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The Omnipresence of You

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Karl Jacobs didn’t know how to leave Sapnap alone.

That’s what Sapnap liked to repeat to himself, running the thought on loop in his brain anytime he hears the guy’s voice, or saw a flash of a stupid sweater, or mousy brown hair with a dopey grin attached.

The first time Sapnap met Karl was at the first big party of the year at their college. Sapnap was enjoying his newfound freedom, a freshman in college, free from his teenage years for the first time ever, and like many others, was taking advantage of it.

It was a frat party. Which frat, Sapnap would never remember. He was at least four beers deep, sprawled out on a couch, legs over Dream, his friend, and head resting on George, Dream’s roommate that Sapnap didn’t really know at the time but would eventually also become friends with. He didn’t remember a lot, just a buzz, the fogginess that usually overtook him when drinking, the smokey room, which he didn’t really know was his mind or weed, and a bright purple sweater, and loud, bright laugh to match.

Karl Jacobs was leaning on his friend, red cup in hand, laughing happily. Sapnap didn’t know him then, didn’t know his name or anything about him, except his laugh and smile and purple sweater. He sat up, struggling to balance. Dream’s laughter cut through, interrupting Karl in Sapnap’s mind, and he clumsily hit Dream on the mouth to shut up.

“What is it?” Dream asked, grabbing Sapnap’s shoulder to keep him up. The position was awkward, Sapnap practically sitting in Dream’s lap as his legs went over Dream and off the side of the couch, and their faces close. But Sapnap’s eyes stayed focused on Karl, who’s laughter faded as he took a sip, saying something to his friend which Sapnap couldn’t hear. Sapnap wanted to hear.

“Pretty,” Sapnap said, hopefully whispered but the party was too loud to hear anything anyway. Dream’s eyes followed Sapnap’s and he grinned.

“Yeah?” Dream questioned, and Sapnap nodded.

“Pretty,” he said again, staring wide eyed at him. Dream laughed again, looking over at George with a smirk.

Then Karl looked over. He turned, scanning the party with a happy look, and they made direct eye contact. Sapnap didn’t react, just continuing to stare at the other. Karl’s eyebrow furrowed a bit in confusion, but he smiled and waved. Dream held up a hand in response for Sapnap, who was so far gone in the color purple to even think to respond.

Twenty minutes later, while Sapnap was throwing up the aforementioned four drinks, Dream rubbed his back and ridiculed him for drinking on an empty stomach. As he threw up, all thoughts of Purple-Sweater-Guy went down the toilet, a brief moment of absolute love that Sapnap wouldn’t remember come morning.

Until he showed up in one of Sapnap’s second quarter classes.

Sapnap had already sat down, in the very back of the hall, the eight a.m. class already exhausting Sapnap, despite it being the very first day. He watched Karl walk in, hands gripping his backpack straps, obviously nervous, glancing around as he bit his lip.

If he hadn’t been wearing the same sweater, bright purple with a lime green swirl in the middle, Sapnap wouldn’t have remembered him. If he hadn’t pushed his hair off his forehead, eyes landing on Sapnap, lighting up with his own recognition, then Sapnap wouldn’t have thought about him ever again. The thought would only be brought up by George and Dream discussing his horrible drinking habits and how awful he is when drunk. A floating memory of the boy that Sapnap fell in love with for three minutes at a frat party his freshman year of college.

But instead, he was there, in his Data Structures class at eight a.m., walking towards him with an awkward smile, too early in the morning for Sapnap’s brain to compute what was really happening.

“Hey, you were at Chris’s party a couple weeks ago,” Purple-Sweater-Guy said, adjusting his hands on his backpack straps. Sapnap stared up at him, and really wished he had drank another cup of coffee before leaving for class.

“Who?” Sapnap asked, and watched Purple-Sweater-Guy push his hair out of his face, still grinning dopily.

“Chris, he’s in Phi Delts. On Fifth Street,” Purple-Sweater-Guy said, and Sapnap nodded as if in recognition. He didn’t need the explanation. He remembered him - remembered the foggy room clearing when his eyes landed on that brown hair and obnoxious sweater, heard the bubbly laugh that was now ringing in Sapnap’s ear.

“Oh, right. You were there?” He asked, trying to play the cool-guy card. He wondered how cool he did look - wearing ratty sweatpants and a dark sweatshirt, not having shaved in a couple days due to nothing but laziness, and bags that were probably worse than he’d like to imagine smeared under his eyes.

“Yeah,” Purple-Sweater-Guy said, and slid into the seat in front of Sapnap, still turned towards him. He pulled his backpack off, and Sapnap wondered why he had so much stuff with him, but didn’t dare ask. “Uh, you kinda stared at me for, like, a whole minute.”

“Oh, I did?” Sapnap said, knowing any cool-guy leverage he built up in the smallest of interactions was lost. “I was, uh, probably wasted. I don’t really remember that party that much.”

The guy laughed. The same laugh from the party, a little quieter, but seeing it, hearing it, up close made Sapnap’s heart flip. “You did look a little outta it. I figured you were stoned, you were, like, really wide-eyed, like almost scared.”

Sapnap made a note to himself to never ever drink ever again. He chuckled drily, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I just, uh… yeah. Look like that, I guess.”

The boy nodded, biting his lip, and damn if that wasn’t an image that Sapnap needed. Before he could do anything, escape the weird butterflies he felt creeping up his stomach, the guy held out his hand, arm extended to reach over the desk between them. “Uh, I’m Karl.”

“Sapnap,” he said on instinct, and Purple-Sweater-Guy - Karl - laughed, shaking his hand, and looking a little confused. The same look he gave him at the party.

“That’s a really weird name, no offense,” he said, then went a little wide eyed, stilling the handshake. “Wait, that was, like, really offensive. Sorry.”

“No, no, it wasn’t, don’t worry. It’s a nickname. My friend started calling me it in, like, first grade, and I never escaped it. More people know me as Sapnap now than Nick, so I just… roll with it.”

Karl nodded along with him, and let go of his hand. “It’s cool. I never had a fun nickname.”

“I used to wish I went by my last name, like most of the guys. I played football in high school, and everyone except me went by their last name. A bit weird to have, like, Henderson and Baker, then Sapnap.”

“Oh, I always wanted to go by my last name! I never played sports, so I never was called by my last name,” Karl said, bouncing a bit as he talked, and Sapnap found it endearing, biting back a soft smile at the action that mimicked something a child would do rather than a college student.

“What’s your last name?” Sapnap asked, clearing his throat. Behind Karl’s head, at the front of the hall, the professor walked in and set down her stuff at the desk.

“Jacobs.”

“Hello class, welcome to Data Structures! My name is Professor Gideons, and I…”

Karl smiled to Sapnap and turned in his seat, pulling out a laptop. Sapnap copied, pulling out his own with the rest of the class, and spent the next two hours staring at the back of Karl Jacobs head, trying to push down the weird fluttering feeling overtaking his chest.

--

Then Sapnap never saw the end of Karl Jacobs.

Whenever he went anywhere, it seemed, he ran into him. At every party, he would see him, hanging off his friend Chris like a koala, dancing awkwardly with some other guys, standing in the corner looking like a lost puppy. He would always awkwardly stare, until Karl noticed him, waving excitedly and bouncing over to him. Sapnap saw him in the dining hall, either eating with a huge group of people, or completely by himself, looking extremely sad. If he was with other people, he would just wave to Sapnap, but if he was by himself, he would call Sapnap over and make him sit and eat with him. If he was at the library for longer than an hour, he was bound to have a runin with the other. He saw him at a Starbucks, in the community kitchen of Dream’s dorm building, the goddamn Whole Foods a fifteen minute walk away from campus.

It was like he couldn’t escape him. For months, Sapnap played this game with him - going somewhere, seeing the other, get the stupid butterflies, before Karl bounced off with a goodbye.

By the time finals for second quarter came around, Karl had stopped sitting in front of Sapnap, and instead next to him. He was always almost exactly on time, only minutes before the class started. He always came in, scanning the crowd of students looking for Sapnap, who tried to stick to the back of the hall, and grin, coming to sit next to him. The third class they had, Sapnap was later than he usually was, so the back rows were mostly full, and he sat in almost the direct middle, classmates already on both sides of him. The disappointment on Karl’s face when he came in and saw no empty seat near Sapnap made his heart ache, and from then he always made sure to save him a seat, even if it meant having to sit closer to the front.

“Finals are in a few days,” Karl said, after class ended and they began walking out. That was also a routine - they would walk out of the class together, and back to the dorms. They weren’t in the same building, but they had a good five minutes of a walk together, and Sapnap would be lying if he said he didn’t really enjoy the calm walks with the other.

“Yep. You stressed?”

“My sleep schedule is already messed up as it is. This isn’t about to be a pretty coupla days,” Karl said, sipping his energy drink that he always had with him. Sapnap wondered how many of those he drank a day - every time he saw him, he always seemed to have one in hand.

“Same. Dream promised to help me with studying, since he took these classes last year, but the fucker scheduled himself every night leading up to the finals I needed help with.”

“Dang. What finals do you need help with?” Karl asked, holding one backpack strap tightly with his hands, pulling it forward a bit off his shoulder.

“This class mostly, to be honest. It’s just… a lot to remember, all at once, on finals day, you know?” He said, sorta embarrassed that he wasn’t doing the hottest in the class he had with Karl. It was mainly because he spent most of the lectures focused on Karl in his peripheral, watching his hands as he frantically typed all through the lecture, looking so focused on every word the professor said. He wouldn’t tell Karl that, though, and mostly felt embarrassed to not be as smart as the other.

“Yeah, definitely. I’m planning on a nice all-nighter in the library the day before. Hey, wait, do you want to study with me? We can stake out a corner in the library, I can bring a bunch of caffeine, and we can cram together!”

Sapnap bit back his comment of “like a study date?” which he would’ve said, if anyone else, and slowly nodded. “Sure. Sounds great.”

“Cool! We can text about the details, and everything,” Karl said, pulling out his phone with the hand that was previously gripping the backpack strap, and he sipped the energy drink, pulling up contacts. He handed over his phone, and Sapnap quickly put in his number, naming himself “Sapnap:)” before handing it back. Karl looked at it for a second. “You never told me why your friend nicknamed you Sapnap.”

Sapnap chuckled, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I was obsessed with pandas. At first he called me pandas, but that made me feel like he was calling me fat, so I told him to change it, so he called me Sapnap because it’s pandas backwards.”

Karl glanced at the phone contact, then back up to Sapnap. “It isn’t, though.”

“Yeah, I know. In sixth grade, he called me crying saying he was sorry for putting the burden of ‘Panpas” on me. I think Sapnap sounds better than Sadnap, though, so it’s fine.”

“Sadnap!” Karl said, laughing happily, pocketing his phone. “That’s so cute.”

Sapnap didn’t know how to respond to that. He sorta froze, still walking, but stared at the ground in front of him, trying to swallow hard to suffocate the butterflies. He forced himself to shrug helplessly and smile slightly.

Karl launched into a story about something that happened to him a few days before when he was at Chris’s, and Sapnap listened intently, practically holding onto every last word from the other. He didn’t know why Karl had this effect on him - he was just a guy who laughed a little too loud and smiled too wide and was too genuine for his own good. The stupid sweaters and turtlenecks and button downs he seemed to have a plethora of, his obsession with energy drinks, the energy of a golden retriever on crack… something about him made Sapnap feel all loopy - like he was back at that party, staring at him from across the room. Like he was the sun and everyone in the world was just revolving around him. His excitement when Sapnap called him Jacobs, his nonstop babbling about frankly unimportant things which Sapnap could listen to for hours on end… everything just made Sapnap feel like melting into a puddle on the sidewalk. But in a good way.

