"Gimme a bite of that," Blink said as he reached for the apple in Mush's hand.

Mush quickly pulled it away, keeping the apple at a safe distance as he wiped the rainwater from it with the bottom of his shirt. He'd found it in a puddle, either thrown away or dropped. A perfectly red apple, just tossed away. People did some real crazy things from time to time.

There had been a sudden rain earlier that afternoon. It had sent everyone running for cover, but Mush hadn't been quick enough and he'd been drenched. The ink on his papers had bled through, ruining almost every copy he had left. He was done for the afternoon and it didn't take much for Blink to skip out on working, so they ditched and found a reasonably dry place to pass the dreary day.

It was the back of an old brick tenement that had been burned out the month before. It would probably be torn down, though change happened slow. For now, it was just a quiet place to sit out the rain. They'd turned over a couple of crates and sat with their backs against the slick brick. Water was still dripping from the ledges and the lampposts when it started to rain again. It cooled the air down, made it easier to breath.

There were no people to watch where they were, so they passed the time by working on Blink's spelling. Mush had been after him for over a year to start learning to read, but Blink thought it was a waste of time, not to mention hard. It took some convincing, but luckily Mush could be very persuasive. The progress had been slow, but for all his protesting, Blink had learned a bit.

"Tell you what, if you can spell 'apple', I'll give you a bite," Mush said as he bit into it with a crunch.

"I don't know how to spell that!" Blink complained.

"You ain't even tried."

Blink scratched his head absently, thinking it over with a suspicious amount of attention. "So you're sayin' if I can spell it, I can have it?"

"Sure, why not?" Mush shrugged. Anything to get Blink to actually work on his spelling. He usually started off with enthusiasm, but it would quickly drift away with his patience. He could spell his own name and anything that rhymed with it, a few simple terms they used everyday and a couple of real odd ones Jack taught him. But he couldn't read, even though he proudly told everyone he could. He was smart though, and Mush knew he could if he just tried harder. Of course, he mostly just tried to worm his way out of spelling the harder words.

Blink picked up a stick from a nearby rubbish pile and smoothed over a bit of mud with his shoe. He mouthed the word silently as he attempted to spell it, dragging the end of the stick through the dirt.

"Uh..." Mush studied the patch of mud with a raised eyebrow. It looked like he meant to write 'a-p-a-l', but some of the letters were beyond recognition. Putting on a quick smile, Mush gave Blink a pat on the back. "Good try."

"See, I told you!" Blink said dismally, throwing the stick down.

"Here." Mush patiently picked the stick up and wrote out 'apple'. "Copy that."

With a frown, Blink took the stick and slowly copied the letters.

Mush nodded with approval. "Not bad."


"Really." Mush handed him his reward. "You're gettin' better."

Blink grinned like he knew it. He took a bite of the apple and passed it back.

"Okay, I got a good one," Blink said as he chewed. With determined concentration, Blink carved the stick through the dirt. Mush leaned forward, trying to figure out what letter he was trying to make. It looked vaguely like an 'n', no an 'm', or possibly a very distorted 'b'...Mush furrowed his brow, still trying to figure out what on earth Blink was trying to spell when Blink sat back and presented his creation proudly.

He had drawn a lopsided heart in the mud

Mush tried to keep a straight face. "That ain't a word, Blink."

"Sure it is."

"So, what's it spell then?"

"Kiss," Blink answered with complete confidence.

"Oh yeah? Who taught you that?" Mush laughed.


"Dutchy can't read any better than you, don't be learnin' from him," Mush said. "Here, gimme that." Mush held out his hand and Blink gave him the stick. Underneath the heart, Mush began to write out the proper way to spell 'kiss'.

"K-I-S-S," Mush explained as he scraped each letter into the mud. "See? It's got letters and everythin'."

Blink looked at the word critically. He didn't seem all that impressed. "I like my way better."

"You don't gotta like it, you just gotta spell it," Mush said, passing the stick back to Blink. "Go on."

Blink began copying the letters clumsily. He finished the word and looked to Mush, who nodded in approval. Smiling triumphantly, he looked back down at the mud and copied the word again, this time more assuredly. Mush took another bite of his apple and sat back. Blink was pretty smart when he put his mind to it.

Mush glanced down, Blink was working on his third rendition and still going strong. "I think you got that one good enough." Mush laughed. "How about 'penny'? You remember how to write that one?"

"I think I might," Blink said, though he had a bit of a smile on his face.

"So do it," Mush said. He didn't know what had gotten into Blink, he was never happy about spelling words.

"You gotta pay up first."

"Pay what? I don't owe you nothin'. I already paid you back for the dime you lent me-"

"You said if I could spell it, I could have it," Blink said, indicating the ground.

Mush looked back down at the mud and colored slightly. He'd forgotten he'd promised that. There, written plainly, was exactly what he owed Blink:


"You ain't serious. Here?" Mush looked over his shoulder. There was nobody nearby and they were relatively secluded, but there was still a risk. "Someone could see-"

"No one's gonna see. Come on," Blink assured him with a bright smile.

Mush glanced at the buildings and around the corner to the street. It was a slow day, they could probably get away with it. "Fine. I guess one won't hurt-"

"Nope," Blink stopped him. "Two. You owe me two." Blink clarified with satisfaction. Mush sighed, he was right. Blink was way too smart sometimes.

