The first time Theo meets him is an absolute disaster. It’s unclear if things get better or worse from there.
He’s lived next to this guy for three whole weeks and never once laid eyes on him, and he knows this won’t be the best first impression. It’s certainly not the circumstances under which he’d like to meet his neighbor. But it’s been three fucking weeks and he has reached his breaking point, which is why he’s banging on the flimsy dorm door with almost enough fury to knock it off its hinges.
But then the door opens, and Theo can’t stop knocking in time, and his fist passes through where the door had just been and lands squarely in his neighbor’s face.
It’s absolutely mortifying, and instantly Theo loses all the righteous fury that had dragged him out of bed. But the guy just laughs — a real laugh, the kind that throws his head back and splits his face in two.
“What the fuck,” he says, still laughing. “I got punched in the face by Harry fucking Potter.”
Theo’s surprised by his accent. He’s surprised by a lot of how this encounter is going.
“Uh,” he says. “Sorry?”
The guy clucks his tongue. “Don’t apologize! You punch me, I assume you have reason. What is it?”
“I was going to ask you to, uh, tone it down,” Theo says. He had a lot of things he was going to say, but the wind has been knocked out of his sails. “It’s one in the morning. I live next door,” he adds for clarification.
“Ah yes, Fyodor.”
“Um, no. Theo.”
“Yes yes,” the guy says. He doesn’t provide his name, and the little name poster the RA had made has been ripped off the door. “Will be quiet now so you can sleep, Harry Potter Theo.” And he shuts the door in Theo’s face.
And maybe that would have been everything, but the next night he shows up at Theo’s room.
“Knock knock, Potter,” he says, after Theo has already opened the door. “Is me, Boris. From last night? I have beer.” He holds up a six-pack to prove it, and Theo lets him in.
Boris is sporting a black eye that doesn’t seem to have dampened his spirits in the slightest. He cracks open a beer for himself and looks around Theo’s room, not even bothering to seem furtive about it. Theo feels weirdly exposed, as if he’s the one being examined, not his things.
“Drink up, drink up!” Boris insists, pushing a can into Theo’s hand. “An apology drink. For noise. I have not been good neighbor.”
Theo takes a sip. “Sorry about your face.”
Boris laughs a little again. “Don’t be! Is fine. Besides, I am roguish and handsome now, yes? Women all love me.”
From the noises Theo has had to endure for the past three weeks, it doesn’t seem like attracting women is a big problem for Boris. “You’re definitely roguish,” Theo says.
Theo asks about his accent and Boris asks about his glasses and the posters on the wall and Theo asks how many countries he’s lived in. Then Boris puts down his can and declares, “This beer is no good. You like vodka?”
And the truth is that Theo never has, but for whatever reason he can’t bring himself to say no. So he follows Boris to his room, like a moth chasing after a candle, and that’s the first night they get wasted together. That's how everything starts.
Being friends with Boris is unlike anything Theo’s ever experienced. It’s like riding on a rollercoaster that never stops, thrilling and terrifying and all-consuming.
He gets high for the first time in his life and then a lot of times after that. He goes to parties some nights and just hangs out in Boris’ room other nights and has just as much fun at both. He loses himself in vodka and whiskey and beer and weed and Boris’ laugh, as addictive as anything else.
They drop acid together—a first for both of them—and watch the room swirl and crystallize in front of them. They lie on Boris’ bed and Theo clings to his hand like a lifeline, an anchor, the only thing keeping him from being swept away. Boris giggles and Theo feels it vibrate through his chest. He’s been holding Boris’ hand for hours and he’s not sure he’s physically capable of letting go.
But being friends with Boris doesn’t make Boris a better neighbor, nor does it make the late-night noises stop. It just means that, when Theo hears the thump of bed against wall and the moan of girl against Boris, he knows where the noises are coming from. It means he knows exactly who is making that girl squeal and whimper and whine. It means he lies awake well past when the noises have faded away, unable to stop picturing his friend’s face.
One day Theo comes home from class to see Pippa and Boris sitting in the hall. They’re facing each other, Pippa with her knees to the side, Boris sprawled widely. They’re chatting lightly. Theo is struck by what feels like every possible human emotion.
Pippa notices him first. “Theo! I’m sorry, I got here a little early. Boris has been keeping me entertained.”
“I see that,” Theo says, as neutrally as he can.
Boris leaps to his feet. “Nothing but pleasure. A delightful girl! So charming! We are best friends now, I feel it in my soul. Theo, how could you not introduce us before?”
“I didn’t think of it,” Theo says, which is true. But now that it’s happened, he’s definitely thinking about it, and he definitely doesn’t like it. “We should get going if we’re going to make it to dinner on time,” he says to Pippa.
