Ever since Liam had been a child, sunshine followed him everywhere. Literally. It radiated in his wake like little flecks of pixie dust, paving his way through darkness and shadow. His parents had called it a gift, they'd claimed he had been blessed by the god of light. Like spring had chosen him as its avatar.
Liam hated it.
To be allowed control over something as precious as light confused him. Besides having been born on an unlucky day, Liam also lied to people and manipulated them for his own benefit. His personality was a facade coated in poison. He was on several people’s shitlists. He was dangerous. He didn’t deserve the luxury of life in the sunlight, let alone the power over it.
To top it off, people adored him because of his ‘gift.’ If one counted the number of times people asked Liam to show off for them, they would be rich in number.
So he made up elaborate, albeit stupid, lies to turn people’s attention away from him. He pretended the sun didn’t favor him. Said that it was all a trick of the light. He avoided clubs or dimly lit places, refusing to be the new center of attention. Claimed that his gift was a curse. He berated himself for it.
Naturally, he became attached to the first, and only, person to ignore the light and focus on him.
It had been foreign, talking to Preston.
Preston, who treated Liam with indifference. No immediate hostility or sudden urges to get on Liam’s good side. Just apathy. Preston had glanced at him, nodded, and then continued talking to someone else as though Liam hadn’t been there. Like he was nothing.
And Liam liked it.
That sounded weird, phrasing it that way. But what other way was there? Liam liked being treated differently- normally? What was considered normal when you were a being blessed by light? He didn’t know but being treated ‘normally,’ mildly amused Liam.
He played along with it. Whenever Preston was invited to the same functions as he was, Liam made it a point to meet him. After just three parties, rumors spread fast that the two of them were inseparable. Preston mostly ignored those rumors, but Liam thrived on them. Looked forward to his time with the apathetic and silent man.
One night, despite his better judgement, Liam asked, “So what is your deal?”
He was answered with an arched eyebrow.
“You treat me like a regular person,” Liam persisted. Granted, he liked being treated this way. Being reminded that he wasn’t some hero on a pedestal was good, but it made him curious. No one else dared treat him the same way Preston did.
Preston just laughed. “Are you supposed to be special?” His eyes glittered with challenge as though he was waiting for Liam to get offended.
Honestly? Liam admitted that maybe that was when he started to fall for Preston.
“I suppose not.” He glanced at the crowd of people surrounding them. Some people waved, others observed them, and most people ignored them. Usually he drew attention like the flip of a light switch- he wondered what was up. He wondered why he didn’t care so much. “Do you know why people treat me differently,” he asked.
“Because you are so gorgeous,” Preston deadpanned. Then when Liam blinked, Preston added, “It is because you are parading around as the embodiment of the sun. I don’t think it matters as much as people let on.”
“I am not parading around,” he tried not to sound affronted. “You’re right though, it shouldn’t matter. Do you think I like being the center of attention so much?”
Preston shrugged. “I could turn your lights off.” It sounded so casual.
“What?” Liam stepped back in surprise.
When Preston slid into his space, Liam smelled his cologne. “Watch,” Preston whispered. Then he grabbed Liam’s arm and the light around them vanished. “I can touch someone and engulf them in darkness.”
At that moment, Liam had been freed from the sunlight. The light that once outlined his fingers faded away, the cold stealing away his warmth. He stood next to Preston in a patch of man-made shade. All the light that he controlled, snuffed out.
People gasped at the spectacle, shocked at the sudden plainness of the scene. Observer’s heads turned away, no longer interested in Liam. He wasn’t being admired because the sun followed him.
Liam decided right there that he was smitten with Preston.
“Oh,” he verbalized after a second. He flushed, his cheeks the only warmth in the eerie cold.
Then Preston released him and it was gone. He was once again embraced by the sun and Liam opened his mouth to protest- was he allowed to do that? Evidently not because someone called for Preston.
“We can continue this later sunshine,” he winked and then he was gone.
Liam gaped and stared after him. If his cheeks grew hotter he blamed the sun’s return.
After that, Liam became addicted to the darkness. He tried every method possible to silence the light. Nothing worked. For all he studied and researched and practiced, the outcome was always the same. Only Preston had successfully turned out the lights.
