Theo has always taken a rather strong disliking to mainstream, popular music. He doesn’t understand it, it seems to have no substance or depth whatsoever — simply put, it’s repetitive beats with the same lyrics on a loop talking about falling in love or being jealous of someone else who’s falling in love, thrown together by someone who just wants the money and the fame. He much prefers those songs that have actually got a story behind them, a soul and a reason for existing - songs that could put his thoughts into words for him when his mind became a blank sheet of paper, which was, as it turns out… all the time.
He’s still young, he knows that, and he should probably join in with all the other people his age who actually enjoy listening to the music, but he just can’t stand it nor understand it. He knows that the issue isn’t as deep as he makes it out to be, but music just seems so worthless to other people or rather, they take it for granted. People don’t understand the words they’re dancing to and Theo thinks that’s a real shame. He knows his mother either would have agreed with him, since she always had the same appreciation for music as Theo does — but on the other, more likely hand, she’d say; It’s just music, puppy. Let them enjoy it.
Theo is only having these thoughts because he’s sat at a New York bar not far from Hobie’s, where he’s been living for a few years now. He was in the middle of studying for an upcoming test for college when Hobie poked his head in the doorway and suggested that he should take a break, which seemed wise because his head was pounding and Russian words were swirling around in his mind in a voice he’d rather forget.
Sometimes the mind speaks too soon.
He glances across the room, just for a moment, thinking absolutely nothing of the gesture. People take a look at their surroundings all the time because they like to know what is happening around them, but it’s perfectly safe to say that Theo immediately frowns at what he sees. He has to think back to if he’s taken anything during the day that could possibly make him hallucinate, but the answer came back as an undeniable no. What, or rather who, Theo was looking at was real - but after he had seen it he did everything possible to convince himself that he didn’t.
Their eyes connect for a single second and its enough to make Theo feel nauseous - what the fuck is he doing here? He thinks, as he notices he’s got the same look on his face all those years ago when they met for the first time. The corner of his mouth jerks up in a smile and Theo feels the urge to cry or empty his insides in a nearby bathroom, because now his heart is his throat and it’s beating faster than the speed of the car his dad was driving when he died. He feels like he’s going to slip off the bar stool and into a black hole where birds don’t sing and explosions don’t kill mothers.
Boris fucking Pavlikovsky.
The pleasure is all mine.
He’s just standing there, looking like a slightly older version of his younger self, which makes sense — because the last time Theo saw him was four and a half years ago on a sidewalk in the Vegas suburbs just after he- no, that’s not important . He just looks a little taller and a little less lanky than he did back then, his hair still in slightly neater curls and a few fall in his face as he tilts his head back in curiosity. With one foot propped up against the wall behind him and his leg bent at the knee, he folds his arms across his white shirt clad chest, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Blue lights dance over his silhouette and Theo swears he can see a trail of smoke escape from his parted lips but he knows for a fact he’s not smoking. Maybe it’s just a visible afterthought, or it would be — if thoughts could be seen in the form of smoke, rotting our brain instead of our lungs, killing us just as quickly. This is going to be the death of him.
Theo doesn’t know how long he’s been looking at him but he can’t seem to tear his eyes away, the previously pounding music dulls down to a low static sound in Theo’s mind and darkness creeps in from the edges of his vision; surrounding the figure of his old friend, making him feel as though he is about to pass out. Boris doesn’t move, the two of them keep gazing at each other with completely unreadable expressions as the world moves on around them, but they aren’t aware of it.
Theo isn’t quite sure how he feels, first it’s shock - that’s clear. But after a few moments, he feels something boiling inside of him that isn’t exactly fair, but he feels it as clear as day. He frowns and blinks for what feels like the first time in a long time, and turns back around on his bar stool to face the other way. He looks down at his hands that rest on top of the bar surface and sees that he has created two fists, causing him to sigh and shake his head, stretching his hands out he wipes his sweaty palms on his trousers and lets out a shaky breath.
No, he’s really angry.
He’s not sure why at first, and he doesn’t want to find out, so he does what he always does - tries to make his mind blank. Numbness is better than feeling and acting out, acting out leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to death and death leads to absolutely nothing. But that was the thing, maybe feeling absolutely nothing was better than feeling something — Theo had lost count of the amount of times he had wished to feel absolutely nothing, but the unfortunate thing was; you had to feel something to get to feeling absolutely nothing.
