It was an early morning at the end of May. The 28th, to be exact. John had turned 18 16 days ago. Xander, unfortunately, had been born right at the end of August which meant that he wouldn’t be turning 18 until then. He was still 17. But right now, that was the last of their concerns. The main difference between that 28th of May and all the other 28th of Mays that they’d managed to live through was that on that day, they were graduating. They were moving on from Hatchetfield High and being thrown into the real world with no experience. What was even more terrifying was that they both got the announcements declaring if they had been accepted into the college that they wanted to go to.
It was John’s dream school as was it Xander’s. John was hoping to study something bizarre, like the emotions of space or something of similar sorts. He wanted to be involved with space, with time, with how the universe worked and he was more than happy applying to a course that fit those exact descriptions. Ironically, so had Xander. The only difference between him and Xander for applying to the course was that Xander was intending to become a scientist involved with space. John’s criteria was that it had to fit how space actually worked, and then he’d be fine. Xander had been his only friend since he was 12 years old. If he didn’t get on that course and Xander did, he didn’t know what he was going to do.
The college was in New York. It was a high end school with highly skilled workers constantly being churned from it. It had the highest of reviews and it appealed to John like none other had. There were schools across the country that he could have chosen if he so deadly wanted to, but it had been the one in New York that he’d landed on going to. The issue that came was that John didn’t have a phone. He didn’t like texting or calling so a phone call was off the table if Xander went and he didn’t, or if he went and Xander didn’t. He couldn’t do long distance. He just couldn’t. It was worse now, with the worry that he and Xander would be separated after so long. He didn’t want to lose his only friend. He didn’t know what he was going to do if that occurred.
John had just been rescued from an abusive household. His legal guardian now was a man named Wilbur Cross who worked for a branch of the United States Military, he always said, which specialised in what lies beyond and inside of space. Wilbur had told John that since he was over 17, if he wished to go and apply for a job there then he would more than likely get on the team. Wilbur had also mentioned that he’d be more than happier than to mentor him, but that was only if John didn’t get accepted into the college. John was trying not to get his hopes up.
He was sat under the shade of the tree outside. All lessons had been cancelled for leavers books to be signed by other students and staff. John didn’t have anybody who necessarily needed to sign his book. He only had Xander. He was sat under the shade of the tree outside beside Xander, who was constantly getting people coming up to him. John had always been slightly jealous of him. He was attractive and he had friends outside of John. In John’s case, it wasn’t the same. He wasn’t necessarily bad looking but he certainly wasn’t getting asked out to the senior prom and Xander was the only person who he had. He had nothing. Xander had everything.
Xander had the brightest smile on his face as another group of girls came over to him. Xander was the unintentional heartthrob in their year at Hatchetfield High. All the girls swooned over him. John had been there, and he had heard at least five girls ask him to the senior prom, to which he declined each and every single one of them. John couldn’t understand why. He was good looking, he’d admit.
Maybe there was something else behind John’s reasoning behind fearing the detachment from Xander. Something had made him realise he was gay not too long ago. It was when he and Xander were sat down by the river, legs dangling in the water, Xander’s arm wrapped around him. He’d leaned his head against his shoulder and closed his eyes, allowing the sun to totally consume him. He got lost in his thoughts in those moments. All the feelings he’d pushed down finally blossomed into reaccepting flowers. John McNamara was gay, and there was a likely possibility he had a crush on his only friend which is why he was not asking him to prom. He couldn’t fuck that up either. He had to push everything down regarding his romantic interest towards Xander. Dare he slip inside the eye of his mind and see the window to the soul, to see how tight John’s heart clenched when Xander laughed, how fast it beat whenever he smiled. Didn’t he know that he might find, if he delved too deep, a better place to play around?
Xander placed another signature down on the paper and clasped the book, handing it back to the girls with a quiet thank you before returning back to John. “So, as I was saying before we were interrupted again-“
“It was you who was interrupted, as it has been all morning, but go on…”
Xander paused at John’s distantness. Something was wrong and he knew it. He knew that by the tone of his voice, by how his eyes were distant. He knew about what had happened recently. How he’d been kicked out on the streets, beaten and assaulted more than once but now he found home with Wilbur. He wasn’t putting it down to John was now in a stable environment because mental health never magically repaired itself like that. But he knew that something was wrong. “John? Are you okay?” He waited for an answer, but John curled in on himself a little bit tighter. “If it’s the girls who keep coming over, I can politely decline them, you know? Or we can move to somewhere quieter?” As Xander spoke, tears filled John’s eyes, which made him look to the grass.
“It isn’t you…well. It kinda is but you haven’t done anything it’s just-“ He sniffled. “What if I don’t get the place in college? What if you go on to do what you wanted to and you get your dream job and I’m stuck in Hatchetfield alone? You’ve got other friends and I’ve only got you! It’s-.” His breath was cut off by a half-sob, tears beginning to fall down his face.
