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17 MAI VENDREDI 17:10

Walking out the door of the Starbucks next to the science faculty, Lucas had no idea what to do with himself. One thing was certain: he wanted to get away from the coffee shop as soon as possible. He tightened the strap of the backpack slung over his shoulder and started walking. His aimless stroll around the campus was seemingly pointless, his footsteps leading him forward, but he wasn't really going anywhere, there was no exact direction. He had no idea where he was going to end up until he stopped in the middle of the lawn, on the winding walkway, and collapsed sideways onto the bench. He dropped his backpack beside him and for the first time in many minutes allowed himself a deep sigh. Rubbing his forehead, he rested his elbows on his knees, the dull throbbing on either side of his temples warning of a severe migraine. There in his bag was a bottle of medicine reserved for just such occasions, but he didn't feel the urge to reach for it. Students like himself were milling about, chatting about their post-conference programmes, their submissions, their upcoming lectures, their projects.

Lucas lifted his chin, blinking in the sunlight that was beating down on the trees swaying in the wind. He should cry. Or, if not that - because despite everything, he didn't see much chance of it - at least he should freak out. It would be the right thing to do, the expected thing to do. That's how it should be. Still, as dark and light dots flickered before his eyes, squinting, he couldn't bring himself to feel anything. His eyes remained dry. He tilted his head forward, rubbed the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. He considered writing to Yann, to text Basile and Arthur. They probably wouldn't reply right away, they were still in the middle of their lectures. But he should let them know. Here he was again: this was what he should do.

His thoughts scattered like marbles. He felt something, just one thing: a sore relief. But it felt so terrible in this situation, so unacceptable, so despicable, that he tried to ignore it. When he closed his eyes, he could still see Aidan's anguished look, his face red with tears, and Lucas shuddered. Before he could realize what he was doing, he looked up the phone number of the one person on his contact list whose voice he wanted to hear. No, not just wanted. He needed it. And that only made him feel more guilty. He didn't even have the chance to interrupt the movement he had begun; he raised his phone to his ear. He sank his teeth into his mouth as he listened, waited, watched, hoped. Two rings later, he heard the manly, soft, caressing voice, and his heart began to pound with alarm and excitement.

"Lu" The usual nickname. Eliott sounded so happy to have called that Lucas had to close his eyes. He sighed softly so Eliott couldn't hear him trying to regulate his breathing. He perceived the passing moments as fleeting seconds. Eliott was silent for a moment, Lucas convinced he was waiting for him to say something. When that didn't happen, Eliott broke the silence. Lucas had no doubt that no one else but himself would have noticed the hint of concern in his voice. "Are you all right?"

Before Lucas could attempt to stop himself, the words burst out of him.

"We broke up with Aidan" Deep, deaf silence. Lucas's stomach twitched. He lifted his chin, his gaze fixed on the barky trunk of the oak tree towering on the opposite side of the walkway. Until that moment, he hadn't thought it possible that someone could exude confidence and insecurity at the same time, but as he heard his own voice, he realized his mistake. "Can I come to your place?" He hesitated, but his lips moved forward again, so that his thoughts could not catch up with him. "I need you"

He had never said those words to anyone before.

 

******

 

17 VENDREDI 17:43

The bell has rung. Eliott was at the door of the apartment in the blink of an eye. Before he wiped his sweaty fingers on the cold metal handle, he wiped his palms on his trousers and then opened the door. There he stands. Slightly dishevelled - the wind had ruffled his chestnut brown locks, Eliott suspected - wearing a grey hoodie under his black cloth jacket, dark yawning circles under his eyes, and creased trousers. In full truth.

Not knowing what else to do, Eliott gave a faint half-smile.

"Hi"

Lucas returned his smile, but the gesture showed effort, not heart.

"Hi"

He stepped over the threshold, and they looked at each other for a few wordless seconds, then a heartbeat later they embraced. Eliott let out a long sigh of relief. Instinctively, his arms wrapped around Lucas, inhaling his scent, and immediately the image of freshly ground coffee beans, books borrowed from the library, the ink pen trailing across the paper, appeared before him. Beneath it lurked the peppermint, woody-scented essence of his perfume. He disciplined himself, trying to hold him close but not too tightly, the way his heart would have wanted him to. He always found himself trying to decipher how far he could go before making such an intimate gesture, and what would be too much. Balancing between his desires and the concessions of best friend status, he was often unable to decide what he could and could not afford. But in this moment of doubt, one thing offered stability: the certainty that Lucas needed her. This knowledge gave him a strength he had never known.

As if to justify his conviction, Lucas buried his head in his neck, his arms wrapped around his shoulders, his tightening grip on Eliott taking his breath away. Lucas's earlier, shaky voice echoed in his mind: We broke up with Aidan. Can I come over to your place? It took all his strength to stifle his hope, to pretend he wasn't happy, to put an unapologetic look of sympathy on his face. He wanted to be Lucas' support. He wanted to offer his help and support, the two things Lucas never failed to give him in the most difficult, critical hours of his life.

"You okay?" he sighed into the dark fabric of Lucas's coat.

"Yes" The late reply added to Eliott's anxiety. "I’m fine" It sounded sincere, though Eliott had the feeling, which after years of experience actually seemed more like a fact, that Lucas would say that even if the opposite were true.

Lucas pulled away from him, rubbing the back of his head wearily. Another peculiar trait of his: it told him he was in no mood to talk. Eliott chose silence and nodded understandingly.

He ushered Lucas inside, the heavy oak door closing behind him with a soft click. Lucas was at home with him, his movements guided by habit as he hung his coat on the rack and put his sneakers in the closet. After slipping his feet into the slippers he had prepared in advance, he walked in after Eliott, his feet squeaking on the boat floor.

"What is it? It smells fantastic" he sniffed the air, and without waiting for an answer, he raised his eyes to Eliott.

Eliott imitated a drum roll on the low bookcase pushed against the wall.

"And the winner of the quiz show is the one and only Lucas Lallemant" he winked. It was embrassing, he admitted it, but if there was a way, he wanted to get over this slightly awkward start as soon as possible.

Lucas was there to help: he laughed nonchalantly.

"I don't mean to sound insatiable, but if it comes with toasted onion bread and some kind of chocolate dessert, I'll officially make you my god"

Eliott curled the corner of his mouth into an inviting half-smile.

"I was just about to get started. Join me?"

"Does the concept of make an offer you can't refuse and I'm yours apply?"

"Does that mean I got you for myself?" Eliott raised an eyebrow. Secretly, he wished his heart wouldn't thump so hard at the sound of this playful suggestion, as if it couldn't stay still.

"Absolutely"

Lucas made his way through the hallway to the kitchen bathed in the twilight rays, chattering away about the preparation of the properly toasted bread as if today was no more than an ordinary Friday afternoon. And maybe for him it isn't. After all, what would make it so special? That he'd left his boyfriend? That he was now here in Eliott's apartment, filling the space with his presence, his scent, his smile, his attentiveness, crowding out everything else?

Eliott thoughts raced like a frantic steam engine. It took him a few seconds to calm them down enough to feel ready to follow Lucas into the cramped, L-shaped kitchen. Entering, his gaze immediately slid to the opposite wall. He left the white-framed window open, the curious golden rays of the sunset revealing the wood-panelled counter, the shelves above the cupboards, the dishes waiting to be washed. Beneath the window, on a stool, the apartment's newest inhabitant, a palm lily named Frida, was drooping.

Eliott moved to stand beside Lucas on the white-and-blue inlaid tiles and took two slices of bread from the bag. Lucas turned on the toaster, and then, standing at the stove, stirred the sauce steaming in the pot. It was as if they were at home together, preparing their meal for the day. The air breathed its refreshing breath into their faces and skin, the silence had nothing to say, and in the absence of unspoken words there was nothing to entitle either of them to make the first move. This silence had no stakes, for there was nothing at stake. At least in these moments. In these moments, everything was heartbreakingly, disappointingly, bittersweetly perfect.

Eliott occupied himself by staring at Lucas. Despite the recent end of his relationship of a little over a month and a half - a month, twenty-four days and sixteen hours to be exact, but who's counting? Certainly not Eliott - he seemed to be doing all right. The bags under his eyes could easily have been due to nerves about exams, Eliott didn't look much brighter. And the compulsive biting of his lower lip could have been attributed to hunger-induced impatience. But Eliott knew better than to fall for appearances.

He couldn't read anything on Lucas' face, but that didn't mean that there wasn't something eating at him from the inside. He was merely cleverly concealing it. With the skill of a true deceiver. Oh, yes, Lucas was always good at that. Distorting the truth, falsifying the facts.

Eliott had no trouble guessing what it was that Lucas didn't want him to share. He was more devastated by the loss of Aidan than he let on. Eliott had watched their relationship from the first moment it began. He had expected things to take this turn, given Aidan's strict church upbringing, as he suspected Lucas had expected them to. They never talked openly about this, or indeed anything else to do with Aidan. Eliott didn't even want to hear his name, didn't want to become that special someone who was always on hand when Lucas wanted to pour his heart out about him. Even masochism has its limits.

He was giddy with happiness. All he could think about was never having to see Lucas with the shy, almost unbearably pious and unsuspecting Aiden again. Somewhere in the depths of his mind, very close to the edge of conscious thought, a voice whispered, demanding attention: your time has come, your time has come. Only this voice had led him astray many times before when it came to Lucas.

It was Lucas' voice that interrupted his thoughts.

"What's the rest of the menu?" raised his eyes to him. "I'm mainly interested in dessert"

Eliott had expected that. He replied with a wry smile.

"I haven't figured it out yet" he replied lightly. "I waited for us to decide together on this issue"

"Don't bullshiting me" Lucas turned his back to the bar with his arms folded across his chest "You know what's on my mind"

"The fact that this is no secret to you is no cause for wonder. For my part, however, it is an example of my excellent knowledge of human nature"

Lucas smirked at him with a suggestive light in his eyes.

"It's not that much of an adventure"

"But you'd like me to say it"

"Do you want to do it together?"

"Okay. Do it. One..."

"Two... "

"Three"

"Chocolate orange brownie!" they chorused and giggled.

"You're the best" Lucas declared with his usual leisure insouciance, as if it meant nothing. As if it hadn't stirred a typhoon in Eliott's soul. "You know what I like"

"It wasn't hard in terms of food" Eliott grabbed a bag of oranges from the cupboard under the sink and, standing next to Lucas, began unloading them onto the counter.

"Did you really hide the oranges just to add more drama to the show?" Lucas grinned, and rolled his eyes.

Eliott shrugged.

"That's the mark of a good host. He impresses the cute starving people who come to his place"

"Hey!" Lucas nudged him in the side "I'm not stealing your food! For some reason, I always arrive at your place before you're ready, and I’m always offer my help"

"It's honestly comforting to hear that" Eliott turned away. He started boiling the water for the spaghetti noodles. From the sound of it, Lucas was behind him, peeling fruit. "I was beginning to think that you won't came over without food and quarters"

"It's not the food that attracts me" Lucas reassured him. "It's the wonderful company"

Eliott had his feet in the ground. Lucas, undisturbed, continued to peel oranges, and that was the point. He hadn't even noticed what he was doing with those words he'd accidentally thrown out to emphasise their togetherness. He took for granted the kindly remarks, the flirtatious exchanges, the shared jokes that only the two of them understood. That they spent all their time together without anything happening between them beyond brief touches on the hand, the shoulder, sometimes the face.

He should stop doing that, but contrary to his previous statement, he was probably in the front row when the masochism was handed out. He backed this up with his next suggestion:

"You want to spend the night here?" There was nothing strange about that, Lucas had slept over many times before. Damn it, then why did he have to make an effort to contain and somewhat moderate the tremor in his voice? "Anyway, I wasn't planning anything special today. We'd have dinner, we'd watch a movie. You know, just the usual"

Lucas flashed one of his brilliant smiles over his shoulder.

"Sounds really good" He turned back to the oranges, showing Eliott his back again. He couldn't bring himself to take his eyes off it. Leaning to one side, he mechanically stirred the steaming bits of pasta in the water as Lucas continued "I haven't introduced the boys to the Aidan drama yet anyway, and I don't want to have this conversation with them today"

Eliott licked his lips. At last he had a chance to learn more, and he couldn't put it off, especially as Lucas seemed ready to bridge the gap between them since his arrival, the reason for which must lie in the events of this afternoon. Relax, Eliott, take your time, start with a light lead, or a suggestive, ambiguous remark, don't rush into anything...