He helps her up and she waves goodbye to Boris. “Nice to meet you,” she calls, because she is an angel. Theo steers her away.
Later that night Boris asks about her again, when it’s just the two of them in his room. So Theo tells him everything, about how they met, about his mother, about how he loved her from the beginning, about all the years he spent in love with her.
“But now nothing?” Boris asks, one eyebrow raised.
Theo shrugs. Not really. It’s been over a year since he felt anything like that, and he doesn’t miss it. He gets to be her friend now, and actually enjoy her friendship, and not feel heartbroken every time he looks at her.
They pass a bottle back and forth in silence for a while.
“Please don’t sleep with her.” Theo doesn’t know where it comes from, doesn’t know why he says it, but right now the worst thing in the world he could possibly imagine is the two of them together.
Boris pats him on the shoulder. “To you, my best friend, my brother? I would not do this. Trust me.”
Theo’s skin burns where Boris touches it.
Kitsey’s mother knew Theo’s mother somehow and he remembers seeing her at his mother’s parties, a lifetime ago. She was small then, and snub-nosed, and he hadn’t thought much of her. They haven’t even spoken since then, really. But she’s the only person at this university who ever met his mother, and he wonders if that’s part of why he always notices when she walks into a room, crosses his path in the quad, meets his eye across the room at a party.
It doesn’t even feel like a decision to make his way over to her and ask if she wants a drink. It just feels like an inevitability.
They hole up in a little corner, as far from the speakers as possible, and talk for at least an hour. They talk about old times, about early memories of each other, about how weird it is that they haven’t talked before now, about what they’re up to now. At some point Boris crosses into Theo’s field of vision. There’s a small, short girl hanging onto him, pressing kisses up his arm. Boris points at Kitsey and makes an obscene gesture. Theo looks away and tries to ignore him.
Kitsey leans in to kiss him, and Theo kisses her back. Her lips are soft and taste like strawberries and white wine. It’s very nice.
Theo tries to find Boris again before leaving the party but he’s already gone, probably off with the girl from before. He takes Kitsey’s hand and leads her back to his dorm room.
“It’s a bit of a downsize from the New York apartment,” he jokes, and Kitsey laughs at him.
They kiss on his bed for a while until she starts to unbutton her top, looking up at him coyly the whole time. He complies and helps pull her skirt down, unhooks her bra to let her breasts fall loose. He kisses her nipples and she arches her back, a soft moan escaping her lips. He starts rubbing her clit through her panties and she moans a little louder. Immediately she claps her hand over her mouth, blushing pink, but he pulls it away and pins it next to her head.
“I want to hear you,” he tells her, and pulls her panties off. He fingers her until she screams and he wonders if Boris can hear it next door.
It’s revenge, he tells himself as he pushes into her, for all those sleepless nights. A taste of his own medicine. He thrusts into her again and the image comes to him, unbidden, of Boris listening to them, his hand reaching into his pants as Theo himself had done on some lonely guilty nights. Kitsey is moaning his name and Theo pictures Boris doing the same and he nearly bites through his tongue when he comes.
Afterwards he lies on the bed while Kitsey is in the bathroom and balls the condom up in more tissues that he needs to, hoping that maybe if he buries it sufficiently in the trashcan he can also bury everything else that happened tonight. The room reeks of sex and sweat and shame and Theo would open a window if he wasn’t afraid he’d climb out through it.
Kitsey comes back, unwraps his towel from around her body, and starts pulling on her clothes.
“I live on the other side of campus,” she tells him. “I’m not doing that walk of shame tomorrow morning.”
He nods. He’s not sure what to say now. What does Boris say to the girls he brings home?
“Are you free tomorrow?” she asks.
“Sure,” he says, and she nods approvingly.
“Good. We’ll get drinks at 7. I’ll text you the address.”
Boris comes over the next afternoon. He always lets himself in, not even bothering to knock except to say “Knock knock!” after he’s already opened the door. (“Is the same! You will let me in anyway, why bother with the knocking? Be grateful I don’t sneak in.”) Theo can’t really complain about it, because they both know that if he actually minded he wouldn’t leave the door unlocked.
“So,” Boris crows, bouncing on Theo’s bed, an image which Theo suddenly finds very uncomfortable. “Last night was lucky for you! How was it, Potter? Tell us everything.”
Theo’s first thought is: he did hear. But he’s no longer sure he wants him to have heard. Or, rather, he’s not sure that he wants to want him to have heard.
“What, shy now? It was the icy one, yes? From the party? Beautiful. Stunning. Like a sculpture. Good for you! A noisy one, though. It’s funny, yes? How the girls who seem quietest make the most noise? They keep it bottled up, I think, and then, boom!”
