Rating/warnings: PG for Boots' underpants and otters.
Summary: Cathy and Diane give a multimedia presentation, and Bruno is even more confused than before.
AN: I think this is the second chapter of As Free As the Wind, although apparently this story will be in nonchronological order and told in rotating POV. those bastard canadians can't do anything easily.
The Thrill of Discovery Channel
It all started with that film in science class.
Actually, it had all started when an 11-year-old Bruno Walton's plans to be taken back home because he had thrown all his underwear out of his luggage on the highway fell through utterly, and his parents deposited him commando in Dormitory 3, room 306. Thus began a long tradition of Bruno getting into Boots' underpants.
But the film was where things really went downhill.
It was about marine ecological systems, and halfway through there was a segment that involved a squirming mass of otters frolicking in the morning sunshine.
"Wow," Wilbur whispered, "it's a whole fleet of them!"
"A group of otters is called a 'holt'," Elmer corrected him.
"Look at that, Boots!" Sydney pointed to a few otters that were doing laps back and forth, dark gliding shapes under the water. "That looks just like us during swim practice."
"That one must be Bruno then," Boots snickered, turning his head to catch Bruno's eye. On the screen, one indolent otter was flopped across a rock, napping in the sun. As Bruno watched, one of the swimming otters scrambled out of the water with a clam in his mouth and trotted over to shake himself all over the sleeping one. The otter cracked a beady eye to glare at his rockmate before rolling over and going back to sleep; the second otter cheerfully began banging the clam on the rock for breakfast.
Bruno and Boots exchanged a glance before they erupted into poorly muffled mirth. Elmer shushed them and grumbled that Boots did not resemble a semi-aquatic mammal in any respect.
Bruno disagreed heartily as he watched Boots stroke across the pool that afternoon. Boots' hair was slicked dark by the water, and the arc of his arms down the lane was graceful and strong.
Sleek, Bruno thought, recalling the word the science film had used for the otters, that's what Boots is. Then there was an uncomfortable pause where his brain thought about what it had just said.
Bruno wasn't sure how they felt about such things in Ontario, but where he came from it was not normal to begin calling your roommate 'sleek', even in your head.
To his horror, other words began to creep into his head alongside 'sleek' when he looked at Boots: 'tousled' when Boots ran his hand through his hair while studying, and 'comfortable' when he stumbled out of bed in the morning, and 'hot as fuck' when he came out of the shower, wet and flushed, to hunt for clothes in his towel.
That last one had Bruno more than a little concerned.
After several days of pensive introspection, Boots snapped that Bruno had to either stop moping or get lost, and Bruno sulked across the highway to visit Cathy and Diane.
"Oh god," Cathy said as Bruno oozed through the window and flopped forlornly on the floor, "he's figured it out."
"He hasn't figured anything out," Diane retorted. "Bruno, what's the matter with you?"
Bruno moaned something into the carpet that started with 'underpants' and ended with 'otters'.
"Otters?" Diane peered at him. "Stop drooling on our carpet."
"Underpants," Cathy said smugly. "I told you he'd figured it out."
"Would you two kindly," Bruno lifted his head just far enough to glare at the girls, "stop yammering nonsense and tell me what's going on?"
"Bruno," Diane's voice was silky, "have you been thinking about Boots' underpants?"
"No." Bruno rolled over onto his back. "I wore them."
"Ha!" Cathy exclaimed. Upside-down, she didn't look any saner.
"It was just the once..." he started to explain, but Diane cut him off.
"I'm afraid things have progressed farther than I had imagined," she sighed. "Cathy, get the VCR."
Squealing, Cathy jumped up from her chair and hurried out of the room. Bruno glanced from her retreating back to Diane, who was rifling around in her desk drawers. He demanded an explanation, but Diane did not reply, other than to brandish a video tape at him and slam the drawer shut in victory. A few moments later, Cathy was back, wheeling an AV cart with a TV and a VCR into the room.
"I didn't realize you two had a multi-media presentation planned," Bruno grumbled as the girls plugged the power cord into the wall and fiddled with the channels on the TV. "What do you have that for anyway?"
"We told Miss Scrimmage there was a Jane Austen mini-series," Cathy replied. "But if Leah Jordan stands on a chair with a coat hanger, we can get pro wrestling on Tuesday nights."
Diane sat Bruno on the end of her bed while Cathy put the tape in and cued it up, and then they flanked him as though they expected him to try and escape at any moment.
