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Like most things in his life, Isak blames Magnus for this.

To recap: Magnus, Jonas, Mahdi and him were supposed to be on a cab to a party Eva’s hosting by this time, and Isak was going to get really, really drunk at said party in order to forget all of His Woes (which looked a lot like tall, blonde and handsome, but he was purposely avoiding any more specific memories, because fuck him, that’s why).

Instead, Magnus forgot his fucking scarf upstairs, and apparently it’s really important that I have that scarf, Isak, I could catch pneumonia, you wouldn’t want me to catch pneumonia would you, and Isak doesn’t trust Magnus with his apartment key as far as he can throw him, so he told the cab driver to wait for him while he ran upstairs and grabbed Magnus’s stupid scarf in order to save his precious lungs from collapsing, and everything happens frustratingly quickly from there:

Isak walks inside the elevator. Isak pushes the button for the fourth floor. Isak waits for the elevators door to close. Then:

His Woes enters the building, red in the nose and sad in the face, holding a large brown paper bag with both arms and Isak’s throat makes a noise that probably isn’t human, he should really get that checked out, and his thumb immediately presses the “close” button, and then again and again, as if that’ll make the elevator close any faster (it, in fact, does not).

His Woes looks up from where he stands in the entryway of the building and his eyes widen marginally, as if he’s realized, yes, this is my chance, and Isak is not having any of it.

“No,” he warns, holding up a finger. The elevator’s not closing, and that should be a warning sign, really. “Take the next one.”

“Isak—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” he presses the close button one more time. Why isn’t the elevator fucking closing?

His Woes quickly walks up to him. As soon as he reaches the elevator doors, they start shutting. He carries the weight of the paper bag on one arm (because of fucking course he can) and holds out his other one to stop the elevator doors from shutting.

“God,” Isak walks backwards, presses his back to the left corner of the elevator. He glares at His Woes – legally, Isak supposes his name is Even – as he walks inside, elevator doors finally shutting behind him.

Isak’s glad to know they can actually do their fucking job.

Even’s about to say something, but Isak cuts him off. “No, Even,” he snaps. “Silence. Pure silence. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Even legs bounce uncomfortably. He looks like he’s about to burst. Isak secretly hopes he does.

Isak crosses his arms over his chest and pointedly looks at the numbers on the screen change. 1, 2, 3…

3.

3.

Isak blinks.

He realizes, belatedly, that they’ve stopped moving, and that the reason the numbers aren’t changing anymore is because they’ve stopped moving, and it’s not a mistake – the doors aren’t opening at all, and they’re just – here.

Isak’s hands start shaking. Whether in panic or in anger, he can’t really tell.

“No, fuck you,” he growls at the elevator. He presses the number four button. The button does nothing but flash at him mockingly.

“We might have to press the call button,” Even suggests helpfully, from the other side of the elevator.

“I know what to do, Even,” Isak snaps without looking over. He’s not an idiot, and that was going to be the next button he pressed, so he’s a little annoyed Even would act like Isak doesn’t know what he’s doing.

He presses the call button. It rings, and then there’s a voice:

“Yes?”

Isak raises an eyebrow. The voice is lazy, and male. “Uh, we’re stuck.”

“Yeah, I saw through the cameras,” the voice replies. “Sucks, man.”

Isak can’t help exchanging an incredulous look with Even.

“Yeah, it does,” Isak continues dubiously. “So, what are we gonna do about it?”

“I called the maintenance guy,” the voice tells him. Isak relaxes. “But he’s probably not gonna be here for about another three, four hours. It’s his day off.”

“It’s his day off,” Isak repeats slowly. It’s his fucking day off, of course it is. “It’s going to take three or four hours because you only have one maintenance guy on call?”

“Hey man, I don’t run the building,” the voice sounds genuinely defensive. “He’s doing you a favor by showing up. Would have had to call the firemen otherwise, and they’d have taken longer.”

“You know, I’m not so sure that’s true,” Even pipes up.

“They don’t prioritize two men in an elevator,” the voice replies haughtily. “They’re out there saving lives and shit.”

Isak thinks this should definitely be a priority.

“Alright, thanks for your help, Julian,” Even tells the voice. Isak scowls. Of course Even knows the guy’s name. He knows everyone’s name.

“No problem, Even. And hey, sorry again, man,” Isak can almost hear the noncommittal shrug Julian’s giving him. “You know how it goes.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Even promises.

Isak gapes, looks at Even. “Yes problem,” he looks back at the call button. “Get us out of here.”

“I already told you—”

“I don’t want to be in here with him,” Isak snaps. Isak’s snapping a lot tonight.

“Whoa, man, that’s kinda rude,” Julian tells him. Isak runs a frustrated hand through his hair.

“I know,” Isak tells him. “It sort of tells you what you’re dealing with here, doesn’t it?”

“It tells me I’m dealing with someone who’s rude, yeah,” Julian replies.

Isak is offended. Julian doesn’t know him, doesn’t know his life. “Listen, Julian—”

“Hey man, I don’t know you like that,” Julian cuts him off.

“What else do I refer to you as, Julian? It’s your God damn name—”

“I’m just saying, like, ask before you just assume—”

“I’m not assuming anything, you literally—”

Julian hangs up.

Isak cannot believe this is his life.

“So that went well,” Even tries cheerily.

Isak turns to him and glares. “Not a word,” he warns. Even’s mouth opens and closes, as if it’s deciding whether or not the next words out of it are worth another quip from Isak.

Isak doesn’t give him a chance to find out, because he pulls out his phone and immediately dials Magnus. His contact is under his “Favorites”, though that’s definitely going to change after tonight, you mark Isak’s words.

“Yo, Isak, what’s taking you so long, man?” Magnus forgoes the hellos, because he’s a rude fucker, and Isak has never hated him so much in his life.

“I’m stuck in the elevator, Magnus,” he explains through gritted teeth. There’s a pause.

“Whoa, like, for real stuck?” Magnus asks. Isak rubs at his temples.

“What other kind of stuck is there, Magnus?”

“I dunno, man, you could mean, like, your coat is stuck to something in there, I don’t know, I don’t just want to assume the worst,” he explains. Isak hates him, and all of his friends, and all of these circumstances.

“You sound a lot like Julian right now.”

“Who’s Julian?”

“Never mind,” Isak sighs loudly. “They said the maintenance guy was gonna be another three or four hours.”

“What?” Magnus exclaims, and he can here Jonas and Mahdi complaining about it in the background. “But we’ll miss the party!”

Isak is a little peeved that that’s what Magnus is worried about, but he’s also not expecting anything more from him. “Yeah, sure seems that way, doesn’t it?”

Magnus is silent for a moment. “So…how are you doing in there?”

Isak glances at Even, who’s nervously playing with the brown paper bag he’d walked in with, now on the floor rather than in his arms. He’s sitting cross-legged beside it and he’s avoiding Isak’s gaze, which makes Isak irrationally angry, considering he’s the one shutting Even out.

“Just peachy, Magnus, thanks for asking,” he hears Magnus tell the others what’s happening. Jonas lets out a sympathetic noise and a “sorry, dude”, which Isak catches and releases with a sigh, and Mahdi just laughs boastfully. He’s glad they can find the humor in this, because Isak is far, far from finding it anywhere else.

“So…” Magnus clears his throat on the other ened. “Dude, I mean, I don’t mean to—”

Isak rolls his eyes. “Just go without me, Magnus.”

“Cool. I mean, only if you want us to? You totally don’t have—”

“Hand the phone to Mahdi, please.”

“Yes, sir.”

A pause, and then—

“Yeah?” Mahdi’s voice is casual.

“If you go, please make sure Magnus does not get laid tonight.”

“Why, exactly?”

“This is his fault.”

Mahdi hums. “I agree.”

“So you’ll make sure?” Isak insists.

“Yeah, sure, buddy. You wanna talk to Jonas?”

Isak’s confused. “Is he going to tell me something I don’t know?”

Mahdi is silent. Isak sighs.

“Yes, I wanna talk to Jonas,” he deadpans.

“Cool.” He hears the phone make way from one hand to another.

“Jonas speaking,” says Jonas.

“Jesus, I know who you are, Jonas.”

“Hey, I’m sorry you’re stuck in an elevator,” he replies, and Isak believes him. Out of the three of them, Jonas is the most prone to sympathy, and that’s because he’s probably not a psychopath. Or is it sociopaths that lack sympathy?

Isak breaks from his stupor, eyeing Even. He’s now scrolling through his phone. “It’s a little worse than that.”

Jonas thinks. “You wanna text me about it?”

“I think it would be for the best.”

“Alright,” Jonas says. “You sure you want us to go without you?”

“So long as Magnus doesn’t get laid.”

“I’ll make sure of it.”

Isak’s lips quirk upwards at the edges. “Thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

They don’t say goodbye, because that’s not what cool friends do, so they just simultaneously hang up.

And now he finds himself alone, again, in a halted elevator, with the one guy in all of the world he wishes would never look at him again.

Isak texts furiously at Jonas: even in here. kill me ❤️

It takes Jonas exactly fifteen seconds to respond: sorry, can’t do that. you got this ❤️

Isak hates how positive Jonas is about this. He doesn’t like Even, says he thinks Even’s been playing Isak this entire time, but he also thinks Isak needs to tell Even exactly what he feels. Isak’s been telling Jonas that’s not how this works, once you break things off you break things off, and it doesn’t matter to Isak whether Even knows how much he hurt him. In fact, he’d prefer it if he didn’t know. It’s – ridiculous, that it’d hurt so much, that it still hurts right now, with Even less the six feet away from him and scrolling aimlessly through his phone, that looking at him still stabs at his heart painfully and makes his stomach feel sick.

It still hurts. It still really fucking hurts. The memories come flooding back in the most inopportune of moments and he hates it. He hates the fact that there are nights where he can’t sleep, feels the ghost of Even’s arms around him and misses them so much he aches all over. He hates that there will be a movie on TV he can’t enjoy because Even once made a reference to it and laughed when Isak gave him a confused look, laughed when Isak insisted the plot sounded ridiculously stupid. He hates that he can’t listen to his Spotify radio anymore because there are always songs that come up that remind him of Even, whether it’s because of the lyrics or because Even once played them for him, danced to them like an idiot and sang along as loudly as he could.

And Isak doesn’t want Even to know how much power over him he has. He doesn’t want him to know Isak still thinks of him daily and that he doesn’t know how long it’ll be until that stops.

Defeated, Isak slides down the wall of the elevator and hits the floor with a loud thud. He closes his eyes, intent on spending the next three to four hours in complete silence by ignoring Even as pointedly as he can. The back of his head hits the wall, and he takes a deep, deep breath.

He thinks.

--

Isak meets Even four months prior.

The first words Even ever says to him are: “Do you have an extra roll of paper towels?”

Isak stares at him.

Even raises both eyebrows. “’Cause, you see, I just moved in the other day, and like an idiot I spilled an entire bottle of wine, so I used up my entire and last roll of paper towels to clean it all up, so now I’m out of them officially and I can’t run down to the store because it’s far too dangerous to go out at this time of night, you understand, and I need them to clean up the rest of the place, otherwise my new place’ll be dirty, and I don’t like a dirty place, do you?”