It tortured him inside. And everyone Liam complained to didn’t seem to see the problem. Kelly laughed at him and patted his shoulder, telling him his crush would come back- Liam had ignored him for a week after that. Miri had consoled him and tried her best to find caves and other shaded places for Liam to hang out. That had been sweet of her but Liam knew she was nearing her limit.
Eventually, Liam gave up and summoned the courage to call Preston on his own. They weren’t teenagers waiting for the other to text them in the middle of the night. They also weren’t suitors destined to court each other until they died. And no matter what Kelly said, Liam justified his reasons as simply wanting some time in the dark.
Even if that was only half the truth.
The next time they met, Preston controlled the dark better than before. It amazed Liam every time Preston flicked his wrist and suddenly there was night. Currently they lounged together under a willow tree, guarded from the responsibilities of the day.
“Have you even tried to practice controlling the light,” Preston hummed as he side eyed Liam.
Liam tilted his head, “I don’t see the point, honestly.”
“You’re telling me that, in all your years of life, you’ve never tried to practice? That you don’t see the point in being able to control the light?”
“Not really. People are going to gawk at me no matter what-”
Preston scoffed. “If you can control the light, you could turn it off. Don’t just use me as your personal awning.”
Liam grimaced. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not being fair to you, am I?”
“Nice of you to notice,” Preston huffed but it seemed like he was calming down quickly. “I’m your friend Liam, and as your friend I think you deserve the truth. The faster you learn to control your powers, the faster people will leave you alone. Then you can be the center of attention on your own terms.”
He groaned, hating how right Preston was. The comment about being friends stung, but then again, Liam had never pursued Preston in a romantic way. He’d have to change that. He swallowed back what he wanted to say and nodded. “Will you encourage me?”
“Encourage you? I suppose you’ll want me to dress as a cheerleader and bring my own set of ‘Liam Bell’ pom-poms. Oh, should I call them bells?”
The tension dissolved just like that. Liam noted that it was the first joke Preston had ever told in his presence. He smiled, then he shook his head and pouted. “Don’t be an ass.”
“Gifted with the power of light and yet you have a terrible name,” Preston teased.
“At least I don’t have one word to my name,” Liam shot. “Seriously, who named you?”
Preston snorted. “I have a full name, Preston is my middle name.”
“Care to enlighten me, Mr. Midnighter?”
Preston rolled his eyes. “Not a chance, Apollo.”
Liam wrinkled his nose at that. Then he changed the subject, afraid to broach the implications of the comic he had referenced. He hadn’t expected Preston to go along with that. He briefly considered that Preston got the reference and knew who Midnighter and Apollo were, but then he doubted himself. So he pushed it to the back of his mind and decided to enjoy the day as it was.
As time passed, Preston got better and Liam barely made any leeway. Now all Preston needed to do was blink and whole buildings were shrouded in darkness. It didn’t matter how much Liam focused, the light refused to listen to him. It was probably because he’d waited so long to start learning. Preston was nice enough to never mention it.
A month later, Liam’s family hosted a ball. He didn’t bother asking what the ball was for, Liam was just excited to see Preston drinking punch and talking to Miri. A perfect opportunity to step in.
“So can I make light-switch an official nickname for you?” Liam pulled at Preston, dragging him to the dancefloor.
“Absolutely not,” Preston laughed. “But I take back what I said last month,” he added. “I see you’re trying now and while I don’t want to be an awning, I don’t mind turning off the light. I’ll do it whenever you ask.”
Even though Preston was dancing with him and their shadows covered the little lights that followed Liam’s footsteps, the lights on Liam’s fingers flickered- almost like they had a mind of their own. Liam ducked his head in order to hide the blush on his cheeks. “Thank you, Preston,” he said. “I’ll try not to rely on you too much.”
“You could do to rely on me more,” Preston offered a little too quickly.
When Liam looked up and met his eyes, Preston was nervous. If they hadn’t been dancing, Liam would have sneered playfully at him. Instead he just hummed, suddenly giddy as he allowed Preston to take the lead in the dance.
“You’re acting different,” Preston mumbled as they swept around the ballroom.