"I've already had the Talk, you know," Bruno announced, and was promptly shushed.
The tape opened with a scene of Pete, Larry, and Boots sitting on the east lawn of Macdonald Hall, the morning sunlight glinting off Boots' hair. Golden, thought Bruno, then cursed and was shushed again.
"Hey," Bruno narrowed his eyes when he sauntered on screen, resplendent in his red velvet smoking jacket that had completely been worth the eight bucks, "this is Mark's movie about Jordie Jones. What're you showing me this for?"
"It's been re-edited." Cathy held up a fist. "Now shut up."
Bruno shut up. A lot of the tape had been edited out, and now only the scenes that involved both Bruno and Boots seemed to be left. Bruno noticed that his movie self spent an awful lot of time hanging around next to Boots. And teasing Boots. And casually touching Boots. And staring blatantly at Boots' back with a vacant expression when it was turned.
By the time they got to Bruno and Boots sneaking off to plant the firework under Jordie's trailer, Bruno's hand accidentally half over top Boots' as they bent their heads together to whisper, Bruno had gone pale.
"Oh god," he said, clutching at the bedspread, "oh god."
"I told you he hadn't figured it out yet," Diane said, and Cathy nodded grudgingly.
"Oh GOD," Bruno wailed, "why didn't somebody tell me? I'm completely obvious!"
"There, there, we know," Cathy soothed, patting his shoulder. "Now tear your eyes away from yourself for ten seconds and watch Boots instead."
Bruno whimpered and tried to cover his eyes, but Cathy and Diane forced him to sit on his hands and stare at the TV.
Boots just looked...like Boots. Sleek, tousled, comfortable, golden Boots, going about his business, although he looked progressively more harried as the movie wore on and the threat of expulsion loomed larger, which made Bruno squirm a little. Then Bruno started to notice other things, like Boots shifting uncomfortably when Bruno threw an arm around his shoulders, or the increasingly frequent twitch of Boots' eye when Bruno addressed the men.
Bruno felt sick. He'd gone completely queer for his roommate, and his roommate thought he was a freak. Lower than a freak, a fungus. A zucchini stick.
"This is my favorite part coming up," Diane murmured, leaning forward. Bruno gave a weak moan.
On screen, it was the second morning of Die In The Woods, and Boots was helping Pete with the campfire and rolling his eyes at Elmer's compulsive directions about kindling ratios. There was a clatter of noise behind them, and the camera panned left to frame Bruno struggling from the tent and nearly bringing the whole thing down around him, wearing Boots' jeans.
The camera moved back to the construction of the fire, but Boots' attention was still held off-screen, staring over his shoulder. When Elmer snapped that his dawdling was costing them combustion efficiency, Boots whipped his head around, cheeks red, and Pete said maybe he ought to slide back from the fire a little. Boots snuck another look over his shoulder as he moved back. Bruno's hand appeared in the frame, clapping Boots on the shoulder, and Boots' face got even redder.
Bruno was the most confused he had ever been since his parents had said "You'll love Ontario."
"I don't understand," he whined, looking back and forth between Cathy and Diane.
"It's very simple." Cathy took Bruno's hands in her own and looked him earnestly in the eye. "When a boy and another boy love each other very much..."
"Stop that!" Diane slapped Cathy's hands away and ignored her giggles. "Bruno, I think it's only fair to tell you that the last time Boots was here, he called you 'masterful'. The only other person I've ever heard use the word 'masterful' was Marylou, and she was describing Elmer's abilities with a condom. Understand?"
"Sleek," Bruno whimpered, because, oh god, he sort of did. Then, a thought even more unsettling than Elmer's sex life struck him. "Hey, who made this tape for you?"
"Mark," Diane shrugged. "He's the only one with all the equipment."
"He kept whining about us stripping away vital pieces of his art," Cathy put in.
"You told Mark?" Bruno shrieked.
"We didn't really," Cathy scuffed her feet on the carpet a little. "It was Edward who passed along the directions."
"YOU TOLD EDWARD?"
"They didn't have to tell me so much," Edward commented from the doorway, and Cathy had to bodycheck Bruno to the floor to keep him from doing anything rash. Edward looked down on him with contempt. "I mean, for chrissake, it's always 'Bruno says this' and 'Bruno's so great' and 'Bruno, suck my...' "
"AAAAGH!" Bruno broke free of Cathy's grip and shot for Edward, who threw his math book at Bruno in defense; by the time the girls pried them apart, Edward had a split lip from his own shoe, and his math papers were snowing down around them.