Isak’s too busy staring at Even’s hair to understand the question. “Uh, sure.”

Even’s grin is blinding. “Sure! So, can I have a roll?”

Isak isn’t even sure he has a roll, at this point, but he’s so struck by Even’s sheer – sheer attractiveness that he nods stupidly and invites Even inside, knowing full well his apartment is a mess and Narcos is being blasted from his bedroom, for about the third time, and that this is probably not the first impression he wants to make on the cute boy living across from him.

But he invites him in anyway, because Isak acts like an idiot most of the time, and that’s a role he commits to.

“I’ll just—” he gestures awkwardly towards the kitchen. Even offers him another one of those blinding grins, and Isak wants to die right then and there.

“Yeah, sure, go for it,” he nods, and Isak drags his feet to the kitchen. His heart is pounding loudly, afraid he won’t find a roll and he’ll have to make up an excuse to Even, but after about the fifth cabinet he opens at random, he finds a pack of two.

Oh, thank you past Isak, you’re wonderful.

He opens the pack by tearing open the plastic and pulls out the one roll.

Even calls to him from the living room. “Nice place,” he says. “I think it’s bigger than mine.”

That’s not true. The apartments are all exactly the same on this floor. And even if Isak didn’t know that, Vilde used to live across from him until she moved in with Eva, so he’s spent some time in the apartment Even’s now subletting. Still, Isak indulges him. “Uhm, sure,” he walks out of the kitchen, paper towels in hand. “I found some.”

Even raises an eyebrow. “You didn’t know if you had any?”

Isak hates that he blushes so easily. “Uhm, no, I meant, I found them,” he shifts his weight from one leg to the other. “I found them.” He holds the paper towels out to Even. “Are you gonna…?”

Even smiles, takes the paper towels out of Isak’s hands. “Thanks, Isak.”

Isak backtracks. “Did I tell you my name?”

Even tilts his head. “Did you?”

Isak shakes his head. “I don’t think I did.”

“No, I think you did.”

Isak’s pretty sure he didn’t. His brain is a little fried, though, so he might have. He can’t remember much of what he said when Even started talking to him about paper towels, to be fair. He’s kind of stuck on the word “sure”, which he’s pretty sure he’s said far too many times. Also, the weed he’s been smoking is probably not helping.

“I—maybe,” he rubs the back of his neck.

Even’s grin is, once again, blinding. “Honestly, Isak, it’s only ten o’clock. Are you high?”

Isak furrows his eyebrows. “What? No,” he lies. “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but—”

Even nods. “No, yeah, of course, I’ll leave you be,” he holds up the roll of paper towels Isak gave him. “Thanks again for these.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Isak nods. Even smiles, and his smile is soft. Isak wonders if it’ll feel the same if he reaches out and touches it.

He doesn’t get a chance to find out, thank God, because Even’s making his way to the door once again.

“Wait,” the word makes way past Isak’s lips traitorously. Even pauses, turns to look back, expression questioning. “Your name,” he explains. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Even,” he replies, grinning. “Name’s Even.”

“Okay,” Isak nods. “Bye, Even.”

“Bye, Isak.”

And then he’s gone.

--

Isak remembers searching every social media site afterwards with only the name “Even” to go by, just to see if he hit anything, by pure dumb luck. He never did. Even now, Isak’s pretty sure Even doesn’t have any social media, which is why it always makes him wonder what exactly Even’s doing when he scrolls through his phone the way he’s doing now.

Isak knows he’s ignoring Even on principle, but he can’t help the question. “What are you doing?”

Even blinks upwards, looking surprised that Isak’s the one who breaks the silence first. His expression looks cautiously hopeful, and Isak can’t wait until he crushes that hope, the same way Even crushed his own. “I’m on my phone so I won’t look at you.”

Isak glares at him. “But what are you doing on your phone?”

Even furrows his brows. “What does it matter?”

Isak scoffs, rolls his eyes. “Never mind,” he mutters. “It doesn’t.”

They stay silent for a minute.

“Pinterest,” Even offers finally. Isak glances at him. “I’m scrolling through Pinterest.”

Oh, Jesus Christ. This guy, this guy. He’s such a fucking dork. “You have a Pinterest?”

The corner of Even’s lips quirk upwards. “Yes,” he replies.

“What do you even do on that thing?”

“You pin things into categories—”

“I know the logistics, Even,” Isak crosses his arms over his chest. “I mean what do you even do on that thing.”

Even thinks for a moment. “I pin inspiration,” he seems to settle on this. “And recipes.”

Isak looks forward, avoiding Even’s gaze. He remembers Even sitting on his bed while Isak scrolled aimlessly through his Facebook, sketching into his notebook for hours, and when Isak asked him what he was drawing, Even would simply reply, “Just about everything, Isak.”

“The baked ziti you made me that one time,” Isak starts slowly. “Pinterest?”

Isak looks over to gauge Even’s reply. Even stares him straight in the eyes, nods quietly. Isak dips his toes into the blue of Even’s gaze, then pulls them right back out, looking away.

They stay silent for another minute or so, and then suddenly it’s broken by none other than their friendly neighborhood Julian, voice coming in through the call speaker.

“Hey, guys,” he says. Isak nearly jumps out of his skin. Even’s reaction is far more collected.

“Hi, Julian,” Even replies. Isak scowls at the speaker.

“Just calling to let you guys know that it’s been about fifteen minutes now, nothing much has changed.”

Isak stares at the call speaker. “Are you kidding me, Julian?”

Even’s snorting from where he sits on the opposite side of the elevator. Isak is so fucking glad he can find the humor in this situation, because Isak’s itching to get the fuck out of here and move the fuck on.

“What?” Julian sounds genuinely confused at the irritation in Isak’s voice.

“You don’t think we know that?” he asks. “We know how to tell time!”

“Wow, someone’s being a little ungrateful,” Julian says. “It’s not like you two are making scintillating conversation in there, you know. I’m doing you a favor. You’ll go crazy if you don’t talk to someone for three or four hours.”

Isak gapes. “You don’t go crazy that way,” he tells Julian slowly.

“You know, there are a lot of irritated people taking the stairs right now because of you two,” Julian replies happily. “I think you should keep that in mind if you feel like being snarky again.”

Even’s laughter gets louder. Isak’s very close to throwing his phone at him.

“Anyway, I’ll check back in later,” Julian tells them.

“Don’t feel obligated, please,” Isak mutters.

Julian ignores him, and hangs back up.

Even’s still laughing from his corner.

“Stop it,” Isak snaps.

Even continues to laugh. “I’m sorry,” he says, not sounding sorry at all. Isak hates the sound of his laugh, because it sounds like the flow of a river or the patter of raindrops against his window – soft and relaxing and beautiful on its own. He hates the sound of his laugh because it brings up memories made and memories that could have been made.

“Stop laughing,” Isak says, but this time his voice is quiet, almost like a plea.

Even’s smile immediately dims, and he stops. His eyes turn guilty, his expression sad. It looks like he wants to say a thousand words he hasn’t even come up with yet. Isak doesn’t want to hear any of them.

He turns his head to the right, stares at the bland brown wall of the elevator. He tries to quiet the memories, but they are as loud as Even’s presence, and he can’t quell them. They’re in his heart, and they play over and over, in high definition, in screaming color.

--

Three days after he meets Even, he sees him again in the hallway, dusting off a worn-looking rug.

Isak is leaving, locking the door and trying not to seem like he’s been looking for a way to stalk Even properly, but as soon as he turns around he’s struck by how much more attractive he is sober, and he may have been staring a little too long because Even looks up from where he’s dusting, meets Isak’s blushing gaze and grins.

“Hiya, neighbor,” he greets.

“Uh, hi,” Isak replies intelligently. “Why are you beating your rug up?”

Even laughs, and his laugh is loud and rhythmic. “I’ve recently been told that I need a new rug, because I’ve had this one since I was ten years old and it’s impossible to clean properly.”

“Oh?” Isak’s eyebrows rise. “And dusting it off will make it better?”

Even’s grin turns smug. “I’m making a statement, Isak,” he explains. “I’m saying, sure, maybe I can no longer get rid of the two stains at the edges of the rug, but I can at least get rid of the dust that seems to be etched into the stitching, and if that can be done, then nothing’s impossible.”

Isak snorts. “Or you could get a new rug,” he suggests.

Even gasps. “Isak,” he sounds scandalized. Isak wants to roll his eyes. “I can’t just get rid of this rug. Do you know what I’ve been through with it?”

“I haven’t known you since you were ten, so, no,” Isak replies, interest piqued despite himself.

“Isak, I have been through hell and back with this rug,” Even sighs dramatically as he turns the rug over. It’s ugly and the pattern looks like it belongs in the nineties again, but he doesn’t say anything. Even points to the first large stain on one edge of the rug. “It saw me through my first ever food poisoning, Isak. Throwing up buckets and buckets of puke and it stayed with me. Sure, this is the only stain that wouldn’t leave, but I find it a reminder. That I’m a fighter, and that the shrimp I ate tried – but failed! – to kill me,” Even sniffs theatrically. Isak’s officially amused. This guy’s something else – he’s cute, and he’s funny, and he’s weird, and Isak can’t help but be fucking endeared. “I refused to let my mother throw out the only reminder that I was a survivor.

“And this one right over here,” Even now points to the other stain, smaller in size, darker in color. “Is where I almost bled out. Rolled off my bed in my sleep, hit the corner of my end table, head slashed open,” Even nods. “True story. I managed to escape the jaws of death, and forevermore, this stain right here reminds me that I – am alive.”

Isak holds back his laughter. “Impressive,” he replies, smile crooked.

“Thank you,” Even replies proudly. “It’s practically my best friend. Some people have dogs for ten years, but me? I’ve got this rug right here.”

“Bet it looks great in your living room, then,” Isak offers.

“You could come in and see?” Even raises a casual eyebrow. “If you’ve nothing important to get to, maybe I’ll even share some of my jay with you. You can critique the positioning of the rug and talk to me about how well it matches the sofas, if at all.”

“I’m not much of an interior designer,” Isak replies hesitantly. It’s tempting. It’s very tempting. “So I don’t think my opinion would count for much.”

“On the contrary,” Even gestures towards Isak’s person. “Your taste seems to be impeccable, as per your outfit choice. You’re sporting a nice combination there. Button-down, black jeans, the – alright, the sneakers are a little questionable, but nobody’s perfect.”

“Har, har,” Isak rolls his eyes. “You’re doing an awful job at convincing me to come inside,” he points out.

Even shrugs. “At this point you’ve already made up your mind,” Even points out, and he’s not wrong. “I just need to know the answer.”

Isak swallows. He feels his phone vibrate twice in his pocket, and he knows it’s Jonas, asking where he is. He thinks he can get away with skipping on the pregame. He’ll just – make up an excuse. Say that he came down with a stomach virus, or something, he doesn’t fucking know, Jonas usually feels sorry enough for him that he’ll believe any excuse Isak throws his way.

Isak shrugs. “I was just going to the store,” he lies. “I guess I can come in for an hour or two.”

