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This isn't our first time around

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The whole place smells of coffee and toast. The birds are chirping, and it’s early enough on a weekend that there’s no cars bustling on the road to disrupt the peaceful quiet.

Until Robbe yawns, that is, so loud he thinks he’s cracked his jaw open. He sees Sander by the kitchen counter, waiting for the coffee to brew.

“Morning,” he greets, going straight to the fridge.

“Morning, sunshine,” Sander greets back, grinning.

“How are you up so early?” He asks. He has his head stuck in the fridge, eyes roaming for anything that is passable for breakfast. “It’s Saturday.”

Sander shrugs. “Kinda hard to sleep with you screaming at the TV in the middle of the night.”

“Payback for all the times you cranked up that shitty playlist of yours in the middle of the night,” he shoots back.

Robbe rolls his eyes when he hears the dramatic gasp.

“I don’t care how cute you are,” Sander says, “I will not tolerate this blatant disrespect towards Bowie.”

Robbe is glad his face is stuck where Sander can’t see because it’s flaming red. Sander does this all the time, says things just to rile him up and Robbe still isn’t sure whether he likes it or not.

“Yeah well,” he replies, hoping he comes off nonchalant, “the man is dead so he wouldn’t care.”

Sander laughs. “You have some fucking nerve, IJzermans.”

Robbe grins to himself.

“You’re lucky I’m so goddamn nice.” Sander sighs. “I made breakfast.”

“Lemme guess.” Robbe turns around, and says in the flattest tone he could muster, “You made croques.”

“You complain, and yet you still eat them.”

It’s a running joke between them. Sander, in fact, does not make croques all the time, he does, however, do most of the cooking between the two, and Robbe always eats whatever he makes because they always taste good—way better than instant lasagnes.

He’s about to close the fridge when he catches a glimpse of something rectangular, behind the carton of milk.

It’s some sort of remote with only one, big, red button in the middle.

Grabbing it, Robbe waves it around in Sander’s direction, slamming the fridge shut.

“Is this one of your weird sex toys?”

“Ha ha.” Sander is holding his mug of hot coffee, giving him an unimpressed look.

“What happens if I press the button?” Robbe wonders aloud, turning the remote around to check if there are any compartments. It’s just a slab of metal with a big, conspicuous looking button. “Does this thing even need a battery?”

“You know what they say…” Sander sips on his coffee, eyeing the remote warily. “Never press the big, red button.”

They stare at the remote, then at each other. Then back at the remote.

Robbe shrugs and presses the big red button.


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They’re both lying on their backs, curled towards each other like yin and yang—Robbe with his head on Sander’s chest, Sander’s is resting on the crook of his elbow. It’s the most comfortable Robbe has ever felt in a long while; his room bathed in the soft glow of the sunlight peeking through the half-shut curtains, just lying down with the guy he’s been falling for, listening to the steady beat of his heart.

Robbe loves the way Sander’s hair feels against his fingers, all soft, and Sander seems to love it too — the way he has his eyes closed, a small smile on his lips, as he listens attentively to Robbe talking wistfully about the multiverse theory.

“And when you make a decision, that universe splits up,” Robbe explains.

Sander looks at him with a cheeky smile. “Like in The Flash—”

Sander trails off and just looks at Robbe, smile frozen, not comprehending what they have been talking about and why they are lying so close to each other.

Robbe blinks back. The haze of lazy comfort completely dissipating, he can physically feel it being sucked out like a vacuum, the air between them still — so still he can hear the ticking of his wristwatch — leaving him completely aware of how intimate this whole setting is.

“Uhh…” he says.

When he catches the way his fingers are still absentmindedly playing with Sander’s hair, he yelps and recoils so violently he falls off the bed with a loud thump.

Robbe groans and sits back up. He looks around the room they’re in, slowly taking in the oddly familiar surrounding: white and blue sheets, the desk facing a bay window, and the bag of chips on the small table next to the bed.

“Is this my room?” he asks.

Sander is looking around the place too. “Judging by the aesthetics, I’d think so, yeah.”

Robbe can’t help but look around again. Not a minute ago, they were both in the kitchen of their shared apartment — the apartment where Robbe’s room does not have a huge window facing the streets below, nor does it have frosted glass for a door — and then the next minute, they’re here.

What’s even more bizarre is that Robbe remembers this place. This exact room. This exact moment.

“Sander,” Robbe says slowly, “does this somehow, uhm… feel familiar to you?”

He can see the way Sander is frowning, and that’s all the confirmation Robbe needs.

“Fuck,” Sander says, half-laughing. “We must’ve hit our heads or something.”

“That’s not what happened,” Robbe insists. “I found the remote and I pressed it—”

“I told you not to press it”

“—and now we’re here,” he concludes.

“In your room, that’s not exactly your room,” Sander adds, helpfully.

Robbe rolls his eyes. “Just. Help me find the remote.”

Sander puffs out a long resigned breath, massaging his temple. “This is some weird fucking dream.”

Robbe checks his pockets but found nothing. “I really don’t think this is a dream.”

Sander goes to his desk and rifles through the notes and books. He snorts at something he sees there.

“What?”

“Even in this universe, you’re a studious little boy.”

“I am not—” Robbe starts to protest, but pauses when he registers what Sander has just said, and stares at him. “This universe?”

Sander shrugs. “You were talking about alternate universes when we…” He gestures his hand to the room, at a loss for how to describe what just happened to them.

“So you think we’ve…” Robbe swallows. “I don’t know. Travelled through a different universe?”

“Sounds completely bonkers, huh.”

Robbe laughs. “To be honest, that’s the most logical explanation to this whole thing.”

Sander grins, the way he does whenever Robbe agrees with any of his crazy ideas. “Well, better look for that remote so we can go back.”

They search around the room, Sander occasionally getting distracted by Robbe’s stuff and making teasing comments, until they finally find it, lodged between the bed frame and the wall.

“Aha!” Robbe cries, holding it up like some trophy.

“How did it even get there?”

“Who cares.” His thumb hovers over the red button. He looks at Sander. “Ready?”

“Sure.”


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Noor has a long cigarette holder nestled between her fingers. She takes a long drag off the cigarette and exhales over her shoulder, a smirk on her face as she gazes at somewhere behind Robbe.

“Not to alarm you,” She mumbles discreetly, “but Sander’s looking right at you.”

Robbe downs the glass of champagne in his hand, fiddling with it once it’s empty.

“Pray he doesn’t come this way.”

Noor smiles sweetly at him. She leans closer to whisper in his ear, “Too late,” before pushing off the bar they’ve been leaning on and leaves him alone.

Robbe opens his mouth to respond but no words come out. He glances around the room, trying to figure out where he is and trying not to panic over why he’s not back in his and Sander’s apartment.