Theo blushes. It feels weird to be talking about Kitsey like this, like some conquest. The guilt, which never really left after last night, comes back in full force: Kitsey doesn’t deserve this. Sleeping with her should have meant something. It could have meant something. It’s his fault it didn’t.
“I’m seeing her again tonight,” Theo says, and Boris stops bouncing.
“Oh?” he asks. “It is serious then? You like this girl?”
Theo shrugs. “We grew up together.”
“Oh!” Boris says. “A childhood romance.” He says it like a joke, but there’s no real humor in his voice.
There’s a pause and Theo hates it, but the only thing he can think to say is, “I should get ready.” It’s not a good excuse, they’ve changed in front of each other plenty of times before, but he hopes Boris will take the hint.
And Boris does stand up, but he also pulls out a joint. “A hit before you go, eh? Will loosen you up. You get so nervous always around girls.”
“I’m fine,” Theo says. Boris shrugs and pockets the joint.
He lays a hand on Theo’s shoulder on his way out the door. “I wish you every happiness,” he says, seriously. “With my whole heart.”
“It’s one date.”
“Who knows?” Boris laughs. “Maybe at last you find love.”
Theo doesn’t find love.
Instead, he slides into a seat across from Kitsey, she hands him the cocktail she’s already ordered for him, and she asks, “So who was it?”
“What? Who was what?”
She taps her fingers on the table. “The girl. Or guy or whatever. I don’t care.”
“I don’t like men,” Theo says, an auto-response.
Kitsey shrugs. “You were thinking about someone. When we had sex.”
Theo looks down. He doesn’t know what to say.
“Hey,” Kitsey says. “It’s okay. I was too.”
That doesn’t make him feel better. “Who?”
Kitsey takes a sip from her drink and he knows that she won’t tell him. “I don’t mind. The sex was good anyway.” She leans forward. “So, you ever want to go again, I’m happy to do it. No strings attached.” She bites her lip. It should be seductive.
Theo swallows and looks away. “I don’t know.”
She hums to herself and settles back in her chair. “Thought so. It’s a man, isn’t it?”
“I’m not gay,” Theo snaps.
“Suit yourself,” Kitsey says airily. “I really don’t care.”
“I’m leaving,” Theo says.
“You’re paying for our drinks first,” Kitsey tells him.
He does, but he resents it.
He doesn’t tell Boris what happened with Kitsey. They go back to their usual: drinking, laughing, watching movies, going to parties, sitting on Boris’ couch passing a joint back and forth. Theo accepts the joint into his mouth like a sacrament, all too aware that it has just been between Boris’ lips. He watches how Boris exhales the smoke, letting it slip from his mouth little by little, blowing it slowly up towards the ceiling, head thrown back and neck exposed.
This is their usual. Theo wonders how he used to bear it.
It takes less than a week before he caves and calls Kitsey. Boris seems to be having a boisterously good time next door and it’s more than he can handle, but Kitsey shows up with a kiss and a promise of distraction. He doesn’t feel as guilty this time when he imagines that it is Boris’ mouth, not hers, trailing down his chest, that it is Boris’ tongue teasing the tip of his cock. It’s better now that they both know what this is, when they both know they aren’t the person the other wants to be fucking. It’s even better that they don’t really talk much, so Theo doesn’t have to confess anything to her.
So he keeps calling Kitsey, and he keeps meeting up with her, and he keeps fucking her, and he keeps hoping that on the other side of that wall Boris feels at least half as frustrated as he does. And it kind of works, like scratching a bug bite: a moment of relief but then it’s still there, always there, always itching. Kitsey’s never going to be enough to make him totally forget.
They’re rolling at a party and Theo feels fantastic. The music courses through him, it replaces his blood, and he can’t stop moving. Boris tugs him to the bar by his hand and it feels so fucking good, just Boris’ hand in his own, just that little touch. Theo wants to keep touching him, Theo never wants to stop touching him, Theo wants to run his hands all over —
Theo needs to get away. Before he loses control, before he lets something slip.
So he flees into the crowd, into the pulse of bodies. When he’s safely away from Boris he lets himself dance again, because dancing is what he wants to be doing, really, because holding himself back from dancing is too much effort.
And then he sees a man dancing, and he is gorgeous. He’s wearing a v-neck tee and his slender hips are swishing back and forth, he’s got a long nose and a wide smile and long dark curly hair circling his head like a halo. Theo lets gravity pull himself towards this man, and the man doesn’t seem to mind at all. They’re dancing face to face and Theo refuses to let himself overthink this. It’s just dancing. What harm is there in dancing? The man is closer to him now and there are hands on his hips and his skin feels golden where it is touched. They’re pressing together and this is what Theo wanted, contact, yes, touch, a warm body, arms around him, stubble on his chin, lips slick against his own —
He stumbles backwards. The man is saying something that he can’t hear over the music, over the roar of his brain. He turns and sees Boris staring at him. He needs water, fresh air. He runs outside.
