It was not something that could be easily understood, never by those who weren’t born into such privilege, but that did not mean it was unshakable.
Floyd is glaring at the wall, huddled up in his bed. It’s dark in his bedroom, spacious but soothing. There is the unmistakable sound of rocking waves, there, like at the bottom of the sea. It is heavy, constant, push and pull, it is one of the things he likes about his dorm, because it makes him think of home. He knows it like his own heartbeat. He’s never had trouble sleeping before but now he can’t help it even if he wanted to.
He has the insatiable need to either bite into something, fierce and deep, or mess with someone until they went red in the face.
This is not to say he doesn’t usually get these urges, but this time it’s tainted with some unforgiving irritation, some deeply held dissatisfaction. He doesn’t like feeling this way; it’s a very rotten way to feel. He likes his days filled with easy victories and smooth sailing. To sleep when he wanted to sleep, to eat when he wanted to eat, to set the course for his own life, and for the little things to have to get used to that. He doesn’t like being mad, and somehow that seems to irritate the wound a little more. He doesn’t want to be that person, but he can’t help but think it was so much easier back then.
(He can’t help but feel embarrassed when he hears those nostalgic types; he doesn’t get it because it feels so gloomy.)
Still he knew it had been so much easier. The world was smaller. The circle was closed. He only ever had to account for one other person. And it was like sharing made the world easier. Doesn’t that sound nice? To not only enjoy life but to split it with someone? He’s never known loneliness for this bare fact, but now the ship has been rocked.
He runs a tongue over his sharp teeth and grimaces.
He wants to bite something.
He focuses. He hears something in the hallway. It’s not another student; it’s not that he can tell each one apart, it’s just that his footsteps are so ingrained in his memory it would be hard not to recognize them. Jade had it the best out of all of them, he thinks. He walks like those other humans, and yet with more grace. Precision, clipped steps. He took to it well. Well, of course he did, he can’t help but think. Jade is better at those kinds of things.
(He thinks this not with low self esteem, or sarcasm. He doesn’t even say it with pride. He just states it like fact, because it was a fact of his own world.)
The bedroom door opens, softly, and then closes, with a gentle and considerate click. Floyd is turned away from the door. He looks up to the clock on the wall. It’s one in the morning. His brother was, of course, too smart to even be caught breaking curfew. Floyd endures the sound of shuffling, bedsheets ruffling, and watches the minute hand on the clock. It moves.
“You’re late.” He says to the room, to no one in particular.
“Oh.” Jade responds, without even missing a beat, not even surprised, “You’re awake, Floyd? It’s rare when you can’t sleep.”
Floyd turns to look at him. That familiar face (so similar to his own) is smiling back at him, a finger around the knot of his own tie. He’s impeccable as always, unruffled and serene. He is dyed a faint blue by the water coming from the window and the shadow of the waves softly moves against his figure, to and fro. Floyd doesn’t take notice that his brother wasn’t caught off guard; that would be like taking notice of your own breathing.
“Taking a walk again?” He asks instead. Jade gives a small ‘Hmm’ sound, in the back of his throat.
“I couldn’t sleep either. I thought it would help. The weather is so nice right now, it would be a waste.” He explains, taking off his tie. He’s doing that thing again; pleasantly prattling on. Usually Floyd didn’t mind; he liked listening to him, his voice. But there’s still that dissatisfaction tightening in his jaw.
“Worried about something?”
Jade glances at him. His golden eye is practically glowing dim in that light. He’s still smiling pleasantly.
“I’m going to change. Do you mind?”
Floyd frowns, wondering if he will be ignored. He obeys nonetheless, and turns his back towards him again. He can hear him shrug off his jacket, but he’s not scandalized by it. It’s not like he was a puffer fish or anything.
“If you couldn’t sleep you should have gone with me.” Jade continues, “I wouldn’t have minded.”
“Mm.” Floyd hums, noncommittal, “I don’t know. I’m not really up to mountain climbing this late at night. You know me.”
“I wasn’t. Well.” Jade seems to pause. The rough shush of fabric against fabric, “The other day I heard we have a species of mushroom near here that glows in the dark. I’d like to see that. Wouldn’t you?”
“I guess it would be like a deep sea fish? Doesn’t that sound brilliant?”
He stops. The conversation, and all it’s fakeness, seems to stop too.
“Oh.” Jade says, with mild surprise, “You’re mad.”
Hearing it, Floyd feels it must be true. Jade was very good about seeing these things in people, noting their weaknesses, their ticks, those barely hidden secrets. This is similarly, not the first time he’s used it against him. Still, it’s never easy to swallow the truth.
It’s hard to describe how it is to live the life he lives. Not the bullying, not the laissez faire attitude. But how it feels to live with someone who looks just like you, who has known you since the day you were born, and will know you better than anyone else. He must, in some way, have come to depend on that, to know it is certain much like the weather or his happiness. It is an incredibly wonderful way to live; to know there is someone to depend on, to trust, to know deeply in a way only you are allowed to know. He is simultaneously spoiled and special. It’s also balanced; he knows Jade is that person for him too. Floyd is not much for sharing, but he likes having that ‘special exception’ and knowing he is also someone’s bias. There’s comfort in predictability, there’s pride in knowing you have more than others, and there is sweetness in knowing a person is home. It is, again, hard to describe. But he likes knowing the world was theirs’ instead of something to face alone. He didn’t need much in this world, but the assured truth that Jade will always be there, and that he was all he needed for a complete world.
Maybe it’s a lot like one’s own limbs. Maybe it’s like two puzzle pieces for a soul. Perhaps, they’re just cozily, codependent.
They’re more than likely immature. But that’s neither here nor there, isn’t it?
So with this sitting between them, seventeen years of knowing each other, he finds himself at a loss for words. Cat got my tongue , he muses.
A faint thwump of fabric hitting the floor, a short opening of their closet door, clattering of clothes hangers. He’s quiet; Floyd feels the bed shift beside him, something sinking into the cushion of it. He turns and looks up; Jade is sadly smiling down at him. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, his hand supporting him besides his brother’s side. He has yet to button up his shirt for bed; his chest is pale in the blue sea light. Floyd wants to tease him and say he’s paler than a jellyfish; but he’s just not in the mood.
“Floyd.” Jade gently coaxes him, “What’s wrong?”
He doesn’t like being on the other side of an interrogation, no matter how well-intentioned it was. He pouts, and looks up to the ceiling. He says the first thing that pops into his mind.
“...I feel empty.”
“Oh, is that all?” Jade laughs, “If you’re hungry you should have just told me. We could sneak off to the lounge, if you want. There might be-”
“That’s not it.” Floyd snaps, “I’m not hungry. I’m empty.”
