "I am glad it's you, though. Really glad. Kind of a dream come true."

God, he thought it would never end. Tickling was explicitly against Kit's personal Geneva Convention decrying cruel and unusual punishment and mistreatment of prisoners of war, and if he were capable of getting a word in, between incoherent exclamations and peals of laughter, he would've yelled something at Theo accusing him of officially stepping foot into war criminal territory. But he wasn't, he was in fact helpless under Theo's inhumane barrage, no matter how much he jerked and writhed and struggled with increasing desperation to dislodge his torturer Theo wasn't budging. Theo had his Very Impressive Thighs clamped on either side of his hips like an immovable vice, and Kit scraped together enough presence of mind in the face of cresting hysteria to be a little (a lot) enamored with the strength those babies exhibited, how totally deserving they were of Kit's thirsty-ass obsession. If he weren't pushing frantically at Theo's chest or tugging ineffectively at his arms, he might've dug his hands back into those thighs for one last hungry feel before death via oxygen deprivation finally took him.

Fortunately for his sanity, just when the tickling encroached on almost too much and Kit couldn't quite seem to catch his breath, Theo's fingers vanished, his weight shifted, and the excruciating sensation of his nerves being ruthlessly overstimulated by an actual terrorist abruptly ceased. All Kit could do for at least a solid minute after that was breathe, will his heart rate somewhere south of 100bpm and rub viciously at the tears that'd leaked out of the corners of his eyes. Hopefully Theo hadn't seen those, he didn't deserve the satisfaction. Dimly Kit was aware that he'd collapsed into the grass beside him, following one last demanding roll of his hips to disengage and Kit spared him a peevish look, sidelong, before shutting his eyes and focusing on calming the fuck down.

"Next time? Tell your moral code - I'd rather have a punch. Straight to the solar plexus. Lay me out," Kit panted. His eyes were still stubbornly closed but he could sense Theo moving closer, his breath warm on his cheek, his voice full of gratified, genuine pleasure and Kit felt the petulance drain out of him in an instant as the context of his words actually sank in. When his eyes snapped open again half a beat later they were probably terribly revealing of an inner monologue that was essentially just an embarrassing loop of Theo's name, over and over, with 'I'm so fucking screwed' mixed in for flavor. "Me too," he admitted, simply, tracing the path of Theo's blush with his index finger before dropping his hand, moving fully onto his side to face Theo and resuming the task with his mouth. "Good thing we've got a rich fairy godmother looking out for us."

Of all the new abilities Theo had come into in recent months — abilities that had caused both trouble and gotten him out of trouble — part of him sometimes wished he'd scored on telepathy. Not that he would use it without permission, of course — that was a murky moral line that he was vehemently against crossing, even in a theoretical fantasy land. But when Kit opened his eyes again, when his panting had slowed, when he'd turned his gaze to meet Theo's own, Theo was sure he could make sense of what he could see there — but he wanted confirmation, proof. They'd talked about their love languages after all — touch, quality time, words.

Theo imagined what it would be like to hear the words of what he felt — how he felt, how he thought, maybe, if he was right, how Kit felt — and even just the imagining of it sent a flutter through him, another somersault. Those stomach flops hadn't stopped since he and Kit had started kissing each other again, doing more than that, holding hands and going on dates and going to each other's places, watching movies and laughing and acting like idiots together, doing the boyfriend thing in a way that Theo hadn't expected or anticipated but would never, ever, ever want it to become undone.

Not if he could help it, anyway. Not when it meant that brutal tickling punishment could earn him the kind of look that Kit was giving him now. Not when he could unravel from a near anxiety meltdown into something warm and fuzzy and blissful at the mere concept of spending the rest of the day with Kit — just Kit, nobody else, to go paddle on the lake and stargaze into the evening. As Kit's face grew closer, Theo went a little cross-eyed trying to keep him in his vision, but he let his eyes flutter half-way closed at that gentle touch to his nose, his cheek, and then the way Kit's lips brushed there instead, and Theo held back the most intense urge to start giggling.

