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and a current runs between us

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there’s a niche in his chest
where a heart would fit perfectly,
and he thinks if he could just maneuver one into place–
well then, game over.
— Richard Siken

For a long time, Theo mostly treated the holidays like a chore. An obligation— social rituals to be practiced and observed.

He splurges for Christmas, usually. Buys nice gifts for Pippa and Hobie. He takes pride in it. Always spends too long and too much money trying to get just the right thing.

They’re bad Christmas gifts though. It’s a token— an apology for not being able to give away any genuine piece of himself. Expensive, perfect, and practical. He’s good at finding presents.

This year, he has Boris to buy a gift for too. Theo tells himself it’s the first time he’ll have to spend his time picking out a gift for a man, even though it isn’t true. He doesn’t have a problem finding something for Hobie every year. But Boris is a different story.

It’s hard to say what they are to each other. Spring and summer have come and gone since Amsterdam and the painting. Boris is around in the city more than he’s gone and the two of them are thick as thieves once again.

More literally, this time. But better thieves— upright, off everything but exorbitantly expensive bottles of wine that Theo can’t quite help himself around.

They are, in some way, together. Theo doesn’t know what to call it. Thinking too hard about his relationship with Boris cramps his stomach up with anxiety for days on end. The words that come to mind offer him no comfort— best friend is woefully inadequate. Boyfriend and partner both make Theo want to retreat into the darkest corner of Hobie’s workshop and never come out again.

Boris doesn’t seem concerned about any of it. He has the loop of Popchyk’s leash in one hand, dangling loosely while the white dog trots along at his ankle. The other hand keeps bumping against the back of Theo’s as they walk.

It’s a constant reminder that Theo could take Boris's hand and hold it if he wanted. He never does.

“Popchyk. You are starting to look fit again,” Boris says, looking down at the dog. He has a particular warmth when he talks to Popchyk— a tone that Theo doesn’t hear him use anywhere else. “He is— isn’t he, Potter?”

Boris's love for Popchyk is only rivaled by Popchyk’s love for him.

“I’m not the one who thought he was fat,” Theo says. Boris's knuckles bump against Theo’s with the rhythm of his steps. From the scant touch of their skin, Theo thinks his hands must be cold.

“He was fat. Not in good condition. Not at all.” Borish shakes his head, black curls bouncing around his face. “Are you warm enough, Potter? Should we get coffee?”

Theo’s hand— the one hanging between him and Boris— is cold too. He has the other shoved into his pocket for warmth. It would be warmer if they held hands.

“Coffee would be great.” Welcome, even. It’s an excuse. If he has a cup of coffee in his hand he won’t have to agonize over Boris's thin fingers.

It doesn’t take long to find a coffee cart. Popchyk dances around at Boris's feet for a moment when they stop, expecting Boris to buy him a treat as well.

“Skating rink is going in soon, yes?” Boris asks, leaning on his toes like it might appear just out of view. “Would you like to go this year?”

“That’s for tourists,” Theo says, blowing the steam away from his coffee. Black— too bitter for his taste, probably. The first few sips burn too much for him to tell if it’s good or not.

“What shall we do, then?” Boris asks, a smile on his face.

“Do we have to do something?” Theo asks. He smiles in return— more muted, uneasy.

The streets only get busier when the holidays close in. Tourists, visiting families, traveling businessmen. But the crush of bodies swarming the streets of New York doesn’t make Theo feel anonymous or invisible. There are only more people around to observe him, waiting for a slip.

“Of course,” Boris says. His smile inches further up his face, knocked crooked across his cheeks. “Would be a waste not to. Is our first Christmas back together again.”

The words don’t make Theo blush. Boris senses his embarrassment anyway. He takes a half-step closer, so they’re standing toe-to-toe. Not touching yet but close. Within comfortable reach of one another.

“I don’t think—” Theo starts, cutting himself off in the middle with a shake of his head. “I wouldn’t phrase it that way.”

“I know.” Boris's tone lacks guilt. “That’s why I said so. We are back together, you and I. Have not been together for many years.”

You and I. It makes Theo’s stomach flutter— sick, nervous. They’re only a handful of blocks from the shop and it’s easy to be overheard. It’s even easier to be misunderstood. They may be together, in some way or another, but Theo doesn’t want to share with the whole city.

Theo inches a step back— widens the space between them to a socially acceptable distance. He begins walking again. Boris and Popchyk fall in step beside him.

If he’s disappointed Boris in some way, it doesn’t show on his face. Theo is always looking for it— waiting for the day he’s evaded Boris trying to hold his hand or cringed at an arm around his shoulder and gone too far.

“What should we do, then?” Theo asks when they stop at the next corner. The coffee is too bitter and too hot against his palm. He lets it dangle from the tips of his fingers instead, a barrier in the space between them.

“Should let me cook for you again.” Boris has the handle of Popchyk’s leash around his wrist, his paper cup of coffee in the same hand. “Like when we were kids.”

Maybe this is only intentional in Theo’s imagination. Boris might not be waiting for Theo to grab his hand and lace their fingers together. Theo never does, after all. He can’t stand the idea of people seeing them touch. Misinterpreting it. Theo doesn’t think of himself as gay and he’s never asked what Boris thinks he is.

He’s dying to know. He fears the answer too much to ask.

“The praznyky?” Theo asks, surprised the word comes to mind at all. It slides awkwardly out of his mouth and Boris laughs at his accent, head tilted back between his shoulders, exposing the pale line of his throat.

Theo spends too long staring. He tries not to do it in public— combs his eyes over the individual pieces of Boris with lecherous intent; his throat, the knobs of his wrist, the dip of his back.

Da,” Boris says, smug. “We can invite people if you like. Friends.”

“It can’t be just us?” Theo asks, almost too fast. It seems like a waste. If people join them then Theo will spend the whole night locked in a struggle with himself— trying to stay far enough away from Boris to dampen the desire to touch. The desire to be touched by him.

“It can,” Boris says, nodding. “If you like.”

“I would,” Theo says, following Boris across the street. They’re headed back in the direction of Hobart & Blackwell, the doorways they pass getting more and more familiar to Theo.

When they arrive, Theo will take Popchyk inside and Boris will grab a cab back to his apartment. Theo will stay up and work until he’s too tired to make sense of invoices and item descriptions. He will lay in bed and miss the nights that he’s fallen asleep with Boris beside him.

“I think,” Boris starts, bumping his elbow against Theo’s. “You left something important in my place.”

“I did?” Theo asks, his brow furrowing. He does his best not to leave his things in Boris's space. They are leading separate lives— Theo’s belongings remain in his room.

“Yes,” Boris says, his smile growing wider. “Very important thing. You should come get it. Right away.”

“I’ll come by tomorrow morning,” Theo says. He drops the dregs of his coffee in a trash can. Boris clicks his tongue against his teeth, shaking his head.

“No, no,” he says. There’s a twinkle in his eyes— Theo remembers it from when they were kids. He’s found a rule he wants to see broken. “Tonight. Come with me. You shouldn’t be without it.”

“Okay.” Theo feels as if he’s being defeated in some way. Boris smiles and he certainly looks triumphant. “Sure.”

“Where is it?” Theo asks, looking around Boris's living room. His place isn’t extravagant. Not quite clean but not dirty either. There’s a low shelf with books in various languages— ones Theo isn’t even sure if Boris speaks or not.

“Where is what?” Boris asks, draping his coat over the hook near the door. “Take this off.” He reaches out, pulling at the collar of Theo’s coat. “You wear so many layers! Must be sweating under there.”

“You said I left something here,” Theo says. He opens the buttons of his coat one by one, sliding it off his shoulders and passing into Boris's hands for him to hang.

“Did I?” Boris says, blinking rapidly. His smile is wide, mischievous. “Must have made mistake. I do not see something of yours.”

“You could’ve asked,” Theo says, shaking his head. “If you wanted me to come over.”

“Ah, but I ask and you say no,” Boris says. He still has his shoes on, a habit that drives Theo a little crazy. Theo puts his loafers in a neat line by the door. “This way, you come over. You realize nothing is here. You decide to stay.”

“Is that what I’m going to do?” Theo asks, hand on hip. It’s a posture he wouldn’t dare adopt where anyone else could see it.

