Warning: Rated PG-13 for cuss words.
The first thing he noticed when the door opened was the mess. There were bits and pieces of unfinished objects all over the place. And off to the side, sat Tony. He tilted his head and watched him work for a minute. He looked tired and pale. How many hours did he spend in this windowless room?
When Tony didn’t turn around to see who had walked in, he leaned back and waited. He’d seen this before. Tony was working on something and disturbing him would be a bad idea. Before, he would have teased and disrupted Tony without a thought, but it had been too long; their friendship too fractured for that kind of casual play. Plus, getting a chance to just watch Tony was worth having to wait.
“Did you need something Dr.?” Tony turned around and stopped mid-sentence. “Riley?”
Riley smiled and gave him a little wave. “Hey Tony.”
Tony frowned and sucked on his lip ring. He looked around the room and at his watch; he looked at his computer, everywhere but at Riley.
Damn, so this wouldn’t be easy, but that was okay. Riley had hoped for easy but was ready for difficult and awkward and obstinate. He walked further into the room, until he was standing right in front of his old friend. “I hear you were having some problems with the robotics chamber?”
The look of surprise on Tony’s face almost made him laugh. “You’re the builder?”
“You look like shit Tony. When was the last time you slept?”
“I don’t remember,” was the automatic reply.
“Huh.” Riley looked around the lab and grimaced, this place needed to be cleaned. Tony was usually much more organized than this. “Yeah, I’m the builder.”
“I thought you were into art?”
Riley moved about, picking things up and examining some drawings on the table. He was very aware of the fact that Tony was watching him. “I’m good with my hands.” He lifted them up and winked at Tony. “Doesn’t matter what I’m making. Sculptures or time machines, same difference. Where will I be working?”
Tony studied him for a bit longer before pointing to a doorway on the right wall. “In there, it has everything you should need, but if I was mistaken, just put in a request and they’ll get it for you.”
“So you’re a big shot here, huh?” He turned back to Tony. How did he tell him how much he’d missed this, just talking to him? I’ve missed you Anthony.
Tony shrugged. “I imagine I make them a lot of money, so they let me do what I want.”
Riley laughed and was pleased to see a small smile appear on Tony’s lips.
Riley walked out the lab, took a deep breath and smoothed down his aqua colored tie – Tony’s favorite color. If he was being honest with himself, that had been the hardest reunion of his life. He’d found himself paying more attention to his friend as he moved around the lab than to his own work. Hopefully, having his own workspace would help.
He’d known Tony for eight years and the whole ghost thing aside, the man had always fascinated him. He was the reason Riley had gone into engineering. Dre and Tony were always building things when they were younger. More times than not, he’d been dragged along to find the parts Tony needed for his inventions. While Dre did most of the searching, he and Tony would sit and figure out how to re-purpose each new discovery. They’d made a good team. Tony would come up with an idea, Dre would go looking for the right parts and he would put it together.
It was Connor, the twins’ father, who got him into the advanced engineering program at APU. It was also his recommendation that had landed him this job at uGenex. Riley suspected part of Connor’s motivation was so someone could keep an eye on Tony. And he’d definitely done that today, a little too much actually.
He didn’t know what went down with Tony and Franco, but he did know they weren’t together anymore and that Tony had taken it really hard. Riley made a promise to himself that he would do what he could to get their friendship back on track.
It took some time, but Riley finally settled into his new workspace. He was tinkering around one day when Tony walked in.
“What the hell are you listening to?”
“What!” he shouted. Riley turned the music down.
Tony shook his head. “What. Are you. Listening to?”
“It’s good, right?” Riley asked, grinning. Oh, he knew Anthony wouldn’t like it, he preferred to work in silence or while listening to soft classical music. Riley liked rock remixes though and usually had that on his headphones. He’d forgotten his player at home and had decided to have some fun with Tony. The guy was too serious.
“It’s noise. Please keep it down.”
