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inhale. exhale. repeat.

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His vision blurred; the vibrant colours of the streamers, the dancing blue and green and pink lights all bled together, swimming unfocused behind his eyes. He could feel sweat forming under his eyes, the moisture stinging. The noise from the decorated gymnasium tunnelled to a shrill ringing in his ear that left him dazed.

He tried to move but his feet wouldn’t budge. His breathing came so fast and short that it left his chest burning. All he had managed to do in the span of the minutes (or was it hours, he couldn’t tell) since he arrived was to clench and unclench his fists, fingers digging into clammy palms.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, his mind chanted. Just move, he willed, yet his body didn’t abide.

The ringing grew louder and more high-pitched in his ear and he could feel the tell-tale signs of a headache coming on. Then, his blurry vision seemed to dim- darker and darker and-

“Blaine.”

He heard the voice call to him, soft and muffled like talking underwater.

“Blaine.”

The voice called again, firmer now over the ringing in his ear but the edges around his name were gentle. Over and over, the voice called out to him, coaxing him out of his panicked state.

Slowly, the swimming colours separated and sharpened as he took in his surroundings. The ringing faded and the din of the gymnasium returned. Around him, conversations overlapped with one another as the music blared; the School’s (Almost) Out Dance was in full swing now.

He belatedly noticed firm hands on his shoulders, the thumbs massaging soothingly along his collarbone.

“Blaine.”

His eyes darted around, trying to blink away the remnants of his bleary vision. All around him things started to refocus- the wavy streamers in all their bright colours decorating the beams above the gymnasium, the sparkling lights shining down on the gym floor- but his sights were still unable to settle.

“Blaine. Look at me,” the voice coaxed gently.

His heart continued to pound inside his chest as he determinedly willed his eyes to seek the voice. After a moment, he found himself looking into dazzling green eyes.

“Okay, killer, that’s it. Look at me.”

The familiar nickname caught his attention. His eyes focused away from those green eyes and searched the rest of the person’s face. He let out a sharp sigh.

“Sebastian,” he choked as his chest constricted around what little air he managed to gulp down.

“Breathe,” Sebastian instructed, the hands on his shoulder falling down his arm, rubbing them comfortingly up and then down again. “Just breathe- okay?”

He nodded dumbly, unable to do anything else.

Then, Sebastian inhaled deeply. Watching his friend, he instinctively began to emulate him. He could feel his lungs expand in relief as sweet air coursed within. When Sebastian exhaled, he followed suit. And then Sebastian repeated the motions a few more times before he started to feel better, before his body and his mind calmed.

“Thank you,” he managed to whisper after a while.

“Come, we should get some fresh air,” Sebastian said as a hand fell to the small of his back to steer him back out of the gym.

The night sky was clear, sparsely speckled with twinkling stars. His heart rate slowed considerably as they walked outside and sat on the edge of the concrete planter that lined the front of the building. He turned to chance a look at Sebastian, who was sitting beside him in silence, before he let his head drop into his hands.

Stupid.

The thumping bass of the blaring music from inside the gym pulsed in time with the apparent niggling headache that had settled just under his temples. He groaned into his hands. How could he have thought he was ready for this?

It had been almost two years since he bravely attended a dance at his previous school. His sexuality was never closeted but he had never been blatantly out either- until that night. He had danced and laughed with a boy he liked, who- much to his excitement- reciprocated his feelings. He had had the best time- until-

He had never met with any hostility from the other students at his school before that night. No one he knew had shown any signs of disagreement on who he was. But in hindsight, he supposed it was alright to them for him to be gay in theory- detached from reality like watching a gay character on a tv show- but witnessing him as a practicing gay- holding hands with another boy, dancing close- had proved too much.

That night, people had started bumping into him purposely, each one more forceful than the other. Aggressive whispers of ‘fruitcake’ and ‘daffy’ and ‘poof’ had followed him and his date towards the end of the night as they headed for the exit for some privacy. He had opted to ignore them, focused only on his nervousness and excitement at the prospect of kissing this boy he liked. So engrossed was he that he hadn’t realize the handful of classmates that had followed them out.

They had cornered him and his date in the narrow corridor outside. He remembered the other boy trembling in fear just as much as he had. The mob hurled slurs at them. Every word had felt like a physical blow- to his mind, to his self esteem. And then, the mob had started hurling literal fruitcakes at them, having procured them from the dance’s refreshments table.

The assault had felt like hours, the mob’s cruel laughter and sneers forever seared into his brain. It wasn’t until his date had bolted away, leaving him to the mercy of the hateful group that he realized he had been crying. How had a glorious night turn into a nightmare in a heartbeat?

He didn’t remember the rest of the night, his memory jagged and splintered in places. He suspected it was his mind’s coping mechanism- or was it its defence mechanism? Memory repression, his therapist had said. What he remembered most was his brother, Cooper, finding him amongst the mob when he had failed to meet him at their promised pick-up point at the end of the night. His body had thrummed with relief at the promise of safety; Cooper had always taken care of him.