“Oh, are you finally seeing past my amazing personality? I worked so hard on those walls,” Liam sighed dramatically.
Preston eyed him, spinning the two of them around slowly. Then he moved to the side, Liam following. “I am not sure. You’re more careful with your words compared to the last time we saw each other. It’s like you’re trying not to offend me.” He chuckled as though he couldn’t imagine Liam doing that. “Hesitating. Almost like you’re keeping a secret from me,” there’s a challenge hidden in those words. Liam couldn’t find it.
Preston wasn’t wrong, Liam just refused to admit it. Easily prepared to switch from one facade to another, Liam smiled and, with his infamous silver tongue, lied. “I would never hide anything from my best friend.”
Best friend. There wasn’t anything wrong with being friends! Liam enjoyed his friendship with Preston. At first it had been because he wanted to get away from the light but now Liam genuinely looked forward to their meetings. To say he didn’t long for more than a friendship was a lie.
But he couldn’t tell Preston that.
Preston’s expression was displaced, unknowable, and Liam didn’t like it. The epitome of a shaded tree in the winter. He nodded, a placated smile replacing his playful one. “Is that so,” even Preston’s voice flatlined. “Good to know.”
The mood never recovered from that. Shortly after, Preston excused himself to dance with someone else.
For some reason, Liam preferred his sunlight suddenly. A cold pit of darkness had settled in his stomach and he desperately wanted the warmth of his self-proclaimed curse.
Their next encounter was a disaster.
A garden party this time, once again at Liam’s residence. Preston had invited his friends and avoided Liam for the most part. Even when Liam tried to get near, Preston’s friends blocked his path. Liam disliked Preston’s friends. Julian dramaticized everything, making up false tales of adventure that he and Preston only seemed to understand. Cameron was polite but shy, unwilling to talk to Liam alone- ironic. Tyler was the worst. He was pugnacious, always prepared to start a fight with Liam for no reason. Liam hated him.
All three of them had been present for Preston and Liam’s fight.
He had only wanted to talk to his shadowed-crush but it turned into a violent argument. Liam couldn’t remember what it had been about, just that it was bad. Over exaggerated. Unimportant. It almost ended their friendship.
In the six months that they refused to talk to each other, Liam worked on his powers. He pushed himself to the point of exhaustion every day, pissed off as to why he couldn’t get this right. Why couldn’t he control them? For someone so blessed, he felt pathetic. Like his gift mocked him. It only angered him more.
It wasn’t until Kelly found him passed out in the gardens that Liam finally convinced himself to slow down. “Tomorrow is the darkest night of the year,” he said. “I bet Preston will love it. Mr. Prince of Darkness with his stupid white hair and pretty blue eyes. He’ll be in his element and I will be there to ruin it.”
“Everything is about Preston with you,” Kelly ‘tsked.’ “But yes, you’re right. What makes you think you’ll ruin it?”
“I don’t know,” Liam leaned back on the bench and glared up at the sun. “I ruin everything. I wasn’t even invited but what if I go and he gets mad at me again?”
“Since when did you care about people’s opinions?”
“I’ve always cared about Preston’s.”
Kelly lifted his hand to his forehead and faked a swoon. “You really have changed since you met him. You used to ignore everyone because they treated you like a deity but here comes Preston who didn’t care and suddenly you’re worried about ruining something? You’ve grown up,” he sniffled and pretended to wipe his tears away.
Liam flipped him off. “Do you have anything helpful to say?” He debated on trying to blind Kelly with the light or not.
“I think you should go tomorrow night. Make amends, maybe confess, and finally shut up and stop complaining.”
Blunt at always, Liam both loved and hated Kelly. “Would he want to see me though?”
Kelly stared at Liam for a whole minute before he shook his head. “Liam, you’re smart- sometimes. This is not one of those times.” Before Liam could protest, Kelly continued. “Why would someone like Preston hang out with you if he didn’t like you or want to see you? Don’t give me that look, it’s the truth. Preston is popular and everyone loves him but he chooses to spend his time with you, a walking cloud of angst. For someone made of sunshine, you really are not that bright.”
“Ouch,” Liam muttered.
