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have you ever seen a bird sleep?

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Thomas wakes up with a strangled gasp, a cloudiness in his head, and a heart that’s pounding a million miles an hour. However much he hates it, though, this is routine. His body shifts from manual to automatic and he shoves off the blankets, trying to shake away the nightmare as he stumbles out the dorm and down the hall to the pitch-black bathroom. He crashes hard to the tile of the first shower he gets to and fumbles around in the dark until his fingers find the knob.

The water comes pouring out in a freezing cold cascade of focus. It drenches him, seeps through his clothes, his skin, his bones. Pulling his knees to his chest, he concentrates on bringing himself back from the edge of hyperventilation as the last images of his nightmare are washed down the drain.

Ever so slowly, his mind returns to his body and his heart rate slows to normal. You’re okay now, Teresa says to him. You’re fine. It’s over. It’s enough to get him to lift his shaky arm and turn off the water.

He’s so tired of it all. Being woken at god knows what time with terror in his nerves and monsters in his mind, freezing himself just so he can focus again and come to terms with the fact that none of it was real. It’s all so old at this point. He takes a deep, exhausted breath. It’s just him and his way-below-healthy core temperature now.

“Are you alright?”

Or not.

The voice that comes out of nowhere nearly sends Thomas into cardiac arrest. He stares in shock as the flashlight of a phone turns on, throwing shadows against the bathroom walls. Leaning against the wall just a few feet away from Thomas’ shower stall is a person. A guy, with blonde hair that looks silver in the eerie white light and dark circles under his eyes that remind Thomas of his own. A pair of earbuds are dangling from the pocket of his sweatpants, the phone held loosely in his hand. He’s staring at Thomas with a mix of confusion, concern, and annoyance, but he’s definitely just a tired student.

Registering that he’s not about to be brutally murdered via chainsaw, Thomas slumps back against the wall in relief and uncurls his legs from their tight position against his chest. “Jesus Christ, give me a heart attack, why don’t you?”

The newcomer shrugs, way more at ease than Thomas. “You scared me first.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You ran out into the hall like the devil was on your heels,” he says, pointing an accusatory finger. “I figured I should at least make sure you weren’t dying.”

Thomas gapes at him. “How long have you been in here?”

“Only since you turned off the water.”

Just a few minutes, then, Thomas thinks as he wraps his arms around himself. “We have classes together, don’t we?”

“Reckon so – I’m Newt.”

“Thomas,” he answers automatically.

He stares at the boy called Newt, his mind spinning in about a hundred different directions until Newt’s expression softens and brings his focus back. “Look, I was just making sure you were okay, so if you want me to go –“

“No, no, you can – you don’t have to go.” He winces inwardly at how desperate he sounds, but he really doesn’t want to be alone. God, he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. “You don’t have to go,” he repeats.

Newt nods and Thomas has to physically restrain himself from exhaling in relief. “If you say so.” He slides down the wall to sit, giving Thomas a crooked smile. “Gonna tell me why you’re sitting in a freezing cold shower at three in the morning?”

“Oh. Yeah, um, I have nightmares.” It sounds childish when he says it out loud, but Newt doesn’t laugh. “The cold helps me focus.” He vaguely notes that he’s telling this to a complete stranger, and he doesn’t know exactly why. Maybe it’s something about Newt, but he’s also fully aware that he’s tired and lonely, which probably accounts for some of it. “Why are you here?”

“I’m a vampire,” Newt deadpans. Thomas almost thinks he’s serious until he shakes his head amusedly. “I have insomnia.”

“So, what, do you up and wander around campus whenever you can’t sleep?”

“Most nights I actually just stay in bed and toss and turn for a few hours. It’s not pleasant, by any means. But sometimes I get up and do stuff, yeah.”

“Like listening to emo music in the empty guys’ room?” Thomas says, grinning. Newt makes a face.

“Firstly, it isn’t emo, it’s Fleetwood Mac. Secondly, I was in the hallway until you interrupted my peaceful night.”

Thomas laughs, suddenly feeling a lot lighter and warmer in this newcomer’s presence. For the first time in a long time, he’s not by himself. “Fleetwood Mac kinda sucks, though.”

“That’s fucking sacrilege right there,” Newt says, feigning deep offense. Thomas shrugs.

“I don’t get why everyone loves them! They’re just so…bland. Please tell me that’s not all you listen to.”

Newt rolls his eyes. “I like pretty much anything except country. You?”

“Um…whatever’s on the radio, really. Mostly –“ He falters as he’s overcome with a cold-induced shudder. Newt’s smile drops to concern.

“Your lips are blue.”

Thomas takes a slow breath. “How can you tell?”

Newt lifts the phone light and shines it straight into Thomas’ eyes. “Like that.”

“Okay, great, thanks for that,” he groans, blinking away the spots in his vision as Newt snickers.

“Serious, though, you look wrecked. You sure you’re alright?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You’re shaking,” Newt says with a pointed look at his hands. Thomas looks down – well, Newt isn’t wrong. He’s trembling all over and his skin is clammy and puckered and he can’t really feel his toes. But the relief of not being all alone during one of his episodes kind of made him forget about all that.

“It’s not a big deal, really.”

“Hypothermia’s kind of a big deal. Especially since we have an 8am tomorrow.”

Thomas’ eyebrows furrow. “We?”

“You’re in Professor Paige’s Humanities class, right?”

“Oh, shit. Shit. Yeah, okay, I need to go to bed.” Bracing himself against the wall, Thomas gets to his feet on shaky legs. A surge of lightheadedness hits him and he stumbles a bit, squeezing his eyes shut as the world tilts around him.

“Whoa, hey, you alright? Thomas – hey –“

A moment later, the dizziness passes. He opens his eyes to see Newt standing right in front of him, two warm hands on his shoulders to steady him. His mouth goes dry.

“Thomas?”

Get a grip, Thomas. This isn’t your worst night. He swallows tightly and nods. “Yeah. I’m good. Just a rush to the head.”

“Alright, c’mon.”

Thomas can probably make his way back to his room well enough on his own, but it’s somewhat comforting to have Newt’s hand lightly in the center of his back. His door is still ajar from when he stumbled out of it an hour ago. Newt’s hand falls away and Thomas turns around to look at him.

“What are you going to do?”

He shrugs. “Finish the Fleetwood Mac album.”

“Do you want me to stay up with you? ‘Cause I will, I don’t mind, really –“ As if to purposely contradict him, he’s wracked with another violent shudder. Newt shakes his head once Thomas meets his eyes again, smiling softly.

“No, go to bed.”

“Newt, seriously –“

“You’re freezing and soaking wet and on the verge of a cold. I’ll be fine.”

“But –“

“Thomas.”

Thomas sighs, knowing he’s not going to win this battle – a battle against someone he doesn’t even know that well. But he likes Newt, and the fact that he stayed and talked to him makes him feel that much better. “Okay,” he concedes. “Thanks for scaring the shit out of me.”

Newt laughs. “No problem.”

“Night, Newt.”

“G’night, Tommy.”

 

Thomas collapses into his seat in Humanities at eight o’clock the next morning with a stuffy nose and an electromagnetic headache. He finishes the first of two coffees that Brenda gave him as they passed each other between buildings (bless her soul) and drops his chin onto his arms, resisting the urge to pass out on the spot as he scans each student that files into the room. All he needs is to see one person; one lanky, blonde person to confirm that he didn’t hallucinate everything the night before.

And, if he’s being honest with himself, he wants a friend. Considering that Newt is one of four people on this entire campus whose name Thomas knows, he thinks it might be worth a shot.

Newt walks in a few minutes later and slides into a row somewhere below Thomas. Before he takes his seat, though, as if sensing Thomas’ stare, he lifts his head to look at him. His eyes survey his exhausted form and the two cups of coffee on his desk, and he finally gives an amused shake of his head before turning around to sit.

Thomas is too tired to pick all of it apart, but now he knows last night wasn’t just a product of his sleep-deprived imagination. Newt found him, made sure he wasn’t dying. Sat with him, talking with him, made him laugh. Helped him back to his room. Didn’t think he was crazy.

He’s never been more grateful or relieved. And Newt doesn’t seem to dislike him, at least, so that’s got to be a good thing.

He stares at the back of Newt’s head for the rest of the lecture and tries not to fall asleep.

 

He’s walking out of his last class of the day when he realizes what a huge mistake he’s made. It makes him stop dead in his tracks as he’s heading from the science building to the dorms, sending his internal gears to a standstill. Notes.

See, he’s never been able to take notes the traditional way. He can’t summarize quick enough and he almost always loses focus halfway through. Instead, he records each lecture and then listens to it later when he has time to properly ingest the information. But there’s been a nagging feeling in the back of his mind all day, like he forgot something vital, and now he knows what it is: his Humanities notes.

As students pass around him, he pulls his phone out of his pocket and opens up the voice recording app he uses. With a sinking feeling, he knows even before he scans through the latest recordings that what he needs won’t be there, and sure enough, Wednesday, 8:00am, HUMAN doesn’t exist. He was too exhausted and distracted to remember to set it up on the professor’s desk.

And he’s got a project due. A project that was assigned specifically to elaborate on the discussions of this morning’s class.

Shit.

He scrubs a hand over his cheek, hovering on the balls of his feet as he tries to decide which way to go. Think, Thomas. Who’s got notes? It won’t be Frypan or Brenda – neither of them go to that class. And he knows that Minho, his track teammate, doesn’t either. So who else does he know there?

The answer comes to him with a punch to the gut. Of course. The whole reason he forgot to take notes in the first place – Newt. Newt was definitely taking notes, though Thomas has no idea how he swung it with the minimal amount of sleep he must have gotten the night before. So now he’s got to find him. Which isn’t a terrible thing, he thinks as he turns back into the science building.

He honestly has no idea where to begin looking for his late-night acquaintance but it turns out the universe decides to do his searching for him, because they run smack into each other when Thomas rounds a corner in the hall.

“Bloody hell, watch yourself.” Newt steps back and the annoyance on his face shifts to surprise when he sees who’s in front of him. “Oh. Hey. You’re in a hurry.”

“Yeah. I, um, I’m…”

All the words Thomas has ever learned have left his mind and he just can’t articulate anymore. It’s only now that he’s seeing Newt in proper lighting, and it’s only now that he’s realizing how attractive at he is. The waves of blonde hair, the crinkly eyes, the few inches of height he has on Thomas – he’s short-circuiting.

But then Newt gives him an expectant look and he clears his throat, hoping he doesn’t look like a complete idiot (half an idiot, maybe, but that’s the norm for him on any given day). “I was looking for you.”

“Fantastic,” Newt says, shifting his weight from one leg to the other. “Why?”

“Did you take notes in Humanities this morning?”

“Possibly.”

“Any chance I could use them?”

Newt raises an eyebrow. “What’s in it for me?”

“Umm...” Thomas grins. “Five album recommendations that are better than Fleetwood Mac, as soon as I get the chance.”

Newt’s ever-stoic face cracks into an incredibly rewarding smile. “Alright, I’ll take that,” he says amusedly, pulling his phone out. “I can email the notes to you later?”

Yes, thank you, Newt, you’re a lifesaver.”

“I try my best,” he says, handing over his phone so Thomas can put his email in. Thomas briefly contemplates putting his number in as well, but his brain kicks him in the shin and he gives it back to Newt with just the email. Newt looks it over with a satisfied nod and tucks it back into his pocket. “Right, gotta run.”

Before Thomas can say anything else, Newt is stepping around him and striding off down the hall.

“Take a nap,” he calls over his shoulder. “You look like shit.”

Thomas beams for the rest of the day.

 

The clock is nearing one in the morning when he finally finishes the conclusion paragraph of his essay. It actually isn’t complete bullshit thanks to Newt’s notes. Satisfied, he puts the laptop away and sits back on his bed. Across the room Frypan is passed out, having given up on persuading his roommate to go to sleep about an hour ago.

