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When the Moon and Sea Align

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There were bubbles all around him and it was so, so blue.

Peem inhaled. 

The water filled his lungs.

 

 

 

1.

He coughed.

Petals splattered into the sink, yellow edged in red. Chrysanthemums.

“Hello?” Someone knocked, voice muffled through the door. “Are you okay?”

Peem turned on the water and pitched his voice so it was just barely audible over the sound of the faucet. “Yeah, one second.”

He pushed the petals down the drain and then swished some water around his mouth before spitting, taking a brief second to wonder if the water was pinker than it had been when he’d done the same earlier in the day, before quickly dismissing the thought.

Wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand, he straightened, looking at himself in the mirror and making sure that there were no traces left. Satisfied, he unlocked the door, and found himself face-to-face with Mike, who was poised to knock again.

“Mike,” Peem blurted, taking a step back into the bathroom. Mike took a step back as well, expression discomfited.

His gaze darted to the sink behind Peem, and Peem couldn’t help but instinctively shift so that it was out of his view, even though he knew that he’d been thorough.

“You—” Mike started and then stopped. He swallowed, still looking into the bathroom, before letting his gaze meet Peem’s. “You were coughing.”

A statement, not a question, and it took Peem by surprise. Mike didn’t usually confront things—preferring to side-step them over and over again until he couldn’t—but he was terrifyingly good at making people feel like they’d gotten at least half an answer despite that. 

Which was why it had taken Peem so long to realize, not until what had started first as an itch in his throat turned into a coughing fit so violent it had left him sprawled on the floor of his bedroom against his dresser, daffodil petals everywhere, because that was how it always started, because you only got Hanahaki if—

When he’d finally caught his breath, and stared at the cheery yellow petals covering his rug and sheets, he had found himself unbelieving at first. It didn’t make sense. Mike had sung him a song, and told him that he felt like himself around Peem, and that he wanted to stay with Peem, and whenever Peem said “I love you,” he—

He never said it back.

Mike said a lot of things—sang a lot of things. But he never said it back.

It had all slotted into place terrifyingly easily, and it left Peem gasping with how blind he had been, salty tears dripping onto the petals he had crumpled in his hand.

Peem had made his decision quickly after that. Mike had Pear, and Peem had apparently never had Mike. He moved out of the dorms, began avoiding Mike and his friends during class. Mike had texted, and then called, and then tried to chase him down on campus, but Peem had managed to dodge him every time.

Except for this time, in front of the library’s single-user bathroom. Of all places.

Mike immediately looked like he wished he hadn’t said anything, eyes going vaguely panicked as his mouth pursed on a sharp inhale. It made the edges of his lips turn white, and Peem found himself deliberately directing himself to look at the space between Mike’s brows, knowing just how red Mike’s mouth would get when he finally relaxed it.

“Yeah,” Peem replied shortly, and he moved to walk around Mike, but Mike grabbed his wrist.

This time, he didn’t look startled by his own actions, and if Peem didn’t know any better, he would say that he looked almost heartbroken. “Was it m—why didn’t you say—”

“I already had an answer,” Peem replied, pulling out of Mike’s grasp. A week ago, he would’ve felt anger, but he’d received the appointment confirmation email this morning and now he just felt scared. Scared that Mike would somehow manage to make him change his mind and then Peem would make the foolish decision of cancelling the appointment only to realize that he wasn’t getting any better, and that would just be worse. To hope for the fairytale ending and have it crushed so thoroughly.

Mike squared his shoulders, expression going determined. He was always too possessive for his own good—Peem had found it reassuring, at one point. Now it just felt childish, especially because Peem had never been afforded the same luxury. “But—”

Peem’s throat tightened. He couldn’t do this, he couldn’t let Mike speak, couldn’t wait to hear what honeyed words would spill out of his mouth. “Nothing would have changed. You know that.”

The desperation in Peem’s voice made Mike’s mouth snap shut, and he was once again back to looking uncomfortable, clearly searching for a way to say that Peem was wrong without having it be a complete lie.

“I have an appointment,” Peem said, almost gently. It hurt, to look at Mike and remember how happy he had been before, ignorant of the truth growing in his own lungs. He didn’t wait to see the words land, walking away without looking back.

Mike didn’t call out for him.

Peem told himself he hadn’t been waiting for it.

 

 

 

 

2.

He groaned.

“Jane, he’s not—”

“Peem,” Jane said firmly, “I see the way he looks at you.”

“You know he broke up with Pear, he just needs someone by his side.” Peem replied, and Jane sighed, wrapping her arms around his waist. She rested her head on his shoulder.

“Fine, I know,” she said, voice muffled against the fabric of his shirt, “Are you hanging out with him today?”

“Yeah, in a bit,” Peem said, checking his watch. “I’ve got ten minutes.”