As far as he can tell, he seems to be in some kind of ballroom. There are people everywhere. The women are wearing brightly coloured, flappy dresses; some long, some knee-length, but most of all, almost all of them have the same hairstyle. The men are all donned up in tailored suits.

Instinctively, Robbe glances down at himself and finds he is in a pair of plain light-brown suit pants that seemed to be bursting at the seams, leaving nothing to the imagination. He’s discarded his jacket and is now in just a grey waistcoat that’s hugging his chest. At least he has the top two buttons of his shirt undone.

Someone comes up to occupy the space Noor had vacated, and he’s not surprised to see that it’s Sander.

In true Sander fashion, he’s wearing a pair of plaid suit pants and in place of his usual black Doc Martens is an actual, honest to god, oxford shoes, Robbe almost snorts. The formality of it all is dwindled by the fact that he’s wearing a matching plaid vest sans jacket, with the sleeves of his dress shirt pulled up to his elbow. The top two buttons of Sander’s shirt are also undone, giving him a tantalizing preview of the skin underneath, nothing he hasn’t seen before but still, he flushes at the way his gaze lingers. When he gets to above Sander’s neck, he does a double-take, eyes widening because—

“What happened to your hair?”

—because standing right in front of him is a Sander with brown hair instead of platinum white.

Sander shrugs. “I’m guessing whatever timeline we’re in has not yet invented hair dye.”

Robbe can’t help but gawk. For the entire five months of knowing Sander, the guy has had his hair dyed in that signature white, and it annoys Robbe how much it suits him. Once every few months he’d notice his brown roots showing, but usually, before they can grow out too much, Sander would always make sure to have them all bleached in the next few days.

It infuriates him even more that Sander has made every post on his Instagram with his natural hair colour private.

Now, Robbe finally gets to see him au naturel, and he isn’t mentally prepared for the way his heart stutters at the sight. Instead of the fluffy, artfully dishevelled platinum white locks, Sander’s hair is in its natural shade, slicked and side-parted.

“Well, you look…” Robbe grasps for something to say. He can feel his cheeks burning at the way he just can’t stop staring.

Sander has a pleased smile on his face. “Have I rendered you speechless, Robin?”

Robbe thumps him on the shoulder. “Fuck off.”

Sander snickers, offering him a cigar. Robbe shakes his head, still kind of speechless.

“Where do you think we are?” Sander asks. He takes a puff of his own cigar. “And why is everyone staring at us?”

Robbe glances behind him and sees everyone — Noor, Zoe, Jens, Moyo, the whole gang — is watching them closely. Most of them seem amused. Moyo is waggling his eyebrows at him.

He quickly turns back around, trying hard not to blush even more. He remembers the way Noor had teased him before walking away, blushing even harder at the implication. “Don’t worry about it,” he says dismissively.

“Moyo’s wearing a top hat,” Sander points out. “I have every right to worry.”

Robbe glances over his shoulder again. He sees Noor and Zoe, both dressed in a long flowy dress with a string of pearls round their neck and a huge feather sticking out of their bobbed hair, giggling about something. Probably about him, judging by the winks they’re sending his way.

“I think we’re in the 20’s,” he says, turning back to Sander.

Sander is eyeing Robbe from head to toe, and he looks impressed. There’s that glint in his eyes again, the one that never fails to make Robbe feel like he’s being stripped down naked. He feels his face flaming up at the attention, nervously reaching for another glass of champagne.

“You look really good,” Sander says appreciatively.

Robbe mutters a ‘thanks’ into his glass, almost choking himself. He slips his hands into his pockets and is relieved to feel the remote resting against his right thigh.

He clears his throat. “I have the remote but I don’t know if it’s safe to use it here.”

Sander takes another drag and asks, “Whenever we press that button, do you think our bodies physically disappear or is it just our subconscious leaving the bodies of ourselves in each universe?”

Robbe blinks dumbly at him, entirely unprepared for such depth of a thought. “I… I don’t know.”

“I’d like to think it’s just our subconscious travelling through time and space,” Sander says. “I think that’s way cooler.”

Robbe snorts. “Whichever it is, I don’t think it’s a good idea to try it in the open.”

Sander leers at him playfully. “So let’s go find an empty room at a party full of people.”

Robbe stares at him for a moment, and then doubles over in a fit of giggles. Sander bites his lip, holding his ground for a bit before relenting, chuckling into his own glass of champagne.

“Come on,” Robbe says once they’ve calmed down.

They walk across the ballroom to get to the door. Robbe resolutely ignores the way his friends are whistling and cheering over them. Sander seems to find it entirely amusing, laughing quietly to himself.

They walk through the double doors into a huge hallway where there are only a few guests lingering, down the hall, through another sets of double doors, before they finally come to a grand staircase.

Robbe rolls his eyes. “Now this is just a fucking cliché.”

Sander grins. Robbe glares at him, daring him to say anything, but Sander just puts up his hands in surrender. He wordlessly gestures for Robbe to go up the stairs.

As they ascend, Robbe feels that tug inside his chest. The feeling that he’s been here before. A strange memory of walking up and down these exact same stairs creeps into his mind. He can vividly picture himself as a little boy sitting at the bottom of the stairs every night, waiting for his parents to come home and greet him. He swallows down the bitter memory.

“I’m getting déjà vu again,” Sander says, his deep voice booming through the quiet space.

Robbe keeps quiet, refusing to acknowledge it and continues until they’ve arrived on the first floor.

Turns out, every door on the floor is locked and Robbe grows frustrated as they come into yet another locked door.

“I hate this place,” he grumbles.

“We’re the only ones here,” Sander reasons, his voice placating. He seems to have noticed Robbe’s sour mood. “I think it’s safe if we just leave now.”

Not wanting to wait a second longer, Robbe hits the button.


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The crowd erupts in thunderous applause, drowning out the ends of the notes Sander is still playing. It doesn’t matter though, there is a big grin on his face as he takes in the crowd’s reaction.

Robbe is one of the ones in the audience standing, whooping with pride, not caring that it’s not the proper etiquette. He beams when Sander catches his eyes in the audience, his huge grin morphing into a tender smile.

The claps start to fade and Robbe realises Sander is some sort of musical connoisseur — judging by the tuxedo he’s wearing and the grand piano behind him — and he barely bites down on a groan because of course he is.

Sander, who seems to have realised the same thing, smirks at this, pleased. But his eyes widen when he’s being ushered off the stage to give way for the next performance. He quickly looks at Robbe, jerking his head meaningfully towards the backstage.

Robbe glares at him because how the fuck is he going to get to the backstage area when he is clearly one of the commoners.

Sander plants his feet to the ground and looks at him expectantly, ignoring the personnel ushering him off.