Thomas picks at the duvet, staring into the dark as he contemplates. The rational part of his mind is screaming at him to take the most logical course of action – go the hell to sleep. But he knows there’s a high chance that Newt’s up and wandering around somewhere, whiling away the time before sleep hits him. He might appreciate the company. And Thomas promised music recommendations. Plus, he really isn’t even that tired.

Four seconds of intense internal argument later, he clambers off his bed and steps out of their dorm, leaving a snoring Fry behind.

The hallway is dark and empty like it is every weeknight. Thomas briefly considers knocking on Newt’s door, but he doesn’t want to wake him up if he actually made it to sleep. If he isn’t there and Thomas wakes up whoever his roommate is, he doesn’t really want to try to explain what he’s doing. Instead he heads down to the ground floor, where everyone communes during the day when they’ve got nothing else to do. Now it’s a black obstacle course of shapes and shadows, save for the one dim orange lamp in the back corner. Sitting there is Newt, legs drawn up underneath him and head bent over something.

Thomas carefully picks his way through the silhouettes of furniture until he’s reached the seating area. Newt glances up at him, not even mildly surprised as far as Thomas can tell.

“Joining me?”

“If that’s okay.”

“By all means,” he says, gesturing to the spot next to him with his pencil. Thomas drops onto the couch and peers over his arm.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Drawing.”

Thomas whistles appreciatively as he looks over Newt’s sketchpad. “That’s really good.”

Newt side-eyes him with a crooked smile like he’s missing something obvious. “You know I’m an art major, right?”

Thomas’ mouth parts in a surprised oh and Newt snorts, lapsing back into silence as Thomas sits back and watches him work for a while. It’s almost hypnotizing; he draws with the speed and patience of someone who has all the time in the world. Thomas loves it.

“What are you even here for, anyways?” Newt says abruptly after some time, lifting his head.

“You mean here with you?”

“No, I mean university. College, whatever. What’s your major?”

“Ohh. Anthropology right now, but I don’t really think it’s my thing. Teresa would’ve loved it, though.”

“Teresa?”

“My best friend. She, um –“ He takes a deep breath. “She died a few years ago. Car crash.”

There’s a few beats of silence before Newt says, “Shit. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Thomas shrugs. “It really sucks, obviously. And I still miss her like hell. But she never would have wanted me to be constantly be sad over her, and it’s easier now, y’know? All that stuff they say about the person never really leaving you, it's kinda true.”

Newt considers him, something near fondness in his eyes. “Yeah. It is.”

He goes back to his drawing and Thomas blinks at the side of his face in amazement. Every time Teresa is brought up, there’s always the pitiful stare, the awkward silence, and the shitty excuse to walk away, in that order. He’s more than grateful for Newt’s level of understanding.

It’s peaceful for a while, the only sound being Newt’s pencil scratching against the paper. But because sitting still is not one of Thomas’ better qualities, eventually he leans forward and nudges Newt’s shoulder. “Let’s go eat something.”

Newt turns to look at him, his mouth twitching upwards. “Now?”

Thomas snorts. “No, next Sunday. Yes, now, genius. I’m starving.”

Newt laughs and sets his sketchbook aside. “Alright.”

“Really?”

“Really.” He gets to his feet and Thomas scrambles after him, following him out to the parking lot and climbing into the passenger seat of the car he unlocks. “Anywhere specific in mind?” Newt asks as they pull out onto the main road.

“You pick.”

The streets are empty and tranquil, quiet music filtering out from the radio as they drive. Thomas finds his gaze wandering over to Newt, who is softly drumming his fingers on the the wheel, amber streetlights passing over him and distorting the shadows on his face. It’s mesmerizing, and it’s only when he glances over that Thomas remembers he’s staring.

“What?”

Thomas looks back to the road, ignoring the warmth in his cheeks. “Nothing.”

Newt looks away after a moment, but in Thomas’ periphery he can see the small smile on his face.

Eventually he pulls into the parking lot of a twenty-four-hour Panda Express. After getting their food from the one vacant-eyed employee on shift they take it out to the empty back patio, where they sit side-by-side on a bench and watch the occasional lone car pass by as they eat.

“You’d think this would be weird,” Thomas says.

“Hm?”

“We’ve known each other for less than forty-eight hours and now it’s one in the morning and we’re eating Chinese.”

Newt shrugs. “We’ve got some extenuating circumstances that make up for it.”

Thomas laughs, poking at his food. “No kidding.”

“You’re right though,” Newt says after a moment. “Tell me about you.”

“Um…I was born and raised here with my mom. Never knew my dad. Not much to know, honestly.”

Newt shakes his head. “There’s more to you than that.”

“I dunno, man! I went to high school, same as you. I had a few friends and I have a few now. I run track.”

“No relationships?”

“Nah. I dated Teresa’s friend Aris for a few months last year, but we didn’t really fit together.” He pauses. “I did take this girl I liked to junior prom, but the next day I found out that while I thought she was getting a drink, she was actually blowing the quarterback in the bathroom, so…”

Newt spews his water across the patio in the most magnificent spit-take Thomas has ever seen and comes up laughing.

“It wasn’t funny at the time! I was crushed!” Thomas says, grinning. Newt’s laugh is rare and genuinely the happiest sound he’s ever heard - it feels like a treasure.

“Fucking hell, Tommy,” Newt wheezes, wiping his eyes. “I am so sorry for junior year you.”

Thomas wants to know everything about Newt but he can tell that he’s not an open sort of person, so he just starts asking questions and lets Newt answer at will. As their Chinese disappears and the time slips from one to two, Thomas finds out a lot about the blonde boy next to him (and manages not to scare him away). He has a fat cat and an eccentric younger sister with a big heart and a pair of strict, cookie-cutter parents who hate that both of their kids are gay. He likes autumn and painting and despises chocolate and his great-grandma and Thomas chokes when Newt tells him he reads classic literature for fun.

“You’re telling me you read shit like Jane Eyre for the hell of it?” Thomas demands after he recovers.

“Yeah, because it’s actually really good!” Newt says indignantly.

Thomas cannot believe what he’s hearing. “You’re insane.”

“Have you even read it?”

“Of course I have!” Newt gives him a disbelieving look and he sighs. “No, okay, I haven’t, but I read the notes online and I got an A so that counts for something, right?”

“It really doesn’t,” Newt laughs.

They easily move from topic to topic, arguing over the stupidest things and dissolving into hysterical laughter more than once. Thomas remembers he promised music recommendations so he samples a few songs from five different albums on his phone while they sit there. When he’s done, Newt declares Lorde’s Melodrama a musical masterpiece. Around three they head back to campus, and that’s when the exhaustion finally hits them.

“Believe it or not, I’m probably going to be able to fall asleep,” Newt mumbles as they climb the dark stairs to the second floor of their dorm building. Thomas nods, his feet heavy as they drag down the hallway.

“You’d better.” He stops at his dorm, turning around with his hand on the knob. Newt’s still right there with him, fighting to keep his eyes open. “Thanks for doing that with me.”

“My pleasure. Sure as hell beats sitting alone doing nothing.”

“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Newt says around a yawn. “Sure.”

Thomas presses his lips together to keep from smiling at his adorable drowsy state. “Night, then.”

Newt nods, his eyes already slipping closed. “Night.” He turns around with another yawn and disappears into his room.

Thomas is so smitten, it takes him a full ten seconds to realize he’s grinning ear-to-ear. With a loud internal groan, he refrains from banging his head against the door for being such a pathetic idiot and goes to bed.

 

“What the hell are you doing?”

Thomas squints up at Minho. “Um, waiting for my race?”

They’re at a track meet, and the spring sun is not being kind to them – Thomas’ shirt is drenched in sweat and Minho has already emptied two entire bottles of water over his head (which was pretty unnecessary, Thomas thinks, but like he’s going to tell him that).

“No, you’re smiling at your phone like an idiot,” Minho says, sitting down next to him on the bleachers.

“Am not. Also, you reek.”

Minho scoffs. “It’s not like you smell any better, shuckface.”

“God, what is it with you and those stupid words?”

Minho chooses not to dignify that with an answer and Thomas looks back down to his phone, barely able to see the screen in the bright sunlight.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Newt and Thomas’ trip to Panda Express. Ever since then, they’ve become close friends. Thomas will occasionally stay up late and venture downstairs to see if Newt is up and wanting company. Sometimes they go out to eat, sometimes they drive with no destination, sometimes they just quietly exist together and talk while Newt draws. When Thomas’ nightmares result in him soaking wet and cold, Newt shows up every time without fail to be with him. They hang out during the day, too – mostly studying and, when Thomas finally gave Newt his number, complaining about studying – and since they share several classes, they wait up on each other so they can cross campus together instead of walking alone.

Newt, Thomas has come to realize, is the highlight of his day.

Newt, 1:28pm: I always found Gale kind of clingy and manipulative though.

Thomas, 1:30pm: well peeta was way too whiny and needy so where does that leave katniss

Newt, 1:30pm: Peeta and Gale fall in love while aromantic Katniss gets a dog.

“Dude, seriously, why are you smiling so hard? Give me that.” Before Thomas can react, Minho snatches the phone away and holds him at arm’s length while he scrolls through the messages. “Wait, is this Newt?”

“Um, yeah? How do you know him?”

Minho gives him a look that says you are so unfathomably stupid. “He’s my roommate.”

Thomas stares at him. “You’re joking.”

“Nope. Known him since I was a kid. Also, he says that even Finnick might have been a better choice for her. What the fuck?”

“Would you just –“ After a moment of flailing Thomas successfully knocks Minho’s arm away and takes back his phone.

“I didn’t even know you knew him. Is he who you’ve been MIA with? I haven’t seen either of you, like, at all lately.” Minho’s jaw drops. “Holy shit, are you guys sleeping together?”

Thomas groans, rubbing his eyes. “No, Minho, god. We met a few weeks ago and sometimes we hang out, like normal friends do.” He decides to omit the late-night outings and the nearly falling asleep on each other’s shoulders. Don’t forget your raging crush, his mind adds, quite unhelpfully.

Minho rolls his eyes. “Right. Well if you do start screwing, let me know, or maybe don’t, and keep it far away from my room.”

“Jesus Christ,” Thomas mutters. He attributes the heat in his cheeks to the sun.

Thomas, 1:33pm: i hope one day hades confronts you about your all sins

Newt, 1:33pm: ???

Thomas, 1:34pm: you didn’t tell me minho was your ROOMMATE

As he waits for Newt’s response, a shrill whistle signals the start of the next race and draws their attention for a few minutes before Minho says, offhandedly, “I’m just surprised he’s spending so much time with you.”

Thomas looks over at him with a frown. “Why?”

He shrugs. “Dude’s got walls a mile high and twice as thick. He’s not exactly an open person. But he seems super comfortable around you.” He pauses, then adds thoughtfully, “He must really like you.”

Thomas’ heart stutters pathetically. “You think?”

Minho smirks at him. Thomas flips him off.

 

He barely even knows where he is; the harsh tile under him and the flood of cold water are the only things that give him a clue. He sits there, eyes forced open to keep any threat of returning sleep at bay, shivering, lost in memories of his best friend. The dark and lethal monster of his dreams hovers just on the edge but he can feel it receding, being driven away by cold and by Teresa bursting into his bedroom at home, waving her brand new driver’s license in his face. It was no surprise that she got hers first. She was always ahead of him.

“Thomas.”

The memories – and Teresa – dissolve into nothing more than distant afterimages as Thomas immediately snaps out of it, his eyes refocusing onto what’s in front of him. It’s Newt, turning off the showerhead and kneeling to be eye-level with him.

“Hey,” Thomas croaks.

“Hey,” Newt says softly. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Thomas pulls himself into a better sitting position and coughs to clear his throat. “You don’t have to keep checking up on me, you know. I’ve been doing this on my own for three years now.”