Even grins. “Sounds good.”

By the time they’re sitting on Even’s couch, they’re both laughing about the rug, which looks extra ugly while high, and matches absolutely nothing in Even’s apartment. It’s atrocious, and Even agrees, but he still refuses to get rid of it.

“That’s called hoarding,” Isak tells Even matter-of-factly. “It’s hoarding and it’s bad for you.”

“It’s not hoarding,” Even rolls his eyes. “Or you wouldn’t be able to walk through my apartment. It’s just – this particular rug that I can’t get rid of.”

“It’s really ugly,” Isak looks over at Even. “Like, really ugly. And it’s dirty.”

“That it is,” Even agrees. “But it’s all mine.”

This time, it’s Isak who rolls his eyes. “You’re so weird.”

Even smiles over at Isak. “That’s what they tell me,” he exhales, smoke coating the space before him. “So what’s your story, Isak?”

Isak hums. “I don’t have a story.”

“Everybody has a story,” Even points out. Isak doesn’t say that his story isn’t a story worth telling. “I should know, I’m a film student.”

Isak snorts. “No wonder you’re so pretentious,” he teases.

“Oy,” Even looks over at him with an amused glint to his eyes. Isak wants to bring it out as many times as he can. “What I’m saying is, I’ve learned any little detail about your life can be turned into a story. It could mean more to others than it means to you.”

“I don’t think so,” Isak shakes his head, taking another drag. On his exhale, he continues, “That’s like saying you have control over what happens in your life and what other people see in it. And I don’t think that.”

“No?” Even raises an eyebrow. Isak sees it through his peripheral. “You don’t think you have control over your life?”

“You do?” Isak looks at Even, and Even nods. “I think everything’s predestined, no matter what we do.”

Even licks his lips, takes another drag. After a moment, he says, “That sounds a lot like religion.”

Isak shrugs. “I was raised in a religious household,” he explains. “But I don’t necessarily believe in God.”

Even grins. “Ah,” he bumps his shoulder with Isak’s. Isak does not revel at the contact, if that’s what you think. “A story, I see.”

Isak rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, it’s not God, it’s science,” he adjusts his position on the couch so that his body is facing Even’s, one knee folded under his leg. “The universe decides what happens because the universe is in control. It doesn’t matter what decision you make, in the long run, because all of them are made. In infinite universes. We don’t have a choice; we make all of them.”

Even stares at Isak. “The jay doing anything for you?” he grins, teasing.

Isak laughs. “Yeah,” he breathes out. “I mean, could be doing more, douchebag, but so far so good.”

Even’s grin widens. “That’s what shotgunning’s for.”

Isak tilts his head. “What’s that?”

“Shotgunning?” Even raises an eyebrow. Isak thinks he looks especially good right now. “You’ve never shotgunned before, Isak?”

“Listen,” Isak starts slowly. “If – if I’m asking what that is, right, you can assume, then, that I have never done it before,” he raises both his eyebrows. “It’s not that hard to deduce, Even.”

Even grins. “Alright, smartass,” he holds up his blunt. “Shotgunning’s when you inhale the smoke out of the other person’s mouth, yeah? Makes for a smoother transition, and shit, it’s easy on the lungs, but the taste is better, somehow.”

Isak blinks. “That sounds intrusive.”

Even laughs. “It can be,” he agrees. “It’s pretty personal.”

Isak hums. Even stays silent for a moment.

“We should try it,” Even says, and Isak chokes on his inhale.

“What?”

Even shrugs. “What? You said the jay could be better, so let’s make it better.”

“We just agreed it was too personal,” Isak points out, though God, he wants it. The thought of Even’s lips anywhere near his? He wants it so badly.

Even raises both eyebrows. “Alright, hey, if it makes you uncomfortable, we won’t,” he holds up his hands, then takes another drag of his blunt. “Maybe try it with a girlfriend or something.”

Isak doesn’t know how to say there is no girlfriend because he’s gay as hell; in fact, he’s never known how to say it. When he was seventeen and came out, no one told him that he’d keep coming out for the rest of his life, so he’s mostly just – bypassed that. If no one asks, then it’s no one’s business, and so long as it’s not a girl trying to make him her husband, he thinks he can get away with not coming out a second or a third or a fifteenth time.

He swallows. “We can,” he decides, because he’s high and Even’s lips are very, very pretty. Even raises both his eyebrows.

“We can?”

Isak nods. “If you say it’ll do more for me, then I’m willing to try it.”

Even’s smile is crooked. “Alright,” he shifts his weight, so that now he’s facing Isak completely, the same way Isak is sitting now. “It’ll go like this: I’ll take a drag, then I’ll come closer and you’ll inhale it out of my mouth, alright? Then hold it in for as long as you can before you exhale. It’s a lot like kissing,” Even explains, and Isak’s stomach swoops at the words. “But not.”

“Okay,” Isak replies, because it’s just about all he’s capable of replying at the moment.

“Okay,” Even smiles kindly. “We don’t have to do this, you know.”

Isak rolls his eyes. “Stop trying to chicken out.”

Even laughs. “Alright, alright,” he nods. Just like the many times before this one, Even brings the blunt up between his lips, and takes a very long, very steady pull at the end. His eyes flutter shut, almost like he’s concentrating as he withdraws the blunt and holds in the smoke between his cheeks; and when his eyes open again, his hand reaches to cup the back of Isak’s neck.

Isak’s already shivering slightly as he’s pulled forward helplessly, and his lips part open as Even’s softly brush his own. True to his word, it’s a bit like kissing, but not – it’s tender, like a first kiss would be, maybe, but as Even exhales the smoke, it’s easy to forget what this could look like to the unsuspecting eye: instead, it’s a smooth transition of smoke from one mouth to another, the flood of it tickling the insides of Isak’s cheeks as he inhales, and Isak can’t help the experimental flicker of his tongue, chasing the taste. Even was right, it’s different, somehow, sweeter this way, and Even pulls back when it’s over. Isak closes his mouth.

“Now hold it in,” Even says quietly. There’s something in his gaze Isak can’t pinpoint, but it’s doing things to his stomach it has no business doing. “Good,” Even nods. “Ten seconds, at least.”

Isak counts. When he reaches ten, he exhales slowly, the smoke fogging Even’s expression.

The feeling in his lungs in indescribable, but the taste on his lips even more. There’s remnants of Even’s taste there, the ghost of his lips brushing against the sensation of the jay, and the twitching of Isak’s fingers has more to do with longing than the high.

When the smoke clears out, Even’s gazing at Isak intensely. “Good?” he asks, voice barely above a whisper.

“Yeah,” Isak replies, his own voice just as quiet. “Good.”

--

Isak can almost feel the tickle in his throat again, the taste of Even’s lips, but he’s broken out of his stupor by Julian’s loud voice over the call speaker.

“Hey, guys,” he greets. Isak refuses to engage him this time around, because fuck Julian, that’s why, so he pointedly looks away from the speaker in silent protest.

Even takes up the responsibility this time, when he realizes Isak isn’t going to say much of anything. “Hi, Julian,” he greets. “How’s it going out there?”

“Pretty boring,” he admits. “It’s probably why I keep calling on you guys.”

Isak can’t believe Julian’s a real person. Though now that he thinks about it, he could very well not be. Isak’s never seen him around the building. Isak didn’t even know there was someone in a maintenance office, just waiting to answer the call button in the elevator. What does Julian do, exactly?

Even probably knows. Isak’s not going to ask him, though.

“Sounds like a drag,” Even replies sympathetically, as if their situation isn’t far worse than fucking Julian’s. Isak hates him, hates that Even probably genuinely feels that Julian’s situation sounds like a drag, despite their situation being far worse than a guy being stuck at work.

“Why aren’t you guys talking anymore?” Julian asks. Oh, Jesus Christ, Julian, it’s none of your fucking business. “You okay in there, buddy?” Isak knows this is directed at him.

He looks at the call speaker. “Would you be okay stuck in an elevator, Julian?” he asks, voice cloying.

“Maybe, yeah, if it was with Even,” Julian tells him. Isak doesn’t know how to respond to that, because under any other circumstances, he’d probably agree. So he doesn’t.

Instead, Even voices this. “Isak has every right not to want to talk to me,” he explains to Julian conversationally. “I fucked up, see.”

“Whoa, for real?” Julian sounds shocked, like he can’t believe someone like Even could ever possibly fuck up. Isak would like to welcome Julian to the club, and hopes he feels the same crushing, axis-shifting disappointment Isak felt when he found out he very much could. “How’d you manage to do that?”

Isak’s pointedly not looking at Even. He can feel Even’s gaze, though. Staring straight into him the same way he’s always been able to, like he knows all of Isak. He does know all of Isak, he remembers. He knows every single inch of him.

“It’s a long story,” Even replies quietly.

“Hey, man, I’ve got time,” Julian offers. Isak wants to laugh at the irony.

Isak glances at Even, because he can’t help it, and catches him in the middle of a small, sad smile. “Not enough for this one, I think.”

Isak looks away.

“Why not?” Julian asks.

Even is silent for only a moment. And then: “Once I start talking about Isak, I seldom ever stop.”

--

Two weeks after their shotgunning incident, Isak meets Sonja.

It’s like a punch in the gut, because, so far, Isak and Even have been building quite a rapport.

By this he means, they’ve kind of – alright, maybe Isak’s been looking too much into this, but he was almost positive Even was interested in him, too.

And this is besides the shotgunning incident. That was pretty – that was pretty intimate, in and of itself, but these past two weeks have been – enlightening, Isak guesses he could say.

They’ve started doing this thing where they leave their doors open if they’re there at the same time, a casual thing, sometimes talking through the hallway, sometimes they’ll make their way inside when invited. Even says the open door helps air out the overpowering smell of some of his cooking endeavors, and Isak uses the weed excuse because he’s not creative whatsoever, but this usually means that they both end up in either one of their apartments, high and eating home-cooked meals.

Isak hasn’t had this many home-cooked meals since he was thirteen years old, and it’s kind of nice. A nice break from all the fast food and take out he’s been eating over the years, anyway.

They talk about everything and nothing – both Isak and Even have shamed each other for their music taste at some point, Even talks to him about all things film and Isak shares his love for biology and animals and the combination thereof, Even laughs at him when Isak tells him he loves National Treasure (“Unironically?” Even breathes out between laughs. Isak hits him with a throw pillow.) and Isak can’t believe Even can name up to five Carly Rae Jepsen songs, and sometimes they’ll quietly play FIFA, which Even is great at, and Isak lacks some skills at.

The point is that they’ve been spending – quite a lot of time together, so he doesn’t expect there to be a girlfriend. Even’s been spending a lot of his time in his apartment, except for when he says he goes to class, and Isak does the same (he’s even cancelled plans with the boys four times this week, even when they were so desperate for Isak’s company they offered to take him to a gay bar) so the idea of him ignoring his girlfriend for about two weeks is just; it makes Isak wonder.

Maybe Even’s brought her up before, during one of their conversations. Or maybe Even hasn’t brought her up at all, and that’s why it hurts this much when Sonja opens the door two weeks later, after Isak sees Even’s door closed, and looks confused to find him standing there.