“Ouch indeed,” Kelly taunted lightly. “You’re going to the solstice party tomorrow night and I swear to God if you don’t confess to Preston, I’ll do it for you.” He didn’t bother to let Liam reply.
The winter solstice celebration dragged on slowly. It was as though time lagged, the darkness of the sky converting the jolly atmosphere to somber and tired. Liam didn’t understand why people decided to have a party for the longest night of the year. It was cold and dreary and wet and- Liam didn’t want to cause a scene.
The wind bellowed past him and Liam shivered. For some reason his warmth wasn’t working as well as it used to. Probably because it was that cold outside. He rubbed his hands together and looked down at the crowd below. He had retreated to a balcony for some peace and quiet.
A few passers-by looked up and waved to him, calling and asking him to ‘shed some light’ down there. He laughed it off. He deserved to get paid for every pun people made at his expense.
He closed his eyes at the sound of Preston’s voice. Smooth and collected, music to Liam’s ears after months of silence. He inhaled, counted to three, exhaled, opened his eyes, and then turned around. He leaned against the balcony and smiled at Preston. “Shadow, how delightful to see you.”
“Considering it’s my parent’s party-” Preston started then stopped himself. “It’s nice to see you too, Liam. How have you been?”
Liam’s heart ached. “Fine,” he lied. “I know I was not invited but I wanted- I hoped I could see you?”
For a moment, Preston looked worried. Then he wordlessly moved closer and stood next to Liam. Where Liam leaned against the balcony, Preston stood the opposite and stared out at the crowd below. “We left off on a terrible note,” he said. “For that, I am sorry.”
“I don’t actually know why we argued,” Liam admitted. He hung his head. “I know I need to apologize though.” He lifted his head and looked at Preston, admiring his profile. He had grown his hair out and Liam noticed little streaks of black at the roots. A side effect of Preston’s powers? “Would you tell me what I did?”
“It’s not important,” Preston replied. He turned his attention to Liam and his breath caught visibly. Then he cleared his throat. “What matters is that we’re both sorry.”
Liam swore that Preston was blushing. “Okay.”
Preston smiled and suddenly Liam’s powers worked again. He felt warm finally. He returned the smile. Then, like a fool, Liam blurted his feelings out. “I love you.” Mentally Liam slapped himself. His mind screamed at him to retract his statement, state that he’d said it impulsively.
But the silence had settled over both him and Preston like a blanket. Liam had waited too long and now he was forced to deal with the repercussions. His thoughts reeled in slow motion, showing him every possible reaction: rejection, laughter, denial, anger. Hopelessly he imagined a time where Preston returned his feelings-
“I love you too.”
The words pulled at Liam. The idea that the feeling was mutual startled him, blinded him momentarily. He cursed Kelly, knowing his friend had been right in calling him stupid. “What?” Liam’s chest felt airless, the word coming out flat.
“I love you too,” Preston said slowly, eyes locked on Liam’s. He gauged the other’s expression before he decided to continue. “Let me ask you something.” Preston scooted closer to Liam until he was in his space.
Liam almost closed his eyes. He felt like a nervous teenager as he smelled Preston’s cologne- the one he only wore for special occasions. The one that had been ingrained in Liam’s mind since the day they met.
“What are you doing in a few hours?”
“I don’t know.”
Preston’s hand touched Liam’s arm and he swallowed, meeting Preston’s eyes. “Would you be willing to come home with me?”
Whatever Liam had expected, that was not it. “What,” he asked.
“You say what every time I surprise you,” Preston shook his head as he laughed. He pulled his hand away and stepped back. “I thought you were supposed to be special.”
Liam recalled their first meeting when Preston had mocked him for that. He narrowed his eyes. “Why,” he asked.
Almost like they were cursed to never have a complete, serious conversation, Preston was called away. Liam slouched his shoulders, allowing it only because tonight was the winter solstice and that was kind of Preston’s thing. Then he gasped when Preston grabbed for his hand and met his eyes. “You’ll see. Tonight by our usual spot.” He leaned down and kissed Liam’s hand.
Thirty seconds later when Liam was able to breathe again, his breath, reflected by the cold, followed the trail of darkness that flowed after Preston.
Neither too hot nor too cold, Liam was surrounded by the perfect temperature.