Newt scoffs. “Bold of you to assume I’m here for you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“I just fancied a trip to the showers at this lovely hour of four AM.”

Thomas lets out a weak laugh, which he guesses was the goal, because Newt smiles.

“I really don’t mind, though. I was up anyways. And…” He sighs, shifting to sit cross-legged in front of Thomas just like he did when they first met. “You shouldn’t have to do it on your own.”

Thomas averts his eyes to pick at the hem of his soaked shirt. Deep down, he just wishes they could both get some sleep. Not that he doesn’t love every second he’s with Newt, but the time they get during the day to catch up on sleep doesn’t seem to be enough, and between his growing fear of even going to sleep anymore and Newt’s persistent insomnia, he doesn’t know what they’re supposed to do.

“You wanna know what they’re about?” he asks after a while of silence. Newt shrugs.

“I was a little curious.”

“They’re not private or anything, they just scare the shit out of me. And they’re always different. Apocalypses, viruses, mazes, genetically engineered monsters, you name it. Different people, different threats. Different ways to die.”

“Bloody hell. That sucks.”

Thomas nods, leaning his head back against the shower wall. “And I don’t even know why they happen,” he says agitatedly. “I’ve just always dealt with them, since sixth grade or so. Took me and my mom a while to figure out that water helps.”

Newt clicks his tongue sympathetically. “Bet sleepovers weren’t fun.”

Thomas laughs up at the black ceiling. “Nope.”

For a few minutes they’re quiet, the showerhead drip drip dripping onto the tile, and then Newt says, quite out of nowhere and slightly tentatively, “My insomnia comes from my depression.”

Thomas’ head snaps down to look at him in alarm. “Newt, you don’t have to –“

“No, I want to. I just…”

He breaks off in a loud exhale and shoots to his feet. Thomas’ eyes follow him up and he watches concernedly as Newt starts pacing back and forth in front of the shower, clearly stressed out.

“Newt, seriously, you don’t have to say anything that you don’t want to –“

“I do want to, Tommy,” he says, shaking his hands out at his sides like they’ve fallen asleep. “It’s just – fuck, I just need a second.”

Thomas nods and shuts his mouth. Newt’s frantic pacing lasts a minute more before he finally pulls his hands through his hair, plants them on his hips, and turns to face Thomas.

“Okay. Here it is.” He takes a deep breath. “I tried to kill myself.”

It cleaves through the silence of the bathroom, loud and clear and so goddamn vulnerable that it hurts Thomas. He doesn’t know what to think and he knows there must be at least three hundred different reactions showing on his face, but then he sees Newt staring at him, tense and hesitant and unsure of what he’s about to do in light of this information, and he realizes with a start that Newt is waiting for him to speak.

“I’m not leaving you,” he says abruptly, because he’s definitely not, and he needs Newt to know that before anything else. Leaving is the very last thing he wants to do.

Newt deflates with the reassurance. “Okay,” he nods. “That’s good.”

“Yeah. But…” Now that the initial shock is gone, Thomas shakes his head. “I don’t know what to say.”

“That’s…” Newt lets out another big breath. “That’s fine. Really.” He sits down again and his eyes focus somewhere on the space in front of Thomas’ feet as he traces nonexistent patterns on the floor with his fingernail. “I was seventeen and…a lot of shitty stuff had happened. Was happening. It was all piling up and I felt like I was so far down into this bloody hole that I was never getting out again, and one day I just decided I was done. So I jumped off a building and…obviously, it didn’t work. I woke up a day later in the hospital with a fucked-up leg and a list of prescriptions a mile long.”

As the water droplets fall, ever slowing, and Newt’s fingernails tap across the tile, all Thomas can get out is, “God. That’s – wow.”

“Yeah. It was rough, to say the least.”

“Are you – I mean, how are you now?”

Newt lifts his head and Thomas can see he’s calmer now, his stress evaporated. “I’m good. Really good. Obviously I still have bad days, and I’m still taking the meds, but I’m functioning. I have friends. I’m happy.”

A smile crosses Thomas’ face. “You look happy. I never would have guessed.”

“That’s the thing about it, though,” Newt says with an evenhanded shrug. “Most people don’t.”

He goes quiet and Thomas pulls one almost-numb leg up under his thigh. He realizes he doesn’t see Newt any differently because of this. It’s a new piece of past, a new part of him, but nothing has changed. In Thomas’ eyes and mind, Newt is still Newt, sarcastic and tired and honest and caring. He’s the same Newt that found Thomas in this exact position a few weeks ago, and he’s the same Newt that Thomas is still falling hard for.

“You know I’m always here if you need to talk,” Thomas says. Newt smiles.

“Thanks, Tommy.”

They’re silent for a few more minutes until Newt says, “Alright,” and stands up.

“Alright what?”

“Your lips are blue again.”

He outstretches a hand and Thomas takes it, ignoring the (stupid and completely unnecessary) butterflies in his stomach as he lets himself be pulled to his feet.

 

It’s the mass stampeding of students leaving a class that pulls Thomas from his sleepy trance. He gathers his stuff up and slides out, glancing around for Newt out of habit. He finds him still in his usual chair, slumped over the back of the seat in front of him.

“Newt?”

No response. Thomas walks up, stifling a laugh when he realizes he’s completely passed out.

“Newt, dude, you gotta wake up.”

“Mmm.”

“Come on, I’ll walk you back.”

Newt raises his head with a grunt and Thomas helps him up, leading them back to their building on exhausted feet. He finds Newt’s dorm key in his pocket and lets them in, depositing Newt on top of his blankets. Minho is nowhere to be found.

“You gonna be okay for a few hours?” he asks. It’s a futile question – Newt mumbles something incoherent and rolls onto his stomach, burying his head in the pillow. It’s probably the most adorable thing Thomas has ever seen. “Okay, well, I’m gonna go pass out too, so –“

Newt opens his eyes an iota and looks at him groggily. “Just sleep here.”

“You want me to…”

He trails off. Newt’s eyes are already closed again and his breathing has fallen back into the rhythm of sleep. Thomas should probably go – his room is literally right across the hall, and what if Minho comes back? – but damn, he’s exhausted. And Newt told him he could stay. And he’d rather be with someone than no one. Just sleep here.

He’s too tired to argue with himself anymore. With a resigned sigh he climbs onto the space Newt has left for him, pressing his back against Newt’s side. He takes one moment to notice how nice Newt smells, and then another to wonder why he told him to stay if they’re just friends, and then he’s out.

 

“Hey. Hey, Newt, Thomas, guys! What the fuck is going on?”

Thomas slowly peels his eyes open. The room comes into focus and he sees Minho standing in front of him, snapping his fingers. Newt lets out a groan somewhere next to him and it suddenly registers that he’s using Newt’s outstretched arm as a pillow, their legs tangled up and sides still pressed together, warm from sleep. “Minho?” he asks, sitting up and dragging his legs over the side of the bed.

“Yeah, Minho. Dude, what the fuck?”

“Go away, Min,” Newt groans.

“Um, Thomas is in your bed, I will not go away until I get a satisfactory explanation.”

“Why are you in Newt’s dorm?” Thomas asks, rubbing his eyes. He’s kind of angry at Minho for barging in – he’s really never slept better.

“Did you completely miss the conversation we had, like, a week ago about me being his roommate?”

It takes a second to click. “Right. Sorry.”

Minho waves a dismissive hand, looking at him expectantly. “So?”

“So.” For the second time he’s reminded that Newt is still half-asleep behind him. “Right. This is definitely not what it looks like.”

“We’re fucking napping, Min, go away,” Newt mumbles.

“You’re napping together? Thomas said you guys weren’t dating.”

“We’re not,” Thomas sighs. “He fell asleep in class so I brought him back here and…“ He doesn’t know how he’s going to finish that sentence, but Newt takes over for him.

“Bloody hell, Minho, it’s fine. We were just tired, would you quit worrying about it?” Newt rolls over to face the wall, pressing his face into his pillow. “What time is it?”

Minho, thankfully, gives up on the interrogation and falls back on his bed, pulling out his phone. “Almost nine.”

Thomas does the math as best he can in his freshly-awoken state. “Did we sleep for four hours?” he says in Newt’s direction. He glances at the window – it’s dark out, and he knows it was still light when he went to sleep.

“That would appear to be the case.”

Thomas turns back to Minho. “Why’d you wake us up?” For a variety of different reasons, he’s tempted to just lay down next to Newt again and go back to sleep, but he doesn’t really think Minho would let that fly.

“Other than my extreme confusion at there being one more person than usual in Newt’s bed, Brenda’s party is in an hour.”

“Brenda’s party,” he repeats flatly. Then it hits him, his eyes widening to saucers as he remembers what the day is. “Unbelievable. I swear I’m getting early onset Alzheimer’s.” Newt snorts behind him and in the midst of his panic he feels a mild swell of pride. He fumbles for his phone, pulling up his texts with Brenda. Not a single one all day. God, he can’t imagine how pissed she must be.

Thomas, 8:47pm: HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRENDA I LOVE YOU SO SO SO MUCH YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD

“Shitty friend, are you?” Newt mutters. It earns him a jab to his back with Thomas’ elbow.

Thomas, 8:49pm: are you mad at me

Brenda, 8:49pm: fuck you

Thomas, 8:50pm: brendaaaaa im so sorry I love you I’ll be there tonight I swear

Brenda, 8:50pm: your gift better be good

He sags in relief, knowing she isn’t really angry with him. He looks up at Minho as his mind snags on a missed detail. “Where is she having it? I don’t even remember.”

“Gally’s hosting at his place since Brenda’s landlord is a buzzkill with a no-parties policy. Sonya helped arrange it all.”

Thomas frowns. “Sonya, like Harriet’s Sonya? How do you know Sonya? How do you know Gally? Wait, how do you even know Brenda?

“You’re thicker than an elephant, Tommy,” Newt says, rolling onto his back to place an arm behind his head and look up at him. “Gally has the same physics class as Minho and I, and then Brenda shares Biology with you and Minho. And Sonya’s my sister.”

“Does everyone at this college know everyone else and I’m only just now finding out about it?” Thomas says indignantly.

“Pretty much,” Minho answers with a sage nod. Thomas swiftly reaches over and swats his wrist, causing him to drop his phone on his face. “Hey!”

Newt snickers and Thomas grins, getting to his feet. “I’ll meet you guys over there in a bit.”

“Just ride with us,” Newt suggests.

“I never agreed to that,” Minho interjects. Newt rolls his eyes.

“Ride with us.”

“Copy that,” Thomas says, backing out of the room with a salute. “See you downstairs.”

 

Gally’s place is nothing short of a college party straight out of a YA movie, Thomas thinks as they make their way inside. Overflowing with students and red Solo cups, there’s dimmed lights and couples draped over each other and a fight breaking out in the bathroom and loud music that’s probably streaming right from Spotify’s ‘Weekend Bash’ playlist. Minho, obviously in his element, greets the crowd with a roar and disappears immediately. Thomas and Newt manage to make it four steps in before Brenda emerges.

“You’re a fucking asshole,” she declares, pulling Thomas into a hug that indicates the opposite.

“I deserve that. I’m so sorry Bren, I haven’t had like any sleep and I forgot to put it on my calendar and –“

“It’s okay,” she laughs, stepping back. “You’re here now. Besides, it’s only twenty. Not a big deal.”

“Well, I’m still sorry.”

Her eyes catch on Newt and she grins even wider. Thomas vaguely wonders how many drinks she’s already had. “Newt!”

Newt smiles at her. “Hey Bren. Happy birthday.”

“Thanks!” She glances between them, her eyes narrowing suspiciously for a moment before she lights up again. “Have some fun!” she yells, dancing back into the crowd.

Thomas follows Newt through the house to the kitchen, where they find an unoccupied section of countertop. Newt leans against it while Thomas opts to jump up and sit on it, observing the frenzy.

