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Title: Admiration and Familiarity are Strangers
Fandom: Rugrats / All Grown Up
Pairing: Past Tommy/Chuckie; Dil/OFC; mostly gen
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 3,100
Summary: Chuckie Finster, age thirty six, leads a pretty awesome life as an astrophysicist. Until the day his quiet lab is turned upside down by the arrival of a filmmaker visiting for research, that is.
Notes: This is, as usual, for [livejournal.com profile] dancinbutterfly, and is also the fic that assures I will be driving the bus to hell. Allow me one moment to preemptively apologize to your childhood. Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] afullmargin for the beta.
Warnings: This is not the fluff you're looking for.



Chuckie likes his job, usually. Being a research scientist has a lot of benefits: shiny lab equipment, peace, and solitude to name a few. It's something he enjoys doing, and on the rare occasions when he ventures out of his sequestered lab to the university cafeteria, the people he meets are all like-minded, intelligent individuals who respect his thoughts on astrophysics.

There's a downside, though, and today is a prime example. His boss swung by the lab and told him that some filmmakers are going to be stopping by to check out where he works and ask him some questions about his job. Dr. Harper said that it's something about a meteor hitting the earth, but that they're actually trying to make it realistic and some kind of serious art film instead of a summer blockbuster shoot 'em up. Chuckie thinks they're going to have to work pretty damn hard to turn a meteor crash movie into art, but then, he's seen more unbelievable things.

He's going over some charts when he hears a knock at the lab door. He's a little surprised, because the last filmmakers who came by just stormed in and shoved a tape recorder in his face, but he's engrossed in the charts so he doesn't bother looking up. He calls, "Come in," over his shoulder, and keeps his eyes on the chart when he hears the door creak open.

"Hello?" a voice calls from behind him.

Chuckie waves his hand impatiently in the voice's direction and says, "You might want to shut the door. The Neanderthals down the hall in chemistry like to prey upon unsuspecting visitors. You stay in the hall long enough and you'll be covered in their latest unholy inorganic compound."

The door closes, then a second voice says, "Thanks for the head's up. So, are you planning on looking up any time soon?"

Chuckie folds the charts, then turns around and blinks.

No way. No freaking way. Chuckie hasn't seen those two faces for at least eight years, and it's been even longer since he saw them in any kind of social context.

"Tommy?" he squeaks. "Dil?"

"Chuckie!" Dil says happily, and runs forward to pull him into an awkward hug.

Chuckie's hands flutter uselessly, not exactly returning the hug. He doesn't really know what to do with it or how to handle it, and at any rate, his eyes are locked over Dil's shoulders with Tommy's.

Tommy's still standing by the doorway, eyeing the two of them warily. Chuckie suddenly wishes more than anything in the world that Dillon would let go of him.

Dil finally releases him and takes half a step back, but he's still too much in Chuckie's space. Chuckie shoots Tommy a chagrined look and gets a blank one in return, and then Dil's tugging Chuckie over to his brother and patting them both on the back.

"You guys!" he says, practically bouncing. "You guys, this is great!"

Great is not a word Chuckie would've chosen for it. Disastrous is perhaps the most accurate assessment he has, but even that seems ill-fitting for the job.

He's silent for as long as his few social instincts will allow, then he clears his throat and says, "Hi, Tommy."

A pause, then Tommy answers back, "Hey."

With Dil standing there, vibrating like a happy puppy, Chuckie decides he has to make some kind of physical gesture of continuing friendship, even though that's not really the case. He finally settles for offering his hand, but what should've been a shake turns into a manly one-armed hug, and quite frankly, the whole thing is ridiculous.

When he's finally released from the contact, Chuckie retreats a few paces out of their space. He wraps his arms around himself, and plants his feet so that he won't shake.

"Did you—" he starts and then stops. He doesn't want to know if they knew it was his office they were coming to. He doubts they did, given Dil's surprised reaction, and the fact that Tommy might not have come at all if he'd known. And from the way Tommy took a step back, too, when Chuckie retreated—even though Tommy's step back left him plastered against the door—Chuckie's willing to bet that Tommy's as unhappy about this turn of events as he is.

"Look at you," Dil says, shaking his head. "Mister big astrophysicist in the fancy university. That was not in the friends-and-family newsletter."

Chuckie flushes. His dad's stupid, sentimental idea.

"It's not important," he says, and waves a hand to brush the idea of it away. "I guess…I guess you two are doing well. I saw that last film you two did. I can't believe you weren't nominated for an Oscar."

"Golden Globe's just as good," Dil says airily, but even Chuckie knows that that's not true. "Did you watch the ceremony?"

Chuckie shakes his head. He's not really a Hollywood awards ceremony kind of guy.

Dil frowns. "But…we thanked you."

Chuckie stares. "What?"

"In our acceptance speech," Dil explains. "You know, in with all the moms and dads and each other and God, Tommy thanked you, and I agreed, and then I thanked my fiancée…"

Chuckie nearly chokes. It's too much information to process all at once. His mind snags on the fact that Dil—his little Dillon who will always be a crazy, funny kid in Chuckie's eyes—is engaged, and then he does a mental rewind and lands on the fact that it was Tommy who thanked him.