“I hope,” Boris says. “It’s cold! You should stay inside. Here. With me.”

Theo knows when he’s beat. “I’ll stay. I’m here already.”

“Should we order food, then?” Boris asks, stepping in closer. He sizes Theo up— his fitted blazer, vest, shirt-and-tie underneath. “You do not look comfortable, Potter.”

Theo’s outfits are not constructed to be comfortable. The fit is impeccable but it takes a multitude of layers to achieve. Before Boris kisses him, his fingers are already twisting open the buttons of Theo’s vest.

“Boris,” Theo says, his voice catching in his throat. This is the closest they’ve been all day. Boris's breath is warm, hitting the hollow of Theo’s throat. “I can— I can take it off if you want.”

“Quicker this way,” Boris says, peeling open the vest and pushing it and the jacket off of Theo’s shoulders. It slides from his arms o hit the floor in a heap of expensive fabric. Boris kisses him before Theo can gasp out a complaint at the treatment.

When they were young, they virtually only kissed when Theo was too out of his mind to hold onto the memories. At the edge of the old pool or in Theo’s bed, high, pawing rough and clumsy at each other’s bodies. It was as much about hormones as it was the need to have someone— to have anybody care.

Things are different now. Boris is sober when they kiss and so is Theo. His face is still cold from the air outside, so Theo cups it between his palms, trying to encourage warmth back into his cheeks.

Boris steers them to the couch, his hands on Theo’s hips in return. Theo ends up with his back pressed into the cushions, the springs groaning under the configuration of their weight. Boris is on his knees, the toes of his black boots digging into the cushions.

“Potter,” Boris's face is still close, lips just shy of Theo’s. He’s still smiling. “Glasses off, yes?”

They’ve already been knocked askew. Theo nods and Boris plucks them off his face, smudging thumbprints on the lenses when he folds the arms in and sets them on the low table in the middle of the room. Even something so small makes Theo feel marked. Like other people will see a smudge on the glass and know it belongs to someone else.

“Are you planning on keeping your shoes on?” Theo asks, his arm draped over the back of the couch, the other hanging almost to the floor. He’s not sure how he should touch Boris. When he should be touching him.

“Does it bother you, Potter?” Boris asks. He doesn’t lack confidence in himself like this— he isn’t heavy but his weight keeps Theo flat on the couch. “It’s not nice couch. Just old.” He pauses, grins. “Not your kind of old.”

Theo could point out that most of Boris's furniture isn’t the cheap kind of old. It was picked with some thought behind it, at least. He could point out that the toes of Boris's black boots might tear the fabric.

He could say he wants to run his fingers over the dark leather. Theo does— he’s not sure why.

“No,” Theo says. He can’t see the look on Boris's face until he leans in close again, dark curls falling in his face.

“That’s good,” Boris says. His hands cup Theo’s face, thumbs following the line in his brow. “Not the thing to be thinking about now.”

Theo carefully lays his hands on Boris's back, following the line of his shoulders through his shirt. It doesn’t quite fit him, hanging loose in the front, exposing a pale triangle of his chest. When the fold in his forehead relaxes, Boris kisses him once again.

Boris is a different kind of kisser than Theo is used to— more refined than when they were teenagers— confident but not yet aggressive. Theo isn’t sure if it’s what he wants. He doesn’t know how to begin putting what he wants into thought, let alone words.

But Boris doesn’t ask him for that— isn’t pushing him to try.

Theo winds up with the small of his back pushing into the hard arm of the couch, shirt lazily unbuttoned and belt yanked off and tossed to the floor as well. Boris still has his boots on, kneeling on the couch with his head in Theo’s lap.

Everything else is too far in the periphery for Theo to focus on. What matters at the moment is Boris— one hand holding him steady, biting a red ring in the exposed skin at Theo’s hip.

The air in the apartment is dense and heavy and Theo is struggling to drag it into his lungs.

Boris's mouth detaches when he’s satisfied with licking over the imprint of his teeth. It’s a low mark, secretive, no one else would see it unless they caught Theo in the middle of undressing.

He’ll think about it for days, anyway. Push his thumb into the bruise when he’s getting dressed in the morning and wonder what he would say if someone were to see it. If someone asked where he got it.

Boris flashes a grin up at him, pulling Theo’s slacks and his underwear down below his ass, abandoning them around his thighs. He spits in his palm, laughs at the face Theo pulls, before wrapping his hand around Theo’s cock.

He’s too far away for Theo to make out the details of his expression— the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, the way his eyebrows creep slightly together in focus. He knows Boris's face, even if he never keeps his glasses on for things like this. Boris's wrist twists at the right angle and Theo leans his head back between his shoulders.

Boris reaches out, grabbing Theo’s wrist and pulling until Theo’s hand rests on the back of his neck. Theo rubs his thumb in a small circle there, feeling the downy curls at the base of his skull.

Theo hisses a breath out between his teeth, turning his eyes up to the ceiling rather than watching Boris dip his head low. He’s confident in this too— doesn’t hesitate when he takes Theo into his mouth. Theo’s hand on the back of Boris's head is more ornamental than anything. He isn’t applying any pressure or trying to guide Boris one way or the other.

His other hand claws at the back of the couch, trying to tamp down the instinctive response to make a sound when he feels Boris's tongue against the head of his cock. He isn’t used to this yet. Not with Boris, at least. Not with anyone like him, either. The sex isn’t a one-in-a-million thing to him. There might be no parallel for the rest of the thing he feels for Boris, but he isn’t the only man Theo has ever thought about like this. Even when he was young— even before Vegas.

But in practice, he’s only familiar with Boris. Boris's hands on his hips, the soft puff of his breath. His dark hair is silky between Theo’s fingers— Theo pets his hand through it in slow, rhythmless passes. He’s touching it only to have the excuse to touch Boris the way he’s asked for.

If Boris had something else in mind, he hasn’t said so. He lacks urgency in the way he does this— his mouth relaxed and slow on Theo’s dick. No path, no pattern. It still feels good like this. It makes Theo’s knees squeeze around Boris's ribs, his hips rocking back and forth but never building up momentum. Boris still has his shirt on and Theo does a messy job peeling open the top few buttons, exposing more of his chest.

There is a puckered knot of scar tissue on his shoulder that Theo runs his fingers over. A reminder of the bullet that caught him in the shoulder. Theo doesn’t like to dwell on the memory of that night but whenever he sees the scar he can’t help the urge to reach out and touch it.

It’s proof of something— a mark of his survival.

Boris picks his head up, his palm flattening Theo’s hips against the couch.

“Potter.” His voice is raspy. “Theo.” The scar is proof of something else, too.

Theo lifts his head, rolling it to the side so his temple is against the back of the couch. He meets Boris's dark eyes and does his best to smile even though it feels too tight on his face.

“Always quiet like the dead,” Boris says, laughter undercutting his words. “Not enjoying yourself?”

“No, I’m—” He can’t begin to explain. He slides his hand to the nape of Boris's neck instead, pulling him into a kiss. Boris rocks forward on his knees, the springs of the couch groaning slightly as he does. It’s a quick kiss— over before Theo is sure if he’s made his point.

He always enjoys himself with Boris. Boris lets him be selfish about it— leaves off kissing Theo to put his lips around Theo’s cock again, doing some clever thing with his tongue that makes the muscles in Theo’s thighs tense until they ache.

Boris finds a more concentrated rhythm this time. The soft, wet sound of his mouth moving up and down on Theo’s dick fills up the confined space and Theo is only a little mortified by it. He digs his fingers into Boris's hair and grunts out a low mumble of his name. It’s worse hearing that— the drag of his voice trying to form into a groan when Boris pulls him closer and closer to the edge.

He knots the muscles in his jaw, shutting his eyes, the afterimage of Boris grinning up from between his legs burned into his eyelids anyway. Boris slides down until his mouth is wrapped around the base of Theo’s cock and stays there for a long moment, until Theo’s nails rake over the back of the couch, threatening to tear the fabric.

When he pulls back again, Boris lets out a pair of ragged breaths, stroking Theo once again. Theo comes like that, staining over Boris's fingers, jaw clenched until his teeth ache.