“This is me,” Karl said, pointing up to the dorm building. Sapnap nodded, smiling again to him. “I’ll, uh, text you about studying, if that’s fine?”

“Yeah. Sorry if I drag out your process, I’m a little slow to the uptake,” Sapnap chuckled, the self-deprecating joke not landing as he himself didn’t seem to find it funny. He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling so out of sorts, shyness he wasn’t used to having sneaking up on him quietly, steadily. If this kept up, he would be blushing soon.

“No, you won’t drag anything out! I tend to study too fast anyway, going slower than usual may actually help me! I get real… jittery… when studying and always want to finish early before I get like that,” Karl insisted.

“Maybe that’s the caffeine you’re hellbent on consuming all the time,” Sapnap noted, and Karl scowled jokingly, holding up his energy drink and taking a big sip.

“Hey, I wouldn’t survive without it. I dunno how you got through this class every week. Eight a.m. classes should be illegal,” Karl said, and Sapnap nodded, slowly, as if reassuring himself.

“Yeah, I dunno how I got through it either. Uh, text me, okay?” He said, dropping his hand from his neck, and Karl nodded, grinning. “See ya later, Jacobs.”

Karl waved, and turned to scurry into his dorm building. Sapnap watched him go for a bit, before turning to hightail it to Dream’s dorm and harass him until his next class.

Karl’s inquiry rang in his ears, loud and consuming and painful.

One thing got Sapnap through an eight a.m. class held three times a week.

Karl fucking Jacobs.

--

“I’ve never seen you like this before. It’s very weird,” Dream noted, laying on Sapnap’s bed as Sapnap dug through his small closet, searching for his favorite maroon sweatshirt.

“Like what?” Sapnap mumbled, finally pulling it out from shoved at the bottom, and grimacing at the wrinkles, before tossing it back into the bottom and digging more.

“All… lovestruck and stuff,” Dream said absently, and Sapnap straightened up so quickly he slammed his head on the top of his wardrobe. Dream began to cackle as Sapnap grimaced, rubbing his head with a scrunched up face.

“All what now?” He said, turning to face his friend.

“Lovestruck.”

“Whu… I am not…?” Sapnap said fluently, moving to dig through his desk drawer for something, abandoning his sweatshirt search. “I am not… lovestruck.”

“Oh, please!” Dream said, still laughing loudly. He sat up himself, cross-legged on Sapnap’s bed. “You were like this all the way back at that first party, back during first quarter. Remember when you stared at him from across the room for like… two minutes straight? And that was just you thinking he’s cute. Now that you know he’s actually a sweetie… dude, you’re falling.”

“I’m not—!” Sapnap slammed his desk drawer shut. “I’m not falling for anybody, Dream. You’re insane.”

“Oh, come on. You’re acting like I did when I first met George last year,” Dream said, a slip of the mouth, a surprise moment of weakness Sapnap hadn’t seen coming. Dream froze, looking down at his lap as he sucked in a tight breath, like he was pained by his own words.

Sapnap knew about Dream’s all encompassing love for George, had known about it when Dream came home for Thanksgiving the year before waxing poetic about his British roommate who he couldn’t stop listening to. When Sapnap finally decided to go to the same school as Dream, he would joke that it was because he wanted to see the “loverboy” that Dream kept on talking about. He expected something to happen with them by the time he got there, because while Dream wasn’t good at expressing feelings, he was even worse at having secrets, especially with those closest to him.

But nope. Dream was still roommates with him, still harboring an all encompassing love for the Brit, and still never shuts up about him over a year later. But Sapnap knows it’s touchy, so he tries to not bring it up.

“I am not. You were wacko last year,” Sapnap said, and Dream rolled his eyes, but picked up his phone and didn’t disagree.

“All I’m saying is… maybe talk to him about it! I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? He rejects you and you two don’t talk anymore?” Dream said, like it was obvious. Sapnap stared at him for a beat, before nodding.

“Yes, that’s the worst that could happen. I don’t want that to happen!” Sapnap said, going back to his closet to pull out just any sweatshirt. It was white with a smiley face on it - good enough.

“It’s not like you know him all that well! You have one class together now, who knows if you have any next quarter. Why not?”

“Because!” Sapnap pulled on the sweatshirt angrily.

“Because why!”

“The same reason you don’t talk to George about your feelings! I don’t want to ruin something already good. I don’t want him…”

Sapnap stopped, taking a deep breath. He hated it - emotions. He hated having them, dealing with them, stewing in them. He did this, tended to bunch everything up into a ball, leave his emotions ignored and shoved down there, watching it grow and grow and grow, ignoring it as well as he could, until it all burst and he was left empty again. A constant cycle that sucked, but Sapnap didn’t really see a different way. His mom had always told him it was unhealthy, and he was trying to differ, he was. But it was hard.

“You don’t want to lose him,” Dream finished softly for him. Sapnap came over, and collapsed on his bed next to him. Dream laid back, and they both stared at the ceiling, cracking in the corner of the room. The silence was calming, a moment of quiet the two friends didn’t get that much anymore. With schoolwork for both of them, and two separate lives in completely different grades, along with Dream’s job at the Starbucks on campus, and his coding gig on the side, they didn’t get to spend that much time together, outside of parties on the weekends and the occasional movie night-turned-sleepover in George and Dream’s dorm room. Sapnap liked George a lot, thought he was absolutely hilarious and it was refreshing to have a nice, calmer friend - when George wasn’t acting absolutely chaotic. But Dream and Sapnap had been friends since they were kids, ever since either could remember, it was Dream and Sapnap. And it was nice to have time to themselves for a bit, even if only a few minutes here and there, between classes or before a study not-a-date.

Sapnap sighed, blowing hair out of his eyes. “We’re pathetic. What happened to us, man?”

“I dunno. We used to be so cool. Now look at us.” Dream laughed, sad tension in the room breaking. If Sapnap closed his eyes, he felt like he was back home, and him and Dream were in high school talking about how all they wanted was to get outta there, onto new and better things in life. Crazy how that turned out.

--

Karl had told Sapnap to meet him on the fourth floor of the library at six for the prime study spot, which was the corner table with the cushioned chairs, overlooking the courtyard below. Sapnap was on the steps of the library by 5:45, and figured he would walk in and get their spot ahead of time. He scanned his ID to enter, was told by the librarian the library was open twenty four hours for finals, and he hurried upstairs. He normally wouldn’t bother with the elevator - he wasn’t a big fan of enclosed moving boxes hanging on by a few cords overhead - but he also didn’t want to walk up four flights of stairs, so he gripped the railing in the elevator and grimaced and it shuddered it’s way to the fourth floor.

It was obviously finals cramming hour. A lot of tables were filled, both with groups of people and people by themselves, all with the same look of “I sorta want to die” that Sapnap was sure he himself was donning. He saw a couple familiar faces, a few people he knew as Dream’s friends, but they didn’t look up, so he beelined towards the table Karl had been describing, which was miraculously empty.

He set down his backpack, full with his laptop, two textbooks, a two pound bag of goldfish, and a couple notebooks. His back ached just from carrying it there, and he was glad to be able to sit.

The few moments of silence before Karl arrived were helpful. Sapnap set up his studying stuff, struggled to connect to the library wifi for five minutes, sipped the large iced coffee he brought in a reusable cup to keep him awake, and told himself to calm down.

It was just Karl. Karl with the sweaters and the laugh and the smile. Karl who wouldn’t call him dumb, probably not even think it, no matter how long it takes Sapnap to get the right answers.

Just Karl. He can deal with Karl.

“Sapnap!”

He looked up at the call of his name, seeing Karl and his friend Chris walking towards them. Karl dumped his stuff on the table without flourish and grinned.

“Sapnap, this is Chris. Chris, Sapnap.” Karl gestured between the two, and Sapnap nodded as a hello.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Karl never shuts up about you,” Chris said with a smile, and Karl hit him, going wide eyed and nervous. Sapnap smiled, involuntary, trying not to pin too much hope on that. Friends talk about other friends. Nothing to dwell on. “You’re friends with Dream, right?”

Sapnap nodded again. “Yeah, we’ve known each other since we were little.”

“That’s cool, that you guys ended up at the same school,” Chris said, leaning against the empty chair at the table, as Karl began pulling his own stuff out.

“I followed him here, actually. He just can’t escape me,” Sapnap joked, and Chris chuckled, nodding. Karl looked up at him with a small, strained smile.

“Chris, don’t you have a date to get to?” He said, and Chris looked down at him. They seemed to have a conversation with their eyes, and Sapnap was reminded of him and Dream. Chris smiled after a second, and yeah, definitely reminded him of Dream.

“Okay, okay, I’m going. Damn, you need me to walk you everywhere, then complain when I stay to talk.” Chris held his hands up in defense, and Karl looked hurt suddenly.

“No, I didn’t mean—”

“Messing with you, Karl. I’ll see you later. It was great to meet you, Sapnap, I’ll see you around.” Chris saluted and turned, walking back towards the elevators. Both watched him go, before looking back at each other. Silence awkwardly fell over them, and Sapnap suddenly realized that he was, in fact, the most boring person in the world. What could he talk about with Karl for hours? Karl was staring at him, eyes naturally wide, making him always look a bit surprised as he looked at Sapnap. He wondered what he looked like, when looking at Karl. he liked to think he was good at covering emotions, but he also felt like he couldn’t help but project his emotion through his eyes to the other.

“Hi,” Karl said, breaking the silence, but it was soft, quiet. Sapnap smiled, also soft, also quiet. It felt intimate in a way Sapnap thought it shouldn’t be. Maybe that was just him, his emotions getting the better of him, the butterflies floating up and choking him. Karl was just like that, from what Sapnap could gather - soft and innocent and sweet in a way Sapnap could barely handle. In another life, he pictured himself hating the other. Anyone else, he probably would’ve found it annoying, thought of it as a joke, but instead he watched Karl clear his throat, open his energy drink with a pop, and pull his sweater sleeves down over his hands, and Sapnap couldn’t feel anything but a deep infatuation for the other. Pure, overwhelming, suffocating infatuation he didn’t see himself escaping anytime soon.

--

Christmas break came and went in a flurry of going home to his family, going to visit relatives, kisses on cheeks and foreheads from aunts and grandmothers Sapnap didn’t know he had, echoes of “Gosh, Nicky, you’ve gotten so old!” and “You need to shave, Nicky!”, before he was back on campus, January-grey skies and unbearable cold, preparing for their next quarter.

“Are you gonna reach out to him?” Dream asked as he wiped down the counter at the coffeeshop he worked at. Sapnap leaned against it, sipping his coffee and sighed.

“I dunno.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” George asked, sitting on the counter next to Sapnap, cross-legged as he watched Dream clean up. It was just after eight, and the shop had just closed, and Dream was finishing up before they headed to a party. First party of the new year, and Sapnap was just ready to be able to relax. He loved his family, sure, but three weeks with them nonstop was exhausting. How he lived with them for eighteen years he will never understand.

“I dunno,” Sapnap said again, pushing himself up to also sit on the counter, picking at his jeans. He had gotten a “merry christmas !!!” text from Karl, and sent one back saying he hoped he was having a good break, but besides that he hadn’t heard from Karl since after their final, when Karl hugged him goodbye as they parted.

