“Is just me Potter, just me...”
A red sun fell under the horizon of scratchy sand and umber bricks. The chain of the swing pressed into Theo’s cheek, his eyes fluttering shut, the ecstasy of pain, reminding Theo he still existed, coursing through his veins. It was only when he was like this that he remembered he was still alive, that the only piece of him that mattered hadn’t died along with his mother, in that gray, broken museum. When the pills dissolved in the back of his throat and sunk into the grey matter and neurons, he wished would stop firing, that’s when his feet would touch the ground, and Theo’s fingers his shoulder.
Him. Boris. Drawing through trembling golden lashes, Theo watched him from the corner of his eye. His paper white skin, sallow and sunk against ash-marked eyes and cheekbones. His loose t-shirt, and the collarbones that rose from the sea of black like white pillars of a Greek temple. He was talking, about something or the other, but the words that left his lips fell on deaf ears, because all Theo could hear was the empty horizon and Boris’s warmth that filled it to the brim. Theo realized, and not for the first time, that he was wrong. It wasn’t the pill that made him feel. It was Boris. Beautiful Boris, Boris like an angel in ratty t-shirts and work boots, with desert-red sand smeared across his nose and cheeks. Boris that Theo trailed behind, like a pathetic fucking puppy, addicted to the rush Boris gave him when he looked at him just right, when his fingers trailed over Theo’s arm, when his thighs framed Theo’s sides as blow after blow of his playful rage fell on Theo’s braced arms. Boris who Theo laid beside, who would pet his hair when he woke screaming, when orange streetlights fell just right on Boris’s eyes, bright eyes, like black holes and sparkling embers, catching Theo even as he fell.
Bright eyes that caught Theo’s vacant expression and filled with explosive mischief. (Sometimes Theo wondered if they ever held anything else. But then he’d call himself a liar, because he remembered the nights he couldn’t sleep, and he would catch Boris waking from another nightmare, and the fear in his eyes like disease, and a feeling in the pit of his stomach would tell Theo to never let him feel that fear again.)
“Potter, is very rude not to listen. Here I am, spilling my heart, and not even listening. Bah. Chertovski amerikantsy.” He spat playfully, his foot planting in Theo’s side, sending him spinning off into the empty air, shaking him from his musings.
“Fuck off Boris.” Theo shook his head, as if it would dislodge the fogginess lodged in the back of his skull, the one only Boris gave him, that made him feel, and stood up from the swing. He’d had enough of his pathetic poetic waxing. Boris was Boris, his friend, and Theo was Theo, and Theo wasn’t alive, no matter how many times his heart fluttered in a vain attempt to convince him to not give up. “Let’s go home. I’m hungry and whatever shit you gave me is wearing off already.” Boris’s laugh, like the bark of a shaggy retriever, cut through the sticky air of the desert night.
“Ah Potter, is because you do too many drugs. Now your body used to it.” Boris puffed his chest up, Theo’s eyes begging him touch him, his shoulder, his arm, something. Theo was sober enough to not listen, and though a pang struck him, he reveled in the pain of it all. “But because I’m good friend, I plan for this.” Digging through the pocket of his jeans, Boris crowed triumphantly as he pulled out a little bag with two blue pills in it. “See?”
Theo slid his tongue across his lower lip, considering the choice. Sober, he would be safe. These thoughts in his head, about Boris, about feeling for the first time since the museum, they would disappear, tucked away in some fold of his mind, and Theo could sink back into his soft non-existence. He was nearly there anyways, close enough he could taste the gray on his tongue like cotton balls. It would be so easy.
Theo reached out and snatched the bag from Boris’s fingers eagerly, stuffing a pill past his lips, Boris laughing at his eagerness. Their fingers brushed as Boris took it back from him, joining Theo in his oncoming high. Theo almost hated himself for the knee-jerk way he wanted to lean into that small touch, into all of Boris and his cheap cologne he knew Boris had stolen from his dad. Almost. But Theo was high, and when Theo was high, it was okay to feel these things, because it’s not like he could control himself, right? He couldn’t, and so later that night, when they sat on the couch, picking at a steak Theo had done a shitty job of cooking, and watching some crappy reality show Boris was obsessed with, Theo couldn’t hate himself for the way he curled into Boris’s side. The way his fingers and palms crept under the red sweater Boris had insisted on wearing, whining about how cold the air conditioning was, (Theo secretly liked it - it meant he got to see the striking way the sweater’s red, for all its rattiness and dullness, lit up against Boris’s milk-like skin) and curled softly against Boris’s stomach, thumb splayed out enough to catch where Boris’s ribcage pressed against malnourished muscle. He couldn’t do anything really, much less control himself, and so he didn’t. Not for that night. Not when he could be having Boris all to himself, to touch and explore, even if it was only in small touches and stolen glances.