A long silence follows. Floyd glares up at his brother. It’s a foreign feeling he has brought to their relationship and he wonders how he will receive it. Poison to the body? Medicine? Jade looks surprised for a moment, and then softens again into regalness. He slides his eyes away, as if thinking about this. Floyd’s teeth ache again. He wants something to sink his teeth into.
His brother was right; he is mad. But it’s not aimed towards his brother, he can tell that much. Less than snapping at him, it’s more like he’s losing patience because he wants Jade to figure out the solution already. Like he was aching and he’s yet to find the cure.
They could not live like this, he thinks. So he implores him to name the problem, and to see the answer.
“Well.” Jade finally says, breaking the silence, “That’s no good, is it?”
“Then,” And here, he smiles again, accommodating, “Shall we talk about it? There’s no point in going to bed mad, is there?”
It’s an easy enough thing to slip into. Something retreats in Floyd, like a beast seeing its tamer. Frankly, he had been expecting this. It’s like routine between them; anything broken he brought to him, his brother would always fix. And this, like the shared life and the unhidden secrets, was just a privilege he was born with and happily took advantage of.
This is rare, but for a moment Floyd hesitates in the face of that. He already knows the words; he has been mulling over them for the past few weeks, envy whispered to him like a bad curse. He’s never been the type to be considerate of others, but now he feels like saying nothing would be better than admitting the truth. Jade wasn’t so fragile, but it just didn’t feel right to admit this to him and think nothing would change between them.
(God, what a frightening thought: things changing between them.)
“Is it a test?” Jade pries. Floyd has made a rookie mistake when it comes to dealing with Jade: his silence has let him do the talking. It’s never good to let him control the narrative.
“A teacher? Your classes? You don’t lose sleep over things like that.” Jade muses. “You ate something bad?”
“Are you trying to make fun of me?” Floyd sneers. Jade laughs good-naturedly, and he shifts. Floyd looks at him again, and watches his brother fix up the buttons on his own shirt.
“Of course not. But I won’t be able to help if you don’t tell me anything.”
He says this matter of fact. He’s very good at that, at making people think the things he wants them to, or stating ideas as if they were truths of the world. Floyd doesn’t fall for it. He’s seen it at work too many times to fall for such a thing.
He’s seeing, however, that no matter what he says, it will sound embarrassing. There was no avoiding that. He sighs, very dramatically, and looks up at the ceiling.
“This is stupid.” Floyd decides.
“This is going to sound sappy.”
“That’s fine. Go ahead.”
The room is not quiet; it never is in their dorm. He focuses on the deep murmur of the ocean waves, submerged himself in it. It was easier to focus on it, to power through his own words, before he could second guess himself.
“I don’t need anyone else but you.” He confesses.
Jade is still smiling. Floyd might well have said the sky was blue. He goes to say something, as if to confirm it was mutual, but Floyd can’t help himself. He chokes it out, like ripping off a bandaid.
“At least I thought...I thought I only needed you.”
Something honest in him seems to retreat. When Floyd looks it’s very obvious in him that something has been hurt. Outsiders may not see it, poker face his brother was, but it was clear to him that something has dimmed.
“I told you it was stupid.” Floyd says half-heartedly, with guilt. He’s trying to lighten the mood, in vain.
“No, no. It was surprising.” Jade hesitates. He smiles a little sadly, “Well, how should I put this: I don’t understand what you’re saying. Could you explain it more for me?”
Fixing the broken parts. Laying things out clearly to be followed. He was still doing this despite being told that. Their relationship was a fine-tuned machine that worked beautifully and without fail and now it feels like he just took a hammer to it. But this was it, he thinks: the problem he wanted fixed. He would have kept holding this anger if he hadn’t said anything, and they couldn’t live like this if he just stopped there. But he’s capable, he thinks. Jade can fix anything.
He has to fix this too.
“I don’t know. This is so stupid.” He grimaces. This was such a foolishly painful thing to talk about, “It’s like...it’s not enough any more.”
He doesn’t turn to look at him. It’s an intensely uncomfortable thing to talk about, and he cannot stomach the thought of looking at him.
“Well,” Jade tells him simply, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Floyd furrows his brow. He does not like the tone of voice his brother has right now.
“I don’t know if I’ve made you mad, but I promise you that wasn’t my intention.”
“I’m not mad at you.”
“Then what is it?” Jade asks lightly, with some forced smile in his voice, “You’re feeling restless again; so now you’re bringing it here?”
“ Jade .”
“I’m only guessing because I want to understand.” Jade reminds him, “You can be honest with me.”
Floyd says nothing. His teeth hurt, his jaw feels stiff. Fights between the brothers were far and few between so he struggled with his frustration. He had no real target; nothing tangible he could grab. It was a strange and depressing feeling to have to sit with unhappy thoughts with no outlet or no blame. He thinks he should be mad at him. Jade was obviously not getting it; but instead of anger at him, Floyd realizes that who he was mad at was himself. In some strange fashion, he was starting to feel guilty.
Jade notices his silence. Perhaps in effort to end this torture, or because he was mindful of such silent things, he steps in for them.
“If it’s not an issue with me then it can’t be helped.” He guesses, “If you’re feeling bored then I can understand that.”
He wants to correct him. It’s not boredom. It’s not you.
“But if there’s something you need me to do, all you have to do is ask.” He pauses. His voice wavers a bit, “If you want space, or you need help. Just ask.”
Floyd grits his teeth. Something hurts terribly in his chest, and he knows that voice. He knows it, just like the sound of ocean waves. That stupid struggled tone he took on when he obviously didn’t want to do something. It’s softer here; it feels sad . He was spot on; Jade was trying to fix a problem, but he wasn’t seeing the problem for what it actually was. And Floyd hates this, because he’s not one for sacrifices so he has no reason to think Jade must do the same thing here. He’s late to realize he’s gripping the bedsheets in anger.
(But who is he to talk? As if you’ve been able to untangle this confusion yourself.)
He stops, looking up at him. Floyd is glaring up at him now. This was all such a mess and a hassle.
“Would you stop making that face?” He switches topics easily. “It’s not like that. ”
Jade looks lost there. Like some drowned, helpless thing.
“I don’t understand.”
Floyd struggles a bit. The ways he communicates himself are not working, and he’s being misunderstood by the person who has always understood him. He feels a little petulant at all of it, like a child who was not taken seriously. It was bad enough he had been carrying this weight, heavy in his chest, and now he was here in some silly, dramatic crossroads. He’s not one to plan his successes and so he just acts. He reaches up for him, and Jade can only look shocked for the brief moment before he’s pulled down.
