Felix kissed Dimitri before everybody else wanted to, before Dimitri was gorgeous, when he had enormous moon eyes and a page-boy haircut that made him look like a consumptive child living through the Great Depression.
Felix had thought —he doesn’t remember what he thought. Probably that Dimitri was really cute, and serious in a way that Felix respected, as a spotty pre-teen. Dimitri had lived down the street for as long as Felix could remember. Their families brought them home from the same ICU on the same day, Felix enormous and squalling, and Dimitri feeble and doe-eyed, having fought off a firing squad of fevers and diseases for the two months it had taken Felix to enter the world.
“Maybe you made me get better,” Dimitri said, in that earnest way he said embarrassing things.
“That isn’t how science works,” Felix said, but felt privately pleased at the thought.
Felix can’t remember how it happened, or what made that sleepover different than the others, or which ominous switch clicked in his heart that made him clutch the lapels of Dimitri’s pajama top and kiss him. Only that the kiss was horrible, and Dimitri had said in a gasping voice, “Felix, I like you.”
Being twelve is a terrible thing. Felix remembers clearly why they broke up, because Felix had said, “I’m bored.”
And Dimitri said, in a tremulous voice, “Of me?”
Felix had actually been talking about the board game they were playing, which they hadn’t bothered to read the rules for, and were aimlessly rolling the dice and moving the pieces at will. It was a sticky-hot summer, the kind where the fan only moved the air around, and Felix was annoyed.
“Yes,” he snapped, and Dimitri had solemnly lifted and tilted the board so that all the pieces cascaded gently into the box, folded up the board, placed it back in the box, and went home without saying a word.
That night, Felix lay awake and tried to quash the creeping fear that things would not be all right, that Ingrid would show up, with Dimitri fruitlessly pulling her back, to call Felix all the mean names in the world and burn his house down. That Dimitri would cry, all snotty and ugly the way he only did when it was someone else hurting.
The reality was much worse. Dimitri met Felix at the bus stop the next morning, and he said, “Good morning, Felix. I hope everything is okay. And Ingrid already asked me to be her boyfriend. That’s okay, right?” He was wearing the button-down shirt patterned with tiny embroidered sharks that Felix’s mom had given him for his last birthday.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Felix said, and it was like the past two months had never happened at all.
Dimitri had always been smaller than Felix when they were little, all the way through middle school until they were both sixteen, when Dimitri practically overnight shot upwards and outwards. He also got a haircut that wasn’t a bob, that gave him floppy bangs that he wore seriously, like he did everything else.
Felix woke up one day and realized that Dimitri had effectively and most definitely become someone that could be loosely defined as “a catch.” Dimitri met this declaration with the steadfast consideration that he gave everything else, like Felix’s offhand comment needed to be carefully inspected from all angles and quarantined for scientific observation.
“I see,” Dimitri said, like he was a storybook prince, and not a teenager in a crowded cafeteria, eating something that only somewhat resembled spaghetti and more-resembled a dense brick of tomato paste.
Felix threw his own brick into the trash, and pilfered Sylvain’s cookie. “I don’t even know why I’m talking about this, just forget I said anything.”
Dimitri frowned, cutely, and inched his hand across the linoleum. Felix placed a quarter of the cookie in his open palm.
Dimitri had somehow become more beautiful by the time they started college. Felix tried his best to ignore this, because they really weren’t even friends anymore. They still lived on the same street, and Dimitri came over to sit on Felix’s porch swing when he was passing by, and sent the occasional text. But largely Dimitri’s days were lent in service of new girlfriends, and boyfriends, who leaned into Dimitri’s broad shoulder at lunchtimes and pretended to be in love with him so that they could see themselves, resplendent, on his arm. He was too nice. Felix knew this well.
Felix had wondered, briefly, whether he should ask Dimitri to be his roommate—and then quickly remembered that he would be signing on a third person, who he already loathed on principle. Garreg Mach turned out to have single rooms only, and Felix let all thoughts about Dimitri run down the drain.
It went without saying that the drain backed up, immediately, when Dimitri showed up in Felix’s doorway on moving day, bottom lip stiff.
“What,” Felix said, trying to shove a pile of pants into a dresser drawer without creasing them. “Get dumped?”
“Yes,” Dimitri said, solemnly, and immediately started breaking Felix’s things.