Grinning, Blink tried to kiss him before he could react, he never got tired of doing that, though Mush's reflexes had improved greatly as a result. Mush ducked away, though he lost his balance and unceremoniously fell off the crate he'd been sitting on. Right in a puddle. The water soaked through his thin shirt. He could hear Blink laughing as he wiped some mud from his ear. Mush held out his hand for Blink to help him up, but Blink crouched down next to him instead. He had a look on his face that told Mush he had an idea.

"Look, if anyone comes close, I'll punch you so it looks like we'se fightin'."

"Thanks, that's real nice of you," Mush said. Lying in a few inches muddy water wasn't exactly his idea of a good time, and even though Blink clearly thought it was hilarious. He hit the surface of the puddle and splashed Blink, partly to wipe the smile off his face.

Blink shouted in surprise as the water landed on him and then again as Mush tackled him to the ground. Mush put his entire weight against him, pinning Blink to the ground by his arms. If Blink had actually been trying to get up, it might have been a hard task to keep him there, but Blink looked entirely pleased with the turn of events.

Mush rolled his eyes, though he couldn't keep the smile completely from his face. "If I see someone, I get to punch you, right?"

"Yeah, but I get to punch you back," Blink pointed out. "So don't abuse the privilege."

Taking one last look around to make sure they were safe, Mush drew in a breath. He was nervous, though he tried not to look it. Blink was never nervous, he just launched right into things without considering consequences. Sometimes, Mush wished he could knock some sense into him, but mostly it just made for interesting company. With Blink, he did things he never would have done on his own.

Blink coughed, trying to get his attention. He never noticed when other people were nervous. "Come on, I ain't gettin' any younger-"

Mush leaned down and kissed him lightly, his lips barely brushing against Blink's cheek. His sunburned cheek, red like he was blushing. Blink never blushed, though, never blushed like Mush did. So Mush just pretended his kiss turned Blink's cheeks red. As he pulled away, Blink lifted his head as much as he could, trying to catch Mush's lips on his skin for a moment longer. He made a small sound of disappointment as Mush held him to the ground.

"That's one," Mush said.

"One," Blink reluctantly agreed with a smile.

Mush looked him over, Blink following his gaze with his good eye. It was just like Blink. He liked to see everything, know exactly what was going to happen. That's why he never blushed, he was always ready for anything that came his way.

Mush got an idea.

"Close your eyes," Mush told him.

Blink hesitated, questioning him silently. He didn't like to close his eyes, to lose what little he could see of the world.

"Close your eyes," Mush said again with a laugh, tempting Blink with his smile. That always worked.

After a moment, Blink closed his eyes.

Mush lowered his mouth to within inches of Blink's, letting his breath drift over Blink's skin. First his lips...then his ear... then his cheek...then his neck. Blink shivered slightly. Mush smiled at his discovery, he didn't know Blink was ticklish there. He'd have to remember that.

Each time, Mush came so very close to kissing him, but didn't. He only let his warm breath tell Blink how near he was. Blink turned toward him, trying to find him, unable to. Mush moved just out of reach before Blink could touch him.

Blink was so impulsive sometimes, waiting was as foreign a concept as blushing for him. So Mush made Blink wait, keeping close enough to remind him what was just out of reach. Mush watched him as he fought to keep his eyes closed and to keep from reaching up and kissing Mush himself. He could feel Blink's heart beating faster, not knowing what to expect. He felt how Blink held his breath for a second longer than he should have.

Mush watched him, enjoying his anticipation and being the cause of it. Waiting with all the patience Blink didn't have.


Blink smiled in expectation, unable to keep it in any longer. That was what Mush had been waiting for. His smile.

Mush kissed his smiling lips.

It took Blink a moment to respond, ultimately startled that Mush had finally kissed him. The surprise on his face was its own reward. Mush liked it, almost as much as the thought of Blink blushing because of him, almost as much as the actual kiss.

For those few stolen seconds, he let himself forget about being nervous.

"That's two," Mush said, lifting his eyes to make sure the coast was still clear. Good thing it was. He didn't have the heart to punch Blink, he looked so happy.

"Two," Blink mumbled breathlessly, not even caring they might be seen. "God..." he trailed off, though Mush could swear he said "you're good" under his breath.

Mush laughed to himself. "You liked that?"

Blink nodded blissfully, keeping his eyes closed. He had a sort of wonderful look about him, the kind that made Mush want to kiss him in the first place. A happy look.

Blink just laid there, a grin forming slowly. "Where'd you learn to do that?" he said finally.

"Dutchy," Mush answered.

"What?" Blink's good eye snapped open.

"Kidding," Mush assured him.

"We gotta do that again," Blink said seriously, as if that was the single most profound idea he'd had in his entire life.

Mush pushed himself up and brushed off his muddy hands. "We'll do it again when you learn to spell 'again'."

"A-g-a-n," Blink said immediately, scrambling to his feet after Mush.


"A-g-e-n," Blink tried again.

"You were closer the first time," Mush told him with a smile as he sat back down on the crate.

Blink let out a frustrated breath, but kept throwing out mangled spellings. He wasn't getting any closer, though Mush didn't tell him. Even if he didn't manage to figure it out on his own, Mush was quite confident that teaching Blink to read would become a much more interesting activity in the future.