(“So, I’ll, uh… see you next year?” Sapnap had said, rubbing his neck once again. Before he could process it, Karl threw his arms around Sapnap, hugging him tightly for a second, before letting go and taking big steps backwards.

“Definitely. See you next year, Sapnap,” he said, smiling and turning towards the dorm building.

“Later, Jacobs,” Sapnap mumbled, watching him until he disappeared in the building with a happy wave.)

“Maybe he will be at the party. He’s been at, like, basically every one we’ve gone to,” Dream noted, putting the cleaning stuff away. “Lemme take out the trash, then we can head out.”

He disappeared into the back room, and George and Sapnap sat in relative silence, both sipping their drinks.

“What is it about him?” George asked suddenly, and Sapnap looked up, confused. “Karl, I mean. Dream said you don’t normally get like this.”

Sapnap laughed drily. Dream was wrong, saying he doesn’t get like this. Sapnap had always been like this - at least what he could remember. Brief flashes of schoolgirl crushes flooded his mind momentarily as he remembered all his past all-consuming, life ruining crushes he has lived through. There was Sarah, with her bright red dyed hair in his freshman year language arts class who always made eye contact with me and wrote him little notes on scraps of paper. Connor from eleventh grade math who used to sit just a hair too close to Sapnap, and would rest his foot on Sapnap’s under the desk. Even a brief moment of contemplating his and Dream’s relationship the year before, when it was turning November and Dream had been gone to college, away from Sapnap for longer than a week for the first time in their entire lives, and Sapnap stayed up many nights wondering if he was in fact in love with his best friend.

He never knew how to really tell the difference between friendship and love. With Sarah, who would always grab his arm and laugh loudly at his jokes, he would fantasize about marrying her, before she came out as a lesbian and got a girlfriend, but never let up on the laughs and eye contact. Sapnap spent all of winter break his junior year preparing a plan to confront Connor and ask him about everything, and hopefully get answers as to what that thing between them even was, but when they returned to school, it had turned out Connor moved to New York, and Sapnap never heard from him again.

And with Dream. When he returned for Thanksgiving break, and Sapnap ran up to his door the day he got home to be bear hugged by his best friend, he realized it was love but in the brotherly sense. When Dream began waxing poetic about George and his “beautiful golden eyes”, Sapnap didn’t feel jealousy or rage or anything except happiness for his best friend. And that was that.

“I don’t know,” Sapnap admitted, still picking at his jeans. There was a little thin part that Sapnap constantly picked at. If he kept it up, he would soon have a hole there. “Just… it’s weird. I know that he’s, like, normal, but whenever I think about him… I dunno.”

He didn’t know how to describe it to George. He barely knew how to think about it. He was new to this - all his previous instances of “love” could be summed up as a crush - puppy love, as his mom would describe it. An obsession for a couple days, the stomach fluttering on high alert for a couple weeks, then it fades back to nothing.

But with Karl, it was a constant - not a fleeting thing but instead something that seemed to be permanent. A feeling he had never felt before, yet knew he wouldn’t be able to live without come the end of whatever this is. Whenever he thought about Karl, he felt the butterflies, but not usually all consuming. A small fluttering in the pit of his stomach, mixed with warmth and comfort that he wanted to bask in. It felt good, felt correct. It was the feeling he got as he looked at Karl for the first time through the fogginess of the party, the purple of his sweater blinking in his mind, warm and loving and there.

And he thought about Karl all the time. He found himself itching to talk to Karl over winter break, looking for him in his everyday life despite being hundreds of miles from the school. He saw someone with a purple sweater, almost the same purple as Karl, at the grocery store, and his heart jumped in hope. He saw a funny meme about pandas, and had the urge to send it to Karl in hopes he thought it was funny. (He didn’t send it. He stared at it for five minutes before his mom asked him to set the table and he deleted it off his phone.)

“Yeah, I get it,” George said softly, knocking Sapnap from his train of thoughts, looking over at the Brit, who stared at his lap before shrugging slightly, helplessly. He looked pained, sad, beaten down.

Dream came back in, door slamming shut behind him making both of them jump, looking over at him smiling. “You guys ready?”

“Yep, let’s go!” George said, quick mood change giving Sapnap whiplash, watching the smaller boy jump off the counter and pull on his jacket. Sapnap followed, slower, and Dream patted his shoulder as he passed by, towards the front door of the shop. Sapnap watched as Dream held the door for George, who smiled and nodded as a thanks, which Dream beamed back at. It was awkward to watch, but they seemed comfortable. Dream looked up at him, waving him along, and Sapnap saw the love he was used to seeing in Dream’s eyes, which he just saw flash in George’s, and Sapnap just smiled, hurrying to the door.

“Let’s do this.”

--

By hour two of the party, Sapnap was sitting on a roof. He wasn’t sure why exactly - Bad dragged him up there after an hour of walking around and mingling with people, before almost immediately ditching Sapnap when Skeppy came looking for him. Sapnap waved them on, and sipped his drink, something he didn’t recognize when Dream shoved it into his hand, but appreciated all the same, looking out across the night sky.

“Holy shit, it’s freezing out here.”

Sapnap turned to see Karl leaning out of the window that lead to the slanted roof Sapnap was sitting on. He raised his eyebrows, biting back a grin. Karl was wearing a red sweater over a white collared shirt, and his hair was shorter, obviously having gotten a haircut over winter break.

“Hi,” he said fluently, and Karl grinned bigger, pushing himself up, crawling out to sit next to Sapnap on the roof. “How’d you know I was up here?”

“Saw Dream, said you went upstairs. Saw Bad, said he left you sitting out here, moping,” Karl explained, and Sapnap grimaced.

“I’m not moping,” he mumbled, and Karl nudged him, smiling.

“How was your break?” Karl asked, and Sapnap shrugged.

“Eh, same old. Got to see my mom and little brother, which was nice. But then I had to sit through hours of ridicule from my relatives, so that sorta sucked.”

“Ridicule for what?” Karl pulled his knees up to his chest, looking out down at the street below them. They were only on the second floor of a house, people milling around outside only a few feet from them, realistically, but Sapnap felt like they were miles away. The echoes of the party below them and through the window were muffled where they sat, and for a moment, he allowed himself to pretend they were the only people in the world.

“Whatever they can get their hands on, really. My grades, my choice of college, anything. Two years ago, when they found out I wasn’t straight was the worst though. Now, it’s really just them rapping on my facial hair,” Sapnap said, realizing as he was speaking that he was most definitely oversharing, but he didn’t stop the words from flowing out, into the air and settling around them. Karl was staring at him as he talked, and when Sapnap looked over, he looked back out to the street in front of them.

“They’re dumb for thinking that. It’s cool that you’re so open about yourself,” Karl said quietly, and Sapnap stared at him, curling his own legs up to his chest, matching Karl’s pose.

“You think I’m really open about myself?” he asked, and Karl nodded immediately.

“I wish I could be as carefree as you are,” he responded, a whispered confession into the night, and Sapnap wanted to live in that moment forever.

The silence consumed them for a couple minutes, cold air slowly freezing Sapnap’s fingers and ears as he watched the stars blink unknowingly in the sky. Sapnap took a sip of his drink, and Karl made a grabby hand motion to it, and Sapnap passed it over, letting him take a sip.

“I like your facial hair,” Karl said, definitively, after a couple minutes, and it surprised a laugh out of Sapnap as he took back the cup.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Karl said genuinely, and Sapnap found himself scooting over a bit, so their sides were pressed together. Karl dropped his head to rest on Sapnap's shoulder, and Sapnap brought his arm around, lightly touching Karl’s waist. Karl’s fingers reached out, and rubbed the frayed part of Sapnap’s jeans, the same part he had been picking at earlier, and Sapnap lost his breath for a second, watching Karl’s thumb rub the smallest of circles into his jeans.

Time faded away. It could’ve been hours or minutes that they sat on the roof, Sapnap couldn’t tell. Karl’s thumb eventually slowed the circles, and he just rested his hand on Sapnap’s knee, intimate and warm, despite the cold air and Karl’s cold fingers. Sapnap’s fingers twitched on Karl’s hip, wanting to rub circles as well, but didn’t want to cross any invisible lines placed in this new development in their friendship. Sapnap had never been a very physical person with anyone except his family or Dream, really, so this new position Sapnap found himself in scared him, just a little bit. In a good way, though. A really good way.

“I’m really cold,” Karl whispered, breath forming a cloud in front of them, and Sapnap chuckled, nodding.

“Let’s go inside then, Jacobs,” he said, but Karl didn’t make any movement towards the window. He curled in slightly more, nose pressing against Sapnap’s neck, freezing, a direct contrast from the warm breath he now felt at the base of his neck.

“Comfy,” Karl said, breath warming Sapnap almost immediately. He shifted, dropping his shoulder a bit to get a little more comfortable, and continued to watch the blinking stars.

Then the window slid open again. Karl sat up quickly, and Sapnap felt cold again, jarred by the shock of the freezing air. Sapnap turned, looking at the window.

“It’s, like, twenty degrees outside. What are you doing?” Dream and George both lean against the window sill, looking at the two.

“We’re watching stars,” Sapnap said, voice way more confident than he felt. He looked over to Karl, whose face was bright red, whether that was because of the cold or embarrassment, Sapnap wasn’t sure. He smiled at Dream and George, though.

“I’m Karl,” he said, and George smiled back happily.

“George,” he said, saluting.

“Dream,” Dream said, and began crawling out onto the roof. “Mind if we sit out here with you? The secondhand high I’m getting from the weed in the air is starting to hit me.”

George followed, and the two settled on the roof next to Sapnap and Karl. Sapnap wanted to punch Dream, push him off the roof, slap him. He looked over to Karl again, and Sapnap hoped his eyes portrayed an apology. Karl just smiled back, but he looked almost… sad. Disappointed. He pulled his knees closer to himself and stared out to the stars, blowing out a puff of air. Sapnap mimicked his position, keeping an eye on him out of the corner of his eye.

In his peripheral, he saw Dream nudge George, grinning maniacally. Sapnap just sighed, biting back to urge to literally push him off the roof.

--

He didn’t have any classes with Karl, and it upset him more than he thought it would.

He spent the first week of school sulking around, from class to class, to Dream and George’s dorm, to the coffeeshop, to his own dorm, and repeat. Over and over and over.

And his habit of seeing Karl everywhere just… stopped. He stopped seeing him in the dining hall, didn’t have a reason to go to the library and run into him, nothing. Anytime he walked anywhere, he didn’t stop glancing around, looking for a head of mousy brown hair, listening for the laugh that engrained itself in his heart.

And now he sat, sulking at a table in the coffeeshop. He was hunched over, watching Dream make the coffee, moving quickly as he multitasked. Everytime the bell jingled over the door, Sapnap’s heart leapt a little, as if Karl was going to walk through the doors at any minute.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the roof with Karl. Karl’s fingers running over his knee, his own hand on Karl’s hip, Karl’s breath on Sapnap’s neck, his cold nose pressed into his collarbone. The longer he went without seeing Karl, the more he wondered if he just made the interaction up, completely imagined it by himself. And the longer he thought about that, the stronger his fear that he had crossed a line, had pushed the other boy too far, was actually true and Karl was avoiding him.

“Text him.”

Dream’s voice cut through his thoughts which had made him completely unfocused on everything around him - his thoughts do that a lot now; make him fade out of real life and into his mind, which was full of comfortable sweaters and sweet laughter.

“Huh?” Sapnap looked up at his best friend, who set down another cup of coffee on the table he was holed up at. This was a to-go cup, and he took back the ceramic mug he had been using.