Xander felt his heart clench for John, and he wrapped his arms around him, pulling him close. “It’s gonna be okay. You’re gonna get that place and we’re gonna be with each other, aren’t we? It’s all gonna go great.” He said as he squeezed John. “And it’s okay to cry. During the leaver’s assembly later on, I will be crying myself. I’m really not ready to leave…” he admitted quietly, looking to the distance. “The next time we’ll be seeing all of these guys will be at prom, won’t it?” John nodded weakly against Xander’s chest. “Did you find anyone to go with yet?”
John debated on coming out there and then. Wilbur accepted him. What harm would telling Xander be? But the words got tangled up in his throat. In the midst of everything, he choked out a “no” and a “I don’t think I’m gonna go.”
Xander shook his head. “Nuh-uh. I’m not letting you miss out on prom like that. That’s been the one event we’ve both been dreaming of since we’ve known each other! Come on! I heard a rumour that Abbie likes you! Like, like likes you, John and-“
“Xander, I’m not fucking going to prom, okay!” John said, pulling himself out of Xander’s arms. “I don’t care who likes me and who doesn’t! I don’t want to be surrounded by these people anymore!” He pressed his back to the bark of the tree and pulled his jacket up to his face, resisting sobs at that point. He couldn’t make himself look like a fool.
Watching him, Xander decided that he needed some time to himself. He wasn’t about to pressure John to tell him what was going on in his head, so he looked back up to see another group of people walking their way. Xander sighed and pulled out his sharpie, ready. He let John open up to him after he calmed down. John had explained that he was terrified of getting older because there was the possibility that he was one day closer to death and he might be forgetting things faster than usual, and that could include Xander. John had said that he’d never been seen by someone like Xander before and to lose him would break him. But slowly, as John accepted Xander’s arms wrapped around him once more, all the things that he’d seen slowly faded away into nothingness, into mere memories.
They walked to the hall not long after and they took their seats at the front of the room. It’d help with John’s anxiety. If he needed to leave early, then he could and he could collect his things and go home. He was allowed to do that due to everything that had been happening, and a special request from Wilbur had been placed in later on in the year to ensure that this all occurred. The reason they were sat at the front was because John had trouble if someone was in front of him. To see the screen there helped a lot.
They ended up both crying, arms wrapped around each other as they watched the lives of their years whizz by. John had barely hung on but Xander had made sure he was calm enough for him to be stable. Then, it was announced that they were to do their walk. They stood up and collected their gowns, changing into their attire before lining up in alphabetical order. John and Xander were directly next to each other. It was their surnames that had really been the thing to push them to become friends. They were sat next to each other in a lot of lessons.
John did the walk and so did Xander. They were handed whatever they needed to be handed. At the front of the audience were their fathers, appropriately. They ran down to them where they were met with proud smiles and accepting, loving arms. The plan was that Xander stay the night with John as a celebration for the two of them. It’d give Stu some time to himself. But, as a celebration, Stu was coming over for dinner.
They went back to John’s new place where he changed into his pyjamas at once. In his hand was a brown envelope, one with his results if he made it into the college or not. He held them with shaky hands as Xander walked out from the bathroom, taking his seat beside John. On the count of three, they opened their letters. As John’s heart plummeted, Xander’s beat faster. “I got in…” Xander had whispered, which only made John feel worse. “Holy shit! I got in! Dad! Dad, I got in!” Xander had said as he ran from the room.
John had broken down once he was gone. He slid the declining letter under his bed and curled up under his bed. Xander was going to do the course that they’d both wanted to do, and he wasn’t going to be able to go with him. Xander was gonna go make new friends, and he was gonna forget about him and-
Wilbur came up not long after, closing the door. By John’s reaction, it didn’t take long for the pieces to click together without even reading the letter. He, with John’s permission, held him softly and let him cry it out. John’s mind was a revolution that occurred from his bed deep in his mind. His brain was one in a million and it thought so abstract that it was difficult to compensate him when he needed to accept that not everything would go his way, and he knew that. It was the accepting his failure that was the struggle. His high expectations had given him high hopes and it went straight to his head.
Wilbur had still held John as he cried and shushed him softly. “Kiddo, if you can’t have Xander over tonight we can reschedule, and you know it. You can see him as many times as you want before he leaves, before prom, before whenever. But what I don’t want you to do is,” he began, gently tapping John’s head. “Step outside of your blizzarding mind. Summertime’s in bloom, John. You can’t let this blip freeze your path or your tracks. Stand up beside the fireplace.”