Robbe huffs. He turns to leave when he finally notices Jens, Moyo and Aaron sitting in the same row next to him. They’re all giving him a knowing look.

“Go get him, tiger,” Moyo teases.

Robbe coughs, willing himself not to blush. “Excuse me.”

He ignores the snickers behind him and runs out, hoping he doesn’t miss Sander. First, he has to figure out how to get to Sander.

He walks around aimlessly for a few minutes, trying to navigate his way, half-expecting any surge of déjà vu to help navigate him through the maze-like hallways. The only thing familiar about this place is the general atmosphere. Robbe remembers going to each and every one of Sander’s recital, filled to the brim with pride as he sits in the crowd.

Dread fills him up as Robbe realises he’s been going in circles. Most of the crowd have probably gone outside to wait for a glimpse of their favourite musician, unlike him, trying his luck for a backstage pass. He doesn’t want to think about what will happen if he doesn’t find Sander.

Robbe stops to calm his thoughts, breathing a little easier when he feels the remote still safely tucked in his pocket. He wonders if it will still work if Sander isn’t right next to him. He has no real idea of how it works, but if it functions based on proximity, then he’s fucked.

What if he uses the remote and ends up sending himself to another dimension and leaving Sander here, alone?

He takes out the remote and stares at it. Taking a deep breath and holding it in, Robbe presses the button and hopes for the best.


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“Robbe, the two of you have been flirting for months.” Milan throws his hands. “Stop worrying so much!”

Robbe picks at an invisible thread on his sheets. “I can’t help it…”

“Right, well.” Milan swivels around to face Robbe’s wardrobe, assessing the options available, which is not much. “Since you are a nervous wreck, I’m going to help you pick out the perfect outfit for your dinner with Sander.”

“Wait, I have dinner with Sander?”

Milan stares at him, a slight frown forming. “Yes,” he says slowly, as if talking to a small child who doesn’t understand. He comes closer to Robbe, looking genuinely worried now. “Robbe, are you really that nervous to go on a date with him?”

Robbe chokes. “A date?!”

“Oh, Jesus. I think he’s lost it.”

“I am perfectly fine!”

Robbe rakes a hand through his hair, calming himself down. He checks his pocket and feels the remote against his leg — he desperately hopes that it had worked. Based off the conversation he’s having with Milan, there is a Sander here too, but he doesn’t know which Sander.

Robbe also has the most inopportune time to have an epiphany. That there is an obvious ongoing theme to this whole jumping through universes thing and it’s something he’s been denying for as long as he can remember.

All the places they’ve been to has alluded to him and Sander being a thing.

He swallows down the acid rising to the back of his throat. This can’t be the universe’s way of telling him that he’s—

That he and Sander are—

He shakes his head. He’s with Noor. Granted, he’s only been with her for a few weeks. But he actually likes her, more than the girls he’d dated in the past, and he’s desperate to make things work between them.

Milan misunderstands his silent brooding. “Robbe, It’s okay to be nervous,” he soothes, “but this is Sander.”

Robbe honestly doesn’t know what to make of that. More importantly, he needs to make sure if he hadn’t just left Sander in an alternate universe where he’s an elite pianist when he knows damn well Sander can’t play for shit.

So Robbe grits his teeth and asks Milan where his date with Sander is and gets ready.

There’s still another hour to spare, so Robbe goes snooping around the room that seems to belong to this version of Robbe. It feels similar to his own, and the one he’s been to the first time the jump happened, but slightly different. He sees the i-Mac on his desk and checks the date: still 2020.

At least it’s the year of technology.

Robbe checks the address of the restaurant he’s supposed to be on Maps and discovers it’s not that far, merely a 20 minutes’ walk away, so he has another 45 minutes.

He’s tempted to check his phone; to study what his and Sander’s relationship is like, but he chickens out. He does find out that he’s a pathologist, and can’t help but smile proudly. At least here, he has a decent job, supporting his hopefully healthy mother.

Robbe goes when he has another 16 minutes, making sure he has the remote with him. He sees Sander the moment he rounds the corner, through the windowpanes of the restaurant. It’s hard to miss that blob of white hair, constantly standing out in a sea of people.

From where he’s standing outside, it’s hard to tell if this is the Sander he’s been having a TARDIS moment or not.

He takes a deep breath and pushes the door open, coming face to face with a stern-looking maître d'.

“Good evening, sir.”

Robbe suddenly realises that he is severely underdressed for this place, with his black jeans and burgundy button up.

“Um, hello.” He fights the urge to turn and walk out. “I’m meeting someone.”

“May I know the name?”

“Driesen.”

The maître d' checks the logs on the computer, brows climbing up into his hairline.

Judging by that reaction, Robbe has an inkling suspicion that Sander is yet again, an important figure here too. He supresses a groan.

“Follow me.”

Robbe follows, trying not to stare at the other well-dressed patrons. The maître d' leads him to the back of the restaurant, where he saw Sander sitting a few minutes ago. He’s glad to see Sander’s dressed just as casually, smiling widely at him.

Sander stands up and shakes his hand.

“Hello.”

Robbe almost snorts at that formal greeting. He still replies with a polite, hi, because he’s not sure which Sander he’s dealing with right now.

“Sit, please.” Sander gestures to the chair across from him.

Robbe sits slowly, eyes never leaving Sander.

“Are you…” Robbe trails off, not sure how to phrase his question. Are you the Sander from where I come from? Are you Sander, my roommate, or are you Sander the seemingly very important persona of this universe? Would you believe me if I said I’m not the Robbe you know? Have I truly fucked up and left you behind? He had honestly thought he would immediately know which Sander he’s talking to.

“Yeah.” Sander laughs. “I think so.”

Robbe raises a brow. “You think so?”

Sander snorts. “Did you lose brain cell when you travelled here?” When Robbe does nothing but stare dumbly, he continues, tone cheeky, “Or is it the guilt of leaving me behind that’s doing your head in?”

Robbe slumps in his chair and grinned sheepishly, relieved that he’s found the right Sander. “Definitely the guilt.” He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs. “Fuck, Sander. I was so fucking worried.”

Sander tuts. “This is not a place for that kind of language, young man.”

“Sander.” Robbe gives him a stern look. “I really thought you were going to be stuck pretending like you know how to play the goddamn piano, just because I made a rash decision.”

Sander shrugs. “It’s fine, Robbe. At least we know the remote works even when we’re not together.”

“But what if it hadn’t?” he presses, leaning forward.

Sander is quiet. He leans back in his own seat, and tilts his head. “I don’t know, Robbe. What if it hadn’t worked? What would you have done, then?”

Robbe is about to respond but a waiter comes up to their table, going on a spiel on today’s specials, handing them each a menu. They both mutter their thanks and look over the selection. Robbe squints his eyes at the lack of listed prices on the items.

“Can you even afford all this stuff?”

