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out of the woods

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1. We were lying on your couch, I remember

Pedro glanced up when Balthazar walked in through the front door. “Balthy, mate, thanks for coming.”

Balthazar shut the door hesitantly. “What’s going on, Pedro?”

Pedro shrugged and stared up at the ceiling. “I feel like everything is right in the world today. Well, everything is now.” He smiled at Balthazar quickly before continuing to stare up at the ceiling, hands folded across his chest, a peaceful smile on his face.

Balthazar’s heart rate sped up and he told himself to calm down. (He didn’t know how to calm down.) “Why is everything right?” he asked slowly.

Pedro was scooting over slowly. He patted the cushion next to him. “Lie down with me.”

Balthazar hesitated.

“Bro,” Pedro added as an afterthought.

Bro, the word that always made Balthazar flinch a little inside, the word that proved they were not a thing. The word that made him feel strangely comfortable, and yet, always hurt just enough to make him hesitate.

But he lay down anyway, almost sitting on top of Pedro’s body to keep himself from falling off. They stared at the ceiling together, best friends ready to take on the world.

“Isn’t it a wonderful day?” Pedro asked.

Balthazar nodded. “A beautiful day.”

“A fabulous day.”

“Glorious.” Balthazar grinned.

“Spectacular!” Pedro exclaimed.

“Lovely.”

“Stupendous.”

“Is that even a word?” Balthazar asked.

Pedro nodded. “Of course it is.” He turned to look at Balthazar’s face, just inches from his own.

Balthazar’s next words hitched in his throat.

“I win,” Pedro finally whispered, turning to look at the ceiling again.

Balthazar giggled spontaneously. “It’s a great day.”

“It is indeed.”

---

They were best friends. Maybe there was always that little bit of tension between them, like they always knew they could be more, if they were brave enough, but it went unacknowledged, which, for the most part, was a good thing.

Pedro was cool.

Balthazar was insightful.

Together, they made a good pair.

---

“Can we promise to never fuck up this friendship?” Pedro asked one night, whispering as loud as he dared as they all slept over at Beatrice’s house.

Balthazar held his breath as he heard Ben mutter something in his sleep before rolling on his side to face Pedro. “Why would we do that?”

“I don’t know. Something could happen. People change.” Pedro looked worried, his features just barely standing out.

“I mean, yeah, I can promise to try to never hurt it,” Balthazar replied as honestly as he could. “But like you said… something could happen. We can’t control circumstance.”

Pedro’s eyebrows went up. “Balthy. I don’t think I’ve heard you say more than a sentence in a row in months.”

Balthazar bit back a smile. “Right now… sure. Let’s just stay where we are.”

“Which is where?” Pedro whispered.

“Best friends.”

Simple.

---

2. You took a Polaroid of us

Ursula adjusted the camera. “Wait to answer that, wait, wait.”

Pedro nodded and fell silent.

Balthazar nudged him. “Why is this happening again?”

“Ursula wants to interview us all for… fun… for a project?” Pedro guessed.

Ursula nodded, adjusting the focus on the camera. “Taking a snapshot of our lives, and you two are… Oh, you guys look so good right there. Your outfits are really complimenting each other. Don’t move, yeah? Okay, Pedro answer the question. Please.”

“I mean, I have a crush on, like… everyone.” He laughed.

Balthazar swallowed and looked away quickly, before he started drowning in that sentence.

“Balthazar?” Ursula asked. “I mean, you don’t have to answer,” she said quickly.

Balthazar frowned before smiling a little. “I have a crush, yeah.”

Pedro’s response was beautiful. It was all Balthazar could have asked for. A tiny bit of jealousy gave him a lot of hope.

“One day,” he promised, “one day you’ll know.”

---

“Can I take a picture?” Hero bounced over, holding an old camera in her hand.

“Is that… a Polaroid camera?” Pedro asked in surprise.

She nodded. “I’m taking pictures of all my friends.”

“Why?” Pedro asked, already putting an arm around Balthazar’s shoulder.

“To… to remember everyone. I want to remember this day.” Hero smiled. “Balth?”

Balthazar placed an arm around Pedro’s waist, forcing himself to smile at the camera.

The camera clicked and Hero smiled. “Thank you both so much! I’ll get you both a copy if you want.” She spontaneously reached over and hugged both of them. “This day is perfect.” She motioned out towards the park, the trees, the grass. “I feel like nothing will go wrong again.”

Balthazar watched as she danced off to grab Claudio’s hand. They looked so happy together.

