Sixty-One - Ira

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Thierry and I were in the middle of laughing about how Linkin and Stuart would be so mad at us but so happy with our progress at the same time when the front door opened. "Linkin!" Thierry grinned widely and put the house keys back in his pocket. He opened his arms wide and ran up to her.

She slapped him in the face. The impact rang loud and clear. Thierry could barely lift his hand to touch his reddening face before Linkin screeched, "You piece of shit! Where have you been? What the fuck was Ira doing with you?"

"We got information," Thierry said as a wide-eyed Stuart appeared in the doorway. "Can we come in?"

"No!" Linkin was fuming, her black hair swishing around everywhere. When I ducked backwards, thinking she was going to hit me too, she came at me with words. "What happened to not leaving again, Ira, huh? Was I supposed to believe that one of the gangs needed an amateur in the middle of the night? Whose idea was this?" She paused before adding, "You both are... I don't even know what you are!"

I slowly raised my hand and thought I saw Stuart nod slightly behind Linkin. "My idea. Sorry. Didn't think it'd go down well."

Stuart started to look horrified. "What did you do?"

"We got a hold of Celestia and... interviewed her," Thierry said with a shrug. For once, I was glad to hear his voice. "We got information-" He dodged before Linkin could hit him again.

"I hate all of you," Linkin yelled, stepping away from the door and storming off inside. "Except you, Stewie, but... I'm just done! Fuck you all!" She stomped on every single stair.

With the doorway unblocked, Thierry and I could finally go inside. Stuart glared at us, making sure to add extra venom in his gaze as I passed. Apart from folding his arms across his chest, he didn't show any more signs of displeasure, but he might as well have burnt holes through me while I watched Thierry hurry upstairs after Linkin. "So..." I resisted the urge to shrug. I'd probably spent too much energy on interrogating Celestia; I was numb to any emotion in the room right now.

"A word, Ira?" Stuart forced out of his throat.

"Shoot."

He tilted his chin towards the balcony, "In private."

"Okay." I let him lead the way. Stuart took big steps and didn't let me catch up. He pulled open the balcony door with such force that it slammed against the frame on the other side. Woah, easy, I almost said out loud.

The moment I shut the door behind me, Stuart's face unfroze. "What the fuck were you thinking?" For the first time, he was yelling and I was stunned. I had never heard him curse, either.

"Hey, we weren't getting anywhere with our snooping around and-"

"You thought you might help, Ira style? When will you fucking realize that you are no help being a martyr?"

I gritted my teeth. Now he was just being ungrateful. "We got good information and we can go get more if we ever need to. We couldn't have spent our lives hiding, Stuart. Don't tell me you want that. You want to live in Philadelphia? How? Tell me." I folded my arms defensively.

"Don't even start!" Stuart snapped, clenching his fists. "Linkin got a virus while trying to hack into a lead. We were so scared that we were going to die and you two fucking idiots left your phones here. We were convinced that you'd be coming back to dead bodies! Is that what it takes? Would you wake up then? We even had a human lie detector in the house, but you never even told either of us anything! What is wrong with you?"

"I'm sorry! Is that what you want to hear?" Heat was spreading all over my body as I yelled back. "I'm sorry I cared and tried to keep you safe. I'm sorry I kept you and Linkin out of something that could've ended in killing." I sighed deeply, "I'm sorry for thinking we needed freedom, needed our lives back. Maybe you didn't have it so bad on the island, but-"

"You just don't get it, do you?" Stuart cut me off, and every trembling word cut a bit more.

"What?" I demanded with a sneer. I raised my hands and shrugged. "Enlighten me, oh-so-wise Doctor Neville. Tell me something new."

"I really like you, Ira, and none of this means anything if you're not here!" Stuart shouted in one breath. He glared at me, his chest heaving, his green eyes on fire. "Tell me I should care less," he added through his teeth.

"I..." I felt like I was hit by a spell. The words floated around and echoed in my head, but they were sinking in too slowly. I opened my mouth, but the words were stuck in my skull. Stuart looked away, shook his head in defeat and walked down the wooden steps. I wanted to reach out and stop him but my arms were snapped vertically in place. My body only started working when Stuart was a small silhouette in the distance, walking slowly to the lake.

I ran down after him, the ground crunching under my feet but not making enough noise for Stuart to turn around. Exhaustion was taking over me, but I caught up to Stuart and grabbed his shoulder. He flinched at my touch, but before he could pull away I turned him around to face me, both my hands on his shoulders. I started to rub them soothingly, but that somehow pulled him closer. I wrapped my arms around Stuart's neck and kissed him.

He hesitated for a moment before leaning into me. His lips were softer than I'd imagined, and I kissed him faster, not caring that I was bumping and smudging his glasses. A warm buzz coursed through me, and as Stuart pulled me closer I felt like we'd never go back to being two people again. I didn't care that I was out of breath; the world had never felt so right and I didn't want this to stop. We were nothing like our usual selves - we deepened our embrace with a desperate hunger, holding onto each other as if our lives depended on it. It took a lot to resist taking our first kiss too far. I smiled when our lips parted for a split second before they were reunited. Stuart tangled his warm fingers in my hair. When we finally broke apart, he leaned his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. We were both panting, and eventually, the expanding rhythm of our chests matched each others.

"I'm right here," I said, and Stuart nodded, pulling me into a tight hug and gently brushing my hair. My pulse was hammering and I murmured into his ear, "Right here."

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