"You're afraid they're gonna go and beat up Aidan? Just because it's a pretty likely possibility" he suggested. What was that thought about calm again?

"No" Lucas replied dryly "It's more that I'm not ready to see in their eyes what they would never loudly confront me with: that they told me so this is what was gone happen. As if I hadn't known that it would end like this sooner or later! I just didn't want to admit it, either to myself or to others"

The wooden spoon stopped in Eliott's hand. He dared not question it further, but at last his curiosity took hold of his dying courage and made him strike the iron while it was still hot.

"Then why did you do anyway?"

Lucas froze. The knife with which he had been slicing the dark chocolate from the shelf hung stiffly in his palm.

"I have no idea,' he said long seconds later. "I have no idea anymore"

Eliott gasped, worry wrapped like a hand around his lungs, but hearing those words it pulled back, the grip on him loosening. What he feared most did not happen. Lucas didn't dwell on how much he loved Aidan, how much he still loved Aidan, how much the breakup had hurt him, how he wanted to take it all back. The despondent, pronounced disappointment in his voice did not justify his worst fear. He had never been in love with Aidan, at most he had liked him. That alone was enough for Eliott to consider the happy dance.

Keeping his eyes on the back of Lucas's head, he leaned his back against the kitchen counter, drumming his fingers on the edge of it. If that was possible, his mouth felt even drier than before.

"Can I ask you a question?"

Lucas raised his eyes to her, a sea-blue tint in the twilight.

"Anything"

"Why do you always come to me first? No matter what's going on, what mood you're in, you share your happiness, your sadness, your nervousness, your anger with me, you come to me and not to the boys, even though you've known them all your life, whereas we first met in the second year of high school, so all in all..."

"Five years" Lucas interjected, as if he couldn't contain himself. "Five years, three months and nine days"

"Yes" Eliott quavered. He was confused that Lucas was keeping track of the exact time, recalling it for him in the way other people remember important anniversaries. But his pause lasted no more than a minute. "So... why is that? Why am I always your first thought?"

Lucas turned his whole body towards him.

"Man" he shook his head, his wry smile making something in Eliott wince "Okay, fine. But be prepared for it that what I'm about to say is probably the most selfish thing I've ever done" Eliott nodded in confusion. Lucas let out a long, forced sigh, as if to gather strength. "It's because you make me feel alive" he blurted. Eliott's pulse quickened. He wanted to ask Lucas to repeat it, more slowly, more clearly, to imprint it on his mind forever, but now, when he really needed it, the words failed him. "I can be myself with you" Lucas continued, but he was no longer anxious to get it over with as soon as possible. He spoke as if he had chosen his words with extreme care, not now, but earlier, perhaps years ago, to make himself understand what he felt. As if to explain to himself why he was so attached to Eliott. "Imane once described her relationship with Allah in exactly the same way. As a constant, unchanging presence. You... never had any expectations of me. You never made me feel that what I do is wrong, you never held me accountable for my mistakes You never judged me for my weaknesses, you accepted me for who I am from the beginning. Now that I say it like that, it really does sound like faith. I can only breathe freely when I'm with you, Eliott. Even if it sounds like an exaggeration"

"No!" protested Eliott. He suddenly felt he couldn't breathe fast enough. "Not at all, Lu"

They were only an arm's length apart in the cramped kitchen. Lucas' nickname, which had stuck to him in the past through Eliott's intercession, softly filled the space. Eliott's skin burned with impatience. He reached out and pressed his palm to the back of Lucas's hand, covering the scar that dug into his skin above his index and middle fingers. As he moved, the constant, agonizing longing tore at Eliott heart. It gave voice to the wish that rose from his soul: if only he could make the scar disappear. Then, perhaps, he could release Lucas from the pain that had created this now silvery imprint. He wasn't there when Lucas inflicted the wound. Even now, after all this time, the guilt that he was unable to protect him from his worst enemy: from himself, still haunted him.

With that familiar sting in the middle of his chest, he moved next to him. He mimicked Lucas's lean posture as he leaned his back against the kitchen counter. He held Lucas's rounded gaze as he laced their fingers together as if they were the two key components of a chain. Eliott marveled again at how perfectly their fingers fit together, how impossibly, almost fatally, they fit together. How can Lucas not see it?!

"I feel the same way, he admitted" He fought with all his strength not to let his voice tremble in the middle of a sentence. "You're the only one I trust, Lucas. You're the only one I know for sure that you'll never leave me. Just like I would never give you up. Not for anyone or anything"

Lucas brightened slightly, his lips curling into a smile. Unlike before, with an open, unconcealed frankness. This time, reservedly, a little sheepishly, as if startled and embarrassed by the new direction this conversation, which had started out lightly, had taken. Eliott wanted to seize the opportunity to reveal more about himself, but Lucas cleared his throat.

"We'd better get to baking. If we waste time, we'll never get ready"

Eliott nodded. Unwillingly, he let go of Lucas's hand.

The next fifteen minutes they were devoted to preparing for dinner. Eliott turned up the volume on the ancient radio. Bon Jovi's evergreen hits, once the craze of the audience, scattered around the kitchen, their bouncy, rhythmic melodies rumbling softly against the thin walls. Eliott added salt, various spices and three spoonfuls of ketchup to the sauce. Lucas mixed the brownie base and then set it in a baking pan in the oven. Suddenly they found themselves singing along with the band's front man. A wild smile of joy beamed on their faces as they looked at each other and gave their bodies over to the beat. They turned to face each other as the volume in the cramped little room rose higher and higher. Lucas was blossoming, his whole eradiation undergoing a huge transformation. He no longer dropped his shoulders forward as if an invisible weight were pulling him down. He straightened, shining in the free-floating notes, and the swirling twilight lights, his voice was powerful, husky. Eliott was getting dizzy just watching it. Suddenly the ground felt unsteady beneath his feet. His eyes melted into Lucas' gaze, softened, and did wondrous, amazing, unspeakable things to his body with the infinite, sea-deep gaze, the like of which he had never seen before. He had never known anyone like Lucas.

His thoughts were diverted in order to maintain his remaining self-control. He suspected he might get in trouble for this. There had been more than one complaint about loud music from the elderly woman across the hall from him, but Eliott didn't care in the least at the moment if he upset the concerned woman. Lucas's masculinely scratchy voice thundered through his body, shaking a part of him that had been anxious, like the strings of a guitar tuned too tight, but now rippled gently, as if its existence had finally made sense. Eliott, using the wooden spoon as a microphone, sang at the top of his lungs.

For a while at least, he could distract himself from the questions that had lingered in the recesses of his mind. He didn't know how to interpret what had just happened. And the experience he had accumulated over the years meant that he didn't have to think about it. He pushed away the heartache of Lucas' touch and concentrated on the present. He was enjoying what he had, even if it wasn't much. At least it was more than nothing.

A new song started on the radio, a light, slow tinkling melody. Eliott was alerted by the sound of the oven closing, and watched in a daze as Lucas adjusted the heat.

"Twenty minutes to cook, right?" he asked.

"Broadly" Lucas replied.

"Let's go out on the balcony and have a cigarette"

"Okay" Lucas looked up at him and smiled. A deepening line appeared on either side of his mouth as his lips curled upwards, and Eliott had to step past him without a word to save some of himself. He wanted to make sure that they had no other desire than to make up for their missed breaths by kissing each other. These were dangerous, frightening, painful desires that led him astray and distracted him, though in Lucas's presence it was especially important that he should always be sane. He didn't glance back over his shoulder to check if Lucas was following. He felt his gaze on his back, his senses tantalized by his penetrating closeness. Constantly aware of his presence, he was lulled into a trance, and made him forget a lot of important details. Like the fact that they're just friends and it's a normal Friday night, not a date. But, damn, it's hard as hell!

 

******

 

VENDREDI 18:10

They walked out through the balcony door from the living room. Eliott rested his palms comfortably against the black wrought-iron railing. He couldn't get enough of the sight: the sun's disk was pulsing red, as if it might burst into brilliant, fiery supernovas across the sky at any moment. The violet hues, lush against the energetic shades of orange, were sometimes more intense, sometimes more delicate. The stars, known as the pearls of the night, blinked open their sleepy eyes on the horizon. Sublimely beautiful - so much, in fact, that the singularity of its beauty made Eliott throat constrict. They were caught up in the words of passers-by meeting and parting on the street, the smells wafting from the open door of the neighbouring bakery, the happy barks of dogs walking in the park.

Eliott flipped open the top of the cigarette pack he carried in his trouser pocket. He noted with a sigh that there was only a single cigarette left.

"Will you share the last cigarette with me?"

"Sure" Lucas replied carelessly. He stopped beside Eliott with his hands in his pockets, his voice veiled by the thoughtfulness with which he surveyed the view.

The lighter clicked, the end of the cigarette smouldered. Eliott puffed it down, then let the smoke out with a leisurely slowness. He handed Lucas the end.

Thanks. Lucas took it between his two fingers, glanced at it, eyed it with intense interest for a moment, then took it between his lips.

A shiver went up Eliott's spine. He used what little self-control he had left to shut out from his mind the inescapable fact that they had practically exchanged a kiss indirectly. The very thought was a warning of danger.

He glanced sideways at Lucas. He was struck by the profound seriousness of his eyes. It sending an unknowing message that he always had something on his mind, but it would remain unknown exactly what was holding his captive until he himself decided to share it with others. The colour of his eyes in the play of light of the setting sun seemed like the twilight that precedes the late nights, in which you can sink, plunge, be reborn - all at once, in a fraction of a moment. The straight line of his cheekbone, the angular character of his jutting jaw, the fan-like curve of his eyelashes, the full, soft curve of his lower lip – Eliott has tried countless times to capture them on paper, but never once has he succeeded. In detail: yes. In full: no. More than once he had wanted to ask Lucas to pose for him, but his courage had failed him each time, and he had chosen to run away peacefully. But the unfortunate consequence of his frequent gazing was that Lucas always caught him. As he was now.

"What?" he smiled with that perfect, sensual smile that made Eliott crazy about him.

"I was just remembering what a good boy you were before I met you" he defended with practised condescension. "And now you're smoking with me instead of worrying about when you submit your application, and that you've missed three lectures in a row this week"

"I've been stressed the last few days" Lucas defended, but he wasn't in the least bit excited.

"It doesn't usually stop you from overworking yourself. You've changed, Lu"

"I've never been such a nerd. Or obsessed"

"Sure you are" Eliott snapped. "Before you met me, you didn't even smoke pot"

Lucas handed him back the cigarette. His gaze settled on him.

"You haven't been doing that sort of thing for years" he pointed out quietly.

Eliott exhaled the wisp of smoke that had been sent into his lungs into the twilight.

"That's right" he nodded absently, his gaze wandering.

In the past, he'd used marijuana more often than he should have. Because of his manic depression, it had added to his list of drugs to avoid. Alcohol, too. Eliott was aware that he should not tempt fate, but his desire to feel normal, even if only for a short time, made him careless of the risks. They had become close friends by that time, but Lucas only found out about his illness later, at a party where Eliott had combined booze and weed in an irresponsible moment. The combination of the two knocked him out so badly that he threw himself motherlessly naked into the icy waters of the Seine in a manic fit.

Three days later, he regained consciousness in a hospital bed. As the doctor subsequently informed him, Lucas jumped in after him and rescued him from the river. Meanwhile, Yann called the ambulance, which rushed them both to hospital. By the time Eliott regained consciousness, Lucas had been released and was under no obligation to return, yet he remained steadfastly with him until the very end of the visit. Eliott could hardly look at him. He turned his head away from him, and only refused to speak to him when Lucas had somehow tricked him into talking. He was convinced that he had lost his friendship, and that Lucas was only holding on to him out of pitying sympathy. He was dead wrong. He had underestimated Lucas, and never again had he been so presumptuous.

Lucas became his best friend, Eliott could always count on him. One morning, he couldn't sleep. He walked to the front door of Lucas' apartment and called him down. Lucas was tired and worn out from his exams, but he wandered the streets around him, lost in the dark hiding places of secluded alleys, until the rays of daylight woke the sleeping city. It was one of Eliott's fondest memories. He wasn't sure of much in his life, but he was sure that Lucas was a good man, and deserved to have someone who is lucky enough to call himself his boyfrind wanting to proclaim at the top of his lungs that he was the love of his life from the tallest building in Paris. That's what Eliott would do if he were the lucky one.

"Have you ever think about" he wondered "what you might have been if you hadn't been forced to commit yourself to a career in science?"