“I saw you,” Boris says, offhand, the next morning, “with beautiful boy. Dancing.”
“It was nothing,” Theo says, face red, burning.
Boris raises an eyebrow, teasing now. “Looked like a very close nothing. How do you say it? Cozy.”
“Shut up. It was the molly. I’m not like that.”
He feels Boris’ eyes on him, boring into him. He can’t bring himself to meet them.
“So nothing at all?” Boris asks again.
“I’m not like that,” Theo repeats, emphatically, as if repetition will engrave the words into his soul and make them true.
“Okay,” Boris says, and leans back. His voice shifts, is light again. “Is good. He is not your type, I think. He is beautiful, yes, but wrong kind. You should have someone who is beautiful same way you are. His kind of beautiful, it does not fit.”
Theo has no earthly idea how to interpret that, so he takes a long hit before passing back the joint.
He thinks back to his memories of last night, the man’s dark curly hair and bright eyes. And then he watches Boris, holding the joint in his long pale fingers, breathing out smoke in a half-laugh, and thinks maybe it wasn’t the wrong kind of beautiful at all.
Theo feels like he is on the verge of bursting, all the time. Every time he looks at Boris, every time their legs brush each other on the couch, every time they drink together or laugh together or smoke together — it builds up inside of him, growing and growing. And he’s terrified that one day he won’t be able to hold it all in, one day Boris will glance at him with his crooked smile and Theo will spew out months and months of watching and wanting and waiting.
He refuses to roll again, even when Boris begs him, and he holds off from acid too. The last thing he needs is to lose any of his tightly locked inhibitions. Alcohol is fine, he decides, but something to be careful with. (He’s never had to be careful around Boris before and it feels wrong, unnatural.)
“You’re better at drinking now, Potter,” Boris says at one point. “No blackouts all week! Though, if I am honest, I like blackout Potter. A mess, yes, but I like him.”
“I think he’s a bit of a bastard,” Theo says, and prays for blackout Potter to stay far away.
But he knows he can't keep it in forever, he knows he can't go on like this much longer, he knows it's only a matter of time until the dam breaks.
They’re coming home tipsy from a party and they go to Boris’ room without needing to talk about it. Why would Theo go to his own room when Boris’ room is right here, and contains Boris?
Boris fumbles with his keys and Theo snatches them out of his hand.
“Ah, fuck you,” Boris giggles, leaning his shoulder against the door.
“Fuck you,” Theo shoots back, twisting the handle and pushing the door open. Boris stumbles in and grabs onto Theo for balance. They’re laughing and swatting at each other as Theo hauls him up, back onto his feet, and then stands there, holding Boris, inches from his face.
Theo is careful not to gulp, not to lick his lips, not to let his eyes stray downwards from Boris’ own. He stands frozen, charged with electricity, afraid to move.
Boris sways forward and pokes Theo’s nose. “Boop!”
He dissolves into laughter while Theo turns away, embarrassed, and throws his things down on the desk. He catches his breath, calms himself down, and turns back.
Boris is leaning against the couch and looking at him. “You should kiss me, I think,” he says.
Theo laughs because he’s too tipsy for real panic. He waits for a game show host to jump out and tell him he’s been punk’d.
“I’m serious!” Boris says, but he’s laughing too. “An experiment. Secret, just for us.”
“Why?” Theo asks.
Boris shrugs and steps closer to him. “Who knows? For fun.”
In his defense, Theo has never been very good at saying no to Boris. And he’s also fairly certain that afterwards he’ll be able to claim that Boris started it. And he also wants to do it, very, very badly.
So he leans forward, meets Boris’ eyes (staring back at him, glittering, dark), feels his breath against his cheek, and ever so slowly, ever so softly, presses the tiniest of kisses to the corner of Boris’ mouth. Then he ducks away.
Before he can make it very far Boris has grabbed his wrist and pulled him back in, and he’s kissing him for real.
It’s not a good kiss. Their teeth clash together and Boris’ mouth is hard against him. Theo’s glasses clunk against Boris’ nose and he has to fumble to pull them off his face. Boris tastes like cigarettes and booze, an ungodly combination, and Theo’s mouth probably doesn’t taste much better. It’s messy and it’s awkward and Theo lets his mouth fall open to feel more of it, to feel more of Boris, to let the kiss swallow him whole.