Boris smiles, plants an off-center kiss on his mouth, laying himself across Theo’s chest without a thought for the disheveled state that either of them are in.

Theo can feel the slow, steady pound of Boris's heart against his chest. Carefully, he puts his lips to the exposed junction of his shoulder and neck.

Theo goes to great lengths to keep his relationship with Boris— whatever it is— and his life at work separate.

The two are like parallel dimensions that only Theo is capable of navigating between. When he’s at work, he doesn’t spend the daydreaming about how nice it would’ve been to sleep in Boris's bed like he offered rather than trudging home through the early New York City winter.

He keeps his place. Sleeps in his bed. The loneliness doesn’t bring him joy so much as a sense of security. A push too hard one way or the other and the whole thing might come crashing down once again around Theo’s ears.

It’s hard to get comfortable, their lives being what they are. Things are hardly simple or secure for either of them.

Perhaps Theo gets caught up thinking about Boris at work on occasion. Rare moments like this one.

Gay couples come to the city to shop. It’s not an uncommon sight. Theo doesn’t live with his head buried in the sand— he’s sold to plenty of them before.

He is trying not to appear nervously vigilant in watching the two men wander around Hobart & Blackwell. He doesn’t think they’ve come to steal anything. But they have two different styles in mind— currently bickering in front of a Shaker piece that Hobie finished up a week before.

The tone of their voices is familiar, fond. If Theo closed his eyes, he could almost fit his own words to the sound of it— he can almost hear Boris teasing him for knowing so much about such tiny details.

The realization is far from relaxing. It puts Theo on edge to see such a close analog standing right in front of him. In the shop he works in. The two men are in view of the counter, holding hands, debating if this would ruin the color scheme of their guest bedroom or not.

Theo should detach himself from the counter and try to make a sale. It isn’t a cheap piece, even as one of Hobie’s changelings. He’s still frozen, trying to make out the subconscious echo of Boris's voice in the warm air of the shop.

He can’t quite complete the thought of it— can’t make it materialize into reality. Boris doesn’t usually come inside, after all.

Theo clears his throat and forces himself to step away from the counter, tucking his arms together behind his back. Selling is like playing a role— figuring out what combination of promises and expertise will make the client trust him enough to hand over $20,000 for a washstand.

“The piece is in excellent shape,” Theo says, waiting for the natural pause in their conversation. It’s an art on its own— knowing how to cut into a conversation, how to spin the pitch into a sale. “Almost a marvel. Stuck up in an attic for God knows how long. They covered it with a sheet of plastic and forgot about it.”

It slides easily off his tongue— a practiced lie. Most of the things that come through don’t have such clear and straight-forward provenance. That story might be true for the body but not the knobs or the facing of the drawers. Hobie is the master at this craft— all Theo has to do is sell it.

The taller man takes half a step back from it, his hand still on the small of his boyfriend’s back. Theo spends a moment too long taking in the gesture— the casual, intimate way they touch— he almost misses the actual question he’s being asked. “—water damage?”

“No, no,” Theo says, shaking his head. He runs his palm over the top of the stand, the uneven texture of the wood is comforting— grounding. “No water. Clean and dry, all those years.”

The other man— shorter but broader through the shoulders, handsome except for the thick bump in his nose where it was once broken— looks less enthused.

“It’s the wrong color,” he says, glumly repeating the same complaint he had before Theo decided to intercede. It’s on the verge of petulance and for a moment Theo thinks with horror that he’s going to suggest something like painting it to match the room.

But it makes his boyfriend laugh. “You can’t already have your mind made up.” His hand slides up his boyfriend’s back, between his shoulders, to the nape of his neck. It’s a quick touch, nothing unusual or obscene, but Theo still feels the need to avert his eyes again.

Theo has never let Boris touch him so openly in public. The thought of it makes him feel strange— reviled and yearning at the same time. Would he like it? Would it make him feel too vulnerable?

“There’s a cabinet,” the taller man says, pulling Theo’s attention back to the present. It does him no good to stand around and daydream. “He’s in love with it. Won’t look at anything else.”

“It’s not that expensive, Patrick.” He steps closer, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Not much more than this, I bet. And the wood is the same tone as the bedframe.”

The dangling opportunity of a sale sharpens Theo’s senses. He stops watching them touch each other— familiar, unhurried— and looks around the shop with a smile. “Which one would that be?”

“I have been thinking of you.” Boris's voice is plain, tinged with glee. It’s been a few days since Theo last saw him— he took off to some sweaty, humid state for business. Boris didn’t offer any details and Theo didn’t ask for them. Business is business— honor among thieves.

“You have?” Theo asks, almost surprised. Perhaps he shouldn’t be— Theo called him three times even though Boris was barely gone. He hates looking at the digital records of their contact and realizing that he reaches out to Boris a dozen times a day when he’s gone— texts when he thinks Boris might not be busy— long phone calls late at night and early in the morning. He hangs around like a clingy girlfriend the moment Boris is back, too.

Even in realizing it, Theo hasn’t made himself stop.

“Of course.” A smile melts across his face. “Of course, Potter. Where you not thinking of me?”

Theo was— too much and too often. Couldn’t begin to come to his senses.

“Sometimes,” Theo says. Boris doesn’t look disappointed by Theo’s hedged answer. He sits up straight, making the couch bounce under his weight, grabbing at Theo’s hands.

“I was thinking about something else, too,” Boris says. He has all the raw-diamond sparkle of the boy Theo grew up with. The first boy he ever fell in love with. “Help me out with this!” He pops up off the couch, dragging Theo along by the hand and pulling him into the small kitchen. “I think I have apple… I want you to pierce my ear for me.”

As far as requests from Boris go, this is different than Theo was expecting. “Your ear? Why?”

“Met a fantastic singer in Nashville,” Boris says, rattling ice cubes out of the tray in the freezer. “They— I do not remember name— they said it would make me look rakish.”

Theo slinks out of the way when Boris goes digging in a drawer until he produces a sewing needle from a block of red wax, brandishing it triumphantly in the air.

“You know, there are places you can go to get this done,” Theo says, holding his hand out for the needle. He knows, roughly, how this is supposed to be done. The ice is to numb his ear, Theo is supposed to heat the needle on the stove to kill bacteria. They looked it up once in Vegas when Boris thought he would look good with his lip pierced but gave up when they couldn’t find a place to steal lip rings from.

“Bah, waste of money,” Boris says.

“Did you get something to put in?” Theo asks.

“I didn’t forget,” Boris says, puffing his chest out a little. “Not this time.”

From his pocket, he produces a little velvet box, the kind nice jewelry comes in. For a split, panicked second, Theo expects to see something else nestled inside the box when Boris opens it.

But it’s only a pair of plain silver studs— polished and shining even in the dim light of Boris's kitchen.

“Okay,” Theo says, grinning when Boris hops up on the counter, leaning his head back against one of the cabinets. “Anything else?”

“Shot?” Boris asks, wiggling his dark eyebrows suggestively.

“For me or you?” Theo asks, passing the ice cube into his hand. He fills the smallest pot he can find with water and sets it on the burner. He doesn’t bother to go looking in the fridge to see what liquor Boris might have on hand.

Boris reaches out, his fingers catching the collar of Theo’s shirt, pulling him in. Theo ends up standing between Boris's knees, hands resting on the wood counter rather than on his legs.

“Do you want to draw a dot?” Boris asks, his face close to Theo’s.

“I’m only doing one,” Theo says, shaking his head. “It doesn’t have to match or anything.”

Boris laughs at that, tilting his head back, heels thudding against the cabinet door. Theo feels at once like he’s standing in his father’s kitchen in Vegas, the desert air hot against his skin, trying to work up the courage to kiss Boris after a few warm beers turned his tongue too soft and fuzzy to make sense of his words.

He’s still trying to work up that same courage.

“I guess you are right,” Boris says. He takes the ice cube from Theo’s fingers, holding it up to the lobe of his ear. The cold makes him hiss and Theo watches ice water run down his bony fingers in thin rivers.

Theo carefully drops the needle in the boiling water, rolling his sleeve up past his elbow.

“Numb?” He asks when Boris tosses the ice in the sink.

“I do not think it will hurt that bad, Potter,” Boris says, favoring Theo with a roll of his eyes.