"Forced? " Lucas repeated the word in surprise. "What do you mean? Nobody forced me to do anything, you know that. I chose science of my own free will. Then I got the scholarship on my own. There was nothing forced about it. I don't regret a single sleepless night, when I was up late into the night, buried in books"

"I didn't mean to imply that it looked to me like you had forced yourself into it" It just sounded like it. Eliott bit the inside of his mouth. He racked his brain, trying to sort out his thoughts, to see if he could find the answer. A minute passed and he made no progress. It remained a mystery to him what he wanted to get out of this. What confession was he trying to get from Lucas? What did he want him to say? The questions flashed sharply in his mind, silent question marks proclaiming his confusion.

Lucas's eyes, narrowed with curiosity and something else entirely, a more reserved, cooler emotion, suggested it was too late to turn back from here. So, what now? – Eliott had no choice but to trust his instincts.

"I know from Alexia" he said, a little reluctantly "that she asked you to join her band in that year as a pianist. You eagerly said yes. At the time you weren't sure whether you wanted to go to university. If your... financial situation hadn't changed at that time, you might have decided to pursue music for good and never started an academic career. Has that never occurred to you?"

Lucas suddenly, rudely averted his eyes from him. With his shoulders hunched, he took up a defensive posture, as if Eliott's words, especially his last question, had been a direct attack on his defenses, and now he was doing everything in his power to remain standing after the blow. Eliott's insides twitched with regret that came like a fist punch to his ribs. Fear wrapped like a rope around his neck. Smoke spread in his lungs with a searing fury.

"Of course I think about it" Eliott expected a rebuke, a reproach. Instead, contrary to all his expectations, Lucas gave an unabashedly honest answer. The excuses, the atoning words, the flatteries, were out of Eliott's head in a split second. He blinked at Lucas, who was scanning the horizon with a look as if he were fighting with every contracted muscle in his stiff back not to get lost in his thoughts. "There were times when I thought of nothing else. That's why I couldn't afford to waste another minute of my life on that. It would have been too depressing" his voice trailed off.

Eliott wanted to apologise. The word brushed the tip of his tongue, yet something else entirely left his lips.

"Do you not like to think about the past?" Don't you like to think about we what might have been? Just like to music, you turned your back on me too.

Resentment sank like stone into Eliott's stomach. He didn't want to say it. He didn't want to listen to it, even though it was only in his own head. But it was too late for that. The words were spoken, with hidden meaning behind each sentence.

There is no point to thinking about it. Lucas shook his head, barely perceptibly. The gesture was the equivalent of dismissal, as if to dismiss the premise. A twitch ran up Eliott's arm. At the unexpected movement, his fingers tightened around the thin thread of the cigarette. His limbs felt stiff. He gloomily stared down at his hand, but as much as he craved the soothing effects of nicotine, he couldn't bring himself to lift the cigarette to his mouth.

"What would I be left if I kept looking back, wondering what would have happened if things hadn't turned out the way they did?" Lucas spoke with acceptance, but there was anger in his voice. But who he was angry with, himself or Eliott, Eliott couldn't have judged. "The suggestion make me angry" Lucas said, his jaw set stiffly. "Perhaps because it would have meant a lot to me to feel I had a choice in that time. If I didn't know my options were limited"

Eliott opened his mouth, swallowed, and after weighing his options, came to a decision.

"The fact that you applied for and won the scholarship speaks for itself" he said placatingly. "Only someone who has committed himself wholeheartedly to the goal can show such effort" he praised. He was not ashamed to bow his head to a man whose perseverance had earned him admiration and recognition.

"If I had not been able to give my best, I would never have been able to look myself in the mirror. I want to be the best at what I do. Otherwise there would be no point" Lucas stared resolutely ahead of himself. "I'm not sorry for anything. In the past I used to feel some regret. Not so much that I wish I could have traded my life for the chance to do something different with Alexia's gang than I had originally planned to myself. But I feel that way. Now it's just a memory"

His words, swelling with power, revealed a deep self-knowledge. They had a devastating effect on Eliott. He felt, was aware of the moment when this strange distance had been created between them, as if Lucas were light years away. Desperation coursed through Eliott's veins. Suddenly, Lucas, who is standing beside him with a steady calm, seemed out of reach.

"You like spontaneity, but not in every area of your life" nodded Eliott. Why did that sound so unhelpful? Why did he speak in such a dull voice?

"When your future depends on spontaneity, you learn to look at it in a different light" Lucas said with a wry wit. From the corner of his eye his gaze wandered to Eliot "It is wiser not to dwell on such things" he said, almost mercifully. "I didn't take the chance then, and today I have the present. I am excited about the future. I'm not the type to be content with the past and the what-if question. No one should ever have to settle for that"

Eliott had a voice in his soul telling him that Lucas meant to give him advice personally. That he was showing him mercy with his kindness. And that, for some strange reason, offended him.

"Sometimes it's not a matter of choice" he said quietly, sullenly.

"Everything is a matter of choice. Those who delude themselves that they are not in control of their lives want to avoid the responsibility that comes with it"

"Some people are not afraid of responsibility" Eliott's brow furrowed in anger. "They are trying to save themselves from further pain. For someone, the future holds nothing good. They can only live in the past"

He turned his face to Lucas. Eliott held his piercing gaze belligerently.

"The reason they can't see their future is because they're chasing mirages of the past" Lucas declared. The sadness lingered in his eyes "Don't you think you've been living too long in the past, Eliott? You're moping over your old deeds and missed opportunities while everyone else is trying to move on and find their own way"

Eliott's eyebrows shot up.

What... What is he talking about?

He wonders if maybe he and Lucas have misunderstood each other. How else could he explain his expression of sympathy if not that they had somehow overlooked the underlying meaning of the other's sentence?

His momentary surprise was consumed like a sheet of paper by anger. It boiled red in his chest. Tension weighed down the minutes their eyes locked. Eliott didn't know what he wanted more: to grab Lucas and confront him with his selfishness by looking into those stunning blue eyes. Or to pull him into his arms, into his body, and close his lips around his mouth so that no more words could escape, to trample him, to crush him emotions, to drive him into more confusion.

They eyed each other in frozen stillness, assessing each other's resolve. Lucas scanning him searchingly, a gentle light pulsing in his eyes. Then an emotion flashed through him. Shock, perhaps? It vanished before Eliott could recognize it. Lucas' shoulders relaxed suddenly. His hard gaze melted into the apologetic softness of his face. Eliott didn't stand a chance. He let out a sigh. His discouragement had not abated, but some of his anger had evaporated like a puddle soaked in sunlight.

"I would have been a musician" Lucas smiled. "Or, more likely, a pastry chef. My mom would loved it"

Eliott laughed. He couldn't help fantasising about what Lucas would have been like in a chef's coat. But only in it, with nothing else on underneath. God, what a vivid imagination! But there's nothing to wonder, he's been a visual type of person in his all life.

"What about you? " Lucas ask. "What was your plan B, other than art?"

"I have no idea" said Eliott, true to the truth. "If I couldn't draw, I can't imagine what I would do with my life"

As he handed the cigarette, his index finger brushed the back of Lucas's hand. Fireworks exploded inside him, sunny yellow, red like autumn leaves, grass-green sparks dancing, prickling, tasting the surface of his skin. Lucas didn't even notice the touch. He withdrew his hand, turned his face to the blazing sun disappearing behind the houses. Desire echoed in Eliott as if his body were a dried-up well, the force of his longing enough to draw water from the dusty depths. He would have given anything to kiss the sweetly bitter passing of twilight from Lucas's lips.

In a perfunctory moment he noticed that Lucas's arm was trembling. Eliott carelessness vanished, his vision sharpened, his heartbeat changed, began to quicken in an unexpected way. The half-smoked cigarette came close to Lucas's mouth.

"Lucille came to see me today" Eliott told him. He was anxious to see if Lucas's response would be a reaction he would like. "She took the rest of her stuff, but before she did, we talked a bit"

Lucas stared at him with rounded eyes.

"Everything went well?" he asked, concern creeping into his voice.

"We could say that. Nothing really happened. Apart from the fact that it hurt to see each other again, she didn't make a scene, she didn't throw a toaster at my head so I missed the movie cliché as it is, she didn't yell at me for being a selfish asshole, and she didn't get a kitchen knife to cut down my balls"

"I'm starting to worry that the series you've been stuffing yourself with has infiltrated your brain and taken over your not-so-ordinary imagination" Lucas rolled his eyes, then added with a scowl. "That castration analogy was weird as fuck"

"I can't help it, I'm just that weird"

Eliott's amusement lasted until he cocked his head to the side and bumped into Lucas' eyes. They traded again, Eliott's cigarette-holding finger flickering. The sigh caught in the center of his chest, plunging into the deep pool of Lucas's gaze, his breath held, trying to survive. At the sight of that anxious gaze shining with intense light, he plunged deeper.

"You and Lucille were together for more than seven years" Lucas observed quietly. "You can feel free to telling me if you're not feeling well"

Eliott swallowed hard. He wished Lucas wouldn't look at him, not like that, make things a little easier for him, at least Lucas could do that for him. But he would have given anything to Lucas never take his eyes off him. Captivate me with the power of your gaze, he wanted to say, because I can't imagine a more pleasurable way to torture myself. What he wanted more than anything, though, was to have, if nothing else, at least the semblance of control. The selection of choices are poor, all his wishes were a hopeless attempt at the worst of possibilities.

" I don't know how I am" The smoke dissipated in his lungs. "In the end it became uncomfortable and awkward. In fact, there were days when it felt unbearable. If we had continued, we would have hated each other. Even so, there were days when we looked at each other with hatred. At such moments I asked myself: what the hell am I doing? Why don't we stop already? But, what kept me awake most often, even at night, was how did we get to this point? I wanted at all costs to avoid reaching the point where we couldn't stand the sight of each other. Lucille was an important part of my life. She still is. But I haven't felt anything for her in a long time except familiarity. What we had between us was going downhill, and nothing could have saved it"

Lucas was tactfully silent. He never asked questions when it came to a break-up between them. Eliott believed that his innate good manners would not allow him to inquire into a sensitive subject that he might feel was none of his business. But Eliott could no longer judge which of the three had the stronger effect: the cold breeze on his skin that made the hairs on his upper arm stand on end, the nicotine, or Lucas's gloomy look - in any case, one of the three had made him take a chance.

"Don't you even care why I gave Lucille's way out?" he raised an eyebrow defiantly.

"You were just explaining the reasons"

"I meant my main motivation. Based on the comfort and security of being tied to her, I could have stuck with her for a few more months"

"That's true" Lucas admitted. "Then tell me. What was the real driving force?"

Eliott stared fixedly at Lucas. He counted down. On three, he decided. One... Two... Three!

"I fell in love with someone else"

Lucas' eyelashes fluttered. Eliott wouldn't have been able to determine what he expected, what emotion would sit on a face he'd seen so much and wanted to touch even more. Disbelief, astonishment, confusion, doubt – he had no idea, but he got a little bit of each.

"And Lucille found out?" Lucas' voice rang hoarsely, as if the question spread through him with the weight of a cigarette's smoky darkness.

Eliott's heart sank into his stomach. He could barely make out the tone of his eyes through the nicotine wafting in front of Lucas, though more than anything he longed to read his soul through his gaze.

"In fact, that's what we were talking about today" he admitted. "She said she has always known. To quote her: it was so obvious that even a blind man could see it. Only the one who should have seen it didn't"

Lucas fell silent. He searched the stars in the sky with an unreadable expression on his face. He was completely withdrawn. Eliott's lungs were iron-clenched with disappointment. Lucas opened his mouth, but his lips closed without a sound escaping them. Seeing his struggle, the annoyance in Eliott was drowned out by a desire to comfort Lucas. To replace with calm the tension that was gathering in his eyes, to squeeze the words from his mouth that had clearly taken so much effort to utter. It was an instinctive desire in him, like a need that compels obedience. He made his lips move before his mind could grasp what he was doing.

"Come on! I want to show you something" He took the cigarette from Lucas and put it out with his foot on the cold stone floor of the balcony. It only took him two steps and he was back in the living room. She paused in the middle of the carpet and turned, squinting his eyes at Lucas in the blindingly lit rays. Lucas was still standing at the balcony railing, turning sideways to look over his shoulder at Eliott. Eliott was amused by his incomprehension. "Why are you still standing there? Come in!" he asked in a charmingly sweet voice. A smile played at the corner of his mouth.

