None of the cars started. Kravitz, still standing out front of the house, watched in dismay as every single one failed to turn over, and Davenport said that they should try bringing the batteries inside to warm up.
“It should only take a couple of hours,” he said, and Kravitz’s heart sank even lower.
His plan had been to drive away from this mess, leaving his problems behind. Maybe, eventually, he’d even be able to forget about all of it.
They unplugged the batteries and took them inside. Kravitz tried to pretend he didn’t notice how they were all looking at him as they passed into the house, expressions ranging from pity to fury. Lup insisted on carrying the battery from her and Taako’s car in herself because, “If my arms aren’t full I’m going to fucking fight him.”
Kravitz stayed outside, sitting on a rope swing tied to the branch of a large tree out front. He couldn’t bring himself to go into the house and face Taako’s family. It was strange, they all knew it was pretend, but this didn’t feel like it was. He’d thought Lup was surely putting on a show for Kravitz’s moms, like she had when he’d first arrived, but it hadn’t felt like an act when she stared him down and for a moment he had been positive she was actually going to kill him. But it must have been an act, really.
He thought he would feel relieved after the fake-breakup with his fake-boyfriend. There was supposed to be a feeling of release after doing the right thing, right? He wouldn’t have to pretend he didn’t have feelings for Taako while Taako held his hand or cuddled up next to him. No need to feel like he was lying. The pressure should have been gone, so why did he still feel awful?
A gust of wind cut across the yard making Kravitz shiver. He wished he could go inside but he felt like he had been banished to the cold. Even he knew he was being dramatic, but he knew if he went in it would be worse.
After about fifteen minutes, Barry came out of the house and started walking towards Kravitz. Kravitz tried to avoid eye contact, sure that nothing good would come out of this confrontation.
“Hey,” Barry said when he got close enough. He put his hands into the pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels. “You staying out here, or…?”
“Hey,” Kravitz said, kicking at the ground and trying not to look guilty. “Yeah.”
“So what the hell happened back there?” Barry asked. Kravitz just shrugged and looked away.
“I was just thinking that this whole charade wasn’t really good for either of us, y’know? Like, all this pretending to be into each other, someone was bound to get hurt, and I figured it was a good idea to cut it all off before that happened.”
“Hmm.” Barry nodded, his facial expression clearly showing how insufficient he thought that answer was. “So you talk to him about it, you don’t just tear into him in front of everyone.”
Kravitz shrugged. “I had to end the game with a bang, didn’t I?” he said, attempting to make it sound like a joke. “Make it like we were really breaking up, or whatever. I guess I should have run it by him, but it’s not like we actually broke up or anything. He’s not actually hurt I mean. Just upset that the game is over, I guess.”
Barry crossed his arms. “Sorry, Krav,” he said, “but that’s bullshit and I think you know it.”
Kravitz looked away, biting the inside of his cheek. Barry sighed.
“Look, I know Taako can be hard to get to know,” he said, “and it’s not like you’ve known him very long anyway so I get that you don’t understand, but Taako’s my brother.” Barry leaned into Kravitz’s space, and Kravitz suddenly got the feeling that no matter how mild-mannered he seemed, Barry could be frightening when he had to be. “I know what’s going on with him better than you do right now, so I want you to tell me the truth.”
Kravitz sighed. “Okay, okay,” he said, “I may not have been entirely truthful before.”
“I’ll say,” Barry said, leaning back again. He paused expectantly, waiting for Kravitz to continue.
“When I said I wanted to end the game before someone got hurt, that wasn’t really fair, because…” Kravitz hesitated, unsure if he really wanted to admit what he was going to. “Because I was already being hurt by it,” he said in a rush.
“What do you mean?” Barry asked, his stance softening even as his tone remained the same. Kravitz squeezed his eyes shut before he answered.
“I started to have feelings for Taako,” he said quietly. For a moment he wasn’t sure if Barry heard him, but then he responded.
“What?” Kravitz looked up at Barry, startled. “Like, feelings, you know? Gay feelings? For real?”
Barry nodded, still looking annoyed. He didn’t seem to understand what Kravitz was saying.
“And, you know,” Kravitz continued, wondering why he had to spell it out like this. It was hard enough to talk about as it was. “It was hard pretending to be in a relationship with him when I had those feelings and I knew it wasn’t real.”
Barry rubbed at his eyes, exasperated. “Good god, you two deserve each other,” he muttered.
“What?” Kravitz felt like he was missing something.
“You’re telling me that you can’t see that Taako is into you?” Barry said, crossing his arms. Kravitz’s breath caught in his throat.
Barry just nodded. Kravitz took a steadying breath, thinking about this new information.
“Well,” he said eventually, “does that matter?”
Barry furrowed his brow. “Doesn’t it?” he asked. “It means you really hurt him with that stunt you pulled.”