“This is a lot,” he remarks. Newt looks over at him, his height advantage putting them at eye-level.

“I take it you’ve never been to a party?”

“It’s not that I haven’t been to a party, I just haven’t been to a Gally-hosted, Brenda-enforced college party.”

Newt huffs a laugh. “Understandable.”

“You come to a lot of these?” Thomas asks, raising his voice slightly to be heard above the noise.

“Minho drags me along sometimes. I usually just watch while he gets wasted. Speaking of, drinks?”

“I don’t think I can make it through the night without at least one.”

Newt pushes off the counter, muttering something about Gally and not putting the drinks in the kitchen where they’re supposed to be. Thomas is by himself for a grand total of forty seconds before Brenda finds him again, this time with a plastic cup in her hand and a fresh coat of lipstick (after having Teresa as a best friend, he’s trained to notice these things).

“Are you sleeping with Newt?” she demands immediately, jumping up next to him.

“Excuse me?”

“I’d say you’ve been over here flirting but you’ve only been here for, like, two minutes.”

Thomas gapes at her. “We haven’t – you – we’re not – I’m not sleeping with him!”

“Thomas, you’ve barely answered my messages the past few weeks, you’ve got circles under your eyes, and you’re literally looking at each other like lovesick fools. And you forgot my birthday. Something’s going on.”

“Nothing’s going on! I’m busy and exhausted, like every other college student under the sun!”

“You’re blushing,” Brenda points out.

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re making me uncomfortable!”

“Uh-huh.” She takes a sip of her drink, whatever it is from whoever got it for her. “Look, I like Newt. I don’t have a problem with him, if you’re worried about my blessing or some shit.”

Thomas rolls his eyes. “I wasn’t, because nothing’s going on, but thanks.”

“Anyways,” she continues, brushing over Thomas’ comment, “He’s a good guy. Down-to-earth, focused, not afraid to put people in their place, yada yada yada. He’d probably be good for you, to be honest.”

“You sound like Teresa.”

Brenda grins. “If she were here, you know she’d be telling you to take him home, too.”

“I literally live in a dorm with a roommate!” he protests.

She shrugs. “You’d be surprised at where T and I have –“

Thomas shakes his head violently, pressing his hands to his ears. “Nope, no, absolutely not, I don’t wanna hear it, I don’t wanna heaaaar it –

“Alright, alright,” Brenda laughs. Thomas lowers his hands and she hops down, staring up at him with a knowing look. “Just saying. You guys go good together.”

“Sure, whatever. Go take some shots and then see how well you play matchmaker.”

She takes an exaggerated bow and spins around and Thomas can’t help but laugh as she goes, singing at the top of her lungs.

“I never asked –“

He jumps at both the voice and the hot breath on his ear. He whips around to see Newt right up next to him, a smirk on his face. Thomas clears his throat, pointedly ignoring the burning in his cheeks. “Ask what?”

“If you can legally drink. Not that it matters. I just never knew,” he says, handing Thomas a cup and lifting himself onto the counter.

“Not for a while. Are you?”

“Nah, I have my twenty-first in a few months,” he says, taking a sip from his cup. Thomas tests his own – it’s electric blue, and though it tastes pretty much like Kool-Aid, he can tell there’s something stronger mixed in.

“Happy early birthday?” he offers.

Newt laughs. “Thanks.”

Neither of them feel the urge to join the drunk, dancing crowd, so they just stay next to each other on the countertop, legs pressed together and heels knocking against the cupboard in time with the music (not that Thomas is thinking about the former. Of course he’s not). As the night wears on and they talk and laugh and enjoy being the only sober ones there, Thomas briefly wonders if they actually are flirting. It’s not like he’s trying to – he’s just being himself, and Newt seems fairly comfortable and at ease, albeit a little physically close, so he decides not to worry about it. He’s just happy to be there. Nothing’s going on.

“Hey, look,” Newt says a couple hours in, nudging Thomas. “Minho’s making out with your ex.”

Thomas looks to the center of the living room. Sure enough, Minho and Aris have their tongues down each other’s throats and several people are yelling at them to get a room. “Wow,” he says, gaping. “Well, Aris is definitely over me. Damn, he never kissed me like that!”

That sets Newt off, doubling over in laughter, and Thomas can’t help but follow. Newt is contagious.

They limit themselves to two drinks since Newt has to drive and Thomas doesn’t feel like spending Saturday morning on a hangover. Around one, Gally starts kicking everybody out, and while Newt goes to see if Minho’s going back with them or Aris, Thomas seeks out Brenda.

“Finally! What’d you get for me?” she says when she sees him.

“I was supposed to get you something?”

“Yeah, you were, to make up for completely forgetting it was my birthday!

He grins and pulls out an envelope from his back pocket. “Here. Don’t open it till you’re sober.”

She looks at him suspiciously. “What is it?”

“Do you know how birthday gifts work?”

“Har de har. Alright, I’m going home.”

He takes one look at her slightly wobbly state and narrows his eyes. “Who’s driving you?”

She pauses as her addled mind tries to process this new inquiry. “Um. That’s a good question. Hm. Hmmm. Right. Okay. Can you?”

He laughs, slinging an arm around her shoulder as Newt appears, Minho-free.

“He’s going home with Aris,” he says in response to Thomas’ raised eyebrow.

“Classy. Do you mind making a stop on the way back?” he asks, gesturing to Brenda. She waves at him.

“Not at all.”

 

They drop Brenda off and Thomas helps haul her gifts inside before kissing her head and telling her to get some sleep. By the time he gets back to the car, he knows she’s probably already passed out. The rest of the short drive back is peaceful and finally, he and Newt drag themselves up to their floor.

Thomas leans back against his door, watching Newt’s eyes glitter black in the dark. Neither of them can find the energy to say anything, so they stand there, a foot of charged space between them, waiting on something, anything, nothing. Newt slowly looks over every inch of his face, and honestly, Thomas doesn’t know what to do. It wouldn’t take much to lean forward. Wouldn’t take much to slide his fingers through Newt’s and tug him closer.

But he’s completely paralyzed and finally Newt takes a step backwards, completely unreadable. Thomas exhales, dizzy and wondering if Newt is aware of the effect he has on him.

“Good night, Tommy,” he whispers.

It takes Thomas a long time before he finds his voice again. Nothing’s going on.

“Night.”

Well.

Maybe something’s going on.

 

Around lunchtime a few days later, Thomas decides that every single field of study can be fucked to hell for all he cares. He shuts his laptop with a loud groan, abandoning his Humanities report for the third time that day. He picks up his phone instead and finds himself hovering over a new text to Newt. He hasn’t seen him all day, he realizes. Not that it’s a big deal. He’s not clingy. He’s not.

Thomas, 12:04pm: fuck humanities. lunch?

They’ve gone out to eat before; that’s normal. They’re just friends grabbing some food, and it’s never been suggested otherwise. But they kind of feel like lunch dates to Thomas, what with the banter and the invites and the frequency. And Newt has never explicitly indicated that they’re not dates.

Flawed logic, Thomas’ rational side tells himself with a kick.

Newt, 12:06pm: I concur. Starving.

They end up meeting at their usual burger place a short walk away from campus. Somehow Thomas arrives after Newt (the punctual bastard) and he slides into the booth in a weary slump. Despite how tired he is, seeing Newt never fails to boost his spirits.

“Got you food,” Newt says by way of greeting, sliding a plate across the table. “You look like shit.”

Thomas gives him an exasperated look. “Thank you, Newt, that really makes me feel better.”

Newt laughs. “Just sayin’. What’s going on?”

Thomas waves a vague hand. “I am really not cut out for Anthropology. I don’t even know why I picked it,” he adds as he bites into his food.

“Just change next year,” Newt suggests, picking at his fries. “There’s only two months left of classes anyways.”

“Yeah, only.

They finish their meal with the typical small talk that Thomas never gets tired of, just because it’s Newt, and eventually they emerge back onto the cracked sidewalk, the warm spring air wafting around them and carrying the smell of freshly-bloomed flowers.

“What now?” Newt asks, shoving his hands in his pockets. Thomas glances around – since lunch rush is over, both the street and sidewalk are peaceful and empty.

“Dunno,” he says, turning around. “I don’t have…”

The rest of his sentence dies on his tongue as he looks at Newt. On this sunny, idyllic afternoon, he is nothing less than beautiful. The sun shining on him turns his hair golden and lights up his eyes and he looks so content and at ease right then that all of Thomas’ impulse control melts away. He takes one dazed step forward, slowly enough so that Newt can back away if he wants to, watching him for any sign of this is not okay. When he doesn’t move, Thomas leans forward and softly presses their lips together.

It takes him two full seconds to realize Newt has frozen in place. He pulls back, searching his eyes for an answer, but all he finds is an emotion that he can’t quite pinpoint. There’s nothing there for him.

A cold spreads through him, like someone injected him with a syringe full of frost.

Oh.

Newt takes half a step back, away from him. “I have to go.”

“Wait, hang on – Newt, I’m sorry, I didn’t –“

Newt can’t seem to hear him. “I have to – I have to go.”

“No, Newt, wait –

But he’s already gone.

Thomas takes a deep breath and tilts his head back to the blue sky above. Fists clenched together, he tries not to scream.

 

In the end, it’s the sharp pain of being rejected that keeps him from going after Newt. He spends that night and all the weekend locked away in his dorm, ignoring Frypan’s inquiries as he focuses on catching up on assignments. For the most part, he’s just pissed off and lonely. Pissed off at himself for crossing that line, pissed off at Newt for shutting him out and not bothering to even talk about it. Lonely because Newt barely looks at him in Humanities on Monday morning, lonely because he crosses campus alone and lonely because when he has a nightmare on Wednesday night, Newt never shows. Pissed off and lonely because he just fucked up one of the best friendships he has.

Not a single word is exchanged between them. A miserable week later, Brenda catches him after class and asks if he’s okay. “You just seem kinda edgy lately,” she adds.

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a lot on my plate. Finals and stuff.”

She narrows her eyes. “No, something else happened.”

“Maybe,” he concedes, tucking his thumbs into his backpack straps.

“Boy problems?”

He sighs. “Pretty much.”

“So come over this weekend,” she offers.

“Yeah?”

“Sure. Not like I’ve got a hot date.”

“Pizza and Game of Thrones it is.”

She smiles, handing him the white cup of coffee from her hand, still warm. “You look like you could use this more than I can.”

He manages to give her a weary smile. “You’re a saint, Bren.”

“Damn right I am, and don’t you forget it.”

 

Friday morning he wakes up to a handful of notifications from different people. For a brief moment he hopes one might be from Newt, but he knows even before he checks that there won’t be, just like there hasn’t been for the past week. His moody and vaguely irritated haze settles back over him as he scrolls through and tries to decide who he wants to respond to this early in the morning.

Minho, 6:54am: hey, what’s going on with Newt?

Minho, 6:54am: he’s been super moody and quiet lately

Minho, 6:57am: I asked Brenda and she said you guys are fighting, wtf???

Thomas ignores those and resists the urge to send Brenda a few choice words.

Chuck, 7:23am: Me and Mom both want you to come hang out at home this weekend!!!

Well, he thinks with a dull ache in his chest, his calendar isn’t exactly filled with plans. He tells Chuck sure and asks him to leave the door unlocked since he’ll be out late with Brenda. Chuck responds immediately with a lot of caps and emojis that make his eyes hurt.

He drags himself through his first class, only surviving it because Newt isn’t there, but when his last one rolls around a few hours later he skips it without debate. He can’t handle another seventy-five minutes of staring at the back of Newt’s head while pretending he isn’t falling apart. The rest of the day is spent in his dorm, half-heartedly finishing up some assignments while trying to ignore the heavy longing that he feels nonstop. Nine o’clock finally comes along in a breath of relief and after he double-checks that he has the few things he’ll need, he leaves campus, ready to put this whole week to rest.

