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brief hours and weeks and years

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love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
within his bending sickle’s compass come;
love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
but bears it out even to the edge of doom.
(shakespeare ; sonnet 116)

--

Sometimes it feels like time is rushing by. Sometimes Thomás stands on the starting platform, and he can’t quite remember where he is; pool water is the same shade of brilliant blue everywhere, the smell of chlorine, the cheers and instructions that turn into shapeless echoes over the surface, and this might be Brasília or Buenos Aires, Moscow or Tokyo, Indianapolis or Vienna. It all blurs together at times, the days and nights spent asleep on planes, stumbling across time zones, the hours and hours spent in the pool, the jetlagged Skype chats with Francisco, falling asleep to the sound of his voice, and at times, Thomás can’t remember how many competitions it’s been, how close or far the finish line is. Sometimes he wishes he could stop in the midst of his leap, float in the air for a moment, and see everything clearly.

When he and Francisco are together, it’s different, but even then, it sometimes seems time moves all too fast. They steal time, share quick lunches in the swimming hall cafeteria, hurried kisses in doorways, and quite a few times they end up having fervent sex against the door of a hotel room, and they’re both left a little bruised, a little tender, neat curves of tiny crescents pressed into Thomás’s shoulder blades by his brother’s fingers, his cheeks and neck flushed with stubble burn and heat. Sometimes he can taste desperation on Francisco’s burning mouth, feel the swiftly flying time in the way Francisco pulls him back when he’s about to go, nipping at his earlobe, leaving beard burn on his neck. He feels it in the frantic pounding of his own heart, in the endless ache that twists inside him. But time is merciless, and so, again and again, he must go. And then, time slows when they are apart, minutes stretching, restlessness and yearning seeping into the bloodstream like poison.

But at the same time, time works differently with them. It’s not always hurried encounters, stolen kisses, bruising hands, animal hunger, whispered words of love and lust and longing. There’s also the long stretch of years behind them, the promise of more ahead. There is a sense of permanence and certainty, and perhaps that’s how Thomás can steady himself on the starting platform, how he’s able to clear his mind. There’s the word always somewhere in there, buried in his brainstem, inscribed on the gold ring whose presence he can feel even when it’s safely tucked away.

--

Thomás’s Russian trainers believe that all time should be used constructively, and thus really aren’t fans of holiday trips, let alone holiday trips to the opposite side of the world. Even so, his restlessness ultimately wears them out.

‘A week?!’ they sigh in despair, and Thomás gives them his brightest smile.

Just a week!' he confirms, and he can already hear Francisco's voice repeating his words in a much more sombre tone. 'And I’ll train so so hard when I get back, I won’t take any days off, I’ll—’ In the end, they wave him off in exasperation, and Thomás is pretty certain he’s seen that exact look on his teachers’ faces before. He can’t be too bothered about it, though, because the second he’s out, he skips along the sidewalk, humming Francisco’s name under his breath. Soon soon soon.

If the days leading up to this break have been meandering and long, the hours spent waiting for a connecting flight in Doha airport are even more so. Architecturally gorgeous as this one is, Thomás can’t help to feel that airports are still pretty much the same everywhere. Same classy shops, same backpackers dashing toward a gate with minutes to spare, same toddlers sleeping soundly, letting their lungs finally rest after an exhausting flight, same immaculately dressed crews passing by with decisive steps, same excited kids pressing their faces against the glass to watch the planes take off, same weary travellers curled up to sleep like cats, one arm loosely embracing a scuffed suitcase. Same people restlessly tapping their fingers, checking their phones only to remember they should save their battery – Thomás himself being one of them, pushing his phone into his pocket with a sigh. ‘Francisco,’ he hums under his breath. He glances at the digital clock above him, and for a moment, he wonders if it works at all. Then the seven turns into an eight. Perhaps time hasn’t quite stopped, although he wouldn’t be quite sure.

And of course, the moment he lands, the moment he catches Francisco’s eye, and Francisco practically flies towards him, pulling him into a fierce embrace, whispering inaudible words against his neck, time speeds up again. And it doesn’t slow down again. They can only kind of keep their hands off each other on the cab, sitting tense, both painfully aware of the spot where their knees brush against each other, and certainly don’t once they’re out. They manage to somehow make it inside the house, although Francisco opens the door with Thomás pressed against it, and much, much later, Francisco finds his shoe abandoned on the porch. They try to talk, to exchange some news, but their words turn into gasped breaths, giggles, and moans. And really, there’s no need to talk, either. They are both fluent in reading the language of each other’s hands, of mouths moving against skin, of their bodies moving together. And simultaneously, time is flying, and they forget all about its existence.