He lands on the bed next to him, and Floyd stares him down, pouting and fed up.
“It’s like this,” he starts, “Do you remember those small fish that like to swim in big groups?”
Jade blinks, dazed. He slowly regains balance in the conversation and nods slightly. “Yes. You liked to chase them.”
“Yeah, but no matter how many times I broke them apart, they always came back together, right?”
“What are you saying?”
“It’s like that.” Floyd says matter of fact. “It’s exactly like that.”
Jade watches him for a moment. He’s trying to process this. He blinks, rapidly, realizing. His eyes go a little wide in surprise.
“There’s someone else.”
Something loosens in Floyd’s chest, like relief. It was not just that he was understood; but that someone else finally said it for him. He knew it himself too, of course, but he’d never considered the reality of it until now.
It’s a vague and uncertain idea; they were understanding each other because they already understood this arrangement. To say it briefly: a mutual relationship like this, beyond the terms of romance or friendship, gave itself to unsaid feelings, to shared love. It is, again, knowing that there is always someone else there at your side in the world. It is sharing everything and knowing there is someone to depend on. It’s seeing the world as ‘us’ and ‘them’ and keeping those boundaries clearly cut. There can be wandering; but there is never someone who could reach the same level of importance. It was that closed space; knowing that the world could be their entertainment but never their equal.
So when Floyd confirms there is ‘someone else’, for them, it means something serious.
“...How long?” Jade asks after a long moment. Floyd looks up to the ceiling. His bad mood has vanished like it never even existed. It seemed to take a big weight off his shoulders to finally be understood.
“I dunno.” He mumbles, and shrugs, “A while now? Haven’t really kept track.”
“You would think I would have noticed something like that.”
“I mean. I didn’t really notice it myself until recently.” Floyd slides his hand down his brother’s arm and lets go. “Can’t blame you for anything.”
He stares at his palm absentmindedly. Jade was warm here on the surface; it was such a strange thing to have to get used to. He had grown up with such different things; cold, smooth skin, his nails scratching against things when he would touch them. Jade shifts, but does not get up. He simply moves into a more comfortable position on the bed next to him.
“May I ask who it is?”
Floyd doesn’t answer that. He looks to the side. Things have changed so much since he left the ocean, he thinks.
“May I guess?”
“Doesn’t matter to me.”
Jade makes a small humming sound in the back of his throat as if to think. It’s clearly all for theatrics.
“Oh. It’s that ‘shrimp’ you like so much?”
Floyd doesn’t miss a beat. He breaks out into a loud laughter. It’s bubbliness fills the room in a pleasant, and sadistic, way.
“Oh, come on, Jade. That’s a bad joke, even for you!”
“I know.” Jade smiles, “I just wanted to change the mood.”
Floyd smiles at him. They look at each other warmly in that moment. The mood of the room did feel lighter, and yet neither could deny the sadness that tinged it at the edges. They don’t bring it up. It was just wordlessly understood.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter who, does it?” Jade asks rhetorically, “But what you are trying to tell me is that I’m not being replaced?”
“Then there’s no problem, is there?”
Oh. There it is again, Floyd thinks. Another problem. If he was a lesser person he would assume his brother was being cruel here. That he was playing nice to mock him. But he knows Jade, and he knows the times he feels violent. This is not one of them; this was just simple ignorance born from naivety.
(He wants to laugh about it. Jade. Naive. It’s such a ridiculous thought, but he’s not in the mood.)
“Jade.” Floyd reminds him, “The fishes.”
“What about them?”
“You know who I’m talking about.”
Jade keeps smiling pleasantly at him. His jaw moves slightly, very subtly.
(His teeth must be aching too, Floyd guesses.)
“Yes, well,” Jade answers, “I was just hoping I was wrong.”
Floyd sort of wishes that too, but he won’t say it. There was no point in saying it; it was just an incident of the world, like fate was playing a cruel joke on them. He smiles, a little pained.
“It could be worse?”
“You know how I feel about him.”
“Yeah, you make it really obvious.”
“But if that is what you want, then I don’t see why I should stop you.”
Floyd blinks. Oh hell, they were just going to drag this out the whole night at this point. His brother was so cunning, so smart, that it baffles him he was so blind here. He could try to figure out why that is, but Floyd’s not one for deep introspection. He won’t guess at his brother’s willful ignorance; all he needed was for him to understand.
“Jade, you can cut the act,” He tells him, slightly teasing, a little mad, “You’d love nothing more than to stop me, right?”
“I have no idea what you mean.” Jade responds, unruffled.
“It’s fun, isn’t it? He’s a real piece of work, but you’re having fun too.”
Jade, finally, does not talk. His silver tongue must be failing him. He just listens.
“He’s the only one who gets it. Sees us. He knows you. He knows you like I know you.”
Something seems to shake in his brother from this. He must be hurrying along a long, wrought out process. But Floyd had enough of watching those two circle each other like some colorful, brutal mating dance, only for them to depart like nothing had happened. If they were going to talk about these issues, then he wanted the solution tonight. And if that meant getting his brother to stop hiding, then he guesses that’s what it took.
Jade, visibly, does not change too much. He seems to consider his words. His smile does drop, very gently. He moves, and lies on his back staring up at the ceiling. He does not look lost this time; instead it’s like a romantic resignation falls on him. His shoulders go a little slack.
“...I suppose that is what it is, isn’t it?”
“You don’t like that.”
“I don’t.” He grimaces a little, like tasting something bad. It’s the most honest he’s been the entire evening, “If someone was going to come between us, I would want someone more...pleasant.”
“But it can’t be anyone else but him, huh, Jade?”
Floyd says this in a dreamy, somewhat pliable voice. He had not meant to. It was just like some sleepy realization, that after all this effort, the answer came like breathing. Because it’s not like someone pleasant could come between them in the first place. They’re not so boring as to want that easy victory, to want someone mild and sweet. It was more fun when things get thorny, when prey fights back, to have something that is not easily pleased. Rotten folk like them want to be understood too. And what better than a villain with a fine voice, an irritating personality, someone to navigate until you found the ways he would finally give in?
They are, of course, goners.
Jade does not answer him. He seems to still be processing the fact that he was in love, and had fallen in love a long time ago and never realized it. Floyd does not comment on it; he doesn’t feel like it. Instead he also shifts onto his back and sighs loudly into the night air, staring up at the ceiling. They lay there, side by side, ruminating on these various revelations and what they meant.