Kravitz frowned. “It’s just,” he said hesitantly, wondering if it would be better if he just shut up and let it be, “I don’t know if that really changes anything, you know? Cause he might be into me for now, but, I dunno, that doesn’t really mean that he’d want to like, actually date me.”
“Listen, Kravitz, I get it,” Barry said, shaking his head, “the twins can be intimidating. Why do you think it took me almost three years to ask Lup out? But they’re also some of the best people I know and I know you see that too.”
“I just,” Kravitz mumbled, hesitating. “He’s so exciting and bright and I’m… not.”
Barry sighed and gave Kravitz and understanding nod. “Like I said, I went through the same kind of thing with Lup,” he said, “but if you would just give it a shot you might be surprised with how well it could go.” He gave Kravitz a critical look. “I’m going to be honest with you, because I think you deserve that. You’re going to have to make up for this mess and, if I know anything about how Taako can be, it won’t be easy. If you can do it, I think the two of you might be good.”
Kravitz frowned, staring at the snow. Barry was one of the people who knew Taako best, and, in theory, this conversation should have been reassuring. But his stomach was still churning with nerves, though now he felt like an entirely different kind.
Barry looked like he was about to say something else when Angus came tearing out of the house, running up to the two of them.
“Sirs!” He exclaimed breathlessly, “Taako’s gone missing!”
Kravitz shot to his feet, gripping the ropes of the swing. He glanced at Barry, who didn’t look as worried as Kravitz felt.
“Did he leave through the back door again?” Barry asked, unconcerned.
“His window,” Angus said. Barry heaved a sigh.
“Shoulda seen that one coming,” he said. “Alright, well, we’ll find him around here somewhere.”
“Does this happen a lot?” Kravitz asked as the three of them started back towards the house.
“Now and then,” Barry replied. “When he gets upset he likes to be alone, and sometimes that means he just up and leaves a place.”
“Will he be okay?” Kravitz asked as they got to the door of the cottage.
“Probably,” Barry said, “but Lup’ll be worried.”
Kravitz paused, thinking twice before entering the cottage. Lup would still be pissed at him, but maybe he could make it up to her if he found her brother.
As soon as he walked through the door, Lup was in his face staring him down. “You gonna help find my brother?” She demanded. He nodded.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, “I think I made a mistake. I hope I can make things better.”
She squinted at him, and then looked over at Barry, who nodded. She glared at Kravitz a moment longer before speaking.
“We’ll see about that. If you make things right with my brother, then maybe I’ll think about forgiving you. But you better make it good, buddy.”
Kravitz nodded. He wasn’t sure how he would make things better, but he knew he had to try.
“Alright,” Lup said, “well he’s around here somewhere. We’ll have to check his usual spots. He’s probably somewhere in the woods.”
Kravitz had a sudden thought, an idea about where Taako might have gone.
“I’m going to check around the bridge,” he said, and Lup nodded.
“Well go then,” she said, shooing him out the door.
Kravitz ran down the path towards the bridge, hoping he remembered the way. He was thinking of all the things he’d told Barry, all the things Barry had told him, and cursing himself for being so stupid. He couldn’t believe he was only just now seeing the truth. He should have seen the signs that Taako liked him, and maybe he had subconsciously. Maybe that had been what scared him so much. It wasn’t like him to be so insecure that he would sabotage himself like he had, but the truth was that it was almost unthinkable to him that Taako, Taako who was so vibrant, exciting, full of life, could be into him. But if he was, if Barry was right, then maybe they did stand a chance.
Kravitz spotted him sitting on the bridge with his legs through the slats, head bent low as he stared as the river. He slowed when he saw Taako, suddenly very aware that he had no idea what to say.
“Hey,” he managed after a moment. Taako turned and looked over to him for a moment before looking away again.
“What do you want?” Taako asked shortly. Kravitz froze for a moment longer, sure that there was nothing he could say to fix this. Still, he had to try. He took a step forward.
“Can we talk?” He said. Taako snorted.
“About what?” he asked. “Did you forget to say something back there in front of everyone?”
“I’m sorry,” Kravitz said. It had just spilled out, without him thinking about it, and it sounded so inadequate now that he’d said it.
Taako was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke his voice was soft. “Don’t be,” he said. “I knew it was coming.” He paused a moment longer, and then turned to look at Kravitz with an unconvincing smile. “Just part of the game, right?”
Kravitz sighed, stepping onto the bridge. “No,” he said, “no it wasn’t. It was just me, being stupid and afraid and I’m sorry.”
Taako blinked and turned away. “What the hell does that mean?” he said, although it sounded more like he was talking to himself than to Kravitz.