He glanced down at Pedro’s hand, the hand that had just been on his shoulder.

“I hope she’s right,” Pedro said, oblivious to Balthazar’s thoughts.

“I hope the picture’s good.”

Pedro laughed and wrapped his arm around Balthazar’s shoulder again, leading him towards the others. “Come on. Surely it’s dinner time, yeah? I’m starving.”

Balthazar laughed. “I’m honestly not surprised.”

Pedro just grinned. “Good.”

---

Balthazar carefully hung up the picture of Pedro and himself on the wall. He stepped back and looked at it from a small distance.

Pedro placed his hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump slightly. “It looks good. Hero did great.”

“She could go into photography,” Balthazar nodded, looking back at his best friend. “Maybe we should hire her to do an official ‘day in our lives’ sort of thing, you know, like, just taking pictures of our whole group.”

“Am I in your group?” Pedro teased him.

“You’re in a picture with me. Right here.” Balthazar pointed at the picture and laughed. “Why wouldn’t you be in my group? I mean, you are my group. Just you.” He winced a little inwardly at his word choice.

Pedro glanced at the picture again before smiling slowly at Balthazar.

“What?” Balthazar asked.

“I’m going to edit that,” Pedro announced, taking the picture down swiftly and heading for the door.

“Wait, what?” Balthazar called after him.

“See you, bro,” Pedro’s voice floated through the doorway.

---

Balthazar loved it.

Pedro had taken the color out so it was in black and white, except for them. It really made them stand out against the trees. Pedro’s blue shirt was bright against the grey. Balthazar’s smile seemed somehow whiter against the dark background, his flannel shirt seeming lighter than it normally did.

It was perfect. It was them.

---

3. Looking at it now, last December, we were meant to fall apart

Balthazar stared at the ceiling. Alone.

It felt odd to be doing this, lying on the couch, without Peter there beside him. But after the events of Hero’s birthday, his gig, Damien, the drinking, the… everything. Balthazar swallowed. It was better to lie alone than to suffocate by another’s hand.

---

“Balthazar.” Pedro was panting when he caught up to the smaller boy. “Please. Listen to me.”

Balthazar turned and raised his eyebrows. “I’ve been listening the whole time, Pedro. I’ve listened for years. I have never let you down, and now… I don’t know what to do. Are you still you?”

“I prefer Peter,” Pedro said stiffly.

“So you’re not still you,” Balthazar said quietly.

“I’m still me, I’m just… a different me!” Pedro/Peter insisted. “I’m a more free version of myself. Pedro 2.0. Happier Pedro. Peter Adrian Donaldson.”

“I prefer Pedro.”

They both fell into silence, Peter with a hurt expression on his face, Balthazar feeling guilty. He should never have said it, he should apologize, he should laugh and make up with Peter before—

“I should go.”

Before it was too late.

(It was too late.)

---

“C’mon, you never go to town with us anymore,” Peter pushed him.

Balthazar looked up and sighed, his eyes weighted down with weariness. Even his hair felt flatter than normal. “I’m so busy, Pete.”

Peter sighed in return. “Balthazar.”

“Peter,” Balthazar interrupted him. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but I… I care a lot about my grades, and they’re not that great. So… If you don’t mind… I really need to do this.”

Peter stared at him for a moment before turning. “Okay. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime,” he said through gritted teeth.

The slamming door felt like a punctuation mark, and Balthazar wasn’t sure if it was a comma or a period.

He prayed it was the former.

---

Balthazar knew going to town was a bad idea. He knew it, he knew it, he knew… They saw Chelsey and Paige. That was good. Peter was great… up to a point. Ben was awesome. Well, until he got weird and unnatural. Freddie was Freddie.

He went to bed shaking that night, unsure of what had happened and lost as to how to fix it. That was his job – he fixed it when things went wrong with Peter and him. They had their fights as all couples did—

Balthazar rolled over and sighed, shaking his head, telling himself, “no, no, you are not a couple” over and over, trying to get it through his thick mind. He and Peter were never a couple, they never would be a couple, there would never be a time when they were a couple, it was not going to happen, never, ever…

 

He got a text the next morning.

“Flat meeting. Be there.”

He stared at his phone, waiting for what seemed like forever for Ben to text again. He always did.

“Please convince PeTER to come.”

---

There were moments when Balthazar thought things were coming together – when he thought he and Peter were coming together.

But, no.

There was an almost kiss.

And another one.

And looks, and glances, and touching innocently with all the wrong intentions, and promises made, and the word ‘bro’ was thrown around, and they never came together.