“Yes, I can.”

“What do you even do?”

Sander’s lips quirk. “Beats me. But apparently, I live in Brasschaat.”

Robbe lets out a low whistle. He can’t imagine, bad boy wannabe, Sander Driesen, living in a huge bungalow with fucking meadows for a lawn.

Sander looks up from the menu. “What would you have done?” He asks again, drilling Robbe with those inquisitive eyes. “If the remote hadn’t worked, I mean.”

Robbe hums in thought. “I probably would’ve just kept pressing the button until I found you again.”

Sander holds a fist to his mouth, trying to hide the pleased smile on his face, but Robbe sees it anyway.

He feels a sudden bout of shyness come over him at the way Sander is trying to be discreet. Because Sander is anything but, he’s always loud about everything that he does and feels, he doesn’t shy away from things and he definitely does not get embarrassed easily. God, the amount of times he’s seen Sander’s naked ass prancing around the apartment.

It’s when they’re tasting a bottle of wine the waiter brought over, that it all starts to hit home. This… situation they’re in. Robbe knows he’s grown quiet after, but he can’t help but stew in his own thoughts.

Knowing Sander, he’s going to bulldoze through the elephant in the room, having no compunctions of just saying it straight.

“So,” Sander hesitates. “I’m kinda sensing a bit of a vibe here.”

Robbe bites his lip nervously. “Uh… what kind?”

“Look around, Robbe,” Sander says, simply.

He really doesn’t need to, he’d taken in their surrounding when he went in — the obnoxious chandelier as the centrepiece, the gold finishes on every available surface, and most of all, the exclusive two-seat tables only.

He’s brought back to his ill-timed epiphany.

Robbe lets out a defeated sigh. “Do we really have to talk about this?”

Sander frowns. “Of course we do.” He leans forward, trying to get Robbe to look at him. “Can’t you see? Everywhere we go; it’s you and me, Robbe.”

Robbe fiddles with the tablecloth, avoiding his gaze.

“In every universe.”

Sander’s words weigh heavy on his shoulders. It sounds like a vow, a conviction, one that Robbe isn’t ready to accept, let alone reciprocate.

“What do you want me to do, break up with Noor once we get back?” Robbe asks incredulously. “Just because the powers that be thought it’s high time to shove it down my throat that I’m—”

Robbe stops himself, clenches his teeth together.

“Gay?” Sander finishes for him.

Robbe’s blood boils at the way Sander just throws that word around like it means nothing. Of course it doesn’t, not to him, the unapologetic Sander who has no problem accepting his sexuality. The Sander who has shamelessly made it known to everyone in his vicinity, his infatuation towards Robbe; all the shameless staring, the constant touches, the bold words.

“Then what?” Robbe snaps. “We date each other? Is that what you want?”

He hears his own words, regrets them the moment they leave his mouth, but has no way of taking any of it back.

So Robbe watches the way Sander’s face falls. Sees the moment the fight leaves him, the way his shoulders slump in defeat. Robbe makes himself watch, the way he makes himself ingrain every single one of his fuck ups to agonise over when indulging in his self-loathing.

“I just want you to be happy with yourself,” Sander says, a sad smile on his face.

They sit in silence for a few minutes before Sander stands up. He’s gentle when he pushes his chair back, careful not to scrape the legs of it across the floor. He pats himself down, face void of any emotion, and excuses himself to the washroom.

Robbe leans his head back against his chair, staring at the ceiling.

He breathes in and out slowly, calming his hammering heart. This, too, the oncoming panic that hovers over the air above him like a dark cloud, seems familiar.

His eyes grow hot the longer he stays there.

Robbe inhales sharply before making his way to the washroom. He finds Sander waiting for him in one of the stalls, sitting on the closed toilet bowl and staring unblinkingly at the walls. Wordlessly, he takes out the remote and presses the button.


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Noor gives him a reassuring smile that Robbe can’t actually see thanks to the mask covering half her face, and knocks a secret code onto the shutter in front of them.

Robbe has no clue where they are, why he’d thought following a girl he literally just met at a party, high off his mind, bringing him to a depot of all places, was a good idea, but there’s no going back. He hears the shutter squeak as it’s opened from the inside.

Noor ducks under once it’s wide enough and Robbe follows after her.

Inside, he can make out garbage trucks parked carefully; lining the space they’re in. He’s even more confused as to why Noor has brought him here.

As they approach the back of the garage, he sees more people; some engaged in hushed conversations, some spray painting on one of the trucks there. He strains his eyes in search of a blob of white locks, but it’s impossible to tell who’s who with the way everyone’s covered up from head to toe in dark clothing and with masks on their faces.

When they come to a stop, there’s finally a source of light coming in through the huge windows, dimmed as it may be. It still doesn’t help him to see whether or not Sander is there, his heart growing heavy by the second.

Robbe is distracted when Noor passes him a can of spray paint.

“Seriously?” He asks, laughing a bit. He has zero artistic skills, Sander can attest to that. He remembers telling Sander about Aaron who had sent an unsolicited dick pic to Amber, Sander doubling over, cackling at the crude stick figure he drew of Aaron’s small dick for ‘visual representation’.

Noor pulls him towards the truck the others have started on and up the ladder.

Robbe smiles at her, lets her bring him close for a quick kiss. This is familiar. He tries to savour the moment, ignoring the ache in his chest.


It’s you and me in every universe


He steals another glance around and physically feels his stomach drop when there’s no sign of Sander. The thought of being in this universe, alone, has Robbe reaching for the remote, wishing for a kinder one than this.


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It’s only been two nights without Sander, but Robbe already has lost sleep on those nights, not used to sleeping alone after years of having a warm body to cuddle up to and soothe his racing thoughts.

Insomnia is a bitch and it is rearing its ugly head in full force, knowing he doesn’t have his personal human blanket.

Which is why he’s on the phone, waiting for the line to connect at 2 am.

Robbe feels ridiculous, but they’re both way past wallowing in their insecurities, finding being honest with each other to be more cathartic. And he misses Sander, who’s away in Amsterdam, attending an Arts Fair.

Robbe is immensely proud of him, but more than anything he just really, really misses him.

The phone connects after four rings.

“Hey baby,” Sander greets, voice honey-sweet and rough with sleep.

A surge of warmth replaces the crippling longing in his chest, and Robbe sighs in response, revelling in that feeling.

Relieved that Sander is in this universe, Robbe’s brain stutters to a halt as it finally registers what the other had said. “Did you just call me baby?”

A beat.

“Uh… yeah, I guess.”

The hesitance in Sander’s voice is jarring. Robbe isn’t used to Sander walking on egg shells around him, but then he remembers how their conversation ended the last time.

“Where are you, anyway?” Robbe asks. Only to fill in the awkward silence between them.