“Text your boy, ask if he wants to meet up or do something. I can’t stand it, you’re so mopey it’s exhausting.” Dream said, flipping Sapnap’s phone over for him and pushing it more towards him. “Text him. Please.”

“He isn’t my boy,” Sapnap mumbled, but picked up his phone anyway, clicking into messages. Dream just rolled his eyes, clapped Sapnap on the back of his head, making him yelp, before going back to the counter.

The last message he had from Karl was from Christmas day - a simple “thanks sap u 2:)” when he said he hoped he was having a good break. The only text before that exchange was their plans to meet up at the library before finals.

Was it all too much? Sapnap leaned back a little, staring at the little speech bubbles on the screen. A few parties, one class, and here Sapnap was, halfway in love with this boy and barely able to even talk to him about anything serious. He didn’t even know if Karl liked guys, if he thought realistically. When Sapnap brought up his sexuality, Karl said that it was “dumb for them to think that” about those who didn’t like that he wasn’t straight. But anyone not homophobic would say that. He could just be naturally touchy, naturally soft like that, and Sapnap was definitely overstepping what was definitely supposed to be a casual friendship. Sharing drinks at a party, studying together for finals kind of friendship, not a real relationship. There was a difference, and Sapnap definitely thought that he was overstepping.

But… but.

But he wanted this so badly. Karl was a bright light in his life, as small a part of it he was. He was the sun at golden hour, shining brightly, reflecting warmth on Sapnap. He made Sapnap want to be happy, made Sapnap want to wrap around him and never let go.

Was that love?

He pressed his hand on his knee, where he felt the ghost of Karl still touching, soft yet stable, grounding. His mind flicked back to the roof, to the cold, to Karl’s whisper of “comfy” as they sat together, a warm spot together in a sea of cold air.

He sent Karl a message before he could overthink it again.

hey do u wanna watch a movie with me tonight

--

His classes were harder this quarter. He had more rigorous work, and not one but two early classes, both without Karl to help him stay awake.

Safe to say, he felt just a bit tired constantly - even this early into the year.

When Karl knocked hesitantly on his dorm room door, Sapnap had been hunched over his laptop, scrolling through twitter trying to stay awake. The knock woke him up, pure panic settling in as he realized that this was a mistake. He could barely handle Karl in the real world, sitting three feet away from him in the library, barely handling a less than twenty minute conversation at a house party. How was he going to handle him, alone, in his personal space?

And, to top it all off, the first thing Sapnap suggests they do after the rooftop meeting… be a private meeting in his dorm room.

Great idea.

He wondered briefly if it was too late to cancel. Yell through the door that he was projectile vomiting, and that he’ll see him later.

But knowing Karl, which Sapnap believed he did, at least to some extent, he would burst in and insist on making sure he was alright anyway. And, if not, he would leave, and Sapnap didn’t want him to be any amount of disappointed. He remembered the one time he didn’t save a seat for Karl in class - the disappointed look on his face - and he remembered the promise he made himself to never let Karl down like that again.

He opened the door to find Karl grinning, but it looked a bit… nervous. Hesitant. Still Karl, but… different. Worried. He was wearing a light blue crewneck, and grey sweatpants. It was the most casual Sapnap had ever seen Karl dress. He held up a bag of cheesy popcorn, and a carrier tray with two Starbucks drinks, and Sapnap smiled.

“Hi,” he said, and Karl’s nervous grin dropped to a genuine smile.

“Hey,” Karl said, and Sapnap reached for the drinks.

“You got me coffee?”

“Well, I figured you were gonna be tired. You have another lecture at eight on Mondays and Fridays now, right?” Karl said, glancing around the room with a slight nod.

“Yeah, I do, actually. How did you know that?”

“Saw Dream when getting these.” Karl motioned to the drinks in Sapnap’s hands, the drink carrier bent ominously under the weight of two venti drinks. “He also told me that you were a bit fan of ice lattes, which I never would’ve pegged. I figured you were a hot black coffee kinda guy.”

“And what’s this?” Sapnap motioned to the blended beverage. “A frappuccino? I absolutely pegged you as a frappuccino kinda guy.”

Karl giggled, and took it from the carrier, sipping it happily. “It’s good, okay?”

“It’s a coffee flavored milkshake.” Sapnap hesitantly sat on the edge of his own bed, drink in hand. He watched Karl debate in his head where to sit, before he kicked his shoes off and sat next to Sapnap, scooting back until his back was against the wall. Sapnap copied blindly. “Actually, I would have pegged you as a six shots of espresso with a splash of milk kinda guy, what with your absolutely crippling caffeine addiction you have going on.”

Karl grinned, giggling some more as he sipped his drink, nodding. “You’re right about the caffeine thing, but actually, I’m not the biggest fan of strong coffee taste. I drank a monster on my way here, though.”

Sapnap nodded, smiling a lopsided sorta smile, the kind he catches Dream doing whenever George does something that could classify as cute. “Of course you did.”

Karl took another long sip of his drink, and Sapnap finally took a sip of his, nodding happily at the taste, which made Karl beam. “What movie are we watching?”

“Well, I, uh, didn’t really think that far ahead. Let’s just watch something… easy, you know? Not too mind numbing. I don’t think I could handle mind numbing,” Sapnap rambled a tinsy bit as he pushed himself off the twin bed, crossing the small room to look at his collection of DVD’s that he had amassed over the years. He pulled a couple out. “I have Legally Blonde, Star Wars, uh… Mean Girls, Forrest Gump, Dead Poets Society… no, wait, that’d be too heavy… uh…”

“I’m fine with Star Wars,” Karl said, and Sapnap felt the eyes of the other bearing into the back of his head. He wondered if this was how Karl felt every time Sapnap just… stared at him. He wondered if Karl thought he was creepy. Some weird guy stares at him at a party, ends up in one of his classes, forces him to study for finals with him, then ominously invites him over to his dorm to watch a movie alone. How creepy did Sapnap come off in that situation? The logical side of his brain wants to reason that, no, it isn’t creepy, because they did become abnormally close in class, and Karl never seemed to avoid Sapnap, and watching a movie with someone you consider a friend is normal, but the irrational side of Sapnap’s brain began ringing alarms. “I’ve never seen it before.”

That shut Sapnap’s arguing brain up, and he whipped his head towards Karl, the DVD cases of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Muppets in hand, as he stared at Karl, wide eyed, mouth opened, genuinely shocked into disbelief. “What?!”

Karl giggled again and shrugged. “I’ve never seen it.”

“Any of them?!” Sapnap dropped the DVDs and grabbed his DVD of Star Wars. Karl shook his head. “My God, Jacobs, no need to break my heart like that.”

It was a joke, obviously, but the way Karl’s eyes flashed briefly at the statement, the barest moment, barely there sight of sadness and worry, seared into Sapnap’s mind as quickly as it happened. It was another moment where Sapnap’s heart began to flutter, unreasonable and unnecessary hope creeping into his chest and wiggling his way into the warmth still settled at the bottom of Sapnap’s chest, making it expand, just slightly. Making Sapnap one step closer to the edge, one move closer to losing what little bit of sanity and rationale he had left in the situation.

“Sorry. We can watch it now, though, so it’s better,” Karl said, crossing his legs and sipping his drink with a lopsided grin. He looked younger, like that, Sapnap thought, and wondered briefly if Karl constantly felt like he was drowning in emotions like Sapnap did.

“How is it better?” Sapnap said, already moving to turn his TV on and put the disc in.

“Because this way, you can see my reactions to everything. The only thing I know is that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, there’s a weird love triangle between Leia and Luke and the other one, but I think Luke and Leia are also siblings? So I dunno how that works. Oh, and Adam Driver is particularly fine.”

Sapnap chuckled at the comment, brain working in sudden overdrive to process Karl complimenting a guy. A compliment to a guy doesn’t mean that he is gay, but a complement to a guy is a good push in that direction. Sapnap loved security in straight men as much as the next, but screw breaking heternormity, Sapnap really, really wished that was hinting at Karl liking guys. “Uh, Adam Driver doesn’t show for a while. Sorry to disappoint.”

Karl frowned, and Sapnap sat on the edge of the bed, waiting for the disc to read to make sure it was working before getting comfortable. He reached forward, grabbing the truly gigantic bag of cheesy popcorn, handing it to Karl, still sipping his drink. Sapnap got his off his nightstand before forgetting, and when the blue screen went black and began the opening menu screen, he scooted back to rest against the wall with Karl. He figured it would’ve been more comfortable to sit at the head of his bed, with his pillows, but Karl seemed a little out of place, so Sapnap didn’t say anything, didn’t want to put him in a more uncomfortable situation.

“Want to know a secret, though?” Sapnap said, pulling the blanket resting on top of his bed, a Houston Astros fuzzy blanket his mom got him to “not forget Texas”, and draped it over his and Karl’s, who moved the popcorn out of the way, legs. He pressed play on the menu screen, and it went black again. Karl was looking at him, eyes big as per usual, and shiny in the dimmer light in the room, only coming from his lamp and the gradually lighting TV screen. “I think young Harrison Ford is better looking than Adam Driver.”

“I dunno who Harrison Ford is,” Karl said, looking back at the TV screen, and Sapnap chuckled, trying not to think twice as he pretended to settle in, scooting just an hair closer to Karl, of who he had a gap of space between, starkly different from the last time they were alone.

“Oh, you will get to know dear Harrison Ford, don’t you worry.”

Karl looked at the screen for a second, before looking back, eyes shining in the TV light. He looked soft, which was usual, but it always stood out to Sapnap. “I trust you.”

Sapnap was gone. Head over heels in love with Karl Jacobs, and all it took was a couple of quiet moments, a few coffees, and a handful of cute, colorful sweaters.

--

They watched Star Wars, then Legally Blonde, before they turned on regular cable TV that Sapnap got through whatever offbrand Amazon Fire Stick he had. They flipped through channels mindlessly, before Karl made a comment on how he didn’t know how to play poker, when they passed a channel playing a championship of it, and they spent twenty minutes laughing quietly to themselves as they tried to figure out what was happening in the game. Karl claimed he understood by the time Sapnap changed the channel, but he was pretty sure that Karl was as lost as he was.

He settled on some movie channel playing How To Train Your Dragon, and Sapnap pulled on Karl’s shoulder to shift with him as he went to lean against his headboard and pillows. Karl did so, taking up space between Sapnap and the rest of the room, back to Sapnap as he watched the TV. At some point, Sapnap had clicked his lamp off because of “glare”, leaving them in the pale yellow light from the streetlamps barely visible through the curtain, the rest a cool, dark blue with the night. Sapnap kicked his comforter back for them, warming them up from the cold air perpetually flowing through Sapnap’s dorm room.

“You’re lucky to have a single room,” Karl said, breaking the quietness between them. Sapnap muted the movie, and Karl didn’t move to look at him. Sapnap, staring more at the ceiling than Karl, had his arm pressed up against Karl’s back, and he fought the urge, once again, to reach out and really touch Karl, hold him, never let him go.

“It’s lonely,” Sapnap admitted, suddenly more than willing to be vulnerable to the other. It was an odd feeling - wanting to be emotional - and Sapnap felt taken aback by it, was frightened by it. He never opened up to anyone who wasn’t his mom, Dream, or maybe George, now. But Karl made him want to be vulnerable. His words from the roof rang in his ear - “it’s cool you’re so open about yourself” - and Sapnap really wanted to embrace that. If he was going to go all out, he was going to go all out. “I’m not very good at making friends, so I was too scared to get a double room, because I was scared my roommate would, like, hate me or whatever. But it’s really lonely. I feel like I spend most of my time trying to not be in my dorm room.”