No worse than being shot, Theo imagines.

“Okay,” Theo uses a spoon to pull the needle out of the water, holding it between his nails. Boris turns toward him, his eyes on Theo’s eyes, not on his hand. “Hold still.”

It takes barely any pressure to poke through the numbed lobe of Boris's ear. He doesn’t move, doesn’t blink. One of Boris's hand wanders up the back of Theo’s arm like he’s forgotten why Theo is leaning in so close and wants to angle for a kiss instead.

Theo pulls the needle out and sets it on the counter. A single ruby bead of blood escapes before Boris looks away from Theo to grab the earrings.

He puts one silver stud in the ear, the back clicking into place. He turns back to Theo, hand still on the back of his arm.

“How does it look?” He asks, tilting his head to the side to show the stud off. “Is it good? Is it sexy?”

“It’s— yeah,” Theo says, his eyes stuck to the little silver ball. It’s a small, subtle touch but it rounds out Boris's features. It fits— something Theo wouldn’t have expected initially.

Boris looks in the box at the remaining stud then turns to Theo with a grin. “Should I do yours too?”

“Mine?” Theo says, his mouth hanging slightly open.

“Only came in pairs,” Boris said, picking the box up and putting it in Theo’s open hand. “We could be a match.”

“No,” Theo says, taking one stumbling step back. “No, I don’t think—”

“Come back,” Boris says, cupping his hand around the back of Theo’s neck. “Not going to use you as a pincushion, Potter.”

“It does look good,” Theo says, letting himself be reeled back in, standing between Boris's knees. He remembers discussions in middle school about which ear was the gay ear to get pierced. He can’t remember the rule now.

He pierced Boris's left ear and the stud glows slightly in the half-light of the kitchen. Theo is still staring at it when Boris pulls him in and so he’s surprised by the kiss.

The Christmas party invitation sent to Hobart & Blackwell shakes Theo out of the dumb, happy stupor he’s been wandering the world in.

It is addressed to the shop from the Barbour’s. Formal, hard-edged, impersonal. The address is handwritten but offers no warmth. Hardly out of character. Theo was expecting to spend the rest of his life frozen out.

The invitation isn’t for him. Well— it’s for him and Hobie both, though Hobie never wants to attend. It’s a good networking opportunity. Theo would never dream of trying to sell Mrs. Barbour a fake, but there are plenty of people in her outer circle with money and a lack of discerning taste.

He can’t imagine setting foot in that room this year. He hasn’t spoken to Kitsey since he got back from Amsterdam. She only called twice before giving up— accepted it for what it was.

Since then, Theo has kept his head down. He’s not ready to surface quite yet.

Boris doesn’t spend a lot of time hanging around in Theo’s room. It’s not all that private— Hobie sleeps just down the hall.

But he’s gone for a few days— looking for pieces in Massachusetts. Back before Christmas.

So Boris is around when Theo sorts through his mail, opens the invitation and grimaces, tucking it back into the envelope.

“Bad news?” Boris asks, his head leaning to the side. He’s sitting on Theo’s bed, legs stretched out in front of him. The sight of him— all in black, dark curls framing his face— is at odds with what Theo is used to seeing in his bed. He reaches out, plucking the card from Theo’s hands and peeling the flap of the envelope open once again. “Who sends bad news in card?”

“It’s not bad news,” Theo says, sorting through the rest of the mail. There’s no harm in Boris looking at the invitation—

“Oh, party!” He says, his eyes scanning over the tidy handwriting inside. “Répondez s'il vous plaît, are you going to be attending, Potter?”

“No,” Theo says, barking out a bitter laugh. “I don’t think so.”

“Bad party?” Boris asks. He’s already dropped the little card off to the side and he’s looking up at Theo now.

He’s had to get used to it— having Boris tilt his head back slightly to meet eyes with him. When they were young, Boris was tall and lean like a stray dog. He must not have grown all the much since Theo left Vegas while Theo kept on getting taller.

“It’s, uh… Kitsey’s. Her family,” Theo says, trying to shrug the words off as soon as they leave his mouth. He’s not sure if Boris recognizes the name… it’s not as if it comes up very often. But he does nod his head knowingly, reaching out and grabbing the corner of Theo’s sleeve.

“You do not want to go,” he says. When Theo is standing directly in front of him, Boris loops an arm around his hips, a grin stealing over his face. “Be here. With me.”

“Okay.” Theo’s quick to agree. He drops the rest of the mail in a messy pile on his nightstand and peels his jacket off his shoulders. “Sure.”

Boris grins, his hand snapping up and snagging the dangling end of Theo’s tie. He uses it to haul Theo into a kiss. It’s a quick distraction from anything else.

It takes a little maneuvering before Theo is on the bed with Boris tugging his shirt out of his pants to pick the buttons open with long, clever fingers. Theo’s breathing is ragged and fast, his glasses knocked askew.

Boris realizes it at the same time he does, leaning forward to pluck them off of Theo’s face when Theo lifts his hands to do the same thing. They end up tossed on the pile of mail as well, one of the arms unfolded.

Theo catches sight of the bright red envelope once again and his stomach sinks. Boris finishes with the buttons and wrenches the knot of his tie open and Theo’s attention schisms between Boris and the problems of the world outside this room.

“Potter,” Boris says when Theo has to blink and roll his head the other direction. He sounds serious and when Theo looks up at him he can make out the crease between his eyebrows. “Not in the mood? We don’t have to…”

“No, it’s…” He doesn’t know how to explain. He grabs Boris's wrist, trying to keep him from pulling away. “It’s okay.”

Boris still has a slight frown on his face. “Sure?”

Theo nods, bobbing his head quick and jerky. Boris looks at the tie in his hands then at Theo, a grin flickering to life on his face.

“Can I try…” He pulls the knot loose, spreading the tie between his hands. “Trust me?”

Again, Theo nods. Boris leans over Theo, shifting his weight onto his knees and tipping Theo’s head forward a little. He wraps the silk around Theo’s head, covering his eyes. Without his glasses, Theo can’t see anyway.

Boris ties a knot at the back of his skull, adjusting to make sure it’s covering Theo’s eyes entirely.

It isn’t truly dark… light seeps in around the edges and when Theo strains his gaze downward he can see the outline of Boris— his shoulders, his arms, still wearing his black shirt. But he feels fuzzy and weightless. Boris becomes the only thing rooting him in time and place. The geography of the room vanishes and it becomes the two of them, truly alone together.

“Potter?” Boris speaks softly, his hands on Theo’s cheeks. “Is it alright?”

“Yeah.” Theo’s voice rasps in the quiet room. His breathing is heavy, suddenly loud to his ears. “It’s fine.”

Boris lets go of his face and Theo sinks back against the soft sheets— drifting, unmoored. When Boris's mouth touches his neck, Theo jerks in surprise and nearly knocks him off. The instinct morphs in a split second. He recognizes Boris's lips, the slow, continued kisses and grabs at his shoulders instead, trying to pull him closer.

He can’t see and thus is no use at undressing Boris in return. Boris seems to realize it too because he sits up long enough to pull his shirt over his head and throw it to the floor, one hand resting on Theo’s chest.

Boris takes one of Theo’s wrists in hand, laying Theo’s hand on his side. From there, Theo doesn’t need Boris's grasp for guidance.

He knew Boris's body when they were young. The ropey scar along his hip dotted freckles along his ribs and back. Theo knew the cathedral of his ribcage, the pace of his breathing, how his face and shoulders were prone to sunburn even when he covered every inch of skin he could.

He still knows Boris— at least on the inside. The things about him that weren’t— couldn’t be— touched by time apart. His body, however, is entirely different; packed with dense, lean muscle, marked and scarred in ways that aren’t familiar to Theo’s hands.

Blinded, Theo’s touch is slow and clumsy— probably not that different from when they were fumbling around as kids. Probably not that different from nine months ago when Theo finally decided he was allowed to try putting his hands on Boris again. Boris sighs— his breath fanning ragged and hot over Theo’s collarbone.

Boris pulls Theo’s belt open in two sharp tugs. It hisses when its pulled free of the loops and rings when it hits the floor. Theo’s neck prickles with the sensation of being watched— being examined.