Lucas's expression suddenly lost its astonishment. His hand still resting in his trouser pocket, he moved, their intertwining gazes connecting them from the other two ends of the room. The autumnal red of dusk fell at their feet like a tapestry of gold and crimson thread. Lucas walked curiously, confidently, to Eliott. He returned the gentle gaze of the grey-blue eyes with expectant interest. Eliott's smile was full, radiant with vitality. With a sudden movement, he lay down on the rug, rubbing his back against the patterned fabric as he tried to find the most comfortable position. He explained Lucas's silence to himself by saying he was probably speechless with surprise.

Lucas soon found his voice again.

"Eli, what are you doing?"

Meanwhile, Eliott threw his ankles over his feet, laced his fingers together on his stomach, and scanned the ceiling bathed in red and gold.

"Long ago, when one of us was having a bad day, Idriss, Sofiane and I would lie down on our living room carpet and just stare at each other. Suddenly, for those few hours, the world became distant, as if we weren't even on earth, but on an other planet that no one had yet discovered and therefore couldn't disturb us. We felt as if our problems had become nothing. To understand why we feel what we feel. Sometimes we didn't say a word. Other times we did nothing but talk. Long, without interrupting each other. After a while we turned on the music, listened to the songs of the old rock bands while we existed"

Nostalgia rose up like a current. He tilted his head, but Lucas's face was hidden from him by the shadows hiding in the corner of the room. The beam of light on his profile settled in a sideways band on his cheekbone, flickering for a moment on the attractive blue of his eyes.

"Lie down with me and let's forget the world together!" It sounded like a request, but it was a plea. It sounded as if it was offering a choice, when what it wanted to do was to make a revelation, which would have been: let us find forgetting in each other's arms. It sounded like an offer, though it was nothing more than desperation bathed in gold and blood-red: if I can be with you, I can always happily forget that I live in a world where you are not really mine.

Lucas didn't move, as if he could hear his thoughts in the silence. Then he got down on all fours, rolled onto his back, and with a deep sigh lay down beside Eliott. It was as if they were two different cardinal points on the compass, Eliott's feet pointing west, Lucas' east. Only a palm's distance separated their faces as they stared ahead of them.

An apparent peace controlled the currents of silence. Beneath the surface, however, was a sizzling unease, as if something in each of them was reacting to the other's presence. Two opposing poles seeking the opportunity to match strengths. Eliott strained every nerve, longing for Lucas to ask him so that he could answer. He wanted to see the astonishment in his eyes, the fright on his face as he realised that the time for secrets was over and Eliott had put an end to it. When Lucas realizes that the only thing standing between the two of them is himself. Eliott's heart was beating as hard as the scream was about to burst from his throat. As he had expected, Lucas spoke after a little while, but he asked not at all the question he had prepared himself for.

"What's the first thing that comes to your mind about me?"

The breath caught in Eliott's gut. When he finally gathered his strength, his voice was hoarse.

"What?"

After a moment's thought, Lucas rephrased the question:

"What are the first two words that come to your mind when you think of me?"

Eliott followed the light show dancing on the wall with his eyes, paralysed, almost without blinking. He distracted himself so that he wouldn't have to find a solution to the raging chaos that the emotions that were clashing in his soul were unleashing. Anger demanded retribution, hope was at his throat, impatience longed to conquer understanding, and intimacy was already triumphing over resentment. He wanted to say: there is not a day that I don't think of you and what you do to me. Instead, in a distant, pensive voice, he said:

"Kind and manipulative"

When there was no reply after minutes, Eliott cocked his head to the side. His light grey eyes took in the mocking half-smile at the corner of Lucas's mouth.

"I'm beginning to understand why it took you so long to get to know me" Lucas said. Eliott then realised that Lucas' cynicism was not directed at him, but at Lucas himself. It was as if he'd been feeling this overwhelming emotion in his chest, but now it was suddenly rising up. His curiosity has not waned.

"Why do you say that?"

"I can't imagine that someone could be kind and manipulative at the same time. These two characteristics are completely contradictory" Lucas slid his palm under the back of his head, resting his other hand on his stomach like Eliott's. He pulled his right leg up and stretched his left out in front of him. His forehead was etched with fine wrinkles of deep contemplation. He was trying to make sense of what he was saying to him, Eliott realised. He read Lucas so easily now. These moments of understanding only made him more irritated when he failed to decipher Lucas feelings.

"Seemingly. But you have the power to unite them" Eliott smiled wryly. His gaze paused at his jawline as he surveyed Lucas's face. "It's strange to hear you say that. Like you're trying to make sense of why you are who you are"

They shared a few moments of silence. But after a while, Eliott could no longer stand in the way of the question that was pressing him.

"And you? What's the first two words that come to your mind about me?"

Lucas was in no hurry to answer. A cherished, fragile part of Eliott twitched as he saw the tenderness that took possession of Lucas's features. It had come uninvited, trapped him, forced him to make sure again and again with his eyes that he was real, not taken his mind by lust. Lucas's voice carried caressingly in the silence.

"Brilliant and diffident"

As soon as Eliott was able to squeeze air into his lungs, he immediately began to protest.

"I am not diffident!" His self-esteem was hurt by Lucas' assumption. Lucas' lips underwent another transformation, curling upwards. It was full of mirth, as if cheered by Eliott's disapproval, and this only made Eliott more upset. "I’m stand up for myself and my principles when it comes to that!"

"You mean the time you had a fight with me about Lola? " Lucas asked casually.

"I could have also mentioned that. But I was thinking about the time I shouted at the art teacher. He dared to say that Jackson Pollock was a common fraud and that his drawings were worthless!"

"That's what people call temperament"

"Whatever you call it, I won the argument in the end"

"And you were rewarded for it. You was kicked out of the course that afternoon" Lucas added dryly.

"What about the time Charles and I had a fight at Manon's party?"

"You did that to protect me" Lucas let out a resigned sigh.

"And... Wait a minute! You knew about this all along?"

Lucas glanced sideways at him, his eyebrows raised as if to ask the question: did you really think you could keep it a secret from me?

"Mika told me. But I'm sure it wouldn't have taken me long to find out on my own. Nothing else would make you go so far as to pick a fight, unless you heard someone talking shit about me"

This insight was a perfect reflection of reality. Yet Eliott could not so easily have let Lucas have the last word. He raised one eyebrow suggestively.

"I have a feeling you're a little full of yourself"

Lucas snorted, showing he had no intention of taking the exchange seriously.

"On the contrary. Arrogance doesn't exclude sincerity, but it's part of being clear-headed to avoid arrogance"

Eliott's eyebrows shot up even higher.

"A wise man lost in you!"

"If I were really wise, I wouldn't be arguing with you over something you were curious about in the first place"

"I didn't expect you to think I'm diffident!" Eliott declared indignantly. And a little hurt. Damn it, at what point in the conversation did this all go wrong? That was not what Eliott wanted, it was not in his plans at all. If it had been up to him, they would never have got to the point of having a discussion about something that might not even make sense.

"I knew I can be manipulative, but I don't know I can be kind too"

"Don't pretend you are surprised" Eliott teased him viciously.

"I'm not one of those assholes who claim they can't do something when they know they can, just to get praise from other people" Lucas countered. There was something about the look in his eyes, the tense set of his chin, that made Eliott relax in an instant.

"Lucas" he said slowly, softly, like a sigh.

His breath tingled in Lucas's face, he saw him exhale shakily. Eliott imagined his palm as it passed over Lucas's lips. He will would traced the straight, symmetrical curve of his cheekbone. He will would stroke and caress it, visualize it and trace it with his pencil on the canvas of his mind. He could almost smell the mingling scent of Lucas and graphite in his nostrils. Through his exploration, he would create such a meticulous, detailed picture of Lucas that he would have to close his eyelids to see him again. He would stifle a groan and only in his mind would he venture to try to answer the riddle: how could something be so soft? Like velvet. His fingertips tingled, his vivid imagination associating sensation with fantasy. It was too pleasurable to dream, but that pleasure was almost painful when he wove his fantasies close to Lucas.

"You are kind. Okay, not in the way that other people mean kindness, but you're are that nonetheless. You just express it differently than most"

"I suspect you mean that I treat the people I love differently" Again, it appeared that preoccupied, mischievous half-smile. "I'm suspicious of people who aren't close to me. From you, as from Yann, there's a love of humanity, like sunbeams following in your footsteps. I don't have that in me. But I don't mind. Not everyone love life as brightly as you do, Eliott. You never miss a moment. As if the things we take for granted, like a walk in the park, are special to you. You value them and cherish them" There was no envy in him. He spoke every word with admiration, as if he was fascinated by Eliott's personality. For a few seconds, the thought drifted into Eliott's mind like a sip of that sour, cool vodka tonic Lucas loved so much. Lucas' smile lacked irony as he added: "I believe other things"

Eliott weighed first Lucas' and then his own point of view, comparing the differences between the two. He was about to put his insight into words when Lucas beat him to it.

"You misunderstood me before" His voice deepened with the kind of seriousness that sharpened Eliott's senses. His gaze swept Lucas' profile. Lucas eyes fixed on the ceiling, as if surveying the unpredictable waves of unknown waters, immersed in the wakeful consideration. "I don't mean that in the sense that you're diffident, which you assume. In this aspect you are the most straight forward person I know. You always stand up for your opinions. That is one of the things I admire so much about you. You don't offend others, but you make them feel that you think that way and are entitled to your opinion, even if everyone else believes in the opposing one"

It's as if the shadow of a smile had appeared at the corner of his mouth. By the time Eliott blinked twice, it was gone. Maybe he was seeing what he wanted to see. In Lucas's presence, he had fallen into this mistake again and again, almost unnoticed.

"What I was really trying to say is that you don't have the guts to stand up for yourself. You fight for Jackson Pollock's fame, you fight for a girl who is a stranger to you, you fight for me, but when it comes to your own desires, what you want, what would be best for you, you retreat into the background. Sometimes I get the feeling you think you don't deserve to fight for yourself the way you fight for others"

Lucas locked eyes with him. His eyes, like two lazurel-colored swirls, pulling Eliott into them. And he would give in to the dizzying whirl, dazed, with a lecherous smile on his lips, if he could believe that Lucas was waiting for him in the sandy depths of the sea. But without that certainty, the risk was too great, especially as he couldn't be sure he would survive the dive.

"Trust me, Eliott" Lucas's radiant emission robbed Eliott of the strength he would need to resist him. He listened to him, drank his words, the waves now licking his chin. "Just because you put your own feelings and needs first in important moments doesn't make you selfish"

Eliott licked his lips. When he heard his own voice, he felt as if he were standing at the entrance to a tunnel, listening to the words flowing down from the depths. By the time they reached him, they had lost their meaning, only the misty murmur was rumbling in his ears.

"What if I lose those I love because I dare to be selfish at an important moment?"

Lucas turned his head fully towards him. His back lifted off the carpet as he leaned sideways on his elbows to look down at Eliott. A ray of sunlight fell sharply on his cheekbone. The stability that dominated his features cleaned Eliott' soul of the demons that lurked within him, fuelled by his insecurities, his fears and his doubts. All at once they were silenced. The silence was unnerving. It resounded with the release of a silent cry of relief.

But the determination on Lucas' face was not softened. Unlike others, Eliott never forgot the power Lucas represented. He could not. As it happened, Lucas was ready to prove to him that there was nothing he wouldn't dare to stand up to. When it came to Eliott the fighting spirit really took hold him. It was as if Lucas was obsessed with the fact that he had to keep fighting for him, otherwise he wouldn't believe he was worthy enough for Eliott. This premise seemed so impossible to believe that Eliott wanted to laugh and snort at the same time. But what if it were true? – This evanescent, whispering question discouraged him from laughing. He was stunned into silence.

"You'll never lose me" Lucas declared. An emotion appeared on his face. His vulnerability was as unexpected and intoxicating as the promise Eliott had craved for so long. Only now, when he had it, did he understand how much it hurt that he couldn't have it. And how much he needed it. Lucas' eyes widened, looking alarmed. It was as if he was showing to Eliott who he could be if he only had the courage to be himself for a minute.

Eliott had no idea what he was about to say. All he knew was what he wanted to do. He wanted to reach out, take Lucas's face in the palm of his hand, pull him down to him, and kiss him until the darkness fell on them as dusk fell. In the desolate night, the only sure thing to cling to would be their fingers clutching their clothes and their ravenous lips moving over each other. Eliott didn't want to daydream any longer. He didn't want to think anymore.