Liam exited the party with a lame excuse. The snow crunched beneath his feet as he made his way to his and Preston’s usual spot.
Their usual spot was the old willow tree that barely survived the seasons- the one they had always retreated to when company became too much. On the edge of Preston’s property, the willow tree overlooked the entire estate. It had become their sanctuary from prying and doting eyes. Its leaves shielded them from everything.
Preston enjoyed nature and Liam enjoyed Preston: the two of them enjoyed privacy.
The picture of handsome and dark, Preston joined Liam moments after he arrived. He greeted Liam with a smile that contrasted his dark nature. The smile rivaled the sun and spring itself. It melted Liam.
“Preston,” he breathed. Something in him delighted in the way Preston perked up at hearing his own name. “I showed up,” he said like an idiot.
“You did,” Preston rolled his eyes. Then he offered his hand. “Happy winter solstice.”
Liam wasn’t sure people said that, but he took Preston’s hand nonetheless. “I assumed you would have celebrated the night with everyone out there,” he gestured back to where the party still held strong.
“Maybe you’re special.” Preston laced their fingers together.
Special. Liam observed him curiously. Previously, he had associated the word with people talking about his gift. Now he associated it with Preston. The way Preston said the word was fond, like he was endeared toward Liam. It actually made Liam feel special. “How special,” he asked in a whisper.
For the first time, Liam witnessed his own light overtake Preston’s shadow. It slowly spread, gnawing at the darkness with an intensity that couldn’t be described in words. At first he was worried, but then he saw the look of bliss on Preston’s face. It had never occurred to him that Preston would have enjoyed the light over his darkness.
Preston exhaled, “You told me you loved me.” He sounded relaxed, warm, and he didn’t let go of Liam. “I told you I loved you too.” He grinned. “Now I’m asking you if you want to come home with me.”
“Aren’t we at your home,” Liam questioned with a start. If they weren’t then whose property were they on-
Preston shook his head before he let his free hand caress Liam’s cheek. “You should know better than most people that this is all a front. I control the darkness, you control the light: did you really think I lived here?”
Yes, but Liam wasn’t going to say that. He mentally reminded himself to curse Kelly a second time for once again being right in calling him stupid. “Where do you live?”
“Underground,” Preston answered vaguely. Liam knew what he meant. Deep in the in-between, where darkness ruled all. A different place compared to the paradise of light that Liam was accustomed to. A place filled with shadows and cold temperatures.
Liam wanted to go there and be surrounded by the dark. “Would I wither away?”
“No. I learned how to control the darkness just for you, Liam.”
He refrained from asking ‘what,’ again. He didn’t want to give Preston the satisfaction of his surprise. Instead, he watched Preston. Everything made sense suddenly. Preston spending time with him and pushing him to harness his light powers. All because Preston had wanted to spend time with Liam in his home- in a place he knew Liam clearly wanted to be. “Just for me?”
“You’re not the only one who fell in love at first sight,” Preston’s reply was carried with the sudden gust of wind. It filled Liam’s ears and turned him red all the same. “You didn’t notice.”
Liam flushed, “No.”
Adoration spread across Preston’s face. “I love you,” he admitted. He cupped Liam’s face in his hands. “You oblivious, shining bastard, I love you.” He kissed Liam’s forehead. Then he kissed Liam’s cheek and pulled away, a glimmer in his eyes. “Will you come to the dark side with me?”
“Will you kiss me if I do?”
“I will kiss you all the time if you let me,” Preston breathed. Then he brought their lips together.
When their lips met, light and dark melded into a dim light. The kind of light that only happened when it was pitch black outside with the ground coated in snow. Pure and pristine: beautiful. Breathtaking.
“I love you,” Preston repeated himself when they pulled apart. He glanced down and watched as the snow melted beneath their feet. Liam lost himself in the reciprocation of emotions.
Liam wrapped his arms around Preston and purred, “I love you too.”
Ever since Liam had been a child, sunshine followed him everywhere. A reminder that he embodied the sun and would one day welcome spring’s arrival. People called it a blessing. While Liam preferred the dark, he finally understood what that meant. He’d been the designated light to balance the dark that Preston offered. His light had never been meant as a blessing for him.
Liam loved it.