Jane looked up at him, bangs messy, falling into her face. Peem smoothed them back, and she pushed into it, expression going playful. “Ten minutes is a lot of time,” she said, and Peem smiled down at her, tugging her close.

“Cute,” she laughed, tweaking his red ear and then tugging him down into a kiss.

Fifteen minutes later (okay, so ten minutes wasn’t a lot of time), Peem was rushing down the hall, scrubbing the back of his hand over his mouth and cursing when it came away with some streaks of pink. He tugged up the collar of his shirt to wipe away as much as he could before knocking on the door to Mike’s place.

Mean opened it. “Oh Peem,” he said, stepping to the side so that Peem could come in. “Mike just left, I guess he’ll be back soon?”

“Yep,” Peem said, rocking on his heels with a tight smile. Mean always made him feel a bit out-of-sorts. “I’ll just wait for him in his room.”

Mean shrugged and disappeared around a corner, leaving Peem to make his way to Mike’s bedroom.

The door was slightly ajar, and Peem pushed it open. Mike’s bed was unmade as usual and he didn’t hesitate before flopping on top of it, throwing his arms over his head. He stretched until his spine popped, toes lifting off the floor, and as he brought his arms back down to his sides, his hand hit something buried under the sheets.

Curious, Peem sat up and tugged it out. It was a small notebook, one that Peem had seen Mike scribbling in before while composing, pen between his lips as he tested out chords. Peem flipped it open, smiling at the barely legible handwriting of Mike’s notes. 

Each page was filled with lyrics and Peem leafed through it casually, letting his eyes catch on the occasional phrase or chord scratched out above it. Some of them were very clearly about Pear before she and Mike had broken up, and it made the corners of Peem’s mouth turn down a little as he read them.

Mike and Pear’s breakup had been messy, but both of them had refused to explain what had happened. Mike had simply shrugged and told Peem that “it wasn’t working out,” before going back to staring lasers at his beer bottle, completely ignoring Peem and Jane on the opposite side of the table. And Pear and Peem had never been close (she didn’t really like his sense of humor), so that left Peem with no information.

Jane’s working theory was that it had something to do with him, but Peem found the thought ridiculous. Mike was aggressively straight—had awkwardly clapped Peem’s shoulder and thanked Peem when Peem mentioned that he was bi. 

That had been when they were first becoming friends, after Mike had seen Peem in the corner of the classroom and inviting him to eat lunch with him and the rest of his friends. He’d quickly become Peem’s best friend, and they found themselves spending most of their time hanging out together, unless Mike was with Pear.

And then Jane had stumbled into Peem’s life halfway through the semester—Peem had walked into her practice room while searching for Mike. She’d taken one look at him before asking for his number and things had been really good—fantastic, really. They’d all gone on double dates and Jane made Peem laugh even harder than Mike did. 

But then Mike started to withdraw and the fights between him and Pear got louder and angrier and longer until there was nothing left for them to salvage. When they broke up, Mike had shown up at Peem’s room incredibly drunk and then spent the rest of the night curled up in a lump on Peem’s bed. Peem had tried unsuccessfully to get him back to his place before giving up and going to Jane’s room to sleep.

There were a few blank pages, and then some more love songs—but these were a little more somber. 

Comedy , declared the top of one the pages, and the words written underneath had Peem’s heart sinking. He quickly flipped past it, feeling guilty for having seen it, and then frowned when his fingers caught on something stiffer than the pages of the notebook. He was so absorbed in his inspection that he didn’t hear the footsteps before the door to the room swung open.

“What are you doing.” Mike said from the doorway, voice strangled, and Peem startled, dropping the notebook on the ground. A picture skittered out of it across the floor, settling near Mike’s feet.

“Mike!” Peem stood, flushing red for having been caught. He picked up the notebook and took a quick step forward, leaning down to scoop up the photograph and then paused upon realizing what it was.

It was a photo strip, one that Peem recognized from one of the first few double dates they’d all been on. They’d gone to an arcade and piled into the photo booth afterwards, pulling faces at the camera.

Except Jane and Pear had been cut off either end of the strip, leaving just Mike and Peem in the middle. Before Peem could really register what he was seeing, Mike had snatched the photo strip and the notebook out of his fingers.

“Why did you look at it?” Mike asked, brushing past Peem and slamming the two items down on his desk. He whirled around to face Mike and Peem realized that Mike was properly angry, hands clenched at his sides.

And of course he was, considering the fact that Peem had invaded his privacy.

“Sorry,” Peem blurted. “I didn’t really think it was a big deal—you know I like your lyrics.”

Mike took a deep breath and flexed his hands out of the fists they had curled into. “Right. Which ones did you read?”