He opened his mouth to speak, only at that moment the oven in the other room beeped. Eliott had no chance to recover his shattered dignity. Lucas was already on his feet, and, muttering under his breath, he hurried the hell out of the living room. He left Eliott on the floor. Raising his head, he looked after Lucas, silent and petrified, his gaze falling on the pools of light gathering in a golden puddle on the floor. He dropped the back of his head to the carpet, covered his eyes, which were squeezed shut with his arm. The anticipation that had made his stomach tingle gradually cooled to bitterness in the silence.

 

******

 

VENDREDI 18:34

The dinner was delicious. Eliott was filled with pride as he rolled the sauce-dipped pasta onto the fork. His listlessness waned, Lucas's praise melting him in a matter of minutes. Nibbling on bread toasted with onions and butter, Lucas had him going in one moment, steering the conversation in a neutral direction. Eliott found himself discussing over the half-empty plate which Breaking Bad episode they supposed to watch next, how they opinion is differed about on this week's Killing Eve episode, how Lucas' classes went, what topic they have to prepare their submission, which of their professors had told them what.

Lucas' tension on the balcony evaporated without a trace. A satisfied grin spread across his face as he watched Eliott. They scooped vanilla ice cream onto the edge of their dessert plates, scattered pieces of caramel and hazelnut on top, and then began to munch on brownies. Eliott stuffed himself with three servings before he ordered himself to stop. He put the rest in a box to take to his mum tomorrow. They were both crazy about Lucas' desserts.

They settled into the living room on full bellies. Except for the bathroom with a tub and shower, this was Eliott's favorite room in the whole apartment.

Lucas plopped down on the soft, cream-coloured sofa, in front of which sat a low mahogany coffee table on metal legs. On either side of it, there were armchairs with bohemian cushions. The colour of the carpet did not match the other furniture. One of the two armchairs was mustard yellow, the other was leather, while the carpet was emerald green. Bookshelves were placed next to the sofa. None of the acquisitions collected at library sales and downtown fairs were new. Some books had cracked spines, most had yellowed pages, and you could see the dog-ears as you turned the pages. Treasures such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jane Austen, Haruka Murakami and all of Oscar Wilde's novels lined the shelves. The autobiography of Frida Kahlo, the works of Virginia Wolf and David Attenborough, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas were also prominent... As were The Queens Gambit, The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Great Gatsby.

Eliott had a passion for old books. He did not like to buy anything in a new edition. He favoured furnishings and accessories that had a history, that had been scratched or had a note in the margin from previous owners. He loved to speculate about who might have owned it before, and often wrapped a story around the person he imagined. That's why everything from the record player to the picture frames has a slightly worn look.

The built-in fireplace on the other side of the room has never been lit. Above them, the TV screen mounted in the wall looked down darkly at them. Eliott was proudest of all of the space next to the balcony. He had created a veritable garden of houseplants there. Their green shoots were reaching upwards, some with stalks dangling from the tables. Eliott crouched down to be at eye level with the cupboard under the record player. He pulled back the glass cover and reached for the tequila bottle. He hadn't taken a sip since he bought it. He hadn't planned to change that tonight, but when he held it up, Lucas' enthusiastic nod he drew out a shot glass.

Meanwhile, darkness fell on the living room. Eliott turned on the lamps above the record player and beside the sofa, their dim, yellowish glow providing only a certain point of enigmatic, intimate ambiance of mysterious illumination. While Eliott made himself comfortable next to him, Lucas wrote to the Yann and the boys in the common group to stay at him place until morning, not to expect him home. Then he poured himself a shot of tequila.

"I rented this movie" Eliott pointed to the DVD. Lucas turned it over to run his eyes over the short blurb on the back. "I was in the mood for an art piece at the time"

"Portrait of the Lady on Fire" Lucas read the title.

Eliott lifted the shot glass and held it out to Lucas. Lucas accepted with a hesitant nod. He eyed it silently for a moment, uncertainty etching a furrow between his brows, then with a flick of his wrist he pushed the burnt alcohol down his throat. All the while Eliott kept his eyes on Lucas. Despite the fact that he had no close relationship with alcohol, because it always made him feel sick, he added three more to the first half. A flush crept into his cheeks, his long frontal strand collapsing into his forehead. Eliott's body was overwhelmed by desire, turned into a dried-up riverbed, the dry longing filled him with slowly trickling water.

His gaze drifted to the piano lurking in the corner. Anything was better than looking at Lucas, but he had to admit to himself that he'd chosen the wrong object to distract his attention. The instrument reminded him of the first night Lucas had spent at his old apartment. That was when he learned that Lucas was an expert pianist, among many other things. He played for him, and Eliott finally found meaning in the film scenes in which the protagonist is fascinated by his lover's talent, whether it is in painting or in a piano piece. Lucas stole his heart that night and has never given it back. All without him even noticing.

Thoughts swirled around his mind. Lucas's moaning pulled him out of the whirlwind that led nowhere.

"Fuck, thee booze are really not for me" Lucas said, and slammed the glass down on the coffee table.

Eliott threw his arm over the back of the sofa.

"You don't usually drink this much, especially not in one sit" he observed, aware of an uncomfortable feeling stirring in the pit of his stomach. He hesitantly said: "Is something wrong?"

Lucas glanced down at his fingers clasped together on his lap.

"No. I mean yes! In fact, I want to ask you something"

Eliott's eyebrows didn't stop at the centre of his forehead.

"And your courage would fail you without alcohol?" he asked incredulously.

Lucas nodded reluctantly.

The discomfort had grown into anxiety, spreading through his whole being. Eliott leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and turned his head to the side. He did not rest until, after a minute's silent hesitation, his gaze caught Lucas's, those two restlessly churning rivers.

"What's wrong, Lu?"

Lucas exhaled a long, ragged breath, their thighs touching, their knees together. Eliott could feel the heat radiating from Lucas's body through the fabric of the dress. Their closeness allowed him to smell on his breath the smoky, craggy mixture of cigarettes, the spicy sauce he'd eaten for dinner and tequila.

"It stick with me after you mentioned the breakup" Lucas paused for a few seconds. Eliott suspected that he was searching for the right words, but he might also be trying to gather his courage. With a loud sigh, he finally said what was on his mind. "When you and Lucille broke up, did you feel relief that it was finally over? Or were you sad, as if you had lost something you didn't know you no longer had?"

Eliott, seeing Lucas's upset, did his best not to be late in answering, even if it was something he had to think carefully about.

"If I had to sum up my feelings at the time, yes. They both came through with the same intensity. I was happy, downright triumphant. At last, the all-important statement that had been hanging silently in the air between us had been spoken. But it was also painful. I could share my fears, my doubts, my joys with Lucille. She has not always been my support, and I know for sure that I have not always been the best boyfriend, the most devoted companion. I'm not even sure we brought out the best in each other. But she was still a part of my life. It pained me to lose that in a few sentences, when I knew it was for the best. Not because I belonged to someone else, because in my soul I had already committed to someone else. But because Lucille could never touch my heart"

Lucas tilted his chin towards him, a lock of hair drifting in front of his eyes. His Adam's apple jumped as he swallowed.

"Are you saying it's natural when the sadness of a break-up is outweighed by the liberation that comes from it?" A longing for relief clawed its way into his voice. As if he needed to put into words all that had been said here and now, because only then could he find comfort in the fact that he did not feel as he should.

"Of course" He furrowed his eyebrows in puzzlement. "Lu, what is this all about?"

Lucas cleared his throat. He stared at his reflection in the television screen, and it couldn't have been clearer that he didn't want to look in Eliott' eye.

"Today" he said, as if he could no longer carry the burden "when Aidan told me he couldn't take the pressure of our secret relationship, all I could think was, thank God, it's finally over. No more hiding like I'd done something wrong. Finally, the terrible pressure and sense of shame that he had been for the last few weeks would be gone. Aidan's a great guy, he really is. Smart, selfless and dedicated. Yet by disowning me in front of his family, by indirectly dragging me into his lies, he's made me feel guilty about who I am"

"Oh, Lucas! " He couldn't have found a more banal way to convey his sympathy, but it didn't seem to mind Lucas. Eliott suspected that if he'd kept quiet, Lucas wouldn't have noticed. He was completely absorbed in exploring his feelings.

"I just couldn't do it" His features darkened beneath his furrowed brows, making his gaze look haggard. "We sat down at Starbucks, and as he cried in front of me, I just asked myself when I could leave him. And he was broken. His voice, his words, the look in his eyes all conveyed that it was killing him to have to give up on me. And yet I couldn't bring myself to at least squeeze his shoulder in consolation, to give him a few words of strength, because, fuck, I could be myself! I have wonderful friends who accept me for who I am. He, on the other hand, is smothered by his father's expectations and never really gets to experience himself. The strange thing is, this is the first time I'm think about that. In the coffee shop, I couldn't help but count the minutes, waiting for him to finish. I called you afterwards, and while waiting for the bus I thought: am I like my father? Am I selfishly only interested in my own well-being and not caring who I leave behind? Is that how he felt when he turned his back on his responsibilities and threw mom away? Like he was also been relieved of a huge burden?"

"Lucas, no! " Eliott had to intervene. He could no longer sit idly by and listen to Lucas compare himself to his bastard father, as if he and that worm had anything in common. He smoothed his palms between his shoulder blades, reached forward with his arm and, dipping his fingers in the lamp's antique gold shade, took Lucas's face in his hands. "Lucas, look at me! Please! "

Lucas hesitated again, but finally gave in. Eliott thought his heart would burst at the desperate look of eyes full of anguished doubt.

"You're not like your father. You never will be" There was an unshakable certainty in his words. "Stephen is a hateful, shabby bastard. You, on the other hand, are the nicest person I know. You're full of love. Not just for me, for everyone. Remember how desperate you want to find an apartment for yourselves after college so that Yann wouldn't have to live with his parents who were slowly poisoning his soul? Or when Alexia insulted you for something stupid, and yet you didn't hold a grudge, even though she called you an asshole? When you realized I was bipolar and kept trying to push you away all the time? You always forgive the people you love, Lucas. You make them feel like they can always count on you. Do you realize how rare that is? How few people can just put aside their own feelings and act in the best interests of others?"

Lucas was silent, but he was not frowning as vigorously as he had a moment ago. His gaze never left Eliott's face, the pondering in his eyes Eliott already counted as an early victory. Hope was in his head, he continued determinedly:

"You're not your father, Lucas! If you are anything, you are the opposite. You take on too much of other people's problems. The chaos that surrounds Aidan's family is not your fault, you are not responsible for it, just as you are not responsible for Aidan's fear of his family and his denial of you. You deserve so much better than this, Lucas"

"I'm terrified, Eliott," he admitted, his voice a frightened whisper "I'm afraid that one day I'll turn into him"

"That's impossible" Eliott shook his head. "Such a thing cannot happen. In vain do you think you are not the embodiment of your father's bad qualities. He can't come anywhere near you, Lu. Just because you share with him a gene pool that doesn't mean you have to be like him"

"Eliott" Lucas sighed. There was no way of knowing which of them moved first: Eliott spread his arms, Lucas hid his face in the crook of his neck before the long arms were wrapped around him. With the same strength he had just used to persuade him, he hugged Lucas to him. Not that Lucas needed encouragement. He immediately burrowed into his chest, his head buried in the hollow of his shoulder, his fists clenched under his fingers, the sweater on Eliott's back crumpling. His palm trailed along Lucas's pelvis, settling on the back of his head, soaking in the heat of his body from that soft place where his skin was so incredibly silky. Lucas shivered, but in his typical way, he refused to let go of the tears. He rarely gave in to his emotions, even then away from everyone, where no one could witness his weakness. Eliott knew this about him, yet he couldn't stop himself from tilting his chin against his temple and stroking his back, his fingers tracing a pattern of gentle circles on the fabric of his shirt.

They might have stayed like that for minutes, or it might have been hours. Eliott felt the flickers of the desire that had pulverized his will to ashes and destroyed the ruined barrier to his self-control. He wanted Lucas' grief. He wanted his smile, he wanted to be part of his joys and his companion in his difficulties. He would have done anything to see him smile again. If every person was a separate galaxy, then Eliott's universe was ruled by Lucas, orbited by the sun and the moon, and all the stars had the same name: Lucas... Lucas... Lucas...