The days that followed that dreadful night were absolutely abysmal. People had started being more physical with their hate and even worse were the verbal insults. It had gotten so bad by the end of spring that he had begged his parents to take him out of school even before the semester was over. He had been homeschooled for the rest of the academic year before he was enrolled at McKinley High.

McKinley High; new school, new start.

He had met Tina and Sam there, quickly forging a bond. They were kindred spirits, the three of them. They were the first people he had opened up to about his sexuality at the new school; the incident at his previous school had caused him to be fearful of coming out again.

“Good for you,” Sam had said after he had told them, before launching back into his theory of some Star Wars character’s true parentage. Tina had smiled and went back to ignoring Sam’s rant.

He had been stunned by his friends’ reactions, or lack thereof, like he hadn’t said something of import. But he later had realized that even after knowing this crucial thing about him, nothing had changed- not the way Sam would include him in his elaborate pop culture-related rants, not the way Tina would pretend to ignore them even though he knew she was intently listening- because they had accepted and loved him in spite of him being gay or otherwise since the very beginning. In that moment, he had loved them more than he could ever imagine.

He was still cautious of who he let privy to his sexual orientation, not trusting anyone at McKinley enough to not turn against him the way his previous classmates had. And he was still painfully terrified of large, congregating group of students and narrow corridors.

That was how he had met Sebastian-

He had been late for lunch one day and took one of the more isolated shortcuts, not wanting to miss out on the scrumptious Chicken Pie day at the cafeteria. He had been envisioning biting into the lush, buttery crust of the pie and polishing every drop of the delicious gravy with his fingers all morning when a handful of the basketball players turned the corner, heading down the narrow corridor towards him.

He remembered the moment he had froze up, any thoughts of lunch forgotten. His heart had pounded painfully and his throat had closed up, leaving him gasping for air. The players had brushed past him, paying him no mind, unaware of his panic attack- save for one.

“Hey,” called a boy, tall and lanky, his gaze piercing behind green eyes. “You alright?”

He couldn’t move, couldn’t look away from those green eyes- until his vision had started to dim- darker and darker and-

“Hey, hey. Look at me, okay?” the boy said, firm hands on his shoulders.

Almost instantly, his surroundings had sharpened and all he could see were the boy’s green eyes again; it was like a beacon, the flare from the lighthouse guiding him to safe waters.

“Breathe.”

Then the boy had prompted him to inhale, hands travelling up and down his arms soothingly. He had mimicked the boy, following his lead. Then the boy had exhaled- and so had he.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

Once his heartbeat had slowed to its normal rate and he could breathe better, he regarded the boy in front of him. He had the school’s basketball jersey on, Varsity team from the looks of it, the number 7 ironed on the left of his chest over his heart. The boy had mousy brown hair, matted with sweat and thin lips that were set in a smirk- albeit not unkindly. Just teasingly, playfully.

“I’m Sebastian,” the boy had said after a moment, offering his hand.

He had blinked up at him. Goodness, Sebastian was tall, he noted, before taking his hand in a firm shake. So tall, he thought again- not to mention attractive.

“Blaine. Anderson.”

“Blaine,” Sebastian had parroted like he was testing the name on his tongue. There was a smile on his lips now, not a smirk.

He felt a blush settle on his cheeks. “Thank you- for snapping me out of that,” he had murmured, suddenly embarrassed by his abrupt onset of anxiety.

“A pleasure,” Sebastian had said, the smirk back on those lips as he started down the hall in the direction of the locker rooms.

The beating of his heart had started to pick up its pace once more, this time thankfully not because of a panic attack. He tracked Sebastian’s movements all the way to the end of the corridor before he had felt confident enough to call out-

“How can I repay you? For- just now- you know- when I had that-” he stammered. Great, first he went and had a panic attack in front of this attractive boy and now it would seem that he was inarticulate.

Sebastian had chuckled. Even his sound was attractive, he mused.

“Don’t mention it,” came Sebastian’s reply. “Although, if you insist, you could always come to the game tomorrow night,” he had said, laying out his invitation. “Who knows, you could be my good luck charm.”

With that, Sebastian had disappeared around the corner. And that had been the beginning of their friendship.

A loud cheer drifted through the opened gymnasium door, snapping him out of his reminiscing. He could hear Sebastian’s slow and calm breaths next to him, their knees pressed close together. What would he have done without Sebastian? Sebastian, who never mocked him for his attacks. Sebastian, who stole his fries even when he still had plenty. Sebastian, who let his eyes linger a little too long when they looked at each other. Sebastian, whose gaze would roam flirtatiously over his body but would never push for anything more. Sebastian, who he knew he wanted and needed but wasn’t ready to do anything about it. Sebastian, who- like Tina and Sam- had cautioned him about attending tonight’s dance due to his past trauma.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to go, Blaine,” Tina had said.

“We could blow off the dance and go bowling instead,” Sam had offered even though both he and Tina were on the dance’s organizing committee.

“Dances are overrated,” was all Sebastian had said.

But he had been adamant, almost like he had tunnel vision. He had to go, he told himself.

Because truth be told, he felt he had something to prove. He needed to show that what happened in the past wouldn’t dictate his present, his future. He needed to attest to the fact that he was strong enough- or maybe to establish that he wasn’t weak.