To read both of them: Jade is thinking it’s rather amazing that someone could have invaded their space like this, to step onto sacred territory so effortlessly, without even trying. He feels a little annoyed to think that for all his bragging, for all his sickening self-assuredness, that he was right about himself in some parts. Jade likes it when he’s wrong, because there are places to prod him at. He doesn’t want to give that conman more credit than he should get. It would go to his head.
Similarly, he’s seeing now that all his irritation was rooted in lovesick obsession, that he wanted more from him for the simple want to have that victory over him. No normal person would overthink someone they hated like this. No, there had always been bitter intimacy in their interactions, because it was undeniable that he was a worthy opponent. Floyd was right; there could never be someone else. He knew Jade in ways no one else but Floyd did. And thus their world was intruded on.
Meanwhile, his brother is thinking that he would like to go for a swim now. To clear his head. It’s been much too long since he’s gotten to go for a swim. He’s boiling with some impatience at this silence, and wants to break it up with something. He also doesn’t want to make the effort to go to the pool for a dip, so instead he talks.
“You’ve been staying at the Lounge later these days.” Floyd says with faked ease. Jade stops. He smiles bitterly.
“You only stay awake in class now if he’s there.”
“You do. It’s rare you stay awake, so I noticed.”
“Huh...is that so?” Floyd says easily, and something cheerful and cruel edges his voice, “So what are you getting up to in the Lounge, huh?”
“Oh, it’s just the usual work.” Jade bites back, with hardened politeness. “You know how many orders he gives me.”
“Never saw you volunteer for it before.”
“Well, I’m still surprised you’re putting effort in your school work for someone else.”
The air simmers between them, something low boiling and ready to break. It’s a new feeling to them, to snap at the other in equal strength. It was admittedly a little thrilling; like tasting some forbidden fruit. Floyd grins.
“You’re such a masochist, Jade.”
“And you can be quite the sadist, Floyd.” His brother replies graciously.
The simmer has already reached a rumble. They find themselves at an exciting climax of their verbal sparring, daring the other to say something else. They were trying on something new to surprising results, and yet confusion dyed all of it. Was this the solution to their problem? Getting mad at each other? Fighting over the same prey? They found it very easy to fight, of course; it’s just who they are. But although it was stimulating, it didn’t feel like this would get them anywhere. Jade, his heart pounding in his chest, takes in a breath.
“Clownfish.” He announces.
It only takes a second. Floyd bolts upright in the bed, and Jade prepares himself to be punched. Instead, he’s surprised to see his brother look down at him helplessly and flustered.
“Ugh , Jade! I can’t do this! I just can’t get in the mood to fight you!”
Jade blinks at him dumbly. He dissolves into a soft chuckle. The air clears just as soon as it has appeared. Of course it would; he would expect nothing less from him.
“Good,” Jade laughs, “You know, as a rule, I hate fighting.”
“So now what? If I can’t fight you about this, what are we supposed to do?”
Jade smiles at him tiredly. He could tell he genuinely wanted an answer. He wishes desperately he could have one for him. It was a complicated situation, with various conditions that he struggled to fulfill. For a moment, he allows himself a bit of spite.
(We didn’t sign a contract with him, but he sure has us running in circles, doesn’t he? )
“I guess that is the question, isn’t it?” Jade concedes, sitting up, “I’m sorry to say I don’t know the answer either.”
“So that’s it?”
He thinks on this for a moment. This probably wasn’t it; it would probably be easy enough to act like nothing has changed, to return to business as usual without Azul any the wiser about what was going on. (Actually, he thinks, it sure says something about him if he failed to realize two people had fallen for him. All that sense, and only used for business. Pity that.) But despite that, he was not sure if they could handle this. Pining for the same person, and yet wanting to keep each other. He is not sure how their relationship could remain stable with this glaring obstacle in front of them. This is where Jade will stop, and come up with his own solution:
“Well,” He begins, “I meant what I said before: If there’s something you need me to do, just tell me.”
Floyd is surprised when the bed shifts again, as Jade slips out. He was only there for a short while, but Floyd is suddenly aware of how cold the bed feels without him. He watches his brother, somewhat dazed, as Jade returns to his own bed, pulling aside the comforter.
“You know, despite everything, I just want to see you happy.” Jade reminds him.
Floyd is bright enough to see what he’s saying. That’s not fair, he thinks. He had thought getting him to understand would be enough, but they were still ending up at the same answer. Floyd feels something ache in his chest, at the tragedy of it all.
“Hey, Jade,” he calls out, voice uncharacteristically small in the night, “You don’t wanna sleep in the same bed?”
His brother settles in, and looks at him from across their beds. A face like his own, and yet not his own. The light under the water is still dying their room a soft, shaking blue. He smiles at him.
“It would just get crowded, don’t you think?”
Floyd does not think that. He thinks he would not mind. He wants to remind him that it never bothered them as kids so why should it bother him now. He wants a better solution, but he knows there isn’t one. Was this their answer? Not the fighting, but a polite withdrawal? That doesn’t seem right to Floyd at all; there must be another way.
He watches the water outside their bedroom window, following the shifting light with his eyes. He wanted everything: he wants Jade to get what he wants. He wants Azul as his own. He wants his brother close to him. He wants to keep some happy equilibrium to their terrible little group they’ve made. Floyd does not see why he must choose; he’s never had to give in before so why does he have to now? It feels ridiculous to him, but he can’t think of another way.
His eyelids are starting to feel heavy. He’s too tired to think about this any longer.
As he drifts away he thinks, again, of the school of fish. The fun he would get from swimming straight through their group, and from watching them scatter. And then, naturally, how they would fall back into place. He would do this again and again, until he grew bored. He just thought that was so funny, how they never learned. How they wouldn’t fall apart no matter how many times he tried to tear them apart.
Together. Apart. Together, and apart, again. Over and over and over.
It was sort of beautiful, he thinks.
“Hmm,” Azul mumbles softly, distantly, his voice coming more into focus, “Update me on his situation again.”
“Failed to deliver on his deadline. His wish has been granted, and yet he has failed to give payment. Apparently he hasn’t been showing up to classes either.”
A pen taps against the table.
Azul laughs, incredulous. “Oh, a runner.” He muses, “He has roommates, right? I want you and Floyd to pay them a visit tomorrow. Surely they must know something about this poor, lost soul .”
He draws out this last part in fake sympathy. Jade chuckles.
Floyd watches them from the corner of his eye. He wishes he could join them; he’d prefer anything from the work he was given now. He had been ordered to wipe down the tables, but he’s been in such a bad mood, he could barely motivate himself for it. Any other time he would just vanish on them; but a more indulgent part wants to watch them. He wonders if that’s jealousy? And yet it felt more pleasant than that.