After a while Lucas moved, trying to pull away, but Eliott wouldn't let go. He tilted his head back, peering at him through his lashes. His eyes drifted involuntarily to his parted lips. He'd wanted to taste them for so long, he didn't even know the time. Lucas looked surprised, not the least bit suspicious or frightened, and Eliott wanted to laugh as hard as he could. Though perhaps the mad laughter would have ended in tears.

"Eliott" Lucas breathed his name like a question. Eliott cut off the rest of the sentence with his lips. He lost his sense of reality. Floating in the dense nothingness, Lucas' taste, his smell, the tactile solidity of his body were the only things that existed in this world beyond reality. He concentrated on the warmth of his cheekbone under his palm, his hand on his chest, preparing to push Eliott away and demand an explanation, urging his mind to think clearly. Eliott could not allow that. Not after he tasted what he had craved for five grievous years.

He held him close, desperate to convince him of what he had known for years: that they belonged together. That no other couple should be together as much as they were. Eliott was committed to that goal. He devoured Lucas's lips passionately, his tongue kissing with his. Paralyzed with shock, Lucas made no response for a while, merely returning his moans of pleasure with a stunned sigh. Then, lost in a battle of emotions, he leaned forward and pushed into Eliott's hair. Eliott's surprise turned to wild exultation, his racing heart beating a melody of joy, happy sighs escaping his lips.

Only the present mattered. To hold Lucas in his arms as he had dreamed of doing for countless nights. He loved him deeply, but it wasn't enough. He squeezed his shoulders from both sides and pushed him backwards until Lucas gave in and lay back on the couch. Eliott never broke the kiss for a moment. He swung his legs up and threw his knees over Lucas' hips. He took his face in his hands, smoothing the one loose strand of hair from his eye. As he deepened their sweetly yearning kiss, he nuzzled into the pillow on which Lucas's head rested. He squeezed it with such vehemence that he groaned with the effort, and the material cracked between his fingers. He was in danger that if he didn't regain some control, at any moment his body would crumple with the restlessness that was straining him from within.

He struck Lucas, kissed him with open mouth. His tongue circled his mouth, the gentle tasting turning into a hungry lapping, mad with desire. He gave him no chance to recover from their shared, waking stupor. The wet path of his tongue marked his roam from Lucas' chin to his cheek. He ventured a little further: sucking the spot behind his ear, curious to see how Lucas would react. His lover winced, a hoarse moan escaped from him in a voice full of pleasure, then his eyelids fluttered open. He gasped for air, the lamplight spilling over his face. His palms pressed against Eliott's chest, his eyes black with desire. Eliott thought, dizzily, that it was like looking up at a rain-soaked sky.

"Oh my God! Oh my God God, Eliott, what are we doing?"

Eliott shook his head with closed eyes. He leaned back to Lucas's mouth, but he hadn't even reached his lips when his lover pushed him away as gently as he could and sprang briskly from the couch. He stormed past the coffee table, not stopping until he was in the middle of the living room, where he began pacing up and down, stomping on the carpet. Meanwhile, Eliott was sitting introspectively, curled back against the edge of the sofa. He awaited the verdict with the desperate resignation of a condemned man. His mouth was still swollen from Lucas' kiss. He wore the memory of his touch like a brand. And it hurt just as much as if Lucas had actually marked his own signature on his skin.

Lucas was at the cabinet from which Eliott had taken the tequila bottle earlier when he had burst, and he raised his hopelessly puzzled eyes to him.

"What the hell was that? We're friends, best friends for five years. This is..." Eliott could see he couldn't find the words to express his confused, conflicted feelings.

Eliott bit his lip, Lucas's boundless dismay stirred and angered him. He stuck his chin out defiantly, refusing to be shamed for more than a minute. In Lucas' eyes, as in his own, a storm was brewing. The barrier had fallen, his willpower was gone.

"I can't be your friend any longer" he said, in a broken voice that he couldn't recognize as his own. "It's killing me. Every day that goes by, it takes a piece of me and it’s feels like I’m dying, Lucas" His fingers, resting in his lap, clenched into fists. He clung to his wounded rage like a lifeline. It was the only way he could survive the storm.

"Are you really telling me you never noticed?" Disbelieving anger burst through his words like lightning impaling the sky. "Did it never noticed that I be looking for times when I could be near to you? Or did you blame this, like so many other things, on coincidence? It was so obvious that it could not remain a secret from anyone. Idriss, Lucille, Yann, Arthur, Daphne - everyone knew. From the first moment I saw you, Lucas, I fell in love with you"

"From the first moment... Wait a minute. So you broke up with Lucille because of me?"

"Yes" Eliott admitted through gritted teeth, almost shouting. He had nothing left to lose. "I couldn't stand to be with her any longer, wishing you were in her place. I wish I could hold you in my arms, I wish I could kiss you, I wish I could love you. That's how I feel, Lucas, and now you may wish me to admit that I tried to do something about it, but I never thought of such a thing. I could never deny you, not to myself or to others. I dream about you at night, I imagine you in my arms, and the next day I can't look into your eyes, but I love you anyway. Forever, unconditionally. With all that you are. It won't go away"

Lucas remained silent. Under his furrowed brows, he stared at him with distant surprise, as if he were taking stock of their shared experience instead of his features, the signs he had failed to notice that were so painfully obvious. Yet he did not see them. Because he didn't want to see them. The thought stirred a maddening emotion in Eliott. It was as if all the anger he'd been bottling up, all the rage he'd been reigniting over and over again in their conversations, had finally found a way to out. There it was, in the back of his throat, ready to burst forth with a force that would shake the ground. He stood up, his gaze never leaving Lucas, even as the room blurred before his eyes, the tears robbing him of his discernment.

"Have you forgotten? Not long after you found out about my illness, you confessed that you never liked girls, and every time you think about your future, you see your happiness with another boy. We were sitting on the sofa in my old flat, it was New Year's Eve, we'd had a few glasses of champagne, and I was dreaming that the next moment you'd shake my shoulder and say: you're talking about me, I'm the man you want to be with, I'm your happiness. Instead, what happened? Three months later you showed up at school with another boy. Do you have any idea how much that hurt? That's why you couldn't find me that day. That's why I skipped class, and that's why you didn't hear from me for days, and that's why I kept my distance from you for weeks. Because it almost killed me to see you with someone else for once. I couldn't have taken more"

Lucas inhaled sharply, surprised.

"I..."

"But it was inevitable" Eliott ignored Lucas' protests. He'd already gone too far. This night, this kiss, had opened a faucet in him, a faucet from which the truth he'd been holding back for years had poured out. Eliott realized with slight delay that he had taken a few steps closer to Lucas. "It was at the Arthur's midnight party. You brought David, I was with Lucille. You were holding hands, dancing... kissing" he squeezed the words out. The taste of bile burned his throat, as if he'd swallowed acid. "Well, now you have the answer to the question you were so eager to know. Why I was drunk so much I barely knew myself, and why I was yell at Lucille in front of everyone "He opened his arms "Because of you. Because of you and David! You have no idea what it's like to have someone you've unconsciously given your heart standing next to you, waiting him to finally noticed you, just finally seeing you for half of a minute, but he looking at someone else with love. Someone who is not me"

A tear rolled down Lucas' rounded eye and down his cheek.

"My God, Eliott" his voice trailed off.

"Then you broke up with him and I started hoping again that you'd choose me this time, but you didn't. You never wanted me, never needed me. You could have had me anytime, but you never even considered me, never even gave me a thought. Just like now. I wouldn't be even your last choice"

Lucas desperately whimpered.

"Dear God, Eliott, I had no idea, I had no idea that..." You're in love with me it floated between them, unspoken, filling the space with years of accumulated grievances, regrets, bitterness, longings that turned to irritation.

Eliott, obeying a force he had never known before, rushed forward. With a sudden movement, he cupped Lucas's face in his hands, squeezing his chin and forcing him to look him in the eye. Lucas's eyes, glistening with tears, held Eliott breath and struck at his heart.

"Say it!" he demanded. The heavy silver ring on his index finger dug into the skin of Lucas' jaw. With his other hand he cuffed his waist to his arm. He pulled him so close that for a moment he could hear his own heartbeat and Lucas frightened thumping echoing in his chest. "Say you have no feelings for me! Say that this kiss meant nothing to you! Say that you are completely indifferent to me! For God's sake, say something..." he sobbed.

Lucas was silent again. Clutching his wrist, Eliott felt the pressure of his fingertips tightening, saw the terror in his eyes, as if he were about to plunge into the foam of the ocean in the midst of which the storm that howled within them both was raging. He opened and closed his mouth. He neither asked nor protested nor confessed anything. Eliott's drumbeating heart was the stopwatch he used to count down the time until the final disappointment. Or a new beginning in his life.

"My God, Eliott!" Lucas collapsed in his arms, his shoulders slumped as if the words were draining him of his living force. "Of course I have feelings for you. You're the only person I have a place with in this world. With whom I can be more honest than I've ever been with anyone. I didn't used to believe in such things, but you've made me convinced that if there are soul mates, you and I are"

That was enough for Eliott. In truth, from the moment he heard: Of course I have feelings for you, he was unable to pay attention to anything else. He smacked Lucas's lips, swallowed the salty taste of his tears, swirled them in his mouth until they mingled with the taste of his pain. Lucas sigh into the kiss, the sounds of astonishment and weakening protest lost in the moans that followed, which were evidence of increasing pleasure. Lucas head tilted back to the side, allowing free access to his parted lips. Eliott immediately sought out his tongue, aroused by the kisses, taking possession. He wrapped his arms around Lucas back, pulled his hips to him. Lucas's fingers dug into his hair to nuzzle his curls, tilting his head in a direction that would allow their tongues to plunge deeper into each other's mouths. There was no tenderness in the way they touched. They fed off each other with a merciless, dauntless fervour.

Damn it, it should have been like this long ago, when they first met! But it's not too late! This is their time! It's theirs! Neither Aidan nor Lucille nor the ghosts of the past had any place between them. It was just the two of them. And Eliott be damned if he didn't take this chance.

Eliott took a step forward, then another. Gradually he moved, causing Lucas to back away. Eliott was running out of patience, as evidenced by the scream that rose from the back of his throat. They staggered out into the corridor, tangled in each other, and he pushed Lucas against the wall, his palm slapping against either side of his head. He enveloped Lucas with his mouth, his sudden, sultry kisses familiarizing him with the tense energy sizzling in his body. Lucas wrapped his arms around his shoulders, his fingers interlocking over the back of his sweater. Eliott relied on his instincts, which dictated that he press his knees between Lucas's legs and rub against him, making him feel his growing hardness. Lucas's moan ruffled the air that had gathered between their lips, the sound reaching deep into Eliott's chest.

Their disjointed moans filled the dimly lit apartment. Eliott couldn't get enough of Lucas, licking his neck, his collarbone sticking out of the cut of his sweater. Despite his abstinence and not taking a sip, the world spun around him as if alcohol had gone to his head. He was always like that with Lucas. He forgot that there was a reality beyond the two of them, and Lucas appropriator his attention, his movements, his perception, resonating with every part of himself with Lucas. His palm on the back of Eliott head. His vein throbbing beneath Eliott teeth. In his skin goose bumps appear under Eliott breath. Lucas perfectly shaped ears, which he could suck on at will. God, how long he'd wanted this! But it was worth it. It was a rich experience, and even more wonderful than what had appeared in his dream, when he had been free to use his imagination.

His hand slipped under Lucas's sweater, tracing the curves of his spine, the velvet-smooth skin of his hips, the pointed tips of his nipples. Their sighs were hot breaths that hit their saliva-wet lips. Eliott hurried on, unbuckling Lucas's belt, unzipping it and kneeling before him. The blood rushed to Lucas' face as he realised what he was about to do. He looked down at him from under his half-lidded eyelids. Eliott's gaze moved up from Lucas's chest to his chin, to lose himself in his lust-glowing gaze, offering him everything. He pulled the denim down slightly to lick the stiffly bulging manhood through his boxers. Lucas groaned as if he was already drunk from the touch, so Eliott decided to push him deeper into drunkenness. He repeated the lick, and then again, and again, until the black fabric was covered with wet spots where he had spilled too much of his saliva. His nose was stung by the musk and the ripe, raw scent, the aroma of Lucas's excitement. Eliott opened his mouth, eyes closed, and surrendered to his lover's caresses, which Lucas rewarded by gently stroking his scalp, crumbling his curly, straight locks between his fingers. For the moment, he had not yet unzipped his underpants. He wanted to show him the unearthly delight of surrendering to the pleasures of slow seduction.

