We’re laughing, the kind that runs away from you, where you can’t quite catch your breath through the fits of giggles. Staring at a moving photo, which sent us into this burst, although I can’t remember why as I gasp for air. Your eyes are bright and green and soft and kind, and once again, I’m reminded that you don’t feel this.
I’m alone in this.
My laughter breaks like a stopper that’s been crammed into a bottle, and I still, watching as the joyous spark in your eyes flitters into confusion.
“What?” you ask.
It’s reasonable, the question, but I know that the anger that floods my veins is not.
My mouth opens, and then slams shut, damming the words that beg to escape.
I want to press your lips to mine.
I want to know how your hair feels against my palm.
I want to wipe away the nightmarish tears.
I need to wake up with you in my arms.
But you don’t want that. You don’t need.
You’re laughing, and I ache.
I pull out another photo, this one showing me running around the Manor being chased by screaming peacocks, and the pain subsides as it always does. Coals that never turn to embers nestled in my soul.
Someone asked once. Late night drinks, far too many, and one of your lions leaned across the counter, bold and visceral.
“You two ever happen?” he said with a toothy grin, and while my cheeks darkened, you quickly responded.
“No,” you said, shaking your head as if the very idea was preposterous. “Finally mates, but - er - not like that.” Your hand made its way to my thigh, and you squeezed, my body shuddering in response. “Right?”
You asked, but you didn’t look at me; the only thing connecting us was the touch on my leg and the beating in my chest.
“Right,” I answered, my eyes locked on your hand as you squeezed once more before withdrawing, the cold settling onto my skin and inside my heart.
“Potter and I would kill each other before we got our trousers off,” I said snidely, doubling down.
When I dare to look at you, I can only see a tight smile forming across your face.
I am not a lion. I make calculated decisions.
I broke, and you grinned. The moment between us slipped away.
“You were a cute kid,” you say now as the peacock continues to make its threats in the photograph, its feathers unfurling in a hue of purple and turquoise.
I hum in response, watching the beaming face of my former self, so open and raw and exposed. How I can’t remember the last time I felt that much joy, that much pleasure in something.
“You’re cute now, too.”
At first, I don’t hear you. I’m still lost in that photograph, that child I used to be. Your words cut through the fog of memory and hang in the air as my mind clears.
You’re not looking at me, finding something on the scratched hardwood floor of your living room far more interesting, but I look at you. I stare at you, my breath caught in my throat, and I can feel the kindling brewing in my chest.
“What?” I ask, the word leaving my tongue, and I want to bite it back, but it’s too late.
Instead, I hauntingly stare at your profile and force myself to inhale.
“I said,” and I can practically see the lion in you bristling its mane, arching its back. You cough before turning to look at me. Your eyes are bright again, but not with laughter. With something else, something stronger. “I said you’re cute now.”
Hope. Your eyes have hope.
“You think I’m cute?” and I wince, because I can feel my bite, the snarl in my voice that protects me from the very thing I see in your gaze.
You shrug, and it drains from your face. I can see your hands are shaking slightly as you stare at your nail beds. Your cheeks are flushed, and your feet nervously tap on your floor, and I am frozen in place, frozen in your words.
Have you been aching, too?
Or did we drink too much, once again? I glance to the bottle, half empty, both our glasses drained. Liquid courage or liquid delirium, the line is too blurred for me to be sure on just that fact alone.
You’re waiting, so still that I can barely see the movements of breath in your chest, and your eyes are closed. A blush of cherry red runs across your olive cheeks, creeping into your mess of hair, and I want to trace the line with the pads of my fingers.
I don’t. I wait with you.
I wish I could break the silence with a sword, find my strength as the blade slices through the thick air. I wish I could summon my lion and find the courage to release the dam in my chest.
I think you’re cute, too.
I think you’re the bravest, most beautiful man I’ve ever met.
I think I’m in love with you.
I open my mouth, but the words don’t escape, even though this time I want them to.
The silence stifles me. I cannot breathe, so I close my mouth again.
You do not wait anymore. Your hands hit your thighs, the smack of skin on skin breaking the pounding silence and you stand, ruffling your hair with your fingers.
“Forget I said anything.” Your voice is gruff, and I want to capture it with my mouth. I want to whisper into your ear and wrap my arms around your waist.
I need .
“Say it again.” My voice is quiet, and at first, I don’t think you’ve heard me. Your body continues to move with its conviction to run, to flee, but it stills after a step.
I want to stand as well, to walk toward you and turn your head to face mine. To stare into your eyes, to see the hope seep back in.
Instead, I sit. Waiting to see if my lion will pounce.
“I -,” You pause, and I can see the threat of hurt. So many years I spat in your face, that you’re afraid this is another opportunity. Our pain is never buried, only hidden underground.
I know, then, I cannot escape this unscathed. No matter the uncertainty. Without risk, there is no reward.
“I think you’re cute, too.” There is no snark in my voice as I say it, no snide remark. Instead, I feel my face beam, my smile stretch wide as my body tingles.
It tingles with hope. With joy.
“I thought I was alone in this,” you say as your eyes sparkle.
“So did I.”