All three of them are currently in the Lounge after closing hours. Curfew was cautiously creeping up on them and yet none of them seemed to care. The Lounge feels bigger when it’s empty like this, Floyd thinks. Jazz music was still softly playing in the background, sensual and slow. The lights are dim in there, like they are always (“Atmosphere” seemed to be the reason, but it just made Floyd sleepy some days.) Jade and Azul are seated at one of the empty tables, looking over a pile of contracts, dealing out the various policies and deadlines, seeing the actions they needed to take, the problems to iron out. They usually conducted this business in Azul’s office, but Floyd still remembers Azul’s half-threat before. He wanted this place clean by tonight, and Floyd’s guessing that by keeping an eye on him, he’s making sure Floyd will do what he’s told.
Floyd had dinner before, but remembering this, he begins to feel hungry again.
He’s stealing glances at him as he pretends to work; Azul is always an impeccable sort, well-groomed and haughty, but tonight felt more lax. Maybe it was because it was the end of the day. He’s wearing the dorm uniform in pieces, his jacket and hat laid aside him, his bowtie loosened. His eyes look strained, like he’s been staring at the words too long and they’ve started to mix together. Still he carries out business efficiently, one leg crossed over the other, his foot going up and down with the music.
He unrolls another contract, twirling the ribbon between his long fingers. His eyes scan the contents, and then he smiles.
“Oh, I remember this one. Last week, wasn’t it?”
He hands the contract to Jade to peruse, who receives it effortlessly. His brother brightens seeing the name.
“Yes; but we’ve solved this one, haven’t we?” He furrows his brow in amused confusion, “And he paid on time. Why bring it up again?”
“I mean, it was a simple enough case: ‘my best friend is doing better than me in classes. I want to get higher grades than him.’” Azul concedes, “But don’t you think there’s something...more?”
“What do you mean?”
“I want you to watch that friend of his; find his weaknesses. Offer him a contract with me.”
A wordless conversation takes between them as Jade holds his gaze, parsing out what Azul was saying. It’s lost on Floyd; he struggles to follow all their deceptive strategies. But then Jade looks surprised as he finally sees it. He grins, his sharp teeth bright in the dim light.
“Mutually assured destruction.” Jade says, impressed. Azul laughs, shaking his head, taking the contract back.
“Now, Jade, you make it sound so vulgar, ” He says, in false scandal, “It’s normal for friends to motivate each other, right? If our original signer finds something else he can improve on...well, there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? We’re just helping him be the best person he can be.”
Floyd feels his heart ache, both wonderful and terribly. He is not blind to the tender look in his brother’s eyes either. He seems both breathtaken and stable, still obedient and yet elated. Floyd could do nothing but watch them. Azul is rolling up the contract again, oblivious to any heavy tension, when Jade speaks.
“It’s amazing.” He comments, “I would have never thought of that. You’re quite perceptive to these things, aren’t you?”
Azul furrows his brow. He looks up at him, as he ties the ribbon. He smiles, hard.
“I don’t know about that. Perhaps you just need to keep up, Jade?”
Oh, geez. Floyd thinks, Get a room already.
A few days have already passed since their talk. Predictably, they have not talked about it again since. Jade remains his dutiful and detail-oriented self. He woke Floyd for his classes that next morning as if nothing had happened. He has continued his work as usual since then, single-minded if vicious. And yet Floyd can tell easily enough what his words have done. Once realized the status of his heart, Jade has changed in his reception to Azul. He was still attentive, but there were times now where he bit back, subtle. Like he was testing the waters. A scathing comment here, a cunning retort there, all done with meticulous precision to hit where it would really hurt.
Azul was quick to shut something like that down; just the other day he had, in so many words, asked if Jade was experiencing some rebellious streak. Jade, of course, had side-stepped the whole accusation. Why, if there was something wrong with his words, that was not at all his intention. Forgive him. He was simply making an innocent observation.
Floyd watches this all play out in equal pain and pleasure. God, it was like they’ve started bringing knives to that mating dance. But it’s not like Floyd wasn’t happy for him; this is the most lovestruck he’s ever seen his brother act. It was almost sweet. Also, it wasn’t like he didn’t like to watch Azul struggle afterwards. He’s incredibly cute when he gets flushed like that.
Lately, no matter how much Floyd eats, he feels like it’s not enough. Ever since confronting his own feelings, he has also changed. His eyes are starting to wander. His teeth hurt, his jaw needs that pressure against something. He is still empty. Azul was close and yet so far away.
Floyd hates feeling empty. Like some bad mood he could not extract himself from. When he watches the two of them like that, he feels agitated for the sole reason that he couldn’t find a happy medium for them. They look perfect like that, but he also doesn’t want to be left out. And yet he wouldn’t deny his brother the same chance.
To step back a bit; a shared, closed world only hospitable to them. How do you keep that safe? When other things threaten to break it apart? Neither of them wanted to leave that world; neither of them wanted to leave the other behind. But it was so nice, to entertain the thought of dipping in and out, going to explore. If only they could still come back home to each other.
“Floyd,” Azul calls out from behind him, catching his attention, “I don’t know what you are gawking at, but I don’t hear you working.”
He practically sings this. When Floyd looks, he finds Azul has not even deigned to look up at him as he orders him around. He is still looking over paperwork, his shoulders sharp in silhouette.
“Right~” Floyd says lazily, snapping the dishcloth in hand, and heading to another table.
He wonders briefly, if his own mouth would fit perfectly over one of Azul’s slender shoulders. He drops it.
It should be shameful, but it’s more like he feels it’s too simple, rudimentary. It’s not like he wants to punish him; he just prefers Azul at his most happy and at his most vulnerable. It’s more fun that way, he thinks, to see the things you don’t usually see.
If Jade’s affection was founded in cat-and-mouse games and roundabout victories, then Floyd’s found itself in purity and simplicity. He likes when Azul’s pleased. He likes when he gets to do the things he wants. He wants to know the taste of him. For Floyd, this was all he needed. It was almost childishly easy compared to his brother.
He wipes down the table, seeing himself in its reflection. It’s all running around in his head but nothing resolves itself for him. Floyd is in, no doubt, a foul mood. The three of them have done so many things together, and yet here was something they could not fix. Ridiculous. He looks upward, deep in thought.
He catches the tail end of a piano solo.
He blinks. Refocuses. The music in the Lounge has changed to a faster number, with a dramatic piano solo. It falls back into the rich tempo of a sax, a drum set, picking back up its speed with nimble chase. Floyd listens in awe. He is on the cusp of an idea.