He hears Sander humming, probably taking in his surrounding, so Robbe does the same, taking in the room he’s in.

This room is slightly different from the others he’s been to. For one, the bed is huge, but more importantly, it feels like a shared space rather than his own.

The walls are painted a muted blue. On one side of it, there’s a chest of drawers with a huge round mirror mounted above it. When he pulls open a drawer, he finds that it’s full of suspiciously familiar graphic t-shirts, the drawer below reveals a bunch of sweatshirts — sweatshirts that also look too much like his own. Realisation starts to trickle in.

Dragging his eyes away from the cabinet, he catches sight of himself in the mirror. He doesn’t look much different here; still the same wavy locks and loose sleeping t-shirt, just older. Something catches the light in the mirror, though, and Robbe squints to see better.

He gasps, immediately getting Sander’s attention.

“What? What’s wrong?”

There, sitting on his ring finger in all its glory is a gold band.

Immediately, he is conscious of the weight of it on his finger and glances down at the real thing, instead of his reflection. He’s caught off guard at how his thumb instinctively fiddles with the ring, twisting it round his finger like a nervous tick.

“Uhm,” is all he says in response.

But he doesn’t need to say anything more because a beat later, he hears Sander’s gasp. “Oh shit.”

Robbe shuts his eyes, his face growing hotter by the second.

“Shit,” Sander repeats with a breathy laugh. “Okay.”

Robbe’s gaze flits over the room, frantically searching for that damned remote, and when he sees it peeking from under the bed, he launches at it.

“Found the remote,” he says in a rush.

“Robbe—”

“I’m pressing it.”

The last thing he hears is Sander’s resigned sigh.


✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺


Robbe digs his nails into Sander’s ass as Sander grinds deeper into him, whining into the kiss that’s more tongue than lips.

Sander pulls back slightly, eyes blown wide as he watches Robbe lose control. He draws out, slowly, before pushing back in one swift thrust.

“Fuck yes,” Robbe breathes into the space between their lips.

Sander lets out a low groan in response, his hips picking up pace. He nuzzles into Robbe’s neck, kissing and nipping and licking at the straining chords.

Robbe keeps chanting 'yes, yes, yes.' He digs his heels into Sander’s thighs, trying to pull him impossibly closer. His hands are desperately clawing from Sander’s ass to his back, to his hair; losing his fucking mind at the way Sander is relentlessly pounding into him. Gone were the teasing push and pull, both now desperate to chase after their impending release.

Sander reaches down Robbe’s sides, hands caressing his thighs before gripping his ass, pulling them apart and spreading him wider. Sander matches Robbe’s delirious chants with his own desperate moans, muffled into the crook of Robbe’s neck, his rhythm turning erratic.

Sander’s hips stutter and then slow to a stop. He gently releases his hold but keeps his face hidden in Robbe’s neck. His breathing harsh.

Robbe lays there, mind still foggy with pleasure, mouth slack.

He can’t help the sharp gasp or the way his eyes roll back in pleasure as Sander pulls out slowly; toes curling, feeling the drag of every inch of him inside.

“Oh my god,” Robbe mutters.

Sander sits up and away, his back to Robbe. “Um.”

“Oh my god,” Robbe says again. He sits up and grapples for the sheets to cover himself, and as he does, a sharp jolt runs up his hips and along his spine. He shivers.

“Sorry,” Sander whispers. His shoulders are tense. “I’m, uh, sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Robbe says. He can feel his face heating up. “I mean, it’s not… you didn’t…”

You didn’t do anything that didn’t feel good, is what Robbe wants to say, but doesn’t.

Robbe runs his eyes over Sander’s back; the phantom feeling of Sander inside him mere minutes ago is still there. He fists the sheets, clenches his teeth so hard so that he doesn’t blurt anything out.

Because he had no idea he could feel this way, thought he was incapable of feeling this way, that he’s rendered completely speechless. How is he supposed to forget the way Sander made him feel: so whole, so complete, so fucking good.

Because not a week ago, he’d tried with Noor, tried to give her what she deserves. He’d set up the night; candles all over the room and soft music playing in the background, it was perfectly romantic. And Noor had been so happy. But the night took a turn not ten minutes into it, Robbe failing to even get his dick hard, feeling more and more withdrawn the longer he tried, the longer Noor tried. Zero pleasure to be had.

He’d spent the entire week avoiding her, making excuses that he’s swamped with assignments whenever she reached out. Was planning to mend things when the guilt was too much, but then the jump happened.

And then this.

Sander stands up — Robbe tries not to stare at his ass or his persistent erection — and pulls on some pants.

Instead, he looks around and finds that they’re in some sort of a hotel room. There are candles on the bedside table instead of lamps.

“Where do you think we are?”

“Fuck if I know,” Sander replies, handing him a pair of pants without looking.

Robbe dresses quickly, ignoring his still hard cock, grateful that Sander is looking elsewhere.

“Probably somewhere ancient,” Sander mumbles. He pulls at the front of his hair to observe the brown strands between his two fingers before sitting down on the edge of the bed, putting a careful distance between them.

Robbe springs off, pretending to look for the remote to make himself look busy. He doesn’t think it’s safe for them both to sit on the bed. Doesn’t quite trust himself, at the moment.

He’s making as much noise as he can, shuffling through the papers on the desk by the door, all the while aware of Sander’s eyes on him.

“How long are we gonna ignore this?”

Robbe freezes at Sander’s voice. He sounds absolutely defeated.

A flash of red catches his attention and Robbe is relieved to see the remote within the mounds of papers, papers that seem to be letters. Letters that are addressed to Sander. From him.

He lets out a shaky breath. “It’s… it’s not that easy. For me.”

As much as he knows that he can’t deny this any longer, it still terrifies him to the core. That leap of faith into accepting his true self. He doesn’t know how to make Sander understand.

“Sorry.” Sander runs a hand down his face. “I didn’t mean to push you. I just—” he sighs. “Forget I said anything.”

Robbe panics. Turns around and faces Sander. “Sander, I—”

“Can we please just go,” Sander pleads.

It’s hypocritical of him, he knows. Now that the choice is taken away from him, he doesn’t want to go just yet. Mostly because he doesn’t like that look on Sander’s face. Doesn’t like that he’s the reason why Sander is looking so worn out.

Robbe wants to protest but he clicks his mouth shut when the other sends him an imploring look.

He hits the button.


✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺


It’s been nine days. Nine days and Sander is finally eating again, even if it’s just a bite. His skin getting back its healthy tinge. He’s still so tired all the time, though, and Robbe makes sure to join him whenever he can.

They’re both in bed, Sander with his head on Robbe’s chest. Robbe has a protective arm around him, fingers caressing his boyfriend’s shoulder as he fills the space with mindless chatter.