The second night, Francisco is forced to leave this sweet oblivion, as, much to his chagrin, he has a night shift at the hospital. He gives Thomás a very thorough goodnight kiss, and makes his way through the city that is getting ready to either sleep or party. Night shift time is strange always, it’s like existing in a half-empty parallel universe, inhabited by the sleepless, the haunted and those struck by some strange disaster. It’s sweet to think of Thomás, in that other world, safely tucked in bed, and the idea of joining him come dawn guides Francisco through the night like a distant lighthouse.

Unexpectedly, with neither of them having gotten much sleep the first night, and with night shifts being generally draining, when dawn finally arrives, Francisco feels strangely energetic as he steps through the hospital door. Blinking at the morning light, he feels his heart quicken as he thinks of Thomás waiting for him.

He’s wrong, however. When Francisco makes it home, the bed is empty, and there’s no sign of Thomás no matter how he calls him. There’s only Basta confusedly wagging his tail, trying to offer Francisco a ball. Francisco pets the dog’s head absentmindedly. ‘I can’t be that tired? Thomás isn’t in Russia, is he?’

Basta makes no reply apart from slapping his tail against the floor noisily.

Finally Francisco finds a clue. There’s a map site open on the computer. It’s not far.

The cemetery bathes in the sunlight of an early morning, Francisco passes an old lady gently wiping moss off a gravestone, a couple carrying a bouquet of white flowers. And then he sees his brother. Thomás is leaning against an old tree with crooked branches, talking softly. There’s a bouquet of fresh daffodils on the grave.

‘Hey,’ Francisco says softly, reaching out to touch Thomás’s shoulder, a ghost of worry rising up in his belly, like cold water.

‘Oh Francisco,’ Thomás says, blinking at him, as though he’d have just woken up. ‘I didn’t realise it was so late. I thought your shift hadn’t finished yet.’

‘Are you alright?’ Francisco asks, his hand brushing against the curls at the nape of Thomás’s neck. It occurs to him that they have talked about their mother a lot, but not really about her death. He hasn’t really thought what it was like for Thomás. Of course, it was devastating for both of them, for all of them – Alexandre and Rosa as much as the two of them, surely – but it wasn’t quite the same. Francisco had lost Pedro, and of course, Thomás had mourned him too, but differently. And so this loss had been the first of its kind for Thomás.

Thomás’s reply is light, though. ‘Yeah, of course, why wouldn’t I be?’

Francisco gives him a serious look.

‘Oh, you’re still uncomfortable with cemeteries, aren’t you?’ Thomás says, and his eyes are warm. ‘I’m sorry to have dragged you here, especially after your shift, I just completely lost track of time.’ He sees the concern linger like shadows on Francisco’s face, and touches his cheek to brush it away. ‘Hey, everything’s okay, I’m perfectly alright. I don’t know, to be honest, I quite like it here? It’s peaceful but it’s not dead – pardon the expression. There’s birdsong, people pass by but they’re not in a hurry. Don’t you think she’d have liked it, after all those busy days at work? I guess you’d know? And I just—I remember all those times when we had long dinners, and she’d sit in the garden afterwards, maybe talking with Alexandre or Rosa or just watching us running around and doing whatever silly things we were doing. I think this feels kind of the same? A peaceful respite, summer wind and birds and her silly son telling her silly stories. Maybe she wouldn’t have minded?’

Francisco doesn’t say anything for a moment. Instead, he leans against the tree trunk and against Thomás and listens. Thomás is right, the air is full of birdsong, and the traffic is a distant hum, and it’s not such a sad place, really.

‘I think you’re right,’ Francisco says softly, and smiles at the name inscribed in the stone slab. Thomás takes his hand, draws patterns on his palm. ‘So what kind of silly stories have you been telling her?’ Francisco asks, and lets his head fall onto Thomás’s shoulder as he begins to recount his most recent tale. Time is gentler here, reminding them that everything must come to an end, but simultaneously making them aware of how bright these hours and weeks are, before the end.