He meets Tommy's eyes and finds a defiant glare there, as though Tommy were daring him to read anything into it. It's a look that says, "Move along, nothing to see here," and Chuckie is pretty sure it also adds in a whisper, "Why no, I do not protest too much. Screw you."

He shifts uncomfortably and tries to figure out how he's supposed to reply to that. Finally, he just says, "Congratulations. What's she like?" and ignores the pink elephant altogether.

"Great," Dil says. "Really great. She's a producer."

Chuckie nods appreciatively, like he understands what Dil is getting at, and a silence descends over the room. It's uncomfortable and Tommy still hasn't said much of anything, and all Chuckie wants to do is hide under his work bench until the big scary mammal in the corner goes away for good.

"So," Dil says after the silence grows categorically epic. "We need some info about what you do, and, hey—" His eyes light up in a way that is far too scary to be good. "Tommy, idea, why don't we hire Chuckie on as a consultant? We could use the help in making this authentic, and won't it be fun to have him hanging out on the set all the time? It'll be like when we were kids."

If Dil thinks that will be "fun," he clearly does not have eyes, ears, or any other kind of sensory organ because if he did have those things, he could've known from the last few minutes that Chuckie's continuing presence would be anything but "fun."

But he's Dil. He is insane, he is oblivious, he is Dil Pickles. So he doesn't understand a damn thing.

"I really can't," Chuckie declines—rather gracefully, if he does say so himself. "I've got a lot of work to do here. I'm working on a theory and it could potentially shift paradigms, so—"

"Paradigms, parakeets," Dil interrupts. He waves his hand idly. "What could be more important than an art house disaster film about meteors?"

If anyone else said that, Chuckie would laugh in their face. But he says it so damn seriously that Chuckie pauses long enough to get his thoughts together enough to stutter out, "Well, the—the universe. You know. It's kind of serious."

"And it will still be serious after production," Dil says decisively. The universe will be there forever. Our movie will not."

Chuckie gapes at him. "No, it won't. Did you even pay attention in science class? The universe is going to implode eventually and—"

"Just say yes," Tommy says stiffly. "He's not going to give up and you know as well as either of us that it may not be there forever, but it'll be there for your forever, at least."

Chuckie hates that. He hates the way Tommy can ground him, can bring him back to himself so that he can live in reality. Thinking as he does, as he's paid to do, it's too technical, too infinite. He thinks about a time thousands, maybe even millions of years from now, a time in which he will be nothing more than a speck of dust in the ground. This is where he lives on a daily basis because he has to, because it's his job and his passion, and Tommy is one of the few people who can not only get him in touch with the other, common reality that most people around him share, but who can actually make him live in it, too.

"Okay," he says, because Tommy said he should, and thirty years of living has not convinced Chuckie's spirit that it has its own willpower when Tommy is around. "Fine. Yeah. I'll do it."

"Killer." Dil grins and Chuckie deflates. He's losing himself again, falling too deep into the Pickles Trap. It's been a long time since he's even seen it, and yet he fell right back into it, easy as breathing.

"We'll send over a contract," Tommy mutters.

"Yeah. Have your people call our people," Dil agrees.

"I don't have people. I have—I have charts. And lasers. But they don't do anything cool, like cut things. Mostly they just…heats things."

"Then have your lasers roast our people," Dil answers right back. "They could use the tan. For people who live in California year-round, they're shockingly pale. So. Are you going to show us around your office or what?"

Chuckie glances around the lab and shrugs. "This is kind of it. I have a lab table, I have a desk in the corner, and I have…well, the lasers. They're down the hall. I'm not allowed to keep them in here. And I have a telescope, too, but it's not mine and it's kind of room-sized, so that's going to have to be a stop on a tour." He shrugs. "It's really not that interesting."

"No, it's fascinating," Dil says. "Come on, let us take you out to lunch and you can tell us all about your life. We need to know about the intricacies of an astrophysicist's daily activities. Chuckie Finster: a day in the life, you know?"

"We can't," Tommy says quickly. "You're meeting Dana to go over centerpieces, remember?"

"Oh, yeah," Dil says. "Damn it. But hey, you two can go. Tommy, take notes for me? Take a lot of notes. And you know you're invited to the wedding, right, Chuckie? You and a plus one. So bring your girlfriend or your favorite lab rat. You know, whichever."

"I don't really have either," Chuckie says. "There's not much for an astrophysicist to test on animals. I could fling them into the air to test gravity, I guess, but I'm afraid of rats, so I'd probably just be flinging them away from me."

"Kill two birds with one stone, then!" Dil says approvingly, then glances at his watch. "Shit. I gotta go or I'll be late and Dana's patience runs thin around wedding preparations. Give your address to Tommy so I can send you a save the date, all right?"

"Sure."

Dil hugs him again, too many awkward boy-limbs taking up Chuckie's space, and then he's gone and Chuckie is left alone in what was once his safe, quiet space, with Tommy.