Sander once told him that his voice is what keeps the turmoil in his head quiet, so Robbe happily obliges. Would gladly talk about the stupidest, meaningless things his brain could come up with, if it means taking a bit of his pain away.

The only indication that Sander is still awake is his fingers tracing random patterns over Robbe’s skin, lulling them both to sleep.

Robbe pulls Sander closer, nuzzling against his boyfriend’s hair and leaving a soft kiss. His own fingers absently running back and forth at the tufts of hair behind Sander’s ears.

Robbe stills for a second, before resuming, thumb rubbing against the shell of Sander’s ear, listening to his breathing. The last time he’s felt this content was when he and Sander were talking about the multiverse theory. He wonders if Sander will let them pretend a little longer.

He gets his answer when Sander rolls out of his arm and away.

Robbe lets his eyes rove over Sander’s back — skin pulled taught against the knobs of his spine, watches the way his shoulders rise and fall with every breath he takes — the question at the tip of his tongue.

Sander lets out a heavy sigh. “I was wrong.”

“About what?” Robbe asks, voice a soft whisper.

“I thought this hopping around was the universe’s way to make you realise you’re,” Sander pauses, “you know.”

Robbe hums in reply.

“Turns out it’s just trying to tell me I’m fucked no matter where I go.”

Robbe frowns. Sander’s not making any sense.

“Broken.”

“I don’t understand,” Robbe interrupts. “What’s going on, Sander?”

“This is what a post-depressive episode looks like, Robbe,” Sander explains. When Robbe remains quiet, he adds in a shameful voice, “I’m bipolar.”

Robbe rolls onto his side, facing Sander’s back. Wanting to reach out, but not sure if he has the right to. His heart aches for the other, the same way it does whenever thoughts of his mother rush to the forefront.

“What does that mean?”

“It means, sometimes I feel like I’m on top of the world. Invincible. Like I can do anything that I want and it feels great. It feels amazing.” Sander takes a deep breath and sighs. “Until I crash and everything goes to shit. But most of the time it’s just this crippling depression. At least for me.”

Robbe wants to feel angry, at whoever’s responsible with this thing they’re going through because it’s forcing them both to reveal their biggest secret without having a say on it. Robbe wants to unlearn whatever Sander has told him, wants to learn about it at a time when Sander chooses to tell him. Not like this.

Especially when Sander seems unable to stop talking.

“Sometimes I wonder what’s the fucking point? What’s the point if I’m always gonna feel so fucking useless I can’t even function.” Sander’s voice grows louder by the second, trembling so much Robbe feels the bed shaking. “My mum doesn’t know how to help. And I hate that I can’t tell her what the fuck is wrong with me. I hate that even after all the fucking pills I eat every goddamn day, after seeing my therapist every single week, I’m still like this. I can't make my brain stop.”

Robbe feels his eyes prick, resting his palm against Sander’s skin. Sander jolts at the touch but doesn’t pull away.

“Sometimes,” Sander croaks, “sometimes I wish I was dead.”

“Hey, no.” Robbe pulls gently at his shoulder, coaxing him to turn around. “Sander, look at me.”

When Sander doesn’t budge, Robbe runs his knuckles down his spine, hoping to soothe the tremors.

“I don’t know what it’s like,” Robbe says, “but I do know there’s always a point to someone’s life.”

And because Robbe thinks Sander is right, that this is probably the universe’s way of telling them both to be true to themselves.

“I’m glad I met you, you know.”

Slowly, Sander turns around. Eyes immediately searching his for the truth.

Robbe forces himself to hold his gaze. “I know I’m not the best at showing it, but I am. I’m glad I answered that ad for a roomie.”

He smiles at the memory of the first day they met, how it was filled with jokes and laughter, despite the initial confusion. Ever since then, his days have been bright; no matter how shitty things get, mostly by his own doing, Sander always has a way of making him smile, even when he wanted to be left alone to stew in his foul mood.

“You’re my favourite person, Sander,” he confesses. He’s sure his face is red with how hot it feels but for some reason, he couldn’t drag his eyes away from Sander’s intent ones.

Sander seems satisfied with what he sees, silently reaching out to grab at Robbe’s hand, and squeezes. Robbe squeezes back.

“You’re my favourite person too.”

“I know,” Robbe says smugly, teasing. “You’re pretty obvious.”

That earns him a playful shove, and he laughs along with Sander, their heads bent together.

In the quiet that follows, Robbe watches as Sander leaves feather light touches over his palm, tracing the lines there.

“I shouldn’t have pushed you, Robbe,” Sander says in a hush. “You shouldn’t have to do anything you’re not ready to do.”

Robbe looks at him, and because it’s the time for truthfulness, he lets himself feel everything he’s been too scared to feel. All those months of secretly wanting. He wants Sander to keep touching him; he wants Sander to always be there. He wants Sander.

Finally admitting that to himself, he feels his thoughts clear. Like emerging underwater and finally taking in a much needed breath.

He closes his palm, tangling Sander’s fingers with his. “I think I needed the push.”

Sander hums, doesn’t sound convinced, but Robbe figures it’d take a lot to convince Sander that not everything is his fault.

He scoots closer, bumping their knees together. “Is it okay if we stay here for a bit?”

Sander nods.

They stay lying on their sides, facing each other, until they both drift off.

In his sleep, Robbe rolls over and lands on the remote.


✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺


They’re standing on the ledge of a rock on top of the cascade they’d stumbled on while hiking. Water gurgling as it rushes downstream, plunging into a pool at the bottom, the water so clear he can see the pebbles lining the bed of it. A tiny piece of heaven on Earth.

And it’s not that far of a jump from where they’re perched. Sander is already taking off his clothes, grinning as he stuffs them into his hiking bag before tossing it down below. His bag lands squarely on a patch of dry rocks at the banks of the pool.

Robbe rolls his eyes as Sander cheers triumphantly at his impeccable aim. His eyes are crinkling with how wide he’s smiling, and Robbe can’t help the way his heart warms at the sight.

With the water and the foliage surrounding them, Sander looks otherworldly.

Sander tilts his head, a teasing smile on his face, like he knows exactly the effect he has on Robbe. “Come on, join me.”

“Why do we have to do this naked?” Robbe grumbles, even as he’s tugging his shoes off, then his shirt.

“Because it’s fun,” Sander simply replies, watching him like a hawk.

When Robbe is down to his boxers, he hesitates, fingers frozen at the waistband. He bites his lip, looking at Sander under his lashes; he can feel the way his face is heating up, avoiding looking below Sander’s very naked waist.

Sander flashes his teeth. He inches backwards towards the edge, eyes bright with mischief as he holds Robbe’s. “Don’t you trust me, Robin?” He asks before somersaulting backwards, his loud whoop echoing through the forest.