If death is something you desire then you have to feel pain to get there, you have to think about who you’ll leave behind and who you’ll disappoint even if they aren’t breathing. Theo just wants to feel numb so he can just pass through his life like a normal functioning member of society, but the boy (well, man ) stood looking at him from the other side of the room starts to bring back everything Theo wants to forget.
He’s fully aware that their relationship was different and the things that they did were things that just friends wouldn’t even consider doing, he’d tried to erase everything from his memory in the years since he left him on that lonely sidewalk but every time his mind crosses the subject he only finds himself thinking more so that it was something a lot more than either of them would ever dare to admit.
He breathes in slowly and thinks about his arm around his waist, pulling him closer when he couldn’t sleep. He moves his shaking hand towards his almost empty glass and thinks about the times he’d see him walking around the house wearing his clothes because he didn’t have the effort to find any of his own. He grips the glass and thinks about that night, that night that changed a lot of things but never got talked about, where they were on opposite sides of the bed and he reached out for Theo’s hand and he just held it. It was something they both needed and unspokenly it made them feel at home. He squeezes the glass tighter and thinks about all the times he never said anything, you’re such a fucking coward, you’ve always been a coward. The glass shatters in his hand and it doesn’t hurt.
Why doesn’t it fucking hurt?
He looks down and sees the fragments of glass glinting in the flashing lights and a sensation of nausea washes over him when he turns over his hand and looks at his blood covered palm, the crimson liquid already starting to drip onto the hardwood surface of the bar. It makes him think of the time his bloody knuckles were pressed to a bloody mouth, and it occurs to him that this is fate. He’s bound by blood to him, he always had this feeling that he’d show up in his life again - but he’s not ready. He’s not prepared, but a part of him always knew that they’d come together again, even if he never wanted them to for reasons he’d rather keep to himself.
“What are you looking at there, huh?”
Theo registers that someone has spoken and he knows exactly who it is, and they have sat on the bar stool right next to him — yet he can’t bring himself to look away from the palm of his hand. It shakes as the blood starts to create a puddle, darkening the cuffs of his shirt, making it look like he’d been caught red handed at the scene of a crime. He doesn’t stop to wonder why no one has noticed the mess he’s created, he remains frozen as if all the returning memories have clogged up his brain and made him glitch out like an old computer. But then he blinks, and it’s gone. The glass is intact, his hand is clean, not a drop of blood in sight.
He’s not angry at Boris, he’s angry at himself.
He puts his hand in a light fist this time so he’s not forced to look at his palm and shakes his head to get rid of the last of whatever he just experienced. Breathing in, he pinches the bridge of his nose under his glasses which he adjusts to give him an excuse for not looking at the person who is sat next to him expectantly as if waiting for a response to a marriage proposal. In truth, he has no idea what to say to him. He doesn’t know if he has anything to say to him at all.
Theo clears his throat and leans forward in his seat, clasping his hands together and resting them on the bar. “Nothing.”
“An old friend doesn’t deserve a hello?” He laughs lightly and out of his peripheral vision Theo sees him leaning forwards in attempt to get him to look at him. “Shit, you won’t even look at me, Potter. If it is him that I’m speaking to right now, no?”
Theo tries not to smile at the mention of the old nickname but at the same time he also tries not to cry, hearing his voice and even the breaths between his laughs makes Theo’s world fall to pieces — or come back together, he can’t decide which one and both of them are equally as likely. He feels a little dizzy, but he can’t just leave and despite not being ready for Boris to show up out of nowhere, he wants to know what he has to say.
He finishes whatever drink he has left and places the glass back down with a thud, shaking his head to himself, he then turns slightly and catches Boris’ eye, which is enough to make him want to turn back around immediately afterwards. A huge smile spreads across the guy’s face and he nods, giving Theo the once over; or maybe the three times over if you were counting.
“Hello, Boris.” Theo pushes out a smile and tries to not choke out his words. He remembers how easy it was to talk to him not long after they met for the first time, but this time Theo felt like he had to get over a wall in his own mind before he could communicate with him just through looks - like they always used to do.
Boris flicks a fallen curl out of his eye and Theo takes notice of how his hair is still long, he always liked it that way. “Wow, look at you! Little Potter has grown into a big boy!” Boris smiles and then places a hand on Theo’s arm which makes him suck in a harsh breath that he hopes Boris doesn’t notice. “Look like shit though, if I am honest.”
“Fuck you.” Theo immediately replies as he always used to do, it almost comes out of his mouth without him even thinking about it and he frowns, but after a few short moments and the fact that Boris let out a quiet laugh - he lets himself smile.