Even before Lucille, he was experimenting with guys. No doubt those experiences had broadened his knowledge, but he had never kneeled in front of any of them. Lucas was an exception in this, as in everything else. He probed the curve of his testicles with his tongue through the cloth and sucked. A rasping cry left Lucas's mouth before he pulled Eliott to him, his lips pursuing his. Lucas pushed himself away from the wall, clinging to each other's arms and backs as they stumbled down the corridor. Trying to make it to the bedroom door, Eliott let out a huskier voice than ever. Lucas unexpectedly tilted him against the hallway, Eliott yielding to his lover's power with a docile, happy surrender. This time it was Lucas's turn, his hand wandering under Eliott's top. He didn't hesitate, and in one swift movement, he rid of the sweater.

Digging his fingers into Lucas' waist, Lucas trailed him as he moved with Eliott, while Eliott pulled them both into the bedroom. Before he could recover, he was sitting on the edge of the bed with Lucas in his lap. His legs wrapped around Eliott waist on either side. If that were possible, they were even more franzied than before, with a vile, fanatical passion that would not be denied. There was no tomorrow, but then there was no tonight. It was only and only the now that mattered, the hours made up of minutes, the reality shattered, the distance vanishing, that they were here, just a few steps away from the final union.

They overwhelmed each other with their lawless, careless touches, in their greed they find everything too little, nothing proving sufficient. Eliott received Lucas's weight on his body, his hands in his hair, on his belly, on his biceps, on his chest, with groans of pleasure and moans of contentment. Gone was the anger, the pettiness, the aching hope that he had to settle for little and tell that was enough. He no longer had to fight for anything, because he had everything he had ever wanted for himself.

Eliott rolled up the grey-blue blanket as he crawled onto the middle of the bed, leaning on his hands. Meanwhile, Lucas struggled to undo his trousers. Eliott lifted his hips to help his lover. One firm tug and his boxers ended up on the floor with his trousers. Lucas knelt on the edge of the bed, the covers sagging under his weight. He carried his gaze over Eliott, as if in no hurry to go anywhere. The earlier urgency concentrated in his trembling hands, which is resting on his side, but he looked down at Eliott with full control of himself again. He had the alert calm of a man who knew himself to get what he wanted, and was not afraid to put in as much time and effort as was necessary in the attempt. Eliott was not easily embarrassed, but now he blushed. He felt an urge to start to squirm like a teenager who doesn't know what to do with his nervousness before the first occasion. He held his breath, waiting for Lucas' verdict.

Lucas' gaze settled on his face. His eyes shone down on Eliott with adoring admiration. Lucas mouth curved into a tender, gentle smile, but there was a hint of mischief in it that made Eliott's heart leap.

"You're beautiful" he complimented him in a deep, rich voice, his palm on Eliott knee. "But I'm quite sure I'm not the first person you've heard that from"

"That's right" Eliott winked. He wanted to maintain that lewd playfulness, as if nothing was at stake, as if there was nothing to take seriously. But his mask failed him now. His smile faded and he added with a tightness in his throat. "But this is the first time you've said"

He thought hearing this Lucas face would be darkened. But his lover smiled even more softly than before. He caressed the flushed skin above Eliott's cheekbone with his fingertip.

"I should say it more often" Lucas observed, as if it were something that really needed to be make up for. Then he leaned in and kissed Eliott, with such careful, infinitely caring devotion as if Eliott would be a treasure to be treasured and surrounded by the care he deserved.

Eliott clung to him, unsure, terrified, his arms pulling Lucas closer and closer to him. He pressed himself against him, making him feel the hardness of his desire. Then it dawned on him that he was actually naked, while Lucas was fully clothed. It occurred to him that he should change that as soon as possible, but he had no chance to put his plans into action. Lucas confidently took control out of his hands. He replaced the smoothness with a forceful urgency that, the moment the shock in his soul subsided, only intensified Eliott's longing. Half-sitting, half-lying, he threw his back against the bedpost, his fingers on the bedrail. Lucas traced the valleys and recesses of his upper body with his lips and teeth. Eliott chase his back as Lucas lowered his head to run his tongue along the trenches between the cubes dividing his belly. Then he moved to Eliott breasts, lingering for a particularly long time on the tattoo in dark inked, curving letters across his chest. It was not large, in fact it was quite small. Sewn over his heart, it spelled out the word la vie in French. That mean life.

For a few moments Eliott couldn't get air into his throat, which was constricted with pain. It was made when he attempted suicide for the first time during a depressive episode. He wanted it to be an eternal reminder never to forget how fleeting and ephemeral human existence is. That there are times when everything hangs by a thread, and we don't even realise how tightly we hold on to that thread until it starts to slip away. That light is followed by shadow, and sadness sooner or later gives way to happiness. That is why he must persevere, to breathe freely more on the good days than despair on the bad. He only told Lucas about that. The Lucas who treated his body as if he had been given a jewel of unsurpassed value. Lucas could sense Eliott was watching him because he looked up at him and their eyes interwined. Lucas's eyes were the currents of the sea at high tide, while Eliott's pewter-grey irises were the roiling clouds. Eliott's heart rained unshed tears. He knew this moment was unrepeatable. Something he'd wanted all his life but never thought he'd be a part of. Especially not with someone like Lucas.

His love returned to his lips. The kiss was as tender as ever. Deep reciprocity melded with sensuality, a fusion of trust, warmth and selflessness. It carried with it the intimate intimacy of their acquaintance. Eliott ran his fingernails over Lucas's scalp and then, reaching to the top of his head, he ran his fingers through the tangled brown crown of hair. A few strand caressed the back of his hand. Lucas parted his lips to continue his wandering journey downwards. Passing over his hip line, he found his manhood. He ran his tongue along the full length of it, licked the pre-cum winding between the blue veins, sucked his glans before taking it between his lips.

Eliott jerked, his groin tingling with the hot pleasure warmly concentrated in his pelvis. The sensation surged through his nerve endings, making his limbs tremble. His palms tightened around the metal grid, his knuckles bulged, the veins under his skin twitched along his arms. He couldn't take his eyes off his lover, though his eyelids kept drooping. He wanted to remember this scene forever. He only saw Lucas. His head moving up and down, his hands massaging his balls, his palms caressing the outside of his thighs. Lucas' sighs were in sync with his panting. Lucas tuned in to his body's reactions, and in a few minutes he had learned by feel what would be best for him. Adapting to the knowledge he had acquired, he would pump, then half take his erection into his mouth, only to pull his head back and give it another tug with his hand. Eliott, his chest heaving, was half unconscious. Noisily he inhaled the air in the room, which had become sultry with the evaporation of their shared desire.

At the gateway of pleasure, a second before the coveted release, he pulled Lucas to him, to shower him with his lush, yearning kisses. He spread his legs wider so that Lucas was comfortably positioned between them. His body howled with need, demanding the orgasm he had voluntarily denied, but Eliott followed his heart's command. He wanted it to last as long as possible. It hadn't had enough of Lucas. Not even close.

He wrapped his arms around his neck and reversed their position: pressing him into the mattress, his tongue thrusting between his lips. With clumsy, scattered motions of his shaking hands, he relieved Lucas of his sweater, then his pants. Soon they were naked together, not an inappropriate clothes to be found. Lucas strained his back, wanting to get as close to him as possible, as if he were trying to break himself down, just to find that final closeness that would give him the satisfaction that his soul, not his body, craved. His hands trailed down Eliott sides, then he pulled Eliott violently down onto his torso. No longer needing to hold himself, Eliott leaned on Lucas, grabbed his hair, and wrapped his beautiful head in his arms, devouring his lips with a frenzied fervor. He savored the time until the lack of air forced him to pull away. Then he traveled through every inch of his lover's being. From the top of his head to his belly to his thighs, all but one spot, the hottest and most sensitive. Lucas panted under him with tortured beauty. His dominance from his leadership is in the past now, forgetting the control, he exposing himself to Eliott inside and out.

Eliott blindly reached over and pulled the tube of lube from the bedside table drawer. He coated his fingertip with the slippery substance, as he did Lucas's entrance, then positioned himself between his legs and began the next phase of his seduction game. This was his favorite part.

He stroked Lucas' opening in circular motions, all the while teasing his erection with his mouth. Lucas pushed the back of his head back. With one hand he held the crumpled blanket, the other on Eliott's shoulder. From his parted lips came an uninterrupted stream of sounds, a mixture of moans, groans and gasps, his chest heaving in time with his breaths. Eliott was barely conscious, yet he noticed that Lucas was holding himself back slightly. He want his lover loose his mind because of him, so that from now on, whenever their skins touched, or their eyes met somewhere, he would think of this. He wanted Lucas to fall for him. To be unable to resist him, to crave him with an impossible, unbearable longing. To live in his heart until the end of time, to take his soul and body with it - that's what Eliott longed for. And he would not rest until he had it.

Eliott knelt up and leaned on his heels. He slid Lucas leg around his waist, then slowly slipped a finger inside him. Then the second. Finally, the third, and pushed deeper until he found the distinctive bump that, each time he pressed it, made Lucas's back lift off the bed and rest against his hand. Lucas's spine arched, his trailing strand spread across the pillow, his moans louder than any sound he'd allowed himself to make so far. Oh yes, how long had he wanted to hear that! Eliott dared not move, staring down at him wordlessly, a gleam of suppressed tears in his eyes. He found his love writhing beneath him beautiful, almost ethereal. So much so that he felt his heart sinking.

Then the moment of silent admiration dissipated like a veil of mist after the dawn hours were over. Eliott leaned on Lucas's neglected nipple. Lucas's hand slid through his hair, pressed his palm to his scalp to hold his lips in the desired area. Eliott got the message: biting the aching tip between his teeth, he sucked it and then atoned with soft caresses and kisses. Meanwhile, he moved his fingers along Lucas' entrance, gradually teasing his prostate. The tremors spread through Lucas' entire body. Goose bumps covered him wherever his skin touched Eliott's. Eliott kissed his way up, from his shoulder to his collarbone, then from his neck to his chin, until he reached his mouth. Their tongues began a slippery, dirty dance, kissing with an insatiable hunger as their arms fell over each other's backs, covering each other. Lucas suddenly pulled away from him to whisper between their lips:

"I want you, Eliott. I want you more than anything"

Eliott took a gulp of air and gasped at it. He was staring down at Lucas. Even if at first he was tempted to think that he had misunderstood, Lucas's look told him that he meant it and knew exactly what he was saying. Earlier he had compared it to the sky. But now his eyes shone with the clarity of the undiscovered seas. Lucas's lustful rapture was eclipsed by his confident self-consciousness. Eliott dug in the drawer for the condom pouch. Once he had it, he pressed a kiss to Lucas' lips. Sitting up, he used his teeth to tear open the wrapper. Lucas holding his legs on either side of Eliott's hips, he sat up as well. He looked meaningfully into Eliott's eyes as he laid his palm on the back of his hand.

"Will you allow me" he moistened his lips "to do it?"

Eliott's throat felt dry. He nodded.

"God, of course!"

Lucas smiled mischievously and took the condom from his hand. He rolled it on Eliott's cock, then gently smeared another dose of lube on it. Eliott could have sworn he'd never had a more erotic sight. Lucas lay down on the bed with a faint half smile and Eliott propped himself up on his elbows above him. There was no hurry in the kisses that followed, which he showered on his lover's forehead, eyelids, nose, cheek and chin. It was through his touches that he confessed his love to Lucas. The love he had hidden until now, the love he had kept in his heart and which he finally had the courage to admit.

Lucas was panting underneath him. He pressed the inside of his thigh to Eliott's hip, dropped his palm to his buttocks and gently grip them. His eyes reddened as if he dared to cry only in his heart. His gaze was a flood of emotion. Eliott could see his listening with rapt attention as he breathed his name into his skin.

"Lucas... Lucas... Lucas..."

And he whispered into the silence of the night with the same adoring voice:

"Eliott... Eliott... Eliott..."

Then, at that moment, it ceased to be sex. It was no ordinary intercourse, fuelled by a vulgar desire for carnal satisfaction. It was lovemaking. The meeting of two souls as they stepped out of their bodies and carried their hearts in their eyes to replace the words. Because words can never be enough to express what they feel in those moments when they meet eternity.