*

Thomás’s flight back to Russia is unexpectedly cancelled, and he ends up getting five unexpected days of freedom. Or almost, at least – on the phone, his trainers sigh and ask if there’s anyway he could do some training while he’s still in Brazil. And Thomás doesn’t really mind; it’s strange and sweet to go back to the pool he’s known when he was a little kid, marvelling at Francisco’s skills. And Ivan is there, and after his shift, Francisco comes to watch. As he swims, Thomás finds a sense of freedom his rigorous training had made him get, a simple joy in moving his body, in pushing it as far as he can.

It really feels like they’ve gone back in time, like they’ve returned to those endless-seeming days that seem to belong to some other life now. But it feels like they’re back there, and so both Thomás and Ivan try to convince Francisco to swim a few laps around the pool, a little fun race perhaps, but Francisco declines with laughter, crinkling his eyes, shaking his head.

‘It’s your thing, Tom-Tom!’ he repeats as he did so many times before, in that other life, giving Thomás a light nudge on the shoulder.

Thomás folds his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes, ‘But you’re a really good swimmer! Don’t act like you’re not perfectly aware of that! Don’t you remember how you always boasted how much better you were when we were little?’

‘I do,’ Francisco nods. There’s a glimmer in his eyes, ‘Don’t you remember I said I’d see if I’d allow you to become as good? You see, being the noble, supportive big brother I am, I did eventually decide to do just that!’

Thomás’s eyebrows shoot up. ‘Oh you allowed me to?’

‘Yes,’ Francisco confirms without a beat, nodding sagely. Then he smoothly switches from a leisurely walking pace into a sprint when Thomás turns to him, eager to express his appreciation for this great gift. ‘That’s just what I did, Little Tom-Tom! And you should be glad, you’ve made it so far thanks to my benevolence.’

‘Oh yeah, well, I guess you should be grateful that I allowed you to become a doctor,’ Thomás calls as he runs after his brother. ‘I was supposed to do that, but I figured I might just let you.’

When Thomás catches him (‘I allowed you to catch me,’ Francisco is quick to say, even if he does it rather breathlessly. ‘You almost slipped into the pool, you idiot,’ Thomás points out. ‘That would’ve served you right, though.’), they watch each other for a moment, Thomás with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow, Francisco with a nearly innocent grin, and then burst into laughter.

‘You’re doing a pretty good job, though, I’ve got to admit,’ Francisco says as they walk along the side of the pool, his arm flung carelessly across Thomás’s shoulders.

‘You’re not so bad yourself, doc,’ Thomás replies, and nudges Francisco lightly with his hip.

‘Oh, I know.’

‘I take it back.’

‘Really?’ Francisco asks as they come to the dimly lit dressing room corridor. There’s no one around, only their steps echo in the empty space, and so he lets his fingers trace a line drawn by pool water dripping from Thomás’s hair.

Thomás gives him a sharp look, considering. ‘No,’ he admits, dropping a kiss on the corner of his brother’s mouth. ‘But you’d better watch it.’

He feels Francisco smile against his mouth, but soon the smile turns into a kiss that tastes like sweat and chlorine, almost like long childhood days, almost like the blinding bright future ahead.

*

Thomás is flying to Russia the next day, and Francisco watches the steady rise and fall of his chest, the faint movement of his pulse at the hollow between his collarbones, the way his untamed curls fall on his face as he dreams. Time is running out, and yet this night feels like an enchanted night, like it might never end. Francisco’s mind wanders. It’s like all the nights of their lives are hovering here, the future ones like will-o’-the-wisps, playing tricks on the eye, and as a warm wind, the ones from the distant past where they’d fall asleep curled up together like kittens, weary from their games, and their mother would carry Thomás to his own bed.

Sometimes Francisco imagines how he would have told their mother about this. About all of it.

Sometimes he wonders if he’d have needed to, if she wouldn’t have known it right away, if she hadn’t known it long before he did.

A faint memory floats up to the surface of his mind, of her being worried about something he couldn’t understand then, but now he wonders if it was about the two of them, if it was because she could already see it. There had been something sad about the way she spoke, about the way she’d looked at him, something like the words, you can’t avoid pain, that I know, but must it be this wound, this specific manner of falling? He’d thought it was about his broken leg, he remembers that now, about his recklessness, about the way something in his chest caught fire at any nasty words aimed at Thomás, and he flew at the bullies, his head full of white anger and nothing more.

Now he thinks that wasn’t what was making her sad, not exactly. It was because she could see through the white hot rage, because she could see the way his tightly clutched fists with their bruised knuckles relaxed, how he pressed his hands against Thomás’s narrow chest, pulled him close, kissed his hair.