Riley gave him a salute. “Aye aye captain.”
Tony frowned and walked out the room. Riley watched him leave before shaking his head and getting back to work, cranking the music back up. Way too serious…
Riley walked out into the larger room and sat across from Tony. He’d brought his lunch today and ate while he watched Tony rapidly type in some coding into the robotics chamber. He was halfway through with his meal before Tony stopped and glared at him.
“What?” Riley asked.
“What are you doing?”
“Eating lunch. I brought another sandwich, you want it?”
“No, thank you.”
“Okay.” He continued to eat and Tony turned back to his computer. He watched as Tony typed, a slight frown marring his brows. Tony was too thin. Riley never saw him leave the lab, eat lunch or even take a break.
After a minute, Riley asked, “What are you doing?”
“I can see that, but what are you coding?”
“Did you bring lunch?” Riley asked a few weeks later.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“I’m busy. I’ll get something later.”
“No need. I brought enough for two.”
“That’s okay. You can eat it later.”
“What are you doing?”
“The same thing I’ve been doing for the last four months.”
“But you never told me what that was.” Riley watched Tony suck on his lip ring. He did that often when he was frustrated with something and he’d been sucking on that thing all week.
“I’m configuring this so I can reverse engineer the nanites.”
“But I didn’t build it to do that.”
“I know. That’s why I’m doing it now.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
Silence, a quick tug on the ring and then a curt, “No.”
Riley laughed. “I’ll work on it after lunch babe.” He took out two sandwiches from his bag. “Oh look, I brought you a sandwich from that place you like.”
“Riley…” Tony sucked on his bottom lip. Riley had a way of frustrating the hell out of him.
“What? I haven’t said anything!”
“I can hear you breathing.” Tony watched as Riley put down the sandwich he was eating, licking his fingers to get them clean. Why can’t he use a napkin?
“Impossible. The music is too loud.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
Riley smiled. “Touché. But I get distracted if two radios are playing at the same time.”
“Then turn yours off.”
“But I can’t work without my music, Tony.” Riley pouted.
Tony frowned but said nothing.
Riley was closing up one of the back pieces to a prototype that Tony had asked him to build when he sensed someone watching him. Looking up, he saw Tony standing by the doorway. “Hey babe.”
Tony just stared at him.
He turned off his music and straightened. “What’s wrong Tony?”
Tony shrugged. “Nothing. I was just wondering if you were going to eat lunch today.”
Riley grinned. “As a matter of fact, I was just about to come over to you right now.”
He grabbed their lunch and followed Tony back to a cleared table. His grin grew wider. Once they were settled with their food in front of them, he asked, “What are you working on today?”
Tony picked at his sandwich. “I’d started working on a hover board design last year, hoping to get it done for Alistair, but I got distracted and never finished it. Now his birthday is coming up and I’d really like to give it to him, but it’s nowhere near done.”
Riley glanced around the room. This seemed to be a major problem for Tony. He had many half-finished projects. “Maybe I could look at it this week and we could see about getting that done in time. It could be a gift from both of us.”
Tony nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. That would be good. If you had the time, I mean.”
Riley reached out to touch Tony’s hand, but Tony pulled away, placing his hands on his lap. Mentally sighing, Riley smiled instead. “I have the time. My boss works me like a dog, but this is important.”
Tony smirked and Riley relaxed. “Thank you Riley. Are you going to eat that or can I have it?”
Tony reached for the pickles that Riley had removed from his sandwich. “”No Tony. You can have it.”
Riley watched one of the pickles disappear into Anthony’s mouth and couldn’t stop the huge smile that spread across his own lips.
Riley walked over and moved aside several of the drawings that were on the table.
“What are you doing? I need those!” Tony snapped.
Riley placed a cake on the now clear tabletop. “Tony, today’s your birthday.”
Anthony frowned. Was it? When had that happened? He felt a moment of panic as he realized he’d forgotten his anniversary.
