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It took me a while to pick up on because he behaved much the same as he always had. Quick to throw an arm casually around someone’s shoulder, to hug or pat someone on the back. Looking back, there was never any real contact—nothing long-lasting, nothing skin to skin. It was like Boris was seeking something he wasn’t able to ask for, getting what he could and then backing off before he could be rejected. Which was absurd—we’d been living together for months by this point, sleeping together for even longer. Not to mention our time in Vegas. 

“I think maybe he’s touched starved,” Pippa said when I described what I’d noticed over the phone one night, “The way you’ve described him, is he close with anyone?”

“I mean, sure. He’s sort of close with everyone.”

She sighed, “No, I mean anyone he can be vulnerable with? To me, it seems like he puts up this front of being open with everyone as some sort of defense to keep anyone from looking too closely. It’s hard for me to say, I’ve barely interacted with him. But it’s something to think about.”

We chatted a bit after that until she had to go. I couldn’t stop thinking about it after the fact, watching Boris for any signs that Pippa had been right. It wasn’t until I spoke with Hobie that I started connecting everything.

“Well, Pippa would know all about that, I suppose.”

“What do you mean?”

“Touch starvation. It was a huge issue for her after everything, you know,” he sighed, leaning back and looking off, “She’s always been rather hands-on with people she’s close to, you know that. But after the MET, after she was separated from all of her friends and had all of her health issues to worry about, she started developing these odd behaviors: anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, disconnection with others, rubbing her face and neck and skin, running her hands against just about any texture she liked, always holding and petting animals, hot baths several times a day, hugging all sorts of pillows and things while she slept. We assumed, at first, that it was related to PTSD. Later on, she saw a therapist who was able to explain it and connected them all to coping behaviors people lacking in physical affection often showed.”

He was silent as I thought about that. It certainly wasn’t something I myself could relate to—I’d never been a particularly touchy person. It was never something I truly enjoyed. But I’d never lacked for affection, really. Before, I’d had my mother. In Vegas, I’d had Boris. And after Vegas, Hobie had always been one to offer casual physical affection: hands-on shoulders, ruffling my hair, hugs when he thought I could use them. And while I’d been with Kitsey, we’d been rather affectionate. Holding hands and elbows and faces in public, cuddling together in private. It was a human need both of us had been happy to fill for one another. Even after we’d ended our engagement—and, furthermore, our sexual entanglement—we still remained physically affectionate in the manner close friends sometimes were. 

Did Boris have that? If he did, I couldn’t think who with. I knew he never saw Astrid, and even when he did things between them were strained after their official separation. He was close to Myriam and Gyuri but I never saw them touch him, or vice versa. Other than them and his other associates, the only people he saw regularly were me, Hobie, and the guys in the shop. Even with myself, he rarely initiated any meaningful physical contact—a departure from our days in Vegas—as if he was holding back (though I couldn’t imagine why as he never had before). 

As for the behaviors Hobie had mentioned, much of them rang true with the way Boris had been behaving. Many of them I’d even noticed when we were kids: the anxiety manifesting as restlessness and sometimes outright scratching at his skin and pulling at his hair; the depression that rapidly switched to mania and back again; the sleeplessness which I’d always attributed to ADHD or maybe even hypervigilance; and he had been disconnected from others—though he appeared to have many friends. Acquaintances, really. He’d only ever been particularly close with me and Kotku.

“I’ve noticed how affectionate with Popper he is,” Hobie said, “Have you noticed any of the other things?”

Glossing over the more personal, mental-health-related observations, I stuck to the physical behaviors, “The touching and rubbing his own skin, I’ve noticed. He’ll rub at his chest and neck and wrist, especially, like,” I said, running my hand several times along my collarbone and the side of my neck, “Constantly. He did that a bit when we were younger, but he seems to do it more now. It’s not as, for lack of a better word, violent as when we were children—he would scratch himself rather hard and pull at his hair and things like that—but sometimes I notice that after he’s done it a while, his skin will be red.”

Hobie nodded, “Pip used to do that as well. The only way I could manage to get her to stop was to grab her hand or give her something to hold or fidget with.”

I tucked that away for later, “He always has to hold something while he sleeps, but that’s not new. Baths, I’m not sure, but I’ve noticed he’ll rub his thumb against the seam of his jeans, or whatever blanket or pillow or cushion is nearby.”

“Well, I can’t say for sure,” Hobbie said, “but it seems to me that Pippa may be on to something.”

After my conversations with Hobbie and Pippa, I’d started observing Boris more. Turns out, he did take hots baths, sometimes twice a day. One evening after we’d been out to dinner with Hobie and a visiting Pippa, he’d come out of the bathroom with his skin still red, pulling on a thick woolen sweater of my own. He sat beside me on the couch to watch a movie and immediately reached for a pillow, holding it in his lap. At one point during the movie, I glanced over and saw him rubbing at the inside of his wrist, a gesture I’d often seen him do but had always chalked up to being a self-soothing behavior, an outlet for him to release his nervous, fidgeting energy. Something to calm his ever-present anxiety and distract him from one thing or another. Of course, that was likely part of it. But touch starved echoed over and over in my head. With the hand not resting on the back of the couch behind him, I reached over and grabbed Boris’ hand, holding it gently in my own.

“Are you okay?” I asked, noticing him tensing up slightly. I rubbed my thumb slowly against his knuckles, bringing the arm behind him ever so slightly closer until he slowly started to relax.

“Mm? Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Boris, your wrist is red.”

He looked down at it, “Just… I don’t know.”