He should have known he wasn’t ready, not when he had started having palpitations- however mild- every time he thought of attending the dance. Not when his palms had started sweating as he moved his fingers to loop his bowtie earlier that evening. Not when the sound of the music floating from the gym had made him want to throw up when he had arrived.

No, he wasn’t ready. Not even close.

He groaned again, feeling tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. He was weak, he mused. And he felt... defeated.

Suddenly, he felt a body drop on his other side. He looked up to find Sam next to him gazing up at the stars, and Tina next to Sam.

“How does anybody know which constellations are which?” Sam asked to no one in particular. “You literally can connect lines to any dot in any which way and make your own shape- or animal- or some shapeless Greek god?”

“I guess it’s a lot like cloud watching,” Sebastian offered.

“It’s really not,” Tina said with a snort. “Astronomy is a science and constellations are specific. You can’t just connect any which dot and be done with.”

“Yeah but how do you know how to connect them?” Sam argued.

A slow smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he lifted his head to face the sky. He listened to his friends rant on about stars and constellations until a calm washed over him, the pulsing headache subsiding to a low thrum.

Stars twinkled above. He tried to connect one star to the other, attempting to form the Big Dipper. All he managed was make himself cross-eyed and somewhat dizzy. He clearly didn’t have the knack for this.

Perhaps how he still felt about his past trauma, his continued healing was like a constellation. You couldn’t connect any which dot in any which way and end up with a complete constellation. There was an art to looking for and connecting the stars to make their constellations. One needed practice and patience- and time.

He needed time. More time, it seemed. And that was... okay.

Taking comfort in the presses of both Sam’s and Sebastian’s knees to his own and the warm cadence of Tina’s voice as she went on explaining the space and astronomy, he suddenly felt... not weak. He had friends who cared for him despite his panic attacks and unresolved fears. They loved him in spite of it. And that didn’t make him weak. True, he didn’t feel particularly strong, not in that moment. But he would settle for not being weak. He could be- would be strong, given time.

And with friends like Tina, Sam and Sebastian, who had shown him such kindness throughout his days at McKinley- by just accepting him as he was- he resolved to grant himself one such kindness too; to not rush in his healing, to give himself time.

“Okay, Hevelius, let’s get back inside,” Tina said, hoisting Sam up. “We have to make sure havoc doesn’t break out with refreshments while we were out here.”

Sam grumbled. “Heve-what now?”

“Honestly, Sam,” was all Tina said, an airy sigh following the words.

He smiled at the sound of his friends bickering, feeling like his recent panic attack had been a million years ago. His ears strained to listen to Tina and Sam’s retreating steps until all that was left were the sounds of cicadas from the nearby bushes and Sebastian’s breaths.

Sebastian.

He turned away from the sky and glanced at his friend. Sebastian’s profile was highlighted by the garden lights that lined the path towards the gym, sharpening the slope of his nose, the edge of his cheekbone. Definitely attractive, he thought for the millionth time.

And the want and need for Sebastian returned tenfold; the ones he had been feeling since that fateful day in the hallway months ago. But he was far from ready. Not when his last date had all but abandoned him.

There wasn’t any resentment there; he understood why his date had fled. He probably would have too if he hadn’t been frozen with fear. But that didn’t mean it hurt any less. And it wasn’t that he thought Sebastian would abandon him for any reason, not when his friend had been there for him for almost every panic attack he had had since the day they had met. He just needed... time.

Deciding he had had enough excitement for one night, he stretched out his legs and moved to stand up.

“Take me home, Sebastian,” he said.

Sebastian raised an eyebrow, that playful smirk set on his lips- and he knew his friend had a cheeky (and undoubtedly sexual) insinuation poised at the tip of his tongue.

He huffed a laugh, any remnants of tension from his earlier anxieties dissipating with his breath; Sebastian always knew how to calm him- even without words.

“Not that, idiot,” he barked. “I mean, take me back to my home and then you leave for your home.”

“So bossy, Anderson,” Sebastian said but there was no bite in his tone and he was already standing up, his car keys in hand.

“Please,” he added belatedly.

Sebastian smiled- not smirked. “Let’s get you home, killer.”

He bit down on a smile that threatened to spread wide across his face; Sebastian had that effect on him. Once he was ready, he resolved to ask out this friend of his, this person who could be more than just a friend. Dinner, movie. Or bowling. Anything- everything.

All his feelings for this boy were there, he realized. And he had an inkling Sebastian harboured feelings for him, too. Months of this growing attraction and want, trading flirtations and knowing looks in private moments. They were both on the same page, he knew that- he just needed time.

As they walked in silence to Sebastian’s car, he chanced a glance at his friend. Sensing his eyes on him, Sebastian turned, piercing green eyes found his almost instantly. He held Sebastian’s gaze. Wait for me, he wanted to say.

Moments passed and Sebastian was still gazing at him like he was a constellation mapped out in the vast sky. He blushed under that gaze. Then, Sebastian moved closer, their bodies barely touching. There was that knowing look in those green eyes, one he had seen on numerous occasions, in private moments:

When you’re ready, it said. I’ll be here.

--END