A joke, he finds out because of a fucking joke, some throwaway line that means nothing and has faded from memory before Gilbert has stood and made his swift exit to the patio, slamming the sliding glass door to the sound of various friends calling for him.
Thank god for hoodies, he thinks absently. The crisp September air does a lot to quiet his brain, though it’s partly a shutdown-defense mechanism he knows has just been activated. It doesn’t hurt now because it’ll hurt three days from now when he can’t sleep.
The cigarette almost falls over the railing, but in the end he gets a solid grip on the paper stick. The lighter flickers before bursting to life, and the tip begins to burn his thumb just as the end of the cigarette catches.
Oh, Gilbert thinks as the first breath of smoke hits his lungs. Oh oh oh oh, on repeat, like a mantra that’s protecting him from the reality of his situation. He exhales and behind him the door slides open, metal frame squeaking between sticky plastic tubes. It swicks shut a moment later.
“Gilbert,” Roderich says, the quiet voice drowned out by preemptive laughter. “Gil,” he tries again, and then Gilbert lets his voice end abruptly as he nearly chokes on an inhale.
He answers, “Roderich,” with a voice rough and watery, and the word feel stiff and foreign on his tongue. “I’m enjoying a smoke, how are you?” He pretends his heart doesn’t ache in his chest.
Without a response Gilbert feels off-kilter. Shoulders hunched like they always are, he turns his head ever so slightly, trying to see what Roderich is doing, and does so just in time for the quiet rustling of fabric to settle next to him, so so close that Gilbert thinks he can feel the heat radiating off Roderich’s arm.
When he replies, “You’re doing it,” with the sort of confidence that Gilbert wasn’t aware the little prince had, he looks sharply forward.
“I’m not doing anything, Roddy,” and the nickname drips off cracked lips like honey and the final syllable is dragged out with an exhale of smoke that curls around them both.
The cigarette is smacked from his hand, in a movement that leaves Gilbert to blink once, twice, before his mouth opens to spew a string of insults and curses and-
“Those’ll kill you. Eventually.” In the space where Gilbert’s hand was is a package of spearmint gum, cradled by the soft fingertips of long pianist’s fingers. Gilbert shakes his head and laughs.
He lets himself drape farther over the edge, arms crossing and resting on the width of the railing, most of the weight on his elbows. He tips his head back and sees if he can pick out any constellation. “You didn’t tell me.”
“I- No, we didn’t.” A pause, a slight inhale, “And you know this is why.”
From the corner of his still-upturned eyes he sees pale fingers fluttering with nerves, picking at invisible threads that neatly march around the edge of his sleeve in parallel lines. His nails are neatly manicured, shining just this side of too much to be bare.
“I’m fine, Specs.” Roderich didn’t ask, and Gilbert knows he doesn’t want to hear it, but he can’t stop himself from lying. Please, just go, he thinks, willing his voice not to crack. His eyes sting.
For one glittering moment, Gilbert thinks he’s won. Fabric rustles again, and even footsteps sound quietly in the night air, but after a half a beat, “No.” No question, no denial, just a matter of fact statement that Gilbert won’t deny, because he knows exactly how this goes. Does he, anymore? Now that they aren’t together and Roderich’s with Eliza and nothing feels right?
“Fuck,” Gilbert says, letting the u catch in his throat and round into cracking consonants, before he catches his bottom lip between his teeth and feels his cheeks wet with unshed tears. Instinctively, the hand closer to Roderich stretches an infinitesimal amount towards him, but before Roderich can notice Gilbert slams his palms onto the railing and sucks in a harsh breath that halts the tears dripping from his closed eyes. “I don’t need this,” and he isn’t sure who that’s for.
Is it himself, hurt again and again and feeling so vulnerable in a situation that would have been so different three months ago, or is it Roderich, steady and unchanging yet having up-righted everything Gilbert thought because he’s a detached little pretty boy with a complex and unresolved issues?