“Can I help you?” she asks, and at first Isak wants to believe it’s a sister, someone platonic, someone who has no business in Even’s apartment, door closed.

But she looks far too comfortable in Even’s shirt, like she’d thrown it on just now, and Isak knows what this is before he even has confirmation.

“Uh, hi,” he greets her. “Uh, is Even home?”

“Yeah,” she smiles at him. “He’s just changing. Was there something you needed?”

A new fucking crush, apparently. “Oh, uhm, I left my coat here the other day,” he says, though after he does, he’s not sure if he should have. “Just came to get it back.” It’s Jonas’s, and Jonas is already peeved with him for ditching the guys so many times, so losing his coat is probably not something Isak should add to his list of grievances. “But I can come back another day—”

“No, you’re fine,” she tells him. “You can come in and look for it?”

Oh, he’d very much rather not. “No, that’s okay, just, uh, I’ll go—”

“Isak,” he hears Even’s voice approaching them, and he would very much like the ground to swallow him now, thank you. “What are you doing here?”

He asks that as if they haven’t spent every single day of the past week together, like he’s a stranger intruding in his home. Isak hates this feeling. He hates it almost as much as he hates Even right now, even though he knows it’s irrational, because Even promised him exactly nothing. It’s all been in Isak’s head, apparently.

“Just here to pick up the coat I left the other day,” he replies, as if it hadn’t been yesterday. “My friend wants it back.”

“Oh, yeah,” Even picks it up from where it’s lazily draped over the couch, walks towards the door to hand it to Isak. Isak clutches at it harshly. “This is Sonja, by the way,” he wraps an arm around her waist. “My girlfriend.”

Yeah, Isak knows. He’s known this entire time, but still. The confirmation stings.

Sonja smiles at him sweetly. “Hi,” she greets one more time. “Nice to meet you, Isak.”

“Yeah, likewise,” he nods. “Uhm, I’m gonna go ahead and go,” he holds up the coat. “Gotta get this back to my friend.”

“Right,” Even nods, and there’s a flicker of something that makes way through his expression, but it’s too quick to catch. “I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Isak replies, and he knows it’s petty of him, but he feels like he deserves to feel petty. He didn’t imagine the past week. He didn’t. He knows there was something there, and this is – this is unfair. “Goodbye, Sonja.”

“Bye, Isak,” she looks a little confused, but they both let him go, and Isak’s steps are hurried and long – he doesn’t even know if Jonas is home right now, but he’s willing to take the chance, because he’d much rather be there than in his own apartment, basking in the emptiness and the quiet of it, Even only a hallway away with his girlfriend, an uncomfortable reminder of what he thought was there, what he was sure was there, and is now far out of his reach.

--

To distract himself from the squeezing of his heart, Isak’s started to play Candy Crush on his phone. None of the guys are replying to his texts, which is to be expected – they’re at a party without him, so Isak’s not surprised. Still, he feels lonelier here, with Even, than he’s felt in a long time, so he’s hoping matching fake candy and crushing them will help, at least a little.

But because his life is what it is, his stomach suddenly growls loudly, and it sounds foreign in the small space enclosed around him and Even. Isak stiffens, and he can tell Even does too, as if they both don’t know what to do with this recent development. The noise hangs between them for a moment, and Isak cautiously goes back to his game, hoping his stomach behaves from here on—

And, nope, there it is again, and louder this time, if that’s possible, and Isak can’t help sighing in frustration. For once, he wants things to go his way, but his life’s decided to make this situation marginally more awkward by making him hungry, and making his stomach sound like a tiger’s escaped the zoo, and making Even rifle through the large paper bag he brought into the elevator with him.

“I’ve got ice cream,” Even says, and Isak looks over at him to see him holding a tub of it. Isak narrows his eyes. How very convenient. “It’s, uh, strawberry. Your favorite.”

Isak doesn’t point out that Even doesn’t even like strawberry – in fact, he made a whole speech about why strawberry was perhaps the worst ice cream flavor, right after mint chocolate chip, while standing on Isak’s couch holding up a tub of chocolate ice cream, ignoring Isak’s laughter from where he sat on the coffee table.

So he thinks he’s justified in finding it a little suspicious that Even would buy strawberry ice cream, and it must show on his face, because Even’s shrugging a little sheepishly at him.

“I was going to show up at your apartment with it,” he explains. “Though I mean – I guess this could work the same,” he bites his bottom lip, and Isak refuses to let his gaze trail the action, even though it wants to. “It’s going to melt if we don’t eat it and that’s just letting good ice cream go to waste.”

Isak’s stomach growls traitorously. He bites the inside of his cheek – he knows he’s going to give in, he’s just trying to figure out the way he’s going to do it. He doesn’t want to seem eager, and he doesn’t want Even to think he’s forgiven, but he does want the ice cream, and he also wants to see Even try to hide his distaste when he takes a bite out of it.

“I’ve got spoons,” Even sets the ice cream down beside him and reaches into the bag once again, pulling out a pack of plastic spoons. Isak’s not surprised – Even hates washing dishes. “It doesn’t have to mean anything, but you’re hungry and I’ve got ice cream and it just seems like a reasonable deduction, you know?”

Isak hates him. “Fine,” he replies curtly, standing from where he sits on the opposite corner of the elevator. “But you’re not allowed to try to scoot closer to me and don’t try and make any more conversation,” he warns. “I’m only doing this because I’m hungry.”

Even’s mouth twitches. “Alright,” he agrees.

Isak makes his way over to Even cautiously, sits beside the ice cream tub. Even’s already opened the pack of plastic spoon and is holding one out for Isak to take. Isak does.

Even then opens the tub of ice cream, which already looks soft but not completely melted, and Isak is the first one to dip his spoon in because fuck Even, that’s why, he broke Isak’s heart, Isak gets to have the first spoonful of ice cream.

The ice cream is cold on his tongue but melts almost immediately in his mouth, and he can’t help the way his eyes flutter shut at the taste. He’s an idiot, he knows, for liking the flavor so much, but it reminds him of home – before his father left, before his mother refused help, it was always this, strawberry ice cream on Sundays in front of the television and laughter and board games. It was family, and it was good.

Unsurprisingly, the sensation lasts until Julian breaks in, voice loud over the call speaker. “Hey guys!” he pipes up. “I see you’re eating ice cream.”

Even’s got a spoon in his mouth, so Isak replies this time. “What an astute observation, Julian, well done.”

“What flavor is it?” Julian asks. “I can’t read from here.”

Isak sighs. “Strawberry,” he deadpans.

“Ew.” Julian replies.

Even laughs, and Isak lets it slide, because he’s offended once again. “It’s a good flavor!” Isak insists. “It’s a very popular flavor, too, you’re the one who’s weird for not liking it.”

“Are we name-calling now, Isak?” Julian sounds amused. Isak doesn’t immediately hate him like before. He must have been right – Isak is going crazy in here. “I never called you weird.”

“That was me, actually,” Even chimes in. Isak glances at him. “I once told Isak he was weird for liking it.”

“It’s weird,” Julian agrees. “It’s so vanilla.”

“It’s strawberry,” Isak mumbles, and Even laughs, even though the joke is lame and he has no business laughing. Still, Isak holds on to the remnants of that laugh, holds them close to his heart as he stabs his plastic spoon back into the ice cream.

--

Things don’t change much after he meets Sonja.

Isak wants them to. He wants to be petty and angry, and he manages to be for about two days, until Even knocks on his door on the third and holds up an entire bag of Cheetos and a bag of weed. “It’s my day off,” he explains, and he’s looking at Isak so earnestly that he can’t help but pull the door open further and let him in. They play FIFA for the rest of the day and then Isak brings up Sonja as stealthily as he can.

“So your girlfriend,” he says. “Pretty.”

Even breathes out. “Yep,” he looks a little uncomfortable. “She is.”

“Been dating long?” Isak pushes. Whether he wants to catch Even in a lie or he’s being masochistic, he doesn’t know, but he wants something, something to work with, something that’s real.

Even swallows harshly, is looking pointedly at Isak’s ceiling. “Since we were fifteen,” he says, and oh, okay, well, shit.

Isak doesn’t say anything. He can’t find the words. He’s looking for them, knows they’re in there somewhere, and they’re not pleasant but they’re cruel and they’re the reality of this situation: that no matter what Isak thought there was between them, real or not real, he can’t compete with a girlfriend of six years. That’s not possible. That’s not palpable.

“Ah.”

“Let’s go somewhere,” Even says suddenly, and Isak looks at him, expression questioning. “Yeah. Come with me. Anywhere.”

Isak raises an eyebrow. “Why?” he asks, because why, Even, why would you want to go anywhere with him when you could be spending time with your six-year-long girlfriend, who’s beautiful beyond comparison? “It’s ten o’clock, pregames are over and parties started about an hour ago.”

“I don’t want to go to a party,” Even snorts. “I just want to go.”

Isak looks at him, considering. “Are you avoiding talking about Sonja?” he asks, feeling brave.

Even looks at Isak. “No,” he tells him. “But I also don’t want to talk about her.”

“She’s your girlfriend,” Isak points out. “You’re supposed to want to talk about her all the time.”

Even considers this. “Am I?” he frowns. “That’s strange.”

“What is?” Isak asks.

Even takes a drag of his blunt. “I talk about her only when I need to, always have. Isn’t that strange? I don’t feel like talking about her all the time. Never have. I can stop whenever someone tells me to. She’s great, but there’s not much to say about her.”

Isak is confused. “Why would you be telling me this?”

Even hums. “You wanted to know.”

“No, I really didn’t,” Isak snaps. “And that’s kind of mean, what you said.”

Even’s shoulders slump. “It is, isn’t it?”

“Why do you keep asking me for affirmation? Yes, it’s mean,” Isak can’t believe Even sometimes. He’s high, Isak knows it, but he’s never been so high that he seems confused by his own words. “She’s your girlfriend.”

“And she’s great,” Even confirms. “And she’s beautiful and all. But if I asked her to go anywhere with me right now, she wouldn’t,” he explains, as if this is supposed to be making any sense to Isak. “Will you come with me?”

Isak’s mouth opens and closes and opens again. He’s not sure what’s happening anymore, all he knows is the insane urge in the pit of his stomach, in the tips of his fingers, wanting so badly to follow Even into whatever wilderness he’s willing to lead him into. “I guess,” Isak grunts, throwing up his arms up in defeat. “Anywhere?”

Even grins. “Anywhere,” he stands, puts out his blunt inside the mug they’ve been using and holds out his hand dramatically towards Isak. “Come with me if you want to live,” he tells Isak, very seriously.

Isak rolls his eyes and stands on his own, ignoring Even’s hand, despite the urge to hold it. He puts out his own blunt and raises an eyebrow. “I don’t think I trust that.”

“Oh?” Even raises an eyebrow. “Then you should think twice about saying yes to me,” he warns. “Maybe you’re better off saying no.”

Isak considers this. “And if I do say no?”

“Then maybe you’re making a mistake.”