Things had been so different in middle school, he realizes. Simpler. The drum set before him, it’s reverberating sound that was easy to get lost in. Azul scolding him, and then giving in to his impulses. His brother, laughing, matching his beat to adapt to him. Despite any differences, misgivings, or stumbling attempts, the songs they would make, together. Music performed together. That had been so easy back then. Why could it not be easy now?
And then, he sees, it was easy now.
Of course it was easy now.
Floyd brightens. His face shines with a wide grin.
He does not hesitate to act. Over the years, Floyd has gotten very good at sneaking up on people and this time is no different. He makes long if silent strides towards them. Azul is still studying the fine print of some paperwork, focused and open to attack. On his way over, Floyd taps his brother on his shoulder. When Jade looks up, he finds Floyd looking down at him, smiling deviously, a finger put to his lips telling him to keep quiet. He motions over to Azul. Jade gets the message clearly:
Just watch me.
Azul’s mind is currently in multiple places at once: he is trying to twist the words of this contract into a scenario he would benefit from. In the back of his mind, he is calculating the profit the Lounge made tonight, how he can improve that. There is, also, that test he has next week, and then a dorm leader’s meeting to prepare for, and even more than that notes to study and a curfew he must keep, not for the rules but for his own satisfaction, a restless mind is no good after all, and-
A loud thump breaks him out of concentration. He blinks back into reality; when he looks up he sees Floyd sitting on the table in front of him, on top of the paperwork, grinning like a villain.
Azul blinks rapidly, at the offense of it all. He glowers, catching up quickly.
“Get off. ” He tells him first. Floyd ignores this easily.
“Hey, Azul, I’m curious about something.” He asks, his words drawn out and lazy. Azul is still glaring.
“Get off.” He reminds him, “You’re wrinkling the paperwork.”
“Don’t wanna,” Floyd shrugs him off swiftly, and then resumes, “I was just wondering; which of the three of us do you think took to walking the best?”
Azul feels like his concentration was a train taken off its rails, headed off a cliff. It’s not that he doesn’t know Floyd’s random moods; it’s just that he doesn’t like to indulge them. He glances past him to Jade, as if looking for help, but he finds him just watching this studiously. Partly biding his time but mostly interested in what was to happen next. Azul feels a twinge of annoyance. At least wrangle him in sometimes. He thinks. Azul looks back up at Floyd, unamused and steadfast.
“Does it matter? If you’re trying to avoid work, I don’t have time for it.”
“What, too scared to answer?”
“Get off, Floyd.”
He doesn’t budge. Instead his smiles drops into a sort of bemused gaze. He slides his eyes away and sighs.
“Yeah, I guess there’s no argument is there? I mean, since you were so bad at it.”
Across the table, Jade fails to hold back a chuckle. Azul flares.
“Excuse me? ”
“No, no, it’s fine. Too shy to admit it, right?”
“If I remember right, it took you a week to get over your fear of stairs.”
Jade fails to hold back his laughter again. Floyd’s expression hardens a bit, but then he’s smiling again. Cocky. He was clearly enjoying this.
Azul has been around these two so long that he’s found ways around their drawbacks, found ways to best use their talents. And yet, faced with this, he’s feeling provoked. It was one thing that Jade’s been mouthy to him lately (in his style, of poison slipped into the dessert of his words) but now here was Floyd picking fights with him. It’s baffling; he has no idea what’s changed. And he doesn’t hate them, but he does have his pride, and he wouldn’t have it wounded.
(Even more because he doesn’t hate them; what’s changed? They had such a nice set-up here, he doesn’t see what would shake that up.)
“I’m just saying” Floyd places a hand near his own, and leans towards him, “I bet you’re not as good as you think.”
“You sound like you’re challenging me.” Azul bites back, not backing down. He knows Floyd’s techniques; he likes using his height like this to intimidate people. As if something like that would scare him.
“Can you dance?”
Azul sputters for a while. He doesn’t notice it, but across from them Jade’s eyes widen like realizing something.
“What does it matter if I can dance?” Azul says incredulously. It’s the wrong answer. Floyd breaks out into laughter and leans back, casual as the devil.
“So you can’t! I knew it!” He turns his head to Jade, “Makes all those deals with humans, but he doesn’t even know what they do for fun.”
“Oh my, that is no good, isn’t it?” Jade answers, easily following his cue, “In a business like this you should at least study the culture, no?”
Azul looks between them. He’s somehow fallen into a coordinated attack without thinking. It’s amazing how quickly they could just fall into a duet like that, two halves of the same whole. It was insulting to be mocked like this like he couldn’t hear them. He doesn’t know what they were planning, but Azul did not see any reason to entertain it.
“Of course I can dance.” He grimaces, looking back down at his paperwork, “If you’re done with your games, will you-”
“Can you dance a quickstep?”
“A what? ”
It is, again, the wrong answer. Floyd is grinning broadly again. Jade sighs very delicately, and places his pen down. He crosses his arms on the table, and leans forward. He is looking at Azul with some sweet and terrible pity.
“He doesn’t know it, Floyd.”
“He doesn’t, huh, Jade?”
“Well, that’s not good.”
“Guess it isn’t.”
“I think there’s only one solution to this problem.”
Jade smiles and it is charming if soulless. Azul only now notices the fast tempo of the jazz music playing on the speakers.
“You should show him.” Jade orders. And Floyd acts.
Azul is not given time to prepare himself; it is done in a flurry of action. Floyd lunges for him and knocks over the papers from the table in consequence. Azul is practically torn out of his seat, his wrists gripped with unimaginable strength. His protests go unheard as he’s drawn into a dance position. He’s furious now.
“Floyd! ” He warns, but Floyd is still grinning.
“Keep up.” He dares him, and throws them into a dance.
It’s a fast and frantic dance, and Azul struggles to keep up. He is red in the face now with rage, but he cannot get out of Floyd’s grasp. He holds their hands off to the side like he would the neck of some hapless victim. His other cupped his shoulder blade as if he would strongly embrace him any moment now. It feels frighteningly possessive, and Azul cannot decipher it. He’s too busy trying not to trip, trying to match his footwork. Azul has seen dancing of course, but this was more hectic than those stately displays. They were practically skipping across the Lounge floor, together. Floyd, of course, was blissfully enjoying himself, completely in control of the situation.
“Come on! You’re slower than a sea slug, Azul!” He mocks, turning them quickly, a joined pirouette.
“Let go of me! Floyd! Let go of me, right now!”
“Why? This is fun, isn’t it?”
