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Like An Ocean Needs The Sand

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04. in the dirt designing stars

They paddled out into the middle of the lake at midnight. It was early August and the Perseid shower littered the sky with fire. Pike could hear other people out on the lake, talking and laughing, and eventually their oars slapping the water as boredom took over and their beds beckoned.

At three in the morning, he asked, "Do you want to go back to New York?"

Henry's head moved against his shoulder. He might have been asleep. "Sometimes," he said.

Pike watched a bit of stone and ice flare and go dark. "That's okay with me," he said. "As long as you come back."

Henry's hand closed tightly on his own. It still surprised Pike, sometimes, how fiercely Henry felt things. "Always."


01. why can't you be

Half the school was in love with Dean. It didn't seem to Pike that Dean much noticed or, if he did, didn't see at as anything other than a pleasant mystery in a life that seemed full of them.

Pike filed books in the school library. He wasn't sure the school librarian even noticed. He would take his time, pausing whenever a book struck his fancy and skimming through it, one hip propped against the nearest shelf. Sometimes none of the books spoke to him and he thought, instead. He thought about life, and death, and third period algebra. Dean was among the things he thought about, because it was impossible to live in Big Eden and not think, at least occasionally, about Dean Stewart.

To think about Dean was to think about Henry, of course. They were inseparable. Henry was a bit of a puzzle by reputation, though Pike felt that mostly due to a sort of dogged obtuseness on the part of the students. He thought they underestimated their own capacity for acceptance, but he couldn't fault Henry for not banking on that. If he were the sort to make conversation, he'd start one with Henry, and he'd be honest, and he'd let the chips fall where they would. He wasn't that sort.

Dean was that sort. Sometimes Pike thought Dean was oblivious. Sometime he thought Dean was merely honoring his friend's desire for privacy. Sometimes he thought Dean liked that Henry had a secret, one that kept him a little isolated, a little dependent. Pike usually regretted those thoughts, because there wasn't any malice in the way Dean lit up when Henry entered a room. There wasn't any resentment in the way Henry, warming the bleachers as the basketball team practiced because he'd promised to help Dean with math afterward, picked up a towel with thumb and forefinger and tossed it at Dean without looking up from his notebook.


06. in the city where I'm from

"You could come with me," Henry said from the bedroom doorway. He was practically bouncing on his toes. "It's only two weeks."

Pike smiled and leaned down to kiss him. "Say hello to Mary Margaret for me."

Dean and Anna showed up an hour later, bustling in with a flurry of chatter and hugs. They made a polite effort to seem like they weren't checking up on him, but their duplicity was dismayingly half-hearted. "Why, Pike," Anna said, leaning over to put baby Mae in his arms, "I completely forgot Henry was leaving today! Completely!"

"Completely!" Dean said, and started pulling boxes from the back of the van. "Now, come help me with these."

They knew better than to cook for Pike, but Dean moved around the kitchen like it was his own, unpacking the boxes of hard-to-come-by ingredients that Henry must have been stockpiling for weeks, tucking them away exactly where they went. The boys ran circles underfoot until Dean waved them in Pike's direction. "Boys, tell Pike about the mama deer we saw on the way to church."

There was, as far as Pike could tell, not much more to the story, but the boys told it at length and with gusto. At some point he started cooking, and at some point they stopped talking, and it was long past dark when Dean buckled the last of his sleeping children in the car and turned to Pike. "You'll call if you need anything?"

Pike nodded. His heart was full, and he looked at his hands as if they could speak for him.

Dean surprised him by leaning in and wrapping both arms around him. "He'll be back before you know it," he said, and clapped Pike on the back before standing straight. Anna gave them a sleepy smile from the front seat.

Pike looked at her, and looked at Dean, and the words came. "Sunday dinner," Pike said. "Four o'clock."

Dean grinned at him. "Was that an invitation or a command?"

"Bring wine."


