Francisco was fifteen when something changed in the way he looked at his little brother. They were at the pool during one of their mom’s days off; she was reading a book while Thomas and Francisco played in the water. Francisco would try to grab Thomas, only for the ten year old to slip from his grip and shoot through the water like a fish. It’d probably only be a few years before Thomas was swimming faster than Francisco. The thought made him smile.
It was when Francisco had Thomas trapped against the wall, laughing and squirming, that Francisco realized he wanted to kiss him. Thomas looked so wet and adorable, and all Francisco could focus on was how soft his lips would feel if he just touched them. Luckily, Thomas let out a delighted squeal that broke Francisco from his trance.
He recoiled, horrified. He quickly swam for the edge of the pool and pulled himself out before he could do anything else. Thomas started asking him where he was going, but Francisco was already halfway to the locker room.
I did not think that, I did not think that, he repeated as he sat down on one of the benches. He stared at the tile floor, blocking out the sounds of showers and people talking. The only word running through his mind was ‘incest’. Francisco's stomach curled, and he tried not to cry. Thomas was so young, and it was wrong. So wrong.
After a few moments he managed to calm himself down. He was overreacting. There was no way he had any romantic interest in his younger brother. Brothers couldn’t just fall in love. They couldn’t.
He took a deep breath and stood up.
Thomas was waiting for him at the edge of the pool.
“Where were you?” Thomas asked as Francisco slipped into the water.
Thomas wrapped his wet arms around Francisco's waist, and he tried to ignore how perfect it felt.
“It’s my turn to catch you now,” Thomas said.
Francisco smiled and petted Thomas’s curly hair. There was something, a feeling he couldn’t quite place, gnawing at the back of his head, but he pushed it far far away.
Francisco was sixteen when he accepted that the feelings he had for Thomas were far from brotherly love.
When Thomas turned eleven, Alexandre insisted they were too old to share a room. Francisco wanted to argue, and Thomas did, but at the end of the day it did nothing to persuade Alexandre. A few days later, Francisco somberly watched Thomas carry his comforter across the hall.
There were certain advantages to having his own room like space and privacy, but it felt like the life had been sucked away. He missed the soft sounds of Thomas’s breathing, the way they would talk late at night, and mostly Thomas’s smile. Sure, he could see it all day long, but there was always a private smile Thomas reserved just for Francisco.
A week after Thomas had moved out of their room, there was a thunderstorm. His mom and Alexandre had gone out for dinner while Thomas had fallen asleep watching a movie. Francisco had stayed curled up next to him until the movie ended and then moved to his bedroom to read his anatomy book.
When his bedroom door squeaked open, Francisco torn his eyes away from his book to see Thomas leaning against the doorframe. His hair was rumpled, and he looked like he’d just woken up.
“Can I sleep with you? The thunder scares me,” Thomas said.
Thomas didn’t try to sound convincing; he wouldn’t even make eye contact with Francisco. He was lying, and they both knew it. Thomas stopped being scared of thunderstorms when he was eight, but Francisco wasn’t about to raise any objections. The opportunity to have his Tom Tom back where he belonged was too good to pass up.
Francisco patted the spot next to him. “Of course, come here.”
Thomas smiled, climbed into the bed, and curled against Francisco's side. Francisco tried to continue reading, but there was something oddly distracting about Thomas’s head resting on his chest. After a few failed attempts to read about the aorta, Francisco put the book down.
The thunder rumbled louder. Thomas wrapped his arms around Francisco’s chest, and buried his head in the crook of his neck. It was more instinct than anything else, but Francisco ran his finger’s through Thomas’s hair.
“Don’t be scared, Tom Tom. I’ll protect you,” Francisco whispered.
Francisco's eyes wandered to the door. Thankfully, Thomas had closed it behind him. Somehow he knew that if their parents came home and saw them like this, they would be in trouble. Not from their mom necessarily, but Alexandre.
Thomas fell asleep soon after. Francisco watched the steady rise and fall of his chest, listening to the rain tapping on the roof. Thomas was so warm against his chest; it made his skin tingle.
This was how it was supposed to be. Thomas shouldn’t be across the hallway or even in in another bed across the room. Thomas should be in his bed, always.
The thought didn’t make his stomach churn as much as it used to. How could it when Thomas’s lips were curled into a small smile as he slept? There was nothing wrong with being in love, right? He couldn’t switch the feelings off.
Maybe Thomas would feel the same way when he was older but probably not. Francisco would never act on it of course; he’d never want to make Tom Tom uncomfortable.