Boris’ hands are all over him and his are all over Boris and it’s honestly a miracle that they manage to shuck any of their clothes off, what with their hands bumping into each other and legs getting tangled in pants and all of the tiny buttons on Theo’s shirt and Boris’ shirt stuck hanging around his neck because neither of them is willing to break the kiss long enough to pull it over his head. They stumble over to the bed like some kind of eight-limbed monstrosity and Boris falls on top of him, legs straddling his hips.
Then Boris pauses, breaks away, and Theo sits up to chase the kiss but can’t reach his mouth.
“Theo,” Boris says, serious. He’s panting a little bit. Theo likes that a lot.
“Theo,” Boris says again, and Theo tries to focus. Boris is biting his lip. “This. Is it okay?”
“Yes!” Obviously. His hands are on Boris’ hips and he can feel the ridge of his hip bone through his skin. He wants to run his tongue over it.
Boris is looking down at him and there’s still an urgency in his eyes, not quite desperation but not that far from it. “You want this, yes?” he asks.
More than Theo has ever wanted anything in his life. “Yes, Boris,” he gasps. He’s painfully hard.
Boris’ face cracks into a grin—the filthiest expression Theo has ever seen—and he pulls his shirt off all the way and flings it into the room behind him. “You are sure?” he asks, grinding down onto him, and the question is cocky this time, teasing.
Theo has no idea what he’s doing, had not prepared for this moment, but, figuring it’s now or never, he wraps his hand around Boris’ cock. Boris gasps and it’s the hottest sound he’s ever heard. He’s worried he won’t know what to do with someone else’s dick—it’s a different shape than his and the angle is entirely wrong—but he swipes up with his thumb experimentally and is gratified to hear Boris curse in at least two languages.
“Going to kill me, Potter,” Boris groans, and then his mouth is back on Theo’s and his hand is snaking between the two of them to grab Theo’s dick and Theo moans into him and he feels like he’s on fire and it’s hard to keep up a rhythm when Boris is touching him like that and he’s panting against Boris’ shoulder and Boris’ fingers are in his hair and pulling his head back and Boris is whispering something into his ear that might be dirty or might be sweet but Theo can’t even recognize the language and the pressure is building in his dick and he tries to warn Boris but then he’s coming and coming and gasping and babbling and Boris is swearing and thrusting up into his cum-slick hand and groaning his name and shuddering and pressing small, faint, delicate, gentle kisses to his neck.
It is not the first time he has woken up hungover in Boris’ room. It’s not even the first time he’s woken up in Boris’ bed.
It is, however, the first time he’s woken up without pants on.
Boris groans into his collarbone. “Shh. Be still, Potter.”
“I’m naked,” Theo says. He can only process so much information at once.
“So?” mumbles Boris. “Not my fault you fall asleep right after sex. Out like a light!”
Theo spots his underwear on the floor by the desk, on top of his pants, and makes a beeline for it. His head is spinning. He can’t look at Boris without seeing an instant replay of last night and he’s pretty sure—no, he knows—he’s not prepared to watch it.
Boris sits up, rubbing his eyes. “Come back, misio,” he pleads. “Is cold.”
“I’m not going to fucking snuggle with you,” Theo bites, buttoning his pants. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and he wants to take it back immediately, but his head is aching, bogged down with alcohol and flashes of memory, and Boris’ face has already hardened.
“Yebat tebya,” he says, voice harsh, and Theo feels rather than hears the meaning of it. “What, this is too gay for you, Potter? One thing to jack each other off, no problems, but a little morning cuddle, this is where you draw the line?”
Yes. No. Maybe. All of the above. He doesn’t look up.
Boris sighs and rubs his hand over his face. “Is too early,” he says. “Coffee first.”
Theo finds his shirt and pulls it over his head. “I have to go.”
“Potter. Wait, I did not mean anything, I am cranky in the morning, you know this. Please don’t run away.”
Theo laughs. “I’m not running away. I just have to go.”
“That is my shirt,” Boris observes. Fuck. “What is wrong? You are scared? Don’t be. Is nothing.”
“Nothing?” It’s not nothing. It’s the opposite of nothing. “Boris, we —”
“Is nothing,” Boris insists, at a slightly higher pitch. “What, you fall in love with every girl who gives you a handjob? No. Then what is the fuss?”
Boris leans forward. His voice is tender now. “Does not have to be big deal. We were drunk, we were horny, we had each other. This is all! Yes? This does not have to mean something. You do not have to run.”
“I’m not running,” Theo repeats automatically. “I know it didn’t mean anything.”
“See?” Boris says. He looks relieved. “All good. Nothing has to change.”
Except that everything has changed, except that Theo has changed, except that he won’t ever be able to forget everything that they did and touched and tasted last night.
“I have to go,” Theo says, one last time, and stumbles to the door.
“Theo! Theo, wait.” Boris falls out of bed and catches up to him, wrapped absurdly in a sheet. He clings to the doorframe, his eyes are urgent, his voice unnaturally vulnerable. “Theo. We are still friends, yes?”