“There he is!” He moves his hand and punches Theo in the shoulder lightly. “I was starting to think something had possessed you, that would have made this reunion very interesting… ”
“Are you saying you’d rather me be possessed?”
Boris shakes his head and rolls his eyes. “Stupid, you are. Ty Glup. Foolish. I just missed my Potter, and here he is. All grown up.”
Theo feels himself easing into the conversation, just like the old times. “I could say the same about you.”
The fondness in Boris’ eyes soon turns to confusion and he tilts his head slightly as he looks straight at Theo. “That I am stupid? Or that you missed me?”
Theo feels his heartbeat pick up when Boris says that, he shrugs and then smirks; which you would only notice if you paid very close attention. “Both.”
“So I see.” Boris nods with his unmistakable charming smile and quirks his eyebrows upwards as he turns around in his seat to face the bar. Tapping his hands down on the surface and leaning forward, he gets the barman’s attention. “Two vodkas? Me and my friend have a lot of catching up to do.”
Theo is still in some state of shock, he still can’t quite fathom how Boris just showed up out of nowhere like he’d fallen out of the sky. He had decided that he would never see him again a long time ago, but here he is, by his side again. Strangely, it feels right, like all this time he didn’t really know where he was supposed to be, and now everything is starting to feel like it makes sense. He understands why people listen to shitty music. It’s because they don’t care. They can’t hear it because they’re too distracted by someone else in their life, someone who makes them happy — someone who makes them feel like they’re not alone.
Theo can’t really hear the music anymore, and for a moment, he’s okay with it.
He shakes his head to himself and then frowns when he looks at Boris, who is sat there like he is waiting for Theo to speak first. “What are you doing here?”
Boris shrugs, vague. “Was just passing by, you know me. Always passing by.” He explains, although Theo decides it’s not a very effective explanation. “I never really noticed until I looked hard enough. But here I am, Potter!”
“I don’t understand, you’re—” Theo starts, trying to form a coherent sentence whilst still being in shock. “So, what… you looked for me?”
“Of course I looked for you, as soon as I was able to.” Boris says, and Theo focuses his attention on the bartender when he places the two drinks down on the table in front of them. He nods at him in thanks, and Boris continues. “It was hard, very hard. When you left, I begged Xandra to let me stay because I had nowhere to go and my father left me. I worked my way up from there, I suppose.”
“You stayed with Xandra ?” Theo almost laughs.
“What else was I to do? It was the only option! But, fuck— it felt strange. I did not like being there alone, without you, I mean.” Boris turns to his glass and picks it up, Theo watches him.
Theo looks down, not sure if he’s about to smile, cry, or throw his glass across the room in a rage. Maybe it’ll end up being all of the above. “I thought you’d be okay, I mean… what happened to Kotku?”
Boris shakes his head and waves a hand in a gesture, not worth explaining. “She left as well as everyone else. Soon enough it felt like it was only me and Xandra around. Fucking crazy, it was.” He places the glass back on the table and Theo focuses on the silver ring that’s on his thumb. “No matter, I got through it. And here you are. You know, Potter, I always knew in my heart that we would meet again. Like some sort of— what’s the word… fate? Yes, that’s it. We were always meant to come back together, you and I.”
Theo quirks up an eyebrow in curiosity, he thought the same; but he’d never let Boris know that. “You think so?”
“I know so, Potter.”
It goes silent for a few moments and Theo feels a million different things dawning on him at the same time, floating to the surface of his brain. At first it was okay, he was happy to see Boris, but after spending moments looking at him and seeing how all of his different features had changed — more prominent cheekbones, slightly fuller eyebrows, longer eyelashes, broader shoulders, an easy smile and a smirk that never seems to leave his face — Theo wants to scream. He wants to throw his fist into a nearby wall because he’s feeling again. Everything has changed, but certain feelings are exactly the same as the day he left and he is absolutely furious. He doesn’t want to feel this way.
But you feel it, don’t you?
You never stopped feeling it, Theo, don’t you realise that?
He feels the anger starting to rise inside of him again, so he does all he knows how to do. He pushes it out towards the person who is closest to him.
Theo clears his throat and shakes his head as if it will cleanse him of his thoughts. “I can’t do this, Boris.”