He lands with a loud splash and resurfaces with a giddy laugh.

Robbe lets out a small laugh of his own, seeing Sander so carefree, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. And maybe he doesn’t, Robbe realises. He’s laid himself out, completely bare to Robbe, and now he probably feels free.

He has always envied that about Sander; his bold confidence in being totally vulnerable and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Robbe wants that for himself too. That blind courage.

So he takes off his boxers, tosses his bag, and jumps.

He feels the air whistling in his ears, can faintly register Sander cheering him on, before he breaks the surface of the water, plunging deep. For a moment, he stays frozen underwater — takes a moment to enjoy the stillness around him — before he pushes himself upwards towards the surface, gulping in air as he comes up.

“That wasn’t so bad now, was it?” Sander teases.

Robbe giggles, can’t help his bubbling joy. “No, not bad at all.”

“Congratulations, you are now a bad bitch.”

Robbe splashes water at him. “For skinny dipping?”

“Mhm.”

They’re both smiling so wide, Robbe fears his face might get stuck that way.

It’s as if he’s left all his fears and doubts up on that ledge, and now he feels drunk on this newfound courage. Emboldened by that liberating jump, he feels a sudden urge to taste Sander’s smile, so he wades closer.

Sander’s smile falters when he notices; Robbe can hear the way his breath catch, making his own stutter in response, his focus zeroing in on those red lips he’s wanted for so long, now.

Once he’s close enough, Robbe steadies himself by cupping Sander by the neck, legs kicking to stay afloat, Sander’s hands are gripping onto his waist. They press their foreheads together and just breathe each other in.

And then they’re moving in at the same time. Robbe closes his eyes at the very last second, not wanting to miss a single moment. A shaky breath leaves his parted lips before they’re pressed against Sander’s.

It’s losing his breath and gaining it at the same time.

At that moment, the world falls away and everything goes black.


✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺✺


Robbe jumps in surprise at the sound of glass breaking, dropping the remote, and looks over to see Sander still standing over the kitchen counter, shell-shocked. His hands are grasping at thin air, where his mug was supposed to be, now on the floor in pieces.

It takes a few seconds before Sander registers the hot coffee spilt all over the floor and on his toes.

“Fuck!”

“Did that just happen?” Robbe blurts.

Sander looks up from where he’s crouched on the floor, carefully picking up the shards. He looks between Robbe and the fallen remote several times before nodding. “I… I think so?”

Robbe swallows. “I didn’t imagine it?”

“No…”

“And it really wasn’t a dream?”

Sander scrunches his face in annoyance. “It better not be, with how many times you insisted that it wasn’t.”

Robbe stares at the remote. “Holy fuck.”

His mind is reeling as he replays each universe in his head. In every one of them, they were always in each other’s orbit in some way; going on a date, being set up, being husbands, lovers in mid-coitus—he feels his face burn bright at the memory and pushes the images away because now is not the time. In every single universe, they were connected, except for one.

Sander’s finished cleaning up the mess. He washes his hands and leans back against the counter to face Robbe. Waiting.

“You said that it’s always the two of us in every universe,” Robbe starts, “but you’re wrong.”

Sander raises a brow.

“I was with Noor and we were spray painting some truck.” He twists his hands together, can’t help the accusatory tone his voice is taking as he mumbles, “You weren’t there.”

He still remembers how at that time, no matter how vindicated he wanted to feel, all he had felt was a deep sense of loss.

“But I was there,” Sander says. “You just didn’t see me.”

“Oh.” Relief washes over him and in place of the uncertainty is giddy excitement. “Okay.”

Sander doesn’t return the sentiment, chewing on the corner of his lip. His eyes are fixed resolutely on the tiled floor as he quietly asks, “So what about this universe?”

An unbearable need to close the distance between them overcomes Robbe, so he crosses over to where Sander is. He grabs the front of Sander’s t-shirt, needing something to hold onto.

“I have to talk to Noor.” Sander deflates, so he quickly adds, “To end things with her.”

Sander looks at him from under his lashes, wide-eyed and vulnerable, yet achingly beautiful. “And then?”

Robbe makes sure to hold his gaze. “Then I’m all yours, Sander.”

Sander drops his head onto Robbe’s shoulder, body sagging in relief.

They stand there in the kitchen, doused in the morning light, an unspoken promise between them.


*

*

*


Thing is, once he’s gotten a taste of freedom, known what’s it like to give in to his basic desires, Robbe feels completely invincible.

Riding on that high, he goes to see Noor that very evening. His euphoria only lasted the moment she arrives though, in its place a sick feeling settling low in his stomach.

Especially when Noor looks so excited to see him.

Even more so when she leans down to peck him on the lips.

Robbe watches helplessly as she browses through the menu. When he sees a waiter approach their table to take their orders, he sits up straight, making eye contact with them and shakes his head discreetly.

“Noor,” he calls out softly. She looks up at him, an easy smile on her face, oblivious to his inner turmoil.

He fumbles with his words, like a baby deer taking its first steps, barrelling on once he’s found his footing, which involves burning a hole onto the wooden table top. He remembers chancing a glance at Noor, but the wet sheen in her eyes was too much. When Noor doesn’t say anything back and just hugs herself as she sniffles, Robbe stands up, not wanting to stay any longer. He awkwardly shuffles away, apologizing one last time before he power walks out of there.

Robbe leans against his bike once he’s outside, feeling lighter than he has in a long time despite the guilt that is still there, lodged somewhere between his throat and his chest; Robbe suspects it’ll stay there for a bit before he gathers enough courage to properly tell Noor the real reason he ended things.

The chime of his phone pulls him out of his trance.

A message from Sander.

Seeing his name sends an explosion of emotions Robbe is too tired to decipher, he decides to bask in the most prominent one; warmth.


How’d it go?


It’s a simple, yet loaded question.

Robbe wonders if Sander’s feeling anxious. If it’s eating away at him as he waits at home, so much that he’s stress painting.

It’s happened more times than Robbe can count. The way he would come back from class to the entire place filled with the fumes of Sander’s paint — depending on what type he’s using. One time, he ran out of his usual acrylic paint he ended up painting away his stress with the oil paint left from a previous assignment. Robbe had gagged the moment he stepped inside, the stench so strong he almost passed out.

Robbe stares at his screen. He wants so bad to tell Sander it went well, but the guilt is ever present and Sander knowing Robbe feels guilty for putting himself first, will in turn blame himself for being selfish.

What a pair they make.

Robbe pockets his phone, mounts his bike and takes off.


*

*

*


It’s nearing midnight when he’s finally back at their apartment. A full six hours since he last saw Sander. He’s feeling a lot better than he had after leaving the café, though.

The lights are still on; instead of the smell of paint, he hears the clack clack clack of buttons filling the space and some catchy tune that sounds awfully familiar playing on TV.