“I take it you forgot.” Riley took his cell phone out and passed it to him. “Until we can find your phone, which I’m sure you’ve misplaced again, you can use mine to call your brother.”
Tony stared at him for a while before taking the phone from him and dialing Dre’s number. For a second, he’d thought Riley had wanted him to call Franco.
“Hello Dre. It’s Anthony.”
“Tony? Where the fuck have you been? If you didn’t call me today, I was going to come up there and start blowing shit up until they gave you back to me.”
“Happy birthday Dre,” Anthony said.
There was a slight pause and then Dre sighed, “Happy birthday Tony. I guess I won’t see you today?”
“I don’t think so. I’m very busy.” Tony eyed the cake on his work table.
“Tony, why are you on Riley’s phone? Did you lose yours again?”
Tony looked around the lab. “Riley works for me and I guess I did lose my phone.”
Dre laughed, “He works for you? That’s priceless. I’ll come up soon and we can stage a jailbreak. I miss you baby bro. Don’t let those bastards brainwash you.”
“I am very busy Dre. Please don’t come and make a scene.”
“I make no promises. Listen, call mom and dad. They’re worried too. Mom says she doesn’t ever see you anymore. I’ll let Eva know you’re okay.”
“Is she with you?”
“I’m at her house. You want to talk to her?”
“No, that’s okay. I have to go now Dre.”
“Alright. And Tony?”
“I know today is hard for you, be well. Okay?”
“Yeah. Bye.” He hung up and passed the phone back to Riley, but wouldn’t look at him. I had almost forgotten. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now, for cake.”
“Riley, I don’t have time to go out for lunch.”
“All we ever do is stay in this basement you call a lab. You need sunlight Tony. You’re losing your tan.”
“I don’t have a tan. This is my natural skin tone.”
“Well, you’re losing it. Now, come on.”
“No arguments. When was the last time you even saw the sun? I’m in early, but no matter how early I am or how late I stay, you’re always here.”
“I have a lot to get done, I’m on a deadline.”
“Remember when I first came here? You said you made these people a lot of money. I think going out to eat this one time won’t be the end of the world. Plus, I want to show you something.”
Tony stopped moving. “I don’t like surprises Riley.”
Riley’s smile dimmed. “I know that babe. It’s just a new bistro. They make a great veggie lasagna. I was just thinking we could switch it up a little. I was getting tired of the sandwiches.”
“Oh, I wasn’t. I like the sandwiches.” They started to move again.
Riley grinned. “Why Tony, is that a compliment to my cooking? I’m flattered!”
Tony blushed but didn’t say anything else.
“You do know I’m gay right?” Riley had convinced him to go out tonight, to celebrate their one-year work anniversary, a concept that Tony thought was ridiculous. But Riley had seemed excited, so he’d relented. And everything had been great, until one of the dancers had approached him and offered to give him a lap dance. He’d politely declined but he could see another getting ready to approach their table. The thought of some woman grinding on his lap made him shudder. It reminded him of Franco, kissing that woman on their bed.
“I know, but this wasn’t my idea.” Riley glanced over at their coworkers sitting in the next booth. He looked around the club and cringed. “I would never have ideas like this.”
“Right.” Tony smiled. Riley was just as red-blooded as all the other men in the place. Naturally, he would like it here. Tony was the only oddball it would seem. But then again, he was the only gay person here. He stopped that thought. That might not be true. Look at Franco…he would like it here. Tony sighed.
Scratching his cheek, Riley asked, “Do you want to go?”
“Do you want to stay?” It didn’t matter to him. He’d spent more time watching his friend than the women working so either way…Tony blinked as he realized what he’d just thought. Well that was interesting. He studied Riley and thought back to the past year. When had he started to have these feelings?
“No. We can go. Maybe to that bar you like.” Before Tony could protest – which he wouldn’t have done regardless, Riley was up and moving towards the exit.