Karl nodded along, understanding and a steady presence as Sapnap admitted something he didn’t fully even realize about himself until he was saying it. Maybe that was why he clasped onto Karl so quickly - he had other friends at college, of course he did, but almost every single one of them were actually Dream’s friends that Sapnap met and began talking to through Dream. Karl was the first friend Sapnap made that was his own, not having Dream as the middleman. Karl was the first person in college that Sapnap even noticed without Dream pointing them out.

That was probably why he fell for him so quickly. Karl seemed to like him, genuinely, and only for himself. Sapnap knew most of Dream’s friends were nice, and did actually like him, but he couldn’t help the twinge of anxiety he got whenever he hung out with them without Dream, wondering if they actually liked him or they only tolerated him because he was Dream’s weird friend who followed him to college. But with Karl, he didn’t have that. Yeah, he still had anxiety about Karl and their… whatever it was… but it wasn’t the same. No one was forcing Karl to hang out with Sapnap, nothing was forcing him to sit next to Sapnap in class, or show up tonight, armed with goodies and a bright smile. He was there because he wanted to be there, not because of some other reason.

And that thought alone, the pure idea that Karl liked hanging out with Sapnap because of Sapnap, did more to warm Sapnap’s heart than anything else. The warmth spread, from the pit of his stomach to his chest to his neck, up through his face, down through his arms, and further down through his legs. His toes wanted to curl, fingers itched to begin rubbing patterns on Karl’s arm and back, and head somewhat cleared, the cluttered thoughts pushed out for brighter, warmer, hopeful thoughts that he had previously shoved down, shoved away.

“I’m sorry,” Karl said, soft and echoey in the otherwise silent room. Sapnap slowly reached his hand up and rested it on Karl’s shoulder. They were both laying down, half under the comforter, and Karl turned, body towards the ceiling and head to Sapnap. He smiled in question, and Sapnap grinned back. Karl’s eyes flicked down to it, slowly. The exhaustion was setting in, to both of them, and Sapnap wondered if he should offer to walk Karl back to his dorm.

“It’s okay,” Sapnap replied, and watched Karl’s eyes trail to his lips again. He licked his lips. “It’s getting really late.”

“Do you want me to go?” Karl said, so genuine it hurt Sapnap’s heart. He was sure that, despite whatever moment they had fallen into, Karl would leave at Sapnap’s request, no matter how sad it would be. Sapnap didn’t want to do that to him, didn’t want to dare do anything that could remotely hurt the boy, small in the small bed, blue crew neck pulled a bit down by laying on the bed, exposing his collarbone.

“No,” Sapnap said, deciding that he liked the whole honesty thing that was happening between them.

“What do you want?” Karl asked.

Everything. Anything Karl was willing to give him.

“I want you to tell me your secrets.”

Karl hesitated, and for a brief second, the warmness in Sapnap went ice cold, as he was scared he was overstepping. But before he could backtrack, Karl turned to face Sapnap completely, smiling slightly, and looking up in thought.

“What do you want to know?” Karl asked, and Sapnap’s answer slipped before he could even overthink it, good or bad.

“Anything. Everything.”

Karl giggled, softer than before, but the same high pitch, the same bubbliness, the same infectiousness. Sapnap found himself chuckling along with him, as Karl thought for a second.

“Uh, I hate rooming with Chris. I love the guy to pieces, but he’s such a stickler about cleanliness, and always goes on morning runs at, like, six, and it wakes me up when he leaves.”

“That hardly counts as a secret,” Sapnap retorted, and Karl rolled his eyes, a smile not leaving his face.

“You shared something about your dorm, I shared something about mine. Your turn.” Karl shifted a bit, getting comfortable.

All in. Sapnap hyped himself up, all in repeating in his head, before jumping head first into the emotions.

“Some days I wake up and regret picking a school so far away from home. Like, this is a great school, and I love it, but there are days that I wish I could get a hug from my mom, or mindlessly waste hours playing Minecraft with my little brother.” Sapnap figured it was a good way to ease into this secret-sharing thing, something personal, but easy to relate to. He wanted to tell Karl everything, wanted to open up his heart to the other to pick apart, to patch up, to do whatever the hell he wanted with it.

“I always regretted not making more friends in high school,” Karl responded. “I was so focused on schoolwork and getting into good colleges I kinda missed out on the real high school experience, and I think I’m gonna regret that for a while.”

“I wish I was better at expressing my emotions,” Sapnap confessed, and Karl nodded.

“Me too,” he agreed, and they stared into each other’s eyes for long beats of time.

The room was dark, except the flickering of the TV still playing the movie, so Sapnap couldn’t really make out his eye color, or hair color, but he could make out the shape of his nose, and face, and lips, the soft smile that seemed stitched on, the slightly flushed cheeks.

“I’m really glad we became friends,” Karl whispered into the night, and Sapnap’s brain stopped working for a bit, shutting down in preparation for what was coming right then, the inevitable finally arriving as Sapnap watching Karl bit his lip in waiting for response, nervousness leaking into his expression, or what Sapnap could see about it. Sapnap brought a hand up, resting a thumb on Karl’s lip, and pulling it out from his teeth. Karl looked shocked, frozen, watching Sapnap’s movements. He left his hand there, thumb over the other’s lips, and closed his eyes.

“I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you.”

--

Sapnap awoke to the sound of chirping birds and a strange weight in his arms.

It took him a second to remember the night before - movies, popcorn, poker, secrets, a confession - and he peeked open an eye to see Karl curled in his arms. He looked somehow even more small and innocent in his sleep, calm and relaxed in a way Sapnap didn’t realize he wasn’t. Tension he didn’t realize Karl was even holding was gone, from his shoulders and his jaw, and it was beautiful to see. Somehow, without the tension, Karl was even more beautiful.

Sapnap was sure he was fading in and out of sleep, closing his eyes and opening them over and over, watching Karl sleep peacefully in his arms.

He opened his eyes after they had slid shut for the third time to watch Karl move, shifting in his arms. When Sapnap went to pull his arm away, the one that was laying over Karl, Karl reached out and grabbed the arm, holding it against his body until Sapnap let the tension in his arm go. Only then did Karl let go, shift a little more, let out the tiniest of snores - so small it really could’ve been a sigh - and lost himself completely to dreams once again. Sapnap, risky in the moment of weakness after watching Karl literally cradle his arm, leaned forward and kissed his forehead softly, as to not wake him up, before pressing his face into Karl’s neck, and falling back asleep.

--

Minutes or hours later, Sapnap blinked awake again, yawning into Karl’s neck, who giggled at the sensation. Sapnap pulled his head back, to see Karl watching him with a small smile.

“Hi,” Sapnap said, voice thick with sleep, and Karl reached over, petting Sapnap’s hair out of his face, and pulling his head back to rest on his shoulder. Sapnap held him a bit tighter.

“Hi,” Karl whispered, petting the back of Sapnap’s head for a bit, staring at the ceiling in contemplation, before smiling a bit wider and looking back at him. “Nick.”

Sapnap pressed his face into Karl’s neck. That did it for him. The softness that Karl said it, the power behind a one-word syllable, made Sapnap fall all over again, and he pressed his face, trying to hide the flush growing up his cheeks. This felt surreal, everything about the situation, about their… relationship, about Karl.

“That’s what does it for you?” Karl laughed, still soft and comforting. “Your real name?”

“Shuddup, Jacobs,” Sapnap mumbled, and Karl laughed. Then Sapnap pulled back, and smiled cheekily at Karl. “Karl.”

Karl rolled his eyes. “Nick.”

“Karl.”

“Sapnap.”

“Jacobs.”

“Sappitus Nappitus.”

“See, you had to go and ruin it,” Sapnap said, pulling his arm back, and Karl laughed, louder and more joyful, grabbing his arm and keeping him hugging him. Sapnap didn’t try to fight it that much. He curled into him a little more, and took a moment to stop and think.

The night before, Karl didn’t say much after the confession, but he seemed… happy. Hopeful. He had curled into Sapnap, who turned off the TV, dousing them in darkness, and had grabbed Sapnap’s hand playing with his fingers nervously as they laid there. Sapnap didn’t expect him to say it back. But he smiled until he fell asleep in Sapnap’s arms, playing with Sapnap’s fingers as Sapnap played with his hair. He seemed content.

The morning light could change that though. It had been late, and Sapnap’s confession was… a lot for it being so late. He could’ve thought about it, changed his mind, decided it was too much too fast.

Sapnap wanted to know what the other was thinking. He would be heartbroken, sure, but he didn’t want him to feel obligated to do anything, just because Sapnap confessed. He would never want to put Karl in that place. He…

He loved him too much for that.

“Karl—” Sapnap began to say as Karl also said, “I think we should—”.

Sapnap nodded for him to go first. Karl took a deep breath, and leaned a bit, pressing his forehead against Sapnap’s collarbone. “I think we should talk about it.”

Sapnap’s hand, trailing circles in Karl’s back, stilled. That didn’t sound happy. “Okay.”

“Do you… I, uh…” Karl stopped, and took a deep breath. “I’m not good at talking about feelings. Can you, uh, bare with me? Through this?”

Sapnap nodded with no hesitation, and slowly began rubbing circles again in Karl’s back. His brain felt fuzzy, confused. He was scared, Karl was going to reject him, worried he was pushing Karl into something he didn’t want, or wasn’t ready for. He just wanted Karl to be happy, that was his bottom line. It would break Sapnap’s heart, if it wasn’t with him, but he wasn’t going to try and force Karl into something he didn’t want to be in. He would never even think to do that.

“Okay. Your… what you said last night… I… I’m so glad you said that. About me. I’m just… I’m not good at expressing emotions, like that? I’ve never really… had anything like this, and it’s really scary. Really intense. And I’m still trying to catch my footing, you know?”

Sapnap nodded. He did. Half the time, he felt like he was drowning, unable to breath under the weight of emotions he had barely known, only had a small brush with before.

“But… I want it. I want it, what you said last night, so damn bad. And I think I feel it, I’m, like, ninety nine point nine nine nine percent sure I do. But… it’s fast, isn’t it?”

Sapnap nodded. “It is.”

“I just… need time. Need to ease into it. This, this… is great. But…” Karl sighed, blowing out slowly. Sapnap nodded, understanding, feeling what Karl was feeling.

“I can do that,” Sapnap said. Anything, anything for Karl. If Karl wanted to stay friends, wanted to wait, wanted to go on a date tonight. Whatever.

“Yeah?” Karl whispered, smiling, and Sapnap pulled him in, again, tight in a hug in his small, slightly uncomfortable dorm bed.

“Yeah, Jacobs,” he whispered, and could feel Karl’s smile, pressed again into his collarbone.

--

there’s a little diner on sixth, like ten minutes from the dorms. dinner tonight then movie? i want to watch the second star wars now :)

Sapnap sat, cross legged on George’s bed, staring at the text from Karl. George, at his desk, looked over to see the look on his face, and leaned to look at the phone, before laughing heartily. Dream looked up from his bed, where he was working on an essay.

“What?” He asked, and Sapnap tossed his phone across the room. Dream grinned at the text.

“Not your boy, huh?” Dream said, tossing the phone back, and Sapnap flushed, laying back on George’s bed, typing out a response.

it’s a date :)

His boy. Sanap liked the sound of that, if he was being honest with himself (which he wanted to be).