“Stop,” Felix said, feeling an oncoming headache. As a child Dimitri had accidentally ripped Felix’s shirts, put an elbow through the Fraldarius’ basement drywall, wrenched a stapler in the first grade so hard it had snapped in two, and broken Felix’s finger by holding onto it too tightly while they were watching an illicitly obtained horror movie past their bedtime, all while sporting a physique that was more toothpick than human. Now that Dimitri was 6’ 2” and a jock, it had only gotten worse.
“Sorry,” Dimitri said, and put the crinkled photo of Felix and Glenn down carefully on Felix’s new desk.
Felix sighed. “All moved in?” He gave up on the pants, and sat on the edge of his bed, so he could only see the blurry edge of Dimitri’s face in his peripheral vision.
“Yes,” Dimitri said again, and sighed, shifting his weight. The bedframe made a distressed creaking noise. Felix counted to five silently in his head.
“Garreg Mach is,” Dimitri said, right on five, “somewhere I believe things will change.”
Felix privately thought the chapel service was overkill and that the classrooms were excessively drafty, but Dimitri had just been broken up with, even though he never really liked any of these people that much. So Felix allowed Dimitri to have dinner with him, where Dimitri was promptly drawn into a conversation about the weather by the cute boy the next table over, and ended up leaving alone when Dimitri inevitably took a long walk with the cute boy and found boyfriend number ten.
When he got back to his empty room, Felix finished putting away the last of his things, and collapsed onto the bed feeling like this was the start of another long chapter of his life. It was hard to stop thinking about Dimitri this night, having listened to an hour of him commenting on the grass, the trees, mild observations about the students around them, during that one single hour Dimitri’s attention had been solely focused on Felix, and not on his forever-changing other.
Felix tried to avoid Dimitri at Garreg Mach, which was easy, because no matter how many times he was dumped and picked up again, Dimitri was a good boyfriend. Felix was a terrible friend, so it made avoiding see him all the easier.
“Have you seen Dimitri lately?” Sylvain said, when he dropped into the seat next to Felix at lectures, cradling an enormous plastic drink cup. It was filled with what looked like moss.
“Are you drinking that?” Felix whispered, because lecture started fifteen minutes ago.
“It’s green juice,” Sylvain said, offended, and took an enormous swallow that made Felix shudder. “Answer the question.”
“No,” Felix said, and glared at him.
“Oh, interesting,” Sylvain said, which was infuriating. He had somehow never managed to stop making Felix angry in the entire time they had known each other.
Felix aggressively took notes for the next ten minutes in blessed peace. Then Sylvain said, “Claude’s having a party.”
Was Felix in a horrible teen drama? He hated Sylvain, and whoever Claude was. “No thanks,” Felix said, and resisted the urge to jab Sylvain in the ribs with his pen.
“Suit yourself,” Sylvain said, and left Felix alone until the end of lecture, when he frog-marched Felix to the quad to force Felix into taking photos of Sylvain in front of the statue of Saint Seiros.
After they finished, and Sylvain started making noise about buying food, Felix escaped mercifully to the gym, where he ran lap after lap and tried not to think about Dimitri too much. It was hard. There had never before been a time in Felix’s life where Dimitri wasn’t within twenty feet, the span of a classroom away, just across the street, falling asleep in Felix’s bed while Felix crept into the kitchen to spirit cookies upstairs. Garreg Mach was the first time Felix had ever looked around and found Dimitri’s blond head missing, where Dimitri could be doing and seeing anyone without Felix knowing at all.
Felix decided he liked it.
In the following months, Felix found it was a passing fantasy that Dimitri wouldn’t follow him everywhere. He was just—handsome in a way that defied all odds. Nobody and nothing was impervious to the concentrated force of his face. It punched through the admittedly paper-thin shell Felix had put up around himself with the force of a ten-ton tractor.
The girl who spent all her time napping behind him in his differential equations class nudged him with her foot. He glared at her over his shoulder, incredulous.
“Hi,” she said, dragging out the vowel. She wasn’t even pretending to take notes. All she had with her was a tiny handbag.
Felix turned around to face front.
“Rude, I was going to say, you’ve done the third problem wrong. Integration error.”
Her voice was grating. But she was right, Felix found, annoyed. He turned around again.
“My name is Hilda.”
“Felix,” Felix said, staring at her waist-length pink hair.
“Don’t go thinking I’m great at math,” Hilda said, widening her eyes. “I got the answers from Lysithea.”
“Sure,” Felix said, “Thanks anyway.”