Isak doesn’t understand Even. He thinks that’s amazing. Maybe it says a lot about his self-preservation that he wants to follow him into whatever ambiguous adventure he’s got planned for them. Maybe it says a lot more that he knows Even’s got a girlfriend, and Isak doesn’t know where this’ll lead, but he wants to go anyway. He wants to go anywhere with Even.

“Then, yes.”

Even grins. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

Isak rolls his eyes. “I think you knew,” he tells him.

“Yeah,” Even nods. “I knew.”

And for a month afterwards, this becomes a thing. On a random day of the week, Even will ask Isak to go on an adventure with him. He will always warn Isak about saying yes, then warn him about saying no. Isak will always say yes.

This is how Isak finds himself dining and dashing from an expensive restaurant, heart beating a hundred miles an hour as they run and run and run until they can no longer be seen, stop at the nearest diner for some water, out of breath and sweating through their rented tuxedos. Even will laugh at how red Isak is in the face, and Isak will punch his shoulder, reminding him he’s not the only one. The exhilaration will not wear off for another two or three days, and the thrill of it reminds Isak he’s alive, and the grin Even wears on that night reminds him he’s not alone.

This is how Isak finds himself covering his face with both hands while he watches Even sing his heart out to Johnny Cash in the middle of the street, alongside a street performer who was minding his own business. Isak’s face will get even redder when Even walks towards him and removes Isak’s hands from his face, singing straight to him, in front of the entire amused crowd that’s formed around Even and the street performer. The street performer will eventually start singing along with Even, and somehow Even enchants the crowd enough so that most of them sing along, too. Isak doesn’t even know how this many people know Johnny Cash lyrics, but when it’s over, Even will tip the street performer handsomely, and pull Isak away from the scene of the crime by the wrist, and Isak will feel the ghost of the touch for days afterwards.

This is how Isak finds himself breaking into a public pool, Even and him stripping down to their underwear and playing a ridiculous game of Marco-Polo like ten-year-olds, having competitions over who can hold their breath underwater the longest and who can do the most impressive flip and dive into the pool. Neither of them are impressive enough, but it’s enough to keep them laughing and entertained, and for a moment Isak thinks Even might kiss him, but they’re interrupted by a shouting security guard coming their way and they’re escorted out with a warning, just because Even knows the guard and the guard knows him and they’re family friends.

Which all leads to now, where Even is leading him to an abandoned children’s playground at midnight, the small park illuminated only by the moon and the stars above them.

“This is creepy,” Isak admits. At least the public pool had lights. “Maybe we shouldn’t be here.”

Even looks back from where he’s leading in front of Isak, then turns completely to face Isak while still walking backwards. “Are you scared, Isak?”

“Fuck you, I’m not scared,” he rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, there are hardly any lights here, or whatever.”

Even shrugs. “I can see you just fine,” he tells him. Isak licks his lips. “Can you see me?”

All the time. “Yeah,” he replies, doing his best to sound bored.

Even grins. “Then that’s all that matters.”

Isak sighs loudly to show his irritation and Even does nothing but laugh at him – he turns to walk forwards again and stops under the monkey bars. Isak stops right beside him, looking up at the bars himself, before looking over at Even. “What are you thinking?”

“I think I want to climb the monkey bars, Isak,” he grins. “Have you ever been good at them?”

Isak shrugs. “Haven’t tried in a million years.”

Even hums. “You can try after me.”

Isak snorts. “Okay.”

Even is too tall for the shorter monkey bars, but on the opposite end of the playground there are taller ones, fit for the older, more extreme children, Isak guesses, because they’re ridiculously tall, as tall as the second story of the set, and shouldn’t this be a safety code violation? Isak is sure there have been many an accident on those monkey bars, but it doesn’t matter now, he supposes, because Even is making his way up the set by walking up the slide, almost bumping his head as he ducks from the small castle roof above him, then makes his way over to the monkey bars.

Isak follows him from where he is on the ground, watching in amusement as Even grabs onto the first bar and lets himself fall, fists gripping the bar tightly. “Having fun yet?” Isak calls out, stepping under the monkey bars, a few feet away from where Even hangs.

Even grins down at him. “Yep,” he calls out. He moves forward one arm at a time, until he’s about three bars away from Isak. “Watch this,” he tells him, and after a few coordinated movements, Even is now hanging upside down from his knees.

“This can’t be good for your blood circulation,” Isak laughs, walking to where Even’s head now reaches his shoulders. “And if you fall, you’re probably a goner.”

“Sounds like a risk I’m willing to take,” Even grins at Isak. “Why don’t you take it, too?”

“’Cause I’m not an idiot,” Isak raises an eyebrow. “And also, I kinda like being alive.”

Even hums. “I kinda like it, too, when I’m with you.”

Isak doesn’t have time to delve any further into what Even means by these words, let alone ask, because his hand is suddenly caressing the side of Isak’s face softly, fingers stroking what they can reach of his hair.

Isak swallows harshly. His words allude him, and he does nothing but stare into Even’s eyes, which are now looking at Isak’s lips.

He doesn’t know what Even wants from him. No, that’s a lie – he has an inkling, but if he’s wrong, then what happens?

Even’s eyes flicker to meet Isak’s gaze. There’s a question in them, one that warrants a yes or a no.

The answer is always yes.

Isak exhales shakily, and then he steps forward, leans in, and kisses Even.

It should feel like nothing extraordinary – it’s lips on lips, but that’s what makes it so good: it’s Even’s lips upside down and on Isak’s upright and it’s the taste of the milkshakes they’d eaten earlier and it’s the softness that quietly whispers dreams and desires to Isak on a lazy day and it’s the laughter that envelops him on a sunny day and it’s nothing but Even’s lips and his lips, but it’s him and it’s Even and that’s what makes it perfect, that’s what makes it theirs.

They pull apart for a second and then Even chases Isak’s lips, brings them together one more time. Even sounds out of breath and that’s the only reason Isak pulls away again, because he doesn’t want to be the reason Even has a heart attack. He laughs. “You sound tired,” he teases quietly.

Even wrinkles his nose. “Okay, yeah, this is starting to get a little uncomfortable,” he laughs.

Isak laughs with him. “Did you seriously do all of this just to Spiderman-kiss me?” he asks.

Even grins. “Absolutely I did.”

--

The memory stains Isak’s shirt.

That is to say, the ice cream on his spoon melts while he drifts off for a moment, and that stains Isak’s shirt, the pink of it also making way to his jeans, and he’s staring down at it in defeat, because this is his life, and at this point he’s actually surprised he hasn’t spontaneously combusted.

“Oh,” Even seems to either notice Isak’s stain or his defeat. “Hang on.” Isak glances over to where Even is reaching into the paper bag once again, rifling through it, and then he’s pulling out a sealed two-pack of paper towels.

Even turns to look at Isak while holding the pack in his hands, and their gazes meet for about five seconds before the laughter bubbling in Isak escapes through his mouth. He can’t help it – the ice cream, the paper towels, the God damn elevator; it’s all too much for him. It’s too much too fast and the memories are flooding into him like a broken dam and he’s losing it, anyway, so why not lose it while laughing.

Even looks a little uncomfortable for a moment, but when Isak reaches for the paper towels and their hands brush momentarily, his expression picks up. Isak shakes his head in disbelief, staring at the paper towels the same way, before looking back at Even. “I guess you do owe me a roll,” he sighs. Even’s lips twitch.

“You know I never ran out of paper towels that day,” he admits, and this piques Isak’s interest.

“What?”

“I made it up as an excuse to come over,” he explains. “When I was looking at the place, I saw you walking out of your apartment and you looked – and, anyway, I asked Vilde what your name was, and she told me—”

“I fucking knew I never told you my name,” Isak mutters, betrayed despite himself.

“—and so I orchestrated the whole thing at the last minute. I even threw all of my paper towels in the trash just in case, for some reason, you decided to come over and check for yourself.”

Isak stares at Even for a moment, then bursts out laughing again. This time, there’s nothing sad about it – it’s genuine laughter, the kind that feels good, the kind of laughter that builds inside you after days of crying, the kind fighting for release, it’s the kind of laughter you save for the person you care for the most, the kind of laughter that tickles your throat and tastes of sweets. It’s the kind of laughter Isak’s missed, and the kind of laughter Even joins him in.

“Are you fucking serious?” Isak breathes out between laughs.

“Looking back at it now, it was very wasteful of me.”

Isak covers his face with his hands. “You’re unbelievable.”

“What can I say,” Even’s voice is a little quieter now. “You bring out the stupid in me.”

Cheating on your girlfriend’s pretty stupid, he doesn’t say.

Their laughter’s died down now, and Isak stares at the ice cream between them. He suddenly doesn’t feel much like eating it, the fluttering of his stomach unpleasant and mocking.

“I was smitten with you since then,” Even then breaks the silence, voice quiet and gaze burning a hole through the side of Isak’s face. “From the moment I first saw you.”

Isak swallows. “That’s not fair,” he replies, voice just as quiet.

“No,” Even says. “No, it’s not.”

--

Isak and Even kiss a couple of more times in the playground, and then Isak tells Even they should probably stop kissing there lest they get arrested for public indecency. Even tells him he’s crazy, but Isak would rather not risk being on the sex offenders registry, so they leave. Even holds his hand all the way home, grinning like a maniac and talking to Isak about all the things he wants to do with him. Isak reminds him he still has a girlfriend, which deflates him. They’re silent, then, for the rest of the walk home, and when they reach their doors, Even strokes Isak’s cheek with his thumb softly.

“I’m going to break up with her,” he promises Isak. Isak’s heart squeezes. He wants to believe him. “Just give me some time, okay?”

Isak bites his bottom lip. “I don’t – I don’t want anything until you do,” he warns. Even nods.

“I get that.”

But Isak can’t help stealing one more kiss for himself, and that kiss gets him through the next week, because it’s a week sans Even.

Isak doesn’t mean to be doubtful. But he is, because doubt is something that creeps in even when you don’t want it to, so that’s exactly what he is when Even doesn’t reply to his texts or he keeps his door closed or he’s suspiciously absent from the apartment building. Isak is doubtful because maybe this is exactly what he wanted from Isak – a midnight rendezvous and then nothing at all, to leave him empty-handed and with only a memory that could have been a dream, for all Isak knows.

Jonas notices his mood halfway through the week. “What’s this about?” he asks Isak.

Isak shrugs. “Nothing,” he mutters, the lie falling flat, even to his own ears.

“Yeah, okay,” Jonas pauses the video game right before Isak can make a goal, then looks over at him. “But you know you can tell me, right? Whatever it is.”

Isak’s lips thin. “Yeah, I know.”

They’re silent for a moment. “Is this about Even?”

Isak’s head snaps to look at Jonas. Jonas looks like he hasn’t just admitted to knowing what Isak’s been trying to keep secret for the past month and a half. Isak sputters, but before he can form a coherent reply, Jonas holds up a hand.

“You’re not as slick as you think, Isak,” he rolls his eyes. “We all know. The guy’s door is wide open whenever we come over, he’s the one name blowing up the notifications on your phone, and you’re always smiling like an idiot at random times throughout the day,” he raises an eyebrow. “So, is this about him?”