Chuckie waits five seconds—counts them out in his head with as much precision as an atomic clock—to see if Tommy is going to speak, then he turns his back on his former friend and picks up his abandoned charts. He carries the top one over to his desk and sits down, unfolding the sky before him. He knows Tommy is still in the room—can feel him in the air even above being able to see him—but he doesn't know what there is to say.

After a long silence, during which Chuckie stares at his charts and Tommy stares at Chuckie, Tommy finally plants his hands on either side of Chuckie's small desk and says, "I refused to fuck you because you weren't ready."

Chuckie's fingers go white around the sheet of paper, and he refuses to look up. If he doesn't look up, then they're not having this conversation.

"We weren't even really—" Tommy stops and sighs. "We were screwing around. It was fun. But there was a difference between us jerking each other off because we were bored and us planning ahead and making a decision to lose our virginities together. It wasn't—that's not what we were about."

Chuckie stays very, very still, and tries to think of a way out of this with any semblance of dignity. But there wasn't when they were teenagers and there's not now, either, so he finally takes a calming breath and says, "It's fine."

"Clearly, it's not."

"I get it," Chuckie says. "I wasn't ready to handle fucking around. You didn't want to fuck me. It's no big deal."

Tommy stays quiet until Chuckie makes the mistake of glancing up at him. Then Tommy catches his eye and says, "We were seventeen. You asked me to fuck you. You had—fuck, Chuckie, you had brochures and pamphlets and—and oils and we were just screwing around."

They've had this argument before. Chuckie liked to be prepared and as far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with it. Tommy said it was too much pressure. Chuckie offered to flip it, so that the pressure would be on him, and Tommy got mad and it was an insanely epic argument and since then, not a day has gone by during which Chuckie has not—however briefly—thought about what it might've been like if Tommy had said yes.

"Okay," he says, because he's tired and it's too much work to argue with Tommy. "Can we just…stop talking about it?"

"Not if you're going to keep being weird around Dil. He doesn't know about that. It's the one thing I've never told him, and I really don't want—"

Chuckie rises from his seat and glares across the desk at Tommy. "What? Don't want what?"

"I'm not," Tommy says firmly. "Not since—since you."

"Yeah? Well, I am. Since you. Occasionally. So—so there."

Tommy doesn't seem surprised, and Chuckie doesn't know if that's because he just figured, or because it was in his dad's newsletter. He doesn't really care either way.

"Chuckie—look, you took it way too personally. It wasn't—" He bites his lip. "I wanted to. I think I wanted to. But it was too much. Too—" He shrugs. "Too real. We weren't real. We were fun. And that's—that's all it was. You need to let it go."

"I did," Chuckie answers back. "A long time ago."

Tommy shrugs and Chuckie hates him for it. He absolutely loathes him for it.

"I read during my lunch," Chuckie says through clenched teeth.

"What?"

"A day in my life. Minutia about living this life. I read during my lunch break. Sometimes, I make corrections in the margins when they defy the laws of physics. I can't read science fiction anymore. I mark up the books too much. They revoked my library card over it, so I have to buy now."

"Chuckie—"

"I want this over with. What do you need so that I can get you out of my hair?"

Tommy breathes in slowly, a deep, careful breath that makes Chuckie hold his own. Then he shakes his head and says, "Just—details. That one is good. It says a lot."

"I don't want to go to lunch with you," Chuckie says. "I—I'll talk to Dil. He asked me to help, so I will. But I want him to be the one, not you."

"Dil's busy. He's got a fiancée to deal with."

"And you don't have some trophy girlfriend with the biggest boobs I've never seen?"

"Not at the moment," Tommy sighs. "And even if I did, planning a wedding is stressful. But if you're over it like you say you are, then it shouldn't be a problem to talk to me."

Chuckie fights the urge to hide under his desk. All he wants to do is just be left alone right now, away from Tommy and stuff that should've died away twenty years ago. It's over and he's moved on and he doesn't need any of it being dragged back up right now.

Instead, he shakes his head and says, "Tommy, I can talk to you just fine. I don't want to."

"Why not? Is it because you feel rejected or humiliated or—"

"It's because you're not my friend anymore. You haven't been since I told you that I wanted you to fuck me and instead of letting me down gently, you told me no and stopped hanging out with me altogether."

"I wanted to make sure you knew that I was ending it so that you wouldn't think that it was something it wasn't."

"Message received. I thought we were friends. We weren't. I'll talk to Dil. That's my condition before I sign the contracts. Take it or explain to Dil why you need to find another astrophysicist."

"He's still going to wonder why you'll only talk to him."

"Then you'll have to come up with a plausible reason, won't you? I've kept this a secret from everyone since high school, Tommy. I've told lie after lie to explain to our friends and family why we don't talk anymore so that they wouldn't know you spent half of tenth grade sucking my cock. I'm tired of it. So if you want me to do this job, then I'm only talking to Dil and you're the one doing the lying this time. End of story. Can you accept those terms, or can't you?"

After a long moment, Tommy nods. "Yeah. Fine. I'm a filmmaker. I'll come up with some kind of story, right?"

Chuckie shrugs. "Not my problem. Tell Dil to fax over the contracts as soon as they're ready. You can—you can go now. We're done talking."

After another pause, Tommy goes.
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