Azul’s feet stumble in the confusion but he does not fall, if only for Floyd’s strong hold. He laughs, but Azul can’t tell if it’s because he was mocking him or because he was having too much fun himself. In any case, he was unbearably bewildered at this point, flustered and struggling. As with any worst case scenario, he does his best to save face. He does his best to match his dance, physically pushed to his limit but refusing to fail.
And then Floyd twirls him. He’s quickly pulled back into his hold, dizzy in the frenzy. They resume their fanatic dance. Azul is now seeing there was no order in his moves to follow at all.
From the table, Jade laughs again. Azul had nearly forgotten they had an audience. Embarrassment floods him.
“Oh, Floyd,” Jade calls from across the room, amused, “That’s more like a foxtrot.”
“So?” Floyd replies, breathless, “It’s more fun if we mix it up!”
Azul thinks he’s been foolish up until now; he’s let his guard down around them too much. He’s become their plaything without realizing it. He has half a mind to slap him now, if he wasn’t being manhandled so much. Floyd, who has been watching their spacing on the floor, now glances up at him. The expression on Azul’s face seems to make him happy.
“Hey, Azul!” He asks, without breaking stride, “Remember when we used to play music together?”
“All three of us! We had a lot of fun then, didn’t we?”
“What in the world are you-”
“I said keep up! Look, did you like it or not?”
“What the hell does that matter! Unhand me!”
“Hey,” Floyd’s voice gets low now, buoyant but losing its patience, “You already know I’m not gonna listen to you. So just answer the question.”
He twirls him, whip fast again, and Azul sees he was very wrong about how strong he is. It was different to gauge it as an outsider then it was on the receiving end. He returns to him, gasping, finding himself thankful for the steadiness of his body against his own. It feels like his own heartbeat is matching their quick steps.
“I…” Azul struggles to think in the flurry, “As if I could, you always went off script!”
“Yeah, but you kept up with me! You always knew how to keep up with me!”
His mood is lively again, and he’s light on his feet, matching his own beat. He’s saying something here, but Azul can’t see it. He catches a glimpse of Jade as they dance by him. He is watching them like some entertained prince, tapping a finger on the table in time with the tempo. Azul could clearly see that whatever this debacle was, Jade was in on it too.
“I didn’t have a choice!” Azul bites back, returning his attention to him, “You never listened to what I said, anyway!”
“Why don’t we do that anymore?” Floyd ignores him again, “When was the last time you played piano for us?”
His heart stops. In all this childish mocking and bullying, something earnest appears. Azul will not admit it flusters him. It’s a silly thing to be flustered about anyway. Floyd looks behind him, motioning with his chin at them. Azul wants to interpret what this meant, what the next part of his plan was, but he doesn’t let him.
“I miss it.” Floyd admits, “I liked watching you play. Everything I came up with, you made it sound good.”
Azul always received compliments with over confident grace. But something about this felt too pure for his taste. He blushes.
The music has changed; the jazz music has traded in its fast trumpets for leisurely saxes. This was music for drinking to, to watching the moon in the dead of the night. Azul always preferred that more, but the clientele liked the trendy, upbeat stuff. Floyd, also, seems to withdraw in the face of it. He twirls him again, but this time Azul feels someone grab his wrist like he was a thief caught for a crime. He’s drawn back, and is shocked when he finds himself in Jade’s arms this time. He smiles down at him, benevolently hungry.
“Surely,” he questions cordially, “you must at least know how to waltz?”
He is, quite literally, swept away. The positions of their upper bodies are the same, but Jade makes them closer, literally joined at the hip. His footwork is different from Floyd’s; they are not short, choppy steps that skipped them across the dance floor, but long, elegant strides done in tandem. Azul struggles with this too, not only because he was thrown from one style to another, but because Jade’s movements required more precision to them, attention to detail. He was clearly more by the book, and to be taken from one end of the spectrum to the other, Azul struggled to catch up.
He stiffens as he feels the flat palm of Jade’s hand go up his spine. Jade continues to smile at him, cat who caught the canary.
“A perfect waltz means a perfect posture.” He instructs him, “The dancers must make a perfect form together, but never look each other in the face.”
He turns them, cursive in motion. Compared to his brother’s lax demeanor, Jade feels rigid. As a result, he feels more like a gilded prison, handsome but inescapable.
“Well,” Jade admits, “Those are the rules, but I can’t help liking the expression on your face right now.”
Azul does not like the heat he feels on his face. He hates giving people tells like that. As they turn, he catches Floyd’s gaze. He is leaned against the table now, watching them amused and mischievous, enjoying the whole show. His eyes watch them as they pass by.
“What are you two planning?” Azul hisses to Jade, trying to get back to the matter at hand. If he had thought that dealing with Jade would have been easier, he was sorely mistaken. Order versus chaos did not mean the order was easier to navigate. It just meant a more intricate strategy to fight against. He’s still smiling at him, clearly in control.
“I share my brother’s sentiments.” He continues, “Why did you stop playing, Azul?”
Azul just glares at him. He wonders if stepping on his foot would be payback, or playing into his hands.
“Too busy with work?” Jade guesses, “Too busy for us?”
“Get to the point, Jade.”
“It must have seemed like a headache for you back then,” Jade evades him, “But I think Floyd’s right. We made beautiful music back then.”
Azul gasps as his knees are pushed against, and he finds himself forced into a slow dip. He feels the strong grip of Jade’s hand on his back, holding him steady, the ceiling of the Lounge taking up his view. Jade’s hair is shaken from the movement, his bangs hanging in front of his eyes. His breathing is shallow, and Azul is late to notice his own labored breath, the result of all this exertion. Jade looks magnificent then, dreamy eyed.
“It was harmony.” He finally says, breathless, “Don’t you miss that too?”
Azul is speechless for once. Merchant of words he was, he finds himself at a loss now. His mind feels blank, completely overtaken by the implication he failed to see. Began to see. Started to know.
Jade brings him back up, onto stable footing. Azul is still trying to process what they were implying; it was absurd. It was practically taboo. There is no possible way that is what’s going on here; they must be planning something. What did they want from him? Scoundrels like them could ask for anything. A bigger cut of the take? Freedom? All this humiliation and teasing had to come from a place of greed. Azul cannot picture anything else.
(Did anything honest like that exist in this world, if not to just be exploited?)
He finds them abruptly stop and stumbles in response. Jade watches him for a moment, and his face softens. What was that? Azul feels something grip his heart. He’s never recognized such an expression on Jade’s face before. He slides his hand from Azul’s back, but brings the other hand holding his close.
Very gently, and lovingly, he kisses the knuckles of Azul’s hand.