Tony walked to the bar in the back of the lounge and ordered Riley a beer. He still remembered his friend’s favorite brand. Riley smiled when Tony handed him the bottle. “You remembered. You know, you’d think between you, your mom and Dr. Gates, one of you would have come up with meds that let you drink.”
Tony shrugged. They had but after being with Franco for two years and watching him drown at the bottom of one bottle after another, Tony just couldn’t enjoy the taste of alcohol.
Tony watched as Riley took a drink. How would they work together now? What does it matter? Riley isn’t gay. Well, there was that. But perhaps he would feel uncomfortable working with Tony now. “Riley…”
“What do we have here? I never thought I’d see you here again.” Tony froze at the sound of Franco’s voice. He stared into Riley’s eyes, afraid to turn around. This could not be happening. Not now.
“What, won’t you even talk to me?” A hand pressed down on Tony’s shoulder, slowly turning him around. “There. For a second I thought you were going to ignore me.”
Seeing Franco dragged Tony back and image after image flashed through his mind’s eye; meeting Franco at this very bar, their first date at a vegan restaurant, getting his first piercing – his lip – at Franco’s insistence. The images started coming faster until he saw Franco, in bed, leaning over to let a naked Lynda kiss him on the lips, while her husband…
“Hello, I’m Riley. I don’t think we’ve ever officially met.” Tony glanced over to see Riley stretch out his hand to Franco.
“Riley? Anthony has told me a bit about you. I didn’t know you two had become re-acquainted.” Franco looked at the proffered hand and his eyes flickered up to Tony’s before smiling his, I-am-displeased-but-we-are-in-public, smile and accepting the handshake. Tony flinched, ready to placate him and avoid a scene, but then Riley pressed his other hand into the small of Tony’s back and the moment passed.
“Well, I have to get back to my date. I’ll see you around Anthony.” Franco grabbed his drinks and made his way to a booth in the back where a gorgeous blond man sat waiting.
“Are you okay?” Riley asked through gritted teeth. “Do you want to go?”
“No, I’m fine.” He wasn’t fine. He was far from fine, but he would not run. Tony spent the next hour watching as Franco flirted and danced and enjoyed himself. All of a sudden, all his promises not to let his Ex get to him anymore flew out the window. All the old doubts came flying back in. Franco looked happy and healthy. Perhaps his inability to keep Franco interested had pushed him to use drugs and to cheat. Maybe if he’d tried harder and or had come home at a reasonable hour every night… Maybe Franco had just needed to experiment and hadn’t thought Tony would be comfortable sharing. Tony liked men, he had no interest in women or strip clubs, but maybe if it had been that important to Franco, he could have tried…
He was so focused on watching Franco that he didn’t notice the tingling at first and resisted when Riley pulled him up off the bar stool. “What are you doing?”
Riley just dragged Tony into the men’s bathroom, checking all the stalls before locking the door. “You’re changing.”
Tony looked at him in confusion. “What?”
“You’re,” Riley pulled him in front of a mirror, “changing.”
As they watched, standing together, Tony completely transformed into a ghost. “But, that’s impossible. We fixed this.”
He lifted his hand to his face. He was a ghost. He hadn’t changed in years. Why now?
“How long does it usually take for you to change back?” Riley’s voiced snapped him back to attention.
Looking in his direction, Tony shrugged. “I don’t know.” He did some quick calculations. “It took me ten minutes to change, so I guess half an hour, maybe more.”
“Half a fucking hour? Seriously?”
Tony just nodded. “Or more.”
He turned back to look at his reflection. Why now? He thought about what he was doing when he started to feel the numbing sensation. He’d been watching Franco. Perhaps this was stress-induced. He told Riley as much. “But I won’t know until I can get back to the lab and run some tests.”
“We have to get you out of here first.”
Riley was leaning against the far wall, studying Tony beneath drawn eyebrows. Their eyes met in the mirror and held. He started to say something, but the doorknob turned, grabbing their attention. When the door didn’t open, the person banged on the door.