--

“So, is this a date?” Karl asked, swiping a fry from Sapnap’s plate before he could hit his hand away.

They were sat on opposite sides of a red and white striped booth, the cozy diner straight out of a movie, down to the jukebox in the corner playing eighties rock music quietly. They seemed to be the only young people eating there, the rest elderly couples and one single middle aged mom and dad wrestling a toddler away from her milkshake.

Sapnap had a burger and fries in front of him, along with a diet coke, while Karl had a waffle drenched in syrup and a vanilla milkshake. Karl ate the fry, waiting for Sapnap’s response, watching him with a soft look in his eye.

“Do you want it to be a date?” Sapnap asked, pressing his foot against Karl’s under the table. Karl glanced down, before looking back up to Sapnap, a confident look in his eye.

“Yeah, I would, if that’s alright,” Karl said, confident but still him in the sense of softness, of innocence, as his cheeks were naturally blushed and his eyes flashed a bit in nervousness, a usual for the other.

“Better than alright,” Sapnap said, smiling smugly. He was trying to project confidence, trying to be calm, cool, and collected while his thoughts screamed. He was here, in a three star diner, with Karl, in a dark green sweater over a white collared shirt, practically playing footsie with him under the table, and it was without a doubt one of the best moments of his life. In the corner of the diner, the toddler fighting her parents began to scream, the cook from the back yelled about an order, and the jukebox began playing Ice Ice Baby, of all songs. Sapnap rested his hand palm up on the table, an invitation clear as day.

Karl took it, fingers tracing his wrist as they rested in the middle of the table. “Good. Okay, yeah, good. Cool. Amazing.”

Sapnap grinned, biting his tongue behind closed lips to stop himself from confessing his love once again. He knew that Karl knew it though, and that was enough. He could take it slow, however slow Karl wanted, if it meant having moments like this forever.

With his free hand, he reached across, taking Karl’s milkshake, and pulling it towards him, taking a sip. Karl squealed in indignation, trying to pull it back away from him. Sapnap dipped a finger in, swiping some whipped cream from the top, and reached over, rubbing it onto Karl’s nose. Karl pulled back, aghast. “Whu—! You’re such a… nimrod!”

He wiped it away with a napkin as Sapnap lost it, having to let go of the other’s hand, because he was laughing so hard. Through his laughter, he squeaked out, “Nimrod?!”

Karl furrowed his brow and twisted his lips, crossing his arms, watching Sapnap lose it. Sapnap could see, though, the longer he laughed, the harder it seemed for Karl to keep a mean face, eventually smiling, closed lip and happy.

Sapnap calmed, sighing happily as he caught his breath, before guffawing as Karl swiped another fry. “Oh, you can have my fries, but I can’t have your milkshake? That’s being a real nimrod, if I do say so myself.”

Karl grinning, giggling. “If you say so.”

Sapnap rolled his eyes, but grinned. “I do say so.”

Karl chomped down on the fry and grinned.

--

February came with a storm of assignments, projects, and tests for Sapnap, along with an actual snowstorm that hit the school out of nowhere. The heating in Sapnap’s dorm stopped working at around noon, and when Sapnap returned to his room from Dream and George’s, he was so cold he almost didn’t want to take his coat off.

He was sitting at his desk, working to finish a project that wasn’t due till the next week, but would be better to get knocked out before he was swamped with even more work, when there was a knock at his door. A cursory glance at his clock told him it was almost one in the morning, and he wondered if Wilbur, the guy who lived across the hall from him, was up late rehearsing, waking everyone up. When that happened, Techno, the guy next to Wilbur, always came pounding on Sapnap’s door, since he was the only one who had been successful in getting Wilbur to stop playing guitar and go to sleep. A convoluted process that really wasn’t good for anyone involved.

He stood up from his desk, comforter he had wrapped around him dropping to the floor, and he shivered, stepping to the door and swinging it open.

Karl stood there, in plaid pajama bottoms and a puffy coat, with a red nose and watery eyes that Sapnap was eighty percent sure weren’t from the cold.

“Whu—” Sapnap went to say something, but Karl just collapsed in Sapnap’s arms, crying quietly into his chest. Sapnap instantly wrapped his arms around him, holding the smaller boy, before carefully stepping back, getting him out of the hallway and into his room. “Hey, hey, what’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“Me and Chris, we had a fight, and I yelled at him and he yelled at me and I left and now he’s gonna hate me forever and never talk to me again and it’s all my fault and—” Karl rambling, tears streaming down his face, and Sapnap hushed him, bringing him to his bed, hugging him again.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay, calm down, okay?” Sapnap said. Even through the layers, he could feel Karl’s breath beating really fast. He brought Karl’s hand, almost purple from the cold, up to his chest, placing it over his heart. “Can you feel my heartbeat?”

Karl nodded, breathing really heavily, tears still flowing strongly down his cheeks. Sapnap left Karl’s hand there, and wiped the tears away with his thumbs, like a mother would to a toddler after an injury.

“Okay, match my breaths, okay? We’re gonna breathe in…” He breathed in deeply, and Karl copied, shaky. “And hold it.”

Karl’s eyes slid shut, and he leaned his head into one of Sapnap’s hand. Sapnap was working on impulse and instinct, having talked his brother, and even Dream, through panic attacks in the past, so he knew what to do. He never imagined talking Karl through one, but he didn’t dwell on it, not yet. He had to get Karl through it first.

They hadn’t even had the “boyfriend” discussion. They’d been on three “official dates” since that diner date - which ended with Sapnap paying for both of them, and them falling asleep in Sapnap’s bed after watching Empire Strikes Back. They had hung out in some way pretty much everyday, though, anyway, whether it was eating together in the dining hall, Sapnap walking Karl to his classes, or getting coffee together quickly between classes. Karl still hadn’t made any attempt to kiss Sapnap, despite falling asleep in his arms twice, and Sapnap didn’t tell him he loves him again. They were sticking to their word, they were taking it slow. Though it was painful at some points - Sapnap was so close to just pushing Karl against a wall and kissing the shit out of him some days - he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Now breathe out. We’re gonna keep up that rhythm, got it?” Sapnap said, and when he didn’t get a response, but began breathing in and seeing Karl follow, he knew he was listening.

They sat, breathing together, for at least five minutes, before Karl’s eyes opened again, slowly. “Okay, I think I’m good.”

His voice sounded hoarse, scratchy and sad as it echoed through the small, silent dorm room. The orange from the lamp made Karl’s eyes darker than normal, almost black as he looked down at his lap, almost in shame. Sapnap wouldn’t have that, and cupped his face, making him look up. “Want to talk about it?”

Karl hesitated, and Sapnap almost expected him to say no, but after a second he nodded. Sapnap nodded back, and hurried to shut off his laptop, making sure quickly his coding project was saved, and grabbed the abandoned comforter on the ground, coming back to wrap Karl in it. He sat down on the bed, resting his back against the headboard of his bed, giving Karl the option of staying where he was, resting next to Sapnap, or sitting in front of him, between his legs. Karl instantly crawled over, resting with his back against Sapnap’s chest, curled between his legs. Sapnap, once again, noted how small Karl seemed like that, and he adjusted the comforter around both of them, holding Karl’s arm softly to trace circles and random patterns into his skin. He decided on the palm, and cupped the hand, rubbing stars and circles into his palm. Karl settled in and stayed silent, obviously not going to start talking.

“So what was the fight over?”

“I got mad at him for moving my stuff, then he got mad at me for not cleaning things, and it just sorta escalated till we were just yelling at each other,” Karl said, watching Sapnap’s thumb dance over the palm of his hand. “I think I said some mean things.”

“You were upset,” Sapnap said after a few seconds of thought, not as a reasoning for saying mean things, but a bit of an explanation. “It’s alright to be upset, to take some space. Give it some space, sleep on it tonight, then you can go back and talk to him tomorrow about it, when you both are in better headspaces. You can apologize, he can apologize, and it’ll be better.”

He hated seeing, feeling, Karl like this. Karl who was all smiles and giggles, colorful sweaters and bright, loud laughs. Seeing him like this, cold and sad and in pain, got to Sapnap in ways he didn’t understand. His heart ached, physically hurt, for the other. He wanted to find every person who ever made Karl ever feel anything less than happy and obliterate them.

“Do you and Dream get in fights a lot?” Karl asked, and Sapnap chuckled softly, knowing that Karl would see how quickly he responded for what it really was.

“We used to. In high school, we would get into absolute screaming matches, especially his senior year, when I knew he was leaving. I used to…” Sapnap hesitated for a second, briefly worrying about oversharing, but the warmth of the light calmed him, and he remembered his honesty promise, and continued on. “I used to get into fights with him on purpose, towards the end of his senior year and into the summer. I sorta hoped if I got him mad enough, he would cut me out, and it would hurt less than watching him leave. Of course, he’s a stubborn asshole who loves talking things out, so it never worked.”

“Is this how you two solve arguments?” Karl asked, sniffing once. Sapnap couldn’t see his face at the angle they were sitting, so he couldn’t see if he was really crying or not, but he just held him a little tighter, in case (or just because). The steady weight of Karl in his arms, warm in the cold of winter and dark of night, steadied him, like it did that first night, like it did anytime Karl grabbed his hand or kicked his foot under a table. He hoped that he was the same for Karl - he hoped he was able to be a rock for the other, provide a stable hand to hold and shoulder to lean on. It did say something, that Karl showed up at Sapnap’s at one in the morning, after something like this, didn’t it? He could’ve gone to Chandler, or Jimmy, people who know Chris more as well, but instead he came to Sapnap. It showed… trust. Understanding.

Some other stuff Sapnap didn’t want to think about too hard, focus on right then, not with Karl still hurting.

“Usually. Dream’s mom was always really big on communication and stuff, so Dream knew, like, proper therapist stuff. When we were little and got into fights, we would sit in different rooms for like half an hour before going back and talking about it. In high school, we would just leave each other for a bit, then call each other that night and make up. It always helps, in arguments, to get a bit of space, especially when everyone is emotional. It gives you time to process, to think, and to understand yourself and the other person.”

“You should be, like, a marriage counselor or something. Screw this coding thing you have going on,” Karl said absently, and Sapnap laughed brightly.

“Maybe I should. Or I could just use my amazing skills to help you,” Sapnap said, running his hand not drawing circles into Karl’s hand through Karl’s hair. “You want to stay here to sleep?”

Karl nodded quickly, before slowing, and turning a bit to look back. “If that’s alright.”

“Always,” Sapnap said, and Karl grinned at him, turned awkwardly to look at him, eyes now shining as the direct yellow lamplight hit them, golden and warm, and Sapnap wanted to swim in them.

It would be the worst possible time for Sapnap to kiss Karl. He was going through an argument with his roommate, showed up at Sapnap’s house crying, still looked very emotionally drained, tear streaks still a bit visible in the dim light. He had just gone through what Sapnap would call an anxiety attack, and now was staying the night in Sapnap’s bed because he didn’t have anywhere else to go. Sapnap didn’t want to pressure Karl into something like kissing if he didn’t want to do it, but would feel obligated. Taking it slow, to Sapnap, meant taking it at Karl’s pace. He didn’t want to rush things past where Karl felt comfortable.