“Mike—” Peem instinctively reached out for Mike’s wrist, but Mike shoved his hands in his pockets. “I just. Some of the stuff you wrote for Pear. And uh, the ones from after the breakup? Like Comedy.”

“That wasn’t for—” Mike cut himself off and looked away. “Whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

“Wait, what doesn’t matter?” Peem asked and Mike’s eyes hardened.

“Nothing, let’s just go. We’re already late because of you.” Mike shifted to lead them out of his room and Peem’s gaze fell on the photostrip that he’d forgotten about in the midst of his guilt over looking through Mike’s notebook.

I think he likes you, Jane had said. I see the way he looks at you.

Had she seen something like this, Peem wondered. The almost-desperation in Mike’s frame as he tried to redirect Peem’s attention? The way he didn’t meet Peem’s eyes?

Comedy wasn’t for Pear, Mike had stopped himself from saying. So it was for—

“Peem.” Mike had stopped in the doorway, jaw clenched as if daring Peem to say something. Peem looked at him, and then at the photostrip and notebook on the table.

He swallowed.

“Mike, do you—” Peem stopped. Do you like me? Are you hurting? Is this why you and Pear broke up? Are we the comedy? 

He bit his lip. 

“Never mind, let’s go.”

 

 

 

 

3.

He gasped.

“Mike,” he shouted, desperately trying to keep afloat, “Mike, please!

The chlorine had gotten into his eyes and it made them blur with more tears. He felt sick with panic and the water he’d swallowed and could see the distorted figure of Mike stepping away from the edge of the pool.

He splashed desperately. “Mike, I can’t,” he screamed, throat hoarse, “Help! Mike.

Peem’s legs were tiring, the energy in his body slowly sapping away with every second, leaving blinding terror in its wake.

Spots danced in his vision, and his ears rang—for a moment he thought he heard Mike calling his name, but the thought quickly slipped away.

And then there was a tug on his arm, and he was being dragged to the surface.

“Peem,” Mike’s voice was strained as he clutched at Peem, hauling him through the water and to the edge of the pool. His grip on Peem’s arm hurt, it was too tight, and he was pulling too hard. 

Mike heaved both of them out, and Peem rolled onto his side, coughing out water and curling into himself. His lungs and his head and his heart hurt.

He was so tired.

“Peem,” Mike said softly behind him and Peem flinched. Mike fell silent.

The sound of their breaths echoed off the tile.

 

 

 

 

+ 1.

He sighed.

It would be okay, he told himself. No one knew him here, he just had to sit through the lesson and then he could leave.

He stepped through the doorway, fingers tight around the strap of his backpack.

There was a boy perched atop a desk near the front of the room, guitar in his arms, and he looked up when he entered.

He waiied and introduced himself quietly, “Hello. I’m Tops.” 

The boy waiied back. “Win,” he said, and gave Tops a bright smile. “If you’re here for tutorial, you’re pretty early.”

Tops nodded, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, “I know I was hoping…” I was hoping no one would be here and I could hide in the corner, he didn’t finish, and instead just ducked his head.

“It’s not a big deal,” Win said, and he gestured to the guitar in his lap, “I come here early so that I can get some practice in.”

“Oh,” Tops said, “That’s cool.”

Win grinned. “Yeah, I think so too,” he gave Tops a considering look, “It’s alright if I practice while you’re here, right?”

Tops nodded before Win even finished the question. He definitely did not want to mess with his routine.

“Great!” Win said, “I like playing for an audience.”

His gaze darted to the desk next to him, and Tops realized that it was an invitation. He set his bag down quickly and slipped into the seat, hands in his lap.

“This is just something I’ve been playing around with,” Win told him, strumming a few errant chords before beginning in earnest, and Tops found his breath catching in his throat as Win played.

It sounded—not exactly familiar—but like something Tops had forgotten. Made him nostalgic for experiences that he’d never had, quiet promises that he’d never made—had never had anyone to make them with.

By the time Win had finished with a flourish, Tops found himself digging his fingers into his thighs.

“It’s really beautiful,” he said. Win looked up from his guitar and beamed, pushing his hair out of his face, and Tops found his breath catching for entirely different reasons.

“Thank you!” Win replied. “What do you like to do for fun?”

“I cook,” Tops offered, and Win lit up.

“Can I see?” he asked, and Tops hesitated briefly before pulling out his phone and showing Win pictures of the dish he’d made for breakfast.

Win made an impressed noise and pointed to something in the photo, “What’s that?”

Tops looked at what he was pointing and then carefully explained that it was veggies he had cut into shapes and then pickled, and Win listened before asking a careful follow-up question and it was—

It was really nice. Much nicer than sitting in the corner of the room alone.

And as Win laughed at a tentative joke Tops made, eyes crinkling and he threw his head back, Tops felt warm, because for the first time in a long time, it really did feel like things were going to be okay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

He exhaled.