Brenda’s tall and skinny pink townhouse is squeezed in between the many others that line the downhill street that dead-ends at the beach. He knocks three times on the faded wood door, then uses his spare key to let himself in when she doesn’t answer. Taking his shoes off, he glances around the pastel-colored first floor, which is the entry hall, the dining room, and the staircase. In addition to her shoes by the door, there’s several boxes of warm pizza on the table and fresh flowers in the vase. She’s definitely home. “Brenda?”

Voices float down from upstairs, so he grabs two pizza boxes and heads up to the second floor, where the open kitchen and living room are situated. The voices are coming from the TV in the corner, playing something that looks suspiciously like Will and Grace. He sets the boxes on the coffee table next to an empty mug that he recognizes as Teresa’s favorite from a long time ago and looks around in confusion. All the signs of living are present – dirty dishes in the sink, a basket of laundry sitting in an armchair, the lights on albeit dimmed. So where is she?

He takes the last flight of stairs to the carpeted top floor. Two bedrooms and a bathroom line the hallway, and since the bathroom door is the only one open with light spilling out of it, he cautiously wanders in there first.

Brenda sits in the empty bathtub wearing sweatpants and an ancient band shirt, her back pressed to the tiled wall and her legs dangling over the edge. Next to her is a half-full bottle of vodka and in her lap is a stack of photos, photos of her and Teresa that Thomas gave her for her birthday. His heart falls as she looks at him with hollow eyes, her eyeliner smeared in faint gray streaks.

“Hey,” she whispers.

“Oh, Brenda…I didn’t know. I thought you’d like them. I never realized –”

She waves a hand, wiping her eyes. “It’s not your fault. I love them, I really do. I just…” She trails off and he climbs in to sit side-by-side with her, hooking his legs over the rim. “I didn’t have any of that, by the way,” she says when she sees him glancing at the vodka. “It was left over from the party.”

“Ah.”

A few moments of silence pass before she speaks again, her voice breaking. “I miss her so much, Thomas.”

“I know. God, Brenda, I know.” He wraps an arm around her and pulls her closer as she leans her head on his shoulder and lets her tears fall all over again.

The topmost photo in her lap is a candid of her and Teresa at the beach, knee-deep in the water, Teresa on Brenda’s back and their faces full of laughter. Thomas remembers that day, remembers taking that photo, remembers how happy and carefree they felt. They were sixteen, and they were excited to just be living.

To Thomas, Teresa is yellow, the color of happiness. She is the pastel walls of her bedroom that he helped her paint. She is the leaves in autumn that they piled up high and jumped into. She is the golden sunshine in July that melted their ice cream, and she is the sand on their favorite beach that they spent days at. He sees her twirling in her favorite yellow sundress that Brenda gave to her on her seventeenth birthday. Her last birthday. He sees her filling vases with yellow sunflowers, the same sunflowers that now decorate her grave.

She was his best friend. She knew him inside-out, probably better than he knew himself, and she never let him feel down about anything. After the junior prom disaster, she baked a cake and made him watch Pretty Little Liars with her. When they were fourteen and he came out to her as bi, she laughed and kissed his forehead and said that she was, too. When they fought, it didn’t last very long because he would need help on a science test or she would want to go ice skating. He was privy to every detail about every stage of her relationship with Brenda – sometimes more than he wanted to know. She was the hero and he was her sidekick, and that’s how they operated: inseparable.

Until they weren’t.

“I don’t remember the last thing she said to me,” Thomas whispers.

Brenda pulls herself off his shoulder to look at him. “You don’t?” He shakes his head, leaning back against the cool tiled wall.

“It’s all sort of a blur now. But I’m okay with that, because when I remember her, I don’t think about that last day and what the last words might have been. I just remember her.” He pauses when he catches Brenda staring at him. “That probably doesn’t make any sense –“

“No, it does. I get it. You don’t remember just the shitty part. You remember all of her, and everything that came with her.”

He smiles and pushes a lock of her hair behind her ear. “Yeah. Exactly.”

The mood lifts considerably with this new revelation and a peace washes over them, comforting and calm. Nothing more to be said, they sit there for just a while longer until Brenda takes a deep, steadying breath and slaps her thighs.

“Alright, that’s enough reminiscing. I’m starving.”

Thomas laughs and clambers out of the tub, holding out a hand to pull her to her feet. She decisively leaves the vodka in the tub and cleans up her face, and after returning the photos to her room, they head back down to the living room. They appropriate opposite sides of the couch and as they carve through two boxes of reheated pizza while watching Game of Thrones, Thomas pushes all the threatening grey clouds in his mind far, far away. He doesn’t want any of it right now, not while he’s having a good time with his best friend.

The clock is nearing ten when Brenda abruptly looks to him, her feet in his lap. “Didn’t you come over here for a reason?”

Thomas pauses with his fourth slice halfway to his mouth. “You asked me to, actually. But yeah.”

She raises her eyebrows expectantly, and after a moment he lowers the pizza to his plate and sets it on the coffee table next to where his heels are kicked up. All the latest events come surging back to him and brought with them is the hopeless feeling of complete rejection that has haunted him all week. He picks at a loose thread in the couch cushion, twisting it around and around his finger until he finally looks up at Brenda. Might as well get it over with.

“I kissed Newt.”

Brenda’s eyes widen. “You did?

“Yeah.”

He doesn’t offer anything else, and her brief moment of excitement fades away as she watches him go quiet. “Is that not a good thing?”

“Um. Well.” His gaze drops to where the thread is cutting tightly into his skin. “He didn’t – he doesn’t really reciprocate.”

Brenda gapes at him like he’s speaking Klingon. “What do you mean?”

He takes a deep breath, unwinding the thread before he snaps and rips the whole cushion apart. “I mean I misread everything, Bren. We were friends, and that’s all we were supposed to be.”

“What? No! No, that’s bullshit! What are you even talking about? He likes you!”

“Well, I thought that too, but he doesn’t, so.”

Brenda slumps back against the couch in disbelief. “Damn. I really thought…” She shakes her head, her expression softening. “I’m sorry, Thomas.”

He lifts his shoulders in a what can you do? gesture, like he actually isn’t completely wrecked over it.

“I don’t know how you two met or even what you’ve been doing all this time,” she says after a minute.

He drums his fingernails on his bottle, fondly thinking back to the very first night. “It was like two months ago,” he starts, eyes on the TV. “You know I go to the showers when I have a nightmare.” Brenda nods, and he explains their run-in, Newt’s insomnia, the notes and the next night. “I found him drawing downstairs. We talked some, and…I told him about Teresa.”

Brenda’s features shift in surprise. “Really?”

Thomas nods. “Not everything, though. Just that she was my friend, and the crash.” He takes another drink before continuing, resting his arm along the back of the couch and looking over at her with a grin brought on by the memories. “And then we went to Panda Express.”

She barks a laugh. “Seriously? At one in the morning?”

“Yep. It wasn’t weird at all – like, it felt totally normal, and after that we just kinda stuck together. Studying, texting, all that stuff. He’d sit with me when I had nightmares and sometimes I’d go see if he wanted to do something when he couldn’t sleep.”

“You’re telling me you skipped precious hours of sleep to do weird shit with him in the middle of the night?”

He makes a face. “It wasn’t weird shit. Sometimes we watched movies, sometimes we sat on the swings at the park, sometimes we just drove around and talked. We did a ton of different stuff. And anyways, it was worth it. We really got along.” He heaves a sigh. “I really liked him.”

Brenda nods understandingly and she pushes the blankets off, walking over to the dim kitchen. “So when did you kiss him?” she continues conversationally as she opens the fridge.

Thomas winces at her bluntness, stretching out his legs along the coffee table as he absently watches commercials flip by on the TV. “Last week, after we had lunch at that burger place on Main.” It’s all still clear in his mind – he can feel the warm sunshine and see the way it made Newt ethereal. His lips were soft and slightly chilled, just like the rest of his skin always was when Thomas accidentally came into contact with him. “I thought it was the right time, but…he looked at me like he didn’t know what to do. And then he said he had to go. I told him I was sorry, but he just…left.”

“Huh.” Brenda hands him a new beer that he gratefully accepts. “He doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy to shut you out just because of a one-sided crush. Was he angry?”

“I don’t think so.”

Her eyebrows furrow in a doubtful look as she stretches back out on the couch. “You really think it was because he doesn’t like you?”

“I don’t know, I’m not psychic!” he says exasperatedly, gaining a laugh from her.

“Sorry, Thomas, but I can’t help you. Teresa was the one who was good with relationships.” She nudges his hip with her foot reassuringly. “You’ll figure it out.”

He lets out a frustrated sigh and slumps further into the couch. “This sucks,” he decides after a minute.

“Mmm. You should try to talk to him,” she suggests, her attention already refocused on skipping past the commercials.

“Yeah. Maybe.” He knows he won’t, though. Another trailer for the Hottest Movie of the Year passes before he catches an errant thought and he looks over, narrowing his eyes at her. “Did you tell Minho that I was fighting with Newt?”

She freezes, slowly turning her head towards him. “Um…no? I don’t think so…no, I didn’t –“

Thomas’ jaw drops. “You did!”

“He was grilling me!” she says as she breaks into a remorseless grin, throwing her hands up in surrender.

“So you betray me?”

“I didn’t betray you –“

He shakes his head, getting to his feet. “You’re the shittiest friend ever. I’m outta here.” Brenda protests loudly from the couch as he heads towards the staircase; he gets all the way to the kitchen before she calls a bribe.

Wait! I have gummy worms.”

He slowly turns on his heel. “I’m listening.”

“In the cupboard above the microwave.”

He fixes her with a suspicious glare as he stalks into the kitchen, opening said cupboard to reveal a plastic gallon tub of sour gummy worms. “Okay,” he says with a mock sigh of resignation, hauling the container out and settling back onto the couch. “I guess I’ll stay.”

He gets a punch to the arm for that.

At some point during the progression of the night, he decides to stop thinking and worrying about Newt. Instead, he helps Brenda take down the gummy worms in record time and provides sarcastic, completely unnecessary commentary to Game of Thrones. As Brenda keeps one eye on the TV and the other on her social media, Thomas scavenges her kitchen and makes them strawberry milkshakes. He’s at the bottom of his, slurping out the sugary remains when she snorts from across the couch.

“What?” he asks.

“Minho is a lovesick idiot.”

“That’s not news, B.”

He crawls across the couch and leans over her phone, and she replays Minho’s Snapchat story. It’s a twenty-second video that first shows the side of Aris’ face, his hands over his mouth in shock and his eyes watery, and then moves to the TV in front of him. The reason for his tears is immediately clear: they’re watching Dobby’s death scene. It’s captioned look how fucking adorable he is????

“Wow,” Thomas says once it ends. “They really watched that on a date?”

Brenda laughs. “Right?”

Thomas is about to sit back when his eyes snag on the time at the top of the screen. “Is it actually almost two?”

“Looks like it.”

“Damn, I gotta go.”

Brenda makes a dismayed noise as he climbs off the couch and starts to gather his scattered things. “Um, why? Past your bedtime or something?”

He rolls his eyes at her as he dumps his empty milkshake glass into the sink. “It’s not that,” he says, swiping his keys off the counter. “I told Chuck and my mom I’d come stay with them this weekend.”

“But your house is only like half an hour away,” she says as she looks at him over the back of the couch. “You can just sleep here.”

“Yeah, but I know Chuck is going to want to eat out tomorrow morning and I’d rather drive there now than get up early to do it.”

“If you say so. You sure you’re not going to fall asleep on the way over there?”

“Nah.” He leans over the couch to kiss the top of her head. “See you Monday?”

“Sure. And hey, Thomas?”

He pauses at the top of the stairs, turning around to look at her questioningly. “Yeah?”