“I don’t know what to do with myself, Roddy,” Gilbert whispers. He knows it’s inaudible and Roderich won’t understand but he’ll understand enough.
Roderich knows him, even after everything. He meets Gilbert halfway, just like he always-does-always-has-always-will, even after everything. “Shhh, I’m here now. You’re okay,” Roderich promises, and then Gilbert lets himself break.
As he tastes salt he starts sobbing, big heaving choked breaths that aren’t helped by how he muffles his face in the soft fabric of Roderich’s scarf. His lungs burn to keep breathing and his eyes burn from how much he’s crying and his heart aches from everything. Distantly, like a TV show playing as background noise late as night, he hears the door start to slide open and he can feel as one of Roderich’s hands lifts from twisting in the fabric of his hoodie to gesture to whoever it is. He hopes it’s Eliza, but then the thought of Roderich and Eliza communicating silently makes the ache so much heavier and he’s back to crying so hard he can’t think.
He thinks maybe between gasping breaths he’s asking why; why he wasn’t enough why doesn’t he deserve to be happy why doesn’t Roderich love him why why whywhywhy and then he becomes aware of the hand that’s stroking his hair, one elegant thumb brushing at a curl that refuses to stay tucked behind Gilbert’s ear and he lets the repetitive motion ground him.
Roderich is humming when Gilbert finally releases his jacket, hands hot and stiff from how long he’s been holding on. His face is puffy and unpleasantly damp as cool air dries salty streaks in splotches. His nose is stuffed, but he still cracks a grin as they make eye contact. “I’m sorry-”
Gilbert is interrupted by Roderich’s aborted attempt to speak. Violet eyes drop quickly to the ground and he takes a breath before he looks up again and tries, “Come home with me?”
It’s as if Earth’s gravity multiplies for a moment. Home, Gilbert thinks, and his tongue burns like spearmint gum. “Okay.” He can’t quite name the feeling that settles in his chest, but he knows resignation is close. They’re not going to talk, everything has been said a hundred, a thousand times before. Gilbert has asked every question and the ones he didn’t ask were answered too.
He doesn’t remember the last time Roderich was in his car, but between how shitty he feels and just knowing Roderich, as soon as they reach Gilbert’s car in the parking lot he waves his keys and lets the jinglecatch Roderich’s attention.
Gilbert waits for the heat to clear his windshield before he drives. The silence wraps them like a blanket in August, comfortable and familiar but ultimately wrong.
He still lives in the same apartment. Gilbert doesn’t laugh but he wants to because he always said he wanted to get a place together, somewhere with a bedroom with big windows where sunlight would stream in every morning to make Roderich look like an angel as he slept, curled in the soft quilts and comforters he insisted on having.
If he hadn’t already felt detached and disconnected from reality before, walking into Roderich’s apartment three months later would do it. From the layout Gilbert would know in his sleep to the little table in the entryway that’s covered in what very well could be the same stack of papers that Gilbert once threw onto the floor during a fight. He takes a seat on the couch, and time seems to blend together like a string being pulled into a loop.
“I- We’ve been meaning to tell you, really,” Roderich says, toeing off his shoes and hanging his jacket above the papers. Gilbert doesn’t miss how this is the second time he’s slipped like that, starting with I.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gilbert dismisses, literally waving a hand as Roderich seats himself in the cozy armchair across from his guest. Elegant stockinged feet are brought up to tuck under the pillow that leans against the armrest, and it’s such an endearingly familiar motion that Gilbert almost smiles.
He catches himself at the last moment.
“I don’t care who you date or fuck or fall in love with, Roddy. If it’s not me it doesn’t matter.” He wants it to be true so badly. Does saying it make it closer to truth?
Roderich does smile, a half-curve of lips with a tinge of sadness. “I never meant for it to end like it did, you know. There were plans and ideas I had, I didn’t want to… To hurt you.” He takes the pillow and places in his lap, defensively. “I miss you, Gilbert.”
For what feels like infinity but what could be a few seconds, neither of them say anything. The words hang between, given but not received.