Isak squirms. “Kind of?” he shakes his head. “I don’t know, we’ve been – it’s been – good, and he Spiderman-kissed me—”

Jonas barks a laugh. “Dude, what the fuck,” he says, and Isak grins.

“I know, right? He’s a fucking dork, and he’s cheesy, but he’s—” Isak sighs in frustration as he feels his face grow hot. “But he’s smart, too, and he’s creative, and when he smiles it’s like – and, I don’t know, he can talk to me for hours and I wouldn’t get tired listening to what he has to say, and he draws, did I tell you that? He’s so good at it, too, has drawings hung all over his apartment walls, doodles on napkins at the restaurants we go to. And he said – he said he was going to break up with his girlfriend—”

“Whoa,” Jonas interrupts. “He has a girlfriend?”

Isak nods.

“He’s had one this entire time?”

Isak nods again, this time a little more shamefully.

Jonas’s eyebrows judge him.

“I didn’t – it’s not like we did anything, not until four days ago—”

“Don’t you think emotional cheating’s way worse than physical?” Jonas raises an eyebrow. “I feel like that’s what you two have been doing. Judging by your smiles, anyway. And everything you just told me. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t been doing anything physical since you’ve met, I think – you two have a connection, and it’s fucked up that he’s led her and you on this entire time.” Jonas puts down the controller just to cross his arms over his chest, because he can’t be judgmental unless he’s being it with every part of his body. “So he better break up with his girlfriend,” he says warningly, though he knows the warning isn’t for him. “Because otherwise, we’ll be having some words.”

Isak snorts. “Chill,” he tells Jonas. “I trust him. He’ll break up with her.”

Jonas gives him a look.

“He will,” Isak insists, but it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself more than Jonas. “He will.”

And he does. Three days later, it’s raining and it’s ten o’clock, Isak’s in his pajamas and watching Dr. Phil yell at people when there’s a knock at his door. He drags his feet towards it and when he pulls it open, Even is there, drenched, clothes sticking to his body and hair doing the same to his head. He’s wet from head to toe.

“I broke up with her,” he says in reply to Isak’s gaping mouth. “It’s over, I broke up with her.”

“Uh—” he doesn’t get another word in before his head is cradled between Even’s hands and his lips are pressed against Isak’s. The kiss is wet and uncomfortable but it feels like a thousand of them rolled into one, and there’s a weight in his heart that lifts, one he hadn’t even been aware was there the entire week. He kisses Even some more and pull him inside and he hears Even kick the door closed and then clothes are flying off and hands are all over skin and then—

They don’t do anything that night. Isak pulls away as soon as it seems they might be going somewhere and insists Even takes a shower. Even looks at him like Isak’s just taken away his Christmas present, but he doesn’t waver in his stance. “I’ll join you,” Isak tells him, and Even smiles lightly.

“Okay,” he replies, and then they’re both in the shower, kissing slowly and taking their time with it like they’ve got all of it, all of the time in the world, and their kisses are peppered all throughout their necks and their jaws and then they find their lips again and it’s slow and their arms envelop each other and Even’s fingers keep finding the side of Isak’s face and it’s sweet. It’s sweet. Isak doesn’t recognize the chills that spread throughout his whole body and he doesn’t resent the butterflies in his stomach and he ignores the half-hard erection he’s sporting, because it’s good, and he doesn’t need anything else. He just needs Even, he tells himself. He just needs Even.

When the shower is over, they both get dry and Isak lets Even borrow some clothes and the room is dark by the time they’re both under Isak’s sheets, Isak’s head pressed to Even’s chest and Even’s nose nuzzling Isak’s hair. Isak doesn’t bring up Sonja, not yet, because he can feel Even’s not ready to talk about it, so they talk quietly about nothing at all.

“What’s your favorite color?” Isak asks, during a lull in the conversation.

Even hums. “The color of your eyes,” he replies after a moment.

“So, green,” Isak guesses.

“No, not green,” Even replies. “The color of your eyes.”

Isak thinks on this. Even asks, “And yours?”

Isak’s lips quiver on the word “blue”. He can feel the outline of Even’s knowing smile on his head. Isak’s head turns up and he kisses Even, the kiss soft and quiet and blending seamlessly into the dark. When they pull apart, Isak’s chin falls onto Even’s chest and he finds the blue of his eyes through the light coming in from the window, and Even strokes his hair softly.

Even’s looking straight at him when he says, “I’ve never felt this way before. Didn’t even know I could.”

Isak’s smile is lopsided. “Good?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Even chukles, running his fingers through Isak’s hair one more time, nose nuzzling his own. “Good.”

When morning comes and breaks them from their reverie, Even makes them breakfast.

The radio is playing softly in the background and he’s making eggs with sour cream, which Isak is quick to point out is weird, even by Even standards.

“You’ll be eating your words once you taste it,” Even warns, cooking spoon held out towards Isak. Isak makes a face. “And this. Your words and this.”

Isak raises an eyebrow. “I don’t trust it,” he tells Even. Even laughs.

“Eat it, you big baby,” he insists, and Isak opens his mouth to try the eggs from the spoon. It’s not bad – it’s strange, and a little foreign in his mouth, but not bad, by any means.

Isak knows that Even can see this written on his face, because his smile is smug. “Shut up,” Isak tells him, and Even laughs. “You don’t get to rub this in my face after all the other shit you’ve pulled around me.”

“I have pulled no shit,” Even sniffs, turning back to the stove. “I’ve been nothing but normal.”

“Yeah, okay, ten-year-rug,” Isak teases. Even turns to glare at him, and Isak can’t help leaning forward the kiss the corner of his mouth.

When Even reaches to turn the stove off, the radio starts playing an Adele song, and Even gasps. “Oh,” Even wags his eyebrows at Isak, which already means something bad. “Oh, Isak, do you hear this?” he dances over to the radio, highers the volume. Adele is singing about bringing someone to their knees. “Water Under the Bridge? Come on, it’s a wonderful song,” he dances his way over to Isak.

“No,” Isak walks backwards, and his bottom hits the table. “I’m not doing this with you again.”

Even’s starting to sing along, and Isak shakes his head furiously. “This is like that time, with the street performer—”

“Oh, come on, we’re alone,” Even insists. He’s grinning so wide Isak wonders if his cheeks hurt, then he realizes he’s grinning just as wide and he can’t feel the pain. “If you don’t dance with me I’ll take this all back.”

Isak shrugs. “I guess you’ll have to go home, then.”

Isak,” Even laughs, takes his hands. “It’s so co-ooh-old out here—”

“Even, stop,” Isak laughs. Even ignores him, pulls him back to the middle of the kitchen. “This is not happening.”

Even starts singing along louder, moving Isak’s limp arms along to the music. Isak rolls his eyes as far back as he can to show his annoyance, but he can’t help feel endeared, like the first time he met Even, which feels like a lifetime ago.

“If you’re not gonna dance with me, I’m gonna have to dance around you, which is far more awkward,” Even tells him. Isak laughs.

“Better than dancing with, I think,” he says. Even shakes his head.

“Nope,” he wraps an arm around Isak’s waist and pulls him closer. The song shifts into the chorus, and suddenly Even’s forcing him to dance along to the music, hips swaying while he turns Isak in circles. He’s singing straight to Isak about letting him down gently, and Isak groans at the absolute corniness of this entire moment.

“I hate you,” Isak laughs, but he gives in, lets Even do what he will with him. “Like, a whole lot.”

Even grins. “Nah, I don’t think you do,” he leans forward and presses a kiss to Isak’s lips before sliding away, letting Isak go, then dancing right back towards him and grabbing Isak’s hand to spin him around once.

Isak can’t believe this. Isak can’t believe him. And even so, when he’s pulled closer to Even once more, he lets Even’s arm enclose him and his other hand wrap around Isak’s and he lets Even lead him into a dance along with the song, and he laughs and they kiss and in this moment, he’s happy, he’s happy, and he doesn’t think anyone can take that from him.

--

Isak thinks that maybe this memory is what allows him to talk to Even, allows him to laugh at the things Even’s talking to him about while eating strawberry ice cream. Maybe he forgets, in the moment, that things aren’t as happy as they were back then, and Even’s talking to him about a spider he “saved from his apartment” the other day and named Magnus after Isak’s Magnus when Julian chimes in again and breaks Isak out of the spell.

“Hey guys,” Julian says.

“Hey, Julian,” they both reply in unison.

“Just checking in to see how you are doing,” Julian sounds amused. Isak resents him.

“We’re doing pretty fucking stuck, Julian,” Isak replies, and Julian sighs. Isak can almost see him nod.

“Yeah, I wasn’t expecting anything different.”

Isak sighs loudly. He’s really enjoying this bonding time with Julian, really, but the guy’s starting to get on his nerves a little bit, and he doesn’t really understand anything that’s happening, and when he says goodbye again there’s silence around Isak and Even once more, like the conversation they’d been having prior never existed.

“So—” Even sounds like he’s about to go down A Road. Isak doesn’t want to hear this.

“I think,” Isak interrupts. “That maybe we shouldn’t talk anymore.”

Even looks at Isak, but Isak avoids his gaze. He stabs the spoon into the softened ice cream and says nothing else.

“Yeah,” Even replies quietly. “Okay.”

--

Things are good for a month and a half.

Like, really good. So infuriatingly good Isak’s started to get annoyed by his own smile, because Even’s always there, and Even always makes him happy.

He makes Isak watch all of the Star Wars movies, and Isak can’t actually figure out his movie taste, because he goes from this to making him watch Pretty Woman, to making him watch Baz Luhrmann films and then The Get Down, for good measure, to making him watch The Breakfast Club. When Isak asks him what the hell he bases what “good movies” are on, Even shrugs his shoulders and explains to Isak that he wouldn’t be able to stop explaining.

They alternate between his and Even’s apartment now, and he doesn’t even know whose is whose anymore at one point. Clothes and belongings are scattered across both, and it makes it hard to find what they’re looking for, some of the time. One day, Even can’t find his wallet, and the conversation looks a little like this:

“Is my wallet at yours?”

“No, you had it here, didn’t you?”

“I can’t find it.”

“Oh, you know, it might be in my bathroom—”

“Yeah, ‘cause of the—”

“Yeah, yeah.”

And the wallet is in Isak’s bathroom, and Even kisses him and suggests they start a sign-in chart, because shit like this is going to keep happening for a very long time if they don’t. Isak doesn’t allow his heart to soar at the words “very long time”, but it’s a very near thing.

They spend quiet afternoons together, where words aren’t necessary, and Even will spend hours sketching into his notebook and Isak will alternate between looking at him and playing the PS4, then look at him again and sometimes Even will look up and give him a soft smile, a soft look, and they’ll both leave what they’re doing and make out for a long time, hands exploring and lips exploring and there is biting and then they’re one, and it’s usually fast and rushed, mostly because they can’t ever wait.

He introduces Even to the boys, and it all goes surprisingly well, all things considered. Jonas sizes him up at first, but ends up warming up to him, considering it’s been a month and a half and there hasn’t been any lasting damage so far. They talk about socialism and capitalism, share blunts, and Jonas doesn’t blink twice when Even’s hand rests itself on Isak’s thigh and stays there.