“You’re gonna figure this thing with Newt out, alright? I know you will.”

It catches him by surprise but he ends up smiling at her gratefully. “Thanks, B.”

She grins. “Anytime.”

“Go to bed! Don’t touch that vodka!” he yells as he skips down the stairs.

“Can’t make any promises!”

 

He ends up creeping inside his house around two forty-five, making his way upstairs and dodging the floorboards he knows are creaky after so many years of living there. His mom and stepdad’s door is shut but Chuck’s is cracked, flashing white light seeping out from it. He nudges it all the way open to see his sixteen-year-old half-brother sitting on his bed, completely focused on the video game in front of him.

“Chuck,” he hisses, pressing his palms against the doorframe to lean his body inside. Chuck jumps, his eyes darting between Thomas and the TV, and finally he pauses the game and pulls his headset down.

“Thomas! You made it!”

“What the fuck are you doing? It’s almost three in the morning.”

Chuck makes a face. “So?”

“So, you’re gonna rot your brains out. Get some sleep, dude.”

“Okay, mom.

Thomas rolls his eyes. “You’ll thank me one day.” He closes the door on Chuck’s retorts and crosses the hall to his own room, dark and unchanged from when he came to stay a couple months ago. He drops his backpack into his desk chair, collapses onto his bed, and passes out.

 

As predicted, Chuck bursts into his room at ten and yells in his face that he wants to go to iHop for breakfast. Thomas spends thirty minutes dragging himself out of bed and then orders the chocolate Funny Face pancake when they get there, topped with whipped cream, cherries, and chocolate chips.

“Are you serious?” Chuck says when their food arrives. “That’s like, for toddlers.”

Thomas shakes his head as he drowns the pancake in strawberry syrup. “Let me stop you right there, Chuck.” He replaces the syrup dispenser and fixes his brother with a stern look. “First off, you can’t keep basing your food choices on what other people will think of you. That’s a miserable way to live and you’ll never eat anything other than tiny shrimp platters and artisan asparagus or some shit. Secondly, the Funny Face pancake is the king of pancakes and I’ll actually fight you on that.”

Their mom chuckles across the table as she refills her coffee mug. “You’re really passionate about that pancake, aren’t you?”

Thomas nods like it’s nothing out of the ordinary and he starts his warpath, one whipped cream smiley face at a time.

“So like…where have you been, dude?” Chuck asks as he cuts up his (plain, maple) pancake.

Thomas looks up at him, finishes his bite with a blank face, and deadpans, “Well, Chuck, I’m attending this somewhat aged development known as college. It’s focused around education, and I also have these things called friends –“

“Very funny,” Chuck says, rolling his eyes as Thomas and his mom laugh. “Seriously though, it’s been like two months. You used to come home all the time.”

Thomas shrugs. “I’ve just been super busy with finals and stuff. And I’d rather not spend gas while I’m paying for a dorm.”

It’s not entirely a lie.

His mom raises her eyebrows suspiciously at him over the rim of her mug. “Is there someone we should know about?”

Well, now that you mention it, I did make a new friend who happens to be an insomniac, which is kind of perfect considering my nightmares. I developed a huge crush on him and then I impulsively kissed him, and it turns out he doesn’t feel the same way so now we aren’t talking.

He slowly lowers his glass of orange juice. “Um…”

He immediately regrets even opening his mouth – it’s the moment of hesitation that gives him away, and it is prime ammunition for little brothers like Chuck, who wastes no time in snatching it up.

“There is!” he yells, muffled around his mouthful of pancake, eyes wide.

“No, there’s not –“

“There is! There totally is!” Chuck says, having swallowed his bite now. “Who is it? Is it a boy or a girl? What’s their name? What do they look like?”

To Thomas’ dismay, their mom has started quietly laughing. “Chuck –“

“How long have you guys been dating? You didn’t even tell us!”

“Chuck!”

Chuck freezes.

“I’m not dating anyone, okay?”

“But you –“

Okay?

“Jeez, okay, okay,” he huffs, stabbing another piece of pancake. “Just askin’.”

“Well, don’t,” Thomas says exasperatedly, reaching his fork over and stealing a bite off Chuck’s plate. When he looks back up, his mom catches his eye, and she’s still giving him that extremely suspicious look. He can feel himself blushing so he hastily prompts a new line of conversation to get her stare off him. “Hey Chuck, tell me about that new game.”

 

The rest of the weekend is relaxing. He spends most of it with Chuck, playing video games and driving around and pestering him about the girl in his grade that Thomas knows he’s crushing on (mostly as payback). He’s out gardening with his mom on Sunday afternoon – or rather, she’s gardening and he’s lying flat on his back in the grass, cloud-gazing – when she asks if everything is really okay. He knows that if he wanted to confide in her, she’d listen and offer whatever advice she could, but when he thinks about explaining the whole situation aloud, it sounds so trivial, and it pisses him off because it feels like such a big deal inside his head. So he just shrugs and says “Boy problems.” She nods understandingly and asks him to hand her a tulip plant.

 

He’s running. People are yelling. They’re his friends. He blinks. He’s on the hard ground. His shower. Arctic water pours over him. He blinks. He’s still running, in a desert drier than hell itself. There’s rolling black clouds and forked tendrils of hot white lightning. Newt is with him now, and it terrifies him. Everything burns: his legs, his lungs, his friends. He blinks twice. Everything is cold. Dark. He’s alone. When he blinks again, he’s still alone. The water finally breaks the nightmare’s hold on him, but the images linger in his mind far more vividly than he’d like them to.

He swallows back the lump of fear in his throat and turns off the tap. It’s alright. It’s not real. None of it is ever real. He presses his palms tight against his eyes as he repeats that to himself over and over and over and over.

Eventually, his heart rate slows to normal. He musters up the deepest breath he can manage and lets everything go in a long, steady exhale. When he opens his eyes and sees silver moonlight falling on the floor through the open door, he settles back into his own skin, calmer now. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

He carefully gets to his feet and strips off his soaked clothes, leaving them in a sopping heap on the shower floor. The silence wastes no time in hurtfully reminding him that Newt isn’t with him. He was there in his nightmares, just like he has been ever since Thomas started caring about him, but he’s not here, talking with him and making him laugh and walking him back to his room. There but not here.

He nearly bites through his tongue to keep from kicking the wall.

His phone buzzes sharply on the nightstand, pulling him from his pity party. Who the hell is calling me at two in the morning? He wraps his towel around his waist and navigates through his room on moonlight and muscle memory, glancing at the caller ID before he answers. “Harriet?”

“Thomas, hey, um, look –“ Her voice is shaky, so unlike the clear and concise Harriet he knows. “Sonya – Sonya just got admitted to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.”

He blanches. “She did? Is she going to be okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, she’ll be fine I think, I just, um –“ She takes a deep breath before continuing. “I don’t have Newt’s number and her phone is dead so could you please call him for me and let him know?”

“Yeah, of course, I’ll tell him. Do you want me to come down there?”

“If you want to. I gotta go – thanks, Thomas.”

She hangs up and he’s left staring at the screen, his knee starting to bounce nervously as he realizes he has to call – and talk to – Newt. A whole week after his colossal fuck-up.

Harriet’s urgency nudges him and he shakes his head at himself. This is about Sonya, not your love life.

He hits the call button next to Newt’s name as he sifts through the closet for some jeans. He’s pulling on a dry shirt when Newt finally picks up.

“Tommy?”

His heart lurches into his throat when he hears both the nickname and the tinge of hopefulness in Newt’s voice. He squeezes his eyes shut, damming back the sudden onslaught of emotions threatening to overwhelm him. Sonya. Sonya is the priority. We can talk about this later.

He swallows and grabs his keys. “Newt, listen, your sister is in the hospital downtown.”

“What? What the bloody hell is she doing there?”

“Harriet said alcohol poisoning? She’s there with her now; she asked me to call you.”

“Jesus Christ.” Newt heaves a sigh and Thomas can picture him running his hands through his hair the way he does when he’s frustrated. “Okay. Okay. I’m on my way.” There’s a beat of hesitation, and then, “Are you?”

Thomas freezes halfway down the dark staircase. “Am I what?”

“On your way,” he clarifies, voice steady and measured.

“Oh. Yeah.” The wooden handrail is cold underneath Thomas’ palm as he stands there, static filling the space between them. “I, um…” I miss you. I’m sorry. Tell me you don’t hate me.

He can’t find the courage to speak. Another moment passes before Newt quietly says, “See you in a few,” and hangs up. Goddammit.

Anticipation and anxiety wrack his nerves the whole drive to the hospital and his knee bounces up and down in time with his frantic pulse. He’s worried about Sonya, of course, and he wants to be there for her and Harriet, but when he pulls into the visitor lot and sees Newt’s Jeep there, he’s starting to question his decision to come.

The hospital is sterile and desolate. He’s never liked them much; they’re too prominent in his nightmares. A sleep-deprived nurse gives him directions and he takes the elevator up to the third floor, where he’s let out into a white hallway lined with chairs sat against the intervals in between closed doors. It’s empty save for one person slumped in a seat near the middle.

When he stops in front of Newt and Newt lifts his head and they really look at each other for the first time in what feels like far too long, he hurts for the boy in front of him. Newt’s
eyes are dark and weary and guarded, like he’s using the last of his energy to protect his vulnerable side that Thomas knows only a few rare people get to see, if ever.

“You look like a fucking wreck,” Thomas finally says. It comes out harsher than he intended but Newt seems to get it.

“My sister’s in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, I get half the sleep everyone else here gets, and I haven’t seen you in a week,” he retorts, and Thomas nearly doesn’t catch how he falters at the end. “What did you expect?”

Thomas sighs, dropping into the seat opposite him. “What happened?”

Newt shrugs, crosses his arms over his chest, and leans his head against the wall to stare up at the ceiling. The stark white lights of the hallway wash out his skin, making him appear ghostlike and paler than he already is. “Too much too fast, I guess. She was with her friend, Rachel. She was feverish when she blacked out so Rachel brought her in about an hour ago.”

“Where’s Rachel now?”

“Dunno.”

“Harriet?”

He nods over his shoulder at the closed door to Sonya’s room. “In there with her.”

“Is she gonna be okay?”

“Yeah. They’ll let her go tomorrow morning. This isn’t…the first time that this has happened.”

Newt closes his eyes and doesn’t offer anything else so Thomas falls quiet. For the next few minutes, they’re accompanied only by the sound of Thomas’ fingernails tapping on the armrest. He doesn’t know when to approach the subject of what the hell is going on between them. He doesn’t know if they’ll ever talk about it or if they’re just going to stay this way – this miserable, lonely way.

He’s saved from his endless cycle of anxious thoughts when the door opens and Harriet emerges.

“She’s exhausted, but she wants to see you, Newt,” she says. Newt nods and disappears into the room as Thomas stands to give Harriet a hug.

“Hey,” he says as he steps back. Harriet smiles at him gratefully.

“Thanks for being here, Thomas. You didn’t have to come.”

“Nah, Sonya’s my friend. I couldn’t sleep, anyways.” Harriet takes Newt’s seat and Thomas sits back down, gesturing to the door. “She okay?”

Harriet exhales, nodding. “It was just kind of a scare to get that call, you know?”

Thomas offers what reassuring smile he can. “She’s lucky she’s got you.”

Eventually, Newt steps out from the room and Thomas and Harriet get to their feet, looking at him expectantly.

“She’s sleeping,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “This isn’t the worst it’s ever been. Obviously she’s pissed that I’m here because she’s embarrassed, but she’ll be fine. I’m going to stay here with her tonight and then –“

Harriet cuts him off with a sharp shake of her head. “No, you’re not.”

Newt looks at her in surprise. “Sorry?”

“When was the last time you got some sleep, Newt? Go home; I can stay with her.”