“Of course,” Theo says, and leaves as fast as he can.
“Theo!” Pippa’s surprised to see him. Of course she’s surprised. He showed up at her house unannounced at 8 AM, wearing another man’s shirt, drenched in sweat and panic. “Did you run here?”
“No,” Theo lies. “Hi. Can I stay here a bit?”
“Uh.” Pippa looks utterly bewildered. “Sure? Is everything okay?”
“Not really,” Theo says, which is so much of an understatement that it feels like a lie.
He crashes on her couch and sleeps all morning. Later in the day, when he knows Boris will be in class, he slips back into the dorm to load his backpack with essentials: clothes, toiletries, drugs. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be at Pippa’s, but he wants to be prepared. When he gets back to her house, his phone is ringing where he’d left it on the coffee table. He waits for it to stop before venturing over to check it.
(4) Missed calls from: Boris
can we talk??
theo pls. don’t ignore me
we forget it happened ok?? poof, gone
Theo doesn’t call him. He flops on the couch again. Pippa’s off at a music lesson and he has the house to himself, so he pops an edible and wishes he had an actual joint for quicker relief. He lies and waits for the edible to kick in, and then gets impatient and finds Pippa’s liquor cabinet and has a quick shot.
He watches a movie on Pippa’s TV. It’s not a good one, and bad movies aren’t really fun by yourself. He keeps waiting to hear Boris laugh or curse at one of the characters or mock the shitty special effects. Without him there the movie doesn’t seem stupid, just sad. The acting alternates between too stiff and too hammy, and all Theo feels is pity for the performers.
He gets another text.
ptr!! party @ KTs u shud come!!
It’s a normal text, at least. Part of him wants to go, be normal again, wipe the slate clean, pretend none of this ever happened, like Boris said. It’s nothing. Not a big deal. Nothing changes. Still friends.
Theo doesn’t want to be friends. He doesn’t know what he wants. He wants the world to stop so he can sit down and sort out his feelings. He turns off his phone.
He hears Pippa come home and call a greeting from the door. He wishes he was still in love with her. Pining after her was easy; his heart didn’t break so much as dissolve very slowly over a long period of time. This is worse. This is like something has detonated inside him.
Later that evening, or maybe the next evening, or the evening after that (things get a little fuzzy), he hears Kitsey. He’s taken two or three edibles on top of what he’s already had today (what has he had today?) and is honestly starting to feel a little nauseous but he catches the vague sound of her voice, floating over to him. She sounds muffled, like she’s speaking behind a glass window or a curtain of fog or both. Pippa too. They must be rooms, miles away.
“I wasn’t sure who to call,” Pippa might be saying. “But I figured…”
The rest of her sentence is lost. He hears Kitsey say, “I’m not his girlfriend.” He wonders if that’s true. He wonders if it should be true. He wonders why it isn’t true.
Then Kitsey’s crouching in front of him. “Hey you,” she says. She’s astonishingly beautiful.
“I love you,” Theo tells her. She radiates. She lights up the room around her with a silvery glow.
She snorts. “No, you don’t.”
“No, I don’t,” Theo admits, suddenly sad. “It’s Pippa. I love Pippa.”
“You don’t love Pippa.”
“I do. I always have. I love her. She’s the right kind of beautiful.”
Kitsey strokes his hair. It sends shivers down his whole body. An image of Boris flashes into his mind, tugging his hair, kissing his neck.
“You’re a mess,” Kitsey says gently.
He still feels like shit but he’s finally eating solid food again. He sits at the table across from Pippa, painfully sober, and tries to pull himself together. The past few days feel like some kind of nightmare. He can’t even remember most of them. But Pippa’s still here, Pippa’s always been here for him, Pippa and….
“How did you know to call Kitsey?” Theo asks. “I didn’t know you knew each other.”
Pippa hesitates. “We… didn’t.”
Of course they didn’t. How could they? They’re opposites, yin and yang, no way their worlds would collide.
“I was really worried about you, Theo,” Pippa says. Her voice is always gentle, but even more so now, fragile, even. Like glass. “You were in a really bad way. I thought she was your girlfriend —”
“Right,” Pippa says, reddening. “I know that now. But I thought she could help. Or she should know. Or whatever.”
“But how did you find her?” Theo’s certain he’s never even mentioned her to Pippa. Where did she get the idea they were dating?
A horrifying thought occurs. “Did you go through my phone?” His heart starts beating fast, flying into panic mode, terrified of what she might have seen. He doesn’t even know what incriminating evidence is on there but he’s sure there’s something: texts too affectionate, too many photos, internet searches.