Magnus likes him the most, though, maybe a little too much, so Isak’s keeping an eye on him. He hangs on to every word Even says, whether it be about a movie or the fucking bathroom, and keep nudging Isak’s stomach with his elbow and telling him how cool Even is. Isak tells him over and over that he knows, Even’s his boyfriend, he’s aware of how cool his boyfriend is.

(He doesn’t tell him Even’s actually a huge fucking dork, because that side of Even is all his, and Isak’s going to keep it his own until the truth inevitably comes out.)

And Mahdi laughs a lot at every joke Even tells them, whether or not it actually lands, and he talks to Even about hip hop and the stigma that surrounds it. They engage in a civilized debate about whether or not hip hop was actually created to be marketed for white youth, and while this is happening Jonas taps him on the shoulder.

Isak turns over to him. “Yeah?” he asks. Jonas smiles at him.

“I’m happy for you,” he tells him quietly. Isak doesn’t blush. “I haven’t seen you this happy in – a long time,” he admits, and Isak knows what he means. Even now, years after everything went to shit in his home life, it affects him at random times, more than he likes to admit. The only person who’s ever seen just how much, actually, is Jonas, which is probably why he’s getting so sappy right now.

“I know,” Isak smiles right back at Jonas, bumps his shoulder against his friend’s. “Thanks.”

There’s a moment that doesn’t escape Isak, however, one of the most important moments throughout this month and a half, when they’re getting ready for a party, and Isak keeps looking at himself distastefully in the mirror.

Even walks up behind him, looks at him through it and wraps his arms around Isak’s stomach. “What are you looking at?” Even asks teasingly. Isak rolls his eyes.

“I don’t like this shirt,” he mutters, and Even sighs.

“That’s the third I’ve picked out for you, the rest of them are—”

Isak shrugs off Even’s arms, walks back towards his closet. “I don’t need you picking out my clothes for me,” he snaps. “I’m just not comfortable in this, alright?”

Even doesn’t look offended, just confused. “Hey,” he walks over to him, takes Isak’s hands in his own. Isak avoids his gaze. “Hey,” Even’s voice is a little more firm this time, making Isak meet his gaze. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Isak rolls his eyes. “It’s just easier to blend in with my own clothes, alright? The same ones I use,”

“Isak, you look good in anything, but I have a feeling there’s more going on here,” Even raises his eyebrows. “What’s wrong?” he asks again.

Isak licks his lips. “What’s wrong is that no matter what I wear, it’s not gonna matter, ‘cause people’ll still wonder how the hell someone like me is with someone like you, and—”

“What?” Even backtracks, looking genuinely taken aback. “What are you talking about?”

“I think we both know you’re the attractive one in this rela—”

“Oh, fuck that,” Even frowns at him. “Jesus, Isak, have you felt this way the entire time?”

Isak takes his hands back and shrugs, trying for nonchalant. “Okay, Even, let’s drop it—”

“Isak, you’re fucking hot,” Even laughs disbelievingly. Isak doesn’t appreciate being laughed at, so he turns back to the closet and heatedly grabs for whatever plain tee he can reach. “Isak,” Even reaches to touch his shoulder, and Isak shrugs that off, too.

“Let it go, Even,” he growls, and Even turns him around gently.

“No,” his blue gaze meets Isak’s green one. “You’re very attractive, Isak. I don’t just go for anyone, I’m sure you’ve noticed, and I didn’t know you when I saw you, so why do you think I’d even try to court you?”

Isak snorts. “Court me?”

“Can we focus?” Even asks. “The first thing I noticed about you was your looks. How can you think you’re not – you’re not – Jesus, I can’t even – you’re beautiful,” he insists.

Isak doesn’t like feeling like he’s garnering pity, so he sighs in frustration. “It doesn’t matter, Even—”

“Do you not know what you look like?” Even blinks. “Do you seriously not know what you look like? You’ve a mirror right there, and you don’t know?”

Isak looks at him. “No,” he deadpans. “Do you know what I look like?”

“Absolutely I do,” Even replies. “Ask me.”

“What?”

“Ask me what I think you look like,” he crosses his arms over his chest. “Go on.”

Isak groans. “Will it make you stop?”

“Yes,” Even replies.

“Fine,” Isak sighs. “What do you think I look like?”

There’s a moment in which Even hums, takes Isak’s hands. “You know that half hour, maybe an hour if we’re pushing it, when you no longer see the sun but it’s not quite set yet; that place in the horizon, where the orange meets the yellow and the yellow meets the blue?”

Isak blinks. “Sure?”

“That’s what you look like,” Even says softly, holding up a hand to stroke the side of Isak’s face. “Soft, beautiful, tired. You’re the ray of light before the dark settles around everything. If I had to draw you, those are the colors I’d use,” he presses his forehead against Isak’s, and Isak feels his breath ghost over his lips. “They’d blend perfectly inside of you. I think that’s what you’re made up of. Light.”

Isak swallows. “That literally made no sense to me,” he laughs quietly, though his heart is racing and his throat is knotting.

Even smiles softly. “You are the most beautiful person I’ve ever laid my eyes on, Isak Valtersen,” he whispers. “Maybe that’ll make more sense to you.”

And, yes. It does.

--

Now that they’re back to the quiet of the elevator, they both nearly jump out of their skins when Isak’s text notification tone goes off. He reaches into his coat pocket to fish it out, and he sees a text from Jonas. They’ve been in this elevator now for officially two hours, and Isak doesn’t know where the time went.

He opens the text.

just cockblocked Magnus. did it for you. you’re welcome x

Isak can’t even bring himself to laugh. Still, he replies:

good job. shit’s still awkward af in here if you were wondering

talk to him.

Isak locks his phone, because fuck Jonas, that’s why.

Isak glances at Even. He’s staring blankly at the wall in front of them, almost like he’s given up entirely. Isak doesn’t know what that makes him feel. Whether it’s relief or pain. He wants the pain to stop. It’s been housing in his heart for too long, but he doesn’t know how to make it stop. He’s tired. Even looks tired, too.

Julian calls. “Hey guys,” he calls. Neither of them reply. “Why’d you all stop talking? You looked like you were having a good time in there for a minute,” he sounds genuinely curious.

Isak scoffs softly. “We have nothing else to talk about,” Isak replies. Even looks like he flinches, but Isak can’t tell from where he’s looking. “Not anymore.”

--

He remembers the night before it all went to shit. Two weeks after the month and a half mark.

It’s the night Isak decides to open up, because Even asks him to.

They’re lying together in bed, darkness around them, ready to sleep. Even’s chest is pressed to Isak’s back, arm wrapped around his waist. They’re talking, like they usually do before they fall asleep, when Even asks the question.

“Why don’t you ever talk about your parents?” It’s quiet. Isak bites his lip, glad Even can’t see his expression.

“There’s nothing to say about them,” he sighs. “My dad pays for my rent because he feels guilty, my mom – isn’t all there,” he says slowly. Even shifts slightly behind him, which usually means he wants Isak to turn around, so Isak does, still in his arms. Their noses brush. “They’re not like yours. We’re not – a family anymore, I guess,” he shrugs. “It’s whatever.”

Even brings his hand up to stroke Isak’s hair. “I’m sorry,” he mutters. “Your dad, then. He feels guilty because…?”

Isak sighs. “He left us,” he explains. “Me and my mom. Just – couldn’t deal with my mom’s worsening condition, I guess. I don’t blame him, not entirely. My mom refused – still refuses – to get help. Schizophrenic,” Isak explains. “I don’t want to call her crazy, but sometimes that’s what it feels like.”

Even does nothing but continue to stroke Isak’s hair, stares straight into his eyes. Isak loves to drown in the blue of them.

“But I do blame him for leaving me, too,” he admits quietly. “He left a fifteen-year-old to deal with a mother who couldn’t recognize him half the time, would yell at him and throw shit at him,” he scoffs. “He couldn’t even have the decency to – to take me with him, or something,” Isak swallows the knot in his throat. Even’s hand feels like a lifeline on his hair. “So I left as soon as I could, too.”

“Where’d you go?” Even asks.

“To a friend’s,” Isak tells him. He doesn’t delve into Eskild, or the story that got him there, because it’s a little too much for this late at night, he thinks. “Lived there until I graduated secondary. I just couldn’t – I couldn’t handle it. It wasn’t good for me.”

Even is quiet for a moment. “Your mom’s illness?”

“Yeah,” Isak smiles at Even sadly. “I think I’m just better off not dealing with mental illness, you know? I can’t have that shit in my life,” he shrugs lightly. “It’s not fair to me.”

Even looks at him. He looks like he’s deep in thought. “I get that,” he says quietly. “Will you kiss me?”

Isak furrows his brows. Since when does Even have to ask? He leans forward and kisses Even softly. Even’s grip on his hair is suddenly tighter, like he’s afraid to let go.

Their lips don’t break apart when Even turns Isak over on his back, when he straddles his lap. Their lips don’t break apart when Even’s hands make way under Isak’s shirt, and they’re running out of breath, Isak’s own lungs burning. Their lips don’t break apart, not for a second, not when their clothes come off entirely and they don’t break apart until Even’s lips find Isak’s jaw, softly peppered kisses making Isak shiver everywhere.

“I know you,” Even whispers quietly, their skin pressed to one another’s. “I know every part of you, Isak.”

Isak breathes out shakily, hands unable to do anything but grip tightly at Even’s hair.

“I know this freckle on your shoulder,” Even kisses it. “I know this freckle on your chest,” he kisses that, too. “I know the way your lips part and the way your breath hitches.”

Isak’s lips and breath do just that.

“I know the way you cry,” Even’s teeth bite down on Isak’s skin. Isak’s back arches into the touch. “I know the way you laugh.” Even comes back up, tongue swiping at Isak’s bottom lip. Isak wants to chase it, but Even doesn’t give it a chance to. He nuzzles Isak’s neck. “I know the gestures you make when you love,” he kisses the spot he was nuzzling before. “And the ones you make when you hate.”

Teeth scrape downward. “I know your colors, I know you, I do,” Even is breathless. “I know what I have. I’m so grateful for what I have,” he kisses down Isak’s chest. Isak can’t feel anything but the shiver down his spine and the hair rising on his arms. “I’m so grateful for you.

“And I hope to know you for the rest of my life.”

They make love that night, slow, like they never have before. Isak wants to rush it, but Even drinks him in instead, as if it’ll be the last time. Their fingers lace and their bodies move in synchronization and they both reach their climax at the same time, and afterwards Even holds him tighter than he ever has before and Isak falls asleep to the sound of Even’s breath and the feeling of his fingers in Isak’s hair.

The next morning, Even is gone.

There’s no trace of him, nothing but a torn notebook paper where his place on the bed used to be. It’s a drawing of the horizon, and underneath it, it reads:

Maybe this is where the dark settles.

--

“It wasn’t fair,” Isak says quietly, suddenly, without looking at Even. He feels more than sees Even’s head snap over to him. “You made me think – you made me think it was good, you made me feel like I was—” Isak swallows. “It wasn’t fair.”

Even stays silent for a moment. “I know,” he admits. “You deserved an explanation.”

Isak doesn’t look at him.

“I never lied about my feelings, Isak.”