02. my kind's your kind

Pike grudgingly played basketball during his last two years of high school. He was no good, but he was big and - with the merry coaching of Dean and his friends - learned to fake a scowl convincing enough to keep the Grass Range boys from getting too comfortable.

When they won the division title Pike's senior year, there was a lot of whooping and hollering. Pike wasn't allowed to fade into the background for once, so he tolerated pats on the back and airy kisses from cheerleaders who had ignored him, in a mostly friendly way, for two years.

Dean hung off Pike's neck for a moment, flushed and grinning and shouting something indecipherable about legends. Pike surprised himself with a sudden burst of affection for Dean in all his thoughtless, beautiful boyishness. Dean swung him around a few times in a ridiculous sort of jig, and when it was over Pike laughed and rubbed his neck and didn't feel awkward at all.

Henry had no such luck. Pike watched Dean climb into the stands and throw his arms around Henry, who blushed furiously but clapped him on the back and tried not to look pained when Dean bounced away again.


03. the god of wine

Henry was flushed and his speech slurred from what Pike suspected was not his first drink. Or his fifth.

"I'm leaving," he confided in a shout. His words echoed across the lake and were lost in the racket. It was their senior party - the lake was dotted with canoes and rowboats, there were a few people splashing in the shallows, and a bonfire roared on the shore.

Pike blinked at him. He didn't say anything, but Henry didn't seem to expect him to. Pike was pretty sure that Henry only climbed into this boat because he thought it was empty, but he hadn't objected when Pike offered to row into the middle of the lake for a better view of the fireworks.

"I'm going to New York," Henry continued, leaning forward carelessly. Something that smelled nauseatingly peachy spilled out of his cup and sloshed in the bottom of the boat. "Where people can be themselves."

Pike considered that. He'd never seen anyone pressuring Henry to be anyone but himself, and he saw a lot. On the other hand, he was keenly aware of how little you could tell about a person's internal life from the outside. "Why can't you be yourself?"

"Some people," Henry said, with vague portent. He must have been even drunker than Pike thought, because he leaned forward and added, "Like Dean."

"Dean won't let you be yourself?" That seemed unlikely. In the extreme. "He - aren't you and he friends?"

For a second he thought Henry might actually cry. "Exactly."

Pike made a noncommittal sound that seemed to satisfy Henry's sense of injury. They watched the fireworks in silence for awhile, and it wasn't until Pike started to row back that he realized Henry had fallen asleep.

They saw each other just once more that summer, at graduation, and Henry shook his hand and smiled and didn't seem to remember their conversation at all.


05. leaving the words unread

He was glad that he already understood Henry's capacity for abandonment, though he had no expectation of being a victim of it. He felt it was good to recognize danger so that one could avoid it; no different than knowing that fire can burn as well as warm.

Dean had already been burned, yet when they gathered for dinner at Sam's place - it was still Sam Hart's place, likely would be until the children grew up and left and came back to name it from their own memories - he watched Henry across the table, avidly, like a dog whose master had returned after a long and baffling absence. Pike felt it was an unkind comparison, which is why he never said it aloud, but he had yet to find one more apt.

Henry, like most of the big city folk of Pike's acquaintance, sometimes obsessed over labels under the guise of rejecting them. "Not that it matters," he said thoughtfully, as they waved at the retreating taillights of Dean's truck, "but sometimes I think he might actually be struggling. You know. With his sexuality."

Pike didn't think Dean struggled with much but the possibility of being left, again, for not being someone it was never within his capacity to be. Pike admired the hell out of him for risking it.

"I think he's just brave," Pike said. He turned away from Henry's startled look with a smile. Nice to know he could surprise him.

"You're right, of course," Henry said later. They were rocking on the back porch, buried under three quilts, watching the lake ice disappear under a layer of new snow. The Pleiades, the real ones, were twinkling somewhere above the blanket of clouds. "I won't let him down again. I won't let you down."

"I know," Pike said. And he did.