“You must be cold,” Kravitz said after a moment, struggling to find something to say as he sat a fair distance from Taako. Taako shrugged, but Kravitz could see how he was shivering in his thin sweater, clutching his arms close to his chest. He moved to put an arm around Taako, out of instinct more than anything else.
“Don’t do anything you don’t mean,” Taako said shortly. Kravitz hesitated a moment before putting his arm around Taako anyway.
“Listen, Taako, I’m sorry,” he said again, being sure to put thought behind his words this time as he pulled himself closer to Taako in an attempt to share his body heat. “It was never fair of me to ask you to play this game.”
Taako pulled away slightly, hands balled into fists in his lap. But he didn’t pull away completely, letting Kravitz’s arm stay. Kravitz took that as a good sign.
“Playing with feeling like we were, it wasn’t healthy, and I had to put a stop to it, because…” Kravitz trailed into silence for a moment. His stomach felt like it had caught fire with nerves. He stared down intently at the rushing water below them as he spoke. “Well, because I had started to have real... real feelings. For you.”
Kravitz glanced nervously at Taako, trying to see what he thought from his face. It was perfectly still, expressionless except for perhaps slightly widened eyes. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to say anything, Kravitz gathered his courage and kept going. “I shouldn’t have let it get as far as it did, because it was probably inevitable that feelings would start getting hurt. I thought I was the only one who was being hurt by it though, which is why I did what I did. I didn’t know, I didn’t think that it could be hurting you too.” He took a breath. “Which isn’t an excuse, I promise, I’m just trying to explain. It was fine when it was all for fun or whatever, but when it started getting real I should have told you. Instead I tried to push you away, and that was poor decision making on my part. I should have just told you, but I didn’t know how. And I’m sorry.”
Taako was still silent, but Kravitz wasn’t sure he had anything left to say. Well, maybe one last thing. “You don’t have to forgive me,” he said quietly, “but even if you don’t, I just want to tell you that you’re the most incredible person I’ve ever met. You’re captivating and vibrant and I’m so lucky to even have met you. And I was hoping that, if you can forgive me, maybe we could try this again? For real this time?” Kravitz turned away, face growing warmer against the cold. “If you want to, anyway.”
There was a moment of silence before Taako leaned into Kravitz’s side. Kravitz, not knowing what was happening, held still for fear of scaring him off. Taako buried his face in Kravitz’s shoulder.
“You’re an idiot,” Taako said, voice muffled by Kravitz’s jacket. “You better be good to me this time, or it’ll be me staging the dramatic breakup.”
Kravitz laughed, mystified. Had he heard right? Never mind that, had he actually said all those things? Had Taako heard him? It was unthinkable, but here they were, both freezing cold but laughing with each other, pressed close together and looking each other in the eyes. Kravitz had the completely ridiculous thought that they were really seeing each other for the first time. He reached up, reverently, and put a hand on Taako’s cheek to check to see if he was real.
Taako pulled away suddenly. “Shit my man,” he said, “your hands are COLD!” But he was grinning, and soon enough he had leaned back in, face so close to Kravitz’s that Kravitz could feel Taako’s breath warming his cheeks, could see how red and cold Taako’s nose must be.
Careful not to touch his face again, Kravitz leaned forwards and kissed Taako’s nose in an attempt to warm it up. Taako let it happen for a moment before pulling Kravitz in by the jacket for a real kiss, deep and full of feeling. A kiss that had been foretold in the silence after the first kiss they had shared in the closet. A kiss that was full of everything they had been holding back all weekend.
Kravitz was just beginning to think that he might have to come up for air when the sound of a stick snapping jerked the two of them apart, looking around for the culprit. There, in the woods a dozen feet away, Magnus was leaning around a tree to get a better look at the two of them. He wasn’t the only one either, Lup was with him, arms crossed but smiling reluctantly. Barry, standing behind her, seemed to be trying to pull both her and Magnus back and shot an embarrassed smile at Taako and Kravitz in apology. Taako laughed.
“No privacy with these wingnuts around,” he joked, quietly enough so that only Kravitz heard him. Kravitz smiled and waved at the small group, before turning back to Taako, noticing once again that he was shivering.
“You’re freezing,” he said, rubbing Taako’s arms up and down to try and warm them. “Come on, let’s get you back inside. People were really worried about you.”
“Eh, they’re used to it,” Taako said. He had at least remembered to put Magnus’s boots on before he made a run for it, Kravitz noticed gratefully. He helped Taako to his feet and slipped off his jacket, wrapping it around Taako’s shoulders. Taako leaned into him as he did, smiling up fondly. “You’ll have to get used to it too, handsome,” he said. “Taako can be a real handful.”
Kravitz smiled softly, wrapping his arms around Taako so he could guide him back to the cottage. “I’m sure he’s worth it,” he said. Either way, Kravitz was determined to find out.