Boris’ smile immediately transforms into a frown, he starts to reach forward but Theo leans to the side, so his hand stops in the middle of the air; confusion written all over his face. “What do you—”
“You can’t—” Theo starts, trying to find some words that will make sense. “You can’t just come back into my life and expect everything to be the way it was!”
Boris almost scoffs and leans forward, dropping his hand to his thigh, a disbelieving look in his tired eyes. Theo looks at how his hand hangs down as his elbow rests on the edge of the table, scars and fresh bruises reminding Theo of a time that he had decided would be better forgotten. Boris brings his voice down to a harsh whisper, taking Theo back to when they used to whisper during the few classes they showed up to, making jokes and sharing secrets — but this situation couldn’t be further removed from that if they tried. “Must I remind you that you are the one who left, not me.”
Theo sharply sucks in a breath. He needs to leave. The walls are closing in. “You didn't follow me.”
“There was no way that I could do that.” Boris shakes his head, and Theo could tell that he was getting frustrated with every passing second.
“Well, you could’ve tried.”
“I promise I did.”
“Clearly.” Theo scoffs.
“I am not lying, Potter! `Tchyo za ga`lima? Believe me, I tried. Wasn’t fucking easy!”
“Stop looking at me like that.”
“Like what ?” Boris raises his hands up in defense. “Like I want to knock your head in or like ya khochu potselovat' tebya?”
Theo stops because his heart has dropped to the bottom of his stomach. Theo stops because he feels on the verge of passing out. Theo stops because he can feel himself shaking with something between rage and being overwhelmed.
Theo stops because Boris just said he wants to kiss him.
He just looks at Boris, expressionless. “Ya vykhozhu.”
He tells him he’s leaving, and he does.
He stands up quickly and the sound of his chair scraping back brings him back to reality, he notices the look of shock on Boris’ face because, of course, he didn’t know that Theo was in the middle of studying russian and Boris could no longer get away with saying things he didn’t want Theo to understand.
“Hey, wait —” He hears him say, but he’s already halfway to the back exit.
If he stayed any longer he’d think about what Boris had said, over and over. He’d think about it so much that he’d want it more than he already did.
Outside it’s freezing, but Theo doesn’t really have the energy to care for insignificant things like the temperature or the fact that he just left the bar without paying for his drinks. None of those things matter, he just needs to get outside to get some air, to breathe and fill his lungs with some fresh, somewhat polluted New York City air. A million different thoughts were coming back, ones he was convinced he pushed to the back of his brain a long time ago, but they’re resurfacing like a dead body floating to the top of a lake. His heart is racing and he has the urge to slide down the wall and sit on the floor, but he just closes his eyes for a moment and feels his chest tightening with every passing second.
He only realises he’s come out the back way into an alley when his eyes focus on some empty beer crates and trash cans, and he relaxes ever so slightly because he knows no one is watching him. He’s fully aware that Boris probably saw where he went and will follow him outside, because that was what he always did. Followed Theo to school, followed Theo back to his house… followed Theo into the middle of the road only to drag him back to the sidewalk again. Theo knows he’s going to appear sooner or later and he has to face him, and for a moment, he thinks that running away is an option - but he decides against it. He’s tired of running.
He tries to focus on his breathing which is hard when you have a million other things to think about. He leans against the brick wall that is behind him and crosses his arms across his chest, hugging himself - thinking that maybe if he does it tight enough he will suffocate. They’ll find his body out in the alleyway and they’ll call it an accident, they’ll shove him in a body bag and bury him in the ground. People wouldn’t be upset, not really. Hobie would get over it, he would wish he could tell him he was sorry but he wouldn’t be able to. But he’d be okay over time, wouldn’t he?
There was Boris, though, and Theo really didn’t like to think about how Boris would react to his death. He often flicked through all the people he knew in his mind and debated if they’d show up at his funeral or not, but he never let his mind stop on Boris - because there seemed to be some sense of hope in his eyes, like not everything was lost. He looked like he had faith in Theo, and even just moments ago, he looked happy to see him. He looked like he’d missed him, and Theo just left him there because he’s too much of a coward to face up to his feelings. He didn’t like to think about how Boris would react to his death because he saw how he reacted when Theo told him that was what he wanted.
And the walls start to crumble.
Theo slowly turns around to see Boris stood in front of the door that finishes closing shut behind him, the strip of light on the floor disappearing and leaving them in the moonlight. Theo can feel his watchful eyes all over him, and he watches him right back, noticing how he takes one step forward and then stops; crossing his arms across his chest like he doesn’t know where else to put them. Theo mirrors the action, as a way of making them equal.