“Here,” I said, letting go of his hand and patting my thigh, “Lay down.”

Boris looked at me, surprised, before setting the pillow aside and slowly leaning down until his head rested on my thigh. He moved around a bit until he was comfortable. Once he was settled and relaxed against me, I brought the hand that had been holding his to his hair, brushing it back from where it fell into his eyes. Hesitating, I took my other hand and brought it down to his waist, pushing it up under the hem of his (my) sweater to press against the skin of his stomach and hip.  Boris inhaled sharply before humming and sinking farther against me.


He nodded, his eyes falling closed from where his cheek pressed against me.

“When was the last time someone held you like this?” I asked, “Like, not during sex, I mean.”

He was quiet for a long time, so long I thought he might have been asleep. I had to lean down to hear what he said, “You. Vegas.”

Threading my fingers through his hair and rubbing my thumb against the skin of his hip, I nodded, “That’s what I thought. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Did not know how,” he said, cheek rubbing against my thigh, hand coming up to lay over the one on his waist, “Thought you might be upset, uncomfortable. It is not something you enjoy usually, I know.”

“No, I don’t. But I don’t mind when it’s you.”

Boris turned unto his back, looking up at me. As he turned, my hand glided across his stomach to curl around his lower ribs, “Really?”

I nodded, once again brushing the hair away from his forehead (it was annoyingly insistent on staying in place) and leaning down to push a kiss to his forehead. 


“I could tell you were acting odd. I brought it up with Pippa and Hobie, and they suggested it might be a touch thing. Touch starvation they called it.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head as he reached up to hold my hand to his cheek, “I mean, thank you. And thank you to Mr. Hobert and Ms. Pippa, but I mean why me?” When all I did was tilt my head, he continued, “is just that I know, okay? That I can be a lot. Can come on too strong, have been told this many times by many people. And I assumed because you never initiated it meant you didn’t want it. So, I did my best to stop it, to be less, I don’t know, less—“

“I love you,” I said. His eyes—which had been staring blankly up at the ceiling—darted back to mine as he blinked rapidly. His mouth gaped and his eyes widened in a way that would’ve been comical if not for how his shock saddened me. Why was he so surprised? Had he truly not known? “I love you. That’s why I don’t mind.”

“No one’s…” he said, eyes still wide, “how long?”

“I don’t know. I almost said it when I left Vegas, but  I couldn’t.”

His face softened. He tilted his head to kiss my palm before reaching up to hold my cheek, running his thumb along my cheekbone, “Kocham cię.”

I furrowed my brows, “Polish?”

“Yes,” he said, sitting up. He straddled my legs and leaned his forehead against mine, closing his eyes and gripping my shoulder in one hand—his fingers dipping lightly under my shirt collar—and my neck with the other. I let each of my hands reach up under the hem of his sweater, pressing into his lower back and rubbing small circles that made him shiver,  “Is last language someone told me in. My mother.”

I leaned forward to kiss him softly, just a peck, before moving to press small kisses to every bit of skin I could reach: the scar over his eye; the paper-thin skin of his eyelids, veined in purple and fluttering softly; his hairline; the bridge of his nose, ever so slightly crooked from having been broken; behind his ear; the angle of his jaw, where a birthmark sat so prettily; his Adam’s apple. By the time I reached his collar bone (I had to pull his collar down slightly to reach), he was shaking and shivering and desperately gripping my shoulder and neck like I was the last lifeline tying him to shore. I pulled away, gripping his waist in a way I hoped was grounding, “Next time you feel like this, tell me. I can’t promise I’ll know what to do. I can’t promise to even understand. But I can promise to love you.”

He nodded, fitting his head into the crook of my neck 

“Bed?” I asked. 

“Mm,” he groaned, sinking further against me, “Don’t know that I can walk.”

I reached my hands behind his thighs, lifting him with me as I stood. He gasped softly before laughing, wrapping his legs around my waist and gripping my face in his long, narrow hands, “Do you have any idea,” he started, pausing to kiss me lightly, “how fucking hot that is?”

Chuckling, I walked us over to the bedroom, dropping him on top of the bed and laughing as he bounced. He laughed, too—head back, full-bodied cackle and all—before pulling me down on top of him. He pulled my face to him, kissing me languidly before wrapping his arms around my neck and pulling me impossibly close. When I felt him grind up against me, I pulled back, tucking his hair behind his ear, “I was thinking, just for tonight, we could just lay here.”

He frowned, “No sex?”

“I don’t want you to start associating the two,” I said, rolling onto my back and pulling him towards me. He fidgeted a bit before throwing an arm over my chest and snuggling close, “I’m worried you’ll start thinking of this as something transactional, like to get what you need you have to give me something you think I want. So tonight, I’m just going to hold you, and I expect nothing in return. I get everything I need just from this.”

“It is not like it is not something I enjoy,” he said, pressing kisses up and down my neck, “It is no burden to me, I actually enjoy it very much.”

I ran my hand back under his sweater, feeling each vertebra of his spine as my hand traveled up and down his back. With my other hand, I kneaded at the back of his neck, noticing with no small amount of satisfaction that he had just about started purring, “I know. But do you actually want that right now, or do you just think that I do?”

He sighed, curling up tighter against me and whispering into my neck, over and over again, kocham cię, kocham cię, kocham cię.

I held him until he fell asleep, and then I kept holding him.

The next day we got breakfast with Hobie and Pippa. When Boris started rubbing at his wrist, I didn’t hesitate to grab his hand and thread my fingers through his. The smile on his face and the happiness in his eyes made the knowing looks from Hobie and Pippa worth it.