“Bye, Rick,” Kieren said with a smile.
“See you tomorrow,” Rick murmured, leaning against the doorframe. Kieren could see his rounded muscles through his shirt, the curvature of his spine in the angle of his lean. Rick’s eyes were soft, his countenance was open, and Kieren wanted—
He looked away and started walking home.
And now he wishes he hadn’t. He wishes he had followed that train of thought, he wishes he had tested that theory, he wishes he had tried to—
He wishes, but not too hard. The eyes from every painting on his wall are watching him now as he picks up the bouquet of flowers. They are white, like a promise breathed through soft lips on the cusp of winter, misting and solidifying in the cold air.
He knows when to let go.
It’s not giving up, he tells himself as he steps outside, breathing in the brisk air. Letting go is different to giving up.
He knows when to give up, too.
He walks down the street, flowers in hand, and tells himself he won’t give up anymore.
It was a cool summer evening, and they were laid out on the grass, side by side, watching the dimming sky. There were a few clouds drifting lazily towards the horizon, and the boys amused themselves by naming the shapes they could see.
“That one is definitely an alligator,” Rick said, pointing.
“Really,” Kieren hummed. “I think it looks more like a bear.”
Rick make an inquisitive noise. “You know,” he said, sitting up, grunting softly as he stretched. “I wrestled a bear once.”
Kieren let out a puff of surprised laughter. “Oh really?”
Rick smiled, glancing down at Kieren. “Really.”
Kieren smirked, looking up through his eyelashes. “Prove it, then.”
Rick raised his eyebrows after a second, a small laugh escaping from his open lips.
“Okay,” he said eventually, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “So pretend you’re the bear, Ren.”
Kieren stared at him. “What, right now?” he complained, reclining further onto the grass. “You want me to get up?”
Rick laughed, pushing himself to his feet. “Yes, right now! You’re the one who wanted me to prove it, so get up, you lazy sod!”
Kieren sighed, heaving himself off the ground, but there was a smile on his face. He shrugged. “Okay, fine then. You ready?”
Rick crossed his arms. “Show me what you got.”
Kieren cleared his throat and brought his arms up, hands curled like claws. He screwed up his nose and leaned forwards. “Rar,” he said after a tense moment, waving his arms around. He couldn’t quite get the smile off his face.
Rick laughed. “Come on, Ren, be serious.”
Kieren smirked at him, and put his arms down. “Well, I don’t know what bears do! Can’t say I’ve ever met one.”
Rick laughed again, and stepped closer. He gently gripped Kieren’s wrists before the latter could shove his hands back into his pockets, and guided him into a more threatening pose. “There,” he said softly, breath ghosting over Kieren’s skin.
He moved away, and Kieren was left with a fading warmth on his face, and the memory of that sensation—
Kieren remembers being alive.
Sometimes, he doesn’t want to.
Kieren stood in the position Rick had shown him, trying to appear bearlike. It didn’t work especially well with his skinny frame, but he did his best. “Now what?” he asked, breaking out of character.
Rick said nothing, and charged.
Kieren let out a yell that was lost to the wind as Rick’s body collided with his, sending them both to the ground.
Kieren walks past empty houses with the curtains drawn, and remembers what it felt like to live here before. When he was alive. He tells himself it feels the same.
White hands grip the bouquet a bit too tightly, just to remind themselves of what they’re holding. They feel heavy, for flowers.
They grappled and wrestled on the ground for what felt like ages, breathless laughter coming out between theatrical grunts and dramatic cries.
“Ah,” Kieren sighed. He was on his back again, watching the clouds take on a pinkish hue as the day came near its end. Rick, hovering above him, had Kieren pinned to the ground and utterly immobilized.
“Right, yes, I give in,” Kieren laughed.
Rick let out a triumphant cry. “Yes, that’s exactly what the bear said!”
Kieren laughed, head falling back onto the grass. Rick grinned down at him, silhouette framed in the dying light.
The sun is just barely rising as Kieren watches it climb into view. The sky is orange, like a fire blooming into the ocean.
He had wanted to be cremated.
Kieren met Rick’s eyes, laughter fading into soft chuckles.
Rick was still practically lying over him, one knee propped up to stabilize him, but there was no more pressure on Kieren’s limbs holding him down.
Rick was smiling softly at him, something fond in his eyes.
Kieren’s mirth disappeared altogether as he shyly smiled back.
They were very, very close, he realized. Close enough to—
Kieren’s pace begins to slow as he nears his destination.
He wonders what would have happened if their roles were reversed. He wonders who else would be walking down the street that day, holding a bouquet of pale flowers.
It might not have been that bad. Maybe it would have worked out better. Maybe it would have worked out the same. Maybe—
Kieren begins to walk faster.
Rick leaned in too fast, too urgently, and his knee drove itself into Kieren’s abdomen. Kieren groaned, curling into himself.
“Oh my god, Kieren! I’m so sorry,” Rick yelped, leaping away in alarm.
“Ugh,” Kieren said, face screwed up in discomfort.
“God, Ren, I’m so sorry. Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Kieren grunted, slowly rolling onto his side.
“Are you sure? Do you need—” Rick gently placed his hands on Kieren’s shoulders before flinching away, as if he was afraid of hurting him further.
“I’m fine, Rick,” Kieren insisted, speaking a bit more clearly as the pain began to fade. “It’s fine.”
Rick sat cross-legged beside him, looking quite sincere and quite contrite. “I’m really sorry, Ren.”
Kieren slowly sat up, holding his sore middle. “I’m fine, Rick. Really.”
It has been a long time since Kieren felt a pain like that. External pain, from wounds and living tissue. Things that can be repaired, even when a scar stays behind as a reminder.
Most of Kieren’s scars are internal, but his two most prominent reach out beyond his troubled mind, surfacing on the tender skin just before his hands.
He doesn’t pull his sleeves down, because no one’s around to watch but the flowers he carries and the broken houses all around.
Rick still wouldn’t look at him, frowning at the grass. He couldn’t seem to accept that his mistake had been an accident.
Kieren scooted closer. “Hey,” he said, tapping Rick’s arm.
Rick stared at the ground. “Yeah?”
There was only a shred of sunlight left to fuel their elongated shadows. Rick’s face looked blue in the dim light.
“Hey,” Kieren repeated, softening, lifting Rick’s chin with a delicate finger so their eyes could meet. He took a moment to lick his lips.“I’m okay,” Kieren assured him in a hushed voice.
He stared deep into those eyes, before he shut his own and slowly, ever so slowly, closed the distance between them.
The graveyard is empty when he arrives. Quiet. As it should be, he thinks, but he doesn’t want it to be.
He remembers a day where it definitely wasn’t quiet, when bodies rose out of the ground and coffins burst open, and changes his mind.
It doesn’t take much wandering to get to where he needs to be.
It’s just as he left it, of course. No one else really visits it, not anymore. That’s not to say that it’s been completely deserted; there’s a small bunch of carnations he can see in the corner, but it wasn’t too thoughtfully placed, and the blooms have long since wilted brown.
He kneels down, makes himself comfortable, and gently sets his flowers on the grave before him.
“Hello, Rick,” Kieren says with a smile.