“Somehow that doesn’t make it better,” Isak replies.

They don’t look at each other. They let the confessions hang in the air between them. Neither reach out for them, neither of them continue.

--

Isak tries texting, Isak tries calling, Isak tries knocking loudly on his door. Isak tries everything, Isak yells at him through the door, Isak demands to know what went wrong. Even gives him nothing, Even says nothing, Even is never home anymore.

He lives across the hall but he’s miles and miles away, and Isak can’t reach him, and Isak has never hated anyone more in his entire life.

He doesn’t want to be a mess, he hates crying, but it’s what he does for an hour when he realizes Even is gone, Even isn’t picking up, Even is done with him. He throws a couple of things, breaks them, rips some of the shirts Even left in his apartment apart. He’s never had his heart broken, but fuck, now he gets why they call it that. His heart feels cracked straight down the middle, and it hurts, physically, like he’s been injured, and he hates it.

The boys come over when they don’t hear from Isak. Jonas immediately envelops him in a hug when he sees Isak’s state, somehow knowing exactly what’s happened. Isak doesn’t hug him back from where he’s sitting on the floor. Mahdi and Magnus exchange a glance, but eventually, they catch on, too.

Mahdi suggests they vandalize his apartment. “You say he’s never there anymore,” he tells Isak. “We could break in. I’ll break everything. You can break some things, too. We’ll steal all of his weed and really hit him where it hurts.”

Magnus suggests they try calling him again. “I just don’t get it,” he says, disbelieving. “He looked – dude, like, he looked totally smitten with you. In love, maybe, I dunno, but I don’t believe he’d drop you out of nowhere. I don’t, not for a second.”

Jonas suggests he’s just an asshole, and Isak shouldn’t waste one more second on him. “He’s been playing you this entire fucking time,” he snaps. “He got what he wanted and he ran. I say you find a way to tell him exactly how you feel, and move on. You don’t need him in your life anymore. Your lease is almost up, find somewhere else to live.”

None of their suggestions sound particularly inviting (well, Mahdi’s, maybe, but he’s also not at the “breaking the law” point in his heartbreak just yet), so he tells them he’s fine. None of them believe him, but they drop the subject, try to get him to go out. Isak refuses, but he tells them they can chill there. He’d rather not be alone, anyway. The company can help him. He needs it.

They stay all day, until Isak falls asleep. When he wakes up, they’re gone, but there’s coffee brewing and waffles on the table. Isak doesn’t know what he did to deserve such great friends, but he has them and he’s fond of them.

It’s a week after Even’s disappearance that he sees him again.

Isak finally manages to leave the apartment, just to the convenience store – he’s running out of food, and he’d really like to keep drowning his sorrow in it, so he makes the sacrifice. He’s sure he looks a mess, hair tousled and eyes dropping, but he’s mostly sure he looks a mess because one of the employees tells him they don’t sell alcohol to the homeless, and he has to embarrassingly explain he isn’t homeless, just incredibly sad.

He’s walking down the isles with a basket in his hand when he hears his laugh, the laugh he’d recognize anywhere, the laugh he hears in his dreams and his memories and his head snaps to look for it, and he sees him—

Two isles over, with Sonja by his side, laughing with him.

Isak doesn’t know what he expected. He doesn’t. His brain hasn’t caught up to the situation yet, he doesn’t think, but his heart’s already in it, already falling to his feet where it has no business being. Once his brain does catch up, it’s to connect the dots – he’s back with Sonja, he’s been staying with Sonja, he never wanted Isak in the first place, it was all a lie and—

And then Sonja’s reaching up to kiss Even, and Isak can’t feel any part of his body, and there’s a sound that makes way past his throat he doesn’t recognize but Even’s opening his eyes while he kisses Sonja and meets his gaze. He doesn’t stop kissing Sonja. He doesn’t stop.

Isak drops the basket and he turns around and walks straight out the door. The employee says something to him but he waves her off, says he is homeless, after all.

Isak can’t help but hope Even will run after him.

He doesn’t.

--

And this brings him here. Where he’s at now. Stuck in an elevator with the man who broke his heart and has yet to explain why, has yet to say anything to him other than I never lied about my feelings, which Isak is finding hard to believe.

Even finally pipes up again. “I went back to her because she’s safe,” he says quietly.

“Oh, fuck you,” Isak laughs mirthlessly.

“I didn’t get back together with her, she just – kissed me, in that moment, and I admit, I let her, but then I saw you and—”

“Kept letting it happen?”

Even pauses. “I thought that would hurt less.”

“As opposed to what?” Isak finally shifts his body to look at Even. “What could possibly hurt more than seeing you kiss your ex-girlfriend in public?”

Even quiets. He avoids Isak’s gaze.

“You shut me out,” Isak’s voice cracks slightly. He pushes forward. “You didn’t even tell me why. What did I do?” he asks, and he’s starting to sound desperate. “Was I – was I so bad—”

“Jesus, Isak, it wasn’t you,” Even interrupts. “It’s me, it’s my fault.”

“I fucking know that, but I still don’t know why,” Isak doesn’t let the tears welling up in his eyes fall. He refuses to let them. “I still don’t know what happened.”

“I’m bipolar,” Even says suddenly, voice unsure. Isak stops in his tracks. He doesn’t process the words completely when Even continues. “That’s not – it’s not an excuse, but it’s – something.”

Oh.

Oh, that’s something.

Isak doesn’t know what to say. He’s trying to find the words, but he’s not sure he can. He doesn’t know how that – what does that have to do with anything, did – how does bipolar work? Isak knows of the word, he knows of the disorder, but he doesn’t know the logistics of it. He’s heard Magnus call his mom “unreachable” when she has an “episode”, but he doesn’t know anything about it, he doesn’t know enough to accept this as an excuse, to accept it as something like an apology.

And then it dawns on Isak. “I told you I couldn’t deal with – with mental illness.”

Even stays quiet.

“Even?”

“Your life deserves to be perfect,” he replies quietly. “Your life deserves to be good. I’m not – I’m not that.”

Isak feels horrible. He feels sick. He feels like the biggest asshole on the planet and he knows Even isn’t completely blameless in this; but he also knows how horrible, horrible it must have felt for Even to hear those words after he’d told Isak, so many times, he never thought he could feel the way he does.

He’s angry and he’s sad and he’s frustrated and he moves the bag from in between them and then the tub of ice cream and he moves closer to Even, makes him look Isak right in the eyes.

“Is that why you left?” Isak asks him. Even avoids his gaze. “Look at me,” Isak snaps, and Even does. “Is that why you left me?”

Even swallows. “I feel like – like the universe did you a big favor. Put those words in your mouth to warn me off.”

“Shut up.”

“What?”

Isak runs a hand through his hair in frustration. “You don’t get to decide what the universe wants for me. In fact, the universe doesn’t get to decide, either,” he tells Even. “That’s all me.”

“But you said—”

“I know what I said, Even,” he shakes his head. “That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t. You made me feel – you didn’t even let me have the choice to make,” he looks at him. “You didn’t even let me make all of them. You just left.”

Even looks at him, expression solemn. “You deserve to be happy.”

You made me happy,” Isak’s voice gets louder. “You made me the happiest I’d ever been and if you’d just been honest with me we could have figured it out! We could have,” Isak wipes at his face with his sleeve, annoyed at the one tear that falls traitorously. “I would have learned, I wouldn’t have left.”

“I know you wouldn’t have,” Even tells him. “That’s the problem. You wouldn’t have. And you don’t deserve to have to deal with the things you went through with your mom—”

“That’s not remotely the same thing,” Isak snaps. “My mom refused to get help. My mom is living her life as it is because that’s the choice she made. Are you on medication?”

Even nods.

“Then that’s two completely different things. It’s completely different. You’re you and my mom is my mom and you’re Even, you’re Even, I’ve known you for months and the one thing I’m sure of is that you’re Even, and you made me happy.” Isak looks at him. “You made me happy.”

Even looks away, swallowing harshly. “This is not a conversation I wanted to have in an elevator,” he looks over at Isak, slightly amused.

Isak laughs once. “No, I don’t think you did,” Isak licks his lips. “Is this what you were – what you were gonna tell me? When you brought over the ice cream?”

Even nods. “Sonja – Sonja told me I should at least tell you why I left,” he clears his throat. “She convinced me to come. She said – she said if I didn’t, I’d end up feeling worse, and that’s – not an option.”

Isak looks at him. “Sonja told you that.”

“I told you I didn’t get back together with her,” Even reminds him. “She’s been my friend for a very long time, first and foremost. She knows this. She knows me.”

“And I don’t,” Isak adds.

“No,” Even looks like he’s going to reach out and take Isak’s hand, but thinks better of it. “No, Isak, you do. You do know me. I’m not my illness. You know as much about me, if not more, than she does, it’s just – you didn’t know this part, and I never knew the right time to bring it up, and I’m sorry I hurt you,” he finally says. “I’m so sorry I put you through what I put you through. I thought this is what was best for you. And I’m sorry I assumed.”

Isak looks at him. “Jesus,” he swallows. “Jonas wants to kill you.”

Even laughs brokenly. “That’s fair.”

“Mahdi wants to vandalize your apartment and take your weed,” he continues. Even continues to laugh. “Magnus, though – Magnus thought you had a reason. He didn’t think you’d – just up and leave me.”

“Magnus is my favorite.”

Magnus is the reason he’s in this elevator, and maybe, right now, Magnus is a little bit his favorite, too.

What a plot twist.

“Will you ever forgive me?” Even asks him quietly.

“Do you still want to try with me?” Isak asks in return.

Even nods.

“Don’t leave like that again,” Isak warns. “Please don’t leave me like that again. I can’t – I can’t take another—”

Even reaches forward, and this time, he does take Isak’s hand. “I won’t, I promise. I won’t leave you. I’ll be here for as long as you’ll have me.”

Isak looks at him. Isak looks at him for what feels like a very long time, and then he leans forward and kisses him softly, and it’s like the world’s started spinning again.

Even strokes the side of Isak’s face and his fingers are shaking and Isak is shaking too, but at this moment what matters is the pressure of Even’s lips against his.

And then—

“Hey guys,” Julian pipes up.

Isak and Even break apart. “Oh, Jesus Christ, Julian, you know exactly what we’re doing in here!”

“Yeah I know,” Julian sounds like he’s been cooing. “I just wanted to extend my congratulations.”

“Duly noted,” Isak sighs, and Even’s head drops to Isak’s shoulder, his own shoulders shaking with laughter. Isak is irritated with Julian but he also likes Julian and he also likes Even very, very much.

“Are you gone?” Isak asks the call speaker.

“Leaving now,” Julian hangs up.

And then Isak nuzzles Even’s nose from where it’s at on his shoulder and brings his lips back to Isak’s, and as Even kisses him, it’s like he’s kissing away the pain, and Isak says goodbye to it; he thanks it for the company up until now, but he’s happy to see it go, happy that Even kisses its home away. Wherever it’s lodging now, it’s no longer in the tightness of Isak’s heart, or the uneasiness of his stomach, and it’s no longer tainting the memories of Even.

It goes, and it goes, and in its place, Even stays.