“No!” Pippa bursts, and Theo barely has time to be relieved before she says, “Boris told me.”
He freezes. “Boris?”
“He’s worried about you too. He’s been checking up. He said I should call her, that —”
“You talked to Boris?” Theo feels hot. His head still aches and the anger and betrayal swell up in him like bile, like he might vomit again.
“Yes,” Pippa says, and she looks worried. Scared, even.
“Why the fuck would you talk to Boris?” Theo realizes he’s shouting. “You had no right to do that!”
Pippa’s nearly in tears. “I thought he was your friend!”
“He’s not my fucking friend,” Theo snarls. He sounds like his father and he hates it. He hates what he’s doing and saying, hates seeing Pippa like this, hates himself for making her feel like this, but he can’t stop. He feels like he’s in a bad dream, watching himself explode from the outside. Stop me, he thinks, yelling at her again. Please, somebody, stop —
“What the fuck are you doing, Theo?”
Kitsey is standing in the doorway, a furious beacon. Theo has never been so happy to see her.
“Get the fuck away from her,” Kitsey growls.
“I’m sorry,” Theo says, and in his relief at being able to say it he starts babbling. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it, I fucked up, I’m so sorry, Pippa, I didn’t —”
“You can go, Pippa,” Kitsey says, and Pippa flees. Kitsey rounds on him again. “What the fuck is your problem?”
“I fucked up,” says Theo, and the enormity of it is hitting him like a ton of bricks crashing into his skull. He sinks to his knees.
“Yes, you did. What is wrong with you?”
So many things. Too many things.
“It’s Boris,” he says quietly, so quietly he hopes she can’t hear him.
“I know it’s Boris,” Kitsey says. She’s still standing over him, not bothering to crouch to his level. “It’s always Boris. It’s always been Boris.”
“It’s not like —”
“Don’t lie to me! I swear to God, Theo, if you say that one more time, I’ll…” She gestures uselessly, and eventually just folds her arms. “You need to get over yourself.”
Theo sits numbly. He doesn’t know where to start. He feels like he’s drowning in himself.
“It’s not that you’re gay,” Kitsey says at last. “That’s fine! No one gives a flying fuck but you. The problem is you’re broken.”
“I’m serious, Theo. There’s something seriously broken inside of you. And I’m sorry that it’s hurting you, I really am, but you don’t get to hurt everyone around you with it.” She snatches up her coat and storms to the door.
“Kitsey!” he calls, one last time, and it works, somehow. She turns around.
“Last chance, Decker,” she says. Her voice is sharp but her eyes are soft, sad, waiting.
There are so many things he’d like to say. He’s sorry for hurting her, for hurting Pippa, for Boris. He wants to tell her the things he won’t let himself tell anyone — about himself, about Boris, about things bottled up and locked away, about what he almost had, what he’s ruined. He wants someone to hear him and understand and, who knows, forgive him. And there’s a moment where he thinks, maybe if I say it right, she’ll do that. Maybe if I come clean she will absolve me.
Except she’s right about him. She’s always right.
“I’m not gay,” he says, pathetically, hopelessly. Brokenly.
Kitsey rolls her eyes. “Call me when you get your shit together. And get out of Pippa’s house.”
He doesn’t know why he goes back to the dorm. Maybe just because he has no other place left to go. And he certainly doesn’t even have a plan when he knocks on Boris’ door. He half-hopes it’ll come to him when the door opens, but it doesn’t.
“Potter! Was starting to have forgotten your face.” Boris is smiling but it doesn’t reach his eyes. He’s watching Theo carefully, like a wild animal not sure whether or not to approach a human.
Theo can’t tell what Boris is thinking. He doesn’t even know what he is thinking.
“Do you have vodka?” he asks.
Boris pours a little glass for each of them, and they drink. This is easy for them. Many things are easy around Boris, and many things are terrifying, and the overlap of those two categories is what keeps Theo up at night.
“I am glad to see you alive,” Boris says eventually. Cautiously.
“I’m sorry,” Theo says. He means it. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to say it and make it match how much he means it.
“Eh,” says Boris, “so it goes.” He’s not looking at Theo.
“I am sorry,” Theo says again. “Really.”
Boris takes a drink.
“I fucked up, Boris.”
Boris looks at him then. But he still doesn’t say anything, just waits.
“I don’t know what happened to me,” Theo tries to explain. “I panicked and I lost it. I don’t know what I was doing. I didn’t want to be doing it. It’s like I was on autopilot, and my autopilot is an asshole.”
Boris laughs at that. Theo takes it as encouragement and keeps going.
“I got confused. And I lashed out. And I think I was trying to lash out at myself but I hurt other people too and I’m sorry, and now I don’t know how to make it right, and I’m still confused and scared and —” Theo cuts off. There are tears on his cheeks, hot and wet, and he tries to look away but Boris catches his chin and turns him back.