“So,” Hilda said, tucking a strand of pink hair behind her ear, “You know Dimitri, right?”
Felix regarded her. Was she dating him? He had to stop his lip from curling meanly. He had never been friends with any of Dimitri’s partners, but he at least maintained a veneer of civility.
“Oh, stop making that face. I’m not interested in him. Well, I am. He’s my friend,” Hilda said.
This stopped Felix up short. Dimitri was notoriously terrible at making friends, which was why Felix had been his best friend for his entire life. He had a sort of glaze about him that made it difficult to get past the layer of social nicety that acquaintances had, if someone hadn’t fallen first for how gorgeous he was.
“Really,” Felix said, reassessing Hilda.
“Really,” Hilda said. “He mentioned you.”
Felix shrugged. It was hard and a little painful to think about what Dimitri thought about Felix. He settled for an obliging tilt of his head, and felt immensely grateful that the professor hurtled through the door at the same moment, shouting an apology and asking for the homework.
After class, Hilda yanked on the back of his hoodie to stop him from leaving. “What,” Felix hissed, yanking the fabric out of her hand.
“Catty much,” Hilda said, fishing a chapstick out of her purse. “Aren’t you curious at least a little bit about me? I’m very interesting, you know. Let’s, I don’t know, review homework answers or something.”
“If you actually do it,” Felix said, and then pushed past her complaint into the early-afternoon sunshine.
“Dimitri’s made friends,” Felix said to Sylvain later that day, trying to sound casual about it and falling a little bit short.
“Poor Felix,” Sylvain said, mockingly. Maybe Felix had fallen a lot short. “Who?”
Sylvain knew everybody and was friends with everybody, but still chose to bother Felix around the clock, which was how Felix knew Sylvain was a terrible person. He derived an unholy glee from riling Felix up, a skill he had honed dutifully since he had tricked Felix into thinking the sandbox was quicksand in kindergarten.
Felix stole a sip of Sylvain’s drink and gagged. Sylvain laughed.
“Hilda?” Felix said, after guzzling water for twenty seconds. “Pink hair. In my differential equations class.”
“I know her,” Sylvain said, predictably, and launched into a five-minute monologue about whatever girl he was seeing lately, and how he had met Hilda, and a manner of other boring things that Felix stopped listening to five words in.
“Do you ever get tired of listening to yourself speak,” Felix said, flatly, regretting the decision to meet Sylvain, as he often did.
“Felix, one day you’re going to think you’re so lucky to know me. You’re going to think, I’m so happy to know Sylvain, he’s so interesting and smart and handsome. Wish I could get myself a guy like that,” Sylvain said.
Felix, stared at him across the table, revolted. “I should have deferred enrollment for a year, so that you would be gone by the time I got here.”
“I’d get held back for you any time,” Sylvain said, tossing his hair in the annoying way he thought was alluring, but was mostly just greasy and disgusting. “Anyway, I know you would never leave Dimitri, so you don’t have to lie.”
“What?” Felix said, trying not to go cross-eyed with rage.
“Most of your life is talking about Dimitri. You’d probably die of boredom or something the second you were separated,” Sylvain said, taking an enormous swallow of his nightmare drink.
“It is not,” Felix said, and tried to think about what he did outside of Dimitri. It wasn’t his fault, they had grown up right next to each other! This was unfair.
“It is too,” Sylvain said. Felix wanted to reach over and throttle him. “And now he’s made new friends. Don’t die, Felix. I’ll be so sad.”
“You are annoying and nobody likes you,” Felix said, taking Sylvain’s drink away and throwing it in the trash on his way out.
“I was done with it! Thanks!” Sylvain called. Felix flipped him the bird.
Everyone around Felix had assured him, many times, that it was normal to be homesick. Felix didn’t feel homesick, at least not for his parents, or the quiet street that he had lived on his entire life. He didn’t feel homesick so much as restless. He felt it most acutely at the end of every day, after each day’s series of classes had been attended and meals eaten, and he was walking back towards his room. A sense of wanting to burst into a run, towards something he couldn’t quite grasp in the distance.
He wondered what Dimitri was doing, and what he would say, if Felix had words to put to the feeling, and somehow managed to say so. He couldn’t imagine, which was strange in itself, that there were parts of Dimitri that Felix couldn’t construct in his mind, because he didn’t know them.
Felix supposed it was what people had warned him about, in the end.