The sight that greets him is a rare one: Sander is slumped on the couch with his legs sprawled out in front of him, engrossed in a game of Sonic, the classic one obviously. Robbe watches him — body jerking as he makes Sonic jump over obstacles, veering his body to the motion of the hedgehog — and feels his heart swell.

“Hey.”

Sander whips his head around, eyes wide.

“You’re back.”

“In one piece,” he jokes.

The look on Sander’s face gives him pause. His hair has exploded in a poof of white mess, probably from running his fingers through it multiple times. Robbe feels like kicking himself for being the cause. He opens his mouth, the apology on the tip of his tongue.

They both jump at the sound of trumpets blaring from the TV, the game over screen staring back at them before the screen goes black.

Sander dumps the controller next to him, huffing as he rubs a hand over his face.

“How, uh…” Robbe swipes his tongue over his suddenly dry lip. “How long have you been playing?”

Sander shrugs. “Couple hours.”

“Hm”

Robbe makes his way towards where Sander is and gingerly sits down next to him. He presses his knee to Sander’s in silent apology, smiling softly when Sander presses back.

They stay quiet.

Robbe can hear the scritch of Sander’s nail against the fabric of the cushion: back and forth, scratch scratch, scratch scratch<—

“So I broke up with Noor.” He breaks the silence.

—the scratch stops. There’s rustling as Sander shifts. “How’d it go?”

Robbe leans his head back and stares at the ceiling. “It was awful,” he says truthfully. “She cried.”

Sander makes a sympathetic noise.

Robbe can feel eyes boring at the side of his head; can hear the way Sander’s throat clicks as he swallows, before he asks with that placating tone he always uses whenever Robbe is in one of his moods, “You doing okay?”

“Honestly… I felt like shit, after.” He traces the brown stain above with his eyes. “So I went to see my mum.”

“Oh.” The relief is palpable. In the way Sander completely melts into the couch.

Robbe turns his head, finally meeting his gaze. “I just— I really needed to see her.”

Sander is quiet, eyes roaming over Robbe’s face. “I get that.”

“Yeah?”

“Mm.” Sander replies. There’s a soft smile on his face, left cheek pillowed on the cushion as he continues to stare.

Robbe’s fingers twitch. He wonders what’s it like to reach out and trace that smile.

He lowers his gaze. “I told her I like boys.” This is the easy bit, Robbe realises. This, he knows at heart already. The next part, though, has him gaping like a fish out of water. “Told her I’m—”

He’s never actually said the words in relation to himself. The first time he’d openly admitted the fact to another person was literally a few hours ago, and even then, his mother took mercy and said it for him, and Robbe confirmed it with a silent nod.

He takes a steadying breath, before locking eyes with Sander. “I told her I’m gay.”

The corners of Sander’s lips twitch.

“What did your mum say?”

“That it doesn’t change anything,” Robbe quotes, voice shaking. “That I’m still her son and that she’ll always love me.”

Robbe had hugged her tight, squeezed her frail body as he got his breathing under control, not wanting to lose it in front of her.

Now, in the present time, Sander is beaming. His eyes are shining with pride and Robbe barely refrains from puffing up his chest. Instead, he shifts onto his side, facing Sander, props his elbow on the back of the couch, resting his face against his knuckle and grins.

They sit in this bubble, openly looking and smiling at each other, taking comfort in no more hiding and pretending there isn’t anything brewing between them.

Had this been yesterday, shame would have overpowered everything that was warm and fuzzy. Robbe would have revelled in the attention, felt the thrill of genuine attraction run up his spine, before the crushing fear would always pull him back and away, making him say or do things he never really meant.

And Sander would’ve always laughed it off, unfazed.

Now, all he wants is to have and touch.

This time, when his fingers twitch again, Robbe doesn’t stop himself from reaching over to where Sander’s laid out his. He runs the pad of his finger over the knuckle closest to his.

Sander lets him, watching quietly. When he speaks, it’s soft and hesitant.

“When you didn’t answer my text, I got scared.”

“Why?”

“I thought you were having second thoughts.”

“At this point, I don’t see that happening,” Robbe admits. He’s still riding on that addictive high; it might have been diminished with guilt, followed by crippling anxiety, but the moment relief once again consumes him, it’s still there. It will stay there for a couple of days residing in his chest like a warm blanket. “Not after everything.”

Dropping his arm to Sander’s shoulder, Robbe clutches at his nape. “The two of us, in every universe, Sander.”

“In this one too?”

Robbe can still hear the uncertainty in Sander’s question. He remedies that by doing what he’s been dying to do since they got back. He leans forward, making his intent clear by fixing his eyes on Sander’s lips. Sander meets him halfway with a shaky exhale.

Time seems to stand at a still as their lips meet. Robbe can hear his heart thudding in his ears, trying to beat right out of his chest. Everything comes to when he feels the gush of warm air as they both sigh into the kiss. All he can think about is how soft Sander’s lips feel against his, the hand gently laid against his side feeling like a hot brand.

They pull apart for a second, forehead pressed together. Sander laughs a moment later, more air than laughter, and Robbe can’t help but do the same. He presses a soft kiss to the corner of Sander’s mouth. Realises he hasn’t answered Sander’s question, and maybe the kiss has quelled some of the other’s insecurity but he is aware of the way Sander is still looking at him like he’s a lucid dream.

Nuzzling against his face, Robbe whispers,

Especially in this universe.”

And it seems like the right thing to say; Sander lunges back in for another kiss, grabbing his face and tilting it to fit their lips better. This kiss is nothing like the one they just had.

It’s open mouthed from the get go, Sander’s tongue curling against the inside of Robbe’s top lip, sucking lightly. Robbe feels a lick of heat running down his spine, lips going slack as he lets out a soft moan. He returns the favour by pressing back harder, fitting his tongue beneath Sander’s and sucking, loving the resulting deep growl.

It’s a heady feeling, losing himself completely to the kiss, of wanting and being wanted in return. Robbe never wants this feeling to stop, pulling Sander closer. Sander complies, leaning in, angling their body at a precarious angle.

No thoughts run through his head other than more and closer. Sander seems to be thinking along the same line as he tilts Robbe’s chin and just takes. It’s a mess of lips and tongue and desperate groans before gravity finally kicks and they both slip and fall onto the seat of the couch.

Their teeth knock together, not harshly, but enough to break the kiss.

They freeze for a beat before bursting into giggles.

Sander leans down, dropping his entire weight on Robbe, and snuggles against his neck. Robbe circles his arms tightly around him, hugging him close. He drops kisses to every inch of Sander’s face that he can reach, the other basking in the attention with a happy sigh.

They stay like that, holding each other, eventually falling asleep in each other’s arms for the first time.