They were sitting in stagnant water, staring at each other from across the river, but neither of them knew how to swim.

---

4. Remember when we couldn’t take the heat, I walked out, I said I’m setting you free

Balthazar took two steps before feeling moderately guilty. He couldn’t just leave Peter in the flat, to wonder where he’s gone, if he’s eating, if he’s safe, if he’s…

He pulled out his phone and sent a quick text before continuing on to Vegan Fred’s.

“You don’t need this,” Kit was saying. “I know you’ve been in love with Peter Peter for probably your whole life, but you don’t need the negativity or all the problems that come along with him. You know? I say, if it doesn’t make you happy, let it go.”

Balthazar looked up at his friend and shook his head in disbelief. “Doesn’t make me happy?”

“Yeah. You’ve complained about Peter so much. Can you honestly say he makes you happy?”

Balthazar’s lips curled up into a flicker of a smile. He nodded.

“You’re leaving the flat to get away from him,” Kit said in disbelief.

“I’m leaving so he has space.” Balthazar paused and glanced down at the ground, the moon illuminating it slightly.

Kit stopped and stared.

“He and I… We’ve always been connected. And maybe… Maybe the space will tell him what he really wants.” Balthazar shrugged and started to walk on again.

Kit grabbed his sleeve lightly. “What is it that you want?”

“Peter,” Balthazar said without thinking.

He stopped and looked inwardly for a moment, suddenly overwhelmed with how much that one word was true. He wanted Peter – Peter Donaldson, the man he was now, no longer Pedro, the all-around great guy, but Peter, the screw up, the imperfect, the leader, the caring man he had grown to love over so many years. Peter, his best friend. Peter, the only one who could fill the football playing, theater-loving, bisexual tapas-addicted person-sized hole in his heart.

“I want Peter.”

Kit raised his eyebrows and smiled his crooked smile. “I see.”

“Not like that,” Balthazar exclaimed, making a face. “I want… I want Peter to want me to be his boyfriend.”

Kit glanced back in the direction of his latest love. “Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

They continued walking in silence.

---

5. When the sun came up, you were looking at me

Balthazar woke up slowly, sun streaming across his face. Everything was hazy and light and airy.

“Moooorning,” he heard a voice say from underneath him.

Balthazar jumped and fell off the couch.

Peter immediately reached over, face wrinkled in concern. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Balthazar nodded.

Peter laughed suddenly and reached his hand out. “Come on, take hold.” He lifted Balthazar back up and onto the couch in the front room. “Shall we try that again?” He smiled tenderly. “Morning.”

“Good morning,” Balthazar said quietly. “Why did we sleep on the couch?”

“We always used to sleep on the couch,” Peter said indignantly. “Is the couch not good enough for you anymore? Huh? What happened to couch-loving Balthy?”

“Pete, it’s too early to be witty,” Balthazar said, rubbing his eyes. “This couch is horribly small. At least yours was big. You know?”

Peter wrapped his arms around Balthazar and drew him even tighter to himself. “Better?”

“Mm.” Balthazar nodded, his face in Peter’s shoulder. “Better,” he mumbled.

“Morning!” Ben shouted from somewhere out of sight.

Balthazar fell off the couch again. This time, he laughed and looked up at Peter’s worried face, inches from his own. “Love you,” he whispered.

Peter’s face broke into a radiant smile. The sunbeam coming through the window illuminated his face, making him glow with natural light and pure joy. “Love you,” he mouthed.

“What’s happening?” Ben demanded. “Are we making declarations of love? Is someone being happy right now? Is my ship sailing?”

Balthazar laughed again and stood up. “Morning, Ben.”

Peter stood as well and laced his fingers through Balthazar’s. “Did you make us breakfast?”

“God, no,” Ben scoffed. “I’m horrible at that. That’s on Freddie. If she’s here.” He glanced at her door.

“Why don’t you check on that and I’ll properly say hello to my boyfriend,” Peter suggested, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

Ben glanced at Balthazar’s red face before grinning. “All right.” He bounded off, knocking enthusiastically on Freddie’s door. He must have gotten a response, because he went in after listening at the door.

Peter looked at Balthazar intently. “It’s not about the talking, right?”

“What?” Balthazar asked.

“You said in one of Ben’s videos… you were talking to Fred… You said that romance wasn’t about the talking,” Peter reminded him.

“Yeah,” Balthazar agreed. “I remember.”

Peter smiled.

They didn’t talk for a few minutes.