The whole thing makes him feel bizarre— vulnerable, yearning, impossibly turned on. It’s a relief when Boris fiddles open the button and zipper of Theo’s slacks. The ache in his stomach is like starvation— waiting for Boris to touch him, unable to prepare himself for it.

When Boris does touch him— pushes Theo’s slacks out of the way and buts his palm against Theo’s cock through his underwear— Theo almost reaches up to claw the tie away from his eyes. He stops himself before he launches into motion; he doesn’t want to escape the illusion of being separated from the rest of the world.

He rocks his hips up into Boris's palm, biting into his lower lip to keep anything indecent from coming out of his mouth. He’s used to coming up to a hard edge of discomfort when it comes to sex. He thinks too hard about the mechanics of it and can’t relax enough to enjoy and feel satisfied with the way Boris touches him.

With guidance from Boris's hands, Theo kicks his slacks and then his underwear off. Everything is ending up in a mess on the floor and Theo will nag Boris about it later like they’re an old married couple.

The mattress pitches under Boris when he shifts his weight— the drawer of Theo’s nightstand rattles slightly when it opens. Theo is glad he doesn’t have to make eye contact with the bottle of KY that he was forced to buy from a store with the girl behind the counter giving him a knowing, amused look. The whole experience was horrifying. Theo would like to avoid ever repeating that particular experience.

Boris's hand slides up the outside of his thigh until it meets his pelvis. Theo drags his short nails across the sheets trying to find a place to grip. Boris is good about this part— fast and efficient. Dwelling on having several of Boris's fingers up his ass might only lead to the realization that he somehow enjoys that too.

“Are you asleep, Potter?” Boris asks, sitting up, probably undressing himself the rest of the way. “Still with me?”

“Yeah,” Theo reaches out, flailing until he hand finds Boris's shoulder— the warm, reassuring bulwark of his body still in reach. “Still here.”

“Good, very good,” Boris says, soft like he’s talking to himself. He kisses Theo— his cheek beneath the silk tie, the tip of his nose, the corner of his mouth. It should be embarrassing— Boris picks the worst moments to be cheesy— but for once Theo isn’t mortified by it.

When Boris presses inside him— slow, careful— he groans. It’s a low sound, raspy and close to Theo’s ear. His stomach twists up in knots immediately but the voice is still so clearly Boris and not some random guy. Theo has some limited experience with that— messing around with guys in the back of crowded gay clubs where he was sure he wouldn’t be noticed or remembered by anyone.

Theo’s body still goes taught as a bowstring, every muscle and tendon pulled tight.

“Boris.” Theo claws at his back tries to pull him as close as possible. His voice, damp, trembling, makes him sound like a virgin on the edge of tears.

Milyi,” Boris says. Darling. Theo remembers it from Conversational Russian. He stared at the page of his textbook titled Tender Words in Russian and mentally picked out all the ones he’d heard from Boris when they were young.

Boris rocks his hips forward, his hand curled around the back of Theo’s head. Theo has never had another man hold him like this— like a lover, not just another body.

When Boris breathes, Theo feels the expansion of air in his chest. Grounded, distracted by the smear of darkness blocking his vision, Theo is less mortified by the sharp intrusion of another body into his own. He’s been stoked hot as coal and left to glow with heat from the inside.

Usually, when they fuck, Theo is in a hurry to get to the end of it. He enjoys it— would like it if things went on longer— but he can’t put up with himself until the end. Now, when Boris takes his time, pushes into Theo in careful, deliberate strokes, Theo doesn’t bitch about it. Boris kisses the edge of his jaw, the delicate skin behind his ear, his temple. Theo doesn’t bitch about any of that, either.

“Theo, Milyi.” Boris's voice tangles in his throat. “Baby.”

Theo grabs blindly through the air until he finds the back of Boris's head, fingers digging into the dense curls of his hair.

“Boris,” Theo says, his voice floaty and weak to his ears. He doesn’t know how to formulate all his desire into words. He tries gasping out Boris's name again, trying to pull him closer.

Boris catches on to what he wants— he’s always managed to figure Theo out— and kisses him long and slow. He curls his hand around Theo’s cock, his sin on the right edge of rough.

All the darkness swells up to swallow Theo whole when he comes. He makes a sound— something like a sob but manages to bury most of it in the side of Boris's neck. Above him, Boris shudders and groans twice— ends up covering the inside of one of Theo’s thighs in come.

He leans over Theo, lifting the tie slowly away from his eyes. Boris's shadow shields him from the first stab of light against his senses. The world comes back into focus slowly.

Boris is there at the center of it all, leaning his forehead against Theo’s and struggling to catch his breath. He lifts his head just to smile. “Potter? That was good, yes? Enjoyed yourself?”

Theo grunts, shoving his face into Boris's collarbone and pulling Boris down to lay on top of him. He usually complains when Boris smothers him like this but at the moment it feels nice— reassuring.

“It was fine,” Theo mumbles when it becomes clear Boris is looking for a real answer.

His attitude only makes Boris laugh, noisy and bright, pressing the sound into the crown of Theo’s head.

In some ways, Theo feels out of his depth. They’re only in a grocery store— a hole in the wall place with flickering lights and a rough tile floor that Theo scuffs his heels over each step. No cart— Theo couldn’t find one.

It’s different than the sterile-white superstores that Theo is used to. Neat rows of produce from all over the world replenished every hour. But it’s quiet and Boris dragged him here in search of some specialty ingredient he’s sure they’ll sell but can’t seem to find.

Outside, snow covers the sidewalk in a downy white blanket. Winter decided to rear its black head at the last moment, right before Christmas.

“Are you sure you know what you’re looking for?” Theo says. So far, Boris has tossed some candy with the label printed in Cyrillic and a sack of potatoes that he wolf-whistled at when he picked them up.

“Of course,” Boris says. There’s a swing in his gait and he cranes his head back, looking out the window with a smile. “White Christmas, yeah Potter?”

“Unless it melts,” Theo says, glancing over his shoulder. He hasn’t devoted much thought to it.

When they were young, the sky bled blue and orange until it melded with the horizon. Still hot— always hot. They cooked a whole meal together only to be dragged out of the house by Theo’s dad, on a high, celebrating a gambling hot streak.

The food was good— Theo mostly remembers the food and getting drunk on Christmas Eve and exchanging a lot of long, messy kisses, hands all over each other in the dark.

Boris loops his arm through Theo’s, pulling him down another aisle.

“It won’t melt,” Boris says, shaking his head. “We’re going to have such happy Christmas, Potter.”

Strangely, Theo believes him on that point. Happiness is a dizzy, bizarre thing to realize himself feeling. It isn’t concrete yet— only as solid as the feeling of Boris's arm looped through his.

“Better than being fucking hot.”

“You are bringing Popchyk?” Boris says, turning to look up at Theo. “You can both come stay. We can make dinner and celebrate.”

Boris seems to have his mind up about the plan already. It doesn’t bother Theo— he won’t be spending Christmas with Kitsey and the Barbours, after all, and Hobie insists on giving him whatever gift he’s selected on Christmas morning.

“I’ll bring the dog.” Their arms are still twined together. There’s no one around to see and certainly, none of Theo’s clients are likely to be wandering the empty aisles of a European grocery.

Still, it makes Theo giddy— the thrill of breaking a rule. When they were young, they would march up and down store aisles and steal whatever would fit in their pockets, under their shirts. Even when they got caught it never led to anything more than having to hand the stuff back and listen to some stuffy adult tell them about following the rules.

Boris tugs away suddenly, jumping two steps sideways. “Told you it would be here, Potter!”

As far as Theo can tell, the bottle of vinegar in Boris's hand is no different than what they would be able to find anywhere else. But Boris seems happy, holding it out to Theo like he’ll be able to make out the tiny print on the white label.

They drift around a little more— Boris fills the basket with a few other things and chatters about them. He tugs Theo around, his hand warm at the bend of Theo’s elbow.

Theo catches sight of the stud he helped put through Boris's ear and looks quickly away.

It keeps catching his eye. The silver winks sometimes in the light. Here, where the light is low and yellow, it seems to glow under its power. Maybe the light comes from Boris himself.