Sometimes it was Welty. Buried under chalky dust and eyes straining for some sign of hope, pressing not a ring, but the skull of a finch into Theo’s trembling palm. Sometimes it was Pippa, swaying on her feet, her skull cracked open and her brain, lovely and full of piano notes and thoughts and love, poured out in a gory mess, dying her ginger hair even darker, staining her lips as they smiled garishly, her fingers picking the bits of brain from her hair and nimbly pressing them past her lips as Theo watched, stuck in a gold cage.
On the worst nights it was his mother. Crumpled on her stomach, blood leaking and forming clumps where it mixed with ash and chalk. And no matter how many times Theo screamed, and touched and pushed her, she would just lay there, dead.
Theo woke up with a scream, guttural, painfully bright red like blood that shoots from a cut artery. A scream like his heart was trying to leave his chest, run away from all of this, and Theo shook, sobbing, sitting up crumpled in half as the fragments of his nightmare twittered across his eyelids. Hands, tired and scared hands, circled his waist and pulled him into an upright chest, a nose that pressed into his neck and shoulders, a voice that whispered quietly, over and over.
“Potter - Theo, is okay. I’m here, is okay, is just me Potter, just me.” Boris’s voice, worn and sunk in a chest that had only just managed to find sleep, shouldered past the walls of memories and pain Theo found himself caught in, a pathway of air and oxygen and ‘Tee-oh’. He took it in greedily, letting himself fall into all that was Boris at 2am, too sober to have done this at any other time, but even a sober mind couldn’t deny a sinful man his angel.
Boris’s hand pressed into the flat of Theo’s stomach, the other petting his arm like he was a frightened dog. No, even when Popchyk, who speak of the devil, was curled up at Theo’s feet, one indignant eye watching the two boys, was scared, Boris didn’t pet him like this. No, like he was Potter, Boris’s Potter, and even in his sober mind, that gave him hope. Theo turned into Boris’s hold, burying his face in the collarbones he had denied himself just this afternoon.
“Mm. Not forgiven.” Theo choked out a breathy laugh, his arms tightening around Boris’s waist. “Imagine this. Me, good friend shows up at Potter’s house on a Saturday with grade-a MDMA, and then he blows through it in 10 hours. So, me, better friend, brings more! And what does he do? He dunks me in pool, ruins perfectly good steak, sticks cold hands under my sweater, (which to Theo’s credit, was a selfish accusation, Boris was practically a space heater, and it wasn’t Theo’s fault he was cold all the time), and now, wakes me up as soon as I fall asleep. Bah. chertovski amerikantsy!”
Theo wrinkled his nose, punching Boris’s stomach as he pushed himself away. “If I’m that awful, why don’t you just go home dipshit? It’s not like I need you or anything.” And certainly, Theo was lying, just as much as Boris was when he told Theo he wasn’t forgiven, as if Boris even thought he had something to apologize for. Boris shrugged, and drew Theo back into his grasp. They sat there for a while in a silence as Boris pondered his question.
“Who else would stop Potter from drowning at the bottom of the pool, or hug him when he screams like big baby?” Boris remarked quietly, “Who would make sure he ate, or make sure he didn’t get run over by a car high like a giraffe.” Boris laughed at his last remark, Theo rolling his eyes.
“That’s not an actual expression.”
“But still funny, yes?” Theo only hummed in response, sinking deeper into Boris’s arms.
“Why do you care?” he asked quietly. It was a stupid question to ask, why did Boris care? He didn’t want to hear the answer. Because you’re my only friend, because I pity you, Theo knew it and didn’t want to hear it. But he still asked anyways because some silly part in his head, in his heart, the part that got the breath punched out of it every time Boris’s fingers caressed his side, when he smiled at Theo in that special way Theo had never seen him smile like before, like a person seeing their lover for the first time in thirty years, that little part still thought maybe, maybe Boris needed him. And Theo, though as hard as he tried, and he really did try, couldn’t hate that part of himself, not when it was the only bit still alive in all of him.