“Occupied!” Riley shouted.
“I know you’re in there with him, Anthony. Are you fucking each other in there?” Franco laughed and answered himself. “Not likely, you’re too much of a prude for that. Let me in. We can share.”
Riley raised an eyebrow. “Classy.”
When neither Anthony nor Riley responded, Franco cursed and left.
It took forty minutes, but finally Tony felt himself becoming heavier, a clear sign he was turning back to normal. “I think I’m turning back.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
He was angry. Why was he angry? Was it because of the lewd comments Franco had made earlier? Did Riley think that he and Franco had sex with people in public together? Tony shuddered. “Riley.”
“Not right now, Tony. Let’s just get back.”
They made their way back to the bar but as they passed the last booth, Tony spotted Franco making out with his date. The tingling feel came back, full force.
“Oh, fuck me!”
Riley dragged him out of the bar and into his car. “We’ll never make it back to uGenex. My apartment is close by; do you think you can make it?”
He didn’t wait for Tony to answer, but just sped off and made a right at the light. They traveled straight for ten minutes, time in which Tony managed to calm himself down. By the time they were pulling up to an apartment complex, he was back to normal. He was just exhausted. He could barely keep his eyes open and fumbled with the door handle of the car. He felt so heavy.
Riley came around and helped him up. “Jesus, you weigh a ton!”
“I feel like it.”
They made their way into the building slowly, Tony leaning heavily onto his friend. They got up the elevator, down the hall and into the apartment without a problem. However, once inside, Tony felt himself becoming light-headed and couldn’t stop the room from spinning.
They walked down a hallway and into a bedroom, where Riley let Tony fall onto the bed. Tony lay there, listening to Riley bang around. “Alright, let’s get you out of these clothes babe.”
A few minutes and several awkward moments later, Tony was undressed and in bed. Riley leaned over him and handed him a glass. “It’s water. Drink it.”
Tony leaned up and sipped from the glass until it was empty.
“Alright, good. If you need me, I’ll be right down the hall, okay?”
Tony was so tired…he tried to wave but fell asleep instead.
Tony woke up slowly, blinking at the bright light coming from the window. When he tried to roll over, it felt like his head would split open from the sudden movement. He went very still and soon realized that he wasn’t in his own bed. Memories of the night before flashed in his head. He was at Riley’s house.
He got up and made his way out the room and down the corridor. He heard movement and followed it into a brightly lit kitchen.
“Hey.” Riley looked up from reading his tablet.
“Hello.” Tony sat on the bar stool gingerly.
“How do you feel?”
“Bad. I have a headache and my eyes seem to be unable to focus on anything brighter than the color black.”
Riley snorted. “So, you’re hung over.”
“What? No. I didn’t drink.”
“Doesn’t matter, those are the symptoms of a hangover. Here, eat some French toast. I’ll make you a fried egg.” Riley pushed his plate towards him.
As he made himself eat, he watched Riley move around the kitchen. He’d packed on some muscle since they were in school together. Did Riley have someone in his life? Tony had never thought to ask, but if he was living off campus, then it was possible that he was in a relationship.
He was just about to ask when a shrill ringing almost split his eardrums. Riley quickly picked up his phone.
“Sorry,” he said before answering the call. “Hello?”
A slight pause.
“Yeah, he’s with me.”
Yes, yes, I’ll tell him.”
“Okay. Bye Eva.”
He hung up and looked over at Tony. “That was Eva. Your dad’s in the hospital. You have to go home right away.”
Author’s note: This would have been longer, but y’all know my issues with this chapter. Also, I had given myself 10 chapters to tell Tony and Dre’s stories, since they are NOT my heirs. So sorry if it feels a little rushed. I tried to pace it out as much as I could. And finally, if you are interested in the type of music Riley likes and was listening to (and subsequently, I was listening to), click here.