His mind did somersaults, and before he could come up with words to say, or decide to pull Karl down for sleep and once again shove down his emotions for sake of making Karl comfortable (he was fine with it, he really was), Karl turned even more, practically facing the wall with his body, but his upper torso faced Sapnap. He pulled his hand out of Sapnap’s and gently placed both hands on both sides of Sapnap’s face. Sapnap’s breath caught, thoughts stilling, watching Karl inch closer and closer, taking a millennium to do so. The warm yellow basked him like the sun, but to Sapnap it felt like Karl was the one glowing. His hands were warm on his cold face, and suddenly he forgot about the storm outside, forgot about his overwhelming amount of projects, and stared at Karl, wide eyed and so desperately in love it hurt to breathe.

“Is this okay?” Karl whispered, hands so gentle against Sapnap’s face, breath warm and minty on his nose. Sapnap swallowed, staring deep into Karl’s golden eyes, and smiled.

“Always,” he repeated, and really, really meant it. He felt fireworks when Karl finally, finally, kissed him.

--

“Is it horrible to say I didn’t really… like the ending?” Karl said quietly, curled up on top of Sapnap’s bed, hugging Sapnap’s pillow and wrapped in his Houston Astros blanket. Sapnap, next to him with an arm around his shoulder, brushed the hair out of Karl’s face and pressed a soft kiss to his forehead.

“No, a lot of people thought it was rushed. You mean the kiss?” Sapnap asked, and Karl nodded. He looked tired, but content.

“It’s unfair Daisy Ridley gets to kiss Adam Driver and not me, though,” Karl mumbled, and Sapnap grinned, biting his lip.

“But you get to kiss me.” Sapnap responded, and Karl screwed up his nose.

“Meh,” he said, and Sapnap pushed his shoulder, feigning offense, and pushed himself off the bed. Karl whined. “Wait, wait, no, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, come back!”

“I’m so deeply hurt, Jacobs. Really, truly hurt.” Sapnap laid a hand on his heart, pulling a puppy dog hurt look and looking down at Karl on the bed. “I don’t think I’ll ever recover.”

Karl reached out, scrambling to grab Sapnap’s hand from his chest, placing a kiss on it. “Please, I’m sorry.”

Sapnap dropped the act and smiled, falling dramatically onto Karl, making him yelp, trying to scramble out from underneath him. It was a doomed effort, and he gave up quickly, laying under Sapnap’s weight as Sapnap chuckled, head pressed into Karl’s neck and collarbone.

“I’m sad it’s over, though,” Karl said lowly, and Sapnap blinked up at him. “The movies. I’m glad we gotta watch them all together.”

“Who says anything about it being over? When I come back from Texas, we have the Clone Wars, and the Mandalorian. And I promised Dream I would watch Star Trek at some point, maybe we could watch that,” Sapnap said mindlessly rambling as he breathed in the scent of Karl’s t-shirt, the fabric softener scent heavy, and so familiar to Sapnap that it felt like home. On days where Karl didn’t sleepover (becoming more and more rare the longer they are together), Sapnap would wake up to the scent on his sheets and briefly believe Karl was there with him, only to be disappointed.

March was in full swing outside the dorm walls. Flowers were beginning to bloom, beginning to push out the grey of the end of winter, blooming with the start of spring. Brief rain storms were becoming more and more frequent as they pushed closer to April, snow fading quickly from everyone’s minds as the warmer air began to move in.

March brought fourth quarter, the final stretch, already fucked sleep routines pushed to the extreme as everyone worked to get over the hump of the last stretch before the end of the year, and spring break.

Sapnap was leaving for Houston the next day, and Karl to North Carolina. A week of Sapnap playing video games with his brother, baking with his mom, and not seeing Karl.

He thought back to winter break, the one text he had gotten from Karl, and how he had thought he had been far gone then - how wrong he had been. Back then, he thought of that as puppy love. It seemed insane that that was only a handful of months ago. He felt like he had been floating with Karl for all of eternity now.

Karl hummed, petting Sapnap’s hair out of his face and scratching his cheek, like a dog, where his short beard hair tickled his skin. Sapnap dropped his forehead back to Karl’s collarbone, and inhaled deeply. Karl’s hand stilled in his hair, and Sapnap could feel his chest vibrate as he talked. “Anything.”

About the shows to watch together. Sapnap still felt the weight of the words, the promise they had, laced between the syllables. Karl wasn’t good at words - when he told Sapnap that over two months ago, he hadn’t been lying - but Sapnap knew, now, how to listen for the meaning in his sentences, in his words. He knew how to hear the promises, how to hear the love laced in his vernacular, even if he hadn’t said the actual word yet.

Sapnap said it enough for the both of them. Karl had told him, mid February as they sat on a beanbag at a party, sharing a drink, that he loved to hear Sapnap say it to him. He had been wasted, very far gone at that point, and when he had woken up groaning in Sapnap’s arms the next morning, Sapnap knew he hadn’t remembered saying that. Sapnap had given him Advil, kissed him gingerly, and whispered “I love you” against his lips, and then got to bask in the warmth that grew in the other’s cheeks, as he nodded and pressed his head into Sapnap’s neck, embarrassed and so damn loved. More than a month later, Sapnap dropped the word as much as he could, into every conversation, every action, every call, at the end of every text exchange.

“You’re thinking,” Karl whispered, and Sapnap looked up at him again. Karl smiled. “I can feel how hard you’re thinking from up here.”

Sapnap stared at him for a second, taking in the golden eyes, the yellow t-shirt he was wearing, and he smiled, involuntarily as usual. He couldn’t imagine a time where he wouldn’t smile at just seeing Karl. “I’m just gonna miss you.”

Karl nodded, agreeing instantly. He had been thinking that same thing. “Yeah.”

Sapnap pushed himself up, pulling Karl into a cuddle, both boys’ heads on his pillow, staring at each other. Sapnap took Karl’s hand, and kissed his fingers. “We’ll talk everyday.”

Karl nodded, watching Sapnap kiss his fingers, then the back of his hand, then the inside of his wrist. Sapnap could feel his heartbeat for a second, and he felt like the beat grounded him.

“You can finally talk to my little brother, if you wanted. He’s been saying he wants to play Bed Wars with you,” Sapnap said, and Karl grinned, nodding. When Sapnap had told his little brother that Karl played Minecraft too, his brother got so excited, wanting to play with him immediately.

“I’ll send you pictures of my cat,” Karl said, and Sapnap chuckled, nodding.

“I look forward to it.”

They fell into silence, and Karl sighed after a second, a shaky exhale as he tucked himself under Sapnap’s chin. Sapnap wrapped his arms around him, holding the other tightly. He knew that, in lieu of words, Karl was a very physical being. He loved being hugged, holding hands, playing with hair and fingers. He was constantly hanging off of Sapnap, Chris, and Jimmy like a koala, desperate for touch from anyone. Sapnap loved it, too, but not as much as Karl, evidently. He seemed to only truly relax when holding someone or having someone hold him. Sapnap was more than happy to oblige.

“It’s only a week. Why do I feel so sad?” Karl whispered, and Sapnap sighed softly.

“I do too. It’s okay to feel sad,” he said in response. “But it’ll be okay. I promise. You’re excited to see your mom, right?”

Karl nodded slowly. “But I’m sad to leave you.”

Sapnap didn’t really have anything to say to that. He was sad, too. It’s crazy how much things had changed in the few months since winter break. Of course, he did know back then that he liked Karl, and was still thinking about him a lot, but that was pining, that was an overwhelming crush he kept falling deeper into. This? This ache in his chest at the thought of leaving, the crushing thought of having to fall asleep without Karl next to him, or at least the smell of him… it was love. Point blank, signed, sealed, delivered.

“Can I take one of your sweatshirts?” Karl asked, and Sapnap chuckled at the randomness of the comment.

“Of course. Take anything,” he said, and Karl nodded slowly, like he himself was deep in thought. Sapnap couldn’t see his face, pressed into his collar, nose cold against his skin, but he didn’t need to. He rubbed small, slow circles into his back, hopefully grounding the other when he needed it.

Karl shifted in his arms, kissing his collarbone lightly, before pushing himself away a little, to look into Sapnap’s eyes. Sapnap quickly leaned forward and kissed him chastely, making him look taken aback for a second, as he usually did when Sapnap kissed him, before recovering and glancing down, biting his lip.

“I want to…” Karl began, trailing off. Sapnap took his hand again. “I want to tell you something.”

“A good or bad something?” Sapnap asked without filter, thumb rubbing shapes into the palm of his hand again. His heart dropped a little, just at the tone, but he figured it couldn’t be that bad, if they were just talking about missing each other for a week. Right?

“Uh, good. I think. I hope,” Karl said, looking down at their hands. “I, uh, know I don’t really say what I’m feeling, that much, because I’m not really good at words and feelings and stuff, and this is all really new to me, this whole relationship thing, and…”

“It’s okay,” Sapnap said, feeling like that was the right thing to say then. Karl’s eyes flicked up to Sapnap’s, and the warmth radiating in them almost made Sapnap melt. Taunts from Dream saying that Sapnap had “loverboy eyes” whenever he looked at Karl, the softness he felt them turn at just the thought of Karl, he knew it was real. And seeing it, now, in Karl’s eyes, directed at him… was strong. Powerful. Sapnap wanted to bask in the light, bask in the gaze, as Karl took a breath, and he looked back up, holding that same stare.

“I just wanted to say, before we left… I hope you already know this, I really hope you do, because it’s true and been true for a really long time, longer than I think you know. I…” Karl’s voice broke for a second, and Sapnap squeezed his hand in support. Karl's eyes looked a bit watery, and Sapnap could feel his own getting the same. He wasn’t sure why, he wasn’t really sure how, but Karl had that effect on him. Even though he knew what was coming, he patiently waited, heart beating out of his chest and up into his throat, watching Karl take a steadying breath, before saying, “I am in love with you. Like, so in love with you it hurts.”

Sapnap grinned, and brought Karl’s hand back to his lips, kissing each finger softly, staring at Karl with all the love he could push into a gaze. “Thank you. I am in love with you.”

A tear slipped down Karl’s cheek, falling onto the pillow, and Karl shifted, pressing his face into Sapnap’s neck as more followed, Sapnap, again, wrapped his arms around Karl’s torso. He felt like they were good tears, felt like they were healthy, but it still stung, a bit, to see Karl, to see his boy, crying.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” Sapnap whispered, and Karl sniffed quietly, shaking his head against Sapnap’s shoulder.

“Nothing, I… nothing, it’s just so good. Everything, you know? I’m just…” Karl sniffed again, and Sapnap could feel him smiling against his shoulder. “I’m just really fuckin’ happy.”

Sapnap had nothing left to say, nothing left to do, except pull Karl a little closer, pet the back of his hair, kiss the top of his head, and respond, “Me too.”

--

“I think Tommy’s over,” his mom was saying, as Sapnap pushed open the door to their garage, duffel bag and suitcase in tow. He had brought home basically his whole closet to get washed, and it was a lot. His mom was carrying more, but he stepped into the kitchen and stopped to take it in.

It was the same as over winter break, except the Christmas stuff had been replaced by basic spring items, and there was a bit of clutter everywhere. On the kitchen table, two backpacks were discarded, half open with stuff spilling out. There were dirty dishes in the sink, and a pot on the stove with mac and cheese still in it. In the connecting living room, two boys were sprawled out on one couch, playing on Switches in silence. Sapnap dropped his duffel loudly to the floor.

“What? I don’t even get a hello?” He said, and Tubbo’s head shot up, Switch tumbling to the ground as he jumped up, rushing to Sapnap and jumping into his older brother’s arms, laughing.

“Hi!” He yelled, right in Sapnap’s ear, gripping him tightly in a hug. Sapnap chuckled, wincing at the volume.