Thomas shifted in his sleep to pull Francisco closer. He tried not to gasp. He could keep everything bottled inside; he could do it, he could do it.
Sleeping in the same bed became a regular ritual. It wasn’t something they could do every night (Julieta would have noticed), but Thomas never missed an opportunity to sneak into Francisco’s room. Mostly it was when Alexandre was working late or during date nights, but sometimes Thomas would creep across the hall even when Francisco could hear voices behind his mother’s door.
He knew he should put a stop to it. Not just for Thomas’s sake, but for his own sanity. Every time Thomas draped his arms around him and fell asleep on his chest, he knew he was getting his hopes up for something that would never happen. But he wasn’t that strong.
Francisco was eighteen when he left for university. Both his mom and Alexandre were thrilled he was going to pursue medicine and couldn’t wait for his first semester to start. He should have been ecstatic for a taste of independence, but all he could think about was leaving Thomas.
For weeks he struggled over whether or not to live on campus. He intentionally chose a university that was less than an hour away from home so that he could drive back and forth even on school days. Alexandre not so subtly suggested Francisco should live on campus in order to have the full experience, while his mom smiled and told him she’d support whatever he wanted.
In the days leading up to his departure, Thomas slept next to him every night like he was trying to stop him from leaving. They didn’t even try to hide it. If their mom saw, she didn’t say a word. It was probably best that way.
Francisco lasted two weeks at university. He drove back every other day and stayed the weekends. Thomas always begged him not to leave, and eventually Francisco couldn’t keep saying no. His mom smiled sympathetically and told him it would be easier to just live at home and not waste gas money.
Thomas was getting older, and he was calmer now. But when he and Thomas finally finished moving all his boxes back into his room, Thomas threw all his thirteen year old body weight into a tight hug. Francisco smiled and kissed the top of his head.
“Don’t leave,” Thomas whispered.
Francisco was twenty when he had his first kiss. All his friends already had girlfriends or boyfriends, but not him. He couldn’t do it. He always told his relatives he was too busy with school, which was partly true. Obtaining the good grades he would need for medical school was exhausting at best and near suicidal at worst.
The thought never bugged him until Thomas came home one night with his eyebrows scrunched together. He didn’t say a word as he put his backpack down on the floor, and came to sit on Francisco’s bed.
“A girl asked me out,” Thomas said.
Francisco tried not to let his fists clench. He knew this was going to happen one day. At fifteen, Thomas was having a growth spurt. Due to the swimming his muscles were defined, and he was always tan. It was only a matter of time.
“Who is she?” Francisco asked, not letting the jealousy into his voice.
“Just a girl from my math class.”
Thomas bit his lip and looked at him. For the first time in fifteen years, Francisco didn’t know what was running through his head.
“I don’t want to go,” Thomas blurted out, “She’s nice, but I don’t like her like that. I don’t want to be mean, so said yes, but..”
Relief flooded through him, and Francisco couldn’t help but beam.
“Well, don’t lie to her. Call her and tell her you’re only interested in being friends.”
Thomas groaned and put his head in his hands. Francisco tried not laugh, but he did. Thomas was always so cute when he was embarrassed.
“Get used to it, Tom Tom. All the girls will be looking at you now.”
Thomas sort of deflated at the comment, but Francisco heard him laughing. After Thomas politely called the girl and apologized profusely, he ended up back in Francisco's room to do homework. Francisco was so busy memorizing body parts that barely noticed when Thomas started to doze.
Only when he glanced over and saw Thomas asleep on his notebook, did he shake his brother awake.
“I think homework time his over,” Franciso said, taking Thomas’s notebook and placing it on the nightstand.
Thomas flipped on his stomach and crawled to the pillows. Francisco smiled and reached over his brother to turn off the light. He settled next to Thomas even though his brain was lighting up.
He was lucky that this time that Thomas wasn’t interested in the girl. But maybe he would be next time or the time after that. Maybe Thomas had already found a girlfriend and just hadn’t told him. Thomas wouldn’t just be his forever. One day, he was going to find someone who made him happy.
And Francisco would have to watch it all.
“Francisco? Are you awake?” Thomas whispered.
He almost answered but decided against it. He just wanted wallow a little until he fell asleep, and then convince himself in the morning that he’d be okay...that it was okay for Tom Tom to find someone else.
“I don’t have the courage to do this when you’re awake. I know it’s wrong, but I just need to once. I want you to be my first,” Thomas whispered.