“You shattered my fucking heart, Roderich, and I haven’t even started to pick up the pieces yet. And here you are, three months down the line dating Eliza like I never happened.”
With his arm stretched across the back of the couch, Gilbert feels the burn of fresh cuts being pulled at. He feels how the ache in his chest expands with each word he spits venomously at Roderich over the coffee table, and he tastes spearmint again, burning his tongue and cheeks and throat. However much Roderich misses him, Gilbert misses him a thousand times more.
He misses silent conversations and constant physical affection and genuine comfort and the feeling of safety and comfort and warmth and home and he misses Roderich. There hasn’t been a day since their breakup where he hasn’t thought of Roderich, hasn’t laughed or cried or just thought of him because they fit so fucking perfectly, and Gilbert has never truly understood how they got here.
Roderich’s muted gasp is what finally brings him back to the living room couch where he’s sitting. Behind his glasses, his beautiful eyes are rimmed with tears threatening to fall and suddenly Gilbert feels almost as bad as he’s felt in the past few months. “Rod-” he wants to say, but he doesn’t get past the first syllable before he’s crying too, trying to let every apology and accusation and sobs spill out all at once, and they’re two barely-adults sitting in a living room and crying.
“What are you doing?” Roderich asks when he catches his breath a minute later, eyes caught on how Gilbert’s right hand has fisted itself in the material of his t-shirt, wrapped around his front and curling on the left.
“Oh,” Gilbert says, and realizes. He looks up guiltily, and lets go. “I’m getting some water.” He goes to the kitchen, rummaging through cabinets and drawers that haven’t changed, and fills a glass. When he turns around, finishing his first glass, Roderich has gotten up and is pulling out the blankets from the ottoman, and he tosses them onto the couch. One, a purple one that Gilbert remembers well, is saved to be wrapped around Roderich’s shoulders once he settles onto the opposite end of the couch from where Gilbert was.
“Come here,” Roderich says, though there’s no seduction or sweetness or anything but longing.
Gilbert has become so familiar with longing, with feeling like he’s a puzzle whose final piece is lost, and suddenly he can see that piece being fit neatly into the blank space left before.
And he knows this is nothing but a platonic show of support between friends. He knows Roderich never fell in love with him. He knows he’s pining for something that never was though it seemed like it, but standing in Roderich’s kitchen and being beckoned like he was just a few months ago, Gilbert finds himself weak.
He pauses where the line of tiles and carpet meet to take his own boots off, but keeps his hoodie on. Roderich gestures to the empty space directly next to him and Gilbert happily occupies it, feeling the warmth of shared heat for real this time.
Gilbert takes the first blanket from the pile in his old seat, dramatically unfolding it and letting it pour over him as Roderich lets him settle white-blonde hair onto his chest. Gilbert feels the tears ready to come again, and instead he closes his eyes and focuses on how he can hear Roderich’s heartbeat like this.
Their legs tangle, inevitably. Gilbert has never had enough space to lay on this couch, but propped up as he is he just manages it. Roderich has no issue stretching his long limbs out, letting his fingers card through Gilbert’s hand and rubbing little circles into his shoulder. Gilbert lets his hand curl into a fist in the blanket draped over him, pretends it’s the fabric of Roderich’s shirt and holds on like he’s never going to let go.
There’s still an ache present in Gilbert’s heart. He knows this is temporary, and he knows it isn’t real. As he drifts off, though, he lets himself pretend, not for the first time, that nothing has changed and that Roderich is his. He hears the soft shhhs that interrupt Roderich’s quiet humming on occasion, and he lets himself get lost in the gentle scratching of manicured nails on his scalp.
On the edge of sleep, he finally has convinced himself it’s real. Too tired and unfocused to recall reality, he murmurs a muffled, “Love you so much, Rod,” into the grey t-shirt, and in response he feels the softest kiss placed on forehead. “I love you, too, Gilbert.” He falls asleep.