Azul goes breathless from shock.
He is almost late to notice the next cue of this whole show. Short footsteps make their way towards them and Floyd is next. He roughly takes Azul’s other hand and brings it up to his lips, placing a fierceful kiss on the back of it. When he opens his eyes, it’s slow. Like he was savoring some taste. The twins exchange a glance. They smile at each other, reaching some satisfied conclusion. Jade speaks for them:
“I think, what we are trying to say in so many words, is that we miss you.” He confides, “Even when we are near you. Even when you are close. We miss you.”
Azul cannot find his voice. It all just sinks in deep, what was being said to him, what was being offered. The Lounge comes slowly back into view, dim and soothing, like the bottom of the ocean. He looks between the two of them, people he thought he knew, similar and dissimilar, familiar and a mystery all at once. The aquarium of their Lounge served as their backdrop and they made sharp shapes against its deep, calming blue. Something bursts forth in Azul’s chest, like his heart finally knew its response.
He sneers at them.
He forces his hands away from them, like they were something disgusting.
“Name your price.” He seethes. They blink in confusion. This was, clearly, not the answer they were expecting.
“I’m sorry?” Jade speaks first.
“I don’t know what you two are planning, but I could do without the theatrics.” Azul continues, gaining his pride back, “What is it you want? It must be something good if you’re trying to trick me.”
“...We’re not trying to trick you.”
“Save it. Your silver tongue isn’t going to work on me, Jade.” He turns his head to look at Floyd, equally surprised, “And you’re intimidation doesn’t scare me, Floyd. But I guess I should give the two of you kudos for trying?”
Floyd blinks rapidly, like on the verge of tears. He narrows his eyes, angry.
“Azul.” He warns, “Quit it.”
“Quit what? If we’re going to do business, then let’s do it like gentlemen, right?” Azul laughs, back to his usual self, “You don’t have to sweet talk to me for anything; just name your price. You will just have to forgive me if I don’t want to be toyed with during negotiations.”
“...You can’t be serious,” Jade says under his breath, but Azul is too sharp.
“Oh? You think I’m lying, Jade?” He calls him out, “You’re free to use your magic on me, if you want.”
He looks shocked for a moment, and then stares him down very darkly at the implication. Azul, himself, begins to regret that sentence too. Feel its sting. One, because he knows it went too far. But he was on such a roll now, back behind confident defenses, that it just slipped out.
Two, because he hopes he won’t. He does not want to tell the truth then.
His body is betraying him; for all his boasting and scathing remarks, his heart is still beating hard at what was being offered to him. It dances in his mind, what’s taken place, what can take place. Did he miss those days back then? Hell if he knows. He’s never thought anything like that could take up an innocent place in someone’s heart.
He has heard all sorts of insults thrown at him. He’s not sorry for any of it, of course. But it was strange to think that someone could look at him without ulterior motive, with pure affection, wanting to give something to him unconditionally. Things were temporary at best, which is why it was best to keep gathering what you could. He knows their relationship; he knew he would never reach their depths. And yet here they were, asking him to come home.
It scares him, feelings without strings attached, gifts without intention. It’s just nothing he recognizes.
And then he feels someone brush his hair out of his face. He stiffens. When he looks up, Jade is still looking at him harshly, tired and selfish.
“Really. Do you honestly think we would fall in love with someone so foolish?”
Azul flushes. It was one thing to hear it, and an entirely other thing to hear it spoken aloud. As a result, he doesn’t retort. Jade takes the opportunity.
“You have made plenty of deals with people. You know how to read them well. And yet you’re trying to accuse us of ulterior motives?”
He draws his hand back, finger lingering against his jaw as he takes it away.
“Azul. You’re smarter than this, so you know we’re telling the truth.”
He should have slapped his hand away. He should say something. Azul is a quick mind, so he tries to think of a strategy for this, to no avail. He examines the argument, all its conclusions and implications. Past evidence and behavior, previous encounter and outcomes. And the more he does the more it dawns on him: he’s right. Azul turns a very bright shade of red at this truth. He opens his mouth. He closes it again. He does not have an argument against them. He can’t fight them.
It’s just such an overwhelming, intensely beautiful, thought.
He has the sudden urge to hide. He does not want to be seen now. He looks away, as if looking for an exit. His eyes spot the contracts and paperwork still scattered on the floor. He frowns.
“...All I know is someone better pick up this mess.” He gains strength in his voice again, “And someone else was supposed to have the cafe clean by now.”
He doesn’t look up at them, but he does hear stifled laughter. It makes him burn more with embarrassment. Something in the room lightens.
“I’m headed back!” He announces, a little too loudly, and heads to the table to gather his coat and hat, “This place better be in order in the morning!”
He turns sharply to leave. He has no idea how he will handle this tomorrow; he needs to escape and reconvene on the matter later. Come up with some strategy. They have completely blindsided them and he has no idea how to fight back.
He is stopped suddenly, by someone wrapping their arms around him and pulling him back against their chest. He’s not surprised it’s Floyd. He’s so tall he practically envelops him, and he’s so warm, Azul can’t tell which body heat is who’s.
“Hey, hey,” Floyd whispers in his ear, playfully, “You know if you run like this, we’ll want to chase you more. That’s just in our nature.”
Azul did not think it was possible, but he burns even more. The innuendo shoots him in the heart. He quickly shrugs out of his hold and practically sprints towards the door, like prey escaping a predator. Floyd laughter rings behind him, but he doesn’t hear it for long. He shuts the door behind him, leaning against it. He grips his coat to his chest, trying in vain to catch his breath. It was too much. It was all too much.
Inside, the twins exchange a look, amused and back in form. Jade acts before he loses him.
“Azul!” He calls pleasantly, “We won’t take too long! We’ll join you shortly!”
Very distinctly, they hear someone trip on the stairs outside. Without missing a beat, they erupt in raucous laughter together.
They would take their time. Hunting prey meant patience and this was the same idea. But it felt nicer to have the same goal, rather than working against each other, or giving up the fight altogether. Perhaps some may say it was wrong, but they’ve always shared things in ways other people couldn’t understand. It’s just that their world has gotten a little bigger. It’s just that they’ve extended an invitation, and they thought it was rude to reject it.
They did not know, not then, that they would not have to wait long.
Azul heads back to his room, in one of the dorm’s aquarium tunnels. He is primarily watching his feet, trying in vain to get his face to cool down. In an effort to get his mind on anything else, he is absentmindedly studying the shadows of the swaying ocean waves on the floor. Very faintly, the thought blossoms: the memory of a piano.
He hopes he is not too out of practice.