Francisco barely felt the mattress shift. He was only aware that he could now feel Thomas’s curls brushing against his forehead. It took everything in him to stay still. He didn’t want to scare Thomas away or worse reach up only to discover he was dreaming.
Then, Francisco felt soft lips pressing against his own. It was so light and quick that he barely registered it happened, but he could feel his lips burning where Thomas touched them. His heart sped up, and his head was spinning.
Eventually, Thomas must have gone back to sleep because Francisco could hear his soft breathing next to him. Francisco thought he would never sleep again. He stared at the ceiling trying not to panic.
Thomas wanted him that way. He didn’t have to worry about unrequited love or rejection. If he woke Thomas up now, he could kiss him and tell him that he wasn’t alone.
But Thomas was only fifteen. As much as Francisco loved him, he couldn’t uproot their lives like that. He couldn’t uproot their family like that.
No, he’d wait. He’d been waiting for years, and he could wait until Thomas was eighteen; when he was old enough to really know what he wanted. Then, if Thomas still felt the same way, they could be together.
Francisco gently reached out to stroke one of Thomas’s curls away from his face. He could wait.
Francisco was twenty-two when everything changed. Thomas was seventeen, energetic, and nearly as tall as him. Despite that, Thomas still smiled when he crammed them both into Francisco’s bed (which was not big enough for two nearly full grown men).
Francisco had to remind himself every day of the promise he made. He had to wait until Thomas was eighteen. Eighteen. Just one year.
It happened when Julieta took Alexandre to a party for one of her coworkers. She kissed both of their foreheads like they were eight and told Francisco to make sure Thomas didn’t get into any trouble. They both laughed and waved her goodbye before they ended up in Francisco’s bedroom.
Francisco suggested a movie, but Thomas wasn’t interested. He kept fidgeting and nervously grabbing his hair. Francisco didn’t say anything and just waited on his bed.
“Francisco, have you ever-ever been in love?”
He paused. How was supposed to answer that? If he said yes, he was admitting everything out loud. If he said no, he was lying (something he’d never done to Thomas). Thomas was looking at him, waiting for him to say something.
Francisco took a deep breathe. “Yes.”
He looked Thomas straight in the eye as he spoke. He couldn’t bring himself to say the exact words out loud, but he hoped Thomas knew what he was saying anyways. They’d always been able to do that as kids; know what was happening in the other’s head.
Thomas’s eyes were darting between Francisco’s lips and his eyes. Francisco’s stomach couldn’t decide whether it should drop or turn into butterflies. He could see what Thomas was going to do, and despite all his efforts all he could do was lean a little closer. This should be happening now. He was supposed to wait. He was supposed to wait.
Francisco wasn’t sure who started leaning first, but before he realized what he was doing, Thomas’s lips were moments away from touching his. Francisco could have stopped it if he wanted, but he couldn’t.
When Thomas’s lips touched his, everything felt like it was burning. It felt so natural to pull Thomas against him and deepen the kiss. All he could focus on was being closer to Thomas, digging his fingers into Thomas’s back, and feeling Thomas’s mouth.
Eventually, they both needed oxygen so Francisco settled for trailing kisses down Thomas’s neck. He smiled as he heard Thomas moan and nuzzle against Francisco's cheek.
Everything after that was a blur. Their shirts disappeared first, followed by their pants. Francisco made it his mission to kiss every bit of exposed flesh until Thomas was writhing below him. As Thomas clung to him, Fransisco thought he’d never felt more complete in his life. Nothing in his imagination had ever come close.
When it was over, Thomas was curled against his chest while Francisco held him tight. They were both sticky and Fransisco knew they should shower before their parents came home. But when he tried to move Thomas, he just groaned and pulled Francisco closer.
Thomas looked up at him. “This is real, right Fransisco? We’re not going to pretend this didn’t happen? I know we can’t...tell people, but I can’t watch you with anyone else.”
“Of course this is real, Tom Tom. I’ve been in love with you since the day you were born. There’s no one else.”
Thomas happily hummed and pressed a kiss into Francisco's chest. Francisco smiled but forced himself to look at the clock. His parents weren’t due home for another two hours, so he allowed himself to just relax. Later they needed to clean up, no matter Thomas’s protests, and throw the sheets in the washer.
“I kissed you once when I was fifteen. You were asleep, and I was so scared you were going to wake up.”
Francisco kissed his forehead. “I know. I wanted to reach up and kiss you back.”
“You should have said something! We could’ve been together...I’ve been in love with you since I was twelve.”