“Hey,” Boris says. “Hey. Breathe. Hear my voice? Just listen. Breathe.” He wraps his arms around Theo.
“I fucked up,” Theo insists again. He thinks of Pippa’s frightened face, of Kitsey’s simmering rage. Of the way Boris had looked at him when he opened the door, guarded and unsure, a way he’d never looked at Theo before.
But Boris hushes him. He feels Boris’ hand rubbing circles on his back, grounding him.
“Kitsey thinks I’m broken,” Theo whispers.
Theo looks up at him. “Okay?”
Boris shrugs. “What am I supposed to say? No, Potter, everything is peachy? If everything is peachy you would not be crying on my floor.”
Theo wipes his face and sits up. Boris laughs at him.
“Are you broken?” Boris continues. “Probably, yes. Many people are. I too am broken.”
“It doesn’t bother you?” Theo asks. “You don’t want to get better?”
“Pah,” says Boris, waving away his words like he’s swatting flies. “What does this even mean, to get better?”
Theo lays down, resting his head on the shitty dorm carpeting, and stares up at the shitty dorm ceiling.
“I just thought it’d be different,” he says. “I thought I’d be more... I thought everything would make sense by now.”
Boris stretches out beside him, propped up on an elbow, leaning slightly over Theo. He chuckles.
“Always you believe this idea, that the world is whole, that it makes sense. The world is not whole! Nothing makes sense! All over the surface are these cracks and no answers. People like you and me, broken ones, we live in these cracks. It is our home. Cozy.”
Theo turns his head to the right, facing him. “Boris,” he breathes out. A name, a whisper, a prayer.
“You never make any fucking sense.”
Boris barks out a laugh and settles onto his back, next to Theo. Their elbows are an inch apart from brushing each other. Boris turns his head inwards, makes eye contact, smiles.
“This is why you like me, I think,” he says quietly. Theo doesn’t deny it.
Boris reaches out, just a bit, and his fingers brush Theo’s. Theo takes his hand, tangles their fingers together.
It’s not enough. It’s a start.
When Theo wakes up on Boris’ couch, Boris is gone.
It’s already late in the morning, so Theo picks himself up and drags his backpack next door. He hasn’t been in his own room in a while and he’s embarrassed at how messy he left it.
One step at a time.
He takes a shower and tries to scrub off a week’s worth of self-pity and misery, months’ worth of shame, years’ worth of guilt. He calls Kitsey (she doesn’t pick up) and leaves the best message he can. He tries six times to call Pippa but can’t work up the nerve to do it, so he sits down and writes her a letter. It’s four pages long, so he rewrites it down to a concise three. He goes to the florist in town and asks them to send it to her along with the largest bouquet they’re willing to put together. It won’t be enough, but it’s a start.
He tries to tidy up his room. He realizes he hasn’t been to class in a week — one more thing to make up for. He opens a textbook and tries to read but he’s too anxious to focus. He tries a different one.
He’s on his third textbook when he hears Boris next door, the click of the lock, the swing of the hinges. His heart freezes in his chest and for a moment he thinks of running away again, this time out the window, into the woods, onto the highway.
Instead, he steps outside and knocks on his neighbor’s door. Three raps, firm but not too hard, and then he waits.
Boris opens the door with a smile. “Potter! You are still on campus.”
“Day two, going strong,” Theo says. “Can I come in?”
Boris rolls his eyes. “What kind of a question is this? Can you come in? Always you can come in, of course! What else is friendship?”
“I don’t want to be friends,” Theo says, makes himself say, as soon as Boris has shut the door behind him.
Boris stops. “Okay.” That expression again: a mask, defensive.
“I don’t want to just be friends and I don’t want to forget it happened,” Theo says. “So you’re right, we should talk about it and —”
Boris swoops forward and kisses him. It’s quick, closed-mouth, and then he pulls back, looks for Theo’s reaction.
The words fall out of Theo’s mouth before he can stop them. “I think I’m in love with you.”
A smile breaks across Boris’ face, wide and crooked and infectious. “A long time I have loved you,” he says. “Glad you could catch up.”
Theo kisses him like he’s drowning, like it’s his last gasp of air. But it doesn’t feel like drowning, it feels like washing ashore, it feels like being lifted from the water and carried to safety. He remembers the first time they tripped and how Boris was the only thing left steady, the only thing keeping him from falling into an abyss. His lifeline. He feels Boris’ hands cradling his face, fingers digging into his cheeks, real, solid, here. He holds on tight and lets himself exhale.
People like you and me, broken ones, we live in these cracks.
And we are not alone, and maybe it is enough.