"I should be the one who's pissed off," Edward spat as Diane dabbed at his lip with a handkerchief and Cathy gathered up his scattered homework. Bruno was standing at the window, staring out across the orchard with his arms crossed. "I mean, it's my brother you're turning queer."
Bruno's shoulders hunched, but he kept staring out the window.
"Come on," he said after another minute. "Let's just go."
Diane put a hand on Bruno's shoulder as Edward scrambled over the windowsill.
"Sorry about Edward," she said, "but it was just easier since he's always coming over here for the math help anyway."
"Doesn't matter," Bruno grumbled. Diane patted him on the shoulder.
"So what are you going to do?" Cathy wanted to know. Bruno stared at her blankly. "You're going to do something, right?" When Bruno still didn't reply, she seized his shoulders and shook him. "Where's the Bruno Walton spirit?"
"This isn't like fundraising for a pool, Cathy!" Bruno shoved her away. "I can't trick Boots into suddenly liking boys!"
"You don't have to, moron." Cathy rolled her eyes and shoved Bruno back. "You don't even have to make him like you, you lucky bastard, he already does. The hard part's already done! All you have to do is just make him realize it. Surely the famous Bruno Walton can handle that much."
"Surely the famous Bruno Walton can get his ancient ass down here!" Edward called through the window. Diane leaned out the window to shush him and Bruno shook his head. Waving goodbye to the girls, he clamored out the window and began to slide down the drainpipe.
"And don't come back unless you have a thoroughly seduced roommate in tow!" Cathy leaned out the window to hiss. Diane thwapped her across the back of the head.
On the ground below, Edward was still waiting when Bruno hit the dirt with a thump.
"Finally," he said, setting off towards the orchard. "If you moved any slower, we'd have to get you a wheelchair, grandpa."
"You didn't have to wait," Bruno grunted, rushing the first few steps to catch up. They trudged along in silence until they reached the highway, and then as they were looking either way for traffic, Bruno said, "Listen, about Boots, I didn't mean…"
"To make him nuts for you?" Edward snorted. "You should be so smart." He started trotting across the pavement, and Bruno trailed along behind in confusion. "No helping Melvin's bad taste."
"Wait," Bruno grabbed Edward's shoulder and pulled him to a stop, "are you…not trying to talk me out of this?"
"Walton, I'll let you in on a little secret." Edward turned to glare at Bruno, but it held an equal amount of resignation. "You know what my brother does all summer? He mopes. He drags himself around like his hamster just died. My parents think he needs anti-depressants. But here, he's the old Boots again."
"Oh?" Bruno asked, blinking.
"God, you're an idiot." Edward clutched his math book tighter as if he was trying to keep from beating Bruno to death with it. "It's you, you Neanderthal. God knows why, but Melvin wants you around, and you may be a drag, but I don't want my brother to spend the rest of his life doped up on Zoloft."
Edward shook off Bruno's hand and continued across the road. Bruno stood frozen, staring after him, until the scream of a horn and the screech of tires reminded him that he should probably get off Highway 85.
"Jesus Christ," Edward spat as Bruno scrambled off the asphalt, truck roaring by behind him close enough to kick gravel up against the back of his legs. Even as he dusted himself off, Bruno felt a grin beginning, because that was as close to a blessing as Bruno was likely to get from Edward.
When Bruno fell over the windowsill into their room, Boots looked up from his homework, and Bruno noted the warmth underneath the wariness with a thrill of new discovery.
"Feel better?" Boots asked.
"Much." Bruno flopped across his bed and regarded the ceiling, hands tucked behind his head.
"Good." Boots returned to his homework, the familiar scratching of his pencil soothing Bruno. "You just missed Larry telling me all about how Pete talked his way into some girl's panties last weekend."
"Really? Ugh." Bruno wrinkled his nose before he remembered that he had even scarier news. "Yeah, well, Cathy and Diane told me that Marylou's been gushing about the sexual prowess of her own special someone lately."
"What?" Boots' pencil stilled. "You don't mean…"
"That's right," Bruno said grimly. "The prophylactic world is now Elmer's world."
Boots' pencil thwacked Bruno in the forehead.