Boris still hadn’t answered. Outside, the blare of a siren flitted past the window, like the flight of a ghostly, barely-there finch, and the world outside swam in shadowy shades of burnt umber and the clay red of the desert horizon. It was still dark outside, deathly so, and as Theo turned his head, the hazy neon-red lights of the clock spelled out 2:03am.
“Because I need you.” And for all the answers Theo was expecting, that wasn’t one of them. A feeling spread, from the pit of Theo’s stomach, like the sun warming him when he stepped out of a cold building, like the first hit of a joint, the 10th shot in one night, like Boris. Theo froze, his heart beating its way out of Theo’s chest like something fearsome. Somewhere above him, in a cloud of unruly black curls, a chuckle rang out, like Boris could feel how deathly his words made Theo’s heart feel. Or perhaps he wanted to feel, as Theo felt a warm palm nudging aside the cotton of his t-shirt and press flat against his chest.
“Boom. Boom. Boom. Potter, what is this?” Boris asked him, the edges of his voice tinged with a gentleness only reserved for the sweetest, prettiest things Boris saw. Like the flower they had found a few days ago walking home, that Boris had crouched down to and cooed at, fed it the last of the water he had, and took a polaroid of so he could remember it forever. Theo remembered it perfectly, and moreso the jealousy he felt rise in his throat at a flower, a stupid fucking flower, all because of the way Boris spoke to it, because Theo wanted him to speak like that. And now he was. Theo was his flower, hidden all the way in the cracks of the Vegas suburbs.
Theo’s tongue swiped at his bottom lip, like it always did when he had a decision to make. Take Boris’s pill? Say the words he needed to say, he wanted to say, and let himself fall into the dark, comforting pits of Boris? Or would he push him away, choose to stay sober, to kill the last part of him that still lived, somewhere all the way back there.
“I love you.”
It hung in the air. Every second that passed, its wings grew heavier and heavier, it sank closer and closer to the floor, until Boris cupped his palms like a nest and let it settle.
Boris’s fingers nudged Theo’s chin up, away from his little hiding place in the crook of Boris’s neck, and his eyes gazed down at Theo. At that moment, Theo decided the world was decidedly unfair in making him confess his love like this, without even being able to see Boris’s eyes. And the world would agree with him, feel hatred in itself, what kind of monster could deny Theo a look so beautiful like that? But it last only a second, bathed in the tangerine light of the streetlamps, as if the world was apologizing for taking that beauty away from Theo, because in the next second the light disappeared and all he could feel was the press of Boris’s lips against his, and he knew the last bit of him had died, because this was heaven.
Theo pressed up, his lips softening almost as if he was melting into Boris, like both of them were melting into each other because from one second to the next, Boris found himself flat on his back, Theo cradled in his chest. Not that it mattered to either boy, wherever they were didn’t matter, only the way they touched, the kiss, the fucking kiss, they were thirsty beggars in the desert and for the first time, water had passed their lips. Theo could feel himself melding to Boris, the way the taller’s knees rose to hold Theo’s legs in place, the way Theo’s lips brushed against Boris’s at first soft and hazy, but steadily, furiously becoming hungrier. Boris’s hands slipped underneath Theo’s shirt and curled in the small of his back, pressing like he wanted Theo so close, like if he could he would open his ribs like the wings of a butterfly, take Theo all into him.
Raspy, broken, Boris dragged his lips away from Theo, grunting as Theo tried to follow him. “Say it again.”
“I love you,” Theo whispered, his chest rising and falling like Boris had stolen all of the breath from his lungs. Boris shook his head.
“Say it again, in my mother tongue, ya lyublyu tebya.” Theo smiled.
“You’re so stupid.” Boris let out an indignant cry, landing a blow to Theo’s side and pulling a broken laugh from his lips.
“You haven’t even said it back! Stop hitting me!” Theo said, squirming away from where Boris kept hitting him, as if it even hurt, as if Boris wasn’t even hurting him.
“Ya lyublyu tebya, ya lyublyu tebya, ya lyublyu tebya! Now say it!” Theo couldn’t help but giggle at the pout that had formed on Boris’s ruddy lips, swollen and soft in the tangerine of the streetlamp. Boris had stopped hitting him, choosing instead to roll them over and bury his face in Theo’s chest like a sulky toddler, Theo’s arms coming up to lay across his shoulders, fingers carding through the wispy ends of Boris’s curls.
“Ya lyublyu tebya, Borya.” Against his chest, Theo could feel the smile that spread across Boris’s lips.