Slowly he sink into him, gradually accustoming him to the sensation of his straining manhood. He conquered him with patience and respect, all the while looking into his eyes. The grey merged with the blue, like the ocean merging with the sky beyond the horizon. As one, they held their breath; Eliott moved forward at a leisurely pace, pushing deeper and deeper until he filled his love to the brim. Even then he didn't flinch, wanting to savour every last drop of what Lucas was offering and what he was offering him. Lucas spread his legs wide apart, which he then crossed over Eliott's back with his ankles. Their breaths mingled, their lips moaning over each other's mouths, but neither sought to close the distance. A tear fell from Eliott's eye, spilling down Lucas's cheekbone and leaving a stain on the pillow.

"I'm sorry" he apologized. "I'm just... "

"No" Lucas pleaded. "You have nothing to apologise for" He took Eliott's pain-warped face in his palm. He searched his features anxiously, as if his hooded eyes and trembling lower lip were two points in a map, two points that could tell him what was hurting him. "Eliott..."

"I love you, Lucas" he said through his tears. "God, I love you so much…"

He kissed Lucas with the anguished love of his heart that was about to break. Just as his flesh-cutting hardness, his tongue began to move in his mouth with breathtaking tenderness. It wasn't a desire to find satisfaction in pleasure. All he wanted was to give his soul to Lucas. This extraordinary, amazing man, without whom his life would be empty, meaningless. Whose loss would mean to death to him. Lucas put his arm around his shoulders and hugged him with feverish pleading. Eliott opened his eyelashes, not noticing when he closed them. The eyes, whose one tender glance meant the world to him, returned his caressing gaze with love. His fingers slipped into the narrow space between their bodies, and he clasped Lucas's cock, massaging it gently. He coordinated his hands with the gentle sway of his hips, to his stimulating movements Lucas responding with the lush swaying of his lap.

Their moans, their groans, their repetitions of each other's names filled the room. The wrought iron bedpost slammed against the wall to the rhythm of their thrusts. The bed creaked beneath them, joining the prolonged thuds of their bodies crashing into each other. Almost imperceptibly, their movements changed from steady to rapid, from superficial to brisk, from cautious to hard. The muscles in Eliott's arms and back rippled with the sway of his hips. His forehead beaded with a fresh layer of sweat. The droplets landed on his cheeks, curled along his nose, pooled in a ditch above his mouth until they fell onto his lips. Eliott brushed the skin along Lucas's thick, lust-slicked manhood. The cry started as a low groan, then escaped Lucas as a hoarse howl. There wasn't much left...

Eliott pressed his lips to Lucas' mouth as his lover shook around him, embracing his pleasure. A few moments later, a white-hot flash of pleasure shot through Eliott body from his pool. With ragged breaths, his back arched, he shuddered as the aftershocks of lust twitched through him. For a moment, he sank down into the depths of this indulgent heat, lined with softness. A heady lightness spread through his limbs, making him forget that he possessed such things as judgment and willpower, and dissolving his bones into the froth of lust.

His arms were spread out on the bedspread, he was lying on Lucas. Their chests, glistening with sweat, were crushed together. He held him as tightly as Lucas held him. Through his short, fleeting breaths, the scent of sex mingled with the natural evaporation of Lucas's body seeped into his senses. His breathing was loud at first, then fading, tickling Lucas's ears and neck. His lover's panting stirred the sweat-soaked hairs on his temples.

It took Eliott minutes to gather himself enough to raise his eyes to Lucas. His lover blinked lazily up at him, weary with comfortable fatigue.

Eliott put his weight on one elbow so as not to overwhelm the smaller body. Lucas stroked his jaw. Eliott, on a sudden impulse, snapped his index finger and licked it. Lucas gave a sweet little laugh. He always tried to keep distance in everyday life. His fascinating, dangerous and covert nature made him irresistible in a way that made you think twice about approaching him. But now Eliott seemed to have succeeded in taming it.

A delighted half-smile came to Lucas's lips. Eliott's eyes smiled with his mouth. As he kissed Lucas, it occurred to him that he had never been so happy before. Now he understood the quotes from the pages of the novels about how much more special sex was when you could experience it with the one you loved. He felt more, better, the ruler of the world, but at the same time he felt completely defenceless against Lucas. But that didn't make him uneasy. And that was the point. That he trusted him with all his heart, as he had never trusted anyone.

He retreated a little. He felt the cold, sticky wetness of Lucas's sweat on the palm of his hand as he smoothed his cheekbone into his hand.

"What do you say we take a shower and then watch the movie that I promised to you?" he asked in the room's rocking silence.

Lucas' smile was bewitchingly soft and a little dreamy.

"Sounds good" he nodded.

 

******

 

VENDREDI 20:11

Freshly bathed, they curled up under the blankets on the sofa. Eliott turned off the lights he'd left on earlier, started the movie, and then snuggled in, squeezing himself into the tight space between Lucas and the couch. For once, he was blessed by the size of the couch, so he could snuggle up to Lucas without having to find a reason why he was sliding his hand under his arm, why he was smoothing his palm over his chest, only to pull it against his chest a little later. Lucas was lying on his side in a pair of borrowed sweatpants and Eliott's old, stretched-out T-shirt, his eyes fixed on the screen. He was obviously really engrossed, although this wasn't the type of movie he was usually interested in. There was little plot to the story, but plenty of emotion and underlying dialogue.

Under Eliott's closed eyes, the memory of the spray of water steaming into the shower stall came alive. The scent of fresh, minty soap and washing powder left on his clothes caressed his nose. In vain did he surround himself with these things dear to his heart, but his restlessness did not ease. He could only guess at the cause of this restlessness. After only a few minutes of self-reflection, he was able to identify it. It was confusion. It seemed unbelievable that a few hours ago they had been sitting in the same place and Lucas, frightened by his own feelings, had confessed to him how afraid he was of becoming like his father. What was more amazing was how much had happened since then, when nothing had really changed. Their evening went on as it would have on any other day: filming, popcorn and Coke waiting on the table for them to discussed the plot and the characters' motivations after the two hours of play time had passed. Everything was the same, except for the fact that they were sleeping together.

Eliott still couldn't quite grasp how far he and Lucas had come. Neither of them were drunk, they had thrown themselves into the events as single, responsible adults, and now they had to face the consequences of their actions. His gaze slid from the screen to Lucas' profile. Secretly, he expected that once they were out of bed and into the bathroom, it would only be a matter of time before Lucas would be out of the apartment and out of Eliott's life. But his fears proved unfounded. And that only made him more nervous. His mistake proved that he didn't know Lucas as well as he thought he did. He preferred not to think about it. The other possibility was that Lucas still had surprises in store for him. He couldn't see behind his calm, dreamy, averted gaze. Eliott was already neck deep in doubt. He had to do something before he lost himself for good. He knew himself, in his tension he would end up demanding too many answers at once. After what had happened, he certainly didn't want Lucas to feel like he was forcing anything on him. But he can't even bear this silence. It was too normal - the language was the best proof of how out of it he was. He hated this word.

Lucas watched the seaside scene unfolding on the screen with interest as Marianne threw herself on Helois from behind, tearfully begging her forgiveness. Eliott wished Lucas would take the initiative. If only he would give some sign that he was pleased or, God forbid, despairing that they had crossed a line from which there was no turning back. They can't just be friends anymore, not after this. Anything would have been better, even a quarrel that ended in recrimination, than this state of nervous tension between them.

Eliott lifted his head from the pillow and arched his head up to look at Lucas's face.

"Is everything all right?" he asked quietly. "I mean, with us? You've hardly spoken to me since we came out of the bathroom"

Lucas tore his gaze away from the television. He rolled onto his back and blinked up at him. There was no trace of the distant expression on his face from the moment he'd arrived until their kiss. He radiated an unperturbed calm, as if he had found a secret island of peace. Only those, who find the place in the world where they belong, can reach it. If so, does that mean Lucas belongs to him? That the two of them are a home for each other?

"Yes" Lucas said. "It's just so strange"

Eliott's chest heaved with the lead weight of panic.

"What do you mean?"

"I kept thinking that I should be embarrassed, that I should panic. But I feel nothing of that sort of thing" Lucas explained. His voice was filled with an amazed, disbelieving happiness. "It's strange how natural it is to be with you. To hold you, to touch you as never before, as if a million other times had preceded today. As if this was the place I'd always been looking for, and didn't even realize it was right in front of me"

All of a sudden, the tension in him thawed.

"But that's a good thing, right?" Eliott took a chance. "That it doesn't make us feel scared and we can handle it perfectly normally?"

"Yes" Lucas nodded. Nevertheless, the surprised expression never left his face. "In all of these years no matter whom I was with, I've always wondered if I was good enough. No matter how desperately I tried to let go, I couldn't. But now I don't worry about anything. It's like a new world has opened up for me. The thought of it that this thing" he swung his hand, but the movement died halfway through, his palm falling back onto the blanket "could be like this" he finished, shaking his head. Eliott couldn't quite put his finger on what he meant, but he had a strong suspicion that it was basically everything that happened between them: the conversations, but mostly the sex. "It's so good and easy. That's why I'm speechless. I don't know what to do with myself, with the peace that I feel"

Eliott tucked the still slightly damp strands of hair behind Lucas's ears.

"In any case" he smiled "I can definitely say that you were amazing, and I can't wait to do it again. If I had to count, you deserve twelve out of ten"

"You can't complain either" Lucas laughed.

A silence fell over them. Eliott lowered his arms, his face seeking and finding refuge in the crook of Lucas's neck. Lucas' immediate response to his approach warmed his heart. He wrapped his arms around Eliott shoulders, pulling him to his chest, right to the place where the steady, soothing rhythm of his heartbeat could be heard. It was intoxicating to listen. It was as if he was taking the sound to himself, filling in a missing piece of his body that he didn't even know was screaming with emptiness.

"And what about tomorrow?" he asked the most terrifying question, which made his stomach knot. " Okay, in this moment you're fine with it. But what was going to happen when you actually, truly realise what we've done? Have you thought about that?"

Lucas' fingers twitched in his hair. In the vibrant anticipation, Eliott shuddered at the sound of Lucas's sigh.

"No" he said, turning to face Eliot. The embers of passion flashed in his eyes. "But in this moment I don't want to think about the future. I want something completely different. Something much more exciting"

With authoritative he pounce himself on Eliott's lips, and Eliott's questions were wiped from his mind. Lucas threw himself at him with renewed ferocity, tightening Eliott lock of hairs around his fingers so he could turn his head to the side and explore every inch of his mouth. As if it had been months, not hours, since he last touched him, and now he intended to catch up.

Eliott had not even recovered from his first shocking surprise before the next one arrived. Lucas's eager fingers had slipped under the knot in the front of his trousers and wrapped around his manhood. Eliott moaned helplessly beneath Lucas's lips, his whole body shuddering at his caress. Lucas's breath whispered hotly down his neck, his mouth against his skin. He picked out the most sensitive spot under his Adam's apple, nipped it between his teeth, licked it, then sucked bloodily.

Eliott hissed, thrust his hips forward in a gasping chaos of stormy breaths and beggining words for more, by Lucas' hand slid along his cock. Following his instincts, he moved his lap and hip simultaneously. He picked up his own rhythm, appropriating Lucas' palm, taking his pleasure from him. Their legs intertwined, Lucas kicked the covers off themselves with noble simplicity and flipped Eliott onto his back. Then, with a practiced movement, he settled into a riding position on his waist. He pulled his borrowed sweater over his head and tossed it to the floor. He cupped Eliott's face in his hands, drew his lips back to his own. Eliott no longer cared that he hadn't expected this, that he hadn't been prepared for it, and he suppressed the annoyingly sober voice in his head that had urged them to discuss what had happened first. He cared for nothing, driven only by the urge to touch the body heaving above him. Everything else lost meaning and significance for the few hours they had to stop thinking and let their feelings and desires guide them.

 

******

 

18 MAI SAMEDI 00:26

They were naked in the bedroom. Lucas rested his face on his chest, Eliott absently traced circles on his lover's bare back. He watched in silence. Judging by Lucas's steady breathing, he was close to leaving this reality behind and entering the realm of dreams. Eliott didn't have the heart to disturb his rest, but the dark emotion that was rippling through his soul finally made him speak to him:

"Lucas"

His eyelids fluttered, to let him know he was listening.

"You'll be here in the morning, won't you?" he asked, offering his trembling desperation to the night.

Lucas moved in his arms. He looked up at him, his eyes shining clear and intelligent despite the sleepiness. In the glowing light streaming in through the window, he seemed to be the moon in human form, sneaking down from the sky for this one night to make love to Eliott's hopes.

"I'll be here. I promise"