“Did I do something wrong?” Boris asks, and it almost breaks Theo’s heart. “You know I never want to hurt you.”
Theo looks down and shakes his head. “No, no. You didn’t.”
“Then why all the fuss back there, huh? What was that about?”
“I’m just…” Theo starts, trying to think of something useful to say. He wants to change the subject, maybe it would be easier if he talked about how he felt indirectly. “I’m studying russian, you know.”
Boris takes a few paces and ends up leaning against the brick wall, folding his arms, in the same position as he was when Theo first spotted him. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah.” Theo nods, shoving his hands in his pockets. He’s calmer now. “Because of you.”
Boris smiles and Theo can see it in his eyes. “That’s… That’s great.” He looks him up and down for what feels like the millionth time, he’s studying him. Like he’s looking for every single secret and hidden thought his friend had ever had. He looks thoughtful, patient, like if he gazes for long enough he’ll find what he’s looking for. “You’ve never been very good with your words, have you?”
Theo laughs lightly. “You’ve only just noticed?”
Boris nods and licks his lips briefly. “Ah, this is why we always talked with our eyes. Makes sense now.”
To say that Theo was a little surprised when he heard Boris say this would be an understatement, in almost every situation where they exchanged thoughts through their gazes, Theo thought he was the only one who noticed it. It occurs to him that this matters to Boris, too. He never forgot any of the things that Theo had tried to and now he realises that it’s okay. The way he feels, and the way he’s always felt… is okay.
I love you no matter what, puppy.
“That night, when I left,” Theo breaks their brief silence, feeling encouraged by the thought of his mother in his mind. She’d want him to be happy, and if he’s going to be happy, he’s going to have to be honest. “Did you understand what I wanted to say?”
“I believe I did.” Boris just smiles softly, and Theo swears he looks like he’s going to cry. “Did you understand what I wanted to say?”
Theo nods without a second thought.
“You know, I—” Boris sniffles and kicks back against the wall so he’s standing up straight, taking a few steps towards Theo who thinks he might bury himself in one of the trash cans when he hears what he says next. “I do not kiss just anyone.”
Theo tries not to choke on his words. “I didn’t think you meant it like… like that. ”
“Like what, huh?” Boris raises an eyebrow. They’re still a good few strides from each other when he steps forward again.
“I—” Theo starts.
I dare you.
Theo’s heart is beating so fast he fears it may fly out of his chest. “You know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I do, Potter.”
He’s just saying that. He knows exactly what I mean.
Theo pulls his hands out of his pockets and holds them out for a few moments before letting them drop to his sides. “What do you want me to do? Fucking… show you?”
Boris shrugs, when it’s clear that it is what he wants Theo to do. “Whatever works.”
You fucking asshole.
Theo’s not sure where the sudden surge of confidence comes from, but suddenly he’s taking those strides forward; he’s breaking that distance between them. He’s saying fuck you to all of those voices in the back of his head that tell him that he should never feel what he feels. Some will call it a miracle when Theodore Decker takes those eager steps forward and puts both hands on either side of Boris Pavlikovsky’s face and kisses him like it’s his only purpose for being on the earth, but most — they’ll call it fate, or some other four letter word.
Which was, of course…
Boris is leaning against the wall again, just lightly, as Theo leans down to kiss him; because he’s the taller one now. Everything makes sense. Everything is okay. Theo feels Boris’ hand on his waist and he completely melts into it, feeling his curls between his fingers and his smile against his mouth.
It would be a pleasure to die like this.
They have to pull away it becomes hard for them to breathe, and Theo can’t stop smiling when he sees the look on Boris’ face. His cheeks are pink and his lips almost look swollen. He’s speechless. “Oh, like that.”
Theo laughs and looks down to their shoes, side by side. This is how it’s supposed to be. “Yes, like that. ”
“Fucking idiots, we are.” Boris shakes his head, places an arm on his shoulder and lets his hand slide down to find Theo’s own. He holds it.
“You don’t say.”
“ Ya liublyoo tibya, ty glup .” Boris smiles after he brings his thumb up to Theo’s chin, tilting his head up to catch his eyes. “Now fuck off and kiss me again before I punch you in the mouth.”
He has never wanted to be alive as much as he does right now.
I’m so proud of you, puppy.
His hand is on the side of Boris’ face, and he traces his thumb underneath his eye. “ Ya tozhe tibya liublyoo. ”
I love you, too.