“Hey, kid,” he said, setting him down with a grin, taking his little brother in for a second. “You got a bit of a ‘stache going on, there, kiddo.”

Tubbo flushed, rubbing his lip. “Mom said you would help me figure out how to shave.”

Sapnap smiled, nodding. He thought, briefly, back to when their mom had to teach Sapnap all those years ago, and how disastrous that had gone. He was glad he could at least be there for Tubbo.

The other boy on the couch stood up, all lanky limbs and messy hair, and a stupid smile.

“Jesus, Tommy, did you grow three feet?” Sapnap barked, and Tommy laughed, still loud and obnoxious as Sapnap remembered him. Sapnap hadn’t seen Tommy over winter break, and since he had last seen him over summer he grew at least a foot. He leaned on Tubbo with a grin, now having almost a foot on the other freshman. “Tubbo, when are you gonna start growing.”

Tubbo grumbled, shoving Tommy off. “I’m not even that short. Shuddup.”

Sapnap and Tommy shared a look, both shaking their heads a bit. Tubbo elbowed Tommy, hard, in the stomach, and Tommy began yelling, going to tackle him. Tubbo screeched, and hightailed it out of the room, the other on his heels yelling about murder. Sapnap watched with a smile, and felt his mom come up behind him, wrapping an arm around him, and kissing his temple. “He missed you.”

“I missed him,” Sapnap responded, turning and kissing his mom on her temple back, before picking up the duffel bag from the ground. “I’m hoping my room isn’t a home gym yet?”

--

“Holy shit, you shaved,” George said as he opened up his and Dream’s dorm room door. Sapnap rubbed his chin self consciously, and George laughed. “It looks nice.”

“Thanks. Where’s Dream?” Sapnap asked, glancing at the room behind him, the other not inside.

“The coffeeshop. Alyssa asked if he could switch his shift tomorrow for hers today since she didn’t get back till, like, four am this morning. When did you get back?”

“Late last night, like one or two. I had to bribe the RA to let me into the hall,” Sapnap chuckled, coming in at George’s gesture. Their room was bigger than Sapnap’s, but Sapnap would take a small room over sharing with a roommate anyday. Except maybe one person.

“Dream said you weren’t coming back till tomorrow,” George said, sitting at his desk. He had an assignment open on his laptop, and a full cup of coffee next to him.

“Yeah, I was gonna surprise him,” Sapnap chuckled. He needed to come back earlier than he thought because he had to finish an assignment that night, but he hadn’t told anyone because… well, who didn’t love surprises.

“Just him? Or someone else?” George said, pulling a knee up to his chest, and wiggling his eyebrows. Sapnap rolled his eyes, scratching his chin. He had shaved what little stubble he had grown comfortable with having off the day before, showing Tubbo how to do it. A sacrifice he was willing to make for his little brother to not look like a greasy teenager.

“His plane came in yesterday afternoon. I’m going over to his right now. Thought I would stop by on my way,” Sapnap said, biting back a grin. George rolled his eyes.

“You’re so far gone, mate,” he said, and Sapnap fell onto Dream’s bead, burying his head in Dream’s pillow.

“What about it?” Sapnap mumbled, and George laughed, chair squeaking as he moved.

“Nothing. Just that.”

--

He was suddenly nervous, and he didn’t know why.

He tugged on the strings of his sweatshirt, hesitantly knocking on the door with the name tag “karl :) and chris”. It was only a week. He knew he should feel excited, and he did, deeper down in his chest, but unnecessary nervousness felt stronger, permeating his brain.

It had something to do with Karl’s confession, he knew it did. After Karl’s confession, and their final night together before spring break, Sapnap was hit with the true proportion of their relationship. Of course, he’d known that he was too far gone for Karl months ago, but it never truly hit him that it was something serious, something stable, something damn close to permanent, until he heard Karl say it back to him. It was a strange feeling - one settling in his chest as he drove back to Texas by himself - leaving Karl behind waiting for his flight, in one of Sapnap’s sweatshirts. The feeling was the warmth he had felt, but something else as well. A pull, as he thought about Karl and his dorm room, the warmth of his eyes and the feeling of his arms. It was more than the love he felt, more than the metaphorical feeling of home.

It was the feeling of forever.

It was one thing, to give your heart up completely to someone, and another to have them give theirs to you. But it felt like a whole other stratosphere to be able to think about a person, and connect them with the word forever. It was strong, it was exciting.

It was fucking terrifying.

The door opened with a creak. Chris, wearing pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, stared at him in confusion for a second, before surprise and giddiness crossed his face. Behind him, Sapnap could hear the innocuous sounds of Minecraft mining.

“Uh, Karl?” Chris called out, grinning wildly. “I think it’s for you.”

He pulled the door open more and stepped out of the way. Directly across from the door was Karl’s desk, and he sat, scrunched up, playing on his desktop. He turned in his chair, knees pressed to his chest, and Sapnap took in the messed up, yet shorter hair, the basketball shorts…

And the dark blue Houston Astros hoodie that Sapnap had given Karl before leaving.

Karl’s eyes landed on him, blank, until recognition hit him and he jumped up, knocking over the chair.

“I thought you weren’t coming back till tomorrow!” He yelled, launching himself across the room and straight into Sapnap’s waiting arms. He had jumped, legs wrapped around Sapnap’s waist, and Sapnap held him up as Karl grabbed his face, staring at him with glee before kissing him. Sapnap almost stumbled under the weight and intensity of the kiss, and in the back of his mind he could hear Chris chuckle, but he didn’t care. The weight of Karl in his arms, the kiss, the look of his own sweatshirt draped over Karl like it engulfed him…

Forever suddenly became a hell of a lot more appealing.

--

Karl Jacobs didn’t know how to leave Sapnap alone.

It was the last party of the year, and Sapnap was enjoying his freedom, a freshman in college, on the verge of being a sophomore, and like many others, was taking advantage of one last time to be a little bit careless before having to return home, work a summer job, and be with his family twenty four seven.

He was laying on a couch, legs in his best friend Dream’s lap, head in his other best friend George’s, and he felt very giggly. He wasn’t drunk - only two drinks in, plus his tolerance had improved greatly over the course of one year - but he was at least a little tipsy, enough to not hold back his smiles or giggles as he enjoyed the company of his friends. He turned his head a little, looking out across the party, eyes searching for something, one thing, one person.

And that’s when he saw him. Across the party, Karl Jacobs was leaning on his friend Chris, red cup in hand, as he laughed at something someone was saying. He was wearing a yellow button down, short sleeves for the summertime heat that had set in on the campus only a few weeks ago, and looked content to stand and talk with other students, but still looking out at the rest of the party. He looked practically ethereal - glowing graciously as he leaned against his friend, smiling to the other. Carefree in a way Sapnap wished he could be at all times, happy in a way he was now.

That was when they made eye contact. Even across the room, Sapnap could see the shine in the golden eyes, the flicker of something magical as he looked at Sapnap, grinning. Or grinning back, Sapnap realized, as he was grinning wildly at the other. Karl said something to Chris and the other, and began making his way over to them, to Sapnap.

Sapnap, wide eyed and still grinning, sat up, and Dream, under him, laughed, Sapnap now practically sitting in his lap. “Dude!”

George laughed, watching this happen, and nodded to Karl as he got close enough, standing up. “Take my seat.”

Karl, eyes trained on Sapnap sitting in Dream’s lap and staring at him, did so, and then laughed as Dream pushed Sapnap back, head falling into Karl’s lap so he was staring up at the other. Dream then lifted Sapnap’s legs and stood up as well, taking George’s hand to lead him away from the couch with one last grin to Sapnap, mumbling, “Have fun with your boy.”

Sapnap grinned up at Karl, who pet Sapnap’s hair out of his face. “Hello, pretty boy.”

That got Sapnap to flush a bit, but he didn’t look away or hide his face, instead tugging on Karl’s shirt a bit. “You’re the pretty one. Pretty angel.”

Okay, maybe Sapnap was a bit drunk.

“Thank you,” Karl said, grinning at him. He was definitely not as drunk as Sapnap. “Sorry I haven’t been with you most of the party.”

“It’s okay,” Sapnap hummed, lost in the golden flecks in Karl’s eyes, swimming deeply in the sunlight his eyes projected. He remembered a time where he would describe drowning in those same eyes, unable to breathe under the weight of emotions. Now was different. Now, he could swim freely, floating happily in the golden pools. He could breathe, air sweeter than ever before, as his emotions settled securely in his chest and heart, constant, but no longer overpowering, as he looked at Karl and could definitively think “mine”. “Gettin’ ready for next week.”

Next week would bring packing up cars and suitcases, dropping Karl off at the airport, last hugs and kisses for three months. It was scary to think about how in one week, Sapnap would be home in Texas, and Karl in North Carolina, and when he woke up he wouldn’t be able to hold Karl closer and draw shapes into his arms, palms, and back. It sucked.

His words made Karl deflate just a bit, bringing Sapnap’s hand up to his lips and kissing softly - a move Sapnap pulled on the smaller much too often, but was all too pleased to receive. He loved watching Karl express love - it was practically his favorite pastime.

“Next week is gonna blow,” Karl said, and Sapnap nodded in agreement.

“Blo-o-o-o-ow,” he mumbled, a badly tuned impression of Niki Minaj, and Karl chuckled again, but this time it was a bit sadder, a bit more worried.

“Do you want to go home?” Karl said, and Sapnap nodded. He wasn’t really in the mood to get completely wasted and forget the night. He wanted to try and remember every minute he had left with Karl until the fall.

As they stood up and went to leave, stopping in the kitchen to say goodbye to George and Dream - who were standing dangerously close and whispering when they walked in, something Sapnap would deal with another day - Sapnap’s brain focused on Karl’s wording. Home. Home meaning each other, home meaning the dorm, home meaning so many things all at once.

They walked hand and hand from the party, a drastic difference to the first party of the year, when Dream and George supported Sapnap as they left, still drunk but already halfway to hung over, having already thrown up thoughts of that mysterious Purple-Sweater-Guy out of his mind.

“Hey, Karl,” Sapnap said as they walked down the stairs leading to the house, cooler night air hitting them. Karl, under Sapnap’s arm and playing with his fingers, glanced up at him as they walked.

“Hey, Sapnap,” he responded cheekily, and Sapnap rolled his eyes, kissing Karl’s temple as they walked, reaching the sidewalk and turning in the direction of the dorms.

“Can I have your sweater? To take home over break?” Sapnap didn’t feel nervous to ask. Despite the relationship almost five months strong, he normally would still feel the fluttering of nerves, the newness of the relationship and relationships in general still pressing in his mind, despite it not being something to worry about. But the two drinks must’ve taken it out of him. Or the feeling of Karl under his arm, the slight waft of shampoo he could get, the idea that he probably wouldn’t be able to leave campus without at least asking.

“Yeah, sure. Which one?” Karl asked absently, fiddling with Sapnap’s high school ring on his hand.

“The purple one? With the green swirl?” Sapnap said, and Karl nodded absently.

“Absolutely. Anything,” he said, looking back up at him.

It rang, loud and true in Sapnap’s ears. Anything. Love, in it’s own special way, a word that meant everything and nothing at the same time. Music to Sapnap’s ears, only from Karl’s mouth. Sapnap could survive three months, if it meant a lifetime. If it meant forever.

“That’s one of my favorite sweaters,” Karl added on, and Sapnap pulled him closer, on the sidewalk, under the stars, kissing the other softly, slowly.

“Mine too.”