What It Takes

Levi likes Johnathan. A lot. He thinks he’s cute and funny and endlessly interesting. Johnathan thinks that maybe he might like Levi too, but he has a hard time believing that Levi likes him back, despite all the hints. Slowly, Levi begins to realize that if he wants to show Johnathan how he really feels, it'll require a much bolder move than his easy, soft spoken nature usually allows.

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1. Chapter One: Take It Easy

    It was a Saturday morning a week or two into the first semester when Levi wandered into the kitchen to find Johnathan staring at the wall, a cup of neglected coffee in his hand. 

    “Good morning,” Levi said, looking at Johnathan for a minute, waiting for an acknowledgement that never came. “Johnathan?” he asked, then nudged him gently on the shoulder. 

    “What? Oh. Good morning,” Johnathan said, finally seeming to come back to himself. “I kinda zoned out there.”

    “I’ll say,” Levi muttered, popping a bagel in the toaster. He pulled up a stool. “So, what were you thinking about?”

    Johnathan shrugged. “My hatred of people. My hatred of school. My hatred of life.”

    “So, your normal, happy thoughts.”
    “Yep.”

    Levi nodded, resigned. When he’d first met Johnathan, he’d been happier. Levi could still remember that day when he’d spent hours listening to Johnathan’s stories from his time abroad, each one getting more outlandish than the last. Even after his roommate Nathan had returned to their room, Levi stayed, letting Johnathan go on and just… listening, laughing. Johnathan hadn’t been this closed off or cynical back then, and Levi was certain that the old Johnathan was still in there somewhere. He had made it his mission to find it.

    “Do you want a bagel?” Levi asked when his popped up.

    Johnathan shook his head. “No thanks.” He raised the coffee cup to his lips, then grimaced. It had probably gone cold.

    Buttering his bagel with careful strokes, Levi asked idly, “Where are Cyrus and Hayden today?”

    Johnathan’s answer was a shrug. “Who knows? Probably off doing disgustingly cute couple stuff.”

    Levi looked at him. “You sound bitter.”

    “I’m not,” Johnathan protested bitterly.

    Levi sighed. When Levi first considered asking to live with Johnathan, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was clear, perhaps more-so to a third party observer like Levi than to Cyrus or Hayden, that Johnathan had feelings for one of them, and it didn’t take long to figure out which. Levi knew he was signing up to witness his own crush pining over his crush, but he still couldn’t help himself. It was the only way to get Johnathan to notice and spend time with him, for Levi couldn’t let Johnathan just move and never see him again. This way, at least they were friends, and Levi was still hopeful that maybe one day, he’d see him as more than a friend. 

    Even so, it wasn’t fun to see Johnathan hung up on Hayden yet again. It hurt every time, even though Levi was sure that nothing ever did or would happen between them. After all, it was painfully obvious how much Hayden cared for Cyrus and vice versa; Levi could never see him cheating, especially not with someone who was Cyrus’s friend as well. 

    “Ok, if you’re not, do you wanna do something today?” Levi asked, keeping his voice casual. 

    “Like what?” Johnathan asked, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it. 

    Levi shrugged. “Whatever. Just something to get us out of the house. Unless you’re busy with homework or something, that is.”
    “No, I’m not,” Johnathan admitted. “So I guess. What do you want to do?”

    “We could go to the movies,” Levi suggested idly.

    Johnathan shook his head. “Just the two of us? That’s a couple thing.”

    “Seriously?” Levi asked, secretly thinking, And that’s a bad thing why…? “Maybe in one of those other countries you’ve been to, but here I think it’s cool if two friends just wanna see the same movie.”

    Maybe Johnathan was just being difficult, but he replied, “There aren’t any movies I want to see.”

    “You told me you wanted to see that superhero one just the other day,” Levi said, calling him out on it. “But fine. What do you want to do instead?”

    “Nothing,” Johnathan said immediately, looking back towards the wall. 

    Levi sighed. “Oh, sorry, did I interrupt the interesting conversation you were having with the wall?” he asked, somehow managing to make his tone more genuine than sarcastic. Johnathan gave him a look anyway. Levi simply drew his legs up onto his chair, resting his head on his knees and settling in to stay. After a few minutes, Johnathan looked over at him. 

    “You don’t have to stay here. You probably have better things to do.”

    “No, if you’re having a pity party, I want in,” Levi said, again trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice. He hated how much Johnathan pitied himself, as if he couldn’t see his own worth. Levi wanted to show him that he didn’t have to sit around waiting for other people to come along and show interest in him, that it was the other peoples’ problem, not his.

    “That’s not wha-“ Johnathan gave up half way through, sighing. When he looked up at Levi again, his eyes were tired, sad. “Is that how you see me?”

    It’s not how I want to see you. Levi shrugged. “Only when you fall into brooding or whatever. You’re fun to be around when we’re doing something.”

    This news only brought a furrow to Johnathan’s brow. “Okay, let’s do something, then.”