Theo can’t decide— doesn’t stare long enough to figure it out.

Theo hasn’t developed much skill in cooking. He can feed himself, of course. He knows enough to not go hungry. But spending most of his life in the city, where he’s surrounded by cheaper, faster, lower-effort alternatives to making his meals every day, it’s never a pressing concern.

Boris, it seems, can cook. Better than Theo recalls from drunkenly throwing together meals in Vegas to make sure the both of them were eating something other than Vicodin and cardboard pizza at school.

He seems at home in the small kitchen of his apartment— in control. There’s music playing from his little radio; a Velvet Underground song, crackling and thin.

“Will be very good,” Boris says, stirring the dark purple soup that he’s been carefully babysitting.

When he steps away from the stove, Popchyk weaves between his ankles, nails tapping on the cheap linoleum floor. He’s been sleeping at Boris's feet all afternoon, only picking his head up to eat scraps from Boris's fingers; beets, mashed potato, finely chopped ham. The dog is undiscerning about what he eats and he never turns down anything Boris gives him.

Boris puts his foot down carefully to the side of Popchyk, leaning over to scoop the dog up in his arms. “This is why you are fat, Popchyk. Too cute— too easy to feed you.”

Popchyk’s pink tongue darts over Boris's cheek and Boris laughs, bouncing the dog slightly in his arms. It makes Theo wonder if Boris ever considered getting a pet in the last 8 years.

“Here,” he says, holding Popchyk out. “Take baby. Not good to get dog hair into dinner.”

“I can help cook if you want,” Theo says, accepting the dog into his lap anyway. It makes him feel slightly odd— sitting around at the small table, watching Boris cut beets and hum to the crackle of music over the radio. It’s good to be close to him but he doesn’t like the sense of being an observer.

The offer lights up Boris's face. He nods and Theo stands, setting Popchyk carefully in the chair once he’s on his feet.

He joins Boris at the counter, folding dough around lumps of mixed mashed potato and cheese to make pierogi. Theo has done it before— twice. The first time was in Vegas, knocking elbows with Boris in his dad's kitchen. The whole time Theo bitched that he didn't know how to do it and in return, Boris teased him for the misshapen dumplings. At the time, Theo didn't care about Boris laughing at him. Boris was the one person who wasn't ever trying to hurt him.

He tried it one other time, by himself. He was on the wagon and lonely to death in his apartment. It was like a fit. He looked up the recipe and tried to replay Boris giving him directions the whole time in his head.

The folds still sucked but they were edible. Theo ate all of them. Peeling open all his memories of Boris like that made him feel raw and exposed for days after.

In the present, Boris puts a hand on the small of his back. His palm is broad, fingers slightly chilly even though he's been standing over the stove for the last hour.

"I remember how to do these," Theo says, unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt to roll it carefully up past his elbows. He'll have to make sure the folds get ironed out later but it's better than staining his clothes.

"Oh, you do?" Boris sounds pleased. "We made these on my birthday. I remember."

"Was that your birthday?" Theo doesn't remember that part. He frowns slightly, turning toward Boris. He's struggling to remember if they did anything else— if he even got Boris a present.

"We were having nasty dust storm," Boris says, leaning an elbow on the counter. His other hand is still on Theo's back. "It was not as good as having snow."

Theo scrunches his brow, trying to remember more clearly. Boris shoots him a straight, white smile before shaking his head.

"Do not give yourself headache," Boris says, leaning in to peck a kiss to Theo's temple. "We weren't celebrating. You didn't know about it."

"Oh," Theo says, still staring at Boris. It is a relief— he would hate to have forgotten Boris's birthday. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Bah, it is a silly thing," Boris says, shaking his head. "I did no work just being born. Very easy for me. And I had never celebrated for it any other year. I did not even think you would want to know."

“We should celebrate this year,” Theo says, bumping his elbow against Boris's ribs. “Go out for dinner or something.”

“Are you trying to take me out, Potter?” Boris asks, lifting his eyebrows. “Should we dress up and pretend to be gentlemen?”

The idea sparks up the ember of anxiety in Theo’s stomach. He wouldn’t mind something like that— a little bit of expensive, showy affection— if it didn’t mean being so public about having that affection for a man. But the more he thinks about it, the more the idea gets under his skin.

That’s the appeal of New York, isn’t it? There are so many people packed in on top of each other that you could be anybody.

“If you want,” Theo says. He tips his head to the side, putting it against Boris's shoulder. He remembers doing this a lot when they were kids— high, drunk, too lazy to stand up on his own. Boris was taller than him, bony, prone to sudden jerks of movement that always threatened to knock out Theo’s teeth. The angle is different now— Theo’s head is much higher and Boris's shoulder is much lower— but it still feels the same.

Boris's hand slides from his back to his hip, pulling Theo in a little closer. “Very good.” He puts his lips to Theo’s temple again, lingering there this time.

It’s only a moment— hardly the first time all afternoon that Boris has touched him. But the intimacy of Boris's breath on his skin, the hand hooked casually around his hip, it makes something catch in the middle of Theo’s chest like a sob. Boris has an innate knowledge of the exact ways Theo wants to be touched.

When he drops his arm, Theo almosts twists to drag it back around his waist. He steps away from Boris to wash his hands and dampen the tops of his fingers the same way Boris did before.

It doesn’t take Boris that long to finish cooking— Theo helps him fold dumplings and doesn’t complain when Boris laughs at the misshapen edges.

After that, he slips his coat on to take Popper on a walk around the block. Bois waves them both out the door, making Theo promise he’ll be back before everything is ready to be eaten. Ten minutes, Potter. Not so good if praznyky is cold.

Theo loops Popchyk’s leash around his wrist and stuffs his hand into the pocket of his coat. There’s a small velvet box, flat and wide. It’s practically Christmas but Theo still hasn’t made up his mind about his gift for Boris.

Inside the box, his mom’s emerald and diamond earrings. The ones he stole back from Xandra in Vegas and tried to gift to Kitsey to wear at the wedding.

He’s started thinking about them every time he catches sight of the silver stud in Boris's ear. He could only wear one but Theo still tries to picture what it would look like, emerald and gold brushing against the sharp cut of his jaw.

It’s not the kind of thing that someone like Boris, small and sharp, always in black clothes that don’t fit exactly right, would ever wear. Theo is convinced he’s going to laugh at the idea. He can hear it in the back of his mind— the single thunderclap of his laugh Ha! Giving me jewelry, Potter? Like your girlfriend?

Still, he stops at the end of Boris's block and runs his thumb over the edge of the box, feeling the hinge where it folds open and closed. He wants Boris to take the earrings— he wants to see Boris wearing them.

Popper starts pulling at the end of the leash when he realizes they’re headed back inside, his short nails clicking across the icy sidewalk.

Boris beams at them both when Theo walks back inside, his face flushed from the cold wind. Popper goes running for him, pulling at the leash so hard it almost slips out of Theo’s grip.

“He thinks he is getting dinner too,” Boris says, watching Theo take the leash off and drape it over the hook next to the door, followed by his coat. With his body blocking the view, he takes the box out and slips it into the pocket of his slacks instead. It makes a strange, flat impression against his thigh but he figures Boris probably won’t notice it while they’re sitting to eat.

“He was cold,” Theo says. Boris is just as guilty of fattening the ageless dog up. Popchyk puts two paws on Boris's thigh and starts sniffing at his plate and is always rewarded with some piece of Boris's meal.

“Are we going to buy him those silly boots next?” Boris asks, kneeling in the middle of the room to hold Popchyk’s head between his hands, thumbs scratching between his ears. “Could be very cute.”

Theo shakes his head, trying hard not to laugh. “I think he’s doing alright.”

“Are you?” Boris asks, staring into Popper’s eyes, his mouth pressed into a serious line. “Are you doing very well, shchenok? I think you like to be a baby.”

“Should we eat?” Theo asks, shifting weight between his feet. He’d feel less anxious if he took the leap now— pulled the earrings out of his pocket and said something, anything, about them to Boris.

He keeps it to himself, though. Takes a seat at Boris's little enamel-topped table while Boris leaves off petting the dog and stands to put plates of food together for both of them.