Instead, he sucked in a sharp half-breath through his nose and shifted an inch closer, using the hand he didn't have propping his head up away from the grass to slide against Kit's chest, to give a small but decidedly insistent tug against it in an effort to urge him closer. What was a small public make out in the park, anyway? "Rich fairy godmother?" Theo asked, distracted, the heat growing in his face as Kit's kisses continued, and he tilted his head with every intention of giving Kit more space to continue until his brain caught up with the rest of him and he blinked — half at Kit, half at the sky.

"What —" A beat, as he registered it all. "—Not Elon Goggins, though? Who? What do you mean?" Information would be good — Theo figured Kit meant that was where the money for the bidding had come from, but now that Kit was closer and they were only a breath away from kissing distance it was a lot harder to focus, and Theo bumped his nose into Kit's and held it there. "Are you telling me you didn't drop half a grand on me?" He tried to sound mock offended, but it just came out as relieved.

Kit assumed, not unreasonably, that they were finished talking. Why shouldn't he? Theo was responding positively to the leisurely affectionate way his lips skimmed along the soft angles of his face, seemed more than acquiescent to whatever natural course his mouth wanted to take, even canted his head in clear invitation that encouraged Kit along to his jawline and some very promising territory below just primed for some revenge hickeys—but he never made it there. Because Theo was asking him something, yeah, that was definitely a question - a succession of questions - and not an appreciative exhalation of 'more, please' that he could've easily acknowledged by going about his business sucking bruises up and down the hollow of his throat. He hadn't heard much beyond the vaguely interrogative lilt of Theo's voice because he was in a zone but if he forced enough blood back into the thinkier portions of his brain, he could probably make some guesses about the subject matter of those questions: rich fairy godmother (who, what, where, when, why, how?)

"Not a clue," he summarized all too pithily into Theo's skin, stubbornly refusing to remove himself from the crook of his neck despite the abrupt cessation of festivities, and this time he wasn't lying. Not even bending the truth. Not even for the sake of irony. No details had been passed his way when he'd gotten the notification that he'd somehow won the bid for Theo's date, the bid he'd been forced to withdraw after the price rose and rose and rose way out of his affordability range. His legal affordability range, that is, because he'd googled the limits on all of his hard-won drunken bar souvenir credit cards and ideally, some of them would've given him a few grand's worth of wiggle room to play with. But Theo disapproved. Theo didn't want him employing any underhanded means of donating to charity and scoring his sweet paddle boat date, no matter how much he teased him about exactly the kind of person who usually felt no qualms about paying a lot of money for the time and attention of other more attractive people: rich weird pervs. Enter: Elon Goggins. Enter: Theo's Stubborn Streak. Enter: Kit's Desperation.

Truthfully, right before the actual charity event Kit had even gone to his parents - a midway point on the moral alignment scale between using his own tragic amount of income and exploiting the credit scores of complete strangers. Because that's what he typically did when he wanted something and nine times out of ten it worked, for a combination of reasons: his parents had money, Kit was their precious only child, and Kit was great at milking it. But Tom Esposito had turned his cool assessing gaze to meet his precious only child's big plaintive eyes and asked, simply, 'Why?' Which just implied, somehow more effectively: why beg for $500 plus for something that wasn't a PS5 or cheap flight to the Maldives, or Tuscany, or Sydney, or New Zealand, or even that sweet new dirt bike he'd been eyeballing? And Kit had just... blanked. Shut his mouth. Fidgeted.

Because this guy I'm really into who probably doesn't know I'm really into him is about to sell himself to some rich weird perv for charity and I don't want that rich weird perv to be anybody but me? Nope. Not something Kit was ready to face himself, much less confess to his hawkish all too perceptive dad - or even his oblivious, encouraging, 'I just want you to be happy, don't listen to your father, I'll convince him to transfer the cash' other dad. So he'd slunk back to his room, shut the door, stared at a wall and slowly came to terms with the inevitable: Theo on a date with a rich weird perv.

Who'd have imagined that rich weird perv would anonymously donate his charity date to poor weird perv Kit Esposito? He couldn't hazard a guess, then or now, but breathing in the clean, vaguely fruity scent of Theo's hair and feeling Theo's fingers contract absently in a loose but demanding grip on his shirt Kit knew one thing for sure: he was so grateful.