“Harriet, she’s my sister –“

“She’s right,” Thomas interjects. Newt’s gaze snaps to him incredulously. “And I’m going with you.”

“Like hell you are.”

“Newt, you’re about to fall apart. I’m going with you to make sure you don’t crash or run someone over or something.”

“Thomas –“

“This isn’t up for negotiation.”

Newt glares at him, fire in his eyes, but this is one time Thomas refuses to back down. They may be completely fucked up right now but there’s no way he’s letting Newt drive on his own back to campus in this state.

“Fine. Fine,” Newt relents, exhaling sharply through his nose. “I’ll be by at eight to pick her up, Harriet. Text me if you need anything.”

“I will.” She nudges him off towards the elevators. “Go to bed.”

Newt turns away and Thomas leans in to give Harriet one more firm hug before bidding her goodnight and going to chase after Newt.

Newt pulls out of the parking lot without preamble. He keeps his gaze firmly on the road, the orange streetlights growing and shrinking across his face, and when Thomas looks over at him, the only sign of his internal conflict is the fingers that keep tightening and untightening around the wheel.

Thomas, on the other hand, feels absolutely restless in the tense silence. His knee won’t stop bouncing. He’s swimming in anxious nerves because he has absolutely no clue what Newt is going to say, if anything at all. All the words are there, brimming right below the surface and ready to be voiced, but he doesn’t even know where to start. He doesn’t think Newt does, either.

After a while of futilely going in circles in his own head and occasionally glancing over at Newt (who stubbornly stares straight ahead), he notes that it’s taking far longer to get back to campus than it should and he doesn’t recognize the route they’re on at all. Newt doesn’t appear lost, though, and he takes a right turn into a deserted gas station, one of the only buildings around with lights still on. He pulls the keys from the ignition at a pump and gets out without a word, leaving his door open. In Thomas’ periphery he can see him starting the pump.

Thomas takes the moment alone to exhale and pull his legs up underneath him in an effort to calm the hell down. He leans his forehead against the window, the chill of the glass
helping to ground him a bit.

The sound of shuffling makes him turn his head and he sees Newt back in his seat, one leg hanging out the open door, chewing his lip and staring out the windshield as he waits for the tank to fill. His agitation seems less sharp than it was in the hospital, and as Thomas looks over his tired features, he realizes why Newt took them so far inland.

“You don’t want to go back to campus,” he guesses.

After a moment, Newt shakes his head at his lap.

“Well,” Thomas begins slowly, his heart softening because it’s Newt, “I don’t have anywhere to be.”

Newt lifts his head to look at him gratefully. Thomas gives him a reassuring nod and so he finishes filling the tank, then pulls back onto the road.

They’re headed east to nowhere, and though things are slightly less tense than they were twenty minutes ago, Thomas can’t stop fidgeting. His knee is bouncing and his fingers are tapping staccato on the door handle and he keeps glancing over at Newt, like something is going to change each time he does. The static buzzing in his mind just builds. And builds. And builds.

He’s on the verge of exploding when something dark and small shoots out on the road in front of them. He yells out Newt’s name and his hand tightens around the door handle as Newt swerves sharply to the left, seatbelts cutting tightly into their chests. There’s no indication that they hit anything and after they straighten out, Newt pulls off onto the shoulder and jams the car in park.

Thomas takes a deep breath, slowly loosening his white-knuckled grip. Newt glances over at him.

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah, fine. What was that?”

Newt sighs, his fingers slackening on the wheel. “Bloody raccoon, I think.”

All there is for a minute is the sound of them catching their breath. But then Thomas’ moment of being distracted is over, and his restlessness steadily returns, itching and clawing at him like before until he finally snaps.

“Are we going to talk about this?”

Newt audibly exhales as soon as he says it. “Yeah.”

Thomas waits, but Newt doesn’t offer anything else, so he just decides to get it over with.

“Look, I’m sorry for what I did –“

“No, don’t – you shouldn’t be.”

“Yeah, I should! I wasn’t thinking and obviously you don’t feel the same way and that’s fine, it really is, I just –“

“You don’t think I feel the same way?”

“ – maybe if we had talked -“ He halts mid-rant as Newt’s words register. “What?”

Newt gapes at him incredulously. “Of course I feel the same way, Tommy! I’m – of course I do!”

“But you…“

“God, I know, I know.” He drags his hand through his hair, and his frustration seems more directed at himself than at Thomas. “You didn’t cross a line or anything, I swear. I really did – do – like you and I thought I’d be okay with whatever happened between us. But then you kissed me and it was like all of a sudden, everything was real. You were real, this was real, and I’m not…I’m not used to that, Tommy. I didn’t know how to process it. And even after I got my head on straight, I figured you weren’t exactly up to seeing me again.”

All Thomas can manage is, “Oh.” He doesn’t even know where to start. A week of radio silence, and now this.

Newt tears his gaze away to press his forehead into the wheel, his shoulders deflating with a heavy sigh.

“I’m not a naturally open person, Thomas. I don’t make friends well, and I sure as hell don’t keep them well either. I’m closed off and moody and I’m a mess more often than not and I just…I really fucking like you. A lot,” he finishes quietly. “And that scared me.”

Thomas swallows, nodding even though Newt can’t see. He understands now, and he feels an overwhelming wave of affection for the tired boy in front of him. Still cross-legged in his seat, he unclicks his seatbelt and leans just a bit forward, pressing his hand against the side of Newt’s seat. “Hey, look at me.”

Newt does, his eyes weary. Thomas stresses his next words as meaningfully as possible because he needs Newt to know that he understands.

“I get it, I do. And before anything else, I’m your friend, okay? That’s not going away, no matter how hard you try. And…if you want more, that’s okay too. I’m completely up for that. But I miss my friend. My nightmares suck more than usual when you’re not there and I don’t have anyone else to go get Chinese with in the middle of the night. I miss you, Newt.”

A beat passes, and then another, and he knows he’s said the right thing when, slowly but surely, Newt’s eyes brighten and he nods. “Okay,” he says, smiling just enough to lift Thomas’ spirits.

“Okay,” Thomas repeats with a breathy laugh. A warm wave of relief surges through him and his smile grows. “Okay. We’re okay?”

Newt nods again. “Yeah. We’re okay.”

He finally has Newt back.

They’re still in the dark, on the empty highway between two cities and surrounded by flatlands and distant lights. The car idles low and quiet beneath them and, belatedly, Thomas realizes he’s still staring at Newt with his arm stretched between their seats, and that Newt is still staring back, angled towards him, his eyes deep and dark and focused.

“So where does that leave us now?” Newt asks quietly, after some unknown amount of time has passed. Something in his low tone completely shifts the atmosphere; he won’t let Thomas break eye contact, and even though Thomas isn’t inclined to, it’s unnerving.

“That’s – that’s up to you,” Thomas answers, pretending the uptake in his heartbeat didn’t just happen.

“Right.”

Newt swallows, and Thomas catches a brief flicker of uncertainty in his eyes.

“Can I kiss you?”

Oh.

“Yeah,” Thomas whispers, because he can’t find the energy to speak any louder, “Definitely.”

Newt brings his fingertips up to rest faintly on the edge of Thomas’ jaw, and Thomas lets his eyes fall closed and then Newt’s kissing him, for real, soft chapped lips on his, slowly and steadily growing deeper and deeper as he hovers over the console, dropping his hand to Newt’s waist to steady them both. He feels heavy and dizzy in the best way possible because he is kissing Newt and Newt is reciprocating, and then Newt has one hand on the back of his neck and the other tugs at his shirt until he finally gets the message and climbs over to better appropriate his lap.

Were they well-rested and not worn down by life itself, this might be different. As it is, though, their movements are lazy and unrushed, open-mouthed and gentle and cautious. Newt loosely holds him in place by his hips and when he moves from Thomas’ mouth to his jawline and downward, Thomas slides one hand into his hair and slowly traces the other around his collarbone, marveling at everything, most especially at the boy under his fingers. Newt.

Newt pulls away from the crook of his neck to bury his face into his shoulder, his chest rising and falling against Thomas’. Thomas isn’t sure if he’s feeling his own heartbeat or Newt’s.

“Tommy,” he murmurs. “I’m so tired.”

Thomas smiles. He presses his cheek into Newt’s hair to hide it, not that he cares much. Newt, Newt, Newt, Newt, Newt. “Is kissing me that boring?”

“Kissing you,” Newt begins slowly, lifting his head to draw another deep kiss from a very willing Thomas, “is probably the best thing I’ve ever done. Bloody stupid of me to run away the first time.”

Thomas breathes a laugh against his lips and finally opens his eyes. Newt is gazing right back at him, light and fond, his eyes dancing. Thomas brushes his thumb across his cheekbone, leaning their foreheads together.

“I’m tired too,” he says, honestly. Underneath the warmth and content coursing through him, he can feel himself being dragged towards the pleasant black of sleep. Here with Newt, though, wouldn’t be so bad. “We should go.”

Newt nods. “We should.”

But they don’t. Not for any amount of time that Thomas can remember, anyways. He stays in Newt’s lap, gently kissing his cheek and the cool skin below his ear, until he blinks and finds himself back at the hospital, kissing Newt goodnight, and then he’s in his car, driving home.

He wonders if he’s going to wake up and realize it was all a dream.

He almost laughs at the thought. It’d be a far cry better than his nightmares.

 

“I got it, I got it, I got it –“

Sonya’s blonde ponytail whips around as she dives to the sand, slamming the volleyball up and over the net with her forearms. Gally, Brenda, and Harriet all scramble to cover the undefended space that it’s falling towards, but they don’t make it in time and it hits the sand with a thud, declaring the win for Thomas, Sonya, and Minho.

Minho lets out a whoop. “Best two out of three it is!”

Thomas grins and steps forward to offer a hand to Sonya. “You should probably quit before it gets worse,” she calls as she gets to her feet, brushing sand off her skin.

Harriet sticks her tongue out at her girlfriend and Gally scoops up the ball, hurling it at terminal velocity in Minho’s direction. Minho barely – barely – avoids a broken nose.

Thomas shifts his weight as he watches his friends through his sunglasses, absently wondering how burnt he’s going to be at the end of the day. It’s hotter than any afternoon in late May has a right to be and the sun has already stripped them all down to their swimsuits. But they’re feeling free, done with the last classes of the year, and the glittering blue ocean is just a few steps away. It’s a good day, Thomas thinks.

“I need a break before I come back to kick all your asses,” Harriet declares, leaving their hand-drawn court boundaries to join Aris and Frypan on their messy spread of beach towels in the shade. Sonya calls after her to put some music on the portable speaker.

Minho tosses the sand-covered ball to Thomas. “Is Newt on his way?”

Thomas shrugs as he returns the ball over the net to Gally, pretending like the mere mention of Newt doesn’t send a bolt of ridiculous happiness through him. “Haven’t talked to him since this morning.”

“Bullshit you haven’t,” Brenda says, arms crossed over her bright red swim top as her eyes follow the ball around in their casual triangle of toss.

Sonya nods her agreement. “You guys are glued together at the hip.” She pops a pink bubble of gum with a smack. “Or should I say mouth.”

“We are not.” He punctuates his protest with a forceful hit back to Gally.

“Yes, you are,” Gally says flatly, passing to Minho.

“It’s disgusting,” Minho adds. Thomas looks at him incredulously.

We’re disgusting? I had to watch you suck face with my ex –“ he gestures with the volleyball to Aris, who’s watching them amusedly, “- at Brenda’s birthday party!”

“Yeah, well, we were completely shit-faced.”

“Newt told me he walked in on you two last week,” Thomas points out smugly. Minho flushes red – though that could be from sunburn – and when Thomas glances over at Aris, he just shrugs at him, smiling sheepishly.

“Aris, check Thomas’ phone,” Brenda directs. Thomas groans, tossing the ball back over. His friends suck.

“Don’t check my phone, Aris.”