He tries to remember what it was that she said, exactly, but all he can recall is her saying he should come to her if there was something he didn’t understand.

He imagines how he would have told her.

‘Oh but this was never something I couldn’t understand. All the rest may have been that way, growing up as a whole, and being an adult, too, but this, what we have, never. It’s the one clear thing. It’s like gravity, a compelling force drawing me home.’

He doesn’t know what she’d have said. He wonders if she would have stayed quiet instead, her sad gently eyes watching him, making him ache with the weight of love and concern.

‘It was soothing to have something like that, a constant. Even when it was really hard, really really hard, with Pedro’s passing, and then with you, there was something stable. It was the least confusing thing, even when I didn’t have a name for it.’

He can almost feel her eyes on him. He hopes she didn’t weep for them, that she didn’t spend sleepless nights with worry twisting her insides. He hopes she slept as soundly as Thomás does now. He hopes, and can’t quite bring himself to believe that hope.

He imagines telling her, ‘There was no need to be so sad, mother.’

In this dream, she touches his face, and her smile softens. The sadness is still there, in the shadows, and he knows no words can make it disappear entirely.

‘We’re okay now,’ he whispers, and he hopes hopes hopes she believes him. Somewhere, far away, beyond time.

(For some reason, Francisco has never really thought of telling Alexandre, perhaps because he knows there are not enough words in any existing language to really explain it. Alexandre, on his behalf, chooses not to ask. He watches the boys with a painter’s observant eye, but doesn’t pry into it, doesn’t make any conclusions. They’re happy, that much he knows, that much is clear. Most of the time, they are happy. That’s all he has ever wanted for his sons. That’s enough.)

--

Ivan is tapping away at his laptop, sipping scalding hot room service coffee, and Thomás tries to locate the hairdryer in his still-packed suitcase, his hair still wet from the training session. ‘Oh Thomás,’ Ivan calls without looking up. ‘I mentioned the interview on Thursday, didn’t I? They were asking if you’d have some family photos for them to use, something from your childhood? Or teens, anything like that?’

‘I’d rather not. It’s personal,’ Thomás calls, elbow-deep in the suitcase. He’s grateful that Ivan has chosen to come along to this trip to act as both a co-trainer and a manager. He’s pretty certain his own head would have exploded long ago if it weren’t for Ivan’s help.

The clacking of the keyboard cuts off. Thomás can tell Ivan’s attention has shifted from the screen to him. ‘Wait, are you kidding? I never imagined you’d feel that way, I mean, I’ve never seen anyone who’s as close to their family as you are. You’ve so many photos around, too.’

‘Well, that’s kind of it,’ Thomás says, smiling and shrugging apologetically. Finally successful in his quest for the hairdryer, he stands up. ‘My family’s super important to me and I’m happy to say that in every interview, but it’s one thing talking about such a thing, and another sharing specific memories. I mean, I couldn’t explain them, and it’d just be weird.’

He’s not exactly lying. It would be strange, having fans who are interested in more than his times, his strokes and kicks, the way his body moves through the water is strange in the first place, and the idea of trying to share something so intimate with these kind, enthusiastic strangers who may well have invented some wonderful imaginary life for him in their minds. It’s not that his life isn’t wonderful, but he’s pretty sure it’s not something any of them has ever imagined.

There is something more to it, though, something Thomás doesn’t add. He knows it’s not just the photos he’d be giving away.

He’d have to give up days like yesterday. Walking through St James’ Park here in London with Francisco, their fingers entwined, stopping to feed the huge flocks of birds, to marvel at the pelicans, and share quick kisses every now and then.

Days when it’s possible a stranger will recognise Thomás, it’s possible they’ll come up, say they’ve been following his career, that they’re so impressed by the way his butterfly stroke has been coming along, asking for his autograph. It’s possible they know Thomás has an older brother, and it’s possible they know Thomás wears a golden band on his ring finger. It’s possible they’ve seen Thomás lean against Francisco’s side. It’s possible their eyes will widen or they’ll grin and ask, ‘Wait, is this your fiancé?’ And all of this is okay. All Thomás needs to do is grin back, shrug a little or wink. And he isn’t ready to give it up.

Luckily Ivan accepts Thomás’s explanation, and so he gets to keep this stolen time. As Ivan turns back to his laptop, Thomás switches the hairdryer on, impatient to steal a quick lunch with his brother.