“But it’s not just the fact that Xander got in and I didn’t. It’s…it’s the fact he’s the reason I know I’m gay and I’m too cowardly to ask him and-“
“I understand, son.” He paused and grabbed a tissue from the bedside table, wiping John’s tears away. “Take that look from off your face, John. I don’t wanna see a smile, not yet. I understand it’s too difficult for you. But…prom is coming up, and I’m not seeing I’ve overheard Xander wanting to take you but…”
So, when Wilbur left and Xander walked back in, John started to explain everything. “I didn’t get accepted into the college so it’s unlikely we’re gonna see each other anymore,” he said and took a shaking breath. “But I got…I got a confession to make. And it’s that I’m…ugh, how do I phrase this without crying?” He laughed emptily. “You don’t have to reciprocate what I’m saying at all but I…I found out I’m gay and I would really like to take you to prom with me…as a friend, if that’s what you want to do that.”
“Even if you do like me back I…I can’t do long distance. The communication isn’t clear enough to me and…but I think we’re just gonna have to stay friends. But once. Once, I want to experience being your partner for the night. Dance partner, romantic partner…whatever.” He failed to meet Xander’s eyes when Xander placed his hand on his shoulder.
“I would love to take you to prom, John McNamara.”
The next thing that John knew was he was in the car, heading to the airport with Xander in the backseat, neither of them looking at each other. John’s feelings were a flame with added gasoline. Xander couldn’t ever burn his heart out and it was exhausting because now they were going to say goodbye.
And so, Xander could wait. John knew it was too late as they walked on by each other. They stood at the gate together, Xander dropping his suitcase to the floor, running to lift John up into a hug, allowing tears to be shed. He mistakenly placed a kiss to a light bruise on John’s neck that he may or may not be responsible for on prom night and he felt John shake harder in his arms. But only that moment could last so long. Xander’s soul was sliding away, and it was proven by the flight being called. Xander placed John down on the ground and cupped John’s face. “It’s going to be okay. I know you’re struggling with change, I know, but I will keep in touch, butterfly.”
“I can’t do it without you…” John’s face crumpled up into tears and Xander shook his head.
“You can. You are so much stronger than you think you are.” He sniffled himself and looked at him. “Who knows. Maybe the next time I’ll be back, it’ll be when you’re working for the military.” That managed to get a chuckle out of John. That was a better sign than none. “Just…John, don’t look back on these memories with anger, okay? Don’t look back in anger,” John heard him say shortly before he had to leave for New York.
Xander didn’t keep in touch like he promised, but then again, John wouldn’t know. He stopped checking his emails a long while before he joined PEIP. It’d been 2005 when Wilbur had died, and John was the fresh general. Wounds were still fresh and open, and they still stung. But he had a team to lead, and they needed a strong mentor to be a role model for.
But then there was a knock at his door to his office. He looked up and stood there was his best friend in the entire universe. The grin on Xander’s face became wider with every millisecond and John could hardly help but begin to cry. Xander had ran forward after closing the door, sitting down around by John, hugging him tightly. “What are you doing here?!” He asked and Xander smiled.
“I got a job interview. I came back from New York and I tried to find you and-and I managed to ask my dad about you, and he told me that you usually worked here, in your office and thank god you are because I missed you more than words can say. My dad took me to the place where you go when you can’t face socialisation, which is here, where nobody knows what happens behind closed doors in the day or the night.”
Those words had been the beginning of their journey. They started dating the same day, a kiss in an office to seal their deal. They danced in the meadows, married amongst the willow trees in a private ceremony with only Xander’s dad attending. John supported Xander as he climbed through the ranks and nuzzled up to him during training. They were surprisingly domestic.
Until Black Friday.
Until Black Friday where, upon hearing John’s plans, Xander had burst through into the portal room, grabbed him by the wrist and teared up, looking at him. “John, please don’t put your life in the hands of a rock and roll band and throw it all away. You’ve worked so hard to get here. You’re not gonna throw it away just like it’s nothing, are you?” He asked softly, but John frowned.
The president got stuck in an interaction between him and Wilbur. John’s heart was racing. With a quick ghost of a kiss to Xander’s lips, John had run in the portal without a second thought to consider what he was doing. Because, so, Xander could wait, but John knew it was too late. John was the one walking on by as his soul slid away. He couldn’t look back in anger, particularly not with the lessons he’d endured during his time in the force.
But something grabbed a hold of him and pulled him out. Somehow, he lived. Somehow, he woke up in a hospital gown on a bed with Xander clutching his hand crying. John had weakly muttered, ‘don’t look back in anger.’
“Don’t look back in anger?” He’d repeated, wiping his eyes and John had smiled.
“I heard you say, at least…not today.” John had told him, using the remaining energy to squeeze his hand before slipping under an unconscious state. Even if he hadn’t been able to save the world like he’d intended, he had saved his husband. That was all that mattered. Xander was all that mattered.