It smells good— the food has made the whole apartment smell warm and slightly earthy like the borscht that Boris has been cooking. The dishes take up most of the table— a shallow platter of pierogi with mustard in the center, two bowls of soup, a spiral of smoked sausage charred on either side, soft potatoes covered in herbs and butter, sauerkraut that Boris swore he made himself.

Popchyk lays on the floor under the table, tucked somewhere between their feet. Too lazy to even put in the effort to beg for food. He doesn’t need to, anyway.

The whole time— through the overabundance of food, Boris's polite conversation, the drone of the radio in the corner of the room— Theo can feel the velvet box trying to burn its way through his pocket. It shouldn’t be so hard to bring it up— it’s Christmas after all. He has every excuse to hand Boris a present without feeling that he has to explain. The words sit in his mouth and spoil on his tongue.

By the time he finishes his food, there’s a frown etched into his face. Boris notices, setting his fork down and letting it clatter against the plate.

“Does it disagree with you?” Boris asks, leaning forward, concern written into his features. “Feeling sick, Potter?”

“No,” Theo says, the word cracking in the air when it leaves his mouth. He curls his hands into fists on the table and shakes his head. “It was great. Everything was really good.”

Boris smiles, shallow, incomplete. “I am glad. Is anything else on your mind?”

Theo thinks about the earrings. He shakes his head again, trying to relax and smile this time. “Nothing.” And then, like a child trying to hide from his guilt, he grabs the first thing that comes to mind. “We should clean up.”

Boris tosses his hands up with a sigh, shaking his head. “All this cooking,” Boris says, shaking his head. “And you already want to be cleaning? I promise it is very dull. Lots of dishes.”

He hops up to his feet, circling the table and pulling Theo up as well. Boris's steps are accompanied by the sharp tap, tap, tap of his heeled boots against the floor.

Theo lets himself be dragged out of the kitchen. Boris kisses him first in the doorway, then as they pass the couch, again in the door of his bedroom. Theo kisses him back every time, gripping the front of his shirt and trying not to stumble backward on his way.

When they pause, faces close together, both breathing raggedly, a crooked smile takes up on Theo’s face. “Do you hate the dishes that much?”

He expects Boris to laugh but instead, he’s met with the lunar glow of his smile. "I'm more interested in this than cleaning, Potter." He kisses Theo's mouth off-center. "We have done wine and dining, anyway. All in proper order."

Boris buries his face in Theo's neck. The presses his back into the doorway, leaning back to rasp air back into his lungs. It feels good to be embraced like this— he's almost gotten used to it.

"Boris…" To his ear, Theo's voice sounds strained. He clears his throat before he tries again. "Boris, I have something." His tongue feels heavy in his mouth. "I was thinking you might…"

He trails off before he finishes. Boris lifts his head, hands bracketing Theo's hips. "Might what, Potter?"

Theo shakes his head and swallows hard, trying to remember that he has to breathe.

It would be better if he didn't ruin the moment. It's not sexy, exactly, to explain the sad heritage of his mom's heirloom earrings. But, he's never been able to shake the feeling that someone is supposed to have them. They're meant to pass from his hands to someone else.

He doesn't know if he can put that impulse into words.

"Potter?" Boris prods him softly when Theo doesn't respond. "I was not expecting any gift."

"I brought one," Theo says, turning his face away from Boris's gaze. "If… If you don't want it though, it's fine."

"What is it?" Boris asks a little bit of childish curiosity in his voice. Theo digs in his pocket, pulling the box free and swallowing down his nerves.

He isn't sure what kind of ceremony is supposed to accompany this, so he passes the box to Boris, leaving it for him to open.

The light in the hall is low, but the emeralds still capture the light enough to shine. Boris stares at them for a long moment, saying nothing.

Theo reaches out, hands together, ready to take them back and play the whole thing off as nothing. But Boris looks at him before he can even try, a hard line between his brows.

"These?" He says, almost a whisper.

"They were my mother's," Theo says, his mouth dry. "From her great-grandmother. The stones are all real."

"I know," Boris says, running his fingers over the edge of the velvet box. "Xandra took them and you took them back. Didn't think they were for your girlfriend."

This is not the time to mention how Kitsey didn't want them either. "I know they aren't really what you would wear, but, I thought—"

"Help me try it on, Potter," Boris says, one hand catching around Theo's wrist.

Theo stumbles jerked like a ragdoll by Boris's grip on his arm. “Help?”

“Well,” Boris says, stopping in front of the dim mirror on top of his dresser. “You have eyes for these things.” He only lets go of Theo to pull the silver stud out of his ear.

It’s been healing nicely the last few weeks. Theo worries about it more than Boris does— nags after him to make sure he’s kept it cleaned and rinsed with saltwater like he’s supposed to.

The back comes off the silver stud with a twist of Boris's fingers. He sets it down in an empty ashtray and lays the open box on the dresser in front of him. Theo, standing just behind Boris, is confronted with the sight of the earrings as well.

The sweet-tooth ache of it makes Theo press his face into the back of Boris's shoulder, glasses askew, hiding from the sight.

Every day, he thinks of things about Boris he’d like to share with his mom. He could tell her about the way he came in after a storm with Popper tucked inside his leather jacket to hide from the rain. Or about how Boris makes his tea right every single time without asking— like it’s second nature to him. He could tell her, even, about how Boris's cold hands framing his face were the only thing anchoring him to life. You have to walk, Theo. You have to walk.

“Tired now, Potter?” Boris asks, giving his shoulder a shake like he’s trying to wake Theo up.

Reluctant to face the mirror, Theo presses his lips to the edge of Boris's shirt, right where it meets the bare skin of his neck. “No.”

Boris lets out a laugh, small, almost a sigh. When he picks one of the earrings out of the box, Theo is forced to stand once again. It takes a moment for him to line the post up and slide it through the hole Theo punctured in his ear. He hasn’t changed the stud since Theo put it in for him.

The earring dangles from his ear when he pulls his hands away, throwing tiny flecks of gold across the top of the dresser. The lower of the two emeralds brushes the sharp angle of his jaw when he turns to face Theo.

Boris puts his back against the dresser, reaching out and pulling Theo in closer. “I think it is very nice— very proper thing to have.”

The sight makes Theo’s tongue stick to the roof of his mouth. Not even at his wildest and most optimistic did he think Boris would be so quick— so happy— to accept something like his mom’s earrings. They aren’t even a good gift for another man. He has no idea where Boris would wear them.

He likes seeing it, anyway. Puts his fingers on the side of Boris's neck, hesitating before touching the back of his ear.

“Is it okay, Potter?” Boris says. There isn’t much space for him to back up but he does lean back, turning toward Theo’s tentative fingers. “I can take off again.”

“No— it’s—” There’s a lump in Theo’s throat that he can’t force more than a single syllable past. He stops short and takes two breaths. Each one shudders in his lungs.

“Potter.” Boris presses his mouth into a flat line. He puts his hands on either side of Theo’s face. “Just breathe. Breathe first.”

Theo huffs out a long breath, leaning his forehead against Boris's. “I’m not freaking out.”

“Okay,” Boris says, chuckling softly. He puts his hand on the back of Theo’s head, fingers in his hair. “Very good.”

“It looks nice,” Theo says, soft in the captive air between them. “I want you to keep them.”

“You want to say something too, I think,” Boris says, kissing the corner of Theo’s mouth.

Theo nods, though he doesn’t know what words to use. The gift itself is supposed to say something— a classic gesture, an offering. Boris's hands slide up his back and when he kisses Theo, Theo is quick to kiss him back.

The earring brushes over his knuckles when Boris tilts his head. It’s a jolt and Theo almost grasps the words he’s supposed to say. They slip away again— every thought jumps out of his head when Boris moves to kiss the side of his neck instead. He steps forward and Theo backs up in return, letting Boris steer him until his thighs hit the low edge of the bed.

He sinks onto it and for a dizzy moment, Boris has outgrown him again. His boots clack against the ground when he walks. Theo didn’t have the chance to nag him to take them off before Bores swept him up into dinner. Without thinking about it, Theo has his hands on the outsides of Boris's thighs, gently kneading the firm muscle under his fingertips.