“We’re together now. That’s what matters.”
Francisco hoped Thomas didn’t press any further. Because Thomas was still so young. What if Thomas wanted normal one day? It’s not like they could go around everyday holding hands or kissing in public. What if somebody saw them and told their mom? They could never be...normal.
Or worse…. Thomas could change his mind at any moment and realize being in a relationship with his older brother wasn’t what he wanted. Francisco knew that the person he was put on this earth to love was currently next to him, but that had to go two ways. He couldn’t handle losing Thomas. Not after this.
When Francisco was twenty three, he stopped worrying that Thomas was going to leave. Thomas was about to start university while Francisco was just starting medical school. The rigor of their schedules made it hard to maintain a relationship, but somehow it worked.
Thomas downright refused to sleep in his own bed except for the first hour of the night and last hour the morning (just when their mom might peek in). Francisco tried to be careful about the touching, but Thomas was willing to take his hand as soon as nobody was watching them.
Their relationship primarily existed within the safety of their bedrooms. Sometimes it felt stifling, but Francisco knew it was better than not having Thomas at all. He couldn’t imagine going back to that now; that horrible feeling that he would never be able to have the one person he wanted.
Whenever a girl or boy smiled too sweetly at his brother, Francisco’s stomach turned. He hated it. Not that he could blame them; Thomas was charming, sweet, handsome, and also very taken. But no one knew that.
Francisco was at one of Thomas’s swim meets when everything inside him finally exploded. Thomas had won the race with three seconds between him and the next competitor. Francisco was the only one able to come to the race, so he cheered loudly from the stands as Thomas exited the pool.
That’s when he saw her. She was one of Thomas’s friends from school, but Francisco couldn’t remember her name. But after Thomas gave him a brief wave, she strolled over to him. It was in the way she smiled, like she and Thomas were privy to some big secret.
In that moment, Fransisco saw everything that Thomas was missing. He could bring that girl home to meet their parents and introduce her to his friends. They could have a big wedding if they wanted and walk around their neighborhood holding hands without fear of being recognized. She could give Thomas everything he couldn’t.
He could see Thomas looking for him in the crowd, but he slipped away. He just needed some air. Francisco would never be able to leave Thomas, but maybe Thomas just needed a little prodding in the right direction.
Outside the pool building, there was a quiet alcove that was hidden from view by a few shrubs and trees. Francisco suspected this was where all the students went to make out, but he didn’t linger on that thought. He sat at a bench and looked at the flowers growing in front of him.
A few minutes later or maybe just a few seconds later, Thomas found him. His hair was still wet, but he’d pulled on some shorts and a shirt over his swimsuit.
“There you are. I was looking for you,” Thomas said.
He sat next to Francisco and reached for his hand. Francisco let him even though he knew he shouldn’t.
“What’s bothering you? You seem sad.”
Francisco took a deep breathe. “You could have a normal life if you wanted, Tom Tom. Away from all the secrets and the hiding.”
“I don’t want normal. I want you.”
“You do now, but what about when you want to show someone off to your friends or bring someone home for dinner. I can’t give that to you.”
Thomas gently reached out to touch Francisco’s cheek. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Thomas or he knew he’d completely collapse.
“I’ll kiss in front of all my friend’s right now, and I’ll tell mom and dad I’m bringing my boyfriend home for dinner”
“You can’t do that, Thomas! It would destroy your swimming career and your life.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care who knows or what they think. This is between you and me. You’re the only person I want to be with, and no stigma or hate is going to change that.”
“What about when you want to settle down and-”
“Then I’ll settle down with you. Stop overthinking this, Francisco. I was made for you, and you were made for me. It’s not worth bothering with anyone who thinks otherwise.”
Francisco tried to look away, but Thomas forced him to look him straight in the eyes. It was love. All he could see was love.
“You and me. That’s all that matters. We don’t have anything to be ashamed of.”
Francisco wanted to protest. Thomas had so much to lose, and Francisco didn’t want to be the reason Thomas lost anything. But looking at his brother, he couldn’t find any words. His whole heart melted, and all he could think about was Thomas.
Because Thomas was his, and he would always be his. Francisco didn’t know how to live any other way. No matter what anyone said, Francisco could never stop loving him. He didn’t want to stop loving him. He wanted Thomas to wake up in his arms everyday and know that he was coming back that night.
He wanted it, and he was going to fight for it.
“I love you,” Francisco said, nuzzling against Thomas’s nose.
Thomas smiled. “I love you too.”