--

It’s been dark since mid-afternoon, another one of the aspects of Russian winter that Thomás still hasn’t quite grown used to, but now it is truly night.

Thomás’s eyes keep closing, too tired to focus on the Cyrillic alphabet in front of them. The ‘d’ turns into an ‘a’, the ‘ya’ into an ‘r’, and it takes a moment before he notices it’s the wrong way around. He rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. He’s decided to spend a half hour on language practice every other way, and his coaches’ voices echo in his head, repeating the word discipline.

‘One article,’ he decides, ‘one more, and I’m done.’ He closes his eyes (very briefly, mind, he knows the danger), and lets his finger land on a random section. It’s longer then he’d like it to be, but he’s going to be good and disciplined and get through this.

He pulls his sweater tighter around himself. The houses here are warm, but sometimes it seems like the chill settles inside his bones. He swigs the last mouthful of already cold coffee, and resists the temptation that is the idea of Francisco in the warm bed, reading Hilda Hilst’s Ficções, his long body stretched out across the bed. Shaking the thought off, Thomás focuses on his article.

He reads the first sentence, curses under his breath, and digs out a dictionary. ‘Psychosomatic, of course, why didn’t I think of that right away.’

The rest of the vocabulary isn’t quite so tricky, luckily. Quite quickly, he can make out that it’s about a woman whose home burned down, and who became blind right after this incident. She had not been injured otherwise, and when the doctors examined her, they couldn’t find anything wrong with her eyes. She simply had lost her ability to see. Because there had been no explanation for her condition, there was no treatment the doctors could recommend, and thus she’d had no choice but to adjust. It was only nearly a decade later when she had befriended a family who had also lost their apartment in a fire, and they had shared their respective experiences, that one day, without any clear reason, she had found she could see again. Ultimately, she had been deemed to have suffered from psychosomatic blindness: although there had been nothing physically wrong with her, the trauma had rendered her blind.

‘Huh,’ Thomás breathes, and finds that he’s much more awake than moments before. Something about this haunts him.

‘Hey, Francisco,’ he calls. There’s no reply. He gets up. The floor is almost icy against his bare feet. ‘Francisco, have you heard about this condition—’

Thomás peaks around the corner, and sees a mess of dark hair, a peacefully rising chest. A fond smile steals across his mouth, something tugs in his chest. He leans closer, gently takes off Francisco’s glasses and sets them on the nightstand.

The strange feeling takes on the form of a thought that grows clearer quickly.

Maybe he shouldn’t say it out loud. Maybe it’s a little dark.

It’s not dark in his mind, though. It’s a sweet thought, if anything.

But it’s okay now, Francisco is a sound sleeper. (Although he has a tendency to stir whenever Thomás wakes up for practice before dawn, often aware of a change before Thomás moved a muscle. ‘It’s too early, go back to sleep,’ Thomás whispers those mornings, and when Francisco reaches up to give him a sloppy kiss, his eyes have already shut again.)

It’s okay if he says it now, if Francisco learns it in a dream.

‘If you die before me, Francisco, I’m going to be like this woman,’ Thomás says. ‘Maybe I’ll wait a few days, to get your affairs in order and say goodbye. But afterwards, I’m gonna be blind. You know, like I was in the beginning.’

‘You weren’t blind,’ Francisco would say, were he conscious to say anything. And maybe, ‘And why would you even imagine doing such a thing? Besides, I don't think it's something you can decide anyway.' Or perhaps, ‘I'm not going to die like that. I won't leave you.' That would be like saying 'forever', it's not quite a lie if you want to believe it so badly it feels like a flame scorching your insides. Thomás remembers it still, that first ‘forever’ back when he could believe it, Francisco’s arms wrapped tightly against him, sealing the promise.

Thomás folds the newspaper, and gets ready for bed. As he settles down, Francisco sleepily drapes his arm around Thomás’s waist, and on the verge of dreams, Thomás feels pleased, like he’s made an important decision.

Of course, one of them dying before the other is far from a pleasant thought, but it’s realistic. They were not born on the same day, they never floated in the womb as each other’s mirror images. Nor are they starcrossed lovers, fated soulmates. They love each other because they happened to be born in the same family, because they happened to recognise something in each other early on. Because early on, they found that for both of them, this mutual gravitational pull was enough. That it felt like home. They love each other now because they have chosen this, because they keep choosing this, over and over. This is not fate; this is a beautiful, lucky collision of mutual commitment and happenstance, of human love and felicitous arrangement of atoms.