Boris remains on his feet, poised like a predator. There’s less light by the bed and the earring is more muted. The gold is still bright enough to catch Theo’s attention. It makes it impossible to do anything but stare up at Boris's face. He combs Theo’s hair back from his face, touching the rim of his glasses.

“Off?” He asks his hand following the profile of Theo’s face.

“Yeah,” Theo says, lifting his chin to make it easier for Boris to pull the frames off his face. Like always, Boris folds them up and sets them on his nightstand for Theo to find later.

It’s easy to trace his steps through the room. Theo twists, squinting over his shoulder at the fuzzy outline of Boris.

“You have your shoes on,” Theo says, a slight frown on his face.

“So astute,” Boris says. He lifts one foot, putting the toe of his boot on the edge of the bed. “Still bother you, Potter?”

A stone drops in the pit of Theo’s stomach. “No.” His face is hot. Even without his glasses, he can see the arch, the tall heel, the broken-in black leather. "Your place, I guess."

Boris flashes him a grin and rather than respond, he holds his leg out in Theo's direction. "Come here."

Theo shifts until he's close, still sitting on the edge of the bed. Boris pulls one of Theo's hands to his thigh, bracing his weight. Theo's breathing goes hard and choppy.

This, just like letting Boris blindfold him with a tie, is far outside Theo's usual comfort zone. He's routinely anxious about the sex he has with Boris— guilt, fear, and yearning get all tangled up in his mind. He's too scared to try things and discover that he likes them.

But it's easier when he has something to focus on. He can trust Boris— he's always trusted Boris. He's happy to let Boris take charge of him for a while.

Boris puts a hand on the nape of Theo's neck. The flat sole of his shoe presses down on Theo's thigh. He does these things at the same time, making it harder for Theo to escape or knock him over by jerking away. He doesn't have much of his weight on Theo— it doesn't hurt but it certainly has his attention.

He squeezes his hand tighter around Boris's thigh, clutching at his leg like a pillar. Boris rotates his ankle, the flat pressure of his shoe against Theo’s leg moving higher. There’s purpose and intent behind it— a sense of direction. Theo doesn’t ask what Boris is doing or what he has in mind. He trusts Boris in taking the lead here.

“Lay back, Potter,” Boris says, letting go of Theo’s neck. Theo nods, leaning back on his elbows before flattening himself against Boris's bed. The stippled ceiling high above his head blends into a fuzzy white bank of clouds. Everything feels far away, indistinct. Even the buzz of thoughts in Theo’s head has faded into a blur of white noise.

The only thing in the room that feels real is Boris. Theo’s hands are limp at his sides, his legs draped off the edge of the bed and splayed out at a comical angle to allow Boris to stand between his knees. He can see the silhouette of Boris standing over him but it’s too far to make out the details of expression. It’s only the curl of his mouth, the exaggerated line of his eyebrows.

Boris pitches his weight back on one heel and lifts his leg again, puts the ball of his foot high on Theo’s thigh. Positioned like he is, there’s no way for Theo to cover the fact that he’s hard. Or the way he rocks his hips slightly forward— toward Boris, not away. But for once, he’s not so preoccupied with hiding it.

There’s no hard weight behind his leg— the pressure only lessens when he moves his foot up further, fitting the arched sole against Theo’s groin. Theo’s grip goes tight in the sheets, unprepared for how it makes arousal hit him like a kick in the gut. It knocks all the wind out of him— turning his head to the side and trying to muffle a groan against his shoulder. Boris shifts his ankle, rocking the sole of his foot carefully. The friction is muffled— too little pressure for the layers of clothing that he’s still wearing, but it makes him jerk anyway, air stuttering in his lungs.

Boris mumbles a series of curse words in Russian that Theo doesn’t remember the meanings of. He remembers the sound of the words— the heavy timbre of Boris's voice.

Theo peels one hand away from the bed and grabs at Boris's ankle. He has to shove the cuff of his trousers out of the way to wrap his fingers around the smooth layer, fingers tangling with the laces. When he looks up at Boris, he can make out the gold-and-green shine of the earring.

He rocks his hips up again, gripping Boris's ankle to keep him from moving away. He closes his eyes, if only to stop trying to make out the details of Boris's face, and grits his teeth together to keep from making a sound.

“Potter,” Boris says, grasping Theo’s wrist, long fingers finding his jackknifing pulse. “Baby. I’m the only one here, yes? Relax… open your eyes and look at me.”

Theo squints his eyes open once again, does his best to release the knotted muscles of his jaw. Boris runs a hand over his thigh, rubbing circles just above his knee. “You are okay?”

He nods, sucking several lungfuls of air in at once. Boris's expression softens— the blurred line of his brow settles low. Theo lets go of Boris's ankle and sinks into the bed when the ball of his foot lifts, tracing the crease of Theo’s thigh with the toe of his boot.

“Get undressed,” Boris says. Theo, without thinking much of it, nods his head at the command. His clothes aren’t doing him any good, after all. Boris steps back and Theo does all of the work himself— picks open the buttons of his shirt, kicks his slacks and his socks off onto the floor.

When Theo sits up, Boris swoops in and kisses him, one hand on the side of his jaw, the other traveling down the pale expanse of his ribs. Always, when Boris kisses him, it feels inevitable. It’s a force like gravity— or the phases of the moon. Even now, when his mouth is hot and urgent, his tongue in Theo’s mouth, it’s kismet.

Theo largely learned to kiss from kissing Boris. Even the times he doesn’t remember— blackout drunk, high half out of their minds, always left up to whatever trouble they could get themselves into. He can’t hold those memories in his head but muscle memory was still there. He digs his fingers into Boris's hair, tight in the dark coils of his hair. Boris’s breath catches, escapes in a groan.

Boris presses forward and Theo pulls him along, dragging Boris on top of him. He’s close enough for Theo to be able to see him with clarity. Boris shifts his weight on his knees, bracketing Theo’s hips. Theo drags his fingers free of Boris’s hair to work on clawing his belt open instead. When he’s free of it, Boris shoves his dark jeans down his thighs. His mouth is on the side of Theo’s neck, teeth grazing the skin. He kicks his jeans off, his mouth marking a sloppy path to Theo’s sternum. He only sits up when his pants fall to the floor, just enough to press a hand between them and mold his palm to the shape of Theo’s cock. The barest hint of friction makes Theo hiss, laying his head back and clawing at Boris’s shoulder. Boris only grinds his palm against Theo’s dick for a moment before lifting it away, fingers hooking in the silky elastic of his boxers to pull them away. He does the same with his underwear,

When Boris spits in his palm, Theo pulls a face, groaning out a single laugh. “You bought lube.”

“Want me to find it now?” Boris asks, wrapping his hand around both of them. Theo arcs his hips up toward Boris, shaking his head. His hand is slick, palm slightly rough, enough that it feels good. He strokes them together, his thumb rolling over the wet slit of Theo’s cock. A groan escapes Theo’s mouth before he can think to stop it.

Milyi,” Boris says, bringing his face close to Theo’s once again. His eyes are only half-open, lips parted to let out long gasps of air. Theo curls a hand around the side of his neck, fingers covering the nape, thumb brushing the lobe of his ear. Boris turns his head into the touch, kissing the inside of Theo’s wrist.

He rolls into the unsteady rhythm of Boris’s hand, every nerve shouting for some kind of release. He squeezes his eyes shut, burying his face against the side of his neck to hide when he comes, mouthing at the sweat-salty skin of his collarbone. Boris doesn’t pause. His long fingers wrapped around both of them only spreads the mess of Theo’s come. Theo clings to Boris’s shoulder, muscles trembling. He feels like he’s been cracked in half— every heavy, dark thing that he’s been carrying for too long escaping to the far, fuzzy ceiling.

Boris sighs something against Theo’s temple, a confused slurry of language that Theo can’t decipher but understands anyway. His hips kick forward when he comes, some of it streaking Theo’s stomach. Boris slumps over on top of him, breathing heavy, smacking lazy kisses against the side of Theo’s face.

Theo’s head feels empty— brain buzzing with static. He only opens his mouth to speak when he’s sure his voice won’t come out shattered. “I love you too.”

“Ha!” Boris laughs once, a jolt, like the cork popping from a champagne bottle. “Theo. blood of my heart. I am glad.”