    “I thought you didn’t want to.”

    “I do now, okay?” Johnathan snapped tiredly.

    Levi just blinked, his calm unwavering. “Okay.”

    A half an hour later, they ended up on a walk around the neighborhood. How that was less of a cliche couple activity than going to a superhero movie, Levi wasn’t sure. He also wasn’t arguing, though, because at least they could talk more than they would have been able to in the movie. 

    “Something’s missing,” Johnathan commented after a few minutes. 

    Levi, his hands in his pockets, looked to the ground and thought, Yeah, holding hands would be nice. “What’s that?” he said aloud.

    “I don’t know,” Johnathan replied. “Maybe a dog.”

    Smiling, Levi said, “Yeah, a dog would be nice. What kind?”

    “Not one of those little yippy ones, that’s for sure,” Johnathan said as he kicked a stone off the sidewalk. “But the big ones are a pain. Maybe a medium sized dog.”

    “Like a terrier,” Levi suggested. 

    “Not if it’s going to chew on my shoes.”

    Levi laughed. “Your precious shoes,” he said, grinning down and watching their feet as they walked. Johnathan had on a pair of preppy Sperry’s, the leather smooth and without a mark on it. He could only imagine what would happen if a dog got a hold of those. His own shoes looked inferior next to Johnathan’s - a simple pair of blue canvas boat shoes, a little scuffed and worn.

    “What, like you wouldn’t be mad if he chewed on your shoes too,” Johnathan scoffed.

    Levi gave a quiet snort. “No dog’s eating my shoes either. I like terriers, though. I’d rather just keep my shoes hidden. And who said we’d get a boy dog?”

    “We’d want a dog that’d lay with us while we play video games, don’t we?” Johnathan asked with a smirk. 

    “Don’t gender stereotype,” Levi scolded.

    Rolling his eyes, Johnathan replied, “I’m just kidding. It’s an animal, it’d lay there either way. Besides, who said we were getting a dog to begin with?”

    “It’d be cool,” Levi mused. “I wonder what the rules are on pets, like, in the lease. Though, I feel like Cyrus wouldn’t let us get a dog either way.”

    “Probably not,” Johnathan said dismissively. “But he’s not our mom.”

    Levi nodded. “True.” If we had an apartment, just the two of us, I’d let you have a dog. He decided to change the subject before his mind wandered too far into that alternate universe. “So, how are your classes this semester? Hard?”

    “Not terrible,” Johnathan said. “At least I’m starting to recognize some people from my major now that we’re out of those freshman classes.”

    Levi nodded again. “It’s always good to have friends in your classes.”

    “I don’t know if I’d go as far as to call them friends.”

    “It’s always good to have casual acquaintances in your classes.”

    “That’s more like it.”

    Levi smiled, just a slight pull of the lips. This time, Johnathan smiled back, and Levi tried not to linger on the warm thrill it sent through his body. It was so good to see Johnathan smile, and Levi couldn’t get over how his already handsome face eased into an upturn of the lips and softening of the eyes. Smiling didn’t always look natural on Johnathan, but Levi was sure that was just because he was out of practice.

    Eventually, they circled back towards their house, the sun glinted off of the metal rivets in Levi’s shoes with every step, sending piercing stabs of light towards his eyes. He shifted so that he was walking more in the shade. If that also meant he was walking a little closer to Johnathan, well, there was no other option. 

    When they finally got home, both Levi and Johnathan were sweating a bit, the refreshing cool of the air conditioned house a relief on their skin. Johnathan flapped the bottom of his shirt in attempt to cool off faster, and Levi stood behind him, watching and trying not to stare noticeably at the lightly tanned stretch of skin that was revealed with every movement. How is this even fair? he asked himself yet again. 

    Without a word, Levi brushed past Johnathan and headed for the kitchen. The kitchen was safe. Not really thinking about it, Levi set about making two sandwiches. It was nearly lunchtime, somehow, and that bagel had long since been walked off. It only took him a few minutes to smear some mayo on the bread and layer it with turkey, lettuce, and cheese before walking it out to Johnathan in the living room. “Here,” Levi said, offering the plate. 

    Johnathan looked up from his phone, surprised. “Oh. Thanks,” he said, taking it.

    Levi just nodded, sitting on the opposite end of the couch, crosslegged. He half wanted to inch closer, but he’d already agreed with himself not to push it. Johnathan was having a bad streak in terms of relationships, and Levi didn’t want to half-ass this and end up as another blip on Johnathan’s horror story of a timeline.

    They ate in silence, and when both plates were cleared, Levi silently took Johnathan’s back to the kitchen with his own. When he returned, he half expected to find Johnathan back to browsing on his phone, but instead, it was resting face down on the couch cushion. “Want to play some Super Smash?”Johnathan asked, gesturing to the Xbox, already turned on and humming. 

    Levi smiled. “Sure.” This time when he sat down, it was a little closer to the middle of the couch. One step at a time.

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