Aris ignores him, as predicted, and rummages through their scattered piles of stuff until he comes up with the desired phone and clicks on the lock screen. “Newt said he’ll be here in ten minutes three minutes ago.”

“So you have been talking to him!” Minho says accusingly, like he’s caught Thomas in some kind of government conspiracy.

“He’s my boyfriend! I’m allowed to do that!”

He has to suppress a smile. Even though it’s been a few weeks, he still gets a rush in his stomach when he says it, simply because it refers to Newt now. He loves it.

Minho rolls his eyes, flinging the ball to him. “Whatever. Your serve.”

Harriet sets all of Sonya’s songs on shuffle – it’s mostly upbeat pop that they all enjoy nonetheless – and then rejoins the other side, and Thomas serves. It’s a game even more fierce than the first two. He doesn’t know who thought volleyball on the beach was a good idea, considering how hot it is and that there is absolutely no traction whatsoever, but all of six of them are fighting tooth and nail and he’s breathless and sandy by the time both sides are only one point away from winning.

Brenda serves.

Minho hits. Gally hits. Sonya hits. Rapid-fire.

Then Harriet hits it back and Thomas immediately sees where she’s aiming. He runs forward, digs his feet in for a jump, and in a move worthy of the Olympics, he leaps as high as he can and smacks the ball straight down into the sand on the other side.

“Game fucking over!” Minho yells. Thomas grins, enveloping a cheering Sonya in a sweaty bear hug as Brenda loudly demands a rematch over Gally’s and Harriet’s groans. Minho starts boasting and trash-talking them, like the mature adult he is, and Thomas can’t do anything but laugh until he hears a new voice above it all.

“That was bloody fantastic.”

He spins around to see Newt on the towels with Aris, something halfway between a smile and a smirk on his lips and directed at Thomas. Thomas gapes at him, speechless, because holy fucking shit he’s so fucking hot what the hell? He’s propped up on his palms, legs lazily stretched out in front of him, and he has Aviators pushed up in his tousled hair. Most noticeably, though, he’s shirtless, which Thomas has never had the privilege of seeing until now.

And. Well.

Goddamn.

He almost falls over when he realizes he’s dating that.

“When did you get here?” he demands.

“Few minutes ago.” Newt is definitely smirking at him now. “I didn’t know you could play volleyball.”

He grins, because he’s physically incapable of doing anything else when Newt is around, and says, “It’s fun. Sonya’s way better than the rest of us, though.”

“You bet your ass I am!” Sonya calls. Thomas laughs, and the loud splashes he hears from behind tell him that everyone has retreated to the refreshing chill of the ocean. Aris and Frypan head after them and Thomas looks back to Newt.

“Get in the water with me?”

“’Course.”

Newt drops his sunglasses with the rest of their things and gets to his feet. Thomas offers his hand, because he can do that now and because Newt really seems to enjoy it, and they head down to the water where all their friends are lazily floating around, worn from their game.

They wade in until it laps at their chests and Thomas lets out an appreciative moan as it washes the sand off him and leeches the heat from his skin. “Damn,” he sighs. “This is nice.”

Newt snickers, tugging at his hand to get him to turn around. He does, and he’s greeted with bright eyes before Newt loops his arms around Thomas’ neck and bounces up, wrapping his legs around his waist. Thomas automatically links his hands together underneath his thighs to steady them, raising an eyebrow in pleasant surprise.

“Hey there,” he laughs. A trace of a smile crosses Newt’s face and he pushes Thomas’ sunglasses up onto his head, unlocking a hand from behind his neck to brush sand off his nose.

“Better.”

Thomas adjusts a bit, tightening his arms under Newt to hold him closer as the sand shifts under his feet. “How was your final?” he asks.

Newt makes a non-committal noise. “Won’t know for a while. But it was the last one, thank god.”

Thomas grins at that. “You’re finally free!”

“That I am,” Newt hums, his smile growing. It’s the same smile that makes Thomas trip over his feet when it’s directed at him.

“Are you staying in the dorms next year?”

Newt’s nose crinkles and Thomas finds it way too adorable. “God, no. Min and I are looking at an apartment nearby.” As an afterthought, he adds, “What about you?” as he traces patterns on the soft skin below Thomas’ ear.

Thomas shrugs. “I was thinking about asking Brenda if she’d give me her spare room if we split the rent.”

Newt nods. “It’s not like you have to decide right away,” he says offhandedly.

And he’s right. It’s probably the least prominent thing on Thomas’ mind at that moment.

The water ebbs and flows around them and gradually, their friends fade away and it’s just the two of them, Newt’s fingertips twisting and playing with the hair at Thomas’ nape. Thomas takes the time to drink in the boy in front of him, to absorb the way the sunshine lights up his eyes and erases the faint purple underneath and turns the relaxed, open expression on his features into the most beautiful thing in the world.

It was when he held Thomas’ hand on the Monday morning after that night that Thomas knew they were good, that Newt was all in. He was mildly worried that Newt was regretting everything that had happened and was going to tell Thomas he had changed his mind, but those worries were quickly dispelled. He met Thomas outside the science building after dropping Sonya off at her dorm, informed him that she was incredibly pissed at her older brother for finding out and showing up which meant she was going to be completely fine, and then laced his fingers through Thomas’ like it was something they did on the daily.

Just in case, wanting to be aware of any boundaries Newt might want to set, Thomas asked if he could kiss him. He remembers the look of gratefulness on Newt’s face that turned into a smile and a nod. You don’t need to ask, he said.

Now, Thomas leans forward and he’s met halfway. Newt’s fingers tighten in his hair and he kisses Thomas so surely that it carbonates his blood and curls his toes and he melts, just like he does every time.

This is never going to get old, he decides.

He’s not sure how long they’re there until a cold splash of water interrupts them, followed closely by a shout from Minho. “Why do you have to do that right here in front of us?”

Thomas grins against Newt’s lips. He can’t even be bothered to feel irritated; it just isn’t one of those days.

“I don’t think he’s a fan of PDA,” he mumbles. Newt heaves a sigh that Thomas knows is only half-hearted.

“Bastard literally made out with your ex in front of you, how hypocritical can he get?”

Thomas laughs and pulls away, and together they meet Minho’s exasperated look.

“We’re enjoying ourselves!” Thomas yells.

Minho rolls his eyes and turns away to head up the beach, waving a gesturing hand. “Come on, Sonya and Harriet got ice cream.”

Thomas raises his eyebrows at Newt. “Can’t say no to ice cream.”

Newt looks at him dubiously. “Even for me?”

“Nope, no, never mind, I can say no to ice cream, I can definitely say no to ice cream.”

After one, two, three more kisses interspersed with laughter, they separate and drag themselves out of the water. Sitting cross-legged next to Newt on the towels, Thomas eats his strawberry cone and amusedly listens to Brenda and Gally’s argument over the correct pronunciation of ‘Caribbean.’

“I’m telling you, it’s Ca-rih-bee-in,” Brenda says, licking drops of mint chocolate chip off her hand.

“No fucking way,” Gally counters. “It’s Care-uh-bee-un.”

Thomas furrows his eyebrows. “I think Brenda’s right. Ca-rih-bee-in.”

Frypan shakes his head. “I’ve always said Care-uh-bee-un.”

By the time Thomas finishes his ice cream, everyone has weighed in their opinions and Gally has conceded to Brenda on the grounds that she’s ‘too impossible.’ Minho drags Aris back to the water and the rest of them settle in under the azure sky. Newt leans back on his palms and Thomas flops down next to him, resting his head on his thigh.

He lets his eyes fall shut and they all lay there in warm contented quiet, Sonya’s collection of Lana Del Rey playing and Newt’s fingers carefully threading out the tangles in Thomas’ hair. Thomas is so blissed and happy, he doesn’t realize he’s beaming like an idiot until Newt purposefully tugs at his hair.

“What are you smiling at?”

He opens his eyes and looks up, his heart skipping when he sees the fond expression Newt is giving him. “Minho. Brenda. Gally. Aris. Sonya. Frypan. Harriet.” He pauses. “But mostly you.”

Newt shakes his head. “You’re such a dork.”

But it’s the smile on his mouth and in his eyes that gives him away.

The time slides by in a warm summer haze as they all move between the towels, the water, and the sand. The music changes, the conversations drift, the beach empties. Thomas talks with Newt and even kisses him a few more times, just because he can, and because Newt smiles when he does. He plays another couple rounds of volleyball with his friends. Gally is the first to leave, then Sonya and Harriet, Frypan, Minho and Aris. Brenda is the last. She scoops up her towel, promises she’ll see them tomorrow, and goes just before the sun begins its descent.

When Thomas opens his eyes again, he’s lying on his back. The sky above him is a masterpiece, shot through with orange and pink. He gazes up at it for a moment, and then he’s reminded of who else is with him, a grin pulling at his lips.

He rolls onto his side. Newt is curled up next to him, eyes shut, his hair a golden mess and his cheeks tinged pink. His breathing is soft and steady, the rhythm of those asleep. He’s wearing Thomas’ shirt, which has ridden up slightly, exposing the pale skin of his hip.

The evening light and the serene expression on his face make him look peaceful, and peace, Thomas decides, is what Newt deserves. No more tossing and turning all night, no more dragging his feet through the day. No worries, no expectations. Just this. The beach, the quiet crashing of waves and the rustling of palm trees. Friends. Someone next to him that he trusts. Reliability. Peace.

Thomas feels something pull at his chest then, strong and heady, longing and deep affection and a need to never let this person go, to never be without this person again.

The first word that comes to his mind is love.

He almost flinches when he thinks it. Not in a bad way, but in a holy shit this is new way, because it’s right then that he knows if he’s not already in love with Newt, he will be soon. The emotions and thoughts spinning in his head tell him it’s as inevitable as the seasons changing.

He’s aware that it’s too soon to be saying things like that aloud. Way too soon. He doesn’t even want to think about voicing it yet. It would rush the both of them, and they’re still feeling things out. Thomas is still feeling things out. He wants to be sure that everything between them is good and solid and stable. He wants them to completely understand and trust each other before a step like that is taken.

The feeling is there, growing steadily, but he’s more than okay with that.

He’s in no hurry.

He reaches over the small space between them and gently brushes Newt’s hair away from his face. His skin is finally warm, as opposed to the just-below-comfortable chill that it usually sits at. His eyes flicker open at the touch, and after a dazed moment he finds Thomas.

“Whasgoinon?”

“Nothing,” Thomas says. He drops his hand, chewing on the inside of his cheek to keep himself from smiling at Newt’s adorable sleepy state. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

Newt shakes his head and his hair falls everywhere again. “S’fine,” he mumbles as he slides his fingertips in between Thomas’.

Thomas nods towards the water. “Sunset’s nice.”

The last rays of light are reflected in Newt’s eyes as he lifts his head to see over the horizon. “Yeah,” he murmurs. “It is.”

He turns back to Thomas, that beautiful look of peace and happiness on his face, and Thomas finally gives in to his smile and leans forward. Newt lets out a heavy sigh as he kisses him, his eyelashes fluttering against Thomas’ cheekbone and their fingers curling together.

“I think you’re better than a sunset, though,” Thomas whispers when they pull apart a moment later.

“You do?” Newt asks in surprise.

“Yeah. Absolutely.”

He lights up in a sleepy smile then, one that Thomas returns with butterflies swirling in his stomach. He falls onto his back and Newt moves closer, burying himself into his side.

“Wake me up if you have a nightmare,” he mumbles against Thomas’ ribs.

“I will,” Thomas promises.

As he lightly traces his fingers over the ridges of Newt’s spine, he watches the sky above them turn purple and Newt falls asleep again, his breathing soft and even against Thomas’ skin. Under the irresistible influence of the waves and the boy in his arms, Thomas finally lets his eyes fall shut.

He sleeps the best he ever has. But that’s to no one’s surprise.