One day, one of them will die. And if it’s Francisco, Thomás will close his eyes and welcome the gentle dark. He didn’t mind it before, right after he was born. He won’t mind it now. He will not take any other desperate measures, will not throw away his own life, or even throw himself on the coffin as its lowered into the grave. He’ll simply memorise his brother’s features, and then close his eyes. That’s all.

He knows it’s unlikely that there is such a thing as forever. Maybe this won’t be forever, and maybe that’s okay. But if not forever, then at least throughout the whole story, from the very beginning to the very end.

Francisco's pulse drums against Thomás's fingers splayed on his chest, against his lips brushing his throat. They're not near the end yet, and next morning Thomás will open his eyes to see his brother dreaming still, dark lashes brushing his cheeks, mouth slightly ajar. They're nowhere near the end.

‘Let’s make this last, okay?’ Thomás murmurs against Francisco’s warm skin. Minutes pass and they’re both asleep. Hours pass, and somewhere there, they stumble across each other in a half-shared dream. Days pass, and Thomás has to take Francisco to the airport where neither of them can hold back tears, wrapping their arms around each other so tight it leaves bruises. Weeks pass, and they talk on Skype daily, kissing the camera goodbye. Months pass, and Francisco mentions he’s been thinking about sports medicine. Years pass, and each one confirms that they chose the right path long before they realised they were making a choice in the first place.

--

It’s feels like it’s been forever since Thomás has last been to Brazil, and so he would have been fine with going to their old favourite restaurants, walking along familiar streets, but Francisco has another idea.

As they arrive to the end of the dirt road on the outskirts of the city, Thomás is starting to question that idea.

‘Come on, just a little farther,’ Francisco reaches out his hand but Thomás is staring at the lush thicket facing them incredulously. The path clearly stops here. There’s nothing but trees and shrubs around them.

‘I thought you said we were going to a beach?’

‘We are,’ Francisco affirms, and grasps Thomás’s hand when he won’t move, pushing some leaves aside and pulling Thomás along.

The dewy leaves brush against Thomás’s face, water dripping down his collar, and for a moment, he is concerned for his brother’s mental state. It reminds him of when he first left to train in Russia, how Francisco became like a haunted man, wandering around aimlessly, letting everything slip away. Thomás remembers the shadows that has infested his beautiful features, Alexandre’s palpable concern, the times his voice broke in the middle of a call. (Of course, Thomás had been much the same way himself, but swimming had been easy way of coping with it, mindlessly throwing himself into work, throwing himself into the brilliant blue depths, quitting only once his entire body ached and the ghosts in his head were quiet.) But they don’t spend that much time apart anymore, and so it shouldn’t be like that now.

And of course, it isn’t. This isn’t a moment of insanity; Francisco knows exactly where they are going, leading Thomás without hesitation, like a big brother in a fairy tale.

And like a fairy tale little brother, Thomás stands there wordless for a moment, spellbound. The beach is a short patch of white sand, shaded by old trees whose branches reach over the water, vines hanging from them, creating an archway above sun-dappled water. There’s something almost holy about it, as though the branches were the arches of a cathedral half-accidentally created by nature.

‘I told you, didn’t I?’ Francisco grins then, breaking the spell. ‘You shouldn't doubt your big brother.’

Thomás rolls his eyes, but can’t really come up with a comeback as his words still haven’t returned to him. He stares at the brilliant water, the canopies above. And then, without a word, he sheds his clothes and wades in, happily sighing at the feel of the warm water against his skin. Francisco quickly follows.

For a while they swim and dive, doing little chases, Francisco pulling Thomás into his arms, lifting him in the water. They kiss and laugh and play like children until they’re both breathless, and allow their bodies to relax.

They float and the waves rise and fall, gently rocking them. Thomás reaches out, tangling his fingers with Francisco’s. There is a lot to say, but it’s easier to say it like this, with the pressure of his fingers against his brother’s skin. Francisco will understand, he knows.

Above, sunlight leaks through the green arches like gold, and here, the water embraces them. There’s birdsong and the lapping of the waves and nothing more. Thomás and Francisco converse without words, and this feels like home, like the gentle pull of gravity, the weight of love upon them.

They float together, fingers entwined, and time disappears.